Mon | Jan 30, 2023

Prevention is better

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Nobody wants to be ill, yet so many of us take our health for granted and give little thought to preventing disease. Then, when illness rears its ugly head, we desperately try to rescue ourselves.

Medical research clearly indicates that most of the common illness of modern civilisation are preventable by simple lifestyle changes.

Here are some important reasons why you need to seriously practise prevention and make your health your number-one priority.


Being sick prevents you from enjoying life to the fullest — from experiencing what I call 'true wellness'. People who eat right, exercise regularly, get adequate rest and learn to manage stress tend to have a better quality of life compared to those who don't.


To those who say that they can't afford healthy lifestyle practices, like having balanced nutrition and taking supplements, I say you can't afford not to. Sickness is much more expensive. I have met so many people who have wiped out their life savings in a single illness.

What about health insurance? The name 'health insurance' is a misnomer and should be called 'sickness insurance'. Although health insurance may sometimes soften the financial burden of disease, how can you insure yourself against the pain, the suffering and loss of time, productivity and pleasure that you and your loved ones may face? True health insurance involves spending more of your resources on real health-promoting practices like proper nutrition and exercise.


Being sick increases your risk of more sickness. Let's use a simple example. The common cold is the most prevalent illness worldwide. These viral infections of the upper respiratory tract may seem trivial. However, they also leave us vulnerable to other common respiratory diseases including asthma, ear infections, sinusitis, and tonsillitis.

Even worse, viral infections can increase your risk of malignancy. In fact, viruses are considered to be among the most important risk factors for cancer in humans, exceeded only by tobacco use. Examples of common viruses implicated in causing cancer include the papilloma virus and cervical cancer, the hepatitis B virus and liver cancer, the Epstein-Barr virus and the herpes virus in leukaemia. Taken together, these viruses are responsible for nearly 20 per cent of all cancers.


Despite extensive efforts to ensure the safety of drugs, they must be used with great caution. A study in hospitals in the US revealed an extremely high incidence of adverse drug reactions. Even when drugs were taken under doctors' directions, there were more than two million adverse reactions annually, many of which contributed to patient deaths. The authors of this study concluded that adverse drug reactions ranked consistently between the fourth and sixth leading cause of death in the US each year.

Newer prescription drugs are particularly risky, since they have yet to be tested long enough on humans. Ten per cent of new drugs released over the past 25 years were withdrawn from the market because of side effects or needed warnings of bad drug reactions. Half of the withdrawals occurred within two years of initial release. The recent example of the arthritis drug Vioox is still fresh in our minds.

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can also be dangerous, even though many have been around for a long time. OTC anti-inflammatory drugs can increase the frequency of headaches and raise blood pressure. The overuse of mild painkillers like as Tylenol or Advil can actually aggravate the headaches that they were used to treat.

A study of a large group of women who took aspirin or Tylenol more than one day per month showed that they had a significantly higher risk of developing high blood pressure. The researchers believe that many cases of hypertension may be due to the use of these medications.


Hospitals are very important in our society, and many lives are saved within their walls. For example, survival from trauma and heart attacks has increased dramatically because of improved hospital services. Nonetheless, hospital environments are not perfect.

Contrary to popular belief, hospitals are not sterile, germ-free places. Many patients actually acquire infections when they are hospitalised. In the US, these infections kill more people each year than car accidents, fires and drowning combined. Fortunately, the hospital infection rates here in Jamaica are much lower.


Overwork, fatigue and chronic staffing shortages among medical personnel contribute to treatment errors and problems resulting from incorrectly prescribed or dispensed drugs. Death due to medical errors now ranks as the eighth leading cause of death in the US. I have been unable to find any data on this situation in Jamaica.

So think prevention: "An ounce of prevention is worthy much more than a pound of cure".

You may email Dr Tony Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER 106FM on Fridays at 8 p.m. His book An Ounce of Prevention is available from the Gleaner's website.