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Diseases of Excess

Wealth is a peculiar thing; up to a certain point, it seems to be incredibly useful for increasing happiness and health, but over a certain amount, wealth might cause problems. You may have heard of diseases of affluence or excess; these are illnesses that are linked to over consumption, problems like obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and gout. These illnesses are seen predominantly in the West, where our riches have allowed us to eat however we want, whenever we want; these same riches have also given us access to cars and remote jobs, reducing how much we exercise.

One can easily chalk these problems up to wealth; if we didn’t have so much money, we wouldn’t have these problems! The trick is, a lack of wealth leads to a whole host of other problems; trust us, poverty is not better for your health than wealth. Seems like a bit of a Catch 22: too poor, and you’ll have diseases caused by malnutrition or lack of access to medical care, too rich and you’ll be plagued by diseases of excess.

Long-time readers of this blog will be aware of the writer’s preoccupation with habit forming and cycles; you may have noticed the psychological trap set up by the idea of “diseases of excess”. Wealth becomes the object that is causing the illness, so no efforts need to be made to change; an obese person can just say “That’s what happens in a wealthy society” and not put the efforts into changing their habits.

Looking for an excuse to keep old habits is very understandable; we are biologically driven to seek excess, because traditionally excess was a once-every-few-years affair. Food, shelter, water; these things were scarce, and so our body celebrates when it is given excess. This is why traditional Western medicine is insufficient for addressing the problems that plague wealthier societies; it is adept at treating symptoms and diseases, but not underlying causes.

The key to treating the underlying problems is to teach your body to crave moderation the same way it craves excess. To do this requires a lot of effort on the part of the patient and the practitioner; holistic medicine is unconcerned with an expert-patient dichotomy, as if a particular method of combating excessive habits doesn’t suit a patient’s lifestyle, then it won’t be useful. Conversation, a can-do attitude, persistence and patient advocacy are all essential to the holistic view of medicine.

The best holistic medicine centre will help you retool your habits so you’ll be less inclined to indulge in excess. This might involve particular herbs, or aromatherapy; it might involve teaching you how to manage stress better, using mindfulness and the power of your breath. We might encourage you to use particular techniques for exercising, help you avoid consuming unhealthy foods, or incorporate your religious and spiritual practices into your healthcare routine. Disease is not caused by affluence; it is caused by excess, and excess can be controlled by you, so long as you develop the willpower and habits to moderate your behavior. You can do it; we can help.

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