How’s that resolution working out? The beginning of a new year means we once again start caring about improving our health for at least a month—and hopefully even longer. But most recommendations we hear either require less of something we like, or more of something we don’t. A bad habit can be hard to break, just as a healthy habit hard to make. So, we scoured for tips to well-being that might survive beyond January; don’t worry, they don’t require monk-like levels of self denial or binge-eating broccoli while sprinting on a treadmill.
With any luck, 2017 will be the year we focus on a more complete vision of health—especially given the impending/potential repeal of Obamacare, which could take health care away from millions of Americans. In order to get a more holistic view of what can be done, we asked local doctors from varying disciplines for their best health advice. What follows are their top-five tips.
Cannabidiol, or CBD, is usually administered through oral capsules or sprays, but there are also tongue drops and balms. It can be purchased at health food stores and apothecaries.
“It is one of the most promising ingredients I’ve found in all my years doing medicine,” says Aimée Gould Shunney, a practicing naturopathic doctor at Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine, of cannabidiol. “Because it is hemp-derived, it is not psychoactive, does not get you high, and you don’t need a prescription to get it.”
Shunney says CBD modulates the stress response by acting on the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that manages emotional life, and that it is particularly effective at helping with sleep and anxiety issues. “Helping to manage stress is particularly important, because doctors often don’t have enough time to create stress resilience with their patients,” she says. “Stress will always be there, so the question is how to treat more than the symptoms and create better stress resilience.” She continues, “It has really been a game-changer. It’s been very well-received, and is safe, fast and reliable.”
Although nothing is for everyone, Shunney reports that the vast majority of people experience positive outcomes. “It balances them on a foundational level,” she says.
Perhaps best of all, not only is it not addictive but unlike many other medications, Shunney adds, patients often report needing less and less CBD over time. Many people are able to partially or completely wean off of their other, more serious and addictive medications like opiates for pain and benzodiazepines for anxiety. CBD has minimal side effects, and the worst one is apparently feeling too sleepy.
“It is one of the most amazing additions to my practice in the last 16 years,” says Shunney, who adds that the treatment holds tremendous promise for the future.
Roll With the Seasons
From the Ayurvedic perspective, health is not just about the absence of disease; it is a holistic state of equilibrium between multiple facets of the body and mind. Manish Chandra, an Ayurvedic practitioner, asserts that one way to find your own equilibrium heading into the new year is to know yourself and your own particular dosha, or constitution, and to follow a diet and lifestyle based on that.
“It is unique to each person,” Chandra says. “One size does not fit all.” (One can find his or her own dosha by taking a quiz online.)
Although different lifestyles and diets work for different people, Chandra says, one thing that too many of us engage in is an Ayurvedic concept known as prajnaparadha. “It translates to ‘crimes against wisdom,’” explains Chandra, using the example that immunity is compromised in winter because we don’t follow seasonal routines. “Animals know to follow the patterns of the natural world, but many humans don’t, and that’s often why we get sick.”
For this reason, Chandra says it is important to not only know oneself, but also to know the season. “Not all foods and lifestyles are appropriate for all seasons,” he says. “Winter is not the time to be doing cold and raw foods. Instead, it is a time to be eating more warm and grounding foods.” He says that sipping warm water is a good way to provide heat to the body during cold weather, and that it also helps to cleanse the intestinal lining. “Turmeric and ginger are also particularly helpful in the winter because they are antibacterial and antiviral,” Chandra adds. He also recommends taking advantage of nature giving us long, dark nights during the winter to sleep and rest more, and become more spiritually introverted. “It is a time to go inward, to contemplate and reflect, and it’s a great opportunity to get to know oneself better.”
The most important health recommendation that nutrition consultant and MS/RD Jocelyn Dubin makes for the new year is all about bacteria. And she recommends more of it, not less. After all, a major factor that determines our overall health is the relative amount of good and bad bacteria that call our bodies home.
“We are more bacteria than human,” Dubin says. “The bacteria cells actually outnumber our human cells.”
And what’s a good way to culture the kind of healthy bacteria that leads to a healthy human? “Eat fermented foods,” Dubin says. “We lose healthy bacteria every day, so they must be replenished. It is important to create a diverse army in our gut; our gut health determines overall health.”
Kimchi and sauerkraut are some of the best examples of fermented foods loaded with healthy bacteria, while some yogurts are also beneficial, as long as they have live and active cultures.
The best bacteria for us, Dubin says, are naturally cultured at normal human body temperatures. This is why she also recommends her clients eat foods like cold miso—such as in salad dressings and dipping sauces—and refrigerated pickles. Healthy bacteria start to die above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, so foods like miso soup and non-refrigerated pickles may lose some or all of their healthy bacteria due to high temperature.
As easy as it is to get emotionally lost in the whirlwind of everyday life and the increasingly negative news cycle, it’s important to regularly assess one’s internal mental state, and be mindful if mental or physical red flags start to pop up.
Dr. Kirsten Carraway, a licensed clinical psychologist, recommends conceptualizing mental and emotional health as if they were on the opposite side of a balance scale.
“Take stock of the factors in your life that recharge you (coping strategies), as well as the factors that deplete you (stressors),” she writes in an email. “Regularly assess whether these two sides of the scale are in balance, as the balance changes often with life circumstances.
“If you are experiencing symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression, pain, illness, physical symptoms, sleep disturbance, fatigue, etc.), your stressors are likely outweighing your coping strategies,” Carraway adds.
What to do if this is the case?
“Make choices in your life about how to achieve a better balance by enhancing coping strategies and by reducing what stressors you can, thereby adjusting factors on both sides of the balance,” she says.
Not only does the balance scale visualization make intuitive sense, it also empowers by allowing one to attack her or his emotional health from two different sides. It’s important to be cognizant of the stressors in life, but changing or removing them often ranges from difficult to impossible. However, we can all do more to “recharge” ourselves and add more fulfilling behaviors, activities and coping strategies into the mix.
The word “exercise” often conjures up images of gyms, stationary bikes and elliptical machines, but the key is simply movement, which can take on various forms and doesn’t have to feel like hell.
“Exercise is key, and is a gain for both mental and physical fitness,” says Dr. Mary Patz, an internal medicine specialist of Palo Alto Medical Foundation. “Everyone has a capacity for some form of exercise no matter their age and functional status.”
Not only do exercise and movement help with physical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol, they also have far-reaching impacts on the mind-body connection and mental health as well. “More and more behavioral health specialists discuss exercise as part of treatment for both anxiety and depression,” Patz says, noting that one of the best recommendations for people to stave off dementia is aerobic exercise. “Frequent exercise can be an outlet for more social interaction as well.” Activities like going to the gym and attending exercise classes can often lead to increased socialization, which is in and of itself a healthy behavior.
“Also important is moderation, with regard to diet and alcohol,” says Patz, who laments the number of people she sees who don’t even make an effort to curb their intake. “One in 10 Americans is a functional alcoholic—but in moderation, this can be a safe and perhaps beneficial enjoyment for most people.”
Patz also stresses moderation in diet, due to the number of food addictions and eating disorders she encounters. “I am concerned about progressive food restriction and fads, especially among younger women where ‘healthy’ eating seems, at extreme, more a cover for eating disorder behavior,” she says. “Most people are able to eat most things—what we lack is the ability to achieve moderation.”