Current science continues to demonstrate that the reason we move away from health and develop chronic illness is due to our environment rather than our genes. Less than 1% of chronic illness is truly genetic in nature. Essentially, this means that chronic illness is preventable.
Yet over half of the American population has been diagnosed with a chronic illness and nearly 80% of all health care spending (doctors' visits, prescriptions, hospitalizations, etc.) is a result of these conditions of lifestyle.
This number is expected to rise astronomically over the next few years. In fact, many say this single problem will bankrupt our nation. Interesting. It's particularly interesting since science tells us this is completely preventable!
What are chronic illnesses? The list includes conditions such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, depression, infertility, autoimmune issues and disorders, Alzheimer's, dementia, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, acid reflux, constipation, insomnia, decreased sex drive, and so on.
With a list this expansive, it's hard to imagine how we could possibly prevent these conditions from developing in the first place. They seem so unrelated. In order to understand our role in preventing chronic illness, first we must have a simple understanding of how chronic illness develops as a result of our environment.
To explain how our lifestyle and environment relates to chronic illness, I'd like to share with you a visual that Dr. James Chestnut, B.Ed., M.Sc.,D.C.,C.C.W.P. of The Wellness Practice in Victoria, B.C. teaches. Imagine that when your life begins you are born into a pool of water. You have two items on you: inflatable water wings and an empty backpack.
Your water wings have been inflated for you, but they have a very slow leak. The air in them is expected to last 120 years (the "healthy" human lifespan). As the air leaks out of them, you have less time left. It's called getting older! If there's no interference to these water wings, they'll last you all 120 years.
Each time you make a lifestyle choice that is incongruent with your innate genetic requirements for health, you add a "rock" to your backpack. Our blueprint for health and optimal function requires purity and sufficiency in the way we eat, move and think. This means, giving our bodies exactly what's required for optimal health (purity) and providing enough of it (sufficiency).
No where in our blueprint for optimal function do we find toxic and deficient choices of lifestyle. Toxicity and deficiency are incongruent with homeostatic cell function. Therefore, it's these toxic and deficient choices that become the rocks in your backpack.
These rocks (stressors) can come from any area of lifestyle: poor nutritional choices, sedentary living, being overweight, being chronically stressed out, having unhealthy relationships, taking toxic drugs, not feeling loved or appreciated, excessive negative stimuli, having poor posture, smoking or exposure to smoke, not enough time outside, and so on.
So many of our toxic and deficient lifestyle choices are the direct result of an industrialized, "advanced" society. It's hard to argue that we're "advanced" in the area of health and wellness when we're experiencing drastic increases in chronic illness in all age groups, despite our "advanced" efforts to treat these conditions.
The rocks slowly sink us. They have a cumulative effect on our health over the years. At first, we may not notice. Eventually, we may realize that our day to day life has become more stressful and more of a struggle. Often, we're not even sure how or when this happened.
There isn't a drug on the planet that can remove the rocks for you! That's why treating the symptoms, or the effects of these rocks, is unsuccessful in terms of fixing the real problem. The drugs, in fact, can become yet another toxic rock. (Just listen to the side effects on any drug commercial!) Removing body parts doesn't fare much better in solving the problem. We're not sinking because of a lack of drugs or too many body parts! The body isn't 'stupid'. It's displaying a perfectly normal physiological adaptation to an environmental stressor.
The rocks have another effect on your overall health picture. As more rocks are added to your backpack and you sink increasingly lower, the pressure on your water wings is increased, forcing the air to escape at a faster rate. You lose your years of life faster than originally intended... you age faster.
It's these incongruent lifestyle choices, or stressors, that are the catalyst for chronic illness. These toxic and deficient choices result in what's known as our allostatic load. A chronic allostatic load, as a result of months and years of incongruent lifestyle choices, changes our genetic expression, our cellular function, our physiology, our biology, our entire internal environment, and ultimately our expression of health. This is how chronic illness develops.
It becomes self-evident that the way to restore health is to remove rocks from your backpack, thus reducing pressure on your water wings!
Ultimately, this means reducing our toxic and deficient choices while increasing pure and sufficient choices. This changes our environment and changes the expression of our genetics. This is the science of Epigenetics - how our environment determines the expression of our genetic code.
Thankfully, science has shown us the blueprint. We do know what choices move us toward health. We can fix the problem. Adopting a lifestyle similar to our earlier (and healthier) ancestors is the most successful way to meet our innate genetic requirements for health and wellness while preventing chronic illness.
Note: Once again, the concepts in this article are attributed to Dr. James Chestnut, B.Ed, M.Sc, D.C., C.C.W.P.