Monday, October 25, 2010

On things that are not visible and science

The fox tells the Little Prince that

What is important is invisible to the eye; only with the heart one can see clearly.”

Ever since I was a child I have tried to live by that wise advice, sometimes forgetting those golden words. My first career choice was to be a Jesuit priest so that I could learn and study all my life and be of service to my fellowman. No doubt we all come to this Earth trailing stardust and tendencies of character and spirit. But, I gave up that career path when my hormones hit the fan.

As I grew older I settled for psychology, telling myself that everything about a person was a manifestation of the way a person saw the world. I did contemplate medicine as a child, but my impression of medicine was too idealistic; I thought a doctor should be the quintessential Renaissance person; yet, I did not see that quality in the few doctors that attended me and my family through our minor health problems.

In college I concluded that Psychology (at that time-the 70s) was a refuge for students and professors who needed to figure out their convoluted heads (I am told this has changed, now.) Disappointed, I went back to medicine, telling myself that I would do it my way, and seek to be that integrative thinker I idealized.

It has been an exhilarating ride with many ups and downs. The bottom line is that I feel called to the work I do. In it, I have shunned material things, including the Hummer my mother tells me I should buy every time she sees me arrive at her trailer in my used Jeep Wrangler. So, I guess that in a way I have lived a simple, Jesuit-like life, committed to the things that cannot be seen.

Navigating the world of science has not been easy with these feelings. Often I have run into brick walls built by scientists whose left brains seemed over-developed at the expense of their right brain. Seeking to understand the great work those scientists do (it’s part of my job,) I have delved into many fields that I feel are necessary to be the kind of doctor I seek to be: anthropology, history, religion, philosophy, economics, politics, literature and physics. It is in the latter field that I found another pearl I wish to share with you:

Religion without science is lame; science without religion is blind.” Einstein.

This is why I was intrigued by a couple of articles that appeared in the JAMA in October 2010, “Wisdom; a neuroscience perspective” and “Empathy in Medicine: a neurologic perspective.” [1] Sure, both articles are still a little rigid about “what is invisible to the eye,” but they are honest attempts to quantify those traits through technology like brain scanning. I hope there will be more studies like them and that scientists continue to approach the middle ground between spirit and brain that we should have never left all those centuries ago when a shaman was also the medicine man. No doubt we have made progress with our scientific toys and theories, but throwing out the “spiritual baby” with the bath water has not helped our societies much.

[1] JAMA 2010;304:1602 &1604

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Let's Drink to Water

Are you drinking 8 glasses of water a day like you have been told?

I hope not.

Nobody seems to know where this unfounded advice came from; yet, it is held as gospel truth, despite the increasing scarcity of water reaching a crisis point throughout the world. Thanks to sound research by leading academicians like Dr. Askew at the University of Utah, the “8 glasses of water” fallacy doesn’t hold any water; even the National Geographic Magazine, October 2010 issue has addressed this issue.

It turns out that our food, when eaten fresh and unprocessed, is about 70% water; so, we get plenty for our needs just by eating healthy. We only need to drink when we are thirsty. But tell that to water addicted Westerners (read “Mutant Message Down Under”) and alcoholics.

The problem worsens when we drink bottled water from rapacious companies that overcharge for unregulated water that often is no better than tap water. And think of all the plastic we expose ourselves to and our environment with this practice. But these issues are a drop in the bucket compared to other rampant misuses of water like irrigating lawns in the West.

Our drying world cannot take it much longer. Soon, entire groups of people will be forced to immigrate in search of water, triggering significant economic and political problems, even wars. If you live in some rain-soaked region like the Midwest, you may not appreciate the seriousness of this problem in the West; neither do most people where I live in Utah. In fact, I am sure my neighbors don’t appreciate my xeroscaped yard. Fortunately, cities like Las Vegas are starting to pay people who get rid of their lawns; this is why Nevadans don’t appreciate Utah’s pontification about water conservation as the two states battle for aquifer water straddling both states.

The Utah Medical Association agrees that water conservation must be seriously addressed. Many doctors feel we need to raise the public’s awareness on impending water shortages that will have a significant impact on our health.

So, what can you do to mitigate the suffering that looms in our dry horizons?

Stop drinking so much bottled water and get a filter at home to drink your own tap water; carry that water with you in a glass container when out and about. Drink it before you go into a restaurant, where you could refuse the customary glass of water and order a healthy drink like oolong or green tea. Drink only when you are thirsty. Eat fresh instead of processed foods; eat less meat. It takes 14,000 liters of water to raise one pound of meat. Consider getting rid of your lawns if you live in the West. Don’t wash your car at home. Do it at a car wash that recycles water. And contact your “for rent” politicians for possible legislation to stem the flow.

And best of all, don’t shower alone….

Monday, October 11, 2010

On Autism

While I am not an expert on Autism or on Asperger Syndrome, I have been close enough to people with this condition that I am going to venture a few thoughts about it. When I was in Medical School we were told that it was a rare condition; about 1/2000 people seem to be affected. Today it is 1/110 and my home state ranks 3rd in the nation in incidence. Interestingly, each year, Utah is 1st to 3rd in toxicity; coincidence? I am not the only doctor who feels there is some connection.

Genetics? Have our genes mutated in the last few years? Maybe; the advent of epigenetics, nutragenomics, and xenohormesis, has opened the door to the possibility that there is some genetic component involved. These new concepts posit that genes are modulated in function and structure by the foods we eat and the chemicals we are exposed to.

In my opinion, the genetic character of Autism/Asperger and even ADD, involves a lesser ability to DETOXIFY environmental toxins. The recent study in the journal Pediatrics linking Autism with newborn jaundice points in this direction. There are many other studies like this one.

We are all exposed to a lot of chemicals, pesticides, food additives, preservatives, heavy metals, chlorinated compounds and even pharmaceuticals in our water, air and soil. We cannot conclude that they are THE cause of the problem; but it is reasonable to contemplate the possibility that people affected with these health problems are those who cannot eliminate said toxins efficiently. These chemicals would then be more likely to remain in their body interfering with brain function and even its normal development if exposed early enough during the formative stages.

Take vaccines, for example. The CDC sticks to its guns denying any association, while activists rage about this as if it were a foregone conclusion. I am not going to take sides until there is clear cut evidence one way or the other. But, I will say that MONEY has obscured this issue; WWII veterans would say that this issue is FUBAR.

In my opinion, we need to consider the possibility that some children may be exposed too early to vaccinations and other environmental chemicals, even while in utero; if these children have slight deficiencies in detoxification pathways in the liver, intestines and kidneys, they may end up with higher amounts of exposure, which would then result in significant brain damage, and genetic mutations.

What can we do about this? We need to seriously question the conventional wisdom that chemicals are safe for all of us. We need to avoid exposure as much as possible, especially when pregnant. We need to clean our environment and maximize our detoxifying pathways with optimal nutrition and supplementation. Empty, processed foods lack the micronutrients necessary to sustain such functions. Is it a coincidence that most people afflicted with these diseases seem to have intestinal problems? I don’t think so.

I highly recommend the movie TEMPLE GRANDIN. It is the true story of a young woman who achieved much, despite her Autism. Take a box of tissue with you.