This week a new study came out in JAMA Internal Medicine showing that although we might assume that adults today are healthier than our parents were at the same age, the opposite is true. 32 percent of our parents reported being in "excellent" health in middle age. Today, only 13 percent of us in mid-life can say the same.
The study uncovered why. Those of us in our 40s, 50s and 60s have higher rates of chronic conditions than did our parents, and at younger ages. Diabetes, high blood pressure, you name it. We are twice as likely as our parents were to be suffering from a disabling chronic illness. Study authors sum it up with these words: "You live longer, but those extra years you bought -- you're sicker. That's not a good public health outcome."
That's not the only recent study on rising rates of chronic illness that concerns me -- and should concern you.
New reports tell us that 22 million Americans suffer from addiction – which is now being classified as a "chronic brain disease." (Add this to the 133 million Americans suffering from a range of other chronic diseases and the tally rises to 155 million Americans facing chronic health issues.)
And guess what one of the successful new treatment strategies for this newly labeled "chronic brain disease" turns out to be? What do practitioners who treat patients with addiction feel is critical for patients if they hope to return to a state of well-being?
"Manage your thoughts," say today's top addiction experts. Managing your thoughts plays a role in recovery.
Manage your stressful thoughts. Monkey Brain. The constant chatter of worry, the laser focus on what's wrong with whatever is happening, or wishing for something else to be happening. Nursing anger, frustration, fear, anxiety, resentment, regret. Ruminating. Getting caught in those states of mind that are linked to setting forth a toxic cocktail of inflammatory hormones and chemicals from brain to body to cell.
Years ago, when I wrote THE AUTOIMMUNE EPIDEMIC, I detailed the environmental stressors and toxins we encounter in our lives and how it leads to inflammation and illness. I called it the barrel effect. Our bodies can handle just so much in the barrel, and then, one day, there is that one more "hit" and it spills over, leading to chronic conditions too numerous to count. I wanted readers to know everything researchers know about how we can decrease what's overfilling our barrel, both by being aware, and by knowing how to eliminate what we can.
After I finished writing THE AUTOIMMUNE EPIDEMIC I encountered a great deal of emerging research on how the chronic and acute stress we feel also acts on our immune systems exactly like a toxin. How our state of mind can overflow the barrel, or, conversely, help to protect the immune system.
To our bodies, it doesn't matter if the "hit" is viral, toxic, or stress. It looks the same. Stress and anxiety can cause our "barrel" to overflow in just the same way. And so, I set out to research and write the "sequel" to THE AUTOIMMUNE EPIDEMIC. I'd talked about how to eliminate all the triggers we could to bring our immune system back to health, and why it was so important to do so.
I felt I owed it to you to talk about the one thing in our "barrel" that is most under out control: reversing the inflammation-promoting agitation, fear, stress, pain and anxiety we all encounter and experience in our lives, which leaks, like a toxin, into our barrel. Thousands of researchers have been studying how to best use scientifically studied methods to do just that. And how to activate instead, the healing responses of the brain.
Everytime I pick up another medical journal I read about another rising health condition. This past week, it was the "disturbing rising rates of heart problems in young people.
We know that heart conditions are related to chronic and acute stress.
Another study, published in the journal PAIN, found that "recurrent chronic pain is overwhelmingly prevalent in children and adolescents, with, 11% to 38% of kids reporting pain." Study authors looked at headache, back pain, abdominal pain, muscle pain and generalized pain. Rates depended on the sort of pain being reported. For instance one in four youth reported having regular headaches.
Girls generally experience more pain than boys. Which is not surprising since women suffer from more chronic conditions than men in adulthood. What is most concerning, say investigators, is this:
"... prevalence rates of childhood pain have increased over the last several decades."
Stress is most certainly playing a role.
The second study, published in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that children and teen's chronic pain is associated with that of their parents. The more chronic pain parents experienced -- especially mothers -- the more their children reported chronic pain:
"...clear associations were observed between maternal pain and pain in adolescents and young adults..."
As adults, we need to look at managing our own sense of joy and well-being not just in terms of our own health, but that of our children. Every step we take to move past "stressed-out living" and reclaim joy in our life not only enriches us, it allows our kids to see how that's possible. And that legacy is priceless.
In my year-long journey researching and writing THE LAST BEST CURE, I test drove everything I thought might help the 155 million Americans who have chronic conditions. Everything that scientists know activates the healing responses of the brain. So that we can walk away from Monkey Brain, and live with a newfound sense of well-being.
I also wanted to help the 145 million who don't face chronic health worries -- and who don't want to.
I would like to think that my last two books are, together, something of a health recipe:
THE AUTOIMMUNE EPIDEMIC + THE LAST BEST CURE =
Reclaim Your Body, Your Joy, Your Well-being, Your Life.
Every time I pick up another study which shows the range of pain we face, whether from this emotional struggle or that health challenge, I find myself feeling, very deeply in my heart, how much I want to be part of the change.
Because it just doesn't have to be this way.