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Ep. 78 – A personal superstition

In this season three finale of Straight Talk on Health, Dr. Chet Zelasko shares with us a superstition he has. He also gives some insight into why he does what he does. That and more on this edition of Straight Talk on Health

Welcome to Straight Talk on Health, I’m your host Dr. Chet Zelasko. Straight Talk on Health, is a joint production with WGVU in Grand Rapids MI. I examine the world of health. Nutrition. Exercise. Diet. Supplementation. If there’s something new, I look at the science behind them, and let you know whether it’s real or not. You can check out other things that I do on my website drchet.com and sign up for my free emails.

This is the last show of this season of Straight Talk on Health, I thought I would talk a little bit about me. Not so much that it's a fascinating story but just to give you some insight into my background and why I do what it is that I do. Let me start with a little bit of a superstition.

Every year, when I wake up on May 10th, I feel I have another year to do what it is that I do: teach people about health. Specifically, to teach in a way that is easier to understand than you might find in other podcasts or websites. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does regardless of what they might imply. Why not?

Our bodies are horribly complicated. I think it is hubris to think anyone has learned the secret of perfect health. The sheer numbers eliminate that possibility. Think about it. According to research published within the last year as I record this in 2024, the typical male has around 36 trillion cells, the typical woman has around 28 trillion cells and the typical child has 17 trillion cells. The researchers suggested that body size alone could explain the differences between genders.

Want more numbers? While there is no consensus, we have about 20-40 trillion microbes that live in our microbiome based on the latest estimates. How about one more number? We have about 20,000 genes in our DNA. Each one can produce a specific protein (we think) that makes up our proteome. These proteins range from hormones like insulin to catalysts for chemical reactions. There are about 5,000 proteins that are the most researched. But with about 20,000 genes, there may be at least 15,000 more genes that are not researched. That doesn’t count the post-translational modifications, modifications made to the proteins as it’s being made, and the total could get into the millions. One more thing? Genes can have multiple mutations which can change the quantity and type of protein they produce. Think of all the possible combinations. We are not even scratching the surface. What that realization has done for me is to help people find the way to eat, the way to exercise, the way to supplement their diet, for themselves. Like Curly told Mitch in the movie City Slickers, you have to find that one thing for you. You really do.

Back to the superstition. When I wake up that day, I feel I have another year to live. Why? My dad died on May 10, 1969. In case you’re wondering, I’m version 2 (my father was the first Chester John Zelasko), and it’s been 55 years since my father died as I record this. It makes no sense in the real world, especially for a guy who’s a scientist, but every May 10 is a milestone for me.

Did his death inspire me to find the secret to a long life? No. I just decided to have a different lifestyle than he did. I never got as heavy as he did. I quit smoking decades ago. I took to running and ran in numerous road races including 5 marathons. That didn’t prevent me from having a 90% blockage in my right descending coronary artery. One stent about 25 years ago and nothing since. We all have genetic baggage we carry and I had the worst set of IL-1 genes possible. Not a question of if but a question of when. I retooled my diet and while not perfect, I’ve been problem free since then.

What inspired me to go into the sciences rather than sport and coaching was the explanation of how a muscle contracted back in my undergrad kinesiology class. I simply wanted to know how the body worked, specifically related to exercise and obesity. Nutrition is a huge part of that so it was logical I needed to know as much about it as possible.

I’ve also survived a serious case of prostate cancer. Surgery and radiation saved my life for the past 10 years but like you’ve heard in numerous television and theatrical releases, everything comes with a price. Bladder stones were the first problem but I learned how to reduce the probability of stones forming everywhere including the kidney and gall bladder. A ureter that seems to be changing position occasionally has been another. Finally, the probability of colorectal cancer is greater so it’s regular colonoscopies and again, another tweak in my diet. But again, I’m alive.

What intrigues me at this time are the changes that occur with aging. I've lost a great deal of muscle mass, especially in my upper body. I've also lost some height. I am spending more time researching ways we can regain some of muscle mass and get fitter at every age/

There's a whole lot more but this podcast doesn't last a whole lot longer so let me give you one absolute that I've adopted: based on evidence from studies done where people live to 100, the single most important thing you can do to limit the problems of aging is to get to a normal body weight and maintain it. If you've been overweight most of your life as I have been, that can be a real challenge. And while the research on what's called blue zones is somewhat controversial, all we have are the observations of different researchers over the years. What seemed obvious to me as a professional observer is that people seemed to be a normal weight for their height. And to me, that is an absolute goal to work towards. It's not easy. And it's not going to happen overnight. But whether you're 20, 50, even 70, if it takes you five years to get there, you're still relatively young. And that means that when you do get to be 80, you'll be 80 instead of having died when you were 77. I think that's meaningful.

What’s one of the biggest mistakes people make? Trying to do things the “natural” way, whatever that means. What I think that means to a lot of people is to use some form of alternative treatment outside of conventional medicine. Whether that means using naturopaths, chiropractors, or other alternative treatments, In the 30 years I've been working with people, almost everyone who had a serious condition like cancer has died. The tragedy is that when they realized they should have undergone conventional treatment, it was too late.

Don't for a second believe that I think conventional treatment is all wonderful. It isn't and someday we'll look back chemotherapy or radiation and think “what the heck were we thinking”. This is how I look at it. Use the strongest conventional treatment that you can and then spend the rest of your life committing to a lifestyle that will secure your future. Because remember, the natural way is to eat a more plant-based diet, to exercise regularly, to manage stress, and all those other things that you should have been doing all along. That's the natural way. You can’t prevent everything, but you can put the odds in your favor.

Is there a lot more to me than that? Absolutely. This is the Cliff Notes version of who I am and why I do what I do. There are just so many things we do not understand about this body of ours, the questions I have will outlive my body. But in that time that I am around, I'm going to give you the best health information that I can based on the research and science and also with an opinion about whether it's real or just hype. Hopefully, you’ll find out some ways you can learn something that will make your body a little bit healthier. That’s it for this edition of STOH. Until next time, this is Dr. Chet Zelasko saying health is a choice. Choose wisely today and every day.
1. PNAS DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2303077120

Dr. Chet Zelasko is a scientist, speaker, and author. Dr. Chet has a Ph.D. and MA in Exercise Physiology and Health Education from Michigan State University and a BS in Physical Education from Canisius College. He’s certified by the American College of Sports Medicine as a Health and Fitness Specialist, belongs to the American Society of Nutrition, and has conducted research and been published in peer-reviewed journals. You can find him online at drchet.com.
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