Writing for EzineArticles brings me face-to-face with the realisation of how much technology has advanced in my own lifetime – and that’s just so far! I was born in 1961, so I reckon I’m about half way through my life – oh yes, I do intend to become a centenarian!
I remember the dawn of the computer age – before “home computers”; before video games; way before the internet! Specifically I remember, when I was 16 years old, attending a seminar given for all the kids my age in my home town about how computers would revolutionise our lives. We were told we could expect that they would do things so much more quickly and easily that we should expect to never have full time jobs, and that we should plan our careers on the basis that we would have lots of leisure time to fill! Well, part of that vision came true. Computers do things very quickly! BUT what happened to the “very easily” part? AND where is all the leisure time I was supposed to look forward to?
The reality is that because technology enables us to do things more quickly, we simply do more. We pack more work into our lives instead of allowing rest and relaxation to fill the extra time. Life has become more complicated it seems, and we experience more, not less, stress. And stress, we are so often told, is a major contributor to illness: some sources claiming that up to 70% of all illness is in some way related to stress! (Though, in reality, meaningful statistics are still sketchy on this subject there is clear evidence that work-related stress is on the increase.)
In enjoying technology-led pastimes – computer games, social media, online chat – we move our bodies much less than a few decades ago. We are increasingly sedentary. And that, we are told, is a major contributory factor to the rapidly rising incidence of overweight and obesity, which is reportedly reaching “epidemic” proportions and increasingly linked with serious illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer.
It isn’t just information technology that has advanced at a massive pace in the past 50 or so years either. Food technology has revolutionised the way we eat. My formative years coincide with some of the earliest “convenience foods”: remember the dehydrated Vesta Curry? Boil-in-the-bag fish, doused in ready-made sauces? Angel Delight and other powdered desserts in foil sachets? Take a walk through any modern supermarket today and you’ll see how much shelf space is taken up with manufactured/processed foods, products containing artificial ingredients, chemically modified foods – reduced fat, de-alcoholised, hydrogenated. Now, it emerges, processed foods are the least healthy options: in 2009 Which Magazine demonised breakfast cereals, suggesting they realistically belonged in the biscuit or confectionary aisles due to their disproportionally high sugar content; in 2012 Harvard University branded manufactured low-fat foods dangerous, calling for an end to “the low-fat myth”; in 2013 processed meats are now finding notoriety, recently reported as a major cause of serious illnesses.
Then there are advances in medical technology. Certainly I have witnessed modern miracles! Dr. Christian Barnard pioneering the first heart transplant in 1967; the birth of Louise Brown, the first “test tube” baby in 1978. Too many brilliant surgical advances to mention! But not all medical advances have been beneficial. We have also seen the rise of pharmaceuticals to prominence in modern healthcare. So many “wonder” drugs have let us down: think thalidomide; HRT, initially hailed as a lifelong solution in women’s health, but intrinsically linked with breast cancer just a decade or so later; aspirin, a seemingly benign painkiller now known to have serious gastric consequences. This is to name just a few examples, yet the lesson has not been learned. My heart sinks every time the media hails a new “miracle cure” or “wonder drug”: we continue to believe the hype without real evidence. No doubt in a decade or so we’ll find out exactly why everyone over 50 SHOULDN’T be taking statins!
It is my hope that in the second half of my life I will witness the resurgence of the natural over technology: because we now have the opportunity for retrospect! That said, I don’t want to deny all the great accomplishments of the past few decades – and there have been many. But I do want us to learn from our technological mistakes – and there have been many. The greatest mistake we have made, and continue to make, is to render obsolete our past achievements. A fine example of this is the case of Hippocrates, who famously said “Let food be thy medicine”. Doctors in many countries no longer swear the Hippocratic oath: they have rendered such wisdom obsolete!
Ironically “RETRO” is trending right now! Small groups of people are honouring past achievements as a result of hindsight. Vinyl records, over CDs or MP3s, enjoy a cult following. 60s fashions, 70s fashions, 80s fashions have all enjoyed their respective come-backs.
If our society can honour the arts of the recent past, what about the sciences? Do we have the courage to admit that natural bowel cleansing has the edge over chemical laxatives, now known to cause irritation, inflammation and to damage long-term bowel health? Do we have the courage to promote “natural” therapies such as acupuncture over remedies such as NSAIDs, now linked with long term, even irreversible, gastro-intestinal damage? Do we have the courage to correct our dietary habits to halt the burgeoning obesity problem or the diabetes epidemic or to prevent future health crises?
The Retro Medicine mission aims to do just that: to honour traditional and natural therapies and all forms of medicine that hindsight shows DO work, and to challenge the un-evidenced, profit-driven aspects of modern medicine that dominate our current healthcare landscape. Someone once said “Hindsight is 20/20 vision”. Let’s have the courage to trust what we can already see perfectly!