Friday, January 22, 2010

What's in a Diagnosis? And, Making Caring Contagious

I'm often overlooked as biased when it comes to health information because I work for a supplements company. Despite the fact that I spend most of my day every day absorbed in nutrition and health knowledge, people assume I'm just looking out for my own bottom line. Clearly they're not familiar with the Co-op's philosophy or pricing structure (not to mention that sales is not my forte)!

Anyway, I'd be tempted to take these dismissals personally, but I've seen health care professionals meet the same fate. When they deviate from the traditional medical model, they're called quacks, charlatans, witch doctors, and other flattering monikers. What makes me sad is how often genuinely valuable information is ignored because of these biases and stigmas.

Take my recent conversation with a family member. She's only 29 and has begun to suffer from extreme pain, fatigue, and sleeplessness -- to the point that she cannot work (she's a nurse) and spends her days at doctor's appointments and in bed. She's already on multiple pharmaceuticals because none of the specialists can agree on a diagnosis.

"Chronic fatigue is a result of depression, try these anti-depressants," says her psychiatrist.

"It must be a nervous system issue, try this anti-inflammatory," says her neurologist.

"Sleep deprivation can't be helping, take these sleeping pills," says her internist.

All the pharmaceuticals bring plenty of undesirable side effects, too. Restlessness, cravings, exhaustion, headaches. And still, nobody knows what's "wrong" with her.

When I listen through an ear that isn't just searching for a finite diagnosis, the conversation gets more interesting. Sure, she's not overweight and her skin looks reasonably healthy, but I hear about her poor diet, and how she eats few fresh foods, gets no exercise, and has plenty of stress. Not exactly the recipe for wellness, but not considered "symptoms."

When I began talking to her about cellular health and the gut, she got curious, but another family member (who's older, heavier, more stressed, and a veteran sufferer of fibromialgia and chronic fatigue) completely cut me off and assured the youngster that the drugs will help some, but not to expect that much will change. Basically, just trust the doctors and get used to feeling like crap. I was shocked. I was also grateful that the sheer speed at which my jaw dropped wasn't too noticeable.

When the nay-sayer left the table, I offered my young family member the telephone numbers of a couple practitioners that would help address her issues more holistically. She seemed appreciative, but when I saw her a few weeks later she was still feeling terrible and hadn't contacted either one. She was still hoping for a diagnosis and pharmaceutical treatment that would magically restore her health.

As I continued to reflect, very troubled, I thought of Dr. Rodier who has literally thousands of reputable journal studies and clinical results to support his work. Yet patients continue to get angry with him and put him down when he asks them to make nutrition and lifestyle changes over trips to the pharmacy.

So I'm finding myself very curious today about what it would take to open more people to integrative methods. I care about the future of this country and our larger global society. I care about my generation being able to support ourselves and our parents (which is looking dismal these days). I care about education with good information. Now if I can just make that care contagious. At least I care about a good challenge, too!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Stevia: God's Gift to the Incorrigible Sweet Tooth?

"Why didn't you tell me I could have stevia? Don't you love me?!"

This from my good friend who is struggling with the "Dr. Rodier Cleanse" (not exactly for the faint of heart -- the cleanse is a sort of rehab protocol for sugar addicts, wheat worshipers, dairy devotees, and processed food fans).

My friend's diet wasn't so terrible, but included a few vices generally incompatible with good gut health. Namely her relationship to vegetables resembles that of most five-year-olds, her morning tea has more sugar than tea, and she firmly believes bacon deserves its own national holiday.

Why I suggested the cleanse had more to do with her partner, whose been experiencing debilitating migraine headaches for years now. I know migraines often stem from gut issues, and it turns out her partner's diet is rife with sugar and other intestinal enemies.

The duo decided to do the cleanse together, and so far have been troopers, following the cleanse rules to the letter. Kicking and screaming has been minimal. Protests have been halfhearted despite intense sugar cravings. Which brings me back to the top of this post -- stevia. When I mentioned nonchalantly one day that stevia was acceptible to use during the cleanse, my friend nearly fell out of her chair in shock that I could withhold such vital information.

She couldn't understand that I didn't mean to deprive her of stevia. I just don't use much sugar, so the thought of a sugar substitute didn't occur to me as a necessity. She rushed out that evening to stock up on SweetLeaf, and by morning was quick to report:

"On the stevia website it says using stevia actually reduces sugar cravings. I don't know if I believe that, but maybe if I just eat lots of stevia and then I won't even want cookies."

Personally, I'm still going to push her to make friends with her vegetables and other whole foods, even when they aren't covered in sugary sauces. But hey, if stevia helps build the bridge for my friend and many others, I'm sure glad the Co-op can offer it inexpensively.

Stay tuned for updates as my friend and her partner make their way through the cleanse. Right now they're just looking forward to reaching week three when they're allowed to have fruit again, or what they've now dubbed International Fruit Celebration Day.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Iris - Windows to the Soul Gone Dark with Dementia

Tonight I watched the movie Iris, a true story recounting the life of Iris Murdoch -- famous British author and philosopher who slowly lost her life to Alzheimer's Disease as her devoted husband watched in horror. My grip of the kitty on my lap steadily tightened as the movie drew to its inevitable close -- death of the brilliant, but now absent-minded Iris.

From the start, I couldn't help but think of our aging Co-op members. We promote cognitive health often, carrying a variety of supplements to boost brain power and hopefully beat the odds against dreaded dementia. However, cognitive health isn't usually a glaring priority for most of us. It lacks the measurability of cholesterol and the instant emotionality of cancer. No one thinks they're going to lose their mind. The mere thought doesn't even cross our minds until symptoms are already nipping at the heels of our consciousness.

Take my grandfather for example, a retired police chief, who I've watched slowly become estranged from his mind over the last year. The footprints of an ant would have once grabbed his attention. Now he can barely discuss the weather without becoming lost and repetitive.

Unfortunately, his plight comes with no surprise. Poor diet, extra pounds, and unfavorable genetics have slowly chipped away at his health for years. The major heart attack that forced his retirement came when I was only three. The stroke that strangled the mobility of his right side came years later, leaving a once powerful man unable to climb his own stairs.

Dementia was once viewed as an isolated condition, but more recent research continues to link it with inflammation, heart disease, obesity and other degenerative conditions. If I've learned anything in my years at the Co-op, I have learned that a cell is a cell and it's frighteningly safe to assume that if heart cells are struggling to thrive, brain cells are too.

While I've got quite a few years ahead of me (knock on wood), I'm going to do everything I can to protect my little cells. This means I'll be taking my supplements and as my good friend likes to say, "eating lots of yucky vegetables and depriving myself of delicious foods." Good thing I have a liking for those yucky vegetables and can get by on a timid vice for dark chocolate.

Sickbook: Cells Cry via Social Networking

I'm a twentysomething. This means at least a dozen social laws mandate I create a Facebook account. I didn't feign too much resistance. I love people and Facebook means I can spy on dozens of them without even leaving my desk.

So when autumn swept over the Utah valley, I noticed an interesting trend amongst my Facebook buddies -- everyone kept getting sick, and further, the same few people keep getting sick over and over (and over).

As the repeat offenders kept begging to feel better and drinking NyQuil like water, Dr. Rodier's words rang in my ears, "It's not the bugs, it's the terrain." Then I noticed some commonalities among the germ haters.

One of them bakes cakes for a living. Another spends her days cooking elaborate casseroles and desserts filled with wheat and dairy. Yet another relies on fast-food to carry her through an overpacked graduate school and full-time work schedule. The list goes on echoing a deafening theme: too much sugar, too much wheat, too much dairy, too much stress, and not enough nutrition to keep cell membranes strong and impenetrable to bad guys. Weak, sugar-ravaged cells make staying well and uphill battle.

A larger problem showed itself as I continued seeing this cycle of sickness. I'm sure most of these people know they should eat better, however, most of them would only connect diet with weight issues or cholesterol. The narrative we share as a culture around sickness often does little to foster wellness.

Diseases are portrayed as alien invaders that must be controlled and cured rather than prevented and proactively responded to. The intelligence behind the body's breakdown is often lost, submerged, drowned even, by palliative care.

I long to help shift our collective "story" around health to a tale where nutrients and so-called alternative healthcare practices are the heros, not the black sheep of medicine.

Wireless Technology: Cigarette of the 21st Century?

Cindy's been telling me for years that her cell phone hurts her ear if she uses it for more than a few minutes. Given her very sensitive system, I've listened with a half-curious, half-skeptical attitude. Pain, really? Sure, radiation can't be good for any of us, but actual discernible pain? Well, good thing I don't mind eating my words every now and then.

A few days ago I came across an article ranking cell phone radiation emissions. The article offered evidence that just 10 years of cell phone use may significantly increase one's risk of developing brain and salivary gland tumors, Alzheimer's disease, and even behavioral problems. Further -- and for me, perhaps scarier -- the article speculated that constant cell phone use in younger generations may lead to cognitive decline as early as age 40.

Radiation doesn't just go for cell phones either. Wireless internet, satellite television, and GPS system waves have infiltrated perpetually higher percentages our high-tech society. We're surrounded by a smog of signal waves that we can't see, hear, taste, or otherwise detect.

One article compared this century's rampant technology with last century's cigarette. Meaning what began as a cool cultural phenomenon was eventually outed as a sure way to depress your health and shorten your life.

Troubled, I couldn't help sliding my cell phone into my purse and away from my chair. While our crowded world is rife with toxins and other dangers, this one seems so easy to curtail. Use a hands-free headset for your cell phone. Limit your direct contact with wireless technology.

Further, choose a brand with lower radiation emissions. The Environmental Working Group ranked more than 1,000 cell phones by radiation emission. I was sad to discover my Blackberry Curve ranked close to the top, but pleased to know my contract is almost up and I can swap it for a safer model.

So, I offer my thanks to Cindy and other "canaries in the mine" out there for alerting the rest of us to silent dangers lurking in broad daylight.

A Twentysomething's Take on Healthy Aging

"But you're just a kid. What do you know about getting old?"

I've heard this more times than I can count. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

When I was just 22, my health began to decline. I'd been "burning the candle at both ends" already, and then my father died suddenly from pancreatic cancer. Exhausted. Sad. For many months, I relied too much on coffee and sugar to keep going, and came down with serious tonsil infections at least every three months.

A year later, my health crashed, likely due to adrenal burnout. Yet another tonsil infection hit, but I knew I was in trouble when I sat freezing in a 103 degree hot tub. Next thing I knew I was leaving Insta Care with an IV port in my forearm and instructions to report the next morning for another round of heavy duty antibiotics. Bloodwork showed me to be nearly septic, and I was almost thrown in the hospital.

My energy and immune system were decimated, along with my naive attitude that my health would just improve. I knew it was time to take my habits more seriously, and I'm proud to say I haven't had a tonsil infection in years.

My mission now? To bring wellness wisdom to every age. Young, old, in between. If you've got a body, you know the toll of keeping up with today's processed foods, pollution, stress, and more. Wellness is a full-time job, and as part of my job, I've been lucky enough to be inspired by a progressive group of healthcare professionals and wellness advocates.

While my peers flipped burgers or folded t-shirts at Old Navy, I started hearing our members' stories here at the Co-op. While the cool kids were dancing in clubs, I was researching menopause, prostate health, and, dare I say this, all things unspeakable about bowel health. Didn't exactly make me hip with my peers, but everyone with gray hair in my family started coming to me for advice. And, I learned that I really had something valuable to share.

So, encouraged by my middle-aged friends, of which there are many these days, I decided to share my stories with you.

My hope is to inform you, inspire you, and perhaps even entertain you with anecdotes of normal people trying to be healthy in a stressful, saturated, fast-food nation.