This year's Integrative Healthcare Symposium just wrapped and I love attending because it’s a magnificent conference to feel the pulse of the functional medicine community. While it can certainly be helpful to improve existing models of healthcare, vibrant health and wellbeing can only be achieved if we create new standards of care and sweeping cultural changes.
Unless we as (future) parents, grandparents, and conscious citizens stop Big Food & their clones from infiltrating our kids’ impressionable minds with junk in plastic, we can’t expect to foster a healthy, intelligent society. The current US health care system is far from functioning optimally at this point; how could it possibly deal with larger and larger numbers of people suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s in the coming decades?
“Obesity is the canary in the coal mine of chronic disease,” says Dr. David Katz. He sees the ‘bad use of feet, forks, and fingers,” i.e. no exercise, poor diet, and smoking, as the major cause of premature death. The great news is that those are lifestyle choices we’re in control of. The additional 3 cylinders of lifestyle medicine are sleep, stress, and love, i.e. sound sleep, homeostasis, and community. As we know in the age of epigenetics, “DNA is not your destiny, dinner is.”
Knowledge is all well and good but if you know better and don’t do better you don’t get better. Catherine Katz, a neuroscience PhD and Dr. Katz’s wife, provides culinary inspiration, recipes, and guidance via her beautiful blog Cuisinicity.
The notion that we in the oh so modern and civilized world might be digging our own graves daily with our silverware is shared by brain warrior Dr. Daniel Amen. “ISIS has nothing on the food industry,” he says. “As your weight goes up, the size and function of your brain goes down... Obesity is the biggest brain drain in the history of our country.”
The good news is that you’re not stuck with a damaged brain as Dr. Amen’s vast library of SPECT scans illustrates. The key is, you guessed it, a brain-loving lifestyle. Instead of playing football, play table tennis (brain damage vs. brain health). If you want to drink alcohol, limit it to a couple of times per week; definitely not daily. As Dr. Amen shares, “alcohol is directly related to a smaller brain and 7 different cancers.” I’ll have spring water in glass bottles, thank you. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but living the Brain Warrior’s way seems to be a useful strategy to steer clear of Alzheimer’s. And don't wait for symptoms to switch to a healthier lifestyle; cognitive decline begins decades before symptoms surface. “We should all be always on an Alzheimer’s prevention program,” Dr. Amen recommends.
There is no cure for Alzheimer’s on the horizon but Dr. Dale Bredesen says that Alzheimer’s patients can improve. Applying the ReCode Protocol, he treats patients like competitive athletes: mild ketosis is helpful; a plant-based, whole foods diet; nutraceutical herbs; compliance is key; improvement requires 3-6 months. Pre-diabetes is a key factor to cognitive decline so lifestyle choices do matter. As Bredesen puts it, “Nobody should get Alzheimer’s disease. This should be a rare disease. We have tools to do that now.”
Speaking of leading a healthy lifestyle, Dr. Terry Wahls sums it up well: “Food is vitally important.” “Vegetables rock.” “The goal is to poop a snake.” “If you want to avoid MS and schizophrenia, don’t have dairy and don’t have gluten.” “Go past the learned helplessness.”
It comes down to this: Epigenetics, the way your environment/choices impact the expression of your genes, is key. You’re in charge of creating your most vibrant life. “Think of genes as harbingers of health,” as Dr. Jeff Bland says. “Let’s turn on the healthy genes.” And keep in mind that you can neutralize risk genes through lifestyle. What choices are you making today?