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.

SLO Life Magazine: The Art of Self-Care

Originally published in the June/July 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

Self-care has seen a recent boom in popularity. Trendy social media hashtags like #SelfCareSaturday may propagate the perception that the essence of quality self-care lies in a sequence of facial masks and bubble baths. While these pampering moments are important aspects of whole self-care, the concept entails a much more in-depth maintenance of mind, body, and soul.

For a professional perspective on the proper practice of self-care, I reached out to a Central Coast local and Master Practitioner, Tricia Parido of Turning Leaves Recovery, Life and Wellness Coaching. Parido defines self-care as “a crucial factor in creating a satisfying, well-balanced and highly functioning life. Caring for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual fitness keeps us in touch with who we are, the passions that fuel us, and the purpose that drives us.” Beyond physical, external maintenance, self-care asks us to pay attention to ourselves and tend to our innermost emotional and intellectual needs.

From a psychological perspective then, self-care is less about good skin care and more about developing, as Parido says, “better capabilities to adapt to change, value-driven priorities, and actions fueled from a moral foundation.” Self-care is a layered individualistic practice, developed in multiple areas. Here, we’ll cover some basic elements of self-care to integrate into daily routine aiming to enrich your life and the lives of those around you.

#1 Watch and Learn

Perhaps the most basic place to start self-care is to become self-observant. To illustrate, think of caring for a houseplant. Left unattended, the plant thirsts for nourishment and lacking water will eventually wither into a mess of dried leaves. Without paying attention, you’ll miss the signs the plant needs water in the first place like dry dirt, and the lackluster appearance of the leaves. The attention inherent in care is something then, we owe to ourselves as well. Parido terms it, “staying in touch with your state of being.” Becoming aware of our feelings, needs, and desires may be the unglamorous counterpart of the bubble baths of self-care, but nonetheless as essential.

To tackle this feat, Parido suggests, “Check in [with yourself] every two hours until you get the hang of it.” Diving into our feelings, setting a mandatory check-in may seem like it would bring more discomfort than relief. But, as Parido explains, “If you aren’t present enough to know what prompts a mental or emotional spiral in the wrong direction, you’ll be hard-pressed to stop or care for it before it infects your entire day.” To truly take care of ourselves, then, we first need to become aware of exactly what it is we need.

#2 Beat Burnout

When we neglect emotional, spiritual, and intellectual needs, we risk wearing ourselves down to the point of burnout. In a 2018 self-care article published by Psych Central, psychotherapist Emily Griffiths, LPC explains the connection between self-care and burnout as such, “When we lose sight of our self-care practices, we can experience burnout which sets [us] up for getting sick, overwhelmed, and exhausted.” Forgoing our self-care time or merely not making that time a priority can be a dangerous game.

Self-care that combats burnout is an all-encompassing care that connects spiritually, physically, socially, and emotionally. If this seems overwhelming, start small and simple. Jennifer Shepard, Central Coast local and licensed Marriage and Family Therapist suggests, “making a list of activities you can engage in that allow you to feel recharged, relaxed, and provide a sense of tranquility.” Set time aside for purposeful rest, engage in a hobby activity that brings creative joy, or simple at-home spa time. If intuition suggests you need a break, it may be worthwhile to listen.

#3 Food Focus

Though it may not be immediately associated with self-care, what we eat is an important element of how we treat ourselves. In addition to affecting physical well-being, food has the power to keep our minds working and alert. According to Tchiki Davis, Ph.D., in a 2018 Psychology Today article, “eating [certain] foods can help prevent short-term memory loss and inflammation, both of which can have long-term effects on the brain, and in turn, the rest of the body.” Just like all self-care is personal and needs to be tailored to the individual, so is diet.

Certain foods have higher anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and pro/prebiotic elements; however, if you’re allergic or intolerant, the negatives outweigh the positive benefits. Find alternatives that work for you and focus on the foods that make your body feel good. In a 2018 Psych Central article, Kristen Brunner, MA, LPC, puts food-focused self-care in simple terms, “choose food…that [is] delicious to you and say no to anything that makes you feel awful.” Our personal relationship with food is often complex. This makes it an even more important aspect of self-care. Try paying closer attention to what you eat it, when you eat it, and ultimately, how it makes you feel, both physically and cognitively.

#4 Get Moving

In a society full of Fitbits and Smart Watches, tracking physical activity seems to be more accessible than ever. Getting up and moving is important not only to our physical health, but also to our mental and emotional health. Tchiki Davis, PhD, says, “Daily exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety.” From the gym to a yoga class, getting moving is an essential component of self-care.

Different forms of physical activity bring additional benefits, particularly when done outside, in close proximity to nature. Thinkers and writers from Aristotle to William Wordsworth found the value of walking outside for mental clarity and stimulation. A 2012 study published in the PLOS ONE Journal, found a “cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting.” The study attributes this cognitive advantage in part to natural stimuli being processed as an emotionally positive experience. Adding a hike, beach job, or leisure walk to your self-care routine could prove physically and emotionally beneficial.

#5 Divide and Conquer

Finding time, even ten minutes a day, for essential self-care practices may be the biggest obstacle we face. General busyness, taking care of others, and the pressure of productivity may get in the way of taking time for you. Master Practitioner Tricia Parido recommends a method of block scheduling to effectively manage time, stay focused, and build self check-in time into daily routine. Parido suggests, “Plan [your day] in two-hour time blocks and focus on your top five priorities, using action plans.” Using timers or planners can be effective to manage this routine. With this method, take a few minutes at the end of each time block to check in physically, mentally, and emotionally, and make adjustments as needed.

Additionally, you can use life planning to schedule self-care like you would any other appointment. As Tchiki Davis, PhD states, “It’s extremely important to plan regular self-care time.” What that time includes, however, is up to the needs of the individual, and could change daily. Ideas include a hot bath and a good book, a block of social time among friends, or a family game night.

Final Word

Solitary or social, restful or active, our time of self-care must be mindful and rejuvenating. After all, it is in these moments, where we are completely and wholly cognizant of the present moment that fills us most with joy and gratitude. Taking some time to put self-care first may be the key to unlocking greater fulfillment in other areas of life.

Note: This article was originally published in the June/July 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: Elderberry Unwrapped

Everything there is to know about the latest hero in natural medicine.

Originally published in the April/May 2020 issue of SLO Life Magazine.

Elderberry entered the realm of herbal medicine perhaps as long ago as 370 BCE when Hippocrates dubbed it the “medicine chest” because of its versatility as a medicinal treatment. Throughout history, elderberry made its mark on folk and herbal medicine across cultures including the Egyptians, Irish and Native Americans.

Eventually, elderberry blossomed its way into popular culture for both its notable power and its wretched scent. Decaying elderflowers give off an unpleasant sulfuric scent, so much so that Shakespeare dubbed it the “stinking elder.” The comedic cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail even used it as an insult in the well-known line, “Your father smelt of elderberries.” Fortunately for us, elderberry’s reputation as a natural cold-curing powerhouse outweighed its downfall as a stinking shrub best left for use as a fly deterrent when horseback riding.

More recent cultural references draw on the berry’s reputation as an herbal cure-all and therefore, a source of strength, as the chosen lumber for Harry Potter’s most powerful Elder Wand. Though undoubtedly, elderberry’s modern reputation is similar to the one it had hundreds of years ago—as a holistic way to help the body fight sickness.

Promoted as an all-natural immune boosting, congestion clearing, viral victor, elderberry is lauded as nature’s miracle. Claims of a natural alternative to drugstore cough medicine are enticing for many seeking natural cures to common ailments. Though the validity of these claims is often met with a healthy dose of skepticism, and rightly so. What we take to relieve our colds typically consists of a medley of medicines far removed from the natural environment. Can this one berry be responsible for shortening colds and providing effective natural relief to rival our tried and true drug store cold medicines? With curiosity at its peak, I began an investigation into the identity of this wonder berry and the truth behind its cold-curing powers.

#1 Little Black Berry

American elderberry, a species relative of the European elder, Sambucus nigra, grows to a towering ten to twelve feet in height, and in some cases, as large as thirty feet. Vibrant emerald leaves fill the bulk of the elderberry push while petite ivory flowers bloom readily on budding green stems. As the stems darken to a deep, almost blood red, blossoms give way to berries hanging in clusters. Pale green in their infancy, they mature into the deep blue-black berries commonly known as elderberries.

Though temptation may suggest eating the berries directly off the plant, it is important to note the toxicity of the seeds, stems, leaves and roots. Containing a compound called glycoside that produces cyanide in the body, ingesting these parts of the plant, including unripe berries, may cause unfavorable side effects such as nausea or vomiting. While not fatal, it is wise to avoid these parts of the plant. Cooking the ripened berries eliminates all traces of this compound rendering it safe for use, as in done in the treatment process for elderberry supplements.

#2 Antioxidant Powerhouse

With the hue of a blackberry and the shape of a blueberry it may be easy to mistake this powerhouse plant for just another berry. But beneath elderberry’s rich purple skin lies a bed of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

A report published by Purdue University Center for New Crops and Plant Products found that when matched against other berries of comparable size, elderberry proved to be a notably high source of iron, calcium, and Vitamins A, B6, and C.

Antioxidant effectiveness is derived from a range of compounds, including total phenolics, anthocyacnins, and flavonols. The Purdue report suggests elderberry’s high concentration of these compounds makes it an effective, completely natural source of antioxidants. Elderberry products popularly boast of its wealth of antioxidants, which may protect cells from free radicals, linked to diseases such as heart disease.

#3 Effective Combatant

Recent studies show elderberry to be effective in shortening the length of common colds and even influenza. In a 2016 study, published by MDPI in the journal Nutrients, elderberry capsules were administered to travelers ten days before intercontinental flights and five days after arrival. Travelers who exhibited cold or flu symptoms after the flight contained a combination of passengers taking an elderberry supplement as well as those taking a placebo. The findings, therefore, suggested elderberry had low effectiveness in preventing cold or flu symptoms.

However, the study’s findings did reveal that consuming elderberry while exhibiting common cold symptoms shortened the overall lifetime of the symptoms by an average of two days. Travelers who took the elderberry supplement with cold or flu symptoms were relieved of the symptoms notably faster than those who did not.

Reaching for a jar of elderberry syrup to help fight off your seasonal cold may prove to be a viable alternative to harsher over-the-counter medicines. Studies into the effectiveness of the elderberry itself are relatively new, and more studies need to be conducted to accurately assess effectiveness.

Consumers should also be aware of the propensity for companies with a vested interest in exhibiting elderberry’s effectiveness to fund scientific studies. However, the results of recent studies are promising and generally point toward elderberry as an effective cold medicine that grows right here in our backyard.

#4 Ways to Elderberry

Drugstore shelves are lined with chemical remedies promising weary customers relief from cold symptoms. Medications become more effective and readily available, but not necessarily with overall health in mind. This is where elderberry became so vital—as a way to shorten sickness that leads us back to natura.

The power of elderberry is so pervasive that it sits waiting on drugstore shelves right next to those medications it aims to naturally replace. Syrup, capsules, tablets—the number of elderberry products readily available to consumers can be overwhelming. As with any supplement, it is important to consider what else is used to create the product.

Strengthening the immune system with a natural powerhouse, held together by man-made ingredients and sweetened artificially seems contradictory. Natural, made-with-care elderberry products are available to us here in San Luis Obispo County, made by small business locals like Bliss River Organics. Online boutiques like Etsy abound with homemade elderberry products, from syrups to teas.

For those who are more hands-on, some companies sell do-it-yourself elderberry syrup kits—all ingredients delivered ready to boil and sweeten. That way you know exactly what’s going into your supplements, to assure it remains pure as nature intended. Or, use an online recipe as your guide to creating a customized elderberry supplement. However you get your elderberry, be sure to carefully follow cooking guideline to safely make the most of elderberry’s antioxidant powers.

Final Word

Consuming elderberry in any of its safely processed forms will be beneficial to your health. Though its grandiose claims of preventing all illness may be unfounded, there is no doubt elderberry brings a much-needed boost to your immune system. Elderberry may provide relief from seasonal cold and flu symptoms, providing a safe alternative to over-the-counter medicines made with unnatural ingredients.

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