YOUR LIFE IS IN YOUR HANDS
An Introduction to Medical Wellness Today
by Benedict Francis D. Valdecañas, MD, MSc, FPOA, FPCS
Medical Director, Aegle Wellness Center
Did you know that the human body is meant to last for a hundred and fifty years? Yes, that's right, that perfectly designed piece of biologic machinery can withstand more than a century of wear and tear provided it's maintained to repair itself the way it was designed to. If we were to look at the ageing process as a race between the degenerative breakdown of your bodily parts and the regenerative, reparative processes the body was designed to undergo due to daily wear and tear, we could better understand how to best take care of this exquisite piece of machinery we call the human body.
It is unfortunate that this human machinery does not come with an owner's manual just like your car does. But wait, when did you ever sit down and leaf through the operation manual of your new car? Maybe The Grand Architect didn't even bother to give us an owner's manual because we wouldn't read it anyway. But throughout the history of mankind, we sort of learned, and are still learning, how to take care of it… the hard way. During the 1940s, the average life expectancy was 50. Now that it's 75, we must be doing something right. Slowly, we are learning how to help the body along in repairing itself the way it was designed to – and we have more centenarians now than five decades ago.
But what happens when the body gets tired of repairing itself? Why does it even have to keep setting things right? Because you—yes, you—keep derailing it from how it was designed to function in the first place.
You Are How You Live
Illnesses set in when the body fails to either keep disease away or recover from an overwhelming one. The fact of the matter is that most diseases that man develops throughout a lifetime are preventable: diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, even cancer.
As all diseases are both genetic and environmental—yes, all— there is also that fast proven fact that carefully managing one's environment can control the manifestation of one's genetic predispositions. For example, even if one possesses the genes for diabetes mellitus (type 2) from both parents, avoiding simple sugars in one's diet will keep this disease from developing. A rather simpler example would be smoking and heart disease; if you don't smoke, you lessen the chances of getting a heart attack even if both parents succumbed to it.
These preventable diseases, illnesses we develop because of how we live our lives, are what we call lifestyle diseases. Historically, these are commonly caused by alcohol, drug, and smoking abuse just as much as lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating. Then there's the notably increasing incidence of cancer. Is it because of the way we live our lives, what we eat, what we are now exposed to? Or has the fact that we live longer now uncovered a totally new paradigm with regard to this age-old killer? But one basic principle now stands to be challenged; regardless of your genetic makeup, the diseases you develop throughout your lifetime hinge more on how you lived your life.
You and the Foundations of Wellness
Let us take a look at the three general areas to improve on in your lifestyle to minimize the risk of developing disease, something I like to call the Foundations of Wellness: proper nutrition, regular exercise, and personalized supplementation. Focusing on these three areas will not only help you keep yourself healthy, but also help you enjoy all the things you want to eat and do just by maintaining a balancing act of sorts. Some people like to call this moderation. But knowledge of what is good and not good for you is essential to this balancing act, and that is where most people fall short.
Diet for Life: Proper Nutrition
I'm pretty sure everyone is familiar with the now overused quote from the great Greek philosopher and physician Hippocrates, "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." That wouldn't be difficult to understand considering that food is the part of the environment we put inside our bodies. What we eat not only dictates what nutrients and substances our body receives to use in repairing itself, it also consists of what can harm the body and hinder self-healing all the more. When we talk about diet, it basically means what we eat on a daily basis, our staple meals. Hence, diet should be something that you can sustain for life, not just a means of achieving a desired weight. How did you gain all that weight in the first place? Knowing exactly how much food your body needs is the first step. Then start eliminating food that makes you feel bloated right after; everyone has specific food sensitivities and, short of doing an immunology test, your gut feel (pardon the pun) is the most reliable assessment. Statistically, most guts get inflamed with grains and dairy; your basic gluten and milk intolerance. Last step is to sit down with a nutritionist and work on a meal plan that you can adhere to including all your favorite food in a delicate but practical balance.
Move to Improve: Regular Exercise
Our bodies were designed to move. Fossils of our early ancestors rarely showed arthritic joints, much unlike what I see in my clinic today; x-rays with signs of arthritis are a dime a dozen nowadays. It's a common misconception that people with the heaviest manual jobs are the ones who end up with arthritis. On the contrary, sedentary people who hardly move from their desks get arthritis more and even earlier. Nourishment of our joint linings, our cartilage, results from a pumping action of the joint itself. Simply put, no movement means no nourishing and lubricating joint fluid. Next to benefit from constant movement is your heart and lungs, but that's age-old knowledge. A good regular exercise program is an hour of your day every day: half an hour on the treadmill or stationary bicycle and half an hour doing stretching and strengthening exercises on machines or just using your body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups. An hour a day is a small investment to guard against a ten thousand dollar heart bypass or an eight thousand dollar knee replacement.
Supplement to Betterment: Personalized Supplementation
How can your body heal itself when it cannot get the nutrient raw materials to do so? And believe me, you do not get everything your body needs from your diet no matter how well-balanced you think it is. This has been the topic of so much controversy in the medical world. But going back to the basics of understanding the way the cell—the foundation of all life on the planet—functions can convince even the most resistant of physicians that each and every life process of the human body is dependent on elemental minerals and substances that are not all present in the food we eat. Most people I know who supplement on a regular and constant basis hardly ever fall prey to viral or bacterial illnesses; they hardly catch colds, flu does not afflicts them for years, and their injuries heal faster than most individuals who don't take vitamins regularly. The important point with regard to supplementation is to do it wisely. Don't be a sucker for every tonic that claims eternal life, so to speak. Have your doctor help you understand your blood chemistry results. Or have a laboratory run your micronutrient deficiencies. This is the intelligent way of knowing which vitamins you need to supplement with and which you do not need.
You are the only one who can be responsible for your health. I know, I know – this is easy for me, a specialized physician, to say. But it doesn't take a rocket scientist, or a medical degree for that matter, to understand how your own body works. Be sensitive to your body and what it's telling you; heartburn, a post-nasal drip, a cough that doesn't seem to go away, a pesky recurrent migraine, all these things are calls for help sent by your body that there is something you need to change in your lifestyle. We physicians are just here to guide you and help you understand what's happening. Your life is basically in your hands. Be responsible for it. Besides, we only have one.
This article was originally published on Alphaland Atmospheres Issue No. 1
Dr. Valdecañas is a specialist in regenerative medicine research for both hospital-based programs and clinical applications. He utilizes the latest findings and innovations that molecular biology has to offer in optimizing health and human performance through customized micronutrient supplementation, personalized exercise programs, and careful attention to diet and nutrition.