Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Taking charge of our health

This has been on my mind a lot as the health care reform debate rages on. We're currently in a situation in which we're having difficulty accessing affordable health care. We started buying my husband's prescription meds at Walmart, because they offer them cheaply. Thankfully, my daughter and I are in good health.

Everyone needs access to affordable health care, because no one can can take such charge of their health that they never get sick. Cancer, accidents and chronic diseases can happen to even the most health conscious among us.

Having said that, however, it is important to take charge of our health to the degree that we can, while recognizing that we'll never prevent every possible bad outcome. And of course, "to the degree that we can" is partly contingent on cost and access to the things one needs to be healthy. Thus, what I write below is just what my family is doing.

Recently, I found a set of books at a local single-proprietor thrift shop, "The Story of the Eagle Books," published by the Centers for Disease Control. (Tangent: another plug for thrift store shopping! Please support the petition for a National Thrift Store Month).

These books were created for Native American children as diabetes prevention education, and include a group of young children being taught by Mr. Eagle and Miss Rabbit about eating healthy, exercising, and making good snack choices. Meanwhile, Mr. Coyote tries to trick the children into doing unhealthy things. Since my husband is diabetic and Type II diabetes runs in my family as well, I want to impress the importance of prevention to my daughter early. She, like most young children, would much prefer cookies and candy to vegetables, but she is starting to understand. As a side benefit, she is fascinated by the Coyote character and has taken to making up stories in which she and her daycare friends defeat the tricky Coyote.

Once I complained to a friend that my husband, who has had problems with diabetes, his heart, high blood pressure and cholesterol, almost never gets sick. Meanwhile, I have no chronic health problems but almost every year since I was eleven years old, I have come down with severe bronchitis or upper respiratory infections, often lasting for weeks or sometimes months (and yes, it has at times jeopardized my employment as I have often used up all my sick time). She remarked, "Maybe stress manifests in him in chronic diseases. It manifests in you in infectious diseases."

The only way for me to combat this is prevention. If I catch a cold, I have to recover as quickly as I can, or else the virus works its way down to my bronchial tubes and lungs and knocks me flat. I refuse to use antibiotics, because of concerns about their overuse; because my infections are almost always viral instead of bacterial (the former causes clear sputum, the latter colored sputum); and because I've gotten some pretty bad yeast infections after taking antibiotics in the past (since they also kill the good bacteria that keep yeast in a woman's body in check).

The only two years in which I did not get sick were early in my marriage. At the time, my husband was selling an antioxidant powder that you mix with water for a multilevel marketing company. He eventually had to get out of the business, as it was one of those in which you have to buy a certain amount of product each month, and if you don't sell enough to cover your costs, you lose money. However, during that time, he and I both regularly took the antioxidant, and I didn't get sick once. After he left the business, we stopped buying it, because it's expensive ($30 for a 30 day supply, times two).

Fast-forward to our move to Tacoma. Within a couple of months of moving here, I once more got very sick, missing a lot of work after being on the job a short time. I was so tired of this happening, I couldn't take it any more.

However, I found out that my local Trader Joe's carries Emergen-C. Like the stuff my husband used to sell, Emergen-C is a powder you mix with water that provides your body with a good dose of antioxidents. A bonus is the price ($7.99 at TJ's for a 30 day supply, compared to about $14 which it sells for in most stores). The downside is that it is probably synthetic, vs. the stuff hubby sold which was made from natural ingredients such as pine bark and red wine extract. But unless you're someone who can afford whole food vitamins (I'm not), then Emergen-C is a good substitute.

Since I started taking it, I haven't really been sick. I had maybe two very short-lived colds, and that's the real power for me: that a cold doesn't quickly turn into a bronchial or lung infection. The real test of success will be whether or not I can go a full year without illness. By October, I'll know.

What I'm doing overall to stay healthy is eating mostly (but not exclusively) vegetarian meals (some good sites for recipes include Vegan Lunch Box and Black Vegetarians--hat tip to my fellow blogger Black and Into Green).

I'm taking the following supplements, on alternating days: a multivitamin (Centrum A-Z) and lutein (for eyes); and on the following day, one packet of Emergen-C, a calcium tablet, and a teaspoon of codliver oil. The latter provides Vitamin D, which many people in the overcast Northwest don't get enough of (although we've had an exceptionally sunny spring and summer), as well as Omega-3, which most Americans period don't get enough of. I alternate in order to save money, as well as to make sure I'm not overdoing it on any given vitamin or mineral. Between Trader Joe's (Emergen-C $8 for 30; calcium $2.49 for 60), Grocery Outlet (Centrum $5 for 120), and Super Supplements (lutein $9 for 60 and $6 for 12 oz. of codliver oil), I am keeping the cost for this relatively low (and by alternating days, everything last twice as long; if you're doing the math, all of the above averages about $9 a month total for me). I also recognize that even this is too much for some people's budgets.

I'm also trying to exercise, although I have to admit that running after a four-year-old helps. :-)

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