365 Days of Meditation

Over the years, many of you have read posts about my “New Years Resolutions”. It’s not uncommon for me to pick a habit that I want to solidify in my life, and then commit to a year of daily practice to incorporate it into my day to day activity. I’ve done it with exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, and gratitude, to name a few.

The idea of incorporating mediation into my routine has come up often, but the thought of sitting still and contemplating my navel always just made me cringe. Meditation just never made it to the top of the list despite an increasing stack of research that continues to prove the unbelievable value of doing it.

At the end of 2016, a year filled with upsets for many, the idea to re-center, focus on the good, and find some inner peace seemed like a good one. Mediation, it seemed, had finally made it to the top of list.

I’m now 30 days in to my 365 days of mediation, and my navel-gazing fears have vanished. Not only is it not as hard as I thought it would be, I’m turning my 10 minutes a day into 15 minutes for the next month.

I’m using a great tool to help: www.headspace.com. This online service is free for the first 10 days, and quite reasonable after that. Andy Puddicomb, the founder and “voice” of Headspace, has a very calm and soothing voice, and makes starting the process accessible and easy.

The Benefits

Meditation has become increasingly well-studied, with research linking it to better mood, heart health, focus, sleep and productivity, to name a few things–you can find links to numerous studies here.

But studies aside, do I feel any different?

Definitely. I feel like I’m having an easier time staying on task. I feel like I’m much less distracted in conversations. I feel like I can find words better, and see the solutions to problems faster. Those are all just feelings, mind you, but they’re enough to keep me going for the next 335 days. I’ll keep you posted!

Preventing Food Allergies in Kids: New US Guidelines

There are now new guidelines in the US about the introduction of peanuts into babies’ diets, with the idea that early exposure decreases the chances of developing a peanut allergy later.

This is essentially the opposite of the approach for many years, where parents were encouraged to hold off on peanut introduction until kids are older. But the new guidelines make sense if you understand how the human immune system works.

Knowing What’s “You”, and What Isn’t

The immune system is meant to be reactive to proteins that are not “us”.

Bacteria and viruses, for example, are made up of proteins that do not look like our own proteins. When our immune system sees them, it recognizes them as an invader that needs to be ousted. To do that, your immune system creates all kinds of inflammation – coughing, sneezing, fever congestion, loose stool, etc. We think of these things as the bad parts of being sick, but they’re all an effort to kick those little critters out. That’s why sometimes suppressing fevers and other symptoms can inhibit your body’s ability to do its job.

But there are many proteins in our world that aren’t part of our own bodies but are also not infectious or dangerous to us–things like food proteins, for example. Your body has a complicated, amazing system for knowing that those things are good for us, even though they’re foreign.

Occasionally, though, your body makes a mistake. It confuses a food protein–like peanuts, say–for a dangerous invader, and fires up the defences. That’s when we see the signs that we call an “allergic reaction”.

Learning Good From Bad

How does your body know what’s dangerous and what isn’t? There are many complicated mechanisms that determine how tolerant we are, but they include a healthy gut flora (microbiome) and gut immune system and the exposure of the flora and immune system to potential allergens. In other words, your immune system needs to learn.

It’s typically been suggested that peanuts, gluten, eggs and other foods that have an increased chance of creating allergy be avoided until a child is three years old. The idea is that the immune system is more mature and therefore may not react. However, if the gut never gets a chance to experience those proteins and realize they are not allergenic when it is developing its ability to be tolerant, then it may be making a bigger deal out of a food protein then it should be.

The new guidelines are, essentially, a way to “teach” the immune system sooner, rather than later.

Remember: allergies can be serious business. It is a good idea to talk to your primary health provider before you get started with early introductions, especially if you have a history of food allergies in your family.

This Year, Eat Together

I am blessed with many friends both old and new, who love food. We have sat around countless tables together cooking, eating, drinking and laughing.

Every Monday night the lot of us get together for dinner. It can be as few as two families and as many as six. We take turns cooking for each other or we do potluck. Occasionally we even order in.

The point is not the food – although it is always outstanding in this great group of health-conscious foodies. Equally, the point isn’t about making it a big deal, in fact, we are often all finished and back to our respective homes by 8:30PM.

The point is to connect with each other. To share a few laughs. To start off our week knowing we have more in our lives then our work or our stressors. It helps us to remember we are not alone–we’re part of a group and a community.

Eating together is one Europe’s great secrets of health and wellness. Eating together usually results in eating better food, eating it more slowly, which usually means eating less of it.

Eating together creates laughter, which we know improves health and wellness on so many levels.

President’s Choice mission for 2017–Canada’s 150th birthday–is to get Canadians to eat together. This is a goal we can get behind.

Check out their awesome video:

Share it with your friends and make a plan to get together regularly this year.

Eat well, laughs lots and connect often!

Why 2016 Was Great

As 2016 came to a close, the overwhelming common message of inboxes, social feeds, newscasts, and late-night talk shows seemed to be, “Thank goodness this crazy, awful, negative year is over.” So many montages of the disasters, hardships and losses we sustained were played over and over again.

But Canadians are not as easily ruffled as that! According to a recent survey, the majority of us think 2017 will be a better year. Maybe it’s our experience with winter?

But what might be more important than our optimism for 2017 is to realize that 2016 was amazing in many, many ways. That’s a message Canada’s own Chris Hadfield shared this New Year’s Eve when he sent 40 tweets of the good news stories of the year. They included:

  • An effective vaccine for Ebola
  • The eradication of measles from the Americas
  • World hunger reaching its lowest point in 25 years

If you do one thing this year to kick off 2017, read this list. It might change your entire perspective. Amidst the drama and divisiveness that gets shared, tweeted, posted, and otherwise spread, it’s nice to have this remarkable gift to share.

Chris Hadfield reminds us of all the good things that happened in 2016

New Year’s Bonus! Hadfield’s TED talk: What I learned from going blind in space

A New Year’s Call to Quit Smoking

Earlier this month Fortune reported that former New York mayor Micheal Bloomberg’s foundation is committing over $300 million to fight global tobacco use. The hope is that helping developing countries with anti-smoking campaigns may result in the same decline in tobacco use that we have experienced here in the northern hemisphere.

In 2015, the Canadian Tobacco report, stated that only 15% of Canadians reported to be smokers–an all time low.

This stat makes the gang at StoneTree celebrate. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease. Seeing the percentage of Canadian smokers hit its lowest ever is awesome, but we would love to see that number to be zero one day in the future.

Alan Carr, author of Alan Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking has helped millions of people successfully quit. We have recommended his resources a lot. You can find his book here, and more information on his methods here.

Here’s to a smoke free 2017!

It’s Official: Complaining is Bad For You

Sometimes there is nothing better then sitting down with a bunch of girlfriends and having a good vent. Your husband keeps leaving the toilet seat up. Your kids are driving you crazy. Your boss makes your life a misery. Endless housework and shopping and driving the kids everywhere. You feel tired, look haggard and you haven’t had any fun for weeks. (Sound familiar yet?)

Getting negativity off your chest can be great, but when complaining becomes a daily habit, it turns out that it’s not just annoying to those around you, it is actually damaging your health:

  • Chronic complaining has been shown to shrink the hippocampus–that’s the area of the brain responsible for problem solving. Less problem solving=bad.
  • Chronic complaining also increases the stress hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol have been associated with decreased immune function, increased blood sugar and blood pressure, increased weight gain, and a whole host of chronic diseases. Also bad.

Things get worse, though, because, as the article above states, “Repeated complaining rewires your brain to make future complaining more likely. Over time, you find it’s easier to be negative than to be positive, regardless of what’s happening around you.”

Ouch.

What to do about it?

Travis Bradberry, writing for Entrepeuner.com has a couple of great ideas.

Be grateful. Every time you feel yourself complaining about your lot in life, stop. Stop yourself and think of something you are grateful for. Kids making you crazy? Think how grateful you are that they are all healthy and well and you are not spending your Christmas season with one of them in the hospital.

Be purposeful. Sometimes our complaining is an insight into something in our life that has to change.   Consistently complaining about a job? Maybe it’s time to consider a career change. Not happy with your weight? Time to get off of the couch. Not happy with your finances? Maybe it’s time to sit down and make a plan.

Not happy with your husband? That’s up to you, but at the risk of harming your hippocampus, I’m sure your girlfriends will still tolerate a little more complaining…:)

Maximizing Your Extended Benefits

Most of our patients have chronic health problems that they’ve been suffering with for years–a long and slow process of symptoms showing up, then getting more frequent or becoming more intense.

At some point, their MD has done all the tests and the story usually arrives at one of these endings:

  • “There is nothing that can be done.”
  • “You’re just getting older.”
  • “It’s in your genes.”

Or my personal favourite: “It’s all in your head.”

When patients arrive at StoneTree, however, and discover how chronic and acute problems need a different approach, the story changes. Often, it seems there really are things that can be done.

At this point, it’s not uncommon for patients to say, “Why didn’t I come sooner?”

The Cost Barrier and Maximizing Your Benefits

Of course, one of the reasons that people don’t come sooner is the investment. Naturopathic care is not covered by OHIP. The full hour-long new patient visit is not covered. The lab tests are not covered. The treatments are not covered. And as Canadians, having to pay out of pocket for health care can take some getting used to.

Fortunately, extended health coverage is picking up the alternative and complementary medicine tab more often, and giving their members better and better coverage. Collingwood and area teachers, for example have recently had their coverage for naturopathic edicine increased to $1000 a year per family member.

If you, or a friend or family member is considering visiting a naturopath, starting with the most expensive initial visits at the end of a benefit cycle allows you to maximize coverage to get the best care. 

The first few visits with ND’s are often the most expensive, but after that, treatment intensity normally decreases and becomes much easier to afford. You can get started before the new year, and then your benefits renew, giving you lots of coverage to deal with your treatment plan starting in January without interruption.

To learn more about how naturopathic medicine can help you, call 705-444-5331, or book online at www.stonetreeclinic.com.

The Nature-Mood Connection

The days are getting shorter, and the nights colder! We’re almost at that time of year when, unless you’re a skier, getting outside in nature can seem like a lot of work compared to putting on comfy clothes and curling up with Netflix.

We’ve written a lot about getting outside in the winter. The fresh air and exercise help your immune system, increase energy, and help the seasonal blues. Now, we’re back again to take another pre-winter run at convincing you that getting outside is critical for your health.

Research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science has added more support to the idea of getting outside as a way of managing mood, but this time with a twist. In this case, the study went beyond just “outside”. It looked at two different groups of people – those who went for a 90-minute walk in nature, and those who went for a 90-minute walk in an urban environment.

More Room, Less Rumination

Researchers have known for years that there’s a connection between urban life and mental illness (urban dwellers suffer more), but the causation and mechanism have been tough to figure out definitively. Is it something about city life that makes it worse? Or does country living make it better? Both?

In this case, the researchers wanted to look specifically at what’s called rumination–basically thinking too much about things that upset you. Rumination is important because it’s associated with a host of mental and physical complaints, including depression.

The result? Based on brain images and self-reporting, the team determined that those who went out for a walk in nature showed a decrease in rumination.

And those who walked in an urban environment? No change.

The takeaway here is that the change wasn’t about the exercise in general, it was about being in nature. Both groups walked the same distance, just in different environments.

Half the world now lives in an urban environment, which leaves urban planners with some food for thought. In the meantime, those of us in the Collingwood area should take advantage of our good fortune and get outside this winter!

And as for the snow and cold? It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes. Do your mood a favour: get a good coat, a warm hat, and great mitts. Invest in a good pair of warm, dry boots. Your brain will thank you!

Left to the Wrong Devices: How Your Teen’s Sleep is Suffering

When I was 15 there were exactly two ways to connect with your friends: seeing them in person, or talking on the phone.

This was in the 80’s. If you were lucky, your house had a phone with a big long cord that you could take into your room. Your parents, siblings or pets were sure to trip over it, leading to the inevitable, “You’re spending to much time on that darn phone!” tirade.

At 9PM at our house, the phone option was shut down. No more incoming phone calls were accepted. The social options were over, and it was time to go to bed. There was no Internet. No Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat or Twitter.

Now? Every single teen has their own phone with seemingly unlimited options for connection and communication.

They have to keep up their “streaks”, make sure they are posting to their wall, ensure they are giving their friends enough “likes”. And they do it on multiple platforms for dozens of friends at a time.

Reduced Sleep has Health Consequences

It would be easy to dismiss this as a “when I was your age” rant, but in 15 years of practice I have seen a change in my teen patients around sleep and mood. Of course teens want to stay up later and sleep in. Of course they can be moody and prickly. They are teens, after all.

But typical teen moodiness is not what I’m talking about.

We are seeing more teens (and pre-teens) with true insomnia, anxiety and mood disorders than we ever did 15 years ago. A recent study about mobile phone use and teens has recently confirmed what I already thought to be true: Kids and teens with access to tablets and smartphones at bedtime sleep less and are sleepier during the day.

This review article looked at 20 previous studies which, when combined, covered more the 125,000 kids. The reviewers excluded studies that looked at TV or personal computer use. So this wasn’t about “screen time”. It was about the engagement of using a tablet or smartphone.

Texting vs Talking

With a good old-fashioned phone conversation, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. In the texting or social media world, conversations can keep going all night. And if you get up for a pee in the middle of the night? Check your phone for the time and 15 new notifications draw you right back in.

Add to that the fact that your teen can re-engage without disrupting anyone in the house. When we were kids, you would never phone a friend at 3AM–you’d wake the whole house up and there would be consequences for that!

How to Help Your Teens

So how do we help our teenagers? We can’t take the smartphones away – that would be tantamount to putting them on a desert island.  Connecting to their friends is VERY important to teens and is an important put of how they develop their autonomous and independent selves.

What we can do is help develop skills and boundaries around the use of these great tools of communication and connection.

  • Set a “finish” time. When I was a kid, phone use was done at 9PM. Why not set a time for conversations to be over with smartphones as well? This allows your teen to finish all their conversations. Their friends know that they are off-line at a certain time and there is no possibility of connecting.
  • Get the technology out of the bedroom. Bedrooms are made for sleeping and reading when you are a teenager. Screens, phones, homework, really anything that engages their brains should be left to other rooms of the house.
  • Practice not being connected. Just because you can connect – doesn’t mean you should. Go for a walk with your teen and leave the phone at home. Insist they get a weekend job, where using their phone is not allowed or not possible. Support their schools in no-phone policies in class.

Kids need to experience the joy of solitude, quiet and focus, but may not be able to choose that on their own…hence one more tip:

  • Model the behaviour you want to see. Practice improving your own sleep and device-free time, too! Remember, kids do as you do, not as you say…:)

Sleep is a Result, Not a Behaviour

Getting enough good quality sleep is essential to good health. Sleep repairs the body, resets hormones, detoxifies the brain and just makes us feel ready to take on the day.

But anyone who has had insomnia knows that the suggestion to just “sleep more” isn’t possible. As tired as an insomniac is, and as committed to getting to sleep as they might be, they still are unable to get the result they so desperately want.

As Naturopathic Doctors, we know that despite what the dictionary says, sleep isn’t a verb. It’s a noun. It’s a thing you get, not a thing you do.

Sleep isn't a verb. It's a noun. It's a thing you GET, not a thing you DO. Click To Tweet

Most people who are not getting enough sleep fall into this category. They are the folks who despite making time for sleep, can’t actually fall asleep, can’t stay asleep or never feel rested when they wake. The sleep behaviour is there, but they are not getting the result.

For these people, sleep comes as a result of other behaviours, like:

  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet. Understanding which foods are inflammatory for you and removing them from your diet can go a long way to increasing sleep quality. Decreased body aches, stuffiness and snoring make for a less restless and more restful sleep. Ensuring a high-quality diet can help with leg cramps due to magnesium deficiency, or restless legs due to iron or B12 deficiency
  • Drinking water. Imbalanced relationships with caffeine and alcohol decrease sleep quality, increase wakefulness, and increase hot flashes and night sweats–one of the most common causes of sleep disturbances in the post-40 crowd.
  • Quitting smoking. The oxidative stress on the mucous membranes of the nose and lungs creates lots of inflammation. This inflammation needs to be healed and repaired at night. Those repairs cause lots of mucous….and snoring and sleep interruptions in turn. Yet another good reason to quit
  • Moving your body. Regular exercise is one of the best sleeping pills. Stimulating blood flow and increasing oxygenation helps your body to heal and resolve the inflammation of the day.
  • Addressing chronic stress sources. Relationship troubles, financial struggles, job woes and other mental and emotional challenges make for poor sleep. The more you address these things, even in tiny steps, the better sleep becomes.

If you aren’t sleeping, ask yourself: Are you just trying to sleep, or are you doing the things that actually deliver it?

Are you just trying to sleep, or are you doing the things that actually deliver it? Click To Tweet