SLO Life Magazine: All About Adaptogens

All About Adaptogens

Originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

They’re the newest wellness craze. But do they work?

Introduction

Ashwagandha. Maybe you’ve heard of it? Perhaps you recognize it from your new face cream, the supplements at the health food store, or even at your local smoothie stop. It’s promoted as a “stress-relieving super plant.” But really, what is ashwagandha and what, if anything, does it actually do?

Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, “a class of herbs intended to boost your resistance to and tolerance of stress – emotional and physical,” explains Brierly Horton, MS, RD. That is precisely what makes adaptogens like ashwagandha, and the en vogue cordyceps mushroom (often touted as a coffee replacement) so appealing to the masses.

Allegedly, adaptogenic plants can reduce stress, squash fatigue and hone focus. Such claims can often skate by untested, hooking consumers with lofty life-changing promises left unfulfilled. Today, we’ll reveal the truth behind adaptogens: if, and how, they work, what types there are, and ultimately, if they are worth all the fuss. Let’s dive in.

History of a Super Plant

The term adaptogen was first coined by a scientist in the USSR in 1947. Essentially, scientists were seeking a ‘superhero pill’ that would allow military pilots to fly better, faster, and for longer periods of time. The Soviet Union scientist formally categorized adaptogens as “plant-derivatives that can non-specifically enhance the human body.” How wonderfully vague!

The practice of seeking out and consuming adaptogens, however, has a much older, richer history. Rooted in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, “some of the original adaptogens include ginseng root [as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory] and astragalus [for immune system support],” notes Keri Marshall, MS. “From a [traditional] Ayurvedic and Chinese Medicine perspective, adaptogens are meant to literally help ground you so you can get your roots back, in an effort to restore balance in your life.” These roots and herbs, used for centuries, have recently catapulted into the mainstream, integrated in everything from tea to face cream.

While I don’t believe adaptogens (or anything, really) can live up to the expectation of eliciting supernatural responses out of natural beings, adaptogens must provide some value if they have been safely used and consumed for thousands of years.

Adaptogens at Work

The question remains: Do adaptogens really perform as well as its proponents claim? Mostly, yes. “More recently, several adaptogens have gone through scientifically rigorous studies and have come out with the equivalent of a scientific thumbs -up,” says Brierly Horton, MS, RD. The results are promising, boding well for adaptogen enthusiasts. Horton goes on to note that, “clinical trials have found several herbal preparations with adaptogens to reduce stress-induced endocrine and immune impairments, while also boosting attention, endurance and resistance to fatigue.”

Scientific studies are now proving what Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine practitioners have known for centuries—these adaptogenic plants help support us in ways we need it most. “As the name suggests, [adaptogens] adapt to meet your needs. [They] bring balance the way a thermostat controls temperature: they turn up your energy when you’re fatigued and help you relax when you’re restless,” explains Horton.

Dr. Brenda Powell, co-medical director of the Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine at the Cleveland Clinics Wellness Institute explains further, “Adaptogens train your body to handle the effects of stress.” While adaptogens don’t magically disappear stress, they do enhance your body’s ability to process it. “Adaptogens may tweak hormone production and physiological responses to stress to ensure that your body—from your mind to your immune system to your energy levels—functions as it should,” says Powell.

However, it is imperative to note that not all adaptogens effect our bodies in the same way. Each of the over 70 adaptogenic plants provides different benefits. Ashwagandha, for example, was found to aid in managing anxiety in a 2014 study, while rhodiola can be used for stress relief and focus. A double-blind, placebo-controlled 2012 study found that, “regularly taking rhodiola helped fight the kind of fatigue that dulls our mental performance and concentration,” notes Horton.

As for adaptogenic skincare, Los Angeles dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD recommends moringa and marshmallow root. “Stress has been shown to impair the skin barrier, leaving it prone to water loss and dehydration,” notes Dr. Shainhouse, “Moringa and marshmallow root may help to repair the skin barrier and increase skin hydration.”

Whether you choose adaptogenic skincare, supplemental capsules, sip adaptogenic tea, or incorporate a premixed powder into soups or smoothies, the key to adaptogenic success is consistency. Laura Slayton, a nutritionist in New York, believes, “adaptogens need to be consumed consistently to see any effects.” Unfortunately, one cup of cordyceps is unlikely lower cholesterol or boost endurance. So remember, if you’re into the adaptogen experimentation mood, opt for investing in a powder, supplement, or tincture. As Slayton says, “If you’re putting a smudge of ashwagandha in your smoothie here and there, it’s unlikely to do much.”

Unregulated

Not all adaptogenic supplements, powders and tinctures are created equal. However, the burden of checking the quality of these supplements falls on consumers. “The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t monitor the quality of herbs and supplements like over-the-counter products,”’ says Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D, R.N. When buying adaptogens, get to know the brand. Check the ingredients, seeking purity and lack of fillers.

If you seek the cream of the adaptogenic crop, naturopathic doctor Keri Marshall, M.S. recommends opting for liquid tinctures. “Generally, liquid versions are going to be better than a powder. That’s because when a liquid extract is made, you have the ability to pull out the important medicinal components you want…Essentially, a liquid extract is more pure.”

As for side effects, nothing major has been reported. Dr. Powell says, “there’s little evidence to suggest that adaptogens can cause side effects or health problems—though, like any plant, they can be allergenic or cause gastrointestinal distress for some people.” Furthermore, Keri Marshall, MS discourages adaptogen use, “if you’re on immune-modulating drugs.” Adaptogens themselves are immune modulators and may result in undesirable interactions. Jenn Miremadi, MS suggests it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider, “before taking any new supplements, including adaptogens.”

Balance is Best

For all of their beneficial qualities, it’s imperative to remember that adaptogens are not a cure for anything. Adaptogens recent rise in fame may be due to their stress management qualities, appealing to those seeking relief from the increased stress of life in the 2020s. “People are basically wanting to take these adaptogens all the time for their chronic stress that they’re not managing otherwise,” says Dr. Powell.

If taking a pill and being stress-free sounds to good to be true, that’s because it is. “There’s no good research that suggests adaptogens are a cure-all. And certainly not a substitute for tried-and-true stress management techniques and medical care,” says Horton, MS, RD.

Not even the incredible power of adaptogens can cure us of all our fatigue, anxiety, and stress. Adaptogens are best used as a supplement combined with an overall healthy lifestyle, structured stress management, and attentive self-care. We may never be as stress-free as we’d like, but integrating adaptogens into our self-care routines will enhance our bodies natural abilities to keep itself balanced.

Final Word

Adaptogens are a class of plants that assist our bodies’ natural stress management processes. Taken regularly, they may help manage stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Consult a medical professional before incorporating adaptogens into your daily routine.

Note: This article was originally published in the June/July 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability.

SLO Life Magazine: When Migraine Attacks

Originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

A complete look into the mechanics of migraine and holistic remedies.

Introduction

The pain starts in the left temple. A dull, constant pressure soon morphs into a sharp dagger that spreads behind the left eye. Soon, sunlight is unbearable. The exhaust fumes of a passing car are toxic. And every small sound like a hammer, knocking the migraine deeper. Sounds unbearable, right?

For 12% of the American population, this scenario happens regularly. While there are manifold treatment options for migraine, including preventative Botox treatments, there is no cure for migraine. It’s accepted as an inevitable part of your life, if you’ve been diagnosed.

Migraines are known as an “invisible illness” because there are no outward signs that someone may be suffering. Frequently, migraine sufferers are dismissed or invalidated because there are no outward physical signs of pain. To be sure, migraines are very real. Here, we’ll explore what a migraine entails, who is most likely to suffer from them, and holistic remedies for treatment and prevention.

What is Migraine?

Migraines can affect anyone but you are at greater risk, “if you are a woman, have a family history of migraines, or have other medical conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, sleep disorders, and epilepsy,” according to Medline Plus, a US National Library of Medicine publication. Becoming familiar with migraine and its symptoms may help differentiate between simple headaches and this painful “invisible illness.” Migraine entails four distinct phases, only one of which encompasses the actual migraine pain itself.

The first phase of migraine, known as prodrome, happens one to two days before the migraine hits. “You might notice subtle changes that warn of an upcoming attack, including constipation, mood changes (from depression to euphoria), food cravings, neck stiffness, increased thirst and frequent yawning,” notes the Mayo Clinic. If you are attuned to your common prodrome symptoms, you may be able to effectively prevent the migraine before it happens.

If the prodrome symptoms aren’t enough to signal an oncoming attack, take note of the second phase of migraine, known as aura. “Each [aura] symptom usually begins gradually, builds up over several minutes and lasts for 20-60 minutes,” the Mayo Clinic explains, “Examples of migraine aura include visual phenomena, vision loss, pins and needles sensations in an arm or leg, weakness or numbness in the face or one side of the body, difficulty speaking, hearing noises or music, and uncontrollable jerking or other movements.” Some migraine sufferers experience flashing lights or zig-zag lines in the field of vision, which can be alarming if not associated as an aura symptom.

The third phase of migraine is the most notorious—migraine attack. Migraine attacks can last anywhere from four to 72 hours, if left untreated. They are often debilitating, leaving the migraine sufferer incapable of performing day-to-day activities. In addition to the attack itself, “other symptoms include sensitivity to light, noise and odors, nausea, vomiting, and worsened pain when you cough, move or sneeze,” notes Medline Plus. Therefore, a dark quiet room is an ideal place to rest.

After enduring prodrome, aura, and the migraine attack, it’s easy to see why in the fourth phase, postdrome, migraine sufferers often feel drained, exhausted, and confused for up to a day. From start to finish, the process of a migraine from prodrome to postdrome can last from three days up to a week.

Preventative Measures

The most common migraine triggers, according to the American Migraine Foundation, include, “stress, changes in or an irregular sleep schedule, hormones, caffeine and alcohol, changes in the weather, diet, dehydration, light, smell and/or medication overuse.” Therefore, migraine triggers are a combination of elements within and out of our control.

Tracking migraine attacks and suspected triggers can help manage the onset of migraines. Investing in self-care activities aimed to reduce and manage stress can be useful. Adhering to a regular sleep schedule, monitoring caffeine and alcohol consumption and keeping a log of the foods you eat can also be beneficial in identifying migraine triggers.

Even with rigorous prevention tactics, migraines are often unavoidable for most who are diagnosed. However, some prevention tactics have proved to significantly lower the severity and regularity of migraine attacks—and for sufferers, this small victory is a big win.

Teshamae Monteith, MD, FAHS, notes three potentially useful supplements in preventing migraines: vitamin B2; Coenzyme Q10; and magnesium. Two of these supplements in particular, vitamin B2 and magnesium, performed well in initial studies, providing an affordable, accessible prevention plan.

Vitamin B2, also called riboflavin, assists in the metabolization of fats and proteins. Though unclear of exactly how vitamin B2 works neurologically in migraine relief, “it could be because some people who are deficient in it are more prone to migraine,” concludes Dr. Monteith. Certainly, the results of a study in the European Journal of Neurology, provides hopeful results for migraine sufferers. “23 people who took daily doses of 400 mg of riboflavin (vitamin B2) for six months reported half the number of headaches per month – from four to two—and reduced their use of medicines from seven pills per month to four and a half,” reports Dr. Monteith.

Magnesium is an essential mineral in the body, regulating nerve function, blood sugar levels and the creation of protein. Similar to vitamin B2, “people with migraines may have lower levels of magnesium than those who don’t have migraines,” says Dr. Monteith, suspecting this may be why magnesium proves so effective in migraine prevention. A study published in Cephalalgia revealed migraine attacks reduced in frequency by 41.6% in participants. “Those taking magnesium had fewer migraine days and took fewer drugs to treat symptoms,” says Dr. Monteith.

Small changes in daily routine and diet may help to reduce the duration, frequency, and severity of migraine attacks. Primary care physicians may be able to recommend medical treatment that works preventatively for migraine. Consult your doctor before taking any new supplements.

Holistic Treatment

Though migraine treatments vary widely, one common thread seems to remain the same—the assertion that the best treatment for migraine is prevention. In fact, once a migraine sets in, there is little one can do to stop it. Our best chance is to have an arsenal of symptom-relieving options at the ready. In the event of an attack, we can be prepared to fight back.

For holistic remedies, dark room rest, drinking water, and eating well work best. A cold compress, hot shower, and aromatherapy with peppermint oil may also help. If you can handle the heat, a spoonful of ginger may provide some relief.

According to a study published in Phytotherapy Research, “100 patients who had acute migraine were randomly assigned to be treated with either ginger powder or a prescription drug used to treat migraine. Two hours after taking either treatment, headache severity decreased significantly, but the side effects of ginger were less than those of the prescription drug.” Dr. Monteith recommends taking a quarter teaspoon of ginger powder mixed with water.

The American Migraine Foundation provides a multitude of free resources for navigating life with migraine. There’s even an app, called Migraine Buddy, which allows sufferers to easily track attacks in all phases, along with what helped to relieve symptoms.

Migraine effects everyone differently. If someone you care about suffers from migraines, sometimes what they need most is a dark room, quiet time, and your support. Because of it’s status as an, “invisible illness” migraine sufferers are often invalidated in their pain. Standing by your loved one, and believing their pain can sometimes be the best thing to do.

Final Word

Migraines affect 12% of Americans, and are often unavoidable. Holistic remedies provide prevention and treatment options. If someone you care for suffers from migraine, offer your support and a dark, quiet place to rest their aching head.

Note: This article was originally published in the April/May 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability.

SLO Life Magazine: Ferment for Health

Originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

The biological benefits of consuming fermented foods and an easy recipe to start fermenting at home.

Introduction

Here on the Central Coast, we are no strangers to fermentation.  With a plethora of wineries, vineyards, and brewhouses, the process of fermentation is happening all around us. Certainly, we know the products of fermentation can be some of the most delicious.

But are fermented foods as beneficial to our health as they claim? And if so, how can we start incorporating them into our diet more efficiently? Today, we aim to answer some of these questions. At the end of the article, you’ll find an easy recipe to start fermenting at home with a simple sauerkraut recipe from a San Luis Obispo native.

The Science of Fermentation

So really, what is fermentation? According to the Encyclopedia of Analytical Science, “fermentation is defined as a chemical change brought about using microorganisms.” Andy Tay, PhD, describes fermentation as “the process of sugars being broken down by enzymes of microorganisms in the absence of oxygen.” In both definitions, we see the motivating factor behind fermentation – microorganisms.

As Andy Tay, PhD, goes on to describe, “During fermentation, a variety of microorganisms are present in different proportions. The process is akin to a concert where different musicians (i.e. microorganisms) have their respective roles. Their cooperation produces beautiful music—our favorite fermented food.” This poetic analogy paints a vivid picture of the complex mechanics of fermentation. During the process, we may only see bubbles, or the changing color of the fermenting food. Truly, there is an orchestra of bacteria and fungi metabolizing those enzymes, creating a symphony of flavors to delight our palate.

The hard work of countless microorganisms is one major aspect of fermentation. The other aspect is something more simple; the passing of time. As much as we’d like to artificially speed up time to enjoy the fruits of our ferments sooner, this one element cannot be changed. No matter what kind of fermenting you choose—be it alcohol, lactic acid, or acetic acid—you simply can’t rush it.

Biological Benefits

Perhaps the most lauded benefit of fermented foods is the presence of probiotics. Naturally fermented foods may contain probiotic microorganism that help your body replenish its supply of good bacteria. In turn, the good bacteria can help fight infection, synthesize vitamins and breakdown complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grains.

Now, more than ever, we may need all the gut health help we can get. “Recent research suggest that the type of gut bacteria in the bodies of Americans is changing,” says a Harvard Health article, “One possible reason is that the microbiomes in our bodies are not regularly replenished the way they were in past generations.” This could be in part to the rise of processed foods, which are stripped of naturally occurring microorganisms that promote healthy gut flora.

According to David S. Ludwig, MD, PhD, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health,  “changes to the population of gut microbes may create an imbalance between beneficial and harmful gut bacteria.” Probiotics, research suggests, enhance and even replenish the beneficial microbes in our system.

Without these helpful bacteria assisting our body in breaking down foods, nutrients and processing essential vitamins, we may face health risks. “Research shows that less diverse gut microbiota is associated with many chronic disease such as obesity, asthma, and chronic inflammatory conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease,” an article published by the Cleveland Medical Clinic states. The probiotics in naturally fermented foods don’t have the ability to cure chronic disease, or guarantee immunity; however, consuming more may help alleviate symptoms and better support your immune system.

Fridge Ready Ferments

Shopping for naturally fermented foods necessitates some careful label-reading. For example, some pickles on the shelves of supermarkets are made using vinegar, not over the course of time as in a naturally fermented product. “To ensure the fermented foods you choose do contain probiotics, look for the words ‘naturally fermented’ on the label, and when you open the jar look for the telltale bubbles in the liquid, which signal that live organisms are inside the jar,” says Dr. Ludwig. Consumers’ may find it easier to locate naturally fermented products at a health food store or local co-op.

Alternatively, to ensure you are consuming naturally fermented products full of beneficial microorganisms, try making your own fermented foods at home! Fermenting vegetables is a great place to start. Once prepared, they require little maintenance. Be sure to alleviate pressure built up in your fermenting jars by allowing the air to escape every day or two, called “burping” the jars. There are also specialty lids available that release built-up carbonation as the product ferments. At the end of the article, you’ll find a beginner friendly recipe for sauerkraut.

Final Word

Fermentation is a natural process used to preserve food. Health benefits occur thanks to the presence of microorganisms found in naturally fermented foods. Make your own at home for the most healthful fermented treats.


German-Style Sauerkraut

Recipe by Regen Williams, Pastry Chef

Start your at-home fermentation journey with this two-ingredient sauerkraut recipe by pastry chef and Central Coast native Regen Williams.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound of green cabbage
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Instructions

  1. Chop the cabbage in half and slice thinly towards the root.
  2. Add cabbage to a large bowl and cover with salt.
  3. Massage cabbage and salt for 10 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes, then massage for another 10 minutes.
  4. Once the cabbage has shrunk to about half the size, add to a clean glass jar. Pack all of the cabbage along with the liquid into the jar and secure the lid.
  5. Burp your sauerkraut by opening the lid every one or two days to release the built up carbonation (this will appear as bubbles along the top of the jar). After burping, press cabbage down to ensure it is all submerged in the liquid.
  6. Sauerkraut will be ready to enjoy after two weeks, but can ferment for up to one month.
  7. After patiently allowing your sauerkraut to ferment, it’s time to enjoy!

Recipe Notes

  • For extra flavorful sauerkraut, try adding a teaspoon of carraway seeds or two cloves of chopped garlic to the fermenting liquid.
  • Make larger batches by doubling or tripling the original recipe.
  • During fermentation you may see a white cloudiness at the bottom of the jar. This is normal.

Note: This article was originally published in the February/March 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability.

SLO Life Magazine: Making Room

Originally published in the December/January 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

How much of a strain can clutter and disorganization put on our mental health?

Introduction

A clean and organized home is what many of us prefer to show our guests, quickly concealing the obligatory messes of everyday life before their arrival. But what if your home was, by default, clean and organized? Besides boosting confidence when an unexpected guest arrives, a tidy space may provide a slew of other positive neurological and psychological benefits. On the flip side, we’ll explore some of the darker hindrances you may not know are perpetuated by a home in disarray.

Libby Sander, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior of Bond University, states that, “our physical environments significantly influence our cognition, emotions and subsequent behaviors, including our relationship with others.” Therefore, how organized, or disorganized, our home is can impact not only our own mental health, but our relationships with who we share our homes with as well.

How exactly can an organized home impact our mental health? Let’s dig in.

The Cons of Clutter

You know that feeling, when you’re rushing out the door to get to work on time, or drop the kids off at school and you can’t find your keys? It’s a panic-inducing, irritating situation. Moments like this exemplify what living in a consistently cluttered space is like: disorienting, distracting, and stressful.

As Erin Doland, of Princeton’s Neuroscience Institute states, “when your environment is disorganized or cluttered, it limits the brain’s ability to focus and process information, [which] affects decision-making, attention, and memory retrieval.” Doland goes on to simplify the neuroscience behind a cluttered space, “Overall, a messy environment triggers a stress response in the brain.” That is the essence of what we feel in that moment we are frantically searching for keys in drawers, cabinets, on desks; quite simply, stressed.

A 2009 study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin focused on how homeowners descriptions of their homes related to daily patterns of mood and cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone in the brain, which helps in triggering your “fight or flight” response. This study showed home environments perceived as stressful correlated with “flatter dinural slopes of cortisol, a profile associated with adverse health outcomes, and increased depressed mood.” Those with self-described restorative homes experienced the opposite, “steeper cortisol slopes…and decreased depressed mood.”

Dr. Eva Selhub, M.D, points out further negative impacts clutter can have on our mental and physical well-being when it comes to our relationships with others: “For couples, clutter can create tension and conflict.” Not only does clutter increase stress and the possibility of depressed mood in our own lives, but also it can have a lasting negative impact on the relationships with the people closest to us. Dr. Selhub goes on to state “disorganization can lead to shame and embarrassment…creating a physical and emotional boundary around you that prevents you from letting people in.” Not only can clutter pile up around you physically, but it can provide the ideal habitat for creating emotional walls.

Considering all the negative mental and physical affects clutter has on our brains, we can also hypothesize the positive affects by looking towards opposites. If a cluttered environment induces stress, an organized environment would encourage relaxation. A disorganized space creates tension, escalates conflict and builds emotional walls, while a clean and tidy space promotes confidence, emotional well being and openness.  That sounds like the life we want to be living!

So how do we get there? First, we must take the initial steps to get organized.

Ways to Get Organized

No need to wait for spring-cleaning to tidy up and organize your space. Kick the New Year off right by dedicating some time to de-cluttering. Doing so may provide some of the psychological benefits of living and working in a neat space.

Professional organizers agree to best way to get organized is to start small. Beginning in a designated area narrows focus and encourages completion of the project. Adrian Egolf of the Clean Slate Living Company, suggests a basic three-step method to tackle any cluttered space, “Cull, Sort and Match.” Egolf goes on to explain, “First, get rid of anything you don’t need, use or want…second, sort through what you have left, putting [similar] things together.” Egolf reinforces the notion of starting small, “use cull, sort, and match on one shelf in your closet, or one drawer in your kitchen and see where it takes you.”

Susan McQuillan, MS, RDN, suggests a firm method of decision-making during the process of tidying up, “when you’re organizing…decide what to do with each [item] before moving on to another. Have separate bags on hand for trash and charity donation, placing each item in the appropriate bag.” Making decisions about whether to keep or get rid of items can feel paralyzing and may be one of the reasons our things accumulate in the first place. McQuillan’s method encourages organizers to face those decisions and make them, a process that can be easier with practice.

Professional organizer, author, and Netflix star Marie Kondo is internationally recognized for her KonMari method. Pick up an item and ask yourself if it “sparks joy”. If yes, keep it. If no, thank the item for serving you in your life and let it go. Kondo’s method provides space in the organization game for sentimental items, ones that, though may serve no functional purpose, still “spark joy” in your heart. Here, living a tidy life is not just about having an organized space for essential items but about being selective with what items you give space to in your home. The KonMari method emphasizes joy above all, shaping the home into an environment that brings out the best in you.

Go With the Flow

No matter how diligent your organization, the messes of everyday life will inevitably creep in. However, with an efficiently organized space that best fits your lifestyle and every day needs, clean up should, in theory, become more accessible, less stressful, and therefore, more likely to happen. When everything has a place tidying up simply becomes an act of returning items to their rightful homes, instead of a scramble to make a home for everything in the moment. Adrian Egolf of the Clean Slate Living Company suggests a simple daily rule to maintain organization, “If you can do it in 60 seconds or less, do it now.”

“Our physical space, and the objects that fill it, give us, and others, a sense of who we are, what we value, and what we have accomplished,” Dr. Sally Augustin, PhD, environmental psychologist explains. Maintaining organization throughout a home and workspace is vital to our sense of self, a centering act of our own identity. So too Dr. Augustin notes, “too much clutter can signal a lack of control and confuse that sense of identity.” While it’s vital to keep our spaces personal, to display our own unique items and collections, it’s also important for our mental well being to keep that space clean and organized, however fits best for us.

Final Word

Clutter and disorganization have been scientifically linked to increased stress, depressed mood, and conflict in relationships. Using some organizational skills suggested by experts is a great way to embrace the calm, confidence and joyful benefits perpetuated by a clean and tidy home environment.

Note: This article was originally published in the December/January 2021 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability.

SLO Life Magazine: Feast Freely

Originally published in the October/November 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

Holiday traditions vary from culture to culture, family to family, but one commonality seems to be universal among them all — a celebration centered around a feast: A meal shared with friends and relatives, consisting of a wide variety of appetizers, sides, entrees, and of course, dessert.

For the health conscious, the prospect of engaging in such a gluttonous occasion may spark some concern. I wondered how indulging in a holiday feast affected a person’s weight, blood sugar, and general health.

It’s no secret extravagant meals are often advertised as the culprit for inevitable weight gain. Although indulging in a feast carries this undesirable connotation, this doesn’t mean it’s a scientifically backed truth. With the hope that my research findings may grand some medically justifiable permission to feast, I set out to answer this question: For the person in average health, did eating a holiday feast really incur a negative impact on general health?

https://lauren-harvey.com/2020/10/22/slo-life-magazine-feast-freely/(opens in a new tab)

#1 Myth Busted

Dr. Stephen Juraschek, a primary care physician at Beth Israel Deaconness Medical Center in Boston, breaks down the science behind what actually happens to your body when you enjoy a big meal. One common short-term effect includes the overstuffed feeling caused by your stomach physically expanding to accommodate large amounts of food.

Other short-term effects include spikes in blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol markers — the aftermath of eating starchy foods high in carbs as they convert into glucose. However, these spikes are temporary and “should come down, usually within a couple of hours,” says Dr. Juraschek. While these processes happen after the consumption of any meal, the effects are amplified the more we eat.

Dawn Jackson Blather, RD, provides some myth-busting insight on the long-term effects of holiday feasting, “What you’re [eating] for a holiday here and there is not going to have any lasting impact on health and weight if you’re getting back to your normal healthy-ish eating afterward.” And, as Dr. Juraschek adds, “It’s really more of a long-term pattern of eating that we worry about.” It seems then, one feast will not make or break your general health.

Instead, it’s the rest of the year, and all those days between holiday feasts that truly impact our long-term health, despite what diet culture may want you to believe.

#2 Move with Intent

While lounging on the couch after a Thanksgiving feast may seem like the best way to recover, prefacing your relaxation with a ten- to fifteen-minute walk can help your body recover even faster. A 2013 study published by The American Diabetes Association observed the effects of a fifteen-minute treadmill walk on the blood sugar levels of older adults at risk for Type 2 diabetes. The study, co-authored by Loretta DiPietro, a professor at George Washington Universitys Milken Institute School of Public Health, found that “short post-meal walks were even more effective at lowering blood sugar after dinner than a single 45-minute walk taken at mid-morning or late in the afternoon.”

As postdoctoral research fellow Andrew Reynolds explains, “The muscles we use to walk use glucose as energy, drawing it out of circulation and therefore reducing how much is floating around.” A short walk can combat the effects of blood sugar spikes. For those with diabetes or other medical conditions impacted by blood sugar, a walk is not sufficient replacement for doctor-approved medical treatments.

In addition to balancing your blood sugar, walking after your feast provides digestive benefits. Sheri Colberg-Ochs, a researcher at Old Dominion University explans, “Exercise stimulates peristalsis, which is the process of moving digested food through the GI tract.” A short walk helps your feast move through your digestive system, which could help relieve some bloating or the overfull feeling we experience after a larger-than-life holiday meal. Hopefully, this provides peace of mind — to enjoy the meal and focus more on what you can do after you put the fork down, rather than scrutinizing everything that goes on your plate.

#3 Stay Steady

Everyone has their own strategies leading up to the big feast. Some people fast all day, in an effort to save room for the big meal, while some boost their exercise in a preemptive strike against excessive calories. Still others decide to fully embrace the feast, complete with post-meal nap. So what’s the best strategy?

Registered dietitian Leslie Bonci says, “Fasting [before the feast] is typically not a good idea.” Instead of starving your body in anticipation, try to stick to your everyday meal schedule, “but stop eating four to six hours before the main event.” Staying as consistent as possible with your eating and exercise habits may be the key to holiday feasting without feeling too full to move.

A small study, led by University of Michigan graduate student Alison Ludzki, asked participants to consume thirty percent more calories for seven days while maintaining their normal exercise routine. The results of this early study aren’t enough for anything definite, however, researchers found that “a week of gluttony did not affect glucose tolerance” in participants who exercised regularly.

Additionally, the research showed that consuming excess calories “had no effect on markers of inflammation in volunteers blood or tissue samples…[and] no change in lipolysis, a chemical process by which the body breaks down fats.” This study and its initial findings support the notion promoted by many dietitians — consistency, more than anything, is key.

According to McKenzie Flinchum, RD, LD/N, “There is no need to add extra workouts to burn off calories or skip meals; just go back to your [daily] healthy diet and workout regimen.” It seems then, that consistent exercise promotes greater metabolism, enabling your body to better handle gastronomic anomalies like a holiday feast.

If you are feeling sluggish, Flinchum suggests focusing on “consuming a lot of veggies and lean protein the next day.” This acts to balance out what is already being digested in your system. Here, steadiness, balance and being kind to your body is paramount to feasting freely.

#4 Enjoy Every Moment

The holiday season is just beginning, so let us not forget the reason for our feast-centered gatherings. Raphael Konforti, Youfit Health Club’s national director of fitness, provides us with an important reminder to put it all in perspective, “One salad doesn’t make you healthy just like one delicious [holiday] dinner doesn’t make you unhealthy.” It’s with this in mind that we arrive at the crux of our findings — enjoying a holiday feast is not detrimental to overall health.

As Flinchum states, “Indulging on [a holiday feast] will absolutely not ruin your diet.” Flinchum expresses the most important sentiment as such: “Enjoying the holiday events and festivities is all part of living a balanced and healthy lifestyle.” So next time you feel a pang of guild for loading your plate at a holiday dinner, or someone throws a critical You’re-going-to-eat-all-that? comment your way, you can answer confidently, with a smile, “Yes, yes I am.”

Stay present in the moment and enjoy the feast, however you choose to celebrate it. After all, it’s occasions like this that we cherish as some of our fondest traditions, whether your holiday feast is a buffet of secret family recipes, ordered prepared from a grocery store or picked up curbside as takeout. No matter how your holiday looks, enjoy it and remember you have permission to feast freely!

Final Word

Our daily diet and exercise routines affect our overall health more greatly than one day of all-out feasting. Enjoy the moment, stay consistent in exercise, and embrace the blessing of a holiday feast. As always, attend to individual health conditions as directed by your doctor. Happy holidays!

Note: This article was originally published in the August/September 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability. Find the online issue here.

SLO Life Magazine: Superfoods

Originally published in the August/September 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

Plastered across supplements, juice blends, and health websites, superfood appears to be the new standard of healthy living. Its growing prominence, and the near-superhuman capabilities it claims to ensure, make a superfood diet seem essential for anyone desiring to live a more healthful life. Even personally, I noticed an uncontrollable draw to products boasting of superfood capabilities, often choosing these products over ones that lacked flashy labeling.

Superfood emerged as a ubiquitous term I have seen applied to blueberries, salmon, and leafy greens alike. As a result, unfamiliar foods like moringa and reishi mushroom seem somehow inherently familiar. In these instances, I found myself, in some instinctual way, trusting of the positive benefits of foods that were otherwise a total mystery. With this paradox in mind, I began an inquiry into the history of superfoods, searching for a definition that would illuminate the elusive exclusivity of the term, and perhaps, provide some insight into the actual benefits behinds its super claims.

#1 Super Origins

The first recorded use of the term superfood was in association with, of all foods, bananas. According to an article published by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, this first instance dated back to “the early 20th century around World War I…[when] The United Fruit Company initiated an enthusiastic advertising campaign to promote its major import of bananas.” The initial marketing strategy focused on the “practicality of bananas in the daily diet, being cheap [and] nutritious.” However, the popularity of the term superfood grew only “after being endorsed in medical journals.” Therefore, while research later backed claims of nutritional value, marketing, not medicine, is credited with creating the term “super.”

This marketing origin story foreshadows the fate of many superfoods today. The term has gained traction and trust among consumers, while the scientific studies backing the claims come almost as an afterthought. Instead of presenting the marketed foods with proven claims at the forefront, the term seems to be freely used in place of accredited research. In this respect, the definition of a superfood becomes paramount, inextricable from its assertion to be an essential aspect of healthy living.

#2 Defining Ambiguity

Defining a superfood may be easier said than done. An article published by the European Food Information Council (EUFIC) states, “there is no official or legal definition of a superfood.” When asked to put forth a medical definition of superfoods, MD Melissa Stöppler writes, the term is, “non-medical…popularized in the media to refer to foods that have health-promoting properties…[or that] may have an unusually high content of antioxidants, vitamins, or other nutrients.” As Dr. Stöppler emphasizes, “it is important to note that there is no accepted medical definition of a superfood.” With no guidelines in place, then, the label can be freely applied to product packaging and used in marketing campaigns without the requirement to prove that the food is, indeed, super.

Seeking a concise definition from a dictionary has its range of variances as well. The Oxford English dictionary defines a superfood as “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” Whereas the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as a “super nutrient-dense food, loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber and/or phytonutrients.” The amalgamation of these definitions, as suggested by the EUFIC article, is that superfoods are “foods–especially fruits and vegetables–whose nutrient content confers a health benefit above that of other foods.” This definition is broad, wide-ranging, and undoubtedly inclusive to foods that don’t boast of super capabilities. The term itself does not influence the nutritional aptitude of any food, whether or not it carries the label.

#3 A Worthy Cause

If a superfood is an unregulated marketing term used to play up the nutritional value of certain foods, its it worth seeking them out? The short answer is a resounding yes, with an important qualification. Best summarized by a CNET Health and Wellness article, “[superfoods] are not magic substances, but foods that are especially healthy for you, and there are dozens of them.” A statement from the EUFIC supports this sentiment, the distinction between the label and the science behind the food, “indeed, the science in this area [of superfoods] has demonstrated that certain components of foods and drinks may be particularly good for you.” The inference, therefore, is that while the term superfood may be a generic indicator of health benefits, and the foods promoted as such do often provide valuable nutrients, even if not as “magical” as marketers claim.

#4 Choose Your Super

When seeking out nutritionally beneficial foods, there may be certain components that provide a guideline for quality. The Mayo Clinic suggests a list of four criteria for healthy foods to meet, recommending the food meet at least three. The first two point to nutritional benefits, “good or excellent source of fiber, vitamins, minerals and other nutrients” and “high in phytonutrients and antioxidant compounds such as Vitamin A and E and beta-carotene.” Both of these criteria harken back to the definitions explored earlier and confirm the presumption that superfoods provide high-quality nutritional value to consumers.

The third criterion in the Mayo Clinic checklist presents a commonly problematic area for superfoods. It states the food should “help reduce the risk of heart disease and other health conditions.” To be most accurate, such claims require meticulous research over a period of time. Instead, superfood claims to reduce the risk of disease are often based on an isolated component of the superfood previously linked to potential risk reduction or a comparable health benefit.

For example, almonds, typically considered a superfood, contain monounsaturated fat, which, as the Mayo Clinic states, “[is] a healthier type of fat that may lower blood cholesterol levels.” Since these nutritional components are present in a range of foods, this should not be considered a true distinction between a superfood and another food with similar benefits; unless linked explicitly with the superfood in question. Ultimately, it’s up to consumers to decide whether to derive nutritional benefits from a certain superfood or another dietary source.

The final criterion in the list in short and straightforward: “readily available.” In the age of online shopping, this criterion becomes easily attainable for most, if not all, superfoods. The Mayo Clinic’s criteria for healthy foods provide a blueprint for assessing the beneficial quality of superfoods. And perhaps, in a more general sense, it encourages consumers to make their own distinctions between foods possessing superior health benefits, whether or not that food bears the illustrious superfood label.

#5 Beyond the Label

In the wake of superfood dominance in the current health market, it’s vital to consider other potentially undervalued foods. By doing so, we find that foods not labeled as ‘super’ also contain super nutrients. As noted by the EUFIC, “carrots, apples, and onions, for example, are packed with health-promoting nutrients such as beta-carotene, fiber, and the flavonoid quercetin.” Though notably less glamorous than superfoods such as açai or moringa, fruits and vegetables often considered humble kitchen staples provide their own blend of nutritional compounds that help promote a healthy mind and body.

These foods easily meet the Mayo Clinic’s fourth health food criterion, “readily available,” perhaps more so than lauded superfood heroes. Considering the other criteria put forth by the Mayo Clinic, all three pass the health food test. At the end of the day, as it turns out, a particular food does not have to be trending on social media in order to be a powerful contributor to our overall health, instead, we can simply add more natural, unprocessed foods to our diets.

Final Word

Superfood is a non-medical, freely used label with origins in marketing. On the whole, superfoods are simply foods with superb nutritional value. Consider incorporating them into a whole food diet for potential health benefits. Consult with a doctor or nutritionist before making major diet changes for a personalized plan most effective for you.

Note: This article was originally published in the August/September 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine. It is transcribed verbatim here for the purposes of easy readability. Find the online issue here.