Thursday, April 25, 2013

Identification of common stressors and effective stress response tools

Stress is everywhere and certain common stressors cannot easily be controlled. However, the act of managing stress is a learned skill that is completely within reach. Below, I identify common stressors and offer guidance for successful stress management.

Certain emotions including anger, fear, worry, anxiety, nervous tension, guilt, shame, and humiliation trigger a strong stress response. Additionally, the mental and physical strain of overwork can contribute to the stress cascade. Keeping late hours and shift work lead to insufficient sleep, a very common stressor in our culture. And life events such as death of a loved one, divorce, separation, fusion of/step-families, retirement, loss of job, moving/change in residence, financial loss, school, work can send anyone into a stress frenzy.

Research studies have identified that successful people, not only manage, but persevere through stressful experiences using the following stress relief models:
  • Network and social connectedness
Surround yourself with a support network of family, friends and, if needed, health care professionals. Regularly make an effort to spend face-to-face time with each person in your support network to really maintain and nurture those relationships. Human nature and culture have evolved through trust and cooperation and social isolation can often make stressors appear insurmountable. Social proximity through relationship building can harness the trust and resilience needed to face stress.

Practical step for building social networks:
Use video technology to maintain face to face relationships even when you or your loved ones are out of or on the other side of town. Skype, Google videochat and hangouts, or Facetime are great resources for this.
  • Self-control
Feeling overwhelmed and out of control are indicators of a declining ability to to manage stress. Self control can be viewed as a muscle that can be both strengthened and fatigued with use. Individuals who are most disciplined make it a point to avoid temptations such as unhealthy relationships, foods, and behaviors in order to conserve their will power. When will power is depleted, people feel overwhelmed by even most negligible stressors and have trouble with making decisions. The implication is that we all have a finite amount of self-control and should try to exercise it with awareness and intention to strengthen it. By exercising will power frequently and with intention, self control can be strengthened and the stress of decision making minimized.

Practical steps for harnessing self-control:
Build these self control skills into the scaffolding of your life by practicing prayer, meditation, yoga, pilates, tai chi, and any other activity that requires awareness and mindfulness. This could mean watching your posture, speaking in complete sentences and avoiding use of slang, or eliminating refined sugar from your diet.
  • Predictability
Consistent daily schedules and predictable routines help to develop a sense of harmony, establish security and build trust that the current stress is transient and will pass, that tomorrow will be fine. Daily routine has been shown to be soothing to the stress-ridden over-stimulated nervous system. Even, clutter and a chaotic physical environment can lead to mental and emotional overstimulation. Once the mind is overwhelmed, it is difficult to perform well and impossible to feel comfortable and relaxed.

Practical steps for achieving a predictable daily routine:
Go to sleep, get up, shower and leave the house at the same time each day. Aim for 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Eat breakfast every morning. Spend some time organizing your work space every day and allot time to even organize your appearance. Make time for down time in your daily schedule.
  • Outlets for frustration
Build outlets for processing frustration into the social scaffolding of your life. For children this may mean utilizing creative outlets such as drawing, play, and puppets to recreate and process the frustrating event. For adults this may mean journaling, meditation, prayer and/or professional counseling. Without a forum for voicing or processing frustration, one runs the risk of relying on unhealthy stress-associated behaviors like overeating, eating unhealthful foods, skipping meals, chronic caffeine use, alcohol and smoking that deplete one's ability to manage stress.

Practical steps for creating outlets for frustration:
Physically remove yourself from a stressful situation. Go for a walk or take a bath. Sit with your thoughts and think about why the situation provoked a stress response. What is unusual or peculiar about this situation that provoked a stress response? Come back to the stressful situation 24 hours later, if possible, and see if it still feels overwhelming.
  • Reframing your outlook
Stressful situations can be turned around by reframing your outlook. Reframing is a technique of processing information with a fresh set of eyes and an open mind. Mindset is what often limits our ability to see things clearly.  To change your mind is to change your perception of stress. Mindfulness is leaving your mind open, free to drift, to notice new things and take advantage of new opportunities. Thinking is often mistaken for mindfulness, but thinking is a very different and can often be a stressful process, as there is a possibility of not getting the right answer.

Practical steps to reframe your outlook:
Start paying attention to the new things in your environment. Spend at least an hour each day on . an activity that let's your mind drift such as walking out in nature or meditation.

I hope this article will help you to understand that common stressors in your life are not unique. These stressors are universal and affect every personality, every household and every relationship. We all have stress in our lives! However the tools of managing stress are not universally present. Social isolation, negative mindset, unintended behaviors, inflexibility and lack of routine and will power limit one's ability to manage stress effectively. I trust that the stress management tools I've laid out in this article will help you. I look forward to hearing from you!

Baumeister, RF and Tierney, J. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength.
Langer, E. Counter Clockwise: Mindful Health and the Power of Opportunity.
Aron, Elaine. The Highly Sensitive Person.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

You Are What You Eat: Implications Of Using Plastic

The detrimental effects of exposure to plasticiser Bisphenol A (BPA) have been known for years. BPA is a hormone disrupting chemical that leaches out of plastic food and water storage containers (as well as paper money and thermal paper receipts!) and is linked to conditions such as heart disease, asthma, cancer, diabetes, and PCOS.

I am often asked if it is safe to use plastic products labeled "BPA-free." My answer has always been "No!" followed by a recommendation to use a glass or a stainless steel food storage or drinking vessel instead. I suspected that in lieu of BPA the industry would use another pasticiser in their BPA-free products whose safety has not yet been studied. My suspicion has been confirmed this week. In a recent study Bisphenol S (BPS) a substitute for the well-known Bisphenol A has been found in urine of exposed individuals and seems to disrupt estrogen hormone actions in ways similar to BPA.

And, this week, one other study came out showing that melamine has been found in urine of people who enjoy eating noodle soup out of melamine plastic bowls.

The age-old adage "You Are What You Eat" seems to ring more true now than ever. And the best way to limit harmful exposure to chemicals in your life is to eliminate plastic. If glass and stainless steel worked for tons of people before the advent of plastic, it will work for you today!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Superfoods And The Process of Tonification

When seeing patients for their intitial evalution my goal is to build a strong foundation, identify obstacles to health and bring balance. A strong foundation is created by a process of tonification. To tonify means to conserve or increase available energy, just the opposite of the more familiar - detoxification, the process of forcing the body to eliminate toxins via expansion of energy. Common side effects of doing a cleanse or a detox, like fatigue, malaise, and light-headedness occur precisely because of a deficiency in energy and need for tonification.

On a biochemical level, tonification is achieved by maximizing consumption of nutrient-dense and calorie-sparse foods. These foods have rightfully earned the name superfoods. How do they tonify? Well, superfoods contain nutrients that are cofactors in biochemical energy production pathways in the body. A body that is deficient in nutrients will be deficient in energy.

Here's my menu of superfoods:

Pumpkins (kabucha is my favorite)
Nuts and seeds (beware of chemically treated and pasteurized almonds)
Green leafy vegetables
Sea vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, purple cabbage)
Wild cold water fish (salmon, sardines)
Fruit oils (olive, avocado)
Pasture raised organic eggs
Spices (turmeric, ginger, cinnamon)
Teas (green tea)
Mushrooms (shitake, maitake.... even white button mushrooms help to prevent cancer)
Gee or clarified butter, home-made raw milk butter, coconut oil
Sprouted foods

What's on your superfoods menu?

Constructive Criticism of Modern Parenting Methods

Last week, I read a great article from Science Daily article summarizing an interdisciplinary body of research recently presented at a symposium at Notre Dame University. Here's the link to the actual article. It''s great - read it! And here's the link to the entire symposium. It's amazing!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Three Surprising New Facts About Probiotics

Probiotics are strains of beneficial bacteria that are found in fermented foods like yogurt, cottage cheese, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi, miso, sauerkraut, pickled ginger and other fermented veggies. These beneficial bacteria live on the skin, in the colon, vagina, and mouth and prevent colonization of these areas with pathogenic bacteria.  Probiotics have long been known to help treat  IBS, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, colitis, food sensitivities, constipation and other GI concerns with imbalanced intestinal microflora. Many of you also know about the use of probiotics in cases of inflammatory conditions such as atopic dermatitis/eczema, allergies, and hives.

I want to share research showing three new uses for probiotics that I bet you haven't heard about:

Probiotics improve exacerbations in cystic fibrosis
Patients with cystic fibrosis tend to develop chronic lung infections. Probiotic treatment with a combination of strains of Lactobaccilus acidophilus, Lactobaccilus bulgaricus, Bifidobacterium bifidum and Streptococcus thermophiles reduced pulmonary exacerbations. This is very promising news for patients with cystic fibrosis and other pulmonary challenges.

Probiotics help reduce oral mucositis in cancer patients
Patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation tend to develop mucositis, painful sores in the mouth that often require narcotics for pain control. In this study a strain of probiotics, Latobaccilus brevis CD2 was given as a lozenge to women with mucositis. The severity and incidence of mucositis was better in the group receiving  probotics. This is also amazing news as mucositis is a rate limiting step in patients receiving treatment for cancer.

Probiotics help reduce bad breath
Patients with halitosis, bad breath, were given a strain of probiotics containing Streptococcus salivarius K12. This beneficial strain of bacteria suppresed the growth of bad bacteria that is causes bad breath and reduced severity of bad breath.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Super Easy Roasted Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Pumpkin pasta sauce is velvety, sweet, rich  and super easy to make. It is very versatile and can be prepared ahead of time and frozen. Pumpkin sauce can be used in any pasta recipe that calls for tomato sauce. This sauce recipe is amazing in a lasagna. While the lasagna is baking in the oven, I warm up the leftovers and give to my son as a soup with a sprinkling of pastina. For adult palates I may serve it as a soup with a dollop of pumpkin seed butter.  I like to use full fat organic coconut milk in this recipe, but the roasted pumpkin and garlic combination is so flavorful that any liquid even water will work well.


1 large or 2 small  acorn, butternut, kobucha, hubbard or any other pumpkin or squash
2 heads of garlic
16-24 oz of liquid (water, veggie broth, cow milk, almond milk, coconut milk); depends on the size of the pumpkins and the desired consistency of the sauce
1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves


Preheat the oven to 375
Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds
Lay face down on a cookie tray lined with parchment paper
Wrap garlic in foil, add to the cookie sheet
Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until pumpkin is soft
Take out of the oven and let cool
With a spoon scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin in to a blender jar or a large bowl
Unwrap and without peeling queeze out the soft garlic cloves
In the blender (or a large bowl and hand emmersion blender) combine and process pumpkin flesh, garlic, liquid, basil, salt and pepper
Adjust liquid untill the sauce reaches desired consistency
Enjoy in any pasta or lasagna recipe!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

How do you resolve to feel in 2013?

Happy New Year! I wanted to start the first blog post of 2013 with new year's resolutions. But just today, I was reminded that most resolutions do not work because they evoke negative feelings like guilt and shame. Experience and science tell us that it's a collosal waste of time to start the year with a resolution to lose 10lbs.

Instead of asking "what do you want to do this year?", let's ask ourselves "how do you want to feel?"  Experience tells us that we all want to feel joy, pleasure, and freedom! And studies show that we are motivated by pleasure. When rephrasing your new year's resolutions from actions to feelings, you may then decide to make lifestyle choices that are in line with those feeling. In practical terms you may resolve to feel stronger, energetic and more fit. To maximize these feelings you might make healthier dietary choices, go to sleep earlier, increase physical activity, and establish a relationship with a wholistic healthcare provider. 

So how do you resolve to feel in 2013?