Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Problem with Our Health and Robb Wolf's Paleo Solution (Book Review)

By Christian Wernstedt

When attending Robb Wolf's seminar in Brooklyn earlier this month I received a copy of his excellent new book which was released yesterday. This is my review. /CW

Today’s world of preventive medicine, dietetics, and health is a bizarre, and often life-threatening mess.

A major cause of this situation is ”trickle-down” stupidity where most health scientists, commentators, and practitioners still 150 years after the publication of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" have not fully recognized that the fields of medicine and dietetics are derivatives of the science of biology, and that biology's integrating principle is Darwin's theory of evolution.

To paraphrase the evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky: Nothing in medicine, or dietetics (or, really, within any of the life sciences) makes sense except in the light of evolution.

Indeed little make sense today in the world of mainstream health advice, dietary theories, and medical practices.

Most people thus have their concepts of how to attain and maintain health distorted by infantile, impractical, and often dangerous advice from the government, the pharmaceutical lobby (part of which is arguably organizations such as the American Heart Association), and the obfuscation from activist-"scientists" and pundits who cleverly tap into the cultural-dietary neuroses of contemporary society ("dietary fat is the root of all evil", "eating animal products is a sin against Mother Gaia", etc).

More tragically, we have a situation where the great majority of people are selling themselves short in terms of what kind of vibrant health and well-being is actually possible at any age.

Few people know that health and youthfulness are attainable by consistently applying a set of simple dietary- and lifestyle interventions; that what's generally considered inevitable diseases of aging- or lifestyle can be significantly reversed or even cured within months; that diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, strokes, and Alzheimer's all share certain ultimate causes rooted in lifestyle; and that the accelerating downward progression into disability starting at age 35 (or at age five as is increasingly the situation in the United States) is not the planned obsolescence built into the design of our species.

Most people (and most doctors) have concluded that Hippocrates' dictum of "let food be thy medicine" apply marginally at best and have thus retreated to sticking their heads in the sand while hoping for the next pill to provide salvation when it becomes acutely necessary. These people have waited in vain for decades now, while having had to redefine health as being kept alive in a disabled, dysfunctional state until the bitter end.

We clearly need to take back our birthright to health and help those we care about to do the same.

The power to do so comes from being armed with unbiased knowledge of how the human body works, what its design characteristics are as an evolved biological entity (not what it is supposed to be according to, for instance, pressure group agendas), and what lifestyle features are compatible with those characteristics, and which ones are not.

The power to achieve our health also comes from having the emotional certitude that health and its rewards are not elusive pies-in-the-sky, but that these can be had or re-regained with defined steps beginning today, and from knowing that their pursuit can be immediately rewarding, and, yes, fun.

With his timely new book ”The Paleo Solution”, Robb Wolf (who is an unlikely combination of research-scientist and foul mouthed athletic coach) enters the public square and hands out precisely the knowledge-ammunition and emotional encouragement that we and the rest of the world so desperately need.

Robb takes us through scientific boot camp, showing us how the connections between health and lifestyle factors (including diet, exercise, sleep, and stress) and are laid out inside our bodies; he shows us the evolutionary perspective on health and how our bodies must be viewed as hunter-gatherer bodies if we want to understand their workings; he shows us why certain foods such as meat, seafood, and vegetables are good for us, while others are harmful (a whole chapter is devoted to the huge inflammatory- and auto-immune issues connected with grains).

Now, Robb doesn’t ever let us think that his mission is merely to prove a few counter-establishment scientific points. No, he seriously wants to save our lives, just as he saved his own slightly more than a decade ago, and just as he proceeded to save and enhance the lives of thousands of clients as an athletic coach and teacher of paleolithic nutrition.

In this regard, the deepest emotional chord struck in the book is that from someone who has found the road to a new world (in this case a world of sustained- and vibrant health) and who now by whatever means possible wants to take everyone he knows along to that new frontier - one that has been hidden behind fog-shrouded mountains.

One of Robb’s methods to get the reluctant and disillusioned to follow along on this trail is his patentable sense of humor that stands out on virtually every page. To this end, one chapter is characteristically named ”Grains and Leaky Gut or Keep Your Poop Where it Belongs”, and another ”Why This Book Should be Titled: Sleep You Big Dummy”.

”The Paleo Solution” takes on its subject matter from multiple angles and leaves no perspectives uncovered: The book shows the rationale for the paleo lifestyle in terms of inspiring stories of personal transformation. It covers theory from a broad macro perspective to more detailed information about bio chemical mechanisms. It describes the day-to-day practice as in what foods to eat (recipes included) and how to exercise (exercises for complete beginners are covered as well as instructions for more advanced people). Psychological issues and hurdles are treated with both compassion and the stern voice of a no-nonsense coach who wants his clients to succeed.

It is hard to think of a diet- and lifestyle book of over 300 pages with such scope and density of information that is simultaneously so easy and enjoyable to read. Robb’s personal writing style, deep knowledge, and quirky humor, should take anyone who wants to live a healthy and long life (and who is willing to think and act towards those goals) to Robb’s desired endpoint: that is to try his ”Paleo Solution” for one month, and then very possibly feel how it is to live in a human body again (or for the first time).

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