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Taking charge of your health
Taking charge of your health
John W. Farquhar, MD, professor emeritus at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, talked with BeWell about health promotion, the worldwide problem of obesity, and the ways individuals can prevent major diseases by knowing their biometrics and embracing lifestyle remedies.
What is the secret to successful health promotion?
Health promotion will be successful if you can gain the person’s attention through making the issues relevant. Then, you must provide the right frequency, intensity and quality of education —including stepwise guidance in how to develop healthful behaviors.
What health patterns stand out?
Interestingly, people with higher levels of education live longer than they used to, whereas people with less education still suffer more, and needlessly, from premature disability and disease.
The good news: heart attack rates have fallen by 65% since the peak in 1967. Unfortunately, despite billions of dollars spent on research and health management, cancer rates have not fallen. The difference here is that we have both lifestyle remedies and preventive medication for heart disease, whereas we know less about the underlying causes of many cancers, with the exception of lung cancer. However, there are many clues emerging on lifestyles, including diet, which can play major roles in cancer prevention.
What issue deserves our attention right now?
The worldwide obesity epidemic has underscored the importance of understanding cholesterol and triglyceride levels in relation to body weight, diabetes and physical activity.
Why are these levels so important?
The individual consequences of not understanding these biometrics include premature disease and disability — including pre-diabetes, heart attack, stroke and deterioration of cognitive skills. If you have high blood pressure, high triglycerides, high LDL (the harmful fraction of blood cholesterol) or low HDL (the beneficial fraction of blood cholesterol), then you are inviting in a whole series of potentially negative outcomes.
What should we know about cholesterol and triglycerides?
Cholesterol and triglycerides are two forms of lipid, or fat, circulating in your bloodstream. While they are both necessary for life itself, your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is significantly increased if blood levels of LDL cholesterol or triglycerides become too high, or if HDL cholesterol is too low. Triglycerides go up and the beneficial HDL level falls as you gain weight. As you see these numbers changing in the wrong direction, you need to know that you are on an interruptible path towards pre-diabetes, diabetes, heart attack or stroke. Exercise alone will help. Weight loss alone will help. Understanding what you eat can change your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and changing all three can have immense benefit, even if type 2 diabetes is present!
What foods should we avoid?
First, avoid an excess of calories from any source, as being overweight pushes up triglycerides and promotes diabetes. Second, avoid saturated fats, which raise total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, leading to heart attack and stroke. The top four saturated fat-containing foods to avoid are cheese, beef, whole milk and butter. A disturbing trend is the increasing use of palm oil in many foods, which is becoming the fifth most important source of saturated fat.
If you could wave a magic want and make a change, what would it be?
We would be healthier as a population if we move toward vegetarianism and increased physical activity. If everyone walked 30 minutes a day, it would eliminate a lot of health issues.
… any final thoughts?
In this era of obesity, we need to be optimistic and confident in our ability to take charge of our lives. We need to have faith in our ability to benefit from new scientific knowledge that can lead us to better health.
Interview conducted by Julie Croteau and edited by Lane McKenna Ryan.