How many pills do you need to be healthy? To be healthy we would want to do the following:
- Lose weight
- Lower LDL
- Raise HDL
- Lower blood sugar
- Lower insulin levels
- Reduce inflammation
- Reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke
To do all that you would need five or more prescription drugs. But is that what it means to be healthy?
Our traditional medical culture seems to be saying, “Yes!” That type of thinking is why prescription drug use continues to rise, with over 60% of American adults taking prescription drugs, and 15% taking five or more drugs.
Guess what. It doesn’t have to be this way. Not even close.
Here is the secret you can do that is better than taking 5 or more pills.
You can commit to healthy lifestyle habits.
Do that and you will lose weight in a healthy manner. You will lower your blood sugar and insulin levels. You will improve your cholesterol profile, reduce your inflammation and lower your risk for heart attack and stroke.
And you can do it all without side effects, unless of course you consider being happier, having more energy, and feeling better as side effects!
Sounds easy? It can be. It won’t always be easy, and it certainly isn’t easy to be perfect. But being better, and seeing every day as a new opportunity is well within our grasp.
The Science Supports Lifestyle First
A 2016 study in NEJM investigated four different trials comprising over 55,000 subjects. They concluded that even those with the highest genetic risk of cardiovascular disease can reduce their risk by almost 50% with healthy lifestyle habits, defined as eating healthy, getting regular physical activity, not bring obese, and not smoking.
In addition, A 2014 study showed that 80% of all first heart attacks are explained by 5 risk factors (smoking, waist circumference, healthy diet, regular physical activity, moderate alcohol consumption). It turns out, all five of those factors are within our control. We don’t need a pill to control them. We just need to commit ourselves to controlling them.
Putting it into practice
Despite this encouraging information, A study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings concluded that an only 2.7% of the Americans studied led a healthy lifestyle (defined as regular physical activity, healthy eating, not smoking, and having a recommended body fat level).
It should be no surprise, therefore, that heart disease remains the leading cause of death in men and women. There are approximately 900,000 heart attacks annually in the U.S., one every 42 seconds, with 365,000 people dying from a heart attack every year. Heart disease costs $207 billion annually in the U.S. alone. And for the first time since 1993, the life expectancy in the U.S. has started to decline.
The Health-Drug Disconnect
If more and more people are taking prescription drugs, yet our life expectancy is declining, how do we rationalize the disconnect?
I propose it is because we have lost sight of what first line medical therapy should be.
Statins come with a litany of side effects, and at best reduce your risk of heart attack by 3% over 5 years.
Drugs that raise HDL level can worsen your risk of dying (CETP inhibitors).
Diabetes drugs can increase insulin levels, increase weight, and create a medication dependency.
Weight loss drugs are rarely sustainable over the long run, and come with severe side effects.
Do any of those sound like good choices for first-line treatments? Not to me. And I hope not to you either.
Change What We Reach For
Instead of reaching for our prescription pads, physicians should be reaching for cookbooks, lists of farmer’s markets, different options for activity trackers, stress management apps, and other healthy lifestyle tools.
That is where true health begins. That is our best chance of achieving real health. Not health that is dependent on a medication, or health that is defined by a lab value.
For more information on how to improve your health with healthy lifestyle habits, read more about our book and instructional video series. They may just change your life.
Thanks for reading
Bret Scher, MD FACC
Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health
Take a look at Your Best Health Ever: A Cardiologists’ Surprisingly Simple Guide to what Really Works. You can buy it today on amazon (here is the link). It has all the information you need to prioritize healthy lifestyle practices over prescription drugs. Together, we can promote natural, long-lasting health that feels great.