Unfortunately, there are many websites, blogs, magazine articles and even books that claim that government organizations, physicians, pharmacists and pharmaceutical companies are in a death conspiracy. Supposedly, we are trying to make people take prescription drugs that only treat the symptoms of diseases, while preventing them from having access to natural dietary supplements. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Instead, we are using systems thinking and the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM) to keep people healthy by preventing diseases. There are many open collaborations that work just like TQM teams. They listen to the voices of the patients and their caregivers so they can provide them the personalized care that they demand. That is, predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory (P4) medicine is being used.
The cost of developing new drugs will decrease as predictive medicine provides genetic analyses of potential subjects in clinical trials. That is, if an investigatory new drug targets a specific type of protein, it is important that the subjects in the trials have that protein. Similarly, by providing advice on diet and lifestyle, physicians can help prevent diseases from occurring in the first place. This advice is personalized, since every individual is unique and has their own biochemistry and goals. Moreover, treatments are personalized once a disease emerges. That is, we treat the person – not just the disease. Treatments that work for one patient might be unhealthy in another. Finally, we recognize and encourage the very natural need for patients to participate in their own healthcare.
Systems thinking is used throughout the process. That is, the whole health of the system or person is considered when giving advice. For example, many dietary antioxidants can help prevent cancer – especially when consumed as a whole food (like garlic) or beverage (like green tea). Many of them activate the body’s natural antioxidant defense system (the Nrf2/ARE signaling system). This can help prevent diseases caused by smoldering inflammation. This includes autoimmune diseases like diabetes, liver diseases, many types of cancer, neurodegenerative diseases and cardiovascular diseases. It is also possible that dietary supplements containing much higher doses of antioxidants (like garlic or green teas extracts, resveratrol and EGCG) could help prevent cancer. However, once a person gets cancer and starts chemo- and/or radiation therapy, the cancer cells can hijack the Nrf2/ARE systems and become multidrug resistant and resistant to radiation therapy.
So, dietary antioxidants that can prevent cancer can possibly make the cancer deadlier once chemo- and/or radiation therapy begins. Notably, metformin (or Glucophage®) inhibits the Nrf2/ARE system and makes chemotherapy more effective. This could be one way that it extends lifespan. So, clinical trials are now underway to test the ability of metformin to extend one’s lifespan (and health span). The principal investigators of these studies may want to control the participants’ consumption of relatively high doses of antioxidants that are present in many supplements. Moreover, physicians who are treating their cancer patients with chemo- and/or radiation therapy may want to warn their patients about taking such supplements, while encouraging them to continue taking metformin if they are already taking it.
Proper nutrition and lifestyle are also important parts of systems medicine and the Total Quality Management of one’s health. A plant-based diet helps to build a healthy gut microbiome, which provides us with essential nutrients and acts as our inner oncologist. However, one should exercise caution when reading about how some fruits, vegetables and spices are ‘superfoods’. What counts is one’s whole diet and how foods are prepared. For example, cinnamon will have many health benefits if you put it on your oatmeal instead of sugar. However, if you mix cinnamon with sugar and white flour to make a cinnamon roll, it is no longer healthy. In fact, there is no scientific or medical definition of ‘superfood’. It is often used in mysogynistic advertisements that target women as they encourage them to lose weight and become more attractive.
Instead, the only true superfood is mother’s breastmilk. Breastfeeding is good for both the mother and her babies. It helps them form a strong, loving bond that can last a lifetime and help during difficult times later in life. Moreover, love and happiness are important for good health. Furthermore, mother’s milk is designed to meet the baby’s nutritional needs.
Nursing starts with the colostrum then becomes transitional milk and finally mature milk. Colostrum contains high concentrations of whey protein, but this gradually decreases from the second month to the seventh month, after which it levels off. Colostrum contains low concentrations of both lactose (milk sugar) and fat compared to mature milk. Lactose production is highest in the fourth to seventh month, after which it decreases, while the concentration of healthy, polyunsaturated and omega-3 fats gradually increases. Breast milk also contains small molecules, growth factors, hormones, lipids, carbohydrates and even healthy bacteria. This helps babies grow and develop a healthy set of bacteria in their gut. Breast milk protects babies from neonatal sepsis and subsequently promotes their growth and development.
Mother’s milk also supports the baby’s immature immune system, and helps it mature properly. Immunoglobulins in the milk target the infectious agents encountered by the mother during the perinatal period and then target the same infectious agents that are most likely to be encountered by the baby. Breast milk contains antibodies against many harmful bacteria (such as Vibrio cholerae, Campylobacter, Shigella, Giardia lamblia). The mother’s antibodies also protect against respiratory tract infections. At the same time, growth factors help babies and infants develop a healthy neuroendocrine immune system. The WHO (World Health Organization), the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have recommended breastfeeding for at least the first six months of life and including it in a mixed diet at least until the infant is two years old.
Finally, no system can succeed if it is embedded in a larger, dysfunctional system. Even mother’s breast milk may be of little use unless we reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and stop polluting our environment. So, the single most important thing that each individual can do to help the environment and stop Global Climate Change is to either eat less meat, or (better yet) convert to a completely plant-based diet.
Smith RE. Systems Thinking in Medicine and New Drug Discovery, Volume One. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (2018).
Smith RE. Systems Thinking in Medicine and New Drug Discovery, Volume Two. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK (2018).