Walk Daily, And Be Sick No More!

walking men in the city

We are now approaching the thirteenth anniversary of what may very well be the worst day of my life.  Or, as Homer Simpson would say, “The worst day of your life, so far!”  Thank you, Homer, for reminding me to be grateful, always.

It was thirteen years ago this month, that I contracted a bad flu.  I had one of those fevers that come and go, and come and go.  I spent the better part of a week unconscious on the couch.  And then, once the fever ended, I went on with my life.  I was a busy, young mom at the time, working part-time, going to school part-time, volunteering part-time, and also taking care of my family.  Yet even though I had resumed my daily schedule, I still had lingering symptoms:  a stubborn cough that wouldn’t go away, and a reduced energy level, but I thought nothing of this.  I had too many responsibilities, and too little time to be reflective about it.

One morning shortly thereafter, I suddenly became very dizzy.  Vertigo is the appropriate term.  I couldn’t lift my head off the bed at all or the world would start to spin.  I was also very, very tired.  And weak.  But those symptoms weren’t as apparent to me at the time because of how bad the dizziness was.  It took awhile for me to realize that life, as I had previously known it, was over.

But this blog isn’t really about that illness.  It’s actually about the powerful healing that can occur through the simple act of walking.  You see, for several years after that fateful day, I couldn’t walk at all.  Well, that’s not terribly accurate.  I could walk myself to the bathroom on some days, but on others it seemed safer to crawl.  When I did walk, it had to be for very short periods of time – no more than fifteen minutes spent on my feet – or I would pay for it later.  So, no more walking about the neighbourhood for me.

This was particularly problematic for us because we owned a dog.  Somebody had to walk him every day, and since I was no longer able to live a normal life, it seemed natural that this job should fall to me.  It frustrated me terribly that I couldn’t do it.  You know you’re the true embodiment of uselessness when you can’t even walk a dog!

But time heals all wounds.  It took a couple of years, but eventually, I was able to walk the dog again, and even now, I’m so grateful for that daily excursion through the outside world.  Initially, I could only walk for short periods.  I kept a cell phone on me at all times in case I ran out of energy and couldn’t get back home.  (Yes, this was how ludicrous my life had become!)  There were some cold, January days when I wondered if I should make the effort, but I never, ever regretted going out.  No matter how cold and icy the outdoor condition, I always felt better afterwards.

No wonder.  Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, calls walking “the perfect exercise”.  He also says that walking is the closest thing we have to a wonder drug.  In study after study, the many health benefits of walking have become clear.

Are you ready for the list?  A regular, daily walk has been found to reduce arthritis pain, and help prevent its formation in the first place.  It can reduce the risk of breast cancer.  It boosts immune function.  It gets the heart pumping without causing undue strain.  It reduces the likelihood of heart attack, stroke, and high blood pressure.   It has also been found to reduce cravings for sweet foods, and thus help to prevent diabetes and assist with weight loss.

If you do it outside, walking also boosts vitamin D production.  It improves your mood, particularly if you walk in a “green” area with lots of trees.  It reduces stress and enhances self esteem.  It reduces your sense of isolation by promoting routine contact with other people in your neighbourhood.  Recent studies have also shown that walking sparks creative connections.  Charles Dickens once admitted that many of his now-famous characters were developed during his daily constitutional walks.  To top it all off, walking just three hours per week has been shown to improve brain function in vascular dementia sufferers.

The key to stress-free walking is to avoid over-thinking it.  You don’t have to go really fast.  Yes, that will get your heart pumping, but you can still experience the benefits of walking even if your pace is slower.  It’s also not necessary to walk 10,000 steps per day.  That number was manufactured for marketing purposes by a Japanese company that makes pedometers.  Really, any amount of walking is beneficial.

According to Peter Snyder of Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, “what we’re finding is that of all of these noninvasive ways of intervening, it is exercise that seems to have the most efficacy at this point—more so than nutritional supplements, vitamins and cognitive interventions … The literature on exercise is just tremendous.”  And the simplest and easiest exercise of all, is walking.  If it were a medicine, people would buy it by the bucketful.

Now that my body is stronger, I don’t notice the benefits of walking quite so much.  That’s one thing about being really sick.  You can tell what helps and what doesn’t, because the effect on your body is immediate.  But I still remember how a walk made me feel.  I remember how my blood started to circulate better, how my muscles and my skin felt invigorated.  I remember how my energy picked up and my mood improved.  So, I’m a believer.  Now, it’s your turn.  Time to get out and walk!



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

The High Protein Gamble

protein

Do you feel lucky?  Well, do ya, punk?  Imitations of Clint Eastwood aside, you may not realize that, like it or not, you’ve taken a gamble.   I have too.  The gamble being, whether or not all those high protein meals you’ve been eating are beneficial for your long term health.

Right now, protein is IN, with most packaged foods on grocery store shelves making claims of added protein.  In previous decades, it was the words “low fat” that increased sales.  More recently, it’s been “organic”, or “gluten-free”.  And while those claims may still turn heads, you can see there’s a newcomer in town.  Sales of high protein products, including protein powders and protein-enriched snacks reached $8 billion in global sales this year.

This is largely due to claims that a high protein diet increases weight loss by allowing you to break down fat more quickly, and by increasing sensations of satiety so you eat less.  Of course, people are also hoping to build muscle mass, and protein is required for tissue growth.  Studies have also shown that protein supplements help the elderly maintain muscle mass as they age, making them less likely to fall and injure themselves, while also keeping their immune system strong.

It all sounds good, and for those whose diets tend towards protein deficiency, like the elderly or teenaged girls, some extra protein powder, or some powdered whole milk, may do some good.  However, most healthy North Americans, and particularly men, are not protein deficient.  In fact, they already eat roughly 100 grams daily, which is twice the recommended amount.

While it is true that a high protein diet does speed up weight loss, this effect is short term.  Studies have shown that when a high-protein diet is compared with a high-carb diet, both can stimulate weight loss, as long as fewer calories are consumed overall.  More importantly, people on a high protein diet tend to gain the weight back faster.

It’s also important to note that protein is dense with calories – and fat – especially animal protein.  This is why it makes you feel full faster.  Extra protein may be beneficial if you are an athlete and highly active, but most people today lead sedentary lives, so any extra protein consumed only causes unnecessary weight gain.

Excessive protein consumption can also make your body more acidic, leading to loss of calcium in your bones.  The extra calorie load will lead to fat storage in cells, causing insulin resistance and an increased risk of diabetes.  And the IGF growth factor in protein, which is what helps it build tissue, can also stimulate cancer cell growth.  And this is before we even discuss how excess protein stresses the kidneys.  Those who already have weakened kidney functioning can cause significant kidney damage.

“It’s an experiment,” says Dr. John E. Swartzberg, at the University of California.  “No one can tell you the long-term effects [of excessive protein consumption], and that’s what worries me as a physician. No one can tell you what the results are going to be in people’s bodies 10 or 15 years later.”

In short, we’re all taking a gamble.  It could be that this sudden increase dietary protein will be beneficial as we age.  Perhaps it will allow us to maintain our strength and balance, so we can still hike, climb, and enjoy our lives well into our eighties.  On the other hand, it may just make us chronically sicker, as most of our other food fads have done in the past.

In the book, The China Study, T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M Campbell, use statistics from rural China to show that increased consumption of animal products increases the rate of cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.   Of course, not all protein sources come from animals, but even so, this unprecedented consumption of all-things-protein puts us squarely in undiscovered country.  There’s really no telling how this drama might play out.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.

Emotions Aren’t the Cause of Your Migraines

migraines

“Hysterical”, “neurotic”, “irrational”.  These are just a few of the adjectives that men have used over the centuries to silence women.  In ancient Greece, female emotional outbursts were blamed on something called a “wandering uterus”.  To return a woman to a state of calm, you needed to lure the uterus back to its proper position with foods like honey or garlic, applied either vaginally or by mouth.  I wonder if it ever worked.

While modern medicine has long discarded the “wandering uterus” theory, a subtle bias against women is still evident.  Health problems that exclusively affect women have received less research attention than those that predominantly affect men, and women are more likely to have their symptoms dismissed in the doctor’s office, particularly if an underlying physical cause cannot easily be found.

Case in point:  migraines.  Both men and women suffer from them, but they affect women four times as often.  As a result, there has been little research done on their cause.  Women are left on their own to find their own triggers, and the blame often falls on dietary choices, increased stress, or strong emotions.  In effect, women who experience regular migraine headaches are told that the pain is their own fault.  If they had simply been more sanguine, if they would stop over-reacting, if they could find an ability to cope, then the migraines would surely stop.

Recent research suggests there is indeed a physical cause for migraines; they’re not just a reaction to excessive emotion.  A 2012 study published in the journal Brain:  A Journal of Neurology, found that women who suffer from migraines have a thicker left posterior insula region in their brains.  The posterior insula region is known to light up during the mental processing of pain.  Another area which shows similar thickening is the precuneus, which houses a person’s sense of self.  Interestingly, male migraine sufferers did not show any thickening in these areas, indicating a different brain pattern at work.  This may explain why women suffer from migraines at a greater rate than men, and why their pain is more severe.

Another study published in the British Medical Journal in 2016 showed an increased risk for major cardiovascular disease among migraine sufferers.  Data for this study came from the Nurses Health Study II, which has followed a cohort of nurses since 1989.  Among the nurses who regularly suffered from migraines,  50% also had heart issues like angina, myocardial infarction (heart attack), or stroke.  In this case, men who suffer from migraines share the increased cardiovascular risk.  Although researchers are not sure what this new information means, it suggests perhaps a genetic tendency towards inflammation, or a problem with blood vessels, as a root cause.  In any case, now that discernible physical differences have been found between those who suffer from migraines and those who don’t, it’s clearly not just an emotional problem.

For female migraine sufferers, menstruation also plays a strong role in the condition.  Migraines occur most often in the two days leading up to menstruation, or during menstruation itself, than at any other time of the month.  But even here, the trigger is more likely to be physical (sudden hormone changes), rather than emotional.

According to Chinese medicine, it is well known that people who suffer from headaches or migraines probably have a stagnant liver.   The liver is responsible for the proper filtering of all your blood.  If the ducts of your liver become clogged with too much old and hardened bile, then blood will no longer be filtered as cleanly.  Instead, heavy, poorly filtered blood will begin to circulate through your body, and this toxin-loaded blood can easily become sluggish and stagnant, causing pain.  Since the meridians of the liver and gallbladder travel through the head area, any stagnation within the liver and gallbladder can result stagnant energy, causing painful headaches.

Interestingly, people who suffer from heart conditions tend to have liver congestion too.  The same toxin-loaded blood that causes stagnation in the liver and gallbladder meridians, will also be passed on to the heart for circulation throughout your body.   If the heart struggles to pump this heavy, thickened blood, it can cause heart palpitations, angina, or even heart attacks.

There has long been a misconception that migraines are caused by a woman’s excessive excitability, or by an inability to cope.  Nervous over-achievement, or psychological issues like depression or anxiety were frequently cited as reasons for the pain.  However, conventional medical tests are now confirming what Chinese medicine has known all along.  There is a physical cause for migraines, and it’s not all in your head.



About the author: Rebecca Wong has been working in the herbal business since 2000.  She has received her training in acupuncture and herbalism from respected authorities Paul Des Rosiers and Vu Le at the Ontario College of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Toronto, and Michael Tierra at the East West Herb School in California.