Mind-Body Connection

Is There Really a Mind-Body Connection?

Throughout millennia, the connection between mental and physical health has been pondered and debated by healers all over the globe. Today, this same powerful connection is being recognized by science as a factor that directly affects health outcomes, whether emotional, spiritual or behavioral. Research is focused in a new field, that of mind-body medicine and the findings show clearly that emotions and thought patterns can contribute to imbalances in the body. Therapies such as visual imagery, meditation, yoga, and biofeedback are being employed to restore and promote health and re-establish balance.

“The beliefs you hold about yourself and the world, your emotions, your memories, and your habits all can influence mental and physical health. These connections between what is going on in your mind and heart, and what is happening in your body, form the psycho-emotional roots of health and disease.” Jennifer Weinberg, MD, MPH, MBE Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine Physician and Author

There is a direct physiological connection between the mind, (where mental states including thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and emotions reside) and the chemical responses that occur in the nervous, endocrine and immune systems that use hormones and neurotransmitters as the “language” to communicate between the mind and body.

This is how it works in one arena: The parts of the brain that process emotions are connected to the spinal cord, muscles, cardiovascular system and digestive tract via neurological pathways. It is this connection that allows stressors, emotions or major life events to set off physical symptoms. Think about feeling nervous and experiencing “butterflies in the belly” or your heart pounding hard when you’re in a stressful situation.

It is the intersection of these systems that create the mind-body connection, which in turn influences health or disease. Anger can easily trigger stress hormones that can suppress the immune system and lead the way for infections or even cancer to develop.

The Powerful Impact of Vibration

Our bodies are made up of atoms and water, both of which are in motion constantly, creating a type of wave energy that influences their structure and function.
In a very well-known study done in Japan by Dr. Masaro Emoto two different mediums, water and rice, were exposed to words and music, both positive and negative. The results were stunning as the effect of these vibrations caused physical changes to the water and rice. If words have such a powerful effect on water, it behooves us to consider the effect of words on our bodies and in our health, especially since we are comprised mostly of water.

Your Body Has Feelings

We are aware that negative emotions can have a profound effect on our bodies. Fear can contribute to digestive upset and stress can produce a migraine. Other negative emotions like anger, anxiety, resentment or depression, can manifest disease or other forms of imbalance in the body.
The experience of various emotional states produces physiological sensations in different parts of the body. A map of emotions has been created by scientists to indicate where different emotions are activated on the bodies of study participants. This connection goes in two directions: they affect the way you behave and the physiology within your body and, the way you perceive these body reactions influences your emotions.

Emotions that are repressed or stuck can be especially harmful to physical health. Studies show that people who suppress their emotions are more inclined to experience imbalance of cortisol (the stress hormone) compared to those who are able to freely express their emotions. Compounded over time, the net result contributes to both the development and progression of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Your Beliefs Can Make You Sick

Hopefully you can now see how the mind-body connection – that is the way you think and feel and the deep-seated beliefs you hold – can all lead to the development of disease. Left unexplored and unresolved, they create a subliminal sense of anxiety, depression or anger that has the potential to disrupt your body’s natural healing mechanism.

A very common expression of the interaction of belief and physical sensations is in the case of chronic pain. Essentially, pain is a combination of the physical sensations, your emotions around the pain and the meaning the pain has for you. They all share similarities in their neurological pathways. This is seen played out in people who lack social support. These very people are more likely to have heart (and other) problems than those with supportive relationships: conversely, when people with cancer experience a decrease in symptoms of depression, their chance at survival increases.
It’s important to have support to deal with emotions and change beliefs. Having the right kind of support can help with the reduction of symptoms of depression as well as the physiological response of inflammation.

Healing In All Areas

In order to heal and prevent disease, it’s important and necessary to combine physical, spiritual and emotional modalities. Thankfully, there are a variety of mind-body approaches that are designed to help you process your emotions, change your habits into lasting behaviors and gain physical wellness, like the ones I teach in my Habit Change Program.

Toxins that are built up in the body through toxic emotions can be dealt with by remaining present and aware. By learning strategies to help you pay attention and identify emotions that come up, process those emotions and find a plan of action to deal with them, healing flows in all areas.
There are a few ways to effectively express, experience and process your emotions. One way is to talk them out with someone you can trust. Or, you can write your thoughts and feelings and share them with a trusted person.

Meditation is a very wonderful and valuable mind-body practice for mindfulness that helps to modulate emotional responses. The Eastern arts of yoga, breathing practices and Tai Chi are both physically and mentally healing.
On the Western front, hypnotherapy and biofeedback have proven to be very useful in addressing mind-body issues.
All of these amazing tools help to increase body awareness and help to gain control of the mind-body connection in order to create an internal environment that promotes health rather than disease.

 

 

food labels

Are Food Labels Undermining Your Health?

I have a few questions for you: Which is better, “natural” or “organic”? Are eggs from “cage-free” chickens superior to “pastured” or “vegetarian-fed” chickens? What’s the difference between “grass-fed” and “grass-finished” beef? Do these terms confuse you? Or, do they mean anything at all?

There’s a lot of confusion out there about what food product labels mean. Terms like “gluten-free, fat-free, all natural” and “GMO-free” imply health benefits, yet they can promote processed foods full of ingredients that are undesirable and in some cases, dangerous.

There’s good reason to be skeptical about claims on food labels, according to Yoni Freedhoff, MD, a physician, professor and weight loss specialist in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. “If the front of a package needs to convince you of the healthfulness of its contents, there’s a darn good chance its contents aren’t healthful,” says Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work.

At The End of The Day – Branding Works

The fact is that the food industry is among the top advertisers in the US media market, and other western countries can certainly boast similar. So, why do food manufacturers spend so much money on marketing, food packaging and labels? Because branding works. Product names and product descriptions have been shown to influence buying decisions and the degree to which consumers expect the product to be tasty, filling or fattening – even though these expectations are out of sync with reality.

Research indicates that people think foods with front-of-package health claims (such as “rich in Omega 3”; “low fats”; “supports immunity” and other bonus promises), have fewer calories and are better for their health. This phenomenon is known as the Health Halo effect. According to Brian Wansink, PhD of Cornell University, front package claims “cause us to believe the food product is much more healthy than it actually is, causing people to think that the more they eat of this product, the better. The problem is that people end up eating 44% more when there is a health claim on the front label.”

What Can You Do To Take Control In Your Own Life?

The reality is that food manufacturers can use all sorts of words, symbols and claims in order to make their product, which may be of questionable nutritional value, seem nourishing. So, here are a few things you can implement in order to navigate the label jungle:

Beware the hype. Anything you read on the front label promoting “healthful” food puts you more at risk of mistaking a possibly unhealthy food for healthy and you end up overeating.

Pay attention to the Health Halo. A healthy sounding label – or one that touts weight-loss claims – can frustrate our dietary efforts because we believe we are exchanging taste for something else. The result is that we overeat. It’s better to just get what you really want and eat a little of it.

Read the back. Flip the package over, ignore the front and find out what’s really in the product by reading the nutritional information on the back.

Expect embellishment. Many of the health claims made on the front of the package have little or no medical substantiated backing and promise much more than they could ever deliver.

Use the Web. Today, almost everyone has a smartphone and there are endless numbers of apps available to help the informed shopper check out the contents of the package and make better choices.

Eat real, whole foods. Nothing can replace natural, whole foods. Your health is more likely to improve when you eat more produce and fewer products – no matter what the package says.

Find a Food Philosophy. Check in on your relationship with food. Connect with the truth that food is nourishment and a way to connect with life.

Buy and eat local products. There is no lack of farmers’ markets burgeoning with fresh, amazing fruits and vegetables, cheeses, breads and other wonderful foods. Try shopping from the growers instead of from the grocers.

There are exceptions. Sometimes a small farm that follows organic practices cannot afford to pay the government for the use of the word “organic” and is forced to use a non-regulated product description like “natural” instead.

Pick your focus. The food label jungle is massive. Find a couple of labels that are of great importance to you and look for those. For many, the Organic seal issued by the government is very important, as is “Non-GMO”. It may not be a perfect method, but it is about as good as it gets today.

So, what’s the bottom line? Live beyond the labels. For those who care about their health, eat real food, purchased fresh rather than the products that come in plastic wrap or cans. Food can, and should, be a source of nourishment and healing – a space in which to create a life of strength and vigor.

 

 

Bone Density

Dem Bones

We all know how important it is to have strong bones (as well as strong nails and teeth), which is why we have bone density tests done.
The idea of a bone density test is to determine … right! How dense our bones are.
I had my bone density test done this month and discovered a thing or two about my bones – things I am now working very diligently on knowing that with the right combination of care, my bones will carry me around for much longer.
As we head into the warmer weather, outdoor activities become more common and we all want to be able to enjoy the sports and play that comes along with the sunshine. Strong bones are a must.

Porous Applies to More Than Skin

If you’re a woman in her 50s, you are no doubt fully aware of the concerns around bone health and are probably taking calcium supplements to help ensure your bones stay strong, especially since women are more prone than men to osteoporosis.
So, what exactly is osteoporosis?
The word itself actually means “porous bones”. The condition is a progressive one in which bones become structurally weak and are more prone to breaking and fractures.
It’s been called a “silent” disease because it happens without you knowing it. Unless you have a bone density test, you won’t know there’s a reduction in the density of your bones.
Until around the age of 25, our bones maintain a balance between bone loss and bone growth, however; as we age, bone loss exceeds bone growth and the chance of osteoporosis increases.
Menopause, which generally occurs in women when they are in their 40s or 50s, speeds bone loss. Older men also lose bone mass faster as they age.
Bones in the hip, spine and wrist are especially prone to fractures – fractures that would not have occurred in a younger person with stronger bones.
Osteopenia is a more moderate decline in bone mass than what is seen in osteoporosis.
There is good news in all of this, despite how it appears.
You can take steps to prevent further bone loss even if you have osteopenia or osteoporosis.

Let’s Take a Look

The gold standard for measuring bone strength is a bone mineral density test, performed using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA).
Having undergone this procedure a few times, I can tell you it’s painless and quick. You lie on a table and an x-ray scanner begins at your feet and scans your skeleton up to your neck. Where I live, a CD of the scan is provided following the procedure and your doctor gives you the outcome.
While this is an excellent way to determine density of the bones, what it doesn’t do is measure the quality of the bones. Yes, bone density is correlated with strength, but it isn’t the entire picture.

In theory, you can have very dense bones that are also weak and/or brittle, thus prone to fractures and breaks.
Conversely, you can also have a low DEXA scan score and have strong bones that don’t break easily.

So, you see, while bone density is important – and the DEXA test is the primary method of determining bone strength – it doesn’t necessarily mean you have strong bones.

The word strong, in terms of bone, implies that bones are difficult to break due to their compressive, tensile and stress strength as well as their elastic properties.
You could say that a strong bone is one that doesn’t break easily.

How To Create Strong Bones

The great news is that we can slow bone deterioration with nutrition and exercise.
Bone is comprised of a composite of calcium hydroxyapatite, phosphorus as well as a protein called collagen and numerous other minerals. In order to be strong, bones require much more than calcium. They need minerals, including calcium, balanced by protein.
The mantra has always been to take more calcium and take Vitamin D in order to help your body absorb the calcium.
While there is obvious merit to this method, there are other ways to improve bone strength besides taking calcium. In fact, taking too much calcium can be a problem for good health.

Along with the right mineral supplementation, a diet that is well balanced and includes sufficient calories, protein, fat and quality carbohydrates from vegetables and fruits will help ensure your bones have a good chance of becoming stronger.
But, as you know, nutrition is not enough. Exercise is crucial, and although most recommendations by doctors suggest that any type of exercise is good, the fact is that research has shown that some forms of exercise may be detrimental and even cause bone loss.
People with osteoporosis or osteopenia need specific exercise prescriptions to stimulate bone repair and improve bone strength.
Strong bones have the capacity for self-repair and the best way to help our bodies is to be sure we have the right tools: specific exercise and a nutritious diet – both are key to building and restoring stronger, healthier bones.