I knew the moment I heard my first lecture in nursing school (highlighting the details of what happens when the body becomes riddled with disease), that I would spend my career focused on preventing illness. My calling it seemed was to learn all I could about ways to keep the body healthy, strong and disease-free.
Subsequently, over the ensuing 30 plus years, I dove into many aspects of health; exploring the role whole foods, herbs, supplements, juicing, detoxing, exercise, and stress management play in creating vitality, longevity and vibrant good health. Just when I thought I’d nailed down the answers and had a few magic formulas in my tool box for helping people feel their best, circumstances and conditions began emerging making my old tried and true strategies inadequate.
Take Weight Loss for example: when a client would come to my nutrition practice in the early 80’s seeking a weight loss plan, I would provide them with a list of healthier food choices, encourage them to exercise and limit their calorie intake. Today, however with 87,000 man-made chemicals in our air, food and water, it is a bit more complicated. Now it is essential to also understand that in an attempt to protect our vital organs, the body stores those toxins in our fat cells. Therefore, a person who wishes to lose weight today must also be counseled on ways to minimize their exposure to toxins (eating organic foods, greening their cleaning products, using natural makeup and skin care products etc.) and given specific herbs and various detoxification protocols to help the body cleanse itself of the toxins released once the fat cells breakdown. If this new understanding of how fat cells store and release toxins is not addressed properly one will most likely rebound and not reap the full health benefits of their weight loss.
Then there is the inflammation factor: Of course we all know what local or acute inflammation looks and feels like. If one gets a cut or a sore throat, redness and soreness develop. But today, there is more to that story and it’s called chronic or systemic inflammation. Consuming the Standard American Diet (SAD) which consists of processed foods, artificial or trans fats and sugar laden foods leads to inflammation as does exposure to toxins, eating acidic or allergenic foods and stress. Inflammation is now considered the underlying cause of many chronic illnesses including: Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity, Cancer and Dementia.
So, in order to be truly healthy in today’s world we must adopt life style choices that reduce inflammation. We do this by stepping off the sugar/insulin roller coaster ride which in turn stabilizes our blood sugar level. Including healthy, organic sources of protein every few hours (not excessive amounts) as well as organic vegetables and minimizing pro-inflammatory foods such as caffeine, alcohol, processed carbs, sugar, soy, corn and gluten grains are great places to start. Adding in stress management and exercise will go a long way in reducing inflammation which will help prevent or reverse the cascade of events that lead to chronic illness.
Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals: Thanks to our ongoing exposure to plastics and other sources of hormone disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol-A (found in the inner lining of canned food and on most cashier receipts), PCBs, phthalates, triclosan (found in toothpaste and antibacterial soap), fire retardants, hormones given to animals to fatten them up and pesticides (2 billion lbs. are sprayed on our crops each year) our sex hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone have been negatively impacted. How does their disruption manifest? Here are but a few repercussions: 7-10% of couples trying to conceive are infertile, sperm counts are down, young girls (pre-puberty) are growing breasts (precocious puberty), type 2 diabetes is affecting 12 million Americans and because hormone disrupting chemicals promote weight gain (remember we store our toxins in fat cells) we now have 17% of children suffering from obesity and 36% of adults with this condition.
GI issues; How many of you heard the term “Leaky gut syndrome” (slang for Intestinal permeability) 20 years ago? I sure didn’t. But now, as result of our overuse of antibiotics leading to candida overgrowth,, hybridization of wheat, food sensitivities and mowed down villi (the finger like projections that line our intestinal track and absorb nutrients),toxic overload and inadequate nutrients, leaky gut as well as gluten sensitivity have become common terms.
A new suspect on the list of culprits causing damage to our GI system is glyphosate (the chemical in Roundup) which is sprayed on every plant that has been genetically engineered. The 4 main GE foods are sugar, corn, soy and conventionally grown wheat.
It turns out among its many damaging effects, glyphosate also causes extreme disruption in the lifecycle of the good friendly bacteria in our gut allowing for the overgrowth of nasty organisms such as pathogenic bacteria and parasites. Oh yes, and glyphosate also enhances the damaging effects of other environmental toxins. So unlike a couple of decades ago when GE food was a non-issue, today if a person wishes to obtain optimal health, avoiding food that has been genetically altered and then sprayed with the chemical glyphosate is a must!
Antibiotics: We all know antibiotics can be life-saving, but their overuse especially in livestock (over 30 million pounds are given to animals each year to both prevent infection and promote weight gain) may be at the root of many health problems. Antibiotics (whether taken directly or via the animal products we consume) are related to weight gain in humans and wipe out good friendly bacteria which we now know are crucial to maintaining the health of our gut membrane, our immune system as well as our mental health. That’s right, if our gut’s not healthy, we’re not healthy and I’m not just talking about gas, bloating, yeast overgrowth etc. 70% of our immune system is headquartered in our gut and 80% of the mood stabilizing neurotransmitter Serotonin is manufactured in the gut. Who knew that 30 years ago?
Summary: Although the time-tested, tried and true methods for obtaining and maintaining a healthy state such as (getting adequate sleep, staying well hydrated, exercising and eating healthy food) still serve as the foundation, given the mounting obstacles to our health, these strategies may no longer be sufficient. Savvy individuals seeking optimal wellness are staying one step ahead of the game by outsmarting the new obstacles to health and incorporating strategies like the ones listed below in order to minimize their damaging effects.
Tips for outsmarting the obstacles to your health:
- In order to minimize exposure to pesticides, antibiotics, artificial hormones and other chemicals, purchase only organic, grass-fed beef, organic chicken, eggs, turkey and organic, non GMO grains and produce.
- This is a tough one for me to say, but cook at home as much as possible to avoid ingredients (poor quality oils, sugar etc.) that many restaurant use in food prep.
- Get a good water filter and carry your water in glass or stainless steel bottles and purchase items in glass containers instead of aluminum cans lined with BPA.
- Use only personal care products without phthalates, parabens, formaldehyde, and hormone disrupting chemicals such as those found in non-vegan cosmetics and lotions. According to the FDA, what you put on your skin is in your cells within 26 seconds.
- Skip the receipt: Most cashier receipts contain the hormone disrupting chemical bisephenol A which you absorb through your skin within 2-5 seconds.
- Limit exposure to toxins by purchasing and using only green home cleaning products and find a green dry cleaner.
- Our skin is our biggest eliminative organ, so be sure to sweat (via exercise, sauna) at least 5 x per week and do not use skin care products with mineral oil as it creates a barrier for releasing toxins via sweat.
- Reduce sugar consumption and processed carbs (bagels, bread, pasta, cookies, cakes etc) as the sugar/insulin roller coaster ride is the cause of insulin resistance and Type 2 Diabetes. Along with toxins and stress these all lead to chronic and systemic inflammation
- Consider a comprehensive multi vitamin, a high quality probiotic and a source of Omega 3 fatty acids which help to reduce inflammation.
- To maintain healthy brain function, balance hormones and obtain and maintain a healthy weight include healthy fats in your diet: organic coconut oil, avocadoes, organic nuts, EVOO and butter made from grass fed organic cows
Bio: Maureen McDonnell has been a holistic, nutritionally-oriented RN for 37 years. She is the health editor of WNC Woman Magazine and the co-founder of Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet (SOKHOP.com). Currently she is coaching women (locally and around the country) on the 30 Day Simply Fit program which emphasizes organic whole food, healthy weight loss, provides GI support, decreases inflammation and focuses on liver detoxification. Maureen lectures widely on the role the environment and nutrition play in women and children’s health. She is an Executive Area Manager with Arbonne International (providing ultra-premium health and wellness and skin care products). She can be reached at MauraHealth@aol.com