Mind your genes! They're telling you something.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

October 2013

The term genetically appropriate lifestyle refers to the diet and activity levels that keep us in good health. Our body chemistry reached its present form hundreds of thousands of years ago when our forbears still lived in the temperate grasslands and forests of Africa. That was long before humans migrated to the diverse environments of Europe, Asia, the Americas and Australia. They had no grains, sugar or dairy products, foods that now comprise more than 70 percent of the world's caloric intake.

The populations of modern industrial societies are overfed and undernourished. Only 30 percent of Americans are of normal weight. The rest have 10 or more pounds of excess body fat and about one person in 20 struggles with a hundred pounds or more. Type 2 diabetes is a growing epidemic. What was once a disease of late middle age is now common during adolescence and complications of diabetes such as blindness and kidney failure are increasing among thirty-somethings.

Genes regulate how the body processes our intake of sugar, for example. Long before the Agricultural Revolution sugar was not a regular part of the diet. Stone-Agers enjoyed honey but only occasionally. We don't have the metabolic mechanism that can properly deal with the equivalent of 22 teaspoons of honey in the form of refined sugar that the average American eats every day.

There is enough carbohydrate in plant foods to accommodate our hour-by-hour energy requirements. Any excess is stored in the liver and muscles in the form of glycogen, just as plants store starch. After that, excess carbohydrate is converted into fat.

It would be nice if the extra carbohydrate that we eat in the form of refined flour and refined sugar, much of it in the form of soft drinks, would simply pass through our intestinal tract unused. Unfortunately we have something called a thrifty gene — actually a very complex group of genes — that allows us to use those calories to store up a reserve of fat in case the food supply runs out for a few days. That hardly ever happens anymore. The thrifty gene is now killing us in the form of heart disease, stroke and even cancer.

The genetically appropriate lifestyle isn't rocket science but it's certainly hard to maintain. It's not easy to turn away from the foods that mess up our body chemistry, mostly refined grains, sugars and saturated fat. It's just worth it.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.