CHUCK NORRIS: Lifestyle Medicines as a Pathway to Pandemic Recovery

Though new coronavirus cases are reported to be on the decline in the United States following the deadly post-holiday peaks last month, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky recently warned that the positive trend is no cinch to continue.

“Although we have seen declines in cases and admissions and a recent slowing of deaths, cases remain extraordinarily high, still twice as high as the peak number of cases over the summer,” USA Today reports her saying.

Heading into the pandemic, most Americans were already stressed, sleep-deprived and overweight. Many of us were suffering from largely preventable lifestyle diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. As reported last month in The Conversation, “About 90% of the nearly $4 trillion Americans spend annually for health care in the U.S. is for chronic diseases and mental health conditions.”

Now, a year into the pandemic, it looks like how we come out of the mental and physical darkness of this public health crisis will depend up our ability to change. Though COVID-19 has introduced what Dr. Jennifer Ashton, a board-certified OB-GYN and chief medical correspondent for ABC News, calls “an invisible, perhaps indomitable threat into our lives,” she also sees a “silver lining” within the grim news of the day. As noted by Kirkus Reviews, Ashton believes we may finally be seeing “the dawning awareness that it’s up to us to improve our health and thus our chances for survival.” The review calls “The New Normal: A Roadmap to Resilience in the Pandemic Era,” Ashton’s newly released guide to surviving the continued challenges of the pandemic, “a sobering, educative assessment of the changes that the pandemic has wrought on our world.”

On her website, she describes the book as being “built on a simple foundation: the way to thrive in this evolving world and ‘new normal’ is by accepting the new normal for what it is — not what we want it to be — and by understanding that the virus isn’t going anywhere overnight. … The more resilient you can become physically, mentally, and emotionally, the better able you’ll be able to stand in the adversity.” In addition to covering things such as foods to eat and ways to “pandemic proof” your body now to prevent illness later, she also provides tips for things such as finding emotional balance and better mental health.

Could the current numbers be some sign that at least some changes in lifestyle are starting to occur? As pointed out in the USA Today report by Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, professor of epidemiology and medicine at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, “The falling case numbers can’t be attributed to the COVID-19 vaccine, because not even a tenth of the population has been vaccinated, according to the CDC.” USA Today goes on to say that it is not clear “when the vaccine rollout, which began in December, will start to make a difference in falling case numbers.”

Without question, there is much work that needs to be done if we are to reach a collective level of resiliency to overcome the pandemic. In addition to opioid overdose deaths on the rise during COVID-19, Kaiser Health News reports hospitals across the country are seeing a dramatic increase in alcohol-related admissions for critical diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis and liver failure.

Says the report, specialists at hospitals affiliated with the University of Michigan, Northwestern University, Harvard University and Mount Sinai Health System in New York City are seeing rates of admissions for alcoholic liver disease spiked by as much as 50% since March. “Leading liver disease specialists and psychiatrists believe the isolation, unemployment and hopelessness associated with COVID-19 are driving the explosion in cases,” reports Kaiser’s Eli Cahan.

Across these institutions, there has also been an increase in patients under 40 who have been hospitalized for alcoholic liver disease. “They have mouths to feed and bills to pay, but no job,” said Dr. Haripriya Maddur, a hepatologist at Northwestern Medicine, “so they turn to booze as the last coping mechanism remaining.” It was reported that patients with liver disease die of COVID-19 at rates three times higher than those without it.

An encouraging piece of news was reported from the Department of Veterans Affairs. They are not relying on rural vets running the gauntlet to get vaccinated for coronavirus. Instead, they are using medical records to bring the most vulnerable to nearby, temporary pop-up vaccine clinics. Many vets in rural areas live hundreds of miles from the nearest VA clinic or hospital that can store COVID-19 vaccines.

According to a Montana Public Radio report, an added challenge is coming up with a system that fairly distributes the limited amount of coronavirus vaccines they have been allocated for those in greatest need. “At this point, the VA is only offering vaccines to those age 75 and older and those with certain underlying medical conditions,” Montana Public Radio’s Aaron Bolton reports. According to Bolton, nationally, the VA has given shots to about 7% of its roughly 9 million enrolled vets.

“The best thing veterans can do is answer the phone when we call because if we don’t get hold of you, we’ll go on to the next veteran,” says Judy Hayman of Montana’s VA Medical Center.

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