We are constantly reminded that obesity1 is associated with many different diseases, from high blood pressure and heart disease, from cancer and diabetes, to ulcers, skin infections, gallstones, gastritis, gingivitis, glaucoma, and gout – to name just a few…
Why is obesity associated with so many diseases?
Every disease is caused by one or more deficiencies or excesses. Every disease that is associated with obesity has a cause. Obesity is NOT the cause.
Is obesity a disease? According to Scott Kahan, writing for the Huffington Post, it is a disease. Scott bases his article on conventional wisdom. Unfortunately, his stated cause of obesity, “consumption of more calories than are “burned off” by movement and metabolism” is not just simplistic, it is simply wrong.
Many expects do not classify obesity as a disease. Wiki notes that obesity is associated with many diseases, but does not call it a disease – at this time (Wiki is subject to change over time). Wiki gets the cause wrong as well, but is a bit more careful, saying “At an individual level, a combination of excessive food energy intake and a lack of physical activity is thought to explain most cases of obesity“.
What are the causes of obesity?
Some simple diseases are caused by single deficiencies. Each Vitamin was identified as ‘vital’ because deficiencies result in specific diseases. Deficiency of water results in dehydration and deficiency of food results in starvation. Although we don’t call starvation a disease, people who are suffering from starvation suffer a cluster of ‘related diseases’, because they are suffering from many deficiencies.
Other simple diseases are caused by single excess. All foods are toxic in excess, and people have died from drinking too much water. Children can easily get diarrhea from eating too much fruit. Adults don’t usually make that mistake (again). Many foods from nature contain toxins, designed to fight insects and other pests, that can cause illness when consumed excessively. Many of our supermarket foods are treated with pesticides and preservative chemicals, which are also toxic in excess.
It’s easy to assume that people who are obese are suffering from many excesses.
A useful assumption. But like many assumptions – only partly right. Partly wrong. People who are obese suffer from many excesses. They eat too much of some foods, and these excesses cause obesity and can also cause many associated diseases.
But… People who are obese also suffer from deficiencies. Obesity is not just a disease of excess. It is a disease of imbalances. It is also a disease of malnutrition, a disease of deficiencies.What deficiencies do obese people typically suffer from? There are few studies – even though it is well known that obese people are often malnourished. Wired magazine reported that “A new survey finds that one in three homeless people in Boston are clinically obese,” in an articled titled “Homeless and Overweight: Obesity Is the New Malnutrition.” Poor, malnourished people are more likely to be obese than healthier, wealthier people.
Does obesity ’cause’ disease? No it does not. Obesity is associated with many other diseases. The causes of obesity, excessive consumption of some nutrients, and deficiencies in other nutrients cause unhealthinesses, which grow more and more serious until one or more diseases are diagnosed.
We might learn something by flipping the question: Do the diseases that are associated with obesity cause obesity? Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Does heart disease cause obesity, or does obesity cause heart disease? Or is it something else?
Does diabetes cause obesity, or does obesity cause diabetes? Or is it something else?
Does cancer cause obesity, or does obesity cause cancer? Or is it something else?
It is clearly ‘something else’.
Not all obese people get heart disease, diabetes and cancer. Not all people with cancer, diabetes and cancer are obese.
Some factors that cause heart disease can also cause obesity. Some factors that cause diabetes can also cause obesity. Some factors that cause cancer can also cause obesity. Or you can write it the other way. Factors that cause obesity can also cause heart disease. Factors that cause obesity can also cause diabetes. Factors that cause obesity can also cause cancer.
But which factors? Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause heart disease also cause obesity? Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause diabetes also cause obesity? Which deficiencies and which excesses that cause cancer also cause obesity?
Our medical systems prefer to treat ‘medical conditions’ and ‘diseases’, not causes. For many medical conditions, this approach is more efficient and effective. If your child breaks a leg on the playground, treat the condition. The cause is only relevant when you are designing playgrounds. If you are infected by a parasite – attack the parasite. The cause is only relevant if you want to prevent these parasite attacks. But for some illnesses, treating medical conditions is the wrong approach.
In the case of ‘chronic medical conditions‘, like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer – attacking the disease is irresponsible. Attacking the disease, without researching and addressing the cause in each individual case – simply allows more disease to occur.
Attacking heart disease with statins, allows the condition that caused the heart disease to continue – and might make it worse. Attacking cancer with chemotherapy allows the conditions that caused the cancer to continue – and can make them worse.
So why do our medical systems attack chronic disease with medicines that ignore the cause? Because it’s quick and easy. And it is a money making proposition. Sell the “cure”, even if it doesn’t cure. Sell the “search for the cure” as well.
Finding the cause of an individual person’s chronic disease is difficult and expensive. And it doesn’t pay. It doesn’t make money for the doctor, nor for any drug marketer. It is very difficult to measure and evaluate the nutrient deficiencies of an individual patient. There are no medical tests that effectively evaluate overall nutrient healthiness. It is more difficult to analyze the 5 year, or 10 year diet of an individual. I don’t remember what types of foods, in what proportions, 5 or 10 years ago. It takes 5 or 10 years to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes – and obesity. People don’t just forget what food they ate, they lie as well.
For a chronic disease – finding the cause, the ongoing cause, is critical for the patient’s long term health. When our medical systems attack ‘obesity’ without searching for individual causes, they are failing in their responsibility. They are attacking illness but ignoring healthiness. Like attacking war, while ignoring opportunities for peace.
Obesity is caused by specific deficiencies and specific excesses. But no one is identifying much less addressing the unhealthinesses that cause individual cases of obesity.
What are we doing? We are blaming the patient. You are overweight. It’s your fault, go on a diet and get some exercise. Which leads to “you have heart disease, it’s your fault – buy some statins” and “you have diabetes, it’s your fault, buy some insulin” and “you have cancer, it’s your fault – buy some chemotherapy — maybe your insurance will pay for it.”
And in each case, the patient is allowed, even encouraged, to continue the actions that caused the heart disease, the diabetes, the cancer. Because no-one identifies the cause. We do the same with arthritis and many other chronic diseases.
Don’t confuse ‘blame’ with ’cause’. There is lots of ‘blame’ for chronic diseases. You’re overweight – you eat too many calories. You have diabetes – maybe it’s your genetics. You have cancer? Maybe it’s the pesticides, the bottled water, the GMO foods. Blame, blame, blame. Blame is not cause.
There are other types of illness associated with obesity. Illnesses of the spirit, and illnesses of the community are poorly categorized and poorly understood by our medical systems. Our medical systems stop studying the hierarchy of healthicine (genetics, nutrients, cells, tissues, organs, systems, body, mind, spirit, and community) at the layer of ‘mind’, ignoring SPIRIT and COMMUNITY healthiness and illnesses. There are many genetic illnesses, cellular illnesses, kidney illnesses, and mental illnesses. Illnesses exist throughout the layers of the hierarchy of healthicine – except the spirit and the community. There are no illnesses classified as illness of the spirit, nor are there illnesses classified as illnesses of the community.
Obesity and the well known associated diseases, are also with chronic depression – an illness of the spirit. The medical community ignores illness of the spirit – so they call it an illness of the mind. The medical community also ignores illnesses of the community. Sociopathy (also known as psychopathy) is a community illness that has been found to be strongly linked to obesity.
It’s wrong to blame the individual, the patient for an illness of the spirit, or a community illness. Expecting them to make the necessary changes themselves, “go on a diet, get some exercise you lazy bum…” is ineffective and nonsensical in those cases.
If you have cancer, maybe you think it doesn’t matter. The cause doesn’t matter – you just want the cure. You’ll walk for the cure, talk for the cure, run for the cure, make ribbons for the cure.
I believe the cure for cancer cannot be found by searching for the cure. It can only be found in searching for the cause. By searching for health. The cure for obesity cannot be found searching for the cure, it can only be found by searching for the cause. There are general causes – you can find proof that anything and everything causes cancer. We need to search for specific causes, for each person, if we want to heal obesity, and cancer.
Cures for chronic illness can only be found by searching for health.
Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity are ‘chronic’ diseases. There are no cures for ‘chronic diseases’, by definition. They are caused by ongoing conditions – and as long as those conditions continue – the disease will continue to be, and to grow.
Only when we find, and fight, the individual causes will we defeat a chronic disease.
So, why is obesity associated with so many diseases? Obesity, and many chronic illnesses have common causes that persist over long periods of time. This allows unhealthiness to grow slowly, undetected. Eventually, it seems like the illness ‘appears out of nowhere’. He was perfectly healthy, and then he was struck down by cancer, a heart attack, a stroke.
If we can defeat obesity, will we defeat the associated diseases? Yes, we when learn to fight obesity by tackling the causes. When we learn to tackle the causes of chronic disease – we will learn to heal chronic disease before it is diagnosed.
There will be no need to cure chronic disease when we learn to pursue healthiness instead of pursuing disease.
Everyone has a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of healthiness.
to your health, tracy
1 Note: in this post, I use the word ‘obesity’ although the material is relevant to excessive weight in general. I use the word obesity to simplify the text. It is also important to understand that guidelines for “healthy weight” are poorly studied, from a scientific perspective. eg. It has recently demonstrated that people who are ‘slightly overweight’ may actually be healthier than those who have a ‘healthy weight’ according to government guidelines of the US FDA and Health Canada.