Diet: Lifestyle Medicine: Marketing or Reality?

Hippocrates defended 25 centuries ago: “Let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.” Still today there is that belief that many diseases can heal itself with certain healthy habits. It is surprising that, according to a survey by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, 40% of Americans think that the cancer can be cured only with alternative medicine, that is, without chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or surgery.

Alternative medicine and lifestyle: not the same

There is a tendency in our modern society to use alternative treatments to traditional medicine based on the ‘natural’. But there is a bit of confusion between what is the alternative medicine and what is lifestyle medicine or ‘lifestyle medicine’. Alternative medicine consists of recommending therapeutic methods or techniques that are not within the conventional treatments that we do in traditional medicine and that, unlike this, has the advantage of not having side effects apparently. Here we could include acupuncture, detoxification cures through fasts or specific diets, certain herbs, homeopathic remedies, vitamin supplements, etc.

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What is ‘lifestyle medicine’?

This type of lifestyle-based medicine, which is very fashionable all over the world, is based on take care of our habits: diet, physical exercise, sleep, the way we relate, the way we take care of our mind, our exposure to certain toxic, etc. Many chronic pathologies (diabetes, obesity, coronary heart disease, hypertension, depressive or anxious pictures, etc) can be prevented and even cured just by taking care of our habits. This supposes not only an improvement in our quality of life, but also an huge decrease in health spending. And there are more and more clinical trials that demonstrate the effectiveness of acquiring these habits.

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You have to trust science

The pandemic has clearly demonstrated this. In less than a year it has been possible to create a safe and effective vaccine against this pandemic using the scientific method of clinical trials. Now it has to be manufactured, distributed and administer it to the world population, but that is another matter, which no longer depends on scientists. Israel, which has already vaccinated almost half of the population, has decreased to 0.015% of infections after the second dose of the vaccine.

The problem with alternative medicine is the absence of scientific evidence

Personally, I am against medicine that does not follow scientific criteria based on proper diagnosis and treatment that has been proven effective through clinical trials. That is the problem with alternative medicine: lack of scientific evidence. In medicine, the ‘things have gone well for me’ is not worth it. Patients should understand that if any of these alternative methods worked well, traditional medicine would demonstrate it and quickly incorporate it into their therapeutic arsenal.

I remember a patient who came for a consultation with a mouth ulcer and had months in herbal treatment, mindfulness and special diets. We performed a biopsy and it was a Cancer oral. If I had a earlier diagnosis, this patient would have been saved.

How do you know if what they promise is false?

Therefore, lifestyle medicine can be a great complement for traditional medicine. But watch out! In these complementary and alternative medicines to the traditional one there are very opportunistic. Therefore, the American Cancer Society recommends that patients consider the following warning signs to detect these scams:

  • Suspicion of advertising claims against serious diseases difficult to treat by traditional medicine (vitiligo, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc).
  • Suspicion of treatments that only have benefits and they have no side effects. Even herbs and vitamins can have side effects. I will talk about this in a next post.
  • Suspicion of those who promote attacks versus established treatments of traditional medicine (examples in dermatology would be Roacuan for acne or cortisone for dermatitis).
  • Suspicion of treatments that can only be performed in one clinic, especially if you are in countries with more relaxed legislation. If the treatment really works, there will be more clinics that can offer it.
  • Suspicion of personal stories. What has happened to a person can be due to many causes, including a spontaneous improvement of the disease itself. Trust the medicine based on clinical trials performed on many patients.
  • Check if these treatments have been published in scientific magazines prestigious after having been reviewed by other expert scientists in the field. On many occasions, what appears in social networks, books and the media are only marketing strategies.
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A great complement

This medicine based on habits or ‘lifestyle medicine’ should not replace the traditional one, but it can be a great complement. Taking care of your diet, doing physical activity, sleeping well, manage stress, take care of the mind and learning to relate to others are habits that will make us live longer and better.

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Traditional doctors should be trained in how pass on these healthy habits to our patients, but it is true that many times we do not have the training or the time to do it. On the other hand, doctors should be informed by our patients of any complementary treatment they carry out, since on occasions there may be contraindications. I remember a patient who bled a lot during surgery skin cancer and it turned out that she was taking a lot of antioxidants to prevent aging, which can alter a person’s ability to clot.

The skin and the mind, incredibly related

This lifestyle medicine places special importance on the relationship between body and mind. As I have written in a post anterior there is a fascinating relationship between skin and mind. Many skin diseases (eczema, alopecia, psoriasis, etc) worsen with certain moods. And the opposite, many skin disorders (vitiligo, angiomas, acne) can cause anxiety, depression and lack of selfesteem. In fact, skin cells and neurons are derived from the same embryonic cells.

The Mayo Clinic Example

I remember the entrance hall of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. When one enters the lobby of the main building (Golda Building), in a studied attempt to create a good first impressionOne is in a double height space, open, bright and with a large piano. I was amazed that patients were continually approaching and they spontaneously played the piano and occasionally some spontaneous sing. I once witnessed an opera singer, a cancer patient at the clinic, who began to sing in the lobby while a nurse spontaneously joined him at the piano. People, myself included, watched the scene with wet eyes. At the Mayo Clinic they defend that art favors healing (They call it Art & Healing). It is another way to take care of the mind, especially in such stressful situations as living an illness can be.

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In short, the lifestyle-based medicine (‘lifestyle medicine’) it is not an alternative to traditional medicine, but a complement to the health needs required by new Times. Valuing what we eat, how we approach our physical activity, mind-body connections, how we relate, how we handle stress, what toxins we are exposed to, and how we feed our spirit can help us to improve our quality of life, prevent diseases and grow old better.

At times, physicians do not have the appropriate training or resources to handle these changes in the lifestyle of patients. Trying to introduce these healthy habits should be a priority in any health system, and it is the basis of true preventive medicine. Covid-19 has cruelly shown us the importance of having good personal health to cope with certain infections. In addition, promoting these healthy habits would save enormous costs to the system, since this type of medicine is not only effective, but also it’s not expensive. Perhaps the revolution in medicine consists in returning to its roots. The truly personalized medicine of the future should be based on sitting next to the patient, listening to him, educating him and motivating him to eat well, to perform regular physical activity, to sleep well, not to be exposed to certain toxins and to maintain an adequate social relationship. We live in times where it is a priority to maintain a balance between our mind and our body in order to withstand the emotional wounds of this pandemic.

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