When I was 16, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. At that time, I already had a sense of the connection between nutrition/diet and health and disease. My story is one of ‘growing up in the kitchen’ since both my mother and grandmother included me in food prep and cooking. I remember little nutrition nuggets like ‘always include one dark orange and one dark green vegetable at dinner’; becoming a dietitian/nutritionist was meant to be in many ways.
It didn’t take much for me to jump on the bandwagon when it came to ‘natural health and living‘. I thought that advanced aging and disease was simply a product of modern life and many of it’s excesses; preservatives in food, agricultural pesticides, pollution, car exhaust, sugar, carcinogens, processed foods, a lack of nutrients, not enough oatmeal etc. I saw these things basically standing in the way of my body’s desire to heal and thrive. All I needed to do was give my body pure, natural foods and use natural personal care products and it move towards it’s natural state of perfect health and that included slowing the ravages of time – boy was I wrong.
What is the natural fallacy?
The natural fallacy or appeal to nature is one of the most poular concepts in the “natural health” and “natural nutrition” world. It’s premise is that nature knows/is best and that everything naturally found in nature is good while anything that isn’t, is bad. For example, synthetic pesticides are seen as evil and many will go to any length to avoid traces of them while happily guzzling loads more pesticides/herbicides/fungicides naturally produced by plants as defense against insects predators, fungi, etc in mandatory ‘natural anti-aging’ kale/spinach/beet/cacao smoothies; chemicals that have been shown to be toxic in the right amount.
Don’t get me started on the rationalizations to avoid non-organic fruits and vegetables but then turn around and drink a Class I carcinogen: alcohol
The problem is, many naturally occurring things don’t work in our favour unless you think influenza, TB, lead/arsenic, HIV, bear attacks, polio, hemlock, cancer, age-related muscle loss have our best interests at heart. Even water can be dangerous if drank in excess [and it’s not as much as you might think]; low blood sodium levels and seizures anyone?
On the other hand, many things that are not part of nature or the natural world have not only improved our quality of life, but has extended it too: antibiotics, open-heart surgery with those pesky synthetic medications, insulin, blood pressure medication, cataract surgery, eye glasses and something as benign as pets. What could be more unnatural than keeping an animal as a companion and yet we know that pet-owners tend to be healthier for many reasons (having a sense of purpose, companionship, nurturing something and lower levels of stress).
Why is ‘Natural Anti-Aging’ a crock of sh-t?
The critical point lost on the ‘natural anti-aging’ camp is that aging IS natural. Our bodies are programmed to die, it’s encoded in our genes; we age/breakdown from the inside out: THIS is the natural tendency of our bodies
Like all organisms, there is a biological imperative to reproduce for survival of the species; once the human body has matured to reproductive age and reproduced, it’s basically downhill from there.
The very fact that we have extended the lifespan of Canadians from about 59-61 in 1920 to 81-86 in 2016 is precisely due to the fact that we have used unnatural means (water sanitation, medications, surgeries etc) to intervene and interrupt the natural course of life.
Any anti-aging strategy must interfere with programmed cell death and the fact that aging is not a failure of the body or because we deviated from the path to the Garden of Eden, a natural diet or natural living will do nothing to slow age-related decline – to think otherwise is misguided but makes for AWESOME marketing when it comes to selling stuff. Don’t get me wrong, if you want to buy ‘natural’ laundry soap and more, then have at it!
The body ‘knows’ what it wants to do and it wants to self-destruct – following a natural lifestyle will only support this process since it cannot interfere with it; the goal is to trick the body into living longer.
From a nutrition point of view, the best research-supported way to slow down the clock is to reduce inflammation Inflammation and Health. Part 1 and Inflammation and Health. Part 2, protect and extend your telomeres Diet, Nutrients, Telomeres and Longevity, and give your body the building blocks for optimal collagen production as you age Glycine, ‘anti-aging’ Clout from this humble Amino Acid?. Other research-based anti-aging strategies involved improving insulin resistance using the diabetes drug metformin, the herb berberine, and exercise, both weight lifting and ‘cardio’, anti-inflammatory medications like baby aspirin or low dose ibuprofen but taking medication comes with risks and shouldn’t be done on one’s own.