Natural ways to prevent deadly diseases

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS
Published January 8, 2021

Key Takeaways

Chronic diseases are defined as physical or mental health conditions that last more than one year and result in functional restrictions or ongoing treatment and monitoring. These diseases are among the most frequent and costly in the United States, with about half of Americans diagnosed with at least one chronic condition.

Despite advances in healthcare and breakthroughs in medicine, the prevalence of chronic disease in the United States is on the rise, with more people developing diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, obesity, and others. Chronic disease results in death, disability, and decreased quality of life.

“Trends show an overall increase in chronic diseases,” wrote the authors of a study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. “The nation’s aging population, coupled with existing risk factors (tobacco use, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity) and medical advances that extend longevity (if not also improve overall health), have led to the conclusion that these problems are only going to magnify if not effectively addressed now.”

Fortunately, there are natural steps that can be taken to decrease your risk of chronic disease. Here’s a look at five natural interventions. 

Ditch ultraprocessed foods

It’s true that ultraprocessed foods make for easier food choices. But, in this case, easier is definitely not healthier. Previous cohort studies have shown that the consumption of ultraprocessed foods—including chips, white bread, cookies, and soda—is linked to higher rates of cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension, and obesity.

Results from a population-based Spanish study indicated that eating four or more servings of ultraprocessed foods each day was related to a 62% increased hazard for all-cause mortality, with each additional serving increasing hazard by 18%.

Ultraprocessed foods lead to chronic inflammation which plays a role in diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Instead of ultraprocessed foods, eat whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Adopting a Mediterranean diet pattern is also recommended.

Start stepping

Exercise boosts overall health, fitness, and quality of life, as well as decreases the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, anxiety, depression, and various cancers.

When most people ponder exercise, they imagine the gym or a structured class. But for chronic disease prevention, all that really matters is frequency and intensity. Simply walking can be a great way to reap the health reward of physical activity.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Taking 10,000 steps a day is a popular goal because research has shown that when combined with other healthy behaviors, it can lead to a decrease in chronic illness like diabetes, metabolic syndromes and heart disease. Exercise does not need to be done in consecutive minutes. You can walk for 30 to 60 minutes once a day or you can do activities two to three times a day in 10- to 20-minute increments.”

Halt the salt

The WHO formulated a Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) Action Plan for 2013-2020, with the goal of decreasing premature death from heart disease, chronic respiratory disease, cancer, and diabetes by 25% by 2025. Among their recommendations is reducing salt intake.

The WHO calls for a 30% relative reduction in the mean population intake of salt or sodium in those aged 18 years or older. In other words, adults should consume less than 5 grams of salt or 2 grams of sodium daily.

Keep in mind that salt-laden foods don’t necessarily taste salty. High salt content lurks in canned vegetables, canned soups, fast food, cold cuts, and cheese. When in doubt, read the labels for salt and calorie content.

Limit the spirits

The WHO also calls for a 10% reduction in alcohol consumption to curb the health risks of drinking. In particular, it stresses the dangers of heavy episodic (ie, binge) drinking among adolescents and adults.

The agency notes that harmful use of alcohol “encompasses the drinking that causes detrimental health and social consequences for the drinker, the people around the drinker and society at large, as well as the patterns of drinking that are associated with increased risk of adverse health outcomes.”

For those who like to occasionally imbibe, it may be a good idea to drink smarter. Healthier alcohol choices include hard liquors—which are low in sugar and calories—as well as wine and champagne, which are full of polyphenols and antioxidants. (Champagne is essentially sparkling wine.)

Take your nutraceuticals

Nutraceuticals such as ginger, curcumin, and green tea can curb the incidence of metabolic syndrome, as well as cardiovascular disease and diabetes. 

Green tea, for example, decreased levels of body fat and drops body weight. In a study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Science, researchers found that patients with type 2 diabetes who drank 4 cups of green tea daily experienced significant decreases in average body weight (73.2 kg to 71.9 kg); BMI (27.4 to 26.9); systolic blood pressure (126.2 to 118.6); and waist circumference (95.8 cm to 91.5 cm). 

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