Causes of major illnesses

Except for infectious, congenital diseases, and rarer maladies, the most common major illnesses today are caused by four main risk factors, for which I have coined the acronym: TABA, which happens to be the Filipino word for fat, for easy remembrance. However, in this context, I am not relating it to weight or BMI (Body Mass Index).

T is for Tobacco, A for Alcohol, B for Bad diet, and the second A, for Activity deficit or absence of exercise. This acronym itself, TABA, when used to mean fat or overweight, is also a significant factor, since obesity impacts our health negatively, catapulting our risk for major ailments, like hypertension (High Blood Pressure), arthritis, Type 2 Diabetes, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.

Even the English word, FAT, could be an applicable acronym: F for Food (quality and quantity), A for Alcohol abuse, T for tobacco use or exposure, and we could add “E,” for Exercise deficit, and make it FATE. This also spells the prognosis (fate) of those individuals with an unhealthy lifestyle, which most often means higher morbidity and mortality (more illnesses and shorter life).

Genes vs. lifestyle

While we know that our genes are also a risk factor, studies have shown that a healthy lifestyle could outplay genetic predisposition, enabling siblings of parents, who are both diabetic and hypertensive, who smoke, drink excessively, eat unhealthy diet, and do not exercise, to escape diabetes and hypertension simply by living a healthy lifestyle, starting from their teen years.

It is clear that children are not doomed to their elders’ fates, provided they take the healthier path. But, if they are a copycat of their parents’ unhealthy behaviors and bad habits, obviously, they will fall victims to major illnesses as well. To paraphrase Einstein, we cannot do the exact same things or actions repeatedly and expect a different result.

Killer carbohydrates

When it comes to diet, carbs (rice, bread, sugary desserts, soft drinks, which I call “liquid candy,” other sweets) are food items we must minimize to maintain our weight and good health. Rice contributes to high triglyceride level, obesity, and increased risk for diabetes, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer, and overall morbidity and mortality rates.

Repeat: Soft drinks as a whole, regular or diet, cola or uncola, caffeinated or not, all toxic to our body, especially to children. They extremely increase the risk for metabolic illnesses.

Sixty percent of the world’s diabetic population is Asian. Asians have a higher risk for type 2 diabetes compared to those with European ancestry. More than 6.1 million Filipinos have type 2 diabetes. Our staple food, rice, appears to be the major culprit, not to mention the lack of exercise.

The Filipinos (even those with normal weight) have a disproportionately high incidence of type 2 diabetes, with 6 percent of its population afflicted with type 2 diabetes. Saudi Arabia has the highest, 20.2 percent, followed by Kuwait, 17 percent, Lebanon, 14.5 percent, Singapore, 12.3 percent, China, 12 percent, United Arab Emirates, 10 percent, and the USA, 9.4 percent. The lowest, Maldives, at 3.8 percent.

Globally, an estimated 1.6 million deaths were attributed to diabetes and its complications in 2015. In the USA alone, about 30.3 million people have type 2 diabetes (23.1 million diagnosed and an estimated 7.2 million (23.8 percent) undiagnosed. About 84.1 million (33.9 percent) have pre-diabetes, or the so-called borderline diabetes.  More than 6.1 million Filipinos are diabetics and about 8 million are undiagnosed.

Hypertension – a “time bomb”

Asians, particularly Filipinos, consume an overdose of salt each day. We tend to grab the salt shaker, or add salty condiments, even before we taste the food before us. As a result, about 10 million Filipinos have high blood pressure and 20 percent are pre-hypertensive. The Department of Health says, about 6 million are undiagnosed and unaware they have high blood pressure, and are a “walking time bomb.”

Worldwide, high blood pressure kills 7.5 million each year, and 1.5 billion suffer from its complications, like coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke. In the USA, 75 million of adults (one in three, or 33 percent) have hypertension, killing about 1,200 a day. This disease costs the nation $48.6 billion dollars annually. In the Philippines, about 200,000 die each year from complications of hypertension.

In the United States, one person is diagnosed with a stroke every 40 seconds. This dreaded and debilitating illness is so common it victimizes more than 2,000 individuals each day and killing about 133,000 each year. Luckily about 80 percent of stroke is preventable.

Less salt is best

Salt consumption significantly affects individuals with hypertension. The current recommendation is no more than 2300 mg (one teaspoon) of salt (sodium chloride) a day. The average intake of 3400 mg is way above what is healthy. The American Heart Association is even suggesting 1500 mg a day (3/4 of a teaspoon) a day. The total should include all use for cooking, in condiments, and what is in processed or canned goods, which are loaded with salt preservative. Reducing our salt intake could reduce the number of hypertensives by 11 million, in the USA alone. It would, indeed, be best to get rid of salt shakers.

In the United States, one person is diagnosed with a stroke every 40 seconds. This dreaded and debilitating illness is so common it victimizes more than 2,000 individuals each day and killing about 133,000 each year. Not to mention kidney failure, heart attack, and cancer.

Discipline and sacrifices

Good health, freedom from illnesses, and longevity are not free. To achieve them, we must be pre-emptive and pro-active early, and religiously work for them, by arming ourselves with a proven scientific strategy, discipline, compliance, determination, and a lot of personal sacrifices.

Here are some tips to greatly reduce the risk of having hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, Alzheimer’s, and cancer, basically by living a healthy lifestyle or making necessary lifestyle changes, following the acronym TABA or FATE as suggested above:

Food – low-carb, fish, vegetables, nuts, fruits, minimal or no red meat

Alcohol – extreme moderation, not more than 2 glasses of wine or beer

Tobacco – total abstinence and avoid second-hand smoke

Exercise – brisk walking, tae-bo, swimming, biking, etc. 30 minutes daily.

When it comes to health, our fate is significantly in our hands. The choice is ours: fight or surrender.

The crucial question is: Are you prepared to do personal sacrifices to prevent illnesses and achieve a healthier life and greater longevity?


Philip S. Chua, MD, FACS, FPCS, Cardiac Surgeon Emeritus in Northwest Indiana and chairman of cardiac surgery from 1997 to 2010 at Cebu Doctors University Hospital, where he holds the title of Physician Emeritus in Surgery, is based in Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the Philippine College of Surgeons, and the Denton A. Cooley Cardiovascular Surgical Society. He is the chairman of the Filipino United Network – USA, a 501(c)(3) humanitarian foundation in the United States. Email:

Email Email  |  Print Print

Leave a Reply