Less Breath: Better Health? (Mouth Breathing vs. Nasal Breathing)


The following is the transcript for the video by the same name on my channel “What I’ve Learned
,” originally posted on April 12th, 2017.

The hit Netflix series “Stranger Things” has done a great service to its viewers. While it has an excellent story with a good sense of mystery, humor, horror and a loveable cast, what I’m talking about is…

Mike to Eleven: “mouthbreather – y’know, a dumb person?”

This phrase actually only comes up 3 times, but hopefully it made viewers more aware of how they are breathing throughout the day. As the character Will Mike explains, Mouth Breather refers to a “dumb person,” 

But is it because leaving your mouth open just looks dumb or you could say the person is dumb for not being aware of their own face, or does breathing through the mouth actually decrease intelligence somehow? Actually, there is evidence that simply taking air into the mouth rather than the nose can result in reduced IQ.

A systematic review of medical literature done by the Federal University Sergipe in Brazil found that after applying certain criteria Overall, 80% of the articles showed a higher incidence of learning disabilities among mouth breathers,” concluding that “This systematic review has shown that mouth breathers are more likely to have learning difficulties than nasal breathers.”


In the book “Adenoids and Diseased Tonsils: Their Effect on General Intelligence” by Margaret Rogers, she quotes a H. Addington Bruce saying “… mouth-breathing means difficult breathing, and this in turn means deficient [oxygenation] of the tissues, with a resultant lowering of vital activities generally and of the activity of the brain in particular. “

Shut Your Mouth and Save Your Life : George Catlin : Free Download, Borrow,  and Streaming : Internet Archive

George Catlin, author of the 1869 book “Shut your mouth and save your life” stresses the importance of breathing through your nose at all times, while awake or sleeping. He says “there is no perfect sleep for man or brute, with the mouth open; it is unnatural, and a strain upon the lungs” and he describes how impressed he was to see a Native American woman gently press on the lips of her baby to keep its mouth closed while sleeping. 

But how could simply getting Oxygen from one route rather than another be so important that it affect your cognitive ability or anything else for that matter? 

The nose is extremely complex and takes up much more space than just the knob in the middle of your face.  That’s only only 30% of it and the other 70% of the nasal cavity is deep in the skull. While smell is a very important sense, it wouldn’t be necessary to allocate all that real estate unless the nose had other important responsibilities. 

When someone breathes through the mouth, they are bypassing several critical functions of the nose. To name a few, the nose filters, warms and moistens the air you breathe to make it more suitable for your lungs. Nasal breathing also increases levels of nitric oxide, a key signaling molecule used throughout the body. Another very important function of the nose is that it regulates airflow and helps prevent overbreathing. 

So how can you ‘over breathe’? Well, breathing in and out more air than is necessary results in hypocapnia, or a state of reduced carbon dioxide in the blood. This is why people breathe into a paper bag when hyperventilating from intense stress or an anxiety attack. The excessive breathing depleted too much carbon dioxide, so the bag helps trap the carbon dioxide they are exhaling and keep it in the body until their carbon dioxide blood levels and breathing rhythm return to normal. And this is a key point in why mouth breathing can affect people’s intelligence.

Breathing through the mouth during the day or while you’re asleep not only means the air is not conditioned by the nasal cavity, but you tend to exhale too much carbon dioxide, meaning your tissues are actually getting less oxygen. And, lower carbon dioxide within the blood causes a constriction of the carotid artery, the main blood vessel going to the brain. “Each 2.5% drop in the partial pressure of arterial carbon dioxide reduces blood flow to the brain by 2%.

The loss of carbon dioxide from improper breathing isn’t drastic enough to be easily noticeable, but over time the habit can take its toll on the brain and body.

But this is a bit counter intuitive. How could taking in more air through a bigger passage – the mouth, lead to less oxygenation of your tissues?  People mainly think of oxygen when discussing breathing, but Carbon Dioxide is a key factor in this equation.

Amazon | The Oxygen Advantage: The simple, scientifically proven breathing  technique that will revolutionise your health and fitness | McKeown,  Patrick | Sleep Disorders

As Patrick McKeown, author of the Oxygen advantage explains, “The amount of Oxygen, your muscles, organs and tissues are able to use is not entirely dependent on the amount of oxygen in your blood. Our red blood cells are [almost always] saturated with between 95 and 99% oxygen and that’s plenty for even the most strenuous exercise.” So, since your red blood cells are already saturated with oxygen, taking in more oxygen with big breaths isn’t going to do anything. 

What is important, is getting that Oxygen out of the red blood cells so it can be used by the body. And Carbon Dioxide is what allows the release of oxygen from the red blood cells. This physiological phenomenon is called the Bohr effect, it was first described in 1904 by Christian Bohr and it states that “hemoglobin’s oxygen binding affinity is inversely related both to acidity and to the concentration of carbon dioxide.” Hemoglobin is the protein inside red blood cells that carries oxygen. An increase in carbon dioxide decreases blood pH and hemoglobin proteins release their load of oxygen so it can be utilized by the muscles and organs.  A decrease in carbon dioxide increases pH and causes haemoglobin to hold on to more oxygen. That is, the oxygen stays stuck to the hemoglobin so it’s not available for your tissues to use. 

Carbon dioxide is created as an end product of metabolism. So, the Bohr effect helps oxygen be released to the tissues most in need of oxygen. For example when you’re running, your thighs are going to be using a lot of energy, the metabolic rate will increase and the thighs will produce more carbon dioxide. This extra carbon dioxide will then let the hemoglobin supply more oxygen to these hardworking muscles.

However if you’re taking large breaths through the mouth, you’re going to exhale and lose a proportionally large amount of precious carbon dioxide.

Patrick McKeown explains that if we breathe a lower volume of air by breathing in a slow controlled fashion through the nose, we increase the amount of carbon dioxide inside us and can deliver more oxygen to our muscles and organs, including the heart and the brain.

So what’s important is not having enough oxygen, but being able to use that oxygen. Unless you have some serious pulmonary problems, your red blood cells will always be almost fully saturated with Oxygen. If you don’t have enough Carbon Dioxide in the blood because you’re breathing too heavily or through the mouth, you can’t use oxygen efficiently and bringing more Oxygen into the lungs with a big breath won’t help you. 

Ironically, most people will start gasping for air through their mouths in the middle of a long run,  but this only makes matters worse.

Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness: Jurek, Scott,  Friedman, Steve: 8601421057493: Amazon.com: Books


Scott Jurek is one of the most dominant ultramarathon runners in the world, winning many of the sport’s prestigious race events multiple times. He won the 100-mile Western States Endurance Run seven consecutive times. In his memoir “Eat and Run” he says: “One of the most important things you can do … is to breathe abdominally, and a good way to learn that skill is to practice nasal breathing.”

The Tarahumara native Indians of Mexico are able to run up to 62 miles a day, twice that of a typical elite athlete. Studies of the Tarahumara show that they breathe almost entirely through the nose. The tarahumara are better able to utilize nasal nitric oxide, and have more CO2 in the lungs.

Of course there are other factors that allow them to accomplish such impressive feats of endurance, but this is an excellent display of nasal breathing during athletic performance.

Anthropologist Wade Davis has studied and lived with fifteen groups of indigenous people, including tribal hunters of the Amazon. While staying with the tribe, Davis was allowed to accompany them on hunting expeditions. Hunts began in the morning and they would persistently chase animals at a jogging and running pace over many hours, possibly even days. After a while the animal would collapse from exhaustion and they would kill it at short range. Davis was most impressed by the fact that the hunters never opened their mouths to breath during the excursion. 

While you may have been told in gym class that you should breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth while exercising, it’s best to inhale and exhale through the nose for more controlled breathing that lessens the volume of air you take in and out. There are some exceptions where you’d want to breathe through the mouth like very high intensity training, but in most cases nasal breathing is the best option. 

To maintain proper carbon dioxide levels and better facilitate the oxygenation of the body, you’ll want to lower the volume of air you take in and out over time. What that means is while taking deep breaths can be good, taking deep breaths quickly is not. Some well meaning yoga instructors may teach that you should take deep breaths that expand the lungs, but fail to stress the importance of having the breath be slow and controlled.  

In The Hathapradīpikạ, a seminal text of Hatha yoga, compiled in the 15th century, one of the passages says:.


Just as lions, elephants and tigers are calm and controlled, the breath must be controlled by slow degrees. Hasty or forceful breath kills the practiser himself.” 

In the animal world, mouth breathing is a rarity to the extent that it is usually a sign of illness. Farmers know this; they will immediately know if an animal is sick not by noticing whether it breathes through the mouth. Aside from dogs, who pant to regulate their body temperature when they’re hot, most all land mammals breathe regularly through their nose except in times of distress. 

In humans, chronic mouth breathing can lead to cavities, gum disease, lowered immune function, digestive disturbances, poor sleep quality, and  can result in crooked teeth and even poorly developed facial structure.  


“During the 1960s, dentist Egil Harvold conducted a number of experiments where young monkeys’ noses were blocked with silicone nose plugs. 

This caused these monkeys to breathe through the mouth and they gradually acquired a facial appearance different from the control monkeys. The mouth-breathing monkeys developed crooked teeth, a lowered chin and other facial deformities.


Essentially mouth breathing leads to a longer face with a set back jaw, less pronounced cheekbones and restricted airways.

I’ve sometimes wondered why most athletes usually tend to be pretty good looking. I figured there would be an equal amount of facially challenged athletes as there are attractive ones.

Top 15 Most Handsome Athletes in the world 2020: Checkout!

Patrick McKeown argues that breathing plays a role here too. Because the athletes had been breathing properly, it set them up for better physical conditioning as a child meaning better sports performance, and proper breathing supports the development of good facial structure. 

Now I’ve covered only some of the important aspects of nasal breathing, Check out the book The Oxygen Advantage for an impressively thorough exploration of this topic. But I’ll leave you with one important tip to help get the most out of your breathing. Just put some micropore tape on your mouth when you sleep. As weird and slightly scary as that may sound, the quality of sleep you get from ensuring that you breathe through your nose, will definitely be worth getting used to the tape. This has helped me personally, and even people with asthma report that this drastically improves their quality of their sleep. Of courcse it’s best to avoid this if you have certain medical conditions, or in certain situations like after drinking alcohol. After wearing the tape for about 3 months, it should have you naturally breathing through your nose during sleep and improve your breathing pattern during day. 

Why anti-Fat is completely misguided (and the mess it put us in)

The whole concept of anti-fat anti-cholesterol has no science to back it up

You can also check out the video version of this post!

Ancel Keys’ hard work to make us healthy
Let me tell you the story of how one man accidentally gave us the obesity epidemic, soaring rates of cardiovascular disease, made billions for the pharmaceutical industry and programmed us to be afraid of fat and cholesterol.
 All the benefits from Skim milk, low fat Snackwells, and cholesterol lowering Cheerios that were sold to you are based on  hypotheses made by a man named Ancel Keys.

The idea that we should avoid fat and cholesterol at all costs comes from Keys’ “Diet-Heart Hypothesis” and “Lipid Hypothesis”. These ideas come from him analyzing the data from 7 countries which showed that when you plotted incidence of heart attacks against fat consumption you see that the countries that ate more fat had more heart attacks. It was simple, you could draw a  straight line through the data points which showed more fat equaled more heart attacks. Pretty straight forward, you eat more fat, you get fat, your cholesterol rises, arteries get clogged, and you have a heart attack. Ancel Keys got this accepted by the USDA, the American Medical Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association and off went the anti-fat anti-cholesterol movement.

Keys Cholesterol

A serious lack of evidence
The only catch here is that there weren’t only 7 countries for which data was available, there were 22 countries. When you factor in the remaining countries there is no straight line to be drawn. You could select 7 different countries and make the claim that more fat meant less heart disease. Maybe Keys had access to the remaining data, maybe he didn’t, but he sure worked fast to have his recommendations put in place. The lack of good evidence didn’t go unnoticed: Dr. George Mann, one of the researchers on the Framingham study which was actually supposed to bolster this cholesterol theory, said, “Dietary fat is not the determinant of either high cholesterol or coronary heart disease” and ‘”the diet heart hypothesis is the greatest scam ever perpetrated on the American public.“  By the way, it’s still called “hypothesis” because it’s never been proven.

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You might be up to date with recent health information and even on board with a low carb diet, but chances are you’re still a little cautious of fat. After all, we’ve been programmed to associate saturated fats with “Artery Clogging” and we’ve seen the commercials where they do something like clog a drain with bacon fat. Also Butter, Lard and Coconut Oil solidify at room temperature so it’s pretty easy logic that those solid fats clog your arteries; which makes vegetable oil the better choice because it stays liquid.

The only problem with that is those saturated fats will melt easily in your hand, not to mention inside your body; and the thing that clogs your arteries resulting in a heart attack is not an accumulation of fat. Fat doesn’t even stay intact in the body- it is broken up into small droplets by the bile in your stomach and then wrapped inside carrier molecules called lipoproteins. Fat is never technically even in the bloodstream, it’s always transported inside a lipoprotein shell.

Why fat is important to us
I mentioned before how if humans needed to be so selective with their diet, we would not have gotten this far. Our choices were to eat whatever was in the environment that had calories or be dead. When you look at health from an evolutionary standpoint, the concept of engineering fat out of our foods for our health is completely ludicrous. Our brains, which is what got us so far, are the most metabolically expensive organs we have: consuming 25% of the adult and 75% of the infant metabolic budget. To adjust for the high metabolic cost of a large brain “…shrinkage in gut size (another metabolically energy expensive organ) was a necessary accompaniment. … A shorter human gut, had evolved to be more dependent on nutrient and energy-dense foods than other primates. [A smaller gut] is less efficient at extracting sufficient energy and nutrition from fibrous foods and considerably more dependent on higher-density, higher bio-available foods that require less energy for their digestion per unit of energy/nutrition released.” (from “Man the Fat Hunter” – Public Library of Science)

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This receives some coverage in CARTA’s video “The Evolution of Human Nutrition

And which macronutrient is the most calorie dense? Fat comes in at first place at 9 calories per gram. For around 190,000 years of our existence we did not have agriculture and thus we couldn’t expect to eat every day. So fat would be a very valuable macronutrient that we would get as much of as our environment allowed. There is even evidence that suggests homo sapiens would eat all the fat on an animal before eating any of the meat- most of the time leaving a good portion of the meat behind if they already had their fill. Protein, while important, only provides 4 calories per gram and requires a lot of energy to digest making it a less efficient macronutrient.

Sure we have plenty of fruits and vegetables that have been cultivated to be more nutrient and calorie dense and we spend much less time moving around, so ravenously eating fat is hardly necessary. However it’s not very plausible that a macronutrient that used to be so important to us is now killing us in hordes.

Timothy Olsen showcases the efficiency of fat in spectacular fashion. He holds the record for the Western 100 Endurance run, a 100 mile ultra distance race in California that includes an 18,000 feet climb and 23,000 feet descent. He said he used to consume dozens of sports gels throughout his races to keep him going, but switched to a low carb high fat diet for more stable energy; he preferred not having to empty his stomach out in the woods multiple times during the race.

You might have stopped and thought “How can fat not be the problem? I ate a plant based diet and reversed my atherosclerosis!” I live in Japan and am well aware of how healthy a high carbohydrate diet can be, especially a primarily plant based one like the Okinawan people’s who frequently live to be 100 while less than 8% of their calories come from fat. Don’t worry, we’ll get to this.

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Okinawa is well known for being a longevity “Blue Zone”


Despite our bodies preferring the energy dense fat, this idea that saturated fat and cholesterol needs to be reduced at all costs became medical dogma. However, not only does our body
want fat, it doesn’t want to reduce cholesterol. Cholesterol is incredibly important: we need it for the membranes of our cells, we need it to make brain cells, we need it to make several important hormones like estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. 

Enter inflammation
Cholesterol is actually the thing that comes in and
helps with arterial damage. The process leading up to a heart attack starts with an inflamed, damaged arterial wall. The body sends cholesterol to mend that damage, as well as other substances like calcium, and a substance similar to collagen called fibrin. Blaming cholesterol instead of the inflammation is like blaming the fireman instead of the fire.

Back to the Okinawan people: they have such a low incidence of heart disease because they’re not eating foods that cause inflammation so atherosclerosis never develops. Of course they live long: they eat locally grown, organic, fiber rich vegetables designed to nourish them, not optimized for profit and laden with pesticides. Keep in mind that the saturated fat our homo sapien ancestors were getting was from wild (cage free,organic) animals, not from highly processed ham slices in Kraft Food’s “Lunchables” , and certainly not from the butter of cows pumped with hormones while living in cow jail and eating processed corn scrap. Also they were getting their unsaturated fat in the form of omega-3’s from fish and omega-6’s from nuts, not mostly from Canola seeds that had to be washed in hexane solvent & sodium hydroxide, bleached and then steam injected.


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In the book “The Great Cholesterol Myth”, Dr. Stephen Sinatra and Dr. Johnny Bowden cover this topic very extensively. Here’s an excerpt regarding the effects of a lack of cholesterol:

“The emphasis on lowering cholesterol as much as possible is not only misguided, but also dangerous. Studies show that those at the lowest end of the cholesterol spectrum have a significantly increased risk of death from myriad conditions and situations unrelated to heart disease. Including but not limited to cancer, suicide and accidents. … You need cholesterol to make brain cells. A cholesterol level too low around 160mg/dl has in fact been linked to depression, aggression and cerebral haemorrhages.”


 

Total cholesterol’s irrelevance and the real “bad cholesterol
But what happens if you consume too much cholesterol?
Nothing. “The Framingham Heart study found that there was virtually no difference in the amount of cholesterol consumed on a daily basis by those who went on to develop cardiovascular disease and those who did not.”

What if you have too much cholesterol? It doesn’t matter. Dr. Johnny Bowden explained in this video that in the Lyon Diet Heart Study they had a group of 605 people with high cholesterol and a very high risk of heart disease. In one group they put them on the Mediterranean diet and in another they recommended they cut saturated fat, reduce cholesterol intake to 300mg per day and follow the “healthy” western diet. The results? Cardiac death and all cause mortality on the Mediterranean diet was significantly lower than on the low saturated fat diet. After explaining this, Dr. Bowden says “So here’s the question, what do you think happened to the cholesterol of the people on the Mediterranean diet? Their cholesterol didn’t budge. They just stopped dying. Cholesterol had nothing to do with it. Whatever their cholesterol was at the beginning, it was pretty much the same at the end.”

OK so knowing total cholesterol is not helpful. What about the HDL “good” cholesterol and the LDL “bad” cholesterol? This concept is also outdated. You can have bad “good” cholesterol and you can have good “bad” cholesterol. What you would want to know is particle size. You don’t want to have a high concentration of the small LDL particles. One of the key things that increases these smaller particles is refined carbohydrates and sugar. The science around cholesterol is much too complicated to explain here, but the point is that the standard metrics for understanding your heart disease risk and judging whether something is healthy or not are seriously outdated and have surprisingly little to do with fat consumption. You can learn more on Dr. Peter Attia’s blog.

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When I got to this point in my research I was dumbfounded and outraged. Cardiovascular disease kills 610,000 people in America every year, yet the guidelines we have to avoid it are utterly worthless? I immediately threw away my 1992 collector’s edition Snackwell cookies.

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I trusted you, Snackwell’s.

 

The mess confirmation bias put us in
Possibly the worst part is that it wasn’t like nobody knew that low fat diets had virtually zero science to back them up. British physiologist John Yudkin wrote a book in 1972 “Pure, White and Deadly: The Problem of Sugar” which correctly warned that the consumption of sugar is dangerous to health, an argument he had made since at least 1957. The final chapter of the book lists several examples of attempts to interfere with the funding of his research and to prevent its publication. It also refers to the personal smears that Ancel Keys employed to dismiss the evidence that sugar was the true culprit of heart disease. 

This excerpt of ABC TV Australia’s broadcast “Heart of the matter” explains: “In 1977, the U.S. Government stepped in. Senator George McGovern, an advocate of Ancel Key’s theory headed a committee hearing to end the debate … Eminent scientists at the time disagreed with the [Keys] report.” In the clip, you can hear Dr. Robert Olsen saying: “That’s why I have pleaded in my report and will plead again orally here for more research on the problem before we make announcements to the American public.” George McGovern’s rebuttal was simply: “Well I would only argue that senators don’t have that luxury that a research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in.” It didn’t matter how illogical or misguided McGovern’s response was, he came out on top.

What’s happened since then? Hospitalizations for Heart Failure went straight up and heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the world.

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In fact, when it comes to weight gain, the data suggests people started gaining weight immediately after the guidelines came out.

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Image Credit: gnolls.org

 

 

We now understand that:

1) Knowing total cholesterol is irrelevant to your health
2) Knowing your so called “good” and “bad” cholesterol is irrelevant because you can have bad HDL particles and good LDL particles; and the bad version of these particles are caused by more complex issues than just fat.
3) Heart disease is primarily due to damage to the arterial wall caused by inflammation, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and insulin levels and stress.
4) The more key things to limit to avoid heart disease are sugar and processed carbohydrates.

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Despite all this, the “Heart Healthy” guidelines encourage over-consumption of inflammation promoting vegetable oils and processed carbs that keep our blood sugar high.  Maybe even worse than that is we’re still being prescribed Statin drugs, whose harmful effects are a constant testament to how important cholesterol is for the body.

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The billion dollar toxin
You might be thinking “Hey but my doctor said I should be on a statin…” if so, go ahead and ask your doctor what the number needed to treat for statin drugs is. In this video, Neuroscientist Daniel Levitin explains that the NNT is the number of people that have to take the drug before one person benefits from the drug. He says: “… you’re thinking, what kind of crazy statistic is that? The number should be one. My doctor wouldn’t prescribe something to me if it’s not going to help. The number needed to treat for the most widely prescribed statin, what do you suppose it is? How many people have to take it before one person is helped? Three hundred.  300 people have to take the drug for a year before one heart attack, stroke or other adverse event is prevented.  So for this particular drug, the side effects occur in 5 percent of the patients and they include terrible things – debilitating muscle and joint pain, gastrointestinal distress. 300 people take the drug, right? One person’s helped, five percent of those 300 have side effects, that’s 15 people. You are 15 times more likely to be harmed by the drug than helped.

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Duane Graveline MD wrote a book called “Lipitor, thief of memory” after experiencing “Transient Global Amnesia”- a type of memory loss where your wife is in the same room as you and you don’t know who she is. By the way, remember how I said cholesterol is important for producing sex hormones like testosterone and estrogen? What do you think the second highest revenue prescription drug is for Pfizer after Lipitor, which is the #1 prescribed statin? Viagra comes in right after Lipitor. Also, it’s not like Viagra just happens to be the next biggest revenue stream there’s only an 8% difference between the two. 

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Surely you’re thinking “this is a terrible situation, how come the diet guidelines haven’t been changed?” Well it’s almost as unlikely for the medical industry to come out and say “Looks like we were wrong. Sorry.” as it is for a pastor to say “Hey, y’know this religion we’ve been following all our lives? I think it might be the wrong one, sorry about that.” Australia’s leading lipid expert David Sullivan demonstrated (maybe on accident) pretty well that admitting the recommendations are useless might put some people out of a job. When asked whether they should be giving people dietary advice when they don’t have enough evidence to back up their advice he saidWe are particularly keen to give some dietary advice because otherwise what do we offer people?

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Time admitted they were wrong, why can’t the medical establishments?

What we should really  be paying attention to
I would like to lay out the complete details of how to really avoid heart disease, but I recommend you start by reading “The Great Cholesterol Myth” or at least Dr. Bowden’s article on “The Four Horsemen of Aging“. For now, let me leave you with one rule of thumb you can use to pick out your food:

Just think about how much something has been screwed with before you make the decision to eat that.

For example: coca Leaves in their natural state are quite harmless, the farmers in the Andes have chewed on them for hundreds of years for a small boost in energy. However, when you process the hell out of them, you get cocaine. Eating a lot of sugar beets probably isn’t so bad for you, but if you boil them in water to make a crude syrup, then wash that solution with calcium hydroxide and proceed to refine it with 6 different boilers… maybe the resulting white powder isn’t the best thing for you. You can apply this idea to anything from processed cheese and meats to packages of “whole wheat bread”.

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Good ol’ Stearoyl-2-Lactylate

This goes for fats too. If Jack the cow just had to walk around and eat grass, his butter is going to be better than Byron the cow’s butter if Byron had to be given growth hormone and a specifically designed rapid growth promoting feed. Canola oil requires a lengthy industrial process to wrench the oil out of the canola seed, but you can get a decent amount of fat from nuts just eating them as they are.

I’m not here to sell you any one diet or macronutrient ratio for now. However, I can tell you for certain that this granulated sugar and processed crap that’s been marketed to us in place of what we had been eating for centuries is not what we should be eating. Sometimes we have to dig way past spiffy marketing, guidelines from big establishments, and our own doctor’s advice before choosing what to eat.

 

Longevity & Why I eat once a day

You don’t need to eat three meals a day, and when you do, you’re missing out on a whole host of health benefits.

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Just use your body like it’s designed and you won’t need to fix it all the time.

You can also check out the video version of this post!

Nutrition & Our Hybrid Body
In the 1950’s, my friend Bill was a very gifted Engineer who made an extraordinary car. It looked very similar to a Chevrolet Corvette, but the insides of the car is what made it so unique. It wasn’t the first Hybrid car, but it was much more practical and appealing than its predecessors. There was one snag: it never took off because he couldn’t get people to use it properly. The car’s main fuel source was electricity, and gasoline was to be put in whenever available. It was fine for the car to use gasoline every other day or so, but the problem was that people ran it on gasoline nearly 90% of the time. This resulted in the car breaking down frequently, to the surprise of the owners. Everyone was giving each other advice on how to run the car smoothly, all the while Bill was trying to tell people “Just use it the way it was designed!” Despite his advice, people continued to theorize about how to properly use the car. Bill went bankrupt and left the Automotive industry soon after.

This situation my poor imaginary friend Bill found himself in is quite like our modern Health Environment.  How did eating get so complicated? Most of us just want to feel good, look good and live a long life. You would think by now there would be a straightforward consensus on what our eating habits should look like, but we’re faced with countless trains of thought on the topic. Maybe we’re supposed to be doing the ABC diet or XYZ diet or something in between? One of the first “diets” was proposed by a man named George Cheyne in 1724. Now, on Amazon you can find over 50,000 different books on the topic.

Like Bill’s car, surely there is a simple way we should be fueling our bodies that is most suitable for its design. Obviously we’re not engineered, but we Homo Sapiens emerged around 200,000 years ago and the majority of that time, the food environment could not have been anything like today’s food environment. Agriculture didn’t even exist for a good 190,000 years of that time. Not even the fruits and vegetables we have today would have been similar as we hadn’t cultivated them to our liking.

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Just 700 years ago here’s what a banana would have looked like.

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This is a painting of a watermelon from 1672

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Or maybe you’d like a 10th century carrot.

So what way of eating did we adapt to? The environment would have chosen our diet rather than us. Your choices would have been to eat what was available or be dead. The idea that our body must have adapted to a certain ratio of macronutrients available in the environment is not novel; and recently has become quite well known due to the “Paleo Diet”. However, what I’m getting at is our body would have also had to have adapted to how often the food was available – there should be a natural frequency of eating that promotes health and longevity.

Where to start?
The logic would be that more nourishment, more food would make you healthier and live longer. But let’s take a look at this from the First Principles method as described by Elon Musk: “It’s kind of mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than first principles. First Principles is a Physics way of looking at the world. And what that really means is you boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say ‘OK what are we sure is true?’ and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.”

So what do we know about longevity? Other than exercise, the word “superfood” might come to mind. Maybe more Omega-3’s or some Red Wine or making sure to take supplements and drink less alcohol. There are a lot of things that contribute to longevity, but there is one method accepted by science that you can use to consistently increase longevity. Whether a yeast cell, a mouse or a rhesus monkey, research shows that calorie reduction will almost always increase longevity in animals. We had been seeing results like this since the early 1900’s. Depending on the animal, a 30% reduction in overall caloric intake can result in a 30% increased life span. Let’s reason up from here.

For some time, the conventional wisdom has been that you need to get 3 balanced meals a day to stay healthy. Ever since I was a kid, “Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner” seemed as natural as sleeping or going to the bathroom. Breakfast was the most important meal of the day, I needed a healthy lunch to focus the rest of the school day and being sent to bed without Dinner was child abuse. The situation is basically the same in Japan where I now live, as with the rest of the world. If we want to reduce caloric intake to increase lifespan, the only choice then is to eat less at each meal, because we need 3 meals, right?

But where did this 3 meals a day idea come from? As Abigail Carroll suggests in her book “Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal”: Eating three meals a day was basically invented due to culture, not out of biological necessity. It goes back to Middle Age Europe when they would eat a light meal before going out to work, then a heavy meal in the middle of the day, then another light meal at night. When European settlers got to America, they found Native Americans were basically just eating whenever they felt the urge to, rather than at specified times. The Europeans took their lack of defined eating times as evidence that they were uncivilized and had them change. In short: The 3 meals a day paradigm is not based off of our biological needs.

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Daniel Everett swimming next to a Piraha

How our environment designed us
In a Hunter Gatherer culture it wasn’t surprising at all to feast on a big catch, then survive on very little or no food for an extended period of time until they were in need of another big source of fat and protein. In fact, the environment up until now would suggest that if we could not do that, we probably wouldn’t be alive to be reading about dieting. The Pirahã people, an indigenous hunter-gatherer group of the Amazon Rainforest was extensively studied by an anthropological linguist named Daniel Everett. He found they  do not eat every day or even attempt to do so. They were even aware of food storage techniques yet never used them except to barter with Brazilian traders. When questioned about why they do not store food for themselves they explained  “I store meat in the belly of my brother”.

Until the advent of Agriculture, eating 3 meals a day and in some cases even eating every day was a near impossibility. Some of you may be pointing to the fact that the life expectancy in the Paleolithic era was much lower than now at around 33 years, as a sign that our modern eating habits are healthier. However, infant mortality rate was a big factor in bringing that number down. You have to understand that one of the effects of modern civilization and technology is that you can be unresourceful or made up of weak genetic material and not die. As Doug McGuff explains: “[Life expectancy] didn’t really have anything to do with anabolic catabolic balance or long term health benefits because there were older survivors and the fossil evidence of those older survivors based on ligamentous attachments and bony assessment and bone mineral density was: they were extraordinarily robust.” 

Glucose Metabolism & How “conventional wisdom” screwed us
The common misconception is that a stable blood glucose is necessary for survival, which would biologically justify 3 meals a day. Bear with me through a bit of Biochemistry to understand why constantly consuming Carbohydrates to maintain blood glucose is not only unnecessary but can be a detrimental and vicious cycle.

This is the CliffNotes of Doug McGuff’s presentation, make sure to check out the video of him explaining it in depth

After you eat some carbohydrates- Bread, Pasta, Potatoes, Candy et cetera, Glucose enters the bloodstream and insulin is secreted to distribute the glucose properly. Via an insulin receptor, glucose enters the cells and a chain of enzymes act on it to produce energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). This process produces a waste product called Pyruvate which is shuttled through the Mitochondria, “the powerhouse of the cell”. Mitochondria processes the Pyruvate through the Kreb Cycle which produces much more ATP.  A waste product called Citrate is produced in the Mitochondria and when enough stacks up it blocks an enzyme called PhosphoFructoKinase in the enzyme chain creating a roadblock so excess glucose doesn’t harm the cell. When the process can’t continue downward, 70 grams is stored in the Liver, and in the Muscle 200 grams. So you have your morning bagel and  some Frappacappa thing and you’ve stored all the glucose you can store. After that, glucose can’t be converted to ATP in the cell, stored in the Liver or in the Muscle.

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Your body really doesn’t want glucose overloading cells or stacking up in the bloodstream because like pouring pancake syrup on a car engine, it can muck up the machinery in there. This is a harmful inflammatory situation called Glycation where glucose binds to proteins and inhibits their functions. So your body continues to secrete insulin to deal with the glucose. The insulin receptors on your cells become resistant to insulin everywhere, except on your body fat. Your fat cells do not have as complex machinery as other cells, so this probably the safest place to store it. As well as an energy storage depot, your body fat is protecting you from that Glycation damage.

The problem here is that if your energy levels start to wane, you can’t tap the energy out of your stored body fat because the Hormone that does that – Hormone Sensitive Lipase is sensitive to insulin. Insulin will not allow you to tap body fat for energy. If you have an elevated serum insulin and you need energy, you’re going to get ravenously hungry and will need to jack your blood sugar up short term with a snack to raise energy levels.

This is why if you’re following the recommended American diet, you’re usually going to be stuck in this loop of wanting to eat every time your blood glucose drops and 3 meals a day will feel very necessary. Even Medical Doctor Peter Attia fell victim to this: “Despite exercising 3 or 4 hours every single day and following the food pyramid to the letter, I gained a lot of weight and developed something called ‘Metabolic Syndrome’ “

Ketosis to the rescue
There’s another source of energy in your body that is a lot more efficient and stable than glucose. Ketone bodies are produced by the liver from fatty acids to produce energy, when you have depleted your Glycogen stores (which takes 10 to 12 hours depending on your activity level and body composition) ★Glycogen is the stored form of glucose. Ketone bodies can enter the aforementioned Kreb Cycle like Glucose to produce energy in the form of ATP.

You may have heard of this Ketosis state referred to as “Starvation Mode” in school, but this by no means suggests you are about to starve. I particularly dislike this term because it suggests that glucose/carbohydrates is our body’s primary fuel source, when in fact it is possible to live entirely without carbohydrates. Case in point: A 456 pound 27 year old man in Scotland fasted an incredible 382 days consuming only water and vitamin supplements. He lost 276 pounds and completed the fast with no ill effects. He was technically in “Starvation mode” this entire time and his body was using his stored body fat for energy.

Quick note: Ketosis and Diabetic KetoAcidosis are NOT the same.

Several years back, when I first heard about low carb diets, I was skeptical and frankly when I heard my close friend’s mother was trying the Atkins diet, I was worried for her. However, after doing a lot of research and finally properly understanding glucose metabolism, I started doing the ‘Paleo diet’. I felt great in general, had a better physique with less effort and much more stable energy levels. The downside was it got kind of annoying to have to plan my meals, so I would cheat a lot here and there.

The Benefits of Fasting
Even after people were in environments where they could eat much more frequently, the concept of fasting for health benefits has been around for some time. An Egyptian Pyramid Inscription from around 3800 B.C. reads “Humans live on one-quarter of what they eat; on the other three-quarters lives their doctor.” Plato apparently fasted for greater mental efficiency, the “Luther of Medicine” Philippus Paracelsus called fasting “the greatest remedy” and Mark Twain suggested fasting to be more effective than any medicine. The Romans even found that they cure people who were possessed with demons (actually poor misunderstood Epileptics) by shutting them in a room without food.

To simplify an incredibly complex process, aging in essence is the result of cumulative damage to your DNA. Professor of Genetics, David Sinclair and his team found that not eating stimulates the Sirtuin proteins which are directly responsible for DNA repair.  Mark Mattson, a professor of Neuroscience at John Hopkins University, gave a speech at TEDxJohnHopkinsUniversity talking about the extensive benefits of fasting for your brain and body. In particular fasting stimulates the production of Neurotrophic Growth Factors, BDNF and FGF which promote the growth of new neurons in the brain. This explains why fasting has been linked to the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

This information got me excited about Intermittent fasting. With intermittent fasting you’re not eating for 16 hours of the day which gives your body time to deplete the glycogen stores and start burning fat as well as reap the benefits discussed above. So many sources are pointing to the key being that whether you are doing extended fasting, intermittent fasting or simply eating less, you are giving your body a chance to deplete its Glycogen stores and dip into ketosis, leading to many health benefits. Check out these two studies: “Ketones Keep Neurons Alive” and “The neuroprotective properties of calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet and ketone bodies” I was keen on the fact that I could get similar effects to Paleo with more leeway in my diet. The problem with Intermittent Fasting was I found with myself craving food outside of the 8 hour eating period, and I still had to be somewhat strict with what I ate (although not as strict as my 3 meals a day regimine)

Fasting cure book

Upton Sinclair who was born in the the late 1800’s and lived to the swell age of 90, published a book in 1911 called “The Fasting Cure”(click here for full text). The book was inspired by the personal accounts of 250 people who cured some ailment with extended fasting. The ailments ranged from colds, headaches and constipation to arthritis, valvular heart disease and cancer. Dr. Alan Goldhamer spoke about how in 2012, a 42 year old patient cured her cancer (stage 3 follicular lymphoma) with a 21 day fast. Nowadays you can find personal accounts of people on Youtube who have cured some ailment of theirs with an extended water fast (consuming nothing but water).

My journey to one meal a day
“The Fasting cure” was one of the first materials that opened me up to the health benefits of more prolonged fasts. I had a lot of inhibitions despite all the incredible personal accounts in there, but once I learned about the Scottish man (mentioned above) who fasted for 382 days, I figured surely a week couldn’t be that big of a deal. I tried a week long fast and gave up around the 4th day even though I didn’t feel particularly bad. While I missed my goal and I didn’t really feel all that different afterward, over the following days I started to notice I didn’t have as much interest in junk food. I used to enjoy eating some delicious refined sugar crap while doing intermittent fasting since it was within my 8 hour eating period, but that fast had reset my eating preferences.

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Dr. Nagumo in his later 50’s

Around this time I came across a book called 「空腹が人を健康にする」”Hunger makes people healthy” by Dr. Yoshinori Nagumo which provides an incredibly compelling argument for limiting yourself to one meal per day. It touched upon many of the things I’ve talked about, some things I didn’t and it dispelled some worries I had like malnutrition and whatnot. (Also, It was easy to trust him since he’s 30 years older than me and looks younger than I do.) I decided to try eating once per day for 2 weeks.

For 3 weeks prior, I had been showing my little sister around Tokyo while eating basically anything and everything that looked good. I started the Nagumo plan the day after she left and the first three days were definitely the hardest. When the clock hit around 11AM, I realized I wasn’t getting the joy from eating that I was used to around this time of day and started really wanting to eat. My stomach didn’t particularly hurt, it was the equivalent of not being able to play video games when getting home from Middle School. Around 4PM is when I was convinced that I really was hungry and needed to eat. Waiting another 30 minutes until 4.30PM to eat was like pushing through a last set of squats. The next two days were slightly easier, and come the 4th day I realized I wasn’t looking at the clock thinking “Only X more hours to go!”.

I decided to test the diet a week later and do a 50 kilometer bike ride to Atsugi from Tokyo. I hadn’t been working out all that much and a usual bike ride for me was about 3 kilometers. It was unsurprisingly difficult, but I never felt physically weak. I had hunger pangs earlier than normal, but I didn’t feel like I had less strength from lack of food. This made me decide to stick with eating once per day. It’s been a month since I started and I feel great in general, my energy levels are very stable, tolerate less sleep better, I feel more focused and surprisingly I have less problems with hunger compared to Intermittent Fasting. It’s not until an hour or 2 before my usual eating time that I start thinking about food and if I’m focused on something I might even eat an hour later than normal. 

Even if I don’t eat the healthiest meal I can now feel confident that my body will have more than enough time to empty out whatever excess glycogen or toxins I ingested. (The only time I do crave unhealthy food is when I’ve had some alcohol.) Looking back, it’s hard to imagine having to pile so much food into my stomach throughout the day. 

Other than the health benefits, one other reason I do this is the same reason Steve Jobs wore basically the same thing everyday: It makes choosing easier and frees my brain up to focus on other things. (See “Decision Fatigue”) 

steve-turtleneck

For myself, the amount of new information I get only changes my behavior by a small factor. For example if I increase my knowledge about the detriments of alcohol by 60% maybe I’ll cut my intake by 30%. With this article alone I’m not expecting you to suddenly start eating once per day, but hopefully you can start giving your body a break and eat when you need to, not when the clock says you should.