The greatest wealth is health. – Virgil
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I like to take complex information and distill it down to first principles or basic concepts. In my opinion, there are few categories of knowledge that have been subject to more disinformation, over-complication and even political manipulation (vegan vs. carnivore, “big agriculture” influencing recommended diets, etc.) as health.
Is coffee good for you? How about eggs? What about sitting vs standing all day? The things we’re supposed to do seem to change by the year. A lot of our confusion comes from sensationalist media and journalists who know that nothing drives clicks like scaring somebody that they’re about to die: “Sitting is the New Smoking!”
A few years ago I was very unhealthy: I was on 5 medications (from blood pressure to proton pump inhibitors for indigestion), I weighed almost 240 pounds and had a CT scan confirmed 30-40% blockage in my left anterior descending heart artery (the “widow maker”). After reading everything I could get my hands on regarding health (from people that actually are healthy) and dramatically improving my own health over the past few years, I started to realize that not only is optimizing your health pretty simple, it’s pretty easy to do as well.
In fact, I would say that being unhealthy (not necessarily sick with a disease, but just being generally “unhealthy” or out of shape), day to day, is actually much harder than being healthy. Unhealthy people are usually low energy, out of breath, have terrible sleep and a litany of negative side effects that make day to day existence miserable. That was a big realization to me: life is actually easier when you’re healthy, even if you have to do things like exercise or plan meals – the added energy and vitality that you have easily compensates for the additional work or discipline required.
There’s a handful of principles to follow and if you’re consistent, living to 90+ (and not in a wheelchair or constant pain) is not only possible but highly likely. For example, Japan currently has over 70,000 people over the age of 100. I’m now around 200 pounds (I’m not some bodybuilder nor do I care to be, but my body composition is much improved), I’m off those medications and am probably healthier than I was in high school or college. The heart blockage has been confirmed by a recent CT heart scan as gone (which is another post I will write eventually).
The problem with health is the disinformation and over-complication I mentioned above. Industries like pharmaceuticals, big agriculture, manufactured food companies, certain farming industries (soy, corn), healthcare (they make more money if you’re sick) and even doctors themselves don’t really have an incentive for you to be healthy nor do they necessarily care.
Fitness coaches and gurus seem to take simple information and over-complicate it into some kind of “system” that requires 90 days (and plenty of money) to do step-by-step. This is silly and you probably know that intuitively.
I will make the argument that we need to ignore a lot of mainstream health advice and follow some basic principles. More importantly, we need to stop thinking other people are in charge of our health – we pretty much need to be our own doctor at this point (at least for baseline health, emergencies and diseases obviously require medical attention). Trusting doctors or other professionals to care for us is not really an option at this point because their incentives are not aligned with us living a long, healthy life.
Note that I’m not a doctor or “health expert” – I write mostly for me and to clarify my thinking. I’m not interested in getting in a debate on this topic (though helpful feedback is welcome!). These principles are based on my own research, personal experience from me and many others I know. I’m well aware of “n=1” (anecdotal or “only 1 person’s experience”) biases and other “bro science” fads.
One of the most annoying things about social media and the internet these days is the insistence on some kind of scientific study to prove things that have worked for humanity for thousands of years (see the Lindy effect) or you already know intuitively. No bro, I don’t have a link to tell you that laying in bed and shoving twinkies and potato chips down your throat all day is bad for you. No bro, I don’t have a link to tell you that eating things that humans have been eating for thousands of years is probably better than the franken-food “health” bar or soy shake you are eating.
Listen, we get diseases we can’t control (or are genetic), maybe you don’t want to live that long, maybe I’ll die as soon as I click “post” on this article regardless of my habits, life happens. I’m not neurotic about health (which I see a lot from health gurus) and certainly don’t live some kind of 100% optimized super-healthy life where I’m wearing devices and measuring my blood sugar every second of the day. I’m just much healthier and energetic than before and I’m laying out some basics for others to follow or dismiss as they please.
The 6 Basic Health Principles
Here are the basics and I would bet that 95% or more of people that are actually healthy would agree with them. Note I didn’t say “health experts”, I prefer to take advice from healthy people that live what they preach. I think we’ve all had the obese doctor sitting there giving us health advice. Again, these principles are simple and obvious in many ways, but I want to present them in a way that anyone can follow them.
- Eat Real Food that You Enjoy (and Fast Regularly)
- Get Quality Sleep and Sun Exposure
- Regular Exercise That You Enjoy
- Manage Stress
- Manage Your Own Health
- Supplement if Necessary
Are there healthy people that don’t follow these or even most of these? Sure – I know a few people that can eat whatever they want and never gain weight (with the blood work of an athlete). I think a lot of us know people like this and get hung up because we think there must be some secret. I don’t think there are any secrets or supplements, just some “genetic freaks” that we should know better than to think are the norm.
Eat Real Food that You Enjoy (and Fast Regularly)
To get really basic, here are some rules which you can follow and this solves 95% of diet problems:
- If your grandparents couldn’t eat it when they were young, then don’t eat it.
- If you can’t grow it or kill it, then don’t eat it.
- If god didn’t make it, then don’t eat it.
Simple enough right? Well as soon as you start following this rule you’re going to encounter the legions of vegans, vegetarians, paleo, keto, carnivore dieters and god knows who else telling you that you need to eat their exact way forever. This is not about the ethics of your diet, it’s about whatever works for you. You need to start with real food, find real food that you like and agree with your biology (and ethics). Seriously, after you figure out the optimal diet, most of the health stuff simply falls in line: ideal weight, sleep, energy, clear-thinking, etc.
I will go as far as saying that you probably don’t need to count calories and cannot really get fat by eating real food to a basic “fullness”. You will be full because real food is satiating and doesn’t have weird chemicals that mess with your hunger or blood sugar (like manufactured food does). The same with losing weight: just eat real food and over time your weight will normalize. There are, of course, edge cases where this isn’t always true but for the vast majority of us, eating real food works.
What is real food? Well, that’s where the diet fanatics mentioned above will disagree. I think Cheetos and burritos obviously can’t be grown or killed. The meat in the burrito is fine, or maybe the beans (though they are difficult to eat “raw”) might be okay. Grains and rice are a big disagreement in certain diets and all I will say is that they are certainly “grown” but are pretty hard to turn into food so I would default into avoiding them at first then adding them back in – some people are just fine with them. For example, Asians are usually just fine with white rice for obvious reasons – they’ve been eating it for centuries.
Why should we eat real food? Because most people are not eating real food and I believe it’s behind a majority of our major illnesses and health conditions we’re having and almost certainly the obesity epidemic. Things like artificial ingredients and especially industrial seed oils (canola, soybean and other oils, corn syrups, etc) have only been in use for decades and our current genome is 100,000+ years old. So we’re gambling with food that’s only been around for less than 0.01% of modern humanity’s existence. See this chart on how industrial seed oils have exploded in the past few decades:
Next is sugar consumption. By some estimates sugar consumption per person in 1850 was 5 pounds per year and is now 150+ pounds per year as of 2020. See this link for more. So we’ve basically increased our sugar consumption by 3000% or more and we wonder what’s behind obesity and other issues.
Sugar and industrial seed oils have proven to be inflammatory and inflammation in the human body is a major source of disease. Additionally, I believe these foods are not only behind poor health but many food allergies (notice that suddenly everyone is “gluten intolerant”?), “brain fog” seems to have exploded, low energy (do we really need 2 Starbucks a day to get through the workday?), even some depression and a laundry list of “mysterious” conditions. Our society is literally eating ourselves to death in my opinion.
I hear about a “plant-based” diet a lot and you should be careful about that. For example, sugar, grains and industrial seed oils are all “plant-based” and these are the main ingredients in the worst food that we eat. A donut is “plant-based”, potato chips are “plant-based”, those “Impossible” veggie burgers are “plant-based”. I know many vegans who are obese! Many have noticed that eating these foods makes you crave them and eat more frequently because they’re not as satiating as real food, especially protein and fat. So be careful but mostly just follow the “real food” rule and you’ll avoid these franken-foods.
Even worse, we’ve been encouraged by gurus and experts to “eat several small meals throughout the day” or that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” (I’ll bet a cereal manufacturer was behind that one). I now believe this is almost certainly exactly the opposite of what most of us should be doing. We’re nearing 70%+ levels of overweight people in the US. The “food pyramid” is now generally seen as not ideal for health and seems to correlate with the rise of obesity (correlation is not causation of course but things are starting to line up).
Consider bad food like “shards of glass” going through your system (sugar strips away the protective lining of arteries), causing inflammation and disease along the way. The worst thing to do may be to constantly feed yourself or graze like livestock and I think people are starting to realize we need to stop eating so often. We’re starting to learn cholesterol in your blood is only bad if you have inflammation or you’re eating bad food that delivers it to the wrong places (to your artery walls).
Fasting is turning out to be the next key to the longevity and health of many people. One big clue that fasting works is that every major religion has a fasting component (religions that didn’t probably died out because their followers died out!) and science has consistently shown that those that practice “calorie restriction” live longer.
It seems that even Mormons (who as a group already don’t smoke or drink alcohol and caffeine) that fast, outlive Mormons who don’t fast. Fasting is the easiest way to restrict calories but seems to have many other benefits as well:
- Fasting clears out junk in your system via the process known as autophagy and helps generate new healthy cells. Fasting for more than 24 hours may regenerate stem cells.
- Humans almost certainly fasted for long periods of time in our history, certainly when food was not available for whatever reason (season, famine, hunting all day, etc.). There’s pretty good evidence that many cultures (like the Romans), ate mostly once a day. The word breakfast (“breaking of the fast”) should be a clue that “not eating” was the rule, not the exception. Farmers who do heavy labor all day or athletes that train all day may need many meals to keep going but I don’t think your average office worker or retiree does.
- Food tastes better when you’re truly hungry. I’ve noticed that once you start fasting, the hunger pangs only last a few minutes each, but by the time you’re ready to eat, almost any meal tastes like a feast!
- Builds self-discipline. Babies and dogs eat everything around them, adults should know better and fasting helps build self-discipline in regards to food (and that discipline can be helpful in many areas of life).
- Many (including myself) have reported dramatic weight loss. Simply skipping one meal a day reduces your calorie intake by hundreds of calories. The trope that “your body goes into starvation mode” and “holds on to calories” does not seem to apply to many people until true starvation happens (days or weeks without food). Same thing with the “my blood sugar is low, I need to eat” – that’s likely just addiction to crappy franken-foods and goes away when you eat real food and get used to fasting.
Seriously, if you have not tried a clean diet of real food with occasional fasting for 30 days then you’ve probably not addressed your health concerns properly. People that clean up their diet tend to notice remarkable changes in weeks: massive weight loss, energy levels increased, acne clears up, better sleep, digestive issues clear up, mysterious aches/pains disappear and even Type 2 diabetes has been reversed with low-carb real food eating. I’ve fasted for up to 3 days and my energy, creativity and productivity were amazing and hunger was minimal. These days, if I know I need to have energy or clarity for something, I fast.
I put this principle first because a lot of people I see trying to get healthy start exercising furiously (which tends to make them hungrier), go on a fad diet (which is not sustainable) or do “lots of small meals” and seem not to do as well as those that simply eat real, delicious food they like, and skip meals or fast regularly. It even seems that real food that has a lot of fat (meats, avocados, nuts, etc.) is not as bad as we were led to believe and in fact, may be optimal. Almost everything falls in line after you figure out diet, especially weight loss. As bodybuilders are fond of saying: “abs are made in the kitchen”.
Diet Best Practices:
- Eat a variety of real food. Try to get organically grown fruits and vegetables and/or properly raised livestock as much as possible.
- Keep track of what food gives you energy and makes you feel healthy. Consider a food diary or elimination diet to get to the basic foods you tolerate and add others back in slowly one week at a time. I believe the success of people on carnivore or vegan diets has to do more with what they’ve eliminated (usually really crappy franken-food or an unknown allergy) than the food they continue to eat.
- Find and learn real food recipes you love, make a shopping list for them and make them consistently at home. Seriously, there are unbelievably delicious real food recipes that are simple to make. In addition, find a few restaurants and even fast food places that have “real food” compatible meals.
- Consider “meal prepping” for the week in advance to avoid temptation and fast food. We tend to eat junk when we’re tired or have no time or ingredients to cook. Food prep home delivery services like Freshly are available as well.
- Throw out food that is not real and eliminate it from your home and shopping lists.
- If you need to use oils, use real fats (butter, olive oil, coconut oil, etc.), not the industrial seed oils.
- Consider bad food as “shards of glass” in your system, causing inflammation and disease.
- Try to increase periods of fasting (or “not eating”). Start with 6, 10, 12, 18 hours and try to work up to 24 hours or more and see how you feel. Some people do this for days on end but only do it if you feel comfortable and it’s cleared by your doctor. Many notice remarkable improvements in energy, clarity and self discipline.
- Eat to 80% full (an ancient Japanese teaching) and chew your food thoroughly (which helps with digestion and extends the amount of time to eat so you can achieve “fullness” on less food).
- Mindset change: you’re not “dieting”, you are simply “eating real food” and that alone should eventually get you to a healthy weight.
- An occasional “cheat” is fine. You don’t have to be pedantic about your diet. I love pizza and pasta and I have that a few meals per week. If you live these principles, especially exercise, your body can blow through a bad meal with virtually no consequences. Tip: eat protein and veggies before carbs if you’re going to cheat, it seems to make a difference with blood sugar.
Get Quality Sleep and Sun Exposure
If you would have told me 10 years ago that exposure to sun and getting good sleep was a key to not only health, but weight loss, and even a way to stave off depression I would have said you were crazy. Now I think anyone who doesn’t optimize sun exposure and sleeping to optimize their health is crazy.
Like every other health topic, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there on sleep. I won’t bother with the arguments but let’s just use common sense here. 99% of humans need somewhere between 6 and 10 hours of sleep and most fall around 7-8 hours for optimal energy and health. I think we can all admit that sleep is important and there are many ways to track and improve your sleep you can find online.
The main thing is that you prioritize sleep and commit to managing your life to where you have the time to get good sleep and do it at a consistent time (which seems to be important to good health) with good sleep hygiene. Some studies are linking lack of sleep with excess body fat, insulin resistance and a host of other problems so it’s much more serious than simply “being tired”.
Now, sunshine is where this topic gets interesting. When I was growing up I heard about all the dangers of sunlight, skin cancers, etc. Now I actually think that not only is moderate sun exposure good for you, it is critical to maintaining your circadian rhythm which itself is critical to sleep, digestion, metabolism and a host of other very important processes in your body. A few healthy people I respect think sunlight exposure and the circadian rhythm is perhaps more important than even diet. Vitamin D is the #1 vitamin deficiency and we get most of our Vitamin D from the sun.
So get good consistent sleep and regular sun exposure and your health should improve. Combine that with real food and you’re going to be way ahead of the curve on health. I hope you can see how these principles start working together, especially when you add exercise which is the next principle.
Sleep and Sunshine Best Practices:
- Prioritize sleep and get as much sleep as you need to not be tired throughout the day.
- Practice good sleep hygiene (endless articles online about this – this is a good one).
- If your sleep is not optimal, try standardizing your schedule (same time to sleep and wake each day) and getting more sunshine.
- Get your Vitamin D levels tested (see below for how) and get more sun exposure if you’re deficient. Consider supplementing with Vitamin D if sun exposure is not working or not available (live in the extreme northern hemisphere, etc.).
- If you can’t sleep, then meditate (see “Manage Stress” below). Worst case, you relax or fall asleep – win-win.
Regular Exercise That You Enjoy
Eat real food, get sleep and sunlight, do exercise that you like. See how these aren’t complicated? The amount of disagreement on exercise is enough to drive someone crazy. We’re not going to get into any of that because we’re keeping it simple.
All you have to do is move around a bit on a regular basis. The body needs movement to maintain its existing muscle and cardiovascular capacity so you can’t just not move all day or you’ll start wasting away. Astronauts bodies start breaking down almost immediately once in space because there’s zero gravity and no resistance to build muscle or challenge their respiratory system.
How much exercise? Depends on you and the results you want, but whatever it takes for you to feel good, energetic and looking how you like is a good start. For some that’s 20 minutes a day, for others 2 full 1 hour body workouts a week is enough. Find what works for you and do it.
I was one of those people that absolutely hated the concept of exercise (even though I played sports when I was young) because in my mind I built it up as a chore, a pain, and something that only neurotic health freaks did because they’re afraid to die (true for some, but not most).
What I figured out is that many of the happiest and best performing people in life seem to exercise, and more importantly, use exercise to give them more energy and improve their mood. Next, I realized that not only do these people exercise, but they’ve found exercise that they truly enjoy and is not a chore at all. Many people treasure their exercise time or even view it as a personal “day spa” for them to feel good, get clear, and build self discipline.
This was the mindset change that switched me to regular exercise and now I can’t really go too long without exercise and actually look forward to it (most days). The key is to find exercise you enjoy. Whether it’s MMA, golfing, yard work, jogging, weightlifting (example: some lifts are much more enjoyable to me than others so I mostly do the ones I like) or whatever. The key is to find something, learn how to do it properly, associate a lot of good things with it and do it regularly forever. It’s also key to remember that nobody ever really feels bad after exercising so there’s a good lesson there.
Another good practice is something that is similar to exercise in that it makes you sweat: saunas (and even hot baths). Regular sauna use has massive benefits including lower blood pressure, fewer heart attacks and less all-cause mortality. Those that did sauna 4-7 times per week had much better benefits than even those that did 1 time per week. Don’t have access or time to go to a sauna? It seems a really hot 10 minute bath has amazing benefits as well including lower anxiety, anger and depression.
Finally, a good benefit of exercise is that it has a flywheel effect on your other habits. You’ll start craving foods that energize you (likely protein and healthy fats), you’ll realize that processed food sucks and makes you feel terrible. You’ll know that the gut-buster burrito will kill your energy for the day and you want to work out later so you’ll have the low-carb burrito bowl instead.
Exercise Best Practices:
- Find an exercise you enjoy and do it regularly; that’s 90% of the exercise game right there.
- Body weight exercises (do 100 reps of push-ups, squats, etc.) and jogging (Couch to 5k is the best known) are easy ways to start right now. If you need training, then don’t use that as an excuse to procrastinate, get basic training via articles, books or videos and get started right away.
- Exercise as much as you need to feel energetic and look how you want.
- Over-exercising is a thing – you shouldn’t be in constant pain and should listen to your body.
- Extended cardiovascular exercise has proven to be beneficial for improving mood but note that it can increase your appetite. So if you’re trying to lose weight, many people recommend you focus 80% on diet, 20% on exercise (and probably more on weights than cardio but this varies widely from person to person).
- Stop waiting for the “perfect time” to exercise. Do it whenever and wherever you like. Do sets of 10 push-ups or body squats throughout the day and bam, you’ve exercised for the day.
- Change your mindset: exercise is your personal spa time, gives you energy and is something you look forward to and never regret.
- Sauna and hot baths.
If you’re eating real food, sleeping well and exercising, but not feeling good or are not “healthy” then I believe stress is the next biggest culprit and destroyer of health. For decades, I was aware of the nebulous concept of “stress” and that it was probably bad. Now, I believe that not only is it bad, but stress is at crisis levels in modern society and that it causes major health problems.
This may seem obvious to many, but we’re seeing real evidence that stress is causing things like inflammation, high cortisol, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, more frequent colds or sickness, more drinking, more smoking, more opioid use and bad sleep and low energy (e.g. “burnout”) just to name a few. Over time this causes massive problems to your health or the stereotypical heart attack or stroke.
It’s important to know that short term, stress is not bad and can even energize you (see Eustress). There’s the concept that “zebras don’t get heart attacks” because they have bouts of short term stress (being chased by a lion about to eat them, etc.) but also have lots of down-time (grazing peacefully). So the problem is probably not stress itself, but never-ending stress. The key is to relax and properly manage your stress.
There are many ways to do this and our first 3 principles: real food, good sleep, exercise will get you most of the way there. But if you still have issues, then I recommend either distraction, breathing exercises or meditation. Distraction would be something like going for long walks or a video game like Tetris (Tetris has shown to help people with PTSD).
There are very effective deep breathing techniques like Box Breathing or the Wim Hof Method. Personally, breathing and meditation has been a game changer for me and there are many apps and free resources on the internet to learn the basics. Also “rebooting” throughout the day is important: take 10 box breaths, take a walk, meditate for 5 minutes, etc. Finally, an effective way to manage stress is to simply practice daily gratitude.
However, the most important thing I think to manage stress is to deal with the root cause. Usually this is a past trauma, a bad relationship, a bad job and the like. Getting healthier will help you have more energy to deal with things but sometimes you need to deal with or cut others out of your life to manage your stress levels.
Stress Best Practices:
- Change your mindset that stress is bad: short bouts of stress are fine, it’s constant stress that kills.
- Manage your stress with distraction, breathing, meditation or rebooting.
- Practice daily gratitude.
- Cut out negative people or situations in your life if possible.
Manage Your Own Health
A big pet peeve of mine is people that don’t question what their doctor does at all. At this point, I’ve seen people mindlessly follow their doctor’s advice and it’s done nothing to improve their health and has actually made them miserable. We’re talking about medications, surgeries and even deaths that were probably not necessary if these people would simply take responsibility to manage their own health. I’ve had doctors prescribe me medication that nearly wrecked my life so I’ve been guilty of this in the past.
Your doctor spends about 10 minutes with you, prescribes a drug and sends you on your way. He or she has malpractice insurance, probably doesn’t care and likely doesn’t even remember your name without looking at the chart. Doctors and our healthcare system accidentally kill a lot of people, so much so there’s even a whole category of doctor-caused death called iatrogenic. We’re talking literally hundreds of thousands of deaths each year, so understand that you need to take charge of your own health and nobody else is going to do it.
The good news is that this is pretty simple to do. A simple piece of paper or a spreadsheet will do it. Here are the big things you should monitor regularly:
- Blood Pressure: should be 120/80 or less. Get a decent machine online or at any big chain store. If you think of your arteries as pipes, think of blood pressure as the liquid stressing the pipes if the pressure is too high. Pressure too high will damage, block or burst the pipe.
- Blood Sugar: Blood Glucose should be less than 100 (after a 12 hour fast) or less than 150 within 2 hours of a meal. A1C, a measure of your blood sugar over time, should be less than 5.7. Numbers higher than these are pre-diabetes or diabetes. Think of high blood sugar as “shards of glass” going through your pipes causing damage, which is then patched up with cholesterol and eventually blocks the pipe, causing a heart attack or stroke.
- Resting Heart Rate: Ideally 70 or less per minute – see this chart. The less your heart needs to work while you’re resting, the better your health. Your blood pressure machine can tell you this when you measure blood pressure.
- Recovery Rate: You can use any decent exercise bike or treadmill to get this. Exercise vigorously for at least a few minutes. Then stop, measure your heart rate, then measure it 2 minutes later. It should drop by 20 or more points and the more it drops the healthier you are.
- Cholesterol: Generally below 220 but many disagree on this (and the other numbers listed here) LDL: 130 or less. HDL: 40 or higher. Triglycerides: 100 or less. I think most doctor’s are actually wrong about these ranges but get tested to make sure you’re not dramatically out of range.
- Iron: Low iron is usually a problem for women so make sure to test that. For men, there is increasing evidence that high iron is a potential cause of issues like heart attacks and strokes. Women menstruate which lowers iron, but iron tends to build up in men; also a lot of food is “iron-fortified” (for women) and this is building up in men. To measure this, get a blood test for ferritin. Ideally men should measure between 50 and 70. How to lower it? Simple, give blood regularly and that should drop your score by 20 points or more each time. See the book Dumping Iron for more information on this.
- CBC and Metabolic panel: There are many other tests you should have but the good news is most of them are all in these panels. These cover things like white blood cells, liver health, iron and more.
- Hormones and Thyroid: If none of these principles works for you, you may have underlying hormone or thyroid issues and it’s worth testing. Ranges vary but testosterone is very important for men. Do your research on these if you have issues that don’t respond to anything else.
- Common deficiencies: The next section on supplementation will go over the most common deficiencies but let’s just say that Vitamin D and magnesium are huge problems in western society right now and should be tested.
There are many other things in the human body we can measure, but this is a really good baseline; be within range on all of these and you are almost certainly a healthy person (even if you’re a bit overweight). The good news is you can measure all these yourself and never even need to see a doctor. Get a blood pressure machine, a blood glucose meter and order the other tests online (example: PrivateMDLabs or Econolabs or go “executive” with InsideTracker), no doctor required.
Click here to download a spreadsheet to track these numbers. You’re out of excuses now! If any of these values are not within the normal range and you are living by the other principles, then you should consider supplementation (see next section), medication or even surgery. But only after you’ve done extensive research on the side effects of the medication or surgery and any alternatives to those. Google is your friend here.
Don’t just put something in your body or get yourself cut open without doing the research, that’s just silly and dangerous. For example, hospitals love recommending heart bypass surgery because they get about $100k in fees (and usually not from you but from insurance, this makes it “free” to many people). But did you know that non-invasive and painless EECP therapy is proving to have nearly identical or even better outcomes long term at about one-third of the price (and doesn’t take months to recover and is usually covered by insurance)? Of course the doctor or surgeon won’t tell you this or maybe they don’t even know. Sometimes a bypass is definitely needed. Do your research!
Supplement if Necessary
This topic can be contentious as well. Some people think that eating a real food diet eliminates the need for supplementation. Others think that even the real food we eat is not enough because it has been modified by raising animals on sub-standard grains or farmers growing on nutrient-depleted soil (or with various pesticides and fertilizers).
I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I tend to agree with the latter argument with a recommendation of very careful experimentation. When my health was poor, I used to obsess about getting a good multivitamin or trying supplements I’d read about from others. Sometimes this worked but many times I eventually discovered the supplement was actually making things worse.
Multivitamins can be tricky because you don’t know which vitamin is making things better (or worse). Sometimes much worse (I discovered a Vitamin D supplement was giving me massive anxiety for over a year!) so I would advise anyone to use proper testing and carefully add supplements if they’re not feeling 100% healthy or energetic. That said, I’ve noticed big turnarounds in health by properly identifying deficiencies and supplementing properly (vegans/vegetarians and Vitamin B12 comes to mind).
Note that some vitamins like magnesium or Vitamin D can take weeks to build up. Some work great at first but then you don’t need as much and can go on to have a negative effect. This is why it’s important to experiment and track closely.
Now that we know our numbers (from the previous section), we now can research supplements that may help with our condition. For example, say we have high blood pressure, we can go to Doctor Google and search for “supplements for high blood pressure” or “foods for high blood pressure”. Garlic, aged garlic, Hawthorne, magnesium, COQ10 and others all can help with blood pressure.
Make sure you trust and check multiple sources; the various “.gov” sites are usually pretty good but there are good articles even from personal blogs. Then look on Amazon for reviews and feedback on the supplement. Try them yourself and keep track of your numbers.
If you’ve ever been on blood pressure medication, you know how it can destroy your energy so I’d definitely look for natural alternatives before going on medication. Same for all the conditions I listed above. Blood sugar, for example, can be lowered with cinnamon, berberine, ginseng and others. Of course, real food diet and exercise will make the biggest difference but I’ve personally used supplements that have helped greatly.
Supplement Best Practices:
- Try eating real food first. That may negate the need for any supplementation. Always go by how you feel.
- Get blood work done to test for any nutritional deficiencies. The big deficiencies (in the US at least) are a) Vitamin D (sunlight) b) magnesium (greens, veggies) c) omega 3 (healthy fats, fish) d) iodine (fish, seaweed, etc.) plus some other minerals. Notice that lack of real food can account for a lot of these.
- Try one supplement (probably not a multivitamin) at a time for a few weeks and notice the effect. Then verify any deficiencies or other health metrics (cholesterol, etc.) with testing.
- Be careful which supplement company you purchase from, some have better ratings than others and use better ingredients. Do your research.
We covered a lot of ground here and I think these principles are pretty clear and easy to follow. If I could break health down into one easy-to-remember sentence it would be:
“Eat real food, fast occasionally, sleep well, get some sun, do exercise you enjoy, manage your stress and track your health numbers.”
I think that would put 90% or more of “unhealthy” people on a dramatically better path to health and probably resolve most issues they may have.
Ultimately health is a mindset change backed with knowledge. The main thing is to change your habits from what you’ve been taught over time. Imagine that you’re currently overweight or not healthy and you could press a button to install these habits in your brain instantly. I would be almost certain that you would be a much healthier person in a month and certainly in a year.
Yes, there are ways to furiously exercise, starve yourself, get gastric bypass and other interventions but I think following simple principles are what gets you to a sustainable change in habits that last a lifetime. In future posts I will provide more specifics on these steps but for now I think the principles are solid and can be followed by almost anyone.