WWB Wise Guru Q&A Series: Newly Released Book ‘The Nature Fix’ Presents Cutting Edge Science on How Nature Affects our Health & Well-Being from a World Wise Perspective…

Mar 15, 2017 by

NatureFix_2 with frame.jpgWWB Wise Guru: Florence Williams is an American journalist and nonfiction author whose work focuses on the environment, health and science. She is a contributing editor at Outside magazine and a freelance writer for National Geographic, the New York Times, New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Slate, Mother Jones, High Country News, O-Oprah, W., Bicycling and numerous other publications.

Her first book, Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History, received the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in science and technology and the 2013 Audie in general nonfiction. The New York Times named it a notable book of 2012.

She was a Scripps Fellow at the Center of Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado. She is a fellow at the Center for Humans and Nature and a visiting scholar at George Washington University. She serves on the board of nonprofit environmental magazine, High Country News.

WWB Featured Book: ‘The Nature Fix, Why Nature Makes Us Happier, Healthier and More Creative’ explores the science behind our connection to nature and proposes that for optimal well-being, regular doses of nature are not only recommended but required.

 

Lauroly Opening- I am so honored and pleased Florence Williams could join me for a Q&A. Her book is a favorite of mine, and so glad she wrote it. Perhaps it’s a favorite because it speaks to me on a very personal level. Nature has always been my fix, without a doubt. Having said this, I never classified myself as ‘Nature Girl’. I didn’t camp as a kid and I didn’t hike until my 20’s. But being outside and playing in nature was always a big part of my life experience. I can thank my Dad for that. I have this in common with the author! I only saw him on weekends growing up, and every weekend, weather permitted, we were either horseback riding in the woods, walking in the woods, or rowing a boat on a lake next to the woods. Those early experiences and the need to be outdoors has never left me. I like the term Florence used in the book, “drinking the tonic of nature.”I wrote a piece for this very blog on Nature Therapy in 2015 and briefly discussed ‘Forest Bathing’ in Japan which she covers quite extensively in the book. Later in my life, traveling for business, I would always make a point to find a Public Garden no matter where I was, so I could reconnect with nature and myself. Reading ‘The Nature Fix’ confirmed what I have had always felt intuitively about nature…I’m a part of it and it’s a part of me.

Besides my personal connection to the topic of your book, I found it to be the perfect non-fiction book. It is well researched, highly informative and very entertaining as well. I love how she takes us through the research via her own personal travel. Her travel takes us to Japan, Korea, Singapore, Finland, Sweden, Scotland, and we learn a lot about their cultures and wellness philosophies. Florence packed so much into this book, I found myself really challenged about where to start. I remind myself that I do these Q&A’s to recommend books and motivate people to go and read the books. I hope to touch on some of the many important findings in this book…

 

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Lauroly Q- Welcome Florence Williams! So if everyone hasn’t heard yet, nature is good for civilization!  What you set out to do is to find the science to support why nature is so important to our humanity and our everyday well-being. To do that we need to understand our senses and how much of how we function is synced with nature.  It seems to me that when we are out in nature we are fully alive, because many of our senses are engaged in our experience. This explains to me personally why I am generally happier when I am outside. There is an enlightening chapter where you focus on a man in Sweden who experienced a personal tragedy and later came to understand how important nature therapy is to patients with depression. Yet like everything else with humans, the dose of nature varies from human to human.  What do we know so far about nature as therapy? Tell us more…

 

 

 

flopromoBarrOutdoorFlorence Williams: Yes, Lauroly, you are exactly right that it does seem to be the full-sensory experience that awakens our sense of well-being, and that there are many studies that support this idea. But the science is still young, and many of the studies are very small. It’s actually quite difficult for scientists to tease apart exactly which elements of nature are most helpful or which senses are most engaged. I was struck by the studies in Japan, led by Japanese anthropologist Yoshifumi Miyazaki, that measured physiological changes to the nervous system after just 20 minutes of being in the woods. These studies showed a 20-minute stroll on a forest trail can reduce your blood pressure an average 11 percent and lower your cortisol hormones (a measure of stress) by six percent. Perhaps because of the practice of forest bathing in Japan, people there are attuned to using all their senses in the woods – so they’re really paying attention to what they’re smelling and feeling and hearing and seeing. It seems that shortcut to mindfulness really helps us feel calmer and relaxed more quickly when we’re out in nature.
 

Lauroly Q– Glad you started with Japan. We can’t discuss your book without talking about ‘ Shinren Yoku (Forest Bathing)’. What is it about the Japanese culture, that has them embracing Forest Bathing so fervently that it has become part of their national healthcare policy? When you asked Miyazaki why nature is so important to their culture, he had this to say, “In our culture, nature is part of our minds and bodies and philosophy. In our tradition, all things are relative to something else.” Loved his answer. But it is amazing how the Japanese ended up being so far removed from the very thing that defined them isn’t it?

Florence Williams: Japan industrialized very quickly. The cities grew fast and there was intense economic competition for good jobs, good schooling and feeding the corporate culture. People are stressed out there, and they work and study incredibly long hours, effectively removing them from a lot of time in the countryside. But it would be mistake to say that modern life has disconnected them from nature. The Japanese still internalize a close connection to plants, for example, in their practices of bonsai and flower arranging, in their tiny gardens and through their lens of wabi sabi, which celebrates the seasons and simple nature. I think in many ways the Japanese definition of nature is more generous that the western one, which looks at spaces like parks and wilderness areas, rather than integrating elements of the natural world into everyday life and homes. That said, the Japanese do seem to relish getting outside when they can. As a result of Miyazaki’s data, the country has designated 48 “forest therapy” trails where overworked, urban citizens are now urged to go unwind, and it looks like more trails are being created.

Lauroly Q- One of the things I was wondering about while reading about your research in Finland, is related to Vitamin D (sun) and the deprivation they experience in winter. Have any researchers looked at how tree therapy might counteract the negative effects of not having enough sun? This is a good time to tell us about why Cypress Trees seem to have such a positive effect on our senses. As you put it, in the book “we enjoy a neural bath of happy hormones”! Below is a quick video you created to illustrate the beneficial effects of nature…

 

Florence Williams: Trees are certainly magical and wonderful, and hit a lot of our happy buttons, from providing rich visuals, especially fractal patterns (known to promote alpha brainwaves) to creating habitat for birds that in turn relax us with their birdsong. The smell piece is fascinating, as tree aerosols from cypress trees in Japan were found to lower blood pressure and increase Killer T immune cells in humans. That said, even in Finland and even in winter, being outside provides more brightness and full-spectrum light than being inside, and so the light aspect is still important. Full spectrum light is linked to wellbeing, and vitamin D is linked to all sorts of good things, from shaping our retinas to strengthening our bones. The lumens outside is generally 10 times greater than the lumens inside, except of course at night. Even the darkness, though, can help reset our circadian rhythms so we sleep better.

Lauroly Q- As a psychology major I found a lot of the research on education, and brain disorders like ADHD fascinating with respect to nature. Besides the specific special needs of children on the spectrum, your book explores the idea that children in general really need nature and play. I loved the section on Friedrich Frobel and his research. He focused on cultivating curiosity and freedom in childhood. Tell us how ‘kindergarten’ was originally conceptualized, and how nature was at the center of child education…

Florence Williams: Friedrich Froebel, who was born in Germany in 1782, was an educator heavily influenced by Rousseau, who said, “Everything is good as it comes from the hands of the Author of Nature.” Rousseau and Froebel both made a case for allowing young children to explore and learn based on their own curiosity. Froebel believed that an education filled with nature and art could instill a lifelong readiness to learn and also develop empathy and a love for living things. He really invented kindergarten, and it was nature-based from the beginning. Unfortunately, many cultures now consider kindergarten the new first-grade, and are taking children inside to sit at desks and learn their academics. We are not devoting enough time to considering what has been lost in this new model.

Lauroly Closing: I hope we don’t lose that model. Cultures change, but we don’t have to lose the wisdom that has already been acquired, especially when it comes to child development. Thank you Florence for joining me at World Wise Beauty, to discuss your important and wonderful book. I am going to make it my personal duty to share this book with everyone! I know they will love it and your research will resonate for them. I believe we are realizing nature is not a luxury but an absolute essential to our personal wellness, our humanity and our culture. See you out there Florence!

Florence Williams Closing: Thanks so much for your interest, Lauroly. It was so much fun reporting and writing this book, and it’s certainly made me spend more time outside. I will hope it will influence others as well.

 

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WWB WISE GURU SERIES: Q&A with Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams–Author of New Book ‘BodyWise’ Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health & Healing

Jan 3, 2017 by

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WWB Wellness Wisdom Book Selection: BodyWise

Wise Guru & Author: Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD

Author Profile: Rachel Carlton Abrams graduated PHI BETA KAPPA from Stanford University and received her MD from UC San Francisco. She also has a Master’s Degree in Holistic Health from UC Berkley, and is Board Certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine.

In 2008 she opened the award-winning Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic. Dr. Abrams treats many of the world’s most influential people, from CEOs to billionaire entrepreneurs to Nobel Peace laureates. She has been voted “Best Doctor” in Santa Cruz County every year, from 2009–2016.

 

 

 

 

Lauroly Opening: I will admit I am generally excited to introduce experts and authors here at World Wise Beauty, but this book in particular really resonates with me big time! I think my readers can guess why, by looking at the title of the book ‘BodyWise’ Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing. Anyone that follows World Wise Beauty or even WWB’s Facebook page knows my mission is to encourage inner-wisdom and wellness. Most importantly, I am always reinforcing the idea of being your own guru. This doesn’t mean to reject knowledge or expertise, but to recognize that your own bio-individuality is truly unique. What is good for someone else may not be good for you. Knowing and understanding yourself (mind, body and spirit) is key to a life of fulfillment, happiness and wellness. This featured book shows you how to truly live with yourself in harmony. When you read more about her work below, you will understand why I have selected Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams as the 2017 WWB Icon. It was an easy selection because she truly represents a World Wise Beauty who is comfortable in her own skin, and she educates all women to do the same.

 

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams

 

Integrative and holistic health practitioners offer alternative options to treat conditions and disease differently than main-stream doctors, but my role is not to recommend one over the other. I only seek to encourage people to explore and discover what works best for them. I happen to prefer integrative doctors and DO’s personally because I believe in addressing the underlying cause of dis-ease. I also believe in the resounding message of this featured book. ‘Know thyself’.

We can all be ‘Body Wise’ and we all know our own bodies better than anyone, if we only take time to listen to it. I have a unique personal story that makes me particularly passionate about this subject of this book. I grew up with two sick parents, and this life experience really challenged me to look within. My mother through living with her own auto-immune disease experience taught me to listen to myself and body. As a young teen I didn’t always listen, but her constant reminders eventually clicked, and I learned to develop a healthy relationship with myself and my body. I hope everyone reading this buys Dr. Abrams book and no matter where you are in your wellness journey, you become comfortable in your own skin and BodyWise…

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Lauroly Welcome: Thank you so much for joining me Dr. Abrams! I am honored to chat with you and so excited to share some of the ideas in your new book ‘BodyWise’! As said, I am particularly excited about sharing your book with others and especially women, because we generally have so much extra stress added to our lives in the roles of mother and caretaker. To compound this, we now have full time careers in addition to our roles in family, as you share in your own personal story. I think a good place to start is to help us understand the overall trajectory of body wisdom. I love how what you said in the book, “think of it as gathering information about our well-being from the outside in.” I always talk about inside out wellness, but when we live complicated lives, we have to start with what is going on right now in our lives and work our way back in. Tell us more about the four levels of body intelligence. This is a blog so we can only touch on ideas, but I am positive almost everyone will be rushing to read your book for the full comprehensive read.

 

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Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams

 

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: Thanks so much for inviting me, Lauroly! And for your excitement about the book—I so appreciate it! In response to your question, I think that the most powerful diagnostic tool I have in the treatment room is my patient’s own body intelligence. I often say that we will order tests, but that the best test I have is your insight about your own body—what you feel and why, when you are likely to feel that way, what makes your symptoms better or worse. Listening to what you knows about your experience is the key to unlocking the puzzle that causes you pain or suffering. When my patients pay attention to this natural intuition, the results can be quite extraordinary. No expert lives in you, other than YOU! Which is why it is so vital to learn to speak the language of your body, and begin to follow the guidance that you receive from within, in regard to diet, diagnosis, treatment and even selection of health care providers or even friends.

In BodyWise, I teach women (though this process is completely applicable to men!) to begin to listen to the signals that their bodies are giving them. This happens in four steps.

MEASURE: Gather measured observations of health (such as blood pressure, weight or labs)

SENSE: Attend to body sensations (become aware of what you sense inside)

FEEL: Note feelings or intuitions about your body (what feelings might those sensations be connected to?)

DISCERN: Look for patterns of experience that are trying to tell you something, including those influenced by the unconscious mind (dreams, visions, symbols) 
 I think of these four steps as learning the language of the body. Sensing is the basic vocabulary, feeling is metaphoric expression, and discerning involves telling the story of the experience.

Lauroly Q- Your four steps are so important, because when we pay attention to all parts of ourselves, we begin to see the interdependency of mind, body and spirit. This is not only a very insightful and wise book, it is also very practical and grounded. I love all the charts and mini-test you offer throughout the book. I also appreciate everything you explore is approached with medical expertise, and the humble recognition that every patient is different. You demonstrate this, by acknowledging both natural and pharma supplements have their own dangers and each individual responds to different substances differently. You share stories about how many patients walk through your door who are on several drugs and supplements and have no idea how they interact with each other is incredible. What is one wise takeaway you can share about taking natural or pharma drugs and supplements? Is one truly better than the other, and what should we explore before taking anything?

 

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: Great question. 🙂 It is always my preference as an integrative physician that my patients feel well putting as few pills or concoctions into their mouths (other than food!) as possible. This said, there is much to fear about pharmaceutical medications which are, catch this, the third leading cause of death in the United States. No joke. And, as a physician, I still love medication when we truly need it. We just need to optimize self-healing and minimize medications for optimal health. Many supplements and herbs can be safer than medications, but not all! Which is why I think it is important to listen to your body and either be very well informed or have trustworthy guidance about what to take. And is it possible to take too many supplements? Absolutely.
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Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams

 

Lauroly Q- There is a really interesting story in your book about intuitive body wisdom and how one women had a dream that was really guiding her about her illness. I don’t want to give away the story, as I think it is worth reading in the book. You really do a wonderful job of covering the sensitive subject of how much we are responsible for when it comes to our own health. Immediately people think “Oh you are going to blame me for my illness? I made this happen to myself?”

I always think our bodies often are trying to communicate something we are struggling with. When I was taking care of my dying mother, I literally came down with a frozen shoulder. I felt like I had the world on my shoulders and my shoulder just stopped working! Of course there were other external factors, but I got the message! I knew I was struggling. Just going to Physical Therapy was remedy for me. I had to stop and think of myself if only for that time in treatment. I passed on the pain drugs and committed time to Physical Therapy. I healed and magically the pain is gone. My body forced me to face my feeling of overwhelm. My body (and in this case my spirit) has cried out before in my life and because of my Mom’s early influence, I usually can connect life’s circumstances with my body ailments. Tell us more about the fine distinctions of this very sensitive subject. How does our mind, body and spirit work in tandem?

 

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: After decades in clinical practice, I do believe that the body can speak to us metaphorically and manifest physical illness, discomfort, and pain. Your ‘frozen shoulder’ is a perfect example of this. I also firmly believe that not all illness or pain has emotional or psychological roots. It is true that how we think and feel, our responsiveness to our bodies’ clues, and the behaviors that we choose absolutely affect our health. And ignoring the obvious cues from your body that something is wrong can manifest in more serious illness. But it is not true that we are personally responsible for the illnesses that we have.

What I mean is, some- times “shit happens.” This was my not-so-eloquent response at a public talk to a very spiritual, healthy young woman who was diagnosed with leukemia. The panel I was sitting on included experts on the mind-body connection and its impact on illness. The young woman at this talk was very upset by the implication that if you are ill, it’s your fault, and she wanted to know if we believed that she had caused her own cancer by her thoughts or behaviors. This is a subtle distinction, but the fact that we can influence pain and illness with our thoughts and behaviors does not mean that we cause all of our pain and illness. My vegan meditation and yoga teacher patient got cancer last year. Sometimes, shit happens. Blaming illness on the person suffering (especially if that person is you) is never helpful. If someone, including you, wants to make meaning of the illness—I need to take more time to rest or be with those that I love or eat more healthfully—that is perfectly legitimate. That is not the same as “I caused my illness by not doing those things.” We should listen to our bodies and discern the meaning of pain and illness. We must not get bogged down in the cycle of self-blame or shame about having the illness.

 

Lauroly Q- Thanks so much for addressing that sensitive subject Dr. Abrams. Another great line in your book is “Everything you put into your mouth has complex biochemical messages for the body.” This is a pretty intense idea, but falls in line with ‘You are what you eat’. It must be such a hard idea to get across to patients. Food is such a complicated topic for us humans. Our family and culture shape our eating habits and we are all so different. Science is already confirming that a plant-based diet is generally better for everyone, yet many experts will tell you protein is necessary and each person has different nutritional needs. It gets confusing. Unpack this just a little bit for us…

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: No matter who you talk to in the health and wellness field, they will agree that more fruits and vegetables (and the more brightly colored the better), are good for you. And no one would argue that you need a healthy source of protein. I would argue that it is ideal if that source is organic (if plant sourced, such as nuts and beans) and also “grass-fed” or “free-range” if animal sourced (eggs, cheese, milk, yogurt and meat). I do think that most vegetable sources of protein are good for most of us. And some of us do better with more animal derived protein. Those are individual decisions to be made based on your personal experience, your body intelligence, and your values. And I really don’t think anyone would argue that you should avoid fast food and fried food, and limit refined grains (white flour and white rice). Many people feel well eating whole grains, which are rich in nutrition. And some people react to gluten or other grains—again, it’s a place to use your body intelligence to see what works best for you.

 

Lauroly Q- The burgeoning trend of yoga and meditation has connected mind, body and spirit and has put the practices at the center of wellness. You state in the book, that from a health point of view, the particularities of meditation and spirituality don’t matter. This is another fine example of how you recognize our diversity and difference while also finding the common. Ultimately finding time for silence and reflection is a healthy ritual, and we all have our own practices. What matters is how these rituals help our individual health and well-being. Why are things like prayer or meditation so important to our overall health? What is happening in our bodies when we do? I always feel nature is my church and I can feel the positive changes in my body when I take time to be quiet in nature.

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Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams: You are very much in line with the latest research, which shows abundant health advantages from being exposed to nature, from lower stress and cortisol levels to lower blood pressure to less anxiety and depression. I think that the purpose of meditation, prayer or simple reflection is to reduce stress and cortisol levels, in a world that is far more stimulating than our bodies are built for. Manifold studies show the impact of meditation and prayer on reduced cortisol levels, reduced depression and anxiety, reduced risk of heart attack and stroke, etc. And these simple moments of reflection allow us to gain perspective on our lives. To extend the beneficial effect of slowing down to contemplate, to the rest of our life, as we take the insights gained and apply them—honking less at other drivers, yelling less at the kids, berating ourselves less.

 Lauroly Closing: Thanks so much again Dr. Abrams for writing this much needed book, and for joining me for this Q&A.  ‘BodyWise‘ is a ‘wellness bible’ and one I would recommend for everyone’s wellness library. I’ve only touched on a few topics covered in your book. It is truly comprehensive, and you show us just how ‘doable’ living healthy can be, when we tap into our body intelligence. Once we start listening to the wisdom of our bodies, we can begin to take care of our mind, body and spirit holistically. While all of us have different lifestyles and challenges, we all retain the gift of being able to tap into our inner-wisdom. How lucky we humans are!

Dr. Rachel Carlton Abrams Closing: Thank you so much for this opportunity Lauroly, and blessings to all of you reading this!

 

 

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WWB WATCH: ‘Healthy’ Food in a Package? The FDA Wants Labels to Catch Up With the Real Science…

Oct 3, 2016 by

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Last year, the Food and Drug Administration told the maker of Kind bars that some of its nut-filled snacks couldn’t be labeled as “healthy.” Now the agency is rethinking what healthy means, amid evolving science on fat and sugar. Ryan Kellman/NPR

 

WWB WATCH: HEALTH FOODS & LABELS

 

Better late than never right? Nobody wants to be Debbie Downer, but I share this information because I have been a human guinea pig just like you at different times in my life. When I first became a vegetarian over 25 years ago, I experimented with all kinds of foods found in the health food store. There was no Whole Foods yet, and your local health food store was a mini-version of Whole Foods. One of the uninformed mistakes I made, but learned from pretty quickly, was embracing fruit juices and granola snack bars and believing they were healthy. I quickly discovered that many products in the health food store have ingredients that were just as worrisome ( example cane sugar vs high-fructose syrup) as other processed foods in regular supermarkets. High amounts of sugar is a problem, no matter what label is on the product and no matter what store you find it in. As I am not a nutritionist or doctor, I won’t get into it in detail here. I interview many experts in wellness, so you are sure to learn from them if you follow my blog.

Below is the excerpt from NPR, and I’m happy to see they have quoted one of WWB’s respected experts Marion Nestle. See my Q&A with her here, and follow Marion at Food Politics.

The key takeaway today is, ultimately it’s really hard to eat healthy when you are consuming packaged, processed food. I know this is pretty frustrating, because our ‘culture’ runs on fast-food living and we are constantly looking for ‘fuel’ on the go. So to be realistic, if you are going to eat a snack bar because you are starving and have to eat something, then go for it. But just know that it is not necessarily a ‘healthy’ choice. Real fruit like apples, and real nuts, can hold you over much better and also can prevent a host of diseases and chronic illnesses. Even eating a small piece of 70% dark chocolate is a better choice than some processed snacks. I bet that little tidbit lifted your spirits! Just don’t eat an entire bar in one sitting okay!

If the snack bar is your only option, then eat it, but it really shouldn’t be considered a healthy meal replacement. I’m not here to pick on snack bars. I only want to bring to light some commonsense knowledge about the food you are eating. Processed food of any kind has two big challenges. First challenge is to make it tasty to eat. How do they do that? Usually with either generous amounts of salt and sugar or ‘like’ substances. The second challenge is keeping it fresh, which involves additives and preservatives your body doesn’t necessarily need or digest well.  Again, sometimes you have to do what you have to do, but for your own health,  packaged and processed food shouldn’t be a regular part of your diet. Research from around the world has proven this and our country is just catching up with the latest research. The following story from NPR on the FDA’s updates is a good piece on why packaged foods need to update or remove their claims. As a consumer, I understand the culture I am living in. Just sell me things for what they are. Convenient yes. Treat maybe. Health Food? Not so much!

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Excerpt NPR’s The Salt

FDA Is Redefining The Term ‘Healthy’ On Food Labels

So, you’re looking for a quick grab-and-go snack, and there’s a row of energy bars at the checkout counter. Are they a healthy option?

The maker of Kind bars thinks so. The company has used the phrase “healthy and tasty” on some of its products that contain lots of nuts. But, here’s the issue: The bars contained too much fat to meet the Food and Drug Administration’s strict low-fat definition of healthy. So, as we reported last May, the company helped launch a petition to challenge the status quo.

Now the FDA has begun the process of redefining the term “healthy” on food labels. Policymakers are looking for input from food makers, health experts and the public. You can weigh in with your ideas about what factors and criteria should be used for the new definition. (Submit electronic comments directly to the FDA).

“As our understanding about nutrition has evolved, we need to make sure the definition for the ‘healthy’ labeling claim stays up to date,” writes Douglas Balentine, who directs the Office of Nutrition and Food Labeling at the FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

So, how has nutrition science — and the thinking about what’s healthful — evolved?

Let’s start with fat. The fat-free era has come and gone. “The most recent public health recommendations now focus on type of fat, rather than amount of fat,” Balentine writes in a blog post for the FDA.

For instance, the type of fats found in avocados and nuts are considered healthful fats. We’re encouraged to eat more plant-based fats and omega-3s from fatty fish, whereas the U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting saturated fats — the type of fat found in meat and other animal products — to less than 10 percent of your total daily calorie intake.

The modernized definition of “healthy” will also likely address sugar content. The FDA is taking into account all of the newer evidence linking excessive sugar intake to heart disease and obesity.

“Our thinking about sugars has changed,” Balentine told us, “so I would think the amount of sugar in products is something we [will] take into account.”

In an ideal world, people wouldn’t need labels to signal which food choices are healthful. As nutrition guru Marion Nestle of New York University, tells us, “if people want to eat healthfully, we know how to do that. That’s eating lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.” And she says we should eat packaged and processed foods in much smaller amounts.

“I don’t think we should have health claims [on food packages] at all,” Nestle tells us. “They’re inherently misleading,” because food companies use them as a marketing tool.

But the FDA’s Douglas Balentine pushes back, pointing out that Americans are looking for information on food packages to help them make better decisions.

“The typical consumer makes a purchase decision in three to five seconds. They don’t have a lot of time,” Balentine says. So, he says, an up-to-date “healthy” label will give people a quick way to identify better-for-you options. “We want to give consumers the best tools and information about the foods they choose.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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WWB’s Weekly Wisdom Wrap: Why Listening to Your ‘Gut’ Really Matters to Your Health & Wellbeing

Jun 27, 2015 by

 

There has been a lot of talk about ‘the gut’ lately amongst medical researchers and scientist. You might be thinking ‘Do I really want to be reading about bacteria and stomach bile’? What I will say to you is this,” Toughen up, you can stomach it!”. We often hear the expression ‘go with your gut’ and maybe there is good reason we use that expression. A gut feeling might manifest as a quick heartbeat or a stomach-ache instead of a conscious thought, giving the phrase “trust your gut” a much more literal meaning. Think about all the common expressions we use almost on a daily basis about the stomach…

 

  • butterflies in one’s stomach
  • cast-iron stomach
  • eyes are bigger than one’s stomach
  • feel sick to stomach
  • have butterflies in stomach
  • have no stomach for
  • pit of stomach
  • go with your gut
  • settle stomach
  • sick to one’s stomach
  • turn one’s stomach
  • way to a man’s heart is through his stomach

 

 

 

It turns out the ‘gut’ is pretty important to our overall health and it really matters. It is so important that a young microbiologist in Germany, Giula Enders wrote an International bestseller entitled Gut’ The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ’. Just released over a month ago here in North America, the New York Times profiled her interesting personal story about finding treatment for what seemed to be a ‘mysterious illness’. The whole journey inspired her to go on to acquire her PhD in microbiology. Following is an excerpt from the NYT profile…

Back in 2007, after a series of mostly ineffective treatments prescribed by doctors, Ms. Enders, then 17, decided to take matters into her own hands. Convinced that her illness was somehow associated with her intestines, she pored over gastroenterological research, consumed probiotic bacterial cultures meant to aid digestion and tried out mineral supplements. The experiments worked (although she is not sure which one did the trick) leaving her with healthy skin and new-found interest in her intestines.

 

In her book, she catalogs the myriad elaborate operations that our guts dutifully perform every day, like the cleaning mechanism that kicks in a few hours after we eat and keeps the small intestine — all 20 or so feet of it — remarkably tidy. This “little housekeeper,” as Ms. Enders calls it, turns out to be the real source of the grumbling that most attribute to the stomach and mistake as a sign of hunger.

Then there is the growing body of research indicating that our intestines may have a far greater influence on our feelings, decisions and behavior than previously realized. The primary evidence for this, Ms. Enders writes, is the vast network of nerves attached to our guts that monitors our deepest internal experiences and sends information to the brain, including to those regions responsible for self-awareness, memory and even morality

So, this is a woman who is listening to her gut, and certainly trusted her instincts. There has been research going on for a number of years on the eco-system of your intestines. Many women who have suffered with yeast infections have become more familiar with the balance of flora in their bodies than they ever wanted to. In fact, in the 90’s, a condition called Candida became a popular condition that many women seemed to be struggling with. Essentially they had an overgrowth of yeast and imbalance of bad bacteria living in their lower intestines. Yes there is good bacteria and bad bacteria. Wondering what the biggest driver of an overgrowth of bad bacteria is? Sugar, yes good old sugar. Or should I say bad? Yeast feeds on sugar. Isn’t it amazing that we are just coming to terms with the idea that too much sugar is just downright TERRIBLE for our bodies. Here are a few things that can contribute to an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

  • Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates and sugar
  • Consuming a lot of alcohol ( alcohol breaks down into sugar)
  • Taking oral contraceptives ( changes the ecology of your system via hormones)
  • Eating a diet high in beneficial fermented foods (like Kombucha, sauerkraut and pickles)
  • Living a high-stress lifestyle ( more chemistry interference)
  • Taking a round of antibiotics that killed too many of those friendly bacteria 
Keep in mind that fermented foods can actually be quite helpful in balancing the bacteria in your gut, but it’s a fine balance. Like anything, too much, tips the scales the other way. The symptom list is quite broad which is why many doctors did not take the Candida condition seriously 15 years ago. Now there is growing research on the importance of bacteria in our gut, and Greek yogurt and a popular brand called “Activia’ are now commonplace aides.  What we Americans became particularly familiar with was antibiotics ( which were over prescribed in our country). We learned that pro-biotics and yogurt could be helpful in getting our ‘flora’ back in check after the anti-biotics killed off all the good stuff! As you can see, the symptom list below is quite extensive. But usually having just a handful of them points to overgrowth of bad bacteria in your gut.
  1. Skin and nail fungal infections, such as athlete’s foot or toenail fungus
  2. Feeling tired and worn down, or suffering from chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
  3. Digestive issues such as bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
  4. Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Ulcerative colitis, Lupus, Psoriasis, Scleroderma or Multiple sclerosis
  5. Difficulty concentrating, poor memory, lack of focus, ADD, ADHD and brain fog
  6. Skin issues like eczema, psoriasis, hives and rashes
  7. Irritability, mood swings, anxiety or depression
  8. Vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, rectal itching or vaginal itching
  9. Severe seasonal allergies or itchy ears
  10. Strong sugar and refined carbohydrate cravings
I shared all of this to give context to the importance of our ‘gut’. It really is an important hub in our body and can run things in our bodies quite smoothly when we are treating ourselves well. It also can create a lot of havoc when we are not! If you think you have the Candidia condition, find yourself a good D.O doc or one that specializes in functional medicine, who can help you get to the bottom of your condition with a holistic approach.
Not convinced yet? Take a look at this recent post from  Science Daily. Below is an excerpt from the article…
In recent years, research into the benefits of gut bacteria has exploded. Scientists across the globe are examining how these microbes can help improve health and prevent disease.”In coming years, scientists will learn a great deal about the microbes that exist within us…
This is pretty exciting stuff, and what is encouraging is we are learning that our diet and lifestyle can keep at bay a lot of nasty conditions that begin in the gut when we mistreat it! Another interesting article just this past week, from the New York Times, explores the real connection between our gut and our brain. This whole area of mircobiome research is groundbreaking, and we can see how introducing foreign substances to our body can be very damaging. See the excerpt below and reference to ‘side effects of pharmaceutical drugs’.

Can the Bacteria in Your Gut Explain Your Mood? by Peter Andrey Smith

Illustration by Andrew Rae/New York Times Article

Since 2007, when scientists announced plans for a Human Microbiome Project to catalog the micro-organisms living in our body, the profound appreciation for the influence of such organisms has grown rapidly with each passing year. Bacteria in the gut produce vitamins and break down our food; their presence or absence has been linked to obesity, inflammatory bowel disease and the toxic side effects of prescription drugs. Biologists now believe that much of what makes us human depends on microbial activity. The two million unique bacterial genes found in each human microbiome can make the 23,000 genes in our cells seem paltry, almost negligible, by comparison. ‘‘It has enormous implications for the sense of self,’’ Tom Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told me. ‘‘We are, at least from the standpoint of DNA, more microbial than human. That’s a phenomenal insight and one that we have to take seriously when we think about human development.’’
Need I say more? So I think we can end with the idiom we started with– “An army marches on in its stomach’. Essentially it means an army can’t fight a war on an empty stomach and needs a good supply of food. But the real truth is our entire body and wellness depends on the fuel we supply it with and the care we give it. So throwing any old thing into your stomach,  even if you have a cast iron stomach like the chef ‘Anthony Bourdain’, is going to ‘rock the house’ you live in for better or for worse. And you know what I am talking about don’t you? Because…

 

 

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Weekly Wisdom Wrap: Nature Therapy, Ancient Wisdom, and the ‘New RX’ for Body, Mind, and Spirit

May 22, 2015 by

 

 

Today unofficially begins Memorial Day Weekend here in the States which typically marks the start of the summer vacation season, while Labor Day marks its end. For people on the East Coast of the U.S, taking off to the beach is a tradition many people have been embracing for generations. After a long winter of snow, ice and rain, a day at the beach is the ultimate spa day filled with sunshine, salt water and fresh air. There is something special about the combination of all three that heals the body, mind and spirit and we often take these things for granted.

As a young girl, when I spent summers with an Aunt who lived close to the ocean, all I can remember is sleeping like a baby. I just had the best slumber! It’s hard to know if it was the ocean air that lulled me into a sound sleep or just the beautiful day I spent outside riding my bike to beach, swimming in the ocean and soaking up the sun. Nature was a wonderful elixir and sedative for me and there is no other comparative experience that both stimulates the senses and calms the body except sex! Don’t you agree? Think about what I am talking about here! lol

 

 

 

Just today, I read this great short piece from a UK newspaper on the healing powers of the ocean, and you will be thrilled especially if you aren’t headed to the ocean this weekend. Much of what they share in the article are spa treatments but they also recommend contacting a The General Council of Natural Homeopaths, which you can find here in the U.S or your part of the world too. I am providing the U.S directory here for your perusal, because you may want to explore it when seeking a healing modality that looks to nature for cures.

What is really interesting, is learning more about water therapy wisdom, which has been carried on for centuries by many cultures and began with the great ancient Greek healers. It is in Greece that the healing tradition called ‘The Water Cure’ evolved.  The Water Cure is the common term for a collection of therapies which, in one way or another, creatively make use of the healing virtues of Water:

Hydrotherapy:  techniques of therapeutic bathing and use of water

Balneotherapy:  therapeutic bathing in medicinal and thermal springs

Thalassotherapy:  the therapeutic use of ocean bathing and marine products

So you can understand why we all head to the ocean when we can! Yes, nature provides and we need to protect and cherish beautiful mother earth, because she is a part of us. ‘Nature therapy’ is just a modern term used for ancient wisdom. But wait, there are many who love the mountains. No surprise, because all of nature is restorative and healing. Read John Muir’s (the famous naturalist) quote I have highlighted from over a century ago, and pay attention to the ‘century’ part, because it is amazing how culturally relevant his words are today.

“Thousands of tired, nerve shaken, over civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wilderness is a necessity; and that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber, and irrigating rivers, but as fountains of life’. ~John Muir

As mentioned earlier, ancient cultures have been turning to nature or rather immersing themselves in nature for thousands of years! Chinese Taoist created gardens and greenhouses to improve human health. But today in Japan the belief in the benefits of connecting with the earth is so strong that a national movement  ‘shinrin-yoku‘ was launched, supporting the use of nature to improve health and well-being. The Japanese Society of Forest Medicine has conducted numerous studies showing measurable medical and mental health benefits to connecting with nature. The Japanese government invested more than $4 million in research to prove the tangible benefits of nature, and has also built “forest therapy bases” and has inspired the rest of Asia to follow. This is wellness culture in action!

Kawachi Fuji Garden in Japan

Don’t despair, you know you don’t have to go to Japan to commune with nature. Western science is catching up with ancient wisdom and new research is supporting that nature therapy helps control pain and negative stress. ‘Nature’s RX’  has benefits that may go way beyond just outdoor exercise. Certain scientific findings ( evidence still building) has become so convincing that mainstream health care providers are promoting nature therapy for an array of illnesses and for disease prevention. Don’t forget last weeks ‘weekly wisdom wrap’ where we covered ‘Vitamin D’ and sunshine. Moderation was the key takeaway…

So here is the good news! As I said, you don’t have to go to Japan, you don’t even have to go to the ocean or the mountains to reap the benefits of ‘Nature Therapy’. You can just go for a walk outside. Many docs and experts promote the benefits of reconnecting with Mother Earth simply by walking into our own backyards barefoot, also called ‘earthing‘ or “grounding.” Research has shown that this simple action may offset some of the harmful effects of the electromagnetic fields surrounding us and transfers the negatively charged free electrons in our bodies into the earth.

I personally wanted to share some of my passions in addition to loving the beach. I am a certified Flowerista which essentially means I love flowers! Gardening is a great way to dig in and commune with nature. There is an old book from 1699 called the ‘English Gardner’, and it advises “spend spare time in the garden, either digging, setting out or weeding, there is no better way to preserve your health’. Remember the Chinese had this down thousands of years before this!

Since I’m a Flowerista you would think I have my own personal garden–but surprise I don’t! I have lived in urban city apartments for a big part of my adult life but always found my way ‘out into nature’. My work allowed for International travel and guess what I always did no matter what part of the world I was in? I found a Public Garden! I still do this is my own area and always find gardens greatly uplift my mind and spirit. I also love visiting working farms and farmers markets which keeps me ‘grounded’ and healthy in numerous ways, especially from the inside out. Below is one of my fav local farms in New Jersey…

Here are two links I thought you would find useful and hopefully will inspire you to get outside for some nature therapy. Of course there are National Parks, Eco-Travel vacations and tours but communing with nature doesn’t necessarily have to be saved for a vacation. If you live in a concrete jungle like New York just go over to the new ‘High Line’ and enjoy a wonderful path along the outskirts of the city. Green Spaces are becoming more available because ‘the wisdom’ is becoming understood that nature is good for communities. Go figure! How this escaped us I will leave to the historians of industrialization!

Find a Public Garden

http://www.nationalpublicgardensday.org/search-gardens

Find a Farmers Market

http://search.ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets/

So here we are again, coming to a familiar conclusion. Mind, body, spirit are all interconnected and health is dependent on caring for all three. It’s truly amazing how Mother Nature provides healing medicine for all three and it is often right outside our front door…

Enjoy the Holiday Weekend!

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