Saturday, December 31, 2011

Salmon Cakes For Lazy Cooks

I try to eat fish a few times a week and, a lot of the time, that fish is salmon. Sometimes I get tired of salmon. I like it but it can get old pretty fast. We all know that everything tastes better fried, right? That definitely includes salmon.

I also get really lazy about cooking. Just because I can cook doesn't mean I feel like actually doing it. Right now, I'm going through a lazy period when it comes to preparing food. It was a relief to know exactly what I was going to make for dinner tonight and to know that I happened to have all the ingredients on hand. It was also great to use the new splatter screen I got for Christmas to keep the frying grease from getting all over the stove. Everyone needs one of these!!

So, this recipe addresses both issues: laziness in the kitchen and making salmon appealing when you're kind of tired of it. It also addresses eating fish with the nutritious bones still in it (I promise that you won't notice the bones.)
AND, it also addresses using an ingredient that I always keep in my pantry (I stock up on canned fish. If some disaster hits and I have to live off the non-perishables in my stash, my serum omega 3 levels are going to exponentially increase;)

So, are you ready for an easy, tasty, inexpensive, nutrient dense (one of these has about 16 grams of protein + omega 3 and calcium) entree? Here you go! You're welcome:)

Salmon Cakes (makes 6 3.5" patties)

1 15 oz. can wild Alaskan salmon with bones, drained (I love Trader Joe's).
2 eggs
2 TB minced fresh parsley
2 TB finely sliced green onions
1/2 tsp. sea salt
A sprinkle of granulated garlic to taste
Other herbs/seasonings to taste (I like Trader Joe's 21 Seasoning Salute)
Optional: if the mixture is too wet, a spoonful or two of almond flour can be added.

Fat/oil for frying (I use Spectrum Organics Shortening made from sustainably grown palm oil. Don't you dare use polyunsaturated veggie oil!!)

Mix all the ingredients well and form into 6 patties (or 8 small ones) and fry in a generous amount of oil until golden and crispy on each side.

Serving Suggestions

Top with:
-sour cream mixed with horseradish
-diced avocado
-homemade aioli

Enjoy! I'll see you all in the NEW YEAR!!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Winter Wellness

Kiyoshi Saito "Winter in Aizu" (2), 1970 woodcut
Kalamazoo Institute of Arts collection

It's a little ironic that I've been procrastinating on this post because I've been sick, but there you have it.
I've figured out how to prevent colds and flus, but not adenovirus. I had the exact same strep-like symptoms and sickness after my stress-filled summer vacation/adrenal fatigue extravaganza and the measures I took then also didn't work, just like this time, so I haven't yet cracked that code (believe me, if I do, I'll be letting everyone in the world know.)

On to the things that DO work consistently for me...


Ideally, you want to get your immune system to be strong enough to resist pathogens in the first place and one of the best herbs for accomplishing that is:


In my supplement retail days, when staying well was an uphill battle due to the sheer volume of contact with sick people coming in to get supplements for their colds/flus, I learned the value of astragalus. It drastically cut down on how much I got sick.

is a major herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine and is well researched with known antiviral and immunostimulatory properties. It can be used continuously to help build the immune system (although it's good to give any long-term herb use a short break periodically for a week after about 6 weeks of continuous use. Some herbalists recommend 6 days on/1 day off.)
I like Gaia Herbs liquid astragalus, but there are many quality brands on the market. Just don't get your herbs from a drugstore or grocery store (most of those brands use cheap ingredients)

When using astragalus, if you do get sick, it's best to temporarily discontinue taking it during the acute stage of an illness.

Caution: those with autoimmune diseases may want to avoid astragalus (I no longer use it after being diagnosed with Hashimoto's).


Ok, any homeopathy skeptics can skip this one. It's homeopathically prepared influenza virus. However, I'm including Influenzinum because, since taking it prophylactically, I haven't had the flu in close to a decade. Not even a chill. I don't think that's due to a placebo effect (the flu is no respector of placebo affects and I'm not very susceptible to placebos anyway). My husband also has not had a flu in years since he started taking it. Two for two!
Consider it a natural alternative to the flu shot (note on flu shots: the virus often mutates by the time the shots are available, rendering them useless. Another issue with flu shots is potential flu-like symptoms).

You can use Influenzinum by itself, but I've found it also works fine in combination flu formulas. Most homeopathic flu combo formulas include it (just read the ingredients list). I take it once a week for the duration of the season.

Acute Symptoms:

Gaia Quick Defense

This is probably the mother of all echinacea products. You may have heard about the mixed results echinacea studies have produced and there's a good reason for that. Specific parts of the plant must be used and specific varieties of the plant are more active than others. So, the KIND of echinacea absolutely makes all the difference. In fact, I used to think that echinacea didn't work well for me until I tried Gaia's.
Gaia knows their echinacea and has been involved in echinacea research and received a grant to study it from the National Institutes of Health.
Quick Defense has been very reliable in keeping me from getting colds when I get that first tingling in my nose that I know will turn into a head cold if I leave it untreated. It's meant to be taken every few hours for the first couple of days. It's important to take it according to directions- frequent dosing is key (really, with any remedy during the early stage).

Yin Chiao

Yin Chiao is a classic Chinese herbal formula for when you feel the first signs of a cold or flu coming on. It's appropriate for symptoms like that first tickle in the throat, the stiff neck when you're coming down with something or that first weird sneeze where you know something's up (I've found that it's really good to learn to identify early illness symptoms because the sooner you treat it, the better off you'll be!)
Yin Chiao is also great for seasonal and weather changes that trigger colds. I've noticed that I'm more susceptible to getting sick after sudden temperature changes and especially after being out in damp, windy weather (Chinese medicine calls these "invading evils";-) You can take Yin Chiao to lessen the severity of and get over a cold or flu faster.

I like Planetary Formulas Yin Chiao.
Another option that is similar to Yin Chiao is Cold Snap.

Ferrum Phos. 6X

Again, homeopathy skeptics move along! Ferrum Phos.6X is a handy remedy to have on hand for any early inflammatory symptoms such as fevers, inflamed/tingly sinuses and mild aches. It's very safe for children, including babies and toddlers. I keep it in my purse (it's very portable!) in case I start to feel something when I'm out and don't have access to my arsenal.


Elderberry syrup is a popular flu remedy (and elderberry has a lot of research behind it). In my experience, the best elderberry product on the market is New Chapter Immunity Take Care lozenges. Influenza is an "envelope virus" and this particular elderberry product has been proven effective against influenza and envelope viruses. I can't find the data sheet on it, but I have actually seen the study data with my own eyes.
Here's a product PDF with a little more info.

To Ease Your Suffering:

Honey Loquat Syrup

Honey Loquat Syrup is a godsend when you have a sore throat or a nasty cough (in fact, it's really helped me get through this adenovirus). I like that you can take it by the spoonful or add hot water to make a tea. Unlike over the counter cough syrups from the drugstore, it has a pleasant flavor and no artificial flavors or colors.

Enzymedica Mucostop

Mucostop is a systemic enzyme that breaks down mucus when taken on an empty stomach. I don't usually have it on hand, but when I've taken it, it's definitely made a difference with the amount of sinus drainage during head colds.


I've included product links to iHerb.com because I do most of my supplement shopping there. They have a great selection and good prices (as well as cheap international shipping). If you're interested in placing an order with them, here's a little treat for you: you can use my referral code HAZ439 for $5 off your first order!

Other useful things...

Earth Clinic is a great resource for home remedies, with feedback on each remedy. Maybe that apple cider vinegar will do the trick for your sore throat. Or maybe hydrogen peroxide will ward off the sniffles when dropped in your ears (I swear this seems to work!)

Get your sleep! Lack of sleep is one thing that totally sends my immune system downhill fast.

Wear that hat and scarf. Your mom (or grandma) was right. Keeping your head and ears covered helps keep you well. And keep that neck covered too. Protect yourself from those "invading evils".

Lay off the sugar. It may be suppressing your immune system.

I hope you all have a healthy, sickness-free winter!


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Exciting Changes and New Horizons!

What a great autumn it's been! I've been enjoying the gorgeous, clear weather and bright colors here Nashville. Now that I have more energy since I started working on my adrenal health, I've been outside walking and hiking a lot, including up in the Blue Ridge Mountains during a trip to Asheville, NC a few weekends ago (that's where I took the above picture). Asheville is the easiest place to find gluten-free/organic/local/Primal/Paleo food. I had a ball eating out! The highlight was Zambra, where hubby, friend and I stuffed our faces with wonderful tapas. I returned from Asheville feeling renewed and inspired.

I don't usually blog about my personal life, but I have something exciting to announce. After two and a half years, as of this week I am no longer a neurofeedback technician. I am transitioning into a full-time perfumer/aromatics consultant! I'll be working from home and I'm already working on several projects that I've been commissioned to do. I plan on developing retail products in the future and I will definitely let you know when that happens.

It's quite a change, going from pasting EEG electrodes to client's scalps, sitting in front of a computer, running neurofeedback brain-training programs and looking at brainwave graphs, to sitting at home, surrounded by perfume materials. It was a great experience working with people's brainwaves for the last few years but I'm ready for a change.

A number of years ago, I became interested in perfume making. I have a very sensitive nose and it occurred to me to take advantage my olfactory prowess and so I studied natural classical perfumery. I mostly stuck to making perfumes for myself and sometimes for others, but I've wanted to utilize these skills professionally. As a long-time frustrated creative type, I'm really enthused to be doing something creative and right-brained and not health/wellness related for a living (this blog fulfills that need;-)

I'm already taking advantage of my new found routine by getting outside more, walking a lot more (several times/day) and doing longer qigong sessions. It's also nice to be able to listen to music while I work. It really feels like a whole new life is beginning!

I'll be doing a proper post soon. I promise.


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Adrenal Fatigue

This is a subject that I wish I knew nothing about. Unfortunately, I know a whole lot about it, having experienced varying degrees of adrenal fatigue over the years, from mild to I-can-barely-function severe. This is something that so many people are dealing with and, having recently suffered a bout of it, I thought I'd give it a proper post.

Adrenal fatigue creeps into our lives via so many different avenues. Stress, over-work, trauma, lack of sleep, major life changes, surgeries, infections, autoimmune disease, over-training, blood sugar fluctuations (these stress the adrenals), vegetarian/vegan diets (high in copper/low in zinc, as well as high in carbs that can cause blood sugar swings), Leaky Gut Syndrome, pregnancy... the list of contributing factors just goes on and on.

My own adventures in adrenal fatigue began with major knee surgery when I was 14, followed by years of poor sleep habits and hypoglycemia, coupled with a high-carb, low protein vegetarian diet, which made the hypoglycemia worse. I treated myself with vitamins and herbs with varying degrees of success (I never really corrected my poor sleep habits, which is critical. I can't stress this enough!).
By the time I was 31, I had a pretty severe case of adrenal fatigue going on. As a result, my reproductive hormones and cortisol had taken a major nosedive (as well as my fertility) I had to quit my stressful job, do a lot of lifestyle and diet changes, as well as alternative therapies (acupuncture and medical qigong) to get back on my feet.

To illustrate how easy it can be to end up with adrenal fatigue, let me tell you a little story: back in August, I went on vacation to my hometown. Though fun, while I was there, I got little sleep, ate more sugar than usual and had a stressful family situation occur. By the time I got back home, after the 11 hour drive, I was the most exhausted that I've been in years. I had scheduled an extra day to recover from my drive but then a coworker got sick and I had to immediately rush back to work and work several extra long days in a row while already feeling exhausted from my trip. By the weekend, I was fighting off a summer cold. About a month later, I got a nasty respiratory thing that was making the rounds and it really took the wind out of my sails and it felt like it took FOREVER to fully recover! Through all of this, I had really slacked off on my qigong practice, which didn't help matters!
All of that left me feeling fatigued and draggy and flabby (6+ weeks of not being able to work out due to fatigue/illness, coupled with whacked out adrenal hormones= a noticeable increase in belly fat!) I also had a very short and extremely painful menstrual cycle that month.

I went to my holistic doc and did an Adrenal Stress Index and it came back showing that my morning cortisol was very low, my progesterone was low and my DHEA was borderline low. My doc gave me an herbal formula to take in the morning and at noon to raise cortisol levels and he put me on a low dose of pregnenolone- the hormone precursor to progesterone and DHEA. I took coenzymated B vitamins with extra B5 as well as extra vitamin C.
I'm happy to report that my energy levels are really bouncing back. Also, my last menstrual cycle was longer and much more comfortable than the previous one.

We always hear about stress-induced high cortisol, which does all kinds of not-fun things like increasing belly fat and killing brain cells! But what happens when you've cranked out the stress hormones for so long that you've exhausted your adrenals? You start experiencing hormone cascade disruption in the form of "pregenolone steal":

What happens is that, instead of converting pregenolone into DHEA and then into sex hormones, it gets shifted toward cortisol production (cortisol is more vital to our existence than sex hormones are and so it gets prioritized. Cortisol is a major steroid hormone and too little of it really drives up inflammation).

Here's a little video discussing pregnenolone steal:

Effects of Stress - Pregnenolone Steal from Dr. Bryan Walsh on Vimeo.

There are 4 stages of adrenal fatigue:

Stage 1: Alarm Response/Fight-or-Flight (Increase in cortisol is still within the body's output capacity).

Stage 2: Resistance Response/chronic stress (The adrenals are not able to keep up with cortisol demand. Fatigue is present. Ability to handle stress is decreased. Sleep disruption occurs. Thyroid hormone conversion is affected.)

Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion (Low cortisol. Hormone production suffers and clinical symptoms appear. Muscle breakdown. Chronic fatigue. Increased pain).

Stage 4: Adrenal crash/failure

For a more detailed look at the stages of adrenal fatigue, please read Dr. Lam's informative article.

So, what are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue? Could I have it?

Morning fatigue/morning headache.
Not really feeling awake until around 10 a.m.
Afternoon “low” (feelings of sleepiness or clouded thinking) from 2 to 4 p.m.
A burst of energy at 6 p.m. when you finally feel better from your afternoon lull
Sleepiness around 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. However, you resist going to sleep
A “second wind” at 11 p.m. that lasts until about 1 a.m.
Never feeling rested, no matter how much sleep you get
Cravings for foods high in salt and fats
Increased thirst/frequent urination (water goes right through you)
Chronic low blood pressure
Sensitivity to cold and feeling chilled
Increased PMS or menopausal symptoms
Mild depression
Mood swings
Mental fog
Memory problems
A decreased ability to handle stress
A decreased ability to recover from illness/injury
Heat intolerance
Light-headedness when getting up from a sitting or lying down position
Decreased sex drive
Frequent sighing
Inability to handle foods high in potassium or carbohydrates unless they’re combined with fats and protein
Sugar cravings
Leaky Gut Syndrome
Increased food/seasonal allergies
Increased sensitivity to sunlight
Low progesterone/DHEA and possibly estrogen
Hot flashes
General inflammation
Achiness or joint pain
Poor exercise recovery
Difficulty losing weight/belly fat
Difficulty in changing body composition/hard gainer
Muscular weakness
Purple or blue under-eye circles
Vertical lines in the fingertips
Ringing in the ears
Heart palpitations or tachycardia
Thyroid hormone (T3) conversion impairment

You can fill out this questionnaire if you suspect adrenal fatigue.

A lot of these are symptoms of other health issues (and there's a lot of overlap between adrenal fatigue and other issues, as well) but if you score high on the questionnaire I recommend getting an Adrenal Stress Index. You don't need a doctor's prescription, although it's preferable to work with a doc or practitioner who is familiar with saliva tests and adrenal fatigue.
NOTE: Many conventional doctors do not recognize adrenal fatigue as a medical condition, nor utilize saliva hormone panels. They are trained to only recognize full-blown Addison's Disease. If your doctor falls into this category, you're going to have to find another practitioner to help you.

Once you know that you have adrenal fatigue, you have to be willing to commit to lifestyle changes in order to heal. If you have mild adrenal fatigue, you can recovery quickly with the right tools and changes. If it's more severe, realistically it will take a minimum of several months and it's highly recommended to seek the care of a good practitioner (someone who practices Functional Medicine/FunctionalEndocrinology or even a skilled acupuncturist/OMD). There may be underlying factors that need addressing that are beyond your ability to identify or address.

Be aware that for more advanced adrenal fatigue, the healing process is not a linear one. You might start to feel good and then feel not so great again for a little while. Be patient!

Some helpful things for healing adrenal fatigue:

-SLEEP! As much as possible, get 9+ hours. Yes, this is a lot, but you need that much to heal. Don't make the mistake I did by skimping on sleep!

-Get to bed early! Getting to bed before 10 is preferable. You want to go to sleep in that window of sleepiness before your second wind hits. That second wind is a surge of cortisol (not good!) and will work against your progress.

-Eat a diet (preferably Paleo/Primal!) that's easy on your blood sugar. Eat lots of protein and fat and to avoid blood sugar fluctuations and eat carbs like sweet potatoes or berries that are easier on your blood sugar. The cold, hard truth (that I learned the cold, hard way) is that it's a lot harder to heal adrenal fatigue on vegetarian/vegan diets (as per Dr. James Wilson, one of the most experienced in his field).

-Don't exercise too hard. You'll only set back your progress. Learn to gauge what you can actually handle. If you can't recover quickly or feel worse the next day, it's too much. I recommend sticking to short walks, gentle yoga and esp. tai chi or qigong (qigong really helped my healing!) Now is not the time to be trying to get buff (you won't be able get buff anyway until your cortisol/sex hormone levels are healthy!)

-Add 1/4-1/2 tsp. unrefined salt (any salt with color like Redmond Real Salt or Pink Himalayan) to your water. This sounds odd, but when you're in a state of pregnenolone steal, you're not making much aldosterone (see the chart), the hormone that regulates sodium/potassium levels and the balance of these minerals is upset, causing sodium loss, which is made worse by drinking large amounts of water, which further dilutes blood sodium levels (hence the low blood pressure/dizziness upon standing/muscle weakness/heat intolerance.) The salt will quickly correct those symptoms.

-Read "Adrenal Fatigue: The 21st Century Syndrome" by James Wilson. This is a fantastic book and it covers ALL aspects of healing adrenal fatigue.

-Be kind and patient with yourself. Give yourself permission to not get stuff done if it's not immediately pressing. Let go of perfectionism. Get help from others when possible.

-To help with mental stress, try L-Theanine. Theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and it helps the brain make alpha waves, which will put you into a calmer, more focused state. 100-400 mgs at a time is the dose. It can be a sanity saver!

-Deep breathing. Such a fundamental thing, but most of us don't even know HOW to breathe properly! Get yourself into the habit of doing a few minutes of deep breathing upon waking, before meals and before bed. I promise you will feel a difference!

Here's my favorite video illustrating proper breathing (qigong style!):

-Meditation. Meditation doesn't have to be complicated and you don't have to do it for an hour to reap the benefits. I like to do a meditation called the "5-8 Meditation", which is a simple breath awareness technique. All you have to do is sit in a comfortable position and breath into your relaxed belly through your nose for 5 counts, pause, and exhale slowly through your nose for 8 counts. Just be aware of how your breath feels and allow any thoughts to pass through you.
If you'd like to add a visualization, you can imagine cool, white light or water flowing down through the center of the top of your head and washing through you, taking any tension and stress with it. You can start with 5 minutes. Doing this in the morning before you start your day can have a profound effect on your whole day. It's also a great way to end the day.

For those who suspect mild adrenal fatigue or just need a little extra help with handling stress:

Besides taking advantage of the suggestions above, you can use supplements for a little extra help:

-Himalaya Stress Care is one of my favorite adaptogenic, adrenal supplements. It's been extensively researched over the decades (see Geriforte research papers) and is proven to reduce cortisol and boost adrenal function (it's also a great antioxidant!) You can take the recommended dose for maintenance or take a higher dose during periods of stress and/or fatigue.

I truly hope this info will help those that are feeling less than good due to the effects of adrenal fatigue!


Sunday, September 11, 2011

My Story

I love reading people's stories (especially success stories!) They give me hope and encouragement. They motivate me. They give me ideas. It recently occurred to me that I've never told my own story and one of my Facebook friends asked to hear it. It's something I've been meaning to write about for a long time but it just kept slipping my mind. So, here is my story.

In The Beginning...

I was born in 1977 near Detroit, Michigan. My parents had the good sense to move out of the Detroit suburbs and up to the north woods of northern Lower Michigan (Michigan is comprised of two peninsulas, in case you're confused: the Upper and Lower peninsulas.) We moved near the little finger area of the mitten.

I spent the first eleven years of my life in the woods, in a little house with a woodstove next to a river. My mom was fairly "health conscious", so my family ate a lot of whole wheat bread, brown rice, hot cereal, whole grain cold cereal (and no sugary cereal), alfalfa sprouts, yogurt, honey, dried fruit and mostly whole foods (including venison and fish that my dad hunted and fished). How many people's moms served barley as a frequent side dish? Mine did! I will say that I was probably exposed to a much wider variety of foods than my friends were. Who else, outside of California, in the early 80's was eating steamed artichoke?
Other than recurring ear infections (the bane of my childhood existence!), I wasn't sick much. I had lots of energy and spent most of my time in the woods with my younger brother (our property was adjacent to state forest land) building forts and exploring in all seasons.

After my parents divorced and my mom remarried, I moved a few hours south to the shores of Lake Michigan where I spent my adolescence. When I was 12, I had started to have a lot of issues with my left leg (esp. my knee), which has a large birthmark running the outside length of it (it looks like spider veins and faint, blue veins). It would slightly swell and become so painful that I couldn't walk.

By the time I was 13, it was bothering me frequently, so I had tests done and vein abnormalities were found. I had major knee surgery right before my 14th birthday to remove the offending veins. My surgeon at the time had never seen my condition before and it would be another 12 years or so before my condition was diagnosed as Klippel-Trenaunay Syndrome, a rare congenital vascular deformity. I basically have twice as many veins in my left leg and internal (in the muscle) varicose veins that can pool with blood, causing the muscle to stiffen and the tissue to swell. In normal veins, blood flows in one direction. In my veins, it's a free for all; a vascular clusterf*ck.

I recovered from the surgery well and it did help to greatly reduce my discomfort, but in retrospect, I think it was the beginning of adrenal fatigue for me. I lost a lot of blood and it was a pretty invasive surgery, with my knee being taken apart to get at all the veins and then put back together. My health never quite felt the same after that.

The Problems Begin...

In the years following, I developed hypoglycemia, low blood pressure (I'd often see stars or start to black out if I stood up too quickly) menstrual problems (horrible cramps and simultaneous IBS), and general feelings of fatigue. I had bad bronchitis every winter. I just didn't feel good anymore. I discovered my mom's stash of old nutrition books from the 70's and 80's, including titles like "Are You Confused?", "The Vegetarian Guide to Diet and Salad", "Fit For Life" and Adelle Davis books.

I began to experiment with nutrition and herbs, eventually dropping meat from my diet when I was 15, after reading an Utne Reader article on factory farming. I still ate a little fish once in awhile, but for the next 16 years or so, I would eat a largely vegetarian (and at times, vegan) diet. I even got a part-time job at the little health food store in my town. I became one of those health-nut types.

I ate lots and lots of "healthy" whole grains in the form of sprouted Ezekiel Bread veggie sandwiches, oatmeal (nearly every morning!), brown rice, tortilla chips, etc. Lots of salads. Lots of rice milk (because dairy was bad, of course!) And lots of Soya Kaas, though not a lot of fake meat, because those were the days when fake meat was really awful and variety was limited.
Being vegetarian wasn't cool or mainstream yet (I was the only vegetarian I knew!) Those were the days before T. Colin Campbell and "Skinny Bitch". The days when Dean Ornish was just getting started and Dr. McDougall still ruled the (low-fat/low protein) vegetarian roost.

I went through phases of being dairy free and then wheat (but not gluten) free in hopes of curing my wicked menstrual cramps (to no avail). My mom worried about me being too legalistic about my diet, every time I decided to drop a food for awhile. I was hungry all the time and had frequent low blood sugar, so I took chromium (it didn't help that much). I got lovely cysts on my chin that took forever to heal. I felt spacey and frequently unfocused. As I got closer to 18, I suddenly started to gain some weight. It was such a bummer, as I had formerly always been skinny and never had to think twice about what I ate.

Into The South (where things went further south)...

When I was 19, I moved to Nashville, Tennessee along with my mom and sister. I had decided to move here and my mom, in the midst of a divorce and wanting a change of scenery, decided to also move, so we all moved together. That was the summer that my hair started falling out.

Hair sheds in cycles, but when your hair really starts to shed excessively, you know that something is wrong. The shedding eventually abated, but in the following year, I developed some fairly severe fatigue. I was working in the kitchen of a macrobiotic vegan restaurant at the time and I'd come home and have to lay down and nap for an hour to even be functional. It didn't help that I had to work at 7 am and that I was a night owl and therefore never seemed to get 8 hours of sleep.
It also didn't help that my free lunch (and lots of take-home leftovers) consisted of soy, grains and beans galore. I was SO tired (and scared that someone so young could be so tired!) and in the winter my hands and feet were freezing all the time! I'd be at work, prepping lettuce for the salad bar and my hands would just ache every time I had to put them in the sink of cold water. They'd ache to the point of making me grouchy.

In my search for health, I discovered that I had a whole lot of hypothyroid symptoms. The hair loss, fatigue, weight gain, cold hands and feet all fit the bill, so I went to the health food store and got a thyroid supplement. It did help with somewhat with the fatigue, hair loss, and body temp issues, but it didn't cure me of all my ills.

After the restaurant job, I got into supplement retail and stayed there for the next nine years. In those nine years, I learned a whole lot about and experimented with tons of vitamins and herbs (I also met my lovely husband and got married right before I turned 26). I read a lot of nutrition books, but I was pretty much only reading things that supported my veg-centric philosophies.

It never occurred to me that my "healthy" diet could be the root of my still persistent health issues (by this time I had developed hay fever. Great.) I had insomnia (thank you acupuncture and understanding hubby for helping me get through that!) My short-term memory was like a sieve. I also had a lot of fatigue and no matter which herbs or vitamins I took, I didn't have energy. I had barely enough energy for work- it was challenging being on my feet all day- and then none left over when my workday was done. I sometimes felt vaguely achy. I had a nagging feeling that I was teetering on the edge of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or something along those lines.

Raw Food: Lessons Learned...

Somehow or other I got into raw food. I didn't jump all in at first. I experimented, I did little bouts of raw and when green smoothies became all the rage, I drank a blender full every day. Eventually I decided to go all-in to see if I could heal myself. I began seeing my acupuncturist shortly after going raw and she was very frank with me. She told me that I was infertile (I had already been diagnosed with Luteal Phase Defect and low progesterone by my gynecologist) and so depleted of energy that it could take several years to heal. Crap!!! I realized that the stress of my job was working against my healing, so I decided that I had no choice but to quit my job (I had SO wanted to quit it, but it took a real wake-up call to give me a reason). My husband was extremely understanding and his career was now solidly on track, so we could afford for me to quit.

I really thought that acupuncture + raw food would heal me in record time. Imagine my disappointment when I didn't improve. Where was the "raw" energy and the glow I was supposed to have? Why wasn't my skin clear and why did my periods still hurt? Why did my skin suddenly seem to age (I was 30 at the time).
I was eating so many green smoothies, salads, superfoods, veggies, nuts, fruit, fermented foods, sprouted raw bread and hemp protein. My acupuncturist would take my pulse after a treatment and shake her head in confusion. No improvement. No energy. Weak digestion (food was going right through me!) In fact, I had started to lose muscle (and I didn't have a lot to begin with). Not cool.

I diligently read my favorite raw food forum, looking for tips on tweaking my diet to make it more successful. I met a lot of great people on the forum (many of whom I'm still friends with and most of whom now eat animal products;) One day, one of them who suffered from similar health issues as me confided that her new acupuncturist told her that she absolutely had to eat meat in order to heal and that she was going to try it. She was one of the most experienced members of the forum and the most knowledgeable and had tried every raw diet out there. I think her being brave enough to change planted the seed for me to change. I started reading the stories of failed vegetarian/raw diets on a site called Beyond Vegetarianism. I was realizing that raw and vegan diets seemed to be problematic for a lot of people. Could my own diet be keeping me from healing?

Then the dreams started. In the first dream, I was getting an acupuncture treatment and the doc said, in a stern voice, "Are you REALLY willing to do whatever it takes to get better?" When I woke, I had a sinking feeling that he was referring to eating meat (I was still raw vegan and hesitant to eat meat at that point). In the second dream, I was eavesdropping on two Chinese medicine doctors talking about me and one said to the other, while shaking her head in frustration "She NEEDS to eat meat!!". Ok, ok, subconscious! I was starting to get the picture!
In the final dream, I was outdoors and before me was a large table piled high with slabs of meat, fish, veggies and tubers (I can't remember if there was fruit). Sound familiar? It was the food eaten by a very tall, strapping, fit man and I was supposed to write it all down and analyze it. It was Paleo food. I didn't even know much about Paleo diets at the time.

The Home Stretch...

I was still keeping in touch with my now meat-eating former raw foodist friend and she had begun to tell me more about Paleo and Primal diets. She was healing and doing much better, so I decided I'd take the plunge into meat eating. I decided to go big- big as in BISON! My reasoning was this: what kind of animal embodies the strength and vitality that I'm so lacking in? Bison! So, I had my hubby cook me a bison patty and I was so nervous about taking the first bite. Would I gag? Would I get a stomach ache?
None of those happened. I took a bite, it was awesome, I ate the whole thing and then had to restrain myself from eating a second (I didn't want to push my luck with the stomach ache thing!) I didn't look back.

I went a few months eating an omnivorous diet, feeling a bit better and gaining back the muscle that I had lost. Little warts that I had on my fingers for nearly 2 years magically vanished. I decided to give acupuncture a break and try Medical Qigong treatments (of which I had heard great things) for my adrenal fatigue. Wow. They truly got me over the hump, so to speak. I had some energy again! That was also the beginning of my fascination with (and eventual training) in Medical Qigong, but that's a story for another time.

It was sometime shortly after that that I read "Primal Body, Primal Mind", at the suggestion of my friend. A thousand light bulbs went on in my head! It all clicked! OF COURSE I hadn't been able to heal my adrenal fatigue while eating so many blood sugar spiking grains! I decided to drop grains and immediately. I had big improvements in my energy and mental function (at least for a time). It was wonderful.
I fell in love with cooking again (partly because I had enough energy to even want to cook!) I also discovered a whole host of Primal/Paleo blogs (see my blog roll). What a fun time that was! My skin really improved. It stopped breaking out so much (I can't remember the last time I had a cyst on my chin) and it also started to look younger. I lost a little weight without trying (I had gotten skinny when I was raw but quickly gained some extra weight back in my omnivore phase). My menstrual problems also really improved. My digestion improved tremendously, too.

I was feeling much better, although I still had symptoms of hypothyroidism and hormone imbalances (you can't have balanced hormones if your thyroid is messed up.) There were still some missing puzzle pieces. I had finally figured out that thyroid issues are complicated and not something that you can treat on your own. I think it was my aforementioned friend who turned me on to the book "Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms When My Lab Tests Are Normal?".
Reading the book was so eye-opening! It rocked my world. I'd read so many books and articles about hypothyroidism over the years and this book was telling me things I'd NEVER heard! I learned that the majority of thyroid problems are autoimmune in nature (Hashimoto's Thyroiditis) with GLUTEN being a main culprit (I was eating Primal but still "cheating" by eating bread once in awhile, like while on vacation). Could this be why I was still having issues? Why my brain function had devolved back into brain fog after initial improvements? Could I have an autoimmune disease??

I decide to steer clear of the gluten from then on. By sheer coincidence, I happened to find a functional health practitioner in Nashville who was using the protocols outlined in the book and so I went and got a thyroid antibodies panel. It came back positive. No more guessing; my immune system was attacking my thyroid (and probably other things as well!) So, we determined which part of my immune system was being overactive through a supplement challenge and I was put on a regimen to dampen the overactive side (by avoiding substances which stimulate cellular immunity) and stimulating the underactive side with specific supplements. More info on how this works HERE.

I started to feel better within a few weeks. I started to feel normal again. That was nearly a year ago. I've had minor setbacks (always after a virus- it seems to throw my immune system out of whack) but I've gotten back on track every time. I've had more periods of "normal" in the last year than in my entire adult life. I keep discovering more little pieces of the puzzle (like a neurotransmitter deficiency) and I keep improving. I keep on healing. Even though it's felt at times like my progress was happening at a snail's pace, it still happened. When I run into people I haven't seen in years, they ask me what I'm doing differently and tell me I look so much healthier and alive than I used to. It's nice to finally be walking among the living.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Almond Flour Breaded Mahi Mahi

I got home from a fun but less than relaxing vacation to Traverse City, MI (the most awesome place that you didn't know existed) a little over a week ago. I've been feeling a bit under the weather ever since, due to a week of lack of sleep (aren't vacations supposed to be restful??) and having to work some extra long days immediately after getting home. I'm not sure if I've just fried my adrenals, if I've been fighting something off or if it's allergies which, for me, manifests mainly as intense fatigue and a vague sore throat (my allergies were non-existent last spring and fall). Adrenal fatigue exacerbates allergies.

Anyway, I haven't had much inclination to post, but I'm on the upswing now, thanks to lots of sleep and some big doses of Himalaya Stress Care (even if my adrenals aren't the main issue here, it won't hurt to give them a boost after all that lack of sleep!)

I've noticed that my food posts seem to be the most popular type of post so I thought I'd start doing more of them (my readers obviously like to eat;) Here's my latest and greatest kitchen adventure:

I was shopping at Trader Joe's (my home away from home) recently and I discovered some frozen mahi mahi chunks and hubby decided he wanted fish tacos and I thought they looked perfect for making fish sticks with. So, I did a little internet sleuthing to see how people were breading their fish with almond flour, since my own attempts had been yummy but not crispy/crunchy like I had wanted.

I noticed that a lot of people were including grated parmesan in their breading mixture, so, I tested it out and I'm happy to report that I achieved stellar crispy/crunchiness! I used Spectrum shortening, which is made from organic, sustainably harvested palm kernel oil and, being a saturated fat, stands up to heat, yet has a neutral flavor.
This breading would work well on other fish and it would make some great fried chicken, too!

Almond Flour Breaded Mahi Mahi Sticks

-Almond flour
-Grated parmesan
-One beaten egg

-Palm shortening for frying

Combine in a ratio of between 4:1 and 3:1 almond flour to parmesan (I didn't measure, so play around with it.)
You can add a bit of garlic granules, black pepper and other seasonings (taco seasoning is good if you're making fish tacos). Get creative!

Dip the fish in the egg and then dredge in the breading mixture. Fry in a generous amount of palm shortening, making sure not to let the oil get too hot (almond flour will burn quickly!)
Drain on paper towels

If you're anything like me, you're kitchen will be a mess when you're done and you will be disinclined to clean up. Some loud music is the answer to help get you going. Tame Impala is my latest favorite doing-the-dishes soundtrack:


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Attempting Mindfulness

A few days ago, I woke up, had a cup of tea and instead of checking emails/facebook/news etc. first thing like I usually do, I decided to go for a walk before it got hot out. It's been really hot here in Nashville lately and, not being a huge fan of sweltering heat, if I don't walk early, which I nearly never do, I don't walk until around sunset.

First, I walked a block over to my mom's to feed her cat, who I'm taking care of while she's out of town. And then, instead of planning a course to walk, I just started walking. Walking with no particular destination or goal other than to be walking and noticing my surroundings, rather than being stuck inside my head while the world flies on by like I so often can be.

I noticed things I've never noticed before: a little stand of pine trees (which I had to take a detour and explore;) and the lovely smell of the hot pink crepe myrtles. I never realized that they even had a scent. The thing I noticed most of all was how clear my mind was and how it set the tone for the rest of the day. I felt mentally and spiritually better than I have in awhile and I realized that this feeling of clarity and centeredness is something that has been vitally missing for me recently. My mind was aware of and part of my surroundings, rather than somewhere else.

As I was in this relaxed state of mind (or the Zen term "no mind", as a friend referred to it) just experiencing my surroundings, the elusive topic of my long overdue blog post that I had been struggling to feel inspired to write suddenly became clear: I will write about mindfulness.

In the search for health and wellness, it's so easy to get caught up in the cycle of food choices, macronutrients, exercise, etc. and when we pile these things onto an already busy life, it's easy to plow through the day without really taking in our surroundings and pausing to breathe. Pay attention to your breath for a second. Are you subconsciously holding it or breathing shallowly?
It's easy to forget that collapsing on the couch and watching TV is entertaining, but entertainment isn't the same as pleasure. Are you cultivating any true pleasure in your life- not just passive entertainment?
You might be making a healthy meal for yourself, but are you sitting down to eat it in manner that allows you to really appreciate it or are you multitasking as you eat? Are you nurturing yourself with your food choices or just trying to be thinner/cleaner/better but forgetting to be loving and kind toward yourself?

All of those questions help illuminate a few of the many moments that we can miss out on being mindful about what we're doing. Without mindfulness, we make choices that are less conscious and we miss opportunities to experience more joy and pleasure.

As a neurofeedback technician, it concerns me that the majority of my clients (and myself) have at least low level attention issues. Our minds are restless and if we're not multitasking, we get antsy. But if we're always multitasking, we're also not truly ever experiencing a moment fully.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior actually alters our brain over time and rewires our brains to be impatient- looking for the next thing, whether it be the next comment on our facebook page, the next text, the next whatever. We skim everything, not going very deep. There is no mindfulness going on. When I read the article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", I recognized what had happened to my brain. I used to be the kind of person who could immerse myself in a book for hours. I could read an article all the way through without feeling restless and flipping or clicking to another. I've rewired my brain to have an impatient attention span and I want to rewire it back.

So, how am I going to rewire my mind to take in more of life in each moment and not to be chomping at the bit for the next thing? Here's how:

-I've realized that postponing opening my laptop and starting my day with a walk is one of the best things for my mind. It sets the tone for the whole day. If I can't walk, I can drink my tea and listen to music. I can do something OTHER than reaching for my computer, first thing.
-I can do my qigong in the morning instead of the evening.
-In the evening, instead of just watching TV, I could read or look up recipes to make for the week or even lay on my hammock and enjoy the quiet.
-I can do a few minutes of deep breathing when I wake, before each meal and before I go to sleep.
-Instead of washing the dishes mindlessly (I hate washing dishes) or putting off washing them, I can put on some music to make the task more enjoyable. For me, a clean house makes a huge difference in my amount of mental clutter, but I often don't take small opportunities to pick things up or clean and then everything gets so messy that it makes my mind feel cluttered and unfocused.

All of these are small things that make a huge difference in how I feel and experience my life.

There are so many ways I can engage my life more mindfully. I want to take advantage and not only get more out of life, but find greater presence of mind and balance. How will you practice mindfulness?


Saturday, June 25, 2011

Perfect Vanilla Cake (grain-free/gluten-free)

This is the story of how I stumbled onto a recipe for THE PERFECT CAKE!

It happened one Saturday night when I was home alone and bored. Husband was out of town on a film shoot and friends were all busy. I was browsing recipes online and was seized with a sudden mania for something sweet. I happened to be on Elana's Pantry and her recipe for Chocolate Almond Joy Bars screamed out to me.

I was doomed since, for once, I had all the ingredients on hand (that almost NEVER happens!) I didn't have chocolate chips, but I had unsweetened dark chocolate, which I like better anyway, so I just chopped that up and used it instead. I also reduced the sweetener by about 1/3 and subbed some stevia. I cranked up some Bowie and started baking! The bars turned out fabulous, but much more cake-like that I expected, with a soft, moist, light crumb texture (it reminded me of a cross between fluffy yellow cake and tender, buttery bundt cake) and a thought occurred to me: I could totally tweak this batter into a number of amazing cakes!

So, of course I HAD to make a few cakes to test out my hypothesis (all in the name of culinary science, right?) I made a blueberry breakfast cake and a vanilla cake to use for strawberry shortcake. I had my mom taste both (she gave a big thumbs up) and I brought the vanilla cake over to some friends' for dessert. Again, big huge hit. My friend's husband, who is a little leery of gluten free (not to mention grain free) food even wanted seconds (actually, we all did!)

So, without further adieu, here is my super simple, grain-free cake recipe that can be tweaked into so many possibilities. It makes a light, moist cake (or cupcakes) that would be perfect for making a layer cake with (make 2 batches for that) you could double the recipe to make a taller cake, as this one is on the shorter side (just bake a little longer).

Here's a little music to make your cake baking even more rad:

Perfect Vanilla Cake:
Sorry I didn't post a picture. I didn't happen to take any and I don't dare make a cake right now or I will most certainly eat all of it!

Preheat oven to 350º
4 eggs
3/4 cup coconut milk (canned) or cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract ( you can use l tsp. if you want less vanilla flavor)
1/2 cup palm sugar (or other sugar)
1/2 cup blanched almond flour
1/2 cup coconut flour
1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
Scant 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Stevia (I like NuNaturals NoCarbs Blend) to further sweeten- judge by tasting the batter. I always make sure the batter is slightly sweeter than I want the final product to be. Some of the sweetness bakes out.

Note on sweetener amount: you can further reduce the sugar and use more stevia, but I recommend using at least a little of some type of real sugar, since sugar contributes to a good crumb texture.

1. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, coconut milk, vanilla extract and palm sugar.
2. In a smaller bowl, combine almond flour, coconut flour, salt and baking soda.
3. Mix dry ingredients into wet with a handheld mixer. Add stevia to taste.
4. Grease an 8x8 inch baking dish and pour in batter.

Bake for 30 minutes
Cool for 1 hour


-Blueberry cake: use almond extract instead of vanilla and add thawed frozen blueberries (I probably used 2/3 cup.) You can use only 1/3 cup sugar.
-Cinnamon cake: add a generous amount of cinnamon to the basic batter.
-Lemon poppyseed cake: add lemon juice + zest and poppyseeds.
-Apple cake: layer thinly sliced peeled apples on top of cinnamon cake batter.
-Strawberry cake: add fresh or thawed frozen strawberries + a little strawberry juice for a pink cake and frost with strawberry cream cheese frosting.

I haven't made any frostings but it would be really good with chocolate or coconut frosting. I'll leave you with the frosting recipes from Elana's Pantry.

There are just so many things you can do with it! I'm sure it would be great for chocolate (or German chocolate) cake, but that will take more experimenting, since cocoa powder absorbs a lot of liquid. I'm also going to experiment with zucchini bread and banana bread/cake.

If you come up with a fabulous variation, let me know!


Friday, June 3, 2011

These Are a Few of My Favorite Herbs

If I were to rewrite the lyrics to "My Favorite Things", herbal medicine would be in there somewhere (along with Arrested Development, yorkshire pudding, Agatha Christie adaptations, Neil Young and 1960's Danish furniture;) Studying herbal medicine is a longtime hobby of mine. It started 20 years ago with the discovery of my mom's 1970's copy of the classic The Herb Book by John Lust, when I was about 13. I'm endlessly fascinated with the materia medica of herbal medicine.

I love making infusions and decoctions and trying new tablets and tinctures (my latest being a mystery brew recreated from a centuries old formula passed down through the family of Master Duan Zhi Liang, (now over 90 years old and still doing healing work and teaching kung fu!) who is one of my qigong teacher's teachers.

I've dabbled in Chinese herbalism, western herbalism and even Ayurvedic herbalism and I've come to love certain herbs used in each of these systems and that's what this post will be about: my favorite herbs. I used to work in supplement retail for nearly a decade and thanks to employee discounts and freebies I've been able to try out far more herbs than the average person. I'm going to go over some of my all-time tried and true favorites that have given me consistently good results.

First, let me go over some herbal medicine basics. Herbal medicine is divided into different classes of action. There are tonic herbs, which have general health promoting and strengthening qualities, adaptogens, which help the body, nervous system and brain better adapt to and withstand stressors and then there are herbs that are action and symtom specific. I'll be discussing several tonic and adaptogenic herbs that are suitable for most people. These are herbs that I've had consistently good results from. I must stress that when it comes to getting results from herbal medicine, quality is key, so I'll be divulging brands and sources that I know to make high quality, potent products.

Glossary of terms:
A tea made by steeping herbs in boiling or hot water (usually between 5-15 min.) Used for leaf and flower materials.

A tea made by simmering herbs (between 5-20 min.) This method is used for hard and woody substances like root and bark materials.

Any preparation of an herb that extracts the active components with a solvent. Extracts are much more concentrated than dried herbs. An alcohol/water mixture is the most common medium for extraction. Herbs containing volatile oils can also be extracted using hexane (not preferable) or with liquid carbon dioxide (a.k.a. Supercritical CO2 extraction). Extracts are sold as liquid or the extract is freeze dried and tableted or encapsulated.

A liquid extract that's usually made using the alcohol/water (menstruum) extraction method. The tincture strength is indicated by listing the herb-to-menstruum ratio, usually ranging from 1:1- 1:5 (example- 1:5 indicates one part herb to 5 parts menstruum).

And now, for the good stuff:


Astragalus Root/ Huang Qi (Astragalus Membranaceus)

Astragalus root is one of the major tonic herbs used in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). It's considered a major energy tonic (like ginseng, but more gentle- the two are often combined)and is used to rebuild and preserve strength and energy. Astragalus has many benefits, including strengthening digestion, helping to improve nutrient absorption and it's used in TCM to warm the body and improve muscle weakness/flaccidity, general weakness, wasting and internal organ prolapse. It also improves insulin resistance.
Astragalus really shines as an immune system tonic. It contains immune stimulating polysaccharides. I got to experience this first hand in my retail days when, during cold and flu season, multitudes of sick customers would come looking for remedies and I'd be exposed to a lot of contagions. It was really hard NOT to catch things from them until I started taking astragalus faithfully. It made a dramatic difference and often I'd be the only non-sick person on staff in my department (and it wasn't because I had such an awesome immune system- I used to get sick frequently).

Astragalus has been extensively studied and found to increase general immune response as well as macrophage, leukocyte and interleukin-2 levels and activity. For this reason, those with autoimmune conditions should not take astragalus unless they know that their condition is TH2 (humoral) dominant, as astragalus increases the TH1 cell-mediated immune response and can worsen some conditions. For more on TH1/TH2 immunity and the substances that affect them, check out this article.

Astragalus is best taken as a liquid extract (it's mild and sweet tasting) or in an encapsulated/tableted standardized extract. I recommend these over the plain dried herb in capsules, as they're more potent. Tonic herbs are safe for long term use and if you're using astragalus to ward off winter illness, it's good to start taking it well BEFORE winter starts.. If you do get sick, discontinue astragalus temporarily until you feel better and then resume taking it.


Chyawanprash (also spelled chyavanprash) isn't a single herb, but rather a thick, spicy jam-like mixture of many Indian Ayurvedic herbs cooked in raw sugar and ghee. Some of the principal herbs are amla, a.k.a Indian gooseberry (one of the richest sources of vitamin c and a powerhouse of benefits, including antiradiation effects) and ashwanganda, a.k.a. winter cherry (adaptogenic, cortisol inhibiting and neuroprotective) along with many digestion enhancing herbs (cardamon, long pepper) and blood sugar balancing herbs (cinnamon and gymnema sylvestre). Chyawanrash has also been shown to posses immunomodulatory actions.

Chyawanprash is used as a general energy/rejuvenation and digestive tonic and has strong antioxidant and anti-stress properties. I notice a general feeling of more energy and overall wellbeing when I take it. With so many beneficial properties, it's something that most people could benefit from.
There are many good brands of Chyawanprash on the market and it can be found in capsule form for those who don't want the sugar it contains.

He Shou Wu/Fo Ti (Polygonum Multiflorum)

He Shou Wu (I'll call it shou wu for short) is one of the principle longevity herbs in Taoist and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It's considered an anti-aging and rejuvenation tonic. The name "He Shou Wu" translates to "Black-haired Mr. He" in reference to a legend of en elderly man who was given the herb by a monk. In the story, Mr. He was able to regain his fertility, strength and his hair color. Indeed, shou wu is renowned for reversing gray hair and hair loss with long term use. I had a number of elderly customers who experienced some of their gray hair growing in darker after taking shou wu for a number of months.
I have found that it really delivers in halting and reversing hair shedding related to hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. I've had periods of excessive hair shedding due to Hashimoto's over the years and I've always been able to halt and reverse the hair loss with shou wu, so it's no wonder it's a favorite herb of mine!

Beyond hair benefits, shou wu has anti-aging benefits. It's a good source of resveratrol, the antioxidant found in red wine and giant knotweed (which is in the same botanical family). Resveratrol from shou wu has been shown to inhibit AGE's (Advanced Glycation End Products) which are compounds that damage cells and are thought to be one of the main factors in cellular aging.

Nettle Leaf (Urtica Dioica)

Nettle leaf is a powerhouse of medicinal properties and no fun to accidentally walk through in the woods- it definitely deserves the "stinging" nettle moniker! My dad and I still reminisce about a grueling family summer hike (we refer to it as "The Death March) that culminated in us walking unawares through a large stand of nettles. We figured out pretty quickly what it was we had walked through! If you doubt the massive sting of nettles, check out the numerous "nettle jump" videos like this one (warning: strong language!) You can see her nettle rash at the end!

Nettle leaves are an excellent source of minerals (esp. silica, calcium and potassium) and have general tonic properties, as well as diuretic properties, making them good choice for urinary tract infections (or plain old water retention). Nettle leaf is also a popular allergy remedy (meant to be started before the allergy season begins). In vitro and ex vivo studies, nettle leaf extract has been found to inhibit prostaglandins and leukotriene synthesis, as well as suppress proinflammatory cytokine production.

I consume nettle in tea form on a regular basis for its tonic properties and mineral content. I also find that it can sometimes help a mild headache.
I like to make a decoction of dried nettle leaves in my french press and I usually add some mint for flavor. Nettle has a mild grassy taste that's easy to dress up with other flavors. I use about 1-2 TB of dried nettle to 8 oz. of water to make a strong infusion and I let it steep 5-10 minutes.

Nettles grow in many places and are easy to pick and dry for tea, as this video shows, or to eat as steamed greens (they lose the sting when they're cooked).

Rhodiola/Arctic Root (Rhodiola Rosea)

Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb that grows in Siberia and has been extensively studied by Russian scientists. There is also a form that grows in Tibet (Rhodiola Crenulata) but I won't be discussing that form. Rhodiola is one of my all time favorite herbs because it's fabulous not only for its stress-adaptive and energy enhancing effects, but also for its cognitive enhancing effects. If you feel draggy and out of it, it can do wonders. If you have a lot of studying to do, rhodiola is your friend. In fact, studies have been performed that showed subjects taking rhodiola had increased learning capacity, better recall, faster language learning and better test scores. I notice that it really increases my alertness and focus.

Traditionally, rhodiola rosea was used by Russians, Siberians and Scandinavians to improve vitality in harsh conditions presented by bitter cold climates and high altitude areas (it helps with altitude sickness). This golden root later developed a rather mysterious reputation as Soviet KGB agents relied on rhodiola rosea to improve physical and mental endurance while persevering stressful conditions and situations. It is known to inhibit excess stress hormones like cortisol.

Rhodiola is also known to have cardioprotective benefits, as well as antidepressant properties. Indeed, back in my supplement selling days, I had a number of customers who reported that it was a very effective antidepressant when other herbal/nutrient antidepressants had not worked for them.

Most rhodiola is sold as a standardized extract, standardized for 2-3% Rosavins and .8-1% Salidrosides. Doses range from 100-600 mg/day with lower doses being more stimulating (you might not want to take it at night) and higher doses being more calming. A minority of people are sensitive to rhodiola and experience anxiety or a wired feeling when taking it. This has never been my experience, though.

I've tried many brands and had great results with New Chapter and Gaia rhodiola capsules as well as Herb Pharm and Nature's Answer rhodiola tinctures (non-standardized). I rather enjoy the flavor of rhodiola, which is rosy tasting.


I've noticed that a lot of people are afraid of medicinal herbs, as if they're some sort of poisonous voodoo substances. I've even heard comments to the effect of "I'm afraid of herbs because they haven't been studied!"
I want to dispel the myth that herbs are "unstudied" or "unproven". Whenever I see this mentioned in some article, I know that it's an example of lazy journalism. Herbs are beginning to be studied a lot more in the U.S. at major medical centers, while serious herbal research has been taking place for decades in India, the U.K. and especially Germany, where they have published official monographs on the therapeutic actions of herbs (they treat them much like pharmaceuticals, there).

For sure, herbs can have side effects (they're MEDICINAL, after all) and can interfere with medications. Just like any sort of medicine, it's up to us to do our due diligence and learn about the substances we're taking. I'd like to encourage people to research and dig up information on herbs (because it's out there!)

Here is a list of herbal books and resources that I have found to be very informative:


The American Botanical Council's Herbal Library

The American Herbalist Guild

Herb Pharm's Education Links

GreenMedInfo.com (I could get happily lost looking at the database of studies!)

Gaia Herbs Professional Site

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center's Herbal Database

There are many more excellent herb books out there (including how-to books) that I could list, but these are a good place to start.

The Little Herb Encyclopedia by Jack Ritchason
A good general herbal guide.

The Way of Herbs by Michael Tierra
Michael Tierra is one of my favorite herbalists, with a broad education in several modalities of herbal medicine.

Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra
This covers more of the Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs alongside western herbs.

The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood
This book my be a little esoteric for some people's tastes but I find it fascinating!

The Herb Book by John Lust
This is by no means the most up to date book, but I love the illustrations and the inclusion of old fashioned, lesser-used herbs, as well as the alternate names index.

A-Z Guide to Drug-Herb-Vitamin Interactions
It's important to know how herbs can interact with prescription medications.

Manufacturers and Suppliers:
Like I mentioned before, quality is of paramount importance if you want effective herbal products. Here are my favorite suppliers and brands:

Dragon Herbs (Chinese tonic herbs, free phone consultations)

Eclectic Institute (tinctures and capsules, classic western formulas)

Gaia Herbs (tinctures, liqucaps and research)

Herb Pharm (tinctures)

Himalaya USA
(clinically researched Ayurvedic formulas and herbal capsules)

Planetary Herbals (Chinese and western formulas)

New Chapter (supercritical extracts, research)

Mountain Rose Herbs (bulk herbs)

I hope you've enjoyed this post and I hope more people will be curious about utilizing our "herbal allies" in the march toward greater wellness. I'd love to hear about your favorite herbs!


Monday, May 16, 2011

Epigenetic Orthodontics: Building Better Bites, Faces and Health?

Wow, I didn't mean for so much time to elapse since the last post, but I've been putting a lot of time and effort into this one and I'm really enthused to bring you this information. This is a bit of a continuation of the theme presented in my last post. In it, I touched on how pre- and postnatal nutrition affects our dental and facial development.
I've recently done some research into the surprising and far-reaching effects of poor jaw development, as well as what can be done once you already have poorly formed facial bone and jaw/dental structure and it's been fascinating. I've included the interviews that I listened to so you can also listen to the pioneers in this innovative field.
I'm not going to get into the nutritional aspects of what creates poor development because so many others have already covered that subject. In this post, we will deal with the side effects of poor bone structure and how we can correct it.

For a really thorough look into the effects of nutrition on our teeth and facial structure, check out Stephan at Whole Health Source's excellent 9 part series.

You can also read Weston Price's classic "Nutrition and Physical Degeneration" online for free.

Far-reaching effects:

While it might seem like a chiefly cosmetic concern to have crowded teeth or an overbite, it goes so much deeper: a poorly formed maxilla (upper jaw) also affects the eye sockets that support and shape the eyeball (leading to things like astigmatism and near-sighteness), it supports the nasal airways, leading to deviated septums, asymmetrical noses, snoring and sleep apnea (a contributing factor in childhood ADHD, by the way). What if so many sleep issues are really due to our poorly formed airways? The implications are sort of staggering.

Here's a picture of the facial bone structure. Note how the maxilla (in green) supports the underside of the eye sockets, as well as the floor of the nasal passages. It also forms a good portion of the cheekbones. Do you know anyone with droopy lower eyelids and visible whites under their irises? They have an underdeveloped maxilla. Someone with a nose that leans to one side? One side of their maxilla is less developed than the other. Someone with flat, saggy cheeks? Again, an underdeveloped maxilla.

So, what about an underdeveloped lower jaw? Compromised airways and/or a tongue that rests too far back in the mouth from an underdeveloped lower jaw can lead to a forward head posture, which helps to open the airways. However, this can throw off the alignment of the spine (and whole body), leading to headaches, bruxism (teeth grinding), neck/shoulder tension, lower back pain and fatigue, to name just a few things. Also, when your bite doesn't line up properly, the teeth can be subject to uneven patterns of wear.

The forward head posture also causes a tendency of the Sympathetic Nervous System to be overactive. You've probably heard of "Fight or Flight"- the state in which you're on high alert and are secreting stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. The posture of your neck can keep you in this state (here's an article detailing Fight or Flight and how to deal with it).

In an interview I listened to with Dr. Richard Quinttus, who practices Oral Systemic Balance (OSB) therapy, Dr. Quinntus talked about how blocked airways and poor tongue posture can trigger excess adrenaline. He says that many people who feel the need to run to get the famed "runner's high" may actually have high adrenaline and airway issues (the running helps to open their airways and forces them to intake more oxygen), as well as poor sleep quality.

When the mandible (lower law) is underdeveloped, TMD can be an issue, as well as headaches. The development of the facial support structure also affects hearing. One of the most striking examples of how a malpositioned temporomandibular joint can affect someone is demonstrated in the work of Dr. Brendan Stack, D.D.S. who has found a remarkable way to treat Tourette's Syndrome by repositioning the jaw!

As you can see, it goes so far beyond just the aesthetic aspects. So, what can we do if we have facial structure that didn't exactly develop to its full genetic potential? This is where Epigenetic Orthodontics comes in.

Epigenetic and Functional Orthodontics

Epigenetics: In biology, epigenetics is the study of changes in phenotype (appearance) or gene expression caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence, hence the name epi- (Greek: επί- over, above) -genetics.

Epigenetic Orthodontics (also called Functional Orthodontics) is a specialized field in dentistry dealing with correcting the narrow palates, poorly aligned bites, facial asymmetries and small jaws that so many of us are afflicted with (it can also deal with crooked teeth). It takes a look at where our development went wrong and looks at the dental structure in the context of the whole face and how it all functions, rather than just looking at whether or not the teeth are straight.
The objective is to allow the craniofacial structure to develop in the way they would have, had our gene expression been optimized. Epigenetic Orthodontics stimulates a person’s genes to correct and straighten the teeth without the use of force brackets, affecting craniofacial, dental, and airway structures so that natural developmental processes are evoked by the use of orthodontic appliances. In simpler terms, the appliance makes room by causing new palate and jaw growth and the teeth naturally move into a healthy position.

Unlike traditional orthodontics, where the main objective is to simply straighten the teeth at all costs, (how many of you had teeth yanked before you got your braces?), it addresses the foundational issues. It's like the difference between "flipping" a house by doing cosmetic fixes and doing a real renovation, addressing the structural issues. Other issues with traditional orthodontics are that the teeth often shift and somewhat revert back to their original positions, unless a retainer is worn and the shape of the face and profile can be negatively affected due to extractions and pulling the upper row of teeth back, creating a pinched appearance or a receded chin.

Epigenetic Orthodontics uses removable palate expanding retainers, usually worn at night, that use light biological force, making it a much more comfortable process. It's not only more comfortable, it's also safer, as high forces from traditional orthodontic palate wideners can exert unhealthy pressure on the cranial bones (even affecting mental function in children.) There's no way you can put s much pressure on the cranial bones and NOT affect brain signaling.

The result of treatment is horizontal bone tissue growth resulting in better facial symmetry, nicer bone structure, healthy orthodontic alignment, better airways and better TMJ alignment.

Identical twins. The one on the right received palate expanding treatment and the other did not. Note the drastic difference in facial structure! The twin on the right has a much wider face- an example of proper horizontal growth, rather than the vertical facial growth that is so common these days.

Getting Treatment
[Edit: you can find lists of practitioners on each of the treatment option sites listed below.]

It used to be thought that you could only change the palate during childhood, but it's now been demonstrated that the palate can be expanded in adults even into their 70's, so there's hope for all of us. There are a number of different orthodontic appliances being used to accomplish adult palate expansion:

The pioneer in this still relatively obscure (at least in the U.S.) field is Dr. G. Dave Singh, DDS, creator of the DNA Appliance. You can listen to an interview with Dr. Singh. The DNA Appliance is worn while sleeping and works with the circadian rhythms (night is when most of the body's repair goes on).

Another appliance also worn only at night is the Homeoblock appliance, developed by Dr. Theodore Belfor, DDS. This was used in the treatment of the young man pictured at the top of this article (this change is after only 6 months of treatment). You can see that his facial structure became wider- that's what horizontal growth looks like. There are some fascinating videos on the website of people's faces morphing from "before" to "after" and some of the facial changes are absolutely amazing. Definitely check them out!

Here's a woman after 6 months of treatment. You can see the improvement in symmetry- the right side of her face is now less drooping and she almost looks like she's had a subtle lower face lift. Her cheekbones are slightly more prominent and less flat (and no, it's not just because she's wearing makeup in the second shot):

More effects on symmetry:
After 4 months of treatment:

There are many skeptics in the dental community claiming that Functional Orthodontics don't actually change the bone structure, but when you look at the cases presented in the Facial Development Newsletter, complete with computer imaging of areas of bone growth and expansion, it's pretty clear that they do indeed change bone structure and increase bone growth.

A slightly different type of orthodontic appliance that is less bulky, but worn continuously is Advanced Lightwire Functionals (ALF), developed by Dr. Darick Nordstrom.
Dr. Raymond Silkmanm, DDS, who uses ALF appliances, did a fantastic 2 part interview that I highly recommend listening to. Here's Part 1 and Part 2.

What about treating children?

Early Orthotropic growth guiding treatment during childhood, when development issues first surface, is ideal, but treatment can be done at any point during childhood, usually avoiding the need for braces. There are early signs that parents can look for to determine if their child's jaw and bite are developing improperly.

Here's an example of Orthotropic-guided growth:

So, I've given you an overview of the effects of poor jaw development and some of the treatment options. I hope to try this technology out for myself one day, as I could definitely benefit from bite correction and better airway development (and, let's be honest, more sculpted cheekbones sound pretty good, too!)
There's no one currently in my area (I'd have to go to Memphis or Knoxville) but in a few days, Dr. Belfor is speaking at the Sacro Occipital Technique Organization's annual conference, right here in Nashville. Fingers crossed that some local dentists attend his lecture:-)