By Dr. Mercola
To help commemorate 21 years of offering the most up-to-date health information available, here are 21 of my top health tips to guide you on your journey. The topics are all-encompassing, so while you may not be able to do all of them right now, beginning with a few will begin to improve your overall health and sense of well-being. For more in-depth information, follow the hyperlinks provided.
1. Get eight hours of quality sleep every night. Estimates suggest 1 in 3 Americans gets less than seven hours of sleep a night and more than 83 million adults in the U.S. are sleep-deprived.1 Unfortunately, without proper sleep, every single aspect of your health will suffer adverse consequences.
Sleep is required for maintaining biological homeostasis (balance) in your body, including metabolic homeostasis in your brain. Removal of toxins from your brain occurs only during deep sleep, making sleep deprivation a major risk factor for dementia and other neurological dysfunction.
Poor sleep also raises your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, immune dysfunction, chronic pain conditions, sexual dysfunction, depression and much more. In fact, lack of sleep is a significant factor in premature aging, increasing your risk of dying from any cause.2
On the other hand, getting high-quality sleep, and enough of it — ideally right around eight hours each night — has been shown to boost learning, productivity, creativity and athletic performance, and that’s just in the short term. In the long term, your overall health and longevity hangs in the balance. So, protect your hours of sleep like you do your bank account. It will pay innumerable dividends.
2. Optimize your vitamin D, and check your level. Vitamin D deficiency is causing untold damage to the health of millions of Americans — and their offspring. In fact, 85 percent of Americans aren’t getting enough vitamin D to help fight bone loss, cognitive decline, rheumatoid arthritis and abnormal cell growth, which are just a few of the health issues vitamin D plays a role in.
To figure how much you need, have your levels tested and be sure to maintain a level between 60 and 80 ng/mL year-round.
Sensible sun exposure is your best source of vitamin D, but supplementation may also be necessary for some people. Your body can make thousands of units of vitamin D within minutes of whole-body exposure to sunlight3 but, unfortunately, 9-to-5 jobs keep most people indoors during peak sun hours.
Regular sun exposure is important not only for adequate vitamin D production but also much more, including boosting your immune system, regulating your circadian rhythm, lowering high blood pressure, improving your mood and even lowering your risk of many cancers, including skin cancer.
Safe exposure to sunshine is possible by understanding your skin type, the UV strength at the time of exposure and your duration of exposure. Always avoid getting burned, but do make sure you spend a sensible amount of time with your bare skin exposed regularly.
3. Sit less, move more. Sitting is a huge part of modern life. More than 10,000 studies attest to the fact that sitting is an independent risk factor for ill health and premature death. Walking just one hour a day, the equivalent of about 3 miles, will go a long way toward optimizing your health.
You’ll gain greater stamina, more energy and confidence, while simultaneously cutting your risk for chronic disease. Ideally, aim for at least 10,000 steps a day and cut your sitting time to three hours or less daily. A standing desk is an excellent option for office workers.
4. Intermittently fast, and consider water fasting. Meal timing has an extraordinary impact on your mitochondrial function, which in turn is a major determinant of your overall health. Eating late in the evening, when your body doesn’t need the energy, is one of the worst things you can do, as it triggers the generation of an excess number of free radicals that spill out of the electron transport chain and damage your mitochondrial DNA.
Eating excess carbohydrates late at night is particularly problematic, as it results in the production of superoxide, which in combination with high iron (which is very common) produces hydroxyl free radicals, which are among the most harmful.
As a general rule, eat your last meal at least three hours before bedtime. This has been shown to decrease your risk of both obesity4 and cancer incidence.5,6 Similarly, intermittent fasting has a number of powerful health benefits, including improved insulin regulation7 and a lower risk of heart disease.8,9
There’s also plenty of research showing that intermittent fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity, and it appears to be most beneficial when combined with a cyclical ketogenic diet.
Both intermittent fasting and cyclical keto allow your body to become efficient at burning fat, and this metabolic flexibility is part and parcel of why these strategies are so effective for optimizing health and preventing disease. Water fasting also has powerful benefits. As a matter of fact, water fasting may be one of the most profound metabolic therapies available, and it’s less than inexpensive; it’s free.
5. Burn fat for fuel, and limit protein. The inability to burn fat for fuel is the root cause of most degenerative conditions. Three powerful ways to shift your body into fat-burning mode have already been mentioned above: cyclical ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting and/or water fasting.
Another key component is your diet. To efficiently burn fat for fuel, you need to a) supply your body with healthy dietary fats, b) dramatically cut down on net carbs and c) limit protein.
As a general rule, you’ll want to increase your healthy fat to about 60 to 80 percent of your daily calories, reduce your net carbs to 20 to 50 grams a day or less, and restrict protein to one-half gram per pound (1 gram per kilogram) of lean body mass.
To make sure you’re actually meeting your nutritional requirements and maintaining the ideal nutrient ratios, a nutrient tracker such as www.cronometer.com/mercola is an invaluable tool.
It’s free, and already calibrated for nutritional ketosis, so based on the base parameters you enter, it will automatically calculate the ideal ratios of net carbs, protein and healthy fats to put you into nutritional ketosis. Once you’re able to burn fat, start cycling in and out of ketosis by adding higher amounts of net carbs once or twice a week, ideally on days when you’re doing strength training.
6. Reduce Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Exposure and ditch your microwave. A wide array of factors affect the health of your home — and you. This includes issues that affect indoor air quality, discussed above, and EMFs, which include AC electric fields from house wiring and corded appliances, AC magnetic fields from power lines and wiring errors, radio frequencies from smart meters, cellphones and Wi-Fi and dirty electricity, which is transient voltage spikes as a result of switching mode power supplies.
Electric fields have long been one of the most common, yet overlooked types of EMFs in homes (although wireless devices are fast overtaking them), thanks to the use of unshielded plastic wiring in walls and plastic power cords that we plug in. It’s important to measure electric fields and not just magnetic fields when checking EMF levels, as the former can also have a very detrimental effect on your health, primarily by robbing you of a good night’s sleep.
EMFs have been linked to a wide array of health effects,10 including the creation of excess oxidative stress, opening your blood-brain barrier, allowing toxins to enter your brain, damaging DNA in your nucleus and mitochondria.
It also impairs proton flow and ATP production, altering cellular function due to excessive charge, altering your microbiome and raising your risk for cancer. Importantly, EMFs also have neurological effects,11 and contribute to anxiety, depression, autism and Alzheimer’s.
EMF exposure is a significant health hazard that needs to be addressed — especially if you’re already struggling with chronic health issues, as your recovery will be severely hampered if your body is constantly assaulted by these unnatural fields.
For a list of remedial strategies, see my interview with electromagnetic radiation specialist Oram Miller. In your kitchen, one of the most hazardous appliances is your microwave. A far healthier alternative is a steam convection oven, which will heat your food just as quickly, but far more safely.
7. Purify your water and avoid fluoride. Water is the only beverage you cannot live without. Unfortunately, pure water is hard to come by these days, as water pollution, inadequate water treatment and high permissible limits on toxic pollutants have rendered most municipal water supplies untrustworthy.
To ensure purity, you really need to filter your own tap water. For guidance on selecting a suitable water filtration system for your home or apartment, see “How to Properly Filter Your Water.”
Water filtration is particularly important if your water is fluoridated and you are combating chronic disease, have young children or are using your tap water for mixing infant formula. Fluoride is a pernicious poison linked to reduced IQ, thyroid disease and many other health problems.
8. Detox in a sauna. Everyone is exposed to toxins to a greater or lesser extent, and these chemicals are stored in your body. For a detoxification program to be effective, you first need to mobilize the toxins, many of which are stored in fat cells; then you need to make sure your detox pathways are working properly, and you need to make sure the toxins are effectively excreted.
Fasting is a powerful detoxification method as it promotes lipolysis and the mobilization of fat-soluble toxins. To avoid reabsorption, it’s important to take binding agents when fasting — and to sweat out the toxins. Using a near infrared sauna is an ideal way to help facilitate toxins stored in your body.
9. Grow your own food. The best way to guarantee you’re eating truly healthy organic, uncontaminated foods is to grow them yourself. You may be surprised how easy it is to start with organic tomato, beet or lettuce seeds for growing food right at your fingertips.
Swapping lettuce for homegrown sprouts and microgreens (which can be grown on your kitchen counter) can help you meet several daily vitamin requirements, as these “baby” greens contain far greater concentrations of nutrients than full-grown vegetables.
Growing your own food is very satisfying, plus you don’t have to worry about genetically engineered foods laced with harmful pesticides such as glyphosate, which has been shown to wreak havoc in your gut, contributing to a wide variety of health problems.
10. Support regenerative and biodynamic agriculture by switching to organic grass fed beef and wild Alaskan salmon. Projections suggest the natural and organic sector may reach $107.7 billion in sales by 2019. However, traditional organics have developed a number of increasingly pressing problems, thanks to manipulation by large food companies.
Trusted organic brands have been swallowed up by multinational corporations that, by and large, lack a historical interest in organic farming, and organic standards have been significantly watered down, in some cases to the point of no longer fulfilling even the most basic criteria.
Regenerative agriculture is a return to what organic was originally all about — the protection and rebuilding of topsoil and ecological biodiversity — and biodynamic certification is as good as it gets, far surpassing that of organic standards.
To steer agriculture in the right direction, biodynamic really needs to be the new goal standard. Animal food farming has also undergone tremendous transformation, and we now, finally, have new standards for organic grass fed meats and animal products. So, to ensure the highest quality, be sure to look for beef and animal products certified by the American Grassfed Association (AGA).
The seafood industry also has more than a few problems, one of the biggest ones being the toxicity of farmed fish. This is particularly true for farmed salmon, as the higher fat content of the fish accumulates higher amounts of toxins from the feed and environment.
Farmed salmon has actually been identified as the most toxic food of all tested. Farmed salmon also does not have the beneficial nutritional profile of its wild counterpart. So, to protect your health, steer clear of all farmed salmon, and make sure you’re getting authentic wild-caught Alaskan salmon, which is by law not permitted to be farmed.
11. Reduce indoor air pollution by ditching nonstick cookware. Exposure to environmental toxins is responsible for at least 1 of every 4 deaths reported worldwide,12 and air pollution is the greatest contributor to this risk. What many fail to consider is that indoor air pollution is actually of greater concern than outdoor air pollution.
Two primary sources of indoor air pollution are a) the materials used to construct the building itself and everything in it, including your furniture; and b) chemical products you bring into and use inside your home. One oft-ignored source of daily toxic exposure is the use of nonstick cookware.
When heated, the nonstick coating of these pots, pans and bakeware releases toxic compounds into the air that have been linked to thyroid disease, organ damage, cancer and infertility, just to name a few. Healthier options include ceramic and enameled cast iron cookware, both of which are durable, easy to clean and completely inert, which means they won’t release any harmful chemicals into your home.
12. Care about what you wear. “Fast fashion” has become an incredible problem, significantly contributing to environmental pollution and destruction. Fortunately, these problems are now starting to be exposed, driven by the movement to “Care What You Wear.”
As your dedication to clean up your life and environment grows, please remember to incrementally clean up your wardrobe as well. Gone are the days when fashion was all about looking good. Today, there’s a real movement toward fashion that also does good in and for the world.
As a consumer, your choices will help guide the garment industry toward more humane and environmentally sane manufacturing processes. The upshot is that responsibly made clothing made with nontoxic dyes (or no dyes) and organic materials also feel and look fantastic.
There’s a real difference in quality, and when a piece of clothing is of superb quality, the urge to toss it after a few wears is greatly diminished. In fact, high-quality items often get better with use. To ensure a piece of clothing meets the highest organic, sustainable standards, be sure to look for GOTS certification.
13. Avoid lectins. Many are now familiar with the problems of gluten, but lectins could be just as problematic.15,16 Lectins bind to carbohydrates and attach to cells that allow them to do harm as part of the plant’s self-defense mechanism against pests. Unfortunately, some may also cause trouble in humans. They are especially problematic if you have any autoimmune disease.
Many lectins are proinflammatory, immunotoxic, neurotoxic and cytotoxic. Certain lectins may also increase blood viscosity, interfere with gene expression and disrupt endocrine function.
That said, it would be a mistake to assume all lectins are bad for you. Avocados, for example, contain the lectin agglutinin,17 but this specific type of agglutinin is devoid of specificity for carbs. It interacts with proteins and polyamino acids instead.18 So, the presence of lectin is by no means a sole determinant.
Among the most problematic lectin-containing foods are wheat and other seeds of the grass family, beans, soy and other legumes, and members of the nightshade family such as eggplants, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers. Beans tend to have some of the most potent toxic and allergenic effects.19
While lectins can be problematic for just about anyone if you’re getting high amounts of them,20,21 those with an autoimmune disease are particularly vulnerable and may notice significant improvement in their condition when on a lectin-free diet. You can see a list of the foods that are high in lectins that need to be avoided at Dr. Steven Gundry’s site.22
14. Care for your gut with fermented foods and fiber. Studies have confirmed high-fiber diets help reduce your risk of premature death from any cause. A major reason for this protection has to do with how fiber benefits your gut microbiome, thereby reducing your chronic disease risk.
In recent years, the importance of optimizing the performance of your gut microbiome has come to the fore, showing that, like sleeping, your gut health is a major determinant of health status. When it comes to boosting your fiber intake, be sure to focus on eating more vegetables, nuts and seeds, not grains, as grains tend to promote insulin and leptin resistance.
Research23 has also confirmed that in order to work, the fiber must be unprocessed. Fermented foods such as fermented vegetables serve double duty by providing both fiber and loads of probiotics (beneficial bacteria). For instructions on how to make your own fermented foods, see “How to ‘Culture’ Your Way to Optimal Health.”
15. Measure and optimize your magnesium level. As the fourth most abundant mineral in your body,24magnesium is required for the healthy function of most cells in your body, especially your heart, kidneys and muscles. Magnesium resides at the center of the chlorophyll molecule. So, if you rarely eat leafy greens, you’re probably getting very little magnesium from your diet.
Your best bet is to have an RBC magnesium test done, which measures the amount of magnesium in your red blood cells.
You can also evaluate and track signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency, and to make sure you eat magnesium-rich foods and/or take a magnesium supplement, balanced with vitamins D3, K2 and calcium. Alternatively, keep an eye on your potassium and calcium levels, as low potassium and calcium are common laboratory signs of magnesium deficiency.25
16. Avoid blue light and minimize cellphone usage. Certain types of lighting can also have a far-reaching impact on your health. Among the most harmful is light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs. The main problem with LEDs is the fact that they emit primarily blue wavelengths of light and lack the counterbalancing healing and regenerative near-infrared frequencies.
They emit very little red, and no infrared, which is the wavelength required for biological repair and regeneration. When you use these aggressive lower frequencies — blue light — it creates reactive oxygen species that, when generated in excess, causes damage.
So, when your body is exposed to LED lighting on a daily basis, you end up with increased damage and decreased repair and regeneration. Switching your light sources back to incandescent light bulbs is a simple way to create a healthier environment in your home and office.
Cellphones are another major source of harmful EMFs, linked to DNA damage, heart tissue damage and heart and brain tumors. Avoid carrying your cellphone on your body unless in airplane mode and never sleep with it in your bedroom unless it is in airplane mode. Ideally, keep it in a Faraday bag when not in use. When using your cellphone, use the speaker phone and hold the phone at least 3 feet away from you.
17. Install a high-quality air filter in your home. As mentioned earlier, most of us are breathing polluted air indoors and can benefit from installing a high-quality air filter. Keep in mind that not all filters work with the same efficiency to remove pollutants from your home, and no one filter can remove all pollutants. See this previous article for an explanation of the different types of air filters to meet your specific needs.
Overall, photocatalytic oxidation (PCO) is one of the best technologies available. Rather than merely filtering the air, PCO actually cleans the air using ultraviolet light. Unlike filters, which simply trap pollutants, PCO transforms the pollutants into nontoxic substances.
In addition to using them in your home, portable air purifiers are available to take with you when you work or travel. For additional guidance on how to minimize air pollution in your home, see “How to Reduce Indoor Air Pollution.”
18. Develop a comprehensive oral health plan. Your dental and oral health also play an important role in your overall health and longevity. When bacteria that cause tooth decay and gum disease enter your circulatory system, your liver releases inflammatory C-reactive proteins, a marker for chronic inflammation.
Inflammation, in turn, is a hallmark of most chronic disease. Your teeth may also be a source of chronic heavy metal exposure if you have amalgam fillings, as these actually contain mercury, an extremely potent neurotoxin. To optimize your oral health, consider taking the following actions:
- Have mercury (amalgam) fillings removed by a biological dentist properly trained in their safe removal
- Brush with coconut oil and baking soda twice a day, 30 to 60 minutes after drinking and/or eating
- Floss at least once a day
- Trade your mouthwash for oil pulling with coconut oil
- Seek out a mercury-free dentist for your regular dental maintenance
19. Hydrate properly. In a dehydrated state, your body accumulates toxins due to a lack of electrical energy flow. When you add in exposure to wireless technologies that output high amounts of electrical resonance, your already disconnected cells become prone to resonating to the wrong frequency.
A foundational part of hydration is to drink sufficient amounts of purified water. Tea and organic black coffee also count toward your daily hydration needs, although neither should be consumed in excess. Avoiding soda and other sweetened beverages is also important.
20. Avoid alcohol and nicotine. Naturally, a big part of maintaining health is to avoid ingesting toxic agents in the first place. Alcohol and nicotine are two major ones. Both are addictive, which worsens their impact. Vaping, while advertised as a way to help you quit smoking, is also addictive, toxic, and has been linked to a higher risk of smoking combustible cigarettes in the future.
21. Avoid opioids. Last, but most certainly not least, protect your health and life by avoiding opioids. The U.S. opioid epidemic was declared a public health emergency in 2017, and more deaths are now attributed to drug overdoses from opioids than breast cancer. Opioid pain killers are extremely addictive, making your risk of a deadly overdose very high.
This risk is magnified fivefold if you’re also taking a benzodiazepine drug such as Valium, Ativan or Xanax, commonly prescribed for anxiety and insomnia. Many younger people get hooked on opioids when taking them after having their wisdom teeth extracted, or getting a sports injury. If you struggle with pain, exhaust your other pain relief options before resorting to a narcotic pain reliever, and get off it as quickly as possible.