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Friday, April 08, 2005

Our unhealthy obsession with sickness and "wellness"

Thoughts and passions evoked by an article entitled "Our unhealthy obsession with sickness" by Frank Furedi, published on 23 March 2005, with the opening paragraphs excerpted below:

We live in a world where illnesses are on the increase. The distinguishing feature of the twenty-first century is that health has become a dominant issue, both in our personal lives and in public life. It has become a highly politicised issue, too, and an increasingly important site of government intervention and policymaking. With every year that passes, we seem to spend more and more time and resources thinking about health and sickness. I think there are four possible reasons for this.

First, there is the imperative of medicalisation. When the concept of medicalisation was first formulated, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it referred to a far narrower range of phenomena than is the case today - and it was linked to the actions of a small number of professionals rather than having the all-pervasive character that it does now.

Essentially, the term medicalisation means that problems we encounter in everyday life are reinterpreted as medical ones. So problems that might traditionally have been defined as existential - that is, the problems of existence - have a medical label attached to them. Today, it is difficult to think of any kind of human experience that doesn't come with a health warning or some kind of medical explanation. (Read on...)

As I read this short article, I could not help but be reminded of my own recent attempts to gently convince an extremely well-meaning friend that I really wasn't interested in purchasing more vitamin supplements. My husband and I are already taking vitamin supplements (Centrum Daily Multivitamins--"A to Zinc"--and Materna respectively) which seem for all relevant purposes to be sufficient. Short of being experts ourselves in pharmacological products and nutrition, both appear to the fairly educated layman's eyes to be well established, reputable products--the latter in fact has been long recommended by most gynaecologists throughout Canada. The friend, however, was persistent (patient may be a better word?), and--determined to convince me of the superlative qualities of a product that she has personally tried and whose life-changing properties she now attests to--passed me reading materials and a CD of a talk by some guru who has spent years studying and lecturing on the need for good vitamin supplements for those of us who live in an increasingly health-threatening world. In such a world, our bodies are the often unwary victims to the continual assaults of toxins in the air, in the processed food we eat, in the beverages we consume, even in the fresh produce that we enjoy. In each "Did you know?" box in the margins of just about every page in his book there is bite-sized information designed to alarm, get one to pay attention. A typical example? Fruits and vegetables that we now consume contain only one fifth or less of the vitamins they are supposed to because they are grown on nutrient-poor soils. Another big "Did you know?" is that the nutrients in foods (or, believe it or not--in other health supplements) are often not effectively absorbed by our bodies. So, apparently, someone who scrupulously meets all the recommended dietary requirements may be mistakenly assured that his or her body is getting all the nutrition it needs on a daily basis. See, for example, the following excerpt that I found by simply googling "daily nutritional needs":

Eating The "Right Foods" Ensure Optimal Nutrition? Not anymore! Even though the ultimate guide to good eating has generally meant following the nutritional recipe of the "four food groups," published studies have shown that consuming a diet from the "four food groups" alone does not ensure adequate intake of all essential nutrients.

The answer to good health does not lie simply in eating the "right " foods. And, even if we were capable of supplying only nutrient-rich foods to our body, there's still a great deal that can go wrong in trying to extract and absorb these nutrients and still no guarantee that all would be assimilated.
This sounds almost identical to the materials the friend passed to me, and makes me strongly suspect that there are dozens at least of such like products and promotional strategies. How in the world is one supposed to be convinced of any one product or nutritional regime given the vast amount of information that is now available, most of which are claims which are painfully difficult if not near impossible for a layman to verify? One easy way would be to simply ask for the advice of a trusted family doctor. This method, however, would likely receive scorn and scepticism from health-food believers. "Oh, you'd be surprised but even doctors don't know about these things!" Who do we believe? Our well-meaning doctors who are after all professionals in their field, or our well-meaning friends who personally testify to these products?

Further, are we feel any guilt for 'being irresponsible for our own health' if we decide that we are not so interested in exploring new vitamin supplement options at the present time? I think not. How far should one allow oneself to be taken in this pursuit of health and wellness? I am inclined towards the position of moderation in this sense: avoid as best as you can the consumption, and especially the constant consumption, of substances that are generally known and acknowledged to be bad for you (e.g. nicotine, excessive alcohol, lard, etc.); try to exercise regularly; eat your three meals--neither starve nor indulge in gluttony; maintain a well-balanced diet that has the sweets, salts, and oils, kept to a reasonable amount (that you'd have to decide based on your current situation)--and, as many people today do, take a vitamin supplement; and finally, don't stress yourself over whether you are doing all you can to boost and maintain good health! As Furedi wryly observes, many in middle-class neighbourhoods now "spend hours looking at how many carbohydrates there are, whether it's organic, natural, holistic. Spending time reading labels is one way of doing your bit to keep well."


Blogger cybeRanger said...

What we need is supernatural health! :)

5:24 AM  
Anonymous Kelli said...

If you think Centrum is the best, you are sadly mistaken. If you want the low- down on nutritional supplements order a copy of Lyle MacWilliam's Comparitive Guide To Nutritional Supplements. It is a compendium of over 500 vitamins tested for bioavailibilty (how well they break down in the body) and how much of it is absorbed. Whether or not the levels of vitmins are sufficient, and the synergy (how well the nutrients work together). Sometimes too much of one Vitamin can counteract the benefits of another vitamin, he also tested the purity of the ingredients. Place a Centrum Forte or any other Centrum in a glass of water and tell me what happens. That will tell you what it does in your body. If it doesn't break down and disolve your body can't absorb the nutrients. Lyle Macwilliam was appointed by the Health Minister of Canada to do a Comparitive guide so consumers had all the information on the many supplements that are out there on the shelves. Out of a possible 100, the score for Centrum Forte came in at only a 4.7 .The Protegra was 7.2 If you want the best possible supplements check out USANA. In the US they had a score of 96.1 the highest score. In Canada the score was 90.2
because the FDA in Canada will not allow vitamin K. When the levels of nutrients are not balanced they cannot work together. Usana has helped peple with Cystic Fibrosis, Fibromalagia, Diabetes.and every other chronic disease out there. The developer of Usana is a world renowned doctor (Microbiologist, The leading Doctor in cellular research.)Dr. Myron Wentz. I used to use Centrum Forte but I will NEVER touch another supplement other than Usana again.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well hi.. i think ur page is realy cool and useful but its way 2 long i'd sugesting puting menues n such on it for easier accesability to info.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i've been taking centrum forte for a few months now and it seems to be doing a good job for me, i don't feel tired all the time now and the look of my skin has visibly improved ( a good indicator of what's happening inside).but no matter what BRAND of supplements u're using that alone won't do the job, excercise and diligently hrdrating ur body is important. for optimum absorption of the vitamins and minerals by ur body take the supplement after a meal ( preferably after a healthy fibre and protein breakfast,bran flakes and an egg do the trick for me!).

10:04 AM  
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2:05 AM  
Anonymous usana said...

LOL. You have posted a very important matter in a very nice and funny way.

5:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kelli I can't agree with you. If a university science degree has taught me anything, the pH of the human gut is a far cry different than a glass of water. The stomach contains a very low pH, resulting in an acidic environment along with many enzymes that can break down a multivitamin tablet in a very short while. If your proposition of a tablet in a glass of water were true than even everyday pain killers and headache remedies would be insufficient. I think we should stick to the basic fundamentals of science here and agree that pharmalogical companies have enough knowledge to realize that the human gut is not the equivalent of a glass of water. Great comment though, and this is just my fact based opinion.

4:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but how can you give credit to a "comparative guide" sponsored by usana in wich, surprise surprise, USANA claims to be the best multivitamin. I'm not saying it's all wrong, juste take some leave some.

10:55 PM  
Blogger health said...

If you're looking to buy best protein powder (or related protein products) but not sure what to look for, this free expert-nutrition tutorial can help.

8:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

eat more greens idiots

12:46 AM  

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