8 Weeks to Vibrant Health
Table of Contents and Introduction
Part 1 – Your Vibrant Health Plan
Chapter 1: Week 1 – Beginning Your Journey to Better Health
Chapter 2: Week 2 – Self-Evaluation
Chapter 3: Week 3 – Diagnostic Tests
Chapter 4: Week 4 – Outlining Your Plan
Chapter 5: Week 5 – Balance Your Diet
Chapter 6: Week 6 – Detoxify Your Body
Chapter 7: Week 7 – Exercise and Self-Care
Chapter 8: Week 8 – Evaluation and Long Term Plan
Part 2 – Addressing the Imbalances That Are Making You Sick
Chapter 9: De-Stress Your Life
Chapter 10: Balancing Your Brain Chemistry
Chapter 11: Sex Hormones: From PMS to Menopause
Chapter 12: Thyroid and Adrenals: Your Energy Glands
Chapter 13: Syndrome X and Blood Sugar Balance
Chapter 14: Digestion, Dysbiosis and Food Allergies
Chapter 15: Dealing with Environmental Toxins
Chapter 16: Headaches Arthritis, and Osteoporosis
Part 3 – Essential Information for Your Journey Back to Health
Chapter 17: Managing Your Weight
Chapter 18: Where to Look for Help
There are almost 109 million women over the age of 18 in the United States. Because of our fast-paced lifestyle, the accelerating pressure of career, family and relationships, and the shift toward more equality in our social structure, we develop more health concerns by the day.
We are also more susceptible than men to many conditions, including depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, weight gain, and of course, hormonal swings. I hear the same laments over and over from young women, middle-aged women and older women, whether in my office, by e-mail, at public appearances or even, at social gatherings:
“I’m always tired – it doesn’t matter how long I sleep!”
“I can’t catch up on everything I need to do.”
“What can I do about my weight problems? I’m disgusted with myself!”
“I’m always feeling down in the dumps.”
“My whole body hurts! If it’s not my back, it’s my shoulders or my feet.”
“My PMS is actually getting worse as I get older!”
“I have absolutely no sex drive!”
“I had no idea menopause would be this bad. Between the hot flashes and night sweats, I’m miserable!”
“I’m totally confused about hormone replacement therapy. My doctor says there is no other choice – either take HRT with its risks, or suffer!”
And, from most of these women I hear, “My doctor says they are just signs of normal aging or that I’m just stressed and depressed, meaning that — it’s really all in my head!”
Nonetheless, problems with fatigue, sleep, anxiety, depression, weight, pain, hormones, and memory, are real and often debilitating. Part of the problem is that most doctors simply don’t have time to delve into the reason for these symptoms. They may have only ten minutes to hear out a patient, make a diagnosis, and then prescribe a pain medication, a diet pill, an antidepressant, or a sleeping pill.
If you have felt frustrated at not being truly heard, and discouraged that everything you’ve done to try solve your health problems has failed, take heart. You’re not alone, and you’re not without tools to become your own health detective.
I have devised the Vibrant Health Plan based on my decades of experience in treating hundreds of women of all ages. As a conventionally trained physician with a specialty in psychiatry, I have incorporated nutrition and other natural techniques into my practice for more than 20 years.
At the core of this practice is a set of beliefs that have served my patients well:
- Treat the whole person — mind, body, spirit and environment.
- Look for the deepest root problems beneath the symptoms, which includes using the best that science has to offer.
- Apply a continuum of treatments, always beginning with the safest, most natural and most benign.
Crusade for reform
I am often asked how I became such a crusader for the reform of conventional medicine. The fact is, there was no single turning point or moment of enlightenment. It has been a long process, beginning with my earliest family life:
My father was a general practitioner who practiced out of our home in Toronto, Canada. From an early age, I recall following him around on his medical rounds at the hospital and going along on house calls. A caring and conscientious GP in an old- fashioned practice, I saw him practice integrated medicine long before that term was coined. Available and responsive, he ministered to his patients with care and skill. He would talk to me about what he was doing, assuming I understood, and never talking down to me. Looking back now, I realize as the doctor’s apprentice, I learned a great deal about the spirit and art of medicine, and even about the practical aspects of diagnosis and treatment.
Moving forward many years, I studied medicine at the University of Toronto School of Medicine, then interned at the Los Angeles County-USC School of Medicine. I was struck by the serious class divisions in the system of medical care, experiencing culture shock as I was exposed for the first time to a clearly segregated medical care system with serious divisions based on socioeconomic status. In Canada, health coverage is universal, and I had not seen such a disparity in terms of quality of care, and in the respect given to patients and their families. Both my experience with my father, and my medical school training had already given me a more humane and holistic view of medical care, in contrast to the prevailing mechanized, impersonal system.
My interest in a more relational, holistic approach, coupled with an appreciation for the mind-body connection, led me to decide to specialize in psychiatry. During my residency at Cedars-Sinai/UCLA Medical Center, I eventually found that the standard “couch and Prozac” combination of psychoanalytic and pharmacological treatments.went only so far.
I was drawn to a more personal approach to patients, where therapists were more directly caring and interactive with their patients. I discovered art therapy with Helen Landgarten, then guided imagery and other more cutting-edge interactive techniques such as Voice Dialogue with Hal Stone Not only did these methods work more quickly, but they clearly could affect the body in many ways, from relieving more obvious symptoms to boosting the immune system.
Then, during my family therapy fellowship, I discovered the “systems approach, ” where the “identified patient” was not necessarily the true problem! It wasn’t just Johnny who was the “bad kid”, or Jenna who was the depressed adolescent. In fact, there were secret family issues (Mom’s depression, Dad’s gambling) that had unbalanced the whole family dynamic, and the children’s problems were the family’s symptoms. Treatment would be successful only so far as the underlying issues, i.e. the parents’ problems, were uncovered and healed.
By the same token, I became aware that the symptoms my patients reported were just messages that their body system was awry. They were clues that needed closer evaluation in order to uncover the real cause. I paid more attention to the mind-body connection, and the doctor-patient relationship.
I carried what I had learned into my new medical practice, and began to explore the influences of nutrition and lifestyle on health. I observed how imbalance in the body can affect the mind. The brain, after all, is an organ, affected by its internal physiological environment.
It became obvious to me that psychotherapy is more effective once the brain is functioning properly. I went on to discover how many typical psychiatric complaints—anxiety, depression, PMS, even schizophrenia – are frequently due to biochemical imbalances. These can range from low blood sugar, viral and fungal infections, hormonal imbalances, allergies, and toxic overload, to deficiencies of specific nutrients.
I am able to diagnose these conditions with the appropriate laboratory tests that give a scientific basis for treatment decisions. Then I can often help correct the imbalances with natural approaches, including the use of well-researched nutritional supplements.
In contrast, conventional physicians are most likely to prescribe first and test second, if at all. The results?
The third leading cause of death
Studies show that doctors are the third leading cause of death, accounting for 250,000 deaths per year. They don’t do it intentionally, but due to a lack of knowledge, errors and over-influence from drug companies, that is the end result.
There is little to counterbalance the over-prescribing of drugs, despite the fact that according to one study, there are over 100,000 deaths per year due to medications taken as prescribed. That’s not taking into account drugs that were improperly prescribed, or medication-related disability that, while not fatal, takes a huge toll.
In my move toward “integral” or holistic psychiatry, I found myself treating a variety of medical conditions, from chronic fatigue to irritable bowel syndrome. Patients don’t walk into our offices as disembodied heads. Our bodies do not separate into specialized compartments for the convenience of cardiologists, allergists, endocrinologists, or gastroenterologists. You can’t get to the right diagnosis and treatment without looking at all systems.
Every symptom reflects an imbalance somewhere in the body’s systems. Conventional medicine has segmented the body into the various specialties, and has not addressed the fact that the body is actually a set of interactive systems.
On the other hand, holistic or integrative medicine addresses the interactive systems of the whole person. The patient is evaluated in a variety of ways, and supplied with specific health prescriptions — for supplements, foods, exercise, natural hormones, mind-body techniques, and even prescription drugs when indicated. Moreover, the individual has to partner with the doctor in this process, both to carry out the regimen, and to give feedback in order to fine-tune their program.
Compared to drug therapy, natural treatments offer safer, more user-friendly solutions, with far fewer and less harmful side effects. They work with the body’s chemistry rather than adding what can be toxic substances to an already impaired body.
A case in point
I remember one early patient in particular, a 55-year-old college teacher named Jean whose story is pretty typical. She was being treated by her internist for high blood pressure, osteoporosis and heart palpitations, and was referred to me, a psychiatrist, because of anxiety, depression, and insomnia. I could find no obvious psychological explanation for these, except maybe for the stress of her physical illness. She was taking an array of medications, with their attendant side effects. Based on some simple lab tests, and my own clinical experience, I determined that a likely common cause was a magnesium deficiency.
After a brief trial on this inexpensive and common mineral, together with a multivitamin-mineral formula and essential fatty acids, Jean was able to decrease her medications. Encouraged by this result, she trusted me enough to eliminate some foods to which she was allergic, which helped her even more. Not only were her anxiety depression and insomnia gone, but she soon was medication-free, depending instead on a list of supplements (I added a few to those mentioned here) to restore her normal body chemistry.
As an integrative physician, I see cases like Jean’s all day long, with sometimes seemingly simple solutions to what appear to be complex conditions, and where part of the problem may even stem from the prescribed medications.
Situations like Jean’s leave me with the following questions:
1. Why had Jean’s internist been unaware of her mineral deficiency, or even of its possibility? Why didn’t he at least give her a basic multivitamin- mineral formula?
2. Why give prescription drugs first? This approach is like unplugging the noisy smoke alarm instead of looking for the fire!
3. And, more pointedly, why is the prevailing standard of medical practice so symptom- and drug-oriented, especially when this approach so clearly fails to serve the patient?
One answer is all too clear: Through sales representatives, medical journal ads, research articles, and conventions, the pharmaceutical industry is the main source of education for many physicians in practice. The bad news is that drugs are expensive and often cause more harm than they cure. For example, the NSAIDs for arthritis can cause severe gastric irritation and even ulcers. Or, as numerous human and animal studies show, the statin drugs for lowering cholesterol deplete the body of an essential nutrient Co-enzyme Q10, which heart cells depend on for survival. This leads us to believe that statins, while certainly lowering cholesterol, may be doing more harm than good. In his 22 page, fully referenced report reviewing this issue, researcher Dr Peter Lonsjoen recommends that all statins be labeled with a warning to take it with 100-200 mg of COQ10 daily. Has your doctor mentioned that to you? Have you seen it in any drug ads? This is the tip of the iceberg for the complexity of the pharmaceutical industry and our health.
Most doctors have minimal exposure to more natural treatments which they dismiss as “unscientific.” In fact, the science is there, published in the very same medical journals that tout drugs. The supplements that I recommend are well-backed by published research.
Fortunately, this situation is changing as more doctors are encouraged by the results they observe in their patients who are incorporating natural approaches. (Hint: if you find solutions to your problems in this book, please share them with your doctors.) Physicians, and even medical schools, are showing greater interest in integrative medicine, which incorporates the best of both worlds.