Biology

Think Tank

It's Time to Upgrade Your Biological Software

We are in the midst of the single biggest global epidemic of chronic disease in the history of human species. We will spend 47 trillion dollars over the next 20 years dealing with it. 90 percent of people who have it are not diagnosed, and in America alone it affects one half of the population. This chronic disease is "diabesity," and it is preventable. 

So argues Dr. Mark Hyman in a provocative new book called The Blood Sugar Solution: The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now! Solution is a key word in the title, as Hyman lays out 10 clear, actionable steps that will allow people to "occupy health care" and take control of their own health. Hyman calls this approach functional medicine, as in the opposite of dysfunctional medicine. He tells Big Think functional medicine is "a new way of thinking about solving the problem of chronic illness." Functional medicine looks at the body as "a system" rather than "a collection of different parts."

Hyman says this approach will fundamentally impact our understanding of health or disease. How significant is this shift in medicine? Hyman tells Big Think:

We’re witnessing a paradigm shift that's equal to that of Galileo saying that the Earth was not the center of the Universe or Columbus saying that the world was round not flat or Darwin saying that species evolved instead of being fixed entities.

In the coming weeks we will be featuring videos from Hyman's recent interview with Big Think. By way of introduction, this post will focus on one of the most basic things Hyman says you can do to be more healthy: eat real food. 

That seems like simple enough advice, but there is a huge sector of the U.S. economy -- a loose conspiracy, as Hyman calls it -- that is set up to thwart your efforts to be healthy because it is more profitable for this industry if you are fat and unhealthy. 

Hyman points out that while the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends $100 million fighting childhood obesity in this country, the food industry spends that in four days to promote junk food and processed food. In fact, the worse the food is for you, the more the food industry spends to promote it. 

Spend they can, and spend they do. Hyman tells Big Think:

There is a loosely organized conspiracy to promote disease and obesity. By default or by design, one-third of our economy profits from people being sick and fat, so Big Food, which is industrial food, Big Farming, which is agribusiness, and Big Pharma all profit from making people sicker and fatter. 

That is why Hyman says most of what is consumed in America today is not really food. "It’s factory-made science projects" that Hyman says may resemble food, "but are actually Frankenfood."

So why do we consume it? Marketing is one reason we've already cited. But consider another one. Emerging science has shown that our food addiction is worse than that of cocaine and heroin addicts. In fact, its not even up for debate. "When you take a rat and you put him in a cage," Hyman points out, "if the rats can have cocaine or sugar, they always go after the sugar." 

In other words, this addiction is a biological phenomenon. It's not about willpower, and you should not be going to therapy to solve the problem. So how can you be a healthier consumer? Eat real food. To put it another way: would your grandmother recognize what you eat as food? Would your grandmother eat a Lunchable or a Go-Gurt or pink slime? Of course not. Why should you?

In The Blood Sugar Solution, Hyman argues that food should be used as medicine. You can cut your food addiction "by changing the information going in your body and upgrading your biological software." In other words, "what you put on the end of your fork is more powerful than anything you’ll ever find at the bottom of a prescription bottle."

If you want to get started this weekend, Hyman recommends you should put real food in your kitchen and spend more time in your kitchen. "Most Americans spend more time watching cooking on television than cooking," he says. "Most children grow up today in America not knowing how to cook.  We’re disenfranchising them from the very skills they need to create health for themselves. How can we create a generation of thoughtful, healthy citizens by feeding our children things we know are poisonous and are going to kill them?" 

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

Follow Daniel Honan on Twitter: @DanielHonan

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