A staggering one out of every ten Americans take an antidepressant. That means even here in sunny Boulder, CO, we have a lot of folks getting a chemical assist.

A Naturopathic Approach Compared To Western Medicine

All medication comes with unintended side effects. For some, unpleasant side effects are significantly disruptive – they may feel like completely different people on medication. Undoubtedly, medication has its place and is a useful tool, yet it only treats one aspect of a person.

A naturopathic approach seeks to discover the root biological factors of disturbed mental health, and treats the person holistically, in an attempt to normalize brain biochemistry and function, rather than override it.

If you are suffering from anxiety or depression, consider working with a naturopathic doctor.

Functional, Integrative Medicine in Boulder, CO

In my naturopathic practice, I have a functional, integrative approach. I collaborate with psychotherapists, psychiatrists, as well as primary care providers.

While a psychotherapist’s main focus is often talk therapy (among other specialized modalities, e.g. EMDR), a psychiatrist specializes in psychiatric medications and all of their nuances. Both types of practitioners today are likely familiar with how

  • Lifestyle (nutrition, exercise, etc)
  • Family history
  • Biological factors

contribute to mental health.

However, not many psychotherapists or psychiatrists are familiar with the long list of biological factors/stressors that could actually be causing (or at least contributing) to one’s depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues.

Naturopathic Insights into Depression and Anxiety with Meghan Van Vleet, ND

Your doctor is likely not looking at these factors, and often when they do, they do not look with a lens of functional medicine understanding.

A naturopathic approach takes into consideration a diverse set of factors, including:

  • A person’s story and symptoms
  • Lifestyle
  • Family history
  • Physical exam findings
  • Targeted laboratory testing.

Through this comprehensive picture, a naturopathic doctor may gain insight on what might be contributing, or causative, factors in a person’s experience of depression or anxiety.

Naturopathy Considers Biological Factors with Mental Health

Biological factors may include:

  • Poor diet/nutrition
  • Blood sugar imbalance
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Allergies
  • Food sensitivities
  • Dysbiosis and/or leaky gut
  • Lack of exercise
  • Less than optimal sleep habits
  • Environmental toxin exposure
  • Copper overload
  • B6 deficiency
  • Zinc deficiency
  • Methyl/folate imbalances
  • Amino acid imbalances
  • Undetected chronic infections.

If any of the above are affecting you, discovering and resolving these issues can go a long way toward helping you feel like yourself again.

Naturopathic Treatment

Naturopathic treatment plans always address the whole person/whole body, and include nutrition (both food and supplements), herbal medicine, hydrotherapy, as well as prioritizing, goal setting, and help strategizing a pathway to whole body wellness.

Treat the Whole Person

It is a core naturopathic principle to “Treat the Whole Person”. What exactly does this mean? To start, it means that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. The doctor approaches each patient as an integrated whole being rather than a set of symptoms to be treated individually.

For example, if someone has chronic inflammation and trouble sleeping, a conventionally trained doctor might offer an anti-inflammatory and a sleeping pill. In treating the whole, I might address pain, but also

  • reduce input to inflammatory pathways with diet & lifestyle recommendations
  • support anti-inflammatory pathways with nutrition and herbs
  • Explore all of the reasons that might cause a person to have trouble sleeping (racing mind, what they ate for dinner, unsupportive bedtime routines, chronic stress, etc).

We can address these things knowing that if we uncover the cause of sleep disturbance, it will go a long way towards lowering inflammation.

Treating the Whole Person for Mental Health

A naturopathic approach to mental health would be similar. Lifestyle habits and routines affect mental health and well-being, as illustrated by many of the causative/contributing factors listed above.

What are your habits, routines, and patterns? Do they serve you and your goals?

Are you a creature of habit or do you “go with the flow?” Both are fine, but also have their limitations.

If your routines are interrupted by forces outside of your control, how do you react? If you can’t exercise are you cranky? How do you compensate?

Does “going with the flow” mean that you’re eating on the fly? What are you eating when you are in a hurry? Equally important, how are you eating? Are you too busy to take time out of your day to relax while you eat?

Working towards Mental Health with Meghan Van Vleet, ND in Boulder, CO

When I work with my patients, I educate them. We prioritize and problem solve by organizing their days to be proactive, rather than reactive.

To start, I have my patients identify their “Bare Minimums”: the bare minimum you need every day/week/month/year to support your own well-being.

Next, I support them in creatively achieving their bare minimums for well-being. For example, a bare-minimum of exercise on any given day might be a 10-minute brisk walk, knowing that some movement is better than none at all.

Bare minimums are highly individual and change from one stage of life to another, depending on each person’s circumstances. Often little adjustments can have great effects, and little successes pave the way for greater opportunities. Over time, little changes add up.

Opportunity, Not Quick Fixes in Mental Health

To summarize, mental health can be challenging, yet with any challenge exists an equally great opportunity! While a naturopathic approach is not always a quick fix, it may be surprising to discover that the pharmaceutical approach to mental health is not always quick either. It often takes time, patience, trial, and error, as well as a skilled psychiatrist to find the right medication and dosage for an individual.

Naturopathic Treatment of Mental Health Leads to Whole Body Health

Addressing the whole person is a treatment for longevity. Conversely, the long-term use of many pharmaceuticals has increasing detrimental effects such as dependence (in the case of sleeping pills); dementia or foggy brain (in the case of some anxiety medications). From a holistic perspective, mental health can be the herald for whole body health.

If you are struggling with mental health and are interested in this whole body approach, call me today and we can develop treatment options that are right for you.

720-340-0193

On the first Monday of the new school year I found myself taking two calls from two different schools telling me that both my kiddos were feeling crummy and needed a ride home. Yes, already. Before long, everyone in our house felt under-the-weather.

While no one wants to be sick or see their children get sick either, becoming ill from time to time is actually important. Catching a cold is an educational exercise for our immune systems. The ability to mount an appropriate healing response is a sign of good health. While getting sick all the time is problematic, getting sick occasionally is reassuring and an opportunity to slow down, reflect, and reassess.

As a naturopathic doctor with two kids and a partner that works in the public school system as well, my family has ample opportunity to contract illness. Given that, I still aim for prevention. Healthy lifestyle habits go a long way to minimize risk, and decrease the severity and duration when illness does strike. Here are my recommendations to weather this cold and flu season well.

  • SLEEP: Sleep is critical to overall health and immune system function. Make sure that you and your family members prioritize the appropriate amount of sleep.
  • HYGIENE:
    • Wash your hands. Whenever anyone comes home from work or school, make sure they wash hands upon entering the house. Note that research is conclusive: old fashioned soap and water work just as well as antimicrobial soap or hand sanitizer and have the added benefit of not being harmful to us (carcinogenic, endocrine disruptor, create lethal superbugs).
    • Remind yourself and your kids how to effectively cover your cough and sneezes: Use the crook of your elbow, not your hand.
    • Keep the house on the cooler side as germs like warm environments.
    • Air out the house briefly (ie: open up all the windows and maybe doors) daily or at least weekly, even in the cold of winter.
  • EXERCISE: Regular moderate exercise enhances immunity.
  • GO OUTSIDE: Whether this is for exercise specifically or just to get out, do it. Fresh air and sunlight is good for us. Cold air is not bad for us. Dress and layer comfortably for the weather and keep your neck and ears warm. If you have a young child, dress them the way you dress to keep comfortable; i.e., if you get cold and put your hood up, put theirs up too.
  • HYDRATION: Sufficient water intake is critical to every function in our body, not the least of which is expelling pathogens. Being adequately hydrated can tip the scale from successfully staving off full-blown illness or succumbing to it.
  • DIET: A whole foods diet supports optimal health. Highly processed foods or “food-like substances,” and those with added sugar, actually suppress your immune system.
  • STRESS: Throughout these months when life doesn’t slow down and we are additionally exposed to so many pathogens, it is more important than ever to have routine coping mechanisms such as mindfulness, breath work, and yoga  – as well as any other exercises or activities that bring you joy.
  • SUPPLEMENTATION: I am not actually a big fan of taking supplements myself or for my children, however, you may find us taking them this time of year:
    • PROBIOTICS: Ideally, you will be consuming probiotics in the food you eat – from your garden or the farm your food came from, from yogurt, miso, sauerkraut, kombucha, and any other of the varieties of fermented foods now available at many grocery stores. If you feel like you are not good at getting probiotics into your diet, consider taking a potent probiotic supplement.
    • VITAMIN C: Vitamin C helps prevent and/or reduce the duration of the common cold (Note: It only works as prevention if you regularly take it). Food sources of vitamin C include: papaya, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, strawberries, pineapple, oranges, kiwi, cantaloupe, and cauliflower.
    • ZINC: Zinc also helps reduce the duration and severity of the common cold, and many people are deficient in zinc. Food sources include: beef, lamb, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, lentils, garbanzo beans, cashews, turkey, quinoa, and shrimp.
    • BLACK ELDERBERRY: Taken as a syrup or even better as a warm tea, this is a delicious fall and wintertime routine. Black elderberry is an antiviral useful in preventing the flu.
    • TULSI TEA: This is a readily available (at most grocery stores) herbal tea that helps your body simply adapt to the various stressors of life, including a change in season. For best results, drink it daily.

Here’s to our beautiful weather, and may you weather it beautifully!

If you feel run down or need immune system support, please call to make an appointment: 720-340-0193

Even the best-intentioned parents can get burned out on this never-ending school-year task. And with all of the allergies in the classrooms, you might have a challenge getting your child a yummy snack they will eat, not to mention something appropriately balanced to meet their nutritional needs, healthy, and also, safe for their peers. Fortunately, this article should help. We know a healthy diet is critical to optimal learning and getting things done, yet it also helps with other executive functions like organization and decision making.

First tip, only offer foods that you really want your kids to be eating. If you don’t want them eating something, don’t buy it and keep it in the house. While in our house we are omnivores, I do not stock much in the way of “snacky” foods: crackers, chips, puffed things, pretzels – these foods, when they are in our home – disappear quickly. Kids, like many adults, love the quick hit of a simple carb (yet it is important to remember, they turn to sugar in the body).

(Resource: Here is a fun class coming up with Laura McCall at The Birth Center – Foodies For Life!)

I counsel all my patients to have a little bit of protein every time they eat in order to increase satisfaction and maintain optimal blood sugar. This extends to snacks for our kids. Good choices for classroom friendly proteins include: seed butters, cheeses, greek yogurt, leftover meat, nitrate-free deli meats, summer sausage, or jerky.

If I could, I would always stick to fresh foods, but I know that convenient, non-perishables sometimes win. When I buy pre-packed non-perishable snacks, I let my kids know they are for away-from-home snacks, and not to eat them at home. Instead we stick to fresh foods, even when we go out as a family on excursions. Creative and portable home-packaging, like reusable wax cloth or metal containers, will work for most fresh items. I like to have fruits and veggies readily available, and accompanying complementary proteins (see above). My no-brainer school snack looks like this: fruit + veggie + protein (see photo). A common question that I get is about snack bars. They are almost universally shockingly loaded with carbs and have relatively little protein.

Lunches can be tricky too, so just keep it simple. Honestly, dinner leftovers make the best school lunches. Yet, my kids don’t like leftovers for lunch, which is fine because I love them ;-). Sometimes my kids have packed sammies with lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, shredded carrots, cheese or meat – mmmm! Other times, I take the ingredients of a sandwich and put them in separately, like little appetizers, adding up to a complete meal. As long as it is well-balanced and has veggies and protein, I let them eat what they want, and it is usually pretty simple. A great benefit to packing lunches for kids is that when they get home, they can finish what they didn’t eat at lunch, before grabbing a new snack from the fridge. This will also reduce food waste.

A word on school hot lunches: It is a good idea to offer your child some control and choice. Years ago, I started letting my kids look at the school lunch calendar and pick out what day they wanted to eat a school lunch. Last October, my mom passed away and some of my “what should the kids eat at school tomorrow” bandwidth just fell by the wayside. As a result, my kids ate hot lunches for almost the entire year last year. I am grateful that we have such a good lunch program where I live. I often inquired what they had for lunch, and at least at the elementary level, my son was sent back on more than one occasion to get another “food color” or to choose a protein…to my absolute delight! These are things that our kids have learned at home, and it is wonderful to see them reinforced at school. Still, taking the time to pack food for your child (or letting them pack it with your guidance or within your guidelines), feels right and offers all the benefits discussed above, not the least being optimal nutrition. However, if you need to use the school lunch program, here in Boulder Valley anyway, we have it pretty good. Coach your kids at home to make good choices on their own. And then relax about it.

As our children leave summer behind and head back to the rigorous routines of fall, it is important to revisit sleep habits. Due to the extra hours of daylight (not to mention the ability to sleep later during summer break), many of our children find themselves struggling at the start of the school-year. Suddenly staying up a little later becomes a liability once they have to get up earlier for school. This can make for a hard transition into the academic year. Starting the year off well can set the stage for success for the rest of the year. Help your students be successful by consciously going back to the night time habits that promote enough sleep.

What happens when we sleep? We gain many different benefits from sleep: memory consolidation (solidifying learning), normal daytime wakefulness and hunger/satiety signaling (research shows kids cannot learn well when hungry), as well as optimal immune system function (less sick days) all require appropriate amounts of sleep (see chart below). Similarly, less than optimal sleep can contribute to an inability to concentrate, make the best decisions, or be engaged socially. Getting good sleep is important for everyone, but especially important to consider as our children make the transition back to school.

The National Sleep Foundation is an excellent resource for all things sleep-related.

If you or your child needs help problem-solving your sleep, call me to setup an appointment: 720-340-0193.

Additionally, if you have a baby affecting your ability to sleep, consider working with our fabulous sleep coach at The Postpartum Wellness Center/Boulder, Jessica Schaeffer

Optimal executive functioning allows the ability to process complex information/instructions, plan, organize, and complete a task. Executive Functioning takes place in the slow-to-develop frontal lobe, which explains why some kids simply can’t get organized. Seth Perler, Executive Function coach for middle, high school, and college students (see sethperler.com) states that the foundation for having optimal executive functioning (what he simply calls the ability to get things done) is restful sleep, food that nourishes the body, and adequate exercise; alternatively he notes what makes executive functioning worse. The top 3 items… processed foods, sleep problems, and lack of exercise.

Not surprisingly, a healthy diet, adequate restful sleep, and exercise are the foundations of overall well-being!

If your child could benefit from holistic support with executive functioning &/or ADHD, call to setup and appointment: 720-340-0193.

 

Despite being a beautiful time of year (check out this picture of my crabapple tree!), this time of year many people suffer with seasonal allergies. A few common-sense approaches can help.

  1. REDUCE YOUR EXPOSURE: If you can minimize exposure to the substances you are allergic to, then you can minimize symptoms, including your histamine levels. Allergy sufferers should consider these household strategies:
    • IN THE BEDROOM:
      • Keep windows closed
      • Keep bedroom especially clean & door closed
      • Do not allow pets in room
      • Use a HEPA air filter in the bedroom
    • Frequent damp dusting throughout the house & vacuuming with a vacuum that uses a HEPA filter
    • Keep windows closed during high pollen times
    • Use the highest filtration HVAC filter
    • Bathe (including washing hair) before bed
    • Remove shoes when entering home
    • Plan outdoor/exercise time around high pollen predictions. Check pollen.com.
    • Change clothes and wash face immediately after outdoor exercise or activity
    • Nasal irrigation with a neti pot (or other method) helps to wash away dust and pollen that have accumulated in your sinuses throughout the day, reducing symptoms of allergic rhinitis, the stuffed up nose that comes with many allergies.
  2. MINIMIZE OTHER SOURCES OF INFLAMMATION
    • Eliminate known food allergies or sensitivities
    • Eliminate sugar & dairy during the allergy season, as these are the two most common inflammatory foods.
  3. SUPPLEMENT PROTOCOLS to moderate the immune system and reduce inflammation can be helpful as well. Some common supplements I use with my patients include:
    • Probiotics – Some unhealthy microbes in your gut can produce histamine. Support healthy diversity in your gut microbiome.
    • Quercitin
    • Vitamin C
    • Stinging nettles
    • Fish oil

Over the counter medications may help but are notorious for not working as well as advertised and leave many people feeling groggy.

For the latest information on how seasonal allergies affect mental health, keep an eye out for my upcoming post on the Postpartum Wellness Center/Boulder’s blog.

Call to set an appointment with me: 720-340-0193

Join my mailing list here.

During Well-Woman Visits, The Woman (That’s You) Has the Voice

Along with general health support and treatment for illnesses, I offer flexible, patient-centered, well-woman care including postpartum checks, pelvic exams, and pap smears.  I practice with a commitment to individualized care and I take time with each patient. As a postpartum mom, this is not your typical “clear to resume sex” visit. During any pelvic exam, the women who I see are in control and have choices. I use a trauma-informed approach for the entire well-woman visit. I do everything I can to make this visit as comfortable as possible for my patients. And I am always open to feedback.

Sound like you need to learn more or make an appointment? Call me: 720-340-0193

Humans evolved to move. Movement was literally survival. Our ancestors did not need to think unless they were moving. We have known for some time how beneficial exercise is with regard to weight, heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. But did you know that our brains’ biochemistry functions optimally if movement is a lifestyle? Did you know exercise creates neurons? We can grow our brains! Sparking Life, an organization founded by Dr. John Ratey, MD, is on a mission to transform America’s sedentary lifestyle. To bring movement back into our lives – to improve our children’s learning capacity, to reduce the negative effects of stress, to manage mental health issues such as ADD, anxiety, depression, and to maintain our cognitive abilities as we age.

It is never too late. Some is good; more is better.

Psychoneuroimmunology investigates the interactions between the brain and the body. Just like exercise turns out to be equally beneficial to the brain as it is to any other system in the body, a mindfulness or meditative practice is as good for the body as it is for the mind. Afterall, a person is a whole being rather than simply the sum of its parts. If you do not have a meditative practice, religious, spiritual, or otherwise, I encourage you to seek one out. UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center offers free downloadable short (3-19 minutes duration) guided meditations to get you started.

Looking for mindfulness resources for your young person? Check out Cosmic Kids’ free video resources at www.cosmickids.com.