Reasons for staying healthy and vigilant

Philip J. Goscienski, M.D.

November 2010

It's a safe bet that Stone Age shamans, commonly known as medicine men — or women — knocked off a few folks with their primitive attempts at healing. Some of their treatments worked. Thousands of years of trial and error inevitably turned up medications and methods that really did have a beneficial effect.

A lot of modern medicine is still trial and error, an obvious fact that plays out regularly in the media and in courtrooms. The magnitude of errors is disconcertingly high. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that nosocomial (hospital-acquired) infections account for nearly 100,000 deaths per year and comprise one of the ten top leading causes of death in the United States.

The Institute of Medicine issued a report in 1999 titled "To Err is Human" that 98,000 Americans die each year from preventable medical errors. A decade later that number has increased. Taken together, medical errors and nosocomial infections would be the third leading cause of death, outpaced only by heart disease and cancer.

Individuals can do two things to keep from adding to the terrible statistics: stay healthy and keep vigilant.

There is no way to guarantee freedom from disease or injury but maintaining a healthy lifestyle that reduces the risk of both is not exactly rocket science. Avoid injury by maintaining muscle strength, balance and a healthy skeleton. Regular walking helps but it takes resistance exercises (free weights and weight machines) to reduce the risk of fractures.

You can avoid hospital-acquired infections by doing the most obvious thing: stay out of the hospital. Avoiding broken bones, as noted above, is one way. The same exercises that strengthen bones have other important effects. They maintain normal body weight, they reduce the risk of heart disease and they strengthen the immune system. If you are unlucky enough to be in an accident you will suffer fewer complications, have a shorter hospital stay and be less likely to catch a nasty infection than someone that is overweight or obese.

Good nutrition reinforces all these safety factors. Adequate protein intake as well as the proper amount of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants are indispensable for a strong skeleton and a protective immune system.

Influenza and pneumonia vaccines are simple, sensible steps to avoid the hospital.

Finally, stay vigilant. Double-check prescription drugs, both in and out of the hospital. Be sure that you're taking the right medication in the proper dosage.

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.