OPINION

Health Care at Home

March 08, 2009
Ravi Kulkarni

In my previous blog I listed a litany of complaints about the health care system. In this blog, I will talk about some actions I have taken to ensure a healthy lifestyle.

By most standards, I am a health freak. It is not that I always do optimal things nor that I am in perfect health. But I have improved my health considerably in the last ten years or so and my blog is an effort to share my learning.

Over a period of time, I have been consulting doctors and getting lab reports. In order to improve something, one needs a baseline. One measure is to count the number of times a person falls sick. This is very subjective and sometimes deceptive too as major diseases can lurk under seemingly good health. The metrics in the lab reports provide a more objective basis. Based on these metrics I do my own research on possible lifestyle, diet and exercise changes that are needed to get better. I have realized measurable improvements of health over several years.

In my opinion, diet is the primary source of our health issues. After all we are what we eat. I avoid junk food, including all sodas, colas, synthetic additives and preservatives, synthetic sugar substitutes and so on. Where possible I have substituted whole grains for bleached floor, brown rice for white rice, olive oil for peanut oil and so on. I buy organic where I can. About 50% of my personal diet consists of only raw fruits, vegetables and nuts. For example today my lunch consisted of the following (all raw): sprouted moong (green gram), red and yellow bell peppers, Persian cucumbers, broccoli, apple slices, a mango, blue berries, raspberries, almonds and walnuts. I try to consume flaxseed in many different preparations.

Recently I purchased a Vita-mix whole food machine. It is an excellent device for making juices, soups, dips and assorted other things. I highly recommend this product to anyone interested in cooking and especially those who enjoy raw food.

Our teeth play a very important role in our health. It is not just the social consequences of bad breath or discolored teeth; they have a much more profound impact on our lives. Treatments like root canal can do more harm than good in some cases. I have followed a very simple regimen: I make sure to brush at least twice a day and floss after every meal for at least 2-3 minutes. Just flossing alone has made a tremendous difference in my dental health. Recently I also purchased a Panasonic mouth irrigator. This product is available for about $25 at amazon.com and worth its weight in gold.

As I am an IT professional besides being an internet junkie, it is almost certain that my eyesight is weak. However, I have always resisted wearing glasses and never got a pair. I think eyes are the best optical instruments ever designed and they are capable of working under extreme conditions. I have always relied on eye exercises and yoga to keep them in reasonably good condition. I definitely need reading glasses but don't yet wear any. I also do no wear sunglasses even in the sunny locale where I live. I think sunlight is good because we just don't get enough of it in our home and office bound existence.

I have mixed feelings about supplements. If one is deficient in certain vitamins or minerals, it may make sense to take a few supplements until that deficiency is overcome. But I am not sure about the effectiveness of multivitamins. Ideally we should get all our vitamins and minerals from our diet. It is almost impossible to determine the action and interaction of so many different nutrients which are present in foods an isolated in a pill form. Our ancestors did not take any supplements but at least some of them enjoyed perfect health. However, I must admit I have taken certain supplements over the years and they have certainly helped. In particular, Co-Q10 which helped eliminate PVC (premature ventricular contraction, a benign heart condition) and Niacin which helped reduce tri glycerides. I have discontinued use of both.

Our ancestors used to rely a lot on the natural and home remedies. As a result they probably lived a much healthier lives than we do, though our life spans have increased during the last century. Invention of antibiotics and vaccines have reduced deaths due to many infectious diseases. That the overuse of antibiotics is now being seen as a leading cause of super infections is the irony of progress. We are born with amazing healing capabilities. And yet we provide crutches and artificial props in the form of concoctions of harsh chemicals in the mistaken belief that intervention is better than letting the nature take its course. As a result we compromise the very body we want to keep strong and fit for a hundred years.

My favorite home remedies are: turmeric, cinnamon, ginger and garlic for simple infections. Home made yogurt, buttermilk with asafoetida for many stomach ailments. There are a few commercial preparations that have become standard faire at our home. These are:

Inflameric as an anti inflammatory supplement
Oil of Oregano as a powerful natural antibiotic
Calendula Ointment (homeopathic) for cuts and bruises
Septilin for colds and flu

As a family, we have almost eliminated consumption of any prescription medicines. Neither of my kids, ten and six years old, have had to take antibiotics, ever.

We do consult doctors on a regular basis, but we tend to pay more attention to their diagnosis and much less to prescription. But once I have confirmed a diagnosis, subsequent course of action depends on my own research. Nobody knows my body, diet and lifestyle better than myself. Best course of action often depends more on these factors and less on a formulaic prescription. An average doctor does not have enough time or patience to take into account all these factors. My source of information:

Curezone - Lot of information, user contributed information, first hand reports etc.
WebMD - Information about diseases, medicines
FDA - US Food and Drug Administration
Allayurveda - Information about Ayurvedic medicines and principles
Yahoo groups - Individual ailment discussion groups

Our modern lifestyle almost ensures that we need to exercise on a regular basis in order to maintain good health. I try to get at least 45 minutes of 3-4 days a week, mostly on a treadmill. I probably need more flexibility and strength training, but I guess I will get there. While my lifestyle and diet do provide major benefits, exercise provides a further boost to it. My tri-glycerides have been high for the last several years. I have noticed that they come down measurably whenever I exercise regularly and go easy on simple carbohydrates and fat.

Yoga and meditation provide benefits to body, mind and spirit. I am still struggling to incorporate these into my daily routine. When I do that, my at-home health care should be complete.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this article is not medical advice. Please do your own research and always consult a physician for your health concerns. If I am mentioning certain brands and products here, it is because I found them to be useful, not because I derive any benefits from this mention.

Ravi is an IT professional with a penchant for philosophy, numbers, science fiction, chess, economics, hindustani classical music and... you get the picture. He has much to say, but not enough words to do it. He welcomes any criticism, sincere or otherwise, and will not take anything personally.
eXTReMe Tracker
Keep reading for comments on this article and add some feedback of your own!

Comments! Feedback! Speak and be heard!

Comment on this article or leave feedback for the author

#1
Ayan Roy
March 8, 2009
07:12 AM

Nice article. I too don't like to depend upon anti-biotics and strong medicines.
As for diet, I temper my weekly and occasional heavy meat-cheese/tandoori-masala/heavy-carb dine-out extravaganzas with a lot of fruits and veggies and a dal,roti,subzi + soup,salad diet throughout the weekdays.
I think the key to long-term good health may lie in a balanced lifestyle with proper food, water, exercise and adequate sleep - and I think of an interesting analogy/link with the "five elements" or "panchabhoota" theory of human physiology.

For example - I am trying to relate the 'ELEMENT' to the keys to good health which are well known and well publicized:
AIR - deep breathing, pranayama, spending some time in an oxygen rich environment like a forest or garden
WATER - drinking lots of fresh clean water throughout the day, good clean bath and proper oral and personal hygiene
EARTH - this deals mainly internally with food - thus balanced diet; but could also deal with good clothing and external application of mud/solid-pastes for skin-care and cleansing
FIRE - This could mean vigorous exercise(INTERNAL FIRE) and adequate exposure to sunlight(EXTERNAL FIRE)
SPACE - Sound sleep and meditation.

A more simplistic set of instructions for good health could be summed up as:
"Eat well, sleep well, work hard, play hard"

Cheers,
Ayan

#2
Ledzius
March 8, 2009
10:08 AM

"A more simplistic set of instructions for good health could be summed up as:
"Eat well, sleep well, work hard, play hard"

You left out the "party hard" bit.

#3
Ayan Roy
March 8, 2009
12:36 PM

I don't 'party', hence I personally cannot say whether partying hard is good for health or not.

However, I think if one can 'party hard' in a way such that good sleep, proper food, work and physical exercise are not compromised, then it should not be bad for one's health. It can be a good stress buster and a way to socialize for some people.

Cheers,
Ayan

#4
kaffir
March 8, 2009
12:39 PM

Ravi, excellent post and I agree.

By the way, where in today's world do you find a system or philosophy that reflects or closely matches your life choices?

#5
Ledzius
March 8, 2009
12:53 PM

I was being sarcastic. The problem is, good sleep, proper food, work and physical exercise are more often that not, compromised by partying hard. Being a stress buster or a way to socialise doesn't mean something is healthy. Many people consider smoking to be a stress buster too.

It is unfortunate that many young urban professionals think partying hard is good for them. And mainstream newspapers like the TOI reinforce this dangerous viewpoint.

#6
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 8, 2009
07:07 PM

Dear Ayan,

Thanks. There are different ways of looking at our health and the five element theory is also a nice one. Modern medicine probably dismisses such ideas as being unscientific, but it has served Ayurveda quite well I think.

Regards,

Ravi

#7
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 8, 2009
07:13 PM

Dear Ledzius,

I think a balance is essential. I try to follow a strict regimen so that I can indulge once in a while. It becomes especially true as I age. I am not a partying type, but I do drink alcohol once or twice a year, indulge in junk food or sugary treats once in a while without guilt. If we ignore nature too long, we will pay a price ultimately. For me it is not how long I will live, but how I will live my life is more important.

Regards,

Ravi

#8
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 8, 2009
07:20 PM

Dear Kaffir,

Hmmm, that's a good question. I won't say that I follow a particular philosophy or system too closely. About ten years ago, I attended a yoga cum meditation program called Siddha Samadhi Yoga (ssy.org). That's where I learnt about the power of raw foods. Their program is excellent and the food they serve during the sessions is really awesome. My recipe doesn't even come close to that taste.

I am the re-invent the wheel kinda of guy when it comes to philosophy. I am making up my stuff mostly, but I do try to read widely. In particular I love Osho.

Regards,

Ravi

#9
kerty
March 9, 2009
10:06 AM

Ayan

Breaking the fitness regimen down to the 5 elements and creating a perfect balance among them is a very novel and accessible way to look at fitness. It is similar to Aurveda which relates fitness and disorders to balance and imbalances among the elements(cough, vau and pitta).

#10
Kerty
March 9, 2009
02:26 PM

Ayan

Breaking the fitness regimen down to the 5 elements and creating a perfect balance among them is a very novel and accessible way to look at fitness. It is similar to Aurveda which relates fitness and disorders to balance and imbalances among the elements(cough, vau and pitta).

#11
Ayan Roy
March 10, 2009
10:18 AM

Thanks Kerty. It's just a different way of linking up health related concepts which can make sense.
All the support for this "Pancha Bhoota" theory has been medically proved and is being harped upon by docs everyday these days. It's almost common knowledge (eat well, breathe well, sleep well, drink water, exercise well, meditate)

Ayurveda too has some very seemingly logical concepts about health and some nice medicinal recipes; unfortunately few have been proved correct by rigorous "modern" scientific experimentation.

Ayurveda itself, I think, was the net result of a lot of keen ancient scientific observation, trial and error, cause and effect analysis, and holistic system level analysis of the human body over hundreds of years using whatever knowledge and instruments possible in those days.

The only thing that Ayurveda lacks now as support in the current medical world is rigourous analysis using modern instrumentation, hard numbers, chemical formulae, equations and molecular biology. But I think that may change as many people in the world increasingly look at other natural and holistic methods of healing.

I think we can notice one thing in common, is that the key for good health is "BALANCE" or equilibrium. "BALANCE" in all aspects of life.

Disease basically is some form of "IMBALANCE" in the body which disturbs the equilibirum. Good health habits are habits which help the body keep this "BALANCE". And medicine is an external stimulus given to an "IMBALANCED" body to make it "BALANCED"

Cheers,
Ayan

#12
Kerty
March 10, 2009
11:22 AM

Ayan


"Ayurveda too has some very seemingly logical concepts about health and some nice medicinal recipes; unfortunately few have been proved correct by rigorous "modern" scientific experimentation."

I think Aurveda is stuck, frozen in time, has not evolved or kept pace with evolving body of medical knowledge and sciences. So its concepts are useful, but its remedies may leave a lot to be desired, and its practitioner are not the best or the brightest of our society, and its practices, less said is the better. Naturally, when the best and brightest of the society are no longer involved in any rigorous field, even most evolved field of medicine and sciences can quickly fall into disrepair and into questionable practices. In case of Aurveda, it is not such a big loss. Since medical field has become so dynamic, rigorous, effective, and responsive to health-care needs, that I don't there will be any stampede for alternative medicine any time soon. Still, on the issue of diet and fitness lifestyles, their concepts are still hip and modern, and people still find them relevant.

#13
Kerty
March 10, 2009
11:22 AM

Ayan


"Ayurveda too has some very seemingly logical concepts about health and some nice medicinal recipes; unfortunately few have been proved correct by rigorous "modern" scientific experimentation."

I think Aurveda is stuck, frozen in time, has not evolved or kept pace with evolving body of medical knowledge and sciences. So its concepts are useful, but its remedies may leave a lot to be desired, and its practitioner are not the best or the brightest of our society, and its practices, less said is the better. Naturally, when the best and brightest of the society are no longer involved in any rigorous field, even most evolved field of medicine and sciences can quickly fall into disrepair and into questionable practices. In case of Aurveda, it is not such a big loss. Since medical field has become so dynamic, rigorous, effective, and responsive to health-care needs, that I don't think there will be any stampede for alternative medicine any time soon. Still, on the issue of diet and fitness lifestyles, their concepts are still hip and modern, and people still find them relevant.

#14
smallsquirrel
March 10, 2009
03:42 PM

I think you have ignored something VERY serious, which is the component of heredity. you may be lucky and have genetically low cholesterol and not trend toward Type 1 Diabetes, or have the gene for certain types of cancer (that you know of).

While I applaud your healthy lifestyle choices and agree that they will go a long way to helping along your future health and longevity, you cannot say that they ensure it.

There are many diseases that come with hereditary components, so even if the person lives like a saint and eats everything good for them, nothing bad for them, exercises regularly and sleeps 7 hours a night, they will end up with atherosclerosis, high cholesterol or breast cancer.

I think we need to be very careful about making people feel like they deserve diseases if they get them.

#15
Ayan Roy
March 10, 2009
04:08 PM

@SS - "I think we need to be very careful about making people feel like they deserve diseases if they get them."

That was not my point, at least. Nobody deserves any diseases, no way!! I definitely don't want to blame people who are already suffering.

My point was reducing the PROBABILITY or CHANCE of contracting diseases. A healthy lifestyle certainly increases your chances of longeivity and of not contracting most kinds of disease.

Heredity and genetic pre-dsiposition too are important factors when it comes to health and immunity. But, careful "nurture" can also beat "nature" in most cases.

Say for example you track the health of 1000 young people with a very high genetic pre-disposition to diabetes (none of them actually have the disease as yet). Now, if all the 1000 were to lead (identical) highly unbalanced lifestyles with a lot of stress, without exercise and with terrible food habits, maybe 500 of them would end up with severe diabetes in their middle age. That's what they mean by 50% chance.

However, if the same set of 1000 youngsters were to lead extremely controlled and balanced lifestyles, without stress, with excellent diet control and regular vigorous exercise, then you would see less than about 50 people ending up with severe diabetes in their middle age, inspite of all the care. That's 5% chance.

The above is exactly what a reputed doctor told me when he advised me to take up vigorous exercise and diet control big time, since I had told him that diabetes runs in the maternal side of my family. I have a higher chance of keeping diabetes and many other diseases at bay by following a balanced lifestyle.

#16
smallsquirrel
March 10, 2009
05:17 PM

Ayan, I think you do not understand that Type 1 diabetes has nothing at all to do with lifestyle, it has to do with the fact that the body does not make insulin. Period. So when we hear that someone has diabetes, we should know if it is Type I or Type II, and you have made absolutely no distinction.

And I disagree that careful nurture can beat nature in "most" cases. It can do it in SOME cases. I am certainly not advocating against what you have laid out. What I am saying is that you completely fail to understand the underlying cause of a number of diseases, as is shown by the fact that you failed to distinguish between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. or even gestational diabetes. So maybe your doctor told you only half the story and you are relating only half the story. But half a story it remains.

You also more than likely cannot diet and exercise your way out of getting breast cancer if you have the identified gene mutation. Same with a few other diseases.

#17
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 10, 2009
07:52 PM

Dear SS,

That heredity indicates elevated risk of certain disease means that if I follow the same lifestyle, diet and exercise (or lack thereof) regimen, then I am likely to get the same diseases as my grand father (or some ancestor). But it is not a certainty. We know quite a bit about diet, supplements and risk factors that we can take care of. For example, for type 2 diabetes, we know that tri glyecrides provide an early warning. So does metabolic syndrome. If we take care to reduce these factors, there is no reason that I will get type 2 diabetes at age 60. Heredity is not a destiny, it is just one indicator of what might happen.

Similar arguments can be made about heart disease, cancer etc. I don't agree that breast cancer is inevitable for certain women. Do you have any studies or papers to substantiate that? Diet definitely plays a very large role in how we end up.

It is not a question of blaming people with diseases, but ensuring that young people take care so that they in turn don't end up as the earlier generations. That's my intent.

Regards,

Ravi Kulkarni

#18
smallsquirrel
March 10, 2009
08:21 PM

ravi

start here:
http://www.imaginis.com/breasthealth/genetic_risks.asp

and just google "genetic factors + breast cancer" and read up on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation which causes an elevated risk for breast cancer in women who carry it.

or this:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/01/090105131216.htm
about a gene (MTDH) that they think exists in 30-40 percent of women who have breast cancer who are treatment resistant.

you are still ignoring what I said about type 1 diabetes... it seems like you do not even understand what it is!

or read this about genetics and cholesterol:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/01/080110123926.htm

if you do not like that article then google "genetic factors + cholesterol"

why is it that you are ignoring fact? I am not making this stuff up. My husband is a doctor, my parents, my grandparents... I am not pulling this out of my ass... you can urge people to take care through diet and exercise, but you really do need to educate yourself on the rest of the picture... or at least listen when someone else tries to educate you on it.

#19
smallsquirrel
March 10, 2009
08:33 PM

ravi in the end what I am telling you is that you cannot make blanket statements that imply that controlling your diet and exercise will virtually rule out diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Again, I agree that diet, exercise and healthy living are crucial pieces to living well and staying healthy. unfortunately for many diseases there is a genetic component that cannot be ignored either. and some of those genetic dispositions simply cannot be influenced by lifestyle changes (although I am sure that a bad diet and sedentary lifestyle could worsen the problem).

I am really not trying to discourage you, by any means. I just think you might not have a solid grasp on the genesis of some diseases.

#20
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 10, 2009
08:50 PM

Dear SS,

I don't know why you think I am ignoring heredity. We are born with the genes we have and there is nothing (at present) we can do about it. My focus is on factors that we can deal with, not the ones we can't.

Right now genetics is a big mumbo jumbo. Nobody clearly understands what it all means. The scientists are like six blind people giving their version of an elephant. One says it is like a snake, the other a pole and the third a wall. They may have all the cute symbols and theories about life, but they are far from understanding it the way we understand physics or chemistry. So, I will take the efficacy of genetic treatments with a huge shipload of salt.

Type 1 diabetes is a relatively rare phenomenon, and often strikes young people. Only about 10% of diabetics have this condition. If there is nothing you can do about preventing it, so be it. I didn't say that we can prevent every disease by our choices. I certainly don't make that claim about Down's syndrome, autism or Lou Gherig's disease which are congenital in nature.

People often think that biology on one hand and physics, chemistry and math on the other all share the same level of accuracy about their findings. This is far from true. Physical sciences are more accurate because the conditions for experimentation can be tightly controlled. In the case of biological sciences this is rarely so and the conclusions are often highly circumstantial. That's why when doctors medical professionals make claims of science, I snicker to myself.

I never said you made anything up. I didn't even say that heredity did not play a role. All I am saying is that heredity is not a certainty, only a probability. We can all benefit if we investigate our lineage, and take appropriate preventive measures. But thanks for offering to educate me, I always welcome it, as the more I know the more I realize how little I know.

Regards,

Ravi

#21
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 10, 2009
09:07 PM

Dear SS (#19),

Other than your assumptions about what I may or may not know, I am in agreement with you. Heredity is something we can do very little about, but knowing about it and then taking all the precautions makes total sense.

Ravi

#22
smallsquirrel
March 10, 2009
09:17 PM

ravi... agreed... for example, many woman who have this mutant gene have opted for a pre-emptive mastectomy, and this course of action is actually saving lives.

people need to be aware of their risk factors. many people think because they are skinny and exercise that they should be very healthy. they do not get their cholesterol checked because they do not eat much fat and eat a lot of whole grains and veggies. but if they have a genetic trend toward high bad cholesterol, all the salmon and 5 mile runs in the world will not make it go away. They will need a statin to do the trick.

#23
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 10, 2009
09:39 PM

Dear SS,

"They will need a statin to do the trick."

This is where I draw the line. I am not convinced that statins are the only alternative. There are many alternatives which mainstream health care does not recognize. There are various reasons for it, such as regulation by FDA, ignorance of alternative medicines, pressure by pharma companies. When I know that I have high bad cholesterol, my first, second and tenth option should be to explore alternatives with the minimum side effects. Chemical concoctions should be the last alternative.

Regards,

Ravi

#24
commonsense
March 11, 2009
04:23 PM

even the pharmaceutical companies do not claim that statins are the solution in all cases of high cholesterol. well they do in adverts, but that's a different story. statins CAN help about 30% of cases or so...it is not a blanket magic-bullet and in some cases it can actually do damage. Many research papers on this issue...google ought to pull them up.

#25
KK
March 12, 2009
12:36 AM

Nice article! I agree, there isn't much one can do about their genes but they sure can choose to live a healthy lifestyle. Most people have a greater chance of developing heart disease and hypertension because of their lifestyle choices, not necessarily because they are genetically predisposed.

#26
Ledzius
March 12, 2009
07:49 AM

Lifestyle *does* play a role. Many East Asians who came to the US as well as those who eat burgers and other American junk food compared to their own have a higher incidence of cancer. This has been medically proved.

#27
kaffir
March 12, 2009
11:06 AM

Ledzius, good point in #26.
The same is true of Latino/Hispanic *recent* immigrants in the US, as studies have shown their overall health to be better than Americans who are in a higher socio-economic bracket, and one of the reasons for that is their close relationships with family members (which they continue to maintain in the US after they immigrate) and continuing to eat their traditional diet which involves lots of fresh food and home cooked meals.

#28
Kerty
March 12, 2009
11:58 AM

Kaffir

A Phillipino-american regd. nurse became my mom's friend as my mom was her regular patient. She is not happy with the health of Asians, especially Phillipinos. She thinks Asians in general and more particularly Phillipinos go overboard with their food habits after they come to America. Phillipinos who used to eat meat only couple of times a week back home, start eating several meats in every meal, often beef, pork, fish, chicken, shrimp and eggs in a single buffet style meal. They go berserk with groceries, TV, drinks, and their lifestyles become completely unrecognizable from their Asian roots. Big problems. Big problems. As she would say to me.

#29
Ravi Kulkarni
URL
March 12, 2009
08:33 PM

Indians have a different problem. Even though many Indians don't eat meat and sometimes even not overweight, diabetes and cardiac issues are quite common among Indians. I think we are genetically prone to these diseases. In addition our diet high in simple carbohydrates and processed foods doesn't help either. We should particularly watch out for tri glycerides.

Regards,

Ravi

#30
kaffir
March 12, 2009
08:58 PM

Kerty, yeah, that diet change seems to be a common phenomenon among many who immigrate to the US. I was very surprised to find how meat-centric the American diet is, but very few researchers and doctors point to it as a reason/culprit for myriad diseases/poor health, and promoting a vegetarian diet as a healthy one is very much in the margins. After all, even Oprah had to battle with a lawsuit from the meat industry, what to say of small-time researchers/doctors who probably know which side of their toast is buttered.

There have been quite a few instances regarding contaminated lettuce/spinach and E.coli outbreak in the US lately, but I have not once read in the mainstream press any attempt to investigate a link to a nearby meat factory or an animal farm as the source of contamination. It's nothing but deep denial.

Add your comment

(Or ping: http://desicritics.org/tb/8922)

Personal attacks are not allowed. Please read our comment policy.






Remember Name/URL?

Please preview your comment!