Side Stepping the Stroke Slope

Stroke- “the interruption of blood flow to the brain”*– can result in conditions as correctable as slurred speech to those as irreversible as paralysis and, sadly, death. Not all strokes are alike in cause. The less common hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding within the brain and the more common ischemic stroke is caused by clotting within a vessel supplying blood to the brain or by a clot that has traveled from another part of the body to the brain.

Though not applicable to all sufferers, there is an ever-growing theory that, though seemingly an unpredictable occurrence, the likelihood of a stroke can be predetermined from a list of five causative conditions. This group, called “Syndrome X” or the “Metabolic Syndrome”, consists of five hazardous health characteristics-abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglycerides levels, high blood pressure, and low high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. When we find ourselves struggling with any three of the five, we in turn find ourselves teetering along the edge of a very slippery slope.

The below chart lists each individual risk with methods of preventing its onset and, if necessary, improving the already existing condition.

Abdominal Obesity
Prevention:

  • Include   adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola to reduce cortisol production
  • Walk,   run, swim, cycle and/or dance 3-5 times/week for 20-45 minutes to maintain   healthy overall body fat percentage.
  • Increase   the amount of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), decrease saturated fats, and avoid   trans fats in the diet.
Improvement:

  • High –linoleic Safflower oil increases the belly fat   hormone adiponectin that increases both fatty acid breakdown and blood   glucose regulation.
  • CLA, conjugated linoleic acid helps the body break down fatty –   acids that would otherwise be stored by the body.
  • L-Carnitine helps bodies utilize stored fat for energy.
High Blood Sugar
Prevention:

  • Choose   foods on the lower end of the Glycemic Index.
  • Limit   the consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Try   sweetening with natural sugar alternatives like agave nectar and stevia.
Improvement:

  • Include   the mineral Chromium Picolinate and   the herbs Bitter Melon and Cinnamon to   help the body better metabolize sugars and maintain blood sugar balance.
  • Help reduce sugar cravings with Gymnema Sylvestre.
High Blood Pressure
Prevention:

  • Incorporate   stress management techniques such as physical and/or intellectual exercise,   yoga, meditation or prayer.
  • Maintain   proper electrolyte (sodium, potassium, magnesium) balance within the body.
  • Reduce   dietary intakes of fried, fast and processed foods.
Improvement:

  • Grapeseed extract helps the body maintain healthy blood   pressure levels.
  • Pycnogenol helps to strengthen blood vessel integrity.
High Triglyceride Levels
Prevention:

  • Avoid   overeating, especially late at night when we’re less active.
  • Reduce   intakes of alcoholic beverages.
  • Maintain   a diet low in sugar and fat.
Improvement:

  • Treat   inflammatory ailments with non-steroidal and non-diuretic medications when   possible.
  • If   overweight, reduce bodyweight by as little as 5-10 lbs to help lower   triglyceride levels.
  • Eliminate   cigarette smoking.
High LDL and/or Low HDL Cholesterol  
Prevention:

  • Choose   foods low in cholesterol and unhealthy fat.
  • Include   fiber containing foods in the diet.
  • Increase   HDL levels by keeping moderate aerobic exercise in your life.
Improvement:

  • Phytosterols, plant sterols, compete with less healthy   animal sterols for absorption and thereby help lower total cholesterol   levels.
  • Policosanol, derived from sugar cane, has shown promise   in lowering LDL while increasing HDL levels.

Not at all surprising are the above recurring themes- getting regular exercise, eating a diet low in sugars, simple carbs and unhealthy fats, limiting alcohol and cigarette smoking, and adding stress management techniques to our daily lives. These lifestyle adjustments are at the core of most preventive plans and, in spite of their consistent need for attention, are not that hard to accomplish. My suggested starting place and current mission is the ever elusive concept of stress management. In my observation and experience, so many bad habits begin with the attempt to cope with our lives’ loads of stress. Whether we opt for the high fueled emotional rant, extreme veg out or over indulge in our spirited, sweet, rich and creamy cravings, it’s all in a desperate effort to overcome what can seem an insurmountable mound of worry- to do’s, to have’s, to be’s. This necessary adjustment has led me back to some age-old adages like doing what feels good for activity and exercise, seeking the middle ground with food and alcohol, and fighting the feeling in emotionally toxic scenarios. With no panacea to turn to, it’s a daily endeavor that’s sometimes only attainable through minute by minute milestones; but I’m beginning to believe that when faced with life’s most trying times, when missteps and bad choices can force us out of the game, slow and steady really does win the race. With that in mind…

Be aware of where you stand, be willing to move and as always, BeWell

*Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healings. New York: Avery of Penguin Putnam Inc, 2002.

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My Favorite Edible Flower

They’re here!!! The May flowers promised to us by April’s downpours are here! We’ve gotten a taste already with the stately Cherry Blossoms and graceful Tulips, and there are so many more blooms to come like the glorious Magnolias and Lilacs. Certainly, these flower-full spectacles are a delight to the eyes and nose (pollen allergies aside), but they are fast becoming known as a delight to the palate as well. Wildflowers are especially regarded in this manner as they’ve long served as that “secret- ingredient” sneaked into our favorite soups, sauces and stews. And my favorite is no exception.

Thyme. Picture taken in 2003.
Thyme. Picture taken in 2003. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My beloved Thyme. For whatever the reason, I just can’t get enough. And I’m clearly not alone, for it has admirers spread about the globe with at least two dozen different countries indulging in its versatility. Native to North Africa, Asia and Europe, this perennial plant is a savored ingredient in Nigerian, Caribbean, Indian, French and Italian cuisine. Alongside its culinary praise lies a rich history dabbed with a few folkloric claims. In Egypt, the Ancients used it to embalm their deceased; and during the Middle Ages the Europeans employed it as a sleep aid and declared it a wartime good luck – charm.

In my home, thyme is key. I use it to season fish, poultry, lamb, root veggies, stuffings and sauces. And though I’m aware of its therapeutic and medicinal components, I must admit that my experience in those ways only barely scratches the surface of this herb’s reputed worth.

  • A topical astringent and soothing body rub
  • An oral antiseptic for gum and throat infections
  • An internal worm expellant

The volatile oil within thyme contains antispasmodic compounds like phenols, thymol and carvacrol with calming qualities that soothe joints, muscles and organ systems. These compounds not only aid in the relief of discomfort and pain for rheumatoid arthritis sufferers, but also make thyme tea a recommended remedy for labored digestion and flatulence.

To make thyme infused massage oil simply place a full sprig of the plant in the oil of your liking and let it keep a few weeks before using. Agitating the infusion with a gentle shake or two per day will trigger a release of the plant’s volatile oils. This oil can also be placed in the bath to counteract muscle aches and made into an ointment to treat everything from minor skin infections to severe viruses.

Thyme tea is prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water over one teaspoon of dried thyme. Cover and let it steep for fifteen minutes before straining, use this same mixture as a gargle for sore throats and mouth sores.

Thymol and carvacrol are also antibacterial and anti-fungal, and thus act as expectorants, breaking up mucus and helping relieve symptoms of the common cold, whooping-cough and bronchitis. To prepare a cough syrup, pour one pint of boiling water over one ounce of dried thyme and let it cool to room temperature. Once cooled, strain the liquid and add one cup of honey and mix well. Store in the refrigerator and shake before using.

A general rule of thumb when working with herbs is to use more when they’re fresh and less when dried. This is especially true for cullinary use but also applicable for therapeutic  mixtures. Though I’ve gotten quite happy with thyme in many of my dishes, I have never felt that I went too far. So trust your palate, indulge and enjoy!

Til next time…

Be Bold and BeWell

SOURCES

Richard Mabey, The New Age Herbalist. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster,1988

Jude C. Williams, Jude’s Herbal Home Remedies. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 2001

My Earth Day Homage to El Yunque

In honor of Earth Day I am taking the opportunity to rave about one of my many favorite places on the globe-Puerto Rico!

I feel very blessed to say I believe we live on an incredibly gorgeous planet, and even more blessed to vividly recall how magically I saw the world as a child and be able to say that I still do see it in that light. The thing about PR is how many natural beauties exist in such a small space. It is actually the smallest of the Greater AntillesCuba, Hispaniola (the Dominican Republic & Haiti), Puerto Rico and Jamaica. The island spans approximately 3500 square miles and boasts the world re-known surfing haven of Ponce, the sister isles of Culebra  and Vieques, and the Rio Camuy Caves (one of the world’s largest); and this is, to say the least, a very abbreviated list of PR’s glorious wonders. The island’s volcanic and plutonic rock foundation is primarily mountainous and lies at the intersection of the North Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea.  Its precarious positioning not only makes it geographically diverse but keeps it geologically vulnerable. Beneath the island, the corresponding plates of those two bodies of water are shifting, sometimes moving along past one another, other times facing off at their meeting points. These various interactions are reshaping the island and making it susceptible to some extreme geological conditions. But geographically speaking, one might argue that that would be the price of the magnificence found in PR. Another perfect example is the inviting El Yunque National Forest, the United States’ only tropical rain forest.

El Yunque, as it is affectionately called, sits nearest to the northeastern city of Rio Grande, is predominately within the Luquillo Mountains and covers approximately 28,000 acres of land. Despite its relatively small size, El Yunque has some truly impressive stats:

  • Its namesake peak El Yunque is one of the highest points on the island
  • It was considered a holy place by the island’s indigenous Taino Indians
  • Houses over 100 different species of wildlife
  • Contains more species of trees than all of the forests in the US Forest System combined
  • Is home to more than 200 different species of trees and plants
  • More than 300 of the rainforest’s plants are valued for their therapeutic or medicinal properties

One medicinal plant with which you may be familiar is the Stinging Nettle or Ortiga Brava. Originally from the much colder regions of Europe and Asia, it is commonly found about the rainforest and known as a formidable shrub because of its tiny needle like hairs that, if touched, easily break off into the skin and release a poisonous liquid called Formic Acid. The stinging hairs are mostly found on the shrub’s twigs and lower leaves and usually only leave their victims with mild to severe skin irritations. If you should have a prickly run in with one, remove the needles as best you can, keep your hands away from your face, and wash them as quickly and thoroughly as possible.

Some other healthful constituents of the herb include chlorophyll, acetylcholine, histamine, Vitamins A and C, silicon, potassium, fiber and protein. Stinging nettle has been used for centuries to relieve or counteract a range of different physical ailments including:

  • Increasing the flow of urine
  • Expelling of mucus from the lungs and throat
  • Constricting hemorrhages and inflammatory conditions
  • Increasing the secretion of mother’s milk
  • Alleviate early symptoms of benign prostate enlargement (BPH)

These actions within the body make Stinging Nettle beneficial for asthma, allergies, malnourishment, pain management, urinary conditions, internal bleeding and arthritis. Currently, research is being done on the herb’s impact on blood pressure, blood clotting and blood sugar. Consequently, caution should be used and medical clearance obtained before combining Stinging Nettle with pharmaceutical hypertension treatments, blood thinners or diabetes medications. Stinging Nettle should not be consumed by pregnant women or women trying to conceive.

Stinging Nettle supplements are made from the specific parts of the plant as well as the whole plant and available in tincture, powder and capsule forms. Use as directed on the product’s label and always inform your physician of any herbs included in your nutritional regime.

As we move into the week, I intend to carry Earth Day with me and reflect on the alluring beauty of our world. I know Puerto Rico is just one of many healing places we are blessed with, so please feel free to share some others with me.

Until next week, Be Wild and BeWell

Sources

http://www.medicine.nevada.edu/wps/Proceedings/45/20-22.pdf

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/elyunque/learning/nature-science/?cid=fsbdev3_043029

http://www.umm.edu/altmed/articles/stinging-nettle-000275.htm

Tierra, Michael, O.M.D. The Way of Herbs. Pocket Books, NY, NY. 1998

A Few Spring Forget Me Not’s

Though Mother Nature has seemingly been a bit torn between seasons here in New York, this week is looking to be more on the side of Spring, and today perhaps Summer, than Winter. Of course there may be an abrupt change of heart in future forecasts; but why not step in time with this moment, revisit some necessary to-do’s, and take a look at this season’s treasures.

1.       Cleanse

I know by now you are fully aware that cleansing is my top of the list recommendation during a change in season. And though I don’t advocate cleansing as a weight loss tactic, I’ll briefly jump on that bandwagon and point out some aesthetic benefits of the cleansing process:

  • It’s a great way to clean the slate and start a new eating plan or diet.
  • It often leaves the tummy noticeably flatter due to the removal of all that un-digested, let’s just call it “matter”, in the intestinal tract.
  • The eyes have been known to brighten and the skin to glow after cleansing.

2.       Replenish Your Allergy Kit

Truth is allergy sufferers have really not gotten a break since last Summer’s A season began. Remember that the warmer winter ushered in an early bloom of several flowers and plants; and my understanding is that we should buckle in for a long haul because those bloomers will not be shortening their stay to account for the early arrival. Just in case you’ve forgotten your natural anti-histamine options:

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), found in seafood, meats and fresh fruit, has antihistamine capabilities that rival those of over the counter allergy meds. Taking 1000mg twice a day has helped me to sneeze and cough less over these last few weeks.
  • Honey, especially the locally harvested, increases your tolerance for the pollen floating through the air and can bring quick relief from allergy symptoms. A tablespoon or two taken at the first sign of a reaction should do the trick.

3.       Delight in Spring Fruits and Veggies

Eating with the season helps us to rotate foods and that not only keeps our diets fresh and diverse, but also helps prevent the development of food allergies. Nutritionally speaking, these spring treats have what it takes to keep us both strong and beautiful.

  • Beets are definitely a rooter to the tooter powerhouse. The green leafy tops are rich in fiber, Vitamin A, and other age defying anti-oxidants. The vegetable’s roots are not only highly regarded for their rich Iron and Vitamin C content; but they also contain the phytochemical Glycine Betaine that counteracts plaque promoting homocysteine and thus helps protect us from stroke and coronary heart disease. Eating beets raw or lightly cooked guarantees the fullest dose of nutrients.
  • Asparagus are definitely among the under-appreciated members of the vegetable family. Hopefully that ceases right here and now as they are excellent sources of several nutrients and therefore offer multiple health benefits. Asparagus contain significant amounts of folates, important to DNA synthesis, and are thus highly beneficial to expectant mothers. They are also rich in B- Vitamins and thereby capable of enhancing both metabolic function and energy production. Another understated asparagus gem is their Vitamin K content; one serving offers 35% of the recommended daily amount. Vitamin K helps our blood to clot, bonds calcium to our bones and may reduce our bodies’ susceptibility to bruising.
  • As delicious as they are, berries usually need no amen corner to boast their benefits. The commonly adored strawberry is not only low on the glycemic index, as all berries tend to be, it is also packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C and critical minerals like Potassium and Magnesium. And due in part to those assets, this celebrity berry is great for joint health. Apparently the high antioxidant content helps keep many arthritis and gout symptoms at bay. Making fighting degeneration, maintaining healthy joint fluid, and preventing toxic build-up all strengths of the strawberry.
  • Few may regard the apricot as the secret beauty weapon it is but that doesn’t change its worthiness of praise. Among many other nutrients, apricots happen to contain more beta- carotene than almost any other fruit. Beta-carotene is one naturally occurring, highly pigmented compound our bodies can use to make the biologically active Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant associated with preventing premature aging of the eyes and skin. Additionally, apricots are high in fiber and consequently protective to the digestive tract, helping to ward off conditions such as constipation, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Enjoy apricots fresh, canned or dried without sulfur dioxide as its use has been linked to various health issues.

4.       Last But Not Least

Make time to feel the sun and smell the flowers. Tis the season of renewal and sometimes a moment of rebirth can be achieved by simply standing and savoring the day before us. Until next time, take a moment…

Be Still and BeWell

Sources

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/beets.html

http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-strawberry.html

http://apricotfacts.com/apricots/Health+Benefits+of+Apricots/

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep, I Pray the Soul My Body and Mind to Keep

Last Tuesday I awoke to the beginning of the most bizarre and cathartic healing process I’ve ever experienced. And because I am still recuperating, my ability to effectively research and write is limited. So, this was going to be the sorry I’m out sick un-post, but then I reconsidered. It dawned on me that though the meat of this blog has become nutritional healing, the greater point is still wellness. So, I’d like to share a little of my experience. It might come in handy for someone, someday.

As I said, when I woke last Tuesday morning something was terribly wrong. The first indication was an easily disregarded one. I felt really tired, like I had a few more hours of sleep in me, but that is a very normal Tuesday experience given my Monday work schedule. However the next sign was impossible to ignore-uncontrollable, non-stop shivering. This was disconcerting to say the least, but it was a really cold day here in NYC and the heat in my building was just starting to crank in, or so I rationalized. But the shivering continued even through a hot shower. ??Now the next clue was a symptom I loathe-vomiting. God I hate it! And I told myself if it happened more than that one time, I’d have to call out from work because I likely wouldn’t be able to make the train ride down without another incident. Well boy oh boy did “it” happen again; and not only it, but also “its” opposite end buddy. And then they commenced to toss me back and forth for a few rounds. Yep, it was time to call the job. I’d barely been awake for one hour, rough morning to say the least.

Between my bathroom breaks, I tried to backtrack and figure out what the hell I’d had or did to cause this and, equally important, what “this” was and needed to go bye-bye. Based on the weekend’s events and a Sun/Mon sneezathon, I determined my ailment to be the flu and started thinking about how I could get some medicine. By then I was weak, in crazy pain, and unable to stand upright; and going out in the cold to get the medicine could make it worse. Drug store delivery? No. Close by friend? Yes.

God love her because in the short time it took her to arrive with the day and night flu pack I’d gone a few more rounds with the V & S crew and could barely stand upright for more than moments at a time. I’m sure that leaving me there seemed the worst resort but I assured her that I simply didn’t do sick well, just needed sleep and medicine, and would call her and emergency assistance if things got out of hand. Ha! Because they were clearly under control at that moment. I tell you I marvel at my stupidity sometimes. Anyhow…

My plan was to start with the nighttime meds first and sleep off the pain, let the body heal, and reserve the daytime meds for the following workday.  A couple hours later I woke up feeling better. And the following day still better but with an oddly achey right shoulder, like I’d strained it or something. Nothing during my sleep, like a sharp pain or numbness, stood-out. And my life, and therefore work, had to go on. So I did what I was previously committed to that Wednesday -work at the store, train my client, and sub a dance class. I definitely at times felt and admittedly overtaxed my shoulder with that day’s line-up, but never did I think any of it would lead to the agony of the following day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Early a.m.-Hell, Fire and Damnation! What the fcuk have I done to myself?!!?

Mid a.m.-Oh my gypsies, the pain is excruciating! I can’t move my right side from the waist up.

Late a.m.-The pain is still throbbing, it really hurts to inhale fully but there doesn’t seem to be any dislocation. God I hope I didn’t tear the rotator cuff.

Early afternoon-Ok, less throbbing but I can’t really bend over without a lot of pain. Making the bed took 25 minutes. And I can’t pick anything up from the floor. Even cradling my right arm doesn’t help with that one. I bet this is one way people start learning to cook and drive with their feet. I can only pick up chords and small round things with my toes.

Mid afternoon– I still can’t put any weight on it, but I can lift the right arm to almost shoulder level, either straight or bent. I can rotate it out to the side and back in. The left arm still has full range of motion but when I reach above head with it, the right side hurts. I’ll give it rest. I’ll give it heat then cold.

Evening– The heat feels great, but the cold is damn near debilitating. Now the pain seems to start just right of my sternum and pierce through the same point of my back. Like a stake through my chest. I can’t breathe past that point and God help me if I sneeze.

Bedtime-What if I sit down and swing my legs onto the bed-ouch, nope. Or maybe I can slowly lower onto my left side and roll onto my back, let my legs follow and then scoot over to the middle of the bed? Then I just have to find a position and angle to place my head and arm in…

That hurt but I finally made it. I can’t move from this position though so hopefully I’ll dose off soon.

Wee morning hours– I wonder how long it took me to get into bed. Who cares? At least you made it without your legs seizing up again. If that happened I honestly couldn’t handle it. I think I would die from all the pain. Last time it happened I could at least move my upper body, but this time. I, I…no I wouldn’t survive.

I feel like something is stuck, locked and waiting for release. Maybe this is a job for a chiropractor. Lying like this and staring straight up is like lying in a box. A coffin. Can you imagine the horror of being buried alive? If I do die, and you know I don’t want that, but if it were simply my time, as much I haven’t seen, I could accept it. I have much. Thank you. Honestly the whole mouse in the house episode doesn’t seem like much now. Thanks for that too. Oh! Please not the spasms, please! Ok, wiggle the toes. Bounce the legs. Pull in the navel. And breathe; try to breathe deep, past the pain, the sharp point. Keep your head aligned your ribcage down and breathe into your legs, all the way to your toes. Use your left hand to punch the thighs a little. It’s gonna be ok. But my head is tingling. Girl, that’s probably all that breathing. Don’t make me laugh.

When I woke Friday, I had to get ready for work as efficiently as possible. I tried to recall the methods I’d used before to get out of bed, bathe and dress myself. Every small task became deliberate in nature. Choreographed. But that only got me through my rituals. Navigating my environment required constant presence of mind, observation, anticipation of possible obstacles, and instantaneous problem solving. These are all skills employed outside of the home; but keeping those guards up inside was exhausting and when I slipped up, intensely painful.

Still, I took no meds because I didn’t want to unknowingly make my situation worse. Pain was my only barometer and it was localizing a little every day. I still didn’t know what I’d done to set the whole thing off, but the existing symptoms weren’t getting worse and new ones weren’t emerging. And even better, sometime during Saturday’s semi sleepless night I broke through my breathing barrier! As annoying as my allergies were, I swear I could’ve French kissed the pollen right then because finally I could sniff, blow my nose, clear my throat and even yawn without feeling serious pain. God bless the little things!

So, against my friends’ advice I opted not to go to the ER feeling confident that the issue was not with an internal organ but something muscular. However, as a customer stated and I would soon start to ponder, “…self diagnosis is the road to hell”.

On Tuesday, exactly one week after waking with what I thought was the flu, I went back to a full schedule. And the early part of the day went relatively well. I thought I made all of the necessary adjustments at work, but by the time I got to my client things were bad. During our session I started feeling pressure radiating up the thoracic and cervical parts of my spine into the back of my head and clogging my ears. It felt like a two ton truck sitting on me and I was terrified. This was a completely new symptom and I wasn’t taking any chances on possible neurological damage. Now I was going to the ER. And by the time I arrived, I was in tears and couldn’t even write with my right hand. The hospital’s admitting staff was working their job like an assembly line; so they ignored this response to their demand that I complete the admittance questionnaire. Another patient took notice and he wrote the necessary info down for me. I guess this caught the staff’s attention and they brought me in to take BP, heart rate and temperature. These were relatively ok and so I was instructed to wait. Naturally I became less anxious at the prospect of finally getting some clarity on the whole thing, even as the pressure persisted. At least I was under professional care.

By the time I got to see the actual doctor I’d be working with, I’d been asked four times by four different nurses and/or interns to recount from the beginning how the symptoms all began. I was exhausted by the redundancy, their sighs of boredom and their rolling eyes, especially given it was only at their request that I was retelling every little detail. They weren’t narrowing the process by asking specific questions and I didn’t know how I’d injured myself to give them the short version. I had to tell the doc my concern of spinal damage and paralysis for her to go beyond the strength and range of motion assessments to those testing for sensory response and nerve damage. Afterward, in a dry and slightly condescending tone, she informed me that I was having a muscle spasm. Thankfully, her assistant/ intern had osteopathic experience and offered to try and locate the center of the tension for me. She felt for and found a lot of hardness in the muscles of my upper right back. She asked the doc to feel. But the doctor couldn’t tell any difference. Never the mind, my greatest fears had been ruled out and poor bedside manner was a tiny price to pay.

I was given a shot to bring down any inflammation and a muscle relaxer for the pain. I was given prescriptions for Motrin and Codeine, advised to take some time off and instructed to follow up with my primary physician in a week. By the time I was released I felt a bazillion times better. And I actually got some real sleep. So, was it all worth it?

Though I would never advocate this approach for any of my clients or customers, for me it was necessary. It allowed me to conquer some long held fears and self imposed limitations, feel my body’s inherent healing power, gain a deeper faith in my higher self and/or the divine’s (however you call it) protection, and let go of the delusions that certain aspects of my lifestyle were still practical and working.

As I said before, I juggle a few different hats to make ends meet; and when they’re all up and moving, things are good. But if one of them or I fall, the whole house comes down. Regardless of what actually caused this, and I still don’t know, having to work through it and not having the means to take off and fully recover absolutely caused the deeper damage. I am fortunate that the “culprit” was ultimately what I figured it to be, and I am fortunate to walk away with more insight into how to navigate a healing process while living alone. The things most worthy of reconsideration:

  1. Know which of your friends and/or family members can get to you most quickly. Consider the distance between you and take into account your daily schedules. Have conversations and determine if and how you can help one another in cases of emergency.
  2.  Have a stocked first aid kit that includes basic medications for things like fever, inflammation or pain.
  3. Determine with whom you’d feel most comfortable making emergency medical decisions on your behalf. Again, have the necessary conversations and make the necessary agreements and arrangements (i.e. living wills, powers of attorney, etc.)
  4. For the partially or noninsured and those without sick pay, start saving at least one week’s earnings to allow room to take off from work and heal or recuperate when necessary.

Tomorrow marks two weeks since this ordeal started and the symptoms are steadily, albeit slowly, improving. There is still discomfort and sharp surges of pain, but it is much less intense and they are much less frequent. I decided against filling the prescription and just take Aleve as needed.  And since my pain free range of motion is still limited, I try to do simple head, neck and arm stretches throughout the day. I also massage the area to help loosen the tension and can even get in and out of bed with less drama and pain. And oh yes, I’ll be following up with my own doctor in a few days.

I have to thank my friends for their patience and faith in me. I know I narrowly escaped a group staged intervention, abduction and hospital drop off. And I also thank you for your support and reading of this post as I know it was no quickie. Though the hope is to never be in a position to need any of the above info, the reality of current times is that we at some point probably will. Better to be prepared and thus truly BeWell.

Until next week…

Meet the Mac, A Guy and Girl’s Best Friend

In my quest for truly effective energy enhancers that don’t overheat, over stimulate or become habit-forming to the system I happened upon Maca Root, or Lepidium Meyenii for the truly technical speakers. Now I’d passed this herb over several times because of its prevalence in men’s health and performance products; but it recently pulled me in after multiple female customers came in requesting it. So, I decided to give it a try. Let’s meet the Mac.

This herb hails from the Peruvian and Bolivian rainforests of the Andes Mountains. It is in fact a diet staple of those native to this region. Similar in size to a turnip, the Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable belonging to the potato family. It is able to grow in very cold harsh conditions where few others can survive, including potentially contaminating pests, which allows for a mostly organic cultivation of the plant.

The Reputation

Rumored to be the pregame fuel of the ancient Inca warriors, the root of the Maca plant is indicated for enhancements in strength, endurance, virility, sexual appetite and immunity. The roots are prepared as other vegetables of the kind-roasted, baked and/ or boiled, mashed and blended into porridge, but rarely if ever eaten raw. The leaves, less medicinally revered, can be eaten as a raw salad or cooked green. There are yellow, red, purple and black hued variations of the Maca, but the yellow seems to be the preferred food and the black may be the most healthful for the male reproductive system. All are apparently used to make Maca supplements.

Why it Works

The Maca’s reputation as a super herb is by no means unwarranted. For, its contents meet the majority of our nutritional needs. Richly diverse, it is a high carbohydrate food that still contains protein and approximately 20 different amino acids. It also houses some health benefitting fatty acids like linolenic, palmitic and oleic oils. And the vitamin and mineral contents surely contribute to its potency:

Lepidium meyenii maca
Image via Wikipedia

Energizing B Vitamins 1, 2 and 12

Blood building Iron and Copper

Bone nurturing Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorous

Thyroid aiding Iodine

Immune Boosting Vitamins C and E with minerals Zinc and Selenium

Maca root also contains phytochemicals like tannins, saponin, beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol. Tannins are thought to help protect the body against viruses, infections and parasites. Saponins have shown the ability to help nutrients penetrate our bodies’ cellular walls, and beta-sitosterol is a type of plant cholesterol that helps reduce the bodies’ absorption of the less healthy animal based sterols. Stigmasterol, also a phytosterol, benefits us in the same way and is used by the body to make estrogen, testosterone and natural steroid type hormones that counteract inflammation and stress. All of these components combine to create an herb that is fully beneficial to both the ladies and gents.

What it Helps Most

Females                               Males                                    Both Genders

Anemia                                  Decreased virility                    Depleted energy

Menstrual issues                     Low sperm count & motility     Immune deficiency

Menopausal symptoms            Impotence                             Chronic Fatigue

Supplemental FYI

Maca powders are made from both the raw and dried roots. These are available for use in drink and smoothie mixtures, teas, capsules and liquid extracts.

Dosages may range from 100mg per serving for the pure powder to 500mg per serving for the encapsulated versions. Maca Root can be supplemented alone or formulated with other herbs and nutrients for specific health benefits. Always use a product as directed by the manufacturer’s label.

Current research indicates that supplemental Maca is generally safe; however, pregnant and nursing women are advised to consult with their physician beforehand for clearance. And anyone taking pharmaceutical meds should also speak with their doctor about possible negative interactions or interference with their prescriptions.

I’ve only been taking Maca Root capsules for a short time, but so far my experience has been good. I’m anemic, which is what really caught my eye with this herb, and it has made a positive difference in my overall energy levels and, therefore, mood. Many of my more mature female customers swear by it for hot flashes and hormonal balance. It is not a stimulant in the usual sense, so don’t expect to feel that caffeine like rush. The energy is more sustained and results in me feeling less worn through the day. If you’d like to give it a whirl, the following link has some great information and supplement options. Maca Root can also be purchased from your general health food and vitamin stores. Enjoy the new-found vigor! And until next week…

Be Happy, Be Strong and BeWell

Resources

http://www.wholeworldbotanicals.com/best-maca-root-product

http://www.ams.usda.gov/

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_meyenii

Balch, Phyllis A. A Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY, NY. The Penguin Group

Holding Back the Years

Don’t know about you, but I fully intend to be CUTE when I’m 90, cute, spry and agile! Perhaps because I’ve been blessed with more than a couple 90 plus friends who’ve shown me what we have to look forward to; or because I have faith in the human body’s ability to achieve a long life when properly cared for.

True, there are many unavoidable consequences of aging- reduced production of vital bodily chemicals, resulting in the probable decline of things such as bone density, joint flexibility, metabolic efficiency and physical resilience, to name a few. But we are not powerless to affect change in the aging process. In fact much can be done to slow and even offset these effects. Accepting the need to change our ways with the times, maintaining healthy diet and exercise habits, keeping our vices in check, and staying abreast of our states of health are all at the top of the list. And for many, a particular class of nutrients has nestled right beneath. The OPCs-oligomeric proanthocyanidans. What a mouthful! Thank goodness for the abbreviation.

OPCs are a sub-group of the powerfully antioxidant, organic chemicals called flavonoids. They have more than 50 times the potency of Vitamin E and 20 times that of Vitamin C. This is partly due to their high level of bioavailability, short fancy speak for the physiological availability of a nutrient. They are natural substances that can be found in many foods, primarily plant-based ones. The body absorbs them quickly because of their water-soluble nature.

OPCs also work with the body’s intrinsic antioxidants like glutathione to regenerate other essential nutrients like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Uniquely, OPC’s are able to cross the blood brain barrier and thus directly impact the health of the brain and nervous system, protecting them from damaging free radicals:

“An atom or group of atoms that contain at least one unpaired electron… If an electron is unpaired, another atom or molecule can easily bond with it, causing a chemical reaction.”*

Because necessary biological processes occur from chemical reactions, free radicals are not the bad guys. But one does go on to produce another, and so on; and like all things, too many of them can create a dangerous environment, especially for our cells.

“…antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons…by destroying free radicals, antioxidants help to detoxify and protect the body.”*

Additionally OPCs act as anti-inflammatorys by reducing the body’s production of histamine; anti-aging agents by repairing and strengthening the body’s connective tissues (joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.) and cardiovascular system; and immune enhancers by inhibiting certain viruses. Two of the most potent OPCs are Pycnogenol and grape seed extract.

The French Fountain of Youth

Pycnogenol is the trademarked name for an extract of the bark from the French coastal Maritime Pine Tree. It is especially beneficial to circulatory health, helping to strengthen blood vessel integrity. Maintaining healthy, strong blood vessels helps to keep the blood and therefore oxygen flowing freely to the heart.  Along with those health benefits, the side bonuses can include reduced occurrence or appearance of varicose and spider veins and decreased darkness of bruises and skin discolorations.

Pycnogenol’s ability to enhance circulation also makes it useful for exercisers, both pre and post. The additional blood and oxygen fuel the muscles and prime them for longer bouts of activity, and the antioxidant regenerating capabilities help the body recover from the oxidative stress created by more intense and longer duration activities.

Pycnogenol is unique because this pine bark extract is composed of such a high percentage, as much as 65-75%, of procyanidans (part of the antioxidant group known as proanthocyanidans). Procyanidins, as previously mentioned, are able to increase cellular levels of Vitamin C and E. They are also able to bond with collagen and thereby help maintain the elasticity of our skin, joints, hair and nails and the health of our bones, gums and teeth.

The Value in Vino

Fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins, potas...
Image via Wikipedia

Grape seed extract, also a strong source of procyanidans, is pulled from various types of grapes, though it is thought that the wine-producing ones offer the greatest health benefits. Among other beneficial nutrients, grape seeds also contain the substance resveratrol.

Resveratrol is present in both the skin and seeds of wine-producing grapes. In scientific studies it has demonstrated cardio protective potential, decreasing LDL cholesterol (potentially artery clogging low- density lipoprotein) levels and preventing blood clots and blood vessel damage.

Resveratrol has been given credit for the low incidence of heart disease experienced by the French despite the relatively high consumption of rich and fatty foods and prevalence of cigarette smoking within their culture.

In addition to enhancing heart health, resveratrol also has its own reputation for enhancing physical beauty by helping the body renew damaged skin and worn muscle fibers.

Working OPCs into your Regimen

Pycnogenol and grape seed extract are not the only OPC containing foods. Procyanidans can also be found in apples (the highest amounts in Red Delicious and Granny Smiths), cinnamon, cocoa beans, green tea, bilberries, cranberries, black currants and acai oil pressed from the fruits of the acai palm. Resveratrol is present in peanuts (sprouted nuts yield higher amounts), blueberries and cocoa powder among other foods. Adding these foods to your diet is easy enough, but if you’d rather supplement the nutrients there are many ways to do so.

Now Foods Pycnogenol 30 MG 150 Caps Resveratrol 200 (120 tablet) by Source Naturals

Pycnogenol is available in capsule form, in a range of dosages. It is not inexpensive, so it’s totally appropriate to supplement it conservatively. For circulatory benefits and general wellness enhancement, I currently take one 30mg capsule before bed. Doses can be as high 200mg twice daily for assistance with muscular endurance and blood pressure reduction. But this should be advised by a physician or other qualified health care practitioner. Pycnogenol should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women or people taking immune-suppressing medications.

Grape seed extract and resveratrol are available in both capsule and liquid forms as well as chews and gummies. As these are not essential nutrients, there is no set recommended dosage. Like all supplemental nutrients, you want to look for the purest products that clearly state what percentage of that nutrient is contained in them. For both grape seed extract and resveratrol, that may be anywhere from 50mg to 500mg per serving. Some resveratrol studies have indicated that people in their 20’s can benefit from 100-200mg/day, with those in their 30’s safely supplementing  200-300 mg and people 40 years of age and older seeing the greatest results from the higher doses of 450-500mg/day. Currently there are no known adverse side effects, even in high daily doses. But, like Pynogenol, pregnant and nursing women should avoid supplementation until further research is available.

I think that’ll do for now folks. Be sure to make some time to take a load off, kick up your feet, and turn back the clock with a little indulgence.

Until Next Week, Be Wise and BeWell

*Balch, Phyllis A. A Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY, NY. The Penguin Group

Searching for Oz’s Ketones

20070819_1750
20070819_1750 (Photo credit: Uncle Beast)

The man has some power. It’s like as soon as the words fell from his lips, the product fell off the shelves, and the entire city literally sold out in a matter of days. I’m not certain if Dr. Oz is as popular and trusted outside of NYC as he is in, and I admit that until last week, my attention to him and his recommendations were marginal. But as I sympathetically turned away one disappointed seeker after another and provided the returning pursuant customers with updates of the great raspberry ketone shortage, I had to stand up and recognize the impact of this man’s words.

And what were his words? What would send seemingly every Tom, Dick and Jane to the health food and supplement stores? Weight loss. I probed, picked and prodded for something more, some other stated health benefit, but none were offered. If Dr. Oz did highlight other benefits of the fruit component, my customers didn’t hear them. So began my investigation into this now infamously hot commodity.

For Your Information and Mine

In the human body, ketones are produced when fatty acids are broken down and used for energy. Since the majority of our bodies’ energy is supplied by carbohydrate breakdown, the utilization of fatty acids as its primary fuel source occurs only when the body lacks the necessary amount of glucose yielding carbohydrates to sustain its self. Not that ketones are unnecessary, they are in fact essential to the heart and brain, but comparably small amounts are needed by the body to run efficiently; and in excess, they can negatively impact the body’s balance and consequently its health.

Ketone bodies, as this group of metabolic byproducts is referred, are not like glucose. Most excess is not stored in the body for later use but rather broken down and excreted by the body in a matter of hours. Hence the quick weight loss attributed to low carb high fat diets, fasting and other methods that force the body,specifically the liver and kidneys, into a state of rapid and repetitive ketogenesis. And when this occurs and causes the more acidic ketone bodies to accumulate, our blood’s PH is lowered to dangerously acidic levels. A lower blood PH/higher acidic state is not only associated with accelerated aging but actually considered by many health care professionals to be a diseased state.

Now the Diet Hype

Raspberry Ketones 250mg 120 Count

In raspberries, ketones are the compounds responsible for the fruit’s aroma and thus commonly added to foods and cosmetics to enhance their fragrance. In some animal studies, high doses of raspberry ketones have been found to prevent weight gain by increasing the animal’s breakdown and use of lipids (fats, fatty acids and cholesterol). There are several hormones that trigger lipid metabolism and norepinephrine is one. Supportive studies have observed an increase in the release of the norepinephrine hormone from high doses (as much as 2% of the total caloric intake) of raspberry ketones. Ultimately the process of lipid metabolism results in the formation of ketones which, as previously stated, when allowed to run amok can lead to serious health problems.

Currently there are no human subject studies to back up the effects observed in animals, which is reason enough to approach this weight management method as responsibly as you would a thermogenic (fat burner). First consult with your physician, and if your doc okays it then use the product as directed by them or the instructions on the label and don’t be afraid to give the body a break.

The usual 6 days on, one day off cycle combined with a few weeks break after 8 weeks of consecutive use should still be applied to this supplement. And if you select a raspberry ketone product that contains caffeine or other stimulants, avoid taking it within 5-6 hours of bedtime. Lastly, manipulating the body’s metabolic processes does not change the fact that weight management is a numbers game, calories in vs. calories out .And even actual fat burners work better when combined with healthy eating and exercise habits. So keep these in your arsenal for the long haul, looking to supplements for a jump-start or temporary source of support rather than long-term solution.

If you do manage to get your hands on the raspberry ketones, please drop me a line and let me know how they’re work for you.

Until next time, take care, sample safely and…

BeWell

Man Juice, The Power of Palmetto

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and forest in Ma...
Image by MiguelVieira via Flickr

We’ve all got some. It’s associated with ambition, pursuit, accomplishment and aggression. In fact, women actually experience a rise in theirs after achieving higher levels of personal and professional success. And for men, it is the ruling substance of their design. Testosterone.

In a man’s lifespan, the testes begin secreting testosterone at 4 weeks of age to form the male’s sexual organs. Once the fetus is fully formed and delivered, testosterone secretion halts until puberty, when it resumes and continues forming the male’s distinct physical aspects and emotional characteristics. Testosterone production and secretion continue to grow through adolescence into young adulthood, peaking in the early to mid twenties, before gradually declining in the mid to late thirties.

The natural decline in the production and secretion of testosterone can elicit feelings of fatigue, decreased motivation and irritability with physical indications such as reduced strength, weight gain, and muscle atrophy (size decrease). In short, a seeming loss of “mojo”. And though there are currently many pharmaceutical remedies being advertised, that might not be the preferred approach. Along with accepting testosterone’s decline as a natural part of the maturing process, and adjusting to the changes it can usher in, certain nutrients may be supplemented to help ease the process and even counter act some of the effects experienced with the hormone’s reduced levels.

The Male Herb

Saw Palmetto Berries in particular have been used for centuries to strengthen and tone the entire male reproductive system. They are specifically indicated to treat prostate enlargement and infection as well as restore healthy function. But saw palmetto berries are also helpful to bladder health, enhancing its ability to contract and fully release its contents and reducing the pain associated with strained urination. In addition, extracts of saw palmetto berry have shown an ability to prevent testosterone from converting to dihydrotestosterone (DHT) within the prostate. DHT build up in the gland is thought to be a cause of prostate enlargement. Saw palmetto berry extract also enhances the breakdown and excretion of DHT to further help prevent prostate enlargement.

As added benefits, saw palmetto also has a reputation for increasing strength and power, enhancing sexual desire and potency, and aiding muscle growth. The berries contain compounds known as steroidal saponins that serve as building blocks for the body to manufacture its own growth hormones to develop and build muscle tissue. The beautiful thing about steroidal saponins is that, unlike synthetic steroids and growth hormones, they do not take the body beyond its natural capacity, nor do they overtax or negatively impact its natural hormonal balance. They merely supply the body additional tools with which to create and build. This trait makes steroidal saponin containing plants like saw palmetto uniquely beneficial to the underweight, malnourished and ailing. And it makes the prospect of aging much more palatable.

A Low Maintenance Supplement

Nature's Answer - Saw Palmetto Berry Extract, Alcohol-Free, 1 ozNature's Way Saw Palmetto Berries 180 Caps

Please don’t let manufacturers and distributors fool you. Saw palmetto is a sturdy and stable herb that does not require complicated processes to be effective. The berries and seeds are used and can be taken in the liquid tincture form (20-30 drops, 3-4 times/day) or dried and encapsulated form (3-12 grams, 3 times/day).  If you prefer to simply take saw palmetto as a ground powder, please note that it does not taste very good. So, it’s best to combine it with a smoother tasting herb like fennel seed.

Saw palmetto berries are generally safe for use by all, but a quick confirmation from your physician is always advised. For objective reviews of saw palmetto supplements please visit the consumer lab.

And for more information on herbal care specifically for men, James Green’s The Male Herbal, Health Care for Men & Boys is an excellent resource.

Enjoy, Be Strong, and as always…

BeWell

Getting to Know You

Over the last few weeks I have become increasingly alarmed and even saddened by the number of advertisements I see on television offering legal assistance to those adversely affected by some not so long ago hyped pharmaceuticals. Birth defects caused by antidepressants that are more than likely still being marketed and recommended by medical professionals. Really?

I know I shouldn’t be shocked. It is common knowledge that drugs have side effects. But, still I am. And what saddens me is that with all the technological advancements of our time, we seemingly remain in the dark ages about the human body, the human psyche, our bodies, our needs.

The point of this blog has never been and will not become to assault the pharmaceutical industry as I know from both education and experience that there are times when the possibility, often enough only remote, of encountering a drug’s side effects pale in comparison to the ailment we are facing and fighting. But there are also times when we, me included, are choosing the easy and seemingly quick way out. More focused on the symptoms and complications they create in our lives rather than taking the time to dig and look more deeply into the illness or prolonged condition. Yes, unfortunately sometimes we just don’t have that luxury. But when we do, are we really exercising that option to its fullest? Personally speaking, not nearly enough; so, I must take us back to my earliest lessons in wellness and healing. Know thy self.

Become an expert on you. As my grandmother once said, “…they give M.D.s to those with C’s as well as A’s”. Doctors and health professionals are human and thus capable of error. Scientific research and studies reveal new information all of the time and previously held notions frequently get shot down in the crossfire.  What should be relied upon is the time and experience we’ve gained living in our skin.

Where to start?

Observation is the natural first step in developing awareness. And there are not only physical observations to be made but also the more subtle ones of our mental and emotional states, our behavior and even our lifestyles. As I write this it comes to me that maybe beginning with our lifestyles and backtracking through our behavioral responses and their resulting emotional, mental and physical experiences may be the more efficient way to get re-acquainted with ourselves. We can start the process with some simple questions.

My Lifestyle

  • What are my daily, weekly, monthly, etc. commitments and responsibilities? i.e. rent/mortgage, tuitions, debt/loan payments, care-taking of others, volunteer work, professional and/or school deadlines, social group meetings
  • Which are the busiest times of my day, week, month, etc?
  • When, what and how do I eat, drink, sleep, relax, and recover?
  • What do I enjoy the least and the most?
  • When do/have I felt at my physical, mental and emotional best? Worst?
  • What do I worry most about? Least about?

My Behavior

  • How do I fulfill my commitments and responsibilities? i.e. fulltime work week, overtime, second job, time and/or service bartering, hired assistance, night and weekend schooling
  • How do I celebrate my accomplishments, handle my disappointments, and manage my stressors?
  • What are my healthiest and unhealthiest habits?
  • Do I have vices? Do I know and respect my limits with them?
  • Do I judge myself? What are my judgments?

My Experience

  • How do I feel at the end of my day, week, month…?
  • How do I feel when I am challenged, when I succeed, when I please others, and when I disappoint?
  • Where do I hold the most and least tension in my body?
  • What part of my body ails me the least, the most?
  • Do I want or need help changing, stopping, starting or improving any condition in my health and wellbeing?
  • What do I need?
  • Who do I trust to help me?

Some of the above may seem too obvious for review; while others may be too complex to merely bullet in a list. Look at them as opportunities to go further down the rabbit hole, if you will. Examining the demands of our routines can reveal the greatest assets and vulnerabilities within our lives and even help us get to the root of the conditions that plague us. At the very least, we become more informed of our beliefs, tendencies and preferences and are therefore better able to select and work with our health care professionals from prevention to diagnosis and treatment. For more detailed guidance in the area of self-awareness and self-care, check out the Memory Minder Personal Health Journal  by F.and D. Wilkins and the Wellness Workbook by Travis and Ryan. Until next week…

Take Notice, Take Note and BeWell

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