Young woman relaxing with tea during the holidays

Don’t Wait Until You’re Sick and Tired

As another year comes to a close and the evening commitments build up, are you in need of a nap? When you look back over your calendar for the past year (and I hope you do this), do you feel invigorated by what you achieved and the changes you made, or do you think the past 12 months were a bit exhausting?

The holidays and New Year’s are the perfect time to talk about fatigue. Most of us have too much on our plates already, and then the holidays arrive. Instead of using the long hours of darkness to turn off the lights and get more sleep, we shop in stores and online, RSVP “I can’t wait!” to the party invitations, and dance, eat and drink into the wee hours of the morning.

Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas are major cultural festivals that deserve all the joy they bring to us and our families and friends, but when they’re over, there’s a seemingly inevitable slide into being just too tired. When January comes this year, let’s make a commitment to use the cold winter months to replenish body, mind and soul.

If we keep burning the candle at both ends, ignoring our fatigue, and dosing ourselves with coffee and tea to wake up, and wine or a margarita to decompress and relax, we stress our body’s immune system. We may be functioning all day long, but our adrenal glands are pumping out cortisol and we begin experiencing aches and pains, anxiety, sleeplessness, or oversleeping our alarm each morning.

Here are a few tips to keep you from running out of steam halfway through the day, and sleeping soundly all night:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Your body thrives on routine, so give up the third episode of your binge-a-thon, and hit the sheets.
  • If you can’t wake up without crawling to the coffee pot, then go to bed 15 minutes earlier each night until you can.
  • Cut back on caffeine. Coffee and caffeinated teas and sodas will disrupt your sleep if you drink them in the afternoon, so try to keep those beverages to the morning hours. Or give them up altogether, albeit a little at a time. No cold turkey!
  • If not drinking caffeine in the afternoon leaves you feeling sluggish, head outside for some fresh air and a walk. Drink some water. Eat a healthy snack.
  • If you continue to feel tired, don’t wait until you’re sick AND tired before you do something about it. A visit to your naturopathic doctor for a review of your blood work and diet is in order. I help many of my clients with lifestyle and nutrition changes that get them back on the right track.

You deserve to greet every day feeling great, and ready to take on the tasks that will make your dreams come true. Let’s all get some rest before a cold or flu force us to go to bed. As a mom with a new baby, I’m all for grabbing a nap when I need to. You have my permission to take a nap, too!

Healthy weight loss bowl

The Weight We Are

One of the most common problems that I need to address with my patients is that of weight gain. Sometimes (rarely) people are too thin; more often the kind of weight gain we need to address is the slow and steady weight that sneaks up on us as we age. Contrary to what some well-meaning friends (frenemies?) may think, a man or woman who is overweight doesn’t need it pointed out to them. They have felt the pounds creep on and haven’t been able to sustain weight loss, often for very good reasons. After months or years, that new body size becomes just the way (or the weight) we are.

I hope we’re past the point of body shaming people for their weight. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and the best place to start any program of change is to make peace with where you are. Your weight gain may have begun with a stressful job or life change, a new baby, a medication that slowed your metabolism, or another biological reason. However you gained weight, the emphasis needs to be on a new commitment to health, not fitting some external standard of beauty.

As a physician, though, I see the corresponding gain in weight with a decline in health. Too often, weight gain is accompanied by high blood pressure, rising blood sugar levels or Type II Diabetes, pain in back, knees and hips from too much pressure on joints, and the risk of heart disease from high cholesterol or triglycerides. So it’s my job to gently suggest that this is a good time to stop the downhill slide toward ill health, and lose some weight.

Great. We’ve looked at the scale, assessed a Body Mass Index (BMI), and decided a few (or many) pounds have got to go. What next?

Before we get to the HOW, we need to determine the WHY. Some discussion can uncover if what you’re experiencing is a lifestyle problem: too sedentary, too many sweets, drinking calories—whether wine or soda, and a love affair with the bread basket. If you’re working out, trying to eat right, and even prioritizing sleep (skipping sleep is often a contributor to weight gain), then we need to look at whether there’s a metabolic or hormonal issue.

Standard blood tests can tell me a lot about what’s going on inside your body: whether your thyroid is operating at full throttle, how your adrenals are reacting to stress, and whether your cortisol levels are rising and falling as they should throughout the day. If weight gain is a medical issue, we address that first. Getting the body back into balance is key to finding your way back to a proper weight for your gender, age and height.

Then perhaps its time to make some changes in the way you eat. There are many diets and diet books available to help, and one way to success is finding the method of weight loss that you can stick with. The Ketogenic or Paleo Diet has gotten lots of attention lately, and that can work. So can a Mediterranean approach to eating. Apps like Noom are available to help you track food choices. And I often help my patients jump start their weight loss with a body cleanse product that decreases toxins in the system and helps stop cravings for sugar.

Here’s the bottom line: if your pants are too tight, you’ve gone up a shoe size, and you’re huffing and puffing when you walk (or crawl) up stairs, then you already know you need to make some changes. After a medical check up and blood work, approach your new lifestyle with a positive attitude and a decision to be kind to yourself. There’s no Fairy Godmother who’s coming in a puff of smoke to cook you healthy, delicious meals. You’re going to have to go to the grocery store, buy lots of fruits, vegetables, and protein, and learn how to combine those items into breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Out of all the diets out there, my favorite is the Grandma Diet. The Grandma Diet asks the question: first, was this food around when my grandma was young, before things were processed to death and filled with preservatives and chemicals? And second, would a loving Grandma feed that to anyone?

Be your own Grandma. Put on an apron, dust some flour on your cheeks, and feed yourself some homemade meals (and if it doesn’t include vegetables, it isn’t a meal.) If you want dessert, eat a piece of fruit. Have a slice of cake once a week, if you’ve made it from scratch. (That’s a piece of advice from the author Michael Pollan, who says nothing is off limits, but it needs to be made from scratch. You want potato chips? Start with potatoes.)

Like most things in life, weight gain and weight loss are connected not only to how we live, but why we’re making the choices we are. Let’s make our grandmas proud. Make a balanced meal, eat it sitting down at the table (tablecloths are optional), and do the dishes when you’re finished. Let’s make healthy eating and physical activity part of the pleasure we take in doing the right things. And let’s plan to be healthy long enough to be a good grandma or grandpa to our own grandchildren.

Now wipe your mouth. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Pull up your britches. And shut that door. Were you born in a barn?

Woman stressed out on laptop with notebook

Stressed about Being Stressed: Breaking the Vicious Cycle

A feeling of urgency can be a good thing for many of us, at least initially. A healthy amount of stress propels us to get things done, however, the more stress that piles on, the more we start to feel it. And because we each know the symptoms we get under stress, such as headaches, irritability, fatigue, anxiety, pain, weight gain, burnout, and more, we start to fear the stress.  Eventually we start getting stressed about being stressed. Herein lies “the vicious cycle.” Below are 3 ways to deal with stress and nip this cycle in the bud.

First, what is stress exactly?

And why is it important that we deal with it? When you feel stress, that familiar clutch in the gut or breathlessness or mounting sense of overwhelm, your body tries to help you run for the hills—literally. Your system is flooded with stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline, elevating your heart rate and blood pressure to get more oxygen into your bloodstream. Because there is a lion after you!

Except there is no lion, and running away isn’t what you need to do. But stress is using up the energy your body would otherwise use to digest food, repair tissue, and renew cells. When you see a plastic bag fluttering along the freeway while you’re stuck in traffic and it reminds you that while you’re worrying about being late to your appointment that you also need to do something about climate change, glucose is being sent to your blood to give you energy to sprint for the safety of your cave.  In a very short while of fruitless fretting, you have a fuel shortage in your body. What quick fix will solve the problem? Sugar to the rescue! Good thing you have those Milky Ways in your bag.

So you binge on sugar, feel better for 15 minutes, get off the highway right as the sugar crash begins, and arrive at your appointment feeling depleted instead of energized. Now that you’re  doing a presentation to potential clients with a bedraggled body and mind, what’s your response? Stress, of course.

Regardless of what stresses you, you must break this cycle.

Stress Technique #1: Eliminate the stressor.

In order to eliminate the stressor, it is essential to pause for some self-reflection. What’s stressing you out? Take a minute and really think about it. Is it finances? Is it a family member? Is it your responsibility for ___? Is it pressure to do ____?

If it’s work, can you change your position or leave your job? Can you give up your title as captain of your tennis team or the extra work you do with the PTA? If your commute on metronorth is too long, can you relocate? These are the questions you have to ask yourself and sometimes the solution becomes clear. Other times, you might evaluate the stressor and conclude that eliminating the stressor just isn’t possible. For example: If your 3 year old is having afternoon tantrums, the ones where they scream so loud you think they might rupture your eardrum, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t put your kid back.  Some things you can’t eliminate.

Moving on to number two.

Stress Technique #2:. Cope with stress.

Once you have concluded that eliminating the stressor is not possible and you have finally come to accept that there isn’t a pill you can pop to deal with stress, it’s time to figure out your personal coping techniques.

Here a list of some ideas. Feel free to add to this list. Let’s just make sure your techniques are healthful coping techniques. A bottle of gin is NOT an example of a healthful coping technique.

  • Mindfulness/Meditation: Try a Meditation Class, Purchase a guided CD, Watch a YouTube Video, or download and use a phone application such as Calm or headspace
  • Epsom Salt Bath (add music, candles)
  • Walk your dog or if you don’t have a dog, stop at the humane society and love on another dog
  • Sleep / Nap
  • Take a vacation
  • Go to yoga
  • Spend time with friends
  • Sporting Activities (Sailing, Kayaking, hiking, golfing etc.)
  • Listen to music
  • Get a pedicure

Once you have a couple of these things on board, it’s up to you to implement them. Next we need to work on your head game.

Moving on to number three.

Stress Technique #3:  Change your reaction to the stressor.

“Sure,” you’re thinking, “easier said than done”. There’s no doubt that changing your reaction is the most challenging way to deal with stress, but it is often the most rewarding.   In order to change your reaction, try to gain an alternate perspective.   I suggest reading a book. Recently I read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” and found it helpful. There are many others. You could also listen to a TED talk, or meet with a therapist. Again, just pick something.

Stress Technique #4: Find a body-supporting supplement

With all of this, don’t forget to reach out for help. Stress can deplete the body’s store of B vitamins, and an elevated heart rate and flood of stress hormones can set up a cascading domino effect of ill health.  There are some powerful herbs, vitamins, and homeopathics that can help along the way. Consider the healing effects of B Vitamins, Holy Basil, Valerian, and Magnesium. I can help you select the right supplement in the right amounts to support your body while you find better ways of reducing your stress.

Don’t run from that lion alone. I’m here to help.

A 15 minute complimentary phone session can answer many of your questions about treatment for cervical dysplasia. Schedule your call by contacting me at my office, Shalva Clinic, at 203-916-4600.

Transforming Your Health with Dr. El

There’s a sweeping change taking place in medicine today. No longer are people content to see a doctor only when they’re sick, to be treated with a variety of pharmaceutical solutions that they don’t understand, and whose side effects may be as harmful to the body as the original illness. Many patients are seeking natural, gentle solutions to their health concerns, and easily blend relationships with a traditional internal medicine MD with advice and safe treatments from their Naturopathic Doctor.

This integrative approach is one that I recommend to my patients. We can best serve our patients’ health problems when we work together. There are times when an emergency room, surgery, and drug therapy is the right choice. My focus is on rebalancing the body, boosting the immune system and restoring it to full and vibrant health long before those developing illnesses become critical.

Working with me is easy: if you can travel to my office at Shalva Clinic in Westport, CT, then we can enjoy a personal meeting with hands-on medical care. For those of you who live far away, a phone consultation can be scheduled to review your concerns and help you create an action plan for health. After our visit, I can select the right vitamins and supplements to support your health through the Healthy You store.

If you become a member in my Love Life! Program, you’ll receive a monthly newsletter filled with up-to-the-minute health advice, a quarterly master class where you can both watch me live on video and ask questions in real time, a private Facebook page, and a once a year phone call with me for some very personal attention!

I want to do more than just treat a disease once it’s taken hold in your body. I want to promote a healthy lifestyle that supports your body by relying on its own natural wisdom to restore health. I treat the whole person, reviewing your unique and complex physical, mental, and environmental makeup to create a new cornerstone in your life for wellness.

I hope you’ll join me!

A 15 minute complimentary phone session can answer many of your questions about treatment for cervical dysplasia. Schedule your call by contacting me at my office, Shalva Clinic, at 203-916-4600.

HPV Oral Testing for Men

When we find abnormal pap smear results in women, indicating a diagnosis of cervical dysplasia, it isn’t just a woman’s problem. For sexually active women, an infection with the very common Human Papillomavirus (HPV), can be transmitted between partners. The virus often clears on its own, but when it doesn’t, certain types of HPV can result in cervical cancer, as well as vaginal and vulvar cancer in women, anal cancer or genital warts in men and women, and genital and oral cancers in men.

More than half the men in the U.S. will have HPV at some point in their lifetimes, and many will clear the infection on their own, just as many women do. But if your partner has HPV virus, it is likely that you will, too. That’s why testing for men is so important. The same type of HPV that is found in the genitals can be present in the mouth and throat, and can cause oropharyngeal cancers. Michael Douglas’s cancer of this type was spotlighted in the media, and added to the conversation about HPV.

That’s why I encourage men to visit me for baseline blood work and oral HPV testing, particularly when their partners are found to be HPV positive, or have a diagnosis of cervical dysplasia. I perform a visual and tactile exam, in addition to a salivary test sent to a laboratory for analysis. There are more then 100 HPV types, some slow growing, others highly aggressive. A suspicious lesion on the tongue or in the mouth should always be immediately investigated. Because it does sometimes clear on its own, a naturopathic approach to immune system support can be an important strengthening agent for the body’s own ability to fight the virus. That’s a first step in the process, although any positive HPV result should be taken seriously, and indicates either ongoing monitoring or a treatment plan.

HPV does not create symptoms in its early stages, so if you’re in an intimate relationship, and your partner has tested positive for the virus, you owe it to yourself to be tested. Naturopathic medicine is the least invasive, most natural, and safest approach to protecting your health.

A 15 minute phone session can answer many of your questions. Schedule your call by contacting me at my office, Shalva Clinic, at 203-916-4600.

The Distress of Dysplasia

Dysplasia isn’t a word that comes up very often in conversation, even among women who might have received a diagnosis of cervical dysplasia. But it’s more common than you think. Although it doesn’t create any symptoms, a routine pap smear can find abnormal cells on the surface of the cervix.

The words “abnormal cells” can strike fear into the heart of any woman, which is why it’s easy to agree to medical treatments that include electrocauterization, cryosurgery, laser vaporization, or surgical removal of the affected area. Cervical dysplasia requires attention, because the abnormal cells are considered a precancerous condition. But let’s talk a little more about what’s actually the best course of action.

Dysplasia can be mild, moderate, or severe. Mild dysplasia is the most common form, and often resolves on its own. Moderate to severe dysplasia have a higher rate of progression to cancer, and require intervention. Here’s what you need to know about a Naturopathic solution for dysplasia, and why you should consider it:

Often, an underlying health issue makes women vulnerable to the HPV virus, the precursor of a cervical dysplasia diagnosis. My approach is to look at a woman’s entire body and current lifestyle, and seek to improve overall health as a first step. This is an integral part of treating any disease or condition, and often is a primary difference between seeking specialized, localized medical treatment, or using a Naturopathic approach. Cervical dysplasia can be the first warning sign a woman receives that she needs to change her lifestyle, diet, and nutritional supplementation.

When we’ve discussed lifestyle alterations, my next step is either a vaginal suppository protocol you can perform at home, or Escharotic Treatment performed in the office.

Rather than using a heated electrical loop to cauterize abnormal tissue, or a carbon dioxide cooled probe to freeze affected tissue, Escharotic Treatment relies on a topical treatment of the cervix, relying on zinc chloride along with a more gentle, botanical formula. I use a cervical bath along with naturopathic suppositories, coupled with a systemic treatment to treat both externally and internally at the same time.

A typical Escharotic in office treatment protocol requires twelve visits, twice weekly, for six weeks, followed by retesting and a maintenance schedule. A success rate of 95% for this non-harmful approach brings many women to my practice for the first time, and the majority of them remain as longterm patients. The treatment timing can be modified for patients traveling or having other time restrictions.

A 15 minute complimentary phone session can answer many of your questions about treatment for cervical dysplasia. Schedule your call by contacting me at my office, Shalva Clinic, at 203-916-4600.