I was listening to a story about scurvy recently. Back in the days of long-distance oceanic exploration, ships would need to set sail with double the necessary crew, since half the men were expected to die along the way. Scurvy was a painful and grotesque affliction, marked by oozing wounds, lost teeth, yellowed skin, and eventual death by bleeding. Yuck! If only they had known that the disease could be reversed with just 10 mg per day of vitamin C! A surgeon in the Royal Navy by the name of James Lind figured out that lemon juice was an effective treatment, but his advice was not taken because it made no sense in the 1750s. The term “vitamin” wasn’t even coined until 1912. With no framework to understand the existence and benefits of vitamin C, the whole notion was discarded, at the cost of countless lives.

Coffee Social last week tried to come up with something new in the world of health. Living in Northern California, where many of the health fads seem to start, kale and yoga and kombucha are already ubiquitous. But what will be the lemon juice of our day? What are we disregarding in 2016 because it doesn’t make sense now, but will be painfully obvious in the future? It’s easy to feel like we’ve figured it all out, but just watching the whirlwind of diet crazes over the last 30 years is enough to remind us how little we understand. (Now remind me again…is it dietary cholesterol, or saturated fat, or sugar that causes heart disease?)

Ariel Levy’s humorous piece in the New Yorker on the trendy hallucinogen ayahuasca, playfully titled The Drug of Choice in the Age of Kale, gave us plenty to talk about. Will psychedelics be the next miracle drug for mental health? At the North Bay Innovation Summit last Friday, there was a company called CerebraCell using bioelectric stimulation to promote neuron cell regeneration in the case of severe brain injury. Wow! That could be amazing!

I’m also curious about this larger thing we call “energy.” It’s common to refer to a place or a person as having a good vibe or a bad vibe. We experience the energetic quality of being near someone who is stressed or full of love. CoWORKer Amelia Beamer is a Reiki practitioner, using energy medicine to relieve stress (in a non-woowoo kind of way – as she likes to put it). There’s a fairly universal sense that things have an inherent “energy,” but scientifically speaking, our explanations fall short, and thus it is easy to dismiss this notion as imaginary. I’m wondering if a hundred years from now we will understand the “energy” phenomenon like we do vitamins.

In each of these cases, we may be on to something…or not. How do we discern the snake oils from the lemon juices? Maybe we don’t…until we do. Curiosity paired with research, open-mindedness as well as critical thinking – these are the qualities that will help us tease apart the two. Until then, drink your lemon juice.

Published September 22, 2016

Written by Natasha Juliana. Edited by Linda Jay. Photograph by Natasha Juliana.

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