Natural living: 5 myths about nature vs. technology

Feb 4, 2013

Technology has made us healthier in a lot of ways. It’s beaten back old threats from smallpox to stillbirth to scarlet fever. But many think the march of progress has gone too far, and we need to get back to nature. 

Author Nathanael Johnson says most of us are in the middle – suspicious of technology run amok, but unwilling to trade the condo for a mud hut. He investigates whether the natural approach is really better for us in his book, “All Natural.” 

Nathanael also laid out five common myths about nature versus technology. Get the gist below, or click below and listen to the full conversation:

1) Identical nutrition labels mean identical nutrition.

The Food and Drug Administration requires foodmakers to post the content of essential nutrients, calories and so on so we can compare how healthy one food is next to another. But Johnson says scientists now understand that the way a food delivers nutrients – how they’re structured inside a food – make a huge difference in how we process them (think Wonder Bread versus rustic bread). That means the numbers on those labels tell just part of the story, and maybe not a very important part at that.

2) Pale pork is healthy pork.

The “other white meat” probably shouldn’t be white. Johnson says white pig flesh is actually a symptom of a delicious-sounding condition called “pale, soft, exudative flesh,” or PSE. This is usually a result of the piggy being highly stressed prior to slaughter. Better off finding pork that is a deep red color, though not too brownish or purple.

3) Take an antibiotic, just to be on the safe side.

Many of us have been lectured that we shouldn’t overuse antibiotics because, on the whole, it gives rise to drug-resistant “superbugs.” But for any given individual with any given sinus infection, it’s tempting to think, “Might as well err on the side of caution … and who’s it really going to hurt?” Well, maybe you, says Johnson. Besides the bad germs, antibiotics wipe out billions of good bacteria in our bodies, many of them in our gut. That leaves us wide open to opportunistic germs that might not otherwise gain a toehold, such as the highly unpleasant and potentially deadly C. difficile, now at epidemic levels.

4) Vaccines may not cause autism, but dang it there’s something fishy there

The jury is in on the supposed vaccine-autism link: there isn’t one. But a host of other misgivings about vaccines persist. Johnson says some of these derive from the idea that vaccines are the height of medical hubris, that they are an unnatural intervention with unknown consequences. Even he thought that to some extent until he did his research. He came to believe that vaccines actually restore a natural balance we lost once we moved into cities and stopped getting so dirty all the time.

5) Getting screened for cancer couldn’t hurt, and might save your life

In any single case, that may be true. But on the whole, Johnson says screenings for prostate, breast of cervical cancer carry their own risk. They generate lots of false positives, which trigger more interventions – each of which has the potential to harm. It’s not just about saving money, Johnson says: On the whole, public health experts believe the population would be healthier if fewer of us got screened.

Johnson will appear at Seattle’s Town Hall on Wednesday, February 6 at 7:30pm.