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Another example: A chronically stressed brain orders release of hormones and other chemicals that tamp down the immune system so it can't fight off disease or speed healing, says Dr. Esther Sternberg of the National Institute of Mental Health. Too much stress even ages us faster. But regular exercise, a healthy diet and stress-relieving techniques such as meditation or yoga have been shown in scientific studies to help battle stress' bad effects.
That doesn't mean replacing medication or other treatment, Sternberg cautions.
"We're saying do it together with the space-age advances in medicine," she says. "That will allow your body to receive that treatment and respond optimally to that treatment, which otherwise it might not."
That's Cutbill's hope. A rare autoimmune disease had ravaged her joints, hindering her ability to exercise. She also suffered a drug side effect -- hearing loss -- while treating it, a reaction that made her balk at anti-cholesterol pills.
With the coach's help, Cutbill started gentle yoga and weight training, building up to heart-healthier exercises. When her joints hurt, she heads for acupuncture. Cutbill has switched to heart-healthy olive oil; takes omega-3 fatty acids and some other heart-targeting nutrients that her cardiologist agreed couldn't hurt; sneaks fiber into meals; and learned that protein snacks level her blood sugar so she doesn't crave high-fat sweets.
She's not there yet -- a January blood test showed her cholesterol nudging up a bit. Tests can fluctuate, so doctors said to give the lifestyle another six weeks. If she ultimately needs medication, Cutbill says her effort at least will give her the lowest possible dose.
"You need people who can keep the whole picture in mind of all of your conditions and be able to guide you," she says.
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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