Health: How disease is cured
One interesting point about health is to understand how disease is cured and how damage to the body is healed. Let's imagine that someone broke a leg and went to the hospital to fix it. The doctor takes an X-ray to see how bad it is, does some manipulation to put the bone in its proper place, uses plaster to immobilize it, and sends the patient back home with the recommendation to rest and drink plenty of milk.
We can see that the doctor can't directly fix the bone. All he can do is to create the necessary conditions so the body can heal it, by immobilizing the leg and giving it calcium and other nutrients, so the body has the necessary raw materials to heal it. In any case, all the healing is done by the body. The doctor can just adjust the conditions so the body can heal itself. We can observe that in most other conditions.
The Ayurveda, as well as most other systems of traditional medicine are based exactly in restoring the equilibrium of the body, so it can heal itself. The most basic condition for this to happen is that the body has the proper raw materials and the proper conditions. That is precisely what our modern lifestyle negates.
Going back to the example of the broken leg. Let's say that instead of drinking milk and other dairy products, our friend decides to have a diet based in french fries and to take a supplement based on calcium carbonate.
Calcium is needed in order for the body be able to fix a broken bone, however, to properly absorb and transport calcium, the body needs vitamin D, and to properly mobilize it, making it fix in the right place (in the broken bone, instead of forming plaques in the arteries, for example) it also needs vitamin K2. Finally, to use calcium, the body also needs magnesium.
We can see that in this case, apart from the calcium at least other 3 nutrients are needed. If one or more are in short supply, the process will not work very efficiently.
Interestingly enough, full fat milk has all the four nutrients, therefore a good amount of milk, combined with a good diet, would offer good raw materials for the healing of the bone. However, let's say the friend from the example decided to discard the advice and instead adopted a diet based on french fries, which hardly have any nutrients at all. To make matters worse, he decided to take calcium carbonate, a very low quality supplement with low absorption and collateral effects. Without the proper building blocks, his body would have a hard time and the bone would take a long time to heal. At the same time, the bad diet would probably cause other problems. Without vitamin K2, for example, it's not such a good idea to take more calcium, since the calcium will end up in the wrong places, causing plaques in the arteries or even cataract (which is accumulation of calcium in the retina).
From this we can detect two problems we frequently face nowadays: we fail to supply our bodies with the necessary nutrients, and try to cover for it with synthetic pills that offer nutrients in a concentrated and isolated form. This is especially true with industrialized products: there is not a single industrial process that increases the nutrition of the food we eat. Every time any grain, vegetable, nut or fruit is processed, part of the nutrients are lost. The more something is processed, less nutrition is going to remain. As the original ingredients are stripped of their fiber content, dried, heated to high temperatures, combined with unhealthy ingredients, like sugar, refined vegetable oils, and so on, they become progressively unhealthier, to the point they start to actually become toxic.
For example, wheat in its original form is rich in B vitamins and a few minerals, such as iron and magnesium. When the wheat is converted into flour, most of the nutrients are lost (since the bran and the germ are discarded) and the little that is left is lost in the bleaching process (used to make the flour white). To try to fix it, the white flour is enriched with some synthetic B vitamins, iron and calcium. Although this helps to avoid malnutrition on vulnerable populations, these synthetic nutrients are a far cry from what was originally there. They are cheap chemicals, with low bioavailability, that many times do more harm than good.
Let's say that this white flour is now used to make biscuits. The white flour is then mixed with hydrogenated fat, sugar, and artificial flavorings, creating a final product that is even worse. To add insult to the injury, preservatives are often added to increase shelf-life.
We can see that the humble wheat ends up being converted into something that is almost poisonous. The same is true for most other industrialized products. One of the secrets of a good diet is to avoid processed products and instead focus on “real” food: organic vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and milk products. This is the food in mode of goodness that Krsna describes in the Bhagavad-Gita (17.8): "Foods dear to those in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such foods are juicy, fatty, wholesome, and pleasing to the heart."
To function properly and repair wear and tear, our bodies need a great deal of different nutrients. It’s actually not so easy to get all the nutrients we need from the food, especially nowadays, when most of the soil is depleted in minerals. Most people nowadays don’t get enough nutrients from what they eat. Although the body can survive with much less than the ideal, many functions wil be impaired, and therefore one will not have the best health.
Apart from proteins and fats, there are 13 essential vitamins, 16 essential minerals and a great number of other trace minerals. All these different nutrients are essential for certain functions of the body, just as much as different materials are essential for the operation of a construction company.
Let's imagine that a large construction company is hired to repair a run-down neighborhood and build a few new residential buildings. The manager supplies the workers with plenty of cement, but forgets about other materials and components, such as steel bars, wood, pipes, wires, glasses, doors, etc. Without such materials, how are the workers supposed to fix or build anything? Instead of being fixed, the neighborhood will just continue to degrade.
Similarly, when we don't get enough nutrients from our diet, or we eat foods that are actually toxic, the body starts to just breakdown. It may start to show all kinds of strange symptoms that the doctors are usually not prepared to deal with. The doctor may then ask for a few tests, then for a few more, and a few more on top of them. Finally, not being able to find anything wrong, he may conclude that it must be a physiological issue and send the patient to a psychiatrist, who may end up prescribing drugs for schizophrenia! He could end with far more problems than he started with.
There are many devotees that start to feel tired, or have different problems and end up being classified as "mental" since the doctors can't find anything wrong with their bodies. On top of the physical difficulties, they also have to deal with emotional trauma.
The reason most doctors are not able to help in such cases is that allopathic medicine is based on masking symptoms and not investigating the underlying causes of the disease. Someone with fibromyalgia (a condition very common in women, that causes weakness and pain) could end up being given antidepressants or some stimulant drug, like ritalin. This would make the person feel better for a time, but without treating the underlying causes, it would just make the condition worse in the long run. Frequently the doctor would then start prescribing more medication (and more still to counteract the side-effects of the first batch) and the patient would be captured in a descending spiral, becoming progressively more sick.
In other situations, the doctor may not even be able to correctly identify the problem, since one may actually have multiple problems simultaneously and show a multitude of unrelated symptoms. The doctor may then try to prescribe multiple medicines to address each of the symptoms separately, and a few more to counteract the side-effects of the first batch. The patient ends them with a bag of medicines and a progressively weaker health. Most of us know many such stories. This is one of the reasons many people become interested in alternative medicine: even if it may not be able to help much, at least it doesn't involve so many dangerous drugs, and don't have so many collateral effects.
It's much more productive to start by fixing our diets, eating nutritional food, and offering the body the right conditions to heal. This is something that costs little and has no side effects. After following this regime for a few months, the majority of one's health problems will be solved automatically. He can then seek a doctor's help to treat any major problem that is left. Chances are that, having the problems being narrowed down to just a few symptoms, the doctor may be able to really help.
The takeaway is that modern medicine is focussed on medication, not in diet and proper eating habits. People become diseased because of their poor diets and hectic lifestyle and frequently doctors can do little to help them. To avoid this, one needs to understand how his own body works and fix his diet and habits. Without changes to our eating habits and lifestyle, we shouldn't expect that some magic pill will solve all our problems.