I love (the bugs in) your guts. Here's why you should too.

When you think about bacteria in relation to health, what do you think about? If you're like most people, you probably think about illness, disease, and the need for medical attention. That's for a good reason. There are a lot of bacteria out there that can make us sick and we've come a long way in medicine in the treatment of bacterial illness.

The thing is, there is so much more to this story. I can't tell you how many times I see someone for what seems like a viral illness and they suggest treatment with antibiotics because, "it's better to be safe than sorry." Sure, I get it, but first we should probably define what it means to be safe.

When I think about bacteria in relation to health, I picture a complex ecosystem that lives in symbiosis on and within the human body. There are 100 trillion non-human microorganisms that live on the skin's surface and throughout the body's gastrointestinal system. Our human genes are outnumbered 100 to 1 and our human cells are outnumbered 10 to 1 by these microorganisms. From the perspective of DNA, we are more microbial than we are human.

The microbiome, the complete environment of microbes that colonize the human body, is a basic and essential part of human physiology. If you look closely, it appears that much of what makes us human actually depends on the activity of these microbes that live alongside our human cells. Microbes support the body by digesting food, synthesizing nutrients and chemicals, and preventing other unwanted pathogens from entering the body and creating illness.

The presence or absence of bacteria in the digestive system has been associated with obesity, inflammatory bowel diseases, and management of the harmful side effects of prescription drugs. Some of the chemicals produced by the microbiome are the same substances used by our nervous system to regulate mood. These include dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). If they sound familiar, it's probably because these are the target neurotransmitters for many medications that treat depression and anxiety. There is a huge correlation between intestinal disorders and high levels of depression and anxiety, as well as autism and hyperactivity. It seems promising that medicine in the future may use microbes to diagnose and treat neurologic disorders and even mental illness.

The study of the microbiome is pretty new on the scene, and there's a lot more research that needs to be done before direct therapies are applied. We need to learn how adjusting our chemical exposure through diet, lifestyle and environment can shape the complex ecosystems that are our bodies. With that said, there are some good lessons we can learn based on the information we already have.

I believe that less exposure to antibacterial agents through prescription medications, cleaning supplies, pesticides and our food supply is a good place to start. More exposure to minimally processed, local and organic fruit and vegetables and spending time in the dirt can only help. You can also increase exposure to beneficial bacteria by ingesting fermented foods with live bacterial cultures. These include kombucha (more on that another time), sauerkraut, kimchee, yogurt (plain without sugar or artificial sweeteners) and probiotics.

To me, this is such a beautiful example of symbiosis within an ecosystem. It also translates really well to life on planet earth. In order to thrive as a living being and a species we need to learn to live in balance with all that is around us. Start inside yourself. Love your guts...I sure do. 

Be present. Be grateful. Be here now.

Me: "I'm having the best weekend ever."

Him: "I'm glad... You know you say that all the time, right?

Me: "Yes. But do you think that makes it any less sincere?"

Him: "No. Definitely not."

 

Every weekend should be your best weekend ever. In truth, every day should be your best day. Today is the only day you have.

As the summer season draws to a close, it's easy to get wrapped up in the idea that winter is just around the corner. The long, warm, sun filled days will become shorter and cooler. Dinners will move inside, beach days will require sweatshirts. It's easy to want to hold on to the beauty of summer, but doing so means overlooking the splendor of fall. The air becomes crisp, the harvest abounds and the trees set on fire with brilliant color. 

We have a choice. We can mourn for what we're losing or we can find the beauty in the moment, in the presence of today. This choice is made clear at change of season, but it's also a choice we always have available. Do you choose to be present? Do you make the decision to seek out beauty and stillness and experience the day and the moment for what it is? Or, do you choose to think about tomorrow, or yesterday, or that weekend you had months ago that for you was your best weekend ever? Planning for tomorrow is great, and reminiscing about yesterday can be wonderful. But actually living, that can only be done in the here and now.

 Be present. Be grateful. Be here now.

If you look at every day with a lens of gratitude, the choice to embrace the beauty in the present becomes a lot more obvious. Practicing mindfulness and gratitude leads to the direct experience of being better connected to life and the larger context of what is happening as your personal experience is unfolding. Cultivating a sense of gratitude provides access to the joy and wonderment of life and leads to a better appreciation for the whole. It is the antidote to scarcity and loss and provides relief from the mundane drama that is endlessly available. Being grateful is just as important to your health as is eating kale, or drinking water. If gratitude comes naturally to you, then you're already on your way. If not, it can be easily cultivated with practice.   

Get a journal, take a moment, and write it down. 

Each night before bed, write down three things you are grateful for on that day. You might think of someone you love, or a moment of beauty experienced in nature, a quote you saw that plucked a heart string or a conversation you had that day. Taking the time to remember what you're grateful for promotes happiness, decreases stress, and increases ones ability to appreciate the beauty in every day. It builds a better foundation for love, faith and a better perspective. 

Take a few moments now and make a list of all the things you are grateful for. The list usually starts easy enough- family, friends, shelter from the elements, food on the table. If you get stuck, picture yourself going through your day- can you be grateful for having two feet that you put on the floor when you get out of bed? For the toes that help you balance so you can walk across the room? For the hot water that turns on in the shower with a simple flip of the wrist?

Open up your eyes to the beauty in the present. There is so much to be grateful for.

The happiest and healthiest people on earth live here...

Have you ever been to a place that just seemed really special? Where the vibrations of everyday living seem higher and the people are healthier and happier? There are five places on planet earth that are known for having a higher concentration of people who live measurably longer lives, often to 100 years or more. These people are known as centenarians and the places they live are known as the Blue Zones.

Icaria, Greece

Sardinia, Italy

Okinawa, Japan

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Loma Linda, California

These areas have been studied through both empirical data and first-hand observation to determine what they have in common and what the rest of the world can learn from them. Here are the top nine common characteristics of people living in the Blue Zones.

1- They move naturally. Blue Zone residents don't tend to work out in gyms or train for endurance events. Instead, they make exercise a natural part of their day to day lives. They live in places where they can walk to town or to a friend's house and they work in their yards and gardens. 

2- They have a sense of purpose. It is thought that knowing your sense of purpose is worth up to seven years of extra life expectancy. These people rely on their values and passions to infuse a strong sense of meaning into their lives and the lives of others. 

3- They manage their stress. Chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation and often disease. It's not realistic to avoid stress altogether, but these people have developed routines to help them deal with it. Adventists pray, the Greek nap, and the Italians celebrate happy hour. 

4- They stop eating at 80%. They respect the gap between not being hungry and feeling full. They also often eat their smallest meal in the early evening and then don't eat any more for the rest of the day. 

5- They eat plants. People in the Blue Zones eat diets composed of a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and lentils packed with disease-fighting nutrients.  

Some consume small amounts of meat or fish, but the majority of their food comes from plant sources. 

6- They drink wine. With healthy plant compounds and antioxidants, one glass of wine for women and one to two glasses for men daily has been consistently shown to promote health and longevity. The full benefit comes with sharing this time with family and friends, think happy hour. But they don't overindulge. 

7- They socialize. The world's longest-living people have strong support networks and people of all ages socialize frequently. Research shows that healthy behaviors are contagious. Surrounding yourself with people who support your health will add happy and healthy years to your life, perhaps more than any other factor.

8- They practice faith. Almost all the centenarians belonged to a faith-based community. The choice of faith or religious practice was not important so much as was attending faith-based services where people shared common beliefs and the sense of belonging to a larger community. 

9- They put family first. Blue Zone residents often live in multi-generational households, in communities with or near extended family and foster healthy committed relationships. They invest time and love in their children and those children are more likely to turn around and care for their parents. 

There is a lot of advice floating around out there for living a long and healthy life. Some of it makes sense and sometimes we need to question our sources. Learning from the examples set by happy and healthy centenarians makes a whole lot of sense to me. 

I don't believe in a one-size fits all health fix, but if I did, it would involve Turmeric

I'm really excited that turmeric is finally getting the credit it deserves. The health benefits of this culinary spice have been known for thousands of years throughout India's ancient life-science system of Ayurveda and more recently in modern herbal medicine. It has been used as a remedy for a range of diseases and conditions involving the skin, pulmonary, digestive, hepatic and musculoskeletal systems. Through modern technology, science now confirms that this root is a promising disease-preventive agent, largely due to its anti-inflammatory action.

The spice is a major ingredient in Indian curries, makes mustard yellow, and is a relative of ginger. It also contains over twenty anti-inflammatory compounds, including inhibitors to block the COX-2 enzyme that promotes pain, swelling and inflammation. It has specifically been found to block the formation of beta-amyloid, the substance responsible for the development and progression of Alzheimers disease. There are indications that it may help to prevent prostate, colon, breast, skin and pancreatic cancer and multiple myeloma. No one can say that turmeric cures cancer, but its benefits to overall health are undeniable.

I personally recommend turmeric ingestion for people with arthritis, injuries, inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes, obesity, and autoimmune diseases. I also recommend it to healthy individuals interested in preserving and promoting that health.

The extract from turmeric that is best attributed with its health benefits is circumin. Circumin can be bought in its isolated form as a supplement but I don't recommend it. I learned long ago that in natural medicine all the compounds of a substance work together for a combined effect that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Turmeric is a root that comes from nature in its own perfect package. When in doubt, stick with what the earth provides. 

If you're lucky you might find turmeric in it's natural root form. It looks like its cousin ginger, but in a smaller finger-like appearance, and with a bright orange hue. It may be available in your health food or specialty produce store, but it can be hard to come by. Turmeric's next best form is the powder used for spice, formed from its dried and crushed root. It can be bought in a spice jar or in larger bags at your health food store.

The recommended daily dose for turmeric is between 1 and 3gm per day for overall health benefits, although higher doses may be indicated for specific disease states. 1 tsp of dried turmeric powder equals 4 gm, so 1/2 a teaspoon daily is a perfect amount.  You can take turmeric in a supplement form but why not let food be your medicine. There area few ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet other than eating curry every night (which is actually a delicious idea). These are my two favorites:

I always put a serving of turmeric in my favorite green breakfast smoothie: my Green Vibrance Smoothie. I'm a little bit obsessed with green smoothies for breakfast, but that's a topic for another newsletter.

GREEN VIBRANCE SMOOTHIE

*Combine ingredients in a high speed blender and blend together for 2 minutes or until smooth.  Makes one large or two small servings.

2 cups kale

1 frozen banana

1 green apple

½ inch piece of ginger, peeled

½ inch piece of fresh turmeric root, or 1 tsp turmeric powder

½ lemon, peeled and seeded

1 TBSP flaxseeds

2 TBSP hemp seeds

1 cup filtered water or coconut water

 

Another great way to get your daily turmeric benefits is by drinking Golden Milk. This drink is especially beneficial before bed to soothe and relax your whole body. 

GOLDEN MILK

Blend the following ingredients until smooth. Pour into a small pan and heat over the stove 3-5 minutes, until hot but not boiling. Drink immediately.

3 cups coconut milk

1 teaspoon turmeric

1 quarter teaspoon fresh ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon raw honey

Pinch of black pepper

pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)


 

Garden greens and the power of G-BOMBS

Summer is hands down my favorite season. The days are at their longest and brightest, the beautiful place I live in is in full bloom, and my backyard vegetable garden is turning out fresh organic vegetables almost quicker than I can eat them. 

I always wanted a garden of my own, but I wasn't sure how successful I might be. I didn't have much experience and I was never really good at keeping houseplants alive. I got some advice, prepped a garden bed with healthy soil and plant food, and gave it a go. I quickly learned that taking care of plants is a lot like taking care of people. They need a solid base of quality nutrients, lots of fresh water, plenty of sunshine, and a whole lotta love. I love walking out barefoot in the morning across the lawn, plugging my feet into the earth, and checking on how my little friends are growing.

Of all the foods that grow in my garden, the ones that offer the most power-packed nutrient-dense nutrition are the green leafy vegetables. They contain only about 100 calories per pound and can be consumed in virtually unlimited quantities so are great for those who want to lose weight. The majority of those calories come from protein packed with beneficial phytochemicals (plant nutrients). One cup of Kale, spinach, or swiss chard offers at minimum your daily requirement of Vitamin K- essential for proper blood clotting and essential for bone and cardiovascular health. They lower cholesterol, improve digestive habits, preserve vision health, and contain high levels of easily absorbed calcium, magnesium and folic acid. On a cellular level, they remove carcinogens, reduce inflammation, neutralize oxidative stress, inhibit the process by which tumors acquire a blood supply, and kill cancer cells. 

"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." -Hippocrates

It's pretty simple actually. If you look at food as medicine it makes perfect sense that each time you eat, you would choose the highest quality foods to support your health. You would choose from a wide variety of plants to provide yourself an abundance of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. These compounds would then work together in your body to create building blocks for cellular growth, optimal body function and comprehensive healing.

There is an acronym that starts with G for "green leafy vegetables" and points to some of the most nutrient-dense health-promoting foods out there. "G-BOMBS" stands for Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds. These are foods that you should try to eat every day as a significant portion of your diet. They promote optimal health and longevity while preventing chronic disease, specifically helping to prevent cancer.

I made this recipe for dinner last night. It's something I've made many times before, and I think it's just about the perfect meal. It is composed of greens (I used swiss chard from the garden but take your pick), onions, and organic local shiitake mushrooms. I served it over quinoa (a seed) so there's another one! This is a main course in my vegetarian household but could also serve as a great side dish for an omnivore.

Eat to your health!

 

GREENS, ONIONS, and MUSHROOMS

INGREDIENTS

  •  2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 1 pound fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems trimmed, caps thinly sliced
  • Celtic Sea salt or Pink Himalayan salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard or other green leafy vegetables, rinsed, stems cut from center of leaves, leaves cut into 1-inch-wide ribbons
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

PREPARATION

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in extra-large skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms; sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Sauté until brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl.

Pour broth into same skillet. Add greens. Sprinkle with coarse salt and pepper. Toss until wilted but still bright green, about 2 minutes. Transfer to large strainer set over bowl. 

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions. Sauté until beginning to color, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and crushed red pepper; stir 1 minute. Add greens and mushrooms. Toss to heat through, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl and serve. Enjoy!

Inflammation is the worst...

Chronic inflammation is the root of all evil when it comes to chronic disease. I’ll say this again because it bears repeating. Chronic inflammation is the root of all evil. This is a very unfortunate example of a healthy body process gone very wrong.

Inflammation starts out as a natural defense mechanism that is triggered when body tissues become damaged. This can happen through injury by physical trauma, irritating chemicals, intense heat or infection with viruses and bacteria. By the process of inflammation, the body’s defense system in the blood shows up to an affected site for damage control, waste removal, and repair. This kind of inflammation is easily identifiable by the cardinal symptoms of redness, heat, swelling and pain. This is what happens if you sprain your ankle, get a sunburn, or develop swollen glands during a viral infection like mono. It comes on quick, serves its purpose, and resolves itself when the job is done.

Chronic, low-level inflammation is instead triggered by cellular stress and dysfunction. It often has no symptoms, making it silent in its destructive nature with the opportunity to cause damage and cell death throughout the body. This chronic inflammation contributes to Heart disease, Stroke, Diabetes, Cancer, Obesity, Arthritis, Inflammatory Bowel Diseases, Asthma, Lupus and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

The cause of chronic inflammation, like most other body dysfunction, is generally multifactorial. It is influenced by diet, environment, stress, physical injury and genetics and it affects different people in different ways. Some factors are visible and avoidable while others are not Reducing exposure to the factors we can control can help prevent and reverse inflammation, promote health and reduce one’s long-term risk of disease.

Sources of inflammation in the diet include Trans-fats, Omega-6 Fatty Acids, Refined Sugars, Casein (milk protein), Gluten (wheat protein), Refined Grains, Alcohol, Food Additives, and conventionally raised Red Meat and Dairy products. Reducing or altogether avoiding these foods is a terrific place to start at reducing the inflammation in your body.

The next step to eating for your health is to increase those foods in one’s diet that actually decrease inflammation. The most powerful anti-inflammatory foods include Blueberries, Dark Chocolate, Green Tea, Wild-Alaskan Salmon or Fish Oil Supplements, Ginger, Turmeric, Dark Green Leafy Vegetables, and Sweet Potatoes.

Environmental Factors can be hard to control for, because some are more visible than others. These include Smoke and Secondhand smoke exposure, Pollution, Pesticides and Herbicides, Heavy Metals, Chemicals and Airborne Irritants. The first way to reduce your environmental risk is to not smoke, and avoid secondhand smoke. Try to spend time outside in fresh air and avoid areas of known pollution. Buy organic produce when you can and avoid the use of pesticides and herbicides in your environment to limit your exposure to harmful chemicals. Heavy metals such as mercury are most common in large predator fish, so limiting your intake of large fish like tuna, swordfish and shark.

Stress is something that most people experience on a regular basis, and is a major contributor to chronic inflammation. It is also something that can be managed by practices that promote mental clarity and stress reduction. The benefits of yoga and meditation practices, long walks, time in nature and even laughter can have profound positive effects on our health. The most important thing is to grow these benefits by regular practice of whatever it is that serves you best.

Exercising for at least 30 minutes, 5 days per week helps to reduce excess weight and the likelihood of chronic illness while strengthening the body and promoting overall wellness. Moderate exercise may also directly reduce inflammation, science is still working on that one.

Fighting inflammation is like anything else in health promotion- aim for progress not perfection. Reduce your risks where you can and you will be more likely to improve your health as a whole. The more you can do the better. Make it something you work toward rather than something that stresses you out, and you’re already on the right path. I’m rooting for you!

Health Promotion and Behavior Change

Two major themes that come up daily in the work I do are the power of health promotion through lifestyle choices and the challenges that come with behavior change. 

Studying and working in healthcare over the past 15 years, I have care to people across an enormous spectrum of health and disease. One things that has become very clear to me is this: Health promotion has better outcomes and much better efficacy than treatment of illness.

My goal is not to manage disease. My goal is to promote health in such a way that disease management becomes obsolete. 

My goal is not to manage disease. My goal is to promote health in such a way that disease management becomes obsolete.

Health promotion starts with a shift in mindset. When you start to realize that the choices you make on a daily basis have direct promotion starts with a shift in mindset. When you start to realize that the choices you make on a daily basis have direct impact on your health, it doesn't take long before you want to make better choices. 

Where attention goes, energy flows.

Change can be hard and the idea of making changes to support your health can be scary. To understand the biology of change is to recognize that change is uncomfortable. Our instincts are to avoid discomfort, making us want to pull back and quit on ourselves.

Once we learn this, we can reframe that discomfort for what it is... a really good sign! We are creating new pathways in the brain, new ways of thinking and being, and new possibilities for health and happiness. By simply reframing the way we look at something, we can take away the power it holds over us and rewire ourselves for success. I hope this simple idea and little bit of information helps inspire you to act in a way that supports your best health. 

Stick with me and I promise you this: what you gain will be infinitely more valuable than what you "give up."