YOUR NATURAL PATH
Putting your health first, naturally
Jaclyn Graham is a licensed Naturopathic Doctor always welcoming new patients seeking out natural wellness solutions. See her at Summit Massage Therapy and Wellness or if you have a question you think our readership might benefit from, email her.
Just when you thought that the itchy eczema of your childhood and acne breakouts of puberty were ancient history, the frustrating reappearance of acne seems to synchronize with the effects of sun damage during your 30s, 40s, and 50s.
Long before I pursued natural medicine, I didn’t fully appreciate the connection between good physical health and healthy skin. I ate what I wanted, slept when I could, and burned the candle at both ends. I always wondered why some of my roommates in my undergrad years could do the same and seem to always have luminous skin. After years of learning more about the human body and the uniqueness of each individual I’ve come to understand that each of us are born with our own predispositions, or vulnerabilities if you will, which can be either negatively or positively affected by nutritional and lifestyle behaviours; my vulnerability just happened to be my skin. And so I started on a journey to find out how I can create healthy skin by nourishing myself from the inside-out.
Get the best out of your diet.
Emphasize vegetables, fruits, and fats such as kale, arugula, spinach, dandelion, watercress, cilantro, parsley, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, okra, sweet potatoes, raspberries, pomegranate, blueberries, papaya, raw pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts, almonds, walnuts, avocado, hemp seed and flax seed oils. The average adult’s goal should be to consume 2 large handfuls of greens plus 2 cups of vegetables, 2 servings of fruit, 1 tbsp or 1 handfuls of nuts and seeds, and 4 servings of healthy fats (equivalent to 4 tsp of oil) every day. The #1 nutritional approach to anti-aging?
Seems simple, right? You can help fight sugar cravings by stabilizing your blood sugar throughout the day by: drinking 2 Litres or more of water per day adding electrolytes if exercising, adding fiber in the form of flax, chia seeds and/or psyllium, and consuming protein and fats at each meal.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep!
Getting adequate rest is just as important as getting exercise not only in facilitating tissue repair but also for moderating the effects of stress on the body. Cortisol, an important stress hormone, has a connection to the health of our skin including signs of aging, acne, and potentially eczema and psoriasis. Keeping up a regular sleep routine and avoiding napping longer than 30 minutes during the day are important starting points, but if it’s something you continue to struggle with its best to seek the advice of your healthcare provider.
Ensure optimal intake of essential nutrients involved in skin repair,
including Vitamins A & C, selenium and zinc. Zinc in particular has been shown to be effective in eczema patients, seemingly because of an association between zinc levels and metabolism of omega-6 essential fatty acids, which helps to moisturize skin and moderate inflammation – this is essential because of the role of inflammation in many dermatological conditions. Also, in acne patients zinc status seems to correlate with severity of acne. Another compound, methyl-sulfonyl-methane or MSM for short, is a naturally occurring source of sulfur found in fruits and vegetables, touted for its antihistamine, anti-inflammatory, and collagen-building properties.
Take a closer look at your sex hormones.
Excess androgens, imbalances in estrogens and progesterone, as well as more specific conditions such as PCOS, marked by acne, obesity, and increased hair growth, have all been implicated in acne. Many women will find that their breakouts seem to occur like clockwork with their menstrual cycle especially in the days just before their period. A treatment approach to address the hormones may be in order, but is best managed by a health professional.
Last but not least, treat the gut.
The connection between the health of our digestive system and our skin has long been recognized by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners centuries ago. If there are any digestive issues going on, removing suspicious foods or adhering to a hypoallergenic diet until the suspicious food can be identified can reveal tremendous benefit for a range of skin concerns. Consider using probiotics in the meantime to regulate the bowels and calm irritation in the gut.
For further assistance in battling your skin concerns, consult with a natural healthcare practitioner for a more tailored approach. As always with any recommendation, avoid known or suspected allergens.
It may be a coincidence or it may be serendipitous, but February is both Heart Month and Psychology Month. Why is this so interesting? Well, there is actually a fairly strong connection between the two. It may come as a surprise to many that depression increases the risk of heart disease and vice versa. However, the relationship between the two may be more than just the behavioural and lifestyle changes that occur when someone is diagnosed with one of these conditions; in fact, research is supporting a variety of physical changes connecting these two conditions on a biochemical level. Although complex, the common connection seems to be inflammation.
Let’s take a step back and look at heart disease on its own. In Canada, heart disease and stroke are the second and third leading causes of death accounting for nearly a third of all deaths in Canada. There are a variety of risk factors implicated in heart disease including smoking, physical inactivity, high blood pressure, excessive alcohol, diabetes, and elevated cholesterol. Ongoing research is supporting the role that inflammation in the artery wall has in the development of heart attacks and strokes, and many would argue that inflammation is implicated in all these risk factors. Cholesterol in particular gets a lot of attention, but we’ll come back to this.
Then if we look at depression, there are just as many factors influencing it, from traumatic events to having self-critical personality traits to social isolation. However, what is often overlooked is newer research showing not only that depressed patients tend to have higher levels of inflammation but also that administering proinflammatory chemicals called “cytokines” leads to depression in up to half of patients. If that wasn’t enough, inflammation can actually negatively influence our hormones and neurotransmitters such as ‘serotonin,’ a well known target of antidepressant therapy. And many of these hormones and neurotransmitters themselves also keep inflammation in check. So it becomes a chicken-and-egg situation, escalating the problem. As inflammation increases in the body over time, free radicals create little nicks in the walls of arteries, cholesterol gets injured, and coronary heart disease has its roots.
Now it is not to say that inflammation is the one and only root cause of cardiovascular disease and depression, but understanding its role in chronic disease offers an opportunity to approach disease from an additional angle. So while we utilize treatments to lower elevated blood pressure, we can also address sources of inflammation and psychological health. A point of leverage, so to speak, to improve outcomes for patients.
From a naturopathic medicine perspective, there are so many potential approaches to treatment including individualized combinations of antioxidants such as Vitamins E, D, K, alpha-lipoic acid, fish oils, and lycopene extracts, as well as remedies to support the nervous system such as l-theanine, GABA, magnesium, B vitamins, meditation, counselling, and acupuncture. The key is finding the right combination for you, which requires a thorough and comprehensive history and assessment from a qualified healthcare practitioner. Most importantly, what science is supporting more and more is that no one disease exists in isolation from another and to achieve sustainable strides in one’s health requires a whole life approach.
So you have just made it half-way through January and now you need a holiday.
Sure, it’s the start of a new year, and yes, you have big plans for 2015. But maybe you aren’t quite ready to rev your engine just yet. January’s post-holiday energy slump punctuated by a yawn and a yearning for spring is actually quite common. For many the sheer excitement of a new year starts dwindling as time goes on, but for some it’s more than that. Fatigue is more than a one-off state of tiredness after a late night out. It can be a sign of an imbalance in lifestyle or physiology that should be addressed.
Three of the most common lifestyle factors influencing energy levels are nutrition, sleep, and stress. These factors are not separate; rather they are all tied together.
Our natural response to stress is to produce cortisol.
This hormone is vital for our body to adapt to stress. Amongst its many functions in the body is the ability to affect our sleep-wake cycle. In fact, studies have found an association between chronically elevated cortisol and insomnia. So not only do we end up mentally-emotionally fatigued by stress, but physically fatigued as well. Sleep is possibly one of the most underrated activities, yet it is necessary for life. Long-standing sufferers surely feel the aftermath of sleep loss when trying to remember where they put their keys, but the effects of insomnia can be even more profound, including diminished immune function, higher blood pressure, mood changes, and “foggy” thinking.
The other way elevated cortisol affects us is by eventually depleting the vitamins B5, B6, and C, and so for nutrition the impact is two-fold: our nutrient requirements have increased but we tend to reach for nutrient-poor comfort foods because we are stressed, becoming a vicious cycle for fatigue sufferers.
There’s a good chance that you didn’t quite eat your usual diet as of late.
That’s okay. Personally, I’m a sucker for homemade mashed potatoes. And so what better time to refocus your diet on high-quality, whole foods to re-nourish your body? After all, long-standing nutrient deficiencies such as iron and B-vitamins are both considered one of the most widespread causes of low energy, but even nutrient excesses such as with iron and sugar can lead to fatigue.
The good news is that there are things we can do to manage fatigue so we can feel our best selves:
Having too few things on your plate is just as disadvantageous as having too many. Dream up activities that bring you pleasure so you have things you can look forward to, but avoid saying yes to everything. This way you can find fulfillment without overextending yourself.
Reduce the impact of stress by joining a yoga or meditation class, enjoying a therapeutic massage, curling up with a good book, or hitting one of the many trails Jasper has to offer. Always surround yourself with supportive people who enrich your life.
Nourish your body by having three square meals per day consisting of protein, fat, and some form of carbohydrate. Don’t skimp on your greens and be sure to stay hydrated all day long.
When you are feeling the need to reach for comfort food enjoy it in moderation, but remember to load up on fresh veggies and other nutrient-rich foods too. Before introducing a supplement such as iron, ask your healthcare
provider for guidance. After all, what might be right for someone else may not be right for you.
Establish a regular sleep-wake cycle by practicing good ‘sleep-hygiene.’
If you are experiencing excessive, chronic, or unexplained fatigue that doesn’t improve, it’s time to see a doctor. Many underlying conditions can lead to fatigue, from sleep apnea and depression to thyroid disease and diabetes. Rather than worrying, seek the care of a licensed healthcare professional to help rule out potential underlying causes.
As we reflect on the past year’s events, we are given an opportunity to think about where we’re at and where we’re headed.
Whether you are a resolution setter or not, the new year acts as a benchmark by which we can ask ourselves “what do I want the next 12 months to look like and how can I make it happen?”
Unsurprisingly, better health seems to top the list of resolutions made each year, with losing weight taking the cake. Living a healthier life makes you more resilient to the effects of stress, elevates your mood and enables your body to provide the energy you need to perform at your best. Change can be a tough battle and good health habits take time and persistence, but once the benefits are experienced many can’t fathom living any other way. When “the basics,” such as optimized nutrition, exercise and mental-emotional self-care come together, what will your health look like?
Get off to a good start this year with these tips:
Food for Thought
After a week or two of sugar highs and “leftover” mayhem, set an intention to consume a whole foods diet. What would a whole foods diet look like? It’s basically what your grandparents and their parents before them ate. It is a diet that consists of food that is unprocessed and unchanged from its most natural state. It would consist of plenty of local fresh fruits and vegetables, organic and free-range meat and dairy products, raw nuts and seeds, cold-pressed olive oil, and whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, kamut or buckwheat. What you get is more than what you’ll find in a basic multivitamin supplement. You also get a myriad of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which are showing significant health benefits for such conditions as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity. When you eat a broad array of whole foods, your nutritional status goes up and all the cells in your body function better, affecting your quality of life and longevity.
Exercise isn’t just for cardiovascular health, but for stress management and mental health too. Dark winters can be especially tough on our mood and exercise can act like a natural pick-me-up! Bonus: those who get more exercise throughout the day tend to have better quality sleep at night. Two birds, one stone. If it’s been a while since you last exercised, gradually ease into an exercise program to prevent injury or considering consulting a personal trainer to design a program suitable for your needs.
Eyes on the Prize
Visualize your own success, whatever your individual wellness goals are for 2015. The anticipation of something you are looking forward to is just as important as, if not more than, the actual event. For example, the greatest benefit of having an annual vacation is actually felt in the planning stage for most people rather than during the vacation itself. Positive and detailed imagery is one of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety and keep your eyes on the prize, so to speak.
Be kind to yourself and trust your gut. Nix the self-deprecating comments and start treating yourself with the same compassion you would treat others. Many of us have that little voice in our heads saying we can’t do this and we can’t do that, but we all have evidence to the contrary. Tell it to put a sock in it and take a chance on something you’ve wanted to do for a long time, but haven’t had the confidence to try yet.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been bombarded by family and friends with questions about what I want for Christmas.
A new computer? How about perfume? Perhaps some new clothes? My nephew, bless his little cotton socks, wrote up a page-long wish list. I remember when I used to do that. There seems to be a potential for people to get carried away with the holidays; frantic masses, hurrying to the stores to get that one last gift, stressing and second guessing their choices. My Mum bought three different Christmas trees, no joke, before deciding on which one she really wanted.
How many of us eagerly try to perfect the art of Christmas, but are ultimately exhausted come New Years Eve? Take a load off and slow down. The right amount of mashed potatoes and gravy won’t make or break the holidays, nor will the number of Christmas parties you attended. All you will remember about this holiday season, just like the last, is how you felt.
Truth is that this year more than any other year, I’m not worried at all about what I’m going to open up on Christmas day. After the passing of my Father in June, and with other loved ones in and out of the hospital, practicing gratitude this holiday season is more significant now than ever. Gratitude is more than just an ideal, it is an overall approach to life. Gratitude can shift us from sweating the small stuff to delighting in the important stuff, from disappointment to a feeling of joy.
Studies are showing the connection between conscious and purposeful ‘counting our blessings’ and happiness. In one study, those who kept daily gratitude journals exhibited heightened well-being compared to those whose journaling was unstructured. Another study found that youth low in ‘positive affect’, or the extent to which they subjectively experience a positive mood, report an improvement in mood up to 2 months after writing a letter to someone for whom they were grateful and delivering it to them in person. We can actually restructure how we experience our life by focusing on what we do have, instead of what we don’t have.
Here are some ideas on how you can integrate gratitude through the holidays:
When we are too busy to reflect, we miss opportunities to enjoy the moments and extend thanks.
Extend your gratitude to others
Do those around you know how much you appreciate them? How often do you show gratitude? How often do you actually say it aloud?
The value of a gift doesn’t come from what’s beneath the wrapping paper, but from the care and love that went into it from the person who gave it. If the value has nothing to do with the gift, we can harness that value even without having something to unwrap. This year my partner and I are choosing to go without traditional gifts, instead we are hand-making a promise book for each other playfully presenting activities and good deeds we can enjoy throughout the year. You can also give the gift of adopting an animal, or wrap up a gift for Jasper’s annual Santas Anonymous (contact Community Outreach Services at 780-852-2100).
Start a new holiday tradition:
Make ‘gratitude ornaments’ for your home using homemade baked dough and having each family member choose one thing to write on the dough for which they are grateful.
Take the holiday greeting card one step further by adding in a personalized thank you message describing why you appreciate that person.
Volunteer: connect with Community Outreach Services, Jasper Food Bank, Jasper Adult Learning Centre, and many others for opportunities to give back to your community.
Model saying thank you by sharing your gratitude with your partner, your child’s teacher, and the person at the store who provided you with a service.
At the end of the day, write down three things you appreciated that day.
As you write them down, take a moment to consider the value of these things and what it has brought to your life. This could be a friend or family member who brings laughter and joy to your life, a person you don’t know who inspires you with their actions or words, or even as simple as someone who smiled at you as you were walking down the street.
Today I am grateful for the time that I had with my Father and all that he inspired me to be. After the holidays are over, I hope to continue my journey through life practicing daily gratitude and I encourage each of you to do the same.
You may have noticed a dramatic increase in men sporting mustaches last month, and wondered what it was all about.
The Movember campaign was started to raise awareness and support research for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and overall physical and mental health. Participants sporting their very own mustaches from around the world have raised approximately $146.6 million in 2012 with no signs of slowing down. Despite growing awareness, men often make up the minority of doctor visits, tending to shy away from seeking advice, waiting until symptoms worsen and inevitably delaying treatment. What’s more, many conditions are silent before a crisis – for example, one-third of heart attacks come without warning – and so we miss that opportunity for prevention and early intervention.
The Importance of Nutrition for Prostate Health
Diet may significantly affect prostate cancer progression as well as reduce the risk of death from all causes – studies suggest that even moderate changes such as a reduction in animal fat and carbohydrates and replacement with vegetable fats may have a large impact. Seed oils and nuts have many positive effects, including increasing antioxidants and reducing insulin, LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ one), and inflammation, all of which play a role in the development and perpetuation of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes, chronic pain, and cancer.
Lycopene is a well-known component of tomatoes showing some associated benefit against prostate cancer, with greater synergistic value when obtained from food rather than solely from supplements. Another nutrient, calcium, has been studied in prostate cancer research and may actually increase risk of prostate cancer possibly by suppressing circulating levels of vitamin D. Although the evidence is a bit unclear, dairy should be avoided in prostate cancer patients or those with a family history of prostate cancer in a close relative.
While seemingly basic, nutrition is, as you would have thought, important in not only maintaining good health but also in treating a variety of diseases. I encourage all the men out there to get informed at ca.movember.com (after all, knowledge is power!) and book your next health check-up.
Last week I had the pleasure of escaping with a few Jasperites to Tulum, Mexico for a much needed Yoga and Wellness Retreat.
During the retreat each of us began our day with a daily intention, one that directed the mind towards a purpose for the day. This simple, yet profound practice had a powerful impact on how we experienced each day.
I’ll have to admit that most of my mornings consist of a large breakfast paired with an even larger ‘to do’ list. These ‘to do’ lists do help us get things done, but they lack the ability to allow our inner voice truly guide our choices throughout the day.
When we consciously acknowledge what we need and desire most, we create direction so that we can make more satisfying and fulfilling decisions. You can deliberately choose to engage in activities and connect with the people around you in a way that is consistent with your intention. A daily intention reminds us to remain present in the moment, enjoying the here and now and worrying less about tomorrow. When we lack intention we often drift, sometimes following other’s intentions instead of our own, leaving us feeling less satisfied in life.
So what does setting a daily intention look like?
Begin your morning by thinking about what you desire out of your day and what feeling you would like to experience during your day. Is it a feeling of rest and relaxation you are looking for? Knowing this helps you set an intention that might look something like this: “I deserve to be nurtured today, and I will foster rest and relaxation whenever possible.” And so as your day proceeds you may be invited to go hiking with friends but you know in your heart that this isn’t consistent with what you need and desire. You may choose to have a warm Epsom salt bath instead.
If you are having trouble thinking of a daily intention, set aside 10 minutes of quiet time without distractions. In this quiet space, think about how you are feeling. Are you tired? Are you excited to see someone? Are you feeling creative? Are you worried about a presentation or finalizing a project? Would you like to accomplish something today? Perhaps you would like to confidently present something to your boss or peers. ffirm your ability to embody what you intend to do today with a statement such as this: “I am a strong and capable person and I will present my project clearly and confidently.”
When you set an intention accentuate the positive by allowing it to come from a place of satisfaction, and let go of any negative or avoidance statements such as ‘do not’ or ‘won’t’ statements. Always set an intention that resonates with you on a visceral level and is authentic to who you are. Try to detach from the outcome; we will all struggle at one point or another. It is only when we let go of control that we can begin to feel more secure amidst the unknown.
At the end of your day think about how your intention manifested and how it changed the choices you made. Did you say yes to yourself when you usually say no? Did you speak up when you usually remain silent? Just think where your daily intention may lead.
In the last few weeks if you've been plugged-in you may have noticed an ever growing media presence of mental illness and its far reaching effects.
Mental illness is one of the most widespread conditions in the world, and can affect anyone during their lifespan. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that depression will rise to second place in the global burden of disease listing by the year 2020, and to first place by 2030.
The impact of mental illness goes far beyond the individual, whole communities of people can be affected as we have seen in recent Ottawa events. We have come a long way from how mental illness and mood disorders were once regarded and treated. Even retail chains in the UK, Asda and Tesco, have discontinued psych ward patient Hallowe'en costumes due stigmatization issues. Still, we have a long way to go. The fear of stigma surrounding mental illness remains, preventing many of us from seeking support in times of need. Much of this stigma comes from a misunderstanding of what mental illness really is. Mental illness affects all people across all national, cultural, political and socioeconomic boundaries. The World Mental Health Survey collected data from 17 countries and found that 1 in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year.
Here are a few things you can do for yourself to protect your mental-emotional health:
First and foremost, the support of a mental health professional is paramount to working through the psychosocial aspects of mental illness. Working with a therapist who resonates with you provides you with the opportunity to uncover what aspects of your life aren't working, and the ability to change one's perspective and outlook in a safe and nonjudgemental environment. A range of services can be accessed in Jasper from the Mental Health Services department at Seton - Jasper Healthcare Centre to private counselling services.
Consult a medical professional to rule out possible conditions underlying your mood disorder such as thyroid disorders, glucose (blood sugar) imbalances, or deficiencies of zinc, magnesium, B12, folate, or vitamin D, just to name a few.
Get outside. Study after study has shown that connecting with nature and getting sun exposure is correlated with a more positive mood. So if you have been thinking about hiking Cavell Meadows for a while, now's the time. Challenge yourself by upping your heart rate - exercise is a natural antidepressant.
Help find work-life balance by engaging in a non-work related activity every day. Choose anything that captures your attention and relaxes you such as meditation, reading, yoga, art, music, sports, or simply spending time with friends and family.
Build a bucket list and start checking things off - dreaming helps provide a sense of purpose and checking things off feeds into a positive reward cycle.
Eat a balanced diet emphasizing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, which contain nutrients that are directly involved in the production of feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin.
Omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and fish oil supplements are often deficient in the North American diet. These oils provide essential building blocks to our brain and have been shown to improve mood, focus, and memory in many human studies. As always, be sure to consult with a physician before taking a new supplement such as fish oils, as it is known to thin the blood and may interact with medications or medical conditions.
Last but not least, be patient with yourself. Learning to take smaller steps at a time and shed unwanted commitments frees up energy so you can focus on the more important things in your life.
Three years ago, almost to the day, I moved my life from Toronto to Jasper.
Like so many other Jasperites, I moved to this incredible town in search of being closer to nature in a way I had never experienced before. It was an enormous change from my life in the city, where the only “wildlife” is the zoo of people in the streets. I can recall in my first week I would spend up to an hour each morning trying to get that perfect shot of an elk to send home to Mum and Dad, you know, just in case I didn’t get another photo opportunity any time soon.
I’ll have to admit that while I was excited for a fresh pace of life, I wondered if I would find my place here. Change can be a scary thing, stressful even. Sometimes it is planned, other times it sneaks up on us, but it almost always forces us to step outside of our comfort zone.
Traditional Chinese Medicine philosophers regard change and transformation as the only constants of life. Health and wellness is not an absolute state, rather it is the ability to adapt physically, mentally and emotionally to the certain flux and flow of life. It can come in the form of a newborn child requiring patience and endurance, or in the form of a recent medical diagnosis requiring much strength and courage.
When change is experienced as stressful, the body’s stress response kicks into action. One of the principal mechanisms of the stress response takes place in the adrenal glands. These glands located just above the kidneys release cortisol and adrenaline to prepare the body for fight-or-flight, resulting in an increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. In this state we may feel a bit “wired.”
Our bodies are quite good at this whole process, but when chronic stress wears us down we enter a state of maladaptation and “burnout”. Fortunately there are a number of approaches that can be taken to help the adrenal glands and body adapt to stress, and so I’ll outline several important ones:
Take a deep breath
Build social supports
by talking to someone with whom you feel comfortable discussing your challenges. Connect with others going through a similar experience whenever possible.
Learn more about the changes you will be facing, whether it is a new home, career, or diagnosis. Those who are well informed are better equipped to make decisions and cope.
Build your health
on a solid foundation of a balanced, whole-foods diet, 7-9 hours of sleep and daily exercise. Be sure to build some “me” time into each of your days, no matter how short.
Consider the use of herbal remedies
called adaptogens, which increases the body’s resistance to emotional trauma, anxiety, and fatigue mainly by modulating adrenal gland function. A well-known and popular adaptogen is Panax Ginseng, but others include Siberian Ginseng, Astragalus, Ashwagandha, Schisandra, and Rhodiola. Care must be taken when using adaptogens so as to avoid any negative interactions with medications or health conditions.
In spite of the potential negative effects of change, we mustn’t forget the benefits. Change brings about reflection so that you may re-evaluate your life, potentially helping to reinforce your values and beliefs or bring about personal growth and self-actualization. It is because of this potential that we shouldn’t shy away from change when it presents itself, but recognize the opportunity and act as a facilitator of change by embracing the challenge.
A week or so ago a trail-savvy buddy of mine summoned me for a “light hike” on the Tonquin Valley Trail.
I’ll have to admit I wasn’t prepared for what ended up being a 20k ‘stroll in the park,’ but it was probably the highlight of my week.
Having left so late in the afternoon we found ourselves racing the moon back to the car around 10 p.m. I could swear that the sun went down at 11:30 p.m. last I checked! That’s when I suddenly realized that our wonderfully sun-drenched days are slowly getting shorter, signaling the eventual transition from summer to fall.
For many getting to bed on time with such late sunsets during the summer months is a challenge, but perhaps surprisingly I see a lot of patients struggling with difficulties falling asleep during the fall and winter months even though darkness is plentiful – so what could be going on?
Light is by far the most potent environmental cue.
Photoreceptors in the retina of our eyes receive light and transmit this information to the body’s master biological clock in our brains, leading to activation of wake promoting centers of the brain as well as inhibition of sleep promoting centers. The production of melatonin, a well-known sleep hormone, is directly inhibited by all light, even indoor lighting.
Conversely, the production of melatonin is increased by darkness. That means that even the seemingly little amount of light emitted from our TVs is enough to hinder normal sleep cues.
To help shift from being a night owl to an early bird try getting at least 45 minutes of sunlight in the morning, or invest in a high quality full-spectrum light bulb if getting outside is not an option. Also, remember to turn off your lights and electronics up to 2 hours before your desired bedtime to avoid tricking your body into staying up later.
Here are some more of my favourite tips to improve the quality of sleep and awaken more refreshed:
- Limit coffee consumption to the morning and limit alcoholic drinks with dinner to 1 serving
- Maintain regular schedules for eating and other daily activities: the body craves routine.
- Take a 30-minute walk outdoors at approximately 12 noon, without sunglasses if possible.
- Maintain a moderate temperature and low noise levels in the bedroom.
- Keep a journal and write down problems to be solved and tasks to be completed the next day to help you put them out of your mind.
- Avoid remaining in bed for longer than 20 minutes without being able to initiate sleep or re-enter sleep after awakening. If you do arise at night, including for bathroom visits, avoid exposure to bright light.
- Establish a regular sleep pattern. We know that catching your Z’s at any random time is not as restorative as getting them at the same time each night.
Find your optimal hours of sleep – oversleeping can make us just as sluggish as not sleeping and not all of us need exactly 8 hours. It is very individual and it requires a little trial and error to determine your best amount. This may take time, so be patient with yourself, and most importantly, listen to your body’s needs.
While these tips are important elements for a healthier lifestyle, sleep disturbances and poor energy may be due to an underlying medical condition. It is best to discuss your concerns with your health care provider, as a more specific intervention may be required.
I’ve always thought of September as a time of new beginnings.
As children, teenagers, and adults prepare for school this September, we look forward to a fresh start – new classes, new teachers, and new opportunities to learn and grow. It’s a time of year when we redefine our personal, social, academic, and career goals, but we often overlook one thing: our health plays an integral role in reaching our goals. Learning basic but essential health skills empowers us to feel our best so we can put our best foot forward each day.
Thinking about the bigger picture, we have the opportunity to proactively instill positive lifestyle practices today to promote health and wellbeing for our children and ourselves for years to come. Whether you, or your loved ones, struggle with sleep, food, exercise, stress, relationships, finances or just finding balance, now is the time to take steps towards wellness. Keep in mind that there is no one perfect path for wellness, nor should it be rigid or fanatic because life is meant to be enjoyed and experienced. And the goal is not to arm ourselves against illness, as occasional illness can be expected within the context of health.
The goal is to find balance within the way we live, ensuring that we are paying attention to our needs and nourishing ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. I’d like to encourage each of you, from the very young to the elderly, to participate in your own health and wellness story.
So where does one begin?
Become introspective. Learn more about yourself – your strengths and your challenges, your interests and your passions, your fears and your anxieties, your behaviours and your habits.
Think about those that serve to enrich your life, those that are acceptable in small doses, and those that may be harmful to your wellbeing.
Use this information to set short term and long term goals – this can be anything from working through your anxiety to be able to put on a successful presentation at school OR working on your ability to focus and concentrate at school, to learning how to say “no” more often so that you have more time for your family OR going to bed earlier so that you have more energy and are in a better mood the next day.
Next, reflect on your physical health. When was the last time you had a routine health check? Are you satisfied with your overall health? Are there any opportunities for improvement? Come to a decision on whether or not it’s time for an appointment with a healthcare professional. Seeking the help of your Family Physician, Naturopathic Doctor, Dentist, Optometrist, Psychologist, or Counselor can provide you with the support, education, and guidance you need to harness your health.
Lastly, surround yourself with encouraging and motivating people and try to be just that for others. Because we are social beings, having the support of friends, family, and the community as a whole can propel us towards sustainable positive change. Okay, one more point… be patient, because Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Many Jasperites agree that the summers in Jasper are so action-packed that creating healthy meals amongst all the extra hours of work, community events, parties, long hikes, and family excursions isn’t an easy feat.
What better than to indulge in prepared snacks and ready-made meals so as to not slow us down?
I am a firm believer in the 80/20 rule – that is, a balanced diet that mainly consists of unprocessed, whole foods with a treat up to 20 per cent of the time is good for most people. But there is one important caveat. If the treats you crave are negatively affecting your health, you have some decision making to do. Research and clinical experience confirm a connection between artificial food dyes used in candy, drinks and frozen fruit snacks and hyperactivity and behaviour problems in kids. A 2011 study showed an association between processed meat and heart disease. And we all know about sugar and diabetes.
An individual’s nutritional habits are one of the most important determinants of long term health and wellbeing, but they are also one of the most challenging to master. It’s tough to not fall back on the convenience and temptation of prepared foods such as smoked meats, crackers, dips, fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt, granola bars, microwavable meals, instant oatmeal and breakfast cereals. But as the body is like a fine-tuned engine, high performance requires the best quality in fuel. And so it goes, here are a few of the most commonly missed high-quality foods to have in your diet every day:
• Edamame: these little guys make a great snack – they are quick to prepare and can be seasoned with a sprinkle of salt and pepper, peanut sauce, or garlic and ginger. They contain phytoestrogens which help balance the effects of estrogen in the body.
• Olive oil: diets rich in this type of oil are associated with lower risks of heart disease, stroke, and greater longevity. Due to its sensitivity to light and heat, purchase cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil in dark containers and drizzle it on your food at the end of cooking or on salads.
• Raw nuts & seeds: chock-full of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids, but they must be raw to get the full benefits – vitamin E is damaged during the roasting process.
• Seaweeds: offers a wealth of essential minerals such as selenium and iodine, necessary for thyroid function and a healthy immune system. Plus, they make a great alternative to potato chips to satisfy that salt craving.
• Dark leafy greens: rich sources of cancer fighting antioxidants and eye nourishing beta carotene and lutein. It’s best to buy these organic because non-organic varieties are very high in pesticides.
• Garlic & onions: have fantastic antiviral, anti-inflammatory, heart protecting and anticancer properties. Be careful not to overcook them as the active compounds are sensitive to heat.
• Avocados: one of the richest sources of glutathione, the body’s greatest antioxidant, as well as monounsaturated fats and fiber which protect against stroke, diabetes, and cancer.
• Lentils & legumes: a household favourite because lentils and legumes are so cheap, versatile, and easy to prepare! They contain fiber and phytosterols which help to lower cholesterol, assist in weight control, stabilize blood sugar, enhance immune function and exhibit anti-cancer effects. Legumes, when combined with whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, make a complete protein.
Jasper is home to some of the most pristine lakes in Canada.
With all the beautiful weather we’ve had recently, it’s no surprise that locals and visitors have been flocking to our lakes to cool off. In a recent conversation with a patient of mine who enjoys a dip in glacier water to soothe sore joints, I have been reminded of the incredible simplicity and accessibility of hydrotherapy.
The use of hot and cold water for therapeutic purposes is one of the oldest therapies around, being utilized since ancient times in Greek medicine, and is as popular now as it was then. From a refreshing dip in Lake Annette to a soothing soak in the Miette Hot Springs to Jasper’s many eucalyptus steam rooms, Jasperites are no strangers to the use of hydrotherapy.
In general, the therapeutic actions of hot and cold water treatments include muscle relaxation, pain reduction, anti-inflammatory effects, and increased circulation when hot and cold water applications are alternated. Studies have found hydrotherapy, in the form of aquatic exercise classes, seated immersions, and alternating hot and cold affusions, to be effective for rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and fibromyalgia, leading to pain reduction, better mobility, and improved quality of life. At-home hydrotherapy offers an inexpensive and effective means of treating a wide variety of conditions including sinus infections, allergies, muscle and joint pain, swelling, and even fatigue.
While there are numerous healing techniques utilizing water, here are two of my favourite at-home prescriptions:
Turn the tap on circulation
Hot/Cold Alternating Showers can be used to increase circulation and metabolism, and to “perk-up” sluggish mornings.
Blast warm-to-hot water for 3 minutes, followed by 30-60 seconds of cool-to-cold water. Repeat 3 times. Be sure to avoid scalding hot water. This routine may be done at the end of your usual shower routine.
If you are in a rush, one 30-60 second blast of cool at the end of your shower is a quick version of this method. Always end with cool water to encourage blood flow back to your vital organs.
Sock it to colds
Ahhh summer! My favourite time of the year without question.
The days are long and the weather is just perfect for a camping trip in the Rockies. Every year I look forward to a weekend at Mosquito Creek campground, eager to feel the cool evening alpine air, a crackling campfire at my feet, no cell phone coverage and plenty of ghost stories to go around.
There is nothing keeping me from being at one with nature. Except, perhaps, the seemingly impossible number of mosquito bites all over my body or my nephew’s remarkably red sunburn outlining his sunglasses on only one side of his face.
Seriously, I don’t know how that happened.
1. Apis mellifica. Specifically indicated for insect stings with puffy swelling, burning, stinging pain, and itching that tends to be worse with heat and better with a cold compress or open air.
2. Arnica Montana. Arnica is the primary remedy for almost any injury that results in bruising, sore, aching pain, such as from a fall, a blow, or from muscular strains and sprains.
3. Rhus tox. An important remedy for joint pain, Rhus tox can be used in conjunction with appropriate medical attention for pain, stiffness and inflammation associated with sprains.
4. Cantharis. Great for sunburns that sting, burn, itch, or blister and are relieved by cold water.
5. Urtica urens. Another great one for sunburns, especially those that tend to feel worse with cold water applied. Can also be used for heat rashes.
While precautions should always be taken when going out into the wilderness, unwanted sunburns, bug bites, bruises and sprains can and do happen.
Prepare for your next camping or hiking trip by adding a few homeopathic remedies to your supply of sunscreens, bug spray, and first aid kit. When used in conjunction with appropriate medical care, homeopathic remedies can help speed recovery and ease symptom severity without interacting with medications and with a high safety profile. The number of potential homeopathic remedies is rather extensive, but to get you started I’ll touch on some of the basic homeopathic remedies I always have on hand for our most common summertime ailments:
Homeopathics can commonly be purchased at health food stores in vials with varying potencies of 6C, 12C, or 30C. When self-treating acute ailments, use either 12C or 6C and place 3 pellets under the tongue every hour or two until symptoms subside. The key to choosing the right homeopathic for a speedier recovery is to find the one that most closely treats your strongest symptoms, but if you are ever unsure always consult with an expert to find the right remedy for you so you can start feeling better sooner.