5 ways to prevent lifestyle diseases

Lifestyle diseases develop over time as a result of poor dietary habits, poor lifestyle practices, and suboptimal functioning of key systems within the body. In this article, we explore the top five ways we can prevent these diseases.
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The disease process is not something that occurs always in isolation. There are lifestyle triggers that predispose us towards lifestyle diseases such as type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, dyslipidaemia, and similar conditions.

Most of these conditions develop over time as a result of poor dietary habits, poor lifestyle practices, and suboptimal functioning of key systems within the body. It is also key that over time, we start to understand the triggers of imbalance in our body and know when we might have gone off track, so that we might turn around and regain even keel.

The principle of cause and effect in disease that exists for thousands of years is not aimed at blame, but rather towards empowerment. It is about us understanding what were the triggers that led to our lifestyle disease, eliminating the triggers, and including beneficial practices that support reversal. In this article, let’s explore the top five ways we can do this.

Signs of an unhealthy diet and lifestyle

If we have been given a diagnosis of prediabetes, insulin resistant, diabetes, fatty liver, cardiovascular disease, dyslipidaemia, or other similar conditions based upon abnormal serum blood markers, then we have already gone way too far in the threshold. If we have been noticing our weight steadily creeping up, serum blood markers gradually creeping up towards the end of the ranges shown by the labs, or having any symptoms of inflammation, we night have ignored them thus far.

However, this is where a functional medicine practitioner can be more skilled, as lab assessments are done from a much narrower range, always pre-empting and catching things while they still exist in a preventive category.

These are the top five ways that we can support better management or reversal of lifestyle diseases:

1.  Rethink your diet

Sugars exist in multiple forms, and we can be quickly fooled from labels. A smoothie bought in a store can claim to have no added sugars and have five different high fructose fruits blended to concentrate the sugars. A protein bar can have several sugars in different names added to help bind it together. Several Indian breakfasts can be simple sugars together in a meal devoid of fibre and protein.

A great example is when a balanced meal of dosa, sambar, and coconut chutney, is changed into a dosa and tomato chutney for breakfast, which eliminates the lentils and vegetables to create a high sugar meal. It looks like a simple meal, but when this is done daily, insulin rises over time, until it stops responding. This is when you can find your blood sugar and HBA1C raising, and then the struggle begins.

If you already have a lifestyle disease, begin by eliminating the simple sugars. Start with vegetables for fibre and complex carbohydrates, optimal protein, healthy fats like ghee, and perhaps a little whole grain. By reducing insulin spikes and improving insulin sensitivity, you will gradually start to reverse these conditions. Unfortunately, the higher the level of insulin resistance and suboptimal liver health, the more strictly it requires the reduction of sugars and the patience of time to get back on track. But the great news is that by doing this 360-degree turn, you can gain control over these conditions.

2.  Improve liver function

Liver health plays a critical role in all metabolic and lifestyle diseases. It is usually when the liver starts working suboptimal that blood sugar regulation is compromised. ,Subsequently insulin sensitivity starts, blood sugar rises, triglycerides and LDL elevate, and inflammation increases. 

Many of the lifestyle diseases show remarkable improvement after optimising the liver. Unfortunately, such work is only done in ayurveda and functional medicine. In mainstream medicine, these interconnections are ignored.

Step one in optimising the liver is the elimination of poor-quality fats and reduction in sugars. I recently had a client with dyslipidemia, who thought he was consuming fried foods only occasionally, and this was thrice a week. If the liver needs a break, fried foods require complete removal. It is only then that the liver starts rejuvenating itself. The liver likes vegetables like beetroot and cabbage. Including them can benefit greatly.

3.  Improving sleep

While much is being made popular today about sleep chronotypes and some of us being night owls where we are at our most productive late into the night, I have not seen reversal or improvement of these conditions in those who sleep closer or later than midnight regularly.

I had Dr Anurag Bajpai who is a renowned endocrinologist on my podcast talking about endocrine health and sleep. He confirmed and validated my skepticism, speaking in detail about how every aspect of the endocrine system is intertwined with sleep quality, sleep quantity, and sleep timing.

Ayurveda has placed great emphasis on dinacharya, which means to follow the knowledge of the day. It is the original circadian medicine, which has vouched over thousands of years, for being in harmony with the diurnal rhythms of light and darkness.

Recent research has also shown remarkable improvement in blood sugar and insulin just by being in sync with these cycles of nature and avoiding exposure to blue light from screens after sunset. Even if you have read otherwise, I urge you to be your own detective, observing if you see improvement just by ensuring that you sleep before 10 pm.

4.  Movement appropriate to the body

While it might be obvious that sedentary living is a risk factor in metabolic disease, the other side of things is also true. If we overtrain and push without time for recovery, there is evidence pointing towards increase in systemic inflammation and the inability to improve the state of metabolic disease. This is because over exercising, especially if it is in combination with poor quality sleep, high stress, and an inflammatory diet, can prevent us from moving into a parasympathetic state where our body is capable of deep rest.

I met someone recently who was training 4-5 hours a day without sleeping well and having a high stress job. The result was visible in labs with crashing hormones, poor liver markers, and high insulin. See that you get movement 6-7 days a week, but adjust them based on how you sleep, how your day appears to be, and how you can compensate with diet. Balance strength training with some yoga. If you start feeling less stressed, less irritable, and having better sleep, that’s a great sign. That level of movement is greatly beneficial, helping the lymphatic system drainage and overall detoxification, also improving sleep.

5.  Deep level rejuvenation

While a lot is being spoken about stress, we probably do not prioritise the practices that help to soothe us enough. The potent power of a daily guided meditation cannot be stressed enough. Break up your workday by lying down on the ground in the afternoon. Cover your eyes with an eye mask and drop some essential oil on it. Use a earpiece and listen to a guided meditation. Notice how you feel yourself shifting from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic state through the practice. Your heart rate will reduce, your breathing will slow down, and the core body temperature will drop, which is a sign of reduced blood pressure, and the meaning of the word Zen becomes clear. This practice then moves you from a state of fight or flight, to one of rest, digest, and heal. This is the final but probably the most important piece of the puzzle in managing any lifestyle disease. I’d say prioritize this first, and the rest will all fall into place.

Always stay empowered with the knowledge that where there is a cause there is an effect, and this can put the power back into our hands. Cause is what we have done so it lies within us to change. Effect is the symptoms and by eliminating the cause we can change this.

Edited by Megha Reddy

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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