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Prevention, Literally Worth Pounds of Cure

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Next time you are in line at your favorite coffee or smoothie shop, chances are the person in front of you or the person behind you is taking a prescription drug. And you may be, too.

Nearly 50% of Americans are taking prescription drugs!

Even more dramatic is the fact that the number of people taking five or more drugs has risen a staggering 70% between 2000-2008. While these numbers are eye-popping, there is an even more disturbing aspect: disease management, not preventing disease, is often the focus of health care today.

Dr. Mimi Guarneri, Medical Director and Founder of the Scripps Center for Integrative Medicine in La Jolla, California, calls our current health care system “the perfect storm.”

“Chronic disease management is costing the country $2.5 trillion a year for diseases that are preventable,” she said. “We spend more money on drugs than ever before. Of all the pills produced in the world, 47 percent of them are consumed in America. We can’t keep this up. We need to turn the ship around and focus on prevention first.”

Guarneri advocates a regimen of integrated preventive measures, including acupuncture, massage, stress reduction techniques and biofeedback. Instead of simply treating symptoms, which is often drug-based, patients can choose these alternatives up front to help prevent disease. She believes this patient-centered, proactive approach can reduce reliance on drugs and lower medical costs.

Preventive medicine has been one aspect of healthcare for decades, but the recognition that diseases related to lifestyle choices, such as diabetes, are reaching alarming proportions has rekindled interest in educating the public about how to make better choices. Choosing to deal with the stress and pressures of modern life through proper diet, exercise and meditation augments the more traditional preventive measures such as more frequent doctor visits and getting treatment when illness is in the first stages, instead of waiting until it’s advanced to a later stage.

One alternative receiving more attention lately is spiritual practice. Some medical schools are identifying spirituality as one aspect of therapy, which is helping patients achieve better health outcomes. It can play a significant role in preventing, and even treating, disease.

A report published by the American Psychological Association showed that the percentage of those turning to a form of mindfulness or reflection, grouped under an umbrella called prayer, increased across all demographic groups– from 43 percent in 2002 to 49 percent in 2007. Over 85 percent of people confronting illness pray, according to a University of Rochester study. In America today, prayer (both individual and group) is the most widespread alternative therapy.

In my own experience, I’ve found that prayer, coupled with reading the Psalms and other biblical passages, has given me a sense of peace and even relieved pain. I think it has been a significant factor in preventing illness, which often results from fear, anxiety and the stress of daily living.

Whether the choice is prayer, biofeedback, or some other ‘alternative’ practice, there is growing acceptance that we can take proactive steps, which can reduce dependency on drugs.

Perhaps the ship is beginning to turn.

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