It’s called Lifestyle Medicine (LM) and includes interventions such as diet, exercise, stress management, stopping smoking and number of other non-drug methods when it comes to disease management and treatment.
In a 1999 landmark textbook titled Lifestyle Medicine, editor James Rippe, M.D. said he hoped that lifestyle medicine would “open an entire new branch of medicine.” His wish looks to be coming true. In the last 20+ years, a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that lifestyle intervention is an essential and effective way to treat chronic disease that can be as effective as medicine—only without the risks and unwanted side effects from medicine. In fact, LM is quickly becoming the preferred way to prevent and treat chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, hypertension, obesity, insulin resistance syndrome, osteoporosis and many types of cancers, according to the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM).
LM integrates many public health approaches, but it is still considered a clinical discipline. In fact, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine is the first national professional society for clinicians who specialize in the use of lifestyle interventions in the treatment and management of disease. These clinicians actively practice, teach or research in the discipline of LM.
LM is often used in tandem with nutrigenomics—the study of food and nutrition focused mainly on the interactions with diseases and human-specific genes. Modern medicine is being changed by it, too. It’s allowing practitioners to treat predispositions to disease rather than the disease itself—thereby potentially erasing that dreaded “D” word. Early lifestyle changes in combination with clinician-prescribed nutritional foods are typical courses of action. Additionally, lifestyle medicine can dramatically improve overall health and cut back on the cost of medical procedures and pharmaceuticals.
Just ask Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D, FACN, FACB, who is an internationally respected researcher in the field of nutrigenomics. Nutrigenomics and lifestyle medicine were birthed out of the Human Genome Project, says Bland, and he believes this approach in medicine is only about 10 to15 years away.
Bland explains that disease isn’t a product of bad genes. Instead, it’s a genetic response to our diet, lifestyle and our chemical and biological environments. “We have held this view throughout history that disease is something that befalls a person as a misfortune over which they had no control, that somehow within our genes laid a legacy of some fault in our physiology or metabolism that ultimately would produce the disease of choice that we inherited—heart disease, diabetes, cancer, osteoarthritis, dementia—all of these conditions have been defined in the tradition of medicine as being genetically linked, suggesting that the individual had little to do with it; it was just the luck of the draw,” he said.
“If we are getting a negative response of ill health, rather than taking a drug to mask the symptom, we ought to be changing the environment to which our genes are exposed to modify the genetic expression so that they’re not expressing the alarm that leads to inflammation, insulin or oxidative stress,” says Bland. “It’s a remarkably exciting development in medicine because it gives options for people to engage much earlier in creation of an outcome in their health that is more than just a disease. It can utilize their genetic potential to achieve a higher level of health.”
Interestingly, LM seems to borrow from a traditional medicine approach that's been around for centuries. Perhaps conventional medicine is catching on that diet and lifestyle are integral to overall health.
So, will LM be able to erase the “D” word? Time will tell, but right now it looks promising. Diet and lifestyle choices are powerful health influencers.