Ancestral Health and Medicine

Dr Anastasia Boulais is a Russian-born, Australian-trained doctor, who now calls New Zealand home.  She works as a locum doctor whilst undertaking post-graduate studies in Sports Medicine.  She is one half of the Whole9 South Pacific team and a co-founder of the Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand.

Doctor – from Latin docere – to teach

I always knew I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be part of this impressive group of men and women of knowledge, skill, and a special kind of bravery which allows one to breach the sanctity of the human body in order to help it heal. I wanted to know, to understand, and to teach.

My Russian Grandmother was not a doctor although she had also dreamt of being one as a child. She was well respected in the village because she used to sew dresses for village women in exchange for treats like butter or soap from the town. She knew the right herbs to treat indigestion, fight a cold or soothe teenage acne. She put some sticky stuff on our childhood skin cuts, covering some up, and leaving others open, “to breathe”. Sometimes when we were ill, she would force one to stay in bed, subjecting us to smelly and super hot mustard food baths or that dreaded cupping. Other times she would kick the sick one out of the house, “to catch some sunlight and bracing forest air”. As a kid, I was in awe: she knew so much! But the day she noticed Grandad’s whites of the eyes turning yellow she announced, in that firm uncompromising tone of hers, that they would go to town to see The Doctor.

Because Doctors know. All the easy stuff: scratches, colds, boils, blisters, burns, sprains, sore tummies and acne – that’s for grandmothers. The hard stuff, like my Grandad’s cancer, is for Doctors. True enough, medical knowledge increased exponentially in the last 100 years. In 1914 humans could die of a simple staphylococcal infection. Today, in 2014, we can transplant internal organs, perform mind-blowing brain surgery, repair shattered bones, and reconnect tiny blood vessels. And unlike the physicians of the past, we do not keep our knowledge locked within the private circle of academics and clinicians. We see public health education as one of our key professional responsibilities.

At the dawn of the Information Age many medical professionals had worries that patients wouldn’t come to see us anymore: they have Dr Google to diagnose their ills. Those fears were unfounded as patients keep flocking to us, still full of questions. In fact, my time at a general practice taught me that our patients know less than ever about their own health.

So the general public gets educated. Your Average Joe now knows stuff about cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, skin cancer, brain tumours that my Grandmother would not even dream about. At our fingertips we have thousands of websites, blogs, patient education printouts, guidelines, even freely available scientific studies. The information is then further distilled for us by the helpful media: morning TV addressing diabetes, the latest women’s mag tackling eating disorders, fitness periodical discussing prostate issues. We are surrounded by health advice. We are drowning in data. And we are rapidly losing our collective health amidst the abundance of information on how to be healthy.

At the dawn of the Information Age many medical professionals had worries that patients wouldn’t come to see us anymore: they have Dr Google to diagnose their ills. Those fears were unfounded as patients keep flocking to us, still full of questions. In fact, my time at a general practice taught me that our patients know less than ever about their own health. It is as if they are puzzled by the inner workings of their own bodies, unsure if a small twinge is a start of a debilitating injury, a small freckle is an early cancer, or a child’s sniffly nose is a dangerous contagious deadly virus. Frequently I ask myself at such consultations: where are their grandmothers? The lack of basic knowledge is now compounded by fear and uncertainty which frequently stems from too much data but no framework to interpret it. Meat will kill us but the protein in it will makes us buff, carbohydrates will make us fat but will give us energy to stay active, chocolate is good one day and bad the next. We have completely abandoned the wisdom of our grandmothers for the shiny new science from the Experts but we have not found the answers.

I love science and seek new knowledge daily. But I also know that to interpret the thousands of data sets we need a prism which will bring that knowledge into focus. To a certain degree, my Grandmother and I have this in common. She used the framework built on the empiric knowledge of generations before her. I use evolutionary principles which incorporate the ancestral health model and the modern medical knowledge to decipher the mysteries of human body and give my patients back the control of their own wellbeing. I believe that being a part of The Ancestral Health Society of New Zealand will allow me to do that.