Best Future You – Harnessing Your Body’s Biochemistry to Achieve Balance in Body, Mind, and Spirit
My 13th book, Best Future You, is out!
Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting excerpts from the book and blogging frequently about the main concept in the book – which is the idea of harnessing your body’s internal cellular biochemistry to achieve true balance in body, mind, and spirit – and in doing so, help you to become your “Best Future You” in terms of how you look, how you feel, and how you perform on every level.
Chapter 9 – Putting It All Together
For more than two decades, I’ve been doing my best to help people maintain (or restore) “balance” in their bodies and minds. Some people might label my techniques as “nutrition” therapy, while others may refer to them as “anti-aging” approaches, and still others as “anti-stress” programs. From my position as an exercise physiologist and nutritional biochemist, these “labels” are based on the proven efficacy and resounding benefits that people receive from following the advice that I deliver in my seminars, blogs, and books – so no matter what “label” you want to use to describe the focus of my life’s work, you can rest assured that there are enough health and well-being benefits to go around.
Let’s be honest, very few of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who attend my seminars or read my blog and books, wake up each morning looking to restore their “biochemical balance” or reduce their “cellular stress” levels. However, the fact that you’re reading this book probably means that YOU understand the crucial role that stress in general – and perhaps cellular stress in particular – play in our overall health, well-being, and longevity. At this point in the book, you very likely understand that biochemical imbalances and cellular stress are the root underlying causes of damage, dysfunction, and disease in every tissue in the body. You’re undoubtedly aware that thousands of scientists around the world have associated cellular stress with virtually every chronic condition imaginable, as well as with the aging process itself.
All of this means that everybody needs proper daily management of cellular stress if they want to be as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, “optimal health” can often be both a difficult concept to explain, as well as an abstract idea for most people to fully grasp. This is partly due to the fact that the problems associated with excessive cellular stress may take years to manifest – and also may take just as long to resolve when cellular balance is restored. For example, heart disease, cancer, obesity, depression, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and so many other chronic conditions don’t develop overnight – they occur through gradual accumulation of tissue damage that builds up over months and years of our cells being out of balance with elevated levels of cellular stress.
As a scientist who has studied many aspects of biochemical and cellular stress, I often educate my audiences and readers that “biochemistry drives behavior” – which basically means that a key reason that we feel (or look, or perform) a certain way, is because of our underlying biochemistry – right down to the cellular level. In research settings, we can show that disrupted biochemistry often leads us to feel “off” – so we don’t feel our best, or look our best, or perform our best. What scientists often refer to as “cellular stress” – from free radicals (oxidative molecules), cytokines (inflammatory molecules), glucose/fructose (glycating sugars), cortisol (our primary stress hormone), and many others – is what makes each individual cell function poorly. When you have trillions of cells functioning poorly throughout your over-stressed body, then it’s no wonder we don’t feel like we’re at our best.
When we seek to reduce cellular stress, and restore balance within the body, we need to harness the body’s own internal protection system by activating the CDR pathway referred to throughout this book. This internal network of antioxidant enzymes, stress proteins, and survival genes has the ability to sense cellular stress – and respond rapidly to reduce damage, accelerate repair, and restore balance. By inducing these mechanisms throughout the body – we can improve the functioning of trillions of cells.
When mitochondria, neurons (brain cells), and blood vessels are kept healthy, we’re likely to feel our best. When our skin cells are able to protect themselves from the toxic environment around us (air and water pollution, ultraviolet radiation from sunlight, etc), we tend to look our best. When our muscles, joints, and lungs are functioning at their peak, then we tend to perform our best. Each of these individual benefit categories – feeling your best, looking your best, and performing your best – represents a multi-billion dollar business opportunity that is being aggressively pursued by the nutrition, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical industries. Why? Because these are the benefits that people want – but they’re also the benefits that are the most elusive because cellular stress is the underlying factor preventing people from attaining them.
The Fluctuating Nature of Stress
It is important to remind yourself from time to time that neither your stress level nor your response to stress is constant. Instead, there will be periods in your life when you experience more stress or less stress, just as there will be times when you feel as if you can withstand stress better and times when it is more difficult. Accordingly, you need to alter your exercise patterns, nutrient intake, and supplementation regimen to accommodate your exposure to stress. For example, regular exercise and a balanced diet are always going to be important, but they become even more so during stressful times.
Adhering to your regimen of dietary supplementation is important every day, but even more so when you’re under periods of elevated stress. Skipping breakfast during a period of low stress isn’t ideal, but it isn’t going to kill you. Skipping that balanced breakfast during a high-stress period sets yourself up for poor metabolic control and eventual blood-sugar crashes, surges in appetite, and feelings of fatigue—each of which will be even more pronounced because of your high-stress profile.
In other words, you almost need to do the opposite of what most people are tempted to do during high-stress periods—that is, staying up late to finish work, skipping meals or eating junk food, and neglecting exercise. Obviously, no one is going to maintain a perfectly balanced anti-stress regimen, especially in today’s modern “always-on” super stress world. Nevertheless, if you keep some of the suggestions presented throughout this book in mind – and implement them when possible, you’ll find it much easier to deal with high-stress periods in your life—and you will feel, look, and perform your best as a result.
Are you experiencing higher-than-normal stress levels in your life? If so, then your cellular stress is likely to be elevated and your biochemical balance is likely to be “off,” – and you need to be especially careful about taking steps to activate the CDR pathway to reduce cellular stress and restore that internal balance.
Are you enjoying an interlude that’s relatively stress-free and tranquil? Then perhaps you can relax a bit and take pleasure in the welcome fruits of the healthy lifestyle you’ve created—and commit to maintaining it.
Keep in mind that all of the “pillars of health” that were outlined separately in earlier chapters (oxidation, inflammation, glycation, and allostation), are all interconnected, so any healthy activity you engage in for one of them will affect all the others, leading to a positive spiral in how you feel, look, and perform. For example, using herbal supplements or specific foods to activate the CDR pathway and internal production of protective antioxidant enzymes will complement the anti-inflammatory effects of regular exercise, which will complement the glycation-reducing effects of eating a balanced diet, which will complement the cortisol-lowering effects of getting adequate sleep.
Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Lab Data
One of the things that I love most about the kind of work that I’m lucky enough to do, is that studying lifestyle interventions (diet and exercise) and traditional remedies (herbal and dietary supplements) provides us with plenty of circumstantial evidence that they “work.” In many cases, our Western-style research studies are merely confirming (with objective scientific data) what has already been observed for decades or centuries or even millennia. For example, practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) have been using various herbal remedies for more than three thousand years, and practitioners or traditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda) have been using herbs as medicine for more than five thousand years, but it has only been in the last two or three decades that any of these traditional remedies have been “proven” to work by modern scientific investigations. The TCM and Ayurvedic practitioners “knew” that certain remedies “worked” for certain ailments (such as using eurycoma or ginseng to “strengthen the Qi” – or using turmeric to reduce pain and swelling), but it has taken modern science quite a long time to confirm that these ancient remedies are effective in reducing cellular stress and restoring biochemical balance in the face of many of our own modern stress-related diseases.
As a scientist, I find that theories are nice, but evidence is where the rubber meets the road. In the words of many of my colleagues, I want to “see the data” about a particular approach (including CDR activation) before I will believe it works. Based on the data, scientists and health professionals can understand that a given program has a certain degree of likelihood to actually be of benefit to their clients and patients. Throughout my entire career, I have felt very strongly about continuing to put the traditional herbal therapies “to the test” to see if these ideas would really stand up to the harsh reality of reducing cellular stress and improving how people feel , look, and perform in the modern super-stress world in which we all now find ourselves.
In the wide range of cellular stress studies, it is interesting to note that we can literally trace “systemic” stress (for example, of psychological stress or sleep deprivation) all the way down to the cellular level and even to the genetic level. Likewise, we can trace the phytonutrient activation of a cellular anti-stress pathway (for example, activation of the CDR pathway with turmeric or pine bark) all the way “up” to a whole-body benefit such as reduce inflammation or to a tissue specific benefit such as improved brain energy and mental focus. It’s even more interesting to note that these traditional anti-stress therapies seem to work even better (faster and more effectively) under conditions of higher stress.
For close to a decade, my research associates and I have documented the progress of thousands and thousands of participants who have used the lifestyle interventions described in this book to reduce cellular stress, restore biochemical balance, and improve how they feel, look, and perform. Scientific colleagues around the world have further shown in a variety of research models, that the CDR pathway is the underlying “switch” by which these traditional therapies induce their cellular effects. Many of these peer-reviewed studies are outlined and summarized at my personal blog (ShawnTalbott.com).
Our grandmothers didn’t know about cellular stress or care about CDR pathways, but they knew some of the basic steps underlying our ability to feel, look, and perform at our best: Get enough sleep (which controls cortisol); Eat more fruits and veggies (which controls oxidation) and fewer sweets (which controls glycation); and Exercise (which controls inflammation). Yes, it’s a tired old mantra, but these simple steps are probably the most effective tools available for combating stress and raising levels of wellness.
Stress researchers around the world from Yale to Oxford to the University of California have shown over and over that the best way of “managing” stress, from a physical and a psychological perspective, is to adhere to a handful of basic tenets of good health promotion. Here are my favorite “Magnificent Seven” that I’ve gleaned from the research:
1. Move it! It doesn’t even really need to be “exercise” as long as you’re out there moving your body from point A to point B—and often (daily)—and for about an hour per day (though not necessarily all at the same time).
2. Eat right – with fewer of the wrong foods (highly processed grains including soda and baked goods) and more of the right foods (brightly colored fruits and vegetables).
3. Stop eating before you’re stuffed. Use the “80 percent rule” so you eat until you’re not hungry (80 percent full) – and practice intermittent fasting at least once per month (eat nothing except water from 10pm one night to the following night’s dinner at 6pm – around 20 hours).
4. Spice things up – by using spices (turmeric, ginger, rosemary, garlic, etc) and plant extracts (pine bark, green tea, quercetin etc).
5. Find an outlet (for your stress)—everyone has stress that needs to be released. The stress is toxic, and it is stronger than you—get rid of it.
6. Get a life. Cultures with the longest life spans and the highest “happiness quotients” tend to have well-developed social networks that emphasize making family and friends a priority, living a spiritual life, and encouraging individuals to have a “purpose” in life.
7. Relax. Sleep. Be lazy (every once in awhile).
Decades of scientific research show that stress—and failure to adhere to the seven basic tenets listed above—does a lot of “bad things” to people. Most “modern” diseases are stress-related and directly result from the biochemical imbalances that stress creates, but from a simple “quality-of-life” perspective, we know that rampant cellular stress impedes our ability to feel our best, look or best, and perform at our best.
I am continually astounded by the potential for centuries-old natural therapies to cure so many of our modern ailments – by the ability of plant compounds (phytonutrients) to reduce cellular stress and improve how we function physically and mentally. The research breakthroughs over the past few decades have given us the ability to not only survive in the face of a chronically stressful world, but to truly thrive in that world – so that we don’t just hope to “get by” but we have a real ability to improve and become that “best future you” version of ourselves.
We are living in a miraculous time in history – where the learning of ancient healers about natural therapies over thousands of years is finally being scientifically proven at the cellular, genetic, and molecular levels. We are the lucky benefactors of this accumulated knowledge and experience, which enables us to bring about meaningful changes in how our body responds to stress and how we feel every day. I hope that, by this point in the book, you’ve come to the conclusion that everyone needs to “do something” about their chronic stress exposure and the resulting cellular stress, and I also hope that I’ve made a compelling-enough case for you to give some of my advice a try. Restoring biochemical balance and reducing cellular stress will truly change your life – and when it does, I hope that you will be motivated to share what you have learned in this book to help others change their lives as well.
Thanks for reading – this is the LAST installment of content from my Best Future You book.
I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading all of the blog posts – and please stay tuned for my next book about “Brain Ergogenics” (helping you with strategies to reduce stress, improve mental focus, boost mood, enhance sleep quality, and increase performance)…
Shawn M Talbott, PhD, CNS, LDN, FACSM, FAIS, FACN
Nutritional Biochemist and Author
–The Secret of Vigor
– How to Overcome Burnout, Restore Biochemical Balance, and Reclaim Your Natural Energy
–Killer at Large –
Why Obesity is America’s Greatest Threat – an award-winning documentary film exploring the causes and solutions underlying the American obesity epidemic
–The Immune Miracle
– The All-Natural Approach for Better Health, Increased Energy and Improved Mood (GLH Nutrition, 2012)