I am in awe of medical science and the dedicated individuals who work toward its advancement. My father narrowly escaped a fatal coronary incident with six-way bypass surgery just shy of his eightieth birthday. A highly skilled surgeon removed a peach-sized meningioma from a dear friend’s brain, saving his life and all of his mental faculties. I wouldn’t be alive but for the vaccinations and antibiotics that have protected me from serious illness and death. I am truly grateful.
Yet I also acknowledge a flip-side to our extraordinary medical achievements. We often fail to honor our miraculous bodies by making lifestyle choices that enable them to do their best work. We rely too heavily on technology to affect repair on our self-inflicted damage. We may even have an excess of faith in what our healthcare system will do for us. In their book Ultraprevention: The Six-Week Plan That Will Make You Healthy For Life, Dr. Mark Hyman, MD and Dr. Mark Luponis, MD rattle that faith by identifying seven common misconceptions about healthcare:
Myth #1: Your doctor knows best. Insurance carriers encourage physicians to identify symptoms, render diagnoses, and prescribe treatment very quickly. They don’t compensate physicians for time invested in exploring root causes. There are a range of preventative treatments that aren’t covered. And with specialization, many physicians simply focus on their areas of expertise rather than the whole person.
Myth #2: If you have a diagnosis, you know what’s wrong with you. Drs. Hyman and Liponis note that the same condition may have multiple causes; the same precipitating factor may create multiple conditions. It’s crucial to get to the root cause of the problem!
Myth #3: Drugs cure disease. Drugs often block natural biochemical and physiological processes. They have different effects on different people and may cause adverse reactions in combination with other drugs. Just because they’ve been tested and approved by the FDA doesn’t mean they’re safe.
Myth #4: Your genes determine your fate. As noted in last week’s post, our genotype provides the genetic blueprint for making proteins. The body’s needs combined with the cellular environment determine which of those blueprints gets used. We impact our cellular environment through our nutrition, habits, lifestyle, energy, and exposure to the five forces of illness. These forces include:
- Malnutrition. Drs. Hyman and Luponis claim that 80% of Americans have “overconsumptive malnutrition” – i.e., they eat too many calories with too few nutrients. The digestive tract can’t absorb, process, and deliver the nutrients it gets effectively. Nutrient-starved cells don’t function well.
- Impaired Metabolism. Metabolic dysfunction can result from insulin resistance (caused by excess sugar and processed foods in the diet), lack of nutrients, oxidative damage, poisoning (e.g., high mercury levels in certain kinds of fish), and gluten sensitivity.
- Inflammation. Infection, allergies, oxidative stress, exposure to toxins, injury, trauma, and other factors activate the immune system and weaken the body’s natural defenses. These irritants need to be identified and addressed.
- Impaired Detoxification. The body gets rid of materials that it does not use via sweat, urine, and feces, or through action of the bile duct. When these systems cease to function properly, undesirable elements accumulate in the bloodstream.
- Oxidative Stress. Poor food choices can result in free radicals that cause damage to our cellular structures and tissues.
Myth #5: Getting older means aging. Drs. Hyman and Liponis concede that we have to work harder on self-care as we age, but note that the body has amazing restorative powers. We have the ability to grow new neurons and establish new neural connections as we age. We can use natural remedies (glucosamine, chondroitin) to mitigate wear-and-tear on our joints.
Myth #6: Fat is a four-letter word. Actually, we need a balance of mono- and polyunsaturated fats to maintain optimal cellular and general health. Fats aren’t bad; we simply need to consume good fats in moderation.
Myth #7: You can get all the vitamins you need from food. Actually, the more you eat, the more vitamins are required to process the food. Some vitamins may be in especially short supply. Diets rich in animal proteins have a calcium-depleting effect, requiring supplements to maintain healthy bones. Individuals who don’t get enough exposure to natural light need Vitamin D. Vegans must take Vitamin B12 supplements given the absence of meat in their diets. (Note: Check out https://www.consumerlab.com for information on the content and purity of supplements. Look for the USP mark on purchased products.)
Having dispelled the myths, Drs. Hyman and Liponis provide assurance that we’ve got far more control over their health than we may have imagined. When given proper nutrition, exercise, and sleep while avoiding toxic influences (e.g, , smoking, substance abuse, stress), our bodies have the ability to keep us healthy and ward off disease. To that end, the authors lay out a six-week program that consists of two weeks for removing unhealthy foods/habits, two weeks for repairing the digestive system, and two weeks for recharging the body. Their program sets the pattern for the rest of your life.
For a deeper dive on all the foregoing points and a detailed description of the six-week program, check out the book and start your journey to a healthier you!