Tenets for Sustainable Health

Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander
14 min readJan 23, 2023

We focus so much on disease in the world of “healthcare”.

The truth is that sustainable health naturally repels disease.

In an ideal world, we would see a holistic provider once a year or quarterly to learn ways to build health and resilience as we age rather than an MD, NP, or FNP whose focus is on finding something to diagnose rather than looking at the complete picture of a person’s wellness and vitality. It’s time we start focusing more on creating health proactively in ways that are sustainable.

No one will stay well from a persistent infection if they don’t frequently sleep deeply and at length. It will be hard for someone to avoid the atherosclerotic effects of chronic stress if they don’t become regularly more self-aware about how often they are “shoulding” on themselves (or choosing to live in fear). No amount of drugs (or supplements) is going to help someone stay well if they are eating crap food, drowning in stress, and slathering toxins in the form of beauty products on their body every single day. With so much uncertainty and fear at hand with external and societal dynamics, looking for support in ways that you can control will ensure resilient vitality in the face of life’s challenges.

Sleep

There’s no getting around this one. Chronically sleep-impaired people cannot live vital, vibrant, energetic lives. Ideally, go to bed at an early enough time that you awaken in the morning at least 90% of the time in advance of when an alarm would otherwise go off. Go to bed when your unique body feels sleepy, and that may be 8:30 pm. When the sleep bus comes for you, don’t ignore the honking in an effort to squeeze out 30 minutes to an hour of productivity. Practice sleep hygiene. Become mindful of when your sleep bus comes for you and back up about an hour prior to that and begin a sleep routine.

Sleep hygiene starts with turning off the television, email, smartphone, or other full-spectrum light exposure. Do not engage in stressful types of activity like bill-paying, parenting debates, work, or reading the news before bed. Let your brain know in that hour that you do want to wind down and prepare to sleep deeply. Specific light spectrums and stress IS affecting your sleep. Period. Sleep routines are unique to you. The routine can be anything from just reading a book for fun, gratitude journaling, meditation, engaging in a few deep breathing exercises, having a bedtime yoga practice or stretching, or even puppy snuggles. Turn down the lights in your house, turn off all electronics, and relax in preparation for deep restorative sleep.

Find your “Other” vitamins like Play, Joy, and Friendship

Yes, I am serious. So many of us behave as though there is a large prize at the end of life rewarding us for working as many hours as possible and checking off as many things as we can from our to-do lists. Well, guess what? There’s not! Just maybe instead some regrets and missed opportunities. Nurse James Pickering, a palliative care nurse who works for Old Colony Hospice wrote a blog piece that recorded the top 5 regrets people make on their death bed. One of the most common regrets was “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” This regret was among the top for men in particular.

Australian nurse Bronnie Ware recorded her patient's dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention several years ago that she wrote a book entitled, “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” She wrote of the clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives and how we can learn from the wisdom of regretting a life not led. The most common regret of all was “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” When people realize their life is at an end and they can clearly look back at their dreams and choices taken or not, they all realized that the courage to live and thrive could have been realized if they would have paid more attention to the unique vitamins needed to maximize their full potential.

Most people had not even honored half of their dreams. Other regrets making the top 5 include “I wish I had the courage to express my feelings,” “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends,” and “I wish I had let myself be happier.” What if we had a daily play or joy list to complete instead of a work or task-driven list? What if we treated those lists as more important than the work ones? What if we sought out other vitamins? What if we savor life, laugh more, play more, and relax? What if we have more fun? Don’t let your rejuvenating activities end up just being an hour or two of mindless TV each night. We were all five years old at one time. Revive what is fun for you now. Revive what you innately need to bring a smile to your face. Allow time for it. Make time for it.

You can learn more about the “other” vitamins by checking out my recent post. https://medium.com/@lrhedrick30/the-other-vitamins-9299e535c4933.

Your Skin is one Big Mouth

Stop feeding it crap. Seriously, whatever you slather on your skin can go right into systemic circulation. We really shouldn’t put anything on our skin that we wouldn’t be willing to eat. Think about that for a moment…anything you put on your skin bypasses the liver, which bypasses our body's ability to detoxify the chemical. You can think of detoxification as a biotransformation of ANY substance. The body must physically alter both endogenous (compounds produced by the body) and exogenous (compounds from outside the body) chemicals for excretion. The body must modify the compound in such a way as to make it more water-soluble and therefore able to excrete it through multiple pathways via urine, sweat, stool, or tears. Detoxifying a chemical is a protective process and is absolutely essential. Chemicals that are not appropriately transformed and excreted can be stored in the tissues, organs, and bones, basically causing damage systemically.

The body in its wisdom can also create more fat cells and adipose tissue to serve as a storage depot for chemicals. That is a simple explanation for the truly complex process of detoxification, but suffice it to say, those chemicals you put all over your face in the morning for the sake of a beauty routine are going directly into the blood where they can cause damage to many parts of the body. Probably the most talked about and studied so far is the disruption of our hormones. Chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals can bind to receptors on our cell membrane and block endogenous hormones from binding to the receptor. They can also physically damage the receptor so that it is forever changed. The repercussion of those two mechanisms can affect our overall reproductive hormone balance like estrogen and testosterone and also thyroid hormone which affects every cellular single cellular process in our body. Starting over again on choosing your beauty and personal hygiene products with this truth in mind can make a dramatic impact on your health. The Environmental Working Group has an excellent tool in which you can look for and compare beauty aids. Throw out the Target or beauty counter specials and check out ewg.org for safer products.

Eat Real Food, not “edible food-like substances.” Michael Pollan

You wouldn’t buy crap gasoline for your car just because it was cheap and convenient. So why do we try to fuel our magnificent bodies with crap food? At least 92% of the time (that’s a solid A), choose to eat exclusively foods you enjoy and that your great-grandmother could have eaten when she was growing up. Think about what you could go outside and pluck off a tree or pull out of the ground. I like to think that if the “food” is something that I would have to eat during the zombie apocalypse because there is no other option, then I don’t want to eat it now. Whole, natural, and unrefined foods and plenty of clean water. No boxes, bags, or barcodes are needed for fresh produce. Vegetables, proteins, fruits, legumes, nuts, and seeds…real food from sustainable agricultural practices. The huge volume of chemical flavorings, preservatives, colors, sweeteners, texture agents, hormones, toxins, and cheap ingredients in the other so-called food is not fueling your body to heal or be at its best; think energy, mental clarity, pain-free movement, clear skin, smooth digestion, good sex drive, and a resilient good mood. This is the biochemical truth.

Get Fresh Air. Everyday

Yes, even if it’s cold or rainy or whatever weather you have to deal with on your side of the planet. Indoor air can become quite toxic due to outgassing from textiles and chemicals and building materials. This is especially true during the cold months and in our own homes. Most of us picture our homes as safe havens from the outside world, but the products we bring into our living spaces can create disease just as easily as the food we eat. Use the power of nature and the outdoors to take some deep cleansing belly breaths. Allow the exhales to be long and slow and use the opportunity to shift your visual focus to the horizon. See and appreciate nature. Stand or sit up straight with no phone glued to your hand. Disconnect with electronics and connect with and activate your parasympathetic nervous system that will allow digestion, relaxation, healing, most importantly, wellness. Even a short walk around the block is enough to tap into the center of our parasympathetic mode.

Eat as much organic food as you can find and as you can afford

Yes, it’s really that bad. Most pesticides are endocrine-disrupting agents and can cause dramatic shifts in hormone balance. We have an exponentially increasing rate of estrogen-mediated cancers in both men (prostate) and women (breast/uterine). Where possible, maximize nutrition by purchasing local, fresh produce on which no pesticides have been used (not all small farmers can afford formal organic certification). At a bare minimum, make good use of the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen shopping priorities revised each year by the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org).

Stop “shoulding” on yourself

Stop being your loudest critic and your biggest source of stress. Honor who you really are. Honor what really makes you happy. Honor what brings you pleasure and how you really want to spend the days of your life. What is one small way can you start right now? Choose activities based on what is fun and fulfilling. Release the need to use words like should, must, and have-to. Instead, use choose or get-to. Allow yourself to change your mind when that phrase chokes in your throat. Make time for a spiritual practice that allows you to release the “gunk” of expectations from society/family and reconnect you to who you really are. There’s no prize at the end of life for forcing yourself to do things that you don’t enjoy or that don’t fulfill you in any way. Remember the other vitamins and what really matters at the end of life.

Drink plenty of plain, clean water every day

Americans buy an estimated 50 billion water bottles a year from an industry projected to reach $334 billion this year. Most consumers believe purchasing bottled water is healthier and purer than tap water. The reality, however, is that many companies simply filter municipal water and bottle it. A study published in 2019 by Frontiers in Chemistry analyzed samples taken from 259 bottles of water sold in several countries and found that 93% of them contained microplastic synthetic polymer particles. The 11 bottled water brands are among the most popular in the United States and around the world. The average concentration of plastic was 325 microplastic particles per liter of bottled water. Nestle Pure Life had the largest average concentration; one sample was found to contain more than 10,000 microplastic particles per liter!

Microplastics are not only found in our water, but in the very air, we breathe. A study published in Nature Geoscience found that microplastic particles were blowing through the air in the Pyrenees Mountains in France. Another study found multitudes of plastic contaminated in the U.S. groundwater, something we have known about since 2018. A small study in 2018 analyzed stool samples taken from people in Finland, Japan, Italy, and Russia and found microplastics in every single sample. I don’t know about you but that is quite frightening to me. We have yet to even begin to understand how all this microplastic affects human health. What damage is plastic doing to individual cells and tissues?

Most bottled water is sold in plastic #1 which is a known endocrine disruptor, altering your hormone function. Plastic #1 is BPA-free but phthalates can still seep into your water when exposed to high temperatures or stored for an extended period of time. Some companies use plastic #7 which does contain BPA. You can find plastic #7 in many 3-liter bottles. It is not mandatory for bottled water corporations to conduct lab tests or inform consumers where the water actually originates. Tap water, on the other hand, must undergo testing to show contamination levels, offer quality reports to consumers, meet EPA standards, and disclose water sources. This means bottled water isn’t always the safest option for consumers. The public has been misled into believing bottled water is healthier. Improving the quality of our municipal water is a safer and more sustainable alternative than packaged water from Fortune 500 companies. Make sure you know the real quality of the water coming out of your tap. If you’re not sure if your tap water is safe you can check the Consumer Confidence Report which outlines the contaminant levels of your tap water. If necessary, invest in a water filter for drinking water and shower water. Reach out to your local water supplier to find out where your water comes from. The Clean Water for All Act acknowledges the basic human right for everyone to have access to clear water. You can take action and express your support by going to https://cleanwater.salsalabs.org/repeal-dirty-water-rule/index.html.

Pay attention to the Oils

Nutrition Quiz: Vegetable oils are better for your health than animal-based fats. False: Refined vegetable oils promote inflammation and increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and chronic disease. Choosing healthy oils to cook with at home can be confusing. Oils and fats are classified by the number and alignment of carbon and hydrogen atoms found in the compound and are either monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated or trans-fats. Unless you are planning on majoring in organic chemistry, there is really no reason to get hung up on these and it is incredibly complicated. Yes, we do use these classifications to determine whether a fat is healthy or not but focusing on just a few oils to use in the home and limiting eating out (restaurants use cheaper and lower quality oils) will help minimize overwhelm as well as help you decrease your risk of chronic disease. All categories of oils and fats contain healthy and unhealthy oils as well as oils that can become oxidized or damaged at high temperatures, which means they are damaging to your body as well.

Choose only pressed (and preferably cold-pressed) vegetable oils if cost is an issue. Otherwise cook with only olive, coconut, avocado, or nut oils such as walnut or macadamia nut oil. Cooking oils have a range of smoke points or temperatures at which they are no longer stable. You should not use cooking oils at temperatures above their smoke points. When cooking oils are heated they will eventually reach their smoke point, especially if using high heat temperatures to cook something quickly. Once the smoke point is reached, the oil is no longer stable and begins to break down. When oils break down, they begin to oxidize and release free radicals. Free radicals cause cellular damage, especially to cell membranes, and disruption of cellular processes like energy production in the mitochondria of our cell.

Avoid fluoride

This may seem incredibly radical to you, however, fluoride is a toxin in high doses and can displace iodine in the thyroid gland. Fluoride is a common additive to municipal drinking water so we already get much more of it than is necessary. Fluoride impairs the action of several enzymes involved in the citric acid cycle (energy production) as well as blocks iodine in the thyroid. Fluoride is a neurotoxin and levels can be even higher in foods than in our water because it’s a common ingredient in pesticides.

Does fluoride kill bacteria in the mouth? Yes. Does it increase calcium uptake in teeth? Yes. But what are the costs of too much fluoride? Low thyroid function (tired and overweight?), calcification of the pineal gland (insomnia?), reduced IQ in children, and neurological decline. Don’t use fluoride-containing toothpaste or seek fluoride treatments at the dentist. Vitamin K2 for calcium absorption into bones and a good multiherb/xylitol toothpaste can help you meet your dental goals.

Check-in with key wellness markers

These may not be what your PCP regularly checks on your behalf, but they are all readily available from local labs. You can advocate for your right to learn about your body and optimize your health proactively. Check Vitamin D at least twice a year and keep it ideally in the 40–60 ng/ml zone to keep your immune function strong and balanced. Check RBC Magnesium (not serum) and seek for it to be in the upper third of the normal reference range. Check HbA1c and aim for it to be 5.2% or less; our carbohydrate tolerance is unique and depends on our genetics, lifestyle, stress, and nutrition. Check Triglycerides and aim for them to be 50–100mg/dl.

Foods made with Flour should be in your 10% diet, not the 90%

We have a true epidemic of insulin resistance and its progression states of metabolic syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes. This disease progression begins with or is exacerbated by the diet nearly EVERY single time. In this arena, we focus so much on minimizing sugars/sweeteners but forget that refined flours act very much like sugar in the body. Bread is not a nutritional necessity. If a product must be fortified, then a key question to ask yourself is why does it have to be fortified in the first place? Do we fortify fresh vegetables? No. They are already packed full of vitamins and minerals that are necessary for human function.

Be a part of something wonderful that is larger than you

Make your life mean something that inspires you to the core. Chronic navel-gazing is often a good pathway to depression. Or at least boredom. Find a cause or a contribution that highlights your unique talents, history, and/or skills. One that is powerful to you, not necessarily anyone else nearby. Give regularly of yourself in a way that makes you feel gratified, useful, and part of the larger perfection of life. If you don’t know where to start, consider beginning a Gratitude Journaling practice. It’s easy to do. And easy to start! Just spend 5–10 minutes every morning (or right before bed) writing down 3 very specific things you are grateful for in that moment. Not general, easy-to-overlook things like “family” or “my job” but a detailed description of a particular person or place or event or event that you are grateful for. Make it come alive in your writing it down. Letting that feeling of appreciation wash over you has very real, biochemical healing power, in part by activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Not-so-sexy health truths

The list above is not sexy or edge-of-technology novel concepts. But the power of it; the essential nature of all these elements may surprise you. And this we know for sure, this collective list is incredibly effective at maximizing the body’s ability to get well and stay well or to prevent disease in the first place, including from ALL infectious challenges.

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Dr. Laura Roxann Alexander

Pharmacist.Personal Trainer.Lift heavy, skip the run.Let food by thy medicine and medicine be thy food.