Famously, you “can’t have it all.” Just as famously, the anklebone is connected to the shinbone. Things get interesting when these two tidbits of time-honored truth are juxtaposed and applied to health.
I do one or more interviews for newspapers and/or magazines on health topics almost every day. Across the diverse audiences, one of the reliably frequent topics is what foods to eat or activities to do to promote the health (or beauty) of some body part.
The brain, being just about everybody’s second-favorite organ, is a popular choice. The topics tend to be: What foods should we eat to promote brain health? Is what we’ve heard about fish or blueberries true? What exercises are especially good for the brain? The heart is another perennial favorite. What foods are best for the heart? What exercises?
No One Food, Nutrient or Exercise Can Optimize
Or Beautify Any One Organ or Aspect of Health
An especially popular selection for women is radiant skin – and we might as well throw in silky hair. What nutrients provide skin that warm glow, hair that je-ne-sais-quoi? What foods contain those nutrients in highest concentrations? Is it true that if we eat more of those foods, we’ll see the difference in the mirror?
Men, it seems, are forever in pursuit of new and magical means of acquiring a six-pack, and so questions about nutrition and exercise to that end arise with regularity. What foods do best mobilize belly fat to reveal the sculpted six-pack lurking beneath? And if the women’s magazines are a reliable source on the matter, legions of women are desperately seeking each month a new and better way to tone their buns.
And then, there is the whole issue of aging. What nutrients, foods, exercises and activities work best to delay the aging process? Here, I can’t help. But note the thriving cottage industry devoted to marketing anti-aging lotions, potions, pills, books and banter to adults – even as we condone the marketing of products to our children that accelerate their aging. This bit of cultural diplopia is a hypocritical travesty. But I digress.
Time for the punch line: The answer to every one of these questions is exactly the same. Do you really want glowing skin whenever your epidermis is showing? You need nice, clean blood vessels delivering nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to your dermis. So you have to eat and exercise to take care of your blood vessels to take care of your skin. And, into the bargain, you have to take equally good care of your heart, which is pumping that blood.
You want a healthy heart? Then you need to attend to the basic care and feeding of healthy kidneys. Along with filtering the blood of toxins, the kidneys regulate blood volume and pressure and exert an enormous influence on heart health. Those healthy kidneys will serve your detox aspirations better than any juice or fasting. But they can’t do it alone. They specialize in water-soluble toxins. If you want to get rid of all the rest, too, you need a healthy liver, healthy intestines and, while we’re at it, healthy lungs and skin.
Which is just as well because you need all of that for a healthy brain, too. What’s good for the heart, blood vessels, kidneys, liver and intestines is also good for the brain, which, of course, depends on the quantity and quality of blood supply for its performance. So much so, in fact, that what best defends against cardiovascular disease goes a long way toward defending against Alzheimer’s disease as well. Are blueberries really good for the brain? Yes, because they are good for health in general. Ditto for fish.
I presume you’ve caught my drift. No organ is an island. Every organ is a piece of our organism, a part of our body. The health of each depends on the health of all.
And so there is no one food, nutrient or exercise that can optimize or beautify any one organ or one aspect of health. There is, however, a short list of priorities that redounds to the benefit of them all.
There is eating well (and yes, we know what that means). There is routine exercise. There is adequate attention to sleep, stress, love and the avoidance of toxins.
I won’t belabor these topics further. I have addressed each before, repeatedly and at length.
I suppose it’s true that, generally speaking, that we can’t “have it all.” But it’s also true that the anklebone is connected to the shinbone, and that the status and performance of every organ system in the body affects every other. So, with regard to health, whether or not we can have it all, the only reasonable way to have as much as possible is to try for exactly that.
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP is the founding director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center. He is a board-certified specialist in both Internal Medicine and Preventive Medicine/Public Health. He is the director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center at Griffin Hospital in Derby, CT. For more information visit http://www.davidkatzmd.com
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