Monday, April 04, 2011

The dose makes the poison

Although this is post counts as a health blog, I did see this incredible quake video on the TVNZ site and you should all check it out. 

There is a little bit of talking first so you can laugh at our kiwi accents. The photographer they mention (Steven Goodenough) is someone I have met before. I believe his method of getting good wedding pics is to ply the bridesmaids with champagne and see how many fall in the pool  .. ;)


In Salzburg last year I kept bumping into Paracelsus.

Not him, of course; his physical self left this earth sometime in the 1500's, but his name. Inscribed on old buildings, mostly. Every time I read it, I thought '.. I should know who that is..'. I set up a mental reminder to Google him once I got home. Naturally, I left that mind memo right there in Salzburg, probably inside a raucously coloured Mozart chocolate shop, and forgot about him. However, that's not the end of it; he's stalking me through my studies.

There is one thread that holds the discipline of Toxicology together. The main point, from which everything else branches, is the dose makes the poison, allegedly first spoken by...? That's right, our buddy Paracelsus, who was an alchemist - a job description you don't see much these days. He said it with a little more elaboration and in German, but the idea is, anything is toxic if you have enough of it. There is a little more to it, for example there is individual variation in susceptibility to substances, but that's the basic idea. It's a good idea and worth a little attention in this crazy world of 'eat lots of this, it's GOOD, never eat that, it's BAD' paranoia.

My point is super simple. When we are talking about food, and not paraquat, then the human body is really quite adaptable. Some people puff up when they eat wheat, I'm one of them.  I'm not actually allergic to it, so I do eat it sometimes, remembering that the less of it I eat, the more likely my system can handle it without the puffer fish effect.  The body processes things at a certain speed. Think of alcohol as an example. If you drink slowly, your liver can keep up and you don't get hungover. Even with beneficial substances and foods, there is usually an optimum range of intake. Selenium is a well-known example - too little or too much can kill you.  This is why, when it comes to food, I think the 'a little bit of everything' (a.k.a. variety) strategy works well, as does the philosophy of just generally eating less (a.k.a not being a piglet).

There are thousands of substances that your body may handle more or less well than other people. Some of these will be obvious - for example, if you are lactose intolerant - but some you may never even know about. Mix it up, that's my strategy. Nothing is off limits, but some things need to portioned out at the correct 'dose' for my particular body, as per the wise words of Paracelsus. Speaking of whom, perhaps he could reincarnate and sort out the diet industry ASAP? A bit of 16th century wisdom seems desperately called for.

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