Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Research shows health effects are cumulative, long-term

We're living in a golden age of scientific discovery about the many links between diet, behavior and environment on the one hand and human health on the other.

Scientists often try to and succeed in matching specific individual causes with specific individual effects. But rational minds can detect trends, and deduce best actions to take to protect the health of our families and ourselves.

One of the trends we've noticed lately is that scientists are discovering links between events or behaviors that take place in childhood, affecting health in adulthood. These include:

Children who eat candy every day in childhood are more prone to violence as adults.

Rare, often fatal adult brain cancer may be linked to inactivity in teen years.

Childhood anxiety increases the likelihood of adult obesity.

Childhood social status predicts adult health.

High blood pressure in childhood is associated with hypertension in adulthood.

Reducing salt in teenagers' diets cuts risk of heart disease in adulthood.

Childhood lead exposure associated with criminal behavior in adulthood.

We could go on and on with this. It would be trivial to cite hundreds of links between causes in childhood that create effects in adulthood.

These trends shatter several rarely-vocalized myths about health. The first is that you're either sick, or you're "fine." A typical scenario might go like this: A man visits the doctor for annual checkups. Every year, his heart and blood pressure are below some threshold. But one year, blood pressure or cholesterol or both appear in the danger zone. The doctor pronounces an official diagnosis, and prescribes a remedy, which might be a prescription combined with minimal advice about eating less fat and exercising more.

The problem with this scenario is that the conditions leading up to cardiovascular disease have been present for decades -- probably unhealthy diet and inadequate exercise.

The second myth is that if something causes no harm in the short term, that means it's "not bad for you." People say things like, "a burger and fries once in a while isn't going to kill you." Or "pesticides on produce won't hurt you."

What's actually happening is that our time horizon for cause and effect is growing longer. A century ago, you could take sip of something, and if you didn't drop dead on the spot, the liquid would be pronounced "safe." This short-term view of toxicity and ill health lead to the universe of food additives and processed foods that cause our overwhelming health crisis.

Very slowly and gradually, we're widening that time horizon. Now we're realizing that the junk food kids eat causes obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a world of problems, even if no symptoms show up until adulthood.

Broadly speaking, it appears that bad health can result from decades of unhealthy foods and behaviors in totally unpredictable combinations. In fact, it's reasonable to assume that a lifelong combination of environmental pollution; toxic household materials and cleaners; chemicals from plastic beverage containers; domesticated animal meat treated with hormones and drugs; processed foods; produce pesticides; excess fat, sugar and salt; and many other factors conspire to compromise our immune systems and expose us to a wide range of unpredictable health problems.

That's what the Spartan Diet is: Avoiding all of it for maximum health, total fitness, strength, vitality, energy and longevity.