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“My Porphyria Went Away”

Posted Apr 05 2010 12:00am

I asked Aaron Blaisdell what was most surprising about his experience with “ ancestral health ” adopting a evolutionarily reasonable diet. “That my porphyria went away,” he said. Aaron’s porphyria is/was a form of sun sensitivity. “My mother has it. Her father had it,” he said. It was obviously genetic. Scientists had located the genes involved. Aaron assumed that someday, not soon, it might be possible to fix the genes involved. Until then, he didn’t think anything would change. It was a rare and not particularly damaging disease it wouldn’t attract a lot of research.

How reasonable the gene-fix idea sounds, in spite of being wrong. I’ve heard dozens of scientists, including Bruce Ames and James Watson, say that we are entering a new age where we will figure out the causes of diseases (their genetic causes) and fix them. A new age of rational medicine. To fix a car or dishwasher, you figure out the part at fault and repair or replace it. The metaphor is so convincing that nobody points out another possible metaphor: Your washing machine isn’t working because you haven’t plugged it in. You need to read the owner’s manual . Most health-care researchers, especially at medical schools, are studying the parts diagram of the washing machine, trying to figure out what part is at fault, when the problem is elsewhere: Not plugged in. Much easier to fix.

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