Gardening a Healthy Hobby

Gardening-a-Healthy-Hobby

As a lifelong and passionate gardener, it pleases me that my hobby provides not only joy, but substantial health benefits.

My love of gardening started when I was young and continues today. I have fond memories of my father taking me to the garden store as a child and letting me choose plants for our yard. Throughout my college years and medical school, when I began studying the benefits of herbs, I always kept a garden and even extended it to the roof of my apartment when I ran out of room! I thought I would share with you some of the many ways gardening affects our health and connects to the brain, heart, and gut.

Brain

Gardening can improve our mood and reduce the risk of dementia. In fact, a study in the Netherlands cited by CNN suggests that gardening is more effective at reducing stress than other hobbies. Participants completed a stressful task and were then told to either read indoors or go outside and garden. After 30 minutes, the gardening group reported better moods, and their blood tests showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. In addition, the microbiome in soil has been shown to act as an antidepressant and its effects have been used to study cancer patients, resulting in heightened happiness, vitality and “significantly improved quality of life.”

Heart/Cardiometabolic

While most gardening falls under the category of moderate physical exercise, studies show that the activity can cause reductions in cardiovascular disease and cancer mortality rates. And, when in addition to regular exercise, gardening or DIY activities can cut the risk of a heart attack or stroke and prolong life by as much as 30% among those ages 60+, according to a study of almost 4,000 participants in Stockholm.

Gut

Research shows that the human gut and soil contain about the same number of active microorganisms and that there is a connection between microbes in the soil and the environment and our own microbiome. Exposure to these microbes affects our health in a number of ways, including balancing our microbes and even improving our mood. We’ve learned through studies that growing up in a microbe-rich environment, such as a farm, can have positive health effects on children. However, these effects may change due to urbanization and conventional foods.

Additional Benefits of Healthy Gardening

Gardening offers a bounty of additional benefits as well, including spending time in nature, exposure to the sun and Vitamin D, exercise, the opportunity to grow and eat organic, nutritious food and herbs, and an ongoing hobby that requires attention. It has also been shown to lower the risk of dementia, boost mood and combat loneliness.

Also, digging in and breathing in dirt not only nourishes and protects plants and plays a role in stabilizing the climate, but some research suggests a relationship between increased autoimmune disease and a disruption in the symbiotic relationships of soil microorganisms, so caring for a garden can be a conduit to increased microbial interactions.

For me, planning and tending to my garden has always been a source of healing and rejuvenation. I encourage you to explore this healthy hobby or, at the very least, take the time to begin composting your kitchen scraps.


Worth Reading

Allyn, Bruce, Amaranthus, Mike, Healthy Soil Microbes, Healthy People: The microbial community in the ground is as important as the one in our guts, The Atlantic/2013

Blum, Winfried E.H., Keiblinger, Katharina M., Zechmeister-Boltenstern, Sophie, Does Soil Contribute to the Human Gut Microbiome?, NCBI/2019

Donner, Nina C., Fox, James H., Fuchsl, Andrea M., et al., Immunization with a heat-killed preparation of the environmental bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae promotes stress resilience in mice, PNAS/2016

Gaston, Kevin J., Soga, Masashi, Yamaurac, Yuichi, Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis, ScienceDirect/March 2017

Goldman, Bruce, Gut bust: Intestinal microbes in peril, Stanford Magazine/2016 Hayes, Kim, 5 Secret Health Benefits of Gardening, AARP/2017

Ochoa-Hueso, Raul, Global Change and the Soil Microbiome: A Human-Health Perspective, Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution/2017

Staff, Three Ways Gardening is Good for Your Gut, Hyperbiotics.com

What’s Your Chronotype?

What is a chronotype? In short, it is an individual difference characteristic reflecting the time of day at which we are at our best.

What is a chronotype? In short, it is an individual difference characteristic reflecting the time of day at which we are at our best.

Fall is upon us, and along with its glorious gifts comes a change in the weather and in the light. Here in Rochester, one of the country’s cloudiest cities, with so few hours of sunshine and shorter days, we strive to move mountains before sunset. But adhering to nature’s light switch may not be advantageous for everyone, as research shows that each individual has an internal chronotype that determines when we truly shine.

What is a chronotype?

In short, it is an individual difference characteristic reflecting the time of day at which we are at our best. We all have a master clock in our brain and many subsidiary clocks ticking throughout our bodies, and not everyone’s clocks run at the same pace. Our chronotype controls our clock, or circadian rhythm, which is a series of behavioral, mental and physical changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. So if you consider yourself an “early bird” or a “night owl,” believe it or not your body is programmed for this classification, based upon your chronotype. And once you know your chronotype, you can work with your body to achieve maximum productivity.

What’s your chronotype? Take the quiz. <<

The assessment of individual chronotypes is important not only for the diagnosis and treatment of sleep disorders and for predicting the ability to adapt to specific schedules, but also for improving daytime performance and matching sleep schedules to our biology. Extreme evening individuals are at higher risk than morning people of not obtaining sufficient sleep and of performing poorly due to the difference between their circadian rhythm and the social demands of daily schedules. There is also research to show that people have more difficulties in maintaining sleep when their sleep is scheduled at adverse circadian phases.

The good news is, knowing our chronotypes can inspire us to take preventative measures such as using ​light therapy, or exposure to bright artificial light that mimics natural outdoor light. This therapy has long been recommended for Seasonal Affective Disorder, which results in changes in mood, sleep and even eating habits during the fall and winter months, as well as other health issues such as fatigue, memory-related disorders, low energy and more. By taking the ​chronotype assessment​, we’ll know the optimal time to use light therapy according to our individual circadian rhythms and feel more energized throughout the day.

So, while we may not have a say when it comes to Mother Nature, business hours and school bells, knowledge of our chronotypes will definitely determine the ideal time of day to focus on important issues, complete daily tasks, exercise, achieve goals and, ultimately, live more fulfilling lives.


See Upcoming Classes:

October 8: THE SCIENCE BEHIND FOOD CRAVINGS

October 9: HEALTHY HIJACKS FOR TEA AND COFFEE

October 24: EXPLORE THE LINK BETWEEN NUTRITION AND SLEEP STRUGGLES

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

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.

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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.