Mainstreaming Alternatives

January 22, 2009 |

In what may be the best news on the health care scene in years, President Obama has suggested that if we want affordable health care, we need to address the causes of health and illness by providing incentives to live healthfully - rather than reimbursing only for drugs and surgery. He believes that chronic diseases can be delayed in onset, if not prevented entirely. Of the over 16% of GNP spent on health care last year, 75% was spent to treat chronic diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and HIV/AIDS.

Writing in the Wall Street Journal about the upcoming Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public, sponsored in part by the National Academy of Sciences, authors Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil, Deepak Chopra and Rustum Roy suggest that this is a watershed moment for complementary and alternative therapies, which include meditation, yoga, acupuncture and herbal medicine. Indeed, a study published by the NAS suggests that using integrative medicine approaches may change gene expression in hundreds of genes in only a few months. CAM therapies are not only scientifically documented as medically effective, they’re also cost effective. The NAS study suggests that genes associated with cancer, heart disease and inflammation can be downregulated or “turned off” using integrative medicine approaches, while protective genes may be upregulated or “turned on.” The Lancet Oncology reported an increase in telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres the ends of our chromosomes and controls how long we live. Even drugs haven’t been shown to do this. The authors suggest that the body can heal itself more quickly than we realize when we address lifestyle factors at the root of chronic disease.

They also go on say that joy, pleasure and freedom are sustainable, while deprivation and austerity are not. “When you eat a healthier diet, quit smoking, exercise, meditate and have more love in your life, then your brain receives more blood and oxygen, so you think more clearly, have more energy, need less sleep. Your brain may grow so many new neurons that it could get measurably bigger in only a few months. Your face gets more blood flow, so your skin glows more and wrinkles less. Your heart gets more blood flow, so you have more stamina and can even begin to reverse heart disease. Your sexual organs receive more blood flow, so you may become more potent - similar to the way that circulation-increasing drugs like Viagra work. For many people, these are choices worth making - not just to live longer, but also to live better.

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