Category Archives: Health Information

Information for a healthier you.

New Years Resolutions Success

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We are sixteen days out from  New Year’s Day.  How are all of the resolutions you set going?  If you found that you are already starting to slip back into old habits, it is okay.  Refocus yourself.  Remind yourself about why this change is important to you.  A small slip up doesn’t mean you have to give up or are starting from ground zero.  It just means you need to recommit to the changes you desire.  Some ideas for helping yourself stay focused include:

  • Make your resolutions have small, achievable steps. Each success will build on the one before.
  • Write your resolution down, put it somewhere visible and read it everyday.
  • Find someone who will hold you accountable and have regular check ups with them.
  • Be prepared.  If your resolution is to eat healthy, have healthy food in your house, pack a nutritious lunch each night to take to work and get rid of all the  food in your house that doesn’t support your goals.
  • Make sure the resolution is something meaningful to you not something you feel society wants or expects.

If you follow these suggestions, you can accomplish the goals you set for yourself!

Photo from flickr.

Eating to Improve Anxiety


A fluttering heart. Sweaty hands. Butterflies in the stomach.  Muscle tension.  Sleeplessness, excessive worry or a racing mind.  To 18% of Americans these symptoms are all too familiar hallmarks of their battle with anxiety.  While some people are forced to control their anxiety with medication.  Others find symptom relief through a mix of dietary changes, mindfulness, movement and/or mental health treatment.  All of these choices can be effective options to bring relief. However, I like to try non-medication options first to see if they can have an impact.  This article offers some minimally invasive ideas to get you started on your path to an anxiety free life.

Tryptophan Rich Foods:  Tryptophan, an essential amino acid, is an important precursor for the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Serotonin is considered a “feel good” chemical, promoting feelings of sleepiness, relaxation and calm.  It is also the precursor for melatonin, another chemical important for sleep.  Recent studies have shown that eating tryptophan rich foods by themselves may have a negative impact on the amount of tryptophan reaching the brain.  This decrease occurs because tryptophan, the least abundant amino acids in food, must fight with other amino acids to cross the blood-brain barrier.  Unfortunately, it is often crowded out by more plentiful amino acids.   However, combining protein rich food with some carbohydrates will help aid absorption of tryptophan.  Tryptophan rich foods include turkey, oats, bananas, chicken, cheese, nuts, sesame seeds, peanut butter and milk.

Protein:  Eating 3-4 oz of good quality protein (about a palm sized serving or three eggs) at each meal is  important for blood sugar control and reducing anxiety.  Protein contains the amino acids necessary for your body to produce the neurotransmitters which directly impact mood and anxiety.  If you can afford pasture raised, organic meat and eggs these are your best choices.  If that is too expensive, try to buy your meat free from antibiotics and hormones.  Try combining protein rich food with some carbohydrates to help aid absorption of tryptophan.

Seafood:  Omega three rich fatty fish such as salmon, herring, trout, sardines and tuna can be helpful in the reduction of anxiety.  Also oysters, mussels, crab and clams have high levels of zinc, an important mineral in the reduction of anxiety.  Wild seafood is the best choice and the Monterey Bay Aquarium ranks seafood choices on safety and its impact on the environment.

Asparagus:   Asparagus is high in folate, a b-vitamin complex known to help fight anxiety.  Folate is important in the production of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.  Folate is also important for the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter important for sleep and stress reduction.

Avocado:  Avocado can be helpful in reducing anxiety due to its high levels of folate and other B-vitamins.  It also contains potassium which naturally lowers blood pressure.  They are also a significant source of anti-oxidants like lutein and beta carotene which help fight oxidative stress in the body.  Finally, avocados are a significant source of Vitamin E.  Deficiencies of vitamin E have been linked to increased anxiety symptoms.

Leafy greens:  Leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach are excellent sources of b-vitamins and magnesium.  Magnesium is considered a calming mineral that is necessary for hundreds of chemical reactions in the body.

Lentils and other beans:  Lentils, garbanzo beans, navy beans, kidney and pinto beans are all excellent sources of folate.

Stay hydrated:  Drinking at least two quarts of water each day – more if you are very active- will help your body function optimally.  Clear to light yellow pee is a good indication of proper hydration.  Hydration can be achieved through drinking non caffeinated drinks or eating water rich foods like watermelon and other fruits and vegetables.

Whole grain foods:  Whole grains contain valuable b vitamins and magnesium.  Whole grains can also be a rich source of tryptophan, an amino acid that forms the basis of serotonin.  Brown rice, amaranth, teff, oats, millet, quinoa and barley are all excellent sources for whole grains.

L-Theanine:  L-Theanine is an amino acid that helps form the neurotransmitter GABA.  It is also important in the regulation of dopamine and serotonin.  It can be taken in a supplement form but is also found in green tea.  Do not take theanine if you are on medication for high blood pressure.

Adaptagenic Herbs:  Cortisol, a hormone released during periods of stress, can cause serotonin receptors in the brain to become less responsive.  Adaptagenic herbs like reishi, ashwagandha, holy basil and rhodiola help improve the health of your adrenal system, the system that’s in charge of managing your body’s hormonal response to stress.  This improved adrenal response helps your body cope with anxiety.

Chamomile:  Drinking chamomile tea or taking chamomile supplements may help reduce anxiety due to the presence of chemicals that bind to the same brain receptors as Valium.  There is no standard dose of chamomile.   However, a recent study used 220 mgs daily in capsule form to significantly reduce anxiety symptoms.   You can also drink between 1-4 cups of chamomile tea daily to enjoy some these anxiety reducing benefits.

Passionflower:  Passionflower is a sedative herb that can be helpful in the reduction of anxiety and sleeplessness.  It should not be taken with other sedative herbs or drugs, with blood thinner drugs or MAOI drugs or taken for more than 1 month at a time.  To take: drink 1 tsp of herb steeped for 10 minutes in 1 cup of water 3-4 times a day or take a tincture.

Other Remedies

Exercise:  Just twenty minutes a day of vigorous exercise (particularly outdoors) has been shown to significantly reduce anxiety.  Both exercise and sunshine help raise serotonin levels.

4-7-8 Breathing:  Adding a twice a day breathing routine to your daily routine can greatly reduce your anxiety.  To start, completely blow all the breath out of your body.  Now inhale through your nose for a count of four.  Next, hold your breath for a count of seven. Slowly, for a count of eight, let it out through your mouth.  Repeat for at least 4 cycles.

Practice Mindfulness:  For many, worries about the future are the root cause of anxiety.  Practicing mindfulness, in which you train the brain to stay present in the moment, helps interrupt this focus on worries about future events.  Start with as little as ten minutes a day in which you sit comfortably, noticing what is happening in the moment, including your breath, sensations on your skin and noises around you.  The free app Stop, Breathe and Think offers short guided mediations that might also be helpful.

Sleep:  Be sure to get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night to help reduce stress.  Studies have shown that a lack of sleep may play a role in activating brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.

Improve digestion:  If you suffer from digestive issues like loose stools, constipation, gas, burping or heart burn, you may not be getting all the nutrients you are ingesting.  Working with a nutritionist or medical professional to improve digestion may increase your absorption of vitamins and minerals.

Light therapy:  For people who experienced increase anxiety as the days get shorter in the winter, exposure to a light box, particularly in the morning time might help reduce anxiety.

Epsom Salt Baths:  Adding a cup of Epsom salts to a warm bath before bed gives your body added magnesium which is considered a calming mineral.

Seasonal Eating for Optimal Health



In Portland, you often hear people talking about focusing on eating locally, organically grown and seasonally appropriate foods.  These buzz words can be overwhelming for someone just trying to get a meal on the table for themselves or their families.  It is easy to become confused by the multiple messages about what to eat and where to buy your food.  Some have even asked, “What does seasonal eating even mean?”  Seasonal eating is a philosophy of eating where your diet is adjusted according to what is currently growing in your own region.  Seasonal eating focuses on eating food that will support your body in the particular season you are experiencing.   With today’s modern grocery stores, you can find almost any food you desire at any time of the year.  This may seem like a benefit of our modern transportation, refrigeration and grocery system but many are discovering the amazing advantages of eating fresh, locally harvested food.

Benefits of Seasonal Eating

  • Eating seasonally benefits the environment because less pollution is created and less fuel is used to transport the food to market.
  • Eating seasonally is usually less expensive.  Food in season is generally more abundant and has less transportation costs so it takes a smaller bite out of your wallet.
  • Produce harvested and eaten in season has more vitamins and minerals than foods harvested far away, unripe and then shipped long distances.  Seasonally appropriate food also tastes better.  Who can forget the joy of biting into a fresh, ripe tomato straight from the vine?
  • Eating with the season forces you to eat a varied diet.  As foods move in and out of season you are forced to change the food on your plate.
  • Eating seasonally connects us to nature.  As the variety of produce changes, it forces us to take notice of what is happening in the natural world.

Many areas of the United States have a limited growing season making it virtually impossible to eat locally and in season all of the time. Unfortunately the Northwest is one of those areas.   If eating seasonally in the dead of winter seems daunting, there are some steps you can take.   Portland has many year round local farmers’ markets- visiting one may spark creative ideas for new foods.  You can also join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm to form a personal connection with your farmer and the foods he/she is harvesting.   While it might not always be possible to purchase your seasonal produce locally, the next best thing is to purchase what’s in season in a region in close proximity.  This practice will help minimize shipping time and increase flavor.

To find out what’s harvested seasonally in our area, go to to find local farmers’ markets and seasonal produce guides.

As Spring approaches, what fresh produce are you looking forward to enjoying?

Photo by Francis Andrew on Flickr.


Improve Your Sleep



Many in today’s population are suffering from a lack of sleep.  The majority of people report difficulty falling or staying asleep on a regular basis.  Sleep is an important part of a healthy life.  Our body uses our sleeping hours to repair damage, rebalance hormone levels and engage in physical healing and maintenance.  Sleep deprivation has been implicated in heart disease, increased stress levels, diabetes, increased accidents, depression, lowered sex drive and diabetes.  A good 8-10 hours of sleep is important for vital health.

External Steps to Improve Sleep:

  • Make sure your room is dark.  Invest in blackout shades or an eye mask to increase the darkness in your sleeping space.  Move cell phones and other light emitting items out of the bedroom.
  • Stick to a schedule.  Try to go to bed and wake up at roughly the same time every day.  Our bodies respond best to a regular routine.  Following a similar routine every day signals to our bodies that bed time is approaching.
  • Use the bed for sleep and/or intimacy only.  Don’t bring computers or work into the bedroom.  Maintain the sanctity of the bedroom as a place of rest.
  • Invest in ear plugs if noise is a problem.  White noise machines can also be helpful to block out unwanted sound.
  • Engage in relaxation, meditation or breathing exercises:  The Legs up the Wall yoga pose done for 5 minutes right before bed can improve sleep.  To calm a racing mind, engage in 4:6:8 breathing.  Breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 6 seconds and then exhale for 8 seconds.  This breathing engages the para sympathic (rest and digest) part of the nervous system.  An Epson salt bath taken before bed can also be helpful.
  • Eat and drink regularly throughout the day.  Maintain a balanced blood sugar level by eating roughly every 3-4 hours during the day.  Try to include a mix of protein, carbs and fats with each meal.  Keep your body well hydrated by sipping water or tea throughout the day.  To decrease the likelihood of having to go to the bathroom during the night, avoid drinking within 90 minutes of bedtime.  If you do consume caffeinated beverages try not to do so within 6 hours of bedtime.  Be sure to eat dinner 2-3 hours before bed so your body has time to digest your food.
  • Avoid alcohol within 2-3 hours of sleep.  Alcohol may help people fall asleep faster but seems to reduce REM, the restorative phase of sleep and can impact breathing while sleeping.
  • Avoid vigorous exercise within 3 hours of bedtime.
  • Try to get outside in natural light every day.  Exposure to natural light helps regulate your sleep/wake cycle by regulating melatonin production.
  • A tincture of Valerian Root can be used as an herbal sleep aid.  Talk to your health care professional about an optimal dose.  (Do not take if on other muscle relaxants or if have heart issues.)

Food to Help with Sleep:

  • Tart cherry juice contains melatonin, the hormone that helps regulate the sleep wake cycle.  Drink eight ounces of Montmorency tart cherry juice twice a day to improve sleep.
  • Grass fed beef, lamb, chicken and wild game:  All are natural sources of tryptophan, a pre-curser to melatonin.  Oats and white beans are good vegetarian sources of tryptophan.
  • Other plant sources of melatonin:  Corn, rice, barley, ginger and bananas all offer some melatonin to aid in sleep.
  • Eggs:  Eggs are a rich source of tryptophan and their protein helps stabilize blood sugar to prevent night time waking.
  • Nuts and seeds: Squash and pumpkin seeds are rich sources of the melatonin producing tryptophan.  Eating them with a carbohydrate helps your body to absorb the tryptophan.
  • Magnesium rich foods:  Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral.  This critical mineral is necessary for over 300 enzyme reactions and is found in all of your tissues. You must have it for your cells to make energy, to stabilize membranes, and to help muscles relax.  Pumpkin seeds, walnuts, oatmeal, potatoes, spinach and almonds are great vegetarian sources of magnesium.   Salmon, halibut, yogurt and shrimp are other non-vegan sources of magnesium.

Try some of these tips to improve your daily sleep!  I would love to hear if you have found any other solutions.

FAVES for Vibrant Health



I am participating in some local health fairs in the near future and have been thinking about a way to make a down and dirty guide for vibrant health that I could hand out.  I thought about the most important components of healthy living and then played with the wording until I came up with a catchy idea to share this information.  Now since I have absolutely no talent in the graphic arts department, I hired Casey at KCK Creative Market to make me this beautiful graphic.  I LOVE it and cannot wait to share it with all the health fair participants.  Here are my ideas about the most important components of vibrant health.

Focus on Healthy Fats:  Research has repeatedly demonstrated that fat is necessary to our health, particularly omega 3 fatty acids.  Omega -3′s are an essential fatty acid, meaning our body cannot produce them on its own.  These inflammation fighting fats must be obtained from our diet.  Two crucial ones, EPA and DHA, are primarily found in certain fish and pasture raised beef. ALA, another omega-3 fatty acid which can be converted to EPA and DHA in the body, is found in plant sources such as nuts and seeds.  The benefits of omega-3s are well documented in the scientific literature.  Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet contains entirely too many Omega-6 fats from vegetable oils and processed foods.  We want to have a 1:1 balance of omega-3’s to omega-6’s.  Eating 2 deck of card sized servings of fatty fish like salmon, lake trout, herring or mackerel a week should give you all the omega-3’s you need.  Also, trans-fats like those found in processed foods should be avoided at all costs.

Avoid Processed Foods:   Processed foods include anything that comes in a package or has been altered from its natural state.  Processed foods often contain harmful chemicals our bodies don’t recognize,   rancid, inflammation producing vegetable oils and trans fats .  Read the labels on your food, if you see an ingredient you don’t recognize, return it to the store shelf.

Vegetables and Fruits:  Fill your plate with as many vibrantly hued fruits and vegetables as you can.  These nutritional powerhouses offer your body a host of benefits including cancer fighting antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, fiber and a plethora of health promoting phytonutrients.  A good rule of thumb is to try to fill at least half of your plate with fruit and vegetables at each meal.  In particular, leafy greens pack a powerful nutritional punch.

Eat Mindfully:  Mindful eating is eating with attention to the food you are putting in your mouth.  It allows you to be fully present in the experience of eating.  It requires you to pay attention to the sight, sound, texture, flavors and taste of your food.  Put aside the phones, computers, newspapers and TV’s so you can listen to the cues your body is providing about satiety, making it more likely you will stop eating before you become over full.

Sit less:  Dr. Mike Lara asks his patients to think about sitting less instead of exercising more.  An important distinction because for many, the idea of exercise seems like a daunting task but most everyone can think about sitting less.  The trick is to avoid staying stationary for long periods of time.  Moving around activates the large muscle groups in your legs and back helping burn calories and keep blood sugar in balance.  Scientists are now recommending you try to stand up and move around every thirty minutes throughout the day.

What do you think makes for vibrant health?

Added to Live it Up blog hop.

13 Foods for a Healthy Heart



The American Heart Association states “Heart disease – also called coronary heart disease – is a simple term used to describe several problems related to plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow and creating a risk for heart attack or stroke.”  Not only are one in every 4 deaths in the US related to heart disease but heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US.  Heart disease is a huge problem for the United States population.  Fortunately, there are many steps related to diet and lifestyle that can positively impact your heart health.

Foods to Eat to Reduce Heart Disease

Salmon:  The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two  times a week.  A standard serving is 3.5 oz, about the size of a deck of cards . Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna are high in omega-3 fatty acids.  Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of abnormal heartbeats, which can lead to sudden death.  Omega-3 fatty acids also decrease triglyceride levels, slow growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and can slightly lower blood pressure.

Blueberries:  All berries are excellent choices for overall health because they are densely packed with a variety of potent phytochemicals and fiber without being high in sugar.  Blueberries and strawberries seem to be particularly good at boosting heart health by decreasing plaque build-up in the circulatory system.  Three or more servings of a half a cup of blueberries or strawberries each week is all that is required to start seeing heart benefits.

Oatmeal:  Oats contain a powerful cholesterol fighting fiber known as beta-glucan. Many studies have proven the beneficial effects of this special fiber on cholesterol levels. Studies show that consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (roughly the amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This cholesterol lowering effect is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease.

Dark chocolate:  Dark chocolate, at least 70% cocoa or higher, contains flavonoids, powerful anti-oxidants which impact vascular health, by lowering blood pressure, improving blood flow to the brain and heart, and making blood platelets less sticky and able to clot.

Citrus:  Recent research has shown that women eating a diet rich in citrus fruit enjoy a decreased risk of stroke.  Citrus fruits are also a valuable source of vitamin C, which has been linked with a lower risk of heart disease. Remember, grapefruit products may interfere with the action of the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins.

Tomatoes:  Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene, beta-carotene, folate, potassium, vitamin C, flavonoids, and vitamin E.  These vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants have a profound impact on heart health including the reduction of LDL (bad) cholesterol, homocysteine, platelet aggregation, and blood pressure.

Nuts:  All nuts are about equal in terms of calories per ounce, and in moderation, are all healthy additions to any diet.  Be sure to eat nuts raw or dry roasted to avoid the unhealthy oils sometimes used for roasting.  Walnuts, considered the best nut for heart health, have high amounts of alpha linoleic acid (ALA). Research has suggested that ALA may help heart arrhythmias, and a 2006 Spanish study suggested that eating as few as 8 walnuts a day were as effective as olive oil at reducing inflammation and oxidation in the arteries after eating a high fat meal.

Legumes:  Lentils, black beans, black- eyed peas and kidney beans are four of the best beans to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.  They are a fiber filled addition to your diet.  Long term studies have found their high fiber content lowers cholesterol and triglyceride (blood fat) levels.  Try to eat about 3-4 cups of beans a week.

Extra virgin olive oil:  Olive oil is loaded with anti-oxidants that help fight heart disease. Studies have shown it is helpful in the reduction of LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation.  It also helps reduce unwanted blood clotting, reducing the risk of stroke.  Be sure to buy cold pressed extra virgin olive oil to get the most benefit.

Red wine: Moderate consumption of alcohol (1-2 drinks a day) has been associated with a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke.  Red wine appears to offer more benefit than other forms of alcohol due to its high concentration of flavonoids and resveratrol, which may play an active role in limiting the start and progression of atherosclerosis.

Leafy Greens:  Leafy green vegetables are rich in lutein which has been associated with a decreased risk of artery thickening.  Leafy greens also contain potassium, which helps manage blood-pressure levels.

Flax or chia seeds:  Flaxseeds contains lignans, which are chemical compounds that carry antioxidants and enzymes that have many benefits. Flax is also a good source of a type of soluble fiber that helps maintain ideal cholesterol levels.  Chia seeds are also loaded with fiber and provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Chia and flax seeds are very high in the Omega-3 fatty acid ALA. However, humans are not good at converting this into DHA, the most important Omega-3 fatty acid.

Avocado:  Avocados contain monounsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to help lower our risk of heart disease.  They are also rich in phytosterols like beta-sitosterol, campesterol, and stigmasterol which decrease inflammation in the body.

Other Factors to Consider in Heart Health

Exercise:  The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week for overall heart health.  For people with concerns about high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, they recommend 40 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic exercise 3-4 times a week.  Exercise includes anything that gets your body moving and burns calories.  Choose an activity you like and stick to it!

Decrease Salt Consumption:  In some people, sodium increases blood pressure because it holds excess fluid in the body,  placing an added burden on the heart.  The American Heart Association recommends about 1500 mgs a day of salt but most people eating a Standard American Diet consume about 3400 mgs a day.  Eating a diet low in packaged foods will help you decrease your sodium intake.

Floss Your Teeth:  Recent research has demonstrated a possible link between periodontal disease and  heart disease.  In a new study in which researchers infected mice with four different types of bacteria associated with gum disease, the mice had increased levels of systemic inflammation and cholesterol.

Don’t smoke:  People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease.  The nicotine in cigarettes raises your blood pressure, damages blood vessels, raises your heart rate, increase your risk of blood clots and decreases the amount of oxygen that gets to your heart.  All of these factors contribute to heart disease.

Sleep:  In a recent study, people sleeping less than 6 hours or more than 10 hours a night were found to have a higher prevalence of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, in addition to obesity and frequent mental stress, compared to “optimal sleepers” who slept an average of seven to nine hours.  The study speculates that quality of sleep is just as important as quantity.

Photo by coletree under the Creative Commons license.

Rest and Digest for Health


I am so happy to have Kim Magraw, LMT, from Concordia Wellness, share his ideas about the importance of balance in your life.

Balance is a key to health.  We have balancing mechanisms for digestion, immunity, growth, and to keep us from toppling on our way down the stairs.  One of our most fundamental balancing mechanisms is the dyad known as sympathetic and parasympathetic.  These are the divisions of the autonomic – or involuntary – nervous system that determine whether we are ready to act quickly and decisively in the face of threats and opportunities (sympathetic nervous system), or relax, digest, and recover from bouts of activity (parasympathetic nervous system).

A glance at the masses hurriedly driving to and fro, from one chore to another, tells us that the sympathetic state is the dominant state for most of us.  We run from one activity to the next, getting too little sleep, with anxiety spilling over the brim.

To maintain health and happiness over the long term we must also spend time in the parasympathetic state, which is also known as the “rest and digest” state because it activates digestion and is characterized by lower blood pressure and slower heart rate.  We can have a designer workout routine and eat only the best foods available, but if we’re stressed to the max we won’t maximize their benefits, and ultimately the stress will catch up with us.  When we allow the parasympathetic nervous system to enter our lives more fully we invite greater bodily health and wellbeing.  A surprising array of benefits arises such as creativity, calm, solutions to sticky problems, and perspective.

Once we’ve got our minds set, it’s quite simple to dwell more in the parasympathetic state.  For example, during your meals chew your food fully and eat mindfully.  Allow your body to really taste the flavors, feel the textures, and absorb the nutrients in your food.  You might also get a massage, soak in a warm bath, engage in focused breathing exercises, or meditate.  Spend quality time with your pet (put down that mobile device and experience the world with your pet).  Take a slow walk in nature or around your block simply absorbing the sights, sounds, smells, and the feeling of the ground beneath your feet.  Read a “mindless” book or do some artwork with no intent other than to see what comes out.

Finally, as we seek more balance, let us be forgiving of ourselves.  Indeed, forgiveness is another wonderful way to free ourselves from the fight-or-flight vortex.  Balance requires frequent correction, so let us correct with empathy, curiosity, and humor.

Photos from Kool Cats Photography under the Creative Commons license.  Text added by me.




Love Your Liver in the New Year

8981828144_66cb4568a1_kAfter the holiday season of eating and partying with friends and family, a return to healthy eating is probably just what the doctor ordered!  The extra alcohol, sugar and processed foods consumed during this time of year leaves many of us feeling tired, run down, bloated and out of sorts.  It also seriously taxes our livers, our main organ of detoxification.  Our liver filters our blood, regulates blood sugar and cholesterol, produces bile to breakdown fat and stores iron, glucose for energy and Vitamins A, D, K and B12.  Adding liver supporting foods at this time of the year can help your body recover from all of the holiday fun.  Some suggestions for beneficial liver foods include:

  • Beets:  The fiber in beets increases the production of antioxidant enzymes in the liver, helping the body to eliminate bile and other toxic substances.  The phyto nutrient, betalain, found in beets, provides anti- inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  • Cruciferous vegetables:  Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale and cabbage are high in antioxidant properties.  These vegetables have strong anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Lentil and beans:  These nutritional powerhouses provide fiber to keep your bowels moving and help stabilize your blood sugar.  Regular elimination is important because it removes toxins and waste from the body.  Ideally, you will poop 1-3 times a day.  If you are not pooping daily, your body begins to reabsorb all the waste and toxins in the poop, forcing your liver to reprocess these substances.  This increases the liver’s work load.
  • Warming spices:  Warming spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, fennel, cumin and ginger have amazing anti-inflammatory properties, make food taste better, increase the warming properties of foods, help our bodies digest fat and enhance the body’s ability to detox.
  • Bitter greens:  Whether consumed as a tea, eaten in a salad or sauteed over heat, greens such as dandelion, mustard, collards, endive and beet greens help activate the production of bile, necessary for fat digestion.   Greens contain high levels of sulfur, which supports your liver in its detoxification process, signaling it to process free radicals and other toxic chemicals.

Now that the holiday festivities are over, adding these foods to your diet will give your liver a little love so you can enjoy a healthy and vibrant 2015.

Tips to Survive a Holiday Party

Holiday Party Treats.

Holiday Party Treats.

The Holiday season is upon us and for many of us with it comes parties, alcohol and a departure from our normal eating habits!  Why is it when it is on a beautiful tray, on a table filled with other treat laden beautiful trays does food I would never consider eating suddenly sound good?  (And if I have had a glass of wine, it doesn’t even have to be on a beautiful tray!)  Tonight, I am headed to my first Holiday party of the year and these are my ideas to avoid the usual mindless munching.

  • Eat before I go:  I am going to have a small, protein filled snack about an hour before I have to  leave for the party.  The protein will keep me full longer and keep me from reaching for high calorie foods just because I am starving.
  • Check out all options before filling my plate:  Before I take a plate, I am going to look at all the food options in the room and decide which ones will be the best choices.  This does not mean I will not have any “treats” but that I am going to decide which ones are really “special” and are worth the indulgence.  (Because really, what are the holidays without some “treats”!)
  • I am going to fill my plate with healthy choices:  I plan to fill my plate with as many fruits,  vegetables and other  nutrient dense food like shrimp as I can.  I plan to skip the dips, cheeses, fried foods and other foods with a high calorie to nutrient ratio.  If my plate is full of nutrient dense food, there is less room for food that doesn’t nourish.
  • Alternate water with alcohol:  Between each glass of wine or cocktail that I drink, I plan to have a glass of water.  This will keep me hydrated.  Being hydrated slows down the consumption of alcohol,  decreases the likelihood of a hangover and helps me feel full longer.
  • Bring a healthy appetizer to share:  I plan to bring a healthy appetizer to share.  This will be my contribution to the party and gives me something I know that I want to eat.

These are my suggestions for having a sane and healthy Holiday party season.  I would love to hear about yours.

Photo by Oakley Originals under Creative Commons.

Help for Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

Fighting Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or the “Winter Blues” is thought to be a  subset of Major Depressive Disorder in which a person experiences a decreased mood related to the change in seasons.  SAD begins and ends at about the same time every year. Most people with SAD begin experiencing symptoms in the fall which continue into the winter months.  People who suffer from SAD often report a decrease in energy and increased feelings of moodiness. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer, often leading to different symptoms than those of winter SAD.  In both types, SAD depressions are usually mild to moderate, but can occasionally be more severe. Treatment needs to be appropriate to the severity of the condition for each individual. Personal safety should be the first consideration in the assessment of all depression, as suicide or self harm can be a risk for people experiencing more severe depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

In both summer and winter SAD, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.  Because SAD is thought to be a possible type of major depression, people experiencing SAD will often exhibit symptoms of major depression such as:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

People experiencing SAD in the winter usually report some of the symptoms below:

  • Irritability
  • Tiredness or low energy
  • Problems getting along with other people
  • Hypersensitivity to rejection
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Oversleeping
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain

People with summer SAD often exhibit a different set of symptoms:

  • Depression
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Agitation or anxiety

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder:

Currently, the exact cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is unknown.  However, scientists believe it could be related to the decrease in sunlight we experience in the winter months.   In fact, people who live in the Northern climates which experience shorter days in the winter are more likely to suffer from SAD. The decrease in sunlight leads to a disruption in melatonin and serotonin, two brain chemicals which affect mood.  Other theories hold the decreased sunlight is responsible for a Vitamin D deficiency.  Currently, more research is needs.   Fortunately, effective treatments do exist for SAD.


  • Light Therapy:  Light therapy seems to be the most effective treatment for the Winter Blues.  Light therapy is obtained by sitting in front of a light box on a daily basis.  Light boxes or “happy lights” can be purchased for between $100-$200 and work by mimicking the patterns of summer light.  People experiencing SAD generally spend between 20-90 minutes a day sitting about 1-3 feet in front of the box with their eyes open.  Light therapy seems to be most effective if done in the morning hours.
  • Try to get outside every day.  Even if it is just for a few minutes, exposure to natural sunlight does seem to help alleviate SAD.  Morning sun seems to be best.
  • Exercise:  Exercise and other types of physical activity help relieve stress and anxiety, both of which can increase SAD symptoms. Not only does being fit make you feel better about yourself, it can also lead to a release of endorphins which will lift your mood.  Exercise outside is best but just moving your body in any way that is comfortable for you is important.
  • Fill Your Living Spaces with Natural Light:  Open your curtains and shutters.  Cut branches away from your windows.  Allow as much natural sunlight as possible into your home and workplace.

Nutritional Interventions:

  • Vitamin D:  Vitamin D is often called the “sunshine vitamin” because our body needs exposure to sunlight for its production.  These days, people are spending more time inside and even when they do go outside, are slathering themselves with sunscreen.  Both of these factors contribute to what many are calling a Vitamin D deficiency epidemic.  Supplementing with Vitamin D does seem to provide some relief for people experiencing SAD.  See your doctor to obtain a simple blood test to determine your Vitamin D level.  If your blood level is less than 50 ng/ml, consider talking to your doctor about Vitamin D supplementation.  Supplementing with Vitamin D can take months to reach normal levels.  Vitamin D3 is the most bioavailable form of Vitamin D.  It is difficult to reach adequate levels of Vitamin D through diet alone but some foods high in Vitamin D include cod liver oil, salmon, sardines, milk, tuna and eggs.
  • Eat foods containing tryptophan. Many who suffer from SAD experience decreased levels of serotonin, the brain’s “feel good” neurotransmitter.  Tryptophan is an amino acid known to be a precursor of serotonin.  Theory holds that eating tryptophan rich foods may help increase your body’s production of serotonin, leading to improved mood. Turkey is the richest food source of tryptophan but spinach, bananas, shrimp, crab, sesame seeds and egg whites are also other good sources.
  • Eat your Omega-3 fatty acids:  Some studies have shown that essential omega-3 fatty acids appear to help maintain healthy levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin. Cell membranes are partly made up of omega-3 fats.  Higher omega-3 levels in the body may make it easier for serotonin—a chemical that aids brain cells in communication—to pass through cell membranes.  Serotonin is known as “the feel good hormone” because it influences brain cells related to sexual function and desire, mood, appetite, sleep, memory and learning and some social behavior.  Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.  The brain releases dopamine in response to pleasurable experiences, such as eating or having sex.  The “more potent” forms of omega-3s, eicosapentaenoic (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are best obtained through cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies and mackerel.  Vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids include algae.  Flax, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds and walnuts are all rich sources of ALA, the precursor to DHA and EPA.  Unfortunately, most people are very poor convertors of ALA to DHA and EPA so relying on seeds and nuts to meet your omega-3 needs may not be enough.
  • Mindful carb snacking:  Many people who experience the winter form of SAD report intense carb cravings.  Since eating carbs actually promotes the production of serotonin, scientists speculate these cravings might be the body’s attempt to make more serotonin.  However, eating the right kind of carbs is important.  Focus on eating complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, beans, peas, lentils and brown rice to avoid the sugar roller coaster ride that can come from eating simple carbs.  For most people, as few as 30 grams of carbs a day is enough to produce adequate serotonin.
  • Focus on gut health:  Having a healthy gut is necessary to overall health.  With over 80% of our serotonin being produced in the gut, ensuring your digestion is working at an optimal level is important.  A healthy gut also allows your body to make use of as many of the healthy nutrients you are providing it as possible.  Adding probiotics, fermented foods and chewing your food thoroughly are all important steps to a healthy digestive system.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder and are having difficulty completing the necessary tasks of daily life or are experiencing feelings of self-harm,  contact your health care provider to establish a plan to help alleviate your symptoms.

Resources: Winter Blues by Norman Rosenthal

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