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The Mouth Plague: Understanding It And Conquering It
By: Brad Priester, MD
I am a retinal surgeon in Jackson, TN. Unfortunately, my patient referral area ranks #1 in diabetes in the U.S. The daily experience of treating preventable retinal disease, such as diabetic retinopathy, has had a profound effect on me. Our culture supports, promotes, and perpetuates the consumption of foods that make us sick. Our medical industry then charges to the rescue with tests, medications, surgery, and radiation. It is a very sad Catch 22.
To match an epic problem with an equally epic name, I coined “The Mouth Plague”. Unlike the rapid human demise seen with smallpox, Spanish flu, and the Black Death, the mouth plague causes an insidious decline.
Two periods of history were marked by human ingenuity that had the unanticipated outcome of creating the mouth plague. The first was the transition from hunting-gathering societies to farming societies. Foods that result in rapid elevations of blood glucose (high glycemic index foods) became staples in all civilized cultures from that time forward.
The second was the industrial revolution. Before we were able to mass produce chemicals, all food was organic by default because there were no chemicals available to make the food inorganic or disease-causing. Of course, prior to the industrial revolution, a person could die because of an infected ingrown toenail as there were no antibiotics to save the day.
Since the advent of farming and mass-produced chemicals, the consumption of unhealthy foods has become an integral part of our culture. To not participate is to be uncool.
A 3-part process is needed to stop this deeply ingrained destructive behavior.
First, we must educate every age group of our population that fast food, processed food, and high glycemic index food are disease causing substances just like smoking, drugs, and alcohol. The only reason to eat white flour, white potatoes, white rice, white sugar, and trans fat is if we want to have preventable diseases like diabetes.
Another term for all of this yummy tasting white stuff is “bad carbs”. The bad carbs bring in tons of energy for our bodies, but little other useful nutritional value. A diet full of bad carbs and bad fat puts us at risk for a very common condition known as insulin resistance. Please see my section on insulin resistance for much more detail, but, to keep it simple, think of insulin resistance as “bad carb intolerance”.
For those with good insulin sensitivity (mostly children and young adults), we must somehow convince them, their parents, and their schools that it is cool to substitute whole grains for the unhealthy white stuff and good fat for unhealthy fat.
For those with insulin resistance (concentrated in our middle age and senior age groups), we must educate them it is not just the bad carbs and bad fats. The consumption of too much whole grains and other “healthy” high glycemic index foods can lead to problems. I know this on a personal level as I developed several insulin resistance conditions by eating a “very healthy” organic diet with too much organic whole grains, fruit juices, and dried fruits.
Second, we need the medical industry to come forward with readily available and accurate insulin resistance testing. Without the readily available and accurate testing of insulin resistance, we remain lost in the desert of insulin toxicity.
Third, we need to equip ourselves with the will power to keep the bad stuff out of our mouths. Given that most of us have learned to use unhealthy food as a source of personal and communal happiness and comfort, this is the most difficult of the three tasks.
How do we knock down the obstacles blocking successful implementation of education, diagnosis, and will power?
There is a potential obstacle buster. It is a path the power brokers will likely never go down, but, if enacted, the following extraordinarily simple plan would work:
Step 1: Tax the bad food to the point of wallet pain.
Step 2: Use those tax revenues to supplement the good food making it unbelievably inexpensive.
Example A: A mother is at the grocery store and she has a choice of two items: a bag of a dozen organic apples for a $1 and a box of a dozen twinkies for $24. What will she do?
After caring for 40-60 retina patients/clinic day for the last 15 years, I break down my view of causality in human disease into seven categories:
2. Internal Environment (smoking, drugs, and the things we eat and drink)
3. External Environment (the buildings and spaces we hang out in and the things that get into our system with or without our active participation—I include infection in this section)
4. Lack of Proper Exercise
5. Trauma (I include improper exercise in this category)
6. Psychosocial Stress
So, it is not just bad food, and obviously, all of this bad stuff is not taxable. But, where possible, tax the bad stuff and use those tax revenues to supplement the good stuff.
Here are a few of the links I like with regard to category 2 above:
The last four links are very important as many of us have genes that promote insulin resistance. This means that the consumption of high glycemic foods, even if they are organic whole grains, can make many of us sick. My personal solution to this problem has been to substitute the very low glycemic crispbreads in the links above.
So, my diet is best described as an organic, high fiber, good fat, low glycemic index diet: organic fruits and vegetables (avoiding fruit juices and dried fruits), low glycemic index crispbreads, organic nuts, organic legumes, organic dairy, organic free range poultry, organic grass fed red meats, wild caught fish, organic olive oil, and wild sockeye salmon oil.
If you have no access to organic food or find it cost prohibitive, no worries. You are still better off eating the above diet even if the term “organic” is removed. The excuse that a healthy home-cooked diet is too expensive is not valid. This is clearly stated in the landmark article that ran in the New York Times on 9/24/11: “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?” by Mark Bittman.
This article is loaded with powerful and transformative information. My favorite quotes are the following:
“In comparing prices of real food and junk food, I used supermarket ingredients, not the pricier organic or local food that many people would consider ideal. But food choices are not black and white; the alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic food, any more than the alternative to soda is Bordeaux.”
“Anything that you do that’s not fast food is terrific; cooking once a week is far better than not cooking at all,” says Marion Nestle, professor of food studies at New York University and author of “What to Eat.” “It’s the same argument as exercise: more is better than less and some is a lot better than none.”
“THE fact is that most people can afford real food. Even the nearly 50 million Americans who are enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) receive about $5 per person per day, which is far from ideal but enough to survive. So we have to assume that money alone doesn’t guide decisions about what to eat.”
“Taking the long route to putting food on the table may not be easy, but for almost all Americans it remains a choice, and if you can drive to McDonald’s you can drive to Safeway. It’s cooking that’s the real challenge. (The real challenge is not “I’m too busy to cook.” In 2010 the average American, regardless of weekly earnings, watched no less than an hour and a half of television per day. The time is there.)”
“The core problem is that cooking is defined as work, and fast food is both a pleasure and a crutch.”
“The ubiquity, convenience and habit-forming appeal of hyperprocessed foods have largely drowned out the alternatives: there are five fast-food restaurants for every supermarket in the United States; in recent decades the adjusted for inflation price of fresh produce has increased by 40 percent while the price of soda and processed food has decreased by as much as 30 percent; and nearly inconceivable resources go into encouraging consumption in restaurants: fast-food companies spent $4.2 billion on marketing in 2009.”
“Furthermore, the engineering behind hyperprocessed food makes it virtually addictive. A 2009 study by the Scripps Research Institute indicates that overconsumption of fast food “triggers addiction-like neuroaddictive responses” in the brain, making it harder to trigger the release of dopamine. In other words the more fast food we eat, the more we need to give us pleasure; thus the report suggests that the same mechanisms underlie drug addiction and obesity.”
“The smart campaign is not to get McDonald’s to serve better food but to get people to see cooking as a joy rather than a burden, or at least as part of a normal life.”
“As with any addictive behavior, this one is most easily countered by educating children about the better way. Children, after all, are born without bad habits. And yet it’s adults who must begin to tear down the food carnival.”
“Obviously, in an atmosphere where any regulation is immediately labeled “nanny statism,” changing “the environment” is difficult. But we’ve done this before, with tobacco. The 1998 tobacco settlement limited cigarette marketing and forced manufacturers to finance anti-smoking campaigns — a negotiated change that led to an environmental one that in turn led to a cultural one, after which kids said to their parents, “I wish you didn’t smoke.” Smoking had to be converted from a cool habit into one practiced by pariahs.”
“To make changes like this more widespread we need action both cultural and political. The cultural lies in celebrating real food; raising our children in homes that don’t program them for fast-produced, eaten-on-the-run, high-calorie, low-nutrition junk; giving them the gift of appreciating the pleasures of nourishing one another and enjoying that nourishment together.”
“Political action would mean agitating to limit the marketing of junk; forcing its makers to pay the true costs of production; recognizing that advertising for fast food is not the exercise of free speech but behavior manipulation of addictive substances; and making certain that real food is affordable and available to everyone. The political challenge is the more difficult one, but it cannot be ignored.”
This short monologue only scratches the surface, so please hang in there with me as I build content on this site. Site development will be very slow as I am way too busy taking care of all the sick retinas. I plan on developing each of the themes discussed above with a blog and short videos and welcome any ideas and suggestions you may have.
Have a great day!