Why Doesn’t Western Medicine Turn Me On?
Once upon a time, humans lived like animals. We didn’t have computers that gave us repetitive strain injury. We didn’t have foods filled with sugar, fat, salt and artificial flavors that drive our taste buds wild and compelled us to overeat. We didn’t spend all day sitting down. These things literally weren’t options. We were wild. And like all wild animals, we didn’t have any of the problems that come with living in captivity. And, yes, humans live in a self-imposed captivity. We don’t run wild on the plains of Africa hunting and gathering anymore. Instead, we are cooped up in apartments and offices all day. Why do we think of this behavior as cruel to dogs but as a perfectly acceptable way to treat the species homo sapiens? Because we have culture. And culture binds and blinds.
If you’ve ever experienced a culture clash, then you understand this all too clearly. Humans form tribes. Tribes have cultures. And, sometimes, the answer to that culture’s biggest challenges is sitting right inside that blind spot. And that’s why it often takes a group of people outside of a culture to spot the biggest, missed opportunities. In the world of technology, this idea has become a cliché. The world of technology is not revolutionized by people inside established companies. It’s revolutionized by a group of people you’ve never heard of tinkering away somewhere in a garage. Could the same thing be true for medicine?
Coming from the culture of the Harvard Biochemistry Department, I have undergone Pavlovian conditioning to assume that anyone who uses the phrase “holistic medicine” is a cuckoo bird. In LA, it’s a slippery slope from yoga and the occasional slightly ironic juice cleanse to believing in the healing power of crystals and how you can use quantum physics and vision boards to attract the things you want into your life. Everyone has their deal breakers. For me, kooky medicine is one of them. I was once dating a very nice English girl who pretty much killed our relationship when she uttered the words, “Would you like me to give you an aura shower?” “An aura what?!?” I said. And with that, the romance was gone.
So, for me to even be writing about the possibility that medicine might benefit from a holistic perspective is odd in the extreme. And, yet, that is exactly what a man named Tony Molina has made me do. Tony isn’t paying me money. He hasn’t gone all Kathy Bates in Misery on me.
No. Tony Molina has done something much more dastardly. He has shown me that some of the best ideas in medicine are trapped outside the medical establishment. And there’s no challenge that I love more than diffusing innovations across a cultural barrier. Namely, Western Medicine’s massive tendency towards atomism.
Ben Franklin famously said:
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Yet, Western medicine is mostly about piling on pounds and pounds of cure. In 2009, 48 million inpatient surgeries were performed in the US. In 2016, 4.27 billion retail prescriptions were filled in the US. That is tons and tons of cure. Meanwhile, prevention relies on much of the advice that Ben Franklin himself doled out over two centuries ago. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and “No pain, No gain” are Franklinisms. For an age with such rapid technological progress, you’d think there’d be better techniques for preventing disease. In fact, there are but they sit squarely in Western Medicine’s blind spot. Rather than trying to fix the body, they get the body to fix itself. Tony Molina specializes in doing one simple thing; Tony helps turn people’s body’s on. And his wife, Valerie, helps him do it.
Actually, you turn yourself on all the time. If you’re a pale face like me and you live in sunny, Southern California, then the simple act of going outside turns your skin on. Your skin detects UV radiation and that signal causes your cells to turn on melanin production. UV radiation turns on tanning. And exercise is an attempt to turn on many systems in your body. The difference is that Tony and Valerie are much better at turning you on than anyone else in the world. Take, for example, the problem of bone loss among astronauts. Extended stays in space cause a massive loss of bone density, so much so that some astronauts need to be carried away in stretchers.
NASA has extensively studied this problem and discovered that weightlessness deprives bones of the signals they need to turn on bone production. And so, a group of engineers have developed a machine that enables people to give their bones the signals they need. This machine isn’t just for astronauts; it’s for your grandma.
There are three million cases of osteoporosis in the US every year.
Brittle bones, like the one on the right, are much more likely to break. And one broken hip can utterly change the life expectancy of an elderly person. Once he or she loses mobility, then it’s often a downward spiral from there. If you look up osteoporosis, you’ll probably find that it’s regarded as uncurable. There are drugs you can take and exercises you can do but the Medical Establishment doesn’t believe that osteoporosis can be cured. And yet, people like Tony Molina do it all the time.
Of course, most people who come to see him don’t believe that’s possible. After all, Tony doesn’t have an MD. And that’s precisely why Tony had the freedom to Think Different. He didn’t feel the social pressure of the culture of Western Medicine. And that left him free to be guided by one thing and one thing alone: data. And the data on biodensity is powerful.
In order to get increases in bone density, you can’t do this.
Your bones need to be loaded with 4.2 times your body weight to get turned on. And that’s the real power of the Biodensity machine. Because it uses the same sort of isometric exercise that NASA uses on astronauts, you can safely generate much higher forces. How high? Well, this woman is generating forces that are 10 times her body weight. Not bad, huh?
And all of this has been quantified. In order to measure bone density, you take a Dexascan. Tony has had plenty of patients who come to him suspicious. They have their Dexascans in their hot little hands that show they have bone loss. They’re willing to try biodensity but they’re not sure it will work. So, they do it. And then they shuffle off back to their doctors to get another Dexascan. And then, surprise! Their incurable osteoporosis has been cured. The people behind the Biodensity machine keep building up data. They really believe that if they just build up enough data then the medical community will change its mind.
For better or worse, the medical community is made of human beings. And no matter how much of a medical education you get, you don’t become God. Instead, you’re still just human. While doctors might like to believe they’re responsive to evidence, sadly, the historical record shows otherwise. Here are just four cases of innovations struggling to diffuse into medical practice.
Dr. Ignasz Semmelweis and germ theory.
Dr. John Snow and cholera.
The 150 years it took between empirically demonstrating that citrus cured scurvy and it being implemented en masse.
Dr. Joseph Goldberger and pellagra.
The history of medicine is strewn with doctors who, in spite of having all the evidence on their side, were dismissed because their innovations didn’t fit within the conventional wisdom of medical culture at the time. Figuring out how to save lives is only the first step. The real challenge is to change the culture.
And that is something the medical community struggles with around the world. They struggle to get people to wash their hands, exercise, eat healthily and get vaccinated. And that’s because data doesn’t turn people on either. Stories do. Stories help us get why some medical practices work and others don’t.
My dad’s family were doctors for generations and generations. So, I have a huge respect for the sacrifice, hard work and dedication it takes to be a doctor or a nurse. They’re in the trenches every day. However, creating a healthy community doesn’t begin and end at the walls of the hospital. Hospitals offer cures. Tony Molina offers more effective prevention. He’s the guy you go to so you don’t have to go to the hospital.
We no longer live like animals. We live like astronauts. We live in incredibly unnatural environments that don’t put our bodies under the kinds of stresses we need to turn our bodies’ regenerative systems on. And so, we need help turning ourselves on. Tony Molina has drawn together a diverse set of evidence-based techniques that do that. My job is to make sure he doesn’t face the same fate as Ignasz Semmelweis or Joseph Goldberger. My job is to make sure that what he says doesn’t fall on deaf ears.
Fortunately, humanity can learn from its past mistakes and the four examples mentioned earlier reveal that if you want to diffuse innovations it’s important to have a simple framework. Today, the work of Semmelweis and John Snow would be easy to diffuse because you have in your head a concept that even the most highly trained doctors of 150 years ago didn’t: germs. You know that tiny microscopic creatures can make you sick. Likewise, the work on scurvy and pellagra is much easier to explain to you than it was to medical professionals like my great grandfather. That’s because both of these diseases are vitamin deficiencies. The very ideas of germs and vitamins allow you to quickly understand how to prevent and cure a range of diseases. And now, I’m going to give you another one. The goal of exercise is to “turn you on.” And the better you understand the biology behind those mechanisms the better you will be at turning yourself on more effectively, with less effort and with less time. And what you’ll find is that rather than just “exercising” in some sort of general way that there are powerful techniques like Biodensity that currently sit outside the mainstream just waiting to be adopted. By moving them into the mainstream, we can save a lot of lives.
The last years of both my grandmas’ lives were marred by health problems. On my mom’s side, it was a crippling emphysema. On my dad’s side, it was degeneration and loss of mobility. I’ve now spent enough time working with Tony Molina to know how different the last years of their lives would have been if they’d known him. I can’t change that but I can make sure I don’t end up that way. And that’s why I’m trying to learn everything Tony knows. As I do, I’ll share it with you.
Already, I see some very cool possibilities for #IdeaSex. I want to combine Tony Molina’s work with that of Mark Schatzker on The Dorito Effect. Piece by piece, we’ll do what Mixed Mental Artists do: we’ll evolve a culture that is better than any that has ever existed before and then we’ll share it with the world for free.
Motivation 3.0. It wins every time.