Saturday, November 03, 2007

At this rate, our grandchildren will ALL have asthma

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, medicine, allergies

Human "progress" is a tragicomedy of "five steps forward, four steps back", and the occasional "ten back, eleven forward...much later". Medical practice has always been a mixture of keen observation and tragic speculation. As an example of the first, the large TB sanitariums set up, primarily in the 19th Century, in sunny locales based their treatment on the concept that sunlight helped "consumptives." This concept is right, and recent study of the many helpful effects of Vitamin D3 have just about proved it (See the November 2007 issue of Scientific American). So, too, the "clean air" maps made in the late 1800s of places that were best for a "hay fever vacation". More recent study has shown that those which still exist are remarkably free of pollen and mold spores.

On the other hand, with allergy in mind, the affliction was thought to be primarily nervous, caused by stress, to the point that many doctors favored extracting afflicted children from their families for extended periods of time, and some even recommended "parentectomy"!

All three practices are mentioned within a few pages of one another in Breathing Space: How Allergies Shape Our Lives and Landscapes by Gregg Mitman. The book traces the history of allergy and asthma, primarily since about 1800, though there is a some historical record from Roman times. The writing is so overloaded with facts that I grew numb in the reading. Only when the author, in the last two chapters, came to his own experience and the medical landscape he experiences, did the writing gain passion and engage me.

To me, the lesson of the book reflects I Timothy 6:10, " of money is a root of all kinds of evils." Note: not the only root, not of "all" evil, but a highly significant factor. In medicine, it is a rare physician who makes decisions for medical reasons only. I am still looking for an honest doctor: one whose office bears not a single advertisement from a drug company; one that has no cabinet of "free samples"; one who tries the simplest tests first.

A case in point: One third of all cases of infertility are caused by low thyroid. A test for T3, T3, and TSH costs little, and leads to a cheap ($10/month for Thyroxine supplement) treatment. I have met but one honest gynecologist, the one who, when we moved to a new state 20 years ago, gave my wife a full physical, including above the neck, and within ten minutes, said "you have a lump on your thyroid". Ten years of various and expensive and painful tests in our prior place, and no doctor had ever touched her neck! None had ordered a single blood test!! After two months on Thyroxine, my wife conceived.

In the same way, the first thing most doctors do if you present yourself with wheezing and other allergy or asthma symptoms, is go to the "free sample" cabinet, grab whatever is most abundant among the inspirators, and give it to you, "Try this for starters." If it works, you get a prescription that'll take about half your discretionary income. Little thought is given to finding if something might work even better, and perhaps cost less.

It seems the human race is undergoing a slow evolution to adapt to urban life. Some people adapt well already; the rest are getting asthma and dying young. This frightening affliction, once confined to 1-2% of the population, is now seen in about 20%!

Well, I did read through the whole book. It shows how, over and over again, that as soon as a place is found with air that is good for allergic people, a "blue-gold rush" ensues, and the resulting development ruins the air. Humans are really good at fouling their own nest! I may rant on the indoor air business on another occasion.

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