Our health care system is on the verge of an economic meltdown. We are undergoing the most rapid and intensive consumer-driven change ever in the way that health care is delivered. Can your doctor cure you? This rapid evolution will leave behind many casualties in its wake. Yet, with every change comes new opportunities. In the next few minutes, I want to share with you some of the problems and solutions for our health care system.
The sobering conclusion from science and the healing arts is that there is no magic bullet drug or vitamin for any disease. The good news is that 90% of our diseases are lifestyle induced and reversible. We spend over $2.7 trillion per year on what we euphemistically call “health care”, which is actually disease maintenance. Our National Institutes of Health receive around $30 billion per year of your tax money for research on our most common ailments, with the net effect that most of these diseases are increasing in incidence. We spend more than twice the amount in health care per person compared to any other nation on earth. And for that 14% of our gross national product, we have among the world’s highest incidences of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental illness, cataracts, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, AIDS, alzheimer’s and infectious diseases.
Our Immune Systems Are Compromised
The 21st century has become the decade of an immune compromised population due to malnutrition, stress, and toxic burden. Infections were once considered diseases of the past but have recently moved back into the national limelight and now are the number 3 cause of death, right after heart disease and cancer. We have spent over $120 billion in the 43 year war on cancer with a resulting 13% increase in incidence, 7% increase in death rate, and 5 year survival is virtually unchanged.
And yet, our medical doctors are very well trained in emergency medicine. If you are in need of intervention in a life threatening condition, then there is no better place to be than in a large well equipped American hospital. However, over 90% of all diseases, and causes of death cannot be treated well with drugs and surgery. We have over a half million bright and caring allopathic physicians who are limited by the their medical training, laws, fear of malpractice for using non-traditional therapies, and are also laboring under the constraints of managed health care.
As we move through this watershed era in health care, there are clinics, companies, people and even entire professions who will be displaced through the rapid changes ahead. Yet with each change comes opportunities for those who are willing to get educated and anticipate the needs of the public.
Good Nutrition Can Boost Your Immune System
First world health care has travelled down a blind alley by overemphasizing the importance of drugs, surgery and medical intervention; while under-emphasizing the need for personal responsibility of the individual and the incredible role that nutrition plays in bolstering our host defense mechanisms against disease. There are simple, long term, and inexpensive solutions to health problems that seemed unsolvable.
The Symptom Mangement Paradigm
Let me give you an example: what if the first thing I do every morning when I arrive at my office is to slam my thumb in the desk drawer. Boy that hurt, yet I keep doing the same masochistic act of slamming my thumb in the desk drawer every morning for a week. And by then, my thumb is swollen, painful, discolored and bleeding. So I go to Dr. A who recommends analgesics to better tolerate the pain. Dr. B suggests an injection of cortisone to reduce the swelling in my thumb. And Dr. C recommends surgery to cut off the finger because it looks defective. Of course, the real answer is to “stop slamming my thumb in the desk drawer.”
What’s that? You say that my example has no relevance in our health care system? Let’s look at the millions with rheumatoid arthritis, such as Mrs. Smith whose condition is caused by eating too much sugar, plus an allergy to milk protein, and a deficiency of fish oil, vitamin C and zinc. Mrs. Smith goes to Dr. A who recommends analgesics to better tolerate the pain. Dr. B suggests cortisone to reduce the swelling. And Dr. C recommends hip replacement surgery to cut off the defective parts. The real answer is to change the underlying cause of the disease.
Let’s look at another example. Dr. Dean Ornish was training to become a coronary bypass surgeon in the 1970s. He noticed that some patients were coming back for their second bypass surgery and realized that this $50,000 life threatening operation had nothing to do with curing the patient. Indeed studies from Dr.Braunwald at Harvard as published in the New England Journal of Medicine have shown that bypass surgery does nothing to extend lifespan. It was known then that a low fat diet, exercise, and stress reduction were all factors that could reduce the risk for developing heart disease.
Heart Disease: Fixing the Underlying Cause
Dr. Ornish wondered if taking these preventive measures and cranking them up a notch, or using more stringent guidelines, would actually reverse heart disease. And he proved that it does. His program has been shown to reverse heart disease while bypass surgery does not. Since the average adult body has about 60,000 miles of blood vessels, what makes us think that replacing 4 or 8 inches of plugged up vessels near the heart is going to do anything for a systemic disease that still has 59,999 miles of obstructed plumbing? The difference is that one method deals with the underlying causes of the disease and the other method ignores the cause of the disease and merely deals with immediate symptom reduction of pain in the heart, or angina.
According to the famous heart surgeon, Dr. Christiian Barnard, the greatest advancement in human health care in the past 500 years came, not as a result of some wonder drug or micro surgical procedure, but through the efforts of John Crapper, a London plumber who invented the indoor flushing toilet and brought an end to the epidemic plagues of cholera, typhoid, and dysentery from poor hygiene.
Personal Story: Brain Cancer
Another example. I worked with a patient in 1995 who had been diagnosed with astrocytoma, a very lethal form of brain cancer. He was 58 years old and had lived the life of the Marlboro man, drank too much liquor and smoked cigarettes and lived on beef and sugar. He was literally slamming his thumb in the desk drawer every day of his adult life. When he was in his 40s, he developed cardiac dysrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, which was probably due to deficiencies of crucial electrolytes and Coenzyme Q from his poor diet and excess drinking habits. After trying some medications and a pacemaker on this patient, his physicians created an ingenious system in which they surgically implanted an internal defibrillator with a heart monitor. When this computer monitor on his heart detected an abnormal rhythm, it sent a signal to the defibrillator to create an electrical charge to shock the heart back into action.
All of this exotic collection of medical hardware cost his insurance company around $80,000 and allowed his unhealthy lifestyle to continue so that he could develop something that is very difficult to treat: brain cancer. No one had asked some simple questions on this patient regarding the deficiency and imbalance of electrolytes that comes with alcohol abuse, or poor diet. This man probably could have been cured with $30 a month in the right kind of vitamins and minerals. Instead, he died almost 2 decades before his time and cost his health insurance company nearly a half million dollars in his lifetime of medical expenses. One of the reasons that many jobs are leaving the U.S. and going overseas is that the high cost of health insurance in this country makes many American companies no longer globally competitive.
Can Your Doctor Cure You?
We spend most of our time and money trying to eliminate symptoms which are valuable indicators about underlying problems. Let’s think about that. If your car had no oil in the engine and the low oil light came on, what would you do? a) put duct tape over the light so it doesn’t bother you anymore, or b) fix the problem and fill up the crankcase with oil. Good logic does not always prevail in our symptom relief paradigm, which would put tape over the warning light. Getting rid of the symptoms is like shooting the messenger. The messenger may bring us bad news, but we need to hear it in order to solve the problem before it gets worse. Can your doctor cure you? And please don’t get me wrong, I think symptom relief medication can be of merit for short term use, but only if the patient and physician pursue the more long term goal of finding out how to change the underlying causes of the problem.