I don’t pay much attention to politics. All the lies, empty promises, personal attacks, and bureaucracy makes me dizzy, and to be honest, it makes me seriously question human intelligence and intellect. If we were as smart as we think we are, we would surely have found a better way to organize our society, wouldn’t we? We would have less violence, less disease, less pollution, less poverty, less taxes, and less terror. Moreover, our political elections wouldn’t be the farces they are today. With that being said, politics is obviously an important part of life in the 21st century. If you don’t pay any attention to politics, you don’t really know which direction the world is heading.
These days, it’s of course Donald Trump that’s the hottest name in politics – not just in the U.S., but all over the world. Everyone wants to know what Mr. Trump is doing, which is not difficult to find out, given that is a very active and loud-spoken guy – especially on social media. He’s got a lot on his heart, apparently.
Very recently, I visited his Facebook profile, and not surprisingly, there were a lot of new updates there. One of these recent posts caught my attention. According to the post, Trump is now trying to lower drug prices. He wants drugs to become more affordable. In order to achieve this objective, he says he will streamline the Food and Drug Administration and get rid of many drug regulations, which should cause a drop in drug prices and encourage U.S. drug companies to move their production back to America.
We need to address the root causes of illness, not stuff ourselves with more drugs
The first reaction most people probably have when they hear this news is that Trump’s goal is noble one. There can’t be anything wrong with making medicines cheaper, right? Cheaper prices means that more sick people get to afford medicines.
There’s only one problem. The types of health problems and diseases that cause the most suffering in America and other western nations today develop as a result of complex environment-genome interactions. They can’t be cured with a pill or vaccine. Most drugs do nothing about the underlying causes of illness, they merely mask some of the symptoms of disease.
Many of them actually aggravate underlying diseases processes over the long-term, for example by disturbing the microbiome. This is something Trump seems very much unaware of. He seems to be a fan of the pharmaceutical industry. According to him, drug companies have produced extraordinary results for America, whatever that means.
He doesn’t seem to realise that many drugs cause a lot more harm than good. As William Osler, Canadian physician and one of the four founding professors of Johns Hopkins Hospital, once said:
The person who takes medicine must recover twice, once from the disease, and once from the medicine.
– William Osler
The message I’m trying to get across is not that I think all pharmaceuticals are bad or that drugs should remain as expensive as they currently are. Rather, the point I’m trying to make is that Trump (as well as many other politicians) would be wise to shift his focus over from drugs and drug prices to the 10 things I discuss below. If he manages to both address the problems I talk about in this article and lower the prices of some potentially life-saving drugs, then that would obviously be ideal.
10 things that should be on top of the list of priorities of all health-care systems, including the one in the U.S.
I’m not an American, and I don’t have deep knowledge about the American culture. However, I do have a pretty good understanding of what the current public health situation is like in the U.S. I know which diseases and health problems that tax the American health-care system the most, and how the health of the American people has changed over the past centuries.
The public health situation in the U.S. is not that different from what the situation is like in other western nations. Chronic diseases and health disorders such as obesity, the metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and irritable bowel syndrome are on top of the list of public health problems in all industrialized nations.
If Trump doesn’t address the root causes of these types of diseases and health problems, he will continue to lead a sick nation. However, if he’s smart and does take action, the health of the American people will improve. Moreover, given that the United States of America is a superpower that has much influence over the rest of the world, other nations may follow their lead. In other words, a change in American health policy would not only help improve the health of the American people, but probably also the health of many other people here on Earth.
1. Public nutrition
Our modern diet, rich in sugar, refined fat, starch, and salt, is making us fat and sick (1, 2, 3). The consumption of a species-inappropriate, processed diet negatively affects immunity, gut microbiota composition, gene expression, and intestinal barrier function, among other things (1, 2, 3).
A diet that’s designed in accordance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a more prudent diet than the typical western diet; however, it’s not a particularly healthy diet. In order to dramatically bring down the rates of diet-related health disorders such as cardiovascular disease, the metabolic syndrome, and obesity, we need to adjust our modern diet so it more closely resembles the ancestral diets that nurtured our primal forebears and contributed to sculpting the human biology.
2. Microbiome restoration
The microbiome of the modern man is in a sorry state. Unless microbiome restoration becomes a prioritized part of health-care, the prevalence of inflammatory bowel disease, type-1 diabetes, food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other chronic diseases and health problems will continue to increase. A Government-led effort to develop and mass-produce microbiota capsules containing broad spectrums of microbes that are adapted to live in the environment of the human body could dramatically improve public health and reduce health-care spending.
3. Health education
Most people know little or nothing about nutrition, health, and medicine. They wrongfully think that the drug-centric approach to healing that dominates conventional medicine is the best approach, and that the prescription medicines they collect at the pharmacy will address the root causes of their ills. If we are ever going to have a shot at reversing the chronic disease pandemic that exists in our world, we need to start educating people about how their diet and lifestyle choices affect their health.
4. Evolutionary health promotion
More than 150 years ago, Charles Darwin published his seminal book On the Origins of Species. In the time that has passed since then, a large body of evidence supporting Darwin’s theory that all living organisms here on Earth evolve over time, changing in their appearance and physical characteristics, has accumulated (4, 5, 6, 7). The theory of evolution isn’t just supported by a large body of anthropological research, but also by modern genetic studies. Despite the enormity of this evidence, there are still people on this planet who don’t believe that evolution is a real thing. They seem to be under the impression that everything we see here on Earth today was placed here in its present form by some divine force.
We need to get better at educating people, in particular kids, about evolution! Not just because it’s important to know about what came before us and how the world developed into its present form, but also because understanding evolution is vital to understanding health, nutrition, and disease. The evolutionary path on which Homo sapiens has walked is long and distinguished. If we are to understand how we ended up where we are today and why our current public health situation is as it is, we need to examine what happened earlier on our journey.
5. Ecosystem restoration
The human microbiota isn’t the only ecosystem that’s in a sorry state. Far from it. It’s been proven beyond doubt that human activities have damaged many ecosystems here on Earth, including the microbial communities present in the soil we use to produce our food and the complex ecosystems of forests and other natural environments (8, 9, 10).
In our reckless quest for more comfortable lives, more technology, and more industry we’ve not only bulldozered our way over many living organisms, pushing them away and suppressing their existence, but we’ve also altered the configuration of the ecosystems of the world. This is true both for the invisible, microbial part of the world in which we live, as well as the larger, visible part.
These changes affect us more than we think. Our actions have not only caused the extinction of many species and changed the structure of the living world, but they’ve also harmed the vitality of our own species. We’ve lost touch with some organisms that possess genetic capabilities that over evolutionary time have been integrated into our own biology (11. 12). Moreover, we have welcomed certain organisms into our surroundings that have proven to be troublesome houseguests (11. 12).
6. The food production system
Our food production system is a mess. We’re mass-producing food at the expense of ecosystem health and animal welfare. Our activities are not just harming the soil and the climate, but also the plants and animals that eventually end up on our dinner plates.
We humans aren’t the only organisms here on Earth that currently live in an environment that matches poorly with their biology. Many other life forms do as well, in particular those that we humans have domesticated and now use in food production. The plants we grow and the animals we farm are no different from us in that they don’t grow or develop correctly when they are put in an environment that doesn’t agree with their evolved physiology. Moreover, they, like us, get sick and express an evolutionarily novel phenotype. This doesn’t just affect them, but also us, since they eventually end up in our bellies.
Unless we change how we produce food, it’s not just the health of our planet and the health of the plants and animals we’ve domesticated that will continue to decline, but also the health of Homo sapiens.
Humans evolved to move. Physical activity was a natural part of our ancestors’ lives (13, 14, 15). They walked many kilometers most days, carried heavy things back to camp, and performed all the other activities that were required of them to survive in their physically demanding environment. Physical activity is imprinted in our genome. Our genes are evolutionarily programmed to expect activity.
When we stop moving, as we’ve now done, the complex physiological machineries inside our bodies start to malfunction (13, 14, 15). Things stop working as they are supposed to: our arteries clog up with fatty substances, we become weak and tired, and we develop muscular imbalances, back pain, osteoporosis, and bad posture.
Unless we get off our butts and start moving more, we’ll have a hard time combatting the many lifestyle-related diseases that run rampant in our society today, in particular those that are associated with the cardiovascular and muskuloskeletal systems. Public health interventions and campaigns aimed at making people more active will certainly not get everyone to move more; however, they can help push things in the right direction.
Our modern environment is messing with our sleep. Artificial lighting, processed, hyper-stimulating foods, blue-light emitting electronic gadgets, and many other things that are a part of the proximate environment of the modern man and woman can impair sleep quality by affecting our stress levels, hormone production, and mental functioning (16, 17).
This is something a lot of people don’t know. They don’t know that staring at their computer or smart phone before bed will suppress the production of the sleep hormone melatonin; that eating sugary foods before bed will make it harder to fall asleep; or that being physically active is important for achieving good sleep. Moreover, a lot of people don’t know that sleep is critical to health. If they had, they may have prioritized it more.
I suspect that many westerners never experience a truly good night’s sleep. A first step towards changing this is to educate people about sleep; get them to acknowledge the importance of it, as well as inform them of what they can do to sleep better – and longer.
9. Research on evolutionary nutrition/health
Every year, billions of dollars are put into medical research. Unfortunately, very little of that money is put into projects that seek to determine the true origins of disease and/or develop treatments that address the root causes of illness. Rather, most of the money is put into developing new drugs and “cures”, investigating how single nutrients or other compounds interact with the human physiology, and establishing which receptors, genes, and molecular mechanisms that are involved in the pathogenesis of various diseases.
This way of doing things – the paradigm that currently predominates medical science – is fallacious.
The current approach of trying to piece together data derived from many different Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs), systematic review, and meta-analyses in order to establish how different behaviours, products, drugs, and activities affect our health has not gotten us very far, which is not surprising, given that it’s very difficult to put a puzzle together when some of the puzzle pieces don’t seem to fit. As long as scientists continue to operate without an evolutionary guide, health/medical sciences will continue to be a field characterized by confusion and disorder.
It’s time we try something new! We obviously need to keep conducting RCTs and other studies; however, before we set out to do these studies, we should make sure we possess a thorough understanding of human biology and evolution. Without that understanding, we’ll never be able to fully make sense of health/nutrition science.
Homo sapiens is the most destructive species on this planet. We’re not kind to nature. We take a lot more from it than we give back. We tear it down and build a world of our own in its place. Virtually everyone knows that these actions bring about harm to nature; however, what a lot of people don’t know is that they’re also harming us.
Humans evolved to live in nature. We did not evolve to live inside closed buildings. When we sever our link with the natural world, bad things happen: we become more stressed, our immune systems stop functioning properly, we become deficient in vitamin D, and we become more depressed (18, 19, 20). Basically, when we step out of nature and into a manufactured environment, as we’ve done, we lose a part of ourselves – a part that is both wonderful and irreplaceable.
What I’m trying to say here is not that we should move back into the wild. Rather, the point I’m trying to make is that we should try to reconnect with the natural world, bring biodiversity into our homes and office buildings, and perhaps most importantly, be less hostile towards the other organisms we share this planet with. Basically, we need to take better care of the planet, and acknowledge that it isn’t just our planet, it’s also the planet of millions of other organisms, many of which are suffering because we humans haven’t learned the virtue of gentleness and compassion.