This article first appeared in the medical column “Ask-the-Doc” in the World Journal.
Dr. Yeh graduated from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Integrative Holistic Medicine.
Languages: English, conversational Mandarin
Monday, March 23, 2020
by Richard Lee
"Prevention is the best medicine" is a well-known saying that is also based on solid science. In the case of cancer, for example, it has been estimated that only 2-3% of cancers are due to our genes. Instead, lifestyle choices and environmental factors can play a large role in health and disease. Daily habits such as mood, quality of sleep, diet and nutrition may seem trivial, but are key factors in determining someone's long-term health. In other words, nurture rather than nature can be a strong determining factor in overall health and longevity.
According to Dr. Yeh—an internist and lifestyle medicine expert—lifestyle medicine is a relatively new specialty of medical science where the goal is to help treat the root cause of disease by addressing lifestyle issues. It utilizes a team-based approach which includes a physician, dietitian, exercise physiologist, and a wellness coach. Through personalized assessment, this medical team helps make individualized plans for lifestyle choices to prevent, treat or even reverse many chronic illnesses and health conditions. Food and nutrient intake, for example, are critical concerns in maintaining health, and are factors on which lifestyle medicine experts focus.
Changing lifestyle habits can help control or eliminate chronic health conditions and lessen the patient’s dependency on medications. Dr. Yeh uses hypertension as an example. A study performed in rural Kenya in 1929 revealed that of the 1000 people studied between the ages of 15 to 80, none of them had high blood pressure. Their main foods consisted of fresh vegetables and fruits, wild greens, nuts, and maize. Similarly, a study performed in the Chinese countryside in the 1930s also demonstrated that there was no increase in blood pressure with increasing age. This is in stark contrast to our modern understanding of essential hypertension in the United States, where two-thirds of the population over the age of 60 have high blood pressure. One reason may be that meat products were scarce in rural Kenya and China, and the consumption of such luxury items were limited to special occasions. Most people followed a whole food, plant-based diet. According to Dr. Yeh, when using our food as medicine to treat hypertension, we are often able to safely decrease or even discontinue blood pressure medications altogether. Dr. Yeh does caution that this should be done with the supervision of a physician.
"I often tell people that the best pharmacy is actually in their own refrigerator," says Dr. Yeh. “Consuming the right foods is very helpful for the prevention, maintenance and even reversal of such chronic diseases as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.” Dr. Yeh recommends increasing the amount of whole plant foods, limiting animal products, and avoiding processed foods. "For a long time, we have been persuaded by the meat industry to believe that we need to consume a lot of animal products to be healthy. The fact is that we do not," concludes Dr. Yeh.
This article first appeared in the World Journal and the Special edition: Healthy Lifestyle during Shelter-in-Place Issue of Chinese Health Initiative's Wellness eNewsletter.