It should be so easy, this healthy living stuff. We know the rules, don’t we? Eat a clean diet with lots of leafy greens, berries, nuts and seeds, and high quality lean protein. Cut down on the white stuff like flour, white rice, white potatoes and sugar. Drink water, not pop. Sleep eight hours. Move daily…walk, stretch, dance, lift weights or swim. Take a multi-vitamin, and perhaps some extra Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Minimize stress. Breathe deeply. Enjoy nature. Laugh often.
But knowing the rules doesn’t always work. Despite knowing, we can have a hard time doing. And sometimes, even when we do ALL the rights things, we still don’t feel healthy. Dr. Lissa Rankin has spent the past five years living and researching what she calls “whole health,” a blend of mindfulness, hope, optimism, nurturing care, and full partnership with empowered patients. In her new book, Mind Over Medicine, Rankin describes a patient-centered recipe for healing that suggests that we are all equipped with natural self-repair mechanisms, and that our thoughts, feelings and beliefs can flip the fix-it switch on and off.
In medicine, we are not easily convinced of anything that is not proven with a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, and Rankin described herself as skeptical but intrigued. She poured over medical journal articles, and every case report in the Spontaneous Remission Project. She was amazed to find documentation of physiological mechanisms of healing that defied Western logic. As we learn more about the flexibility of our gene expression, it begins to make more sense. Our cells respond to environmental signals such as nutrition, the atmosphere and even our thoughts through regulatory proteins that guide our DNA through sickness and health.
The book is divided into three main themes: Believe Yourself Well, Treat Your Mind and Write the Prescription. Rankin’s mission is to heal healthcare and impact the lives of millions. She certainly believes in the rules that we reviewed above. But she thinks that in order to live a vital life, prevent disease, and optimize the chance for disease remission, you need all of these:
o Healthy relationships
o A healthy, meaningful way to spend your days
o A healthy, fully expressed creative life
o A healthy spiritual life
o A healthy financial life
o A healthy environment
o A healthy mental and emotional life
o A healthy lifestyle that support the physical health of the body
She thinks of these elements as fundamental rocks using a visual model of a cairn. You may have seen a stack of perfectly balanced rocks while walking on a far-away beach. So each of these fundamental rocks need to be balanced and supported.
She cites many studies and examples to support her thesis. The story of Roseto, Pensylvania was particularly powerful. Most of the inhabitants of Roseto immigrated from a village in southern Italy of the same name. They brought their old world habits, not all of them healthy! Mounds of pasta, lots of wine and even cigarettes; jobs were tough at the stone quarry or blouse factory. But they had a strong community, with spiritual groups, celebratory festivals and community practices that made virtually every day a block party.
In 1961, a visiting physician noted that Roseto was an oasis of survival, with far lower rates of heart disease than surrounding communities, despite similar vices and challenges. He looked into genetics, since most citizens came from the same village, but he found that those who settled in other regions of the US did not have lower rates of disease. He looked at cholesterol levels, water supply and hospital quality. He finally concluded that it was the supportive, tight-knit community that made the hearts of Roseto stronger. As time passed, new ideas and new lifestyles returned with the now college-educated offspring of hard-working parents. Multi-generational homes disbanded, as did the nightly gatherings. TV and TV dinners became more common. And by the end of the 1970’s, mortality from heart disease in Roseto, PA was equal to the national average.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know and work with Dr. Rankin recently through the Whole Health Medicine Institute, and am looking forward to seeing how this broad approach to health affects my patients, my community and me personally. Her book is hot off the presses this week, and can be a priceless guide to anyone in search of health and healing.