One of the most important things you can do to prevent and treat disease is to have a good foundation of health in place. This is where we can refer to the Naturopathic Therapeutic Order. It is a hierarchy of healing that sets naturopathic doctors apart from medical doctors. It aims to treat the underlying causes of disease starting with the least invasive yet most effective therapies. By establishing strong foundations you will build better tolerance upon exposure to physical stressors such as viral infections and traumatic injury as well as tolerance to emotional stressors. The pictogram below is a visual aid for the foundations of health being at the bottom of the pyramid - it is the soil from which you grow healthy mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of health.
Without these foundations in place, higher-level therapies such drugs cannot work as efficiently. If we skip the foundations, our vitality is compromised and thus there is an increased need for higher-level interventions such as pharmaceuticals in order to get better.
Adequate vegetable intake is the #1 part of everyone's diet because they provide vitamins and minerals that are essential for immune and gut health, growth, and prevention of cancer with its antioxidant properties. Getting enough vegetables is especially important if you experience high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar, high cholesterol, heartburn, cancer, trouble with weight loss, or constipation. Vegetables are a good source of coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) which is an antioxidant that plays an important role in heart health and can reduce markers of inflammation such as c-reactive protein (CRP) levels. They are a great source of fiber which helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down digestion. Aim for 4-5 cups of vegetables per day. Uncooked vegetables are higher in vitamin and fiber content and cooked vegetables are higher in mineral content. Each individual vitamin and mineral has specific uses but simply getting a wide variety of vegetables both cooked and uncooked each day will ensure a healthy dose of each.
For those of you that may have digestive disorders that make you unable to tolerate the amount of vegetables recommended, or those who simply have trouble implementing that much all at once, a multivitamin with plenty of phytonutrients such as PhytoMulti by Metagenics or MitoCORE by Ortho Molecular Products which are multivitamins with high amounts of B-vitamins that can supplement your diet. For those who are within 6 months of planning to conceive, currently pregnant, or breastfeeding I would recommend the Basic Prenatal by Thorne (best tolerated if taken in divided doses - 1 capsule 3 times a day with food). For children or those who prefer chewables, Multigenics Chewable or Optimal Multivitamin Chewables are good choices. I have found these multivitamins to be the most effective for my patients, but it is always best to consult with your doctor to determine which multivitamin is the best for you.
Water is a powerful tool for moving blood through the body. It helps increase our body's metabolic processes which in turn supports immune cell trafficking and detoxification. Dehydration is an underlying cause of many common conditions such as blood pressure dysregulation, fatigue, dry skin, and chronic pain. Water lubricates our skin and relieves chronic constipation. Be sure to filter your water with a trusted filtration system. This is something that you can speak to your physician about.
If you find it difficult to absorb water and feel like it's "going right through me", you may find that sprinkling Himalayan sea salt into each 8 oz glass of water can increase absorption into your bloodstream. If you also experience headaches, muscle soreness, high blood pressure, and have a sensitive stomach, Reacted Magnesium Powder is a great product tends to be better-tolerated than other magnesium products. And it is delicious when added to plain water!
The causes of pain can be narrowed down into one theme: congestion. Inflammation is the congestion of white blood cells in the area of healing. There could be congestion of fluid in your ears, in your joints, or in your head. This congestion could lead to headaches and joint pain. Congestion of energy in your mental realm causes anxiety and depression. All types of congestion can be ameliorated with increasing water intake and blood circulation through active movement. Which brings me to the next foundation of health.
Movement, stretching, weight-training, walking, bicycling, running, meditation - all of which can be considered exercise depending on your particular goal. Most of these things you can do in your home, outdoors, through recreational sports, or at the gym. You can work the recommended 30 minutes of aerobic exercise daily in any setting.
Aim for a heart rate of 50-80% of your maximum (maximum = 220 - age) depending on your fitness level at least a third of the duration of the workout. If your body allows it, try to break a sweat for at least 10 minutes per day. The skin is one of the largest detox organs of the body and one of the five elimination channels. For bone and muscle health, strength-training 30 minutes every other day can help to stimulate bone formation and increase muscle tone for joint stabilization. Weight-training can mean anything from walking up stairs, to doing bodyweight squats to participating in Olympic weightlifting.
If you are new to weight training it is ideal to start with a personal trainer or group exercise class so that you have guidance for practicing good form and getting maximum results for your effort. Stretching is sometimes underrated but as a part of your daily routine, it can feel as good as a massage and can work wonders for quieting the mind down at the end of your day. In every type of exercise I have mentioned you can find yourself in a meditative state. Many runners and yogis can relate to this and it can be enough to keep them motivated.
For better exercise recovery as well as preserving and building muscle mass which is important for burning fat, promoting joint stability, and preventing muscle wasting, add a high-quality protein powder to your regimen. The type of protein powder will depend on your goals and your body's needs. For those who prefer animal sources of protein powder which may be better absorbed depending on the individual, I like Klean Recovery for a whey source and PurePaleo Protein which is a dairy-free product made directly from beef (it's yummy I promise!). For those of you who are vegan or vegetarian and find that you get abdominal bloating and pain with pea protein powders, you may find rice protein powder to be better tolerated such as UltraMeal RICE which is soy and dairy free and can be used to supplement or as a replacement meal.
It is best to practice your intense exercises during your natural cortisol surge in the morning between 6-10 am. Cortisol is an energy hormone produced by your adrenal glands that's responsible for getting you up in the morning. Cortisol responds to sunlight. Morning exercise allows you to be active prior to an exhausting work day and is less likely to interfere with your sleep.
Your body's hormones that keep your metabolism and immune system intact cannot function properly when you are deprived of good-quality sleep. Inadequate sleep can affect your motivation for staying on a healthy eating and exercise regimen which then affects quality of sleep the following night and thus the vicious cycle continues. Reset your body by focusing on your sleep. Aim for bed time around 9-10:30 pm every night, falling asleep within 15 minutes and staying asleep for a full 7 hours. Aim for waking up well-rested and motivated to start your day. This is your ideal sleep schedule and very few of us can say yes to all of these questions. If you're one of the lucky few, your hormones from your thyroid, adrenals, gut, brain, and many more organs thank you. This is because your hormones are affected when your circadian rhythm is disturbed by interrupted sleep. The circadian rhythm is your body's internal clock that regulates hormonal and metabolic balance over a 24-hour cycle. The main pacer of the internal clock is located in your brain and is largely modulated by the sunlight (or artificial light) and darkness. Hormones such as cortisol (regulates blood pressure and generates energy), melatonin (which stimulates sleep), reproductive hormones (responsible for production of estrogens, testosterone), prolactin (which stimulates lactation), thyroid hormone (regulates energy and metabolism), and growth hormone (stimulates cell growth) oscillate on a daily basis accordingly. Nutrient-sensitive hormones such as insulin (transports glucose), leptin (promotes satiety), ghrelin (responsible for hunger), and adiponectin (regulates glucose and fat breakdown) all operate best when you are exposed to sunlight between 7-9 am and darkness between 9-10:30 pm.
Many factors can contribute to sleep disturbance and it is best to talk this through with your healthcare provider. Some potential areas to explore may involve your gut health, anxiety levels, hormone changes (pregnancy, menopause), blood sugar stabilization, hydration practices, sleep hygiene, and liver health.
For my patients who have difficulty sleeping due to stress and anxiety, I often find that Cortisol Manager can help point them in the right direction. Cortisol Manager is an herbal formulation that downregulates your adrenal stress response which may be too high at night. Phosphatidylserine is another product that is gentle and an effective alternative for those who report being groggy in the morning after taking other sleep aids such as melatonin. For those who do prefer a simple melatonin product I like the Liposomal Melatonin Drops since I tend to choose liquid formulations whenever possible for optimal absorption. Mega Sleep is another popular sleep aid for many of our NaturoMedica patients. It is a unique combination of herbal sedatives, L-theanine which is an amino acid that elevates neurotransmitters GABA, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain for a calming effect, and a small dose of melatonin.
Spirit and Emotions
S T R E S S is a common cause to many ailments. It is often overlooked as an important part of the healing journey which is unfortunate, because the body can only truly heal in parasympathetic mode AKA rest and relaxation mindset. Stress can deplete energy stores used to keep your immune system running. The mind is powerful but it can oftentimes only focus on one thing at a time. You can use this to your advantage by focusing on positive thoughts and various things that may be meditative for you. Find one piece of happiness each day. Use grounding techniques such as deep breathing and better yet with your bare feet in the grass to help connect your mind with your body. You can also walk around in your home with your bare feet and notice how the floor feels beneath every joint in your toes and muscle in your foot. This is important as you begin to feel that being present with your physical body can help steer your mind toward the present moment. If you experience an excess of other emotions such as sadness, fear or anger, working through these emotions in the long-run will also be an important part of your overall health. Having a healthy spirit will allow you to live a fuller more meaningful life than you can with having a healthy physical body alone. If you are looking for extra resources and support, be sure to contact your doctor. One such technique that she may tell you about is called cognitive behavioral therapy which works to change your pattern of thought to a more constructive strategy in given situations. For example, you may employ a 'Mona Lisa' half-smile during stressful situations such as traffic jams and work meetings, or the repercussions of the pandemic we are in. Working with your primary care physician can help you figure out what type of therapy will be most beneficial for you.
As mentioned in the sleep section, there are supplements that can help downregulate the stress response. There are also supplements containing adaptogenic herbs that support your body's stress response such as HPA Adapt. Adaptogens have been used for thousands of years to bring the body back into homeostasis during and after a physical or emotional stressor such as an illness or work stress. Unlike caffeine, it allows the body to be more resilient and bounce back from energy-draining events without straining the adrenal gland, a potent and essential energy organ. Other adaptogenic favorites of mine are BioAdaptogen Ultra and Exhilarin. As a more direct form of promoting calm in the event of an acute stressor I like using Liposomal Neurocalm which contains a neurotransmitter GABA that lowers excitatory activity in the brain as well as the amino acid L-theanine that increases relaxation without causing drowsiness.
Please refer to the Adrenal Health section under Health Conditions for more information on how the stress response works, how you can learn to prevent and treat burnout, and how the different types of stress responses can change your treatment approach.
A robust foundation of health builds a more resilient body to overcome environmental factors that can otherwise cause a genetic predisposition to manifest such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, or autoimmune disorders. They can help strengthen your physical and spiritual body to prevent illness as well as decrease duration and severity of the illness. Establishing these foundations can allow your body to have a better response to any supplemental or pharmaceutical treatment given by your healthcare provider. They are the universal starting point in naturopathy for any disease and disorder of the body and should not be overlooked even in the most severe stages of disease.
Where we are located in the Northwest, residents are notoriously low in the “sunshine vitamin”, which the body produces naturally from sun exposure. This is shortage of vitamin D is not limited to the Northwest. Frequently, even residents in sunny climates are low on the sunshine vitamin thanks to liberal use of sunscreen. Over 90% of our patients who do not take a vitamin D supplement are found deficient. Vitamin D plays a role in building bones, preventing cancer, maintaining heart health, fighting infection and elevating mood. Foods like cow’s milk are fortified with vitamin D, but only in small amounts. The U.S. RDA for vitamin D is 400 IU per day, but much higher doses may be necessary to maintain adequate levels, particularly during the winter months in areas further from