“It is estimated that if every person cut his fat consumption by one-third, the nation's healthcare bill would plummet by $17 billion a year. ”

— Joint report by the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the Center for Science in the Public Interest


Prevention and Wellness

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The New Medicine premieres nationally on March 29th, 2006.  Check your local PBS listings for more information.

 

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It is easier to prevent illness than it is to treat a disease once it has been contracted.

Preventing illness by maintaining good health saves lives. An excellent example of this is that current cancer interventions have actually produced only a small decrease in the number of deaths from cancer.  Yet a new study shows that of the 7 million deaths from cancer worldwide, nearly 2.5 million were attributable to nine risks factors, most of which are under an individual’s direct control.  Smoking, alcohol use and low fruit and vegetable intake were the leading risks factors.  In other words, taking steps to modify behavior and prevent this disease could cut its mortality rates by one-third!

 

Changing your lifestyle can change your health.

In 2000, approximately 17 million Americans had diabetes and faced the potential of heart disease and damage to the eyes, nerves, and kidneys.  But when people simply lose weight through diet and exercise, they are often able to reverse the progression of diabetes and reduce or discontinue insulin and other medications.

A host of other scientific evidence confirms that lifestyle modifications lowers an individual’s risk of disease and improves overall health.  These modifications include:

 

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  • Changes in diet and nutrition
  • Increased physical activity and exercise
  • Adopting stress management methods
  • Strengthening one’s social networks

Integrative medicine clinics across the country typically offer such lifestyle modification programs.  “Our Healing Hearts program is designed to tackle all cardiovascular risk factors,” says Erminia Guarneri, MD, founder and medical director of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California.  The Scripps program offers patients a wide range of treatment options, from lifestyle change to high-tech invasive surgery. “Our goal is to establish a treatment plan unique to the individual.  Cutting-edge technology is balanced with nutrition, exercise, stress mastery and emotional support.”

The Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, under the leadership of Dean Ornish, MD, has created guidelines for a comprehensive approach to lifestyle modification for people who have, or are at risk for, such conditions as coronary artery disease and prostate cancer. The program’s core components are a low-fat, whole foods diet; moderate aerobic exercise; stress management; and group support. The program, which has been approved by Medicare, is used in 35 hospitals around the country.  You can learn more at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute's web site.

In a similar vein, the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine works with patients to assess risk factors for chronic disease and the options for care. “We then design a personal health plan and sort through the confusion about which alternative therapies really work, which herbs and supplements would help achieve optimal health, and how nutrition can be used as food for life,” explains Tracy Gaudet, MD, the Center’s director.  “This is good medicine.”

 

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Food can be medicine and improve your health.

Integrative medicine stresses the fact that a healthy diet can make a big difference in your health and wellness.

“A healthy, balanced diet provides nutrients to your body.  Nutrients give you energy and keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working. Nutrients help build and strengthen bones, muscles, and tendons and also regulate body processes, such as blood pressure," advise the experts at WebMD. Their Healthy Living section offers information on food basics and over 15 different diets.

But we should not only pay attention to what we eat, we should also consider how it is grown and how we cook it.  Andrew Weil, MD, offers information on how to buy food and a host of tested recipes in the Healthy Kitchen section of his Web site.

In addition, Dr. Weil also offers recipes designed to address specific health challenges.

“As a rule of thumb, try to include foods in your diet that have less than three grams of fat per serving. Include foods in your refrigerator that you want to have on your diet. If it’s not right in front of you, you’re less likely to eat it. Cleaning out your refrigerator can be a nice metaphor for cleaning out your body and organizing your life in the way that you want it to be," advises Dean Ornish, MD, author of Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish: 150 Easy, Low-Fat, High-Flavor Recipes. Comprehensive information can be found at the Preventive Medicine Research Institute's Web site.

Some hospitals have begun to promote healthy food.  Leading the pack is Kaiser Permanente, the nation’s largest non-profit health plan, which opened its first farmer’s market on the grounds of the Oakland Medical Center in Oakland, California in May 2003. Today, a total of 26 Kaiser-Permanente facilities have established on-campus farmer’s markets, which enable the facilities to offer better food choices to both employees and patients and to promote awareness about good nutrition.

 

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Reducing stress can reduce disease and improve health.

Stress is a condition or feeling that is experienced when people perceive that the demands of their lives exceed the personal and social resources that they are able to mobilize.  While some stress can be good, repeated stress over time can cause harmful biological reactions in our bodies that may depress our immune system.

Find a way to manage and reduce your stress.  That’s the advice of integrative medicine experts.

Proven stress reduction techniques include biofeedback, relaxation and meditation, guided imagery, exercise, yoga, qi gong, tai chi, and art and dance therapy.  Most integrative clinics offer stress management programs.  And often, when you enroll in one of these programs, you have the added benefit of a community of friends.

 

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You are in control.

The integrative approaches to maintaining a healthy lifestyle mentioned on this Bravewell Collaborative Web site may help prevent serious illness.  But most important, many of the prevention strategies and lifestyle changes are things that you can do on your own.

Andrew Weil, MD, wrote in his book, 8 Weeks to Optimal Health, “…I know from my experience as a physician that many of the common complaints that people have these days respond much better to simple adjustments in lifestyle than to taking medicine."

And the good news is—you can start today.