The ‘Single Cause’ ‘Single Solution’ ‘Reductionism’ Scientific Approach

I was pretty confused about where to put this post because it has something to do with food,science and school.Anyway I just decided to leave it on the homepage..doesn’t matter where it goes!

I recently read an article from the New York times titled ‘Unhappy Meals’ in which the author made a few arguments for a return to much simpler diets.I use the term diet very loosely here and should probably be using lifestyle but he was talking about food so diet it is!One of the most important arguments he made that I agree with 100% was the one against reductionism or the scientific research approach to food and other things.

Let me clarify just in case someone is confused.Scientists generally study food by trying to break it down into nutrients or single building blocks:as in corn=carbohydrates,eggs=protein and fat,avocado=vitamins and antioxidants and so on and so forth.Why do we do this?Because we want to know the precise thing that makes a food either beneficial or harmful to us.And in this era of increased heart disease,diabetes,obesity and a host of symptoms collectively known as the metabolic syndrome,heaven knows we need to know what we are eating.But taken at this very simple level,food becomes nothing more than fuel for our bodies or nutrients.We don’t see a great tasting tub of ice-cream anymore,we just see fat and heart disease.I’m not saying that’s a bad thing,but we have forgotten that ice cream is more than just sugar.We no longer realise that a carrot contains more than beta carotenes. We think science has been able to break down everything and knows what each thing in food does,but science cannot know all that a piece of carrot contains(don’t believe me?scientists didn’t know there were vitamins till maybe 200 years ago,they thought there were only carbs,fats and proteins).There is a myriad of things yet undiscovered in our foods and all sorts of complex interactions that occur between these things in each individual human’s stomach and intestines after consumption that science cannot explain.Case in point why do omega 3 fatty acids consumed in pills not work as well as just eating fish and other omega 3 rich foods?Because a fish is more than omega 3.That’s what I believe Science as a whole is missing.

It is the bedrock upon which our experiments are designed:Controls.In order to know how eating spinach helps your health,lets break spinach down into all its constituents,put each individual constituent in a mouse or test tube and see if you get the same effect as eating a whole spinach.It has the same effect?Voila!A new super food supplement emerges.No need to eat spinach anymore.Just take this pill.Image

But in the lab,we forget a mouse is genetically bred for that experiment,doesn’t eat that constituent of spinach with a hamburger and the control mice have never eaten spinach before.But we’re baffled when the new super supplement doesn’t work!We forget that a mouse is not human,doesn’t eat like us and doesn’t live like us.There are so many things that could explain why eating actual spinach isn’t the same as taking a spinach supplement.But we forget.

And so we stay in the lab,trying to figure out why a higher number of Bacteroidetes in the gut produces a different effect than if they were in lower proportion to Firmicutes(Confused?I’ll explain in another post).We try to point to one single micro-organism and say its responsible for the symptoms we see in IBD or obesity and try to fix that by giving patients probiotics that will displace said microbial species in the gut and improve health.But we forget that that microbial species didn’t just act alone,it interacted with other microbes and the gut and a complex of things we still don’t understand or even know to produce what we see in the patient.And perhaps more importantly,we forget that the microbe didn’t just bloom,the patient’s lifestyle had something to do with it.

So what’s the fix?Is it really just giving the patient a supermix of medication and supplements?I don’t think so.Its simple really.Our great grandparents were healthier than we are for one simple reason:they kept it simple.Why eat a cereal bar when you can just eat oatmeal?Less refined=better.Try to eat more ‘original foods’.Since I’m Ghanaian,that probably means more kontomire,more palm soup and mushrooms,more light soup with snails,more okra stew with fish and crabs,spinach,oranges and less polished rice!Of course,if I’m going to start eating more kenkey,fufu,and banku I should probably start a garden or farm,walk more or at least work out as much as my grandmother would!It’s that simple.


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