All posts tagged naturopathic medicine

A Big Idea Worth Sharing – My Would-Be TEDx Talk

A few months ago, I got a call from an organizer of TEDx Seattle, asking if I would audition for their 2015 season. It took me a few weeks to get on board with the idea, but eventually I agreed as I decided it would be a good opportunity for me to work with some great speaking coaches and have a forum through which to crystallize some of my current thoughts about food and health. Long story short, I was not selected. Fortunately, I’m okay with it as the exercise still provided much of what I was looking to achieve. I got some great coaching and had an opportunity to draft a big idea worth sharing.

As a way to close the loop, I thought I would write out my big idea here. It’s not as polished as I like to think it could be, but I certainly believe it’s important and that’s why I’m sharing it. It’s about the way we define “healthy” in our society, specifically healthy food, why I think we’ve got it wrong and how I suggest we change it.

As a naturopathic doctor, I’ve found a rather non-conventional use for my training as a nutrition and health strategist to the food industry.

Naturopathic medicine is based on a set of principles, and there are two of these principles that I refer to most in my role. The first is docere, doctor as teacher, which is the idea that the role of a physician is to share information that empowers others to make healthy choices for themselves and their families. The other principle I frequently refer to is vis mediatrix naturae, also known as “the vis” or the healing power of nature, which is the idea that nature holds innate intelligence for how to be well.

It’s with this idea of “the vis” that I am struck by our current approach to health and nutrition science. Modern science allows us to drill down to amazing detail, seeing the microscopic elements of our world, and through this approach, identify and understand many important things. This approach has also led to the creation of a highly reductionistic framework where we understand things based on their individual elements versus the collective whole. In this way, the idea that the whole may somehow be greater than its parts…that there is an innate intelligence in the balance Mother Nature has created, is largely forgotten.

And from a food perspective, this is absolutely the case. Foods are largely seen as carriers for their elements: protein, omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E. How these element naturally exist in relation to each other, or if they exist naturally at all in relation to each other is no longer something we seem to question or even have a context with which to understand.

A great example that brings this reductionistic philosophy to life is our government’s current definition of a “healthy” food which is defined by limits on fat, sodium and cholesterol plus the presence of specific levels of protein, fiber, iron, calcium, or vitamins A or C. Based on this approach, a jelly bean with added vitamin C could technically meet the definition of “healthy” while an almond does not.

It should be no surprise then that consumers are confused by this and it shows. Rates of obesity, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases that are largely influenced by dietary choices are at epidemic levels. As a nation we are sick and fat and clearly unable to make healthful choices for ourselves and our families. The principle of docere in the food industry is failing. As the saying goes, this reductionistic approach to food and nutrition has left us unable to see the forest for the trees.

So, what if instead of continuing to focus on the individual elements, we took a step back and started to prioritize the bigger picture, or in the case of food, the whole apple, the whole broccoli, and the whole soy bean? I believe we can re-frame our understanding and approach to healthy food by doing two things:

  1. Reconnect with food in its natural state and understand what that means, especially from a nutrition perspective
  2. Trust that there is innate intelligence in the way food is naturally made and honor that innate intelligence

Fortunately, people are beginning to ask some of these questions and re-frame the way we define nutrition and health. Due to our current Food Movement, people are beginning to ask questions about how their food is processed, why their packaged fruit snack has a two year shelf life and if 30g of protein in their snack bar is realistic. And people are connecting the dots on a bigger level as well, asking questions about humane treatment standards for animals, genetic modification in food, and large-scale mono-cropping approaches to farming.

As someone who proudly considers the food industry to be her number one patient, I believe we have reached a tipping point and are primed to create a new framework for food and nutrition. Let’s ditch our reductionistic approach of jumping from high-protein to low-fat to vitamin-fortified trends and instead start examining the innate intelligence of nature.

And who better to do this than the Whole Food Markets, Wal-Marts, PepsiCos and Kelloggs of the world? That’s why making the decision to leave private practice and join the food industry ultimately became an obvious decision for me. With the principle of docere, doctor as teacher, and the food industry as my patient, I can bring “the vis”, the healing power of nature, to them…an industry that when it makes a small change has the power to impact the health of millions. That is the healing power of nature.

Image by Bartek Kuzia

Celebrating a Medicine That’s Changing Medicine

Naturopathic Medicine Week, October 7-13th

I am a naturopathic doctor.

I represent a community of approximately 4400 practicing physicians in the United States.   We may be small in number, but what we lack in size we make up for in a passion and commitment to the philosophies we took an oath to honor:  that our bodies’ have an inherent wisdom of how to be well and our primary job as a doctor is to remove barriers to health in order to honor this ability, that at our core we are teachers and in order to truly cure, we must empower our patients to become active participants in their healing process, and that treating symptoms is not the end game, but merely clues to identify and treat the causes of disease.

When you’re small it’s often hard to be seen.  That’s why the recently passed Senate Resolution 211, establishing this week, October 7-13th, as national Naturopathic Medicine Week is such a big deal.

From the authors of the resolution,

…naturopathic medicine provides noninvasive, holistic treatments that support the inherent self-healing capacity of the human body and encourage self-responsibility in health care.

They go on to state,

That the Senate recognize the value of naturopathic medicine in providing safe, effective, and affordable health care; and encourage the people of the United States to learn about naturopathic medicine and the role that naturopathic physicians play in preventing chronic and debilitating illnesses and conditions.

Awareness about what naturopathic medicine has to offer couldn’t come at a better time.  As a society, we’re really, really sick.  Two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, leaving us at risk for the development of serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, arthritis and depression.  88 million of us have high blood pressure and 25 million have insulin resistant diabetes.  A full 75% of our national health care costs are focused on these chronic, yet largely preventable, diseases.

Naturopathic doctors (NDs) are specialists of diet and lifestyle-based treatments and it’s exactly these treatments that are proven to be the most effective medicine for the prevention and treatment of these chronic illnesses.  We receive an average of 70 hours of nutrition education and an additional 130 hours of training in therapeutic diets compared to an average of just 19 hours of basic nutrition education in conventional medical programs.  We look at the physical, emotional, environmental and social influences and approach each patient as the unique person that they are, using the least invasive (and often less expensive) treatment possible.  In addition, we tend to set up shop where we’re needed most, a full 50 percent of us work with underserved populations.

I believe naturopathic medicine is an essential part of the solution to our health care crisis.  We are a medicine that is changing medicine and it’s for this reason that I am celebrating Naturopathic Medicine Week.  To learn more about naturopathic medicine and find a naturopathic physician near you, please visit our national association, The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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Colorado Set to Become 17th State to Recognize NDs as Primary Care Physicians

A major win for the naturopathic medical community is primed to take place when Colorado becomes the 17th state to regulate naturopathic medicine as a primary care option for its residents.  Mostly limited to the coastal states currently, licensure in Colorado is a promising sign of the growing awareness and acceptance of naturopathic medicine as an important and legitimate aspect of healthcare in our country.

As a California-based naturopathic doctor since 2005 (California has recognized NDs as primary care doctors since 2004), I support a vision where NDs act as the modern-day family physician.  As experts in prevention, lifestyle changes, food as medicine and other low-force interventions, we are a logical choice to be a first stop for diagnosis, health treatment and information.  In this role, we allow conventional doctors (MDs and DOs) to focus in specializations and higher-force interventions, a role in which the conventional medical community excels and has a structure and network to support.

Working together in this way, NDs and MDs create a spectrum of care that reduces medical costs, complications and perhaps most importantly, empowers patients to take control over their health with a greater understanding of how to treat and optimally prevent disease.

You can learn more about naturopathic medicine here and here.

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Image by Naturopathic Doctor News and Review

Natural Remedies to Beat Spring Colds and Flu

Just when you think you’ve successfully made it through cold and flu season without getting sick, you get hit with a virus.  Congestion, headache, cough, fatigue.  Yuck!  Although fall and winter months tend to be the most common times for cold and flu infections, we’re never truly immune to catching these irritating viruses.

As a naturopathic doctor, my aim with any treatment plan is to find an optimal balance of therapies to provide symptom relief and enhance the body’s innate immune function.  Here are some of my tried and true tools for colds and flu:

Sleep – Not sexy advice perhaps, but considering that your body does the majority of its healing as you sleep, prioritizing this activity when you’re feeling sick is incredibly important.  If napping isn’t an option, then get to bed early, aiming for at least eight hours of sleep per night.

Herbal teas – Many herbal teas contain a range of helpful compounds that can both support your immune system and help take the edge off of your symptoms.  Organic, single ingredient teas are best to maximize these benefits.  Some examples of teas I like for colds and flu:

  • Green tea – Although the mechanism behind how antioxidants support immune function is not completely established, they do seem to play an important supporting role and green tea is packed with antioxidants known as catechins.  Green tea also contains a mild form of caffeine which can help clear the brain fog common with colds/flu.
  • Mint tea – Full of volatile oils, when mint leaves are added to hot water these oils are released into the steam and become a gentle way to relieve sinus congestion (just breathe deeply over your steaming cup).  The same oil compounds also possess anti-viral activity, so this tea serves a dual benefit.

Netti Pot – These porcelain genie-in-a-bottle shaped pots may seem strange, but they can be a powerful tool to deliver medicine directly to congested, inflamed sinus tissue.  Here’s a link to a video demonstrating how to use a netti pot.  If you’re experiencing sinus congestion, try mixing two cups of lukewarm Goldenseal tea (Hydrastis canadensis) with 1 teaspoon sea salt.  The salt is anti-microbial and helps to decrease congestion and the Goldenseal is a full-spectrum anti-microbial herb with astringing properties to support immune function and tighten tissues. (Tip: The closer the temperature of the water is to the temperature inside your nose the more comfortable the treatment will be.)

Contrast hydrotherapy shower – Just like the heart pumps to move blood through our bodies, we can use contrasting hot and cold water to cause the vessels near the surface of our skin to expand and contract as well.  This technique further supports the action of the heart to move damaged cells and inflammation into the lymph system and out of the body and bring fresh blood with oxygen, nutrients and virus-fighting immune cells into our tissues.  Here’s how it works:

  • At the end of your shower, rapidly turn the water temperature down (it should be cold enough to take your breath away)
  • Slowly rotate your body under the flow of water to directly expose all of your skin to the cold temperature.  Lift each arm to expose the skin on either side of your chest and submerge your head as well.  Complete this process slowly over the course of 1-2 minutes.
  • Return the water to hot and repeat the process of exposing all of your skin to the water, again taking 1-2 minutes to complete the process
  • Repeat the hot and cold cycles as many times as you like, ending on a cold cycle
  • When you get out of the shower, dress warmly, trapping in the heat as your body re-heats itself

With any treatment, you should always talk to a licensed health professional about your symptoms and work together to develop a safe and appropriate treatment plan.

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Image by The Neti Pot

Stinging Nettle Tea: A Natural Remedy to Fight Spring Allergy Symptoms

I don’t know how you fare this time of year, but it’s usually right around now that I start to experience seasonal allergies.  For me that means itchy eyes and throat and sneezing, especially in the morning.  However, seasonal allergies can present in many ways, with symptoms that span from a mild runny nose to severe chronic headaches.

For the past few years, I’ve mostly just toughed it out (thankfully my symptoms are mild enough that this is an option), but this year I have a natural medicine plan – Stinging Nettle tea.

In the United States, Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) is considered a weed by many given the ease with which it grows.  Its funny name comes from the Latin verb urere, meaning “to burn,” because of its urticate (stinging) hairs that cover the stem and underside of the leaves.  So, while walking through a field of this plant is probably not a good idea, using it for its anti-allergic activity can be an effective way to manage seasonal allergy symptoms.  It has a nice amount of published research demonstrating positive benefit for a host of allergic and inflammatory conditions.

Stinging Nettle contains a set of compounds that act on the immune system to provide anti-inflammatory action and block histamine release.  Perhaps you are familiar with over-the-counter medicines called “anti-histamines”?  Well, Stinging Nettle works in a similar fashion, blocking the release of histamine compounds that alert our immune system and stimulate inflammation, redness and all those pesky symptoms those of us who are sensitive to pollen, etc. experience this time of year.

Because Stinging Nettle doesn’t contain caffeine, you can brew it as tea and exchange it for your water source throughout the day.  Here’s my recipe/plan:

  • Add 1tsp dried Stinging Nettle leaf to 16oz hot water.  Steep for 2-3 minutes.
  • Drink right away in the morning when I experience the most symptoms
  • Re-fill tea infuser with hot water and re-use same team leaves a couple more times throughout day (although most of the anti-histamine activity will come from the first steep, there is a mild benefit from re-using the leaves)
  • Continue as I feel like I need symptom relief throughout day

I order my bulk herbs online from Starwest Botanicals, but depending on where you live you may be able to find quality bulk herbs at your local grocery or health food store.  The key to buying dried herbs is to make sure they are quality and have been stored properly.  In the case of nettles, the leaves should be dark and smell slightly sweet.  Just like spices in your kitchen, you want them to have color and scent…that’s a sure sign they are still good.

With any treatment, you should always talk to a licensed health professional to make sure the products and medicines you are using are appropriate for you.

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Image of Urtica dioica by John Tann

Your Seasonal Guide to Food as Medicine: April Produce

When it comes to seasonal foods, spring is definitely my favorite time of year for one important reason, berries.  I love all berries, but especially dark, sweet strawberries…the ones that are big enough that they require at least two bites to get in your mouth.  Beyond just berries, spring is the kick off to a long list of amazing seasonal fruits and vegetables.

As a naturopathic doctor, I’m always thinking about food as medicine.  So, here’s my sample guide to what’s in season this month and how each fruit and veg supports the body.

Arugula – This beautiful bright green leaf is actually part of the Brassica family (think broccoli and Brussels sprouts).  Glucosinolate, a compound found in arugula and other Brassicas, support a specific chemical called cytochrome p450 that plays a major role in the liver’s ability to detoxify our bodies.[1]

Asparagus – Beyond being a source of vitamins A, C, E, and iron, asparagus also contains a powerful antioxidant called glutathione.  Not only does glutathione work at the sight of cells throughout our bodies to neutralize free radical damage due to stress and chemicals but has a specific affinity for tissues in the liver.  Given that the liver is a primary spot for detoxification in our bodies, giving it some TLC with a boost of glutathione is always a great idea.[2]

Artichoke – Compounds in this plant support liver and bile duct function and may also lower total plasma cholesterol levels and support a more optimal ratio of healthy (HDL) cholesterol to unhealthy (LDL) cholesterol.  Artichokes are a super easy appetizer to make and share, just trim the tips of the flower, steam and serve.[3]

Berries – Although the vitamins and minerals berries provide such as A, C, E, folic acid, selenium and calcium are wonderful, it’s the compounds known as anthocyanins that are getting a lot of attention these days in the scientific community.  Anthocyanins are responsible for providing the brilliant red to purple spectrum of color found in most berries, and in addition to providing pigment, anthocyanins act as antioxidants in the body.  Emerging research suggests benefits in supporting the treatment of everything from colds and flu to cancer.[4]

Navel oranges – If any fruit is famous for containing vitamin C, its oranges.  And while it’s true that the fruit of oranges is a great source for C, the white peel (known as the albedo) around the fruit is worth attention as well.  Flavonoids in the albedo have been researched for their positive role in cancer prevention as well as their ability to support healthy cholesterol levels.  Not only that, but the flavonoids from the peel help the vitamin C in the fruit work better…that Mother Nature, she’s one smart Lady![5]


[1] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20833222
[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21724661
[3] http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0944711311800279, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ptr.3698/abstract;jsessionid=F56F6C50A468740A175ED6F120443C28.d03t02
[4]
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1756464613000479
[5] http://www.livestrong.com/article/440499-a-list-of-the-benefits-of-orange-peels/

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Sleep Like a Baby – Six Natural Tips to Optimize Sleep

Our bodies use sleep time to repair damaged tissues, rebuild our immune systems and process all the stressors from the previous day.  In my experience from working with patients in private practice, the single treatment of improving a patient’s sleep patterns can have a profound impact on their overall health status, regardless of their illness.  Bottom line – productive, sufficient sleep is really, really important and most of us sabotage ourselves due to poor sleep hygiene.

I define optimal sleep as the following – falling asleep within ten minutes of lying down, sleeping through the night without waking and waking the next morning feeling rested.

If you’re not experiencing optimal sleep, the trick to getting there may be found in some simple behavior and lifestyle changes.

My basic recommendations (the more of these you can incorporate the better):

  1. Simplify your sleeping space.  The only thing you should be doing in your bedroom is sleeping and having sex.  Paperwork, television, food, clutter…these are all things that do not belong in the bedroom.  Your sleeping space should make you feel calm and relaxed.
  2. Make sure your bedroom is dark and quiet.  Cover windows with blackout shades; add white noise at night if you have outside noise to deal with.
  3. Try to avoid eating right before bed.  Ideally, give yourself a couple hours of no solid food before bedtime.  Giving your body a few hours of digestion time prior to sleep will allow your system to shift into a deeper state of relaxation.  An added side-effect of this tip is that it may also improve your digestion the next morning.
  4. Disengage from all stimuli 30 minutes prior to bedtime.  So, turn off the TV, shut down your computer and phone.  Dim the lights, sit quietly and do something relaxing like read a book.

If you need extra support during the night, here are some tools to consider:

  1. Keep a notebook next to your bed.  If you find that you wake with a list of worries or “to-dos”, take a moment to write them down and get them out of your head so you can deal with them in the morning when you can be productive.
  2. If you are able to fall asleep without trouble but often wake and have trouble getting back to sleep, try the following: Find an essential oil scent that is appealing to you but is one you do not smell at other times of the day (so, e.g., lavender is probably not a good choice as it’s found in many soap scents, etc).  Before you go to bed at night, apply a small amount behind your ears.  Do this for a few nights in a row to establish a link between this scent and the feeling of sleepiness.  Once this connection is established, you can begin using the scent in the night if you wake up and have trouble returning to sleep.  Apply the oil again behind the ears as a trigger to your brain for feeling sleepy.  (This tip can also be useful when traveling to different time zones to speed recovery from jet lag.)

A variety of natural products such as melatonin, chamomile flower and valerian root can also be used as temporary treatments to help establish new sleeping patters.  With any product, there are always risks, so it’s best to work with a licensed practitioner, such as a naturopathic doctor, who is trained in using medicines like these.

Here’s a simple step-by-step bedtime ritual I found from The Healthy Entrepreneur that may also be a nice guide to check out.

Sweet dreams!

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My Personal Journey into Meditation – Part Two

Meditation is not just an activity for yogis seeking spiritual enlightenment.  As I mentioned in Part 1 of this post, the science on the benefits of meditation is strong and growing with the practice showing promise across a range of both physical and mental/emotional disease states.  For me personally, I’m entering the world of meditation in the hope it can be a tool to help me find peace within my hectic, and sometimes chaotic, life.

I’ve just returned from a five-day meditation retreat at a Buddhist monastery founded by Thích Nhất Hạnh.  Thầy, as he’s known to the community that follows him, is a Buddhist monk originally from Vietnam who came to the United States in the 1960s and is largely recognized as a world leader in the peace movement (he was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967).  His practice pulls from a variety of sources within the Buddhist tradition as well as from Zen teachings and Western psychology theory.  In terms of meditation, his approach is summed up as “mindfulness meditation” which is basically just what it sounds like it would be.

Our days at the retreat were pretty scheduled and looked something like this:

5.30a – Wake up with group exercise followed by walking meditation to the Big Hall
6.30a – Sitting meditation for 45 minutes followed by more exercise
7.45a – Silent breakfast with eating meditation
11a – A Dharma Talk given to the group by one of the resident monks or nuns*
12.30p – Silent lunch with eating meditation
2p – Deep meditation in the Big Hall (also known as “snore meditation”, this quickly became a personal highlight)
3p – Breakout session with smaller groups led by a monk or nun to discuss the practice and related subjects
5.30p – Dinner with eating meditation
7.30p – Sitting meditation in the Big Hall for 45 minute followed by “Nobel Silence” which lasted until after breakfast the next morning

It turns out “mindfulness meditation” can manifest in many forms and the practice of meditation can take place outside of sitting silently, eyes closed, in Lotus position.  This form of meditation requires clearing your mind and bringing it to focus on the present moment.  For example, at the beginning of each meal we were encouraged to eat in silence.  Prior to beginning to eat, we sat with our food in order to appreciate all the hard work by numerous people and the planet that went into creating the ingredients and presenting it as our meal.  When we began eating, we were encouraged to eat slowly, taking the time to really experience the taste and texture of our food, placing our utensils down between bites and chewing thoroughly.  Although it may sound simple, in my experience, it was profound.  Especially with my background in food and medicine, taking the time to truly appreciate what I was eating was a powerful exercise.

Now that I’m back I’ve noticed that I have a greater ability to focus…during a conversation with a colleague or to the lyrics in the music I listened to while jogging this morning.  But more than that, I feel calm.  Really calm in a way I haven’t felt for a long time.  It feels wonderful.

My plan now is to try and use some of the time I traditionally reserve for TV to sneak upstairs and practice silent sitting meditation for 20 minutes Monday-Friday.  I’m also planning to look for a Sangha, a meditation community, in my area to join as a way to stay connected to other people who are following a similar path.  Turns out, I’m also thinking a bit about the practice of Buddhism in general since the retreat…not sure what that means yet.

Inside the Big Hall at the altar was a beautifully painted sign that said “This is it”.  That sign is definitely the most profound visual memory I have from my time at the retreat as its message is so incredibly simple and yet, to me, so true.  This is our life.  The time is now.  This is it.

*During one of the Dharma Talks, a monk referred to a piece in the New York Times about the “Busy Trap”.  It’s a great read about how we create busyness in our lives and the value the author places on his moments of idleness.

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“Ask the Expert” Partnership with Health Magazine and Kashi

1-Health-Magazine-Ask-the-Expert

I love when great brands unite (and I get to be in the middle of it!). Just one such thing happened when I had the chance to do a year-long “Ask the Expert” column with Kashi and Health Magazine. We gave each month a theme, such as “easy ways to shop healthy all week” or “easy ways to live naturally at work”. The general goal of the column was to provide tips for small changes that can add up to having a big impact on your health. Not only was it fun to have such a great platform to share natural food and lifestyle tips, but also awesome to represent and bring exposure to the naturopathic medical profession!

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