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IS FOOD INTOLERANCE A NEW EPIDEMIC? WHAT DOCTORS SAY

‘There were two epidemics of measles during the decade, and two men had accidents in the harvest field and were taken to hospital; but, for years together, the doctor was only seen there when one of the ancients was dying of old age, or some difficult first confinement baffled the skill of the old woman who, as she said, saw the beginning and end of everybody, There was no cripple or mental defective in the hamlet, and, except for a few months when a poor woman was dying of cancer, no invalid. Though food was rough and teeth were neglected, indigestion was unknown, while nervous troubles, there as elsewhere, had yet to be invented.’ Contrast this with the general state of health of people today. As Dr Ronald Finn of the Royal Liverpool Hospital observes: ‘It is depressingly rare to come across someone who is entirely well.’

Doctors who are involved in treating food intolerance, as Dr Finn is, may not be impartial observers, of course. But others have noticed the same general trend. American psychiatrist, Dr Arthur Barsky, calls it the ‘paradox of health’. He points out that in 1900 a man’s life expectancy was 47.3 years, now it is almost 75 years, yet we feel we are less healthy. In the 1920s only 10 per cent of recognized illnesses could be treated successfully, now the figure is over 50 per cent, but we are all preoccupied with illness. Why should this be? Dr Barsky believes that it is all a question of attitude. One factor, in his view, is our heightened awareness of health’ due to ‘medico-media hype’ — in other words, if people knew less about their bodies they would feel better.

An alternative explanation, which psychiatrists such as Dr Barsky do not seem to have considered, is that people really are ill, with vague, long-term symptoms that doctors generally dismiss as ‘psychosomatic’. If this sort of illness had only become widespread within the last 50-100 years, it would explain the ‘paradox of health’ very neatly. Whether that illness really is food intolerance is another matter — but this, along with chemical sensitivity, seems a likely suspect.

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