The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

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Several years ago a burgeoning Functional Medicine doctor explained this concept to me as it pertains to health. Feeling crummy without specific symptoms and having had a long bout of chronic fatigue syndrome some ten years previous, I wanted to improve my health in a manner that did not involve masking symptoms with drugs nor labeling my ailment as an “unknown etiology” with an equally unknown path to recovery.

The concept of the “straw that broke the camel’s back” was probably the most useful thing I learned from this physician. Since we are all individuals with varying degrees of health and “dis-ease,” that proverbial “straw” could come at any time from any number of causes. Understanding that health involves mind, body, and spirit, and that attention to all three realms is critical in disease prevention allows me to periodically check for possible “straws” that may find entry and threaten my all-important health.

In the intervening years I have had the opportunity of increased study into holistic/integrative thought, furthering my understanding of just where these “straws” might come from. One certification course I undertook proposed that most disease stemmed from stress – mostly “intra-psychic” (that which originates in our minds) although other stressors such as environmental also play a role. With the number of stressors present in any of our lives today, it’s not hard to see how this factor impacts our health.

Another certification course I took looked at “5 Aspects” of health and disease, noting environmental and nutritional factors in addition to the usual triad of body, mind, and spirit. This concept makes sense since research shows that each of these areas can contribute to our level of health or disease; in combination, what is the exact straw that prevents the enjoyment of health and wellness?

Yesterday, in researching “smart phones” I began to wonder just what that magic “straw” might be for any given individual. Worried about SAR (specific absorption rates) of cell phones in general and smart phones in particular, I wondered if perhaps an individual’s risk of cancer due to the radiation from cell phones might be reduced if, for example, they had an unusually healthy diet or even belief system. I also wondered why more people weren’t concerned about this risk and why they didn’t modify their behavior accordingly. Is it because they don’t know there IS a risk? Has the risk been down played? Are they “in denial?” or do they simply believe, as many of us former smokers once believed “cancer happens to other people, not healthy people like me.”

Through both formal and informal education, I have learned that disease is usually not the result of one lifestyle habit or one environmental toxin but, rather, the result of the interplay of many aspects of our lives – our thoughts, beliefs, lifestyles, expectations, level of education, diet, environment, relationships, stress levels, and genetic predispositions to name a few. Just as we know that the more risk factors one has for heart disease (e.g., high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, sedentary lifestyle) the more likely that person is to succumb to a major cardiac event, we also know that the more risk factors we have threatening our body/mind/spirits the higher the risk for any number of “straws” to cause an infinite variety of diseases. We never know quite where that final “straw” will come from that will interact with the whole of us to produce disease.

As for me, I’ve learned to mitigate some of the risks of serious disease by modifying my lifestyle – eating a whole foods diet, exercising daily, fostering meaningful relationships, questioning my beliefs, nurturing a positive attitude, and avoiding environmental toxins as much as possible. Our body/mind/spirits are amazing. They take countless assaults and keep on performing, allowing us yet another chance to reconsider our thoughts and behaviors. But at some point, if healthy options are not undertaken, each individual’s body/mind/spirit will have reached a tipping point where disease is allowed to take hold – the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Oh, the cell phone? I decided to keep my old “dumb phone” based on my presumption it has a lower SAR level, and therefore, a lower “straw” level!

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