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IMPROVING OR RESTORING HEALTH: Do parts of the body wear out or begin to malfunction as we age, parts such as joints, discs, cartilage, internal organs, the arteries, the brain, etc., OR, is there a slow but steady loss of vitality reflected in less energy, less resilience, and longer times to heal from injuries? Though they may seem to amount to the same thing, there’s a big difference between the two ways of thinking, especially when it comes to staying healthy. In my opinion (IMO), all the scientific evidence and all common sense points to the second view, although most people are conditioned to believe the first.
The body doesn’t wear out, but it does self-destruct. Or to put in less alarming terms, the body regenerates more slowly as we age. Our goal should be to maximize the efficiency of that life-long capacity to regenerate, and then hope for a rapid decline right at the end, accompanied by a strong determination not to fall into the clutches of high tech medical care if at all possible. (By attempting to postpone the inevitable, advanced medical technology often drags out the process of dying, making it unnecessarily unpleasant and extremely expensive.) The best way to achieve this goal is to be your own doctor. In fact, every patient carries his own doctor inside him—and his own pharmacist too. And that inner doctor is far more competent and efficient than all of modern medicine—provided that you’re not dealing with an emergency! If you’re dealing with an emergency, that is to say a life threatening injury or a life threatening infection, then by all means call the doctor, call an ambulance, rush to the hospital. In such cases, along with burst appendices, hernias, cataracts, etc., we defer to modern medical science, for it can often save the day.
However, by far the majority of health problems are not the result of serious injuries or infections. Most health problems have to do with metabolic disease, and it’s very important to distinguish metabolic disease from infectious disease. Infectious disease is caused by a bacterium or a virus, say tuberculosis or rabies. But metabolic disease is the result of impaired cell function. As cells function more and more poorly, metabolic diseases begin to manifest themselves, such as heart disease, cancer, stroke (essentially a brain attack), diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome, obesity, dementia, and, of course, the neurological diseases such as Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis. Notice how often someone with metabolic disease suffers from more than one of these conditions, which is exactly what you would expect. In fact, “condition” is a better word than disease to describe these illnesses because they tend to drag on for years, usually waxing and waning but almost never having a single identifiable cause or following a single predictable course. And, not surprisingly, the intensity and outcome of metabolic disease is different for each individual.
The body is constantly combating metabolic disease—every day, for instance, our body destroys a million cancer cells. To put it another way, the body is constantly struggling towards health, towards optimal cell function. Thus, the way to prevent metabolic disease is to help the body in this struggle rather than to interfere with it. First and foremost it’s a blunder, in general, to combat metabolic disease by trying to manage the symptoms with medication. Yet, due to the political influence of the pharmaceutical industry, and the money it spends (in the order of 100 million dollars a day in the U.S.) on advertising and promotion—directly to doctors, mainly—this is the path that modern medicine has taken. Most institutional health care today is about prescribing drugs to alleviate symptoms rather than searching for causes, in spite of the fact that finding and addressing the causes is usually not rocket science.
Suppose, for example, that one out of three caribou started to suffer from diabetes type II or prediabetes. Would we go in with medication or would we look to see if anything had changed in their diet or environment? To pose the question is to know the answer. The legendary Canadian doctor Sir William Osler said that one of the first duties of the physician is to educate the masses not to take medicine. But there’s a lot more money in medicating people than there is in curing them. In the U.S. there has been a fifty-fold increase in taking prescription medicine in the last half century. Although they only comprise five percent of the world’s population, Americans consume as much as half of the prescription drugs, yet they’re not the healthiest people among the developed nations. In fact, they’re well down the list.
But how could it be otherwise? Virtually all man-made drugs have side effects. Jonathan Miller is a physician, a polymath, and one of the comics from Beyond the Fringe. In an interview with Dick Cavett, he said, “What are called, rather gaily, side effects are in fact part of the effects of the drug. It’s part of the vocabulary of medicine that you call those ‘side effects,’ as if they’re sort of trivial epiphenomena. But actually they are part of what in fact that drug is doing.” If you’re perfectly healthy and you start taking prescription medicine, what’s going to happen? You’re going to become less healthy, perhaps even get sick. Hence, if you’re sick and you take prescription medicine, it stands to reason that you’ll never get well.
Exceptional circumstances aside, to treat metabolic disease with prescription drugs is crazy because it means trying to alter physiology with a man-made chemical. It’s second-guessing the body. The body makes its own drugs and they don’t have side effects. If a person has high blood pressure or high cholesterol, it rarely means that something in the body is malfunctioning. Human and animal bodies are self-regulating. They have to be to adapt to changing conditions, otherwise they wouldn’t survive. High blood pressure or high cholesterol or systemic inflammation or a low functioning thyroid is almost always the body’s intelligent response to adverse conditions. Resolve the adverse conditions and the body, which is self-regulating and self-healing, will respond appropriately. That is to say, the body will return to a state of health.
The most common of these adverse conditions are inadequate nutrition, toxins in the food or the environment, a sedentary life style, physical, chemical or emotional stress. Take high blood pressure for example. It’s not a disease, it’s an adaptation to toxicity, typically to toxic “junk” oils such as soy oil, cottonseed oil, rapeseed oil, canola and safflower oil. These highly processed vegetable oils have omega-6 to omega-3 ratios of 60:1 or more—it should be from 1:1 to 3:1—and make blood cells sticky causing them to clump. Not clot, but clump. The body adapts by increasing blood pressure to ensure an adequate blood supply to the cells. In other words, the body responds so as to prevent something worse from happening. Stop the blood cells from clumping and voila!, blood pressure drops.
The body is constantly regenerating itself. Most of our 70 trillion cells, though not all, are replaced after seven to ten years. But not all cells are replaced at the same rate. Colon and stomach cells die after three or four days, skin cells last two or three weeks, blood cells are replaced after 28 days, joints after 12 to 14 months. For purposes of healthy living, however, we can safely work on the principle that there is no part of the body that doesn’t regenerate itself. But in order for it to do this rapidly and efficiently, the body needs high quality raw materials. In other words, it needs healthy food, not processed food. In general, if man makes it, don’t eat it.
Most things that comes out of a box or a can contain preservatives to increase shelf life. So beware of anything that comes out of a box or a can. Look at the ingredients to be sure. Healthy food doesn’t last very long because it contains specialized proteins called enzymes. Enzymes are catalysts, and catalysts accelerate chemical reactions. In other words, healthy food ferments. To stop food from going off, processed food has had the enzymes removed. But those enzymes are highly beneficial to us; they also improve the taste. In processed food sugar is often added to compensate for the loss of taste, but, despite the claims about the addition of “fortifying” ingredients, processed food can’t match what Mother Nature provides.
A healthy diet contains plenty of fruits and vegetables, preferably organically grown fruits and vegetables. The same goes for seeds and nuts. Avoid genetically modified foods like the plague. Meat, fish and eggs are fine in moderation, but should be organically produced. This means that they should be free of hormones and antibiotics. Beef should be grass fed rather than corn fed. Chicken should be free-range.
Avoid refined sugar and artificial sweeteners altogether. Use maple syrup and/or stevia as sweeteners if necessary. For reasons which, I believe, are not completely understood, the sugars in fruits and vegetables don’t cause the spike in blood sugar that is typical of refined sugar. It seems to have something to do with fibre and what are called “phytonutrients.”
Many claim that pasteurized dairy products are problematic because pasteurization kills all the beneficial bacteria called probiotics, as well as damaging the vitamins and denaturing some of the healthy proteins. If online research convinces you that there’s a good case against pasteurization, then avoid pasteurized foods. The main thing is to realize that we can’t live without bacteria, that there are more bacteria in our digestive tract than there are cells in our body, that most bacteria are either friendly or harmless, and that our immune system is very good at dealing with the ones that are not—provided we keep it strong. Unfortunately, the population has been brainwashed by the power of advertising to have an irrational fear of germs. Bacteria keep us alive by digesting our food. Instead of being germaphobes we must learn how to promote the good bacteria, say by adding a probiotic like kefir to our breakfast berries and gluten free cereal. Remember, you will never feel very well without a healthy digestive tract, because 90 percent of our immune system is in our gut and 90 percent of the feel-good chemical seretonin is produced there.
Especially avoid sweetened fruit juices, which contain a ton of added sugar. Drink plenty of filtered (but not bottled) water. Many people find it hard to drink an entire glass of water purely for reasons of health. A good alternative is to keep water handy and drink four or five gulps whenever you think of it. But go light on water during a meal, and for half an hour before and after. Too much water dilutes the stomach acid needed for digestion.
There’s been a lot of publicity recently about the harmful effects of gluten, a class of proteins found in wheat, barley, oats and rye. Although the effects of gluten-containing grains are still controversial, it probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to go light on them most days. However, there are degrees of gluten sensitivity. So, where gluten is concerned, experiment.
Obviously, healthy food is going to be more expensive than processed food, but not that much more. On the plus side it tastes better and you need to eat less to feel satisfied. This is especially true where cheese is concerned. Ideally, cheese should contain only four ingredients: raw milk, salt, bacterial culture and microbial enzyme. (“Rennet,” an animal enzyme that speeds coagulation, is used in making most cheeses, and has been used for centuries; however, genetically modified rennet is in general use in the U.S., and although it’s illegal in Europe it often finds its way into cheese for export outside Europe.) Remember, when it comes to cheese you usually get what you pay for.
What about supplements? Apart from vitamin D3, which is a necessary supplement for people who live in northern climates, you should try to get your minerals and nutrients from food as much as possible. But if you find by experiment that certain supplements make a difference, then take them by all means.
Deep sleep is a very important time for the body to regenerate. To get a good night’s sleep, avoid naps as much as possible, and go to bed and get up at the same time every day. It’s better to go to bed early and to get up early—say 10:30 p.m. to 5:30 or 6:00—than to be a nighthawk. A little reading from a book rather than from an electronic screen is a good way to prepare for sound sleep. The average person requires at least seven hours of sleep, but don’t oversleep.
“Alternative” medicine which focuses on diet should probably be called “classical” medicine, since the maxim of Hippocrates (460–370 BC) was, ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,’ while Maimonides (1135–1204) wrote, ‘No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.’ In any case, many of those who practice what is called alternative medicine claim that diet is more important than exercise, as much as four times more important. How far that’s true doesn’t really matter. After diet and sleep, exercise is the most important factor in promoting health. But since exercise is usually taken to mean cardiovascular exercise and resistance training, which many people find tedious and time consuming, it is better to associate exercise with movement and good posture. Think of the brain as a battery. Movement recharges the brain by stimulating the nervous system (of which the brain is part), and the more you stimulate it the more it regenerates itself. Frequent movement and good posture aren’t demanding, but they’re easy to neglect. Taken together they’ll do wonders for your nervous system, and since the nervous system controls and coordinates every other function in the body, you can’t afford to neglect them.
Everybody knows that walking is good for your health, but not everybody realizes that sitting is bad for your health. And sitting for hours at a time is something this sedentary and Internet addicted culture does far too much of. You should get into the habit of moving and standing as much as possible. In addition to frequent walks, take phone calls standing up, and walk around if possible. Use a standing desk some of the time when on the computer or place a laptop somewhere where you can look at it standing up. When driving, press your shoulders against the seat and flex your lower back away from the seat part of the time. Take every opportunity to move your neck, shoulders and back. Joints are nourished and lubricated with superfiltrated blood, otherwise known as synovial fluid. There are no blood vessels in bone and cartilage, so synovial fluid in the joint capsule is the method—known as “imbibition”—by which joints are nourished and regenerated. As you grow older regeneration becomes less efficient, so joint movement becomes more and more important.
If there’s one particular kind of bad posture that can have very serious consequences, it’s forward head posture. The natural curve in the neck is concave—looking from back to front—and this cervical curve is so important that it’s called the “arc of life.” There’s a saying to remind us how important this part of the spine is; it runs: C3, C4, C5 keeps you alive—C3, C4, C5 referring to the third, fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae of the neck. You may have noticed many people whose head is not over their shoulders where it belongs. If you go online and look up the “arc of life,” you can see what a healthy neck should look like. To see how your own neck measures up, you’ll have to get an x-ray. But the important thing is to realize that you can do a lot to correct the problem.
Forward head posture is perhaps more common today because so many hours are spent in front of a computer or looking down at some electronic device. Whatever the reason, it causes the neck to lose its natural curve, sometimes becoming straight or even developing a reverse curve. This compromises the nerves emerging from between the cervical vertebrae, and, as you can imagine, those nerves control all sorts of very important functions. Most headaches, ear aches, and tight neck and shoulder muscles are the result of neck problems. It’s easy to find various neck exercises on youtube, but it’s equally easy to forget to do them. The best strategy is to become conscious of your posture, especially your neck posture, and give your neck and shoulders plenty of movement whenever convenient—while driving for instance.
Although less important than diet, and probably less important than movement and posture, exercise in the form of cardiovascular (or aerobic) exercise and resistance (or weight) training should not be overlooked. You don’t have to go to a gym, and surprisingly little time is required to get impressive results. You don’t even have to sweat. For cardiovascular exercise, all you need is a stationary bike. (The Exerpeutic 1200—superceded by the slightly modified Exerpeutic 310—folding upright bike with magnetic resistance and pulse detection has very good reviews and only costs about $200.) Pedal hard for about 30 seconds, or until you feel significant discomfort, then quit. That’s all. The faster your breathing returns to normal, the better your cardiovascular health. But do it at least three times a day, preferably four.
As far as resistance training goes, all you need is one repetition. But do the eccentric part (the muscle gets longer) very slowly, say over 20 seconds, and the concentric part (the muscle gets shorter) much faster. Half a dozen to a dozen different exercises are sufficient, and should include a push up, a sit up, a chin up, a squat, etc.—apart from a chin up bar, you can get by without any equipment if you use your imagination.
The body is continually sending us signals to guide us in our diet, our movement, our posture, and our exercise. Many of us spend our lives ignoring the body’s clear signals, except when discomfort is strong and persistent. This is especially true where food is concerned. Do your body a favour and don’t stuff yourself (by eating less you increase your energy), don’t eat food that doesn’t satisfy, don’t eat out of boredom, and don’t eat without an appetite.
Without oxygen, cells rapidly die. Without adequate nutrition, cells function poorly. Blood brings oxygen and nutrients to the cells and carries away their waste products, which are then filtered out of the blood by the kidneys. The most important thing for you to know can be summarized as follows: your health depends on the health of your cells; the health of your cells depends on the health of your blood; the health of your blood depends on what you put into your mouth. Finally, to maximize your motivation to do whatever is necessary to improve health, don’t go about it in a half-assed way as I did. Take some time and do some independent research. Then do everything that people who seem trustworthy recommend. And be sure to do everything all at once for at least two or three weeks before deciding whether the results are worth the trouble.
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