Exploring all our options gives us an edge.

Because I write about alternative approaches to health, I suspect some readers may think I’m opposed to everything conventional. Today I’d like to set the record straight.

Out-of-hand rejection of conventional medicine would be as shortsighted as never considering alternative practices.

When I’m working toward resolution of a health issue, it’s so much more constructive to consider all available options and adopt those that best suit me and the situation at hand. The considerations could include surgery and prescription medications offered by conventional medicine, in conjunction with the holistic perspective and nutritional knowledge of functional practitioners.

Case in point…

I recently had cataract surgery. Removing a cloudy lens and putting in a new one is an amazing procedure. I greatly appreciate living in a time and place where this surgery is readily available.

Cataracts are not an emergency; they develop over time. When the optometrist first noticed mine, I asked if there was anything I could do. “No,” she said. “When they progress far enough, I’ll refer you to an ophthalmologist for removal.” And that’s what she did.

In the year I waited for the ophthalmologist to have an opening in his surgical schedule, I had time to think. And I kept coming back to the idea that there must be something I could do. If not to change the course of the cataracts, then at least to help my eyes be as healthy as possible before the procedure was undertaken. I needed advice from someone who took a holistic view.

I spoke to my functional medicine doctor, who referred me to a functional optometrist. A functional optometrist has traditional training as a doctor of optometry, with additional courses in functional medicine. She knew everything my previous optometrist did, and more.

When choosing how to treat health issues, a both/and mindset gives us a huge advantage.

From her broad base of information, the functional optometrist advised me that my somewhat-fragile eyes would benefit from specific supplements. I brought the list home, muscle tested to find out what would be optimum for me, and took them regularly.

It’s now two weeks after the second eye was done. The procedures went well, and I had no pain at all. I’m both continuing the supplements and applying several eye drops multiple times a day as prescribed. So far, so good.

Different thinking…

I’ve been told that I don’t think like other people. I take that as a compliment. Since the way I think comes naturally to me, I sometimes puzzle over what is different and why.

What’s different? I think it’s that I’m eclectic. Here’s the first definition that came up when I searched. I’d say both aspects apply to how I think.

ec·lec·tic

1. deriving ideas, style, or taste from a broad and diverse range of sources. “her musical tastes are eclectic”

2. PHILOSOPHY: of, denoting, or belonging to a class of ancient philosophers who did not belong to or found any recognized school of thought but selected…as they wished from various schools.

I draw from the resources around me, and bring together elements that are best suited to me in my situation. This means that I don’t buy into any particular point of view. For example, when the first optometrist said there was nothing to be done, I recognized that as the conventional mindset. I knew it had a limited focus, and didn’t accept it as the only possibility. I was open to finding more options than were offered by that practitioner.

Researching options…

A lot of my blogging has been about alternative means of resolving health issues. I present this information with a view to helping others expand their sense of what is possible. In the works: A resource guide to bring these resources together in one easily accessible, user-friendly format.

Checking options against your needs…

As I mentioned in my eye story, when I was given a list of eye-related supplements to take, I checked to see what my body needed at the time. Recommendations are always based on averages, so checking allows me to optimize the information as it applies to me. Doing this enables me to proceed with confidence. For more about how to check what your body needs, refer to my blogs here and here.

Pre- and post-operative care…

In my experience, which includes two major surgeries before the above-mentioned cataract procedure, patients receive little advice about what they should do before or after surgery—other than no food or water for a specified time before going to the hospital, and taking any prescribed medications once you are sent home.

Because it’s treated so casually, we don’t really appreciate how invasive and disruptive the surgical experience is. Yet there is so much we can do to reduce the impact of surgery and foster healing afterwards. Restorative measures include:

  • Nutrition and supplements
  • Probiotics to mitigate effect of antibiotics
  • Herbals and homeopathics
  • Meditation to reduce anxiety and discomfort
  • Energy practices like Chi gong and tai chi
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Movement and gentle exercise

There’s plenty online material to expand your awareness of what to consider. If you search for “pre-and post operative instructions” you’ll get lists of standard recommendations from hospitals, clinics, and universities. If you want to tap into alternative approaches and holistic thinking, try “functional approach to recovering from surgery.”

Here is a comprehensive article from a website I respect. This site focuses on paleo eating, but don’t let that throw you. The article covers important aspects of recovery and contains plenty of sensible advice. I would add…ask family and friends to help, both before and after. What you need will depend on many factors.

Be realistic and plan accordingly as one of my friends did when she was scheduled for a procedure that required a day of rigorous and unpleasant advance preparation. Although she probably could have toughed it out and made her way through it alone, she enlisted help from two friends. One came to spend the day, facilitating the process in a number of ways. I arrived late in the afternoon, stayed overnight, took her to the hospital in the morning, brought her home, warmed up some lunch, and stayed until I was sure the sedative had worn off and she would be okay on her own.

A few days later, she commented how much better the experience was than it might have been. I was glad to help, and she gets full marks for recognizing what she needed and asking for it. This little plaque, and the Beatles, remind us that we all need a little help from our friends sometimes.

Help from our friends...

Enlist an advocate…

We should also think about who we can ask to advocate for us in the hospital. The need for such a person isn’t top of mind before surgery, when we are clear-headed and feeling capable. But once we are in the hospital, that changes.

The system is set up to be disempowering. I was surprised how much I lost my get-up-and-go once I had changed into the short ugly gown that gaped at the back no matter how tightly I tied the two pairs of strings. And once I’d had anesthetic and pain killers, I felt feeble in both brain and body. Certainly, I wasn’t in any shape to effectively look after myself and my interests.

For more about the systemic issues, read this article by David Katz, a medical doctor with a 25-year clinical career, writing on the topic after a family member was hospitalized. His experience is in the US, so there are some structural differences from what we experience in Canada. But the fundamental premises and resulting attitudes are similar.

The system – overwhelmed, understaffed, and itself a victim of misguided priorities ― is an inadvertent threat to you and your loved ones needing in-patient care…In the current context, our so-called “health care system” is really a system about disease, and money rather than health and caring.

Eye supplements

In case you’re curious, here’s the list of recommendations that were given to me, with amounts where they were specified.

  • ~ DHA 1000 mg, from Omega 3
  • ~ Glutathione
  • ~ N-acetyl cystine  1800 mg, split doses
  • ~ CoQ10 100 mg
  • ~ L-carnitine
  • ~ ALA (alpha-lipoic acid) 100 up to 800 mg
  • ~ Lutein 20 mg  …3 cups dark leafy greens will do it but be sure to have 1-2 tsp saturated fat with it (butter or coconut oil) to ensure absorption

Preparing for the 2018 Holidays

None of us wants to feel like this woman, but many would admit that we do, at least to some degree. That’s what makes an effective parody—we recognize elements of truth in an exaggerated scenario.

I don’t think I’m the only one who’s ended up in a situation thinking:  Right. Now I remember why I decided never to do this again!  Of course, by then I’m in the midst of it… and the cycle perpetuates.

The holidays intensify things that aren’t working in our lives, and it’s distressing at the time. But it also provides teachable moments if we are paying attention.

Breaking the cycle…

It’s so easy to be propelled along by expectations and circumstances—especially at holiday time. By now, one week into December, the momentum has likely reached a point where things will play out as usual. Enjoy every moment of this month, if you can. If not… Continue reading

A Revolutionary View of Alzheimer’s

Albert Einstein is frequently quoted for saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Much of what goes on in medicine fits this definition. Researchers and practitioners go around in circles, trying small variations on the same approach, and not finding the results they hope for.

The issue is, all of the variations are rooted in the same mindset. In medicine, the prevailing mindset is that the solution to any condition is a magic bullet in the form of a pill to correct the issue. It’s an outdated attitude that worked in the days when penicillin was discovered to kill the bacteria that caused pneumonia, rheumatic fever, blood poisoning and other infections. Penicillin was the magic bullet that ushered in the age of antibiotics at a time when untreated infections were a major cause of death.

However, the landscape has shifted. Today’s health issues are primarily complex chronic conditions. Think heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, cancer, chronic fatigue and Alzheimer’s. Despite the enormous amount o money and effort put toward finding the magic bullet, it hasn’t happened.

The prevailing medical view of Alzheimer’s is a good example of stuck thinking.

Doctors are taught that once a person shows signs of Alzheimer’s, continued deterioration is inevitable. Drugs might be able to slow the progression, but there is absolutely no possibility of reversing the condition.

As the title of this post suggests, that belief has now been proven to be untrue. Continue reading

Change your mindset, change the game.

Beliefs can be changed

The psychological and physiological effects of anything in our lives can be influenced by our mindset. That means what you think can change your body’s response.

For example, if you think stress is bad for you, your body will respond accordingly. 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

Conscious Business. Possible?

I’m a systems thinker, and for a long time have been aware of the dysfunctional nature of the economic system we live in. That’s what prompted me to write a book about navigating the consumer culture without being swallowed up by it.

When I wrote Conscious Spending, Conscious Life, my view was that the system needed a drastic overhaul. I talked about the work of alternative thinkers such as David Korten, Ray Anderson, Paul Hawken, and Muhammad Yunus.

If I’d known then about John Mackey and conscious capitalism, I would certainly have written about him too. Continue reading

Holiday. Fun?

With the arrival of December, many people experience angst over the approaching holiday. For some, this has to do with awkward, difficult and/or impossible family relationships, which come into focus under the cultural expectation of family togetherness at this time of year.

However, consumer debt is a more pervasive source of December dread. Yesterday’s news reported on Bank of Canada concerns about increasing levels of consumer debt. The Globe & Mail referred to “insatiable borrowing,” quoting a senior director of Equifax, a major credit reporting agency: “Following a frenzied start to the festive shopping season with more to come in the countdown to Christmas, we can expect the consumer debt to rise even further. Tis the season, so we can anticipate credit cards getting a strong workout throughout December.”

Living in a consumer culture puts us under enormous pressure to spend mindlessly. And our ready access to credit cards has been the marketers’ dream, fuelling the attitude they want us to have: What the heck, spend beyond your current capacity because you can.

Naturally, they love it when we pay their 20% interest for years and years. However, the financial consequences are far beyond what most people imagine. The system is complicated and complex, and there is much we don’t know. Early in my teaching career, I discovered that students generally thought that if they made the minimum payment on a credit card, they weren’t in debt. By using their cards and paying the required minimum, they thought they were doing the smart and adult thing. However, that is an illusion. It takes a shocking length of time to pay off debt Continue reading

Financial Literacy: Crucial for all of us

November is Financial Literacy Month in Canada. This annual event acknowledges the need to educate ourselves in a crucial area of life—how to navigate the consumer culture without being consumed by it.

This initiative came out of the work of a task force that travelled the country to assess the state of financial literacy in Canada.  My submission to that task force expressed the view that all post-secondary students should be required to complete a personal finance course in order to graduate.

I was pleased that the final report of the task force recommended that “…all provincial and territorial governments integrate financial literacy in the formal education system, including…post-secondary education and formalized adult learning activities.”

Realistically, this is unlikely to happen. But Continue reading