Health Controversies 2013: The Net Sum

 

An article titled “Confronting the Sorry State of U.S. Health” was published last year in the August 30, 2013 issue of the prestigious journal Science. It is a review of a 2013 report released by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine called U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health.” Both publications highlight the horrible state of U.S. health, but this question remains unanswered: what do we do about it?

If not solved, this problem can bring the U.S. economy to its knees due to both the expense of treatment and the loss of a productive, healthy workforce. There are many thoughts about where solutions might reside, and the Science article provides some insights. It is in the development of a new attitude toward health as a positive outcome through the application of personalized lifestyle health care. It represents a cultural transformation from that of a disease-focused economy to that of a health-focused economy. In terms of the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute and the nutrition industry at large it translates into the development of programs and products that support positive lifestyle choices and are personalized to the needs of the individual. The model we have been using for the management of sickness—the “pill for an ill” mentality—is just not working regardless of whether the pill is a pharmaceutical or a dietary supplement.

The recent studies published in the December 18, 2013 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine that demonstrated there was no benefit in terms of cardiovascular disease or cancer incidence in people taking a multivitamin supplement again point to the importance of taking nutritional supplements in the context of a proper lifestyle. The solution to chronic disease does not reside in one pill, but rather in a totally different way of approaching health care through matching genetic strengths and susceptibilities with the proper diet, nutrient intake, activity, stress and lifestyle patterns, and environment. This means that the future opportunity to create real value and positive outcome is derived from a systems approach to health.

The sustainable value proposition for the new health economy is to deliver health systems to individuals that meet his or her specific needs. These systems or programs must be fun, easily complied with, able to be delivered in institutional and group settings for professional and peer reinforcement, and produce positive measurable health and functional performance outcomes within a few weeks of being implemented. The use of social media, mobile health, and fitness monitoring devices and tools that address individual needs will power the success of this revolution in health. Programs and products that focus on personalized functional improvement in the fundamental physiological processes such as digestion, immune function, detoxification, hormone balancing, cardiovascular and neurological function, and structural integrity will deliver healthy aging outcomes.

I am convinced that both the pharmaceutical and dietary supplement industries are chasing an old model for which the future holds limited opportunity. The future “pot of gold” resides in the emergent understanding of how health derives out of the personalized interaction of our genes with our environment, lifestyle, and diet. The companies that can package programs and products that deliver successful health solutions to this new understanding of the biology of health and disease will be the winners of the future. The answers are clearly before us when we look at the epidemiological data and randomized clinical studies on pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements that indicate the solution to our current “sorry state of health” will not come from the next “breakthrough” drug or supplement, but rather through the implementation of programs and products that deliver a systems approach to improving physiological, cognitive, and physical function of the individual.

The net sum of this discussion is that the opportunity to do something truly remarkable in improving peoples’ health lies before us by harnessing that which is now known about systems health and its relationship to the personal interaction of an individual’s genetic potential with their lifestyle, environment and diet. This represents the “real deal” of the new health economy.

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