Grade school kids eating lunch at a school cafeteria

School Lunches: Healthy Options in a Hurry

Now that school is back in full swing, routines are re-established for the school year, and the weather is getting cooler, what are you packing for lunch?  I know the routine of packing school lunches can get old pretty quickly, so right about now you may be looking for new ideas.  Let me help!

Consider these options when you (or your kids) are tired of the same old thing:

A thermos with heated dinner leftovers: this can include meat and potatoes, stew, soup, pasta, Mexican food, or sautéed veggies with beans and rice.  It’s so nice to have a warm meal at lunch.

Make it into a pancake: lots of healthy foods can be cooked into a patty-style packable pancake.  Sweet potatoes, rice, beans, veggies – can be mixed, mashed, and then pan-fried in ghee or coconut oil into a delicious lunchtime creation.  Check out these ideas or experiment with your own.

Fun shapes: it’s amazing how a new twist on an old favorite can make kids eat their food!  Cut sandwiches, cold cuts, or cheese into shapes with fun cookie cutters and revitalize lunchtime favorites.  Add a dip in a small container for extra fun and nutrition.  Prep these the night before and let your kids do the cutting – often when they are involved in food prep they are far more likely to eat it!

5 Minute Health Hacks

How Naturopaths Pack School Lunches

Need some visual inspiration for lunches? Check out my colleague Dr. Kristen McElveen’s blog for some great photos of naturopathic doctor-approved school lunches!

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Couple in Bed, Facing Away from Each Other

Lost Libido? What You Need to Know About Sexual Drive and Desire

When I began my naturopathic medical practice, I did not realize what an issue libido was for women (and men, too).  I quickly learned that MANY patients have concerns about their libido – mostly that their once-strong desire has dissipated with the addition of age, stresses, kids, jobs, etc.  Often one person’s desire is a mismatch for the desire of their partner, creating stress in the relationship.  Sound familiar?

Sexual desire is very individual.  While some folks have desire daily, others feel desire once a week, once a month, or seldom.  Comparing yourself to someone else is useless!  Just because a TV personality, your mom, or your best friend says you should have desire a certain number of times per week does NOT mean that’s normal.  What IS normal libido?  Simple… there is none!  When we talk about “normal libido,” we have to take societal averages out of the conversation and focus on what feels right for YOU.

Many factors inform our desire, including stress, hormonal levels, nutrient status, how we feel about our partner, how we were raised, and how much we sleep.   One thing that often stuns my patients, when we talk about libido, is that often desire comes AFTER connection with their partner.  If we make time in our days for true intimacy and connection, often the desire flows freely.  But, if we wait for desire to initiate intimacy and connection, we may be waiting a long time.  There are so many distractions in our lives, that scheduling alone time with our partner (or ourselves) is essential to connecting into our desire.

How can you connect with your desire?  Can you schedule time with your partner (or yourself) to remove distractions and allow yourself to relax?  Often that’s all that’s needed.  A visit to your naturopathic physician may uncover nutrient deficiencies or hormonal imbalances that can be at the root of low libido.  Stress management, in the form of yoga, meditation, Tai Chi, or psychotherapy can also be helpful.  And don’t underestimate the universal need to engage our passions – whatever they may be.  What are you passionate about?  How can you bring more passion for life INTO your life?  When we allow ourselves to pursue our passions, often libido follows.

5 Minute Health Hacks

How Antioxidants Help Libido

I am often asked which supplement I suggest to boost libido. (Believe it or not, this is a common question at parties!) My answer is not what you’d think, because it has nothing to do with hormones. One of the most common nutritional deficiencies in the modern diet is antioxidants, which help us to detoxify and rid ourselves of waste products, which in turn protects our cells from damage. Boosting antioxidant status can really boost energy and libido. Incorporating ItWorks! Greens chews into your day is a great way to get the antioxidants you need.

These chews are a great energy pick-me up in the afternoon and many folks report a wonderful “side effect” of increased libido. Don’t overdo it – chewing 1-2 of these per day packs an amazing antioxidant punch.

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Beware Doctor Google

Internet Medical Research: Beware Dr. Google

I love Facebook, in fact I probably spend too much time on there. I use it to keep up with my friends, see photos of their kids, and also to share medical information with colleagues. The internet is an amazing tool. I was trying to explain the concept of encyclopedias to my daughter the other day, explaining that when I was a kid, we had a big set of books in our family room, where we would look up (often outdated) facts about various topics. Yes, I feel old! It’s pretty amazing that we don’t resort to those big encyclopedias anymore, they’ve been traded in for wifi, laptops, and tablets.

In my medical practice, I find there are two types of patients – those who do internet medical research and those who don’t. The internet is an amazing tool, but I caution against using it to figure out what’s wrong with you. Just this week, I’ve seen 4 patients who have diagnosed themselves with rare, fatal diseases – wrongly so- because they read online that their symptoms correlate with brain tumors, degenerative neurological disease, rare autoimmune conditions… you get the picture. The thing is, sometimes we can find good info online, but often it is one-sided, not well-documented, not based on science, and possibly typed by someone who has no medical training and may not even be telling the truth. Dr. Google, as I like to cal it, is tricky. And while sometimes patients come across helpful medical information, more often they become confused and scared by conflicting information and horror stories. Beware Dr. Google!

So, were to get balanced medical information you can rely on? From your healthcare provider, from websites and books written by healthcare providers (check their credentials), and from published studies (check who funded them). It’s totally fine to get information from the web, but please know that it may not be true, may not be the whole story, and may not be the experience of everyone out there (most likely, it’s not!).

5 Minute Health Hacks

Online Resources for Health Info

Pubmed

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed
Pubmed is an online database that catalogs medical literature citations. You can search by condition or treatment, and find studies that are relevant to your search. Often, the citations contain links to full articles.

NDNR: Natruopathic Doctor News and Review

http://ndnr.com/
NDNR is a holistic newsletter focused on research-based natural medicine information. It is an excellent source of information on medical conditions and natural treatments.

Mayo Clinic

http://www.mayoclinic.org/
Looking for easy-to-understand information about a diagnosis or medical test? This is the site for you. Mayo Clinic, considered by many to be the best conventional medical facility in the world, makes medicine easy to understand with their searchable website.

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Vaccines

What Do I Think About Vaccines?

I can’t tell you how many times a week I am asked this question! As a naturopathic doctor, many people have misconceptions around MY beliefs about vaccines. Some think I hate vaccines, some think I force vaccines on patients, and then there’s every possible misconception between those two extremes. So, I’ll tell you what I think about vaccines…

I’ve watched the pendulum of public opinion swing this past year, after a measles outbreak began at Disneyland in California. The news media, along with social media, crucified parents who had made the choice not to vaccinate their kids, particularly not to vaccinate with the MMR vaccine, the vaccine that is considered by modern medicine to be the best public health tool we have to prevent measles, mumps and rubella, all diseases that can have serious health consequences. We heard and read a lot about “anti-vaxxers,” those parents who had decided that vaccines were not going to be administered to their kids. These parents were blamed for the cases of measles, blamed for deaths (though there weren’t any deaths from the cases that began after exposure at Disneyland), and told that legislative efforts would soon take away their choice to decline vaccines for their kids.

While I believe vaccines are public health tools for prevention of many serious diseases, I also understand the concerns of the many parents who seek my guidance on the number and timing of vaccines for their babies and kids. They worry that the number of vaccines are too many, that the schedule looks very crowded compared to when we were kids. And they are right. The number and frequency of vaccines have greatly increased in the last 20 years. And the number of serious chronic diseases, autism spectrum disorders, and other health issues in our kids has also increased dramatically. We continually hear the reassurance that vaccines don’t cause autism, yet we see that autism and other severe health issues continue to climb. Of course parents are worried!

I like to base my decisions on science, and while we have some studies on vaccines, I am not satisfied with how long the side effects of vaccines are monitored, how much we know about the combinations of vaccines being given, and how mucking with the immune system might change our overall health in the future. Now, please don’t misunderstand – I am NOT anti-vaccine, but I AM pro-choice when it comes to vaccines. I believe that vaccines can be used as tools for health and prevention. But I also believe that parents must have the right to choose when vaccines are given. Right now, our legislatures are responding to fear rather than science. If they were responding to science, they would be focusing on poverty, handguns, smoking, accidents, junk food – these are the things that kill and sicken thousands of children each year.

In my medical practice, I work with parents to help them decided on a vaccine plan that feels right for their family. There is no one-size-fits all answer. Once parents have a plan, then we institute a supplement and diet plan that will allow the child to process their vaccines optimally – reducing the risk of side effects or reaction. There are so many ways we can minimize risk of vaccine reactions, and unfortunately this is not common knowledge. I am working to change that! In the upcoming months, you’ll receive information about my first online educational program. We’ll be focusing on preventing vaccine reactions, and I can guarantee this will be information that every parent should have. I’m hard at work creating the best program possible, and you’ll be the first to know when it’s available. If you have friends or family who would benefit from this information, please share this blog with them and have them register their email so that they get this essential information.

5 Minute Health Hacks

Preventing Vaccine Reactions

Preventing vaccine reactions starts with healthy processing and detoxification in the body. This means facilitating digestion, respiration, urination, and sweating – the four methods our body uses to get rid of toxins. With all the research on the health benefits of probiotics, there is no doubt that good flora helps support our organs of elimination – digestive and urinary tracts, lungs, and skin. Choosing a probiotic that has been properly prepared and stored is very important, as the flora can easily die if not processed and stored properly. This is why good probiotics are expensive – but the health benefits are worth it! Eating live cultured foods, ideally along with taking a daily probiotic, also promotes good health. Probiotics are a cornerstone of preventing vaccine reactions, but they are also a cornerstone of everyday health! A dose of 25 billion colony-forming units is a good guideline – check out these great options from a company I trust to bring you the highest quality probiotics.

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Safe sun exposure

Sunscreen and Your Skin: What You Need to Know Right Now

The skin is our largest organ. It protects us, and in turn we need to protect our skin. Everything we put on our skin is absorbed. Period. I try not to put anything on my skin that I would not ingest. Sometimes this is easier said than done!

When it comes to sunscreen, I get questions all the time—about which type is best, whether sunscreen is really needed, whether it is ideal to NOT wear sunscreen in order to optimize vitamin D production. So, let’s talk skin, sunscreen and vitamin D. What’s a person to do?

Dr. Jennifer’s Rules for Safe Sun Exposure

Rule #1
Allow your body a little sun exposure without sunscreen.

Yup, a little sun is OK. Getting 20 minutes of sun a few times per week, without wearing sunscreen (and without sunglasses, for that matter), will allow your body to make vitamin D. However, your vitamin D production will depend on your geographic location, the time of day, and tone of your skin in addition to the length of sun exposure. To ensure you have an optimal vitamin D level for immune and hormonal health, get your level tested and take a high-quality vitamin D supplement. (Note: If you have strict instructions from your dermatologist to avoid sun exposure due to a history of skin cancer, you’ll need to supplement your diet with Vitamin D3.)

Rule #2
If you’re going to be in the sun more than 20 minutes, wear sun protection.

Sun protection can be a physical block, such as breathable clothing and a hat, or it can be a good-quality natural sunscreen. Or both, especially if you have fair skin, a history of skin cancer, or are going to be in the sun for an extended period of time. Remember that the sun can reflect off of surfaces onto your skin, so don’t plan on your clothing and hat giving you total protection, especially if you plan to be near water. Water reflects the sun, so protect your skin by applying a sunscreen! The Environmental Working Group is a great resource to help you choose a non-toxic, good-for-your-body sunscreen.

Rule #3
Get your skin checked by a dermatologist once a year.

Really! Have your skin checked by an expert. Skin cancer is on the rise, and not all skin cancers look scary—some can be tiny dots that you might not even notice. A dermatologist will look at your skin and map any moles or freckles that could turn into skin cancer. A dermatologist can compare how your skin changes from year to year, giving you the best preventative care possible.

5 Minute Health Hacks

Protecting Your Skin with Antioxidants

Did you know that maintaining proper antioxidant levels helps you to protect your skin from sunburn? While a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help us increase our antioxidant levels, often a good-quality supplement is needed to maximize antioxidant status. Grapenol, a grape seed extract, is my favorite option for increasing antioxidants and preventing sunburn. (Note: grape seed extract is different from grapefruit seed extract.) Two to three capsules twice a day is ideal.

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Dr. Jennifer in the Caribbean Sea

Owning it! Embracing your life, right here, right now.

Rather then post health info this week, I thought I’d give you a little piece of my soul. Not in an over-share kind of way, but in a “Hey, you’re my friend, let me tell you what I’ve discovered” way. I hope that by sharing this piece of myself, I will help you discover something you’d like to embrace about yourself.

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to get to the “finish line.” High school was about getting the grades to go to college. College was about finishing and getting out on my own (hopefully with a job!). Medical school and internship were about getting to residency and passing board exams.

Sound familiar?

Acknowledging the Difficulty of Being Fully Present

Somewhere along the line, a supervisor told me during a performance review that I seemed to have a very difficult time enjoying the process of my life. She noticed that I was always looking toward the future, rather than being fully present in my NOW. Well, that stopped me in my tracks.

Because, really, why do we focus on the future so much? Why can’t I, and the collective WE, be happy in the here and now? We live in a goal-oriented society. Life is about the next big thing, about measuring up (or not) to unrealistic ideals that make us feel inferior. Ideals created by advertisers, society, organizations, and sometimes by our own internal negative self-talk.

Often that negative self-talk is the worst culprit. Do YOU have a soundtrack in your brain that tells you:

“I’ll only be happy if… I can’t measure up unless…”

Discovering the Fun of Being Myself

Recently, I went to Mexico to give a lecture at the International Maya Abdominal Therapy Convention It was my first international speaking engagement, and I was a little nervous. I decided to embrace the process and have fun.

And you know what? It was amazing!

I spoke from an outline, without PowerPoint, because frankly, I hate PowerPoint. I decided to just be me, wear clothing that was comfortable, offer my information with stories along the way, and have a blast.

I got the best feedback I’ve ever received — because I was myself and I was able to be present in the moment rather than thinking about what was next.

Being present takes practice. Turning off electronics, taking in what is around me, truly listening when someone is talking to me, feeling OK when I find myself without anything to do for a few minutes… is a daily process for me. I haven’t mastered it and I probably never will, but I’m trying.

Because I’m finally OK with embracing my life, right here, right now.

P.S. – That photo above is of me in the Caribbean Sea after my lecture at the International Maya Abdominal Therapy Convention. I’m having the time of my life and loving the here and now!

How can you embrace the journey you are on and focus on the here and now?

5 Minute Health Hacks

Reducing Negative Self-Talk

Below is an exercise I introduced in an introductory email for my email list. If you aren’t subscribed, take a moment to sign up now and you’ll receive an amazing and free introductory mini-program that will help you embrace the here and now.

Bring to mind one negative, repetitive thought that plagues your brain space on a daily basis. Jot it down. Does this thought occur at a certain time of day? Randomly? Only when you see a certain person? Write down whatever ideas arise.

Now, I want you to commit to noticing whenever that thought comes up. Every time the thought occurs, use your mind to shift it: Can you breathe a color into the thought? Spray it with water and watch it melt? Pop that thought like a bubble? Find some way to shift the thought every time it arises, and see what happens—be a witness to the change!

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Get Better Sleep

Get those Zzz’s: Better Sleep

Did you know that May is Better Sleep Month? We all know that lack of sleep can make us grumpy, but it can also play a role in accidents, heart disease, high blood pressure, and low libido. And if that isn’t bad enough, aging, depression, and forgetfulness are all exacerbated by lack of sleep. Optimizing sleep-wake rhythms ranks high on the list of health-promoting activities, and good sleep doesn’t cost anything. Seriously, this can change your health and change your life.

Here are my best tips for a good night’s sleep:

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. Why? This will increase your body’s ability to distinguish night from day. This sounds simple, but it’s not intuitive for our bodies when our environments include artificial light, computers, television, cell phones, etc. Our bodies are confused. Instilling a routine in our sleep-wake cycle helps to clarify our need for true rest.

The Role of Cortisol in Sleep

When we get good sleep, our bodies rest and repair. How does that work? Cortisol, our stress hormone, decreases, allowing growth hormone to rise. Those two hormones are inversely related, meaning that when one is low the other is high. A sleep-wake routine that is the same every night lets the body know it’s time to rest, and time to decrease cortisol. As growth hormone rises, your body can discharge stress and allow any physical damage that’s occurred during the day to heal. There is no shortcut; you have to sleep! Now, what if you work nights? No problem, but you do need to go to bed and wake up at the same time of day, seven days a week. If you work multiple shifts, try to work toward a schedule that will give you the same shift daily, even if it’s nights.

Now of course we all have occasional events—a late night, an early meeting, a child who is sick—that will throw off our sleep-wake cycle. Just get back to it ASAP. Let that growth hormone get high at night, allowing your body to repair itself.

“Shut it Down” for 7-8 Hours

And for goodness sake, don’t let your cell phone, TV, or computer rob you of sleep. You deserve more than that. You deserve to get the rest and repair you need to live your best life. Aim for at least seven hours of sleep a night. Yup, seven. And eight would be even better. Shut down electronics an hour before sleep to allow your brain to power into rest mode. Seriously, so many chronic health issues are connected to not getting enough good sleep. Start thinking about small changes you can make to get there.

5 Minute Health Hacks

Sleep in Total Darkness

Did you know that your pineal gland, which controls your sleep-wake rhythms, is sensitive to even the smallest amount of light? So if you sleep with any light in your bedroom—from electronic devices, for example—you are causing confusion for your body and brain about when to sleep. Sleeping in total darkness tells your body and brain that it’s time for good, restful, restorative sleep. Blocking out light from all light sources—nightlights, clocks, smoke detectors—is essential for good health. Wear a sleep mask or block out light by covering all light sources in your bedroom. Allowing your body to truly rest at night can enhance energy, concentration and libido, as well as prevent premature aging.

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woman holding her temples due to headache

Oh My Aching Head: What to Know and Do About Headaches

In my medical practice, headaches are a pretty common complaint. Men, women, and children all suffer from headaches. Some people experience them often and others rarely. A headache may be mildly annoying or intense and even painful. There are various types of headaches, and remedies of all kinds, from over-the-counter medications to herbs and hot or cold packs.

Tension Headaches

Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. A feeling of pressure often begins at the temples or the base of the skull. In extreme cases, it might feel like a vise gripping your entire head. A tension headache rarely causes nausea or vomiting, and most people can continue their daily activities while experiencing one. It often starts later in the day or during times of stress. Some people experience this type of headache only on workdays.

Sinus Headaches

Sinus headaches occur when your sinus cavities become inflamed and painful. The inflammation may be caused by an allergy or a viral, fungal, or bacterial infection. People experience this type of headache in the cheeks or forehead or both, and it may continue throughout the day. People can generally continue their normal activities when they have a sinus headache.

Migraines

While considered a headache, a migraine is actually in a category of its own because of the other symptoms associated with it. Migraine pain tends to be one-sided, but can spread to the entire head, and may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting as well as light and sound sensitivity, and even changes in vision. People who have recurrent migraines may experience a warning sensation (aura) just before it begins, such as a change in vision, hearing or smell, or even numbness in their extremities. They typically need to seek a quiet and dark place to rest, with the migraine lasting 4-48 hours.

Frequent Headaches and Medication

People who have frequent headaches often use medication to control the pain, but when painkillers are overused, they may experience a rebound headache when the medication leaves the body. This can occur with both over-the-counter and prescription medications. Rebound headaches can be severe and make it difficult to continue normal activity.

Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are less common and occur in cycles with relief between episodes. They tend to come on suddenly, with debilitating pain on one side of the head. Sometimes they are accompanied by nasal congestion or eye watering on the same side of the head as the pain. Restlessness, pacing, and inability to get comfortable are common with these headaches.

If headaches are new for you, see your naturopathic physician for diagnosis. While most headaches are minor, some can be an indication of other, more serious health issues.

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Hot Flashes

Is it Hot in Here? Hot Flashes and You.

I had my first hot flash just after my daughter was born. Actually, it wasn’t so much a “flash,” as a saga—long, drawn out, miserable. Seriously. There should have been morose violin music playing. That flash went on forever. I woke up completely drenched in sweat, had to change my clothes and bedding. And it revisited me the next night, and the next. Ugh!

But that experience let me in on a secret: hot flashes are not just for menopausal women! Younger women get them. And so do men! And sometimes even kids!

What gives?

Hot flashes are related to changes in our physiology. The part of the brain that controls our ability to adapt to shifts in temperature may be affected by fluctuations—in hormone levels, in chemicals such as electrolytes, or in the body’s ability to adapt to stress.

My patients with hot flashes find they might also be triggered by hot weather; by consuming caffeine, hot food or drink, sugar, refined flour, or alcohol; or by smoking cigarettes. Reducing or eliminating these triggers—at least for a while—can decrease the frequency and duration of hot flashes. (And we all know smoking is really bad for our health, so, please, if you quit, make it forever!)

And, as I wrote in a recent post, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone imbalance, as well as adrenal and thyroid health, can all contribute to hot-flash symptoms. But this doesn’t mean we need to take hormones!* In addition to the suggestions above, herbs, like maca can help. Maca (my favorite!) does not introduce hormones into the body, but, instead, supports the brain’s signals regarding hormone production so our hormones “play nice” with one another.

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Eating Organic Plants

Do this One Thing for the Earth

It’s almost Earth Day. And while we all know there is plenty wrong on this Earth of ours, I prefer to focus on the sustainable changes I can make that will create positive results. By “sustainable changes,” I mean actions I can incorporate into my routine for the long term, as I don’t see much point in doing something if I’m not going to make a habit of it. (My once-a-year hot-fudge-sundae birthday splurge is an exception. But that’s a story for another day!)

For instance: The one thing I know for sure about the Earth? Pesticides and toxic chemicals are not her friend. A 2013 study shows that Round-Up, a common pesticide used on food crops, has been linked to a range of health problems and diseases that includes Parkinson’s, infertility, and cancers. It’s clear: The fewer chemicals we use to grow our food, the better for the Earth and for our bodies.

So what one habit can we form that will help both our planet and our bodies thrive? Buy organic whenever possible! Budget stretched too thin? Then I recommend choosing organic animal products because meat, dairy, and eggs tend to concentrate toxins more than plant-based foods. By choosing organic animal products, we get the protein and nutrients we need without ingesting toxic pesticides that weigh down our detox pathways.

And, at the same time, we support the health of our home, Planet Earth.

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