One of the most frequent questions I hear when I lecture on nutrition is: "If our nutrition is so bad, why are we living longer than ever before?" This is a good question, and a little examination will provide us with a bit of insight. Yes, we are living longer in terms of median survival, but we are not living healthier. Our nursing homes are filled with an alarming number of decrepit, sick, disoriented, demented, and crippled elderly. Most health experts have lamented that all of the degenerative diseases have been increasing in incidence, but even more alarming, they are occurring at a younger age. This is especially so with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's dementia, Parkinson's disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as ALS and Lou Gehrig's disease).
In my practice over the past twenty-six years, I have been amazed at people's poor health, usually beginning during early middle age. For example, I am seeing more forty- and fifty-year-olds suffering from significant difficulties with memory. They are wracked with arthritis, cataracts, macular degeneration, detached retinas, bursitis, tendonitis, hypertension, diabetes, asthma, chronic lung disease, kidney failure, heart disease, poor circulation, vertigo, digestive problems, poor hearing, aching muscles, fatigue, and poor immunity. In essence, they are in terrible shape, with many just barely hanging on.
The reason they are living longer, statistically, is that the medical profession is keeping people alive by using powerful medications, electronic gadgets, and surgery; that is, we won't let them die. Before the age of antibiotics, not so long ago, most deaths were due to infectious diseases, especially pneumonia. With the advent of powerful antibiotics that can kill virtually any bacterial organism, people have begun to live longer in larger numbers, and today we have a significant population of people living into their eighties and nineties. At the same time we now are seeing a virtual explosion of new, more resistant bacteria that continues to climb unabated. „
Over the last thirty years, with the widespread intervention of cardiovascular surgery, we have also favorably impacted this country's number one killer, heart disease; which is not to say that we have reduced the problem of cardiovascular disease—far from it—but we have increased the number of people surviving heart attacks and strokes.
In fact, a recent cardiology conference reported that over the past ten years congestive heart disease has increased almost 600 percent. But, we can keep patients alive, often just barely, by using powerful drugs that force the diseased heart muscle to keep pumping.
Insulin, especially the newer recombinant human form, is keeping diabetic patients alive, but it has not reduced the number of diabetes sufferers or the complications associated with diabetes. In fact, the incidence of non-insulin dependent diabetes has increased 600 percent over the last decade and is now occurring even in teenagers in alarming numbers. In the not-
too-distant past, this was a disease of middle age and beyond. Now we have drugs that can keep diabetics struggling through life.
This is not to disparage the tremendous advances we have made in medical science, yet we must face the fact that modern medicine has done little or nothing to prevent disease and lessen its traumatic impact on individuals. Likewise, it has done virtually nothing to improve our overall quality of life in terms of incidence and severity of degenerative diseases. I say "overall" because modern medical science has definitely improved the lives of diabetics, hypertensives, and cardiac patients, in terms of relieving some of their more disabling symptoms. Surgery is safer and less traumatic than ever before. Despite this, over our prolonged lifetime, we are sicker than ever. This simply doesn't have to be.
It is a crime that modern medicine has all but ignored one of the greatest weapons we have against disease—nutrition. Every medical journal, no matter the specialty, contains at least one article on the subject of nutrition. Annually, the peer-reviewed journals contain tens of thousands of articles on nutrition. Incredibly, most of this groundbreaking information is never read and is rarely implemented by the doctors who treat patients on a day-to-day basis. Yet, professors of medicine continue to wax eloquent about how they practice "evidence-based medicine," as if it were separate from nutritional science.
I remember as a neurosurgery resident seeing the neurosurgical intensive care ward filled with unconscious patients receiving only sugar water for nourishment: no vitamins, minerals, or trace elements were ever included in intravenous feedings. If these unfortunate patients didn't recover for several weeks or a month, sugar mixtures remained their only source of nourishment as they wasted away to almost nothing.
This tragic situation started me on a quest to learn more about nutrition, surgery, and the trauma patient. I learned that trauma to the body—even to the head alone—greatly increases the body's metabolic rate. In fact, the metabolic rates of many trauma patients resemble those of long-distance runners. Further study revealed that such stresses to the body cause a very rapid depletion of water-soluble vitamins and many minerals.
So we have patients with enormously high metabolic demands experiencing rapid depletion of nutrients, and we are supplying them only with sugar, water, and sodium chloride (salt)! Here I was in a medical center mecca, in a neurosurgical training program with some of the most famous neurosurgeons in the country, and we were providing medical care bordering on the medieval. That was the beginning of my studies into nutrition and disease.
While this book is about the vital role proper nutrition plays in preventing and treating diseases affecting all parts of the body, one of my main interests is protecting the brain. As a result, much of the book will deal with various ways of protecting the brain from injury and disease. Likewise, as will become obvious, the book will cover more than just nutrition. But first, let us take a quick look at the brain.
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