Transforming Your Life
We have seen the ability to bounce back from stress in many of our most successful mentors, friends, and patients. When they do, they have come out stronger, wiser, and more successful. They have taken a problem that might devastate most people and used it to make themselves—and the world—a better place. To use a well-known phrase, they have turned lemons into lemonade.
In Transformational Medicine, our goal is to optimize physical function, psychological transformation, and spiritual growth to attain true healing.
Healing is a dynamic process. Often the starting point is the diagnosis of a disease or the persistence of symptoms even after treatment. Transformational Medicine usually means working with a health care team. At the center is a physician with whom you can openly discuss both your symptoms and your fears—a doctor you can trust to do an appropriate medical workup and who will refer you to appropriate medical specialists if necessary. However, Transformational Medicine also means looking at other options beyond conventional medicine. Depending on your needs, other health care providers may become part of your team. In our practice, we work with chiropractors, acupuncturists, energy healers, massage therapists, and others who provide healing care.
We have come to realize that we all can move toward well-being by transforming our symptoms of dis-ease or dis-comfort into a new state of better health—and this is an approach we can each apply to our life on a daily basis.
In other words, we would like you to reinterpret your illness as a reminder that you may need to change. This approach will enable you to use each of life’s major problems as a turning point or inflection point to self-correct. We all have the option of changing our trajectory toward either well-being or disease. With this book, we would like to give you the tools to expand your options to create healing and achieve positive change in your life.
Excerpt on Stress management (Star 2) : Tools and Techniques to Help You Transform the Effects of Stress on Your Health and Your Life
Stress is a fact of daily life. Chronic stress is hard to avoid, but it isn’t that hard to learn how to cope with it. You can learn to handle daily stress and stressful events—and you can learn how to be less reactive to old stresses. Moments of peak stress can become transformational moments, times when you make positive changes in your life.
Dealing with Stress
Stress is a challenge to the body, emotions, and mind. Dealing with it takes a toll, but if you have a good understanding of how stress affects you, you are better able to handle it. Based on our experience with our patients, we’ve learned some important lessons for coping with stress. Here are some tips: (1) Aim for a healthy lifestyle. (2) Stress, by its very nature, counteracts a healthy lifestyle. (3) Stress will push you to eat junk food, lose sleep, and set up a cascading wave of chemical damage that will flow throughout your body. (4) In Star 1 we outlined some healthy lifestyle approaches that can become a welcome refuge against stress. (5) In Star 2, we will give specific suggestions on how to tailor your lifestyle to antidote stress.
Mend the mind to mind the body. The mind is a powerful tool, yet it can be both helpful and harmful to you. Developing a different outlook can remarkably reshape your life and literally reformat your body chemistry. In Star 1, we suggested relaxation and meditation techniques that counter stress and promote well-being. In Star 2, we will give you specific techniques that will help you change your perspective.
Restore the body to revitalize the mind. Body chemistry can affect how we look, feel, and think. Learn to treat your body with the respect it deserves. When your body feels vital and alive, so do you. Here in Star 2, we offer suggestions to help your body develop a profound sense of vigor that will help carry you through tougher times. We discuss the use of healing therapies, adaptogenic herbs, and even medications. Always work with a physician who understands the benefits and side effects of the medications you are being prescribed. When working with a practitioner who prescribes nutritional supplements, work with someone who also understands that “natural” doesn’t always mean good or safe. Supplements may have interactions with medications and can cause harm.
Excerpt on Nutrition (Star 3): How to Optimize Your Nutrition and Your Metabolism
- Personalizing Your Diet and Nutrition to Interact Optimally with Your Genes
- Using Supplements Effectively to Optimize Your Metabolism
- Improve Your Immune Function
- Balance Your Body Chemistry
Did you ever think that changing your diet might save your life? You might be nodding your head if you thought about someone who was starving or someone living completely on fast food. But what about you? You may say, “I am eating a good diet!” What if you changed your diet? Would it make a difference?
Growing Healthier with Every Bite
In one paradigm-shifting study published in 2001, patients who had experienced a heart attack were put on either a low-fat diet recommended by the American Heart Association (AHA) or a Mediterranean diet. The AHA diet is essentially standard American fare, with minimal fat intake. A typical Mediterranean diet emphasizes fresh vegetables and fruits and includes whole grains and lentils, with olive oil, fish, and meat in moderation. The researchers found that patients on the Mediterranean diet did so much better than those on the AHA diet that they stopped the study early, feeling it was unethical to deprive half the subjects of the more efficacious diet. The AHA changed their recommendations after this experiment. The study was eye-opening for many of us interested in nutrition. Food can have a profound impact on our health.
It Doesn’t Matter When You Start
Improving your diet at any age can help. Another important study in 2004 found that introducing a Mediterranean diet to seniors between the ages of 70 and 77 resulted in a 50 percent reduction in disease risk, including heart disease, along with a significant reduction in arthritis and other health problems.
If you could take a pill to reduce your risk of degenerative disease by 50 percent, wouldn’t you be rushing to get it? You might even be willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money for it. So why are not make basic, inexpensive changes in your diet to achieve this type of result?
The first step is changing your concept of food. When you eat, you are marinating your cells in nutrients. Your choice of nutrients has a profound affects your body chemistry, often within minutes. Long-term consumption of the wrong foods can result in inflammation, oxidation, and degeneration—the terrible trio we talked about in Ring 3.
Brian Wansink, PhD, professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, has spent a lifetime studying the cues of what makes us overeat. In Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, he describes his ingenious and often funny experiments that show how all of us are influenced by the way food is packaged and presented. In one experiment, called the “bottomless soup bowl,” subjects were served soup in a bowl that kept on filling up through a pipe attached at the bottom of the soup bowl as the soup was eaten. Guess what happened? The people just kept on eating, because their internal “full” register never switched off. Food companies have been quick to realize how much our food intake can be manipulated by labels, smells, environment, textures (such as crunchiness), and a host of other factors. We get supersized, indulged, and overstuffed by a variety of manipulative behaviors. As much as we like to think of ourselves as being conscious of our food intake, most of us rarely are.
Eating while you drive, watch television, or read removes awareness of the act of eating. Interestingly, it is your brain that sets the digestive machinery in process. This happens in response to the look, smell, and texture of foods, which then triggers a cascade of acids, enzymes, and digestive processes that help you assimilate food.
It is important to become aware of how you eat as much as how much you eat. Immerse yourself in the moment as you savor each bite. Really take notice of what your food looks like—as well as its aroma, flavor and texture. Slow down. In our fast paced world, its easy to overlook the importance of the ritual and pleasure of mindful eating.
Diet and Lifestyle Go Together
In Thrive: Find Happiness the Blue Zones Way, Dan Buettner describes areas of the world where people commonly live active lives past the age of 100. He calls these Blue Zones. The areas he studied were Sardinia, Italy; the islands of Okinawa, Japan; Loma Linda, California (a Seventh Day Adventist community); the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica; and the island of Ikaria in Greece. On Ikaria, almost a third of the population lives into their 90s. According to Buettner, Ikarians have about 20 percent lower rates of cancer, 50 percent lower rates of heart disease than people in industrial countries, and almost no dementia. Buettner discusses the common features he found in the Blue Zones. They are:
- Emphasis on the importance of family and social engagement
- Not smoking
- A plant-based diet derived mainly from fresh vegetables and legumes
- Frequent, moderate physical activity
Finding the Right Diet
In modern Westernized countries, we have an almost unlimited supply of food. We are no longer confined to eating local, seasonal foods. The good news is that this gives us a wonderful choice of nutrients. The bad news is that sometimes the choices are overwhelming. Let’s look at what makes a good, nutritionally rich diet.
Excerpt from Ring 5: Your Body As Your Biography: How Pain Can Give You a Different Perspective on Yourself and Your Life
Although acute pain can put us in agony in an instant, it is also a highly effective protective mechanism. If we accidentally put our hand too close to a fire, we abruptly feel pain. This normal physiological response is tied to saving our lives (or our hides). We respond quickly by pulling our hand away from the fire. Modern medicine is very good at using highly effective drugs to relieve acute pain.
The Reality of Chronic Pain
Chronic pain, defined as discomfort that persists for three months or longer, is different from acute pain.
Chronic pain may affect as many as 116 million Americans, but few receive effective treatment for it. Usually, there is a pain generator somewhere in the body, an underlying factor that is causing the problem. It may be the result of an injury or the secondary effect of some other condition present in the body, such as cancer, osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, or endometriosis. It could be generated by a chronically inflamed disc or joint, or it might be coming from a knotted spasm in a muscle, referred to as a trigger point. In any case, the body often interprets that signal as a chronic problem.
Reverberating Pain Signals
Often, chronic pain is like a warning light stuck in the “on” position on your car’s dashboard. You call the dealership, and they tell you not to worry. “It’s just a mild malfunction—come in when you can and we’ll fix it,” they say. Despite this, the warning light continues to bother you. Eventually, you refuse to drive the car, convinced that something is going to happen.
Chronic pain is similar. The warning light is constantly on. Instead of saying, “OK, I know what’s going on. You can switch off now,” the body remains in a hyperalert state, constantly trying to figure out the source of the pain. This hypervigilant state becomes another source of stress, inflaming muscles and nerves and draining the body of energy.
Whatever the original source of the discomfort, the pain is sending a message up to the brain. The brain, once it senses pain, should send a “switch-off” message, an inhibitory signal that travels back down the spinal cord and turns off the pain. In other words, the body should recognize chronic pain and respond, “Oh, I know what that is, it’s the site of my old injury, but I don’t need to worry about it. It’s not going to break, it’s just hurting.”
The “switch-off” or inhibitory signal is affected by your levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine. As discussed earlier, chronic stress depletes these neurotransmitters. When serotonin and norepinephrine levels get too low, the body cannot switch off the pain. This leads to vicious cycles of pain.
Steve Amoils, M.D., and Sandi Amoils, M.D. are Co-Medical Directors of the Alliance Institute for Integrative Medicine (AIIM) in Cincinnati. Now a major national clinic for integrative medicine, AIIM averages over 20,000 patient visits each year. The Amoils and their clinical staff offer integrative therapies and functional medicine assessments in order to recommend lifestyle and nutritional changes that reduce illness and promote well-being. Steve and Sandi are the authors of Get Well & Stay Well: Optimal Health through Transformational Medicine. Learn more about the book and their work at www.getwell-staywell.org.