Listen To Your Gut

Gut Microbiome

Hi Guys! Today we’re talking about one of my favorite topics - the bacteria in your intestines!

Go have a “wow, that’s disgusting” moment, I’ll wait. 

Back? Ok good.  

In the last ten years or so Western science has come around to what Chinese medicine has been preaching for 3,000 years - health starts in your gut. One of the most important questions I ask a patient is, “how is your digestion?”  Bloating, gas, food sensitivities, and even the color and shape of your poo gives valuable insight into how every organ in your body is working together. You may eat tons of veggies every day, but if you can’t digest and absorb nutrients then what’s the point?

Enter your microbiome - a unique profile of bacteria and microorganisms growing in your intestines.  This bacteria breaks down food for absorption, boosts your immune system, sets your metabolism, and wards off disease. Yes, it sounds like a mini-computer in your body—and it sort of is!

Ready for a fun fact?  The microbiome of an average adult can weigh at least three pounds. Other things that weigh 3 pounds: a box of wine, a two-slice toaster and…THE HUMAN BRAIN. 

Current research is showing that specific changes in the gut microbiome are strongly correlated with a wide variety of diseases.  One particularly interesting study showed that when obese patients were given a “fecal transplant” from thin patients (yup, that’s what you think), they lost weight.  Beyond weight loss, scientists are finding targeted probiotics and fecal transplants can change the microbiome and are effective in treating everything from IBS to depression.

So how can you give yourself a “thin and healthy” microbiome?

Have you ever heard the saying “what you feed grows?” The “thin and healthy” bacteria thrive on a varied diet containing lots of plants.  Conversely, processed foods, pesticides, prescribed antibiotics, and animal products that have been exposed to antibiotics starve these same bacteria.  Without the “thin and healthy” bacteria, you gain weight while simultaneously reducing your body’s metabolism.  Furthermore, these bad boys are partially responsible for producing the molecules that tell the brain you’ve eaten enough, so as they die you feel hungrier. 

It’s interesting to know how easily our daily routine can kill the bacteria that is trying to help us. So, are you ready to start rebuilding your microbiome?


The Challenge

Probiotics and fermented foods are incredibly useful to quickly repopulate struggling healthy bacteria.  This week incorporate a daily probiotic into your morning routine!  Consume fermented foods, such as kombucha, kimchi, or miso, or take a probiotic capsule. Capsules are commonly found in the supplement aisle of your local supermarket. To insure the bottle you buy contains live bacteria choose one that is refrigerated in the store with an expiration date.


The next time someone tells you to, “listen to your gut,” go to the produce aisle.  If you’re very very quiet, you may hear that little gut-brain whisper, “please feed me kale.” Eat the kale, eat it.

Are you there, metabolism? It's me, warm foods.

When a patient comes into my office with difficulty losing weight, the first question I always ask is, "what have you been trying?" Nine times out of ten the answer consists of the same foods: smoothies, protein shakes, salad, and lots of ice water.

These foods have a reputation as "diet foods" because they are high in fiber, low in calories, and (in the short term) work.  Extreme calorie restriction can be incredibly effective if you need to lose weight quickly, but eating this way for an extended period of time is hard on the digestive system and can damage your metabolism. 

All of the following are signs that your digestion is not functioning optimally: 

  • Bloating*
  • Gas
  • Gurgling sounds from your stomach or bowels
  • Water Retention
  • Loose stools*
  • Constipation
  • Undigested food in your stool*
  • Sleepiness after eating*
  • Food Cravings
  • Tiredness or weakness*
  • Easily bruising*

In particular, if you experience the symptoms marked with an asterisk you are lacking in what I call "digestive fire."

What is “Digestive Fire?”

From a Chinese medicine perspective I compare a healthy metabolism to a wood fired furnace.  If the furnace is functioning optimally, logs (food) burn completely and evenly.  The furnace puts out consistent heat (energy), and wood is entirely digested, ending as nothing but ash. 

In a western sense, your metabolism is calculated as the number of calories you require to function.  Scientists measure this literally as how much heat your body puts out in a 24 hour period - how bright your digestive fire is burning. 

If you want to lose weight without slowing your metabolism, it is critical to keep your digestive fire burning as brightly as possible. 

How can you rev that bad boy up?

If you give a furnace good quality dry wood it will grow brighter and stronger.  Conversely if you feed it wet green wood it will spit and begin to die down. 

Warm cooked foods, such as baked sweet potatoes and steamed vegetables, burn easily, like dry wood, and act as kindling to rev up your digestive fire. Cold raw foods, such as salads and smoothies, are the equivalent of green wood - they are difficult to process and slow down your metabolism. 

Did you notice that the majority traditional "diet" foods fall into the latter category?  Most patients I see with a weak digestive fire are frustrated with their bodies.  They feel as though they are doing everything right (yogurt! salad! protein shakes!), but still the weight won't budge. When they switch to a diet that nurtures their digestive fire, their metabolism speeds up, and weight begins to come off. 

Sound like you? This week I'm challenging you to switch to warm foods.  We're going to build up that fire and restore your metabolic function.  For just one week, try consuming foods that are always room temperature or above and cooked (this includes beverages - no more iced coffee!). Some foods that are especially good at helping to rebuild a damaged metabolism are:

Foods that damage a weak metabolism

  • Cold foods
  • Raw foods
  • Dairy
  • Excess sugar
  • Excessive fats and oils

Foods to build a weak metabolism:

(All to be consumed warm)

  • Rice
  • Barley
  • Oats
  • Adzuki beans
  • Broth (particularly bone broth)
  • Root vegetables (sweet potatoes, beets, etc)
  • Aromatic foods (garlic, onions)
  • Mushrooms
  • Leeks
  • Squash
  • String beans
  • Sesame seeds
  • Carrots
  • Warming spices (ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg)
  • Eggs
  • Chicken
  • Shrimp
  • Miso

The Challenge

 

This week is all about regulating your metabolism.  Commit to a warm food diet - nothing below room temperature, nothing processed, and nothing raw - for at least a week.  Drink plenty of (room temp or warm!) water and you'll start to notice decreased bloating, more consistent and formed bowel movements, and more even energy levels.
 


*The information provided in this article is not meant to diagnose, treat, or otherwise replace the advice of a licensed health professional. For personalized diet recommendations please make an appointment here

"Perfect" Summer Diet Series

The sun is shining, the air is warm, and after a looooong rainy spring, it’s finally beach season!

If the thought of a bikini is making you cringe, allow me to let you in a dirty little weight loss secret:

There is no “one size fits all” diet. 

You have friends who are lactose intolerant and friends who are gluten intolerant, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that our digestive systems are as unique as we are. Your friend can feel amazing consuming nothing but green juice, but that same juice cleanse may leave you exhausted and up 5 pounds a week later.  

This summer I want to help you take control of your weight and diet.  Every Monday tune in for my latest blog series talking about weight loss, nutrition, and how to use food as medicine to restore proper digestive function.  First up is next week's post on revving up your metabolism and why salad is not always the best diet food!

What the heck is an adaptogen?

Ashwagandha

If you’ve spent time recently in a juice bar, whole foods, or a juice bar IN whole foods, you’ve probably heard the word “adaptogen” thrown around. Maybe a tall blond pore-less woman requested a scoop in her buzzword filled smoothy, or maybe you overhead a vitamin guru gushing about how much energy he has.  Either way, it sounds fancy and scary, and a pore free face with tons of energy is something you might be interested in.

What the heck are they?

Adaptogens are not a single substance you can buy on the shelf, but rather a category of herbs. Adaptogens have a normalizing effect.  They help the body to cope with stress, and better adapt to various environmental factors.  In essence, adaptogens are medicine for the healthy.  They keep body processes on track, and make sure a late night at work (or years of late nights at work) don’t send you into a tail spin of high blood pressure and migraines.  

Ok that’s great, but I still don’t know what they are…

The most commonly seen adaptogens are ginseng (American and Asian) and “ashwagandha,” (or as my dad likes to call it “ashey-haha”).  All three of these are potent herbs with properties that increase energy, aid in memory, boost the immune system, fight cancer, and decrease inflammation.  (No promises on pore size though…)

Other herbs commonly used as adaptogens are:

  • Cordyceps mushroom (Dong Chong Xia Cao)
  • Codonopsis Root (Dang Shen)
  • Eleuthero root (Ci Wu Jia)
  • Green Chirayta (Chuan Xin Lian)
  • Guduchi root
  • Holy Basil herb
  • Gynostemma herb (Jiao Gu Lan)
  • Licorice root (Gan Cao)
  • Reishi mushroom (Ling Zhi)
  • Rhaponticum root (Lou Lu)
  • Rhadiola root (Hong Jing Tian)
  • Schisandra fruit (Wu Wei Zi)
  • Siberian Ginseng (Wu Jia Shen)
  • Shilajit (Wu Ling Zhi)
  • Shiitake mushroom

Need help choosing the right adaptogen for you? Schedule an herbal consult here and I would love to help!

What Your Skin is Telling You

When you were in middle school you probably heard rumors that chocolate or beer causes acne.  While this is not entirely true, it is true that diet plays a huge role in the appearance of your skin. 

We don’t often think of it this way, but skin is the largest organ in your body.  It plays a crucial role in protecting you from illness and disease in the environment, and eliminates toxins that would otherwise build up within. Through its varying states of luster and clarity we can get a sense of how much toxicity is being generated and how efficiently your body is functioning to filter it out. 

If everything is working perfectly you will have clear, glowing, even skin, and if things are out of balance, you may develop dry, red, inflamed, or prematurely aging skin. 

So what can you eat to get that perfect baby skin you had at 4?  Today we're discussing our 3 most commonly heard skin concerns and foods to help out. 

Nutsforskin.jpg

Acne

Try: 
To fight acne we work to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods that soothe your skin from the inside out. Chickpeas, nuts, seeds, and lentils are all great options. 

Cut Back:
Refined sugar spikes insulin levels which can stimulate oil glands and lead to break outs.  Dairy often contains added hormones given to cows to help them produce more milk. These hormones can affect your body's own hormone levels and further exacerbate break outs. 

Dullness

Try:
To combat dullness we work with the hydration and pH balance of your skin. Lemon is wonderful for helping the liver detoxify blood, and it's alkali nature helps to rebalance your body's pH.  Try a mug of hot water with lemon every morning.

Cut Back:
Acidic foods, particularly the oils used for frying, can deplete the skin and disrupt your body's pH balance.

Premature Aging

Try:
Ginger is a fantastic herb to fight free radical damage and inflammation.  Try adding it to your lemon water in the morning for glowing, wrinkle free skin.

Cut Back:
Sugar and charred foods create damaging by products in your blood stream that damage collagen and elastin, the primary proteins for keeping your skin looking young.  Reduce both to help maintain your skins youthful texture.

 

For more information on how your diet may be affecting your skin, send us a note here.  We’d love to hear from you!

5 Easy Natural Remedies for Anxiety

Anxiety is the most common mental health disorder in the United States, and it is on the rise.  A 2013 survey showed that 57 percent of female college students experienced “overwhelming anxiety” in the previous year. So what gives?  Why are we all feeling crushing anxiousness, and what can be done about it?

Anxiety is caused by our body’s natural “fight or flight” response.  When your body thinks it is under attack, a tiny almond shaped structure in your brain, the amygdala, sends out signals that tell your body to RUN!  This was helpful when our ancestor’s greatest stressor was being chased by a saber tooth tiger, but modern stressors are not quite as life threatening.  Our stressors have evolved to be looming deadlines and unpaid bills, but our brains haven’t caught up and still think these things are life or death.   This leads our brains to run on a constant loop of stress.  The hormone associated with stress, cortisol, is released in huge quantities allowing us to prepare for the fight coming.  We retain weight (for out running those tigers, naturally), stop digesting properly, and have difficulty sleeping.  Rationally we understand that this is an over reaction, but we can’t stop our bodies from responding the way evolution has designed them to.  In 2001 21% of women were using antidepressants and 11% were using anti anxiety treatments.  What if you don’t want a pharmaceutical intervention, though?  How can we use natural remedies to treat anxiety?

1) Schedule Relaxation

Mindfulness has been shown time and time again to be one of the most effective treatments for anxiety. Your brain cannot be in two places at once, so by intensely focusing on the task at hand - be it meditation, weeding the garden, yoga, or whatever you prefer - you can teach your brain to begin blocking out many of the anxious thoughts.  The app “Headspace” is a great way to start a meditation practice.  As little as 5 minutes a day has been shown by this Harvard study to have enormous benefit.

2) Deep Belly Breathing

Similar to mindfulness, deep belly breathing has been shown to reduce blood levels of cortisol. If you have taken a yoga class you should already be familiar with this technique.  Sit with one hand over your belly button and one over your chest.  Breathe deeply into your abdomen feeling your belly move your belly button hand out, while the hand on your chest remains still.  Slowly release the breath focusing on the back of your throat.  If done correctly, you should hear a gentle “snore” sound.  This breathing activates the vagus nerve in the back of your throat which will reduce the levels of stress hormones in your blood.  Belly breathing activates the “rest and ruminate” nervous system which helps your body to relax and reduce anxious hormonal responses.

3) Soothe Your GI Tract

The GI tract has long been known in Chinese medicine as a “second brain.”  If you have ever been nervous and felt butterflies (and subsequent….eh hem….GI upset) you know that your gut is very keenly tuned into your mental state.  Current research is showing that the enteric nervous system, the nerves of your gut, are one of the strongest reactors to fear and the “fight or flight” syndrome. This can result in nausea, diarrhea, and heartburn as additional side effects of anxiety.  Incorporating a probiotic into your daily routine as well as fermented foods such as yogurt, kimbucha, and kimchi can help to heal your digestive tract and allow your body to be more resilient to anxiety.

4) Anti-Anxiety Shots

Ginger is a potent chinese herb that helps to calm the stomach and aid in digestive health. Lemon juice has repeatedly been shown to lower blood pressure and strengthen blood flow, and honey can help to stabilize blood sugar.  Create a daily morning “Wellness shot” of equal parts lemon juice and ginger (we recommend 1 tsp each) with just enough honey to make it palatable.

5) Quit Smoking and Coffee

Smoking and coffee often provide people with a temporary feeling of peace, but are stimulants that further activate your body’s “fight or flight” response.  Cutting these out of your life may be temporarily difficult, but will reduce the stimulus on your fight or flight nervous system that leads to feelings of anxiety

Acupuncture is Effective for Sepsis and Inflammatory Diseases in Nature Medicine

As I'm sure you are aware, scientific research practically doesn't count until it's been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal.  You can do tons of interesting experiments, but if no one will publish your data, it doesn't matter.  Go home.  Your research is lame.

Unfortunately, this by no means implies that all published research is good.  There is an enormous hierarchy to journals.  The journals at the top of the hierarchy are incredibly competitive to get published in and they demand a higher quality of work with more compelling evidence, while Research Journal of West TooDaLoo will pretty much publish that you observed your cereal getting soggy when it sat in milk too long.  Accordingly, scientist generally value research from better journals as being more compelling because it meets a more rigorous standard. 

If you're interested in knowing more about how journals are ranked, we use something called an "impact factor" which you can read about here.

I want to preface the research I'm about to show you, by emphasizing that it was published in Nature Medicine. Nature Medicine is.....a really really good journal.  When my lab published data in Nature we all did a little dance and ceased referring to the paper by it's name, only calling it "The Nature Paper."

So this research is a pretty big deal.

Researches are Rutgers demonstrated that acupuncture could drastically decrease death from sepsis by modulating immune function in mice.  Sepsis is one of the major causes of death in hospitals, and has essentially no treatment. The researches performed electro-acupuncture on mice with sepsis and found that while there was zero survival in mice who did not receive acupuncture, half of the mice that did receive acupuncture lived.  Additionally, they went on to characterize how this was happening biochemically, and came up with physical evidence to support the use of acupuncture not just for sepsis, but for other inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and Crohn's disease.

Here is a link to the pubmed listing if you have access (unfortunately it's not free online), and here is a link to a more detailed article summarizing the paper's results.

Acupressure for Nausea and Motion Sickness

When I was little, I would get horribly horribly motion sick in cars.  On long road trips with my family I'd pop a Dramamine and pass out in the backseat, but on school trips it was a problem.  As I'm sure you remember, at ten years old there is only one place that is socially acceptable seating on a school bus, and it is the very back row.  This is also haaaands down the most bumpy part of the bus to sit in.

As an adult I may value being comfortable over being "cool" but as a sixth grader I certainly did not, so I spent the vast majority of field trip time pretty uncomfortable.

One particularly rough bus ride, no doubt on a very bumpy Vermont dirt road, one of the chaperones saw green faced little me in the back seat and took pity. She gave me these blue elastic wrist bands with a little plastic ball that she swore were the only thing that helped for her motion sickness.  These wrist bands were decidedly not "cool," but I was way too sick to care, so I tried them. Surprisingly, they worked!  Within a few minutes I was feeling better and back to playing MASH and making fortune tellers with my friends.

I had no idea at the time, but the little plastic ball in the wrist bands was putting pressure at an acupuncture point we call Pericardium-6.  This point is the #1 point used for nausea and motion sickness, and is very easy to find on yourself and press if you're feeling a little queasy.

To quickly find it, start by looking at the inside of your forearm, and measure up from your wrist using the width of your index and middle finger of the opposite hand. Poke around a little and you should feel two hard tendons running along the length of your arm (if you need help finding them, flex your hand up and they should pop right out) the acupuncture point is nestled right in between them.

Just give it a little pressure, and feel your nausea start to slowly go away!

8 Awesome Uses for Coconut Oil

My friend Jess and I met in our sophomore year of college. She knows the deepest darkest places of my soul, every single one of my idiosyncrasies, and we've practically perfected the eyeball conversation a la "How I Met Your Mother."  This is why it came as such a shock the other night when,  during a party, she pulled me aside, and whispered in hushed tones, "I saw coconut oil in your your bathroom..."

The truth is, I have been nuts (pun intended) about coconut oil for about 3 months and it never occurred to me that such an enormous obsession could go un-noticed by her.

"I....I've been using coconut oil too..." she continued in tones that up until now, I assumed would be reserved for phrases like I need you to help me hide a body, "but...what do you use it for?  I feel weird telling you what I use it for."

I used my eyeballs to say, you know you look like a total wacko right now, and she used her eyeballs to say but oil pulling sounds so WEIRD!


So for all you closeted coconut oil addicts, I want to say that you are not alone.  Coconut oil is awesome and you should use it with pride!  And for everyone who has not yet tried it, you should ABSOLUTELY go buy a jar - it will be the hardest working $5 purchase you ever make.

So what can you use coconut oil for?  Everything.

#1 Moisturizing

3 months ago I met coconut oil in a Chinese bodywork class at NESA.  It was my instructor's massage lotion of choice because it's solid at room temperature but liquid on the skin so it's very easy to work with.  I started noticing that my skin was sooooo silky smooth after using it, and now I use the stuff on literally every inch of my body daily.  Bonus points if you whip it up with vitamin E and essential oils into a body butter!

#2 Makeup Remover

This stuff is pure genius on eye makeup.  Just rub a little bit on, check out those awesome raccoon eyes you just created, and gently wipe it off with a cotton round.

#3 Oil Pulling (Jess's personal favorite)

Take a teaspoon of oil, stick it in your mouth, swish for about 20 minutes, then spit out. That's it.  Really.  This is supposed to whiten teeth, be good for general gum health, and strength jaw muscles - if you don't believe me, check out these cool research studies demonstrating its efficacy.

#4 Hair Conditioner

Use it like a mask - comb liberally though hair, put on a shower cap, and let sit as long as you have the patience for.  Rinse it out and then bask in the pantene pro-V commercial your hair has become.

#5 Frizz Fighter

With hair that falls somewhere between curly and wavy, I have been battling the frizz fight since the age of 10.  I know my frizz products, and coconut oil is definitely one of the best. Warm up about half a teaspoon in your hands and rake it through your hair with your fingers (this stuff goes a long way, so start with less than you think you'll need).  Run through with a comb, and then style as usual.

#6 Stir Fries

Coconut oil has an amazing flavor - try using it as your base oil in a stir fry with pineapples, snow peas, bell pepper, tofu, and maybe just a tooouch of thai curry....yummm

#7 Sugar Scrubbing

Mix coconut oil 1:1 with sugar and use it in the shower on every rough surface of your body.  You'll come out sparkling head to toe and soft as a baby's tush.

*be careful though! The shower may get slippery

#8 Cuticles

Coconut Oil is anti-fungal and has an emollient nature making it perfect for keeping cuticles soft and helping nails to grow stronger.

Auricular Acupuncture For Weight Loss

Yes you read that right!

Have you ever had ear acupuncture?

We frequently discuss auricular acupuncture as being a small but powerful form of acupuncture.  So powerful, in fact, lots of acupuncturists refuse to do it on pregnant women for fear that it will move too much qi (move that baby right out!), and entire treatments can be done with just your ears.  This is why it came as no surprise to me when I read this research paper (link here, additional study here) touting the weight loss benefits of auricular acupuncture.

In a randomized controlled clinical trial, 91 subjects were divided into 3 groups.  One group received sham acupuncture, one received a one acupuncture point treatment, and one received a complete weight loss acupuncture protocol with 5 points. After 8 weeks the two groups that received acupuncture had an overall reduction in BMI (5.7% for those receiving the 1 point treatment, and 6.1% for those receiving 5 points) over the control group.

Auricular acupuncture works by helping to control cravings and stabilize metabolism. If you're looking to lose a few pounds be sure to mention it to your acupuncturist!

Chinese Herbal Compound Relieves Inflammatory, Neuropathic Pain

A group of researchers at UC Irvine have identified the active ingredient in the Chinese herb Yan Hu Suo (the root of the plant Corydalis yanhusuo) which has been used for centuries to treat menstrual, abdominal, and hernia pain.  The active compound is dehydrocorybulbine (DHCB), and they found that it is effective at decreasing pain from both tissue damage as well as pain from damage to the nervous system.

This may sound only kind of cool, but it becomes really cool when you realize that there are currently no adequate treatments for pain from damage to the nervous system!  Moreover, DHCB does not generate tolerance over prolonged use. Way to go Chinese herbs!


Of course they're hoping this leads to the development of future pharmaceuticals so keep your eyes peeled or...you know...just go see your local licensed herbalist.

Fun Fact: "Yan Hu Suo" is translated in English to "Extended Barbarian Rope"  


The research is published in today's issue of Current Biology.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140102133635.htm