Saturday, September 11, 2010

You're not the cure, you're the disease

I recently shared a post in Google Reader called "Something's Wrong":
Most people, confronted with a problem they can’t solve, say “We just have to live with it,” and very rapidly gloss into “It’s not really a problem.” Aging is often painful and debilitating and ends in death. Almost everyone has decided it’s not really a problem – simply because it has no known solution. But we also used to think that senile dementia and toothlessness were “just part of getting old.”
Allen commented: "I don't really agree that it is difficult to call attention to problems." But the point isn't that problems aren't identified enough, it's that just because there is no obvious solution to a problem doesn't mean it isn't a problem. In other words, problems are too often dismissed as the norm.

I experienced this when I started feeling sick all the time. I went to several doctors, including hot young GI specialists, who all listened to my story and my symptoms and told me, "It sounds like IBS. There's not much you can do about it. Try eating more fiber." They acted like because my problem was common (feeling sick to my stomach every time I ate), it wasn't really a problem, as in something that might have a solution, rather just something to get used to. There turned out to be a very definite solution. I stopped eating gluten and felt roughly ten times better.

I think there are a lot of "problems of affluence" we tend to assume are just the way it goes. More primitive cultures often lack problems we assume are common to all humans, like acne and tooth decay (which we address with cures of affluence like fancy face washes and medications). There are cultures that get up to half of their calories from saturated fat and have no incidence of heart disease. We're quick to blame "genetics," but why not our fucking lifestyles?

44 comments:

  1. thing is, i like our lifestyle. sure, bacon might not be healthy, but the fact that it tastes so damn good justifies the risk of heart disease.

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  2. Dude, the point is bacon DOESN'T cause heart disease. Go back and read what I read about saturated fat.

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  3. Or rather the thing that is typically considered the enemy in bacon (saturated fat) doesn't actually correlate with heart disease.

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  4. i don't know what that means about saturated fat.

    i don't see how acne is a "problem of affluence". don't poor and rich people both get that? it's not caused by anything external, i don't think. i mean i have it, and i don't think my level of affluence, or lack of, has anything to do with it...

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  5. I mean because we're an affluent nation. I'm not making distinctions between the poor and the rich in our country. I'm talking about stuff that everybody in America does (like eat processed food) that less developed nations don't.

    What do you think is bad about bacon if not the saturated fat?

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  6. but i still don't see what that has to do with acne... what causes acne? i know that it's a myth that it's caused by certain foods, so...

    with bacon, i don't think it's bad, other people do. i'm just saying i'm not a scientist so i don't know about this saturated/nonsatured business.

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  7. I'm not sure why people think there's no link between diet and acne. I'm pretty sure there's no real evidence that they're not connected.

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  8. Scientists don't know either, that's the point. There's just as much evidence that sat fat is good for you as the other way around. Same with salt. It's inconclusive, but people act like it's conclusive.

    And the connection between diet and acne -- that's one of those myths that's probably not a myth. I mean I don't think *chocolate* causes acne, but that doesn't mean the Western diet in general doesn't contribute.

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  9. "Although the causes of adult acne are unknown, possible causes include hormones, cosmetics, stress, and an increase of resistant bacteria."

    either way, i'll take the western diet over any other any day of the week.

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  10. Also a lot of people have found that products meant to help acne (face washes etc.) actually make it worse. Like I've heard a lot of stories about people who stopped washing their face and stopped breaking out. Or started washing their face when they didn't before, and started breaking out.

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  11. I'm not trying to talk you out of your Western diet/lifestyle personally. But there may be other people in the world who don't want acne/a stroke/debilitating abdominal pain and have been told they just need to deal. That's what annoys me.

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  12. i took a pill for acne that made me turn purple like the girl in willy wonka. it burned too. that was my last attempted treatment for acne, about 15 years ago.

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  13. Was it Acutane? That shit sounds like bad news.

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  14. well, the west still has the highest life expectancies in the world, so i'm okay with that.

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  15. i don't remember what it was. the pill was the same color that it turned my skin.

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  16. Really? Seems the oldest person is usually Japanese or Chinese. Sometimes Norweigan. Seems like the Japanese have the living thing down pretty well.

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  17. was just looking at this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Life_Expectancy_2008_Estimates_CIA_World_Factbook.svg

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  18. let's try again:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_expectancy#Regional_variations

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  19. that didn't work either. trust me, it's on wikipedia;)

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  20. According to that map Japan is in the over 80 zone.

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  21. good for them! but aside from them, europe and north america are indeed the place to be. (i hope europe still counts as "the west", right?)

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  22. Did you see this story in the NYT last month about all the longevity/pension fraud in Japan? http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/world/asia/15japan.html

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  23. Wow, people. Remember when "hope" was in vogue?

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  24. For the record, I think that you're "right" and telling people to "deal with" problems that could be quite fixable is bad news. I just thought that story was good in a myth debunking plus morbid and creepy kinda way.

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  25. It's an interesting story, but I don't know if I'd go so far as to say it's a myth that Japanese people live a long time. It only takes some isolated incidences to make "news."

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  26. I'm not saying that Japanese people don't mostly live a long time. It was just an interesting story!

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  27. Oh, I know. I'm just despondent that none of the comments here were positive, since this is sort of important to me. Your comment was neutral, but in context seemed like a downer. If that makes sense.

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  28. It makes total sense. Do not despond! This is a good post and a good point. Being told to "just accept" anything shitty because that's simply "the way it is" is one of my least favorite things, and I like that you call it out.

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  29. if someone else argued with this post, i would argue with that person, taking your side completely. i could have left a positive comment, but i don't really leave positive comments much. my version of a positive comment is no comment at all. ideally i would like people to take my silence as tacit agreement. but i realize that doesn't work unless i let them know ahead of time--ideally i would like for people to read my mind.

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  30. It's hard to read your mind when you change it so much! With other people I'm pretty good at it.

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  31. "It's all good."

    Except that expression isn't.

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  32. i like to remain unpredictable. in fact that seems to be my main concern and motivation in everything i say on the internet. being different is more important to me than being right. whenever i find myself agreeing with someone, i get nervous and suddenly want to distance myself. and yet i keep longing for the days when my friends and i agreed on everything. back in high school.

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  33. Except not much is "all good."

    And it's an open question too regarding how much of "all" is good.

    I think one of the things that this post is opening up is the relationship between our American culture of enforced optimism and our American culture of enforced resignation.

    The meeting ground of the two, at this time, finds its most pure expression from those Republican politicians who are telling people (and some people do seem to believe it) that the BP oil spill was an "act of God" and that "some things can't be helped," but also that "God has a (good) plan for us all."

    Which apparently doesn't include health insurance or African American presidents.

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  34. Dear Elisa,
    As someone with a lot of confusing and troublesome health problems (it took me thirty years to get a hereditary bleeding disorder diagnosed, for instance, and I think I told me about the sudden allergy to wheat I developed this year) I often think that we need to take instructions from our own bodies rather than doctors. I mean, doctors sometimes can help, medications sometimes can help, but they can just as often hurt.
    Doing some things that seem cumbersome in a Western society - avoiding wheat, actually trying to get eight hours of sleep per night, avoiding stress - can really make a difference.
    It helps to remember the old adage about doctors - only fifty percent of them graduated in the top fifty percent of their class.
    Some doctor mentioned to me lately that I kept good track of my body and how it was doing. I said, "and it only took me 37 years!"

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  35. @Mark, that seems like an important idea (optimism meets resignation) -- I'll be thinking about that.

    @Villainess, thanks for commenting! I think doctors and medications can definitely hurt. Especially when you get into a situation where you're taking drugs to counteract the side effects of other drugs. Ugs. I think this happens a lot because doctors just don't have time to get to the root cause of every problem; and probably a lot of patients would rather just throw drugs at the issue than spend more time suffering while they attempt to figure out what's causing it. I won't get into matters of who's in bed with who in terms of pharmaceutical companies at the moment...

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  36. Late to the party, as usual . . . I think Mark’s point about the gap between optimism and resignation (neither rational, both coerced) is super-freaking-important, and it points toward even bigger questions about how people use information (or don’t) and how they understand and situate themselves in relation to “reality” (or don’t).

    Mark Fisher’s recent book Capitalist Realism isn’t nearly as good as I hoped it would be, but still does a pretty good job laying some of this stuff out. Many of its best arguments are in the 2005 blog post I just linked to: we know, of course, that power always renders itself invisible by passing its exploitative structures off as “natural” -- therefore inevitable, rather than imposed -- but I think it’s helpful to be reminded of ways in which this keeps being the case.

    Also, speaking of problems of affluence, did you hear that thing on Radiolab awhile back about the dude who thinks allergies are largely caused by a decline in hookworm infestation in the post-industrialized West? Gnarly!

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  37. I don't listen to Radiolab, so I miss all the awesome stuff. Hookworm decline?! Awesome.

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  38. radiolab is part of my npr podcast trifecta, along with this american life and car talk. highly recommended.

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  39. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  40. To be clear, I don't listen to NPR/podcasts period, but if I did, I'd listen to Radiolab.

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