A Pandemic wasn’t the Plan: Part 2 – Anxiety/Herbal Rx 04/04/2020

I went to my local Co-op today, which is one of the only places that doesnt feel totally overwhelming to shop, and every single person had a mask on. This is the new norma I spent the week pretty anxious about the contagion and infectious side of COVID19. I had two of my patients get ruled out for the virus mid-treatment this week AND the contagion aspect seemed really important for those around me I come in contact with, not only myself. What do I need to do to not be a vector of spread? We now only wear scrubs to the hospital not work clothes, and I take my shoes off at my door. Are you freaked out about the contagious side of it? This is a real phobia for some people, and it at the root of many OCD compulsions. I feel for all the germ-phobes out there! My only advice is therapy therapy therapy. There are also one or two antidepressants that help with OCD if you are really noticing an uptick in this in your every day. Ask your PCP if they can help. If you dont have one, this is a great time to get one! Many health providers are accepting new patients, and their clinics or your local community center can help you get the health coverage you need.

Medicine really needs to start valuing mental health as equal to primary and specialty medical care in insurance reimbursements and coverage. SO much suffering comes from the mind. And teeth! Dental coverage too! I promised a blog on botanical medicine and viral illness. I am not up to date on the most current treatments and theories in the natural medicine world anymore. The Naturopathic News and Review publication is a great resource for cutting edge evidence from practicing ND’s.

Most of my botanical training is american traditional eclectic western botanicals, and the knowledge dates back to folk traditions, native medicine, midwifery, and turn of the century medicine. In this vein, there is a wealth of knowledge about foundational immune support and antivirals vs antibacterials and antifungals. If you are interested in this kind of care, most ND’s and herbalists are doing telephone and online appointments and shipping our medicine. Look under your Naturopathic Medicine State Association and see who is available in your area for personalized medicine.

Chinese botanical medicine also has a fantastic apothecary of immune supporting botanicals as well as support for basically every system. Their pharmacopeia is rich and complex with over 5000 herbs with specific indications and formulas. Many TCM Doctors and Acupuncturists are also herbalists and sell custom blended teas as part of their practice. Consider reaching out to someone locally for this as well with a phone or video appointment.

Herbal Medicine for COVID19 falls into prevention by strengthening and prevention by antimicrobial actions. Prevention by strengthening herbs are used when you are not sick. They tonify and strengthen the body, increasing reserves that can be called on if illness occurs. The following is a list of such herbs:

  • nettles
  • astragalus
  • alfalfa
  • borage
  • siberian and american ginsengs
  • ashwahaganda
  • cordyceps and other nourishing mushroooms (use sparingly)
Nettle Cake with Pine Buttercream

Nettles are best made as a herbal tea and drank clear and often. They can also be eaten in soups, cakes, and stir fried although this is easier in some parts of the country than others.

Astragalus is a sweet root and is best as a broth, or a tablet taken 3 tablets in morning and night. This is a key ingredient in “change of season soup” from the TCM formulary for immune strengthening as well. Borage, Siberian and American ginsengs and ashwahaganda are adrenal tonics that boost immunity by decreasing inflammation and increasing resilience. I like borage tincture 1 tsp daily, ginsengs as tinctures or pills (they don’t taste great), and ashwganda as a standardized tablet or capsule. Ashwaganda means something close to “horse piss” Ive been told, and it is named after the strength and passion of a horse as this is what it embues. These should be discontinued at the first sign of a sniffle or other illness. Then switch to active antimicrobial prevention. Taking these while sick can sometimes strengthen the pathogen rather than the host.

Antimicrobials: These are divided by their functionality.

Use these herbs as a prevention; it is best to preserve the antibacterials for signs of actual infection. Like Rx antibiotics nature’s antibacterials have strong actions and their use needs to be preserved for proper indication

A selection of commonly used antivirals includes:

  • alium cepa (onion)
  • allium sativa (garlic)
  • echinacea – only in the first 24 hours of infection
  • elderberry- usually used as a syrup that is very safe for all ages (watch for honey under 1yo) and for pregnancy –has some possible conflicting evidence for COVID19 infection, make your own informed consent to use.
  • monolauren (from coconut oil)
  • euphrasia (eyebright) – for viral conjunctavitis and eye symptoms
  • cats claw

A selection of my fave antibacterials include:

  • goldenseal – for inflamed mucus membranes and purulent discharges
  • berberis – for anything that looks or feels “infected” including GI issues
  • echinacea – one of the only botanicals proven against strep species. Use a glycerite form of the tincture and squirt it directly onto an inflamed throat. The glycerite is sweet and is safe for children and elders.
  • cats claw – used for Lyme infection
  • onion and garlic, oregano and thyme – in cooking! use liberally!

Antifungals are also important for chronic immune system depletion often manifested as thick brittle toenails or fingernails, frequent yeast infections, sinusitis and chronic belly issues. They are less relevent for this pandemic other than to sustain and support long term immune and lung health. My go-to antifungals include:

  • monolauren (from coconut oil) 300mg 2 times/ day
  • pau d’arco tincture or tea – 2 tsp or cups per day
  • tea tree oil – topical
  • caprylic acid – at least 2 caps daily
  • garlic
  • * a note on essential oils

I personally took a bottle of astragalus tablets 2 2twice-ish daily and now I am switching to Monolauren daily for 3 months with vitamin C and cats claw tincture daily for at least the next 3-4 weeks for intensive antiviral support. I am also taking ashwaganda as an energy tonic to support my stress levels during this unusual time to be working in medicine, and a probiotic. For my personalized medicine I have an herbal thyroid support formula alongside my Armor thyroid medication as I have Hashimotos thyroiditis. Finally, I drink homemade nettle tea or lavender/ chamomile tea and am doing the best I can to get cooked or fresh greens most days.

My training in essential oils is only for primarily olfactory/ inhaled, diffused in water or skin products. I was not trained in “by mouth” use of essential oils such as promoted by DoTerra or other EO companies so I cannot recommend tfor or against these by mouth. I do like topical and diffused use of these medicinal substances and find myself drawn to tee trea, eucalyptus and lavender, cypress, pine as my primary antimicrobial nature scents for baths, lotions, soaps and diffusion. Many flower essential oils have beneficial effects on the mind/ mental health as CN1 is a cranial nerve. There is a long tradition of use for cosmetic use as well.

Best of luck out there friendly readers. How we as humans conduct ourselves in these pandemic times can illustrate where we need to work on ourselves and where we shine bright. This is an excellent time for insight, awareness and evolution. Its also a perfect time for devolution and hopelessness. Reach out and find the resources you need or ask a friend to listen awhile: many providers are providing sliding scale or free servicesand telemedicine is blooming. The world is small with the internet. Kindness can be found in bugs on a sidewalk or a smiling eyes from 6 feet. If nothing else is true, it is that we are in this together.

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Intermittent Starving vs Fasting

My IG and twitter feeds keep sending me promoted ads for intermittent fasting and young thin women in my Internal Medicine residency program keep telling me they are doing it. As someone with a hair trigger red flag signal for anorexia and eating disorders, I am triggered. As someone with a 20 year nutrition degree and as a gal raised with a spiritual practice of fasting, I do understand the value behind the concept. The problems start when restriction/binging/restriction patterns are overlayed on the foundational evidence.

This is the best nutritional protocol and evidence I found to implement intermittent fasting into a food plan for weight loss or for longevity. There is good reasoning and practice behind the idea that the liver stores glycogen for storage, and that this “immediate use” supply needs to be used up before the body creates new glucose from adipose cells and muscle. This is reasonable: fasting uses up the supplies . Then fasting decreases fat or muscle from stores.

Some fasting articles I’ve read suggest 16 hours between eating every day. This sounds anlot like the “don’t eat food after 7” rule that has quite a few generations of folks sleep binging and waking up covered in cookies.

Some articles suggest 16 hours between meals twice a week. This seems more reasonable to me as it allows for some pre-planning to have restful, quiet time during the fasting period. Our human bodies are not designed to “run on empty.” I grew up in a spiritual yoga community where fasting was part of the practice towards enlightenment, but work was not done during the fast. One’s time in the fasting state is to be spent meditating, reflecting, and processing (like while we sleep.) Yoga is also an acceptable practice during this time as it stimulates glands and organs as well as the musculoskeletal body to return to homeostasis. Fasting is designed as a parasympathetic state to rebalance cyp liver enzymes and clear the intestines. Pushing through fasting into sympathetic, highly motivated activity like mental or physical labor requires the adrenal glands to overachieve and drive metabolism through adrenaline and sheer will aka cortisol.

The one place where hard work on a fasting belly IS indicated is for anyone looking to lower insulin resistance by using the biochemistry of exercise. This could be someone requiring huge doses of insulin for only moderate blood glucose control, or someone trying to beat type 2 diabetes in the pre-diabetic state. Exercising on an empty stomach is one of the few ways to upregulate the special cellular receptors called GLUT_4 for insulin to bring blood sugar into cells. I have tried this and its oddly satisfying. Nerd out on biochemistry and GLUT-4 here.

I don’t intermittent fast intentionally myself. Some weekend days I wont eat food until 2-3 in the afternoon, just based on my natural appetite; however, I do have black coffee and water and sometimes juice during that time. To be my best self, I need frequent and regular fuel to keep this brain and body going for the intense work weeks I do. Not allowing myself to eat when I am hungry in not helpful for my mental health either – not only do I get edgy or feel anxious, my own disordered eating and body dysmorphia can easily be motivated by restrictive eating patterns.

Aside from mental health, some people also have genetic metabolic imbalances if their lineage experienced a traumatic food restriction. This has been researched in Irish descendants as well as Jewish folks. Caloric restriction can actually trigger a survival metabolism where minimal resources are burned and every morsel of fat possible is stored. This is ancestral trauma that has caused permanent alterations in your genome that get triggered by environmental circumstances.

The science is compelling though: improved metabolism, destruction of cancer cells, immune regulation, cortisol balancing, cellular rejuvenation…. benefits are numerous!

Here is what I would do if I was either doing a period of cleansing/detox and intentionally working on restoring health or if I was committed to a defined period of intentional weight loss (8 months from this algorithm.)

  1. Style 1: two mornings a week, fast until 12-1pm depending on your 16 hour window. On these mornings drink warm water, organic green tea or herbal tea, stretch and do yoga or go for a gentle walk, get into nature, rest/ meditate, write or reflect. Eat a Mediterranean style diet the remainder of the time.
  2. Style 2: For a more intensive weight loss experience, follow the algorithm for 2 days a week of restricted caloric intake from the JAMA article referenced at the beginning of this post. I would not also follow the time restricted feeding patterns myself as I find this too rigid for modern life and overrides the natural appetite instincts which are essential. Eat a Mediterranean type diet or Paleo. Consider pairing this with the Whole 30 protocol or an elimination diet for true restorative food as medicine. Follow the above guidelines for your calorie restricted days with rest, nature, reflection, massage, acupuncture or other healing practices, whole organic foods, teas and water. Once you have completed month 4, return back up the protocol until you are back at full weekly caloric intake and reassess.
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Gall Bags, Spring, and Other Mysteries

Has Spring come to your part of the world? Because it is slow to arrive in Maine. Most of our world here is still a monotonous palate of gray, brown, pine green, white, dirty white and cold blue. April has promise, because today the sun felt warm even with the cool wind. And little shoots of yellow-green things are growing in the dirt!

Naturopathic Medicine heralds spring as the season of the liver – like trees stagnant over the winter our saps start to flow too. And our sap in this case in not blood, but bile. The ancient Greeks separated bilious humors into yellow, and black. Yellow bile is what we now call bile, stored in the gall bladder and useful in digestion. Black bile is a far more mysterious, melancholic and deadly humour, and one that I will have to investigate further when I am not studying for surgery exams.

So far this clerkship has been “general surgery” which has been primarily cholecystectomys and hernia repairs. The standard of care is to electively – or emergently – remove every gall bladder that presents with symptoms and evidence of stones or sludge. This makes sense because once one stone has caused problems, its pretty likely another will eventually. Complications can be pretty intense – gallstone pancreatitis with or without ileus is nasty, as is choledocolithiasis and ascending cholangitis. I am on board with this plan.

The best plan of action to avoid having gall bladder surgery is prevention. Inspired, committed lifestyle and nutritional prevention years before the problem starts. Not many people are willing, or have access to the knowledge to practice the kind of prevention that is required to avoidgallstones. By this I mean, too many people are never educated about the impact of food choices on health,  or just dont care enough to make the choices to eat an every day diet with good quality oils, moderate animal proteins and high fiber, high antioxidant, high phytonutrient grains and fruits/vegetables. (This is a whole other conversation about class, nutrition, education, access and economics.) Individuals also need to have the spark of interest to learn about plants as medicine and botanical therapies for liver health, as well as the initiative to either track down someone to act as a herbalist or dabble in self care. Because, once gallstones are formed there are some treatment options but…. not many. And IMHO, not many that are truly effective.

For those out there looking for guidance, herbal medicine combined with nutrition is the best way to maintain long term liver and gall bladder health. According to a PubMed Physiology text, bile is formulated in liver cells and modified by cholangiocytes as it travels through the bile canalicula. It is essentially a watery mix of cholesterol, bilirubin, phospholipids (fats), bile salts (broken down cholesterol bound to amino acids), proteins, bicarbonate, salts, and enzymes like alkaline phosphatase. Bile is classified as a mechanism to eliminate waste from the body, and I suspect it carries dubious products from the CYP enzymes that are not fully metabolized by an overburdened liver as well.


With this in mind, increasing bile flow with bitter alkaloids and other phytochemicals inherent in plant medicine are a logical way to improve gall bladder health. There is one botanical I know that have specific use for stones in the body called peumos baldo, but most of the hepatophillic herbs simply increase bile flow thereby decreasing stagnation and thus stone formation. One well-known liver loving botanicals is milk thistle (silybum marianum), which is insanely hepatoprotective and has multiple studies on it for chemical insults. This will not likely help with bile health directly, but it does protect hepatocytes from repeat insults from drugs metabolized by the CYP enzyme system such as antidepressants, anti-epilepsy drugs, birth control, alcohol, narcotics, and some antibiotics.

Dandilion (Taraxacum officionalis) and artichoke (Cynara scolymus) are often paired for their cholegogue effects. Its very common to see these three together in standardized formulations as they are probably the most well known players – and for good reason because they are safe for most healthy people and have a very long historical use for all sorts of “bilious” afflictions including gall stones. Of note, if you have lots of gall stones sitting in your gall bladder or have already had gall stone attacks,  taking high doses of cholegogues could precipitate an attack of acute cholecystitis. However, if you have already had your gall bladder removed they would be safe. There are many other plant medicines for bilious health employed by Naturopathic Doctors and herbalists world-wide, from many indigenous systems of medicine. Seeing an expert for individualized medicine is always the best choice for safe, effective and appropriate treatment as the liver, like all organs in the body rarely acts in isolation. Thus, the best medicine takes your whole health into account.

Finally, we think of natures medicine as extracted herbal “drugs”, but plain old water is so therapeutic for liver health. If bile is an aqueous solution, then chronic dehydration from caffeine/alcohol soda/sodium must lead to a concentrated and hypersoluble solution, right?

Vegetables are also medicinal plants. Spicy and bitter greens have the same cholegogue activity as dandilion and artichoke and are very safe to consume. Cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli, kale and brussel sprouts have documented chemical constituents that improve estrogen metabolism, thereby improving bile flow. The fiber binds excess cholesterol and maintains bowel health, and they have documented anti-cancer properties. Eat your broccoli!  Beets and carrots are rich in carotenoids which give their vibrant colors. These have traditionally been used as healing foods for the liver and although I do not know the exact reason why, can they hurt? Only if you hate beets, I suppose.

I have to stop writing this post, because I have to be up at the crack of dawn for another laproscopic cholecystectomy tomorrow. Its a surgery that definitely needs to be done – the woman has had some significant blockage from a stone that miraculously moved on its own but caused an elevated bilirubin as well as weeks of abdomninal pain and distress. It would be unsafe for her to just wait around for that to happen again, because where there is one stone, there are probably two. And where there is a chronically dehydrated American taking multiple pharmaceuticals and eating the SAD, there will always be another gall bag to take out.

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Embedding Resilience in Medicine

      Half an inch from the first four thoracic vertebrae lie the central nervous system transistors (stellate ganglion) for your fight and flight nervous system. Needless to say, my upper back is constantly aching. I am metabolizing the unique stress of being a brand new doctor/medical student in hospital life. It’s a different kind of stress than the first two academic years: those were crushing content & exams, but they were ivory tower academia. This is the very real medicine that is literally birth, life and death stuff. More visceral than literal, I find myself often crying,  sometimes gagging, and occasionally elated.

The purpose of third year clerkship aka #MS3 is to get a sampling of each major specialty to help us decide on a residency. Its a generic med school formula consisting of: Pediatrics, Surgery, OB/GYN, Internal Medicine Inpatient & Outpatient, Family Medicine, Psychiatry, Community Health. Inpatient, we legally cannot write patient notes. While we can actively participate in patient care,  everything we do needs to be seconded by a licensed doc; therefore, we are mostly shadows, errand runners, and absorbent sponges.

Unfortunately, some throwbacks to fraternal physician hazing rituals are still in place even for third year medical students. For example, my Internal Medicine inpatient rotation, which is already a 6am – 6pm shift 5 days a week (with a 1 hr drive on each side) also requires 6 -24 hour shifts in the 6 weeks. I asked a friend who is a year ahead of me and attended a different hospital clerkship if her rotation was scheduled as such, and she said she had to follow hospitalist hours for that same rotation – roughly 730am – 330pm. If the point is to learn each of the specialty’s roles, it makes sense to follow the professional hours. If the goal is to teach us that Internal Medicine requires an exhausting slog of hospital life, and how to forsake all other aspects of our personal and academic life for our career, then this approach in third year makes sense. Slate Magazine said it best: Third Year Kills Humanity of Medicine.

I haven’t done the above inpatient IM rotation yet and yes, I’m actively worried about my health, my marriage, and my coping skills during that onslaught. I did one 86 hour “sneak peek” week with our Family Medicine inpatient service last Fall.  I did enjoy the steep learning curve and patient contact; however,  I often felt lost and useless as my resident dictated her many notes and ran around the hospital following up on pages and other details. I did get some good studying done and learned some basic inpatient skills but there were hours, especially after the first 8,  that I wished I had something more productive I could be doing in.

In reality, the residents are much more forgiving than the administration and often let us leave early (6am – 10/11pm) saying “there is nothing we could learn at 2am that cant be learned at 2pm.” I am eternally grateful for this ray of grace. And I do understand that night shifts and on-call hours are foundational for many physician careers and practicing them could be relevant.  But why, when 55% of Internal Medicine and Family Doctors report burnout, are we being subjected to these mind numbing hours as third years? How will medicine ever change if the hazing continues to be perpetrated generation after generation?

I accept that being a doctor requires selflessness & sacrifice. I accept that long hours are often required and I like to work – for an income, for a team, and for a good reason. I’m a second career medical student, I study and practice clinical skills because this is what I love! I accept that as a resident I will bear the brunt of hours spent watchdogging and admitting in part because we are the cheap labor force of institutionalized medicine. But, I have 1.5 years of med school left, and 3-6 years of residency/fellowship ahead. What is the purpose of having me work 86 hour weeks now,  and how is it going to benefit my relationship towards medicine?

To embed resilience in doctors, we as a profession and as an academic incubator need to provide time & space for rest, relaxation, and quietude. Only in parasympathetics can we metabolize the soul-rattling experience that comes from facing death and sickness and the burden of chronic disease in North America. Not only are we facing grief/loss/mortality, we are taking on the enormous responsibility of decision maker. A backlog of unprocessed emotion leads to substance abuse, chronic pain, sleep disorders, lack of compassion, and who knows what other organic & chemical dysregulation. We need regular daily time to cook good food, sleep with our loves, be intimate and vulnerable, Netflick and chill, get to the gym or get outside. Only in that space can we emotionally integrate this transformation.

Our clerkship Dean Dr. Taylor sent out this  reaffirming blogpost last month in which an experienced physician Dr. Youngson writes to his younger self. He says:

     “As a medical student or junior doctor, it’s easy to feel powerless especially in a hierarchical medical system that too often teaches by humiliation, punishes those who question the status quo, and grinds people down through overwork and inhuman working conditions…”

Change medical education so that we as medical students (and residents and attendings and all doctors actually) are seen as people who are more than life-saving, problem fixing, chart dictating, disease curing machines. A more gentle, humane practice of time & space for medicine while living life alongside the role of physician has to start at the beginning of the clerkship year when we integrate it’s practice with our academic foundations, or it wont be ingrained as part of the way we approach medicine.

Once I started thinking about time, resilience and integration as the cure of medical burnout, I began seeing evidence everywhere. I heard a NEJM Interview from 01/03/18 with Dr. Armstrong from Massachusettes General Hospital’s new Pathways program where residents are given time and a scientific team to investigate complex patient-based cases. The 12/26/17 issue of JAMA has an article by Jack Coulehan, MD MPH from the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics on Negative Capability and the Art of Medicine that speaks to “sustaining the physician through the ‘humdrum routine’ of professional life… [Using]… the power to recognize the ‘true poetry of life'” and of medicine. This is a reflective practice. He says:

In pursuing the steadiness and detachment required to master clinical practice, it is tempting to neglect the more difficult project of nourishing engagement and tenderness in our relationships with patients – and with ourselves.”

The future of medical education is not only about competencies met and clinical acumen. The true scholars of the next generations of physicians will be those who can achieve their best in patient care and scientific fulfillment, while also living a satisfying, integrated and joyful life.

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Gender Affirming Health Care: Top Ten Tips

This article was written for the American Medical Student Association journal The New Physician October 2017. The original can be found at this link: http://mydigitalpublication.com/publication/?i=445109&utm_source=webtoc&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=O17#{“issue_id”:445109,”page”:1}. Volume 66, Number 5.

Picture this: it’s your second day of practice. You graduated medical school, made it into a residency, and now it’s time to be a doctor …. In walks your third patient of the day – medium height, medium build, medium length black hair, charming but shy face and awkward smile and – your quick-fire practiced analysis stops there – frozen, you can’t tell if this person is a girl or a boy. You glance at your paperwork. First Name: Robin. Last Name: Also Unhelpful. The person is talking in a midrange tone, and you aren’t listening because you are frantically scanning their body to figure out what lies underneath the black tee-shirt and dark Levis. You look up at the persons face and see it start to close as they observe you floundering to see past their gender.

Transgender Medicine is a newly emerging subspecialty, but every health care professional is already seeing transgender patients. Trans people have always been a part of every culture worldwide; in the last ten years there has been a public blossoming of gender expression in social media, television, and probably your personal family or friend circle as well. Transgender people have come out as part of our modern society, and as physicians we need to be culturally and medically competent enough to provide good medicine for this community.

As of 2017, there are several epicenters of transgender medicine, research and scholarship worldwide. The Dutch are famous for their longitudinal body of evidence on transgender health, as they have been collecting research and academic scholarship on transition medicine within their socialized health care system for over 30 years. As such, they have a tried and true so-called “Dutch protocol” for male to female (MTF) and female to male (FTM) transitions that has been used as a template for most international Standards of Care.

The US has several gender specialty clinics that conduct research and offer high quality trans health care. These clinics and hospitals are also key players in this rapidly evolving area of medicine, surgery and research. The best known of these include:

  • Fenway Health Center in Boston
  • The Center for Transgender Medicine and Surgery at Mount Sinai in NYC
  • The Mazzoni Center in Philadelphia (which puts on the free Philadelphia Trans Health Conference annually)
  • The Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at UC San Francisco

For future and current physicians interested in Transgender Medicine as a specialty, the key areas for concentrated trans care are Family Medicine, Endocrinology, Psychiatry, Surgery/Urology and Pediatric Endocrinology. There is not yet a fellowship available in Transgender Adult or Pediatric Endocrinology (Coming Soon!) but the first fellowship in Transgender Surgery has been piloted this year at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Whether you want to dive into the depths of the transgender community and learn the intricacy of this rich and diverse community or not, as it was said before every physician will see trans people in their career. Take the time now to become familiar with the basics of transgender health literacy, for your professional integrity and your patients.

TOP 10 TIPS FOR BEING A TRANS FRIENDLY PHYSICIAN

DON’T GET HUNG UP ON IDENTIFYING GENDER IN THE FIRST 3 MINUTES. Gender and Sexuality Identity begin to develop at 2-3 years of age. Your patient has probably been trying to figure out their gender for a whole lot of years before they showed up in your office, so chances are their gender is more complicated than your 10 second evaluation. Once you notice you can’t confirm male or female specifically (spoiler alert: you may be wrong in your assessment) MOVE on with your objective assessment and Listen to what the person is saying.

THEY IS THE NEW SINGULAR PRONOUN: For some people, She doesn’t feel comfortable, but neither does He. Some people live in the space between male and female, and those definitive English pronouns can feel extremely uncomfortable. Being mis-gendered by pronouns is also surprisingly hurtful to trans people. “They” is a neutral pronoun that just feels more comfortable for some people. Why not use it? (Ps. Please don’t use the “it’s just not good grammar” argument because chances are your grammar isn’t perfect otherwise; and, while it may commonly be an English plural pronoun, Latin-based languages have pleural pronouns that can also be used in the formal You/singular.) Again, the use of “They” is really helpful to some people for communication purposes, so embrace it, try it on every day, and get used to it. In fact, it really comes in handy when referring to someone whose gender you can’t figure out, as in saying to your attending “I’m not sure what’s wrong, but they look really terrible, would you come take a look?”)

ACCEPT THAT SOME PEOPLE LIVE OUTSIDE THE LINES: Technically, the term is “non-binary” for people that don’t neatly fit into the sex-gender binary of male / female. This is a complex spectrum of identities that can be any shape or form and have any meaning for an individual. The non-binary space can be intentional with hormone use, or how people are born or mature. For people who have always fit within the binary, it can be hard to remember that other people LIKE THE WAY THEY ARE. It isn’t our job as physicians to try and get them to fit within a specific box. For other people, the non-binary identity may be a stepping point, a transitional space, or something they struggle with. As always it is simply our job as health care providers to create a safe place where people can talk about their health care needs, and help them get these needs met.

STATISTICS DON’T LIE: Not a lot is known about trans health care seeking behavior from an evidence based perspective, but from my community I know that many of my gender minority friends avoid health care due to bad medical experiences being misgendered, disrespected, or worse assaulted/insulted or denied care. From the research that does exist, the statistics are alarming. Dr. Angela Carter, a transgender physician from Portland, Oregon writes “One in 5 transgender people have been turned away from healthcare because of their gender, and an estimated 30% have avoided seeking care due to fear of discrimination. Reports suggest that 50% of transgender people have had to teach their physician how to care for them; 24% of trans people have been verbally harassed while seeking care; and, 2% report an actual physical assault while trying to get care.Read more of her great Trans Health 101 article here: http://ndnr.com/endocrinology/transgender-healthcare/.

PAPERWORK: What is named, exists. If you have a box for Transgender or better yet Male to Female, Female to Male, and Gender Nonbinary on your intake form or embedded in your EMR next to Male and Female, you can have that helpful self-identifying information at the first encounter. At the same time, this improves the patients visit experience, offering a named identity and acceptance from the first encounter. Make sure your staff are educated in trans cultural competency as well. Include training elements like being compassionate and respectful with patients who may have gender incongruent birth names, insurance navigation, and associated pronoun use.

EMRs – UN/NECESSARY EVILS: It will take a long time and many years of advocacy work before most hospitals EMRs are updated to contain alternate gender identities; however, having staff who are trained in ways to communicate about gender differences can soften the experience for the person who is in an acutely ill and vulnerable state needing medical care. For example, triage personnel (and med students!) could say “”So, I know this may be a difficult question right now but what is your preferred pronoun and what is your is gender designation on your health insurance?” This non-judgemental approach leaves space for the person to give an answer without an explanation and conveys compassion in a business-like open-ended manner.

DON’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER: Many trans people “pass” for their chosen gender completely. We need to be mentally and medically prepared for providing effective and competent health care to people who physically inhabit bodies that are hormonally and anatomically complex. Doing this work AND exploring your own personal, moral, or religious complexities of feelings about trans gender and identity needs to be done BEFORE that patient walks in your door needing your professional skills as a doctor, not your human opinions.

KNOW YOUR RESOURCES: The World Professional Health Association (wpath.org) has been the guiding force and academic collective of transgender scholarship for the past 30+ years. WPATH has been at the heart of the conservation and documentation of the protocols used for transitional medicine. There is a published a Standards of Care (version 7.0) that is available online and in print. University of San Francisco also has a superior online learning center with everything you need to know to start basic primary trans care including evidence based protocols. http://transhealth.ucsf.edu/trans?page=guidelines-home. Fenway Health is the east coast online epicenter for trans health resources and reading and has great free training webinars http://fenwayhealth.org/care/medical/transgender-health/. Take an afternoon and familiarize yourself with these sites, bookmark them, and pass them on.

KNOW MORE RESOURCES: No one should have to travel beyond state lines to get competent medical care. As with most kinds of medicine, having a grasp of your local resources is essential, especially for primary care docs who just can’t do everything (contrary to popular belief.) Know who is providing competent transgender primary care and endocrinology for adults and for children in your area, who has experience with transition hormone therapy, where to refer for respectful electrolysis and other cosmetic procedures, and who is offering the basic surgeries like mastectomy in your part of the world is a great way to provide your gender minority patients with access and resources. If there isn’t anyone offering these services, consider taking a WPATH certification course and becoming that person.

DON’T BE AN ASSH**E: The best thing to do when you make a mistake is apologize. I have over 10 years of professional experience with trans health and gender non-conformity has been part of my social circle for 20+ years and I still unfortunately misgender people, use the wrong pronouns, and say awkward things. And then I apologize and learn from my mistakes. Doctor-patient relationships are built on an exchange that requires integrity and some transparency. You don’t have to be the expert in trans medicine- your patient is the expert in what their body (mind spirit) needs. Your job is to help them maintain a safe and consensual medical space where they can address health concerns and work towards their optimal self-expression. This may include transitional hormones and gender affirming surgery for some, or it may be flu shots and cholesterol testing for others. Or oncology. Or labor and delivery. Or sickle cell anemia. Who knows what the person will need, trans people are people and you have one in your office right now. What will you do?

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Evolutionary Success vs Child Free Living

As you know, I have been struggling with my biological clock: my age and stress level tick louder than ever. Weighing the cost of motherhood against my career in medicine has never been an equal balance with scales always tipped in the favor of my seemingly insatiable appetite for knowledge. And yet – I’ve been studying fertility since 2004, seeing fertility docs since 2008, and  froze my eggs in 2013. I am always scheming to figure out “when is a good enough time”. Yes, I know there “is never a good time: but as a lesbian with a choice, isnt there a “better time”? And here I am, child free, finally happily coupled, and in my third year of medical school in 2017.

I just completed 6 weeks working with newborns and doing well-baby checks to mostly women under 30 in my first pediatric rotation. I I couldn’t help thinking about the definition of evolutionary success as progeny. Many moms I worked with had 4-8 other babies. Some were on opioids, many smoked pot and tobacco or even took buspirone and SSRIs throughout their pregnancy and had sick/addicted babies. Some were very very young. But evolutionarily, each of them had already surpassed me even with my 2.5 degrees, $500k of education,  and diverse, privileged, happy life. I realized I am currently an evolutionary failure.

I am an archetype of my Generation X.  I don’t have many excuses for child-free living left, having had a bacchanalian and free-spirited 20’s and 30’s. Is it time for me to “settledown”? Who am I if I choose NOT to have a child of my own?

My primary reasoning for not spawning includes RESPONSIBILITY – towards my career/education and more importantly, to the kid. Who brings a child into the world who is guaranteed a mom who is away from home 12-18 hours a day (unavoidable in medical school -residency)? Where is the evolutionary success in that? Generationally, I do not have the same programming my parents had to marry/reproduce, and as a lesbian it didn’t happen by accident. Also, as a kid myself who had a high ACE score, I don’t want to perpetrate even a privileged neglect into another generation. So, here I am: struggling with my generational expectation to break the glass ceiling, achieve my highest ambitions, follow my dreams … and shouldering the unspoken price of doing that.

Maybe I could redefine evolutionary success. Not “survival of the species” but survival of the…planet? Conscious eco-systeming? Or maybe even the more complicated redefining of family/familial success – what if evolutionary success was a life well-lived and well-loved, and a small carbon footprint; a kinship network of peers, lovers, and lifelong friends instead? Children no longer live to serve their elder parents, and even if I had a child, I would not be promised a safe and well-cared for death. Still, at the end of the day, even though I have many cousins with beautiful babies carrying on the family line in all directions, my personal lineage of Wright-Larson will not be carried on unless I have a kid. That feels sad. That does feel like failure.

I stand with my aching feet and my scrubs and pager, knowing raising my own babies is not likely going to be the life I get to live this time around.

I have always been an outlier. I chose Naturopathic medical school in the 90s, chose the urban underbelly in the 2000s, and chose osteopathic medical school in the 20-teens.  I’m 92% reconciled that I will enjoy my child-free life and travel to Tokyo, Vatican City, Barcelona, and live in expensive, romantic urban centers. Because I consistently choose career, love and adventure over a baby and domesticity I will be able to live a certain kind of lifestyle. But that doesn’t make it easier when I come home smelling like babies from a day at work, or when I see my cousins achingly beautiful creative charming kids. There is no consolation prize for evolutionary failure. Only the small faith that I am making the right choice for the kid I would create and maybe a for this planet, and hopefully for, myself and my love.

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Balancing with Ayruvedic Medicine – from Womens Power to Heal

510fafgjdbl-_sx336_bo1204203200_I am doing an Integrative Medicine Scholars program through the AMSA and we have to do a project to explore some aspect of Integrative Health. Ayurveda is a practice of medicine I don’t know much about, so I decided to do a personal practice incorporating lifestyle, nutrition and herbal medicine principles for the month of January. My friend Cathleen Miller helped me to figure out what my Dosha is (constitutional type) and lent me this amazing book, and …. here we go! Below is an outline taken directly from this text for (my) Pitta-Vata type.

Balancing Pitta-Vata Rhythms –

  • Rise with the sun and go to bed by 10 pm – maintain steady eating and sleeping routines
  • Ease yourself out of all stressful activities and maintain only those projects that create ease – allow adequate time to complete projects
  • Take ample rest
  • East wholesome, fresh, moderately warm, moist substantial and calming foods.
  • Avoid bitter, cold, raw, hot, spicy, oily, salty, fermented or stale foods and stimulants.
  • Shield against hot, wet, humid, cold, damp, or stressful environments.
  • Embrace serenity, love, warmth, healthy rituals and calmness.

Nutrition Principles

AVOID: caffeine, refined sweets, alcohol, saturated fats, excess salt, oily and spicy foods, and commercial dairy projects, as well as highly processed junk foods, meats, additives, frozen, canned, commercially grown, bioengineered, transgenic refined salts, sugars, flours and hydrogenated oils.

CHOOSE:

VEGETABLES Broccoli Brussel sprouts cabbage Cauliflower
Artichokes Asparagus Bamboo Bitter greens Black olives
Celery Cucumber Green beans Dark greens Parsnips
Peas Potatoes Sprouts Summer squash Sweet potato
Winter squash yams Watercress Bok choy Carrots
Daikon Beets Leeks

 

FRUITS Apples Apricots Coconuts Dates
Fresh figs Oranges Pears Pomegranate Tangerines
Mango Plums Raisins Quinces Limes
pineapple Avocado Banana Grapefruit Kiwi
Lemon Peaches Tamarind Rhubarb

 

LEGUMES Aduki beans Mung beans Kidney Lima
Lentil Navy Pinto Chickpeas Tofu
Black beans

 

NUTS Coconut Roasted sunflower seeds Roasted pumpkin seeds Poppy seeds
Water chestnuts Macadamia nuts Sesame seeds Pecans Walnuts
Pine nuts Pistachios

 

DAIRY Unsalted butter Cows milk Cottage cheese Sweetened yogurt
Buttermilk Whole cows milk cheese Cream Ghee Sour cream

 

OILS Sunflower Almond Olive Coconut
Dark sesame Light sesame

 

SWEETENERS Maple syrup Dates Sucanat

 

SPICES Coriander Cumin Cardamom Cilantro
Curry leaves Dill Fresh basil Fennel Turmeric
Saffron Peppermint Spearmint Ginger Anise
Mustard seeds Sage Nutmeg Thyme Ginger
Cloves Rosemary Tarragon Oregano parsely

 

Practices

  • New moon journalling with saraswati mantra – Aim Sarasvatyai Namaha
  • Ginger compress one week before the new moon (unless bleeding)

1 gallon water

1 handful grated fresh ginger

1 lg stainless steel pot with cover

2 stainless bowls

  Bring water to a boil, and add ginger secured in a ouch with a drawstring. Squeeze the  pouch to release the ginger juice and drop into the water. Simmer 30 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before uncovering when taken off the heat. Create a compress towel and apply to lower back for 4-5 minutes or until lukewarm. For full instructions, see text p. 264.

  • Rose Oil Pichu – for headaches, hair loss, pain in the eyes, poor vision, mental fatigue and nose bleeds. Pichu: a powerful lubricating and loving therapy that helps maintain mental calm, emotional equanimity and helps balance the doshas. Best time: waxing moon phase. C/I bleeding. Best time: morning or early evening.

¼ cup dried roses

1 c sesame oil

Bring to boil over low heat and remove from heat, Add rose flower, cover and let steep 4-6 hours. Strain and use.

PICHU instructions: need pottery bowl, 12 “ clean cotton square and cotton hand towel.

  • Wash hair a few hours before
  • Release all stressful thoughts and details from the mind
  • Assemble the supplies on the floor close by
  • Soak the cloth in oil and lie down; place the cloth ear to ear. Press down on the cloth and wipe away excess oil
  • Rest quietly for 30 minutes and rise slowly, use hand towel to wipe away excess oil and maintain a peaceful attitude for the rest of the day.
  • Shakti Mudra – should be daily but 3 times per week seems doable – enhances sense of self, reinforces femininity, self esteem and restores vital energy to the womb.

Sit facing east

Bring palms together and separate slowly

Form the Shakti mudra hand position – see p. 192 text

Breathe deeply into pelvis and breathe out slowly, tracing the exhalation from the base 0f the perineum, circulating through the uterus and belly

Maintain for 15 minutes

Take a deep breath and make a commitment to a life of non-hurting

 

  • Yoni Mudra – 3 days before the new moon and full moon to revise Shakti prana.Not when bleeding.

Sit in meditative practice with palms facing up

Create the yoni mudra hand positions – see p. 155 text

Hold the hand gesture for 5 minutes

Allow breath to flow freely throughout the body, keeping the mind centered

HERBAL MEDICINE

Herbal Teas for PMS – Vata type predominant – take for 3 days of the new moon as well as the 5 days before menses

Helpful herbs: nutmeg, valerian, triphala, ashwaganda, shatavari, cinnamon, turmeric, fennel, dill and wild yam.

CINNAMON, CLOVE AND CARDAMOM DECOCTION (VATA) for PMS

2 c water

2 c organic milk

1 tbsp cloves

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp cardamom

½ tsp ginger

1 pinch saffron

 

LAVENDER FENNEL GINGER TEA DECOCTION (PITTA) for PMS

I c water

1 c organic cows milk

1 tso roasted fennel seeds

1 tbsp lavender petals

1 tbsp hops

½ tsp ginger powder

1 pinch saffron

bring water and milk to a boil. Toast the fennel seeds, then add all herbs and spices and simmer on medium for 15 minutes. Remove from heat, add saffron and stand 3-5 min before drinking.

 

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Heartbreak and Heart Failure

screen-shot-2016-11-06-at-2-48-11-pmSometimes life, work and study all seem  to dovetail and everything makes sense for just a few glorious moments. Cardiology was like that for me, in between the Frank Starling curves.

Last year we had a case study of a woman with congestive heart failure (CHF.)  Her husband had renal failure and needed dialysis, and she worked at a job she didnt love. She slowly developed worsening heart failure over the course of the case, with  shortness of breath, edema, high blood pressure, and poor circulation, eventually dying from it. I was impacted by the apathy she displayed in her efforts to recover – unwilling to eat more grains and greens, decrease salt,  get outside, exercise regularly, investigate psychotherapy, or better her personal life in any way. Instead, she just declined in health, adding a new prescription per year to mange her symptoms until she  – drowned. In her grief. Of heart disease.

This. Story. Happens. Every Day.

And not only in the US, or Canada or Europe. World-Wide.

The multitudes of meta-analysis risk factor evaluations like the Framingham, Whitehall and Rekjavic studeis have concretely illustrated important evidence about the facts of heart disease: atherosclerotic fatty streaks in arteries, high blood sugar, and  inflammation are the undeniable Holy Trinity of heart disease. What is not being avidly reported is the rate of divorce, or mood disorders in these same subjects. The sexual dissatisfaction. The childhood trauma. Socioeconomics and race are sometimes studied, and African Americans and Latinos have higher rates of heart disease. Nobody is surprised. Russia has the highest rate of ischemic heart disease in the world, along with some African nations and Indonesia. These countries also have horrible human rights records, with well documented transphobia, homophobia and police brutality.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-01-58-pmIf we are going to turn around heart disease, do we not need to acknowledge the humanity of the heart? The same  epidemiological study quoted deep within the content:

“Additional reports from this study have shown inverse associations between fair and respectful treatment at work and CHD [Congestive Heart Disease],and job control with future CHD risk.

Similarly, hypertension, which is the harbinger of heart disease through its effect on cardiac structure and function,  is hugely mediated by the stress response.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-9-11-31-pmI was talking to Dr. Stein, an internist specializing in HIV and also our OMS II course director, about this theory that heart failure is so rampant because we have no real medicine for soul-problems like dissatisfaction, grief, sorrow, envy, loneliness and such. He said the links between depression, elevated cortisol, hypertension and CHF are well documented and clearly evidenced.

He reiterated that it is known that People of Color have higher blood pressures because their lives are more stressful due to systemic and personally experienced racism aka “stress.” It is also well evidenced that African Americans with CHF respond better to different medications than other races – Hydralazine, a vasodilator that decreases resistance,  improves survival with  isosorbide dinitrate rather than the ACE inhibitors and Beta Blockers commonly used. Ha, decreasing [systemic institutionalized] resistance as a keystone in improving survival? I need to know more about the MOA of these drugs to understand why decreasing the catecholamines isnt enough for this population; maybe its because of the deleterious and constant push and pull the sympathetic blockers have on the heart receptors of someone living in the actual adrenergic rut of an unsafe society.

3f0a8388-0078-4c4f-88ef-36078365eae5Our cardiologist professor Dr. Glass stated that the average person with hypertension is on 3.4 medications to manage it. These are usually layers of diuretics to decrease the blood volume and drain edema (decreasing preload), and beta blockers to decrease cardiac work and improve cardiac output,  and/or other meds like diphydropyridines and nitrates. But guess what – it just came out recently that hypertensive medications may be CAUSING depression/ mood disorders while working to decrease blood pressure.  What a double whammy.  This was a big study from a database of a single hospital containing 525,046 patients over 5 years. This 2016 article stated:

Major depressive and bipolar disorders predispose to atherosclerosis, and there is accruing data from animal model, epidemiological, and genomic studies that commonly used antihypertensive drugs may have a role in the pathogenesis or course of mood disorders.”

  • Patients on angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin receptor blockers had the lowest risk for mood disorder admissions
  • those on β-blockers (hazard ratio=2.11; [95% confidence interval, 1.12–3.98]; P=0.02) and calcium antagonists (2.28 [95% confidence interval, 1.13–4.58]; P=0.02) showed higher risk
  • those on no antihypertensives (1.63 [95% confidence interval, 0.94–2.82]; P=0.08) and thiazide diuretics (1.56 [95% confidence interval, 0.65–3.73]; P=0.32) showed no significant difference.

To summarize the findings,  calcium antagonists and β-blockers may be associated with increased risk, whereas angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers may be associated with a decreased risk of mood disorders. (Hypertension. 2016;68:1132-1138. DOI: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONA HA.116.08188.)

It appears, the drugs that most directly affect the heart muscle itself are thus linked to more mood disorders, while those that work indirectly and decrease the work for the heart seem to have less impact on mood.

This is such a broad topic and there are so many layers to heart failure – blood pressure, kidney regulation of blood pressure, nutritional effects, blood lipids, blood volume, inflammatory mediators, free radicals and antioxidants, sleep quality and more – but I think that too often we lose sight of some of the most basic truths of happiness and heart health. And we also forget the deeply sensitive creatures that most of us are and fool ourselves that pharmacy could possibly be enough to cure a heart that is systemically broken, or the effects of a chronically hypervigilant nervous system.

imagesWIDJJQD2I am going to need to become proficient at cardiology as an Internal Medicine doc. But without a degree in psychiatry, or soul medicine, or archangel intervention, how can I possibly hope to help people recover their failing hearts when the intersections cut so deep? I am scared of all of those people that have no willingness, or ability, to look deep within and make the simple and profound choices towards life. This is the part of being a physician I most fear. The medical failures; the broken hearts.

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(Least)* Complicated

Walking the tightrope between being a current MSII medical student and a Naturopathic Doctor is a delicate balance sometimes. I never know whether my career as an expert in alternative medicine is going to be a blackball or a gold star because of the very mixed opinions people have about my former profession in the medical world. My plan, heading into the first day of medical school was not to tell anyone my (second) degree when I started (my third degree) at UNECOM, but it was announced in orientation so my cover was blown.

Being a ND in general is pretty complicated – working outside of insurance in most states is a financial challenge for patients as well as doctors, and public knowledge about the profession is highest on the west coast of the US and Canada, and in more affluent areas of the NorthEast. Many people get excited when I say I am a doctor, then look back blankly when I tell them what kind of medicine I practice(d). People who know the field have reactions that are pretty love: hate. Lots of lovers, quite a few haters, and an ever-growing population of quiet converts who realize that, as one anonymous Twitter medical student said in my recent Twitter Flaming on the topic: people who are interested in alternative medicine are usually trying to take care of their health and make themselves feel better.

IMG_6031I have recently been made aware of a woman who attended a west coast Naturopathic Medicine College who has turned against the profession “with an inside view” and who is engaging in aggressive muckraking. She is getting recognition and validation as an “insider” to Naturopathic Medicine as she did complete our 4-year postgraduate degree before she quit and moved to Germany. She has started a petition to defame the profession worldwide. The unfortunate thing is she lives outside the US and is not accountable for US or CDN slander laws. What she is doing is poignantly effective because she has inflamed the haters. One doctor in particular is a physician and educator with the influential Doctors in Training Boards Exam Review Series. He has a large Twitter following and has enthusiastically joined in the slander of the Naturopathic Profession. I worry about how his “expert” personal opinion will effect future generations of physicians who have not considered their professional opinions of Naturopathic Medicine due to lack of exposure.

Big media like Forbes has jumped on the “tin foil hat” bandwagon by supporting her claims that botanical medicine, nutrition, physical medicine, homeopathy, mind/body practices and stress management are invalid sciences without evidence. The American and Canadian federal Naturopathic associations have both started a counter-petition against these muckracking efforts.

All of this is personally upsetting for me. It stirs a complicated turmoil of emotions, injustice, pride, and frustration that mixes my own choices with a very clear working knowledge of the weight that “the big lie” technique can carry in the world of propaganda. All of this comes at a time when “Functional Medicine” and “Integrative Medicine” are the new darlings of allopathic medicine alongside epigenetics and the microbiome.

Newsflash: Functional Medicine and Integrative Medicine ARE evidence based Naturopathic Medicines, researched by and for NDs originally.

Naturopathic Doctors are systematically being defamed and slandered while our actual practice techniques are being picked up and renamed and celebrated for their effectiveness.

I feel helpless in the face of this complicated adversity. I made my personal choice to add an Osteopathic Degree to my knowledge base because there was more to medicine I wanted to know – pharmacology, emergency medicine, psychiatry, and other facets of transgender medicine I need additional training on. I know the great value of Naturopathic Medicine and so do a great number of North American consumers. I suppose I need to trust that the greater good will prevail in the end…. but that may not help me or my career path when I am placed in a hospital as an MSIII or resident with an attending like the Internist above who hates everything alternative and Naturopathic medicine stands for.

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Mediterranean Diet Explained

mediterranean_map-bigThe Mediterranean Diet (and Lifestyle)

This post was originally written for Apothecary by Design.

There is a lot of conflicting opinions about what style of diet individuals should choose for best health. Eating patterns can be based on ethics, habits, familial patterns, disease states, weight loss, convenience and more. The Mediterranean Diet is specifically known to correct heart disease, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. It is also used in cancer recovery. It is not a prescribed regimen of foods, but rather a way of eating based on the local foods of indigenous cultures that live around the Mediterranean Sea. People from this region tend to live longer, and have less chronic disease and obesity than the rest of Europe and North America. To understand why, scientists looked at the foods and lifestyle of the region which has been proven time and time again as superior for cardiovascular health and wellness.

Introduction: It is estimated that over 600 million people have high blood pressure. Heart disease is still one of the leading causes of death in the United States, and dietary interventions are first line therapies for prevention and treatment. The Mediterranean Diet, so called because it mimics classic eating patterns and ingredients from countries like Spain, Italy and Greece, has proven itself time and again as an effective therapy for hypertension and cardiovascular disease. A quick search of Medscape will show you that other conditions like Type 2 Diabetes, Weight loss, Alzheimer’s disease, Metabolic Syndrome, and Cancer are also being improved by adherence to this style of eating.

What it entails: The Mediterranean Diet is modeled after a traditional European “local” diet. Think small servings of homemade pasta or polenta, with fresh local herbs and vegetables like rosemary, basil, tomato, fennel, mushrooms and onions sautéed in liberal amounts of extra virgin olive oil. Add some white beans or fresh local cheese and handfuls of fresh arugula. Small fish like sardines and anchovies are added to meals regularly or served as a snack with walnuts, flatbread and cut up raw vegetables like cucumbers, cabbage, carrots, and broccoli. Fish is a regular staple, always cooked with olive oil and often marinated with lemon and fresh herbs. A couple times a week you may have free range eggs or chicken, again with liberal amounts of greens, cooked vegetables, beans and fresh herbs. And steak or lamb is eaten a couple times a month. Red wine is served with dinner most nights, and small amounts of homemade dessert like tiramisu or gelato a couple times a month.

2ac47164217c3a2b12eadd7a62b6ee78Many people use a triangle to depict the major Food groups for the Mediterranean diet.

Grains and pastas while frowned on by the low-carb crowd, are important for feeling full, serotonin production, daily fiber and vitamins and minerals. They are also essential for T3 thyroid hormone production. Grains are commonly used in their whole form for optimal nutrition although some homemade pasta and bread are implemented. Suggested Mediterranean grains include barley, buckwheat, bulgur, cous cous, farro, millet, polenta, rice, and wheat berries. Whole grain salads and porridges are great ways to have a daily grain in your menu. Portion sizes are conservative, with emphasis on the vegetable and olive oil.

Vegetables are an important staple in the eating patterns of all countries bordering on the Mediterranean, providing essential plant nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Cook with virgin olive oil, and drizzle whole pressed plant oils on raw vegetables. These plant nutrients and plant oils are thought to be the foundation of the beneficial effect from this way of eating as they provide essential fats and omegas daily. Commonly used vegetables include: artichokes, arugula, beets, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, celery, celeriac, cucumber, dandelion greens, eggplant, fennel, greens of all kinds including collard, kale, Swiss chard and more, leeks, lemons, lettuce, mache, mushrooms, okra, onions, peas, peppers, potato, pumpkin, radish, rutabaga, scallion, spinach, turnips, yams and zucchini.

Whole fresh fruit provides sweetness and important nutrients, with juicy sweetness. Include apples, apricots, avocado, cherries, clementines, dates, figs, grapefruit, pomegranate, strawberries and tomatoes. Avoid juices, jams, and jellies as these are high in sugar without the antioxidants and fiber of whole fruit.

imagesNuts and Seeds are another key to the healthful oils that improve cardiovascular health. One study added only walnuts to a standard diet and exhibited cardiac disease improvement just from the omega 3 fats naturally contained in these nuts. Twenty raw almonds daily have also been suggested as a natural way to lower blood pressure. All raw nuts and seeds and raw nut butters except peanuts contain beneficial oils and add richness and flavor to vegetable based dishes. Once you “dry roast” or roast the nuts and seeds, the beneficial oils are lost or made into inflammatory trans-fats. If you prefer the taste, buy raw nuts and toast them yourself in a cast iron pan or a low heat oven for 10-20 minutes. You can add spices, soy sauce or honey before toasting for additional delicious taste!

Beans and Legumes are great source of protein and fiber and have a rich creamy texture. Cook with cannellini beans, chickpeas, fava beans, and green beans. Kidney beans, lentils, and split peas are also common ingredients in Mediterranean meals. Legumes provide a protein rich flavor note and nutritional support; in moderate amounts they are less likely to cause digestive upset. Think: brothy bowls of rich soup, light summer salads with olive oil and beans, or a Spanish fabada with pork and sausage. Use a digestive enzyme if needed to improve digestion and reduce side effects.

indexFish and seafood are prominent in the way of eating as it is based around sea cultures. Fish and shellfish are incorporated almost daily, providing high amounts of omega three fats essential for heart health. Little fishes like sardines, anchovies and mackerels are cheap and abundant and very high in omega 3 oils. Next time you are at a grocery store, pick up a tin of boneless, skinless sardines. Try eating them with crackers and sour cream, or top a nicoise-style salad with them (potatoes, olives and arugula.) They are quite delicious! Bigger fish like tuna, salmon and sea bass are featured regularly, as well as all shellfish, octopus and eel varieties. Fish and seafood are rarely battered and friend. They are often grilled, baked, steamed or pan-fried with olive oil.

Eggs, dairy, meats, wine and sweets are also part of this way of life, but in modest amounts, For example, cheese and yogurt may be eaten daily as tatziki yogurt dip, manchego , romano or feta; you do not see the consumption of large amount of industrialized cheese like a Domino’s pizza. Red meat is enjoyed every couple weeks as are cured meats like salami, carpaccio or prosciutto – used sparingly on homemade pizzas with a cheese like ricotta, or served antipasti with olives and vegetables.

As you can see, there is great diversity in this way of eating. There are no “bad” foods and “good” foods, but there is a plethora of vegetarian and pescatarian eating that results in high vitamin C, E and selenium, high levels of glutathione, balanced omega 6 and 3 oils, high fiber, and abundant antioxidants from fruits and vegetables including resveratrol from red wine and polyphenols from olive oil. These are the basic foundations of a heart healthy diet that any nutritionist or integrative doctor will recommend!

Henri-Lebasque-The-SiestaLongevity Lifestyle: There is more than just food to the Mediterranean success though. Lifestyle is almost equally as important for the longevity and happiness that contributes to this regions wellness. Meals are enjoyed in a social atmosphere, contributing to slower eating and improved digestion. Naps in the form of “siestas” are built into the regions lifestyle, allowing valuable down time and relaxation as well as sleep! Movement, in the form of daily walking and gardening, is an inherent part of an active lifestyle that also improves cardiovascular fitness. And finally, there is a strong sense of community, often centered around religion, which fulfills the esoteric or spiritual needs at an individual level.

Implementing Changes: The biggest hurdle to changing your nutrition is what you put in your grocery cart. As long as you have frozen meals and industrial cheese in your cupboards, that is what you and your family will eat. Start by purchasing olive oil, fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, and whole grains, and planning simple meals like soups and salads. Scope out your local Italian grocery store like Micucci’s in Portland, and go to the farmers market and fish market for inspiration.  Classic Italian, Spanish, Middle Eastern or Greek cookbooks or cooking classes can provide inspiration; however, this is inherently a simple style of eating. Some convenience may be lost as you cook a cannellini bean soup, but the preparation time can be made up by the abundance of delicious, easy leftovers and lunches. Enjoy your preparation time with music and a glass of wine and have your kids help – community and relaxed eating environments are two of the secrets to happiness! Get inspired by these simple recipes.

olive-oils-williams-sonoma-cooking-technique-classes-aug-2014A note on olive oil. Americans spend about 700 million dollars on olive oil per year. Low grade olive oil is rampant, and many cheap versions are cut with soybean oil or other inferior vegetable oils. Products branded as Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) are often not extra virgin (first press) and often not 100% olive. Choosing organic olive oil is a higher price, but ensures the quality and manufacturing guaranteed by organic standards. There are no regulations in place for non-organic oils at the moment. Using liberal amounts of soybean oil or other low grade, low quality oils, especially when stored in plastic, will NOT have the same beneficial properties like polyphenol antioxidants that real olive oil has. When I was recently in Spain, a good quality bottle of organic olive oil was about 15-20 Euros. I saw the same bottle of organic Spanish oil that I brought home from Spain in Williams-Sonoma this past weekend for $25 US. This is about the price that a liter or more of high quality extra virgin olive oil goes for (unless you find some on sale.) If you are paying significantly less, you are probably getting adulterated oils.

Consider shopping at an olive oil specialty store that lets you taste before you buy ~ Le Roux in Portland, Maine offers this option plus delicious balsamic vinegars to pair it with! Buying olive oil in larger amounts, like the metal cans sold at Italian grocery stores, often allows for improved quality and a lower volume price. Transfer some of the oil into a smaller table-friendly vessel for cooking and dressing raw greens! Read More about Olive Oil’s dark side.

References:

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/502409_5

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24050803

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/504600

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/750564#vp_2

http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/785895#vp_2

http://oldwayspt.org/resources/heritage-pyramids/mediterranean-diet-pyramid/traditional-med-diet

http://www.ciaprochef.com/northarvest/mediterranean.html

http://www.today.com/health/live-100-sardinias-secrets-longevity-blue-zones-2D80590693

https://www.bluezones.com/

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