An ounce of prevention

In my monthly library talks and when speaking with patients, I find myself frequently emphasizing the incredible importance of prevention. Naturopathic medicine is all about prevention! So I thought I would share some key points here to help drive home just how valuable prevention is (and why it can be hard to practice it!).

PreventionHow valuable is prevention?

We all theoretically agree it is better to prevent disease (or any other negative outcome). Treating existing health issues prevents future, chronic health issues. For example, addressing high blood pressure can prevent heart disease, treating inflammation today can make your body a less hospitable place for cancer to grow, and resolving immune imbalance can treat and prevent eczema, asthma, and allergies. Clearly you can save time, energy, and money later by making an investment in your health today.

Think for a moment of any nagging health issue you might have now… Pain, fatigue, medications you have to take, discomfort, etc. What would it be worth to you to not have it? To just be cured of it right now? As if it never happened? A lot, right? That would mean you don’t have to work so hard and you would feel better every day. And, how good would that feel? How gratifying would that be? Pretty amazing, right?

So, what would it be worth to you to have prevented that nagging issue before it happened? Take into account the financial cost, but also the value of your time and energy. Consider how that issue may have affected your job performance, earning potential, quality of life, relationships, and all the other ways it has changed your life. With these things in mind, prevention is incredibly valuable! Unfortunately, putting prevention into practice is still a challenge for so many of us.

Why is prevention hard to practice?

1. Prevention seems expensive:

In Canada we are accustomed to “free” healthcare. It isn’t really “free” but because we don’t pay directly out of pocket, it seems that way. Nor is it necessarily what we want in terms of long-term health outcomes – the conventional medical system doesn’t do prevention very well. In comparison, investing your disposable income in health NOW versus spending nothing NOW (but spending a lot more later) can seem expensive. However, making that up-front investment actually provides a higher return in quality of life, savings on medications, increased energy and productivity, and just plain enjoyment of life than any other way you can invest your money.

2. Prevention is delayed gratification:

Having pain and taking pain medication and getting quick relief is very tangible and immediate. Much of medicine works this way (medications for asthma, sleep, depression, anxiety, rashes, etc). It’s pretty great to have a problem, take a pill, and feel better!

More delayed gratification might be if you have an issue (eg: migraines, asthma, depression, or some other discomfort) and go see a naturopathic doctor who works with you on diet, lifestyle, and other ways to eventually eliminate your discomfort. Usually you can see some improvement in the short-term with naturopathic treatment and continue building on that to alleviate your symptoms. This is also tangible and measurable because you had a problem and then you don’t. Definitely takes more time, up-front cost, and commitment, but most people would agree the result has more value that suppressing the same symptoms with medication.

Prevention is the ultimate in delayed gratification since if you are successful, you will never know what might have been and you can’t measure something that doesn’t exist! So, prevention doesn’t have the same short-term pay-off that motivates people. And, prevention is very, very difficult to prove in the currently popular “double-blind randomized controlled trial” research paradigm.

Naturopathic MedicineNaturopathic medicine = prevention superstar

Most patients begin naturopathic treatment looking for solutions to problems they have now, such as high cholesterol, fatigue, pain, digestive issues, hormone issues, infertility, etc. This is wonderful because treating those issues naturopathically can not only resolve symptoms but because naturopathic medicine targets the root cause and focuses on establishing healthy habits, long-term more serious diseases can also be reduced or prevented over time. More bang for your buck!

In addition, most naturopathic treatments are CUMULATIVE. Most naturopathic treatments continue to yield big results the longer they are in place, because when you work improving the function and health of the body now, over time that improvement continues to grow and help create a physiological environment less conducive to disease and more conducive to healing.

Make your health a priority

A colleague of mine recently lamented that unfortunately the “poverty mentality” continues to affect those of us working for prevention. He pointed out that while many people freely spend on new tech gadgets, eating out, beauty products, purses/clothing/shoes, vacations, etc these same individuals will often complain about the price of naturopathic treatment and natural health products and only spend on their health within whatever benefits coverage they have (despite what may be necessary to achieve their goals).

I definitely observe this too and try to frame it in a slightly different way for myself and my patients, which is:

  • How high a priority is your health?
  • Where does health fit into the context of your lifestyle and other priorities?

Since making major changes to my own health years ago and continuing to learn about health as a naturopathic doctor, I’ve come to view my health as one of the key areas of my life that deserves my time, attention, and investment. Just like having food on the table, a roof over my head, support from family and friends, my health is essential and is therefore a priority. So, I challenge you to reconsider the value of your health and align your choices accordingly.

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