We spent this past weekend at a naturopathic conference and had the pleasure of listening to some wonderful speakers, including John Robbins (author of Diet for a New America), Gabor Mate (When The Body Says No), Sat Dharam Kaur (The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to Breast Cancer) and Dick Thom, ND, DDS.

I was reminded again this weekend of how our health is so intimately connected to the basics – eating right, managing our stress, drinking water, avoiding toxins, exercising, establishing a routine, sleeping in the dark, chewing our food well, and examining beliefs that cause our stress. This is called self-care. “Preventive medicine is self-care” was a quote that resonated with me at the conference. Preventive medicine is not taking our statin drugs to reduce cholesterol – it is taking care of our mind, body, and emotions, so that our cholesterol doesn’t go up in the first place.

I wish to break the basics down to ten points and explain how all of these are so simple, yet so profoundly related to our health.

1. Exercise – Exercising 40 minutes daily or 4 hours weekly reduces the risk of breast cancer by 30-40% (1)! This is an extremely significant reduction in risk. Not to mention what exercise does to fight depression, prevent diabetes, and prevent cardiovascular disease (the number one killer in North America).

2. Sleep in total darkness – This is the number one treatment for the pineal gland. The pineal gland secretes melatonin, which rises at night while we sleep. Melatonin governs the body’s biological clock by transmitting light-dark cycles to the brain center. This process has an important role in hormone regulation. Sleeping in total darkness (except during the full moon and the day before and the after the full moon) will help maintain your natural rhythm to regulate hormones.

3. Establish a routine – Eat at the same time, wake up at the same time, and go to sleep at the same time to set your adrenal glands.

4. Avoid toxins – Switch to natural cleaners, go organic as much as possible, buy non-medicated meat, free-range chicken and eggs, eliminate plastics where possible, use natural body care products, and avoid amalgam fillings. Avoid heavy metals, PBCs, pesticides, PVCs, Bisphenol-As, phthalates, dioxins, industrial solvents and parabens – some of these disrupt hormones, others are toxic to the thyroid, and others promote cancer. Drugs, nicotine, and artificial sweeteners are also a toxic burden to your body.

5. Eat right – Eat lots of vegetables and fruit, which are high in fiber, mineral-rich foods such as sea vegetables, kale, spinach, parsley, nuts and seeds. Prevent acidity in the body by not eating excess protein, cheese, coffee, meat and refined grains. An acidic environment affects normal enzyme reactions and creates acidic waste. Sugar, especially refined sugar, feeds yeast and fungal organisms that promote the growth of other infectious organisms. Refined carbohydrates are an important cause of diabetes and heart disease. Keep out those artificial dyes which have been linked to attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder. Avoid processed food and try to stick to whole foods. A whole food is something with no ingredients on the label (for instance, celery, eggs, tomato). As summarized by journalist Michael Pollan (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, A Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto): “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

6. Chew your food well – This will promote memory, according to Dr. Dick Thom, ND. He reported that chewing properly stimulates the limbic system, the part of the brain connected to memory. Also, eat food rather than drink food shakes all the time – or at least chew that food shake as you drink it down. We do live in a busy society, after all.

7. Drink water – Three litres daily of fresh spring water, or at least filtered, helps to flush out waste in the tissues and cells and helps the kidney and colon to flush out waste products.

8. Proper hygiene – Hand washing and safer sexual practices prevent contracting infectious organisms.

9. Manage stress – There is plenty of research on stress and its influence on almost every area of human health. In brief: stress creates excess or deficient cortisol, which can then affect progesterone, testosterone, thyroid, prolactin, insulin, growth hormone, melatonin, and your immune system. Basically, every hormone is affected which then affects every part of your body. Stress creates tight muscles, which leads to decreased oxygenation and increased cellular waste in the tissues – this increases toxic load and promotes yeast and other fungal organisms. Stress also affects your mental health. Stress is a part of life, it is how we deal with stress that matters. According to my Tai Chi teacher years ago, the best way to move liver qi (or stuck energy) is to get out and dance at a party. Other great stress-busters could be daily prayer or journaling, getting out in nature, connecting with others, exercising, practicing yoga. Whatever your chosen method, the key is to establish a stress relieving ritual, or routine, that you enjoy and look forward to doing.

10. Examine your belief systems – Your belief systems are ultimately what drive your behavior, your priorities, your emotions and stress levels. What belief systems are creating the stress in your life? Are your belief systems true? Are your beliefs causing you to behave or emote in a consistently negative or self-destructive pattern? Gabor Mate discussed this at the conference. His book, When The Body Says No, is a great place to start. If you need to seek professional help in this area, make it a priority. If you just need to do some self-examination, take the time.

You can see that doing everything on this list takes some commitment, but it is so powerful. I belief this short list incorporates the heart of the principles of naturopathic medicine – looking at the whole body, doing preventative medicine, treat the root cause not the symptom, and trust in the healing power of nature. You have to decide that you’re worth it to commit to self-care – and you are!

Reference: 1. (Br J Sports med 2008 Aug;42(8):636-47)