Category Archives: Articles

 

Allergy Valley

“You’ll do great in this town!” a friend told me when I first moved to the Pioneer Valley.  “Everyone has allergies!”

Oxeye Daisy Flowers

 

Allergy Valley
I love this little slice of the country.  The way the seasons take hold of the Valley, and turn it into a totally new place every few months is astounding.  The spring explosion of green is one of my favorite times of year

.
Except for all the nose blowing and eye rubbing that is.  It seems unavoidable around here— either you suffer from allergies or someone around you does.
If you are like a lot of people, you are thinking about stocking up on over the counter allergy pills right about now.  These medications are great in a pinch, but they can have some troubling side effects such as anxiety, low libido, foggy brain and depression.   Luckily there are natural alternatives that can help you use less medication, or not need it at all.
Housekeeping
Have you ever come home from work one day and found that your house is a complete mess? You don’t remember being particularly slovenly, you just figured you’d tidy up tomorrow… for the past few weeks.
Allergy symptoms can sneak up on you like a messy house.  It seems that they hit you suddenly when the pollen comes out.  The truth is that they have been brewing for some time.  Luckily there are some simple steps you can take now, before the buds are even on the trees, to decrease you allergy symptoms this season.  There are three main approaches that will help you decrease your symptoms.
1.  Lower Inflammation 
Allergies happen when your body reacts to something relatively harmless (such as tree pollen or dust) as if it is a horrible invader.  Your body is on red alert!  What you can do right now is start to re-train your body to have a more toned down response to these allergens.  Here are some simple steps to decrease inflammation:
Fish Oil:  This is an extremely effective long term strategy.  You will not see results right away, but you should see results, especially when combined with the other steps in this article. Take 3,000 and 5,000 mg a day.  You can substitute krill oil for fish oil if you prefer, though the dose may be slightly different.
Nettles: Nature provides us with abundant nettles during the time of year when allergies are at their peak. The part of nettles that helps with allergies is also the part that gives you a little sting.  You can eat nettles (they are chock full of minerals and are very nutritions), drink nettle tea or take them in capsule form (freez
e dried is best).  It is probably a good idea to start drinking nettle tea or taking it in capsules right now, and move to eating them in a few weeks when they start to come out.  My favorite way to eat nettles is to make a delicious nettle pesto. Click here for the recipe.  
2.  Decrease Mucous
One of the main symptoms of allergies is a stuffy nose and clogged sinuses.  Here are some ways to decrease mucous a
nd breath easier.
Dairy and Sugar: One of the best ways to decrease these symptoms is by avoiding the foods that tend to cause congestion.   Dairy and sugar are the number one foods that will cause a snotty head.  Gluten is up there too.  Some people will also have this reaction to citrus, but not everyone.  If these don’t work, you might be one of the folks who has a reaction to a less common food.  I’ve seen a people react to all sorts of foods I wouldn’t have suspected, such as garlic and onions.  If you are having difficulty figuring out what you are reacting too, you may need to go on a more thorough elimination diet or get a food allergy test.
Nasal irrigation:  Rinsing sinuses with saline water can clear mucous and flush out allergens so that they cause fewer problems.  Click here for a tutorial on nasal irrigation.  
3. Reduce Allergens in Your House
Your home should be your sanctuary.  As much as you can, keep allergens outside the house.
Shoes Off: Take off your sho
es at the door to prevent allergies from being tracked in.
Clean Pets:  As often as possible, wipe down your pets with a damp towel when they come inside. Most dogs and cats don’t mind this if you are gentle.
HEPA Filter: Get a HEPA filter for your bedroom so that the air you are breathing while you sleep is as allergen free as possible
What Else? Following these simple steps can make a big difference in your allergy symptoms.  If your allergies are particularly bad, or if you have other health problems that are making things difficult, you made need some additional treatments and more individualized support.   If this sounds like you, please feel free to click on the link in the side bar
to set up a free phone consult to find out how you can can have an allergy free Spring!

Tick Talk

I live in the woods at the corner of two dirt roads. I was drawn to this area by all the fun outdoor activities right in my back yard.  Being outside makes me happy.  It nourishes my soul.  And yet… I’m concerned about ticks!  When it comes to tick born diseases, knowledge is power.  Lyme disease can feel scary. However, if caught early, it is a condition that can be treated fairly easily.  This is why it is so important to take measures to both prevent Lyme disease, and to recognize and treat it early.

Check yourself for ticks

It is important to check yourself thoroughly for ticks on a daily basis during the spring, summer and fall.  This is especially important if you spent time outside.

Lyme disease and co-infections are carried on blacklegged (deer) ticks and lone star ticks.  Please see below for pictures of these ticks.

 

Photo Courtesy of the CDC

If you find a tick on yourself, remove it carefully following these steps (from the American Lyme Foundation) http://www.aldf.com/lyme.shtml#removal)

Using a pair of pointed precision* tweezers, grasp the tick by the head or mouthparts right where they enter the skin. DO NOT grasp the tick by the body.

Photo courtesy of capek9cardio.com

Without jerking, pull firmly and steadily directly outward. DO NOT twist the tick out or apply petroleum jelly, a hot match, alcohol or any other irritant to the tick in an attempt to get it to back out. Clean the bite wound with disinfectant.

Put the tick in a zip lock bag or small plastic vial with a small piece of moistened paper towel.  Be sure the container is firmly sealed.  Send the tick in to be tested for Lyme disease.  Umass Amherst will test ticks, and the fee is often subsidized depending on where you live.  For more information, see www.umass.edu/tick.
*Keep in mind that certain types of fine-pointed tweezers, especially those that are etched, or rasped, at the tips, may not be effective in removing nymphal deer ticks. Choose unrasped fine-pointed tweezers whose tips align tightly when pressed firmly together.

If your tick tests positive, visit your doctor ASAP

Know the symptoms of acute Lyme disease

Many, but not all cases of Lyme disease have the classic “bull’s eye rash” known as

Photo courtesy of the CDCerythema migrans.  There can also be other more diffuse rashes that are not at the site of the initial tick bite.  If you develop a rash visit your doctor immediately.

 

erythema migrans.  There can also be other more diffuse rashes that are not at the site of the initial tick bite.  If you develop a rash visit your doctor immediately.

Acute Lyme disease typically present with flu like symptoms.  These include (but are not limited to): fatigue that makes it hard to do anything but lie on the couch, body aches, headaches, fever, stiff neck and neurological symptoms such as Bell’s Palsy.  If you experience any of these symptoms, visit your doctor immediately and inquire about a test and/or treatment for Lyme disease.

The tests that most medical doctors use to identify Lyme disease are not all that great.  A positive test means you do have the disease, but a negative result does NOT necessarily mean you do not have it.  This is for a number of reasons that I will not go into here.  Many physicians will treat for acute Lyme disease in the the absence of a positive test result if the symptoms match a diagnosis of Lyme disease.  If you believe that you have Lyme disease, and are not getting the care you feel you need, you may need to seek out a second, or even a third opinion.

Remember that up to 50% of people with Lyme disease do not remember being bitten by a tick, and many never developed a rash.

Protect yourself from ticks

If you are spending time in the woods, tuck your pants into your socks (make it a New England fashion statement!).  Wear light colored clothing so that you can more easily see ticks.  If you are out for an extended period of time, consider a DEET containing bug spray as well as treating clothing with the insecticide permethrin (note: permethrin is for clothes only).

If you have any questions, please feel free to email me.   If you prefer to speak on the phone, you can set up a free 15 minute phone consultation by clicking here.

Northampton Office Opening

When I closed my Northampton practice over a year and a half ago, I had always hoped to re-open, when Massachusetts licensed naturopathic doctors. That day is finally here, with the recent passing of the licensure bill. The truth is, I have missed working in my home state.

I am thrilled to announce that I am re-opening my Northampton practice in March at a new downtown office location, 39 Main Street.  I will see patients here on Wednesdays and Fridays.

My schedule at my Brattleboro office will remain unchanged: I will continue to see patients there on Mondays and Thursdays.

If you’d like to set up an appointment in either MA or VT, please call 802-490-0722 or reply to this email with a few days and times that work for you.

Now that naturopathic doctors will be licensed in MA, I will be able to offer MA patients even more services as soon as the bill goes into effect (for more information please see Massachusetts Licensure – Frequently Asked Questions)

I look forward to seeing you soon!

Massachusetts Licensure – Frequently Asked Questions

When will the bill go into effect?

We don’t know exactly, but it will likely be a year or more.

Will my insurance cover my visits now that bill has passed?

The bill does not contain any provisions regarding insurance coverage.  Once it goes into effect it will be up to individual insurance companies to determine whether they will cover naturopathic doctors. If you have acupuncture benefits, then acupuncture services will likely be covered.

Can you order blood tests and other laboratory evaluations?

Once the law goes into effect I will be able to order many laboratory procedures.  If you need laboratory work done prior the bill going into effect, we can do so through my Brattleboro office.  You will need to have at least one in person visit in Brattleboro (45 minutes from Northampton).

Can you be my primary care doctor?

At this time, I cannot serve as your primary care doctor in MA.

Beating The Winter Blues

I’m not going to lie to you; it was pretty hard to get out of bed this morning.  And then when I heard on the radio about the record breaking low temperatures… Let’s just say it feels like a miracle that I made it into the office rather than scurrying back under the covers (side note: I wrote this on Tuesday when it was -18 in the AM. Despite it now being above zero, I am still sick of the cold).
 
If you are anything like me, the winter can start to get you down, particularly the late winter.  You know, this time of year when the days are getting longer, and you are just itching to be outside without 12 layers of clothing.  
 
Turn Turn Turn 

The feelings of sadness, frustration, anger, anxiety and restlessness that can take hold in February do not mean that you are crazy.  They actually mean that you are in touch with the seasons.  
 
From a Chinese Five Element perspective, the seasons have started to shift from Winter to Spring.  Winter is the time of the water element, and it’s all about quiet reflection.  Spring is the time of the wood element.  Wood has everything to do with creativity and forward motion.  Things can feel a bit hurky-jerk when your body and mind are ready for the movement and creativity of spring, but the weather is still bitter cold and your yard is buried under feet of snow.  
 
Dream Time

So, great, now you know you are in tune with the seasons, but you still feel pretty crummy.  The good news is that this is a great time to prepare for Spring.  This can mean the literal Spring that promises to arrive in the next couple months.  It can also be the metaphorical Spring; the season of your life when you can move forward on new projects.  
 
Right now, when you are itching to get moving on something (and maybe you don’t even know what that something is), is a great time to start to dream and scheme.  What would make your life better? Would be just plain fun? Now is the time to dream big.  You can pair it down later.  What get’s your juices flowing and your sap rising? 
 
Get Moving

One of the best ways I have found to start this process is to move your physical body.  Things can get a little cramped in your body and mind during the hibernation of winter.  Moving your body helps to get your creative juices flowing.  
 
I know that even this can be a tall order in sub zero temperatures.  You may need to get creative.  Find something that you enjoy doing and go from there.  Maybe take a dance class or dance around your living room.  Strap some yak tracks or spikes onto your shoes and brave the cold for a brisk walk.  Find an at home exercise video (there are some great ones online) that you enjoy, or look into local exercise classes.
 
Spring is Coming 

The key to beating the late winter blues is to know that you are not crazy for feeling them.  Your are just experiencing the normal discomfort that happens as we move from the Winter to the Spring; from Water to Wood.  Now is the time to dream big.  You may still be cooped up inside, but allow your mind to roam.  Help free those creative juices by moving your body as well; you’ll feel better physically and mentally. 
 
Together is Better

If the late winter blues feel insurmountable, remember that you do not have to cope with them alone! There are many different herbal and nutritional therapies that can help you feel better.  Acupuncture and cranial-sacral therapy are also wonderful ways to help balance your body and mind with the changing season.  

Please call 802-490-2080 to set up an appointment, or click here to schedule online

Be Well,

Dr. Rebecca
 

What’s In That Supplement?

The supplement industry, with its lack of regulation, is a bit like the Wild West. A bottle may say it contains a certain herb, but how do you know if that is actually true? This problem was brought home for me by some recent news from New York.

On Monday the New York State Attorney General’s office accused four major retailers — GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart — of selling fraudulent and potentially dangerous herbal supplements.  They made this accusation after performing tests on top-selling store brands of herbal supplements at these stores, and finding that four out of five did not contain any of the herbs listed on the labels.  Instead, they contained cheap fillers like powdered rice and houseplants, and in some instances, substances that could be dangerous to those with allergies.

News like this can make you want to crawl into a hole.  You want to feel better, and you know you need a little bit of help with that.  You’d rather not take pharmaceuticals, and you know (or have heard) how effective herbs can be.  But how do you know what to trust?

Call the company

If you have an herbal supplement you are interested in taking, give the company a call and ask them about their quality control measures.  They should be able to easily provide you with documentation showing that what they say is in their supplements is actually what is in them.  They should also have data showing that it is not contaminated with harmful things like heavy metals and pesticides.  If they cannot provide this for you, or give you the run around, don’t take their products.

Ask your doctor

I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking into different herbal supplement companies, and only recommend those who have quality control measures that I trust.  Other naturopathic physicians will likely have done this as well.  We are at your service to help you navigate the sometimes complicated world of herbal and nutritional supplements.  If you are curious about a new herbal supplement, please don’t hesitate to ask!

The Bottom Line

In a perfect world, you would get all the medicine that you need from food.  However, sometimes you need a little extra support for your health, and herbs are a wonderful way to get that.  When taken responsibly, they are safe and effective.  If you are interested in taking herbal medicine, it is best to consult with a naturopathic physician or other qualified health care provider.  If you are more of a DIY’er, call the herbal supplement companies you are considering to check on their quality control.

Feeling confused about which herbs to take? Click here to schedule an office visit or a free introductory phone consultation with Dr. Rebecca.

 

 

Let’s Join the Club

I want everyone in Massachusetts to have access to high quality naturopathic health care.  The first step towards this goal is getting naturopathic doctors licensed in Massachusetts.  All of the New England states except for Massachusetts and Rhode Island license naturopathic physicians, and it is high time we joined the club.  If you live in Massachusetts, a quick phone call to your state representatives by January 30th could go a long way.  Please see below for more details.

We’ll be reintroducing our bill to license Naturopathic Doctors in MA this Friday. We have a good bill with lots of support and look forward to a successful effort this session.

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO FROM YOUR OFFICE OR HOME TODAY TO HELP! 

YOU DO NOT EVEN NEED TO MOVE AWAY FROM YOUR COMPUTER OR PHONE :)

We are seeking additional co-sponsors on our bill. I am attaching below the bill & the info sheets, for your information, and also as something you can forward to your State Representative and State Senator/their office or aides.

Please call your state senator and your reps office by January 30th

To find your State Representatives, if you do not know, look here:

https://malegislature.gov/People/Search

Here’s how to phrase it:

I would like to ask Sen/Rep__________ to sign as a co-sponsor of the bill that would license naturopathic doctors in the state.

If they agree to become co-sponsor, have them call the right person depending on the chamber and request to be added as a co-sponsor.

Senator Pacheco and Representative Kaufman are the lead sponsors on our bill.

So, if your State Senator will co-sponsor, they would call Marc Pacheco’s office.

And if a State Representative will co-sponsor, they would call Jay Kaufman’s office.

When you hear back, yeah or nay, please let me know. We will keep you in the loop as to how things progress.

Sign off as you would here!!

 

Cold and Flu Part 2

Sometimes, despite your best efforts and intentions, colds and flu sneak up on you.  In my last article, I talked about things you can do to prevent colds and flu.  Today I’m going to give you some tips for what to do if you do get sick.

Here’ s the first trick: don’t wait until you are sick to read this article.  Make yourself a cold a flu kit to keep on hand should you, or someone in your family, fall ill.  I can promise you that when you do have a head full of snot, the last thing you want to do is research remedies and go to the store to pick them up.

1. Broths

When you are sick with a cold or a flu, make broths your main food.  Bone broths are incredibly nourishing (click here for a recipe), as are vegetable broths.  You can prepare the broth and store it in the freezer to have on hand.  Making broths a regular part of your diet is also a wonderful way to support your immune system.

2.  Tea

Make a tea with a combination of elderflower, yarrow, boneset, linden, peppermint and ginger; drink it hot and often for combating a cold or flu. It causes you to sweat, which is helpful for eradicating a virus from your system.  Women who are pregnant or nursing should consult their practitioner before using any herbal medicine.

3. Elderberry

I mentioned elderberry in my article on prevention.  It is a great thing to take when you do get sick as well.  Take the maximum dose recommended on the bottle.

4.  Rest 

The best way to help a cold or flu move quickly and not turn into something more serious or lingering is to rest.  Stay home if you can, and allow your body to heal.

These simple home remedies can help you move through a cold or a flu relatively quickly and easily.  However, if you have a chronic medical condition, you may need a more customized treatment approach.  If you are a current patient, please ask me about herbs and vitamins to keep on hand at your next visit.  And of course, if you or a family member does become very ill with a flu, please visit your doctor ASAP.

Should I get the flu shot?

“Should I get the flu shot?”

I get asked this question a lot. Let’s face it, the flu can be scary.  And it seems that everywhere you turn there are advertisements that subtly (or not-so subtly) imply that you are putting yourself and your family in danger should you choose not to get this vaccine.

The truth is, just like anything, the flu shot comes with risks and benefits, and each person needs to choose for themselves what makes the most sense.  It is not always an easy decision. Whatever you decide, it is important to protect your health as we move into the winter.  Even if you choose to get the flu vaccine, it is not 100% effective, and it will not protect you from your run of the mill colds. Here are 6 tips for staying healthy during the cold and flu season:

  1. Hand washing

This remains one of the most effective ways to prevent the spread of disease.  Before you put anything in your mouth, wash your hands.  I recommend using only non-antimicrobial washes (i.e. regular soap and water), or natural essential oil based hand sanitizers (these do not breed antimicrobial resistance).

2. Vitamin D Vitamin D is crucial for your immune system, and many of us in the Northern Hemisphere have low levels.  I urge you to get your levels tested (it is a simple blood test that your doctor can order), and to take vitamin D supplementation if you are low.

3. Probiotics Probiotics help improve immunity and prevent infection.  I recommend products that contain multiple strains of probiotics, and at least 10 CFU’s per cap (CFU stands for colony forming unit, and it is how the strength of probiotics are measured).

4. Hydration Staying well hydrated is important because parched mucous membranes are more susceptible to inflammation and irritation, and then they don’t do their job of acting as a primary barrier against infection. Water and herbal teas are your best bet.

5. Herbs One of my favorite herbal remedies to prevent colds and flus is elderberry syrup.  Effective and delicious!  The amount that you need to take varies with the brand. In general, 1 tsp per day is good for prevention.  You can also read more about winter immune tonics here.

6.  Rest Your immune system is intimately connected with your nervous and endocrine systems.  Taking time to rest and de-stress will go a long way towards keeping you healthy this winter.  Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night, and turn your electronics off 30 min before going to bed.

Following these simple tips can go a long way towards helping you stay healthy this winter (and recover quickly should you get sick).  If you or a family member does become very ill with a flu, please see a doctor as soon as possible. Stay tuned for my next article, where I’ll talk about natural remedies that you can use if you do get sick!

Need more support? Schedule an appointment to discuss how to maximize your immune system this winter.  

Building a Fire


This is a re-post of an article I wrote last year. If you are interested in learning more, please join me for a free workshop on overcoming chronic stress with natural medicine. 

Running out of Fuel?

When I was twenty one I moved into an old and rather ramshackle farmhouse.  The house was heated with a wood stove, and on cold nights I would find myself in states of near panic as the fire would go out again and again.

The problem was that I didn’t really know how to get a fire going, and I was constantly putting kindling and newspaper into the stove without ever getting a strong blaze going.

I often think about this experience at times in my life when I am “running on empty.”  You know the feeling- you are so exhausted that it feels like if you stop you might collapse.

IMG_0367So you keep going.  You fuel yourself with caffein and/or sugar. You have no choice – how else will you be able to take care of everything that needs to get done for your job and your family?

Finally, after all your responsibilities for the day have been attended to, you get to go to bed.  Unfortunately, you can’t sleep.  And so, the next morning your are still exhausted.

It’s a viscous cycle.

A Well Built Fire

One evening my uncle came over to visit me in my farm house.  When he arrived he found me frantically tending my small, smokey fire.  “Don’t you want to really get that fire going?” he asked me.
He then squatted down by the wood stove, and showed me how to arrange the newspaper, kindling and wood so that we could get some really big logs burning.

After that, I was able to light fires that kept me warm all night.

The systems in your body that create and maintain energy are like that wood stove.  You want to have a strong and steady fire that doesn’t go out when it is not supposed to, and doesn’t need constant tending.  When this is in place, you have a sense of vitality and calm energy.

To do this you need rest. I know, easier said than done.

Your body may have forgotten what it feels like to rest.  You can, however, help it to re-learn.

The Art of Rest

When your body is resting, there are particular chemical messengers that are released.  These chemical messengers (neurotransmitters and hormones) let your organs know that you are not in immediate danger, and allow your body to relax.

While it is possible to directly stimulate these chemical messengers through drugs and herbal supplements, it is also important (and often all you need) to learn how to consciously put your body into a state of resting.

The following is a five minute exercise that can help you train your body to rest.

Step 1: The 400 lb Human

Feel the weight of your body in your chair (or couch or bed or whatever you are sitting on).  Allow yourself to really sink in.  Imagine that you are very heavy; that you weighed 400 lbs.  Allow all of that weight to sink into the chair.

 

Step 2: Support

Do you feel that the chair is supporting you? Are you trusting that the chair will hold your weight, or are you sitting as if the chair could disappear at any moment and you would be fine?  See if you can trust the chair to hold your weight.  Can you trust it even more?

The first time I tried this exercise, I had no idea what my teacher, Thea Elijah, was talking about. I thought “of course I’m trusting the chair! What a silly question.”

As I went deeper into the practice, I realized how much tension I was carrying in my body.  It was so difficult to let even a little of it go, no matter how hard I tried!

What I learned is that in this exercise, it is actually important to NOT try hard. It’s kind of the opposite of trying hard. Just create an invitation for your body.

Very slowly, I was able to allow the tension to dissolve as I sunk into the chair.

Trusting anything, even a chair, can be a tall order.  For me it takes a lot of practice.  I come back to this exercise again and again, with the simple question “am I trusting my chair? Can I trust it even more?”

Step 3: Feeling Sleepy

Giving your body the chance to taste what rest is may make you realize just how much of it you need.  This is not a bad thing, but it may mean that doing this exercise makes you feel tired.

Try the exercise again before you go to sleep, when it is really the time for you to rest.
Practice feeling your weight sinking into the bed and trusting the bed to support you.

We all want to have a sustained source of energy throughout the day.  The key to having that energy, and not feeling exhausted and depleted, is rest.  Rest is a skill and an art.  Like anything, it can be learned.

I hope that this article has been helpful for you.  Please email me with any questions.

Need more support?
If you are interested in how naturopathic medicine, acupuncture and craniosacral therapy can help you to feel better, please click the book now button to schedule a free 15 minute phone consultation.  Or call 413-341-3364.      

Pain and Possibility

If you think the idea of morphine and oxycodone combined into one pill sounds a bit like a recipe for disaster, you are not alone. A key government panel voted unanimously last Tuesday against the approval of this powerful new drug, known as Moxduo. 
 
A Nation In Pain 

Perhaps you are one of the 100 million Americans (and that is a conservative estimate) who are in pain on a daily basis.  Chronic pain is a huge problem in our society, and we continue to develop stronger and stronger pain medications to try and help people. These drugs can be life-savers in certain circumstances, but they also have some pretty serious risks associated with them.
 
When talking about chronic pain, the media tends to focus on medication, but this is only a piece of the puzzle.  There are many ways to deal with chronic pain, and people benefit most from an integrated approach. This way looks at you as whole person, and uses a number of different treatments to give you the best results.  It means finding out what works best for you and doing it.  
 
Two of the things that I find work best for people in chronic pain are:
 
Lowering Inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to injury, and it can cause pain and swelling.  When you are in chronic pain, your body may be in a heightened state of inflammation.  It is therefore very important to eat in a way that is decreasing inflammation.  Herbal medicine can also be extremely helpful for lowering inflammation. Click here for an anti-inflammatory smoothie recipe. 
 
Acupuncture

When you have been in pain for a long time, your nervous system can become stuck in a pain cycle.  This means that you continue to experience pain that is disproportional to the damage being done to your tissues. (For example, you had a minor back injury some time ago, yet continue to experience debilitating pain.)  Acupuncture is one of the best things I have seen at breaking this pain cycle.  If you would like to learn more about the physiology of pain, watch this fascinating TED talk by Lorimer Moseley
 
So Much More

There are many more techniques that I use in my practice to help people suffering from chronic pain.  If you are interested in learning more about how to use natural medicine to help with chronic pain, please join me at one of my FREE Living Pain Free workshops.

What’s In Your Medicine Cabinet?

 

MomBeach_0002Our Grandmothers

Lately I’ve felt a lot like a Jewish grandmother.  Not my Jewish grandmother, Nanette, per se, but a kind of stereotypical character.   One who would recommend chicken soup for almost any ache and pain.

Two of the most common things I see in my practice are digestive issues and musculoskeletal problems (back pain, knee, pain, arthritis, etc…).  If you are suffering in one or both of these areas, there is a good chance that cooking up a bone broth and eating it every day could do you worlds of good.

I find myself recommending this over and over again to my patients.  I sometimes picture myself in a kitchen with an apron on, hair tied up in a bun, dishing out soup, and wondering why it has taken the medical community so long to come back around to what our grandmothers knew decades ago, and the ancient Chinese have understood for millennia.

Soup made from cooking animal bones (chicken, beef, lamb) has tremendous healing properties when you make it correctly (there is a recipe at the bottom of this article) and use well sourced animal products (organic and grass fed).

Bone Health

When I was in Naturopathic Medical school, we were shown x-rays with bizarre objects lodged in the colon.  Was it cancer? Some other rare and unusual disease? Nope.  Undigested calcium supplements.  Bone broth is chock-full of calcium and the other minerals that make up healthy bone.  And it is much easier to absorb the minerals in soup form than in a supplement!

Joint Health

People with joint issues often take supplements to help protect and build cartilage.  When you make soup with joint bones, the cartilage naturally dissolves into the broth and helps to protect your joints.

Digestive System

Bone broth is one of my favorite tonics for the digestive system.  The nutrients in the cartilage and the bone marrow are extremely nourishing to the rapidly dividing cells lining the digestive tract, and can heal damaged and inflamed tissues.

The Recipe

Another wonderful thing about bone broth is that it is incredibly easy to make.  The following is a basic recipe, but you can add different herbs and spices for extra flavor.

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole free-range chicken (you can roast a chicken and make soup from what is left after you have finished eating it) or 2 to 3 pounds of bony chicken parts, such as necks, backs, breastbones, and wings  and/or 1-2 organic grassfed beef bones (cut to release the marrow)
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • sea salt to taste

In a large stock pot or crockpot, place all the ingredients and cover with filtered water. Simmer for 8-10 hours or more.  Chicken bones should be soft enough to crush the ends.

Using a strainer, pour the broth into glass containers. Remove the bones and bay leaf and, if desired, add the meat back to the broth. The broth will keep in the refrigerator for 4 days, or in the freezer indefinitely.

Enjoy

In addition to being a top notch healing tonic, bone broth is delicious!  I recommend having at least one cup a day.  You can drink it strait, or add it to your favorite recipes.  It is a great way to add flavor and depth to a stir fry, and a wonderful base for sauces.

 Putting it all together

One of my favorite parts of my job is that I get to combine some of the oldest treatments around with cutting edge techniques.  It is often the simplest things that make the most profound shifts.  Incorporating homemade bone broth into your diet is a great way to take your health into your own hands, and start feeling better! Give it a try.  Your grandmother would be proud.

 

The Marijuana Question

 

The Super Bowl

Have you heard the jokes about the upcoming Super Bowl between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos? The “Stoner Bowl” the “Weed Bowl” the “Super BOWL.”  With teams from the two states who recently legalized marijuana facing off, the puns abound.

Marijuana is in the news these days, and on people’s minds.  Is it a good idea for it to be legal? Is it dangerous? Is it addictive? How addictive?

Now, too much of anything kills white rats, and there is evidence showing both the dangers and the benefits of marijuana.  Wherever you stand on the legalization issue, when it comes down to it, we are asking ourselves the wrong question.

Sneaky Addictions

Whether marijuana, sugar, or another substance or activity, the deeper question becomes how to be free of addiction.  We are living in an addicted society.  Sometimes this is obvious— when you or someone you love is an alcoholic or a drug addict.  But there are many more subtle and socially accepted types of addictions.

Two of the most common that I see in my practice are sugar addiction and internet addiction, but there are others.

You get addicted to things like sugar and the internet because they stimulate reward or pleasure centers in your brain.  For example— sugary food causes your brain to release dopamine.  Dopamine is also released in response to sex, enjoyable music, marijuana heroin, alcohol and cocaine.

For an short explanation of sugar’s effect on the brain see this TED-Ed video.  http://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-sugar-affects-the-brain-nicole-avena.

Checking Out

Part of why you become addicted to behaviors, foods and chemicals that stimulate the reward centers in your brain is that they allow you to “check out” when things get overwhelming.

When life feels like it’s just too much, I may run to the chocolate and consume enough to make myself sick just so I don’t have to feel what is going on.  Perhaps you check you facebook feed obsessively (I’ve done that too).  Anything to take a break from the present situation and all of the thoughts and feelings associated with it.

Give Yourself A Break

If you find yourself repeatedly “checking out” into behaviors or foods that you know are bad for you, and ultimately make you feel worse, it can be a subtle sign of addiction.  It is very common.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t do this sometimes.  It is a basic human need to check out when things get too intense.  Sometimes you just need a break!

What you can do is find healthier ways to check out.  Practices that can give you a break from the intensity and overwhelm of life without the negative backlash.  The first step is to notice that you are checking out.  Even if you can’t stop yourself at this time, are you aware of what is going on?

I don’t like that I smoke so much.  I am eating sweets to the point of being physically ill.  I am checking things on the internet when I know I need to go to bed.    

The second step is to stop, and do something else to give yourself a break.  Something that is easy to do, makes you feel good, and can let your mind rest for a bit.  For example, taking a walk, playing with your pet, dancing around the living room, taking a bath, playing a musical instrument, etc…

It can be helpful to come up with a list ahead of time, and put it in a place where you can easily find it. When you are feeling overwhelmed glance at the list, and give yourself a break that is nourishing rather than depleting.

Back to the Super Bowl 

The legalization of recreational marijuana in the home states of the two Super Bowl teams has sparked an interesting national debate. Much of the talk has centered on the effect that marijuana has on human health.  While this question is important to consider, there is a deeper inquiry that is necessary if we really want to improve our health as a society.

What we need to be asking is what we are addicted to and how we can be free of it.  Everyone needs to check out sometimes when life gets overwhelming.  If you can notice your inclination towards whatever it is you use to check out, and to instead do things that nourish rather than deplete you, you will feel happier and more peaceful.

 

Is it ok to take Advil?

The information contained in this blog post is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. 

Young Woman Holding Her Neck in Pain

When you have a headache, backache, knee pain, menstrual cramps, or any other type of pain, you want it to go away NOW.  You’ve seen the commercials for pain medications telling you that they will do that for you.  But, are there hidden costs?

When I was in my early 20’s, I had horrible headaches.  The pain was debilitating, but if I took a couple Ibuprofen (the generic form of Advil) I’d be able to go about my day.  So, I took quite a lot of the stuff.

Eventually I started to wonder if I was doing damage to my body.

Band-aids

If you are in a lot of pain, you need to do something to relieve it.  Often before you can really get to the deeper levels of healing, you need to quiet the screaming that is going on in you body.

OTC pain meds can feel like a God send in these situations, and it is ok to use them in limited amounts. However, these medications act like a bandaid.  And when you put on a bandaid, it is important to understand why you are bleeding.

Going to the Source

One of the dangers of OTC pain medications is masking the underlying cause of your symptoms.  While they may make you feel better, they won’t treat the root cause of your problem.  For example, I came to learn that my headaches were triggered by certain foods that I was eating, and the poor way I was dealing with stress.

While taking a pill is much easier than improving your diet and your stress response, changing these things had profound ramifications for my health.  Not only did my headaches go away, but my digestion got better, my sleep improved, and a whole host of other things shifted.

Your Stomach, Your Liver, and Your Kidneys

In addition to masking symptoms, pain medications have some very real potential side effects.  There are two basic types of OTC pain medications: NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs— such as Advil, Ibuprofen and Motrin) and Acetaminophen (found in Tylenol, and some generic medications).

The biggest risk with NSAIDs is severe stomach bleeding.  They can also make high blood pressure worse, and cause kidney damage (typically in people who are over 60).

The biggest risk of Acetaminophen is liver damage.  If you take the recommended dose, the medication is considered safe.  However, if you take more than the recommended dose you can end up with liver disease or liver failure.  According to webmd.com, Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the US.

“Yes, but….”

So, back to our original question: is it safe to take Advil?  The answer is “yes, but…” Yes, it is ok to take Advil (or other pain medications) to help you deal with your pain.  But, you can’t stop there.

It is important to take a closer look at what is going on in your body, and to treat the root cause of your pain.

 

It is also very important to talk to your doctor about any symptoms you may be experiencing, and any medication you are taking.  Everyone’s body is different, and for some people even small doses of pain medications are contraindicated.  

The One Thing Everyone Who Wants to Eat Healthy Needs To Do

I once ran into a bear on a backpacking trip. There I was, walking along a trail, minding my own business, when I turned a corner and came face to face with a large black bear, who was none to pleased to see me in her blueberry patch.  I was not pleased either. In fact, I was terrified.

When you are face to face with a large bear, dinner is generally the last thing on your mind.  So, what does this have to do with eating?

If you are like me, and many of my patients, when the decision of how to eat becomes overwhelming, you feel stressed.  Your body is subtly reacting to food the way mine responded to that bear.

And who can blame you? It can be confusing trying to understand how to eat well!

WHY IS EATING HEALTHY SO CONFUSING?

You have decided to make a commitment to your health, and to eat better.  You start with buying organic food at the grocery store, and then decide you want to take it up a notch.

You search around for the best diet.  You talk to friends and find internet sites claiming that a vegan diet will be the salvation of your body and the planet.  But then there are other people telling you to ditch the grains and eat a diet high in fat and meat.  And then there are the food combining folks.  Maybe you should try to eat an Ayurvedic diet? Raw foods?

Its enough to make you want to go back to the ice cream and pizza.  Right?

Amid all this confusion, it is easy to loose focus on the reason why you wanted to eat healthy in the first place.  To nourish yourself.

Easier said than done, I know.  In our schizophrenic American food culture, with our fad diets and nutrition science, it can be difficult to simply understand how to eat to nourish yourself.

Now, everyone’s digestive system is different, and in my practice I work with many people on creating custom plans to bring them back to health and happiness.  There is, however, one element that I include in everyone’s plan.  And it had to do with that bear in the blueberry patch.

BEAR VS. DINNER

When I ran into that bear, my sympathetic, or “fight or flight” nervous system was activated.

When you are under stress- such as being face to face with bear – the sympathetic nervous system dominates.  Your body mobilizes its resources to allow you to fight or run away.  For example, blood is shunted towards your skeletal muscles and away from your digestive tract.

With all those resources going towards fighting or fleeing, there is not much left to allow for good digestion.

When you are not under stress, your nervous system switches into parasympathetic, or “rest and digest” mode.  In this state, your body moves its resources towards digesting, healing tissue, and all of those bodily functions that are very important, but don’t matter much if you might get eaten by a bear in a few minutes.

In order to really receive nourishment from your food, it is crucial to be in a parasympathetic, “rest and digest” state when you are eating.

THE PHYSIOLOGY OF GRATITUDE

Now, you may not be face to face with a bear on a regular basis, but it is worth checking in to see if you feel stressed while you are eating.

There is a subtle way in which even the process of getting and cooking food can turn from a joyous and nourishing activity, to something that is stressful when you are trying to eat healthy.  Are these grains going to kill me? Is meat the enemy?

I am not saying that these questions are not important, but no matter what you happen to be eating, it is necessary to create a physiology that will allow for optimal digestion.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is very simple and very old.  Gratitude.  Before you eat, take a minute to feel grateful for your food, for the people that worked to bring it to you, and for anything else that comes to you.

You do not need to say grace.  You do not need to make this a religious ritual (unless you want to).  You do not even need to take more than a couple minutes.  Gratitude is simple, it is powerful, and it will drop your body into a physiologic state that will allow you to make the most of what you are eating.

In this day and age it can be confusing when you are trying to decide how to eat, especially if you have a health concern.  The food you eat is the foundation for a healthy body and mind, and it is important to eat as best you can for your body.  But before you eat (whatever you are eating), take some time to bring your body into a state that can digest that food.

What is the Heart?

In Chinese Medicine, the Summer is associated with the Fire Element, and the Heart.  eye of the gerbera

When I learned about the Heart in Chinese Medicine, what it is, and it’s implications for my life and for all of humanity, it was nothing short of revolutionary.  I’d like to share a little here about the Chinese concept of the heart, and some tips on getting in touch with that place in yourself.

In Chinese medicine, we talk about both the physical and the energetic heart.  The physical heart, even from a strictly biomedical/Western perspective, is miraculous.  It is a muscle that beats continuously for our entire lives pumping blood throughout our body.  But the heart is so much more than this incredible muscle.

In Chinese medicine the heart is a radiant void where Shen, or spirit, resides.  The heart contains our own personal connection with the divine.

My teacher, Thea Elijah, uses the metaphor of a doughnut and and a doughnut hole to describe this concept.  You can think about your physical and emotional being as the doughnut.  We are all very different types of donuts!  There are some donuts that we like, and some that we just can’t stand.  But in every doughnut, the hole in the center is the same.  It is that space in the middle of the doughnut, the doughnut hole, that is the Heart.  It is where the light comes through. It is the radiant void.

See if you can take a moment to feel that in yourself.  It helps to put a hand on the upper part of your chest and feel the warmth of your hand over your heart.  You can also  make the sound “Ahhh” so that you can feel your fingers on your chest vibrating.  This helps to open the heart.  Allow yourself to feel that contained within you is the light of the divine.

And be gentle with yourself.  This may take some time.  This is a wonderful practice to do while laying in bed at night.

 

Interested in learning more about connecting to your heart?

Is It Spring Yet?

I know that it is not spring yet. I can see the dusting of snow on my car, and feel the chill as the wind dips the temperature into the teens. Yes, it is February and it is clearly still winter. And yet, I am starting to feel Spring in my body. It is a subtle, but persistent feeling. It always starts around this time of year, as the snow melts quicker and the days get longer. Deep under the snow, the seeds that have lay dormant all winter are getting ready to sprout, and I can feel my body and my spirit waking up. Winter is a time to rest and to dream. It is a time to nourish ourselves in the way we only can in the deep quiet and stillness that winter affords. And after the rest of winter, comes the movement of spring. Spring is the time to take those first tentative steps towards actualizing those dreams that we have been dreaming all winter.

Inside me I am feeling the stirrings of action in both my body and my mind. I am also gearing up for a Spring detox. Spring is the perfect time of year to nourish ourselves in this way. Please click here to read an article I posted in 2011 about how to do a simple at home Spring detox. 

I have some exciting offerings this Spring that I’d like to share with you. Please click on the links for more details.

Growing Toward the Light: A Day of Self Care. Co-taught with Leslie Cerier & Nini Melivin. This is a full day workshop that includes a hands on cooking class, instruction on using food as medicine, and movement therapy and self shiatsu. Early registration deadline is March 2nd, and the class will take place on April 21st.

Guided Detox Program. Co-taught with Dr. Anna Abele. This is a six week program that includes weekly group meetings, as well as a one on one consult with myself or Dr. Abele. Please click here to contact me for more information.

Sanity in the Holiday Season

There are many ways in which the holiday season can make us feel crazy.  We all have our own individual ways in the which the combination of family, consumerisms and various social situations can bring us to our knees emotionally.  What I want to tell you about in this blog post today is a way in which Chinese medicine can help us to stay balanced and engaged during this season.  I say balanced and engaged, because what I am proposing is not a way to slip into some higher spiritual state and leave the madness below you.  No.  I am talking about a way in which we can be fully present with all the chaos of life, while remaining centered and connected with that which is deeper within ourselves.  Deeper than the chaos.  Deeper than the fray.  That part of us that is universal and is connected to everyone.

Before we can get into this too much we must first understand the nature of the Chinese  system of medicine.  Specifically, we need to know what a heart is.  Because in Chinese medicine, the organs do not exist in the democracy.  It is an absolute monarchy, and the heart is the emperor.  All of the other organs, which have both the traditional western characteristics, as well as emotional signatures, are in health when they are in service to the heart.

What is the heart?  In Chinese medicine, the heart is more than the physical muscle pumping blood.  The heart is a radiant void.  It is the place inside ourselves in which Shen, the Chinese word for spirit, resides.

A good way to get in touch with your heart, with this radiant void, is to put a hand on your chest.  Sit like this for a few minutes, feeling the warmth of your hand as it radiates onto your chest.   When you feel you are connected to this part of yourself, start to visualize that there is a space in your chest through which light is coming through.  This is the light of Shen.  And this light, Shen, is the same in every person.  The light coming through me is the same as the light coming through.  How fully can you take that in? You have in your chest this beautiful radiant void, through which comes a light that is completely pure and totally sane.  My teacher, Thea Elijah, uses the metaphor of a donut and a donut hole to describe the Chinese heart.  In this metaphor, you can think of yourself as a donut, and other people as donuts as well.  There are all sorts of different flavored donuts; the ones that are our favorites, and the ones that we can’t stand.  But in all of these wildly different donuts, there is always the same exact hole in the center.  That hole is heart space.

The donut metaphor helps to bring us into awareness that the radiant void opens from both the front and the back.  See if you can feel this.  This light that comes not from you, but through you.

Getting in touch with that light is one of the keys to successfully navigating the holiday season.  The holidays can really help us get in touch with all the messy emotional stuff that goes on between humans.  Using the donut and donut hole metaphor, we can think of the emotions as being part of the donut.  “You hurt me and now I want to crawl up in a ball every time I am around you.” Or, “I’m still made at you for how you treated me in the past.” Or even, “You cut me off in line at the grocery store and I hate you!!!”  And everything else that goes on inside of our minds that is not completely loving.   All of this is the donut.  Can you get in touch with the fact that, in the midst of all the poison darts of our emotions and the emotions of others there is a radiant void? That the light coming through me is the same as the light coming through you? This light is the nature of who we are.  I am not a woman, but light coming through a woman.  You are are not a man or woman, but light coming through a man or woman.

Notice what you feel when you are doing this practice.  Likely you will feel a decrease in tension and an increased sense of ease.  The person that you are interacting with may or may not change what they are doing right away.  Most people are not used to being treated as light coming through a woman or light coming through a man.  They are used to being treated as an amalgamation of all of their stories and all the things they have screwed up.  It takes some time to change that, but interacting with someone in the way described above can be incredibly healing for both people involved.  Even if you forget 90% of the time, keep trying.  It takes practice.  Make it a habit to come back to heart space; to come back home.  Put a and on your chest and breath.  Feel the warmth.  Remember who you are.  Remember who we are.  We are carrier mediums for light.

If you are interested in learning more about ways to cultivate heart space and stay sane in the midst of chaos, please contact me about my Medicine Without Form classes.  

I learned the concepts that I’ve spoken about in this article from studying with Thea Elijah, a master teacher of Chinese medicine and Sufi healer. 

Winter Immune Tonics

I could hardly believe my excitement last week as I glanced out my treatment room window and saw the first snowflakes falling.  It was a funny kind of excitement, because it came with feeling of profound peace.  I always feel this way at the beginning of winter. The deep quiet and opportunity for rest that winter provides are things that I treasure about living in New England.

Many people ask me how to stay healthy during this time of year, which brings with it colds and flus that for some people can last for weeks or months.  Here are some simple ways to avoid getting sick, and to take care of yourself when you do.

To avoid getting sick, it is important to take care of your body’s immune system.  The bulk of vitamins and minerals needed to support our immune system come from vegetables and whole grains.  Eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean proteins is a great way to strengthen you immune system. Regular exercise also boosts your immunity.

Immune tonics can also be useful this time of year.  Two of my favorites are astragalus and shitake mushrooms.  Both have been shown in scientific studies to boost the immune system, and are tonics in traditional Chinese medicine.  And they are easy to use in cooking!  Whenever I am making a soup, I put a couple sticks of astragalus root and a few dried shiitakes in the boiling water.  Astragalus and shiitakes are best used as preventative medicines.  If you do get sick, it is best to avoid them until you are feeling better agin.

Another tasty way to boost your immunity in the winter is elderberry syrup.  Elderberries have been shown multiple clinical trials to reduce the duration and severity of colds and flues.  I recommend taking 1 teaspoon of elderberry syrup daily during cold and flu season, and increasing this to 1 tablespoon when you are sick.  Elderberry syrup is a tasty addition to seltzer water or juice, or can be taking strait from the bottle.  Be sure to get a good brand that contains 100% Elderberries (we carry this in our herbal pharmacy, so feel free to ask about it if you stop in for a visit).

If you are suffering from frequent colds and flues, or sicknesses that last for longer than 1-2 weeks, you may need a customized herbal formula and/or dietary program to bring you back to having a robust immune system.  This is best done through a licensed alternative healthcare provider (naturopathic physician, acupuncturist, registered herbalist).  Please click the “schedule” link on the side bar if you would like to schedule an office visit or a free 15 minute phone consultation.

Squash!

Does anyone want any summer squash? Does anyone else have this problem?  You planted zucchini and now it seems to be taking over.  You are up to your ears in these vegetables, and they seem to be getting bigger by the hour!

Well, of all the problems one might face in the world, this is not such a bad one.  And it forces a bit of creativity into my normal cooking routine. I’ve been putting summer squash into almost everything I cook.

This morning I had a revelation about squash in eggs.  It was an experiment.  A risk on a Monday morning when there wouldn’t be time to make a breakfast take two.

It was a success!  The squash gave the eggs a nice fluffy texture and a great taste.  The veggies thrown hastily on top cooked up well.  And it took only about 15 minutes to whip up .

You can skip down to the bottom for the recipe, but first I want to tell you a little about the nutritional benefits of zucchini.

Zucchini, which is probably the best known of the summer squashes, has a water content of 95%.  This makes it very low in calories (only 14 calories per 3.5 ounce serving), and an excellent diet food for those trying to loose weight.  It also contains fair amounts of potassium, carotenes and vitamin C.

In addition to these nutritional benefits, summer squash, along with many other vegetables, has been shown to be protective against the cell mutations that cause cancer.

Combined with the other veggies in this recipe, you have a delicious array of the vitamins and minerals we need to stay healthy.

Here is what I threw together:

Summer Squash Frittata

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1/4 of a medium sized red onion, chopped
1/2 jalepeno pepper (the ones we grew this year aren’t that spicy, so you might need to adjust this)
1 medium sized grated summer squash
3 eggs
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1/2 cup of tomatoes, sliced (I used cherry)
3 medium kale leaves
Fresh herbs to taste (I used basil, oregano and rosemary)
High heat oil for sauteing

Saute onions and peppers over medium heat until the onions are translucent.  While you are doing this, whisk together the grated squash, eggs, salt, pepper and garlic powder.  Once the onions are ready, pour the egg and zucchini mixture over the onions.      Put a lid on it and let sit until the bottom is lightly browned, and the frittata can be easily flipped.

Flip the frittata* and add the kale, herbs and sliced tomatoes.  Cover and let sit for a few more minutes until the kale is wilted and bright green.

Serve and enjoy!

*Note: I didn’t execute the flipping part with the utmost grace, and mine flipped in a few different pieces.  It was still delicious, and with the veggies on top still looked good too.  

Source: The Encyclopedia of Healing foods by Michael Murray, ND

Photo courtesy of www.babyfood101.com

Heat Wave!

Pioneer Valley residents and Vermonters are a hardy folk.  The temperatures are creeping up into the 90’s this week, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one who will head to the garden to do some weeding and planting in the late afternoon sun.  Or go for a jog.  Or take advantage of any number of the fabulous outdoor opportunities this area has to offer.

This time of year I tend to notice an increase in the number of people complaining of leg cramps, restless leg syndrome and headaches.  All of these things can be caused by dehydration and/or a minor imbalance in electrolytes in the body.

Electrolytes are positively and negatively charged particles in our bodies, such as the components of table salt, sodium (Na+) and chloride (Cl-).  We need electrolytes to keep our bodies functioning properly.

In the hot sun we tend to sweat a lot, which can decrease our amounts of both water and electrolytes.  This is why sports drinks such as Gatorade are so popular with athletes.  My problem with these drinks is that they are full of sugar, and high sugar diets can lead to a myriad of health problems (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, increased inflammation, decreased immune function, etc….).

I recommend making your own electrolyte solution which is tasty, low sugar, and gives you the basic replenishment you need.  

Simply mix together:
1 liter of water
1/4 tsp of sea salt
1/4 tsp of baking soda
1/4 cup of fruit juice (if you have problems with blood sugar, you can decrease the amount of juice, or use a squeeze of lemon juice instead)

In addition to staying hydrated, but sure to wear a hat if you are out in the sun, and apply plenty of sunscreen to reduce your risk of skin cancer.

Allergies

It’s that time of year again.  The weather is getting warmer, the flowers are starting to pop out of the ground and all over the valley allergy symptoms are coming out of hibernation.

What are allergies?
In order to understand allergies, we need to understand the immune system.  The immune system is a complex array of cells, chemicals and organs that protect our bodies from invaders such as bacteria, viruses and fungi.  It also protects us from mutated cells and prevents cancers from forming.

The immune system reacts to foreign invaders by a number of different mechanisms.

For one thing, it makes the blood vessels a little leaky so that the soldier cells of the immune system can quickly move out of the blood vessels into the space where they are needed.  This is why when get an infection in a cut the area becomes swollen.  It is also part of the reason for the stuffy and runny nose of upper respiratory infections.  The immune system also creates extra mucous to help protect the body from invaders.

The problem with allergies is that our bodies are reacting to relatively benign substances (such as pollen, dust mites, animals, certain foods, etc…) as if they were horrible invaders.

Our treatment of allergies is two fold:

First, we need to minimize our exposure to the allergen.  We do this by washing sheets and pillowcases weekly in hot water, using HEPA air filters in the bedroom at night and generally keeping our homes and work places clean.  There are other more specific measure that you might take depending on your specific allergy and the severity of your symptoms.

We also want to decrease the inflammatory response that is going on in our body.  In my practice, I use a combination of diet, herbal and nutritional supplements and acupuncture to lower the levels of inflammation in the body.

For example:
Diet: I recommend a diet that is high in anti-inflammatory foods and low in pro-inflammatory foods.  The diet should be high in cold water fish and fruits and vegetables, while being low in refined carbohydrates, dairy, sugars and non-organic meat.  Click here for my basic anti-inflammatory diet.

Supplements:  Fish oil and quercetin powder are often beneficial for decreasing allergy symptoms.  I also provide my patients with a custom herbal formula to address their specific situation.

Acupuncture: Acupuncture can be anti-inflammatory and brings balance back to the system.  I have found it to be an effective part of allergy treatment.

Netti pot: nasal irrigation can help with allergy symptoms.  Irrigate nasal passages daily with a saline solution (if you are mixing up your own solution, be sure to use boiled or distilled water).  You can also add 1/8 tsp of ground goldenseal powder per 16 oz of saline solution.

Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is Fibromyalgia?  What is Chronic Fatigue?

For most medical doctors, Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome are diagnoses of exclusion.  This means that a patient is said to have one of these conditions when we can’t figure out anything else that is wrong with them, but they are clearly in pain.  There is a value in having these diagnosis.  A diagnosis of one of these conditions means we’ve ruled out all the scary stuff, and also that the doctor recognizes that the condition is not “all in your head” (as was the case before these diagnoses became common).

It is, however, important not to stop at these diagnoses.  In my practice I look at the physiology of the individual person who is suffering from the condition.  Through a combination of functional medical tests, dietary therapy and nutritional and herbal supplementation, I work together with my patients to address the underlying imbalances that are causing their symptoms.  I also use acupuncture, acupressure and craniosacral therapies to work with the energetic imbalances that are contributing to the illness.

In our work together, our attention is on you as a healthy and complete being.  There is a saying in Chinese medicine, “You can be you, or you can be ill.”  When we are working together, we are helping you come into your fullest possible manifestation of health, so that disease naturally falls away.

Does this happen overnight? Usually not.  Illness can take a long time to develop, and so too with healing.  Many people ask me how long it will take until they feel completely better.  The time frame is different for everyone.  Healing is a journey that, while rarely easy, can be extremely rewarding every step of the way.

Pre-Holiday Detox

I had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  Full of family, friends, and yes, LOT’S of food and drink!  I don’t know about you, but after Thanksgiving I am often left feeling a little heavy.  My body feels like it wants a cleans or a detox, but who has the time between Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays?  Luckily, detoxification is something that our bodies do naturally.  We have built in mechanisms to remove toxins from our body through our lungs, skin, kidneys and GI tract.  We can do a few simple things to optimize our detox pathways without dedicating a great deal of time and energy to an intensive detox (which is better suited for the Spring anyway).  Here is the simple “between Thanksgiving and Christmas/Chanukah” cleans that I will be doing.

1.  Avoiding sugar, dairy, refined carbohydrates, alcohol and highly processed foods.

2. Eating lots of dark leafy green vegetables and beets.

3. Eating healthy, lean protein sources, such as beans, fermented soy (tempe), and lean cuts of organic meat.

4.  Exercising and using the sauna at least three times a week.

5.  Supplemental fiber in the evening (oat bran is a good source)

 

Accupuncture on my brain

I am involved in some in depth study of the acupuncture points on the head.  There is so much information that gets processed inside our heads.  The cognition that goes on in there is really special to our particular species.  I love that through acupuncture we can  access the deep intelligence we are all capable of.  The ability to meet life’s challenges with grace and power.

I will not outline all of the points in this blog post, but I’d like to give you all an experiment to try.  Put your hands on your head, and with your fingertips massage your scalp.  Work your fingers into all the different parts of your scalp, from your hairline to the place where your scalp meets your neck.  Do this for a minute or so.  And while you are massaging your head, think about what an amazing being you are.  It is important to remember this.  Because sometimes we forget.

Stinging Nettles- Food and Medicine

The stinging nettles are just beginning to poke out of the ground here in the Pioneer Valley.  For many, these invasive plants are simply a nuisance- catching you off guard with their irritating sting.  Nettles, however are a powerful medicine to help us get through one of the other irritations of the Spring- allergies.

Historically, nettles have been used to treat inflammatory conditions, such as allergies.  This use has recently been backed up by scientific studies, which have shown that nettle preparations are effective at relieving symptoms of allergies.1  It has been hypothesized that the very sting that can make nettles the bane of our hike or garden work, is what makes them so beneficial at treating allergies.  The chemical compounds that cause the sting are contained in hair like spines.  These spines are as fragile as glass, and will break down in boiling water or in a blender.  So, it is very easy to neutralize the sting, and eat nettles without worrying about stinging your mouth!

In addition to the anti-inflammatory compounds, nettles are extremely mineral rich.  The minerals in nettle are highly bioavailable, which means that it is easy for your body to take in and utilize the minerals when you eat nettles or drink nettle tea.  The mineral rich nature of nettles make it a nutritious addition to your spring time meals.

There are many different ways to prepare nettles.  Below I will walk you through how to harvest and prepare nettles for cooking.  I will also share a one of my favorite recipe tips.

The Harvest

How to harvest: Harvesting nettles can be tricky business if you prefer, as I do, to leave without your arms and legs burning (though as a side note, the sting of nettles can be beneficial for joint pain due to arthritis and other rheumatological complaints.  This is because the sting acts as a counter irritant, depleting the neurotransmitters that signal pain in the body, so that after application, you can remain pain free for some time).2  To remain sting free, wear long pants- jeans are good, and a long sleeve shirt (something that is thick such as a sweater or a sweatshirt).  Gardening gloves are a must.

When to harvest: When the nettles are still young, and have not yet flowered.

Next, you need scissors and bucket or bag to collect the nettles.

Ok, now you are ready.  To harvest, simply snip the tops off the nettles and place them in your bag or bucket.

A note about wildcrafting: For wildcrafting (which is what you are doing when you are going out into the woods or the field to pick things to eat), it is important to take into account the local ecosystem and ensure that you are not depleting the population of what you are harvesting.  For nettle harvesting, we don’t need to be so careful because nettles are actually a moderately invasive species in this area, and we are doing our ecosystem a service by removing some of them. 

Preparing the nettles to cook

Before we eat the nettles, we have to make sure that they are clean, and that the sting has been neutralized.  Here is my favorite way to do this:

  1. Wash the nettles first with cold water in a strainer in the sink.
  2. Blanch the nettles in boiling water.

After you remove the nettles, you will see that the water is a nice green color.  This water is mineral rich, and contains the compounds from the delicate spines that are likely what makes the nettles beneficial for allergies.  Because you have washed the nettles first, this water should be free of dirt, and can be used in cooking or drunk as a tea. 

Nettle Recipe

Nettles can be used like any other green vegetable in stir fry, soups, casseroles etc… You can even put them on homemade pizza! One of my favorite ways to eat them is nettle pesto. I like to make up a big batch and freeze some so that I have the taste of spring throughout the year.

Nettle Pesto

Ingredients

2 cups stinging nettles, blanched and chopped (about 6 cups raw)
1/2 cup Parmesan
1/2 cup pine nuts, roasted
4-5 large garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Blanch the nettles in boiling water for about a minute.  Strain off excess water in a salad spinner or strainer.  Strain into the pot with the boiling water to preserve the nutrient rich liquid.  It’s also a good idea to give the nettles one final squeeze to get all the water out.

Place the nettles in a food processor with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, lemon juice, spices and half of the olive oil.  Blend it up a little, and then put in the remaining olive oil.  Blend up to your desired consistency.

Enjoy your pesto on pasta, bread, crackers, mixed into rice of quinoa, as a garnish to chicken or other meat dishes, on salad- the possibilities are endless!

Alternative ingredients for folks with food allergies
I sometimes leave out the parmesan for folks with sensitivity to dairy.  You can add in half an avocado instead, which gives the pesto the creamy taste without the dairy.

Notes on preserving

I like to freeze the pesto to have it all year.  I typically freeze it in ice cube trays, so that I can have little single servings to add to dishes throughout the year.  After the cubes have frozen, you can pop them out of the trays and store them in bags in the freezer. I’ll also freeze some in ziplock bags.  You can put a few spoonfuls in a bag and then flatten it out before freezing.  This allows the pesto to thaw out relatively quickly when you need it.

Note: Because I typically don’t think too much about proportions when making nettle pesto- just make enough for everything I’ve harvested, I did a little internet searching to look for a recipe with good proportions.  The recipe above is adapted from the“Fat of the Land” blog.  I don’t have any connection to this guy, but was pretty impressed by the pesto and fiddlehead recipes: www.fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com/2009/03/stinging-nettle-pesto.html

Fiddleheads

A late afternoon hike at Mt. Toby this weekend was a beautiful thing.  The streams and waterfalls were full from the recent rains, singing to us as we made our way on the moist earth towards the slowly unfurling fiddleheads.  Careful to take just a few from each plant, we crouched delicately by the side of the stream, enjoying the snap as the bright green tendrils came off in our hands.

After collecting a few bags full, we headed to the river to wash and prepare the fiddleheads for cooking.  The brown husks floated down the current, revealing an even brighter and more vibrant green.  These delicate plants were bursting with the song of springtime.  “Poke your head out of the ground and reach towards the sunlight!” they called to me.

Eating local foods is always satisfying, and eating those foods that can only be harvested at a particular time of year even more so.  Eating these types of foods, we take on the energy and the teachings of the season we are in.  Can we be like the fiddleheads?  Bravely moving forward into the unknown, while staying firmly rooted in the earth? Reaching towards the light from a deep sense that it is our innate right to do so?  It’s not a blind movement.  It is purposeful.  Its new and tender, but it is powerful.  There is a drive of the springtime movement that cannot be ignored.

How to Harvest and Cook Fiddleheads

Not all fiddleheads are edible.  It is specifically the fiddleheads of the ostrich fern that are primarily harvested in Northern New England.  If you are interested in harvesting fiddleheads, make sure you go with someone knowledgable.  Be sure to find a stand that is thick with fiddleheads, so that you are not significantly depleting the local population.  A plant every few inches is a good start.  Each plant will have a few heads on it.  Be sure and take only 3-4 heads from each plant.  The fiddleheads should be curled up (if they are unfurled it is too late to harvest) and about an inch to an inch and a half in diameter. The heads that are lowest to the ground are the tastiest.  Simply snap the heads backwards to harvest.

Next you want to remove the pieces of brown husk from the fiddleheads.  Soak the heads in water for a few minutes, and then remove them by hand, picking off any remaining husk.

Fiddleheads need to be cooked before they are eaten, otherwise they will be bitter and may cause gastrointestinal upset.  I like to blanch the fiddleheads in boiling water for a few minutes and then saute them with butter or olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Here is a link to some more information about fiddleheads.

Happy Spring Everyone!

Spring Detox

It’s a rainy Sunday in mid March.  I am sitting at my kitchen table, watching the rain fall and the snow melt.  I can feel the seasons shifting around me as the deep freeze of winter is replaced by the wetness of spring and the promise of new growth.  I can’t see them yet, but in the thawing earth the crocuses are turning towards the sun.  As the seasons change, my thoughts turn to the liver. You might think this an odd thing to cross my mind, here in my kitchen watching the rain.  I am thinking about the liver because I am thinking about Spring.

In Chinese medicine, the liver is the organ that is associated with Spring.  The energy of the liver is the forward momentum of the sprouts breaking through the ground, the determination of saplings growing tall towards the sun.

From a Western perspective, the liver is one of the principle organs of detoxification in our body.  All of the stuff that goes from our digestive tract into our blood stream goes first to the liver.  It is the liver’s job to neutralize any harmful substances before they can cause damage in the rest of the body.  For example, pesticides on food.    This filtration is why excessive drug and alcohol use can cause liver damage.  The liver needs to take care of all the toxicity in those substances, and sometimes it can become too much for it to handle.

The Spring is a great time to support the liver in it’s job of detoxification, and do some internal spring cleaning, so to speak, after all the heavy processed food we’ve eaten during the winter.  There are many different ways to do this, but the simplest is through eating foods that are both tasty, and supportive of your liver.

Some of the earliest vegetables to appear in the market are dark leafy greens such as kale, swiss chard and spinach.  These vegetables are fabulous at supporting healthy liver function.  Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Fiber: After the liver processes toxins, it will release some substances back into the intestines to be excreted.  In order for these substances to then be fully eliminated, it is important for the bowels to be moving regularly.  Fiber is an essential component of good bowel health.  In addition, fiber can bind up certain toxic substances in the intestine and prevent them from entering the blood stream in the first place.
  2. Vitamins and Minerals: Dark leafy greens are chock full of vitamins and minerals, many of which the liver requires for its proper functioning.  For example, these vegetables are a good source of folic acid, carotenes and vitamin C.
  3. Low fat: Fats are processed in the liver.  This process is energy intensive, and a diet that is high in fat puts an extra burden on the liver.  While healthy fats are an important component of a balanced diet, eating fewer fats and more vegetables is a good way to support your liver.

I love to cook and to me there is nothing better than the taste of foods that are fresh and in season.  Here are a couple of my favorite recipes for Springtime detoxifying cooking:

Massaged Kale Salad

The kale and dressing are the heart of this dish.  The apples and seeds add a nice texture and flavor.  You can leave these out, or substitute with other fruits, vegetables or proteins.

Ingredients

-1 bunch of kale

-1-2 Tbs lemon juice

-1-2 Tbs olive oil

-1 tsp sea salt

-1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds (or other nuts and seeds)

-1/4 cup of chopped apples

 

Directions: chop the kale into bite sized pieces, and mix in a bowl with the oil, salt and lemon juice.  Massage with your hands until the kale is limp and has the texture of cooked kale.  Add nuts, seeds, and fruit.  Enjoy!

Kale Chips

Ingredients:
1 bunch of kale
1 Tbs olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Directions: Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Remove the stems from the kale, and chop the leaves into bite sized pieces.  Toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and any other spices you desire.  Place kale on a baking sheet and bake for 20 min or until crispy.  Enjoy!

Naturopathic Medicine and Acupuncture During Pregnancy

 

There is no better time to see a Naturopathic doctor and Acupuncturist than when you are pregnant!  Your body is changing, and you may be experiencing health concerns that are new to you.   A licensed practitioner will work with you to find treatments that are both safe and effective for you and your growing baby.  These treatments may include herbal or homeopathic remedies, nutritional supplements, dietary advice, or hands on treatments such as acupuncture and craniosacral therapy.

Naturopathic medicine and acupuncture can be used safely and effectively to treat common complaints during pregnancy.  These include:

•morning sickness

•back pain

•anxiety and depression

• constipation

•hemorrhoids

•fatigue

•insomnia

• lowered immune system

• nutrient deficiencies

• leg and foot cramps.