According to the Center for Disease Control ( CDC), chronic diseases affect approximately 150 million Americans. Do you realize that 6 in 10 US adults have a chronic disease and 4 in 10 suffer from at least two or more incurable and ongoing medical conditions? The numbers and economic costs are staggering; the annual spending for chronic disease care exceeds 3.3 trillion USD, representing 90% of overall health care costs.

Let’s name several of the leading diseases we are talking about here. Heart disease and stroke are by far the most common cause of death, killing over 860,000 Americans each year. That’s 1/3 of all deaths in the US. Cancer comes in second, affecting 1.6 million people per year, with about 600,000 deaths annually. Thirty million Americans have diabetes and another 84 million have pre-diabetes, leading to heart and cerebrovascular disease, kidney failure, blindness, and more.

The list goes on and on, with obesity, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease afflicting thousands of Americans, at great cost to our families and communities, our economy and our society.

Conventional Western medicine defines good health as the absence of disease, but as you can see from the above sobering facts, clearly something is not working.

Good health means more than simply not having one of these chronic ailments.   We should be striving to not only prevent disease, but fighting to ensure our society is filled with healthy people who feel alert, strong, fit, and full of vitality and focus in their day to day lives. This is what truly good health looks like.

Conventional medicine’s “disease model” approach to health encourages doctors to seek out disease, establish diagnoses and treat using medications and procedures, like CT scans, angiograms, and joint replacements. While advances in medical treatments and technology have been nearly miraculous,  our lack of focus upon disease prevention is tragic.  There are a number of reasons for this “tired” disease model approach to health care. In part, this is a result of health care economics. The “medical-industrial complex” is driven by health insurance and pharmaceutical companies, hospital networks and other participants in our complex plex web of American healthcare. Sadly, attention upon our actual health and wellness is cast aside. Indeed, all too often, physicians simply accept disease as a natural outcome of the aging process and pay too little attention to helping direct people to wellness and preventive health care.

There are a growing number of integrative doctors who approach “optimal health” in a very different way.  Physicians like myself define good health as a collection of lifestyle choices in which good nutrition and personal habits establish and maintain wellness and prevent disease.  The “4 pillars of health”: good nutrition, quality and sufficient sleep, physical activity, and stress management are the most important things we can do to optimize our health. Of course, many of us also must contend with factors beyond our control:  genetic predispositions, unexpected injuries, and the natural aging process, which result in physiologic and functional changes in our bodies. Functional and integrative clinicians address these factors when composing a healthy aging treatment program, one that personally addresses each of these domains in guiding us to optimal health.

The role of proper nutrition cannot be overestimated and (aside from stopping smoking– for those of you who use tobacco) is by far, the single most important thing you can do to ensure good health, as well as to help reverse and combat disease. I will discuss specific nutritional concepts and recommendations in future blog posts.

A healthy aging lifestyle may also include supplementing with specific nutraceutical products and hormones. As we age, our hormone levels tend to drop, and these changes play a significant role in the aging process. The interaction of our body systems—vascular, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, sexual, brain and neurologic largely depend on hormone signals that become imbalanced over time. We can address many of these systems. Scientific understanding of the aging process on a cellular and molecular level is also emerging, resulting in a number of specific nutritional supplements that may be helpful in maintaining tissue and organ integrity and thus slowing down aging at a microscopic level!

Of course, some of you may be struggling with one or more of the chronic disorders mentioned above. And I consider it my obligation to help you address these matters, often using conventional medical approaches. As an integrative rheumatologist, I attempt to use the best lessons from both conventional and alternative medical traditions to treat and address your problems. The point is, the goal of “optimal health” applies to everyone.  In some cases, we can reverse the disease process, in others, we control and manage chronic conditions while still focusing on the 4 pillars of health in order to find your optimal state of wellness. No one is left out!!

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