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Modern Health Paradigms


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The current American lifestyle causes a large amount of concern among people who care about health. There has been a dramatic increase in noncommunicable diseases within the last decade, and that number is still rising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seven out of every ten deaths are attributed to chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease (e.g., heart attack and stroke), all of which have a direct nutritional connection. Right now at least two paradigms of healing exist in our society. One paradigm, which centers around diagnosing and treating disease, takes a mechanistic approach to illness in which the patient’s symptoms are combated with pharmaceuticals and/or surgery. This approach assumes that if the patient’s symptoms improve via painkillers, antibiotics, steroids, or other suppressive treatments, then the patient is cured. A second paradigm, the one embraced by naturopathic medicine, looks at a person as a whole and acts to stimulate his or her healing, even before disease is apparent. This paradigm, of which prevention is the cornerstone, strives to maintain homeostasis within the body, allowing it to function optimally and thereby promoting improved health. Disease symptoms function as messengers to tell us what is going on in the body and can direct the practitioner to treat certain systems to bring about better health. Disease merely indicates the existence of a “disease” in the body—that is, an imbalance. When symptoms appear, they are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg that for some time has been developing beneath the surface. This paradigm approaches symptoms as indicators of something going on deeper in the body; rather than merely suppressing the symptom, it strives to find and remove its true cause.

The Role of Primary Care

In recent years the federal government has stated that primary care is the ideal setting in which to provide nutritional education to the public. However, according to an article published in Family Practice in 2000, many primary-care doctors are reluctant to educate patients due to their disbelief that dietary intervention can be a worthwhile modality, despite the fact that numerous studies exist showing positive dietary influences on health outcomes. For example, a randomized, controlled trial published in July 2003 by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that adding soy protein, viscous fiber, and nuts can be as effective for lowering cholesterol as adding a prescription statin medication to a low–saturated fat diet. Another article published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2002 stated that diet and exercise may be more effective than pharmacologic therapy at defending against cardiovascular diseases in patients with impaired glucose tolerance. After three years of making diet and lifestyle changes, patients decreased their risk of developing diabetes by 58 percent. In contrast, participants who were only taking metformin, a common pharmaceutical prescription for diabetics, reduced their diabetes risk by only 31 percent. This is a significant difference. In addition, participants following the lifestyle changes had a significant reduction in C-reactive protein (CRP), which is an indirect marker of subclinical inflammation. (Subclinical inflammation is inflammation that can’t be detected through the usual diagnostic procedures. The role of inflammation in health is the topic of the next chapter.) Metformin participants affected their CRP levels significantly less than lifestyle-change participants. These findings are huge breakthroughs for diabetic patients—if they get the information. Naturopathic physicians are recognized primary-care physicians. In states where they are licensed to do so, they provide lifestyle and dietModern Health Paradigms 3 AID text final.qxd 8/13/2006 10:45 AM Page 3 modification education in a primary-care setting and actively teach prevention strategies. Naturopathic physicians offer dietary intervention because they believe in it completely. Many naturopathic physicians have seen their patients experience significant health improvements through diet, lifestyle change, and various other naturopathic modalities. As a naturopathic physician, it is my duty and goal to educate my patients about how to change their health by changing their lifestyles. I help to put the power of healing into their own hands. The body has the innate wisdom to heal itself; sometimes it just needs a reminder to stimulate its own healing. We like to say that everyone has her or his own inner doctor. A few wise choices in lifestyle habits can change one’s quality of life immensely. We just need to take better care of our vessels, and they can do amazing things on their own.


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