You Are What You Eat

Anything you put in your body that’s not food is a poison…period.  While this fact is lost on the masses who shovel chemically laced food and medications into their mouths without a second thought, the truth is the truth.  From a genetic and developmental standpoint, your digestive system is designed to process food.

So, what is food?  You probably remember.  No, it’s not a microwavable burrito, curly fries, or a bag of potato chips.  Food is a carrot.  Food is a piece of grilled chicken.  Food is an apple.  Food is a salad.  Essentially, if it comes from a plant, but doesn’t grow on a plant, a lot of what’s in it is not food.

Nowadays, we live in a society of convenience.  Quick and easy meals are everywhere.  Why cook dinner when you can just pick it up on the way home?  Even illnesses have become more convenient as there seems to be a treatment for just about every sort of symptom.  Our lifestyles abound with chemical exposures, the most direct of which is what we ingest.

The United States Food and Drug Administration allows thousands of non-food chemicals into the food supply.  This includes everything from artificial sweeteners and flavor enhancers to preservatives and colorings.  Much of the meat we consume is tainted by hormones and antibiotics and even some of the chemical additives we regularly ingest are sold to us as “healthy.”

Let’s take the example of margarine.  For years, margarine was sold as a “healthier” alternative to butter.  Lo and behold, after years of consumption, it turns out that the exact opposite is true.  It really shouldn’t have been any surprise.  Look at the back of a package of margarine versus a package of butter.  Margarine is a chemical soup of up to 20 different ingredients, most of which are unpronounceable, and in my opinion not fit for consumption.  Butter’s ingredients are simple: milk, cream, and salt…all food.

Artificial sweetener is another example of a chemical alternative that’s been sold to the masses as “healthier” for them.  Never mind that there is some research that suggests that saccharine is a potential carcinogen, and aspartame and sucralose are both potential neurotoxins.  Your body is designed to process sugar not the reasonable approximation of sugar.  The problem is not the sugar itself, it’s the copious volumes we as Americans consume per year.

Even the vitamin supplements you take may not be all they are cracked up to be.  Many of the larger vitamin suppliers provide their vitamins as a “chemical isolates.”  Meaning, the vitamin has been mass produced in a laboratory from simpler chemicals to manufacture a reasonable approximation of a natural vitamin.  The problem is that many of these chemical vitamins are missing key enzymes and cofactors that make the vitamin usable by your body.  So, some of the supplements you take may actually be worthless.  For instance, many supplement manufacturers list vitamin E as ‘alpha-tocopherol’ but this is only one component of a larger vitamin E complex.  To get the complete vitamin, you need beta, gamma, and delta tocopherol along with selenium, xanthine, and lipositols.  I know that sounds like a chemistry lesson, but what you don’t know about your supplements may be costing you money and even affecting your health.   Go with a whole food supplement manufactured from food.  After all, that’s what you’re built to digest.

Last, but certainly not least in the chemicals we regularly ingest, are the medications we take. Your body is not a chemistry set.  It’s a finely tuned biochemical producing machine.  Medications are not vital to life and are not essential nutrients.  Granted, for a person suffering from acute and chronic illness, their effects can be miraculous, but no one ever died of an aspirin deficiency.  Still, patients routinely list aspirin in their vitamins on our new patient intake forms.  That’s the effect of marketing and deficient patient education.  Medications are designed to produce a desirable effect within the chemistry of the body.  Often, this comes with a barrage of less than desirable effects (side effects).  The medications you ingest will chemically affect the tissues of the body in specific ways and your body will respond to those effects based on your individual health.  Your liver then has to process and package those chemicals for excretion out of the body.  Well, what happens when your medication consumption becomes greater than your body’s ability to excrete them?  You become toxic.

Now, you may be so ill as to need the medications you take just to stay alive.  As a chiropractor, I’ll be the first to say that I would never tell a patient to take or not take their medications.  That’s between the patient and their medical doctor.  I have no objection to required medications as a life preserving and improving methodology.  You just need to be aware of the positive and negative effects of regularly ingesting significant amounts of artificial chemicals.  It does not come without a price.  What I will encourage, however, is the patient to become better informed about the treatments they receive, both positive and negative, and ask their doctor better questions.  Your physician works for you, after all.

You see, illness is not an accident.  Illness is the result of neglect and exposure.  Not eating correctly, feeding ourselves convenience foods laced with chemicals, and even intentionally ingesting non-natural chemicals are all factors that can make us sick.  The most overlooked aspect of this scenario is that you ultimately have near full control over your chemical exposures.  If you want to be healthy, make better decisions, ask better questions, and make health a priority.   When you decide to take charge of your own health and be conscious of the good and bad decisions you make on a daily basis, that’s when you have true power over your health.

Limitless Choices: Finding The Exercise That’s Right For You

When it comes to exercise there are almost limitless options available.  With so many choices, people are often left guessing which type of exercise is right for them.  Facing this decision, there is a lot to consider, including:

1.        What are your goals?

2.       What are you physically able to do?

3.       What form of exercise will fit in your time constraints?

4.       What do you enjoy?

5.       What can you afford?

What are your goals?

This question is probably one of the most neglected when starting a successful exercise regimen.  To truly succeed and be consistent with your exercises, you must begin your goals in mind.   Which of the following is most important to you?

1.        Flexibility

2.       General Muscle Strength

3.       Endurance

4.       Overall muscle definition

5.       Core muscle strength

6.       Weight loss

Becoming clear on your goals will help point you in the direction of the exercise or exercises that will most allow you to accomplish those goals.  So, you have to consider what’s possible given the following primary exercise forms:

1.        Range of motion exercise – This form of exercise can include yoga, pilates, generalized muscle stretching, Tai Chi, or Qi Kung.  Range of motion exercises are ideal for that person who is looking to regain flexibility and decrease stiffness.  Generally, a person who suffers from stiffness or generalized soreness should include some form of range of motion exercise, though this form of motion is ideally suited for anyone.  Flexibility exercises will help lengthen tight muscles, decrease stiffness, and improve overall range of motion.  A weakness with this form of exercise is that it generally does very little to improve cardiovascular tone and may only minimally improve muscle strength.  Weight loss is also nearly impossible with range of motion exercises alone.

2.       Strengthening exercise – Building muscle strength is an extremely popular form of exercise.  Generally, this includes lifting weights (free weights or machines) and any other exercise that is done against resistance.  This form of movement is extremely effective for the person looking to boost muscle strength, produce definition in their muscles, and increase muscle mass.  Weaknesses with this form of exercise are that it produces very little cardiovascular workout unless resistance is produced with ballistic repetition (quick reps with a higher risk of injury).  Additionally, if weight loss is your goal, and it is for some, visual body changes will be a more reliable method of tracking progress than measuring weight.  Generally, resistance exercise will produce a bulky muscle mass rather than the leaner look which accompanies cardiovascular exercise.

3.       Endurance Exercise (Cardiovascular) – Probably the most important requirement for staying well is a healthy cardiovascular system.  Endurance exercises can include walking, but biking, running, elliptical, pool laps, or even calisthenics to help elevate your heart rate while boosting your exercise endurance.   This type of exercise helps to build lean muscle tone and can help to boost your metabolism, leading to increased energy.  Calorie burning is also relatively high, which can lead to rapid weight loss and generally results in a slimmed physique.  While cardiovascular exercise will help to boost your endurance, it will be more difficult to build muscle mass and short resistance to heavy load (found in strength training).  That being said, cardiovascular exercise should be a critical component of any exercise regimen as it helps to strengthen the heart and improves circulation to the extremities.  Keeping that in perspective, no one ever died of muscle weakness, but a weakened heart and circulation can kill you.

Generally a combination of all three is most ideal.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, I can say that flexibility exercises are the most neglected of the three major forms of exercise.  All, however, are important to improving and maintaining optimum health.   Many newer forms of exercise are emerging that incorporate aspects of all three such as cross-training, plyometrics, cardio kick-boxing, or boot camps.  There is an exercise regimen out there for you.  You just have to do it.

What Are You Physically Able To Do?

When beginning a new exercise regimen, you have to consider your own physical ability and limitations.  Not every exercise is meant for every person.  For example, a deconditioned person, not used to regular exercise, may not want to begin with a rigorous plyometric exercise.  Likewise, a person who is unable to bear weight for very long may benefit from starting with pool exercises before beginning a walking regimen.

Injuries while exercising are extremely common, usually the result of exercising beyond a person’s ability.  Two popular exercises I would also generally recommend against for most individuals are squats and dead-lifts.  Both have a very high risk of injury, usually because they’re done incorrectly, and have alternative exercises that will produce the same result with much lower risk of damage.

Exercising within a comfortable pain free range of motion is also key to preventing injury.  While the desire is to tax the tissue so as to produce a desired effect, that has to be weighed against the risk of tissue damage if you cross that line.  Exercising with proper form and being proactive about safety will give you a better workout and decrease the likelihood of having to stop your regimen due to an injury.

What  Form Of Exercise Will Fit In Your Time Constraints?

We live in a day and age where time is limited and valuable.  So, then, is your health.  With more and more people becoming more sedentary than ever before, it becomes ever more critical to incorporate an exercise regimen into your daily routine.  Simply put, you have to get moving.

The excuse I always hear is “I don’t have time to exercise.”  I need you to understand that statement is a total cop-out.  What it really means is “exercise is not important to me.”  Incorporating exercise into your regiment is a matter of priorities.  It’s always interesting how the person who “doesn’t have time to exercise” has plenty of time to watch TV, go out to dinner, sleep in on the weekends, or hang out with friends.  It’s never a matter of time.  It’s a matter of priorities. If it were important, you would make the time.

For those looking to be healthy, exercise becomes something that other commitments are scheduled around, not the reverse.  Ultimately, you will have to find an exercise that not only works for you but you can schedule your lifestyle to accomodate.

What Form Of Exercise Do You Enjoy?

It can truly be said that the best exercise in the world is the one you will actually do and do consistently.  With limitless possibilities for exercise, there is an exercise for just about anyone and there is some form of exercise that everyone will enjoy.  You just have to find it.

Whether, you have a knee replacement, back pain, or are just generally ill, there is an exercise for you.  So, what do you like to do?  Some like to hike while others prefer lifting weights.  Still others enjoy an evening run or a morning swim.  Finding what you love doing and sticking with it is a critical key to be successful at any exercise regimen you choose to pursue.

What Can You Afford?

This section should almost be a non-issue, because exercising is basically free.  You don’t need a fancy gym membership or home equipment to exercise.  You can go walking or running outside for no charge.  You can also make a ‘poor-man’s weight set’ out of some empty milk jugs.  Stretching can be performed in your living room and you can do calisthenics with no additional equipment.   You need to change your perspective on what it takes to get moving.  Unfortunately, many people use expense as an excuse not to exercise.  True, there are many amazing gyms and facilities where you can get a great workout, but don’t let the lack of a membership deter you from getting the movement you need to stay healthy.

Joining a gym does offer several benefits, however.  Exercising with your peers adds motivation and being away from home may decrease the likelihood that some form of distraction will take you off task.  Further, the classes offered in a gym may also guide you toward specific forms of exercise and help you exercise more safely.  The equipment available may further open options for specific exercises not possible at home.  A personal trainer may also add accountability and ensure that you exercise safely.

If you are fortunate enough to afford a trainer, choose one that most matches your fitness ideal and seems to represent your own goals.  So, a person working toward larger bulk muscle mass and definition should not necessarily choose a fairly slim, slender trainer, and a person looking to build a more feminine physique may not want a male body builder to train them.

Ultimately, the most successful form of exercise for you is the one you will actually do and continue with.  Oftentimes, people will give up on regular exercise because they feel like they don’t enjoy it.  Well with so many possibilities, find what you do enjoy and stick with it.  Only consistency will give you the desired results you are looking for.  Becoming healthy takes time and you have to invest in yourself to get the results you expect.

Adjust Your Thinking: Chiropractic First For Low Back Pain

Recently, I was doing some research on low back pain and common treatments for the condition.  What struck me as peculiar was how difficult it was to find accurate information on chiropractic care in the medical literature.  Having seen thousands of patients with back pain over the years and watching the vast majority of them improve with spinal adjusting, it seems to me to be inexcusable that chiropractic care is not the number one consideration when discussing caring for patients with back pain.

My search was rife with cautions and contraindications, most of which were inaccurate to say the least, and very few medical sites even referenced chiropractic spinal adjusting at all as a valid treatment for back pain.  Sure they’ll list about every other form of medical procedure from drugs to surgery, rarely mentioning known complications to those treatments, but chiropractic care is noticeably absent, ironic considering the success rate and safety record of chiropractic care versus traditional treatments for this condition.

According to WebMD, one of the foremost sources of health information on the internet, over 22 million Americans seek chiropractic care annually and over a third of those patients are seeking care for back pain.   Additionally, research confirms that chiropractic care is effective for the treatment of back pain, neck pain, and headaches.  Moreover, WebMD also reports that the satisfaction rate for patients seeking care in a chiropractic office is 95%.

So, why does the mainstream medical establishment still apparently have difficulty embracing chiropractic care as an effective valid option for patients with back pain?  I have spoken with many medical physicians over the years and their opinions are generally across the board.  Most, I have observed, really have no idea about how chiropractic works, why it is effective, or even what happens in a chiropractic office.  Essentially, I’ve inferred that they just think chiropractors ‘crack backs’ and the patient gets better either by magic or would have improved anyways.

Part of the reason for this misconception and poor understanding of the nature of spinal adjusting is that so many doctors, in my experience, have ever even been to a chiropractor.  Worse, with so much antiquated and disinformation prevalent from “respected” sources, it’s tough to sum up chiropractic care from a medical literature perspective.  I’ve seen, though, that those few medical doctors we’ve worked with in our office have a completely different opinion of chiropractic care once they become a patient.

When researching treatment options for low back pain, options such as lifestyle modification, physical therapy, oral medication, or even surgery are very common in searches.  Too often, unfortunately, chiropractic care is omitted altogether, though it may arguably be the most effective method of addressing the cause of the pain, rather than just covering the symptoms or offering temporary relief.  Even the National Institute of Health refers only briefly to ‘spinal manipulation’ and does not use the term ‘chiropractic’ at all when suggesting treatment options for back pain.  This is despite the fact that a 1992 government sponsored study by the RAND organization found chiropractic care to be more effective and less costly than medical care for the treatment of acute back pain.

Deepak Chopra, M.D. has said “instead of thinking outside of the box, get rid of the box.”  For too long, options for the treatment of back pain have been confined to limited ‘box thinking.’  Chiropractic care has been an established healthcare choice for over a century and its effectiveness for treating low back pain is well documented in the peer review literature.

Sites that offer back pain relief suggestions should be recommending chiropractic care as a first choice, especially given its effectiveness rate and safety when compared to medical care for comparable conditions.  Instead of burying ‘spinal manipulation’ in the second half of an article on back pain, the article should be saying, “If you have back pain, see a chiropractor first!”

It’s time to toss out the box that traditional methods are the only ‘solution’ for back pain.  Medication, for one, does nothing to address the cause of the pain and merely offers symptom relief.  It completely ignores the fact that pain occurs for a reason.  Surgery may directly address the cause of the back pain but comes with high procedural risk due to its invasiveness and relatively high potential for failure, not to mention limited options for care post-surgery, should the procedure fail.

Chiropractic care has a proven track record of safety and high effectiveness for low back pain.  Risk of complication from adjusting is also very low.  So, why then is chiropractic not the first choice in all instances for mild to moderate back pain?  The only answer can be fear.  Fear that more patients may choose chiropractic care over traditional medical care for one of the most common ailments in a doctor’s office.  Fear that patients may take fewer pharmaceuticals.  Fear that patients may actually get well and may not need expensive, invasive procedures.  Fear that maybe medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

There is a history of discrimination against chiropractors that goes back 100 years.  As recently as just a half century ago, chiropractors were still being jailed for “practicing medicine without a license.”  This changed in the 80’s, though.  In 1988 the American Medical Association was sued in a case many refer to as Wilk vs. AMA in which the AMA was found to be guilty of violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, essentially conspiring to restrain chiropractic care and guilty of working to prevent medical physician referral to chiropractors.  It also found the AMA guilty of preventing chiropractors from obtaining access to hospital diagnostic procedures and staff.  The effects of this discrimination against chiropractic however, are still being felt today.  While chiropractic care is certainly becoming more mainstream, it still appears as though many medical sites regard chiropractic care as a fringe alternative treatment method.

Fortunately, the art and science of chiropractic has moved ahead by laps and bounds despite the lack of recognition in medical circles.  Most insurance companies now cover chiropractic care and even Medicare will cover spinal adjusting.  An important question is, when will medicine get with the times?  With more and more people choosing alternative medicine every day, chiropractic care has become the wave of the future.

I once saw a quote that said that “research is proving every day what chiropractors have been saying for a hundred years.”  It’s so true.  Chiropractic care is a method whose time has come.  Is it a panacea for back pain?  Not by any means.  But chiropractors should be the gatekeepers for back pain, limiting access to more invasive medical interventions only if conservative care fails.  Who knows how many spines we may save, and how much of a difference we might make in the lifestyle and health of a patient if we adopt this approach?

Referrences:

http://www.acatoday.org/level2_css.cfm?T1ID=13&T2ID=68

http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/guide/chiropractic-pain-relief

http://openjurist.org/895/f2d/352/wilk-dc-dc-dc-dc-v-american-medical-association-a-wilk-dc-w-dc-b-dc-b-dc

http://www.onhealth.com/back_pain_health/page4.htm#low_back_pain_treatment

http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RB4539/index1.html

http://pain-medicine.med.nyu.edu/patient-care/conditions-we-treat/failed-back-surgery-syndrome

http://backandneck.about.com/od/faqs/f/failedbackfbss.htm

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21463472

The Exercise Paradox: Movement Is Not An Option

Movement is not an option.  It’s a requirement.  A common conundrum that I see on a regular basis in my office is whether or not to exercise when you have chronic pain.  The correct answer is you should always be exercising.  Now, that doesn’t mean that every exercise is meant for every person and doing the wrong ones, based on your condition, may even have a negative effect on your health.  That being said, incorporating some form of exercise into your regimen is critical to maintaining your health and there is always some for of activity you can do regardless of your current health status.

Unfortunately, many people make the mistake of assuming they cannot exercise because of some form of ailment.  Generally they report that exercise “aggravates my knees” or “hurts my back.”  The problem is that the ‘no exercise’ solution really does nothing to improve that person’s health and may even be making it worse.  Your body is designed to move and the ‘use it or lose it’ rule really is directly tied to your health,

The World Health Organization has said that “sedentary lifestyle is more harmful than smoking.”  This is a fact that often does not occur to those stricken by pain or where exercise is more of a burden than a benefit.  To be honest, we’ve become a sedentary society where convenience is the rule.   It seems that every aspect of our lifestyle from computers to mobile phones is designed for convenience.  Of the thousands of patients I’ve seen in my office, I’ve noticed that being sedentary for large portions of the day can do more to aggravate a chronic pain issue than even some traumas.  Further, most exercise physiology research confirms that the sooner you can return a person to exercise, the better the long term recovery.

The reasoning for lack of exercise that many patients make is “the more I exercise, the more it hurts.”  The paradox is that the less you exercise, the more it will continue to hurt.  Worse, the less exercise you get, the more deconditioned you will become and the more your condition will advance.  You have to understand that your body is a sensory input and motor output machine.  It requires constant sensory and motor stimulation to stay healthy.  While it may “feel good” to not exercise, it is well known and accepted that prolonged immobility leads to muscle weakness, poor circulation in the extremities, increased risk of cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems, and can contribute to neurological symptoms.

For most people, a better solution is not that they can’t exercise, it’s that they need to exercise smartly.  For example, you can’t expect a person with severe arthritis in the knees to begin a walking regimen.  However, pool exercises may be a good place to start, then transitioning to a recumbent exercise bike.   Likewise, arm exercises using weights may also be a viable option to help maintain skeletal muscle tone and improve circulation to the extremities.  Either way, not exercising is not an option.

From heart disease to degenerative arthritis, exercise is possible and even necessary to maintain or restore health.  The question becomes then, what exercise is best for you when establishing an exercise regimen?  Many people just don’t know where to start when they are in pain and looking to rehabilitate themselves.  I will generally advise my patients to begin as easily as possible, exercising in a pain free zone.  While there is a temptation to work through the soreness, exercising while in pain can often aggravate the affected area and does little to rehabilitate it because the targeted muscles are guarded, your body compensating with other muscle groups.  Begin at the beginning.  Ease into any new regimen and exercise in a pain free range of motion.

Once you find a regimen you are comfortable with, begin building on that foundation.  Avoid those motions and movements that may aggravate your condition, focusing instead on the movements you are able to do well.  Over time, increase the amount of time, reps, and resistance as the exercise becomes easier.  Ultimately, you will begin rehabilitating yourself, improving your strength and range of motion via your own physical work.

Besides pain, exercise is a fundamental requirement for the person looking to become healthy and stay healthy.  In fact, your body depends on small amounts of stress in order to more adequately heal.  Movement improves circulation to the tissues which brings in oxygen and nutrients to help keep muscles, ligaments, tendons, cartilage, and even organs healthy.  Movement also stimulates nerve firing to help improve nervous system function, decreasing pain, improving muscle tone, and improving balance and coordination.  Movement against gravity will help strengthen your core and improve your posture.  Increased heart rate will also help keep your heart, lungs, and blood vessels healthy.

There is a solution for just about anyone.  Of course, the best exercise anyone can do is the one they are actually consistent with on a regular basis.  Excellent exercise habits will produce excellent results.  If you are only hit or miss with your regimen, expect corresponding results.  If you neglect exercise all together, expect illness to be an eventuality for you.