07/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Power of Prevention

Even if certain congressmen bend to the will of lobbyists, even if a few misguided voters never understood that "socialized medicine" is no longer a threat because the cold war is over, today's reality is that the President and a majority of people get that health care has to change.

"The attitude that we have a great system and we should not mess with it and if we do nothing we'll be okay, that's not true." President Obama told Diane Sawyer. "If we don't make these decisions we'll be worse off... If we're just going to just add more people onto a hugely inefficient system, I will say no because we can't afford it. If there are some basic game changes, additional incentives for prevention, and looking at what works best," those have to be in there, says the President.

Great! Now, let's talk prevention--or as I prefer to call it "proactive health care." To me, "prevention" implies a defensive posture of warding off disease, while "proactive" empowers us to address problems ahead of the curve when it's easier and cheaper to do so, rather than down-line when disease progression makes it more expensive.

But for now, let's talk "prevention."

In covering health care, I've watched integrative medicine build a beachhead in health care reform under the rubric of "prevention." However, a few items at the top of the list--diet and exercise--are typically all we talk about.

I'm convinced that we'll only attain the health improvements and lowered costs we seek if we undertake a more comprehensive approach to prevention--so let's take a look at some areas we should consider as well. In this and future blogs as well as in my ezine at I'll delve into the power of prevention.

A recent EPA study mapped U.S. air quality revealing regions where higher levels of certain chemicals increase cancer and neurological risk.

Are these findings relevant to your health? Possibly, if you reside in New York, California, or other areas of higher chemical concentration.

However, in our prevalent health research and treatment model, there's no way to determine if these chemicals effect you and take action accordingly. The prevalent model (developed by drug companies to develop pharmaceuticals) just studies one chemical at a time.

It presumes that when Chemical A enters our air and water, that nature will disperse it into harmlessness. Unfortunately, the extinction of animal species and disease rates in humans tell us that's not what's happening. Chemical A meets up with other chemicals. But like the man who looked under the lamp for his lost coin because that's where the light was, the prevalent system just looks at singular chemicals as if they existed in isolation in the lab rather than in our bodies and environment where complex interconnectivity is the norm.

Although such tests exist, doctors don't routinely test our body's overall toxic load, nor do our researchers study cumulative effects or interactions. (For more on this check out Dr. Frank Lipman's excellent blog here.) Apart from certain integrative health practitioners, most health care fails to explore how the combination of chemicals effects us, how the combination of drugs and vaccines effect us, or how all of these interact with our food choices, stress levels, or genes.

Nor does medical practice offer approaches for reducing chemical load--even though recent studies estimate that most of us carry over three hundred chemicals from industry and agriculture.

In a lab, we may never be able to absolutely prove that Chemical A alone was sufficient to cause Syndrome A because of the interaction of all other potential factors. But in human beings, a million years of client experience (compiled by thousands of thirty year practicing integrative doctors working with thousands of patients) adds up to a different kind of health study: pragmatic results. If someone knows how to address a health issue, we need to listen and learn, rather than insist on costly studies no one can afford but pharmaceutical companies. Prevention means harnessing that experience and putting it into wider practice.

Here are just a few of the kinds of questions we should be asking:
• How can we lower costs on lab tests that determine chemical and toxin levels in our tissues?
• How do chemicals interact with each other and with other toxins?
• How do they interact with our genetics, foods, our stress levels, and medicines?
• How can we reduce these and other toxins into the environment?
• What treatment approaches help to address them?

Instead of waiting around to find out who among us draws the cancer, autism, or Parkinson's card from the deck, by demanding answers to these (and other similar questions) we'll be able to assess risk and take action. Now, we're talking prevention.

Please let me know what kinds of health care, tests, and changes you consider essential in preventive medicine.