Tuesday, 23 December 2008

The Hazards of Chronic Mild Dehydration

Before this morning's pearls of wisdom are dispensed I would like to take a moment to thank my loyal readers for their support this year.

May I also wish you all a safe and peaceful 2009.

I am doing the unthinkable and turning my computer off until after January 5th. This will be quite a challenge for me as I spend far too much time on my computer and need to find a better balance.

I hope the quality of today's post makes up for any downtime. It's way too contentious and way too long. But it has to last you two weeks.

Here goes ...

Routine water loss occurs when we breathe, perspire, or go to the loo. (Note to reader ... not a very salubrious start, I know ... please bear with me).

During the course of a normal day, this can add up to several liters or more that needs to be replaced.

Short term our body cleverly shifts water from cells into blood vessels ... but, if this is not replenished, signs and symptoms of dehydration will quickly become apparent. If all is functioning as it should our bodies will limit the amount of water lost in urine and we should feel thirsty. In practice, many of us ignore our thirst, or we mistake it for hunger.

And we get away with this (or so we think) because of our sedentary, cosetted lifestyles.

Under normal circumstances many of us flirt with mild dehydration over sustained periods. This is where things start to go wrong.

Heartburn, for instance, is a major thirst signal. Why do you think that symptoms are always worse after overindulging in coffee and alcohol? What is really causing "acid reflux"?

What do we do in response? We pop antacids! Eventually this causes inflammation of the stomach and duodenum. Left unchecked ... ulcers, hiatus hernia ... possibly even cancers of the stomach, intestines, pancreas and liver? Woah! This is serious stuff.

Or should I say "could be" as prevailing medical knowledge is still unclear as to the "exact" cause of such maladies.

What about these other nasties?

Back pain ... as discs and joints in the spinal column dehydrate and become arthritic over time. How does modern medicine respond? You got it ... painkillers, acupuncture, manipulation, eventually surgery. Relieve the symptoms temporarily, exacerbate the problem, ignore the root cause.

Migraine headaches ... a powerful sign that the eyes and brain need water.

Chest pain (angina) ... better ask your doctor about this one.

Constipation ... leading to pain, colitus, hemorrhoids and worse. Oh ... and back pain.

And the list goes on ... adult-onset diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure, even asthma. Chronic water shortage can invariably be implicated somewhere in the chain of events that lead to these diseases.

And because by the time the disease has shown itself it's usually too late to change our habits, we continue to subscribe to the culture that tries to cure, rather than seeking to prevent.

Open your eyes (and minds)! So what if you don't like the taste of water. So what if there's no fizzy bubbles, stimulants or sexy taste. Inconvenient? How inconvenient is a decade plus of needless suffering?

A clean, balanced body loves water.

Until the new year ... peace.

Go safe. Be happy. Laugh. Stop thinking so much. Life is short.

Spare a thought for those turkeys.

Friday, 19 December 2008

We Are Not Drinking Enough Water

Seems simple enough ... and we've heard it a thousand times. Eight glasses a day is the recommendation we hear most commonly.

So why is this so important and why is something so straight-forward so often forgotten? And why is the magic number "eight" ... all genders, all sizes, all climates, all metabolisms?

Well, for starters us humans are mostly water. Lean muscle tissue is about 75% water, while fat is only around 14%. This accounts for the reason why men are more full of it ... water ... than ladies!

Interestingly enough, this also means that water can account for anywhere from less than half, to more than three-quarters, of our body weight, depending of course on how much lard we are carrying. Sobering thought! But definitely no justification to drink less.

Most adults are somewhere around 50 - 65 percent water ... and that fraction also varies depending on hormones, consumption habits and a whole host of inter-related factors.

And because H2O is so fundamentally important to our physiology, you'd think we'd take our hydration levels a little more seriously?

Well ... we don't (even when we think we do, we forget). Most of us are in a state of chronic dehydration. And most of us have no idea just how serious this is.

In my next post, I'll tell you what this is doing to our bodies. This is one you won't want to miss!

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

The Quick Fix: "Fast Food" Health

Wasn't sure what direction my post would take today ... then it hit me!

So many of us are looking for the quick fix: that ellusive shortcut to balance, health and happiness.

It's as if people lurch from magic bullet to magic bullet, ceaselessly scavenging more hope (do sharks that stop swimming really drown?).

The diet that promises to help you lose ten pounds in as many days ...

The six magic exercises that will transform you from , hmmm ... overweight to hardbody when everything else you've tried has failed.

Eat whatever you want, in front of the TV, and incinerate fat with the touch of a button ... in just ten minutes a day.

Why is it that we still want so badly to believe that the next great thing will be the panacaea to all our problems? As a certifiable cynic I have my theories:

- the horde of "wannabee" affiliate marketers is actually a hungrier crowd than the gurus are willing to reveal (oops, sorry ... wrong blog!)
- most of us are sadly too lazy to turn the tide once the rot has set in
- we are a profoundly naive species
- immediate gratification is in our DNA ... that's not going to change
- a billion dollar industry can't be wrong

I guess I'll put myself out of business right now and reveal ... drum roll please ... there are no shortcuts, you do have to be patient, moderation is a lovely concept that doesn't work, goals only work for a few of us, variety is the spice of life, overkill cardio doesn't work, it's all about the hormones, drink more water, sleep deeper, for longer, more regularly ...

Okay, okay ... I won't give away all my secrets! (Maybe I do have something to say after all).

I feel so much better.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Youth Obesity: Fat Chance Things Will Change

Catchy title ... but sadly all true! Nothing will change until we have a total paradigm shift in our mentality.

When things go wrong, it's not politically correct to blame the parents. So we blame everyone else that we can think of ... schools, teachers, the government ... blah, blah, blah. What a cop out!

No wonder our kids are getting fat and unhappy. They have no leadership where it counts. At home ... from the very adults that should be setting an example.

What chance does any kid have if their own parents can't communicate effectively with them? Once the rot starts, families never get out of fire-fighting mode ... and as things get progressively worse, so the excuse machine starts and the blame is placed, diverting attention from the source.

Every day the media tells us the problem is getting worse ... and every day some genius comes out with another angle on fixing the problem. Meals at schools should be healthier. Kids should become more active. TV and computers are the root of all evil.

Sorry ... the real problem is lack of communication skills. Parents are told it's not their responsibility ... and kids are told that they are in some way defective, in need of help, correction, whatever.

So here's what to do about it.

- stop nagging, lecturing or otherwise pointing out that your kid has a problem ... they don't. You do.

- get informed ... learn about clean eating and healthy movement and how to effectively make the incremental small changes that add up to long term, sustainable, permanent habits.

- accept that the process will take time and that you will need patience and yes, maturity.

- lead by example. Believe it or not, kids want direction ... but from someone they respect, someone who makes them feel good about themselves. Who's going to take advice about healthy eating from "leadership" that serves up TV dinners and fizzy drinks for dinner?

- "But my kids won't eat anything else" ... stop making excuses, stop pandering to them. Show them a better way by showing them you care about them ... and yourselves.

- get outside and move about. Have fun. Don't "work out" ... that's for adults. And that's why most adults also don't develop the habit of activity. It's just not enjoyable if you're measuring all the time. Spontaneity works for adults too! And start off slowly. Consistency wins the day ... because it's manageable.

So, take responsibility, get informed, show some leadership, stop being critical and start being patient. Have some fun ... together ... outside ... as a family!

Remember, this is a process, not a destination. And these are your kids. You can never stop trying.

(I first alluded to this problem in my earler post of Friday 14 November, 2008).

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Organic Food Production Standards: Friend or Foe?

Because of the commercial advantage afforded by the use of the word "organic", comprehensive legislation has evolved in the US, European Union, Japan and other countries ostensibly to protect the consumer.

However, as with all legislation governing the food industry, the devil is once again in the detail. Most people, for example, are unaware that there is a distinction between "100% organic" (the real McCoy), "organic" (at least 95% organic) and "made with organic ingredients" (minimum 70% organic ingredients).

It's sad because people willing to invest in protecting their own health ... and I include myself in this group ... do not want to be misled, again, by cleverly worded half-truths. Just call it what it is. There should be no mileage in compromise.

If we think we are buying "organic" (should mean totally free of all nasties) ... and we're willing to pay a premium for these perceived benefits ... then we should get what we pay for, without compromise. If this is impractical ... then fine, just tell us clearly without making a meal about the product being "organic".

Call me a purist, but I'm sick of being misled ... finding out the real truth and then feeling stupid. I even accept that this view may be crude ... and do not mean to disrespect the vast majority of very sophisticated legislation that has been orchestrated around organic food production.

But why go so far ... and then shoot yourself in the foot at the point where it really matters ... consumer perception, in its most basic form?

Won't disenchanted potential customers miss out because they don't trust the real benefits? How sad is that? How many people have you spoken to who just don't care because they have become jaded?

People who want to lead healthy lives and take responsibility for their own health deserve standards that are completely transparent and free from agenda, political implication or industry lobby. This should in no way be punitive to organic farmers ... ever. But why allow the word "organic" to become a marketing term?

Just tell us the truth ... without any slick nuances or disguised technical exceptions. The value should still be able to stand on its own!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Brain Health: Keep Your Brain Fit

A healthy brain is something most of us take for granted.

Yet our brain plays a critical role in virtually everything we do. From sleeping to moving, thinking to feeling ... these functions are so automatic that the idea of losing our faculties is inconceivable to most ... but very scary to some.

So what can we do to keep our brains healthy as we age?

Just as our bodies do, so too do our brains naturally deteriorate with advancing years. Unsurprisingly, we can minimise the rate of this decline ... or accelerate it.

Here are a few tips to keep your brain healthy:

- Keep your mind active. Mental stimulation increases brain vitality, protects existing brain cells and the connections between them ... and may even generate new cells according to cutting edge research. So be curious and get involved.

- Become a social butterfly. Recreation and social interaction is stimulating both physically and mentally. Inter-cellular connectivity is enhanced because stress is reduced.

- Become more physically active. This stimulates blood flow and reduces risk of heart disease, diabetes ... and stroke.

- Eat a healthy diet. Reduced cholesterol equates to reduced stroke risk. A whole host of foods are considered "brain-healthy" including dark green leafy vegetables, fruit and cold water fish rich in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA (docosahexaenoicacid). If the brain cell membranes can be kept healthy, then brain signals transmit better.

- Stop doing drugs. Drugs are known to cause long term brain damage like learning and memory problems. What we still don't yet have enough experience with is whether this damage translates into dementia in later years.

You cannot control your genetics any more than you can control getting older. But healthy habits will give you an edge and make your life more fulfilling along the way.

So Einstein ... maybe curiosity didn't kill the cat!

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Common Myths About Heart Disease

Sadly, numerous myths exist about heart disease.

One of the most pervasive is that the genetic component trumps everything else. If heart disease runs in your family, there's nothing you can do to protect yourself. While family history is considered a risk factor, in no way does this absolve you from taking responsibility for your own health.

Another myth is that only men get heart attacks. Surprisingly, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women too! Sorry ladies.

Here's another: if your cholesterol is "normal" you have nothing to worry about. Unfortunately, cholesterol is not the only risk factor. Blood pressure, smoking and diabetes are up there to. Also playing a contributing role are stress, obesity, gender, family history and age.

And here's the one that really hurts people because, by the time you learn the truth, irreversable damage has already occurred: the biggest danger from smoking is lung cancer. We've all seen the posters of blackened, damaged lungs. But how many kids that smoke understand the damage it's doing to their circulation?

So what can we do to reduce our risk?

First, see your doctor and get a check-up. Get an appreciation of your numbers: body composition, girth measurements, blood pressure ... your doctor may want more.

Get active ... just heed medical advice, learn to listen to your body and take things slow.

Master your emotions. This may be easier said than done, but there is also an element of maturity involved. Bottom line: negative emotions like rage, hostility, misguided aggression, impatience, holding grudges ... all impact heart health far more than you realize.

Eat fresh foods. Stop killing yourself by over-eating the wrong foods. Processed foods contain empty calories and create cravings and imbalances that can lead to food addiction, obesity and diabetes. If this sounds over-dramatic, you may need a reality check.

Stop poisoning yourself. Too much harmful fat, salt, sugar and stimulants ... we already covered that in the point above. Add to this cigarette smoke, excess alcohol, toxic fumes and other hidden dangers and many people are treating their bodies like a dumping ground for hazardous waste. Your body is your temple ... start respecting yourself!

And finally, get outside and get some fresh air and a little sunlight. If it's cold and raining, enjoy the nip on your face. Breathe, laugh, immerse yourself in nature. There's no charge ... really.

Rant over ... you get the point. You're in charge of your own health. No-one else.