A Word or Two About Poop

March 17, 2015

   Up to now I've only talked about what you should or shouldn't put into your body. I think along with that there should be conversations about the health of what comes out of you too. There's a scene in the movie Never Cry Wolf where the biologist (Charles Martin Smith) tells an old Inuit man that you can tell how healthy a wolf is by understanding what came out of it, to which the old man replies, "Good idea." 

   The ancient Greeks understood this and practiced a diagnosis of the Alvine Discharge. Yes, they got it wrong as to how the stool came out as it did. They thought four humors (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric, and melancholic) exerted their powers on food during digestion. But they got it right in terms of what a healthy poo looks and smells like. Hippocrates lived in 400 BC and prescribed whole grain bread to help with digestion and bowel movement. The notion of fiber didn't exist but some of the understanding of getting results was already clear.

   So, what's a healthy stool? I'll keep it short and sweet.

  • Brown, well-formed but soft and sausage like, usually once a day. Perhaps odorless, but some odor is healthy, too.
  • Brown, formed but soft blobs, multiple times a day. Again, in terms of aroma, odorless to some odor.

   Here are the kind of poops to notice and in some cases consider checking it out with a doctor.

  • Hard rabbit looking poos. This typically means you're not getting enough fiber. Time to add whole grains, lentils, avocados, beans, brussel sprouts, raspberries, etc. to your diet.
  • Dark brown to black. This could be nothing more than the result of consuming dark foods, like wine or licorice, or it could be a sign of internal bleeding. If this condition persists you might want to get checked out.
  • Large lumpy, on the dry side, difficult to pass. These are often the poops that result in constipation or irritable bowel syndrome. To experience these repeatedly is probably worth a check up. Many medical authorities do not recommend increasing fiber due to a variety of causes which fiber might make worse (like a blocked intestine).
  • Constipation. Aside from simply being too large to comfortably pass, there are other reasons for constipation. A major one is not drinking enough water. Another is not getting enough exercise. 
  • Truck stop, house clearing smell. This is usually from eating lots of animal fat. It's a no brainer to eat meat less and increase fiber rich foods and vegetables in the diet. But also, any odd smell that persists could mean anything from mild food poisoning to something to see your doctor about. 
  • Diarrhea. There could be many reasons for it, most of them pointing toward something definitely wrong. It could be a bacterial infection (especially food poisoning), viral, a medicine reaction, or lactose intolerance to name a few. Chronic diarrhea (weeks of it) is definitely a serious issue and should receive medical treatment.
  • Flatulence. I throw this one in because it's directly related to the signals of health. Overall, passing gas is normal. A lot of it comes from simply swallowing air, which we do naturally throughout a day. It only has two places to come back out. Another reason is the body's inefficiency at digesting complex carbohydrates. When you eat beans, for example, a lot of those carbs make it to the lower intestine without being digested and bacteria go to town. As we age our bodies get less efficient at digesting complex carbs. But if food choice doesn't seem to be associated with flatulence it could be a sign of something serious and worth a doctor visit.

   These are signs as to how your body is doing. If anything's out of the ordinary it's a good idea to bring it up at your next physical. Or if it's persistently out of the ordinary, get it checked soon. 

   As we get older it's not uncommon to take particular interest in what comes out of us. At any age it's part of an effective healthy practice to notice. If our poop isn't normal, it can be a signal to address the changes to get it back to normal. Diet and exercise are key elements of that... along with your doctor's advice.

What a Total Pain in the Neck!

March 9, 2015

   For the past week I've had a stiff neck. It's been awhile since I've had one and I forgot how annoying it is! Although, I have had to laugh a few times because of how people react when you have one. I came home and Jason couldn't immediately figure out something different about me. "What's different about you," he asked as I was turning my whole body to look at things. "You got your hair done?"

"No," I mumbled, "I have a stiff neck."

   There are numerous causes for a stiff neck. Some of them are quite serious but the overwhelming reason we get them is from sleeping in an awkward position. A corollary to that would be adopting an unhealthy position while reading or using a computer in bed or sitting on a chair.

  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about good posture... standing up. Perhaps it was prophetic for me because obviously I slept in a position that put a strain on my neck muscles. Posture counts while lying down, sitting up in bed, sitting at a desk and even while driving.

   The muscles that are most often strained are the levator scapula muscles. They are the ones that allow you to shrug your shoulders. Here are a number of sleeping reasons these muscles can become strained and essentially locked up.
  • Sleeping on your back with head raised too high.
  • Sleeping on your stomach with your head too far to the side.
  • Sleeping on your side with head too high or too low.

   Obviously, by the time we're adults we've figured out our sleeping styles and what's most comfortable in terms of position, bedding and pillows. When we're asleep we have little control over our body position. Once in a blue moon our bodies will end up in an unfortunate position that causes the levator scapula to clench or stretch for a long period of time. But there are plenty of other reasons this muscle group can become strained, most of them due to the raising of shoulders unnecessarily or allowing the head to go too far forward.

  • Using a keyboard that's positioned too high at a desk.
  • Hunching forward while driving.
  • Reclining too far back while driving, causing the head to be held too far forward.
  • Holding a cell phone and looking down at it for long periods of time.
  • Carrying a heavy pack or over-shoulder case that causes the head to be out of alignment.

   Just know that when your head is not positioned correctly over your spine, something's got to keep it in place and that means the levator scapula has to pull extra duty. When your head is on right it weighs 12 pounds. But when out of alignment it becomes as much as a 40 pound weight.

Stiff Neck Solutions

   The major healer of a stiff neck is time. That is, time... and stop doing whatever it is that's causing the stiff neck. Again, if you're pretty sure you got a stiff neck from sleeping in a weird position there's probably little to be adjusted in terms of your tried and true bedding and pillows. Stiff necks happen even under the best of conditions. But after a week if it's not getting better, it's probably time to check it out with a doctor.

   Posture adjustments like proper positioning for typing at a desk make a world of difference. The phenomenon of "text neck" has now become a thing. It makes me wonder whether looking at our phones for such long periods is healthy on many levels, but when it can ruin your physical health that's where I draw the line. I suggest to look at your phone for messages and reference but refrain from long chats and surfing. Driving posture is another easy one to fix. You should be slightly reclined and hands should be at the 9 and 3 o'clock positions on the wheel. And if you have to carry a big load on your back or on your shoulders constantly, switch to a roll around. That's a no brainer.

   One of the major treatments for stiff neck pain is heat. What it really comes down to is warming the muscles. It's not surprising that an open window letting in cold air while you're sleeping in a weird posture can contribute to already clenched up muscles clenching up even more. What a stiff neck needs is warmth to relax. That can be a hot bath or a warm wrap. Many gel packs are designed to be frozen or heated. Those are excellent.

   Rest is another important treatment. If possible, postpone appointments that will cause you to have to engage in a lot of body movement or bear weight with your shoulders or back. That gardening you had planned for the weekend, it might have to wait.

   I didn't go into the other serious causes of stiff neck such as infections, arthritis, or even fibromyalgia and meningitis. So I should reiterate that if you experience stiff neck for more than a week it should probably be examined by a doctor. 

   Here is a great exercise you can do a couple of times daily to relieve stiff neck pain

Stand with your feet parallel, about shoulder width apart. Keep you back straight and look straight ahead. Hang your arms loose by your sides and breathe in slowly through your nose. As you exhale (through your nose) start to slowly turn your head to the left as far as you comfortably can, or until you are looking over your left shoulder. Hold that  position for 5 seconds. 

Breathe in again as you gently turn your head back towards the front. When you are facing the front, start exhaling as you continue to turn your head to the right. Turn only as far as you comfortably can, or until you are looking over your right shoulder. Hold the position for a five seconds. Continue turning your head from side to side. Breathe in as you return to the front. Breathe out as you turn to each side. 

Try to stretch your neck a little further each time. Do 10 or 12 twists to each side to begin. 

Build up to 15 or 20 or simply do the exercise for several minutes each time.

Why I Keep a Tin of Sardines on Hand

March 2, 2015

   By now you may have guessed I prefer little changes that can be made into habits. Attempts at big changes, especially in a short amount of time, rarely work and end up being a waste of time and sometimes money. So when it comes to diet there are lots of little steps here and there that can make a difference when you add them all up. 

   Sardines are a small change (pun intended!) that can help make a big difference. Last week I wrote about the impact just changing a salad dressing can have on a diet. Salads are one of the go-to dishes that anyone seriously interested in health improvement should adopt if they haven't already. Today I'd like to focus on an excellent salad ingredient, sardines. 

Environmental and Health Concerns

   In an era of overfishing and unsustainable practices that have taken us to the brink of species collapse in the oceans, the Pacific Sardine is a success story. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch gives a thumbs up to the Pacific sardine. The Atlantic sardine should be avoided due to overfishing. Seabirds, whales, dolphins, tuna, and other fish rely on sardines as a food source in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. 

   If the tin of sardines says it comes from Europe the likelihood is they are Atlantic. So, mark them off the list. Besides, we live in John Steinbeck country where Pacific sardines were a staple of business on Cannery Row. Pacific sardines are local.

   A positive attribute of sardines is their low mercury levels. They're on the bottom of the food chain and, unlike larger predators which become concentrated due to the additive effect of eating many smaller fish containing mercury, are safe to eat regularly. The FDA monitored mercury levels in fish for 20 years and found sardines to be relatively mercury free.

   Sardines are high in sodium. A can has about 450 milligrams, which is about 1/3rd of a suggested daily low sodium intake. So if you're on a low sodium diet you should compensate accordingly in order to include them. If sardines weren't so nutritionally power packed I'd caution about eating them at all. But the upside is high enough to eat less sodium in other foods throughout a day in order to add sardines to the menu.

Health Benefits

Heart Health

  • High concentration of triglyceride and cholesterol lowering omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA).
  • Source of vitamin B-12, a nutrient known to be important in maintaining the health of artery walls.
  • A can of sardines has only about 10.5 grams of fat but only 1.4 grams are unsaturated. That's great.

Brain Health

  • Omega-3s are important in maintaining memory and brain function.

Bone Health

  • Excellent source of vitamin D.
  • Good source of phosphorous.
  • A can of sardines has about 350 milligrams of calcium, about 1/3rd of the daily requirement.

Just Add to Salad

   There's not a whole lot to explain. Sardines go well with just about any salad and vinaigrette. If salads are already on your menu or you're starting to adopt them as a regular meal, keeping sardines on hand is a great idea to up the nutrition.

One Powerful and Effective Fitness Practice: Good Posture

February 23, 2015

   I think about this a lot. Posture matters and you can train the muscles that make for good posture.

   We often don't think much about it until something starts to hurt or goes wrong. Back issues especially come to mind. But good posture doesn't just benefit the back, it keeps our skeletal system properly aligned so that muscles in our body can be used efficiently. Here's a quick eye test. You know those diet/fitness systems that claim to get you in shape in a short amount of time? They're often marketed with before and after pics, like these.

   Well, there's actually something very good about what these pictures show. What do you think is largely contributing to his better appearance in the 2nd photo? Is it the get-fit-quick product? Not likely. 

   He did a work out. And then he posed with better posture.

   That's my educated opinion. Many of these before and after shots are merely the difference between letting the shoulder fall forward and the gut hanging out, and then standing up straight. 

   So, for our purposes it's a great illustration. Appearance is a good reason to make posture an important part of our health strategy. When I find myself lamenting extra pounds, of course I want to work them off through diet and exercise. But I'm also aware that my posture plays a role in how those extra pounds look on me. Bad posture makes us look bigger and less vital. 

   Good posture helps to make us look better which helps to make us feel better. But even more importantly, good posture makes us feel better physically. It's not a facade. It's a foundation for good health and fitness. So here are a few tips on what you can do to develop and maintain good posture.

Good Posture

  Here's what good posture looks like.

   There are 3 gentle curves which keep the back at it's most optimum: at the neck (cervical), the middle of the back (thoracic) and the lower back (lumbar). The shoulders are back and relaxed. The abdomen is in. Lookin' good and feeling it, physically, too. The muscles throughout the body are able to operate most efficiently.

Bad Posture

   When the spine is not aligned correctly it often looks like one of these.

   Slouching is one of the major issues many people have. Swayback is another. Both of them reinforce themselves into doing it more, until it seems it just the way the body is. You don't have to be unfit to have these kinds of postures. I see athletes on television who have bad posture. When you're young your body can compensate but as you get older it can catch up in the form of back pain. That can degenerate into lifelong serious issues. 

   Other ill effects of bad posture are headaches, blocked digestion, and disrupted blood flow which can lead to spider veins or even thrombosis in the legs. 

4 Basic Exercises for Better Posture

Shoulder Rolls

Stand or sit in a comfortable position with arms at the side. Inhale and raise your shoulders and shoulder blades to your ears. Exhale and pull your shoulder blades slightly back and down to the original position. Relax momentarily. Repeat up to 10 times.

Basic Crunch

Lie face up on the floor. Bend the knees comfortably with feet flat on the floor. With your hands crossed over your chest, curl your shoulders toward your pelvis. Repeat as many as 10 times or more.

Single Leg Extension

This one is a riff on the crunch. Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, and hands behind your head. Press your low back into the floor, and curl your head up off the floor. Don't pull your head up with your hands - your core should do the work.

Exhale and pull your navel in. Slowly pull one knee into your chest. Keeping your low back pressed to the floor--extend your other leg straight at a 45-degree angle off the floor. Keep your abdominals pulled in and your low back on the floor. If your low back arches off the floor, extend your leg higher toward the ceiling. Switch legs. Do as many as 10 extensions on each side.

Cobra Pose

This one is a yoga pose that helps strengthen the back muscles. It's good to prevent slouching. Lie on your stomach with palms flat on the floor near your ribs. Extend your legs straight behind you and press the tops of your feet into the floor. 

Exhale and pull your navel in. Lengthen your spine and slowly raise your head and chest off the floor--use only your back muscles. Don't use your arms to try to push yourself up. Go as high as is comfortable for you. Keep your hips on the floor and keep your neck muscles relaxed. Slowly lower back down. Repeat up to 5 times.

   There are other exercises out there but these are pretty powerful in themselves and they're easy to do in your living room. Posture can be a tough subject because it just doesn't seem that urgent or a big deal if we're not feeling any discomfort. But the back is complex and ill effects can evolve seemingly into existence. But with a little care, even if a person has a slouch or a sway back condition, exercise can do wonders.

   As always, consult your physician or orthopedist if you have bad posture to make sure you get the right set of therapies to follow.

    Making One Big Impactful Change with Salad Dressing

    February 16, 2015

    There are two basic changes we can make to improve our health. Exercise more and eat better. And in terms of eating better, that usually means eating more vegetables.

    The push to eat more fresh veggies has grown as we've learned more about our health and the effect of processed foods on the body. I remember in the 70s hearing for the first time, "You are what you eat." It's still a widely embraced phrase. Whether it's Dr. Dean Ornish's research on lifestyle changes that revolve around a plant based diet or the 5 A Day program promoting eating five kinds of vegetables and fruits each day, the encouragement is all around us to mold our lifestyles around better eating. Of course, farmer's markets have become a more significant source of fruits and vegetables for us. And going to the farmer's market is a great social activity, too.

    If you are consuming more veggies and fruits these days, chances are you're eating more salads. Have you checked what's in many commercially prepared salad dressings? I'm not attempting to be Consumer Reports, but let's just call it the way it is. There are many supposedly "healthy" salad dressings that simply aren't. I won't name names, but I'm looking at one of the most popular salad dressings with a beautiful label that pictures vegetables on it. The dressing has 14 grams of fat, 3 of those grams are saturated... in just 2 tablespoons, as much as half a hamburger! It's also loaded with salt, sugar and MSG.

    We can do better, way better, making our own salad dressing. And the good news... it's easy! Healthy locally sourced ingredients are all around us, especially here in San Luis Obispo county.

    Healthy oils and vinegars

    It just doesn't get any easier than this, especially if you splurge and get premium olive oils and balsamic vinegars. I like to add 3 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic in a small canning jar. That's it. You're done. You can experiment with different kinds of olive oil from pungent to light in flavor. And balsamic vinegar can be pretty fancy, too. The more expensive kinds are aged like wine (since it's made from grape pressings).

    Add sprinkles of herbs or spices and the favors magnify. Just about any will do based on your own likes: black pepper, oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, cilantro, etc.

    Riffing on the oil and vinegar combo is easy, too. For a citrus twist put in a couple of tablespoons of frozen orange juice concentrate (no sugar added version). Or, blend a half cup of berries in the food processor and add.

    Just a word on dairy and salad dressings: just remember that adding cheeses or creams increases saturated fat. It's no surprise the top selling salad dressings are dairy based. My suggestion, to keep it healthier, is to use soft goat cheese in place of cheddar and the usual harder cheeses, and to replace cream with low fat yogurt. Both goat cheese and yogurt are better for the body.

    Keeping it local

    Olives are widely grown in SLO county and premium olive oil can be found at farmer's markets. But you can also seek it out at wineries and olive growers around the county, too. Here's a great list of some producers in our area.

    You can also find some amazing balsamic and wine vinegars on the central coast, too. The Bay Area and Napa are the focal points for craft vinegars but that is starting to expand to our neck of the woods. Local growers and makers like Chaparral Gardens near Morro Bay and Hearst Ranch have regular offerings. If you're ever in Los Olivos check out Global Gardens for Santa Barbara County vinegars and that goes for the store Il Fustino n Santa Barbara, too.

    Grapeseed oil is a great alternative to olive oils if the taste of olives isn't your thing. And nut oils are fantastic, too. Walnut, hazelnut and pistachio oils comes to mind - just remember to refrigerate them because they can go rancid sitting on the shelf. Another wonderful taste is coconut oil for summery and tropical salads. A vinaigrette made with coconut oil and lime juice is easy to make and tastes great on a seafood salad. And of course sesame seed oil is good for many kinds of salads from Asian fusion styles to the basic lettuce, tomato and onion.

    Getting excited

    It's a corny statement but so true: our health is our only wealth. So, if eating more vegetables and fruits is in your plans, how about getting serious and excited? Instead of having a bottle of non-descript olive oil over in that cupboard and vinegar in this other one, establish a dedicated shelf where you keep your salad dressing kit. Like any lifestyle change, the easier you make it to follow through, the greater chances you will. 

    For many of us, we've never looked back, having moved on from wanting fast food hamburgers. We've come too far to turn around and pour one on our salad!

    The Wonders, Joys and Travails of Coffee

    February 9, 2015

    I wouldn't say I'm an addict. I'm a... uh... connoisseur. Yeah, that works! Let's just say I'm coffee powered from the time I wake up until about noon.

    Let's cut to the chase, coffee is good for you. And the addiction thing, that's a myth. Coffee (or rather the caffeine in it) is no more addictive than any other food. Just look at these headlines over the past year from Science Daily
    • Drinking Decaf or Regular Coffee Maybe Good for the Liver, Study Suggests
    • Can Coffee Protect Against Malignant Melanoma? Study Looks at Trends
    • Increasing Consumption of Coffee Associated With Reduced Risk of Type 2 Diabetes, Study Finds
    • A Cup of Coffee a Day May Keep Retinal Damage Away, Study Shows
    • Chemical in Coffee May Help Prevent Obesity-Related Disease
    • How Coffee Protects Against Parkinson's
    • Caffeine Intake Associated With Lower Incidence of Tinnitus

    According to the research coffee is linked to lower levels of abnormal liver enzymes, protection against non-melanoma skin cancers, lower risk of type 2 diabetes, prevention of retinal degeneration due to glaucoma, aging and diabetes, protection against neurodegenerative diseases, and lower rates of tinnitus in women. Coffee also has more anti-oxidants than green tea.

    Caffeine also enhances physical performance. It's one of the reasons I like a cup of Joe in the morning. There have been many studies on how caffeine helps endurance. Research shows that 2 cups of coffee enhanced running or cycling about an hour after drinking.

    That's a lot. My main reason for drinking coffee is the pick-me-up it gives, and in some cases that may not be a good reason to drink it... but more an that later.

    Caffeine, It's Complex

    Caffeine is complicated. Scientists say plants such as coffee, cocoa, and tea manufacture it as an insecticide. And when it builds up in the soil it prevents other plants from propagating and competing. But even then, it has an upside. It also gives bees a buzz, literally. Studies show that pollinators get just enough caffeine when they land on flowers... enough to enhance their memories.

    Humans get the same benefit as bees. Caffeine enhances memory within the day its consumed. Like bees, we don't need much caffeine to get the benefits. You would get a toxic dose of caffeine if you drank more than 80 cups of coffee at one sitting. That would be one serious test to cram for in order to down that much.

    Speaking of the Down Side

    Caffeine can cause anxiety in some people and make it worse the more its consumed. Regular intake can lead to psychological dependency, which is rarely good for one's overall health to be dependent on one food like that.

    Then there are heart issues. After drinking a cup of coffee blood pressure levels get slightly elevated. Some doctors and researchers don't think this is a big issue if blood pressure levels remain within the healthy zones. But it could be a cause for concern for anyone with borderline and high blood pressure levels. 

    In addition, caffeine can also cause heart palpitations or atrial flutter. Not good. I recently learned through my significant other, Jason, who's seen a doctor for flutter, that caffeine can also contribute to the perception of heart flutter. He wore a heart monitor for 24 hours and many of the sensations he experienced as flutter were just perception (a few of the flutters were real but most weren't). The effects of the caffeine fooled the brain into experiencing a flutter that wasn't there. 

    But also with that cup comes a boost in glucose levels in the blood. Have a big sugary pastry with that cup and coffee acts to push glucose levels higher.

    Get a Doctor Involved

    The bottom line is that caffeine is complex. It's wonderful there is so much research on the foods that contain caffeine, namely coffee, tea and chocolate. The positive benefits are truly welcomed. The research seems to be pretty solid. But, and that's a big but, there are definite drawbacks, especially to heavy long term consumption.

    By all means, if you love coffee, drink up, but don't do it because the positive research outweighs the negative. It's not enough to read a research report and feel you're covered. After all, caffeine is technically a psychoactive drug. 

    My suggestion is to listen to your body and be aware of how caffeine is affecting it. If it's all good that's great. But, don't hesitate to consult with a physician if you have any suspicions of ill-effects.

    Healthy Spices and Herbs to Lower Your Blood Pressure

    February 2, 2015

       I firmly believe that a healthy lifestyle includes using fresh ingredients. Cooking can become challenging if you're not familiar with spices and herbs that are available and beneficial. Many people use the terms herbs and spices interchangeably to mean any product of plant origin used primarily for seasoning food. A spice is a pungent or aromatic seasoning obtained from the bark, buds, fruit, roots, seeds or stem of various plants and trees.  An herb is the fragrant leaves of any of various annual or perennial plants that grow in temperate zones and do not have woody stems. Here are  just a few of my favorites.



       Sage is rich in antioxidants (apigenin, diosmetin, and luteolin) and in important nutrients, such as vitamin K. Throughout history, because of its wide range of uses in cooking and medicine, sage has been considered a spice that cures many things. Taking sage may help improve memory and information processing among people who suffer from mild Alzheimer's Disease. Research strongly suggests that sage is good at lowering cholesterol and triglyceride levels in patients with diabetes type 2. 

    Ground Cinnamon

       Cinnamon is a spice that comes from the branches of wild trees native to the Caribbean, South America, and Southeast Asia. A chemical found in Cassia cinnamon can help fight against bacterial and fungal infections. A study of Indian medicinal plants revealed that cinnamon may potentially be effective against HIV. Cinnamon also may help stop the destructive process of multiple sclerosis (MS) according to a neurological scientist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. 

       HoweverPeople who are sensitive to cinnamon may be at an increased risk of liver damage this is because it contains coumarin which has bee linked to liver damage. Ceylan cinnamon contains less coumarin than Cassia cinnamon.

    Sweet Marjoram

       This herb contains many notable phyto-nutrients, minerals, and vitamins that are essential for optimum health and wellness. The herb parts contain terpinolene, linalool, cis-sabinene which are compounds that have been know to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. It also contains high levels of vitamin C which is a powerful anti-oxidant that helps remove harmful free radicals from the body. The Ascorbic acid is an immune booster,wound healer and has anti-viral effects. Marjoram herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene which is vitamin A.


        There are times when it might be smarter to use an herbal remedy than a pharmaceutical. Sometimes an herb offers a safer alternative, like chamomile. The flowers have been used for centuries as a gentle calmative for young and old alike. It's non-habit-forming and well tolerated, and a study sponsored by the University of Michigan found that chamomile extract had roughly the same efficacy as many prescription sleeping medications when given to adults with insomnia. Peppermint oil has been shown to be as effective as pharmaceutical drugs for relieving irritable bowl syndrome, without the any dangerous side effects. Clinical studies have shown that ginger relieves morning sickness, sage can soothe a sore throat, and hibiscus tea gently lowers blood pressure.


       Is there anything garlic can't do? Well, freshen your breath but that's about it! Garlic is often used to combat colds, ease sinus congestion, and stave off traveler's diarrhea. Studies show that regular use can help gently lower blood pressure. If you're on the anticoagulant drug warfarin, garlic is known to interact with it. Warfarin may interact with several foods like cranberry juice, ginger, fish oils, and borage.

    Eat: Eat 1–2 cloves fresh daily.
    Capsules: Take 4–8 mg allicin per day; enteric-coated products may be superior if specifically treating diarrhea.


       Echinacea is commonly used for its antiviral and immune enhancing properties. Other uses include relieving colds and upper respiratory infections. It's my favorite during winter to help fight off colds and flu. As a tea, simmer 1 tsp dried and sliced root in 1 cup water for 10 minutes. Strain. 

    Drink: 1-3 cups per day. 
    Tincture: take 5 ml 3-6 times per day at onset of cold symptoms.


       A glass of unsweetened cranberry juice a day increases your good HDL cholesterol by about 10 percent. Their antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds may protect your brain from age-related memory. Cranberry's nutrients soothe your skin and it's been well-established for treatment of reducing the risk of bladder infection and chronic prostatitis. 

    Drink: ½-¾ cup twice per day. 
    Capsules: take 300–500 mg capsules of concentrated juice extract 2 times per day.


       Calendulais has been used for thousands of years to relieve inflammation of the mouth, throat, and stomach. It is often used as a topical cream or ointment to relieve rashes and irritation and to help heal wounds. Some people are allergic to calendula so it's best to test it first if you haven't used it before. And it's not recommended for women who are pregnant. 

    Drink: pour 1 cup of boiling water over 2 teaspoons of petals. Steep for 10 minutes. Strain. Use as needed as a mouthwash, gargle, or tea. 
    Ointment: apply to the skin 2 or 3 times per day as needed.


       Sometimes called Indian ginseng, the tuber root of the ashwagandha plant is a used to make preparations that can treat insomnia, act as an anti-inflammatory, reduce anxiety and boost immune health. This is one of those natural remedies that you should check with your doctor first, especially if you're on medications as ashwagandha can possible interact with them. One of the typical ways of preparing it is as a tea.

    Drink: simmer 1 teaspoon of dried and sliced root in 1 cup water or milk for 10 minutes and strain.

    Black Cohosh

       Black cohosh is often referred to as a woman's remedy because it is used mainly to relieve premenstrual problems, menstrual cramps, and symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes. Black cohosh is also a source of vitamin A and pantothenic acid. Because some types of cancer, such as breast, uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancer, may be stimulated by estrogen, some herbalists state that black cohosh reduces the risk of these diseases. Other reported uses of black cohosh include arthritis pain relief, lowering blood pressure, sedation, treatment of bronchial infections, treatment for spasms associated with whooping cough, and treatment of diarrhea. But again, check with your doctor before starting in.

    Exercises and Stretches for Sciatica

    January 26, 2015

       Last week I started writing about the pain caused by irritation of the Sciatica nerve. It's the largest nerve in the body and is usually felt from the low back to behind the thigh. It can radiate all the way down below the knee.

       Sciatica exercises and stretches focus on relieving pain in the lower back and legs, which are associated with damage of the radicular nerve. In most cases, exercise is more beneficial than bed rest. Movement will promote the exchange of fluids in the spinal discs, while also strengthening the back muscles and providing support for the back. These movements can also prevent the recurrence of the pain. Performing them on a daily basis can help you maintain strength and flexibility throughout the day. As always consult a doctor, physical therapist or a chiropractic specialist before doing these exercises.

    Knees to chest

      Lying on your back bring both knees to chest. Place both hands under your knees and gently pull them toward your chest creating a deeper stretch. Hold this position for 15 seconds. While holding your legs close to your body rock your knees side to side slowly 10 times on each side. This will help to relieve tightness in the back and lower spine area.

    Piriformis stretch

        Lie on your back with right arm facing down at your side. Place right heel on left knee and bend right knee angling it over to your left side.With your left hand placed just above your right knee gently put pressure on the bent thigh. Hold this position for 10-15 seconds and repeat on the other side.

    Glute stretch

       Lying on your back place your right foot on the floor with the right knee bent up toward the ceiling. Place your left heel on your right knee with your left knee facing away from your body. Gently put pressure on your raised left knee  holding for 15-20 seconds.  Repeat on the right side.

    Extension Exercises

       Lie on your stomach with your arms and legs stretched out. Raise one arm and the opposite leg, holding them in this position for 3 seconds. Lower them to the ground, repeating the same movement with the other limbs. A series of 10, performed twice per day is sufficient to promote the exchange of fluids in the spinal discs.

    What Causes Sciatica Pain?

    January 19, 2015

       I was recently talking with a friend about our aches and pains. She revealed she was have some excruciating pain on the left side of her upper hip. Her doctor had informed her it was Sciatic pain and gave her some stretches to help alleviate the pain. As we talked I realized how much I didn't know about this condition. 

       So, after some diligent research I realized that no two pains are alike. And like everything, sometimes just being more aware of how you walk, stand or sit can help to identify areas that could be creating potential problems. 

       Sciatica is a nerve pain from the sciatic nerve being irritated. It is the largest nerve in the body and is usually felt from the low back to behind the thigh. It can radiate all the way down below the knee. 

       Next week I'll share with you some stretches you can do to help alleviate some of the discomforts of sciatica. But first I'd like to touch on 6 common lower back problems that cause sciatica.

    Lumbar herniated disc       

       A herniated disc is a spine condition that occurs when the gel-like center of a disc ruptures through a weak area in the tough outer wall, similar to the filling being squeezed out of a jelly doughnut. Low back or leg pain may result when the disc material touches or compresses a nearby spinal nerve. A herniated disc is sometimes referred to as a slipped disc, ruptured disc, bulging disc, protruding disc, or a pinched nerve. Sciatica is the most common symptom of a lumbar herniated disc.

    Degenerative disc disease

       This is a condition caused by the breakdown of your intervertebral discs. As we age the spine shows signs of wear and tear. The discs dry out and shrink these age related changes lead to diseases that put pressure on your spinal cord and nerves causing back pain. An irritated nerve root could be one of those conditions that causes sciatica.

    Lumbar Spinal Stenosis

       Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows. This puts pressure on the spinal cord and the spinal nerve roots, causing pain, numbness, or weakness in the legs. As we age, our spines change. These normal wear-and-tear effects of aging can lead to narrowing of the spinal canal. Degenerative changes of the spine are seen in up to 95 percent of people by the age of 50. Spinal stenosis most often occurs in adults over 60 years old. Pressure on the nerve roots is equally common in men and women.

    Piriformis Syndrome

       Thankfully, Piriformis syndrome is correctable and reversible. The syndrome is caused by a short, tight piriformis muscle. This increase in tension can compromise the sciatic nerve by squeezing or pinching it, leading to inflammation of the nerve causing pain, numbness and tingling down the leg on side of the  muscle affected. Short, tight muscles can come about from a few different situations. When a muscle doesn't get stretched enough a different sequence of muscle  contractions occur creating an altered movement pattern. The altered movement pattern is a sign of muscle imbalance in the body and the tendency for a specific muscle to become overactive and another muscle to become inhibited over time. Subluxation (an altered position of the vertebra) can also create loss of function as well as any type of foot dysfunction.

    Sacroiliac joint dysfunction

       The SI joints have a cartilage layer covering the bone. The cartilage allows for some movement and acts as a shock absorber between the bones. When this cartilage is damaged or worn away, the bones begin to rub on each other and degenerative arthritis (osteoarthritis) occurs. This is the most common of SI dysfunctions. Any condition that alters the normal walking pattern places increased stress on the SI joints. This could include a leg length discrepancy (one leg longer than the other), or pain in the hip, knee, ankle, or foot. Pain is usually associated with this joint dysfunction.

    Isthmic spondylolisthesis

       This condition occurs when a small stress fracture allows one vertebral body to slip forward onto another. When the disc space collapses it becomes a fracture and with the vertebrae slipping forward, the nerve then can get pinched. The cause of this condition is due to fibrous defects (healed or unhealed stress fractures surrounded by fibrous tissue) in the vertebra which allow the forward slippage of the vertebra over time. These defects occur in an area of the vertebra called the par interarticularis, which is a narrow area of bone between the upper and lower articular processes. A defect in the pars interarticularis represents a condition known as spondylolisthesis. If this condition progresses and the vertebra continues to slip posture, bending, and walking then can become affected.

    12 Simple Things to Get More Healthy

    January 6, 2014

       Sometimes I find my health habits slipping a bit and it can be a wake up call: suddenly realized there's too much junk food like potato chips and cookies lying around; missed my runs at the ranch and didn't notice; or stayed up too late. 

       Not to worry, getting back on the right track need not require an intervention. Here are 12 ideas to help re-motivate and re-energize. Begin with one thing on the list for one week. Two things on the list turns into two weeks.  Two turns into four and 12 of those becomes a new habit. Remember we are all in this together one small step at a time.

    Eat Breakfast

       Start you day with a small meal. It will kick start your metabolism. A healthy breakfast provides you with enough nutrients to energize your body for hours. People who eat breakfast are significantly less likely to become diabetic than those who don't, according to the American Heart Association. Did you know people who eat breakfast are better able to concentrate and be more productive throughout the morning? One reason is that fueling up in the morning helps with concentration.

    Get enough sleep

       When we sleep our bodies get rejuvenated. Not enough sleep means not enough time to recharge our batteries, setting us up for illness and fatigue. When we are tired our judgement is compromised, our efficiency and productivity becomes less effective, and we tend to be more accident prone. Stressful situations become harder to manage. Our bodies regulate sleep in much the same way they regulate eating, drinking, and breathing. Sleep is important to our overall well being.


       Drinking water helps maintain the balance of body fluids. The functions of these bodily fluids include digestion, absorption, circulation, creation of saliva, transportation of nutrients, and maintenance of body temperature. Water helps energize muscles, keep skin looking good, and optimizing kidney function as well as many more benefits.

    Follow a schedule

       To be short and sweet, every second in the day has a purpose, whether it is nursing a baby, washing the dishes, writing a blog post, or eating dinner. If you don't make a plan it's easy to get side tracked. I know this is very true for me. Sometimes I find myself at the end of the day saying “what did I get done?” No schedule should be set in stone but having one that is used as a guideline helps you get more things done that you want to get done.

    Reduce toxins

       It takes a certain amount of water to fill a glass. Then, after a certain point, it overflows. When our detoxification system is overwhelmed, it gets overloaded just like that glass of water. That’s when we start developing symptoms of toxicity and we start to get sick. It may take years of accumulated stress and toxins to get to that point but it will happen. By eating organic produce and animal products, eating clean (see below) minimizing stimulants. alcohol, sedatives and medication and getting plenty of exercise that truly makes you sweat you can help your system detoxify regularly.

    Eat foods that are the colors of the rainbow

       This will ensure you get vitamins and nutrients from several different sources. You should eat 8 to 10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables a day, particularly from the family of cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, collards, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi) and the garlic family (garlic and onions), which help increase sulfur in the body and help detoxification.

    Eat Protein/Carb combos for your snacks

      Eating a protein with a carb helps you to feel full and satisfied. This is because the carbohydrates are providing your body with energy and the protein is increasing the level of satisfaction. Eating a combination of protein and carbs after resistance or endurance workouts will help to stimulate muscle repair and growth. This combination can help you maintain your healthy weight while getting the nutrients and energy needed for the rest of your day.

    Exercise daily

       The benefits of a little exercise far out weigh my “I don’t feel like it” excuses. If this is one your goals, which it is one of mine, I hope you will find time to do it. Take a walk, commit to an exercise video from your home library, make it a family affair -- whatever it takes, just do it.

    Do something you love daily

       It gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Something to look forward to or are passionate about. Something that makes you smile. It makes you happy. It changes your attitude. Whatever it is make sure you do it everyday.

    Nuts instead of chips

       Nuts are nutritional powerhouses. Satisfying and heart healthy nuts are a great alternative to chips and the healthy dose of vitamin E that they deliver make them food for the brain. This brain food helps to prevent memory problems that are often associated with the aging process. Remember, nuts are high in calories so a little goes a long way.

    Use natural personal and home care products

       Nearly 70 percent of typical cleaning products found in the typical home contain harmful chemical agents. So when you wash your clothes, do the dishes and even flush toilet bowl cleaner you may be sending these chemicals back into the water system and nearby rivers, lakes and streams. This could make its way back into your water, and it could have a negative impact on wildlife and the environment. 

       Many household products can contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that can have short and long term effects associated with your central nervous system, liver and kidneys. When you use a spray, the chemicals can linger in the air long after the initial mist dissipates. Did you  know that most commercial  products are made with dyes, oil-based chemicals, artificial fragrances and carcinogens? Cleaning with natural or plant-based products can contribute to your healthy new life. Remember to alway read the labels.