THE BLOG
04/10/2011 10:35 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2011

Can Lifestyle Changes Reverse Chronic Illness?

At a seminar that I recently spoke at, I asked this question, "How many of you either suffer from or know someone that has some type of chronic illness, whether itʼs Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia or hypertension?" Not surprisingly, most of the hands in the room went up.

We are in a society that is struggling to overcome these diseases and they are becoming an epidemic, not only in adults but in children as well. The National Institute of Health recommends that lifestyle intervention or lifestyle medicine should be the first line of treatment for many chronic health problems.

The Journal of American Medical Association states that "Managing diet is the key to treating all common lipid disorders. For most patients, dietary intervention should be the first line of therapy (perhaps for 6 to 12 weeks) before introducing pharmaco-therapy for hyperlipidemia." (1) The New England Journal for Medicine states that "Lifestyle changes and treatment with metformin both reduced the incidence of diabetes in persons at high risk. The lifestyle intervention was more effective than metformin." (2)

Why are patients not given this protocol from the beginning? It seems that the first line of treatment these days is some type of pill. These pills do not address the root cause of the pathology and just deal with the symptoms. I know that lifestyle therapy works because I have been successfully incorporating lifestyle medicine into my practice and I am getting amazing results. We have reversed type 2 diabetes and normalized lipid levels by lowering cholesterol, triglycerides and LDLʼs as well as raising HDL levels. This is done generally within 12 weeks by integrating a proper nutritional program, supplements, certain forms of exercise, and incorporating stress reduction techniques such as meditation and qi gong.

Most importantly, you should eat fresh, organic if possible, whole foods. Processed and boxed foods are not in any of the food groups. Second, It is important to eat every three to four hours to stabilize blood sugar levels. By eating often, this prevents blood sugar levels from spiking and therefore avoids large releases of insulin. Also, do not skip meals. If you skip meals your bodyʼs metabolism begins to slow down. The body thinks itʼs going into a "starvation mode" and can start to store fat.

Also, it is important to eat healthy, balanced meals so that your body can rebuild functional (enzymes, hormones and neurotransmitters), structural (cells, muscles and bones) and energy (fats and glycogen) biochemicals. If you skip meals, your body cannot rebuild these biochemicals. Since food is one of the triggers that release insulin from your pancreas, if you do not eat you will not secrete enough insulin. If your insulin levels fall too low, then your body will use up your biochemicals faster than you can rebuild them. This imbalance between
utilization and rebuilding will result in a damaged metabolism. (3)

Breakfast is still the most important meal, so break your fast and have breakfast! Third, just as important as it is to eat often, you must also eat with portion control. In our American society it seems that one portion size actually can feed up to four people.

Why do we eat so much at one time and overstuff our bodies? Patients that I have on a 1600 calorie food plan, get only 1 grain per day (i.e. 1/2 cup cooked brown rice or grain, 1 slice of bread, 3/4 cup of oatmeal), 3 - 4 oz of concentrated protein, 2 servings of fruit (ie. 1 apple, 1 cup of blueberries) and unlimited amounts of low glycemic vegetables. These are much smaller portions than the average individual is used to eating at one time. Drinking plenty of water, preferably 8-10 glasses per day is also important.

In addition to eating whole foods, I have patients on a basic protocol for supplementation, generally a protein based medical food, an EPA/DHA and possibly a few others depending on their manifestations.

Stress creates toxicity in our bodies and is a common cause of chronic disease. We live in a society that is moving so fast, working too hard, not sleeping enough, rushing and running until our bodies can no longer function. Making time for activities that nurture your soul and connecting with people, including family and friends who inspire you can have a profound effect on your health in a positive way.

Taking time to meditate and have quiet time is vital to maintain any sort of well-being and it is an amazing stress reducer. There have been over 1,000 research studies, most of them published in peer reviewed scientific journals that show how meditating can effectively calm the mind, improve human functioning and reduce symptomatology.

In several experimental studies, meditation has been found to reduce chronic pain, reduce anxiety, reduce high blood pressure, reduce serum cholesterol level and lower blood
cortisol levels initially brought on by stress.

Lifestyle therapy is a balance of the way we live our lives. It encompasses everything from food choices, exercising and movement, stress reduction through simple meditation, being happy and truly enjoying our lives.

"To keep the body in good health is a duty...otherwise we shall not
be able to keep our mind strong and clear."   Buddha

References:
1 JAMA. 2003: 290(4);531-533
2 N Engl J Med. 2002:346(6);393-402
3 THE SCHWARZBEIN PRINCIPLE II. 2002: 83-84;228