Thursday, November 11, 2010

Getting to the REAL cause...

11-11—a triggering of remembrance, a time to look around you and see what is really happening, and time to reflect. Time for me to start writing again!

Recently I have been thinking a lot about a common concern in our office—heartburn. Heartburn is a problem for so many Americans. The cause of the problem is a matter of opinion. Conventional medicine says that there is too much acid and the elimination of acid will help the burning sensation and other symptoms of indigestion such as bloating and flatulence. Often acid suppression is not an effective way to eliminate the problems and symptoms increase and often worsen. Medications like histamine blockers and proton pump inhibitors are very good at doing their job and eliminating acid in the stomach. But what is the result of this suppression? Why would we make this nasty acid stuff if it’s just going to cause our stomach to hurt?

Taking a look at my anatomy and physiology book from my first year of medical school, I learned that the lower esophageal sphincter (where the esophagus and stomach connect) NEEDS acid to close completely. Without sufficient acid, there is transient relaxation of the sphincter, allowing stomach contents to backwash into the esophagus. Using this line of reasoning, it seems that the problem to treat in cases of heartburn may actually be too LITTLE acid, rather than too much.

Acid is necessary for digestion! Without it, there is no breakdown and absorption of nutrients. It is often seen clinically that women with osteoporosis or osteopenia have a long history of using acid reducing medications. Calcium in food or supplements requires stomach acid to be absorbed as well as vitamin D. Taking Tums as a calcium source seems kind of pointless then—acid suppression and calcium all in one dose. Vitamin B12 specifically requires stomach acid to be absorbed as well. Malnutrition can result after long term use of acid reducing medications.

I saw a patient this week wanting to get off of her Nexium. This is not an easy thing to do. She called several times during the week in agony after slowly weaning the drug. We replaced her drug with a digestive enzyme, probiotics and amino acids and herbs to help heal the lining of her intestinal tract. After a week of pain, she finally felt better. Her sinus congestion, post nasal drip, headaches and constant cough went away, which are also symptoms associated with too little stomach acid.

As Thanksgiving nears and today we celebrate the hard work of our veterans, I think about the things that I am thankful for in my life. I am thankful to be continuing my education as a resident and to live in beautiful Wisconsin. I am blessed to have wonderful family and friends. I am thankful to live in America and for the men and women who serve our country. Most of all, I am thankful for my stomach that faithfully produces acid to keep me healthy and happy!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Study Break

I am about one month away from graduation and excited to know where I will be heading next! I was selected to be a resident at the  Integrative Family Wellness Center in Brookfield, Wisconsin. I am beyond excited to have the opportunity to continue my learning process as a resident for one year. And who knows-- it may turn into something more!

For now until August 4th I will be recalling all of the useful clinical skills I have learned and getting ready for my board exams. SO, if you have any study tips-- send them my way! Here's how I am keeping energized and healthy for boards:
  • Eating small, frequent, high protein meals. High protein sustains the feeling of satiety longer and the amino acids will be used to build brain neurotransmitters.
  • Taking a multi, fish oil, b-complex, vitamin D, and adrenal support. The adrenals help with the response to stress and heavily utilize the B vitamins as well as Vitamin C.
  • Exercising daily-- Jillian Michaels is kicking my butt right now.
  • Frequenting coffee shops-- I don't know if I consider this a "healthy" study habit, but it keeps the scenery interesting.
  • Listening to theta brainwave music. Theta brainwaves are known to help memory, learning and mental clarity.
  • Making time to relax and read something mindless. 
  • Studying with friends. Helps my motivation and I always seem to learn something from them.

Here is a link to learn more about my program.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Herbal Energy

Spring has become my favorite season here in the desert. In lieu of my routine P90X DVD’s, I ventured out of my living room to get some fresh air. I took a hike up Piestewa Peak in Phoenix and noticed another one of my desert favorites, the Ocotillo, in bloom. Aside from its fun shape and beautiful flowers when blooming, it has some interesting medicinal properties. 
The long branches of this plant have sharp spines camouflaged by small green leaves. Historic Indian uses include placing the flowers and roots of ocotillo over wounds to stop bleeding. (Convenient that my steep hike was lined with this lovely plant!)  In botanical formulations in the clinic, the fresh bark tincture is used mainly as a lymphagogue. Lymphagogue botanicals promote the movement of the lymphatic fluid that helps with immune function and waste elimination. This class of botanicals can be further categorized by area of the body that it is known to have greatest effects. Ocotillo has an affinity for the pelvis and is therefore useful in conditions of stagnation such as constipation, hemorrhoids, fibroids or endometriosis. For example, I chose to include this botanical as a part of a formulation for a patient who had varicosities in her legs.

It is amazing to me that medicine is really all around us. I can imagine that I passed many plants on my hike that day that can be used medicinally. Often botanicals can have stereotypical uses like, “St. Johns Wort for depression,” but in reality the energetic and practical application of the plant is what gives it its unique characteristics and not always completely understood effects. Plant medicines are unique in that they often work slowly and gently to heal chronic conditions, but can be used in high does for short periods of time for acute conditions. Energetics are not easily explained properties of plant medicines, but rather to be experienced.   I am excited to have another botanical medicine rotation coming up on my next (AND FINAL!!!)  quarter of school where I will be able to learn and experience the energy of herbs!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lost My Mojo...

Another food favorite bit the dust this week. I decided to look into the ingredients in Mojo Frozen Yogurt. I made frequent trips there last summer and planned to return shortly as I endearingly referred the impending summer in Arizona as “Mojo Season.” Looks like I won’t be going after all. All flavors of their yogurt have high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). I wonder why I didn’t bother to look into this sooner; maybe I didn’t want to know.  I don’t have many strict food rules for myself, but this is one of them—no HFCS.
Here is some information about a few better alternative sweeteners:

  • Agave Nectar: boiled from the sap of the blue agave plant. Intensely sweet, low glycemic index (15) but is 90% fructose and 8% glucose. One chef doesn’t think this makes it much different than HFCS: Can be used for a wide range of recipes including drinks, bread, and cookies.
  • Brown Rice Syrup: dense liquid made by brown rice fermentation. Thick and creamy with mild sweetness. Low GI (25) and half as sweet as sugar. Best in soft textured dishes, like pies or sauces, and crunchy baked goods like biscotti. 
  • Date Sugar: dehydrated, ground dates. Grainy, earthy and minimally refined and processed. Best in recipes with a dense texture and dark color like nut bread.

What about no calorie sweeteners? The problem with them is that they actually trick the body into thinking it is consuming calories. The body tastes sweet and prepares for a supply of sugar to enter the blood. When this sugar never shows up, insulin rises and which can actually lead to more cravings and increased calorie consumption.  There have also been some adverse effects in studies relating to artificial sugars including cancers and neurotoxicity. Additionally, most studies regarding its safety were short and some incomplete.  Aspartame accounts for 75% of adverse reactions to a food additive reported to the FDA.
Stevia is now a mainstream zero-calorie sweetener. Just a few years ago it was regulated by the FDA as a food supplement and only available in the supplement department of the grocery store. I guess someone caught on to this gold mine! Stevia is derived from the stevia plant sound in South America and Asia, where is has been used as a sweetener for centuries. It has no effect on insulin and one study suggests that it may actually help control insulin levels. It is also 150-300 times sweeter than sugar.
Xylitol is another zero calorie sweetener that has no effect on insulin levels. It is usually derived from corn, berries and plums and is EXTREMELY toxic to dogs. It is found in many chewing gums because it helps prevent tooth decay as well. It can cause bloating or laxative effects in high quantities so may not be the best substitute for a batch of cookies. 
I will now be on the hunt for a HFCS- free yogurt joint to frequent this summer! 

Monday, February 22, 2010

Metabolic Health

This quarter I have the pleasure of working with Dr. Cristina Romero-Bosch. Her practice is focused on “metabolic health.” What does that mean exactly? The word metabolism usually makes you think of people with self-proclaimed “slow” or “fast” metabolisms, referencing the manner in which they burn their food, or calories. The lucky “fast” metabolism people seem to eat whatever they want and remain at a healthy weight. But what if metabolism wasn’t just the luck of the draw and the real players in the metabolic game were actual measurable and could be manipulated? That is in fact the case and I am beginning to see many examples of this.

To begin with, there are core factors that are the foundation for health. Things like diet, lifestyle and mental/emotional health that most definitely influence the way we feel. Maintaining balance in these areas is difficult considering our modern American lives and relies on our personal willpower to make the “right” choices, exercise, make time to relax, etc. When willpower goes by the wayside, this can create fatigue on the signaling pathways responsible for maintaining our basal metabolic rate. From there, a downward spiral can occur. We feel more lethargic, get less sleep, eat more poorly, etc. By measuring the function of the adrenal glands, thyroid gland and levels of sex hormones it IS possible to see biochemical reasons behind feelings of fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, depression, and low libido. How many Americans have these types of concerns? (!!)After any disturbances in these signaling pathways are corrected, it might be possible to truly rebuild the foundation of health—where the “will” is no longer about power, but natural ability and desire.

I subscribe to Natural Solutions magazine, which recently featured and article titled, “The Hidden Epidemic: Is Your Thyroid Making You Fat?” I excitedly thumbed to this headline article when the magazine appeared in my mailbox-- having seen this work in action with Dr. Bosch. This is a good summary of one aspect of the multi-factorial approach to metabolic health. It brings to light the fact that there are considerations outside of basic labs, like symptoms, and additional lab tests that are not always standard, that can be taken into consideration when addressing thyroid health specifically. This is a must read! Take charge of your metabolic health! :)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Final, Final

This past term I only had one course and it was a psychology class, which I did enjoy. I especially enjoyed finals week, where I only had one final and it was my last final—EVER! From here on out, I will only be doing rotations at the clinic and at elective sites. I still do have looming board exams ahead, but I have until August to study.
In my psychology class we touched on all of the various psychological conditions and became acquainted with the DSM-IV. This class was a great compliment to the patients I was seeing on Dr. Raymers rotation, which had an emphasis on psychology. One of the most interesting patients I saw was a woman who has dysthymia. She was currently taking a prescription medication to enhance her mood, but she wanted to wean down off the drug. We helped her do just that and integrated naturopathic supportive therapies into her care. One therapy was asked her to try was hydrotherapy. We are taught constitutional hydrotherapy in our clinic. The theory behind this type of hydrotherapy treatments is that they normalize the blood and lymph by promoting circulation through the tissues. Aiding the flow of blood and lymph can help move toxins and waste through the body’s organs of elimination (skin, liver, kidneys, lung, and colon) more quickly to improve health.  Hydrotherapy was one of the main treatment methods in the 1920’s and 1930’s and continues to be useful today as in my patients case. Constitutional hydrotherapy can also be useful in digestive problems like Crohn’s, respiratory conditions like chronic asthma, and immune deficiency problems—just to name a few indications. One modern day indication of these treatments is that it forces people to slow down and take time to relax. Rest and relaxation are a vital component to healing and often a luxury in our busy lives!