Why Turmeric is Magical

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There’s a lot of hype about food being beneficial as a natural source of healing – pomegranate, acai, coconut oil, flax seed, chia seed, spinach. Okay, so all of these things are hype-worthy, but turmeric is on a whole other level of special.

Turmeric is yet another good thing my mom told me about when I was a kid and of course I made fun of her and wrote it off as one of her many old wives’ tales. She’s a quirky person, so it was easy to dismiss her natural healing suggestions. But the reality is, she’s also right about a lot of things. That last sentence was very difficult to write, by the way.

Turmeric for instance. She’s been giving me some strange concoction of warm milk, black pepper and turmeric since I was very young. She’d sprinkle it with just a tiny pinch of sugar to ward off any chance that I’d resist it, and it worked like a charm. I’d drink the brightly colored yellow elixir every time.

I also remember she’d hike up the dosage of the concoction when I wasn’t feeling well. “Drink it,” she’d demand. “This is what we did in India. It will heal you.” That was it. No further explanation. Witchcraft, I’d mumble under my breath. But dang it, she was right. And I didn’t need any explanation because it always worked. My mother was passing down principles of traditional Ayurvedic medicine, which is taught generationally through oral tradition.

So what is this thing called turmeric? Well, it is one of those magnificent spices with versatile benefits, including being a natural antibiotic.  This means it is touted for its infection fighting benefits, according to The University of Maryland Medical Center. And why black pepper? Because it activates curcumin, the compound in turmeric that’s the source of its benefits.

Turmeric also:
Reduces inflammation, preventing a host of diseases
Contains antioxidants, which help fight off cancer
Facilitates digestion

So why do we take medicines like harsh pharmaceutical antibiotics with dreadful side effects? Because they are more readily prescribed and unfortunately we put far more stock in “advanced” medicine than we do in natural medicine. Yet, natural methods have often been proven to stand the test of time. Turmeric for instance, has been used for the past 4,000 years.

Now I’m not suggesting you toss your doctor-prescribed medicine. They too have been proven to be very beneficial in some instances. And although turmeric is natural, too much of a good thing can cause problems. For instance, because it is a blood thinner, turmeric should not be consumed too close to an upcoming surgery. It is also known to help decrease blood sugar but if taken in combination with diabetes medication, it may cause hypoglycemia.

So if you come across information on complementary methods, why not run them by your doctor and have a discussion about how they may work for you? Some questions to ask:
Will turmeric (or other natural method) interact with any of my medications?
What side effects should I look out for?
What dosage should I take?

So all in all, Mom was right and I can no longer tease her, at least not about the magical benefits of turmeric.

More soon on how turmeric can be used in cooking.

 

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Sugar as Damaging to the Brain as Childhood Abuse?

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So there seems to be research suggesting that consumption of sugar is as equally detrimental as early childhood abuse and neglect. Sound extreme? Well, yes, however, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And am I researching the negative effects of sugar because I’m having a rough time giving it up? Well, yes, but that’s another story.

Based on an article from www.knowingneurons.com, the hippocampus – the area of the brain that involves learning, memory, and information processing – is clearly affected by consumption of sugar. The same damage caused by abuse, neglect, trauma and other early life adversities is what happens to the hippocampus when sugar is consumed excessively. I’d guess too that the combined effects of early life adversity and sugar consumption may be even more damaging.

Okay, I think I’m ready. Bye, sugar.

Where You Hiding, Sunshine?

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What is going on? This isn’t right. Why’s it dark at 4pm? Why am I sleepy by 8? And also, why is it so cold that the city’s a big ole’ ice rink? I had to check in with someone else to see if I was the only one who was this disgruntled. “Ladybug, what do you feel like doing when it’s cold outside?”

“Nothing.”

“What a coincidence! Me too.”

And on top of all that, many people’s vitamin D levels drop fast with sunlight deprivation, especially people with darker pigmentation. Although, don’t think this doesn’t affect you, my pigment-less friends. Anyone can be vitamin D deficient.

I have to say though, of all the annoying winter-related inconveniences, the vitamin D thing is what I cared about the least, because I didn’t think it was really causing any problems. But I was wrong. In fact, the more I read about it, the more I think a lot of us are affected. Apparently, vitamin D deficiency can be the explanation for several concerns, like fatigue, poor immune functioning, insulin resistance, multiple sclerosis and depression. So it’s time to pay more attention.

According to researchers, vitamin D deficiency is very treatable. Foods like the ones listed below, supplements and the sun (the optimal and most natural choice) can help increase vitamin D levels:

  • fatty fish
  • beef
  • cheese
  • egg yolks

Many foods are also vitamin D fortified, for example:

  • milk
  • some cereals
  • yogurt
  • orange juice

By the way, the sun is so vital to our health that there’s a whole website dedicated to it: http://www.sunshinevitamin.org.

I realize it sounds like a terrible contradiction to have to go outside and freeze your tail off in order to feel good, but apparently, it’s completely worth it.

How Nutrition is Linked to Depression

img_0354What does it look like? Depression can mean having a hard time getting out of bed, not wanting to talk, even to the people you love the most, feeling like it’s a chore to do things that used to be fun, having trouble concentrating or even remembering. It might sometimes mean having to pretend everything’s just fine.

The musician, Kid Cudi, recently shared that he has suffered from long-standing depression. Although we know success does not equate to feeling joy, some may wonder why someone like him would feel depressed. Unfortunately, depression can have many causes, including difficult life circumstances, medical changes or genetic predisposition. It can be a complicated process to understand, even for the person who is suffering.

I appreciate that Kid Cudi shared about his mental health, because at least for a little while, the media is accurately describing depression for what it is, not a shameful secret, not something that happens to someone else, and especially not a weakness of character, but an illness that may be affecting our colleagues, loved ones and even us. And we don’t have to pretend it isn’t.

There are ways sufferers may naturally manage symptoms or in some cases, even resolve them (under professional medical and psychological care), depending on the source, especially if they may be partly or fully due to nutritional imbalance.

  • One of the most common biological factors involved in depression is unbalanced blood sugar. Even if a person doesn’t have diabetes, fluctuation in blood sugar can affect mood negatively.
  • Chromium deficiency is another nutritional issue that can cause mood issues. It reduces insulin resistance so again, there’s the relationship between blood sugar and mood.
  • Food allergies are found to be related to depression. A food and mood log might help determine which foods are causing problems. To determine a pattern, it might be helpful to continue logging for a couple of months.
  • Omega-3 fats help build connections in the brain, so a deficiency can contribute to  negative mood.

Check out Food for the Brain to read more about natural options for depression. Speak with your primary care physician or psychiatrist, as well as a clinical therapist for appropriate care. An article in The Atlantic  gives some insight into Kid Cudi’s challenges with depression and his decision to receive treatment.

Really Mom, Coconut Oil? Moms and Their Myths.

imageI sat reluctantly on our living room floor as my mother roughly applied coconut oil to my hair. She ignored my bratty, ten-year-old complaints as streams of oil made their way down my face. I protested, fidgeted, and tried to escape her grip, only to be drawn back to my seat and jostled around into a near concussion as she continued the greasy ritual.

“You have to use coconut oil every night so you have nice, healthy hair,” she’d remind me. Yet, along with all the other pieces of random tales she’d offer, I placed her nuggets of advice into the section of my mind labeled, “Myths That Mom Makes Up.”

Coconut oil for hair and skin, turmeric for colds, hot tea for itchy throats, ginger for indigestion, they were all such weird remedies. Mom is a large advocate of I told you so’s, but I’m going to say it anyway. After many, many years of ridiculing her suggestions, I have found that she’s right. Ugh.

Although used for hundreds of years to improve health and nutrition, coconut oil is only now receiving popular attention. It is used in cooking, hormone imbalance, and even deodorant. Think of all of the preservatives that can be avoided by substituting coconut oil for everyday products that are often loaded with toxins, such as coffee creamer, soap and toothpaste. Check out this article http://draxe.com/coconut-oil-uses/ to learn about its many benefits.

There are various methods of extracting oil from coconut. This article provides information on the types: http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/what-type-of-coconut-oil-is-best-how-to-choose-a-coconut-oil/. It’s a bit lengthy but informative. If you’d like to skip to which extraction types are best, there’s a chart toward the bottom of the article. I’d love to hear how you’ve used coconut oil.

By the way, thanks Mom.

Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Ode to Coffee

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Sadly, I recently found out that my beloved – coffee – has been doing me wrong. Heartbreaking. I didn’t even see it coming. Everything was fine for several years, so I thought, No! It can’t be. Coffee was my best friend and trusted companion. Coffee came to work with me, walked to school with me through many chilling Chicago winters, even came to class and stayed up with me on late nights as I studied. More recently, coffee clocked in long hours of writing, revising, and obsessing over a very involved project.

Yet, I’m left with no choice but to come to grips with the fact that coffee is doing weird things to me, and sadly, can no longer be trusted. Of course I went through a phase of denial and thought that maybe gluten was sneaking into my body without me somehow knowing it. Gluten, for me is particularly deleterious. But no, that wasn’t it. I was too diligent. So I had to start the very difficult process of eliminating foods systematically to find the culprit. Of course I continued to drink coffee because it surely couldn’t be that. However, it quickly became very obvious that despite my back stroke down the deep sea of denial, coffee was in fact the culprit. I frantically started to do research hoping that someone would tell me it wasn’t so. Maybe I’d even find that coffee helps the digestive system function more optimally (see, that back stroke again). Except the only thing I found time and time again related to the digestive system was this:

Coffee can be misunderstood as gluten or other invasive substances in the body, and therefore, the body reacts adversely to it. I’ve included a couple of articles that support this absurdly tragic news:

http://autoimmune-paleo.com/kicking-the-coffee-habit/

http://www.hungryforchange.tv/article/10-reasons-to-quit-coffee-plus-healthy-alternatives

NOOOOOOO!!! I didn’t want to find research that confirmed my suspicion. But here I am, now attempting to find suitable alternatives for my beloved friend and comforter, the coffee bean. Of course, there is tea, matcha and mate, the latter possibly being closest to coffee in consistency. But, the reality is that I’m not ready for this relationship to be over and I’m surely not ready for a rebound. So, in my tormenting sadness, the only thing I can do is this:

 

Ode to Coffee

Coffee, oh coffee, where art thou, coffee?

I thought you’d never, ever forsake me.

But you changed, and we can no longer be together.

In fact, separate, I suppose, would be better.

 

You did me wrong, or was it I that was changing all along?

Despite this conundrum, I shall continue to sing this song,

Because you were there when I needed you,

Unwavering, bold and strong.

 

Although it is now time for us to part,

You will always and forever have my heart.

Although you sometimes gave my stomach great pains,

And sometimes gave my heartbeat a terrible start and disdain.

 

Coffee, oh coffee,

I shall always wish that you hadn’t left me,

Yet for my own good, I must refrain from your lure,

In spite of my yearning heart and your aromatic overtures.

*****

Breaking up is oh, so hard to do. I suppose this isn’t a Happy Ending, because I have to sacrifice an old friend, nor is it thoroughly sad, because I feel liberated from its effects. It is instead bittersweet, just as I loved my coffee.

The Freedom to Make Resolutions Any Ole’ Time You Please

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Did you get that gym membership yet? Swear off sugar, wine or cigarettes? Feeling a bit overwhelmed? A little jittery from chocolate withdrawal, maybe? Yes, yes, I know it’s only January 3rd, but a sense of discouragement can set in surprisingly quickly sometimes. Why? Unattainable goals are not real goals. They’ll only lead to quick burnout and bad feelings.

Resolutions are decisions. We make them at a point when we’re so tired of wanting to change that we decide to take the steps to do things differently. For many, coming to that point is a journey of frustrating and sometimes unfortunate events. And this is precisely why New Year’s resolutions usually tend to fail. They begin on a day chosen collectively by society, rather than by a true inner desire to change and the much needed experiences that drive our resolve forward.

New Year’s resolutions may often feel like a burdensome obligation instead of an exciting, well thought out plan. Just because we’re embarking on a new year doesn’t mean a resolution is required or that we’re mentally and logistically prepared for it. And that’s okay. There are some folks who have prepared and are ready to make a change on January 1st, and that’s okay too. However, for most of us who may not be, especially followed by weeks of indulgence, the societal pressure to make an impactful change can only cause us to feel discouraged and guilty. Not the ideal place for new beginnings.

I was in my early 20’s when struggling to quit smoking and made several half-hearted attempts. I had asthma and it didn’t make sense to smoke anymore, not that there’s a time it ever made sense. The defining moment in which I knew it had to be done however, was when my daughter came home from preschool and declared that smoking was an illegal drug. She authoritatively handed me a sheet of paper that contained a picture of a cigarette within a circle and a thick slash going through the image. She tearfully demanded that I quit because if I didn’t, the police would find me out and throw me in jail forever and forever. Rather than explaining that it was legal, I resolved instead that I had to stop, because either way, she was right, I had no business smoking. In the following weeks after the discussion, I pulled together friends and family who would encourage me, got rid of all objects related to smoking, learned other ways to deal with stress and prayed for strength, a lot. It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t quick and I slipped up periodically. But, ultimately I was successful.

Instead of succumbing to expensive gym memberships, attempting to quit smoking in a week (which I attempted many times) or trying to save ten zillion dollars within three months (yup, another one I failed at horribly), allow yourself the time, emotional support and space to figure out what you’d really like to achieve and how you want to go about it.

Have a healthy, beautiful new year.

 

 

 

What’s All the Hype About Gluten?

image1Someone recently asked me why there’s such a huge explosion of information and awareness of gluten. “We’ve been eating gluten for years and people have been fine. Why’s everybody on this gluten-free kick? It seems like people just think it’s cool.” It’s true, gluten is getting a lot more attention, but it’s far from a fad. In fact, it’s like any other illness-causing source. Once health advocates find out something may not be good for us, the spotlight shifts so that its harmful effects can be understood and eventually reduced.

Think of all the unhealthy foods that were consumed years ago. We now know that adding a liberal amount of lard in our recipes is not just a fun way to enhance taste, it’s a death wish. We’re also now far more knowledgeable about the effects of diabetes so we make efforts to deter away from choices that may cause it. It’s exciting to know that gluten is attracting more attention because in my humble opinion, Irritable Bowel Syndrome isn’t really a thing. It seems to be more of a catch-all diagnosis, many times qualifying as a diagnosis for someone with gluten-related concerns. It’s gluten at it’s finest. Researchers conducted a study with IBS sufferers in which one group of subjects eliminated gluten from their diet while the other group did not. Not surprisingly, IBS symptoms decreased in the gluten-free group. Sure, other factors might be contributing to folks’ health issues, but I have yet to hear someone tell me that eliminating gluten made them feel worse (well, emotionally maybe, because knowing I can no longer eat a chocolate glaze covered chocolate doughnut with drizzled chocolate chips on top from my favorite bakery almost brings me to tears, but that’s another story).