The personal blog of Frank Lesko. Award-winning writer. Non-profit entrepreneur. Activist. Religious professional. Foodie. Musician. All around curious soul and Renaissance man.

See also my professional blog: The Traveling Ecumenist.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Getting Mad About It (Holistic Medicine)

I have known people with all sorts of conditions--obesity, diabetes, MS, you name it. You would think they would be happy to hear about any new treatment for their condition, even if its an old wives tale or something off the beaten path. Surprisingly often, people not only resist these ideas but get outrageously mad that you would even suggest it. Anybody with me on this?

I can definitely appreciate why people would be sensitive if you try to link their condition to depression and suggest that their illness may be a symptom of their emotional life. I get that--it may still be true, but I can understand why they would be defensive. But to say that it might be linked to diet, exercise or even environmental toxins just causes an uproar as well.

People are so locked into their prescription drugs and whatever their doctor says. Its like they want to be on drugs, some kind of adult umbilical chord. Everything will be okay if I just take these drugs and listen to my doctor. Exercise and healthy eating involves taking an active role in your own health. Maybe changing one's lifestyle is scary.

I love the Egoscue exercises. They are similar to yoga in that they can correct posture and reverse a number of stress injuries (carpal tunnel, etc). They are designed to target issues common for a modern lifestyle. For me, they have been a godsend. All sorts of posture and joint problems just disappear after doing these exercises, and I feel GREAT. I've had anxiety that was so crippling I could barely move, with my body aching. A couple sessions of these exercises and the anxiety is gone--as if it were never there.

These exercises are not wholly accepted by science and would most likely not be recommended if you went to your doctor with carpel tunnel symptoms. They would want to re-wire your wrists and rarely consider that maybe if you didn't slouch all day at the keyboard, pinching the nerves in your shoulder, you wouldn't have any wrist problems--yet slouching is not always something you can just change on a whim, you may need a proper program to get your body to assume its natural and normal posture, again.

Of course, I don't pretend to be able to diagnose anyone's condition. Further, even if lifestyle issues are at play, that doesn't mean anybody knows which factors exactly are causing which illness nor would they know how to reverse each and every condition with certainty. However, to suggest that the data out there might indicate a correlation between lifestyle and environmental factors more than genetic ones is not rocket science. It is worth considering that some people have done very well with non-traditional methods of healing.

If cancer, heart disease, diabetes and MS were genetic ailments you would expect them to occur in similar rates in different historical time periods and in different environments. Yet, it is widely known that rates of certain cancers are rising right now. Heart disease was rare just a couple of generations ago. All of these diseases started rising at exactly the same time when people went from manual labor and farm-fresh foods to a more sedentary lifestyle with packaged foods and chemicals, cleaners, exhaust and pesticides literally everywhere. It is not proven, but there sure seems to be strong environmental triggers at play here. Yet, researchers spend lots of time and money trying to find the "genetic link" or develops drugs to "fix" you.

Look at it from an evolutionary standpoint: Our bodies were designed to live a certain lifestyle and eat a certain diet. Changing all of that suddenly, its no surprise that we are met with all sorts of debilitating diseases. The good news is that this also suggests that getting back to a "whole foods" diet and having amble exercise might be a way to keep ourselves healthy.

I think western medicine is fantastic. No intelligent person should ever try to distance themselves from it completely. However, despite the brilliance of western medicine, there are some cultural assumptions so firmly rooted in the practice of it that doctors often do not even realize it, and if they do, they don't have the tools, education or support structure to do anything about it.

One assumption I'm talking about is the notion that a doctor can invade a patient and forcibly "correct" a condition in order to treat them. So you have drugs and surgeries. Yet, nothing can treat a human body better than the human body. Even the best of medicine only works with the body, not against. There isn't enough talk about prevention and maintaining a healthy body in balance (see The Egoscue Method of Health Through Motion). When you consider the positively insane work schedules of modern American physicians, it is clear that living in a healthy balance is not something practiced, supported nor sought out in potential candidates for physicians.

Hopefully, this is changing. After dissecting the human person into specializatized fields, medicine is once again starting to think of people in holistic terms. You doctor will now be more willing to talk about a complimentary exercise or chiropractic program to accompany their regimen of drugs and surgery. Experts everywhere have been telling us about the benefits of diet and exercise for some time now. Doctors often still talk about them as if they were just a "bonus", just some "extra things you can do" rather than the heart and soul of healthy living, but we're getting somewhere. Baby steps. The potential of diet and exercise to cause and cure illnesses is an area we've only started to mine, in my opinion.

More research needs to be done, for sure. There could be all sorts of reasons why illnesses are happening, and possibly the data out there now is not accurate. But there is so much evidence that lifestyle and environmental issues are deeply involved in modern illnesses that it would be irresponsible for science not to consider them right at the top of the list. As a individual, you should take responsibility for your health and consider that your diet, exercise and exposure to toxins may be a key role in your health--or your illnesses. And don't get mad at me about it.


  1. Whew! Someone musta pissed ya off... =)

    I think holistic medicine is definitely something to consider. For example, did you realize that MS might be something environmental? I've done some research on this topic, since my grandfather had MS and it was a big part of my life growing up to understand that and its affects.

    Anyway, they know a bunch of weird statistics about MS and that it is caused by exposure to a virus at some point in the afflicted person's life, but they don't know when or how long it incubates before it becomes active and starts attacking the myelin in the body's nerves.

    They also know that there are more occurrances of MS in the population as you get closer to the equator. I always remember that statement which I heard during volunteer training for an MS Society event. I've been trying to ponder what conditions are different for nations living on the equator than for everywhere else. Well, obviously, it's hotter near the equator... for whatever that means.

    Also, Colorado is the state in the US with the most occurrances of MS. Does high altitude bring this characteristic out? Or does the virus thrive in extreme conditions? Who knows! It's just odd.

    As far as genetics goes, they think that certain people are suseptible to this virus when exposed while others may not be, and that may be the genetic connection for it.

    It occurs more often in women than it does men, too.

    But we still know so little about how MS develops in people. We have better medicines these days for slowing the processes down so that people can live longer with it and remain mobile.

    Environment may well be the cause for this disease.

    I have asthma and I know that it is largely determined by the environment and that incidents of asthma have grown in the last decade, which they think may be linked the chemicals in our food (not to mention pollution levels). I live with chronic asthma, not the kind that results in asthma attacks (not to say that couldnt happen someday). My asthma is just enough to cause me to weeze sometimes when huffing up hills on my bike... and make my lungs feel heavy after a lot of strenuous activity.

    Of course, I might have worsen my asthma through smoking... shame on me... (I have made a conscience effort to quit totally, even tough all I ever was was a social smoker... value my lungs and the link between emphysema and smoking HAS been proven.)

    Anyway, I totally agree with you. There are definitely some holistic methods that have proven affective with many chronic illnesses and problems... We need to learn to balance the western medicine with some of the holistic approaches available out there. Each one in and of itself may not be the answer, but combined therapies may prove more effective than each type of therapy alone...

  2. I think there is most definitely a link between environmental factors and illness.

    The scary part is trying to discern what is the culprit and what is ok. Today I was putting jelly on some toast and as I dipped my spoon in the container the thought came to mind that I think glass is considered safe, I wonder if the metal cap is safe- most recent research indicates that plastics are of concern.

    We are definitely growing more aware of our circumstances and how they contribute to our health- but now can we manage ourselves with the knowledge?

    I do know one thing- you are right about nutrition and exercise. It is a sure way to increase the likelihood that you will be healthy.

    So why is it so hard to do what is right for you?

  3. People look at me like I'm crazy when I tell them I went to Naturopathic Doctors during my pregnancy (they were also my midwives). I used Arnica to recover from the birth along with an herbs, and during my pregnancy I used milk thistle to help my body flush out toxins (the suite next to my office was remodeling and I got to small paint, carpet glue, etc.). People give me even crazier looks when I tell them I had an unmedicated all natural birth out of the hospital with no epidural. We are going to a pediatrician for my son that is a ND and an MD and they practice homeopathy. We've used garlic mullin when our son has colds and this has prevented ear infections. He's 1 year old and no antibiotics yet!

  4. Sarah,

    Good to hear about your experiences with natural medicines and such. Not having any antibiotics is a good thing, for sure!

    The hard part about these treatments is that people don't know how to use them or how to pick which ones are beneficial and which ones are not--there ARE some quacks out there, so a person needs to be vigilant not to fall for a scam. More study needs to be done on this.

  5. I am lucky to live in Seattle, where we have Bastyr University, a great medical school where one can become an Acupuncturist or Naturopathic Doctor. I asked friends for recommendations of ND's and midwives as there are quacks out there. I should note, I also took antibiotics twice during my pregnancy when it was neccessary, I didn't want to develop pneumonia when trying to get rid of a bad bout of bronchitis. The ND's recommended herbs for it, but I knew it was bad bronchitis so I went to my primary care MD for antibiotics. I use natural medicine whenver possible, and I strive to research about the herbs I use. I can confidently say I feel much better since I've started using acupuncture and alternative medicine.