I’ve been in the medical community for many years and have learned a thing or two about what it takes to maintain robust good health. But the good-for-you strategies of proper diet and exercise, good sleep and strong social ties can get buried by the trends, headlines and latest high-tech breakthroughs that catch the media’s attention.
You might not hear much about restful sleep and getting more greens onto your plate in 2014. But you will hear more about some so-called “innovative breakthroughs” in the health care field. These trendy topics promise to grab plenty of attention and occupy a lot of mind space. But don’t get caught up in all the hype. What worries me is that instead of helping our cause, these new fads will only create “artificial health” that will just mask the real problem at first and accentuate it in the long run. To borrow a phrase – it will be akin to sweeping the dirt under the carpet.
As a doctor concerned about your well-being, I want to weigh in on the headline-grabbers to come and explain why they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. This way, you can make the best informed decisions about your health for 2014 and beyond.
One of these new topics is 3D printing. The medical community is simultaneously excited and nervous about 3D printing. As you can imagine, with the ability to replicate human tissues and organs, the potential is enormous. The question is, will it really solve our health problems? Is “replacement” the answer to our health problems or will “replacement” actually make the problem worse?
Think about it for a moment. Will we be as careful about our health once we know that replacements are easily available? Will all this man-made technology make us take our health for granted? Need a new knee, no problem!
Just imagine what a menace this could be in curbing the very real health issues that plague us. What I call the Big 5: Cancer, obesity, pulmonary disorders, antibiotic resistance and depression. All the Surgeon’s Warnings and even the threat of cancer and death have not been able to deter people from inhaling pure toxins into their lungs. Imagine what will happen when these people, youngsters mostly, know that they can replace an artery, or a bronchi, or even a lung. All our concentrated efforts to curb smoking will go down the drain.
Or take the ginormous problem of obesity. Our campaigns against cholesterol and fatty foods will take a huge hit when people realize they can easily replace their arteries, veins and tissues. Why eat healthy, when we can eat tasty and remain “healthy?”
No, please do not laugh it off as a figment of my imagination. These are early days for 3D printing. But if 3D printing meets with the same success of PCs, the health implications will be huge. Nobody ever thought they would have personal computers on their desks, let alone in their pockets. But it has happened, and you can see what smart phones have done to us – they’ve made us absolutely dependent. The same people who could remember at least 20 phone numbers, cannot remember one (I’m guilty, too. I don’t know my own mother’s number).
The GPS has stopped us from getting mentally familiar with a route. People have become so used to the convenience of the smart phone they have forgotten how to be smart. In the same way, with 3D printing, there is a risk of becoming dependent on “artificial parts.” It’s a slippery slope and some days I feel as though we’re riding a bobsled that’s about to veer off the track.
Another topic that will gather momentum this year is gluten-free, spurred on by the fantastic endorsements of celebrities like Victoria Beckham, Jennifer Aniston and Novak Djokovic to name a few. As expected, marketers will (as they already have) cash in on a trend. Product launches featuring gluten-free claims rose from 600 in 2007 to more than 2500 in 2013, and there are many more coming this year. Grocery stores will have an aisle dedicated to gluten-free products. Any food you can think of will soon offer a gluten-free version.
Agreed, gluten-free products can help us solve one of the real health problems I’ve listed above: obesity. People cut out their heavy carbohydrate habit. But is it practical? Given how expensive gluten-free products are, it is never going to solve our obesity problem. In our country, obesity stems from a regular source of a processed fast food diet which is relatively inexpensive. Providing another processed food solution that is 300 percent more expensive is not exactly a smart idea.
Yes, the celebrities will say everything you want to hear. But remember, they are paid to say it. As far as I’m concerned, a gluten-free diet is necessary only for those who really need it – people with celiac disease and glucose intolerance. For the rest of us, there are better ways to eat healthy. And better ways to beat obesity. For a start, try eating simple healthy home-cooked meals, less processed food, regular eating times, and lots of fresh air and exercise. Honestly, whatever anybody may say, there is no substitute to a simple healthy lifestyle.
There is this huge debate surrounding medicinal marijuana. In America, yet another state, New York, will ring in the new year with a program to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, making it the 22nd state to make cannabis legal in some form.
Canada meanwhile will end its Marijuana Medical Access Program by March 31, 2014.
So who’s right and who’s wrong?
Instead of getting caught in the debate of whether medicinal marijuana is a necessary evil or not, let us pause and ask ourselves whether marijuana is the best course of action to relieve us from depression, pain, cancer. Would it not be better to focus our energies in determining the real cause of depression and finding out ways to avert it.
Does it not make more sense to prohibit smoking, than legalizing marijuana? I know it is a cliché, but prevention is better than cure. Especially if the cure is marijuana.
As I said, the media will ensure that these topics remain on our radar. But it will be in our best interest not to get side-tracked from the real issues at hand, my Big 5. They have snowballed into their current size purely because of mismanagement: Obesity, antibiotic resistance, depression, most pulmonary disorders and to some extent, even cancer, are all man-made. And hence, can and should be tackled. All it requires is proper planning, determination and the belief that these behemoths can be felled.
We’ve done it before with much more dangerous and contagious health concerns such as polio, tuberculosis and, to a great extent, even AIDS. We can do it again. Instead of looking to the future for artificial and superficial fixes, we need to get back to the basics of taking care of our health.
With the proper use of all the education and information around us, the growing awareness of healthy eating and supplementation, we can work together to make 2014 the year that started the fall of the Big 5.