Interesting comments everyone. For what value it may be, I practice an approach that appears little used: I combine historical information (from evolution, indigenous and traditional use, archeology) with modern scientific study to find the union of those kinds of information. When we disregard one or the either, we end up with a strong bias in our belief systems and our practices. Here is an example from medicine: Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) has a history of use as an antimicrobial here in North America. It also has testing that demonstrates it is highly effective against a suite of bacteria and fungi (i.e., peer-reviewed study). The history of use can (at least anecdotally) speak to an effectiveness (it wouldn't be used by many groups if it were worthless) and can speak to safety (it wouldn't be used by many groups for a long time if it were dangerous). Modern study helps elucidate its efficacy and its safety (and can determine the exact mechanisms of action). Now, let's take a dietary example. Vegetable oil has no long history of use (not really), to extract oil from corn takes modern industry. Certainly the lipids in corn have been consumed within the corn, but not as an isolate. It turns out, corn oil is a very damaging food--it is chemically reactive due to a preponderance of polyunsaturated fatty acids that are prone oxidation, making this food contribute to cardiovascular disease. No long history of use means you are taking a gamble, especially when the scientific evidence for its health (to an extent) is generated by the companies wishing to sell the new product. I have to write that I wish people applied the same skepticism to pharmaceutical drugs and novel diets that they apply to natural remedies. If they viewed everything through a filter of (1) long history of beneficial use and (2) modern (unbiased) scientific research, we would see a very different level of health among our general population. Here is another piece of writing that may help people understand how I have come to my views (it is not meant to be confrontational, though I have has some interpret in that way).
What’s In a Name? A request for the healthcare system to change its name or change its practice.
[Note: This article includes some critical remarks about the healthcare industry. They are directed at conventional doctors who see illness as an opportunity to prescribe medication. No doctor should take offense to this writing—it is a record of my personal experience. I applaud those doctors who are focused on addressing root causes through improvements in diet and lifestyle (such as those doctors featured on Primal Docs).]
To begin this brief article, let’s state what might not be obvious to everyone: doctors specialize in pathology, not health. Said another way, they treat injury and illness, restoring people back to the state of health they were in prior to the ailment in question. But many people are in poor health to begin with, which is why various issues arise. Unfortunately, doctors are not considering those ailments as symptoms of poor diet and lifestyle, but rather as the issues of focus. Most doctors, despite being genuinely interested in their patient’s well-being, do not address underlying root causes (in diet and lifestyle) that prevent ailments from ever occurring. You might immediately react by stating that doctors do attempt to deal with obesity and addictive smoking and drinking. However, it can be effectively argued that these too are a result of other diet and lifestyle issues that manifest as damaging behaviors (but that is a topic for another article). I believe an experience from my past will help illustrate this problem.
I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a form of submission wrestling that involves close contact with other people. Before I studied traditional diet and medicine, I used to frequently succumb to staph infections as a result of this sport (sometimes several a year). I would visit the doctor, who would diagnose the Staphylococcus aureus infection and then prescribe me a round of antibiotics to treat the infection. Two or three months later I was back, for another diagnosis and another round of antibiotics. The infections were extremely painful and quite debilitating. I eventually began to perform research regarding the immune system and infections of this kind and realized that experiencing frequent infections didn’t have to be the case. I learned that vitamin D up-regulates an antimicrobial peptide in the skin (called cathelicidin). And that independent research shows adults need 10 times the amount of vitamin D that the USDA is recommending. This level of vitamin D is difficult to achieve from diet alone. So sunlight exposure is critical (something I’m told to avoid), where a special form of water-soluble vitamin D is manufactured from a precursor made of cholesterol (which I’m told is bad for me). I then learned that in order for our body to manufacture vitamin D, it is critical that the oil on our skin (sebum) be present. However, washing head-to-toe with soap (as I had been taught to do) removes the sebum and impairs our ability to create vitamin D.
Additional research showed vitamin A is also critical for enhancing our immune function, and some of the foods that are rich in this vitamin (e.g., butter, eggs) have been demonized by the mainstream (and well-intentioned doctors). Further, I learned that antibiotics interfere with vitamin A absorption, so the more antibiotics I took, the further my immune system was compromised (this was never mentioned to me by the doctors that prescribed the drugs). Perhaps worst of all, I learned there is a positive correlation between the number of rounds of antibiotic treatment someone receives and the chance of contracting cancer. (And we could go on with additional vitamins, essential fatty acids, etc., that I learned about and was not told by my doctors). For what it is worth, following a suite of guidelines developed by researching traditional cultures, I’ve been staph infection free for years even though I practice the same sport and have the same exposure.
So this is the important piece: all the doctors did was treat my infection—which means they returned me to my previous state of health. My previous state of health was one of compromised immune function (hence, the frequent infections). I just showed back up a few months later and repeated the whole process. They shared none of the information about nutrition and infection prevention I just shared with you, which means they either did not know it, or they knew it and did not share it with me. In either case, the doctors failed to generate health. This is not my lone experience. I’ve helped tens of people treat various staph infections (e.g., cellulitis, MRSA, impetigo) using plants that can be gathered wild or grown here in the northeastern United States. In no case did any doctor tell them how to boost the functioning of their immune systems so that they can avoid staph infections (or at least reduce their frequency). The doctors knew the treatment (i.e., the correct dose of antibiotic to prescribe) but not how to generate real health. In fact, it can be said in this case, their treatment further compromised everyone’s health. By focusing on the real issue (poor immune system), the doctors could have also provided vital defense against colds, influenza, cancer, periodontal infections, etc. This is very important to understand—focusing on root causes strengthens the body against additional health insults.
Let me provide one more example of how doctors provide treatment for ailments but do not generate health. Cholelithiasis is defined as the presence of one or more gallstones in the gall bladder. The usual treatment: if the gallstones are symptomatic, cholecystectomy (removal of gall bladder) may be performed. For those who can’t or won’t undergo surgery, bile acids can be administered orally to dissolve the stones. I’m hoping that you are asking how any of this treats the underlying cause. Removing a location for gall stones to accumulate or dissolving the stones are ways of treating a symptom. The doctors should be asking: what caused the stones to form in the first place (and then address that issue). There is good evidence to suggest that gallstone formation is largely a result of poor diet, specifically, a diet high in vegetable oils and trans fatty acids. Again, following the treatments provided by many doctors, the patient has not been given health.
When someone who is suffering a health issue visits a doctor, they are looking for definitive care (i.e., conclusive care that treats all the symptoms AND corrects the underlying causes). No one actually wants to experience a relapse of illness or disease. However, most doctors actually perform symptomatic care, as they are focused on the pathology and not the whole human (this is especially true of cancer treatments, where a tumor-centric approach fails to protect the patient from future occurrences of neoplasms). They are not focused on how to prevent disease. It appears to me (from a perspective of someone looking from the outside) their education paradigm has led them to believe that if the symptoms are not present, a cure has been effected. This is exacerbated by the fact doctors in this country really do not have the opportunity to witness true health. They don’t have a gauge by which to measure well-being, which makes it difficult to understand the goal they should aspire to for their patients.
Unfortunately, most of the public considers doctors to be good purveyors of information and practices that generate health. To the contrary, there are studies showing that in some circumstances, if people follow their doctor’s advice regarding nutrition, they die earlier than people with the same ailment who chose not to follow their doctor’s advice. Please know that this writing isn’t meant to speak poorly of doctors. I believe they genuinely want health for their patients (I personally know doctors who I would consider to be some of the most caring people I’ve ever met). However, from discussions I’ve had with them, I don’t think they are always cognizant of what their practice actually does—it treats ailments but does not generate health. The problem with this approach is that many Americans who are not actively dealing with disease are still overweight, pre-diabetic, possess poor cardiovascular health, and have compromised immune function. Therefore, doctors are part of a system of treatment care, one that unfortunately (and not necessarily intentionally) maintains a constant stream of patients. If all doctors were truly part of a healthcare system, they would rarely see their patients because they would address underlying causes that infringe on their patients’ vitality (and through addressing those causes they were correct or prevent future issues). Treatments aren’t supposed to be the final answer. Health is the answer. Health is generated through deep nutrition and a lifestyle that maximizes exposure to a clean environment, caring community, emotional fulfillment, and natural experiences. Changing the system’s name to treatment care would provide an accurate accounting of what the healthcare profession of today actually does. It would also let discerning people know that their health is currently in their own hands.
Of course, the healthcare profession could also remedy this incongruity by learning about nutrition (as some doctors have done). And not the politically correct nutrition touted by the industry (e.g., low fat, low cholesterol, pasteurized everything, high grain and vegetable oil intake). It would need to research healthy populations (especially those that used to exist) and identify the commonalities in their diets and lifestyles (rather than create a novel diet and wait to observe the consequences on the subjects—in this case, the American people). They would need to question so many commonly held diet truths, those same truths that are creating progressive degeneration in health. They would need to learn the real difference between saturated and polyunsaturated fats (and understand the latter’s role in promoting cardiovascular disease). They would need to appreciate the real difference between wild and free-range animal products compared with cage-reared, grain-fed animals. They would need to learn about proper food preparation and the importance of deactivating antinutrients in plant foods. It would be critical that they recognize that cholesterol has no more role in vascular disease than do the white blood cells that also play a part in plaque formation (hint, cholesterol is healing a lesion created by a food recommended by the healthcare profession). In short, the doctors would have much to learn, but they would better serve their patients. They could cure disease without drugs or scalpels. Through this knowledge they could produce health. They would practice definitive care. And then they could refer to themselves properly as the healthcare industry.