By: Alan McCrindle
I am posting this in response to a question that was raised from my post where I wrote about fructose as a hidden poison in our diet.
The person who raised the question asked me if there was a link between food and health. He had already made the experiential link between what he ate and his emotional state.
I have tried to keep the explanation as simple as possible it as simple as possible.
The fact that it is not common knowledge that what we eat (what, when, how much etc.) is one of the key drivers of disease is scandalous.
If you want to see how food effects health at a very gross level, look at statistics on how a country's disease profile changes as it becomes Westernised and its population switches from its traditional diet and lifestyle to a western diet and lifestyle. You will see that the population starts getting the same chronic diseases that we get in the west - chronic diseases that they very rarely suffered from in the past.
The specific chronic diseases we suffer from are a product of our diet and lifestyles and our our genetic propensity.
What do I mean by genetic propensity? Our western diet and lifestyle leads to chronic inflammatory disease. How this inflammatory disease expresses itself in the body depends on individual genetics. The inflamation is the environment that switches on the gene/s that manifest the specific disease.
The key point to understand is that genetic predisposition for a specific disease does not mean that it has to manifest. That gene needs to be switched on to activate the disease process. The switch is the environment and a key factor for controlling that environment is diet and lifestyle.
Ayurveda - the traditional medical system from India - has a very well developed understanding of these links. Good health is based on good digestion.
In Ayurveda we see that diseases like chronic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis etc. are essentially different manifestations of an inflammatory environment that started in the digestive tract.
Lets say that have a chronic inflammatory disease that has manifested itself as arthritis. If your GP treats it symptomatically with say a COX two inhibitor (anti-inflammatory drug) - without fixing the problem that is causing the inflammatory environment - the inflammation will simply show up somewhere else as say heart disease. To remove the problem you have to remove the cause not supress the symptom.
So why does a western diet and lifestyle cause these problems? Why don't they manifest as readily with traditional diets and lifestyles?
If you want to understand this from an evolutionary / genetic perspective realise that our body/mind systems are the product of millions of years of evolution. Over 99.999..% of that period we lived a very different lifestyle and ate very different food tahn what we do now. Our bodies are a product of their historical environmental conditions. So we are fundamentally a machine designed to run on a specific food, exercise, sleep mix.
You can think of your body as a vehicle. Some are designed like tractors, some like sedans and some like high performance sports cars. A tractor is slow and steady and does not need much maintenance. A high performance sports car will give great performance but it needs much more maintenance than a tractor. Irrespective of the type of vehicle however it will last longer if it is driven carefully, given the right fuel, oil and water and serviced appropriately.
And on the subject of the importance of using the correct fuel you can think of the impact of running your existing car on a petrol plus ethanol mix. If you use a mix of say 5% ethanol and 95 percent petrol you car will run pretty much the same as on pure petrol. There will be a small power loss and you will need to use slightly more fuel to travel the same distance. However if you use a 20% ethanol 80% petrol mix you will not only suffer a larger power drop and fuel consumption, but your engine will slowly be damaged.
If we stick with this analogy of an ethanol plus petrol fuel mix, we can ask ourselves what types of foods do we have in our diets that are like ethanol - something that will work as fuel but that we historically weren't designed to use as fuel.
Some foods such as wheat and milk have only been around since we domesticated plants and animals - about 8,000 to 10,000 years. This has not been long enough for the body to evolve to deal with these foods effectively. Many health problems can be eliminated by removing these foods from ones diet. Refined sugar is another example.
If you want to see the drastic health effects that food can have you need look no further than the Australian Aborigines. Until just a few years ago they were living a hunter gather life eating non processed foods. Their body systems have had no time to adapt to eat many of our foods.
As a result the rates of diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease etc are at epidemic proportions in the aboriginal population.
If you ask western medicine why the aborigines are suffering form these diseases they will tell you that the cause is their diet - processed western food, especially sugar.
So why is it that western medicine blames the aboriginal health problems on food, but then seems to completely ignore this as a casual factor in the non aboriginal population.
There are many reasons, but one of the most obvious is that pharmaceutical companies play a large role in how the medical profession approaches and treats disease.
Pharmaceutical companies make money from patented drugs. They can't make money from food and lifestyle changes because they can't be patented.
Western medicines are primarily "refined foods" - Natural foods that have been refined to isolated the "active ingredient".
So in the west we use "refined foods" to make major changes to the way the body works supposedly to cure disease.
If refined foods have such a major impact on body function when classified as a medicine, it should come as no surprise that they are having exactly the same sorts of effects when we eat them as "normal food". Most of what we eat today is processed or refined food. Food additives fit in here too.
It is a scandal. The food industry is making us sick with processed foods and the medical system is trying to patch us up with refined foods. I am not suggesting that there is a conspiracy or premeditation - simply an inconvenient lack of awareness.
Unfortunately change will be difficult because our whole society is based around convenient processed foods and "quick fix" - take a pill - medicine.
It is not easy to be healthy in our society and it is becoming harder by the day - we have to work for health - it cant come from tablets. We have to exercise our bodies to make them function properly. We have to sleep them enough for them to repair themselves properly. We have to protect them from stress. In our increasingly 24/7 time poor society this is becoming harder and harder to do.
Much of the increase in the rate of depression can be linked back to increased stress levels. Expect this to increase.
And thanks to a process called epigenetics, we are locking future generations into even worse health outcomes - but I won't go there now.