A week ago in the heart of the West Village, the Urban Zen Foundation welcomed the return of functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD. The workshop focused on the fast emerging problem in America: obesity and diabetes. Dr. Hyman uses the term “Diabesity” to describe a condition that has become epidemic (nearly three out of four Americans are obese) with serious health consequences ranging from mild blood sugar imbalance to full-blown diabetes.
The Scary Truth By 2050 one in three Americans will have diabetes. Insulin imbalances, elevated cholesterol, high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels are a few of the serious health concerns that are metabolic in nature. Left unchecked, these conditions point directly to diabetes, heart disease, stroke, dementia, nerve damage, blindness and even cancer.
The room fell silent when Dr. Hyman noted that, “our children may be the first generation that will not outlive their parents.” According to Dr. Hyman, we need to move from "dysfunctional (health) to functional, and that we must treat the 'whole system’--not wait for symptoms to appear.” This is the cure for chronic disease states.
Taking a Proactive Approach to Wellness A workshop participant asked about the genetics of her own poor health. Dr. Hyman explained that while we may carry a genetic predisposition to develop diseases, we actually can influence gene expression—that is, keep the bad genes on mute and turn up the good genes. (If you want to dig a little deeper, research “nutrigenomics” the science of how we can use food to influence our genes via manipulation of our “mitochondria”--tiny energy machines within each cell that turn food and oxygen into energy.)
So how can we reduce oxidative stress (cellular assaults from toxins, infections, allergens, stress and bad foods), improve cellular functioning, and enhance our gene expression? According to Dr. Hyman, it's less daunting than you think, but does require dedication to improving your own health habits as well as those of your family.
- Lose weight now. Excess body weight and waist circumference (otherwise known as belly fat) are signs of high blood-insulin levels, which lead to accelerated aging and chronic diseases.
- Lighten your glycemic load. Lose the junk in your diet--give up sugar, flour, and refined carbohydrates, trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup. These substances interfere with our biology at the cellular level. Your efforts will help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as detoxify the liver, which can help prevent and reverse
- insulin resistance and type-2 diabetes. Remember: High-carb meals raise insulin and blood sugar levels and are followed by a crash, which makes you crave more sugar and carbs. A vicious cycle.
- Eat protein with every meal. Include nuts, beans, fish, lean animal protein and omega-3 eggs in your diet. Remember to eat something every four hours--this keeps your insulin and glucose levels normal.
- Be mindful of environmental and internal toxins. Educate yourself about toxins that may be impacting your health and make efforts to reduce these. Green and clean your life and limit your exposure to heavy metals, pollution, and other environmental toxins. These are poison to your mitochondria.
- Add nutrient rich foods daily. Include real, whole foods that are unprocessed, and be sure to add fiber by including a variety of whole grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Eat colorful fruits and vegetables that are rich in phytonutrients.
- Supplement your diet. Add a high-quality multivitamin, calcium-magnesium, zinc, vitamin D, chromium, alpha lipoic acid, special B vitamins (biotin, folate, B6 and B12), and Omega-3 fatty acids in the form of supplements or vegan DHA capsules. Try adding more cold-water river fish like salmon, sardines, and halibut, omega-3 eggs and nuts like almonds, walnuts and macadamias.
- Move your body. Boost your mitochondria by exercising and building muscle. Try interval training or doing whatever kind of movement makes you smile. Exercise also enhances neurotransmitters (feel good hormones) in your brain.
- Support your digestive health. Make sure your gut has the right balance of bugs and learn how the overuse of medications and antibiotics can impact digestive health. Undetected gluten intolerance, food allergies, poor enzyme function and stress are but a few factors in poor digestive health.
- Correct hormonal imbalances. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands signal other parts of the body to regulate the adrenals, pancreas, thyroid and reproductive organs. It's a delicate balance and one that is easily disrupted. Have your cortisol levels checked as well as insulin, thyroid, and sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone.
- Relax and reduce your stress. This controls your blood sugar by reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Begin a practice of mind/body awareness such as meditation, yoga, progressive relaxation and guided imagery. Dance, sing, make love, garden, pray--whatever brings your mind, body, and spirit into balance.
Urban Zen is grateful to Mark Hyman, MD, for an afternoon of science made fun and community sharing. I'll be reporting back with more great events and wisdom from the Urban Zen Foundation as well as interviews with mind and body wellness experts. If you can't visit the Urban Zen Center, go online UrbanZen.org to learn more.
Functional medicine is an emerging field that moves away from diagnosis-based medicine to treating the underlying causes of diseases. To learn more about Mark Hyman, MD and his healing approach or for in-depth learning on your own visit Hyman.com. If you’re curious about functional medicine find it at FunctionalMedicine.org