Health and Healthcare in a Changing World

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“A good life is good food, good wine and a good woman,” says a French proverb but in today’s world people are expected to be a little more indulgent in the issue of health and pay more focused attention to their well-being. This is why nutrition related products are breaking ground in the markets and millions of people rush to gymnasiums and physical training centers daily: to keep fit and healthy. Doctors and clinics are also in good shape with respect to attention and business, as more people visit them to receive treatment regarding a variety of different disorders. Whether it be giving the patient a shot for a simple flu, applying chemotherapy for cancer or providing advanced TMJ treatment, doctors and their hospitals welcome anyone and everyone with a smile on their faces to help them regain their health and well-being and also to profit in the process. As more people receive higher medical education to become doctors and more hospitals are opened in every city of the world to serve their publics, the health sector becomes prone to further development every passing day, making it harder to keep up with such a fast-paced element of change for the regular person. As more information is made public originating from a variety of different sources daily, the issues of trustworthiness and reliability become more important yet equally debatable, leading one to pay more attention to sources than the actual information itself. As options get narrower and the truth of the matter gets confirmed by a multitude of different origins, one is greeted with great insight and advice regarding health and wellbeing to utilize such input in their lives. However, getting there is a hard task that requires comparative and analytical research, which are things that are not necessarily available or affordable for the regular person. This is why medical media has become a necessity for all in today’s world and why so many informed and talented journalists are doing their best to contribute to a general pool of knowledge to address the issues of health and healthcare that concern the general public: a praiseworthy struggle to say the least.

One of the most popular subjects of debate in today’s world regarding health is human diet and its alternatives such as vegetarianism. Not surprisingly, such alternatives are getting more popular and widely accepted among the publics of the world, thanks to decades long unhealthy and even harmful dietary habits and traditions developed by human societies due to lack of time, resource and effort. However, along with the good comes the bad and many people who develop an interest to apply such alternative lifestyles are fooled into rather suspicious and shady ends by modern day prejudices and misconceptions. As Tia Miller reports for the CNN Network, there exists a relatively new notion of “Rookie Vegetarianism” that leads aspiring vegetarians into falling into a “junk food trap.” The author begins her argument by pointing out that “mortality in vegetarians, according to a meta-study from 2012, was 9% lower than in non-vegetarians,” while at the same time “according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a vegetarian diet lowers risks of heart disease, cancer and diabetes,” meaning that vegetarians do indeed live a healthier and longer life. However, the author also states that with or without consuming meat, it is still possible to live an unhealthy lifestyle by referring to “unhealthy vegetarians who eliminated meat but replaced vegetables with all varieties of potatoes,” including “French fries, chips, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes” and “sweet potatoes.” In the case of such individuals, it is observed that they would occasionally break their vegetarianism to eat meat, and such meat consumption would make them “ bloated and constipated,” in turn giving them headaches. Millet states that it is important for vegetarians to fill half their plate with fruits and vegetables for every meal because such food can substitute the nutrients provided by meat such as iron and vitamin B12. The iron, vegetarians may get from vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and kale, while dairy products such as plant milks, soy products and certain breakfast cereals might also provide them with the B12 vitamin their bodies require. The author then warns about processed food as a potential risk for developing cancer as such foods tend to include numerous preservatives and food coloring, which are usually found in chemical form and therefore are not organic. The author claims that it is important eat local and therefore fresh because this way, the consumed food cannot contain any preservatives or chemicals while drinking clean water is also essential for a healthy diet. In the case of preserved/processed foods, such water becomes even more essential because these foods contain a lot of salt, yet another preservative, which dehydrates their consumer. Therefore, drinking water helps reduce the adverse effects of such a diet and is also quite useful for people consuming regular diets as well, helping their systems circulate faster to get rid of toxins, according to Miller.

Quite naturally, the desire and aspiration to be healthier, fitter and slimmer has always been a trending subject for human societies in what is considered to be modern times and therefore it is not hard to move back in time to realize a certain historical trend associated with such a will. Alex Moshakis for The Guardian takes a journey back to the early years of 80’s when the issue of healthy living was largely publicized in the world through media channels that contributed to the new age movement which also emphasized the importance of diet and exercise even back in those years. The author considers the Observer Magazine and its team of journalists who have reviewed a line of different exercise machines that had just come out during these years, to further supplement the given global media campaign and trend of physical exercise for healthy living. Moshakis refers to an article featured in the magazine’s 18th of July 1982 issue, which asks the question “who wants to be fitter and slimmer?” as a header to later answer the question with a rhetorical statement, “almost everyone.” The article is dedicated to promoting these new exercise machines by the Black & Decker company, which had generously been supplied to the journalists at the magazine with several models to be tested and featured in the upcoming issues. The three models are namely ‘Home Cycle’ for £113.50, the ‘Home Rower’ for £104.25 and ‘The Pacer’ which was listed at £47.25, which resembled “an upmarket stepladder,” and had been “designed to increase pulse rate, heartbeat, and get the lungs working.” The article, which was supplemented by a photoshoot in monotone color, states that “exercising at home has several things to commend it,” such as “you don’t have to worry about the weather, spend time travelling to a gym or sports club, or rely on other people turning up for that game of tennis.” The only problem however is the “problem of boredom” for which “Black & Decker suggests listening to the radio,” with the noise of the machines making such an activity rather impossible. The article at this point refers back to its team of writers to ask Nick Guitard, who was working out on the rowing equipment, what he thought of his exercise. The journalist responds by saying that the rowing machine was “a very well-made machine,” but “the snag is that cruising under oars around the living room isn’t the most thrilling way of spending half an hour a day.” Today, none of the mentioned machines are produced or sold anymore by the company, whereas the article remains as a great anecdote down the memory lane for many people who miss those years. In addition, reading the article also reminds one of how being healthy and fit have always been an aspiration for most people and a profitable field of business for companies in earlier modern history, proving that some of the most obnoxious and interesting efforts of today have a long history dating back to several decades ago.

Along with such a continuous struggle to stay fit through learning and exercise, the issue of medication and supplements also becomes more publicized and popularized by the media and the society alike in a collaborative effort in today’s world. However, several problems surfaced in recent years after certain medications became too popular among people, even youngsters, after they were granted the license to be sold as over-the-counter drugs, in turn turning millions of users into mere addicts. Christine Vestal for Stateline, a contributing media organization for the Huffington Post, reports on the recent outbreak of Xanax and how “many teens are taking [it] combined with opioids and alcohol,” leading to issues like demotivation, depression and even death among such users. Anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax are referred to as ‘benzos,’ or in technical terms “benzodiazepines”, and lead many teenagers to believe that they are actually “a safer and more plentiful alternative to prescription opioids and heroin” while having “similar euphoric effects.” The problem is that not many of such individuals are aware of the dangers of mixing such drugs with other drugs or alcohol because no source of information exists regarding the issue that is easily and publically accessible. In addition, Vestal emphasizes the fact that addiction to these easily acquirable prescription drugs is far worse than addiction to other narcotics because “like any addictive substance, Xanax [or other ‘benzos’] when used early increases the risk of addiction later in life.” The author refers to a U.S. Surgeon General’s Report dated 2017 regarding drugs and alcohol use, which states that “nearly 70 percent of adolescents who try an illicit drug before age 13 will develop an addiction within seven years,” meaning that  it might not be such a great idea to prescribe Xanax or similar prescription drugs to younger people. Although addiction and abuse levels for prescription drugs have been on a sharp decline in the last 15 years, the issue with Xanax remains at a similar level, while reports of Xanax abuse when used in combination with opioids and alcohol are also quite frequent still to this day. The reason why such a reality has not reflected upon national data and statistics yet is because treatment centers are merely symbolic in the American society, with real issues and realities being observed in people’s daily lives which do not get reported. The main problem that such people, especially adolescents, experience in this manner is the issue of withdrawal symptoms which lead to serious seizures. Teenagers especially are not admitting to their addiction and therefore not seeking help or therapy, which also contributes to the mentioned vow of silence. However, the ‘benzos’ have a serious defect: when prescribed for anxiety, they eventually stop working, in turn “forcing users to take higher and higher doses to get the same effect.” The recently developed internet technology of ‘Dark Web’ enables younger people who cannot legally acquire such substances to find and purchase them online, delivered to their preferred location. ‘Benzos’ also have terrible adverse effects on patients with mental health problems, leading to serious levels of addiction. Given the plentiful supply of these substances, more and more such individuals with mental health issues easily find access to these pills to develop serious addictions. While Vestal makes reference to treatment centers and special programs offered in them as a possible method of recovery, she believes that the real road to recovery begins on a mental level, meaning that addicts of these substances need to confess and admit to their addictions initially and then seek professional help. The author believes that through mindful and constructive journalism efforts of the media, the parents and friends of such people can also be informed about the given reality and in the long run, aware and educated individuals can kick their ‘benzo’ or opioid habits easily, as otherwise the situation is destined to get out of hand very soon.

On a side note, there are significant studies and efforts to understand mental health and its connections to general human health, with promising and informative developments taking place almost daily. Alexis E. Cullen for The Independent reports on a new research study that “confirms a link between autoimmune disorders and psychosis,” revealing that “the likelihood of having psychosis was higher for disorders like pernicious anaemia, psoriasis and coeliac disease.” Autoimmune disorders are complications where an individual’s immune system begins to attack its own cells and therefore an issue like psychosis, the loss of all conscious thought which leads the patient to resort to unconscious and self-destructive behavior, become far more easily developed by such individuals. However, when the issue is science and reaching scientific conclusions, it requires further experimentation and comprehension for direct statements to be made. This is why Cullen refers to a study published in the  journal ‘Biological Psychiatry’ which included “30 relevant studies, and contained data on 25 million people,” focusing on autoimmune disorders affecting the peripheral system, while combining data from non-neurological autoimmune disorders, to reach a verdict. The conclusion was that people with autoimmune disorders were “40% more likely to have a psychotic disorder, such as schizophrenia,” with the second analysis referring to how such a percentage was even higher for “pernicious anaemia, pemphigoid, …, psoriasis, coeliac disease and Graves’ disease.” The author also takes note of how the study also revealed that tests conducted on people with psychosis showed that such people had higher levels of inflammatory markers in their bloodstreams than regular and healthy people and therefore inflammation was a substantial contributor to the emergence and development of autoimmune disorders. However, considering the existence of such disorders, which did not necessarily correlate with high levels of inflammation, it is seen that high levels of inflammatory markers did not necessarily equate direct reason for psychosis either. This is why the researchers began to consider “a genetic link between autoimmune disorders and psychosis,” while several genes were discovered that were “associated with both schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis.” Quite conclusively, the researchers also discovered new links between antibodies that were originally parts of the patient’s immune system and the unexplained observations of frequent attacks on the person’s brain cells. Such antibodies are linked to psychotic symptoms, creating paranoia and hallucinations in certain individuals, leading researchers to consider them to be a possible reason for psychosis among patients with autoimmune disorders. In any given scenario, the research continues on the subject matter to hopefully discover more about the key elements of relevance and importance in the given context and develop ways to prevent psychosis before it takes significant effect on a person’s life.

Then of course, there are bills and expenses associated with healthcare that have become an issue of serious concern for many people who had to visit a hospital to receive treatment in their lives. Chad Terhune for National Public Radio reports on the case of Drew Calver and his recent life-threatening heart attack that left him with an outstanding bill of $108,951 for hospital services and surgery. Calver, a popular high school history teacher and swim coach in Austin, Texas”, had a heart attack in his bedroom in 2017 and somewhat managed to inform his wife through the voice-recognition function of his smartphone, who then informed a nearby neighbor to call an ambulance to take Calver to the St. David’s Medical Center. After the doctors at the hospital confirmed that Calver had a heart attack, they “implanted stent in his clogged ‘widow-maker’ artery,” further shocking the man who was an “an avid swimmer who had competed in an Ironman triathlon just five months before.” However, the worst news were still yet to come as Calver simply assumed that his health insurance issued by the public high school he was working at, would cover all of the expenses associated with his hospital stay and surgery. The total number was $164,941 for the surgery and the four-day stay at the institution with Calver’s health insurance paying the hospital only $55,840 in the end, leaving Calver responsible for paying the remaining balance of $108,951.31 himself. Upon investigation, Calver was shocked to find out about “two medical billing practices that increasingly bedevil many Americans,” which are namely “surprise bills and balance billing.” The first issue refers to how many Americans go to hospitals to receive treatment from a doctor “who does not participate in the network,” leading the bill to be directly transferred to the patient’s account rather than being paid by the insurance firm. The second issue occurs, as it was in with Calver’s case, when the insurance firm and the hospital cannot negotiate on a price and therefore the patient needs to pay the difference between the total number and the agreed upon number. Although legal protection exists against such issues in several states such as New York, California, New Jersey and Texas, when the health coverage is obtained from employers with self-insurance plans, the Federal Law is applied to the case, which “does not include such protections.” Therefore, Terhune warns his readers about paying attention to details concerning their health insurance plans and more importantly their compatibilities with the institutions and services they attend to. In the case of a policy based disagreement or conflict, it will be up to such individuals themselves to pay a significantly large sum of money to cover up for their hospital and treatment bills, which will further complicate the issue for sure. Luckily, in the case of Calver, his status as a respected and popular persona in his community helped him to negotiate on a better deal with the hospital but this might not be the case for all people who find themselves in such a situation and therefore precautions are important.

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