Sunday, February 10, 2013

Which Health Claims Should You Believe?

     Perhaps it's always been this way, because the worries people harbor about their health are a perfect set-up for profiteers.  Despite the inroads of science over the past century, there is still no end to the claims for sure-cures, and they target people who want an easy answer to wellness.  A great deal of money is spent on glossy pamphlets rife with testimonials claiming that this or that product, or diet, or gizmo, or exercise regimen, or tincture will change people's lives, give them tons of energy, make them feel twenty-five again, or cure every ill.  Such investments in advertising must be cost-effective--I imagine their company CEOs sitting like fat cats on sunny yachts in the Caribbean--because the infomercials and bulk mailings keep on coming.
     Which ones have any merit?  Let me try to give you some advice.
     What works for one person is not likely to work for the next.
     This is true, even though our bodies are very similar.  (Consider, for example, that humans are so much like the rest of the living world that we share 50% of our DNA with cabbages, 55% with bananas, 60% with fruit flies, 98% with chimpanzees, and 99.5% with our parents and children.)  It's the tiny differences among us that make, it turns out, all the difference. 
     I recommend taking an inventory of your health, and doing the same with your first-degree relatives (biological parents, children and siblings).  The illnesses or symptoms these relatives have experienced are likely to reflect your propensity for disease, whether you like it or not.  Provided you share their DNA (keeping in mind, disturbingly, reports showing that one-third of us don't have the biological fathers we think we have) (access to over-the-counter paternity testing is available for those brave enough to challenge parenthood assumptions), you also share an "apple-doesn't-fall-too-far-from-the-tree" predisposition to certain disease-states over others.
     This isn't hard to accept, when you consider that Caucasians share a melanin-producing gene that makes them more likely to develop skin cancer, Asians probably share a bone-density gene that makes them more likely to develop osteoporosis, and Ashkenazi Jews share a gene that puts them at higher risk for Tay-Sach's disease.  You are more likely to develop the diseases your parents and siblings get, so those are the ones you need to target.  Here are some examples of how to choose among the diets, interventions and panaceas clamoring for our attention every week.
     If you or a family member have had gallstones, kidney stones, gout, calcific tendonitis, or Dupuytren's contractures, you should follow an "alakalizing diet."  Ninety percent of the foods you eat should have an alkalizing effect on your physiologic state, and only ten percent an acidifying effect.  You can find lists of "akalizing" foods on the internet, but examples include kale, collards, spinach, onions, carrots, broccoli, cabbage, olive oil, tofu, almonds, lentils, lemons, limes, tomatoes and avocados.  Bad ("acidifying") foods for someone with your constitution include corn, barley, oats, wheat, butter, cheese, alcohol, coffee, sugar, chicken, fish, strawberries, oranges, peanuts and beef.
     If there is osteoporosis in your family, you should start a weight-lifting program (at a gym, or with dumbbells at home) and continue it for the rest of your life.  Aerobic exercise is good, too, but only if it's the weight-bearing type--like jogging, jumping rope, tennis, or mountain climbing.  In addition, you need supplements like calcium, vitamin D, and magnesium every day.  You might consider strontium, as well.
     If you have heart disease, or if it runs in your family, you should follow either a plant-based diet or the Mediterranean diet.  In 1991, Dean Ornish published studies showing that a plant-based diet would prevent or reverse arterial blockages.  More recently, the China Study demonstrated similar benefits from a no-animal-food regimen.  There are also a few supplements that can reduce your chances of developing heart disease:  flax oil capsules, garlic, CoQ10, resveratrol, aspirin, and guggul.  Drinking one or two servings of alcohol a day (not more!) prevents heart disease, too.
     If you are prone to frequent illnesses or infections, you should consider following a detoxification program for one week, four or more times a year.  This means buying a vegetable juice extractor--the best for the money ($100-$200) are the Breville, Omega, or Krups.  A detox diet gives your body a break from the arduous process of digestion, especially if you are prone to overindulgence, and supplies large quantities of micronutrients--enzymes, vitamins, minerals and cofactors which are important for proper immune functioning.   Drink nothing but fresh-pressed vegetable juice (e.g., kale, carrots, apple, ginger and lemon make a good one) for the entire week.  In addition, make sure you get plenty of sleep every night, consider taking a midday nap, spend at least thirty minutes a day outdoors, and make a tea of dried maitake or reishi mushrooms (boil two large caps in three quarts of for 1 hour, strain, chill) to drink (a quarter-cup serving every day or two) for the times when you're not on the detox program.
     If there is cancer in your family, the China Study showed that a diet with no animal fat--including no dairy, not even non-fat dairy foods--slows the growth of cancer cells.  An alkalizing diet may be advisable, and taking supplements like probiotics, medicinal mushrooms, astragalus, and vitamin C can help reduce your chance of getting cancer.  Consider taking up yoga or getting regular massage therapy, as there are studies showing that both these techniques can enhance the immune system in ways that make cancer less likely.
     If you need to lose weight (or obesity is in your genes) you may be prone to overeating because you are calorically overnourished and cellularly undernourished.  You need foods that have a high nutrient-to-calorie ratio.  People who are deprived of micronutrients either feel hungry all the time, or don't have an internal mechanism telling them they have had enough.  In fact, they truly haven't had enough, however many calories they eat, and are craving the deficient nutrients.  Drinking freshly-pressed (organic) vegetable juice every day can make a difference, because over time it will supply an abundance of the missing nutrients.  The hormones leptin and gherlin, which regulate appetite and fullness, may also function better when deficiencies are corrected, thereby leading to weight loss.   Taking vitamin supplements or drinking bottled or canned juices is not effective, since most of the living nutrients required for normal metabolism have been pasteurized out.  In addition, start running--but do it outside, not on a treadmill.  No activity is better for stimulating a person's general health, burning calories, boosting the metabolism or inducing an overall sense of well-being, than running.  Being outdoors is the "supplement" for what is now recognized as "nature-deprivation syndrome," a condition that may result in hibernation, depression, and a sluggish metabolism.
     If you or your family members suffer from arthritis or fibromyalgia, exercise is the most important factor in reversing or preventing the condition.  Non-weight-bearing exercise is probably best:  swimming, bicycling, jumping on a trampoline, and rowing are the activities to take up.  Supplementing the diet with ashwaganda, ginger, turmeric, MSM, and boswellia has medical research behind it, and doing acupuncture, meditation, and positive-imagery have been shown to reduce pain and slow progression of arthritis.
     If anxiety, hyperactivity, insomnia, phobias, irritable bowel syndrome, or asthma are familial problems, stress reduction techniques are key to calming the mind and body.  You should avoid Type A jobs, get plenty of sleep, enjoy sex frequently, take up a creative hobby, do guided imagery, meditate regularly, avoid stimulants like caffeine, ginkgo, gotu kola and ephedra, and find ways to laugh at least seventeen times a day (one study shows that people who laugh more than this, live longer!).  Laughter and sex increase endorphins in the body, meditation reduces stress hormones, and plenty of sleep gives the adrenal glands a rest, thereby preventing irritability and overstimulation of the nervous system.
     If you really want to go the distance when it comes to preventing illness and living longer than your peers, try moving to one of the Blue Zones.  These are five geographical areas which lay claim to having the longest-lived people in the world, according to the journalist and longevity researcher, Dan Buettner.  They are:  Barbagia, Sardinia; Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California; Icaria, Greece;  and Nicoya, Costa Rica.

* For further reading, get The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, by Gene Stone.


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