Taking Charge of Our Health

This morning, I had the television on while I was eating my breakfast of oatmeal and kale. An advertisement from a local hospital came on the TV with a doctor speaking about how we all need to take charge of our health. This is good I thought. He's going to tell us how we need to eat right, exercise properly, get enough sleep, watch our alcoholic intake and so on. I watched intently what he had to say.

And here's what he said next. He said that every woman over the age of 40 needed to get regular mammograms as well as do monthly self-examinations. Now, I'm not here to argue against mammograms or colonoscopies or PSA readings per se (although I do have definite opinions about those exams). If having those exams gives a person a feeling of comfort, then I wouldn't stop anyone from getting them. And there certainly are people who can point to those exams and make the claim that their life was saved by having the exam.

But the thing is, their life might not have needed saving if they had been eating properly in the years preceding the exam. And that's what I am here to say. Those medical exams are not what I think of as taking charge of our health. They are after the fact interventions. Mammograms and colonoscopies and PSA readings don't prevent cancer. They merely identify it and allow a medical professional to then intervene and cut it out or slow its growth or chemically kill it or radiate it or all of the above. And that can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for the patient during the whole process (not to mention the ill effects on the many patients who go through these things due to false positives. They never even know sometimes that they didn't need to endure all of that).

For my money, taking charge of our health isn't about medical tests. It's about being responsible for our health so that we don't get heart disease or cancer or diabetes or obesity in the first place. And if you're like me, and you came to this kind of late in the game, then it's about reversing heart disease, cancer, diabetes and obesity. Of course, many people think that you can't do anything about it. They think it's all in the genes. And that can lead one to conclusions like Angelina Jolie came to in an extreme attempt to avoid breast cancer.

But as the whole food, plant-based doctors have told us --- Genes load the gun, but it's food that pulls the trigger. And we know this to be true because we can see it in people who live in one culture where there is relatively little cancer or heart disease or diabetes or obesity, but as soon as they move to a more westernized culture, they start getting cancer and heart disease and diabetes and obesity. The big difference appears to be in the food that they eat in their old culture vs. their more westernized culture.

So, yes, I think everybody should take charge of their health. But I think we need to think of doing so as being about how we eat and how we live, not in terms of what medical tests we get. I'm not advocating that anybody stay away from the doctor. In fact, I believe that as we adopt a whole food, plant-based diet, it's very important to do so in coordination with our doctors. The diet can affect our medical conditions, and our doctors need to be monitoring that.

But I am suggesting that we should not be thinking of medicine as being the same as taking charge of our health. Medicine is reactive. And that's even true with what is often termed as preventive medicine. Preventive medicine, such as taking a statin drug is actually about intervening into an existing sickness in order to delay its getting worse. And while being after the fact can be beneficial, it's even better, I think, to be in front of these conditions that can debilitate or kill us. And I think that means eating a whole food, plant-based diet.

It's as simple as that.