Friday, September 05, 2008

Am I on to something?

A thought just occurred to me, and I wanted to get it down quick before I went back to studying. I've been reading about a specific kind of nonparametric statistical testing, resampling, which led me to thinking about false positive and false negatives (Type I & II errors), which *somehow* made me think of food allergies (somehow I ended up at the Wiki for phenylketonuria, don't know how that one happened), and reminded me of hearing Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food recently. Any road, I feel like I can't've been the first person to think of this, but there's been much talk of growing rates of food allergies and other maladies, and various possible factors, like growing up in too-antiseptic environs and pesticides and such. Which may indeed have a part in it; but it reminds me of Pollan's simple admonition on how stay healthy, "Eat whole food, not a lot, mainly fruits and vegetables." Part of this -- the whole foods part -- is not a product placement, but rather advice to avoid processed foods (which he talks about in Omnivore's Dilemma, and possibly IDoF as well). Processed foods, besides having extra fat and salt to make up for the taste-reduction resulting from processing perfectly good food into O-shapes and for shelf life, also many times include label ingredients (Now with Vitamin C! And retsin! And Omega-3-fatty acids!!!!) that reflect today's understanding of the nutrients we need (and aren't getting). Pollan's point in respect to this was what he calls "Nutritionism" -- the idea of food as medicine, to deliver specific benefits. The problem is that we really don't understand food -- wild admixtures of chemicals they are -- and exactly how these nutrients work together. Turns out a lot of them (nutrients) don't work in their isolated forms -- or at least work better when they're in their original "delivery good," i.e. a fruit or a fish. That is, omega-3 in, say, yogurt, doesn't seem to work the same or nearly as well as omega-3 in, say, the fish it came from.

Perhaps besides from lowering their efficacy, all this separating out and dosing of processed foods with exotic and/or heavily re-processed and purified nutrient isolates, as well as all the derived flavor/color/etc. isolates, is part of the problem. That is, as part of its whole, original food given potential allergens wouldn't be recognized as such, but isolating and re-introducing them into different food contexts decreases the body's adaptive mechanisms of recognizing appropriate and not-appropriate antigens? (Or simply, perhaps, the number of spices and veggies that we're not eating as much and instead are getting in processed or nutrionized extract forms are undermining various and many yet-to-be-understood detox pathways? Cf. aflatoxin and apiaceous vegetables?)

I may be off base, or maybe onto something I'm not enunciating well. Or maybe I'm crazy like a fox... in any case, gotta go.

1 comment:

penn said...

I really like this idea (these ideas?). I also sometimes wonder what really is going on with food allergies. In dealing with lots of kids this summer, it turns out that some of them just get minor rashes. Is that an allergy or not? And what exactly does it come from? I'm still really nervous about the sheer amount of corn I must consume on a regular basis. Food worries like this make me want to be a farm wife in the middle of nowhere that puts away food for the winter and lives off the land. If I ever become a soccer mom, I will be that soccer mom that makes all her food from scratch.