In every battle there are moments which mark the end of an era. They portend the beginning of something new and a time when tiny things can sprout and grow to a vast scale. We have just completed our installation and certification of our first FibroScan system for our liver screening project. We are alive and well in Texas City and a new day is dawning.
Sometimes analogy man gets loose in my mind and I apologize in advance, but I'm drawn to the stories of things that speak to universal truths. Did you know that the biggest living thing on earth, the giant redwood, grows from one of the smallest tree seeds? You can never be sure what can come from small beginnings. I'm reminded that each of us, moving through life as a willful collection of trillions upon trillions of individual cells, was once just a single cell unlikely to survive at all. And yet, here we are as entities so biochemically complex that it should not even be possible for us to exist.
The age of technology has exploded around us and our world is filled with magic undreamed of by our grandparents. We take societal transformation as just an ordinary thing today. Can you remember life before 2007 and the invention of the smartphone? Our culture has been transformed by that single tool in only a decade.
Our inventions have not come without cost, however. Our society has adopted an approach to food which is fundamentally unhealthy. We are engaged in a vast experiment which will determine the cost in lives and treasure that come from easy access to too much of the wrong kinds of food. It is not unlike the experiments we perform by free feeding rats to study obesity. It is the largest experiment ever conducted on human subjects in which death and ill health will be the measured outcomes. Sadly, it is an accidental study which wasn't well designed.
Did you ever wonder if a rat that is the subject of an experiment ever tries to escape from it? Might we, as a society that is the test population ever decide not to participate? I'm reminded of that old movie War Games where the computer plays thermonuclear war and seeks to destroy the enemy, which happened to be us of course. The punch line was that the computer decided, "The only way to win is not to play the game".
Just one more and I promise to stop. There are signs that we may be able to be the rat that escapes. Think of all the diet and nutrition messages that are recently showing up in the media. Dieting is big business. Miracle foods and miracle supplements are offered to you endlessly. The chorus of how to's and listen to me ( but give me your money first ) sings from every media source. These are like the rain drops that fall in the mountains. Each is an event meaning little but they can combine in a torrent which sweeps away everything below. We have rainfall in the mountains now and we will learn what impact it has on society and health in the fullness of time.
So what does all that mean to us you might ask? I submit that as a nonprofit patient advocacy group we can become the conduit for patient education about fatty liver disease that is free of the bias that comes from product marketing pressure. People have complex relationships with food and there is no one size fits all, no miracle answers, no shortcuts that will stand the test of time. We also deal with the reality that humans don't respond in orderly or convenient ways to information and often act in ways that are against their best interests. Human nature defeats most plans but does feed the yoyo dieting industry very well.
What to do? The key is to create a teachable moment. People learn when they engage their minds on subjects that have real meaning to them personally. We are engaged with the foundational problem of fatty liver disease which is co-morbid with many of the ills people face. We can't hope to directly affect the 100 million of us who have fatty livers but if we can reach out to those most at risk and make a difference in their lives that message will cascade through their families and spread widely. A teachable moment requires a "mental hook" of some kind. For us it will be the measurement of the status of their livers which is expressed in numbers. People easily tie concepts to numbers and from that, learning can happen and behaviors can change.
Our goal of testing a million at risk patients a year and providing them with science based information to help them understand their food, not just follow some recipe, will be the thing that channels all of the diverse messages into an effective force for change. We believe this program can be that redwood seed that grows into a real force for a better way, longer lives, and less disease for millions.
If you stuck around with me this long, thanks. We do appreciate your interest and support.