This is the fourth and final installment of the “Obesity and Insulin Resistance Series.” Please do read the three preceding posts to get the benefit of the complete series.
When it comes to your health, there is one factor that is more important than almost any other. If it is missing from your life, it causes or worsens 95 per to cent of all illness. It has been associated with dramatic reductions in disease and increased longevity. It is more important than cholesterol, blood sugar, blood pressure, or any other risk factor in determining whether you will live a long and healthy life, but it doesn’t come in a pill, and it can’t be found in a hospital or in your doctor’s office.
What is this critical factor that determines so much about how healthy or how sick you are? Your attitude, your social networks, your community, and your spiritual beliefs.
Put another way, the health of your mind and spirit and your sense of connection to your community has an immense impact on the health of your body. In fact, aside from eating breakfast, biggest predictor of longevity is psychological resiliency — being able to roll with the punches that life throws at us.
There is a dramatic and powerful connection between your mind and body, and between your body and your mind. In fact, it really should not be called a connection because it is just ONE bidirectional system. Unfortunately, few doctors accept or understand this fundamental reality about biology. So, in most doctors’ offices, you aren’t going to learn about the connection between your body and brain or how to use that connection to help you heal.
According to Hans Selye, M.D., the man who coined the word “stress” and first mapped out its biological effects, “The modern physician should know as much about emotions and thoughts as about disease symptoms and drugs. This approach would appear to hold more promise of cure than anything medicine has given us to date.” Selye’s words are as true today as they were on the day he wrote them.
We are seeing an epidemic of stress-related disorders in our society, including; depression, anxiety, autism, attention deficit disorder, memory disorders, and dementia, and these disorders are making the pharmaceutical industry highly profitable.
You see, Americans live on caffeine and Prozac. We use substances to manage our moods. In fact, the four top-selling items in grocery stores are all drugs that we use to manage our mood and energy: caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and nicotine.
In school, we all learned how to read and write, but we never learned how to use our minds to help us with the most important survival skills of all: staying happy and healthy!
Other cultures differ in their training. Herbert Benson, M.D., of Harvard Medical School, has demonstrated the amazing power that trained Tibetan meditators use to control their physiology by slowing their metabolism, changing their heart rates and brain waves, and raising or lowering their body temperature. He even documented on film an ancient practice called tumo, the generating of internal heat, performed by initiated Tibetan monks. The monks are wrapped in icy cold sheets and must use their internal heat to dry them, possibly by actively burning something called brown fat. As a result, they can sit naked on a snowy mountaintop all night and not freeze, keeping warm with their internal heat. This is something most of us don’t have any consciousness of, or control over. Imagine if you could turn on fat burning and lose weight with your mind! This is how powerful our mind and our beliefs can be.
In the West we aren’t even taught how to cope with the day-to-day frustrations of life. We live under constant chronic stress and we are not trained to address this stressful psychic load that is the burden of the 21st century. This is unfortunate, because stress is killing us.
Just consider these facts:
• Ninety-five percent of all illness is caused or worsened by stress.
• Low socioeconomic status is associated with poorer health outcomes and higher risk of death from all causes. This is not because of poor health habits, but because of feelings of powerlessness and loss of control.
• Internalized racism and stress are associated with high amounts of belly fat.
• Stress hormones damage the hippocampus — the memory center in the brain — causing memory loss and dementia.
• In a study of people who volunteered to have cold viruses injected into their noses, only people with a high level of perceived stress got colds.
• Women with metastatic breast cancer survived twice as long if they were part of a support group.
• Belonging to a group — a religious group, a bowling club, a quilting group — reduces risk of death from all causes and increases longevity, despite health habits.
• In a study of doctors, those who scored high on hostility questionnaires had a higher risk of heart attacks than those who smoked, were overweight, had high blood pressure, or didn’t exercise.
So, if you don’t think the mind has the power to influence your body, think again.
The good news is that you can change your beliefs and attitudes and their effects on your mind and your body. You may need to learn a few new skills, like stress reduction techniques, but it can be done.
However, our beliefs and attitudes aren’t the only things that matter. Our mind and brain function is also influenced by what happens in our bodies. The effects of beliefs and attitudes are important. There can be no question of that, but the effects of imbalances in our core body systems on our mental state and brain function are just as important and are mostly IGNORED by traditional medicine.
The systems in your body that affect mood and brain function include hormones, immune system, gut, detox system, energy system, nutritional status, and other environmental inputs.
10 Tips for Calming Your Mind
1. Address the Underlying Causes of Stress — Find the biological causes of problems with the mind by getting tested for: Mercury toxicity or a magnesium or vitamin B12 deficiency or a toxic gut chemical or a gluten allergy could be changing your brain. So, by changing your body, you can change your mind!
2. Relax — Learn how to ACTIVELY relax. To engage the powerful forces of the mind on the body, you must DO something — you can’t just sit there watching television or drinking beer.
3. Learn New Skills — Try learning new skills such as meditation, deep breathing, yoga, biofeedback, and progressive muscle relaxation or take a hot bath, make love, get a massage, watch a sunset, or walk in the woods or on the beach.
4. Move Your Body — Exercise is a powerful, well-studied way to burn off stress chemicals and heal the mind, so just do it! It has been proven to be better than or equal to Prozac for treating depression.
5. Optimize Your Nutrition — Clean up your diet from mind-robbing molecules like caffeine, alcohol, and refined sugars and eat regularly to avoid the short-term stress of starvation on your body.
6. Supplement — Take a multivitamin and nutrients to help balance the stress response, such as vitamin C; the B-complex vitamins, including B6 and B5 or pantothenic acid; zinc; and most important, magnesium, the relaxation mineral.
7. Try Herbs — Use adaptogenic herbs (herbs that help you adapt and balance your response to stress) such as ginseng, rhodiola, and ashwagandha.
8. Use Heat Therapy — Take a hot bath or a sauna to help your body deeply relax and turn on the relaxation response.
9. Change Your Beliefs — Examine your beliefs, attitudes, and responses to common situations and consider reframing your point of view to reduce stress.
10. Find a Community — Consciously build your network of friends, family, and community. They are your most powerful allies in achieving long-term health.