Sunday, July 09, 2017


Hal Bieler, MD

In the Sixties this time of year Scriver Studio was the main hub for certain kinds of visitors — usually white but somehow attached to “Indians.”  One of the regulars was Henry G. (Hal) Bieler, a California doctor who wrote a book calledFood Is Your Best Medicine.”  It was an early Salvation-by-Diet prescription.  He was esp. attached to John Clarke, the woodcarver, whom he called “The Indian.”

Bieler’s Wikipedia entry is written from a sympathetic point of view, accepting the value of alternative medicine, particularly the idea that good health is a matter of being in harmony with the world.  Diseases merely take advantage of one’s lack of adjustment, not a matter of infection by bugs, which is a human social prejudice.  A basic idea of Western Culture is that what is alien is dangerous and what is more alien than a germ?  But indigenous culture, by definition alternative, values the harmony idea, though it didn’t save them from smallpox.

No doubt Bieler did lose weight, control his asthma, and help others.  He pressed Bob Scriver hard to eat green foods (when he prepared his own plate it looked like a haystack) and generously shipped him cases of papaya juice to help his indigestion.  His theory was that certain organs dominated one’s identity so Bob was “whipping his adrenals,” and Ace Powell had an overactive pituitary.  He had no recommendation for me, since he tried not to think about women.  Every time Bob went into the bathroom, Hal had a sudden need to wash his hands and wanted to be admitted “right now” because he was a doctor so it was all right.

In short, his theories were valuable but rather compromised by his personality, which isn’t described by Wikipedia, a hazard in a system where one’s entry is written either by enemies or friends in another of those head-to-head struggles for which The Western Culture is noted.  (He's dead but his book is still in print and publishing is an undercurrent of Wikipedia.)  Bieler comes to mind right now for me because when I made an appointment with my doctor, she asked me to read another book.  Luckily for my pocketbook, I found a condensed summary for a dollar on Amazon ebooks.  

“The Plant Paradox” by Dr. Steven R. Gundry comes out of the same cultural background: California food abundance and body narcissism plus resistance to conventional authorities.  He expands the obsession with gluten to all plant-based proteins called lectin.  links to a good discussion.  

There are other books that address this idea.  It meshes with the environmental worries over the genetic drift of industrially produced wheat, peanuts, soybeans, corn — not just genetically modified to withstand Monsanto inventions but also fed in quantity to feedlot meat animals dosed with antibiotics.  And then, of course, one knows that processed foods are full of additives with strange names.  

So this whole picture has two sides:  is your food either your best medicine or your worst danger?  If you don’t live on the California coast, how do you get all this good stuff that’s supposed to be safe?  Particularly since Gundry’s food pyramid — which he proposes should replace the old standard — is very specific and a bit exotic.   Red wine, champagne, and “dark spirits” are at the peak ("only" once or twice a week).  The bottom is certain oils plus the kind of green foods Bieler ate, though there’s no explanation of why “leafy green vegetables” have leptins that are safe when one would expect them to be loaded.  

His second level up on his pyramid is the most innovative and the cheapest: fasting.  Skip meals.  Don’t eat for a day.  (This is good for your budget and available everywhere.)  It's hard to see how not- eating belongs on a food pyramid.  But he is happy to take up the slack in your diet by selling you his special supplements, though you’d "better hurry because they are selling fast."

When I figured out a plan for my old age, I missed two things.  One was that I had thought I’d have good neighbors, the ones already here;  the other thing was that I thought we’d have a government that works.  In an age after we have spent decades learning about physiology and improving health stats; learning about human personality and interaction with many happy ideas; reconciling and even relishing ethnic differences; somehow there has been a sudden (it feels sudden to me) plunge into coarse, insulting style; careless and dominating behavior; order-keeping that has become repression; and superstitious half-science driven by advertising.  

When I research leptin/lectin I learn this diet appears to have spun off with several other diet regimes, one based on one’s blood type (which is determined by using leptins) and several addressing the anti-gluten crowd.  The question is why I personally should have to believe some doctor can sell me “a little something” that sounds like snake oil — that cures headaches, toenail fungus, coughing in movies, and flat butt.  I do admit I have a problem.  But I do not accept that forbidding peanut butter or beans will solve anything, esp since what remains is “red wine, champagne, dark spirits”.

My diabetes is not under control.  I got sloppy, partly responding to all this fancy and contradictory research going on.  Partly out of defiance.  Every doc I go to responds to my blood test numbers and judges them according to pharmaceutical advice developed from averaging major data, sometimes well-designed and sometimes not.  Usually relevant to older white males.

I tell my tale or hand over my pages of symptoms and suspicions, and the doc tells me the same thing that Google told me the night before.  When I say I know all that stuff, they freeze.  They look wary.  They don’t look at ME.  If they don’t do what pharma and insurance tells them to do, they can be in big trouble for malpractice.

When I begin to explore the new research on anything medical, I find that it’s unsettled, only a good guess so far, getting unexpected results.  (Does air pollution cause breast cancer??!!)  Among these are the understanding of diabetes, which turns out to be much more personal and individual than the marketers of glucometers would have you believe.  (Why do numbers go high, stay there a while, then come down -- without any changes in diet or habits?  People report that it happens, but can't figure out why.)  Keeping blood sugar low is only part of the answer.  It begins to appear that it’s not food but rather exercise that is your best medicine.  Sitting is more dangerous than smoking.  Walking is no more expensive than sitting.

Addressing the phenomena of systems out of whack due to advancing age means accepting the possibility of death, because that was always there once the egg/sperm became a conceptus.  Death should not be a goal, but neither should it distort living.  Contentment might not be your best medicine, but it does make living worthwhile.  As does risk.  And achievement.

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