Viewpoint by Naomi Yoshimura*
TOKYO (IDN) – While average life expectancy in Japan is the longest in the world, health expectancy, in terms of the period a person lives a healthy life without being constrained to receive care, is lagging far behind.
The Japanese people suffer the longest period of illness on average – ten years as compared to six to eight years in other developed countries. Japan also has the largest number of people in the world, who are 60-year old or even older. JAPANESE
With the number of elderly people growing, the only way to reduce spiralling health care costs is preventive medicine. Preventive medicine consists of primary prevention, secondary prevention and tertiary prevention. The shortest way is to enforce primary prevention.
Primary prevention aims to prevent disease or injury before it occurs. This is done by preventing exposures to hazards that cause disease or injury, altering unhealthy or unsafe behaviours that can lead to disease or injury, and increasing resistance to disease or injury should untoward exposures occur.
Primary prevention includes health promotion, disease prevention, and special prevention (including education). Prevention is the best medical care. It is to prevent the occurrence of disease as well as providing people with correct information about the improvement of lifestyle and living environment, health education, and health.
In addition, early detection and early treatment as secondary prevention before illness gets severe also saves huge costs. Moreover, in developing countries, health management of pregnant women and health care of young children should be given top priority.
As for causes of death in developing countries, the mortality rate of infants and pregnant women is high due to lack of health management such as infectious diseases, which lower the average life span. Maintenance of the living environment and hygiene education as well as dietary education deserves particular attention.
Hippocrates, known as the 'Father of Modern Medicine', said: "If a person doesn't know about food, how can he/she understand diseases", "A doctor cannot cure the disease that cannot be cured by food," and "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. In other words, education about all sorts of food that we eat is critical.
Hippocrates was born 460 BC and died in 370 BC. The world's three major schools of medicine are said to have influenced him: the Indian medicine Ayurveda (meaning the knowledge of life), Unani medicine, and the Chinese medicine. In addition, from northwest China to Tibet in northern India, "Bon," one of the oldest human religions had been popular. Therefore, as In ancient times, rituals, medical care and drugs were in an inseparable relationship.
According to the world's oldest book on medical herbs (Shennong Ben Cao Jing) in ancient China, there was the God of agricultural medicine called "Shennong " who governed "medical" and "agriculture" and taught medical and farming techniques. He knew well, which was the right crop for a land and was necessary to human life, and he was familiar with the role of yin and yang that exist in nature.
Before medicine was developed, blessed with insight to see through a thousand miles, Shennong visited this region, where he taught from the harvesting crop up to the recipes of herbs, used for treatment of the ill. This teaching became the base of Chinese herbal medicine and Indian Ayurveda. Western medicine was based on surgical removal of the cause of disease but Oriental medicine treated, while coexisting with pathology, enhancing immunity, and strengthening the resistance.
In present Western medicine originated from Hippocrates, dietary education is totally neglected even at the university level. Food that a person eats from his birth to being 10-year old is engraved in his brain as a "taste of home cooking," which will be the base of his dietary habits as well as affect his life and have a large impact on his health.
This sensibility is said to relate deeply to human DNA. An infant shows the instinctive reaction of the likes and dislikes to the food that is given by his parent. The cause for this is considered as an intrinsic relation between bacteria surrounding the DNA (nucleic acid) and the base.
In 1975, in "Dietary Goals for the United States", research on food as the cause of diseases was conducted mainly by the United States government. Since then, educational courses of nutrition at the University have been increased by tens of hours.
Thanks to that, morbidity of such as cancer is decreasing in the United States, but in Japan the morbidity and mortality rate by cancer has been increasing year by year. Again it may be because doctors are not taught dietary education, so increasing the course of dietary education at medical school of a university also seems to be one important measure.
In Japan, health insurance has spread over the years among people, so when we become ill, we can easily see a doctor and take medicine. In the United States, people try not to go to see a doctor because medical care until recently has been at their own expense.
To do so, American take care of themselves by dietary and nutritional supplements that have been researched a lot. Doctors prescribe various kinds of supplements and study these closely. Educating doctors is also important. Medical reform is not only about raising public and patients' awareness but also that of health care workers who absolutely need to reform their consciousness. Medicine that provides succour in our daily life, and gives us satisfaction as human beings enabling us lead a happy life is the best medicine. (30 September 2016)
*Naomi Yoshimura, Director of Clinic Shinkenan, is certified as industrial physician by the Japan Medical Association. She graduated from Tokyo Women's Medical University in 1982 and completed Kumamoto University Graduate School of radiology course six years later. Before opening Clinic Shinkenan in December 1984, she served as Deputy Director at Yoshimura ophthalmology medical clinic.
This article is part of IDN’s media project jointly with Global Cooperation Council and DEVNET Japan.