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3 Things You Can Do Today to Stop Arthritis Pain

As you may know we’ve been talking about arthritis a lot recently. You see our Medical Director, Dr. Susan Blum, just wrote a new book, Healing Arthritis, and it releases on October 24th. This is very exciting for us and it’s created a lot of interest in arthritis-related information from our patients.

In my medical practice at Blum Center for Health, arthritic patients most commonly ask me, “What can I do about my pain?”

3 Things You Can Today Do to Stop Arthritis Pain

The first thing you must do is make pain-free food choices.

In fact, the single most important influence on reducing your pain is the food you eat!

Here’s what you need to do:

Increase the number of healthy foods you are eating.

  • Your grocery list should include antioxidant rich dark leafy greens like spinach, kale, swiss chard; and deep colorful berries like blackberries and blueberries.  
  • Make a habit of eating clean fish once or twice weekly, it’s full of inflammation-lowering omega 3 fatty acids. Buy high-quality, grass-fed, non-GMO animal products and eat them sparingly, perhaps once each week.
  • Eat loads of healthy, high-quality oils and fats like olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  • Buy or make bone broth, rich in collagen, and take a good quality  B vitamin.
  • And don’t forget to fit lots of fiber onto your plate in the form of whole grains, legumes, beans, and veggies — to feed the good bacteria of the gut. (Avoid gluten if you know you are sensitive to it, or if you have autoimmune disease).
  • Spice your foods with turmeric, the bright yellow indian spice that’s not only delicious but also combats inflammation.  

Avoid inflammatory foods — this includes highly processed foods made with white flour and white sugar, and practically everything that comes in a box.  Avoid processed flour products like baked goods and cookies, and sweetened dairy products like ice cream. Shop the perimeter of the store – buy real, whole foods in their natural state.

Remove common food allergens by doing the allergy elimination diet – what Dr. Blum calls the Leaky Gut Diet – no gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, or nightshade vegetables.  After 3 weeks, reintroduce each food one at a time to see if any trigger symptoms. The elimination diet not only cuts out common irritating foods but also helps you avoid processed food and many added inflammatory fillers that often come with them. It’s a great starting point.

 

Utilize anti-arthritis supplements to decrease pain.

There are several supplements that have been scientifically proven to decrease inflammation and pain. These are some of the supplements I commonly use with my arthritic patients.

  • Omega 3 (EPA and DHA) & Omega 6 (GLA) Fatty acids – these powerful anti-inflammatory fats have been found to reduce pain and improve physical function in Rheumatoid Arthritis.
  • Curcumin – this plant-derived antioxidant and natural anti-inflammatory  has been found to reduce pain and stiffness in Osteoarthritis.
  • Vitamin C – the link between oxidative stress and joint damage is clear. Vitamin C (and other antioxidants) have been shown to reduce pain (and oxidative stress) in inflammatory joint disease.
  • Probiotics – when we think about joint health, our attention naturally turns to the gut and the health of the microbiome (the bacteria that live in the digestive tract).  Improving the balance of the terrain in your gut with a good probiotic can help with the arthritic pain and inflammation throughout the body.

Powerfully deal with stress: Less stress = less pain.

When it comes to arthritis, the impact of stress is largely overlooked. However, stress and trauma have serious consequences on your gut, your immune system, and your arthritis pain.  Improving your resilience in the face of stressors will keep your arthritis from flaring.  

How to destress:

  • Simplify your schedule. If you are suffering from arthritic pain this is a cry for help from your biological system. Give yourself time and space to renew and rebuild the resilience that you are lacking. Open space in your week to just be.
  • Find time for sleep. Make sure you are getting over 8 hours of sleep a night. Work backwards from your wake-up time and get into bed 1 hour prior to that. Make a routine at bedtime that is relaxing and supportive – take a bath, sip some tea, read a pleasant book. Avoid screens 2 hours prior to bed and help the whole family get on board. Doing things with support makes them much easier!  
  • Make room for movement. You don’t need to add a strenuous exercise routine right away unless you find that that helps your pain, but work towards getting there. To start, just make a plan to have a short walk outside, or put down your yoga mat and gently stretch and move your body beyond the confines of the standing and sitting of your normal day. If you’re feeling more ambitious, try a yoga or tai chi class for meditative movement.
  • Book a massage – or other bodywork – for pain relief and stress reduction.  Acupuncture, craniosacral, myofascial release are all good options to check out.
  • Explore mindfulness meditation.  This can be a simple as listening to a guided meditation on an app or with our Blum Center recordings.  It can be more regimented like finding an MBSR or TM class in your area and starting a daily practice.  It can also be as simple as breathing in and out throughout your day with intention.  
  • Consider therapy.  The stress and trauma from past experience sometimes holds us back from being able to let go of tension in the body.  We know that past traumatic experience leads to worse pain and function in autoimmune disease – and we’ve found that addressing it can lead to improved symptoms.  

The great thing is you can do this yourself!

In her new book, Healing Arthritis, Dr. Blum presents the exact 3-Step Protocol that we use with patients at Blum Center for Health. You will learn the best food plan for arthritis, the precise supplements and dosage we recommend for an arthritis-free life, how to build resiliency so that life’s stressors won’t affect your health, and what your gut has to do with your arthritis symptoms. In essence, Dr. Blum gives you all the tools you need to fix your gut and heal your arthritis. Get The Book Now

To recap, the 3 actions you can start today to decrease your arthritis pain is 1) eat an anti-arthritis diet 2) take the appropriate supplements and 3) build resiliency against stress. Do these things and you will feel better with less pain and much more energy.

Meet Darcy McConnell, M.D.:  Dr. McConnell brings her broad expertise in prevention, mind-body medicine, and women’s health to Blum Center for Health, in Rye Brook, NY. She is board certified in Family Medicine and Integrative Medicine, with postgraduate training from the Institute for Functional Medicine. Darcy lives with her husband and three sons and enjoys the outdoors, cooking healthy meals for her family and friends and is an enthusiastic yogi.

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8 Reasons All Women Need Non-Negotiable Self-Care

Woman practicing yoga for self-care

Women are told that they can have it all — parenthood, families, careers, relationships, and community involvement.

Women are not told, however, that by juggling all these hats they put themselves at risk for feeling perpetually burned out.

Many women become so busy taking care of kids, partners, parents, in-laws, pursuing careers, and managing the day-to-day maintenance of running a home (cooking, cleaning, shopping), that everyone else gets their best. They get shortchanged.

Some women even put basic needs on hold — doctor’s appointments, haircuts, coffee with a close friend. If this resonates, you might feel dissatisfied, lonely, unappreciated, haggard, cranky, disheveled and even unattractive.

Having it all leaves you with no strength and no time to care for yourself.

I remember one particular Mother’s Day, sitting in one of my favorite cafes overlooking a park in bloom, surrounded by my two daughters and my then-husband. I was absolutely exhausted — caring for two small children, working, taking care of the house, attempting to keep it all together. Sitting there, on Mother’s Day, fighting to keep my eyes open, all I could think was, “What about me?”

Research (1) has shown that women today are less happy than they have been over the past 40 years. Why? Theories abound, but l suspect a lack of “me-time” is a major reason. All the hats we juggle leave many women not taking adequate care of ourselves — the very thing we need to give us the strength and energy to address all the responsibilities we have.

It’s a depletion loop. We keep taking and taking and taking from ourselves without giving anything back.

In fact, the chronic underlying stress of keeping all these hats in the air can lead to serious health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, headaches, digestive problems, weight gain, memory issues and even autoimmune disease. Self-care is an important antidote in battling all of these conditions.

Yet, in my health coaching practice at Blum Center for Health, most women tell me that they “don’t have time” to take time for themselves. When we delve a little deeper, however, it becomes clear that “time” is not the issue.

What’s the issue? There is an insidious undercurrent of guilt for taking care of herself.  Many women internalize the implied message that it’s her “duty” to minimize her needs in order to care for others. That, if she is taking care of herself, then she is taking time away from caring for someone else.

Every women requires self-care for peak performance and heightened self-esteem. After all, if you don’t carve out the time to truly care and love yourself, if you avoid things that make you feel mentally and physically well, you deplete your self-esteem. Essentially you’re robbing your own bank!

So, I ask you: “What do you want for you?”

8 Reasons to Put You First on Your List

  1. You will be better equipped to communicate your needs, and the support you require, to your partner, family, friends and co-workers.
  2. Putting yourself first will make you stronger and healthier.
  3. Attending to your needs, and learning to put yourself first, will raise your level of contentedness and happiness.
  4. Setting compassionate boundaries will make you feel cared for, nurtured and loved.
  5. Putting yourself first will recharge your battery, make you better rested and give you the space to discover (or rediscover!) your passions.
  6. You will feel more appreciated, and in turn, you will feel more appreciative and grateful toward the people in your life.
  7. You will be a more patient, attentive and attuned partner, parent, sibling, daughter, and/or professional.
  8. If you are a parent, you will demonstrate to your children what it looks like respect yourself. Kids learn from their parents. Do you want to teach them to put their needs last, or do you want to role model what it looks like to take care of themselves?

Ultimately, self-care is essential and non-negotiable. From getting enough sleep, to taking care of our basic needs, to setting personal limits and boundaries, to being honest with our partners, it’s making our health and wellness a non-negotiable priority.

Need help getting started?  Melissa can help!  Head over to our CoachMe page and learn how you can work with her to begin your self-care journey.

Do you live near Blum Center in Rye Brook, NY? Join Melissa for her special 4-session series, Reclaim Your Body, Love Your Life: A Women’s Group for Lasting Change, that begins April 26th: Learn More and Sign Up Now

Meet Melissa: Melissa Rapoport is the Manager of Health Coaching and Lifestyle Programming at Blum Center for Health in Rye Brook, NY. She combines her graduate work in Developmental Psychology with her education in nutrition, health and coaching to create highly individualized programs that result in lifetime change. A contributing author to three international bestselling books, Melissa’s greatest joy is her relationship with her two daughters.

 

Reference:

  1. http://www.webmd.com/women/guide/womans-guide-to-me-time#1
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Do You have Estrogen Dominance?

Estrogen Dominance

In Functional Medicine we often refer to the relationship between estrogen and progesterone as the “dance of the hormones” or the “hormone orchestra.”

Ironically, what sounds like a beautiful evening at the ballet often plays out each month as a real hand-banging, body-slamming cacophony!

So what gives?  Why is it that we often feel out of control, and sometimes out of body, for days at a time?

The answer could be Estrogen Dominance.

Here are typical symptoms that can be attributed to a relative excess of estrogen in relationship to progesterone:

  • irregular bleeding
  • mood swings
  • depression
  • water retention/bloating
  • painful breasts
  • hot flashes
  • heavy periods
  • painful periods
  • fatigue
  • brain fog
  • sleep disturbance

How did we get here?  Unfortunately, there are many roads that lead to estrogen dominance.  Let’s start at the beginning.

The Typical Menstrual Cycle

During a typical menstrual cycle, the first half of the month, known as the estrogen dominant phase, progesterone is relatively low and estrogen levels steadily rise. Due to some nifty feedback loops that involve the brain and other hormones, ovulation occurs at around Day 14, and an egg is released from the ovary.  During this second half of the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels fall somewhat and progesterone levels rise significantly. This is when progesterone takes the lead in our hormone tango.

5 Roads that Lead to Estrogen Dominance

  1. Irregular Ovulation — One road that leads to estrogen dominance is if ovulation doesn’t occur and progesterone doesn’t have the opportunity to take that lead. We see this type of problem in young girls who haven’t started ovulating regularly, and in peri-menopausal women who are close to the end of their ovarian reserve, and also aren’t ovulating normally.
  1. Any Type of Stress — Often stress can lead to skipped ovulation. Typically we think of extreme episodes of stress such as a severe illness, anorexia/malnutrition, intense athletic training. But commonly, your average woman who goes through a stressful time will notice that her period becomes irregular. Even long standing, chronic stress can take a toll on your female hormones.
  1. Foods and Food Packaging — In this day and age of genetically-modified, pesticide-laced, prepackaged food to go, we are constantly exposed to xenoestrogens. These are toxic chemicals that act like weak estrogens in your body. These nasty chemicals can be found in pesticides, plastics that our food comes wrapped in, that “to-go” coffee lid, even the lining of your canned goods and drinks.
  1. Cosmetics and Household Products — Other examples of endocrine disruptors are phthalates and parabens that are used in hygiene products, cosmetics, and fragrances. This is where women are potentially very vulnerable considering how many bath, haircare, cosmetic, nail, feminine hygiene products we use daily. These just add to your total estrogen “load” that your body sees on a regular basis and that your liver has to metabolize and detoxify.  It turns out that optimal liver function is very important in estrogen metabolism and clearance.
  1. Your Gut Flora — The gut microbiome and your gastrointestinal function is another major player in this hormonal dance that is now looking more like a square dance with all its moving parts. It turns out that the bacteria that reside within our GI tract plays a very important role in helping us eliminate our estrogen by-products once the liver has packaged them up nicely for excretion. Sadly, the average American diet, full of high fructose corn syrup and other inflammatory foods often keep our livers working over-time just trying to detoxify lunch, let alone efficiently remove spent hormones from our systems.  Obesity itself is a problem since estrogen is stored in fat cells.  The fact that 2/3 of Americans are overweight or obese points to how prevalent this form of estrogen exposure is.

As you can see, there are many, many influences that lead to Estrogen Dominance. It’s not just “the way you are.”

The great news is there is something you can do about it.

First, you don’t need to treat Estrogen Dominance with birth control pills!

While birth control pills may help alleviate symptoms, they do not solve the root problem, In fact, taking birth control pills to treat estrogen dominance could possibly lead to more longer-term problems. (There are other excellent uses for birth control pills, such as actual birth control, and it is important to understand a woman’s goals for her health when deciding how to treat her.)

As a fellowship-trained Integrative Medicine and Functional Medicine doctor, I attack this problem of Estrogen Dominance from many angles.  The truth is we have so many ways to help women feel better, without the use of medicine and surgery.  We can, and should, use food as medicine, weight loss, botanicals, mind-body modalities for stress management so that women can actually heal themselves.

About Dr. Fitz:

Dr. Bronwyn Fitz is a board certified Obstetrician Gynecologist who is fellowship trained in Integrative Medicine.  In her practice she melds traditional medicine with non-Western approaches, nutrition, botanicals, mind/body therapies and lifestyle interventions to help women address their gynecological and reproductive health concerns. Her interest in mindfulness and meditation led her to pursue a two-year Fellowship at The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, under the leadership of world-renowned Integrative physician, Dr. Andrew Weil. 

 

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3-Steps to Finding Chronic Headache Relief

Find Chronic Headache Relief

 

Headache blogger Kerrie Smyre expresses the sentiments of many with migraines or other forms of chronic headache.  “Headaches steal so much of your life. The list is long, but includes jobs, relationships, having children, self-respect, ambition and identity”.

Headache symptoms can vary from a dull ache, to razor sharp pain that stops you in your tracks. Even the simplest headache can be life altering.  In making your way through treatment options, often there aren’t good choices– either the medications don’t work, or they work for a while. And then over time, you find yourself taking more and more medications, which can also end up paradoxically being the actual cause of (rebound) headaches themselves!

There are many different triggers for headaches, and uncovering the cause of yours is essential to finding the cure. Many of our headache patients come in thinking that their sinuses are the cause.  Usually they are not!

The 3-Prong Approach to Alleviating Chronic Headaches 

IDENTIFY THE TRIGGERS:

Could It Be Food?– There are many foods that can cause headaches. Unfortunately, they are not universal. For one person it may be raw onions, for another it could be vinegar, red wine and aged cheese. Just as every person is different, so are individual triggers. The good news is that a skilled practitioner can help identify your triggers and help you remove them.

Could It Be Non-Food Lifestyle Triggers? – There are a significant number of lifestyle triggers that are often overlooked as a cause of headache. For instance, do you get a headache if you don’t wear sunglasses? How about going in and out of air conditioning? Again, just as with food triggers, it is possible to figure this out and then help you make a personalized plan.

Could It Be Stress? (Particularly if you say you don’t have any!) – Stress and headaches often go hand-in-hand. It does not have to be acute stress (“Oh my gosh, I’m so stressed?”) It is also related to long-term, under-the-surface stress, like financial pressure, a troubled relationship, or putting off life decisions. It is important to work with a practitioner to learn mind-body tools to help you relax for headache prevention, and also for in-the-moment when-you-need-it-most stressful situations.

Could It Be Hormones? – Many women find that headaches are in some way related to their cycle. Once you and your practitioner determines that this is the issue, these kind of headaches can be treated easily with herbs that help balance your hormones.

Could It Be Toxins? – Toxins like pesticides, heavy metals, and plastic residues can build up in both your body and your brain, and trigger headaches. A skilled Functional or Integrative Medicine practitioner can evaluate your toxic load and then help you reduce the toxins in your body and treat your headaches with a detox program that provides supplements and a food plan to help support the liver in doing this important toxin-clearing work.

Could It Be A Structural Issue? – A common cause of headaches for many people is an issue in their musculoskeletal system. Problems like TMJ (temporomandibular joint inflammation), neck issues, myofascial pain syndromes (muscle pain in the scalp, shoulders and neck radiating up into the head) and others, can all be causes of headaches. Once we figure out this is the issues, we can treat it and the headaches can be gone for good!

Could It Be Sinusitis? – Of course it could be! But now you know that there are many other possibilities and we need to check for them all. However, sinusitis remains on the list and if it turns out this is the culprit, there are great herbal and alternative ways to treat this other than antibiotics. Also, food and environmental triggers are often an underlying issue, and these can be treated as well.

2. WORK WITH A HEADACHE PROFESSIONAL

It takes skill and experience to create an individualized plan. At Blum Center for Health, while all the practitioners treat headaches, it is a particular focus of my practice. I work with my patients to uncover and treat the underlying causes. Remember, it is critical to find someone who will be your partner – if they are only throwing medication at the issue, walk away!

3.  STAY COMMITTED:

It takes vigilance and attention on your part and mine to discover all the triggers that contribute to your headaches, but it can be done and I can show you how. Most importantly, once this is sorted out, you will have the tools and strategies you need to remain headache-free.

Ready to take aim at your headaches? A great place to start is with our 10-Day or 30-Day HealMyGut program — it’s a total gut reset with a nutritional plan, recipes, just-right supplements, daily email support, and a private online community. Our 30-Day program includes the added bonus of a weekly chat with our Functional Nutritionist to answer all your questions. Find out which program is ideal for you: Take the Assessment

Meet Dr. Gereau: Dr. Gereau is an Allergy and ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) specialist who uses an integrative and functional medicine approach to conditions such as chronic sinusitis, allergies, sleep apnea and headaches.

CLICK HERE to learn more about Dr. Gereau.

 

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3 Hidden Triggers that Create Chronic Stress

Chronic Stress Triggers And Sleep

We all know the stress of a busy, adult lifestyle – a delicate balancing act of work pressures, financial obligations, significant others, friends and family. Just the day-to-day running of your life can feel like a pressure cooker – managing a home, caring for kids or parents (or both), meeting obligations and running errands are all identifiable forms of stress.

You may have taken steps to mitigate these stressors through meditation, exercise, eating well, setting boundaries or scheduling self-care. Awesome!But, did you know that you might be undermining your efforts, and causing stress in your body, without realizing it?

Stress vs. Chronic Stress

Stress elevates cortisol and adrenaline, hormones responsible for “fight or flight” in what your body perceives as an emergency — something as serious as jumping out the way of a careening car, or something as nerve-wracking as public speaking. Once the event is over, our cortisol and adrenaline levels return to normal. This is a healthy stress response.

Chronic stress, however, creates havoc in the body. Cortisol levels, which spike during a stress-inducing event, remain elevated. As Susan Blum, MD, discusses in her book, The Immune System Recovery Plan, this increased baseline can damage the immune system and prevent it from healing. Ultimately, chronic stress can have a negative effect on the levels of good bacteria in the gut, reducing the ability of the immune system to fight infection and puts us at risk for autoimmune disease.

3 Hidden Triggers that Create Chronic Stress

  1. Over-exercising – While exercise, in general, is a great way to relieve stress, overdoing it can cause a host of problems that we don’t necessarily attribute to exercise. Intense exercise increases cortisol, the hormone that is released when your body is under stress. So if you participate in daily high-intensity workouts you may be getting too much of a good thing. Chronically elevated cortisol is related digestive issues, weight gain, and even depression. Further, over-exercising can have a detrimental effect on the immune system, making you more vulnerable to illness, and triggering flare-ups of underlying autoimmune disease.

What you can do:

  • ** Work with a trainer to create an exercise plan that includes a balance of interval training, strength training, core work and stretching.
  • **Add a “slower” more reflective activity to your weekly routine, such as restorative yoga, tai chi or Qi Gong.
  • **Find other ways to get your exercise high without stressing your body on a daily basis, such as a salsa dance class or learning a new sport.
  1. Skipping Meals – You consider yourself a healthy eater. You eat lots of seasonal, organic vegetables and fruits. You enjoy deliciously healthy fats, like avocado and nuts, and make a point of having some protein every time you eat. But, because of your busy lifestyle or, perhaps, because you’re trying to drop a few pounds, you skip meals, undermining your nutritious food choices. Skipping meals increases cortisol because your body thinks its starving. It also causes your blood-sugar levels to take a dive. You might have noticed that when you skip meals your thinking becomes foggy and suddenly you have a short fuse. Ultimately, skipping meals can slow your metabolism, putting you at risk for weight gain, and making weight more difficult to lose.

What you can do:

  • ** Plan meals ahead of time.
  • ** Set reminders on your phone to eat.
  • ** Carry nutrient-dense, whole-food snacks in the event you find yourself on-the-go.
  • ** Make eating a priority — it is your body’s fuel!
  1. Not Getting Enough Sleep – Research demonstrates that even slight sleep loss boosts cortisol levels and can accelerate the development of insulin resistance. In fact, one study found that getting just 30 fewer minutes sleep than you should per weekday can increase your risk of obesity and diabetes. Not getting enough sleep is related to a host of other issues including heart disease, high blood pressure, accidents, mood disorders, depression and decreased productivity.

What you can do:

  • ** Focus on what time you go to bed rather than focusing on what time you wake up.
    ** The earlier you eat dinner, the better — less digesting ensures a better night’s sleep.
    ** Ban screens from your bedroom – the light signals the body that it’s time to be awake.
    ** Create a sleep environment – make your bedroom cozy, clutter-free and a cool temperature to induce sleep.

Resources:

Blum, S. (2013). The Immune System Recovery Plan. New York, NY: Scribner

Endocrine Society. (2015, March 6). Losing 30 minutes of sleep per day may promote weight gain and adversely affect blood sugar control. ScienceDailyhttps://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150306082541.htm

Leproult R., Copinschi G., Buxton O., Van Cauter, E. (1997)  Sleep loss results in an elevation of cortisol levels the next evening. Sleep. 20(10), 865-70.

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Turn Off the Effects of Stress on Your Immune System

Stress is really about the degree of change you experience and how much it throws you out of balance.  Studies show that when stress pulls you too far off center, it affects your immune system in a negative way.  The body has a built in stress response for emergencies, which is often called “fight-or-flight.” In general, this is a good thing because it supports you when you need an adrenaline rush and cortisol boost from your adrenal glands to help you run, fight, or face an intense stressor, be it emotional or physical.

But when you think too much, you can get stuck in your thoughts, worrying about the future and replaying the past. At the same time, your adrenal stress hormones get stuck in the “on” position, producing those stress chemicals that have a negative impact on your immune system. It is this chronic stress that is the problem and the type of stress that makes you sick.

When you practice mind-body skills such as meditation, walking in nature, turning off the nightly news, knitting, or singing, to name just a few, you will learn to “turn the switch off” and your system will find balance again. Then you can easily move in and out of stress mode, benefiting from the adrenal boost when you need it and letting your system relax when you don’t.  But remember, learning to relax takes practice!