Anti-fragility and Hormesis

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You What?

Is it possible that a random bacon double cheeseburger could ultimately make a vegan live a longer, healthier life? What if a raw vegan or even a frugivore could live ten to twenty years longer by simply eating something that is not within their strict framework every once in a while? Is it possible that consuming a diet that is too easy on the system is actually worse than one that is not?

I am beginning to wonder. Because complex organic operating systems are weakened, sometimes even unto an early demise where there is a lack of stress. And as we have seen over the last few years, 2019-2022, Mother Nature does not favor the weak. On the contrary, she favors the strong.

I can’t imagine each and everyone one of us hasn’t heard this many times over. Kelly Clarkson made a hit song with this title in 2011. It’s not just a catchy song, it is also a very true statement within a complex system that has the ability to adapt. In the scientific and medical worlds, it is referred to as anti-fragility or hormesis.

In Greek mythology, there was a story about a creature with nine heads called Hydra. The monster would occasionally emerge to stir up the people and livestock of the mythical land of Lerna. When someone attempted to defeat this creature by cutting off one of its heads they would find that two more grew back in its place. What didn’t kill Hydra made him stronger.

This concept can also be seen in the plant world through a process called topping in which the main stalk of the plant is cut resulting in the plant redirecting its energy and growth hormones out to the side branches resulting in the branches growing more robustly in an outward fashion instead of continuing skyward. The intended result is a plant that produces more fruit.

And this is why you see so many humans working out. What doesn’t kill us does quite literally make us stronger. You see, some things benefit from a shock to the system that pushes a smooth running organic machine out of balance. Even our bones grow stronger when put under stress by physical activity. But there does come a point where that stress can become too much and the benefits are no longer as robust. This brings me to my another question I will address later. How much is too much?

So, back to the double bacon cheeseburger question. Could an occasional curveball actually be better for the human body than a perfectly executed raw vegan diet? It would seem so. Even Dr. Valter Longo, author of The Longevity Diet notes that those who indulge in a small amount of fish once per week ultimately live longer healthy lives than those on a strict, 100% uncooked whole-food/plant-based diet. Nonetheless, he still stresses the importance of maintaining a 95% whole-food/plant-based diet. But I don’t really remember ever hearing him clearly state what that mechanism of action is by adding a little fish to the diet.

My feeling is that it boils down to the hormetic/anti-fragile effects of the animal food product acting as a small amount of poison that kicks our body’s immune system into high gear. That just a few ounces of fish once per week causes our body to produce an excess amount of neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes, and lymphocytes that then go out into the body to fix the problem.

And this is where the magic happens.

Not only is the specific poison addressed by all of those amazing immune cells that our body produces for times just like these, but they also go about cleaning up a whole host of other lesser things that were flying just below the radar at a subclinical level improving the overall health of the human body. Cleaning up other senescent cells that are no longer beneficial to life, but not quite problematic enough to trigger an immune response. Individually, those senescent cells won’t take out the creature(us), but over time they will and do build up to a level that eventually precipitates a health crisis that most aren’t even aware of until we start experiencing systemic inflammation requiring an interventional response.

Fruit Only?

I do not believe that we are primarily frugivores. Going back into our ancestral records demonstrates that we have always been hunters and gatherers that ate whatever was available in sufficient quantity for us to maintain life. This whole notion of us being primarily frugivore is pretty clearly born out of our modern lifestyles that have been made possible because of the Industrial Revolution. And using teeth for an argument is flawed because there are simian frugivores with massive fangs contrary to what one would expect to find in an obligate frugivore. Consider the Gibbon; fangs and all.

If I had to put a name on it, I would say that we are opportunistic omnivores. Omnivores that ate what was available, when it was available at that point in time according to where we lived. Some forms of eating have proven to be better for overall mortality. Still, we are nowhere near the finish line in our understanding of the human condition and what foods it takes to get us back to our so-called Edenic state, which is why I am currently a vegan, but not raw and not frugivore.

I believe that we are still too early in the game to call the outcome as to what is the best diet for humans. But clearly, we are beginning to see that some correlations lead us to believe that a whole food/plant-based diet of at least 95% is the best way to go.

I love the current dietary course I am on for several reasons, and it just makes sense to me, but I do have my reservations. I believe in biological evolution and, as such, 50,000+ years of human adaptation where some small amount of animal-based proteins may very well have become a part of our genetic structures. Even if humanity was born in a pristine garden where there was no need to eat animals, the fossil record demonstrates that we did not follow that path beyond that garden state.

I am convinced most certainly that modern-day man has significantly erred in our ways because of modern convenience. Our overconsumption of animal proteins may be the real problem, not simply the consumption itself. In like manner, a diet that consisted of large amounts of grapes or any other single fruit with every meal would also eventually become a problem.

I am not making up these rules, just appreciating the observations based on our physiological, cultural, and traditional development. It may very well be that the current human condition is based more on the last 50,000 years of human development and subsequent adaptation than we could have imagined. It may be that a 95% whole food/plant-based with around 5% of our caloric intake from small animal sources like fish that is consumed once or twice a week with a spacing of about every fourth day is the optimal diet. This is just how the research plays out, especially for those above 65 from current findings. This leads me to my next point.

Even within the five major communities that make up what we refer to as “Blue Zones,” which comprise our oldest and healthiest demonstration of human life here on Earth, the ones that live the shortest lives are the vegans and vegetarians. The ones that live the longest, the centenarians, are the ones that do incorporate small amounts of animal-based proteins. There is current data among gerontology researchers that sees a decline in health and vibrancy in those who remain vegan beyond 65.

And then, on top of it all, there are always exceptions that anyone can point to that fall outside of specific dietary rulesets that have better health than others no matter how they eat. But these exceptions don’t make the rule. They are simply exceptional. It may very well be that they were lucky enough to come from a lineage of ancestors that were doing things the right way for long enough with strong maternal genetics for enough generations in a row that no matter how they treat their body, they will excel in their individual expression of life: cigarettes, vodka, steak, and all. There will always be exceptions.

I believe that we all need to step back and take a deep breath, making observations while gathering statistics along the way. Maybe in another 500 to 1000 years, we can start drawing reasonable conclusions. But for now, I believe we would best be served to extract our current findings from observable evidence with child-like curiosity and a lack of rigid dogmatism.

What’s Keeping Us From Living Our Fullest Life?

Look at the fangs on this fuzzy fella. He is a gibbon and gibbons are frugivores.

I used to think that the reason we humans have these teeth in our mouth that we call canines is that we were meant to eat meat. Well, this fuzzy fella has some crazy-looking fangs, yet he only eats fruit all day.

 

I’m not saying that we cannot eat meat, because surely we can and do. But just because we call 4 teeth in our mouth canine teeth and they vaguely look like what a canine has a mouthful of doesn’t mean that meats were to be eaten by us in the amounts we do.

I still plan on continuing my non-animal fare as long as wisdom leads me down that path. It makes the most sense to me from my studies over the last 4.5 years on how the human body works BEST.

Can we eat meat? Sure. Should we eat meat? Not to the extent that most of us do if there is plenty of fresh plant-based/whole-foods are readily available. But hey, if you happened to find yourself lost in the Arctic and subarctic regions of Greenland, Canada, and Alaska and the only things the Inuit have to offer is seal, then eat up my friend. It’s better than the other option.

If malnourishment were the other option for me I already have a plan in place for how I would go about consuming it. I’d rather be prepared than be caught off guard in that eventuality.

Can we humans fully function on a completely whole-food/plant-based diet alone? I am and I know a lot of other people that are doing it too, and we are all doing just fine. Am I 100% convinced that any one of us vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, or carnivore has it all figured out? No. There may yet be a better answer still.

These days we are living in a world of plenty where we have so many good options that we actually have the luxury to actually choose to do as we like. Something a lot of humans couldn’t have done just 150 short years ago. Many were just trying to maintain health or even simply survive. And sadly many suffered from all manner of malnourishment diseases that have been virtually vanquished in this world of plenty we live in today.

I personally can’t wait for the first person that has figured out how to live more than 120 years with a body that looks, feels, and functions like a healthy 24. It will start with a single person with sight beyond their own short life. A person that understands that there are things that are within our midst, within our grasp, within our power to control. Principles by which we can become the fullness of the life that was intended to be used by the intelligence that saw fit to gather our elements together into a cohesive bundle of energy. A life force bound up in this unique form for a purpose.