If a country had an extra $216 billion lying around every year, do you think it might be able to do some good for its citizens? Perhaps it could establish new educational programs or develop a more sustainable infrastructure. How about an extra $147 billion each year? Could a nation use that to help improve the lives of its people in some way? I think the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. So, you may be shocked to learn that, according to the CDC, heart disease and stroke are costing the United States “healthcare” system $216 billion each year. Moreover, these two conditions cost $147 billion in lost job productivity annually. 

Are you interested in knowing the annual economic costs of other chronic conditions? As per the CDC:

  • The cost of cancer is expected to reach $240 billion by 2030.
  • The cost of diabetes was $327 billion in 2017.
  • Obesity costs the United States almost $173 billion each year.
  • Arthritis cost $303 billion in 2013.
  • In 2020, Alzheimer’s disease cost the United States $305 billion. By 2050, the price tag for Alzheimer’s disease is expected to rise to $1.1 trillion (that’s trillion, with a “t”).

These are staggering figures. Imagine all the remarkable projects a nation could initiate if these additional funds were available. Upon first glance, it may seem as though it would be an insurmountable challenge to prevent these diseases so that these monies could be funneled into other worthwhile causes. However, it is likely not as complicated as it appears. Commencing on the journey to decrease the incidence of these illnesses requires two basic things: an understanding of their fundamental causes and a change in mindset. 

Let’s first briefly address the beginnings of these disorders. It is a lifestyle, and not genetics, that is a major contributing factor to their development. When discussing lifestyle as it relates to health, it is essential to consider nutrition, physical activity, sleep, stress management, and social connection. Regarding mindset, we should be open to transforming unhealthy habits into healthy daily practices, be it poor nutrition or lack of physical activity. When performed consistently, healthy choices become easy and enjoyable. 

Since healthy lifestyles can decrease the incidence of chronic illnesses, it thus follows that they can also allow nations to retain large amounts of capital that can be used to benefit humankind and our planet. Following are ten ideas worth spreading.

1. Be Aware and Receptive

According to the CDC, three risk factors for developing chronic diseases were mentioned on the very same webpage where the above statistics were taken. Cigarette smoking, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use create an enormous economic burden for the United States. It is shocking that nutrition, which has a tremendous role in health, is not mentioned at all. The reason for this omission is unclear. Perhaps people do not want to associate the idea of eating an unhealthy diet with a worsening economy. This certainly highlights the importance of being aware and open-minded when it comes to health and lifestyle.

2. Prevent and Help Reverse Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body’s insulin stops working, creating an internal environment where there is too much sugar in one’s blood. Over time and through different pathophysiologic mechanisms, type 2 diabetes can lead to catastrophic conditions such as heart disease, kidney failure necessitating dialysis, visual loss, and limb amputations. These complications are physically and economically devastating. But these can be significantly diminished by living healthy and eating a whole food, plant-based diet.

3. Fix High Blood Pressure

I’ve heard hypertension (high blood pressure) referred to as the “silent killer.” This is because a person can have hypertension for years and feel great. However, elevated blood pressure slowly damages your blood vessels over time, eventually leading to heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, visual loss (sound familiar?), dementia, and sexual dysfunction. Sounds pretty bad, right? The good news is that a whole food, plant-based diet can lower blood pressure. Moreover, there is an abundance of scientific evidence demonstrating this. One impressive study that included 500 people showed that a diet free from all animal products, along with exercise and stress management, reduced blood pressure by 6 percent in just 12 days. Twelve days—that is phenomenal!

4. Lower Cancer Risk

Cancer is scary, especially when associated with you or a loved one. However, like all serious illnesses, cancer can sometimes create a perspective change. Speaking personally, my diagnosis of kidney cancer opened my eyes to a world of information on nutrition and healthy lifestyles that I had been unaware of—lessons that I was not taught in medical school. I have since learned that many times cancer can be prevented by good nutrition, especially as it relates to decreasing the amounts of animal proteins consumed.

5. Lose Weight

In 2017, 41.9 percent of adults and 19.7 percent of children and adolescents in the United States were obese. Moreover, from 1999-2000 through 2017-2020, the prevalence of obesity in the US increased from 30.5 to 41.9 percent. Why did such a huge increase occur? Could it be genetic? No, because genetic changes occur slowly in human populations and would certainly not cause such an increase over twenty years (this reasoning can also be applied to other conditions). 

The best way to lose weight is through lifestyle. Dr. T. Colin Campbell states, “We already have overwhelming evidence that a low-fat, plant-based diet and regular exercise can largely control most weight problems.” Another essential piece of information to take notice of is the role of dairy products in developing insulin resistance, weight gain, and the possibility of causing us to eat past the point of fullness, thus taking in extra calories.

6. Stop Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one person dying every 34 seconds from heart disease. Coronary artery disease (narrowing and blockage of the blood vessels supplying blood to the heart) is the most common type of heart disease. Once again, this is a disease of lifestyle. This fact has not only been illuminated by scientific studies but also by history.

Between 1939 and 1945, Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany. During this time, the Germans removed all animal livestock, forcing the population to subsist on whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Following this, deaths from heart attacks and strokes fell. When the war ended and animal products became available again, deaths from these illnesses rose to prewar levels. For more information on some of the scientific evidence regarding the benefits of a healthy lifestyle on heart disease, take a look at the work of Dr. Dean Ornish.

7. Alleviate Autoimmune Disease and Arthritis

There are over 80 autoimmune diseases, many of which also cause painful joints. Some of the more familiar of these conditions include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and celiac disease. When treating these illnesses, many will advocate for an elimination diet, wherein all foods with the potential to cause symptoms are removed for some time before being gradually reintroduced to see if any particular food elicits symptoms. Within this context, there are many ways that a whole food, plant-based diet can help alleviate the damage caused by autoimmune diseases. These include lowering inflammation, healing the gut, and supporting immune health.

8. Reduce Alzheimer’s Disease

As noted earlier, Alzheimer’s dementia is on the road to becoming an exceedingly costly disease. Although it is traditionally considered a disease of older individuals, changes consistent with this illness begin years before the onset of symptoms. So, it is never too early to take steps to prevent it. Yes—there are steps that one can take to lower the risk of developing Alzheimer’s. As noted by Dr. Sanjay Gupta in his book “Keep Sharp,” staying physically active, eating the right foods, and having strong social relationships can be beneficial in staving off Alzheimer’s dementia.

9. Decrease Medications

The current paradigm in conventional medicine is using prescription medications to treat illnesses. As far as economics is concerned, pharmaceuticals cost money. Thus, a lot of money could be saved if many chronic diseases could be treated and prevented by simple actions such as good nutrition and physical activity. But wait, there’s more—medications do not come without side effects. Some studies estimate that 6.7 percent of hospitalized patients have a serious adverse drug reaction, causing over 106,000 deaths annually. Imagine that—over 106,000 deaths each year due to medications intended to treat a disease. Moreover, I would venture to guess that treating these adverse drug reactions is not cheap.

10. Change the “Healthcare” System to Actual Healthcare

Earlier, I mentioned the US healthcare system in quotation marks, which was not a mistake. In this regard, I share the same thoughts with many others. With the ubiquity of preventable chronic diseases affecting society, are we providing “healthcare?” I feel that a better moniker for our current system would be a “Disease Management System.”

Taking better care of ourselves would prevent enormous amounts of suffering for individuals and save immeasurable sums of money for nations. 

As always, consider the amazing benefits that a healthy lifestyle can reap. However, always consult with your doctor before starting an exercise program or discontinuing the use of prescription medications. 

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