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.

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. 

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.

Flexible Strength: Willow Medicine

Salix spp

Willow is a distinctive tree that many people recognize, and many more are drawn to.

Willow’s story offers many examples of the power of tree medicines, and the difference between living plant medicines and pharmaceuticals or isolated extracts.

There are over 400 species of Willow, growing all through the Northern Hemisphere. In botanical medicine, White Willow (Salix alba) is most commonly referenced, although other species like Black Willow (Salix nigra) and Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) can be used interchangeably in many cases.

Willow has a long history of medicinal use. Indeed, I first learned about willow at age 12, when I did a science fair project on what was then referred to as “alternative medicine”. Willow was – for me – a gateway plant to the world of plant medicines. Perhaps it has played this role for you as well, or perhaps it still may!

Experience & History
There is a calm elegance to willows. Their comforting, flowing grace draws us to sit beneath them and share their ease. They prefer damp areas, often growing along river banks or lakes’ edges. The notion of flow is reflected in their form and in the water beside them. Willow’s historical use for rheumatism, a condition worse with dampness, mirrors its habitat of choice as well as its chemical action.

The flexible branches have long been used in making baskets, as well as wicker furniture. Elsewhere, willow wood is used for clogs, and for cricket bats.

Phytochemistry
Willow bark contains salicin, the precursor to salicylic acid. When we ingest willow tea or tincture, we convert salicin to salicylic acid in out digestive tract. From salicylic acid you can manufacture acetyl salicylic acid, or ASA, the active ingredient in Aspirin. Willow bark is in fact one of the plants from which Aspirin was originally made! It follows, then that like ASA, salicin has an anti-inflammatory effect in our body, making willow an excellent medicine for muscular and joint pains, fever pains, and gout.

Flower Essence
Willow flower essence helps us to find flexible strength. The essence is used for stiffness in body and mind, helping to address rigidity in thinking as well as in our muscles or joints. Willow helps people to let go, to accept, to forgive, to adapt. It addresses feelings of resentment or victimization. It supports the our feminine – or yin – nature.
From the FES flower essence repertory,
“Willow restores a more “spring-like” disposition, helping the soul to respond with greater resilience and inward mobility to challenges and problems. In this way, the Self takes more responsibility for its condition, and learns to flow more gently and graciously with rather than against the flow of life.”

Actions
Analgesic, anti-inflammatory, astringent, antipyretic

Indications
Arthritis, rheumatism, low back pain & other general muscular aches and pains, period pain, gout, fever, diarrhea

Preparation
Tincture or decoction of bark.

Cautions
Plants are not like drugs, and here is another example. You cannot use willow bark as a substitute for Aspirin if you are taking the drug for blood thinning. Willow does not thin the blood. And while Aspirin is notorious for causing stomach side effects (it increases ulceration & bleeding in the gut), white willow does not.

References:
Conway, Peter. Tree Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide to the Healing Power of Over 170 Trees. London, UK: Judy Piatkus Ltd. 2001.
Godfrey, Anthony & Saunders, Paul (with Kerry Barlow, Matt Gowan, Cyndi Gilbert, Rebecca Blok & Mahalia Freed). Principles and Practices of Naturopathic Botanical Medicine. Volume 1: Botanical Medicine Monographs. Toronto, ON: CCNM Press. 2012.
Hoffman, David. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press. 2003.
Kaminski, Patricia & Katz, Richard. Flower Essence Repertory. Nevada City, CA: Flower Essence Society. 1986/2004.

Hawthorn: Heart Healing from Physical to Spiritual

by Dr Mahalia Freed, ND

Crateagus oxycantha, flower

Hawthorn (Crataegus spp.) is medicine for the heart on all levels. Indigenous to countries across the northern hemisphere, this small thorny tree has a long-recorded history of medicinal use in both Europe and China, as well as in North America. Poetically – and significantly – Hawthorn is a member of the Rose family.

Hawthorn’s place as heart medicine was noted by Greek physician, Dioscorides, in the first Century AD. Medical herbal research has validated this use, finding hawthorn to be effective for increasing the strength of heart contractions, increasing blood flow to the heart, decreasing blood lipids (ie decreasing bad cholesterol (LDL), and triglycerides) and modulating blood pressure (AltMedReview, 2010). A Cochrane review of trials on hawthorn for chronic or congestive heart failure found that Crataegus extract decreased fatigue and shortness of breath and improved exercise tolerance relative to placebo. And while the traditional context is different, the Traditional Chinese Medicine use of Hawthorne for fat or rich meal digestion highlights the ability of Haw/berry antioxidants to prevent cholesterol deposits from oxidizing.

Additionally, hawthorn is used in the form of an energy medicine for the heart.
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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.