Cause and Effect

Our nation keeps getting unhealthier.

According to a recent study out of Australia, the rate of obesity among baby boomers is more than double the rate of their parents at the same age and the number of baby boomers with three or more chronic conditions is 700 percent greater than the previous generation.

I don’t think that anyone can claim with a straight face that human genetics has changed so dramatically in a single generation as to be responsible for this sharp decline in our nation’s health.

So that leaves diet.

  • Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter writes and speaks on the role that modern diet plays on neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, MS, and peripheral neuropathy.
  • In his book Wheat Belly, Dr. William Davis cites decades of research on how modern semi-dwarf wheat, with its genetic dissimilarity to wheat from a century ago, causes a host of physiological problems, including neurological changes, diabetes, and heart disease.
  • Jack ChallemEvelyn Tribole, and others have written volumes on dietary causes of inflammation that are at the root of today’s rampant inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.
  • Medical school professor of biochemistry Richard Feinman has lectured, blogged, and written about our dietary shortcomings, and the fatally flawed research that misleads us into thinking that we’re eating healthfully when we’re not.

Even though they’re in the minority, there’s no shortage of voices out there arguing persuasively and cogently for a return to real, unprocessed foods that are reminiscent of those enjoyed by our previous generations. They cite study after study showing that today’s low-fat, high-carb, industrial oil-laden, highly processed, genetically modified foods are responsible for the lion’s share of diseases we face today as a society.

And yet most people are unconvinced.

Why is that?

I think it’s because humans need cause and effect to correlate in neat, tidy packages so that we can mentally connect the dots and make a decision. We’re simply not motivated by the intangible and the vague.

One reason that half as many people smoke today as did 40 years ago is that science was able to rather clearly show a link between smoking and a host of diseases, including lung cancer and emphysema. Faced with such clear cause and effect, it’s pretty easy to convince ourselves not to smoke.

Unfortunately, our individual variability makes correlating poor dietary decisions with specific disease very difficult. Sure, if we eat an unending torrent of glucose- and insulin-promoting foods we’ll gain weight, but beyond that, the progression of disease is less predictable. For some, a high-carb, highly inflammatory lifestyle manifests as heart disease. For others, peripheral neuropathy. Some get MS while others adult onset Type 1 diabetes.

Due to our genetic variability, there’s no clear path from “eat this and that will happen.” The best we can say is that eating poorly is going to get you somehow. The way I see it, our genetics is the lens that focuses our unhealthy lifestyle choices into specific disease conditions.

In other words, the past half-century has been an enormous dietary experiment, with the so-called government and agribusiness experts endorsing low-fat, high-carb, industrial oil-laden, highly processed, genetically modified foods, all with the very obvious goal of finding the highest profit, most marketable combination.

It’s a simple matter to me: we can choose to be part of the experiment or part of the control group. Personally, I’d rather be part of the control group. The headlines about disease rates and skyrocketing healthcare costs has made it very clear how this national dietary experiment is turning out.

2 thoughts on “Cause and Effect

  1. I think there is an additional reason: convenience. People have gotten so busy they don’t have as much time to invest in the prep it takes to cook whole foods. They know boxed mac and cheese isn’t good for them but they don’t have time for anything else. We could always ask the question, “Will you have more time when you are dead?” They understand the point of such a question but cannot give up the convenience of fast food.

    Then there are the addictive properties of junk food as documented in the book, The End of Overeating. People get started on this crap and it is very hard to get over it.

    • I agree completely. As a society we pay a very high price for convenience. And as you point out, the addictive properties of junk food are unmistakeable. In Wheat Belly, Dr. Davis cites NIH research showing that modern wheat proteins bind to opioid receptors in the brain, causing an addiction response. I hardly think it’s a coincidence that wheat is now in nearly every processed food product sold.

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