I often wonder if chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, are man-made. I know this is a bold thought, but it’s really hard for me to believe that we were created with the intention to suffer from disease. Unfortunately, there is no way we will ever know the answer to this notion, as it is beyond the scope of recorded medical history. At minimum, I believe there is enough current scientific evidence to suggest that the prevalence and increasing rate of chronic illness is attributable to mankind….that is, lifestyle and environmental conditions.
For example, current rates of cancer in the United States are alarmingly high. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of developing some form of cancer is over 43% for males and 38% for females! Meanwhile, the global incidence of cancer is extremely varied, depending on geography. Cancer’s “global footprint” identifies the United States, parts of Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand as having the highest incidence of cancer in all forms.
The fact that more people are suffering from chronic illness these days, coupled with the geographic variability, certainly validates my perception that we are (at minimum) exacerbating our potential to acquire chronic diseases.
Following are some insightful excerpts that I pulled from a report published by the World Health Organization:
“The diets people eat, in all their cultural variety, define to a large extent people’s health, growth and development….The continuity of the life course is seen in the way that both undernutrition and overnutrition (as well as a host of other factors) play a role in the development of chronic disease. The effects of man-made and natural environments (and the interaction between the two) on the development of chronic diseases are increasingly recognized….There is a continuity in the influences contributing to chronic disease development, and thus also to the opportunities for prevention….Adult chronic disease, therefore, reflects cumulative differential lifetime exposures to damaging physical and social environments….There is a vast volume of scientific evidence highlighting the importance of applying a life-course approach to the prevention and control of chronic disease….Small changes in risk factors in the majority who are at moderate risk can have an enormous impact in terms of population-attributable risk of death and disability.”
Based on my interpretation of this WHO report, it is apparent that the choices we make in life are a huge determining factor of whether or not we will acquire a chronic illness in our lifetime. While no one is “immune” to disease, I believe there are many things we can do from a prevention standpoint. And if we pay more attention to prevention….we can decrease the chance of eventual intervention.
I will leave you with one last thought that is related to those who have already acquired a chronic disease. If the development of chronic disease is largely attributable to the cumulative effects of identifiable behaviors – such as unhealthy eating, sedentary lifestyle, etc – could there be potential for someone to de-acquire chronic disease by making necessary lifestyle modification? In other words, if there are certain things we can do from a prevention standpoint to fend off chronic disease, does this same potential exist for the reversibility of such disease? Now THAT would be something.