Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are You Good to Your Heart?

While I was at the Institute for Functional Medicine Convention a couple of weeks ago, I got to listen to Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a cardiologist from Southern California and the winner of the Linus Pauling award this year for her outstanding work.  I just finished reading her book, The Heart Speaks, in which she talks about her journey from being a type A, by-the-book cardiologist to someone who has grown to appreciate and respect the power and influence that thoughts, feelings, emotions, and a sense of belonging have on heart health.   Because of this, she began support groups for her heart patients that included yoga and meditation, and she was initially laughed at by her peers.  Today, her classes are full and her programs are a success.  In fact, in her book, she quotes Larry Dossey who said:

“Scientists working in the new field of psychoneuroimmunology have demonstrated the existence of infinite links between parts of the brain concerned with thought and emotion and the neurological and immune systems.  Based on these discoveries, we know beyond doubt that thought can become biology.”

I’m always talking about the importance of a healthy diet, but if you’ve ever been to one of my talks, then you’ve heard me speak about ‘primary food’, which is everything in our life except food (which is considered secondary food).  This may include career, relationships, your spiritual practice, etc.  Whatever balance may look like for you in these areas, that is to say, whatever combination of factors in your area of primary food make you happy or feel a sense of well-being, if they’re not being fulfilled, then the negative impact they have on you emotionally in some ways can be just as bad as eating fast food everyday for lunch.  

Eating all the kale and quinoa in the world will not prevent an unhealthy balance of hormones that can arise from constant anger, frustration, or despair.   And of course, living under a cloud of constant negative emotions will eventually influence the steps we take–or don’t take–to maintain our health.

Dr. Guarneri tells remarkable stories about some of her patients and how it wasn’t until they overcame emotional issues, opened the lines of communication with their spouses, or found a reason to live (one elderly woman got herself a small dog and it changed her world) that they were able to get on the road to recovery. She also described a high-powered, female executive patient who had no signs of heart disease or risk factors yet who had suffered a heart attack that was brought on by intense anger and an emotional outburst.   

And, she tells some fascinating stories about the power of prayer and how one of her patients was transformed by a healer.   Not something that you would hear most doctors talk about or even believe in.   She certainly didn’t until she saw a miraculous recovery.  She even uses the power of healing touch herself on her patients that helped spare one from surgery.

Overall, this book has me taking a look at my life, my relationships, and anywhere I may be harboring negativity or other low energy emotions that could be harming me physically.  It has reminded me of the importance of primary food in my life, in addition to diet and exercise.

One night at the conference, I met Dr. Guarneri.  A small group of women were talking, and she mentioned to us half jokingly that she would like to give up her practice and start farming.   I told her if she wanted some tips on how to get started to go visit my daughter in Northern California.  She smiled… 

Think about all the ways you may be hurting your heart and the impact it is having on your life or of those around you.  Then, commit to turning those actions around to something positive.  You may be surprised how far-reaching your actions go.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Safely Protect Your Skin from the Inside and Out

What’s going on?  The use of sunscreens and the spf factors have both increased, yet the rate of skin cancers is also increasing.  There are lots of theories about this.  One is that we are just not applying them properly or that we are overestimating their ability to protect our skin. 

Another theory is that some of the chemicals found in many sunscreens are actually harmful and may be contributing to skin damage.  For example, vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate) applied topically has been shown to actually accelerate the development of tumors.  And several additional ingredients found in very popular sunscreens actually generate free radicals themselves when they absorb the sun’s UV radiation.

Then there’s the issue of blocking our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D when we’re not letting in the sun’s rays.  Vitamin D is so important for a strong immune system and bones, and it’s thought to help prevent several types of cancer.  In addition, there is still no compelling evidence to suggest that when used properly, sunscreens reduce the risk of skin cancer. 

From someone who has had melanoma, this is something I’m particularly interested in.  To take matters in my own hands, here are the things that I do and recommend for you and your family.  You’ve heard many of these before, but it’s always nice to get a reminder…

Avoid direct sun at its hottest - You know that the sun is hottest when it is at it’s highest–usually between 10 am and 2 pm, depending on where you are.  Try to stay out of the direct sun during those hours. If you can get your yard or garden work done or your bike ride in early or later in the day, you’ll need less cover-up and the temperature will be more bearable. 

Cover up - We’ve all experienced tan lines from a bathing suit, so we understand how effective clothing can be at preventing sun exposure.  If I’m at the beach these days, you’ll find me wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a long-sleeve, linen cover-up.  Alternatively, I’m under an umbrella.  Avoiding the direct sunlight is the best way to prevent sunburn.  Also remember that an overcast day won’t prevent the sun’s rays from reaching you, so cover up on a cloudy day as well.

Wear sunglasses - Many people don’t realize that like the skin, UV radiation can also damage the eyes.  An “eye sunburn” from excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time can cause photokeratitis–a condition that can feel like grittiness or a foreign object in the eye.  This is something that usually clears up.  However, excessive, long-term exposure to the sun can increase the risk of cateracts or macular degeneration.  

For the safety of you and your family (even small children), wear sunglasses that block out 99 - 100% of both UV-A and UV-B radiation as well as 75 - 90% of visible light.  For more information, check the American Optometric Association’s website.

Wear a safe sunscreen - Although there is still no compelling evidence to suggest it prevents skin cancer, keeping your skin burn-free is certainly one way to lower the risk. When choosing a sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group recommends choosing one that is free from several ingredients, including oxybenzone or vitamin A. 

Of all the products they’ve evaluated, they recommend non-mineral sunscreens with avobenzone or mineral-based formulas using zinc or titanium (however, not in spray or powder form).  Check their site for a list of the safest bets to choose from.

Don’t forget to apply it to the feet and the ears–this is actually a common spot for skin cancer.  For women, it’s the back of the legs, which is where I had it.  Reapply after going into the water or after sweating. 

Eat your fruits and veggies! -  Studies have shown that carotenoids and flavonoids, which protect plants from photo damage, also help prevent UV damage in humans and animals.  One study showed that mice who were fed the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin had a reduction in the UV-B induced inflammatory response and also exhibited less cell death and less inappropriate cell development.

Lycopene, which is abundant in tomatoes (and is found in watermelon), has been shown to decrease the sensitivity of UV-induced erythema (redness of the skin).  In addition, a meta analysis of seven studies also concluded that beta-carotene supplementation protects against sunburn.   And the longer the duration of supplementation, the better the protection.

What better way to protect ourselves from the damaging rays than from the inside out?  A strong arsenal of internal antioxidants will help to offset the damage that sunscreens don’t prevent and a consistently healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits will ensure that we’re getting the best natural protection.

I wish you all a happy and healthy and sunburn-free summer!