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A clue from the cave man

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One of the reasons that medicine is so befuddled about this entire cholesterol business is its insistence upon searching for an isolated area where, dietetically speaking, we've gone wrong

One of the reasons that medicine is so befuddled about this entire cholesterol business is its insistence upon searching for an isolated area where, dietetically speaking, we've gone wrong. In doing so, it blinds itself to a couple of obvious diffe

This subject was recently addressed by nutritional medicine pioneer Dr Stephen Davies in an exhaustive editorial in his Journal of Nutritional Medicine.

He was examining whether the current twentieth century Western diet was adequate to meet the current challenges of our environment. The point he made in great detail was that people haven't changed much over 40,000 years, but, at least here in the West, our diet has.

He quotes Eaton and Konner writing about palaeolithic nutrition in the New England Journal of Medicine (1985): "Even the development of agriculture 10,000 years ago has apparently had a minimal effect on our genes. Certain haemaglobinopathies and retention of intestinal lactase into adulthood are 'recent' genetic evolutionary trends, but few other examples are known."

In other words, the business of food might be modern and industrial, but our stomachs are still in the hunting and gathering stage. At that time, we consumed 21 per cent of our total dietary energy from fats, 34 per cent from protein and 45.7 grams of fibre (with cholesterol intake a whopping 591mg compared to the usual recommendations these days of 300 mg). Today, the average UK male takes in 14.1 per cent of his dietary energy from protein, and 37.6 per cent from fats, with only 390 mg of cholesterol and 24.9g of fibre. By modern day standards, cave men should have been dropping like flies.

But clearly fat is a very small part of the story.One of the results of modern agribusiness with its domestication of animals, birds and fish, says Davies, is a substantial lowering of the consumption of essential fatty acids, which we now know are vital to a healthy immune system. "Intensive livestock farming of pigs and chickens in particular, where the animals are kept indoors in overcrowded conditions, is associated with nutrient deficiencies of these animals," he writes. "Food processing and refining techniques further compromise nutrient content, as do intensive farming techniques which result in soil demineralization. Agrichemicals and other environmental pollutants find their way in to the food chain, and further disrupt the nutrient value of the foods and stress our detoxification. . . mechanisms."

Today's meat business makes liberal use of steroids, antibiotics, tranquillizers and beta blockers. Agrichemicals currently employ pesticides, herbicides, rodenticides, fungicides and nitrate fertilizers. Current food processing refines wheat and sugar, which reduces trace mineral and vitamin content, as do current storage methods, food irradiation, and the addition of some 3,794 food additives, colourings, sweeteners, texture modifiers and preservatives.

What Davies is really saying is that much degenerative illness like coronary heart disease could be, in large part, failure of our bodies to catch up with this virtual revolution in what now constitutes "food".

In other words, the culprit isn't necessarily cholesterol or any one food but every means we now employ to grow, collect, sell and prepare what appears on the table.

Think of the task nutritional medicine has to "correct" the extraordinary demands placed on each of us by the wholesale stripping of vital nutrients from our food and the inclusion of thousands of strange new elements. Maybe its time for government committees to stop scapegoating good food like eggs and look instead at the extraordinary mess we've made of our food supply in the name of "progress".


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