By Dr. Mercola
The largest analysis of health trends around the world from 1990 to 2013 has been released -- with some striking findings.1 Only 4 percent of the global population was free from health complaints in 2013, while one-third, or 2.3 billion people, struggled with more than five health problems each.2
While in some cases death rates have declined, rates of disability have increased. Further, the proportion of years of healthy life lost due to illnesses is rising at an increasing rate, from 21 percent in 1990 to 31 percent in 2013.
The data spanned 188 countries and included more than 300 illnesses and injuries. One out of 10 people worldwide suffered from at least one of the following health conditions in 2013:
Tooth decay Tension headaches Iron-deficiency anemia Age-linked hearing loss Genital herpes Migraines Intestinal roundworm A genetic blood disorder called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency trait
What Are the Leading Causes of Poor Health Worldwide?
Musculoskeletal issues, primarily low back pain, neck pain and arthritis, and mental health/substance abuse disorders accounted for close to half of the loss of healthy years of life, while the leading causes of ill health, both at the start and end of the study, were:
- Low back pain
- Iron-deficiency anemia
- Neck pain
- Age-related hearing loss
There was also a sharp rise in people suffering from diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and arthritis during the study period. For instance, diabetes cases rose by 43 percent. Study author Theo Vos, professor of Global Health at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, noted:3
“Large, preventable causes of health loss, particularly serious musculoskeletal disorders and mental and behavioral disorders, have not received the attention that they deserve… Addressing these issues will require a shift in health priorities around the world, not just to keep people alive into old age, but also to keep them healthy.”
What to Do if You’re Struggling with Back Pain
Low back pain and neck pain make up two of the top five leading causes of poor health worldwide. It's estimated that, globally, one out of every 10 people suffer from lower back pain. The problem appears to be particularly prevalent in the US. According to earlier estimates, as many as eight out of 10 Americans struggle with back pain.
In the US, it accounts for 10 percent of all primary care doctors visits each year, costing Americans as much as $86 billion annually,4 but according to 2014 findings, back pain is also the number one cause of job disability worldwide.5 So, clearly, it's a universal problem of extreme proportions.
In the developed world, poor posture and/or improper movement is to blame for most cases of back pain. Spending most of your day slouched behind a desk or on the couch is a surefire way to develop back pain. Sitting is also an independent risk factor of everything from diabetes to heart disease, and can even take years off your life—even if you exercise regularly!
If you spend the majority of your day sitting, strive to reduce it to less than three hours a day. Use a standing workstation when you’re in the office and stand up and move as much as possible throughout the rest of your day as well. A good goal is to take 7,000 to 10,000 daily steps in addition to your regular exercise program.
Over the last year, I've been able to reduce my previously normal 12 to 14 hours of daily sitting to under one hour. And I noticed one amazing thing: the back pain I struggled with for many years simply disappeared.
I had previously tried four different chiropractors, posture exercises, Foundation Training, ab work, inversion tables, standing up every 15 minutes to stretch, and strength training. But nothing would touch it, other than to radically reduce my sitting, so I would recommend this first to get rid of your back pain.
Back Pain Is a Leading Cause of Painkiller Addiction
A related concern is the fact that lower back pain is also one of the primary reasons why people get hooked on prescription painkillers. Deaths caused by overdosing on painkillers now surpass murders and fatal car accidents in the US, and over the past five years, heroin deaths have increased by 45 percent.6
Officials blame this increase on the rise of addictive prescription drugs such as Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet, codeine, and Fentora, all of which are opioids (derivatives of opium). Heroin is simply a cheaper option to these prescription medications.
Still, prescription painkillers claim far more lives than illegal street drugs like heroin. According to Gil Kerlikowske, director of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy, prescription painkillers were responsible for 16,600 deaths in 2010—well over five times more than those caused by heroin.7
US officials have recently gone on the offensive, stating that narcotic painkillers are a driving force in the rise of substance abuse and lethal overdoses, and that both patients and doctors need to become better informed about their risks.
Back pain, in turn, is a driving force behind opioid drug use, which makes it a central focus not just for decreasing disability claims and improving health and quality of life for millions of people, but also for tackling a rapidly growing problem of legal drug abuse and the associated death toll.
Please do not let your physician convince you that prescription drugs are your only option for pain relief. I’ve described 15 natural alternatives for back pain here.
Mental Health Disorders: Help if You’re Dealing with Depression
Mental health disorders like depression and anxiety are also causing a considerable amount of unwell around the globe. It’s likely no coincidence that depression tops the list alongside back pain, as both may have a similar cause: too much sitting.
In one study, women who sat for more than seven hours a day were found to have a 47 percent higher risk of depression than women who sat for four hours or less per day.
Women who didn't participate in ANY physical activity had a 99 percent higher risk of developing depression than women who exercised. The findings were crystal clear: excessive sitting and lack of exercise resulted in an increase in depression symptoms among middle-aged women.8
Sitting less, and moving more, could very well help both your back pain and your frame of mind, although depression can have multiple causes and be more complex than this. Your gut health is emerging as a key player in your mental health, for instance.
Certain probiotics are now being referred to as psychobiotics, or “bacteria for your brain,” and are being used to successfully treat depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric problems.
In one recent study, a multispecies probiotic supplement taken for four weeks reduced cognitive reactivity to sad mood, which is a strong marker for depression (the more a person reacts to sad mood with dysfunctional thoughts, the more prone they are to a depressive episode).9 The strongest effects were seen for reducing rumination and aggressive thoughts. According to the researchers:10
“These results provide the first evidence that the intake of probiotics may help reduce negative thoughts associated with sad mood. Probiotics supplementation warrants further research as a potential preventive strategy for depression.”
Addressing Your Gut Health for Improved Mood and Overall Health
In another study showing the importance of microbes for your mood, researchers revealed why gardening seems to make so many people happy. Mycobacterium vaccae is a type of bacteria commonly found in soil, which people may ingest or inhale when they garden.11
Remarkably, this microbe has been found to "mirror the effect on neurons that drugs like Prozac provide."12 It helps to stimulate serotonin production, helping to make you feel happier and more relaxed.
Taking a probiotic, or being exposed to microbes through soil, are not the only ways to increase your exposure to these beneficial “bugs.” Fermented foods, including fermented vegetables, are one of the best sources of probiotics there is. It’s important to regularly eat fermented foods not only for your mental health but for your overall health as well. For every bacteria you have there are 10 bacteriophages or viruses. So not only do you have 100 trillion bacteria, you have one quadrillion bacteriophages.
All of these organisms perform a multitude of functions in key biological systems, from supplying critical vitamins to fighting pathogens, modulating weight and metabolism, and much more, and when your microbiome falls out of balance, you can become ill. Your microbiome also helps control how your genes express themselves. So by optimizing your native flora, you are actually controlling your genes. If you eat a mostly processed, junk-food diet, you can decimate the health of your microbiome, and this may explain why diabetes rates are on the rise.
One study showed that after just 10 days of fast food, about 40 percent of gut bacteria species were lost, which amounted to about 1,400 different types.13 Losses of microbial diversity such as this have been linked to diabetes and obesity. As you continue to subsist on junk food, your gut microbes respond and “bad” bacteria may proliferate, furthering your cravings for more unhealthy foods and further leading to declines in your health. Even Alzheimer’s disease has been linked to poor diet.
Type 2 Diabetes Is Usually Preventable and Reversible
While diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer’s have been rising significantly over the last two decades, it’s important to understand that these diseases are often preventable. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas is producing some insulin, in fact usually too much, but is unable to recognize the insulin and use it properly. This is an advanced stage of insulin resistance, which is typically caused by a diet that is too high in sugars and sugar-forming foods. When you have inadequate insulin signaling, sugar cannot get into your cells and instead builds up in your blood.
While anyone can get type 2 diabetes, you are typically considered at highest risk if you are overweight, sedentary, if you are a woman who had gestational diabetes, have family members with type 2 diabetes, or have metabolic syndrome. However, all of these really have the same underlying root of insulin and leptin resistance. Type 2 diabetes represents the vast majority of all diabetics, and contrary to conventional medical and media teaching, it's nearly 100 percent curable through lifestyle changes alone.
Even Alzheimer’s Disease Is Often Preventable, with the Same Strategies as Preventing Diabetes…
As it stands, the evidence points to lifestyle factors, primarily diet, as the driving forces of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, as well. There are also many connections between Alzheimer's and other dietary-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, suggesting that ALL of these diseases are preventable through identical means. For example, previous research suggests diabetics have a doubled risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Alzheimer's disease was even tentatively dubbed "type 3 diabetes" in 2005, when researchers discovered that your brain produces insulin that is necessary for the survival of your brain cells. They found that a toxic protein called ADDL removes insulin receptors from nerve cells, thereby rendering those neurons insulin resistant, and as ADDLs accumulate, your memory begins to deteriorate. According to Dr. David Perlmutter, author of the New York Times' bestseller Grain Brain:
"[Alzheimer's] is a preventable disease. It surprises me at my core that no one's talking about the fact that so many of these devastating neurological problems are, in fact, modifiable based upon lifestyle choices… What we've crystallized it down to now, in essence, is that diets that are high in sugar and carbohydrates, and similarly diets that are low in fat, are devastating to the brain.
When you have a diet that has carbohydrates in it, you are paving the way for Alzheimer's disease. I want to be super clear about that. Dietary carbohydrates lead to Alzheimer's disease. It's a pretty profound statement, but it's empowering nonetheless when we realize that we control our diet. We control our choices, whether to favor fat or carbohydrates."
His book, Grain Brain, reveals how and why sugars and carbohydrates destroy your brain, and how to eat for neurological health. He notes Mayo Clinic research that reveals diets rich in carbohydrates are associated with an 89 percent increased risk for dementia while high-fat diets are associated with a 44 percent reduced risk. This combination of very little sugar and carbs, along with higher amounts of healthy fats, is KEY for addressing not only Alzheimer's, but diabetes and heart disease as well.
Are Global Health Problems the Result of a Disconnect from Nature?
Living in the modern world is making us sick. That’s the conclusion drawn by Dr. Pedram Shojai, OMD after many years of treating patients for the same lifestyle-induced illnesses, over and over again. This realization inspired him on a four-year mission to produce a film that might help “wake us all up.” The film “Origins” shows how our modern lifestyle has caused us to lose our connection with the earth, resulting in so many of our global problems from environmental destruction to hunger and disease.
Indeed, many of the leading health issues plaguing the global community are lifestyle-induced. We used to be naturally lean and strong but have become progressively more obese and weaker. Our bodies are so busy detoxifying that they frequently lack adequate resources to perform basic biological processes. Is it any wonder that humanity has become so sick? When a species is healthy, nature rewards it with fertility, but studies show that human fertility is waning. One of every four couples worldwide is unable to conceive due to problems with conception and miscarriage.
Fertility is a leading indicator for the health of an organism, so the fact that one in eight of us are not healthy enough to reproduce is a major clue. Our biology adapted to a diet of wild plants and animals—wild vegetables, berries, nuts, roots, and game, which were MUCH higher in nutrients than our foods today. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors consumed nearly 100 grams of fiber every day, compared to the eight to 15 grams now consumed by the average Westerner. Food can be medicine or poison... the processed foods found lining grocery store shelves are not the foods we were designed to eat. Ninety percent of the average American diet is fake food out of a box, can, jar or tube.
The foods many react adversely to are relatively new in our food supply—genetically modified (GM) soy, gluten from hybridized wheat, GM corn, sugar, and highly pasteurized dairy, for example. These modern foods are foreign to your body, so it’s common to have problematic reactions, including inflammatory and autoimmune responses, which can lead to allergies, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and the list goes on and on. One of every four Americans now has type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes. Americans have shunned fats for the last 40 years after being told they cause heart disease, when the real culprit is sugar.
The epidemic of brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and the like are evidence of what happens when your brain is starved of beneficial fats while being bombarded with toxic insults over time. Your brain is made up of fat, so it’s no surprise that low-fat diets have been linked to depression and suicidal or homicidal behavior. Adding a sedentary lifestyle to a massively unhealthy diet creates the perfect storm for “diabesity.” Our ancestors were in constant motion, hunting, building and carrying objects, escaping from predators, etc. Today, people barely move. Sitting for more than eight hours a day is associated with a 90 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
For optimal health, you need to move near-continuously throughout the day, or at least avoid sitting down for more than three hours. And, to keep your body strong, you hunter-gatherer genes want you to exert an all-out effort occasionally, such as high-intensity exercises, but few of us actually do this. Your body also wants to get outdoors regularly, to soak up much-needed beneficial sunlight, another “luxury” that modern life often does away with. Fortunately, by paying attention to these basic tenets of optimal health, you can avoid many of the diseases plaguing the world and live out your own life in health.