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.

Bring on Spring / Lettuce is Boring Radicchio & Parsley Salad

In keeping with the seasons, I don’t eat much in the way of raw salad-type vegetables in the winter.parsley-bunch This salad was an exception last winter, during the first trimester of my pregnancy. It is a great break from boxed mixed greens, and is packed full of fresh flavour and fantastic nutrition. Also, it answers the eternal question of what to do with the rest of the bunch of parsley when you use 1 tbsp in a recipe. Now you know: make salad!

If you haven’t used radicchio before, it is the pretty little purple hued vegetable in the lettuce radicchiosection of the produce store. It is classified as a bitter (but i think it sweet as well), making it an excellent ally to digestion and liver function.

This salad is: Liver Loving, Energizing, Detox-supporting, Cleanse-friendly, Nutrient-dense, Paleo, Vegan, Gluten Free (it is a salad!), Nightshade Free (if you omit the red pepper), Nut-free, and most importantly, Tasty.

 

Ingredients

Salad:

½ a head of radicchio, chopped

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

1 bunch/bag of spinach, stemmed (optional)

½ an English cucumber, sliced or cubed

1 red pepper, chopped

 

Dressing:

Juice of ~1 lemon

Olive oil ~1/3 cup

Celtic Sea Salt ~1 tsp

Optional: 1-2 tsp Dijon mustard; 1 clove garlic, pressed

 

Wash all vegetables well. Add the first two or three ingredients to a salad bowl and mix. Top with cucumber and pepper.

 

Mix dressing ingredients in small jar, close lid and shake to blend. Dressing ratio should be approx. 2/3 lemon juice to 1/3 oil, or half and half if you prefer a less acidic dressing. Adjust ingredients to taste.

 

Pour dressing over salad, toss, serve.

 

This salad is a great accompaniment to zucchini-salmon fritters or beef & lamb koftas.

Natural Solutions for Seasonal Allergies

Good news: you can manage your seasonal allergies naturally!

Naturopathic News: there isn’t one natural medicine that works for everyone.

 

What’s good for allergies? Seasonal allergy symptoms occur when the level of inflammation in our car-exhaust590_284x213bodies reaches a certain threshold. For some, this is purely due to extreme sensitivity to pollens, along with dust, animal dander, etc. For others, it relates also to the level of smog they are breathing in, the amount of stress they are currently swimming in, and any foods they might be eating that aren’t a good fit for their systems.

Personally, my “seasonal allergy” symptoms go away when I go camping, as this is a happy, no-stress place for me, and there is way less smog in the back woods. (Luckily, pine pollen is not a trigger for me!). Others notice that when they are in other provinces, even in a city, their symptoms vanish. This can be related to the change in local pollens, the air quality, decreased stress of vacation, or any combination of these things.

 

allergies_flowers&tissueOn a physiological level, seasonal allergy symptoms relate to increased histamine release in the upper respiratory system. Thus, many people find relief by using natural antihistamines such as quercetin and nettles. For others, though, the inflammation needs to be stopped at a different point in the inflammatory pathway. A common intervention point for seasonal allergies is the liver. Using herbs such as milk thistle and antioxidants such as N-acetyl cysteine for liver support can vanish allergy symptoms completely for a subset of people.

Other people’s symptoms respond immediately to a targeted homeopathic remedy, or to gemmotherapy, while still other people find acupuncture gives them the best relief.

While there are some common prescriptions for allergy relief, the right fit for you will be as unique as your life situation, your history, and your current physiology.

My advice? Don’t guess, and don’t suffer needlessly. Book a consult to get your body ready for allergy season, sneeze & sniffle-free.

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.

Your antacid medication is causing more digestive problems than it solves

Are you taking a drug for your stomach? Chances are, it is a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), a class of drugs designed to decrease the amount of acid in your stomach. In 2012, 157 million prescriptions were written for PPIs in the US alone, making them the third most commonly prescribed drug. Prevacid, Nexium, and Prilosec are common examples of PPIs. Brilliant, right? Too much acid = pain, so decrease acid, decrease pain. Well… not quite.

You see,

Drugs don’t heal. People heal.

Continue reading

No Dairy? No Problem. Non-Dairy Sources of Calcium

Fortified soy beverage, 1 cup: 300 mg

Tofu, firm, made with calcium sulfate, ½ cup: 258 mg

White beans, cooked, 1 cup: 202 mg

Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans), cooked, 1 cup: 80.4 mg

Salmon, canned with bones, ½ cup: 181 mg

Sardines, canned with bones, 1 (92g) can: 251 mg

Almonds, ¼ cup: 103 mg

Sesame Seeds, paste (tahini), 1 tbsp: 63.9 mg

Figs, dried, 5 medium: 90 mg

Bok choy, cooked, ½ cup: 84 mg

Kale, cooked, 1 cup: 93.6 mg

Collards, cooked, 1 cup: 266 mg

Rapini, boiled, ½ cup: 78 mg

Okra, boiled, ½ cup: 65 mg

 

References:
Canadian Nutrient Files,
USDA nutrient database for standards records
(via www.nutrititiondata.com and
Nutrition Almanac by John Kirshman & Nutrition Search, Inc. McGraw-Hill, 2007.)

“I drink milk for my bones”

 Dr Mahalia Freed ND, nutritional myth-buster

I regularly encounter the myth that we need dairy products for healthy bones. My clients tell me they don’t want to give up dairy, as osteoporosis runs in their family. Or, they tell me, “I don’t want to do that to my kids”.

Let me set the record straight: you don’t need milk products for healthy bones!

Adults don’t need dairy, kids don’t need dairy.

But, don’t I need calcium? Don’t my kids need calcium?

Yup. And many other minerals.

You don’t need milk products to get calcium!

As stated by researchers in a recent (July 2013) editorial in JAMA Paediatrics, “Humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk, an evolutionarily recent addition to diet.”

But I thought I needed milk products for healthy bones!

Throughout the world, bone fracture rates tend to be lower in countries that do not consume milk compared with those that do. Moreover, milk consumption does not protect against fracture in adults, according to a recent meta-analysis” (Ludwig D and Willett W. 2013).

Furthermore, “Milk consumption increases serum concentrations of insulin-like growth factor-1, an anabolic hormone linked to prostate and other cancers” (ibid). Why increase cancer risk? Or the risk of type 1 diabetes, also associated with dairy intake?

Ludwig and Willett conclude: “For those with high quality diets (including green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and adequate protein), the nutritional benefits of high milk consumption may not outweigh the negative consequences.”

Milk, it doesn’t necessarily do your body good. You don’t need it, and neither do your kids.

More info on bones, calcium, and health:

What do I do for healthy bones?

Where (else) can I get calcium?

Healthy bones need which nutrients?

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.

 

Meditation is good for you. The Evidence from a Reluctant Meditator

by Mahalia Freed, ND

It took me years of resisting and suffering to develop and sustain a regular meditation practice. I share my tips and lessons in this article, Confessions of a Reluctant Meditator, or Tips for Fitting Meditation into Your Life.

If you are the kind of person who likes to know the why of things, here is a very brief summary of why meditating will be beneficial for you, too:

The evidence

As a naturopathic doctor I am well-versed in the evidence and clinical applications for meditation. It is amazing how effective various kinds of meditation can be. An unsophisticated PubMed search on the term “meditation” yields 2, 215 studies. Depression? Meditation may be as effective as medication. Cancer? Meditation improves mood, sleep, immune system, quality of life. Stress? Meditate to lower blood pressure. Heart disease? Yup. Meditation helps. Indeed, mindfulness-based stress reduction for heart disease, chronic pain and many other conditions is taught at hospitals and in private practices across North America based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

Even more compellingly, my clients are a fantastic and inspiring bunch. They tell me that meditation practice helps them manage anxiety, gives them energy when their work involves long hours and traveling, keeps them happier, helps them connect more with their friends and family. So not only do I know about the benefits from reading the studies, I know about it from clinical practice.

The bullet points:

  • It feels good.
  • It is free.
  • It can help restore emotional clarity and balance, making you feel better if you are stressed or sad.
  • It can energize you when you feel tired (though it’s not a substitute for quality sleep, you type A’s out there!).
  • It can help you tap your inner wisdom when you feel uncertain about a decision.
  • It can reclaim stillness from the frenzied pace of modern day life, readjusting the skewed balance between being and doing.
  • It can reconnect you with your intuition and creativity.
  • It will give you unexpected gifts (for me this has included concrete reassurance when things felt dire, and recently, the name of a remedy I hadn’t consciously heard of that was the perfect fit for someone in my care with a complex clinical case).
  • It doesn’t have to be hard.

Want some tips to help you find a way to integrate meditation into your full life? Get started here. And please share what works and doesn’t for you!