Histamine Intolerance?

I’m starting to see some talk about Histamine Intolerance. The list of symptoms is long and vague, most doctors don’t recognize it, and standard tests don’t conclusively diagnose it, but the people who are suffering from it are really suffering. What is it? And what can you do if you suspect it?

Officially, histamine intolerance is an imbalance of histamine in the body with an inability to break down excess. Many of the symptoms are classic allergy indicators, but they don’t point to one specific trigger. The diagnosis rests on many symptoms together, and because there is no test to definitively determine it, most patients are self-diagnosed.

Histamines are hormones that are part of the body’s defense system, breaking down food, alerting the body to invaders, and beginning the inflammatory response that deactivates biological malware of many types. They are part of many different functions in the body from a runny nose to vascular dilation to the sleep-wake cycle. Histamines are naturally occurring and part of a healthy immune system. Until it’s not so healthy anymore.

Histamine reactions could look like an allergy (breaking out in hives or stopping breathing) or food intolerance (inflammation or gastric disturbance which shows up several hours or days later). Sensitivities to other things besides food (pollen, medications or mold in your home) can also trigger histamine reactions and symptoms could show up, change, compound, or abate with absolutely no apparent cause. The compounding of triggers is where things get rough: multiple small things that don’t cause a problem on their own can pile up on each other and cause fatigue, high or low blood pressure, or dizziness, among a host of symptoms the body has to choose from. The mix of ingredients with your personal makeup determines the outcome. So how do you determine the difference between compounded sensitivities and an overload of histamine itself?

By the time most people reach their 40’s or 50’s, the buildup of toxic substances in their bodies slows down the normally efficient response to invaders. In a world of plastics, electromagnetic fields, and GMO-laden foods, it doesn’t take much more to tip the boat. Every toxic ingredient the body takes in disrupts the internal workings of each cell, in addition to the bodily system as a whole. With histamine intolerance, the thought is that eating certain foods that contain histamines overwhelms your already overtaxed body. It’s a valid hypothesis that German researchers have been studying for several years.

But at the point of being unable to eat without discomfort, sleep through the night, or make it through the week without a headache – you need answers, not theories.

You must determine the cause. One way that’s often recommended is an elimination diet. While I’ve done this, and it can be very informative, I do not recommend it without medical supervision. In someone who is severely affected, many reactions may be suppressed by the sheer overload of stored and incoming toxins. By eliminating the influx and giving the body’s defense systems a rest, you allow the body to release the toxicity – causing an overload of the body’s processing systems, which can turn into a very severe allergic reaction or even anaphylactic shock. Better to keep a food journal to help locate triggers. As each suspicious food comes to light, eliminate it for two weeks and then re-introduce it to see what it does. This can be a frustrating time of waiting and hoping on answers.

And, according to a 2017 German study of histamine intolerance, only half of the adults who addressed their symptoms with dietary changes made a difference. Determining which foods to avoid apparently isn’t a solution for everyone.

The source of the problem needs to be found conclusively. Skin prick tests can be very expensive if you don’t have a clue what’s causing the problem – and they are inaccurate for food sensitivities. Better is the ELISA test that measures every reaction in your blood. While this is also a bit costly, the tests and resources through PerQue are more likely to be covered by insurance plans and available through conventional MDs. For a less expensive and non-invasive option, many chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists use Nutrition Response Testing or Applied Kinesiology to analyze the body for underlying causes of poor health and pinpoint precisely what the body needs to start the healing process. There is no guesswork involved, and the healing can begin before you ever leave the office.

Essentially, with anything systemic like histamine intolerance, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia, you won’t find your diagnosis on your own. A natural health practitioner using in-office diagnostics can sort out the body’s cries for help and respond immediately to your unique needs, so your healing can be much more targeted and effective.

I pray that this information can help you to heal and get back to your normal, productive life quickly. Also, if you have other suggestions or experiences, please comment them below – I’d love to know what’s worked for others!

Achieving Real Health

Who are you? How do others see you? Do you reflect everything you were created to be?

We’re embarking on the second week of 2019. The ramifications of our resolutions are becoming clear, and making this change permanent is looking to be more difficult than we’d hoped. Resolutions, because they are effecting change, take us out of our comfort zone. But if it were easy, we would not be making progress. But what is the real goal, and what will carry us through the obstacles on our path?

The reason for any lasting change has to be solid. Just fitting into that sexy dress isn’t enough – at the moment of truth, I don’t care about that dress. I care about who I am, and how I am perceived by others. I want people to treat me with respect because of what they see. A person with presence doesn’t deal with the same petty nuisances that others do.

So who are you? How do others see you? I knew a man who stopped to look at himself and the imprint he made on his young daughter. Did he want her growing up with a picture of Dad in her head, looking for a similar foul-mouthed, beer drinking jerk for a husband? He changed overnight and never looked back.

He knew that his image was not how he wanted to be remembered. But more, he cared about who she saw herself to be, how worthy she was, and what her children would become. How often do we stop and wonder how that amazing ancestor we all have would think about us? Are we everything he dreamed we would be? Do we represent his lineage well?

Life is a gift. We did not create ourselves. All we can do is maintain what we have, and maybe do a complete restoration at some point (or points.) Many years ago, my dad gave me an old bicycle. He had picked it up at a garage sale some time back, a few years old but very neglected. He stripped it to its beautiful frame, painted it black, and applied the decals that would’ve been proper when it was new. He polished its chrome rims and fenders, and bought new whitewall tires. That bike was gorgeous, and I received lots of compliments. But it’s been hanging in my shed for a long time now. The decals are chipped, the chain and hubs are dry, and the rims no longer shine. It now shows my neglect more clearly than my dad’s handiwork.

Has putting others’ needs ahead of your own left you forgotten and rusty? It may be time for a resto. But to what? If you were stripped down to the basics of who you should be, what would you build on?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Scripture says your body is a temple, in which God’s Spirit lives. I picture the supermodel that a company hires to be the faceplate for the brand. God chose you as His faceplate. You are the very image of God. That is buildable.

God is the author of health. If we are reflecting Him properly in the world, we should look like the intricately designed and tuned vessels they are. It’s more than just food and exercise that makes us healthy. Professional, social and spiritual pursuits also impact who we are. Everything we put into our lives should be whole, hearty and life-giving if we are to truly shine with health. Health, like beauty, is a total package, both inside and out.

The image must have integrity.

Once you recognize who you really are, who you were created to be, and how important you are, resolutions become more achievable. Stop and think, at various points in the day, if you are reflecting your design clearly. Is this what a temple of God looks like and accomplishes? Is this how a temple of God stands in the midst of trouble? Is this what a temple of God is used for? The closer you get to ‘yes’ on these questions, the closer you are to real health.

Dehydration in Winter?

I was fine. Two days of holiday cooking and entertaining were successfully under my belt, and we were now leaving to visit relatives for the day. I felt a small cramp in my lower back, but thought nothing of it. Still working out the kinks of sleep, I thought. But then my left knee gave out. My son asked if I was all right – I’m fine, I replied, there was no pain and I didn’t fall. It’s all good. But within ten minutes, I could feel the nerve that ran from the center of my back down into that knee plainly. It wasn’t overly painful, but I was quickly discovering that standing up straight stabbed my back and disabled my knee simultaneously. Everything was fine if I sat down, so we continued with our day – driving didn’t bother me a bit. We joked about how I’d like my disability scooter equipped. By the next morning, though, I was stuck in a hunched-over, 80 year-old woman stance with limited ability to move anything. I headed over to the chiropractor.

I knew he’d fix me in a jiffy, like always, but he surprised me with his first treatment. He handed me a cup of water with a superdose of electrolytes in it. He chastised me for not immediately drinking when the first back cramp struck. I should’ve known that.

Most people know what dehydration looks like in the middle of heat and exercise, but winter dehydration comes on more gradually and is a bit different. I had none of the signs my quick Google search gave me to look for with dehydration. What I did have:

  • cramps across the lower back
  • vision had been worse for several days
  • thigh muscles were hard as rocks
  • craving sweets
  • constipation
  • a headache (I didn’t have this one, but it’s quite common)

Who hasn’t felt like this after a day of working on our feet? None of these are overly notable in the midst of the holidays. These are actually the most common symptoms of low intakes of water and electrolytes.

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride work together in your body to make sure the water pressures inside and surrounding your cells are perfect so that the cells don’t shrivel up or explode. When dissolved in water, the minerals develop electrical charges which regulate whether water flows into our out of the cells, lubricating our joints and operating nerve impulses. This is what keeps our hearts pumping and everything else in the body working.

While I was happily celebrating the holidays, my water levels were getting low. Sugar and alcohol depleted my minerals while replacing my normal water intake. My eyes, which rely on moisture to focus, tried to alert me, but I ignored them and put glasses on to continue with my work. Then everything came to a screeching halt after my morning coffee, a diuretic which depleted both minerals and water a little further. Muscles cramped, nerves fired with pain but not for movement, and there was no more lubrication for the bones in the area.

Normally, a whole food diet supplies enough minerals and electrolytes to keep a non-athlete hydrated. But in a recovery situation like this, supplements are in order. Power Pak or Emergen-C are your best options, and are easy to find in stores. Trace Minerals Research has a whole line of sugar-free products designed for rehydration based on your needs. Nuun sells a purse or backpack-friendly plastic vial of ten tablets. It’s very easy to keep little packets or a small bottle on hand to be mixed with water as needed. There are others, but I cannot speak from experience of using them.

How much water do you need? A basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water. That means that if you weigh 170 lbs, you’ll want 85 oz, or about 10-1/2 glasses of water daily. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be running to the restroom every 20 minutes. Ensuring that you have enough minerals in your system holds the water where it needs to be.

Celtic Sea Salt (which is not standard table salt, but a natural mineral mix) is a delicious way to make sure you’re getting the trace minerals your body needs for maintenance. Just season your food to taste at every meal and drink a glass of pure water alongside. I keep a large glass of water on my desk to remind me to hydrate. I just need to find a new trigger for when I’m in the kitchen (or stay at my desk!)

Dehydration shouldn’t be a normal part of winter. With a little attention to eating whole foods and drinking plenty of pure water, the body can be properly nourished so we can do what we want to do well.

Do you have a question about this post, or about another issue you’d like to know about? Comment below, and I’ll try to answer your question directly or in another post.  Like what you see?  Subscribe to my blog!

Teaching Children to Eat Well

I heard a blurb on the radio the other day about how a study had come out proving that it wasn’t worth the fight to make your children eat vegetables.  I didn’t hear the details of who published it; I was too busy collecting my jaw from the floor and listening to their rationalizations.  From what the DJ said, the psychosocial damage to both parent and child totally outweighs any benefit of the vegetable eaten, and over time, forcing the issue of food makes no statistical difference in how the grown child eats.

I think the study missed the point. If the current global health crisis is to be addressed, it must be addressed one kid at a time, one meal at a time. Our habits of eating must change. It’s a lifestyle, not a short-term diet. With that in mind, if you’re in a battle over food with your child, it’s because they’ve already learned what to eat. They eat what you eat. If you’re trying to force them to do what you don’t, they know it’s only a matter of time before you give up; they’ve won.

How should we eat? is a question that starts really early. The newborn is learning constantly. He is watching how you move, listening to how you talk to others, and tasting broccoli in mama’s milk. So good nutrition starts with me, what I eat, and what I provide for my child. As he begins to wean off of milk, his first food should not be french fries at McDonald’s.  (I’m ashamed to admit that two of my children did start this way.) Boys love getting to use real tools, and using appropriately-sized knives to help cut veggies for Mommy will encourage them to be part of the process of putting food on the family’s table. (This is how I retrained those two .) Girls can and will do the same, but they’re usually motivated by getting to “play” with shapes and how the finished product will look. Let them be creative with combinations and shapes. And don’t be discouraged when you run out of ingredients for dinner because they ate everything raw as they chopped.  I’ve been there.

I did have a mother once tell me she envisioned her children, running horror-flick style through the house with butcher knives. I suppose that could be a problem, but it’s not been my experience.  Kids are always welcome in my kitchen. Good things happen there. I allow little ones to snitch snacks while I prepare and they watch – here’s when they learn to keep their hands away from the knives. Toddlers can be given table knives to slice their own banana with breakfast, or cooked baby carrots with dinner. As they gain skill, we move to a sharper knife, and mushrooms or celery on a cutting board at the table where they can work securely.  I’ve never met a kid who didn’t enjoy cutting little trees out of a head of broccoli. I think the trick to turn little Freddie into a chef instead of a B-rate movie character is your expectations of him. As you treat kitchen implements with respect and skill, he learns what kitchen work looks like.

Remember to model well, even when you think they’re not looking. They are. They can do more than you think they can.  This salad was completely made by children – little ones sectioning oranges, leafing lettuce and slicing grapes, slightly older ones slicing avocados and mixing dressing. I buy sliced almonds, unless someone wants to show off their cutlery skills.

This is lifestyle training, then, more than a health curriculum.  It’s not just about what they eat. If all they eat is McDonald’s, they will buck vegetables. They won’t know what asparagus looks like. They might even fear beets. Toddlers learn by handling things, experimenting with flavors, textures, and how things react to touch. By giving them fresh, raw foods, and letting them pick out new ones at the grocery store to take home and prepare, they learn to love real food. You’ll teach them not only that “we eat healthy food,” but that they are capable of doing this for themselves.

This is efficiency at its best. Little Freddie’s pre-dinner time at the cutting board not only kept him from screaming hungrily at your feet while you’re trying to prepare dinner, but taught him how to eat well, manage his health, and keep control of his finances. You helped him to make difference in the world, all while maintaining a happy home. Is this difficult to do in a dual-income home? Yes, but meals still need made. Why not enlist help, even if it’s not the most effective (yet)?  The time you invest in making dinner for your family is time you didn’t have to spend at the doctor’s office for sick kids, and money you didn’t have to spend on blood pressure medications for yourself. As you get older, don’t be surprised when they take over the kitchen to make “what they really like.”

The health of our country is atrocious, and the world is not much better. Fighting for health is worth it, but it’s not about fighting our children. It’s about joining together as a family to fight for what is good for all of us.  Change starts small – with me. Even if I don’t like vegetables and I didn’t start them out properly, if I know that my children should eat better, then so should I.  Admit it to them. Struggle together against junk food cravings. Make peach cobbler to reward everybody for trying your new cauliflower soup recipe.  It’s good for all of us, and none of us want to die young of totally preventable illnesses. This is about loving our children, and wanting to be there for our grandchildren.

Raising a family is not about making the kids into something you’re not willing to be. It’s about making sure that what you’ve started makes a difference that lasts into the next generation. If you’re not on the right track, change it, and encourage your family wo come along. Any change is hard; there will be days when ice cream is dinner. But those days should be rare, and getting rarer every year as the family learns to enjoy the benefits of health that eating well brings.

Stress, Gratitude and your Health

Have you ever stopped to look at what you have and be grateful for it?

I know, I said it myself:  Yeah, right. You have no idea what I’m living through.

I remember being asked this question some years ago, and answering exactly those words (in my head.) But my friend said one more thing.

Nothing will be right until you have gratitude first. 

Life is not what you have; it’s what you make of it.  It has taken me a few years to wrap my head around this.  But we must grasp it, as well as why it is important.

Nothing has changed in the years since I came across the idea, except me. I have heard the voices speaking into me, which taught me to look for ways to bless my family when all I saw was a sink full of dirty dishes, or to speak life into another when it only looked like an argument in my face.

Stress from family discord, business setbacks, or health challenges causes its own drag on your health. Stress triggers cortisol in your system, which sets your nervous system on edge to fight the battles and slay the dragons around you.  While the stressor looms, even if only in your mind as you rehearse the wrongs of the day, digestion is turned off and your heart pumps harder to maintain readiness at all battlestations. Sleep is not rejuvenating. Tomorrow seems worse because today never went away.

You must choose your response.  Will you allow the dragons to slay you, or will you be the victor today?  When the car on the freeway cuts you off, do you downshift to road rage mode and begin shouting and waving your hands at the driver?  Or do you just kindly give them some space – and thus avoid becoming an accident statistic? When your loved one mouths off at you – do you stop, ask thoughtful questions, and listen attentively?  Do you try to see the big picture of history and be part of the main storyline, and not just a side distraction along the way?

It’s not always easy.  I get it.  But it’s hugely gratifying, at the end of the day, to look back and see all the ways you acted on your intentions instead of on your reflexes. All the ways you were part of the solution instead of the escalation of the problem. All the ways you chose to not let cortisol race through your system and ravage you unnecessarily. And the moment you take to reflect on solid conversations, on intentional peacemaking efforts, on purposeful edification of another – is very positive for your personal health.

When cortisol stays in storage instead of coursing through your veins, the parasympathetic nervous system is allowed to handle things appropriately.  Blood flows freely through your mind for creative pursuits and all organs function efficiently. Your body maintains standard operating procedure, where life is calm and sleep is restful.

This is the key to longer life. Balance in your nervous system is the why behind the “Breathe and count to 10” advice we often hear. Deep, slow breathing counteracts tension. Constant stressors, coupled with our own propensity to resentment when things don’t go our way, will drive us into the grave. Anger and bitterness, driven by cortisol, produce an acidic environment in our bodies that actually eats away at our insides over time. We must learn to manage the hostile world we live in, within and without.

Two things are necessary to break the cycle of stress and frustration:

  1. Confess that you are not strong enough to control the world on your own. Sometimes, like a child trying to move a boulder has not used everything at his disposal until he finds somebody bigger than him to help, we need a competent friend. The ravages of this world are infinite – only the eternal God is big enough to provide what you need to stand well. Ask for help from the only One who truly can make things right.
  2. Eat your vegetables. Vegetables are alkaline, and will balance the acids in your system to help bring about stability. Digestion will improve and constipation will clear as weakened organs are strengthened. This will, in turn, clear your mind to see things more creatively and look for wise solutions to problems instead of stagnating in the circumstances.

Stop and look around you. You have so much more than most people in this world.  Even our problems would be blessings in the eyes of the person who’s lost everything but life itself. Change your perspective and watch your physical health improve.

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Even a dirt road past the cow pasture can be beautiful if you stop to see.

 

Taste, Smell and the Role of Zinc in the Body

“I’ve lost a lot of weight recently and am feeling really good.  But now I seem to have lost my senses of smell and taste. What’s going on?”

Loss of smell and taste is a classic symptom of a zinc deficiency.  It is becoming increasingly common in children, who tend to be picky eaters. Parents soon find that the only things they will eat are white foods: chicken strips, noodles or french fries, and milk. This is the de facto kid’s meal, and many of our children eat more than a few of these each week. Teens can be sucked into this as well, preferring pasta with cream sauce or processed cheese and soda.

Few people recognize the all-too-common “white diet” as a major red flag for health that results in growth deficits, hair loss, diarrhea, and sexual problems in men. Zinc is essential to the immune response and the growth and maintenance of bone, skin, hair and nails. It is even a factor in good eyesight.

But it does not store up in the body like many metals. Athletes and those who sweat a lot (including menopausal women with night sweats) are subject to zinc loss. Diabetics and others with gastrointestinal problems can have difficulty absorbing enough zinc from their food. Extreme diets can deplete zinc stores, as can alcoholism. Smokers are exposed to high levels of cadmium, which will replace zinc with the toxic mineral.  Overeating becomes an issue due to cravings for the flavors of sweet or salty foods. In the elderly, however, the loss of smell and taste can result in weight loss, as food holds little interest.

Even without extenuating circumstances, it is difficult to get enough. Overprocessing of foods and soil depletion have left the standard American diet low in zinc, and the ever-present sugar and white flour inhibit absorption. Breakfast cereals and processed grains leach zinc and other minerals from the body. As zinc depletes, only these simple carbohydrates become digestible. Vegetables contain higher amounts of copper, which balances zinc in the body.  As you try to improve your diet with more vegetables. your copper level will rise, increasing the need for zinc. The imbalance will show up as zinc deficiency symptoms. According to The Journal of Nutrition’s study, “Suboptimal zinc and copper status among the elderly may contribute to and/or exacerbate chronic diseases such as heart disease commonly seen with aging “(Mertz et al. 1989).

But how do you recognize the problem before it turns into a clinical deficiency?  The most common signs of low zinc are white spots on the fingernails, or misshapen nails. Zinc is required for structural integrity, so wounds may be slow to heal. Colds may become more frequent or severe.

The most efficient and safest way to get zinc in its proper balance with other minerals is almost exclusively through meat. Oysters and beef contain the most, but meats of all types are helpful. Zinc is best absorbed with protein and works in concert with other minerals, so eating a wide variety of whole foods ensures the best availability and absorbability for different body types and needs.

If you feel supplementation is necessary, zinc lozenges can be good to have on hand. They taste good at first, until you’ve had all your body needs.  Then they begin tasting like metal.  When this happens, just spit it out.  Do this several times a day to lessen the duration of a cold or until they no longer even smell good. If you have no sense of smell or taste, it may be wonderful to actually sense this!

 

SOURCES:

https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/130/11/2838/4686136

http://www.metabolics.com/blog/a-practitioners-guide-to-zinc-supplements/

 

Food & Seasonal Allergies

The best way to support your body during allergy season is to limit exposure, which may mean watching what you eat.

Grass allergies are nothing to sneeze at, so to speak. They can be worse if you’re not aware of how your diet can help or hurt the situation.

grass photo.jpgIt seems overly simplistic, but all the foods we eat were first grown in fields. Bread, the staff of life, is made from grass.  Wheat is a type of grass, as are oats. Your favorite 12-grain bread is a nightmare for the immune system if you are already struggling with grass sensitivities.

During allergy season, your immune system is stimulated to fight off invaders coming through your eyes, nose and mouth.  Sneezing, coughing and watering eyes are all ways to expel the toxins. But if we also eat grains, it extends the response into the digestive system, and the body becomes overloaded. The best way to help your body cope is to limit exposure.  Most of us already do that by not going outside or using face masks and the lightweight beekeeper’s suit my neighbor uses for mowing his lawn. It just doesn’t occur to us to put our lunch into the same category as outdoor activity.  Recognize what it is that you’re eating. Switch out the sandwich for a salad or some other non-bread option that will nourish your struggling immune system, and you may feel a lot better for it.

Since every person is unique, the best way to find out what works for you is by keeping a food journal. Take note of what you eat and how you feel. If you find yourself tired within an hour of eating, something has stressed your immune system.  Alternatively, if you feel like going another round with the yardwork after eating, you’ve chosen well.  Your body is happy and productive, and everything is working as it should.

Strangely enough, fully processed white breads may not be a problem.  The allergic reaction is triggered by proteins in the grain or pollen, and white bread has had proteins processed out for shelf stability. Whole grain breads have intact proteins which will strengthen your body’s defenses, but add to the trigger load.  So you have to consider the payoff:  while white bread will not nourish your system, it will not stress it, either. I use whole grains to build up the body in the off-season when they don’t cause such a problem, and white breads when rest is necessary but only bread will suffice.

Don’t forget that emotions and mindset play into the strength of the immune system. Comfort foods are often helpful to calm the body’s over-responsivity, especially for a child. A peanut butter sandwich on white bread can be a big relief in the midst of allergy season.

And while bread is a big offender, it is not the only one.  Corn or rice in chips or cereal can be troublesome, since both are grain-based. Corn syrup is a common ingredient in many foods. A beer could be troublesome for its barley content. And different seasons have their own foods. Mold allergies can be made worse by cheeses, wine, or grapes, as well as yeast, which puts bread off the plate again. A food journal really is your best asset to find these connections.

Know that your efforts do make a difference. The worst puzzle I ever had was while dealing with multiple food sensitivities in my son.  We’d moved to the Las Vegas desert to avoid pollens, but spring was especially hard on him.  It turned out palm trees in the neighborhood were blooming, and the date sugar I was using to minimize obvious stressors made him very sick. Palm trees are so tall, it hadn’t occurred to me they were blooming. Neither did I make the connection that dates are the fruit of palm trees. But I had a journal, and a wise consultant helped us to put that in the past. Eliminating the date sugar and nourishing his system with other wholesome foods gave him the strength to handle palm season appropriately. Now, ten years later, he doesn’t react to anything.

As you work with your body to surmount problems,  your body will reward you with excellent health year-round.

 

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Thankfulness

Be that guy that makes a difference for better.

“Be the catalyst that motivates others to spread kindness.” -Dr. Perry

In other words, be thankful for what you have, and then share it. I’m not done writing those words when the retort wells up:

“How can I, when I’m in the midst of such stupidity/stress/poverty/(name your stressor)?”

The feeling is real. I will not dismiss the stress that overwhelms us.

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Spreading the joy of a rainy day

But stress and gratitude are a choice. We can choose to respond passively or aggressively.  By that, I don’t mean responding to slow drivers with road rage. Slow drivers aren’t necessarily comfortable with driving, which makes them inherently more dangerous if they are pushed to go faster than their capabilities. Cutting them off nearly ensures an accident, and makes them more shaky on the road the next time they have to drive. Stop a second, and think rationally. By being selfish, the next time you see this person, it will be worse. But they are acting so stupidly, you say.  Yep.  But you could just as easily do something nice, that makes that person more confident and a better driver next time.

Stop and consider: you have no idea what’s going on in that other driver’s world.  Did their spouse just pass away, and they are driving home from the hospital? Are they sick, with no other means to get themselves to medical care? Is a child struggling to breathe in the back seat?

You don’t know. You truly don’t know.

By giving them some space and going safely around them, you’ve averted a larger problem. I, personally, appreciate you. You’ve made the world nicer.

Road rage may not be your issue. But the questions still apply. Whatever your personal trigger is, whether it’s irritating personalities or a workload that keeps you alternately buried or bored, you choose your response. But secondarily, by shifting your focus from your own inconvenience to the needs of the people around you, you move into a giving mindset. You rise from selfish taker to generous benefactor. You become a positive force in your circle.

Be that guy who makes a positive difference.

And the more often you choose to dwell in this mindset of helping and problem solving, the fewer stress hormones circulate in your system. You will be healthier. Sleep, digestion and immunity will all improve from simply lowering the cortisol levels in your blood. You may even lose weight, since cortisol affects how fat collects.

Who knew that being nice had such payoffs?

And someday, you will be the one needing a pass for some stupid stunt you just pulled. Some generous person will not get angry, but signal that you’re good and no harm was done.

How can you make a positive ripple today? Appreciate how you’ve been blessed. Maybe all you have is a kind word. Share the wealth and promote your own health!

 

More on this idea:

Is Gratitude Overrated?

Word of the Week: Gratitude

Connecting the Dots to Health

The cycle of chronic illness can be broken. The integrity of the body is the key.  If the spiral can go down, it can also go up. We can use the connectedness of the body to reverse chronic problems and launch a cascade of health.

Doctors have taught us to look at each specific symptom separately, going to an optometrist for eye troubles, the psychiatrist for mental breakdown, and the gastroenterologist for stomach ulcers. If the problem is an injury, that is a very appropriate approach. But most troubles today are chronic and not so specialized. The question needs to be: What is the cause of my symptom? This question is key to achieving health.

Remember in high school, when we were taught that the brain sends a message for the hand to move and the hand moves? But the body is a lot more complex than this. In a burn situation, the hand can retract independently, even before the brain knows of a problem. Nerves in the hand then sound the alarm, and appropriate rehabilitation processes begin right in the immediate area as well as in the brain, where larger scale measures are engaged.

And then the stomach may get upset.  Ever think about why that happens? It has nothing to do with the injury. Yet it’s part of the nerve response, the switching from normal to emergency procedures. All digestion shuts down for more important issues. No one piece works alone, but in concert with all others to accomplish the body’s purposes.

If the emergency lasts too long, such as if you are traveling and can’t address the burn properly, an ulcer may appear. Or migraine headaches. The ulcer or headache is not the problem; it’s a reflection of an inability of the system to rebalance.

Our bodies are integral. Once we truly grasp that everything is related, health can be effectively addressed. It seems so elementary, yet so profound. The true solution to your ulcer is not another swig of Mylanta; it’s to overcome the obstacle which has kept you in emergency mode. The inability to relax will keep your stomach overly acidic and underactive. In time, the burn will heal, but the stomach, once a complication, is now its own issue, causing new consequences.

The body is composed of entire systems of nerves and chemical reactions that send messages and receive feedback, act independently, respond to commands, and transmit status reports to maintain balance in the organism. The same network that causes proper response in an emergency will make problems when the situation turns chronic.

But the cycle of chronic illness can be broken. The integrity of the body is the key.  If the spiral can go down, it can also go up. We can use the connectedness of the body to reverse chronic problems and launch a cascade of health:

  • Most important is a good night’s sleep. Cleaning and maintenance happens during sleep, especially in the pre-midnight hours, to clean out cell debris and restore readiness for a new day’s work. Cleanliness starts at the deepest levels.
  • Eat whole foods the way they grew. Life starts at the ground level. Minimal processing means the energy of the food can be transferred to your cells effectively. Dead or synthetic foods are no way to live.
  • Pure, filtered water and plenty of it washes the body clean, lubricates moving parts and maintains proper temperature. Hydration also keeps the skin wrinkle free and younger looking.
  • Exercise daily. Whether walking or high intensity interval training, strong muscles prevent injuries and movement promotes detoxification. Fitness is good medicine.
  • Collect like-minded people on your path. Together, you can develop a culture of healthy practices, encourage accountability and celebrate success. The difference friends make to your brain health is significant.

Even if you can only do one of these points, it will make a positive difference. That investment will compound when combined with other steps you can add. Just like a savings account, a little bit added regularly turns into a big deposit in your future. Even if you’re inconsistent, as more pieces are added, you’ll begin to see benefits. Consistency will get easier. And the sooner you start and the more diverse your efforts, the more secure your health will be.

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SAD: What’s going on and How do I get out?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) feels like a dark, cumbersome blanket that holds you back from life – and yet you just want to wrap yourself inside it and disappear.

Port Aransas (personal collection)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is something I’ve struggled with most of my adult life, as did my dad. It just feels like a dark, cumbersome blanket that holds you back from a vibrant life – and yet, because it’s cold outside, you just want to wrap yourself inside it and disappear.  It is bleak. Nobody seems to understand depression, much less when it is merely seasonal.  It’s easier to deny the problem and hope nobody notices.

But it is real. The brain is dependent on light hitting the eye, where the photosensitive retina communicates directly to the pituitary gland. Signals from the pituitary are sent to other glands and cascade through the body to regulate mood, digestion, sleep and memory. When the days are short and dark, there just isn’t enough light to trigger the communications to other glands. Depression and fatigue result as the normal interplay of hormone messages falls into disrepair. And just about the time it becomes debilitating, Spring appears and everything miraculously returns to normal.  My dad, like many people, never understood that it was light, not post-holiday letdown, that caused his winter doldrums. Knowing that it will pass with the cloud cover, though, doesn’t make it any easier. It also becomes a major drain on the body’s defenses long term.

 

Like so many maladies, knowing the cause leads to the cure. If I’m tired, I grant myself extra sleep. But sleeping in isn’t the answer here. It is the bright morning sun, with its higher ratio of blue rays, that is most effective for regulating the body’s rhythm. And it’s often obscured.

Food quickly becomes a factor. Less stimulation of the pituitary means digestion is impaired, which slows the system and encourages weight gain. The same stresses that slow digestion also trigger a desire for comfort foods, which further strains the already struggling system of checks and balances among the organs. Lack of sunshine depletes Vitamin D in the body, compounding the insufficiency of the (also SAD) Standard American Diet and lowering the immune response. The spiral of effects reaches far into the body’s systems.

The need for support during these days is essential. Fresh whole foods are difficult to find in the pseudo-death of winter, but they supply the life that the body needs to get through it. Fermented foods are time-honored for preserving and actually improving enzyme activity and digestion. Sprouting is an easy, uplifting hobby during the winter, and snips of whatever is growing in your windowsill can be a very nutritious finishing touch to soups, stews and casseroles just before serving.

Exercise, particularly outside during the bright mornings, helps on all fronts. Movement helps to improve mood and normalize glandular activity, as well as move toxins out and oxygen through every cell. Sunshine on any exposed skin converts to Vitamin D and boosts immune response.

Avoid wearing sunglasses during the winter to encourage as much light as possible to reach the pituitary gland,  If the weather really doesn’t cooperate with providing sunshine, full spectrum lights can be a useful addition to the regular morning routine. Limit artificial light at night, whether it’s cutting out TV before bed or drawing the shades against street lights outside while you sleep, to support your body’s efforts to maintain normalcy.

In short, every little thing that you can do to maximize light and proper diet during the bleakness of winter will help to keep the SAD blues away.  Those that become habit will protect you from succumbing again in future years. My worst season was cured by a camera I was given as a gift. I vowed I would take one picture a day, and the more I moved and spent time outside looking for that photo, my depression melted. Find your “camera” – whatever keeps you moving in the sunlight and seeking health – and know that you are not alone. You and I are in this together.

 

For further reading:  https://philmaffetone.com/sun-and-brain/