Have you ever asked yourself this question? Have you ever felt this way? I think overwhelmingly the answer for most people is yes! You're not alone as the quest to optimal health can be taxing, confusing and arduous at times. Our bodies are extremely complex and require a myriad of elements to function well. We will unpack those various elements in this blog post so that by the end we can begin implementing these tips to start feeling better today.
When it comes to lifestyle factors that contribute to feeling unwell, we must address: foods and beverages consumed, stress levels, sleep quality, environmental toxins and detox ability, mindset and our thoughts as well as exercise.
When working with patients I oftentimes address four inflammatory food categories. Those are: gluten-containing grains, conventional dairy products, industrial seed oils and artificial sugars. These foods contribute to leaky gut and intestinal permeability, drive inflammation, promote dysbiosis, bog down the gut microbiome and allow for antigens and toxins to escape the gut and get into the bloodstream. This is a major problem because then allergic reactions can take place in various body tissues. This breech in the gut that contributes to inflammation is a launching pad for autoimmune conditions to manifest in the body. These types of foods and what they do can ultimately lead to: headaches and migraines, hormonal imbalances, skin issues, fibromyalgia and joint pain, mood instabilities, anxiety, etc.
Better food choices are going to be a plethora of a variety of vegetables and moderate fruit intake.
For carbs I like to recommend: sweet potatoes, squash, berries, quinoa, oats, buckwheat and wild rice to just name a few.
For healthy fats I like to recommend: avocados, coconut oil and coconut products, nuts like walnuts and almonds, seeds like chia and flax seeds and then fatty fish like salmon.
For proteins I like to recommend: organic turkey and chicken, grass-fed beef and wild-caught salmon as well as healthy plant proteins like tempeh.
Fermented foods are important as well to stave off dysbiosis and to promote healthy balance in the gut microbiome. These probiotic-rich food help to colonize the colon with beneficial bacteria to create organic acids, create vitamins like Vitamin K and the b vitamins and to crowd out unhealthy and large amounts of bad bacteria.
To properly nourish the probiotics we need to give them food. This is where prebiotics come into play. These foods include: garlic, onions, unripened banana, apple skin, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, beans, whole grains (gluten free) and inulin.
We also want to include healthy gut-lining sealers like collagen and bone broth. Supplements are also important because our food supply lacks all of the appropriate vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and polyphenols we need.
The big-ticket idea with supplements is to order from a quality and trusted brand that has potent bio-active compounds present. (These companies generally require a physician to order.) Reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about the best supplement companies and which ones to avoid.
In an effort to optimize body health and to feel our best, we must address healthy sleep practices. When I see patients who are not healing well or who have been dealing with inflammation and sickness for a while, this is one of the first things I address. I ask them how they're sleeping. Generally I hear something to the effect of not well. Sleep is so important because this is where the repair mechanisms of the body are initiated. Our body is at rest so that we can refresh, rejuvenate and get ready for the next day. Lack of healthy and restful sleep yields higher levels of inflammation and can drastically alter hormone levels.
So how can we optimize sleep? One thing I recommend is to purchase black-out curtains or to make sure the bedroom is free of artificial light from streaming in. This can disrupt healthy melatonin production and circadian rhythms. Ideally electronics would be powered down an hour before bed or at the very least invest in blue light limiting glasses to minimize blue light exposure. We want to make sure we don't drink too much fluid or eat a heavy meal an hour before bed. With that said I would recommend a chamomile tea a couple hours before bed to start to initiate the sleep process. Diffusing lavender essential oil can be helpful to calm down and relax before bed. I recommend reading before bed as opposed to spending time on social media or watching television. Also a walk after dinner can be great to help sleep and to aid digestion.
Who's stressed these days? Anyone? We live in an incredibly fast-paced world and we are finding the white space on our calendars dwindling.
Prolonged and chronic stress is a potent carcinogen and one of the top offenders of being healthy. We must learn to properly manage stress. And by the way not all stress is bad. There is eustress which can be beneficial in the sense of keeping us alert, active, engaged and to show some personality. Otherwise we'd just be a total wallflower. Additionally, a dose of adrenaline and increased cortisol at the right time can be a lifesaver (think fight or flight with a bear chasing you.) The problem is so many people today are living in a prolonged sympathetic dominant state. This is egregious to the body.
I recommend for patients to intentionally schedule in a period of down time or a fun activity during the day. This gives us something to look forward to and provides a diversion from the regular routine.
For me, I like to schedule in a little time to go to the gym for a workout. I also like to go for a nature walk, or to play the guitar, or to just take a couple minutes and list out the things I'm grateful for.
Personalize it for you. What would a fun and simple activity for you be. Let's see if we can make this a regular part of the routine to refresh us during the day.
Exercise is another important topic. Most people start to sweat and feel uneasy when I mention this because they have no desire to get a gym membership and invest any amount of time there. That's okay. The good news is that this isn't required to exercise.
I learned that the best exercise to recommend for a patient is anything they will do. Do you enjoy tennis? Then play tennis. What about swimming? Then swim. Walk stairs, take a walk, a jog, bike or do whatever it is you enjoy doing.
Ideally at some point there would be a little more structure to include a healthy amount of resistance training and cardiovascular training. But just start somewhere for now.
Exercise is so essential for weight management, lowering inflammation, healthy circulation and detoxification and for gut health. In fact, I was reading a study that elucidated what happens to the gut in sedentary individuals. The study showed that those who are more inactive have higher rates of pathogenic bacteria in their intestines and thus have a state of dysbiosis. This is a major problem today because this unhealthy balance of gut bacteria can affect everything else in the body. For instance, 80% of our immune system is in our gut. A gut in disarray means people cannot fight off infections well and they're sick a lot with allergies and colds. Additionally, around 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut. This, in part, is responsible for digestion, sleep and feelings of happiness. Interesting correlation that those who are unhappy oftentimes have some degree of gut issues going on.
I'd like to round out this article with something that oftentimes goes unaddressed but could arguably have the biggest bearing on health. The way we think and our mindset dictate largely how healthy we are. Check out this verse from Proverbs 4:23 - Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts. The simple truth is that our thoughts matter. They have power. Those who go around thinking they will never get better, they'll have a condition for life, there's no hope for them, etc. are prophesying their future.
I suggest we actively optimize our thought life to include thoughts like this: I'm healing, my body is recovering, I am making progress, I will overcome this condition, there is hope for me. We need to recognize the power of our thoughts and words. Proverbs 16:24 says gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. I love this verse because it talks about the power of our words.
These two verses are ones I use frequently when talking about this subject because what we think about oftentimes leads to what we talk about.
These two verses admonish us to be very careful about how we're thinking and how we're talking. They're very clear about the implications that come when we heed them or refuse them.
I like to start my day reading the Bible to commune with the Lord, develop more intimacy with my savior Jesus Christ and to orient my mind in a positive direction and healthy space. I believe this is the absolute best way to start the day.
I also like to practice gratitude and recount all the things I'm thankful for. Could you imagine if our society did this more? It would totally revolutionize our world to make it a much more loving place.
One last thing I'd like to add here is that we should ideally be very conscientious about what we allow into our minds. This goes for music, movies, social media, other people's words, the news, etc. I think it's healthy and good to be aware of what's going on in our world and society. There is a fine line, however, between being aware and being absolutely inundated and saturated in the news. The latter is not healthy and contributes to excessive anxiety and nervousness as there can be strong fear tactics presented.
These are some of the lifestyle factors I believe have heavy influence over our health. If we can implement these tips and strategies, I believe we will be well on our way to optimizing our health.
Are you dealing with any particular chronic disease or health issue in particular? I'd like to talk with you one on one if you're interested to see how we can work together to overcome that naturally. This is exactly what Emunah Health LLC is all about - natural, holistic and functional medicine healing practices from the inside out as we address the root cause. Check out more information at drseamus.com and feel free to schedule a free consult so I can listen to what's going on in your life.
Hope to speak to you soon,
Dr. Seamus Allen
CFMP, DACBN, DC