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Posted on: Monday, 04 February 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Science is all about cause effect relationships. So when I started working out and set out my first fitness goals a few years ago, I turned to science for validation. I read books like Spark which were all about how workouts can re-wire your brain. If a qualified doctor or researcher shows me a study that involves a sizable number of individuals, control groups, placebos and an output built on causation, I tend to get convinced much more easily about doing something compared to a random individual giving me health and wellness advice. It's probably why I like Headspace; because it approaches Meditation with a scientific approach rather than a random guy telling you that 'meditation is good for you'. It's also the reason why in the last decade I've  literally read dozens if not hundreds of book on neuroscience, health, fitness and wellness. I have a lot of respect for science because it explains 'why' something works.

Having said that, modern day science has it's own set of quirks. One of the primary problems with modern day science, particularly when it comes to wellness, is the more you read, the more contradictions you encounter. As much as I respect science and scientists, (as I grow older) I am starting to realize that If you want to get completely confused about something really simple,  get a bunch of scientists with sufficient funding, contradicting opinions and conflicting interests and ask them to research a topic. Once you've done that, you can sit back and watch in awe as they come back with their elaborate research results with contradicting conclusions and confuse the crap out of you. We like to believe that the years of experience and expertise in a topic makes doctors and scientists better than the rest of us, when in reality, Experts are just as human and are affected by the same biases as the rest of us.

Take for instance the vegan diet. The china study was one of the most detailed elaborate scientific study about how the vegan diet works and heals your body. Just when you thought the science was clear about vegan diet, studies on carnivorous diets started evolving. And this isn't a single isolated example of scientific contradictions when it comes to health and wellness. Take any single simple nutritional opinion and you will see experts fighting in the battle ring of ideas, everyone with equally compelling arguments and 'scientific research' to support their opinions.

How many bananas should you eat on any given day - more or less? Are cocoa beans really good for you or are they dangerous and toxic? Is running good for you or can it kill you? Is soy a superfood or a cancer causing poison? Are mobile phones useful tools that make you super productive or is the radiation from your cell phone killing you and / or making you impotent? Is high cholesterol really connected to heart issues or is that just a medical hype? If you have cholesterol should you take statin drugs or should you continue to try curing it with lifestyle changes? Try googling  any of these supposedly simple questions that you would think science would have figured the answers to by now. Instead, all science has to offer to you in most of these cases is complete confusion and contradictions.

As far as I am concerned, confusion is fine. I am all for confusion. To an extent, I even love confusion. The problem I have with modern science however, is that scientists are now turning to leveraging our primal fear of death to force their 'opinions' (disguised as 'research') on us. And to be honest, most of the information you see out there today isn't even real science.

Someone from the Vegan community wants to prove a point and so touts Vegan Raw diet as a silver bullet and tells you that if you eat dairy you will die. Someone else from the dairy industry fights back by touting Soy as the most toxic substance and argues that if you eat Soy or drink soy milk you will die. Right in the middle of these two far end opinions are regular pragmatic folks like us, who are being constantly influenced by both sides which are leveraging our primal fear of death to push their opinions, agendas and lifestyles on us.

As I grow older, when it comes to my own health and wellness, I am learning how to take these 'scientific' studies with a grain of salt. I am starting to realize that a study based on one individual (you) which most scientists tout as 'anecdotal' is sometimes just as important for your health as any other scientific study done by an expert. When it comes to your own wellness, anecdotal results of what works and does not work for you is sometimes much more important than a doctor telling you what's good for you. Milk, may or may not be good according to science, but if you are lactose intolerant or it makes you feel crappy, it isn't good for you. The fact that milk makes you feel crappy, is reason enough to stop milk even if all the science in the world is telling you milk is harmless or does wonders to your health. On the other hand If you love milk, and it makes you feel energized, continue having milk - don't stop just because the china study says drinking milk is bad for everyone. Your body is your lab, try different things in moderation and see what works and does not work for you.

I had recently developed ulcers in my food pipe which eventually caused some serious gastric issues. I was burping all day long. After going to over four doctors, all of whom had different opinions on what was causing my gastric issues, and after sticking a tube down my throat and conducting a painful endoscopy, I was prescribed a bunch of medicines, which was supposed to fix these ulcers for most patients. All the medicines did however, was temporarily mask the symptoms. Even the masking of symptoms barely lasted for a few weeks after which the symptoms resurfaced again. The moment I would stop the meds I would return to where I was. After going to the same doctor for six months, the symptoms resurfacing every couple of weeks, I went to a new doctor only to be prescribed a different set of tablets.

After a few of these visits someone at work accidently talked to me about infusions made with holy basil and ginger. All you do is you dip them in water like a tea bag and then drink the water. By that time, I had had been prescribed over half a dozen medication by at-least four qualified doctors and nothing had helped; so I was pretty desperate. In an act of desperation I did a quick search on how ginger and holy basil help with gastric issues and bumped into some articles where they had helped individuals with similar symptoms as mine. I started the infusions and within two days, my gastric issues were gone. Placebo? Who knows. Anecdotal? Absolutely. Scientific? Absolutely not. Did it work for me? Hell Yes, it did!

Most of us tend to see our bodies as a machine and if there is anything wrong with it, we walk into a doctors office as if the doctor was a mechanic for the machine. Going by this analogy, most of us know our cars better than we know our own bodies. We can change tires, jump start the engine and we know the kind of gas our car works best on, but we don't seem to know even the basics of our own bodies. How many of us know the power of breathing, regular workouts, meditation, using basic food and herbs as medicine and the science of eating well? How many of us have genuinely experimented with some simple home remedies and herbs to heal ourselves? How about experimenting with different kinds of workouts - from weight training, to cross fit to running, which one works the best for you?

I'm not saying don't go to the doctor for a serious sickness. While your doctor can and will help you with your sickness, it's also equally important that you take control of your own body and start tiny experiments and be mindful about what works for you and what doesn't.

Do you know which foods make you feel like crap? Do you know which foods energize you? Do you know how you can lose some weight or gain some of it back if you really wanted to? Do you know what spikes your blood pressure and what causes it to be normal? Have you tried lowering your cholesterol naturally? Caring about your own wellness is just as much your responsibility as it is your doctor's job.

I'm not saying stop your medications if you have a serious medical condition, but as a parallel step you can start working along with your physician, start some small natural harmless life style changes along with your medication and start observing what works and does not work for you. And as you begin to start using your body as a playground or a lab for your own wellness, you'll get to know yourself better, you'll start having some seriously interesting experiences and over a period of time, you might even start listening to the patterns of your own body which might help you heal yourself and become an exception in a 'scientific study'. When it comes to health, wellness and happiness you are your own scientific lab. You don't have to wait for a bunch of scientists to tell you what to eat or how to do some basic healing - just like you don't need a mechanic for replacing your car tires.