I heard once again during the Ancestral Health Symposium conference at Harvard that it is important to recognize ones differences. Actually, what is most important to life, health and disease are not the differences but the similarities. It brought to mind an essay that I wrote many years ago.
The Transcendence of Commonality amongst Individuality
Essay by Ron Rosedale M.D. November 21, 2005
Throughout the course of human history, biologic individuality has been emphasized. Many times this has been used for one’s own gain as people would like to think that they are better than the next. Often, this is unfortunate as issues of race are raised. However, this actually speaks more to sameness than differences as the similarities of members of the same race are emphasized when compared to others.
It is especially “politically correct” to speak of biologic individuality when one refers to health and nutrition. How often is it heard, “Everybody is different and therefore each requires their own specific individualized recommendations and treatment”? We hear that “no one diet is good for all since everybody is different”.
However, even though this is spoken, and even emphasized, in practice one pays particular attention to similarities, though not realized. Diseases are sorted into particular categories and treated accordingly. It is determined whether one has diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. In other words, all those “individuals” who have diabetes automatically become similar, and have in common elevated blood sugar, and it is this shared malady of high blood sugar that is treated similarly in all diabetics.
This is very fortunate, for otherwise there would be even more drugs, one or more for every individual on earth. (Conversely, there may be no drugs for it would not be economically feasible to develop them.)
The fact is, people are much more similar than different. Humans share a 98% genomic homology with chimpanzees, and even have at least a 40% homology with worms. Comparing then one human to another, our similarities greatly exceed 99% especially among members of the same sex. The only significant difference lies between the sexes yet even they share much in common. The deeper we look, the more similar we all are.
It is said that everybody has slightly different fingerprints, yet everybody has fingerprints. Everyone has slightly different eye color, yet all intact eyes function similarly and for the same reason in everyone. Though there most certainly are differences, the differences are mostly cosmetic compared to similarities. Humankind’s overwhelming similarities should certainly be kept in mind in the midst of racial turmoil.
It is important, in fact critical to discover commonalities among people with different “diseases”, for this is what may lead to the discovery of the “roots” of disease — the real cause of illness common to all individuals. An example could be given of a simple upper respiratory infection, the common “cold”. This could be manifested by a variety of symptoms, including a stuffy, runny nose, a cough, or perhaps a sinus infection. Though the symptoms may be different, everyone may have taken a breath of the same infected air and received a dose of the same strain of rhinovirus. It is from our individual uniqueness that an underlying common disorder will manifest as different symptoms. Though everyone, with their own physical (and environmental) uniqueness, had the same underlying cause, or “disease” if you will, the manifestations, the symptoms, were different and each patient with their own perceived biologically unique illness, would walk out of a doctor’s office with a different “disease” diagnosis of rhinitis, bronchitis, or sinusitis and therefore each likely received a different treatment. The patient with the runny, stuffy nose likely received a decongestant and perhaps told to take some Tylenol to reduce fever. This treated their “disease” of rhinitis…or did it?
Eons of evolution have taught our mucous membranes to produce more mucus to cleanse itself in case of infection in the hope of washing the offending organisms away. This symptom of a runny nose, called the disease of “rhinitis” by the medical profession, is put there by nature in the hope of combating a more fundamental underlying disease that is in fact made worse by the doctor prescribing a decongestant. Likewise is the treatment for the fever. We get a fever to increase our temperature that increases the rate of the chemistry of our immune system to combat the infection. Taking a medication to reduce our fever most of the time merely reduces our ability to combat the underlying infection. In fact, most of the time treating a symptom rather than the underlying disease undoes what eons of evolution has taught us, and will make the underlying disease worse.
What then is really a disease and what is a symptom? Could it be that other, more serious so-called “diseases” are really symptoms, and could it be that they have more fundamental underlying roots? Could it be that the major “diseases” of mankind such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, osteoporosis, and even Alzheimer’s are really not diseases, and in actuality could they be instead symptoms of a more fundamental underlying root disorder common to all? Could medical “science” be nearly always treating symptoms?
Let’s go back to our example of an upper respiratory infection, but this time let the patient be an inquisitive boy named Brandon who keeps asking the question “why”. The doctor tells Brandon that he “caught a cold”. Brandon states that he was a good boy and wasn’t trying to catch anything. The doctor says that he, Brandon, unknowingly breathed in a cold virus. Brandon asks, “Doesn’t everybody breathe these in?” The doctor thinks and says yes. Then Brandon asks, “Why did I catch the cold, and not someone else?” The doctor states, “Because you aren’t like the others; you are biologically unique.” So Brandon asks, “What was different about me that I would catch the cold and not others around me?” The doctor is not sure, and states that he’s too busy now to answer. But Brandon wants to know, so he sees another doctor and asks “Why did I catch a cold, and not someone else?” This doctor is a bit more informed, or perhaps has more time and answers, “Perhaps your immune system was weakened.” Brandon asks why. The doctor cannot be sure but answers, “Perhaps you are deficient in vitamin C”. He tells Brandon that he needs to take vitamin C supplements. But Brandon asks, “Why me? I eat healthier than most of my friends.” The doctor does not know, and so he refers Brandon to an immune specialist. Brandon asks the specialist, “Why do I need to take extra vitamin C?” Brandon is told that white blood cells, a major part of the immune system, require lots of vitamin C to be able to engulf, to eat, viruses and bacteria, to protect him from infection. Linus Pauling, a Nobel laureate, discovered this. Brandon thinks a little bit, and states, “But I drink two glasses of orange juice daily, and my dad doesn’t drink any, and he didn’t catch this cold. Why?” The doctor answers, “Because you’re different than your dad”. “What’s different that caused me to catch this cold?” Brandon asks. The doctor does not know, so he refers Brandon to a metabolic specialist–me.
Brandon, my son, asks me why he caught this cold. “Brandon”, I say to my son, “you caught this cold because fundamentally your body works like everyone else’s. As you were told by the immunologist, your white blood cells, like everyone else’s, requires vitamin C to be able to function properly and be able to engulf viruses, bacteria, and even cancer cells. Like everyone, it is not how much vitamin C you have, but how the vitamin C is being utilized. Like everybody, the vitamin C must get into the white blood cells to be able to be utilized. Vitamin C is derived from glucose and, in everybody, competes with glucose for entry into the white blood cells. Your cells, being like everybody’s, must listen to insulin to let glucose or vitamin C in (with few exceptions such as nerve cells). If there’s too much glucose around, or if cells cannot “hear” insulin properly, the vitamin C cannot get into the white blood cells sufficiently for them to function properly, and your immune system will be depressed as would anybody else’s. You, as all people, will not need to take as much vitamin C if you eat food that will not raise your blood sugar as much. Your drinking lots of sugary orange juice will both raise your blood sugar and reduce your cell’s ability to listen to insulin, as would happen to anyone who drinks a lot of orange juice, though in some more than others. Though there may be differences in the magnitude of harm that sugar will inflict, be sure that some harm nevertheless will result, and that everybody’s immune system will be depressed when their blood sugar becomes elevated, accelerating infection and also diabetes, obesity, heart disease, osteoporosis, cancer, and all of the diseases of aging, and even aging itself. Drink water, or herbal tea rather than lots of orange juice and reduce other sugary foods and you will, as would anyone, get healthier”.
All people, in fact all life shares the most important similarity of all — life itself. Certainly, one of my endeavors is to endow each and every one of you with a life that is long and healthy, and therefore more apt to be happy. You must, as a foundation of health, each persist in having the common endowment of life. The fundamental cause of death is a lack of life. One of my life’s goals is to determine life’s commonalities rather than its differences.
Everyone suffers from the same basic root of all chronic degenerative diseases of aging… aging itself. It is the common cause, the common root of aging that must be treated in anyone wishing to become healthier. (Here, and elsewhere, what we are really referring to as aging is the damage associated with aging, called senescence. I cannot, nor can anyone, prevent you from becoming a day older tomorrow. What I wish to do is reduce the damage associated with that day.) The science of the biology of aging is revealing, amazingly enough, that aging has common biological roots that appears to pervade nearly all life. It is these virtually identical causes of aging that afflict everybody, that must be treated, and these “root” treatments would be of fundamental importance in allowing anyone, everyone to walk the path of greater health and longevity.
It appears that an individual life may persist as long as it serves nature’s purpose. Nature’s purpose is simple; it wants Life, all life as a whole, to persist. Individual components of Life are less important. For instance, you are a collective of individual lives called cells — a community or republic of cells. If one of your skin cells happens to die, as happens continually, you care not; not as long as the cells can replace themselves enough for the republic to remain “alive” and “healthy”. Our cells are constantly making a decision of whether to maintain themselves, or replace themselves with new, less damaged cells. It is the same decision that we make about whether it is more economically feasible to fix the car, or to ultimately buy a new one. It takes considerable funds, or energy, to do either, and energy must be allocated towards one or the others. That energy allocation, towards reproduction or maintenance and repair, is dictated by the amount and quality of available energy itself, and the amount and kind of energy that is available is signaled by hormones. Hormones are how cells speak to each other to tell them what to do and how to behave for the betterment of the collective whole, the republic of cells — you.
The most important hormones regulate energy, reproduction, and the rate that cells maintain themselves. They do this for you, for everyone, and for all life. In humans, and indeed in all other mammals and most animals, these fundamentally important hormones are insulin and leptin. It is their ability to get their message across to all the cells of the republic that is of fundamental importance in health, disease, aging and death.
The same hormones regulate reproduction, maintenance and repair, health, longevity, and death. This is not a coincidence. It takes lots of energy to make babies. If there is insufficient energy available, reproduction is delayed and energy is allocated towards maintenance and repair, towards preservation so as to be able to reproduce at a future, more opportune time. The major hormones that signal energy availability, the amount of sugar and fat, are insulin and leptin. They turn on or off the genes that signal whether individual cells (insulin) or the republic of cells (leptin) should reproduce or preserve themselves. It should be noted that unrelenting cellular reproduction as signaled for by elevated insulin [or a newer metabolic pathway called mTOR that signals protein availability] may result in what we call cancer. These hormones regulate health, aging, disease and death. This is not just true for Bill. It is true for Sally, for Michael, for Tiffany, for Maia, for Ron, for monkeys, mice, grasshoppers, worms, flies, and even single cell yeast. Hormones that regulate energy are a common denominator for life. We must pay attention to them if we wish to preserve life, and health.
Life lies in the communication of our cells. The parts are less important. Were I to die, the parts would still remain. There would be essentially the same amount of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen calcium, sulfur and phosphorus. Even the vast majority of my individual cells could be kept alive in petri dishes almost indefinitely long after my demise. My life lies not in its parts, but in the ability of those parts to communicate. It is the ability to communicate, that cannot be put into a bottle, that one might call the “life force”. All disease originates from faulty or mis-communication. When one talks about disease, we can paraphrase the famous quote from the movie “Cool Hand Luke” when the warden speaks of the recalcitrant inmate played by Paul Newman when he shoots him, depriving him of life, “What we have here is a failure to communicate”.
Life’s most important messages tell us what to do with energy. They tell us how much sugar or fat is readily available, which to burn, and whether our cells should reproduce or preserve themselves. Just as we lose our hearing from repeated loud noises, so to do cells lose the ability to “hear” hormones if overexposed. The exposure to these vital hormones is determined by our diet and emotions. It is repeated elevations in blood sugar levels with concomitant spikes in insulin and leptin that cause cells to become “deaf” to the critical signals from these hormones. The messages about how to use energy to stay alive become filled with static. How much static might be determined by individual differences, but static to all nevertheless. Burning fat will produce less static. Therefore, a truth for everybody is that health, disease, and longevity will largely be determined by the proportion of fat versus sugar that is burned over a lifetime. That proportion might be determined by individual differences in both genetics and diet, but nevertheless, the more fat that one burns as opposed to sugar, the healthier that individual will become.
(The most critical supplements, therefore, are those that will help burn fat, and otherwise augment insulin and leptin signaling. Individualized supplementation might be necessary to get to that point. For instance, if one has joint pain/arthritis, fear, or mental stress, this raises cortisol and therefore sugar, diminishing one’s ability to burn fat. Giving an individual a supplement to repair cartilage and reduce pain would aid in reducing sugar and increase fat burning that is beneficial to all.)
The republic of cells, you, makes the same decision as your individual cells, whether you realize it or not, of whether to maintain yourself or reproduce. We are certainly familiar with hunger and the drive for sex. Without going into great detail, it is sex that allows for death. It is sex that allows all humans to be different (by mixing up the genetic pool), and also allows for the sameness of fundamental knowledge, the sameness of instructions on how to make life, maintain, and then transmit life through the generations. The individual, temporary carriers of those instructions, you and I, like runners in a relay race handing off the baton, are then allowed the luxury of being able to stop running… to die.
We cannot stop this, however we can delay it. The more we dig deeper, the more we get to the roots of disease, the more we see that our so-called unique biological individuality does not extend to the roots of disease. Here we see that the sameness of life — and death — transcends individuality. The roots of disease are common to us all. Here indeed, what’s good for one is good for all. Cheers… to Life.
© Copyright 2005 – 2012