It used to be said about the US Department of State, that they don’t let the facts get in the way of policy. So it is in the world of health and wellness.
Take a step back for a moment. Look carefully around you. If you live in a Western country (some are better than others), you know people with type 2 diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, different cancers, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
You probably also know people with some autoimmune disease, and the odds are that you know people whose quality of life has been adversely affected by illness or have succumbed to sickness at a seemingly early age.
None of this really has to be. While it’s true that there is nothing bulletproof to keep anyone from getting sick, it is also true that we can lower the odds of illness and sickness greatly. But we choose to ignore the facts.
Let’s look back for a moment. We can start with Alzheimer’s disease. This barely existed before 1990 but now almost 6 million Americans have it. It is projected to be over 7 million by 2025. Type 2 diabetes was once rare and only occurred in those over 50. It was called mature onset diabetes then.
Now, we see it in children, adolescents and adults of all ages. The rate of increase per year over the last 20 years is just shy of 5% per year. Two-thirds of Americans are obese, and if you put the “just overweight” category in with that, it is around 80% of the population that are not at a normal weight.
The War on Cancer was waged 40+ years ago by president Richard Nixon, but more and more people are getting cancer and it is the leading cause of death in many countries.
While in some cases we have been able to extend some people’s lives, we are pretty much in the same place as we were 40 years ago in regard to a cure. Autoimmune conditions continue to grow at the rate of 3% to 9% per year.
So what has changed so much since the 1970s when all of these diseases were rare?There’s yet another study that was released last month that confirms what so many other studies have shown. Let’s take a look.
A new study published in the Public Library of Science Journal examined the effect of dietary changes on longevity. What happens to people who change from a standard American diet to a healthy, plant strong diet, which has a focus on eating less meat, more fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts? The results of the study are shocking!People who made changes by age 20 added 10-13 years to their lives. People who made changes at age 60 still add 8-9 years to their lives! People 80+ still added 3.5 years to their lives!
With added longevity and added health, the quality of life also goes up. The instance of disease drops substantially. And this is all with diet alone! Add in the other lifestyle factors like exercise, good sleep hygiene, not smoking, not drinking alcohol, no other substance abuse and stress management, and we can reduce the chance of all of these chronic and autoimmune diseases by more than 80%.
Dr. David Katz, M.D. the founder of The True Health Initiative and formerly of Yale University’s Griffin Center for Prevention puts it like this: “If there was a new drug and the drug is stunningly effective, and shockingly free of side effects. It is astoundingly safe – safe enough for newborns and octogenarians alike. It is available in bountiful supply, and remarkably inexpensive.
In fact, you might be able to get it without spending any extra money at all – maybe even save money by taking it. And, here’s the punch line. If you take this pill – which everyone else in your family can take along with you – once daily for the rest of your life, it would reduce your risk of ever getting any major chronic disease – heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, dementia, etc. – by 80%.”
You would take the pill and you might even invest in the company. We know that no such pill exists, but we do know that if you practice the healthy precepts of lifestyle medicine, that is exactly what happens. I state this with great certainty. Aside from this particular new study, this has been proven many times over.
If one looks at the North Karelia Project, the Adventist Study and Adventist Study 2, the Framingham Study (now looking at its fourth generation of participants), or the study done in Potsdam, Germany, as part of the ongoing EPIC (European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition) study, one comes to the same conclusions.
Dr. Dean Ornish has not only shown in his randomized trials that you can prevent chronic conditions, but he has also shown the ability to reverse heart disease, reverse early-stage prostate cancer and is about to do the same with Alzheimer’s.
He has even proven, together with Nobel Prize-winning professor Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, that cellular aging can be slowed based on the condition of your telomeres at the end of your DNA strands.
So, the question comes down to this: if we have the prevention and we can even reverse many conditions fully or partially, and we can extend both the years of our life and add tremendous quality to that life, what is holding us back?
Maybe we are so ingrained in the current medical system that we can’t fathom that there are things more effective and cheaper than pharmaceuticals, surgeries, procedures and radiation. Maybe business interests are more important than attaining real health. But as Dr. Katz stated, the only side effects of these lifestyle changes are positive.
Currently, in the United States (and these statistics are similar but not quite as bad throughout the West), 63% of the standard diet consists of processed foods – what author Michael Pollin refers to as food-like eatable substances. Not only are they nutrition deficient, which cause harm and are highly addictive, but 25% of the diet is also animal proteins like meat, chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs.
We know the connection between an abundance of animal proteins and diseases including cancers and heart disease. Some 6% are processed plant foods, mostly added oils. Only 6% of the standard American diet is made up of whole plant foods.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine.” Maimonides wrote in the 4th chapter of Deot in his Mishne Torah, “Because for the body to be healthy and wholesome is among the ways of God... therefore a person must distance himself from those things that cause his body damage.”
Lifestyle medicine has been around for a long time. Here in Israel and for the Jewish people throughout the world, we are entering a period of time that is associated with weight gain and illness, especially heart disease.
An instructor from Magen David Adom once told me that in Israel, from the week before the Passover holiday through the week of the holiday itself is the two-week period with the highest number of heart attacks in the calendar year.
We see the direct correlation between what we eat vis-à-vis our health and quality of life. Let’s make this year a little different.
Let’s not ignore the studies, the research and the facts for what they are. Our health is in our hands. When you eat a diet of mostly whole plant foods, keep the junky processed foods and added oils out of the diet and lower the intake of animal proteins to a minimum, it is quite clear what the results will be.
Add exercise, sleep and stress management and don’t abuse substances like cigarettes and alcohol! The end result will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”
The writer is a health and wellness coach and personal trainer with 23 years of professional experience, a graduate of the eCornell University Certificate course on Plant-Based Nutrition for preventing and reversing illness. He is the director of The Wellness Clinic and can be reached at 02-651-8502, 050-555-7175, or [email protected] Website: www.alanfitness.com.