The Cost of Health

Recently, a patient commented to me that “supplements are so expensive.”  What struck me as peculiar about the statement was how ill the patient was prior to coming into our office and how much money he was probably spending on disease management for the his array of chronic illnesses.  I know that he wants to be healthy.  We all do, but I guess I found the objection to having to pay for health as a strange one considering he had certainly paid enough for his diseases.

I would figure that between his hypertension and diabetes along with his osteoarthritis and obesity, he had spent thousands of dollars just in deductibles and co-pays managing the symptoms of his various ailments.  Further, he’d probably spent countless hours dedicated to checking his blood pressure and sugars as well as doctor’s visits and working with other healthcare providers.  Yet, “supplements are so expensive” and exercise was an anathema.  I wish this patient was unique but, to be honest, I’ve worked with too many patients with the exact same perceptions about disease and health over the years.

It turns out that the reason this particular patient felt that the supplements were “expensive” was because he really had never taken them during is life, at least not in any meaningful way.  He also had invested very little time or money in regular exercise throughout his lifetime, never having belonged to a gym or making time for regular exercise.  When he got sick, he went to his doctor, like many people do, and, instead of being given solutions to improve his health, he was given an expensive pill that his insurance paid the lion’s share of and told to just live with the chronic illness.  In a nutshell, this patient reminded me of the cost of health versus being sick.

The simplest way to put the cost of your health in perspective is the true statement that being sick is a lot more expensive than being healthy.  I would argue, based on dealing with the public for over 15 years, that the list of reasons for neglecting your health is a long one.  Number one on that list, based on my experience, seems to be a fear of losing.  Ironically however, it’s not a fear losing their health.  I would even gather that many people mistakenly assume that losing health is an inevitability.

It seems to me, based on patient interactions over the years, there two common mitigating factors that patients fear to lose when relating to health:  Money and Time.  I’ve noticed that your ability to better manage these factors can have a direct substantial positive impact on your health.  While many claim to have a shortage of both, my personal experience as a healthcare provider has been that both are more a matter of confused priorities.  For many, health is just not as important as other commitments in their life.

You have to realize that health is an investment.  Just like investing money will produce a future financial return, so too will investing in your health more than likely pay dividends in the end.  If you are slow and deliberate, taking your time but remaining consistent, your wise health investment will most likely pay off in higher quality and prolonged life as you age.  If, however, you choose to largely ignore your investment, never donating the time or money that it takes to be well, then you can’t be surprised when you get little return on your health as you get older.

Many think that health is beyond their reach because it may be too expensive, but is that a matter of money or perception?  Have you set of a barrier of false beliefs regarding the cost of health that is preventing you from being well?  Do you live under the myth that being well is only for the rich?  Too often I see the patient who claims they can’t afford the costs of health but can afford a brand new car, fresh landscaping, or expensive meals eating out.  In that case, money isn’t the issue.  Priorities are.

Our ability to commit to ourselves has also been affected by our expectations from society.  Today we live in a culture that has been trained to rely on insurance to cover every health related eventuality and keep us well.  We forget, however, that insurance is just that: insurance meant to cover the unpredictable expense of disease.  As such, insurance doesn’t cover expenses related to prevention such as nutrition, exercise, and preventative chiropractic adjusting.  Insurance will cover what it takes to become healthy if you get sick, not prevention.  “But they cover annual physicals and blood work” you say?  There is nothing preventative about an annual physical or blood work.  These tests are actually a form of early detection, not prevention.  As such, your insurance will cover tests meant to detect disease but if you are looking to stay healthy and prevent disease, you will have to pay for that on your own.  So, it’s not a matter of “supplements are so expensive.”  It’s a matter of you having to get used to paying out of your own pocket for prevention and investing time and money on your own to stay well.

Lifelong health is within your reach if you are willing to change your preconceived notions about what it takes to be healthy.  You don’t have to join a fancy gym to exercise.  Try exercising at home.  Milk containers can substitute for weights (a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds) and walking is free.  Often, people also don’t realize that fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are cheaper than meals eating out or the packaged non-foods we so readily consume on a nearly daily basis.  Changing your diet and increasing your exercise will also help your body respond and adapt better to stress.  Further, supplementing your diet now with a good quality whole food supplement is a lot less exensive than treating the symptoms of a disease once you become ill.  Regular chiropractic adjusting for prevention and maintenance of health is also generally very affordable and within the budget of many people.  In fact, people are turning to chiropractors more and more for many non-back pain related health issues because of its effectiveness and low cost in maintaining health.

Additionally, you can’t confuse disease management with health.  We are literally bombarded regularly by advertising for all sorts of treatments and drugs which are sold to us as “health.”  Most, though, are really just symptom management and come with a hefty financial price tag.  While complex testing, medications, and doctor’s visits can be fairly expensive, the generally healthy person does not require these often.  Staying healthy is much cheaper than becoming sick.

The second perceived lack that prevents a person from being well is time but, to put it simply, it’s never a matter of time.  It’s a mater of priorities.  Have you ever wondered how a certain person “finds the time” to exercise or is able to regularly cook healthy meals.  The truth is that we all have 24 hours in a day.  Sure, you have kids, and work, and stuff.  We all do.  The difference between the healthy person and the ill person is not that they necessarily have more time.  It’s that exercise and planning for a healthy lifestyle is more of a priority for them.

For the health conscious, catching up on the latest television episode, sleeping in, or putting in extra time at work just isn’t as important as healthy habits.  As a result, they make the time.  Having kids is not an excuse either.  Kids have to sleep sometime and adults require far less sleep than children do.  A viable option is to either exercise before they wake up or actually make them exercise with you.  Who knows, maybe you’ll pass your good habits on to them so that they’ll be healthier adults.

Time is a linear factor.  All of us are subject to its daily limitations on our physiology.  Are you mastering your time or is time mastering you?  One activity I have my patients in the office do, and I suggest you try it, is sit down and write down all of the tasks you do during the day.  Almost without exception, people have more than enough time to exercise in the day.  Too often, people are very surprised at how much down-time they have and time they really waste during the day where they could be more productive.  If all that time were set end to end , there would be plenty of time and then some for better health choices.

“But I’m so tired.  I’m just so busy all the time and don’t have the energy,” you may say.  Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that improving your lifestyle may actually increase your energy levels.  Not only will a better planned day reduce your stress, but you’ll be sure to set time aside for assuring your wellbeing.  Further, improved health will remove illness as a distraction and may even help you get things done more effectively during the day.

So, is your reason for not being healthy as out of your control as you perceive?  Or, more likely, have you set up excuses that prevent you from growing and fulfilling your health potential.  No matter the reason, there is a solution for the self imposed limitations that we hide behind.  When all is considered, you must keep the end in mind.  Ultimately, you’ll need to put some skin in the game to achieve and maintain your own health.  Investing a little now in your health will, most like, pay large health dividends in the end because in the long run, the cost of health is a lot cheaper than the price of disease.

Overfed But Undernourished: Why Supplementation Matters

One of the cornerstones of our chiropractic practice is proper nutrition.  Indeed, eating a healthy diet and supplementing for the holes in a healthy diet should be a cornerstone of any health related practice.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, however, I’ve found that very few people ever even give rational though to how they are feeding their body.

The truth is, you will only be able to remain well with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Your body requires a variety of certain nutrients in order to fight of disease and preserve your health.  Too little of certain good nutrients can lead to diseases like neuropathy or cancer.  Too much of the bad stuff can lead to heart disease or diabetes.  The job of the individual looking to become and stay healthy is to find the happy medium that balances nutritional requirements without consuming excess calories or chemicals from their diet.

It can truly be said that, as Americans, we are overfed but undernourished.   The results of this lifestyle are plain.  We now suffer from skyrocketing obesity rates and chronic illness continues to rise.  Despite having one of the most sophisticated “healthcare” delivery systems in the world, we’re not getting any healthier.

One of the ways we attempt to improve the overall health of all of the patients in our office is through improved nutrition.   Some of this comes in the form of nutritional supplementation.  I’ve realized over the years that one of the reasons so many people are overweight is that they are getting so few nutrients from their food.  Food quality is not today what it was 50 years ago.  We’re literally bathed in food that’s high in calories and additives but very low in nutrients.  As a result, we end up eating more and more just to satisfy the minimum nutritional requirements of our body.  So, we eat and eat and eat just to get to the minimum nutrient requirement your body needs to function.  The problem is that the unhealthy foods we are eating are very calorie rich, causing us to literally burst at the seams.

During our patient intake process, I ask patients if they are taking supplements.  Not surprisingly, the few people who do take supplements are largely just taking a ‘pot-shot’ in the dark, offering little if any health benefit.  Often their decision on certain supplements is not based on health, training, or guidance by a healthcare provider, but is based on advertising.  Worse, I’ve had patients who believe or have been told, even by their own healthcare provider, that vitamins are “worthless” or “a waste of money.”  The ironic and sad thing is that many of the patients who mistakenly believe this disinformation are some of the most ill new patients we see in our office, often taking the most medication.  The bad advice they have been given is sabotaging their health.

Here are several reasons why taking a nutritional supplement is critical to maintaining your health:

1.       Many people don’t eat the diet they should – In our busy world, many of us eat a diet of convenience.  Meaning, we eat what we can when we can.   Our diets are nutrient poor, high calorie, and laced with artificial chemicals.  We give little though to what we eat, how we eat, and when we’re eating it.   Worse, many people who think they’re eating a healthy diet have never really sat down and evaluated what they really eat during the day.  Many are surprised at how shockingly bad their diet really is when they do a 7 day diet intake analysis.

2.       General food quality has declined – With an increase in convenience foods, from fast food to microwavable meals, our food quality has suffered.  We’ve moved away from cooking and preparing fresh food at home to “picking something up” or “grabbing a bite.”  Restaurants also include additional salt and MSG to enhance the flavor of their foods and thus generate repeat customers.

3.       Nutrient content of even the good food we eat is on the decline – Think about it.  We are growing enough food in the U.S. to feed the largest population ever, over 300 million people.  That doesn’t even include the food and food supplies we send to other countries.  The problem is that we are growing it on the fewest number of farms in a century.  So, what happens when you grow more and more food on less and less land?  The nutrient content of the food declines.  In other words, a carrot nowadays does not have the same nutrient levels as it did in 1950.

4.       How we cook our foods depletes many of the natural nutrients found in healthy foods – The cooking process can often destroy naturally occurring nutritional and digestive enzymes found in raw foods.  This is particularly true of fruits and vegetables.  Further, cooking and preparing meals often adds undesirable elements such as greases and oils, not to mention chemical additives.

5.       As we age we absorb fewer nutrients from our food – Do you honestly think that a 70 year old will absorb the same nutrients from food as a 17 year old?  Of course not!  As we age, our digestive system ages with us.  Just as our muscles may not function like they used to, so does our digestion.  It’s critical then to supplement those nutrients for which we may have a problem digesting and absorbing as we age.

6.       The medications we take may prevent absorption of certain nutrients and deplete nutrients from our body – There are several examples of medications that affect nutrient absorption.  For example, acid reducers for acid reflux neutralize stomach acid which is required for calcium absorption.  Likewise, cholesterol medication decreases vitamin D production in the liver, which is also critical to calcium absorption.  Cholesterol medication also decreases the body’s production of Coenzyme Q10 which is a critical antioxidant and important for cellular energy.  Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut that produce vitamin K.  Even the pain medication you’re taking can deplete a multitude of nutrients from vitamin C to Zinc.  And the list goes on…

Not taking a supplement in this age of nutritional decline is a mistake.  Even if you do eat a healthy diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need to stay well.

So what supplement should you take?  That depends on your individual health status and your ability to supplement.  I generally recommend that anyone looking to make a serious change in their nutrition consult with a healthcare provider.  That being said, make sure that the people you take your health advice from are in the health business and not the disease management business.  Just because a provider may understand the cause and treatment of disease, does not necessarily mean that they understand what it takes to be healthy.  Managing the symptoms of your disease is not the same as being healthy.  Don’t confuse the two.

Supplementation is a crucial aspect to being healthy.  With regard to which supplements to choose from the infinite choices, we’ll discuss that in a future blog.