Scrutinizing Sweat: More to Explore

Whether you’re working up a lather by exercising or merely perspiring in the heat, sweating has thus far been perceived as healthful. But what do we really know about the process of perspiring? While its benefits have been touted from the Roman baths and Aboriginal sweat lodges to Scandinavian saunas and Turkish baths, there is much more to explore.

Sweat is 99% water, with the remainder made up of minerals such as sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and lactic acid. We sweat because our bodies include a mechanism to stay at a consistent temperature, so as sweat evaporates, the body temperature is lowered. How much we sweat is variable and depends on factors such as one’s genetics, age, weight, percent of body fat, distribution of sweat glands, the time of day and even, for women, the menstrual cycle.

We also know that sweating is unique to humans, as we are the only mammal that relies on secreting water to the surface to cool ourselves, and that it may be affected by environment: Studies by Japanese scientists in the early 1900s demonstrated that where one spends the first two years of life dictates one’s number of the sweat glands and how many will be become activated. So, keeping your children in an air conditioned environment is going to affect their ability to thermoregulate later in life (which may explain the differences in my household, as my husband spent the first few years of his life in India, while I grew up in Canada).

In addition to exercise, there are several ways to sweat, and at this point research hasn’t proven that any one method is better than another.

Bath Therapy Chart

If you’ve worked up a sweat and want to continue to sweat, wiping moisture with a clean towel will prevent a cooling effect and may help to maintain sweating. It may also help to remove any toxicants from your skin. Traditional and Finnish saunas call for cooling off in a tepid shower or experiencing any icy plunge. What’s most important is to rehydrate to replace water and electrolytes, using 1⁄2 liter of water (not from a plastic bottle, please) for every pound lost. In addition, refrain from putting chemicals on your skin, such as personal care products, and from using towels laundered with chemicals and dried with dryer sheets.

There are a multitude of facts and myths about the process of perspiring.

Is sweating a form of detoxification?

The main way we eliminate toxins is via the kidneys and through bile/stool. Research shows, however, that we can also detect a range of toxicants in sweat, but we don’t know if this is a preferential way to measure or rid of toxins. According to Dr. Donald Smith, Professor of Toxicology at UC Santa Cruz: “By forcing your body to perspire through heat exposure or heavy exercise, you can cause your kidneys to save water and actually hang on to any toxins that may be circulating in your system.” More research is needed in this area.

Does sweating burn fat and calories?

I am not convinced that sedentary sweating, or sweating without exercise, is a path to losing weight. Claims of burning calories by sitting in a sauna are exaggerated, as most, if not all, weight loss from sauna use is water weight and should be reversed by hydrating. However, sauna use may assist in weight loss via stress reduction and improved circulation.

Can sauna use help with cardiovascular, respiratory and brain health?

A number of studies demonstrate the benefits of sauna use on cardiovascular disease, but at this point we are not sure why. We do know that there is a relatable impact on vasculature post MI, congestive heart failure, and dementia/alzheimers disease. A traditional Finnish sauna shows best results when taken four to seven times per week, and this study proves prospective evidence that sauna bathing is a protective factor against the risk of SCD, fatal CHD, fatal CVD and all-cause mortality events in the general male population. We also know that frequent sauna bathing can expand the air passages, reducing the risk of chronic and acute respiratory conditions, including pneumonia. In any event, even though further studies are needed, they currently suggest that sauna bathing is a healthy habit, whether due to sweating or merely taking the time to relax.

Does sweating affect diabetes and metabolic health?

The effects seen with incorporating sauna use and hot baths are similar to those seen when we exercise, including an increase in blood levels of epinephrine, norepinephrine, interleukin 6 (IL-6), growth hormone,and HSP72 (a heat shock protein). There is also improved insulin sensitivity, and a small study showed improved blood sugars, sleep and a general sense of well-being.

Can sweating aid cancer treatments?

In certain instances, hyperthermia can be used as an adjunct cancer therapy, but at this time we cannot extrapolate the benefits of hyperthermia treatment to sauna use, as the body cannot achieve the core temperatures via a sauna or heating blankets. In supplementing cancer treatments, hyperthermia needs a higher core/tissue temperature and must be medically induced, which cannot be achieved at home.

Additional-Benefits-of-Sweating

As always, consult with your physician before preparing a program for perspiration, as there are some conditions in which sauna and heat exposure may be harmful, such as high risk pregnancy, diabetes, recent myocardial infarction and aortic stenosis. However, once given the green light, it may be beneficial to incorporate a bathing program three times per week, if your schedule allows, or head outside this spring and begin a regimen of vigorous, sweaty sessions.


 

References

Genuis SJ1, Beesoon S, Lobo RA, Birkholz D. Human elimination of phthalate compounds: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study. Scientic World Journal. 2012;2012:615068.
Doi: 10.1100/2012/615068. Epub 2012 Oct 31.

Genuis SJ1, Beesoon S, Birkholz D, Lobo RA.
Human excretion of bisphenol A: blood, urine, and sweat (BUS) study.
J Environ Public Health. 2012;2012:185731. doi: 10.1155/2012/185731. Epub 2011 Dec 27.

Kunutsor SK1, Laukkanen T2, Laukkanen JA3. Frequent sauna bathing may reduce the risk of pneumonia in middle-aged Caucasian men: The KIHD prospective cohort study. Respir Med. 2017 Nov;132:161-163. doi: 10.1016/j.rmed.2017.10.018. Epub 2017 Oct 23.

Jari A.”Laukkanen,”MD, PhD Tanjaniina”Laukkanen,”MSc1; Hassan”Khan,”MD, PhD2; Francesco”Zaccardi,”MD3; et al. Association Between Sauna Bathing and Fatal Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality Events. JAMA Intern Med. 2015;175(4):542-548. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2014.8187.

Chikako TOMIYAMA1, Mayumi WATANABE2, Takashi HONMA3, Akihiro INADA3, Takayoshi HAYAKAWA3, Masae RYUFUKU4, and Toru ABO5 The effect of repetitive mild hyperthermia on body temperature, the autonomic nervous system, and innate and adaptive immunity. Biomedical Research (Tokyo) 36 (2) 135-142, 2015.

Kowatzki D1, Macholdt C, Krull K, Schmidt D, Deufel T, Elsner P, Fluhr JW. Effect of regular sauna on epidermal barrier function and stratum corneum water-holding capacity in vivo in humans: a controlled study. Dermatology. 2008;217(2):173-80.
doi: 10.1159/000137283. Epub 2008 Jun 5.

Karagülle M1, Kardeş S2, Dişçi R3, Karagülle MZ2 Spa therapy adjunct to pharmacotherapy is benecial in rheumatoid arthritis: a crossover randomized controlled trial. Int J Biometeorol. 2018 Feb;62(2):195-205. doi: 10.1007/s00484-017-1441-y. Epub 2017 Sep 7.

Santos I1,2, Cantista P1,3, Vasconcelos C1,3, Amado J4. Balneotherapy and Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Control Trial. Isr Med Assoc J. 2016 Aug; 18(8):474-478.

Oosterveld FG1, Rasker JJ, Floors M, Landkroon R, van Rennes B, Zwijnenberg J, van de Laar MA, Koel GJ.

Nurmikko T1, Hietaharju A. Effect of exposure to sauna heat on neuropathic and rheumatoid pain. Pain. 1992 Apr;49(1): 43-51.

Terhorst L1, Schneider MJ, Kim KH, Goozdich LM, Stilley CS. Complementary and alternative medicine in the treatment of pain in bromyalgia: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2011 Sep;34(7):483-96.
doi: 10.1016/j.jmpt.2011.05.006. Epub 2011 Jun 24.

Naumann J1, Grebe J2, Kaifel S2, Weinert T2, Sadaghiani C3, Huber R2. Effects of hyperthermic baths on depression, sleep and heart rate variability in patients with depressive disorder: a randomized clinical pilot trial.

Essentials About Oils

Essentials-About-Oils

Essentials-About-Oils

Each year, we hear about new trends in do-it-yourself health care. Some are worthwhile, while some are a waste of time and money, even dangerous. Lately I have noticed that patients are utilizing essential oils, so I thought I’d take a moment to set the record straight on these popular potions, which claim to cure everything from acne to anxiety.

The “essence” of the plants’ fragrance and characteristics.

Essential oils are highly concentrated oils which have been extracted from plants, and are deemed “essential” because they contain the “essence” of the plants’ fragrance and characteristics. Due to their concentrated nature, however, these oils should be used with care and respect, as misuse can potentially cause harm. Here are a few facts to keep in mind prior to dabbling in a potentially slippery slope.

1. Quality.

Currently, there is no independent medically-accepted body that regulates or certifies oil quality, so buyers must beware. There are false claims regarding quality and touting the use of “therapeutic grade,” a meaningless term created and registered by one of the largest distributors of essential oils. For example, 43% of the commercial examples of tea tree oil do not have the appropriate chemical components, and some actually contain contaminants. It is important to purchase from a known distiller who harvests the oils at the correct time, using knowledge of peak growing conditions. Buying organic (but not raw) is important and substitutes are dangerous. A few recommendations to consult prior to purchasing are the National Organic Program (NOP), the USDA or EcoCERT. My rule of thumb: If the price is too good to be true, you are probably purchasing a lesser quality product.

2. Undiluted Oils.

While there are several causes of adverse reactions to essential oils, the most common can be easily avoided: Do not put drops of essential oils into a bath and step into it, as oils do not mix with water and will float on the top, creating a not-so-soothing experience. In addition, contact with water makes oils evaporate less quickly, increasing the body’s absorption of unwanted elements such as parabens. In an effort to avoid health hazards, I highly recommend researching safe ways to dilute essential oils prior to using them.

3. Ingesting.

Unless recommended by a trained practitioner, essential oils should not be ingested. They may be harmful to the body’s microbiome, delicate mucosa of the mouth and gastrointestinal tract.

4. Overuse.

It is not advisable to directly and intensively inhale essential oils for longer than 15 to 20 minutes. The ideal concentration of essential oils should produce a faint scent rather than bombarding the room with bouquet. In addition, constant use of diffusers may harm your pets, as they have sensitive systems that cannot tolerate long periods of inhalation. Remember: Less is more.

5. Misinformation.

Many of the claims and recommendations made regarding essential oils are false and provided by untrained practitioners. For example, patients have asked me recently about Frankincense Essential Oil due to misleading and confusing information on websites and in blogs. At the root of the problem is knowing the difference between Frankincense Essential Oil and Frankincense, which is a resin that contains a promising ingredient, Boswellic acid, that is actually not found at all in the essential oil form. The bottom line is, multi-level marketing companies are selling their products with exaggerated claims and deceptive marketing, so do your homework whenever possible to make sure you’re on the right track.

If you are interested in using essential oils or have already purchased them and are seeking further information, my advice is to use caution when buying, research advice from only trained practitioners and use the oils safely and in moderation. It may be a bit more time consuming, but in the long run it’s best to make sure that what you’re buying and how it’s used is indeed essential to your health.


Resources

  • Tisserand Institute http://tisserandinstitute.org/grasse-french-aromatherapy/
  • Lavender/Quality http://www.kurtschnaubelt.com/archive-2/
  • Aromatherapy Institute https://www.aromahead.com
  • Tea Tree Oil Adulteration http://cms.herbalgram.org/BAP/BAB/TeaTreeOilBulletin.html? ts=1511148302&signature=9163da4bfd5a297ec7437b3c3ad61fba

Light Therapy: a glowing review

Light-Therapy

Light-TherapyEvery day our bodies experience circadian rhythms, or mental, physical and behavioral changes that are based on our response to the light and darkness in our environments. The best example being sleeping while it’s dark and performing our daily functions while it’s light outside. But these rhythms relate to far more complex brain and body functions, and are suffering in today’s society, as we are living less and less according to the natural cycle of the seasons.

Truth is, our world is light-deprived and we are paying for it with our health.

Our bodies have become accustomed to the dim artificial light provided in our work places, found while running indoor errands, and again at home, when we are relaxing by watching television or sitting in front of our computers. But there’s a bright beam of hope: Researchers are making great strides in understanding the impact of light on our health and wellness, and there is now emphasis on the importance of getting enough of the right kind of light, which is bright light. It is called Light Therapy.


Symptoms of SAD: Difficulty waking, Decreased energy, Increased sleep, Carbohydrate cravings, Difficulty concentrating, Withdrawal, Depression, Anxiety, Irritability


Light therapy recommended for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Light therapy, or exposure to bright artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light, has long been recommended for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression that occurs mainly in the fall and winter months, causing chemical alterations that result in changes in mood, sleep, even eating habits.

Light therapy is also effective for a number of additional disorders and health issues, such as:

  • Non-seasonal depression (chronic depression and treatment-resistant depression)
  • Premenstrual disorders
  • Pregnancy-related depression
  • Winter-heightened ADHD
  • Dementia
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Jet Lag and Shift Work (exposure to proper light can safely shift our
    bodies’ clocks to function effectively under circumstances of fatigue)
  • Sleep disorders
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Eating disorders
  • Cancer- and illness-related depression – Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The benefits of light therapy continue to grow as this treatment is more widely utilized and studied. And while its one-time cost and quick results are an attractive prospect, even more impressive are recent studies and results: Data has shown that light therapy is as effective as antidepressants for depression and other disorders and, when used in addition to medication, accelerates improvement and symptoms.

Guidelines for purchasing a light therapy box

Of course if you are interested in purchasing a light therapy box or lamp, there are guidelines for the best results, such as purchasing a light that provides 10,000 lux of illumination at a comfortable sitting distance, brands that have been tested successfully in clinical trials, a white light rather than a colored light, as “full spectrum” and blue lamps provide no known therapeutic advantage, and more. There are minimal, if any, side effects stemming from light therapy, mainly headaches, eye strain or edginess.

As always, it is best to consult a physician before purchasing or beginning a new therapy. In this instance, the timing of the light is important, and it is not recommended for everyone, especially those with retinal issues or eye disease. I often give light therapy a glowing review and hope you’ll look further into its advantages or contact me for a consultation so we can determine if it might benefit your winter blues.

Resources

  • Center for Environmental Therapeutics. www.cet.org
  • Ach Gen Psychiatry, 2011. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/211002
  • https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/feasibility-of-a-randomized-controll ed-trial-of-lighttherapy-in-cancer-patients-with-insomnia-2165-7386.100018 3.php?aid=29933&view=mobile
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27835724
  • http://www.sleepreviewmag.com/2015/05/light-therapy-better-sleep/
  • https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201304/resyncing-the-b ody-clock-treatadhd
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2951731/
  • https://www.chronobiology.com/new-analysis-suggests-menopause-and-insomnia -go-hand-in-hand

Spicy Carrot Hummus Recipe

Nothing can match up to the flavor of homemade.

Hummus, or any bean-based dip, can be a great thing to have on hand for a quick snack or to add flavor, texture and plant-based protein to any dish. It’s tempting to always grab the grocery store version—but when you have a little time, nothing can match up to the flavor of homemade.

Spicy-Carrot-HummusA scoop on top of a salad, a smear on a sandwich or veggie burger, added to warm pasta for a quick, creamy finish. It’s so versatile, simple and delicious. This version adds carrots for sweetness and added nutrition, and a kick of spice for balance. Not a fan of spicy food or it doesn’t sit well with you? Simple remove the pepper. This recipe is a template that can be easily modified based on your tastes. Enjoy!

Spicy Carrot Hummus

  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled, thickly sliced
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 can organic chickpeas, not drained
  • 2 heaping tbsp tahini
  • Juice from 1 large lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Large pinch sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon (or more) harissa or a pinch of cayenne

Preheat oven to 425°. Place garlic in the center of a square of foil and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap foil to make a tightly sealed packet. Place on a baking sheet. Peel and slice carrots and toss with a drizzle of evoo and a sprinkle of salt. Roast until carrots are very tender and garlic is fragrant, 40 minutes or so. Let sit until cool enough to handle. This step can be done a day ahead if necessary.

Process roasted carrots, chickpeas (and their liquid), tahini, lemon juice, garlic, harissa or cayenne, salt, and cumin in a food processor until mixture is smooth, about 1 minute. With the motor running, stream in 2 Tbsp. oil, then continue to process until hummus is very light and creamy, about 1 minute longer. Taste and season with salt, if needed. Add more harissa to make hummus spicier, if desired, then process to incorporate, just a few seconds longer.

Save

Good Morning, Sunshine

So, what exactly is a dawn simulator? Simply put, it’s a natural alarm clock that involves timing lights in the bedroom to come on gradually, over a period of between 30 minutes and two hours before your preferred time of awakening.

Mornings. While some anticipate a superb sunrise, for others it’s the dreaded dawn.

Well, here’s a rousing thought: Your performance and attitude may, in part, be attributed to your method of awakening. But no need to hide under the covers, as even though that harsh alarm and the resulting wide-awake jolt may set the tone for the day, there’s a simple solution, known as dawn simulation.

Mornings. While some anticipate a superb sunrise, for others it’s the dreaded dawn. Well, here’s a rousing thought: Your performance and attitude may, in part, be attributed to your method of awakening. But no need to hide under the covers, as even though that harsh alarm and the resulting wide-awake jolt may set the tone for the day, there’s a simple solution, known as dawn simulation.

So, what exactly is a dawn simulator?

Simply put, it’s a natural alarm clock that involves timing lights in the bedroom to come on gradually, over a period of between 30 minutes and two hours before your preferred time of awakening. The concept was first patented in the late 1800s, with the realization that light enters through the eyelids, triggering the body to begin its wake-up cycle, including the release of cortisol, a hormone that regulates immune response, so that by the time the light is at full brightness, sleepers wake up on their own, without the need for a traditional alarm.

Your performance and attitude may, in part, be attributed to your method of awakening.

Research shows that, when compared with waking in dim light, the 30-minute sunrise not only left subjects feeling more refreshed and alert upon waking, but reflected an increase in agility, cognitive performance, response time and improved mood. In addition, cortisol levels were reported as significantly elevated, resulting in better overall hormone balance throughout the day.

The treatment is complete prior to awakening.

Dawn simulators, also known as wake-up lights or natural light alarm clocks that gradually transition you from a state of slumber, differ from other light therapies, as the treatment is complete prior to awakening, making it a convenient alternative to post-awakening bright therapy. The process is a lower intensity, and not considered a therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but can certainly be used in addition to treatment.

In my house, we’ve fully embraced waking to a gradual dawn rather than the jolt of an alarm, especially living in Rochester, NY, where 83% of our days are cloudy—a tad lower than Seattle’s 84%. I hope that you, too, will give dawn simulators a try and reap the benefits of this truly bright idea for rising and shining.

Light Therapy Reviews

Save

Save

Save

Save

The Conscious Kitchen

Nutritional Layering

Healthy cooking is an important part of my daily routine, and recently I have challenged myself to prepare dishes that include as many good-for-me components as possible, with the goal of utilizing only meaningful ingredients.  I have coined this way of cooking “Nutritional Layering.”

Nutritional Layering

Being mindful of Nutritional Layering has added an exciting element to cooking.  When I research recipes, for example, I find myself immediately editing the ingredient list to include those that pack a powerful punch of vitamins and nutrients.  For instance, I tend to make broths and stocks at home because I can add a multitude of quality nutrients by simply adding elements such as dried mushrooms, which contain immune supportive properties, Kombu, which is similar to seaweed and contains high levels of iodine and fiber, fermented miso, which contains a dense concentration of nutrients, and even a simple bay leaf, as it includes healthy compounds, folic acid and vitamins.

Add Nutrients and Complexity to Cooking

Another of my favorite dishes to prepare and enjoy is an easy Confetti Slaw, which contains cabbage, bell peppers, garlic, onions, high-quality olive oil and plenty of citrus, herbs and spices.  Not only is the slaw beautiful to behold and delicious, but the ingredients offer an abundance of phytonutrients, which are beneficial to health and are believed to help prevent various diseases.  Layer upon layer, these ingredients add necessary nutrients and complexity to cooking.

Cooking-Conscious Crops

My interest in Nutritional Layering has extended to my beloved garden as well, where my cooking-conscious crops include medicinal herbs, trees and plants that make for a lovely yard while ultimately producing a healthy, edible harvest.  Indoors, I have even enriched my water intake by adding citrus, such as lemon and orange slices, and herbs, mainly mint and tarragon, into the pitcher that is a constant in my refrigerator.

And so, the next time you’re in the kitchen, perhaps you could make the most of your meal by layering healthy, quality ingredients.  Knowing that you’re consuming the best possible components will boost your mood, help your health and, naturally, make for a superb supper.

Is sugar worth your memory?

Is sugar worth your memory?

Is sugar worth your memory?Cake, cookies, soda, donuts, are you someone with a sweet tooth?

Indulging once in a while and letting yourself have one of these treats is okay, but if it is part of your diet consistently, it can be a burden on your brain. Making a lifestyle change can be difficult but not making that change could lead to a chronic disease called diabetes. Diabetes is a metabolic disease that the body cannot produce any or enough insulin, which causes elevated glucose levels in the blood. I know that changing things in your diet can be hard, but also having diabetes is hard.

Our body wants to be at homeostasis, but things we ingest and do, can get our body out of rhythm. When we are constantly overwhelming our body with sugar, our body gets stressed and  overwhelmed, similar to the feeling you have when you have a million things to get done. We have an enzyme called endopeptidase which is our pilot enzyme for controlling blood sugar and our glucose levels. If we did not have this enzyme our glucose levels would be terrifyingly high, and even if we have low levels of this enzyme, it could be damaging and not powerful enough to tell our pancreas to release insulin.  This enzyme is a messenger and tells our neurons in the brain to be wary of glucose. This hormone is crucial in preventing diabetes. Even though our bodies are magical in all the daily functions it can do, it is not iron proof. Our job is to take care of our bodies.

High blood sugar can also affect our brain, especially when it comes to our memory. “Elevated blood sugar levels damage small and large vessels in the brain, leading to decreased blood and nutrient flow to brain cells,” explains Agnes Floel. Our hippocampus is the part of the brain directly linked to memory. The hippocampus does require a good amount of glucose to function, but there is a fine line. If the blood sugar levels are too high, it can be threatening to the hippocampus. These deficiencies can inhibit the flow of nutrition from our blood to our brain. Think of if like a big accident on the high way, it effects the entire flow of traffic. Glucose can be that kind of barrier. Glucose is needed to get through the blood brain barrier to the hippocampus. Also important to note, letting our blood sugar levels get too low can lead to another problem, hypoglycemia.

Sometimes we all need to take a step back and look at the big picture; [bctt tweet=”Your memory is affected by what you are putting into your body.”] Small steps can be taken by nourishing your body in the right way and can lead to making you feel better. Our body works hard enough, don’t make it work even harder. Eating a diet with a variety of healthy and nutritious foods is key. That doesn’t mean you can’t splurge and have your favorite treat, every now and then.

Kelsey-Julien
Guest Post: Kelsey Julien, Dr. James’ Intern with a passion for nutrition and a freshman studying to be a Registered Dietician at D’Youville College.

Sources:

Glucose ‘control switch’ in the brain key to both types of diabetes

Aging Well: Keeping Blood Sugar Low May Protect Memory

Healthy Soil, Healthy Food, Healthy You

FieldEffectChances are, you have a physician, a dentist and a handful of specialists.  But have you ever considered your area’s local farmers as an integral part of your health care team?

As a lifelong gardener, I have come to recognize the value of healthy soil and the role that soil ecosystems play in the growth and vibrancy of the plants in my yard.  Fellow integrative physician Daphne Miller (author of Farmacology) has taken this concept a step further, making a concrete connection between healthy soil and our own health, bringing us beyond the concept of food as medicine and educating us on the idea that although buying organic produce is essential, the farm where the food is grown offers the real remedy.

Here’s where we dig into Biodynamic Farming, a method of agriculture that was born almost 100 years ago, linking soil fertility, plant growth and livestock care.  Biodynamic Farms are organic farms that surpass the simple practice of producing food without chemicals by focusing on composting, crop rotation and cover cropping. Not only are these extensive preparations utilized to nourish the farm and its soil, but farmers employ cosmic rhythms when carrying out daily activities on the farm, relying on the effects of the sun, moon, planets and stars and how the rhythm of each contributes to the life, growth and formation of plants and aids in ground preparation, sowing, cultivating and harvesting.

And so, the seed I’d like to plant is this:

While we continue to do our bodies good by questioning if our fare is chemical-free, it may be equally as important to research farming practices, soil management and the quality of our produce.  Something to chew on.

FoodGuide2014_COVER-350pxH_0There are plenty of folks working to make our food the best it can be and expediting delivery to consumers.  You can find some of these by visiting resources I enjoy, such as www.nofany.org/directory, a guide to organic and sustainable farms and producers, sites committed to CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, which connects consumers directly to local farmers, www.thegoodfoodcollective.com, a year-round program that provides access to the area’s local, sustainable food, and additional sites that will direct you to your area’s farmers’ markets, such as www.rocwiki.org.

Hungry for more?  Check out a few of my favorite New York farms.

Firefly Farm in Canandaigua
Bedient Farms in Potter
Browder’s Birds Organic Farm in Mattituck
Northland Sheep Dairy in Marathon
Fellenz Family Farm in Phelps

The Healing Power of Nature

Autumn-LeafI go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

– John Burroughs

I confess I am a nature-lover/tree-hugger/environmentalist – whatever you want to call someone who loves to be in nature. Nature is healing for me, as it has been for so many others throughout time. Now there is research that validates this, and raises questions whether the lack of exposure to nature could aggravate or even cause certain conditions such as ADHD. Do we need nature for our bodies as well as our souls?

Nature Heals and Restores

In 1984, Science magazine published a landmark article by Roger Ulrich showing strong evidence that nature promotes healing. Patients hospitalized in rooms with a view of nature had shorter hospital stays and used less pain medication.

For people with chronic conditions who reside in restricted environments, simple exposure to a garden dramatically decreases anxiety, agitation, and social withdrawal. For patients who can enter into natural spaces and gardens, the amount of psychiatric drugs decreases. According to Clare Cooper Marcus, (UC Berkeley), being in nature puts the mind in a meditative state: we stop obsessing and worrying and start living in the present moment, which in turn decreases stress, improves hypertension, and increases immune function.

We are influenced by our environment in more ways than we are aware. Research from Richard Ryan at the University of Rochester shows that paying attention to nature can affect social values and actions — exposure to a natural environment leads people to value community and close relationships.

When in nature, you may experience these benefits, too:

  • Exposure to Vitamin D (via sunshine) which is necessary for optimum bone, brain, and immunity health).
  • Increased activity: you tend to move around more when outside and you get more benefits from outdoor exercise.
  • Natural light during the day and darkness at night helps to maintain our natural circadian rhythms. Lack of natural light and dark interferes with sleep, energy, and moods.
  • Vision: Our ancestors who looked often at the horizon lacked the deficits we have today so more of us need corrective lenses.
  • Hearing: Our ears were once used to detect changes in the complex acoustical patterns of nature, such as forests, running water, rain, and wind. Noise pollution negatively affects our emotions, nervous system, and physiology.

Ecopsychology

Ecopsychology is a new field of study that asks, “If exposure to nature is beneficial, what happens when we withdraw from it?”

Richard Louv identified Nature Deficit Disorder in his popular book Last Child in the Woods, asserting that children are spending less time outdoors which results in a wide range of behavioral problems. Nancy Wells found that being close to nature improves a child’s attention span, and research by University of Illinois shows that children in a greener setting experience more relief from ADHD symptoms.

To improve your and your family’s exposure to nature:

  • Set up study areas in rooms with a view of nature.
  • Encourage outdoor play in green spaces and advocate for green school yards. Outdoor play at recess renews concentration.
  • Plant or take care of trees and vegetation in your area.

By losing connection to nature we lose ability to restore ourselves.

The loss of natural space is becoming a public health issue, yet we are less aware of the disappearance of green spaces around us. To improve the “nature” of your life:

  • Incorporate green spaces in the design of your home, workspace, and school.
  • Prescribe “Green Time” as a self-therapy.
  • Create a habit to go outside every day.
  • Learn to recognize your local wildlife.
  • Create access to green spaces for those around you, especially for the very young and for seniors.
  • Brighten the day by placing a plant in any room that lacks a view.

Nature’s Rhythms

For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck what is planted. God has made everything beautiful in its time.

– Ecclesiastes

For thousands of years, we have honored nature’s rhythms. We planted our crops according to the seasons and the phases of the moon. We ate and slept with the rising and setting of the sun. But modern life with its conveniences has severed this connection. We now use artificial light to work late and an alarm to wake us up on schedule. Our bodies lose the natural cycles of fasting, purification, and restoration. We eat the same foods year round so we no longer know the peak season for fruits and vegetables.

Chronobiology is the study of patterns and rhythms that repeat themselves. Until recently, medicine paid very little attention to the seasonality or rhythm of disease. Timing is now becoming important in the overall maintenance of health, and especially so in the detection, treatment, and prevention of disease.

The Wall Street Journal recently featured ways in which biorhythms are being studied in the diagnosis of autism, epilepsy, schizophrenia, and dementia. In autistic children, researchers were able to differentiate characteristic brain wave patterns in the language centers with 90% accuracy.

The body’s physiologic rhythms work on different time scales and often interact with each other. A rhythm gone awry can indicate disease. One body rhythm out of sync can impact another, creating pervasive illness. Consider these types of rhythms:

  • Cellular rhythms: Biochemical rhythms that oscillate throughout the day, prompting electrically excitable cells in neurons to activate and rest.
  • Ultra-rhythms: Our cycles that repeat throughout a day, such as heartbeat, breathing, and our hormonal system. Heart attacks occur more often in the early morning when there is a peak in stress hormones. Asthma is most common at night when the stress hormone cortisol decreases.
  • Circadian rhythms: Our sleeping and waking cycle. The body’s 24-hour cycle affects sleep, body weight, and fertility.
  • Ciralunar cycles: Our monthly cycles. A women’s immunity is lowest during menses and highest during ovulation.
  • Cirannual cycles: The seasonal influence on our human experience. Testicular cancer is more common in the winter as is breast cancer in women with low melatonin due to increased darkness.

Over a thousand biological rhythms control the human body. Each biological timer dictates a specific rhythm to a group of cells, organ, or endocrine gland. Our individual body clocks may be linked to a common master clock that is in turn controlled by the sun and movements of earth. When kept in total darkness, animals and plants are able to maintain this rhythm for a period of time but then gradually shift out of sync.

Chronotherapy considers how the body’s rhythms impact its ability to process medications. Every drug has an optimal time when it is the least toxic and most effective. According to Franz Halberg, chronobiologist, “One of the big mistakes that’s made is to believe that we can treat by clock hours. We have to treat by body times.”

For cancer treatment, these should be consideration: the drug being administered, the timing when the patient’s cancer cells divide the most (and are the most vulnerable), when the healthy cells divide the least, and the patient’s rest and activity cycles. Chemotherapy is more effective when taking all factors into consideration.

Most living creatures have adapted to the temporal order of their environment so they carry out bodily functions at the best time. Although humans also evolved with this natural music, we fool ourselves in believing we can move beyond our biology. Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine honor these transitions. In western medicine, understanding that the seasons and geography impact health help physicians tailor prevention and treatment so patients can live in sync with their biology and environment.