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 Rational Health Choices: Navigating the Sea of Modern Medical Advice 
The following is one in an ongoing series of columns entitled Mind Over Matter by . View all columns in series
If conflicting medical reports and opinions are getting you down, perhaps you should read on.

It's not surprising that the foundations of a health conscious society are shaky. While it seems like there’s a medical breakthrough each day, new health information often contradicts what we relied upon in the past.

Despite extraordinary technological advances, many of the latest medical insights logically focus on improved preventive measures. As medical scientists learn more about disease processes and their causes, improved vigilance and self-care are natural goals to be assumed by each of us.

The practical question however is: What should I specifically do in order to maximize my health?

A thousand years ago the answer would have been to adopt a healthy lifestyle; eat the right foods, exercise regularly, get proper sleep, take time for recreation and visit the local shaman at regular intervals.

Perhaps the answer isn't so different these days. Yet determining what's really healthy isn't an easy task.

Let's begin with the stuff we consume. What we’re beginning to understand is that a well-rounded diet of REAL FOOD, low in animal fat, seems to offer significant advantages in the context of health preservation and disease prevention. It's no surprise I suppose. Our grandmothers never heard about beta carotene or lycopene, yet they insisted carrots, tomatoes and lots of vegetables were good for you. Health food stores didn't existæ they simply prepared healthy foods.

Perhaps they were lucky. According to a July 11, 2001 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), eight of the most commonly used herbs including echinacea, ephedra, garlic, ginkgo, ginseng, kava, St. John's wort and valerian are associated with a number of serious side effects. Just this past week, Sweden's Medical Products Agency released a warning that St. John's wort, a highly touted natural depression remedy, may actually block the contraceptive effects of birth control pills. The real life implications are obvious.

Let's move on to sleep. Everyone knows 8 hours a night is just right. Wrong! Not only does the normal amount of sleep vary by age, there also seems to be some new data suggesting that more is not necessarily better. According to an article published in the February 2002 edition of Archives of General Psychiatry, much of what we assume to be true about sleep may actually be wrong. The researchers found that people who slept more than 8 hours each night were likely to have a 15 percent greater chance of dying earlier than people who sleep 7 hours a night. The study’s principal investigator, Daniel Kripke, MD, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego commented, "The average American sleeps six and a half hours [a night] and people who sleep five, six, or seven hours are perfectly safe and don’t need to sleep any more." Perhaps the "early to bed, early to rise" slogan is correct after all!

It should also be mentioned that his group discovered that those who used sleeping pills (presumably to get what they thought was the right amount of sleep) experienced a 25% increased risk of mortality.

Bottom line - in an age when experts are disputing the optimum interval for screening mammography and whether or not to ban kava kava, what rational steps can we take toward optimizing our health?

Perhaps we should simply ask our grandparents. For just about the only thing that isn't in contention these days is the need to seek ways to de-stress ourselves. So why not sit back, enjoy another sip of your coffee (decaf preferably?) and take a deep breath (breathing is in you know) and exercise your smiling muscles. Maybe it's time to stop taking ourselves too seriously after all - Mind Over Matter!

©2002 Barry Bittman, MD all rights reserved

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 About The Author
Barry Bittman, MD is a neurologist, author, international speaker, award-winning producer/director and inventor. As CEO and Medical Director of the Mind-Body Wellness Center, a......moreBarry Bittman MD
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