The Milk Diet

Looking for Health in All the Wrong Places

In the late 1800s, a young Scottish physician was experiencing difficulty in establishing his medical practice. With extra time on his hands, the young man turned his remarkable mind to the telling of mysteries and their solutions. In contrast to his struggling practice, his writing would be an immediate and astounding success. The young doctor’s name was Arthur Conan Doyle and his literary creation, Sherlock Holmes, would become synonymous with deductive genius for generations to come.

Though a fine storyteller with a flair for both humor and drama, perhaps Doyle’s greatest talent was his penetrating vision into the nature of human problem solving. In particular, Doyle had an uncanny sense for spotting human problem-solving blind spots and mental biases to which he made sure that the great Holmes was immune. Indeed, a crucial component of Holmes’s timeless appeal is his ability to make sense out of what less gifted observers might view as insufficient or contradictory evidence.

Holmes’s special talent is his ability to appreciate the importance of clues that others fail to notice, although their importance is obvious once seen from the proper perspective. Often, this perspective requires Holmes to look at the evidence from a viewpoint that is precisely opposite from one that seems naturally right. In one classic Holmes mystery, a murder had apparently taken place at a remote country estate, with the evidence indicating that the culprit was an intruder. Holmes determined otherwise, with his characteristic flair.

The case of Silver Blaze

In the Sherlock Holmes mystery entitled Silver Blaze, the victim, a resident of the estate, was found one morning on the grounds, having been felled by a blow to the head on the previous evening. The evidence strongly suggested that the culprit was a peculiar stranger who had been observed on the estate’s grounds earlier that day. The police had already apprehended the suspect, and they were intending to charge him with the crime. Holmes intervened, insisting to the police that they had made a mistake.

The estate housed many people, horses, and an alert stable dog. The case turned on an obscure, but key point: After questioning witnesses, Holmes recognized a critical fact that others had missed. Ultimately this discovery exonerated the chief suspect. The great Holmes explained to his astounded listeners that the key to the case was the curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.  Before he could continue, a listener objected, insisting that the dog did nothing in the nighttime.

That was the curious incident, replied Holmes. He later explained that the absence of barking suggested to him that the culprit was well known to the manor’s hound. This indicated a need to re-examine the evidence from a fresh perspective. With this new viewpoint, Holmes solved the mystery, because of his brilliant awareness that the absence of something is often just as important as its presence. Though clearly true, this point is often difficult for most of us to grasp.

This difficulty is the result of a natural human problem-solving blind spot, an innate limitation of our psychology. It is precisely this type of human limitation that Holmes was so adept at noticing. And it is this type of limitation that results in the majority of our society remaining blind to the key facts regarding their health, although the facts are overwhelming once seen from the proper perspective.

Health mysteries

Millions of people in our country are suffering and dying from a handful of devastating conditions, including heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and cancer. These conditions alone account for more than 75 percent of our nation’s premature deaths and the majority of our collective chronic disability. Yet, the culprits in these tragedies have been difficult for most people to accurately identify.

The evidence, to many, appears to be contradictory and confusing. Like a Sherlock Holmes mystery, people are puzzled about finding the causes of their health problems and what to do about them. They look to experts in books, television, and the Internet, and to their doctors. More than 10 million people search the Internet each week seeking health-related information, making health information-seeking one of our population’s primary intellectual pursuits. This is quite appropriate, as our health problems are of epidemic proportions.

Unfortunately, most of the “expert” information dispensed is erroneous and misleading. For example, patients often are led to believe that the real culprits in their health problems are their genes. This misconception can lead them to assume that any solution to their problems will require medical intervention, because their particular body simply doesn’t work properly, that it is “defective” by nature. If they have high cholesterol, they are told to ingest cholesterol-lowering drugs. If they have high blood pressure, they are encouraged to ingest blood pressure-lowering medications. And, if they have Type II diabetes (about 95 percent of all diabetes cases), they are told that their health requires that they ingest or inject insulin.

In the alternative health arena, the “expert” suggestions are somewhat different. Herbal remedies, concentrated foodstuffs in the form of pills, vitamin supplements, and other treatments are the standard fare. Similar to conventional thought, such alternative approaches seem to confirm the same unspoken conclusion: The body of a person with a health problem cannot be expected to achieve and sustain a healthy state without adding something! Either by virtue of genetic flaw or because of dietary deficiency, the notion once again is that something is missing. The recommendation to “take something for it” makes intuitive sense to the majority of people, often encouraging them to continue down a path of self-destruction. Meanwhile, the real culprits are ignored and continue to do their damage, unchecked.

The real culprits

The real culprits in most modern-day health problems are excesses, not deficiencies. It is the subtraction (i.e., reduction or elimination) of these excesses that will solve most health problems, not the addition of medications or supplements. Although it may come as a surprise to most people, the subtraction of excess is nearly always far more effective at causing the restoration of health than is the addition of anything.

In atherosclerosis, for example, excess dietary cholesterol, fat, and protein (mostly in the form of animal products) leads to deposits of fatty substances within the cardiovascular system. These deposits clog up the system and often result in heart attack, stroke, or congestive heart failure, events that are responsible for about 50 percent of the deaths in our country each day. Exquisite research has shown that the subtraction of these dietary excesses is the most effective way to manage the problem. In the ground breaking Lifestyle Health Trial, Dean Ornish and his colleagues at the University of California have conclusively demonstrated that by dramatically reducing the amount of animal products in the diet, and by reducing fat intake from about 40 percent to about 10 percent of calories consumed, the body will soon begin to reverse the atherosclerosis. Neither medication nor nutritional supplement additive has shown equivalent success.

Not elementary

Sherlock Holmes was fond of explaining to his sidekick, Dr. Watson, that the connections he made were “elementary.” Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth. Although obvious once viewed from the proper perspective, the achievement of mental clarity in a Sherlock Holmes mystery is an exciting moment for the reader, as Holmes brilliantly maneuvers those present into seeing the facts in a clear and accurate new light. Not uncommonly, this mental reorganization begins with a startling conceptual leap.

Grasping that the major key to health is mostly about subtraction, and not addition, is itself a major conceptual leap. Although seemingly simple, this connection is perhaps the most profound and most difficult principle in modern health science. Once seen from the proper perspective, it is simple. But achieving this perspective is a remarkably challenging mental task. After many years of experience at patient education, we have come to believe that there is a powerful and fundamental force that is responsible for this difficulty.