Few nonpolitical stories this year have sparked a discussion as the recent New York Times article “Worshiping the False Idols of Wellness.” The story was an examination of new, often expensive, "wellness" products and focused on a marketplace with connection to actress Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s provoked a debate about the gray area between medicine and, well, goop.
In the piece, a San Francisco-based gynecologist and obstetrician Jen Gunter was quoted as saying, “Wellness is not the same as medicine. Medicine is the science of reducing death and disease and increasing long and healthy lives.” I couldn’t agree more.
Part of the problem: dismissing the power of lifestyle is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Science does not back up charcoal detox cleanses or replacing healthy food with vitamins and supplements, but it does support the fact that a healthy lifestyle can prevent and even reverse disease. You cannot prevent breast cancer by avoiding underwire bras, however, eating a whole foods plant based diet has been shown to prevent and slow the progression of cancer as well as other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Incorporating lifestyle medicine into cancer treatment isn’t a suggestion to avoid or delay conventional treatment but shouldn’t be overlooked as a means to achieve optimal treatment success.
Specifically, Blue Shield of California has narrowed these health behaviors to 6 pillars:
- Eat a whole foods plant-based diet
- Get regular exercise
- Manage stress and develop emotional resilience
- Develop a social support system
- Get enough sleep
- Don’t smoke
Using these pillars alone, we can ward off a host of chronic conditions including diabetes, heart disease and even cancer at a fraction of the cost and with no undesired side effects. The American College of Lifestyle Medicine says, “Healthy lifestyle is the medicine that can prevent as much as 80% of chronic disease. No other medicine can do that.”
The ACLM has hosts a library of hundreds of studies that support the efficacy of lifestyle medicine. There’s ample evidence diet and exercise have dramatic effects on our health. For instance, a randomized control trial tested the length of telomeres, compound structures on our chromosomes that shorten as we age. The study looked at telomere length before and after comprehensive lifestyle change in men with early stage prostate cancer. The results showed that the intervention group actually lengthened their telomeres versus the control group which telomeres shortened.
In other words, the men who radically changed their lifestyle – diet and exercise – saw fewer signs of aging such as loss of collagen in skin or loss in muscle mass. The lifestyle changes effectively made these men turn back the clock on aging. In another study, the effect of physical activity on all-cause mortality was tested. This randomized control trial showed that people who exercised 150 minutes or more per week decreased the risk of all-cause mortality by as much as 40%.
Blue Shield of California offers a suite of clinically validated Lifestyle Medicine programs ranging from increasing physical activity to reversing heart disease. Notably, Blue Shield of California’s Diabetes program is giving its members who are at-risk for developing diabetes the opportunity to prevent diabetes before it strikes. In addition, the Ornish Reversal Program is giving heart disease patients a new lease on life by assisting them in reversing their heart disease. Both programs utilize 100% lifestyle interventions – no medications or invasive procedures are used.
Angie Kalousek is director of markets, lifestyle medicine for Blue Shield of California. She oversees the sales and marketing of clinically proven lifestyle medicine programs for Blue Shield of California’s members.