We are collapsing under our own weight

Apocalypse Now

Chronic Illness in America

We have a crisis of health care in America and chronic illness is at the heart of it. The cost of our modern, unhealthy lifestyle is skyrocketing. The economic effect reverberates throughout society. Families are disrupted, businesses suffer, and there is no daylight visible at the end of this tunnel. Americans must awake from their slumberous state of indifference and take action to begin reversing this tide of destruction.

We desperately need to realize where this road we travel is leading, and how far down it we have already journeyed. We are like the proverbial frog in the pot of boiling water. Our problems have been creeping for some time. For decades the heat has slowly, almost imperceptibly, risen. We are in serious trouble and do not even realize we are near the boiling point. We are amused to death by entertainment, particularly digital media consumption. We consume unhealthy food because it is cheap, fast, convenient, and of course, tasty. We prefer sedentary lifestyles of ease over labor and exercise. Our brains are dulled by passive television and constant, intrusive social media. All the while, we feign things are just fine with the world, “Let’s eat, drink and be merry!”

But things are far from being right. Behind this facade lie horrible statistics which point to our dreadful decline. And there is no quick fix – no simple solution, for these problems are legion. No president can make America “Great Again” no matter how wonderful it sounds. There must first be something to work with. You need proactive, intelligent, healthy people to make a country strong.

It is time for America to Man Up. The problems are not secret, we just do not like to talk about them... at least not in a way that requires sacrifice and labor. But there exists no magic pill we can swallow to make our troubles disappear. We have to face them and face them like men. We have to summon, by God’s grace, the strength within us to overcome any and all obstacles that stand in the way of us, as individuals, rising above the multitudes and living a productive life of responsible freedom. Our nation’s problems will have to be solved one man at a time! Man Up Now is devoted to empowered YOU to live YOUR life to the fullest – to embrace your manhood and manly duty – to eat right and be healthy – to be fit and strong – to have a sharp and continuously-developing mind, along with the virtue and leadership skills to inspire other men to do their duty.

A real man has an inestimable value in modern America for he is, indeed, rare. We will explore what makes a real man as our story unfolds, but first let’s identify the problems we face. In this first article we will look at chronic illness in America.

Chronic Illness Statistics

A quick visit to the CDC website reveals some interesting statistics, though I wish they were more current.
  • ½ of ALL adults have one or more chronic diseases, with ¼ of adults having 2 or more (2012)
  • 7 of the top 10 causes of death are from chronic illnesses, with ½ of all deaths being from cancer and heart disease (2010)
  • 86% of ALL health care spending is for chronic illnesses (2010). Americans spend more than 17% of the GDP on health care costs...over $3 Trillion. We spend more per capita (about $9500) than any other country – yet we see poor results. In the health category, we are not even in the top 10 among developed countries
Chronic diseases are largely preventable and frequently manageable. The four great health risk behaviors are: lack of exercise, poor nutrition, tobacco use and alcohol use. The CDC estimates good diet, physical activity, and cessation of smoking would prevent:
  • 80% of heart disease and strokes
  • 80% of type-2 diabetes
  • 40% of cancer
Longevity in America was growing at the rate of about 2.5 years per decade This growth has halted. It has now flat-lined with white Americans experiencing a down-tick. According to the 2016 CIA Factbook, we are now down to 42nd place globally in life expectancy.

Counties in red are experiencing the decrease in longevity
Many Americans cannot perform the activities of daily life. According to the 2010 census, 19% of people nationwide have one or more disabilities. 30.6 million Americans have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. In my home state of Mississippi, 8% of adults 18-64 are receiving disability benefits from Social Security. We rank #5 in the nation. That means for every dozen of us, one is receiving a disability check. Who is paying for that? Working taxpayers! These statistics do not include drug or alcohol-related disabilities because they are disqualified from receiving “benefits.” If these were included, Mississippi’s percentage would be much higher.

Obesity is an Epidemic

In 1990, obese adults made up less than 15 percent of the population in most states. By 2010, 36 states had obesity rates of 25 percent or higher, and 12 of those had obesity rates of 30 percent or higher (CDC). More than 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese, and the numbers increase each year.

Many factors play a role in weight management but the most critical is nutrition. 25% of men and 40% of women are on a diet and spend over $60 Billion a year on weight-loss products (Marketdata Enterprises, 2013), yet more Americans are obese than are overweight or normal weight (Yang/ Colditz, 2015). It is obviously not working.

Note: Overweight is a BMI of 25-29, Obese is a BMI of 30 or greater.

The modern American diet, heavy in processed foods at home and fast foods on the go, are calorie-dense and nutrition-sparse. The average person cares more about taste and convenience than nutrition. Most people have never been taught the difference between macronutrients – carbohydrates, proteins and fatty acids – and the need to have a decent balance of quality food items. Some have heard news about the dangers of consuming too much sugar, salt, trans fat, processed meats, refined grains, etc. Most everyone knows they should be eating less pizza, hamburgers / french fries, and fried chicken. Again, these things are tasty and convenient. But there is a price to pay. As sure as night follows day, where convenience food (fast food, processed foods) goes, chronic disease follows.

Usual Suspects: Sugar & Salt Consumption

90% of Americans consume too much sodium placing them at high risk of heart disease. If that sounds bad, check this out: On average, Americans eat 100 pounds of sugar a year. That breaks down to 30 teaspoons a day.

Nearly half of sugar consumption comes from sodas and fruit juices. A single Coke or Pepsi has 9 teaspoons of sugar. There are 8.5 teaspoons in 4 Chips-Ahoy cookies. Cakes and Ice cream – do we really need to go there? On a HHS/USDA 2000-calorie recommended diet – with 10% maximum from sugar – one can of coke puts you right at the daily limit.

We even need to be educated about the so-called “healthy alternatives.” Tropicana Orange Juice has 22g of sugar per 8 oz. (about 5 ½ tsp). Yoplait yogurt has 27g (about 7 tsp). Sugar occurs naturally in fruits, berries and vegetables, so even healthy food items high in fructose have to be taken into consideration, particularly when they are "juiced." We certainly want to get adequate amounts of these healthy choices, but all things in moderation!

A recent study (Credit Suisse Research Institute 2013) finds 30-40% of healthcare cost related to illnesses caused by excess dietary sugar.
Lack of Micronutrients

Micronutrients are what we commonly call vitamins and minerals. Each of these have specific roles in bodily function. We only need a small amount but they are vital to good health.

Fat-soluble vitamins include A, D, E and K, and are stored in our body tissue for a long period of time. They pose a risk of toxicity if consumed in excess. The remainder of the vitamins, such as the B vitamins and C, are water-soluble. The body absorbs what it needs, then flushes the rest.

Among the fat-solubles, Vitamin A is an important micronutrient needed for healthy eyesight and gums. We need vitamin D for strong bones and immune function. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant which helps fight free radical damage in the body. The last fat-soluble vitamin, K, plays a vital role in healthy skin and hair, blood coagulation and healthy heart, as well as strong bones.

The water-soluble vitamins play an important role too. Most people know of the value of vitamin C which acts as an antioxidant and is important for a healthy immune system and in the production of collagen. The B vitamins are necessary for energy production, nervous system health and for proper digestion.

There are also essential minerals that play important roles in the body such as iron needed for red blood cell production, calcium for strong healthy bones and teeth, magnesium for nervous system health, and zinc for healthy skin, reproductive and immune function. Selenium is also an important mineral which acts as an antioxidant to protect the body from chronic diseases and premature aging.

There is much controversy over whether or not we should be consuming vitamin and mineral supplements. There are numerous studies supporting both sides. A person eating a healthy diet from a variety of organic sources should be getting everything their body needs for optimum health. As with phytochemicals, there is a danger from getting too much of a good thing. We already mentioned the fat-soluble vitamins, but too much of one mineral can be harmful as well. Minerals interact and too much of one specific mineral can affect the uptake of another.

Another issue Americans must confront is the problem of soil depletion due to aggressive modern farming practices. According to the Nutrition Security Institute, US soil is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished. Researchers who compiled reports from around the world conclude that US agricultural soil has been depleted of 85 percent of its minerals and vitamins during the last 100 years. Let’s look at one example. In 1914, the report says, there were 400 mgs of (sums of averages) of calcium, magnesium and iron in US cabbage, lettuce, tomatoes and spinach. In 1997 (the last years figures were available), that mineral content had shrunk to 75 mgs. This is one reason many doctors and scientists recommend organically-grown fruits, berries, and vegetables. While this guarantees there are no pesticides chemical fertilizers used or genetically-modified organisms, it does not necessarily mean the soil is mineral-rich. Just be advised.

Lack of Phytochemicals

Phytochemicals are literally chemicals found in plants. They include flavonoids, carotenoids, allicin, polyphenols, hydrolyzable tannins, lignans, and phytosterols. These chemicals provide flavor and color to vegetables, fruits, and herbs. There are good, and there are adverse, photochemicals. Just because they occur “naturally,” and are found in plants, does not necessarily make them good for our health. However, the good ones bring with them a host of benefits.

Health protecting effects of good phytochemicals are due to anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-carcinogenic, anti-proliferative, hypocholesterolemic, and cellular repair properties. In plain English, regular consumption of colored fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risks of cancer, cardiovascular disease, stroke, Alzheimer disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, diabetes, and some of the functional declines associated with aging. It is becoming increasingly evident that anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of phytochemicals mitigate the damaging effect of oxidative stress.

What we must realize is the highly-processed packaged industrial food lacks the abundance of phytochemicals found in raw fruits, berries and vegetables. It is important to consume an adequate ratio of these plant-based natural foods, either raw or lightly processed, and preferably organic. The key is variety. Each plant contains different compounds so it’s good to mix things up as best as possible. Since all plant nutrients and chemicals interact, and have a combined affect on body system, too much of even a good thing can have negative effects.

The Microbiome

The typical healthy person is inhabited with trillions of microbes. In fact, the gut bacteria outnumber cells in the human body. It may sound creepy but there is a symbiotic relationship between a host and its microbiota. The immune system communicates with the bacteria and identifies which are harmful and which are helpful. It then combats the bad bacteria and lets the good bacteria go to work doing its job.

Each individual has a unique microbiome. It begins at birth and there are actually different microbial communities for children born vaginally or by C-sections. As the babies pass through the birth canal they are flooded with microbes. Then comes breastfeeding where additional microbes pass through mother’s milk. Allowing children to play in the dirt...and even eat dirt...provides them with important bacteria which will help them later in life. Little ones should not be kept in a sterile environment.

There are numerous adverse affects associated with a person’s poor gut flora. There are endocrine effects as the microbiome plays an important role in regulating hormones. 95% of seratonin, the feel-good hormone, is made in your gut. There are also metabolic effects and numerous studies show the effect on body weight. Transferring fecal matter from a healthy person's colon to an unhealthy person has shown positive effects.

There is a mind-gut connection which has an effect on our moods and basic emotions. It has been called the “second brain.” The Human Microbiome project found the gut microbiome influences our circadian rhythms. Emerging science postulates it affects pain sensitivity, social interactions, and even decision-making. Your very level of education can now be predicted based on your microbiome.

Your gut flora may be in trouble and you don’t even realize it. On the one hand, the SAD (standard American diet) does not consist in probiotic and prebiotic foods which aid in the proliferation of healthy gut bacteria. On the other hand, you have the negative effects of the ubiquitous antibiotic.

The problem with antibiotics is they do not discriminate bad from good bacteria. They destroy both. Some studies have shown that even a single course of antibiotics can cause permanent changes to the gut flora. Some bacteria may eventually recover but it can take months, or even an entire year (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/302179.php). While antibiotics can be life-saving in some cases, Americans typically over-consume the medication. It should always be weighed in the balance. We are also ingesting antibiotics through milk and meat from animals given meds due to the nature of modern close-quartered practices.

One other modern concern which is being hotly debated among doctors and scieintists is Leaky Gut Syndrome. One side says it is becoming prevalent in American society, while the other side says its a myth. While the dabate rages on, I believe it is important for us to study as the symtoms do appear to explain a lot of problems Americans sufffer from. This is the gist of it: our gut microflora creates a barrier along the intestinal wall which keep pathogenic germs from escaping the intestines and leaking into our blood stream. Our immune system sees the invading germs and launches a full scale immune response, building up antibodies to fight back. When the protective gut flora is reduced, leaky gut becomes a problem as our system becomes overwhelmed.

The bottom line: consume an adequate number of probiotic and prebiotic foods, eat organic meats, drink organic milk (or almond milk), and only use antibiotics when the need is great.

The Other Major Contributing Factor: Lack of Fitness

Lack of physical activity is another major factor. On the one hand, Americans are consuming foods high in caloric content and on the other they are becoming increasingly less active and more sedentary. This means more calories are being added, and less is being burned for fuel. A pound of fat equates to approximately 3500 calories. For the average individual to lose a pound a week of body fat, they must have a 500 calorie daily deficit. This is done by reducing the daily food intake by 500 calories, increasing exercise to burn off 500 calories (quite a lot of exercise), or a combination of both (recommended). This is an oversimplification because other factors such as the endocrine system play a role, but this gives a very good general idea of what it takes to lose just one pound of fat. We will discuss this more in the following article.

Who’s to Blame?

One thing we modern Americans love to do is point fingers and cast blame anywhere but toward ourselves. It's convenient to blame:
  • Pharmaceutical companies. They make it easy. If I take this pill, I can eat what I want and I don’t have to exercise.
  • Big Food/Ag Industry. They make food purposefully addictive. They have chemists on staff whose sole purpose is to make this happen.
  • Education System. We can blame the system for failing to educate us about the dangers of unhealthy lifestyle.
  • Television. Those endless commercials aimed at making us salivate with anticipation of tasting the luscious-looking items.
  • Doctors. “Educated” men and women who treat symptoms rather than root causes. You can blame them for not telling you to eat better and exercise...but who told them?
  • Obama. Why not blame the government and the Affordable Care Act?
  • The Russians. Because it’s popular these days.
  • Our Parents. After all, they’re the ones who took us to McDonald’s. They’re the ones who ordered Pizza instead of cooking supper. They’re the ones who got us hooked on Coke.
  • God. For making our bodies crave dopamine.
Yes, we can blame anyone and everyone, save ourselves. Yet, no one held you down and force-fed you ice cream. There is water flowing from every faucet. No one made it to where all you can drink is Coke. Oh, but you say, “I didn’t know food could be so dangerous and I didn’t know I needed to exercise.” Ignorance is no excuse. You are responsible for your own body. Study. Research. Experiment. Live life fully. While you sit and fret over what movie you choose to watch tonight...there are few things more important in your life than choosing what foods to eat. Your health is predominantly in your fork and spoon. Choose wisely.

But really, in the end, it doesn’t matter who’s to blame. If the state of your health is poor or declining, don’t focus on the past (which cannot be changed), but rather focus on the future (which you have to power to control). The average person can transform their life, but they have to want to do it.
The truth is, most people do not want to change. Modern food is like an addictive drug and addicts do not give up their drug easily. Living a healthy, disease-free life requires a lifestyle change for most people. For those who have made the transition, there is no desire to return. To be pain-free, and have full functional movement performing activities of daily life would seem like a worthy goal. Who wouldn’t want to have loads of energy, clear thoughts, better sleep, and better moods? This seems like a great alternative to the new norm of taking handfuls of pills on a daily basis?

God designed our bodies to fight off disease by eating natural healthy foods, getting physical activity, using and developing our brains, fighting stress, and tending to our emotional well-being.

Americans need to secede from modernity and embrace a lifestyle of wholesome, healthy living. It is not an unattainable goal. It begins with one step. Contrary to popular belief, it does not mean giving up good-tasting food. It does mean substituting some foods. It doesn’t mean giving up fun. It does mean substituting daily hours in front of a TV with fun activities like kayaking. It doesn’t mean giving up digital media altogether, but it requires us to control our technology rather than technology controlling us.

And it doesn’t require an immediate “cold-turkey” change. It can happen by degree. Any change of diet and fitness, in the right direction, will bring rewards.

The Excuses

Here are the big four: lack of time, finances, knowledge and willpower.

1. I don’t have time.
The number one excuse for not participating in an exercise program is perceived lack of time. It is also an excuse given for eating fast food and microwave food, rather than traditional cooking.

A 2016 Neilsen study revealed that American adults devote about 10 hours and 39 minutes each day to consuming media. This includes usage of tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs.

Reining in the amount of daily media consumption could easily free up time for a 30 minute daily workout and at least one home-cooked meal. The results would be life-changing. Fast food and sedentary lifestyle are a dangerous one-two punch that leads to chronic illness.

2. It costs too much.
While it is true that industrial food is cheap by design, it is not true that fast food is a cheaper way to live than healthy foods. Yes fresh strawberries cost more than a package of cheap cookies, but the nutritional difference is staggering. What is the long-term cost of your health? Saving a dollar today could cost you two later, not to mention the length and quality of your life.

I recently lost a close friend to cancer. He was an active man, and was about a decade younger than me. After the initial chemotherapy, he began to respond well and seemed like he had things under control. I visited him one day and did something quite out-of-character. I began to chide him for the donuts, white bread, cookies and other junk food within plain view. I told him I did not want to see him fall back into sickness. His response was “eating healthy costs too much.” I pointed to the new pickup truck he was driving and told him eating healthy was cheaper than a $40,000 truck. I asked him how much he thought his life was worth and said I would rather see you driving an old piece of junk and eating healthy. His only words were, “John Cripps, you’re killing me!” I said, “No brother, you’re killing yourself. He died a few months later. I miss him a lot.

3. I don’t know how.
Whoever coined the phrase, ignorance is bliss, probably did not want to face the realities of life. Some people do not want to know certain facts because they don’t want to have to face them. Better to not know than to know and have to decide what to do about it. Others want to remain ignorant because finding the truth is sometimes difficult work...and that takes time (back to #1 on the list). Many people are content with truths they believe to be self-evident because it is within their comfort zone. But, as Huxley said, “facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”

God gave us minds that have incredible abilities to expand and develop. He gave us curiosity to cause us to want to know more. He gave us a conscience for discernment. Yet we waste this valuable resource on so many worthless daily pursuits.

4. I can’t do it.
Yep, you’re right – can’t never could! Man’s greatest enemy is himself. An attitude of defeat is slavery. Men rail and protest over a slavery in America that ended 152 years ago, yet most people today are trapped in a bondage which they have the power to free themselves from. It is possible for tyrants to shackle your hands and feet, but only you can shackle your mind.
Man Up Boot Camp

Here are some related topics we will cover in the Man Up Boot Camp:
  • We will discuss the fundamentals of macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats, as well as nutritional balance.
  • We will talk about the different kinds of fats – which are essential, which are non-essential but healthy, and which to avoid.
  • We will touch on some fundamentals of micronutrients: vitamins and minerals and the possible need due to soil depletion.
  • We will wade through some of the hype over “superfoods” to try to arrive at some truth among all the noise.
  • We will talk about the “Dorito Effect” and how the modern food industry uses chemicals to give our foods “taste.”
  • We will counter that with naturally-occurring phytochemicals – important non-nutrient plant chemicals.
  • We will go over how to read food labels.
  • We will discuss the microbiome and the need to pay attention to prebiotics and probiotics.
  • We will introduce the “Blue Zones” as we talk about different diets around the world.
  • We will make sure you understand the concept of epigenetics and how important your lifestyle choices are towards you health and longevity.
  • We will not give individualized diet plans, or specific nutritional suggestions to combat your diseases. This is outside our legal scope of practice.
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Page Credits:
Top photo - Independence Mine, Hatcher Pass, Alaska. Photo by John Cripps
Bottom photo - Decaying bridge, Alaska wilderness. Photo by John Cripps
Bottom logo by Jennifer Cripps