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Lifestyle Medicine – Can it Replace Conventional Medicine?

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Lifestyle changes, or Lifestyle Medicine, has become a widespread way to combat chronic diseases, such as metabolic syndrome, increased blood pressure or high blood sugar.
Everyday habits influence the development of chronic diseases: Smoking may increase the risk of cancer; a daily routine of little exercise may lead to metabolic syndrome; and a fast food diet may lead to high blood pressure.

Although this information has been known for at least the past three decades, it is still not fully integrated into today’s health care system – a system that still relies foremost on conventional medicine.

Why Conventional Medicine?

In the past, most prevalent health issues were of the infectious kind. Pneumonia and tuberculosis accounted for the majority deaths during the 19th century, according to the CDC

Today, in-communicable and chronic diseases are the leading the causes of death (​WHO​), while the modern health care system follows a conventional approach to health care that has developed during the past era. The result is a system that is only partially effective; it works best for acute situations; if you’ve been in a car accident, surgeons are likely able to save your life; if you have an infection, antibiotics will work fine. Yet, modern health care’s effectiveness in dealing with chronic diseases has often been deemed feeble and inadequate.

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A Real Problem in the Healthcare System

The ​healthcare system has become so powerful and profitable that it has shifted its focus from health to illness. Its primary mission seems to be ​increasing profits by ensuring people remain sick and dependent on pharmaceutical drugs – drugs that merely alleviate symptoms of diseases, rather than cure illnesses.

Most medical schools do not teach disease prevention, but rather symptom mitigation. Nor do the schools educate about dietary habits or the importance of physical activity. Doctors today can graduate years of medical education, having taken only one nutrition class at best.

 

At a conventional medicine clinic, focus would be on the readings and measurements from blood samples, i.e., white blood cell count, blood pressure and heart rate readings, instead of addressing the causes of the disease. These measurements serve to determine which pharmaceutical drugs can the patient tolerate and would minimize the sensation of pains or other symptoms. Over time, it is common to see that the pills previously prescribed to treat a

particular symptom have ceased to affect it; suppressing or masking pains usually drives them to return with a vengeance, to where a higher dose or alternate drug is needed.

This conventional approach is too simple to be applied to the health issues of today – there is a need to address the cause of the issue and to look at it holistically. Currently, the majority of patients visit their doctors for chronic problems rather than acute ones, and using conventional medicines to treat chronic diseases is what created a healthcare system focused on suppressing symptoms with drugs or surgery. Managing a chronic disease is much more challenging than simply eliminating its symptoms: it typically lasts a lifetime, and therefore requires more than a one treatment approach. Health is a lifestyle; it is not symptom treatment.

The good news is, regardless of the conventional approaches, lifestyle medicine that includes a healthy diet, physical activity and stress management techniques often works better than prescription drugs for many chronic diseases.

What is Lifestyle Medicine?

The ​American College of Preventive Medicine defines Lifestyle Medicine as an approach to patient care, which is based on scientific evidence and utilizes lifestyle changes for treatment and prevention of diseases and illnesses.

Now, let’s take a look at the five main aspects that ​Lifestyle Medicine​focuses on:

  1. Basic Nutrition

Changing eating habits alone can inverse numerous lifestyle diseases, making it an indispensable part of Lifestyle Medicine.

Eating behaviors and patterns are formed during childhood and shaped by societal, cultural and traditional customs. Accepting to change them can therefore be difficult. If a proposed healthy diet based on scientific evidence opposed or clashed with accepted traditions, the norm would be to disobey the scientific evidence in favor of the traditions/beliefs. This cycle cannot break without awareness of eating habits and their effects.

Contemporary science supports the use of raw plant-based food (whole, unprocessed or at least minimally processed foods) as a primary treatment for many health issues.

  1. Physical Activity

Consistent exercise has both short- and long-term benefits for your mental and physical health, such as giving more energy and adding years to life. It can control weight, combat diseases, improve mood, boost strength, and even promote better sleep.

Conversely, exercise alone, without an accompanying dietary change, would not suffice in the reversal of some diseases. Weight can be maintained through exercise solely, but it would not lead to a substantial weight loss. It is most effective when carried out in

conjunction with an inclusive program that addresses healthy nutrition and stress management.

  1. Stress Management

When the body reacts to a demand, threat or change, the body stresses – an experience usually described as feeling overcome. It is a very individual reaction; what stresses one person may not even deter another. Internal factors like pessimism or chronic worry can cause stress, while external factors include life changes, relationship difficulties, etc.

When not managed appropriately, chronic stress may result in many health issues such as high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart attacks or strokes. However, it is a common misconception to consider stress as a negative. Appropriate management can utilize this feeling like a healthy precursor.

Assisting patients in transforming these stress responses into being manageable is a fundamental part of Lifestyle Medicine. Meditation, deep breathing techniques and muscle relaxation are some of the scientifically based methods for stress management.

  1. Tobacco Use Cessation

Health issues and risks due to tobacco use are already intensively covered and documented. Smoking tobacco increases the risk of lung cancer, heart diseases and non-fatal diseases such as skin wrinkling and impotence.

Quitting smoking can be very challenging, but also very health-rewarding. Already from only two weeks of tobacco cessation, improvement in the lung function can be noticed and a decrease in heart attack risk will have occurred.

Lifestyle Medicine focuses on dealing with these challenges through several techniques, sometimes with the aid of prescribed tobacco cessation medications.

  1. Relationships

Interpersonal and communal relationships are essential for a healthy life. Humans are social beings and necessitate social connection for their basic survival. The type of social relations is as important in determining health as dietary plans, exercise and smoking habits. In most cases, they would even determine the choices of lifestyle that individuals make. Studies have revealed examples where poor social relationships, loneliness and isolation correlate with increased mortality and morbidity.

Lifestyle medicine has a personalized approach when advising on improving or developing social relationships. For instance, in order to prevent social isolation, volunteering for a meaningful cause may be suggested.

Lifestyle Medicine is a holistic view on the body’s health, but can it really replace modern-day, conventional medicines?

Weather lifestyle medicine can replace or merely complement and enhance conventional medicine will still long be debated. But the supporting evidence for its benefits cannot be overlooked. The movement of lifestyle medicine will continue to grow and will provide more holistic options for patients battling chronic diseases.

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