"It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society." - Jiddu Krishnamurti
In 2015 the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released their latest data on the leading causes of death and disability - and it was chronic diseases which were at the top of the list. The top chronic diseases on the list (which had up to 20 leading causes listed) included ischaemic heart disease, dementia, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes and many more (1). Back in 2011, chronic disease accounted for over 90% of all deaths with the majority of those people suffering more than one chronic illness. In fact, 20% of deaths have been associated with five or more chronic diseases. (2)These statistics are scary and given the last ten years of data collected by the ABS – they are not likely to change anytime soon especially with certain diseases on the rise such as dementia (including Alzheimer’s disease), diabetes and heart failure.
Chronic disease is also the number one predominant challenge to global health – with non-communicable conditions nearly accounting for two-thirds of deaths, worldwide (3). And the majority of these diseases are highly diet related – which is where nutritional medicine is powerful as a preventative measure against chronic illness. Other risk factors along with poor diet include smoking, physical inactivity, high alcohol intake, uncontrolled high blood pressure and high cholesterol (3). Dietary risks linked with chronic illness include poor intake of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and fibre and a high intake of processed or highly refined foods (high in sodium, sugar, trans fats etc). (3) In a recent online survey in New South Wales, only 10% were found to be eating the minimum recommended intake of daily fruit and vegetables (5 servings) and 57% were eating the recommended two servings of fruit/day (5). The knowledge on how much daily vegetable servings, and what actually constitutes a serving (it doesn't mean eating 5 vegetables) which should be consumed was extremely poor. This is concerning as studies have shown that those people who eat at least seven servings of fruit and vegetables each day have the lowest risk of death from chronic disease – especially with higher vegetable intake as it offers greater protection than fruit. (6) So if you aren’t already doing so, get in there and eat your vegies – especially those leafy greens!
Australia is also facing a rapidly ageing population which will increase chronic disease rates, as people aged over 65 have much higher rates of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, arthritis and high blood pressure (2). By 2044, it has been projected that a quarter of all Australians will be over the age of 65 – DOUBLE what it is now. (4) The burden of chronic disease will impact on public health and health-care systems with an increased need for management of these diseases, health care costs and reduced life expectancy (as well as quality of life to the person inflicted with chronic disease as well as the family members directly impacted) (2). The World Health Organization has predicted that up to 80% of the most common chronic diseases (heart disease, type 2 diabetes and stroke) and over a third of all cancers could be prevented – primarily from improving diet, increasing exercise, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake (2).
In order to reduce the risk factors which have been linked with chronic disease, interventions are required at both a population level as well as an individual level. Nutritional medicine works to address these risk factors at an individual level to either a) prevent disease from occurring or b) aid in the management of these diseases. It is by acknowledging some of the early risk factors – such as high cholesterol or high blood pressure – and their relation to poor dietary and lifestyle factors which will work in preventing chronic disease, death and disability in later years. For example, rather than going on blood pressure medication for high blood pressure - which addresses the symptom - nutritional medicine will look at addressing the underlying cause/s (poor diet, no exercise, stress) of why there is high blood pressure to begin with. Given that high blood pressure is an early risk factor for heart disease (one of the leading causes of death), it will be much more beneficial long term to address these dietary and lifestyle factors earlier on, as, unfortunately, we are headed for a very sick and heavily populated elderly generation in the following decades. Rather than be a part of the majority headed for multiple chronic disease infliction's or disabilities in combination with the dangers of poly-pharmacy (a major global healthcare crisis), I would urge readers to look at these common risk factors and address the necessary changes needed to live their life with health and abundance as the alternative option. So to finish this article, I leave you with one of my favourite quotes:
“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
— Jiddu Krishnamurti
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