THERE IS NOT A SHADOW of a doubt in my mind that medical science has in the past neglected nutrition to the point of disaster. Whereas, to the contrary , nutritional science should be woven into the warp and woof of all medical training.
Modern nutrition had its beginnings coincidental with the discovery of vitamins which, in the human realm, have been associated with the prevention and cure of diseases. Vitamin A prevented or cured night-blindness; vitamin Bl prevented or cured beriberi; vitamin C prevented or cured scurvy; niacinamide prevented or cured pellagra; under appropriate conditions vitamin D prevented or cured rickets. More recently folic acid prevents or cures macrocytic anemia, and vitamin Bl2 prevents or cures pernicious anemia.
These findings have been accepted by medical men who have tended to conclude, “Well and good; we can now control these diseases, and have little further interest in these vitamins or in other nutritional factors that do not cure diseases.”
Nutrition and Total Environment
HOWEVER, WE NEED TO SEE nutritional science in an entirely different light and in far truer perspective. Think first of all of the environmental factors of the physical universe around us that impinge on our lives: the heat and light we get from the sun, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and, finally, the food we eat.
These environmental factors all contribute to and become apart of the internal environment which bathes all the functioning living cells in our bodies. Unless this environment is continuously supplied to these cells and tissues, they cannot maintain themselves and their health.
The cells and tissues of our bodies, like all other cells, may be furnished environments of widely varying quality with a hundred gradations between very poor and excellent. If the environment is poor, then cells and tissues limp along as best they can; when the environment is improved, the limp may disappear . In my book The Environmental Prevention of Disease I have established as a reasonable thesis that the principal cause of non-infective disease is the poor environments we habitually furnish our cells and tissues. This proposal is based upon the far-reaching observation that throughout the entire biological world cells commonly live under conditions of suboptimal nutrition, and hence are always ready to respond to an improved environment. Yeast cells growing in a fruit juice may be thought of as being well-nourished until we recognize that if the yeast cells in a half ounce cake of compressed yeast were to be furnished an excellent environment for one week, the generated yeast cells would weigh over a billion tons! Corn growing in a field may produce as little as 2 to 4 bushels per acre; yet with improved fertilization and water supply, the yield may be 5, 10, 20 or 40 times this high. In fact the yield would be incredibly large if everything in the environment—fertilization, soil, water, sunlight, temperature, carbon dioxide—were all maintained at the most suitable levels. The cellular environments which we must support by food consumption are exceedingly complicated, for we must take in, as we eat, approximately 40 different nutrients, all in about the right proportions. These include a series of amino acids, minerals and vitamins. Nature is on our side; otherwise getting the essential nutrients would be an impossible task. A wonderful unity exists in all living things; the very same building blocks which are used to build “the metabolic machinery in the cells of human bodies are also present in the cellular machinery in the tissues of plants or animals. When we consume green plants, mushrooms, oysters, fish or meat, we automatically get some of everything we need. If we eat a reasonable variety of such foods, we will be nourished at least passably well. On a functional basis, the constituents of food we eat (aside from water) may be placed in three groups: I) fuel, 2) roughage, and 3) material needed to build and maintain our metabolic machinery.
Our bodies are not highly restrictive with respect to fuel requirements; they can use many assortments of carbohydrate, fat or protein and derive energy from each. Without the metabolic machinery to transform this fuel, however, our bodies cannot function. In other words, calories are useful only if they can be metabolized.
Let us look carefully at just what nature does for us. Are there limitations? Or does nature spoonfeed us with the best possible of all foods?
The answers to these questions become clear when we look at different aspects of our environment. Does nature furnish us with a climate where the temperature day and night is always just right, where the wind always blows at just the right speed, where it rains only when rain is needed and the sunlight is always bright enough but never too bright? Obviously not. We move about, use clothing, shade, shelter, heat, light, ventilation and cooling, and in various ways adjust to the environment in which we find ourselves.
Nature handles our food environment in the same way. Suitable food is to be had, but we must exert ourselves; we must select it; we must search it out, procure it, prepare it and store it as best we can. Nature does not furnish us ready-made exactly what is best for us. No single plant or animal food gives us anything like an ideal assortment. In order to better this situation we must diversify our food selection, and the more wisely we diversify, the better results we get.
Misuse of Biological Energy Storehouses
A SERIOUS MISTAKE HAS BEEN made by civilized man in that he has misused the storehouses of energy which plants and animals have built—these are mainly in the form of sugars, starches, fats and oils which should not be designated as foods; they are merely energy sources. In order to function as foods, they must be consumed in conjunction with a reasonable assortment of the nutrients which help build and maintain the metabolic systems in our body cells and tissues, namely amino acids (proteins), minerals and vitamins.
We hear it said, “Children need sugar for energy.” This is in a sense true, but for children what is needed most in the nutrition chain is not a source of energy but a source of building material (proteins, minerals and vitamins) for the metabolic systems which must be constructed throughout the body, including those in the brain. Sugar, when consumed as candy, soft drinks, etc., crowds out of a child’s diet the building blocks essential to the construction of a healthy body, and is an enemy of good nutrition.
A striking illustration of how civilized man has misused his environment is his processing of rice and wheat seeds so that energy sources alone are concentrated and used as food. These energy sources (largely starch) have been laid down by the plants so the young seedlings will have something to support their initial growth. But in the “germs” of these seeds is the metabolic machinery containing amino acids, minerals and vitamins which will make it possible for the seedlings to make use of the energy storehouse. These “germs” civilized man has tended to discard, i.e., refine out, because the grains keep better in their absence.
In our industrial society where nutritional science is neglected and food is refined, processed, preserved, stored and marketed on the basis of its taste and appearance, it is very easy ,indeed to consume food which is wholly incapable of supporting a good internal environment for the cells and tissues of our bodies.
I have shown that even “enriched” American bread can hardly be dignified by the term food since even in a short-term experiment it could not support the life and growth of young rats. It was readily and cheaply improved, however, by adding a few other nutrients in minute amounts. On the improved bread the weanling animals lived and grew, on the average, seven times as fast. The additional nutrients used were either not available or were not regarded as crucial 30 years ago.
By training, physicians tend to leave nutrition out in the cold—as a playground for faddists, quacks and charlatans. It is too often assumed that if an individual consumes “groceries,” he automatically gets what he needs. This assumption is about as sophisticated as it would be for an expert on water supply to say, “If water is wet, this is all that can be expected of it.”
One of the reasons for the sad neglect of the cellular environments is their complicated nature and the wide assortment of amino acids, minerals and vitamins required. Fortunately, as we have seen, these needs can be met if we consume the protein, mineral and vitamin rich tissues (not only the starchy, fatty energy stores) of plants and animals.
Another complicating factor which makes nutrition a difficult field (but not any less important) is the fact of biochemical individuality. Lucretius recognized this problem over two thousand years ago: “What is food to one man may be fierce poison to others.” It may be that what we now call allergies was the basis of Lucretius’ statement, but his saying has much wider application.
Our individual body chemistries are distinctive and significantly different from each other. In the field of nutrition this means that since our internal environments are distinctive and different, our nutritional needs, quantitatively speaking, are different.
It is now known that individuals who otherwise are regarded as normal have widely differing needs for calcium, for several amino acids and for vitamins. Since these needs often vary 5-fold or even more, this is not a trifling problem. Recognition of the facts of individuality as they apply to human nutrition makes it possible for us to understand why, for example, some individuals seem to eat carelessly and still thrive, while others who seemingly eat more wisely do not.
In our work with experimental animals we find overwhelming evidence of this concept; some are able to thrive and develop on relatively poor diets, while others succumb. In the previously-mentioned experiment involving 64 rats of 4 different strains, the male weanlings were all given “enriched” white bread as a sole article of diet. One rat lived only 6 days and gained only 2 grams in weight. This is about 1/20th of what he would have gained had he been well-fed. At the other extreme one rat lived 144 days on this very poor diet and gained 212 grams in weight. The other rats were intermediate in their performance. We repeated the experiment using 58 male weanling mice of four different strains. In this case the poorest performer lived only 3 days and gained no weight, while the best performer lived throughout the whole experiment (147 days) and gained 22 grams.
It becomes evident that cellular environments are distinctive for each of us. That the corresponding tissues of different individuals do not respond alike to the same environment is shown, for example, by the investigations of Kuo and coworkers at the University of Pennsylvania who found that the adipose tissue of some individuals incorporates the carbon from fructose to produce fat 7-8 times as rapidly as the adipose tissue of others.
Such wide variations certainly do not make our scientific work easier, but the scheme of nature was not designed for the convenience of scientists. If we interpret these laboratory findings in a common sense manner, we arrive at the conclusion that some youngsters, because of their distinctive biochemical makeup, may remain relatively healthy and develop satisfactorily even if their diets are poor, or mediocre by ordinary standards, but that other biochemically distinctive youngsters on the same poor or mediocre diet will experience retarded development. The question is, “Do we want to run the risk of giving our children poor diets in the hope that these particular distinctive children will thrive even if the diet is poor?”
Nutrition and Disease Prevention
ABOUT 23 YEARS AGO MY colleagues and I published an article on “genetotrophic disease” which has long been neglected. The essential idea is this: Many diseases probably have hereditary roots; they arise in certain individuals because these individuals have unusual nutritional needs that are not easily met by the diets that are commonly consumed.
It is my idea that those who are peculiarly susceptible to heart disease, to arthritis, to obesity, to tooth decay, to underdevelopment or retardation, to mental disease, to alcoholism, to cancer and to such infectious diseases as tuberculosis, may possess these susceptibilities because of unusual nutritional demands that are not easily met. It is a striking fact that there are some particular individuals who are strongly prone to contract each of these diseases. For each disease, on the other hand, there are individuals who are strongly resistant.
Thus it appears that if we can make each environment suitable for each individual, the chances that health will be maintained will be greatly improved. Vast opportunities exist for doing so once the techniques are developed. The techniques are by no means always simple, but they are not impossible, especially with the aid of automated analytical equipment and high speed computers.
In the study of individual needs, “average daily requirements” largely lose their significance. Individuality as such must be studied; it cannot be swept under the rug.
The prevention of disease demands inevitably a team approach involving nutrients, which is in strong contrast to the “magic bullet” approach involving the use of a medicine. A medicine enters into metabolic machinery and interferes with the coordinated processes. In case parasitic organisms are affected, they are hopefully damaged; if the tissues of the host are affected, hopefully it is in some beneficial way. A nutrient on the other hand acts constructively to furnish raw material for building or strengthening metabolic machinery. If a medicine were to act constructively, it would cease to be a medicine; it would be a nutrient.
The team approach is the one organisms have always used since life began on earth millions of years ago. Organisms, whether microbes, plants, animals or human beings, have always and must always get their nutrients simultaneously. If we eat calcium on Monday, tryptophane on Tuesday, riboflavin on Wednesday, etc., it won’t work. Before we get all the nutrients we will be dead. We must get the whole team simultaneously so they can work together.
The whole internal environment that bathes all our cells and tissues and sustains their life and health requires attention, and this cannot be done in a piecemeal fashion. Individual vitamins, minerals or amino acids are not medicines designed to cure particular diseases. They are lifegiving nutritional elements which, when working together as a team, make life and health possible. If one particular vitamin appears to act like a medicine, it is because the patient concerned has been consuming food containing an assortment of nutrients which is conspicuously lacking in that one vitamin. The whole metabolic machinery of the ailing individual is bolstered up by strengthening a weak link in the many-linked chain.
Nutrition needs to be of continual concern prenatally and postnatally, and the physicians are those who should know best how to advise and help. When nutritional science is accepted as a legitimate child, and its parent, medical science, fosters its development, physicians will be the expert, and we can look for disease prevention on a scale which can now only be imagined.