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Achieving Health Goals

January 28, 2010 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

The most cost effective way to reduce medical spending is to require less of it. This isn’t a commentary on what the government or private health insurance companies should or should not cover. What I am suggesting is that we can, in large part, control the number of medical interventions that we’ll need over a lifetime. This is primarily the domain of preventive medicine, but I think it extends beyond that. The lifestyle decisions you make affect more lives than just your own. Like it or not, we all set an example whether constructive or destructive for those around us. There is no escaping that reality. The good news is that we’re all capable of changing the way we live and becoming better role models. It is that very notion that can empower us all to participate in reshaping the current medical system.

This is the first segment of a new series of columns that will focus on 5 natural steps that can improve your life and the well-being of those around you. My hope is that you’ll personally incorporate some of these alternative and complementary options into your daily routine. However you’ll undoubtedly come across some information that doesn’t directly relate to your health concerns. In those instances, please pass along those tips to anyone you know who might benefit from them. Share the information with colleagues, family, friends and especially your physicians. I think we can make a considerable impact if we all commit to implementing and/or sharing at least one tip from each of the 5 step blogs.

Tip #1 – Achieve Your Goals Researchers from Duke University and the University of Georgia recently announced the completion of a series of studies that prove that self-control can be contagious. Five different experiments were conducted to determine whether exposure to good examples or simply thinking about them could alter harmful behavior in those with poor self-control.

  • In experiment # 1, 36 volunteers were asked to think about a friend with either bad or good self-control. They were then asked to take part in a “handgrip task commonly used to measure self-control”. Those who thought of friends who set good examples performed better on the handgrip test.
  • Experiment # 2 involved 71 participants who were split up into groups. One group watched as people selected and ate a carrot from a plate that contained both the carrot and a cookie. The second group of participants viewed people choosing the cookie rather than the carrot. Later on, the observers were tested to see which group demonstrated the greater level of discipline in the presence of food. Those who were exposed to the carrot eating exhibited more self-control than the cookie group.
  • Experiment #3 required that 42 study volunteers create two lists of friends that they considered as having either good or bad self-control. After which, the volunteers sat at a computer terminal and were exposed to subliminal (10 millisecond) flashes of names of friends from both lists. At the same time, they were given a “computerized test designed to measure self-control”. The researchers noted that flashing the names of friends that were classified as having good self-control positively impacted the test results and vice versa.
  • The fourth experiment was a bit more involved. 112 participants were asked to write about a friend who possessed one of the following qualities: a) bad self-control; b) good self-control or; c) an outgoing personality. At a later time, the writers themselves were given a self-control test. The men and women who wrote about friends who were bad examples scored the poorest on the test. Those who described friends who were extroverted tested better than the โ€œpoor example groupโ€, but not as well as the โ€œgood example test subjectsโ€.
  • The fifth and final experiment discovered that writing about friends with good self-control helped a group of 117 study volunteers identify words relating to positive self-control (achieve, discipline, effort, etc.) more quickly than those focusing on friends lacking self-control.

One of the co-authors of the summary, Dr. Michelle vanDellen, concluded that: “The take home message of this study is that picking social influences that are positive can improve your self-control”. She went on to add that “by exhibiting self-control, you’re helping others around you do the same”. (1,2)

Tip #2 – Protect Yourself from Chemical, Dietary and Environmental Damage – A Spanish study published in the January edition of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of eating 30 grams of mixed nuts in a group of 50 adults with metabolic syndrome (MetS). Over the course of 12 weeks, half of the participants were asked to add the nuts to their typical diet while the remainder ate normally. The MetS patients consuming the mixed nuts were found to have lower rates of DNA damage as measured by urinary 8-oxo-dG. DNA damage and inadequate DNA repair has been linked to a whole host of chronic diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, macular degeneration and premature aging. (3,4,5,6,7)

Tip #3 – Balance is the Key to a Longer Life – Avoiding falls is one of the most important strategies for remaining active and healthy well into your senior years. A newly published study from the University of South Carolina supports the use of Feldenkrais exercises for this express purpose. The Feldenkrais Method is a program that combines attentive, gentle movements that are intended to improve mind-body functions such as balance, coordination, flexibility and range of motion. In the present study, 47 seniors were enrolled in a 5 week Feldenkrais exercise program or asked to join a “waitlist” which was used as a comparison group. Those in the Feldenkrais group attended 60 minute classes three times a week. The results of the trial noted several benefits in those participating in the Feldenkrais intervention: improved balance, mobility and a reduced “fear of falling”. In addition, the participants also reported greater “balance confidence” and mobility when moving around and simultaneously performing a mental task. (8)

How Orlistat Promotes Weight Loss
Source: Arq Bras Endocrinol Metab vol.53 no.2 (a)

Tip #4 – Walk Away from Nicotine Addiction – Dr. Harry Prapavessis is the researcher of the month at the Canadian Cancer Society. This honor was bestowed upon him because of his ongoing inquiry into the role that exercise can play in improving smoking cessation outcomes. Dr. Prapavessis and his team at the University of Western Ontario have shown that physical activity not only assists with nicotine withdrawal, but it can also reduce relapse rates and minimize weight gain that often accompanies it. (9,10,11,12)

Tip #5 – Reduce Carbohydrates to Reduce Blood Pressure – The most recent issue of the journal Archives of Internal Medicine features a study that compares the effects of a very low carbohydrate diet (less than 20 carbs per day) vs. a common weight loss drug (orlistat/ALLI). Scientists from Duke University assigned 146 overweight or obese patients a carb-restricted diet or a low-fat diet that included orlistat therapy (120 mg before the 3 main meals). Orlistat is a medication that partially inhibits the digestion of dietary fat (see image above). It can result in weight loss because it essentially reduces the amount of fat calories available to the body. Weight loss in both groups was similar by the end of the 48 week trial. The low carb diet resulted in -9.5% weight loss and the low-fat/orlistat plan reduced weight by -8.5%. However, there were some specific benefits only found in the carb-restricted group: lower blood pressure, glucose, insulin and hemoglobin A1c (a measure of long term blood sugar control). 47% of the low carb group was able to discontinue use of anti-hypertensive medication as compared to 21% in the low-fat/orlistat participants. The primary author of the study, Dr. William S. Yancy, commented that “It’s important to know you can try a diet instead of medication and get the same weight loss results with fewer cost and potentially fewer side effects”. (13,14)

I hope that at least one of the above tips will apply to every one of you. If nothing else, the first tip about self-control ought to be relevant to us all. But please do try to choose at least one of these tips and share it with someone that you care about. Send out links to this column or mention a tip or two at the dinner table or perhaps during your next round of golf. Everyday we have a chance to make a difference in relatively simple ways. This new 5 step approach will be my way of contributing to the cause.This is me inviting you to join me.

Be well!


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13 Comments & Updates to “Achieving Health Goals”

  1. Nina K. Says:

    Morning JP, ๐Ÿ™‚

    nice article, you have always so nice ideas, its everyday a pleasure for me to read your blog ๐Ÿ™‚

    tip 2 is very difficult in our modern life but we don’t give up and adding nuts is the smallest challenge :-).

    Best regards,
    Nina K.

  2. liverock Says:

    The FDA is rewviewing the safety of Orlistat after receiving reports about liver damage.


  3. JP Says:

    Thank you, Nina! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I appreciate your kindness and support very much!

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Thanks for pointing that out, Liverock! ๐Ÿ™‚

    All the more reason to avoid orlistat and opt for a more natural approach. Hopefully the new research out of Duke University will convince patients and physicians that diet is a safe and viable option.

    Be well!


  5. Sai Says:

    Morning JP:

    I am currently on low carb, little high fat and moderate protein diet (Fat sources coconut oil, almonds, flax seed oil, Whole Milk) fish oil supplements) (protein sources whey protein (Jay Robb, Whole Milk) and carb (brown rice, whole wheat) and veggies..and i notice that i am losing weight in this mode. I am still observing but it is very promising in spite of my type 2 diabetes! Thanks for another good post.

    Best Regards


  6. JP Says:

    That’s wonderful news, Sai! Thanks for sharing your success with us! ๐Ÿ™‚ Please keep us posted on your progress.

    I’m currently working with my father on a program to support better cardiovascular health. Part of the approach involves replacing the whole wheat in his diet with other sources of fiber. I’ll let you know how it works out as it may be applicable to your goals as well.

    Be well!


  7. Sai Says:

    Sorry JP i forgot to mention i do include Quinoa also in my diet apart from flaxseed meal and wheat bran. Keep me posted and thanks again


  8. David Says:

    For Omega 3 lovers, I have received this inside a Biotivia newsletter today:

    “Due to high demand for an Omega-3 supplement that does not contain fish oil but still provides a high dose of EPA and DHA, Biotivia have perfected an all-vegetarian Omega-3 supplement.

    100% plant-based, it offers all the health benefits of Omega-3 … but without the potential heavy metals or other contaminants that can be found in fish-based products these days.

    With six essential ingredients, it has the highest and most beneficial levels of vegetarian Omega-3 oils of any product on the market.

    Combining Lonza Oil, Resveratrol, Cranberry Oil, Green Tea, Salba Oil and Sesame Lignans, this supplement has the greatest levels of EPA and DHA fatty acids around”

    It sounds great but I would prefer an Omega 3 with no resveratrol, Bitiovia has obssesion with resveratrol ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. JP Says:

    Thanks for letting us, David!

    I’ll check it out!

    Be well!


  10. anne h Says:

    It’s like a photo blog, sorta…(#4 experiment – writing about a friend)
    Some people only see trash in the gutter –
    Some people see Love and Beauty everywhere they look!

    About the “natural” foods – I give alot of meds, as a Nurse.
    The synthetic ones are NOTHING compared to the real ones.
    Same goes with food! etc.
    Good columns today, JP – a thoughtful and considerate guy!

  11. JP Says:

    Thank you, Anne! Much appreciated! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I enjoy really seeing your photo blogs, BTW!

    Be well!


  12. Stan Gardner, MD Says:

    I’m thrilled to have found a like-minded individual that is also trying to get the word out on alternatives to drugs and surgery. When the anti-fat philosophy came out some 40 years ago, carbohydrates were substituted, to the detriment of this country. Obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and diabetes type II skyrocketed as a direct result of that decision, even though there was and still is no scientific support for that change. Your article reporting the lowering of blood pressure and weight loss through low carbohydrate diet is great. A word of caution–when the carbohydrate intake is less than 20 grams per day for the long term, it may be difficult to get proper nutrients. Perhaps 6 weeks on the diet and 2 weeks off would be more prudent. Keep up the good work!
    Stan Gardner, MD

  13. JP Says:

    Thank you, Stan! ๐Ÿ™‚

    I suspect that going/staying below 20 carbs per day isn’t necessary for most people. I probably consume about 20-50 grams of carbohydrates daily – many of which come from dietary fiber sources.

    Can you tell me more about the 6 weeks on and 2 weeks off plan you proposed? What would the 2 off weeks be like, in terms of carbohydrate intake?

    I’m happy that you found this site and I hope you’ll come back often.

    Be well!


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