Detox and health in the context of evolution: what we need to know to heal in today’s toxic world!
We live in a world that has rapidly degenerated in recent centuries and decades and experience now the negative health effects! We do not only have genetic mismatches due to fast environmental changes, as our bodies are still adapted to ancient conditions. We also feel the pressure of a growing toxic burden and increasingly compromised detoxification abilities. Learn what our original habitat and diet looked like, and how we can regain better health by imitating those conditions in our everyday life.
In this article, I will first elaborate on the bullet points to restore health, before geeking into the evolutionary mechanism behind it.
Finding back home – finding health!
Humans are interconnected in a complex web of ecological interactions and exhibit traits and functions shaped through evolutionary processes. Due to slow processes in evolution, the human organism did not catch up through genetic adaptation to the very recent drastic environmental, nutritional, and lifestyle changes. Instead, humans might exhibit traits and functions adapted to an ancient environment.
This mismatch causes genetic and epigenetic maladaptation to our toxic modern world and, ultimately, current natural selection:
Not having enough of what we require from the environment (nutrients) while facing an overload of harmful and xenobiotic substances causes many imbalances in the system and lead to a degenerative state of the body:
- shifts in microbiome and dysbalance of the “human ecosystem” (humans as a holobiont)
- epigenetic changes and maladaptive patterns (i.e. disrupted gene expression)
- biochemical disturbances (i.e., enzyme dysfunctions, hormonal disruption)
- accumulation of toxins in tissues (see here)
- cellular degeneration and functional disturbances
While those are awful news (which we witness all around us in the form of rising chronic-degenerative conditions), there is hope! More often than not, we can experience regenerative processes when turning conditions around! But how?
We flood the body with the nutrition it needs and decrease unnatural, toxic exposure as much as possible: We need to “find back home” to our ancestral environment to create the conditions for regeneration and health! So let’s explore, how we can find our way back home and what the human ancestral human ecological niche looks like!
1. The modern toxic world makes us chronically sick
Facing the rise of chronic degenerative diseases over the last decades, we have to start considering the maladaptation of humans to our modern toxic world and living outside our natural habitat – including diet!
To heal, we must address and “undo” the mismatch by “ecological niche reconstruction”: discover our true home and live accordingly in harmony with nature – to heal ourselves and the world!
Summary of evolution’s solution to restore health:
- Toxin exposure: Minimize toxins and pollutants in our everyday life: cosmetics, and care products, cleaners, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, food packages, cooking ware, new materials, clothing, etc.
- Nutrition: Strive towards a high-raw, fruit-based (frugivorous) diet and lifestyle, providing the body with all nutrients. Unfortunately, we must consider nutritional supplements in the modern environment (see below).
- Climate and habitat: Mind the tropical origins of humans and the environmental factors that come with it: sunshine, light, moisture, and the benefits of warm climatic conditions.
Alienation from nature and our origins make us weak: a high toxic body burden, wrong dietary chemistry (foods that are not species-appropriate foods for humans), and nutritional deficiencies are the most stressful impacts on the human body and its symbiotic microorganisms.
Decrease toxic burden and prevent exposure
The contemporary alterations in the “chemosphere” – our modern, toxic environment – lead to maladaptive patterns and selective pressure – only the ones with “good” genes can stand the new stressful conditions! In other words, the modern environment is detrimental to our health, and people who do not have the most effective “detoxification genes” are the ones that suffer the most consequences!
By now, with innumerable synthetic substances from different industries, pharmaceutical residues in water, foods, and everyday exposures in our bodies (and in all living organisms) have to deal with, no one has an overview! All we can do is prevent exposure and strengthen our detoxification system:
Enhance detoxification abilities
The bodies detoxification abilities is strongly suspected to be under contemporary evolutionary selection. It is already starting to be a reality that “ineffective, slow detoxers” are suffering more health and fertility consequences than the luckier “good detoxer”. This is not fiction or fantasy but an actual condition that has been described by dr. Lynch in “dirty genes“. But the fact that organisms and humans detoxify different substances in different ways has gained attention in science (i.e., here).
We are compromised in our detoxification abilities either through limiting genes (a mismatch in our over-burdening world) or because toxins interfere with our epigenetics or detoxification enzymes or elimination organs! Therefore it is crucial for health to speed up and optimize our detoxifying capacities! To do so, the first step is to eliminate synthetic products from our lives, return to a natural lifestyle and species-specific diet (see below), and provide the body with all nutrients it requires.
Check out our free guide how to enhance your detoxification naturally:
2. We forgot what foods are really human foods
To what diet, habitat, and ecological niche is our body adapted? Rediscovering our original biological conditions is the prerequisite for regeneration and healing. So, what did our ancestral habitat and diet look like? To gain insight, we can study our ancestors and our closest living relatives – the chimpanzees!
We are tropical frugivores!
It’s becoming more evident that our dietary morphology and physiology are that of a tropical frugivorous (fruit-eating) primate: we share those traits with our closest relatives, the Chimpanzees, which are specialized ripe-fruit-eaters (read the full article here). Their preferred food is fruit, which makes up around 70% of their diet. Read more on the Chimpanzees dietary habits here.
Learn why to adapt our species-appropriate diet here and check out our free guide on how to do so:
Stop ignoring that we are actually a tropical species
Humans are originally a tropical species, and we are still adapted to warm climates (see details here): Humans originated in tropical Africa and migrated faster out of our original habitat than evolution could act – due to our extraordinary skills to adapt to our surroundings through intelligent inventions. Therefore, we have not experienced significant evolutionary changes in diet-related biological traits. Only a few specific local adaptations have emerged, which enabled survival in challenging cold environments and their food sources (for example, improved milk digestion). However, we adopted a cultural survival diet that has far deviated from our ancestral diet and biology.
Living outside our natural habitat comes at a price because humans depend on cultural adaptations (to compensate for the lack of genetic adaptations) to survive in colder areas!
Health depends on a species-appropriate environment
Healing is restoring functional integrity within our body. This process is, by default, performed by the body’s incredible innate regenerative forces! All organisms regenerate and strive for living – by default!
However, these regenerative processes are only effective and fast enough for healing, given the proper environmental conditions: our bodies struggle from the genetic mismatch and lack of adaptations when living within an environment in which it has not evolved and thus not adapted to the conditions it is exposed to. Therefore, we need our natural habitat to restore our functionality integrity and thus strengthen our regenerative life force and capacity.
The best example is probably the setting of a Zoo: we know we need to reconstruct the right climate and feed the right diet for every species. Otherwise, the animals get sick or even die. However, we have forgotten that our species has a biologically suitable habitat, too: the tropics!
Humans have always had to reconstruct their ecological niche when living outside their natural habitat: we build warm houses, wear suitable clothes to withstand harsh weather, and import fresh food when the cold climates have little to offer during the colder seasons. We also cook food to make stuff edible and palatable that otherwise would not serve as our food – this helps us survive outside the tropics. However, the adequate reconstruction of our original natural habitat is often challenging.
Moreover, besides surviving in the “wrong” climatic conditions, we also struggle with the degeneration and pollution of soils, air, water, and basically all spheres of our lives!
The Anthropocene – the epoch of human-made global change – brings along environmental alterations which might interfere with human fitness and evolution in a complex manner. The chemosphere of the human niche is being influenced by the introduction of xenobiotics (synthetic molecules such as drugs), exposure to toxicants (pesticides, heavy metals, industrial production), and altered proportion of chemical agents due to pollution. Furthermore, nutrition and food habits, one of the most intimate interactions of the organism with its environment, have changed within the last millennia, centuries, and decades.
This brings along dramatic general health decline, and it is a struggle to stay functional living in such a world:
1. Functional integrity equals health
Functionality is a key concept in biology and health:
Best health can be described as optimal functionality of the organism. Any health condition can be described as the disruption of the integrity of function, malfunction, or loss of function. This includes the genetic, epigenetic, biochemical, and organ levels, which is why “functional medicine” is highly successful in restoring health: the root causes of dysfunctions are addressed. Therefore health promotion can be viewed as promoting (biochemical) functional integrity.
It is no secret that the proper functioning of the body is highly dependent on the “right” environmental influences – like nutrient intake, high-quality foods, clean and mineral-rich water and air, climate, and even social aspects. So, what does a highly regenerative environment look like? Here is where evolution can answer:
An organism experiences its best functionality and health when living within the environment it has evolved in and adapted to!
In other words, for good health, we need to avoid a genetic mismatch. This means we must know our ancient environment and recreate those conditions to restore health!
Regeneration can be a surprising process – and it does also exist in chronic conditions, not only for injuries! However, the regeneration of unhealthy tissue – by the body’s own optimized and boosted cleansing and restoration mechanisms – is not what conventional health beliefs teach us. Moreover, it usually is not what we experience – because we cannot expect a different outcome for doing the same things, but we can expect changes to bring about a change! We are used to experiencing degeneration in a usual lifestyle, to the degree that we do not know regeneration actually does occur naturally!
So what do we have to do to get into the regenerative state? We need to imitate the original conditions and diet we have evolved with:
2. Imitating ancient ecological conditions to heal!
To avoid feeling like a “fish outside the water” health-wise, we need to know our original ancestral habitat and the conditions we have developed our biological traits and local adaptations throughout evolution. And with this information, we recreate the environment where we experience the best functionality and enhanced regeneration – also called species-specific or biologically appropriate diet and habitat.
As described above, it is crucial to gain awareness that we are tropical frugivores! In a nutshell, we must navigate towards a mostly raw, organic diet high in ripe tropical fruits, nuts, greens, tubers, and enough sunshine and avoid exposure to synthetic and toxic substances (an ancient exposome).
Recreating and striving towards ancient environmental conditions and lifestyle/nutrition is a powerful key concept of positive change that can boost our regenerative capability beyond what we expect it to do!
But let’s elaborate why our evolutionary past holds the key to better health:
How does health relate to evolution’s rules?
Why does following evolution’s rules help us heal – if we understand them? Let’s explore the evolutionary force in health:
1. Change generates selective pressure
The interconnectedness of nature has arisen through complex co-evolutionary processes involving the biota and abiotic world. Biological functions and traits of organisms have emerged interdependently through natural selection within this ecological web and a “dance” of interconnected chemistry. This process is “directed” by the concept of Darwinian fitness – the basic concept in evolutionary biology of the ability (of an organism) to survive and reproduce within a given environment.
Generally, stable environments create an evolutionarily stable state with less potential for negative selective pressures. On the other hand, new influences lead to maladaptive states, health problems, and ultimately to more evolutionary responses:
Disrupting the – evolutionarily grown – interactive web by environmental change (due to human or natural disturbance) exerts selective pressure. Selective pressure drives natural selection and ultimately shapes living organisms in the course of evolution. The selective forces act on individuals’ performance (function, health, survival), which is ultimately described as fitness in evolutionary terms. This simply means that only the ones with the “best” suitable genes to cope with the new conditions will make it and be healthy enough to reproduce. This is the role of evolutionary processes in health issues related to our modern lives and degenerated toxic environments. Only the strongest survive the “daily shower of toxins”!
When we disrupt the complex ecological web, we also disrupt biological functions, especially when introducing xenobiotic substances that are bioactive and potentially toxic or accumulative in the body.
2. Current fast changes lead to genetic mismatch
Environmental changes can potentially affect health and reproduction, leading to current evolutionary processes due to the resulting maladaptive state – also in humans.
We are not talking about climate change here, but the rapid destruction and degradation of the natural world and chemical poisoning of water, air, soil, and just about every living being – including humans!
Evolutionary response to environmental change (degradation and chemical pollution) is of growing significance for our health, considering current rapid and complex environmental changes! Even one single change potentially generates a selective force that drives evolutionary change! The state of current maladaptation of many humans is reflected in the growing number of chronic-degenerative health issues.
3. Toxic world is an evolutionary force
It is no surprise that the growing extent of chemical change and all-encompassing toxin exposure in our lives create selective pressure and thus are a major – if not the major – contemporary evolutionary force!
Seriously, if we want to gain functional integrity and health, we need to run and hide from the avalanche of new chemicals that overwhelms our system! Disrupted ecological integrity may lead to disrupted functional integrity of the human body.
Human pollutants have been shown to disrupt biological functions, including reproduction, in wildlife species (Rhind 2012): this is a canary in the coal mine, raising red flags indicating similar effects in humans!
“In recent decades, entirely novel compounds have been created, for multiple purposes, and some of these have become ubiquitous, damaging pollutants, which interfere with fundamental physiological processes in all animal species, disrupting reproductive and other functions.”Rhind 2012
The altered chemosphere (including food composition, environmental toxins, pesticides, etc.) leads to maladaptive epigenetic patterns (resulting in overall decreased fitness, i.e., increased disease and decreased fertility), which can even be inheritable. Exposures involve (among others) synthetic pollutants from agriculture, the chemical industry, pharmaceuticals (pesticides, drugs, etc.), as well as the new distribution patterns of “naturally occurring substances” (heavy metals, etc.) and complex pollution, such as air pollution, water micro-pollution, etc. A major challenge in predicting the effect on health is the multitude of chemical exposures and the complexity of their interactions. This cocktail effect is too complex to be studied in its entire magnitude!
These accumulations of pollutants and xenobiotics in our environment, such as air pollution, drug and pollution in water, endocrine disruptors, pesticides, and additives in food, might be either accumulated in the body or metabolized by detoxification systems and excreted through detoxing pathways.
However, detoxification system can be overstressed and even blocked by the load of foreign molecules or the unknown properties of xenobiotics and the interaction between a multitude of compounds. Thus, the chemicals might be stored inside the body, in the lymphatic system, the fat cells, or other cells.
We are under toxic selection!
The complex chemical changes of our world can act as selective pressure (evolution) with an outcome that is more favorable to individuals with effective detoxing mechanisms and/or toxin-avoiding behavior.
“it is likely that most toxic chemicals in the environment will affect evolutionary processes… We predict a new field, evolutionary toxicology, will emerge to address the issues.”John Bickham & Michael Smolen
In some cases, the toxic evolutionary force has been shown in humans: human populations exposed to arsenic have adapted to the toxin (see here). However, today’s modern chemical cocktails are nearly impossible to study for their effect on human health, reproduction, and survival!
Read more here about toxins as evolutionary force on humans here.
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