The Food MD

The American audience has been saturated with advertisements for Pharmaceutical products since the mid-nineties. Whether it’s in print or on the screen, anyone can find a drug to address a multitude of symptoms a la Ray Bradbury’s “Farenheit 451.” Fast forward through the gently spoken side effects and the advice to “consult with your doctor before taking…” and most people presume life will be brighter, happier and glossier when on this drug. Oh, behold how gray propaganda works.

It’s a full body experience, alright!

In response to all these scripts is “The Food Hospital,”a program that airs on the BBC’s Channel 4 and The Cooking Channel here in the States. It explores the science behind using food as medicine. Patients with conditions and/or a variety of symptoms come in, are subject to a battery of scientific tests after which a food regimen is prescribed and monitored by its doctors to see if it can effectively treat them. During their follow up visits, patients and doctors meticulously review how the different foods eaten helped them through hematocrits (i.e. blood tests) and feedback, then compare the statistical results from the prescription drug alternatives. Sometimes the patients have already tried all the drugs on the market for their condition, so the comparison is first hand; however more often than not, the food program has the most profound impact sans side effects.

If we think about our history, man has always looked to nature for methods of disease prevention and curing sickness. There are still people in remote tribes using things like tree bark and crushed dung beetles to treat infection. As we cringe and contort our faces in disgust, an incredible thing occurs – the treatments WORK. I should remind you that many new medications being developed in pharmaceutical labs have their roots in botanical and organic sources, sometimes emerging from rainforest and bush treatments.  Of course, by the time the medication makes it to market, those sources have been altered and incorporated with a multitude of synthetic agents. Bring on the light colored pill and its numerous side effects. If, however, you knew that changing what you put inside your body could help treat you, which would you gravitate to?

A young woman suffering from debilitating PMS found that incorporating more calcium rich vegetables like broccoli and dark leafy greens into her diet helped to eliminate the severity of her symptoms. Prior to visiting the Food Hospital, her only medical option was taking an anti-depressant. For other conditions, the food prescription is a little more involved. Take, for example, the Portfolio diet, which is a vegetarian diet consisting of a four key cholesterol lowering foods that bring down the levels of LDL, considered the “bad” cholesterol. This “portfolio” consists of soluble fiber, (examples include oatmeal, oat bran, barley, peas, beans, lentils, psyllium, and vegetables such as okra and eggplant) nuts, soy protein and margarine enriched with plant sterols. It can be a challenging diet, but incredibly effective. In fact, its efficacy has been comparable to that of prescription drug Lestatin. Also in that vein of challenging yet effective is the Low FODMAP diet which is prescribed to people suffering from IBS (Irritable Bowl Syndrome). The science behind this diet is that consumption of foods with high levels of fermentable sugars end up creating more liquid and gas in the gut, thus leading to the uncomfortable symptoms experienced by those who have the condition. Foods with low levels of these sugars and especially when eaten in certain combinations and amounts have been found to drastically reduce  digestive distress. Since current prescription medications for IBS have varied results and obvious risk factors (think of the recall in 2000 of Lotronex after some users died as a side effect), it’s sort of a no-brainer to go the route of Px Diet. If you never thought food could have this kind of profound impact on health, then start thinking it NOW. Just note that none of the above diet programs or other ones should be undertaken solo. The script needs to come from a registered dietician and/or doctor’s referral.

Happy eating!

Massage for a Broken Heart

This too shall pass…

One out of every three clients I encountered this past month was in the midst of a break up. Although February is nationally recognized as a time to celebrate love, thanks in part to the mass market holiday that Valentine’s has become, it seems that more and more people choose to end their relationships during this time. Break ups apply to all kinds of human connections like friendships, romantic partners, marriages or family members and illicit the same range of emotions one would encounter within the grieving process. Rather than swimming in the vortex of loss alone, these clients sought out massage as comfort. How is it that heartbreak “hurts” so much? The physical reaction to emotional loss can be explained through medical science.

When emotional stress is experienced, especially loss, our brains signal the release of stress hormones from the adrenal glands and certain proteins that constrict blood flow causing part of the heart to become temporarily enlarged and incapable of pumping well. The rest of the heart has to compensate by contracting more forcefully. The pain felt in one’s chest resembles that of a heart attack; however without the permanent damage associated with it. The heart is described as being temporarily stunned or rendered “helpless” which is an interesting choice of words given the sufferer’s mental state. This condition is known medically as stress cardiomyopathy (formerly takotsubo cardiomyopathy) but many doctors refer to it as Broken Heart Syndrome.

Pain is the brain’s primal way of responding to trouble. That trouble can be caused by stimuli both inside and outside of the physical body. Sensory receptors known as nociceptors register these stimuli and in milliseconds return the signal of pain. When we are in a state of emotional distress, the brain’s blood supply is altered, sending more blood to the area responsible for regulating physical pain. This excess flow has been found in people with depression making them more peaked to pain. The emotions felt during a break up enact this physiological response, registering an ache or hollow feeling often felt within the organs of our core; not just in the heart. The state of pain also kicks in the sympathetic nervous system to respond, known as our state of “fight or flight.” The hormones and proteins released inhibit appetite which can lead to anorexic behavior, keep us over alert which translates into insomnia or disrupted sleeping patterns, constricts blood vessels causing headaches, stops digestive juices from being released causing tummy troubles and for some, their overabundance can lead to panic attacks and adrenal fatigue.

Brain and pain rhyme for a reason, kids.

One of the main things massage can do is kick into gear the parasympathetic (i.e. “rest and digest”) response. This is why it is so effective in stress management. Massage counters a lot of the physiological affects of a broken heart by switching off the sympathetic release of hormones and proteins related to emotional stress. In addition, it counters any muscular and postural imbalances that could develop from protective patterns of movement or the general feeling of wanting to cocoon into oneself. It also prevents the isolation and loneliness that creeps in after the shock, denial, guilt, anger and bargaining stages of the grieving process pass because it allows for touch from another that is warm, therapeutic and outside of any emotional attachment or expectation. It is a safe place to let go of emotions and come back into the body.  Some of us put names on slips of paper in the freezer, bury all the things ever given as gifts, move out of the apartment whose walls are saturated with the memory of YOU and THEM, cut or dye hair in all kinds of ways to deal with a break up. But giving yourself the love you once had for another person, which in the case of my clients was in the form of therapeutic massage, will have the most beneficial overall effect for all parties involved. Acceptance is a whole lot easier when you don’t have to HURT as much.