In 2017, America will spend more than $10,000 per person on healthcare, or 18% of our GDP. In every measure of cost – total spending, per capita spending, spending as a percentage of GDP – the US is #1. However, the results are abysmal: worst healthcare and 4th highest child mortality among developed nations, 31st in the world in life expectancy and ranked as one of the fattest countries in the world (70% are overweight or obese). Why? We have a fundamentally misguided approach to health, disease and treatments.
Imagine for a moment that you are visiting a city called Potholeville. The city spends vast amount of money on one issue: repairing cars. There are auto repair shops everywhere, and the citizens constantly debate various solutions. As an outsider, you are perplexed!
You: “Why don’t you fix the potholes so you don’t have to spend all this money and time fixing your cars?”
Person 1: “It’s too expensive to fix the potholes.”
Person 2: “You can never get rid of all the potholes.”
Person 3: “Even if you fix the potholes, they reappear after a short time. Not worth it.”
Person 4: “If you fix the potholes, what will all the technicians do? It will lead to high unemployment!”
How ridiculous does that sound? Well, that’s exactly what we have been doing for the last few decades. We have a culture where people consume the wrong type of food; and often the food itself has toxic substances. There are also thousands of chemicals in everyday household products that adversely affect us. Finally, when people get sick, they depend upon a healthcare system which is incentivized to create more customers.
So what exactly is a holistic approach that would solve our healthcare crisis?
1. System versus Individual Components
Modern medicine is based on a fundamentally flawed approach of treating our body like a machine with discrete components. However, our body is a complex eco-system in which everything is linked to one another.
For example, every organ and living cell in our body depends on the blood supply. Thus, a malfunctioning heart affects everything including, say, liver; and since liver purifies the blood, a problem with the liver affects every organ, including the heart. And when the patient gets stressed out about his liver and heart, his digestive system shuts down, which in turn affects how much nutrition is delivered to his heart and liver! That’s a non-linear, dynamic system with negative feedback loops. This is not what our healthcare system is designed to address.
2. Root Cause, not Symptoms
Got diabetes? Take insulin for the rest of your life. Doctors and politicians won’t fight Monsanto or the food industry that cause diabetes.
Feel depressed? Join the 78 million Americans – including 8 million children – who are on brain-altering medications. Doctors ignore that 90% of serotonin (the happy hormone) is produced in our gut. The holistic approach to mental illness (and even autism) will look into how GMOs, antibiotics and processed food are disrupting the gut bacteria.
Have pain? Doctors prescribe painkillers, which really just numb you, while ignoring the underlying cause of the pain. The holistic approach to pain, instead, will be to first teach people how to stretch, do yoga, exercise, meditate, sleep well and eat proper food to reduce inflammation.
3. Reduce Side-effects
The general attitude of the medical industry is, “If you experience side effects from this pill, swallow more pills to fix those side effects.” This is why more than 30 million Americans take five or more prescription drugs (not including over-the-counter drugs).
When OxyContin came out 20 years ago, neither FDA nor experts predicted that millions of Americans will get addicted and 50,000 Americans will be dying every year from opioids and their chemical cousin, heroin.
4. Making the Patient “Whole”
If a patient has kidney problems, modern medicine can do transplants, because our technology is good at mechanistic things. However, doctors can’t heal the kidney.
The word holistic comes from the Greek word Holos, which means “to make whole.” Although it’s not always possible, our primary efforts in healthcare should be to restore the patient to a healthy state.
5. Consider Long-term Effects
We eagerly embrace new things – pesticides, processed food, GMOs, vaccines, Rx drugs – without evaluating the long-term effects. Then we wonder why our health has deteriorated over the last 30 years.
Excessive use of antibiotics over the last few decades has resulted in a potential “antibiotic apocalypse,” as some bacteria have now evolved to be resistant to all antibiotics.
6. Focus on Preventive Care
The so-called “healthcare” doesn’t care about your health until you get sick. There’s no money in prevention (except vaccination, which has become a very profitable and a dubious industry – $52 billion of revenue in 2016). Preventive care requires a paradigm shift in our collective thinking.
If you ask people, “What cures cancer?” the answer would be “chemotherapy” or “radiation.” People don’t think about food, natural cures, or even our own immunity. Yes, your own body gets rid of cancer cells all the time, but it gets no kudos. As for food, consider cruciferous vegetables that quickly kill cancer stem cells in a petri dish, and epidemiological studies have also shown their effectiveness in reducing cancer incidence in people. The remarkable feature of plant extracts is that they nourish healthy cells and kill cancer cells; chemo drugs, on the other hand, kill both healthy and cancerous cells.
If we view food as medicine, imagine how that would affect agriculture, food industry and people’s eating habits.
For many people, the notion of plants and natural substances as healing medicine sounds like an old wife’s tale. However, for thousands of years, doctors relied on natural cures. Even now, half of all pharmaceutical drugs are based on compounds from plants. Amazingly, 75% of all anti-cancer drugs are also plant-based.
In 2015, a Chinese doctor won the Nobel prize for an anti-malarial drug. The doctor had found the solution – a compound from a plant known as Sweet Wormwood – in ancient Chinese manuscripts from 400 AD; and a compound from an Asian plant is more effective than all the current anti-HIV drugs. In fact, western scientists regularly visit – “bioprospect” – Amazon jungles, India and China to observe traditional doctors and herbalists. Scientists have screened more than 35,000 plants for medicinal purposes and they keep finding incredible properties.
Of course, when scientists find a medicinal plant, Big Pharma is smart enough to figure out the active compounds, modify them a bit, patent them, and make billions of dollars.
Below is a table with some examples of drugs derived from plants/trees. (You can click here for a longer list).
How great would it be if these medicinal plants/herbs are grown all over the world, including people’s backyards, and we institute a system to make drugs as cheap as possible?
7. Free from Greed and Corruption
Healthcare is one of those industries where uncontrolled free market can lead to catastrophic effects. Consider that 80% of “new” patents for drugs in a given year are in fact for old drugs. This allows Big Pharma to keep charging high prices.
Government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid allow pharmaceutical companies to charge exorbitant prices. For example, a drug for Hepatitis C costs whopping $1000 a day. Why? Because healthcare groups spent $3.2 billion between 1998 and 2013 on lobbying/bribing politicians.
Big Pharma routinely manipulates research and fudges data in order to get the FDA approval; and encourages off-label marketing (selling drugs for illnesses without research or FDA approval). GlaxoSmithKline, for example, lied about the hazardous effects of its diabetes drug, and also got caught selling two anti-depressants for unapproved uses. Total Fines paid? $3 billion. Revenue from those three drugs? $28 billion. Do the math for “fines versus profits.”
It was recently revealed that studies in the 1960s proved that sugar caused cancer and heart diseases, but the sugar industry conspired to kill the research and hid the findings.
8. Be Open to New Ideas
There are many mysterious things we don’t understand about nature. Scientists can’t figure out the placebo effect – a simple sugar pill curing an illness just because the patient thinks it’s a medicine.
In an experiment by Ellen Langer in 1981, some older patients were made to live in an environment that resembled the 1950s (to make them feel younger). In just two weeks, there were astonishing results: the subjects were “stronger and more flexible. Height, weight, gait, posture, hearing, vision—even their performance on intelligence tests—had improved.”
There are many holistic, naturopathic, homeopathic and spiritual practices that seem to work in different situations. India’s Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine have proven recrods for thousands of years. We have to be open to be these ideas.
We have a feisty and hedonistic attitude towards health. We want to eat food that taste and look good; we want cheap food; we see no difference between going to a restaurant and cooking at home; and too many people enjoy excessive drinking and illegal drugs. And when things go bad, we demand instant fixes –a pill for an ill, surgery, chemo and so on.
We want to fight obesity, fight cancer and fight germs. Instead, what we need is a holistic and harmonious attitude. Rather than fighting obesity, let’s create a lifestyle that reduces obesity; rather than hoping for a disease-free life with an endless number of vaccines, let’s focus on healthy children with strong immunity; and rather than just nuking tumors, let’s nurture bodies where cancer cells don’t thrive.
We have come so far away from nature and holistic living that we need gargantuan efforts to move the society away from the current paradigm of Potholeville. However, sticking to status quo guarantees a disastrous future in which an increasingly unhealthy and unhappy society will be crushed by the ever-rising financial burden of healthcare.