An ancestral and functional perspective on health, well-being, and thriving brings together the gleanings from our long evolutionary past, as well as, the insights and discoveries of modern science to address the root causes of dis-ease. We believe that why we see so much dis-ease is due to the reality that we have grown to exist in an environment, and develop lifestyles, that are still foreign to our genetics and the habits that have shaped them.
We find within our bodies’ architecture, a story of our past. That past was wildly different than our present, but our physiology hasn’t completely kept up with all our advancement. There are major landmarks to our physiology that tell a tale of a daily roaming, hunting, digging, and cooperative being. It doesn’t take much to see that we have lost much of that in our modernity. Let’s take a brief look at some of the adaptations that have come be to included in our modern human form.
What makes us so Human?
- One of the earliest adaptations that has seen several iterations and become more refined within our form, is our pelvis. Our pelvis has grown to face sideways, rather than forward. This is fundamental to our being able to stand easily and walk on two legs frequently; to be bipedal.
- Our spine differs from our primate ancestors and cousins. It has come to have an S shape and protrude vertically rather than horizontally, allowing us to face forward will being bipedal.
- Seen through the fossil record of the last 6 million years, there has been a slow and steady development of the foot to include toes inline with one another, rather than protruding from the side to grip trees while climbing.
- We also can see the structure of the foot change to have a full arch that isn’t found in other primates. The slow inclusion of an arch can bee seen to develop over time giving us clues as to how our lives as hominids have changed.
- The toes of the foot have grown to become shorter and bend backwards to support a forceful propulsion forward when walking and running.
THE LOWER LEGS:
- Through the continued progress that was needed for us to run, our lower body has developed significantly to support an energy efficient way of bipedal locomotion. Our femurs (the thigh) have come to angle in towards the midline, and our legs have grown longer. Both adaptations are to save energy while walking and running long distances daily.
- Additionally, we have developed to have bigger bones and larger joints to support the forceful bombardment experienced when running.
THE UPPER BODY:
- Our upper body has changed throughout homonin iterations to drop the shoulders, relieving the constant “shrug” seen in other primates. Our waist has narrowed.
- We have also developed to support the forward motion seen when running, through changes that allow us to swivel the upper body independently of the pelvis and hips.
- Also, the semi-circular canals of the ears have become enlarged, allowing us a greater spatial sensory perception.
- Our shoulders have evolved from the life we lived as well. Our shoulders have come to have great flexion. Which in combination with the ability to generate torque through he swivel of the upper body, and our long legs have given us the ability to generate great force when throwing. Something that would have surely had enormous benefit in the procurement of meat.
- As we started to make our way into the species Homo, we lost the snout of previous primates an developed a protruding nose. This allows us to humidify the air as it enters the nose, further keeping the lungs moist.
- Our ascent into humanness included the adaptation of millions of sweat glands covering the body. In the heat of the African plains, the ability to regulate body temperature is crucial in being able to procure meat from animals that would rather be lounging in the shade.
- As we have evolved so did our methods of nourishment. Early on, as we began to eat roots and tubers, we started to pound our food to release its vital nutrients and to reduce the effort with which it took to chew and digest our food.
- Eventually, we came to harness fire. This had a massive impact on us. Cooking food allows the nutrients within the foods we eat to become much more bioavailable. Meaning that it no longer took massive effort and time to chew and digest food. At the same time, we were getting more from our food than we ever had before.
- In addition to making nutrients more bioavailable, it also made food safer to eat, as it kills harmful bacteria that may live on the foods we consume. This freed up even more energy.
- Once cooking our food became commonplace we no longer required the extensive gastrointestinal tract that we had evolved with. Our intestines started to shrink as they had less work to do. The energy once used by the intestines put itself to good use elsewhere.
- As our intestinal tract shrank our brains took that extra energy and began to rapidly expand. Over the course of a couple millions of years our brains grew to be rather large in proportion to our bodies. The faculties that developed from our brain’s growth have allowed us to create culture, community, art, symbolism, language, to have reverence, and to modify our environment in ways that only cataclysmic catastrophe has before.
- Perhaps the most defining attributes of our humanity is our ability to create culture, to cooperate and exist within in rather large communities. As we developed we have had to rely on one another more.
- Our offspring has grown to need more care over longer periods of time than previous primates (this likely allows us the developmental space to grow such large brains). As men would have gone out on hunts together, women would band together in child rearing and foraging.
- We would have shared food with other families in our groups when our hunts were successful, because we understand that our survival is more assured when we work together.
- Our ancestor’s diets would have also varied widely from that of other primates. Instead of hanging about in the trees gorging on ripe fruit we have evolved to ingest a wide variety of plants, tubers & roots, seeds & nuts, and meat. The proportions of our ancestors diets and exact composition would have varied depending on their exact locale, but we can be assured that wonder bread, french fries, animal milk, and cereal grains are a novel component of our diets.
The ability to stand, sweat, and breath through a protruding nose have allowed us to move about in the heat of the day without overheating. This is fundamental to the way we likely would have acquired meat. Most animals in the heat of the day want to lay about and save their energy for the cool evening when most of their activity happens. Being able to drive these animals from their rest consistently, without periods of cooling (most animals can’t sweat and so regulate body temperature through panting), drives them to overheat so that a hunter can get close enough to forcefully throw their spear in a lethal manner. Persistence hunts still exist in the hunter-gatherer groups living on the planet today.
We can see that our bodies have grown to be able to move around on two legs, cover rather large swaths of land daily (up to 9mi.), sometimes running for long periods in the heat of the day, sweating to cool the blood and the body, harvesting wild animals, gathering wild foods, lugging around our nourishment, sharing in the fruits of the labor in the natural environment free from artificial light and industrial pollutants. It is clear that we have lost many of those habits.
To be clear, we are not making a suggestion to revert back to a hunter-gatherer way of life. Rather we are encouraging the designing of a life that can include and mimic habits like those of our ancestors.
How can we design a life that supports the healthy inclusion of movement? Do we find nourishment in a way that is inline with that of those who have given us our genes? Do you spend joyful time with those you love? How can we give something back to our community? Is there time within your day or evening to consciously “slow down?” Have you heard the bird song today? The answers to these questions can reveal places where a little can go along way.
Of course we cannot reduce our humanity to the physical attributes that have come to bring us alive as we are. We can use the understanding of how our genetics and subsequent physical adaptations have developed so that we can continue to thrive.