Unhealthy situation

Your editorial ‘A sticking plaster won’t do’ raises unanswered questions for engineers about their contribution to our long-term health.

Your editorial ‘A sticking plaster won’t do’ (Comment, 17 September) raises unanswered questions for engineers about their contribution to our long-term health.

In reality, neither the medical profession, medical engineering nor the pharmaceutical industry will fix the root cause of the ailments we increasingly suffer.

The root cause of obesity and modern disease is primarily our diet, not helped by our frenetic lifestyle. Neither will be cured by a pill or by engineering solutions. If everyone knew what to eat (and avoid) we could reverse our poor health, in which case many pharmaceutical and food processing companies would go bust, and we wouldn’t need so much sophisticated hi-tech medical equipment.

But unlike the tobacco industry the effects of the sectors mentioned above are not yet universally recognised. And there is reluctance to solve the problem by tackling the root cause.

And there lies the dilemma. Education that tackled the root causes of our bad health would go directly against huge world-wide financial interests.

For example, one multinational pharmaceutical manufacturer is spending unimaginable sums on governmental lobbying and a global campaign to outlaw many traditional — including ‘natural’ or ‘alternative’ — remedies whose efficacy is proven by long clinical experience, but which have not been scientifically proven by randomised, blinded trials.

Interestingly, nor have 85 per cent of our mainstream medical profession’s cures — aspirin and vaccination for instance. And whereas, according to the BMA, so-called ‘natural’ remedies cause virtually no deaths, pharmaceutical drugs that absorb a large amount of the healthcare budget cause more than 40,000 a year.

The rise of our disabling diseases and obesity can be traced to developments in the food processing, pharmaceutical and agricultural industries. Before the 1950s, obesity was negligible. But since then these industries have radically changed our diet.

This is due to a relatively small number of changes.

First, our main energy reserve is stored fat, for emergencies such as running from sabre-toothed tigers. But now, consumers are attracted to more and more processed foodstuffs and drinks containing concentrated sugars and grain products.

These, and most vegetables grown below — such as potatoes — as opposed to above the ground produce large amounts of blood sugar. So we produce insulin to store this surplus as fat. But many people are now eating so much of these foods that they can never burn the fat they store, even by regular exercise.

Insulin is the root cause of the obesity epidemic. And the more we produce, the more resistant our cells become to it, leading to type 2 diabetes, where we can’t burn fat, burning our muscles instead. Excessive insulin production contributes to numerous other diseases and is a factor of great and largely unrecognised significance.

Second, our diet also has an imbalance of omega-6 to omega-3 unsaturated fats. Mainly due to processed foods, the ratio can range from 20:1 to 50:1, whereas it should be around 4:1. This imbalance contributes to arthritis, internal inflammatory diseases, heart and circulation problems. And saturated fats cause further trouble.

As well as causing insulin problems, whole grains including flour, bread, cereals and rice, contain phytates that inhibit medical absorption that we need for health, such as for maintaining bone density. Excess can also lead to long-term intestinal problems.

Another example of how we are causing problems for ourselves is in the excessive consumption of some animal proteins, which can lead to some cancers, bone decalcification …and so on.

It is curious that the more we spend on healthcare, the worse our health becomes. In other words, the spending is not tackling the problems’ root causes. So for the present, self-education is the only way to take responsibility for our own health.

Unless the industries that contribute to the root causes can be made to understand, it is our only solution. Because neither a pill nor better sticking plaster provide the answer because neither address the root cause.

Dr CB Mynott, Northampton