Fire Adaptation: Activate Your Ancient Pathway for Optimal Health!

7 Apr

“Like a moth to the flame, burned by the fire. My love is strong…can’t you see my desire?”  –Janet Jackson, “All 4 U”, April 21st, 2001

Why is fire so important?

Hi, I’m Kamal, from For as long as I can remember (meaning this morning…it was a rough night last night), I’ve been obsessed with fire. Last week, I was excited to see that researchers have found evidence of humans using fire one million years ago. So don’t TELL me we’re not adapted to fire. Nuh-uh. I will burn you.

So that’s the con of fire: it can burn you. The pros? Let’s do a “Being John Malkovitch” and enter the mind of an early caveman using fire. We’ll call this specimen “Brendan Fraser” for ease of discussion, or Fraser for short. There likely weren’t quite as many websites around back then, so Fraser would be really into obtaining food and having sex, but not always in that order. A popular viewpoint among researchers is that Fraser would have been able to eat more delicious, grilled meat and tubers than he would raw foods, leading to all kinds of changes with brain size and other physiological characteristics. At night, Brendan would be sitting around a campfire under the stars with his lovely, natural, hairy-legged better half. What next? Sex. I hypothesize that there would be even MORE sex than before fire. Spoon when it’s cold, copulate when it’s warm. That’s my motto.

Okay, let’s get serious. What are the physiological benefits of heat? 

Let’s talk heat shock proteins. First, let me admit that all I know about heat shock proteins is what I could gather from half an hour of research. Next, let me tell you that they are quite interesting: when cells are exposed to elevated heat or certain other stressors, heat shock proteins do all kinds of cool shit. Like regulate tumor response, prevent cell death from excess stress, and influence aging through hormesis. Is this important for humans in warm vs cold climates? Ehhh…as you can imagine, our internal temperatures are quite well regulated, although environment/diet/hormones etc do play a role in core temperature. And you can influence heat shock proteins through other things such as exercise and fasting. But all this is pretty interesting nonetheless.

Infrared saunas to the rescue?

A regular sauna heats your body by circulating warm air. An infrared sauna transfers heat more or less directly to your body using special lamps or bulbs. It’s like the sun, but in a smaller, closer package that doesn’t provide you with vitamin D. Did you know that there is actually a decent amount of evidence supporting the use of these heaters for chronic fatigue, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and some other stuff? It’s actually quite a good adjunct treatment for dialysis patients, to boot. The mechanisms are up for debate. Sweating out toxins? Maybe. Increasing core body temperature? I dunno. But yet again, something to think about.

Core body temperature, lifespan, and everything else

So now that I’ve convinced you of nothing, but maybe given you something to chew on, let me wrap this up with a couple more thoughts about heat and humans. Will living in a warm climate, let’s say Hawaii, make you live longer or kill you a few years earlier? If hypothetical effects of ambient temperature on lifespan are a driving force in your life, well, that sucks for you! Hawaii is awesome, and I’m 82% certain that living in a balmy climate would extend my life through not having to deal with cold weather (but to each his own, as always).

Creating mutant mice that have much lower core temperatures leads to a 20% longer life. Great! But I try not to base my life on studies of mutant lab mice. I found a bunch of weird studies supporting the opposite argument, like this one hypothesizing that babies gestating in warm years suffer health consequences when living in cold climates. But really, study-battles can only get you so far. It doesn’t take a formal study to show that people generally like warm temperatures. Brendan Fraser certainly tried to avoid the cold, by huddling near the fire, using blankets, and having hot hot sex. And you can live to 121 years of age living in the sweltering Amazon, eating bananas, grilled meat, and tubers.

So while the historical roots of the human genome are fascinating, I personally strive for happiness over hacking influenced by potentially erroneous hypothesizing. Sure, the Earth’s temperature has fluctuated wildly up and down in the past few million years. But just because it was sweltering hot when mammals began to diversify, doesn’t mean I’m going to wear an infrared sauna suit three hours a week. And while I’d use cold baths if I get neurotic about burning a few more calories, or as an adjunct experiment for difficult-to-treat conditions, I’m not going to do four hour ice baths to get in touch with my single-celled ancestor from two billion years ago. Keeping things hormetically fresh by changing up the temperature…fine. But I get a pass on this one, because of my Indian ancestry. My predecessors haven’t seen snow in (???) thousand years. So to emulate my ancestors from Gujarat, India, all I have to do is keep the thermostat between 75 and 101 degrees. (!) Now it’s time for me to resume dreaming about living on the beach. Until next time…stay thirsty, my friends.

17 Responses to “Fire Adaptation: Activate Your Ancient Pathway for Optimal Health!”

  1. nance13 April 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm #

    At least I don’t have to buy bags of ice for this one! Here in the southern tip of Nevada we have a few overnight lows under 40F in mid-winter and also have mid-summer highs at or above 120F. Seriously, though, when I moved here from Wisconsin my preferred room temperature was 70F and now it’s 78-80F. So some adaptation did occur. Has it extended my life? I have no clue, but it’s had a wonderful effect on chronic joint pain. And I walk around more on average, since I freely admit that winter in Wisconsin was not my idea of outdoor weather.

    • Meredith April 7, 2012 at 2:18 pm #

      Nance! I lived in Southern Utah for three years. Not quite as hot as you, but near it. I loved it. Every short sleeved, vitamin D baked minute of it. Except for the goatheads and when my crocs started melting on the pavement that is.

      • Kamal Patel April 7, 2012 at 2:26 pm #


        I’ve lived in cold climates most of my life, and I hate it. But I’m also a whiny crybaby. For one month out of every year, I scan craigslist ads to see how much an apartment would be on the different Hawaiian Islands.

        AHS13 in Honolulu?

    • Kamal Patel April 7, 2012 at 2:30 pm #

      Nance, I also have clue what the effects of different climates and temperature experiments have been on my health.

      I think ice baths gave me at least some good placebo for a few days, and jacuzzis help me relax. And there’s heaps of (conflicting) evidence for different stuff. But Nevada over Wisconsin any day! (no offense to cheeseheads)

  2. Travis April 7, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    “But just because it was sweltering hot when mammals began to diversify, doesn’t mean I’m going to wear an infrared sauna suit three hours a week.”

    Dammit, Kamal, now I’m going to have to try to return the suit I ordered to Ronco for only three easy payments of $29.95. I hope they’ll take it back. Crap!

  3. Travis April 7, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Kamal, I hate to inform you of this, but Jimi Hendrix was ahead of you on this one:

    “You try to gimme your money
    you better save it, babe
    Save it for your rainy day

    I have only one burning desire
    Let me stand next to your fire”

    • Kamal Patel April 7, 2012 at 4:12 pm #

      Jimi, however, was predated by Elvis…

      Girl, girl, girl
      You gonna set me on fire
      My brain is flaming
      I don’t know which way to go

      Your kisses lift me higher
      Like the sweet song of a choir
      You light my morning sky
      With burning love

      • tdgor April 8, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

        Wrong, sorry. Elvis recorded “Burning Love” in 1972, two years after Jimi Hendrix died.

      • Kamal Patel April 8, 2012 at 12:44 pm #

        Shit! I’ll try to think of a legitimate predecessor. Jerry Lee Lewis?

  4. Russ Crandall ( April 7, 2012 at 4:16 pm #

    Great post, but there are some troubling elements that I’ve noticed.

    Right off the bat, I recommend against citing your work, it makes everything a little too defined and takes a bit of the mystery (mysticism?) away. Next, you might need to do some research on that Amazon lady – there’s not way she could have lived to 121 by eating tubers and bananas, because they have carbohydrates in them. Shoot, I knew that because I learned it in school so I didn’t even have to Google it.

    Kidding aside, awesome post! I’m off to watch Encino Man now.

  5. A Slim Winter April 7, 2012 at 5:55 pm #

    I love everything about this. Im so happy I got to come home to this. Kamal, today you win for My Favorite Person in the World.

  6. Nutritionator April 8, 2012 at 8:30 pm #

    Kamal, if you ever find that reasonably priced apt. in Hawaii, you have a roommate. Great post dude.

  7. Evo April 11, 2012 at 2:56 pm #

    Very funny Kamal. I chuckled 🙂

  8. Leah Manson Mackey April 16, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    ” a hundred and ten don’t mean nothin’ to me….I’ve seen 40 below where the rivers freeze…” Kamal you are very funny, good post!

  9. primallykosher April 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    I think you might have hurt Dr. Walter Bishops feelings.


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