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

Fertility and Preconception Planning

If you’re a woman thinking about starting a family or actively trying, it can be a strange time. After spending your whole adult life trying not to get pregnant, it can seem as if once you start trying things will go off without a hitch-and they often do. But when it comes to optimizing your and your future baby’s health, it can be a bit more complicated than ditching the birth control and taking a prenatal.

Continue reading “Fertility and Preconception Planning”

How to stay healthy and prevent weight gain during COVID-19 quarantine

Like many of us in the Rochester area, and increasingly across the country, I was told to work from home last month. On my first day working from home, I decided to set up a schedule for myself. I don’t do well with lots of unstructured time, and I thrive on being constantly busy. This quarantine has forced me to slow down, and think of creative ways to fill my day and stay productive. But then came a new concern; how will I prevent myself from eating mindlessly to fill the time during quarantine?

Continue reading “How to stay healthy and prevent weight gain during COVID-19 quarantine”

Maintaining a Healthy Immune System During the Ongoing Threat of COVID-19

Maintaining a Healthy Immune System

With the recent and ongoing threat of COVID-19, we are reading more than ever about the immune system, its function, and its failures. And while it would be a hopeful prospect to improve upon a normal and/or healthy immune system, there is little to no evidence that we can take supplements or drink juices to make it work more efficiently. In short, “immune-boosting” is not a possibility.

The good news is that we can make changes in our daily lives to maintain a normal immune response. Here are a few ways that we can keep our system strong.

Continue reading “Maintaining a Healthy Immune System During the Ongoing Threat of COVID-19”

Hope for Alzheimer’s Patients

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and currently affects more than 5 million Americans and 30 million people worldwide.

Whether it’s an aging parent, a spouse, a coworker, a sibling or a friend, it seems we all know someone who has experienced cognitive decline. And it makes sense, as Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of dementia and currently affects more than 5 million Americans and 30 million people worldwide. This devastating disease, along with its precursors, mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and subjective cognitive impairment (SCI), have become the most significant healthcare problems both nationally and globally.

Evidence that shows the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease may be partially reversed

Fortunately, progress is being made. Dr. Dale Bredesen, a neurologist who has spent more than 30 years researching Alzheimer’s disease, has created training on its treatment and prevention, known as the Bredesen ReCODE (Reversal of Cognitive Decline) Protocol. Treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been largely ineffective thus far because they fail to slow disease progression, but through Dr. Bredesen’s teachings we are seeing evidence that shows the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease may be partially reversed, even in advanced cases, and have returned many patients to their pre-diagnosis levels of cognition.

The Bredesen ReCODE Protocol

So, what is the process? By applying key concepts of functional medicine, identifying lifestyle factors, administering tests and designing customized treatments for patients, the Bredesen ReCODE Protocol recognizes some 150 factors that contribute to Alzheimer’s disease. Specific tests are used to measure underlying factors that cause the disease, and a comprehensive plan, personalized for each patient, addresses lifestyle factors such as diet, sleep, stress management and exercise, as well as gut health, hormonal balance, environmental exposures, infectious triggers and more. The relatively simple and often low-cost solutions to treatment and prevention of aging-related mental disorders includes direction on factors such as nutrition, supplements, mental and physical exercise, stress reduction, intermittent fasting. Following this organized, multifactorial protocol, symptoms of mild cognitive impairment and early AD may often be reversed within six months after treatment. Radiologists have reported that MRI tests, which previously showed typical symptoms of Alzheimer’s in the brain, have returned to normal and research has shown patients returning to work, resuming driving and living as they did prior to mental decline.

Following this organized, multifactorial protocol, symptoms of mild cognitive impairment and early AD may often be reversed within six months after treatment.certified ReCODE Provider

Dr. James is a certified ReCODE Provider

Alzheimer’s is something that I am acutely passionate about, having lost my father to the disease and witnessing first hand its devastating path. And so, I am honored and excited to announce that I have completed the Bredesen training and am now a certified ReCODE Provider. As a functional medicine practitioner, studying this method of treatment is a natural next step for me, and I so look forward to sharing my knowledge with those in need and implementing what I have learned to begin the process of bringing hope to Alzheimer’s, SCI and MCI patients. Through this encouraging research and treatment, I am confident that we will continue to make great strides in reversing cognitive decline.

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30283265
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27294343
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5540361/
https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1559827618766468

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.

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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