There is great news for the future of medicine

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By Deborah Ann Ballard

There is incredibly good news to report in medicine. The Centers for Disease Control estimate that about 85 percent of chronic diseases and about 50 percent of all cancers in the United States are preventable! If we practice prevention, we can eliminate about 75 percent of all of the health care costs in the United States. Even better is the fact that we don’t have to take expensive medicines with terrible side effects or have potentially dangerous surgeries or alter our genetic code. We can prevent most cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, and other plagues of our modern world by practicing the five elements of a healthy lifestyle:
• Eating a mostly plant-based, whole food diet such as the Mediterranean Diet
• Engaging in daily physical activity
• Avoiding toxins such as tobacco, excessive alcohol, and highly processed foods
• Getting appropriate health screenings and vaccinations
• Adopting a compassionate, calm, and optimistic attitude
Equally exciting is the ability of these five practices to reverse diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides, and heart disease. People with cancer respond better to treatment and experience less recurrence if they adopt these five practices.
Type 2 diabetes is a perfect example of a preventable, costly disease. According to the CDC, people with diagnosed diabetes incur average expenditures of $11,744 per year, of which $6,649 is attributed to diabetes. Approximately one of every five health care dollars in the United States is spent caring for someone with diagnosed diabetes, while approximately one dollar of 10 health care dollars is attributed to diabetes. The Diabetes Prevention Program clinical trial and its 10-year outcomes study, both sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, showed that proper diet and physical activity could prevent or substantially delay the onset of Type 2 diabetes both safely and cost-effectively.
Preventable illnesses not only cost lots of money, but they shorten our life spans and cause years of avoidable suffering. National Geographic recently investigated people throughout the world who live to be older than 100 years old and enjoy a full healthy life. While most Americans live the last 19 of their average 80 year lifespan being sick or disabled, those who routinely live to be older than 100 spend only the last nine years with some kind of chronic illness. These super healthy elders do not come from the wealthiest countries, nor do they all share the same magic genes. They practice the five elements of a healthy lifestyle.
In future columns, I will discuss how individuals, families, businesses, communities, and health care systems can support us all in adopting the five elements of a healthy lifestyle. The healthy lifestyle movement is one of the most positive social movements ever in our country. Like all social movements, it requires major changes in understanding and attitude. Adopting the five elements will improve an individual’s life within a mere few weeks, and over time, will free us as a society from much of the preventable disease and avoidable suffering we now experience.