I’ve talked a lot about the health of hunter-gatherers and traditional people on this blog, and I’ve repeatedly highlighted the fact that these people are free from many of the so-called diseases of civilization as long as they stick with their traditional lifestyle. That doesn’t mean we should glorify the living conditions and health of these populations, as the lack of medical assistance isn’t without its consequences, two of which are high rates of infant mortality and decreased protection against infections. Also, I think few of us would like to leave all the comforts and technology in the modern world behind and adopt a hunter-gatherer existence. The key is to learn from our past and find ways to combine the best from both worlds. The reason foragers and some isolated, indigenous peoples are largely free from cancer, heart disease, acne vulgaris, and other diseases of civilization is that they live in environments that resemble those we evolved in for millions of years. In other words, their phenotypic expression is much closer to our ancestral norm. They experience a state of Organic Fitness, which sets the stage for Organic Beauty.
You can tell a lot about the health of an individual by looking at them
It’s well established that body fat levels give an indication of the health status of an individual. That doesn’t mean having a few extra pounds is going to kill you or that all lean people are healthy (far from it), it simply means that both “too much” and “too little” body fat are indicators of less than optimal health. Changes in levels of body fat and muscle mass are often used to see the effects of diet and lifestyle interventions, partly because these variables are easy to measure. However, I think that other observable characteristics of the human body can be even better indicators of health status. This is especially true for lean and/or muscular individuals, who aren’t necessarily healthy just because they carry low levels of body fat and/or have the ability to lift a lot of weight in the deadlift. I should know, as I’ve always been lean and relatively muscular, but I haven’t always been healthy.
I strongly believe that by looking at the skin, hair, teeth, tongue, and perhaps even facial structure of an individual, one can get a good idea of how healthy that person is. This might sound like a strange and/or “naturalistic” way of thinking, but the fact is that this idea is well supported in the scientific literature. Tooth decay, skin lesions, oily hair, white coating on the tongue, and dental arch deformities are never isolated problems, but rather abnormalities that arise from poor nutrition, low-grade chronic inflammation, dysbiosis, and/or other deeply rooted issues that have systemic effects. Some of these problems could even be traced back generations, as “health” is transferred from mother to child through epigenetic marks and the microbiome.
Westernization changes the human body
Acne vulgaris and other skin disorders, tooth decay, dental arch deformities, coated tongue and bad breath, very oily hair, narrow nasal passages, crowded teeth, and many other abnormalities are much more common in westernized nations than among foragers and traditional peoples. This is something you can clearly see simply from looking at photographs, and it is also documented in the literature.
Dr. Weston A. Price’s epic book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration provides a thorough documentation of what happens to people’s physical appearance following the transition from a traditional lifestyle to a western lifestyle. What he found was that this change lead to rampant tooth decay, and children who were born and raised in a new “westernized” environment often had narrowing of the face and nasal passages, narrowing of the birth canal, dental arch deformities and crowded teeth, and many other signs of poor nutrition and health (Pictures here). These effects were most severe when people transitioned from eating a traditional diet to a highly refined diet, as was the case for many of the groups Dr. Weston A. Price studied.
Physical abnormalities occur following the adoption of a western diet and lifestyle due of changes in gene expression, epigenetic programming, and microbiome composition. In many parts of the world today, tooth decay, crowded teeth, narrowed nasal passages, acne vulgaris, and misalignment of the teeth are so prevalent that we tend to think of these problems as a natural part of human life. Fossil data and studies of hunter-gatherers and isolated, non-westernized populations show that we should strongly reconsider this view (1, 2, 3, 4).
Hunter-gatherers and traditional populations are untouched by modern junk foods, processed and “soft” diets, CAFO meats, drugs, all-consuming technology, chronic inactivity, and other aspects of modern lifestyles that the human body is inadequately adapted for. That’s not to say that all of these non-modernized people are in superb health and have an aesthetically pleasing physique and look. Of course not. It simply means that the aforementioned physical abnormalities are much less common in these populations.
All of the traditional cultures in the world today are in various stages of acculturation, and most of the populations no longer live full-time the traditional way. Mismatch disorders increase in prevalence as these cultures become increasingly westernized.
Beautiful faces from around the world
Let’s take a look at some foragers and indigenous people to see what I mean when i talk about Organic Beauty… I’ve chosen some especially beautiful pictures to make a point, but I want to make it clear that the individuals in these photos aren’t exceptionally well-built. If you look at pictures of indigenous people who still follow a traditional lifestyle, the vast majority have the same physical characteristics as the people in the photographs below. Reconstructions of ancient humans also suggest that narrowing of the nasal passages, crowding of the teeth, and many of the other abnormalities documented by Dr. Weston A. Price and other researchers are largely modern problems.
General physical characteristics of foragers and non-modernized, isolated people include:
- Broad, wide faces.
- Broad nostrils.
- High cheekbones.
- Straight teeth.
- Beautiful skin (no make-up of course).
- “Strong” facial structures.
- Normal body fat levels.
- Picture 1+2: The Kitavans.
Picture 1 and 2 by Staffan Lindeberg. Used after permission was given.
- Picture 3+4: The Inuit.
Picture 3 by Dobbs, B.B. and 4 by unknown. No known copyright restrictions.
- Picture 5+6: The San People.
Picture 5 and 6 by Dietmar Temps. Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved.
- Picture 7-8: The Maasai.
Picture 7 by Ninaras and 8 by Dmitri Markine. Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved.
- Picture 9-14: The Himba.
Picture 9 by Yves Picq, 10 by Hans Stieglitz, 11 by ilan molcho, 12 by Martin Allaire, 13 by Yves Picq, and 14 by Yves Picq. Creative Commons License. Some rights reserved.
- Picture 15: Indigenous Australians on the Bathurst Island
Picture 15 by Hon. C L A Abbott. No known copyright restrictions.
Can we achieve Organic Beauty in the modern world?
Let’s start with negative first: We all have to work with what we’ve got.
- Besides the obvious role of the genes you inherit, epigenetic programming also has to be factored in, meaning that it’s possible that the diet and lifestyle of your parents – and probably even grandparents – left “marks” on your genome. If your mother followed an “unhealthy” diet and lifestyle prior to and during pregnancy, this could have negatively influenced your physical development.
- Poor nutrition during the first few years of life could have given you a less than optimal start. One especially big issue is that most kids – and adults for that matter – eat mostly soft, processed food, which can lead to inadequate development of the jaw musculature and less than optimal teeth alignment.
Over to the positive: A lot can be done!
- The 7 key components of an Organic Fitness Regimen, which are a healthy diet, adequate microbial exposure, adequate sun exposure, regular physical activity, acute stress as opposed to chronic stress, adequate sleep, and low exposure to harmful substances, make you lose weight, clear up your skin, and in general, ancestralize your gene expression pattern. It’s especially important to make sure that children are fed optimally, as their diet during the first years of life shape their physical development.
- We have modern technology and innovations that traditional people don’t have. As we all know, shoes, clothes, and “grooming” make a big difference… While the men and women pictured above look great even without make-up, designer shoes, hair gels, moisturizers, and other modern beauty products, ditching all of these things is probably not on the table as an option for most people in industrialized nations. However, that doesn’t mean we have to lash on lotions and hair gels containing a wide range of potentially harmful ingredients though, as there are high-quality, “natural” products out there.
What are your thoughts on all of this?