Saturday, July 24, 2010


I'll get back to zinc tomorrow. But today I heard this piano solo on XM radio (right click to open in a new tab if you want to listen and read), and it got me to thinking.

The song is Traumerei, by Schumann, one of the most famous piano solos ever written. The pianist in the youtube video is Horowitz, playing an encore to his last concert in Moscow, thus the emotional reaction of the audience and pianist himself.

Robert Schumann had at least two suicide attempts during his life, and his last two years were spent in a mental asylum. He also had hugely productive periods, including the "Year of Song" in 1840, when he composed 168 pieces. These facts and his documented auditory hallucinations of angelic and demonic voices have led some to speculate that he suffered from bipolar disorder. It seems equally likely that he had tertiary syphilis and mercury poisoning (from the treatment for syphilis) leading to the disintegration and psychosis those last several years. He was only 46 when he died, and his last compositions showed him to have some experimental, evolutionary ideas of music, though they were unappreciated at the time. If we'd discovered the mold-derived penicillin (a surefire treatment for syphilis) 100 years earlier, who knows what more he would have accomplished.

Evolutionary medicine and lifestyle is not really about going back. Sometimes this is misunderstood.

I can't write about Schumann without touching upon Franz Schubert. He was an Austrian composer, also from the Romantic period, who also died young (age 31) of syphilis. It's important to know that when he wrote this piece (right click), he knew that his own death was imminent.

We don't see too much of death in our modern, Western world. We're protected from the feedlots and chicken roosts and for some it is possible to fantasize about a world where we don't even kill animals to stay alive. Our own typical deaths happen in a drugged haze, or attached to a thousand machines in the ICU. Such a death is expensive. And horrific. In medical school and residency, no matter what the specialty, you see this first hand all the time. And you grow acclimated and inured to your own future possibilities. If not some accident, bad luck, or foolishness, you get to pick heart disease or cancer. It is hard, unless you have a sudden infarction and arrhythmia, to die quickly or painlessly. Of course we hide our deaths from the masses now.

Staffan Lindeberg described the natural deaths of the Kitavans - after a long, healthy, hale life, somewhere between age 70-90 or even beyond 100, the elderly will become fatigued for a few days, and pass quietly away. To me that doesn't sound too bad. Sure beats hospice or an ICU.

There are some paleo folks who are looking beyond being flourishing omnivores toward optimal human health. This is where some of the most heated arguments about low-carb vs paleo carb vs low calorie living break out. And there is a bit of theoretical evidence that low carb, low protein may be optimal for longevity.

I'm not going to wait for the 100 year randomized controlled trial. And I do like lots of vegetables, fruit, and even potatoes or rice from time to time. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life. I'll settle for being merely human, and I'll take my penicillin and vaccines, should the need arise.


  1. Hi, long time lurker, first time poster here.
    Loving the blog, started reading somewhere around the vitamin D article, fast pace - liking it.
    Quick note. This article linked is a bit sloppy in how they describe OD:
    "The Optimal Diet suggests you eat two grams of protein for every pound. (...) For example, a person who weighs 130 pounds should consume 132 grams of protein, about 400 grams of fat and 80 grams of carbs."
    Not at all. It's more around 0.5g per pound of body weight. Also, in the OD community, they used to speak evil of protein, and some would go eg. 30g protein a day. Crazy as it sounds.

  2. Hi _flo! You're absolutely right. To be honest I know very little about the particulars of the Optimal diet, though I find the entire concept intriguing. The only reason I used that link of all those googled was Livestrong - Lance Armstrong is finishing his last Tour de France as I write this comment... such are the confounding variables that I defy statisticians to account for.

  3. :)) hah
    To clarify, I've come from the OD background - diet-wise, and am a bit disillusioned. Especially that have been reading them in Polish, so got the feel of the community, which is very devoted to say the least.
    Some good points there, and some not so good:
    - eating almost the same food in the same proportion and quantity each and every day,
    - soaking up lots of fat all the time, glorifying it, and it's "healthful" properties - it just makes every other gram of carbs/protein eaten problematic, really - same as with diabetic metabolism.
    - too much dairy,
    - discrediting IF, fiber, o-3/o-6, the list could go on and on...
    Phew, I did vent it, did't I. :)