Are you a health nut? Or simply a health-hopeful?
If so, you go to the experts, learn what the healthful choices are and follow them.
You take a daily multivitamin; floss because it’s considered good for hearts as well as teeth; avoid soy if you have a family history of breast cancer; choose only fat free dressing; and practice yoga because it’s a kinder, gentler way for the body to exercise. Do these things and you’re bound to be healthier.
Except, maybe you’re not. The same experts who gave us these recommendations are now reversing so many of them that nutritionist Keri Glassman admits, “Contradiction is [now] the norm.”
As interviewed by "Today Show’s" Natalie Morales, Glassman gave a pop quiz on eight common health myths with some surprising results. For example, that daily multivitamin you take is now thought to be ineffective in improving your health. Flossing doesn’t help the heart, experts now say. Soy has nothing to do with increasing breast cancer risk, and some fat can actually be helpful in salad dressing. And that popular yoga class? Surely it’s gentle on the body? Turns out, not so much. Ouch.
So what’s a person to do? Ignore the experts? I’m not recommending that.
Instead, let’s look to a different set of experts who look in a different direction than biomedical and body-based research. Let’s see what those who are looking into thought, instead of body, are finding.
“When it comes to health and wellbeing, research shows that how we express ourselves spiritually definitely matters. Whom we affiliate with… whether we make time for regular devotion, what we believe, the strength of our faith…these things contribute to whether we become ill or stay well, “ claims Jeff Levin in God, Faith and Health: Exploring the Spirituality-Healing Connection.
One well-known source of research is Duke University’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Durham, North Carolina, dedicated to the study of religion, spirituality and health. In their November 2012 newsletter Duke’s Center reported findings on how thought patterns, particularly found in prayer and faith communities, affected health positively. Some populations suffered lower rates of depression than others when they committed to church and attended frequently; other populations stayed healthier because of religious commitment and volunteerism in church.
Another respected Duke University source is the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health. Director Harold G. Koenig concludes that people of devout religious practices experience greater well-being, less stress and anxiety, healthier lifestyles. They even have stronger immune systems, lower blood pressure and probably better cardiovascular functioning, among other benefits.
The one constant in each of these examples is thought: specifically, commitment to better thoughts through involvement in faith communities. And better thought is at the center of prayer, commonly practiced in faith communities or church. Prayer may be experienced individually, but it can be strengthened when we share it with others in community, says Dr. Koenig.
I have a friend, very involved in his Christian church community, who’s prayed about every conceivable challenge his whole life, including his health. Past retirement age now, he’s sought medical treatment only twice, so effective have been his lifelong prayers. He’s praying about an illness these days, he told me, and it’s going well. He’s seeing improvement in the condition. But there are already side effects from his prayers, he admitted. (Oh dear!)
Apparently, several warts he’d had for years have disappeared. He sees his colleagues in a kinder light now. Also, his wife reports that he is much more cheerful and less stressed than before he began praying. I told my friend if improved health, greater kindness and a happier disposition are side effects to prayer and commitment to church--I’ll sign up!
There may be more reversals and contradictions in what our health experts tell us in the coming days. Still, they are doing their best to learn only what helps, not harms us. Meanwhile, amidst all the contradictions, isn’t it comforting to know that the transformation of thought that comes through prayer and commitment to a faith community is the one constant that is always available, always affordable, and proven to be beneficial?
Cynthia P. Barnett is a blogger on thought, Christianity and health. She is also the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in our state. In the spirit of diplomacy, she loves all North Carolina campuses and beaches equally.