Genetics and nutritionBy Matt Stone

I’ve had peculiar longings for a lifestyle overhaul of late. It’s a long story involving goats. And maybe sheep and dogs, too. Don’t ask. Okay, fine I’ll tell you. You are so nosey!

I’ve been doing extensive research on breeding animals. My interest in goats in particular stems back to my hardcore mountain man days when I had once had the idea to retreat into the backcountry for long stretches of time with some goats, including both pack goats and dairy goats, to carry my stuff, get me some fresh milk, and offer me an occasional meat feast if I found myself getting too short on calories. A little strange and extreme sure, but hey, that’s just me.

I never did it of course. But daydreams like that never fully get cleansed from the psyche. And lately I’ve been yearning to lengthen my laptop leash. Yes, that laptop keeps me on a leash. I know right. Totally not nice.

I’ve also been rather obsessive about football this season, which has been another flashback to my past. I spent basically my entire childhood from roughly age 5-19 hyperfocused on sports, watching them 20 hours a week or more, playing them 20 hours a week or more, and playing another 20 hours of sports video games. Screw Mario Bros. I’d rather play Super Tecmo Bowl.

And speaking of Tecmo, this brings me to where the latent revival of two former interests of mine converge–genetics. Back in the Nintendo Entertainment System’s heyday, one player reigned supreme. Bo Jackson. Anyone who played the game recognized immediately that Bo was superior, earning Bo the nickname of “Tecmo Bo” amongst sports video game nerds like myself. Only Bo could perform feats like this in Super Tecmo Bowl:

Bo Jackson managed to win ESPN Sport Science’s “Greatest Athlete of All Time” award. He is almost unanimously considered to be the greatest physical specimen the world has ever known. He was a two-time state champion in the decathlon, qualified for the Olympics in track and field, has state records for the high jump and triple jump in his home state of Alabama, ran the fastest 40-time in NFL history (all positions), was an all-star baseball player and pro bowl football player, and managed to be all those things without weight training and regarding practice as “a waste of time.” He would literally play baseball for half a year, then throw some football pads on and, without any training or preparation, walk onto the field and be the most physically dominant player out there. It wasn’t that Bo was such a refined player. It’s just that it was so abundantly clear that Bo had the most incredible set of natural physical tools ever given to one human being. From being able to throw runners out at home plate from the warning track to sudden and surprising unrehearsed physical maneuvers thought to be practically impossible in a beastly 230-pound stocky frame, Bo was a once in a century piece of work.

Bo grew up poor as dirt and was the 8th of 10 kids in his family. One can hardly attribute Bo’s gifts to the cuisine of impoverished 60’s black Southerners split 10 ways. As far as I know, none of his other siblings were particularly athletic. Just Bo. He appeared, like most professional athletes, to have won the genetic coin toss.

And Bo, along with what breeders of animals like goats, dogs, and horses and such have known for centuries, is a product of pure genetics.

Sure, a mother and child must be fed enough quality food to be nourished sufficiently to fulfill such genetic potential. Nutrition certainly plays a role. But modern day health nerds and a man they frequently worship, one Weston A. Price in particular, have probably overdone the nutrition fetish. We are not all perfect genetic specimens that have been tainted with Hostess products, causing us to have crooked teeth, health problems, and other shortcomings. There’s a lot more to breeding certain qualities in animals than the food they are fed. Good food, good metabolism–these things help no doubt. But ultimately much of the physical fortitude of wild animals and primitive humans whose skeletal remains suggest they may have had superior physical formation to us modern folk rests in the hands of natural selection.

I was reading a website by a woman who lives in Texas and raises goats for their meat. What mattered most to her was that her herd was maximally healthy and acclimated to the climate, conditions, and pathogens on her ranch. Unlike many ranchers, she didn’t bust out the antibiotics and de-wormers every time her animals got sick. Instead, she demonstrated great patience in the future of her investment, and allowed sick animals to die while the healthy ones went on to reproduce, which, as I’m discovering, involves a tremendous amount of golden showers.

And it worked. Her animals are now free of the parasites and other problems they had when she first began.

Anyway, in my early 20’s, I thought almost exclusively about genes and heredity in a breeder’s sense. With my crappy eyesight, severe health problems that might’ve killed me without emergency intervention as a child–I thought myself unfit to reproduce. As a hardcore “naturalist” for lack of a better word, I felt like I would be further watering down the human gene pool with my tainted seed. Then I came across the work of Weston A. Price and others and began to think to the other end of the spectrum. I began to think that I and everyone else was a perfect little snowflake if we could just eat enough of that mysterious nutrient in grassfed Swiss cow butter. Like most things I’ve intellectually explored in my life, I went deep into one polarized direction only to swing to the far opposite, and now, finally, I have come back to the gray middle.

I don’t know if livestock breeding is in store for me or not. If so, I will be able to go much further in my understanding of how important nutrition is in the overall picture compared to selective breeding. Either way, I plan on all of my would-be goats being 2-sport all-star athletes with 4.12 time in the 40-yard dash by the way. But I have no doubt that, when looking at the big picture, that nutrition is an important piece of the overall puzzle of human health, and adequate nutrition is an absolutely mandatory prerequisite, but there are many more factors involved in the rather quick degradation of human health that I was so eager to “turn 180 degrees” when I launched this site almost exactly 5 years ago.

The use of medicine, antibiotics, emergency surgery, and many more medical marvels has certainly weakened our genetic stock in the manner described in one goat magazine I was reading recently (man that’s weird to write), where the authors complained of it taking years to cleanse out the crappy DNA that one lousy buck implanted into their whole herd. It is one of many inconvenient truths of modernity, though a small price to pay for being able to pull all-nighters playing Super Tecmo Bowl with my friends in my youth. Despite this watering down, and despite what most nutritionists consider to be a woeful national diet, we do seem to keep churning out increasingly freakish athletes. An unlimited supply of easily-digestible calories is a powerful thing when it goes to the right places. So maybe all is not lost.

Well, that’s all. If you have any questions, ask Bo. He knows everything except hockey.

Matt Stone author picMatt Stone is an independent health researcher, author of more than 15 books, and founder of 180DegreeHealth. He is best known for his research on metabolic rate and its central role in many health conditions as well as his criticisms of extreme dieting. You can read more of his work in over 500 free articles on the site or in his books HERE.