The basics of good health
Surely anyone who has an ounce of common sense and does not live in their own little world must know the basics of good physical health.
They can be summed up as watching what you eat, getting enough exercise and rest, and staying clear of pollutants and toxins as far as possible.
Are we our own worst enemies?
Sometimes we are not very sensible in our attitudes towards our own health. Our diet is a case in question.
The typical Western diet is leading to an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, diabetes and other such killers. But it is not only the tendency towards junk food of the last thirty years that is devaluing our nutrition.
The ‘treat foods’ of yesterday are now part of our staple diets. Most of us are eating too much sugar in one form or another. And the fats and portions of food we may have consumed in the past to help us conquer the energy demands of heavy physical work are superfluous for our much more sedentary existences today. No wonder we are facing ever-growing epidemics of obesity and Type-2 Diabetes.
We should all eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit each day and we are far more likely to eat better at home with fresh ingredients than we are eating ready made or frozen meals, junk food or take-aways. Everything we drink should be in very moderate amounts except water. And we need about two litres of that per day.
And even if what we are eating is, by all accounts, a healthy, balanced diet, it may not be providing the nutrients it once did.
Do we need vitamin supplements?
The vitamin and alternative (or ‘complementary medicine’) industry is one of the fastest growing industries on the planet. Australians embrace it just as enthusiastically as anywhere else. One in five Australians regularly takes vitamin supplements and helps feed $1.8 billion into the industry annually. But do we need them?
If you have asked doctors about taking extra vitamins, particularly in the past, how often have you heard them say that you do not need vitamin supplements if you eat a balanced diet, with all the food groups properly represented? Other than perhaps taking extra Vitamin C in cold and flu season?
It is true that such a diet should deliver all the required minerals and nutrients.
However, with the frequent scrapping of fallow periods for maximum productivity from every field, with other over-farming and growth acceleration practices, there are doubts today about whether particular items of food are as nutritious as they may have been, say 30 years ago.
It seems also that an increasing source of worry is what our food suppliers are putting into and leaving out of the food we buy these days. This is quite apart from the moral and animal welfare issues.Our foods are certainly exposed to more chemical and biological additives than they were back then. And the issue of GM-foods adds a whole new can of Frankenwürme to both our diet and our environment. (If you haven’t seen movies such as Food Inc, you should!)
People who regularly take good quality vitamin supplements seem to report much more robust health than when they were not taking supplements. (With common reports of a return to adverse health conditions, if they stop taking the respective supplements.) So, yes, perhaps we should be considering some targeted, good quality vitamin supplementation.
I know I used to scoff at taking vitamins when I was younger. But since hitting my fifties, I take about 10 supplement pills a day – and that’s probably not enough, because I still don’t like taking them and don’t necessarily follow the dosage advice. But do I notice immediate effects when I take certain things (or stop taking them) .
Our increasingly toxic lives
Many people are also turning to organic foods.
The jury is still out on their benefit. Some swear by them, and wouldn’t ingest anything else. Others claim some of the certification is suspect, and that scientific studies fail to show any appreciable differences.
It may be as much a psychological reassurance, but if it feels right to you, and you can afford it, why not go for it? With greater demand such produce should become cheaper and less ‘fringe’ and, if it encourages sustainable and responsible farming practices, it should be especially encouraged
Probably a more urgent look should be taken at what we are using to groom and clean ourselves and our homes. There has been a lot of recent publicity about toxic additives to these products, and a whole now industry producing non-toxic medicinal and grooming products, cosmetics and household cleaning products appears to be having very positive health benefits, as well as lucrative business opportunities. For more information on both these possibilities click here.
The new dementia epidemic
Poor diet and environmental factors are certainly contributing to cancer rates, but as a last insult our longer lives are undoubtedly contributing to the increasing expectation that life will end in cancer or the fog of some form of dementia, rather than a swifter and earlier exit through one of the previous medical scourges.
300,000 Australians currently suffer from dementia, and within the next ten years that figure is forecast to rise by a further 100,000. This is an epidemic that has not only health implications, but dire implications for whether the nation will have either the facilities or the financial resources to cope with it.
There is no cure for dementia at present, although progression of the disease can be slowed for a while by selected medications.
And as the causes are not yet established, it is difficult to know what to do to prevent it. We will probably find over time that diet plays a part, as well as exposure to environmental toxins. Regular movement and exercise seem to have a preventative effect, as does keeping the brain active. For more information, have a look at my post about dementia.
Western Medicine vs Alternative Medicine
It is interesting that Queen Elizabeth II and her family have been strong supporters of homeopathy for many decades. And in Germany medical doctors routinely and undramatically prescribe homeopathic or other ‘alternative’ remedies alongside pharmaceutical medicines.
But in the US disagreement between the conventional and alternative medicine camps has frequently seen battle lines starkly drawn. (Somehow a whiff of vested interests and a lot of money at stake often seems to emanate from such disagreements.)
And as Australia tends to slavishly follow any American model, the pharmaceuticals sector is firmly in the ascendancy here too. But huge amounts are also spent these days on vitamin, nutritional, herbal, weight loss and sports supplements.
We need to ask EVERY practitioner we visit, conventional and alternative, what the possible benefits of a preparation are, and what the side-effects may be. And then WE need to make an informed decision about whether the benefits outweigh the side-effects.
It is not a matter of being an addict of “Dr Google”, which medical doctors seem to be very sensitive about. The doctors are right too, as people diagnosing symptoms from Google descriptions waste doctors’ time and can be dangerous to themselves. But I think some doctors have a tendency to make this dismissive assumption too readily, and a very few seem to see any questioning of prescription or treatment decisions as ‘impertinent’.
But it is not impertinent to be an informed consumer – in the medical field just as in any other area of consumption. Both big pharma medications and alternative medications have received negative publicity about some of their products at times. And most of this has been entirely justified. Even when you know and absolutely respect the competence of your practitioner, you need to make informed decisions about your treatment and be an active partner in your health, not a passive subject of their experimentation.