Dr Nas Al Jafari, functional medicine practitioner and Medical Director at DNA Health Clinic in Dubai, is passionate about preventing and reversing chronic diseases through lifestyle alterations.
In his guest article for Livehealthy, he discusses how making simple changes to our routines can help combat conditions such as diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and why the medical industry doesn’t put enough emphasis on lifestyle education and awareness.
Lifestyle diseases are on the rise
When I think back to my medical school days, I cannot remember a single lecture or training session about “lifestyle,” and certainly nothing about its impact on health. Yes, we were often made aware that factors such as alcohol excess, too much stress, poor diet and lack of exercise would potentially cause health problems. But what constitutes a poor diet? What is considered adequate exercise? And how do we measure stress? None of this was covered.
Fast-forward 20 years and the UAE now has some of the highest rates of lifestyle diseases in the world, including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Diseases that traditionally used to start in the sixth decade of life, are now afflicting young Emiratis and expatriates in their twenties.
At the same time, with a hospital and clinic on almost every street corner, how is it that we are unable to stop this trend from spiralling out of control?
Part of the problem is that, to this day, medical school education and post-graduate doctor training has failed to evolve with the times. Of course, doctors are highly skilled at tackling sickness and managing symptoms. However, for the most part, they lack the tools to prevent and even reverse lifestyle-related illnesses.
Clinical guidelines have also been polluted by the vested interests of pharmaceutical companies and compromised by conflicted expert opinion. In reality, we really are cooking up a perfect storm.
If you look at the distribution of healthcare facilities, most investment is focused on expensive (and high yielding) hospital and specialist-based care, invariably putting profits before patients. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is an almost non-existent provision of preventative medicine and coordinated chronic-disease management in the community.
Focus on moving, eating and sleeping well
So how do we take back our health and regain control of our longevity?
Unfortunately, with every new idea comes a new solution. Making sense of the conflicting advice creates a whirlwind of confusion, and it often leaves people feeling helpless. This can then cause them to retreat back to the comfort of old habits.
Personally, I start by helping patients realize how environmental factors cause poor health. Rather than prescribing medications, I spend most of my time helping patients understand why lifestyle is the key to fixing most modern illnesses.
The human body involves a delicate interaction of symptoms and processes. When left uninterrupted, all these procedures can function in complete harmony. While our bodies are overwhelmingly complex, the solutions are surprisingly simple.
However, living surrounded by multiple toxic forces means that we all have to take steps to take control of our own environment, and find ways to reconnect with nature. The first step on the journey back to optimal health is to focus on improving the basics of your lifestyle: getting good sleep, managing stress, moving regularly and eating a balanced diet.
For more advice from Dr Nas, visit @dr_nas.