Monday, December 20, 2010

Cholesterol

I feel a bit like the Grinch raising health issues around Christmas time when hedonism is how we celebrate.  Who wants their Christmas parade to be rained on by a natural health zealot?  Too bad though...

High cholesterol can contribute to heart attacks, strokes, and vascular dementia.  

Bringing cholesterol under control is not a function of reversing your physical deficiency for statin drugs, much as conventional doctors push those at people.  Bringing cholesterol down involves (in order of importance): 

  1. Controlling stress
  2. Reducing simple sugars and starch
  3. Exercise
  4. Diet
Sadly, conventional medicine reverses the order and wants you to alter your diet, whereupon when that doesn't do enough of the job they offer the drugs that kill off your liver so your bad heart doesn't get you.  This is a sad state of affairs!

Control your stress as much as possible.  The body recruits cholesterol -- i.e. stimulates your liver to make more cholesterol -- to make stress hormones.  Reduce stress, increase stress coping and the demand for those stress hormones declines and cholesterol goes down.  Exercise goes a long way in helping the body cope more efficiently with stress!

High glucose and sugar levels prime the cholesterol pathways and sugar rattles through biochemical pathways in your body to create higher triglycerides, which in turn get cranked over into cholesterol as a fat storage process.  Reduce sugar intake and amazingly the cholesterol numbers will drop.

Exercise works because of the stress coping connection I just mentioned, but it also alters the cholesterol makeup.  There is good and bad cholesterol -- cholesterol that sticks to vessels as opposed to cholesterol that carries fats, etc. back to the liver for processing.  Exercise increases the good cholesterol.

Diet only controls about 20% of the total cholesterol.  This means you can eliminate all cholesterol from your diet and your total cholesterol will only come down 20%.  If you are just slightly over then, diet change will help.  Most are not in the slightly over category.

Herbal/natural supplements for reducing cholesterol include: plant sterols, guggulipids, and fiber.  I have seen a number of patients completely drop their very high cholesterol numbers doing nothing but go on very high fiber diets.  So, bottom line here is:  nobody should really NEED a statin medication of any kind for high cholesterol when all of these effective alternatives exist!

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Sin of Gluttony

The second deadly sin is Gluttony.  

In the words of nineteenth-century Russian Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov:
Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance.


Okay there is no way to mask this, so I will just come right out with it up front -- this post is intended to raise a lot of guilt.  If it raises your awareness to others' plight, then the world is a tiny bit improved.  If it inspires you to contribute to the aid of someone hungry or in need, then it helps even more.  If it inspires you to make some dietary changes from the guilty conscience I hope this unleashes, then your health will only improve from those changes as well!


I am bothered by how eating and drinking is required to have a "proper," "fun," holiday.  We live in a country (the USA - apologies to those readers from other countries) where upwards of 45% of the population is overweight.  This implies that the majority of Americans are getting all the food they need every day.  So when we pull up the plight of those living in Haiti or Ghana or Nicaragua and realize we have a "holiday" in the food department EVERY day, adding even MORE food to our celebrations seems wrong ethically. 

I can't even count the number of Thanksgivings, Christmases, and New Year's Days that I found myself "hurled over the precipice" and struggling with the bloated sloth and the mental darkness of a brain reeling from too many carbs and calories.  If I/we weren't also doing it half the week all the time, it might be "special," but as it is now, with the world hurting and hungry, it's simply obnoxious insensitive behavior.  To say nothing of the health effects.


Sugar kills immune system function for six hours after ingesting very small amounts.  The wrong fats clog arteries and veins.  The excess calories put on lots of pounds that reduce metabolism, slow down physical activity, and put undue stress on knees, ankles, and hips.  The majority of us need simpler, lower calorie diets.  Perhaps the more amazing celebration to have at holidays is a focus on the importance of the people we love and their health, and to take a break from the typical three meals and four snacks a day to eat LESS on holidays.  Perhaps greater thanksgiving would be realized if food were not the priority and people were?


So heading into Christmas I have these few suggestions to offer in some way to assuage the guilt I hope I've stimulated:


  • Visit www.kiva.org.  There is a link to the top left of this post along with just one of thousands of people in developing countries who could use just a $25 loan from you.  The cost of a very good meal out can make such a difference in someone's life!  Kiva is an amazing organization and you aren't donating $25 (or more) and writing it off.  That money comes back when their loan is paid and you get to choose AGAIN (and again) who to help next with that $25 (plus earned interest.)  If's VERY fun and terribly satisfying to watch their progress!
  • Eat less, but prepare food more!  Stop taking the easy Costco, microwaved, prepared food route to your meal.  The actual preparation of food should engage one's creative side and senses, and when done with others encourages cooperation and conversation.  These virtues feed far more than tummies.
  • Start "tweaking" recipes.  Play with reducing the sugar and the fat, while increasing the fiber, protein and vegetables in your recipes.  If you've ever noticed how food that is "good for you" tastes lousy, stubbornly adhere to the belief this does NOT have to be so and work to find the secrets for GOOD HEALTHY food!  Remember even if the recipe "flops dismally" that food represents MORE life sustenance than two-thirds of the world is getting for their meal.
  • Eat lightly then take a brisk walk and count the many, many blessings that flood our lives.
  • Remember your manners and politeness.  My mom and dad had a rule that reaching for food across the table was only permitted if one foot remained on the floor at all times.  This is a grossly minimalist approach to table manners, but thank yous and pleases really DO carry a positive energy that reflects gratitude and appreciation back to the Goodness of All Things!
 Prepare well in these last seven days before Christmas and with luck you will find some new traditions that come back year after year, as well as avoid the "fire, wrath, and fury" of gluttony.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Spiritual Journeying

Spiritual health is substantially more nebulous than physical health, and there are many for whom it is so nebulous that they do not ever consider their spirits to have anything to do with life, much less health.  Tomorrow is my father's birthday, he would be 89.  He was a man of a quiet and very deep faith.  I remember him vividly sitting at the table reading his devotions and Bible every morning before going to work.  He was a lot like his mother in that he just lived his faith, he didn't push it at you.  I remember saying to him once when I was a teenager - "I don't think I believe in God."  His words have carried me through four and a half decades since -- "Mark, I don't know that I can prove God exists to you, but I know this much: my life is better for having believed and even if I get to the end of my life and find there was nothing to it, I will still see God as having made me a better person."

Spiritual health can be measured, I think, in terms of how optimistic and trusting you are.  One of my favorite definitions of faith is that it is the belief that the universe is kindly intentioned toward you, even when evidence points to the contrary.  There are larger dimensions to human existence (and health) than simply skin and bones.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates Philippians 4:8 this way:
"Summing it all up,friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious -- the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse." 

There are a host of spiritual values including compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, gentleness, and kindness -- all of them powerful medicine that heals us individually from the inside, as well as healing for a world that is sick in too many places.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anger

I have been thinking quite a bit about anger and it's impact on mental, emotional, and physical health. In the crowded culture in which we live anger poses a double problem.  First, with so many different ways that we interact there are bound to be multiple exposures to things that can make us angry.  But the second problem is that in our culture anger is not very well accepted or received.  Most of us probably experience some kind of anger and most of us play polite and rarely "go off on" someone, especially if they are not related to us.

Anger is a powerful emotion.  It is quite easy for anger to kick in the adrenal's fight-flight reaction -- our blood pressure rises, heart rates increase, the mouth dries out, muscles tighten, eyes dilate, breathing increases, and digestion comes to a screeching halt.  Staying angry for a long period of time can create substantial wear and tear on us physically.  Anger is a central emotion contributing to the negative effects of stress.

Anger is a secondary emotion.  This means that anger occurs as a response to some other emotion.  The primary emotion that gives rise to anger is usually hurt or suffering, although fear is also common.  Hurt feelings generate a lot of anger.  We live in a society that seems to find a great deal of pleasure out of hurting others' feelings as a humor artform.  With the laughter that comes from some slam or insult, anger arises; but because others are laughing at our expense, we often have little we can do or say.  So anger stays bottled up inside.  Refusing to participate in rude and/or insulting humor certainly could make the world a better place in which to live.

There are a number of ways to handle anger.  It's often best and easiest to try and evaluate what the hurt or fear was that caused us to get angry.  This is the classic "count to ten" approach.  Once you know why you're angry, then speak to the person who may have caused the hurt or fear about that, rather than exploding about how angry you were.  Anger often begets anger.  An excellent resource I came across in a bookstore just by accident (serendipity?) is a book entitled simply Anger, by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I have been using the breathing technique taught in this book for a month or more now and find that it's helping me to stay centered and grounded in many different circumstances, not solely with anger.  Breathing is so important, and it definitely helps to calm down all the physical responses to strong emotion, as well as calming the mind and spirit as well.  I encourage you to try it, I think you'll find it helpful in your life journey as well.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Aspirin Cuts Cancer Risk?

The Associated Press yesterday reported on a health study from England that looked at the risks of developing cancer among users of low-dose aspirin (75 mg) therapy for cardiovascular disease.  The estimated risk for cancer in the groups taking the aspirin was lower than those not taking aspirin.  There was 20% lower incidence of dying from lung and prostate cancer, and 35% lower from gastrointestinal cancers.  The study did not include enough women to make the same estimation among women on breast cancer.

To my way of thinking this study confirms what David Servan-Schreiber argues in Anti-Cancer; A New Way of Life.  In this absolutely fantastic book about how to prevent cancer he argues that cancers fuel themselves by acquiring use of the body's inflammation responses.  So, it would make total sense that taking a small amount of aspirin, an anti-inflammatory, would impair cancer growth.  If the cancer cells' growth can be impaired long enough, the body's immune system has a chance to eliminated those rogue cells before they can become full blown tumors.  This is what is going on in everyone's body all the time.

Now, let me hasten to say -- aspirin is a common over-the-counter drug that most all of us have used, but there are some pretty substantial side effects possible from taking aspirin.  Side-effect risk, even with low dose aspirin, includes severe gastric bleeding and significant reductions in blood clotting.  So why take the chance of that? Rather than use aspirin long-term, why not go with natural anti-inflammatories that do not have these side effects?  Two of these supplements are turmeric and fish oil/flax oil.  Both of these can have the same anti-inflammatory effect as low dose aspirin.