According to Berman and Fawcett, there are some individual steps that people can take, including change in diet and getting more rest. However, as the entire book explains, much of this relates to social conditions and social "status"
“Everybody loves heaven, but nobody is in a hurry to get there,” as they say. And so it is that from Fernando Cortes, who explored Florida searching for a “fountain of youth” to Ray Kurzweil, who believes that through modern computers and miniaturization life span can be extended for hundreds of years (starting with his own), thousands of people down through the ages have sought to live for ever – or the closest thing to it.
Meanwhile, the health care industry continues raking in the profits and what constitutes health and how to maintain it is subject to the all important “free” market and private profits. The hospital monoliths, the pharmaceutical industry and the insurance companies are all colluding to fix prices and maximize profits, for instance. More recently, the US media was focused on the decision of the US Supreme Court that Obama's health "reform" was constitutional. Liberals applauded the decision, while others bemoaned the fact that this "reform" is really aimed at forestalling "single-payer" health care.
Beyond Health Care "Reform"
But there is another deeper issue entirely, according to Layna Berman and Jeffry Fawcett. In their book "Too Much Medicine not Enough Health" they lay out an entirely different approach to health care. As they write, "health is about power -- the power not only to care for infirmities but the power to take action that purposefully makes life better." In other words, health is not simply the absence of a specifically defined disease or condition. "Our intention is to disrupt the ordinary, diagnosis-and-treatment mode of thought typical of books about health. We also intend to disrupt the false distinction between books about personal action (the self-help mode) and books about collective action (the public health/public policy mode)." And to the extent that their book affects the thinking, disrupt they have done.
They discuss the infamous "placebo effect". This is the phenomenon of test subjects getting a sugar pill and getting "better" simply because they think they're being treated. The common thinking is that they are fooled, that probably their illness was all in their head in the first place. Fawcett and Berman challenge this idea. They point out the intimate link between what could be called "state of mind" and physical health. This has been established experimentally. For instance, mice who lead a more natural social life were shown to be less affected by chemical toxins. The fact is that the being - body and mind, is getting a message that "help is on the way", and this enables the body to heal itself.
It is amazing that we don't normally think in these terms. After all, as the authors point out, isn't that what most of health care really does? When a doctor sets and splints a broken bone, all he or she is really doing is helping establishing the preconditions for that bone to heal itself. A healthy social life is not simply a placebo; it is a necessary precondition to mental and physical health.
Social and Political Message
Berman and Fawcett relate health - or the lack of it - to "the sanctity of the free market". They explain that it is exactly the free market that confuses people into thinking that if they spend enough money they can buy health. They also explain the role of social status. Social status correlates to health, but not simply because more money enables a person to buy health care. They explain that in Britain, where health care is more or less socialized and therefore available to all and where there is a little more of a social safety net, social status correlates to health just as much as in the US. The main point, according to Fawcett and Berman, is stress, including the social stress of poverty and all the psychological pressures that go along with it.
This view of stress is a theme that runs through the book and relates to another important critique: That of "preventive" medicine. On first thought, it would seem strange to oppose preventive medicine, but Berman and Fawcett see the matter differently. Much of preventive medicine, according to them, is simply what they call "risk factor" medicine. Statistics show that there is a correlation between hypertension and heart disease. Therefore, hypertension causes heart disease and where it is detected in a person, a drug must be given to force the body to lower the blood pressure. The same is true for cholesterol. What this approach neglects is what causes the elevated blood pressure or cholesterol. Related to this question is whether or not these conditions - high cholesterol, for instance - is really the cause of heart disease, or whether it simply coincides with heart disease, that both have a common cause.
Take, for instance, metabolic syndrome. (The drug companies are very happy to take this syndrome since 40% of spending on drugs in the US is spent on this.) Metabolic syndrome is an array of conditions - high glucose (sugar) levels in the blood, high HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides (fat molecules), high blood pressure and/or high body fat. These conditions indicate that your body is not properly metabolizing carbohydrates. They are associated with the tendency to have heart attack. The standard approach is to treat these conditions as if they are the disease. Often the first step is to propose changes in diet and/or increased exercise. Almost invariably, these steps fail and the next one is to prescribe drugs.
The reason that diet and exercise usually fail is that they don't deal with the cause of these symptoms - the same factors that cause heart attacks themselves. According to Fawcett and Berman, the main causes include: "inflammation and immune response from physiological stressors and infectious agents; oxidative stress from pollutants; psychosocial stress from inequity and other social conditions; nutrient deficiency from lack of access to nutrient-rich foods; and toxins that disrupt our endocrine and other metabolic systems."
According to Berman and Fawcett, there are some individual steps that people can take, including change in diet and getting more rest. However, as the entire book explains, much of this relates to social conditions and social "status". In other words, it is political. Even such issues as avoiding toxins and pollution is a political issue since poor neighborhoods tend to be subjected to greater pollution, and toxic pollution is often directly associated with many jobs.
"People Who Live In Fear…"
There are articles on many different subjects and aspects of human health. In almost all cases they take a very different view from that of the establishment, and many times they see direct political or economic goals in the establishment views. For instance, they deride the whole scare about avian flu, which they say is hard for people to catch. As they point out, the virus that is "responsible" for the flu may mutate as feared, but after years of this fear it hasn't happened yet and in any case the issue is more about maintaining a healthy immune system than anything else. So why the big scare? As they write, "people who live with hope and a sense of their own power are more difficult to govern than people who live in fear."
Fawcett and Berman critique a study done by the National Institute of Health (NIH) on the use of nutritional supplements. The study reviewed several different studies, and drew two conclusions. First was that there was no evidence of the beneficial effects of taking vitamins. Second was that greater government regulation of this industry is needed. However, as Fawcett and Berman point out, they found benefits in taking Vitamin D for bone loss, Vitamin E for certain cancers, etc. As for potential harm, Fawcett and Berman point out that the NIH panel worried over potential harm from taking vitamins but found almost no harm. It's just the potential, you see. They explain the biases of the NIH study. For instance, the NIH used different criteria for considering whether supplements help people or whether they cause harm. They didn't include dosages nor whether those taking supplements were also taking prescription medicines. All of these factors can skew the result.
Another example was an article in the "New Scientist" magazine on the supposed lack of benefit from taking anti-oxidants. According to Fawcett and Berman, however, an important factor is that anti-oxidants don't act alone, but the New Scientist article - which reviewed several different studies - never considers this. Nor does it consider the fact that the different studies never considered social status of the subjects. Fawcett and Berman show the flaws in the review from start to finish, and it is no wonder that the article is flawed (at best); its author is the "science" writer in residence for the Novartis Foundation. Novartis, of course, is one of the major pharmaceutical companies. It is a disgrace that New Scientist would even accept an article from this person, but as Fawcett and Berman point out, "The problem is that they (New Scientist) don't think they have a perspective. They have science, so they can't be biased." As for Novartis, they also recently funded the "National Campaign to Control Hypertension". Novartis is one of the major manufacturers of hypertension drugs, and just as with cholesterol levels, every few years the blood pressure level that is considered to be "normal" is lowered, thus increasing the potential market for pharmaceuticals such as those made by Novartis.
Diet and Cortisol
Berman and Fawcett deal extensively with diet, including how this relates to stress. One article explains the role of stress in raising the cortisol levels in the blood. Chronic high cortisol levels can cause body-wide inflammation, weakened immune systems, etc. We are all familiar with the tendency to eat "comfort foods" when stressed. There is a chemical reason for this as these foods tend to lower the cortisol level in the blood. Unfortunately, the high sugar level of these foods also raises the insulin level in the blood. Chronic high insulin level has all sorts of harmful effects, including heart disease, exacerbation of arthritis, etc.
The authors are advocates of the Paleolithic, or hunter-gatherer diet. The theory behind this diet is that homo sapiens evolved over several million years based on a certain diet and their bodies are adapted to this diet. With apologies to my vegan friends, this diet does not include grains and is heavy on meat. This is especially important for people with auto-immune diseases, including arthritis and lupus. According to the authors, a diet heavy in grains can inflame the mucosal membrane lining the gut, which ultimately causes the gut to allow small particles of undigested protein to pass through into the body. The immune system responds by attacking these foreign proteins and starts to go into overdrive, ultimately attacking the human protein - the body itself. Not only do grains and seeds tend to be allergenic, they also contain "anti-nutrients" that tend to block the absorption of nutrients, especially minerals. In addition, grains are much higher in Omega 6 fatty acids, as opposed to Omega 3s. Hunter gatherers had a diet much higher in Omega 3s.
In summary, "Too Much Medicine Not Enough Health" combines the best of the alternative health approaches with the critique of capitalist health "reform" which only considers affordability.
One Last Piece of Bad News
Oh, and one last thing: In their article on the effects of radio frequency radiation (RFR) - the radiation emitted by cell phones - they explain that there is only one lab left in the US that investigates this issue. In one study, done in 1995, this lab found that when brain cells were exposed to RFRs at the same level as those emitted from cell phones, the DNA strands broke. The data derived from these investigations have been used for various studies (interpretations). While the industry funded 30% of these studies, of those that showed a health effect from RFRs, only 14% were industry funded; of those showing no effect, 49% were industry funded. This was using the same data base.
John Reimann is a retired carpenter and an expelled member of the Carpenters' Union in the United States. (He was expelled for leading rank and file struggles against the union bureaucracy.) He is a long-time socialist, who organized for a number of years in Mexico. He is presently a member of the Industrial Workers of the World.