Prevention from a medical point of view
Prevention (from the Latin praevenire "prevent", "precede") refers to prophylactic lifestyle interventions to avoid undesirable health conditions and impairments, reduce risks, or mitigate the consequences of undesirable situations and conditions.
The field of preventive medicine, which focuses on prophylactic medical actions, deals with the analysis of individual human risk factors (e.g. genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and living conditions) to encourage and permanently implement health-promoting behaviour.
Due to the preventive nature of these actions, all people (healthy as well as sick) can benefit from them. Preventing is always preferable to curing, and preventive medicine has decisive advantages over curative medicine (“repair medicine”): it ideally starts before an impairment or a disease has arisen, and supports early detection and the avoidance of consequential impairment after illnesses have been experienced and cured. In addition, preventive medicine makes it possible to positively influence acute diseases as well as chronic diseases that have occurred despite all efforts. Three categories of prevention are distinguished:
- Primary prevention: The focus is on preventing diseases and maintaining health. It starts before impairments or diseases arise and seeks for the underlying causes and risk factors that can contribute to and/or cause them. Examples are general health promotion through nutritional and sports medicine measures, stress management, vaccinations, general health checks and, in particular, prenatal care.
- Secondary prevention: The focus is on early detection and inhibition of progression in order to prevent an aggravation or even chronification of a disease that already has occurred acutely. The goal is recovery. Examples are the early detection of diseases by screening, preventive medical check-ups, or health promotion (1).
- Tertiary prevention: The focus is on preventing the progression of complications in a manifested chronic disease. Complications can be a subsequent or more extensive impairment or secondary diseases accompanying the existing chronic illness. In addition, the underlying disease should not deteriorate further. The goal is either future recovery or preservation of the current state of health. Examples are rehabilitation or health promotion (1).
Nutrition: prevention and cure
Nutritional medicine can be applied to all three categories. By changing and optimizing their diet, most people can significantly reduce the risk of a large number of diseases. A plant-based diet (vegetarian or vegan) with a large or complete avoidance of animal protein has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases (high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, etc.), metabolic diseases (diabetes, gout), rheumatic diseases, and neurological diseases (Alzheimer’s Disease, dementia, depression) as well as in some types of cancer. In particular, thanks to the anti-inflammatory, metabolism-boosting, and pain-relieving effect of secondary phytochemicals, vegetables and fruit can contribute to achieving a health-promoting and health-preserving effect that significantly reduces the risk of diseases in the long term. Seeds and nuts also have a positive effect on health, and physical and mental well-being.
A daily amount of approx. 500-800 grams of vegetables and 300-500 grams of fruit (depending on the height and weight of the person and their individual calorie balance) can be classified as prognostically favourable and is therefore recommended from a preventive medical point of view. The calorie and nutrient requirements can be sufficiently covered by a plant-based diet. When being on a strictly vegan diet, one must merely ensure a sufficient intake of critical vitamins and nutrients (minerals), especially Vitamin B12. However, this can be supplied, for example, via fortified toothpaste or in form of droplets or tablets. It is important to know that a lack of critical nutrients, especially Vitamin B12, also regularly occurs in omnivores. Regardless of the type of diet, it is therefore always important to ensure an adequate supply of these substances.
Nuts, seeds, and legumes as well as vegetable oils contain, among other advantageous substances, easily digestible, easily metabolised, and beneficial fats and proteins, and are therefore preferable to animal products. A sufficient intake of protein is also possible as part of a strictly vegan diet in sports (leisure and professional).
A balanced plant-based diet is not only useful for individual health promotion and health maintenance, it also protects other living beings and by preventing animal suffering. The reason is quite clear: if animals no longer have to be “produced”, kept, and killed for food production, animal suffering no longer takes place as a result of individual eating habits. In addition, it is no longer necessary to invest as much time, energy, and money into the development of new drugs and medical actions for curative medicine ("repair medicine"), since a large part of the diseases are prevented and do not arise at all. Existing chronic diseases can be improved and, in many cases, even cured. As a result, the focus of biomedical research can be on those diseases that arise despite an ideal lifestyle. Of course, the aim is always to completely avoid the use of animals and to strive for patient-oriented, human-based, and ideally even personalized medicine.
This could guarantee an ideal health care and many of the current problems in health care systems would vanish. A completely different, more advantageous type of medical care could develop. From a medical point of view, this is an urgent and timely goal, which is why preventive medicine is so crucial and has such enormous potential.
30 August 2020
Dr. med. M.Sc. Eva Katharina Kühner
Specialist in occupational medicine, environmental and resource manager, and sustainability manager
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Prävention & Gesundheitsförderung (https://dg-pg.de/)
- Deutsche Gesellschaft für Nährstoffmedizin und Prävention e. V.: Definition der Präventivmedizin
- HOW NOT TO DIE, Greger, M., Narayana Verlag, 7. Auflage 2018
- Vegetarische Ernährung, Leitzmann, C., Keller, M., Verlag Eugen Ulmer, 3. Auflage 2013
- China Study, Campbell, T., Verlag Systemische Medizin AG, 2. Auflage 2011