I get quite a bit of flack on my blog for dismissing currently popular theories on what causes or cures diseases, in particular that certain foods make us sick or that we can eat ourselves well. Food, and the effect it has on our body, just isn’t that simple. For example, we were told for years that saturated fat was bad for us, and then along came coconut oil which despite being a saturated fat actually lowers bad cholesterol and raises good, blowing the saturated fat theory out of the water. And as I’ve mentioned before on my blog, my parents eat an almost identical diet yet my Mum’s cholesterol is high and my Dad’s is low so there’s obviously more at play than simply what they’re putting in their mouths.
When I developed M.E. I was working on a luxury cruise liner and as an officer I ate in the passenger dining room. Breakfast was a smorgasboard of wonderful fresh fruits and my evening meal was fit for a king though I opted for salads much of the time as I didn’t want to gain too much weight. I’m pesco-vegetarian and have never been a big drinker. In addition I was a regular at the on-board gym and spent many of my evenings dancing the night away. I lived as “healthily” as it is possible to do yet I still got sick. My booze guzzling, overweight, smoking, “unhealthy” colleagues did not. How freakin’ unfair is that?!
My Mum has smoked since the age of 14 and hasn’t exercised for as long as I’ve been alive. As a consequence her lungs are fucked, she has had a heart attack and her kidneys are packing up. But despite being an alcoholic for the past 6 years and doing nothing to help her situation, she is nearly 80 and the tumour the doctors found on her lung turned out to be benign. Her sister, on the other hand, never smoked, didn’t drink, walked everywhere as she couldn’t drive and cooked every single thing she ever ate from scratch yet she died from cancer at the age of 78.
My cousin, the eldest daughter of said Aunt, is 60. She met her husband when she was a teenager and they have been blissfully married for 40 years. Neither smoke, rarely drink, are slim, walk daily in the beautiful clean air we have here in the Lake District, her husband is a regular at the gym and my cousin used to teach home economics so is an accomplished cook and like her Mum has always made every item of food from scratch. They own a second home in the South of France so took early retirement in their fifties and now spend 6 months of the year relaxing by the pool in the sunshine. You couldn’t find a couple of who live a happier, healthier lifestyle yet both have cancer. My cousin breast cancer and her husband chronic leukaemia.
In addition, my cousin has zero Vitamin D levels. How can a person who spends 6 months of every year lying in the mediterranean sun have absolutely no vitamin D when current guidelines tell us that spending just 15-30 minutes each day outside will give us all the Vitamin D we need? It’s clearly not quite that simple. Disease, in general, isn’t quite that simple.
My Step-Dad’s Mum moved into sheltered housing at the age of 56, after which she didn’t exercise a day in her life. She weighed 20 stone (300lbs) and had diabetes, yet despite having a regular blood glucose level of 16 (should be under 7) she didn’t really have any problems and ate whatever the hell she liked. She lived until she was 103. 103! And only entered a care home when she was 99.
Much is spoken these days about genes and genetic susceptibility to disease but it’s a very complex area. I came up negative for the genes associated with Dupytrens Contracture, for example, yet already have a Dupytrens nodule in the palm of my left hand. DC affects 4 times as many men as women, yet I am female. When it does affect females it tends to be mild, yet my Mum has severe DC in both hands and has already had three unsuccessful surgeries. It usually affects the right hand, yet I have it in my left. So in my case everything I read about DC has turned out to not apply.
My Mum has Ehlers-Danlos, yet has never had the pain or dislocations from which I suffer. I’d also bet my house on the fact my Brother has the EDS gene yet has never had a single symptom. If we all have the same genetic disease why is one person crippled with it and another not (and why does the crippled person have to always be me?!).
If exercise staves off Dementia why does my Dad, who until 4 months ago walked the fells every week and who has the blood pressure and cholesterol of a 21 year old, have it? If eating broccoli staves off Dementia my Dad should never have developed it – he loves the stuff. If keeping your brain active staves off Dementia why hasn’t it helped my Dad, who regularly does the crossword, has the best long-term memory of anyone I’ve ever met and can work out the maths of a dart board before I’ve even turned my calculator on? My Mum, of course, has slobbed infront of the telly for the past 15 years smoking and drinking yet her brain is still as sharp as a tack.
As far as I can see we are fairly much clueless as to what causes disease. We don’t even know why if you put 3 people in a room with the cold virus 1 won’t develop a cold, 1 will catch the cold and 1 will get pneumonia. If drinking to excess, smoking and not exercising kills you my Mum should have been dead twenty years ago and her sister should have lived another thirty. Smoking destroys collagen so you would think that my Mum’s EDS would be much worse than mine as a non-smoker, yet the opposite is true.
If I were healthy I swear I would just live however the hell I liked. I would drink and eat whatever I fancied. I would exercise if I wanted to and not if I didn’t. It appears to me that health, for the most part, is as much a game of Russian Roulette as anything we do or don’t do. Life is too short to live it denying ourselves pleasure or doing stuff because we think we should, not because we enjoy it (does anyone really enjoying spinning classes or doing 30 crunchies before breakfast?!). Now where did I put the humongous box of Wine Gums Santa so kindly left under my tree……….