You already know this problem: Humans are in the midst of the worst chronic disease epidemic ever faced in our history.
- Americans are the biggest consumer of weight loss products (80%) in the world, yet still lead the world in obesity and unhealthy lifestyle.
- More than 70% of adults across the United States are already being diagnosed with a chronic disease and more than 75% of the nation’s healthcare cost being spent on managing and treating these conditions.
- Nearly every single chronic condition you can think of will not successfully be treated with prescription drugs or surgery. They can only offset the symptoms. This list includes: cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, infertility, hypertension, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, stress, and many more.
- Heart Disease continues to kill more people than any other condition despite the fact that more drugs and surgeries are being performed to treat it than ever before
- Cancer continues to skyrocket and we are spending billions trying to treat it.
Reality Check: We are not getting obliterated by war, famine or disease spread from one person to the next. Today, billions are suffering from biological imbalance. Unfortunately, there’s every sign that things are going to get worse before they get better.
Today is the first generation of kids in modern history that’s expected to live shorter lifespans than their parents. If current trends continue, in two decades, 95 percent of Americans would be overweight and one in three would have diabetes.
So what needs to change?
We need a new approach to medicine, one that emphasizes healthcare over disease management. What would such a new medicine look like?
It would have three characteristics.
- It would recognize the exposome as the primary driver of health.
- It would embrace an evolutionary and ancestral perspective.
- It would apply a functional medicine approach to care.
So let’s look at each of these in a little more detail.
The Human Exposome is the Primary Driver of Health
The exposome is a concept originally proposed by Dr. Christopher Wild in 2005, and it refers to the sum of all nongenetic exposures in an individual lifetime, starting from the moment of our conception through the moment of our death.
For decades it seemed as though genetics would hold the key to human health and disease. Unfortunately, those promises didn’t really pan out. The limitations of using genes to predict and prevent disease became apparent pretty early on (especially following the sequencing of our entire genome in 2003.
Ironically, Craig Venter, who was one of the first to sequence the human genome, was also one of the first to recognize its limitations when he said, “We simply don’t have enough genes for this idea of biological determinism to work.”
We now know that genetics accounts for less than 20 percent of human disease and that the remaining causes are environmental, which is to say, they’re related to the exposome.
The exposome encompasses the food we eat, the air we breathe, social interactions, lifestyle choices, and inherent metabolic and cellular activity.
So what does this all mean?
The bad news is that the choices our parents and even our grandparents made affect our disease risk and our health and that choices that we’ve made—perhaps before we knew as much as we know now—affect our children’s and even grandchildren’s health.
The good news is that genes are not our destiny. Genes have an influence over our health, but changes we make in real time can affect our gene expression and, not only our own health, but if we’re still procreating, our children’s health and their children’s health.
Not everybody who has genetics that predispose them to a higher risk of a particular disease actually go on to acquire that disease or die early, and the environment or the exposome is almost certainly the main factor that determined which of those people that were at higher risk got sick and which stayed well.
So while we can’t control what our parents or grandparents did or our genes, we can control these diet, lifestyle, and environmental influences.
Embracing our Ancestry is Essential for Health
For 66,000 generations, humans ate primarily meat and fish, wild fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and some starchy plants. We were physically active. We didn’t sit for long periods.
We lived in sync with the natural rhythms of light and dark in direct contact with nature and in close-knit tribal and social groups. Both our ancestors and contemporary hunter–gatherers who have been studied were lean, fit, and remarkably free of chronic inflammatory disease. They were also superior to us in nearly every measure of health and fitness, from body mass index to blood pressure to insulin sensitivity to oxygen consumption to vision to bone density.
You might be thinking, “So what? Why should we care about the health of our Paleo ancestors? They all died when they were 30 years old.” It’s true that our Paleo ancestors did have shorter life spans on average, but those averages don’t consider challenges that are largely absent from modern life, including high rates of infant mortality, warfare, trauma, accidents, exposure to the elements, and a complete lack of emergency medical care.
Studies have shown that when these factors were considered, contemporary hunter–gatherers and our ancestors lived life spans that were closely equivalent to our own today, but the difference is that they reached these ages without acquiring the inflammatory diseases that characterize our old age. They didn’t have obesity. They didn’t have heart disease. No diabetes, gout, hypertension, or most cancers. In other words, if our ancestors survived the threat of early childhood and escaped the threat of trauma, they lived long and healthy lives.
So, what happened? What transformed us from a healthy, vital people largely free of chronic disease to a sick, fat, and unhealthy people?
It was a one-two punch, and agriculture was the first blow.
Scientist Jared Diamond calls agriculture “the worst mistake in human history.” Hunter– gatherers were virtually guaranteed a healthy diet because of the diversity and nutrient density of the foods they ate, but once humans settled down and started farming, there was a major shift in our diet. In short – refined carbs went up and quality fibrous vegetable, fat and protein consumption went down.
Vitamin shortages also became common. Our new diet relied heavily on a limited set of crops such as wheat, rice, and corn, and it was lower in more nutrient-dense animal products. This led to diseases such as beriberi, pellagra, rickets, and scurvy that are caused by nutrient deficiency and were rare in hunter–gatherers but became much more common in people living in agricultural societies.
We also saw an increase in tooth decay and anemia due to iron deficiency, increases in infant mortality, and decreases in average bone density. All of these diseases, again, were rarely experienced by our hunter–gatherer ancestors.
The second blow was the Industrial Revolution.
There is no doubt that agriculture led to an overall decline in human health, but the Industrial Revolution was really the knockout punch. It brought us to where we are today when white sugar, flour, and vegetable oil make up over 50 percent of the calories that the average American consumes on a daily basis. We’re more sedentary than we’ve ever been before.
We sit while we work and increasingly even sit while we play. We’re chronically sleep deprived. A third of Americans sleep fewer than six hours per night, which is up from just 2 percent in 1965. We’re working harder than ever. American men and women are working 12 to 13 hours more per week today than we were in 1968. Stress levels are off the chart for most people.
We don’t feel like we have enough time for rest and leisure, and even when we do go on vacation, many of us compulsively check our email and social media accounts.
Finally, many of us live and work in isolating and alienating social environments that are disconnected from the natural world we evolved in and from other people.
The profound mismatch between our genetic heritage and the modern environment that we live in today is responsible for the epidemic of modern disease that we’re suffering from, and it also explains why the Paleo diet and lifestyle have helped so many people.
A Functional Approach to Medicine & Optimizing Health
The third principle of achieving health is that it applies a functional medicine approach to care.
As I said before, conventional medicine has some amazing characteristics. It’s remarkable in terms of trauma and emergency medicine and acute care, but again, I think we can all agree it’s not very good at treating chronic disease, which is the number-one problem that we face today.
Functional medicine is investigative. It treats symptoms by addressing the root of the problem, which leads to more profound and longer-lasting results, whereas conventional medicine tends to be more superficial, in that it masks or suppresses symptoms but doesn’t address the underlying cause, and this tends to create patients for life.
For example, if you have high blood pressure, you get on a drug to lower it, and you’re basically told to take that for the rest of your life, and the same is true for high cholesterol.
Functional medicine tends to be more holistic. It treats the body as an interconnected whole, and we recognize that in order to treat one part, all other parts must be addressed, whereas conventional medicine is more dualistic. It views the body as a collection of separate parts. In fact, there’s a doctor for every different part of the body, and there’s often very little communication between these doctors or acknowledgement of a connection.
In functional medicine, the patient is respected, empowered, educated, and encouraged to play an active role in their healing process, whereas in conventional medicine, the patient’s opinion is often discounted or ignored, little time is spent on education, and the patient is even sometimes actively discouraged to play a strong role in their healing process.
Functional medicine is integrative. It combines the best of allopathic and alternative treatments. It doesn’t exclude drugs or surgery when they’re necessary but does tend to focus more on diet, lifestyle, supplements, and herbs as the primary interventions, whereas conventional medicine is more limited in its scope. It typically relies almost exclusively on drugs and surgery despite risks, and while it does pay some lip service to the importance of nutrition and lifestyle, physicians are undereducated on these topics and often don’t have much time to devote to them in the typical patient interaction.
Functional medicine is preventative. It’s guided by the ancient Chinese proverb, “The superb physician treats disease before it occurs,” whereas conventional medicine tends to be a little more reactive. It really aims to manage disease after it occurs and often doesn’t intervene until disease has progressed beyond a certain point of no return.
Joints form the connections between the 206 bones in the human body. They are a crucial part of human movement. Without them, we’d be unable to move.
Joint pain is a frustrating and oftentimes debilitating symptom with a wide range of underlying causes. Joint pain can make it difficult for us to move, imposing a major distraction in our lives, and can even be downright debilitating.
Pain in your joints is usually accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms including joint redness, swelling, tenderness, warmth, limping, joint locking, stiff, weakness and/or a limited range of motion in the joint.
Joint pain is typically caused by the following:
- Injury to the ligaments, tendons, bones, cartilage or bursae (the fluid-filled sac in your joints that provides a cushion between our bones, tendons and/or muscles). Examples include: rotator cuff (shoulder) tear, sprained ankle, runners knee and bursitis.
- Joint inflammation due to an autoimmune condition. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lupus, and psoriatic arthritis.
- Bacteria or fungi can enter your body through your skin, eyes, ears, mouth, nose and mucous membranes and cause joint pain throughout your body. Examples include the bacteria that causes the following diseases: staphylococcus (staph) infections, strep throat, pneumonia, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and Lyme disease.
In rare instances, cancer can also be the cause of joint pain.
Now that you know the primary causes of joint pain, let’s learn how to make your joint pain disappear.
Long Term Solutions
Remember the three main causes of joint pain are injury, inflammation and infection. Our long term solutions for joint pain will focus on preventing and alleviating these underlying causes. First and foremost: Injury Prevention!
Long Term Joint Pain Solution #1: Learn How to Move Your Body
Learning how to move your body is your surest bet for preventing joint pain caused by injury to your ligaments, tendons, bones, cartilage or bursae. Here a few tips to get you started:
- Improve body awareness and posture in everything you do. If you’re a patient of mine, you know that I begin our relationship with how to have good posture. Posture is just a fancy word for position, but your posture is what ultimately determines how healthy your ligaments, tendons, cartilage and bones will age. Do everything you can to improve your position throughout the day.
- Regularly check in with your body by practicing full body stretching. Take a yoga, pilates or a swimming class that incorporates stretching. Make a daily habit of stretching at home, preferably in a quiet, soothing environment and especially before and after any strenuous physical activity. If you have had previous injuries, target those areas because they will be your weakest link. Be sure to stretch supporting muscle groups as well. For example, if you’ve had an injury to your back, your neck and hip regions will have compensated to provide support to the injured area.
- Practice mindful, functional strength training tailored to your current capabilities. Movements like squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses executed properly with a full range of motion can go a long way to preventing joint injury. In fact, loading your joints will demonstrate your body’s current vulnerabilities and give you key insight on what body parts you should be improving. Exercise doesn’t hurt you- bad positioning and unhealthy joints do.
- Practice joint mobility exercises. Joint mobility exercises will include regular foam rolling, lacrosse balls or trigger points balls, banded/flossing exercises and anything that takes your joints beyond a comfortable range of motion or movement.
Long Term Joint Pain Solution #2: Identify Potential Causes
If you currently experience joint pain and it’s not due to injury, you should try to identify potential causes of infection or inflammation. Some tips include:
- Identify autoimmune reactions. Symptoms to look for include any type of unwarranted itchiness, flushed face, neck and chest, nausea or lightheadedness within an hour of eating or drinking. If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should contact a functional medicine doctor to help you identify a potential autoimmune condition:
- Tingling hands and feet
- Numb lips nose and tongue
- Swelling, hives and swollen ankles
- Dry eyes and mouth
- Digestive difficulties
- Impaired Immunity
- Low energy, fatigue and generalized stiffness.
- Identify any hidden infections. Symptoms to look for include bad breath, sinus issues like a stuffy or runny nose, malaise, hot or cold flashes and circulation problems. Underlying infections can include candida or yeast infections, staph infections, strep throat, pneumonia, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and Lyme disease. Your functional medicine doctor can help you identify these and other underlying infections that could cause joint pain.
- Identify food sensitivities. Look for the same symptoms we talked about for identifying autoimmune reactions. Headaches, insomnia, mood swings and digestive issues can also point to a food sensitivity. Try an elimination diet to identify the foods you’re sensitive to. Another trick is to indulge in foods that you think you may be sensitive to and watch for food sensitivity symptoms, especially within the first hour after eating or drinking. One of the most common food sensitivities I find in people with joint pain is gluten intolerance.
Long Term Join Pain Solution #3: Reduce Inflammation
Reducing your body’s overall inflammation can help you mitigate joint pain. Try the following techniques:
- Modify your diet. Increase your consumption of healthy fats like coconut oil, avocados, nuts, eggs, grass-fed butter and meat. Avoid inflammatory foods and beverages like grains, legumes, sugar, seed oils and alcohol.
- Avoid humid environments. Humidity can exacerbate whole-body inflammation. Short of moving to a drier climate, you can try a dehumidifier for your home.
- Decrease your stress. Cut out unnecessary obligations and take steps to simplify your life. Avoid multi-tasking and take time for yourself every day. Try meditation or shut off your electronics and immerse in yourself in a tranquil environment like a library or park. Make sure you get enough sleep.
- Increase micronutrients and trace minerals. Use natural salts to flavor your food, consume unfiltered juices and eat the skins of fruits and vegetables, especially root vegetables, and take a multivitamin every day. In general, switch to unprocessed foods since, compared to processed foods, they naturally contain high nutrient and mineral levels.
Long Term Joint Pain Solution #4: Address Nutrient Deficiencies
Nutrient deficiencies can cause a whole host of health problems that contribute to inflammation and joint pain. If you’re puzzled on what you might be deficient in, consider a test like the SpectraCell Micronutrient test. This cutting edge method, provides an exact, detailed and comprehensive nutritional analysis. The test assesses your micronutrient deficiencies at the cellular level by determining how well your body absorbs and utilizes a number of minerals, vitamins, fatty acids, antioxidants and metabolites. This affects how well and how quickly your body rebuilds and repairs itself.
Contact us to learn how to boost your individual micronutrient levels.
Joint Pain Health Hacks
There are a number of short term solutions that can help you manage your joint pain until you can get to a functional doctor and find the underlying cause.
Joint Pain Health Hack #1: Supplement with Gelatin and Collagen
Gelatin and collagen are the building blocks of your body’s joints. If have a joint injury, your body will need extra gelatin and collagen to repair itself. You can try supplementing with gelatin and collagen products like powders, capsules and condensed liquids. You can also supplement the old-fashioned way by preparing your own bone broths (preferably with grass-fed or wild caught meat and fish) and consuming a cup or two per day.
Joint Pain Health Hack #2: Increase Magnesium, Turmeric and trace Minerals
Magnesium is crucial for your body in its ability to transport other necessary nutrients for optimal joint healing. Try a chelated magnesium supplement or find it in foods like leafy greens, pumpkin seeds, kefir, probiotic dairy, avocados, figs, banana, almonds and even dark chocolate.
Joint Pain Health Hack #3: Soak in Epsom Salts
Prepare an Epsom Salt bath and immerse your body for at least a half an hour, once a week. This is another method to increase your magnesium intake AND reduce stress simultaneously so you can ease your joint pain. The warmer the water temperature, the more bioavailable the magnesium is for your body to absorb. This solution is irresistible in winter months.
Joint Pain Health Hack #4: Elevation and Inversion
Elevate joints experiencing pain above the heart multiple times a day, for at least ten minutes. This transports the accumulated fluid in your swollen joints back to your vital organs where it can be processed and detoxified. It also reduces stress on your joints and is simple way to reduce your joint pain. A great investment for chronic joint pain is an inversion table. The inversion table allows gravity to alleviate built-up fluid and pressure in your joints.
Joint Pain Health Hack #5: Aerobic Exercise
One of the keys to alleviating joint pain, is mild, daily aerobic exercise. This gets your heart pumping which circulates excess fluid away from your swollen joints. Try walking, swimming, biking, yoga, pilates, or a team sport like soccer, basketball or vollyball. Another benefit of aerobic exercise are its mood elevating effects and its ability to speed healing and take your mind off of your joint pain.
Joint pain affects most of us from time to time, whether it’s from injury, infection or inflammation. Don’t be discouraged because there’s always a natural, short term health hack that can alleviate your pain. While joint pain usually affects middle aged to elderly age groups, everyone can benefit from the long term tactics I mentioned above. Following such a plant can help you prevent future joint issues. Choose solutions wisely and choose solutions that fit well into your lifestyle to ensure consistency.
Most people don’t equate the word hygiene with bones or muscles, ligaments or tendons. The word hygiene means sciences, conditions or practices that promote and preserve health. We observe the meaning of this word when we maintain personal hygiene, dental hygiene as well as mental hygiene in the form of mindfulness, meditation and affirmations. Why not maintain the health or hygiene of the spine? Nothing in the human body with the exception perhaps of the brain does more to ensure the health and well-being of the whole body. Spine hygiene, therefore, is something we must practice and maintain daily for optimal health.
Yes, must. Studies have proven that a healthful diet and exercise prevent and might contribute to lessening disease. However, proper posture is often overlooked in spine maintenance. That is, it is overlooked until back pain happens, and then it’s the first thing the patient is advised to practice.Promoting and preserving the health of the spine, therefore, must begin with proper posture. The head should be up, chin not tucked into the chest. The shoulders should be above the hips and not slumped forward or pushed back. This maintains the natural curvature of the spine, ensuring the natural placement of the ligaments, tendons and other things stay there.
Lack of proper posture results in headaches, back pain, muscle stress and other problems. Today, most people sit for hours at a time doing their jobs. The above description of proper posture is ideal for sitting jobs. Make sure the knees are bent at a 90 degree angle, the back against the chair back and the feet slightly in front of the knees.
Those who must stand to do their jobs have it a little easier. Standing with the feet hip width apart, tuck in the abdomen so the curvature of the spine remains natural. Shoulders should be above the hips and not rounded or slung too far back in an effort to do it right. The head should be straight up, chin slightly tucked under. This ensures the curvature of the neck portion of the spine or the cervical spine is in its natural place.
Do I Have to Exercise?
You’d have a good idea if you exercised to maintain a healthy spine. Just because we generally don’t think of the spine doesn’t mean it doesn’t benefit from exercise. We’ve been discussing the natural alignment of the spine in addition to good posture to keep it in place. Now, we’re going to discuss gentle stretching exercises to keep the spine, from top to bottom, in healthy shape. You’ll need no equipment for these stretches, but you might need a folded blanket or towel or perhaps a yoga mat if you have one to support the body during these exercises.
To gently stretch the neck, sit or stand as described above. Tip the head onto one shoulder. Slowly and gently let the head drop and swing to the other shoulder. This should look like a pendulum in an old-fashioned grandfather clock. Alternate putting the head on the other shoulder and allowing the pendulum movement to follow its natural course. Repeat this ten times.
To gently stretch the upper to lower back, get onto your hands and knees, hands beneath the shoulders, back straight. Gently bow up the upper back until you feel like an inverted “u”. Hold this pose for ten seconds. Now sit onto the legs, stretching the arms out in front of you on the floor. The body will look like a puppy stretching, but your behind will be on your legs. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat ten times.
Stretching the lower back prevents back pain. This stretch will benefit the lower and middle spine. Sit on the floor with one leg straight and the other foot tucked into the straight leg. Sitting straight up, stretch both arms toward the straight ankle. Round the back as you stretch. Hold for ten seconds. Repeat with the other leg. Repeat ten times.
Learning to keep the spine as straight as possible is as simple as doing a plank. On hands and knees, place the forearms on the floor, hands gripping each other for support. Lift the legs until the body is resting on forearms and toes. Your head and neck should be in a straight line with the spine. Don’t allow the lower back to droop; suck in the abs to prevent this. Hold for ten seconds and repeat ten times.
A healthy spine is essential to whole body health. Remember your posture, and do some stretching exercises to keep the spine in good shape, and you can enjoy a healthy happy life.