Being a ‘recovering course junkie’, I have greatly reduced my time away from home at weekends in recent years, after decades of travelling the world searching for better skills to change lives, both my own and others, then teaching others what I have learnt.
These days, I am enjoying the novelty of more weekend time at home and am sometimes able to get in to my greenhouse, stop and take pleasure in the joy of growing things. However this summer there have been several single day lectures that are tempting me out of my lair.
The other Saturday, I allowed myself to go to an interesting day’s lecture in London on inflammation run by a fellow ICAK Diplomate and Texan, Robert Rakowski D.C. I could tell that Robert, like me, loved to learn and share knowledge that is not generally getting fully circulated much in popular thought and yet is regularly hitting the medical journals.
Bob took us through a whistle-stop review of many of the key findings which are changing our ideas about most forms of chronic illness. Unlike the emergency medicine so beloved of my favourite doc-drama, ER and other TV hospital based series, chronic conditions, which account for more that 75% of our health spending, do not respond well to the prevailing drugs and surgery model of acute medicine. This heroic form of medicine seemed so successful during the middle years of the 20th century, with one new discovery after another sweeping all before it up until the big wake up call that was thalidomide.
$1.3 Trillion a year.
As the Journal of the American Medical Association said not long ago, (JAMA. 2004;292:1057-1059) “Medical education should prepare students well for clinical problems they will face, however that is not happening for chronic disease.” And this kind of approach to medicine is costly, in America the seven most common chronic diseases; diabetes, heart disease, cancer, stroke, high blood pressure, pulmonary conditions and mental disorders, cost the American economy an estimated $1.3 trillion annually!
Well, we can look at such staggering statistics and say we are different, but sadly not that different. We still struggle with these chronic diseases and find it both hard to help people change their life styles to defeat such chronic illnesses and hard to wean ourselves off the often less effective use of drugs, and onto the nutritional and lifestyle changes that are known to be more effective, less expensive and longer lasting.
Those of you who are still hanging in there, reading me bang on about lifestyle medicine, are probably not the ones who need to hear this most, sadly.
The Magnificent Seven
I liked Bob’s succinct diagnosis of our problems. He put it like this: we mostly move wrong, poop wrong, sleep wrong, eat wrong, drink wrong, talk wrong and think wrong.
And guess what the cure is? Yes, to:
Move right, poop right, sleep right, eat right, drink right, talk right, and think right.
That is about it for so many of these diseases for many of us.
In other words;
• inflammation is both the result of trauma and /or poor lifestyle choices.
• Chronic (silent) inflammation damages DNA and leads to chronic disease.
• Healthy (Therapeutic) Lifestyle choices improve DNA,
• Unhealthy choices (including toxins and drugs) damage DNA,
• We health professionals serve as genetic engineers for our patients,
• Every person is THEIR OWN genetic engineer,
• but drugs and surgery medicine has few answers for Chronic Disease-75% of all health care costs,
• and Lifestyle Medicine creates lasting health and is the most effective answer to Chronic Disease if only we could get ourselves to take the medicine.
All sorts of things are linked to inflammation and ill health. Even brushing your teeth twice a day seems linked to reducing your risks of heart disease, as shown in a recent study. What could at first seem a strange connection really comes down to reducing inflammation in the gums and its powerful effect on our overall health.
Genetic Engineers: Don’t let those Telomeres fray!
Inflammation is one of the key ways that we age prematurely. I particularly liked the idea of us all being our own genetic engineer, increasingly the evidence points to our genes being affected by our behaviour. For too long we have had a faulty belief that ‘it’s all in my genes’ therefore, there is nothing we can do about it when in fact we can do much to influence the health of our genes.
What the new science is telling us is that, like the tiny tips on our shoe laces that stop them fraying, telomeres, sections of genetic material at the ends of each chromosome, prevent chromosomal ‘fraying’ when a cell replicates. As a cell ages, its telomeres become shorter. Eventually, the telomeres become too short to allow cell replication, the cell stops dividing and will ultimately die. Studies show that this shortening is less to do with our genetic inheritance and all to do with our environment. Therefore, it is the specific environmental assaults, both physical and psychological, causing a cumulative burden of oxidative stress and inflammation over a lifetime which affect the length of your telomeres.
How do you go about looking after your telomeres? It sounds very complex, you might say, but if you have been following this scientific story in recent years, you will know that a large part of it comes down to those magnificent seven:
Move right, poop right, sleep right, eat right, drink right, talk right, and think right!