Let food be thy medicine, not thy poison - How our food is killing first responders....and everyone else.

In Bath, a beautiful Roman City surrounded by the rolling hills of the English countryside, there is a park.  When I was a young boy, this park was the closest thing any child growing up in rural Somerset would ever get to Disney World.  The park was adorned with wooden structures, swings, ropes and even a crude zip line.  Parents would bring their munchkins and set them free, hoping to use up just a fraction of the seemingly infinite energy a young child has.  Despite the complexity of some of the equipment, the traditional seesaw was usually one of the most popular play areas.  A simple plank of wood balanced over a fulcrum allowed two riders to launch each other into the air.  The most comical moments would be when a mismatched couple would jump on and the lighter of the two was stuck in the air, helpless whilst the onlookers laughed.

“What’s with the childhood story?” I hear you ask.  Let me tell you another one, not quite so uplifting this time.  The man lays supine, near lifeless eyes stare into mine, seeming to beg us to save him from his seemingly inevitable death.  Due to being morbidly obese, it had taken several of us to pull him from his car, where he had the initial cardiac arrest.  Effective compressions were challenging as his body was riddled with both subcutaneous and visceral fat, strangulating every organ and blood vessel.  IV access was nearly impossible as his body had become so deconditioned that his veins were atrophied and buried deep under his cutaneous layers.  I fought to get an airway but his stomach had other ideas and sent an unending flow of gastric contents, overriding his epiglottis and violating his airway.  My partner searched for a landmark to drill an IO, a challenging task in legs that are swollen, seeming ready to burst from the fluid his failing heart had been unable to move.

It was a strange feeling, working a code knowing damn well the person has no chance of surviving.  With an airway full of emesis and asystole on the monitor, the chance of moving oxygenated blood around the body becomes close to zero.  We continued our efforts as there is always that crazy miracle story giving a minute amount of hope.  The man’s wife was screaming, although it was barely palpable in our focused state.  Our Lieutenant tried to calm the woman and tease out the patient’s medical history.  She began to list a seemingly endless monologue of medical history and medications.  Our local protocols called for twenty minutes working an asystole code before calling it if all of the criteria are met.  As the last minute concluded, we I made the decision to call it, another feeling I’ll never get used to.  We then step back, leaving every intervention in place for the Medical Examiner.  As we begin to pick up our equipment, I happen to glance at the giant bag of medications the patient’s wife had been describing.  It suddenly dawned on me that none of them had worked.  This man had thousands of dollars worth of the latest and greatest and he had died a horrible death anyway.

“So what the hell does this have to do with seesaws?”  I hear you cry once again.  Well it really comes down to homeostasis.  The human body has an innate desire to be in balance, a place of equilibrium where both kids on the seesaw would be suspended above the ground.  When this balance is upset for a long period of time, the body begins to fail.  The man in this story is just one of millions across the globe that have fallen prey to this abandonment of the body’s natural balance.  The equation is painfully simple but application seems to elude many.  Energy in versus energy out pretty much sums up the key to good health.  Of course there are nutrients that we all need but scurvy and rickets are not our primary killers in the overfed west.  That being said, there is a haunting irony to the fact that many people are overfed yet malnourished.

There are 168 hours in a week.  The most dedicated athlete will train for 3 or 4 hours a day, with the average active person training 3 to 4 hours per week.  I’m no Rain Man but that leaves around 164 hours of low activity, especially in those with sedentary jobs.  As much as first responders like to believe we are kicking in doors 24/7, the reality is that driving emergency vehicles and computer work takes up a large part of our shift.  What this means is that one side of the seesaw is going to have a very skinny child on it.  If your energy in, ie the refined calories you consume, far outweigh the energy used in a week, the thin kid continues to get stuck in the air.  As time goes on, the systems in the body that work optimally in a state of homeostasis begin to develop disease.  Blood vessels become inflamed and narrowed.  The pancreas’ ability to produce insulin diminishes.  Sex hormones become suppressed, further exasperating the global degeneration in the body.

The point I am trying to make it that although I am a huge proponent of exercise, no matter what the lycra clad orange guy on QVC tells you, it is only a small, albeit important part of overall health.  What we eat truly dictates a large portion of how the body functions.  I recently heard a doctor say “Don’t wait for science to prove what you already know is true.”  Despite the spectrum of wellness arenas, this simple concept has held true although the quality of the food we ingest has only recently been brought back to the forefront.  If you consume more energy than you can burn, it will be stored in your body.  This is nature’s way of preparing for periods where food may not have been as available.  As a species, we most likely were not getting three square meals a day back in primitive times.  The would have been periods of feasting and others of famine.  The body’s defense is to allow this food to be stored as fat, to avoid death in times where food was sparse.  

In today’s society, this protection mechanism has become our own worst enemy.  Our food is ground to dust and many of the nutrients long lost in the factory process.  The digestive tract is designed to break down whole food, in the form if was plucked from the ground or tree.  This allows the body to absorb the calories at a steady state.  On the contrary, processed foods are often refined to a powder where even starches are basically pure sugar.  This highly ground form of carbohydrate is rapidly absorbed by the body and creates a huge insulin spike, resulting in enormous stress to the pancreas.  The sheer enormity of calories consumed also overwhelm the body and it is forced to convert the sugars to fat.  This is then piled onto organs and under the skin in the same way sludge builds up in a car’s engine.  This vicious circle compounds as the organ systems begin to fail in a synchronistic manner.

“So what is the extremely complex and complicated answer to this epidemic?”  I hear you ask your third and final question.  Well, I hate to disappoint but the answer is really bloody simple.  Eat how your great grandparents ate.  Of course there are some habits they may have had that might have upset the balance a bit, but the fundamental message remains true.  A hundred years ago, food was grown without chemicals and its DNA had not been messed with, so the body still recognised it as a member of the plant family.  Livestock roamed in paddocks, eating the food that they actually wanted to eat.  Cows ate grass, chickens pecked at seeds and insects and pigs foraged for acorns and roots.  There were no antibiotics or hormones needed as these animals weren’t crammed in industrial warehouses, being fed ground animals whilst their peers lay dead and rotting at their feet.

Winston Churchill once said “Healthy citizens are the greatest asset any country can have.”  Industrialization of our food has been the single most contributor to ill health in the western world.  Turning food into food like products with no nutritional value has created an epidemic of ill health in western countries, killing more people than all wars combined.  This food is being fed to our children in schools, grooming them to follow the same road to disease that their modern forefathers are currently on.  The fruit and vegetables are poisoned with chemicals, sprayed by men wearing level B hazmat suits.  The meat is from animals so sick that they are pumped with antibiotics just to keep them alive long enough to slaughter.  Milk comes from cows loaded with hormones to keep them constantly lactating, with any remaining nutrition destroyed during pasteurization.  Let’s not forget the corporations genetically engineering seeds, which are seen as foreign bodies, invaders, by the human body.
It is time that we took control of our food and therefore our family’s health.  Buying food from local farmers that subscribe to the traditional organic farming methods is not only cheaper but greatly reduces the carbon footprint.  Why drive food 2500 miles when it can be grown in your own County?  We vote with our money and if we, the people, demand quality food at the community level, we can truly change the health of our loved ones and our neighbours too.  Visit your local farmer’s market and buy food that has never been in a box or bag.  These markets are usually cheaper than the pesticide laden imported foods at the stores.  Learn to cook.  The process of cooking alone creates a greater appreciation of food and a lessened chance of gorging.  Turn off the electronics, sit around a dinner table and talk, the way firefighters have for decades.  This will not only nourish the body but also the soul.  

As Hypocrites said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”  What you put in your mouth will either heal you or hurt you.  You and you alone get to make that decision and the more of us that choose health, the more available this type of food will become.  We focus on terrorism whilst our fellow citizens are dying in genocidal numbers.  It’s time we start a new revolution, reclaiming our nation’s health and carving a healthier future for our children.  As my Podcast guest Joel Salatin once said “If you think organic food is expensive, have you priced cancer lately?”  Invest wisely!

It breaks my heart as a firefighter/paramedic to see people die from completely preventable diseases. I hope I won’t be staring into your eyes next.  Be safe out there.


For more on these topics, listen to my Behind the Shield Podcast guests Joel Salatin, Rip Esselstyn and Dr Eric Goodman among many others.  You can find the show on Soundcloud, itunes, Stitcher and Pocketcast.