Illness and Conditions, Integrative Medicine

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!

Fitness - Inside and Out, Massage Techniques Explained

Premenstrual fitness

I never miss a training day. My exercise schedule is rigid; conducted with a NO EXCUSES attitude. That is how I roll. No one has to cajole me out of bed, push me out of the house or leave threatening messages on my phone to scare me into fitness. When it comes to exercise, I have always been self-motivated. Twice a week, I do a combination of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and strength/weight training with my trainer. Another two days of the week, I do some form of cardio mixed with cross fit and strength band/weight training on my own, either at home or at the gym. Everyday of the week, I manage to fit in at least 45 minutes to an hour of walking, stair climbing or overall hustling intermingled with my work as a massage therapist, which is a tremendous core strength builder. It’s fair to say that I’m tired by the end of my day, but the only time I truly feel the affects of all my activities is the few days prior to my period known as premenstrual syndrome or PMS for short. To say I am pooped would be an understatement. My body feels like it is made of lead. My balance and coordination are a joke; I can barely do a one legged squat without tipping over, which my trainer finds highly entertaining being that I have that martial arts/dance background and what not. My nutrition becomes spotty, as I crave the saltiest of salty and chocolatey of chocolate things, but get so nauseated that I end up eating less than what my body needs. Worst of all these symptoms is my emotional state, which fluctuates from absolute rage to bottom of my soul sadness. The former makes me want to break someone’s face and the latter, like I am falling to pieces mid-workout.

Training like a Spartan may not be the intuitive thing to do.

The 7 to 10 days prior to the arrival of the menstrual cycle and the first two days of the cycle itself can be unbearable for many women. Men can make all the snide comments and PMS jokes in the world; however hormones are powerful movers and shakers of a body’s state of balance a.k.a. homeostasis. These chemical messengers regulate many functions and processes; too little or too much of a particular hormone and things go haywire. Take for example human growth hormone, which ensures our bones, muscles and tissues grow us into adulthood and beyond. Having an over production causes Gigantism, where a person will grow to heights above 7 foot. Having too little will cause Dwarfism, a condition where a person is extremely short (well under 4′ 10″) with proportional body parts. With respect to PMS, it is the shifting of estrogen and progesterone that cause its symptoms and determine how acutely one experiences them. My clumsiness (aforementioned falling over during my workout), low tolerance for noises (I can’t take it when weighted plates and dumbbells get dropped after people finish their sets), difficulty concentrating/confusion (no, no you meant my other “left”), fatigue (lead body), aggressive behavior (god bless boxing and muay thai) and craving for excessive sleep are all symptoms that challenge my ability to workout and work effectively. Rather than ignore and try to push through, I found that I had to modify my definition of what would be effective fitness for this period of time (pun unintentional).

I loved Xena, my pseudo Greek warrior princess!

While sparring relieved some of the aggression I felt, trying to take someone’s head off left me vulnerable to shoulder injury. Hence, know when to use 20% of your strength and when to go full on. Instead of taking a 4 second break between sets, I grab my water bottle more often and take the time to breath through whatever meltdown I am feeling coming on; therefore getting it out of my system before continuing.  Again, I am avoiding injuring myself by pushing my body, but without sacrificing the level of workout I have set out to do. I also found that increasing my cardio (i.e. aerobic exercise) during this time helped me to get my appetite in check and jump-start my cycle without as much muscular cramping as I felt when I did more strength training and aggressive exercise. Since every body is different, it is super important to pay attention to what your symptoms are telling you and then, try modifying your activities to see what works for you. Ultimately, PMS should not be a reason to shy away from fitness. If anything, it will help put those hormones back in their bloody place (that one was intentional 🙂 ) per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Integrative Medicine, Massage Techniques Explained

Px Aromatherapy

My experience with essential oils began in high school when my friends and I would take little field trips into NYC’s East Village to buy viles of  Jasmine, Patchouli and other exotic oil mixtures like “Blue Nile” and “Dragon’s Blood” to wear as perfume. The Patchouli wearer would always leave a heady trail behind her that gave everyone in the group a headache and in my case, a twinge of nausea. Scents are powerful, in both the literal sense of the word and also in the ability they have to invoke memories and emotions deeply stored away in the recesses of our minds. To this day, whenever I smell Patchouli I immediately recall those field trips with a smile and slight churn of my belly.

Aromatherapy is defined as the therapeutic use of plant-derived, aromatic essential oils to promote physical and psychological well-being. This form of therapy has been documented since the era of ancient Egypt and was expanded upon by the Romans and Greeks. In fact, for 1500 years a text entitled “De Materia Medica” written solely on the medicinal value of aromatic botanicals by a Greek doctor/surgeon was the accepted reference book for Western Medicine. In modern times, it’s considered a part of Holistic medicine, which is an alternative to Western, ironically enough. In aromatherapy massage, essential oils are mixed with a carrier oil (something unscented to dilute the concentration of the essentials for use on the skin) and used on the client to address whatever issue they have come to their therapist for. The simplest choices on the aromatherapy menu tend to be a Lavender and/or Peppermint essential oil massage; the former to relax and undo stress and the latter to invigorate and refresh. Beyond these two, is a world of essential oil scents and combinations that a skilled aromatherapist can use to treat one’s state of mind and body.

This past month, my physical and emotional PMS symptoms have been especially acute. Stress is definitely a mitigating factor as well as the physical demand made on my body, but I haven’t had the time (HORRIBLE excuse, I know) to get any massage/bodywork to help smooth me out. The water retention, bouts of anger and tummy troubles (er…hem) have been almost more than I can bear. A funny thing happened yesterday, while massaging a client with a combination of the following essential oils: roman chamomile, clary sage, sweet orange and lavender. The agitation ball I felt lodged in my chest from earlier in the day was suddenly gone as was the low grade ache I felt across my abdomen. My coloring shifted and my mood improved tremendously. I did not feel these changes in the other appointments I had done prior to the aromatherapy. Since I had been researching essential oils for another client, I went into my reference book and looked up the above oils within this concoction. All of them address menstrual and pre-menstrual related symptoms including depressed mood, cramps, breakouts, tummy troubles (er…hem), elevated blood pressure and cycle regulation.

Wow.

75 minutes spent in a windowless room with the lights dimmed inhaling the vapors and absorbing this combination of oils into the skin of my hands and forearms was enough to smooth the last 2 weeks worth of evil from my body. Amazing, seriously. My self prescribed aromatherapy regimen to truly test the efficacy of the above results will be moisturizing my entire body with these oils after a hot shower in the days prior to the arrival of my monthly visit. This will allow the therapeutic properties of the oils to be better absorbed into my skin. And of course, make the time for a long overdue massage.

SOURCES:

Advanced Aromatherapy: The Science of Essential Oil Therapy by K. Schnaubelt, PhD, 1998.

More information on Px Aromatherapy can be found at the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy website:  http://www.naha.org/