There’s nothing quite as frustrating as when you think you are doing all the right things for your health and still don’t feel the way you would like. You are exercising, eating well, and even getting massage, acupuncture, or other self-care.
Still, you have nagging health issues. Maybe your digestion is not quite right, your skin continues to break out, or you have allergies plaguing you nearly year-round. There may be hidden factors sabotaging your best efforts at taking care of your health.
The following 5 sneaky things are not comprehensive by any means, but they are prevalent in modern life and may send you in the right direction to finding why your health is not optimal.
1) Water Quality
Although tap water in the United States is widely considered “drinkable”, this does not equate to safe or healthy for that matter. Tap water is chlorinated and disinfected so while it may not give you giardia, there are an astounding number of contaminants in tap water that are harmful to health such as lead, pesticides, radioactive elements and other harmful materials.
There are several filter options you can utilize to minimize the nasty bits in your drinking water. The environmental working group has a database where you can enter your zip code and find out exactly what’s in your water. They also have resources for finding the best filter for the contaminants you want to minimize. The bottom line is that you will want at the very least a filter that is NSF International certified, so you know the effectiveness of the product has been vetted. Carbon filters are the most economical choice, while reverse osmosis systems are the most effective.
2) Cleaning Products
Did you know the term “fragrance” on a product can contain dozens of undisclosed chemicals to give it that long-lasting potent scent? These chemicals often include ones known to trigger asthma and allergic reactions, or worse, are linked to cancer.
Cleaning products must be labeled with warnings for eye irritation or poisonous-if-swallowed, but they don’t warn about ingredients that are linked to birth defects, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, neurotoxicity and respiratory ailments. The internet is full of D.I.Y natural cleaning concoctions that work wonderfully. Here is one such site that uses simple ingredients you probably already have around the house. An audit of your current line-up of products may be in order, this will help.
3) Food Additives
There are over 10,000 food additives that have been allowed into the production of food. Now, let’s just think about that for a moment. We’re talking about food here. By definition real food should be either derived from the earth, or an animal. It’s as simple as that. Ingredients put together to form any number of delectable food items like fresh bread, should still simply be food ingredients combined together. What are these 10,000 additives you might ask? Here are some with the most evidence of damage:
- Natural Flavors- The FDA has no defined parameters as to what “natural flavor” can be, so any number of chemicals, BPA, or GMO components can be used in flavorings. For those with food allergies, you won’t know whether common allergens are under this vague umbrella of natural flavors.
- Potassium bromate– Used to strengthen bread and cracker dough and help it rise during baking. It is listed as a known carcinogen by the state of California, and the international cancer agency classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.
- Artificial Colors – Often used to make low-nutrient density foods look more appealing. High contamination of non-food chemicals and links to childhood behavioral problems are dangers with these.
The bottom line here is that our food shouldn’t have a laundry list of ingredients and additives. The majority of these food additives have been untested for long term health effects and studies are only beginning to scratch the surface of their dangers. Best to just stick with whole foods, and ingredient lists that don’t require a Google search to understand.
4) High quality sleep
It seems obvious, yes. But sleep is still one of the most undervalued aspects of health. Sleep is the time of repair, restoration, and one of the keys to hormone balance in the body. Without getting into too much detail here, it should be mentioned that hormones are involved in countless processes inside your body. They are vital.
More evidence is coming out showing that it is not necessarily the quantity of hours of sleep, but the quality that counts. Many patients can attest to the fact that even though they get their 8 hours of sleep per night, they don’t wake feeling refreshed and ready to go the next day.
One key is to be sleeping before 11pm. This is from a Chinese medicine perspective as well as some evidence in functional medicine showing that the hours after 11pm will equate to less sound sleep. In other words, even if you slept from midnight to 9am the next morning, you wouldn’t be getting the same refreshment in sleep as you would have sleeping from 10pm-6am, for example (all other factors being equal).
Take an audit of your sleep hygiene, and consider a few other tips to a sound night’s sleep.
- No electronics/blue screens/television at least 2 hours before bed. If you must, there are apps that cut out blue light for better eye health and less stimulation to use at night.
- Caffeine/coffee: You already know this, there’s a little voice in your head telling you not to over-do it. Stop at 1-2 8 oz. cups, stop after noon. That restless leg and restless mind? That could be caffeine still dancing in your blood.
- Finish up your dinner 2-3 hours before bed, and ideally, get in a gentle walk after dinner to regulate blood sugar and aid digestion.
- If your mind races at night, take 5 minutes to write down all your “to-dos” or other things on your mind to literally take them off your mental platter.
- Consider a mindfulness practice before bed. This can be as little as 5 minutes. Maybe it’s stretching and breathing. Maybe it’s reading some inspiring writing. There are great guided meditation apps out there (use your blue light block app first!) like HeadSpace or Insight Timer that have various lengths of practices.
5) Unmanaged stress
Stress is perhaps one of the most overused words that is thrown around these days. We all have “stressors” in our lives, but is stressful living just a part of modern life? I don’t believe so. But, I believe it’s one area we overlook because it seems like there’s an attitude of “Well, what can I do about it?”.
I ask you to simply ponder these questions:
- How often do you engage in something that brings you joy?
- Are you staying busy just for the sake of busy-ness? Do you plan downtime, of something fun, or just free time for spontaneity?
- Is your self-worth derived from how much you “do” ?
- Are the people you surround yourself with nourishing? Positive?
- What is the quality of the information and entertainment you are taking in? We live in an age when we are bombarded with stimulation & information, even without our active participation. When you have a choice, what do you want to take into your consciousness?
- Do you make better decisions (about food, exercise, and relationships) when you’re feeling chill and able to flow with challenges? Yes, yes you do. Managing your stress will positively ripple out to other areas of your life.
Bringing about greater awareness of what we take into our lives, or don’t, can make a significant impact. As you delve deeper into the rabbit hole of health, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Some of these aspects can seem overwhelming, but little changes can add up. Feel free to pat yourself on the back when you make a change, each and every one of them!