Most likely you’re reading this book because you want to take more control of your health. The rampant problem of chronic disease, including the epidemic of overweight and obese people, now encompasses the majority of all the people in the industrialized world. As this problem continues to rise, no health-care system will be able to keep up with the medical needs of all these individuals. The healthcare systems of all countries are already overspending while the explosion in costs has only just begun. The answer to the problem is self-health care.
There is a primary issue missing from the health-care discussions that come up at each election; an issue that would help ensure success and significantly reduce costs. If we are to truly improve the healthcare system for the long term, each one of us must take more personal responsibility for health. Health care must have a primary proactive component — in which individuals avoid ill health and disease — instead of the current reactive approach where we wait for disease to occur then treat it.
Experts generally agree that most health problems, including most diseases, are preventable. In its truest definition, prevention refers to “outlasting disease” by being healthier at an earlier age. While “screening for disease” is important, it’s a separate issue, and does not take the place of true prevention. As individuals, we are the only ones who can truly prevent disease.
Taking personal responsibility for health is a significant step toward improving the overall health of our own bodies, our families, our communities and the world. In doing so, health-care costs can begin to drop after year one, and dramatically be reduced further over time. The process is not unlike getting people to wear seat belts or quit smoking — both examples of true prevention. But the process
must be expanded to include factors associated with chronic disease and ill health. These include the food people consume, levels of physical activity and stress.
How can we change a population’s eating and activity habits? Much the same way that most people have been convinced to wear seat belts and smoking has been significantly reduced — with education. But that process cannot include lobbyists from the food industry and others who have conflicts of interest. There is a consensus of scientific and medical information that could serve as the foundation for education and recommendations.
The remaining chapters in this book continue the process of learning about fitness and health. They highlight some very important issues that put into focus the information from all previous chapters. This includes discussions about some of the problems people fear most — cancer, heart disease and poor aging, as well as the issues that are the causes of these and other health problems — stress, being overfat and chronic inflammation. These chapters also address areas of the body that are primary for physical, chemical and mental health — the muscles and bones, gut and brain.
Today there’s a revolution afoot in the world of health care. Growing numbers of people are beginning to realize they must take personal responsibility for health. This revolution finds people shifting their efforts from crisis intervention to disease prevention. Instead of just regular visits to the doctor, these people are seeking information that can help them not only live longer but also enjoy a higher quality of life. Disease is not an unavoidable option for these people. The prospect of spending 12 completely dysfunctional years at the end of a lifetime is just not acceptable to them. In fact many people now rank longevity and quality of life as their No. 1 goal, and also recognize the enormously important role that diet, nutrition and exercise play in reaching this goal. I call this revolutionary movement selfhealth care.
In addition to longevity and quality-of-life issues, many people also are fed up with the expense of the modern health-care system. Health care is the single largest sector in the U.S. economy. In 2008, health-care spending reached $2.4 trillion, and is projected to exceed $3 trillion in 2012. This is 17 percent of the gross domestic product
(GDP), and more than four times the U.S. military budget. This cost is even more than other industrialized nations who provide health insurance to all their citizens (many of them spend only about 10 percent of their GDPs on health care). Despite this, the U.S. is ranked 37th, just above Cuba, in health care by the World Health Organization.
Without adequate changes, things will only continue to worsen. Baby boomers that today make up approximately 28 percent of the U.S. population will represent 67 percent of all those over 50 in America by 2010, posing even more challenges to the entire healthcare system.
As the patient base grows, the “waiting for disease” model of health care will continue to fund an ever-expanding array of medical technology, devices and drugs enabling more patients to undergo more diagnostic procedures, take more drugs, see more specialists and be subjected to increasingly aggressive treatments. The advances in medical technology have increased the life expectancies of an increasingly large number of medically complex patients, many of whom require a high degree of monitoring and specialized care as well as rehabilitative therapy. However, this model of health care has failed and small numbers of health-conscious people are looking at real alternatives.
The cornerstone to promoting health, maintaining wellness and preventing illness is information that empowers individuals to assume personal responsibility for healthy diet and lifestyle practices, and the self-discipline to incorporate these practices into daily living. Despite this trend in the health-care system, the overwhelming evidence of the revolution toward self-health management is the increasing recognition and acceptance by the general public of the effects of diet, nutrition and lifestyle on achieving and maintaining optimal health and human performance.
Your Mission: Outlast Rather than Conquer Disease
Many experts point out that there is a maximum biological limit to aging. By shifting health-care strategy toward ongoing prevention rather than last-minute intervention, we seek to defer the onset of degenerative diseases to a point beyond the maximum age limit.
Health Care Failure
Almost everyone has a horror story about the health-care system, from procedures to insurance (not to mention the many scams in this sector). But when health-care fails to deliver, let’s not forget our part. Health care can fail us when:
- We don’t take responsibility by not taking care of ourselves. This involves eating exceptionally well; being physically active; significantly reducing environmental stressors (such as the chemicals in our air, food and water); controlling mental and emotional stress; and controlling body fat. • We allow others to dictate our care — from insurance companies and employers, to the government and even our relatives.
- We don’t have a health professional that matches our unique needs; e.g., you wouldn’t go to a podiatrist for a sinus problem. Despite attempts to restrict our options by insurance companies, we do have a choice.
- We give health professionals free reign of our body and mind. We should work with health professionals in addressing our needs; they should also be our teachers, but we are always in charge.
- We cling to one particular health-care approach or philosophy and risk losing objectivity regarding personal health.
For example, an individual who is on a course of degeneration leading toward the onset of cancer at age 60 may be treated with therapies designed to delay the onset to age 130. If that person dies naturally at age 110, the onset of the cancer will have been avoided. This is “outlasting” disease. The result is a phenomenon called “squaring the survival curve,” a concept promoted by James Fries of Stanford University, who says: “. . . many people with the early stages (of disease) never progress to the later stages during their lifetimes.”
Delaying the course of what is known as the universal degenerative process means an individual need not expect a life of slow declines and failing capacities — as they often saw with their parents and grandparents. Instead, robust health can be maintained into old age. The bottom-line benefits? Better, cheaper and user-friendly health care. The National Science Foundation agrees: “Postponing universal decline would lower, strikingly, per-capita costs for older persons, starting with the 45 to 49 cohort. Chronic costs would be delayed and their duration reduced. Individuals would tend to stay healthy longer and decline more abruptly.”
Many people are slowly dying of the very diseases they were led to believe could be conquered through research and development of new drugs while waiting for this idea to be realized. Along the way, quality of life crashes. The world is no closer to a cure for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and most other killers, while we’ve known how to prevent and postpone them, in most cases, for decades
A Classic Case History
All this philosophy sounds great, but is it real? Many in all areas of health care say yes. Let’s look at an example of a person who is born relatively healthy, then falls into a long period of dysfunction with subtle but growing symptoms, ending with a diagnosis of disease. This case history is drawn from many cases I’ve read about and virtually a summation of most patient histories I’ve taken. This person is carbohydrate intolerant and will follow the current health-care model.
Some babies begin life with stress. Our future patient may have been adversely affected by being fed formula or sugar water shortly after birth, or by excess maternal stress. This stress, coupled with genetic programming (perhaps a grandparent was diabetic), may predispose the baby to develop a less-stable blood-sugar mechanism, adversely affecting the nervous system.
Within the first three years of life the baby’s nervous, hormonal, immune and digestive systems develop significantly. Also during this time, psychological makeup is developed. The nervous system, at any stage of development, is especially vulnerable to periods of low blood sugar, sure to occur in this child. During the early years of life, a number of unhealthy patterns and physiological imbalances may develop. By age 10, this carbohydrate-intolerant child begins to develop symptoms. These include behavioral problems, various types of “learning disabilities,” allergies, and asthma. If female, she may start to develop menstrual problems. As time goes on, intestinal symptoms and fatigue set in, and blood sugar may remain unstable. Some experts have linked blood-sugar problems to drug use and criminal activity. If brought to the attention of a mainstream medical doctor, he or she would probably rule out disease, and conclude that the problem may be psychological. Perhaps counseling would be recommended.
Before reaching age 20, this person — now somewhat overfat — attempts to lose weight through dieting. This vacillates from starving to lowering fat intake, accompanied by increased consumption of carbohydrates. It begins the process of yo-yo dieting, in which a lower caloric intake decreases metabolism, which results in some short-term weight loss, with the final consequence of weight gain.
To this point, this person would probably not have sought traditional health care for these seemingly minor but annoying problems. Over-the-counter drugs and other remedies provide symptomatic relief; effective marketing strategies promise help is just a pill away.
By the second through third decade of life, the carbohydrateintolerant person usually becomes a patient. And at this point, many of the symptoms have worsened: fatigue, intestinal bloating and decreased concentration. Addictions to sweets, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco or other drugs are quite possible.
Many symptoms are now observable and measurable. Dizziness, caused by a significant blood-pressure drop upon standing, is common. Blood pressure may begin to elevate. Abnormal glucose-tolerance tests are sometimes found, but more often still appear normal. Other signs include increased fat stores, especially in the upper half of the body. Blood fats, especially triglycerides but also cholesterol, may begin to increase. More common and difficult to measure early is a clogging of the arteries with fat.
If seen by a traditional doctor, the patient may be put on a diet to help relieve the symptoms. This diet may be high in carbohydrates, and low in fat, red meat, eggs and cheese. And the symptoms just get worse
Exercise is sometimes recommended. But with no direction, the patient frequently exercises too intensely in the hope of burning more calories. This leaves this patient worse off, usually with a more pronounced aerobic deficiency
Soon after this stage, around the fifth decade of life, measurable pathological, or disease states appear. They may include high blood pressure, high blood fats (triglycerides and/or cholesterol) and problems handling blood sugar. These signs may now be accompanied by named diseases: hypertension, hyperlipoproteinemia and diabetes. There is now a very high risk for coronary artery disease and if fat accumulates, blocking the flow of blood to the heart, bypass surgery may be the only way to prevent death. At this stage, conservative measures such as exercise, diet and nutrition require more stringency to be effective, but still can play a major role in therapy. If disease is too advanced, more extreme countermeasures may be needed, such as surgery.
The last stage of life, the so-called golden years of the 60s and up, can literally be quite painful for both patient and family, and a great expense for all, including society. Our patient, now a medicated, hypertensive, overweight diabetic on the verge of requiring bypass surgery, remains at high risk until the end. But modern medicine has helped lengthen the life span. When death comes, it comes not only with pain and suffering, but also with great expense. Could this scenario be changed? Could the suffering and expense be prevented? Clearly the answer is yes. And it’s not just a philosophy. We can see it in action in people who follow the right path towards fitness and health.
Treating Functional Illness
Recognition of functional illness early in life, when it’s more easily and inexpensively treated with conservative measures, including lifestyle changes, is one of the keys to self-health care. This is the true meaning of prevention. In medicine, prevention is thought of as a screening process, such as “screening for cancer” to find it early when it’s more treatable. I prefer to think of prevention as postponing that cancer and not allowing it to progress to a diagnosis during your lifetime.
We are not fated to live and die with a game plan we don’t control. We can alter the quality of our lives, and influence the quality of our children’s lives. In these later chapters about managing our fitness and health — self-health care — I discuss many topics regarding dysfunction and disease and how you can take a proactive approach to true prevention. By effectively managing your own health you may not only be able to avoid disease, but also limit your exposure to the health-care system, attain greater quality of life and reach the finish line of your life journey in good health rather than in dysfunction. The most powerful tool you have in this quest is real information that works, and is user-friendly. The only thing left for you to do is embody this information by applying it to your own self-health care strategy.
Finding a Health-Care Professional
The concept of self-health care is fairly straightforward: You manage your own health. But sometimes along life’s journey you need advice or treatment. This is when finding a good health-care professional may be helpful.
Good health-care professionals are in great demand because there are too few of them. The first thing to do when seeking a health-care professional is to ask around. Mention to your friends or relatives that you’re looking for a certain type of health-care professional. This may be a nutrition-oriented practitioner, massage therapist, chiropractor, medical doctor or any number of different professionals with various expertise. Agood place to start is with what used to be called a “general practitioner,” now called a family physician. He or she may be a medical doctor, osteopath or other professional who is knowledgeable in treating the whole person. If more specific care is needed, this person should also have the ability to refer you to a specialist.
Once you have a name you can find out more by talking with current patients. Find out what they like and dislike about the professional they see. The important questions include those about how much time is spent on typical visits, if questions were adequately answered, and if the professional took the time to treat the person as an individual rather than a number. Also seek out information about philosophical compatibility — you don’t want to work with someone who is opposed to how you have chosen to live your life.
Before making an appointment, don’t be afraid to call a professional’s office for information about how he or she practices. This is not unlike an interview: You want to know about someone before developing a professional relationship.
Once you make an appointment, take note of how this practitioner addresses your needs and concerns. If you have a good feeling about your visit, plan another as necessary. But if you don’t feel comfortable, whether you can explain it or not, search for another health professional. It may take some time to find a person that best matches your particular needs.
One problem with our current health-care system is that by going to see a particular doctor or other professional, you’re most likely only going to get that person’s specialty as treatment. For example, if you visit an acupuncturist, you’ll get acupuncture; visit a surgeon, you often get surgery; visit a dietitian, you’ll get diet advice. But what if you have both surgical and nutritional needs for the same problem? It’s uncommon to find a practitioner who can address all your needs, or who will refer you to another specialist, although these health-care professionals do exist and are worth seeking out. This is why you must actively manage the entire process. It’s up to you to find the best health-care practitioners that match your needs. In my practice I performed a variety of therapies, but most importantly took sufficient time to assess the patient using a variety of forms (sent to the patient ahead of time), past medical records, diet analysis, a long oral history and a physical examination. An effective assessment is a key to successful treatment. My therapies included various forms of neuromuscular biofeedback, individualized diet and nutrition recommendations, stress management, exercise guidelines and others.
And finally, finding a health-care professional who is fit and healthy is very important.!!!