Saturday, April 2, 2011

Empirical Foundation: Digestion

I respect the complexities of human biochemistry; the intricacies of our diverse digestive processes.

Stephen Colbert trusts his gut principally; this seems wise to me, particularly when it comes to figuring out this business of eating and drinking--the craft of fueling our bodies with building block dietary pieces.

Personally, I suspect an empirical foundation built on digestion provides the safest approach to avoiding The Problem of Induction in nutritional affairs. If your body digests a food or a drink well, then I suspect this input will translate into healthy outputs in the form of functional organs and robust physiological systems. Conversely, if your body digests a food or a drink poorly, then I suspect this input will translate into unhealthy outputs in the form of malfunctioning organs and fragile physiological systems (gluten did this for me). Under this self-experimental model for nutritional bricolage, a Patient of One could monitor digestion closely to determine whether certain dietary inputs should be eliminated from his/her "Safe to Consume (and Enjoy)" list. This form of toxin avoidance would allow each individual to derive a personalized paradigm readily.

However, when it comes to conducting this type of negative empiricism thinkering, not all starting points are created equal in terms of strategy and safety. Thanks to evolutionary history, human digestive systems have falsified numerous dietary inputs already. Also, human digestive systems have changed over time in important ways. For instance, throughout human ancestry, an inverse relationship between cognitive neuronal processing ability and gut efficacy has played out: Human beings' cognitive processing ceilings have increased markedly as our digestive systems have become more effective thanks to adaptations involving meat eating, cooking, fermenting, and other technologies. As digestion has improved--as our bodies have become more adept at breaking down and then assimilating foods and drinks into the creation of cells and tissues--our abilities to process information and to think have advanced profoundly (though, we clearly are facing challenges collectively currently).

In this light, I hypothesize that we can protect the human condition in this manner by continuing to respect digestion empirically. When digestion runs well, our neurological systems can then outsource neuronal circuitry to other activities like the arts, the sciences, and the other creative behaviors that we find fulfilling, including engaging in interpersonal interactions with our families, friends, and colleagues.

Finally, given the fundamental reality that our digestive systems operate symbiotically with non-human micro-organisms, understanding how to establish gut flora harmony seems promising. On this front, I recently employed this approach by conducting a self experiment: I compared my body's responses to lactose-free cow milk kefir and goat milk kefir. Results: I responded best to goat milk kefir, suggesting that the protein and lipid composition differences between cow and goat milk might interact with my body differentially. Commonly, people who cannot digest cow milk products are able to do well on goat milk alternatives. Perhaps even more commonly, many people fail to digest any type of dairy properly, meaning they should eliminate these items from their dietary paradigms completely.

Our guts have lots to say; it's up to us to listen to them gracefully.

To good (gut) health,



  1. Nice post! Glad I was able to tip you to the RedWood Hill Farm kefir. It's been a staple in my house for over two years now. It's got such a deliciously tart flavor.

    It's funny how life makes gut/brain trade offs. The tapeworm went in the opposite direction by completely outsourcing its digestive functions to its host, and thus, no requirement at all to "think" either. Glad we didn't become mindless parasites in our evolution from a great-ape ancestor, though perhaps Gorillas did somewhat. IMHO it's better (i.e., more fun) to be a master-of-none generalist than an extreme specialist. Specialists tend to be fragile to environmental fluctuations whereas generalists tend to be anti-fragile.

  2. Thanks, Aaron, for tipping me to such a high-quality Ancestral Health modality!

    I suspect this self-experiment reveals something about my pastoralist ancestry.

    Unfortunately, the United States has evolved into a semi-tapeworm in many ways over the past few decades, outsourcing crafts to other countries, making our economic systems fragile to environmental fluctuations, such as the credit crunch that rocked the financial world. The American economy was much more robust when we out-sourced by "in-sourcing", just like the human body does: neuronal circuitry gets re-allocated within the human body, but we still maintain the ability to digest and to think concurrently (and hopefully synergistically) within the body system.

    Cheers to anti-fragile generalism!