by Ana C. Micka Vol. 26, No. 1 Total Health
We continue to see the headlines: Health care system in crisis. Health costs reach all time high. Obesity is a national epidemic. Chronic diseases are on the rise. Diabetes plagues American children. Prescription drugs are the fourth leading cause of death. FDA attacks dietary supplements. The headlines reinforce what we already know- America is in the midst of a serious health care crisis with an increasingly unstable system teetering at the breaking point.
Right now, Congress is searching for solutions. But what are those solutions? More drugs for our already overmedicated seniors? Increased financial burden on taxpayers and businesses to cover skyrocketing high-tech health care costs? Treating the symptoms of disease, instead of focusing on how to prevent it? Creating incentives that reward health professionals for waiting for people to get sick? Unfortunately, these are the solutions that mirror the current health care paradigm in America today.
But Americans know there is a better way. Millions of us make healthy "alternative" choices every day: like taking a daily multivitamin, eating organic food, visiting a chiropractor to ease back pain or taking a yoga class to relax and create inner peace. However, most of these proactive and preventative measures are not reflected in the current research budget or national heal care policies.
There is a great call for a collective, coordinated, national presence to create policies reflective of the profound ways Americans are shifting their approach from treatment based care to new effective wellness practices. One group is answering that call.
In October 2003, key leaders in the integrative health community joined forces for the first time to create a strong and organized political voice for the millions of Americans who utilize and support integrative health and wellness practices. The Campaign for Better Health, the new national alliance of integrative healing and wellness organizations, will accelerate the shift from a treatment-based health system to a new, broader and more profound health and wellness culture that reduces costs, empowers individuals and enhances our quality of life.
"The launching of the Campaign for Better Health could mark the biggest advance in stemming the crisis in America's health care system," said Dr. Deepak Chopra, a leader in the integrative healing community and founding partner of the campaign. "For the first time, the majority of U.S. citizens who use 'alternatives' and value the spiritual dimension of our humanity will have a unified voice in relating to the Congress, the media, in public education and research. Today we are planting a mustard seed; soon it will provide shelter for many citizens."
In conjunction with Citizens for Health, the political arm of the Campaign for Better Health, the tow groups are utilizing the networks of the Campaign's 15 Founding Partners to create an activist base 250,000 strong by next year. The Founding Partners draw from all facets of the movement-trusted integrative physicians like Dr. Andrew Weil, world renowned Qi Gong masters like Effie Chow, Ph.D. and Professor Rustum Roy, one of the nation's leading materials scientists.
The Campaign for Better Health grew out of a grassroots movement already millions strong that is dissatisfied with the incomplete model applied to human health. A critical mass now believes that the current model is insufficient and is seeking a more integrative and whole person approach to health, mind, body and spirit.
There is an unprecedented opportunity for the integrative healing movement to advance a new model of health for the 21st century. By working together and uniting around shared values, we can bring the power and spirit of healing to one of the most serious policy challenges facing our nation. Ultimately, it is an informed and active citizenry that will create a healthier America. The time has never been more critical.
Our nation's future is at risk. Not from the threats our leaders make us fear-organized terrorists and weapons of mass destruction-but from a much larger threat that is much closer to home: the health of United States citizens.
Just how unhealthy is the U.S. population? The facts are staggering. According to an April 1999 study in Effective Clinical Practice, three out of four Americans have a diagnosable chronic condition. Recent statistics show that Cancer effects 33 percent of adults, 15 million Americans suffer from asthma, 65 percent of Americans are currently overweight or obese and the Centers for Disease Control say that 1 out of every 3 children born in 2000 will become diabetic. And this is just the tip of the iceberg.
How has the health of our nation deteriorated to this point? Experts point their fingers at many causes, but one culprit is undisputable-the highly processed foods eaten by Americans. Go into any U.S. supermarket and you will be bombarded with the new staples of the typical American diet-foods filled with fat, sugar, salt, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, additives, genetically modified organisms, and a whole host of other unnatural ingredients you can't pronounce or spell.
Over the last 50 years the majority of Americans have replaced high-nutrient whole-grain breads, nuts, fruit, and vegetables with this health damaging fare. According to the State of the World 2000 report from the Worldwatch Institute, the populations of developed countries are now facing a serious nutrition crisis. In developed countries worldwide, 1.2 billion people are undernourished and "starving" because they are overfed with the wrong foods.
The report notes that these unhealthy fat-and sugar filled foods have replaced healthier options to the extent that french fries and potato chips account for 20 percent of the '"vegetables" consumed by the average American. Such low-nutrient food choices leave us chronically deficient of essential vitamins and minerals, thus setting the stage for chronic disease.
The most obvious result from this dietary shift is the global obesity epidemic. The World Health organization estimates that nearly 1 billion adults are overweight and 300 million are obese, with the U.S. ranking as the fattest country in the world.
Overweight individuals are at higher risk of contracting diabetes, cancer, heart disease, stroke and numerous other health conditions. Nearly 400,000 people die each year in the U.S. from weight related health problems, costing the country an estimated $75 billion in 2003, or about 5.7 percent of all heath care expenditures. Scarier still is the way obesity is plaguing the nation's children. In forty years, obesity rates have more than doubled among children ages six to ten. Type II diabetes, is now diagnosed in kids as young as three. In fact, children account for nearly half of all newly diagnosed cases of type II adult diabetes. Yet look in any U.S. school and you will find vending machines filled with soda, cookies, candy and chips, and many cafeterias serving fast food. Is it any wonder American kids are getting fatter? If the industrial American diet isn't enough of an explanation for our declining health, let's look at the industrial waste that is polluting the earth and the population. Mother Nature has become a virtual dumping ground for every kind of chemical and toxin imaginable, and it is taking a serious toll on our health. More than 80,000 new chemicals now exist in the marketplace since the rise of the petrochemical industry. Most of these chemicals have not been tested for possible neurodevelopmental effects on adults, let alone the developing fetus and young children. Every time we breathe air, drink water and eat food, we are filling our bodies with these toxins, something the Environmental Working Group (EWG) calls " people pollution."
In the "Body Burden" study last year, led by Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York in conjunction with EWG, researchers discovered an average of 91 industrial compounds, pollutants and other chemicals in the blood and urine of nine volunteers, with a total of 167 chemicals found in the group. Like the majority of us, the volunteers who were tested do not work with chemicals on the job and do not live close to an industrial facility.
The potential associated health problems? Of the 167 chemicals discovered in the group, 94 are toxic to the brain and nervous system, 76 are carcinogenic in humans or animals, and 79 are carcinogenic in humans or animals, and 79 are linked to birth defects or abnormal development.
Again, such a toxic overload is particularly overwhelming for young bodies. Rates of autism and asthma in children have skyrocketed in recent years, and scientists now believe that environmental factors are at play. Today about one in 150 to 500 kids have autism and asthma which are the leading causes of school absenteeism. Adult and child asthma rates have jumped 75 percent since 1984 and over $6 billion is spent to treat the disease every year.
The overall economic impact of caring for such an unhealthy population is astounding. We currently spend about $1.5 trillion on health care in the United States, a number that is expected to double in the next decade. Spending on prescription drugs alone has tripled since 1993. The cost of drugs rose by 17.3 percent in 2000, the sixth consecutive year of double-digit growth. That same year, retail pharmacies filled three billion prescriptions..
In an era of intense economic competition, health expenditures of that magnitude take a huge toll on U.S. companies' ability to compete in the global marketplace and still provide health care coverage for workers. For example, General Motors, the nation's largest car manufacturer, spends nearly $2,000 on every car for health care and retirement benefits for their employees.
THE FAILURE OF THE SYSTEM
In 2001, U.S. spending on health care was 14.1 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP), an increase of more than 60 percent from 1980. The Health Care Financing Administration projects that spending will account for 17 percent of the GDP by 2011, if we continue on our current path.
"We push 15 percent of our gross national product in the direction of health care. Is that acceptable?" Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona questioned in January 2003. "Absolutely not, especially when we spend more than most civilized countries, yet our outcomes are sometimes no better than some of the poorer countries."
Clearly, Carmona is right and the U.S. health care system has it all wrong. Our nation now spends more on health than any other country in the world, but the facts show that spending more money on health care does not translate into better health outcomes and a healthier population. In the spring 2001 report issued by the World Health Organization, the U.S. ranked 15th in overall health. And when looking at overall health quality, a measurement of how long people live in good health, not just how long they live, the U.S. ranked 37th. How is it that "third-world" Oman spends ten times less on health care than the United States, yet ranks as the eighth heathiest country in the world? Where did we go wrong?
In effect, what we have in this country is not a "health" care system it is a "disease" care system. A disease-treatment system takes health for granted until disease surfaces and then measures success by diagnosing the condition and suppressing the symptoms- the band-aid approach. There is no focus on finding the root cause of disease or working to prevent disease. Why? There is no incentive for health care practitioners to do so. Medical professionals get paid for providing a service not for preventing disease or keeping people healthy.
Surgeon General Carmona hit the nail right on the head when he said: "Everyone's trying to decide how we pay for diagnosis and treatment. We are a treatment-oriented society. We wait for people to get sick. We reward caretakers for doing extraordinary things that are very costly, to save somebody who largely could have made decisions years before that would have prevented that from occurring.
The disease-treatment model is especially ineffective at treating the chronic condtions that plaque 75 percent of the nation's population, not to mention the high costs that accompany such a philosophy.
In America Alone, $500 billion is spent annually on prescription drugs, many of which are designed to treat chronic disease. Almost all drugs treat symptoms and don't uncover actual causes of disease. On top of that, many FDA approved drugs often create additional health problems. JAMA recently reported that three out of four people suffer from drug side effects. Even worse, more than 100,000 people die every year from taking prescription drugs.
If our current disease-treatment model is so expensive and often harmful to patients, one must ask: why would anyone continue to operate within this system? When it comes to health policies in America, you'll find out that many of them make no sense at all.
Brushing your teeth is as common a part of your daily routine as eating or sleeping, but have you ever really looked at the warning labels on a tube of toothpaste? "If you accidentally swallow more than the amount needed for brushing, seek professional help or contact a poison control center immediately." And "Don't swallow-Use only pea size amount for children under six."
Why the warnings for such a seemingly harmless activity? Because the fluoride in your toothpaste is so incredibly toxic that it could actually kill a child. According to the Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products, fluoride is more toxic than lead and only slightly less toxic than arsenic. That makes it arguably one of the most toxic chemicals in the environment. And we put this stuff in toothpaste and water?
Floridation has been a great medical experiment that we have all been unknowingly subjected to. Unfortunately, most of the world is unaware of this experiment's failure. Apparently the initial reason fluoride was added to water and toothpaste was to prevent tooth decay. And yes, tooth decay has continually declined since the 1970's, with fluoride often taking the credit.
Interestingly enough, however tooth decay has declined at about the same rate in countries that do not put fluoride in the water supply. Japan and all of continental Europe have ended the practice due to safety concerns, and many fluoride experiments in Third World countries have been stopped because of the harmful effects on the population.
How harmful is fluoride? Over time, it accumulates in the body and studies show that it can cause damage to teeth, kidneys, bones, nerves, muscles, genes and immune function. According to Dr. William Marcus, senior scientist at the EPA, fluoride is the only substance known to cause bone cancer. Not suprisingly, bone cancer rates are 80-600 percent higher in communities that fluoridate the water. Fluoride causes hyperactivity, according to studies performed on animals, and a 1996 study in China found that fluoride negatively affected children's IQ.
But there must be some dental benefits of adding fluoride to our water supply, right? Wrong. After over 50 years of widespread use and testing, no scientific proof exists that shows fluoride prevents tooth decay. Actually, most research shows that it may cause dental problems. If you want to understand why we put fluoride in our water just follow the money.
Right now cigarette makers are shelling out billions in lawsuits for selling products they knew were not safe. If a wide-scale campaign was launched and the truth came out about fluoride, toothpaste manufacturers, fluoride manufacturers and municipal water suppliers would all be held accountable. Can you imagine the legal and financial repercussions if they were to admit their error? The consequences would be astounding.
IMMUNIZATIONS DON'T CREATE IMMUNITY
Another vast medical experiment, touted as one of modern medicine's greatest achievements, may be one of the biggest medical mistakes of all time. We force children to get them and millions of Americans willingly get them every year to prevent the flu-vaccinations. What most of us don't know is that no reliable study has ever confirmed the safety or effectiveness of any vaccine, and the research suggests that they may actually be harmful.
What about declining rates of infectious disease, like small pox, diphtheria and polio? While vaccines often take credit and claim that the drop in diseases like these can accurately measure their effectiveness, the truth is that these diseases were already on the decline before vaccines were introduced. For example, in 1950 polio was at its height in Great Britain. But rates of polio had already declined by 82 percent when the polio vaccination was introduced six years later.