Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.

July 16, 2023 | Max Jenkinson


Sometimes something complex needs something seemingly random to put it into context.

To understand things we think we need the facts. It’s what we’ve been taught. Either something is correct or something is not.

But, if all you can see is facts how could you even conceptualize something so complex (full of facts) as health?

We tend to stay at the level of facts and argue that specific things are either healthy or unhealthy depending on the facts.

We make countless mistakes by not stepping back and viewing health from a larger perspective.

Humans view things in stories, not in facts. This is the reason we are rather bad at reasoning from facts.

Facts are new to our species. Stories are as old as time.

This is not to say we should ignore the facts. But we need to put the facts into a coherent story that we and the people we are talking to can understand.

This is something we’ve failed to do when it comes to health. Almost no one, not even the educated or interested, has a story to weave in their facts.

The facts are disjunct islands. We are trying to build a beautiful civilization (health) with no means of transportation and without any meaningful communication between the islands.

There are many ways I could tell the story of health. It would take me an entire book to tell the story that currently runs in my mind.

So, instead, I will use a quite simple concept that will illustrate the most vital part of the story.

This is the unlikely story of how hibernation reveals the mystery that is human health (& disease).

What is hibernation?

Most people think of hibernation as the deep slumber animals go into to survive harsh winters—I did too—but, this is not quite right.

The deep slumber is called torpor and hibernation is better viewed as a metabolic shift that occurs in preparation for anticipated starvation.

In some animals, periods of starvation have been so consistent that they developed annual patterns of torpor (Hello Bear).

Hibernation in mammals is common and it seems as if all mammals have an ancestral lineage to a mammal that hibernated.

In humans, periods of starvation were sporadic. We don’t have annual patterns of deep slumber. But, we might still have some leftovers from our hibernating ancestors.

As you will see, understanding our version of hibernation will put health into a, somewhat, illuminating context. Before the illumination occurs we need an understanding of health to bridge the gap, to gain the insight, to get the “aha moment”.


Health & Classical Music

Think of the body as a system, a biological system. Health in this case is a measurement of the function of the system.

I’ve been watching the series Mozart in the Jungle which is a lot about classical music orchestra. I thought it would be fitting to use an orchestra to demonstrate the function of your body.

Imagine a cell can function on a scale from 1-100. At 0 it dies, at 100 it performs its function perfectly.

We want to maintain functional cells so that the orchestra of life produces a world-class performance. Not only today but for an entire lifetime.

The cells are the players, the sections are the organs, the orchestra is your body and the conductor, well, should be you. You should conduct your body in a way that produces beautiful music.

The question we must then ask is; What makes the cells play the music of life well?

It all comes down to energy. Energy is needed to maintain the structure of the cells and the structure is what gives rise to the function, the music.

Without an instrument, there is no music to be heard.

The study of energy within our body is called metabolism. So, let’s look at what hibernation (or the preparation for anticipated starvation) does to metabolism.


How mammals prepare for hibernation

While preparing for starvation it would be smart to drive fat storage and preferably fast. How would an animal do that?

To gain weight we need to eat more than we burn. On one side of the equation, we have calories in (food), and on the other, we have calories out (burn).

To maximize fat gain we would want to increase our appetite so that we eat more, and decrease our burn rate (metabolism). This is exactly what happens in preparation for anticipated starvation in hibernating mammals.

There is one more thing to make the puzzle complete. The extra calories need to be shuttled to fat tissue.

During the preparatory phase metabolism also shifts toward increased fat storage. A perfectly designed system to allow massive amounts of weight (fat) to be gained in a short period to survive periods of starvation.

Quite clever if you ask me.

That leaves us with two excellent questions;

  1. Do humans hibernate?

  2. & if so, what triggers the preparatory phase?

Humans still hibernate (kind of)

The remnants of hibernation can be found in our genes. It seems as if some version of the metabolic shift is conserved in all mammals. The expression will, however, differ.

We don’t see humans as hibernators because we don’t have longer periods of deep rest. But, we are highly adapted to survive longer periods of not so much food.

The expression might still exist but not in the way we would assume it would express itself. If it were to be understood it might explain the obesity epidemic and may help us reverse it.

I firmly believe the expression exists. When humans become obese our metabolism shifts in exactly the same way as mammals preparing for hibernation.

  1. Decreased metabolism (calories going out)

  2. Increased appetite (calories coming in)

  3. Fat storage (where the calories go)

That leads us to answer the second question,


Q: What are the triggers?

In mammals, one major factor seems to be a dietary shift. It makes sense that we would be forced to change our diet during the transition from a time of abundance to one of scarcity.

It would be clever if this change signalled to the body to lower metabolism, increase appetite and shuttle the extra fuel to storage. There are other factors but I won’t go into detail about them here.

In humans, we have no idea what triggers the shift but I suspect they are similar to the triggers in other mammals. I am not going to speculate on the specifics. Instead, I will give you a framework I derived from obsessively studying the details.

Good times vs bad times

To understand the framework we need to go down memory lane, back to our ancestral environment where this mechanism evolved and helped us.

For ancestral man, some periods were good and some periods were not so good. The shift between the two usually did not occur overnight.

There were some signals. Some signs that times were about to change.

Of course, food availability was vitally important for ancestral man. The shift away from preferred foods (red meat, fruit and honey) to what researchers call “fallback foods” (roots, tubers, nuts and seeds) would likely have occurred.

But, who cares about the details of ancestral man? I do, but, let’s try to derive some sound principles from this eternal dance of good and bad times.

With bad times comes a host of things. A more unstable environment, socially, politically, and literally. Less food, more infectious diseases, more psychological stress.

All these things can be classified as stress and more importantly, classified as stress at the level of the cell.

I want you to reimagine the orchestra of your body. All the cells playing the music of life.

Your orchestra can handle some stress. You have backup musicians, your musicians are professionals so they will play well even if they are injured or sleep-deprived.

But, if the stress reaches a threshold the orchestra will no longer be able to produce beautiful music. At some point, you will notice this. This is what we call symptoms.

I want you to view cellular stress as the thing that signals that bad times are coming. Your body has a set threshold that, if reached, will shift your metabolism toward surviving instead of thriving.

We deprioritise things like muscle building and sexual function to instead focus on conserving energy and storing fuel (fat). To my point, we are fatter and more infertile than ever before.

If we are tilted toward surviving (in bad times) for too long we run into serious problems—chronic disease.

You want your orchestra of life to produce beautiful music, and so do I. To do so we need to remove the stressors of life enough so that they the stress does not reach the threshold.

We need to signal to the body that times are, in fact, good.

“Bullshit, those humans were unhealthy and died young.”

Well, imagine you are an alien biologist studying the human race. Your job is to determine what environment their physiology works the best.

Good times is the word I use to describe the optimal environment for humans to thrive in nature. All animals have an optimal environment.

The alien can control time. It looks at the human species from 250,000 years ago to around 50,000 years ago and notices some patterns.

In some periods the humans increase in numbers and seem generally happier and healthier. At other times their numbers dwindle and they seem less happy and less healthy.

The aliens write the thesis paper The Optimal Environment for Man.

Your job now is to figure out what the alien wrote and apply what you learned to your modern life.

Thankfully we can start quite simple and gain insane returns on our investments.

Becoming a lifestyle engineer (conductor)

We are both the designer of the zoo and the animals living in it, so why not design it better?


It’s time to give your cells what they need to do their job. Their job is to create beautiful music. In other words, keeping you vibrating with the force of life or in simpler words, keeping you healthy.

It’s all about removing things that signal bad times and keeping (or adding) things that signal good times.

It is that simple. What it means is complex. But, what you now have is a framework to decipher the information, come up with hypotheses and test them out on yourself.

You are the conductor of your body. Reclaim the control of your body and let us create some beautiful music.

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Shatter Your Entire View Of Health

Join others getting their entire idea of what health is shattered every Sunday while reading Health Decoded.