The first step we must take in order to prevent and cure chronic disease is to know their modern day causes and understand why these diseases are now so prevalent in America today. In the U.S., 70 percent of Americans that die each year die from chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and stroke. For many years now, tobacco use has been considered the single most dangerous modifiable risk factor for chronic disease and longevity. But modern day industry and technology has brought about dramatic changes in our diet, our food, our environment, and our lifestyles. These changes have introduced other risk factors that we are now faced with and it’s the totality of these other risk factors that today pose a greater threat to the health of Americans than even smoking.
DIET AND LIFESTYLE
A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (March, 2004) states, “poor diet and lack of physical exercise may soon surpass tobacco as the leading cause of death”. In America today, modern technological advances both at home and on the job has created two things, jobs and lifestyles that are less physically active or even sedentary and a heavy reliance on the convenience of fast and processed food. The report goes further and states that only 1.5 percent more people in the U.S. die each year from tobacco (18.1percent) than those that die from poor diet and lack of physical activity (16.6 percent).
Poor diet and lack of exercise contributes to chronic disease in two ways. First, by promoting cell malfunction in our bodies by depriving the cells of sufficient nutrients and enough oxygen to keep them functioning properly and second, by contributing to weight gain and obesity.
WEIGHT GAIN AND OBESITY
It’s no secret that the U.S. is the fattest country in the world and that this is due primarily to the convenient availability of today’s fast and processed foods and inactive lifestyles. We all know that these kinds of foods are jam-packed with fats and sugars and that by consuming these foods along with physical inactivity sets us up for weight gain from fat.
But why is fat dangerous and how does it contribute to chronic disease? Body fat is dangerous for two reasons. The first reason is because fat cells are actually active, especially abdominal fat cells, and produce toxic hormones and other toxic substances during the process of lipolysis which is the breakdown of the fats that are stored in the fat cells. Our bodies are designed to handle normal amounts of these substances but the more fat you have the more fat cells you have that are releasing these toxic substances up to the point that the body becomes overwhelmed and can no longer safely dispose of them.
The second reason is that some outside environmental toxic chemicals accumulates in human fat. One such example is Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. Better known as flame retardants, PBDEs are used in a wide variety of common household products from carpet to electronics and studies show that they can cause both liver and kidney damage. The more body fat you have, the greater the possibility of you accumulating more toxic chemicals, such as PBDEs, than your body can handle. In either case, excessive body fat results in a toxic overload within the cells and just like depriving them of nutrients and oxygen, causes the cells to malfunction thus weakening the immune system.
HOW THE AMERICAN FOOD INDUSTRY HAS MADE US SICK
Seeing now how poor diet and daily inactivity can cause chronic disease, you would think that all you need to do is to start exercising and and go to the grocery store and stock up on healthier foods, right. Wrong! There are three reasons why the highly processed foods and the conventionally grown crops and meats found in most grocery stores today have played a part in the prevalence of chronic disease in America.
TOXIC CHEMICALS IN OUR FOOD
The first reason is toxicity. For many years now, the U.S.’s major food producers have used chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, and growth hormones to grow bigger crops and livestock as quickly as possible for increased profits. Unknown by most American consumers, many of the meats, fruits, and vegetables found on typical grocery store shelves are laced with traces of these chemicals and hormones. These foods, as well as our processed and packaged food, also contain other chemicals in the form of ripening agents, artificial flavor and aromatic enhancers, preservatives, and other man-made chemicals to make them as appealing and as convenient as possible. These toxic chemicals ultimately end up in our bodies and after years of exposure, build up to a toxic level that our bodies are not designed to deal with.
LOW NUTRITIONAL VALUES IN TODAY’S FOOD
The second reason is that a lot of the conventional foods of today have a low nutritional value. Modern agriculture has employed methods of farming that has depleted the soil of vital minerals causing a significant decrease in the nutritional content of many of our fruits and vegetables. In fact, the Healthcare Professionals (HCP) Impact Study conducted in 2009 found that 81 percent of registered dietitians now view dietary supplements as important for maintaining health. Doug Gurian-Sherman, senior scientist with the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently stated, “The way we farm now is destructive of the soil, the environment and us” and that “worst of all, our food is increasingly bad for us, even dangerous”. But perhaps the most serious threat to our food supply is one has gone virtually unknown to the average unsuspecting American consumer and is the third reason why our food is making us so sick.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED FOOD
Also known as GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms), genetic food modification can quite possibly become the single most dangerous threat to our health. Genetic modification is the technology that makes it possible to manipulate the genes of living organisms by combining multiple genes from different living organisms in order to change the characteristics of that organism. Also referred to as recombinant DNA technology, the resulting products are said to be transgenic, genetically modified, or genetically engineered. The World Health Organization views GMO’s as “organisms in which the genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally”.
This technology has now made it possible for scientists to inject chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides directly into the genes and the DNA of seeds used to grow the fruits and vegetables we eat in order to make them more resistant to the herbicides and pesticides already in use. This technology is also being used on livestock as well. The irony is that the world’s largest producer of GMO’s and genetically engineered foods is not one of our nation’s major food producers such as Tyson Foods or Kraft. It’s Monsanto, a chemical company. Since the early 1990’s, this technology has been used in America’s agriculture. Today approximately 70 percent of the food you buy at your typical grocery store has been genetically modified and chances are you have or will eat a GMO today.
TOXIC CHEMICALS IN OUR AIR, OUR WATER, AND OUR HOMES
The most direct source of chemical exposure we unknowingly experience comes from the foods we eat. But we can no longer ignore the fact that the environmental toxins found in our air, our water, and even our homes contribute greatly to chronic diseases here in the U.S. The number of toxic chemicals we Americans routinely encounter is astonishing. The Environmental Protection Agency has now identified at least 6,000 chemicals that Americans are regularly exposed to and this number grows each year.
And these chemical toxins are not just limited to air and water contaminants. A lot of the chemicals we come into contact with daily are right in our own homes in the form of floor cleaners, furniture polish, and even hairspray. According to the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics, “Americans use an average of 10 personal care products each day, resulting in exposure to more than 126 unique chemicals-not counting the many undisclosed chemicals in fragrance.”
IS SMOKING REALLY THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF CHRONIC DISEASE IN AMERICA?
The answer is probably not but certainly it remains a major contributor. Even though the decline in the number of people who smoke has been stalled since 2005, the fact is that for 40 years now, the number of Americans who smoke has been decreasing and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), exposure to second hand smoke is now down 70 percent. Cigarette smoking peaked in the mid 1960’s with 40 percent of Americans smoking and today that figure is at about 23 percent. The percentage of Americans suffering from chronic disease now stands at 51 percent and that number continues to climb. With this in mind, it would be hard to conclusively say that cigarette smoking continues to stand alone as America’s number one cause of chronic disease.
WHAT IS THE NUMBER ONE CAUSE OF CHRONIC DISEASE IN AMERICA?
The extremely high rate of chronic disease we’re experiencing here in the U.S. today is a result of not just one, but a combination of all of these risk factors. These risk factors cause two things within our bodies that serve as the basis for all chronic disease, deficiency and toxicity. If left unchecked, these two common denominators will begin to cause cellular damage and over time, will cause the cells to malfunction thus increasing the probability of developing chronic disease.
In America today, the combination of enormous toxic overload, the declining nutritional value of our foods, smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and obesity all work against our nation’s health in ways we have never seen before by poisoning our bodies and then depriving it’s cells of what they need to function properly. In order to help avoid and reverse disease and give our bodies a chance to detoxify themselves, it’s vital that we find ways to limit our subjection to chemical toxins and find nutritious alternate food options.