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Year in Review: 10 Fascinating Advancements in Health

Part of my job includes writing content for the Wildwood blog. In order to stay relevant, I’m constantly listening to podcasts, reading the health sections of most major news sources, scanning research, and following a bunch of blogs.

To sum up 2015, I decided to create a list of the most newsworthy stories I’ve come across.  For those of you who mostly know me as an acupuncturist, just a heads up – though Traditional Chinese Medicine has me by the ‘oves, my interests are not entirely limited to this approach to health. I’m constantly sniffing around the world of biomedicine, since I find myself inspired by the work in that field as well.

Now check out these fascinating stories and events of 2015!

Stephen Harrod Buhner’s new book: Healing Lyme (2nd Edition)

My personal copy.
My copy of this awesome book!

In the community acupuncture clinic, I’ve seen countless patients struggling with Lyme disease whose overriding experience is one of disappointment, frustration, and fear. There’s a paucity of good information on how to deal with this bacteria (Lyme, as well as other borrelial infections).

First of all, spirochetes are, by no means, new. Spirochetes are some of the most ancient bacteria on Earth and have been around billions of years longer than human beings. Beginning the book with an acknowledgement of the complexity of these microbes and their ability to profoundly alter our immune system, Stephen Buhner proves that he has worked tirelessly to provide practical information for practitioners and patients alike. Not easy in a world where gathering useful information on Lyme typically involves specialists with long wait-lists and eventually, patients with empty wallets.

Buhner’s new book on Lyme is, hands down, a ray of sunshine for those of you – again, practitioner and patient, alike – who desperately need and deserve acknowledgment of your experience. It includes a dense history of Lyme disease and other borrelial infections, as well as information on treatment protocols.

And yes, it comes with the research to back it up. To the misinformed out there, who refuse to acknowledge this serious disease, and consider chronic Lyme and its coinfections part of “pseudo-science,” take a moment to peruse this book, and be sure to check out Buhner’s hugely dense bibliography, which includes just under 3000 cited texts and journal papers.

I challenge you to guide me to another practitioner/researcher whom is equally studied and competent on the topic of Lyme and its coinfections. In other words, I’m officially throwing down the gauntlet. Bring it.

See Buhner’s book here.

Mel Hopper Koppelman Takes on Science Based Medicine

Mel is one of my personal heroines. Along the lines of Stephen Buhner, her wit, transparency, and willingness to dive headfirst into research make her one of the biggest brains on the block. In 2014/2015, she challenged one of the writers for Science Based Medicine on the rationale he used to proclaim acupuncture ‘quackery.’  It’s a ragingly good read. Mel uses her own freshly sharpened, good ol’ scientific brain to beat her opponent at his own game.  Good stuff. See it here.

Chinese Medicine and the Nobel Prize in Medicine einjaehriger beifuss, Artemisia, annua,

Inspired by Traditional Chinese herbal medicine, Dr. Tu Youyou  discovered Artemisinin, a drug that is now part of standard anti-malarial regimens and that has reduced deaths from the disease by the millions.  Dr. Tu is chief professor at the China Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine; she’s also the first Chinese scientist to win a Nobel science award.

Previously, the main treatments for malaria were chloroquine and quinine, two drugs that, over time, grew increasingly ineffective. Dr. Tu and her research team screened more than 2,000 Chinese herbal remedies in search of antimalarial properties. An extract from the wormwood plant Artemisia annua proved effective; by the early 1970s, the researchers had isolated artemisinin.

Controversy exists around the approach taken by Dr. Tu (extracting the active component, artemisinin, and delivering it in an isolated and concentrated form as a drug), since resistance to the drug has been shown.* However, it can’t be ignored that the development of this drug has helped save millions of lives. Hence, the Nobel Prize for Medicine. I’d encourage anyone who’d like to read more about this topic start with Dr. Tu’s own words about the research she lead. Check it out here.

As for the debate over whether we should prioritize the use of herbs in more traditional forms, or isolate active constituents and use them as drugs – well, that’s a whole new blog post for 2016.

*From the WHOAs of February 2015, artemisinin resistance has been confirmed in 5 countries of the Greater Mekong subregion. In the large majority of sites, patients with artemisinin-resistant parasites still recover after treatment, provided that they are treated with an ACT containing an effective partner drug. There is a real risk that multidrug resistance will soon emerge in other parts of the subregion as well. Artemisinin resistance has occurred as a consequence of several factors: poor treatment practices, inadequate patient adherence to prescribed antimalarial regimens, and the widespread availability of oral artemisinin-based monotherapies and substandard forms of the drug. The geographic scope of the problem could widen quickly and have dire public health consequences.

A new world of antibiotics

Speaking of drug resistance, check out this promising article! Antibiotic resistance and superbugs are a huge (very scary) problem, as well as a multi-layered one, which isn’t limited to, but includes the overuse of antibiotics. This reality also includes the fact that sometimes we need to use antibiotics. Period.

And if we need to use them, well – they need to be effective.  Here’s a little piece from this article on the approach some researchers are taking in order to solve the looming problem of antibiotic resistance:

“Don’t you just love simple, little, elegant things?” said Gerry Wright when I asked him about Epstein’s work. “You look in my lab, and there are all sorts of machines that go ping,” said Wright, the director of the Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “And here these guys went back and said, ‘Maybe we’re overthinking this.’ You don’t need to have a million dollars worth of equipment. You can go to Home Depot and maybe change the world.”

You know you want to read it! See it here.

A Tool For Editing Genes DNA strands

Instead of trying to explain CRISP-Cas9, since I’ve only a basic understanding, here’s a bit about how the discovery came about:

The idea came when she and her colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley were in essence trying to figure out how bacteria fight the flu. The goal was really more of a basic science question, Doudna says.

It turns out bacteria don’t like getting the flu any more than the rest of us do. Bacteria have special enzymes that can cut open the DNA of an invading virus and make a change in the DNA at the site of the cut — essentially killing the virus.

As Doudna was studying a group of these enzymes, she realized something. The enzymes had what amounted to a short template inside that could attach to a specific string of letters in the viral DNA. What if she could modify the template so that it could recognize any DNA sequence, not just the sequences in viruses?

“I thought, wow, if this could work in animal or plant cells, this could be a very, very useful and very powerful tool,” she says.

See more here.

The Gut Microbiome

We all know by now about the importance of the bugs in our gut – it’s been shown that they influence our digestion, our sensitivity to foods, and the development of allergies. But can the bacteria in your gut affect the way you think? Can they affect the way you feel?

Research seems to be saying: Most likely.

Find a thorough update here.

Consumers vs. Big Food

You can affect change as a consumer. You really can!

According to one Fortune analysis, Big Food (packaged-food companies) lost $4 billion in market share last year. According to a 2015 Nielsen survey, an increasing number of consumers say they’re willing to pay more for “all natural,” “clean” and “minimally-processed foods”. (Granted, these terms are problematic for all kinds of reasons, due to the nature of advertising and maximizing profit, but that’s a different blog post).

Either way, there’s a demand that can’t be overlooked. Consumers have spoken, and they don’t want artificial colors and flavors, pesticides, preservatives, high-fructose corn syrup, growth hormones, and antibiotics. Consumers want healthier food.

For more on this, see here and here.

Intersectional Food Politics

Woman pointing at an Venn Diagram illustration.
Intersectionality is the study of overlapping or intersecting social identities and related systems of oppression, domination or discrimination.

I’m going to be transparent here. I do not believe it’s possible to affect real (re: REAL) change without acknowledging systemic injustices that involve race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability. Period. For anyone interested in health, food, or medicine, you must understand intersectionality, and how it affects…well, everything.

I’m including this excellent blog post because it was written in 2015, and BECAUSE it’s 2015.

Please, if you read one article, make it this one. See it here.

Meat and Cancer: What’s the Deal?

In a recent report, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranked bacon, sausage, and other cured and processed meats as “Group 1 carcinogens.” This puts them in the same category as tobacco, asbestos, alcohol, and arsenic. The WHO also placed fresh red meat in the “group 2A” category, which suggests that it is “probably carcinogenic” to humans.

The WHO’s official statement has gotten a couple rounds of media press, and remains a hot (controversial) topic. A collection of cold meats, bologna, and vienna sausages on a wooden board on an isolated white studio background

First, here’s the Q&A from the WHO about this issue.

And here’s a summation of the information from our own Dr. Renee Lang, N.D.

And here is another perspective, which could be considered “radical” (a beloved word, actually).

To be honest, I’m not quite sure where I stand this issue, so I decided that a simple goal would be to provide my readers with good material. That’s it.  (If there’s something that you think I should read, please leave it in the comment section!)

Methylation

Maybe it’s because I’m in the health field, but I felt like every other day a patient was coming in and talking about their MTHFR (haha, yes, a wonderful acronym, no?)

Have you heard anyone talk about their mutant MTHFR? (Again, haha.)

MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase; it’s the name of a single gene (of many) that’s suspected to drive the methylation cycle. It’s important because methylation is an ubiquitous biochemical process that’s crucial to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being. It’s involved in, like, everything.

So, what exactly is methylation, and and what kinds of things affect it?

Interested? Here’s a good place to start.

 


Eating Well on a Tight Budget

 

First, let’s start with some sobering stats from the Good Shepherd Food Bank.

In the wake of the recent economic crisis more people are hungry than ever before. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service (USDA) reported in September 2015 that 48 million Americans, including over 16 million children are food insecure. A person is considered food insecure if they lack access to enough food to ensure adequate nutrition. Maine ranks 12th in the nation and 1st in New England for food insecurity.

If you are interested in learning more about food insecurity and the systemic issues that contribute to hunger, the documentary A Place at the Table is a good place to start. Most libraries have it, and if you have Netflix, you can see it there, too.

Whether you are food insecure or living  paycheck to paycheck, or even if you’re simply interested in using food as efficiently as possible to avoid waste, the following resources have a single purpose: To help ensure the most nutrient-dense food for your buck. The nutrition facts stamped on an apple.

Good and Cheap, the free vegetarian cookbook full of recipes anyone can make on a budget of $4 a day, by Leanne Brown, is definitely a favorite. Brown’s goal was to help people in SNAP, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, find ways to cook filling, nourishing and flavorful meals. My favorite thing about Brown? She avoids being preachy about food, avoids prescribing strict meals and methods, and she emphasizes flexibility. Find her free cookbook here.

Intersectional food politics. Are you familiar with the word intersectional, and how it might relate to food? Important stuff. Read about it here: intersectional food politics.

7 Tips for Living on a Budget: I’m a fan of Chris Kresser. He’s constantly nose-deep into research on nutrition and his podcast is fantastic. See his tips about eating on a budget here. (I could do without the ad for Thrive Market, but the rest of his advice is good.)

Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. Fun, and chock-full of common sense. An accessible, helpful foodlosphy, if you’re looking for one. See the rules here.

Budget Bytes: Here’s a piece from Beth’s intro: As a food lover and a number cruncher I’ve decided that cooking on a budget shouldn’t mean canned beans and ramen noodles night after night. This is my web log of good food cooked with little cash. Check out her website here.

44 Nutrient-Dense Foods for Under a $1: A great list! (One minor detail: I’d advice full-fat dairy over low-fat.) See the list here.

5 Dollar Dinners: Just like it sounds. See here.

1 Chicken, 17 Meals: ‘Nuff said. Check it out here.

Don’t Toss the Broccoli Stems! Just an interesting recipe I stumbled across, and included for the sake of avoiding food waste AND because it’s really tasty. Check out a recipe for pan-fried stems here.


What is Your Constitutional Type?

The concept of “constitutional types” is essential to diagnosis and treatment in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).

A simple way to understand the concept of constitutional types is to think of five of your closest friends, and to consider how they differ from one another in regards to their personalities and health tendencies. One friend may have rosy cheeks and a tendency to get angry quickly. Another might tend toward quiet observation, seriousness, and lower back pain. One might be loud and funny, with a tendency for migraines, while another might rarely get sick, yet experience acute digestive issues when stressed.

Our constitutions are our health “archetypes,” or our health tendencies. Variables to take into consideration when assessing a person’s constitutional type include inherited genetics, temperament, common health issues, lifestyle, living environment, and access to basic needs.

Curious to what your constitution is, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine? Take this quiz, put together by the folks at Tree of Light.

 


Rethinking Addiction

“Not every story has a happy ending, … but the discoveries of science, the teachings of the heart, and the revelations of the soul all assure us that no human being is ever beyond redemption. The possibility of renewal exists so long as life exists. How to support that possibility in others and in ourselves is the ultimate question.”
Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

Addiction: Facts and Fictions
Cigarette vector on orange background with smoke

Let’s talk about smoking for a second, since it’s a perfect way to start off a conversation about how we think about addiction. Quitting smoking isn’t easy, though some of the typical approaches to smoking cessation might have you thinking that dropping the habit should be a simple matter of common sense. “I don’t understand why he just doesn’t stop,” a patient once lamented. She was talking about her son, who’d been smoking for almost 20 years.” A cigarette has thousands and thousands of chemicals in it. He also has two beautiful sons! If it were me, I would have quit a long time ago.”

I’m sharing this anecdote because it’s a good example of a common approach to addiction. A sobering fact delivered alongside a hefty slab of judgment and whoolah, the addicted person should be able to see the light and shed their habit. Aside from illustrating a rudimentary understanding of addiction, these types of stories also tend to use the language of us and them. If we don’t struggle with a nicotine addiction, we pat ourselves on the back. If we do, we feel a surge of self-loathing and step outside for a smoke to lift our mood…and because, well, FU.

I’m not trying to skirt around the fact that smoking is detrimental to the health of the smoker, as well as to anyone exposed to secondhand smoke. We know that all forms of nicotine are harmful to health. I also support limits on the public spaces where people can smoke. And yes, of course I understand why a mother would express concern about the health of her son.

But consider this anecdote again, and apply that flawed logic to another encounter with addiction, but this time make the addict a stranger. How many times have you heard someone, let’s say it’s your neighbor (for the sake of simplicity, let’s call him Ronald Rump) volunteer a running commentary on the homeless man who stands by Starbucks and jangles a bucket of change. Or that woman’s husband, who blah blah blah. Or that kid’s mom, who blah blah blah. Some of the cruelest jabs and gratuitous critiques are often directed at people entrenched in a world of pain, poverty, and addiction. And in my opinion, that’s far uglier than smoking.

Shaming and scaring people into stopping a behavior, as you might imagine, generally doesn’t work. It’s barbaric.  And mostly it acts as a trigger. Yet, somehow, it’s the common way we express our “concern.” Consider this excerpt from an article titled “Taking in All the Pain of What They Witness.” It was co-written by Gabor Maté, MD (author of In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction) and Danny Glover (yes, that Danny Glover, the actor, producer, and humanitarian).

Addiction, whether to drugs or other behaviors, Glover says, is always a compensation for the sense of being devalued as a human being. “That’s basically it. Feeling alienated within the system: a system that demeans people, marginalizes them, exploits them, and creates a situation in which our value depends only on our capacity to consume.”

The chief reason we condemn drug users so vehemently may be simply that we do not wish to see our similarities to them. We want to perceive our own forms of self-soothing as somehow morally superior, or we just do not want to recognize how much our entire way of life resembles the frantic search for relief of the user. I define addiction as any behavior that, for the short term, we crave or find relief and pleasure in, but we are unable to give up despite the negative consequences incurred in the long term. By that standard, how many of us are not addicted?

So, perhaps the  1.1 billion people who smoke cigarettes aren’t simply irrational, inconsiderate, or spineless. Perhaps this is not an issue of valuing a drug over family, or personal health. Perhaps the 24.6 million people (9.4% of the population) who live with substance dependence or abuse aren’t just a statistic of weak-willed people who just don’t care enough.

What would happen if more of us considered these kinds of painful statistics from a place of compassion and reason, rather than from a place of judgement and fear? Perhaps we’re simply a planet full of humans who struggle due to real, identifiable reasons. Perhaps things would change for the better if we could talk about addiction from a place of compassion and connection rather than shame and fear. And perhaps we’d make even more progress if we identified and talked about the systemic issues that deeply influence our lived experiences.

“We see that substance addictions are only one specific form of blind attachment to harmful ways of being, yet we condemn the addict’s stubborn refusal to give up something deleterious to his life or to the life of others. Why do we despise, ostracize and punish the drug addict, when as a social collective, we share the same blindness and engage in the same rationalizations?”
Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

A Different Approach to Addiction 

Unsurprisingly, I find that the most engaging information on this subject is coming from those experts in the field who are considered ‘radical.’ Dr. Gabor Maté  is a staff physician at the Portland Hotel in Vancouver, a residence for people who struggle with mental illness and severe drug addiction (Maté also works in harm reduction clinics in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside).

In his book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, Maté tells the stories of his patients – who represent one extreme of the spectrum of addiction, often heavy needle users – and who share one thing in common: childhood abuse. Coming from a theoretical framework that acknowledges the biological and socioeconomic roots of addiction, Mate argues that “early adversity” (stress, mistreatment, and particularly childhood abuse) increases susceptibility to addiction. In other words, those born into more disadvantaged circumstances have a higher risk of becoming addicts.

My years in the community acupuncture clinic support Maté ‘s theories wholeheartedly: The violence of our social and economic systems are inscribed on people’s bodies, minds, and spirits. And those that require the most care are too often those that go without. 

Rat Park: The Experiment

Then there is Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology and psychiatry at Columbia University, and first tenured African American professor of sciences at Columbia University. Hart is known for his research in drug abuse and drug addiction. His book, High Price: A Neuroscientist’s Journey of Self-Discovery That Challenges Everything You Know About Drugs and Society challenges the myths surrounding drug abuse and addiction.

“I thought that I was going to solve the problem of drug addiction,” he told the New York Times. “But it turns out that drug addiction wasn’t the biggest problem; the biggest problem, I found out, was actually drug policy.”

Hart was initially inspired by the results of research on addiction done in the late 70’s. (For a beautifully illustrated and engaging explanation of this experiment, see this link.) In short, the research of Rat Park showed that rats in an “enriched cage” (which means that available to the rat were mates, exercise, and play) self-administer morphine at far lower rates than rats kept in solitary and desolate cages. In other words, if the rat was in an environment that provided healthy options of engagement,  that environment became far more important than the drug itself – meaning that the rats used far less of the drug. In other words, they were far less likely to become addicted.

This research prompted Hart to dig more deeply into the research of addiction. His conclusion? Addiction may not be the inevitable consequence of drug use, but rather an attractive distraction for those without preferable alternatives. In other words, for someone growing up in poverty, with little access to support and little to lose, the lack of access to healthy options could provide the external conditions for addiction to take hold.

From The Guardian:

Hart unravels the common perception that drugs and drug addiction are the cause of many of society’s problems. While he doesn’t argue that illegal drugs have no negative effects, he takes the reader through his journey of discovery: that the pharmacology of the drugs themselves is not the cause of our social ills – rather, drugs are the symptoms of a broken society, masking the underlying issues of unemployment, lack of education, poverty, racism, and despair. He argues that anti-drug policies are causing more harm than the drugs themselves, and are directly marginalising black people, poor communities and other minority groups.

He has seen this first hand, growing up, and his experiences are backed up by staggering statistics – that black people are up to five times more likely to be arrested than white people on drugs charges, and over 10 times more likely to be sent to prison for drugs offences, despite the fact that white and black people use drugs at similar rates.

Enter Community Acupuncture

I’ve already written about the community acupuncture model a bunch, and out of risk of being annoying, let me just say this: community acupuncture clinics provide accessible, affordable healthcare for all – and we can help.

To sum up this post, I’ll leave you with a quote from Lisa Rohleder, co-founder of Working Class Acupuncture, People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture (POCA), and POCA Tech. This quote is from her keynote speech at the most recent gathering of community acupuncturists affiliated with POCA.

Paolo Freire (more about him in a minute) says that it is everyone’s vocation to become more fully human. Injustice, exploitation, and oppression make us less human — whether we are in the role of oppressors or of oppressed. And we know that in this society most of us, often, are both. We have so many opportunities, here in late capitalism, to treat each other and ourselves as if we weren’t actually human beings. But for the most part, community acupuncture clinics are the opposite. They’re set up so that we meet each other primarily as human beings rather than as numbers or roles or images or income streams. We recognize that everyone suffers, everyone has needs, everyone is struggling with limited resources. And so for the most part, at least on our good days, our POCA clinics are humanizing environments.

Which means they are also, potentially, radicalizing environments. Once you start GENUINELY believing in and valuing the human dignity of people who don’t have a lot of money, people with whom you would not otherwise be having relationships, people of different ages and genders and ethnicities and races and backgrounds, people with whom you share, despite those differences, an awareness of suffering — at that point, my friend, the work you’re doing as a volunteer or a receptionist or an acupuncturist, at that point your work has dangerous potential.

Because liberation is a process. Once it starts, it doesn’t want to stop. Once you start treating all kinds of different people as human beings, it gets harder to stop, it gets harder to turn it off when society tells you to. You’ve put yourself in a situation where you can’t quite look past people who are supposed to be invisible. When you’re in the grocery store, you notice that the checker is wearing wrist braces and you realize she’s in pain. You think about her working conditions, about whether she has to stand all day and besides her wrists, how’s her low back?

You get to the point where you can’t look at another person without wondering, what hurts?

If more people wondered that, if they acted on it, capitalism might not function. What would happen if we insisted on treating people like people, and stopped treating people like things?

If you’re in Maine and trying to find affordable or free services to get well, please see here and here


Got a Question About Food, Sex, Health, Friends, or Fun?

Good! Because here’s a list of resources on those topics.

As an acupuncturist in a community setting, I see lots and lots of patients…which means that I’ve been asked a TON of questions about everything under the sun. Over time, I’ve realized that I share some resources more than others, so I thought I’d put together a list of some of my favorites.

(If you have a resource that you love and want to share, please leave it in the comments.)

Berry good resources.Food

Get Real Maine: Wanna know what kind of tasty treats Maine has to offer? Check out this great resource for connecting to local agriculture.

Fooducate: Consider caloric quality rather than the quantity. Get nutrition grades for the food you’re thinking of purchasing at the grocery store, and get a list of healthier alternatives if you want them.

Good and Cheap: Eat well on $4 a day! Leanne Brown’s brilliance – a free PDF cookbook for people with tight budgets, including those on SNAP/Food Stamp benefits.

Eat This: 10 Simple and Sustainable Dietary Guidelines: A blog post I wrote to address the endless food-related questions that people want answered. As one older patient put it, “I can’t handle the world wide web. Tell me what to eat.”

WH Foods: Learn about the medicine (nutrient density) of the food you eat. Learn its history, too.

Sex, Sexuality, and Gender

Scarleteen: Their motto? “Sex education for the real world.”

It’s accurate. I once taught a 3 month sex ed class to 6th,7th, and 8th graders. Let’s just say that my learning curve was sharp. Misinformation was rampant and the kids were desperate for access to clear, accurate information. This website helped me communicate essential information to this younger generation – so important! A great resource if you have young(er) people in your life who look to you for support; perhaps a great resource for you, too.

Consensual Sex: Consent should be the basis for every sexual encounter. Engaging in a sexual act without the other person’s consent is considered sexual assault or rape. A great resource for anyone who is thinking about a possible sexual encounter, or needs some questions answered.

Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault: Organized to put an end to sexual violence in Maine and to ensure that there will be ongoing support and services for victims and survivors.

LGBPTTQQIIAA: These acronyms refer to terms such as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Asexual/Ally and more. Although all of the different identities within “LGBT” are often lumped together (and share sexism as a common root of oppression), there are specific needs and concerns related to each individual identity. If you’re not already, get familiar with the inherent fluidity of…well, being alive.

Health

CPR Review: A 10 minute review can make a difference.

How to Help a Choking Baby: Watch this illustrated video for instructions, or as a refresher. Hopefully you’ll never have to confront this, but if you do, it’s best to know what you can do to help. The princess and the baby make reviewing these skills a little more entertaining.

Clue: My life is changing because of this discovery! It’s a free period and ovulation tracker for your phone. Whoohooo! Knowing where I’m at, cyclically-speaking, has helped me feel more empowered, grounded, and aware. Cuz I’m all like, “Ohhhh, duh!  I feel like a lump of dough because estrogen and progesterone just took a major nose-dive!” or I’m all like, “Hubba hubba, sweets, you look extra cute today even though you haven’t shaved in a week – ding ding on my phone –  hey, that’s funny, I’m ovulating!”

Andrew Weil: Weil remains a go-to resource for the thousands of medical questions that have arisen from the wrinkles of my brain. A favorite of my favorites.

Skin Deep Cosmetics Database: I love enhancing my earth suit with a bit of makeup, hair product, polish, lotion – essentially, whatever the heck I feel like applying to my body. That being said, I certainly don’t want to be smearing toxic chemicals all over the damn place. Now in its eighth year, EWG’s Skin Deep database provides you with easy-to-navigate safety ratings for a wide range of products and ingredients on the market.

The Best Places to Get Well in Maine for Free (Or a Small Donation): A shameless link to a previous blog post of mine. Feel free to share!

Newly pregnant and ambivalent, or upset?: (From the Planned Parenthood website): Only you can decide what is right for you. But women often find it helpful to talk it through with someone else. You may choose to talk with your partner or a trusted family member or friend. Pick someone you think will be supportive. It’s important to remember that you get to decide who is a part of your decision-making process.

Newly pregnant and excited about it?: The Endowment for Human Development (EHD) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving health science education and public health. EHD equips educators, clinicians, and governments to help everyone appreciate, apply, and communicate the science of health and human development. We are committed to neutrality regarding all controversial bioethical issues.

Community

Black Girl in Maine: One of my favorite Maine blogs, but also one of my favorite blogs in general. Check out Shay Stewart-Bouley’s bio, and then check out her content.

Black Girl in Maine, also known as BGIM for those who want to keep their typing-related finger stress down, is a Chicago-born, Chicago-raised chick by the name of Shay Stewart-Bouley who was forcibly relocated to Maine in 2002. (How else does a Black woman from Chicago end up in Maine?) I am a graduate of both DePaul University and Antioch University New England. Currently I earn my daily bread by working as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc., a 47 year old civil rights organization in Boston, MA that has been educating and organizing for racial equality since 1968 with a specific focus on the white problem. In 2003, I decided to test the waters of a childhood dream of writing and started writing periodically for publications such as the Portland Press Herald and the Journal Tribune, later that year landing my own column in the Portland Phoenix, “Diverse-City,” which for over a decade I used to share insight and commentary monthly on a variety of diversity issues ranging from race to class, gender relations to sexual orientation, and workplace issues to lifestyle choices. In 2011, I won a New England Press Association Award for my work writing on diversity issues. I currently am the diversity writer for the new Maine weekly DigPortland where my musings and observations can be found every four weeks.

MPBN Community Calendar: Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s community calendar. Maine stamp

Maine Trans Net: A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to educating the public about gender identity and raising awareness of the varied forms of gender expression. Provides resources to the trans community of Maine, as well as consultation, education,and trainings to social service/mental health professionals and interested others.

MeetUp.com: Groups of people, all over the state, getting together to learn something, do something, or share something.

Single Gender Swim at the YWCA, Lewiston: Single gender swim lessons for women only, designed with privacy in mind. Wear whatever clothes you are comfortable in; traditional swimsuits not required.

Pleasure, Adventure and Fun

MaineToday: A weekly collection of events. Some crazy stuff goes down in Maine – keep an eye on this calendar for details!

Vector silhouette of women with Nordic walking.

Cosmic Yoga Lady: For those winters when a wall of snow descends upon Maine and is followed by weeks of subzero weather and you’re stuck at home with a 2 year old who is channeling her inner spider monkey. Cosmic Yoga Lady tells an attention-grabbing story, and gets that qi moving smoothly.

Great Maine Outdoor Weekend: Go outside and play!

Cultivating Community: Learning about the cultivation of food falls under fun and pleasure in my opinion! Cultivating Community empowers people to play many roles in restoring the local, sustainable food system, and models, teaches, and advocates for ecological food production. Includes a list of community gardens as well as Refugee and Immigrant Farmer Training.

Baxter State Park: Home of Mt. Katahdin. She’s majestic.

Miscellaneous And Awesome!

On Poverty and Inequality: Education, innovation, and partnerships are key to making an impact on poverty, one of the world’s most daunting challenges. With more than a third of the planet’s 7 billion people living on less than $2.50 a day, and over a billion without access to clean water or electricity, there is a pressing need to develop scalable solutions to improve lives. While many of those living in poverty are in the rural communities and urban slums of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, poverty and inequality are also growing in the United States. More than 16 million children in the U.S. – 22% of all children – live in families below the federal poverty level.

If the Moon Were Only 1 Pixel: Get your mind blowd’! A tediously accurate scale model of the solar system.

Invisibilia: Get your mind blowd’! Invisibilia (Latin for “all the invisible things”) explores the intangible forces that shape human behavior – things like ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.

Intelligence Squared: Oxford-style debate. Controversial issues. The world’s leading authorities go head-to-head. Free to listen and learn.

Brain Pickings: Perfectly titled. From the About page: The core ethos behind Brain Pickings is that creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.

 

There it is – a list of my favorite resources. Please share some of your favorites in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Acupuncture and Smoking Cessation

Quitting Smoking with Acupuncture

Acupuncture as an approach to smoking cessation has continuously growing support. In some states, acupuncture is a court-mandated treatment for addicts due to the recognized benefits of how acupuncture can help alleviate withdrawal symptoms and curb cravings. Of course, acupuncture is not a magic bullet in the treatment of addiction, but if you’re motivated to stop a habit, acupuncture can make it easier to quit. Treatments focus on everything from withdrawal symptoms (jitters, irritability, unpredictable emotions, insomnia, fatigue, and restlessness) to helping you stay grounded through triggering events or periods of high stress.

What Acupuncture Points Are Used?

Most often, a combination of body points and ear points are used, though in some cases, it’s possible to bypass the personalized approach and use the “NADA protocol.”  The NADA protocol consists of five points in the ear. In the illustration below, from the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association UK, the white dots imply that these points are “under” or “deep” to the part of the ear that are shown in this picture.

From the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association UK. www.http://www.nadauk.com/
From the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association UK. www.http://www.nadauk.com/

NADA Protocol Ear Points: 

  • Shen Men (“Doorway to the Spirit”): good for stress, anxiety, “hypersensitivity” 
  • Kidney
  • Sympathetic: helps access the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”)
  • Upper Lung
  • Liver

Common body points:

  • Tian Mei: an extra-meridian point located on the wrist between LU-7 (Lieque) and LI-5 (Yangxi), a specific point to quit smoking.
  • Four Gates:  (Large Intestine 4 and Liver 3), used to circulate qi throughout the body and calm the nervous system.

Typical treatments last about 30-40 minutes, with the patient being treated 1-3 times a week for the first month of smoking cessation. Most patients wean from such frequent treatments once they begin feeling more grounded and able to stay the course, and will come for “tuneups” when necessary.

The NADA Protocol: My Experience at Wildwood Community Acupuncture

lauren at work
Real live acupuncturist who harbors, deep within her heart, the incorrigible belief that together we can recover, heal, and find more moments of peace in our lives. So let me poke you!

The NADA protocol was initially used to aid relaxation and well-being for people suffering with substance misuse problems, and/or in recovery. I use it for these purposes every day in the community clinic.

The NADA protocol can also be used for many other areas of treatment.  I find it extraordinarily helpful for general stress and anxiety management. It’s also helpful for trauma recovery, PTSD, pain management, and for ameliorating side effects from drug treatment in cancer. 5NP (standing for 5 Needle Protocol) is one of the most frequently requested treatments. My patients LOVE IT. (And for the record, so do I.)

Practitioners of all stripes understand that pain, stress, anxiety, and depression are some of the most common and costly complaints in the world of medicine. One of the reasons the NADA protocol has received global recognition as an effective treatment for these costly complaints is due to this simple fact: The NADA protocal has calming effect on the central nervous system.

Disrupting the Stress Response

“Interruption” of the stress response is one thing acupuncture does best. What does that mean? Well, simply put, it’s easy to get caught up in the vicious cycle of stress, which can include disrupted sleep/digestion/mood/energy. We know that if we can’t break the cycle of stress, our health declines. We need moments of rest and rehabilitation in order to recover and stay well, but sadly, we live in a world that make that difficult, and even tries to make it impossible for some. If you’re unsure about what I mean by this, please see here or here or here or here.)

From a physiological perspective, consider that one major effect of the stress response is elevated levels of glucocorticoids (like cortisol). The parts of the brain most susceptible to the stress response are the areas loaded with high-concentrations of glucocorticoid receptors; these very same regions are involved with common mood imbalances, like anxiety and depression.  Acupuncture can help re-calibrate the primary central nervous system – in other words, for many it acts as a physical, mental, and spiritual “reset” button.

Resources

Christian Nix, and acupuncturist and a tireless advocate of Hospital Based Acupuncture (his Community Pain and Stress Center is the first private model of community-style practice to be integrated into a major hospital system), often writes about acupuncture from a biomedical perspective. Much of this blog post has been inspired by his writings and his collection of research. If you’d like to see a list of  the research that’s been done on acupuncture and the stress response, please see his excellent article in Acupuncture Today, which can be found here.


Botox or Acupuncture for Migraines?

Suffer from Migraines? Skip the Botox and Try Acupuncture

If this were my Gramps, I'd tell him to go get acupuncture for his migraine. Based on research.
If this were my Gramps, I’d tell him to go get acupuncture for his migraine. Based on research.

If you deal with migraines, your doctor may have suggested Botox as a form of treatment.

Botox is an injectable drug made from a toxic bacterium called Clostridium botulinum (yes, the same toxin that causes botulism). Initially introduced to the cosmetic market as a “wrinkle-cure,” some people who used Botox treatments to de-wrinkle their wrinkles reported unexpected side effects: less migraines.

Years of research was done to investigate these claims. The results were…let’s just say, problematic. Of course, we didn’t hear much about the problematic details, but we did hear all about Botox for the prophylaxis of chronic migraines, even though it’s quite possible that it was simply the needles, and not the Botox, that was providing the migraine relief.

Wait, what?

Read this fascinating piece by Mel Hopper Koppelman, and see what conclusion you reach…

 


Simple Recipes for Fall Immunity

Easy Tom Kha Broth

This is a perfect, warming broth for fall weather. I enjoy it most as an accompaniment to fresh salad rolls, or when I’m simply not in the mood for a full meal.

Medicinally, use this broth if you feel the onset of a cold coming on. If you’re experiencing chills, an increased sensitivity to cold weather, an aching neck/occiput – this is a perfect sipping broth! The chicken broth and coconut cream strengthen the qi of the spleen and heart. The ginger and chili flakes are warming herbs which help drive out cold and “release the exterior.” The recipe below calls for chicken stock. Here’s a vegan version of Tom Kha if that works better for you.

Ingredients

  • 1 quart chicken stock (homemade is best but you can use premade if you don’t have any on hand or simply don’t have the time. Rosemont Market sells chicken broth that they’ve made in-house; you can find it in the freezer section)
  • 7 ounces creamed coconut or coconut cream (I get coconut cream from Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried chili flakes
  • 2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • juice of 2 limes (sometimes I use 3, depending on how sour I want it to taste)
  • fish sauce to taste
  • cilantro to garnish

Instructions

Put all the ingredients in a pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes until piping hot. Add fish sauce (go slowly – it’s salty!) to taste. Add some cilantro. Enjoy!

Note: If you’re interested in making a more traditional Tom Kha, see this recipe, which includes the immune-boosting Japanese mushrooms. And read this, if you want to know more about the healing benefits of chicken soup.

Sweetened, Baked Pears Ripe pear on a wooden background

According to Traditional Chinese medicine, Fall is the season of ‘dryness’. It’s also the season of runny noses and coughs! We all know from experience that we’re more susceptible to colds during this season. The “dampness” of late summer is replaced by cooler weather, and our nose, throat and lungs tend to dry out, making us more susceptible to viruses. (It’s important to recognize that the airway epithelium is the first line of defense against airborne pathogens, so when our nose and throat dry out, we’re not as protected from viruses and bacteria.)

So keep ’em moist, folks!  (You can quote me on that.)

Pears are supportive of the Lungs; their cooling and moistening nature can help the lungs, nose, and throat. They can also eliminate heat and excess mucus. Walnuts also support the Lung and have a strong action against phlegm.

If you decide to use this dish medicinally, consume baked pears once a day, for at least 4 days in a row.

Ingredients

4 unpeeled pears
2 tbsp raw honey
1/3 cup walnuts
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp grated lemon peel
1/4 cup apple juice

covered casserole dish

preheat oven to 350 degrees

Instructions

1. Grind walnuts in a food processor or spice mill until they are powdered.
2. Wash pears. Halve the pears and scoop out seeds and pith, leaving an indentation for the dry ingredients.
3. Mix walnut powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon peel. Add this to the scooped out pears. Add a bit of honey to each pear (drip honey over the dried ingredients).
4. Pour apple juice in the bottom of the casserole dish. Cover.
5. Bake, covered, for about 35-40 minutes or until soft. Enjoy!

 


How To Shovel Snow Without Blowing Out Your Back

It’s Snowing. Again.

It’s the end of January, 2015, and we’ve received a TON of the pretty white stuff. As luck would have it, our snow blower broke in the middle of it all. Meaning that I shoveled a buttload of snow. Buttload, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, means a lot.

Last night, I was taking a hot shower and I turned to grab the soap and WHAMMO!! My lower and midback seized up and a sharp, nauseating pain radiated into my lower belly and groin. I immediately thought (because I do this): OH MY GOD I AM DYING.

But because I’m familiar with myself after 36 years of hanging out with me, my second thought was: NO YOU ARE NOT SO BREATHE.

I stood still until I caught my breath and within 5 minutes the pain faded into a dull ache. Once dried off and suited up in my fashionable Elmo pajamas (topped with an old, pilly sweater),  I sat on the edge of my bed to just take a moment. I needed some thinky-time.

What the heck is going on with my back? I asked myself.

Duh.

GRUNT.
GRUNT.

Shoveling. I pictured myself shoveling earlier that day. I remembered the twisting. I remembered the reaching I did in order to throw snow to the top of piles that were already 6 feet tall. Basically, I remembered every terrible detail of my poor form in a slo-mo  Ohhhhhhhh, shirrrrrt.  

The good news? I had the chance to take it easy for the rest of the night. My husband took sole charge of our 2 year old. I gave myself some acupuncture. Had some tea. Watched Maleficent from the couch with some strategic pillow placement. The next day I was feeling much better.

I’m sharing this video because it’s really easy to forget good form when you are bombarded by this much snow. Remember, shoveling is an athletic undertaking, and you should approach it like a seasoned athlete, especially if you live in a (cough) robust place like Maine.

Consider this video (by chiropractor, Scott Gilman) my version of a public service announcement. If you don’t have time to watch the video (because you have to go shovel again, as the plow went by), here’s the brief synopsis. Think about the word torque. Avoid that, anywhere in your body, but especially along the axis of your back. Use your legs and your glutes. Don’t  reach and don’t tuck your chin. Breathe.  

Attention, goodly people of Maine! Shovel rightly! In short, keep your nose and toes pointing in the same direction.

 


Treating the Flu with Western Herbs

Tis’ high-season for the flu right now, and I happen to have a heightened awareness of this particular flu’s nastiness since I got it. Waaaaaaaaaahhhh!

Okay, whining over. Now… what to do?

A couple of days ago, I was doing some research into how to treat the terrible cough (persistent, hacking, unproductive) that I’d developed and  I came across a post on Methow Valley Herbs, and was reminded of the utter awesomeness of Rosalee de la Forȇt. Rosalee is a clinical herbalist and herbal educator who trained under a few reputable herbalists, including another of my favorites – Michael Tierra. Her website is one of my favorite places to visit when I need information on a herb that’s not included in my Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, or when I simply want to read more about the art of herbalism (which I basically always want to read about).

Natural medicine, herbs, mortar

If you’re sick, or someone you love is sick, or you just want to do what you can to support your immunity in order to avoid this nasty bug, here is a thorough 5-part piece on everything you need to know when using herbs to treat/prevent a cold or flu.

Continue reading…