Lifestyle Diseases Trouble Urban Tibetans
   2011-05-18 16:09:33    Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhang
Born into a farmer's family, Phurbu never realized that eating too much could be a problem until all of that food caught up with him.

Phurbu works for a government-run institution in the city of Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Now in his late forties, Phurbu has found that he now has high blood pressure, high cholesterol and a fatty liver as a result of his past eating habits.

A doctor recently told him to control his diet and quit drinking alcohol.

"When I was a kid, my parents did not have much to feed me and I always felt hungry. Now I have more money, but I can't eat what I like," he says.

Lifestyle diseases like diabetes, gout and hyperlipemia are so rare in Tibet that traditional Tibetan medicine contains no therapies for their treatment. Phurbu has instead turned to Western medicine to help him treat his condition.

"The number of people caught by lifestyle diseases in Tibet has increased very quickly over the past five years," says Trangjo, deputy director of the physical examination center of the People's Hospital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The center conducts physical examinations for an average of 30 to 40 people every day. Nearly half of the physical exam reports show incidences of high blood pressure and high cholesterol, Trangjo says.

"The patients are mostly between 30 to 45 years of age," she says.

Tibetans used to suffer from diseases associated with poverty, such as smallpox, cholera, typhoid and tetanus. Iodine deficiencies were also common.

However, these diseases have largely been eradicated since the 1950s. Smallpox has completely disappeared; cholera and iodine deficiencies have all but vanished.

"Higher living standards and better medical services have reduced the incidence of traditional diseases but also led to new ones," Trangjo says.

Trangjo uses seafood as an example. Seldom seen in traditional Tibetan fare, seafood is now quite common and popular at more expensive restaurants. However, those who dine on seafood too often are more likely to have gout, Trangjo says.

Alcohol consumption is also seen as a major cause of lifestyle diseases in Tibet.

Sales of Lhasa Beer, a local beer brand, totaled 400 million yuan (58.82 million U.S. dollars) in Tibet last year. This comes out to an average of 140 yuan spent on beer for every Tibetan resident. However, the availability of other beer brands means this figure might be even higher.

Lifestyle diseases, sometimes called "diseases of civilization," occur more frequently in industrialized regions. Although the number of Tibetans suffering from lifestyle diseases is not available, the national figure is quite large.

In the past decade, the number of patients suffering chronic diseases increased by 10 million annually in China, according to Vice Health Minister Huang Jiefu.

Huang said during a meeting last month that around 260 million Chinese are currently suffering from ailments such as diabetes, pulmonary disease, cancer and heart disease.

Smoking, excessive drinking, unhealthy diet and lack of exercise are the main causes for chronic diseases, Huang said.

"Tibetan people are eating much better than before, but they have not adjusted to their new lifestyles or paid enough attention to eating a healthy diet and getting more exercise," Trangjo says.

However, more Tibetans are coming in for annual physical examinations than ever before.

"A large number of them come from rural areas," Trangjo says.

Some of Tibet's lifestyle disease sufferers have treated their condition by returning to a traditional diet. Tsampa, or roasted barley flour, is a Tibetan staple food that is believed to decrease levels of lipoprotein and glucose in the blood.

"For some time I ate just bread, cake and milk at breakfast. Now, I have changed to tsampa. I eat it at supper as well," Phurbu says.

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