ati bhojam rogam – “([consuming] too much food is the source of disease)”
Over a generous helping of sprouts and crack-wheat porridge, Smita’s mother informs me of this proclamation of the ancient Ayurvedic texts.
Modern science corroborates the ancient edict. Research on rats showed that by giving them “starvation diet” their life-spans tripled, leading people to replicate similar experiments on themselves with positive health results to date.
My own experience bears this out. Fasting not only cures stomach ailments, but stops allergies and asthma. Going a step further, different foods create tangibly different physical feelings and psychological states that in time snowball towards good or bad health. Too much starch leads me to lethargy, and when unchecked, to depression (a well established gateway to all sorts of other health problems). Spicy food tends to agitate my mind, inhibiting my ability to be peaceful in even neutral circumstances. In challenging moments, that’s a recipe for a lot of stress (which also is another common gateway to many other health problems.) Even the order in which I eat foods has an impact. Eating fruit after or even during a meal that contains high-fat causes gas and bloating while eating fruit first and then the high-fat food digests normally. The examples go on and on. And it leads me to think about how my microcosm translates into World Health.
In college, I left the pre-med track because I recognized that I had little interest in solving the problems of American patients. We’re all dying of lifestyle diseases here. Inability to give up huge portions of unhealthy food (too much sugar, salt, fat, and meat), cigarettes, lack of exercise, and poor attitude is what kills us here. It didn’t seem to be the place of medicine to get in the way of people’s slow suicides, or to take radically expensive measures to extend life by one or two years after people had already disregarded the rules of health. The kind of medicine that energized me was life-saving non-medicine: give someone a few cents of electrolytes to save them from death by dysentery-induced dehydration.
So when I hear about the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding the Top 14 Challenges in health, its both cause for joy and deeper thought.
All human ills arise from some transgression of universal law.
–Swami Sri Yukteswar
Aside from breaking dietary rules to make myself sick, I’ve also allowed greed or anger to drive me to do things that were bad for my psychological health (not that greed and anger themselves are psychologically healthy) and for someone else’s physical health. Most illnesses that are a result of environmental chemical toxicity are rooted in some person’s greedy desire to grow richer at the expense of the environment. Disease etiology for biological/viral agents are similarly rooted in the perversions and stupidities resulting from humanity’s lust, greed, and anger. HIV is ubiquitous and harmless in several species of apes, leading scientist to believe that its origins lie in fluid exchange between human and ape. Continued uncontrolled behavior at “ground zero” for HIV has lead to nearly 20 variants of the HIV virus. Mad cow disease has its origins in the satanic practice of making vegetarian cows into cannibals by feeding them ground up bits of other cows (particularly brain and spinal cord), a practice ultimately rooted in the greed of the businesses that produce beef. SARS comes from Guangdong, China, a veritable manual for how to break some part of that thing Yukteswar calls “universal law”. Wild animals are caged in crowded markets already seeping with human filth and are slaughtered and consumed in the same spaces. A primordial soup of the waste and blood of many species mixes with the traffic of humanity to create ideal conditions for microbes and viruses to jump across species while setting the stage for new global epidemics (inclusive of many new strains of influenza). Avian flu is another species hopper likely to have similar origins. Even things like malaria seem to make the list. Sure its caused by a parasite carried by mosquitos, but where are the guppies and frogs that control the mosquitos and keep people from being infected? Their disappearance too is rooted in some person’s greed if you look deep enough. The list goes on and on, I’m sure.
In this light, solving most of world’s health problems doesn’t lie in spending $500M, but resisting the temptation to accumulate $500M.
If history is a guide, Bill Gates’ money will land into very predictable pockets (35% institutional overhead of research universities; 25% salaries of upper middle class intelligensia; 40% equipment purchases from American corporations; taken a step further, at least a third of the whole pie goes into the coffers of the U.S. government that bleeds a $1B just to kill Iraqi insurgents) without making much of a real difference.
Besides, when there is so much money to be made by so many people for solving poor people’s health problems, who’s really interested in making the problems go away?
(migrated from my original Livejournal post)