Why modern medicine is not winning the battle on chronic disease
If you are like most people, you are probably concerned about the ever-increasing cases of chronic diseases that seem to be affecting literally every facet of our society. But aside from chronic disease, there is now a lot of dis-ease as well, where someone is not really sick but doesn’t feel well. This includes conditions like fatigue, general weakness, unexplained headaches, poor sleep, constipation and even general muscle pain.
If we just compare the number of cases of health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and cancer over the last 30 to 50 years, the rise is astounding. And now even young adults and even children are being affected. My mother who is a nurse says that when they did their nursing training, about 50 years ago, diabetes was so rare. But today every home, every workplace and every family has someone affected by diabetes. And the situation is even more worrying for cancer. But the same goes for all these other non-specific problems.
But we would expect that with advances in technology and with more access to information today than ever before, the situation would be getting better and people would be getting healthier. But sadly, that isn’t the case. People are not getting healthier and despite more advances in medicine, things aren’t getting better. And when people are sick with chronic disease or when they don’t feel well, they rely on our medical system for help.
But while I recognize that our medical system is very useful in many instances, especially in acute conditions, infections, lifesaving surgery, in acute medical conditions such as if someone has a clot and in other emergencies, our modern medical approach is somehow not winning the battle on chronic diseases and dis-ease in general. And in my opinion, there are for 4 major reasons for this.
First, modern medicine focusses on diagnosing problems and then treating either the symptoms of the problem (disease) or the problem itself with medication but very often neglects to focus on the cause of the problem. If you have diabetes and you use medication to lower the sugar and bring it under control, you only address the symptom of the problem but not the cause of the problem. If you don’t address the cause of the problem, the problem will continue. And because medication usually has a 12 to 24-hour effect in the body, after that time, you require more medication. And if the cause of the problem is not addressed the problem will probably stay with you for life. And yet we know that things like poor diet, exposure to toxins and things like stress are the major causes of disease and that if you really want to help someone, these should be the major focus of your attention when you have a patient with chronic disease. Sadly, modern medicine doesn’t train the health care providers about aspects of wellness like diet, exercise, stress management and other such factors that would actually help to get rid of the problem.
Second, is that many times, modern medicine focusses on the disease and not the person. People are often given labels such as “diabetic”, “hypertensive” etc. without understanding all the influences that contribute to a person’s overall health status. Everyone is different. We all have different genes; we all live in different environments and we all have different lifestyles. All these factors have a role to play in our health. We cannot simply blame genes and then prescribe drugs to someone. And most times if you go deeper into someone’s life, you realise that there are often deeper factors, what we call the “cause of the cause” of the problem someone has. For example, someone may be overweight and have diabetes because they eat a diet high in harmful refined sugars and other unhealthy food. The poor diet is likely to be the cause of the problem. But what is the cause of poor feeding? It could be underlying emotional stressors in their personal lives. It could be a social or relationship issue which if not addressed will lead to the person engaging in unhealthy eating habits and eventually getting obese or developing diabetes. Health care must be able to go into understanding these deeper, often emotional and social issues. The cause of the cause may ultimately be the real thing you want to deal with and then suddenly someone can eat better, have the motivation to exercise and feel less stressed which then leads to reversal of their condition.
Third, is that modern medicine tends to focus on where the problem seems to be felt. If someone has a headache, you are given a pain killer for the pain. If someone has arthritis you treat the joint. If someone has poor sleep you give something to help them sleep. If someone has a thyroid problem, the thyroid gets treated. Modern medicine often is an approach that is organ-based. But we are not organs. We are a whole system that communicates with each other. And a symptom in one organ doesn’t mean that organ has a problem. Very often symptoms in one area are due to an imbalance in the whole system or in a different process and only manifest in one area or organ. For example, people who feel fatigued, who have migraines/headaches, who have poor sleep and who have problems focusing or concentrating may be feeling that way because of a problem that begins with inflammation in the gut. We should stop focusing on organs, and begin to realise that human beings are more complex and all systems and organs communicate at all times.
Lastly, modern medicine often ignores the initial and often important signs of an underlying problem simply because they seem insignificant or because a diagnosis cannot be made. Very often signs such as fatigue, feeling unusually cold, unexplained weight gain, poor sleep, poor memory, muscle aches, back pain, indigestion, bloating, mood changes, constipation, poor appetite and other such complaints that don’t seem like they are significant to some health care providers get ignored. In fact, many times when you present with such symptoms you may be told to go home and ignore them and that there is nothing wrong with you. Many times people have been told that they are imagining things or are depressed simply because the health care provider cannot find the reason. This is often an incorrect approach. And many times, the general tests you do will turn out to be normal. Once again this is because of our modern medical approach that focusses less on the unique person but more on the organ affected or on finding a diagnosis. If you feel unwell, then there is something wrong and you should have it addressed. These seemingly vague symptoms are often a sign of underlying dysfunction that if addressed early can lead to early detection and speedy resolution
I must clarify that I am not in any way against medication or the health care system in its entirety. It has many positives and we should embrace those. But we also need to be bold to accept where it is not strong. And, this is why we need a new approach and a fundamental shift in our conventional health care model when it comes to chronic disease and things which are not really diseases like fatigue, headaches and gain of unwanted belly fat. And fortunately, some bold professionals have realized this and now we have newer models of health care (such as functional medicine) which are holistic and more integrative forms of care.
If you or anyone has any chronic health issue, has any symptom that is not well understood, or wants to find a better way to be well, you should consider a more holistic approach to care such as functional medicine. I have been fortunate to have been exposed to this kind of model and I must say, with this approach, many health care providers globally are beginning to help people win battles in chronic disease that we previously thought were lifelong irreversible conditions with no other way out besides using drugs.
Now we are able to help so many people. And while we may not avoid or reverse all chronic disease and all problems, if we can reduce the burden by 80% to 90% and help people have a true chance at lasting health, with less medication, that will be amazing.
I want to invite you to make a decision to always think holistically. Go and have a proper wellness assessment and find out how you can take steps to improve your health, to prevent disease and if you already have any problem, to try and use a more holistic approach to manage it.
Don’t wait until it is too late. Make it a point to get assessed or to get help today either for yourself, for your children or for anyone else who you think needs help. I want to end by cautioning, that we should always seek the advice of a qualified medical professional when unwell. Do not self-medicate or self-treat. But engage your provider and ask them about different options and some of the things we have discussed in this article.
At Wellcare, we are happy to support anyone who wants to take this journey.