It’s time to address America’s chronic health care crisis
23 years ago, I became a naturopathic doctor. Every day, I am grateful to be in service to my patients and thankful for the lives of individuals and families that I have made healthier. Today, I am struck by the number of people with severe chronic diseases; many of them younger than I would have anticipated.
In comparison to 25 years ago, younger and younger people are being diagnosed with severe chronic diseases, anything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to unusual neurological conditions.
As Americans, we have become slaves to our lustful appetites, resulting in an extraordinary healthcare crisis. In comparison to 25 years ago, I am seeing more and more younger and younger people diagnosed with severe chronic diseases – anything from cancer to heart disease to diabetes to unusual neurological conditions. Such an urgent health crisis requires us to shift immediately. We must shift our mindsets, our habits, our addictions, our lifestyles and the way we as doctors treat chronic disease.
According to the Center of Disease Control (CDC), more than 7 out 10 deaths in the US are related to chronic disease. Our country spends eighty-six percent of the $2.7 trillion dollars on healthcare for the chronically ill. Fifty percent of our adult population suffers from at least one chronic illness (1). Of the sixteen highest-income countries in the world, USA ranks last in mortality from chronic disease (2). In other words, as one of the wealthiest countries in the world, we are the sickest. No matter how astounding these statistics, CDC acknowledges that we, as a nation, have the capacity to transform, preventing such unnecessary health conditions and death rates, and creating a much healthier society. But how do we shift? Here are a few thoughts as to how to initiate the shifting process in our health and the modern-day health crisis.
IT ALL BEGINS WITH EDUCATION
Education is the cornerstone of wellbeing and health. Through education, human capacities are realized, and lives are enriched. Education begins with teaching our first teachers; our daughters, the mothers to be. Educating our girls first on nutrition, disease prevention, hygiene, morals and making mature decisions encourages shifts to be made at grass-roots levels. Girls have the capacity to impact families and communities. Teaching them each to make healthier choices, to arise to their moral capacities, will shift generations forward to become physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthier.
As physicians, furthermore, we must first and foremost educate our patients before prescribing medications. Helping them recognize their capacity to transform their lifestyles, their diet, their mindset and spiritual wellbeing can dramatically impact their health and symptoms without prescription medications and the multitude of side-effects that come along with them. Such a shift takes self-discipline, patience, courage, and perseverance: innate qualities that we all have but must routinely practice.
LISTEN TO YOUR SYMPTOMS
Being raised in a ‘quick fix’ society, we have learned to patch symptoms instead of listening to them. Our symptoms, whether it is a headache or nausea, or joint pain, or fatigue, are our bodies’ way of communicating with us and directing us to look deeper into ourselves. Symptoms tell us that something is out of balance. They act as a ‘yellow’ light signaling ‘caution’ and beware. Shutting down the yellow light by covering it up, doesn’t help us get to the root cause. Instead, it forces it to go deeper and to find another outlet for its expression. Keep in mind that often the area of pain and symptoms, is not the area of dysfunction. For instance, you may have a frontal headache, but it may be triggered by your liver being overburdened. As we listen to our symptoms and gain the courage to look deep into our pain, the underlying processes of chronic disease begin to unfold. So, listen, and be open to what your body may be telling you instead of grabbing the quick fix. Be patient with the process – life is a healing journey!
SEARCH FOR THE ROOT CAUSE, The TRUTH
Finding the courage to look for the root cause of our symptoms is not easy but is necessary if we want to be healthy. Symptoms can have a physical cause but often, they are coupled with emotional or psychological factors as well. Addressing the physical cause without addressing the corresponding psycho-emotional issues will not resolve the condition completely; the vice versa is true as well. Addressing the psycho-emotional without treating the physical and biochemical processes will not resolve the condition either. For example, heart attack may be related to infections in the teeth and gums, but it can often be coupled with an unresolved heartache. By addressing only, the heart attack with medication without searching for the bacteria in the teeth or without clearing the related emotions, often leads to another episode of heart attack. And by working on emotional layer without addressing the inflammation of the cardiovascular system will also result in another heart attack. Therefore, for optimum health prevention and wellbeing, we must continually search for and correct the underlying imbalances, addressing the whole system: the mind, body, and spirit,
FOOD AS MEDICINE
The practice of food as medicine is centuries old and the wisdom gained from all these thousands of years is worth incorporating into our modern lifestyle practices. The great philosophers, physicians, and scientists of the past, such as Avicenna, Hippocrates, Galen, and others used food and diet as a primary form of treatment for many conditions. We have forgotten that food is medicine. Personalized modification of diet can correct and prevent some of the most chronic modern-day diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, chronic pain, and even cancer. Our American society eats processed foods, which are not only void of essential nutrients but more importantly, are inflammatory. Our modern-day diseases are the result of chronic inflammation. If we reduce the inflammation through dietary modification and lifestyle, many of the modern-day conditions will be eliminated. Our problem is that we are slaves to our appetites and to overcome this, we need not only a physical and biochemical treatment but also an emotional and spiritual solution.
LAUGHTER IS GOOD MEDICINE
Fifteen minutes of laughter has the same physiological impact as fifteen minutes of exercise. Laughter improves circulation, stimulates lymphatic flow, strengthens abdominal muscles, improves brain health, reduces pain, and much more, making you happy and creating a positive outlook on life. It stimulates endorphins in your brain which help lessen the pain sensation and improve mood. Instead of taking a pill next time for your pain or depression, try laughing. Laugh even if you don’t want to…see what magic it brings to your health.
PAY ATTENTION TO WHO WE REALLY ARE
In essence, we humans are spiritual beings contained in a physical body. Just like we feed our body, exercise it, and allow it to rest, we must also feed and exercise our spirit and soul. The best way to feed and exercise the soul is through prayer, meditation and service to others. Studies show that spiritual wellness impacts our physical and mental health and our essential relationships. The more we strengthen our communication with our soul and the Supreme Power, the stronger we become physically, emotionally, and intellectually. The stronger our spirit, the wiser choices we make for our body, and the healthier we become.
“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity”(3). Without truthfulness, we cannot be authentic. It takes practice to be truthful with oneself, to listen to that inner voice and the wisdom within. Truthfulness provides the basis for an authentic mindset, lifestyle, and personal and professional relationships. Living truthfully and authentically takes unnecessary pressures away from ourselves, relieving our system of undue toxicity and allowing our immune system, nervous system, and cells to function in a healthy manner. Authenticity gives freedom to our mind, soul and body. Authenticity provides a powerful form of stress-management.
ITS ALL ABOUT BALANCE
Every aspect of our being and the world oscillates between yin and yang, between dying and regeneration, and between destructive and constructive forces. To keep health optimum, we must stay in balance, in moderation. Anything that pulls us out of moderation leads to disease processes. Moderation in lifestyle, diet, spiritual practices, physical activity, work, rest, and play are essential for optimum wellness. Our challenge in the modern world of so many entices, and addictive opportunities is to practice moderation. Balance creates joy and happiness.
Be positive, be happy, be joyful. A positive perspective on life increases wellness, longevity, mood, and immunity. When one is happy, mental clarity improves, energy increases, and you sleep better. Let’s teach and show our children happiness. Happiness is one of the greatest gifts we can give to our children, ourselves, and to our society. The happier we are as individuals and as a society, the healthier we will be. So, let’s be positive, grateful, and happy!
What are you willing to do to take responsibility for your own paradigm shift around health in your own life? I look forward to hearing from you!
- ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 384