We should all be tailoring our nutrition and lifestyles so that we take an active, personal role in staying well.
Years ago I had a book about nutritional medicine. I’m not sure where it ended up; it’s likely living out its well-thumbed later years in a quiet library, wistfully dreaming of the glory days when it became the handbook of some brilliant post-grad medical student or other.
I loved that book. I found the relationship between food and health really interesting, even though looking after ourselves by eating foods that support or heal us is nothing new. We’ve been using food as medicine forever.
These days, however, we tend to look after ourselves by taking lots of drugs. Lots and lots of drugs, in fact. Half of the over-50s in Australia take five or more drugs or supplements a day, and a third of women over 75 take 10 or more different types a day. A sobering one in 10 of us are on antidepressants.
Don’t get me wrong: these drugs (along with factors such as improved sanitation, personal hygiene etc) have over the past century managed to extend our life expectancy by more than 20 years. Impressive – until we realise a lot of these years are often spent in a nursing home.
Which brings me back to the notion of being our own health practitioner. Just as our forebears did, we are able to tailor our nutrition and lifestyles so that we take an active, personal role in staying well.
I’m not talking about overriding medical advice from your doctor, but rather treating the way we live – what we eat, what activities we do, our lifestyle choices – as being a conscious response to maintaining our good health. For example, if you’re travelling overseas, looking after your gastrointestinal health is paramount, particularly if you’re heading off to developing countries.
So ramping up the fibre in your diet to keep your gastrointestinal tract clean and eating plenty of garlic, leeks, asparagus and onions (they are rich in prebiotics, which help keep your gut bacteria in good shape) is a smart move.
Similarly, if you’re fighting infection, getting turmeric, blueberries or mushrooms into your diet is a no-brainer, because these are all brilliant immune system boosters that will help speed your recovery. It’s about pro-actively taking responsibility for our own health, which is in itself quite therapeutic.
I don't have any qualifications in nutritional medicine, so I hunt down information about supporting my health from people who are qualified and back it up with research on the internet.
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