Living Well

Taren, a health management professional, asks: Is there a best practice that would show cultures bucking North American food diet require less for health care?

I am going to answer this question over several columns as it is too important to give a simple answer in the column and a very complicated backgrounder on the website.

I will speak to genetic, epigenetic, microbiomic and psychological factors.

Every culture has a pattern of genes chemically switched on and off by diet and environment over the last 300 years that is perhaps how far back what are called epigenetic switches have a biological memory for.
The body has a microbial population which outnumbers our human cell count by 10 times. It is like a rainforest ecosystem which resides on every body surface internal and external including places like plaque in arteries and lining of joints and stomach. This ecosystem consumes what it finds in its immediate environment spews out products which become part of our nutrient profile.

Social pressures and communicable diseases never part of historical biology add to the complexity of the system.

As well diurnal metabolism has changed from nature's light/dark and seasonal patterns to one dictated by social and work patterns science has shown that eating after 8 p.m. when the body is shifting to a night/sleep pattern causes calories to convert to stored fat rather than be burned off.

Most of us do not supplement with the folic acid and melatonin required to allow the body to reset itself to accommodate an unnatural sleep/wake cycle.

The growing aboriginal culture in Saskatchewan presents a good demonstration case. A culture evolved with a feast and famine diet. A rugged harsh environment and intense physical activity that burned off fats and social stress was much different than the modern world.

Seven crucial nutritional characteristics of traditional diet altered by western diet are blood sugar load, fatty acid composition, macronutrient composition, mineral and phyto-nutrient density (herbs/berries/fresh game meat), acid-base balance, sodium/potassium ratio and complex carbohydrates/fibre level.

The modern diet is not only high in components we have not been naturally selected to tolerate but also radically varies on a daily basis without even considering the hundreds of novel compounds never found in nature we now are routinely exposed to.

For aboriginals it appears that confusing the immune system is a root problem. While obesity from excessive carbs and fats and less activity is usually blamed, chemicals in our food also fool our biology to promote the tendency to carry too much non-muscle body mass. The immune system may be the part of the problem and the solution.

It was noted some years ago that farmers in the midwest had much lower levels of multiple sclerosis, Crohn's disease and other autoimmune and allergic conditions. A component of farm life was raising pigs.

Farmers exposed to pigworm larvae had sporadic worm populations in their gut. These little worms never reproduced but did hook onto the gut and excrete compounds to keep the body from rejecting them. It is now understood that what kept the gut from rejecting worms also protected those so infected from getting autoimmune diseases.

In aboriginal populations when obesity disrupts antioxidant metabolism and immune function, diabetes, heart and kidney disease are indirectly the result. Pro-inflammatory metabolic syndrome caused by modern diet amplifies susceptibility to a broad range of diseases which take decades to develop. Prevention is much easier than treatment but the fact is we now must deal with both equally.

Next issue I will propose possible pathways towards solving diet induced health crisis for aboriginals by comparing with aboriginal populations who have not adopted North American dietary patterns.

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