What if Your Doctor Offered Lifestyle Prescriptions?. This post is adapted from an original article by Barbara Sadick, Chicago Tribune
In the United States, the traditional medical approach has been to focus on treatment rather than prevention of disease and illness. Jennifer Trilk, assistant professor in the department of biomedical science at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine at Greenville and a leader in the new lifestyle medicine movement, says that as we’ve developed more and more ways to intervene, most doctors are still more comfortable treating illnesses than addressing prevention.
Lifestyle medicine is the evidence-based practice of helping individuals and families adopt behavior that improves health and quality of life. It focuses on diet and nutrition, exercise, stress management and the elimination of tobacco and excessive alcohol use.
For the past 100 years, the standard medical school curriculum has required spending only a few days in four years discussing how nutrition affects wellness and the risk of progression of disease. The predominant medical approach has been to focus on lab tests, medication and surgery.
“Less than half of U.S. medical schools offer courses in nutrition and physical activity, but we are hoping this is the beginning of the future trend,” Youkey said.
Within the current third-party payer system in which insurance companies pay physicians for their services, doctors have little or no incentive to discuss diet and nutrition with patients. Low insurance reimbursement rates discourage in-depth discussions. Instead, they force doctors to see three patients for an average of 20 minutes an hour, encouraging a one-size-fits-all kind of medicine.
“Unfortunately, only doctors who practice concierge medicine or whose patients pay out of pocket have the time and resources required to treat patients individually and to focus on lifestyle issues,” Colby said.
Nutrition and diet, though, are at the heart of good health. The food we put into our bodies, said Colby, has been and remains the most important environmental factor affecting health.
Over hundreds of thousands of years, the human body has become optimized to a specific type of diet. That primitive diet allows our bodies to maintain health and maximize longevity.
In the same way that cars are designed to operate on specific kinds of fuel, so is the human body designed to operate on certain kinds of foods.
“What we eat helps our bodies either run better and more efficiently or malfunction,” Colby said. “Diet and nutrition will take us either on the path to wellness or on the path to disease.”
Generally, Colby said, optimal health requires decreasing a person’s amount of body fat and increasing stamina and strength. Toward that end, good dietary changes require strict avoidance of refined or added sugars, decreasing gluten and carbohydrates and eliminating fruit juices from the diet.
“Most patients think it’s healthy to have a glass of orange juice in the morning,” said Colby, “but the sugar in fruit juices spikes insulin levels.”
Spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels, Colby noted, trigger reactions in the blood that cause inflammation, premature aging and disease. Over time and years, too much sugar leads to a dysfunctional immune system.
“We are only recently beginning to understand how harmful sugar is to the human body,” said Colby, “and it’s everywhere in the foods we eat and are served, often cloaked by changing its name to benign-sounding words like ‘organic cane juice’ and hidden among a list of indecipherable ingredients and additives.”
Colby said with his patients, he’s found that cutting sugar out of the diet will initially cause serious cravings, but by the second and third weeks, they have more energy, sleep better and are better able to focus. He says limiting sugar has the profound effect of slowing down the aging process and reversing many chronic diseases.
The general practice of medicine, however, is still focused on sick care rather than health care. Unfortunately, Colby added, most doctors are trained and incentivized to treat disease once it manifests itself instead of focusing on the promotion of wellness. What if Your Doctor Offered Lifestyle Prescriptions?
There are signs that change may be slowly emerging. Medical school faculty members say that new, incoming students are more aware of the impact of diet and nutrition on health. Dr. Virginia Uhley, an expert in nutrition at Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine in Rochester, Mich., urges patients to educate themselves to ask questions about diet and health and to expect answers.
Integrated Wellness is proud to be a local medical clinic that focuses on the promotion of wellness through lifestyle. Schedule a free consultation today to discuss your health concerns.