With so much in­for­ma­tion avail­able in the world of well­ness, Modupe Olorun­toba asks: why are we re­ject­ing the ba­sics?

Elle (South Africa) - - CONTENTS -

why are we re­ject­ing the ba­sics?

Our health is built on four pil­lars – nu­tri­tion, sleep, ex­er­cise and stress man­age­ment – ac­cord­ing to Dr Mau­rits Kruger. As an ex­pe­ri­enced home­opath, nu­traceu­ti­cal con­sul­tant and an ex­pert in in­te­gra­tive and func­tional medicine, he would know. His state­ment re­freshes a thought that’s been on my mind for months. Our lives are more au­to­mated than ever be­fore, as tech­nol­ogy and pack­aged con­ve­nience prod­ucts save us time in ev­ery­thing from com­mu­ni­ca­tion to cooking, but we’re still not get­ting enough sleep. Peo­ple who can af­ford to eat well, and do, are still un­der­nour­ished. Two of the most im­por­tant pil­lars of ba­sic health are crum­bling en masse and in an­other layer of irony, some­how noth­ing seems crit­i­cal – wil­ful de­pri­va­tion is our new nor­mal. The med­i­cal sci­ence field has been pay­ing at­ten­tion and count­ing the cost, and it’s greater than we re­alise. Our ca­sual ne­glect is a recipe for dis­as­ter. We asked some ques­tions about the health dan­gers our new nor­mal makes us vul­ner­a­ble to and found an­swers we didn’t ex­pect.


Stress is the cap­i­tal of­fender: ‘Mod­ern city life has cer­tainly in­creased our stress lev­els sig­nif­i­cantly and stress man­age­ment has be­come a very im­por­tant life­style fac­tor not only for healthy sleep, but for our health in gen­eral,’ says Dr Kruger of Sleep Re­newal South Africa. The Re­newal In­sti­tute ded­i­cated a part of their of­fer­ing to healthy sleep in 2016. The Sleep Re­newal Clinic prob­a­bly knows more about how South Africans sleep (or don’t sleep) than any­one else, hav­ing con­ducted nu­mer­ous home and cam­pus stud­ies on the sub­ject around the coun­try. The truth about healthy sleep: If it were just about the hours, play­ing catchup on week­ends might ac­tu­ally work, but it’s not. It’s about get­ting com­plete sleep cy­cles ev­ery night, with no in­ter­rup­tions to the all-im­por­tant third phase: deep sleep. ‘Many im­por­tant things hap­pen dur­ing deep sleep which are es­sen­tial to health. The body goes through pro­cesses of tis­sue re­pair, detox­i­fi­ca­tion, bal­anc­ing of hor­mones, con­sol­i­da­tion of mem­ory and more. A lack of deep sleep will have a very neg­a­tive im­pact on these pro­cesses and af­fect health, even when you’re get­ting enough hours of sleep,’ Kruger adds. Yes, our phones are also to blame: ‘Elec­tronic screens emit a fre­quency of light which in­ter­feres with the pro­duc­tion of mela­tonin, our sleep hor­mone. This dras­ti­cally af­fects the qual­ity of our deep-sleep stages,’ ex­plains Kruger. You may have a breath­ing dis­or­der – and you should take it se­ri­ously: Sleep Re­newal names in­som­nia and sleep breath­ing dis­or­ders like ob­struc­tive sleep ap­noea or up­per air­ways re­sis­tance syn­drome among the most com­mon prob­lems it treats – con­di­tions to which we don’t pay enough at­ten­tion. ‘If left un­treated, sleep breath­ing dis­or­ders can have a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on health. Heavy snor­ing is a sign of sleep breath­ing dis­or­ders, but is of­ten dis­missed when it should be in­ves­ti­gated and taken se­ri­ously,’ says Kruger. You still need a bed­time: ‘Un­healthy sleep habits are also a very big fac­tor in sleep dis­tur­bance. We get dif­fer­ent types of deep sleep be­fore and af­ter mid­night, and both are very im­por­tant. Con­sis­tently go­ing to bed too late has a neg­a­tive im­pact on deep sleep.’ Pay at­ten­tion or pay the price: My fa­ther, a doc­tor with over 30 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence, has told me one thing all my life: when it comes to your health, na­ture sim­ply won’t be cheated – it will fight its way back to bal­ance. The truth is that there’s no rev­o­lu­tion­ary sub­sti­tute for a dis­ci­plined, healthy rou­tine when it comes to sleep. We have to re-en­gage on a daily ba­sis to see an im­prove­ment. ‘If I could change one thing, it would be to get all pa­tients to pay more at­ten­tion to the four pil­lars of health,’ says Kruger.


The prob­lem is ev­ery­where: The spread of the mod­ern Amer­i­can diet (and its pop­u­lar pro­cessed foods) has trans­formed the way the world eats. Nu­tri­tion no longer drives our food choices – in­stead, con­ve­nience, taste and price do, due in large part to the Amer­i­can diet’s in­flu­ence. ‘It’s been one of Amer­ica’s most ubiq­ui­tous ex­ports and we find it through­out Africa,’ says Dr Caro­line Leaf, a world-renowned cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist who stud­ied the re­la­tion­ship be­tween think­ing and eat­ing for one of her many books, Think & Eat Your­self Smart. What she de­scribes is alarm­ing: there are re­mote ar­eas of Africa where ba­bies are weaned off breast milk and onto Coca-Cola, be­cause it’s cheaper than a nu­tri­tion­rich al­ter­na­tive. ‘You can eat just as cheaply on healthy food, but peo­ple need to know how to do it. It’s a huge is­sue across the coun­try and across the world… there’s a prob­lem with our global food sys­tem.’

“Or­ange juice, pomegranates and kale are what they are to­day not be­cause of ex­em­plary nu­tri­tional value, but be­cause the peo­ple who grow them spent money on good PR

Ditch the trendy well­ness di­ets: Leaf doesn’t en­dorse any par­tic­u­lar ap­proach to eat­ing well. ‘I don’t teach di­ets. I’m not go­ing to tell you to go pa­leo, go Bant­ing, go ve­gan or eat wal­nuts for your brain… I give one rule for eat­ing and that’s to eat real food, mind­fully, so that you’re aware and your think­ing’s in­volved.’ What is ‘real food’, you ask? ‘Lo­cal, fresh, sus­tain­able, non-GMO, no pes­ti­cides, an­i­mals that are pas­ture-raised, eggs from chick­ens that are pas­tur­eraised, all things or­ganic – that’s real food. So [with that], if you want to eat pa­leo or ve­gan or vege­tar­ian, do what­ever suits you.’ Eat­ing is 80% think­ing: Leaf’s book ex­plains the com­pli­cated re­la­tion­ship be­tween your brain, your body and what you feed both. Be­lieve it or not, your thoughts be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter eat­ing are di­rectly af­fect­ing your food choices and how that food gets pro­cessed by your body. ‘Your di­ges­tive sys­tem is to­tally con­trolled by how you’re think­ing,’ she says. ‘I even tell peo­ple: “If you can’t find the right food, don’t eat un­til you do and if you’re worked up, don’t eat un­til you’re calm.”’ A toxic mind­set can con­trib­ute to nu­tri­tion loss: Leaf posits that nu­tri­tional in­take can be lost to anx­i­ety and worry in stag­ger­ing pro­por­tions, in­stead of be­ing ab­sorbed and used. “If it’s good nu­tri­tion, you’re still los­ing 80-90% of that nu­tri­tion and if it’s bad nu­tri­tion, there’s noth­ing to get from it any­way.’ It goes both ways: Just as food with low nu­tri­tional value is bad for your body and brain, so toxic think­ing, sched­ules and habits are as bad for your di­ges­tive sys­tem as they are for your mind. ‘Let’s say you’re happy. Your di­ges­tive sys­tem, ev­ery part of it, will work bet­ter – your pan­creas, stom­ach, gall­blad­der and in­testines. But if you’re ir­ri­tated, or you’ve just had an ar­gu­ment, or you’re up­set about some­thing, then your di­ges­tive sys­tem al­most shuts down, to about a 20% level, which peo­ple don’t re­alise. Then they won­der why they have a sore stom­ach or they’re feel­ing sick – it’s the mind. The mind drives the di­ges­tive sys­tem.’ Eat­ing should be sim­ple: ‘If we need a nu­tri­tional ex­pert to tell us what to eat, some­thing’s very wrong with our food sys­tem,’ ob­serves Leaf. ‘Eat­ing is the sec­ond most nat­u­ral thing we do. We need to get back to ba­sics.’ THE END OF CON­SCIOUS­NESS Look­ing at the life­style de­ci­sions that lead to our sleep and nu­tri­tion de­fi­cien­cies, a pat­tern emerges: de­tach­ment is the real is­sue, bred by an over-full life­style out of which we con­stantly feel the need to tap. ‘The big­gest thing is a lack of mind­ful­ness,’ says Leaf, when asked why we seem to care so lit­tle if the dan­ger’s so se­ri­ous. ‘We’ve be­come al­most lazy about how we an­a­lyse the knowl­edge. We love to be told: “These are the five steps to achiev­ing that per­fect body.” The way things are mar­keted is also al­most di­a­bol­i­cal… be very care­ful of mar­ket­ing.’ It’s jar­ring to re­alise that so much of the avail­able knowl­edge – in­clud­ing ar­ti­cles like this one – is pub­lished not with the goal of in­form­ing and in­spir­ing, but with the goal of land­ing a sale. We in­vite it, too, in our ob­ses­sion with in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion, whether in the form of a sleep­ing pill or a su­per­food. The fact is that mar­ket­ing cam­paigns are be­hind a num­ber of well­ness trends and even some di­etary sta­ples. Or­ange juice, pomegranates and kale are what they are to­day not be­cause of ex­em­plary nu­tri­tional value, but be­cause the peo­ple who grow them spent money on good PR. Know­ing that puts a pretty low cap on how much you can trust your favourite web­site or in­flu­encer to lead you in the right di­rec­tion. Both Kruger and Leaf make one thing im­me­di­ately clear: your health is your job. We’ve au­to­mated so much of our lives that we’ve de­vel­oped pas­sive re­la­tion­ships with ev­ery­thing in them, in­clud­ing our bod­ies. Fix­ing the prob­lem means show­ing up. ‘We rely too much on med­i­ca­tion to solve the prob­lems caused by poor life­style choices,’ says Kruger. ‘Chang­ing the “quick-fix” men­tal­ity is the big­gest step you can take to im­prov­ing your health. Real health takes work and con­stant at­ten­tion – and no pill can sub­sti­tute a healthy life­style.’

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