We can believe one of several health stories: our health is the luck of the draw- whether our parents passed down to us good genes... our health will be good if we can find, and afford, access to good medicine... that we are pawns to disease that grows unseen within us until an odd feeling or pain will be revealed by a test or high tech machine as a tumor, clogged arteries, or a compromised organ... While there maybe truth in all of such stories, their falsehood is in not giving prominence to practical solutions, the greatest of which is our own ability to direct ourselves toward health and away from disease through a judicious conscious effort. My telling you that through deliberate choices and actions, you can improve your health now and into the future, you might think I had something to sell you do.
In fact, I do. I want to sell you an idea that your health is largely determined by yourself- an idea that isn't that radical. What might be different is the approach, and tools as outlined below. While this approach in no way nullifies competent medical care, it can reduce your future chances of needing open heart surgery, dialysis, cancer treatment, and the such. And its biggest benefits will be increased well-being that supports you in living each day and accomplishing your desires. Of course there is no magic bullet, but there is a lot of tiny magic bullets... And there is a cost as outlined below.
Health is not the absence of disease. True health is some combination of physical, mental and spirit that act together to define wellness. When I speak of spirit, I mean ones' life force- things that make you want to get up in the morning. If you feel that you have a reason to live, it naturally improves your mental condition. Aerobic exercise improves both the condition of your heart and mind as new research indicates. Keeping your mind sharp, helps you deal with the stressors in your life.
Genetics, statistcal studies, and wildlife experiments have illuminated connections that years ago weren't known. For example, baboon studies show that the alpha males and females live longer when compared to others further down the social toatom pole. A great read on this subject of stress and how it relates to our physiology is available in Dr. Robert Sapolsky's "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers." Another excellent resource is the DVD Stress- Portrait of a Killer.
In order to function well, one needs good mental functioning. These various tasks can be broken down further into sub-categories.
Keep Working Your Mind.
Use your mind in varied efforts throughout your life by engaging in: musical composing, writing, reading, arithmetic, planning, working and discussions. Gaming is also beneficial, including bridge, puzzles, and chess. The key item in all of these efforts is an active conscious effort to understand. One suggestion is to download free audio programs (podcasts or MP3s) and play them back on your iPod, or similar device, while driving (recreational use of headsets or earphones are not allowed in many states while operating a motor vehicle) or working out at the gym (see below). (For more information, see iTunes- Podcasts.) Passive activities, such as watching tv, don't exercise the brain as fully.
Beware of Depression.
B.B. King and others spun the blues into some great tunes. Although it was good for many careers, beware of the blues as a way of life. Many people suffer from depression and are not aware of it. If you're depressed, examine it yourself. You may find that you're overstressed at work or even finding suitable employment. While some conditions may lie outside your control, one can socialize more, get active in something you're passionate about, and take better care of yourself. How? Eat & drink better, maintain sufficient and consistent sleep patterns, and exercise regularly. And of course seek out professional help if needed.
Eat Well & Exercise
Vegetables, not Fruit, Help Fight Memory Problems In Old Age - Eating vegetables, not fruit, reduces cognitive decline in older adults, according to a study published in the October 24, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology. Of course, avoiding many physical health problems through exercise and good eating also helps.
Fat - What No One is Telling You - With 66 percent of American adults overweight or obese, our girth is a serious public and personal challenge. Yet many of us still view being overweight as a character flaw, a lack of self-control, or even a moral crime. Instead, stay focused on small positive steps that result in large benefits over time. For example, if you instinctively eat an entire bag of potato chips at one time, don't buy them. If they're not around, it makes it that much harder to fall to the impulse urge.
The movie Super Size Me, and its companion book, Don't Eat this Book, cover the fast food industry and its effects on America's health. The simple premise of the movie was for one man to eat three meals a day at McDonald's. All the while there were doctors monitoring his health, and even they were shocked by the stress his body underwent. We've put together a little writeup to give you some information, and some concrete steps to improve improve you and your family's health, see Fast Food Nightmare.
Physical health includes many things and the requirements vary based on your age and lifestyle. For example, many individuals compete in sport clubs or activities, including basketball, running, tennis, etc. If you are one of these, strength training and flexibility exercises can improve your performance and lessen your chances of injury. Those less physically active and advanced in age, benefit greatly from increased leg muscle strength to provide more stability and less of a chance of falling.
Lose excess weight.
Americans are fat, and excess fat increases ones' chance of getting cancer, coronary condition and diabetes. Body fat is typically measured as mass index. Measurements are done using a fat measuring device (inherently inaccurate) or a tank full of water using water displacement used to calculate mass index. A mass index of 20 to 25 is nearly optimal. Note, the cancer mortality by body mass index, figure 2G, on page 27 of Cancer Prevention & Early Detection Facts & Figures 2005.
Exercise regularly, several times a week.
Besides improving your cardiovascular efficiency, regular exercise helps reduce the natural shrinkage of our brains as we age. For supporting information, see the CDC: Physical Activity for Everyone: Recommendations. Note: the latest exercise recommendations are for thirty minutes, 5 days or more per week. While working out at the gym, consider taking an iPod, or similar device, to listen to music or Podcasts on a subject of interest to you (arts, literature, etc.). For more information, see iTunes- Podcasts.
Eat less and better.
Reduce your intake of destructive foods (fattening, high in sugar, cardiovascular cloggers, and carcinogenic foods). At the same time, increase your intake of raw or lightly cooked vegetables that are low in fat, high in fiber, with anti-oxidants (chemicals that scavenge free radicals known to be a causative agent for cancer). Too many Americans eat unconsciously. Instead, consider the long term effects. A bowl of ice cream might sound good now but so does avoiding a future heart bypass. Eating doesn't have to be complicated and some simple guidelines apply, see further down in this document for more specific eating suggestions.
- Maintain a calorie restricted diet. Evidence suggests that when coupled with essential nutrients, this diet drastically reduces aging: Experimental Diet a Fountain of Youth for Monkeys. Of course, discipline is required to maintain this diet, see New York Magazine, The Fast Supper: Is a life lived on the edge of starvation worth living? Our hungry reporter gives the ultra-extreme Calorie Restriction Diet a two-month taste test.
- Eat foods high in fiber. Foods include oat bran, oatmeal, etc.
- Eat five or more servings of fruits or vegetables a day, preferably raw or lightly cooked (cooking leeches out nutrients).
- Avoid refined sugar or sugar added products, including your intake of potatoes, french fries, white bread, bagels, and white rice. Remember, fructose in excess amounts is just as bad as other forms of sugar.
- Reduce your salt and preservative intake (nitrites and nitrates) by avoiding lunch meats and reading the ingredients labels on containers.
Brush and dental floss twice daily.
Besides maintaining your lovely smile, a regular dental preventative program can reduce the amount of bacteria in your system. Bacteria is known to be the cause of halitosis, ulcers, and a causative agent in heart disease. Although flossing is avoided by most of the population, the gum disease, gingivitis, can occur due to lack of good dental care, and its ramifications are enormous, including dental implants, drilling, and even grafting. Remember to brush all the exposed teeth and the top and bottom of your tongue. Dentists recommend soft bristle tooth brushes. Dental floss types vary, but most people prefer waxed. Mouthwash is not in iteself recommended as being that important; the one caveat is if one suffers from cold like symptoms where gargling-rinsing with warm salt water in the morning and evening has proven helpful, see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/28/health/28real.html?_r=1&ref=health.
Have regular checkups & specific tests based on your age and risk factors.
Certain tests can identify problems early- before they become life threatening. One of the often overlooked items is going to the doctor when something bothers you. Delaying seeing the doctor, can often reduce your chances of a successful treatment. In my own case, I had a serious skin condition over ten years ago that would have killed me if I had not seen a dermatologist at the insistence of my father. A biopsy revealed melanoma cancer in an enlarging mole. Luckily it was caught before it spread into the blood system; melanoma spreads sideways before growing downward where it can spread into the lymph nodes.
Blood pressure monitoring: This can be performed using a home blood pressure device, see http://www.mcare.org/healthathome/highbloo.cfm. Doctors recommend that these tests begin at age eighteen when there is a family connection to high blood pressure (bp). Individuals who record bp figures over time can use this to notice trends which could be the result of little exercise, poor eating, or a reaction to foods-medicine. Note: Untreated blood pressure is dangerous and can result in heart failure, stroke, kidney damage, and loss of vision. 2005-09-01
Serum cholesterol screening: Measuring only your total cholesterol is essentially worthless. If you have these tests done, you want the total cholesterol, HLD, LDL, and triglycerides. This test is now available via a home kit that the blood sample is sent to a lab, costs are about $30, see BIOSAFE's Cholesterol Panel blood test. 2005-05-18
Glaucoma testing: The American Academy of Ophthalmologists (AAO) recommends that persons with a high risk such as African American descent, or with a family history of glaucoma or diabetes have a medical screen for this every three to five years beginning at age 20. Glaucoma is a type of disease where the internal pressure of the eye increases damaging the optic nerve, causing blindness. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans.
Mammogram's: Early breast cancer detection is important for successful treatment. The American Cancer Society recommends Women age 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year and should continue to do so for as long as they are in good health. There are other recommendations on their web site, Can Breast Cancer Be Found Early?
Cancer screening: is beneficial in the early detection of breast cancer. Most breast cancers are found by women doing their own breast self-exams. There is no age limit when these tests should be stopped.
Skin cancer checks: It is important to check for abnormal skin conditions such as moles that increase in size and change color. These tests are crucial, especially if one has been raised in the southern exposure where people are more likely to develop skin cancers. These tests should be performed by a combination of doctors and relatives.
Consider taking supplements
Eating well is more important but the addition of vitamins and other supplements is recommended. As a minimum take a basic multi-vitamin and Vitamin D supplement. If you have trouble swallowing large tablets, buy soluble capsules that are easier going down.
- Multi-vitamin which is high on minerals: zinc, lutein, folic acid, selenium
- Vitamin D has been found to play an important role in fighting cancer and heart disease. Latest recommendations are for 2,000 IU/day. D deficiency is linked to cardiovascular disease and death.
- B-Complex (B6 and B12) with a minimum of 400 micrograms of Folic Acid, see Alzheimer's below.
- Vitamin C (500 mG). Because C is water soluble it tends to flush out of your system fairly quickly so taking it twice a day or using a time release form is recommended for maximum effectiveness. Some nutritionists recommend taking megadoses of C to increase the immune system. Higher dosages are flushed from our bodies quickly, so naturally there is a question about the merit of such an approach.
- Vitamin A is a strong anti-oxidant but it's better to take the safer form of beta carotene, see http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/vitamin-a/index.html.
- Vitamin E (30-400 IU a day) is a strong anti-oxidant. Natural sources include green leafy vegetables, nuts and vegetable oils. When taking a supplement, choose the natural form of mixed tocopherol. Side effects include blood thinning. Despite attacks from the FDA and a recent flawed study from John Hopkins, vitamin E has been found to be effective in mitigating colds, heart disease and cancer, see http://www.naturemade.com/microsites/vitaminE/?kbid=1046. Also, High Doses Of Vitamin E Boost Rat Survival Rate 40% (2005-09-05) is a report that shows significant improvement in brain and neuromuscular function for amounts equivalent to 1200 to 2000 mg daily which corresponds to earlier tests of Vitamin E Supplementation and Alzheimer's Disease.
- Niacin naturally lowers your cholesterol. Consider buying a time release version which doesn't have an irritating skin flushing effect.
- Garlic, large doses of garlic, 4-10 grams per day, apparently are associated with beneficial effects. Benefits include reductions in systolic blood pressure, serum cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Another side effect includes reduced blood clotting and should be considered if your body does not clot properly. Sources include raw and tablets that are coated (odorless). See- http://www.supplementwatch.com/supatoz/supplement.asp?supplementId=136
- Aspirin has proven itself beneficial for the heart, see Aspirin Foundation and FDA: An Aspirin a Day? However like any drug, aspirin has side effects: mainly the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding (which is the primary reason for most low dosage recommendations), see the FDA link and or consult with a physician. The FDA ruled in 1998 that the drug reduced the risk of the following medical problems: stroke in those who have had a previous stroke or who have had a warning sign called a transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke), heart attack in those who have had a previous heart attack or experience angina (chest pain), death or complications from a heart attack if the drug is taken at the first signs of a heart attack, recurrent blockage for those who have had heart bypass surgery or other procedures to clear blocked arteries, such as balloon angioplasty or carotid endarterectomy.
Dementia and Alzheimer'sOn 2010-10-21, UUUS's Pastoral Care in collaboration with Social Concerns, showed an Alzheimer's film, followed by a discussion led by Nancy Squillacioti, Executive Director of the Alzheimer Resource Center, that focused on Alzheimer's and the problems facing care-givers. The following information is geared at understanding it and the approaches being followed, including reference material that one can read or listen to, as well as some general advice to help ones short term and long term brain healt.
Alzheimer's is one of some 200 forms of dementia. Broadly, Alzheimer's falls into two types: early onset Alzheimer's that can occur in ones third thru five decades, and standard Alzheimer's that can afflict those who are older. At this moment, there is no known cure for the disease.
Alzheimer's progresses faster in men than women. The severity of the disease is a better predicator of longevity than other factors such as race. People who scored poorly on initial memory tests had increased risk of dying quickly because the disease was advanced at diagnosis. Current medicinal treatments are generally ineffective. The next links show positive results, especially the first at reducing brain atrophy. Homocysteine-Lowering by B Vitamins Slows the Rate of Accelerated Brain Atrophy in Mild Cognitive Impairment, Could Mad Cow Disease Already be Killing Thousands of Americans Every Year?, New research shows that folates are effective in limiting risk of Alzheimer's.
CancerThe Mayo Clinic recommends six steps to prevent cancer. Another obvious prevention is avoiding trans fat, see links below on foods to avoid.
Prostate CancerReducing one's animal fat intake helps, see http://www.jstor.org/pss/3702827. Another item shown to help is selenium supplement (200 micrograms/day) as noted in this article, http://jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/96/9/645.full.
Macular degenerationLutein was found in a study of 90 patients to reverse the effects of macular degeneration. The study was done by the North Chicago VA Medical Center using 10mg of lutein per day.
- Consider an occasional glass of red wine? Red wine has anti-oxidant effects; red grapes & red grape juice are also useful. Update 2006-11: Resveratrol: The Fountain of Youth? High doses of resveratrol which is found naturally in grape skins and red wine can improve muscle endurance in mice, and the compound also keeps them slim, a new study shows. The source? cell.com, "Resveratrol Improves Mitochondrial Function and Protects against Metabolic Disease..."
- Foods high in fiber (oat bran, rice bran, carrots, apples, etc.) help to keep the intestines clean and in the prevention or treatment of diverticular disease, hemorrhoids, constipation, cancer of the colon, Crohn’s disease, hypercholesterolemia, obesity, and irritable bowel syndrome, see http://www.dietsite.com/dt/diets/eatingwell/fiber/highfiber.asp.
- Eat five or more helpings a day of fruits and vegetables as per the American Dietary Association guidelines. Walnuts are especially high in Omega-3 oil, but remember to keep them refrigerated since they will go rancid.
- Eat a Good Breakfast. Cull heavily sugared and salted cereals from your diet. For cold cereals, consider Uncle Sam, Shredded Wheat, and Grape Nuts. Do you like your cereal hot?, then consider oat bran, oatmeal or grits, which are available in quick versions that take little time to prepare. Again, do not get the flavored versions since high amounts of salt and sugar have been added to the mix. Add flavor by the addition of fresh bananas, strawberries or blueberries.
- Garlic lowers your cholesterol and blood pressure. Recommend taking this everyday as an odorless capsule or by adding it to your meals.
- Raise your HDL with Olive Oil? Drugs are presently available which lower your LDL (the bad cholesterol). However, drugs are not yet available to raise your HDL (the good kind). However, switching to a mediterranean diet, high in olive oil, fruits and vegetables can make a significant difference. Thanks, Bill & Peggy Gilbert.
- Got Tomato? Drink a small glass of unsalted or low salt tomato juice at least three times a week; an alternative would be to eat spaghetti sauce or a pizza. Tomatoes have pycocene which is known to fight cancer and for some reason cooked versions of tomatoes are much higher in pycocene than in raw form.
- Eat More Fish. Studies has shown that men who eat fish three times or more a week have a lower incidence of prostate cancer. Conversely, men who ate more beef and chicken had a higher incidence of prostate cancer. The downside to fish is the higher incidence of mercury, which is especially dangerous for children and pregnant women. Mercury is found naturally in the ocean waters related to underwater volcanic fissures and through man-made pollution (mainly coal power plants), see- NRDC's Mercury Contamination in Fish: http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/protect.asp and NOW's The Mercury Story: http://www.pbs.org/now/science/mercuryinfish.html. See also Consumption Advisories: Fish to Avoid. This Oceans Alive advisory breaks out diet recommendation based on the fish and the person eating it (woman, man or child)- thanks Beda Kantarjian.
- Drink Green Tea. Drinkers who take a spot of green tea (three cups or more a day) have a lower incidence of cancer, see Green Teas Cancer-fighting Allure Becomes More Potent, plus studies have shown green tea to be helpful in protecting the teeth and gums- Tea Yields Prostate Benefits. Tired of hot tea?- brew up your tea in a coffee maker by placing four or five tea bags in the decanter and run ten or twelve cups of water through it. Three such pots makes a full gallon of ice tea. Organic versions are available in large loose bags that are quite inexpensive if you're willing to use a tea ball. Decaf versions often use solvents, such as Ethyl Acetate versus water/carbon dioxide to reduce caffeince. Either way, decaf tea has less anti-oxidants. See- http://coffeetea.about.com/library/weekly/aa100501a.htm.
- Coffee- a Health Drink? Coffee is high in antioxidants and several studies have shown it to half the liver cancer risk and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 30%, click on the link for more info. In February, a team of Japanese researchers reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute that people who drank coffee daily, or nearly every day, had half the liver cancer risk of those who never drank it. The protective effect occurred in people who drank one to two cups a day and increased at three to four cups. Positive effects include reduced chance of developing gallstones, an ability to do better on certain mental tests and an increase in physical performance. Side effects include trouble sleeping, increased anxiety (if one is prone to this) and a hyper sense while moving about. Another effect of caffeine is to mask ones' true physical condition; this could be considered positive in a temporary sense (while trying to overcome the body's natural tiredness in an emergency situation) but can give a distorted sense of ones' physical reality. Caffeine is a physically addictive drug; many regular coffee users experience headaches when avoiding caffeine during weekends.
Move Away From...
- Cut your intake of high glycemic foods. Hyperlinked article discusses glycemic load (GL) and the fulness factor (FF). Sugar in its various forms can help lead to type II diabetes. Reduce your intake of high glycemic foods which include: watermelon, dried dates, instant mashed potatoes, baked white potato, parsnips, rutabaga, instant rice, corn flakes, rice krispies, cheerios, bagel, white soda crackers, jellybeans, french fries, ice cream, and table sugar. Although potatoes are rich in calcium, niacin, iron, vitamin C , a new theory suggests that potatoes maybe a major contributor to America's alarming rates of heart disease and diabetes. Professor Meir Stampfer from Havard School of Public Health says, "You ate a potato," says Stampfer, "but your body is getting pure glucose." Blood sugar sets off a chain reaction with insulin pouring out of the pancreas and triglycerides shooting up and HDL (good) cholesterol takes a dive. "It's a perfect setup for heart disease and diabetes,". New York Times-- thanks Abbe.
- Avoid high fat foods (bacon, ham) can raise your cholesterol especially the LDL figures which lead to cardiovascular disease (hardening of the arteries).
- The Skinny on Trans Fatty Acids: Avoid foods like donuts, stick margarine, french fries contain high amounts of trans fats which are known to clog the arteries and have been linked to breast cancer. New labeling guidelines requires that food manufacturers label their products with trans fat percentages broken out.
- Avoid soda (except club soda which tastes good after the addition of a slice of lime) and tonic water which contains high amounts of sugar. Note: Colas also contain high amounts of phosphoric acid that promotes tooth decay.
- Eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup from your diet. Excessive use of sugars can contribute to the development of obesity and in turn adult diabetes.
- Reduce intake of products that use nitrites as a preservative. During the cooking process nitrites combine with amines naturally present in meat, forming carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds, see http://www.preventcancer.com/consumers/food/hotdogs.htm. According to the link, it is suspected that nitrites can also combine with amines in the stomach to form carcinogens. According to the article, although nitrites occur in some vegetables, present Vitamin C and D inhibits the formation of N-nitroso compounds. New research from the NIH has found that sodium nitrite can reduce organ damage after a heart attack, see New Medical Uses for Sodium Nitrite. Nitrites show up primarily in lunch meats, pepperoni, and beer.
- Reduce intake of alcohol. Obviously, alcohol damages the liver and brain.
- Men should consider avoiding red meats and chicken especially if there are any relatives suffering from prostate cancer. There is a correlation here and it is not presently clear.
- Reduce your intake of dairy products. For some yet unknown reason, consumption of dairy products (milk, ice cream, cheese) are associated with certain cancers (prostate and ovarian). See-- http://archives.cnn.com/2000/HEALTH/cancer/04/04/prostrate.cancer/, http://chetday.com/prostatecancermilk.htm, http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/958142774.html, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/1556990.stm.
- Reconsider red meat. Feeling like having a steak? Specifically, the tests for Mad Cow (BSE and CJD) are not valid until the cow is 30 months old whereas the average cow slaughtered in the U.S. is under 24 months old. Besides known viruses that can cause the disease, there is a certain propensity for the disease without the presence of any virus. Several of the individuals who have died from Mad Cow have done so years after eating the affected meat. General guidelines if you choose to eat cow meat include avoiding hamburger meat, which due to the process involved can include meat from sixty cows, greatly increasing ones chance of eating infected meat. For more links, see the following science page, http://www.science.org.au/nova/003/003fur.htm. Also, one can download for free the following book on mad cow in pdf form, http://www.prwatch.org/books/madcow.html.
- Avoid cataracts by avoiding Mayo, eating fish is a positive. For more info, see http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20050514/food.asp. 2005-05-18
- Anti-Wrinkle Compound Causes Pathological Reaction In Skin Cells - Researchers from Université Laval's Faculty of Medicine have discovered that DMAE (a compound commonly used in many antiwrinkle products) causes a pathological reaction in skin cells as presented in the latest edition of the British Journal of Dermatology. DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol) is used in many antiwrinkle products dubbed "instant anti-aging face-lifts." This compound, as well as other chemically similar ones, are also found in cosmetics, creams, lipsticks, shampoos, soaps, and baby lotions, although the way they work is not yet understood.
Related links & resources:
- http://www.citizen.org/hrg/ Public Citizen Health Research Group
- http://www.supplementwatch.com/supatoz/ Good for general health info
- http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/vitamins.html Common sense site stresses the importance of taking folic acid and vitamins B6, B12, D, and E.
- Merck online manual of medical information Explains disorders, symptoms, how they're diagnosed, how they might be prevented. Provided free of charge on the Internet by Merck & Co., Inc., as a public service on a non-profit basis-- thanks Dutton Ashcraft.
- Worst Pills, Best Pills, Public Citizen, 2005, This 772-page resource is filled with information, see the book section for more information.