What is Shifting Baseline Syndrome?

July 08, 2021
Shifting baseline syndrome

What is Shifting Baseline Syndrome, and Is It Impacting Your Health?

Shifting Baseline Syndrome, while it sounds like a condition, is not a health condition. It is also sometimes referred to as generational amnesia.

In fact, SBS isn’t looked at through the lens of the health world all that often. You’re more likely to hear the term in environmentalism, ecology, wildlife conservation, and climate change issues.

But that’s the thing: these issues and our health are strongly connected.

According to Earth.org, the definition of Shifting Baseline Syndrome is: “a gradual change in the accepted norms for the conditions of a natural environment due to a lack of experience, memory, and/or knowledge of its past condition.” 

In other words, what one generation perceives as “normal” (or baseline) can be completely changed by the time the next generation comes around— and the next generation would have no concept of what that baseline was at all.

That includes the concept of what baseline “wellness” should be. Because how could any of us experience what “best health” was like before we were born, anyway?

Plus, how do we know that we’re way unhealthier today compared to average human health in the past?

Many people seem to be suffering with their health now compared to days long ago. To some of us, this is obvious. However, the rest of us might be under the spell of Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

Science and technology have advanced so much to treat disease. Yet it still feels like we deal with “unwellness” and worse illness than ever before, and on a whole new level— including growing cancer cases, metabolic conditions (like diabetes), autoimmune conditions, mental health conditions, inflammation, dietary issues, and more. 

Some illnesses like heart disease (especially cardiac arrest) hardly even existed decades or even centuries ago! If health is supposed to be getting better thanks to science, then what happened?

Many of us believe that our ancestors dealt with much harsher conditions than we did—and with far less advanced or effective medicines. Or did they?

Again, it could be that we’ve all become victims of Shifting Baseline Syndrome (SBS). We might all be dealing with it on varying levels and not even know it— which is the biggest and most harmful way that the phenomenon impacts us.

Mayan priestess

Our health and the environment in the distant past

What was average life like in generations past? What was the health of the average person probably like, too, for that matter?

In terms of worldly conditions, the environment, food quality, and even how society worked centuries ago, our ancestors probably dealt with considerably different factors that impacted their health compared to what we do today— and which we have no point of reference or memory of to directly (or subjectively) compare.

While we might think of these as “harder times” (true to some extent),

comparing the past “baseline” to the present is not that simple. 

There are some huge differences to account for. Including:

  • People had more active lifestyles and work lives.
  • Food was whole, chemical-free, and mostly locally sourced (or grown on-site).
  • There were fewer poisons in the environment (plastics, pollution, chemicals, etc.)
  • Local traditions and communities were more intact and connected.
  • There was more access to nature and its healing resources.

Our health and the environment today

You probably read the above list and thought, “Wow— times were quite different from how they are today.” 

Maybe you think to yourself: things don’t seem too strange or out of whack today, though. There have been so many advancements in technology, food access, and even personal and civil liberties. (Plus, the world still seems to be turning, after all.)

But this is the basis for the slow creep of Shifting Baseline Syndrome (SBS).

Most people alive today have no memory of what these past times were like, especially very, very long ago before the rise of Western culture: how the average person felt, their energy levels, their access to nutrition, social or community support, mental health resources, and even how easy it was to stay healthy.

And when you compare the above list to the one below, let it sink in.

The health of the average person, even if they faced a harder lifestyle without technology, was probably better on average back then than it is now:

  • People’s lifestyles and work lives today are far less active.
  • A lot of food is unsustainably or inhumanely raised today, and often using chemicals.
  • Our environment is filled with more chemicals that harm us than ever before.
  • Communities and traditions are more isolated and broken than ever.
  • We are more disconnected from nature and natural areas than ever.
Native Americans at annual pow-wow

What health issues today could be related to Shifting Baseline Syndrome?

When you take a close look at these lists— both past and present— it’s not hard to see where a lot of today’s major health issues could be coming from. 

The worst part: we’ve grown used to them. We accept these modern health states as normal or just a part of living, but they are incredibly harmful and damaging in an insidious way— not unlike the allegory of the frog in boiling water.

If a frog were to jump into boiling water, it would jump right back out to protect itself, sensing the extreme pain and danger. However, if you were to slowly heat water with a frog in it, the frog wouldn’t notice the change, and by the time the water is boiling, it’s too late. That’s Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

If they were in our shoes, our ancestors would probably jump right out of the hot water we were in right now! So many health-bringing influences from times long past are way more deteriorated today— or long gone.

The connections aren’t difficult to notice:

The average person’s life is now more sedentary and inactive than before, thanks to modern conveniences, leading to less exercise, more obesity, and more metabolic problems.

 

  • Food is far less nutritional and healthy and far more chemical-laden than before. This also leads to obesity, nutrient deficiencies, inflammation, autoimmune, and more.
  • Our water (and the containers our foods come in) are full of toxic plastics and chemicals that cause hormone imbalances, fertility problems, mood disorders, chronic inflammation, energy issues, brain fog, increased cancer risk, and more.
  • Local, native, and ancient traditions and cultures have been fragmented over time, losing our healing connection with nature. Our modern Western lifestyles, community support systems, and networks are no longer designed to nourish the emotional heart and soul— which has brought us into a mental health pandemic of unprecedented scale.
Nature remedies

Natural ways to restore, balance, and support Shifting Baseline Syndrome

Is Shifting Baseline Syndrome real? Is it affecting us? There’s no way to really measure it or prove it. We can’t take a time machine to the past and compare the average person’s life back then to someone today. 

Though looking at the past, we can say that it is almost certainly happening on some level or another. What can we do about it?

While modern medicine, and all its science and technology, is incredibly important for many reasons, many are finding that connecting with nature’s medicines (especially herbs) could be the purest way to connect to what health could have been like in the distant past and to curb the Shifting Baseline Syndrome in our wellness today.

 

Some of nature’s remedies we recommend:

  • For slashing chronic inflammation and autoimmune: Red Reishi mushroom
  • For reducing cancer risk, boosting antioxidants: Chaga
  • For amplifying nutrients: Honeyberry and Nettle
  • For reducing obesity and diabetes risk: Astragalus root
  • For boosting energy, preventing brain fog: Guarana seed or Cordyceps
  • For tonifying against anxiety or depression: Organic Ashwagandha root powder
  • For the spiritual: dream herbs like Synaptolepis kirkii to enhance dream life, receive dreams and messages from the ancestors; incense herbs like Imphepho to connect to ancestors and spirit in the present moment.

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