Can Human Nature Be Bad For Your Health?
I'm going to preface this article with a note: This piece deals with some negative aspects of human nature, but since they are a reality, and since your body exists in the same reality, and being that I'm a big advocate of looking at things on balance, and because there's a natural tendency to focus on the positive (especially in the health improvement community), there needs to be some balanced reporting on the issue of health restoration and maintenance. So this isn't an "it's all good" article, because, quite frankly, it's not all good. And if you want the best health your DNA is capable of giving you, you need to keep up with the downsides of human nature as it can affect one of your most valuable commodities: your health.
When we discuss the various factors than can adversely affect your health, you'll often hear about air pollution, nutritionally compromised soil quality, toxins in your drinking and shower water, and pesticides on foods. And there are even some psychological factors that can affect your physiological health, like unmanaged stress, strong negative emotions, and lack of caring and supportive peeps in your life. But there's one item that should probably hold the title of "Number One Contributing Factor to Less than Optimal Health", and that's misinformation. In my over 45 years of research into the causes of both ill health and optimal health, I have found that there is no greater threat to your being able to thrive than incorrect information that you believe to be true.
But what causes misinformation? In a word, humans. So let's explore how this happens.
Incorrect info comes from three basic categories:
Fortunately those in the first category are the exception to the rule. These are the folks who care more about profits than people; the charlatans. And every industry has them. And when "raw foods" went from a fad to a trend to a market and then became an industry (where there was good money to be made), the unethical people appeared. The good news is that I can count them on one hand (and yes, I know who they are). The bad news is that the misinformation they offer gets embraced by lots of people in Category 2.
Once the Category 2 people get a hold of this incorrect info, it then spreads exponentially. And one of the reasons the info is so well accepted is that it is often exactly what the people want to hear. There's a term in business: Give the people what they want. The problem with a business that deals with people's health is that very often what the people want to hear is different from what they need to hear, and what they need to hear won't be as welcome as what they'd rather hear. And both charlatans and those running their health practice as a business know this only too well. But since they care more about profits and/or popularity than people, they have no problem telling the people what sells best.
Category 2 people consist of everyday consumers of information, laypeople, and enthusiastic folks who quickly transition from newbie to layperson to health coach. Nothing wrong with that; we need more of these well-intentioned folks. The problem is what happens when they teach information that they believe to be true, but isn't. And often this misinformation won't result in a fall-off of health for years or even decades. It's not like, "hey, add this stuff to your car's gas tank and you'll get increased gas mileage" and when you do, the car runs like crap, i.e., instant feedback. Health misinfo can be insidious because it can take a long time before you realize that something isn't right.
What compounds the problem is that less-than-accurate health info can actually result in you feeling better, and even in resolving a health issue. To understand how this can happen we need to be aware of the difference between initial improvements and long-term thriving. When someone transitions from a fast-food based diet to, well, just about any other diet, they will experience some health improvements (along with some detox). But if their new diet consists of way less fast food, the addition of fresh fruit for breakfast, large salads, and no more coffee and soda, the eventual improvements will seem huge, but the actual improvement in the odds of never getting a diagnosis of something serious, while it will improve some, it will not be what it could be.
Same for going from a typical Western diet to a 50/50 diet of cooked/raw vegan foods. There's the inevitable initial improvements, but they're very often followed by health issues at some point down the road. The list of these issues is long, but some common complaints are declining dental health, loss of vitality, skin issues, unexplained weight gain, and manifestations of whatever genetic weaknesses a person was born with. If fortified foods were dropped from the diet, and attention wasn't given to making sure to get enough D, B12, and iodine for example, the initial improvements will (not may) later be followed with a decline in health in some respect. And it's not easy to put two-and-two together when this decline can take five years to be noticeable (and by-the-way, the actual decline in health starts way before you notice anything's wrong).
Then there are those folks in Category 3; the ones who didn't know that something they believed to be true was actually incorrect, then found out, but kept on, sharing, and teaching what they had always believed, shared, and taught. And it's those who teach people the health educators who represent the most harm to those who are sincerely looking to attain the best health their body is capable of achieving. Since health practitioners of any kind take an implied oath of "First, do no harm", it behooves of them to peer-to-peer with their colleagues for the purpose of discovering and adhering to the concept of "best practices" so that everyone they teach, counsel, coach, and advise will be given the best, most health-enhancing information available.
It's been said that no one has all the answers, and that's very true, and that's the reason for the peer-to-peer process; no one person needs to have all the answers, but when a group of them do, then they all do. Heck, even medical doctors peer-to-peer (the ones who truly care about their patients; the ones who became doctors for the right reasons). But in the "alternative" health care world there seems to be an aversion to doing the very thing that can result in the best outcomes for those we teach. So while no one person by themselves can have all the answers, all the answers an educator does have should be accurate; meaning, nobody should have any incorrect answers; another reason for the peer-to-peer process.
And here's where human nature "gets in the way"; kind of throwing a monkey wrench, er, human wrench into the works. Some health educators have an arrogant side. There, I said it. Now, you may be tempted to give them a pass on this because they do have some great information and have helped lots of people, but if their arrogance prevents them from revisiting something they've been teaching which now has some "new information" that would suggest that their information is incorrect, and instead they continue to teach what they've always taught, how does that impact the health community? Answer: It has the potential to prevent people from thriving 20 years from now. If you think that's huge, it is! And these educators may seem like they're well-intentioned and caring people, but their personality traits prevent them from doing right by you, the consumer of health information. And that's the bottom line.
This is why it's so important not to follow one person/couple/program. But our desire to want to follow someone we resonate with can color our otherwise good judgment, and we then can become an ardent supporter of someone who is teaching 90% correct information, but that ten percent incorrect info can be the difference between you thriving or merely surviving. And since the difference between those two scenarios can be getting or not getting a life-threatening illness at some point in your life, it's critical that you take a multi-educational approach to your learning journey.
As of this writing, there is no one program that's got 100% correct info. In the future, there may be. In fact, I'd love there to be a project what would include many educators that will yield all the answers that are knowable and all correct ones and we'd all publish a singular book. But the tendency for some vegan educators to be islands unto themselves and to be unwilling to peer-to-peer will make this effort difficult if not impossible. Ah, human nature strikes again.
This article wouldn't be complete without some of the most egregious examples of human nature getting in the way of people having the truth about health restoration and maintenance. And if you recognize anyone who you've put a lot of stock in, you'll have to decide which is more important: you having 100% correct health information, or you going with someone you resonate with (and keep in mind, sometimes that "resonation" is the result of a seemingly sincere, caring individual whose information has helped you to improve your health some). So you can acknowledge that he or she played a role in your learning journey and move on to include some additional information, or you can continue to support this person, and even defend him or her when information arises that would call their practices into question. We're all subject to human nature in this regard too. (And since you are going to make a decision one way or the other, now might be a good time to look at your priorities... just say'n.)
For starters there's the popular notion of
The sad thing here is that this comes from someone who was one of the most popular raw vegan health educators, and since this admittedly lovely notion turns out not to be true in reality, this demonstrates that being popular does not automatically equal being correct. But this person is not the only one promoting this notion. There's also this gem
This sounds like the person knows what they're talking about, doesn't it? But in my considered opinion (because I know this person) this person is trying to sell you something, and needs you to believe that this statement is true. And the "insufficient diet" refers to the Typical Western Diet and does not include a diet of fruit and greens because this person touts the same notion as above, that we can get enough of all the nutrients our bodies require from eating enough organically grown fruit and leafy greens. But this doesn't take into consideration that 1) this has been demonstrated to be untrue, and 2) no empirical evidence exists to support this lovely notion. But if saying that many health issues can indeed be helped by adding something to the diet (to compensate for the nutritionally sub-par fruits and greens most people are buying) would severely affect ones income, this information will not only not be considered, but will be discredited, along with anyone who promotes this information, as this person frequently does.
And even if I'm wrong, and this person honestly believes what he's saying, and really cares about people, wouldn't you think that when presented with contradictory information, a health educator would want to peer-to-peer to see if there was any validity to it? (Remember, first do no harm.) But when no attempt is made to have a rational, dispassionate discussion on this incredibly important issue, and just the opposite takes place, that raises a red flag for me, having been a student of human nature for almost half a century (always with an eye for those personality traits that allow people to take advantage of other people).
And I must include one more
What's clear is that worthwhile nutritional supplements actually do help to resolve issues of ill-health. This has been proven beyond any reasonable doubt, and there are hard-science reasons for it. And it's also clear that it will take a very long time for a person to really know if the way they are living has allowed them to thrive. It's the same as when people say, "Just do whatever works for you"; this is actually not helpful advice because you will not know if something works for you until you know that it worked for you, and you will not know if it worked for you for many, many years; even decades. There have been lots of people who thought they were thriving only to find out they weren't, and if the reason they weren't was because they weren't getting enough of all the nutrients their body required for optimal health and not because of a malabsorption issue what would that say about the wisdom of the above "do whatever works for you" statement. And I'm not saying that everyone's digestive tract is in great shape, but since I know that our fruit and vegetable supply is definitely not in great shape nutrition-wise and that malnutrition can be a factor in malabsorption, saying that most health issues are caused by things other than not enough nutrients in the diet is an irresponsible statement considering what is known.
I should add that I went into this line of work to call out those who knew that dairy products caused ill-health yet publicly proclaimed that dairy products were good for your health, and to "out" all other similar BS. I have a very low tolerance for those who take advantage of people for the sake of profit at the expense of people's health. I also am not fond of those who steadfastly refuse to peer-to-peer even though their profession dictates that they comply with the most basic of health tenets, "Do no harm." So it really frosts my cookies when I come across those health educators who care more about themselves than they do about those they teach. And something tells me that I will be getting even more outspoken about this, not just because people's quality of life is affected by misinformation, but because their lives are at stake. Too dramatic? Well, I guess you have human nature to thank for that.
Don Bennett is an insightful, reality-based author,
and health creation counselor who uses the tools in his toolbox
like logic, common sense, critical thinking, and independent thought
to figure out how to live so you can be optimally healthy. More about
Don's latest book, which is all about misinformation, at http://health101.org/books