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The Surest Way To Improve Your Health
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on May 11, 2015
If pressed to name just one thing that you can do to improve your health, it would be this:
Don't ignore discomfort; whenever you don't feel well, try to identify and address the root cause(s) of your symptoms.
Conventional medical practice would have us believe that prevention entails being diligent in going for regular diagnostic testing. This is screening for disease once it is already well under way; it is nothing remotely close to exercising true prevention of disease.
Consider undergoing a colonoscopy and finding widespread inflammation, ulceration, and polyps. These findings indicate that your gastrointestinal tract has been stressed beyond its normal capacity for a long while now, likely years.
What do you mean this has been going on for a long time? If I was developing these ulcers and polyps years ago, wouldn't I have felt something?
Here's the thing: all of us have unique genetic dispositions that dictate how much feedback we receive from our organs. But by and large, all of us do experience warning symptoms, the most common symptoms of gastrointestinal distress being stomach pain, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, and excessive gas. Mucous or blood in the stools are more obvious signs of an unhappy GI tract.
Rather than carefully consider which foods are the root causes of these and other common symptoms, many of us come to accept them as being normal, or just annoyances that are easily brushed away with over-the-counter or prescription meds.
If you experience stomach discomfort in any form after a meal, it's important to consider the possibility that your GI tract may not be able to properly digest something you ate.
Sounds simple, right?
Sadly, I have seen literally thousands of people over the years who just don't do this. They haven't been taught to try to figure out which foods and drinks allow them to feel comfortable, and which of their daily food choices create discomfort.
Like the 48-year old female nurse who, in reporting chronic bloating and excessive gas production for the better part of her adult years, was astounded to lose 25 pounds in two months and have her abdomen feel perfectly comfortable after committing to avoiding all dairy and gluten.
Or the 28-year old post office worker whose decade-long battle with cystic acne melted away within two months of staying away from all highly processed foods and eating nothing but vegetables (raw and cooked), fruits, legumes, rice, quinoa, millet, potatoes, hard squashes, organic eggs, salmon, almonds, and soups made with a wide variety of vegetables and beans.
For these and countless other people I have worked with, until they took time to understand the intimate connection between their diet and health, it wasn't obvious to them that they couldn't restore their health without identifying and avoiding foods that their bodies were not tolerating.
But I've never eaten a food that has made my stomach unhappy - my abdomen feels perfectly comfortable all the time, so why do I still have problems with my heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, hair, joints, nose, ears, and pharynx?
It's possible that your genetic disposition is such that your GI feedback system isn't as sensitive as that of the average person. But it's more likely that over time, your feedback mechanisms have given up, much like how a smoker's body gradually stops giving feedback via coughing, mucous production, and tearing of the eyes as the smoker continues inhaling tobacco.
So while you may not experience gas, bloating, and abnormal bowel movements when you ingest foods that your body can't optimally use, don't be fooled into thinking that these foods can't contribute to a wide range of health problems.
That's right - having a latte or yogurt or any other food made with pasteurized and homogenized dairy on a daily basis may be the sole cause of your recurrent sinusitis, nasal congestion, ear infections, laryngitis, eczema, hyperhidrosis, joint pain, itchy skin, or other types of inflammation. It's possible that pasteurized and homogenized dairy isn't a root cause of your chronic health woes, but the point is that it serves you well to be open to this possibility and to carefully observe the timing of your flare-ups in relation to the foods that you eat.
In my experience, in the absence of regular exposure to an obvious household or environmental toxin, dairy and gluten are the two most common root instigators of an inflammatory response in the body. So where there is a chronic or recurrent health challenge, I strongly encourage my clients to go 60 to 90 days without any dairy or gluten and to observe how their bodies react.
How in the world can dairy or gluten cause some area in my body that is far removed from my gastrointestinal tract to get inflamed?
Casein and whey in pasteurized and homogenized dairy, as well as gluten in many grains are not the same nutrients that they were on the farm fifty or more years ago; today, with factory farming and genetically modified organisms, they are grossly adulterated pseudo-nutrients that act as antigens that stimulate antigen-antibody complex formation.
Put another way, for most of us, intake of casein, whey, and gluten stimulates inflammation. As your body tries to encapsulate and eliminate these antigen-antibody complexes within your bloodstream, some of them inevitably get deposited in your tissues, where they cause inflammation and damage; which tissues tend to receive the most deposits varies from person to person and may be determined by genetic predisposition. In any case, this is how regular intake of homogenized and pasteurized dairy and gluten can create chronic or recurrent inflammation anywhere in your body.
Of course, this is just part of what happens when you ingest foods that you can't use. The main idea to digest is this: when any aspect of your health is suffering, your first thought should be to identify foods and drinks in your diet that may be the root stimuli of inflammation.
What's the big deal? Even if the cream in my three cups of coffee and the many servings of wheat products that I eat daily are causing inflammation, if I can manage my discomfort with medication, why can't I continue to enjoy myself?
This is precisely the road that many people choose to take. They'd rather continue to stick with the status quo of eating and drinking their comfort foods and beverages, and leave it to their doctors and medications to deal with uncomfortable symptoms that come up.
Regrettably, choosing this road inevitably leads to worsening of overall health. Taking pain medication might numb you to inflammation brought on by foods that your body can't optimally use, but your organs have to pay the price that comes with dealing with these undesirable substances.
Let's give dairy and gluten a break for a moment and consider the effects of regularly eating sugary foods or meats that are cooked at high temperatures - eating such foods is a reliable way to put significant strain on your liver. Unfortunately, your liver isn't designed to produce clear feedback; it's a mighty resilient organ that has to process the bulk of the nutrients that enter your bloodstream from your diet, so your liver does its best to parry the burden of excess sugar, damaged cholesterol, and free radical-laden fatty acids while continuing on with its processing responsibilities.
After several years of being stressed by a poor diet, you might see the effects of liver dysfunction as jaundice. Or you might find out from your physician that your abdominal exam and blood work show signs of a fatty liver - that is, a state of enlargement from chronic abuse.
If you continue to ingest foods and beverages that are harmful to your liver, all in the name of continuing to live life to the fullest, you'll likely develop enough scar tissue within your liver to cause liver failure, a condition called cirrhosis.
To reiterate the central point: the best way to improve your health is to be alert to what your body is telling you on a moment-to-moment basis. No physician in this world is more capable of restoring and maintaining your health than you. You have to figure out how to eat and live in a way that allows you to be emotionally balanced, mentally alert, physically fit, and physically comfortable. You have to decide that it's not normal to live with chronic aches and pains, and that each "niggle" is your body letting you know that something within your life has activated an inflammatory response.
If you're sufficiently inspired to minimize premature aging and illness by being mindful of your daily food choices, you might find the following list of nutrient-dense foods to be worth reviewing; these are foods that are typically well digested by the masses. But as you go through this list, please keep in mind that you still have to stay alert to your body's feedback and make adjustments as necessary.
Millet (actually a seed, but typically used like a grain)
Yellow, red, and green onions
Please keep in mind that your digestive capacity changes all the time. The goal is to consistently choose foods that leave you feeling light and comfortable within. If your GI tract is currently in a weakened state i.e. if you regularly experience stomach pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, constipation, or other common symptoms of indigestion, initially, you might find that your body prefers mainly cooked foods, as heat breaks down natural fibers in plant foods, rendering them easier to digest; any loss in heat-sensitive nutrients is more than compensated for by better overall digestion.
What about nutrient-rich plant foods that aren't on the list above, foods like tomatoes, eggplant, potatoes, fennel, spinach, kale, and organic soy? Or what about "clean" animal foods like organic eggs, raw, organic dairy, wild fish, and organically raised flesh meats? And how about common nuts and seeds?
All of these other foods may be just fine for your physiology. As your appetite dictates, you can try any minimally processed foods that are available to you. If you listen, and I mean really listen, your body will let you know which foods can remain on your menu for now. Keep in mind that just because a particular food doesn't work today doesn't mean that you can't have it at some point in the future. I've had countless clients whose tolerances changed as their health changed. Stay open and listen.
Also keep in mind that a fair test for any food requires that you chew well (until liquid is best) and that you are physically and emotionally at rest as you're eating. Without these conditions, a food that your body is perfectly capable of digesting and using as healthy fuel may remain partially undigested in your GI tract, which is the beginning of trouble.
If you're looking to make a dedicated effort to getting comfortable and healthy from the inside-out, it's best that you keep your diet simple, meaning that you shouldn't eat too many types of foods in one sitting. Initially, you might even try eating just one food per meal. For example, you could try eating three bananas for breakfast on day one. Then have two bananas and half an avocado on day two. The day after that, assuming that you felt comfortable with both bananas and avocados, you can add blueberries, or perhaps some organic eggs. By adding just one new food at a time in this systematic way, you have a good shot at attributing any symptoms of discomfort to specific choices.
If this effort is unrealistic given your circumstances, just try avoiding all forms of dairy and gluten - this action step is often enough to allow dramatic improvement in health.
Yes, I have seen recurrent ear infections go away on a dairy-free diet.
Yes, I have witnessed eczema disappear on a dairy-free diet.
Yes, I have had clients who made full recoveries from irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn's after eliminating gluten and dairy from their lives.
Yes, I have had patients who were urged to consider joint replacement surgery return to playing tennis three times a week (with their original joints) after moving to a plant-centered diet, free of dairy, gluten, and processed sugar.
Yes, I have seen chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia become non-issues within two to three months of avoiding dairy and gluten and proper supplementation with vitamin D-3.
I could go on, but the point is this: what you put in your mouth each day is arguably the single greatest determinant of the health of all of your body parts - your skin, hair, eyes, nose, sinuses, ears, mouth, throat, all of your internal organs, glands, joints, nervous system, and any other group of cells not mentioned here.
If you have a health problem and you're serious about getting well, it is so worthwhile to give full priority to figuring out which foods to eat and which ones to avoid.
I hope that this post proves to be useful.
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