Meditation + health – part 1
DR GARY HUBER shares his thoughts with VICTOR KANNAN on health and well – being , h ow meditation brings about improved health outcomes, and how to integrate simple meditation practices into a treatment plan
Q: Dr Gary Huber, welcome.
GH: Thank you.
Q: You were an Emergency Medicine physician for 20 years before evolving your practice to Integrative Care. You lecture on hormone replacement therapies, cardiovascular care, sports medicine and other integrative topics at the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine. You have developed the Hubert Healthy Weight Loss Program that also works to reverse metabolic syndrome. You are also a clinical professor and preceptor at the University of Cincinnati, College of Pharmacy. Last year you were also named a ‘Leader in Medicine’ by the American Health Council.
So what is Integrative Medicine and what is new about it?
GH: Integrative medicine is the incorporation of multiple disciplinary elements of life. As a mainstream traditional family practitioner, we apply drugs to try to control symptoms. In integrative medicine, we still have drug therapies, we still have X-rays and testing, but we do much more, because there are some things that we don’t do very well in mainstream medicine. This is what my 20 years in Emergency Medicine taught me. We do some really cool stuff, for example if you have an emergency or something acute, we are awesome, but if you really want to be healthy, we don’t do that very well.
So quite simply, Integrative Medicine is the integrating of everything in your life: sleep, exercise, stress, diet, whether or not you meditate etc. All these things are the reason you have hypertension in the first place. So all other concerns outside of traditional medicine actually help you to get healthy, and can reverse your diabetes, reverse your hypertension, and improve the quality of your life.
Q: Is this also the same as ‘personalized’ medicine?
GH: That is a new term. You will also hear ‘holistic’, ‘integrative’ and ‘natural’, and now it has moved towards ‘personalized’ with the advent of genetic testing. I can look at your genetics and customize your treatment plan, based on what your body is predisposed to do, based on your genetics.
Q: In this context, I hear a lot about Yoga and meditation, along with Mindfulness, wellness and health care, so how do Yoga and meditation fit into personalized medicine?
GH: We need a Webster’s dictionary to clearly understand what all these terms mean. Is Yoga meditation? No, but the two are often linked. Meditation can be a part of Yoga, but not all Yoga has meditation. Meditation is, of itself, something that is very healthy for our bodies. Exercise is something different, religion is something different, and I think that for every individual there is blending of all those different ideas and concepts.
Q: So do you think meditation can help in maintaining better health?
GH: I believe that infinitely, because there is science to show it. At the end of the day, I am a scientist, I am a physician, and I need to see some evidence. What excited me about meditation when I first started reading about it, were things like how it lowers blood pressure. I am one of those people who needs proof. There is abundant proof that meditation has a huge impact on health, and it is critical today more than ever because our lives have unraveled with technology, and with the pace of life and the stress that we induce in ourselves.
If we are going to do things that make us unhealthy, which we are more than willing to do, and have fun with it … “Give me that processed food,” “Give me those doughnuts,” “Give me that coffee full of sugar,” “Let me watch movies endlessly because I can stream them on Netflix.” We are willing to do things to unravel our health, so what are we willing to do to reconstruct it? I think meditation offers a wonderful tool to help combat some of that stress.
Q: How often should we meditate and for how long?
GH: Ask 10 different experts and you will get 10 different answers. From my perspective, I am just trying to get people to accept the concept, and put it in their lives. People like yourself, who have a very rich history in the field of meditation, may have a different answer. When I talk with your colleague, she tells me that dawn and dusk are the two best times, and it is good to meditate for at least 20 minutes, maybe more.
For my patients, I am trying to get them to meditate daily. Do I meditate every day? I am not going to lie – I wish I did. I miss a couple of days a week. But I tell my patients, “Meditate every day.” I don’t want to put up barriers so, “Morning, noon or night, just do it. If 8 minutes is all you can muster, that’s great.”
There’s a little book I often recommend to my patients called 8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich. I love this book because it is simple. It’s that ‘Keep it Simple, Stupid’ KISS principle of life. If I can encourage them to start, once they get their toe into the water and see how rewarding it is, they will want to dive in.
Q: Dr Richard Davidson, from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, talks about the 8-minute meditation helping in terms of chemical composition of the brain. So does a short 8-minute meditation help improve mood?
GH: Absolutely. There have been studies that measured those things. Here are the two interesting things I want my patients to understand:
You don’t have to be a yogi. You don’t have to meditate three hours a day for 10 years to get benefit. Research has shown that just 5 hours of meditation – 15 minutes a day for 20 days – produces benefit.
Everything you would want to improve in your brain has been demonstrated to shift in that direction with meditation, e.g. increase in brainderived Neurotropic Factor, increase in GABA levels, reduction in glutamate, hippocampal enlargement etc. So if you said, “I want to build the perfect brain that ages wonderfully,” meditation moves all those markers in the right direction.
That is why I get excited, because I have proof.
Q: We have done research at York Hospital showing significant improvement in telomere length of people practicing Heartfulness meditation. Telomeres are markers of aging or anti-aging.
GH: They are. For those who don’t know, telomeres are the end of your DNA. The analogy often used is of the little plastic tip at the end of your shoelace. They stop the DNA from unraveling, so telomere length is a sign of health and longevity.
Q: Anti-aging may probably be misunderstood by people to mean, “I want to become like a 20-year-old again.” Is that possible?
GH: No, that’s not going to happen. I often tell people, “There are certain things that are inevitable. As you grow older you are going to have less hair and less muscle, and while you can work on those things they will not be like they were when you were 22.” I joke with my patients about hormone replacement therapies: “I can’t make you 25 again.” We are going to age. I want to age, but can I do it with a lot of zest and vitality? That is the key. I want to be 80, but I want to still be on the golf course, not in a nursing home. I think meditation helps us age more gracefully and retain our capacity.
To be continued.
Interviewed by VICTOR KANNAN
June 29, 2020
May 31, 2020
May 31, 2020