Winning the Battle Against Metabolic Disorders: Iñigo San Millán at TEDxMileHigh (Transcript)

Never in the history of humankind are so many people dying from non-infectious diseases. Diseases that we call nowadays, non-communicable diseases as well.

About 2/3, or two out of three people, die in the world of these diseases which, in the developed society, start from these non-communicable diseases. The major bulk are what we call nowadays the cardiometabolic diseases which comprises diseases like cardiovascular disease, obesity, or type 2 diabetes. Now, is this somehow a price that we have to pay for our progress? For the luxury of working from home or from an office instead of a farm?

There are many components involved in these diseases. The one thing that we don’t know is what happens at the cellular level? What happens in the cells of humans that make us develop these diseases? We have no idea. In the meantime, we open any medical text book and we can see that these diseases are a medical condition or a metabolic disease, however, we are treating these diseases as a nutritional disorder.

And that’s where, in the meantime, we have a $600 billion dollar industry which is the weight-loss industry, that for about two decades they’ve been pushing these products, their pills, their weight-loss products, their diets, making us believe that they have the key to restore our health and to prevent diseases. We know very well that they’ve been failing miserably because they haven’t been able to cure the diseases at all. As a matter of fact, we’re getting worse and worse and worse.

Now, some people say, is this a nutritional disorder? Some people say that the lack of physical activity and some people say – and some people say that this is a problem with the environment. Some people say it’s a little bit of everything.

But again, we have no idea what’s going on. Imagine that there’s a virus out there that is killing millions of people and that we would not know what are the mechanisms of the replication and infection of that virus? We would not be able to develop a vaccine and therefore a treatment. This is the same scenario that we’re seeing with these diseases. And again, the weight loss industry is trying to push all these products for us to be able to hold onto something that we believe can cure the diseases. But they don’t know.

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We, as researchers, we have no idea what causes this, and the society thinks that we know, so we’re in big trouble. Look at the whole thing that happens with nutrition and the whole carbohydrates and sugars, for example. We have embedded in our heads that carbohydrates and sugars are the number one causes for diseases, the one to blame. It’s like if they were sent, a few years ago, by aliens from outer space to exterminate humankind. Come on. Give me a break.

Humans have been around carbohydrates and sugars for thousands of years as a normal part of their diet. They never dieted or developed these diseases. Elite endurance athletes. They’re the healthiest and the leanest population on earth, and they have the highest consumption of carbohydrates and simple sugars.

Societies that historically have lived the longest, like the Japanese or the Mediterranean, they also have tons of carbohydrates in their diets in the form of white pasta, white rice, and white bread. When we were kids, our generation and the previous generations, we ate tons of sugary foods. Who didn’t have sugar when they were a kid? Everybody. We didn’t develop obesity. It was very rare.

The brain – the brain is the most perfect machine that has ever been built. And yet, the sole fuel the brain uses is sugar. The human body has a very tight and precise mechanism to regulate glucose. So if we still think that carbohydrates and sugars are the ones to blame, we’re probably dead wrong, and we’re just following the path that the multi-billion dollar weight-loss industry wants us to follow. Now, I really think that one of the problems that we have is that we don’t even have a reference that is straight.

And let me explain this. In every field in life, we work with references, we work with a gold standard. And that’s a reference, for example. And with that, thanks to that, we develop things, we create infrastructures. And in science, we explain and discover new things.

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In the automobile industry we have three references: we have the regular cars that we drive, we have the broken cars, and then we have the ultimate machines. And those machines are the Formula One and high performance cars. Those are the perfection. And most of the safety features, fuel economy, design, technology, aerodynamics and performance, come from the development of those high performance cars. When it comes to humans, we don’t have that reference.

Forever, we’ve been using, in every study out there, working with either a population with some diseases or some conditions, and we’ve been always comparing to the control group, and that control group has been always the “sedentary” healthy individual. It’s very possible that that sedentary healthy individual is already developing these diseases. So therefore, we can never get to understand what imperfection is. You wouldn’t know what perfection is first. We’re comparing imperfection with imperfection.

We don’t use the Formula One cars in humans, but we have them out there, and we watch them on TV almost every day. And this population are the elite endurance athletes. The elite endurance athletes are the only population in the world where 100% of them are free of any acquired cardiometabolic disease. It doesn’t exist in this population. And yet again, they have the highest carbohydrates and simple sugars of any humans.

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