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2022 – The Year To Become The Main Participant In Your Own Healthcare

Written by: Tracy Tredoux, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

As we progress further into the year 2022, one thing remains clear - the words SARS-COV 2 and Covid-19 are not going away quite yet, if ever. For some countries, such as the United Kingdom, all rules around COVID-19 have fallen away despite possible new variants and the number of Covid cases. For other countries, stricter quarantine, lockdown, and mask-wearing rules continue. At the same time prominent figures such as Klaus Schwab and Bill Gates, and international organisations such as the WHO, warn of the possibility of future pandemics. Since the current pandemic catapulted health into the limelight, many people have become more concerned about their own health and more aware of the importance of becoming proactive in their healthcare.

Time to recalibrate


The worst of the pandemic is hopefully over, but Covid-19 remains and now is not the time to rest on one’s laurels and become complacent. Rather, now is the time to re-examine and adjust our approach to our own health. Now is the time to realise there is a lot each of us can do, moving forward, to improve our health. It’s time to feel more positive as we acknowledge that we are greater than many of our challenges and that, no matter what variants, mutations and pandemics may lie ahead, we have powerful immune systems, capable of overcoming many illnesses, given the tools and ammunition to do so. After all, we have survived as a species for a very long time.


Chronic illnesses in the light of COVID-19


Unfortunately, we are living in times when the burden of chronic diseases (health conditions that last longer than 3 months) is increasing. These tend not to have a ‘cure’, but at best can be controlled. The most common types of chronic diseases are cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Other chronic conditions include autoimmune conditions, fibromyalgia syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome and irritable bowel syndrome. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), chronic diseases represent 7 of the top 10 causes of death in the United States[1]. Six in 10 Americans live with at least one chronic condition such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer[2] and chronic diseases are the leading causes of disability in the USA.[2, 3] Here in the U.K., heart disease remains the primary cause of death in men and the number two cause in women[4]. With statistics like these, and many chronic illnesses being linked to poor diet and lifestyle, some healthcare practitioners have questioned whether perhaps Covid-19 has been a wake-up call, kickstarting people into making better diet and lifestyle choices.


What do chronic illnesses have to do with COVID-19? Covid-19 is the name of the disease caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, resulting most often in respiratory distress. For those with chronic disease, the impact of Covid-19 has been particularly profound[5,6]. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease and obesity are all conditions that increase the risk for severe illness from COVID-19[6]. This is where your participation in your own healthcare becomes so important and relevant. Today, more and more studies indicate the extent to which a healthy diet and lifestyle can improve, reverse, control and even prevent chronic health conditions. In fact, large studies reveal statistics such as that 90% of strokes are preventable, identifying high blood pressure, smoking, alcohol consumption, poor diet, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, obesity, and stress as some of the main risk factors for stroke[7].


Your health is in your hands


We are each the most central person in our own healthcare. It is important to appreciate that medical doctors address disease and illness, but that it is up to us to focus on our health and vitality. Once people understand the extent to which our diet and lifestyle choices impact our health, most become willing to become more proactive in their own healthcare. Even genetic predispositions in a family do not necessarily mean that a disease is one’s destiny. The study of epigenetics and nutrigenomics has revealed the extent to which the environment and the foods we eat interact with our genes, especially regarding the prevention or treatment of disease. In addition, we all have highly evolved, intricate immune systems protecting us against harmful microbes and certain diseases. However, just as we would not expect an unprepared army with inadequate arms and weapons to win a war, so we cannot expect our immune systems to defend us successfully when we fail to provide it with the tools it needs to do so.


Supporting and strengthening overall health and immunity


Understanding that your everyday lifestyle and food choices may well be causing or contributing to your health issues is one thing but knowing what changes to make, is another. A good place to begin is by understanding the four main pillars of health that work together to keep our minds and bodies healthy. These are:

  • Good nutrition: The knowledge of the healing powers of food dates back thousands of years. As Hippocrates so famously said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” Food is a double-edged sword – it can heal, and it can harm. It is as important to exclude certain foods from one’s diet as it is to include certain others. Aim to:

    • Increase your intake of plant-based foods such as fruit and vegetables, proven to help reduce the risk of many chronic illnesses due to the high content of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients, and dietary fibre, all of which contribute to supporting a stronger immune system. The saying ‘variety is the spice of life’ applies not only generally but also more specifically to the foods you usually eat. Research consistently shows that those who include the most variety within key food groups most often enjoy better health and wellbeing. The more colourful your plate the wider the variety of different micronutrients you are taking in, with each colour containing unique health benefits. Aiming for around 30 different fruits and veg a week is optimal and sounds more difficult than it is. For example, if you start the day with yoghurt and fruit such as a few blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and papaya, with a quinoa salad for lunch including red onion, butternut, coriander and avocado and adding a few vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, peas, and carrots to an evening roast, you have already had 12 different varieties of plant-based foods and all the different colours in one day.

    • Build a healthy gut microbiome by increasing your intake of fermented foods that naturally contain probiotics such as sauerkraut, kimchi, natto, kombucha, miso, kefir, tempeh, yoghurt, pickles sourdough bread and certain cheeses. With about 70% of the immune system housed in the gut and the variety and quality of our gut microbiome contributing to the health of our gut, including ‘prebiotic’ foods (which nourish the ‘good’ bacteria) is important for building a healthy microflora, fostering a healthy gastrointestinal lining, and supporting overall immune health. Prebiotic foods include leeks, garlic, onions, chicory root, asparagus, oats, apples, bananas, and Jerusalem artichokes.

    • Cut down on inflammatory foods that can cause or contribute to chronic conditions, increase inflammation, and reduce the function of the immune system. These foods include gluten, dairy, sugar, wheat, artificial trans fats (found in foods such as pies, pastries, crackers), vegetable and seed oils, refined carbohydrates (found in foods such as white rice, white flour, pasta, white bread), processed meats and excessive alcohol. Identifying and removing foods that a person may be allergic or intolerant to is also crucial when addressing symptoms and chronic health conditions.

    • Choose organic food as much as possible. We are living in a world of increasing toxic exposure and reducing our toxic burden is an important component of addressing overall health. Non-organic fruits and vegetables, wheat etc. are sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, and glyphosate, all of which negatively impact our health. Consuming non-organic meat and chicken exposes one to the overuse of hormones and antibiotics used in industrial farming, contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria and the increase in chronic illnesses.

  • Sleep: Many people underestimate the importance of sleep. Sleep is a crucial time for cell repair and rejuvenation, healing, and detoxification. In fact, most people are unaware of the fact that it is only whilst we sleep that our brain detoxifies from the toxins accumulated during the day and is the reason chronic, ongoing lack of sleep has been implicated as one of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease[8]. Even one night of reduced sleep can lead to changes in immune function.

  • Stress reduction: Chronic, relentless, ongoing stress, day in and day out has a huge impact on overall health, compromising the immune system and interfering with the body’s ability to heal. Stress also puts one at an increased risk of viral infections. Although it is often impossible to remove the ‘stressors’ from life (work, a relationship, daily schedules etc), it is more about focusing on stress management techniques such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises or, for example, the relaxation response developed by Dr Herbert Benson.

  • Exercise: The health benefits of exercise are well known and have long been researched. However, it is not necessarily about prolonged, strenuous exercise (which can be a ‘stressor’ and impact overall immune health for some) but rather about engaging in moderate, regular physical exercise that you enjoy, so it becomes sustainable. Getting the balance is important to avoid stressing the immune system and causing inflammation.

Following these simple guidelines can go a long way to improving your overall health and to giving your body a much better chance of protecting itself against future health challenges.


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Tracy Tredoux, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Tracy Tredoux is a fully qualified Nutritional Therapist and Zest4Life coach, who consults in London, UK. Tracy believed her life career would be in law, becoming a partner in a top South African law firm at 28 and subsequently qualifying as a solicitor in the UK. However, Tracy's husband's health deteriorated soon after they married and over the years he was diagnosed with numerous chronic health conditions. Fuelled by a desire to support her husband, Tracy sought to study the interaction between nutrition and the body on a cellular, biochemical level. Tracy studied for 4 years at the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, UK, to become a registered Nutritional Therapist. When Tracy is not consulting with clients on a 1 to 1 basis, she is writing health articles for health magazines and websites, providing the research for educational webinars, giving health presentations, running online group programmes, and is currently co-authoring a recipe book with a medical doctor and a well-known TV chef. In addition, Tracy is continuing her studies to become a fully qualified Functional Medicine practitioner.

 

References:

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Leading causes of death. Updated March 1, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm. Accessed April 8, 2021.


2. Buttorff C, Teague R, Bauman M. Multiple chronic conditions in the United States. Santa Monica (CA): RAND Corporation; 2017. https://www.rand.org/pubs/tools/TL221.html. Accessed April 8, 2021.


3. Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services. National health expenditures 2019 highlights. https://www.cms.gov/files/document/highlights.pdf. Accessed April 8, 2021.



5. Rosenthal N, Cao Z, Gundrum J, Sianis J, Safo S. Risk factors associated with in-hospital mortality in a US national sample of patients with COVID-19. JAMA Netw Open 2020;3(12):e2029058. Erratum in: JAMA Netw Open 2021;1:e2036103[REMOVED IF= FIELD]


6. Williamson EJ, Walker AJ, Bhaskaran K, Bacon S, Bates C, Morton CE, et al. Factors associated with COVID-19-related death using OpenSAFELY. Nature 2020;584(7821):430–6.



8. Bubu, Omonigho M., et al. "Sleep, cognitive impairment, and Alzheimer’s disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis." Sleep 40.1 (2017): zsw032.

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