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Understanding Chronic Diseases: Types, Risks, Prevention & Management

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A few decades ago, a large number of people were dying due to infectious diseases. With hygiene becoming a priority and along with the advent of vaccinations and modern medicine, death due to infectious diseases has been curbed to a large extent. However, in the same period, a new threat had emerged and taken its place. 75% of today’s healthcare burden is due to chronic diseases or lifestyle complications.

What are chronic diseases?

Chronic disease is usually defined as a condition that lasts three months or longer and may get worse over time. And it primarily occurs due to faulty lifestyle; hence it’s also referred to as lifestyle disorder or disease.

Are you thinking about how chronic disease is different from Acute disease?

Acute diseases develop suddenly and last for a short period of time, often for a few days or weeks. They are primarily due to infections, trauma or accidents.

On the other hand, chronic diseases develop slowly – often without the patient’s realisation – and may worsen over a few months or years.

Why is chronic disease becoming a global pandemic?

Modern medicine is fully prepared to deal with acute medical emergencies and surgeries. However, it has fallen short when it comes to dealing with chronic diseases. Why is this so?

To truly comprehend the nature of a disease, it is important to shift the focus away from just addressing the parts, i.e. a disease model. Instead, recognize that the root issue lies in the functional dysregulation that occurs before any pathology.

The conventional medicine approach is to control the symptoms and or the blood parameters using medications. This sits well with acute illnesses that are of short duration. But when it comes to chronic diseases, merely keeping the symptoms in check will not cure the patient at any stage.

Thus, chronic illness often becomes a lifelong misery. And because patients are not cured, the total number of patients suffering from lifestyle-related chronic illnesses has been piling up every day. Unfortunately, due to this, the global healthcare system is overburdened to the extent of almost crumbling.

Chronic disease is now a pandemic that kills twice as many people around the world every year, as infectious diseases. If we look at income loss as a percentage of GDP, on a conservative side, India’s income loss is approximately 1.6-1.9%.

Why is it important to understand chronic diseases?

As and when we are diagnosed with a chronic disease, conventional medicine will make us believe that it is incurable and that we have to ‘manage’ and live with it for life. That is because conventional medicine focuses on the symptoms of the disease and looks to keep those symptoms in check with surgery and or drugs.

On the other hand, a holistic, integrative functional medicine approach looks to isolate and treat the root cause(s) of the chronic disease and its underlying dysfunctions (dysbiosis, inflammation, deficiencies, toxicities, etc.). Treating the disease from the root cause helps to prevent or reverse the disease completely.

Moreover, chronic diseases manifest in different parts of the body or in different organs. For example, when we look at the symptoms, we only look at the local area where the symptom is showing. But the root cause(s) of the disease maybe elsewhere.

In fact, most of the root causes of chronic diseases are linked to a few common reasons, such as inflammation, infections, gut dysbiosis, weak immune system, poor sleep, lack of movement and exercise, stress, dehydration, lack of sunlight, exposure to environmental toxins, poor nutrition, weakened mitochondria etc.

One disease can have many causes and one cause can create many diseases.

Thus, we see that all these disorders have either been completely misunderstood or incompletely understood so far, and the trend has been to treat them with a reflexive prescription of drugs. The need of the hour is a paradigm shift in our perception of chronic disease and its treatment.

Types Of Chronic Diseases

Chronic diseases can be related to cardiovascular, respiratory, cancer, diabetes, gut, skin, brain, hypertension & high cholesterol, thyroid or adrenal and joints. We will discuss each of these in more detail hereafter.

Gut-related chronic disease:

Our gut houses 70% of our immune system. Hence, all chronic disease starts in the gut when this immunity is compromised. Hence, when we experience prolonged acidity, bloating, gassiness, diarrhoea, constipation and brain for, it is time to investigate.

Under such circumstances, we usually take antacids or proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs). However, such prescriptions can be counter-productive because the real problem is not high stomach acid. The real problem is low stomach acid and or poor gut lining.

The major chronic gut diseases that people suffer from are Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Celiac Disease and Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

There are three basic aspects which are common to all gut-related diseases. These are:

  • Microbiome environment: This entails the gut flora or how much of good vs harmful bacteria and fungi are present in the gut. When the health or quantity or quality of the good bacteria is hampered, it causes disturbances in the gut environment or Gut Dysbiosis.
  • Gut lining: Our gut is lined by a wall which is similar to a net with small holes. These small holes filter and allow the passage of certain substances only and keep the harmful substances from entering the body. The gut lining is an intelligent barrier system or the gate-keeper of our gut. When the quality of the gate-keeper is compromised, it invites vulnerability and invasion of unwanted elements. The nutrition from food will leak into the bloodstream as a foreign particle due to the leaky gut along with unwanted toxins that are present in our blood.
  • Immune system: 70% of our immune system is located within the gut lining. A poor gut will lead to a weakened immune system more prone to viral infections and diseases. To maintain an excellent immune system, we need good sleep, hydration, exercise, movement etc.

Gut-related diseases can be resolved in many ways. One effective method is, consuming high quality probiotic and prebiotics strains that promote good bacteria growth. Another way is, identifying food intolerances and avoiding inflammatory foods.

List of gut-related chronic diseases

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that leads to pain in abdomen and bowel changes. IBS is a problem that causes abdominal pain, cramping, and changes in your bowel movements. IBS is known as a functional bowel disorder, and is not considered a disease. What I mean by that, is when a doctor passes a colonoscope into the colon to look around, everything may look perfectly normal – but yet, your colon may not be not be acting normal at all! Symptoms of IBS can range from mild to severe. The main symptoms are diarrhea, constipation, or both. And you will probably experience abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. These symptoms often will temporarily improve after having a bowel movement, and that instant relief of course feels good. But, the important thing to understand is that the root of the problem often isn’t here (abdomen), it’s here (head).  IBS is a classic example of your mind affecting your bowels. It’s rarely seen in folks who are not stressed, anxious, or depressed. It’s often hard to determine why people get IBS. It has been found that IBS is twice as common in women as it is in men, and can develop at any age, but most get it as teenagers or in early adulthood. Diet can also cause IBS. Foods that often cause IBS symptoms are Fatty foods, such as French fries, or any drink containing caffeine like coffee and tea.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a term that describes disorders involving long-standing (chronic) inflammation of tissues in your digestive tract. Types of IBD include: 1.Ulcerative colitis. This condition involves inflammation and sores (ulcers) along the lining of your large intestine (colon) and rectum.Crohn’s disease. This type of IBD is characterized by inflammation of the lining of your digestive tract, which often can involve the deeper layers of the digestive tract. Crohn’s disease most commonly affects the small intestine. However, it can also affect the large intestine and uncommonly, the upper gastrointestinal tract. Both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease usually are characterized by diarrhea, rectal bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss. For some people, IBD is only a mild illness. For others, it’s a debilitating condition that can lead to life-threatening complications.It is often due to consumption of ultra processed foods – a trifecta of excess sugars , refined carbs and refined oils.Other factors implicated are gluten and A1 dairy products.
  • Celiac disease – sometimes called celiac sprue or gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye.If you have celiac disease, eating gluten triggers an immune response in your small intestine. Over time, this reaction damages your small intestine’s lining and prevents it from absorbing some nutrients (malabsorption). The intestinal damage often causes diarrhea, fatigue, weight loss, bloating and anemia, and can lead to serious complications.
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – The acid which is supposed to be in the stomach reaches the food pipe due to the lax LES ( Lower Esophageal Sphincter) and irritates it causing heartburn and even chronic throat irritation and asthma if not treated properly. The main reason for GERD is Low Stomach acid (and not high stomach acid) due to consumption of ultraprocessed foods.

Taking supplements and digestive enzymes that support the gut and prevent growth of bad bacteria is also helpful. Managing stress with yoga and meditation can reduce gut-related issues. Avoiding sugary and processed foods and taking gut healing nutrients is essential.

However, the first and most crucial step is to get a thorough test done to understand and address the underlying dysfunction(s). Otherwise, we may end up treating the wrong diagnosis.

Skin-related chronic diseases

Our Skin is an active organ that acts as a barrier that not only keeps toxins out but also releases toxins, through sweating for instance. However, when there is a high toxin load or inflammation in the body, it can show up on the surface of your skin as various diseases.

List of skin-related chronic diseases

  • Psoriasis – It is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in your skin. Symptoms of psoriasis include thick areas of discolored skin covered with scales. These thick, scaly areas are called plaques. Psoriasis is a complex, chronic, multifactorial, inflammatory disease that involves hyperproliferation of the keratinocytes in the epidermis, with an increase in the epidermal cell turnover rate (see the image below). Environmental, genetic, and immunologic factors appear to play a role. The disease most commonly manifests on the skin of the elbows, knees, scalp, lumbosacral areas, intergluteal clefts, and glans penis. In up to 30% of patients, the joints are also affected.
  • Eczema –  Eczema is a skin condition that causes dry and itchy patches of skin. It’s a common condition that isn’t contagious. Symptoms of eczema can flare up if you contact an irritant or an allergen. There are several types of eczema. Each type has unique triggers that can affect your skin’s barrier function, including:
    • Atopic dermatitis.
    • Contact dermatitis.
    • Dyshidrotic eczema
    • Neurodermatitis.
    • Nummular eczema.
    • Seborrheic dermatitis.
    • Common triggers include:
    • Gluten ( Wheat )
    • A1 dairy irritants – such as soaps and detergents, environmental factors or allergens – such as cold and dry weather, dampness, and more specifically house dust mites, pollen and moulds.
  • Rosacea – A condition that causes redness and often small, red, pus-filled bumps on the face. Rosacea most commonly affects middle-aged women with fair skin. Common causes are exposure to sunlight, stress, strenuous exercise, hot or cold weather, hot drinks, alcohol and caffeine, certain foods, such as spicy foods.
  • Vitiligo – Autoimmune disorder affecting the melanocytes that the skin changes into white patches because of destruction of melanocytes producing melanin.Vitiligo causes your skin to lose color or pigmentation. Smooth white or light areas called macules or patches appear on your skin. It generally starts on your hands, forearms, feet and face. Globally, about 1% of the population has vitiligo.

Most of these diseases are associated with infections, inflammation, dehydration, and autoimmunity, use of antibiotics & steroid, and nutritional insufficiencies due to a poor gut rather than a problem with the skin itself.

A holistic, integrative, functional medicine approach views skin conditions as an external symptom of an underlying imbalance. It is an inside out— rather than the outside in – approach and solution.

Many studies have shown that there is a direct link between gut dysfunction and skin conditions. This association is commonly called the gut-skin axis. Therefore, any changes to the gut microbiome alters the immune function, promoting skin conditions.

Likewise, inflammation increases due to intestinal barrier or gut lining disturbances. Increased intestinal permeability (leaky gut) drives immune dysfunction and systemic inflammation, thus promoting skin symptoms development.

Every chronic skin disease can have a unique pathophysiology. Understanding the root cause of the disorder is the first step to its treatment. The functional medicine approach provides solutions that are tailored to your skin condition. This solution maybe a combination of the following interventions:

  • Identifying and removing triggers such as foods and chemical products (soaps, detergents etc.)
  • Optimizing hormone levels and detoxifying hormones
  • Addressing gut imbalances
  • Eliminating processed foods and ensuring adequate protein, healthy fats and other nutrients
  • Optimizing stress hormones and insulin sensitivity
  • Reducing systemic and local inflammation
  • Exercise and detoxify your body
  • Hydrating your body with structured water, thereby keeping your skin hydrated

Brain-related chronic diseases:

The brain is susceptible to infection, deficiency, toxins and inflammation. Over a period of time, such problems can destroy neural tissues, leaving the brain weak and impaired.

Early signs like problems with memory, confusion and mood changes should be noticed. If left unchecked for an extended period, this 30+ year process degenerates the brain tissue and causes disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Our old way of thinking of these issues needs to move from purely a behavioural standpoint too. More importantly, changes in the neurotransmitter neurochemistry – that we also have to deal with by looking at allostatic load or inflammation – must also be included.

List of brain related chronic diseases:

  • Alzheimer’s disease – The most common cause of Dementia worldwide. It is also called type 3 Diabetes because there is central nervous system insulin resistance that underlies the pathology.There is always an energy deficit in the brain because of glucose hypometabolism.
  • Parkinson’s disease – It is a brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance and coordination.Symptoms usually begin gradually and worsen over time. As the disease progresses, people may have difficulty walking and talking. They may also have mental and behavioral changes, sleep problems, depression, memory difficulties, and fatigue.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – Autoimmune disorder , potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system). In MS, the immune system attacks the protective sheath (myelin) that covers nerve fibers and causes communication problems between your brain and the rest of your body. Eventually, the disease can cause permanent damage or deterioration of the nerve fibers.Symptoms can range from muscle weakness to vision loss.
  • Epilepsy – Epilepsy is a disorder of the brain characterized by repeated seizures. A seizure is usually defined as a sudden alteration of behavior due to a temporary change in the electrical functioning of the brain. Normally, the brain continuously generates tiny electrical impulses in an orderly pattern.

These impulses travel along neurons — the network of nerve cells in the brain — and throughout the whole body via chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.In epilepsy the brain’s electrical rhythms have a tendency to become imbalanced, resulting in recurrent seizures. In patients with seizures, the normal electrical pattern is disrupted by sudden and synchronized bursts of electrical energy that may briefly affect their consciousness, movements or sensations.

There is bi-directional communication between the gut and the brain through the gut-brain-microbiome or the GBM axis. The gut produces most neurotransmitters, and hence it is essential to preserve gut health.

Degenerative conditions (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and vascular Dementia) are rooted in inflammation, insulin resistance, blood sugar imbalance, environmental toxicity, sedentary lifestyle, stress, poor sleep, gut infections and dysbiosis.

The good news is that the brain creates about 700 neurons per day in the hippocampus, which allows the hippocampus to maintain its central function. This means that regeneration of the brain cells is possible.

Thus, degenerative brain diseases or those resulting from traumatic brain injuries can not only be stopped from worsening, but can be reversed.

Treatment of chronic brain-related disease entails identifying the causes of and stopping degeneration and then helping the process of regeneration of neural cells.

Factors that help in the regeneration of brain cells are physical and mental exercise, stress relief, good sleep, healthy gut, keeping hydrated with structured water, removal of infections, reduction in toxic load etc.

Moreover, 60-75% of the brain comprises fats. Thus, nutrition in the form of good fats (omega 3, flaxseeds, avocado, fatty fish, etc.) are of much help. It is a myth that medicine slows down the brain degeneration process.

Hypertension-related chronic diseases:

Firstly, people often wonder – is hypertension a chronic disease?

The answer is – yes.

Hypertension is said to be of two types. They are as follows:

  • Essential or primary hypertension: When hypertension is caused due to insulin resistance and high insulin levels it is called Essential hypertension or primary hypertension. However, functional practitioners opine that the term “essential hypertension” is a misnomer as hypertension due to insulin resistance is not necessarily age-related. Similarly, the term “primary hypertension” is also misleading as the causes are not very obvious.
  • Secondary hypertension: When hypertension occurs due to underlying conditions such as Endocrine (Pheochromocytoma), Cushing’s syndrome, hyperthyroidism, hyperparathyroidism, renal parenchymal disease and vascular disorders like aortic coarctation, it is called secondary hypertension.

High blood pressure is usually a result of inflammation from infection or food that leads to insulin resistance, magnesium deficiency due to poor nutrition and Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of exposure to sunlight.

High BP is usually kept in check with medications and controlled salt intake. However, the condition can also be reversed by following an integrative and functional approach. This entails assessing and addressing the root cause and preparing an individualised plan.

Chronic hypertension is not a disease to be ignored or taken lightly. In the long-term, it can cause many health complications such as enlargement of the heart, heart failure, stroke and chronic kidney disease.

The symptoms of hypertension are headache, sweating, kidney issues, constant stress, blood vessel rupture and increased sugar levels. But in a majority of cases, it can also be asymptomatic.

Thyroid and Adrenal-related chronic diseases

The primary thyroid and adrenal-related chronic diseases are Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, Addison’s disease and Cushing’s syndrome.

List of Thyroid and Adrenal-related chronic diseases

  • Hypothyroidism – The term hypo means less and hypothyroidism necessarily means that the thyroid is not functioning well to maintain body functions.It is primarily due to an Autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The other causes could be Insulin resistance, Chronic Stress, Iodine deficiency. Symptoms may include Tiredness, More sensitivity to cold, Constipation, Dry skin, Weight gain, Puffy face, Hoarse voice, Coarse hair and skin, Muscle weakness, Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness, Menstrual cycles that are heavier than usual or irregular, Thinning hair, Slowed heart rate, also called bradycardia, depression, memory problems.
  • Hyperthyroidism – overactive thyroid literally causing increased metabolism primarily affecting the nervous system and cardiovascular system. It is due to autoimmune condition called Graves disease.Symptoms include Losing weight without trying.Fast heartbeat, a condition called tachycardia, irregular heartbeat(also called arrhythmia), pounding of the heart (sometimes called heart palpitation), increased hunger, nervousness, anxiety and irritability, tremor, usually a small trembling in the hands and fingers, sweating, changes in menstrual cycles, increased sensitivity to heat, changes in bowel patterns, especially more-frequent bowel movements, enlarged thyroid gland, sometimes called a goiter, which may appear as a swelling at the base of the neck, tiredness, muscle weakness & sleep problems.
  • Addison’s disease , also called adrenal insufficiency, is an uncommon illness that occurs when the body doesn’t make enough of certain hormones. In Addison’s disease, the adrenal glands make too little cortisol and, often, too little of another hormone, aldosterone. Addison’s disease can affect anyone and can be life-threatening. Treatment involves taking hormones to replace those that are missing.
  • Cushing’s syndrome occurs when your body has too much of the hormone cortisol over time. This can result from taking oral corticosteroid medication. Or your body might produce too much cortisol.Too much cortisol can cause some of the hallmark signs of Cushing syndrome — a fatty hump between your shoulders, a rounded face, and pink or purple stretch marks on your skin. Cushing syndrome can also result in high blood pressure, bone loss and, on occasion, type 2 diabetes.

Conventional treatment usually prescribes metabolic creating or antithyroid drugs to keep thyroid-related chronic diseases in check. However, in the integrative functional medicine approach, the reason for the imbalance and impairment is identified, and endocrine disruptors are understood.

Thereafter, a treatment protocol is designed specifically for the individual so that the glands can produce the required thyroxine hormones and help restore thyroid hormone balance and promote thyroid health.

This treatment protocol may entail supplements for Iodine, Selenium, Magnesium, Zinc, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin A and Vitamin D along with anti-inflammatory diet, stress relief, exercise, adequate sleep, improving gut & liver health, and reduction of toxin exposure and systemic inflammation.

Joint issues-related chronic diseases:

Some of the common joint-related chronic diseases are Osteoarthritis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Gout and Lupus. The common causes of these chronic diseases are degeneration and inflammation.

  • Osteoarthritis – Degenerative disorder affecting the joints.It is often due to Insulin resistance causing inflammatory damage to the joints & increased load often often plays a role. Osteoarthritis is more likely to develop as people age. The changes in osteoarthritis usually occur slowly over many years, though there are occasional exceptions. Inflammation and injury to the joint cause bony changes, deterioration of tendons and ligaments and a breakdown of cartilage, resulting in pain, swelling, and deformity of the joint.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis – Autoimmune condition affecting the synovium of the joints. It is often a  painful condition crippling the normal function of the body.RA mainly attacks the joints, usually many joints at once. RA commonly affects joints in the hands, wrists, and knees. In a joint with RA, the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, causing damage to joint tissue. This tissue damage can cause long-lasting or chronic pain, unsteadiness (lack of balance), and deformity (misshapenness).RA can also affect other tissues throughout the body and cause problems in organs such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.
  • Gout -Gout is a painful form of arthritis. When your body has extra uric acid, sharp crystals can form in your joints (usually your big toe). Flare-ups of symptoms like pain and swelling come and go in periods called gout attacks. Increased uric acid often more than 5.5 mg % with its deposition in the big toe and other joints causes excruciating pain.It is due to increased consumption of fructose , purines and most importantly insulin resistance.
  • Lupus -Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), commonly referred to simply as lupus, is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause swelling (inflammation) and pain throughout your body. When you have an autoimmune disease, your body’s immune system fights itself. The immune system is supposed to fight possible threats to the body — infections, for example — but, in this case, it goes after healthy tissue.If you have lupus, you might experience joint pain, skin sensitivities and rashes, and issues with internal organs (brain, lungs, kidneys and heart). Many of your symptoms might come and go in waves — often called flare-ups. At times, symptoms of lupus might be mild or not noticeable (meaning they’re in remission). Other times, you could experience severe symptoms of the condition that heavily impact your daily life.

There can be several contributory factors to joint-related chronic disease. Degeneration leading to wear and tear, weight, activity level, environment, presence of infections and toxins, and lifestyle habits – all play a role. Low sun exposure, poor-quality water and Vitamin D deficiency are also essential factors.

While conventional treatment involves pain relief medications along with supplements, the patient eventually may need replacement surgery.

On the contrary, integrative and functional medicine treatment looks to eliminate the pain, balance the inflammation, stop the degeneration and prevent further damage to the joints.

This inflammation balancing is possible only after identification of the root cause(s). Osteoarthritis treatment includes lifestyle changes, nutrition, meditation and exercise, and dietary supplements.

Risk Factors And Chronic Diseases

Some common risk factors are at the root of most chronic diseases and may be classified as behavioural, biological, and environmental.

  • Behavioural risk factors: Most chronic diseases are due to poor lifestyle choices. An unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, consumption of alcohol and tobacco, stress, and poor quality of water can trigger chronic diseases. These bad habits need to be avoided, and good habits such as proper diet and nutrition, regular physical exercise, yoga, meditation, rest and sleep, hydration etc., must be developed.
  • Biological risk factors: Chronic diseases are mainly influenced by environmental factors and epigenetics rather than age, gender, family history, or genetic disposition. Therefore, age and family history do not significantly impact chronic diseases. However, autoimmune disorders are common in the young and middle-aged groups, whereas chronic degenerative diseases are common in older people. Women are more prone to autoimmune disorders, whereas premenopausal women are less prone to metabolic disorders due to hormonal protective effects.
  • Environmental risk factors: This includes air pollution, occupational hazards and socio-economic factors. Air pollution leads to chronic respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD and also contributes to metabolic disorders. Poor working conditions – especially in developing countries – lead to pneumoconiosis, dermatitis, hearing loss, stress and mental disorders.  And lastly, consumption of sugar (which has been made more affordable with time) and ultra-processed/junk foods is causing diabetes and gout even in the lower socio-economic strata. Once upon a time, these used to be diseases associated with aristocracy.

Prevention And Management  Of Chronic Diseases

As they say, prevention is better than cure. Unfortunately, modern-day medicine focuses on quick fixes rather than a permanent cure. Therefore, it’s essential to prioritize your well-being because a healthy body & mind leads to a prosperous future.

There are numerous ways in which we can prevent the occurrence of chronic diseases. These can be divided into four stages.

  • Primary prevention: This involves adoption of a healthy lifestyle, addressing risk factors and public health policies and government initiatives. The basic idea is to preserve your health without succumbing to chronic diseases.
  • Secondary prevention: This includes early detection and screening, along with chronic disease management programs. The idea is to detect the disease in pathology before it begins to manifest itself clinically. For instance, if you regularly monitor your blood sugar or other lead indicator parameters, you will know early on when pre-diabetes sets in. It is easier to reverse the disease at this stage. As the phrase goes – a stitch in time, saves nine.
  • Tertiary prevention: This is the least effective way to prevent the disease. It includes rehabilitation, support services and palliative care. Unfortunately, the healthcare sector focuses on tertiary prevention at the moment. It comes into action after the chronic disease has already manifested as per clinical diagnosis and seeks to prevent the situation from worsening. For instance, you are already diagnosed with BP or diabetes and the doctor prescribes medications that will have to take lifelong to keep it under control.
  • Chronic disease self-management: This entails developing self-management skills, educating patients about their condition and empowering them, and offering them support as healthcare professionals. There is a plethora of misinformation available to us in today’s digitized world. Hence, it is challenging to know the correct protocol to follow for a healthy life. For example, saturated fats have been demonized as a causative factor for heart disease. However, that perception has changed with time as science moved forward. A medical practitioner should help his patients with the right knowledge.

Conclusion

Conventional treatment is practised with the mindset that chronic conditions are lifelong and must be managed with the use of medication and precautions. It does not seek to ‘cure’ the disease; hence, the number of chronic patients increases daily.

And every chronic patient is turned into a patient for life. In turn, it overburdens our already crumbling healthcare infrastructure. Juxtaposed to this, a holistic, integrative and functional medicine approach seeks to identify the root cause of the disease(s).

Rather than keeping the symptoms in check with medications, it treats the root cause(s) and reverses the disease. This allows the patient to live a disease and medication-free quality life. It may appear reasonable to us that modern medicine is practiced through specializations and sub-specializations. But human biology is far more complex, and all body systems are interlinked.

Specialists will serve the purpose if we want to treat the local-area symptoms. But to treat the root cause(s) and reverse the disease, the imbalances, insufficiencies and deficiencies across the body have to be identified.

Therefore, the body must be looked at as a whole set of interlinked systems, i.e. holistically.

It is a myth that chronic illnesses are genetic or age related only. The fact is, that chronic illnesses are non-communicable – that is, they do not travel from person to person, even through genes.

Instead, the impact of our internal and external environment on our genes makes us fall chronically ill. This impact is called epigenetics.

Extensive research in the fields of science and medicine in the last few decades has made it possible for us to decode the root cause(s) of diseases in a more scientific way.

This, in turn, has made it possible to reverse the pathophysiology involved. Most chronic conditions have few common denominators – insulin resistance, inflammation, infections, gut dysbiosis, weak immune system, poor sleep, lack of movement and exercise, stress, dehydration, lack of sunlight, exposure to environmental toxins, poor nutrition, and weakened mitochondria.

Hence, these diseases are preventable/ reversible once these common denominators are treated. All of these are foodable rather than druggable – that is, they can be treated with nutrition and lifestyle changes rather than medicines.

Given its success rate in the reversal of chronic diseases, holistic, integrative functional medicine is the way forward. Soon, all chronic ailments will be treated with health preservation, nutrition and lifestyle changes.

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