22 Apr The Power of Lifestyle as Medicine
Post by Haley Pysick
Living a healthy style has been promoted throughout magazines and social media for years. But what many people may not know? That simply leading a healthy lifestyle can lead to positive changes all the way down to your DNA/RNA.
In 1990, a study conducted claimed that 80% of pre-mature deaths were caused by preventable factors including tobacco, poor diet, and lack of physical activity. Today, these statistics still hold true.
During Transform 2014, Dr. David Katz explains how lifestyle can and should be perceived as a solution for preventing pre-mature deaths. He uses numerous studies to show real examples of how changing lifestyle can improve the outcomes of very common and major diseases.
In a study of 30 men with early-stage prostate cancer, researchers tested the use of lifestyle to treat the cancer. “Medicine” such as physical activity, healthy food, no tobacco, enough sleep, little stress, and social interactions were employed. Over the course of several months, the DNA of each man was studied.
As it turns out, around 500 cancer-promoting genes were down-regulated and 50 cancer-suppressing genes were up-regulated. While DNA does not determine ones’ destiny, studies such as this one show how DNA regulation can be manipulated by lifestyle to reduce the likelihood of diseases like prostate cancer.
While study after study has confirmed the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle, there is still a gap in the translation of these findings to the health of the public. Dr. Katz points out that as humans, we are at a disadvantage as our bodies have evolved to survive when there were few calories to consume, and many to expend.
In the modern world, there are now too many calories and not enough ways to burn them off. Dr. Katz talks about programs such as ABC (Activity Bursts in the Classroom) that inserts physical activity for kids in the classroom. Ultimately, this program has achieved increased physical activity, improved test grades and reduced medication prescribed for ADHD in the children.
A similar program, ABE (Activity Bursts Everywhere), was developed for adults which achieved comparable results. It has also been found that nutritional programs directed at children and teenagers can increase food label literacy in both the children and the parents.
Dr. Katz himself developed a system that has been placed in numerous supermarkets around the country. The system, called NuVal ranks food in healthiness, so that shoppers can make wiser and more informed decisions when grocery shopping.
It was found that the higher the NuVal score (meaning, the healthier the purchases were) the lower the rates of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and pre-mature death. Dr. Katz also goes on to mention an innovative program that targets users of SNAP, in order to promote better nutrition in economically-disadvantaged households.
This program,“FINGERTIPS,” incorporates NuVal scores with financial incentive. This means that when buying food with SNAP, spending $1.00 in the lowest (least healthy) quartile of food would buy $1.00 worth of food. However, in the next quartile, it would be worth $1.50, and in the next quartile, it would be worth $2.00.
While a program like this would not force a healthy lifestyle on a financially-strapped household, it would certainly promote and encourage better eating habits.
In moving forward, Dr. Katz argues that lifestyle should be seen as health, more so than health care. Considering how study after study has proven the importance of healthy lifestyle, the medical field needs to recognize that lifestyle can and should be used as a medicine to prevent and treat diseases.
To promote this, a cultural shift needs to take place so that health, weight control, and wise decisions become the focus, rather than treating the symptoms that result from a poor lifestyle.