Are You In The Right Office?

A common question I frequently ask my patients is:  Are the people you’re trusting with your healthcare decisions really a ‘healthcare’ provider?  Seems like a pretty simple question, right?  The problem is that we’re living in a day and age where the lines between ‘healthcare’ and ‘disease management’ are terribly blurred.

For example, on my case history form, I have a section that asks:

What medications(s) are you currently taking?

Then, it asks about their vitamins and is followed by a question that asks:

How would you describe your overall health?     Excellent     Good     Fair     Poor

I’ve been in practice for nearly two decades and it still surprises me to see patients who may take a half dozen or more medications (and no vitamins btw) but describe their health as “Excellent.”  Why?  Because the commercials on TV tell them that if they want to be healthy, they have to take this or that medication.  Because the people that they trust tell them that if they don’t take the medication, they won’t stay healthy.  The problem with both scenarios is that medications are not vitamins.  Whether helping to marginalize your symptoms or not, they’re still toxic and have side effects.  Further, I propose that if you are taking medications, prescription or otherwise, to manage a chronic illness, you’re definitely not in “Excellent” health.  A healthy person doesn’t need medication.

Nowadays, advertising has sold you on the notion that medicine is health.  It’s not.  Medicine is disease management and disease management is not the same thing as healthcare.  Now, I’ll be clear.  Modern medicine is a marvel of crisis care and intervention saving countless lives every year.  But you have to understand that it really stinks for chronic illness.  That’s why so many chronic illnesses are on the rise like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, despite miraculous advances in medicine and technology.  The interventions we turn to in these illnesses just aren’t helping us to become healthier.

So, how do you know the difference between the two?  Here are a few clues:

You develop some sort of symptom and go to your doctor.  Your doctor performs all the tests, as appropriate, to determine the nature of your issue.  If he/she then:

 

  1. Gives you a pill (Disease Management). This is symptom control.  The pill does nothing to necessarily improve your health but it does at least manage your symptoms enough to make you comfortable and/or prevent you from becoming sicker or even dying.  That being said, all medications are toxic and have variability of side effects.  So, while you’re directly managing the symptoms of your disease, you may actually be compromising your general health in the long run.  So many meds are tough on your liver, kidneys, digestive system, heart, nervous system…etc.  Not only that, many medications breed dependency, meaning that if you take it long enough your own body chemistry may never recover.
  2. Hooks you up to some sort of gadget or gizmo (Disease Management). I run a chiropractic office and we routinely use passive therapies like electrical muscle stimulation and ultrasound to help decrease a patient’s pain.  But this type of intervention is also not healthcare.  It’s pain control.  It’s disease management.  A TENS unit, on its own, does nothing to improve your general health.  It just temporarily covers up your symptoms.  The same can be said for back braces, orthotics, and even hot packs.
  3. Tells you it’s “normal” for your age (Disease Management). Now, this is a total cop-out.  Not only is it false in too many cases, it steals a patients hope and gives them a crutch to justify their illness.  Your body is designed to be healthy.  It will fight with every fiber and molecule of your being to resist disease and stay alive.  So, at what point does “dis-ease” become normal?  Always be wary of anyone who tells you that.  In many cases, what it really means is:
    1. “I see this a lot but don’t have much experience with helping people with it.”
    2. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you. (Here’s an antidepressant.)”
    3. “I don’t know if a referral will help.”
    4. “I’m too busy to help you fix it.”
  4. “Pops” your back when you’re in pain (Disease Management). As a chiropractor, this one also strikes particularly close to home and so many of my peers operate their offices this way:  “Just give me a call when you’re have problems again.”  Seriously?  I thought as chiropractic physicians, our mission was to educate and keep the patient healthy, not just pick up the pieces after everything falls apart.  We should not be mimicking a failing model of disease management and you should expect more from your chiropractor.
  5. “Pops” your back when you’re doing well (Healthcare). Chiropractic care has been shown to help improve a patient’s health above and beyond just pain management.  The problem is that most patients who see a chiropractor for pain don’t maintain their alignment and functionality after the pain subsides.  How can you expect to be at maximum health when your pain levels are never truly stable?  You can’t have consistent health when your pain is in flux.  My experience has shown me that the patient gets the most health benefits from adjusting once they are out of pain.  And, ironically, it’s much easier to keep a person well than get them well.
  6. Tries to help you make meaningful lifestyle changes (Healthcare). Maintaining and restoring health is not mystery.  It’s largely about the choices you make, good or bad.  Truthfully, most people know what they need to do to stay healthy, but they still fail.  Why?  Because becoming sick is easy.  Anyone can do it.  But not everyone will stay healthy.  Additionally, most people don’t have a support system and they’re turning to the wrong people for healthcare advice.  Too many people turn to a disease management provider for healthcare advice.  That’s like asking an electrician about why your sink is backed up.  Listen, I’ve said it before.  Maintaining optimum health is about 6 things: Proper Diet, Exercise, Stress Management, Proper Sleep Habits, Limiting Toxic Exposure, and Healthy Nervous System Function.  But, you may not know how to do those things well.  You need a healthcare provider.  You need a coach.

If all you’re getting from your doctor is a pill or procedure and you’re trying to get your health back, I hate to break it to you: you’re in the wrong office.  If, however, your provider is spending time with you to council you on better nutrition, help you with exercising better, and work with you to better your lifestyle, then you’re on the right track and in the right place.  Think about it.  Almost all of us have a disease management provider, but how many of us have a healthcare provider?  If you can find a good one, you may even surprise yourself at how healthy you can become.

Pregnancy Related Back Pain: Real Solutions

This is the most amazing thing to happen to you!  Congratulations!  Few things will change your life more than having a child.  It’s a joyful time for you, filled with anxious excitement and planning.   While you relish this 9 months and the anticipation of your baby, there was one thing you weren’t planing on: pregnancy back pain!  Ugh!

Pregnancy related back pain is an extremely common complication of pregnancy. Some estimates place as many as 61% of women as experiencing low back pain while carrying their child.  That being said, there are many practical conservative solutions to the stress on the low back that occurs while pregnant.

So, why does a woman develop low back pain? Well there is the obvious answer that with added weight, comes added pressure on the joints. True, the average woman, in a healthy pregnancy, gains 25-35 pounds on average. However, there is more the back pain it than a simply weight gain.

Many women describe pregnancy related low back pain as back pressure, pain across the back, or pain in the hips. Additionally, they may report achiness, stabbing, burning, or instability in the low back.   Regardless of the description, the causes of pregnancy related low back pain are many and include:

  1. Increased weight gain – as your body increases in weight, increased stress is applied to the joints. Gaining the typical 25-35 pounds in a period of 9 months is a relative rapid weight gain, and change your body may have difficulty adapting to. Generally, the impact of weight gain will be affected by general health going into the pregnancy and other factors such as core strength and exercise levels. While healthy weight gain should not generally be discouraged, there are ways to get the body to adapt better to the increased weight, minimizing stress to the joints and maintaining full function of the back through the duration of your pregnancy.
  2. Changes in weight bearing – Generally, most of the weight gain during pregnancy is in the stomach causing the center of gravity to shift forward. While non-pregnant individuals will generally have a center of gravity that is somewhere over the mid-pelvis, pregnancy causes trunk weight to shift forward. This forward weight bearing can cause an increase in the curvature of the low back leading to cramping as the back muscles struggle to support the weight of the abdomen. Additionally, forward weight bearing stress the sacroiliac joints, those tailbone joints that work with the pelvis, to cause sacroiliitis.
  3. Changes in hormones – As your body approaches its due date, your body will start to produce hormones which will increase flexibility. While the hormones do allow for increased motion in the pelvis to allow for birthing, they also make it more difficult for the pelvis and low back to stay in proper alignment, leading to increased instability and pain. Pain may come and go as the pelvis and low back shift and move more easily, resulting in low back irritation and pain.

So, you have low back pain from your pregnancy, what can you do? There are a lot of conservative interventions available to help your deal with your back pain. Some can be accomplished on your own, others require the help and intervention of others. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Weight bearing exercise – A moderate amount of walking will help keep postural muscles strong and improve circulation to affected tissues. Additionally, walking will help improve motion in the pelvis which should, in turn, decrease the likelihood of joint instability, asymmetry, and misalignment of the pelvis.
  2. Stretching – Later in pregnancy, your body does produce hormones that increase joint flexibility and make birthing possible. However the degree to which flexibility improves often depends on pre-pregnancy range of motion. It’s been my experience that many women have developed such muscle tightness before pregnancy that the relaxing hormones can’t even get those individuals to normal ranges of motion. Your body is designed to have a certain level of flexibility that we lose due to life circumstances. Maintaining and improving that flexibility will help decrease the stress on your low back and pelvis. Often, stretching areas you would not associate with your back can even help, such as hamstrings, upper back, and hips. Sitting on an exercise ball and rolling the hips or laying on your back and using the ball to roll the hips back and forth are great exercises for improving your back pain. There are also yoga programs for pregnancy that are available. True, you may not be able to do every pose, but working on your range of motion is generally a good idea.
  3. Improved diet – Of, course, it should go without saying that you should be eating well during your pregnancy, and I’m not talking about volume but quality. After all, you are eating for two now. You should be eating whole foods free of artificial ingredients. Not only will you be healthier for it but your baby will thank you. Improved nutrition will increase nutrient supply for the muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the back. Good food will decrease the likelihood of muscle spasms due to nutritional deficiency.   Avoid excessive carbs/sugars because they can be pro-inflammatory and contribute to inflammation in the joints. Also, watch your water intake. Dehydration can also lead to muscle spasming and soreness in the soft tissues. Finally, a whole food pre-natal vitamin should be part of any regimen to help fill the holes in your diet, not to mention prevent possible birth defects.
  4. Stress management – Mental stress causes physical distress. True, your low back pain is most likely due to the physiologic changes you’re experiencing with your pregnancy but mental stress can take a physical problem and make it that much worse. Pregnancy in and of itself can be a trying time mentally, especially for single or first time mothers. Finding an outlet or your stress, such as exercise or even counseling will help your body adapt better.
  5. Improve your body positioning – Being conscious of your posture and taking active steps to alleviate the stresses on your back may improve your pain symptoms. This may include everything from sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs to using pillows to support the back and legs while you’re sitting. Back supports may also help.   Avoid standing or sitting in one position for too long and try to get moving as much as possible.
  6. Massage Therapy – Because much of the pain experienced during pregnancy is due to tension and stress on the muscles, soft tissue mobilization may help alleviate a portion of the pain. Massage therapy will help relax tightened muscles, improve circulation to the tissues, and promote a general sense of well-being.
  7. Heat or ice – While many sources will include hot baths for relieving pain, I will generally discourage that for my patients. In fact, many physiotherapy resources discourage the application of heat over the abdomen as a contraindication during pregnancy. I generally tell patients to use a regional warm pack over the back for no more than 15-20 minutes. It can be repeated but allow about an hour or so for re-application. I want the patient to avoid increasing their resting metabolize temperature and the goal isn’t to cook the tissues. A warm pack can often provide just as much effect as a hot pack, with less risk. A microwaveable heat pack or hot water bottle will generally suffice to ease tension in the low back without the danger of overheating the area. As a general rule, avoid placing heat or ice over the abdomen while you’re pregnant.
  8. Kinesiotaping – This is an athletic taping technique that has been gaining popularity in recent years. Kinesiotape is being increasingly used by professional and amateur athletes to help alleviate pain and improve tissue healing. It’s safe to use during pregnancy because it does not use any drugs and is strictly a cloth tape with a skin adhesive.  In fact, there are specific taping regimens for pregnancy, to not only alleviate low back pain, but possible abdominal pain associated with carrying your baby. To be effective, though, the tape should be applied by an individual with training and experience in kinesiotaping. There is a certain art form to its application. It can, however, offer notable decrease in pain and improved stability in the back, hips, and abdomen.
  9. Proper spinal alignment – Arguably one of the most important aspects of decreasing pain in your back, I saved this for last. Proper alignment of the low back will decrease pressure on pain sensitive nerves, improve motion of the joints of the low back, decrease stress on the soft tissues, and improve overall function of the low back. Chiropractic care has been routinely shown to be safe and effective for relieving the back pain associated with pregnancy. Spinal adjusting has also been linked to improved labor and delivery. There are certain medical conditions that may be a contraindication to chiropractic care but, for most women, chiropractic care can be very effectively incorporated into a pain management regimen. In my office, I will frequently see pregnant patients on a weekly or biweekly basis for their pain and most women will see decreased pain immediately following their adjustment. They also will report improved ability to sleep, decrease generalized soreness, and an improved ability to function. In my opinion, chiropractic adjusting should be incorporated for most women with pregnancy related low back pain.

If you are struggling with pregnancy related low back pain, there are solutions out there for you. Perhaps the best place to consult about your back pain is with someone who sees a lot of back pain patients, like a chiropractor. Besides adjusting your spine, they can provide you with additional tips and tricks to alleviate your pain.

Has your doctor suggested pain medication to you? Always ask better questions. The decision to take pain medication while pregnant should be a thoughtful one made with your medical doctor.  You need to know what research has been done on that medication and its effect on a developing fetus. Certain conditions like asthma and autism have risen to alarming rates, with little research done on the effects of oral medications on an undeveloped fetus. While there is little overt evidence to explain the remarkable rise in childhood illness, that is mostly the result of a lack of research. Just because there is not an established 1 to 1 relationship between a specific cause and disease does not discount an overall trend toward increasing illness due to an accumulation of exposures. I don’t think it’s an accident that autism rates have risen to 1 in 88 kids. Too much of the research focuses on, and debunks, a single specific cause like vaccination and I fear conditions like autism are not due to a solitary cause but a series of toxic exposures over time. Unfortunately, there is very little research on the effects of pre-pregnancy, intra-pregnancy, and post-pregnancy toxic exposure on the developing child. However, it reasons that the rises in childhood illness rates may be linked to the fact that our environment is as toxic as it’s ever been. Anything you put in your body that is not food is a potential toxin. That toxin can affect you and your baby. Pain medication is not food. Anything you feed your body while pregnant, your baby will respond to, either for good or bad. Try to remove as many toxins as possible from your diet and lifestyle. Turning to natural means for alleviation of your pain may make you and your baby a whole lot healthier and happier for a lifetime of wellness.

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symptoms_and_discomforts_of_pregnancy

www.webmd.com/baby/guide/back-pain-in-pregnancy

http://icpa4kids.org/Chiropractic-Research/Pregnancy-and-Adjustments/

Are You Living Below Your Potential?

Life is brief. As humans, we’re tasked with making the most of the limited time we have on this earth. Realizing this, it breaks my heart to see people live below their potential.   Now, I have been in the healthcare business for 15 years and have seen miraculous recoveries in conditions ranging from low back pain to cancer.   In fact, I would argue there are very few conditions out there that do not have an example of a full recovery with nearly every level of intervention.

Unfortunately, most people hurry through life, never stopping to smell the roses and only decide to try for health after years of neglect. People will literally spend decades of their life abusing themselves, then are perplexed when they develop some disease. The frustrating part for me, as a healthcare provider, is that for most of us, there is no mystery to being healthy. In fact, I would say that most people know what to do, they just choose not to do it. Moreover, many of the conditions for which patients chronically endure are correctible with adequate lifestyle change and focused intent.

In my experience, being healthy is not a matter of chance but a matter of choice. For the average individual, your health at any given period of your life is more a reflection of the decisions you’ve made than fate or some form of destiny for illness. Humans are not built for illness. We’re built to be healthy. It’s what we do to ourselves that makes us sick.

You see, you have a near limitless potential for health inside of you. Even a basic understanding of health shows that your body is constantly repairing the effects of physical and mental stresses. Each and every one of us is under relentless assault. Our jobs, our homes, our hobbies, and our lifestyles are constantly attacking us. And, our body is constantly adapting to the assault.

So, why do people get sick? Is it genetics? Recent genetic research suggests that our environment may be actually changing our genes over time. But, does this mean that chronic illnesses are necessarily passed down? Does it mean that if your father and grandfather had heart disease, then heart disease is inevitable for you too? Perhaps genetics does play a mild role but I don’t think genetics explains the measurable rise in chronic illnesses in recent years. Diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, and even cancer have been steadily rising in the U.S. for quite some time. The World Health Organization ranks the U.S. as 37th in general health but I recently heard a statistic that said we consume 42% of the world’s pharmaceuticals. What does that mean? It means that the ‘solutions’ we are turning to are not making us any healthier. Could a more reasonable solution be that chronic illness is learned? I mean, your habits and attitudes about food, exercise, and lifestyle were learned from your parents, who learned from their parents, who learned from their parents, and so on. So, maybe “it runs in my family” is a less accurate description than “I learned about health from my family.” Break the cycle and live up to your potential.

We are becoming a reflection of the choices we make. They say you are what you eat. In a way, that is very true. They also say ‘garbage in, garbage out.’ I think a more correct phrase would be ‘garbage in, garbage stays.’ You become a reflection of the choices you make, good or bad.

Your body is a machine. Much like a car, for example, how your body functions depends on how you treat it. You can’t expect your car to run well if you only drive it every 6 months and fuel it with garbage. The same is true of you. The difference is, and this fact is lost on too many people, your body can self heal. A car can’t. Your physiology is designed to heal. When you cut your finger, you heal. When you break a bone, you heal. When you get the flu, you heal. So, why is it that when we get, say, high blood pressure, we no longer heal? Why do we stop healing when we get diabetes? Is it because you have some form of genetic marker that says, “Ok, at this age you will get sick with a chronic, incurable disease?” Or, is it more likely that you are no longer able to heal from this illness because your potential has been suppressed due to years of neglect? More importantly, is there now hope for you now?

There is a belief in the population that I have seen all too frequently, and believe to be incorrect, that being sick is part of getting older. What if there was a way to change your direction and restore your body’s ability to heal? I’m not talking about magic potions and hocus pocus. I’m talking about getting your health back by making a measurable lifestyle change. You have a limitless health potential inside of you that you’ve suppresses with your neglect and bad choices. What if you could get some of that back? Wouldn’t even a 10% improvement in your health be a huge win? Your potential for health is still inside of you. You just have to remove any obstacles to the healing process and rediscover your potential. Your body is designed to heal. It wants to heal.

No one has all the answers for completely restoring your health. Frankly, I would be skeptical of anyone making such a claim. However, having worked with thousands of patient’s in my office, I have found several consistencies in patients who have reversed their disease processes:

  1. Stop eating so much junk – Your food is laced with poisons. From preservatives, to artificial colors and flavor enhancers, the FDA allows over 14,000 approved non-food chemicals in the food supply. Most of us consume copious amounts of these toxins annually. Remember, anything you put in your body that is not food is a poison. Your physiology is not designed to process artificial sweetener, additives, and chemically synthesized fats. It is designed to process carrots, and broccoli, and chicken. You need to eat food, the fresher the better.
  2. Lay off the sugar – As Americans, we consume an obscene amount of sugar every year. Now, I’m not talking about apples and strawberries. Honestly, I’ve never seen a patient get to 300 pounds by eating fruit. I’m talking about processed sugar and refined wheat. Sure, we need a little sugar in our diet, but we shouldn’t be eating our body weight in it every year. Worse, much of the sugar we add to our food is highly chemically treated and concentrated. Not only does it contribute to weight gain and diabetes, but sugar is pro-inflammatory, leading to joint pain and fatigue. I’m not saying to be alarmist about it, but you need to know that if you want to stay healthy, refined sugar is going to keep you from that goal.
  3. Get off your stinkin’ butt and move – Your body is designed for exercise. No, not the 30 minutes 3 times per week that’s been taught to us for years. How can you stay healthy on an hour and a half of exercise when you spend the other 166 hours a week largely sedentary? We are literally sitting ourselves to death. Humans are built to be hunter-gatherers. To that end, we are built for 12-16 hours of exercise per day. So, knowing that amount, is the exercise you are getting every day going to keep you healthy? Not unless you get in the game and get off your butt. And no, walking to get the mail or cleaning your house doesn’t count as exercise.
  4. Enough with the ‘stinking thinking’ – If you want to be healthy, keeping a positive attitude is a must. We live in a day and age where we are constantly bombarded by bad news. So, stop subjecting yourself to it. You are what you think about. When it comes down to it, it’s not the circumstances that affect us as much as our attitudes about our circumstances. What I see in my patients, and research confirms this, is that happy positive people are generally healthier. So, turn off the news and enjoy your life. You’ll be happier for it.
  5. You have to supplement – For years, we were told that vitamins are just a waste of money…that they don’t improve health. Vitamins were reserved for nutrient deprived countries to help prevent disease. Here’s a news flash! Americans are nutrient deprived. We’re overfed and undernourished. The reality is that many of us eat such a terrible diet, that we’re not getting all the nutrients we need to stay healthy. Worse, even the healthy foods we eat nowadays don’t have the same health benefits as they did 50 years ago because of chemical treatments and depleted soils. I’ve seen that my patients who supplement consistently are generally healthier in almost every way than patients who don’t.
  6. Get adjusted – Physiology doesn’t lie. It’s impossible to be at maximum health with a corrupted nervous system. Your nervous system is in your spine and it probably needs attention. Do you really think that the mental and physical stresses we endure on a daily bases will have no affect on your nervous system function? Taking care of your spine and nervous system is just as important as diet and exercise to staying well. There is a reason that the number one disability in adults over 50 is spinal disorders. Why? Because fewer than 8% of the population has ever been adjusted in their life and less than 2% of the population gets adjusted for prevention. Our wellness care patients in our office don’t get sick often, generally sleep better, and are generally healthier than the patients we see who choose not to purse a spinal wellness plan. Get adjusted. It may make the difference in your health.

Don’t know how to get well? Find someone who does and listen to them. There are tons of healthcare providers and coaches out there who do understand health and still have faith in the body’s ability to heal despite huge obstacles. A key piece of advice that you must remember though: health is not the same as disease management. Health is health and symptom control is an illusion. Symptom free does not mean healthy.

Whatever you do, don’t give up on yourself. There is always hope. No matter how dire the circumstances, you still have healing potential inside of you. The question is: are you going to stand in your own way or are you going to make the changes necessary to change you circumstances? You have more power than you know. Choose to be healthy!

What’s Holding You Back?

What’s preventing you from being well?  I mean, for the vast majority of us, total health is completely in our control.  Sure, many will claim it to be the effects of bad luck or bad genes but, the truth is, you are largely in control of whether or not you ultimately develop one of the myriad of chronic illnesses that plague millions of Americans.

Poor health is not a matter of fate.  It doesn’t occur because we are genetically programmed to get sick either.  If we were, humans would be the only animal on the planet that was actually genetically programmed for disease.  Contrary to what you may have been told, we are programmed to thrive and live abundantly, not gradually decay and live at less than our full potential.

So, what’s holding you back?  Why aren’t you living at your full potential?  The bigger questions is, why have you accepted it as normal?  Having practiced as long as I have, you realize that the list of reasons that people have not to take care of themselves is as limitless as there are stars in the sky.  Here are just a few:

1.        I don’t have time – The truth is, everyone has time.  It’s just not a priority for you.  Sleeping in, watching a little extra television, or relaxing on the weekends is just more important to you.  We all have 24 limited hours within the day.  Why is it, then, that some people can find time to take care of themselves while others just never seem to be able.  The reality is that you must make the time.  If your health is a priority, your other activities would be scheduled around taking care of yourself.

2.       It’s too expensive to be healthy – In reality, being healthy can be very inexpensive.  Eating fresh foods, fruits and vegetables, can be a lot less expensive than the pre-packaged garbage we so readily consume.  A gym membership you say?  Work out at home, it’s free.  Regular preventative chiropractic care is a lot cheaper than treating acute back pain.  Heck, taking care of yourself is a lot cheaper than getting sick.

3.       It’s too much work to take care of myself – Of course, being well takes work.  Anyone can get sick but can everyone be well?  The answer is, for the most part, yes.  However, wellness doesn’t just happen on its own.  Health is a matter of deliberate intent.  The body is definitely designed to be healthy in optimum circumstances but who lives an ideal lifestyle?  We are all constantly bombarded by physical and mental stresses.  What separates the healthy from the disease is how we address those stresses and help our body’s adapt to the constant assault.

4.       I have no self control – We all have self control.  Without it, we’d all be criminals.  More likely. You’ve chosen not to control those aspects of your life that contribute to a healthy lifestyle or may be inconvenient.  Whether you manifest any control around a piece of chocolate cake or not is matter of choice.  It’s not to say that your choices will be easy for you but all of your decisions have consequences, good and bad.   You have to choose to be in control.

5.       I just keep forgetting – Again, this is a reflection of priorities.  You probably wouldn’t forget to pick your kids up from school.  You probably also wouldn’t forget to eat.  If you want to be successful at being healthy, you need a schedule and a routine.  Write down what you need to do and when you need to do it.  A short pencil is better than a long memory.

Now, what does this all mean?  It generally means that a person can have every reason in the book to excuse their apathy and neglect.  It also means that the only thing standing in your way is you.  The reality that many may face, though, is that if you don’t remember and make time to take care of yourself now, time will be found for you later when you get sick.  The choice is up to you.  Choose to be healthy now or expect to be sick later.  Either way, the decision is in your hands.  Be well.

The Cost of Health

Recently, a patient commented to me that “supplements are so expensive.”  What struck me as peculiar about the statement was how ill the patient was prior to coming into our office and how much money he was probably spending on disease management for the his array of chronic illnesses.  I know that he wants to be healthy.  We all do, but I guess I found the objection to having to pay for health as a strange one considering he had certainly paid enough for his diseases.

I would figure that between his hypertension and diabetes along with his osteoarthritis and obesity, he had spent thousands of dollars just in deductibles and co-pays managing the symptoms of his various ailments.  Further, he’d probably spent countless hours dedicated to checking his blood pressure and sugars as well as doctor’s visits and working with other healthcare providers.  Yet, “supplements are so expensive” and exercise was an anathema.  I wish this patient was unique but, to be honest, I’ve worked with too many patients with the exact same perceptions about disease and health over the years.

It turns out that the reason this particular patient felt that the supplements were “expensive” was because he really had never taken them during is life, at least not in any meaningful way.  He also had invested very little time or money in regular exercise throughout his lifetime, never having belonged to a gym or making time for regular exercise.  When he got sick, he went to his doctor, like many people do, and, instead of being given solutions to improve his health, he was given an expensive pill that his insurance paid the lion’s share of and told to just live with the chronic illness.  In a nutshell, this patient reminded me of the cost of health versus being sick.

The simplest way to put the cost of your health in perspective is the true statement that being sick is a lot more expensive than being healthy.  I would argue, based on dealing with the public for over 15 years, that the list of reasons for neglecting your health is a long one.  Number one on that list, based on my experience, seems to be a fear of losing.  Ironically however, it’s not a fear losing their health.  I would even gather that many people mistakenly assume that losing health is an inevitability.

It seems to me, based on patient interactions over the years, there two common mitigating factors that patients fear to lose when relating to health:  Money and Time.  I’ve noticed that your ability to better manage these factors can have a direct substantial positive impact on your health.  While many claim to have a shortage of both, my personal experience as a healthcare provider has been that both are more a matter of confused priorities.  For many, health is just not as important as other commitments in their life.

You have to realize that health is an investment.  Just like investing money will produce a future financial return, so too will investing in your health more than likely pay dividends in the end.  If you are slow and deliberate, taking your time but remaining consistent, your wise health investment will most likely pay off in higher quality and prolonged life as you age.  If, however, you choose to largely ignore your investment, never donating the time or money that it takes to be well, then you can’t be surprised when you get little return on your health as you get older.

Many think that health is beyond their reach because it may be too expensive, but is that a matter of money or perception?  Have you set of a barrier of false beliefs regarding the cost of health that is preventing you from being well?  Do you live under the myth that being well is only for the rich?  Too often I see the patient who claims they can’t afford the costs of health but can afford a brand new car, fresh landscaping, or expensive meals eating out.  In that case, money isn’t the issue.  Priorities are.

Our ability to commit to ourselves has also been affected by our expectations from society.  Today we live in a culture that has been trained to rely on insurance to cover every health related eventuality and keep us well.  We forget, however, that insurance is just that: insurance meant to cover the unpredictable expense of disease.  As such, insurance doesn’t cover expenses related to prevention such as nutrition, exercise, and preventative chiropractic adjusting.  Insurance will cover what it takes to become healthy if you get sick, not prevention.  “But they cover annual physicals and blood work” you say?  There is nothing preventative about an annual physical or blood work.  These tests are actually a form of early detection, not prevention.  As such, your insurance will cover tests meant to detect disease but if you are looking to stay healthy and prevent disease, you will have to pay for that on your own.  So, it’s not a matter of “supplements are so expensive.”  It’s a matter of you having to get used to paying out of your own pocket for prevention and investing time and money on your own to stay well.

Lifelong health is within your reach if you are willing to change your preconceived notions about what it takes to be healthy.  You don’t have to join a fancy gym to exercise.  Try exercising at home.  Milk containers can substitute for weights (a gallon of water weighs 8 pounds) and walking is free.  Often, people also don’t realize that fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats are cheaper than meals eating out or the packaged non-foods we so readily consume on a nearly daily basis.  Changing your diet and increasing your exercise will also help your body respond and adapt better to stress.  Further, supplementing your diet now with a good quality whole food supplement is a lot less exensive than treating the symptoms of a disease once you become ill.  Regular chiropractic adjusting for prevention and maintenance of health is also generally very affordable and within the budget of many people.  In fact, people are turning to chiropractors more and more for many non-back pain related health issues because of its effectiveness and low cost in maintaining health.

Additionally, you can’t confuse disease management with health.  We are literally bombarded regularly by advertising for all sorts of treatments and drugs which are sold to us as “health.”  Most, though, are really just symptom management and come with a hefty financial price tag.  While complex testing, medications, and doctor’s visits can be fairly expensive, the generally healthy person does not require these often.  Staying healthy is much cheaper than becoming sick.

The second perceived lack that prevents a person from being well is time but, to put it simply, it’s never a matter of time.  It’s a mater of priorities.  Have you ever wondered how a certain person “finds the time” to exercise or is able to regularly cook healthy meals.  The truth is that we all have 24 hours in a day.  Sure, you have kids, and work, and stuff.  We all do.  The difference between the healthy person and the ill person is not that they necessarily have more time.  It’s that exercise and planning for a healthy lifestyle is more of a priority for them.

For the health conscious, catching up on the latest television episode, sleeping in, or putting in extra time at work just isn’t as important as healthy habits.  As a result, they make the time.  Having kids is not an excuse either.  Kids have to sleep sometime and adults require far less sleep than children do.  A viable option is to either exercise before they wake up or actually make them exercise with you.  Who knows, maybe you’ll pass your good habits on to them so that they’ll be healthier adults.

Time is a linear factor.  All of us are subject to its daily limitations on our physiology.  Are you mastering your time or is time mastering you?  One activity I have my patients in the office do, and I suggest you try it, is sit down and write down all of the tasks you do during the day.  Almost without exception, people have more than enough time to exercise in the day.  Too often, people are very surprised at how much down-time they have and time they really waste during the day where they could be more productive.  If all that time were set end to end , there would be plenty of time and then some for better health choices.

“But I’m so tired.  I’m just so busy all the time and don’t have the energy,” you may say.  Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that improving your lifestyle may actually increase your energy levels.  Not only will a better planned day reduce your stress, but you’ll be sure to set time aside for assuring your wellbeing.  Further, improved health will remove illness as a distraction and may even help you get things done more effectively during the day.

So, is your reason for not being healthy as out of your control as you perceive?  Or, more likely, have you set up excuses that prevent you from growing and fulfilling your health potential.  No matter the reason, there is a solution for the self imposed limitations that we hide behind.  When all is considered, you must keep the end in mind.  Ultimately, you’ll need to put some skin in the game to achieve and maintain your own health.  Investing a little now in your health will, most like, pay large health dividends in the end because in the long run, the cost of health is a lot cheaper than the price of disease.

Overfed But Undernourished: Why Supplementation Matters

One of the cornerstones of our chiropractic practice is proper nutrition.  Indeed, eating a healthy diet and supplementing for the holes in a healthy diet should be a cornerstone of any health related practice.  Having worked with thousands of patients over the years, however, I’ve found that very few people ever even give rational though to how they are feeding their body.

The truth is, you will only be able to remain well with adequate fuel and proper maintenance.  Your body requires a variety of certain nutrients in order to fight of disease and preserve your health.  Too little of certain good nutrients can lead to diseases like neuropathy or cancer.  Too much of the bad stuff can lead to heart disease or diabetes.  The job of the individual looking to become and stay healthy is to find the happy medium that balances nutritional requirements without consuming excess calories or chemicals from their diet.

It can truly be said that, as Americans, we are overfed but undernourished.   The results of this lifestyle are plain.  We now suffer from skyrocketing obesity rates and chronic illness continues to rise.  Despite having one of the most sophisticated “healthcare” delivery systems in the world, we’re not getting any healthier.

One of the ways we attempt to improve the overall health of all of the patients in our office is through improved nutrition.   Some of this comes in the form of nutritional supplementation.  I’ve realized over the years that one of the reasons so many people are overweight is that they are getting so few nutrients from their food.  Food quality is not today what it was 50 years ago.  We’re literally bathed in food that’s high in calories and additives but very low in nutrients.  As a result, we end up eating more and more just to satisfy the minimum nutritional requirements of our body.  So, we eat and eat and eat just to get to the minimum nutrient requirement your body needs to function.  The problem is that the unhealthy foods we are eating are very calorie rich, causing us to literally burst at the seams.

During our patient intake process, I ask patients if they are taking supplements.  Not surprisingly, the few people who do take supplements are largely just taking a ‘pot-shot’ in the dark, offering little if any health benefit.  Often their decision on certain supplements is not based on health, training, or guidance by a healthcare provider, but is based on advertising.  Worse, I’ve had patients who believe or have been told, even by their own healthcare provider, that vitamins are “worthless” or “a waste of money.”  The ironic and sad thing is that many of the patients who mistakenly believe this disinformation are some of the most ill new patients we see in our office, often taking the most medication.  The bad advice they have been given is sabotaging their health.

Here are several reasons why taking a nutritional supplement is critical to maintaining your health:

1.       Many people don’t eat the diet they should – In our busy world, many of us eat a diet of convenience.  Meaning, we eat what we can when we can.   Our diets are nutrient poor, high calorie, and laced with artificial chemicals.  We give little though to what we eat, how we eat, and when we’re eating it.   Worse, many people who think they’re eating a healthy diet have never really sat down and evaluated what they really eat during the day.  Many are surprised at how shockingly bad their diet really is when they do a 7 day diet intake analysis.

2.       General food quality has declined – With an increase in convenience foods, from fast food to microwavable meals, our food quality has suffered.  We’ve moved away from cooking and preparing fresh food at home to “picking something up” or “grabbing a bite.”  Restaurants also include additional salt and MSG to enhance the flavor of their foods and thus generate repeat customers.

3.       Nutrient content of even the good food we eat is on the decline – Think about it.  We are growing enough food in the U.S. to feed the largest population ever, over 300 million people.  That doesn’t even include the food and food supplies we send to other countries.  The problem is that we are growing it on the fewest number of farms in a century.  So, what happens when you grow more and more food on less and less land?  The nutrient content of the food declines.  In other words, a carrot nowadays does not have the same nutrient levels as it did in 1950.

4.       How we cook our foods depletes many of the natural nutrients found in healthy foods – The cooking process can often destroy naturally occurring nutritional and digestive enzymes found in raw foods.  This is particularly true of fruits and vegetables.  Further, cooking and preparing meals often adds undesirable elements such as greases and oils, not to mention chemical additives.

5.       As we age we absorb fewer nutrients from our food – Do you honestly think that a 70 year old will absorb the same nutrients from food as a 17 year old?  Of course not!  As we age, our digestive system ages with us.  Just as our muscles may not function like they used to, so does our digestion.  It’s critical then to supplement those nutrients for which we may have a problem digesting and absorbing as we age.

6.       The medications we take may prevent absorption of certain nutrients and deplete nutrients from our body – There are several examples of medications that affect nutrient absorption.  For example, acid reducers for acid reflux neutralize stomach acid which is required for calcium absorption.  Likewise, cholesterol medication decreases vitamin D production in the liver, which is also critical to calcium absorption.  Cholesterol medication also decreases the body’s production of Coenzyme Q10 which is a critical antioxidant and important for cellular energy.  Antibiotics kill bacteria in the gut that produce vitamin K.  Even the pain medication you’re taking can deplete a multitude of nutrients from vitamin C to Zinc.  And the list goes on…

Not taking a supplement in this age of nutritional decline is a mistake.  Even if you do eat a healthy diet, you may not be getting all the nutrients you need to stay well.

So what supplement should you take?  That depends on your individual health status and your ability to supplement.  I generally recommend that anyone looking to make a serious change in their nutrition consult with a healthcare provider.  That being said, make sure that the people you take your health advice from are in the health business and not the disease management business.  Just because a provider may understand the cause and treatment of disease, does not necessarily mean that they understand what it takes to be healthy.  Managing the symptoms of your disease is not the same as being healthy.  Don’t confuse the two.

Supplementation is a crucial aspect to being healthy.  With regard to which supplements to choose from the infinite choices, we’ll discuss that in a future blog.