I am not stuck in the old ways just because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” I love looking at new research. This is especially true when research reaffirms or replicates other research. Even though the vast majority of health care professionals – doctors, dieticians, osteopaths, nutritionists, and many others – are mired in the way of the past, I want to know what works and what doesn’t work.
What can we do in order to improve health and prevent and reverse chronic disease? Modern medicine has a lot to offer, but in this area, it has fallen short. We’ve spent the last half century managing disease, but we have not done a good job on prevention and reversal.
What bothers me is that there are now 10,000 papers, reports, and studies—all done by people and institutions who have no conflict of interest (not big food or big pharm) that clearly show the old approach has failed. There has been a way to indeed cure and prevent much chronic disease all along. It’s not a drug or a procedure, and you don’t have to sit in the waiting room in the doctor’s office again and again and again. It’s also not very expensive!
A simple study
I recently viewed a lecture by Dr. David Katz to the students and adjunct members of the Downstate Medical School in Brooklyn, NY. Dr. Katz is the former president of the College of Lifestyle Medicine. His MD is from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine (1988) and his MPH from the Yale University School of Public Health (1993). Dr. Katz completed sequential residency training in Internal Medicine (1991), and Preventive Medicine/Public Health (1993), earning Board certification in both disciplines. He is the founding director (1998-2019) of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center.
I consider myself knowledgeable in most of the recent research regarding lifestyle and how it affects our health and well-being. Somehow, I hadn’t looked at this piece of research, and from the many things I’ve been impressed with, this one blew me away. It was a simple study that followed a large group of people and was completed in 2009 by Drs. Ford, Bergmann, Kroger and colleagues.
The study took place around Potsdam, Germany with a sample size a little over 23,000 people. The population was asked to answer 4 basic questions:
- What is your height and weight (for BMI measurement)?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you active?
- Do you eat a healthy diet (an abundance of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and low meat consumption)?
That’s it! They were looking at four lifestyle aspects: weight, smoking, activity and exercise, and diet.
After collecting the data, those who met good standards in all four categories reduced their chance of getting heart disease, diabetes, and cancer by 80%. They cut their risk of heart attack by 93%! This is just more evidence to support Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn’s statement that heart disease is a completely preventable and reversible benign disease.
Here’s what’s even more interesting in the study. Anyone who changed just one of the four behaviors categories from a poor behavior to a good one, reduced their chance of chronic disease by 50%. That’s just as amazing! I hope you are paying attention and understanding this fully.
Here’s another story that should make you take notice. You may never have heard of the town of North Karelia, Finland. In 1972, it was found that middle-aged men were dropping dead of heart attacks at the highest known rates in the world. Now they are famous for something else. About 30 years ago, the Finnish ministry of health asked Dr. Pekka Puska to go into North Karelia and see what can be done. He used the lessons of the Potsdam study well before it was ever done.
In the ensuing decades, Puska pioneered a strategy that lowered male cardiovascular mortality in a population of 170,000 Finns by some 80 percent—an unparalleled accomplishment. Does 80% sound familiar? They ate more berries, imported other fruit from southern Europe, took the loads of butter out of the diet, and substituted their meat products with potatoes, carrots, and other vegetables. They cut smoking! The story behind this story is fascinating, but you’ll have to look that up.
Looking back 25 years, Puska’s project produced impressive results. Smoking rates dropped to from 52 to 31 percent. The mortality rate of coronary heart disease in the middle-aged male population in North Karelia has reduced by about 73 percent. Life expectancy for men rose by seven years, and for women, six years.
So we see once again—its diet, exercise and lifestyle habits that do the trick. The evidence is just so overwhelming. Get your doctor on board! Tell him or her to look up the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and to take advantage of all the tools they have to offer. Then they can truly help you to “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”