Conventional Thinking isn't Necessarily Best

June 7th, 2016

Viewpoints From A Naturopathic Physician

by Kendra Pearsall, N.M.D.

Medicine is and always has been more art than science. The information provided here is not to be treated as individual medical advice but rather a starting point from which to assess your own health practices. What is best for you is what restores and or maintains good health. Read with an open mind and consult with your personal physician on any changes you may want to make.

I offer this article as a reminder to maintain a healthy dose of skepticism where it comes to conventional thinking (the kind usually passed down from academics and bureaucrats) that attempts to treat us all the same way. There are areas of agreement and substantial disagreement among the different types of physicians, as well as individual physicians, regarding the health practices outlined here. For instance, as a naturopath, I view the treatment of medical conditions and the maintenance of good health differently than allopaths (conventional medical doctors) do. With that in mind, here is what my experience and research have shown me:

Conventional thinking: If you want to lose weight, walk more and eat less fat.

Walking IS better than sitting, of course, but doing cardio (walking, jogging, biking, aerobics, etc.) to lose weight is like trying to win a 1,000-mile race on the back of a camel when you could be riding in a Ferrari. HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercises rev up your metabolism and build muscle. HIIT burns fat. Consider adding some HIIT to your exercise routine and keep track of your results. If you're new to the concept of HIIT, here's some additional information explaining the health benefits of this type of regimen.

Low-fat diets are not necessarily the key to weight loss, either. In fact, the opposite is oftentimes true. Many people find the optimal slim-down diet is one that is high in fat and low in carbohydrates.
Carbohydrates cause an increase in insulin, a fat-building hormone. If you want to prevent the creation of more fat stores, you’ll want to keep your insulin levels low by eating a diet that is 10 percent carbs, 70 percent fat, and 20 percent protein. Make some changes to your meals and, again, track results. Find the balance that produces results for you!

To learn more, do a web search on "good fat" versus "bad fat," or take a look at this article.

Conventional thinking: If your total cholesterol levels are over 200, you should go on a cholesterol-lowering medication and stop eating saturated fat to prevent a heart attack.

The truth is, there is little correlation between total cholesterol levels and heart disease. Evidence supporting the belief that cholesterol-lowering medications prevent heart disease, heart attacks, or death is shockingly weak, and for most of the medications out there, it is entirely non-existent. Some cholesterol-lowering medications interfere with metabolism (such as decreasing your levels of CoQ10), which increases your heart attack risk. A large percentage of the population has been put on these medications, creating billions of dollars of revenues for the pharmaceutical industry, while producing little discernible effect on health. Before agreeing to one of these prescriptions, try diet and lifestyle changes!

There's a wealth of information out there debunking the myth of cholesterol's role in heart disease. This post is a good place to learn more.

Conventional thinking: You should stay out of the sun or wear sunscreen at all times.

Having 15 minutes of daily unprotected sun exposure is healthy because it enhances Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is a powerful hormone that has a long list of functions in your body – one of them being that it helps prevent the types of abnormalities that ultraviolet light causes and therefore helps prevent skin cancer from forming.

Keep in mind that sunblock lotions and sprays are not harmless. They are complex chemical concoctions that you may want to look at more carefully. Consider clothing that blocks harmful rays and or avoiding prolonged periods of time in the sun during peak hours.

We've heard for years that sun exposure is always a bad thing, but there's plenty of research demonstrating the health benefits of getting some sun.

Conventional thinking: Women aged 50-75 need an annual mammogram to prevent breast cancer and men aged 40-75 need an annual PSA test.

One of the largest and longest studies of mammography to date, involving 90,000 women followed for 25 years, found that mammograms have no impact on breast cancer mortality. Indeed, the x-rays in mammography can actually increase the risk of cancer. Falsely positive mammograms (indicating potential cancer that is not actually present) cause substantial emotional distress and unnecessary biopsy and surgery. In other words, mammography is simply not as cut and dried as we have been led to believe. This is one of those issues particularly worth investigating on your own. In discussion with your physician, analyze your personal risk and determine the best method for early detection.

It's worth doing some reading on the topic and looking into whether your history and risk factors actually add up to the necessity for an annual mammogram. Click here to read an in-depth article I wrote for the Liberty HealthShare blog on this topic.

The PSA test, when used for prostate cancer screening, is no longer recommended for asymptomatic men due to the high number of false positives that resulted in the performance of unnecessary procedures (including surgery), and the lack of prevention of mortality. Personal risk and physical symptoms should be analyzed rather than opting for routine annual testing.

Just as women ought to discuss cancer screening with their physician, men should also arm themselves with information and work with their providers to tailor testing and prevention to their needs.

Conventional thinking: Fluoride in your water lowers your risk of cavities.

There is no difference in tooth decay between fluoridated and non-fluoridated countries, and no difference between states that have a high or low percentage of their water fluoridated. Promoters of fluoride use agree it is effective when applied topically, as in a toothpaste. Swallowing it in your drinking water serves little purpose. Meanwhile, fluoride can cause significant harm, from dental fluorosis to thyroid damage to reduced IQ... and much more.

If you drink tap water, consider a reverse osmosis filter that removes fluoride and use non-fluoridated toothpaste. The combination of daily brushing and flossing is the best route to healthy teeth.

Odds are you don't give any thought to what's in your water as long as it tastes clean, but it could be doing you more harm than good. This website is a good place to start learning more about fluoridation.

As you can see, many of these commonly-accepted pieces of conventional wisdom are in no way settled. Provided you have a relationship with your physician in which you can discuss these areas of disagreement in medicine and the sciences (and we hope you do!), take the time to share your concerns and work out a plan for health and wellness with which you can feel comfortable. Keep in mind that no one else will advocate for you and your loved ones the way you can!

Dr. Kendra Pearsall is a naturopathic physician in practice in Colorado. She is a member of Liberty HealthShare's Physician Advisory Board. On May 21st, she and her husband, John, gave birth to their first child Tomi J. (named after Thomas Jefferson), a healthy baby girl!