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Have you seen Will?

Have you noticed more people complain about being sick or not feeling well? Are you one of them? Do you feel worn out; too tired, too heavy, too sore, too depressed, or just plain crappy?  How does this happen? I don’t know, but let’s look at two things: what causes poor health and whether we have any control over those causes.   

The things on the following lists make us sick. The lists are not complete but you’ll get the drift. The ‘A’ list is about diet and life-style: sugar, saturated fat, food in a box, too few colourful fruits and vegetables, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, smoking, drugs, alcohol, and other harmful toxins all cause sickness.  The ‘B’ list is germs: bacteria, fungi, viruses, and other intruders. The ‘C’ list is internal medical goodies like chemical imbalances, high cholesterol, high cortisol, a weakened immune system, worn out or abused organs, and myriad medical mysteries. The ‘D’ list is psychological factors such as anger, impatience, low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.

When these enemies of health are under control we feel better. So what can we control? It may not be easy but we can take charge of the culprits on the ‘A’ list. It means saying no to yourself: swapping your bag of chips for a head of broccoli; taking walks longer than from the couch to the fridge; and cutting or reducing consumption of liquor, tobacco, and other toxins. If you need help with this list, look for Will. He’ll lock the fridge and restrain you until you decide to restrain yourself or until the need for real food replaces your addiction to fake food.

The ‘B’ list guys are harder to manage. You might try wearing a surgical mask, filtering your air and water, or just dig a hole, jump in, and cover it up. But wait— not so fast— we know germs take over when our immune system is weak. We also know that we can strengthen our immune system by taking charge of the ‘A’ list, so we can slow those pesky germs down after all. 

The ‘C’ list usually requires a medical doctor, health care professional, or nurse practitioner depending upon severity. He or she can diagnose the medical condition, check out all the organs, identify the type of germ overwhelming your immune system, and prescribe something to cure or relieve the problem. But many of these ‘C’ list things are caused by our continued neglect of the things on the ‘A’ and ‘D’ lists. When we don’t take charge of the things we can control our doctor grows tired of our repeat visits and refers us back to Will. Hopefully you can find him. And hopefully it’s not too late.

Control of items on the ‘D’ list is difficult because we cannot see the psychological factors sneaking up on us so we don’t make the connection between them and our health. For example, the connection between drinking too much and a hangover in the morning is easy to understand because it happens right away.  But the health damaging effect of low self-esteem takes longer to recognize. In the 50’s two cardiologists, Friedman and Rosenbaum were the first to notice that “Type A” personalities have a higher incidence of coronary heart disease.  Since that time many studies have shed light on the risk that some psychological factors pose to our health.

For example, in 1995 Kirschbaum and colleagues found that people with low self-esteem produce more prolonged and higher levels of cortisol in response to stress. This is not good for low self-esteem, stressed-out people in a stressful world since sustained high levels of cortisol are one cause of:  impaired cognitive performance, blood sugar imbalance, higher blood pressure, lowered immunity, increased abdominal fat, unhealthy cholesterol counts, and more.

That’s a nasty list. But do we care?  Only when we hurt. The point is that simply knowing the cause of sickness doesn’t help if there’s no Will Power. So keep looking for him, watch this column for suggestions to improve the psychological factors, and live well between your ears. 

Copyright © 2011 by Doug Spencer

Your comments are welcome and appreciated.  Thanks.  Doug