Boland column: Our broken health-care system
“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and to bid defiance to the laws of this country.” — Thomas Jefferson
I have just finished an extremely interesting and readable book titled “Whole, Rethinking the Science of Nutrition.” The author, T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., is Cornell University’s professor emeritus of nutritional biochemistry. And he is very dissatisfied with the state of nutritional science today.
He states: “The wealthy and powerful industries that make up our health system have replaced its main goal — human health — with the pursuit of ever-increasing profits. Their money distorts research agendas, media reports on health issues and government policies.” The goal of his book is to explain how this works.
Big medicine, Big Pharma and industry-captured government agencies control all the grant money for medical and nutritional research. And what they want to fund is research that will likely support their development of a profitable product. That means what they call “focused” research, essentially looking to study the effects of one chemical — whether drug or vitamin, enzyme, etc. — on one disease or symptom.
Campbell calls this “reductionist” science and discusses all the evidence that shows this does not correlate with the real world, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
I haven’t room in this column to discuss all the evidence. But some compelling research on the apple will illustrate his point. One Dr. Rui Hai Liu got curious as to exactly why “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” He and his research team began by focusing on the apple’s vitamin C content and its antioxidant effect. They found that half a cup of fresh apples had an antioxidant effect equivalent to 1,500 mg of vitamin C. Yet the apple sample contained only 5.7 mg of vitamin C.
The apple’s vitamin C accounts for less than 1 percent of the fruit’s antioxidant effect. The rest is presumably due to other chemicals in the apple or the possible ability of the vitamin C to be much more effective in the context of the whole apple than it is when consumed in isolated form. Or both might be true.
Dr. Liu’s subsequent research — and much other research — has shown that the list of chemicals in an apple or any food is so long and the evidence that they work together is so strong that it makes the idea of studying single nutrients ridiculous in most cases.
Furthermore, the whole process of nutrition is profoundly wholistic in that the way a body uses a particular nutrient depends on what else is ingested with it, what the body’s condition and needs are at that moment, and other factors, probably many more than we know of.
Here I should mention “The China Study.” This is another book by Dr. Campbell describing a 20-year study conducted in rural China and Taiwan by a partnership of Cornell University, Oxford University and the Chinese Academy of Preventive Medicine. The outcome indicated that all these rural Asians, who ate a diet of whole foods (not commercially processed) and almost entirely plants, were much healthier than Westerners.
Despite their diets consisting of only 10 percent or less protein, the Chinese studied had very low incidence of cancer, heart disease, obesity and diabetes. And they had excellent longevity.
Unfortunately, however, few to no additional wholistic studies have been done to follow up on these findings. After all, there is no way for Big Pharma or the rest of the medical establishment to profit from telling people to eat a diet consisting of whole plant foods as close as possible to their natural state.
So, despite much evidence indicating that diet is a much more important factor in causing cancer and other diseases than anything else, we do not explore this evidence further. Scientists receive grants and corporate funding only for research that will likely produce the next pill, supplement or hospital treatment.
The for-profit medical establishment has gained control of government agencies that decide which basic research projects get funded through campaign contributions and lobbying, In addition, they don’t spend much on their own R&D, despite their claims. They spend much more on promoting their existing products, including, but not limited to, over $60,000 per year for each and every physician in the country.
This is not a health-care system, it’s a corporate profit protection racket.
Mary Boland’s column appears on the second Thursday of each month. She is a retired teacher and journalist, a proud grandmother and a longtime resident of Carbondale.