What I Am Trying to Sell You (December 22, 2015)
I write this newsletter (and run my practice) according to principles. Really, truly, actual principles. To be fair, I should really write them down all in one place, so you know where I'm coming from. Thusly:
1. I stick to established facts.
2. But I’m open to anything with evidence supporting it.
3. There are actual rules of good health.
4. You’re better off not going to the doctor unless you have a very good reason.
5. Alternative medicine is the only real game in town.
6. The best alternative, though, is staying healthy in the first place.
Does that sound boring? I know it does. Diet books by housewives who suddenly channel groundbreaking insights from space aliens are a lot more fun than federal guidelines on diet and exercise. Overeating, drinking too much, smoking and/or binge watching House of Cards may not be good for you, but they don't feel like it while you're doing them. And, sadly, a dramatic disease gets a whole lot more attention than a solid state of health.
I can’t help any of that. You’ll have to talk to God about how boring He made healthy living. But, back to me. What I am trying to sell you, of course, is my way of thinking. So here is what I mean by all those rules, and why.
1. I stick to established facts. Science is all about the preponderance of the evidence. The more evidence you have that leans in a particular direction, the more likely it is that you are leaning in the right direction. And in the general areas of health and wellness these days, there is a lot of evidence. Said evidence is loudly argued over by people who know things like what a p-value is until it is all finally distilled down into some useful, more-or-less-accurate guidelines. When you have that state of affairs, one contradictory study doesn't mean a whole lot, no matter how many headlines it generates.
It happens also, however, when you’ve been in the health biz for a while, that you’ve seen at least a few fundamental beliefs and practices shown to be WRONG. Very often those are things you firmly believed for what you thought were good reasons. When something comes along that actually proves that you’re all wet, you’d better be prepared to change what you’re doing, because now THOSE are the established facts. I do that too. That’s what professionals do. And I do like to think of myself as a professional, for reasons other than the extra fees I have to pay to the state of Tennessee every year to call myself one. So therefore...
2. I’m open to anything with evidence supporting it. Not much alternative medical practice is supported by solid evidence. (It happens that this is equally true of very much of conventional medicine as well.) But there are many ideas and practices out there that have SOME evidence in their favor and also have no real downsides. If you wait for those things to finally be "proved" you might wait a very long time. So if I'm sold on something but know that it is still a bit squashy in the evidence department, I hand it out with virtual yellow sticker tape that says “My Opinion” all over it.
3. There are actual rules of good health. It is not unusual at all to hear someone complain that the “rules keep changing”. Well, they don’t. Anyone who believes that doesn’t actually know the rules and is just asking to be misled by headlines and diet book writers. I talk a lot about federal guidelines for healthy living here. It happens that if you stick to them you are 80% less likely to prematurely acquire and suffer from a chronic disease, and just that much more likely to live a long healthy life. On the flip side of that, your chances of improving your health by violating them are, at this stage of the evidence, pretty remote.
4. You’re better off not going to the doctor unless you have a very good reason. Not just because medical error is the third leading cause of death in the United States (although that is a pretty good reason). But also because most of the time, your doctor can’t help you unless you have a real problem.
You do not want to drag in the big guns of drugs and surgery unnecessarily. Drugs don't make you healthy. Lifestyle makes you healthy -- or not. So as a general rule, unless you have good reason to think that something nasty is sneaking up on you, stay out of the doctor's office.
5. Alternative medicine is the only real game in town. If reiki, or cutting sugar out of your diet, or taking vitamin C doesn’t fix a problem, the worst thing that’s happened is that you’re out a few bucks. Very often even if your problem isn't fixed, you've still made a positive change in your lifestyle. Whereas if medications or surgery doesn't fix a problem -- well, see that “third leading cause of death” thing above. If something isn't obviously a medical issue, don't rush to make it one.
6. The best alternative, though, is staying healthy in the first place. America, and Americans, are all about extremes. But you can't have health without moderation. You CAN eat too much salad. You sure as heck can exercise too much, too. Balance. Moderation. Not going overboard. Boring. But good for you. Extremes are the antithesis of good health.
I am trying to sell you, above all, two ideas. 1) You need to be actively responsible for your own health. 2) You are perfectly able to do so. At least as long as you aren’t intimidated and confused by misinformation. I hope that this newsletter helps you sort through some of that.
The medical and health business in America is vicious. There are some big players with big bucks at stake, and they are constantly at war with those of us who are trying to do our jobs for the hearts and minds of people who just want to stay well. I’m doing my best to support you as you try to keep yourself healthy and out of that industry’s hands. Both with this newsletter and with everything I do professionally.
So for the next couple of weeks, party moderately. Or at least party really hard one day and then chill out the next, because that's balance too :-) . But have a fabulous time doing it, whatever it is, and have a wonderful New Year.
--dr. diane holmes
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