January 21, 2009

Total Health

2009 1503 page18 capATRINA.

Can we ever forget the horrific images of the aftermath of one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit American shores? The thriving metropolis of New Orleans was reduced to a gutted city flooded  by broken levies and numberless shattered lives.
Romans 1:20 tells us that God uses the things that we can see to help us understand the things we cannot see. They are visual aids for teaching us important truths. This principle is illustrated in Proverbs 25:28: “Like a city that is broken down and without walls is a man whose spirit is without restraint.”1 Broken down—few inner resources. Without walls—defenseless. That’s us, without Christ.
We see in this illustration of a decimated city the helpless, needy condition of humankind, whose condition and character have been far removed from God’s original plan: “Man was originally endowed with noble powers and a well-balanced mind.”2 It is clear that in this fallen world hereditary tendencies, environmental influences, spiritual violence, and our own poor choices combine to create hurricane-force damage—damage that requires as complete a plan for renewal, recovery, and restoration as any storm-struck city.
God has sent help—in a hurry. That help comes in the form of His promises, His redeeming power, and His plan. Every day science is unfolding millennia-old biblical principles of wellness, showing the link between positive habits of thinking, living, and behaving that improve body, mind, and spirit. We are told that “true science and Inspiration are in perfect harmony.”3
Fortunately, we do not have to wait for double-blind trials to confidently adopt God’s plan for renewal, recovery, and restoration. The inspired writings of Ellen White clearly delineate amazing Bible principles designed to focus our attention on God’s healing plan. Science affirms what God’s revelations have revealed, and we have the privilege of being privy to both. Let’s take a look at some of the amazing parallels between the inspired counsel of Ellen White and scientific revelations that spotlight God’s healing truths.
Choice, Chance, or Circumstance—Designed for Growth
The ability of the brain to respond to new choices, learn, grow, and adapt is referred to as experience-dependent plasticity. As we make new decisions; follow new and positive lifestyle choices; think, perceive, and respond in new ways; changes take place in the structure, function, and even genetic expression of the brain.
2009 1503 page18This is not to say that there is never a place for various types of medical intervention or counseling. God has many ways to help His children, and we must respect those who utilize those choices and appreciate the ways God intervenes in lives.
But a loving God has designed the human brain—the seat of all action—for continual progress and growth, a truth that Inspiration has revealed and science is just beginning to
Inspiration Speaks: “Christ has given His Spirit as a divine power to overcome all hereditary and cultivated tendencies to evil, and to impress His own character upon His church.”4

Science Answers: “We are not prisoners of our genes or our environment. Poverty, alienation, drugs, hormonal imbalances, and depression don’t dictate failure. Wealth, acceptance, vegetables, and exercise don’t guarantee success. . . .
“Our own free will may be the strongest force directing the development of our brains, and therefore our lives. . . . The adult brain is both plastic and resilient and always eager to learn. Experiences, thoughts, actions, and emotions actually change the structure of our brains. By viewing the brain as a muscle that can be strengthened or weakened, we can exercise our ability to determine who we become. Indeed, once we understand how the brain develops, we can train our brains for health, vibrancy, and longevity” (John Ratey, neuropsychiatrist, Harvard University).5
“The human brain’s amazing plasticity enables it to continually rewire and learn—not just through academic study, but through experience, thought, action, and emotion. As with our muscles, we can strengthen our neural pathways with brain exercise. Or we can let them wither. The principle is the same: Use it or lose it! Although the brain’s flexibility may decrease with age, it remains plastic throughout life, restructuring itself according to what
it learns.”6
Change Takes Determination!
Christ said, “Without Me you can do nothing.”7 He alone can renew our hearts and create a desire to be conformed to His character and will. Once that happens, we can confidently expect to move forward—as we practice, practice, practice the principles of His Word.
Inspiration Speaks: “Character is not obtained by amassing wealth, or by gaining worldly honor. Character is not obtained by trying to have others fight the battle of life for us. It must be sought, worked for, fought for; and it requires a purpose, a will, a determination.”8
Science Answers: “It has become obvious that we can actually change our brains. By altering the external environment of our surroundings or the internal environment of our bodies, we can take better advantage of our strengths and amend our weaknesses. The possibilities for change are bounded only by our imagination, our willingness to assess our brains accurately through self-reflection, and our commitment to do some hard work.”9
Food for Thought
When it comes to food, the battle is not for the bulge—it’s for the brain. Nutrition affects mood, memory, learning, and behavior in a more profound way than we have realized. Positive daily choices make a big difference when it comes to “head” as well as “heart” health!

Inspiration Speaks: “Erroneous eating and drinking result in erroneous thinking and acting.”10

Science Answers: “Repeated poor food choices set fundamental patterns in the production of brain chemicals that regulate appetite and mood, so that you become a victim of mood swings, food cravings, poor sleep habits, and other emotional problems—because of poor eating habits” (Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.).11
Inspiration Speaks: “The mind also is seriously affected by what we eat and drink.”12
Science Answers: “The body of evidence linking diet with mental health is growing at a rapid pace. As well as its impact on feelings of mood and general well-being, the evidence demonstrates its contribution to the development, prevention, and management of specific mental health problems” (Andrew McCulloch, director, Mental Health Foundation, United Kingdom).13
Exercise: It Goes to Your Head
We read a lot about the beneficial effects of exercise on heart health, body weight, immune health, insulin and blood sugar levels, and lean muscle. Exercise also has a dramatic positive effect on mental processing, mood, stress, and memory. That’s a good reason to get off the couch and start counting steps!
Inspiration Speaks: “In order for the brain to have clearness and strength of thought, retentive memory, and mental power, the muscles of the body should have exercise a portion of each day in order to preserve and improve health.”14
Science Answers: “After a bout of aerobic exercise you are more sensitive to changes in the world around you, better able to make good decisions, and when you need to act, you’re quicker off the mark” (Philip Tomporowski, Ph.D., Department of Exercise Science, University of Georgia).15
Inspiration Speaks: “Exercise is important to digestion and to a healthy condition of body and mind. You need physical exercise. . . . Healthy, active exercise is what you need. This will invigorate the mind.”16
Science Answers: “Physical activity initiates modifications in molecular mechanisms . . . enhancing the plasticity [learning ability] of the brain” (Carl Cotman, M.D., American College of Sports Medicine).17
Lifestyle Matters
God’s plan for renewal involves renewing and strengthening every faculty, because He knows that the mind-body relationship is intimate, and that one affects the other to a great degree. The plan He has given shows how simple choices make a big difference in mental, physical, moral, and even spiritual health.
2009 1503 page18Inspiration Speaks: “If our physical habits are not right, our mental and moral powers cannot be strong; for great sympathy exists between the physical and the moral.”18
Science Answers: “Critics sometimes claim that a focus on ‘ordinary’ measures like exercise and diet is too simplistic to affect unordinary behavior. Not so. The brilliantly simple evidence from exciting new areas of physical and social science . . . shows how powerful such universal factors can be in affecting the brain-body system.”19
The Attitude Factor
Health is not all about broccoli—attitude may play an even more important role in wellness than any other factor. Practicing positive thinking and a pleasant attitude is another biblical mandate that yields powerful health benefits. Are you by nature a nay-saying “negatron”? You can change—with God’s help, and plenty of practice.
Inspiration Speaks: “Gratitude, rejoicing, benevolence, trust in God’s love and care—these are health’s greatest safeguard.”20
Science Answers: “Emotions, moods, and states such as compassion are trainable mental skills” (Richard Davidson, neuroscientist, University of Wisconsin).21
Inspiration Speaks: “That which brings sickness of body and mind to nearly all, is dissatisfied feelings and discontented repinings.”22 “It is a positive duty to resist melancholy discontented thoughts and feelings—as much a duty as it is to pray.”23
Science Answers: “In the aftermath of a traumatic event, you tend to think more about it, and the more you think about it, the more likely you are to release further stress hormones, and the more likely they are to act to make the memory of that event even stronger” (Roger Pitman, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School).24
Rebuilding a broken city requires a plan; so does rebuilding a broken brain, a broken character, a broken life. God has given us that plan, along with His power and His promise of victory. We see in the few examples of the partnership of true science and inspiration more than just a snapshot of facts. We see a picture of a loving Savior who knows how to redeem and restore every human being—whatever their background, genetic leanings, or personal history.

Long-term success is achieved by working hard and working smart. The power and the plan both come from God—and He will strengthen you to do your part. 

1Weymouth English Bible.
2Ellen G. White, Steps to Christ, p. 17.
3White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 4, p. 584.
4White, The Faith I Live By, p. 55.
5Ratey, J., User’s Guide to the Brain (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books, 2002), p. 17.
6Ibid., pp. 35, 36.
7John 15:5, New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
8The Advent Review and Sabbath Herald, Dec. 21, 1886.
9Ratey, J., op. cit., p. 356.
10White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, p. 160.
11Somer, E., Food and Mood (New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt Reference Books, 1995), p. 17.
12White, Counsels on Diet and Foods, p. 133.
13Andrew McCulloch, director, Mental Health Foundation, UK, Feeding Minds, summary, p. 6.
14White, The Health Reformer, May 1, 1873.
15“Effects of Acute Bouts of Exercise on Cognition,” Tomporowski, P., Acta Psychologica; 112(3):297-324.
16White, Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2,
p. 413.
17“Exercise Enhances and Protects Brain Function,” Cotman, C., Exerc Sport Sci Rev, 2002; 30(2):75-79, p. 75.
18White, Temperance, p. 13.
19Ratey, J., op. cit., p. 357.
20White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 281.
21Begley, S., “How the Brain Rewires Itself.” Quote by Richard Davidson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Time, Jan. 29, 2007, p. 79.
22White, Counsels on Health, pp. 631, 632.
23White, The Ministry of Healing, p. 251.
24Lemonick, M., “The Flavor of Memories.” Quote by Roger Pitman, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. Time, June 29, 2007, p. 104.

Vicki Griffin, M.P.A. M.A.C.N., is director of health ministries for the Michigan Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.