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Complementary Corner

The Paradigm Shift:  Health Transformation, not just Health Reform

Renee Lehman

(12/09) Healthcare reform, oh the debate about healthcare reform! The healthcare system is definitely in need of transformation. AND, if we look at the "big picture" regarding healthcare, there needs to be a shift from disease intervention to health promotion and disease prevention. This requires a paradigm shift, because prevention goes well beyond immunizations, diagnostic screenings, etc.

Did you know that we spend 16% of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare (more than any other country in the world other than the Marshall Islands), and yet we rank only 37th in the world in relation to our health outcomes ( We rank 19th out of 19 industrialized countries for preventable deaths, and in the world we rank 24th in healthy life expectancy (70 years of age). Healthy life expectancy is defined as the average number of years that a person can expect to live in "full health" by taking into account years lived in less than full health due to disease and/or injury. (World Health Organization, WHO statistics). WOW! WHAT IS GOING ON?

Our current healthcare model is a "Disease care" model. You go to the doctor or seek medical advice when you are sick. It is a great system for acute illness and trauma. However, this model doesn't meet the needs of our general wellbeing. It does not focus on health outcomes! At the center of the "Disease care model" is the use of drugs and surgery. In general, healthcare professionals "do something to or for us". In this model, we are usually passive participants in our own health care. Eighty percent of our chronic illnesses (diabetes, heart disease, and obesity to name a few) are not effectively addressed by our current "Disease care model" of healthcare. Why, you may ask? It is because these diseases are largely preventable and even reversible by changing diet and lifestyle (more about this later). Yes, these and other chronic diseases account for 75% of our healthcare costs, and yet they are preventable or even reversible!!! (Dean Ornish, MD, the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California; and Clinical Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.)

There is a different model that I see our culture moving toward. This model involves health promotion and disease prevention, and encourages us to become active in our own healing. At the center of this "new model" is SELF - CARE. I believe that health is an individual responsibility. It is up to each one of us to learn how to maintain and protect our body's potential to heal itself. Just think, when you buy a car, it becomes your responsibility to have all of the maintenance requirements (tune-ups, oil changes, tire rotations, wheel alignments, etc.) done on a regular basis, so that you can get the most out of the life of your car. You may not know how to do all of the maintenance yourself, so you take it to a qualified service station to work on it. Along with the maintenance done to your car, you also learn things that will extend the life of your car, improve your gas mileage, and keep your car looking great.

Now, when we are born, we have this one body, mind, and spirit to live our entire life with. Why would you take care of it in any way less than you would your car? Quality in, quality out. No one else can do this for you. You must choose it.

So how can you go about creating health and wellness? First of all, existing health conditions need to be treated effectively and compassionately by your health care provider. I hope that you have that!

Think about the following categories that are considered to make up the quality of your own wellness: spirituality, diet, exercise, sleep, relationships/social support, stress management, finances, work, play, environment, self-esteem, healthcare, and life purpose. On a scale from

0 - 100%, how satisfied are you with the quality and/or quantity of these categories?

If you have a low percentage in any of the categories, think of this as the "energy" that you put into the category as "stuck". Energy that is "stuck or shut down" can be described as

"dis - ease". "Movement of energy" is seen as health/wellness. Where are you "stuck"? What could you do to get your satisfaction level in each of these categories toward 100%? If you don't know what you might do to improve your level of satisfaction, begin to observe what creates "shut down" or "movement" in your life. To do this, you may need a professional to work with you (a physician, nutritionist, acupuncturist, personal trainer, massage therapist, counselor, spiritual director, and other wellness professionals).

Now, back to the statement from earlier in the article that chronic diseases are preventable or reversible. Most people tend to think of breakthroughs in healthcare as a new drug, technology, or surgical technique. You may have a hard time believing that simple choices that you make in your lifestyle (the above categories of wellness) can be as (or even more) beneficial as the drugs and surgeries. Yet, they often are!

Dean Ornish, MD has shown that lifestyle changes may stop or even reverse the progression of coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, and other chronic conditions. His research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, and other medical and scientific journals, reported that 99% of people with severe coronary heart disease were able to stop or reverse it by making comprehensive lifestyle changes, without drugs or surgery. There was some reversal of coronary atherosclerosis after 1 year, and even more improvement after 5 years, and there were 2.5 times fewer cardiac events.

In June 2008, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published his newest study. This study showed, for the first time, that changing your lifestyle changes your genes in only 3 months. He found that improved nutrition, stress management techniques, walking, and psychosocial support "turned off" genes and oncogenes associated with breast cancer and prostate cancer, as well as genes that cause heart disease and inflammation. Genes that are considered protective genes for the aforementioned conditions were "turned up". Dr. Ornish has also recently found (published in The Lancet Oncology, September 2008) that these lifestyle changes increase telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, the ends of your chromosomes that control how long you live. "Even drugs have not been shown to do this", Dean Ornish, MD.

Boy, think about the hope for better health that comes from making positive lifestyle choices! Just with this focus on self - care, our healthcare costs could potentially decrease!

Finally, I would like you to think about viewing your symptoms that "show up" for you as opportunities for taking better care of yourself (view them as your "teachers"). I am sure that each of you has symptoms like headaches, stomach upset, neck tension, etc. that come and go for you. View them as an "engine light" going off in your car. You wouldn't continue to drive around with the light on (hopefully). So, why continue to walk around with these symptoms? Learn from them. What is going on before they show up? When to they tend to show up? What did you eat? How much sleep have you had? What works to decrease the intensity of the symptom? Deal with your symptoms when they are "small". Do not wait until they become bigger and constant! Here, again you may need to seek out the help of a professional to guide you as you begin to focus on self - care for your own wellness.

Prevent trouble before it arises.
Put things in order before they exist.
The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.
(from chapter 64 of the Tao Te Ching, written by Lao-tzu,
from a translation by S. Mitchell)

Renee Lehman is a licensed acupuncturist, physical therapist, and Reiki Master with over 20 years of health care experience. Her office is located at 249B York Street in Gettysburg, PA.

She can be reached at 717-752-5728.

Read other article on well being by Renee Lehman