What I am about to say, I am saying with compassion and a deep sense of being hopeful that we can change. We are a country with many, many overweight and sick people. The hopefulness part is coming, but before we get to it, I will present the downright depressing and scary information first.
What do obesity, high blood sugar and high blood pressure have in common? They all contribute to slowing down metabolism, which is the body’s ability to function properly on a chemical level. Instead of fostering a vital life, these diseases are signs that health and vitality are going in a negative direction. Having all three of these diagnoses lands a person with another disease diagnosis called metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome has permeated our culture. This cluster of risk factors leads to cardiovascular disease, which can have debilitating and deadly effects.
For a variety of reasons, we as Americans are at high risk for developing metabolic syndrome. In fact, according to the National Institute of Health, it is likely that metabolic syndrome will overcome smoking as the leading cause of heart disease. Our sedentary lifestyles, dependence on pharmaceutical medications and processed food supply nearly lock us into developing these metabolic disturbances.
Fortunately, with a few simple changes in how we view obesity and its associated metabolic diseases, we can make empowering choices that benefit our health and free us from living sickly lives. Clearly, mainstream efforts of preaching to eat well and exercise are not doing the trick. So, let’s do something different and look at these risk factors through a different set of eyes — through the eyes of the nervous system.
Obesity and high fasting blood sugar
Want to make some money? Develop a fast and easy method of weight loss. Problem is, your patrons may temporarily lose weight, but unless the weight problem is addressed at a deeper level, the fat cells are bound to swell up again. When it comes to weight loss, as far as the nervous system goes there is no fast and easy way to lose weight and still be healthy. Various emotional stressors can flood the system with hormones, causing the nervous system to function improperly. Improper nervous system function can lead to a poor ability to assimilate nutrients, sugar and salt cravings, and a tendency to overeat (especially empty calories).
Furthermore, it is important to balance the parasympathetic nervous system with the sympathetic nervous system to optimize the body’s metabolism. The parasympathetic nervous system is the calming aspect of the autonomic nervous system and is also known as “rest and digest.” The sympathetic nervous system is also known as the “fight or flight” aspect of the autonomic nervous system and kicks in when there is a danger requiring immediate attention. When stress hormones (like cortisol) are released by chronically living in a state of fight or flight, insulin levels are negatively impacted, causing spikes in blood sugar. A combination of eating the wrong foods, along with the body’s inability to assimilate glucose properly, leads to weight gain.
High blood pressure
Science has a hard time directly linking stress to hypertension, though behaviors commonly associated with stress (excessive intake of alcohol, overeating and poor sleep) are linked to hypertension.
What about high cholesterol?
The standard Western medical model suggests that high cholesterol is another evil contributing to metabolic syndrome. However, at best this is a debatable subject. Studies show that dietary intake of cholesterol, especially from whole and unprocessed foods, has little impact on heart disease. So, today, eggs get a get-out-of-jail free card because (make sure you are sitting down for this one) cholesterol is not your enemy. Cholesterol is your friend as it forms the building blocks for necessary cell membranes, hormones and more.
A well-balanced nervous system provides a strong foundation for achieving optimal metabolic health. There are several options of intervention that can help regulate the nervous system:
■ Chiropractic care can optimize the nerve cell conduction between the brain, the spinal cord, and organs innervated from the spinal column.
■ Acupuncture is another way to improve nervous system function as it is able to induce strong relaxation response. Patients who receive acupuncture commonly report a sensation of calmness and peacefulness not obtained in any other way.
■ Aromatherapy, exercise, meditation, homeopathy, counseling and life coaching all can ameliorate the negative side effects of stress.
Effectively managing our nervous system leads to making healthier and more empowered choices for our health. One huge answer to the health care problem in our country is for us, the people, to take the responsibility of our health back. Do not let health insurance, the food industry and the pharmaceutical industry steal your power. Choose to take your life into your hands, get appropriate treatment that addresses the root of the problem and that resonates with you the most.
Dr. April L. Schulte-Barclay is a doctor of acupuncture and oriental medicine and a licensed acupuncturist. She has been practicing in Grand Junction since 2004 and is an expert and leader in integrative and collaborative medicine. Learn more at hhacumed.com, or call Healing Horizons Integrated Health Solutions at 256-8449.