By Dr. Mercola
As recently reported by CNN Health1 and Time Magazine,2 five things account for nearly two-thirds of all deaths in the US, or about 900,000 each year:
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Unintentional injuries, including medication overdoses and car accidents
According to a recent Morbidity and Mortality report3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at least one-third of all of these deaths could be prevented. As noted by CNN:
“We already know how to do it -- now we need to act on what we know. Whether it's by investing resources, using proven strategies or coordinating with health care systems, we have within our communities the strengths to help people live long and healthy lives.
Even identifying and focusing on just one issue that can be addressed in each community will make a difference. The greatest impact comes when we make the default choice the healthy choice -- for example, making heart-healthy actions part of the normal course of everyday life.”
The Top Three Dietary Ingredients That Promote Early Death
Personally, I believe far more than one-third of these deaths are preventable, provided you factor in the most obvious root causes, which CNN fails to do in its report.
For example, while smoking and lack of exercise are certainly health hazards, a far greater concern that affects far more people is diet-related factors that have become the norm.
I also believe that smoking is a relatively minor factor when you compare it to the misinformation and reliance on a medical system that consistently fails to address the cause of disease but mainly relies on expensive drugs riddled with side effects—many times terminal—that in no way treat the cause.
The root cause of most health problems lies in the food they chose to eat. Recognize that Americans spend about 95 percent of their food dollars on processed foods, most of which contain one or more of the three ingredients that promote the most chronic disease. These are:
- Corn, which is turned into highly processed high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
- Soy, which is one of the main sources of trans fat-containing vegetable oils
- Sugar beets, which is turned into refined sugar
These three dietary factors, all of which are heavily subsidized by the US government, promote obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and cancer. For example, one recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)4 found that consuming 17-21 percent of your daily calories from added sugar increases your risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 38 percent. Another equally recent study5 concluded that:
“The new paradigm hypothesizes that sugar has adverse health effects above any purported role as ‘empty calories’ promoting obesity. Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”
Making matters worse, the vast majority of all three of these crops are genetically engineered (GE), which means they’re also primary sources of glyphosate contamination (the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup).
Glyphosate, in turn appears to be a driving force for chronic disease in and of itself, both by enhancing the damaging effects of other food-borne chemical residues and environmental toxins, and by disrupting normal body functions. It’s particularly harsh on the beneficial bacteria in your gut, which are critical for optimal immune function.
Clearly, getting people to exercise more isn’t going to make a major dent in mortality statistics until or unless we as a society start addressing our disease-promoting food system.
Pesticides and Antibiotics—Two Agricultural Factors That Threaten Your Health
In addition to subsidizing unhealthy food crops, our agricultural system also promotes disease via the excessive use of chemical pesticides/herbicides and antibiotics.
Research has shown that pesticides and other agricultural chemicals are neurotoxins and can cause disruptions to your neurological system and your brain. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers 60 percent of herbicides, 90 percent of fungicides, and 30 percent of insecticides to be carcinogenic.
All of these toxins are permitted on conventional farms, and any number of them can end up on your plate when you purchase conventionally-grown fruits and vegetables.
These man-made neurotoxic chemicals can bioaccumulate in your body, as they resist breaking down in water and also accumulate and store in fat. This means your body has a very hard time eliminating them once they enter your body.
The issue of antibiotics primarily relates to the way food animals are raised in factory farms, but antibiotics also make their way to your plate via contaminated manure applied to crop fields.
This is a public health threat of magnificent proportions, as the practice of routinely feeding animals low doses of antibiotics for growth-promotion purposes has given rise to an ever-growing arsenal of antibiotic-resistant pathogens that now claim the lives of some 23,000 Americans each year. In all, an estimated two million Americans are infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year.6
The CDC has previously concluded that as much as 22 percent of antibiotic-resistant illness in humans is linked to food, and research has shown that nearly half of all meats sold in the US harbor drug-resistant bacteria. In order to avoid all of these disease-promoting factors in your diet, your best bet is to buy only organic fruits and vegetables and grass-fed or pastured animal products, as agricultural chemicals and/or antibiotics for non-medical purposes are not permissible under the USDA organic rules. You can also boost your body’s ability to eliminate the toxins you do inadvertently ingest by regularly eating traditionally fermented foods, which in addition to providing you with beneficial bacteria also act as potent chelators.
Modern Medicine Does More Harm Than Good
Another system that needs a radical overhaul is our medical system, which has again and again been shown to cause an inordinate amount of harm. Preventable medical mistakes are the third-leading cause of death in the US, right after heart disease and cancer. In all, preventable medical mistakes may account for one-sixth of all deaths that occur in the US annually. Despite spending more on health care than the next 10 biggest spenders combined, the US ranks last in health and mortality when compared with 17 other developed nations. We may have one of the best systems for treating acute surgical emergencies, but the American medical system clearly gets an “F” when it comes to treating chronic illness.
Contrary to popular belief, conventional medicine, which is focused on diagnostic tests, drugs, and surgical interventions for most ills, tends to kill more people than it saves. The lethality of the system is in part due to side effects, but preventable errors also account for an absolutely staggering number of deaths. According to the most recent research,7 published just last year, approximately 210,000 Americans are killed by preventable hospital errors each year. Part of the problem is linked to overtesting and overtreatment.8 Instead of dissuading patients from unnecessary interventions, the system rewards waste and incentivizes disease over health. Another part of the problem relates to medication misuse and overuse.
Drugs Are Not the Answer to Americans’ Poor Health
While drugs are overused across the board, addictive pain killers have risen to the forefront as being among the most dangerous. Deaths caused by overdosing on pain medications like Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and Fentora (all of which are opioids), now surpass murders and fatal car accidents in the US. Cholesterol-lowering statins also deserve mention here, as statins are among the most widely prescribed drugs on the market. One in four Americans over the age of 45 now takes statins, typically for the primary prevention of heart attacks and strokes.
Traditionally, primary prevention usually involves healthy lifestyle choices that support heart health, things like eating right and exercising, yet here we have millions of Americans taking pills instead. The consequences of this are nothing short of disastrous. A landmark review9 published last year revealed “a categorical lack of clinical evidence to support the use of statin therapy in primary prevention.” They also found that statins actually increase cardiovascular risk in women, the young and people with diabetes. The review also showed that statin therapy increased the following chronic health problems—two of which are among the top five preventable killers listed above:
- Muscle fatigability by 30 percent with more than 11 percent incidence of rhabdomyolysis (a life-threatening muscle condition) at high doses
- Erectile dysfunction, which is 10 times more common in young men taking the lowest dose of statin.
- Coronary artery and aortic calcification
Sun and Clean Air—Are You Getting Enough of Either?
A growing body of research clearly shows the absolute necessity of vitamin D for good health and disease prevention. However, despite vitamin D’s role in keeping your body ticking along like a well-oiled clock, a majority of people are sorely deficient. Our vitamin D levels have dropped as a result of being scared sunless by those spreading misinformation that the sun causes melanoma, a myth that survives by mass promotion but really lacks any factual basis.
Vitamin D affects your biological function by influencing nearly 3,000 of your genes through vitamin D receptors found all throughout your body. No matter what disease or condition is investigated, vitamin D appears to play a crucial role. It’s particularly important for the prevention of cancer, and numerous studies support this stance. As just one example, research has shown that menopausal women who maintain a vitamin D serum level of 40ng/ml cut their overall cancer risk by 77 percent!
Bright light exposure also improves your mood and energy level, helps regulate melatonin, and increases nitric oxide production,10, 11 which benefits your cardiovascular system. In fact, research suggests that correcting a vitamin D deficiency may cut your risk of dying in half, and that’s from any cause. As for the air you breathe, a recent report12, 13 concluded that nearly half of all Americans live with dangerous levels of air pollution. Air pollution has long been implicated as a cause of heart and lung disease, in part because it triggers inflammation in your body.
More recent research also suggests air pollution may contribute to gastrointestinal disorders by triggering inflammation, making your gut more permeable, and altering the bacterial balance in your gastrointestinal tract. If you happen to live in a heavily polluted area, the best option is to move. If that’s not an option (which it isn’t for many), your next best bet is to address the indoor air quality in your home and office.
The most effective way to improve your indoor air quality is to first control or eliminate as many sources of pollution as you can, and then add an effective air purifier. Sources of indoor pollution includes molds, tobacco smoke, volatile organic compounds from paints, aerosol sprays and household cleaners, pesticides, phthalates from vinyl flooring and personal care products, pollutants from pressure-treated wood products, radon gas, and more. To learn more about how to improve your indoor air quality, please see my previous article: “The Invisible Epidemic Causing Headaches, Fatigue and Depression.”
Basic Tenets of Optimal Health
All in all, leading a common-sense, healthy lifestyle is your best bet to achieve good health, and avoid dying from preventable causes. Following is a list of some of the basic tenets of health that have withstood the test of time. Following these healthy lifestyle guidelines can go a very long way toward keeping you from becoming another preventable death statistic:
- Proper food choices: For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic, unprocessed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Avoid sugar, and fructose in particular. All forms of sugar have toxic effects when consumed in excess, and drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of chronic disease and accelerated aging.
I believe the two primary keys for successful weight management are severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) in your diet, and increasing healthy fat consumption. This will optimize insulin and leptin levels, which is key for maintaining a healthy weight and optimal health.
- Regular exercise: Even if you're eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health, and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including high-intensity activities into your rotation. High-intensity interval-type training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength, and vigor. HGH also helps boost weight loss. So along with core-strengthening exercises, strength training, and stretching, I highly recommend that twice a week you do Peak Fitness exercises, which raise your heart rate up to your anaerobic threshold for 20 to 30 seconds, followed by a 90-second recovery period.
- Stress reduction: You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease -- from heart disease and depression, to arthritis and cancer. Meditation, prayer, social support, and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium. I also strongly believe in using simple tools such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) to address deeper, oftentimes hidden, emotional problems.
- Drink plenty of clean water.
- Maintain a healthy gut: About 80 percent of your immune system resides in your gut, and research is stacking up showing that probiotics—beneficial bacteria—affect your health in a myriad of ways. It can even influence your ability to lose weight. A healthy diet is the ideal way to maintain a healthy gut, and regularly consuming traditionally fermented foods is the easiest, most cost effective way to ensure optimal gut flora.
- Optimize your vitamin D levels: Research has shown that increasing your vitamin D levels can reduce your risk of death from ALL causes. For practical guidelines on how to use natural sun exposure to optimize your vitamin D benefits, please see my previous article on how to determine if enough UVB is able to penetrate the atmosphere to allow for vitamin D production in your skin.
- Avoid as many chemicals, toxins, and pollutants as possible: This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
- Get plenty of high-quality sleep: Regularly catching only a few hours of sleep can hinder metabolism and hormone production in a way that is similar to the effects of aging and the early stages of diabetes. Chronic sleep loss may speed the onset or increase the severity of age-related conditions such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and memory loss