Written by: Oyalola M. Lateef
Lifestyle medicine is an evolving healthcare approach using evidence-based therapeutic intervention and natural treatment for holistic care. As an evolving branch of medicine, it deals with research, prevention, treatment, and reversal of lifestyle-related diseases. In addition, lifestyle medicine encourages the adoption and practice of healthy behaviors by motivating patients to embrace a plant-predominant diet, restorative sleep, regular physical exercise, stress management, and healthy social relations.
Over the years, humans generally retrogressed into harmful and unhealthy lifestyles, creating a burden of non-communicable diseases that account for about 63% of global deaths. Recognizing that the status quo – a pill for every ill – is unsustainable, given that American’s health hasn’t grown appreciably in recent decades, health care professionals are focusing on creating a movement around lifestyle medicine to eradicate the root cause of disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the quality of medical care affects a patient by 10%, genetics by 18%, environment by 19% but lifestyle has over 50% effect on an individual’s quality of life. In conjunction with the World Health Organization, the CDC also reported that 70% of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, obesity, and hypertension result from major lifestyle-related risk factors, including lack of exercise, poor eating habits, and long-term stress.
Contrary to opinion, lifestyle medicine doesn’t replace conventional modern medicine but complements it with its potential to mitigate and even reverse chronic disease. As a viable first approach to health care, lifestyle medicine is gradually gaining traction both in the United States and worldwide, creating a trend of daily habits and actions with a profound positive effect on long-term health and quality of life.
Lifestyle medicine created a multi-million dollar industry as mineral and vitamins supplements to prevent the occurrence or progression of chronic diseases. Vitamins and minerals are organic compounds every human needs in small quantities. The human body produces a small quantity of some vitamins while the rest come from food. For example, humans get vitamin C from their diet while dogs produce all the vitamin C they need. By comparison, only a tiny quantity of vitamin D is available in human food, while the human body synthesizes the vitamin when exposed to sunlight.
The human body needs all the vitamins in the correct quantity to function optimally and maintain good health. Thirteen essential vitamins are crucial for human metabolic processes. Unfortunately, with all the inherent benefits of supplements, a dangerous trend is creeping into the spotlight: supplements receive much less scrutiny by the FDA before hitting the market. Even though the FDA ruled that supplements must meet specific quality standards, the rules don’t guarantee that the supplements are safe for anyone. The FDA also reserves the right to remove dangerous products from the market, yet thousands of companies make false, unsupported claims to sell their products.
Ignoring the overly exaggerated claim by supplements makers, are their products safe? Does the label carry honest information about the contents in the bottle? Private labs and researchers waded into the matter and uncovered a shocking reality – one-quarter of the tested supplements have different problems that make them pretty unsafe.
Over the last decade, an independent company tested hundreds of supplements, and one-quarter have had issues. Some supplements contained contaminants, while others had ingredients that exceeded the safe limit. Others had contents that didn’t match label claims, and in some, real drugs were added as natural supplements. Although supplement makers intensify publicity about the potential benefits, using these products can land users in the emergency department.
A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine revealed that adverse effects of supplements led to an average of about 23,000 medical visits per year. The 10-year study looked at data from 63 hospital emergency departments and reported that weight-loss products make up one-quarter of all single-product emergency department visits and affect primarily women while men experience adverse effects from bodybuilding and sexual enhancements products.
In another test, consumerLab.com found lead in at least one brand, including black cohosh, zinc, and ginkgo products. Accumulation of lead can cause severe health problems. The testing company recommends a national limit of 0.5 micrograms per day – a level that requires a warning on the product label in California. Similarly, a test showed that four out of seven supplements contain less ginkgo than their label claimed. In addition, ayurvedic – a notorious herbal ingredient used in traditional medicine from India – often contains hazardous metals, a study reported in medical journals. This type of industry fraud is shocking for what is supposed to be suitable for users.
Ultimately, some dietary supplements are safe and beneficial because they contain active ingredients that cause physiological changes. Unfortunately, these active ingredients can also create adverse effects such as racing irregular heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, digestive symptoms, dizziness, or headache. Staying healthy requires multiple approaches to self-care. Awareness and informed knowledge about any supplement, including the content – whether advertised as herbal, natural, or non-drug – is part of that care.
If you do take herbal products, vitamins, or supplements, make sure you read any safety labels on the bottle at all times. Consult a clinician to review everything you take to avoid adverse effects, either you are taking the supplement alone or together with over-the-counter drugs. Call your doctor if you notice any strange symptoms after taking dietary supplements.