I suspect there is a scientific institute somewhere called “The Institute for Everything that Was Supposed to be Good for You but is Now Bad for You.”
The flux and change in science as well as uncertainty in such fields as nutritional research makes it maddeningly difficult to know what are the best choices for a good and healthy life.
In a recent New York Times opinion piece, “Why Nutrition is So Confusing,” health and science journalist Gary Taubes describes the enormous costs and challenges to creating credible long-term studies on various approaches to nutrition.
There are so many confounding variables, and the long-term effects so hard to track and measure, that we often get conflicting advice. Witness recent confusion on vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids.
Pharmacological and medical research is likewise strewed with the carcasses of old theories and practices.
The very day a couple weeks ago that I wrote about testosterone and obesity in men, a report came out documenting a significant increase in heart attack rate in men on replacement testosterone above a certain age.
Coronary bypass surgery and tube feeding, long thought to be lifesavers, have been found not to prolong life in controlled studies.
In the midst of all this confusion in messaging, I think back to the comforting words of the poem, The Desiderata, that became popular in the ’60s and ’70s.
Into the clamor and heated problems of those tempestuous decades came an old writing by Max Ehrman, penned in 1927, that called us back to basic values. It starts with:
“Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.
“Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story … Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
“You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
“Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.
“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.”
I am sure you remember it. If you aren’t familiar or need a refresher, you can find the full test on the web easily enough.
I keep a framed copy in my house in a place I visit regularly, my bathroom.
I keep it there so I can review these inspiring and refreshing words in symphony with my biorhythms.
So as we search for enduring, life-changing principles to foster good health in mind, body and spirit, I thought I’d share something I rediscovered recently were our morning meditation and readings. It is from a perennially popular book that some of you will immediately recognize.
This passage is for all people, all religions, anyone seeking to live a good life by ancient truths that don’t change with the most recent scientific study or popular fad.
“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people in low position. Do not be conceited.
“Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
“On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on this head.
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:9-21)
I found the burning coals thing a little jarring, yet the rest rings true as a bell on a clear morning.
Like Desiderata, these are the kinds of healthy advice that won’t change with the shifting tides of science, time and fashion.
When we live by such principles, much healing, peace and goodness can come to us and through us and to our world.
Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.