On April 15, 1912—one hundred years ago this month—the RMS Titanic sank to its watery grave at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Just four days before, more than 2,000 passengers and crew members boarded the vessel—the largest and most luxurious passenger ship of its time. They were confident the Titanic would take them from Southampton, England to New York City in just eight days.
 
The Titanic tragedy claimed the lives of more than 1,500 people. Although this disaster took the ship—and the entire world—by surprise, it didn’t come without warning. The Titanic officers received multiple ice warnings, yet didn’t bother to slow down or change their course. The officers were caught up in the excitement of the voyage and distracted with their various duties and social engagements. They didn’t take the warning signs seriously. They reasoned that if an iceberg was present, they would see it in plenty of time to change their course and avoid collision. “If we can’t see it, it must not be a problem.”
 
I share this story because the Titanic can teach us some powerful lessons about how to avoid chronic health conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
 
Just like the silent iceberg looming in the Titanic’s path, heart disease and diabetes are “silent killers.” More than 80 million Americans (nearly one third of the population) have some form of cardiovascular disease1and an estimated 30-40% of US adults are prediabetic or diabetic.2
 
Although these conditions are two of the leading causes of death in the United States (and worldwide), untold millions of people who have begun to develop heart disease or diabetes are completely unaware of their risk. These undetected diseases can progress for decades before noticeable symptoms are felt. The first sign of a problem could be a heart attack or stroke, kidney damage, or vision problems.
 
By the time these events occur the body has already been seriously damaged. But the good news is that we don’t have to be complacent about our health.  By paying attention to the warning signs that are available to us, we can prevent or reverse our risk for chronic disease.

Warning Signs for Heart Disease or Diabetes:
 
  • You’re 45 years or older.
  • You’re overweight or obese.
  • You do not exercise regularly.
  • You have elevated blood pressure.
  • Your cholesterol and/or triglyceride blood fat levels are not normal.
  • You have a family history of heart disease or diabetes.
 
The Cinnabon Story
I recently received the news that my friend and former patient Jasmin had passed away. Jasmin had type 2 diabetes, and had developed enormous sores on her legs and feet. She needed to have both legs amputated but died before the procedure could be done. She was only 53 years old.
 
Five years earlier Jasmin attended several weeks of our diabetes reversal program on the island of Guam. Although she seemed eager to learn about diabetes, Jasmin wasn’t motivated to put what she learned into practice. Busy with her career and family, Jasmin eventually stopped attending the lectures and cancelled her consultations with me.
 
A few months later I stopped by the office where Jasmin worked. As I climbed the stairs to the office complex, I noticed the sweet, warm smell of cinnamon buns. The man behind me was carrying a box of Cinnabons to share with the office staff.
 
After conducting my business I went to Jasmin’s desk to greet her. She was embarrassed for me to see her eating a Cinnabon: “Oh, Dr. Youngberg. I can’t believe you’re here--right when I’m eating this!” she said.
 
I always tell my patients that I’m not the food police, and that I want them to be comfortable around me. So I just greeted Jasmin and encouraged her to set up another appointment so we could continue addressing her diabetes.
 
Knowing that Jasmin’s blood sugars were frequently in the 300s and 400s, I was concerned for her health and hoped that she would recognize her risk and take action. I knew her condition would get worse unless something drastic changed.
 
Unfortunately, Jasmin never set up another appointment. She ignored the warning signs, allowing herself to minimize the risk in her own mind. Eventually the disease progressed until it was too late. Like the captain of the Titanic who did not change the direction of his ship, Jasmin did not take advantage of her chance to make changes that could reverse her diabetes.
 
Good News about Risk Factors
Regardless of how many risk factors you may have for heart disease or diabetes-you can take action to reduce your risk.
 
Are you 45 years or older? Regardless of your age, you can improve your health.
 
Are you overweight or obese? Many lifestyle and nutritional strategies can help you to lose weight and decrease your risk.
 
Are you inactive? You can begin a moderate exercise program.
 
Do you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides? You can follow natural strategies to significantly reduce those levels.
 
Do you have a family history of heart disease or diabetes? You can overcome that risk and give hope to future generations.
 
Remember—warning signs aren’t supposed to scare us: they’re supposed to help prepare us to improve our health! I encourage you to identify and address your health risk factors head-on, and to make decisions each day that bring you closer and closer to God’s plan of optimal wellness.

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Wes Youngberg, DrPH, MPH, CNS, FACLM earned a doctorate in clinical preventive care and a master’s degree in nutrition at Loma Linda University, where he serves as assistant clinical professor for the Schools of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Youngberg has more than twenty years of clinical experience in helping people prevent or reverse chronic lifestyle diseases. He currently directs the Youngberg Lifestyle Medicine Clinic in Temecula, California. This is an excerpt from a chapter in “Goodbye Diabetes,” being published later this year by Hart Research Center in Fallbrook, CA. This book will be available at Adventist Book Centers. This article was published April 10, 2012.




 

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