Category Archives: Physiology

Women’s Health

During a peak period in parent care, I checked in with my primary care physician for an annual physical. I reported symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, dry skin, joint aches, cold intolerance, and low heart rate – all classic signs of hypothyroidism. My doctor told me that I was depressed and suggested that I go on antidepressants. I explained that I did not feel anxious or depressed. He said, “If it walks like a duck and squawks like a duck, it’s a duck.” I passed on his advice and opted to see a naturopath instead. A simple blood test pointed to a thyroid problem. With the right medication, all of the symptoms went away.

stethoscopeUnfortunately, my experience is all too common. Studies reveal a gender-biased medical system that treats women as invisible, ignores their legitimate concerns, and belittles them. In a 2001 study (“The Girl Who Cried Pain”), men and women presented the same symptoms to their care providers. The men generally received pain-relief medication, while the women were directed toward sedatives. The presumption is that women are too emotional to report symptoms accurately. This dismissive attitude is especially troublesome given the prevailing hormonal epidemic. According to Dr. Aviva Romm, MD:

  • 85% of women experience troublesome premenstrual symptoms
  • At least 75% have painful or heavy periods
  • Up to 20% of women experience chronic pelvic pain
  • 10% of women have endometriosis, and half of all women aged 60+ will have had a hysterectomy
  • Between 5-10% of women have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • An estimated 30 million women have hypothyroidism

What has happened in the last 70+ years to have gotten our hormones so out of kilter? It turns out that our inner and outer ecosystems are no longer health promoting. We’re dealing with poor nutrition, elevated stress, substandard quantity and quality of sleep, poor digestion, a dysfunctional microbiome, toxic exposure and accumulation, excess use of over-the-counter and prescription medication, inflammation, and oxidative stress. That’s quite a lot! Mercifully,  Dr. Romm tells us that our sorry state of affairs can be reversed. We do not have to put up with unpleasant health outcomes!

In Hormone Intelligence: The Complete Guide to Calming Hormone Chaos and Restoring Your Body’s Natural Blueprint for Well-Being, Dr. Romm shares everything you might ever want to know about women’s health along with a 6-week detailed program for getting things back on a natural and balanced track. It includes:

  • A discussion on healthy eating along with detailed advice on what to eat and what to avoid for hormone health
  • An exploration of stress and its impact on hormone health along with a prescription for de-stressing your life
  • A fascinating look at the body’s natural rhythms and how to get the body’s master “clock” and peripheral “clocks” to synch up
  • A detailed discussion of the gut-hormone connection that covers topics about which I’ve posted earlier – i.e., the body’s enteric system and microbiome (Who knew that the small and large intestines would be so crucial for optimal health?)
  • A prescription for detoxifying our bodies
  • Strategies for revitalizing cellular repair

The book is so jammed-packed with great information that I’d advise female readers to keep a copy of it on their bookshelves (or Kindle) for reference. It will equip them to have a more engaged dialog with their primary care providers. To that end, Dr. Romm offers the following tips to get the best medical care:

  1. Work with a woman. Studies show that they listen more, interrupt less, and make fewer mistakes.
  2. Remember, you’re the boss. You do not have to accept your doctor’s recommendations or treatment. You are entitled to get second opinions.
  3. Trust yourself. If something is “off,” don’t let yourself be shamed out of getting help to resolve it.
  4. Be your own advocate. (Dr. Romm’s book will help you gear up for that role.)
  5. Bring an advocate who can support you during your consultation – especially a forthright and/or knowledgeable one.
  6. Know when it’s time to get another doctor. If your care provider is disrespectful, condescending, distracted, or unskilled in a therapeutic modality that interests you, find someone with whom you can forge an effective partnership.

SIBO and Leaky Gut

Until recently, I’d never heard of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO, pronounced see-bow). Family and friends brought it to my attention after they’d experienced nausea, bloating, diarrhea, and the like. Their physicians attributed these symptoms to excessive bacterial growth in their small intestines. They received treatment with antibiotics along with recommended changes to their diets. Unfortunately, some of them found no relief.

I received an invitation to a webinar entitled SIBO and Leaky Gut: What the Science Says and decided to attend. As noted in an earlier blog, I’ve developed a high degree of confidence in this website based on their mission and research methodology. Here’s what I learned from their latest webinar:

  • digestive tractPhysicians typically use a breath test to determine whether or not someone has bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine. Such tests may not reliably detect the presence of excess bacterial overgrowth. They may detect false positives.
  • Even if we could accurately diagnose SIBO, there has been no reported difference in symptoms among those who test positive and those who test negative.
  • When patients are treated with antibiotics, their good bugs get wiped out with the bad ones. With competition thus removed, antibiotic resistant (bad) strains of bacteria can get the upper hand, which can compound physical trauma. Moreover, some people experience unpleasant side effects from the antibiotics themselves.
  • SIBO may not be the causal agent in gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Upwards of 44% of the population have been found to be lactose intolerant. If dairy consumption triggers symptoms, antibiotics will not provide relief.

Dr. Michael Greger suggests that it’s not bacterial overgrowth that creates the problem but the type of bacteria that takes root in the intestine. In particular, when our daily diet consists of low fiber, high sugar foods, we lose the good bacteria that produce short chain fatty acids with which we keep our gut linings good and tight. Substances that should be contained in our guts start to leak into our bloodstreams causing an inflammatory response. When we take aspirin or ibuprofen to relieve symptoms, we increase the GI barrier dysfunction (a.k.a. leaky gut). By contrast, when we cut out the sugar and eat high fiber foods (e.g., whole grains, legumes), we feed the good gut bacteria, produce the requisite short chain fatty acids, and tighten up our gut lining.

Unfortunately, the average adult eats on 15-16 grams of fiber per day. That number needs to top 50 grams per day using whole foods. It cannot be corrected with psyllium supplementation. Those products help with constipation, but they don’t provide the nourishment for good gut bacteria. We should also minimize (or eliminate) alcohol consumption and saturated fats as both contribute to bad bacteria growth and, hence, leaky gut.

If you are not used to eating whole grains and beans, the dietary change can cause a little GI distress. No worries! Simply work you way up to several servings per day a little at a time. Your body (and your gut) will adapt to the change. It’s not a race to the finish line. It’s a commitment to eating healthfully for a lifetime.

Are you among the 1 in ~50 folks who has a problem with gluten (i.e., wheat allergy, celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity)? No worries! There are plenty of gluten-free whole grains. Or, you could increase your consumption of legumes along with fresh fruits and vegetables.

To see the SIBO videos, subscribe to They’ll be published on-line in the coming weeks.

Angioplasty, Stents, and Statins

My husband and I attended a webinar entitled How Effective Are Statins and Stents last Wednesday, courtesy of Dr. Michael Greger of Although neither of us has a heart condition to warrant treatment, Dr. Greger’s well-researched videos always get my attention. Moreover, since heart disease is the number one killer in America, it never hurts to know something about it.

Statins purport to reduce the risk of myocardial infarction (MI, a.k.a. heart attack) and death among those with coronary heart disease by reducing low-density lipoprotein (LDL) carriers of cholesterol. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, 27.8% of adults over 40 in the United States use statins.1 Not surprisingly, Pfizer’s Lipitor holds the record for the best-selling drug in the history of the pharmaceutical industry. Even with an expired patent, Lipitor still rakes in nearly $2 billion in annual revenue.2

Stents are tiny mesh tubes that surgeons use to prop open blocked arteries or ducts and restore the normal flow of fluids. Angioplasty provides a minimally invasive alternative to stents by using tiny inflatable balloons to compact spongy debris (plaque) in narrowed vessels. Hundreds of thousands of Americans avail themselves of these procedures annually, and they’re neither cheap nor risk-free. According to Dr. Greger, 1 in 150 cases result in death from the stents, 2% experience blood vessel damage, and 3% react negatively to the blood thinners that complement the procedure.

Dr. Greger addressed the surgical procedures first – i.e., angioplasty and stents. He began by noting the benefits of these treatments for patients in emergency situations. If a blocked artery threatens death or disability, then taking immediate remedial action makes sense. But what about elective procedures for those with stable coronary artery disease? Do they prevent heart attacks and/or prolong life?

Using double-blind, randomized control trials involving thousands of patients, medical researchers identified no material benefit in mortality or infarction rates using angioplasty or stents for non-emergency circumstances.3 It turns out that most heart attacks are caused by nonobstructive blockages. These small lesions span the entire vascular system and can “pop” at any time. Treatment for a small sample of trouble spots does not constitute a cure nor provide material long term protection.

Dr. Greger claims that cardiologists have known all about the trials that have cast doubt on the efficacy of angioplasty and stents for treatment of stable heart disease; 70% admit to performing the procedures because they profit from them. The overwhelming majority of patients continue to believe that they benefit from them, yet only 3% have been shown to have been given all of the facts before they agreed to move forward.

Statins offer the promise of reducing the risk of heart disease by lowering plaque-inducing LDL cholesterol. As noted above, they’re widely prescribed, and patients are told that they’ll reduce their relative risk of heart attack by 50%. In absolute numbers, a person on statins has a 2% chance of a heart attack versus a 3% chance without medication. For that 1% drop in risk there’s a compensatory increase in risk of contracting diabetes that persists years after discontinuing treatment.

Here’s the good news: Nothing comes close to reducing one’s risk of heart disease and diabetes than making healthy lifestyle choices. That means pursing a predominantly whole foods plant based diet, eliminating proceeded foods and sugar, losing excess body fat, exercising (aerobic, weight-bearing, stretching), quitting smoking, minimizing stress, and getting a good night’s sleep consistently.

Want to assess your risk of a coronary event? Check out,, or


    3. The 2007 Clinical Outcomes Utilizing Revascularization and Aggressive Drug Evaluation (COURAGE) trial revealed that percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) did not reduce death, myocardial infarction, or other major cardiovascular events compared with optimal medical therapy alone. The 2017 Objective Randomized Blinded Investigation with optimal medical Therapy of Angioplasty (ORBITA) trial revealed that PCI did not relieve symptoms of coronary artery disease. Those who participated in “sham surgeries” experienced the same symptom relief as those who had PCI.

Am I Watching Too Much TV?

watching tv

It has been nearly 11 weeks since our household went into quarantine. We’ve gone out to grocery shop, pick up prescriptions, attend to the dog’s health, and go to the post office. Otherwise, we’ve had to content ourselves with activities and entertainment available in our Home Sweet Home.

For the majority of our confinement, I’ve been on a tear to complete household projects that had been lingering on the “to do” list forever. I had quite a lot of them, so it has kept me quite busy. But as I neared the end of that first wave of activity, I started watching more TV. A lot more. So, I decided to explore the subject to see if that was a healthy response to our circumstances.

According to a 2019 Nielsen study, Americans spend a great deal of time in front of screens. (See Note 1.) On average, we watch a smidge over four hours of television per day. We log another six hours on the Internet via our computers, notebooks, SmartPhones, and tablets. Add in another hour-and-three-quarters on the radio and forty-five minutes on game consoles and you’ve got quite a lot of media stimulation! But here’s the kicker: During a national crisis, we tend to up our media consumption by 40-60%. And we’re that much more attuned to social media to bridge the gap in missed face time.

Is all this screen time good for us?

Brain imagining scans show that excess screen time results in a deterioration in structural integrity. (See Note 2.) Gray matter atrophies in areas that govern executive functioning (planning, prioritizing, organizing, regulating impulses), reward pathways, and empathy. Compromised white matter affects internal connections between the right and left lobes as well as the higher (cognitive) and lower (emotional/survival) brain centers. As a result, we’re less adept at critical thinking, less sensitive to others, and more prone to addictive behavior.

Screen time has been associated with increased heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes as a function of high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess midsection body fat, and high cholesterol/triglycerides. (See Note 3.) Such risks proved to be dose-dependent and were not moderated substantially by outside physical activity. Moreover, watching TV two or more hours per day and snacking while viewing has been associated with increased risk of obesity. (See Note 4.) And, of course, if we’re working full time and watching a lot of TV, we may not make time for exercise.

But doesn’t TV relieve stress and help us chill out? Assuming the content imparts happy or peaceful images, that argument likely holds true for limited engagement. But protracted screen time may be associated with impaired emotional health. Decades of data collected by the General Social Survey demonstrates that happiness has been linked favorably with social activities, religious affiliation, and reading and negatively with television. (See Note 5.) Of course, correlation does not prove causation. But, it certainly warrants moderating one’s screen time to see if less results in a better mood.

So, what should I do?

First and foremost: Exercise! For optimal cardiovascular health, Dr. Dean Ornish recommends stretching at least 20 minutes per day plus 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. That regimen should be supplemented with weight training for healthy bones and firm musculature. Exercise is good for the body and good for the brain.

Second: Meditate. I’ve written several posts on the benefits of meditation. This practice gains increased importance during times of uncertainty and stress. We cannot change the past nor control the future. We can train ourselves to live in the moment with a calm, clear, centered outlook. That perspective will alleviate stress and place us in the best position to make good decisions.

Third: Read. The Pew Research Center found that readers are drawn to books for pleasure, personal enrichment, and the joy of escaping into an alternate reality. (See Note 6.) Researchers at Emory University also found that “reading stories not only strengthen language processing regions but also affect the individual through embodied semantics in sensorimotor regions.” (See Note 7.) In other words, reading gives the brain a nice workout!

Fourth: Just do something. Cook. Garden. Knock off projects on the “to do” list. Learn to play a musical instrument or perfect skills on ones you already know how to play. Learn a foreign language. Make some art. Write a poem. Play cards or board games with family members. Give your screens – and your eyes – some rest!



Lights Out!

If you follow my blog, you’ll know that I’ve already written a couple of posts about sleeping. It’s a subject that is near and dear to me as I’ve always been a lousy sleeper. When my head hits the pillow, my “monkey mind” takes over and keeps me awake. So I’m naturally drawn to books that offer insights about how I might improve.

lights outLights Out: Sleep, Sugar, and Survival by T.S. Wiley (with Bent Formby, PhD) provides interesting insights on this subject matter. Wiley is an anthropologist whose research on human physiology gives hearty consideration of our evolutionary history. She’s also meticulous in combing through and documenting studies by luminaries in the field. (She devotes roughly a third of the book to endnotes and bibliography!)

She notes that in 1910, the average adult slept 9-10 hours per night. Now, we’re lucky to get 7 hours per night. And when we don’t get enough sleep, we’re more likely to be fat, hungry, sickly, hypertensive, and prone to cancer and heart disease. (Yikes!) Here’s why…

As humans, we are hard-wired to store fat when exposed to long days, short nights, and a diet rich in sugars. Our bodies think it’s summer – a time to add some extra padding to get ready for sparse food supplies in winter. The combination of less sleep and increased sugar consumption revs up our appetites, thereby ensuring that we grab all the calories we can while the getting is good. As we bulk up, our livers also transform excess sugar into cholesterol to help keep cell membranes from freezing when the low temperatures settle in.

Shorter nights also result in less melatonin production which dampens immune function. Melatonin is a powerful antioxidant. Moreover, according to the NIH, it takes three-and-a-half hours of melatonin secretion before you see prolactin. You need six hours of prolactin production to maintain immune T-cell and beneficial killer-cell production. A fall-off in production may not be an issue during the warm summer months, but it IS a problem when the cold and flu season hit. And, of course, it’s all the more an issue given the modern day exposure to carcinogens.

We need healthy endothelial cells to control clotting, cellular overgrowth, fat metabolism, and blood pressure. We harm endothelial function by:

  • Chronically high cortisol (caused by too much stress)
  • High levels of endotoxins (caused by insufficient sleep)
  • High homocysteine (caused by too much light)

When humans created artificial light, we threw thousands of years of evolutionary biology out of whack. We no longer have seasons of long days and short nights followed by short days and long nights. With lights, TVs, computers, and all manner of electronic devices on, we think it’s always summer. So we keep storing up for a season of hibernation that never comes. And that’s how we wind up overweight, over tired, and prone to illness.

The solution: Eat foods that align with seasonal production in your local area. Meditate, do yoga, or whatever to relax and ease into sleep. Keep house lights at low intensity after dark. Wear rose or amber glasses to block blue light. Live in total darkness for nine-and-a-half hours per night for at least 6-7 months of the year.

EBV: A Pernicious Little Virus

I was diagnosed with mononucleosis as a kid. I don’t remember much about it other than a prolonged absence from school. I thought it was a one of those once-and-done childhood illnesses. I was wrong! Here’s what I’ve learned since…

epstein barr virusEpstein-Barr virus (EBV) causes mononucleosis. It targets lymphocytes and epithelial cells (i.e., those lining the mouth, tongue, and nose) and uses them as breeding grounds. Once infected, people may experience fatigue, fever, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, enlarged spleen, rash, etc. Symptoms typically abate within 2-4 weeks, although some folks remain under the weather for weeks or even months.

Transmission occurs via bodily fluids. Common forms of contact include kissing, sharing food and drinks, sharing cups and utensils, and having contact with toys that kids have drooled on. Most people get infected with EBV at some point in their lives. Once infected, the virus hangs around for life. Fortunately, a properly functioning immune system can keep it in check.

Because the symptoms are similar to a lot of other viral conditions, physicians test for EBV antibodies to make a positive diagnosis. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), these antibodies include:

  • Viral capsid antigen (VCA)s: Anti-VCA IgM appears early in EBV infection and usually disappears within four to six weeks. Anti-VCA IgG peaks at two to four weeks after onset, declines slightly, then persists for the rest of a person’s life.
  • Early antigen (EA): Anti-EA IgG appears in the acute phase of illness and generally falls to undetectable levels after three to six months. However, 20% of healthy people may have antibodies against EA for years.
  • EBV nuclear antigen (EBNA): Antibody to EBNA slowly appears two to four months after onset of symptoms and persists for the rest of a person’s life.

I got interested in EBV when my doctor suggested that my hearty little EBV band had reasserted itself, thereby resulting in chronic fatigue. So, I did a little research to see if anyone is working on a cure. Apparently, there isn’t one. Some folks are working to develop a vaccine to prevent infection. Unfortunately, those efforts would not benefit those among us who have already been afflicted.

Recommended treatments for EBV focus on bolstering the immune system. Treatment plans typically consist of a multi-pronged approach:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, getting plenty of rest, minimizing life stressors, and logging 8-9 hours of high-quality sleep nightly
  • Practicing deep relaxation techniques (e.g., meditation, yoga, deep breathing) to calm the body and mind
  • Eating a healthy diet loaded with immune-boosting foods such as dark leafy greens, Vitamin A rich carrots and sweet potatoes, dark blue and black berries, nuts, seeds, and good quality protein
  • Using immune supportive, antiviral, anti-inflammatory herbs and supplements that have proven effective at counteracting EBV, preferably under the supervision of a trained medical professional

An interesting article by Nina Mikirova and Ronald Hunninghake describes a positive effect of high dose Vitamin C on EBV infection. In part, this treatment rectifies a vitamin deficiency often noted in virally infected patients. Vitamin C also promotes detoxification to counteract oxidative stress caused by viruses. They also found a potential role for Vitamin D in reducing viral antibody levels.

Finally, I’ve been reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. He writes about a simple form of meditation that has been shown to boost immune function. While lying in a relaxed position on your back, focus on each body part successively for 15+ seconds, going from toe-to-head. Think about flooding each part with healing energy. After focusing intentionally on the parts, think about flowing waves of energy pulsing up and down the whole body. Do this practice first thing in the morning and right before nodding off to sleep at night.

While it’s disappointing that I can’t just “take a pill” and be done with it, I take heart in the things I can do to be kind to my body and help it heal. My treatment has already produced tangible results in my blood work, and I feel so much better. I’ll keep some form of it up permanently… just to make sure that pernicious little virus doesn’t wreak any more havoc!

Health Tips for Menopause

For years, Dr. Christiane Northrup, MD was the go-to source on The Oprah Winfrey Show regarding issues of women’s health. I remember watching a show after the release of her book The Wisdom of Menopause: Creating Physical and Emotional Health During the Change in the early 2000s and thinking, “I should read that book someday.” That day finally came.

Not surprisingly, the book covers a lot of scientific ground regarding all aspects of women’s health. Topics covered include:

  • What’s happening with our bodies and our brains
  • What’s happening with our hormones and options to deal with them
  • Foods and supplements to support the change
  • Strategies to support pelvic, breast, heart, and bone health
  • Myths and reality re: sex and menopause
  • Living with heart, passion, and joy

As one who favors a natural (non-pharmaceutical) approach to nurturing my body, I was keenly interested in the lifestyle choices that she recommended to promote optimal health. They are consistent with the advice dispensed by others throughout this blog… with a couple of interesting twists.

First, Dr. Northrup notes that menopause is as much a re-orientation of a woman’s psychological wiring as it is her physiological being. For most of her life, a woman has been programmed to focus on others as a caregiver for her life partner and offspring. Menopause creates the opportunity to nurture herself – to resolve old issues and set the ground rules for the years ahead. Physical ailments that arrive during this season are messengers that illumine a pathway to her inner wisdom. If she heeds the messages, she has the potential to heal holistically. For example:

“Lack of support, loss of or separation from one’s family, or difficulties balancing a feeling of belonging with a sense of independence can affect the immune system and increase susceptibility to infections and autoimmune disease.”

Hormonal imbalance may be adjusted with bioidentical replacements and/or lifestyle changes to address unpleasant side effects of the change. Laboratory tests can assess serum levels of estrogen (in its various forms), progesterone, and testosterone. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for all women. An experienced physician can provide guidance and suggest alternative approaches.

A healthy diet makes a big difference. Eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables along with a good chunk of natural fiber. Eat three meals per day with each meal containing a healthy source of protein. Be attentive to portion size. If you cup your two hands in front of you, you approximate the size of your stomach. Don’t overtax this essential organ. Eat healthy fats (omega-3 and omega-6). Good sources include pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flaxseed, hempseed, organ meats, and cold-water fish.

Non-GMO soy-based protein contributes significantly to many aspects of health. For example, a 12-week study of persons ingesting 60-70 mg of soy isoflavones showed a 5.5% increase in HDL (good cholesterol), a 9% drop in LDL (bad cholesterol), a 13% increase in osteocalcin (bone builder), and a 14.5% decrease in osteoclasts (cells causing bone loss). Soy also reduces the risk of colon cancer.

Note: Many women have been counselled to avoid soy due to concerns over the phytoestrogen content and its possible relationship to breast cancer. According to Dr. Northrup, phytoestrogens are far less potent than human estrogens – on the level of 100ths to 1000ths of a percent in potency. Moreover, they are antioxidant (preventing free radical damage) and adaptogenic (balancing estrogen activity in the body – stimulating if too low, blocking if too high).

Avoid sugar, processed carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine. Eat whole organic foods to maintain normal blood sugar and avoid overproduction of insulin. Caffeine is a bladder irritant that can stimulate growth of bacteria and weaken crucial muscles.

Get regular exercise. Aim for 30 minutes of continuous aerobic activity at least 5 times per week. Use weight training sessions at least 2 times per week to place load on the skeletal frame and encourage bone growth.

Get outside in the natural light during the early morning or late afternoon hours to stimulate natural production of Vitamin D. Deficiencies in this critical nutrient sets the stage for poor health. Twenty minutes 3-5 times per week ought to do it.

Get 8-9 hours of restorative sleep nightly. Develop good sleep habits and create an environment in the bedroom that supports rest and relaxation.

Never retire. Have something that keeps you interested and alive for which you can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. It doesn’t have to be related to an established career or monetarily compensated.

Cultivate a positive attitude toward aging. Revel in the wisdom that this stage of life brings. Be optimistic, lively, engaging, and filled with good humor. Take the pruning shears to relationships and things that aren’t life-giving.

Survival Overdrive Syndrome

I’ve just finished reading the latest book by a physician/author who has answered the call to help patients (and the general public) de-stress in an overstressed world. Dr. Aviva Romm, MD provides “a proven 4-week program to rescue your metabolism, hormones, mind, and mood” in The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution.

The opening chapters introduce the reader to case studies of folks enmeshed in “survival overdrive symptoms” (S.O.S.) – fatigued, running on empty, foggy, groggy, hormonally imbalanced, achy, and frustrated. These conditions occur when the body has been overloaded chronically by stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, toxicity, and stealth viral infections. In Part I, Dr. Romm dives into root causes while giving her readers a basic primer in our biological systems and how they work. She also provides questionnaires to help readers discern which factors might contribute to their S.O.S.

Part II provides the 5 R’s of Dr. Romm’s 4-week plan to lead readers toward vibrant health. Here’s a brief summary:

rebbot, reframe, repair, recharge, replenish

REBOOT begins with saying YES to healthy foods and NO to a host of others. Adherents completely eliminate all artificial ingredients, poor quality oils and fats, sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten and cross-reactive grains (e.g., barley, corn, millet, oats, rye, wheat), and dairy products. They also avoid common food triggers (e.g., nightshade vegetables, nuts, soy, yeasted products), alcohol, caffeine, and any personally known allergen. What’s left? Meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, whole grains (e.g., brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat), energy vegetables (e.g., beets, parsnips, sweet potatoes, winter squashes), leafy greens, rainbow vegetables, fruits, fermented foods, herbs and spices, and healthy oils and fats. She offers recipes and a day-by-day eating plan to get readers started.

REFRAME encourages readers to give themselves permission to pause. Several behavioral patterns need to get put on the shelf – i.e., perfectionism, stress addiction, approval addiction, worry, Fear Of Missing Out (a.k.a., FOMO), and scarcity thinking. Practical strategies for creating new thought patterns include:

  • Stay present. Don’t expend needless energy regretting the past or worrying about the future.
  • Be your own best friend. Don’t let negative thoughts take root. Let them pass by like dark clouds. Replace them with positive ones. Count your blessings and your good deeds.
  • Quit “should-ing.” Quit comparing. Find ways to translate your “I have to…” statements into “I get to…”
  • Tend and befriend. Be there for others and reach out to them when you need support.
  • Take breaks proactively. You can: Find a space to relax in solitude. Take quick meditation breaks. Do yoga. Soak in Epson salt and lavender. Journal. Get some fresh air. Play.
  • Get at least 7-8 hours of restorative sleep every night.

REPAIR focuses on gut health to make sure it can properly absorb nutrients, regulate our immune systems, and support detoxification. Start by eliminating (or minimizing) gut-disrupting medications – i.e., antibiotics, NSAIDs (e.g., ibuprofen, Aleve, Motrin), proton pump inhibitors used for acid reflux, and Tylenol. Adjust the diet to get rid of overgrowth of bad bacteria. (I’ve used The Body Ecology Diet by Donna Gates.) Take digestive enzymes to aid digestion and high quality probiotics to populate the gut with good bacteria.

RECHARGE takes aim at nourishing the overtaxed adrenal glands and thyroids through adaptogens that restore the weakened hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. They help calm inflammation, regulate immunity, enhance memory, boost energy, and restore health and vitality.

The REPLENISH phase allows for reintroduction of foods that were temporarily eliminated provided that they do not cause an adverse reaction. The plan entails testing one food every three days by adding in a couple of servings on a given day. If there are no reactions, that food can remain in the diet.

I find books like The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution helpful in that they provide a good overview of the body’s systems, how they can go awry, and what we can do about it. I choose to work through these paths under the auspices of a trained naturopath and leverage the benefit of her expertise and watchful eye on my progress. But if one lacks access to this resource, Dr. Romm’s book is worth a careful and considered read.

Good Friends Promote Good Health

I can’t imagine going through the journey of life without having wonderful friends with whom to share it. I’m fortunate to have people in my life around whom I feel seen, heard, and valued. I am comforted in knowing that we give and receive without judgment, expectations, or scorekeeping. Their love and support is a source of sustenance, and I trust that mine is nurturing for them. I’m especially blessed to have married a man who is as great a friend as he is a life partner.


Good friends make me feel good. But until recently, I didn’t realize the extent to which they are as much a contributor to my health as my happiness.

In The Healing Self, Drs. Deepak Chopra and Rudolph Tanzi tell us that the heart is responsive to how we feel physically and emotionally. Being loved and supported by others results in lower arterial blockage. It also affects the immune system. As a case in point, they ask their readers to assign one point to each relationship in which there is direct contact (face-to-face or phone) at least every other week. Those whose scores fall within the 1-3 range are four times more likely to exhibit cold symptoms than those with six or more. Moreover, the number and diversity of relationships exert greater influence on health than their intimacy.

In Mind Over Medicine, Dr. Lissa Rankin emphasizes the importance of having healthy, judgment-free relationships that give us the freedom to be our authentic selves. Love, nurturing, compassion, and feelings of belonging soothe the mind, halt the stress response, induce the relaxation response, and heal the body. They also bring out our best selves while elevating our moods.

Studies show that positive psychological states, such as joy, happiness, and positive energy, as well as characteristics such as life satisfaction, hopefulness, optimism, and a sense of humor result in lower mortality rates and extend longevity.
– Dr. Lissa Rankin, MD

Friendship also exerts an influence at the cellular level. Drs. Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel explore this connection in The Telomere Effect. Telomeres are a repeating segment of noncoding DNA that live at the ends of our chromosomes. Much like the plastic or metal aglets placed on the ends of shoelaces, telomeres keep our DNA strands intact. It turns out that good friends are like trusted guardians of these essential genetic building blocks. When they’re around, our telomeres are protected. By contrast, unhealthy relationships are a telomere risk factor. Situations that consistently mix positive qualities with unhelpful or disturbing interactions engender a kind of stress that produces shorter telomeres. When telomeres become critically short, our cells can no longer reproduce.

Finally, I recall a discussion with my father’s neurologist when Dad first exhibited signs of geriatric dementia. The doctor told us that four things were essential to maintaining one’s mental faculties for as long as possible. The first three were not surprising: a healthy diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep. The fourth was socialization. While sudoku and crossword puzzles are fine diversions, they can’t compete with sustained, positive contact with other human beings. The more we engage with others, the more we exercise our brains and the better we feel.

How Stress Weighs Us Down

stressed outIn Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, I briefly summarized Dr. Robert Sapolsky’s outstanding book on the biological mechanisms inherent in the stress response. He also explains how these mechanisms go awry when stressors hang around for days, weeks, and months. Physiological disturbances include hypertension, elevated cholesterol, insulin resistance, and bone disintegration, to name a few. We may also accelerate the rate at which our DNA loses its telomeres – i.e., the segments at the ends of our chromosomes that hold the strands together.

Many of the adverse effects of stress lie beneath our awareness. As such, they may not provide sufficient motivation for us to take action. However, the following impacts may get our attention.

We have trouble losing (or maintaining) weight. Stress increases our appetite for starchy and sweet foods to provide us with quick energy. The body assumes that we’ll have an elevated need for fuel during a relatively short interval, so it wants food that metabolizes readily into glucose. It’s not worried about having excess sugars roaming around the bloodstream.

With a long term stressor, cravings become a 24×7 phenomenon. The potato chips in the cupboard, the ice cream in the fridge, and the candy in the vending machine form a chorus that calls our names. And because these foods trigger our pleasure centers, we’re happy to respond and let them give us a little TLC. Unfortunately, the excess sugar in our bloodstream causes a number of unpleasant biochemical responses and promotes fat storage around our middles. Both factors increase our risk of cardiovascular disease while keeping the dream of fitting into our skinny jeans at bay.

We have trouble sleeping. According to Dr. Sapolsky, stress is responsible for 70% of insomnia cases. When those folks finally manage to nod off, their sleep tends to be shallower. To top it off, not getting enough sleep is another stressor!

We don’t look or feel our best when we haven’t had the required ~7-9 hours per night of sleep. We also don’t function as well. Lost sleep means our brains have less time to process memories, information, emotions, and motor tasks. Loss of deep, slow wave sleep also impacts our perceptual abilities.

We’re far more susceptible to illness. Our bodies are programmed to boost immune function in response to a short term stressor. If we’re running for our lives and sustain an injury, we want a lot of antibody warriors at the ready to quell any infection that might arise during our escape.

Unfortunately, if we have a bunch of active troops wandering around in our bloodstream for very long, they’re going to want to pick a fight. If there are no infectious agents to attack, they’ll start going after our own tissues. For this reason, the body tamps down its immune response when stressors persist. So when the usual round of germs, bacteria, viruses show up, stressed out folks won’t have the proper resources at hand to address them. They’ll get sick.

We’re more likely to have issues with substance abuse. Stress increases the addictive potential of food, alcohol, and drugs if exposure comes right before the stressor. Ongoing stress amplifies addiction and reduces one’s reservoir of willpower. It also increases the likelihood of relapse for those who’ve achieved sobriety.

For all of the foregoing reasons, we’d be wise to take stress management seriously. Here are a few strategies to consider:

  • Make lifestyle adjustments to get rid of toxic stressors. Change jobs. Adjust commute patterns. Bid farewell to folks with whom there’s no hope of reasonably cordial relations. Find a more pleasant community in which to live. Ease financial pressures by living modestly.
  • For circumstances in which change is not an option, re-wire your thought patterns to treat stressors as challenges that can advance your knowledge, skills, experience, and self-confidence.
  • If a stressor doesn’t offer the potential for personal growth, work on training yourself not to react adversely to it. As my husband says: “Water off a duck’s back…”
  • Avoid hostility, pessimism, rumination, and vengeful thoughts. Practice mindfulness and meditation to elevate your awareness of these patterns and detach from them.
  • Exercise! It boosts mood and reduces stress.