Chronic diseases are a recent part of human history. In the past, people only went to healers, physicians or hospitals when they became sick, generally due to infections, injuries or other maladies. Even cancer was very rare in the past as described by Mukherjee in The Emperor of All Maladies (2010).
The concept of chronic diseases emerged in the 1970s with high blood pressure (hypertension) being the first, and while type 1 diabetes (a complete lack of insulin) became understood in the early 20th century, the far more common type 2 diabetes (due to excess carbohydrates and insulin resistance) emerged with the more recent epidemic of overweight and obesity. Autoimmune diseases were known in the past, but exploded in frequency in the 1970s, creating a new medical specialty: rheumatology. High cholesterol became recognized as a disease in the 1980s.
Chronic diseases are often referred to as Western diseases as they commonly appear in more affluent and industrialized populations. But affluence and industry do not lead to disease; the lifestyle that commonly goes along with them does.
Recently, we have learned that all these diseases are reversible through lifestyle change which can enable people to get off most medications and erase chronic diseases from their active medical history. Utilizing nutrition and lifestyle to combat disease is the basis for functional and integrative medicine and this specialty is on the rise.
There are six elements to a healthy lifestyle:
- Nutrition: the most important factor – estimated at 80 percent
- Physical activity: both movement and strength
- Stress management
- Healthy restorative sleep
- Social connections
- Spiritual dimension: having meaning and purpose to life
While chronic diseases number in the hundreds, they can be grouped into six categories:
Bones, joints, strength and balance
Our modern lifestyles may give us greater longevity, but our healthy years (healthspan) is in decline. Our muscles and our skeletal aging tend to cause many reversible problems. Fortunately, biodensity and power plate technologies are effective in naturally restoring strong bones and reversing osteopenia and osteoporosis. Drugs do not do that. Strength training and balance work also can help turn back your physical clock many years.
Diseases of carbohydrate overload
Our modern American diet and culture are loaded with sugar and refined carbohydrates that have made the majority of Americans overweight with an elevated blood sugar leading to dementia and many other problems. About 40 percent of Americans are obese with excess body fat as stored energy. A healthy diet of superfoods such as healthy fats, protein and low carbohydrates can reverse overweight, obesity, prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, fatty liver and metabolic syndrome. Exercise and stress reduction also help this process.
Diseases of inflammation and unhealthy gut microbiome
Inflammatory proteins and fats in common foods can cause systemic inflammation and an unhealthy gut microbiome (dysbiosis) which may lead to acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. Our stomach acid is good for us and the drugs to reduce stomach acid harm us in the long run. The entire spectrum of autoimmune diseases originates in the gut as a result of dysbiosis and small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (SIBO). These conditions can be reversed through healthy nutrition and supplementation.
Diseases of stress
Life today is stressful for most everyone. Achieving a life controlling stress is an important skill that can be learned resulting in equanimity during the day and natural restorative sleep at night. Mind and body solutions for stress reduction and optimal mental health are necessary to combat the diseases of stress such as hypertension (high blood pressure), anxiety and depression.
While cancer occurs for many different reasons, once it exists it is a metabolic disease. It must be fed and nurtured to cause disease and death. Much has been learned about maximizing your chances for cancer remission and full recovery with diet and lifestyle leading the way.
We also have learned much about the biology of aging. We are designed to age and die and with our modern diet and lifestyle we accelerate this process. On the other hand, your biologic life can be extended by adopting new practices using diet, lifestyle, and supplementation to delay the processes leading to aging and death.
Chronic disease is reversible and functional medicine strives to do just that by promoting health rather than treating diseases with drugs and procedures. Using the latest science, practitioners work with clients to reduce or eliminate medications by prescribing nutrition and lifestyle factors. All six elements of a healthy lifestyle are addressed in every person and whenever possible, real foods are used over supplements.
Joseph Scherger, MD, MPH and Arnel Sator, MS, PTA are co-founders of Restore Health in Indian Wells. For more information visit www.restorehealth.me or call (760) 408.2720.