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How full is your bucket?


We often wonder why it is that when we were young, unhealthy food, erratic sleep, and unhealthy habits did not phase us but things start to fall apart in mid to late life although nothing really changed?

This question can be explained by the following bucket analogy. 

Our environment is loaded with the good, the bad and the ugly. We all need to live. As long as we live (and to some degree even after we pass away), we need to interact with our environment. The good is what we need (optimal mixture of gases in the air, right amount of sun, temperature, water, etc). The bad is what we have created over centuries and how nature has adjusted as a reaction and the ugly is what an industrialized world has manufactured in pursuit of progress (the 80 plus thousand chemicals being poured in the environment each year leading to poor air, soil and water quality and the nutrient deprived calorie loaded processed foods). Unfortunately, this in-deliberate pursuit of progress has come with a hefty price tag leading to poor health and quality of life. As a result, we are living in an environment full of toxic soup. I do not particularly like to use this statement here because it comes across as a dark portrayal of a very unavoidable situation. But it would be misleading to state it any other way. The good news is that as a result of evolutionary process, nature has equipped us with very efficient detox mechanisms. If our detox efforts are stronger than the toxic burden, we win and if our detox mechanism and efforts are weaker than the toxic burden, we lend ourselves to poor health and miserable lives. 

What determines this phenomenon? 

All of us are constantly interacting with the environment around us. Three main phases of this interaction are our skin as we apply several products and unknowingly absorb a lot of things through skin, lungs as we constantly inhale environmental air, and gut as we eat.

As you can see, we have control over these three interfaces to varying degrees. But none of us really has 100% control over all three interfaces. So we can safely conclude that all of us are subject to some toxic load at any given time. The question is not "if" we are exposed to toxins? The question is "how much" are we exposed? We don't always notice it because cells in our bodies work silently to constantly remove these toxins. But in the process of doing so, they ultimately get tired and run out of reserve. The stress that our bodies endure in the process of enabling us to deal with our interaction with our environment and internal reactions is oxidative stress and has been described as allostatic load. Oxidative stress and allostatic load ultimately break us down and we become weak, dysfunctional, and old. So, should we fear this stress and in turn should we fear just living? After all, we cannot fully avoid oxidative stress and allostatic load. Well, it depends.

Think of yourself as being born with a bucket. Your bucket is a good size. Some of your friends have buckets larger than yours and some have buckets smaller than yours. Well, it doesn't matter. At least not initially. Ideally, at birth your bucket is empty or at least appears empty. There are perhaps small holes at the bottom or on the sides which have been patched up and although not very strong, nothing is leaking. Your job is to not let anything leak or spill from the bucket. You carry on with life carrying your bucket handles. This is called interaction with the environment through the interface of skin, lungs and gut starts adding toxins to this bucket. No matter what you do, and how careful you are, some degree of toxic load is being accumulated in the bucket. In the beginning, even a big load of toxicity does not overfill the bucket and nothing spills over because there was a lot of room. Also, the holes were patched up. This is when you are still young. You eat a lot of junk food, stay up all night playing video games or partying and still feel energetic and healthy. But eventually, some of the holes start tearing down and if the toxic load is accumulating too fast, bucket keeps filling up. Dirty toxic load starts to leak and spills over, making a mess all around. You try and fix the holes. It works for some time but because you cannot fully avoid toxic load, a time comes when it is too late. No matter how much patch work you do on the holes and how careful you are in letting any toxins accumulate, your bucket fills up. 

This is when body shuts down and we become a part of the very environment that was filling our buckets. The holes represent our unique genetic make up. Our efforts to seal the holes is our healthy lifestyle. And filling of the bucket when it is not manageable any more is the end of life. For some of us, who are born with a lot of holes and let our buckets fill very fast, spillage occurs very rapidly. For others, who are born with very few holes or have the ability to repair their holes efficiently, it may be a while before the spillage occurs. 

So at any given point, ask yourself, "how full is your bucket". With modern science and technology, you can find out your genetic make up and determine how many holes you have. These holes are your genetic make up and although you cannot get rid of them, you can often seal them very efficiently if you know where they are. 

Best way to not let your bucket fill very fast and seal the holes is by cleaning up our interaction with the environment at all three levels.

1) Skin - In addition to hygiene, try not to use unhealthy skin care products. Some synthetic products act like xenobiotics. Xenobiotics are chemicals that can act like hormones and disrupt many natural pathways in our bodies. Some examples are BPA, pthalates, parabens, etc. If you can afford to, get tested for genes involved in detoxification process (finding your holes) and if you have any defects there (as an example, about 30% population has less than perfect MTHFR gene, which compromises ones' ability to get rid of toxic elements. 

2) Lungs - In addition to not being around smoking, make sure you are not surrounded by material that may be causing higher than acceptable level of pollution. Refer to environmental working groups websites for constant education and awareness. 

3) Gut - When it comes to filling our buckets, we perhaps subject our poor gut to do most of this job. Day in and day out, we put foods in our bodies that only serve the purpose of providing temporary pleasure and empty calories. Unfortunately, Standard American Diet (S.A.D) is loaded with unhealthy food options. This has spread across the entire globe to the degree that we are in a state of world-wide epidemic of metabolic health crisis. We can prevent ongoing damage and not let our bucket get filled by eating the right foods. Ideally, these are foods that our bodies are genetically designed to get the most benefit from and not "one size fit all" fad diets that pop up in every nook and cranny of the internet and mislead consumers. People respond differently to different foods. A lot of this depends on genetic make-up and metabolic response. So, it may be beneficial to get genetic and metabolic testing. But if it not easily affordable, sticking to some basic principles will give you the most bank for your buck. These are:

1) Stay away from processed foods. 

2) Eat only when hungry unless you have abnormally high leptin levels (a condition in which your body does not recognize hunger signal).

3) Stop eating when you are about 80% full. 

4) Derive your carbs from complex sources, fats from PUFAs and MUFAs, and your proteins from lean sources and lastly.

5) Exercise regularly even if you don't need to loose weight.

6) Adopt stress reduction techniques. Don't sweat over small stuff (sweat will fill that bucket really fast) and it is all small stuff. 

7) Make healthy sleep habits a priority. 

Hopefully, by following above principles, you can prevent your basket from filling too fast and your holes stay sealed up as long as possible. 

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