The Amazing Human System
I am currently reading the latest book by one of my favorite cancer nutrition advocates, Patrick Quillin. The beginning of the book [12 Keys to a Healthier Cancer Patient] takes a moment to detail many of the amazing complexities of the human body. A few mind-boggling facts: humans have approximately 37 trillion cells and around 200 billion of them are being regenerated or replaced on a daily basis, we have over 100 trillion microbes in our gut, and our digestive tract and our lungs each have the surface are of a tennis court! As a teacher and student of biology, especially health science, I am constantly reminded of these complexities as well as the potential of the human body to heal itself.
So why, do you ask, are so many people chronically ill if the human body has this capacity to heal itself? Undeniably, we are a sick species. In the US, over 40% of us will get cancer in our lifetime and over 2/3 of us are either obese or have metabolic disease or both. The answer is that we have strayed too far from the lifestyles that provide our bodies the tools needed to get and stay healthy.
Nutrition is obviously a key element here. In a nutshell: we eat too much, we eat the wrong things, and we don’t eat the right things. It is interesting that the RDA is based on a daily calorie level of 2000 calories for adults but once we reach adulthood, the majority of us do not need to eat 2000 calories a day. We eat ultra-processed “food” full of sugar, artificial ingredients, preservatives, and other chemicals that provide no nourishment. Even if we consume mostly “real” food, the conventional practices of dousing crops with herbicides and pesticides and raising animals in contained environments on non-natural diets with antibiotics and hormones doesn’t result in health foods. Those conventional practices are stripping our soil of vital nutrients and not replacing them, which only adds to the unhealthy food system / cycle. If we ate less and focused our food sources on sustainably produced foods, our health would improve significantly. Fasting, which is simply taking a break between when we eat, has been shown to have huge health benefits. We especially need to increase the time between our last meal of the night and our first meal the next day. We also need to include more of certain types of foods like fiber. Indigestible fiber, in particular, feeds all those microbes in our gut and helps keep all that expanse of digestive tract clean. Fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, yogurt, and kombucha also nourish those gut microbes as well as aiding in the production of acids that help us digest our foods well. We could re-introduce ourselves to a few of these simple practices and our bodies would do the rest.
We also cannot underestimate the relationship of other lifestyle practices with our bodies’ abilities to heal. Sleep and movement are both extremely important. Many studies have proven that sleep deprivation has a huge impact on health. Sleep deprivation causes all sorts of chemical imbalances (hormones, neurotransmitters) that lead to inflammation. Inflammation is a common denominator in almost all chronic disease. Movement is also important. Humans weren’t meant to sit for hours and hours day after day. What we’re talking about here isn’t hard-core cardio or running a marathon. A simple walk has great health benefits.
Then there’s the mind … one of the truly amazing components of our human system. The mind can influence so many areas resulting in enormous healing potential. There is a reason that clinical science recognizes and tries to account for the placebo effect! The mind is where we recognize and manage stressors, where we form and acknowledge feelings of gratitude and love, where we decide to forgive, where we practice visualization and meditation … all of these mental activities have been shown to have a positive impact on health. Attitude counts!
Another concept required to be a healthy human system is connection. Connection is both physical and spiritual. We need a physical connection to the Earth … grounding is a practice of walking barefoot outside that generates positive energy. We need physical connection to other beings … our friends, our family, our pets. Humans also need sunlight. Sunlight on our skin helps us produce vitamin D … which is involved in almost every biological function. Yes, the practice of oiling up and laying out in the sun for hours is not safe or healthy but neither is never getting out and allowing your skin get a little UV love.
This book, like many that delve into the science of disease, touches on genetics and how our genes can make us susceptible or at higher risk of certain types of cancer or disease. But epigenetics is so much more important that genetics. We can control whether we are healthy or not. With the right lifestyle practices, we give our body the tools to heal. And that healing process is perhaps the most amazing feat of the human system.