Hidden Epidemics

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

April 2009

Epidemics of old like plague and cholera are distant memories in developed countries but nature never ceases to throw challenges at us. The Western world faces four newer plagues, two of which are obvious and two that are smoldering and soon to be unleashed on our children when they reach middle age.

The first 2 epidemics, obesity and type 2 diabetes, emerge slowly over decades. They lead to heart disease and stroke, which together account for nearly 40 percent of deaths in the United States and that are almost entirely preventable. Complications of diabetes such as blindness, kidney failure and amputations don't usually occur until middle age.

The third epidemic is osteoporosis and the fourth is dementia, which includes Alzheimer's disease. Like the first two epidemics, these are almost entirely preventable and almost never occur in "backward" population groups. The seemingly obvious reason — they don't live long enough — is appealing but wrong. The 20 percent or so of hunter-gatherers that make it past the age of 60 arrive there with strong bones and clear minds.

Osteoporosis has several causes but the most important one is a lack of physical activity during the years when children normally form their mature skeleton. Without regular, moderately intense physical activity today's children will reach their late 20's without sufficient bone mass. Since it's unlikely that persons who underexercise in early life will get religion later on, they are destined to lose bone mass year by year, eventually reaching the point where a minor fall will lead to a major catastrophe.

Dementia is the fourth epidemic and Alzheimer's disease accounts for only about half of it. About half of dementia is related to the same factors that lead to heart disease, stroke and diabetes, namely blockage and distortion of blood vessels that nourish the brain. Cells that we need for memory and problem-solving simply starve. Avoiding weight gain is important, especially the accumulation of fat in the abdominal area. Diet is a major factor. Saturated fats damage the brain; unsaturated fats (think olive oil and fish oil) protect it. Fruits and vegetables delay dementia; processed foods don't.

Population experts already know that today's children won't live as long as their parents. But if they do they won't even be aware of it.

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D. is the author of Health Secrets of the Stone Age, Better Life Publishers 2005. Contact him at drphil@stoneagedoc.com.