Preventive Medicine Column

Dr. David L. Katz

Famously, you “can’t have it all.” Just as famously, the anklebone is connected to the shinbone. Things get interesting when these two tidbits of time-honored truth are juxtaposed, and applied to health.

I do one or more interviews for newspapers and/or magazines on health topics almost every day.  Across the diverse audiences, one of the reliably frequent topics is what foods to eat, or activities to do, to promote the health (or beauty) of some body part.

The brain, being just about everybody’s 2nd favorite organ, is a popular choice.  The topics tend to be: what foods should we eat to promote brain health?  Is what we’ve heard about fish, or blueberries, true?  What exercises are especially good for the brain?

The heart is another perennial favorite.  What foods are best for the heart?  What exercises?

An especially popular selection for women is radiant skin- and we might as well throw in silky hair.  What nutrients provide skin that warm glow, hair that je-ne-sais-quoi?  What foods contain those nutrients in highest concentrations?  Is it true if we eat more of those foods we’ll see the difference in the mirror?

Men, it seems, are forever in pursuit of new and magical means of acquiring a 6-pack, and so questions about nutrition and exercise to that end arise with regularity.  What foods best mobilize belly fat to reveal the sculpted 6-pack lurking beneath?  If the women’s magazines are a reliable source on the matter, legions of women are desperately seeking, each month, a new and better way to tone their buns.

And then, there is the whole issue of aging.  What nutrients, foods, exercises, and activities work best to delay the aging process?  Here, I can’t help but note the thriving cottage industry devoted to marketing anti-aging lotions, potions, pills, books, and banter to adults; even as we condone the marketing of products to our children that accelerate their aging.  This bit of cultural diplopia is a hypocritical travesty- but I digress.

Time for the punch line: the answer to every one of these questions is exactly the same.

You really want glowing skin whenever your epidermis is showing?  You need nice, clean blood vessels delivering nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood to your dermis.  So you have to eat and exercise to take care of your blood vessels to take care of your skin.  And, into the bargain, you have to take comparably good care of your heart- which is pumping that blood.

You want a healthy heart?  Well, then, you need to attend to the basic care and feeding of healthy kidneys.  Along with filtering the blood of toxins, the kidneys regulate blood volume and pressure, and exert an enormous influence on heart health.

Those healthy kidneys will serve your detox aspirations better than any juice or fast- but they can’t do it alone; they specialize in water-soluble toxins.  If you want to get rid of all the rest, too, you need a healthy liver; healthy intestines; and while we’re at it, healthy lungs, and skin.

Which is just as well, because you need all of that for a healthy brain, too.  What’s good for the heart, and blood vessels, and kidneys, liver, and intestines is good for the brain- which of course depends on the quantity and quality of its blood supply for its performance.  So much so, in fact, that what best defends against cardiovascular disease goes a long way toward defending against Alzheimer’s disease as well.

Are blueberries really good for the brain?  Yes, because they are good for health in general.  Ditto for fish.

I presume you’ve caught my drift.  No organ is an island; every organ is a piece of the organism, a part of the body.  The health of each depends on the health of all.

And so there is no one food, or nutrient, or exercise that can optimize or beautify any one organ or aspect of health.  There is, however, a short list of priorities that redounds to the benefit of them all.  There is eating well (and yes, we know what that means); there is routine exercise; there is adequate attention to sleep, stress, love and the avoidance of toxins.  I won’t belabor these topics further- I have addressed each before, repeatedly and at length.

I suppose it’s true that, generally, we can’t “have it all.”  But it’s also true that the anklebone is connected to the shinbone, and that the status and performance of every organ system in the body affects every other.  So with regard to health, whether or not we can have it all, the only reasonable way to have as much as possible- is to try for exactly that.




Dr. David L. Katz;