We have all thought it, and we have all done it. A thought makes you “sick to your stomach”. Faced with a tough choice or situation, you go with your “gut-instinct”. These phrases have been in our vernacular for a long time, and yet, we have forgotten their literal meaning. In fact, these familiar idioms happen to be true. We have a bi-directional highway of information and instruction between our gut and our brain.

Treating The Mind And The Body Naturopathically in Boulder, CO

Many people suffering from mental health issues also have gastrointestinal symptoms but never correlate them. Meanwhile, a naturopathic approach to gut health has been beneficial for people dealing with mental health issues, even when no gastrointestinal symptoms are reported.

A variety of pharmaceutical medications exist for gastrointestinal symptoms. Unsurprisingly, and not unlike the pharmaceutical approach to mental health, these medicines treat just one aspect of a person’s experience.

A naturopathic approach treats the whole person a treatment for longevity. Pharmaceuticals can have nasty side-effects, and often are not safe for long-term use.

Our minds and our bodies are one entity; treating them that way offers the best outcomes for whole-person well-being.

Gut Health is Determined by The Gut Microbiome

Before I dive deep into the bi-directional gut-brain connection, we need to understand the foundation of gut health. It is determined by the state of the gut microbiome.

The gut microbiome is the collective community of microbes inhabiting the gut. We need a healthy gut microbiome because they serve many, many important functions in the body. Specifically, they:

  • Form a protective barrier to the enterocytes, our cells that line the intestines.
  • Produce organic acids to control the pH near the wall of the gut, making the environment unfriendly to harmful microbes.
  • Produce various anti-microbial substances against harmful microbes that might otherwise make us sick.
  • Stimulate the immune system to respond to harmful microorganisms.
  • Are helpful in neutralizing toxic environmental substances
  • Can inactivate histamine (see my PWCB blog post on histamine and mental health)
  • Can chelate heavy metals
  • Suppress hyperplastic processes in the gut, which is the basis of cancer formation
  • Provide a major source of energy and nutrients for the enterocyte cells lining the gut.
  • Are involved in every part of digestion and absorption in the gut.
  • Have identified roles in mood, emotional regulation, neuromuscular function, and regulation of the HPA (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal) axis.

Know What Harms The Gut Microbiome

Knowing all of the amazing things that the gut microbiome does for us, it is also helpful to be aware of things that will disrupt it. The following will damage healthy gut flora:

  • Antibiotics
  • A diet of refined carbs, sweeteners, chemically altered foods, and otherwise highly processed packaged foods.
  • Prolonged fasting
  • Disease/illness
  • Stress
  • Oral contraceptive pills
  • Extreme physical exertion
  • Alcoholism
  • A variety of drugs
  • Toxic exposures
  • Extreme climates

Support The Gut Microbiome

Eating well protects the gut.

Dietary factors that will support gut microbiome health: A whole foods diet high in vegetable fiber, including fermented foods and free from packaged, processed foods, added sweeteners, and fake-food ingredients.

Gut Microbes Regulate The Gut-Brain Connection

Gut microbes (good or bad) regulate the bi-directional gut-brain communication pathway. The four identified major pathways within it include:

  1. Neurologic Pathway – involved in production of neurotransmitters in the gut such as GABA, serotonin, melatonin, histamine, acetylcholine, as well as the generation of catecholamines.
  2. Endocrine Pathway – involved in sleep/wake cycle regulation, feeding, mood, blood pressure regulation, and the stress response by directly stimulating cortisol release from the adrenal cortex and norepinepherine from the adrenal medulla.
  3. Humoral/Metabolic Pathway – bacterial metabolites exert hormone-like activity, have immunomodulatory properties, stimulate the sympathetic (fight-or-flight) nervous system, are involved in behavior modulation, regulate the synthesis of gut-derived serotonin (approximately 95% of total body serotonin). A bacterial metabolite called LPS stimulates an immune response and is known to be elevated in patients with major depressive disorder.
  4. Immune Pathway – immune-mediated gut inflammation is stimulated during times of dysbiosis, increasing gut-wall permeability and dysregulating bi-directional communication of the gut-brain axis as well as activating pain sensory pathways leading to visceral hypersensitivity.

Diet to Restore Gut Health after Acute Infection Guide

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Anxiety And Depression Occur With Gastrointestinal Disorders

Given the body of biochemical research and evidence, it is no surprise that mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression, are strongly linked to gastrointestinal dysfunction.

Research also demonstrates that individuals who suffer from anxiety, for instance, can have an exacerbation after acute illness or antibiotic administration. Similarly, findings into gastrointestinal diseases show that individuals with IBS/IBD often have psychological diagnoses as well.

Day to Day Well-Being with Meghan Van Vleet, ND

Naturopathic doctors specialize in Whole Body Health, and naturopathic philosophy understood the gut-brain connection long before the research validated it. We can all put the gut-brain connection information to use in our day to day.

I suggest supporting a healthy gut-brain pathway through your daily habits and routines (discussed here), and using the knowledge of the bi-directional pathway when developing healthy strategies. Understanding that you can affect your gut health with your mental health (and vice versa) can offer coping mechanisms for life.

Naturopathic Coping Strategies For Life

For example, if your dietary routines are interrupted by forces outside of your control such as travel, holidays, or eating out, what do you do?

You might suffer with GI distress and get thrown off your entire game. Maybe your anxiety is triggered and your mood is compromised. Maybe both.

Knowing these possibilities (and possibly having experienced them before), consider minimizing/mitigating your situation by applying a different approach:

  • Use mindfulness and gratitude. Acknowledge that while the food you are eating is not normally part of your wellness plan, you can still be thankful for food, you can be thankful for the company that you share your food with, and you can be grateful for the celebration that the food is a part of, etc. Most importantly, you can enjoy the experience of the foods you partake in relish it.
  • Try a meditation. Research has shown that food that is prayed over can have less of an inflammatory impact and is more easily digested. Instead of worrying about the harmful effects a meal or snack might have on your health, consider doing a visualization meditation where the food that you eat nourishes your body, every cell, your whole being.

Stressful Times: More Important Than Ever To Support The Gut

Conversely, life can deal us some surprises.

When you find yourself in the aftermath of a particularly stressful event, trauma, or illness, you may feel like your overall health takes a huge hit. In stressful times, when energy resources might be low, supporting optimal gut health is more important than ever.

The best way to support your gut is through the right diet. It helps quench the inflammation generated by any variety of stressors. Additionally, stress puts higher nutrient demands on your body which, if not met, can contribute to poor mental health and cognitive function.

Be Proactive: Work With A Naturopathic Doctor

Working with a naturopathic doctor can help you organize your day and life in a way that is proactive, rather than reactive. Expect life disruptions and have backup plans.

  • Keep 1 or 2 nourishing, gut soothing meals in the freezer 
  • Know where you can get pre-prepared meals that fit the bill.
  • If you can’t make your yoga class, for example, try 5-10 minutes of mindfulness and movement at home or in your hotel room.
  • Have an app on your phone for mindfulness/meditation that you can use whenever you have 3 spare minutes.

Doctor As Teacher: A Principle Of Naturopathic Medicine

Change can be hard.

Lifestyle changes don’t need to happen overnight.

Let new education and understanding be the driving force behind your efforts.  Working with a naturopathic doctor will give you a new education and understanding; it will help you make proactive lifestyle changes.

Knowing about the bi-directional gut-brain highway can help you best strategize when you are unable to control aspects of your situation and life.

Work With Meghan Van Vleet, ND, Naturopath in Boulder, CO

If you suffer with any amount of gastrointestinal discomfort, or if you struggle with your mental health, give me a call. I can help. 720-340-0193

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

Boulder’s air quality has been all over the map this summer. Hazy, smokey days, even when the fires are not homegrown, are not as rare as they once were. As fires become more prevalent throughout the country, winds may bring smoke from just about anywhere; therefore, it is a good idea to know how to best support optimal respiratory health. If you can see it in the air, you are breathing it. It may be causing symptoms such as a stuffy nose and a frequent need to clear your throat. Accordingly, recent air quality reports suggest children stay inside – this, just as school is starting up, and just when they really need to be outdoors to blow off some steam. It can be a real real bummer! Here are some commonsense things you can do to increase the quality of air in your home during these times, as well as some herbal and nutritional safeguards you might want to know about. After all, we still need to move our bodies outside.

First of all, know your risks. Do you have a very young child in the home? If so, his/her lungs are not fully developed and so extra caution is in order. Do you have a lung disease, asthma, or other chronic lung condition? If so, proceed with caution. Even without these predisposing factors, anyone can suffer if breathing air with extra particulate in it. And with cold and flu season right upon us, the poor air quality can make individuals even more susceptible to germs going around.

Start with some common sense:

  • Check the air quality reports and recommendations (Colorado Air Quality or Weather Underground Air Quality Index), and use your own best judgement as to weather the risks outweigh the benefits for you or your children to recreate outdoors. Also, consider how long and how much exertion you are comfortable with given the air quality.
  • When the air quality is poor, consider closing your windows. If you have forced air and are able, turn on the fan so that the air is run through the furnace filter. Use the highest quality air filter you can. Look into the highest filtration 3M Filtrete filters.
  • If you don’t have forced air (or even if you do), consider purchasing an air purifier. These can range greatly in quality, price, and volume. Here are some options:
    • Austin Air & EnviroKlenz both sell a variety of top notch air purifiers – from single-room purifiers to whole house air purifiers. These are an investment, yet, if you suffer from respiratory health issues, worth the money.
    • Guardian Technologies GermGaurdian is a useful more economical option for a single room: Lightweight and easy to move from room to room as needed.

Herbal approaches you can take today to support respiratory health:

  • Drink a tea daily that supports respiratory health, such as Breathe Deep by Yogi Tea.
  • Use Lavender and Eucalyptus oils in a diffuser (for 10 years and older).
  • Use elderberry syrup by the spoonful or mixed in water for a tasty drink.

Nutritional approaches to respiratory health:

  • Consume a mineral rich diet heavy in fruits and vegetables.
  • Reduce or eliminate any known food sensitivities/allergies that could contribute to congestion and inflammation.

Lastly, exercise and breath work are actually in order, even outdoors, if your routine calls for it. Rigorous exercise dilates airways and helps us clear our lungs of particulate when we cough. Regular deep breathing exercises help us maintain the full working capacity of our lungs.

So, if you can, go ahead and take a deep breath right now. If you are struggling with the air quality and would like support beyond these simple measures, I can help.

Call today 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.

 

There are more sunscreens on the market today than there have ever been before. If you don’t know just what you are looking for, or not looking for, the task of choosing the best sunscreen may be daunting.

About sun protection

First of all, realize that it is now widely accepted that sunscreen alone cannot afford adequate sun protection in order to prevent skin cancer or the aging-related effects of the sun. In fact, research shows that sunscreen may give a false confidence to users, especially those sunscreens with high SPFs, leading users to stay in the sun longer than they would otherwise without reapplying. SPF refers to a sunscreen’s ability to block out UVB rays, which cause sunburn. While UVA rays do not cause sunburn, they do promote skin aging and skin cancer, including melanoma. Most sunscreens in America today do not offer adequate UVA protection. The best way to protect your skin is a combination of appropriate sunscreen application and covering up.

Choose the best sunscreen

  • Chemical sunscreen or mineral sunscreen?

Chemical sunscreen goes on so easily and just the way you want it to – like a lotion. Chemicals in chemical sunscreens though (as opposed to mineral sunscreens) are unstable in sunlight, are known to contribute to skin damage and cancer, are hormone disruptors, have a shelf-life, and require strict adherence to application instructions for safety – and even then usually don’t provide the broad spectrum of protection users think they are getting (Note: Sunscreens claiming “broad spectrum protection” is misleading. Very few protect adequately from UVA rays). Chemical sunscreens are harmful to oceanic and freshwater life as well.

Mineral sunscreens offer more stable broad spectrum (UVA & UVB) protection, but historically have been much more difficult to apply and leave a chalky or white appearance on the skin and are difficult to wash off. Tinted mineral sunscreens rub off on light colored clothing and bathing suits and can leave stains. With the advent of nano-particle mineral sunscreens, some of this has changed. These sunscreens go on much more easily and don’t leave the same white layer….but lost is some of the UVA protection. (NOTE: Zinc oxide – think lifegaurds with white noses – provides the best UVA protection in sunscreen).

  • Spray or rub on application?

Spray applications, while extremely convenient, are problematic. Research shows that they do not provide adequate or even coverage – leading to further misplaced confidence in the sunscreen application. Additionally, it is inevitable that some of the sprayed sunscreen gets inhaled into the lungs becoming a respiratory irritant and increasing the risk for lung disease over time.

Rub-on application has improved some over time. Many kids (& adults!) dislike having cream applied. It can be hard to rub on evenly without making a huge mess as well. Enter the handy stick applicator. This allows dabbing and then rubbing, or with some more recent stick applicators on the market, can afford a smooth glide-on application. Then a little spreading with hands and done. These are compact and fit in a pocket,  purse, or backpack; are easy for kids at camp to independently reapply; and are far less likely to make a mess. This year, our household favorite is the MyChelle SunShield Stick SPF50. (I have no affiliation)

Wash it off!

Soap and water tend not to work so well at washing mineral sunscreen residue off. What does work though is oil. Most any oil will do: olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil all work effectively. Before bathing, apply oil all over and rub it in. Bathe as usual. BONUS: Not only will the sunscreen be washed away, but your skin will be moisturized.

Summary

Use a combination of rub-on mineral sunscreen, hats, and clothing to adequately protect yourself and your littles from the sun. For more information on sunscreen safety, visit the EWG 2018 Sunscreen Guide. Additionally, get your vitamin D checked! To learn more about vitamin D and how to strategically expose your skin to sun in order to produce more vitamin D, visit my previous blog post: Vitamin D and Sun Exposure.

Here’s to a summer of sun!

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

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What is chlorine and why do we use it?

Chlorine is a disinfectant commonly used in water treatment facilities as well as pools. The benefit of chlorine is that our drinking water is free of potentially deadly bacteria and pathogens, and our swimming pools are not the petri dish of germs they would be otherwise.

Is chlorine safe?

There is a cost to this level of sanitation. As it turns out, when chlorine reacts with pathogens and other compounds found in pool water such as urine and residues from bodycare products, volatile organic compounds are formed (VOCs). VOCs are lung and eye irritants (think about being at the indoor pool) and are thought to increase the risk of cancer. (Note: VOCs are also present in water treated with bromine and saline to different extents.) Chlorine also reacts with your skin and hair and stays with you for days despite regular bathing, further oxidizing hair and skin. Additionally, consuming chlorinated tap water is linked with an increase in reproductive risks for pregnant women.

What you can do to protect yourself and your family from the negative effects of chlorine

While a perfect solution is not available, there are many easy things you can do to protect yourself and your children from the harmful effects of chlorine:

  • Use a carbon filter or better for your drinking water. They are readily available, inexpensive, and easy to maintain. For more information, see the Environmental Working Group’s Water Filter Buying Guide.
  • Swim in fresh open water in the summer if you have access to a clean, safe watering hole.
  • Choose an outdoor pool when that feels like a good option, because the VOCs dissipate more readily outdoors.
  • Shower and use the toilet before entering the pool. The VOCs aren’t from the chlorine, but from the chlorine reacting with bodycare products and urine in the pool. Train your kids to get out of the pool to pee ;-).
  • When done swimming in any pool water, use Swim Spray, a vitamin C spray that washes away the coating of chemicals left on your skin after swimming in treated water. (Note: As with any spray products, be careful not to inhale it or get it in your eyes or mouth.)
  • Know that we are better off swimming in treated pools than in a petri dish, or even not at all. Swimming is an iconic summertime activity and can be an excellent form of exercise year-round!

Be safe and have fun!

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Vitamin D has gone from a little known alternative medicine subject to mainstream with lots of research supporting its functions and our need for it in the last 10 years. Vitamin D is unlike other vitamins as it actually acts like a hormone in the body. It is vital to overall wellness, and specifically is involved in bone, muscle, heart, lung, brain, and immune system health. The list of conditions with associated vitamin D deficiency is exhaustive, and includes a variety of cancers, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, diabetes, impaired immune function, cognitive impairment and depression.

Where does vitamin D come from?
Your body manufactures vitamin D through a series of biochemical reactions stimulated by sun exposure. You can also get it from supplementation. You can only get very small, insignificant amounts from foods you eat, such as egg yolks and fatty fish.

But sun exposure causes skin cancer!
Yes, this can also be true, but it is really sun over-exposure that becomes problematic. Due to public health efforts, many folks cover up and use sunscreen before ever entering the sun. While this may be a good strategy to prevent sunburns and potential skin cancer, it leaves a person deficient in vitamin D. Remembering that vitamin D deficiency is linked to impaired immunity and many cancers, this might not be the safest choice.

What should I do?
As with everything, I suggest an individualized approach. Ask yourself what your personal risk factors are: Do you have a family history of skin cancer, light skin and eyes? Do you have a family history of osteoporosis or autoimmunity? Do you experience any chronic inflammation? Think about your risks and your goals and proceed with thoughtfulness. Living in Colorado, you will likely need to supplement vitamin D, at the very least during the winter months depending on your occupation. In my opinion, a combined approach of supplementation and sun exposure is best.

Combined supplementation and sun exposure approach
I encourage my patients to get moderate sun exposure. Exposing broad areas of the body such as the front and back torso is more beneficial than simply the face and arms, for instance, due to surface area. You can intentionally sunbathe for 5-10 minutes a day, or if you are going to be outside anyway, wait 5-10 minutes before applying sunscreen and/or covering up. The key is to never get burned. Additionally, I supplement vitamin D based on test results, and retest at different times of the year in order to adjust supplementation.

For more information on vitamin D, visit The Vitamin D Council.

Check back soon for my upcoming post on Sunscreens.

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