There are two types of people in the world: people who don’t want to talk about bowel movements, and people who do. The vast majority of people who make up the latter category are middle school boys, and the remaining 1% are physicians. Oy vey.
In my office, clients either turn red, groan, or look down at the floor when the Bristol Stool Chart comes out. If you’ve never heard of this tool, it is a chart that classifies a person’s stool into one of seven categories, with the optimal appearance being a Type 4.
A healthy gastrointestinal tract secretes digestive enzymes and other chemicals into the small intestine, and absorbs important nutrients from food. It also secretes or absorbs water in varying levels depending on the body’s needs, eliminates waste products, and produces a number of important hormones and biochemicals.
The colon also contains a few hundred billion “good bacteria,” referred to as the body’s microbiome. These bacteria are responsible for most of the processes described above. Without them, no digestion or defecation would occur. So, it makes sense that dysfunction in the digestive system is the result of an imbalanced microbiome. This may manifest in a number of ways, including upset stomach, fatigue, depression, nutrient deficiencies, and the most obvious being constipation or diarrhea.
If severe conditions are ruled out, such as infections, cancer, Crohn’s and colitis, most cases of chronic tummy troubles are lumped into the category of “IBS.” In the medical world, Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) isn’t a real diagnoses. It’s good enough for insurance records, but it really says: “I don’t know what’s wrong, sorry!” The usual treatment protocol is a FODMAP diet, generic fiber supplement, and in severe cases, an antidepressant. It’s not life-threatening, there are no drugs or surgeries that will help, and so insurance companies are done.
A holistic approach is much different. Natural physicians order additional levels of testing, and then used targeted approaches to treat the specific cause of the imbalance rather than just treating symptoms or experimenting. So, if you’re not a Type 4 (and I’m not talking about the Enneagram) then book an appointment!
Fall is only a few weeks away, and Pumpkin Spice Lattes are already back at Starbucks, along with cider, cinnamon flavors, and the delicious baked goods that everyone loves around this time of year.
Fall also brings a variety of unique fruits and vegetables that are either unavailable or are of lower quality than during other seasons. For example, spinach isn’t typically able to grow in the Midwest, except during the summer. So, if someone is interested in a fresh spinach salad during January, the leaves typically need to be grown in California or another region that is warm year-round, and imported to be sold in Midwestern grocery stores. While this is certainly convenient, vegetables that aren’t locally sourced are typically more expensive in terms of money and fuel for transportation, and are of lower nutritional quality. Fruits and vegetables that are grown seasonally and eaten locally don’t need to be harvested as quickly, whereas if they are imported from across the country, they need to be picked early enough to prevent spoilage during transit. The longer produce is attached to the plant (and the ground), the more nutrients it absorbs from the soil.
Interestingly, seasonal produce also offers a variety of health benefits that are season-specific. For example, individuals who suffer from chronic conditions, such as arthritis or Raynaud’s Syndrome typically experience worsening of symptoms as the weather gets cooler. Foods that are high in magnesium and antioxidants have been shown to lower blood pressure, increase blood flow to extremities, and prevent symptoms, and these foods are typically perfectly ripe for harvest as summer comes to a close — especially arugala, beets, and sweet potatoes.
Other seasonal fall vegetables (Midwest)
- Bok Choy
- Brussel Sprouts
- …and more!
The best way to find local, seasonal produce is to visit your local farmer’s market. You also can visit the Seasonal Food Guide Website that helps you identify which fruits and vegetables are seasonal in your state during spring, summer, fall, or winter!
Eating seasonally is delicious and easy!
Below is a salad/slaw recipe that incorporates seasonal apple, brussel sprouts, and kale. It’s perfect in both late summer and early fall, and is sure to be a family favorite.
FOR THE SALAD
3 cups broccoli slaw (8 oz)
15 brussel sprouts, shaved
2 pink lady apples, diced
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
FOR THE DRESSING
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
DIRECTIONS: In a large bowl, toss together the lemon juice and the diced apples (this helps prevent browning.) Add the rest of the salad ingredients, and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining dressing ingredients, and drizzle over salad. Toss and chill for 1 hour before serving.
In full disclosure, I’m not sure that it’s possible to fully understand the treatment modality of acupuncture as a Westerner. The language of Traditional Chinese Medicine is very different from what we’re used to hearing in America, and this can pose some cultural barriers in interacting with other perspectives of healthcare. However, without getting into the scientific minutiae of acupuncture, it’s possible to develop a functional understanding of it — what it is, how it benefits the body, and the importance of preventative care.
So, the purpose of this post is to help set a foundation for someone who has had a limited exposure to acupuncture.
Energy Medicine: Qi
Just like we have blood flowing through our bodies in distinct channels (arteries and veins), the Chinese have noticed other patterns in the body, one of which being the flow of “qi.” East Asian Medicine defines qi as a sort of energy, almost like electricity. The way I visualize this for myself is as a hybrid between blood (a liquid) and the electrical energy of the nervous system.
When the flow if qi is interrupted in the body, whether by a blockage or an abundance, disease results. Just like too much or too little blood flow to an area of the body causes predictable signs and symptoms, a disturbance in the flow of qi to a certain body area can cause predictable signs and symptoms. This is the basis for diagnosis in Chinese medicine.
Based on the signs and symptoms a patient presents with, a diagnosis can be made according to the 12 different energy channels of the body. These energy channels are called Meridians, and they are named according to anatomical structures that we’re already familiar with, such as “Liver,” “Kidney,” “Pericardium,” and “Spleen.” This is another area that Chinese medicine can be confusing in the Western context: the meridians don’t always correspond to the organs they’re named after. For example, an imbalance of Liver qi may or may not present clinically with any correspondence to the anatomical liver organ located in the human abdomen.
Another way that Chinese Medicine differs from Western is that a diagnosis is often made before the patient even recognizes signs and symptoms. Clinical diagnosis in Traditional Chinese Medicine is made according to more subtle factors such as temperament, slight changes in skin tone/color, the appearance of the tongue. In these cases, the treatment starts early, and is thought to prevent things like pain, fatigue, or nausea — things that would ordinarily bring an American into a doctor’s office. In the Chinese perspective of thought, the pathology has progressed significantly by the time the patient notices a difference in his or her health.
In this sense, Chinese Medicine is largely preventative. In fact, a few centuries ago, patients paid doctors only as long as they stayed well. If the patient became ill, the doctor was considered to not be doing his or her job well.
Once an imbalance of qi is diagnosed, the doctor will then restore the balance of qi. This is accomplished through several means, including nutrition, herbs and supplements, behavioral changes, and — yes — stimulation of points along the meridians.
The way to stimulate these points most intensely is actually using a lancet, and “bleeding” the points by allowing a small drop of blood to form. This is pretty rarely done in a clinical setting, and usually is only done in certain cases that are considered necessary.
somewhat more subtle means is by inserting a very thin needle and allowing it to remain under the skin for 10-20 minutes. The needles can be stimulated further by spinning them or by attaching them to electric leads with very low voltage. The needles are so thin and small that many find their insertion to be entirely painless. A non-invasive method of stimulation is applying pressure to the point (acupressure) or by applying a small magnet to the point under a bandage to induce the flow of qi electromagnetically (as with a small motor).
So, does it work?
In short, absolutely yes. In Asia, the thousands of years of history provide a firm foundation for its efficacy, and it is extremely common in the healthcare setting because there is cultural acceptance and understanding of its efficacy. In the US, acupuncture seems new and different because it’s unfamiliar. In the last hundred years, numerous studies have been done that demonstrate the efficacy of acupuncture for very specific purposes. While we don’t yet have scientific evidence “proving” that acupuncture “works” for every single disease, symptom, or imbalance in the human body, I personally don’t feel it’s necessary. The fact that some research exists (with statistically significant results) is enough for me, considering the enormous history of medicine in China that dates back significantly further than the Western world — and the fact that East Asian countries have historically been among the healthiest. Having the longest life expectancy and lowest rates of chronic diseases is pretty convincing.
However, it’s also important to remember that acupuncture serves to restore balance in the body, helping return it to the homeostatic state that was originally designed. A single acupuncture session can create a noticeable difference after a single session, it’s not the same as taking a pharmaceutical drug that has an intense and immediate but short-lived effect. Acupuncture is essentially a slower and longer-lasting solution, and arguably one that cures
Overall, East Asian Medicine is fascinating, helpful, and arguably very important. Even if a person never receives an acupuncture treatment, I believe it is important for every individual to take an active role in his or her health, and partner with a physician to employ preventative treatment means.
Good medicine treats disease, but excellent medicine prevents it in the first place!
Nutritional supplements are an important part of disease treatment and prevention. I firmly believe that natural medicine is the most effective means of primary care, which is why I entered this field. I wanted to practice medicine holistically, and offer people safe and effective options for managing their health.
A holistic perspective in medicine involves restoring deficiencies and balancing dysfunctions in the body so that it can perform according to its original design. By treating the root cause of disease, we can avoid lifelong prescriptions, expensive surgeries, and nasty side effects. Additionally, natural physicians direct their efforts toward preventing diseases from developing in the first place, which saves patients even more pain, frustration, time, and money.
Often times, nutritional supplements are used by natural providers to target specific deficiencies or utilize their therapeutic effects in alleviating symptoms, eliminating a toxin, or balancing out a dysfunctional system in the body. In these instances, the physician has taken a complete medical history, evaluated blood work, and usually also conducted a physical exam. A comprehensive health analysis is important because incorrectly diagnosing a disease (or failing to discover a “red flag” for a disease) can lead to an incorrect treatment protocol. This can be extremely dangerous, which is why it’s essential that you are receiving care from someone who not only has an extensive medical background, but who has also been trained in the utilization of natural therapies. Otherwise, you could be putting yourself at risk.
At the end of the day, most MDs are only trained in drugs and surgery, and are not able to safely prescribe supplements unless they have undergone additional education. (This is also the reason many physicians don’t use natural therapies.) Likewise, health blogs and self-proclaimed wellness guru accounts are a dime-a-dozen, but many of these sources are not coming from trained professionals.
“But wait, I thought “natural” approaches are safe!”
They certainly are safer than most pharmaceutical drugs on the market, when they are used correctly. Here are a few examples of how improper use of supplements can wreak havoc on a person’s health:
- Improves symptoms of pain, swelling, and headaches
- Prevents inflammation
- Worsens the symptoms of asthma and can increase frequency and severity of asthma attacks
- Reduces inflammation
- Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s Disease
- Increases risk of stroke in the elderly
- Improves immune function
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Increases risk of kidney stones in certain individuals
- Too little in the diet can cause cancer
- Too much in the diet can cause cancer
These are just a few examples of why it’s so very important to consult with a health professional before starting a new regimen — no matter what you read on google.
If you are interested in learning more about how natural medicine can improve the health of you and your family, I would love to speak with you! You can contact me here, or at nutra.intuition [at] gmail [dot] com
Our bodies are pretty resilient over time. If we go through a period of compromised nutrition, the benefit is that we can restore that balance over time. However, during pregnancy, this isn’t true.
Pregnancy is an incredible time of growth and newness, and because so much changes so quickly for the little ones, it’s essential to meet nutrient requirements every single day. While all nutrients are equally important, protein seems to be the one that women struggle with the most. High-protein foods typically feel heavy, or have strong smells that are unpleasant with hyperactive sensations, nausea, or feelings of fullness that come with pregnancy.
Here are a few tips for meeting the recommended protein requirements, and some reminders about the importance of protein during pregnancy.
Protein requirements for non-pregnancy:
- 0.8 g per kg body weight (for a 150-pound woman, this would be 55 grams daily)
Protein requirements during pregnancy:
- Minimum of additional ~25 grams per day
- Target range of about 80 to 100 grams, with around 100 grams being ideal
Getting enough protein is important for:
- Preventing pre-eclampsia, a dangerous state of elevated blood pressure for which the only cure is early delivery
- Ensuring adequate birth weight of infants and preventing low birth weight or premature delivery
- Proper hormonal balance before and after delivery
- Preventing anemia and fatigue
(Aside from meat, dairy, and eggs)
Feeling run-down, getting sick easily, and suffering from mood swings are a few easily-identifiable symptoms we can notice in ourselves when self-care is dwindling. We often are told that self-care practices involve eating well and exercising, and these are definitely a few important pieces of the puzzle. But there’s more to the picture as well.
Research is continuing to show that practices like prayer, meditation, and journaling have incredible effects on reducing stress and the subsequent physical maladies. Taking time for ourselves and being intentional with self care is profoundly effective. In light of our busy, fast-paced lives, we are only beginning to understand how these practices actually work. But we know that they do, and that they are of utmost importance in prolonging life and quality of life.
Many of these self-calming practices are tied closely to the body’s neurologic stress response, modulated by the interplay between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) systems. When we are stressed at work, fighting with family, or struggling with worry or concern, the sympathetic system is activated. The blood pressure goes up, the breathing rate increases, digestive processes are shut off, and blood sugar levels spike. Likewise, the parasympathetic system is activated when we are relaxing, enjoying a leisurely walk, or enjoying the company of our loved ones — we are relaxed mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Usually, our bodies are able to endure periods of stress, provided that we balance them with enough rest and relaxation to build up resilience. Sometimes, however, when our stress patterns are too prolonged, we struggle to “turn off” that stress response, and we start to see symptoms of chronic stress: insomnia, weight gain, heart disease, and more. What we can do, though, is use external self-care practices that reflexively interrupt the sympathetic response and trigger our bodies to enter a relaxation state. One of the ways we can do this is by washing our faces in the morning.
Yes, you read that correctly. Washing your face does more than clear up oily skin.
It’s known as The Diving Reflex. When we splash water on our faces, the body thinks we’re underwater. In order to survive the submersion, a series of metabolic changes take place to reduce breathing rate, heart rate, and oxygen requirement — physiologically calming the body. Under water, this is helpful, as there’s no oxygen available anyway. In our crazy high-tide lives, this is helpful because it forces us to slow down.
Washing your face, drinking a cup of hot tea, or taking a warm shower can be a great way to de-stress after a hectic day, slow down and get ready for bed, or start off the day calmly to prepare for what’s ahead.