In current health news, you may read a lot about lifestyle disease, metabolic syndrome, and diseases of civilization. These are recent terms that are intended to encompass diseases like cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, which may have been all but unknown even a few hundred years ago but now top the list of causes of death.
There is some controversy around these terms. Some suggest that a term like lifestyle disease are unfairly narrow, placing the cause on lifestyle for diseases that may have many contributing factors. Metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors used to diagnose risk for a wealth of deadly diseases, is a disputed diagnosis by some doctors because they say it is not itself a disease.
And the term diseases of civilization is called misplaced because the ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Greece would have had diseases contributed to by their civilization that no longer exist, but they wouldn’t have had many if any cases of these modern ones. While these may be fair arguments and ones worth debating, they also distract us from a much more important question. Does the lifestyle you currently lead run the risk of causing or contributing to you getting one of these diseases?
If you live in an industrialized nation, such as the United States, Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, or Japan, the answer is yes. While smoking cigarettes may not specifically cause lung cancer, heart disease, or hypertension, it can definitely be shown to be a contributing factor. That means that if smoking is part of your lifestyle, you are putting yourself at greater risk of getting one of these diseases.
Likewise, if your diet is high in simple carbohydrates, particularly refined sugars that have been stripped of the fiber and nutrients such as that found in sugary soft drinks, you are at greater risk of developing Type II Diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, and becoming obese. While the sugar may not be the singular cause, this kind of diet puts you at significantly higher risk of suffering from these diseases.
So, whether you choose to call them lifestyle diseases or not, your lifestyle does make a significant contribution to the risk of you getting one or more of these diseases. And whether or not you agree with a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, if you have it you are at greater risk for many diseases, and if this diagnosis gives your doctor a starting point to prescribe a lifestyle change, then it is probably a good thing.
Whether or not the term “diseases of civilization” is an accurate description, it may provide us with an umbrella term under which we can categorize so many of these diseases that we may have the power to change through a change to our diet and other lifestyle factors.