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Mark Hyman, MD

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Fifty Percent of Americans Suffer From This Silent Killer

Posted: 11/15/11 06:28 AM ET

One of every two of you have a deadly disease that's making you sick and will kill you, and 90 percent of you don't even know you have it.

What's worse is your doctor is not trained how to find it, and they are not even looking for it.

This problem will cost us $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years. It is bankrupting our economy. In 30 years 100 percent of our federal budget will be needed to pay for Medicare and Medicaid, leaving nothing for education, defense, agriculture, roads or even social security.

So what am I talking about? I'm talking about diabesity -- the number one cause of obesity, heart disease, cancer, dementia and of course type 2 diabetes.

You might hear many terms used to describe this one basic phenomenon -- a new epidemic of disordered biology and disease. It is the continuum of abnormal biology that ranges from mild insulin resistance to full-blown diabetes. We call it by many names. See if you recognize any of them:

• Insulin resistance

• Pre-diabetes

• Metabolic syndrome

• Obesity

• Syndrome X

• Adult-onset diabetes

• Type 2 diabetes.

In truth, these are ALL essentially one problem with varying degrees of severity. The diagnosis and treatment of the underlying causes that drive all these conditions are actually the same.

That is why I use a more comprehensive term to describe these conditions -- diabesity. Diabesity describes a continuum of disease, from optimal blood sugar balance to insulin sensitivity to full-blown diabetes. This biological imbalance is our modern plague. It affects 1 in 2 Americans and is the leading cause of most chronic disease in this country, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia and cancer, not to mention its leading role in weight gain and obesity.

Despite this fact, there are no national recommendations from the government or key organizations to advise screening and treatment of it, and most doctors don't know how to properly diagnose it. The result is that 90 percent of the people who suffer from diabesity are left undiagnosed and untreated.

The instances of diabesity are increasing at an astonishing rate. Twenty years ago when I started practicing medicine, not a single state in the nation had an obesity rate over 20 percent. Today, not a single state in the nation has an obesity rate under 20 percent. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has tripled in since the 1980s. There are now 27 million diabetics in the country.

The question is, "Why?" Why are we facing a diabesity pandemic? Why are our current treatment approaches failing so miserably? And why is conventional medicine floundering when it comes to diagnosing the biggest health threat of our time?

Conventional Medicine Misunderstands the Fundamental Laws of Biology

Modern industrial medicine treats disease with medication or surgery. That's what it is designed to do, and when it comes to emergency interventions it is still the best medicine in the world. When someone comes into the emergency room with a severed leg, conventional medicine treats the problem with incredible efficacy.

But when it comes to chronic illness, this approach simply doesn't work.

Here's why conventional medicine tends to break down in the face of chronic illnesses like diabesity:

Most medicine today is based on clear-cut, on-or-off, yes-or-no diagnoses that often miss the underlying causes and more subtle manifestations of illness. Most conventional doctors are taught that you have a disease or you don't; you have diabetes or you don't. There are no gray areas.

Practicing medicine this way is extremely misguided because it misses one of the most fundamental laws of physiology, biology and disease: the continuum concept. There is a continuum from optimal health to hidden imbalance to serious dysfunction to disease. Anywhere along that continuum, we can intervene and reverse the process. The sooner we address it, the better.

For example, when it comes to diabesity most doctors just follow blood sugar, which actually rises very late in the disease process. If your blood sugar is 90 or 110, you don't have diabetes. If it's over 126, you do have diabetes. But these distinctions are completely arbitrary, and they do nothing to help treat impending problems. I remember one patient, Daren, who came to see me with mildly elevated blood sugar. I asked Daren if he had seen his doctor about this. He said yes. I then asked, "What did your doctor say?" Daren's doctor had told him, "We are going to wait and watch until your blood sugar is more elevated, and then we are going to treat you with medication for diabetes."

This attitude is absurd and harmful in the face of what we know about the problems that occur even in the absence of full-blown diabetes. Science is now showing us that many people with prediabetes never get diabetes, but they are at severe risk just the same. Prediabetes actually isn't pre-anything, it's a serious health condition and needs to be treated as early as possible.

More to the point, this approach completely ignores more subtle clues from symptoms and signs of disease, which may highlight underlying metabolic imbalances (especially when complemented by further testing). These imbalances may be remedied by the appropriate treatment -- treatment that is not focused on some disease, but instead works to remove those things that alter or damage our functioning, and provides those things that enhance, optimize and normalize our functioning by balancing the system rather than treating the symptom. We need to treat the system, not the symptom; the patient, not the disease.

Consider the man in the emergency room with the severed leg again for a moment. For that person, identifying what severed the leg isn't likely to make the difference between life and death. The symptom -- the severed leg -- must be treated if he is going to survive.

But that paradigm simply doesn't hold true for health conditions like diabesity. This mechanistic model can be applied in some health crises, but it doesn't work when it comes to chronic disease.

Navigating the Terrain of Disease: Identifying the Causes

To effectively treat diabesity we must shift our focus away from the symptoms or risk factors of the disease and begin taking a hard look at the causes. All of our attention is on treatments that lower blood sugar (diabetes drugs and insulin), lower high blood pressure (anti-hypertensive drugs), improve cholesterol (statins), and thin the blood (aspirin). But we never ever ask the most important question:

Why is your blood sugar, blood pressure or blood cholesterol too high and why is your blood too sticky and likely to clot?

Put another way: What are the root causes of diabesity?

Answering that question must be the focus of our diagnosis and treatment of the disease if we are going to solve this global epidemic.

The good news is that the answer is shockingly simple.

In next week's blog I will outline what really causes diabesity and provide eight steps you can use to overcome it.

In the meantime, I'd like to hear from you:

Do you suffer from diabesity? What has your struggle been like?

Why do you think conventional medicine is so ineffective at treating this illness?

What do you think are the real underlying causes of this deadly disease?

Please share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

To your good health,

Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, M.D. is a practicing physician, founder of The UltraWellness Center, a four-time New York Times bestselling author, and an international leader in the field of Functional Medicine. You can follow him on Twitter, connect with him on LinkedIn, watch his videos on YouTube, become a fan on Facebook, and subscribe to his newsletter.

 
 
 

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