by John A. Rush © 2009, 2013
Most people are under the impression that we, as a species, are living longer thanks to modern medicine This is more illusion than fact. According to Dr. Jonathan Miller, “. . .in the past 50 years modern medicine has made such an insignificant contribution to human health and longevity that the enormous expense incurred for developing and administrating treatments was hardly worth it” (cited in James, W. 1995. Immunization: The Reality Behind the Myth. Westport, Conn.: Bergan & Garvey, pg. 33). As Clark Larson points out ( “Biological Changes in Human Populations with Agriculture.” In, Annual Review of Anthropology, vol. 24,1995:185-213), beginning about 10,000 years ago, “[t]he shift from foraging to farming led to a reduction in health status and well-being, an increase in physiological stress, a decline in nutrition, an increase in birthrate and population growth, and an alteration of activity type and work load. Taken as a whole, then, the popular scholarly perception that quality of life improved with the acquisition of agriculture is incorrect.”
Horacio Fabrega has also stated (1997. Evolution of Sickness and Healing. Berkeley: University of California Press, xii), “This (anthropological) line of investigation tends to support the relatively high nutritional status and physical health of foragers and hunter-gatherers. Moreover, and although this is contested, the consensus of opinion seems to point to possible relative declines in nutrition and health of populations in association with the major social and economic revolutions involving subsistence patterns and population density and size.”
In short, social complexity does not necessarily mean better health. Fabrega also goes on to state that, as a medical system evolves, this does not mean that there is always “improvement and progress.”
In fact, the current myth that we are living longer has to do with statistics, that is to say, the combining of decreased infant mortality with other mortality statistics. With a decrease in infant mortality you statistically (but not in reality) increase life span. Moreover, it has been the increased awareness inpersonal hygiene and garbage/sewage disposal that has affected health and longevity, not any miracle from the medical community. The revolutionary use of hand washing before delivering babies, introduced by Joseph Semmelweis (mid-19th century), was considered nonsense and useless by the prevailing medical standard. Semmelweis was in fact tormented and ostracized by his learned peers in the medical community. But, as this simple procedure caught on, infant mortality and death of the mother during childbirth decreased dramatically.
We also get the impression that there is a great deal of knowledge about aging and how the aging process is accelerated or slowed by nutrition. No one, to date, has followed a large group of people from birth to death, provided “superior” nutrition, and published the results. There are certainly problems in conducting such research, not the least of which is defining what “superior nutrition” should be. We do have a general idea of what people should consume, but there is little agreement on how and when foods should be eaten. Let me say this from the start: If you eat balanced meals (carbohydrates–including fruit, meat, and fat at the same time) according the the USDA pyramid, this will affect your health in a negative way. In short, you will die of malnutrition. The USDA pyramid reflects our cultural eating patterns and not what the body necessarily needs. (You can find the new USDA pyramid on the packaging of many manufactured foods.)
A third problem involves economics and politics. Keep in mind that it is the groups in power who create the laws, laws that, for the most part, fit their needs and agendas and not necessarily the needs of those in society who have little power. The following quote is from M. Haskell and L. Yablonsky, Criminology: Crime and Criminality. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1983, page 16:
Politically organized society is based on an interest structure. Each segment of society has its own values, norms, and ideological orientations; when these concerns are considered as important for the existence and welfare of the respective positions, they may be defined as interests. Within these segments, groups of persons may organize to promote their common interests. These groups may be simply called interest groups
The interest structure of politically organized society is characterized by unequal distribution of power and by conflict. Interests are structured according to differences in power and are in conflict. Groups that have the power to gain access to the decision-making process are able to translate their interests into public policy. Law is formulated and administered within the interest structure of a politically organized society. Thus, the content of the law, including the substantive regulations and the procedural rules, represents the interests of segments of society that have the power to shape public policy. By formulating laws, some segments are able to control others to their own advantage. New and shifting demands require new laws. When the interests that underlie a law no longer are relevant to groups in power, the law will be reinterpreted or changed to incorporate the dominant interests.
There are large economic interests in the food we eat and health (actually, illness, because there is little profit in health at least in the pharmaceutical and Western biomedical industries). Out of the huge profits develop power and a political structure that has its own agenda, that is, controlling and distributing power. This is not good or bad; it just is, and it evolves out of our small group nature (we are genetically designed to live in small groups of between 25 to 125 individuals). That is to say, we clump into small groups for mutual support and survival, but this mutual support may be exclusive to a particular group and mind-set or belief system. For example, think about the thousands and thousands of people who die each year (approximately 186,000 with another 659,000 hospitalized!) from taking prescribed medications and hospital procedures (these are called iatrogenic illnesses or illnesses/deaths caused by the medical community–see Rush, J. 1996. Clinical Anthropology. Westport, Conn.:Preager, page 191-192). Compare this to the very, very tiny number of people who suffer negative effects from taking herbs, vitamins, and minerals. Realize that a large portion of herbs, and certainly the vitamins and minerals, have been scientifically proven to be not only health generating, but absolutely necessary for life. After thinking about that, wonder why the FDA, with DEA backup, has gone into health food stores at gun point and arrested the owners? This, in my opinion, has not been done in the name of public safety but, instead, in the name of trade restriction, restrictions that benefit special interest groups, that is, Western biomedicine practitioners and the pharmaceutical companies they own.
Now, a question: If the medical industry has not substantially contributed to longevity and health in general, then why does it have an exclusive concession on health and illness? This is like going out to buy a car, and the only car available is the “Roadhugger,” because the owners were able to influences legislation and get the other car manufacturers shut down.
So, what does this have to do with aging and nutrition? Simple. The medical community, because of economics and power, will go in the direction that maximizes profits; this is just good, sound business practice, but it is not necessarily good for your health. Yes, there are many individual physicians who do lean toward alternatives to Western biomedicine, and some of these people have been arrested for practicing “non-traditional” approaches. If those people with the resources and personnel to conduct research are not thinking in terms of prevention and health, research will go in the most profitable direction. From an economic standpoint, that direction has to be toward treating illness and not promoting health, wellbeing, and longevity. This is not a plot; this is not evil. As an anthropologist my position is that this is what can happen in systems where there is free enterprise and where money and power set public (and private) policy. Where, then, do we start to understand aging and nutrition when there is little reliable information to back up any position?
Some of our most important clues come from looking at the remains of our ancient ancestors, especially dentition or teeth. When we compare our dentition to that of the Australopithecines, who existed from approximately 5-2 million years ago, we notice that there are few general differences (see Rush, J. 1997. Aging and Nutrition. Orangevale, CA.:Humanity Publications). To really understand what this means the reader needs to understand the difference between our dentition and that of other animals. The domestic cat will serve as a good example.
Cat dentition has several functions. The canine teeth are designed for grasping and stabbing; human canines are pretty useless for stabbing. Cat molars are also designed for crushing, not grinding, as is the case for human molars. Overall we see human teeth serving to bite off chunks of “food” and then grinding it up, mixing with digestive enzymes in the process. Our teeth, in fact, can be seen as an early Quisinart. The cat’s teeth, on the other hand, are those of a carnivore or meat eater. Carnivores do not grind their food; they gulp and crush.
Now, here is a big jump. Out teeth can likewise tell us a great deal about our digestive system, that is, what kinds of food our ancient ancestors ate. Teeth and the job they perform have to be closely related. So, what did our ancient ancestors eat? A variety of fruits, vegetables, tubers, nuts, insects, and a small amount of meat. Although they ate what nature provided, nature does not usually provide a smorgasbord or all types and categories of food in the same, immediate location. Any of you who have planted a garden know that, if not properly tended, “weeds” will certainly crowd out other plants until they run up against a more aggressive or resilient species. This is what happens in nature; plants grown in clumps, and, yes, some plants tolerate or become synergistic to one another and are thus found in close proximity. However, they are of the same category, that is, carbohydrates. Nuts and legumes can provide fair amounts of protein and some fat. Insects, associated with some plants, can likewise provide protein and well as carbohydrates.
Also, our ancient ancestors (the Australopithecines) were scavengers. They did not plant food, they did not hunt big game, and there is not evidence of food processing beyond chewing. Our dentition, and understanding the foraging behavior of our ancient ancestors, leads us to conclude that we are designed mainly to consume a fruit/vegetarian diet with occasional meat.
Our ancient ancestors were not hunters; they were the hunted. We cannot say when large game hunting entered the behavioral patterns of our ancestors. Recently, archaeologists in Europe unearthed spears, balanced for throwing, that tentatively date to around 400,000 years ago (Science News, March 1, 1997, p. 134; Science News, April 12, 1997, p.222). But certainly there is no evidence for hunting behavior among our Australopithecine ancestors nor for our Homo erectus ancestors of 1.5 million years ago.
Hunting, or carnivore behavior, involves a very different strategy than scavenging and gathering. Without technology it would be very useful to have a physical structure built for game hunting–humans are not so designed. For one thing, game animals do not want to be eaten and are mobile. They have to be stalked or run down, and without onboard offensive and defensive tools (dagger teeth and claws), such adventures would have most surely ended in injury or death to our ancient ancestors. Human hunting behavior has to be associated with a hunting technology, that is, spears, bow and arrow, traps, and so on.
Vegetable foods, on the other hand, are stationary, and many plants want to be eaten as it is part of their reproductive strategy. Ever eat an unripe apple? Did you get a stomachache? The apple is telling you that the seeds are not ripe, and so, “Don’t eat me until I’m ready!” Likewise, most fruits and seedy vegetable material do not want to be processed beyond grinding with the teeth. Cooking apples, for example, denatures the seeds, and other chemicals in the flesh. Keep in mind that humans have grown up with a very intimate relationship to plants and this relationship is called synergistic–we help each other survive. We help them reproduce and they give us calories and life sustaining chemicals that we cannot produce.
Culture often interferes with this intimate and “raw” relationship with plants, and in our case, cultural behaviors have led to poor health.
Our ancient ancestors, then, ate mainly fruits, vegetables, nuts, and so on, and very little meat. Again, food was not processed beyond grinding with teeth or perhaps mashing with a rock. There is no real, hard evidence for the use of fire for cooking until very recent times, nor does the cooking of many foods (including meat) necessarily increase nutritional value (cooking of meat, for example, coagulates the protein and in many cases renders it useless–I will have more to say about some of myths associated with food processing in a future publication, The Holistic Health Practitioner: Clinical Anthropology and the Return to Traditional Medicine, available early 1999).
Nature also told our ancient ancestors how to eat; today culture tells us how to eat, and what culture tells you may, in fact, negatively affect your health. So how did our ancient ancestors eat? Simply put, they ate raw foods, one food-type at a time. They did not eat meat, dense carbohydrates, and fruit at the same setting. Why, you might ask? Because nature does not provide it in that manner. In those ancient times, any cultural rules for eating had to have something in common with nature’s rules and regulations. Nature’s rules for dispensing food is directly related to our digestive system, and our digestive system has changed very little over the past four million years. As the following diagram illustrates, foragers exploit a geographical area, with the extent of that area depending on several factors, that is, the richness of food stuffs, natural barriers, the existence of other tribes, and so on.
As you can see, nature does not provide all your needs in one spot. We are used to going to the local grocery store for our “scavenging” activities, spending little time or immediate energy in the process. Our ancient ancestors had to expend time and energy getting from one food source to another; this created a natural sequencing of food. Our digestive system matches this natural sequencing.
So what does “sequencing mean?” It means that, in order to efficiently digest your food and obtain maximum nutritional benefit, it is necessary to eat only one food type at a time. There are three general food categories as conceptualized by the USDA: fats (animal and vegetable), carbohydrates (fruits and vegetables), and proteins. Moreover, there is no suggestion, by using these foods groups as reference points, that the highly processed or manufactured foods have any nutritional value other than carbohydrates (starch) as an energy source. In other words, the USDA does not distinguish between processed and unprocessed foods (click on “Fractionated Food” in Mall). What nature forced our ancestors to eat was whole foods.
There is another factor that is not thoroughly appreciated in our culture–you do not need protein, you need amino acids. Dense protein, like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and so on, can be a good source of amino acids, but only if they are consumed by themselves and not in the presence of dense carbohydrates. What this means is that, if you are going to eat meat, that is all you eat. You don’t eat it with potato, rice, pasta, bread, or any dense carbohydrates. Now, the reader quickly realizes that our culture demands that you eat meat with the other food groups, and to do otherwise is UN-American. What would that burger be like without the bun and the French fries? What would that steak be like without that baked potato? What would those eggs be like without the bacon and hash browns? These are cultural lifestyles, and it is lifestyle, and mainly diet, that leads you to ill health–most people in this culture, as strange as it may seem, die of malnutrition. Why? Because you cannot efficiently digest dense protein and dense carbohydrates when they are eaten at the same meal.
Most people believe that digestion occurs in the stomach; this is only partially true. Such a belief, however, leads to the thinking that the stomach will simply take care of what you put in there. Now think about this. What are the three most popular over-the-counter remedies? Digestive aides– antacids, laxatives, and Preparation-H (hemorrhoids evolve out of constipation, dehydration, and lack of fiber). Preparation-H is so popular, but such an embarrassment to buy, that grocery stores lose thousands of dollars each year because patrons steal it!
Digestive problems are of epidemic proportions in the country and they go virtually ignored in terms of dealing with cause. Most digestive problems, rather than being corrected, are suppressed with various types of antacids. Look at the commercials on TV. There is even one commercial that tells you to take their product and then you can go out and eat that bad food, that burger and fries! What they don’t tell you is that, by taking the product, you still cannot digest the food–you simply won’t have the discomfort while the garbage is passing through your stomach and intestines!
Eating, then, has devolved into an activity of enjoyment, and this, in itself, is not bad or evil. However, if you want to be healthy eating has to be an activity primarily designed to obtain nutrients for life and health. Enjoyment of food is precisely what the food industry is all about in the country. We do not eat to be healthy; we eat because it feels good, and the FDA and the USDA do little more than act as reflections of this cultural practice. This is certainly an interesting cultural phenomenon, but, besides being interesting, our eating habits lead to most of the health problems in this country. Western biomedicine, on the contrary, places most ill health on the shoulders of bad genes and germs, but this is simply not the case.
So why is it that you should sequence your foods and not mix dense proteins with dense carbohydrates? Why is it a health risk to not sequence your foods? A detailed discussion is available in, Aging and Nutrition by Dr. John A. Rush. What, then, does digestion have to do with aging? It works like this.
You are building a house and first you have to pour your foundation. The contractor you hire comes from a family of thieves and the concrete contains too much sand. But you are ignorant of this, trusting him to do the right thing.
Then it is time to do the framing and you hire another contractor. This guy comes with a wonderful reputation, but he hires help who do not put enough nails into the studs, and the contractor, who is having marital difficulties at the time, is currently not paying attention to details.
Then you hire a roofing contractor, and he knows what he is doing. In fact, he overbuilds things, so now you have a real heavy, overbuilt roof.
Next, you bring in an electrician, and although he appears to be doing a good job, the electromagnetic fields produced would do Tesla proud. Then you bring in the plumber, then the sheet rockers, and the finishing carpenters, who, like cosmetologists and plastic surgeons, hide everything. It is a beautiful house. You put in beautiful carpets and drapes, expensive furniture, all the wonderful additions.
But, as time goes on, you begin to notices cracks in the walls, and there is creaking in the floors. Water starts to seep in through the weak foundation. . . . You see, if your digestive system is not functioning properly you cannot properly digest your food. This means that you are not getting the right mixture of concrete you need and sufficient nails in the studs, and, although you get adequate rest and exercise, your “house” slowly, as you get older, falls apart.
Certainly no one believes that we are designed to live forever, but improper nutrition and malabsorption weakens the foundation and leads to premature structural failure. How then does one set up a lifestyle for longevity? In a word, prevention. Obama-care, by the way, will not lead to better health care, but, instead, bankrupt the country. We have a president who is blind to the negative consequences of socialized medicine as evidenced in Greece, Spain, England, Ireland, and Canada. Obama-care is more about government control over subjects not citizens.
The following are twelve basic steps: