Marinating in Gratitude

Feeling good is good for you. More specifically, feeling good emotionally & spiritually is beneficial to your mental AND physical health. While this may seem straightforward, there is a gap between knowing this truth, and being able to actually get there. Right? Without elaborating, it can sound suspiciously like telling someone who is depressed to smile. I assure you I would never say that! One thing that makes a measurable difference to health – that is possible no matter what your current circumstance – is having an active, authentic gratitude practice.

As we approach Thanksgiving here in Canada; and as we celebrate the arrival of our little one in my family; I thought I’d share some new research findings on the health benefits of gratitude. Of course, I’d also like to offer some concrete suggestions for how to incorporate more gratitude into your life.

How can we “marinate in gratitude” more often – and why would we want to?

gratitude-heartWell, both physically and emotionally, “a grateful heart is a healthy heart”. Practicing gratitude is associated with increased well-being, less fatigue, improved sleep, decreased inflammation, and fewer symptoms of stress.

Recent studies to add to the evidence:

Managing Workplace Stress, Depression

Taking stock of thankful events reduces stress and depressive symptoms. In this 2015 study, published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, researchers looked at stress and depressive symptoms in health care workers at 5 hospitals. The participants were divided into 3 groups. The gratitude group wrote down something they were thankful for in their work twice a week, the hassle group wrote down hassles, and the control group did not note hassles or good things. Assessing participants’ mental health and stress at the end of the four week study, researchers concluded that a gratitude practice was an effective intervention for managing stress and depression in health care workers.

Heart Health, Inflammation, Fatigue, Sleep, Mood

Another interesting 2015 study found that practicing gratitude – in the form of writing down gratitudes most days for 8 weeks – improved health outcomes in people with stage B heart failure. Not only did a gratitude practice result in better mood, better sleep and better energy, but it led to a measurable decrease in inflammatory markers associated with heart disease progression. And all from an intervention that is free and has no negative side effects!

Gratitude Practices

Writing

gratitude journal paperMany people choose to write down one to three things they are grateful for from their day. Some days it may be that only the snuggles you had with your cat move you to true gratitude. And, that is ok. Other days, you may find your gratitude expands to include helpful strangers and supportive friends, a moment of noticing sunlight filtering through the leaves, or even access to clean drinking water. The important thing is that it is something you are authentically moved by, and feel thankful for. Let yourself feel that. You may choose to start or end your day with this exercise. If you know that you are unlikely to keep it up without encouragement, why not take it to social media, and post your gratitude(s) each day?

Out Loud: Sharing with Loved Ones

1) In bed: Share 3 gratitudes from your day with your partner before you go to sleep. What a nice way to shift into a better headspace at the end of a stressful day! And what a great way to support each other in this health-promoting practice.

2) Over dinner: This is a great way to connect with kids and create a simple family ritual. Some people will frame it as “best thing that happened to you today”, which is more concrete for younger kids. No matter how you label it, going around the table and sharing something positive from your day can be a great way of shifting attention to the good things, and celebrating that. Some days it might open up a conversation about something challenging that is happening, too, and this is also important.

Read more about gratitude’s gifts here.

Gratitude’s Gifts

Gratitude’s gifts are several. It gifts us with a moment or few of heart-uplifting, thankful, good feelings. Psychological studies find that practicing gratitude enhances well-being. If we share that gratitude with another, it makes us feel (measurably!) even better. As well, hearing someone express their gratitude for you is delightfully affirming.

With a nod to the arrival of Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, it feels timely to share inspiring research findings on gratitude and well-being.

Practicing gratitude is good for your mood.


There are many books on the subjects of gratitude, thankfulness and wellbeing, and there is a whole field of psychology – Positive Psychology – studying this sort of thing. Cool, right? Think yourself into happiness. Easy? Sort of.

Now, don’t swallow the shaming, blaming kool-aide, please. Whenever I talk about this kind of research, in the realm of “thinking positive thoughts is good for you”, I mean AUTHENTIC positive thoughts. Lying to yourself is never good for you. Never. There is even research on that, in women with breast cancer. Realistic thoughts, even if they are negative, are associated with a better prognosis.

I learned the authentic thoughts lesson well some years back, when I was living in a leaky, mouldy, basement apartment, going through a breakup, and broke. Truly, those things all suck (yes, in a first world problems kind of way). I couldn’t summon gratitude for the fact that I had shelter, for instance, though I dutifully tried to be more “positive”. But I hated that apartment. And the mould was making me sick, and the darkness wasn’t helping me heal my heart. In that case, I COULD be, and WAS grateful for the unending support of my family, whose faith in me buoyed me when I didn’t have that faith in myself, and who were solidly there for me when I needed them. This was authentic for me at the time. And you know, changing my thoughts and – with great mental discipline – shifting to more positive thoughts, really helped me get out of that apartment and out of that hard phase in my life. Practicing gratitude was an important part of this process.

In honour of the true spirit of Thanksgiving, of gratitude for the gifts in our lives, I invite you to make space for gratitude more often. What would happen if you shifted from focusing on the daily annoyances, to daily gratitude? This study found that a gratitude intervention measurably improved mood for study participants, as well as improving their sleep. Cool, right? Taking a moment to find something you are authentically grateful for, be it the scattered autumn beauty of coloured leaves on the pavement, or the huge support a friend provides, or the delightful curiosity of your child, taking a moment to bathe in that feeling will make you happier, and it may help you sleep. Isn’t that something to be grateful for? 🙂

This thanksgiving, I hope you will be inspired to intentionally practice gratitude. Write a letter to someone far away, share your gratitude around the table, keep a gratitude journal, or simply be present to gratitude.

I invite you to share your approach and your results over on my Facebook page. May we inspire one another with our stories.

PS: Here is a great short video on the power of sharing your gratitude, from the folks at SoulPancake.

Pregnancy Tonic Tea: nettle & raspberry edition

 

Red Raspberry & Nettle Pregnancy Tonic Tea

Red Raspberry & Nettle Pregnancy Tonic Tea

Starting at 20 weeks or so:

  • Place ¼ cup (8 g) dried red raspberry leaf (Rubus idaeus) and 1 cup (8-9 g) dried nettle leaf (Urtica dioica) in a large French press (eg Bodum) or sturdy jar. Add (~1 – 1.5 L) boiling water.
  • Let steep 4 hours or up to overnight.
  • Strain and enjoy at room temp or chilled.
  • Drink within 24-36 hours. So, 3-4 cups daily.

For extra calming and nerve nourishment: consider adding 1-2 tbsp of oatstraw (Avena sativa).

For extra digestive support (especially for gas and bloating), consider adding 1 tsp fennel seeds.
 
Benefits: see Red Raspberry Monograph for the specifics of this wonderful herbal ally in pregnancy. Nettle is another highly nutritive herb supporting a healthy gestation. Additionally, it is a natural anti-histamine, and can help with allergies. 

If your period is kicking your ass, kick back

No More Painful Periods

So, it turns out that menstruating doesn’t have to hurt. Is this hard to imagine?

In this instalment of the Natural Medicine for Painful Periods series, I share some stats and underlying causes, and present evidence for another way to minimize period pain, naturally. In other words, If your period kicks your ass every month, kick back!
 
Dysmenorrhea – difficult/painful menstruation – affects more than half of all menstruating women (estimates range from 45-95%). 7-15% of women experience debilitating to incapacitating dysmenorrhea monthly. Symptoms commonly include painful uterine cramps, pelvic heaviness, aching, and/or uterine spasms, and may be accompanied by low back pain or pain down the backs of the thighs. The pain may begin with the start of menstrual flow, or a couple days before. Diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches and migraines can also occur as part of dysmenorrhea. What a party, every month!
 
Treat the cause
Endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, adenomyosis, IUD use, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel diseases (IBDs), and interstitial cystitis (IC) can all cause dysmenorrhea. If your symptoms are related to an underlying condition such as these, it is called Secondary Dysmenorrhea. In order to truly resolve your painful periods, a naturopathic physician will not only address your immediate discomfort but will also work with you to uncover and address the cause(s).
 
On the other hand, primary dysmenorrhea refers to painful periods without any of the above conditions. Note that primary dysmenorrhea may still be aggravated by food allergies or sensitivities, which will also be addressed in treatment. 
 

Tip #2 in Natural Medicine for Painful Periods:


living room dance party cat on couchMove your body. Regularly. Have you noticed that this advice shows up for the prevention or treatment of virtually every chronic condition? Regular aerobic exercise (the sort that gets your heart rate up) decreases stagnation of liver qi in the pelvis. And stagnant qi is a major cause of dysmenorrhea according to the Traditional Chinese Medicine paradigm. Of course, there are studies to back this up in western science terms.  Regular yoga practice, and specific yoga poses have both been studied and found to reduce pain during menstruation. Yoga-on-the-Mountain-You know, given that yoga and other forms of movement also improve mood, and oh, decrease your risk of heart disease and cancer, the top two causes of death, I really can’t see why you wouldn’t try it. Move your body, please. If you don’t feel comfortable going to a gym or studio, and you can’t imagine doing yoga as instructed in a youtube video, start with a daily 3 song dance party in your living room and build from there. Or take up hula hooping. Or volunteer to walk a dog. Move. Kick back.

If PMS has you down, see my 10 Tips for a Happy Menstrual Cycle.

For more, personalized, strategies to ease your monthly cycle (including energy medicine, herbal medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture and therapeutic nutrition),contact Mahalia for an appointment. 

PMS Prevention Plan: 10 Tips For a Happy Menstrual Cycle

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND


Umm, happy? Isn’t that taking things a bit far? No, no it is entirely possible and reasonable. Read on. Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) is not inevitable or unavoidable. PMS is common, but it is not “normal”.
 
Did you know that PMS can include over 100-300 different symptoms? While mood changes like anxiety, depression, irritability and lability (moodiness) are the most recognized, other common symptoms include breast pain or swelling, bloating, bowel changes (e.g. constipation, diarrhea), insomnia, headaches, migraines, food cravings, acne, back pain, fluid retention in the legs, and fatigue. For some people, PMS takes the form of increased clumsiness and brain fog. For others, it means less vocal range (an issue if you are a professional vocalist!), or even seizures. Finally, many women notice that their immunity is decreased at this time of the month. It is a time when cold sores or genital herpes might erupt, when asthma symptoms may flare, or when a yeast infection could make itself known. It is considered PMS if the symptoms occur in a cyclical pattern, related to the menstrual cycle, over several months. Symptoms may begin at ovulation (around day 14), or 1-2 days before the period begins.
 
The majority of women will experience PMS symptoms at some point in their lives.
 
So, shouldn’t we all know how to stay healthy, happy and stable in the face of Premenstrual Syndrome?  

Here are my Top 10 Tips for PMS Prevention:

 

  1. Nourish yourself with food. Eat lots of vegetables, eat home-made, eat clean protein. Eat organic whenever possible (in this case because xenoestrogens in pesticides impact your hormone balance). Remember that organic junk food is still junk food. Enjoy your treats.

Careful with caffeine. Most of us have figured out the therapeutic power of good chocolate, and I won’t be the one to take this away, but caffeine does make breast tenderness worse, and it can destabilize mood and worsen digestive symptoms. Consider cutting down on coffee.

  1. Cut the sugar. Refined sugar and processed foods aggravate pain and mood issues, even though they seem like a good idea in the moment. (Except a bit of good, dark chocolate).

 

  1. Move your body. Regular movement of any kind is effective, but yoga stands out in its efficacy in the clinical trials.

 

  1. Increase target micronutrients with supplementation:
  • B6: especially helpful for mood symptoms, B6 is essential for the metabolism of estrogen. Take it as part of a good-quality B complex.
  • Cal-Mag: Both calcium and magnesium are proven effective for managing premenstrual symptoms, from fatigue to depression to cramps. Consider supplementing with one or both.
  • Fish Oil (especially EPA): while more researched for other health concerns, fish oil is known to be effective for mood balance, and for shifting physiology to decrease inflammation. Thus, it is a good choice for certain types of PMS.

 
5. Work with an herbal ally or few

  • Herbs to consider for PMS include: St John’s Wort, Vitex agnus-castus, gingko, black cohosh, kava, motherwort, skullcap, passionflower. The specific herbs best for you will depend on your particular symptoms. Some people use combination formulas, while others see great results with only one or two herbs. Ask me for a personalized herbal prescription.

 

  1. Regulate your sleep schedule. Women with a regular sleep routine have more stable hormone levels than those whose sleep patterns are all over the place. Go to bed at the same time every night. For maximum benefit, go to sleep well before midnight, and sleep in total darkness (see melatonin, below).

 

  1. Increase your melatonin. You know how it feels like your hormones are crazy when you have PMS? Well, in fact the only hormonal difference scientists have found between women with severe PMS and controls is melatonin levels. That’s right, no estrogen excess or deficiency, no progesterone excess or deficiency. The other hormone issues are believed to stem from changes in hormone receptor sensitivity. But, this is still theory. In the meantime, you can increase your melatonin naturally:
  1. Sleep in complete darkness (blackout curtains, an eye mask if light is unavoidable)
  2. Start sleeping sooner. Melatonin production is higher before midnight.
  3. Ensure you give your body the building blocks. Pumpkin seed is a great source of tryptophan, the amino acid precursor to serotonin and melatonin. The reaction requires B6 (see above).
  4. Alternate nostril breathing can stimulate the pineal gland to increase melatonin production (and generally promotes calm when done before sleep).
  5. If you have been diagnosed with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), consider supplementing with melatonin. Start with 3 mg per day before bed. And, contact me for more (nonprescription) options.

 

  1. Honor the wisdom within you. If you are exhausted and feel irritated by anyone talking to you, maybe this is the time of the month to carve out a couple hours to curl up with a novel, or journal, rather than pushing yourself to maintain your usual pace. For those who experience intense shifts in mood, think of PMS as the time when the tide is out, and all the feelings and nagging thoughts that you can push down (under the water) the rest of the month are exposed. Sometimes PMS emotionality is just PMS, but often there are important nuggets of truth buried in the sad or mad or irritable state. Look for these truths and give them space at other times in the month. If the nagging thought is “this (job/relationship/etc.) doesn’t feel right”, then make space to explore that. Make changes. As things in your life shift in response to you listening to your inner voice, watch your PMS symptoms abate.

 

  1. Cultivate a happy microbial community:
  • Eat fermented or cultured foods regularly (e.g. unpasteurized sauerkraut, kimchi, kosher-style dill pickles).
  • Consider reseeding your flora with a quality probiotic supplement, especially if you have taken antibiotics.
  • (Good gut flora are associated with better mood, and good gut flora are also important for hormone balance)

 

  1. As always, I highly encourage you to seek out personalized naturopathic care to help map out the big picture, and tunnel down to the right supports for you. Constitutional homeopathy, acupuncture, flower essences, therapeutic nutrition and custom formulated herbal medicines can all offer incredible healing & resolution for PMS symptoms. With professional guidance and the advantage of an outside eye, meet your health goals faster, with less time lost to the contradictory information offered by Dr Google.

Contact me for information on becoming a client/patient.

Can Stress Be Healing? Resiliency, Body Wisdom, and Oxytocin

by Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Yes, I have come to believe that stress can be healing. Your body knows what to do. Even in the midst of true health crisis, we retain the ability heal. The wisdom within our bodies, and our innate capacity to remain in and return to balanced health, is incredible. It deserves highlighting, and celebrating.

 

Have you ever read an article, or been to a lecture about stress and health, and left feeling even more stressed afterwards, as the consequences of stress on your body sound so dire? Yeah. I have given those lectures. It turns out that there was a crucial missing piece in the oft-cited “facts” of stress increasing risk of everything from ulcers to heart attacks, high blood pressure to depression, hives to infertility. I would like to share some of this missing information today, and leave you with an empowering and uplifting message about resilience and connection in response to stress.

 

Oxytocin the Connector

Oxytocin is famous as the hormone of bonding, as it is released in high concentrations when people are breast-feeding. It is also released by the mere presence of a baby, whether you are breast-feeding or not, as well as with hugging, and with regular massage.

Oxytocin is a POSITIVE STRESS HORMONE. It counteracts the effects of cortisol in some incredible ways. Firstly, it is released during the stress response. Oxytocin is so calming, and so important for emotional regulation, that it is being investigated as a treatment for people with difficulty in emotional regulation, such as in borderline personality disorder. It helps us feel more emotionally stable, and eases anxiety. As well, oxytocin is a hormone of connection. It actually encourages us to reach out and ask for help, or reach out and connect with others in our situation.

 

There is body wisdom, building in a way to help us through stress with social support. Importantly, oxytocin is released when you both give and receive support. According to health psychologist and researcher, Dr Kelly McGonigal, people who help others in their community are less likely to die, given the same high amount of stress and its known negative health effects, than people who don’t reach out to others.

 

Oxytocin Heals a Broken Heart

Oxytocin is more than just a feel-good intimacy hormone. It also directly counteracts some of the inflammatory damage associated with stress. It is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and it helps keep our blood vessels relaxed (and our blood pressure normal). It has been shown to have a healing effect on atherosclerotic arteries, and it stimulates stem cells to produce new heart muscle cells, mitigating any heart-related stress effects. Did you catch that? Oxytocin actually helps regenerate damaged heart cells. Wow. How amazing is that? Just when you need it, when you are in the midst of a physiological stress response with its corresponding increased heart rate and increased pressure on the vascular system, there is the wisdom of the body giving you the protection you require.

 

In her June 2013 TEDx talk, Dr Kelly McGonigal puts this way: “Your body has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection”

 

Isn’t that beautiful?

 

Our bodies truly do have the capacity to heal themselves.

 

Immune-Boosting Oxytocin

 

Another area where oxytocin plays a role is in the immune system: Numerous studies have found that wounds take longer to heal in the presence of psychological stress – be it academic pressure as a university student, or the demands of being a caretaker for someone with Alzheimer’s disease. The reason for this is that cortisol selectively suppresses the immune system. In lab studies, anti-inflammatory oxytocin improves wound healing, and decreases ulceration in colitis. Again, here is our innate body wisdom, stepping in to take care of us when we need it.

 

We are so supported.

 

No matter what is happening in your life right now, remember that you are being taken care of by your very physiology. And to help maintain good health, choose some fun ways to boost your oxytocin production. See the list below for ideas.

 

Top 10 Ways to Increase Your Oxytocin, Naturally:

1)    Listen to soothing music.

2)    Sing with others

3)    Dance with others

4)    Cuddle, hug, hold a baby

5)    Have sex with yourself and/or others

6)    Treat yourself to some therapeutic massage or shiatsu

7)    Gaze into a loved one’s eyes

8)    Connect with a friend

9)    Participate in a club, charity, or community group

10) Enjoy a delicious & leisurely meal

 

References

 

Carter, CS & Porges SW.The biochemistry of love: an oxytocin hypothesis.

EMBO reports. 2013; 14(1): 12-16

 

Çetinel et al. Oxytocin treatment alleviates stress-aggravated colitis by a

receptor-dependent mechanism. Regulatory Peptides. 2010; 160: 146152

 

Detillion C.E. et al. Social facilitation of wound healing. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004; 29: 1004–1011

 

Ditzen et al. Effects of different kinds of couple interaction on cortisol and heart rate responses to stress in women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007; 32: 565574

 

Ebrecht et al. Perceived stress and cortisol levels predict speed of wound healing in healthy male adults. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2004; 29: 798–809

 

Gamer, M. and Buchel, C. Oxytocin specifically enhances valence-dependent parasympathetic responses.  Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2012; 37: 87—93

 

Grewen K and Light K. Plasma oxytocin is related to lower cardiovascular and

sympathetic reactivity to stress. Biol Psychol. 2011 July; 87(3): 340–349

 

Gutkowska, J. and Jankowski, M. Oxytocin Revisited: Its Role in Cardiovascular Regulation. Journal of Neuroendocrinology. 2012; 24: 599–608

 

IsHak et al. Oxytocin role in enhancing well-being: A literature review. Journal of Affective Disorders 2011; 130: 19

 

Lee et al. Oxytocin: The great facilitator of life. Progress in Neurobiology. 2009; 88: 127–151

 

Light et al. More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology. 2005; 69: 5–21

 

McGonigal, K. How to make stress your friend. TED Talk, TED Global, June 2013. Accessed online, Sept 2013 at http://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend.html

 

Moghimian, N. et al. The effect of acute stress exposure on ischemia and reperfusion injury in rat heart: Role of oxytocin. Stress. July 2012; 15(4): 385–392

 

Nilson, U. Soothing music can increase oxytocin levels during bed rest after open-heart surgery: a randomised control trial. Journal of Clinical Nursing. 2009; 18: 2153–2161.

 

Norman et al. Oxytocin increases autonomic cardiac control: Moderation by loneliness. Biological Psychology. 2011; 86: 174–180

 

Quirin M. et al. Oxytocin buffers cortisol responses to stress in individuals with impaired emotion regulation abilities. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011; 36: 898—904

 

Simeon et al. Oxytocin administration attenuates stress reactivity in borderline personality disorder: A pilot study. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011; 36:s 1418—1421

 

Smith, A.S.  and Wang, Z. Salubrious effects of oxytocin on social stress-induced deficits. Horm Behav. 2012 March; 61(3): 320–330

 

Szeto et al. Oxytocin attenuates NADPH-dependent superoxide activity and IL-6 secretion in macrophages and vascular cells. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2008; 295: E1495–E1501

 

Tops et al. Cortisol-induced increases of plasma oxytocin levels predict decreased immediate free recall of unpleasant words. Frontiers in Psychiatry. May 2012; 3(43): 1-5

What is St John’s Wort good for?

St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Mahalia Freed, ND

Hypericum

For many years, St John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been a top selling plant in the marketplace for depression. Long an important herb in European medicine, settlers brought it with them to North America and Australia, and it can now be found in sunny, dry fields around the world. It is well studied, and meta-analysis finds the herb more effective than SSRIs or placebo in treating mild-to-moderate depression. Hypericum can be an excellent herb for depression, and I regularly incorporate it in my treatment plans for people seeking mood support. But, look at the incomplete list of causes of depression, above. St John’s Wort (or St Joan’s Wort, as herbalist Susun Weed calls it) is not for all depressions. It is for healing.

Viewing at St John’s Wort as an antidepressant limits the power of the herb to what can be understood from an allopathic linear paradigm. An allopathic paradigm question is, what herb can act as an SSRI? But, herbs are not substitutes for drugs. Plants are living medicines, crossing body systems to heal people, rather than addressing diagnoses. St John’s Wort is no exception, and looking at the history of its use along with modern phytotherapeutic trials reveals the breadth of its role in healing.

This herb has long been used in topical applications for wound healing, and it is great for this. Think of it for scrapes, and think of it for healing the perineum post-partum. It is also antiviral against herpes, shingles, and even against HIV. It is famous in homeopathic  form for its efficacy in addressing nerve pain, whether from dental surgery or due to a skeletal issue like disc compression. Hypericum has been studied for PMS, and found more effective than placebo for physical and behavioral PMS symptoms. In clinical trial, it is also effective for menopausal symptoms in combination with Black Cohosh (another misunderstood herb!).

So, what is St John’s Wort for?
For healing.

Who is St John’s Wort for?

Since herbs treat people, this is a question with a juicier answer. Hypericum is for someone with Type A blood more than Type O blood. For someone who needs more sunshine (eg depression in winter), for frayed nerves. For a “weak” stomach, for normalizing stomach acid whether too high or too low, for liver support, for disinfecting and healing wounds (including deep wounds), for nerve damage, for third chakra issues, for emotions influencing the bladder, for radiation burns.

Who Shouldn’t Take St John’s Wort?

Anyone taking any prescription medication, including oral contraceptives, should consult with their herbalist or naturopathic doctor. St John’s Wort is metabolized through the liver and interferes with/decreases the effectiveness of many drugs. If taken at the same time as oral contraceptives, St. John’s Wort can diminish their effectiveness. i.e., this could – and does – lead to an unexpected pregnancy. So please ask your herbally-trained health care provider!

Additional Effects (Cautions):

Cows who graze excessively on Hypericum are known to get sunburns. This is almost never seen in people, as we do not consume it as a dietary staple.

Conversely, St John’s Wort oil is in fact an excellent sunscreen when applied topically (Per Susun Weed).

Selected Sources:

·      Bruton-Seal, Julie and Seal, Matthew. Backyard Medicine: Harvest & Make Your Own Herbal Remedies. New York, NY: SkyHorse Publishing. 2009.
·      Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 2004.
·      Weed, Susun. Lecture at the Association of Perinatal Naturopathic Doctors annual conference. Toronto: Oct. 13, 2012.
·      Wood, Matthew. Earthwise Herbal. A Complete Guide to Old World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2008.
·      Wood, Matthew. Herbal First Aide. Accessed online at http://www.woodherbs.com/Indispensable.html. July 7, 2013.

Why does (chronic) stress make us sick?

Researchers at the National Centre for Complementary & Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) at the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States have found that chronic psychological stress impacts our molecular immune system response, increasing likelihood of developing cold symptoms.

 

More stress means more glucocorticoids, like cortisol, the classic stress hormone. Cortisol’s role is to decrease inflammation in short bursts, to allow us to escape the theoretical physical stressor. However with longer term psychological stress, cortisol stays elevated. Our system adapts by becoming less responsive to the stress hormones (this is called glucocorticoid receptor resistance in the study). Researchers have now discovered that the less responsive someone is to glucocorticoids (ie, the more glucocorticoid receptor resistance they have), the more inflammatory molecules they produce in response to a common cold virus, and thus the more likely they are to have symptoms of this cold.

 

Bottom line: we were right. High stress or burning the candle at both ends can make you sick.

 

Flower Essences: A Powerful Healing Tool in Naturopathic Practice

By Mahalia Freed, ND

Naturopathic Doctor, BodyTalk Practitioner, Writer, Speaker, Educator, Kale Crusader

St John’s Wort in bloom

Flower essences are energetic, or informational, remedies made from the flowers of plants.  They are gentle and deep acting, and are most commonly used to support emotional health and personal growth. One familiar example is Rescue Remedy, a combination of flower essences (from the Bach line) popular for anxiety and shock. Many people carry Rescue Remedy in their bag, finding it effective emotional first aid for calming down enough to drive home after a fender-bender, facing their ex’s divorce lawyer without breaking down, getting through a funeral.

In my practice I use flower essences to support heart healing, move through grief or trauma, overcome tobacco addiction, develop healthy body image, allow for true personal expression, help someone find their life path, and so much more. The subtle, powerful healing of a correctly prescribed flower essence is magical to witness, and gratifying to experience.

These days, I often choose a flower essence as part of someone’s naturopathic treatment plan. It may complement a homeopathic, or fill in the gap between counseling regarding relationship patterns and a custom tincture for a lung infection.

Case example:

“Sally”, a perimenopausal woman in her 50s who came to me for help resolving her hot flashes, digestive discomfort (bloating) and fatigue. When Sally first came to see me, she was depressed, but she had felt like that for so long, it had started to feel like all there was. As is common for people who are used to doing everything themselves rather than trusting others to help, she was not very expressive or open with me at first. We started out by improving her diet, increasing exercise, and ensuring that all her particular nutrient needs were met. For Sally, this meant more leafy green vegetables, less packaged food, and more variety in grains. She decided to begin yoga classes, and start walking more regularly. I prescribed a couple foundational supplements for energy and mood, and custom-formulated a botanical tincture to help decrease her heavy menstrual bleeding and eliminate hot flashes. I also suggested a journaling exercise. She came back and reported that she felt slightly more energy, as well as no more hot flashes, and no more heavy menstrual bleeding. Progress, right? Great, but her mood was still very “up and down”, and in my office she seemed down even while positive about the changes thus far. Next step: botanical formula for mood. Follow-up: helped a bit, but still “up and down”. Meanwhile, her periods continued to improve, and her bloating resolved once we identified and eliminated her particular food sensitivity.

When things are getting better on a physical level, but seem “stuck” on an emotional

Larch branch

level, a flower remedy can help. In Sally’s case, we started with Larch, a Bach essence for self-confidence and speaking your truth, often indicated for women with thyroid concerns as part of their picture. After one month on twice daily Larch drops, the effect was clear: Sally shared more with me than she ever had previously – confidence in speaking your truth. Amazing progress! We continued to incorporate flower essences into the treatment plan over the next 6 months, with consistent healing progress. Recent update: Sally and I are now working on the next level of her health. That is, with the help of the flower essences and the development of trust in our relationship, she is able to access deeper information from within herself regarding her true purpose. Further, Sally is now able to contemplate the changes needed to bring her current life into alignment with her passions and sense of what she meant to be doing. As she integrates this information and begins to make changes, I have seen her physical health concerns shift and lift even further. Witnessing her healing and that of many other clients affirms for me that personal growth is part of health. It is so clear that supporting personal growth must be part of truly holistic care, and flower essences are an ideal tool with which to provide this support.

Flower Essence Q&A

Q: How do flower essences work?

A: There is now solid science – from Einstein on forward – demonstrating that matter is energy. We know that the energy contained in a liquid can be used to influence human energy fields to help resolve ailments. This is what flower essence liquids do. When you take flower essences, the energy they contain affects your energy field, which in turn may shift your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state.

Q: Is this the same as essential oils?

A: No. Essential oils contain concentrated biochemical components of the plants from which they are extracted, while flower essences are closer to homeopathic remedies in nature, in that they are energetic imprints of their source.

Q: How do you make a flower essence?

A: A flower essence is made by infusing the blossoms of a particular plant, bush, or tree in water in the sun. The liquid is then diluted and “potentized” in a method similar to the preparation of homeopathic remedies, and preserved with brandy (or a nonalcoholic substance, if need be). The result is a highly diluted, “potentized” substance that embodies the energetic patterns of the flower from which it is made.

Q: Is there scientific evidence that flower essences are effective?

A: Yes, there is both clinical and double blind placebo-controlled study evidence that shows clear efficacy of flower essences. For example, this study http://www.flowersociety.org/cram2.html, titled, “Flower essences reduce stress reaction to intense environmental stimulus” found that two flower essence combos outperformed placebo in calming specific areas of the brain that respond to stress.

Q: How do I choose which essence or essences are right for me?

A: There are many flower essence repertories and guidebooks available. My favorite one is here: http://www.fesflowers.com/fes_books.htm#rep

You can choose remedies for yourself, based on the particular emotional state you are working with. In some cases, this can be amazingly effective. However, I strongly suggest working with a practitioner in choosing essences. Prescribing accurately requires a certain amount of objectivity that most of us cannot muster about ourselves. Despite my familiarity with the flower essences, and my training, I do not prescribe to myself, as I know I do not have the best perspective from which to do so.

Creating Lasting Change, from the Inside, Out

by Dr. Mahalia Freed, ND

People come in to consult with me because they want something to be different. They want to be able to sleep, they want to have a baby, they want enough energy to enjoy their downtime, they are tired of struggling with depression, they are tired of picking up every bug during cold & flu season. While the details of treatment are unique for each person, every healing journey involves the integration of new lifestyle habits and/or ways of thinking. This means more than simply trying something new and finding that it makes you feel good, but truly integrating a change so that things ARE different from now on. This means going beyond the latest wonder-supplement for immunity or depression. Instead, we go within, to discover what it is that has thrown off your body’s natural balance in the first place.

What formula can we follow to get you there?

I can’t count how many times I have seen variations of the following scenario: I am working with someone and we come up with a plan, eg. work out 4 days a week. At their follow-up, they have been to the gym once, and then … it fizzled. They resolve to meet the same goal again. And again, despite telling me it is what they want to do, and telling me how they know they will feel better, they don’t do it.

Why not do it?

Why would someone tell me they want to exercise, ask for and agree to the plan, and then not do it?? I don’t view this as a patient being “noncompliant”. This is your care, your process. Your responsibility is to yourself, not to me. My job is to help you get where you want to go, to help you find balance in your life and within yourself. The question, then, is what is the obstacle to you taking this step that you tell me you want to take? What is the gap between what you say will be good for you, and what is right for you now, in this moment?

I have some theories.

I think that it often comes down to whether or not we are listening – truly listening – to our bodies. Is the voice that says I “should” exercise coming from outside of you, when instead your body just wants some stillness? Are you exhausted? Are you resolving to do weights because your read somewhere that doing weights is the best for your bones, but what really resonates for you is ballroom dancing? Or, it might be a matter of being stuck in all-or-nothing thinking: “I have to be a saint, and never allow a morsel of sugar or white flour to pass my lips. Otherwise there is no point and I should just eat a whole package of cookies since I’ve messed it up anyway”. The accompanying guilt, shame and blame when we set ourselves to “fail” in these ways paralyzes us into inaction. And, well, we all know how good – or not good – this kind of cycle feels when we are stuck in it.

What can we do instead?

  1. Observe where you are, and practice compassion. Judging oneself harshly only leads to shame and blame, and lasting change cannot be built on these emotional states. Are you are feeling exhausted because you are watching tv or surfing the internet each night until the wee hours? Observe this pattern. Perhaps you will notice that this habit allows you to fall into sleep without feeling something (loneliness, sadness, fear, grief) that you wish to avoid. Be kind & gentle with yourself.
  2. Look underneath the behaviour you want to change, and try to track it back to the root. So, if you are eating cookie dough ice cream each evening because you are sad, rather than resolving to stop eating the ice cream, resolve to address the sadness.
  3. Identify goals that come from within you. Find yoga yucky but love being outside? Make walking your restorative exercise time.

Sustainable change comes from a place that is rooted deeply inside you. By looking at what you are doing and why, you can come to understand the root of the behaviour. From this root, guided by the principles of observation and compassion. you can rebuild a strong foundation that will take you where you want to go.

Mahalia Freed is a naturopathic doctor happily living and practicing in downtown Toronto. In her family practice, Mahalia has a special focus in endocrinology (including PMS, PCOS, thyroid concerns), mental health, oncology, fertility, and perinatal care.