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Health Ė Taken for Granted or A Choice?
In our society it is most common for people to take our own and our
familyís health for granted until something happens that challenges it.
Then we usually begin the round of doctors and health care providers trying
to find an explanation and a way to recover the lost health. In conventional
medicine the emphasis is on the diagnosis of the disease. In natural medicine
the approach is different. Even though naturopathic physicians are also
concerned with the diagnosis, we also strongly question why the person
got sick. What happened to that individualís health that allowed him or
her to fall ill with that particular disease?
In other words, we donít believe that people just fall sick out of the
blue. We see illness as the later, more visible, stage of a process of
decline that usually began long before the person would be generally recognized
as sick. This decline for most people begins at birth. We are all born
with a certain level of health (or vitality) that is determined by a number
of factors. These include the level of health of our parents at conception,
genetics, accidents of fetal development, the health and nutritional status of our
mother during the pregnancy, and birth trauma. Most people are born with
relatively good health, and some with less health. Regardless of the level
at the start, from that point on the level of health tends to decline over
a person's lifetime.
There are many factors that contribute to this decline of health over
peopleís lives. Among others, these include unhealthy diet and lifestyle,
emotional stress, exposure to toxic substances and chemicals, radiation,
physical trauma, and suppressive treatments. Some of these health-impairing
factors you can influence and some you can't. It was reported in the medical
journal Age that 40% of the factors affecting life expectancy can be controlled.
However, belief systems, ignorance and poor priorities have a big effect
on how much control people have over their rate of decline in health. For
example, living a completely sedentary lifestyle has a big negative impact
on a person's health over their lifetime. But if you are either uninformed
of this fact or choose to ignore it you will not have control over this
health factor. Or if you live in a town with badly polluted air your choices
may be limited whether you are knowledgeable about these thingsí health
effects or not.
The most important health factors that we can control are diet and lifestyle.
To the extent that we can avoid the other negative influences on our health,
we should. But over a lifetime diet and lifestyle are the factors we have
the most direct control over. Unfortunately, some powerful influences in
our consumer society attempt to lead us astray over these same factors.
Staying healthy requires that people make choices that often run contrary
to these influences. How often do you see a TV advertisement for broccoli?
The media is constantly bombarding us with messages that could influence
us, if we let them, towards lifestyle and diet choices that negatively
impact our health. In a country and at a time of the greatest affluence
ever seen on this planet, our modern consumer society largely encourages
us to live an unhealthy lifestyle and to eat junk food. And our American
health statistics confirm this. They are worse than most of the other developed
There is a better way. We have choices. At the very least we have choices
that can, and do, have a significant influence on whether our health declines
quickly or slowly. Those choices may even determine whether you die
relatively young, live to be 80 but feel miserable the last 25 years of your
life, or have a long active healthy life. Our bodies represent millions
of years of evolution. It is only in the last couple of hundred years that
we have been exposed to such large amounts of refined foods (like sugar
and white flour), extensive industrial pollution, a sedentary lifestyle,
and a plethora of synthetic chemicals. Our bodies were not designed for
this. It is as though we went out and bought our dream car, threw away
the manual and then filled its gas tank with kerosene. It is no wonder
so many of us spend much of our lives trying to cope with one chronic disease
after another. In fact, it is an incredible testament to the power of our
bodies to heal that so many of us live past childhood.
Donít get me wrong. Our ancient ancestors had a tough life and often
died early - except it was from trauma, infections and starvation, not
chronic degenerative disease. But their biochemistry and physiology was
virtually identical to ours. Until 12,000 years ago, when agriculture was
developed, humans had been living a lifestyle and diet that had barely
changed over millions of years. The next major lifestyle change was with
the development of the modern food industry. That has happened within the
memory of our grandparents.
While it is wonderful to have the convenience of modern foods, it has
come at a heavy price. It has been easier and more profitable to sell foods
high in fat, sugar, salt, and synthetic chemicals (i.e., preservatives, food coloring, flavoring
agents, etc.) than it is to make tasty convenient
foods made of whole foods. And whole foods are the kinds of foods our ancestors
ate and we are designed to eat.
A little story of the development of white flour will illustrate this
point. In the last couple of centuries white flour went from being only
available to the rich aristocrats to being available to the middle class.
Traditionally, wheat was ground into whole-wheat flour by the local mill.
With the growing numbers and affluence of the middle class and the development of steel rollers in England,
the millers found that they could make more money selling white flour because
people could afford it and would pay more for it. After all it was a delicacy
that previously had only been available to the rich - and everyone wanted
to live like the rich. The byproduct of making white flour is a lot of
wheat germ and fiber (where most of the nutrition and all of the vitamins
in wheat are found). The millers found that they then could turn around
and sell this to farmers for animal feed to "fatten" livestock - making
even more money from the same raw product. Thus, was born the food industry
as we now know it.
But wait, the story is not quite over. Along comes World War I and England
is trying to fill its draft quotas and it is having a problem. Too many
men are not healthy enough to pass the physicals or are under the height
requirements. A government investigation discovered that the health status
of people was declining across society due the wide use of white flour
and the resulting vitamin deficiencies. So what was done? They decided
to mandate that synthetic vitamins be added back into white flour to prevent
these vitamin deficiencies. The result was "enriched flour."
In this way the millers could continue to sell the vitamin-rich wheat
germ and fiber for animal feed, the government could have relatively healthy
men for the trenches, and the public could continue to eat like aristocrats.
Everyone got what they wanted. Of course, in the long term, a number of
these same people would later suffer from diverticulitis, obesity and diabetes
or die of colon cancer and heart disease, but nobody was keeping track
It doesnít have to be like that. People have choices. You can choose
to eat healthily and live a healthy lifestyle - it clearly makes a difference
over the long term. If your health is already impaired, these choices can
make a difference now. Only you can choose a better and healthier life.
It is about making one good choice after another. You can choose to eat
the unhealthy meal or the healthy one. You can choose to sit on the couch
and watch reruns all evening on TV or take a walk. It is about making one
choice at a time. Just start now!