Are Our Brains Being Fucked Over by Fantastic Tales?

While watching the previews of the new Spiderman movie I wondered how could Spiderman do all that swinging from building to building?  I don’t read comics, but is there some kind of theory as to why he can leap from location to location?  What propels him?  How does he have the strength to survive the G-forces pulling on his arms, or impacting on his legs?  What generates his webbing?  I know all of this is just for fun, but thinking about how it could ever be real hurts my brain.  It’s just so fucking unbelievable that I have to wonder about its psychological allure.

Why are we so entertained by fantastic tales?  Aren’t superhero movies just fairytales for adults?  And aren’t they getting out of hand?  Action movies are moving further and further from reality.  Is this good for our brains?  There’s a saying by old programmers, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  It meant if you input bad data into the computer, the machine will spit out bad data.  Couldn’t that also be true for our bio-computers?

Why do we so badly want to believe in magic?  From the earliest days as toddlers, we are told fantastic tales.  We watch TV that’s full of bullshit concepts.  We read comic books and real books based on fantastic concepts.  We teach our kids about the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, angels, witches, vampires, gods and God.  As children grow their fantasy inputs becomes more sophisticated, switching to Harry Potter, Star Wars and Spiderman.  They will tell you its not real, but what do they feel in their heart of hearts?

We let them watch old TV shows like I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched where a crossing of the arms or a twitch of the nose can alter space and time.  Does anyone ever wonder what is the science behind the God of Genesis ability to create?  Is it a magic staff like Moses, or does he twitch his nose like Samantha?  We subtly embed the meme that magic exists, while saying it doesn’t.  Is it any wonder that some kids have a frail grasp on reality?

I’ve spent a lifetime reading science fiction, and bought into all kinds of crap that’s not supported by real science, or I did.  I’ve now become an atheist to my own religion – science fiction.  Once you question one bullshit theory, you question them all.

I know it’s supposed to be in fun, but how many people secretly wish for the fantastic?  Deep down, how many people wish their lives were like the movies?

And haven’t action movies gotten a little embarrassing?  Aren’t they really power porn?  Sex porn is the dream of unlimited sex.  Isn’t action movies and superhero movies just a desire to gorge on unlimited power?  To be able to kill you enemies with enormous force and ability?  Most people would never watch sex porn in public, but why aren’t people embarrassed to watch huge quantities of power porn in large groups?  And isn’t it hilarious that both sex porn and power porn are about carrying different kinds of big sticks?  Talk about your AK-47 envy.  Isn’t this all just power fantasy?

What is the underlying need for binge TV watching?  Is it any different from binge video gaming?

Isn’t it all about escaping reality – becoming one with fantasy?

What’s the exposure limit to fantasy before it becomes harmful?

JWH – 5/2/14

Nutritional Rating Systems

I’ve always eaten what I liked, usually junk food, but for decades I’ve longed to eat healthier and lose weight.  Now I have to eat healthy because of my heart.   Eating healthy has always been a vague concept:  avoid junk food, eat natural foods.  What exactly are healthy foods? What are junk foods?  Is there a scientific, quantitative way of judging foods?

I started studying Dr. Joel Fuhrman, a health guru I discovered on a PBS fund drive.  I made the pledge and got a bunch of books and videos by Fuhrman.  From Fuhrman’s book Eat to Live I read about his nutrition index which I’ve since discovered evolved into the Aggregate Nutrient Density Index (ANDI).  Just look at this chart to get an idea how it works.  It’s rather revealing in a simple obvious way.

ANDI-scores

[Click for larger image]

Is kale really a 1,000 times better than a glass of Coke?  That’s not hard to believe, I would have thought it infinitely greater.  But what about something healthier sounding?  Is kale 50 times better than feta cheese?  Or 20 times more nutritious than peanut butter?  Only if you’re just counting micronutrients.  But Dr. Fuhrman believes phytochemicals are the real key to health.  His books and lectures are quite persuasive in convincing me that eating very nutritional foods can actual reverse my clogged arteries and reduce my cholesterol.

The trouble is, when I tried his starter diet it made me feel awful, and I hated eating the prescribed food.  Fuhrman claims there’s a barrier to get through, and once on the other side I’d feel great.  I’m going to try again, but this time I’m going to work my way into slowly.  Fuhrman doesn’t want his converts to be pussies, but to bite the bullet and jump into eating healthy cold turkey.  I’m having a problem with that.  So I’m going to improve my diet by improving my numbers.

My point however, in writing this essay is to explore nutritional rating systems.  The idea of food coming with a score is appealing, especially when the rating is based on quality rather than quantity, which is essentially what calories count.  When I look at the above list and see that carrots are almost ten times more valuable than an apple it makes me wonder why an apple a day keeps the doctor away.  The ANDI system is far from perfect though, which measures micronutrient density per calorie.  Almonds get a rating of 28, yet I’m seeing all kinds of reports about how almonds are good for you.  And why is a white potato equal to brown rice?  See, they both have equal levels of micronutrients, but the ANDI system makes no claim about macronutrients, or energy producing values of carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  Low value ANDI foods can and do include valuable chemicals that our body needs but is not reflected in their numeric scale.

There’s another rating system that is more complex, that also rates processed foods, called the NuVal, that scores foods from 1-100.  In this system broccoli scores a 100, avocadoes get an 89, but Pepperidge Farm Goldfish are 20.  Iceberg lettuce gets a 82 and pineapple gets a 99.  That doesn’t seem to jive with the ANDI system, but that’s because it’s counting other qualities including fiber.  NuVal is used in over 1700 supermarkets to help shoppers compare all kinds of foods.

Fuhrman’s ANDI system is designed to recognize the healthful benefits of phytochemicals in whole foods.  It’s more of a specialized system.  NuVal is a comparison system to be used by all food manufactures for marketing purposes.   Both have their value.  For my purpose, I value the ANDI system more.  I want to create my own menu of healthy foods to cook, and want to get away from eating prepackaged processed foods.

I can also look at the bigger picture of any food by looking at sites like NutritionData – see this page for kale, which give extensive data, including the amino acids in the protein breakdown.

kale

I doubt I’ll ever need this level of detail information.  Dr. Fuhrman claims if you eat a variety of high value fruits and vegetables from the ANDI system you’ll get everything you need.  But I’m a vegetarian and need to worry about protein.  I do think the ANDI system is a great scale to eat by, but not the only one.

JWH – 12/5/13

Designing My Own Restaurant Style Menu for Healthy Eating

The other day I wrote, “Simplifying an Overloaded Life” which has inspired me to work on a single goal developing a healthy diet.  This morning, in the predawn darkness of being neither awake or asleep, a good idea came to me.  I imagined creating a menu, like the kind we use in restaurants, that would have all the healthy foods and dishes I could eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, listed in an attractive way, that will remind me of what I might want to eat, or should eat.  If it’s not on the menu, then I don’t eat it.

health-cook-books

[click on photo for larger image]

I even imagined using Microsoft Publisher to lay out this menu with attractive lettering and appetizing photos, printing it on card stock, and even having it laminated.  I pictured myself pulling out this menu whenever I got hungry so it would remind me just what I could eat, knowing that if I ordered from this Healthy Living Home Menu, I’d be eating just what I need to feel better and lose weight.

Of course, in the light of day, this appears to be quite an ambitious project.  What if my menu offers twelve different dishes for breakfast, lunch and supper?  That’s learning how to cook 36 meals.  Damn, that sounds like a lot.  28 has always been my favorite number, so let’s go with eight items for breakfast, and ten for lunch and supper.  Even that sounds too ambitious. 

Of course I know myself.  I cook one thing and eat on it three days, and freeze any leftovers.  I tend to eat the same breakfast every day.  Right now I live off of about six different meals I know how to prepare, but what I need to do is eat more variety of vegetables and fruits, so I need to expand that repertoire of items on my menu.

I’ve decided that December is the month I’ll totally focus on learning to eat healthy as my one and only goal.  Here’s what I plan to do:

  1. Gather all my diet/health/cook books into one place for study (see photo).
  2. Read and compare these books for their best recommendations.
  3. Write down the best advice and tips I read in Evernote.
  4. Learn how to shop for the best foods I should eat – how to tell when fruits and vegetables are in season, at their best to buy, etc.
  5. Learn how to store food for optimal quality – fruits, veggies, spices, condiments,  dairy, eggs, nuts, etc.
  6. Learn how to chop and cook food properly.
  7. Select 20-30 recipes to master and start learning to cook them – save them in Evernote.
  8. Create and print my menu of approved foods.
  9. When at home, only eat from that menu. 
  10. Research menus at local restaurants for their most healthy meals and make a list of approved away from home menu items.
  11. Make a list of all foods and ingredients I want eat and know about, and why they are good for me, and if they have any curative powers.

One problem I’ve always had when I’m at the store, especially a healthy one like Whole Foods or Fresh Market, is seeing all the fruits and vegetables and not knowing how to select and prepare most of them.  Recently I’ve been adventurous and started buying avocados after some training with my friend Janis.  I’m still never sure how to pick out a good one, but I’ve learn how to cut them open, even though I make a mess, but all I do is put a few slices on my salad and then I have half an avocado that I don’t know what do with.  I really need to get to know fruits and vegetables.

I also need to learn how to use spices.  I can cook by a recipe, but crudely.  What I like to do is think of a selection of tasty veggies and make a stir fry or soup, but I’m never sure how to season my concoctions.  So in studying my cookbook, I need to select a range of recipes that will educate myself about spices.

I assume my menu will be a good place to save all the recipes I want to master, so it might end up like a small book.

My ultimate goal is to simplify my life.  I want to get past thinking about what I should eat.  I want to get past thinking about how to live healthy.  I want to learn what’s in my diet/health/cook books and then give them away.  I want to stop worrying about what I should eat.  I want to stop worrying about eating an unhealthy diet.

I want to start the new year without having to make any resolutions about dieting.

JWH – 12/4/13

Sex Hormone Pollution (Endocrine Disruptors)

I’m reading a fascinating book, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men by Dr. Leonard Sax.  Dr. Sax’s fourth factor is endocrine disruptors – chemicals in the environment that mimic female sex hormones that are affecting male animals around the world, including human males.  I had vaguely heard about this problem, but the research and theories Dr. Sax reports on is eye opening.  Like our bodies, the environment is a soup of chemicals that works in a delicate harmony, and the amount of pollution the environment is receiving is reaching levels equal to taking medicine for our bodies.

boysadrift 

Since the beginning of the industrial age we’ve been dumping billions of tons of countless man-made chemicals into the environment, and we’ve yet to learn the ultimate outcome of these actions.  If climate change deniers are freaking out over the idea of global warming, based on one natural element being increased in the environment, what will they make over sex hormone pollution? It was one thing to hear back in 1996 that synthetic sex hormone mimics were affecting amphibians and fish, but it’s a whole other thing to think they’re affecting human boys growing up today.

A good recent overview of the problem is “How Chemicals Affect Us” by Nicholas D. Kristof in the New York Times.  Also read his older piece, “It’s Time to Learn From Frogs.”  A more sensational piece is “Boys with Boobs” by Beth Greer at Huffington Post.  Greer has several recommendations on how to avoid the kind of chemicals that can affect our sex hormones.  [Man, I’m giving up drinking from plastic bottles!]

To read more of these types of articles on your own follow this link to Google.

Dr. Sax’s theory about endocrine disruptors and boys takes these protests up a quantum leap.

Dr. Sax theorizes that endocrine disruptors are making girls reach puberty earlier and boys later, partly explaining why boys are having so much trouble in school.  Girls are now doing much better in school and college than boys and his book Boys Adrift tries to explain why.  One of Dr. Sax’s theories suggests that endocrine disruptors are changing boys at a sexual hormonal level thus affecting their learning personalities.  I don’t know how much research has gone into this hypothesis but it’s a very interesting one.  Plus, I must point out that Dr. Sax has an array of theories about various problems affecting boys, endocrine disruptors are just one – but I think a significant one. 

Is sex hormone pollution enough to change the dominant gender in our society from men to women?  Sax doesn’t say that, but that’s what I’m reading into the story.  What will the climate change deniers make over that idea?  If Dr. Sax’s hypothesis is correct, and I’m not saying that it is, this will take the whole issue of man-made pollutions to a much higher level of impact than ever before.  It’s one thing to change the biosphere, it’s a whole other issue to fundamentally change humans.

You can read Boys Adrift at Google Books.

JWH – 10/31/13

An Alternative to Obamacare

In physics scientists seek to solve the mysteries of reality through mathematics, but if a solution involves a complicated convoluted mathematical equation, it’s generally assumed to be wrong.  Often the right solution involves a simple elegant equation.

Healthcare in America is complicated, bureaucratic and expensive.  I’m wondering if there’s a simpler solution to Obamacare.  To be upfront, I’m a liberal and believe all people have a right to quality healthcare.

To simplify the problem to its most elegant equation I’ve wondered if we shouldn’t take a totally different approach to subsidized healthcare.  I think the federal government should just build and run free hospitals and clinics.  Instead of creating a complex reimbursement system, they should just hire doctors and nurses and provide absolutely free healthcare to those who don’t have insurance.

Today, most hospitals ask if you have insurance, and if you don’t, they send you away.  These free hospitals would ask, and if you do, they’ll send you away.

The federal government should build a free HMO type system that works to bring down the cost of healthcare.  It should use every trick in the book to save on costs, while maximizing preventive heath measures.  Employ no remedies that aren’t effective.  Tell all patients that their information will be used for statistical and scientific studies.  This system size should give it clout to get cheaper drugs and equipment.

Much of the cost of healthcare is the bureaucracy to maintain it.  If the government learned to build efficient hospitals and clinics, that hired medical professionals at salaries scaled to reward cost effective productivity, this system could compete with the commercial healthcare systems and help bring down the overall costs of healthcare.

We could keep all existing healthcare systems and just phase in this idea as an experiment.  The new system should not contract with private contractors to do the job.  The new system should aim to be minimalistic as an experiment in efficiency.  The idea could be started by finding locations in the country with extremely high uninsured population and opening a hospital to test its impact.  Be scientific.  Don’t build the second hospital until the lessons are learned from the first.

Innovate with technology.  Instead of having people wait in waiting rooms, use texting or phone messages.  Develop online prescreening questioning.  Push the concept of home medical monitoring.  Create convenience shops for collecting blood, doing x-rays and other simply diagnostic procedures.  Use computers like IBM’s Watson to analyze medical charts and test results, or even prescreen patients.  Develop a universal healthcare record system that allows patients to record health diaries and drug use, along with any daily home monitoring, and their diet and exercise habits.  Test the theory that diet can improve many medical conditions.

This concept should be an experiment in lowering healthcare costs.  Do everything possible so that all money spent goes directly to actual healthcare and as little as possible to administrative costs.  Start small and build on success.

JWH – 9/8/13

The Heart (Disease) of the Matter

On May 9th, I had a stent put in my coronary artery.  For months I’ve been having out-of-breath episodes, but I thought it was just because I was getting older, and not getting enough exercise.  In the last few weeks it got worse so I went to see my doctor and she sent me for a bunch of tests that ended up with a heart cath and getting a stent.  It’s been an extremely educational month with lots of philosophical implications.

coronary-stent

Our hearts are just pumps, and our veins and arteries just hoses, but when they stop functioning, it feels very metaphysical.  To actually feel them failing is quite revealing about existence and non-existence.  I’m sure the faithful would feel heart disease as a spiritual turning point, a time to communicate with God, and contemplate life after death.  Since I’m an atheist, I contemplated non-existence and thought about physics, chemistry and biology.  The heart and circulatory system is a machine that follows the laws of physics, much like the water pump in your car.  I had a rather fundamental plumbing problem:  a blocked hose.

The first diagnostic test I had was a calcium CT scan.  I got a score of 451, which my doctor didn’t like at all.  My second test was a Thallium treadmill test, which I passed, but the photographs suggested problems.  She sent me to a cardiologist.  It took a couple of weeks to get to see a cardiologist, and that was stressful in itself.  I went to a cardiology center with 32 cardiologists and the earliest appointment I could get was two weeks.  Lots of people with heart problems out there!  Time and again I was told if I needed immediate attention to go to an emergency room.  Fixing hearts is a factory-like affair.  Don’t expect a lot of personal attention.

My advice to the young:  Eat healthy now!  Don’t break your own heart. 

My clogged arteries were my fault.   Yes, the doctors can often fix your heart problems, but if you’ve ever had to deal with an old machine with breaking parts, you know one fix is just temporary before another part will go.  A stent only squishes the plaque up against the artery wall, making more room for blood flow, it’s not a form of healing.  And you don’t get plaque in just one place, it’s all over.  I just had a blockage in two high traffic area, with one bad enough for a stent.

The stent is only part of the solution.  I now have to take a bunch of drugs.  I’ve always been horrified at the sight of elderly people worrying over their prescription medicines.  I’ve always thought being over the hill as living with lots of orange plastic bottles, and now I’m part of that demographic.  Here’s where chemistry and biology comes into this story.  Modern day medicine men are scientists.  Our bodies are biological machines they study.  Millions of chemical reactions go on within our body all the time.  Doctors work by statistical studies, and the numbers tell them that my odds of living longer are improved if I consume certain chemicals.  I can’t argue with them.  I take the drugs.

These are cold equations, indifferent to how we feel philosophical about our health situation.  I hate taking drugs!  I fear drug side effects.  I hate being depended on drugs, even though I’m am quite thankful that science created them.  I’m very lucky to have good health insurance and live in a country where these kinds of problems can routinely be fixed – if they are found in time.  A fellow computer guy died at work from a heart attack recently.

My father died at 49 on his third heart attack.  He also survived a stroke.  He chained smoked Camels, drank a lot of Seagram 7, and his standard chow was steak and potatoes.  I’ve always wondered why he didn’t try to change his lifestyle, and now I know why.  I’ve been overweight for decades.  I didn’t listen to all the warnings.  In the last few years I’ve tried to eat healthier but it’s hard.  Is comes down to this:  Do I do what I like?  Or, do I do what’s good for me?  Even when I was having trouble breathing I’d often be thinking about how I wanted junk food.  I’m pretty sure my father thought “I’d rather die than change.”  Me, I picked change – but at the last minute.  Not very wise.

Since New Year’s I’ve been reading books by Dr. Dean Ornish and Dr. Joel Fuhrman about using diet to reverse heart disease, and watching documentaries on Netflix about reversing chronic disease through proper eating.  Ornish’s book Program for Reversing Heart Disease came out in 1990, and Fuhrman’s Eat to Live came out in 2003.  I even read parts of Eat to Live ten years ago.  But the nightly news programs have been warning about the evils obesity for decades.  Until your heart actually sucker-punches you a good one, it’s hard to take such warnings seriously.  I should have.

My friend Mike asked me if I thought about God in the hospital.  I did, but not in the way he intended.  Feeling the closeness of mortality showed me why people pray.  The gut instinct is to think “Get me out of this!”  You want magic to work.  It doesn’t.  Thinking that an all-powerful being could rescue you is an obvious wish.  I wish there was such a personal savior, but I didn’t find one.  I knew there was a blockage in the artery going to the heart.  I hoped diet would clear it, but my doctor said he doubted it, and I knew I had spent decades building the blockage, so I knew he was probably right.  I knew my only hope was his skill and the scientific knowledge he possessed.  Medicine is collective knowledge that works.  It’s not magic, and it doesn’t always work, but it’s the only real game in town.

We’d like to believe we’re the master of our own fate, or that a magical being cares for us.  But neither positive thinking or spiritual belief affects reality.  My chance of using the power of self-control had long passed.  If I wanted control of my fate, I should have lost weight thirty years ago.  The reality is death comes to us all.  We can extend our lifetimes and improve our health if we work at it, but we have to put in the effort.

I do believe we have the power to affect our health, just watch this video.

I cannot do anything about not starting sooner.  I couldn’t avoid that first stent at the last moment.  I’ve already lost 15 pounds.  Maybe I can avoid the next stent.  I don’t know if a plant based diet can reverse heart disease, but it’s the hypothesis that I’m using  for now.

My final lesson was about dying.  When you think time might be up you learn what you really want:  more time!

Getting close to the end only reinforces the awareness that time comes to an end.

The funny thing was I learned I didn’t want to do big bucket list things, but to have more time for all the little things I do now, and to keep seeing everyone I know now.

JWH –5/12/13

Paradigm Shifts in Medicine–Can Lifestyle Change Cure?

Modern medicine is scientific, evidence based, and very conservative.  Doctors like to treat patients with medicine and procedures that offer the best known odds for success.  No doctor wants to try out something new only to discover it kills their patients.

Patients on the other hand are fearful folk.  They usually know little of their newly diagnosed conditions and they are afraid of suffering or dying.  They are quick to take any cure they are offered.  If they have faith in their doctor and she says  take these pills and have this surgery, they will comply.  However, many people are afraid of pills and surgery.  They hate to suffer, but they are afraid of the cures offered them.  If they hear about alternative medical treatments that are less scary they will chase after them.

I’ve recently discovered I have clogged arteries, but won’t know how bad until next Thursday when I get a heart catheterization.  This is the kind of personal experience where I get to explore very concrete details of reality.  I have choices to make.  If I decide wrong I could die.  If I decide right I get restored health.

The conservative medical solution is to put in a stint and have me take Plavix for a year.

The alternative is a proposed paradigm shift that claims if I eat a radically different diet, I can reverse the buildup in my arteries.  My doctor says there’s not enough research to support this conclusion.  Books by Dr. Ornish and Dr. Fuhrman claim otherwise.  My doctor replies that those doctor’s claims are meant to sell books, and are unproven.

Here’s my problem.  I can’t handle drugs.  My doctors usually pooh-pooh my fear of drugs.  But here’s what topical steroids did to me.

steroid-reaction

And that photo was after I healed considerably.  It took a year for my face to clear up.

I’ve taken other medicines that filled my mouth and throat with sores.  I often take medicine that tears up my stomach.  I’ve taken medicine that gave me sores under my eyelids.  I’ve taken medicines that gave me pains in my intestines.  I’ve taken medicines that distorted my sense of time.  Taking penicillin once sent me to the emergency room.  And statins really did a number on my body.  I have a hard time taking a 81mg “baby aspirin.”  I even had to give up caffeine.

So the idea of getting a stint and then having to take a powerful drug for a year is pretty scary.  If it was just a stint, I’d say great.  When I had a heart arrhythmia they eventually fixed it by zapping something inside my heart.  That was after years of torturing myself with various heart drugs.  They had offered me the ablation when they offered me the drugs, but I believed I could control my heart arrhythmia with beta blockers, diet and exercise.  I did for years, but ultimately I couldn’t.  Letting them zap my heart was great.

Once again, I’m back toying with the idea of curing myself by diet and exercise.  However, this time, there’s more evidence, supported by real doctors, to suggest that the lifestyle change is a possible cure.

I’ve already shifted towards the new diet, but it’s hard.  Even though I’ve been a vegetarian since 1969, I’m a very poor eater who is addicted to junk food.  Food I found comfortable for my stomach was slowly attacking my heart.  Now switching to healthy food sometimes tears up my stomach like some medicines.  Yet, I do feel better, and I believe if I learn to eat the healthy, and especially if I learn to cook it and make it an easy routine, I could switch my lifestyle.

I do have a proven record of changing.  I did go vegetarian at 16.  And in recent years I’ve control my back and leg pain with physical therapy exercises.  I gave up pain pills and anti-inflammatory meds.

One reason I think conservative doctors are against lifestyle cures is they know few people can change their way of living.  My dad died at 49 after three heart attacks and a stroke.  He never gave up his Camels, Seagram 7, or steaks.  Nor did he try to exercise.  I was in my teens at the time, and I wondered why he wouldn’t change.  Now I know how hard it is to change.  Sometimes I think I’ve lived 12 years longer than my dad because I became a vegetarian.  It also helps that I didn’t follow in his footsteps of smoking and drinking.  What choices can I make to live another 12 years, and maybe 12 more after that?

One reason I believe lifestyle change might work is because bad lifestyle habits clogged my arteries in the first place.  The other bit of logic is if I got a stint and continued to eat and live like I did, wouldn’t I just clog up other arteries?  Isn’t clogged arteries a sign that I’m doing something wrong and should stop?

Such logic can be deceptive.  I’m reading Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman who details all the ways our own brain tricks us.  He chronicles a long list of deceptive psychological mechanisms our brains use to convince us that wrong things are right.  So, how do I know if my cardiologist is right, or Dr. Ornish and Dr. Fuhrman?  Decades ago some researchers suggested that stomach ulcers might be caused by the helicobacter pylori bacteria.  Most doctors said that was insane.  But over time there’s been a paradigm shift.

Are we at the beginning of a paradigm shift with chronic diseases and diet?  We know that the western diet has led to the increase in various chronic diseases, so logically it would seem if we gave up that diet, we might reverse course?

It doesn’t matter what I think.  I know my brain tricks me.  What’s important is what science learns.  My doctor is right to be skeptical of any idea that’s not well backed by lots of scientific studies with huge numbers of participants.  Ornish and Fehrman claim the science is there.  I need to find it.

JWH – 5/3/12

If Science Definitively Proved Junk Food Was Worse Than Heroin Would You Give It Up?

Last night I watched Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead, a film about an overweight Australian, Joe Cross, going on a 60 day juice fast while traveling across America meeting fat people proclaiming their love of junk and fast food.  You can watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead right now on Hulu online, or its available for streaming at Netflix, iTunes and Amazon Prime.  Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead is about an obese man, with a rare disease, who had to take a lot of prescription drugs just to survive each day, and during the course of the documentary loses over 100 pounds, gets down to normal weight, and is able to give up all his pills, with doctor approval.

And the documentary goes beyond Joe’s success, because we see other people inspired by Joe.

fat-sick-and-nearly-daed

When Joe first arrives in America, he sees Dr. Joel Fuhrman, of Eat to Live fame, who gives him a medical check up and approves his fast. During the course of his travels across the United States, Joe reports his vital statistics back to Dr. Fuhrman. It’s dramatic. Finally we see Joe back in Australia. reborn as a new man. I’m not giving anything away, because you need to watch the film for yourself to believe.

To me, even more moving than Joe’s story, is Phil’s story, a truck driver Joe meets on his journey across America.  They each have the same rare disease.  Joe gives Phil his number and tells him to call when he gets ready to save himself.  Eventually, Phil does call, and his story is the second half of the documentary.  Joe flies back to America to get Phil started.

Phil dramatically transforms himself losing over two hundred pounds and he also gets off all his meds.  Phil’s success is so striking that he inspires other obese people in his community , becoming a juice faster evangelist.  Even Phil’s brother Bear, who refused to try the diet, gives in after he has a heart attack.

Joe interviews dozens of Americans, mostly fat, but all addicted to fast food and junk food.  Many said they never ate any fruits and vegetables at all, and a number of them said they expected to die by the time they were 55.  We see Joe sitting in diners talking to monstrously big men shoveling down giant portions of artery clogging food.  Most are friendly, and are willing to talk to Joe about juice fasting, some even willing to try a taste of juiced veggies and politely say, “Not bad.”  But none volunteer to give up the junk food.  Phil doesn’t even call Joe, until after Joe has finished his fast and gone back to Australia.

Two sick fat men transformed into healthy go-getters don’t make scientific certainty, but it is very compelling evidence.  I’m working up my nerve to try juice fasting and Dr. Fuhrman’s Eat to Live diet afterwards.  Like most of the people in the film, I just can’t imagine giving up all my fun foods, but like Joe and Phil, I’m overweight, not as much as they are, and I’m not feeling that good overall.  The idea of being more energetic and healthy is very appealing.  This documentary is very convincing.

The real question that this documentary asks indirectly:  If junk food is so poisonous, why do people keep eating it?  I’ve been reading a lot of medical news the past couple years and it’s pretty conclusive that a diet based mainly on fruits and vegetables is not only healthy, but cures many of our modern ailments like diabetes and heart disease.  We literally are poisoning ourselves to death.  Junk food probably is more dangerous than heroin or cigarettes.  We make fun of New Yorkers banning Big Gulps, but what if junk food should be banned?

I suppose we should all be free to kill ourselves any way we wanted, but should junk food come with warning labels like smokes?  What if fast food joints made you sign a waiver every time you ordered a meal?   Would you give it up?  How bad do we have to feel, how strung out on junk food do we have to get, before we really believe its poison?

I’ve known health food nuts all my life.  I’m going to feel very foolish if I start eating healthy at 61 and feel rejuvenated and remember I could have started back in the 1960s.  How much life do we have to waste before we learn what we’ve wasted?

[Thanks Annie for nagging me to watch Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead.]

JWH – 3/20/13

Maybe Howard Hughes Wasn’t So Crazy After All!

At the end of his life, Howard Hughes was the butt of numerous jokes over his germaphobia.  Hughes became a recluse who went to extremes to avoid people and germs.  The past three days I’ve been sick with either the flu or food poisoning.  While laying around waiting for my fever to burn off and bowels to producing something solid, I began imagining how I could avoid this fate in the future.  I thought of Howard Hughes, and his techniques for hiding from unseen foes.

If only I was rich and could afford to buy hotels and occupy their top floors.

mask

I seem to catch something once a year, usually a cold.  I do get the flu shots.  And this bout of whatever only knocked me back for three days.  They say the flu vaccine isn’t perfect but it at least could shorten the duration of the flu.  However my symptoms were more like food poisoning.  I’ve read a lot about what folks call “stomach flu” which more often than not is food poisoning.  But that’s just another way for germs to hitch a ride inside you.  Do such details matter?  Well, yes, it does.  Especially when you learn how some of the bad germs got on the bad foods.  Yuck.  Now I’m paranoid about restaurants and grocery stores.

Is the isolation from humanity worth the cost of avoiding occasional sickness?  Probably not, but then I thought of a novel by Isaac Asimov called The Naked Sun.  It’s a murder mystery set on a planet of agoraphobic inhabitants.  These people are so afraid of other people they never leave their homes, and only socialize via view screens.  Even married couples get queasy over getting physical.  Robots do most of the real work.  It’s a world that Howard Hughes would have loved.  I doubt this planet had many communicable diseases.

Since the news in the past 24 hours has been about the CDC’s report on superbugs, living as a recluse isolated from everyone might become the vogue.  Nor does it help that I’ve recently read a number of history books, covering times when simple fevers and chills killed.  If the age of antibiotics is coming to an end, and we have to return to a time when the little guys are winning again, how will our social lives change?  This time around we know the little critters are culprits.  Would Victorians have lived like they did if they were certain of germ theory?

BS8236

[This guy is not a bacteria or virus, but a tardigrade – I couldn’t resist copying the photo from NASA.  Pretty scary, huh?]

I doubt we’ll all become as nutty as Howard Hughes, but then maybe we will.   What if germs get the upper hand again?  What if life becomes more like 1813, when the germs were regularly winning their war on humans.  What extremes will we go through to stay well?

I do wish that sick people would stay at home.  I hate meeting coughing, sneezing, hacking, nose-snotty people at work.  And isn’t it a wonderful feeling to have an obvious germ factory sit behind you at the theater?  One thing we could do at least, is all wear a face mask when we’re sick, like the Japanese.  However, that’s got to become a fashion first, and who is going to become the bellwether in your office?   

I think, instead everyone isolating themselves from the sick, the sick should isolate themselves. 

That old belief that no fever equals not contagious isn’t true.  Germs don’t immediately disappear when you get back to 98.6.

I’m also betting on vaccines.  Logic dictates that fewer hosts to infect, means less infectious.  But that only works if everyone gets their shots.

The way hospitals fight outbreaks of infections is by conscious systematic efforts.  Even if germs become immune to our meds, we can still fight them.  That involves killing them outside our bodies and interrupting their vectors of infections.

I’ve got to admit that maybe I’m being more paranoid about germs because I’m getting older.  When you’re young, getting a cold or the flu is no big deal.  When you’re older, it is.  The other night at 3am, when my fever was high, I thought, one of these days I’m going to get sick and not get well.  That was something to think about.  That’s the sucky thing about dying, you have to leave this wonderful world feeling bad.  I want a pill, that no matter how bad I feel, no matter how much pain or nausea I have, that when I know it’s time to go, I can pop that pill and feel good for the last ten minutes of life.  Is there such a pill?  I don’t need euphoria.  Just pain free and clear thoughts will be plenty, so I can think thankful thoughts about my life.

I can coexist with good germs.  I don’t even mind sharing my body with them.  And I don’t resent the bad germs digesting me in the end.  I just wished they didn’t make me feel so bad doing it.

JWH – 3/7/13

Why Can’t We Be Good When We Know What’s Bad?

I’ve been reading about how our western diet is spreading around the world and bringing obesity, diabetes, hypertension and a host of other non-infectious degenerative diseases to people who used to eat differently, and lived healthier.  It’s quite obvious that our high fat, high sugar, high salt, high calorie diets are bad, so why don’t we eat better?  Why can’t we be good when we know what’s bad?

We just can’t seem to resist sweet, salty and fatty foods when they are in abundance.  Generally, where humans are thinner, more active, with little diabetes and hypertension its because they didn’t have a whole lot of food choices to begin with.  The western diet is really one of abundance and variety, and people around the world if given the opportunity to eat like us, become pigs like us.

My question is:  Why can’t we say no?

I have no answer.  I weigh 240 pounds.  I certainly can’t say no.

Actually, that’s not completely true.  I’ve given up many favorite foods over the years, and I still gained weight.  I do eat healthier, but I don’t eat less.  I am driven by hunger.  I can’t say yes to being hungry.

I keep eating more than I should knowing that I will suffer degenerative diseases in the future.  That’s insane.

I find this philosophically fascinating.  Obviously the rational mind has little influence over the physical body and the hormones that regulate it.

What if science could create a pill that makes us shun desserts, fatty foods, fried foods, salty foods, etc., and made us crave just the right amount of healthy foods, would you take that pill?  What if this pill made food a non-issue, so you just ate exactly what your body needed to be healthy.  Would you take that pill?  It might kill off gourmet eating, fast food, candy, pastries, soft drinks, and all the other stuff we so love.

Yeah I know, you’re thinking, “Why can’t what’s bad be good?”  See that opens up another philosophical question.  What if bad food is what we want.  What if bad food is what makes life good?   That’s easy to believe, but remember the heart disease and diabetes?  Remember all the obese children and young adults?  Brownies and Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream are evil.

What if our current stage of humanity is a paradigm shift like going from hunter and gatherers to an agricultural society?  Humans have always pretty much eaten anything they could put in our mouths that didn’t kill us.  That’s why we’re called omnivores.  But what if we’re moving into a new phase of existence where we must become healthyvores?  Can our species make the transition?  If I had a time machine and could jump ahead a hundred years, or five hundred years, would I find homo sapiens 2.0 living a much longer and healthier life?

I don’t know.  It’s something to think about.  I’m not sure we can always change, to always evolve.

JWH – 2/18/13

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