By Aaron Remak
Everyone has a right to decide for themselves how to live their life, whether their decisions are beneficial or detrimental to their health. Freedom of choice is an essential part of American values, but I often wonder how many people are lacking the knowledge or financial capabilities to live healthier lives. If the doors opened for those incapable, allowing access to a healthier quality of life, how many would make the lifestyle changes necessary to pursue it?
Healthcare and its reform is a major focus of governments and the citizens it provides for, but especially so in the United States. With annual healthcare costs exceeding amounts in the trillions of dollars, we are left with the impression that the overall health of our nation is rapidly declining. This is unfortunately true, as the rate of chronic conditions continue to rise such as diabetes, cancer, heart conditions, high blood pressure, obesity, etc. In a first world country, which is leading much of the world in advances in medical knowledge and technology, how is this possible? Shouldn’t it be the exact opposite? Well it’s not necessarily an issue of those who’ve developed illnesses and diseases not being able to afford healthcare, although the benefits of having that security are obvious. It’s about being able to afford and have access to another form, a potentially more beneficial form of healthcare, that is paving its way into the spotlight: nutrition.
Nutritious lifestyles (along with exercise) are finally emerging into mainstream consciousness as the best form of preventative healthcare available. Consuming whole foods rich in the vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and antioxidants that your body requires not only leads to overall better function, but awakens your body’s abilities to regenerate itself and fight off diseases, allowing even those with pre-existing conditions to overcome them and begin healing from the damage done. This approach may take more time as it is done by natural order and processes of your body as functions begin to improve. However, it’s proving to be just as effective, if not more so due to a lack of harsh side effects from pharmaceuticals or radiation therapy, as well as the risks or complications that can coincide with surgical procedures.
These concepts have been presented in many documentaries one of which, Escape Fire, recently aired on CNN. In this documentary it is noted how our healthcare system has become more of a “disease management” industry rather than focused on disease prevention. Doctors make exponentially more performing surgeries for people with chronic conditions in comparison to appointments for simple check-ups. Pharmaceutical companies make most of their profits producing medications for the highest suffered illnesses in our population such as hypertension, heart conditions, cancer, diabetes, depression, anxiety, even allergies, all of which have prevention and treatment methods through lifestyle changes revolving around nutrition, dietary alterations, and exercise. Another notable statement made by this film revolves around nutrition’s effect on telomeres. Telomeres are nucleotide sequences at the end of each chromosome that protect them from deterioration and from fusing with other chromosomes. When telomeres begin to shorten, our cells begin to reach their limit of replication, the effects of which are old age and all of the complications that come with it. Nutrition, exercise, and stress reduction lead to an increase in telomerase activity, lengthening the telomeres which in turn keeps cells dividing, increasing our lifespan by slowing the aging process.
With all of this information and evidence emerging into public awareness, what’s holding people back from pursuing lifestyle changes that increases overall well being? Why not prevent, treat, even reverse and cure diseases through these methods, as well as lengthening one’s lifespan to enjoy more time with those they love?
1: People are afraid of change. This is in short a generalization on the nature of human kind. We are creatures of habit. Breaking through our habitual thought processes that hold us back such as our fears, anxieties, self-esteem and motivational issues, addictions, etc., is a tough battle and typically requires us leaving our comfort zones, challenging ourselves to explore new outlets in order to progress towards a different life.
2: Unawareness. Not everybody has broad or scientific knowledge of nutrition’s effect on the human body or its benefits. Think about what you may have learned in school, saw on television, or heard on the radio. I never learned more than basic concepts on eating healthy such as making sure to consume vegetables and fruit, avoid too much fat and carbohydrates, and of course the classic food pyramid nonsense. Yet none of these ideals were ever terribly reliable information on how to truly benefit one’s health using nutrition, just more of a focus on managing weight.
3: The concept of having access to the sort of nutritious foods that the body needs to thrive. Bio-diverse organic agriculture using sustainable practices is snowballing, as awareness of the health and environmental benefits are taking shape. Yet as ideal as it would be for everyone to be buying organic food, a large portion of people cannot afford to. It’s not yet affordable enough, but I believe it could be.
Most government subsidies go towards commodity crops, all of which are monocrops that use conventional farming methods utilizing fertilizers, pesticides, and GMO’s . The dangers of monocrops as an agricultural practice is most notably recognized from the Irish Potato Famine. The majority of commodity subsidies go towards growing corn, not for people to consume as food, but to go towards feeding industrial livestock and for the creation of high fructose corn syrup (a leading factor in diabetes). Independent studies being done in Europe about GMO’s are showing the potential damage for organ damage after long periods of consumption as well transferring genetic material, altering our own genetic structure. However the dangers or lack-there-of of GMO consumption is still a very controversial subject. The chemicals from fertilizers and pesticides are being reported to make their way through groundwater into other bodies of water in the area (even into drinking water). Super-weeds and pests develop in response to the chemicals constantly being used to eradicate them. The soil becomes reliant on these chemicals, becoming fertilizer junkies, as well as being depleted of a vast array of different nutrients that crops don’t receive during its life and therefore isn’t transferred to the consumer’s life.
Why haven’t we stepped up demanding agricultural subsidies be appointed to sustainable and bio-diverse agricultural practices that create nutrient rich whole foods; creating an opposite system where what’s cheap and accessible isn’t what’s bad for us, but what’s good for us? Why aren’t we turning the tables on our agricultural priorities in order to save the health of hundreds of millions of American citizens (as well our environment), thereby also saving hundreds of billions of dollars every year on the costs of healthcare? I largely believe it’s due to the loss of profit that would ensue for some of the largest corporations involved in the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.
The problem comes in trying to convert conventional farms which use unsustainable practices, as it would require years to fix the damage done. That’s an incredible amount of food that wouldn’t be produced in the meantime, and with the continuous growth of the world’s population, I understand this being a scary suggestion. However, how long before these become completely unsustainable and have to be converted regardless in order to continue to utilize the land for agricultural purposes? How many billions more people will be populating the world when this does inevitably occur? It seems like although most people are aware of the necessity of a paradigm shift, we’re all too worried the costs and efforts required. Perhaps it’s time for us to focus on what could happen if we wait too long.