Is Your Lifestyle Shortening Your Life?

We’re human, and because of that, we’re all perfectly imperfect! We enjoy “letting loose” every now and then. Eating what we know we shouldn’t, not exercising because we just don’t feel like it, and having one too many at our friend’s party. Because we’re human, we’re never going to do everything we should, all the time. And that’s okay. We all need to have fun and enjoy ourselves once in awhile. It’s actually good for us not to be good occasionally!

The problems start when “occasionally” becomes “all the time.”

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) go largely unnoticed in developing countries because they are commonly perceived to be a problem mainly affecting affluent countries. Yet, according to a recent report from the World Health Organisation, nearly 80% of deaths attributed to NCDs occur in low- and middle-income nations.

The report stated that, by 2020, approximately four million people will die from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in Africa by 2020. Their research showed that most adults in Africa have at least one of the lifestyle risk factors that increase their chances of developing an NCD. These include smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, a poor diet and low levels of physical activity.

By 2030, more Africans will die from NCDs than infectious diseases. In countries such as South Africa, this places a double burden on healthcare facilities already struggling to cope with HIV and tuberculosis.


What Are NCDs?

NCDs are chronic in nature, and cannot be communicated from one person to another. Although they are caused by a combination of factors - including physiology, genetics, behaviours and environment - common NCDs are referred to as “Lifestyle Diseases” because can be attributed to an unhealthy lifestyle. Cardiovascular diseases (CVD), stroke, diabetes, some types of cancer and high blood pressure (hypertension) are heavily linked to lifestyle choices. (An estimated 46 percent of Africans suffer from high blood pressure -- the highest worldwide).

High blood pressure is a common cause of kidney failure, and in South Africa, our public hospitals are simply not equipped to cope with the high numbers of patients needing dialysis. There are currently fewer than 500 dialysis machines used to treat more than 4,000 patients with end-stage kidney failure in South Africa’s public healthcare sector.

Africa is also far behind Europe and America when it comes to overall health-consciousness. Cigarettes, for example, are considerably cheaper in Africa than in Europe. This could explain why tobacco use is currently at about 26% on our continent, and still on the rise.

The increasing prevalence of fast food chains, coupled with growing disposable incomes, means obesity, and diets lacking in fruit and vegetables, are increasingly common.


How Can We Treat Lifestyle Diseases?

There are three main ways to treat any lifestyle disease: Lifestyle changes, medicine, or a combination of both.


Lifestyle Changes

This is possibly the most difficult approach as it involves removing a lot of things you consider “fun.” Sustaining a lifestyle change requires diligence, motivation and a lot of willpower, but the rewards can be huge.



Taking certain medication to control blood pressure, for example, can definitely help, but there are always side-effects to using any kind of medicine long-term. Sometimes, these can be as bad, or worse, than the condition you are trying to treat.


Lifestyle Changes and Medicine

Lifestyle changes create a healthier, more healing environment within your body, and this creates an optimum atmosphere in which medication can be the most effective.

Dr Alain Sanua is a qualified medical doctor currently practising Integrated Medicine. He would welcome the chance to talk to you about your lifestyle concerns and can offer sound nutritional advice to help you make healthier choices. Contact him today.


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