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Nutrition and Food Intolerances

Why would an herbalist want to talk to you about your diet? I’ll start my response to that question with the old saying “we are what we eat.” But, I’ll take that a step further to imply that saying applies to the spectrum of how healthy we are. And, taking that a step further, our diet is a direct factor in the long list of many diseases that impact our lives. 

So, first I’ll focus on the importance of proper nutrition to both of those ends of the health spectrum. Humans are hard-wired with the desire to nourish themselves.  Hunger is an instinct that tells us that our body functions are dependent on nourishment, not just caloric intake.  We often experience physical and psychological dysfunction just from lack of certain nutrients (vitamins and minerals) in our diet.  So, if you come to me, as an herbalist, that’s one of the things I will ask about first.  Two of the oldest forms of natural medicine on our planet are Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda (India). Both of these medical systems approach the treatment of disease with diet and lifestyle choices first, before the use of herbs.

Unfortunately, when many people think of diet the first thoughts come to caloric intake.  Perhaps in third-world cultures, where famine is prevalent, this is the most important consideration.  But, in most American’s lives, excess caloric intake is a problem compounded by a diet high in processed and packaged foods that are nutritionally replete.  Although many people believe they are eating “healthy,” they in fact have insufficient intake of high-quality proteins and carbohydrates, fiber, good fats, clean water and the vitamins and minerals that their bodies need. Many of our body systems are dependent upon specific nutrients to perform healthy functions. So, when we lack that specific nutrition, our health suffers. And, on top of causing dysfunction in the body, many people’s diets are riddled with foods that are not well tolerated by their digestive tract.  This further creates dysfunction and the continued combination of malnutrition and food intolerances leads to disease.

Even a small amount of some foods is enough to launch a stress response in the stomach. This launches an acute inflammatory response that continues as the food passes through to our small intestines.  Our intestines are surrounded by GALT (gut-associated lymphoid tissue, i.e. immune system). Inflammation is a function of our immune response, and includes the releasing of inflammatory cytokines (chemicals) into our bloodstream. These act as messengers, circulating throughout our bodies spreading inflammation and wreaking havoc elsewhere.  Symptoms can range from allergic responses, heartburn, bloating and gas, fatigue, migraines, irritability, constipation and skin problems (including eczema) to serious illnesses, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and many other inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Antibiotics are not effective in stopping the immune response to food sensitivities. Whether pharmaceutical or herbal, antibiotic therapies lead to other issues in the body such as causing dysbiosis and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) by killing off the good bacteria in our gut microbiome. 


​Just as the symptoms vary from person to person, the reaction time can also vary widely.  Some people will feel immediate “discomfort” after eating problem foods. Many times, our “gut instincts” make us aware of what foods we are reacting to, sometimes we even crave those foods, almost like we need the reaction to remind us that we’re alive.  Other times it may take a few days, then we start feeling tired, or our allergies flare, we find ourselves not in a good mood, or experience other delayed reactions, like migraines, constipation, skin rashes or autoimmune flares. 


I should note that a food intolerance is not the same as a food allergy. A food allergy will initiate a more serious and potentially dangerous response in the body, including an IgE anaphylactic response. The “food intolerance triangle” refers to a pattern of dysfunction that presents in gastrointestinal, mood and musculoskeletal complaints. The most common food intolerances are dairy, wheat/gluten, soy, and refined oils and sugars.  Historically, these foods were not part of the human diet, so our bodies don’t recognize them as food (nourishment) and so we can have a negative reaction to them. But, because they’re not true allergens,[expensive] food allergy testing cannot accurately identify them.  Also, no test can predict how YOU are going to react to a certain food. 


In reality, for anyone suffering from chronic disease, diet should be a foundational part of every healing protocol along with efforts to normalize the gut ecology before any herbal interventions. This approach requires removing all suspect foods for six weeks.  Many people see improvement in their symptoms after the first three weeks of that course.  This 6-week break approach may seem very difficult to achieve, but there are ways that I can help you redefine your relationship with foods and find yourself enjoying the positive impact it will have on your life.  So, if you or someone you care about is suffering either nutritional deficiencies or from the symptoms of food intolerance that I have mentioned, please reach out and let’s get started on the healing process together.  This effort can be life changing for those who are suffering from just about any chronic disease state.​
                                                                                                            

Stress                                    

I spoke on the phone recently with a customer who continues to have difficulty sleeping even while taking my Sleepy Time tincture before bed. I explained to her that in consulting with clients with sleep issues, I have a complex flow chart that I work through in order to assess the factors contributing to a variety of sleep issues. Without that full intake consultation, it's difficult for me to assess the factors that may be contributing to her continued problems. I find myself running through the "short list" and also getting corresponding short answers. Many times I find myself the next day wishing I could have done or said more to help them.

This morning it occurred to me that this would be a good topic for a blog.  In general, other than the systemic deterioration of our bodies associated with normal aging, there are just a few factors that, especially over time, significantly affect our health. One of those is stress. You see, our primal brain doesn’t know the difference between being chased by a bear and having work overload, having financial issues, having to juggle work, childcare and educating your children (common side effects of CoViD for many people), or taking on the responsibilities of your aging parents later in life. These all add stress to our lives. And the thing about stress is, it not only makes your feel emotionally “stressed”, it also trumps normal body functions of many of our body organs and systems, affecting daily rhythms and long-term leading to many serious health issues. 


When you are being chased by whatever breed of bear you find yourself confronted with, your digestive system shuts down.  This means that even though you continue to eat (in fact you may even eat more, using food as an escape or reward to try to feel better), you won’t be assimilating nutrition because your “gut instincts” are preoccupied by the bear.  This psychological stress induces systemic and mucosal pro‐inflammatory responses that damage your gut (intestines). The downward spiral inhibiting the assimilation of nutrition affects every cell in every organ and body system.  Over time, this can lead to multiple forms of dysfunction and disease in the body.  And your gut (or specifically our GALT: gut-associated lymphoid tissue) is the main player in your immune response.  An inflamed gut significantly impairs your immune responses.

Stress can be very disruptive to your sleep.  You may have difficulty falling asleep due to worry, or wake frequently with worries on your mind. What is important point to recognize here is that our bodies repair themselves in our deep sleep (REM) cycle. I mean repair EVERYTHING from bumps and bruises to the wear caused by daily exercise on our structural system, to remodeling muscle and bone. So, lack of quality sleep for just one night can curtail our normal “maintenance and repair” cycle, but can also affect your mental function, mood, and energy levels, which generally relates to how well we function in life and with others in our lives. This can lead to even more stress and further lessen our ability to handle it! Over time, sleep deficit leads to diminished physical and mental capacity, including loss of memories, cognitive skills, and perception, as well as conditions like osteoporosis and chronic inflammation. 

So, what can be done to manage stress and improve sleep quality?  One key focus here is perception. We’ve got to figure out how to shift our internal “bear-there” reaction to the stressors in our lives, as well as adopt skills for reducing the stress that we feel when we do face a bear.  So, we first must learn how to take a pause when confronted with a stress trigger. Stop and think “is this really a bear?”  If not, ask yourself why the situation triggered this response.  

Sometimes it’s our own feelings and emotions about an event that trigger stress.  Feelings are not good or bad, they just let us know how we feel about a situation, based on each of our own collective experiences in life. Feelings generate emotions that can make this new situation stressful. Releasing these emotions is critical to relieve our stress.  Don’t hold it in, it doesn’t “go-away” on its’ own, it only builds and wreaks havoc. Once we accept how we feel, we can find appropriate ways to help us to feel better about it.

There are many ways to remove stress “in the instant” that it confronts you.  Shaking your body is great, just “shake it off.” Deep breathing works wonders, especially for anxiety.  Screaming or yelling works great for anger.  Sometimes crying is inevitable. Talk therapy is wonderful, whether it’s in a group of individuals with similar concerns, or with an private therapist. Talking to someone who is trained to help you work through your feelings and overcome your emotional ties to stress is best.  But sometimes just venting to your best friend gets you through. Exercise helps, whether it’s running, boxing, cycling, or gardening. Time in nature is awesome for grounding us back to a calmer place. 

Herbs can help to manage stress, as well as help restore healthy sleep cycles, calm anxiety or lift grief.  Adaptogenic herbs have qualities that help increase our tolerance to stressors, as well as mitigate the effects that stress has on our bodies.  Sedative herbs help us get to and stay asleep.  Tonic herbs help to restore and support your physical and mental good health and can do wonders to calm uncontrollable feelings and emotions. Proper dosage means we don’t wake up with a hangover.  Some are safe to be taken long term, while others should be only used until we can restore our body’s own natural rhythms.

Supplements can also help.  Just about all of us are magnesium deficient.  This mineral relaxes everything from our muscles to our mind.  It’s important to have an annual assessment of your health. Review your lab work with someone who is trained to look for deficiencies or patterns of dysfunction and recommend the appropriate support that you need to stand strong in the face of adversity of every kind.

And, of course, we’ve got to repair the damage to our gut so that our intestines can get back to their important work assimilating nutrients out of the foods we eat.  Our body systems, both physical and non-physical, do not work independently from each other.  We humans are complex entities intertwined in a symbiotic relationship with the world in which we exist.  And that world is constantly challenging us. In many, many cases, all of our health concerns represent a domino effect that can be traced back to a very short list of underlying factors. We must look at the whole person and their whole world to find ways to coexist with all of the bears hiding therein.




Thoughts on CoViD – It’s Complicated 

CoronaVirus Disease (CoViD)
 is a relatively new virus that mutates on its own, so humans have no built-up immunity. After several rounds of mutations, it doesn’t appear that our immune system response is able to adapt to new versions based on antibody production from previous exposures. Add to this that every mutation carries different symptom profiles and duration, and previous infections can cause further complications, it continues to make treatment difficult.  We have gained some experience with treating it successfully, but as with many other types of acute infection, treatment really depends on each clients general health status.  Our Intention here is to share the ongoing conversation within the larger herbal community regarding the characteristics of the disease, biochemistry involved, and thoughts on reducing infection and complications in order to continue to be supportive of our community during these trying times. No information provided here is stated in any way to advise, substitute for or constitute medical advice.

CoViD
is significantly more contagious than influenza and has varying incubation periods, depending on the strain (3-14 days) so someone can be a carrier without even knowing it. Many of people infected with COVID experience very mild allergy-like symptoms while other have no symptoms at all, so it is possible that the infection rate is much higher than reported. The latest dominant strain, Ba-5, is arguably the second most infectious virus ever seen, but the newest variant, Ba2.75 is expected to be even more contagious. Ba-5’s most commonly reported symptomology includes headache, neck pain and fever.  The primary concern is that it appears that damage from multiple CoViD infections are cumulative and it is now believed that multiple infections each year can take a irreparable physiological toll.  Complications are primarily in the lower respiratory tract, it can result in pneumonia, so the elderly and those with pre-existing health problems that affect their lungs are at highest risk.  Any severe CoViD infection can result in what is being referred to as “long CoViD”, but even multiple re-infections of different variants also carry this risk. Although there are new treatments that might help manage the infection and new vaccines on the horizon, the best option is avoidance.  The new P100 masks seem to provide the best protection and should be worn in public indoor environments, as well as outdoors if you must be within the 6’ distancing recommendation.

Prevention
It appears to be mainly spread through body fluids (coughing, sneezing, as well as other bodily excretions), so “social distancing” (staying 6 feet away from other people), as well as proper hygiene: frequent prolonged hand washing, sanitizing surfaces, and avoiding touching your face are all good practices. Self-quarantine at home for at least five days once symptoms present (or you have a positive CoViD test result). Unless under the direction of your doctor, avoid taking aspirin or NSAIDS (acetaminophen or ibuprofen), as these may increase the spread of infection and/or lower our own antioxidant and antibody levels, which can worsen the disease and our ability to fight it. Also, it’s important to stop smoking or vaping, as these activities are very harsh and damaging to the lungs. 
Hydration 
is critically important. Mucus is over 90% water and it is full of enzymes and killer immune cells. Mucus is responsible for enveloping the invading viral cells so those immune cells can do their job. Our skin is the largest organ of our body and acts as our “first line of defense” against invaders that it comes in contact with. So keeping your skin moisturized is equally important. Dehydration is worse in winter, as we spend more time indoors with heaters which lower humidity. Drink half your body weight in ounces daily of water daily. Natural organic skin care helps keep our outer protective layer healthy, to prevent invasion of pathogens (see our Earth & Herb "ReNu Skin" and "Nourish Me" moisturizers). Nasya (herbal infused oils*) applied to the inside of nasal passages can help to support mucous in preventing infection. If you’re one of those people who are just naturally prone to dry skin, dry hair, dry mouth, etc., there are herbs that help to keep your body hydrated.  If you’re in need of some help, just send us a note and we’ll get a formula that will improve your overall hydration levels.

FOOD AS MEDICINE:  
Our bodies need certain nutrients for our immune systems to function properly and deal with the virus. Nutrient deficiencies also increase inflammation in the body, which will interfere with our ability to recover from illness. So, make efforts to correct any nutritional deficiencies that exist. The most important nutrients to support your own body’s defense mechanisms are Vitamins A (cod liver oil), B-complex, C, and D, as well as minerals iron, selenium and zinc. Zinc and Vitamin D status may be important for enhanced immunity at first infection, to reduce inflammation in critical care, and reduce complications and death. Take 15-45mg zinc daily, along with Vitamin D3, which is the preferred form and it is best taken daily (4,000-7,000 IU daily),. Other recommended daily supplements: vitamin A (25,000 IU daily but not with liver disease), vitamin B complex (50 mg daily), vitamin C (500 mg daily), vitamin E (100-400 IU daily), Selenium (25 mcg daily), Omega 3 (2,000-3,000 mg daily combined EPA/DHA).   Note that there are contraindications for some vitamins if you have certain health conditions, and over-supplementing can have its own severe health consequences, so be sure to take supplements according to their recommended dosages, and have regular health checkups with lab work to test for healthy ranges. The best foods to eat to build health are those which are warm, light (not too heavy), and spicy (“Healthy Spice Blends”). Eat lots of garlic, onion, leafy greens, yellow-orange-red veggies, bone broth, oatmeal, and soups, and Quercitin-rich foods (apples, berries, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, capers, grapes, onions, shallots, tea, and tomatoes). Eliminate sugar (<50 gr/day), alcohol and caffeine, and dairy; decrease carbs (except if malnourished). Eat probiotic foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt) and prebiotics/resistant starches (e.g. cooked and cooled rice). Drink nourishing herbal teas high in minerals. 

Keep moving. 
Most of our immune system dwells within our lymphatic system, which requires body movement to move lymph fluid, all its immune cells and cellular waste around and out of our bodies. Once your infected and in the “bedrest” mode, herbs can help keep those fluids flowing. 

Stress shuts down our immune system MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE, and relaxing herbal teas can help you make it through your CoViD "stay-cation" or tinctures that increase your resilience to the stress your body is experiencing, as can meditation, exercise, and time in nature.  Take a walk, wave at your neighbors. "Sleep debt" (prolonged deficient sleep cycles) is very detrimental to immune function, as well as our general health, as our body repairs itself during deep sleep, so herbal teas and tinctures can be helpful to make sure you are getting good quality rest.  

Infection? 
Once infection is suspected, herbal formulas should be modified and adapted to fit each stage of infection progression. 
FOR THOSE WHO CHOOSE TO QUARANTINE AT HOME:
Continued hydration is important (half your body weight in ounces daily in water and herbal teas, but tea formulas should be focused on current stage of infection and symptoms).  Continue to support good sleep and manage stress.  Avoiding heavy and congesting foods, but actively eating foods and beverages to warm and stimulate the body, such as fresh ginger root tea.  For most people, infection is limited to upper respiratory, causing symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, and sore throat, often accompanied by some degree of bodily fever, body ache, and sometimes a dry cough.  About one-third experience diarrhea and/or loss of smell.  Begin supplementing zinc (50-100mg/day; if over 50mg, also supplement 2 mg of copper).
Monitor "normal" body temperature ranges:
 first, there is no "normal" body temperature, it ranges from 91.8-100.8 F.  It should be taken daily at first rising from bed in the morning (it will be it's lowest) and then again, between 4-6pm (it will be its' "normal" highest).  Digital thermometers are very inaccurate, usually takes more than one try to register the correct temperature, so repeat every time you take it until you get two consistent readings. Exercise raises body temp, as does a hot bath, both of which increase our immune response (and move lymph to clear toxins), so stay active as long as your base readings are normal. A temperature above 98 may indicate fever in the elderly. "Low-grade fever" (a rise in temp by 0.5 F) is the most common presentation with CoViD-19, and the fever is typically intermittent, meaning it can appear one day and not the next, and so on. It’s best to not do anything to suppress fever, as this is part of our body's defense response against the virus. 

HERBAL SUPPORT:  
Early onset supportive herbs
(blends for immune support* can help support our body’s own natural healing abilities.  It's important that you DO NOT suppress the fever with NSAIDs or Acetaminophen, but there are herbs that can help open the pores of your skin to provide some reliefHerbs that help with cold and flu symptoms, throat sprays, and herbs that promote sweating can help your body's own healing mechanisms..
Immune Tonics: 
Medicinal mushrooms have extensive research on support of healthy immune function, as do a few medicinal herbs. These can be cooked to make a broth that can be frozen in ice cube trays and used as a soup stock. Smudging (white sage) cleanses the air; smudging yourself after taking a hot steamy shower or sauna may destroy the respiratory virus as well as reducing the risk of spreading to other members of your household. 
Antiviral
herbs are immune stimulants and may limit viral incursion into cells, theoretically impacting likelihood of first infection, so best as preventative and should be replaced by more targeted formulas in the event that infection has set in. Herbal steams* can achieve deeper penetration of anti-viral herbs into the lungs. Please use care if using a diffuser to deliver steam if you have pets in your home. Many herbal constituents (and especially many essential oils) are toxic to pets (birds, dogs and other small mammals, but especially cats, whose liver is not capable to detoxing those).


Complications:
If you develop hot, dry lung conditions,
as it descends into your chest, causing a cough, then we need to alter our strategy, adding in cooling/moistening herbal expectorants* and cough remedies*.  Employ antibacterial herbs* to assist your body in dealing with secondary infections and even stronger formulas for lung support*.

If you are experiencing neurological symptoms, send us a message and we’ll prepare an herbal formula based on your symptom profile.
IF YOU EXPERIENCE SEVERE SYMPTOMS, especially difficulty breathing,
 immediately CALL-IN to your doctor or go to the ER (do not go into your doctor’s office without an appointment).   If you have been told to go to the hospital, do not carry any herbal therapies with you.

If signs of pneumonia present, call your doctor or ER for instruction on seeking medical help. In immunocompromised people, elderly, and those where the infection progresses to pneumonia,the disease can even be fatal. Most cases of pneumonia are a form of auto-infection, meaning infection caused by inhaling (aspirating) our own infected nasal secretions.  Good oral hygiene practices and a combination of nasal and inhalant therapies should be employed.  Nasya (herbal infused oils*) applied to the inside of nasal passages can help to inhibit this progression of the disease. Herbal steams*, essential oil aromatherapy with the use of steam diffusers and humidifiers are also helpful. Herbal formulas for lung support* should be continued.  
Returning from the hospital? 
General support with nutritive, restorative herbs (nourishing herbal teas) and respiratory restorative herbs.* 



*send us a note and we'll see you get the formula best for your symptom profile.


Real Caring for Your Health ~ 

Medicine Woman Herbs, LLC.