Evidence-based natural therapies for weight loss.

IN many of my articles, I opine that the best way to take care of our health, to prevent diseases and to treat existing diseases is to improve our lifestyle, have a nutrient-dense diet, maintain optimum weight and exercise sufficiently.

I also encourage looking to natural and nutritional therapies first before resorting to drug therapies (except perhaps in acute infections and emergencies), because in many cases, drugs only suppress the symptoms of the disease, but do not eliminate or cure the disease.

The patient (more appropriately, the symptoms) will be “under control”, and will be under a false sense of security, because the disease is still present, although certainly the continuing damage is less than if the symptoms are not suppressed at all.

Patients who are being treated for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, etc know that they have to consume their drugs for life, in ever increasing doses (or additional drugs for the same problem), yet they are never completely free from the complications of the disease.

When I enrolled into medical school, like many other aspiring doctors, I imagined that I would acquire knowledge, skills and wisdom to help cure the sick. Unfortunately, after many years of practice, I realised things were far from the ideal situation where doctors cured the sick and do no harm to them.

Granted that doctors also make mistakes, and these mistakes occur when we make the wrong diagnosis, or prescribe the wrong treatment (or perform the wrong surgery). To err is human, but since we are dealing with lives, our training is such that we minimise all these errors.

What is more worrisome is the harm done to patients because of correct medical treatments (according to current medical guidelines). For example, in the US, for many years, doctors were listed as the third highest cause of deaths (after heart disease and cancer). A major contributor of this is the side-effects of drugs doctors correctly prescribed.

This should not come as a surprise since we know that many drugs have had to be withdrawn due to serious side-effects, years after being approved by US FDA regulators. By the time of withdrawal, millions of doses of these drugs had been consumed by patients.

Although many deaths were directly linked to some of these drugs that led to their withdrawal, I suspect many more were missed because when you do not suspect an approved drug is the cause of the problem, you tend to find and blame other causes for the deaths.

For many years, I was also like the typical doctor prescribing many drugs to many patients daily. Then I started to realise that I wasn’t helping them in the best possible way by doing that, without also spending enough time to educate and guide them on the importance of changing their lifestyle, diet, weight management and exercise.

I felt guilty. Often I felt like a legal “drug-pusher” on behalf of drug companies.

When I changed my methods, my patients were more satisfied, and so was I. Now I prefer natural and nutritional methods, and use drugs only when absolutely necessary.

Why I am so much in favour of natural and nutritional therapies is that these are generally safer, and have multiple benefits. However, because these therapies also generally lack sufficient scientific evidence, promoting them becomes a problem, especially for a medical doctor like I am.

Some of my colleagues have even accused me of misleading the public by promoting unproven therapies through my writings. This is despite my repeatedly stating that as long as these therapies are known to be safe (eg some traditional/complementary therapies have been practised for decades without any harm being reported, although their effectiveness is yet to be proven), they can be tried, and that all these therapies should undergo scientific evaluation, if possible.

The problem is that it takes a lot of money to do proper adequate studies and nobody is willing to invest billions on something they cannot patent to later recover their investment and make profits. Our only hope is if government-funded institutions or non-profit organisations take the initiative to conduct these studies. If the remedy is patentable, then there is higher chance of research being intensively pursued.

Here in Malaysia, several universities are actively conducting research on potential natural cancer cures, and anti-cancer drugs derived from natural sources. MAKNA (Majlis Kanser Nasional or National Cancer Council) has sponsored millions for thesestudies. CARIF (Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation) has also spent millions on research.

In collaboration with local and international partners, they have screened over 4,000 samples (from local terrestrial plants, marine and microbial organisms), and identified about 450 samples with promising anti-cancer activities, and patented at least one of these.

Even though they are focused on discovering anti-cancer drugs, at least, in my opinion, they are looking at the right place, ie nature. They acknowledge that 80% of cancer drugs come from nature.

In the US, the National Cancer Institute has to take the lead when drug companies are not interested. For example, it is conducting trials on whether a fruits and veggies supplement can help prevent recurrence of head and neck cancer (in those successfully treated).

If that turns out affirmative, I am sure the next step will be whether the same supplement can prevent the occurrence and recurrence of other cancers.

Today, I would like to share some of the proven benefits of simple things that you can do (losing weight and exercise) without resorting to drugs, and in the following articles, I will report on some research done on other natural and nutritional therapies.

Proven health benefits of weight loss

If you are overweight or obese, losing just 5kg of weight can help you lower your blood pressure, cholesterol (with increased “good” HDL-cholesterol), triglycerides, and also lower your risk for developing heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and osteoarthritis.

Lung function is also improved, especially in asthmatics. Even the risk of dying is reduced, especially if you are diabetic.

For most, the benefits are even more if you lose 10kg.

Being overweight/obese and living a sedentary lifestyle are major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Losing weight can also help you lower your risk for heart disease by lowering your blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol.

Even if you have a family history of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you can reduce your risk by losing weight.

My late father was obese, and did not exercise. He was also a heavy smoker. By age 46, he was diagnosed as being hypertensive. He probably had hypertension many years before that but he did not go for regular check-ups.

At 56, he had a massive stroke. He did not recover much, and remained hemiplegic until his death, which happened at age 66.

I am telling this personal story to illustrate that I probably carry the genes for hypertension, and will be at higher risk of stroke too, if I don’t take care of my health.

My eldest sister (now 64) and my youngest brother (age 54) have been on hypertensive drugs for over 10 years. I am now 57 years old, and so far, have managed to be free of hypertension or any other chronic health problems.

I know that over half my former classmates (especially the obese ones) are being treated for at least one of these problems – hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

My message is that even if you carry the genes for hypertension and other chronic diseases, you can still keep the risks low by leading a healthy lifestyle, eating a nutrient-dense diet rich in fruits and veggies, appropriate nutritional supplementation, maintaining optimum weight, and doing sufficient exercise.

Even if you already have the diseases, you may be able reduce your drug dosage, or even get off drugs completely by adopting the above strategies.

Obesity is also associated with increased risks of cancers of the oesophagus, breast (in post-menopausal women), endometrium (uterus), colon and rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and possibly other cancer types.

Therefore, it makes sense to slim down and maintain the optimum weight if you want to reduce your risk of getting these cancers.

Obesity puts immense strain on your knees. Just being 5kg overweight will increase 15-30kg of extra force on your knee joints with each step. That is why obese people often suffer excruciating knee pain due to osteoarthritis (inflammation due to wear-and-tear erosion of the cartilages and grinding of the exposed bone). Many end up with surgery, including total knee replacement.

Proven health benefits of exercise

Exercise can help you lose weight, but you must do a lot of it consistently. If you weigh 70kg, 30 minutes of brisk walking or jogging burns about 300 calories, which will be easily replaced by a small meal. So don’t look for fast weight loss, but consistent and sustained weight loss, provided you also watch your diet.

If you build muscles (which you should), then exercise may even cause you to gain weight, but this is healthy weight gain. Apart from monitoring your BMI, you should also monitor your body fat percentage (which will reduce as you gain muscle).

Exercise also improves your cholesterol and triglycerides, improves blood circulation, and reduces the risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, certain cancers and depression.

Exercise makes you feel energetic, improves your sexual function (especially men) and sex life (for both sexes), improves your mood, and improves your sleep pattern.

The above health benefits of losing weight and exercise have been proven by scientific studies. Natural methods can indeed be proven. We need to extend the studies to other natural and nutritional therapies. I hope to share some of these in future articles.

So if you are overweight or obese, the first two things you need to do to regain your health are to reduce at least 5kg weight, and start exercising.

Losing weight may seem a difficult task, but it becomes easy if you only target 1kg at a time. Likewise, to exercise the recommended 150 minutes a week may seem daunting if you have not exercised at all, and may deter you from ever starting.

So start with 30 minutes, and gradually increase as you become more fit, and you will soon look forward to exercising more.


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