Tyranny of the Test

As I mentioned recently, testing is one of the hallmarks of personalized medicine. These days there are so many tests to help zero in on what’s really happening in your body. When used judiciously, test results can provide comprehensive information which helps your doctor or health coach develop an individualized plan for you.

Lab testing

Image via NPR

Thanks to technology, doctors are able to see images of your heart and carotid arteries in action, graphs showing a heart under the stress of walking up an incline, and more graphs of your heart beats and blood pressure during daily activities. They can see your brain in glorious colour and your body in three dimensions. They’re able to monitor the level of all manner of things in your blood. They can measure good and bad bugs in your gut, and find out if you have genes that predispose you to certain conditions you’d rather not know about.

Sounds like a good thing? Continue reading

Do your assumptions trip you up?

Mine did. Literally. Tripped me up.

Here’s the evidence. In full colour, an unretouched photo.

Me with blackened eye

So…how did I get a black eye, and how does it relate to assumptions?

I tripped on a curb. Well, not a curb exactly. I was stepping onto the accessibility ramp that transitions the pavement to the sidewalk.

There was no snow or ice. I was not in a hurry. I was not distracted by my phone or iPod. I did not faint and then fall. I was wearing flat shoes that are old friends. There was no obvious reason for this to happen.  Continue reading

Personalized Medicine

Whether it’s called personalized medicine, precision medicine, or individualized medicine, it means you are being treated on the basis of your uniqueness. A study-of-one approach allows for comparison of different treatments in the same person. You get feedback by observing your condition before and after a particular treatment. It allows you to determine whether that particular treatment is effective in your case.

This is different from conventional research, which uses many subjects who are divided into two or three groups. each group is given a different treatment and then the average responses of the groups are compared. This is known as a randomized controlled trial, and study results are reported as a statistical average.

Truth is, this does not provide helpful information for us as individuals. Just because a research study found that a particular treatment works on average, it may not work for you in particular. Or it may even make your condition worse even though it worked for most people. Continue reading

You’re a “study of one”…and the director of it.

Last week I wrote that we are complex organic systems, each with a unique combination of inherent constitution and life experiences. Under such conditions, the best way to address health issues is with an individualized plan.

In this model of achieving wellness, you are the subject in the study of you. Of course, a study also needs someone to direct it, and that is you too, since the medical system hasn’t yet embraced this approach beyond trying one prescription and then something else if that didn’t work.

How you think makes a difference to the process.

Continue reading

We are organic systems. Not mechanical.

Organic. Not mechanical. That means we need to think differently when trying to fix problems in the system. Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process.

Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on one correct thing to do when you have a health issue.

Integrative Health Approach

Institute for Functional Medicine Clinical Matrix for Core Imbalance. From the Institute for Functional Medicine: Textbook of Functional Medicine. Gig Harbor, Wash: The Institute for Functional Medicine, 2005, p 100. © 2005 The Institute of Functional Medicine. Via the Cleveland Clinic

Continue reading

The Paradox of Choice

Last week I wrote about the dilemmas of too much information. It strikes me that too much information is like having too much choice. It complicates things, even though there’s a good side as well.

The paradox of choice caught my attention when I was teaching college classes about consumer issues. In the TED Talk below, researcher Barry Schwartz speaks about choosing consumer goods, but his findings can also be applied to health and wellness decisions. Continue reading

Dilemmas of Decision-Making

Information overload combined with a lack of clear answers can be confusing, frustrating, and discouraging. It’s tempting to think it would be so much easier if life were black and white, if someone else could tell us the precise course of action to guarantee the results we want. But that won’t be happening any time soon.

And really, that isn’t the point of life, as far as I can tell. From my viewpoint, life is about learning and growing. And health issues certainly provide us with opportunities to do that.

So it’s on us to be conscious and engaged when making health-related choices. Here are a few thoughts to consider.

1. We are organic, not mechanical, systems.

Repairing a mechanical system is usually a straightforward, clear-cut, logical process. Not so with living systems, which are elegantly complex and sometimes incomprehensible. We have a capacity for emotion, interconnected body systems, and strong survival instincts. No wonder it’s challenging to zero in on the one correct thing to do.

2. It helps a lot to adopt an experimental mindset.

Because maybe there isn’t just one perfect answer. Maybe it’s a zig-zag path to where we want to be.

In this culture, we tend to look for a direct path to the right and perfect solution. This search can have the unintended consequence of preventing  any action at all because you can never be really sure you’ve found the correct one.

On the other hand, an experimental approach allows us to be curious. It opens up possibilities and gives you a chance to learn what works and what doesn’t. It’s a time-honoured approach, as illustrated by this story from Thomas Edison’s friend and associate Walter S. Mallory.

I said to him, “Isn’t it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven’t been able to get any results?” Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: “Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won’t work!”

With an attitude like that, there’s no need to feel like a failure when you try something that doesn’t work. After all, you were just testing a theory, not staking your reputation for success on it.

3. You’ll be a lot more confident in making health decisions once you learn to access your innate self-knowing.

Self-knowing is the key to being able to rest easy with your decisions. It’s the aspect of decision-making that provides the greatest opportunity for growth, and the one that’s easiest to overlook.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll explore how you can marshal your resources to know what to do. In the meantime, here are The Delta Rhythm Boys to sing us out…

What if…Type 2 diabetes can be reversed?

We are typically told that once a diabetic, always a diabetic—that is, diabetes can be managed but it is not reversible once you have it. Dr Sarah Hallberg challenges this viewpoint, based on her clinical experience using a high-fat diet. Her program has been highly successful in reversing diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Continue reading

What if…we can eat to starve cancer?

In this TED-Ed talk, William Li, MD presents a new way to think about treating cancer and other diseases. It is anti-angiogenesis, which means preventing the growth of blood vessels that feed a tumour. He says the crucial first (and best) step is eating cancer-fighting foods that cut off the supply lines and beat cancer at its own game.

Watching this reminds me of three things that are important and easily forgotten:

  1. Just because conventional wisdom has not yet embraced a new idea, that does not make the new idea untrue.
  2. What we eat does make a difference and it’s worth paying attention.
  3. As Dr. Li says (at 19:00 minutes on the video), we can empower ourselves to do the things that doctors can’t do for us, which is to use knowledge and take action.

Continue reading

What if…Alzheimer’s can be reversed?

In June of 2016, Science Daily published a report describing initial results of a study underway at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. The title: “Pre and post testing show reversal of memory loss from Alzheimer’s disease in 10 patients.” It goes on…

This is the first study to objectively show that memory loss in patients can be reversed, and improvement sustained, using a complex, 36-point therapeutic personalized program that involves comprehensive changes in diet, brain stimulation, exercise, optimization of sleep, specific pharmaceuticals and vitamins, and multiple additional steps that affect brain chemistry.

Alzheimer’s reversed? Yes!

This is stunning in a healthcare culture where “everyone knows” that Alzheimer’s is a sentence to steady decline over a long period of time with no hope of recovery. Continue reading