Dr. William Meller, author of Evolution Rx, talked with ParentsCanada about how to live healthier and longer by changing just a few basic, daily habits.
IF BETTER HEALTH IS THE GOAL, OUR DAILY HABITS ARE THE SUBTEXT.
PC: You suggest very specific daily habits to improve our health and longevity. Do these always connect back to human evolution – even to the Stone Age?
Dr. Meller: They do. Keeping the evolutionary origins of your health in mind can stack the odds for a very long life for you and your kids.
Eat lightly. Get enough sun and sleep. Stay active. Care for others. Adults should drink a little but should not smoke. And be skeptical of all food and drug health claims. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. In other words, live like our ancestors did during the Stone Age.
PC: When you tell adults to drink a little, are you talking about red wine?
Dr. Meller: Whether it’s beer, wine or spirits, alcohol in modest amounts clearly prolongs our lives. Adults who consume two ounces (60 ml) of alcohol (the amount found in one shot glass of hard liquor like whiskey) or six ounces (180 ml) of wine or one bottle of beer a day live longer than those who drink either none or more.
Moderate drinkers have fewer strokes, less dementia, fewer kidney stones and a greatly decreased risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease. In fact, they have half as many heart attacks as either heavy drinkers or teetotalers.
Alcohol has a greater effect than cholesterol-lowering drugs.
PC: Today, most parents protect their kids by being hygiene-vigilant to avoid germs and illness. You have a different take on this.
Dr. Meller: I do. Our kids are too clean! The Stone Age was a dirty, grubby time. It was in this mucky world that our immune systems evolved, learning to distinguish friend from foe and then dispatch unseen enemies. This is still true; dirt and germs ‘educate’ our immune systems. Today’s kids live in such sanitary homes and spend so little time outdoors, their immune systems never get this vital on-the-job training. The result is a spike in allergies and asthma and a rise in autoimmune diseases.
PC: You say that Attention Deficit Disorder can actually be a good thing! Parents will want to have that explained.
Without ADD, we wouldn’t have survived the Stone Age. It was essential
then and it can be valuable now. Those who could switch focus rapidly
were the quickest to detect threats, for example. I encourage parents to
not only get advice about minimizing the drawbacks but to learn how to
maximize the benefits.
PC: You say that showing off is in our genes and is a boy-thing. Girls seem to be exempt. Why?
The Stone Age was fraught with risk just to survive. Those who were
brave obtained more food and ultimately a leadership role. Testosterone
increases our propensity to take risks, so it’s no wonder our sons are
more likely to be behind the wheel in a street race than our daughters.
Girls, of course, show off in different ways.
Lack of exercise is often blamed for childhood obesity. While you
concede that exercise is a component of a healthy lifestyle, it’s not a
great contributor to weight loss. Why?
Dr. Meller: More than half of the people I see in my office who want to lose weight assume their problem
is lack of exercise. But exercising hard for a solid hour burns only about 400 calories. That’s half a Big Mac.
You probably know plenty of thin people who never exercise, but you’ll never find a fat person
who doesn’t eat too much. The key to weight loss is eating less.
PC: You’re an advocate of our being more exposed to the sun. What about the risks?
Dr. Meller: The
Stone Age soaked up vitamin D from the sun and, today, that’s still our
primary source. Now, infants and the elderly are too often vitamin D
deficient. Apart from the many health advantages, sun exposure helps
relieve depression. And the latest research shows that the risk of skin
cancer isn’t nearly as great as the damage done by bones weakened from
lack of sun exposure. Sensible moderation goes into play. It isn’t a
licence to sit on a beach and turn into a lobster.
eat all day but adults tend to consume more calories in the evening.
Are our kids’ habits healthier in terms of weight loss?
Some people swear that making breakfast the main meal is key. Some
people think that eating before bedtime turns calories directly into
fat. Neither is true. A calorie in the morning equals a calorie at
night. In the Stone Age, sometimes food was eaten all day and sometimes
they had to wait until the end of an exhausting hunt. Our bodies use
what we need when it is available, and any excess is turned into you
PC: Is there a secret weapon to help families fight germs?
Dr. Meller: It’s very basic:
- Get vaccinated, including an annual flu shot.
- Stay home when you’re sick.
- Feed a cold and starve a fever, meaning eat if you’re hungry and drink when you’re hot.
- Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.
- Rest and let a fever do its work.
- Keep a few face masks on hand.
- Don’t expect over-the-counter remedies to prevent, shorten or cure a cold.
- Avoid antibiotics whenever possible so they will be effective when you really need them.
PC: Does your insistence on our eating less also include eating less throughout pregnancy?
Research suggests that women in the Stone Age gained between 14 and 18
pounds during pregnancy. The average weight gain today is 35 pounds.
Risks increase with every extra pound. Women who gain more weight have
larger babies. Larger babies mean a more difficult delivery which, in
turn, increases the risk of injury to the baby, including asphyxia.
who have babies larger than 10 pounds develop diabetes more frequently
and have a risk of high blood pressure. Perhaps eating for two should be
slimmed down to eating for one and one-tenth. Not as catchy, but
Meller, MD, is an internist and practitioner of evolutionary medicine.
He is a member of the American College of Physicians and the American
Association for the Advancement of Science and teaches at the University
of California Santa Barbara.
Jenny McCarthy is Wrong
Jenny McCarthy’s and Jim Carrey’s autism organization, Generation
Rescue, is an international movement focused on researching the causes
and treatments for autism.
McCarthy, who became an activist when
her son was diagnosed with autism, says that parents are often told that
their child’s problem is the result of genes and is psychological in
nature. She believes (and is backed by some voices in the medical
community) that our children’s bodies are overwhelmed by a combination
of bacteria, heavy metals (mercury, lead aluminum) and other
environmental toxins (particularly those found in vaccines) and these
toxins serve to slow or shut down normal biochemical pathways in the
“Our fear of toxins is exaggerated,” responds Dr. Meller.
“Most toxins have to be ingested in massive quantities to be of danger.
Although common toxins like mercury, PCBs, pesticides and plastics do
turn up in food, their levels are almost always miniscule and easily
detoxified by our livers.
“They think that vaccines, themselves,
cause harm. It’s not true. By skipping vaccination, parents think their
children will dodge a risk, but complications from vaccination are
extremely rare and millions of times less common than the serious
complications of illness from the natural virus. The sad truth is that
some parents are making their children vulnerable to preventable and
“After very large, very careful studies, fears
of autism or ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) arising
from routine vaccination have been proven baseless.”
says that our bodies are designed to be challenged by frequent
infections. In the Stone Age, every infection set off an arms race
between the bugs and our human defenses. The germ often wreaked havoc,
killing its caveman host before the immune response could kick in.
Today, vaccines prepare our age-old immune systems to fight disease by
injecting tiny amounts of weakened strains of ancient germs. These allow
us to develop a critical resistance to germs that, in the past, were
disfiguring or even deadly.
He says,”Vaccination is one of the
best ways to turn the evolutionary tide in our favour. “The
anti-vaccination movement uses hearsay, bad science and outright lies,
but has gained steam over the last few years. Their well-meaning
spokesperson, actress Jenny McCarthy, has frightened parents and may
unwittingly be helping
to undermine one of the greatest public health triumphs in history.
should give fervent thanks to people like Jenner, Pasteur, Salk and
Sabin. Today, we don’t have to deal with polio, measles, rubella and
“Skipping vaccination is a terrible gamble. If enough
well-meaning parents stop vaccinating their children, there will be a
tragic return of these illnesses.”