The Sydney-based Malayali Dr Jacqueline Michael is on a mission to highlight the need for lifestyle medicine in Kerala, which is affected by high levels of obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease
By Shevlin Sebastian
On Good Friday, 2007, Dr Jacqueline Michael suffered a miscarriage. At that time, Jacqueline was working in the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. Soon, she slipped into a depression.
Thereafter, she began to suffer from several physical ailments. “Initially, it started with hormonal dysfunction,” she says. “Then I had fibromyalgia, followed by vitiligo and started turning white.” She consulted a rheumatologist, an endocrinologist and a dermatologist.
“Thereafter, I realised that there has to something which causes these diseases to flare up,” she says. “I wondered whether there was a way to cure myself.”
Jacqueline decided to do some research. And that was how she stumbled onto lifestyle medicine.
“The aim of lifestyle medicine is to prevent illnesses from taking place, by making the right choices,” says Jacqueline. “Nowadays treatment is done, only when a person falls sick. It is like a fire-response unit. Mainstream medicine does not go to the source and get rid of the problem.”
She says that it is urgent to have a lifestyle medicine system in Kerala, because, thanks to a high standard of living, the people suffer from the lifestyle diseases of the West, like obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and coronary heart disease.
Jacqueline suggests three methods of prevention. The first is to have a high fibre diet. These include green vegetables, flax seeds, carrots, grams, boiled elephant foot yam, rice with bran, oats, and fruits like apple, pear, and oranges.
The second is regular physical exercise. “When you do physical activity, a lot of good chemicals, like endorphins, are produced in the body,” says Jacqueline. “These are required for a person’s well-being. However, very few people do enough exercise in Kerala.”
She also suggests the avoidance of toxins like tobacco, excess alcohol, and substance abuse. Unfortunately, there are toxins in our environment. “As an example, we use a lot of chemicals in our personal-care products,” says Jacqueline. “And when you dye your hair, you are using hydrogen peroxide, which is an oxidising agent. So there is a level of oxidative damage happening inside the body as well." This may result in cancer and other chronic diseases.
In Kerala, too many people suffer from Vitamin D deficiency. That is because they are reluctant to expose themselves to the sun. “There is a phobia for sunlight in God's Own Country,” says Jacqueline. “Lack of Vitamin D can be a catalyst for high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. We need sun exposure for at least half an hour every day.”
The right amount of sleep, about seven to eight hours, is very important. A lot of things happen during our nocturnal rest. “When we sleep the brain shrinks by six percent. This allows for the free flow of the cerebrospinal fluid, which allows for the cleaning of the toxins that are formed in the brain. During sleep, there is a memory consolidation. Restorative processes take place. I know of a case where a person suffered a stroke because he was chronically sleep-deprived.”
Jacqueline, a mother of three, who is now based in Sydney, has come to her home state, Kerala, with a mission. “I want to create an awareness of lifestyle medicine,” she says. “But it has to be citizen-driven. In fact, I was surprised to note that there is not a single lifestyle medicine centre anywhere. I am planning to start the first centre in my home-town of Kollam and encourage young doctors to take up Lifestyle Medicine as a career.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode)