Friday, February 20, 2009

The Fourfold Path to Healing Conference, part 2: Tom Cowan

Tom Cowan's health, healing, and wellness landscape is dominated by anthroposophical medicine and other holistic health paradigms. He is also comfortable navigating among allopathic (orthodox "Western") medical models and tools, and uses them when appropriate and/or necessary. His nutritional thoughts are in line with those of Sally Fallon, and ultimately with those of Weston A. Price. To this rich, bone-broth-based stew, Cowan adds bits and pieces of other things he has picked up over the years via his unconventional, inquisitive, and open mind (for example, the SuperSlow workout). Here is an example of his iconoclasm. He quotes Rudolf Steiner, who says, "The heart is not a pump," and then goes on to make a pretty good case for this claim. In brief, as I understand it, he believes that rather than causing the blood to flow, the main function of the heart is stopping the blood, thus creating the pressure necessary to keep veins from collapsing, and creating the pressure to force the blood up to the head, among other things. Water is a by-product of cellular metabolism throughout the body, and especially in the large muscles of the lower body; as this water enters the circulatory system, it increases venus volume and pressure. This metabolic consequence is the actual "pump" that causes blood to flow. Cowan considers the case of a house with a pump in the basement and a shower on the third floor. If you are not getting enough water flow at the shower, how do you address it? Widening the pipes will decrease the pressure, and increase the weight of the water column that must be moved, thus resulting in less water flow. If you can't get a more powerful pump, then narrowing the pipes may be a viable short-term solution. Cowan continues: When your body has high blood pressure, it is evidence that your body has narrowed the pipes, trying to get your blood circulating better. In this scenario, conventional medical wisdom would have us take medication to dilate the blood vessels, "making the pipes wider", thus lowering the blood pressure. But in fact, in the context of the pump/shower metaphor, the high blood pressure is the body's stop-gap solution, rather than the problem. Cowan claims that decreasing blood pressure through medication is in this case the wrong approach. The right approach is to strengthen the pump. One does this by increasing cellular metabolism, and in particular by eating foods that create more water as a by-product of metabolism. It turns out that fats create much more water in this way than do carbohydrates or proteins. And the fats that promote health the most are animal fats and coconut oil. To summarize: If you have high blood pressure, eat more animal fats and coconut oil! (Isn't that what your doctor tells you?) For a longer, more complete exposition of this theory, check out Chapter 3 of The Fourfold Path to Healing.

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