by Les Saidel - June, 2012
I am reminded of the old wives tale you hear being bandied about so often, inevitably about some great uncle or distant relative, who lived to the ripe old age of a hundred and ten and who spent his life drinking, smoking heavily and indulging his every desire. The inexorable wisdom inferred from this story is if he could live to such a ripe old age while doing everything "wrong", what purpose is there in living a life of abstinence and trying to keep healthy.
Before we can adequately reply to this question we need to understand a little more what health means.
The human body is built from microscopic building blocks called cells. There are different kinds of cells - muscle cells, skeletal (bone) cells, epithelial cells (skin and membranes), nerve cells and others. Each has a specific function in the body and each has a slightly different composition and form. There are however, certain basic elements common to the different types of cells - an outer membrane covering the cell, an inner nucleus containing the genetic code of the cell (DNA, RNA) and an inner body (cytoplasm) containing various nutrients (proteins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats), enzymes, antibodies etc.
The cell membrane is semi-permeable (or porous) and selectively allows the flow of molecules in and out of the cell. There is a constant traffic of nutrients and oxygen entering and waste products leaving the cell, often determined by osmotic pressure, the pressure caused by higher or lower concentrations of minerals like sodium, calcium, magnesium etc.
As long as the cell receives the nutrients it requires, it continues to function normally. It is a healthy cell, performing the function in the body it was designed to, whether it is contracting a muscle, or transmitting an electrical signal to the brain.
The human body consists of billions upon billions of these cells, all working together in the various systems of the body, the nervous system, the digestive system, the respiratory system and others. Not for nothing has it been said that the human body is a Divine masterpiece. The further we delve into its mysteries the more we discover the intricacy, the complexity and the beauty of G-d's creation.
It seems so simple, that in order to keep the cells (and hence the body) healthy, all that is needed is to provide them with the required nutrients. It actually is simple and is easily achieved if an effort is made to do so. However, simply providing adequate nutrients does not tell the whole story,
Unfortunately we live in a hazardous world, not necessarily in the sense you might think. Besides numerous natural hazards to the human body which are not man made, such as viruses, radiation from the sun, etc., man has seen fit to add a plethora of hazards of his own making. Mankind has polluted and perverted the world in the pursuit of avarice and what has been called "progress". To be sure, many discoveries and innovations have been made and contrived to improve and extend our lives, but they are by far outnumbered by the destructive discoveries and innovations whose sole purpose is to make somebody more money.
The human body is constantly exposed to these hazards, both natural and man made and is constantly under attack.
A few examples are in order.
Some of the worst hazards we encounter are what the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1976 called "strange new creatures of our own making", referring to the over 2 million synthetic organic compounds created by man and used in various industries. There are over 25,000 new synthetic organic compounds added each year and there are currently over 30,000 in actual commercial production. Ever heard of 2-Propanone? No? The females of the species will probably be more familiar with its more common name - acetone. After removing 3 months of nail polish, the empty acetone bottle goes in the trash that goes to the dump and seeps into the ground water. Every year billions of tons of industrial waste of every denomination add to the billions of tons of domestic waste that are disposed of. Despite efforts at controlling seepage of dumped waste, much of it finds its way into our water systems.
Inadequate study has been made into the toxic effects of all these synthetic compounds. Many are known to be carcinogenic, but the majority has not even been studied yet, for their effect on the human body.
Even if you install the most sophisticated reverse osmosis or distillation water purification systems in your homes to filter drinking water, what about the water you bathe in, that comes into contact with your skin? What about eating vegetables, even organic vegetables that were irrigated with water that has not been filtered with such sophisticated purification systems? What about eating bread from even organic grains that was grown with such water? If the compound was in the water, it will end up in your food and will eventually end up in your body.
Another serious hazard is radiation. Some radiation is natural, such as ultraviolet radiation from the sun, cosmic x-rays, naturally occurring radioisotopes such as uranium and thorium. In addition to this naturally occurring radiation, man adds much of his own to the environment in the fields of medicine, industry, energy, agriculture and scientific research. The waste products of these radioactive compounds often find their way into our water
Add to this, electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions from electric pylons, from electrical appliances (even light bulbs) and radiation from cellular phones and cellular phone antennas. This radiation surrounds us in the very air we breathe.
The food and pharmaceutical industries add their share of hazards in the thousands of chemical compounds present in medicines, cosmetics, preservatives, insecticides and other products which find their way into and onto our bodies.
Special government agencies are set up to monitor things like pollutants in water, new drugs, foodstuffs, EMF levels in appliances etc. They supposedly test and monitor levels to ensure that they are below acceptable limits. However their resources are limited. That cannot possibly study the effects of all combinations of synthetic compounds with drugs with food with radiation. The permutations are almost endless. Usually the only way to discover a hazard is when someone dies, which results in a recall. It is impossible to study the effects of EMF radiation from the new energy saving light bulbs over an extended period like 50 years, for example. We will know in 50 years time whether these things are really safe or not.
The reason that all the above examples are hazardous to our health is because they can cause damage at the cellular level, by either inhibiting normal cell function or by causing mutation.
Now consider this. In 1 gram of human cells there are approximately 1 billion cells. You know how much you weigh, so do the math of how many cells you have in your body. All it takes is ONE solitary cell to become damaged or mutated by any one or a combination of the above hazards, natural or man made, to initiate the process we know as cancer. Even worse than that, it does not necessarily have to manifest itself immediately, the cell can remain dormant (a sleeper cell) for many decades even before it activates and spreads. Something you do as a teenager can come back to bite you when you are sixty five.
There is no escaping it. Even if you were to run away to the Antarctic and live on a glacier, far away from the rest of humanity, all it would take is to eat one fish to be exposed to mercury poisoning (the worlds oceans are almost entirely contaminated), or one hour too many exposed to the sun to cause damage.
It is a pretty grim picture. If, to all the man made hazards above, you add acts of G-d such as floods, earthquakes, work and road accidents, etc. it is enough to make you realize that we lead a very fragile existence upon this earth.
So you have three options.
You can try escape, like the singer Michael Jackson. He used to walk around with an oxygen mask and live in a sterilized environment. Look what happened to him. There is no escape.
You can be so depressed by this that you won't even want to get up in the morning.
Thirdly you can live each day to the fullest. You have no control over how long you have on this earth, nobody does, so you might as well enjoy to the full whatever time you do have.
This last option seems to strengthen the conventional wisdom I cited at the beginning of this article, live life to the fullest, indulge your every desire, drink, smoke, fool around - "Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die". To be sure, some people live their life by this philosophy, I will not judge them. What I will however is debate with them the definition of living life to the "FULL".
That great-uncle who lived to the ripe old age of a hundred and ten, sure he enjoyed his smoking and his drinking, but what was the quality of life he had in those hundred and ten years. Did he wake up every morning with a hangover and wheezing, or did he wake up feeling invigorated and full of energy, ready to tackle whatever the day brings. Living life to the full does not necessarily mean breaking down all the boundaries of morality and society and going on a binge. I would argue that there is more to life for one who knows the fulfillment of self discipline and achieving everything you can possibly achieve with the gifts G-d gave you and those that you attain by you own efforts..
The renowned nutritionist Adele Davis, a woman who lived her life as healthy as you could possibly live it, died in the end from cancer. Her critics use that as "proof" that all she taught was "faddist" and no cure or guarantee of anything. To some degree they are right, living a healthy lifestyle will not necessarily prevent you from getting cancer. The dangers are so numerous and omnipresent that the odds are not all that great.
The question is one of statistics. Do you stand more chance of falling off a cliff if you continually walk on the precipice, or if you keep your distance? Similarly, do you run a greater risk of getting cancer by neglecting your health, or by boosting it, thereby giving your body a fighting chance.
True, you may be struck tomorrow by lightning, or run over by a car. What good did it do you then that you were healthy your whole life and were very strict in what you ate and in taking regular exercise.
The answer to that is - you are living life to the fullest. By being healthy you wake up every morning invigorated, full of energy, ready to meet the demands of life. Unrestrained by frailty and fatigue you are able to achieve all you can possibly achieve. These are the advantages of a healthy body and a healthy mind.
So nurture your health, it is your greatest facilitator to achieving what G-d set you upon this earth for.
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