(Original March 5th, 2020; Updated April 17th, 2023, read on podcast # 074)
The Wall Street Journal often has some excellent articles. For example, this weekend’s issue (Feb 22nd, 2020) had an article on bias in the media (“Detecting Fake News Takes Time” by Alison Gopnik). It had a different point of view that I had not thought of. Let me quote:
“David Rand of MIT and Gordon Pennycook of the University of Regina have suggested that “cognitive laziness” may be a bigger problem than bias. It’s not that people can’t tell or don’t care whether a story is true; it’s just that they don’t put in the effort to find out.”
My zoology professor predicted this in 1971 and told our class, “Man is basically lazy.” Back then, “man” was short for HU-man, so ladies, you’re not off the hook. Most people are lazy, regurgitating what they have memorized without putting effort into thinking. But it’s worse because most people don’t understand their words, so they seek validation or advice from others who are also regurgitating what they don’t understand. If two or more people say it’s true, it must be!
Dr. Daniel Amen, the well-known psychologist with hundreds of books, articles and TV shows, was asked by Tom Bilyeu on his Feb 27th podcast, “What is the number one thing society does that is eroding health span right now?” His answer included being “oblivious” in that “we are not reading food labels” and “that we are just not thinking about our brains and our bodies. Get your brain right, and your body will be there.”
By extension, get your brain right, get your horse right.
I was cognitively lazy for many years. It’s easier not to think but to trust what you have learned from teachers and mentors or to believe in the experts around you. That is how my school (and all medical schools) taught me. See this disease? Do this. See that disease? Do that. It was like the Whack-A-Mole game where a mole would pop up out of the ground, and you would try to hit it on the head with a hammer before it ducked back down. I’m sure there is a YouTube video of the game. I must also credit this expression to David Sinclair, Ph.D., from his book “Lifespan.”
Doctors depend on people trusting them blindly. So do auto mechanics. But now, thinking is fun, especially with what we know now. Putting together the pieces and getting answers covering many medical issues is exciting. It’s like doing one thing that prevents all the moles from popping their heads out. What if doing one thing solved equine metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and Cushing’s disease, making your horse more comfortable and sound? You are correct! Many vets would be looking for another way to make an income.
I’ve stuck my neck out in these podcasts, blogs, nutrition and dentistry courses, topic posts, and my private Facebook page, “The Horse’s Advocate.” There are a lot of thinking people who have commented or have led discussions in the group, and I am grateful for them. Many ask thought-provoking questions that lead everyone to a deeper understanding of a topic. However, I often look at or listen to many words written or spoken by people who subscribe to “cognitive laziness.” There is no evidence of any effort on their part to read the material and dig for answers. Instead, the opposite occurs. They conclude from old misunderstandings held on to by horse owners and professionals. Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are usually too busy to question what they learned in school, so they perpetuate the whack-a-mole approach to their practice.
The Filter Of Agendas
Misunderstandings may be an understatement. Propaganda, false advertising and calculated misdirection may be more accurate. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) is the world’s largest association of horse veterinarians. The most considerable financial support of the AAEP comes from feed companies, pharmaceutical companies and nutritional supplement companies. Magazines proclaiming their authority about horses stuff themselves with advertisements from the same supporters of the AAEP. The agenda-driven dissemination of quality information for horse owners is so prevalent that I can’t be put on a podcast or asked for a magazine interview, as this would upset the advertisers.
So instead, I write here and on my social media. I gain nothing from this other than receiving remarkable acknowledgments from people who have decided to dig in, learn and apply what they have learned to their horses. The results have been spectacular in many cases. I am not selling anything except for a membership and courses filled with information to help pay the expenses. My nights at home and in hotels are filled with learning and conveying what I have learned to you for the benefit of your horses. If you don’t believe in my words and thoughts, move on or question me. Both are OK.
I am challenging everything taught because from 50 years (since 1973) of working with horses, I see epidemics of illness and unsoundness in every state I visit in this country. I see things that were not in the textbooks when I went to vet school: EOTRH (Equine Odontoplastic Tooth Resorption and Hypercementosis), fractured cheek teeth, dropped fetlocks (DSLD), white line disease, kissing spine, head shaking syndrome, and anhidrosis (only 1 paragraph was on that). I am also seeing epidemics of equine metabolic syndrome (EMS), insulin resistance (IR), Cushing’s disease (PPID and other names), suspensory ligament injury, and an increase in sudden sleep disorder (misnamed narcolepsy). Why? Since my vet school training, the rise in health issues in horses has driven me to keep learning about the things unheard of even a few years ago.
The latest information is that animals can convert glucose (starch) into fructose. When ripe, fruit converts glucose into much sweeter fructose, increasing the chance of being eaten and spreading the seeds of the fruit. We also were taught that the purpose of fructose is to add body fat for the upcoming winter. But now they find out humans and mice are reacting to the high glucose diets (in horses, the continuous feeding of hay and grain) by creating an enzyme that converts glucose into fructose (aldose reductase). This increase in fructose from glucose in humans and mice leads to fatty liver disease, increased triglycerides in the blood, increased body fat, increased blood sugar and an increased appetite through leptin suppression. It also causes the mitochondrial exhaustion I have discussed in the past, increased uric acid with inflammation of the kidneys and a subsequent rise in blood pressure. Believe it or not, increasing salt intake in a dehydrated state in humans and mice will also convert glucose into fructose. For example, eating salted fried potatoes (starch plus salt) and washing them down with cola is a recipe for early death from human metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
No one has tested this relationship between glucose, fructose, and uric acid in horses. Still, horses on a grain diet with abundant starch-filled hay or grass have metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, and other diseases I have associated with a chronic protein deficiency secondary to mitochondrial dysfunction. Laminitic horses turned out on spring pasture with rising fructose levels are prone to another, often fatal, bout of laminitis. Add to this, some add salt to the feed with the possibility of feeding this high-salt diet to dehydrated horses. So could the mystery of laminitis be explained by increased uric acid causing inflammation in some way to the laminae in the hooves?
This past year the World Health Organization (WHO) listed “aging” as a disease for the first time. And the number one reason for aging and brain disease in all animals tested is mitochondrial dysfunction, exhaustion and cellular death. Aging seems to bring on a lot of conditions in all species, including horses. And what we feed them is at the root of almost every disease we see in horses. Preventing these from happening is in the best interest of our horses but not in the best interest of veterinarians, feed dealers and all the others in the feed chain. No wonder veterinarians oppose the no-grain diet and the feeding of protein. No wonder they draw more blood to confirm their diagnosis and treatment plan rather than to monitor for improved health.
There is no place for cognitive laziness in advocating for our horses. It is up to all of us who are investing our time into learning to pass what we have learned on to others. By teaching, we solidify what we know. Then we need to dig in and rechallenge ourselves by looking for the results we want, and if we still need to get them, ask better questions. I plan to do that for the next 50 years with horses.