What is prevention with regards to Oriental medicine? Diet, exercise, appropriate sleep, nontoxic food, water and air, happy relationships, spiritual connection… these are all essential to being optimally healthy. But how do we include them in our lives? I believe there are five important areas, with a special focus on diet and nutrition.

But first, we'll need to think about this: What are the illnesses in our society? Today, the most common illnesses are heart disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes. Are they preventable? Yes indeed, they are preventable, and they are all effectively prevented by the same methods — through lifestyle.

Ideally, we need to start with creating healthy lifestyle process with women and men before they have children. If a woman or man is unhealthy when they conceive, there's more heart disease, diabetes and cancer in their child's future. Planning is important — thinking carefully about how one wants one's own life to go, as well as your child's life, is essential. So, where do we start prevention?

In the ancient Chinese medicine text, the Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine, the emperor is told by his teacher that there are three levels of physician. The first level will treat the symptoms and heal 70 percent of patients. The second treats the disease and the cause and heals 80 percent of the patients. The highest level teaches "right life" and heals 90 percent of patients. With the idea of prevention, we are talking about the second two categories, removing the cause and living "right life."

Let’s start with the primary cause of disease in our society. In 1999, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified poor diet as the primary cause of disease in our country. In second, toxin exposure. If the incidence of cardiac problems, cancer, obesity, diabetes and other diseases are related to our diet, then how do we solve this problem? In the book, The China Study, data is presented that suggests strong relations exist between what we normally eat in the U.S. and the occurrence of these diseases. There is some controversy, but the base of the diet that we all agree about is fresh plants.

According to the China Study diet, to maximize your health one should:

  • Eat many types of vegetables. One-half to two-thirds of the plate should be plants. The plants should be raised from the traditional seeds, if possible, as they contain the most nutrients. Genetically modified foods are potentially irritating and damage our immune system, so I recommend avoiding them.
  • Eat lots of different types of unprocessed fruit. Fruit is a good dessert, in small amounts. Eating few refined carbohydrates is essential and, yes, that means to cut out eating candy and cakes.
  • Be careful with oils and raw organic nuts and seeds. Use primarily coconut, olive, organic, or sesame oils, or grass fed butter. Don't eat food that has been fried.
  • Eat less animal protein, including fish and eggs. Some people interpret this diet to mean one should avoid meats and dairy altogether (this last category is the one that is the most controversial). According to Paul Jaminet in The Perfect Health Diet, eating unprocessed whole foods with healthy free range organic meat, wild fish, organic free range eggs and poultry is the best. Different amounts work for different people. I think eggs and fish that are healthy should be primary foods, with occasional healthy red meat and poultry additions. Depending on the person, 1-3 servings per day is good, about the size of your palm.
  • Consider cutting back on carbohydrates, if the goal is to lose weight or have less fat.
  • Eat less and practice moderation. We don't need as much as we are eating. InThe China Study, and also in the Mediterranean diet, they eat much less than we do. This results in much less illness.

So, diet is a key to staying healthy, or the "prevention" of illness — but what else? Appropriate exercise is also a key.

What is “appropriate” exercise? I believe we should walk at least 30-60 minutes a day. We should stretch every day. We should lift weights every day. These exercises maintain our heart, our brain, immune system, our neurological system and helps us keep our weight down. We also need to do balance exercises. There are lots of ways to do so: taiji, qigong, yoga, dance, various exercise approaches. Whatever is chosen should be fun, enjoyable, and not dangerous.

Another key to health is detoxification. In our current climate of cultural experimentation with food, and with toxins in our air, water and living space, this is very important. I recommend saunas and herbs to help people detoxify, and to avoid chemicals whenever possible.

Relationships are also key to health and managing stress patterns. This is the psychosocial aspect of life that is so essential. People who visit with family and go to church of some sort, who have established and supportive communities, live longer. Working towards a healthy family and community is key to a healthy life.

I believe the fifth key to health is a spiritual belief system of some sort. Hope and optimism are essential for quality of life and longevity.

There are many herbs, acupuncture techniques and other Oriental medicine approaches that align us with our goals. But they do not take the place of a healthy lifestyle. Good health means healthy food, regular exercise, avoiding toxins, psychosocial health and healthy spiritual beliefs. So, take care of yourself, kiss your loved ones, dance frequently, eat well, stay clean, and don't forget to pray and laugh.

Guest Column by OCOM co-founder, Satya Ambrose, ND, LAc

T.C. Campbell and T.M. Campbell. The China Study. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books, 2006.

Esselstyn, Jr., C. B. "Is the Present Therapy for Coronary Artery Disease the Radical Mastectomy of the Twenty-First Century?" The Amer. J. Cardiol. 106.6 (2010): 902-904.

Forks Over Knives, Dir. Lee Fulkerson. Based on the book The China Study by T.C. Campbell and T.M. Campbell. Monica Beach Media, 2010