I had an opportunity to meet with neurosurgeon Rudy Kachmann recently. After an interesting discussion about the effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle, I invited him to write a column on the topic in place of my regular “Last Call.” I hope you find his information as useful as I did. — Marc Frey
Good lifestyle choices could eliminate most common illnesses.
By Dr. Rudy Kachmann
A disabling and deadly epidemic is occurring around the world today and it’s not Ebola — it’s worse. The rate of diagnosis is accelerating, the cure is difficult, and the emotional, physical, spiritual and financial cost is now catastrophic.
We are a world on fire, not with disease caused by foreign insurgencies, natural disasters or hemorrhagic fevers. More and more of us are suffering with the effects of living an unhealthy lifestyle — obesity, diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and premature death. Our time is spent with doctors and our money goes to medications. Today U.S. health care spending is 20 percent of our GDP.
The irony is that we are suffering because of the choices we make on a daily basis, choices involving what Dr. David Katz, of Yale University, calls the “Super 6:” forks, fingers, feet, sleep, stress and love. In his book, “Disease Proof,” Katz estimates that 80 percent of chronic disease, heart attacks, strokes and cancers are caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits.
I’m a retired neurosurgeon. One of my last patients was an obese man in his mid-30s who arrived in the ER with a headache, vomiting and unsteady gait. His scan showed a brainstem stroke. His blood sugars were high. Untreated Type 2 diabetes — the underlying cause of his stroke — had almost killed him in the prime of his life. Unfortunately, the clinical setting became surprisingly familiar.
Over the 40 years of my practice, I didn’t just deal with disease; I tried to raise social consciousness about the importance of nutrient-dense foods, exercise and emotional and spiritual wellness. I also began fighting the epidemic of unhealthy habits that fostered so much of the suffering around me.
Nutrition: The Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) of fat, salt and sugar is on top of the list of disease-causing factors worldwide. The chemical structures of these three substances hurt the genetic structures of our bodies.
In his book “The China Study,” Cornell nutritionist Dr. Colin T. Campbell shows that the rate of life-threatening disease is much lower in rural China, where nutrient-dense foods are dominant.
The New York Times referred to Campbell’s 20-year study in China as “the Grand Prix of Epidemiology.”
In contrast, the S.A.D. way of eating is hurting the human race all over the world and in some countries (like Mexico, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Vietnam where Type 2 diabetes is epidemic), even more so.
Exercise: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only 20 percent of Americans exercise on a regular basis. What scientists refer to as “sitting disease” raises the risks of Type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline and disability in people over 60, and death from cancer, heart disease and stroke. On the other hand, sitting less may lead to a longer life.
Getting a good night’s sleep, learning how to cope with stress and having loving relationships with family and friends round out the Super 6 lifestyle habits that can add years to our lives, and life to our years.
We need to develop healthier habits. Many Americans will need help on how to do it. It will take faith for some to change. The apostle Paul asks in 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Don’t you know the spirit of God is within your body?” You are, in a sense, what you believe. People underestimate the role the mind plays in their ability to heal.
How can the medical establishment help? Doctors need to discuss lifestyle choices in detail at every medical visit. Medical and nursing schools need to require more intensive courses on nutrition supported by scientific data like the China study. And the focus of reductionist medicine — treating a disease versus healing a person — needs to be put to rest; it just can’t be a “pill to the ill” approach any more.
I am an unyielding believer in biomedicine’s ability to overcome the challenges presented by a life-threatening injury or pathological process, but far too much emphasis is put on technology as the solution. We need a more soulful, strategic approach.
Maybe America needs a Lifestyle Czar to fight the epidemic of lifestyle-related disease. After all, it’s a crisis with profound implications for our nation and the world.
Dr. Rudy Kachmann is a world-renowned neurosurgeon of 40 years, author, lecturer and wellness director who founded the Kachmann Mind-Body Institute.