A new definition of optimal health for the new year


Special to the Recorder

Renewal. The beginning of the year marks a shift and a time for change. A time to focus on establishing new behaviors that will help meet goals in the year ahead. When it comes to our health, the new year is a great time for renewal and reflection.

What is health? If you are free from a medical illness or have no new injuries, then you are “healthy,” correct? Perhaps, if all of your medical screening tests and annual physical are normal, then you can be assured you are healthy. Or maybe, if you also eat right and are fit and trim, then you can say you are truly healthy. Are these definitions accurate or does it limit our true potential?

For most integrative medicine physicians, these definitions fall short. Defining health based solely on the absence disease falls short of optimal wellness. For an integrative medicine physician, it is the definition of health that includes physical, mental, emotional and spiritual factors which make an individual whole and lead to optimal health. It is this approach that is at the core of what an integrative medicine physician does. To paraphrase the National Institute of Health, the definition of integrative medicine is a physician who incorporates complementary and alternative approaches into mainstream health care. With a focus on all aspects of care from prevention to treatment and recovery, the integrative medicine physician offers a unique view of health across a full spectrum of care.

Just as a financial planner can provide a broad-ranging perspective on your financial portfolio, seeking the perspective from an integrative medicine provider can provide this same perspective on optimal health. When it comes to complementary approaches, most fall into two sub groups: either natural dietary approaches or mind-body practices. All of them can help to nurture your health, provide an alternative option to prescription medication, or play a supportive role to the medications that are necessary for you to maintain your health.

Natural dietary approaches include special dietary patterns and the use of herbs and supplements. A wide variety of diets are available, and each diet has its own advantages. Dr. Andrew Weil advocates eating an “anti-inflammatory” diet for optimal health, but maintains there are times when other diets can be beneficial. Eliminating certain foods from your diet, in particular dairy or gluten, can be beneficial for certain diseases such as eczema or irritable bowel.

There also may be some benefit from fasting. Supplements and botanical medications can provide support to your health as well. There is a growing body of medical evidence showing that certain herbs can help a variety of conditions. Supplements, however, are not regulated by the FDA. Therefore, they are not always required to adhere to exactly what is printed on the label. Often dosages of ingredients are not clearly printed either, making finding the correct dosage difficult. Furthermore, individual supplements can be sourced from places where contamination can occur. Guidance from a qualified practitioner can provide a lot of direction.

Mind-body practices are a very powerful way to engage your body’s own healing capabilities without taking prescription medications or herbs. Beyond massage, chiropractic and osteopathic manipulation – with which most of us are familiar – there is acupuncture, healing touch therapy, yoga, and tai chi to name a few. All of these have emerging medical evidence showing a direct impact in improving various medical problems.

In addition to these practices, meditation, mindfulness and progressive relaxation practices have been shown to help enrich personal states of wellness and satisfaction. Connection to spirit has also been shown to be important in health; in fact, there is evidence that spiritual practice can have a direct positive impact on health and longevity.

For the new year, consider asking yourself, is there a new way I can nurture my health beyond waiting for the next medical problem to emerge? Take a long and broad view of your well-being. Is it possible that one of these complementary modalities might be beneficial to engage in as a regular part of your own wellness routine? Maybe making a change in your diet might be best. Perhaps focusing on a new practice such as yoga, meditation, or personal prayer might be the best way to cultivate your health. Whatever catches your eye.

Make sure to do your homework and learn as much as you can, look for good credentials in those from whom you seek care and perhaps even consider visiting an integrative medicine physician to chat about what seems to be the best fit for you. Knowing that many chronic diseases take 10 to 20 years to fully develop, ask yourself, is there something I can do today that can greatly improve my health for years to come? One small change in 2017 is all it takes.

Dr. Sharyl Truty is an integrative medicine physician and owner of Balanced Physician Care in Ponte Vedra.