By Dr. Mercola
Life is a journey and for most of us health is an important part of that journey, because if you have health challenges your ability to manifest your passions will be seriously impaired.
One of my primary passions is health, which is one of the reasons I went to medical school. But that was only a start, as most of what I have learned about optimizing health occurred long after my medical school graduation over 30 years ago.
After three decades of managing patients from all over the world and reviewing hundreds of thousands of studies, I have reached some conclusions about how to avoid or reverse most any disease you can acquire.
After 18 years of writing and editing this newsletter I have learned how to translate this information into easy to understand language, which I believe is one of its primary benefits, as it was one of the first sites to translate complex medical jargon into easy to understand language.
Best Health Strategies for You
However, the daily newsletter articles usually focus on one specific topic and do not seek to put a comprehensive health recommendation in one place. That is why I wrote my current New York Times bestselling book Effortless Healing earlier this year.
Effortless Healing compresses tens of thousands of pages an easy to understand 350-page book. If you are new to the site or natural medicine I would strongly encourage you to pick up a copy and carefully review it, as it will help put everything together for you. It makes a wonderful gift for someone who is new to natural healing.
It is clear from a number of the questions submitted that many are unaware that I have compiled about 100 pages of detailed dietary recommendations. If you haven't yet reviewed it I would encourage you to review my nutrition plan
But most readers of this site know the basics I presented, which is why I wanted to do an advanced version for you and, even more importantly, have the opportunity to dialog with me directly and ask for clarification on the recommendations.
The Five Items You Need to Address to Reverse Just About Any Illness
The more I study natural medicine, the more it becomes clear to me that the solution for most all illness involves some fairly basic concepts. In my experience, if you apply these principles early enough with most illnesses you will activate your body's healing response and recover from your illness.
The basic principles involve sun, water, movement, food, and sleep. In my experience most people who have just started investigating the power of natural medicine fail to comprehensively integrate all of these principles and reap the powerful synergistic benefits they can provide.
Access Sun Exposure as Much as Possible
There are many benefits of sun exposure. The UVB in the sun will help your body produce vitamin D, and optimal levels are crucial to prevent diseases like obesity, heart disease, arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer's, and dozens of other diseases.
Also, and this is important, if you have cancer or an autoimmune disease like MS, Crohn's, or rheumatoid arthritis, it is absolutely vital to raise your vitamin D to an optimal biological level.
Regular sun exposure not only provides UVB but over 1500 wavelengths and we most likely will not full appreciate the value of regular exposure to many of these wavelengths for hundreds of years. We do know that infrared exposure helps your body form structured water.
However, many people are confused about sun exposure, and don't understand that to reap the benefits they need a significant amount of skin exposed to the sun for their skin to stimulate vitamin D production.
Even if you live in a sunny climate during the summer it's experience that it is the rare individual that is getting adequate sun exposure. This is typically due to the simple fact that most people have responsibilities during the work week that keeps them indoors, out of the sun. Remember that 15 to 30 minutes of eating outside with all your clothes on is not going to give you healthy vitamin D levels.
There is simply no question that regular sun exposure is the ideal as it will provide you with far more than just UVB, but if you, like most people, are unable to do this, then you must take oral vitamin D and regularly test your blood until your level is above 50 ng/ml.
Vitamin K2 has virtually the same benefits as vitamin D and works synergistically with vitamin D. If you are taking oral vitamin D you simply must have a regular source of vitamin K2. Sadly there is no commercial test for vitamin K2. However, I'm actually in discussion with the appropriate clinical director for Quest to offer this test commercially soon. I'm really excited as it will allow the necessary research to be done.
Remember that just being out in sun will NOT work if you are fully clothed; you need to expose significant amounts of your skin to the sun to improve your vitamin D levels. The time necessary varies based on your age, weight (as fat tissue sucks up vitamin D), skin color, season, latitude, altitude, cloud cover, and time of day.
The range can be anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. The only way to know for sure is to make sure you never get burnt and to measure your vitamin D blood levels. Also, if you take oral supplements it's important to take vitamin K2, about 150 mcg as MK7.
Fermented vegetables would also work but only if they are made using a starter culture using special bacteria designed to make more vitamin K2, otherwise they will not have enough K2. That is why we created a special starter culture called Kinetic Culture that will provide you with therapeutic levels.
Remember most fermented foods, especially yogurt that you purchase in the grocery store are nothing more than creamy junk food. Avoid them. Only consume yogurt you make yourself or purchase from ones that have been approved by Cornucopia.
Drink Clean Water, Free of Toxins Like Chlorine and Fluoride
Remember that most municipal water supplies are contaminated with chlorine disinfection byproducts and fluoride. It is relatively easy to remove chlorine and disinfection byproducts with high quality carbon filters. My favorite is the whole house water filter we sell in our store. The only concern is that it will restrict the flow of your water to 7.5 gallons per minute. So most people get two and hook them up in parallel to get 15 gallons per minute.
The large filters are good for 5 to 10 years but the prefilters need to be changed every month or two. However carbon filters don't remove fluoride very well, so reverse osmosis or distillers are the only option. My favorite is reverse osmosis (RO) as they don't damage the water as much.
The downside of RO filters is most have a holding tank that invariably becomes contaminated and needs to be regularly disinfected with chlorine, which is a maintenance hassle. The work-around for this is to use one that has a high output without a holding tank that you can fill a large glass container with.
We have been working on this for a few years and hope to release one in the near future. Some of the new updates here include improving the water after it is filtered, as many filters, especially reverse osmosis and distillation, destructure the water. The best way to restore the structure is to use a high-quality vortexing device and then refrigerate the water until you drink it.
The update is that we have been developing a new vortexer with a one gallon glass jar that is half the price of most vortexers out there. It has taken us a few years to develop this product and it's patented. We hope to launch it before Christmas. Many may know that I have not been a fan of alkaline water. However there is recent research that shows alkaline water may work but NOT because of its pH.
There is a quite a bit of research out of Japan showing the value of hydrogen supplementation and one of the best ways to do that is in water. The problem is that most alkalinizers, especially the ones sold in MLM settings, do work initially but the plates that generate the hydrogen build up scale in a few weeks and unless you invest hours of work in removing them you will not get the benefits. Not to worry though, as we are diligently working on a device to provide hydrogen water, but we have at least another year of research before we can bring it to market.
Eat Real Food at the Right Time
It is important to realize that if you implement these simple food strategies you can prevent and reverse most any disease. Getting your nutrition correct is the first step in healing just about any disease. For some diseases, like type 2 two diabetes, it will cure virtually every case. It will also prevent and treat most heart disease, cancers, and Alzheimer's. You typically don't need special herbs or supplements to resolve diabetes. They might help but the key is removing the insulin resistance with diet and exercise.
So what is the common thread that runs through these diseases? If you are a long time reader you probably know that the answer is insulin resistance. Resolve insulin resistance and you no longer have type 2 diabetes, and you dramatically reduce if not eliminate your risk of cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. The simple key is to EAT REAL FOOD.
Ideally growing it yourself is best. A great way to start is growing your own sunflower seed sprouts. From seed to harvest is under 10 days. We even sell sunflower seed kits that make it easy for you. The risk of contamination is very small if you grow them yourself. Most all contaminated ones are commercially grown. Next best is locally grown and organic. But if you can't do this for whatever reason, you still need to eat vegetables. Even non-organic ones are better than no vegetables at all.
I have mentioned it many times in previous articles but remember that local Weston A. Price Chapter leaders are available all over the world. Find one close to you and they can network you with the best local options for real foods in your area. That means avoiding all processed foods, and especially sugars and processed grains, or even worse, heated oils. I am not sure which is worse, processed sugar or fats, but the key is to avoid both. That means industrialized polyunsaturated oils in a bottle, like corn or canola oil.
Saturated fats like coconut oil are fine, as are olive oil, butter, avocado, and nuts (especially macadamia and pecans). But how do you know if you have insulin resistance? Simple: if you are overweight, have diabetes, high blood pressure, or taking a statin, you likely have it, but to know for sure, have a fasting blood insulin level test. If it's over 5 you're insulin resistant.
Until you resolve your insulin resistance it is best to avoid even healthy grains and limit your fruits to 25 grams of fructose or less per day. Once you resolve your insulin resistance you can increase your healthy grains and fruits to whatever level you enjoy as long as insulin resistance doesn't recur.
The Timing of Your Food Is KEY
Insulin resistance is epidemic in our culture. Resolving it will be vital to improving just about any health problem. The most powerful strategy I have ever encountered is to replicate our ancestral eating patterns. Remember, your ancient ancestors never had access to food 24/7 so it makes perfect sense that your genes and metabolism are optimized for regular periods where you don't eat.
For more details on this powerful intervention please review this earlier article on intermittent fasting. The key is to restrict your calories to a 6 to 8 hour window, and eat no calories for the remainder of the day. You can drink water, tea, or coffee as long as there is no dairy or sweetener in them.
But since this an update I have some important new observations for advanced readers. You might recall from earlier articles that I said breakfast was the least important meal of the day. Well, I have subsequently come to realize that for many people it can indeed be an important meal. Let me explain why. I have long taught that it was best to avoid any food or calories for at least three hours before you go to bed. A problem with skipping breakfast is that it does not allow you to fast for even longer before you sleep.
Improving Your Mitochondria for Your Health, Energy, and Longevity
Why is it important to have a long span of time during which you're not eating before bed? Largely this is due to the way your body creates energy, which is through your mitochondria. These tiny bacterial derivatives live inside your cell and are optimized to create energy from the food you eat and the air you breathe.
The mitochondria create energy by generating electrons that are normally transferred to ATP (adenosine triphosphate). When you don't have insulin resistance this energy transfer works quite nicely, but when you are insulin resistant or you eat excessively, all hell can break loose. If you eat excessive food and you don't burn the calories with movement fairly shortly after consuming the calories, the electrons back up inside the mitochondria as there is plenty of ATP that isn't being used.
The problem is that these electrons are highly reactive and they start to leak out of the electron transport chain in the mitochondria, and if enough electrons leak out they wind up prematurely killing the mitochondria, and then wreak further havoc by damaging your cell membranes and DNA. There are many knowledgeable experts that believe this is one of the keys to accelerated aging.
So how can you apply this knowledge? Simple: resolve your insulin resistance as soon as you can, and do not eat for AT LEAST three hours before you go to sleep. This is because your body will use the least amount of calories when sleeping and the LAST thing you need is excess fuel generating free radicals damaging your tissues.
Interestingly, by applying this principle, if you have insulin resistance this will help you resolve it. This is one of the reasons why I believe skipping dinner may be a better strategy. Clearly that's more difficult to implement from a social perspective, but it might be a superior biological strategy. Personally, I stop eating now around 4 PM and have 6 to 7 hours of fasting before I go to sleep.
You Must Regularly Move Your Body to Stay Healthy
The average American adult spends about 10 hours (or more) each day sitting, and more than 10,000 studies have now confirmed that chronic sitting is a potent independent risk factor for insulin resistance1 and an early death – even if you eat right, exercise regularly, and are very fit; even a professional or Olympic level athlete. It's really important to realize that you simply cannot offset 10 hours of stillness with one hour of exercise. You need near-continuous movement throughout the day. Once you've sat for an hour, you've sat too long.
For a while I recommended getting up every 10 minutes, but for me that failed miserably. The only thing that worked was to restrict my sitting to less than one hour a day. So ideally, strive to sit for less than three hours a day, and make it a point to walk more. A stand-up desk is a great option if you have an office job, and a fitness tracker or smartphone can be used to ensure you're getting the recommended 7,000 to 10,000 steps per day.
Next, you'll want to incorporate a more regimented fitness routine, and while virtually any exercise is better than none, high intensity exercises are the most potent. Benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) includes cardiovascular fitness, improved muscle growth and strength, and the generation of "anti-aging" human growth hormone (HGH), also referred to as "the fitness hormone."
It also effectively stimulates your muscles to release anti-inflammatory myokines, which increase your insulin sensitivity and glucose use inside your muscles. They also increase liberation of fat from adipose cells, and the burning of the fat within the skeletal muscle.
Strength training is also an important component, and is recommended for both sexes of all ages, including kids and seniors. Gaining more muscle through resistance exercises has many benefits, from losing excess fat to maintaining healthy bone mass and preventing age-related muscle loss as you age.
High-intensity strength training (a.k.a. super slow weight training) also has the added benefit of triggering greater amounts of anti-inflammatory myokines than regular HIIT. So if you want to combat chronic inflammation in your body, high intensity weight training may offer additional benefits over other forms of HIIT training.
Whatever you choose to do, please do take the time to exercise, and incorporate as much physical activity into your life as you can.
Many of you may not realize that my early life goal was to be an astronaut, but my encounter with the military in the application process made it very clear that government employment was not for me. I also would not go into space because of the radiation dangers. However, it's interesting to note that the routine scientists have determined to keep astronauts healthy in space is what I wound up doing for myself in a much more comfortable environment on planet Earth.
The two areas of health that coincide are sleep and exercise. Astronauts sleep for eight and a half hours, which is precisely my sleeping time. They also exercise for two and half hours. They need to exercise that long to counteract the effects of microgravity.
While we have the benefit of gravity on earth, I do believe that we benefit from that amount of movement and exercise activity each day and interestingly, that is at least how much I exercise every day. One hour and forty-five minutes of walking every day, fifteen minutes of swimming and at least 30 minutes of stretching and exercise.
You Are Not Special — We All Need to Sleep Eight Hours to Stay Healthy
Most fail to fully appreciate how important sleep is to their health. I know, as I was one of them. However I have since learned to appreciate the major role that adequate sleep plays in recovery, repair, and optimal healing. I used to think I was immune to needing adequate sleep. I would routinely get less than six hours a night and thought I could function this way. But I've since realized that most adults really need about eight hours of sleep every night.
There are exceptions to this rule. A genetic mutation resulting in a condition called advanced phase sleep syndrome allow affected individuals to thrive on less sleep, but fewer than one in 10,000 people have this condition. Odds are you are not one of them. I do personally know someone though with this condition: Dr. Michael Holick, world class vitamin D expert. He has done well with only four hours of sleep his entire life.
When I first started using a fitness tracker, I was striving to get eight hours of sleep, but my Jawbone UP typically recorded me at 7.5 hours. So I went to bed earlier and now average about 8.5 hours of sleep every night. The fitness tracker helped me realize that unless I am asleep, not just in bed, but asleep by 10:00 PM I won't get my eight hours. Gradually I have been able to get this down to 9:30 PM. If I wake up before 4:30 AM I typically try to go back to sleep. But after that time I find it too difficult so I merely meditate for an hour.
Frequent yawning during the day is a major red flag that you're sleep deprived, as is nodding off when you're reading or in a meeting. If you need an alarm clock to wake up, and you wake up feeling tired and groggy, you probably need to go to sleep earlier (or get more restful sleep) as well. If you struggle with sleep apnea, skip the CPAP and consider a consult with an oral myofascial therapist. You can review my interview with Joy Moeller for more information.
What to Do Next
If you apply the principles that I review they will likely resolve over 80 percent of your health problems. If you have an area that I have not addressed that you still have questions on, then please use the search box as the top of every page on the site. There are 18 years' worth of articles there and odds are very high I have previously addressed your concern.
If you still have a question, then I would encourage you to find a natural medicine clinician. There are many good ones out there. A great strategy is to use social networking and go to your local health food stores and get a consensus as to who the best ones in your area are. If you have a rare or complex problem you might need to search the web and forums to find a world class expert. I believe the time and expense will be worth it.
I used to see patients from all over the world and know firsthand how glad and grateful my patients were to make the effort as they typically resolved their health challenge without dangerous drugs or surgery, and are healthy today as a result. It is vital to maintain a positive attitude the entire time and know that if you are committed to finding a natural solution you will find one. It's merely a matter of time. Always remember that you have the power to take control of you and your family's health.