Un-Health and the Crisis of Modern Civilization

By James J. Gormley

The modern healthcare crisis is a modern crisis in health, first and foremost, before we even get to access to the question of “care.”
To put this point in perspective, let’s take a step back to late 2010, when British researchers published their examination of nearly 1,000 mummies from ancient Egypt and South America. They found that only a few of these ancients suffered from cancer before they died.

The findings suggest that cancer is not a naturally occurring condition and that modern lifestyles and industrial pollution are the main cause of the 33 percent cancer rate seen in the industrialized world today.

In an October 2010 article in England’s The Telegraph, Dr. Rosalie David, a biomedical Egyptologist said that in ancient times, cancer was extremely rare. “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer, “ said David. “So it has to be a man-made disease, down to pollution and changes to our diet and lifestyle—cancer appears to be a modern disease created by modern life.”

Since the life expectancy of people in the ancient world was between 25 and 40, we might attribute the low incidence of cancer to the abbreviated lifespan — for example, if certain cancers take 25 to 30 years to develop then it would be expected that the incidence of cancer would be low. That might have held water except for the fact that the main reason the life expectancy estimates were so low was because the infant mortality rates were so high: as high as 30 to 40 percent.

The Discouraging News in 2011: It is known that breast, prostate and colorectal cancers are increased in certain societies, such as the U.S., and it is believed that this is partly due to the fast food consumption in this country in comparison with diets rich in fiber, seafood, lean meat, vegetables and fruit.

In the U.S., breast cancer hit about 208,000 women last year, and it was estimated that 39,840 women would die from it. Colorectal cancer, which is perhaps the type of disease most closely linked to dietary choices, killed 51,370 people in 2010. In terms of incidence, there were 101,700 new cases of colon cancer last year and 39,510 new cases of rectal cancer.

Smoking is linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, mouth, colon, kidney, throat, voice box, esophagus, lip, stomach, cervix, liver and pancreas.

In terms of lung cancer, there were 222,520 new cases in 2010 and approximately 157,300 deaths, making lung cancer the leading cause of cancer death by far, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all deaths from cancer.

In terms of cancers with a strong environmental/industrial exposure component, while asbestos is linked primarily to lung cancer, exposure to benzidine (a chemical found in certain dyes) is mainly associated with bladder cancer.

Diabetes, Heart Disease and the Quality of Life Killers
Moving outside the realm of cancer, type 2 diabetes, of course, is largely caused by lifestyle choices, such as diet and physical activity. Type 2 diabetes, in which the body gradually loses its ability to use and produce insulin, accounts for 90 to 95 percent of cases.

Although diabetes kills less people, nearly 26 million Americans (or nearly 8 percent of the population) have diabetes and 79 million people have pre-diabetes. People with diabetes can experience numerous serious and deadly complications, including heart disease and stroke, blindness, chronic kidney disease, and amputations.

The no. 1 killer, of course, is heart disease. Clocking in at 26.8 million non-institutionalized people with diagnosed heart disease, heart disease kills 616,067 people each year.

What makes matters even worse, 33 percent of adults have hypertension and 15 percent have high cholesterol. Nearly 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese. Add these factors together, and stroke may be in the picture, which by itself strikes down 135,952 people a year.

Quality of Life Indicators
And the discouraging news is not only about killer diseases; it’s also about conditions that impact our quality of life, that hobble us with all of the pains and aches that can make living feel like a torture.

Arthritis is one such quality-of-life killer, one which is diagnosed in 52.1 million people. Other critical, life-impacting conditions and areas for concern are: osteoporosis (including hip fractures); osteoarthritis and joint pain; and cognitive decline (including memory loss).

The Encouraging News in 2011
According to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), as many as two-thirds of all cancer cases are linked to environmental causes and have some (or many) risk factors or exposures that can be modified or prevented, respectively.

Environmental factors include: radiation and industrial exposure (e.g., asbestos and pesticides). Lifestyle factors include: cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive sunlight exposure, and social behaviors that increase exposure to certain viruses (e.g., HPV).

Research bears out the fact that nutritional supplements can provide powerful support in any effort to address the lifestyle part of the risk factors for the diseases of aging.

B Vitamins
In April 2010, Japanese researchers published a landmark study in the journal, Stroke, which examined data from 23,119 men and 35,611 women between the ages of 40 and 79.

After 14 years of follow up, it was found that men who had higher consumption of folic acid and vitamin B-6 experienced significantly fewer deaths from heart failure. Women who consumed higher levels of B vitamins experienced fewer deaths from stroke, heart disease and total cardiovascular death.

Calcium and Vitamin D
A wide body of scientific research supports the use of supplements to prevent fractures, especially hip fractures, in older people. A 2011 review in the journal, Metabolism, confirmed this: “Combined therapy, with calcium and vitamin D, has been shown to reduce hip fracture risk,” especially in frail elderly patients.

Glucosamine and Chondroitin
A two-year follow-up on the GAIT study of glucosamine, chrondroitin sulfate, their combination and the arthritis drug, Celebrex, published in 2010, carried forward the 2008 findings that showed glucosamine provided beneficial effects in knee pain and mobility.

Memory and Cognitive Function
Anyone who has a family member who seems to be overly forgetful, or who may be struggling with signs of age-related cognitive decline, should be familiar with a recent study published in the journal, Alzheimer’s and Dementia, which provides yet additional evidence that older adults who took 900 mg supplements of purified DHA (an omega-3 marine oil) for six months experienced improved memory and overall brain health.

Gormley Take-Away? While politicians and healthcare policy experts debate how best to fix our nation’s healthcare mess, if we focus on health, including responsible self-care using diet, exercise and judicious nutritional supplementation, the mammoth healthcare structure that is built may very well wind up with a significant number of empty beds that were supposed to have patients on them. This is something to work towards, to be sure: a medical complex in search of patients!

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