What is 'Ancestral' Anyway?

Paleo. Evolutionary. Functional. Innate. Native.

Basically, we are genetically walking in the footsteps of our ancestors. Our health is based on how our past (the deep, deep past) is colliding with our present. 

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Photo by Christopher Sardegna

Paleo, evolutionary, functional, innate and native all fall into the realm of ‘ancestral’. By viewing health and living through an ancestral lens, we can align ourselves with what we are already:

Homo sapiens.

Homo sapiens is built to move, create, be social and solve problems. And these capacities and needs were created over millions of years of evolution and thousands up on thousands of years of specific experiences: Hunting, raising children, migrating, building communities, knowing the foodscape, understanding weather and the movement of the stars and much, much more. We could easily be called Homo socialis (collaboration is our superpower) or Homo faber (creativity is another superpower). But if we truly want to be wise (sapien), then we need to acknowledge where we came from, what we were built for and how we already function.

 

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Photo courtesy of Dmitry Bayer

Here is one example:

Let's look at the eye. It's a complicated piece of human equipment that developed over a very long period of time. Homo sapiens have excellent long-distance eyesight. And we are the only animal on the planet that show the whites of our eyes. We can also perceive over 500 shades of gray and over 10 million colors. But did you know that myopia (nearsightedness) is at pandemic levels? Nearly 42% of Americans have myopia. One hundred years ago, only about 10% of the population had myopia. It's now very common in children. Why? Simply because we have adopted all kinds of non-ancestral behaviors: Staying inside (not enough sunlight), focusing on screens for a major portion of our day and eating too much sugar and not enough DHA (essential fatty acids) and this is all linked to higher levels of myopia. 

And that's just one organ. 

We have a slow-motion plague happening right now (thanks for the term Chris Kresser!). Rampant, preventable disease from cancer to diabetes is growing in our modern population. We move less, eat more crap and stay inside more than ever before. And it’s not just killing us, but making our quality of life take a dive (chronic diseases are not fun to have).

To be energetic, clear and resilient is to be a healthy, normal human. Great eyesight, good hearing, no pain, high energy, no brain fog: It’s normal for us. Despite the common belief that Paleolithic people lived short lives of starvation and disease - studies show that Neolithic (agricultural) people were sicker and died younger than our older ancestors who were hunting and gathering. Keeping in mind that our oldest ancestors date back about 2.6 million years - that's a lot of evolution (yes, with many gaps that we know nothing about). That said, we can learn from our past, become 'Paleo-Modern' (another great term, Chris Ryan!) and stop this slow-motion plague to reclaim not just our health, but our future too. 

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