Archive for Acupuncture

Letting go of what doesn’t serve us: Inflammatory Foods

3 years ago this month, when I left the Department of Nutrition in UNC’s School of Public Health and School of Medicine, a brilliant new hire was bringing in millions of dollars for microbiome research.

7 years ago this month (December 2011), I began a transformative health journey to reverse candida overgrowth and strengthen my digestive and immune systems after years of battling food allergies, sickness, and IBS.

As the years have gone by, more friends and family members have come to me curious about healing their gut and replenishing the microbiome with the AIP and paleo diets for a variety of chronic issues, diseases, and syndromes. If you follow health and wellness writers and blogs, the same info is everywhere.  I think interest is increasing for a combination of reasons

1) My peer group is aging into more issues and syndromes like PCOS, Hypothyroidism and Hashimotos, fungal overgrowth, IBD/IBS, etc. and we have a higher standard for optimal health, both mental and physical

2) The  knowledge and understanding of the microbiome and the influence that our gut bacteria balance has over all of our body systems is starting to become more common knowledge and food therapy is also more common. Of course, you will still come across the occasional 70 year old OBGYN (like I did) who says verbatim, “There was one article written in the 1980’s about microbiome and asthma and it’s not substantiated.” (Really sir, when did you last use your downtime to read journals containing microbiome research- 35 years ago?) But overall, a quick look on PubMed will show you that attention to microbiome research and nutritional therapy is actually uncovering a lot of helpful solutions for all kinds of chronic and inflammatory diseases.

In fact, This article on Autoimmune and cardiovascular disease as they relate to microbiome was published just last week! Point being, if you are facing a syndrome, disease, or just general “unwellness” and your doctor doesn’t know anything about the microbiome research surrounding gut bacteria and its effects on inflammations and triggers on the immune system, you can either politely site what you’ve read on PubMed and ask that she read it too, or you can spend time to find someone who will help you dive into alternatives and support a journey that is more  fruitful to you than just treating your symptoms with pharmaceuticals.

A huge aspect of strengthening the microbiome is in probiotics and prebiotics. It’s common knowledge that a lifetime of frequent antibiotic use can do serious damage to the good bacteria we carry around in our guts from birth. This is why the SCD diet, which I began on, emphasizes homemade yogurt. Because I’m not a huge yogurt fan, I have include kombucha and pickled vegetables in my daily routine in order to keep probiotic consumption up. It is amazing how much better I feel with pre and probiotics, in addition to my doctor recommended VSL3 probiotic.

Some great prebiotics to feed your gut bacteria? cacao, apples, oats, chicory root, garlic, and dandelion greens.

Frankly said, the pre/probiotic routine is just not enough to combat putting certain foods into your body. I think everyone knows that fried foods and fake foods (highly processed/packaged foods with long lists of ingredients that aren’t based in real food) are corrosive to our gut health (and microbiome). For the most part, they make us feel not great, and so we don’t eat them often, and that feels like a “good enough” approach to nutrition. However, the most common nutritional healing and therapy advice you will come across when dealing with alternative healing, holistic doctors, functional medicine, and Chinese medicine is to GIVE UP SUGAR AND DAIRY, and often WHEAT. So in the rest of this post I’m going to be addressing:

  1. Why these 3 things are inflammatory to our systems and how that works
  2. What changes you can expect from elimination if you need to try it for health reasons
  3. Clarifying some incorrect notions of what eliminating these foods mean.
    – ie a gluten free diet is NOT necessarily an anti-inflammatory diet
    – most people can give up lactose and NOT dairy entirely, which means eating almost nil lactose containing foods like yogurt, butter, and aged cheese. This of course does not apply to the population of real dairy allergies.

1.

I mentioned on social media last week that my husband suffers from chronic kidney stones. He also has chronic eczema that he has been able to control  after giving up lactose. After visiting a biological medicine practitioner and acupuncturist, Matt was encouraged to give up the other two ghosts: wheat and sugar (in addition to receiving some herbs and treatment). So why is this specific nutritional therapy almost always the suggestion from professionals for everyone who is suffering from systemic syndromes and sickness?

The basic answer is simple: because all disease is linked to inflammation, from obesity and hormone disruption to cardiovascular and autoimmune disease. And food-based healing of inflammation leans heavily on giving up the hard-to-digest, short chain sugars (fructans, lactose) that appear in dairy, some grains and processed foods, and obviously in refined sugar, which is a favorite food of bacteria to feed on. Food-based healing is increasing in popularity since we have studied and determined the correlation between the Standard American Diet, inflammation, and increasing disease for 30 or more years now. Even if you don’t have an “allergy” or “intolerance” to any of these inflammatory foods, the truth is that ANY body must work harder in order to digest the short chain sugars, and if your body is fighting a syndrome, disease, imbalance, or inflammation (including obesity), then your body should not be feeding gut inflammation and working extra hard just to process these sugars.

2.

First of all, elimination and “letting go of what does not serve us”  is freeing and empowering. It does NOT have to feel like deprivation in any way. Other people will try to make you feel that way, but controlling your own health is invigorating and delicious! You’re not missing out on anything, you’re gaining better health, which is why I continue to create fun recipes without the above listed ingredients. I eat MORE and better now than I ever did before giving up lactose, sugar, legumes, and wheat. I struggled to maintain my weight on very low food intake as a teen and college student, and now I NEVER measure calories or quantities.

If you’re thinking about food-therapy, don’t be scared of depravation! You will not feel deprived or miss these ingredients after 2 weeks. After 3 weeks, you will begin to feel better and notice differences in your health. After 4-6 weeks, you will not look back! A part of my success is replacing eliminated foods with alternatives that aren’t inflammatory, like almond and coconut flour in breads and cakes, and maple syrup and honey to sweeten appropriate foods. Anecdotally, I’ve seen and talked to people who have noticed less joint pain, fewer skin problems, more comfortable digestion, increased energy, and better hormone function after 3-4 weeks. Personally, I had markers for IBD and PCOS that I reversed in my follow up integrative medicine appointments after a couple of years on a paleo/ AIP/ SCD diet.

3.

I am not “gluten-free” and “gluten-free” diets are not necessarily anti-inflammatory. I mark my recipes as #glutenfree because by definition, they are, and people with Celiac’s can enjoy anything I make because I never, ever eat wheat, and I want to reach a wide audience, including some of Matt’s family who face Celiac’s. HOWEVER, many gluten-free foods and breads contain starches, gums, refined sugars, and other unnecessary, inflammatory ingredients. Eating a homemade, whole food, bread loaf containing gluten (if you do not have Celiac’s Disease or gluten sensitivity) would be much healthier than eating something packaged, processed, and labeled as “gluten-free.” You can think of it like a Venn Diagram. Paleo, AIP, keto, and SCD are always gluten-free and anti-inflammatory, but gluten-free is not always paleo or anti-inflammatory.

At the beginning of my journey, I eliminated all dairy. I recommend this to anyone who is facing inflammation manifested in digestive or skin issues. However, as indicated in elimination diets, I slowly added back in certain forms of dairy and found that my digestion only suffered when I ate dairy containing significant lactose. I found this to be consistent with many of the people within the the AIP community and paleo community. SCD, created by a doctor for IBD and AID, includes many cheeses.  Aged cheese like brie, cheddar, and gouda, organic butter, and yogurt, all have trace amounts of lactose (like 0.0001 %) and giving up lactose rather than entirely giving up dairy is much easier! High lactose foods are milk, cream, and fresh cheeses like mozzarella.

Finally, and possibly most importantly,  I just want to add that nothing is black and white, all or nothing, 0 or 100. Matt is anxious about giving up these foods, but I tell him, it’s not like he can never taste them again! I ate processed gluten-free stuff when I was pregnant, and yes, I have gluten-free pizza and cupcakes on rare (often celebratory) occasions. There is no guilt or issue in this. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite or nullify the work I do daily and the healing food i put into my body daily. You can also be thankful for the medical help you get from hospitals IN ADDITION TO the added benefits of functional and holistic medicine. It is all good. And all there to help you. And I regret that my friends in the medical field may feel that seeking alternative help for your health is a rejection of western medicine. It’s not.

People will ALWAYS take issue with your choices, whether we’re still talking about food and medicine or anything else!  People who have not done the research will not always be supportive if you choose to go on an alternative food-based health journey. I have found that food and diet is really personal to people, but your health is the most personal thing on earth to you, and you alone are responsible for cultivating it. No one understands your journey, and no one can possibly understand what you’ve been through or how much information you have synthesized to achieve optimal health nutritionally.

I have also found that it is sometimes the people who are closest to us, who have known us the longest, and who have witnessed our incredible health and body improvements first hand, who are the most negative and least supportive. That has to be their issue and not yours. If people see you thrive and choose not to celebrate it, they’re not your people. And maybe later in their life when they are facing a health issue that can’t 100% be solved by their doctor, they will come to you for help!

I hope to start work on my NTP (Nutritional Therapy Practitioner) certification next year, and let me tell you, I will be here for ANYONE with open arms! The greatest thing I have learned on this journey is that it is All. About. Community. I have learned so much from cooking with my friend Lesley who started cooking SCD around a decade ago! And every single week I look forward to the Balanced Bites Podcast with Diane Sanfilippo and Liz Wolfe, and updates from Danielle Walker’s kitchen.

Finally, we know there is a genetic component to this stuff: Celiac’s, IBD, Hashimoto’s, cardiovascular disease, etc. and because I write this blog and save all my recipes, if any of my children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren, etc. face any of the issues that Matt and I have faced, then they will have a spiritual and physical guide for nutritional healing. And that is the absolute best thing I could give to them. Part of who I am is that I love the pursuit of knowledge, and I can’t get enough of it. I hope to continue to seek degrees and certifications in the areas I love. But an even bigger part of who I am is sharing that knowledge. And If I help one person then it’s really all worth it!

 

Fall Turmeric Cocktail

I fall into that category of people who love being healthy, but are not willing to give up alcohol all together. I will admit that I drink a lot less now that we have a baby, and I feel a LOT better,and that’s no coincidence, BUT this post is about a delicious fall cocktail I want to share with you! And I totally believe in moderation in all things!

I love fall spices. I believe in grating fresh nutmeg into everything. I also love cinnamon, ginger, and ground clove to a fault. I put it on our apple sauce in the morning! This cocktail gives you the warmth and spice of all of those flavors, with a dash of acidity to lighten it, and all the health benefits of the root, turmeric.

I try to throw turmeric in whenever I can because it helps so much with inflammation, which we all battle, and digestion, which is great for me. It’s easy to add turmeric because it doesn’t have an overwhelming flavor and it adds that gorgeous goldenrod color!

If you don’t drink alcohol, but you want to enjoy these spices, it would be easy to leave it out and replace it with more juice or seltzer. As far as swap outs for the rest, I think having a fresh orange is important, and to me, the bitters really round out that “Fall” cocktail feel. I think tequila or gin would work just as well as vodka, and triple sec is optional. Oh, and I think citrus or cinnamon vodka would be amazing!

Recipe is below! Let me know what you think if you try it!

Fall Turmeric Cocktail

To a cocktail shaker add:

  • Juice of one Orange (fresh is best!)
  • 1 tsp Orange zest
  • 1 splash lemon juice
  • 1/4 tsp each: cinnamon, clove, nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp each: ginger and turmeric
  • 3 oz (2 shots) vodka (flavored would be great if you have it!)
  • 1.5 oz (1 shot) triple sec, cointreau, or citrus liqueur
  • Bitters to taste (most people like 5 drops or so, I like a LOT because I love bitter)
  • ice
  1. Shake until ice is broken up
  2. Pour into glass and add seltzer water as desired and a sprig of rosemary or orange peel to garnish
  3. ENJOY! Kick your feet up by the fire, and relax! You deserve it 🙂

 

7 Signs that your Hormones aren’t Balanced

  1. Fatigue
    Constant bouts of being either wired or stressed is related to adrenal fatigue and spiking cortisol levels. I have felt the fatigue from imbalanced hormones and it’s intense–feels illness related, leaving you tired after a great night’s sleep
  2. Mood Swings and Irritability
    Comes from imbalance of estrogen and testosterone. Everyone’s going to be cranky sometimes! But if you rage with consistency, this may be why.
  3. Skin changes
    Especially cystic acne, which happens around the chin and on the forehead. Zits happen, but shouldn’t be happening much past puberty. If you can’t correlate it to a new skincare regime or food in your diet, then it could be hormonal
  4. Hot flashes/night sweats
    This is big time for me. I sleep on top of the covers and our AC bill is through the roof! This is from changing levels of progesterone.
  5. Changes in bowel regularity
    Your liver processes hormones and food toxins, so if it is overloaded or not functioning properly then you will also get bowel effects with hormone imbalance
  6. Low libido
    You can thank estrogen levels for this, (and decreasing testosterone). Some of these symptoms are also those of depression though, so best to get a hormonal blood test first to rule it out.
  7. Inability to lose weight
    The ultimate enemy of hormonal imbalance. Raised levels of estrogen and cortisol make losing weight harder than normal. You can persevere though!

Do any of these 7 signs that your hormones aren’t balanced resonate with you? Last week, I wrote about my Pre-PCOS, and then realized that my tips would not be useful if someone did not know their hormones were out of whack. As a woman in your 20’s or 30’s, especially if you are thinking of conceiving, this is something to have checked via bloodwork. There are so many ways to attack hormone imbalance that I’ve discussed in other posts, including changing diet, increasing exercise, laying off the booze, acupuncture and herbal therapy, and essential oils!

One of the main reasons I diffuse essential oils is to remove the hormone interrupting free-radicals and environmental factors that effect my hormone balance like plastics, household cleaners, and make up products.

7 signs that your hormones aren't balanced

Balancing your Yin and Yang

Prior to my experience with acupuncture, I thought of yin and yang as complimentary opposites; like the white and black puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly to form a whole or the below Moon and Sun imagery, necessary to the others completion. Come to find out, it’s much more complicated than that, but balancing your Yin and Yang is what we’re all striving for in optimum health!Balancing your Yin and Yang

I saw an MD acupuncturist and Eastern Medicine Practitioner from China after my lower back sprain and immediately felt better. When we talked about my other concerns and quirks, she immediately pointed out that I have more yin than yang, and for the past week I’ve been thinking about what exactly that means for me. I’ve always loved the cold, so as soon as I grew up, struck out for cold and lovely rainy destinations: Boston and Dublin. There is something just so poetic and “at home” to me about gray skies and crisp weather. I love sad music too, and one of my favorite activities has always been listening to a bluesy chanteuse on my headphones while dodging rain-puddles after a solo outing to a bookstore, museum, or restaurant. This one was on repeat in 2011.

To become more yang: exercise; play competitive sports; wear bright colors; socialize; eat more cooked foods, root vegetables, grains, and fish; make to-do lists and structure the day.

To become less yin, reduce: consumption of ice cream, cold foods, raw fruit, and salads; regular use of alcohol; spending time sitting around; spending time watching television; spending time alone; exposure to a damp, cold climate; feeling powerless to change circumstances; blaming other people; waiting for someone else sort everything out.

So yes, I have more Yin than Yang, naturally. That’s easy to see. Thank you Chinese Medicine, but duh. So the question is, how to I strike a balance if I don’t want to? How do I add Yang and detract Yin when I hate hot sunny days, I’m exhausted by frequent human interaction, and…well, my alcohol consumption is definitely “regular” by definition? I think the answer is two-fold: 1) in my relationship with Matt, I think I have sought my Yang and been fulfilled. One of these days he is going to drag me to some tropical vacation and not short after, we will probably live out our days in a beach town. He forces me to “Yang” with people and at social outings more than I might otherwise, AND he makes me laugh a lot. 2) I just have to go back to my fierce WILL to get better and be as healthy as possible and that is all within me. I am the one who forces the 6 am workouts (and sometimes go for a 2nd at 6 pm) to build muscle and activate my Yang. I’m also the one making the conscious choice to save alcohol for weekends and celebrations….where it belongs. It’s not my life elixir or the buddy I need to hold my hand through bad weeknight TV choices.

How do you strike a balance between your Yin and Yang? Or if you are out of balance, and feeling the health side-effects like me, which way do you lean?

Combating PCOS Naturally: healthier body, balanced hormones

PCOS (poly cystic ovarian syndrome) effects roughly 22% of the population, and is a growing epidemic. Hormone imbalance, processed foods, and stress are products of our modern world that contribute to the increased number of women battling PCOS. Combating PCOS naturally is the safest and most effective path to a healthier body and hormonal balance. I was diagnosed with pre-PCOS this year, at 29. This is after 3 years of eating no gluten, and 2 years of no sugar, wheat, or  lactose with limited processed foods. I absolutely think my lifestyle has kept the intensity of my personal experience with PCOS to a minimum, but there is still an uphill battle to be won and it is about more than just diet!

PCOS causes hormonal imbalances that can lead to acne, weight gain & trouble losing weight, hair loss,  fertility problems, insulin resistance, and depression. So Yeah, all that SUCKS! However, MANY studies have been published showing the effectiveness of exercise in combating PCOS. In fact,  this study shows that it is EVEN more important than diet. Further, lifting weights specifically helps women with PCOS because insulin resistance is addressed through BODY COMPOSITION (think more muscle than fat) and not by mere weight loss (whoops to the previous 28 years of my life). If you have PCOS or suspect you might, start by exercising 30-60 minutes every day. According to latest studies, if you have PCOS and as a result of years of insulin resistance, need to lose weight in order to feel healthy, then you should exercise 90 minutes a day. Go on a 40 minute walk with your dog or your best friend! Do a 25 minute yoga stretch on You Tube, lift light weights and stretch in front of your favorite nightly TV programs, or go to a local swim or aerobics class. The bottom line is that you MUST prioritize physical activity when it comes to PCOS. Lift! Lift! LIFT! But before you do, Stretch, Stretch, Stretch! Haha. You will not get bulky if you lift 3 days a week, I promise.

Now let me tell you a fun story! I started going to acupuncture after a bout with Vertigo last year. It was my first experience in which modern medicine was baffled by my symptoms, and I turned to some great resources provided by my Internal Care doctors at UNC. In Acupuncture and Yoga, and many other Eastern doctrines, we learn about our Qi (chee), the life-force that flows through our bodies. My Acupuncturist, Andrew, told me that my Qi was in stasis, thus my lymph was in stasis (dizzy vertigo) and  my blood was also in stasis (irregular periods). So it’s the dead of winter, and Andrew tells me to exercise as much as possible, lifting weights daily in order to feel better and combat stasis. Oh and he says to never EVER touch wheat again (Ok, I get it!). 2 months later, I was diagnosed with pre-PCOS via blood work for my thyroid by my beloved Western Doctor, Louise, and told me to be conscious of this developing and the possibility of developing symptoms. BUT Andrew already knew that was coming, you see? Through my energy and Qi, he knew my blood was in stasis, and he knew my body wanted to be stronger, not just leaner, in order to function properly. Eastern and Western Medicine are such beautiful compliments to each other in this way. I also REALLY recommend acupuncture for everyone out there trying to get a handle on their health. I have some great resources for anyone in the triangle area. Today,  I’m actually going to a “real” doctor at UNC Healthcare who practices acupuncture as a supplement to her primary care services 🙂

As you guys know, I’m still on that journey and some days it is really tough. I pulled my lower back working out with weights last week and now I’ve been set back for my strength and flexibility yoga goals for this month. And then there’s the body stuff. I don’t get to eat the things other people get to eat. I don’t get to indulge or skip daily workouts…and all that hard work may never really show to other people because I’m fighting against insulin resistance and abdominal bloat. I will probably never be a size 2, but there is a a greater reward at the end of the road! And trust me, the feeling of improving your health through natural means and using drugs only when necessary is an empowering feeling. I can’t wait for my next 21st day blood tests this fall! My cycle is back in sync with the new/full moons, which is a sign of fertility and I’m increasing my muscle to fat body composition ration every day. Little by little. Step by step.

Also read this great PCOS resource at my favorite blog, MIND BODY GREEN

Combating PCOS Naturally

 

getting started with acupuncture

I have found acupuncture to be extremely effective in combating my IBD symptoms lately. While my diet focuses on my gut health, I sought acupuncture as a holistic supplement to diet & exercise this fall after a 3 week battle with vertigo. I cannot praise the practice and specifically Chapel Hill’s acupuncture healing center enough. After 3 visits and 6 weeks, I am feeling more energetic, hopeful, healthful, and focused than I have in a long time.

Acupuncture approaches IBD and autoimmune diseases from a perspective we often forget, reminding us that our organs and organ systems are totally intertwined in symbiosis. Those of us who struggle with gut and digestive health see dramatic ramifications in thyroid and liver function, especially. I know what you’re thinking–Seriously? SO unfair that because you suffer with one ailment you are more prone to others? It’s sadly true though. There’ an equilibrium we have to keep up and when one organ system MAJORLY fails, then the others are put upon. Because of my GI disease, I need liver balance and thyroid balance and because those are out of whack, so are my adrenals. It can get overwhelming!

Enter, Chinese Medicine. acupuncture is a key tenant of traditional Chinese medicine. It is used for balancing the key life imagesforce known as qi (or chi) that is believed to flow through Meridians or pathways in the body. The small needles are inserted along these pathways, stimulating movement or “life force.” It’s beautiful in its simplicity. When you suffer from issues affecting your thyroid, digestion, gut, and immune system you can get so bogged down in the fatigue and lethargy of it all. Acupuncture leaves me feeling lighter and more energetic.

Needlephobic? The needles rarely hurt. The exception for me are times like this morning when my qi grabbed at the needle in my throat as it gained energy and movement through my body. I just look at it as proof that it’s working!

joyful.

 

moon

I’m so happy to be writing my first post on the Full Moon in Taurus. “A full moon in Taurus also coaxes us to shed the layers of our old selves, allowing the illumined authentic self to finally, truly emerge. Many of us have experienced the intensity of recent cosmic shifts, so it’s time to release the perpetual grip we still have on what no longer serves us, for good.”

Now that’s a sentiment that I can surely get behind. RELEASE the perpetual grip YOU STILL HAVE on what NO LONGER SERVES YOU. After this full moon begins to wane,the tight grip that I’ve had on all the things that do not serve the person I am becoming will loosen. I will let go. Why wait until New Year’s! I’m making a list of all the things that no longer serve me:

1.) Past hurts
2.) Unreasonable Grief
3.) Complacency in my job
4.) Processed food and harmful  “cheats” I haven’t fully let go of
5.) Excess alcohol
6.) Ever believing that I don’t deserve to be totally. joyful.
7.) Waiting until tomorrow….