Happy January, welcome to 2020! Brand new year, brand new decade.
Health is more than just about the food and exercise. Let me explain what I mean. Our body is a whole person of interworking systems, which is why when it comes to your health your body is not a mistake. Dramatic pause ...
This is the time of year we all choose to be better, to do better. And really, it’s great that we’re wishing to invest in ourselves. This wish is much needed, as we’ve seen over the last century there has been a dramatic shift in the number of acute to chronic diseases. Acute diseases are those that are “brief”, short in duration, a hospital visit for an infection that is quickly treated, such as pneumonia. The latter, chronic diseases, are those that are persistent or otherwise long-lasting in their effects. Examples of these include, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, chronic pain, cancer and depression.
In America nearly 1 in every 2 people is living with a chronic condition. In the hospital I work at, I see patients on a daily basis being treated acutely for their chronic condition(s). By this, I mean the hospitalist will treat the patient to ensure they survive, but simply does not have the resources to teach the patient to thrive. Enter, functional medicine nutrition therapy.
The Integrative & Functional Medicine Nutrition Therapy (IFMNT) radial is a tool used to help assess clients. One of the main areas of focus is lifestyle, within lifestyle includes twelve separate areas, food being only one of them! Although each area has a much more expansive effect than what I’m able to describe in a two-page paper. The purpose of me sharing these areas of focus is so that you understand the complexity of our bodies. So that when you begin to make lifestyle changes, you slowly piece each of these together as you strive for true, long-lasting health.
We’ll begin with our environment. This topic is broad and may include anything from the round up you spray on your lawn that trickles into our water system that you drink, to the products you put on your face. It’s been said that the average woman leaves her home in the morning with over 200 different chemicals being applied to her body. Many of these chemicals may be harmful and foreign to our human bodies. Our skin is in fact, the largest organ in our body, and no doubt absorbs what we put on it!
Similar to what we put on our bodies, is what we put in our bodies. This includes supplements, or perhaps medications we take. How many pills or powders do you take each day? Did you have testing done to give reason for taking them? Do you still need them, or perhaps were they only necessary to pull you out of a hole? It’s always good to reassess supplements, because with any benefit there’s the potential for imbalances, or competition with another nutrient. Supplements absolutely have their time and place but be sure you’re not just continuing on a path blindly, and always opt for the food first approach!
Of course, alongside supplements are the foods we eat. Our diet is the nourishment we choose to consume on a daily basis, not the 8 week “diet” we did with weight watchers. A person’s diet can have some of the most profound effects on their health. In the long term it can also be one of the cheapest ways to improve health. Think about it, we have to buy food whether it’s healthy or not. If you choose healthier food you may just avoid that monthly prescription bill, or emergency room visit later on. Not to mention eating better may improve your sleep.
Which is the next area of focus in the functional medicine nutrition therapy model, sleep. Sleep deprivation can have some big downsides. One of the big ones is how a lack of sleep effects our food choices. That’s right, after just one night of poor sleep we are more likely to choose carbohydrate rich foods, based on taste preferences and energy satiation. 1 2 To add fuel to this fire, our bodies are less capable of responding to these food choices, resulting in a higher blood sugar level, leading to a perpetual roller coaster ride of up and down blood sugars. 3
Research is also clear to point out the effects of inadequate sleep on our ability to cope with stress (which is another area of IFMNT). Rather than being worried about the grizzly bear coming after us, we get stressed with deadlines, coffee stains and red lights. Our bodies were simply not designed to encounter chronic stress, which can lead to elevated cortisol levels (in the short term), decreased insulin sensitivity (thereby leading to prolonged elevated blood glucose levels that may cause weight gain, hypertension and heart disease) and suppressed immune systems, just to name a few. 4
One way to cope with stress, is exercise. Exercise, or simply moving is what our bodies were designed to do. Movement, whether exercise or taking the stairs (versus the elevator) has been shown to improve everything from cognition, learning retention, insulin sensitivity, digestion and sleep. There’s no lack of research when it comes to the health benefits of physical activity, pick your preference, and be consistent!
Sunlight exposure triggers the photosynthetic reaction in our bodies to produce vitamin D when exposed to its UVB light. Several studies show that when serum 25 (OH)D levels (Vitamin D level) in a person are adequate (generally considered >45 ng/mL) their risk of disease including heart disease is decreased. But sunlight has been shown to be beneficial beyond just providing the necessary ingredients for our bodies to make vitamin D. This should come to us as no surprise, as our bodies were designed to be outdoors while the sun was shining and in bed when the moon was out. This helps regulate our circadian rhythms, producing serotonin, the prerequisite for melatonin which helps improve sleep (remember the importance of sleep), the sun can also improve our emotional health, such as alleviating depression. 5
Also shown to be beneficial to our overall wellbeing is experiencing nature. This may be because those that play in nature are exposed to more microbes, which helps to modulate our microbiota. As newer research is showing, a robust and diverse microbiota can have beneficial effects on glucose, appetite regulation, digestion, joint mobility and our immune system, among a few. 6 Haven’t you wondered why there’s an increase in the prevalence of allergies alongside an increased prevalence of sterile, in-door living?
Nature is also where some people experience spirituality. Spirituality is the sense of connection to something bigger than ourselves. This will look different for each of us and can be found in nature, church, prayer or meditation; whatever it is, spirituality tends to enhance recovery from illness and surgery 7 and may just lead us to our next area, relationships.
Maybe you’ve never considered your relationships as being part of your overall health, or for that matter culture and traditions. These are our final lifestyle aspects of the functional medicine nutrition therapy model. Our way of life, who we surround ourselves with and the passing down of customs or beliefs in fact effects much of what we do, right down to the habitual way we eat. There is a quote that goes, “Who and what we surround ourselves with is who and what we become. In the midst of good people, it is easy to be good. in the midst of bad people, it is easy to be bad.” ― Karen Marie Moning
Now, I did not list all of those areas to overwhelm you, quite the contrary. As you can see, our bodies are not a mistake. Everything works together. Choose one, or more of these areas that feels the easiest to you and place your initial focus there. Once you get the hang of one, the next will become easier, and so on. Here’s to you!