Thursday, April 30, 2020

Connecting with Nature: Grow Herbs & Veggies

by Dr. Leena Athparia, ND, AAWC

Cultivation has been part of the human lifestyle for thousands of years and in the recent months, many people are turning towards their gardens to become more self-sustainable. Whether it's fear of food shortage, the hassle of picking up groceries with long line-ups, the disappointment from online orders with missing or wilted vegetables, or the concerns of grocery budgets, ma
ny individuals are seeing how their can take matters into their own hands. While the idea of providing all the groceries for your family is unrealistic in a cooler climate like Canada, there are still many ways of supplementing your diet with home-grown produce. I am not an expert gardener but in this blog I want to share that its possible for anyone to supplement their diet with fresh herbs & vegetables that they can grow even without a garden space or experience!

Benefits of Gardening

Gardening is not only a way to provide food for your family, but it has added benefits of fresh, local produce loaded with nutrients & vitality and a beautiful way to connect with nature. Here are just some of the benefits to help motivate you:

  • Connection with nature. Earth element is one of the 5 foundations of this existence. Spending time with the earth has a grounding effect on your whole body & mind.
  • Relaxation. Spending time with the soil has a meditative effect and encourages us to be in the present.
  • Self-sustainability. There is something so rewarding about seeing your hard work bear fruit. It deepens our appreciation for what we eat when we are involved in the process.

Sprouting

If you don't have garden space or it's not warm enough outside, sprouting is a wonderful way to grow something nutritious and fresh at home without soil! Sprouting is very cheap and easy to do at home, turning grains, nuts, seeds and lentils into delicious sprouts that you can add to salads, sandwiches, soups or stirfries. They are packed with concentrated nutrients and full of prana  or life source. You can read more about the benefit of sprouting in this blog here.

Depending on the type of seed and size, soak the seeds for a few hours or overnight, then drain and place in a colander, glass jar with a net or a sprouter. It's best to purchase organic lentils, beans, seeds & nuts since they are more likely to sprout than conventional seeds that have reduced viability. You can buy sprouting seeds online or in health food stores: simply search for 'sprouting seeds'. Here's an example of a video which highlights 5 easy sprouting ideas with instructions.

Sprouting seeds or legumes you may already have in your kitchen:

  • Lentils (French, green or brown lentils)
  • Dry peas
  • Mung beans
  • Chickpeas

Additional ideas for nutritious seeds to buy and sprout if you like variety:

  • Alfalfa seeds
  • Broccoli
  • Mustard
  • Radish
  • Sunflower seeds (with shells)
  • Arugula and many more ideas
Don't forget, it is always important to wash sprouts frequently to prevent bacteria contamination or mould.


Growing Vegetables from Groceries

Did you know there are ways to regrow plants from vegetables you may already have at home? Instead of throwing out your lettuce stubs or onion tops, try saving them and planting them in water or soil in small containers at home. This can be an educational activity for kids at home and is fun way to see the veggies grow!

Top Vegetables & Herbs to Replant:

  • Lettuce
  • Celery 
  • Green onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Bok choi
  • Herbs: basil, mint, sage, rosemary
Check out this video for some more inspiration and this video to help guide you. Most of these can be started indoors and transplanted outdoors in warmer weather. For the leafy greens, you can usually start harvesting a few leaves after 1-2 weeks!

Planting Seeds from Groceries

The trend for buying and planting seeds has shot up incredibly over the last few weeks with many Canadians turning towards growing their own food. Currently, many seed companies are backordered and unable to turn out seed orders quickly. If you are waiting to order seeds, there are several saplings you can grow in the meantime by harvesting the seeds from your veggies in the fridge. Such as:

  • Tomatoes: simply slice the tomatoes or scoop out the seed pulp and place in pots under ~1cm of good quality soil or compost. Keep moist and in the sun and within 1-2 weeks, you will have tomato saplings! (see photo - these are sprouts from organic tomatoes at home after 2 weeks)
  • Squashes (ie. butternut): instead of throwing the seeds away, scoop, wash and soak them overnight. Then place in a moist paper towel in a clear container in the sun. Keep moist and within a few days you will see sprouts. Once they are sprouting, you can plant indoors in the soil and transplant outdoors in warmer weather.
  • Peppers & Chillies: wash the seeds and follow the same instructions as the squashes.
  • Peas: if you have dry green or yellow whole peas, soak overnight and drain. You can keep in a clear container with moisture, in the sun until sprouts start to form and then plant in the soil.

Further Resources

If you feel you still need some guidance, reach out to friends or family who have experience in the garden. Everyone starts as a beginner and like anything, gardening skills get better with practice. Here are a few additional resources in the community that offer free classes, webinars, documentaries or even seeds to encourage people to start growing their own veggies:
  • 20 Free & Inspiring Documentaries
  • Backyard Groceries: a sustainable local business that offers set-up and hands-on guidance on growing your organic garden.
  • Richter's Herbs: supplies seeds and saplings of many medicinal herbs and exotic plants such as Ashwagandha, Ayurvedic herbs, Curry leaf plants and other local plants.
  • Food Up Front: offers free seeds while supplies last to encourage people in Toronto to grow vegetables in their yards or balconies and share with neighbours.

Your chances of sprouting are higher with organic veggies. While there are many other vegetables and herbs you can grow this season, the above ideas are simply suggestions to help get you started right away with what you have at home. If you have never done any gardening, now's the time to break your shell and give it a try! There may be trial and error, but in the end, you will have fresh, local, organic produce from your own home with the benefit of boosting mental health and connecting with the earth! Speak with your naturopathic doctor for customised suggestions on nutrition and veggies that are best suited for your body type or Ayurvedic dosha type this season!


Dr. Leena Athparia
 is a naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in chronic disease and health promotion with Ayurveda. She has a keen interest in Ayurvedic nutrition and lifestyle. If you would like to work with Dr. Athpariaplease call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

COVID-19 Statistics and Questions

by Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

The requirement to isolate is into it sixth week. This is putting many into a state of fear, uncertainty and confusion.  Speculation is making the situation worse. Although there are many unknowns, we do know quite a bit about COVID-19 including what groups are most susceptible to severe or fatal outcomes, how it is spread and how to protect ourselves.

Generally speaking, the more understanding you have about a stressful situation the easier it is to handle. Also, looking at a problem from many different perspectives often provides the best insight into not only why there is a problem, but how to handle it. The following analysis raises many questions, but hopefully it also shreds some light and alleviates some of your concerns.

World Wide Statistics

To get a better understanding of what is really going on I analyzed the statistics (as of April 21st) provided by the World Health Organization (WHO) a few different ways,  For the sake of this analysis the focus is primarily on what the fatality rate tells us. I have focused on fatality rates as the rationale for the extreme Public Health measures that have been taken are about preventing deaths, not about preventing mild symptoms. Of the 209 countries have reported confirmed cases for COVID-19, the following is what it currently indicates:


Chart 1: Death Rate by World Region
as of April 21st, 2020
Chart 1 looks at fatality rate by world region. All regions, other than Europe were tracking at a death rate between 4.3 and 4.8 percentage . In Europe the rate is tracking at 8.5%.  What's going on in Europe?
Although there is a high degree of consistency in most world region, when you break that down by countries within each world region, there is more variability.  For example, in the Western Pacific the fatality rate in China is reported at 5.5%, Korea at 2.2%, Japan at 1.6 and Australia at 1.1%.

Chart 2: Percentage of Countries by Death Rate
as of April 21st, 2020
Chart 2 illustrates that the fatality rate by country varies substantially.  55% of the countries currently have a rate of less than 2% with 21% reporting no fatalities at all based on the date of the analysis. 7% of the countries had a fatality rate of greater than 11% including the European countries of France (17%), Belgium (14%), United Kingdom and Italy (13%) and Netherlands (11%).

The tremendous variability in fatality rate by countries provides additional confirmation that there is something other than the virus itself that is a threat to health.  Why is the fatality rate in the majority of countries so low and in others so high?  What can we learn from those countries with such a low rate?

Of the 209 countries that reported confirmed cases we see that 35% of the countries have less than 100 cases and 28% have between 100 and 999 cases. Chart 4 also shows that only 3% or 6 countries have over 100,000.

What this indicates is that, generally speaking, the majority of countries have been able to control the spread of COVID-19 quite well.

Chart 3: Death Rate Based on Number of Confirmed Cases
Chart 3 indicates that the fatality rate is highest in those countries with the most number of cases.  In those countries with less than 10,000 cases the fatality rate is quite consistent at around 3.3%.

When we look closer that the numbers it is not that black and white. Of the countries that have more than 100,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the fatality rate ranges from 3% in Germany, 5% in the United States, 10% in Spain, 13% in Italy and the United Kingdom and 17% in France.

If it was simply, the higher the number of cases the higher the fatality rate, why is there such a range? Is this because of hospital capacity?  Is it associated with population density?  To what degree does the age of the population in those countries impact the outcome? What other health factors are impacting the outcome?  What else needs to be considered.

If we look a little closer at the numbers in Canada, as of April 25th there are 44,353 confirmed cases reported in Canada with a total fatality rate of 5.3%.  Nine provinces and territories have a fatality rate below 2.5%.  Quebec has the highest rate at 5.9%, followed by Ontario at 5.8% and British Columbia at 5.3%.

Just recently what has also come to light is that a large number of deaths (upwards to over 80%) are in the elderly and in those that are institutionalized.  On April 14th, a local paper reported that over 90% of the all fatality in Canada were in those over the age of 60.  What is also interesting about this fact is that those over 60 years of age represented only 38% of those that had COVID-19. The correlation with severity of symptoms and fatalities is not only related to age, but to a person's overall health status, especially as it relates to uncontrolled diabetes and heart disease. Similar facts have been echoed in other countries as well.

Why do I like all the numbers?  I like numbers and research because it brings reason and logic to any situation where emotion tends to drive outcomes and behaviour.  I rely on it because it confirms that the threat of COVID-19 is not based solely on the virulence factor of the virus.  It is a stark reminder that there are many factors to consider.  From a naturopathic perspective (or my perspective) there are three main things to consider:
  1. The virus itself.
  2. Environment
  3. Individual susceptibility, risk and resiliency

Protecting Yourself From the Virus


Yes, it is important to follow the guidelines from your local Public Health. Understanding how the virus is transmitted hasn't changed.  It is transmitted through respiratory droplets primarily when a person coughs or sneezes and then touches a surface that someone else comes in contact with and then touches their face.  The reason that the primary Public Health guideline is to wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your face after touching other surfaces is because this is the primary way that transmission happens.

In this blog I am focusing on the guidelines for the public. Understandably, the guidelines for healthcare workers and those in close contact with individuals that have severe symptoms, for any illness, are very different than the guidelines for the general public.

I am concerned that without an understanding of the rationale for Public Health guidelines many people are taking things too far. So let's look at the rational for the main protective guidelines.

  • Physical Distancing protects an individual from entering the path of an unexpected cough or sneeze from someone that they encounter, based on the off chance that one of the individuals is infected.  Physical distancing is about transmission of respiratory droplets which is why it is possible for your doctor or health-care provider to be closer than 6 feet when providing care while wearing masks and gloves. You can not catch the virus simply by being next to someone.
  • Masks - On or Off? Masks act as a symbol of protection, yet according to the Center for Evidence Based Research there is reason to suspect that they may actually make the situation worse for some people. Masks can exacerbate or worsen other health issues as they can impede breathing and can make it more difficult.  Face masks may also negatively impact the natural way that the respiratory system and the skin regulate the body's core temperate. When walking outside, driving in your own vehicle or in places where you are not interacting with others it is seldom necessary or advisable to wear a mask.  The research, and Public Health, recommend that individuals wear masks under the following three conditions:
    • An individual is demonstrating symptoms of COVID-19 (and should be self-isolating other than going to doctor appointments)
    • An individual is providing care to another individual that is demonstrating symptoms or that is at high risk.
    • When an individual is in a situation where it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.
  • Gloves are a barrier between you and another surface.  It is important to keep in mind that gloves, disinfectant wipes or even tissues are only effective when we use them for a specific task and then discard them.  It makes sense to have a physical barrier - gloves, paper towel, disinfectant wipe, etc when pumping gas, opening doors that are frequently used by others and when doctors and health care workers are interacting with you. Keep in mind, a virus may last longer on gloves than it would on your hands. It is all about not touching a surface that may be contaminated and then touching your face shortly after. Wearing gloves throughout the day or while driving in your car does not make any sense. If you choose to wear gloves, wear them for a specific task and then discard them. 
Following Public Health Guidelines is still the primary focus for decreasing exposure to COVID-19.

Environment

With the high number of fatalities in individuals that have been institutionalized and in larger cities, the environmental factor will likely receive a lot of attention. There will be many questions raised such as:
  • How best to keep busy traffic areas (subways, elevators, large gatherings) safer during an outbreak.
  • The necessity to have windows and air flow in buildings where people work and sleep
  • Why are there more fatalities in cities? How much of it is about population density?  To what degree does the level of electromagnetic radiation exposure play a role?  What has to be done to make cities, large events and shopping safer?
  • Isolation standards in institutions, especially when someone is sick
  • What do our hospitals have to do to prepare for situations like this in the future.
  • The importance of spending time outside not only for the opportunity to breath in clean air, but impact of nature versus buildings on health.
We will likely be faced with other threats to health in the future. The question now is what have we learned and how do we prepare moving forward.  There are many environmental factors that a play in health and disease. Looking at environment from the perspective of health will help us make better decisions moving forward.

Individual Susceptibility

It is important for individuals to recognize that over time most of us are likely going to come in contact with COVID-19.  The current stats indicate that over 80% of people will experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. 

The two main factors that are associated with increased risk of severe symptoms or fatality from COVID-19 are those that are older AND that have other health issues such as diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases.

Expect that over the next few months there will be many speculations as to why the fatality rate is so high in the elderly population, especially those in institutions. No one can say that they have all the answers, but what we do know at this time is that nutrient deficiencies are a world-wide problem, especially in the elderly. Also, with any respiratory infection, those individuals that are not sedentary and not engaging in physical activity may be more susceptible.

Part of the conversation will and needs to shift to the comorbidities (diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and obesity) that are associated with increased risk of fatality and severe symptoms of COVID-19.

What does all this mean for most people?  This situation has highlighted the need and the importance of lifestyle as a means of supporting overall health -- through all stages of life.

Looking at the statistics, both in Canada and around the world, have highlighted that this pandemic and future health crises can only be solved and prevented by looking at the problem from as many perspectives as possible. To-date the virus has been the focus. Over the next coming weeks and months we can expect that environment and lifestyle will explored in a lot more detail.

For more information on how to support your health, review my previous blogs:
For more information on staying healthy, check out our website at www.naturopathicfoundations.ca






Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Self-care Tips for Pain Relief

By Dr. Leena Athparia, ND

Chronic pain doesn't just hurt - it can be debilitating, frustrating and can impact daily activities such as walking, cooking, dressing, bathing and getting around. It can further lead to other concerns such as insomnia, fatigue, depression and anxiety. In the current situation of self-isolation, not having access to the usual bodywork therapies such as massage, acupuncture, cupping etc. can feel overwhelming and distressing. In addition, lack of physical activity topped with feelings of worry can aggravate pre-existing conditions.

If you are dealing with muscle tension, arthritis, back pain, headaches you don't have to live with the pain. Pain generally responds well to simple changes in diet and gentle exercise. The following are some tips that we wanted to share with you to help relieve pain during self-isolation and beyond.

Tips for Reducing Pain

As a baseline, anyone with arthritis or inflammatory join conditions should be taking natural anti-inflammatories such as fish oil, turmeric, boswellia (known as frankincense). Most anti-inflammatories work in a similar way as prescription medication and are natural without causing major side effects. It is important to speak with your naturopathic doctor to choose the right supplements for you to ensure the dosage and quality is effective for your condition and to ensure that there are no other interactions with medications you may be currently on. In addition to supplements, below are tips that you can do on your own to relieve muscle and joint pain - many of them can be easily done at home with ingredients from your kitchen.

1. Diet & Herbs

Customized supplements and herbs will speed up healing and give your body the foundation to rebuild joint tissue and reduce inflammation.  However, even if you are taking the best supplements, if you are not eating a supportive diet, your joint pain may not improve as well as it could.
  • Avoid: foods that cause inflammation: sugar, artificial sweeteners, deep fried foods, refined flour, additives, red meat & alcohol. Different foods can cause different reactions in each person. To personalize your diet and identify the foods that you are sensitive to, your naturopathic doctor can run a simple food sensitivity test. If you are struggling with cravings or making changes to your diet, your naturopathic doctor can guide you on how to include anti-inflammatory foods into your diet while still enjoying your meals.
  • Include: a diet that is suited to your constitution, dosha type and condition. Bone broth soups can easily be made at home and provide minerals and nutrients to nourish your joints. If you are vegetarian, there are alternative supplements or herbs such as nettles that are rich in minerals. Anti-inflammatory foods and herbs can be included in your meals such as ginger, turmeric and leafy greens. Below are some recipes:
    • Turmeric & Ginger Tea is a super easy way to get these powerful anti-inflammatories while staying hydrated. If you don't have fresh ginger or turmeric, you can use small amounts of powdered spices.
    • Ginger Pickle is a simple homemade blend of chopped ginger and mild seasoning that can be stored in the fridge and taken as a condiment alongside your meals or as a digestive tonic before your meal that is great for joint pain.
    • Turmeric Milk has become a popular drink these days and turmeric is better absorbed through a medium like milk or alternative milk because of the fat content. Keep in mind that turmeric can thin the blood at higher doses so if you are blood thinners, check with your naturopathic doctor to see how much turmeric is safe for you.

2. Movement

It may be difficult to move if there is significant pain, but gentle exercises can help you decrease pain, increase range of motions and flexibility, strengthen muscles, improve circulation and help you feel uplifted. It is important to discuss with your practitioners to guide you with the right kind of exercise for you.

  • Avoid: pushing yourself to exercise or doing repetitive movements which can strain the joints. Listen to your body and don't push beyond what is comfortable. If you are working from home or currently in isolation, avoid sitting on soft couches, slouching over or sitting for long periods of time in front of screens.
  • Include: gentles exercises that improve flexibility and blood flow to the muscles and joints. Restorative yoga, tai chi, walking and water exercise are examples of low-impact exercise that you can include into your day. If working on the computer, take stretch breaks every 30 minutes. Some ideas for gentle stretches for people with joint issues or healthy people:

3. Hot and Cold Therapies

Ayurveda & Traditional Chinese Medicine are systems which evaluate the presence of hot (yang) or col (yin) in the body. The eastern systems of medicine examine the causes and manifestations of joint issues and treat accordingly with the opposite quality. If your joints are warm and inflamed, cold treatments are recommended. If your joints are painful and stiff due to cold weather, warm treatments are recommended.

  • Avoid: cold weather or cold treatments on arthritis that is aggravated with cold. Avoid excessive heat on arthritis that is worse with warm weather or is inflamed. Speak to your naturopathic doctor who can guide you on what kind of arthritis or body type you have and what is the best way to manage it.
  • Include: warm baths for arthritis or stiff muscles that is worse with cold weather. If you have difficulty getting into the tub, you can try foot or hand baths or apply heat packs to affected areas. For arthritis where the joints are inflamed, you may find relief with cool washcloths or topical ointments with cooling ingredients such as menthol or peppermint. Hot or cold packs are simple and effective ways of relieving pain at home and are part of one of he modalities of naturopathic medicine known as hydrotherapy. Here are some more resources:

4. Herbal Compresses

Herbal compresses known as potli in Ayurveda have been used traditionally to relieve pain. They are made with specific herbs in a thin muslin cloth and applied over your problematic joint or body part. There are ways to make simple but effective compresses at home with ingredients in your kitchen! Here are some ideas you can try for quick pain relief at home:

  • Cooling Compresses are great for hot, swollen joints or any inflammation. A well-known cooling compress is chamomile tea bags (cooled in the fridge) placed over your eyes for soothing eye strain. 
  • Ginger Compress to soothe sore muscles. You can use grated ginger from the grocery store.
  • Ajwain Ayurvedic Poultice is a common treatment applied over the chest for children with coughs and cold but can be used by anyone to bring heat and circulation to any part of the body.

5. Self-Massage with Oils or Creams

If you are missing your bodywork treatments and looking forward to your next massage that seems months away, why not start your own self-care regime? While it seems nicer to receive a massage from someone else, self-massage is very easy and brings quick relief to tired muscles and achy joints.

  • Avoid: straining yourself by trying to do self-massage. Avoid positions that could put you at risk of falling or using essential oils directly without diluting them.
  • Include: oils suited to your constitution and type of pain. Ensure that the oil or cream is not rancid and is good quality (organic is best).
    • Castor oil is an excellent anti-inflammatory oil for arthritis. Warm castor oil can be massaged gently into affected joints before bed and wrapped with a cloth and heating pad to penetrate deeper.
    • Ayurvedic & Essential Oils can be customized to your dosha type. Read more in this handout page on choosing the right oils for you.

6. Positive Attitude

The mind-body connection cannot be overrated. Mood can play a significant role in managing chronic disease, and it’s common for individuals with arthritis to feel frustrated and discouraged by the pain and inability to do daily activities. Depression and anxiety can further increase the experience of pain and decrease your ability to cope. Rather than fighting arthritis, try focussing your attention to nurturing yourself. Self-love and self-care promotes healing in the body, mind and spirit. Knowing that you can get better with self-care treatments and professional guidance can give you strength and hope.

  • Avoid: negative thoughts (“I wish I…I should have…I’m useless) and avoid focussing on what you can’t do. If you find yourself having difficulty coping with chronic pain, speak to your naturopathic doctor. There are many options to help alleviate depression, fatigue, anxiety often associated with chronic disease.
  • Include: meditation and gratitude on a daily basis. Plan activities or events to look forward to: lunch with a friend, a short vacation, outings with family, book clubs, hobby groups etc. Focus on your strengths and what you can do. Individuals who have a positive attitude towards life and look forward to the day are better equipped to cope with illness.

Managing chronic pain on your own may not be enough. If you are struggling with arthritis, you are not alone. Talk to your naturopathic doctor who can identify the root cause of your pain and customize treatments to bring relief - even if you are already on medications.

There are numerous treatments such as acupuncture, cupping, massages, diet and supplements that are very effective in reducing pain and managing chronic arthritis, but they need to be customized based on your condition, constitution and other factors. Taking the time to do activities that you enjoy, pampering yourself with treatments, taking suitable supplements and eating a diet which replenishes your body are all ways of improving your condition. You don’t have to live with chronic pain. There is hope. Take steps forward to pain-free living today!


Dr. Leena Athparia
 is a naturopathic doctor at Naturopathic Foundations with a focus in chronic pain management related to aging, metabolic issues and chronic disease. She is skilled in pain relief with naturopathic & Ayurvedic treatments. If you are experiencing joint pain, please call the clinic at 905-940-2727 to book an appointment with Dr. Athparia. 







Thursday, April 2, 2020

Don't Wait Until You're Sick to Get Healthy

by Dr. Iva Lloyd, ND

This current health crisis is affecting our lives in ways that we could have never imagined a month ago. We have the uncertainty surrounding the virus, the economic impact, the self-isolation, the
reality of the death toll around the world and the concern for family and friends, to name a few.

At times like this, it is important to approach the problem from as many perspectives as possible. The guidelines set by Public Health and Ministries of Health are essential and need to be followed. The government's aims to the protect the public and to make decisions that are the best for the population at large. Healthcare practitioners are there to ensure that you have the support and care that you need when you need it.

It is important to recognize that there are a lot of things that you can do as well to support your mental, emotional and physical health. Health crises have a way of reminding us that lifestyle and self-care are  important. They determine our ability to handle something that threatens us. The best you can do for your family and friends right now is to focus on your individual self-care and that of your family and loved ones.

Don't Wait Until You're Sick

Health is a accumulation of your life. Starting with your genetic makeup and your exposures during pregnancy to your present health status. It includes the accidents, injuries, lifestyle choices and decisions that you have made throughout your life and how you have handled them. It is based on the
balance encompassing the food and drink that you have consumed, the experiences and choices that have added positively to the strength of your resiliency and those that have deterred from it.  The body was designed with a tremendous ability to heal and recover, especially in early and mid-life. As you get older, the body's innate functioning is more on maintaining health which is one of the reasons that chronic diseases are diagnosed more so after the age of 60. Remaining healthy throughout life is about making choices - throughout your life - with health in mind.

The impact of any threat on the body is a balancing act. Which is stronger and has more "power"?  The question is whether or not the threat is greater that the a person's resiliency?  Who or what is going to "win"?  The threat can be a stressful situation - like the loss of a job, the death of someone that we love, or a sense of despair.  It can be a diet that is lacking in nutrients, excess of smoking or alcohol, or a chronic lack of sleep. The threat can be exposure to heavy metals or chemicals, a sensitivity to wireless technology or it can be a virus or pathogen that threatens health. Everyone is unique and has their own specific susceptibilities. Some are more sensitive to food, others to environmental toxins and wireless technology, some tend to get more emotionally overwhelmed and others are more impacted by pathogens such as viruses, bacteria or mold.

In this current crisis, it should not surprise anyone that there is so much confusing information. The human factor is too often missing and when included can shed a lot of light. We have seen this same situation repeatedly in the past. Different people respond differently to the same "threat".  If we try to make sense of this virus, any virus, by only considering the virus and not the human factor, it will unlikely never make sense.


Focus On What You Can Control

There are so many factors that affect health. Trying to focus on all of them at the same time is overwhelming. It is important to be aware of those factors that are out of our daily control - unless you have chosen to be an advocate for a specific cause - and to focus on those that you can influence more readily.

Ubiquitous Health Factors are those that are all around us. They are created by manufacturing, technology, climate change and other global issues. The include things such as acid rain; pollution and destruction of the water, air and soil, natural disasters; pathogens; plastic, wireless technology and the additives and chemicals that are put in the food that we eat. It is important to be aware of these and we all need to do our part, but they are not factors that you can have control over in a crisis.

Controllable Health Factors are those healthy habits that you can influence. They are the ones that you can choose to do or not do. From a naturopathic perspective, they are an essential aspect of health. They include the food you choose to eat, your lifestyle habits, sleep hygiene, how you manage your stress; your posture; whether or not you breath properly; your movement and exercise; the time you spend in nature and the limitations you put on your wireless exposure. There are so many ways that you can improve the status of your health and that of your family and loved ones.

The following provides an overview of the main health factors that you can influence on your own.

Nutrition

One of the tenets of naturopathic practice is that health starts with a healthy diet and healthy digestion.

What you eat and your ability to digest your food determines the water and nutrients that your body has to work with. There are numerous biochemical pathways that control how the body functions. Those pathways and the building and maintenance of every structure (bone, muscle, tissues, blood, etc) depends on nutrients.

In my blog, Food and Immune Health I go over the link between food and immunity, highlighting the need to have a whole foods diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grains and nuts and seeds. The aim is have food from every food group every day.

One of the risks of both stress and self-isolation is the tendency to eat unhealthy foods and to snack more often. I encourage you to focus on diet as a staple for health. Ensure you get adequate water, eat according to your activity level.  If you are less active it is often helpful to eat less so that you don't put on unwanted weight.

Stress can also results in an increase in "comfort" food and drink, such as sugary desserts, pop, alcohol, chips and junk food. It is best to limit these during a time when the focus needs to be on optimizing immune health.

Check out our other blogs on nutrition for more tips:

Sleep

Sleep is essential to health. It is the time when the body heals, repairs and recovers from the stress of the day. Getting adequate sleep is associated with better overall health and vitality. It decreases the rate of aging and improves mental and cognitive function. 

Those with adequate sleep generally have a strong immune system and a stronger immune response. Ideally, at the first sign of not feeling well you want to slow down and allow the body time to heal. Turn off the alarm and let the body sleep as much as it desires. If you struggle with getting good quality sleep, talk to your naturopathic doctor to figure out the best strategy for you.

For more information, check out our blog on Sleep - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Movement

Daily movement is essential to optimal immune health, especially when we are talking about immune and respiratory health. Regular exercise or movement is associated with a decreased risk of respiratory infections and a decrease risk of infections becoming severe. Anyone who has specific health concerns is always best to talk to their naturopathic doctor, but some general guidelines to follow include:
  • Walk. Aim for a twenty minute walk once or twice a day.  If you are in self-isolation, than it is helpful to walk around your house or room a couple of minutes every hour.
  • Stretching. If you want to maintain flexibility throughout your life it is important to stretch on a daily basis.  If you already have some limitations in flexibility than start by stretching while sitting in a chair.
  • Swimming. If you access to pool, swimming is a great exercise and it is one of the best for those people that have joint problems.
  • Releasing stress. Movement is a great way to help release stress. A short burst of activity, such as hitting a tennis ball against a wall, punching bags or kick boxing can be helpful in releasing stress.
The most important thing is to stay active.  For more information, check out our blog on Movement - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Breathing

Breathing is essential to life. It is linked to every function in the body. The ability to take a deep full breath is an indicator of overall respiratory function. There are so many different ways that you can use breath to improve your overall state of health and well being. For example,
  • Cleansing breath.
  • Exaggerated exhalation.
  • Alternate nostril breathing.
I recommend that you take a few minutes to really feel and listen to your breath. Are you breathing deeply?  Holding your breath is very common in times of uncertainty and fear.  If you are holding your breath practice the cleansing breath or the exaggerated exhalation (details on the Breathing blog).  If you are having difficulty sleeping, the alternate nostril breathing can be helpful to settle the mind. Mastering breath work will help improve your physical and mental state of well being.

For more information, check out our blogs on Breathing - Top 5 Things to Remember and Breathe Better With Self Care Techniques.

Stress Management

Stress is not always bad. There is "good" stress which has to do with being busier or having a lot to do.

Stress impacts health negatively when it is intense, recurring or unrelenting, Stress has the greatest impact when your body goes "on hold", when you feel trapped or there is a sense of despair or uncertainty. Your stress management skills determine the impact that stress and traumatic events have on the body.

It is helpful when under times of "bad stress" that you focus on what you can control. For example:

  • Practice breathing exercises every day. When you feel uptight do some exaggerated exhalations or cleansing breaths.
  • Be sure to stay active. If possible, walk outside and enjoy the fresh air and sunlight.
  • Avoid binge watching movies or spending hours on your laptop or computer.
  • Limit how much time you spend listening to the news.  Give you mind a break and focus on something enjoyable or productive.
  • Now would be a good time to read up on mindfulness or meditation.
  • Finish the story!  Don't block the mind from thinking things. Allow the mind some time to plan out what will happen if this current situation continues for another month, or two, or three.  One of the worst things for the mind is spinning on a topic, that is thinking the same thing over and over and never coming to a resolution. It is helpful if you can guide the mind to think through problems.
  • Be productive. Recognize that you can't change the current situation and focus on something productive that you can do.
For more information, check out our blog on The Power of the Mind - Top 5 Things to Remember.

Other blogs that you might find helpful during this time of physical distancing:

When this current crisis is over the question will be "What were you doing during the COVID-19 crisis".  What do you want your answer to be?