Read an Excerpt
“Doctor, don’t let my son die,” a frantic man with a little boy in his arms said to me as he ran into the ER. He laid the boy down on a gurney. “Please save him!”
I noted that his son was blue and barely breathing.
It was midnight on my first shift as a full-fledged emergency room doctor. I was a young physician in training at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, and I was working my first-ever shift completely on my own, moonlighting in a small ER in a remote little town in Tennessee. I had confidence in my skills and training, but it was an incredibly scary experience to know that for the first time ever, I was solo and had no backup. Until this particular night I had always been under the supervision of an attending physician, but now I was completely on my own.
Until that moment it had been a quiet night, punctuated only by the sounds of the cleaning crew, the vending machines, and the beeps of hospital equipment. I was partway through a twenty-four-hour shift, and feeling good since nothing catastrophic had happened.
As I looked at the boy, who was helpless and at the edge of death, I felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility and dread, accompanied by an adrenaline rush from having the opportunity to put my skills to the test. It was a feeling no amount of medical training could have prepared me for. I thought, This is where the rubber meets the road.
My brain switched into my doctor’s autopilot mode, a hyperfocused state of mind that happens when I’m faced with a very sick patient in a crisis and the clock is ticking. As a nurse pulled a crash cart of emergency tools and equipment over to the boy, I repeated a simple mantra to myself, “A, B, C”—the basic CPR drill of check the airway (A), check breathing (B), and check circulation (C). They’re the first steps I take with every sick patient I see, and it’s a sequence of action that’s been burned into my brain since Day 1 of medical school.
The child was unconscious and making some labored attempts at breathing, but he was not protecting his airway—he did not have a gag reflex, which is an involuntary safety response our throat uses to prevent aspiration.
I realized we had to address the unprotected airway first. I quickly checked his pulse. It was faint and very fast. In my mind I chanted another refrain: “IV-02-monitor… IV-02-monitor.” Still on autopilot, I knew what I had to do: start an intravenous line, place an oxygen mask on the boy, and hook him up to an ECG monitor.
But before I could, the boy stopped breathing completely.
I squeezed a bag-valve mask over his nose and mouth to send oxygen into his lungs so it could then be pumped by his heart to other vital organs, like the brain. In a scenario like this, time is of the essence because a brain without oxygen is facing catastrophic consequences. “Time is brain,” the saying goes, meaning that every minute without oxygen means more brain cells die, never to be recovered.
I gathered my airway equipment, checking that everything would work properly. I then checked his blood glucose, which was normal. As I passed the endotracheal tube through his mouth and into his trachea, I could have heard a pin drop. The room was almost deadly quiet, which is exactly what you want as an ER doctor, since unnecessary commotion causes a lot of undue panic. I watched the tube pass down through the young boy’s vocal cords and I started squeezing oxygen into his lungs through the artificial breathing tube I’d just placed.
As I worked, the boy’s father was standing in the corner of the room in a state of complete disbelief. I kept talking to him, trying to figure out what might have happened, all the while attempting to reassure him that we would do everything we could for his son.
“Do you have any medicines in the house?” I asked the father as I simultaneously analyzed the ECG, or electrocardiogram, that traced the heart’s electrical rhythm. “Could he have swallowed some?” We were able to figure out that the boy had gotten into his family’s medicine chest and had likely taken what should have been a fatal overdose of antidepressants. That discovery was absolutely crucial to figuring out how to treat him.
Fortunately, I was able to stabilize the child’s condition. Soon thereafter, we airlifted him by helicopter to a larger medical center. Four days later the little boy left the hospital without any residual effects from his overdose.
Looking back on it, I see this event as the moment in my life when I truly began to see myself as a doctor; up until that point people called me Dr. Stork, but I didn’t really feel like an MD. Such events are incredibly exhilarating but also quite scary. That’s life in the emergency department. Along with the absolutely mind-blowing feeling of saving someone’s life, moments later you may have to tell a wife that her husband has just died. I’ll never do anything in my life that comes close to rivaling the challenges of being a good doctor, which is why I have so much respect for my peers in the world of medicine. It truly is a one-of-a-kind job.
As an emergency medicine doctor, I’m able to help people who are confronted with acute and sudden medical challenges, often with a “ticking clock” counting down quickly toward very severe consequences, including permanent injury and death. In a sense, all of medicine is potentially emergency medicine. But as an emergency room specialist, I get to develop expertise across an incredibly wide spectrum of medical subjects, which is one of the features I love about it as a profession.
It definitely isn’t always pleasant in the ER. I’ve had patients physically attack me, projectile-vomit on me more times than I’d like to remember, and I once had an intoxicated gang leader assault me with the very suture needle that I was using to repair a wound he had sustained in the previous night’s gang battle. In the typical emergency department, patients are often lined up in hallways, and it can be pure chaos. Sometimes people come into the ER too late to be saved and they die in my arms. But the good far outweighs the bad, and the variety of experiences in the ER is like nothing else.
Being an ER doctor is my dream job, but I’m lucky to have two more responsibilities that I absolutely love. As a member of Vanderbilt University’s faculty, I get to teach medical students and resident physicians in training. I was blessed to have many incredible teachers along the way, and now I’m able to pass on the lessons I’ve learned to future generations of doctors and see them begin their life’s mission to improve medical care for everyone. I love seeing the passion of the medical students and residents working at Vanderbilt. These are some of the nation’s brightest minds and they chose medicine because they want to help people.
And as host of the daily TV series The Doctors, a program devoted to bringing the best medical and health information to our viewers, I, along with a panel of other doctors, get to go on TV every day to talk about health and wellness. The success we’ve achieved so far—strong ratings, critical acclaim—is a perfect illustration of how much we all want the best, most cutting-edge information to help us live the healthiest lives we can. People have a real thirst for accessible and reliable health information.
I didn’t plan on a TV career. First and foremost I’m a doctor, and I plan on staying that way. I’d never been in front of a camera until my final year of residency. Through a series of accidental coincidences a number of years ago, I wound up appearing on the TV show, The Bachelor: Paris, which at the time I figured was a unique, you-only-live-once type of experience. Then I got a call from the Dr. Phil show to contribute regular medical segments to the program, which I really enjoyed. Later, when Jay McGraw developed the concept for The Doctors, he asked me to host the show along with obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Lisa Masterson, plastic surgeon and reconstructive surgery expert Dr. Andrew Ordon, and pediatrician Dr. James Sears.
You know what clinched the deal for me? When Dr. Phil told me that I could educate more people, in terms of sheer numbers, in a one-hour episode of The Doctors, than in my entire career in the ER. Also, my boss, the chairman of the Emergency Medicine Department at Vanderbilt, Dr. Corey Slovis, has always encouraged me to “show people what emergency medicine is really all about.”
In a sense, it all started for me that day in the ER with the boy who took the overdose of antidepressants. The way his father looked at me, I knew he trusted me with his son’s life, and that made me realize how much responsibility I have as a doctor. In that moment I was the most important medical authority and the greatest health guru on Earth to that man and his little boy.
But here’s an amazing idea, something you may not realize yet and should cause you, to some extent, to feel the same way I did in the ER that day: you have as much power over your health as I had with that child. I am convinced that secret can change your life. In fact, the power I held at that moment in time over that boy’s life is only a fraction of the power you hold in your grasp every single day of your life to affect your own medical destiny, your ability to achieve optimal health. It’s true. The power you have over your own health is potentially thousands of times stronger than that of any doctor. The most powerful health guru in history is you.
How strong is this power? In health there are no guarantees, but consider this: by making a few simple “tweaks” to your lifestyle and the way you think, steps I will outline in the pages that follow, you can work to achieve these potential flesh-and-blood medical miracles for yourself:
- You have the power to make changes that may extend your life span by up to a decade or more.
- You have the power to potentially avoid the great majority of chronic diseases.
- You have the power to slash your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
- You have the power to lower your high blood pressure.
- You have the power to slow or prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
- You have the power to reduce your risk of certain cancers.
- You have the power to conquer and reverse obesity.
- You have the power to reduce your risk of osteoarthritis, erectile dysfunction, osteoporosis, and macular degeneration.
- You have the power to avoid many years and countless thousands of dollars’ worth of agonizing medical crises and procedures, hospital stays, and medications due to preventable conditions.
- You have the power to transform your health and the health of your family.
- You may even have the power in some cases to delay the onset or reduce your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
Have you ever heard of any doctor and/or pill on earth with a fraction of this power? This spectacular power is already in your hands, just waiting to be unleashed. That’s what this book is about—how to identify your power over your health, sharpen it, and un-leash it.
ASK DR. STORK
Question: My family has a history of diabetes and heart disease. How can I improve my health, and why should I even bother, when I’m genetically predisposed to these illnesses? Isn’t health largely genetic?
Answer: Family history can definitely be a risk factor for chronic disease, and there are illnesses that are both inherited and manifested primarily through genetics. But genes have been estimated to account for only 30 percent of preventable deaths. In many instances, genetics only “loads the gun” of potential disease, and your behavior and/or environment “pulls the trigger” for it to be activated. In most cases, chronic diseases are initiated and fueled over time by the interplay between genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors, such as your diet and physical activity.
The biggest proportional contributor to premature death in the United States is our personal behavior—including what we eat and don’t eat, how much physical activity we get, and whether or not we smoke.
The good news is that strong evidence, from many sources, links most chronic disease to the wrong dietary patterns and physical inactivity. So if you improve those factors, you can often prevent disease from manifesting.
Actually, that is spectacular news!
The health care system is broken—and won’t be fixed any time soon. Therefore, we must take charge of our own health, right now, this very second.
We are largely the masters of our own health universe. But as a society, we seem to be doing some things awfully wrong, and we are paying an increasingly terrible price, both as a nation and as individuals.
A huge factor is that we don’t teach health in our medical schools. Instead, we teach a patchwork of disease management. Care to know how much time was spent in my medical training on healthy lifestyles and prevention? Essentially none.
“Our society is at war,” declared one panel of experts in the February 2000 edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology. “Although it may not be commonly publicized in this manner, make no mistake, our society, and even the world’s population in general, is truly at war against a common enemy. That enemy is modern chronic disease.”
Chronic diseases are the most common cause of preventable death in the nation. These are diseases that progress slowly and continue for a long time, including cardiovascular disease (such as coronary artery disease, heart failure, hypertension, and stroke), obesity, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and osteoporosis.
Diet, Exercise, and Health
A few years ago, two experts at UCLA, Christian K. Roberts and R. James Barnard, were invited by the Journal of Applied Physiology to review the entire universe of medical and scientific evidence on the connections between diet, exercise, and health. Their conclusions, published in 2005 in an article titled “Effects of Exercise and Diet on Chronic Disease,” which I’ll summarize here, are startling, and of tremendous importance to your health:
The evidence is overwhelming that your diet and the amount of physical activity you engage in can reduce the risk of developing numerous chronic diseases, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, and can even reverse existing disease.
Also, the risk of several other chronic diseases may be reduced by physical activity and diet, including several forms of cancer, osteoporosis, arthritis, stroke and congestive heart failure, chronic renal [kidney] failure, Alzheimer’s disease, and erectile dysfunction.
Consider the implications of these findings—your personal attitude and personal choices can optimize your health by helping you conquer a host of illnesses before they happen, including the biggest killers in America: heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Now, that’s power!
Americans spend over $2 trillion a year on health care. Ninety-five percent of that goes to medical care of sickness that’s already struck us—and only 5 percent is spent on prevention! As Senator Tom Harkin quipped, “We currently do not have a health care system in the United States; we have a sick care system.” He’s absolutely right.
While I am astonished at the amazing technology and capabilities of American medicine, you and I can’t rely on the health care system alone to control our destinies. We have fantastic doctors and nurses in this country, but the overall system is broken. Here are some of the nightmare consequences of our thoroughly convoluted and mismanaged non-system:
- The U.S. spends the most money on health care of any country on earth—yet ranks toward the bottom of developed nations on quality of care, and thirty-seventh among all nations, on par with Serbia.
- Among developed nations, the U.S. ranks near the bottom on most standard measures of health status. We spend two times more money per person as European nations, yet we are twice as sick from chronic diseases.
- Childhood obesity is becoming a national epidemic and is threatening the health of millions of kids. The number of obese American children and adolescents has tripled in the last twenty years. By the year 2015, two in every five adults and one in every four children in the United States may be obese. Only one-third of Americans are in the “healthy weight” category.
- More than half of Americans over fifty have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or some other chronic condition. In fact, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension are becoming commonplace even in children.
- About 250,000 deaths per year are caused primarily by a lack of physical activity.
- 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed every year and 56,000 people die from it. But only 52 percent of patients are screened for the disease.
- Asthma causes about 500,000 hospitalizations every year, yet only about 28 percent of patients get a comprehensive management plan from their clinician.
This isn’t your fault, or your doctor’s fault. It’s the system’s fault, and society’s fault. And it doesn’t look like the health care system will be truly fixed anytime soon. But for you and your family, there is a solution to this mess, and a clue to it lies in the place where I work.
I’ll never go out of business as an ER doctor. As long as things go wrong in life, and until everyone takes perfect care of themselves, there will always be a need for emergency medicine.
Do you know what the most common problem I see is? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not gunshot wounds, car accidents, household accidents, or domestic violence—though I regularly treat all of these.
The biggest problem driving many of my patients into the emergency room these days is the damage they are doing their own bodies, over time, by making the wrong choices.
It may be hard to believe, but poor choices over time are what’s injuring and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. What I see most in the ER is the acute worsening of a multitude of chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, which are largely self-inflicted and driven by voluntary lifestyle choices. It is a slow, painful, American mass-suicide driven by bad food choices and lack of physical activity. It’s a special problem in places like Tennessee, where I work, where sedentary lifestyles and overeating are at crisis levels and the rate of obesity is skyrocketing even faster than the national average. You can’t really blame many of these people. The unfortunate fact is that as a nation we haven’t fully woken up to the links between lifestyle and chronic disease. The things I see in the ER are a constant reminder of how poorly we take care of ourselves in this country.
I confess, I consider myself a happy, well-adjusted guy, but the ER can sometimes be a sad and frustrating place to work. It’s not just because people frequently die there, but how chronic disease can force people to live—at the mercy of medicines, doctor visits, and ongoing physical and mental pain. No matter how positive their outlook is on life, once they’re in a body that no longer functions well, it can be such a grind.
Many Americans who are only in their fifties or sixties—and even younger—are being forced to take an endless grand tour of doctor’s offices and pharmacies when they should be enjoying themselves and their families instead.
Let me tell you about three types of patients I’ve seen in the last year. These are not real names. They are composite characters, and absolutely typical of the patients I see all the time in the ER:
First there’s Ruth. She’s only fifty-six years old, but she looks like she could be in her eighties. She’s already had two heart attacks. She is sixty pounds overweight. Like many Americans she drifted into the obese category of weight over the years by eating too much of the wrong foods and rarely getting any meaningful physical activity. Ruth’s primary source of nourishment for the past twenty-five years or more has been supersized fast food, chips and unhealthy snacks, ice cream, and soda. A victim of the unhealthy aspects of American food culture, she never learned about healthy eating and exercise in a way that she could put into action.
At an age when Ruth should be thriving, she has already developed heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, a peptic ulcer, fibromyalgia, and recurring urinary tract infections, one of which led to a long stay in the ICU due to something called septic shock after the infection invaded her bloodstream. Did I mention her feet are numb as a symptom of her diabetes? She once stepped on a nail and because she couldn’t feel it, she developed a severe infection leading to partial amputation of her foot. On top of all of that, she is clinically depressed, which is completely understandable, given her other conditions.
Ruth is on over a dozen different medications. (This is not unusual at all—these days I’m seeing patients with medication lists that are twenty-plus deep. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.) Her body is starting a full-scale collapse, and a cascade of self-inflicted health problems is overwhelming her.
Last week was an average one for Ruth. It was filled up with scheduled doctor visits. She saw her primary care doctor on Monday, the cardiologist on Tuesday, and the kidney specialist for tests on Wednesday. She contracted the flu over the weekend, got dehydrated, and was rushed to the ER with acute renal failure. We wound up having to put her on dialysis.
When I saw Ruth on her last ER visit, I got incredibly frustrated, even angry—though I never let on. Not at her, but because somehow, as a society, we’ve failed to help her stop this series of disasters before they happened. Instead of savoring a happy, physically active life, she is becoming a prisoner of her illnesses, most of which were avoidable. Whenever I think about cutting corners in my own life and feel myself being lured into the trap of becoming a couch potato on a steady diet of fast food or overly processed chain restaurant meals, I think of Ruth. A lifetime of all-you-can-eat buffets isn’t so appealing when you consider the consequences.
The next patient is Frank, a sixty-year-old man who represents how Ruth’s life may end up in just a few years.
Frank was captain of the high school football team, a star quarterback, and a superstar in his early adult life. He became a successful insurance executive, and eventually his routine became very sedentary, based on desk work and driving his car. He didn’t find time to exercise, because he was always “too busy.”
After dinner most nights, he plopped down on his fully equipped reclining chair and watched an average of three or four hours of TV. He developed a long love affair with cigarettes and fast-food cheeseburgers. Like Ruth, he became obese and in his case, put on a gigantic potbelly from years of large portions of unhealthy eating. And also like Ruth, he developed lifestyle-driven chronic diseases that cascaded upon each other.
But unlike Ruth, who can still get around on her own, Frank is now largely bedridden, and instead of living with his family, he is in an assisted-living facility, which operates much like a nursing home. He needs assistance just keeping track of when to take the right pill from his enormous supply of medications. When he does get out of bed, Frank is confined to a wheelchair. I can’t tell you how often I see people who, like Frank, are in wheelchairs, not because they have a physical injury, but because they’ve been physically inactive and/or obese for so long that their bodies become unable to support them in the simple act of walking.
Recently, Frank was experiencing severe chest pain and was brought to the hospital. It turns out he was suffering from a massive heart attack. Frank’s wife approached me after we urgently sent him for a cardiac catheterization and said, “I tried to get him to quit smoking for years, and he just wouldn’t listen.” We were able to save him that day, but who knows what is in store for him in the months and years ahead.
At this point, there is no way to “fix” Frank because the damage is already done. As Dr. Michael Weitzman of NYU’s Langone Medical Center once said, “It’s a lot easier not to develop problems than it is to cure them.” The medical system will do everything in its power to keep Frank alive as long as possible, but his capacity for independent living and a long, vibrant life is essentially gone.
I once heard a doctor say, “You’re only as young as your oldest body part,” which I’m afraid is quite true. If, like Frank, at the age of sixty you suffer a heart attack and your heart is basically that of an eighty-five-year-old, I hate to break it to you, but your life expectancy is probably going to be dictated by your oldest body part. That’s why it is so essential to take great care of yourself before it’s too late. What happened to Ruth and Frank is happening to countless people all across America, all the time.
I tell you this not so you give up hope, but to inspire you. Because there is a silver lining to all this: it absolutely, positively doesn’t have to be your fate. You have the power to completely transform your own health—by taking a few simple steps.
Take the case of the third patient I’ll tell you about, whom I’ll call George, a man I saw in the ER for an easily treated sprained ankle. He is ninety-three years old and in excellent shape. He lives independently, chops wood, takes regular power walks, and goes fishing with his buddies when he’s not chasing his great-grandkids around.
Almost forty years ago, when he was in his fifties, George got a huge wake-up call. He was diagnosed with diabetes, and his doctor told him that if he didn’t make major improvements to his lifestyle, he might not live that long or may end up with a low quality of life. George was stunned by the diagnosis, and he decided to immediately take charge. Over the next four decades he woke up every morning and resolved to optimize his health. He worked out, took his medications, and ate healthy meals while allowing himself regular treats and indulgences. He made health his hobby, and he had fun while do-ing it.
In short, he became his own health guru.
Only you, working in partnership with your doctor, can sift through the universe of good and bad health information, tailor it to your own medical history and health conditions, and take positive action to optimize your health.
What does it mean to be optimizing your health? It means:
- Staying out of hospitals and emergency rooms, by preventing the need for you to ever go there.
- Taking as few medications as possible, or none at all.
- Thriving physically and living your healthiest possible life.
- Feeling strong and powerful every day of your life.
You can achieve all of this—if you decide right now to become your own health guru. You have the power to save your life and shape your physical destiny every day by the decisions you make.
In America, we love health gurus.
There seems to be an endless supply of them in the media, and you see them everywhere from The Oprah Winfrey Show, Larry King Live, and the Today show to PBS fundraisers and late-night informercials.
Some health gurus are household names. Some are medical doctors, though many are not, and some are celebrities with no real medical knowledge or training whatsoever. Some have excellent advice on healthy living, but others are outright quacks, dispensing advice that is not based on scientific evidence.
Celebrities can be passionate and articulate health gurus, and it’s especially easy for them to step into the national spotlight to argue their theories. But there’s nothing about celebrities that gives them any authority whatsoever to speak about health and medicine, other than what they’ve learned through their own reading and research, which may or may not have any value for you. It’s a big problem in our society, that people can be more inclined to listen to celebrity figures than they are to people who give better information based on real evidence. Celebrities shouldn’t be your health gurus—you should be your own. By all means, listen to their ideas if you like. But before you adopt anyone’s advice, put their ideas to the test by doing your own research and talking to your own doctor.
Another common source of misinformation are the health experts in one field who offer advice in an area they’re completely unqualified to comment on. For instance, your yoga instructor should not be your main source of advice when it comes to your medications. The health gurus you meet in daily life—your brother-in-law, a fellow mom in the playground, the salesclerk in the health food store—can also be problematic. They, too, can have both great health ideas and bad ones.
HOW TO GET YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILY TO SUPPORT YOU
When you decide to make health your hobby and you commit to optimize your health, it helps tremendously to have friends and family who support you. This isn’t always easy. Your spouse may be dedicated to an unhealthy lifestyle and show no signs of wanting to change. Or your friends may try to undermine you in subtle ways and make fun of your health hobby. (They may be doing it out of jealousy, secretly wishing that they had the same amount of dedication.) Remember, it’s hard to convince people to change, and it’s not your job necessarily to change your spouse.
If you have a friend or significant other who’s not going to support you as you strive to optimize your health, I don’t think you should shut them out of your life. But you need to tell them point-blank not to bring you down in your pursuit of this new goal of living a healthy life. Make it clear that you don’t appreciate them making fun of you or being critical of your new food and exercise choices. Better yet, have them browse this book and they’ll realize there are no rigid rules and no impossible targets to prevent them from optimizing their own health.
Another group to be wary of: “health nuts.” You may know the kind of person I’m talking about—they eat only nuts, twigs, sprouts, berries, and organic vegetable juice. This is a tough model to follow because there’s a fine line between health conscious and flat-out health nut. The last thing you should do is go crazy over your health. If you’re driving yourself to distraction trying to be healthy, then you’re not being healthy. You should take a sane and relaxed approach, and realize that the key steps to optimal health are surprisingly simple. Make health your hobby, not an obsession. You should enjoy a healthy lifestyle, but it doesn’t have to be an extreme ascetic lifestyle devoid of fun and indulgences.
I’m skeptical of extreme “health fiends.” They’re often way too skinny, and they’ve got long lists of foods that are forbidden and “poison.” Ironically, some of their ideas are rooted in good science—like the idea that veggies, fruit, and whole grains are crucial to good health. But they’ve taken these ideas to ridiculous extremes, through wacky theories and rules on eating and cooking that are not based on any real research.
I take health very seriously but I’m not a fanatic about it. I think a big part of health is learning to indulge yourself in the right doses. In fact, occasionally enjoying something that you know isn’t perfectly healthy for you is being healthy. It’s called sanity!
The bottom line is you alone are the CEO of your own health. The secret is figuring out what to believe, and that is what I plan to teach you. And always remember that what is good for someone else may not be good for you. No one person, and no one guru, should know as much about your health as you. You should have a healthy skepticism about all health information that is given in absolutes, even that offered by a doctor. I know I don’t have all the answers. When it comes to your health, nothing is guaranteed and there are no promises. The human body is complex, and people respond differently to different treatments.
TRAVIS L. STORK, M.D.
BE YOUR OWN HEALTH GURU
- Decide that you are the CEO of your own health—you are the master of your medical destiny.
- Realize that you don’t need to follow a multitude of health crazes, diets, and fads.
- Understand that the most powerful steps to optimal health are surprisingly simple.
- Be open-minded, but also skeptical and demanding of all health experts and information.
- Embrace the power of knowing that one of the ultimate steps to nurture, empower, pamper, and liberate yourself every day is to optimize your health.
- Make health your hobby, not an obsession.
- Work with your doctor to determine the best plan for improving your health.Once you commit to these steps, you can add years or even decades to your life, conquer sickness before it happens, and feel fantastic. The key is for you to make a serious mental commitment to live a healthy life, and realize that you often can’t control life circumstances, but you can always control how you treat your body. It all starts with that mental commitment.
THE TOP 5 WEB SHORTCUTS TO HELPYOU OPTIMIZE YOUR HEALTH
MedlinePlus is a gold mine of expert information from the world’s largest medical library, the National Library of Medicine (NLM); the National Institutes of Health (NIH); and other government agencies and health-related organizations. The site has extensive information on over 750 diseases and conditions, information on drugs and clinical trials, an illustrated medical encyclopedia, interactive patient tutorials, and a daily ticker of the latest health news. There is no advertising, and MedlinePlus does not endorse any company or product. This should be your go-to site to gather the best health and medical information.
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality:www.ahrq.gov/consumer/
These are gateway sites of resources and tools on a wide range of health topics, culled from over 1,600 government and nonprofit organizations. They are run by the U.S. government and do not accept advertising.
2. American Institute for Cancer Research:www.aicr.org
American Diabetes Association:www.diabetes.org
American Heart Association:www.americanheart.org
These nonprofit organizations have excellent fact sheets and tips on nutrition, lifestyle, and prevention that will help you reduce your risk for developing cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. You’ll notice that many of these tips overlap, which is great news—with a handful of tips you put into action, you’re reducing your risks for multiple diseases!
Emedicine by WebMD:http://emedicine.medscape.com/
WebMD and Emedicine are very good sources of news and background briefings on a wide range of health topics. I really like Emedicine as a site for people who want to get information on illnesses they or a family member or friend may have been diagnosed with or that they want more info about. The sites are advertiser supported, but I find them unbiased, user-friendly, and informative.
This is a U.S. government site that features a wealth of information on healthy eating, weight loss, meal planning, and dietary guidelines. I find the current MyPyramid graphic design kind of confusing, but there’s still a lot of excellent information throughout this website.
This is my #1 filtering tool for cutting through the infinite clutter of health-related research on the internet, much of which is thoroughly bogus, or not supported by evidence other than anecdotes, or is advertising in disguise.
PubMed is a superior resource if you’re highly motivated to read real, evidence-based research and the opinions of the most qualified experts. A free index for searching articles in peer-reviewed medical and scientific journals on health, medicine, fitness, and related topics, PubMed often features summaries and abstracts, and in many cases will provide free links to the full original articles. The articles are often pretty technical, but they can provide good discussion points and questions for you and your doctor. It is a government-run site with no ads, and a tutorial is available at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/disted/pubmedtutorial/
I use this site as my personal BI (Bad Information) Detector. For example, let’s say some expert claims the Mediterranean Diet is an excellent dietary pattern. I’ll go to PubMed and type in “mediterranean diet” and “review” so I can get “review articles,” which are often the biggest, most comprehensive articles on the subject. Then I explore the results and, bingo, find out that it’s true—the Mediterranean Diet is one of the very few so-called diets that are backed up by good evidence. Guess what happens when I type in “maple syrup diet,” “master cleanse,” or “grapefruit diet”? Nothing. Zip. No results. That usually means there’s no good research to prove that they work.
So now you know the benefits of becoming your own health guru, and hopefully I’ve armed you with some great resources and a healthy dose of skepticism.
Now let’s tackle the practical aspects of achieving and maintaining good health.
© 2010 Travis L. Stork, M.D.