Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Power of Sleep

Sleep is an amazing thing that most of us don't think much about and certainly don't pay enough attention to, nor appreciate enough, and yet most of us are sleep deprived most of time...

As with anything in my life and my body I am putting myself through a current experiment with food, well more the, lack of some foods. I have been without alcohol or coffee for 2 weeks now. I am actively trying to find answers to a few things: 
• why my liver doesn't seem to be processing as well as it could
• why my cells aren't at optimal turnover and rejuvenation, given my age and good health
• paying more attention to how certain foods on the Eat Right for Your Blood Type diet do or don't effect me. 
All of this inquisitive investigation came from a visit with a new naturopathic doctor I met last month. She mentioned how impressed she is with all the lifestyle and dietary changes I have made over the years. So, unlike most of the patients that go to see her, we were able to talk about optimal health with a fine tooth comb and evaluate the nitty gritty of my diet and lifestyle. As always, I came home and did some research since I am an info junky, and now I am giving some of her ideas a whirl, plus adding in some extras of my own, including: eating my largest meal at lunch time, actively getting vegetables into each meal, drinking only 1 cup of green tea in the morning (that's all I want and need, as compared to my 2 cups of coffee), starting each morning with hot water and lemon, probiotics and yoga, having breakfast everyday (which happened naturally as soon as I cut out the coffee, I am naturally hungry within the first couple hours of waking).

Per the ND's suggestion, I read up on Dr. D'Adamo's Blood Type Diet approach to eating. Of course I know it. I have learned about it, in fact, I did a report on it in school, way back when (again another hint in my academic career that nutrition was the path for me - duh!). Without thinking much of it I haven't had chicken in a month. Crazy, right!? I don't think I ever thought to cut out something so benign and common in my diet. (I guess I've cut out chicken before on the vegan diet, but all I could think about was eggs, read that funny post here.). B blood types should avoid chicken, oddly enough there is a lectins in chicken, that Bs specifically do not assimilate well. I roasted a chicken with veggies the other night, man was it good. But the gas that immediately came after - yeah, not so much. I didn't eat the chicken for a day. Then had a very small amount yesterday, again, gassyness. Weird? Right? Who the hell ever heard of chicken making them fart? But something may be there. Maybe the blood type diet theory is onto something. I eat relatively close to it already, given a few changes, and switching out avoids for highly beneficial foods as a B. From a scientific standpoint it makes sense. We all evolved from certain regions in the world. And based on those regions we had limited resources to food. So our bodies adapted and evolved only knowing, eating, assimilating certain foods, it is in our DNA. It was not like it is now, where we have a global food marketplace and everyone eats everything. The Blood Type Diet focuses on our ancestry. Our blood types are a clue to our regional heritage and with that knowledge knowing how to eat based on how our ancestors ate and is optimal for our DNA. Interesting indeed!

I woke up this morning impressed by my quality of sleep lately. I have always valued my sleep. It is super important to me to get enough quality sleep. In fact, it is even more important for anyone around me that I get enough sleep. I am wretched if I don't. A couple years ago A and I stopped sleeping in the same bed and room because both of our qualities of sleep were being effected negatively that it was causing tension in our relationship. We both have different needs when it comes to the quality of our sleep; down to a difference in blankets, temperature of the room, waking in the middle of the night for water or to pee, lighting, moving too much; let me tell you it is amazing given our many, many sleep-need differences that we slept in the same bed as long as we did. It is not a reflection of the quality of your relationship if you do not sleep in the same bed, by the way! If anything, sleeping in the same bed may be some of the problems in your relationship. Just consider it.

It has always been a bit harder for me to fall asleep. I have to read in order to fall asleep. It is rare that I can crawl into bed and fall asleep. Typically I read for 30 minutes and then fall asleep. God be with you if you wake me up in the middle of the night. Man am I cranky. That also means I do not wake up in the middle of the night. I don't get up to pee or drink water. Occasionally I wake up because of stress and too many thoughts (but not nearly like I used to). And I used to wake up regularly on my period, but not since I started using the Diva Cup. I kid you not, it has changed my periods forever! And for the last 6 months, I have been waking around 3 am most nights, and that was because of my liver. So, now that I am addressing that, no more waking in the middle of the night and I am so stoked about that. I also wake up slowly in the morning. Not groggy per say, just everything moves slow. I don't like to be jolted awake, I hate alarms for that reason. I like to lay in bed, stretch, keep my ear plugs in long after my eyes are open. I like to be silent in the morning, with little talking or interaction, except maybe with Addi, our golden boxer. That is one of the few times in the day she is cuddly, so sometimes she gets in bed with me as I read or write early in the morning.

I typically go to bed between 10-11 p,m, and wake anywhere between 6 and 8 a.m. For the last 2 weeks though, I have been up no later than 7:30 bright eyed and bushy tailed. Still not jumping out of bed and talking a mile a minute (like a certain someone else in my house ;) ), but I am waking very mentally clear and excited and energized for the day. I am eager to write first thing in the morning and eager to do yoga in my PJs and bathrobe. Normally I would get up, go get my coffee and lounge on the couch for an hour or so, depending on the day's agenda. But these last couple of weeks I am excited and energized to get up to start moving my body at 6 am! Speaking of moving, it is amazing my poop lately (yep, I went there, you can always count on me to talk about poop) it just falls out as soon as I wake up. No I am not pooping in my bed, don't worry! But seriously, I open my eyes, I fart once or twice and then I need to poop. And it just slides right out. Boom, done easy, clean. So cool! 

If you had asked me over a month ago if my sleep was good, I would have said yes. In fact, I think I even wrote on my intake forms for my visit with the ND that yes, my sleep is good. But now, having such a close comparison, wow, what a difference! I am sleeping so much better now. My sleep is deeper and better quality. I am waking refreshed and energized and eager to move first thing in the morning, which is new for me. I have always had to wait to do my yoga until an hour or two after I woke up, because otherwise I would get nauseous. Now I am eager to get on my mat. I make my cup of green tea and roll my mat out. I sit with my tea for awhile, and then I slowly start stretching, which turns into a full yoga routine, always ending with inversions in my aerial silk. Never have I been able to do inversions in the morning soon after waking without extreme nausea. It is really fascinating. Similarly in the past, if I have to get up early, like 4 or 5 a.m. I woke up nauseous. Now, part of me is wondering if that was a condition of my lifestyle habits and it's effect on my sleep, more than the hour of the morning. Hmmm....

Bathrobe yoga is the best!

I haven't used an alarm in over a year. I am waking naturally. I have historically fought waking up. I can feel it coming in a semi-conscious state. I can feel my body waking, my eyes fluttering, but I would resist as long as possible. Holding my pee as long as possible, forcing my eyes shut as long as possible, just for a few extra minutes of sleep. But these last 2 weeks. I wake up, eyes wide open, no resistance. I have clear, energized, exciting, creative thoughts and I am excited to start moving and creating and being in the day. Also I have spent a large part of my adult life waking up for coffee. I love coffee. I think coffee is a justifiably wonderful reason to get up in the morning, because I thought it would wake me up and give me that energized feeling, which I am waking up with now, still in bed, without the coffee. It is interesting to watch A get up and his first train of thought is coffee, in a semi-awake zombie state. I have done that same zombie shuffle most of my life too. I now have the comparison as a helpful reminder that I have the power to control what I put in my body and the where-with-all to pay attention to how foods make me feel and sleep. If the goal is optimal health, to live longer, healthier and to feel good, for me that is the most important; I want to feel good every day, why not take the steps towards improving the feel-goodness of life. And what's even more amazing is you don't know until you know, until you have the comparison in a point of your life where you felt like crap and each step you make towards feeling amazing.

Like I said, I would have said with conviction that yes, I sleep great, but I didn't know. Something didn't click until now. And yes, I have given up both coffee and alcohol, many times before in my journey, and yes at the same time, but for some reason this is different. It feels different. And it is so clear that I should have done this 6 months ago when my intuition was telling me that I could be sleeping better and that my liver needed additional support.

We undervalue the importance of sleep in our society. We overvalue busyness and waking up early, as signs of being more productive, but how efficient really is that perceived productivity if the quality of our sleep is crap? I think it is worth investigating. Poor sleep effects our brains, our bodies, our hormones, weight gain, brain clarity, creativity, digestion, productivity throughout the day, our cravings - particularly for sugar and carbohydrates (Let's take a further look at that: we are nation of obese people consuming massive amounts of processed sugar and carbs, and we all feel pressure to work hard, longer and more productively and yet no one is questioning why we all need, no crave, coffee, sugar and carbs - perhaps we should be talking about the quality of our sleep more than the perceived productivity we are all so eagerly chasing), the foods we eat, the amount of food we eat, our reaction times (there is a reason sleep deprivation is a form of torture) our moods, our tempers, yes, even our relationships, ever notice how much more annoying your husband, or kids, or the barista behind the coffee counter are after a crappy night's sleep? Sleep is really important! I cannot stress this enough and it is something in your life that you have power to change, make better or worse, and even make ideal, based on your lifestyle choices and diet.

Don't take my word for it, put yourself through a sleep experiment, you will be amazed!

Friday, March 10, 2017

Don't Ignore the Subtle Signs

Our bodies give us subtle signs of things not working internally that go unnoticed potentially for years. Those symptoms will come and go, and even change, but often are pointing to the same weakness, something lacking or ailment happening inside. If ignored, and not addressed at the subtle symptom stage, often the weakness or ailment manifests into the scary things that it seems so many are getting diagnosed with recently.

Subtle symptoms include: sudden onset and/or constant allergies, onset asthma, rashes, sleep disruption in any way, hives, a very strong distaste for something suddenly, any form of digestive upset (yes, anything other than daily and "ideal" is concerning (reference Your Farts and Poops are Talking to you to learn more about what is "ideal" poop)), dandruff, itchy skin, waking at the same hour every night, excessive thirstiness, lethargy and a general lacking of energy, headaches, toenail fungus, ringing in the ears - the list can go on and on. Don't brush off an "odd" symptom as something fleeting, ESPECIALLY if you keep getting it or it won't go away. And just because your doctor tells you to take a medication or use a topical steroid cream to make the subtle symptom go away, really you should be wondering why it is there and why it is not going away.

Case in point, these are the subtle symptoms I have had for the last 6 months or so:
I have had a small, traveling, red, itchy patch on my face. It is barely noticeable, flakey, itchy, slightly red spot, that just won't go away. I scratch off the flakes in the morning, slather it with coconut oil and go about my day. Meh, no biggie, are the rest of my symptoms, I have dandruff, which is pretty normal in the winter, but even in the summer, it seemed kinda weird, meh, brushed it off. I have been craving bitter flavors and grapefruit. I have not been sleeping as well as I know I can. I wake most nights around 3 a.m. I am hot and thirsty and wide awake. I normally kick the covers off, take a sip of water and read until I fall asleep. I am not normally up for a long period of time (no more than an hour) but it is effecting me throughout the day. I have been extremely sensitive to smells (no I'm not pregnant), more so than normal, where strong smells are offensive to too me, make me nauseous and make me sneeze. I have always had sensitive sinuses, but this seems more sensitive than normal. My bowel movements have been fine, but not great, irregular in consistency day to day. Oh, and I had a nail fungus on my big left toe that was more ugly looking than problematic, although now that I think about it, I dealt with a constant ingrown on that toe all summer long...hmmmm....

Pretty benign symptoms right? And with seemingly no connection. Just slightly random annoying bits of being human that don't bother my day to day functioning. I haven't thought much about any of them until recently. I went and saw a new naturopathic doctor, who was the first health care professional ever to say, "You know more about your body than I do. I am just here to support you."!!! I immediately loved her because she said that out loud to me as I sat on her exam table. So many of us fear our bodies, or view it as this mystery wrapped in an enigma that only people who went to medical school can understand and figure out. WRONG! If you are interested and curious enough, and willing enough to ask questions and trust your intuition, knowing what symptoms to look for; you know your body, and what it needs, far better than any health care professional can ever tell you. And no, I am by no means saying, go stick your tongue out at your doctor and say you know more than s/he. What I am encouraging you to do is to take control of your body, to get to know it, to ask those questions - why do I have this [rash, itchiness, sleep interruption, etc.] and make it your mission to figure out and start asking about those subtle symptoms rather than ignoring them.

With that being said, most subtle symptoms are a sign of an imbalance and often a lacking in diet. So much of what ails us can be linked to what we are eating, or really not eating enough of. So many of us eat too much animal protein, too much sugar, and processed, chemicalized, artificial foods, that are giving your body zero of the nutrients it needs, and in fact, are taking away those that you do have. We should all be eating a mostly plant based diet, with lots and lots of healthy fats, some animal protein, some whole grains, dairy and fruit, and nary the occasional treat of a packaged item, or sweet, or alcohol. Unfortunately that is not how most of us eat, and in fact, our government tells us something different. Again trust your instinct here - it know what you should be eating.

So as a person who eats that way, mostly plants, lots of healthy fats, no gluten, only fermented dairy and hardly ever a packaged item. I do enjoy 2 cups of coffee in the morning blended with coconut oil and a glass or 2 of wine each night. Harmless, right? I am sure many of you could admit worse dietary habits and vices. And yet, I have had these weird symptoms. I am seemingly healthy, active daily and eat a particularly well balanced diet, and yet, 6 months ago, my intuition told me something was off. I wasn't sure what or how, just that I needed to make a change. So did I make a :( This post is just as much for me, as it is for you. It is so funny that we can see the sign, feel the symptom and brush it off for months and even years. I (we) can do better!

My intuition told me 6 months ago that my liver needs support. It isn't processing as well as it should. And yet I'm not a candidate for any liver issues. I am young and active. I eat well. I drink only 2 12oz cups of coffee in the morning, never more and never at any other time of the day. I enjoy a glass or 2 of wine most nights of the week, and occasionally a few cocktails when out, but hardly a concern along the lines of the alcohol effecting my liver that negatively, which is the default logic. The naturopathic doctor I saw, said exactly that, in our appointment, "You are really healthy and have no problems, but I would suggest we up your healthy fats intake and support your liver more."!! Whaaat?! I could have told me that - doh! It is awesome to have your actions and thoughts validated. I knew 6 months ago, I just didn't implement the changes I knew I needed to make and she just confirmed my hunch. So cool!

She described the liver like an oil tank, where it continues to fill up with the toxins it flushes from our body. The level slowly rises from environmental toxins, to the toxins in our food, to the processing of our vitamins, minerals and medications we take every day. So while seemingly no issue arises, the liver reaches a tipping point, unable to keep up with all the toxic crap it needs to process and starts to overflow (metaphorically) and hence the subtle symptoms. We ask so much of our liver, just by living and breathing, and then add a potentially crappy diet, which leads to more medications, ie more liver hurt. And yet, what do we do to support our liver, not much in fact. And if you Google liver symptoms or issues, you get these horrendous, worst case scenario symptoms of jaundice and bleeding, that aren't helpful.

Every single one of my subtle symptoms over the past 6 months have pointed to a need for extra liver support. Red, itchy patch, toenail issue, waking at 3 a.m. every morning, irregular bowels, a recent extra sensitivity to smells, boom, signs that my liver is at the tipping point. Googling again for ways to support your liver in a natural way was helpful kinda, but I already know what I need to do, so this is what I am doing to support my liver, which is seemingly fine and healthy, and yet, if I continued to ignore these symptoms, perhaps, would manifest into something worse. I am all about prevention.

Ways to support your liver if you are already eating a clean, mostly plant based diet, with lots of healthy fats (or so I thought!) (We need far more healthy fats than even I thought was a enough (6-8T per day) - pass the EVOO!!):

• Remove caffeine and alcohol asap

• Add in green tea - it is a great detoxifier (and will help with the caffeine headache)

• Up your healthy fats in your diet and with supplements - I am currently taking 10,000IU of VitD3, 2 daily capsules of fish oil, I am also slathering on the EVOO, flax oil and flax seeds like never before

• Milk thistle - is a great detoxifier and is crucial for helping your liver process toxins

• Evaluate the environmental toxins around you - run HEPA air purifiers and evaluate the mold levels in your home (this is crucial!)

• Drink fresh pressed green juice daily that has a least 1, if not all these veggies (which are all great for the liver): celery, parsley, ginger, lemon, apple and beets

• Grapefruit and lots of it, and/or grapefruit seed extract

• Bitter greens, like dandelion, mustard greens, broccoli rabe, celery, endive, etc.
• Start each morning off with hot water and lemon

It is so ironic to know these things (and Google didn't even have all in one place! Problem solved ;) ) and even have my gut tell me these things and yet, I didn't do it until now. I think we all can relate to knowing and not doing, and then one day, just making a change. Start paying attention to those seemingly benign symptoms, they are a clue, a sign of something going on that if you investigate can improve your health with some simple changes and avoid the scary potential diagnosis later down the road.