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A New Hope

On a lovely summer’s day last week, my son and his girlfriend finally graduated from university. I say ‘finally’ because, like all paths undertaken during the last few years, their journey has not been an easy one. Confused, distraught, and occasionally boxed in, they’ve persevered regardless.

Like all students during the pandemic, their classes were up-ended, changing overnight from in-person to on-line. Discussions with their teachers, once so easy to initiate, suddenly became obstacle courses of frustration. Everyone had questions and concerns, and email inboxes were quickly overrun. Opportunities that had taken months to set up, were washed by the wayside, possibly never to return. It was easy to become discouraged.

In the midst of all that, we were also dealing with big familial stresses. Julia had been moved into a nursing home less than two years before, and although she had been in excellent health for years, she was starting to decline. Just when she needed us, it was virtually impossible to visit with her. Relatives from far away were confused about what was going on, and needed to be assuaged. Supports that we thought would hold firm, swayed and then broke.

Work was also difficult. No one knew how well Julia’s business would fare during the pandemic, and it was already reeling from the loss of her. Her self, her voice, her story. She had always been the heart and soul of our business, and now, in addition to that uncertainty, we were now dealing with the world shifting beneath our feet. We had no reassurances. We had no idea what might happen.

There were days when it was extremely difficult to get out of bed. I would try to think of something good to look forward to, anything positive to propel me forward. On many days, food felt like the only thing good in my life – the possibility of a nice grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. That first cup of hot coffee. On other days, it was the serenity of the park as I walked my dog, watching the trees gently shifting above me.

We pulled together as a family. We put one foot in front of the other, and just kept going. Sometimes soft encouragement did the trick. Sometimes active pulling was required. Every once in awhile, someone would break down and need extra emotional support. We did the best we could to attend to everyone’s needs. I’m immensely proud of the way we’ve held each other together and supported one another through this extended series of challenges.

My sons learned valuable lessons along the way. Don’t give up. Keep focused on the job before you. Try not to become distracted by worries and fears that may not come true. Look out for one another. Be kind. Always be mindful of how someone else might be struggling. Don’t judge. Listen closely and show compassion.

And now, after such a long journey through a world fraught with darkness, it feels good to finally celebrate a clear win. I have nothing but hope for these two. I fervently wish that their next few steps will be easier. It is my hope that they continue to walk with confidence towards their future, in a world that is still quaking with change.

The last few years have been so difficult for so many of us. More than anything, I wish the same things to all of you. May your hopes be fulfilled and your future bright. May challenges that once seemed impossible be suddenly swept away. Thank you to everyone who has supported, and continues to support us throughout these challenging times. You mean the world to us.

Chinese Gentian

Our herbal monograph of the month is Chinese gentian, the main ingredient in our Chinese Bitters tincture.

There are many herbs in the gentian family, used all over the world. All are valued for their positive effect on liver health and liver functioning. However, the particular form of gentian that we use, with the Latin name of gentian scabra, came to Julia’s attention many years ago when one of her uncles was told he had not long to live by a Western doctor.

According to the family, he was 67 years old and his liver was failing, causing him to feel tired and weak. His hands became dark in colour due to poor blood supply. A Chinese doctor prescribed Chinese gentian to him, and after using this herb for a number of months, his situation was completely reversed. His liver was returned to health and he ended up living to the ripe old age of 90.

This family story made quite an impression on Julia, so when she was told that her own liver was weak and congested, there was no question that she would take Chinese gentian herself. Before creating her own unique tincture containing Chinese gentian, she read many classic Chinese herbal texts, searching out as many different formulas as she could, before coming up with her own. She knew that her own formula would need to be special – it would have to be free of estrogenic activity. Otherwise, it risked flaring her symptoms of endometriosis.

According to Chinese medicine, Chinese gentian is known to clear damp-heat from the liver area. In Western terms, this means it reduces inflammation in the liver, and also helps to release excess fluids from the body. Oral ingestion of Chinese gentian has been shown to increase the production and excretion of bile in dogs[1]. It also has hepato-protective (liver protective) effects in mice[2], and has had good results in treating high liver enzyme levels and chronic hepatitis[3]. It has strong anti-bacterial properties, protecting against salmonella, and staphylococcus infections, among other types of bacteria[4].

Our Chinese Bitters tincture is one of our most popular tinctures. Customers use it for several weeks to prepare for a liver and gallbladder flush, and then, even after their flushing is done, they continue to take Chinese Bitters regularly for years because they find it so helpful. If you are interested in learning more about Chinese gentian, or our Chinese Bitters tincture, give us a call, or send us an email.

  1. Yun Nan Yi Yao (Yunan Medicine and Herbology), 1991; 12(5):304
  2. Ibid.
  3. Shang Hai Zhong Yi Yao Za Zhi (Shanghai Journal of Chinese Medicine and Herbology), 1965; 4:4
  4. Zhong Yao Yao Li Yu Ying Yong (Pharmacology and Applications of Chinese Herbs), 1983; 295

Remembering Julia

It’s been difficult for me to talk about Julia’s decline and death. For the last few months, I have felt simultaneously wrenched and yet also numb. Silenced. Muted. It’s been too much to process. Too much to feel. Julia was such a large presence in my life. When I look around at her home, at her business, at all the things she left behind, I still can’t believe that she’s gone.

We didn’t exactly get on right away, Julia and I. When I first met her back in the year 1990, she was aloof, suspicious, and distrustful. I had just started dating her son and she wasn’t inclined to like me. I can still remember how she looked then. The skin on her face still had a dark-ish tinge about the sides, and she looked tired. She hadn’t yet learned how to heal herself, and so her demeanour was bitter and weary. When I said ‘hello’, she looked down at the ground and self-consciously patted her hair into place. I wondered how I, a young 20 year old girl, could possibly make her nervous.

As I look back now, I don’t think I made her nervous at all. Those gestures were merely a way for Julia to examine me more closely without appearing too obvious about it. In truth, she had most likely already made a judgment about me. Julia lived her life by following her gut instincts, and she trusted those explicitly. If she got a negative feeling about you, from something you said or did, that feeling would be exceptionally hard to shift. I don’t think I passed her test on that first day we met, but somehow, over the next three years, I did.

I knew that I had passed her test because, suddenly, out of the blue, she asked me to come help her at her health food store. She didn’t have to do that. By that time, I had been married to her son for almost a year and had just graduated from university. I was looking for work, and Julia said she could use some help. We figured we could help each other out. And so our humble journey together began.

If you worked for Julia at that time, you couldn’t help but respect her. Deep respect. Customers would come for miles to get her advice, and this was before she started selling her own Chinese herbal tinctures. They would ask her advice about which supplements to take, which foods to eat, which foods not to eat. She spoke with such intelligence and knowledge. I was in awe of her. One night, I sat at the dinner table with her, long after everyone else had left, and listened to her personal story. She was incredible. So smart, and yet so humble. A vulnerable little bird who hadn’t yet come into her power. I will always remember that special time.

In the years that followed, Julia and I worked more closely together. I became her right-hand man. I helped her manufacture her products. I answered email for her for years. We consulted with one another about her customers late at night, bouncing ideas off of one another. But make no mistake, it was always Julia who was in charge. It was she who made the decisions, and they were usually bang on.

And so it was very difficult for me, for all of us, when Julia began to decline. When her decisions stopped making sense. She would forget things, and Julia never forgot things. She, who had always been so sharp, began to do and say things that were definitely off. She forgot the names of common objects. She couldn’t tell what time of day it was. Long-time customers that had come to see her for years were suddenly forgotten. We would confer with one another. Is this normal? Should we be concerned?

It turns out, we needed to be concerned. The last five or six years have been tumultuous, to say the least. For, even as her memory slip-ups and judgment errors increased in number and severity, Julia never would accept that she had a problem. Up until the very end, she still believed that she was fully in control of herself. That she alone knew all the answers. She’d been deeply independent and distrustful of other people her entire life, so when we tried to place limits on her freedom, she could only ever see it as a personal attack. It was a very painful and difficult time.

Even when she was finally confined to a nursing home, she found a way to stay in charge. In her own mind, she was still going to work each day, and doing important things. She would tell the other patients that they needed to cleanse their liver. She would continually harass them for payment. “Where is your receipt?” she would demand. It was kind of funny, but it was also incredibly sad.

We finally lost Julia this past February. Although, in truth, we had already lost her years before. During our last visits with her in the nursing home, before the pandemic, I would watch her face, ask her questions. It was difficult to get her to sit still. She continued to believe she had work to do. That she was far too busy to sit and talk. And then, when the pandemic happened, visiting with her became almost impossible. During her last weeks, we had to watch her slowly decline over Zoom calls. She had lost the ability to swallow, and just withered away.

I feel privileged to have known, and been close to, such an incredible woman. I learned so much from her over the years. Many of her thousands of customers have told me the same. She inspired people. She changed lives. There are many pictures of her around our house, so I still ‘see’ her every day. I think of her often. I know that I will never forget her. She has left her mark on me, so she now comes along with me wherever I go, living through my eyes, and feeling through my heart.

If it is at all possible, I know she’s still having an impact, wherever she is. That’s just the kind of person that Julia was. Original. Exceptional. Unforgettable. I hope you rest peacefully, Julia.

A Wave of Loneliness

2020 was a difficult year for many, full to the brim with novel stresses and packed with uncertainty. The arrival of vaccines in 2021 promises to change things, but the mental and physical challenges from the past year have taken their toll, and may be difficult to fully heal. One of these challenges has been the troubling rise in loneliness, particularly among people who have been living alone during all the lock-downs. The pandemic didn’t necessarily create this rise in loneliness; it was already there. But it certainly didn’t make it any better.

Mental health experts have been warning us about the dangers of loneliness for years. In 2017, the US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy made headlines when he called loneliness a public health “epidemic”. In 2018, the UK government appointed a “minister for loneliness” to tackle all the health problems caused by social isolation. People are gradually waking up to the fact that loneliness is not only pervasive, but is also a serious health issue.

According to the CDC, loneliness increases the risk of premature death from all causes: heart disease is increased by 29%, stroke by 32%, and the risk of dementia by 50%. People who experience loneliness also report having higher incidence of emotional disorders, such as anxiety (76%), a loss of feelings of connectedness (58%), and an increase in depression (78%), all of which may require medication. Researchers now find that the health complications associated with loneliness are are similar to those incurred by smoking, alcoholism, or obesity.

Perhaps even more troubling than the loneliness itself is who is feeling it. Long a risk factor for the elderly, loneliness is now felt most strongly among young people. Currently, 61 percent of people aged 18 to 25 report high levels of loneliness, . Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist and senior lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) says: “It’s a group that we are really concerned about. If you look at other studies on the elderly, their rates of loneliness are high, but they don’t seem to be as high as they are for young people, ” which is deeply unsettling. In the past, young adulthood has always been more synonymous with optimism and vitality. When the majority of a society’s young people start to report regular feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression, something has gone very wrong.

The definition of loneliness, according to Merriam-Webster, is “being without company”, but feelings of loneliness doesn’t just happen when you are alone. In fact, loneliness is often felt most acutely in the presence of others. It can happen whenever your efforts to connect with others fail to bear fruit, or whenever you feel unseen or misunderstood. The amount of people around you is less important than how those people make you feel.

John Cacioppo, a researcher at the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience in Chicago, posits that the feeling of loneliness is an important and critical sign: it means we need to take action and find a social group. Throughout our history as a species, the failure to join a social group meant vulnerability and increased risk of death, so the feeling of loneliness is an important one. It ensured that we banded together. It increased our rate of survival. Unfortunately, in modern North American culture, families and communities have been slowly dismantled over the last few decades as young people moved long distances to find work. We’ve also been taught to praise independency and autonomy in ways that Asian, South American, and African societies have not. This has all resulted in a lot of lonely people. People who are not only lonely, but afraid to admit it and seek help.

So, what can we do to help heal our nervous system and quell feelings of loneliness? Number one: reach out to others. If you are feeling lonely, instead of feeling embarrassed and trying to numb your feelings with alcohol or Netflix, acknowledge what you feel and schedule a meet-up or a Zoom call with a friend or family member. It may be harder to do, but you’ll feel better in the long run. Number two: take care of your nervous system. Dr. Shimi Kang, a psychiatrist in Vancouver suggests we follow all the usual advice: regular sleep, regular exercise, and time spent outdoors in nature. All will help you to feel more grounded, and balance out feelings of emptiness. Also, consider getting a pet. Pets are the ultimate stress-busters and mood elevators, studies show. Just petting a dog can lower your cortisol level in just ten minutes, and can also lower blood pressure, heart rate, slow breathing, and calm anxiety. Pets may not be able to fully replace human contact, but they can go a long way.

Also, until the successive waves of the pandemic are finally over, I think we need to work harder at checking in on one another. If we notice that someone is behaving oddly, or seems anxious or depressed, we can try to show compassion, rather than judgement. Kindness is good for everyone, even yourself. If we can pull just one good thing out of this pandemic, let it this: that we know, now, how hard it is to feel alone and estranged. That we know, now, how much we need one another. Let us not forget it. Let us strive to take care of the people we love, and through that caring, finally reduce this wave of loneliness.

Racial Bias In Western Research

I recently stumbled upon a study that led me down a metaphorical rabbit-hole, drawing me deeper and deeper through information I’d never considered before. The study itself was small, involving just 250 women of childbearing age, and looked specifically at caffeine intake and its effects on the hormone estrogen. I was drawn in because the researchers actually thought to check the effect of a woman’s race on the outcome, which is rare. And as it turns out, race had a pretty big impact on the results.

The study found that caffeine definitely affected a woman’s estrogen level, albeit to a minor degree. The really interesting part, though, was how it broke down by race. The Caucasian women in the study saw their estrogen level drop slightly after ingesting just 200 mg of caffeine a day. Similarly, black women saw their estrogen level drop, although less significantly. But the big news was the Asian women who actually saw their estrogen level rise. The rise in estrogen was not large enough to affect their fertility, but it did attract attention. Researchers tried to control for the racial disparity, by looking at age, diet, exercise, and whether or not the woman smoked, but the results remained unchanged. It made me wonder why Asian women would have such a completely different reaction to caffeine compared with other races. What the heck was so different about Asians?

It turns out that Asian populations do have a considerably different metabolism than the rest of us. For example, while many people of Asian descent remain thin, they have a greater tendency to develop obesity-related complications, like high blood pressure and diabetes. So, even though they are usually slimmer and fitter-looking than the rest of us, their internal organs could be telling an entirely different story.

Researchers cannot yet explain why this happens, but the distribution of body fat is very different depending on your race. Causasian and black people typically accumulate fat in their hips and legs first, and their visceral organs only later, but the opposite appears to be true for Asians. Because fat is so easily stored in their internal organs, even a seemingly slight Asian may already be showing signs of a serious metabolic disorder when looked at from the inside.

It is suspected that this is a genetic adaptation that evolved as a way to protect against starvation. If so, it would have been helpful in centuries past when food scarcity was a more regular occurrence. However, in our modern, calorie-rich environment, it creates problems, and not just because it increases their tendency towards metabolic disorders. It also affects fertility. For Asian women with hormonal imbalances like PCOS tend to develop higher insulin and testosterone levels than other women with PCOS, further complicating the condition. Asian women also seem to be more sensitive to hormone injections in general, responding more quickly and dramatically to any hormone increases.

This brings to mind another common problem among Asians: their inability to properly metabolize alcohol. If you have Asian friends, you may notice that they don’t tend to drink much. This may be partly cultural, but it’s also true that around 30% of Asians lack one of the enzymes needed to properly breakdown alcohol. As a result, they experience facial flushing after just a drink or two, which keeps them from indulging further.

With such a significant difference in their ability to metabolize caffeine, alcohol and hormones, and a known tendency to produce abdominal and visceral fat more quickly than other races, I wonder that Asians aren’t singled out more often in scientific studies. For that matter, what about all the other potential racial differences in health outcomes? For example, it’s well known that sickle cell anemia occurs more frequently in descendants of African populations, and that cystic fibrosis occurs more frequently in descendants of European populations. There are probably many other health problems, not to mention the drugs used to treat them, that work completely differently in select racial groups. Scientific researchers seem to be only slowly awakening to the significance of this.

Of course, race isn’t the only variation among humans. The even more obvious one is sex, and here, we also find big discrepancies. Men and women are known to react to many drugs very differently. For example, it has recently been found that women metabolize sleeping pills much more slowly than men, and as a result, the FDA has reduced the recommended dosage of Ambien for women by half to help prevent overdose. It doesn’t end there. Medical practitioners know that women tend to wake up from anaesthesia faster than men during surgical procedures, and have more severe side effects to other common drugs, like cholesterol-lowering drugs, and even anti-histamines and over-the-counter aspirin. The exception is high blood pressure medication, which actually appears to work better in women than in men.

Yet most research continues to focus on one group only: Caucasian people, and Caucasian men in particular. In most cases, we simply don’t know the true effect of a drug on someone from an Indian or Middle Eastern background, because they’ve never been included in scientific studies. Or, if they were included, their potential reactions were never isolated and observed. The situation is even worse for women, who are typically excluded from drug trials completely because their monthly hormone fluctuations make their reaction to drugs less predictable, and therefore more confusing.

This bias towards Caucasian men in scientific research is a real weakness for Western medicine, and produces a giant blind spot when it comes to treatment. Just think how much more effective Western medicine could be if they considered different racial and sexual reactions in their drug trials and treatment plans. I’ve always thought this was one of the strengths of Chinese medicine, for TCM practitioners have always been taught to consider the particular strengths and weaknesses of each individual when deciding on diagnosis and treatment. It’s never been a one-size-fits-all system the way that Western medicine is, and Western medicine would do well to try to copy this approach. With the advent of individual genetic testing, that time may be coming soon. I would say it’s about time.

The Incredible Resilience Of women

The halls are quiet, and virtually empty as we enter the nursing home, but every once in awhile, a nurse slips in and out of room. She must be doing the rounds this afternoon, quickly checking in on all the patients to make sure they’re alright. Though we’ve never met, she greets us with a smile and a quick “hello” as we pass.

When we turn the corner and enter my mother’s room, we are not surprised to find her in her usual spot – sitting in her wheelchair by her desk, working on a craft of some sort. Though she looks pitiably uncomfortable, with a back now permanently bent from osteoporosis, and fingers stiffened and uncooperative with Parkinson’s Disease, she works happily, with a patient deliberation that never ceases to amaze me.

For the last 22 years, my mother has been battling Parkinson’s disease, a large enough expanse of time that she is now one of the longest survivors of the disease in Canada. She was only 60 when she was diagnosed, after falling off a ladder while washing windows. Since she was otherwise completely healthy, her diagnosis came as a bit of a shock to all of us, and plunged her into a bout of denial for a few years. As I’ve watched her gracefully navigate this challenging condition over the years, I’ve wondered if her longevity hinges on those two basic facts: her relative youth when diagnosed, and her lack of other health problems. Then again, a new study published last January suggests there may be something more to it than that.

After analyzing historical information from seven different populations over a period of 150 years, researchers In Denmark and Germany have found that women have a distinct survival advantage over men. At first glance, this information may not sound surprising at all ; we’ve long known that women tend to outlive men. But that’s during normal circumstances. In this study, they were looking at abnormal conditions of crisis, particularly during periods of starvation, disease, and slavery. Their study included data from the Irish potato famine (1845-1849), the measles epidemics in Iceland (1846 and 1882), and plantation slaves in Trinidad (at the beginning of the 19th century). Here, once again, it was found that women tend to outlive men.

The reason this is so noteworthy is because times of crisis also tend to be times when women are neglected. Historically, parents have been more willing to seek treatment for sick little boys when there is an epidemic, but not so much for sick little girls. When food is scarce, it’s the little boys who are fed first, and the girls get the leftovers, if there are any. So, why is it that a girl’s chance of survival is still higher despite these significant disadvantages?

Researchers point to biology, and to the hormone estrogen in particular. Estrogen is known to have protective effects on the immune system, while testosterone is more of an immunity suppressor. There are also the well-known protective effects on the heart that estrogen provides. Testosterone, on the other hand, tends to lead men into trouble, making them more reckless, with a greater chance of accidental or violent death. It also makes them more likely to smoke, drink, and take psychoactive drugs. Then, there is also the fact that girls have two X chromosomes, whereas boys have only one. In this case, if there is any damage to one of a girl’s X chromosomes, the other can fill in the gaps. But boys have just one X and one Y, and therefore no back-up in the case of bad genetic mutation.

There may be even more to it than that. In another study published earlier this year from researchers at Lehigh University and Queen’s University in Belfast, it was found that women also tend to make better leaders during times of crisis. Because when everything falls apart, people tend to get angry and point fingers of blame, which can disintegrate feelings of social cohesion and lead to failure. In addition to their biology, women also have relational strengths, which help them manage other’s emotions, defuse tensions, reappraise the situation more positively, and redirect negative attention elsewhere. This allows groups to establish or repair trust, which is crucial for maintaining group solidarity during a challenging event, and makes survival more likely. Women are also generally seen as more trustworthy, and so are better able to maintain feelings of goodwill between groups, and obtain necessary resources from others.

Damien Mander, a trainer for park rangers in the Phundundu Wildlife Area in Zimbabwe has taken note of these advantages and put them to good use. Because of rampant trophy hunting, rangers of African game parks must essentially act as combat soldiers, and Mander has spent the last ten years looking for good prospective hires. Over the years, he has learned that women can make better rangers than men. For one, they are less susceptible to bribery from poachers. They are also more adept at de-escalating violent situations, making attempts at conciliation before using their weapons. They are also more likely to bring their income back to their families instead of spending it on themselves, which is of greater economic benefit to the region.

And as it turns out, they’re also tougher. A former special forces soldier from Australia, Mander has trained countless recruits, both male and female, subjecting them to days of nonstop exercises to see how well they perform while wet, cold, hungry and tired. Of the 37 female potential recruits he recently trained for the park ranger program, only three quit, and 16 were eventually hired. Meanwhile, after a similar course for 189 men, almost all of them quit after the very first day. Only three remained to continue the program. It’s this particular brand of female resilience that I’m referring to, this incredible endurance that so many of the women I know possess which inspires me.

Women may not have the muscular strength and power of men, but we more than make up for it in other ways. We just don’t quit. Despite being discriminated against, harassed, and neglected, we just keep showing up and finishing whatever jobs we start. Men may rage, burn out, and walk away, but women trudge onward, building solidarity and support wherever we can, collecting other stragglers, and bringing them with us as we go.

And so, I often find myself moved when I visit my mother. For, despite the weakness of her fingers, and her growing lack of co-ordination, she soldiers on with a smile on her face. She glues lace around supportive cards for the nursing home staff, she cuts out colourful hearts and tapes them to her wall, and she greets all visitors with a big hug, despite whatever pain or discomfort she may be in. Like women everywhere, my mother is a survivor. In fact, she’s more than a survivor, she’s simply incredible.

A Sudden Case of Blindness

Shock. Devastation. “It’s been a nightmare,” the woman said.

So says the mother of a 17 year old boy from Bristol, England, who has now become blind. The boy’s blindness occurred, not due to accident or trauma, but because of his diet. A diet of mostly white flour products, and junk food. And it is this fact that has caused his sudden blindness to be so shocking.

In developing countries, where children often don’t receive the required amount of nutrients for optimum growth, blindness is unhappily much more common, and hence, less surprising. But in the rich, developed world, it is virtually unheard of, and this is why this unique case of blindness has made headlines.

As most parents know, there is a period in the life of virtually every child, where they suddenly become extremely picky eaters. Babies that once happily ate pureed carrots and finely chopped, steamed beans suddenly refuse to eat anything but Premium Plus crackers and the occasional hot dog. It can throw parents into a panic. Mealtimes become battlegrounds. Many tears are shed, on both sides. In most cases, the crisis dissipates as the child grows and re-learns his appreciation for various fruits and vegetables, and finally, the parents can begin to relax again.

But in this particular case, the boy never outgrew his aversion to the nutrient-dense foods presented to him. His diet remained one primarily of starches: French fries, potato chips, the occasional slice of white bread. For protein, he ate ham and sometimes sausages. Only rarely did he eat any fruits or vegetables.

Now, before you start to blame her, I want to assure you that his mother tried her best to help him. She made attempts to expand his diet, but since he suffers from a relatively unknown eating disorder called ARFID, or “avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder”, he continually struggled to eat foods with certain textures. Other ARFID sufferers may eventually start to avoid food entirely, preferring not to eat at all.

If the only eating disorders you’ve previously heard of are anorexia nervosa, or bulimia, it is important to know that ARFID is different. With ARFID, there isn’t any concern about body size or shape behind the lack of interest in food. In fact, many ARFID sufferers know that their eating disorder causes them to be too thin, and they try to cover this up by wearing multiple layers of clothing. For reasons that will vary, there is just no desire to eat, or there is concern about the eating process in general. Most cases of ARFID are among children who also struggle with other learning disorders, like autism, ADHD, or excessive anxiety, which is why counselling is so important.

In the case of this particular boy, it was recommended that he receive counselling to help with the psychological component of the illness. They also made sure to supplement with various vitamins and minerals, and gave him occasional B12 injections to make up for the lack of variety in his diet. Although they tried their best, repeated visits to the doctor for fatigue and anemia meant they knew they were failing to improve their son’s situation, but even so, the blindness still came as a shock.

It turns out that the optic nerves that carry sensory information to the eyes can become irreversably damaged in children if they are not supplied with important nutrients like folic acid and B vitamins. Without these nutrients, toxic metabolic by-products can build up within the nerve cells, eventually killing them. If the right nutrients are provided in time, the nerves can be repaired. But in this boy’s case, there was already too much damage done. In addition to clinical blindness, he also suffers from some hearing loss, as well as reduced bone density. He was found to be deficient in vitamin B12, along with low levels of copper, selenium and vitamin D.

I am not writing about this boy to encourage shaming, either of the boy, or his parents. But his case does serve as a reminder of how important a balanced diet is for optimum health. Living in the calorie-rich Western world, we rarely have to worry about a lack of access to food. But it is important to remember that quality is more important than quantity. The foods we are exposed to, and which we then tend to eat, are calorie dense, yet nutrient deficient. To offset this, try to incorporate a wider variety of foods into your diet, including whole grains rather than white flour products. Especially try to eat an increased amount of fruits and vegetables, ideally filling half of your plate at each meal.

Let the sad plight of this boy be a reminder that high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high blood sugar aren’t the only health problems we are trying to avoid. Our sight, our hearing, and the strength of our bones need protection too.

The Power Of Nature

“You didn’t come into this world.
You came out of it, like a wave from the ocean.
You are not a stranger here.” 
Alan Watts

It was like a weight had finally been lifted off my shoulders. As the days ticked onward, my breathing began to slow, and my inhalations deepened – though it took about three days before my nerves finally started to relax and unwind themselves. And then, almost magically, my mood shifted and I felt a sense peace wash over me that had been eluding me for months, if not years.

What had caused these positive changes to occur? I guess you could call it “forest bathing”, or shinrin-yoku , a term the Japanese have coined to describe time spent in the healing atmosphere of a wooded area. It’s long been known that spending time outdoors can help to relieve feelings of depression, anxiety and stress. However, any physical benefits have taken longer to be recognized. That is changing. According to a study published last year, spending time in a forested area can also improve the health outcome of any stress-related condition, such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or even type II diabetes.

No one knows precisely how this works, but the mere act of sitting outdoors seems to naturally lower the stress response. And once stress is reduced, any stress-induced symptom would also be affected. Should this surprise us? Throughout human history, we have always spent large amounts of time outdoors, walking through wooded areas and sleeping under the stars. It’s only been recently that we’ve transitioned to a largely indoor existence, sitting in dark homes with artificial lights beaming down on us. But it’s not just that. When we sit outside in nature, we are also given the opportunity to get outside our own heads. Reminded of the abundant life that surrounds us, our view is expanded and our individual problems are put in better perspective. How could this not reduce stress?

In this, latest study, nearly 20,000 British people were surveyed by scientists from the University of Exeter in England and the Uppsala University in Sweden. Participants were asked how much time they spent in nature, whether or not they suffered from a health condition, and then, if they were satisfied with their life, which is a standard question used to measure well-being. Those people who spent at least two hours outdoors in a natural setting felt significantly happier, with fewer health complaints than those who didn’t. And the health benefit was significant too. Researchers said it was similar to the effect you would see when you perform the recommended 30 minutes of exercise each day.

Although this research has yet to be confirmed by further studies, it is an intriguing piece of the health puzzle that has, until recently, been overlooked. We’ve long focused on diet and exercise as a way to improve our lives and increase longevity, but what if time spent in nature is equally important? Interestingly, in the study, the time spent outside did not even need to be particularly active. Many of the respondents did not hike, swim or run during the time they spent outdoors; they merely walked to the park and sat on a bench. So, this particular bit of health advice is very doable, for people of all ages and abilities.

As for me, all it took to feel that incredible reduction in stress was a week-long trip camping outdoors with my family. It’s something that, until now, I’d always been afraid to try. Yet, aside from the lack of bathroom, and the harassment of mosquitos, it’s something I think I’d like to do every year from now on. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt so calmed and at home within myself. And all it took was a strong dose of nature to achieve it.

To Live Longer, Walk Faster

I admit to being a “stop and smell the roses” kind of girl. I like to savour my experiences and take my time. I hate to be rushed. I especially hate multi-tasking, and prefer to do one thing at a time, carefully, and to the best of my abilities.

This may be good, general life advice, but I’m just now learning that it’s not very helpful when it comes to overall health. For, the results of a new study on walking pace are posing a direct challenge to the way I have typically done things.

According to this new study, people who walk briskly throughout life, with a faster walking pace, have a longer life expectancy than those who walk more slowly. As a general rule, a brisk walking pace is considered to be about 3 mph, or about 100 steps a minute. When walking at this speed, you will typically be slightly out of breath, and will pass most other walkers. Those who walk more slowly move at just 1 or 2 mph and take only 50 steps per minute.

The particularly interesting finding here, is that weight, or BMI (body mass index) appears to have less to do with longevity than the pace at which people walk. Once again, we are confronted with the new, “fat but fit” rule, meaning that even if you are a bit overweight, you can still be stronger, healthier, and less likely to die than people who are thin – provided you exercise regularly. Researchers tried to accounted for other factors, such as whether or not a person smoked, but the results were still clear. People who walk more briskly have a lower risk of heart-related disease and mortality than their thinner, supposedly healthier counterparts.

For this particular study, 474, 919 people in the UK were followed over a ten year period. Their average age was 58 years, and their average BMI was 26.7, which means most participants were in the overweight category. They were divided into groups based on their BMI, waist circumference, body-fat percentage, and walking pace. Surprisingly, those who walked more slowly were more likely to die, no matter their weight. These findings challenge the way health risk is calculated, since excess weight has long been used to predict increased mortality for a wide variety of health conditions. Yet here, the participants most likely to die during the study were the thinnest ones – people with the lowest BMI, but who also walked slowly.

It is possible that some of the slower walkers were in poor health to begin with. After all, if you are feeling tired and sick, you’re not going to be walking very briskly. However, researchers tried to account for this possibility by also checking grip strength. And though greater grip strength did also correlate to a longer life expectancy, the effect was not as strong as the difference in walking pace. In short, people who walk faster tend to live longer – up to 15 to 20 years longer – than people who walk more slowly, even if they are overweight, or have a weaker grip strength.

So, I guess this means that I should learn to pick up my pace! Though it may still be a good idea to notice and be grateful for all the beautiful things in life, maybe I can still do that while slightly out of breath and looking over my shoulder as I pass. After all, I can still be mindful, even if I’m doing it at 100 steps a minute.

A Woman’s Journey

This is a directive for all women, but particularly those going through an emotional or physical crisis : find a picture of yourself from when you were just ten years old. Look closely at that girl. Remember her. Notice her brave, confident smile, and the light in her eyes. Remind yourself of the things this girl used to like to do. How did they make her feel? Remember that feeling.

Now ask yourself, what happened? Where on earth did that girl go? When I look at that picture of myself at the age of ten, I’m not sure how I should feel. I know that I miss her terribly. I miss her glow, her energy, her courage. If I could talk to her now, what would I say? What would I warn her about?

According to a recent article published in the journal Atlantic, girls’ confidence takes a pretty dramatic dive at right around the age of ten, once they enter puberty, though no one is exactly sure why this is. The authors of a new book « The Confidence Code for Girls », interviewed hundreds of teen and pre-teen girls during their research, and even did an on-line survey on Ypulse to rate girls’ confidence levels, both before and after puberty. Despite recent cultural efforts to encourage girls during the troubling teen years, their confidence levels still dropped 30% between the ages of 8-14. It’s pretty discouraging.

This crucial drop in girls’ confidence may have many causes, but psychology experts pinpoint a tendency to begin ruminating during puberty – something boys don’t do. Suddenly, girls begin to worry about how they look, about how many friends they have, and about how their body is changing and what it means. Don’t forget, girls first begin menstruating during these crucial years, and many aren’t prepared for it. The discomfort and inconvenience can mean a loss of concentration at school. The sudden growth of breasts stratifies friend groups that used to be stable, as some girls become viewed as sexual objects while others aren’t. It causes a lot stress.

Also, girls are often unintentionally encouraged to become « people-pleasers ». Compared with most boys, they follow directions so well, they work independently without bothering others, they consistently get good marks. It’s only natural that we would praise them for this, but it does make them more susceptible to perfectionism. And perfectionists fear taking risks. Without taking risks, girls don’t build confidence, and without confidence, they start to stumble.

How can this be prevented? I’m no expert, but I have some suggestions : for one, tell your pre-teen daughter she’s beautiful, but not without praising other qualities too, like her grit, perseverance, or intelligence. Spend quality time with her and listen seriously to her concerns. Encourage her to try new things, and if it doesn’t work out, encourage her to try something else. Always ensure she’s doing the things she likes to do, not what you want her to do, or what she thinks you want her to do. Finally, help her navigate her feelings by pointing out different perspectives. Offer her different ways of looking at things, so that she learns her feelings aren’t permanent, that she can think her way out of them.

If I could go back and talk to the ten-year old girl I once was, I don’t think I would warn her of the many pitfalls ahead of her. Why stress her out? I also wouldn’t give her precise instructions of who to avoid and what she definitely shouldn’t do. Instead, I think I would look at her with love and tell her how special she is, and remind to never forget it. I would tell her how important it is to believe in herself, and to trust her instincts. She’ll be so young, she probably won’t even understand what I mean. And maybe that’s one of the great mysteries of life. Maybe an older woman only gets her quiet strength because she loses her confidence so early, just when she’s on the cusp of life. Maybe we have to lose something so utterly and completely before we can finally understand how valuable and important it really is. Maybe it’s this long struggle to regain confidence that eventually makes a woman a force to be reckoned with.