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A Wake-up Call for American Lifestyles

DaVinci Laboratories

Data from statistics show us trends that can yield helpful insight into our daily lives and health practices. This data can illuminate practices that work and highlight behaviors that are harmful. As demonstrated by the National Vital Statistics System from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), data can also provide a clear wake-up call, as shown by the downward trend in life expectancy in the United States.

The Longest Sustained Decline in a Century

The Washington Post describes1 “the longest, sustained decline in expected lifespan at birth in a century.” The CDC reports show2 that life expectancy at birth has continued this decline, dropping from 78.7 years for both sexes down to 76.1 years to continue this trend. In comparison, life expectancy at birth has recently increased in Europe with the most recent data showing an expectation of 81 years3 for both sexes, and this trend has continued upward with minimal exceptions.

In addition to a decrease in life expectancy at birth, age-specific death rates4 increased for age groups including 25-34, 35-44 and 85-plus. The 10 leading causes of death remained the same in a year-over-year comparison, indicating a lack of progress in treating heart disease, cancer, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease and suicide.

The Role of Opiates and Suicide

The increasing consequences of opiates and suicide cannot be underestimated, with overdose deaths reaching a new high5 of more than 70,000 nationwide in 2017, and the suicide rate has increased by 3.7 percent. A marked characteristic of both opiate addiction and suicide is the existence of effective treatments that could help solve these problems, yet often is not properly utilized. Naturopathic doctors are trained6 to develop personalized pain management treatment plans as part of pain management without opioids.

Naturopathic medicine can help provide the alternative treatments that have been shown to be effective at treating chronic and acute pain, as discussed by the deputy chief medical officer of the Washington State Health Care Authority,7 Charissa Fotinos. Fotinos joins Washington governor Jay Inslee in seeking more than $20 million in Medicaid support for care including chiropractic and peer addiction support. Yet these shocking numbers still fall below killers like heart disease and cancer.

Improving Cardiovascular Help Through Naturopathic Medicine

Heart disease is responsible for nearly one in every four deaths8 in the U.S., totalling more than 600,000 annually. The largest risks for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking—and 47 percent of Americans have at least one of these three risk factors. In addition to pre-existing medical conditions, lifestyle choice is a leading determinate in the risk for heart disease including:

• Overweight or obesity
• Poor diet
• Physical inactivity
• Excessive alcohol use

Lifestyle choices are highly treatable and are also a focus of naturopathic care. Licensed naturopathic doctors can help form a health team to help manage existing medical conditions,9 such as controlling blood pressure and cholesterol and managing diabetes or prediabetic conditions. Naturopathic care focuses on a comprehensive intake10 for patients with cardiac risk, to identify current risk factors, symptoms and the underlying cause of both.

The CDC emphasizes embracing healthy living habits11 through diet, weight management and physical activity, plus the avoidance of detrimental activities like smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, another area of expertise for naturopathic doctors.

A New Multiorganizational Approach

The INM is working to bring clinical nutrition education to community health care centers in the State of Washington through a task force we’ve organized call the Community Clinic Outreach Task Force. Community Healthcare Clinics are the front lines of primary care medicine in the U.S., so creating partnerships to improve outcomes here is our goal. This multi-organizational partnership combines efforts of the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians, Bastyr University, the Naturopathic Academy of Primary Care Physicians, the Naturopathic Medical Student Association and the Northwest Rural Primary Care Association. In collaboration with other stakeholders, our goal is to help practitioners and patients alike at community health centers across the state implement evidence-based nutritional and lifestyle solutions for chronic health conditions, specifically those which dominate health care expenditure.

It’s time for health in the United States to start getting better, with Americans living longer, healthier lives. And it’s important to remember that we already know how to get started, emphasizing whole patient care and helping patients to develop healthy lifestyles. It’s clear we can’t beat all disease yet, but where we have effective care available, it’s time to bring this to those who need it with programs like our Community Clinic Outreach Task Force.


1 Bernstein, L. (2018, November 29). U.S. life expectancy declines again, a dismal trend not seen since World War I. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/us-life-expectancy-declines-again-a-dismal-trend-not-seen-since-world-war-i/2018/11/28/ae58bc8c-f28c-11e8-bc79-68604ed88993_story.html?noredirect=on.

2 National Center for Health Statistics. (2018, November 29). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db328.htm.

3 Mortality and life expectancy statistics. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Mortality_and_life_expectancy_statistics#Life_expectancy_at_birth_increased_in_2016.

4 National Center for Health Statistics. (2018, November 29). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from \www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db328.htm.

5 Drug overdoses, suicides cause drop in 2017 US life expectancy; CDC director calls it a ‘wakeup call’. (2018, December 17). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://fox2now.com/2018/12/17/drug-overdoses-suicides-cause-drop-in-2017-us-life-expectancy-cdc-director-calls-it-a-wakeup-call/.

6 How do naturopathic doctors help people manage chronic pain without highly addictive opioids? Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://naturemed.org/faq/faq-how-do-naturopathic-doctors-help-people-manage-chronic-pain-without-highly-addictive-opioids/.

7 Boiko-Weyrauch, A. (2018, December 18). Gov. Inslee wants $30 million to combat opioid epidemic. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from www.kuow.org/stories/governor-wants-30-mil-to-combat-opioid-epidemic.

8 Heart Disease Facts & Statistics. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm.

9 Preventing Heart Disease: Other Medical Conditions. (n.d.). Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/medical_conditions.htm.

10 How do naturopathic doctors prevent and treat heart disease? Retrieved December 19, 2018, from https://naturemed.org/faq/faq-how-do-naturopathic-doctors-prevent-and-treat-heart-disease/.

11 Heart Disease Prevention With Healthy Living Habits. Retrieved December 19, 2018, from www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/healthy_living.htm.

Michelle Simon, PhD, ND, President & CEO, Institute for Natural Medicine In 1992, the leadership core of naturopathic doctors established the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) as a not for profit organization dedicated to advancing natural medicine. The purpose of the INM is to increase awareness of, broaden public access to, and encourage research about natural medicine and therapies. Among its milestones the INM counts the launch of the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) as an independent organization, leading California’s efforts to obtain licensure, developing an interactive childhood education program focused on healthy eating and lifestyles called Naturally Well in 2017, and expanding residency access by establishing and funding a residency program in 2018. INM has joined forces with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP), serving as the charitable arm, to deepen access to naturopathic care, public education and research. Dr. Michelle Simon serves as president and CEO of INM, is a licensed naturopathic physician, clinician, educator, and leader in many organizations dedicated to improving the quality and delivery of health care. In addition to holding a naturopathic doctorate from Bastyr University, she also holds a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Dr. Simon has served on the boards for the Integrative Healthcare Policy Consortium (IHPC), the AANP and the Naturopathic Physicians Research Institute (NPRI). Dr. Simon also served nine years on the Washington State Health Technology Clinical Committee which is part of the Health Technology Assessment program that examines the scientific evidentiary basis for efficacy, safety and cost effectiveness of healthcare technologies. She was also an invited participant for health care economics at “Summit on Integrative Medicine and the Health of the Public” at the Institute for Medicine (IOM) in 2009. She was recognized as the 2018 Physician of the Year by the AANP.