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Healthy "Artful Living" Moment #16: Beating the Health Care System the #3 Killer

Posted on April 29 2018

That's right. The health care system is the third greatest cause of death in the United States.

Chapter 15 of Dr. Michael Greger’s book, How Not To Die, is not about a disease, but about how modern medicine can actually cause your death. The shocking truth is that becoming ill can kill you, not necessarily from the illness, but from the American health care system’s attempts to heal you.

Here are the uncomfortable facts: the side effects from medicines prescribed in hospitals kills over 100,000 people per year (and this does not count the roughly 7,000 who die from being given the wrong medicine); another 20,000 die from other hospital errors; plus almost another 100,000 people die from infections acquired in the hospital. Hospitals are dangerous places.

Luckily, most people do not have to be admitted to the hospital, we can obtain care in an outpatient setting. However, the problem does not go away. Another 200,000 people die from the side effects of prescription drugs prescribed in doctor’s offices. Those long lists of alarming possible drug side effects you hear on television commercials for prescription drugs (with whispered phrases like “…may lead to death”) apparently are true.

And the stunning truth is that we subject ourselves to a considerable number of dangerous side effects (those lists of side effects in the television commercials are incredibly long) by taking prescribed drugs that are often not effective in addressing the condition they were prescribed for. How many times have you heard someone say that the doctor can’t seem to find the right medicine to effectively deal with the problem being treated? In a journal article published in Clinical Medicine the authors point out that when it comes to cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood-thinning drugs, the chance of even high-risk patients benefiting from them is typically less than 5% over a period of 5 years.

The medical community has recognized these dangers. In an article published in 1994 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, it was noted that doctor-caused deaths may be “the equivalent of three jumbo jet crashes every 2 days.” But, only modest changes have occurred to address this issue, which when compared to all other diseases, is the third greatest cause of death in the United States. For example, medical interns and residents are no longer made to work more than 80 hours per week (at least on paper) and shifts can’t be more than 30 consecutive hours long. Hmmm…I wonder why mistakes might be made in hospitals when the care givers are sleep deprived and exhausted!

But, of course, the problem doesn’t stop with errors made while treating illness. Even diagnosing illness can be dangerous. For example, radiation (from x-rays, CAT scans, etc.) causes almost 30,000 cancers per year.

So, getting sick (and seeking treatment) can be dangerous to your health! Obviously, it is far safer to not get sick. By following the guidelines outlined in Gerber’s book, and in my series of blogs summarizing the first fifteen chapters in the book, you can substantially reduce your risk of getting sick and dying. Those guidelines are pretty straightforward. First, and most obviously, do no harm to yourself and avoid dangerous behaviors like smoking or using recreational drugs (and, considering the facts in this blog, perhaps we ought to add "seeking medical care"). Secondly, get 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night. Third, exercise at least 30 minutes three times per week. And fourth, reduce your consumption of fast food and processed foods and instead eat 8 to 12 servings of fruits and vegetables along with whole grains every day. We all know these are things we should do. So do it! And good luck!! Stay healthy and live long.


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