As an allopath, a physician trained in the traditional medical school curriculum resulting in an M.D., I was immersed in the following number of hours of didactic coursework on the importance of nutrition and exercise in my patients’ health and wellness:
You can add to the list of ZERO: Mindfulness. Meditation. Spiritual Health. Relationship-Intimacy Health. Stress Relief Mechanisms. Allopathic medicine is, appropriately, grounded on the physical signs, symptoms and causes of pathology. In other words, “What is the diagnosis?” The pathophysiology of the maladies of human beings is fascinating, complicated, and grounded in principles and science that span centuries, if not millennia. In the end, you have a name for your dis-ease, and therefore, you have a remedy. This works, especially if you consider the patient’s complaint to diagnosis to remedy as a vector; a linear representation of cause, effect, and cure. For something like a urinary tract infection, for example, the diagnosis is fairly easily made with a conversation and a urinalysis. The prescription pad comes out, and the antibiotic is given. The patient gains relief, and the value of the process is verified. I have used this model successfully (when success is measured in relief from the complaint) for over 25 years. And yet, there has loomed a dissatisfaction with this model, especially in the realm of autoimmune and chronic diseases of the women I care for. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease (your body is making antibodies against itself and causing pathology) that is the largest contributor to hypothyroidism (low thyroid; sluggish, fatigue, weight gain) in North American women. It was Hashimoto’s disease, along with the revelation of pelleted bio-identical hormone balancing, that unlocked that “Ah-ha!” moment in my medical career and launched me towards Functional Medicine for Women.
The real difference maker in the “Hashi’s” patient is cooling off the autoimmunity. Yes, they need replacement (I prefer bio-identical, desiccated thyroid replacement, such as NatureThroid or Armor Thyroid, instead of synthetic T4 – Synthroid), but they will never truly feel better until you address the root cause of their autoimmune disease, and that turns out to be their gut!! Inflammation in the gut caused by processed foods, sugar, excessive gluten/gliadin/lectin, and the resulting dysbiosis (the wrong gut bacteria in your intestines and colon) lead to your immune system, of which 70-80 percent is in your gut, making antibodies to “self”. In Hashimoto’s disease, these antibodies attack the thyroid. Most practitioners never check antibodies. Mainly because we have been taught to over-rely on the lab test TSH as a barometer to the thyroid function. It turns out, it’s not a very good one. It’s not even a thyroid hormone, it’s from the pituitary. In addition, most have been taught that there’s nothing to be done about the autoimmunity. And that’s the problem with not focusing on the basic premise that what you shove down your pie hole is unbelievably important to your function, health and well being.
The most important decision of your day.
The most important decision you make every day is what happens in the last two feet from table to mouth. Your body is quite capable of sustaining life when you eat junk (a.k.a. the Standard American Diet; SAD for short). It can make ATP (cellular fuel) from just about anything. The problem is that a diet loaded with processed foods, sugar, too many carbs, and fast foods yields its fuel at a very large cost to your health. When you primarily rely on these menu items, you will, most probably, fight obesity, hypertension, and the specter of diabetes, heart disease and an increased risk of death from all causes. Unless we choose wisely, we open ourselves to these ‘self inflicted wounds’ and their likely outcomes: declining health after mid-life, and an increasing number of prescription medicines to combat our poor choices. The name of the game is to mitigate risk, and to maximize reward. Disease, trauma, cancers can still occur, no matter what you eat. The point of choosing a healthy lifestyle is to do as much as you can to allow the complex machine that is your body to defend and repair, to which it is quite remarkably capable.
the paleo decision and how to start: the paleo trailhead.
So what do I recommend for my patients? I believe that a Paleo lifestyle is the secret sauce of human biology. Notice that I didn’t say a Paleo diet. I said lifestyle. First, let’s discuss what Paleo is NOT. Paleo is not something that you can learn and understand in a Facebook paragraph, or 140 characters on Twitter. While the concept is rather simple, the details are specific. The true way to learn and digest Paleo, no pun intended, is to read a true Paleo work. In my office, everyone starts with Robb Wolf’s “The Paleo Solution”. This is the ‘trailhead’ of the lifestyle that I want my patients to follow. After you realize that Robb is a very easy to read writer, and his self deprecation is infectious, you quickly understand that you are being taught a total way of life that doesn’t just stop at eating “meat and veg”. Choosing the correct meat and veg are a good place to start, but you also have to choose the right fat. Yes! Fat! Paleo, and subsequently Keto (short for ketogenic), nutrition take your biochemistry down extremely efficient energy pathways, all the while decreasing inflammation, decreasing auto-immunity, and decreasing waistline.
The other, and equally important, half of the Paleo Lifestyle is movement. When you stop and think of, what is arguably, the most fit peoples who ever lived on the North American continent, it is likely the ancient indigenous tribes of the plains. Robust in their frame and musculature, they were an amazing race. Gregarious in their daily routine, often running down their food, they were strong and lean. You probably didn’t find them running a loping pace on a treadmill, or an elliptical machine. Paleolithic humans invented HIIT (high intensity interval training). They would run full out along a creek or cliff line, or track a herd across miles of open prairie, dodging and darting as the prey evaded. They adapted to whatever life gave them, or asked of them. Their nutrition was perfect human fuel: plant based, with occasional nutritious, grass fed animal proteins, interspersed with intermittent fasting during lean times. When you anthropologically compare their skeletons to those of the subsequent European settlers, there is a significant increase in childhood diseases, dental caries, and diseases of malnourishment with the “new worlders”. So what was it, besides the scourge of pestilence that seemed to always follow civilizations as they reach out? It was a way of life. For lack of a better descriptor, it was Paleo.
if you want to have, do. if you want to do, be.
So maybe you’re not going to run down an antelope for your family, but you could run to the market and come back with a cloth bag filled with organic veg and grass fed animal protein…for a start. But move, nevertheless. Get on YouTube and follow a work out. Walk around the neighborhood, to start. Your goal, ultimately, should be a sustained cardio-resistance movement, multiple times a week. I enjoy HIIT style training. I get bored easily and either need to be playing a sport, or I need to be doing HIIT. If you want success, however, get accountability. Get a personal trainer that will look you in the eye, teach, encourage, and kick butt. Interview them online. Your local trainer has a website that you can visit and catch a style that might be in tuned with you. You’re not too out of shape to do this, and no one is going to shame you. Quite the contrary. The people who are truly dedicated to providing fitness, health and wellness for others through movement celebrate when someone decides to change. You will be welcomed, your milestones will be high-fived, and your life will change for the better.
So in the end, it comes down to diet and exercise. The same thing your physical education teacher told you all those years ago. The only difference now is that you have the perspective of mileage around your belt. The tools for your recovery are free. Choose and move. Put in the right fuel and burn it off. It’s really just that simple, that available to you at any moment.
A challenge: Tonight, after your well chosen meal, after the kitchen is cleaned, put on your walking shoes and open your front door. It’s time for a walk.