It’s remarkable how far removed we’ve become from that brief, yet profound quote from Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician who is regarded as the Father of Modern Medicine because of his scientific explanations of numerous diseases, and their cures.
In fact, what we eat today is having the opposite effect than that of medicine. Food has become a primary cause of some of the most common illnesses around the developed world, primarily type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
According to a report by the American Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, Americans are eating way more calories than they used to. And they’re getting most of those calories from cakes, cookies, pizza, processed bread, and other nutrient-depleted, unhealthy sources .
On the other hand, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently reported that only 1 in 10 Americans are getting the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables in their diet consistently . This is problematic because, as most of us already know, eating a wide variety of fruits and veggies is an essential element of living a healthy life.
These reports might have been focused on Americans, but similar issues are increasingly prevalent throughout the industrialized world.
The health consequences of SAD (Standard American Diet)
As you can imagine, eating an excessive amount of processed foods will have negative consequences on health.
According to an article published in the Population Health Management Journal, the prevalence of diabetes (type 2 diabetes and type 1 diabetes) will increase by 54 percent to more than 50 million Americans between 2015 and 2030. They expect annual deaths attributed to diabetes will climb by 38 percent, and the total yearly medical and societal costs related to diabetes will increase by 53 percent to more than $600 billion by 2030 .
Diabetes isn’t the only result of the American diet, which is also known as the Western Pattern Diet (WPD). According to the CDC, almost 40 percent of Americans were considered to be obese in 2015 , and the WPD is thought to be a contributing factor . And obesity is a lot more than just being overweight – it has been linked with critical health conditions like heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even arthritis .
Additionally, a diet rich in fructose and refined grains combined with unhealthy fats might be contributing to mental illnesses like anxiety and depression as well.
According to research conducted by the University of Melbourne, people who overate processed and unhealthy foods were at an increased risk for anxiety . They also found a possible association between WPD and a higher prevalence of depression in women , although the evidence wasn’t conclusive.
While it’s clear that our diet is harming our health, it’s not the only factor. The problem goes deeper than that.
It’s the way we have been programmed to think about health. Generally, when we talk about healthcare, we are talking about getting rid of symptoms, instead of taking care of our health. We’ve come to think of health as not having a clinically diagnosable ailment, instead of being energetic, fit, and happy.
The incentive structures embedded in our medical system also helps sustain the perpetual lack of healthfulness in our societies, as we’ll discuss below.
Is our medical system designed to maximize health?
Before we go any further, it is vital to acknowledge the tremendous impact modern medicine has had on eradicating diseases and increasing our longevity.
No longer do we have to worry about dying from the flu (for the most part) thanks to antibiotics. Medicines can help manage chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, and even HIV, and help people live longer. Vaccines have enabled us to eradicate diseases like chickenpox, polio, and diphtheria. We can also extend life by transplanting organs like kidneys, lungs, and the heart in case they stop working, assuming the patient can find a donor.
The contributions of medical science might be remarkable, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few things that are problematic with our dependence on pharmaceuticals.
While you should definitely rely on medication in case of a severe illness, it becomes a problem when that is the first line of defense. We aren’t taught to explore the root causes of our ailments and look for natural remedies. Or better yet, to live our lives in a way that prevent some of the most common diseases in the first place.
Thanks to savvy marketing by the drug companies, we’ve been conditioned to think that we should take a pill for every symptom we experience. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear about patients demanding prescriptions for certain drugs from their physicians, who, unfortunately, often oblige.
The medications often come with unpleasant side effects of their own, which have to be managed by other drugs, and the cycle begins. In many cases, it continues to the point where people are taking many pills every day just to function normally through their days.
According to a 2015 Global burden of disease study, although people are now living longer than ever before, they’re spending those extra years living in illness and disability . The study found that while far fewer people are dying from diseases like HIV, malaria, and malnutrition, people in the industrial world are more likely today to suffer from diet-related obesity, osteoarthritis, and drug use disorders like opioids and cocaine.
The status quo might be serving the big pharma quite well. The major drug companies are traded publicly, and they must do what’s best for their shareholders. That means they are primarily incentivized to sell more drugs, instead of looking out for the healthiest society possible. The best way to sell more pills is to make you believe that you have to depend on them to be healthy.
And it seems to be working. The global pharmaceutical market has a total revenue of around $1 trillion (that’s a thousand billion). The United States and Canada are responsible for approximately 50 percent of that, even though they account for only 7 percent of the world’s population. In America, drug companies are ranked in the top 10 percent of industries when it comes to after-tax profit levels .
The right incentive structure for the pharmaceutical industry that promotes a fit, happy, and healthy society is beyond the scope of this article, and our expertise at uVitals. What we do know, however, that there are steps that most of us can take every day to minimize how much we have to participate in the medical system as it is today. And that’s what we’re going to focus on through the rest of this article.
The concept of Self-Health
Given the current state of health, it’s clear that something needs to change. It’s vital that we become less dependant on a medical system that is only designed to manage symptoms, and that we become more proactive when it comes to living in a way that promotes overall health and prevents disease as much as possible.
Self-health means educating ourselves about how we function and then taking responsibility for our own health and well-being.
The first step we can take is to shift the way we think about the term “healthcare”. We need to recognize that health consists of various systems, both physical and emotional, that need to be working together for us to be operating at an optimal level.
Caring for your health requires a holistic approach that includes examining things like the quality of your sleep, the things you eat on a regular basis, your stress levels, the amount of exercise that you get each week, your relationships, and more.
None of this is to say that you should never go to the doctor. In fact, far from it. A well-rounded health and wellness plan includes staying up-to-date on your check-ups, vaccinations, and other routine procedures. And if you’re not feeling well, we strongly discourage you from self-diagnosing by reading things on the internet.
The point is, we should recognize the medical system to be a powerful tool that is available to us, one that we should be thankful for. However, it is only one of the tools at our disposal, and it is meant to be used sparingly when natural methods aren’t enough.
Once we have covered the bases with the check-ups, vaccinations, etc., we can do a lot better. Life isn’t meant to be spent in a state of quiet desperation where we’re barely functioning, even if we happen to be free of disease.
We should be enthusiastic, happy, and full of energy to pursue the things we want, whether that’s our contribution to society, playing a sport, or spending joyous moments with our friends and family.
When it comes to health, everyone is unique, and no one solution will fit everyone perfectly. People have different health goals, various dietary needs and preferences, and medical conditions that need to be taken into account when crafting a lifestyle plan.
However, for the vast majority of people, a few relatively simple steps can make a massive difference, when done consistently.
Getting started on the self-health journey
Self-health is about simplicity. With all the conflicting information in the fitness and nutrition space, it can be easy to get confused. Should you eat carbs? How about grains? Or maybe you need to fast for 16 hours each day?
There’s no need to overthink this. The only thing to consider when you get started is choosing new habits that are going to be sustainable for you. Taking control of your health is about a shift in lifestyle for the long-haul. It’s not about fad diets and extreme measures that will set you up for failure. Of course, you’re free to adjust and change in time according to your goals and needs.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the four simple things you can start doing today to get started on your self-health journey.
Improve your diet
Every person is unique, and so are their dietary requirements. However, some basic guidelines would benefit the vast majority of us. For example, you can increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables. Also, try to include lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, and wild-caught seafood in your diet.
It’s not only what you eat, but also what you avoid. As we explained above, the standard western diet has been linked with a variety of health conditions. So, try and minimize processed grains, refined sugars, and unhealthy fats as much as possible.
Regular exercise has been linked with a wide variety of health benefits including improved mood, elevated energy levels, better muscle and bone health, and of course, weight loss .
There is a lot of flexibility when it comes to how you exercise. You can walk, jog, lift weights, swim, do yoga, or play a sport. The critical thing to remember is that you must be consistent with your workouts to get the best results. So, again pick activities that you’re more likely to stick to.
Stress is another factor that is contributing to a wide array of ailments today. According to a poll conducted by Gallup in 2017, over 4 in 10 Americans reported being frequently stressed . Some of the biggest drivers of stress were fears about work, money and the economy.
Chronic stress can affect health in various ways like weakening the immune system, causing cardiovascular issues, and contributing to mental health issues like depression . It can also make you feel fatigued and frustrated.
You can combat stress by practicing relaxation. It can be as simple as sitting with your eyes closed and focusing on your breath for a few minutes each morning. Or you could take a walk each day, preferably in nature, or listen to music that you find soothing. Again, the key is to be consistent.
Get some sleep
The importance of quality rest to your health cannot be overstated. Poor sleep has been linked to overeating and weight gain, inability to concentrate, increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and even depression .
Some of the steps you can take to get better rest have already been mentioned above. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and de-stressing all contribute to a better quality of sleep.
If you want to take it one step further, you can start minimizing screen time a couple of hours before bed. Your screens, whether it’s the phone, tablet, laptop, or TV, all emit something called blue light, which interferes with your body’s internal clock that regulates the sleep-wake cycle. This is the perfect time to read a book, listen to some relaxing music, or to meditate.
Our mission at uVitals
The steps above may be simple, but that doesn’t mean they are easy to implement. If you’re used to eating the standard American diet, living a sedentary lifestyle, and you’re currently not sleeping well because of stress or other reasons, it’ll take you some time and effort as you replace your old habits with newer, healthier ones.
And we want to be your partner on this journey towards a healthier, happier you. Our goal is to help you take control of your own health by providing you with easy-to-understand information, and by recommending resources when appropriate.
Most of what we suggest will only require changes or adjustments in lifestyle and habits. Additionally, we will also recommend supplements and other tools that can support your healthy habits, or expedite the results that you might be seeking.
When it comes to the state of our health as a community, the trends can be discouraging. But that doesn’t mean that you need to participate in those statistics. The other side of that story is that today, we have access to more information than ever about how to optimize our health.
At uVitals, our mission is to sift through the vast ocean of health, fitness, and nutrition information out there, and to only present you with simple, actionable steps that you can implement in your life today so you can start living the healthy and happy life that you’re meant to live.
- ^ https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthy-eating/top-10-sources-of-calories-in-the-us-diet
- ^ https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1116-fruit-vegetable-consumption.html
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278808/
- ^ https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html
- ^ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170111184359.htm
- ^ https://www.healthline.com/health/obesity#complications
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21715296
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20048020
- ^ https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/10/161006102549.htm
- ^ http://fortune.com/2019/03/01/drug-companies-rd-profits/
- ^ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-benefits-of-exercise#section3
- ^ https://news.gallup.com/poll/224336/eight-americans-afflicted-stress.aspx
- ^ https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5137920/
- ^ https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-reasons-why-good-sleep-is-important#section6