The history of health is an interesting study… well, at least for people like me who are interested in both health and history.
The reason why the history of health is interesting is that what people worry about has changed over time. Ask someone 200 years ago what health concerns they have and you would hear them say that they fear some sort of accident or infection. The reason why they feared accidents and infections is because most people died from infections or injuries 200 years ago.
What is remarkable when you ask that same question of people today is that, while infection is a worry for us to, it is a small concern compared to our fear of cancer or heart disease or a dementia like Alzheimer’s. This dramatic shift in our health concerns has happened in the last 100 years and I’m not sure most people are aware of it or what it means about where you turn for health care or how it should change the choices you make every day.
The Nobel Battle
For most of human history, the battle for health has been a battle over infection and sudden illness. This is a battle that modern medicine has waged well and has, for the most part, won. The introduction of wonder drugs like antibiotics, steroids, anti-inflammatories, and others were a boon to our health and longevity. While there is a great debate about just how much these drugs have done for our health and longevity, it is pretty clear that the wonder drugs did play a role in the improvement of our health. Yes, improved sanitation and food handling have reduced infectious disease, but the drugs, too, have played an important role.
Combine the change in sanitation with the introduction of emergency medicine to deal with accidents and powerful drugs and you change the average life expectancy from around 40 or 50 years old 100 years ago to around 78 today. Quite an accomplishment.
Out goes the era of infections and sudden diseases and in comes the modern age with new health challenges.
Enter the Era of Slow Diseases
Slow diseases are completely different from sudden diseases like infection and accidents.
No longer are we terrified about getting the plague or other infectious disease, we are now mostly concerned about cancer, diabetes, heart disease. These new fears reflect the reality. Yes, there is AIDS, bird flu, and other infectious diseases, but your risk of dying from one of those infectious diseases is small compared to the risk that you are going to die from a disease that slowly creeps up on you.
You currently have a 1 in 5 risk of dying from heart disease and about a one in seven chance of dying from cancer.
But these slow diseases are fundamentally different from the diseases of previous generations and require you to think and act differently.
To understand why you have to think differently, you have to remember the frog in the pot of boiling water. Many people have heard about the story of the frog in the hot water: If you put a frog in some very hot water, it will jump right out, but if you put him in cold water and slowly bring it to a boil he will die. The diseases we face are exactly like the slowly boiling water: they are slow that it is not apparent that we are in danger until it is too late.
Confusing the Role of Medicine
I think the biggest problem people have when they have a slow disease is confusing the role of medicine and drug therapy.
If you have a sudden injury, acute infection, then standard medicine is the way go. But when you have a slow disease, your approach has must be different. Yes, you can go to traditional medicine if you have something like arthritis, and they can help your pain go away, but the medicines they are giving you do nothing to address the underlying cause of the disease. You may feel better, but that feeling is not going to last, as the drugs either have side-effects that are worse than the disease, or they stop being effective.
Slow diseases require a different approach and a different attitude on your part. I’m sorry to say this to you if you don’t know it, but medicine is never going to find a cure for cancer, or multiple sclerosis, or diabetes, or heart disease or hundred of other slow-developing diseases. I know you want to believe that medicine will cure everything (and I would like to too) but these diseases do not lend themselves to being cured by a pill. The body is just too complex and the drug solution not helpful enough.
I’m not alone is saying this, even the American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society would agree: you can prevent up to 70 percent of these diseases by changing your diet and your habits.
Change Your Approach
Since the chances you are facing with a slow diseases are much higher than an acute or sudden disease, you have to change your approach to health care. Your health is in your hands. The small little things you do every day are important. Taking the stairs instead of an elevator, choosing to avoid soda and sugars, getting enough sleep, maintaining a regular health regime… all these are important.
You cannot wait for medicine to cure the diseases you will have in the future; that help will never come. You have to pay attention to the temperature of the water around you and jump out of the pot before it starts boiling instead of waiting until tomorrow to start changing. There is no more powerful thing that you can do then to change your habits and improve your health.