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Myths about diet and health (3)

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Myths about diet and health (3)

January 28, 2024, 12:40 PM IST 

Continuing with our discussion about common myths we hold we will examine three more myths today.

Myth: Humans are very similar

It’s been commonly assumed in medical research that all humans are similar, and therefore, findings from a small group can be generalized across the population, aside from racial and socioeconomic variations. Humans are indeed genetically similar, which underpins the belief that clinical studies on one group are applicable to others if they share racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of the recent studies have shattered this myth beyond doubt beginning with Human Genome Project.


Human Genome Project (1990-2003)

This project involved six of the world’s wealthiest countries, including the US, Japan, China, Germany, France, and the UK. The US alone invested 3 billion dollars in the project, which aimed to map an individual’s genome and predict their medical future, similar to a medical horoscope. However, the results revealed a surprising complexity, with human genes outnumbering expectations by a hundredfold. The mystery unraveled when it was discovered that the human body contains about 38 trillion foreign cells, mainly microbes in the colon, outnumbering its own 37 trillion human cells. These microbes, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other organisms, constitute our microbiota, with their genetic material forming our microbiome, significantly influenced by our diet and lifestyle.

Human Microbiome Project (2007 – Present)

To study the effects of bacteria on our health another project was undertaken in 2007 called the Human Microbiome Project. This resulted in a major shift in how we perceive and address health problems. For example we learned that:

1. Identical twins can be as much as 70% apart due to changes in their diet and lifestyle.
2. The same cause can manifest as different symptoms among different people.
3. The same symptoms can stem from different causes in different people.
4. Diagnosing problems based on symptoms is an imperfect science, often with hits and misses.

This new science is creating a whole new field of fecal transplantation. For example studies have shown that a fecal transplantation from a slim mouse into the colon of a fat mouse can make it lose weight easily within months. This is an active frontier in medical science today.Epigenetics was featured on the cover of TIME magazine in January 2010. A helpful way to grasp the distinction between genetics and epigenetics is to think of it in terms of a mobile phone’s hardware and its application software. Essentially, the hardware in all mobile phones is quite similar regardless of the manufacturer. Yet, the phone’s functionality and appearance can vary significantly depending on the software it runs. In a similar vein, while our genetic makeup (like the phone’s hardware) is fundamentally the same, epigenetics (akin to the software) determines how these genes are expressed, leading to notable differences from one individual to another.

American Gut Project (2013-2018)

Another project, the American Gut Project, started in 2013, analyzed gut microbiome data from people from 45 countries. The findings released in 2018 unveiled many surprises. The study divided people into two groups—one consuming 10 or less plant-based foods and the other consuming over 30 different plant food varieties. The study found that the first group suffered from many metabolic diseases and had low immunity, while the second group had few diseases and rarely suffered from viral infections.

Myth: It is all your fault (Overeating and Lack of Exercise)

When we visit a doctor and our first lifestyle disease is diagnosed (generally high Blood Pressure, Blood Sugar, or Cholesterol), the doctors put the blame squarely on us saying “You are eating too much and not exercising enough” commonly referred to as “gluttony and sloth.” The doctors don’t explain why we are doing so; it’s not taught to them in medical colleges.

The reason is simple: we are eating the wrong foods. Ultraprocessed foods are designed for overconsumption by Ph.D.s in psychology. They circumvent our body’s satiation mechanism.

I remember the night Al Gore lost US presidential election to Bush in November 2000, I was in Mumbai and bought a pint of Mumbai’s famous Natural’s custard apple ice cream. The election results were so close and interesting that I finished the whole pint of ice cream without even realizing it. I didn’t achieve the satiation point. My stomach was sick but mind wanted more. This is what is happening to most of us. We are not suicidal and we are not overeating by choice. The food is designed for over consumption. Somebody is profiting from it and got us captive.

Dr. Robert Lustig of University of California, SanFrancisco has dedicated his life to research on this subject on obese children. He has found that when insulin levels are high (from overeating refined carbs), our body conserves energy and is less inclined to engage in physical activity. All these obese kids wanted to do was eat chips, cookies, ice cream and drink Cola and watch TV. They had no interest in playing outdoors. When their food was changed and insulin level reduced by medication, they started going out to play. We must understand that it is not our fault and it is definitely not a character flaw like gluttony and sloth in us as we are told. It is also the same ultra-processed foods (caloric dense nutrient poor) that make us deficient in nutrients. So as you can see the problem is not us the problem is the food.

Myth: The soil is depleted so you need supplements

The food supplements industry is $164 billion in the U.S. alone. There is some validity to the argument that due to damming of rivers and single crop farming, the soil has become depleted of many trace minerals. Plants produced today may not be as rich in nutrients as a century ago, but instead of taking supplements, increasing our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables can overcome these deficiencies.

As it is, our consumption of fresh produce has become a fraction of just two generations ago. So by simply increasing our consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables all deficiencies can be overcome. There is no need for supplements. The only exception is Vitamin B12 which our body made in the presence of a certain bacteria found in soil and ground water. As municipal supplies of water is chlorinated we do not get that bacteria.

One must also understand that supplements can only be made of nutrients we know about but how about the nutrients that are not-yet-known (NYKnowns). They are missing from the supplements and therefore supplements often cause imbalances.

One classic example of this is a study that showed that cardiac patients who were given Beta Carotene supplements died earlier compared to the control group. This was because, (as we now know) there are 750 different carotenoids of which human body needs 50. By supplementing only Beta Carotene (known nutrient) body developed deficiency in other 49 carotenoids (NYKnowns at the time).

In conclusion, eating a diverse variety of plant foods, avoiding processed refined foods, and supplements, and listening to your body’s signals are key to achieving a proper nutrient balance.

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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