A recent analysis of causes of death and longevity in the U.S. by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention was eye-opening. For those born in the U.S. in 2007, their expected age span was 77.9 years. The most recent analysis revealed an unexpected decline; those born in 2008 could expect to live 77.8 years. According to the CDC this decline is due to an increase in deaths for those aged 85 and older in the years 2007 and 2008. While the risk of death has fallen for heart disease, accidents, and cancer, it has increased for kidney disease, Alzheimer’s disease, influenza, and pneumonia.
The top 4 causes of death in the U.S. are as follows:
- Heart disease
- Chronic lower respiratory disease (including emphysema and COPD)
Yet, the total spent on healthcare (some would say it is “disease care”) in the U.S. is $2.47 trillion, which totals 17.3% of the U.S. GDP. This figure far exceeds what is spent by any other industrialized country in the world.
There are few who would say the American medical system is a good value. This is clearly reflected in the link to chronic disease, lifestyle choices, of the top 4 causes of death. We excel in technology and emergency care but there is little progress to prevent and treat chronic disease. This situation is very costly and affects American’s quality of life, and ultimately how long they live in addition to how well they live.
Yet, NSHN recently spoke with Jack LaLanne, who celebrated his 96th birthday on September 14, born in 1914. He quipped “I can’t die; that would be bad for my image” displaying a spirit far younger than his years, a new book, a new online project about seniors maintaining balance, and a continued zest for living well. His wife, Elaine, in her late 80s, is another shining example of living long and living well. They rise each day to exercise, keep their minds active with various business projects, eat nutritiously and supplement wisely, and enjoy a glass of red wine together each evening.
They recently headlined a conference on aging at the Arnold in Columbus, OH speaking with OSU experts who have confirmed exercise is good science. Generations of Americans have exercised watching Jack on television. He was the first in many fitness and healthy lifestyle endeavors as his web site cites. Click here to read further. His life is filled with humor, purpose, and dedication to healthy lifestyle choices. What a mentor to all of us who would want to sound like Jack at age 96.
Yet, what Jack lives each day is not the result of magic. While he and Elaine may have the genetics of long life in their families, Jack tells of his own ills in his twenties that motivated him to get active and nourish his body wisely. They have consistently stayed active each day, made wise choices in their diet, supplemented consistently in a wise fashion, and enjoyed each other each day, and for many years to come.
Mainstream academia science confirms that the lifestyle choices to which Jack and Elaine are dedicated could prevent or reverse the majority of heart disease and diabetes (type II). Yet, in clinical practice all too few doctors walk this talk. Those who do, the integrative medical community, remain the target of ridicule of their mainstream colleagues and often judged by another standard by their respective state boards of medicine.
Recently, mainstream newspapers focused on a doctor and now his son who actually taught other doctors to cook and now speak to their patients about their diets as a novelty. What a shame!
My husband has a dear friend, a well-respected physician in his late 60s. He worries about his blood pressure, his aching back, his cholesterol, and his weight. His anxiety about the medications he takes is sobering particularly because he takes a statin drug and a prescription Cox-II inhibitor long term. Yet, a big steak at dinner and a loaded baked potato only provoke taking a double dose of statin the next day. He truly has no training in nutrition, in lifestyle science, as do none of his colleagues. His continued decline has slowly prompted him to look beyond what pill can I take to address my symptoms. And, most of us would agree this physician is not an anomaly.
I recently chose to walk beside a business colleague diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in early summer 2010 through her treatment journey. She chose an integrative approach to her diagnosis, working with Dr. Ralph Moss, Dr. Moshe Frenkel, Dr. Charles Simone, and others to optimize nutrition, exercise, and address her spiritual and emotional health, along with taking a tough chemotherapy regime. Her oncologist, a lovely young physician, was brutally honest he knew nothing about anything other than the use of chemotherapy and radiation for her diagnosis. His one recommendation was to stop smoking.
His prognosis was grim, 6-12 weeks to live. Yet, he was open, not judgmental, and supportive of her use of a multi-factorial integrative regime. Her most recent PET scans are so good the oncologist smiled from ear to ear delivering the results to her. Yet, no oncology nurse in the large practice where she was treated had any knowledge of diet, supplements, exercise, or lifestyle education for her or any other patient. The office had a large bowl of candy at the front desk and sold candy to support patients’ needs through the practice foundation.
I took “The Emperor of all Maladies, a Biography of Cancer” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, MD, with me on a short holiday treat and devoured it cover-to-cover. This oncologist wrote a fascinating 500+ page book about the history of cancer diagnosis and treatment. Yet, in a single line he acknowledged there had been little focus on diet, lifestyle (other than smoking related cancers), and nutrition with regaards to cancer preventive and treatment although he acknowledged it would be good to do so.
What a sad state of affairs that in the year 2011 the American population is virtually on their own regarding taking an integrated approach to a diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or other chronic condition. Medical profession is ill served by the lack of focus on the science of lifestyle education in medical school and the pressure to push medications and procedures in clinical practice.
The recent news focus on a doctor who put in over 30 cardiac stents in one day, doctors who did more questionable spinal fusion surgery than any others in the country being paid millions in fees from medical device manufacturers, and now a drug company behind a medical textbook cause an honorable profession to look as nothing more than show me the money. Dr. Mukherjee was right that patient activists including AIDS patients forever changed the practice of oncology. A growing number of Americans want to live long and live well.
Deborah Ray, M.T. (ASCP)