Thursday, September 30, 2010

Disconnect of Intent/Action

Here's the data: 75% of the population sets an intention to improve an aspect of their health, such as giving up sugar or walking daily, yet only one in five or 16% are "very successful." We're getting ready for our Gottfried Cleanse that starts next week, and I'm brainstorming how to make a radical change in this ratio. One in five sucks. I want all of you to be wildly successful in your action birthed of intention.

A favorite question of mine is: "Why bother?" We all know that food is crucial fuel, and when you eat healthful foods in the right quantity, you feel optimal, have consistent energy and ideally manage your weight with peace and serenity. But what about radical wellness, radical aggressive prevention of degenerative disease such as the big "C" and heart disease?

We've known for 30+ years that 32-35% of cancer is preventable through diet - adequate fiber, 5-7 servings per day of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein.

A recent collaborative statement from the American Heart Association and American Cancer Society states that 90-95% of cancer is related to lifestyle and environment (toxic jeans, anyone?). That leaves only 5-10% attributable to genetic risk. Isn't that astounding?

I think digestion is EVERYTHING, my lovies. Undigested food, whether physical or emotional, is at the root of disease. It all starts with your gut. Here's how.

Direct signs and symptoms include bloating, inflammatory conditions such as autoimmunity (see my post from earlier today on Autoimmune Thyroiditis or Hashimoto's), cancer and heart disease.

I have a few hypotheses on how to improve your odds of radical change for the better up from 1 in 5. One concept is divinity - when you feel aligned with higher purpose in your goal, it's a game changer. This is along the line of what you've heard me prattle on about previously - if you were making dinner for the Buddha tonight, what would you serve? Could you serve it to yourself anyway, Enlightened One?

Tell me your ideas on how to improve the odds of creating sustained action out of your intention.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Prophet of Bloom: Mystic India Flint

India Flint is a huge inspiration to my work in natural dye with uber-local, bio-regional botanicals. You've heard me rage against the toxins that are in our clothes, and the disconnect between how we eat organic but don't wear organic, the endocrine disruptors in our jeans and kid's pajamas -- but what really captures me about this modern-day mystic is that her clothing and work are just tremendously beautiful.

India calls herself the "Prophet of Bloom" and a botanical alchemist. Her blog is deeply inspiring. She's the author of several books, and this is the one I started with.

What does she actually do, you might ask. She is the champion of dye using local windfall and plants from where she lives in New Zealand. Her home has shifted over the years and has included Melbourne, Austria and Montreal. Her art is gentle and a gorgeous yet ecologically sustainable alternative to toxic synthetic dye.

I think that's her in the photo above. She also does dreamy stitching with her clothing creations.

India features many different techniques in her book - eco-prints from plants (above and below), whole-dyed cloth, applied color, and layered dye techniques (also above and below).

She is a master of shibori and the wrap (see below, so pretty!). I love this comment from her blog, entitled "In-Flight Entertainment."

"what's that you're doing, dearie?"
asked the kindly flight attendant
in the gentle tone usually reserved for
the very young, the very old
or the deeply deranged

"stitching" i reply

"and what will you do with it when it's finished?"

"roll it up with leaves and cook it" i say

flight attendant backs away hastily

This is from her older blog, Prophet of Bloom.

Here's more from her luscious book.

And her "virtual workroom" on her website.

India gives workshops around the world, most recently in Tennessee and Belgium.

I love this work so much that I am planning a trip to learn from her and join her Windfall Project. My first task is to make some fabulous, cozy organic hemp gowns for my integrative gynecology patients using uber-local natural dyes that heal you, such as woad (helps estrogen metabolism), horsetail (cures bladder infections and slows down bone loss) and pokeberry (cleanses the lymphatics).

In the meantime, come join us at my home for a "Natural Dye & Integrative Medicine" workshop on October 28, 2010, from 11-3pm. I am co-teaching with Rebecca Burgess, another brilliant botanical alchemist. Call my assistant, Mandy, if you need more info or details at 510.893.3907 or 888.893.6586.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Botanical Bliss: Wear Organic, Eat Organic

Today I sit with the question: If we are all so clear about eating organic, why are we not wearing organic clothing? Our conventional clothes contain toxic fertilizers/pesticides/herbicides/insecticides, heavy metals, endocrine disruptors, teratogens (causes birth defects) and carcinogens. The question lingers from a blissful day yesterday spent at a "Native Dye" workshop with my friends and colleague, eco-artist Rebecca Burgess, at the California School of Herbal Studies (CSHS) in Forestville, CA (County of Sonoma). 

Rebecca was very kind to let me crash the workshop, which she has taught twice before at CSHS, and to speak to the students on the topic of "Toxic Endpoints of Conventional Clothing: Endocrine Disruption, Heavy Metal Exposure & Cancer." My unofficial title: "These Jeans Are Killing Me."

A friend texted me, after hearing the title of my talk, "Look at you going all NRDC on us."

Good point.

After driving at high speed the 72 miles from Oakland to Forestville and dragging my 5-year-old daughter behind me (she was off school for Sukkot) at 7am, I turned onto the long liminal driveway to CSHS.

"Donkeys!" shrieked Maya, my youngest kid, her impatience with the drive a distant memory.

"Yes, Donkeys!" I affirmed. "Or Burros?" I'm not so good at distinguishing the two. Too rounded to be horses. Not llamas. Woah, I'm noticing animals again. We entered sacred space. Hassles of leaving the house so early and traffic on the 101 receded as we both took in the landscape: luscious herbs and flowers, silence, farm animals, brilliants smells and sights of Indian summer in Sonoma.

We parked and walked into the red building ("The Barn") that you see above. I'm a conventionally-trained doctor and never take my kids with me to work. When I did in the past, I get people who look at my young kid, then me, then the kid, then quickly away with a withering sigh.

I walk into CSHS and a group of twenty-something women, all beaming warm and inviting energy at us with shining eyes, greet and welcome us. Estrogen and oxytocin (the hormone of love and bonding) boils over the pot in this place. My daughter grins ear-to-ear and settles right in, ready to make new friends.

I set up our Powerpoint and look for tea - my stainless steel commuter mug needs a refill. There's a big hot water urn in the corner that I spy, but... uh, where's the tea? There's a conspicuous lack of tea bag options next to the hot water. Oh, I get it. All these women were nursing Mason jars filled with steeping flowers and plant bits. Hello, they are Herbalism Students! These peeps are way beyond tea bags.

Rebecca and I finished setting up her steaming vats of natural dye: indigo (naturally fermented) black walnut, coffeeberry, California sage, Madrone, Eucalyptus. Powerpoint begins. Rebecca flashes her slide that is the segue to my brief presentation - how conventional dye causes all kinds of health problems (short list that I've augmented: lymphoma, bladder cancer, asthma, contact dermatitis, hypothyroidism, estrogen dominance), and naturally-dyed clothing actually has healing properties (again, Rebecca's work to which I've added my own thoughts), such as: 
  • Pokeberry (see photo below) acts as a lymphatic cleanser
  • Woad - contains 20 times as much glucobrassica as brocolli and I hypothesize may improve estrogen dominance similar to DIM (di-indole methane)
  • Horsetail - decreases bone loss in women

Radical idea of clothes that heal, not hurt.

Here's Rebecca preparing a pokeberry dye vat for us:

Those pretty berries above got smooshed and made into this gorgeous dye vat - remember this cleanses your lymphatics to work with these berries and wear them.

And here is an organic cotton food/snack bag I dyed with the pokeberry. Take it to the farmer's market next time you're gathering apples or persimmons.

This feels like prayer. My kind of prayer.
Now why bother, you might ask. Great question. Part of my presentation was to take a common toxic clothing item - your beloved jeans and tell the back story of how they were made. In the US, women on average own 8 pair of jeans. I'm no exception and happen to love my Sevens for All Mankind, my Dolces and my Luckies. 
I know there are heavy metals used in getting that pretty denim color, and pesticides and fertilizer used in growing the cotton. Do conventional pesticides and fertilizer act as endocrine disruptors and slow my thyroid and stimulate my estrogen receptors in my boobs? Um, yes. I never really put it together as I did while preparing yesterday's presentation - and to state very directly: my beloved jeans are hurting my health. Here's a few soundbites:
  • 2/3 pounds of toxic pesticides and fertilizer are used to make one pair of jeans
  • water from conventional denim textile companies is full of heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, chrome, copper, zinc, antimony
  • 7 million pounds of toxic chemicals are used annually for cotton in California alone
If this sounds outrageous, that's because it is. If you need a visual of what you're putting on your skin every time you dress in conventional jeans, try this one. This is from a CNN story published in April, 2010, on the "Blue Jean Capital of the World" -- Xintang, Guangzhou. This textile village produces 200+ million jeans per year. Check out the black nasty water coming out of this village and emptying into China's Pearl River (how sad and ironic that this black stuff is entering a river named for pearls?). I'm not a water pollution person, but as an integrative doctor, I can say that the black muck of heavy metals, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors on your jeans cannot be good for your body.

As the local Chief Medical Officer in Guarngzhou, Dr. Tony Lu, states, this black muck is full of chemicals that may be: "neurotoxic, carcinogenic, they disrupt the endocrine system. They cause cancer of different organs."

People, we have alternatives. We are on board with organic food, but let's take the next step and get mindful about what we put against our skin, and especially the skin of the most vulnerable among us, fetuses in utero, babies, children. 

Here are a few more pics of the brilliant Rebecca Burgess, spreading the good word. 

Let's find some foxy organic cotton jeans, colored with natural dyes. My Seven jeans now hold less appeal, Now, I'm eye-ing my Lululemon brightly-colored yogawear in a whole new way. 

If you're worried the alternative is not pretty, check out some of the samples from our workshop yesterday.

While it's true that I'm a relative beginner at changing out my wardrobe, Rebecca is much farther along of the path. She writes a gorgeous blog, and walks the talk - she now wears for the next year clothing that is sourced and dyed with local resources within a 150-mile radius. The experiment is called "fibershed" and I can't wait to check her heavy metals before and after. So much fun for this integrative gynecologist!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Transdermal Thyroid Treatment? Huh?

I love to write about the Wiley Protocol because it is so wildly controversial. Perhaps best known for mimicking the estrogen and progesterone levels of a 20-something, with peak estradiol on day 12, and peak progesterone on day 21 given in a rhythmic fashion, did you know that you can get the Wiley Protocol for your thyroid?
T. S. or Susie Wiley is the creatrix of the Wiley Protocol. She is a medical theorist with a background in molecular biology. That'll become more relevant in a moment. But know that she is not a medical doctor.
Susie has been an avant garde thought leader in the realm of hormones for years. Her main contribution? That of RHYTHM – meaning that specific patterns of hormone levels are needed for harmony between sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone), thyroid and adrenal hormones. There is a rhythm to our light/dark cycle, our food supply, families, plants, hypothalamus, pituitary, ovaries, thyroid and adrenals -- why not, as Wiley fan and oncologist Julie Taguchi, MD suggests -- mimic the buzzing and humming of our glands which send signals to grow, bloom, seed, hibernate or die? She has applied the concept of rhythm to the dose and timing of externally-applied transdermal hormones.
Say more.
Susie believes that we have to really understand each hormone in a woman’s body and how it acts both alone and as part of the symphony, rather than simply whether you are getting too much or too little Synthroid.
It makes sense theoretically: we know that there’s a see-saw relationship between thyroid hormone and estrogen levels, so when estrogen is up, thyroid is down. So in the Wiley Protocol, the idea is that you adjust your thyroid dosage with where you are in your menstrual cycle (in Wiley Land, that concept applies equally to pre- and post-menopausal women, with and without a uterus). In other words, static dosing of thyroid medication (same dose daily) deranges both estrogen and progesterone receptors.
Let me describe it another way: when you are cycle day 1-5, your estrogen is really low. On the standard Wiley Protocol Thyroid, that means you take 6 lines  (0.6mL as measured on their handy syringes) of T4 (21.8 mcg/line) + T3 (7.4mcg/line). The reason? T3 provokes an estrogen receptor, so you will improve estrogen turnover and make more estrogen receptors on target tissues. You then adjust down to a nadir of 1 line on peak estradiol day 12, and spike back up to 6 lines day s 14-16. And so on.
What positive things can I say about the Wiley Protocol Thryoid? I like the transdermal approach. As you know, absorption of your thyroid pills through your gut… well, it sucks. That’s why you are told to wait 20-60 minutes to eat or drink anything after you take your morning pills. So it makes sense that a transdermal approach is more convenient, and perhaps absorbed better.
I also like the adjustment with the menstrual cycle, especially for my patients who are exquisitely sensitive to the steady up/down of their estrogen (estradiol). Many of my patients find that they bloat like crazy at ovulation and just before/during their menses. Sometimes more thyroid hormone is the fix (but you must see your doc on this one – I do not recommend reckless experimentation in the service of bloat prevention).
Final positive are these: apoptosis and receptor turnover.
What the heck is apoptosis, you might ask.
Apoptosis is “Programmed Cell Death.” Now, before your eyes glaze over, let me point out why this is cool, important and relevant. Apoptosis is good – it’s designed to keep you young and vibrant. It’s a way of getting rid of the debris in your body without damaging you – it gets rid of receptors you no longer need, for instance. It confers advantages and is completely different from necrosis, which is cell death as a result of traumatic injury or cancer. In your body today, 50-70 billions will die as a result of apoptosis.
Receptor turnover is another important aspect of your glandular goodness. As an example, when women are given PremPro (estrogen from PREgnant MARe urINe and synthetic progesterone, proven to cause heart disease and breast cancer in women aged 50-79), the same dose every day makes your progesterone receptors stagnate. According to Susie and the data she cites, this results in inadequate cell apoptosis and a higher chance of disease such as breast cancer. In other words, chronic, same-dose-daily leads to down-regulation of progesterone receptors, and tissue badness downstream.
If you take the WP Thyroid Transdermal Restoration for Women, you check your thyroid function tests on day 13 or 14 because that is when your endogenous thyroid levels are at their maximum.
Negative feedback? There’s the absolute lack of randomized clinical trials, the gold standard for deciding if something is safe or even just a good idea. Recall all the trouble we got into with prescribing estrogen (1950-1999: take it! 1999-2002: never take it! Dangerous & risky! 2002-now: take it if you really need it, however you best define that! Confusing)? That was because we based our recommendations for estrogen on biased data (observational studies or worse quality), and randomized, controlled trials have the least bias.
Truth be told, I tried WPT for a few months. Actually, I try almost everything before considering it for my patients. I didn’t notice much difference in my bloating or hypothyroid symptoms (the usual: fatigue, easy weight gain – such as looking at a muffin, constipation).
Problem is this: we’ve got limited options as we augment or completely replace the function of our thyroid. I welcome new kids on the block. I find that selecting the right thyroid treatment is a lot like shoe shopping – it can often take nearly forever to find the right fit. So keep the faith and know there’s choices available. Check it out if you must, but buyer beware: no (unbiased) data, no data, no data.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Days of Awe: Your Optimal Health

It's officially the Jewish High Holidays. In fact, today is Day 5.  

For me, there is nothing quite as fruitful and nourishing as the deep scouring on the agenda during the Days of Awe for Jews, from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. It just thrills me, and it's NOT just for Jews. Here's why.

A little background: after being raised Catholic (including parochial school for most of my lower school years with Mass twice/week), I converted to Judaism at age 33.  Along the way, I've studied Yoga, Mindfulness, Buddhism, Non-dualism, 12-Step and many other traditions. I'm a yoga teacher. My spiritual practice is rather similar to those of my neighbors here in Berkeley -- I take what really works for me and opens my channel grace.

Teshuvah is our main job during the 10 Days of Awe from Rosh Hashanah until Yom Kippur. My fave translation of this Hebrew term? Returning to your True Self. Reflecting on ways in which we've missed the mark of serving our Highest Self, our Highest Purpose, our alignment or congruence with the quiet voice internally that knows the next right action.

This is not about religion; I'm actually interested today in taking this concept and applying it to your health. Teshuvah your health, my friends. I’m talking about deeply relevant issues such as your daily energy, your alignment daily with your higher purpose, how you nourish yourself with food as medicine. Can you inventory the ways over the past year that you've perhaps missed the mark and hurt your body, metabolism, spirit, emotional balance?

Another way to look at this (and break out of the Judeo-Christian form) is to ask: what if I were in charge of the Buddha's physical health? Or HHH The Dalai Lama? Meryl Streep? Any enlightened being would do. Say you're to provide the dosage of thyroid medication each morning - what would that look like? What would I prepare for him or her for dinner today? If I were in charge of the best exercise and stress management for optimal aging, what would I schedule today for the Enlightened One?

Me? If I were HHH's thyroid boss, I would never miss a dose (BTW, I missed my Armour thyroid pill yesterday - can you tell?). I'd have HHH meditate while the Armour took it's sweet time to absorb fully for 60 minutes before any food or drink. Meanwhile, I'd cook HHH a lovely organic meal that didn't harm the planet or animals. Brown rice, kale from my garden and soaked nuts for breakfast? And I'd mindfully prepare the oolong tea or yerba mate as a sadhana (spirital practice or ritual).

My morning now doesn't resemble this idealized version even remotely. Armour in, guzzle oolong tea, breakfast for the fam - check, lunches for the kids - check, nag kids to hurry up and brush their teeth - checkety check check. Race out door, hustling kids, pulse and blood pressure rising in response to my kids' slower and movements, their "Buddha nature." Oy. There's so much that's wrong with this picture.

For the Days of Awe, here's your homework: what is YOUR PART in the harm you've done to your body? Not the part contributed by your partner or boss or kids or parents but your part? What can you do differently with nourishing food, mindfully eaten, with movement, with your connection to Higher Self, with supplements, with assessing why your energy is lousy? How about sleep - if it sucks, are you on it, seeking help and have an attitude that invites change? Are you devoting your full energy to your healing and optimal health?
If you're interested in more resources and guiding questions, here's a favorite.
Shanah Tovah (Happy New Year in the Jewish Calendar). Time for a fresh start to your most vibrant year ever, but we all know measurement begets change. Start measuring, my friends.

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I'm an organic gynecologist, yoga teacher + writer. I earn a living partnering with women to get them vital and self-realized again. We're born that way, but often fall off the path. Let's take your lousy mood and fatigue, and transform it into something sacred and useful.