Scientists and medical professionals have increasingly come to the recognition that specific fundamental changes in the way we live and the way we eat in these modern times underlie many of what we now know as “lifestyle diseases”. In short, the way we live today is quite literally a sickening way to live.
Cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and obesity plague hundreds of millions of people all over the world. Even those in developing countries who have adopted a Westernized lifestyle are succumbing to these diseases as well. What are the so-called lifestyle diseases and how do they threaten our health? And how can we protect ourselves from them?
What are Lifestyle Diseases?
Lifestyle diseases are those that increase in frequency as nations become more industrialized, as life becomes easier, and as people live longer. Aspects of modern life such as diets rich in carbohydrates and fats, increasingly sedentary lifestyles, increasingly antiseptic surroundings, increasing exposure to pollution, and increasingly processed foods are believed to be the main reasons for the emergence and the high rate of occurrence of certain non-communicable diseases.
The reason scientists identify modern living and the Western lifestyle as the main culprits is that these diseases show up mainly in highly developed countries in North America, Europe, and elsewhere, and are only beginning to show up in developing countries that are increasingly becoming Westernized.
These lifestyle diseases include
- Coronary heart disease
- Some forms of cancer (mostly epithelial cell cancers)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Cirrhosis or chronic liver disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Chronic renal failure
- Autoimmune diseases
- Allergic diseases
- Maybe even lupus, multiple sclerosis, and behavioral problems in children
What Causes These Lifestyle Diseases?
To put it simply, the way we live today triggers diseases that did not afflict our forebears. Because those of us in developed countries no longer have to toil in the field all day long to feed ourselves, because food is relatively abundant, and because technology has made our jobs so much easier, we work less and eat more than humans did in decades and centuries past.
Modern diet, nutrition, and changes in lifestyle are the major components that have given rise to a wide range of non-communicable diseases throughout the world. More alarmingly, diet-related chronic diseases have become commonplace not just in developed and industrialized countries, but also in developing countries where the problem used to be caloric deficiencies. Clearly, our modern lackadaisical lifestyle in these post-industrial times was not the kind of lifestyle that our bodies were built for.
The human body has not completely adapted to the kind of diet that we have gotten accustomed to after the introduction of agriculture and the availability of surplus foods, both of which are fairly recent occurrences in the timeline of human evolution. And our physiology and the human genome have certainly not adapted to the Western diet and lifestyle. This mismatch has given rise to many modern-day “diseases of civilization” that did not plague hunter-gatherers and populations that have not adopted the modern Western diet and lifestyle.
It wasn’t until the latter half of the 20th century that people in Western countries began consuming more meat, sugary foods, dairy products, vegetable oils, and alcohol. Because of the abundance of food and the ease by which they could now be procured and prepared, people became more sedentary, leading to higher rates of obesity. Rates of certain types of cancer started to increase as a result of these dietary and lifestyle changes. Meanwhile, people in developing countries who still subsisted on diets low in sugar, meat, and fats had lower rates of cancer.
One recent study reported that mothers today need around 200 calories fewer than their counterparts 45 years ago. The study looked at the physical activity levels of modern American mothers and found that they spent 14 fewer hours every week on physical activity than they did in 1965. This finding echoes a wider trend among almost all population groups to more sedentary behavior and less exercise. The trend is influenced by a variety of aspects such as less manual employment, ownership of cars, and greater use of appliances and gadgets.
In keeping with the findings of evolutionary experts, it is suggested that adopting a diet and lifestyle similar to that of our pre-agricultural forebears will help prevent the onset of chronic degenerative diseases.
- consuming a diet rich in meats, fish, vegetables, and fruits
- avoiding grains
- avoiding processed foods
- avoiding dairy products
- avoiding legumes
- avoiding sugar
- avoiding vegetable oils
- exercising and getting more physical activity
- avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, and recreational drugs
Current thinking is that by eliminating the foods which our bodies have not evolved to metabolize, we can avoid certain degenerative diseases. Grains, legumes, and dairy products were not consumed by humans in the Paleolithic age. They did not eat a lot of sugar or oils, and certainly didn’t have access to anything processed.
Our forebears had to work hard to survive. Hunting and gathering and attending to the tasks necessary to sustain life were the norm. Our bodies have not adapted to our modern sedentary lifestyle and are thus not genetically predisposed to inactivity. Regular exercise is recommended for good health and overall wellbeing.
Awareness and prevention are key. But if you already suffer from a lifestyle disease, it’s not too late. A combination of conventional Western medicine and complementary medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and aromatherapy can do wonders to treat, prevent, and reduce the progression of diseases. Changing your diet, your lifestyle, your outlook, and your way of thinking are all important factors that will determine whether or not you get well. Unlearning old habits and beliefs and relearning new habits and beliefs regarding overall health and wellbeing are crucial.
Cut out the abovementioned food items, increase your level of activity, reduce stress, and eliminate smoking and overuse of alcohol. Develop an understanding of what a healthy lifestyle is and foster the behavioral skills necessary to apply that understanding and sustain good habits.