Anytime we challenge an established order, we're bound to make mistakes. Don't believe me? Just look at the French Revolution. The same principal follows for those of us questioning the current food system and Western lifestyle in general. Even though our premises are very old, we have forgotten some of the details over the years that our ancestors knew like the back of their hands. As a result, our interpretations will differ, and we will stumble along the way.
A Recent Example
There's a lot of quackery out there--ideas that build on the premises many of us believe, but simply aren't true. A few weeks ago, I found a great example of this posted on, of all places, the Weston A. Price Foundation's Facebook page:
Seems harmless, right? After all, a lot of people out there claim to get less sunburns since adding more fats and whole foods to their diets. But when you actually click on the link, you find that this article is promoting pseudo-science. It claims that cancer isn't really a disease, but rather the body's healing mechanism for emotional distress.
Give me a break. Look, I'm not denying that stress can't make us sick. Chronic worrying has been shown to weaken the immune system. But if I took the happiest man in the world and slipped a pellet of polonium into his mattress, he's gonna get cancer, and it's gonna be due to radiation.
Here's another great example: trying to bleach the autism out of your child. Using a "special formula," desperate moms give their children enemas full of glorified Clorox. Now, before you're so quick to judge, consider the idea that's been floating around the blogosphere (and now amongst researchers) that a leaky gut leads to autism. Going a step further, an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the digestive tract is thought to be responsible for leaky gut to begin with (I'm in agreement with this line of thinking, by the way). Suddenly, the idea of using a sodium hypochlorite enema to kill all those bad, autism-causing germs doesn't sound so crazy... until you use commonsense, and then it does, because you're about to pump your kid full of bleach.
In order to avoid being duped by people with bad science and good web design skills, we need to come up with a set of criteria to judge it by. This isn't the end-all-be-all of truth discernment, here. But it is a good way for people trying to live a healthier, more agrarian lifestyle to quickly toss-out nonsense, and then spend more time analyzing those ideas that seem to hold water:
1. Does this sound like something people in 1245 would have done? In other words, if my ancient ancestors didn't need to take L-lysine supplements, why do I? You can't use this criteria for everything. For example, your ancestors didn't need to go to the gym, because they worked outside all day. But until you're able to live an agrarian lifestyle yourself, you'd better hit the treadmill. But this criteria can save you from people just trying to make money off your desperation with the mainstream wellness system by selling you a product you don't need.
2. Does this conflict with my religion? You might be surprised that I included this as a criteria, but I'm amazed at how many people I know that claim to have a Catholic understanding of the universe, and then practice Reiki. I understand that some of my readers may either subscribe to the New Age movement or they're simply comfortable with a cafeteria approach to their religious beliefs. But if you do hold to a traditional Christian mindset, you can use this criteria to keep you from even considering things like the sunscreen article I mentioned above.
3. Is it testable? This premise comes from science itself. There are plenty of good ideas out there that never get research funding because it won't somehow line the pockets of a drug or big ag corp. But if even in a perfect world, it doesn't sound like there's any way an idea could ever be tested for validity, it's probably a joke.
4. Is there SOME science to back it up? Is the idea based on research currently being done but hasn't yet resulted in a peer-reviewed, double-blind, yup-this-looks-good-to-us, study paper? If so, it might be worth looking into. I have plenty of friends that refuse to consider anything until there's been a conclusive study. That's far too limiting in my opinion. If there is at least some research going on, and it seems promising, then there's a good chance that whatever idea you've stumbled across contains at least a grain of truth.
5. Has it actually worked for people? This really applies to things like changes in diet or lifestyle. Has going off grains and dairy for a while really helped other people's allergies? Look for the anecdotes/testimonials, and then aggressively judge those anecdotes/testimonials. If it seems correlative and not causative, or just wishy-washy, throw it out.
The guidelines above are by no means an exhaustive list. Commonsense and good old-fashioned research go a long way. But I know that when people get desperate, they tend to harp on the positives of a crazy, miracle cure, without thinking through the potential draw-backs. Drawing up a set of criteria by which you judge things you read could save you time, money, aggravation, and even your health.
top image courtesy of wikimedia commons