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Work On The Largest Determinants Of Your Health First

The other day, I spoke briefly with someone looking to address chronic edema in her legs. It was clear that she had been to the moon and back in her quest to find a solution, and despite all of her efforts, her condition had remained essentially unchanged over 20 years.

I asked her some questions to see about ruling out congestion and dysfunction of her kidneys, as well as her circulatory and lymphatic systems, and her earnest answers left me no closer to identifying the likely root cause of her edema.

Ultimately, I told her that the best that I could suggest was to look at what she could do to reach and maintain a healthier body weight for her structure (she was about 50 pounds away from this goal).

The truth is that carrying around this amount of excess weight is a significant burden to all major organ systems, and to address this issue above all else is a logical approach to many health challenges, including chronic edema.

For this particular person and her circumstances, I know physician colleagues who would run a battery of blood and imaging tests to pinpoint a problem in the kidneys, heart, or liver, and follow testing up with focal treatment of the one organ that they considered most likely the source of her edema.

In my way of thinking, even if her edema is being caused by kidney dysfunction, removing 50 unneeded pounds is guaranteed to help her kidneys function more effectively. The same goes for a congested liver, troublesome heart valve, and just about all other specific health problems that might be contributing to her chronic edema.

Of course, she knows this. The questions are what is fuelling the decisions that are maintaining her current body weight, and what can she do to consistently make different choices that better serve her health?

In discussing this, it became clear that she has has long carried a mountain of sadness and probably resentment as well, all related to the expectations and demands of elders in her family. Being East Indian and not having been raised in western culture, she never did get to a point where she emphatically decided that she was being treated unfairly. She never flipped a finger to her parents and completely walked away to preserve herself and find personal fulfillment.

Does chronic angst in a situation like hers lead to a lifestyle (food, activity, sleep, nature of other relationships) that can create and maintain excess body weight and related health challenges like edema?

I strongly believe it can. And as a health care provider and fellow human being, it makes perfect sense to me to have her examine this component of her life above all other action steps as a means to addressing her edema.

This isn't to say that maintaining a healthier body weight for her height over the long term is guaranteed to resolve her edema. I just feel that it's the best initial approach because this path should lead to lasting overall improvement in her health. And she won't have to suffer through effects of various therapies that are chemically stressful, physically injurious, and expensive.

Just food for thought, with the take home suggestion being this:

When looking to address any health problem, think first about the most simple, fundamental changes you can make to give your body a chance to heal itself. Specifically, think about getting more physical and emotional rest, working toward being physically fit and flexible, nourishing your body with nutrient-rich foods, avoiding foods and beverages that provide little nutrient-value, and spending your time with people who don't consistently bring you down. You may end up needing more specialized treatment as well, but I can promise you that your efforts to simplify and address these largest determinants of your health will not go to waste.


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