Is it what you eat that kills you?

"" MD, FRCP, FRCPE, FRCPG, FRCPI, FACC, FAMS, is presently the Chairman of State Health Society, Govt. of Bihar, India, Visiting Prof. Cardiology at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School – University of London, Affiliate Prof. of Human Health – Northern Colorado University, Visiting Prof. Indian Institute of Advanced Studies – Shimla,  Retd.  Vice Chancellor, MAHE University – Manipal. Prof Hedge regularly gives talks on AIR, Doordarshan, BBC and Zee TV, London. 

"""There can be no happiness if the things we believe in are different from the things we do." —  Freya Stark

Is it? Yes, it is for those that do have very little to eat in this world. Mind you, they are in the majority-did you know that? Strange are the ways of this world! The writer and the readers might not realize the gravity of this human tragedy unless the facts are placed before them. While the whole world was asked to unite to fight terror by George Bush after the 9/11 World Trade Centre disaster, the size of that problem pales into insignificance if you know the other side of the coin. There were a total of 2863 people that lost their lives on that fateful day at Ground Zero. It was a great blow to his or her near and dear ones and no one is belittling that fact.

However, a total of 824 million people here are hungry every day, all year round, until they die prematurely! 630 million live below the poverty line with very little to eat! Even the great disease, the so-called AIDS looks insignificant with just over 40 million involved. Many of the latter die, because of the interventions and the fatal fear of the disease rather than from that elusive virus HIV. History of medicine is replete with instances where viruses were recruited to save the powers that be from embarrassment. We have been treating a fatal SMON (sub-acute myelo-optico-neuropathy) as a slow virus disease akin to Kuru with all kinds of drugs up until a family physician in the suburb of Tokyo, Doctor Kanu, came up with brilliant clinical observations that he saw the deadly disease in only those patients that took a particular quinoline for diarrhea. I think it was sold as mexaform in India. This adverse drug reaction had, by then, caused thousands of deaths both in Japan and elsewhere in the world. The disease died a natural death after the drug was banned! We had been treating Beri Beri and Pellagra as bacterial diseases for more than one hundred years, treating those hapless sufferers with deadly arsenic, mercury etc.

"All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." George Orwell was right about animals but human beings behave shamelessly. All humans are equal but the rich are more equal than others. Poverty and malnutrition depress the human immune system so much that these poor people become prey to every conceivable disease, not only infections but, even the degenerative ones and killers like heart attack and cancer! It is not a matter of knowing the minutiae of micro nutrition that matters in the medical school. This major cause of macro sub nutrition mentioned here is never stressed at all. The rich are blissfully ignorant of this too. The authorities do pay lip service now and then, more so just before every election, to be forgotten soon after. Probably the greatest cause of all cause of mortality is poverty in this world.

One in three children in a small Adivasi village just 40 kilometers from Navi Mumbai, Jamsar, dies of starvation and malnutrition. One child in ten dies of diarrhoeal diseases in the IT capital of India, Bangaluru, where people think the world has become flat! Kwashiorkor and Marasmus together kill thousands of children in Africa who never live to see the beauties of this world of power hungry inhuman elders. We give African and Indian poor children plenty of vaccinations, the latter provoking better missionary zeal in the governments than supplying food for the dying children. Malnourished children can’t produce the level of immunity that the well-fed child could achieve after vaccination, but who cares? Vaccination is what we are interested in and not its effect on the poor children. The poor do not get good protein food in the first place. The hookworm that is universally present in all poor children, (thanks to the poor sanitary conditions) eats what little they get. In conclusion, for those that do not know where their next meal is coming from it is what they (do not) eat which kills.

For the (rest of the minority) rich and the powerful in this universe, it is not what they eat that kills them, it is what eats them, their negative thoughts, which kill them. Every emotion is a chemical capable of producing powerful chemical reactions in different organ systems that eventually result in death in the long run. Negative thoughts, especially the incapacity to forgive others, are now known to be powerful depressants of the immune system! Hatred (destructive hostility) comes out as the most powerful risk factor for heart attacks, anger for haemorrhagic stroke, frustration and depression for cancer and many other killer diseases in multivariate analyses. Keeping the gut empty in the intensive care units, where parenteral feeding is the rule, could depress the immune system by altering the milieu interior of the gut bacteria contributing significantly to the deadly DIC. Drop per drop fluid replacement therapy peri-operatively and in major trauma could be one of the contributing factors for problems in those areas while the old "dry theory" has been all but forgotten in the face of the "wet theory" which is the darling of the drug industry.

Medical science of statistics, however, has been able to show a different picture. There are two kinds of statistics in medicine-the kind that one looks up and the other kind that one cooks up. Cholesterol and its multitude of close cousins, the diet fads that are sold in the market and the weight reduction strategies that cost a fortune have all been the imagination of fertile minds without real hard data supporting them. The first ever Diet-Heart study, started way back in 1954 in Framingham, did show at the end in 1959 that diet had very little to do with heart diseases as long as one does not overeat and become obese.

There is another huge area of micro nutrition whose adherents think that most diseases, if not all of them, are caused by micronutrient defects! Another one of those reductionist ideas is the present "science" of nutrition that owes its roots to the Nazi secrets of the Second World War. That much for our present thinking in that area of bad science but that is good business. For every study that shows good results one could fish out a couple that show the same entity in very poor light. One example is sufficient. Does any animal in the universe drink the milk of another animal? Milk protein, cow’s milk protein for that matter, contains globulin, which has the same genetic sequence of the pancreatic beta cells. Studies now show that if an infant is fed cow’s milk instead of mother’s milk the beta cells are destroyed by the anti-bodies that the infant’s body produces against cow’s globulin resulting in precocious type II diabetes!  For years now, I was being abused for saying that cow’s milk should be reserved for the calf only. Let us learn our nutritional facts from close observation of nature as our ancestors did in the past. Which nutritional scientist did tell us that cereals like rice and wheat are edible? Which scientist showed us that eating fruit and vegetable is good for health? Which scientist showed us that only two cousins of potatoes, the usual potato and the sweet potato, are edible while there is a host of other poisonous cousins in the solanacae family in the  wild? Learn from the past as otherwise one will have to relive the past.

The whole science of nutrition needs to be over hauled in the light of the new data pouring in. Our ancient wisdom of Ayurveda has a lot to teach us. For the time being for those that have enough and more to eat, the lesson would be to be moderate in everything they eat. No particular nutrient or type of food might not be taboo as long as one likes it, but it shall be done in moderation. Simple formula would be to eat when hungry only, fill the stomach half-full each time. More number of small meals a day in place of one or two large meals would go a long way to keep one healthy and even manage many ills like diabetes. Micronutrients are better taken as their natural source like fruits and vegetables in plenty instead of as supplements.  Observational research and study of ancient sciences like Ayurveda would also help in correct attitude towards food and eating. Fresh food is the ideal, the preserved ones having plenty of salt leading to vascular diseases, fracture of bones and many other ills including cancer. Nature is our best teacher.

The following Irish couplet is instructive.
"I eat when I am hungry,
I drink when I am thirsty (not alcohol, I suppose),
If heavens do not fall down,
I shall certainly live till I die." 
For the rich and the powerful it is not what they eat that kills them but it is what eats them that kills them!

 "What you don’t see with your eyes, don’t invent them with your words." — Jewish Proverb.

Author: Dr. B. M. Hegde- India