As this year comes to an end, I am reflecting upon many aspects of 2013. One of them is the information I have been reading about and how it has shaped and reinforced my integrative medical approach. As I look back on my twitter feed, it shows some of what intrigued me and information I wanted to share.
Some of it came from reading, some from conferences, and some from recent research. So, here is a summary of some of my favorite medical things of 2013 to share.
Telomeres are the ends of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes during cell division. They can be compared to the ends of shoelaces where there is a plastic coating that helps prevent the shoelace from fraying. They are being researched in cancer, aging , diseases, and more, as if the shoelace gets frayed genetic information. While they were first described in the 1970’s, more and more medical research is being done now. Measuring telomeres can be a new way to detect cancer or measure health resilience. Shorter telomeres are associated with shorter lives. Dean Ornish did a study that showed lifestyle changes can increase telomere length. In 2009, Elizabeth Blackburn received a Nobel Prize for her work with telomeres. I am amazed and impressed with the scientific evidence supporting on a cellular basis why daily meditation and healthy lifestyle are so important. At my office, I am even able to draw a lab test that measures telomere length in people. Most of us don’t need the test, we just need the extra knowledge to reinforce why we should take ten minutes of meditation each day. Telomeres are part of all the genetic research that is being done. I am sure that this genetic information will shape how medicine is practiced in 2014 and years to come. Telomeres are one of my favorite 2013 things.
Just as important as the human genome is the combined genetic material of the microorganisms in each particular environment: the microbiome. Particular areas of study of the microbiome include the gastrointestinal tract, which is the most complex and medically fascinating to me. The best way to get an overall understanding of microbiomes and their impact on our health, is to invest 5 minutes into watching this NPR video. We often hear the phrase: “your genes are not your destiny.” Well, the way we live in harmony or disharmony with the microscopic bugs that share our bodies, certainly has a huge impact on this. Gut health, skin health, brain health, auto-immune issues, processing of medications, body weight, and more are all an interplay with the gut microbiome which has about 10 fold more cells than the actual cells of our bodies. The microbiome has been in the news a lot in 2013, such as these articles in TIME magazine or the NYTimes. The information on this is plentiful and can go in many different directions. But far from what seems like the extreme of fecal transplants, the relevance of the importance of the microbiome has shaped my medical practice this year. I have seen amazing results with the use of probiotics in practice and even further testing that helps me understand the unique picture of a person’s gut. It’s a piece of personalized medicine that certainly makes the microbiome one of my 2013 favorite things.
The last of my triad of favorites for this year is the whole concept of neuroplasticity: “You can teach an old dog new tricks.” and our brains can make new neural pathways through experience and practice. Shaped for me by her story of stroke recovery in her book, My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor, it is continually reinforced in my professional and personal life that the brain is amazing and we humans can do amazing things. But I love the connection of the body and brain together and that they work together to reshape those pathways. My introduction to Anat Baniel’s work this year also reinforced this. But it is also shaped by all the research in mindfulness such as the work by Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn. A good overview of how you can change your brain is the work of Dr Richard Davidson. It gives me and my patients hope as we explore new patterns and ways to achieve and maintain health. Taking time to purposefully move our bodies and our brains and reap many rewards. And what a perfect bridge from 2013 to 2014 as we learn where we are and where we want to go!
Have a wonderful New Year!