The more I've learned about nutrition and lifestyle and how powerful these tools are for creating and maintaining health, the more I've become aware of an unfortunate fact. Despite the benefits of nutrition and lifestyle, prescription drugs are still the go-to answer for most things relating to both health and disease in our society.
There really isn't much argument that proper nutrition and lifestyle habits (exercise, sleep, stress management, etc.) are the best answers for creating a healthy body. Studies have shown that exercise and nutrition can often outperform drugs in achieving health goals. Most importantly, they do it without any of the side effects with which prescription drugs are often riddled.
The problem is, eating well and maintaining healthy habits is hard, very hard. This is especially true when it comes to food as our environment sets us up for failure at almost every turn. Inexpensive and convenient food - what most of us really need - tend to be the most unhealthy (thank you, food policy with its subsidies for some of the worst foods).
What results is that the bar is too high for most people to achieve long-term, sustainable healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits. Therefore, as a society, including our healthcare system, we've basically given up on that route and consistently turn to prescription drugs as the next best option to doing nothing.
As I watch television, I am acutely aware of just how many drug commercials flash before us showing happy people frolicking in the park with their dog while a person describes all the awful side effects that can happen from taking that drug.
I've also noted this inundation of drug marketing in magazines. I actually decided to collect all of the advertisements from one women's health magazine to see just how many there were (13 in total) with advertisements for a vast variety of ailments: diabetes, fibromyalgia, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, heart failure, asthma, pulmonary disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, depression, toe nail fungus, and psoriasis. Amid all the nutrition and lifestyle advice in the magazine, we get the conflicting message of how prescription drugs are the answer to our myriad of health woes.
The force of prescription drugs in our lives is so strong that we almost forget that there exists a better and more effective option if only the proper support existed to help people implement it into their lives (e.g. a healthcare system that supported the time needed with patients to make changes and the public policy necessary to create a society that supports affordable and convenient healthy foods). This is not to mention the in-depth nutrition and lifestyle education that should be occurring during all medical training programs.
There are definitely instances where pharmaceuticals are fantastic and appropriate; for example, in any sort of acute emergency, whether it be an accident or an acute disease episode, for which timely resolution is critical to avoid non-reversible health damage. Pharmaceuticals are also very helpful for limited problems such as headaches, pain from an injury, or acute infections. What pharmaceuticals are not great for are chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin and gastrointestinal problems and general disease prevention, among other things.
It is never preferable to rely on, or rely solely on, pharmaceuticals for a problem that is long-term and therefore requires the drug to be taken on a long-term basis. There are just too many side effects, some we are aware of and others we may never connect to the drug itself. It is never a good idea to rely on prescription drugs when there are so many other options that target the root cause of the problem and don't just subdue the symptoms.
I've dedicated my entire practice to nutrition and lifestyle because, not only is it such a powerful and effective way to achieve health and prevent disease, but also because it is a difficult remedy to implement in our lives. It requires long-term guidance, care, and support. This makes specialization in the medicine of nutrition and lifestyle not just necessary, but logical.
I continue to hope that one day our healthcare system will fully acknowledge the power of nutrition and lifestyle and support practitioners so that they can dedicate the time and resources necessary to work with patients over the long-term to implement healthy nutrition and lifestyle habits. I hope, too, that public policy will support an environment where it is easy for people to make the best choices for their body and health once they have this knowledge and support.