Geranium seeds

Seeds of wellness for body, mind and spirit

A round up of (a few of) this week’s health news, and a restaurant review

I enjoy looking at health magazines and books, but mostly I get my health news through radio programs and through email updates by Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine. You can subscribe to receive notification of health news in a variety of topics, such as  diets or child nutrition, women’s health, chronic disease, and many many others. I recommend it! This week there have been a few interesting pieces, so I thought I’d share them here. I’d love to hear about where you get your health news – do tell!

1) Another point-in-favor for coffee in the never-ending fight about whether coffee is good for you (and good news for coffee lovers like me!): coffee intake may reduce one’s risk for type 2 diabetes. Chinese researchers found 3 compounds in coffee which seem to help reduce abnormal protein levels which are associated with type 2 diabetes. The study indicates that, for each cup of coffee consumed daily, the risk for type 2 diabetes drops by 7 percent (and the benefit is even greater with decaffeinated coffee). Alas, the study was conducted on cell cultures rather than people and increased coffee consumption is not yet warranted. But, it’s encouraging. Read about it here, courtesy of Medline Plus. I thought it was funny that the researchers felt it necessary to point out that the study does not imply that cream and sugar usually added to coffee are beneficial for preventing diabetes, haha.

2) Another number from Medline Plus, and another piece of good news: frying foods with olive or sunflower oil is not associated with heart disease or premature death. Researchers from Spain investigated the association between fried foods and heart disease and found that the type of oil used really does make all the difference. Read about it here.

3) This one I actually picked up from a radio show…  The US News & World Report Magazine has ranked 25 diets in their “Best Diets of 2012” special. They elected the DASH Diet as the best diet overall for good health! I have to say, I wasn’t familiar with this diet until I heard this piece of news. “Dash” stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension and it is based on eating foods that are low in sodium, added sugars and fat. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute helped develop the diet, which idenitifes how many servings of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, etc, you should have based on your weight and activity level. Click here to see the full report about this diet from the US News & World Report Mag. By the way… Weight Watchers won the prize for best diet for weight loss. See the “Best Diets” report here.

And speaking of food…  we’re now on to the best part of this post — my restaurant review!

Lobster Ravioli at Hanger's

Todd and I are somewhat of a foodie couple. We really enjoy savoring good food, and make a sport out of finding exceptionally good places to eat, especially when travelling. It’s even better to find a good spot in our own backyard (or almost). For Todd’s birthday this week, we tried out Hanger’s restaurant in Richmond, KY. It was terrific! Good atmosphere, and delicious food you can feel good about — a note on Hanger’s menu says they support local farmers and use organic ingredients when available. Love that!

I was happy with the amount of variety on the menu, and had a difficult time making my selections. We started with their “cheese cigars”, which were delicious. What can be wrong with mozzarella cheese wrapped in wonton, fried, and served with mango chutney? Nothing at all, I say!

Todd chose the seabass with roasted dates and bacon, with a side salad, for his entree. I had a hard time passing on the seared duck breast with sweet potato gratin or even the sea scallops pappardelle pasta. In the end, I settled for the lobster ravioli with white truffle oil. Good choice! The ravioli was home made and the truffle oil made the dish. Todd’s sea bass was perhaps even better – love the sweet dates with the fish! For my side dish, I chose the tomato bisque, which was divine.

Sea Bass

We both decided our entrees weren’t the healthiest on the menu, but they sure were tasty! Todd thought the sea bass would have been pretty healthy, but he suspected a lot of butter went into his dish. The healthiest thing they had was probably their grilled salmon over quinoa, and I bet that’s yummy, too. By the way, the entrees were priced at about $25. They also had several very reasonably priced dinner specials at $12 each.

Of course, we had to order dessert, especially after we found out that Todd got a free dessert for his birthday. He chose the creme brullee, one of his favorite sweet things. I was surprised and intrigued to find they have a “Brazilian Chocolate” coffee drink on their dessert menu, and promptly ordered that. I was expecting a rich and warm drink, but got a cold drink instead. I’m confused; iced coffee really isn’t that popular in Brazil. Maybe I’m out of the loop?

Creme brullee for the birthday boy

Now for the verdict: the creme brullee was very good, even if it was not made in house.

The chocolate drink looked nice and tasted OK, but it probably wasn’t worth the $7 I paid for it.

All in all, we had a wonderful meal at Hanger’s and will definitely return. Stop by if you are in the area and you won’t regret it. And let me know of other great restaurants to try!

Brazilian Chocolate Drink

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Why everyone needs a fitness buddy

Jocelyn and I after running the KY Derby half-marathon, 2010

Jocelyn and I met through a local running club. We knew each other only marginally, until we both decided to train for our first half-marathon in 2010. Our running club president paired us together and devised a training plan for us, thinking that we had similar fitness levels and would be able to keep each other committed. He was right. Jocelyn and I did not miss one single training day that season and had a great time running our first big race together. Best of all, we have become and remained great friends.

Much has been said about the benefits of shared accountability through a workout buddy, and the benefits are not overrated. It is much easier to get out of the door for a run (or any exercise) when we know there is someone waiting for us. And, it is a lot harder to call it quits early or slack off when someone is running beside us and helping to keep up the pace.

Jocelyn and I were perfectly suited for running together. We are about the same size and have about the same stride. We had logged about the same amount of miles before embarking on our half-marathon training. We were just competitive enough to keep the other on task, but not too competitive so as to leave the other behind. We made a deal that we would run the whole race together, no matter what. So when one stopped to use the bathroom at Churchill Downs, the other went along with it. The camaraderie made it all fun, and we both walked out with finisher’s medals and a smile.

We both agreed we might not have made it to our goal if it weren’t for the other. But having a running partner turned out to be much better than reaching a fitness goal. Running side by side creates the opportunity for plenty of talks. We talked about everything while we logged our miles. The conversation made the runs more enjoyable, and the activity made the conversations more intimate. Having become such fast friends (no pun intended, haha) ensured that we would maintain our relationship and fitness accountability beyond our half-marathon goal.

Two pregnancies (and babies) later, we don’t get together as often as we used to. When we do, it’s usually for a run. And here is the beautiful part about having a fitness buddy: when we carve out time for our friendship, we are also encouraging each other to stay healthy and do something good for ourselves. Too often we meet friends for dinner or coffee. I am not at all against such practice, since I certainly enjoy food and the act of breaking bread together. Done too often, however, that may not be the healthiest of practices. And there’s something wonderful about meeting for a run, or a hike, or even a leisurely walk.

I just got back from running five miles with Jocelyn. I hadn’t done five miles in a while, and chances are (high) I wouldn’t have done it tonight if Jocelyn and I hadn’t agreed to meet. We both complained we didn’t feel exactly psyched about the run when we started, but agreed we enjoyed the run and the time together at mile 5. We still talk about everything in our runs, by the way — it was Jocelyn who suggested I might be experiencing some “post-lactation blues” during one of our runs (see my previous post about post-lactation depression).

Here are some tips for finding yourself a fitness buddy:
– Join exercise groups such as a running club or even an exercise class.
– Make your fitness goals/interests known to friends, especially those who have accomplished similar goals. Let them know you are looking for support, and they are likely to know others with similar interests.
– Start your own fitness group if you can’t find one that suits you. This is what our friend Chris did when he couldn’t find a running club in our town. He created the club and invited people to informational sessions. Word of mouth spread and now there is a great group of people who train, race and even organize races together.
– Look for someone with a similar fitness level and with a similar workout style to your own. Some people do not like to talk while running or exercising and would find Jocelyn and I very annoying!
– Make your fitness goal concrete and give yourself (and your buddy) a deadline. Figure out how to determine progress, and make your goal achievable. You can always work toward a bigger goal once you reach the deadline.
– Enlist your family’s support. Spouses or significant others can potentially make great fitness buddies. Todd and I have done a lot of exercising together. Now that we have a child, we need to alternate our exercise schedule so that one of us can take care of Lucas. We have to work extra hard to be supportive of the other’s need to exercise.

Does anyone have other tips? Leave us a comment with your ideas!

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Post-Lactation Depression?!

Bringing Lucas home for the first time

Warning: this blog is about to get extremely personal.

I apologize to my male readers for the rather feminine subject. But, keep reading… maybe it will help you understand your sister, wife, friend… 🙂

I did not experience post-partum depression. Sure, that first night after we brought Lucas home from the hospital, I was a tearful mess. But, soon enough I was back to my normal self (albeit sleep deprived). In a way, I felt like I had dodged the bullet when I didn’t present the PPD symptoms I had read about or heard from friends. So, imagine my surprise when very recently I started feeling like I had fallen off the deep end: irritable, tearful, exhausted, and just plain weird. At first I thought I was having a major case of PMS, but it just didn’t let up and seemed to be getting worse. After talking with friends, consulting with my doctor, and (of course) googling like crazy, I think I know what has been wrong with me: post-lactation depression. Yes, people, I swear this exists, although it is not a “real” medical condition.

Here’s my whole confessional story:

It was important to me to breastfeed Lucas his first year of life. When he completed 12 months, I stopped pumping and introduced whole milk during the day. Eventually I did away with the morning nursing session and gradually decreased the amount he nursed at bedtime. When he was a little over 14 mos. (almost two months ago), I stopped breastfeeding altogether. It was a very gradual and natural process, and there was very little change to our bedtime ritual or relationship. I was happy to have breastfed and happy to have stopped when I did. Mission accomplished, and I thought everything was just peachy.

Except that, about 3 months ago I started having night sweats (which I had never had before). Then, a few weeks ago I started feeling extremely tired and irritable. One some days I even had crying spells. I thought maybe something was wrong with my thyroid or that I was somehow hormonally off. It definitely fet like a physiological thing. There was no apparent reason for the changes in my mood or energy level. I’m all for talk therapy, but the kind of feelings I was having seemed to call for a different kind of therapy. The symptoms were not exactly severe, but enough to be bothersome — and bothersome enough that I did not feel like myself.

While out for a run with a girlfriend, she helped me make the connection for the first time between my symptoms and the fact that I had just stopped breastfeeding. I still thought something else might be wrong, so I went to my doctor to have my hormone levels and thyroid functioning checked. Everything checked out OK, and my doc agreed that the symptoms might be related to weaning Lucas. He said that maybe my body was simply adjusting to this change.

What has been really frustrating is that I had no warning that my body might respond this way. There is no mention of this in my breastfeeding book — just a brief paragraph stating that women might feel some sadness about ending the breastfeeding relationship. I consulted other breastfeeding books in the bookstore and found no more information. In fact, another book said that the weaning effects on the mother — especially if done gradually — are “minimal.” So off to the internet I went, and found no more information from reputable medical websites. This is frustrating to someone like me who deals with stressful situations by gathering as much information as I can.

Luckily, I found plenty of anecdotal information from other women who described having had very similar symptoms after they stopped breastfeeding. They all described it as I had: feeling as if this were PMS on steroids. Some women called it “post-lactation depression,” which I thought was pretty clever. Others suggested that weaning might prompt a late-onset of PPD in some. This I guess is controversial, since most medical websites I searched stated that PPD happens within the first year post-partum.

At any rate, it does seem like there is something to this. And here we finally get to my happy ending. In one helpful entry from askmoxie.org, I found several suggestions for dealing with this. The author of the blog suggested a “trifecta” of daily massage, exercise, and Omega 3 supplementation. Several of her readers left comments with further suggestions, one of them being to supplement with a B-vitamin complex. I was already taking Omega 3s (I take a fish oil capsule at night) and exercising, and taking B vitamins seemed easy enough. It also made sense to me that it might help, at least with my energy level. (Here is the thread if you want to check it out for yourself.)

Lo and behold, that has made all the difference for me! I started feeling much, much better (pretty much back to my regular self) after the very first day of taking it. You might call it a placebo effect. But I don’t think so. First, I really didn’t expect it to help that quickly. Second, I didn’t expect the B vitamins to help with ALL my symptoms. People, not only is my mood back to normal, but my night sweats have stopped as well. It turns out B vitamins help synthetize and balance hormones (which I didn’t know).

I must also say that, before taking the vitamins, relaxation exercises and easy listening music also helped (for me, that meant the Frank Sinatra station on my satellite radio). And definitely talking about it — with my husband, girlfriend, sister, and doctor. I bet a lot of women under-report these symptoms to their doctors. Maybe there would be much more information out there if more of us actually discussed this with our docs.

Has this happened to anyone else out there? What has helped you?
If you are going through something similar to this right now, let me encourage you to discuss this with your doctor before diagnosing yourself with “post-lactation depression” or trying anything out. But definitely talk about it with someone. And good luck!

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Bust a move, because you can

Running the Michelle Brock 5K (November 2011)

A couple of months ago I ran the 3rd annual Michelle Litteral Brock 5k Memorial Race. The tagline of the race is “Run Because you Can.” Michelle died of Huntington’s Disease at age 40. Her family and friends started this race to honor Michelle and raise awareness and funds for the Huntington’s Disease Society.

When I met Michelle, she had already been suffering from Huntington’s for many years and depended on her family for total care. My husband, however, knew Michelle when she was a healthy and active young woman — the impeccably dressed college student who took an interest in teaching younger kids at her church.

Michelle Litteral Brock

 

It always seems like a great injustice when illness happens to people who have worked hard to cultivate healthy lifestyles. My dad is a prime example. I would be hard pressed to think of someone who has taken better care of his physical health. Never smoked, rarely drank (and even then, only a glass a wine), got adequate sleep, healthy diet, and exercise. For years, my dad would begin each morning with his exercise routine, and finish each day with a walk on the beach. He even did pilates, for goodness’ sake! A gastroenterologist by trade, he always took care to drink enough water and eat sensibly. When I think back to my childhood, I don’t ever remember my dad being sick with even a common cold. He certainly never missed a day of work. He was the last person I ever expected to get sick with a serious illness. And yet, in 2009, at age 62, my dad was diagnosed with ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

After the shock of the diagnosis wore off, I was grieved with the thought of all that ALS had robbed my father of… no more walks on the beach, or hiking up mountains, or dancing at weddings. No more endoscopies or lap band surgeries for this doctor who loved his job. No more holding his grandchildren in his arms.

I wondered for a while if l would ever feel as free and light as I once had, before my dad had this terrible disease. It seemed as if life could never be sweet again. I can only imagine what my dad felt. He told me once shortly after the diagnosis that he had asked God to either heal him or take him home. He didn’t want to live with the disease. The fact that my dad had even prayed for divine healing is exceptional. This was a man who had always valued science over religion. But, that is the subject of another post.

That was then. I have seen my father change perspective over the course of these last three years. The disease is progressing every day. He has lost movement of his arms, and has hardly any movement left in his legs. But he wants to live. He is still holding out hope for healing, mind you. But he wants to be here, and he still enjoys life.

Dad and I, July 2011

And for me? Life is sweet again. A big part of it was letting go of what could have been or what cannot be, and embracing what is and was. So my father was a very healthy and active person before having this terrible disease. Thank God! He enjoyed his health. He traveled; he worked; he used his body and his mind. It was not in vain. And now he continues to make the best of his abilities.

The real tragedy, you see, is having health and not enjoying it. Having life and not doing anything with it. Being able to move and not being grateful.

Sometimes, when I am lacking motivation to start or finish a workout, I think of my dad, and what a privilege it is that I can exercise. That gives me some extra energy and gratitude for FREEDOM. And I then I pray that same energy reaches my dad, somehow.

Let’s remember to bust a move whenever we can. Because we can.

 
http://www.alsa.org/ The ALS Association
http://www.hdsa.org/ Huntington’s Disease Society of America
 
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Pick up a green tea habit

My daily water bottle, transformed into my daily green tea bottle.

I have known for a long time that green tea is good for one’s health, but until recently I had never been a green tea drinker. I just didn’t care for the taste (with the exception of green tea frappucinos from Starbucks. One of my faves – but I suspect the added cream and sugar outweigh any health benefit in them).

I decided to give GT another chance when I read that the tea might counteract some of the effects of smoking to the lungs. I get a lot of second hand smoke on my job, and it’s something I’ve always worried about. I’ve also always been very shy about asking smokers not to smoke around me, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, I don’t want to be impolite (especially if I’m in their own home, as is often the case at my job). One day, after being exposed to way too many cigarrettes, I decided to change that. I made “being more assertive about my need to avoid cigarette exposure” one of my new year’s resolutions. Smokers, I really don’t want to be impolite or judgmental (unless you’re smoking around kids, in which case I have to be a little judgmental). I have plenty of bad habits myself. And I know enough about the dangers of second hand smoke to know this is not something I want to add to my list. So, from now on, I’ll be asking you to please wait until I leave before lighting up that cigarette.

But back to the topic. I bought a couple of different varieties of green tea to try and went to work on my new healthy habit. I hadn’t shopped for green tea in a while, and was surprised about how many flavored varieties there are out there! My favorite so far is “orange, passion fruit and jasmine”. I brew a couple of bags in the morning and pour it over ice into my water bottle. Then, I sip the green potion all day long. Since I drink this everyday now, I decided not to add any sweeteners (to avoid added calories or artificial stuff). Two tea bags get kind of watered down in my 750 ml bottle, so I can tolerate the taste pretty well. In fact, I’m pretty used to the taste by now, and it’s kind of refreshing 🙂

Since I started my GT habit, I decided to research the benefits of the stuff. It turns out the little magic potion might ward off cancer, diabetes, dementia, stroke and heart disease, lower LDL cholesterol, and burn fat. The green leaves are full of catechins, plant compounds that prevent oxidation of cells. In other words, they prevent premature aging to cells and damage to one’s DNA. How’s that for a little green in your water? Now, many of the studies conducted on the benefits of GT have been lab studies rather than population studies… so it’s difficult to say exactly what the benefit is. Still, there have been too many studies to discredit the amazing power of this tea. (Read more about the studies and benefits here.)

This is one healthy habit that’s easy to pick up. Nutritionists suggest that you steep the tea for 3-5 minutes to reap the most benefits. It’s also best to brew your own rather than buying the bottled kind. You will get more benefits from a freshly brewed tea, as well as avoid any additives from the bottled kind. Besides, it could become an expensive habit to buy bottles all the time. If you are drinking for weight loss, you might like to know that some studies suggest the caffeinated kind helps drinkers lose more weight than the decaf counterpart. A recent study also suggested that combining green tea with a food containing black pepper may speed up weight loss.

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How to go the f**k to sleep, and balsamic strawberries

You know this popular little book, right? I thought of it last night when my 15 month-old woke up at 3:45 am and decided to stay awake for the next 2 and half hours. Thank goodness I am off work today and could sleep in a little to make up for the lost time. By the time he drifted off to sleep at 6:15, I was too wired to just go to sleep myself. So, I had to employ some of the sleeping techniques I’m about to share with you.

You don’t have to have a 15 month-old to have trouble sleeping. Nights are hard. After the lighs are off, it’s just you and your thoughts. I once heard a sleep doctor say that he thinks people stay up watching TV, etc, until they are absolutely exhausted because we have a hard time facing the time alone with ourselves in bed. We just want to collapse asleep and skip the alone time. There may be something to that. For many of the people I see in hospice work, nights are often the time when they have the most pain and restlessness. Our spiritual care director once told us (chaplains) that a good indicator of someone’s spiritual pain is to identify what it is that keeps them awake in bed at night.

I learned some time ago that the best way to go to sleep at night is to turn off my thoughts. Once we get into bed, the tendency is to go into “movie mode” — replaying the events of the day or thinking about what will unfold tomorrow. There is probably some benefit in the reflection time (especially if you’ve not had any alone time during the day), but not for too long. So when it’s time to sleep, I do two things: employ my senses, and use visualization.

To employ my senses means simply to focus on what I am feeling rather than thinking. Thoughts may still come, but I let them go by and focus instead on the warmth of the bed, the softness of the pillow, the sounds in the room, etc. One of the simplest ways to do that is to focus on your breath, feeling and hearing the air coming in and out. You can do this as a form of meditation during the day while sitting up (it’s a good way to rest the mind). When I do it lying down with eyes closed, it very often puts me to sleep.

If I need some extra help, I enlist my visualization techniques. First, I envision myself going down a spiral staircase, to symbolize going deeper into my relaxing place. Then, I imagine myself there. For me, it is very often the beach or the woods, always with some water element (a waterfall, or a hot spring).  Again, I employ my senses, but this time with my imagination. I feel the wet sand between my toes, hear the sound of the crashing waves, feel the warmth of the air… you get the picture.

If a problem or decision to be made is keeping you awake, use your imagination to let your subconscious work it out for you. I often envision sitting underneath a “wisdom tree”, or next to God. Or, I may ask God to speak to me in a dream. You can also envision a “worry tree” where you hang your worries for the night. Once I get into my relaxing place and let my worries rest, it is not very long until I’m in lala land. So try these; it takes some practice, but you will get the hang of it. And if you still can’t fall asleep, tell yourself it is OK to lie there and REST. Just enjoy being in your relaxing place for some good alone time.

So what does all this have to do with balsamic strawberries? Nothing, except that I had that for dessert today, and it was delicious. So I thought I’d share! Here’s what it looked like:

I LOVE balsamic vinegar. I use it for bread dipping and sometimes add it to sauces. Sometimes I marinate fruit in it and it makes a great dessert! This time I marinated the strawberries in dark chocolate balsamic (yummy). Fast, healthy and delicious! You can find flavored balsamic vinegar in specialty stores, but plain balsamic vinegar tastes good with strawberries or oranges, too. Add a little extra virgin olive oil and some fruit jam, and you’ve got a great vinaigrette, perfect for fruity salads!

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A blog is born!

New year, new blog!

Does the world need another blog? Probably not. But, I needed a place to focus all the energy I have  around the subject of health and wellness. And so geranium seeds was born!

Why geranium seeds? Besides being beautiful, geraniums have several medicinal qualities.  The oil extracted from these plants have anti-fungal, anti-depressant, anti-viral, anti-biotic, analgesic, and astringent properties! Not only that, geranium oil also promotes cell regeneration.

My hope is that this blog will give you little wellness tips and encouragement that will assist you in your process of growth and regeneration.

So, here’s for a healthy 2012! Cheers!

Did you know? You can purchase geranium oil and massage it into skin, dilute it into a bath, or use it in a diffuser. Here’s one I like:

 

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