My two young kids were leaping off their beds in their shared room, discovering their new-found ability to jump farther than ever before. It also happened to be in the middle of their bedtime routine. I didn’t try to squash their effort or enthusiasm just to make them go to bed faster, though, because there was such a sense of vitality in them both; a palpable love of life that I can only describe as their vital force. Each of my daughter’s eyes were full of wild anticipation for the next jump and the sisters were in such full connection with each other, and proud to show off their skills in front of me.
The vital force: We use that term in naturopathic medicine when we are talking about your body’s innate ability to heal itself when given the right environment. It’s how your skin can heal itself when you get a cut and keep it clean. Your body wants to heal, to be healthy again not only physically but emotionally as well, so even if you are not jumping off your bed at night, your body still has the same vital force in it that a 4 year old has. The vital force can also be considered more than just the ability to heal, and may call to mind one’s spirit, soul, or reason for being. However, it can become diminished as we age and what we are exposed to, if we stop taking care of ourselves.
My goal as a parent is to not warp, squash, or deny this zest for life and learning that my kids have, as much as possible. It is intrinsically there, and we are all born with it. I aim to nurture it as best I can by providing nourishing food as much as possible, giving them plenty of access to nature and fresh air to run around and explore, allowing them several days per week to see their friends for socializing and camaraderie, and to make as many choices for themselves that they are old enough to wisely make. These are some basic tenets of a healthy life.
It is this vital force that I try to reach in all my patients as well. Unfortunately for many adults, the zest for life that I can clearly see in my young daughters has been beaten and battered over the years with layers of incorrect beliefs put upon them, abuse, poor choices, social isolation, or just overall life stress.
My goal in working with anyone is to facilitate the function of the vital force, and to strengthen its healing energy if it has weakened. Layer by layer, people can get back to who they are meant to be, both inside and out. And when I see that spark in the eyes of the person sitting across from me, I know we’re on the right track for healing to begin.
I love making my own body care products whenever possible. It's the best way to know you are avoiding any harsh chemicals.
Now that it's the holiday season, they are also great gift ideas, and oh-so-easy to make.
Use fancy wrapping to make them look extra special for someone you love. And don't forget to add a label so they know what they are getting!
Luscious Salt Scrub
Find a nice medium size glass jar, such as a small jelly canning jar.
Mix together 1 cup of coarse salt or epsom salt (or sugar for a sugar scrub!) with 1/2 cup of oil (olive, avocado, almond, etc.) and 8 drops of your favorite essential oil. Scoop it into your jar and decorate it with something pretty. Done!
You have just finished your meal and you're awaiting the onslaught of pain. Your old friend, acid reflux, comes to pay a visit with its burning, gnawing discomfort. When acid reflux, or Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is in your life, it can range from annoying to debilitating. We all have a little reflux here and there, but for those with GERD, the pain tends to be predictable and more severe.
You want to soothe the pain. You want to sleep without the burning waking you up. Before you turn to a prescription or over-the-counter acid blocker, you may want to know about the risks involved. It is now known that PPIs have dangerous side effects when taken long-term, so why not try something safer before you head to the pharmacy. Several natural and safer alternatives to Proton Pump Inhibitors are available to reduce GERD symptoms. Give them a try for a few weeks and find one or two that work for you.
What causes acid reflux?
The most simplistic reason for acid reflux is that the door between the stomach and the esophagus (called the lower esophageal sphincter) has not closed shut all the way when you are done eating your meal. This allows the stomach acid to escape and slosh up into the esophagus while your stomach is in the churning phase. Since the esophagus is not coated with the same thick, protective mucus layer as the stomach, even a little acid will feel uncomfortable.
Of course, diet is important to look at when addressing GERD. There are certain foods that are known to be aggravating to the lower esophageal sphincter, thus preventing it from closing completely. Foods to be avoided are caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, foods with high fat content, carbonated beverages, alcohol, and peppermint. Keep a food journal to find individual aggravations for you. And don't eat a big meal right before going to bed, as lying down leaves you more prone to acid reflux.
Top 5 Natural Acid Reflux Remedies:
DGL is short for deglycyrrhizinated licorice. Quite literally, this is licorice root that has the glycyrrhizin removed so it won't affect blood pressure. It is frequently found in chewable form and tastes rather sweet and yummy. It's best taken with each meal as a means to prevent heartburn, but it can also be taken any time you feel acid reflux, even between meals. The licorice soothes your esophagus and neutralizes the acid on contact so you feel better fast.
No, not the white sugar bombs for making smores! Marshmallow is an herb in the Althaea family of plants. It was originally used medicinally by the Egyptians and grows naturally in Africa. It is a mucilaginous herb, which means it creates a mucus effect and is soothing to the GI system. It also contains flavenoids which are anti-inflammatory, which we all could use more of in this world. Look for a product made from the roots and leaves of the marshmallow plant.
3. Slippery Elm
As its name suggests, Slippery Elm is another mucilaginous herb that creates a soothing environment for the digestive tract. Its latin name is Ulmus rubra, and is a type of Elm tree native to North America. Of note, the mucilaginous herbs are also very helpful for dry coughs and sore throats when taken as a tea or tincture. Slippery elm lozenges are found in the cold and flu section of your health food store, but they can be used for heartburn as well.
4. Apple Cider Vinegar
Many people who complain of acid reflux have stomach acid levels that are actually too low. This seems counterintuitive, but it's true. The lower esophageal sphincter (the door between your esophagus and stomach) needs a certain amount of acid as its message to close tightly. If you don't make enough stomach acid, which can happen with chronic stress, the door never gets the signal to close all the way and so what little acid is in the stomach will slosh right up there and you will feel it. A good remedy for this is taking a little apple cider vinegar in some water, around 15 minutes before a meal. If this helps the acid reflux, it is a good indicator you are in need of more acid. You could also try taking betaine HCl pills with a meal for the same acid-increasing effect.
5. Mastic Gum
Mastic gum is resin taken from an evergreen shrub native to Greece. It has a long history of being chewed for health benefits. These days you can find it in a pill. It has more recently been shown to kill H. pylori, the bacteria thought to be one of the causes of gastric ulcers. Aside from its antimicrobial properties, it is also anti-inflammatory and an antioxidant.
Prescription acid blockers have been on my mind a bit lately. It's probably because I see how commonly they are prescribed, even to babies, and the news has recently been full of research study results showing their shocking long-term side effects.
I'm talking specifically about the Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs for short. These include the drugs called omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), pantoprazole (Protonix), and esomeprazole.
They have become one of the most commonly prescribed medications today, but unfortunately medical research has shown that around 70% of those prescriptions are not actually necessary, meaning that the patient's symptoms are not actually due to excess stomach acid.
So what are the side effects? Lately the newspaper headlines are talking about how PPIs lead to a significantly increased risk of dementia, especially if you are above age 70. You also have a 50% higher risk of chronic kidney disease. These are not the only side effects, however.
It has been known for quite some time that when you block the secretion of acid in the stomach, it hinders the digestion and absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin C, folate, and vitamin B12. As you can imagine, having reduced absorption of these vital nutrients can lead to osteoporosis, anemia, and neurological symptoms such as tingling and numbness in the extremities.
To add insult to injury, without proper amounts of stomach acid, your digestive tract is more prone to GI infections that should have been zapped by the acidic environment of your stomach. Dysbiosis and the disruption of the microbiome can easily occur when on a PPI, leading to health problems throughout the body.
With all of the side effects of PPIs, and so few people actually needing to be on them, it is certainly worth your while to try some natural remedies for acid reflux symptoms. My next blog will focus on some of these natural acid reflux remedies, so stay tuned.
You probably heard all the health-promoting functions your microbiome does for you. You know that taking a probiotic supplement regularly can help to heal and maintain GI health.
So you make a trip to the supplement store and find you are overwhelmed by all the choices.
How many billion CFU's are best? What's a CFU? This one has two strains of probiotics and that one has seven. Can I get away with the cheaper one? Which is best for me?
The first thing you need to know is some background information. There are two main probiotic types: Lactobacillus strains and soil-based strains. Both are vital parts of our microbiome.
Let's begin with the soil-based type. Our food used to be teeming with friendly soil-based bacteria. With the advent of factory farming, pesticides, and chemical fertilizer that feeds the plant rather than building up the soil probiotics, this leaves our food relatively sterile. On top of this, kids are not allowed to play in the dirt as much as they used to, being put into bleached day cares or preschools at a young age.
Non-soil-based probiotics are human colonizers such as Lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus species. They have been living symbiotically in our intestines, mucus membranes, and skin since the dawn of time. These are passed on to us from our mothers, beginning with the birth process. Of course, arriving via C-section changes this a bit, but that's another tale to tell.
Keep them Cold
The most important thing you should look for in a quality product is for it to be refrigerated. This keeps them alive and ready to populate your gut. For this same reason, probiotics should be kept refrigerated at home as well.
The exception to this rule is if the probiotic is 100% soil-based. These bacteria are in a dormant state and have a spore case that protects them from both heat and stomach-acid. They start to grow again when they reach the moist environment of your intestines. Soil probiotics are a great choice if you travel a lot and have no access to a refrigerator, or if you just need to keep your supplements out on the table in order to remember to take them.
10 Strains are Better than 1
Once you found the refrigerated probiotics, you should look to see how many different strains of probiotics are in the bottle. The most common strains are ones such as Lactobacillis acidophilus and other Lactobacillis species, as well as Bifidobcterium bifidum and other Bifido's.
A robust human microbiome has a wide diversity of bacteria, so a probiotic should be as diverse as possible. Look for a product with at least 10 probiotic strains. Single strains are at times useful if you are treating a specific digestive problem.
What is a CFU?
A colony-forming unit (CFU) means how many live bacteria you get when you grow out what's in the pill. The fact is, not all the bacteria in the bottle are alive, and the CFU count is supposed to be the company's best assessment of how many of them will still be alive by the time you swallow a pill.
Several research studies have looked at the CFU of a probiotic and how much it helps heal a person's digestive illness and most of them conclude that more is not necessarily better. Although having the number measured in the billions is best, you probably don't need to go much higher than 30 billion CFUs for general digestive health.
What about pre-biotics?
These are basically food sources for the probiotic bacteria. They can help to not only keep happy what's in the bottle, but can theoretically feed the other established beneficial bacteria in your gut.
However, you might want to avoid them if you have found that eating extra plant fiber makes your gut symptoms worse. In this case they are feeding the huge population of bad bacteria in your gut and you need to find a probiotic specifically without pre-biotics until you can reduce the bad bacteria.
The biggest difficulty with choosing a quality probiotic is being able to know what brands you can trust. Since there is no real oversight or regulation in probiotic production, there is a lot of room for companies to make false claims on the label.
For example, some companies use bacterial strains found in cows, not humans. The probiotic may be contaminated with unfriendly bacteria, viruses, yeast, or fillers and this has been proven by an independent team of researchers for certain “cheaper” brands.
Even the CFU on the label could be inaccurate, with the whole bottle containing dead bacteria, either due to poor shipping and storage or blatant lying.
Go ahead and call the company. Ask them if they have proof of independent third party verification of what is written on the label so you know you are getting what you're paying for.
So which one is right for you?
For general, all-purpose intestinal support, go with the one that is refrigerated, has at least ten different strains, several billion CFU's per serving, and no weird fillers on the ingredients label. Getting the most expensive one is not usually necessary, nor is it a guarantee of the best quality. However, getting the cheapest one is probably not a good idea either.
Unfortunately for the consumer, most reputable brands can only be sold through doctors, so you won't even be able to find them in a store.
If this all still sounds confusing, seek out a licensed professional who knows about the microbiome and GI health, even for just one visit to establish an optimal digestive health protocol if you have no current problems. If you do have digestive problems, a probiotic tailored to your specific needs would serve you best.
If you like to do spring cleaning for your house, then why not spring clean your body at the same time? Your body is the most important house you'll ever have, and just like the place you live, it accumulates unnecessary things and needs a bit of deep cleaning every once in a while.
How do you go about spring cleaning your body?
The best way to cleanse your body is to optimize the function of your organs that eliminate waste. These organs are your liver, kidneys, intestines, lungs, and skin. When these parts of your body work at peak performance, it's like having the pro's clean your place up.
Below are ways to support each organ in their natural waste-removal process. Do as much
as you can for a few weeks and you'll be good to go!
LIVER: This is the major organ of elimination, acting as a “filter” for, and detoxifier of, all the
toxins that enter or are created in the body. Therefore, it is the most important organ to take
care of when you need some spring cleaning.
Foods that support liver function include green leafy vegetables (kale, collards, mustard greens, spinach, dandelion greens), cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes), cucumbers, beets, garlic, onions, artichokes, sprouted seeds, and all raw and juiced vegetables.
Roasted dandelion root tea is a great drink for helping the liver function at its best. Since the liver is so busy detoxifying, give it a rest from alcohol and processed foods for the time being.
KIDNEYS: The best way to support kidney function is to make sure you drink plenty of water
every day to help flush out the system. For most people, the ideal amount is about 8 cups per
day. Parsley is a great food to cleanse the kidneys, so add it to your soups or salads
INTESTINES: Chew your food well and do not drink much at mealtime because it dilutes
your digestive acids. Stick to a whole-foods diet with plenty of fiber from vegetables to keep
yourself regular. A clogged digestive system makes it really hard to eliminate unnecessary
LUNGS: Add some deep breathing every day. Inhale deeply through the nose, allow it to
push out your lower belly, then exhale slowly. You don't need to set aside special time for
this. Just find a way to get in around 100 deep breaths per day. Do it while at a stoplight, in
traffic, while listening to music, etc.
SKIN: One simple thing you can do for your skin is dry skin brushing. Use short, very light,
frequent strokes towards the heart using a dry natural brush, sponge, or loofa. This not only
removes dead skin cells but also improves circulation to move out toxins from your skin.
Carol*, a patient of mine, was unable to enjoy spending time with her young children. She was having chronic abdominal pain and so much bloating she said she looked pregnant half the time and it all got in the way of her being fully present with her kids. She would often have to lay on her bed until the pain went down, and she was feeling more tired than ever before in her life.
It turned out that Carol had dysbiosis. This is when the microbiome of your intestines becomes out of balance and the unfriendly bacteria and yeast begin to grow stronger and more numerous.
When the microbiome in your gut is in proper balance, your digestion runs smoothly and you don't really have to think about it much. Your friendly bacteria do the right thing and behave well for you. But if the bacterial balance shifts towards too many unfriendly bacteria, viruses, yeast, or even parasites, you begin to notice there is a problem down there. It's like they are having a wild party and leaving a terrible mess!
Because there are so many different causes of dysbiosis, it is actually a common problem. Poor diet, stress, heartburn medications, and antibiotic use are just some of the reasons people end up with dysbiosis. You are probably familiar with how antibiotics can cause diarrhea. This is because the antibiotic wiped out most all of the bacteria, both good and bad. However, not all the bacteria are completely wiped out. The strongest of unfriendly bacteria are sometimes left behind. They may repopulate faster than the friendly bacteria and take over the real estate, causing mayhem. Yeast can take advantage like this too, especially when your diet is feeding them what they love (sugar). All kinds of digestive problems can result from too many bad bacteria and yeast, such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, pain, irregularity, and heart burn.
If the unfriendly bacteria continue to dominate the gut, they can actually damage the lining of the intestines. As a result of this damage, problems can arise such as leaky gut syndrome, autoimmune diseases, and weight gain. Some not-so-obvious symptoms of an imbalanced microbiome stem from inflammation in the gut that changes your brain's neurotransmitter levels, leading to anxiety, depression, and fatigue. When this happens, you know your gut has turned against you!
Luckily for Carol, she had not been having dysbiosis for too long. After using some herbal medicine to reduce the number of unfriendly bacteria, as well as following a special diet to prevent their regrowth, she was feeling better and regaining her energy to play with her children. Following a microbiome-friendly diet is all she needs to do now to feel great for the long-term. She says she has never felt healthier and is able to live her full life again.
*Name has been changed to protect privacy
The key to a happy belly is taking care of what's inside. Your gut is filled with a diverse population of microorganisms, known as the microbiome. Below are four ways to making it happy and keep it that way.
1. Eat Plant Fiber. One way to keep your belly happy is to feed it real, whole foods with fiber. Plant fiber is the preferred food source for your friendly bacteria. You can get plenty of fiber by eating both cooked and raw vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Only plants contain fiber, and the more it looks like it did when growing, the more it will benefit your body and your microbiome. Choose organic whenever possible, because GMO foods and pesticides contain chemicals, such as glyphosate in Roundup, that alter and destroy your friendly gut bacteria.
2. Eat Fermented Food. Foods that are naturally fermented contain probiotics within the food and brine. Examples are sauerkraut, pickles, and unsweetened kombucha. They are found in the refrigerated section of your natural food store, and never contain vinegar. Make sure you read the label carefully to know that it is truly fermented. You can also make your own at home.
3. Reduce Sugar and Processed Food. We all know that eating less processed food is good for us, but here is the main reason why: Sugar, processed food and fast food are all clinically proven to reduce the health of your microbiome. The sugars and emulsifiers in processed foods are what feed the unfriendly bacteria and yeast. This leads to them becoming stronger, taking up more real estate in your intestines. The more the unfriendly bacteria grow, the more you will experience problems in your digestion and beyond.
4. Reduce Standard Meat and Dairy. When animals are raised on factory farms, they are fed antibiotics which then get into their meat and milk. If you eat these animal products every day it's the same as taking low dose antibiotics every day, which we all know is harmful to our friendly bacteria. To ensure you are not getting antibiotics, read the label and look for organic, grass-fed or free-range.
Our gut bacteria are all the rage in today's science and medical literature. And it's no wonder, since we now know that they regulate so much of our body's daily functioning. The microbiome is what we call the collective genome of all the bacteria, viruses, and yeast that live in and on our bodies. The microbiota is the name for the ecological community of microorganisms that reside in us, and it's something you might want to know about since they outnumber your human cells ten to one!
Each person can vary quite dramatically in the types of bacteria that live in their large intestine, but for the most part a healthy person has a huge diversity of friendly bacteria mixed with a little yeast, some unfriendly bacteria, and viruses. You can think of it like a village, where the friendly bacteria predominate, but the unfriendly bacteria, yeast, and viruses live there too. Each friendly bacteria has a job and does it well.
When the village is running smoothly, the friendly bacteria assist our body in many different ways. They help to break down the food we eat so we can digest it. They help in the absorption of some minerals. Some of our crucial vitamins like B vitamins and K2 are actually made by the friendly bacteria, as well as other compounds which directly feed the intestinal cells and keeps them healthy.
This village also trains and regulates our immune system, since over 70% of our immune system is in and around the intestines. It shapes our body's ability to recognize what is safe and what should be destroyed. Certain friendly bacteria reduce the inflammation response, which is good because too much inflammation in your intestines leads to destruction of the tissue.
A healthy microbiome also leads to a happy person, overall. The friendly bacteria produce over 90% of your body's serotonin. This neurotransmitter keeps your digestion regular and your brain happy. There is a direct connection between the brain and the intestines. Our gut is truly our second brain, and they are in constant communication with each other. So trust your gut next time it tells you something!
The microbiome is truly an amazing yet under-appreciated part of our body. In the next few blogs, I will help you learn more about how to take care of your microbiome, and what can happen when it becomes out of balance.
1. Coconut cream
When you are planning on making a basic vegetable soup, try adding a can or two of coconut milk/cream instead of the oil right at the beginning. This is the basis of making a coconut curry, but you do not need to use curry powder to make this dish awesome! You can keep the spices simple, use just water for the broth, and add a little sea salt. Or you can make it even more delectable by adding some garam masala spice mix.
2. Peanut sauce
Getting to pour peanut sauce over your stir-fry makes it seem like you are out at a restaurant! It goes with any combination of vegetables and protein, and if you are avoiding peanuts you can just substitute almond butter in the recipe. Here is my basic peanut sauce recipe:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup nut butter
1 teaspoon salt or soy sauce
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
splash of rice vinegar (optional)
Combine all in a small sauce pan on low heat, stirring until creamy. Adjust anything to your taste preference. Add more water for thinner sauce, more nut butter for thicker sauce. Easy!
The idea of a frittata comes from Italy. It is basically a quiche without the crust, which makes it so much easier to make and healthier too! If you were thinking of making a basic saute or stir fry for dinner, try making it into a frittata instead. I have made them for breakfast parties and family dinners. They are also an "anything goes" type of dish that you can customize based on what's in your fridge that day. Just make sure you have plenty of eggs!
All you need to do is saute the veggies in a big pot until they are soft (zucchini, onions, broccoli, spinach, and Italian herbs are all good options). Transfer them to a baking dish and pour beaten eggs over until they are covered, but not drowning. Bake for around 30 minutes. There are countless recipes for frittatas on the internet. Remember that you can substitute just about anything it calls for, or omit it all together. It will still be yummy!
Dr. Melissa DeForest: I am a Naturopathic Doctor who specializes in digestive disorders. My goal is to educate, inspire, and empower others to lead a life they love.
Disclaimer: All information presented here is for educational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise, supplement, or diet routine.