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Thursday, July 26

Steady On


There is so much bad news on so many fronts that to follow the major foreign or domestic issues is to be mired in negativity.  But when it's bad news everywhere you look, that's a sure sign that an entire system is collapsing.  So then the question is whether the collapse is masking the emergence of a new system or paradigm that represents a leap forward for humanity.

There is certainly one earth-shaking revolution going on that's been slowly building since the early 1970s, when New Agers discovered Adelle Davis's Let's Eat Right to Keep Fit (first published in 1954).  Davis, a biochemist, was among the early pioneers in post-WW2 America of the nutritional approach to curing disease and using food and nutritional supplements to ward off chronic diseases.

At the time, the medical profession considered Adelle and her approach to curing illness to be crazy. By the late 1980s, the tenets Adelle laid down in her books were considered by the medical profession to be self-evident.

Today, 'whole foods' and nutritional supplements are large industries backed by huge research projects, and these have merged with mainstream medicine, gerontology (the study of aging) and cutting-edge biochemical research into life-extension. 

The entire paradigm has evolved into a wide-ranging discipline that was first called preventive medicine and is now called functional medicine.  Functional medicine integrates hormone replacement therapy, organic food/farming, scientifically-developed nutritional supplements, scientifically-developed optimum diets and exercise routines, ancient Indian and Chinese 'herbal' medicine, and non-invasive or minimally invasive surgical techniques.  .

The paradigm has been driven forward -- nay, flogged forward -- by aging Baby Boomers, who refuse to go into their Golden Years with diabetes, heart disease, memory loss, cancer, and all the creaking joints and brittle bones that have traditionally accompanied old age. 

While a contingent of the Boomers believe that death itself has a cure, I think the majority simply want to live into their 80s or 90s in good health and without being rendered dependent by advancing old age.  In the present era, the demand to live in good health during old age became more than a lifestyle desire; it converged with an economic crisis that meant many Boomers couldn't afford to retire, or had to come out of retirement and return to the workforce. 

And this converged with the skyrocketing cost of medical insurance, hospitalization, nursing home care, and mainstream pharmaceuticals and surgery.  The healthcare system, fragile for decades, finally broke under the onslaught of retirement-age Boomers. 

And despite high current unemployment in the United States, the retirement of so many Americans around the same time has meant that many jobs requiring highly specialized skills and management experience can't be filled -- not by Americans. 

In short, if there was ever a time when many Americans can't afford to spend their old age as invalids, now is that time.  They have to be able to function at least as well as a healthy person in his or her 50s.  That's a tall order; can functional medicine really fill it?

I'll put the answer this way:  Adelle never mentioned the term "inflammation"-- at least, not in the sense it's used in functional medicine.  But she detailed a simple formula that is at the heart of functional medicine:  provide the body with the right nutrients in the right ratios and proportions at the right times of the day, and the vast majority of chronic diseases are cured or prevented from occurring.

While advances in nutritional research since Adelle's day have challenged or overturned some of her  recommendations regarding specific nutrients and added laboratory-created preparations that boost food-based nutrition, her formula has held.

Functional medicine is moving toward the consensus that the vast majority of about 12,000 chronic diseases have the same root:  an inflammatory condition of the body that can be cured and prevented or at least greatly mitigated by optimum nutrition.  This includes many diseases that are considered genetic.  And all the research on the subject is supporting the hypothesis.

What's more, many 'mental' afflictions, such as ADD and chronic depression, have been cured through the optimum diet approach, either alone or supplemented with megadoses of specific nutritional supplements and/or herbs.

What's more -- and this is one of the most exciting developments -- the line between mainstream medicine/medical and pharmacological research and the approach of the nutritionists to curing and preventing chronic disease is being erased.

If this is the first time you've come across the topic of functional medicine, it can take a while for the implications of the new paradigm to sink in.  The implications are mind-boggling.  Yet there are downsides to the emergence of any new paradigm, and the rise of functional medicine is no exception.  The current health care system, which supports many millions of workers in thousands of capacities, will cease to exist as we know it today. A new health care system, which is already in its nascent form, will replace it. But the transition will mean the end of many types of jobs, a retrenching for millions of workers, and a completely new approach to medical training.

And it's likely that the status quo in medicine and pharmacology will resist any mass migration to functional medicine; the status quo will probably spend years blocking health insurance for functional medicine cures.  This, and the likelihood that we're still decades away from a technology that 'reads' the individual's daily nutritional needs and supplies formulas meant to correct the daily imbalances, means that applying the functional medicine approach is still very much a do-it-yourself affair.

And, depending on how far you want to take the concept of optimum health, it can be an expensive affair, particularly if you want to be very aggressive with offsetting the aging process. Yet the expense and do-it-yourself nature of using functional medicine is creating a sense of community that cuts across political lines and is integrating thousands of human endeavors in new ways around two old ideas:  that you are what you eat, and that food is medicine.

I could write pages more on the topic, and I'll probably return to it, but I brought it up now because many things about society are very unsettled at this time and so there's a lot of worry about the future.

The American motivational speaker Les Brown once observed that just as an airplane can run into turbulence when it climbs to a higher altitude, people who're making positive changes in their lives can run into considerable turbulence.  This turbulence is something that has be worked through and endured; it can't be evaded. This is because it's made of situations you've put off dealing with, and which are actually blocking your advance. 

That was the only time I heard Brown speak; that was almost 20 years ago, and yet I've never forgotten his explanation about turbulence because it struck me as so very true, not only for individuals but also for societies.   

Steady on. 


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