Monday, March 28, 2011

Full Circle: Pottenger's Prophecy and The New Evolution Diet Coincide and Collide

Sometimes, the stars align.

Sometimes, things coincide.

It's at these times when serendipity collides; we see signs of the times.

The recent publishing of two Ancestral Health books, Gray Graham's (et al.) Pottenger's Prophecy and Art DeVany's The New Evolution Diet, provides one such time: it's full-circle time.

When these two books combine, we see three clear signs:

Uno: Through epigenetic mechanisms, as seen in Dr. Pottenger's research, lifestyle decisions in one generation influence future generations in remarkable (yet-to-be-fully-understood) ways.

Dos: Evolutionary perspectives of the human condition provide valuable hypotheses for testing empirically.

Tres: Aligning lifestyle choices with ancestral traditions appears to be the safest default for averting modern-day chronic diseases.

Taken together, these two books empower readers to "think big" on an evolutionary time-scale and across many generations in order to enhance gene expression for improved health, longevity, poise, and fulfillment.

Taken together, these books encompass my own personal Ancestral Health journey.

Nearly five years ago, I read Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan. In response, I started my blog. Then, Nassim tipped me to Art DeVany, an epistemocrat who applied evolutionary paradigms, fractal mathematics, Levy-flight dynamics, and power-law principles to all things health, nutrition, exercise, and lifestyle. I was intrigued. I followed his lead. I altered my training, my eating, my living: I started along my Evolutionary Fitness self-experimenting. And now, after improving my own health state along the way, I'm thankfully back at the beginning; that is, I'm learning, un-learning, and re-learning: I am thinkering (thinking + tinkering).

Here are some highlights from these two books that are worth considering:

The New Evolution Diet: What Our Paleolithic Ancestors Can Teach Us About Weight Loss, Fitness, and Aging by Art DeVany (with an Afterword by Nassim Taleb)
"At some point, I realized that a human being is just another economic system. Indeed, your body contains an entire economy. There is the allocation of assets according to a hierarchy of needs. There are competing interests that sometimes struggle over resources and other times cooperate for the common good. There are surpluses. There are shortages. Like economies--like the movie industry--your body is a complex, decentralized system poised between chaos and order, a constantly changing situation that is, second by second, atom by atom, also adapting to those changes." (112)
"Another scientific concept, the power law, also comes up often in my discussions of health and fitness. It is based on the Pareto principle, named for Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto. In essence, it describes the relationship between how common a factor is and how much influence it exerts. It says that the most unusual events will have the greatest impact." (115) 
"I use other terms and concepts that are not normally found in fitness books. Stochasticity, for instance, means 'randomness' or 'chance.' A living human leaves a 'trail' of events and accomplishments that is so complex that it appears to be random. That means there is no model that can compress the information that is required to describe a lifetime. The appearance of randomness is an acknowledgement of the limits of our knowledge." (117) 
"Each of us has what I call an ensemble of stochastic life paths--the choices that we make. ... Each path leads to more choices: a cascade to echo all the other cascades that rule our lives. Choosing the path is the extent of your control--beyond that, it's out of your hands. ... There is no failure, only feedback." (117-118)

Pottenger's Prophecy: How Food Resets Genes For Wellness or Illness by Gray Graham, Deborah Kesten, and Larry Scherwitz
"The implications of Pottenger's studies are quite remarkable. Actually, they're stunning. ... We can draw two conclusions from his studies that are nothing short of life-changing. The first is that they raised the possibility--for the first time--that physical degeneration caused by a poor diet in the mother is inherited in the offspring and passed on through the third generation. Pottenger also discovered that the converse also seems true: when a mother's diet is nutritious, not only does she benefit with good health, so, too, do her offspring . . . and their offspring, and so on." (XXI) 
"Yes, we are indeed catching up with Pottenger's prophecy of wellness or illness over generations through the food we eat and how we live our lives. [W]e're on the precipice of unraveling the reasons behind what Pottenger learned more than 70 years ago: the food we eat each day has a cascading effect. It influences illness or wellness, not only in ourselves, but in our children, grandchildren, and even our great-grandchildren." (XXIV) 
"The fact that we evolved on a host of different diets means there is no ideal diet for all individuals. Rather, our genetic and family histories have programmed how our genes respond to the food we eat, and because of this, human beings have a wide range of individual biochemical differences; in other words, biochemical individuality. ... Because of such biochemical differences, each of us must search for the ideal diet by considering personal genetic history, health, ethnic food preferences, how your body responds to certain foods when you eat them, and by how satisfied you feel when you eat different foods." (193) 
"Figure in Ferments: ... Supplementing your daily diet with fresh fermented foods, which contain living microbes, provides a plethora of health benefits--mostly through the probiotics they produce that protect the gut from harmful pathogens--and increases absorption of nutrients." (195) 
"Get Personal: Residing in your genes are the dietary requirements and food tolerances that fit you best, personally. In other words, the foods on which you're likely to thrive are based on the genetics you inherited from your ancient ancestors and the epigenetics that were passed on from more recent relatives. Because of this, just as a pair of shoes fit each person differently, there isn't a single diet that's a right fit for everyone. To create your ideal diet, ask yourself (195-196):
  • "What foods were available to your ancestors?"
  • "Do you have health concerns to consider, such as lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity?"
  • "What's your physical activity level?"
  • "Do you have any ethical or health beliefs about food that influence your food choices?"
  • "And, of course, ask yourself which foods make you feel best? Once you identify them, adjust your food choices accordingly."

In the end, if you dig into these two books in concert, you'll find synergy, harmony, and ample room for self-experimenting creatively, with an important respect for individuality.

Personally, I'm deeply grateful to Art for nudging me gracefully down a "stochastic life path" that ultimately encouraged me to learn more about my own ancestry and to Gray (et al.) for composing such a thoughtful book based upon the legacy of my ancestor, Dr. Francis M. Pottenger, Jr., MD.

I've gone full circle.

And I've got a long way to go.

To good health,



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Brent,

    Well put about the serendipity indicating a sign of the times. You know there is something larger going on when these kinds of things appear and converge, seemingly of their own accord. This may seem unrelated, but I'm reminded of something a teacher of mine once told me, paraphrasing an ancestral priniciple: "We need to work together in order to take down the big game."

    May the message of our true past carry us into the future.


  3. Thanks, Jered.

    I agree; we need to work together.

    When Art posted his original "Evolutionary Fitness" essay on the Internet over a decade ago; when S. Boyd Eaton published his famous paper in NEJM twenty-five years ago; and, when all the other key players contributed to the Ancestral Health movement during the past century, I wonder if they ever could've imagined that such a vibrant, widespread, dynamic community would coalesce around a single unifying principle: Respecting our ancestral heritages as human beings to make the most of modern living.

    Let's take down the Big Game.

    Mit besten Grüßen,


  4. Brent,

    No doubt characters like Dr. Price, et. al, are smiling from the other side.


  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. LOVEed Art's book! As much for the non-linearity, power-law dynamic in which he situates the context of human physiology, as for the delicious stories and easy flowing and gentle narrative he uses.

    Hadn't heard of Pottenger's Prophecy, but it's on my Amazon order right now!

  7. Nice post Brent! I've read Art's book, but not the other; I'll have to check it out.

    "I'm thankfully back at the beginning; that is, I'm learning and re-learning--I'm thinkering (thinking + tinkering)." Personally, I would consider the important skill of unlearning as an important part of the "thinkering" process as well.

  8. Very good post. Keep up the good work. From your fellow blogger at

  9. Thanks, Greg!

    I agree; I edited my essay to include "unlearning" in the 'Thinkering Triad' of learning, un-learning, and re-learning.

    Most of my conceptions of learning derive from my golfing experiences: If I try to learn a new motion in my golf swing, I must first un-learn my old habits in order to successful displace them with better ones. It's a continual cycle of thinkering: learn, unlearn, relearn. Repeat. Iterate. I think.

    @Aaron: I can't imagine where I'd be if I hadn't discovered peace with non-linearity: it's so refreshing.