The Chronic Disease Epidemic

The Chronic Disease Epidemic
Here are some shocking statistics about the state of America’s health today:
  • 50% Americans have a chronic disease
  • 25% have multiple chronic diseases
  • 27% of children have a chronic disease (up from 13% in 1994)
  • 70% of all deaths are due to chronic disease
  • For the first time in many  years, our kids are expected to live shorter life spans than their parents
One solution being discussed is the use of functional medicine to attack this problem. In this latest podcast, Mark Sisson interviews Chris Kresser, CEO of the Kresser Institute and author of The Paleo Cure about his new book called Unconventional Medicine.
The basic idea Mr. Kresser proposes is that by using functional medicine in a collaborative approach with health specialists, we can attack chronic disease at an individual level. Conventional medicine is very good at addressing acute medical problems such as broken bones or traumas, but how good is it at addressing chronic disease today? The current conventional system of suppressing symptoms with drugs, and not addressing the main root causes, does not appear to be working very well.
It is worth noting that the average appointment time with a primary care physician is 10-12 minutes. The average time a patient speaks before getting interrupted by their physician is 12 seconds. Physicians are frustrated by this system as well, and they are doing the best they can, but they are spread too thin. If you had 2500 patients (on average), would you be able to form meaningful relationships with your patients? It is projected there will be a shortage of 52,000 primary care providers by 2025, so the trends are not working in our favor.
Most physicians do not have much training in nutrition or the major factors leading to good health, and the training they have is based on decades old research. Our current system is ignoring these risk factors associated with chronic disease and instead treatments are largely focused on papering over symptoms. The direct to consumer drug advertising that is so pervasive creates more demand for these drugs (I see on average 30 commercials during sports games or prime time shows). Patients are coming to their doctors insisting that they prescribe these drugs that are designed to suppress symptoms.
There may never be enough doctors, so Mark and Chris propose that we start by educating a new class of health and lifestyle practice providers who are trained in these risk factors of chronic diseases to unburden the medical doctors? Mark has one such primal health coaching program that shares this goal. 
If everyone ate primally and lived an ancestral lifestyle, could we save money in the healthcare system? Consider the cost of treating Type 2 diabetes - for an average patient, this is estimated at $14,000 per year per patient to treat this chronic disease. There are 100 million Americans who either have diabetes or pre-diabetes, and many are unaware they have it. Patients are getting sick earlier and earlier - the cost of a man developing type 2 at age 40 who lives to 80 will cost the healthcare system over $.5M!
Functional medicine appears to be more expensive on the surface, not typically covered by insurance, some out of pocket costs will be needed. But if you remove the subsidies or consider the high costs of the current system requiring more taxes, higher premiums, hidden expenditures, and lost wages and productivity, the real cost of the current approach reveals itself. 
The functional medicine approach posits that in a high percentage of these cases, the condition can be reduced or eliminated through diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors. If you examine contemporary hunter gatherers, most of these chronic diseases do not exist. The question is what is different about these small societies in the modern day that sets them apart?
Chris cited several of his patients with early onset Alzheimer’s and MS who experienced miraculous turnarounds after using Keto diets and other primal approaches. Intermittent fasting, combined with Ketosis, had some remarkable immune benefits in autoimmune patients and with people who were developing metabolic issues. Mark has a book called The Keto Reset Diet, a 21-day plan that addresses how to use Ketosis as a tool in the arsenal. This will be a topic of a future post.
More research is clearly needed in this field and more data needs to be analyzed. I would encourage anyone reading this post to do more research on their own. If you or a loved one are suffering from a chronic disease, work with your medical doctor to examine the use of the functional medicine and ancestral lifestyle approaches to mitigating the chronic disease factors.
So what do you think? Feel free to leave a comment.

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