As an Emergency Medicine physician, I have the privilege of helping people that are ill. I am fortunate to be part of a team of dedicated and wonderful people who act in the interest of others. Moreover, I am amazed by the life-saving miracles performed by practitioners of modern medicine. Knowing that people who were seriously ill often leave the hospital in better condition is truly remarkable.
A typical patient I care for might be a middle-aged man that arrives by ambulance. He is holding his chest and appears to be uncomfortable. He tells me that he has been having chest pressure for the past few hours and also reports feeling shortness of breath and nausea. While he is being moved onto a hospital stretcher and the monitor leads are connected, I quickly review his medical history. He is 55 years old and has diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. In addition, he takes four prescription medications for his illnesses.
Although his EKG (tracing of the heart’s electrical activity) is abnormal, it does not reveal evidence of acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). Medications are given to alleviate his discomfort. Lab work is concerning for damage to his heart, and additional heart-protective medications are administered. The patient is admitted to the hospital for further evaluation and monitoring.
1. Many people seek care for preventable diseases in the Emergency Department.
As I alluded to, the patient that I described is representative of the majority of patients that I care for. From my perspective as a physician, it appears as though a preponderance of people have conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, heart disease, and cancer—illnesses known as chronic diseases. I see countless patients with these diseases, and it, unfortunately, appears to have become routine. The medical records of so many patients are filled with lists of these conditions along with five, ten, or an even greater number of prescription drugs used to control these afflictions.
2. Chronic diseases have become epidemic.
Just to be clear, these illnesses are not just occurring in my small part of the country. They are epidemic. For example, more than 34 million people in the United States have diabetes, and more than 88 million people have prediabetes. You may think that diabetes is not too bad. If that is the case, please know that diabetes damages nerves and blood vessels, leading to devastating conditions such as visual loss, kidney failure, limb amputations, strokes, and heart attacks. In the United States, someone suffers a heart attack every 40 seconds (805,000 people each year.
3. These are not just diseases of older individuals—young adults and children are also affected.
Even more concerning is that it is not only middle-aged and older people that have these disorders. Conditions such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and high cholesterol have been diagnosed in people in their forties, thirties, and even in children.
4. These diseases are diseases of lifestyle.
These diseases, along with several others, are diseases of lifestyle. This simply means that they are often caused by the way we live. Furthermore, they are frequently preventable and may even be reversible by living a healthy lifestyle. Eating the right foods, giving yourself regular physical activity, getting an adequate amount of sleep, dealing with stress well, and having meaningful relationships with family and friends are the pillars of living a healthy life.
5. We have things backward.
Modern medicine is indeed incredible. However, over the years, I have come to believe that our society has things backward regarding healthcare. It seems as though so many people rely on pills and medical procedures to “fix” the complications of the diseases mentioned earlier. For example, over one million cardiac catheterizations (angiograms of the heart) are performed annually. Furthermore, almost 500,000 CABG (surgery to bypass occluded blood vessels in the heart) procedures are performed in the United States each year.
It is likely that many times these conditions may not have even developed if the individual had taken better care of themselves. This is where I feel that we have gotten things backward. It’s like eating bacon and eggs for breakfast and then taking your medication for high cholesterol. People should cherish the wonderful gift of their bodies. I contend that people should care for themselves and feel well as opposed to eating poorly, remaining sedentary, and thus increasing the likelihood that they will create a lifestyle-related disease as a result.
6. Awareness is Essential.
Earlier I relayed several frightening statistics. However, my intention in writing this article is not to cause alarm but rather to generate awareness. It may very well be the case that many people who live unhealthy lives are unaware of this. Even as a physician, I thought I had been eating a healthy diet. It turns out that I was wrong. Prior to 2007, my diet was filled with processed foods and significantly lacked in the fruits and vegetable department. It wasn’t until a personal illness sparked the beginning of my self-education into health and wellness and motivated me to change.
7. The Right Foods can lower the risk of developing chronic diseases.
Regarding nutrition—what are the right types of foods to eat? My philosophy is to eat as close to the earth as possible. In other words, eat food in its most natural state possible. Personally, I love eating fresh fruits and vegetables, including legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds. I enjoy these foods eaten by themselves and also prepared in mouth-watering recipes. Moreover, although I am certainly no chef, I search for and find numerous recipes that often turn out pretty tasty.
In addition, numerous studies have shown that increased consumption of fruits and vegetables is linked with a lower risk of many lifestyle-related diseases. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health states that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of several lifestyle-related diseases, including heart attacks, strokes, and some types of cancer. The Mayo Clinic states that a diet with plant-based foods as its foundation can help prevent heart disease and stroke. Aside from the abundance of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants found in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, these foods also contain fiber, which provides many additional health benefits.
8. People can change their lifestyles.
I am so passionate about health and wellness because I have seen first-hand the catastrophic effects of poor lifestyle choices. I see it multiple times each day that I go to work. I discussed alarming statistics earlier. However, for me, these are not merely numbers. They are real people that I speak with and touch. I see the expressions on their faces. Diseases that develop as a result of poor lifestyle choices are very real. Please don’t become one of these statistics.
What next, then? If you are living an unhealthy life, make a decision to change. Once you’ve made that decision, commit to it. Set small, specific, and reasonable goals. Then take action. Not big and bold measures overnight. Take small steps in the right direction and be consistent.
Regarding diet, gradually increase your consumption of whole plant-based foods while at the same time decreasing your consumption of foods that are highly processed. Don’t think of this change as losing something you love if you currently eat and love many processed foods. Perspective is important. It will be better to view this as replacing one food that you love with a different type of food that you will enjoy just as much, if not more. Please also appreciate that you will not only be doing something good for your tastebuds, but you will also be doing a wonderful thing for your body and yourself.
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Reducing your meat intake and eating more plant-based foods is known to help with chronic inflammation, heart health, mental wellbeing, fitness goals, nutritional needs, allergies, gut health, and more! Unfortunately, dairy consumption also has been linked to many health problems, including acne, hormonal imbalance, cancer, prostate cancer, and has many side effects.
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