It's no secret that 90% or more of diseases are lifestyle related. With 7 out of 10 Americans having at least 1 chronic disease it has resulted in the continuous decrease in life expectancy we are seeing today.
What is less known is that reversing poor lifestyle habits have been shown to reverse chronic disease, especially the number one killer, heart disease 2. As a Physician I was never taught this in medical school. Despite this, physicians remain the "end-all" when it comes to guiding our care and that of our loved ones. More medications than ever are now being prescribed to manage such health conditions and after only a basic set of labs and physical exam, without crucial discussion of nutrition and lifestyle, a clean bill of health is often communicated which can be misleading and even dangerous. Complicating matters, behavioral change is very hard, especially as we get older. So what can we do for a family member or friend who desperately needs to change their lifestyle yet the odds are not in their favor? Two approaches from modern medical practice may help and may lead to a change of heart:
1. Try using a true story.
A healthy 68 year old male looking 10 years younger than his chronological age, in great shape, and only having high cholesterol states "why do I need to worry, everything the doctors did checked out including my heart after they performed a stress test". It is worthy of noting that 75% of lesions responsible for heart attacks cause only mild narrowing of the arteries, often missed by conventional testing like stress tests 3 . The overlooked part of this gentleman's care was his lifestyle including late night eating of inflammatory food and high stress which contribute to health issues independently and even more when combined. By chance his cardiologist brought up a new test called Cleerly the new non-invasive imaging that looks at the coronary arteries of the heart utilizing the latest in Artificial Intelligence to see what degree of risk a person truly faces. It isn't yet covered by insurance so the choice was up to him. He took him up on having this test and his results were astonishing: Narrowing was found in each of his major heart arteries. Had this not been uncovered the chances of him having had a heart attack was deemed likely within the next 6 months, without a single sign or symptom. He was urged to make massive lifestyle modification in addition to his medical approach and is now around to tell the story. A real life scenario can have a monumental impact in convincing a loved one to at least contemplate change. This is the first and most critical step. Lastly, John Hopkins University recently published a studyshowing that the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.A. is medical error. This data has had an effect on people recognizing that our system is not perfect and therefore it is a wise investment to make the right changes to bettering one's odds.
2. Show them what their body truly needs.
Clinical Genomics plays a vital role in determining the risks of someone developing a condition but also provides a preventive treatment guide. Genetics are not our destiny but instead are highly modifiable through lifestyle, supplements and medications 4. No longer should anyone 'fear their genetics' but instead embrace what they need to thrive. Such testing is known to help identify issues from dietary allergens to whether a person might be carb tolerant or saturated fat averse helping them avoid inflammation, weight gain, and more. This approach is now utilized by a myriad of physicians and can help remove the veil of denial and or carelessness when it comes to a person's lifestyle choices. Medicine is going from patriarchal to more self empowering and tailored as a result which many find more comforting and worth looking into for those relatives stubborn to change.
You might be wondering, where can I get this help? Fortunately, it isn't just specialized physicians that are providing such great insight, startups like Journey, for example, have seen the gap in the healthcare system and carved out their own solution. By offering on-demand health coaches online and a network to wellness oriented physicians, each coach is trained in advanced Functional Nutrition, lifestyle medicine, and stress management using a comprehensive approach of lifestyle and supplements to make health changes fun, easy, and affordable. Some coaches utilize personalized testing like Nutrigenomics to help their clients understand risk of nutritional deficiencies while working alongside their doctors, as a team. People today want to take control of their health, before it takes control of them. These are just a couple great strategies and resources that may end up helping save a loved one's life.
2. Ornish D, Scherwitz LW, Billings JH, Brown SE, Gould KL, Merritt TA, Sparler S, Armstrong WT, Ports TA, Kirkeeide RL, Hogeboom C, Brand RJ. Intensive lifestyle changes for reversal of coronary heart disease. JAMA. 1998 Dec 16;280(23):2001-7. doi: 10.1001/jama.280.23.2001. Erratum in: JAMA 1999 Apr 21;281(15):1380. PMID: 9863851.
3. Chang HJ et al. J Am Coll Cardiol 2018
4. Kim J. Are genes destiny? Exploring the role of intrauterine environment in moderating genetic influences on body mass. Am J Hum Biol. 2020 May;32(3):e23354. doi: 10.1002/ajhb.23354. Epub 2019 Nov 8. PMID: 31702102.
5. Ritchie, M.D. The success of pharmacogenomics in moving genetic association studies from bench to bedside: study design and implementation of precision medicine in the post-GWAS era. Hum Genet 131, 1615–1626 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00439-012-1221-z