How did Uncle Ralph break health rules and yet live to age 89?

We’ve all heard various versions of this old refrain. It is usually thrown out to defend against good advice. Don’t smoke – “hey what about Uncle Ralph? He smoked 2 packs a day.” Eat more vegetables – “he was a meat and potatoes guy.” Organic products are better for you. “He never heard of organic, didn’t take vitamins…and so on.”

There are a great many reasons why it isn’t smart to base our health choices on Uncle Ralph or grandma or George Burns (pictured above with his ever present cigar):

  • Most obviously, if Ralph had been on a better path, perhaps his genetics might have kept him healthy and active to age 109.
  • Folks born that long ago got a much different start in life. For example, they probably had a much greater diversity of gut bacteria. Most likely they were not delivered by cesarean section; not given antibiotics as an infant; not bottle fed; not kept in an over-sanitized home; or prevented from playing outside in the dirt. All of those conditions deplete our crucial beneficial bacteria.
  • The foods they ate in the early decades of their lives were real, not fakes constructed out of a chemistry set. Every government assay of produce shows foods have progressively become less nutritious. Back then, farms still rotated crops and used natural fertilizers that enriched the soil and plants. Foods also were less likely to be imported or picked green and shipped across the country which depletes nutrient value.
  • Foods were also cleaner because old fashioned farming made for stronger plants that didn’t require so many chemical pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, desiccants, etc.
  • That meat Uncle Ralph ate was also quite different. Because it was more likely from cows that grazed, it would have had higher content of omega 3 fats and no antibiotics. That meat did not concentrate the chemicals on the grain that cattle are fed today.
  • There were not thousands of tempting processed foods laced with addictive ingredients. Every box, bag and can in the grocery store was not packed with sugar or mercury-containing high fructose corn syrup.
  • Diet dictocrats (and the government) weren’t giving them RIDICULOUS advice like this one: “margarine is good for heart disease and eggs are bad for it”. Or this one: “eat 11 servings a day of starchy foods and avoid fat.” (Hello, diabetes.)
  • There weren’t 10’s of thousands of chemicals assaulting them from the air, the food and the water. The drinking water didn’t contain fluoride. These toxicants disrupt cell function and use up nutrients.
  • Without such serious pressure from pharmaceutical firms and insurance companies, doctors were then more like naturopaths who try to restore balance and get to the root cause of problems rather than medicate symptoms into submission. Meds deplete our nutrients and harm our bacteria—two of the reasons they have side effects. Today the proliferations of specialist provides highly specific care but we miss the holistic view of the old timey doc with his black bag.
  • Our forebearers were more active because they didn’t have so many labor-saving devices. Color TV’s didn’t come on the scene until the 1960’s and they certainly didn’t have 500+ channels to keep them glued to the sofa.
  • They got more sunshine and sleep. Nuclear families were more likely together for emotional support…I could go on but, it should be clear by now we live in a different world.

Today, when we aim for organic foods, take supplements, etc. we are just trying to offset a bit of the damage all the changes above have created.


“Change isn’t always good. Sometimes changing things is a terrible mistake.”
— Bob Barker, longtime host of The Price is Right

 “And a step backward, after making a wrong turn, is a step in the right direction.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, in his book Player Piano

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