Monday, September 1, 2014

How Do You Achieve Health?

By Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

One of the challenges with achieving health now a days is that the focus has become on evaluating endless different factors such as - what diet is best, is salt good for you or is it bad, the benefits of dark chocolate, the importance of going gluten-free, the impact of GMOs and organic food and the list goes on.

If you truly want to achieve health you need to study yourself.  What are your unique susceptibilities?  What is your constitution and your age?  What is your family health history?  What factors are impacting your health? What incidents, accidents or events have impacted you throughout your life?  What underlying health concerns are you dealing with? What is your current lifestyle like?  Do you feel that you are on the right path in your life or are you struggling on a daily basis just to get by?

There are two main factors that are making achieving health much more difficult than it needs to be. I refer to them as "Headline Healthcare" and "Intellectual Health"

Headline Healthcare

Health is complex, very complex. Even the understanding of something as seemingly simple as salt has many different components. Yet media and most health magazines turn everything into a headline. They emphatically make a claim about anything and everything without even coming close to the whole story. Healthcare has become a series of marketing headlines instead of what it truly is - a detailed, complex networked system.  Examples of recent headlines include:
  • The Benefits of Coffee. The benefits of coffee has received a lot of attention lately. Some articles even recommend that up to 10 cups of coffee a day is good for you. Almost all of the article that spew the benefits of coffee miss the other half of the story. They don't mention that high doses of coffee deplete the body of minerals, the association between coffee consumption and insomnia or anxiety, the fact that some individuals are intolerant to coffee or that coffee can add to adrenal fatigue. Whether or not coffee is good for you and how much coffee is good for you can only be determined by how you personally respond to coffee, not by what the media or research claims to be the benefits of coffee.
  • The Salt Story.  I have written a lot about salt and sugar in past blogs. Salt is one of the most misunderstood nutrients. It has a number of essential functions, but there are also a number of considerations. Generally speaking, those with high blood pressure are best to avoid salt; whereas, those with low blood pressure or decreased thyroid function require moderate amounts of salt. In August a report came out claiming that low salt diets might actually be harmful. This report was in direct contradiction to previous studies that had been published. The commonality with both positions is that they made a claim about SALT without providing any logic or linking salt intake to specific individual characteristics or to the ratio of sodium to potassium. Whether or not salt is good or bad for you, how much you need and how it impacts health depends on you. It is not about whether salt, itself, is good or bad, it is about whether it is healthy for you. 
  • Organic Food Dilemma. The rationale for organic was driven by the recognition of the harmful impact of pesticides and herbicides on the grains, fruits and vegetables that we eat. Over time the headlines about organic food has focused more about the nutritional differences between organic and non-organic foods, totally missing the main concern. 
Everything is a headline. It is important to stay informed, but I caution you about basing your health decisions on a headline. The motivation for me creating the website was to provide a balanced perspective on health-related conditions and topics.Moderation is key, but even more important is individual's basing their health decisions on whether or not something is good for them; not on whether or not a particular food or ingredient, itself, is good or bad.

There are very few things that are "good" or "bad" -- except maybe pop and sugary candies. Soda pop and sugary candies are the the only things (I dare not call them a food!) that I strongly recommend people stop consuming. 

Intellectual Health

The most common advice that I give patients is to pay attention to their body. To look for a cause and effect between symptoms and their life. Too often people make decisions about their health based on what they believe to be true on paper; putting more emphasis on what they read versus what they personally experience or what is relevant for them.

Health and disease are logical. They are, too a large degree, an accumulation of our life. Our body talks to us, gives us feedback, in the way of signs and symptoms. Your personal experiences and symptoms will typically be more relevant for you than anything you read. Whether you are suffering with headaches, sinus congestion, gas and bloating, joint pain, insomnia, anxiety, or chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or even cancer there will be a reason why. And that reason generally relates to your life starting with your unique constitution and health history and including what you ate (or didn't eat), how hydrated you are, your level of stress, your activity level, how you are sleeping, any accidents or injuries you have had, etc. The more you can see the link between your daily life and your symptoms, the more control you will have over your health.

Too often people seek answers in a book or on the internet for reasons why they have a symptom. Reading helps give a person a range of things to assess, but the real answers will come from you. Often I find that people have spent a lot of time and money chasing different treatments based on what they read, versus really understanding them self.

The most profound health changes generally occur when a person learns what to change in their daily routine or what they have to specifically address for them self, such as their lifestyle, how they handle stress, or the impact of heavy metals and environmental chemicals or food intolerances. For example when a person makes a connection between their chronic sinus infections and their dairy or yeast consumption, or between chronic neck pain and how they hold the phone while talking, or the realization that their constipation is due to chronic dehydration then real permanent change can occur. Listening primarily to your body, versus what you read, often means that you will be taking less supplements and will have a greater understanding and control of your own health.

In Summary

Even as write this blog I recognize that I am trying to simplify health as I am explaining that it is too complex to be broken down into a few simple guidelines. Naturopathic medicine is responsible medicine. It recognizes the complexity of health and the link between health and a person's life. Naturopathic doctors spend four-years full-time studying naturopathic medicine, after having achieved a University degree.  The accredited naturopathic programs in North America are about 4500 hours. Graduates are expected to continue to study as there is so much to know.

In order to achieve your highest level of health I encourage you to:
  • Learn to listen to your body. Welcome symptoms as a way of providing you feedback and helping you understand what is best for you.
  • Recognize that health is best achieved when all aspects of an individual are addressed - the spiritual, psychological, functional and structural
  • The more time you spend assessing and truly understanding the cause of a symptom or condition the easier it is to treat or manage.
  • Know your constitution and your personal strengths and weaknesses and ensure that your treatment approach is based on supporting your strengths and addressing your weaknesses.
  • Ensure that you work with naturopathic doctors or health professionals that you trust, that understand you and that are able to work with you as an individual.
  • Regular blood work and other labs are an important aspect of preventative medicine and healthcare management. Naturopathic doctors will often recommend labs or tests that are aimed at identifying the causes of disease, versus just the presence of disease. Food intolerance testing, heavy metal or chemical testing, mineral status, and many others can be very valuable in figuring out the true causes behind symptoms and conditions.
  • Most importantly, to achieve health really focus on understanding yourself and making decisions that are best for you.
No two individuals are the same. There is no ideal treatment for any one condition. The most important variable and consideration is you.

Naturopathic medicine is responsible medicine. It addresses all aspects of an individual and it puts a tremendous focus on individualized treatments and identifying the true causes of disease. To learn more talk to Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND or check out her books "Messages from the Body, a guide to the energetics of health" or "The Energetics of Health, a naturopathic perspective".