The U.S. loves a good quick fix – from fast food to fad diets, we expect results instantly, and if they aren’t delivered, we move on quickly to the next trend. In this era of instant streaming, instant dinners, and instant rides, it’s no wonder that we assume our health operates in the same way. But the truth is, our bodies are complex systems, and there is no miracle pill to solve our problems overnight.
The sad reality, one that Big Pharma willfully withholds from the people, is that these supposed “miracle pills” lead to more problems and side effects, that in turn require more medication. This endless loop leads to dependence on pills with often deadly side effects, and countless U.S. Americans unaware that they are being prescribed things that often continue the cycle of illness. According to the Mayo Clinic, roughly 70% of all U.S. Americans take prescription drugs, with antidepressants and opioids ranked as two of the top three most commonly prescribed medications. This prescription-happy culture is having a startling impact. Studies tracking the dangers of prescription drugs estimate over 100,000 deaths are caused annually by taking medications as prescribed–roughly three times more than fatalities from car accidents, placing adverse reactions to prescription drugs as the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. These statistics aren’t even factoring in the opioid crisis, for whom prescription medication plays a key role. As a new generation enters adulthood, and more of us are chronically ill than ever before, these statistics can no longer be ignored, and the time has come for us to demand better for ourselves and our loved ones. Perhaps it’s time to rethink our pill-focused culture. Instead, let’s take a closer look at exactly what we are eating and how we are living our lives.
What causes those initial symptoms that lead us down the path of prescription dependence in the first place?
A lot of our problems arguably stem from the way that U.S. culture lauds stress and overwork. As a nation, we undervalue the need for downtime and relaxation to the point where 1 in 4 full-time employees in the U.S. don’t get any paid vacation days. A full schedule is viewed as the ultimate success, and stress is seen as a cultural given. These high amounts of daily stress have tangible ramifications and are attributed as the cause for everything from heart disease to anxiety. But it is not just stress that’s making us sick. Despite well-fed appearances, U.S. Americans are overwhelmingly malnourished. Roughly 85% of people in the U.S. are micronutrient deficient – they eat enough calories to survive, but nevertheless are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals because of their diets. When misinformation about food is abundant in our culture, and agriculture and factory
farm corporations play a key role in spreading the misinformation, it's hard to blame families for not knowing how to eat well. We should be holding our doctors to a higher standard, and expect them to provide patients with this information and acknowledge the link between food and disease. Encouraging people to eat whole, nutrient-dense foods every day–and providing them with the resources to do so is one of the most critical tools we have in fighting our dependence on pharmaceutical companies to “make us well”. When we take a hard look at our lifestyles, diets, and fixation on prescription pills, we find the problem isn’t that our health has magically declined as a collective, but rather that the lifestyle U.S. Americans are told to lead is killing us.
What if, as a culture, we promote healthy eating as a way of life, not simply yo-yo diets to lose a few pounds? What if instead of upholding thinness as a barometer of wellness, we looked at someone’s whole life–bloodwork, diet, lifestyle, stress level, time spent outdoors?In the southern Aegean Sea, the island of Ikaria’s approach to living is so balanced, it’s often called “the island where people forget to die” due to the remarkably high number of octa and nonagenarians living on the island. And studies have linked this longevity to their diet and lifestyle. Every day, Ikarians wake up when they’re rested, eat a plant-based diet, and spend time with their loved ones, enjoying herbal tea and wine throughout the day. They rest when they want, spend plenty of time outside, and prioritize leisure activities like cards, gossiping, and gardening. By not allowing money and work to overtake their lives, and by altogether avoiding processed and pesticide-ridden foods, this society is thriving
depression and Alzheimer’s rates are significantly lower there, and Ikarians are 2.5 times more likely than their U.S. counterparts to live into their 90s. What pharmaceutical companies have failed to do in the U.S., Ikaria has done all on its own through mindful living and a zest for life. The pharmaceutical industry must step back from solving everything with a pill, and we, in turn, must reclaim our bodies and health. Life is short. We deserve to spend it living, loving and eating well.