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Top 12 Strategies for Optimizing Your Health

April 29, 2013 | 236,131 views
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By Dr. Mercola

A recent article by CNN1 lists 25 ways to get healthier. Some of the suggestions certainly have merit, but it was more noteworthy for the many ridiculous tips they included, and some of the crucially important ones they neglected.

Actually, no surprises there, as the media is a mere reflection of the corrupted medical paradigm that focuses on treating symptoms rather than addressing the foundational causes of disease.

So, here's my own list of the top dozen lifestyle strategies I believe can make the biggest difference in your health as they address most of the disruptions that are at the core of most health challenges.

#1. Add Sprouts to Your Diet

One of the most nutritious powerhouses to add to your diet are sprouts. They are an authentic "super" food that many overlook or have long stopped using. In addition to their nutritional profile, sprouts are also easy and fun to grow in your own home as they don't require an outdoor garden.

They can contain up to 39 times the nutrition of organic vegetables grown in your own garden, and allow your body to extract more vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fats from the foods you eat. During sprouting, minerals, such as calcium and magnesium, bind to protein, making them more bioavailable.

Furthermore, both the quality of the protein and the fiber content of beans, nuts, seeds and grains improves when sprouted. The content of vitamins and essential fatty acids also increase dramatically during the sprouting process. Sunflower seed, broccoli and pea sprouts tend to top the list of all the seeds that you can sprout and are typically each about 30 times more nutritious than organic vegetables. While you can sprout a variety of different beans, nuts, seeds and grains, sprouts in general have the following beneficial attributes:

  • Support for cell regeneration
  • Powerful sources of antioxidants, minerals, vitamins and enzymes that protect against free radical damage
  • Alkalinizing effect on your body, which is thought to protect against disease, including cancer (as many tumors are acidic)
  • Abundantly rich in oxygen, which can also help protect against abnormal cell growth, viruses and bacteria that cannot survive in an oxygen-rich environment

Planting and Harvesting Sprouts at Home

I used to grow sprouts in Ball jars over 10 years ago but stopped doing that. I am strongly convinced that actually growing them in soil is far easier and produces far more nutritious and abundant food. It is also less time consuming. With Ball jars, you need to rinse them several times a day to prevent mold growth. Trays also take up less space. I am now consuming one whole tray you see below every 2-3 days and to produce that much food with Ball jars, I would need dozens of jars. 

I am in the process of compiling more specific detailed videos for future articles but I thought I would whet your appetite and give you a preview with the photos below.

About to plant wheat grass and sunflower seeds – 2 days after soaking

Wheat grass and sunflower seeds – 3 ½ days post germination

Sunflower seeds and pea sprouts – 3 days until ready for harvest

Sunflower seed sprouts and wheat Grass – ready to harvest

 

My two favorites are pea and sunflower sprouts. They provide some of the highest quality protein you can eat. Sprouted sunflower seeds also contain plenty of iron and chlorophyll, the latter of which will help detoxify your blood and liver. Of the seeds, sunflower seeds are among the best in terms of overall nutritional value, and sprouting them will augment their nutrient content by as much as 300 to 1,200 percent! Similarly, sprouting peas will improve the bioavailability of zinc and magnesium.

I have been sprouting them now for a few months and they have radically improved the nutrition of my primary meal, which is a comprehensive salad at lunch. They are a perfect complement to fermented vegetables. My current salad consists of about half a pound of sunflower sprouts, four ounces of fermented vegetables, half a large red pepper, several tablespoon of raw organic butter, some red onion, a whole avocado and about three ounces of salmon or chicken. It is my primary meal. In the late afternoon, I typically only have macadamia nuts and coconut candy in addition to drinking 16-32 ounces of green vegetable juice. I break it up occasionally by going to a restaurant with friends.

#2. Make Fermented Vegetables a Daily Staple

The importance of your gut flora and its influence on your health cannot be overstated. Your gut is home to countless bacteria, both beneficial and pathogenic. These bacteria outnumber the cells in your body by at least 10 to one, and maintaining the ideal balance of good and bad bacteria forms the foundation for good health – physical, mental and emotional. In fact, your gut literally serves as your second brain, and even produces more of the neurotransmitter serotonin than your brain does.

Cultured or fermented foods are essential for maintaining a healthy gut. The culturing process produces beneficial microbes, also known as probiotics, which help balance your intestinal flora. Fermented foods are also some of the best chelators available, capable of drawing out a wide range of toxins and heavy metals. Just a quarter to a half a cup of fermented vegetables per day is sufficient for most people. Ideally, you'll want to include a variety of fermented or cultured foods, as each food will inoculate your gut with a variety of different microorganisms. 

To learn how to easily ferment your own vegetables, see my interview with Caroline Barringer, a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner and an expert in the preparation of the foods prescribed in Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride's Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) Nutritional Program. We are currently finishing some sophisticated DNA sequencing experiments on our new high dose vitamin K2 probiotic starter culture. 

#3. Optimize Your Vitamin D Levels with Appropriate Sun Exposure

Vitamin D, once linked to only bone diseases such as rickets and osteoporosis, is now recognized as a major player in overall human health. There are only 30,000 genes in your body and vitamin D has been shown to influence over 2,000 of them. That's one of the primary reasons it influences so many diseases, including diabetes, depression, heart disease and cancer, just to name a few. But while many focus on vitamin D supplementation, it's important to realize that the IDEAL way to optimize your vitamin D level is not by taking a pill, but rather allowing your body to do what it is designed to do – create vitamin D from sun exposure (or a safe tanning bed). Sunlight is superior to supplements for a number of reasons:

  • It is natural. Our ancestors optimized their vitamin D levels by sun exposure, not by swallowing it in foods. Although vitamin D is in some animal foods, it is in relatively low quantities and to my knowledge there are no known ancestral populations that thrived on oral vitamin D sources
  • When you expose your skin to the sun, your skin also synthesizes high amounts of cholesterol sulfate, which is very important for cardiovascular health. In fact, Dr. Stephanie Seneff, believes that high LDL and associated heart disease may in fact be a symptom of cholesterol sulfate deficiency. Sulfur deficiency, in fact, also promotes obesity and related health problems like diabetes
  • Most experts believe you cannot overdose when getting your vitamin D from sun exposure, as your body has the ability to self-regulate production and only make what it needs
  • When taking a high dose vitamin D supplement, you also need to boost your intake of vitamin K2, either from food or a supplement, in order to maintain the proper ratio. These two nutrients work in tandem, and vitamin K2 deficiency is actually what produces the symptoms of vitamin D toxicity, which includes inappropriate calcification that can lead to hardening of your arteries
  • Sunlight has many additional health benefits unrelated to vitamin D production

#4. Intermittent Fasting

It's long been known that calorie restriction can improve metabolic disease risk markers and increase the lifespan of certain animals. More recent research suggests that intermittent fasting can provide the same health benefits as constant calorie restriction, which may be helpful for those who cannot successfully reduce their everyday calorie intake. I believe it's one of the most powerful interventions out there if you're struggling with your weight and related health issues. One of the primary reasons for this is because it helps shift your body from burning sugar/carbs to burning fat as its primary fuel.

Research has also shown that fasting can boost your body's production of human growth hormone (HGH) by as much as 1,300 percent in women and 2,000 percent in men. HGH, commonly referred to as "the fitness hormone," plays an important role in maintaining health, fitness and longevity, including promotion of muscle growth, and boosting fat loss by revving up your metabolism. Other health benefits of intermittent fasting include:

Normalizing your insulin and leptin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health Improving biomarkers of disease
Normalizing ghrelin levels, also known as "the hunger hormone" Reducing inflammation and lessening free radical damage
Lowering triglyceride levels Preserving memory functioning and learning

 

A simple way to incorporate intermittent fasting into your lifestyle is to simply time your meals to allow for regular periods of fasting in between. To be effective, the length of your fast must be at least 16 hours. This means eating only between the hours of 11am until 7pm each day, as an example. Essentially, this equates to simply skipping breakfast, and making lunch your first meal of the day instead.

#5. Incorporate High Intensity Interval Training into Your Exercise Routine

Compelling and ever-mounting research shows that the ideal form of exercise is short bursts of high intensity exercise. Not only does it beat conventional cardio as the most effective and efficient form of exercise, it also provides health benefits you simply cannot get from regular aerobics, such as a tremendous boost in human growth hormone (HGH), aka the "fitness hormone," which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor.

HIIT has also been shown to significantly improve insulin sensitivity, boost fat loss, and increase muscle growth. Best of all, high intensity exercises are so efficient, you can get all the benefits you need in just a 20-minute session, start to finish, performed twice or a max of three times per week.

The key factor that makes interval training so effective is intensity. To reap maximum results, you need to work out at maximum intensity, with rest periods in between spurts. If you are using exercise equipment, I recommend using a recumbent bicycle or an elliptical machine for your high-intensity interval training, although you certainly can use a treadmill, or sprint anywhere outdoors. (Keep in mind that if you intend to sprint outside, be very careful about stretching prior to sprinting. Also, unless you are already an athlete, I would strongly advise against sprinting, as several people I know became injured doing it the first time that way.)

You can also modify your weight training routine to turn it into a high intensity exercise. This is done by slowing it down. The super-slow movement allows your muscle, at the microscopic level, to access the maximum number of cross-bridges between the protein filaments that produce movement in the muscle. To learn more, check out my interview with Dr. Doug McGuff – an emergency room physician who is also an expert in high-intensity interval training.

An important dietary adjunct that will help you get the most out of your high intensity training is to avoid fructose. If you consume sugar or fructose, especially within two hours post-exercise, you will increase somatostatin (also known as growth hormone-inhibiting hormone), which will in turn obliterate the production of growth hormone that you'd otherwise get from your high intensity exercise. So avoid commercial sports drinks, juices, enhanced water products and any other beverage containing fructose, and stick to pure water. If you need to replenish electrolytes, coconut water is an excellent alternative but it's only recommended if you're exercising intensely and sweating profusely. Otherwise, the high sugar content can be counterproductive.

#6. Get High Quality Sleep

Sleep is such an important part of your overall health that no amount of healthful food and exercise can counteract the ill effects of poor sleeping habits. Poor sleep has been linked to a number of health ailments, including short-term memory loss, behavioral problems, weight gain, diabetes, increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Sleep deprivation also prematurely ages you by interfering with your growth hormone production, normally released by your pituitary gland during deep sleep (and during high intensity Peak Fitness exercises discussed above). Growth hormone helps you look and feel younger.

Most people need somewhere around seven to eight hours of sleep per night, but sleep needs are highly individual, and tend to vary depending on your current state of health and stress levels as well. If you still feel sleepy upon waking or feel like you need a nap during the day, you're probably not getting enough.

Whether you have difficulty falling asleep, waking up too often, or feeling inadequately rested when you wake up in the morning – or maybe you simply want to improve the quality of your sleep – I strongly recommend reviewing my special report on improving your sleep hygiene.

If you feel well-rested in the morning, that's a good sign that your sleep habits are just fine. But if not, you might want to investigate your sleep patterns more closely. ZEO is an innovative sleep measurement device that allows you to perform a personalized 'sleep study' from the comfort of your own home. The beauty of this device is that it lets you evaluate how various factors affect your sleep. For example, you can evaluate how your sleep was affected by a cup of coffee in the afternoon, or how doing computer work past a certain hour impacted your sleep.

You could actually go through my 33 recommendations for improving your sleep and evaluate the effects of each one if you wanted to. I recommend using the less expensive mobile sleep manager as that will allow you scan your brainwaves without transmitting the data until the morning when you awake and manually transfer to your smart phone or tablet via Bluetooth.

#7. Get Grounded

Did you know the energy from the Earth can help you live a healthier life? The concept is known as earthing or grounding, which is nothing more than walking barefoot; grounding your body to the Earth. You can connect any part of your skin to the Earth, but one is especially potent, and that's right in the middle of the ball of your foot; a point known to acupuncturists as Kidney 1 (K1). It's a well-known point that conductively connects to all of the acupuncture meridians and essentially connects to every nook and cranny of your body.

Compelling research shows that lack of grounding has a lot to do with the rise of modern diseases.

When you're grounded, there's a transfer of free electrons from the Earth into your body. And these free electrons are probably the most potent antioxidants known to man. Any free radicals they encounter in your tissues will immediately be electrically neutralized. This occurs because the electrons are negative, while the free radicals are positive, so they cancel each other out.

Another very important discovery, and one of the most recent, is that grounding thins your blood, making it less viscous. This can have a profound impact on cardiovascular disease, which is now the number one killer in the world. Virtually every aspect of cardiovascular disease has been correlated with elevated blood viscosity. It can also help protect against blood clots.

The ideal location for walking barefoot is the beach, close to or in the water, as sea water is a great conductor. Your body also contains mostly water, so it creates a good connection. A close second would be a grassy area, especially if it's covered with dew, which is what you'd find if you walk early in the morning. Concrete is a good conductor as long as it hasn't been sealed; painted concrete does not allow electrons to pass through very well. Materials like asphalt, wood, and typical insulators like plastic or the soles of your shoes, will not allow electrons to pass through and are not suitable for barefoot grounding.

Exercising barefoot outdoors is one of the most wonderful, inexpensive and powerful ways of incorporating earthing into your daily life and will also help speed up tissue repair and ease muscle pain due to strenuous exercise.

#8. Drink Pure Water

Your body requires a constant daily supply of water to fuel all the various waste filtration systems nature has designed to keep your body healthy and free of toxins. Your blood, your kidneys, and your liver all require a source of good clean water to detoxify your body from the toxic exposures you come into contact with every day.

When you give your body water that is filled with toxins leached from plastic, by-products from chlorination, volatile organic compounds, or water that is contaminated by pesticides, fluoride, or prescription drugs, you are asking your body to work twice as hard at detoxification, because it must first detoxify the water you are drinking, before that water can be used to fuel your organs of detoxification!

Clearly, the most efficient way help your body both avoid and eliminate toxins is to provide your body with the cleanest, purest water you can find. This is easily done by installing one or more types of water filtration systems in your house.

If you could only afford one filter, there is no question in most experts' minds that the shower filter is the most important product to buy for water filtration, even more important than filtering your tap water. This is because the damage you incur through your skin and lungs far surpasses the damage done by drinking water (which at least gives your body a fighting chance to eliminate the toxins through your organs of elimination).

An even better solution to the problem of harsh chemicals and toxins in your home's water supply is to install a whole house water filtration system. There's just one water line coming into your house. Putting a filter on this is the easiest and simplest strategy you can implement to take control of your health by ensuring the water and the air in your house is as clean as possible. To learn more about different types of water and water filtration systems, please see my special report on this topic.

#9. Limit Processed Foods and Replace Non-Veggie Carbs with Healthy Fats

Two of the most powerful dietary interventions I know of are 1) limiting or eliminating processed foods and 2) replacing non-vegetable carbohydrates and excess protein with healthful fats. Beneficial fats include avocados, coconut oil, olives, olive oil, butter and nuts. Wild Alaskan salmon is also a powerhouse of nutrition, providing critical omega-3 fats. As a general rule, when you cut down on carbs, you need to increase your fat consumption. Both are sources of much-needed energy, but fats are a source of energy that is far more ideal than carbohydrates. Replacing carbs with more protein is not a wise choice as it can produce similar adverse hormonal changes as burning non-vegetable carbs.

For a comprehensive guide on which foods to eat and which to avoid, see my nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should be looking to focus your diet on whole, ideally organic and/or locally grown, unprocessed foods. For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw.

Processed foods are notoriously high in fructose, not to mention artificial additives. All forms of sugar (but fructose in particular) have toxic effects when consumed in excess, and drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of chronic disease and accelerated aging. Replacing non-vegetable carbs with healthful fats will also optimize your insulin and leptin levels, which is key for maintaining a healthy weight and optimal health.

Most people eat far too much protein. Like many areas of health there is a "Goldilocks" dose that provides most of the benefits and minimal side effects. Dr. Rosedale believes that the ideal amount is about one gram per pound of lean body weight unless you are pregnant or doing competitive athletics. But that is a level that will more than supply your body's amino acid needs without sacrificing your health.

#10. Avoid Toxins

Volumes of books could be written on modern day toxic exposures, but while it may be impossible to list every possibility, if you avoid the most notorious offenders, you'll be way ahead of the game. In general, this includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides, and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives. In terms of specific toxins, some of the most hazardous yet commonly encountered ones include:

  • Mercury – found in dental amalgams and fish.
  • Fluoride – found in toothpaste, fluoridated water, and non-organic food (due to the widespread use of fluoride-based pesticides. For example, conventionally-grown iceberg lettuce can contain as much as 180 ppm of fluoride – 180 times higher than what's recommended in drinking water).
  • EMFs.  Electromagnetic field exposures are becoming increasingly pervasive and they can interact unfavorably with your biology. So please review the many previous articles we have written on this subject to learn more.
  • Bisphenol-A (BPA) and Bisphenol-S (BPS) – Used in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics, bisphenols are estrogen mimicking chemicals that can leach into food or drinks from the plastic containers holding them. These chemicals are known to be particularly dangerous for pregnant women, infants and children.
  • To avoid plastic toxins such as bisphenols, opt for glass over plastic, especially when it comes to products that will come into contact with food or beverages, or those intended for pregnant women, infants and children. This applies to canned goods as well, which are a major source of BPA (and possibly other chemicals) exposure, so whenever you can, choose jarred goods over canned goods, or opt for fresh instead. Another good idea is to ditch plastic teething toys for your little ones and choose natural wood or fabric varieties instead.

  • Phthalates – found in soft plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC), as well as many toiletries, including shampoo, toothpaste, and cosmetics. Phthalates is one of the most pervasive type of endocrine disrupting chemicals discovered so far, and have been linked to a wide range of developmental and reproductive "gender-bending" effects. Twelve tips for avoiding common sources of phthalates, see this previous article.

#11. Have Great Tools to Address Your Stress

Research has linked emotional stress to a wide variety of health problems, including physical pain, chronic inflammation,2 stillbirths,3 lowered immune function, increased blood pressure, altered brain chemistry, increased tumor growth4 and more. Even the conservative Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that 85 percent of all disease has an emotional element.

Clearly, it is not possible or even recommended to eliminate stress entirely. However, you can work to provide your body with tools to compensate for the bioelectrical short-circuiting that can cause serious disruption in many of your body's important systems. By using energy psychology techniques such as the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), you can reprogram how your body responds to the unavoidable stressors of everyday life so that "the little things" no longer pose such a great threat to your health.

Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and meditation are also important "release valves" that can help you manage your stress. EFT is akin to acupuncture, which is based on the concept that a vital energy flows through your body along invisible pathways known as meridians. EFT stimulates different energy meridian points in your body by tapping them with your fingertips, while simultaneously using custom-made verbal affirmations. This can be done alone or under the supervision of a qualified therapist.5 Since these stressors are usually connected to physical problems, many people's diseases and other symptoms can improve or disappear as well.

#12. Replace Drugs with Natural Alternatives that Address the Cause

Last but certainly not least, replacing drugs with natural alternatives, or better yet, addressing the lifestyle factors that are causing your health problem in the first place, are your best bets if you want to avoid becoming a disease- or pharmaceutical-mortality statistic.

Drugs are known to cause well over 125,000 deaths per year in the US when taken correctly as prescribed. This is not so surprising when you consider the average drug label lists 70 potential adverse reactions. Overall, drugs are 62,000 times more likely to kill you than nutritional supplements, and 7,750 times more likely to kill you than herbal remedies. According to the US National Poison Data System,6 the following drug categories are among the most lethal:

Analgesics, sedatives, hypnotics, and antipsychotics Cardiovascular drugs Opioids Acetaminophen combinations Antidepressants
Muscle relaxants Anti-inflammatories Antacids Anticoagulants Antihistamines

 

The vast majority of health problems are in fact responsive to appropriate lifestyle changes – the most important of which have been covered above. Type 2 diabetes, for example, is not only wholly preventable, it's virtually 100 percent reversible through diet and exercise alone. Even cancer has been shown to be responsive to such measures. Scientists are seriously looking into a number of dietary treatment alternatives, such as ketogenic- and anti-angiogenesis-type diets.

For example, research led by Dr. Dominic D'Agostino has found that when lab animals are fed a carb-free diet, they survive highly aggressive metastatic cancer better than those treated with chemotherapy. The reason a ketogenic diet can have such a dramatic (and rapid) effect on cancer is because all of your body's cells are fueled by glucose. This includes cancer cells. However, cancer cells have one built-in fatal flaw – they do not have the metabolic flexibility of your regular cells and cannot adapt to use ketone bodies for fuel as all your other cells can.

So, when you alter your diet and become what's known as "fat-adapted," your body starts using fat for fuel rather than carbs. When you switch out the carbs for healthy fats, you starve the cancer out, as you're no longer supplying the necessary fuel – glucose – for their growth. Intermittent fasting, discussed above, is one of the most powerful ways I know of to become fat adapted.

[+] Sources and References