When I think back to my medical school days, I cannot remember a single lecture or any training session about “lifestyle,” and certainly nothing about its impact on health. Yes, we were often made aware that factors such as alcohol excess, too much stress, a poor diet and a lack of exercise would potentially cause health problems.
But what constituted a poor diet? What was considered adequate exercise? And how do we measure stress?
Fast-forward 20 years and we are now faced in the UAE with some of the highest rates of lifestyle diseases: diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Diseases we traditionally used to witness starting in the sixth decade of life are now afflicting young Emiratis and expatriates in their twenties.
At the same time, with a hospital and clinic on almost every street corner, how is it that we are unable to stop this trend from spiraling out of control?
Part of the problem is that even to this day, medical school education and post-graduate doctor training has failed to evolve with the times. Yes, doctors are great at tackling sickness and managing symptoms. However, for the most part, they lack the tools to prevent and even reverse lifestyle-related illness.
Factor in also the fact that our clinical guidelines have been polluted by the vested interests of pharmaceutical companies and compromised by conflicted expert opinion, meaning we really are cooking up a perfect storm.
If you look at the distribution of healthcare facilities, most investment is focused on expensive (and high yielding) hospital and specialist-based care, invariably putting profits before patients. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there is an almost non-existent provision of preventative medicine and coordinated chronic-disease management in the community.
So how do we take back our health and regain control of our longevity?
Unfortunately, with every new idea comes a new solution. Making sense of the conflicting advice creates a whirlwind of confusion and often leaves people feeling helpless to the point of retreating to the comfort of their habitual behaviors.
For me, the journey usually starts by helping patients realize what and how environmental factors cause poor health. As a functional-medicine doctor, rather than prescribing medications I spend most of my time helping patients understand that since their lifestyle is the root cause of most modern illnesses, their lifestyle is the key to fixing the problem.
The human body involves a delicate interaction of symptoms and processes, which when left uninterrupted in its natural environment can function in complete harmony. While our bodies are overwhelmingly complex, the solutions are surprisingly simple. Living surrounded by multiple toxic forces means that we all have to take steps to take control of our own environment, by finding ways of reconnecting with nature and adopting the practices we evolved doing on a daily basis. So, the first step on the journey back to optimal health is to focus on improving the basics of your lifestyle: making sure you are sleeping well, relaxing well, moving well and eating well.
Dr Nas Al Jafari is a member of the livehealthy.ae expert panel. He is a functional medicine doctor and medical director at DNA Health Clinic, Dubai.
Dr Nasr Al Jafari
Based in Dubai and educated in Britain, Dr Nasr Al Jafari decided to focus on functional medicine after becoming disillusioned by mainstream medicine and the perpetual cycle of sicker patients and more medications.