“If we do not fix our health care system, America may go the way of General Motors; paying more, getting less, and going broke.”- President Barack ObamaUnfortunately, this quote does not refer just to the USA; it applies to virtually all Western nations, including Australia. However, it is not just about putting bandaids on a very sick system but making major changes. We need to take a step back and rebuild it with a totally different perspective and philosophy - one that focuses on health and not sickness, prevention rather than cure and treating the underlying conditions rather than the symptoms.
The body is supposed to be in a state of ‘ease’. But because of lack of proper nutrition and lifestyle and living in an unhealthy environment the body goes into a state of "disease". Our society is the sickest it has ever been. In our fifties, around 50% of the population will have or already suffered a heart attack or stroke, diabetes type 2 or cancer, or a combination of these and other conditions. Unfortunately, this does not just occur when we reach 50; these diseases are also showing up in our children with incredible regularity and the underlying conditions have been with these people all their lives.
Chronic disease caused by diet and lifestyle, in particular cardiovascular disease and cancer, has now become the primary cause of death for developed countries including the US, UK and Australia, among others.
Our Western diet and lifestyles are often overindulgent and disastrous for our long-term health and are responsible for more than 75% of our chronic illness.
Through people’s constant exposure to toxins and their over consumption of nutritiously deficient and calorie-dense foods, disease rates have vastly increased in this ageing and overweight society.
The American Cancer Society reports that males now have a 47% chance of developing cancer, while females are only slightly less likely. These are frightening and sadly realistic figures which, unless we change our direction, will only become worse. Some estimates suggest that by 2050, as much as 80% of males will get cancer - unless we do something about it. This is not because we are getting older but because we are getting sicker. Rates of childhood leukaemia have risen more than six times in the last 30 years and we now see breast cancer in teenage girls.
Some estimates suggest that by 2050, as much as 80% of males will get cancer - unless we do something about it.
Putting bandaids on the sickness industry might take real cancer survival rates from 2% to 3 or 4% but they won’t stop millions of people getting sick and dying from cancer.
At the beginning of the 20th century, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer accounted for approximately 25% of all deaths in Western nations; by the end of the 20th century, over 60% of deaths were attributed to these two diseases. These statistics do not include the numbers of individuals diagnosed with these diseases whose quality of life is severely diminished by sickness, surgeries and subsequent recovery, and secondary complications related to the disease. Life expectancy figures mask the true numbers of people who are alive and suffering or who are handicapped or disabled by the disease or treatment.
Change of thinking needed
All of these diseases are lifestyle and diet related. We continue to do what we have done, pay more for it and continue to get sicker and sicker. Then we tickle the edges of the treatment and expect things to change. We have to change how we think if we want to overcome this pandemic of chronic illness. The medical system cannot cure chronic illness but you can prevent it and if you let your body be the doctor you can heal these conditions. But you can only do that when you give your body what it needs to heal itself from within.
We have to change how we think if we want to overcome this pandemic of chronic illness.
The challenge for developed countries now is decreasing the prevalence of chronic disease, particularly diabetes, CVD and cancer. Lessening the prevalence of these diseases will not only contribute to living longer but will also enable individuals to live better and enjoy an enhanced quality of life. This is, of course, possible because research shows our Palaeolithic ancestors consuming a hunter-gatherer diet appeared largely free of degenerative cardiovascular disease. If they survived an infection, storm or animal attack, they lived long healthy and vibrant lives.
Similarly, overwhelming research now shows that many chronic conditions can be reversed when sufferers adopt a healthy diet, lifestyle and environment. In the 1990s, Professor Dean Ornish and his colleagues proved that coronary artery disease, including plaque in the arteries, could be reversed with a healthy nutritional- based diet and no cholesterol-lowering drugs. In 2005, Professor Ornish was able to show that with the same program you could reverse prostate cancer. Since then many large studies have repeated these earlier results.
Act sooner rather than later
By the time we are diagnosed or recognise that we are sick most of us have already been sick for a long time, often decades. Cancers, heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, blocked arteries and all the chronic conditions we suffer from usually take decades to form. It is not something that just occurred in the last weeks, months or even years. If you don’t service a car and put the right fuel and oil into the car it will eventually break down and it may take a few years if you are lucky. Fortunately, it is never too late but the longer you leave off your own service the harder it is to stop the damage. In addition, if you have not serviced your car for 20 years don’t expect one service to repair the damage with one oil change. The key to chronic illness is to act sooner than later; as the old adage says “prevention is better than cure” but you can take steps at any time.
The Disease Triad
Understanding some basics of chronic illness is the key fixing the problem. The simplest place to start is the underlying conditions which lead to chronic illness. This is what I call the Disease Triad - oxidation, inflammation and acidosis - and are shown on Figure 1. These three conditions are present in every form of chronic illness and prevent the body from healing and recovering. If we reduce them or even stop them from being out of control then we can allow our body to heal and stop the progression of chronic illness. But the more advanced chronic illness is the more we have to do to slow down and stop the Triad. By the time modern medicine recognises that you have diabetes, blocked arteries or a cancer, you have already had potentially decades of high inflammation, oxidation and acidosis.
Oxidation, inflammation and acidosis are present in every form of chronic illness and prevent the body from healing and recovering. (See Figure 1)
Although inflammation, oxidation and acidosis are natural and essential for a healthy body, they can be seriously problematic if they become chronic and recurring as a result of our body being out of balance. Recent studies have established that all three conditions are a leading pathogenic force in the development of chronic diseases, including diabetes, cancers, cardiovascular disease, auto immune diseases (including asthma and arthritis) osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, and dementia - even depression, obesity and premature ageing can all be attributed to this triad of conditions. A cancer or CVD does not just happen - it is because these conditions prevail in the body over a long period of time and create the preconditions for these disease states.
These three conditions occur in every stage of chronic illness and are directly related to and influence each other. Oxidation leads to increased acidosis and inflammation, while increased acidosis leads to increased inflammation and oxidation and so on. The processes are interlinked. For example, a slight increase in acidity (lower pH) increases the formation of free radicals such as perhydroxyl radical, a highly reactive and damaging free radical, and increases the levels of inflammation. So when one goes up so do the others.
In medicine we would treat the condition that occurs down the line such as diabetes by giving the person blood sugar lowering drugs. This lowers the blood sugar level but does not treat the condition that is causing the diabetic problem. The problem is not high levels of sugar in the blood - it is the damage that has been done, often over decades, by poor diet and lifestyle that have lead to chronic inflammation, oxidation and acidosis, which now results in high blood sugar. The high blood sugar is just the symptom.
Blocked arteries are not caused by cholesterol but by inflammation, oxidation and acidosis.
In most cases, the original damage done to the arteries is through oxidation by free radicals, which leads to inflammation in our body’s attempt to heal the condition, and formation of calcium plaque on the inside of the arteries because of acidosis and the body trying to return the blood pH to more alkaline levels. Calcium in a slightly lower pH (acid) range removes the acidic conditions by forming a salt crystal, the arterial plaque.
Treating the underlying conditions of all chronic illness is easy and involves increasing the levels of antioxidant, anti inflammatory and alkalising foods and behaviour. A simple example might be increasing the magnesium content in your diet and supplementing with magnesium.
Recent studies have found high blood levels of magnesium associated with significantly lower levels of arterial calcification, hypertension and type 2 diabetes. Magnesium is one of the most important minerals for alkalising the blood and is also known to have both antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Interestingly, in most cases foods that are antioxidant also tend to be anti inflammatory and alkalising, so all three conditions are resolved at once. Nuts and green vegetables tend to be the best sources of magnesium, as well as many other alkalising minerals.
Nuts and green vegetables tend to be the best sources of magnesium, as well as many other alkalising minerals.
Another example from a disease perspective is cancer. While acidosis increases fatigue and susceptibility to infections and also contributes to cardiovascular disease, weight gain, diabetes, kidney and gall bladder stones, hormonal problems, premature ageing and so much more, it also increases the body’s ability to grow abnormal cells. An acid environment is required for cancer cells to survive and increases the inflammation in the body, which feeds cancers.
Dr Otto Warburg was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1931 and 1946 for his studies on how cancer cannot thrive in an alkaline medium - the interstitial fluid of tumours has shown pH values of less than 6.0, 0.2–0.6 units lower than mean pH of normal tissues (very acidic). In fact, a major byproduct of cancers due to their metabolism is increased acidic levels. Cancers can only metabolise sugar and only do a part of the normal metabolic process called anaerobic glycolysis, thereby creating very acidic environments.
All chronic conditions linked
The second important concept coming out of this is that all these chronic conditions are linked through the three Triad conditions. For years, many chronic illnesses including Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, arthritis, macular degeneration, cataract, erectile dysfunction and CVD were thought to be independent diseases that just happened to increase markedly with advancing age. However, increasing evidence now supports a direct association between these and even more chronic conditions.
Interestingly, we also see schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can occur alongside obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes type 2.
All of the chronic illnesses we suffer are linked in one way or another through inflammation, oxidation and acidosis. Our current medical system treats individual symptoms with pharmaceutical drugs and surgery rather than treating the underlying conditions that create the health problems and symptoms. Treating elevated cholesterol, arterial calcification, blood pressure, blood glucose, triglycerides or other symptoms is ridiculous and means that most people will be on multiple medications without any real reduction in mortality risk. Extrapolating from current medicinal interventions, one can predict that within 20 years most people will be on 20 or more different medications a day to treat individual symptoms and still experience no reduction in mortality.
By decreasing the levels of oxidation, inflammation and acidosis in our diet and lifestyle and subsequently in the body, we reduce the overall disease burden on our body and the likelihood of suffering from all of these chronic illnesses. This enables us to create a state of ease rather than disease and to save millions of lives.
Disclaimer: Dr Peter Dingle is a researcher, educator and public health advocate. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor.
Read Peter’s story from March 2013 on the link between Acidosis and Chronic Illness -http://novaholisticjournal.com/stories/acidosis-and-chronic-illness
Dr Peter Dingle (PhD) has spent the past 30 years as a researcher, educator, author and advocate for a common sense approach to health and wellbeing. He has a PhD in the field of environmental toxicology and is not a medical doctor. He is Australia’s leading motivational health speaker and has 14 books in publication.