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Alison Rose Levy

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Robert Thurman: The Sacred Cows in the Health Care Debate

Posted: 08/16/09 09:50 AM ET

Studies show that over half of all Americans are interested in promoting wellness and preventing disease. But some people are terrified that the food Nazis will come running after them and force feed them spinach.

In a series of upcoming blogs I'll be speaking with thought leaders in integrative medicine and allied fields about the cultural divide on health care. For this blog, I spoke with Columbia University, Professor Robert Thurman, the leading U.S. scholar of Buddhism with a background in Tibetan Medicine.

Alison Rose Levy: Americans have poorer health outcomes than any other developed nation. That must be coming from how we approach health care. What are the blindspots that prevent us from recognizing and getting the health care we need?

Robert Thurman: It's not a matter of fixing this or that institution or changing how we pay for health insurance. It requires a social movement. In Tibetan medicine and most other world medicines, when someone is unwell, they first look at lifestyle and diet because those two things are the major poisoning and major healing of people.

ARL: What is poisoning people ?

RT: When people eat food filled with artificial chemicals, addictive substances, hormones, preservatives, and antibiotics, these substances destroy the flora and fauna of their internal immune system.

ARL: Making them less able to fight off diseases? So are you saying that many of the causes of an individual health problem are societal?

RT: Yes, we have these sacred cows, like the food industry which controls the FDA and produces these horrible meats and milks, and chemicalizes the soil with chemical fertilizer, generally poisoning both the food and the environment in which the whole population lives.

ARL: Well, why is this overlooked?

RT: In medical school, doctors aren't taught about nutrition. They're taught to scorn the idea that food is important.

In high tech, high research, big hospital activity, they are completely removed from the daily life of people. The general practitioners in our system mostly come from abroad because our people are trained and conditioned to go into industrialized medicine and reductionist science, which is almost a distraction from the real health needs of people.

It's an overall corruption that arises from being captured by an industrial mindset that ruins medical practices by making medicine an industry rather than an art.

ARL: Why do people tune out or go into denial about the impact of these forces on their health? Why is this so hard to face up to? Because it's so pervasive?

BT: The whole system is corrupt-- starting with the politicians. They're paid for by the big industries, and they promulgate rules and regulations that don't support the well-being of the population.

Academic institutions are similarly corrupted because the people in the science departments are funded by government and corporate grants given by the very corporations that want to distract people from the real cause of their difficulties.

The problem is also with our rigidified scientific way of approaching health -- we're not being thorough enough in our science.

If we were being scientific, doctors would have to look at how people are afflicted by this poisoned lifestyle. Doctors would really have to go after the food industry, the medical industry, and the pharmaceutical industry and we'd all have to admit to the complete train wreck of what I call industrialized medicine.

ARL With all of the health debate going on right now, there's not a lot of clarity on these points. People tend to believe what they believe about health care without realizing that their beliefs are formed and shaped by media and marketing messages.

RT: People are mis-educated by the media. The final straw was when Reagan allowed monopolies in the media and canceled the Fairness Doctrine. This turns the media into a propaganda machine for the current system-- so people are just totally confused.

You can see this in the debate on insurance reform. Insurance companies put out propaganda that a public option will end up denying and rationing people health care, where the HMOs are denying people and rationing health care right now.

ARL: How can we change this?

RT: It requires a mental and scientific revolution in which the U.S. decides to bracket commercial concerns, and actually analyze the soil, the food and lifestyle of the people--and then go after those who are giving people poisoned substances to consume. That is the cause of all the diseases people experience, and those are the causes of the disruption of the health of people living in an abundant society, like ours.


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