When it comes to well-being and health, you may not know until you try AND science is ALSO essential!

Proactive personal experimentation sometimes reveals a change you can make to improve your own health and well-being even if the mechanism has not yet been validated through science.

When you learn something new, share the discovery generously. The placebo effect alone can actually be very powerful, and sometimes you open a door to scientific discovery as well.

Just remember that while a test population of one, two or even 50 may reveal a pattern worth exploring, the conclusions you can draw are limited and overreach can be risky.

Don’t assume that what works for you will work for everyone else. Rather than exclusively promoting what has worked for you, help others figure out what works for them. It may or may not be the same thing.

Remember to keep safety guardrails in place for yourself and others. Legal and medical boundaries are there for good reasons. If whatever you are doing is potent enough to have a significant impact on your health and well-being, it may also have potent side effects for others or perhaps eventually even for you.

I developed acute asthma in my 20s when I was training for a marathon after the Kobe earthquake. For months I pretended this was just a passing problem that would heal itself, but eventually when I got to the point that I couldn’t sleep at all and I could only take a few steps before I becoming dizzy, I felt the fear of death and resolved to got help from a fantastic doctor.

He got me started on the right medicines (steroids and bronchial dilators) to keep me from puncturing a lung so I could begin the process of recovery. At the time, accepted medical practice dictated that I would need these medicines for the rest of my life, but I didn’t want to rely on them forever, so I started searching broad and wide for factors that might have sent me into the spiral that left me with only 10% of my usual lung capacity.

Time heals many things, but it often needs a little help. Through experimentation, I discovered that a wide range of factors from diet, hydration and exercise to mental and emotional hygiene to social connection seemed to be playing a role in making and keeping me sick. I even started to reduce my own dosage of the steroids while paying close attention to the condition of my lungs and the factors that seemed to precipitate an attack. When I told the doctor that I was making these judgments on my own, he surprised me by telling me that he thought it was okay for me to reduce dosage on my own as long as I did it gradually and kept him in the loop so we could work together to make sure I didn’t go too far too fast.

It took a few years, but the combination of medicine and personal experimentation helped me get back on my feet, so that I eventually was able to manage my asthma without medicine and I was even able to play tennis and run long distances (albeit at a slower pace than before). I learned a lot about what had been making me sick, and I began to experiment with different techniques to help me monitor and modulate certain beliefs, mindsets and behaviors that seemed to determine whether I could keep my asthma in check or if I was doomed to another bout of suffocation. In the process, I became a much more mindful person, I think I became an easier person to live and work with, and I learned to manage myself in ways that enhanced my emotional, cognitive and physical resilience as well as my professional performance.

Over time, it turned out that standard medical practice also changed. When I had a bit of a relapse during a period of extreme stress in my 40s, I learned from another doctor that I would only need to use the medicines at times when I knew I was going to be exposed to triggers that could start a negative spiral. I used the medicines to prevent a negative spiral, and when I moved passed that period of extreme stress, the symptoms disappeared. While I still occasionally feel tightness in my lungs, I can now catch the symptoms early enough to go through a checklist of adjustments I can make to prevent the symptoms from spiraling into a full-on asthma attack. I haven’t used steroids or bronchial dilators for more than a decade.

When they are integrated well, personal experimentation and scientific medicine help you to figure out what makes you sick and what can help you stay well:)

Just remember:

  • You are the owner of your own body. There are certain factors that you can control in ways that will enhance your health and well-being.
  • We all tend to share certain traits, but we each also have a unique combination of traits.
  • Though you do have some control, you don’t have complete control. There times when you absolutely should get the help of doctors. As professionals, they do know things that you don’t and you can benefit from their support.
  • Even when you do enlist the help of a medical professional, you are still the owner of your own body:)

The following comes from an NPR feature on the search for scientific connections between keto and mental health:

Ian Campbell felt peaceful, maybe even happy as he watched the trees along the road pass by.

“I hadn’t experienced that in a really long time, probably since I was a kid,” says Campbell, who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“I didn’t know what was going on at the time, but I thought this might be what it feels like to be normal.”

As Campbell searched for ways to launch a proper clinical trial to test the diet’s effectiveness, he became discouraged. 

“It was really like you were considered wacky,” he says. “At one point, I thought nobody’s going to pay for this research.”

He put together a 45-minute video summing up the biological rationale for using the ketogenic diet in bipolar disorder and posted it on social media, not expecting much after that.

But some doctors had already started researching it after seeing the potential in their practice, among them Chris Palmer, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School and McLean Hospital.

Palmer had his own revelation about the diet a few years earlier, which he detailed in a 2017 case report. Two patients with schizo-affective disorder had “truly dramatic, life-changing improvement in their psychotic symptoms,” he says.

In early 2021, he started working with the eldest son of Jan and David Baszucki, a wealthy tech entrepreneur. Their son Matt had bipolar disorder and had been on many medications in recent years.

Jan Baszucki enlisted Palmer’s help as her son gave the ketogenic diet a try.

“Within a couple of months, we saw a dramatic change,” she says.

Inspired, she started contacting clinicians and researchers, looking to bring more visibility — and funding — to the treatment. Since rigorous data on the diet is still lacking, she wants to see researchers conduct large clinical trials to back up anecdotes like her son’s recovery.


© Dana Cogan, 2024, all rights reserved.

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