Overall, modern society has enjoyed continued health improvement over the years. In most cases, we’re living substantially longer than our ancestors. Advancements in health and medicine have been largely responsible for longer life. Surprisingly, this trend might be coming to an end. Let’s look at modern advances in health and how to take advantage of them. Plus, we’ll see how you can avoid any dangers.
The reality is that most of the major events that improve health occurred many years ago. For example, the discovery of vaccines has all but wiped out diseases like smallpox and polio. Even before that, clean water supplies saved millions of lives, and sanitation was implemented in the early 19th century.
In 1928, the discovery of penicillin by Sir Alexander Fleming forever changed how we treat infection. Back in the mid-1800s, the development of anesthesia and sterile surgery made things a lot cleaner, and less painful, for people undergoing surgery. If you lump in radiographic imaging, advances in childbirth, modern heart care and organ transplants — you have an entire catalog of factors that allow people to live longer and healthier.
Still, even within the last 10 to 15 years, we’ve witnessed some newer miraculous advances in the world of health and medicine.
Human Genome Project
The sequencing of all the genes that make up our DNA, or human genome, was a monumental scientific breakthrough in 2003. Since then, medical research has been revolutionized with scientists seeking to treat disease at the gene level. This has major implications for all kinds of illnesses from HIV to cancer to heart disease. The next goal is to complete the Human Microbiome Project, which will identify all the bacterial systems associated with the human body.
Stem Cell Research
The discovery that any cell can potentially be converted into a stem cell is huge. Why? Because stem cells can be programmed to evolve into any type of body cell. This means that entire organs could be grown and then transplanted into humans. They’ve already made artificial ears, and other organs are being developed rapidly. The ideal situation would be that doctors could harvest cells from your own body to replace your own worn out or diseased organs.
Targeted Cancer Therapy
This advancement has given new hope to countless cancer patients. Current chemotherapy sometimes works, but the side effects like hair loss, infection and nausea are unbearable sometimes. With targeted therapy, only cancer cells are attacked by the treatment. This type of treatment uses genetic markers to identify tumor cells.
This is targeted cancer therapy with a twist. With cellular immunotherapy, your own cells are extracted and reprogrammed. Once these cells are injected back into your body, they seek and destroy cancer cells that cause leukemia and lymphoma.
Detecting Cancer in Blood Tests
These have been nicknamed “liquid biopsies” and are basically a method of detecting cancer with a simple blood test. Some cancers markers can already be detected with blood tests like the PSA for prostate cancer. However, the liquid biopsy would detect actual cancers by detecting DNA shed into the blood by tumor cells.
Perhaps one of the greatest breakthroughs, and battles, of modern health is the concept of well-being. During the last 10 years, thousands of well-being clinics, books, gurus and websites have appeared.
On the one hand, this has been very positive for people’s health in general. In the old days, we were all passive patients, and doctors pretty much just told us what to do. As the public became more educated, they realized that health is more than just biologic. Emotional, psychological, social and even spiritual factors have a big impact too. Now, the health care field has begun to look at patients more as complete human beings.
Still, many people have taken advantage of this phenomenon by jumping on the bandwagon to make money. In some cases, they might not have any formal education and are simply self-proclaimed “experts.” While this may or may not be harmless, unsuspecting consumers end up wasting time and money on advice that has limited scientific validity.
The well-being movement has also given birth to a multibillion-dollar nutritional supplement industry. Again, the quality of the research that backs up many of the claims is flimsy at best. There is good news, however. The health care industry, in general, has accepted that some supplement approaches are valid. Increasingly, the use of nutritional supplements is making its way into serious medical research.
As people have become more interested in natural forms of preventing and treating disease, a huge interest has swelled in nutrition. This has led to people to think about foods almost as if they were medications. More than ever, people are aware of things like antioxidants, gluten intolerance and anti-inflammatory foods. All the better for the public health.
One of the most encouraging aspects of the well-being and supplement movements is that true professional health care experts are exploring new areas. The whole notion of treating people’s problems from different angles has improved the health of multitudes of people. When serious professionals open up to new solutions, the results are sure to be positive.
This means we see physicians from leading medical centers exploring things such as a nutritional way to combat Alzheimer’s disease. Also, they recognize that since dementia can vary widely, prevention may be personalized.
Switching gears to exercise, another dramatic development during the last several years has been a shift toward high-intensity exercise. While this might be a reflection of our busy lifestyles, a lot of research shows the benefits of high-intensity exercise over short time periods. This has partially been the reason behind the explosion of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and CrossFit training styles.
HIIT is a technique in which you give an all-out, one hundred percent effort in short bursts of exercise. Recovery periods are also brief before you start another round of activity. The theory is that high-intensity exercise creates an oxygen shortage since rest periods don’t provide enough oxygen. This means that during post-workout recovery, your body keeps burning calories. Some studies even claim that your baseline metabolism is boosted for an entire 48 hours after a HIIT workout.
Exercise Specific Techniques
As sports and science get more complex, athletes look for ways to max out performance in unique ways. For example, in weightlifting, performing the motion against gravity faster — the “press” in bench press, for example — appears to offer better muscle and strength building. This goes against the age-old advice that slow-motion means more growth.
Why Is Life Expectancy Declining?
If we are experiencing all these advances, why are we living shorter lives? Research released in 2016 revealed that overall life expectancy declined for the first time in the United States since 1993. At first, people blamed the drug epidemic, but upon further investigation, killers like heart disease, diabetes and stroke are also claiming more lives than before. The downward trend appeared to occur across all age groups.
The other curious finding is that it’s happening only in the U.S. In the United Kingdom, a similar pattern has appeared, but only in the older population. Some claim that economics are to blame, and this might be partially true. In fact, wealthy Americans are now predicted to live 10 to 15 years longer than poor ones.
Be Active and Proactive
When it comes to things like clean water, the benefits pretty much reach everybody. However, other health strategies — like high-intensity exercise, antioxidant diets and well-being methods — require more of an effort. There’s a lot of pressure on people to remain sedentary these days. Everything is easy and convenient. We can spend hours on the couch with our smartphones to keep us entertained. In this way, the modern age actually works against us.
Still, you don’t have to be a slave to technology. Instead, use it to your advantage. There are plenty of apps and devices out there that help keep you fit. Others can help you follow a nutrition plan. Still, all the tech in the world won’t do anything if you don’t have the willpower to stay on track.
The information and the resources are out there. You have to take advantage of them and stick with a game plan. Today’s world challenges us like never before. Stay active and informed, and live life to the fullest.
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