A vast number of illnesses experienced by people today can be considered lifestyle diseaseses. The following medical conditions are but a few of the multitude of conditions that our medical practice is faced with on a daily basis: diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, depression, and hormonal conditions such as premenstrual syndrome. Diet, lack of physical activity, poor sleep, alcohol, stress and associated obesity has been implicated in most of these conditions. Up to 30% of cancers can be attributed to diet. Unfortunately the current medical paradigm of labelling diseases so they fit into arbitrary boxes that can be cured with the magic bullet of drugs has failed to arrest these chronic disease. The majority of medical conditions such as fatigue seen in practice do not fit nicely into these boxes and end up in the too hard basket in quick fix supermarket medical model. Patients often do the rounds of specialists who assure them that their fatigue is not thyroid related or that their irritable bowel syndrome is not a cancer and that therefore it is “all psychological”. Unfortunately during this process we as a profession neglect to ask patients about their lifestyle. We do not take extensive diet histories or explore stresses and our patients walk away frustrated.
There is however another model of holistic health care. In this model lifestyle factors are routinely explored and addressed. One does not have to fit into a diagnostic box to benefit from the process of improving ones diet, of increasing physical activity, of sleeping better, reducing stress and spending quality time with our loved ones. After all it is these processes that are the major underlying determinants of most of our ailments.
Stress management is a critical piece in this healing puzzle. Most of us are so unaware of the high level of chronic stress we endure on a daily basis. We go on holidays but are unable to relax. With our “blackberry” switched on for checking the office emails we are irritated at the delay in the arrival of our cocktail or the tardiness of our dive instructor. We have forgotten how to unwind. We are not present to the beauty around us. The smell of the ocean breeze passes us unawares, as does the turtle breeching the surface as we watch our dive instructor casually laugh and catch up with a friend 5 minutes into our lesson time.
It is only when we consciously endeavour to embrace relaxation as part of our daily lives that can address this chronic stress. This stress impairs our immune systems increases our blood pressures, worsens menstrual symptoms and depletes our nutrients leaving us vulnerable to disease. Genetically we evolved to deal with only acute but not chronic stress. As a group we bottle up in our knotted stomachs, drown it with alcohol and stuff it down as emotional eaters until it emerges as disease.
There are alternatives if we listen to these alarm signals and seek the right care. There are an array of holistic practices that allow us safely address our stressors. Exercise itself as a great stress reliever, side effects however include prevention of cancer, heart disease improvement in mood and a looking good in that new dress. Yoga and Pilates are both great forms of physical activity which have extra value with respect to mood and relaxation. Acupuncture can reduce stress depression and anxiety, It may moderate blood pressure reduce pain and treat nausea. It even treats infectious stress. Stress has been shown to increase both pain and nausea after surgery. Acupuncture aimed at reducing anxiety in parents has even been shown to reduce the post operative nausea and pain of their children undergoing surgery in clinical trials.
So let us embrace holistic health and health care. Then at least we can put down our blackberries sit our cocktail slowly and enjoy the sunset.
Dr James Read
Dr James Read is a holistic doctor working at Complete Healthcare International. He has taught nutritional medicine international in his position as lecturer and board member of The Australasian College Of Nutritional And Environmental Medicine.
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