A Beautiful Balance

10 Jan

“In medical school I had not received any significant instruction on the subject. I was not alone. Only approximately 6 percent of the graduating physicians in the United States have any training in nutrition. Medical students may take elective courses on the topic, but few actually do… the education of most physicians is disease-oriented with a heavy emphasis on pharmaceuticals — we learn about drugs and why and when to use them.” Robert Strand, M.D., Death by Prescription.

I was on an airplane late last summer while returning from a weekend jaunt of head-clearing and writing. On the second leg of my flight, I was seated next to a woman who turned out to be a liaison for a pharmaceutical company returning from a business trip. The primary purpose of her trip was to push her company’s new diabetes drug. She explained to me that the new drug she was pushing was groundbreaking because it was an inhibitor of a particular protein which extended the half-life of another drug which aided beta cell health in diabetics (beta cells are the place insulin is made).

She explained all of this using the language of he education: biochemistry and pharmacy. She also had an air of infallibility.

After she finished describing this drug, I only had one question for her: “What is the function of the protein that your new drug inhibits and what effect does that have downstream?” She looked at me with a puzzled and sheepish look and confirmed what I had been thinking all along. She had no idea.

Prior to this, we had spent close to an hour arguing about what she “knew” as a medical professional and where I was far astray regarding topics where I disagreed with the medical establishment’s conventional wisdom- which were many. But this was a turning point in our conversation because it was the opening for her to see what I had been trying to get her to understand during our conversation up to this point. She knew the biochemical mechanisms and pathways of the biological systems she studied. She knew that if you introduced this drug, the result would be the alteration of a particular pathway in a specific manner. However, what I was trying to get her to see was what I’d learned reading about and experimenting with various approaches, and eventually beating obesity, was that there is a common thread running through obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancers, and other modern illnesses and diseases.

Though our medical professionals are better equipped and more knowledgeable about the human body than at any other time in history, their main accomplishment has only been to keep a sick populace alive longer in its chronic state of illness. They have become masters of the microbiology while ignoring the “macrobiology”- I think the fact that that “macrobiology” isn’t a recognized word is indicative of how we’ve approached overall health. The point is that even though people are living longer, they are becoming sick and debilitated much earlier leading to a greatly reduced quality of life.

The reason for this is complex but at the base level I think it can be explained by the fact that our bodies are out of balance. We have strayed from our original stasis. Stasis is a Greek word that represents balance and equilibrium. There is a baseline of health and wellness that allows us to enjoy a high quality of life virtually devoid of the chronic physical pain and ailments, that have become commonplace in modern societies, well into old age- a beautiful stasis.

The common occurrence of ailments before the onset of middle age is a new phenomenon. On every level of nature there is a balance that holds each system together until an outside force upsets that balance and a period of disruption occurs until a balance is restored. It’s the way nature adapts. It’s the way we survive.

From a biological perspective, human beings in modern society are in a period of biological disruption. The rapid onset of obesity and other modern diseases are harbingers of the fact that we’re out of balance. The changes that are happening in our bodies are too rapid for natural adaptive mechanisms to take over and adapt to survive, so we end up sicker and weaker.

Even if we don’t get caught up in the speculative nature of looking too far into the past, just looking at present-day traditional cultures- those that eat and live closer to the way humans have traditionally-who are as a whole are almost always healthier and free of the modern illnesses and diseases than those of us in more modern societies. I’m not suggesting we fully adopt hunter-gatherer lifestyles.

Technology and modern society has provided us with many creature comforts that many of us don’t want to leave- nor should we. Science and technology progress have given us medicines and treatments for viral and bacterial ills that, in the past, would have killed many of us. Our lifestyles are different and many of us have permanently changed our biology in some ways where some things that have been innocuous in the past are now harmful.

Having said that, I do believe that scientific and clinical success has brought upon us an era of arrogance in the medical community where the main measurement of success is longevity with less and less focus being on quality of life. Myself and many others who eat an evolutionarily appropriate diet have taken control of our health because we perceive that the modern medical establishment has failed us. In response, we’ve taken control of our health and wellness and stopped outsourcing our overall well-being.

Our bodies aren’t like taxes you drop off at Jackson- Hewitt or the family car that we drop off at the mechanic. After battling obesity for most of my life with the health problems that usually accompany that, I began to research biology, microbiology, dietary literature, epidemiological studies and other sources trying to educate myself to better health. I discovered a lot- particularly about obesity and other modern diseases- about how diet is the main factor driving modern ailments and what foods and lifestyle choices are the most egregious offenders.

I don’t know everything, or anything close to it, but what I have learned is that we should be more proactive and educated when it comes to our health and not leaving it in the hands of the medical field, no matter how auspicious those certificates on their walls are

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5 Responses to “A Beautiful Balance”

  1. A Slim Winter January 10, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    im so thankful that you wrote this, derrick. its an excellent piece, and so apropos to my situation. as a social worker, ive seen the medical establishment disrespect and mistreat my clients while im left to pick up the pieces with them. as a patient with a chronic illness, ive been railroaded, disrespected, and talked to like a child more often than not. it was only when i took my illness into my own hands and largely ignored the medical bullies that i began to get better. im lucky that i found a wonderful, respectful, open minded physician that i work WITH on maintaining my health and wellness, but he is only one person on a team of people. he is humble enough to realize that there are limits to his knowledge and expertise, and is happy to entertain other methods and disciplines in the finding the best treatment for his patients who are the beneficiaries of that openness. as it should be. thank you again. xonl

  2. mem January 12, 2012 at 10:36 pm #

    Your last paragraph says it all.

    Thank you for writing an important and timely piece.

  3. Aravind January 16, 2012 at 8:07 am #

    Wonderful post Derrick!

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