The Tragically Preventable Burden of Disease

September 5, 2015

Do you have 5 or more medical problems? Well, you can take comfort in the fact that 2.3 billion people are just like you. That's 2/3 of the population in 188 countries surveyed around the world by the World Health Organization.


A sobering report on the global burden of disease was recently released, and it doesn't bode well for us. For example, between 1990 and 2013 the amount of time each person can expect to live with a disability of some kind increased from 21% to 31% of their life. For someone with a lifespan of 70 years, that's settling into chronic disability at age 49.


A common refrain in the conventional medical world is that this is the unfortunate consequence of our living longer, and the authors of this study say the same thing. But it doesn't take higher math skills to figure out that our lifespan has not increased by 10% between 2009 and 2013. Taking diabetes as a single example, the rate of disability due to it rose by 43%, while the death rate from it rose only 9%.


We are getting sicker at increasingly younger ages.


What disabilities are people living with around the globe?


"YLD [Years Lived with Disability] rates per person, by major cause groups, indicated the main drivers of increases were due to musculoskeletal, mental, and substance use disorders, neurological disorders, and chronic respiratory diseases"


"Musculoskeletal" means predominantly low back pain, while "mental" means major depressive disorder.



Long-term disability means chronic disease, and the conventional health care system is tragically inept at helping those with chronic disease recover health and vitality. As many have noted before, we have a disease management system, not a health care system. So what's the good news here?


Chronic disease responds remarkably well to diet and lifestyle changes (for a long review, see here). Diet and lifestyle both have a tremenous impact on both cardiovascular disease and diabetes, two conditions adding enormously to the global burden of disease.


What about the most significant causes of disability? Depression should always be addressed through diet, along with other therapies. And for low back pain? Acupuncture is more than twice as effective as conventional therapy, with benefits lasting for at least 6 months. When you stop conventional drugs, the pain returns.


If you already struggle with chronic disease, you need to find out your options. If you among the 4.3% of people with no chronic symptoms, congratulations! Now you should hedge your bets by getting functional lab work done, having your diet reviewed by someone who can advise you well, and never underestimate the restorative power of exercise.


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