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.

Red Raspberry Leaf in Pregnancy

Red Raspberry Leaf (Rubus idaeus): Myths & Facts, Safety & Efficacy, Mechanism of Action

Red raspberry leaf tea is perhaps the best-known herbal medicine used in pregnancy. It has a long

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

Red Raspberry Leaf & Berries

tradition of use in both Europe and North America.  Many women have heard it is “good for you” and so they drink it.

Did your mom drink it when she was pregnant? Mine did. It is an excellent choice of herbal ally during pregnancy. Considering how useful it is, and how popular, I think it should be better understood.

MYTH: Red raspberry leaf induces labor.

NOT TRUE! NOT TRUE!

Fact: Red raspberry leaf is safe and useful throughout pregnancy, especially in the second and third trimesters. It does not induce labor.

This misunderstanding stems from the fact that Rubus ideaus is used to prepare for labor. The herb is a wonderfully effective uterine tonic, meaning it has a toning, strengthening, and nourishing effect on the tissue and function of female reproductive tract (Hoffman, 2003).

Via its mineral content (especially calcium) and various polypeptides, it enhances the ability of the uterus to contract when labor begins, and can make labor more efficient.

The herb affects smooth muscles, meaning it has gentle action beyond the uterus in the smooth muscles lining the digestive tract. As a herb for digestion, it is most often used when stool is loose, but can also be part of a formula to address constipation.

Red raspberry leaf is also rich in tannins, lending it a whole other realm of actions. Tannins astringe,

Rubus idaeus

Rubus idaeus

or pull together tissue. Think of the feeling of black tea – also rich in tannins – in your mouth. It is a little bit drying, but also toning & tightening, making it great for skin and mucous membranes. Tannins are a good fit when there is excess fluid, as in diarrhea or certain kinds of gut inflammation, and can also be used to address bleeding. Indeed, a red raspberry leaf mouthwash is used for bleeding gums. Further down in the body, Rubus idaeus tea is used for postpartum uterine bleeding as well as bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract.

Red raspberry leaf plays a role in supporting fertility as well, as it is thought to help thicken the uterine lining (Gilbert, 2015).

Actions

Uterine Tonic (also tones pelvic floor); Partus preparator; Astringent; Nutritive

Uses

Pregnancy; Fertility; Painful periods; Diarrhea; Constipation (mild); Decreasing excess bleeding (eg postpartum, but also gastrointestinal, as a mouthwash for bleeding gums)

Note: some references list Red Raspberry leaf as a galactagogue, aka promoter of lactation, but this is not a primary action of the herb, and for most folks, not the best herb for this action. The herb is also listed as a nausea treatment in pregnancy, but clinically, nausea would not be my reason to choose Rubus ideaus. The herb may also lower blood sugar if it is elevated, but, again, this is not a primary action of the herb.

What is a partus preparator?

An herbal combination used traditionally to help someone prepare to give birth, usually taken in the last 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. The combination is designed to tonify the uterus, encouraging efficient contractions, as well as being mildly soothing and astringent. While the herbs used vary considerably, common choices include Red Raspberry Leaf, Blue Cohosh, Black Cohosh, Partridge Berry, Cotton Root and Spikenard.

Blue Cohosh in particular does not have a good safety profile. There have been case reports of infants with bleeding in the brain or heart attacks (Romm, 2010) – and this herb should be used only with the advice of a trained herbal clinician.

In fact, modern herbal medicine practitioners are now divided as to the efficacy or necessity of a partus preparator formula, and may prefer to select specific herbs to meet the needs of the individual pregnant client. Many practitioners will use homeopathics and acupuncture rather than a partus preparator formula.

Constituents of Red Raspberry Leaf

Flavonoids, tannins (8-14 %), polypeptides, minerals (eg calcium, iron, phophorus).

Some sources reference an alkaloid, fragrine, but recent research has not confirmed its presence.

Dose

Most commonly taken as a tea: 1 tsp to 2 tbsp per cup, steeped 10 min to overnight depending on desired action. (Longer steeping will result in a stronger medicinal action, as well as higher mineral content). 1-4 cups per day.

Studies have found efficacy with certain extracts in tablet form as well.

Tincture: 2-4 ml (1:5 in 40% alcohol), 3 times per day.

Preparations

Check out this Pregnancy Tonic Tea featuring Red Raspberry & Nettle Leaves.

Or become a kitchen herbalist with this fancy/simple Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar.

Research

I will refer below only studies on pregnant women, leaving out studies on rats, guinea pigs, cats, rabbits, and isolated uterine muscle as these do not replicate the complex physiology of a pregnant human drinking a herbal infusion.

It is worth noting that from the studies on isolated uterine muscle, red raspberry leaf appears to have a tonic effect – that is, it increases tone of relaxed smooth muscle, and induces relaxation where muscle tone is already high (Mills & Bone, 2005; Mills, Duguoa et al 2006). It is also noteworthy that Rubus ideaus has an apparent relaxing effect on the muscle of the small intestine (specifically the ileum), at least in Guinea pigs (Rojas-Vera J1Patel AVDacke CG, 2002).

Although nearly two thirds of US midwives report prescribing Red Raspberry leaf to their clients red raspberry leaf with teapot(McFarlin et al 1999), and many, many women self prescribe the tea, there have been relatively few human studies.

One randomized controlled trial of 192 women with low-risk single pregnancies compared red raspberry leaf tablets (2 x 1.2 g per day) to placebo from 32 weeks gestation onwards. There were no adverse effects for either mothers or babies.

Those who took the herbal tablets had a shorter second stage of labor, as well as lower rates of forceps delivery (Simpson et al, 2001).

Another study involving 108 women (57 in treatment group, 51 in control group) confirmed that the herb is safe. They also noted lower rates of pre and post-term gestation – meaning fewer babies were born too early or late – as well as less likelihood of obstetric interventions, including caesarian section, and vacuum or forceps delivery (Parsons et al 1999).

Safety & Concerns

Considered safe in pregnancy and while breast-feeding.

Due to the high tannin content, the herb may interfere with absorption of iron and other minerals, similar to black tea. So, take supplemental iron at a different time than you drink your tea. Note that the herb itself contains iron along with other minerals. In balance as they occur in nature, this mineral content is considered well-absorbed.

 

References

 

Boon, Heather & Smith, Michael. 2004. The Complete Natural Medicine Guide to the 50 Most Common Medicinal Herbs. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gilbert, Cyndi. 2015. The Essential Guide to Women’s Herbal Medicine. Toronto, ON: Robert Rose, Inc.

 

Gladstar, Rosemary. 1993. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc.

 

Hoffmann, David. 2003. Medical Herbalism: The Science & Practice of Herbal Medicine. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, a division of Inner Traditions International.

 

McFarlin B, Gibson M, O’Rear J, Harman P. 1999. A national survey of herbal preparation use by nurse-midwives for labor stimulation. Review of the literature and recommendations for practice. J Nurse Midwifery, 44:205-216.

 

Mills, Simon & Bone, Kerry. 2005. The Essential Guide to Herbal Safety. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Mills, Edward, Dugoa, Jean-Jacques, Perri, Dan, Koren, Gideon. 2006. Herbal Medicines in Pregnancy & Lactation: An Evidence-Based Approach. London & New York: Taylor & Francis Group.

 

Rojas-Vera J1, Patel AVDacke CG. 2002. Relaxant activity of raspberry (Rubus idaeus) leaf extract in guinea-pig ileum in vitro. Phytother Res. Nov;16(7):665-8.

 

Romm, Aviva. 2010. Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health. St Louis, MO: Elsevier – Churchill Livingstone.

 

Simpson M, Parsons M, Greenwood J, Wade K. 2001. Raspberry leaf in pregnancy: its safety and efficacy in labor. J Midwifery Women’s Health, 46:51-59.

 

Weed, Susun. 1986. Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing.

 

Wood, Matthew. 2009. The Earthwise Herbal: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Kitchen Herbalism: Red Raspberry Leaf Vinegar

Red raspberry leaf in spring

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Herbal Vinegar in Mason Jar

Wildcrafting note:

Raspberry is abundant in wild and semi-wild spaces throughout temperate North America and Europe, and perhaps can be found in your own yard or a local abandoned lot. Ideally harvest the leaves for use before the fruits appear. In the Toronto area, this means later June or early July.

NB: Always be sure to confirm the identity of a plant before harvesting or consuming.

What you’ll need: 

  • Red Raspberry Leaves (fresh or dried)
  • Organic Vinegar (apple cider, wine, or rice)
  • Mason Jar

What to do:

  1. If using fresh leaves, let them wilt and dry out a little before starting and make sure there is no additional moisture (water drops etc) on your leaves.
  2. Fill your clean, DRY jar with raspberry leaves.
  3. Warm vinegar in a non-reactive pot. Pour warmed vinegar of your choice over the leaves, submerging them completely and filling the jar with liquid.
  4. Seal the jar and place in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks.
  5. Strain the vinegar through a cheese cloth or a clean, white cotton cloth.
  6. Rebottle your vinegar (keep bottle out of direct sunlight).
  7. Enjoy! As part of dressing for green, bean, or grain salads or as an aperitif to aid digestion (1 TBSP in a cup of water before meals)

 
WHY red raspberry vinegar:
 
Vinegar is especially valuable for extracting alkaloids, vitamins, and minerals from plants. Vinegar is a good choice for tonic remedies that are intended for regular use over a long period of time to strengthen and build the system. Vinegar extractions can be used by children and are a good choice for adults who avoid alcohol. One tablespoon of this vinegar extract provides about 150-200mg of calcium. And…it’s delicious!

Read here for more about using Red Raspberry Leaf as medicine.

 

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. 

Hot tips for painful periods

hot water bottle clutched to belly

Dysmenorrhea, or painful periods, affects more than half of all menstruating women (estimates range from 45%-95%), with some 15% of women incapacitated by their periods each month. I have been putting together a larger piece on resolving painful periods naturally (look out for it – it is coming soon!) and couldn’t wait to share this gem with you.  This study found that “continuous low-level heat therapy was as effective as ibuprofen for the treatment of dysmenorrhea”. The researchers used heat packs or dummy packs that did not heat up, and ibuprofen or placebo pills. It is worth noting that the heat packs were left in place for 12 hours. If staying in the bathtub for hours or booking a day in some healing spa waters is impractical, you could rig up a scarf hot water bottle carrier. Or consider finding disposable heat packs at the drug store or my favourite, the single use moxa heat packs, available from your acupuncturist or naturopathic doctor.
Your period doesn’t have to be a pain. Look out for more on eliminating menstrual cramps & associated period symptoms coming soon. And contact me to book a consult and find out how to resolve your dysmenorrhea for good.

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

HPV Facts

I am in the midst of preparing a lecture on Cervical Dysplasia, Cervical Cancer & HPV for my Women’s & Men’s Health students at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine. So, I am happily armed with new research to answer your questions.

This is a fact sheet I made up ages ago that never made it onto my website. It was meant to accompany the article on Cervical Dysplasia and HPV. Sometimes having facts like these handy can go a long way to ease anxiety about confusing medical diagnoses like “abnormal pap”.

HPV Facts

  • HPV refers to the Human Papilloma Virus, which is actually a group of over one hundred different viruses. Thirty to forty of these target the anogenital tissues (others cause plantar warts, for instance).
  • HPV is associated with cervical cancer – around 90% of the time.
  • 15 types of HPV are considered “high risk” in terms of their association with cervical cancer.
  • 4 types of HPV cause genital warts. These types are actually classified as “low risk” because they are not associated with cervical cancer.
  • HPV is sexually transmitted – via any skin to skin contact (eg finger-genital, genital-genital, genital-anus). Because it lives on skin, condoms do not prevent transmission (incidentally, neither does the spermicide nonoxynol-9). Also because it lives on skin, transmission occurs between women. Even women who have only ever had female sexual partners test positive for HPV. Oh, and for those of you who worry about these things, the virus CANNOT be transmitted by inanimate objects like toilet seats. Rest assured.
  • HPV infection is usually transient, meaning our bodies can clear the infection. And we might never know we have it. According to one medical reference, “ the overwhelming majority of [HPV] infections are cleared by the host immune system and never present as warts or neoplasia”.
  • HPV is common: Up to 80% of young women (usually defined in the studies as under 30, but sometimes younger) have HPV at any given time. According to the most common estimates, 75-80% of individuals of reproductive age have had an HPV infection. While HPV is most often found in abnormally growing cells, it is also found in healthy normal cells, indicating that the virus is not the entire cause of abnormal cell growth. So, HPV doesn’t always cause cancer, and not all cancer is associated with HPV. This is critical to understanding the complex etiology of dysplasia.
  • Gardasil, the new HPV vaccine, targets only four HPV types: 6, 11, 16, & 18. The former two types are associated with warts, and the latter are the two most commonly associated with cancer out of the 15 high-risk types. So, to clarify, the vaccine, which is based on the over-simplified notion that HPV causes cancer, does not even protect against all the high-risk strains of HPV, and of course does not address the myriad of other factors that contribute to whether or not someone has persistent dysplasia. Clearly, then, this is not a prevent cancer vaccine, exactly.
  • Gardasil, then, is a vaccine against four out of one hundred types of HPV.

A gift that says, “love your boobies”:

Therapeutic Herbal Oil for Breast, Chest & Beyond

This herbal oil smells great, and acts deeply.

Who is it for?

For women concerned about breast health & cancer prevention, for people with a tendency to swelling in their lower legs, for anyone who could use some sensual self care. For healing scars, for decreasing swollen glands, for cyclically tender or cystic breasts.

What does it do?

  • Supports healthy hormone metabolism, decreasing breast risk of breast health concerns. Use it to help reverse elevated breast thermography readings, and as part of a cancer prevention program.
  • Enhances lymphatic circulation: decrease swollen glands, swollen legs, cyclically tender or cystic breasts
  • Moisturizes: all the herbs are extracted in a base of 100 % organic olive oil
  • Soothes and uplifts through its blend of essential oils.

What do I do with it?

Rub a small amount onto the targeted area (legs, breasts, chests, scar) daily after a bath or shower. Also great as a herbal bath oil, or as moisturizer for the whole body.
Can I eat it? Yes, as with any quality natural skin product, it is safe to eat, but it is meant to be absorbed through your skin.

Where can I get it?

Available only via Mahalia Freed, ND, but coming soon to an online store near you.

Each 100 ml bottle is $22.13 plus HST, or $25 with HST.

What is in it?

Organic Extra Virgin Olive oil infused with Calendula & Red Clover Blossoms, Dandelion Root, Cleavers leaf, and Rose Petals; Essential oils of Rosemary, Lavender, Palmarosa, Lemon, Juniper & Frankincense.

Handmade with love & healing intention by Dr Mahalia Freed, ND.

Contains no parabens or other chemicals. No animal products or derivatives.