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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Health is Wealth

Wednesday January 26, 2011

Health is wealth

By Dr C.S. FOO

The key to health and longevity is finding the trigger to demolish the barrier to a healthier and better life.

IN sitcoms, there is often an episode that plays flashbacks to consolidate the storyline. For those who had joined our tour from the beginning, we have discussed the four pillars of true health. Knowing the benefits of exercise, appropriate lifestyle habits, healthy dietary choices, and a science-based approach to supplementation is still not good enough. It is the keying in of the right digits that opens the combination lock of the door to optimal health that makes the difference.

The secret behind health and disease, life and death, lies within the 100 trillion cells in the body, which are the miracles of life itself. When cells are subjected to toxic and free radical burden, the body fights back with its own artillery, nature's own immune and antioxidant defence system.

The roots of many chronic diseases are man-made. Never in the history of mankind have we seen such an escalating incidence of heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, cancer, and a host of other degenerative diseases. What is worrying is that these conditions are afflicting a younger segment of the population today. Part of the blame is on highly processed foods, a sedentary lifestyle, and overindulgence of the "good life".

Bloated trend: The 24-hour eateries have spawned a peculiar generation who do not sleep, but eat round the clock!

The three stooges

The three main culprits that strain our biological machinary, clogging and damaging the various parts, are glycaemic (sugar), oxidative (free radicals), and inflammation (as a response to both) stress.

In days of antiquity, these were of no issue as the body's homeostatic (balance) forces were well equipped to deal with such nuisances. However, modern man has designed a detrimental path of living that has overwhelmed the architect of life's natural endowment plan, leaving cracks in the only home that we reside in, namely, our body.

If I may assume, one may agree that all this information is great stuff, but what does one do with it? Public education, at best, may manage to stir a minority from naïve slumber, create awareness among the uninformed, providing reading fodder for health students tasked to write an essay, but to the indifferent lot, it ends up as recycleable trash.

On a larger scale, we were warned about the rising statistics of heart disease, diabetes, and obesity decades ago, and instead of seeing a downward trend, Malaysia is now the sixth "fattest" nation among Asian countries.

In other words, we have unwittingly become the most obese South-East Asian nation! The 24-hour eateries have spawned a peculiar generation who do not sleep, but eat round the clock.

No amount of health education can reverse this trend. Information not transformed into action remains of theoretical benefit. And what is worse, it often dissipates as quickly as it is disseminated. There is not enough reason and urgency to ditch a "cool and fun lifestyle". Interestingly, some do make a U-turn when they experience a trigger, usually a "pain" of major proportion.

Holding a hot object with bare hands sends an unbearable sensation to the brain, resulting in an action of withdrawal, thereby enabling the escape from pain. This is a reflex reaction. However, a host of chronic and "silent" diseases do not induce the acute pain that triggers an urgent need to respond.

The majority of us live our life by default when we have true health (no detectable disease). In the stage of false health (early indicators present), we often reel in denial. When sickness descends, we adopt a false sense of security, assuming that there will be a pill for every ill. So the question in mind is: why do I need to change?

No one, be it the Government or an individual, can change another, as self-alteration can only come from within. However, it is not a word to be taken lightly as it can turn the face of a mountain sulking in the east to smile at the setting sun in the west.

The current US president stamped his mark in history by defying the odds and turning improbabilities into possibilities, on a platform of change. Change is the most powerful tool that determines which side of the planet we stand on, the watershed of good health and poor health, wealth and poverty, happiness or despair. It is made possible by switching that menu in the head ... the "mind-set".

Breaking down barriers

As part of our innate psychological defense mechanism, we build a wall around us to obstruct change, which in our mind is perceived as an unfamiliar and even uncomfortable action. Behind that wall is the entrance to opportunities that can lead to the path to health, wealth, and happiness.

The key is to find the reason or trigger to demolish the barrier to a healthier and better life. Admittedly, my own wall was especially thick for most of my life, but one day it came crumbling down, and when it vanished, a will of change turned everything around. Here I ask you to break down that barrier.

Remember the words here today and revisit them a decade later. If someone out there with the metabolic syndrome takes heed and action TNT (today, not tomorrow), and is able to avert the premature onset of diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease, who knows, we may get a "thank you" note 10 years from now.

Why is change perceived as uncomfortable? Most of us do not fancy new disciplines and readjusting. Doing regular exercises, practising healthy lifestyle habits, being conscious of food choices and consuming the right nutritional supplements need a major renovation of attitudes.

Triggers of change

A trigger for change has to evoke a higher sense of consciousness that generates a special thought process called inspiration, without which there would be no action. If the goal is optimal health, one must be inspired enough to dive into the water and swim towards it.

A perfect house undergoes "wear and tear". Our home, the body, is battered on a daily basis and also needs repair and maintenance. With biological ageing and deterioration, our abode degenerates into a state of dilapidation if left unattended.

Feeling "beyond your age", "under the weather", an expanding waistline, abnormal medical tests, should serve as an impetus for a change.

A more emphatic trigger would be a hazardous brush with mortality, or the witnessing of a close one in jeopardised well being or near death. However, humans often return to port (old ways) once the storm is over.

Even after defining the trigger or the reason for change, change may not take effect as there are many roadblocks ahead. These common obstructions would throw us a constant challenge, and if not removed, would certainly block our path to optimum health. They are often in the form of an excuse or old habit. Resistance also comes in the guise of preconceived ideas of "what is right for me".

The time-honoured excuses for not exercising are "no time", "lack of amenities", "too hot/too cold", "too tired", "no company" and "boring", among others.

We can spend 20 minutes driving to breakfast, wait 15 for the grub, and another 10 to down it. On the other hand, if we exercise for 20 minutes and take a three-minute breakfast (a healthy shake), we can save 15 minutes every day!

When it comes to diet, the debate gets a little heated as one rushes to the defence of the palate. Among the common rebuttals: "No meaning if I have to watch my diet", "I cannot stand it if I don't have food on time", "healthy foods are boring", "my doctor gave me a clean bill of health", etc.

The bad news is, many of today's health problems are directly caused by excesses and imbalances in our diet and there is no good news so long as we ignore the fact that consuming the wrong stuff is the root of modern maladies.

Small frequent meals of low glycaemic carbohydrates, good fats, and plant-based proteins is the key to good health.

If the discussion of exercise and diet is "energetic", the discordant topic of nutritional supplements is a confused battlefield. To many, including health professionals, supplements are "a waste of time", "expensive urine", "bedpan bullets", "nothing more than placebo", "we get all we need in our food", "a balanced diet is good enough", etc.

There are some truths here. For example, studies have found that not all supplements are the same. In a Canadian report, as high as 50% of multivitamin supplements on the market did not even disintergrate within the stipulated time (USP standard).

There is an evolving trend of more practitioners using nutrients to prevent and even treat diseases, spawning the tag "nutraceuticals". Omega 3, calcium, vitamin Bs, glucosamine, co-enzyme Q10, have made their way into prescription pads. The adage "doctors do not believe in supplements" is on its way to extinction.

Change begins with you

Total change cannot be overcome overnight. Identifying the needs and pulling the trigger is a jumpstart to a new you, but to maintain consistency in new habits, the many roadblocks have to be removed.

Creating awareness through health education is merely hammering the nail to the wall. It is the recipient who hangs the frame, and one might ask, "What kind of picture is my health 15 years down the road?"

Sadly, nine out of 10 will not pull the trigger, and that is why the disease industry will continue to flourish. The 10% who make the change today will live life in optimal health, with no regrets.

Which way we turn in a paradigm shift is determined by a curious box in the head called the "mind", which houses seeds of emotions, fear, perception, etc. Health is our fortune. Poverty is not pulling that trigger!

Dr C.S. Foo is a medical practitioner. For more information, email starhealth@thestar.com.my.


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