While the health details of each individual are unique, it is also true that most healthy people share common habits that I consider essential to creating and sustaining health. At some point in a first appointment, I like to touch on the components I prioritize for creating good health.
“Health” is actually a word that was never uttered during my medical school training, and in modern medical dialogue is usually used to refer to a specific portion of physiology or medical understanding. We are interested in cardiovascular health, or mental health, or perhaps the health of our microbiome (the enormous colonies of helpful bacteria that live on our skin, respiratory tract, and the surface of our intestines.)
In both my practice and my writing, I am interested in helping each individual cultivate their own optimal health. Whatever limitations you might actually or possibly have, we can work together to strengthen your body and your mind and your satisfaction with the whole package! Imagine we’re sitting down in my office and we want to start to fine tune key actions for your better health.
We Start With Food
It’s a joke among nutrtionally oriented practitioners that if you took your dog to the vet with a rash, the first question is usually, “Have you changed what you’re feeding your dog?” If you take your child or yourself to a conventional doctor, they will insist—for the most part—that diet has nothing to do with it! I am with the vet: it’s always about the food.
You can find greater details in what I call The Ideal Diet, but on a simple level, I like to encourage people to eat meals and avoid snacks. Your digestive tract likes to rest well overnight, so two to three meals spaced well into 9-12 hours of the daytime should be sufficiently nourishing that snacks are unnecessary.
Base your meals around protein. An average sized person of normal weight should be eating three portions of “30 grams” of protein daily, or the amount contained in a piece of meat or fish the same size as two decks of cards. An egg has 8 grams of protein, so that single egg for breakfast isn’t really enough. If you can find it and afford it, it’s best to choose pasture-raised meat (grass fed and grass finished) and wild-caught fish. Poultry is the least nutritious of all the meats, but can be useful for the chance to cook meat on the bones, which adds different nutrients.
Healthy fats are good for you, whether it’s the marbling in your steak, the butter on your vegetables, or the cream in your coffee. Olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil are the safest oils in your kitchen, for both eating and cooking.
Colorful vegetables can provide a lot of useful anti-oxidants and some fruit (favor the kind colored through, like berries, rather than white, like apples) can be a bit of a treat as part of a meal.
Water is a terrific beverage, as are green tea and good quality coffee. (Cheap or mass produced coffees can tend to be moldy.)
Sleep: We all need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Good sleep: the kind that starts not long after sundown, goes very deep for the first 3-4 hours, then waxes and wanes ‘til sunup when it’s time to reach over and turn off that alarm clock it seems you don’t need anymore.
Sleep in a cool room with fresh air, a dark room with no electronics and no wi-fi signal. No food for three hours, no alcohol for four hours before bed. If you take anything to help you sleep it should be something your body makes on its own (tryptophan, melatonin) or a fancy form of it (your body makes GABA, but sometimes Pharma-GABA is more helpful for sleep) OR something that helps you sleep without altering normal brain wave patterns. I know of only one such substance, and that would be some derivative of cannabis. I live in a “legal” state so we have many options, but everywhere pure CBD (cannabinoid) oil is legal because it is free of intoxicating THC (tetra-hydro cannabinoid) substances. Other sleep agents (anti-histamines, benzodiazepines, or ambien-type drugs) should be used quite rarely: they give you rest but not sleep, and jeopardize the health of your brain and body. Use only when sleep seems impossible and at least a bit of rest would be better than lying awake.
Exercise: How about this plan? Move to an island without transportation and walk every day, every where you go! Every once in a while sprint up the hill and carry a heavy bag out to your garden. (Note the picture: the island is Iceland, where I will be heading in September to speak at the Icelandic Health Symposium. More details soon, and a full report on the symposium and Iceland itself in the fall!)
If that doesn’t work, do something like that in your regular life.
Stress Reduction: Modern life (unless you move to that island) is much more stressful on body and mind than you realize. Just as you don’t work out hard every day, it would be great if you also incorporate some method of truly relaxing your brain on a regular basis. I like the iPhone app called BrainWave. Other options, available online are background sounds from Brain.fm (use for relaxation or maybe for focus, as I’m doing at the moment) or guided meditation from a site such as HeadSpace. If you’ve moved to that island, you may be good to go, but there is always meditation, handy with or without an available wi-fi signal.
Engagement: Staying involved and engaged with other people bodes well for a long and healthy life. Whether for purely amusement (gin rummy?), brain stimulation (French class or bridge?), exercise (join a rowing club), or for relaxation (movie night), sharing those endeavors with people whom you like and respect is a doubly wise move.
Your individual plan
And if we were sitting down together in my office, the next steps would be individualized, based first on your answer to my question, “And what are your greatest concerns about your health?”
After your concerns, there are mine. I like to order fairly routine lab tests for metabolism and hormones, including:
- CBC, a complete blood count
- CMP, a chemistry panel that surveys liver, kidneys
- NMR Lipid panel, all the specifics of your lipid panel including a measure of early insulin resistance
- hsCRP, a measure of inflammation
- Homocysteine, an indicator of cardiovascular and cognitive risk
- Thyroid panel (mine includes Free T3, Free T4, TSH, Reverse T3 and anti-thyroid antibodies)
- Fasting insulin (looking again for insulin resistance: in my mind the greatest threat to health of most folks in middle age)
- Hormone levels
- Vitamin D level
Additionally, of course, we might order tests specific to your concerns. With the results in hand, we get down to business of figuring out how you want to proceed!