Hacking Your Health

by | Jul 3, 2023 | Resilience

Image: Shutterstock

What if we took a different approach to what appears to be an increasing vulnerability to disease as we age?

It’s probably safe to say that nearly all of us have the same long range health goal: to be alive, healthy, and active for as long as possible. But how long is “as long as possible”?

There are several regions of the globe in which relatively large percentages of the population live healthy active lives well into their 90s. Some of this might be attributable to genetics, but people who move away from those regions tend to have lifespans similar to the populations they have joined rather than the population they left, so genetics can’t be the primary cause. Studies of these “Blue Zone” populations reveal that they do not have a common diet, except in one regard—in none of them do processed foods make up a substantial fraction of people’s daily food intake. Another commonality is regular physical activity, another is engagement in family and community life.

Many of us who are not fortunate enough to live in a Blue Zone turn to other approaches to increase longevity, such as diets, or supplements, or pharmaceuticals. One could say that we are looking for ways to “hack” our body’s systems, which seem to become naturally more vulnerable to disease after a certain age. 

Whether or not these approaches are successful for most people is hard to know for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that diets, supplements, and pharmaceuticals are all huge revenue generating industries. The potential for profits resulting from studies that yield favorable results inevitability colors the accuracy and reporting of those results.

But what if we thought about the increasing vulnerability to disease as we age in a different way—not as a reason to find or invent a way to hack our body’s systems, but as evidence that our bodies have already been hacked?

Think about what happens in an economy where profit is the primary motivation of business and corporations, and huge profits await those who solve the problem of how to get millions, tens of millions, and hundreds of millions of members of the population to agree to put certain commodities into their bodies, commodities that are rather inexpensive to produce? That is, the kind of economy that dominates many modern civilizations? The amount of effort, intelligence, and money that will go into solving that problem—that is, into finding ways to corrupt our natural tendency toward health—will naturally be immense.

Let’s consider two examples. 

The first is tobacco. As an addictive substance, it’s made to order for getting tens of millions of people to start using it and keep using it. All it really takes is advertising, the addition of additional addictive substances into cigarettes, PR, and poorly done or faked scientific research to keep the population from getting suspicious and the law at bay. And in exactly this way large swaths of the adult populations of America and other countries were hacked, persuaded to consume quantities of toxins daily. We know that result of that particular hack—an estimated 100 million deaths due to smoking during the 20th century. And although smoking is much less popular in the US than it used to be, the World Health Organization estimates that worldwide during this 21st century smoking will kill a billion people. A very successful hack, indeed. 

Now let’s talk about another substance, or rather two very similar substances: industrialized sugar and corn syrup. While the popularity and use of tobacco products declined over the last half of the 20th century and first half of the 21st, sugar is still very much in the ascension mode. This graph shows sugar consumption per person in the United States over the past 200 years: 

https://www.businessinsider.com/chart-american-sugar-consumption-2012-2

There is nothing healthy in the consumption of such quantities of sugar—the result is increased insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, creating high risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. 

US Diabetes Surveillance System; www.cdc.gov/diabetes/data; Division of Diabetes Translation – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Yet the hackers in the food processing industry have been, and continue to be, incredibly successful at getting hundreds of millions of Americans, and billions around the globe, to consume these cheaply manufactured substances in quantity. 

In the process (pun intended), our appetite controller has also been hacked—we’re not consuming sugar because we’re hungry, we’re consuming it because it permeates our food supply and especially the processed and ultra-processed foods that fill grocery shelves. The result is that we tend to eat well beyond what our appetites demand. Consequently, we accumulate more body fat.

Javier Zarracina/Vox

And now comes the final hack—we are convinced by additional huge investments of effort, intelligence, and money to buy into diets that supposedly help us lose weight with special foods and supplements, or to buy drugs which help bring about weight loss. And so we have been twice hacked. 

Maybe what we need to do to improve and maintain our health in the long term is not to find a way to further hack the body’s communication and control systems, but rather a way to unhack them—to avoid the intended consequences of all of that effort, intelligence, and money. 

How do we do that? That answer, it turns out, is not at all complicated, but you should be aware that being simple is not necessarily the same thing as being easy. 

Unhack # 1: Eat very little or no ultra-processed foods, not much processed food and, mostly, real food. Severely limit your consumption of industrial sugar and high fructose corn syrup. 

Unhack # 2: Increase your physical activity. If you’re over 50, don’t increase too much too fast, but work towards a level of several hours each week of walking, riding bikes, playing sports, or just plain exercise. 

Unhack # 3: Make getting a good night’s sleep a priority. Among other things that might involve managing your daily cortisol levels by taking time out to de-stress in whatever ways you most enjoy and can easily do routinely. The increase of physical activity is one way to do that. (And one of the benefits of de-stressing is that additional consumption of sugar and refined carbohydrates is a common response to stress.) 

You’ll find that the more you apply any one of these three unhacks, the easier will be the other steps. So you can pick any one of them to focus on to begin with to realize immediate benefits. Or, you could start with unhack #4: 

Unhack # 4: Administer to yourself regular doses of anti-hacking protection, by continuing to work on your own education and understanding about how your body works. It might take some work to identify sources of information that the hackers haven’t corrupted, but it can be done, and you will enjoy the certainty and self-confidence about maintaining your health that come from true knowledge and real understanding. And not incidentally, a longer, healthier, and more active life. 

Dave Hendry

Dave Hendry

Position

Dave Hendry is co-founder of The 5 Fundamentals of Health and Fundamentals of Health Alliance. He has an extensive CV in research, education and curriculum development.

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