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Five pillars of health

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Five pillars of health

April 7, 2024, 2:22 PM IST 

Since launching this blog on January 1st this year, we’ve delved into numerous diet and lifestyle myths that often lead us astray. We’ve also touched on the essentials of human physiology and nutrition. Today, we embark on a series about what I term the “five pillars of health,” key components that bolster our well-being and aid in preventing and reversing many lifestyle-related diseases.

The advent of the light bulb and the discovery of antibiotics a century ago marked a societal shift, leading us to normalize disease as an inevitable aspect of aging. The light bulb disrupted our circadian rhythms, spawning numerous chronic health issues, while the triumph of penicillin over infectious diseases fostered a belief that a pill could be the panacea for all ailments.

Post-World War II affluence ushered in an era of lifestyle diseases like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. When pills fell short, the medical and pharmaceutical sectors proposed a new narrative: chronic diseases were incurable, pinned on overindulgence and inactivity. Their solution was to manage these conditions by keeping their markers in check with ongoing medication and check-ups.

Meanwhile, the rise of the processed food industry post-WWII, driven by shareholder profits, led to less nutritious, irresistible food options, contributing to a surge in health issues. This convergence of interests among the food, pharmaceutical, and healthcare industries, overlooked by government and media, has escalated chronic diseases to unprecedented levels, quietly normalizing this unhealthy status quo to a point where we have more sick people than healthy people in the civilized world.

Acknowledging that diet and lifestyle are at the core of many chronic conditions begs the question: Why not change them?

The human body has an innate ability to heal, but relying on medications to mask symptoms interrupts this process, often leading to a cascade of further health complications. The spiral of illness thus created continues untill death.

Studies of centenarians in “Blue Zones” debunk the myth that chronic diseases are a given in old age. These populations live well into their 90s and beyond, largely disease-free.

There is overpowering evidence that suggests that there are five pillars of health which contribute to prevention and reversal of most chronic diseases if not all.

(1) Food

Our 37 trillion cells require nourishment, which is compromised by modern food processing techniques. Removing fiber and adding harmful ingredients which are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) disrupt our satiety signals and contribute to chronic illnesses.

Notably, research indicates that a diet with more than 8% protein, particularly from animal sources, can promote cancer. Key dietary rules include avoiding animal products, refined foods, and ultra-processed items.

(2) Detoxification 

The food consumed is metabolized by cells throughout the body, producing waste that needs to be collected and excreted. The lymphatic system, nearly as extensive as the circulatory system, facilitates this process. The human brain can only eliminate metabolic waste during the deep sleep cycle at night. In addition to metabolic waste, our bodies also accumulate dead and damaged cells that can harm adjacent healthy cells. The Nobel Prize-winning research from 2016 demonstrated that fasting for over 22 hours induces a process called autophagy, where the body recycles such waste. Thus, it is highly recommended to fast every two weeks, aligning with the Indian tradition of Ekadashi fasts. Furthermore, another Nobel Prize-winning study in 2018 showed that prolonged fasting for 10 days, with only a small, especially low-protein meal each day, enhances immunity against serious diseases like cancer. This practice is strikingly similar to the Indian Navratri fasting tradition. Other yoga practices, such as Shatkarma, are also beneficial for detoxifying the body.

(3) Circadian Rhythm

All species of plants and animals on Earth have evolved within a 24-hour day-night cycle and are well adapted to this rhythm. Many glands in our body release hormones in sync with these cycles, regulating various bodily functions. However, with the advent of electricity, our lifestyles have shifted away from the natural day-night rhythm, disrupting our body’s synchronization with nature’s clock. Notably, the 2017 Nobel Prize was awarded for research demonstrating how our body’s master clock aligns with the day-night cycle. Dr. Satchin Panda’s work at UC San Diego and the Salk Institute over the past decade has shed light on this topic. For optimal health, consider the following recommendations:

Sun Gazing: Rise before sunrise and, within half an hour of sunrise and sunset, gaze around the sun, moving your eyes in both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. Avoid direct sun gazing.

Eating Patterns: Refrain from eating for at least an hour after sunrise and aim to finish dinner before sunset, or at least before it gets dark outside.

Physical Activity: Avoid strenuous workouts when it’s dark outside.

Screen Time: Minimize exposure to blue light-emitting screens, such as TVs, computer monitors, and cell phones at night, or use a blue light filter on these devices.

Sleep: Aim for a minimum of 8 hours of sleep per night. Avoid using an alarm to wake up, and compensate for any sleep deficit within the same week.

(4) Physical Activity 

The human body has evolved to accommodate a physically active lifestyle. The lymphatic system, which serves as our body’s janitorial service, collects metabolic waste. However, unlike the blood circulatory system, it lacks a pump and depends on bodily movement to operate effectively. Therefore, it’s essential to move regularly throughout the day. It is advised to engage in movement for 5 minutes every hour while awake. One method to monitor this is by counting your steps, aiming to reach at least 10,000 steps daily.

(5)  Emotional & Spiritual Health

Human emotions trigger the release of hormones that benefit not only our emotional well-being but also our physical health. We commonly hear that laughter is the best medicine because it helps alleviate stress. Similarly, giving unconditional love and surrounding oneself with recipients of such love, like young children and pets, significantly impacts our health. Additionally, prayers filled with gratitude saturate our bodies with hormones that promote happiness and contentment. The act of praying is crucial, regardless of the deity or entity being addressed.

These five pillars of health, when consistently practiced and integrated into one’s lifestyle, can help reverse many chronic diseases, if not all, and extend one’s lifespan. This is similar to the patterns observed in various Blue Zones around the world, where people live over 100 years without diseases. Over next few weeks we will focus on these five pillars of health one at a time.

To Read this article on Times of India click here

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