Do we live in a Golden Age or a Dark Age? It always seems to depend on who you ask; But what can't be debated is the fact we don't live in the Iron Age, Bronze Age, or Stone Age. We presently live in the most novel and complex environment ever encountered by human beings, vastly different from previous ages. This shift has been relatively swift, and the changes continue to occur as new technologies and social systems evolve daily.
When it comes to the basic biological reality of health and well-being, our systems have been slow to adapt to this new and changing reality. Yes, our average life spans have been lengthened by the reduction in deaths due to war, childbirth, murder, and infectious diseases. But with this life-span increase has come at a cost—A loss of our health-spans.
We have more chronic illness than ever before. We have an obesity epidemic, as well as epidemics of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and the diseases of old age, Alzheimer's and Dementia. We even have epidemic levels of mental illness, drug overdose/addiction, and rising rates of autism-spectrum-disorders and other novel cognitive issues.
We have spent the last century making light years of improvement in our understanding of biology, physics, engineering, chemistry, etc. Yet we seem to be less capable, in many ways, of improving human health and well-being as a result of it. How is this possible? Personally, I've spent years regaining my health after a rough brush with schizophrenia, and several ensuing chronic health issues like IBS and eczema from the medications. Thanks to Qigong, Chinese Medicine, and Bioenergetic Nutrition, I'm much better now. But the question remains, how can there be so many people like me, in a technologically advanced scientific society, who feel they have to solve all their health problems themselves? What is happening in the current system?
Dr. Ray Peat, father of Bioenergetic Theory
According to the father of the Bioenergetic Theory of Health, biologist Dr. Ray Peat, this mismatch between our knowledge and health comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of health itself. He believes this misunderstanding leads to the wrong questions being asked, the wrong research being done, and ultimately the wrong health advice being given by our current class of experts.
If you have been practicing Qigong (a Chinese form of moving meditation and energy medicine) or related practices like Tai Chi, Yoga, or meditation, or have been studying any form of eastern medicine, this misunderstanding isn't news to you. You are likely already aware of the ignorance, arrogance, and corruption that sabotages western medicine's ability to clearly articulate a vision of human health and flourishing. This contrast in visions is usually described by Eastern Medicine books like this:
Western Medicine views the body as a machine; When the machine breaks down, new parts are needed, or worn out parts need removed. The optimal state of health is to simply have no malfunctioning parts. Conversely, Eastern Medicine views the body as a garden; When a plant is unhealthy, the gardener looks at the environment - Is there enough sunlight, water, or shade? Are there insects invading? Are other supportive plants nearby? Is the soil rich enough? The optimal state of health is to have the correct environmental conditions to allow the natural flourishing of vitality to emerge effortlessly.
This western view of the body as a machine has been made more extreme by the gene theory of disease. Every illness, no matter how obviously lifestyle (or environmentally) induced, is blamed on genetics (or some external pathogen and its genetics). Eastern medicine generally contends that genes may cause vulnerability to specific diseases, but environment and lifestyle are ultimately what pull the trigger. In this way the Eastern view is much more optimistic about which illnesses can be avoided and cured than western medicine which tends to blame the body itself for its malfunctions.
What does all this have to do with the mostly unheard-of American biologist, Dr. Ray Peat, and his theories of health? Well, if you are interested in Eastern Medicine, you may be fascinated to learn that Dr. Peat's theories converged on the exact same underlying principles of healing, but from the perspective of biochemistry and biophysics. The strangest part is I haven't been able to find any evidence, including from asking Ray's associates, that any research on eastern medicine influenced his work. He seems to have arrived at the same conclusions from a totally different vantage point!
In science, this is a big deal; For something to be considered true, it needs to be replicable. The same experiments should be able to be done by different researchers, and lead to the same results. With more esoteric discoveries, like acupuncture points, it would be a big deal for two different cultures in two different time periods to have discovered the same points independently, and ascribe the same effects to each point. This adds certainty to claims, because the odds of different people across time and space having the same results and discoveries by mere coincidence alone is low.
Ray came to many of the same conclusions as eastern medicine, but from a different time period, place, culture, and technological toolkit. This provides reasonable evidence that both he and the ancient masters of the East have come across an objective, stable set of universal truths that can be discovered by anyone, anytime, and any place!
Ray is in his 80s now, and still with robust health, and has been writing about these theories since the 1970's. If you were ever interested, as I am, in how the principles of Qigong and other "energy" based healing traditions might be explained in scientific terms, Ray is the guy to turn to. But not just him. There are several scientists and doctors over the last century that have been largely ignored or misunderstood, whose work contributed to The Bioenergetic Theory of Health. These include Gilbert Ling, Hans Selye, Broda Barnes, and Otto Warburg, as well as a number of Russian scientists and experiments ignored by the West due to the Cold War. The underlying theory in Bioenergetic Health goes like this:
The human organism requires energy to function and thrive. It must both acquire that energy from its environment AND transform that acquired energy into usable energy (ATP) within the cells. The properly maintained and supported structures of the body, down to the cellular and molecular levels, enable this transformation to occur efficiently. As more energy is transformed and made available, that energy moves through the structures to support, repair, and increase their complexity. More structural order and complexity increase efficient transformation of energy. More energy made available increases structural order and complexity. If either of these two poles of energy or structure, are interfered with, the result will be a decrease in vitality, and ultimately the production of disease conditions.
Or, in Dr Peat's words, "A given structure makes possible a certain level of useful energy, and adequate energy makes possible the maintenance of structure, and the advance to a higher and more efficient structural level."
The Bioenergetics of Traditional Chinese Medicine
I don't know about you, but I hear loud echoes of Yin and Yang in this idea. In traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the Yin of the body is our structures and substances (organs, bones, tissues, meridians, blood, fluids). The Yang of the body is its functions, another word for which is Qi (sometimes spelled Chi). The Yin/Yang theory of health states that structures and substances (Yin) are required as a baseline for the production of function (Yang), and that function (Yang) is required for the maintenance and production of structures and substances. A deficiency in either Yin or Yang, or a blockage in their transformation between one another, will lead to loss of vitality and ultimately manifestation of disease.
But the Bioenergetic Theory goes further into Chinese medicine territory. It posits that the human being has two basic energy production modes.
"A high level of respiratory energy production that characterizes young life is needed for tissue renewal. The accumulation of factors that impair mitochondrial respiration leads to increasing production of stress factors, that are needed for survival when the organism isn't able to simply produce energetic new tissue as needed. Continually resorting to these substances progressively reshapes the organism, but the investment in short-term survival, without eliminating the problematic factors, tends to exacerbate the basic energy problem." ~ Dr Ray Peat
Or, our bodies are not good at maintaining long term health when they are in short-term survival mode. Most of us already know this, fight-or-flight mode directs resources to emergency functions, and takes resources away from long term vital functions like digestion or detoxification. But the Bioenergetic Model takes this further. In the above quote, Peat is telling us that, specifically, the stress-reaction of an organism will impair the efficient production of energy, AND that the impaired energy production will perpetuate the state of stress.
Does this sound familiar? Qigong teachers like Lee Holden and Mantak Chia have been saying this for decades, "Less Stress, More Energy".
The above is part one of a two-part article by Nick Loffree author of Bioenergy Training: 60 Day Transformation - Part 1 Beginner and Part 2 Intermediate, March 2022.