Saturday, May 9, 2009

Fixing Health Care the Right Way

h care the right way

Terry L. Wahls
Guest Opinion

As an internal medicine physician, I see it every day. Americans have serious chronic diseases and younger and younger ages. In our schools, we have ever higher rates of autism, severe behavior problems, obesity and pre-diabetes. The productivity of the American worker is falling because of declining worker health. Despite all the money spent on health care, we, and our children, are progressively less well. How did we get this way?

I think the explanation can be found in the corn fields of Iowa.

When you buy seed corn, all the kernels have essentially the same DNA -- this is the way farmers know what kind of crop to expect in the fall. Plant half of the bag of seed corn in black Iowa soil and the other half in a trash heap of clay, plastic debris and rock. Return in the fall. The black dirt corn will have a bumper crop. But the trash heap corn will be yellowed and sickly with no ears of corn at all. The same DNA was in both fields, but the black Iowa dirt was filled with the nutrients the corn's DNA needed. The trash heap lacked nutrients, and you can see the results.

All moving things, including our bodies, break down with time. Fortunately, our bodies have tiny little maintenance workers who are busy repairing all the little wear-and-tear damage that occurs each day. Our DNA provides the blueprint for all the proteins and other stuff that needs to be replaced. But if those little maintenance workers don't have all the building blocks, that is, the correct minerals, amino acids and omega 3 fatty acids, trouble happens. They can't make things according to the DNA blueprints. Those replacement molecules and structures get made not at all, or incorrectly, and we begin to deteriorate, developing chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, arthritis, mood disorders and many others.

Thousands of years ago, our ancestors ate what they could find or catch -- mostly green leaves, fruit and some fish or meat. It was packed with the vitamins, minerals and omega 3 fatty acids that cells need to follow the DNA blueprint instructions. Each day, they easily ate nine cups of vegetables and fruit.

The standard American diet is very poor by comparison. Our children drink sugared beverages throughout the day. Rarely do they eat even one cup of vegetables or fruit with a meal. The adults do no better. Most Americans do not have the necessary building blocks to make the structures outlined by their DNA. Molecules don't get made, or they get made incorrectly. As a result our society gradually becomes stunted and sickly, filled with chronic diseases, just like the corn planted in the trash heap.

It will not matter how many trillions of dollars we spend on health care. The solution to our crushing health care costs is not free medicines or universal health care. It is better health and greater vitality. Unless we teach our nation, especially our children, the critical importance of vegetables and fruit to health and vitality, we as a nation are doomed to become more and more sickly and diseased.

Having America's athletic heroes, pop stars and politicians all proclaiming that eating six to nine cups of non-starchy vegetables and fruit each day is necessary to be cool, sexy, healthy and fully alive would be a powerful beginning to restoring America's health. If we don't collectively begin eating our spinach and kale, no matter how many trillions we spend, we as a nation will continue to be ever more sickly and diseased.

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