From the Wall Street Journal 1/9/09
‘Alternative’ Medicine Is Mainstream
The evidence is mounting that diet and lifestyle are the best cures for our worst afflictions
In mid-February, the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and the Bravewell Collaborative are convening a “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public.” This is a watershed in the evolution of integrative medicine, a holistic approach to health care that uses the best of conventional and alternative therapies such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal remedies. Many of these therapies are now scientifically documented to be not only medically effective but also cost effective.
President-elect Barack Obama and former Sen. Tom Daschle (the nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services) understand that if we want to make affordable health care available to the 45 million Americans who do not have health insurance, then we need to address the fundamental causes of health and illness, and provide incentives for healthy ways of living rather than reimbursing only drugs and surgery.
Heart disease, diabetes, prostate cancer, breast cancer and obesity account for 75% of health-care costs, and yet these are largely preventable and even reversible by changing diet and lifestyle. As Mr. Obama states in his health plan, unveiled during his campaign: “This nation is facing a true epidemic of chronic disease. An increasing number of Americans are suffering and dying needlessly from diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and HIV/AIDS, all of which can be delayed in onset if not prevented entirely.”
The latest scientific studies show that our bodies have a remarkable capacity to begin healing, and much more quickly than we had once realized, if we address the lifestyle factors that often cause these chronic diseases. These studies show that integrative medicine can make a powerful difference in our health and well-being, how quickly these changes may occur, and how dynamic these mechanisms can be.
Many people tend to think of breakthroughs in medicine as a new drug, laser or high-tech surgical procedure. They often have a hard time believing that the simple choices that we make in our lifestyle — what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke cigarettes, how much exercise we get, and the quality of our relationships and social support — can be as powerful as drugs and surgery. But they often are. And in many instances, they’re even more powerful.
Our “health-care system” is primarily a disease-care system. Last year, $2.1 trillion was spent in the U.S. on medical care, or 16.5% of the gross national product. Of these trillions, 95 cents of every dollar was spent to treat disease after it had already occurred. At least 75% of these costs were spent on treating chronic diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes, that are preventable or even reversible.