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About the Author: Michael T. Murray, N.D., is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine. He is a graduate and faculty member of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington, and the co-author of the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the definitive consumer guide to naturopathic medicine. In addition to more than twenty other books, Dr. Murray has written numerous articles for major publications, appeared frequently on radio and TV programs, and lectured to hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.
Do You Need a Tune-Up?
Nature is doing her best each moment to make us well. She exists for no other end. Do not resist. With the least inclination to be well, we should not be sick.
— Henry David Thoreau
Of all nature’s miracles, the human body is most amazing. As Thoreau realized, nature works constantly to ensure that your body functions well. Health is our natural state. But the body is complex and intricate — a collection of interwoven systems, each dependent on the others. Through one system we take in food and break it down into tiny nutrients that the body can use. Another system carries those nutrients to the cells, which use them as fuel. Meanwhile there’s a system that carries away waste, recycling when possible and removing the rest. All this activity — and much more — is regulated by constant streams of chemical and electric signals under the control of the brain.
Although we sometimes talk about the “parts” of our bodies, we are closer to the truth when we think of the body as a whole. All those different systems must work as one to achieve their common goal: to keep us alive.
In some ways your body is like a car. Both require fuel, fluids, pumps, valves, lubricants, and an electric spark to run. Both filter and remove wastes. All these systems need to operate with split-second timing.
But there’s another similarity that we often overlook. To run at its best, every vehicle requires periodic maintenance. The simplest steps — changing the oil, replacing spark plugs, tightening connections, cleaning out the sludge — make all the difference in how the carperforms. We’re not talking here about major overhauls, just a few routine steps to keep things humming. A tune-up.
Many people treat their cars better than their bodies. They wouldn’t dream of missing the three-thousand-mile oil change. They winterize their vehicle at the first sign of cold weather, rotate the tires, and use fuel additives to keep the engine purring. From experience, they know that routine upkeep will prevent major disasters. A timely tankful of high-octane gasoline, a buck’s worth of oil, or a bottle of transmission fluid will avoid a $2,000 engine burnout down the road. As the mechanic in the TV ad says, “You can pay me now ... or you can pay me later.”
A car is designed to last maybe a dozen years at most, and it’s pretty easy to replace worn-out parts or repair major damage. But you get only one body in your lifetime. That precious body needs careful attention if you want it to last as long as possible and function at its best. Usually it doesn’t take much to produce results. As Thoreau realized, if we have the least inclination to be well, we can avoid serious trouble. Yet many of us neglect to take the basic steps that would keep our organs and tissues working at their peak.
At each moment, the body tries to maintain the ideal conditions needed to carry out its many tasks. The technical term for this is homeostasis, which means “same standing.” If the temperature rises too high, special systems kick in to cool things back down to normal. If a poisonous substance enters the body, the cells try to destroy or eliminate it before it can cause permanent damage. Every organism on the planet, from the simplest single-celled amoeba to the human being, relies on this internal mechanism, homeostasis, to sustain life.
Often, though, we subject our bodies to severe stress. If the homeostatic mechanism cannot overcome the forces that threaten it, then the system falls out of balance. In the worst cases, it fails completely. The result is disease — a disruption in the ability of a body system or part to carry out its normal function. By keeping our systems finely tuned, we can protect ourselves against disease and enjoy the benefits of health.
No matter how old you are or what your current state of health is, you can take steps to help your body function better. You can work better, feel better, look better — all by taking some basic steps to help your body maintain its optimal homeostasis.
In the chapters to follow, I’ll outline a program that will help you do just that. I call it the Total Body Tune-Up.
Time for a Tune-Up?
For starters, read through the following set of questions. The more yes answers you give, the greater your need for a tune-up.
· Do you feel that you are not as healthy and vibrant as other people your age?
· Do you want to have more energy?
· Do you want greater mental clarity?
· Do you often feel blue or depressed?
· Do you get more than one or two colds a year?
· Do you struggle with your weight?
· Do you suffer from lack of libido or impotence?
· Do you have digestive disturbances?
· Do you have weak, brittle, or cracked nails?
· Is your hair dry and lifeless?
· Do you have dark circles under your eyes?
· Are you constantly hungry?
· Do you have trouble getting to sleep, or do you want to sleep all of the time?
· Do you have high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure?
· Do you feel anxious or stressed out most of the time?
· Do you suffer from premenstrual syndrome, fibrocystic breast disease, or uterine fibroids?
· Do you crave sweets?
· Do you suffer from allergies?
· Do you lose your temper easily?
· Do you have bad breath or body odor?
· Do you suffer from chronic postnasal drip or hay fever–like symptoms?
What You Can Expect From Your Tune-Up
Can a tune-up really help with all of these symptoms? Absolutely. These symptoms often indicate nothing more than a squeaky wheel in need of maintenance. Taking the appropriate tune-up step can pay huge dividends in clearing up the immediate symptom. Even more important, a tune-up can ensure better long-term health and avoid the progression of minor problems to more serious conditions. Here are some specific benefits your tune-up can offer.
Increased energy. The quality of your life is often directly related to your energy level. The greatest improvement most people notice with a tune-up is a higher energy level. A tune-up can give you the power to live with more passion and joy.
Improved protection against disease. Everyone wants to be well and stay well. Your body does its best to fight illness. But you must provide the nutrients your body needs to build strong tissues and vigorous immune cells.
Rejuvenation and slower aging. No one can live forever, but everyone wants to live as long as possible. Just as important as the quantity of your years is their quality. No matter how old you get, you want your body always to function at its best. The human body is naturally programmed to make that happen. Most cells in the body reproduce many times during your lifespan. By tuning up, you can make sure that each new generation of cells is as fit and robust as its ancestors. You’ll slow down the aging process and start to feel “young before your time.”
Better moods and mental function. When you feel better physically, you feel better emotionally too. The body and mind are interconnected. When one is affected, so is the other. After a tune-up you will find your mood elevated and your mind enhanced. You will think more clearly, with more focus.
Better appearance. It’s not vain to want to look your best. It’s a sign of self-respect. The same strategies for keeping your internal systems humming also work on the external ones — skin, hair, nails.
Greater ability to deal with stress. In today’s society, pressure comes from all directions. The demands of work, family, and society all take their toll. Constant stress wears you down both mentally and physically, putting you at risk of serious illness. Some of the most groundbreaking research over the last forty years has documented how stress causes or contributes to a wide range of health problems, from infections to infertility. Your tune-up will show you how to reduce your stress and keep it low. You’ll also find out how to energize every one of your body’s millions of cells — those tiny biological dynamos.
Better sex. It’s natural and normal to enjoy an active sex life for as long as you choose. But if your body isn’t functioning right, both your interest in sex and your ability to engage in it can plummet. Besides helping you replenish your energy reserves, a tune-up can increase muscle strength and improve circulation. When your electrical and chemical systems are working at their peak and when your emotions are in healthy balance, you are more responsive to sexual stimulation and better able to express your most intimate feelings with your partner.
Weight control. Your car’s mileage drops when it’s carrying a heavy load. It’s the same with your body. Unnecessary pounds burn up the limited supply of energy all the more quickly. If you have unsuccessfully tried to lose weight, you are not alone. Diet and exercise alone are often not enough. A total body tune-up can help you bring your weight under control — and keep it there — by resetting your metabolism to burn fat rather than storing it.
Quick results. The moment your tune-up begins, your entire system will receive a boost. You may not notice the difference right away, but your body will. Even a change that affects only a few cells can sometimes dramatically correct a big problem. Most of the techniques I describe in this book are simple things you can begin doing today. Depending on your goals, you’ll see results within a few days or weeks. Once you experience how good you can feel, you will be naturally motivated to stay on a maintenance program that will help you continue with your positive results.
A happier attitude. Your attitude is like your physical body — it needs to be conditioned. It is easy for people to fall into the trap of a negative attitude if they are too tired, stressed, or unhappy. Your tune-up can help you see the world differently. Your attitude is like a lens through which you filter your life’s experiences. Your tune-up will adjust the lens properly and help you see life as a rainbow of miracles and possibilities. Such awareness will naturally make you want to live as well and as long as possible — if for no other reason than just to see what happens next!
Where Should You Start?
No doubt your car has a set of warning systems to let you know if trouble is brewing. The oil light will flash, or a beeper will sound to indicate that the brakes need attention. More advanced models have special computers that tell you if a backup light is out or a door is ajar.
Your body works somewhat the same way. It sends signals to let you know when things aren’t quite up to par. Often, though, you may misread those signals or, worse, ignore them entirely. To take just one example: If your fingernails are weak, brittle, or cracked, you may not be consuming enough protein or certain types of fats in your diet, you may not be absorbing key minerals, or your thyroid gland may not be producing adequate supplies of essential hormones. A trip to the nail salon may make your nails look better, but a manicure won’t do anything to fix the underlying problem.
When your car isn’t running just right, you take it to the garage for service. If you’re like most people, you’ll describe the problem to the mechanic as best you can: “It goes grrr-grrr-clunk when I try to start it in cold weather” or “It makes this funny little ping-click noise.” The mechanic will then hook the engine up to a device that analyzes performance. The readout might show that the mixture of gas and oxygen is too rich, or that too much exhaust is being produced, or that a frayed electrical connection fails to work every once in a while. Based on these findings (and your budget), you then make your choice about what steps to take and in what order.
Tuning up the body works pretty much the same way. The first step is to identify the chief trouble spots. Then you learn about the options available for addressing the problem and choose the remedy that offers the best results. Once the problem is under control, you can focus on the next area of concern.
As human beings, we all have in common a basic physical makeup — the same internal organs, wiring system, and body parts. The same chemicals flow through our blood vessels, triggering countless metabolic processes. Even our senses work in more or less the same fashion. There may be variations in degree, but normally humans everywhere are able to taste sweet or salty foods, hear the rhythms of music, and see the scarlet hues of a summer sunset.
At the same time, in many critical ways, each person is unique. One of the leading biologists of the twentieth century, Roger Williams, coined the term “biochemical individuality.” Our unique biochemical traits determine who we are and how we interact with the world around us. Biochemical individuality results from a combination of our genes and our environment — nature and nurture. These factors play a big role in determining how healthy we are and what ailments we are likely to experience.
In my years of practice, I’ve found that most of my patients are very good at knowing when something isn’t quite right with their bodies. But often they feel discouraged because they have visited doctors who tell them that there is “nothing wrong.” Often what that means is that their doctors have been unable to diagnose a specific disease, something they can look up in their textbooks or point to under a microscope. My perspective is different. I practice what is called functional medicine, an approach pioneered by the nutritional biochemist Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D. As Dr. Bland put it:
In functional medicine, the presence or absence of a disease is of secondary consideration to an understanding of the function or dysfunction which prevents or allows a disease to occur.... Functional medicine does not focus on the isolated entity called disease, but rather on the specifics of structural and functional mechanisms which comprise the whole person at any particular point in his or her life.
I listen carefully to my patients and regard their comments and complaints as valuable clues. We then work together to discover exactly where their particular problem lies. That involves more than just asking about the specific complaint. When I first meet a patient, I spend most of our session finding out everything I can about that person as an individual. I ask not just “How do you feel?” but “Who are you? What makes you tick? How do you envision your future?” Just as important, I listen carefully to the answers. My goal is to discover what makes each person unique.
In this crucial way, I am not like a mechanic who restores your car to good working order. Mechanics know that each Ford Taurus they put up on the rack will be the same as the next one. But as a physician, I know that each person has special needs. My task is to do all I can to discover what those needs are and to design a unique program that has the best chance of resolving those specific problems.
Your Personal Profile
If you were a patient coming to my office for the first time, you would bring with you a completed questionnaire sent to you at the time you made the appointment. Rather than having you take the time to complete the questionnaire all at once, I have placed parts of the questionnaire throughout the book to correspond to the body system discussed in that chapter. The more you understand how your body should work, the better we will be able to find real solutions. In essence, I will be guiding you through the process — from assessment to remedy — just as if you actually were my patient. By completing those questionnaires, you will discover areas that need attention and develop specific strategies to get things back on track.
A word of caution: The questionnaires are tools to help you identify areas of priority. They are not intended as a diagnostic tool in place of a checkup by a physician. After completing various assessments in this book, you may need to discuss the results with your medical doctor, who may decide to order further tests. It’s important to realize that you may need medical treatment to address a specific problem before you can gain from a tune-up of a particular system. For example, perhaps the assessment for blood sugar control in Chapter 4, “Tuning Up Your Metabolism,” indicates that you may be suffering from diabetes. If so, you must see a doctor immediately for proper diagnosis and treatment. Remember that my Total Body Tune-Up is not a treatment program for specific medical illnesses per se. Instead it outlines a program that will help you improve your level of health and maintain that level for a lifetime.
The Tools of My Trade
The tools that I use in my clinical practice to help people get well are primarily natural medicines — vitamins, minerals, other nutritional supplements, and herbal products. The recommendations that I give on how to use these medicines are based upon the patient’s need and the appropriateness of long-term supplementation. Some supplements and herbal products are best used in times of need only. Most, however, are suitable for long-term use if necessary or perceived as beneficial. Unlike many drugs, most nutritional supplements and herbal medicines take a little time to work, so be sure to give them a fair trial. However, don’t waste your money on a supplement unless you are quite sure that it is providing benefit. Also, remember that your best assurance of success with natural medicines is achieved if you use high quality products.
Most major-brand vitamins and mineral formulas reliably deliver the quantities listed on the label.
With herbal supplements, however, there is often tremendous variation in quality and potency. When several forms of a mineral (such as calcium) are available, I specify which form is most effective. Commercial herbal preparations are available as bulk herbs, teas, tinctures, fluid extracts, and tablets or capsules. In the past, the quality of the extract produced often was difficult to determine because many of the active principles of the herbs were unknown. Today, advances in extraction processes along with improved analytical methods have reduced this problem.
Standardized extracts, also referred to as guaranteed potency extracts, are guaranteed to contain a specified level of active compounds or key biological marker. Stating the content of active compounds or key marker allows for more accurate dosages to be made. Standardization is the only real assurance that you are getting an effective dosage, and I have based all my recommendations on such standardized products.
All in the Family
One of the first sections of the questionnaire explores your family’s medical history. Certain medical conditions tend to occur among related individuals. This is what we mean when we say that a disease “runs in the family.” In simple terms, a damaged or defective gene can make a person vulnerable to a certain ailment. If that gene gets passed on from parent to child, the child may also be susceptible. The key word here is susceptibility, not destiny. In most cases, inheriting a defective gene does not mean that the condition will inevitably develop; the problem gene from one parent may be canceled out by a normal gene from the other parent. This self-correcting mechanism is one reason why we humans, like most other species, reproduce sexually. The constant reshuffling of the genetic deck gives the next generation a better chance to survive and reproduce. Still, some defective genes are powerful enough to overcome the normal genes. When they do, trouble strikes.
For example, cancer of the colon, or large intestine, tends to run in families. Relatives tend to share the gene that causes small growths, known as polyps, to develop on the inner lining of the bowel. These growths resemble tiny mushrooms, and some people have hundreds of them. A certain percentage of the polyps will eventually become cancerous. The more polyps present, the greater the risk. You can’t change your genes, but you can control to an extent how they are expressed. If you know that others in your family have (or had) colon cancer, you can take action to reduce the chances of developing the disease yourself. For example, you can maintain a diet shown to be protective against colon cancer (low in fat, high in fiber, and carotene-rich) and take nutritional supplements such as extra calcium to reduce your risk. Meanwhile, you and your medical caregivers can monitor the situation through regular examinations. (For more information on preventing colon cancer, see Chapter 2.) The result from this combined approach of maximum protection and proper surveillance is that even if you have a family history of colon cancer, you can dramatically reduce your risk. The same is true for many other conditions.
Table 1: Your Family Medical History Assessment
If one or more close blood relatives (grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, siblings) suffer from any of the conditions given below, you can take steps to tune up the relevant body systems and reduce your risk of developing the condition.
Alzheimer’s disease (see Chapter 7)
Anxiety (see Chapter 7)
Asthma (see Chapter 5)
Breast (see Chapter 10)
Colon (see Chapter 2)
Prostate (see Chapter 11)
Depression (see Chapter 7)
Diabetes (see Chapter 4)
Eczema (see Chapter 9)
Gallstones (see Chapter 3)
Glaucoma (see Chapter 7)
Gout (see Chapter 8)
Heart disease (see Chapter 6)
High blood pressure (see Chapter 6)
High cholesterol levels (see Chapter 6)
Obesity (see Chapter 4)
Osteoarthritis (see Chapter 8)
Osteoporosis (see Chapter 8)
Parkinson’s disease (see Chapter 7)
Psoriasis (see Chapter 9)
Rheumatoid arthritis (see Chapter 5)
Thyroid problems (see Chapter 4)
Stroke (see Chapter 6)
Key Steps to a Successful Tune-Up
When people come to see me as a physician, I have an advantage in helping them make changes, since I can work with patients to help them bite off no more than they can chew. Since I cannot help you in person, I end this first chapter by giving you the key to a successful tune-up: Every journey begins with a small step. Don’t be overwhelmed by the recommendations and advice presented in this book. Break things down into steps that you feel comfortable taking, no matter how small they may be. At the end of each chapter there will be a list of key steps for that particular chapter. If, at the very least, you simply follow these key steps, you will definitely experience a successful tune-up.
Lifestyle Tune-Up #1: Cultivate a Positive Attitude
After each chapter I will introduce an important general lifestyle tune-up recommendation. I start with attitude because I feel it is really the most critical factor not only for optimal health, but for an optimal quality of life as well.
As I have seen over and over in my patients’ lives (and my own), it is not what happens in our lives that determines our direction; it is our response to those challenges that shapes the quality of our life and determines our destiny. Surprisingly, it is often true that hardship, heartbreak, disappointment, and failure serve as the spark for joy, ecstasy, compassion, and success. If you can condition your attitude to be positive, I can promise that you will be happier, more successful, and healthier.
Become an optimist. We humans, by nature, are optimists. The term comes from the Latin word optimum, meaning “the greatest good.” Optimism is the attitude that looks for the best possible outcome and focuses on the most hopeful aspects of a situation. Some studies have found that people who adopt a positive outlook live longer and suffer from fewer and less severe diseases.
Improve the way you talk to yourself. We all conduct a constant running dialogue in our heads. In time the things we say to ourselves percolate down into our subconscious mind. Those inner thoughts, in turn, affect the way we think and feel. Naturally, if you feed yourself a steady stream of negative thoughts — “I’m no good, I hate myself, I hate the world” — your subconscious will respond in kind. Become aware of your self-talk, and then consciously work to feed positive self-talk messages to your subconscious mind.
Ask better questions. An expert in motivation, Anthony Robbins, believes that the quality of your life is equal to the quality of the questions you habitually ask yourself. For example, if you experience a setback, do you think, “Why am I so stupid? Why do bad things always happen to me?” Or do you think, “Okay, what can I learn from this so that it never happens again? What can I do to make the situation better?” Clearly, the latter response is healthier. Regardless of the specific situation, asking better questions is bound to improve your attitude. Here are some questions to start you off:
· What am I most happy about in my life right now?
· What am I most excited about in my life right now?
· What am I most grateful about in my life right now?
· What am I enjoying most in my life right now?
· What am I committed to in my life right now?
· Whom do I love? Who loves me?
· What must I do today to achieve my long-term goal?
Set positive goals. Learning to set achievable goals is a powerful method for building a positive attitude and raising self-esteem. Achieving goals creates a success cycle: You feel better about yourself, and the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to succeed. Here are some guidelines for setting health goals:
· State the goal in positive terms and in the present tense; avoid negative words. It’s better to say “I enjoy eating healthy, low-calorie, nutritious foods” than to say “I will not eat sugar, candy, ice cream, and other fattening foods.”
· Make your goal attainable and realistic. Start out with goals that are easily attainable, such as drinking six glasses of water a day and switching from white bread to whole wheat. By initially choosing easily attainable goals, you create a success cycle that helps build a positive self-image. Little things add up to make a major difference in the way you feel about yourself.
· Be specific. The more clearly you define your goal, the more likely you are to reach it. For example, if you want to lose weight, what is the weight you desire? What body fat percentage or measurements do you want to achieve?