In 2010 the USA spent $444 billion treating heart disease, which is the #1 killer of Americans. About 1 in 3 Americans has some form of cardiovascular disease right now. Close to a million Americans will have a heart attack this year. About 25% of the time, the first observed symptom of heart disease is sudden death.
That $444 billion is a lot of money, but how much is it really? Let’s put that number into context for you. Revenue-wise this is about the size of the entire U.S. entertainment and media sector (E&M). This includes the entire film industry (movies, videos, Hollywood, indie films, etc), the TV industry (broadcast TV, cable TV, Internet TV, TV advertising), the entire music industry, the entire video game industry, the book publishing industry, the radio industry, the advertising industry (print, online, mobile), all newspapers, all magazines, Internet access providers, and a few related industries — combined!
Add up the combined revenue of all these different industries across the entire entertainment and media sector of the economy, and that’s what Americans are spending just on heart disease — every year.
Imagine what we could do with that level of investment if we could transfer it to some other industry. The cost of NASA’s entire Space Shuttle program was about $200 billion, and that was spread out over 40 years. We’re spending that much on heart disease every five months. If not for heart disease, I could be blogging from Mars right now.
Moreover, this number is expected to increase massively in the coming years. The American Heart Association commissioned a report that projects that annual U.S. spending on heart disease will reach $818 billion by the year 2030. I, for one, think this is an absolutely ridiculous waste of resources. I’d rather see us launching four new Space Shuttle style programs per year than throwing away money on a highly preventable and reversible lifestyle illness.
That’s a lot of money, isn’t it? But heart disease spending is only 1/6 of the entire healthcare industry. So take the entire E&M sector and now multiply it by six, and that’s roughly the size of the healthcare industry in terms of annual revenue. It’s a behemoth to be sure. And it’s growing.
So where is this money going? What kind of bang per buck are we getting for such a monstrous investment of resources?
Where Is the Money Going?
Most of that $444 billion for heart disease (about 77% of it) is spent on treatment, especially drugs and surgery. But this “treatment” in most cases isn’t even intended to cure or reverse the disease. Most of it goes towards treating the symptoms, whereby the heart disease patients within this system aren’t routinely being cured. It would be more accurate to say that their conditions are being managed and monitored, quite often while the disease continues to worsen.
About 22% of that money goes towards prevention, and another 0.1% is spent on prevention research. That in itself is a lot of money to be sure, but it’s important to note that the bulk of this investment is being spent on managing heart disease as opposed to preventing or reversing it.
What do you think? Is this a good use of resources? Do you consider this a wise investment?
It’s also known, even among many industry participants, that heart disease is largely a lifestyle illness which is not only highly preventable but also incredibly reversible. If you’d like to virtually ensure that you don’t succumb to a heart attack during your lifestyle, the steps to do that are already known.
Reversing Heart Disease
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn has a terrific book that explains precisely what to do to prevent and reverse heart disease. It was published in 2008. Esselstyn discovered that too much fat in a person’s diet is the main cause of heart disease. Even a diet that includes only plant fats can lead to this condition. This is old news. What I found interesting is just how low the fat has to be to make a difference.
Dr. Esselstyn puts his patients on a low-fat vegan diet — really low-fat, as in not a single drop of oil and usually no nuts or seeds at all. The goal is to keep dietary fat intake below 10% of total calories. The vast majority of the time, the patients who follow this approach not only stop their heart disease from getting worse — they actually reverse it, meaning that their veins and arteries begin to unclog themselves from cholesterol deposits. Esselstyn’s book includes some photos showing the improvement. Theories are one thing, but improvement that can be seen with our eyes and measured with modern equipment is a lot more convincing.
Dr. Esselstyn deals with some of the sickest people around, including those who’ve had multiple heart attacks, multiple bypass surgeries, and/or severe angina (chest pain). These are people who have to either change their lifestyles, or deal with the risk of sudden death every day.
On a personal note, I don’t have heart disease, but I’m curious to know what effect Esselstyn’s diet might have, so I’m going to give it a 30-day trial soon, probably for the month of May. I’ve done previous 30-day trials of low-fat diets (i.e. 10% of calories from fat or less), but that was with raw foods. I’m curious to see what difference it makes if I focus on eliminating all fats and oils for a while.
What I like about Esselstyn’s approach is that it’s backed up by hard data. His book does a good job of explaining the science behind heart disease, and it includes many photos showing how the insides of his patients changed over time.
Esselstyn’s recommended diet is very simple. The rules are strict, but they aren’t complicated or ambiguous. There’s no guesswork. There’s no need to count calories or measure what you eat. You can eat as much as you want. You simply don’t put certain items into your body at all, ever. So either you’re following the plan, or you aren’t. There are no cheat days. Because of the simplicity, Esselstyn’s patients can generally comply with the requirements.
Esselstyn’s solution to heart disease is 100% dietary. No exercise needed. No group therapy sessions. No affirmations. There are other doctors who’ve been seeing great results with similar diets, but they take a more holistic approach by incorporating meditation and other mind-body practices. Esselstyn’s approach only changes what you eat. That does the job, and he provides data to show the results, both short-term and long-term.
What kind of success rate is Dr. Esselstyn seeing? He reports that about 99% of his patients who comply with the program are reversing their heart disease. Not only that, he’s finding that this way of eating is making his patients heart-attack proof in the long run. Once their cholesterol levels get low enough (below 150 total cholesterol and below 80 for LDLs), they stop having heart attacks altogether.
Since the solution relies on habit change, reversing heart disease essentially becomes a personal growth challenge. Once you know what to do, the real challenge is getting yourself to actually do it.
Did you already know this, or is this new information for you?
So why is the medical industry pouring so much money into managing the conditions of a disease that’s curable?
Good question. There are many possible answers, but one of the simplest is that since the cure relies on habit change, it falls outside a typical doctor’s area of expertise. To apply the solution, a doctor must essentially play the role of a long-term personal coach or health coach.
But what if the patient resists making a lifestyle change? What if the family is unsupportive of such changes? What if the patient quits after a few months or a year?
These are solvable problems, but they aren’t easy to solve. Medical schools don’t normally do a good job of training doctors to effectively handle these kinds of problems. Furthermore, patients don’t normally expect these kinds of solutions from their doctors. And of course, the financial incentives for the medical profession aren’t very well aligned with investing in a long-term coaching relationship with every patient who’s dealing with a chronic lifestyle disease. A doctor who sees dozens of patients per day simply doesn’t have that kind of time.
On top of this, we live in a society that doesn’t do such a great job of holistically supporting this kind of change. How many restaurants offer a decent, tasty menu of items with no added fat, for instance? How many people can count on their friends and family members to support them on this path?
A Societal Challenge
Our challenge in reversing such conditions is a societal one. We can’t put the whole burden on the patients, the doctors, the food companies, or on any one single party. We’re all in this together.
Doctors have enough on their plate already. Many are overwhelmed with stress. Some studies have found that medical doctors are often less mentally healthy and more prone to depression and suicide than the general population. Is blaming and shaming them for the failure of their profession going to do us any good? Rattling the cage a bit might help to wake some people up, but in the long run we need a more sustainable approach to transformation.
The simple reality is that heart disease is a huge revenue generator. So is cancer. So is diabetes. So is dementia. There are vested interests that would suffer enormous financial blows if these diseases were simply done away with. Do you really expect an industry this enormous to just lie down and accept a $444 billion pay cut? Not a chance. Of course some of those interests are going to fight to protect this revenue stream.
The problem for the medical field is that preventing or curing heart disease wouldn’t bring in $444 billion per year. Only prolonging the disease and stringing people along can bring in that kind of money. Curing heart disease is ridiculously cheap relative to treating the symptoms. And when people take the steps to reverse heart disease, they may very well reverse other unhealthful conditions too, thereby costing the medical industry even more money. The problem is largely an economic one. There is a solution, but it isn’t nearly as profitable as not solving the problem. So financially speaking, NOT solving the problem is the industry’s solution. In fact, with so much expected revenue growth, heart disease is not a problem for the industry. It’s a gold mine. Treating the symptoms and prolonging illness IS the industry’s current solution.
Now the question is — do you want to make these “solutions” your own when you have a health problem to deal with? Is this the kind of system that you’d like to patronize as a customer? Do you want to be cured once and leave… or would you prefer to be invited to participate as a source of ongoing income?
I’m not suggesting that this is the desired solution that an individual doctor would want to apply to their patients’ lives. The reality is that many doctors themselves are struggling against the challenges of the system within which they find themselves. Sometimes herculean efforts and serious career risks are required just to initiate basic, common sense procedures that are already known to save lives, such as increasing the reporting and analysis of medical errors or strictly following existing checklists.
Creating a Revolution
Despite these issues, I’m super optimistic about the current situation. I see a lot of positive change happening, and it’s very encouraging. More doctors are speaking out about the dysfunctions of the system, even risking their careers to do so. More patients are educating themselves. The Internet is making more information accessible to people. Collectively, we’re no longer in the dark as much as we were a couple decades ago.
I don’t think the solution is to abandon the existing system completely. I still believe it can transform — even the people working within it are desperate to see it transform now. Change will happen, but it won’t happen overnight. This kind of transformation will require a great deal of external and internal pressure over many years. More people need to raise their awareness about what’s going on. More people will need to stand up and be brave. More campaigns will need to be launched and more battles fought. But in the end, I think the conscious-minded revolutionaries are going to win.
It would be nice if we could all simply relax and trust food companies to provide us with healthy food to eat, if we could trust healthcare providers to coach and cure us where cures are known, and if we could trust political representatives to make healthy decisions on our behalf. That would all be nice, but it isn’t going to happen by itself, and it isn’t going to happen quickly. We can move the behemoth, but it’s going to be slow to change course. It’s going to take a lot of poking and prodding to get it moving in a smarter direction.
So our current situation is this: While the state of affairs is gradually improving, we still have a long way to go. Consequently, you cannot at present afford to be so blind and ignorant regarding what types of food you eat. Some foods are safe and healthy. Many, unfortunately, are not. Many of the items that you can still buy on the shelves of any major grocery store, including Whole Foods, are known to be toxic and will poison your body and mind over the long run.
I wish that wasn’t the case, but the evidence is overwhelming. In many cases, even the industry insiders are unwilling to eat their own products. For instance, the vast majority of poultry inspects say they will never eat chicken. That’s a hint and a half that it would be a serious mistake to eat it.
I understand that many of these issues may be invisible to you. Unfortunately this is a situation where ignorance won’t protect you. If it’s within my power to do so, I’d rather see you well-armed with the knowledge of how to prevent some serious but highly preventable problems. One small tweak to what you eat right now could save you a cancer diagnosis down the road.
The Power of Simple Changes
I understand that you may feel some resistance to making big lifestyle changes. I’m not asking you to do that. For now, I’m just inviting you to educate yourself. You may be surprised at just how many small, simple, painless tweaks you can make to your eating choices that could save you a lot of grief down the road.
For example, one simple change you should make ASAP is to avoid eating products that contain Monsanto’s GMO corn, which has been linked to cancer, liver damage, organ failure, kidney damage, and early death. So for instance, you should never eat Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Corn Pops, or Frosted Flakes. If you’re going to eat any cereal containing corn, only buy products that specifically list organic or non-GMO corn. If the corn isn’t labeled as non-GMO or organic, it’s almost certain to be GMO, so definitely do not put that into your body. It isn’t safe.
Is this a difficult tip to apply? Of course not. Could you make it a habit to avoid risky corn products and stick with the ones that are labeled organic or non-GMO? Of course you could. Isn’t that better than seeing your liver or kidneys fail?
Would you rather have eaten your Corn Flakes in blind ignorance, mistakenly thinking they’re healthy? Or would you rather learn some simple truths, so you can make better decisions starting immediately?
How are you feeling mentally these days? Does your mind feel sharp, alert, and bright? Do you have high mental stamina? Could you write all day — and enjoy it? Or do you often feel foggy, confused, or unfocused? When you eat healthy and avoid the unsafe foods, you should feel like a creative genius.
How are you feeling emotionally? Are you generally happy? Do you feel good in your body?
Is it easy for you to wake up early feeling motivated to start your day? Do you sleep restfully each night?
If you think the foods you eat aren’t affecting you mentally and emotionally, think again. What you put in your mouth has an enormous impact on how sharp your mind is and how good you feel. If you aren’t feeling so good, or if your mind feels sluggish, you may be able to change that with a few simple tweaks. Do you know what to tweak though?
Rebellion vs. Revolution
Rebelling against this system is one way of dealing with the current situation. Sometimes as individuals the best we can do is to opt out in various ways. But that doesn’t help our friends and family members who are still getting sucked into a system that’s hurting and slowly killing them.
The Internet is collectively empowering us to have other options today. We now have the power to make serious inroads into transforming behemoths like the medical and food industries and to start making the changes that even the growth-oriented people within those systems would like to see happen as well. Although the system itself may not be serving us, many of the people still working within the old system truly want to see it transformed.
I see where the momentum is heading, and I can tell you that the tide is turning. Companies like Monsanto and Coca-Cola, which have teamed up to fight GMO labeling laws, are fighting a losing battle, and they know it. Recently they barely got such a law to fail to pass in California, but it cost them $60 million to convince enough Californians to vote against their own best interests, and they had to lie through their teeth to do it. This issue will return to the ballot again though — as many times as it takes to get such common-sense laws passed. California voters won’t be so easily fooled again. Other states are progressing towards GMO labeling as well. Eventually the price will become high enough that the cost of advertising to keep people uninformed won’t be worth it anymore.
Fighting a hopeless battle is no fun. But this is one we can actually win.