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We Have A Choice

“It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.” REM

We live in a world that is changing at a faster rate than perhaps any other era since the dawn of time. This an exciting time, but for every advance comes potential peril. We have food that is available instantly, with ingredients we cannot pronounce and shelf lives that will outlive us. Our air, water and soil are becoming increasingly more toxic and depleted of nutrients. We ingest, inject and apply more drugs, prescribed or illicit, in order to fill a void or treat an ailment. Our airwaves are plagued by man-made radiofrequencies and electromagnetic waves.  The weather is erratic with temperatures and water levels rising. We live in a rapidly changing environment... do you feel fine?

The good news is that we know more about the human body than ever and there are several factors within our control. We are inundated with information, good and bad, and need to methodically and intelligently sift through and incorporate the best practices available to shape our health in the most optimal fashion. Health and wellness are attainable even in this ever-changing, challenging environment.

I have had the privilege over the last two decades of caring for many ill people.  Over the years, I have felt the exhilaration of saving people on the brink of death.  I have also shared in the despair of loved ones lost.  As a vascular surgeon, I’ve treated the sickest of the sick. After caring for thousands of patients, I have noticed trends that many of my colleagues in health care echo. The interplay among genetics, nutrition, environmental exposure and time leads to layer upon layer of chronic illness.  While we can’t stop time, we can make choices that positively or negatively affect the other aspects of health. I have gone to battle endlessly with diseases that have affected the cardiovascular system of my patients. The feeling of frustration has been omnipresent, as I have plugged one leak to find another spring open.  

While sitting with a family in my office consisting of three generations, I realized that I was seeing chronic disease in several stages of its evolution. My patient, the eldest in the room, was 75 years old and facing an upcoming amputation of the leg for gangrene. She had undergone minimally invasive attempts at limb salvage with a procedure that attempts to restore blood flow to an extremity by opening a blocked artery from within. This attempt worked for a while, but the artery eventual clotted off again, due in part to the severity of her atherosclerosis (inflammation and hardening of the arteries, obstructing blood flow to an organ or limb) and also due to poor choices such as smoking, lack of exercise and consumption of unhealthy food.  She then underwent a bypass, which is much more invasive and involves several incisions, in order to reroute blood flow around the blocked artery.  This too worked for a little while. Eventually, because the “leak” continued without being able to shut off the “faucet”, there was nothing else that could be done and she lost her leg. The tragedy in this example is that despite my urging from our initial meeting and during every subsequent encounter, she didn’t quit smoking cigarettes and didn’t improve her diet until after the amputation.  

However, I have much hope for her daughter and grandson, as they learned from my patient’s example and vowed to improve their lifestyle immediately.  Their main concern- Where do we begin? The daughter, a pleasant woman in her 40’s with high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol, quit smoking and adopted a healthier lifestyle consisting of better nutrition and more exercise. The grandson, in his early teens, was obese and had early stages of diabetes. He too, with the help of his mother, changed his habits and was well on the path to improved health. We can all learn from the mistakes of the past and do not need to repeat history. Good information implemented properly is the key to wellness.

The health and wellness information available is overwhelming. There is also quite a bit of contradictory information out there along with zealots on all sides of the debate. Do I choose a high fat, ketogenic diet? Is purely plant-based for me? Vegan? Vegetarian? Pescatarian? How much should I exercise?  Do I wake up early to get that morning workout in or do I sleep an extra hour to get my full night’s sleep?  One blog said “this” and the other said “that”. Well, is it “this” or “that”. New fad diets pop up and everyone is an expert because they read a New York Times bestseller or listened to a popular podcast. I am certainly not dismissing well written books and intelligently produced podcasts, but I share the feeling of being overwhelmed.  

My goal is to identify the most pressing health concerns we face today, sift through and interpret the best evidence available, synthesize this information into bite sized portions we can all digest and present it from a real-world practicing physician’s perspective.  I want to find the source of the leak and shut the faucet rather than continue to plug the myriad holes. I have stake in the game...I have family, friends and patients whom I’d like to see live full, healthy and happy lives.  I see a world that is increasingly toxic and utterly baffling at times.  My background in conventional medicine, my experience with thousands of patients, my quest for better health for myself and others, and my appreciation and extensive study of holistic, integrative and alternative health care have provided the substrate to help me guide you and your loved ones to a healthier and happier life. I want us all to feel better than fine!

Kristian A. Ulloa MD Kristian Ulloa, MD, FACS, is a vascular surgeon at Vascular Surgery Associates, LLC. He provides comprehensive and individualized care to patients in Frederick, Baltimore, and Westminster, Maryland.

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