Tuesday, February 14, 2012


When I recommended Occupying Yourself in my last blog post, what I meant was taking charge of your own health—not particularly to avoid disease and death, but because it jolly well feels good, and in addition elevates society.

Evidence is accumulating that our most potent medicine may not be any pharmaceutical, but the choices we make that raise life quality. Last week, at the Integrative Healthcare Symposium in New York, Dr. Dean Ornish described research he and colleagues published in this field (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/02/12/dean-ornish-integrative-healthcare-symposium_n_1270412.html). (Maybe you remember Dr. Ornish. He was lead investigator in a study a few years ago which showed that a program of meditation, diet, exercise and support not only halted, but reversed coronary artery clogging. Ornish’s program, at almost negligible cost per patient, outperformed multiple coronary bypass operations that run $100,000-plus.)

Dr. Ornish has now extended this approach beyond coronaries, into chronic disease in general. "Seventy-five percent of the $2.7 trillion in annual health care costs, which are really 'sick care' costs,” he told the symposium, “are from chronic diseases that can be largely prevented, or even reversed, through simply changing diet and lifestyle."

Prostate cancer is one clear example: since most of these tumors are slow-growing, most men are more likely to die with prostate cancer than from it. Because of this, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (an arm of the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services) recently recommended against screening for the disease. Men who are found to have prostate cancer suffer pressure to treat it even though treatments leave many impotent, incontinent, or both, and even though only two percent of men who are treated for prostate cancer live longer. Dr. Ornish and colleagues recently showed that comprehensive lifestyle changes may slow, stop, or even reverse early-stage prostate cancer.

Or consider diabetes. If current trends go on unabated, fully half of Americans will have type two diabetes or be prediabetic by 2020, at a cost to the U.S. healthcare system—that is, to us—of $3.35 trillion. You probably know that the prime cause of type two diabetes is behavior, specifically overconsumption of carbohydrates. Said Dr. Ornish, "The [causes of most chronic diseases] are primarily the lifestyle choices we make each day—what we eat, how we respond to stress, whether or not we smoke, how much exercise we do, and how much love and support we have."

Why did our national health plummet so remarkably over the past thirty years? Was it from a communist conspiracy? Al Qaeda? No, it was our own habits. We don’t exercise, we consume non-nutritive, processed foods, and we permit ourselves to be assaulted by toxins and carcinogens galore. Maybe we turn a blind eye to this cultural decay because so many of us are materially saturated, and if that’s so, we’ve bought ourselves a truly Faustian bargain. Behaving otherwise—reclaiming our bodies, our communities, and the national quality we deserve—must begin with individual renovation. That’s what Occupy Yourself means.


  1. Yes! I just finished reading Ehrenreich's Bright Sided- How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. I wonder how much it might correct the health care industry's stature if it was more accurately labeled "sick care industry"?


  2. Great work, Jeff, carrying on the work of Dean Ornish, one of our heroes from way back.

  3. Well, that pretty much sums up what sledgehammer needs to knock most American people back to sense: Take responsibility for the outcomes of your own choices, whether for good or bad. Occupy Yourself indeed. Good words.