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Holy Grails of Health

Taking a look at the health headlines this afternoon, I’m struck again by how much information is really disinformation, misinformation, and my personal favorite, uninformation (e.g. exercise is good! try to quit smoking! eat healthy!).

Every day, I see the most sensational (but worthless), the most inaccurate, and the most outdated health information disseminated. Question the “holy grails” of health and suffer the wrath of so-called experts (who are often no better informed than you). The holy grails I challenge:

– Is type 2 diabetes a disease or a natural response to a toxic diet?

– Is cholesterol the cause of heart disease, or the body’s desperate attempt to repair damage?

– Why rely on the BMI – are there better indicators of physical fitness and healthy weight?

– Do we really need 8, or 10, or 12 glasses of water daily – or should we drink when we’re thirsty?

– Is milk fit for human consumption? How about grains? Why did these get the “perfect food” labels?

– Is our diet really providing all the nutrients we need?

The Onion [7]

Consider one typical path of health information for a moment:

– A study is performed which may or may not be funded by a company or special interest hoping for a certain result.

– Scientists may or may not find the results that were desired, and may or may not present those results in an accurate way (if you’re a lab tech at the FDA, chances are good that you’ve been threatened, warned, or cajoled for attempting to do your job).

– The company or special interest releases this “news” in a particular way, and the media may or may not do background digging to determine the accuracy, fairness, or potential bias inherent in the release.

– Our own biases, background and desires filter how we interpret and accept or reject the news, which may or may not be accurate news to begin with.

– The government may or may not look out for the truth. The FDA is replete with ex-Pharma pros and the federal legislature is inundated with special interest dollars and deals. Though the government is supposed to look out for public health, I’d argue that public servants actually have less incentive to be honest or ethical than average citizens, because reelection is often tied to perception of results, not actual results. Fail, and you can spin it. If a businessperson fails, it’s hard to spin your way out of that – you failed, period. There are consequences.

Where are the consequences for the FDA or pharmaceutical companies? Theoretically, legislation and lawsuits “protect” the consumer, but I don’t see that these things have yielded measurable improvement. Sure, Big Puff shelled out a boatload of cash in the ’90s in class-action suits, but behind our backs, at the very same time, the very same tobacco companies were increasing the nicotine levels in cigarettes. If that’s not spite…

Who has a vested interest in Americans being sick, overweight, and unhealthy? With 74% of us overweight, and serious health issues like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and hypertension skyrocketing and leaving other industrialized nations in the dust, we are quite literally a sick nation.

It ain’t just Kentucky, folks. Clearly, individuals are not benefiting – so who is? Who would stand to benefit from addiction, sickness, and ignorance?

I’m not a conspiracy theorist (and do they ever drive me nuts). On the contrary, I think the most obvious, logical explanation is usually the correct one. So, I’m not suggesting a group of old men with an affinity for expensive cigars cooked up a massive plot to enslave and profit from innocent Joes and Janes. They didn’t have to.

It’s plain as day, and really, it’s just biology: humans become quickly habituated, even addicted, to what is pleasurable and requires the least effort (enter fast food and huge portions). We’re hardwired for feast-or-famine. Problem is, these days, it’s feast all the time.

Humans also like to find a way to make money to acquire even more pleasurable things. We do this quite well, usually by supplying something other humans are demanding (enter pharmaceuticals).

Built for survival and having learned through trial and error that passing up pleasure is a bad idea (hey, it might be a week before another juicy goat carcass pops up), humans tend to stick with activities that reinforce pleasurable feelings, and we tend to go for shortcuts – this is all built into our biology. It worked when we had to haul that goat carcass across the savannah back to our hole in the ground where our young were – hopefully – waiting, if they hadn’t been devoured by a passing lion. It doesn’t work so well now. Although, it’s certainly working for someone.

We’re feasting our brains out, with very predictable results: obesity, sickness, disease, depression.

So, who can benefit from taking responsibility, becoming as informed as possible, making conscious decisions congruent with your beliefs and knowledge, and actively pursuing good health?

You, that’s who.

You are the only one who is truly responsible for your own health – being a victim is not a modus operandi that does anyone any good. Period.

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Technorati Tags: misinformation [8], diabetes [9], cholesterol [10], BMI [11], water [12], FDA [13], pharmaceutical companies [14], overweight [15]