Friday, August 15, 2008

Cancer and obesity

This blog is a commentary on truth in medicine and thus it would not seem apropos to discuss truth or its lack in terms of cancer and obesity--both exist, both are "true." But perhaps a deeper truth can be found in both topics--one that is not readily apparent: Is there a similarity between the two? Cancer is overtaking heart disease as the number one cause of death in this country. And obesity is rampant, spreading as the number one health hazard both in this country and around the world.

Cancer is said to be more than one disease--to result from many different causes. There is the genetic cause--cancer results from mutated or damaged genes, which can then be transmitted to (inherited in) succeeding generations. Cancer results from abnormal metabolic processes--which MedTruth has already indicated to be the case in cancer cachexia--the weight loss and bodily debilitation seen frequently in advanced disease, which is the major cause of death in cancer (73 percent of all cancer deaths) and treatable by the drug hydrazine sulfate. Cancer results from chronic, poor nutrition. Cancer results from inflammatory tissue reaction. Cancer results from physical trauma (bodily injury). Cancer results from (excess) radiation exposure--medical and 'background.' Cancer results from psychological trauma--following an unexpected breakup in relationships, the loss of a business partner, the death of a loved one. Because cancer has been indicated to result from so many different causes, it has been said to be many different diseases, not one--and thus not prone to a single solution. This consideration has prompted some cancer scientists to express, "There is no silver bullet for cancer," meaning there is no single treatment that will be curative for all types of cancer.

But this doesn't reflect current activity. All cancer centers, all cancer research efforts, all cancer research investigators--are trying to discover a single remedy that will treat all kinds of cancer. Cancer researchers recognize that while many different 'stimuli' will produce cancer, that the disease in various organ systems--no matter what the immediate cause--has certain characteristic similarities and just because we do not know its basic underlying cause does not mean that we will not one day find it and thus come up with a single treatment that will be effective in all cases.

The same may also be the case for obesity. Obesity has many different causes: 'glandular,' metabolic, genetic, calorie balance, nutrition, lifestyle and others. Thus while many people attribute obesity to caloric intake alone, this is clearly not the case. While increased caloric intake must necessarily--from a thermodynamic point of view--accompany most cases of obesity, obesity can result in the face of "normal" or sometimes even "subnormal" caloric intake. Like cancer, obesity seems to be many 'diseases'--to have many causes. But like cancer, can it also have a common, underlying cause--one that is pertinent to all cases--but one which we have simply not yet discovered?

In geometry there is a theorem: things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. If cancer, which is said to result from many causes, has in reality a single, underlying cause--which we have not yet identified--can obesity, which is said also to result from many causes--in reality also have a single, underlying cause--which, again, we have simply failed to identify?

Much effort is now being expended to find a single cause for cancer. Hardly any effort is being expended to see whether indeed this "twin" condition under discussion may also have a unifying theme. Therefore this blog will examine obesity--to see whether a deeper truth in medicine may exist to account for this growing world problem.

It is expected that the 'soluton' to cancer will involve physical--biochemical, biological--mechanisms that will account for tumor growth, for abnormal tissue formation and invasion into normal bodily tissues and glandular elements, especially in view of this disease's multiple manifestations. Obesity, too, has multiple manifestations--'causes'--but because obesity also must necessarily involve 'choice'--the excess intake of calories in most cases--a 'solution' to this problem may well reside in, and therefore yield to an examination of--the psychological realm.

A first question to arise is, Do people who are overweight know they're overweight? By "people" is meant the majority of people. We cannot ever achieve 100 percent when we talk of people who may carry excessive weight--but we can speak of at least 70 percent to 95 percent. Do people who are overweight actually know they're overweight? The answer must be a resounding 'yes!' The mirror tells them they're overweight. Social situations tell them they're overweight. Their own eyes tell them they're overweight. This question in no way addresses whether they care they're overweight--merely the knowledge that they know they're overweight.

Do people know that being overweight is associated with a multitude of health problems--high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, among many others--which can result in severe illness and/or severely shorten life expectancy? Television broadcasts, frequent articles in the print media, visits to their doctors' offices emphasize these life-limiting complications at every turn. Therefore the answer to this question is that people who are overweight know--are frequently informed--that being overweight is not good for them.

Thus people who are overweight know they are overweight and that being overweight is destructive of their health. That is, being overweight is a self-destrutive election on their part.

Do people who are overweight like being overweight? This is not a simple question, for some maintain that people basically do what they like to do--that a person who is overweight likes to be overweight. But with the large numbers of dieters striving to lose weight, the nationwide diet support groups, the diet foods on grocery and specialty-shop shelves, even the in-hospital diet programs, there is no doubt that the vast majority, even those who may "like" being overweight--do NOT like being overweight. Thus whether a 'psychological ambivalence' to this queston seems to exist is immaterial, in the face of the vast numbers of dieters seeking to lose weight.

Another aspect to this same question is, Do people get pleasure eating?

People must get pleasure in life. In their activities. In their strivings. In sexual expression. In their interpersonal relations. Even in masochistic outlets--in physical and psychological harm done to them by others. No matter what the orientation or circumstance--the hermit immersed in the psychological cave of darkness, the child trapped in the vise of familial poverty, the socially advantaged whose overindulgence of appetites has led to spiritual dissolution--the inner urge for pleasure remains as a rock-bottom part of the human condition.

I often have lunch at a cavernous restaurant--dozens of substantial tables and chairs, many booths--that serves good food in quantity and at fair prices. From a table in the middle of the restaurant one can view the front glass doors--which at that time of day hardly ever have time to close completely, due to the plethora of diners entering and exiting. Making their way into this restaurant at meal times is a cross-section of humanity--the old (some in wheelchairs), the young, those in-between--in business suits and jackets, in dresses and skirts, in leisure clothes, many in shorts and flimsy tops or sweatshirts, weather permitting. But what is outstanding about the mass of humanity entering or exiting is their weight. Many are carrying an extra twenty-five to fifty pounds. Some, more than a few, are frankly--frighteningly--obese. The men are sheltering up to 100 pounds or more above their belt lines, some with their abdomens hanging below their waists. The women are storing excess weight in all parts of their bodies, their legs, arms and other parts of their anatomy stretched by layers of 'cellulite.' Children, whose outlines appear to be puffed up like balloons, follow in their family's footsteps. In many instances the adults are so obese that they tip while walking or actually use assistive devices--canes--to walk. Observations inform us immediately that this overweight is not 'gender-specific'--men, women (unfortunately many children) are caught up equally in this 'epidemic.' If one bothers to do an informal 'count' on those entering the restaurant, it seems that two out of three are carrying excessive amounts of weight--and half of those (one out of three) are frankly obese.

When those overweight people are seated at tables and their meals delivered, in many instances their plates are laden with food, and are cleaned totally--even the children's.

Do people get pleasure eating? Yes they do.

At this juncture it is apparent that people who are overweight know they are overweight, know that being overweight is destructive of their health--will make then ill, prevent them from full participation in life, shorten their lives--that being overweight is a self-destructive choice on their part. And that people gain pleasure in eating. While at first glance it may be thought that pleasure gained in eating offsets the destructive elements of overweight, it actually reinforces them, acting as the 'mortar' that helps keep the edifice of self-destructiveness in place. One can see at a glance that despite diet programs and diet foods and diet support groups and media promotion of dietary success stories, these measures are doomed to failure, for they do not address the fundamental election of self-destruction inherent in overweight. That is, despite knowing they're overweight and knowing that overweight will substantially cripple their physical and psychological lives, despite the existence of self-help groups to reverse and rectify this condition, people still choose to maintain this mode of destroying the self.


Is there a relation between overweight and self-esteem? A connection? Can people with self-esteem be overweight? How can people who 'admire' the self carry excess weight to the point of bodily distortion? How can people who 'admire' the self engage in a 'process' that leads to destruction of the self?

But that is too easy. Because 'self-esteem' can be based on both physical and psychological considerations. Can people who are 'pleased' with their psychological development, intellectual and artistic, ignore the destructive process they are imposing on their bodies by overweight, processes that will shorten their life spans--and still remain 'pleased' with themselves?

What determines self-esteem? Self-esteem involves contemplation of the self--our overall raison d'etre--our 'reason' for being in this world. We all think about this--both consciously and unconsciously--continuously. From childhood into adulthood. Why have we come into life? Is there a purpose in life? Do we have an individual purpose in life? Are people endowed with purpose?

It is commonplace to see the smiles and the expression of joy on even the smallest of infants--as they contemplate their surroundings, their parents and/or caregivers. This joy expressed by children--is the joy to be alive. The realization--amorphous at first, more finite with the passing years--that life is the greatest gift of all. That to each of us is given a "sense" that our individual life--self--is "special." That individual life is special. That this sense of "specialness" makes us what we are. That as long as we retain it, it will act as our internal gyroscope and will "validate" the life we have been given. The early nineteenth century landscape painter (especially of the Hudson River Valley), Thomas Cole, in his four-part masterpiece, The Voyage of Life (Munson-Williams Proctor Museum, Utica, New York), allegorizes that each life has 'magic' and in the second panel of his four-part painting he depicts "youth" reaching out to attain the 'magic' of life. This magic is none other than our "purpose" in life. Our individual purpose. That as long as we continue to develop the self within us--our hopes, dreams, aspirations--the individual magic with which we are endowed will be retained. (This development of the self is to be distinguished from "selfishness"--the aggrandizement of the individual over other individuals for the purpose of harnessing their power and wealth.)

But we have given up living for our selves--living to express our individual purpose. Living to fulfill our "contract" with life.

Instead we are increasingly being told that our "purpose" is to live for someone else. The purpose of the self--is to serve other people's selves. Whether the Communistic theme or the altruistic theme, we have been duped into giving up our integrity, our "specialness," our individual "purpose" in life.

Once we have done that, anything goes--our inner 'gyroscope' is gone. We have closed the door to preservation of the self. Self-destruction, in all its forms, sets in. And we are powerless to overcome it, for it is, in more instances than not, "frozen" in our unconscious.

We become adrift. We are afloat with the tide. We are in search of "finding ourselves." But the 'self'--our inner "essence"--is missing. It is gone. We have given it away. We know that overweight is destructive to our health, but we seem powerless to do anything about it. And the more we seem to try, the greater the problem becomes.

Can the loss of purpose be reversed? Yes, it can.

There are generally two ways to change our lives--redemption and reclamation.

When we perceive we have been on a wrong track, many times we try to do things that will "make up" for our wrong moves. We try to "redeem" our shortcomings, or what we perceive "must be" a defect in our make-up. Very often we do "volunteer" work, something we hope will result in the public, or private, good--as it usually does. Or church work, or temple work--the promotion of religious values. Join organizations for the disadvantaged, for the promotion of world peace, etc. But these redemptive measures--while serving potentially very constructive aims in society--cannot restore the 'magic' or "specialness" to the personality that loss of purpose has exacted.

Reclamation, however, can. We can "reclaim" at least part of our lost sense of purpose by revisiting old hopes and dreams and aspirations long ago abandoned (because of their anxiety content), long ago given up. But still beckoning to us. Still "open." Still sometimes flitting into our consciousness.

We can revisit one of these "open" longings--"scary" as it might be to do so. We can pursue a direction long ago cast aside but promising soul-deep satisfaction. Not for "mom and dad." Not for "hubby or wife." Not for the sake of our children--or of society. Not for the "greater good." But for ourselves.

We can confront those privately cherished, long given up goals one at a time, and if we work hard enough, then we will find we are successful in the 'reconstruction of the self,' and our need for self-destruction will diminish. And if we are overweight, chances are our overweight will diminish, too, without any specific measures taken.

Once we have been successful in "reclaiming" a single 'tableau' in our life that we had let slip by, it will be easier turning to another, then another. If we are successful in our efforts to face up to the poor decisions we have made in life--the ones that have markedly abridged what we have always known to be our inborn potential--the door to preservation of the self will once again open, and self-destruction, in all its manifestations--including overweight--will be chased away.

Regarding cancer, it will not be easy finding its single underlying molecular cause or causes, but once we do, we have a real hope of conquering the disease.

Regarding obesity, if indeed a loss of 'self' or 'purpose' is the basic 'cause' underlying this growing, worldwide illness, it, too, can be conquered. It will require courage, discipline and determination.