by Bernd Lauber, MD
Diplomat of the American Board of Anesthesiology
The content presented in Peter Greenlaw’s book, The TDOS Syndrome, is, in my view, both visionary and revolutionary. Visionary, because it gives a bird’s eye view of some of the most significant issues threatening our individual health and how those issues interact with each other synergistically. This has repercussions for our society’s ability to survive into the future. Revolutionary, because it approaches our problems with a new perspective that is completely different from any current recommendations about what it takes to remain healthy.
In the US our standard of living is facing some tough challenges. We are on the threshold of a frightening reality. Our population is aging, as the population bulge of the Baby Boom snakes through the life cycle, with 10,000 Boomers retiring every day. Additionally, with the increasing needs of our aging population, personal and financial support will be needed from subsequent generations who will have to provide for this sector through their contributions. The financial burden is daunting. The difficulty arises due to the discrepancy between the large numbers of Boomers versus the smaller populations of the generations that follow. In addition, we are in a frightening escalation of several significant health trends.
Health-care costs have spiraled out of control. The current dialogue in Washington between both political parties is unhealthy. The rhetoric of a “slowdown” of the rate of rise in health-care costs, as projected by the supporters of the Affordable Care Act, completely ignores the fact that, as a population, some of the toughest battles with regard to our health as a nation have only recently begun to be understood.
Our health-care system is focused on treating disease once it manifests. This increases treatment costs. We treat osteoporosis or high blood pressure once they develop. We treat type 2 diabetes with oral medications and only marginally approach “real” lifestyle, diet, and exercise changes. We treat high cholesterol with expensive and not entirely risk-free statin drugs. We address sleep apnea with uncomfortable oxygen masks or surgery. We perform expensive and risky surgeries on our morbidly obese patients.
These examples point to how medicine is practiced in the United States today; it is predominantly reactive. That is, we wait for disease to manifest and then we intervene with pharmaceuticals, surgery, or other procedures. While necessary and not entirely avoidable, it is time that we begin to approach our health, or lack thereof, in a much more proactive, pre-emptive, personal, and individual manner.
Peter Greenlaw’s book highlights four co-factors that, together, are magnifying the downward spiral of our health. The culprits are toxins, nutritional deficiency, overweight, and stress: The TDOS Syndrome.
Toxins: Our bodies face an increasing toxic burden of harmful chemicals that assault us everywhere—in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we consume. We are regularly exposed to a chemical cocktail of roughly 80,000 substances. Only a few have ever been tested regarding their long-term effects on human health. Our understanding of their interactions with our bodies is at best incomplete. A flurry of information is coming to light about the toxicity of some of these chemicals. The picture it paints is potentially grim, a frightening canvas that depicts the future of the human species.
Chemicals like Bisphenol A and the commonly used weed killer Glyphosate, which finds extensive use in modern agricultural practices, are potent endocrine disruptors. The chemicals affect our endocrine system, which functions in close concert with our reproductive system, affecting the hormonal systems and the fertility of our adult population. What is even more frightening is that they can and will have an influence on the immature, developing systems of our children at an early age, when their bodies are most prone to programming errors that will affect them for the rest of their lives. These toxic chemicals potentially threaten our ability to procreate. Such an impact imperils the survival of the human species on this planet.
Nutritional Deficiency: The standard nutritional recommendations from physicians, dieticians, clinical nutritionists, and other health professionals are: consume a well-balanced, diversified diet of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats, with focus on fruits and vegetables and healthy fats and oils. They recommend limiting red meats, processed foods, and simple sugars. It’s challenging to maintain a healthy diet. Meanwhile we are bombarded by well-intended advice, along with sales pitches and distorted opinions and recommendations from special interest groups in our industrialized food production system.
The industrial food industry mass-produces cheap food with a long shelf life to feed an ever-growing global population. In my opinion, the quality of the foods we consume has steadily declined. Little nutrition remains. After reading the following pages in The TDOS Syndrome, you will have a better understanding of this discrepancy.
The paradox: We are a nation that is overfed but sadly undernourished. As the author poignantly observes, “Food will never be enough by itself.” This sentiment certainly rings true for me in my own study of this topic. We need to look at food as not only providing us with needed macronutrients—carbohydrates, fats, and proteins—and thus the calories (just like gasoline that keeps the engine running) but also in terms of the overall content of micronutrients.
Micronutrients are the crucial vitamins, trace minerals, phytonutrients, enzymes, and so on. Today we see the steep decline in micronutrients in our raw food, a century in the making. The unknowing consumer is not informed about the lack of nutrients in our food. The food companies obfuscate these facts and blur the truth to maintain the status quo.
An interesting study published in 2009 illustrates this point. The incidence of multiple micronutrient deficiencies is more prevalent in overweight and obese adults, as well as children. In other words, those dietary habits that lead to excess weight gain also predispose the individual to have nutrient deficiencies! When you add a calorie-reduction diet on top of the micronutrient deficiency and overall nutritional deficiency of raw food products, it is not surprising that typical diets fail. Even focusing on the so-called healthy foods isn’t sufficient. Nutrients are depleted even there. Our bodies simply cannot sustain functioning with a further nutrient shortage.
Another interesting recent study points to a link between weight-loss diets and an actual increase in blood levels of toxins and also between diabetes and blood levels of toxins. This supports the author’s hypothesis that toxicity, nutrient deficiencies, and being overweight are directly interlinked.
Overweight: This poses another huge threat to our society as a whole. As a population, we are growing. I mean that in the literal sense. The percentage of extremely overweight people is at an all-time high. Our children and even our babies are fatter and in worse physical shape than they have ever been.
Where, on the continuum from overweight to obesity, do long-term ill-health effects begin? While it depends on the individual, there is no question that financially devastating chronic diseases appear in those suffering from excess weight problems at a higher incidence.
Some of the common problems that I see nearly every day in my medical practice include heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, gastrointestinal reflux, sleep apnea, cancer, back pain and injuries, inflammatory diseases, and more. These cause tremendous personal hardships for the individuals but also place a huge financial burden on our country.
It will, in my opinion, become absolutely unsustainable and threaten to bankrupt our nation. Current estimates project that the annual expenditures associated with obesity-related diseases will grow from a current $150-170 billion to a projected $500 billion or more by the year 2030!
These are annual costs with the potential to increase exponentially, adding to our national debt. We can try to rein in our costs as much as we want through legislation. Until we get serious about the underlying root cause of these expenses (and our health), we will fail miserably, both as individuals and as a society.
Stress: A favorite buzzword, stress forces us to run from crisis to crisis and to put out one fire after another with little reprieve for refueling and replenishing in between. We all know stress is bad and that we need to avoid it as much as possible. That is easier said than done. While we may have some degree of control over external causes of stress, most of us don’t understand what stress does internally. Many have heard about the links to heart disease, high blood pressure, and anxiety. Many people overeat because of stress. The problem runs much deeper than that.
The factors described above, along with the constant assault of chronic excess stress, which puts our body in a constant defensive and repair mode, creates a vicious vortex of self-perpetuating processes that insidiously accelerate our aging process and make us sicker faster.
We are bombarded with advice on lifestyle, diet, and exercise. Yet, despite all of this information available to us, the sad truth is that most of us will falter and succumb along the road. Mr. Greenlaw has a wonderful ability to break down the problems with a novel perspective and then to reassemble them, showing the interconnections that make sense out of the bigger picture.
The government, well intended as it may be, and our current health-care system, are ill equipped to affect changes at the scale called for.