Health Matters

Procrastination and Other Tricks

Now that the new year is well underway, many people may concede that they have thus far not started or accomplished their New Year's resolutions. Promises made to oneself or one's family to lose weight, save money, or learn Italian have by now fallen flat, to be replaced by that creeping feeling that time is slipping by. "I can't believe it's already February!" is a common refrain, followed by a sigh or admission of some failure to live up to New Year expectations.

One of the problems with deciding to transform one's health / finances / waistline overnight may be that waiting until after the holidays to make changes is an institutional form of procrastination. Everyone, it seems, goes through December spending too much money and eating too many cookies, and the ensuing resolution-making feeds whole industries. So the question becomes: how can we see this insidious pattern coming down the road next time, so that we can avoid it? Can we face our shortcomings before they become a big end-of-the-year mess?

Instead of falling short of losing twenty pounds, the game could change to counting how many days you can go without eating any cookies, or chips, or Cheez-Whiz. Then each day can be a victory.”

Imagining what things will be like a year from now would be a good place to start. It's likely that without a plan in place, next year will have a shocking resemblance to this year. The flipside to procrastination is impatience, which may impose the real obstacle to our goals. If we are honest with ourselves, we'll admit that our main deterrent from starting a large project is that it takes too long to enjoy the rewards. It takes a feat of imagination to see an entire novel when faced with that first empty page, or to imagine oneself as twenty pounds lighter when confronted by a plate of brownies. The goal visualization is pretty, but our Microwave Generation needs to work within the limits of a short attention span. Thus we have the persistence of weight-loss pills and get-rich-quick schemes.

The way around our inertia is to trick ourselves into achieving smaller goals. Instead of falling short of losing twenty pounds, the game could change to counting how many days you can go without eating any cookies, or chips, or Cheez-Whiz. Then each day can be a victory. The immediate payoff may not have the drama of the ubiquitous before-and-after-the-diet photos, but by December of this year, you may have made a lasting change.

Many health concerns can be addressed with this bit-by-bit approach. Say, for example, that you find yourself feeling devastatingly tired in the middle of one too many afternoons. You need a late cup of coffee just to get through the rest of your workday, and you find yourself getting takeout yet again because you don't have the energy to make dinner. And since you didn't get much done during the afternoon, you keep yourself up late answering emails, thus forcing yourself to lose sleep in the name of productivity. The next morning starts with the snooze button and double-parking in front of the coffee shop for your latte and chocolate-chip muffin – you can worry about your mid-morning crash later. Lunch is just as hurried, and there are you are again in the afternoon: tired, with no energy to wonder how the vicious cycle will end.

If you want to get off of this horrible merry-go-round, a few small changes can create a healthier domino effect. The root of the above issue of exhaustion is really lack of sleep and proper nutrition, which are inexpensive to fix; it just takes a bit of forethought. The best time to work on that flagging afternoon energy is actually the night before. After a healthy dinner, chop up a few veggies, or set aside some leftovers, and pack them for your lunch the next day. Then start your nighttime ritual (hot shower? yoga stretches? reading a book?), and get to bed a bit early. When you wake up refreshed in the morning, you can substitute your ultra-caffeinated coffee beverage with some green tea, and skip the late-morning crash. Be amazed at how much you can get done when you are well rested, and enjoy the lunch you brought from home instead of running out for something that does not charge your nutritional batteries. By mid-afternoon, you'll get your second wind, so that by the end of the day you won't be left with piles of work to do when you get home. Once again you can get to bed early, and thus the cycle eventually gets re-set.

Of course, there may be times when do-it-yourself fixes aren't enough, and you need some help with some aspects of your new plan. Difficulty in falling asleep, or crazy food cravings may require professional help. However, this too should not be put off. Healthcare providers who take a detailed health history can pinpoint the moment in a person's life when a chronic issue had its start, and it is oftentimes months or years before the person sought help – making it all the harder to treat. That old "ounce-of-prevention" adage is true: get help if you don't get results by yourself in a few weeks. Pain should work itself out in a week, weight should come off slowly but steadily, and the time to treat springtime allergies is actually in winter.

This strategy can be used for all of the commonly made resolutions, with the uncommon result that you may actually reach the goals you've set for yourself. Start small, get help, be patient. Next year you'll hardly recognize yourself!

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in the Lakeside Village neighborhood.

February 2017

Ancient Medicine for Modern Ills

Here in the Bay Area, we are exposed to many forms of healing practices that the rest of the country might consider exotic. For us, massage, yoga, and chiropractic care all seem commonplace. As for Chinese medicine, most folks are well versed in the basics: from acupuncture (tiny needles that stimulate the nervous system) to cupping (thanks, Michael Phelps!), we've catalogued it all as "alternative therapy," something to turn to when conventional medicine hasn't worked. While acupuncture has gained acceptance in our country – particularly for the treatment of pain – many folks are unaware that Chinese medicine as a whole can be used as front-line therapy for most chronic conditions. It may be hard to believe that something as low-tech as acupuncture or herbs can approach or surpass the effectiveness of modern medicine. How can such an ancient model of medicine have something to offer us when we have access to state-of-the-art treatments and medications? Don't people today have different conditions plaguing them than they did, say, hundreds of years ago? And doesn't western medicine have everything just about covered?

Not many western procedures (aside from chiropractic and physical therapy) actually TREAT a condition right in the clinic, but most people feel at least a little better directly after acupuncture. Chronic issues may take a few weeks to sort out, but most pain will improve right away”

acupunctureThe answers to these questions may surprise even our most alternative-minded readers. Understanding how an acupuncturist arrives at a diagnosis and treatment plan may shed some light onto why this system of medicine is valuable for treating most modern ills.

First of all, and probably most importantly, diagnosis in Chinese medicine is syndrome-driven rather than disease-driven. This means that just saying you have "asthma" or "indigestion" is not enough to initiate treatment. All of your symptoms have to be taken into account in order to personalize the treatment. For example, if your asthma is the dry-wheezy type, it will be treated differently than, say, asthma that gets worse with cold, rainy weather. Dozens of herbal formulas treat what we would call "asthma," and each one can also be modified to suit the individual. The result? Not only a reduction in symptoms (wheezing, coughing, what-have-you), but also treatment of the ROOT of the problem (allergies, poor digestion, lack of energy, poor lung capacity, etc.). No matter what you name the issue, symptoms will form a pattern that can be treated with Chinese medicine.

Additionally, acupuncture serves as a beneficial "re-set" button for the nervous system. Once again, the location of a person's specific symptoms is considered before the appropriate points are needled. Not many western procedures (aside from chiropractic and physical therapy) actually TREAT a condition right in the clinic, but most people feel at least a little better directly after acupuncture. Chronic issues may take a few weeks to sort out, but most pain will improve right away.

Although many hospitals and healthcare organizations now are integrating acupuncture into their patient care, not many incorporate Chinese herbs into treatment. Some fear herb safety as the major issue, but remember: Chinese herbs have been used for thousands of years, with side effects painstakingly recorded by generations of physicians. Others claim that herbal medicine has minimal effectiveness. This is largely due to the prevalence of self-prescribed treatment, without the guidance of a trained herbalist. Case in point: the popularity of taking turmeric supplements for "inflammation." Turmeric is used in Chinese herbology particularly for abdominal, shoulder and arm pain. But turmeric is a warm, spicy herb, which is not recommended for those with a "warm" constitution – those suffering from hot flashes, night sweating, unusual thirst, and other symptoms. Therefore it can be combined with "cool" herbs to balance its temperature, and is used in formulas with synergistic herbs to increase its pain-relieving effect. Result: a more targeted, individualized, and effective remedy. In addition to healing the original complaint, side effects of proper herbal treatment include improved sleep, digestion, and mood.

Perhaps one of the downsides to this system of medicine from the patient's perspective is the time and economic investment. Acupuncture and herbal medicine is a therapy, and as such involves a course of treatments. The length of treatment will vary according to a person's constitution, the frequency of visits, the severity of the person's condition, and the patient's willingness to make a few lifestyle changes if necessary. That said, most folks enjoy their acupuncture sessions and feel deeply relaxed and recharged afterward. Taking time out once or twice a week to focus solely on one's health is akin to going to the gym or taking a weekly yoga class.

In the state of California, Chinese medicine is highly regulated. Acupuncturists go through rigorous testing for licensure on not only acupuncture, herbal medicine, cupping, and other modalities, but also basic western medicine and pharmacology in order to recognize red flags – times when someone might be facing a medical emergency and should consult a physician or go to the emergency room.

Overall, Chinese medicine can be used not only to treat chronic disease, but also to maintain health. This goes beyond prevention of disease: we can raise our expectations for our health, and make a plan to feel not just symptom-free, but truly vibrant. Using even occasional acupuncture appointments as a check-in for one's health can serve as a reminder to pay attention to our bodies in our mind-driven world. Some Chinese scholars say that the well being we feel after acupuncture is our birthright, that this feeling would be our daily experience were it not for the unnatural habits of modern life. Ideally, we all would have enough vitality that we would not need any form of medicine, aside from emergency treatments. But for those of us traveling on the road back to health, Chinese medicine has a lot to offer.

For more information on acupuncture and herbal medicine, check out the consumer FAQs on the California Acupuncture Board website: www.acupuncture.ca.gov.

Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at Lakeside Village.

September 2016

The Night Kitchen

As spring makes its way toward summer, most of us have adjusted to Daylight Saving Time and are back to a comfortable sleep rhythm. But every year, more and more of us find it hard to either fall or stay asleep, dipping increasingly below the requisite eight hours. We toss and turn, take medication, or try to catch up on the weekends, all with varying results. Of course, some folks insist that they do just fine on six hours of sleep a night. They get themselves out of bed in the morning, have a couple of cups of coffee, and get themselves to work without too much fuss. But how does the rest of their day go? Are they really functioning optimally? And might there be health consequences down the road for all of us who don't sleep enough?

Food cravings, poor concentration, and the dreaded two o'clock slump are just a few indications that our bodies need more rest. Adequate sleep should be considered a requirement rather than a luxury. So what can we do to get more zs?”

 

Studies have shown that lack of sleep can lead to many common health conditions. For instance, researchers have found that less than eight hours of sleep a night can lead to weight gain. They have found notable differences in digestive hormone levels between people who get adequate sleep and those that don't. Ghrelin is the hormone that signals hunger; its levels rise with lack of sleep. Leptin, on the other hand, is the satiety hormone; leptin levels are lower in sleep-deprived subjects. All of this irregular hormonal activity can create food cravings when we're tired, and sugar in its many forms is an exhausted brain's preferred crutch. Additionally, human growth hormone – responsible for building muscle – is released during sleep, with consequent decreased levels in those who don't sleep enough. (Any competitive body builder will tell you that plenty of sleep is a major part of training.) Low human growth hormone levels can affect a body's lean-to-fat ratios and, subsequently, reduce metabolism and lead to weight gain.

Food cravings, poor concentration, and the dreaded two o'clock slump are just a few indications that our bodies need more rest. Adequate sleep should be considered a requirement rather than a luxury. So what can we do to get more zs?

First of all, we need to examine our evening rituals. Infants and children fall asleep more easily when they follow nightly bedtime routines, but unfortunately many adults don't know how to create healthy routines for themselves. For instance, habitual use of your computer or watching television at night can undermine your body's ability to wind down. Melatonin, the body's sleep hormone, is made by the pineal gland in the brain. Daylight shuts down the pineal's activity, whereas nightfall signals more melatonin production to prepare us for sleep. Computer and TV screens radiate light directly through the eye into the pineal gland, sending the brain the message to stay alert. Shutting down these stimulants earlier in the evening helps correct the discrepancy and will make you feel sleepy at an appropriate bedtime. (Of course, old habits are hard to break. If you rail against giving up your late night TV, ask yourself this: how does watching yet another rerun of The Sopranos feed your life's ambitions? Wouldn't you rather be well rested?) Using a low-wattage lamp to read a book will allow the pineal gland to do its work, and if you pick reading material that's a bit boring, you'll be asleep in no time!

Chinese medicine takes a more big-picture approach to sleep. Falling or staying asleep at night depends upon not only what happens right before bed, but on a person's activity level during the day. The concept of "Yin" and "Yang" might be familiar to those who have studied martial arts. Yang is an active, "masculine" energy, exemplified by morning hours, warmth, sunlight, and a go-get-it attitude. Yin, on the other hand, is all about rest, quietude, and darkness. At any given time, we have both energies working in different proportions: more Yang during the day, but some Yin for quiet activities or mental concentration; more Yin at night so that we can put most of our bodily functions in "rest" mode, but enough Yang to keep our hearts beating. Therefore, our overall health depends on a more or less equal expenditure of Yin and Yang during a 24-hour cycle. When one aspect becomes depleted due to illness or an unhealthy lifestyle, the other eventually follows. Acupuncture and herbal medicine treat insomnia by both increasing a person's energy during the day, and relaxing the nervous system at night.

With this in mind, we might ask ourselves not only what type of Yin-nourishing practices we are cultivating, but also whether we are supporting our Yang energy during the day. If you find it hard to sleep at night, are you exercising every day? Are you accomplishing a reasonable amount of tasks? (If you are stuck with a long to-do list at the end of the day, either you have not expended enough Yang energy to get things done, or you have overworked beyond the point of reasonable expectations.)

Many daytime activities integrate Yin and Yang, and can help us feel deliciously tired come nightfall. Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, and many other exercise routines incorporate both active and passive elements. Even a long walk has Yin and Yang aspects: although you are exerting yourself physically, your mind can be lulled by the rhythm of your gait and the swing of your arms. Once you've incorporated some sort of exercise into your daily schedule, you should find yourself falling into a deeper and more restful sleep at night.

If you find that after a solid month of exercise and pre-bedtime rituals you are STILL not sleeping well, you may have an underlying physical imbalance that needs attention. Hormonal, emotional, and digestive issues can all affect sleep quality, and can be addressed using natural therapies. Acupuncturists, naturopaths, and other holistic healthcare practitioners can help. Waking up feeling well rested every morning is well worth the investment.

Sweet dreams!

Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at Lakeside Village.

May 2016

Garden of Eating

Afew generations ago, the most serious health issues most people faced were infectious conditions due to poor sanitation. Today, it could be argued that the reverse is true: we are just too clean. Our diets are made up of sterile imitations of real foods, lacking in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. The missing quality isn’t just freshness, but something just as alive as ourselves: bacteria. Although this usually makes us think of contagious diseases or sour milk, many of us are actually at a bacterial deficit. “Good” bacteria – formally found in almost all traditional diets – are essential to health. Probiotic, properly fermented foods may be our missing “food group.”

...try making some ferments on your own kitchen counter – it’s ridiculously easy. Most recipes call for just vegetables, water, and salt; the hard part is waiting a week until it’s done!”

 

A healthy digestive system is home to a few hundred different types of beneficial bacteria, and everyone’s bacterial makeup is as unique as a fingerprint. We carry a couple of pounds of these creatures with us at all times – but this is not weight we want to lose! It was once thought that our immune systems kept resident bacteria from harming us, but now it’s becoming clear that bacteria are our immune systems. The trick is in the balance. Organisms in the gut are constantly vying for supremacy, and whichever predominates will affect us and can infect us – their hosts and homes. So, while salmonella typhi certainly can make us sick, lactobacillus acidophilus and her cousins can help us sustain our digestive health. Additionally, research shows a link between a healthy bio-diversity and good mood and brain function – which substantiates the idea of having a “gut feeling” about something.

Unfortunately, every time we take a course of antibiotics, many of our beneficial bacteria get wiped out along with the infectious ones, and it takes months to repopulate our “colonies”. In the meantime, opportunistic microbes can take advantage of the lull and overgrow – tipping the delicate balance between beneficial and opportunistic organisms. This can be the genesis of eventual digestive issues, weight problems, allergies, food intolerances, etc. This is not to say that we should never take antibiotics! However, protective measures should always be part of the treatment. Years ago, doctors commonly prescribed nystatin with a course of antibiotics in order to prevent subsequent candida infection; today they will often suggest taking probiotics with or after antibiotics.

Rather than just going on the defensive during a course of antibiotics, we can – and should – nourish our internal biosphere on a daily basis. Nearly every culture in the world has a tradition of using home-fermented foods: sauerkraut, kimchee, kvass, kombucha, yogurt, ripened cheeses. These foods are essential for maintaining our organic equilibrium, and as they have fallen out of use, each culture in turn suffers the consequences.

For example, if you’ve ever had Korean barbecue, you’ve no doubt been served many small side dishes of pickled vegetables with your meal. Traditionally, these dishes were fermented, which helped one digest the heavier nature of the barbecued meats. Nowadays, these side dishes are prepared with vinegar instead of fermentation, giving them a longer shelf life and a similar sour flavor to their old-fashioned counterparts – but at a steep nutritional price. Koreans now have the highest incidence of stomach cancer in the world.

There are several simple ways to add fermented foods to your diet. Probiotic foods are available in the refrigerated sections of most healthy grocery stores; just check the labels of sauerkraut or kimchee for the absence of vinegar. Most companies that make fermented foods will proudly stamp something like “probiotic” or “vat fermented” right on the front label. Sampling recipes from different traditions is a good way to keep things interesting.

When you’re ready, try making some ferments on your own kitchen counter – it’s ridiculously easy. Most recipes call for just vegetables, water, and salt; the hard part is waiting a week until it’s done! The following list of books will provide you with plenty of recipes:

• Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

• Wild Fermentation by Sandor Ellix Katz

• Fresh and Fermented by Julie O’Brien

The last book may be especially appealing for beginners: in addition to her fermentation recipes, Julie O’Brien has great ideas on how to actually USE all of your sauerkraut in various dishes. One calls for a spoonful of kraut in a smoothie – surprisingly tasty. (Not kidding!) If you need even more inspiration, fermentation recipes abound on the Internet as well.

Here’s to you and your family of microbes!

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Lakeside Village.

March 2016

Resolution Requiem

By this time of the year, many of us have already broken our New Year’s resolutions. Roughly half of those who make resolutions on the first of January fail to keep them by month’s end, and only ten percent of people are actually successful at maintaining their new habits permanently. Why is this? Is January just a bad time to make positive changes in our finances or our health? Or are momentous changes impossible to undertake? Is there a way to help us make our resolutions stick?

Instead of drastically cutting calories, make a small change to your diet every week, cook your own meals, and sit down to eat.”

The stumbling block lies in the limbic system of our brains, the home of our fight-or-flight response. While a well-honed reaction to an attack from, say, a saber-toothed tiger will keep us safe, the limbic system cannot differentiate. It perceives ANY change in our environment on the level of a five-alarm fire. Therefore we’ll cling to our old ways even if they are not in our best interest. Replacing the grand gesture of the New Year’s resolution with setting smaller goals is one way to tiptoe around the limbic sentry. Whether you want better health, less stress, or greater control of your finances (the top resolution themes every year), think about using these simple approaches to making lasting change.

1. Start Small. Microscopically small.

In One Small Step Can Change Your Life, Dr Robert Maurer uses Japanese manufacturing and business techniques to affect change on a personal level. His method of taking absurdly small steps toward a goal circumvents our subconscious fear of change, letting our “new” selves creep up slowly behind our old ones.

For example, if you lose, say, 30 pounds in a month, you may suddenly not recognize yourself in the mirror. “Oh my gosh, who is this person in my bathroom!” you might exclaim, just before you run back to the donut shop. If you haven’t given your mind time to “catch up” with the changes in your physique, it’s almost certain that you’ll gain back your weight, plus a bonus of five pounds for good measure.

Rather than scaring yourself, try trusting the process as it unfolds. Instead of drastically cutting calories, make a small change to your diet every week, cook your own meals, and sit down to eat. In our clinic we use a one-page chart that breaks down each type of food into good-better-best categories. Adapting one of the fifty suggestions per week may take a year’s commitment, but most people make these changes permanent. Instead of feeling defeated within a month, they feel healthier, more in control of their eating habits, and REALLY proud of themselves.

2. Make your goals explicit.

Statistics show that those who make clearly stated goals are much more likely to successfully attain them. Saying to yourself something like, “starting after the holidays, I’m going to eat better,” leaves a lot of room for interpretation. Better what? Better pizza? How about, “Today I’ll roast up all of those veggies I bought at the farmer’s market.” That’s a concrete achievement, after which all that’s left to do is to sit down and eat them!

3. Be patient.

This will help with #1 above. Small steps make slower progress, so you’ll have to be content with that. Just think about all of the time you’ve wasted being in a hurry to see results, only to fall short, and have had to start over. What’s the oft-repeated wisdom on making money in the stock market? Just hold onto your stocks. Don’t sell. Be patient.

4. Enlist help.

A dear friend who is an addictions counselor once suggested to his clients that if they wanted to quit smoking successfully, they ought to tell all of their friends, family, and coworkers that they were quitting. The purpose was threefold: One, if you’re a bit cranky during your first few withdrawal weeks, those around you will probably say, “Oh, Bob just quit smoking, so he’s probably just having a cigarette craving,” and thus cut you some slack. Two, it’s hard to sneak off for a cigarette if EVERYONE knows your intention. And third, if you blow it, you’ll lose face (“Hey Bob, I thought you’d quit!”).

This tactic does work because we are social creatures, but it’s a bit severe. Twelve-step and other peer-support groups offer a more forgiving approach, and encompass the principles of taking small steps. Each day of abstinence is celebrated, and you are surrounded by people who have been through what you’ve been through, and lived to tell the tale.

In addition to community support, it never hurts to get professional help. Even if you’ve read many books on a given subject, if you are not a professional yourself, you ultimately only have your own experience to rely on. Someone who helps folks for a living (financial planner, yoga instructor, nutritionist) draws from their experience with hundreds or thousands of clients, and therefore has a much wider perspective. A good adviser will offer you strategies you would never have thought of on your own.

In Overcoming Underearning, Barbara Stanny writes: “where a goal denotes a desired destination, a decision implies the determination to reach it.” Making that decision a few times a day rather than once a year will turn your pebble into a planet. Good luck!

Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at Lakeside Village.

February 2016

Deep, Cheap Nutrition

As the weather gets colder, few meals beckon us home like steaming, savory, comforting soup! Whether enjoyed as an appetizer or as a main course, soup comes in enough varieties to keep us all happy. However, the ubiquitous canned or powdered stuff is not nutritious enough to make it a mainstay of a healthy diet. Canned soups and stocks have some of the highest sodium content of all packaged foods, and offer little in the way of protein, calcium, vitamins, and minerals. Making your own soup from scratch is by far more wholesome and not as complicated as it sounds. If you’d like to make a deeply nourishing homemade soup but are at a loss for how to start, here’s a fairly easy way to make soup stock that will keep you healthy and satisfied all winter long.

Be sure to use the bones of only organically raised, free-range animals in order to keep heavy metals and other contaminants from leaching into your stock. ”

Most broths are made from bones cooked for an hour or two, but cooking stock for days instead of hours helps break down the bones to release the nutritious marrow. This rich, thick stock, when eaten regularly, is an old-fashioned but effective tonic for the immune system. In Chinese Medicine, bone broths are given medicinally for conditions such as infertility, debility due to long illnesses, and post-childbirth recovery – this type of nutrition is considered – literally – bone-deep. Additionally, eating soup made from bone and joint tissue of “free-range” animals may have positive health benefits for your OWN joints as well. As a bonus, keeping a pot going on the stove will help warm up your home on a chilly day!

Good stock starts with any type of meat bones. Our great-grandmothers would be horrified if they saw us throwing away perfectly good chicken bones and the like; in their day almost every cut of meat came attached to a bone, and once the meat was eaten, the bones made the base for continually-cooked soups and stews. If you want to start your own stock with raw meat bones, be sure to roast them first; otherwise you can save up bones from roast chicken, rack of lamb, holiday turkeys, etc. in your freezer until you’re ready to start. If you’ve eaten the meat straight off the bone, a few days’ stint in the freezer should kill any leftover bacteria; once you’re done cooking the bones, you’ll be doubly sure of a germ-free broth. Be sure to use the bones of only organically raised, free-range animals in order to keep heavy metals and other contaminants from leaching into your stock.

Although the idea of cooking something for several days may seem daunting, remember that it only requires checking on every few hours, and adding water to the pot a couple of times a day. The easiest stovetop method for cooking broth is to use a large pot with a spaghetti / steamer insert, but any pot that will accommodate all of your collected bones will do. You can also use a slow cooker or crockpot, but pressure cookers are not recommended.

Here’s the basic how-to:

Fit the steamer insert into your large pot and add your assortment of roasted bones.

Cover the bones with filtered water and about 1 teaspoon of pink or grey salt.

Cover and simmer for 4-5 days or longer, until the bones soften and disintegrate.

You may refrigerate your stock at night so that your pot does not cook unattended. In the morning before putting the pot back on the stove, break the bones apart if possible to release the marrow into the stock. Larger bones may not be breakable.

When you’re done, lift the steamer insert up to remove any scraps of bones that may be left. These can be composted or mixed with pet food for your dogs and cats.

Ladle the stock into jars. Refrigerate or freeze as needed.

If you’ve started with little bits of meat clinging to the bones, you can scoop those pieces off as they float to the top and make your first batch of soup with them. As the broth cooks, you can ladle some off every day to make soups, stews, gravies, etc. You can filter the first day’s broth if you want a light, clear stock. If you’ve used bones from fattier meats such as lamb, you may want to skim off the fat every morning after you take it out of the refrigerator. To flavor your broth with vegetable scraps or herbs, add them to the last few hours of boiling. Depending on what type of bones you’re using, there may be some mornings when the whole pot of stock comes out of the refrigerator looking like gelatin. At this point you can either add more water and keep cooking it, melt it down for gravy or a very thick soup, or re-cook the bones in a whole new batch. The longer you cook the bones, the thicker your stock will become.

Once you are done, there are as many ways to use the broth as there are people on the planet. You can thicken some broth with arrowroot and add spices for a delicious gravy. Use the stock to make soup with fresh vegetables and meat or fish leftover from another meal – since you’ve already made your stock, your vegetables can be cooked quickly to retain their crunch and flavor. Cook your favorite grains in the broth to make a more filling side dish. Or use it as the base for a slow-cooked stew. If you’ve stopped boiling at the gelatin stage, you can use it for aspic. Perhaps the easiest and most delicious way to enjoy bone broth is to heat some up and add salt and lemon, and drink it like a tea. For an amazing digestive tonic, use a small amount of cooled broth to blend up some raw sauerkraut, and drop a teaspoon of the mixture into a cup of hot, salted broth – the kraut will lend a lemony kick, and give your digestive tract a healthy dose of probiotics along with the soothing qualities of the broth.

However you decide to use your bone broth, try to have a little bit every day to keep yourself nourished, healthy, and warm all winter long.

Sharone Franzen is a licensed acupuncturist and herbalist at Lakeside Village.

December 2015

Eating With the Seasons

Back in our great-grandmothers’ day, a person’s diet would change seasonally according to the availability of fresh foods. One had to eat what had just been harvested, or store some of it for later use. Nowadays, we have the luxury of eating whatever we want, when we want it. But is this good for us? Some would say that a wider variety of dietary choices leads to a greater breadth of nutrients. But are we really getting more nutrition these days? And are there downsides to eating the same foods year-round?

...but if you frequent your local farmer’s market, you’ll know what’s in season because that’s all you’ll find available there. Your weekly shopping trips will develop your appreciation for the nuances of each growing season, and will encourage you to enjoy fruits and vegetables at their peak.”

Eating food that is in season may have many health benefits. First, consider the impact that continually-available foods might have on common food allergies. It’s no coincidence that the foods that cause the most allergic reactions or intolerances are also the most frequently consumed. Take, for example, peanuts. The nuts themselves or their products are in MANY packaged foods: baked goods, sauces, condiments, candy, etc., and they can cause dangerous reactions in those who are allergic to them. Daily exposure to these ingredients may be what causes some people’s immune systems to perceive them as a toxin and subsequently cause digestive or respiratory distress. Ingredients such as soy or wheat are consumed not just daily, but several times per day by people who rely on prepared or packaged foods, possibly setting up conditions for growing food intolerances. Maintaining an ever-changing cycle with our diets may be a natural way to prevent us from “overdosing” on just one or two foods, and may protect us from developing food sensitivities. It would be hard to overeat, say, citrus fruits if they were only available once or twice a year.

Secondly, eating food that is raised close to home cuts down on spoilage and ensures freshness. Shipping fresh produce from other parts of the country or the world clearly takes time. As soon as a plant has been harvested, it starts to degrade. A vase of cut flowers quickly illustrates this process – unless you are trimming the stems daily, your bouquet will wilt almost in front of your eyes. Fragile nutrients such as Vitamin C have been shown to decline quickly in vegetables and fruits while en route to distant markets. And once you’ve bought your produce, chances are good that you won’t be eating it all on the day of purchase. As the days go by, even if those broccoli stalks remain firm in your refrigerator, by the time you eat them they might be seriously depleted of vitamins. (And why else eat broccoli, right?)

Furthermore, relying on seasonal foods may give us the nutrients we need, WHEN we need them. Dense, rich root vegetables that are harvested in late summer and store well through the winter give us the carbohydrates we need to get through the less-active months. (Yes, we need potatoes! Seriously!) Winter greens give us plenty of Vitamin A, C, and folate during the months when other vegetables are scarce. Vitamin and mineral-packed asparagus shoots give us renewed energy in the spring and help us flush out built-up toxins. And lovely, luscious stone fruits help get us through our August fog!

Additionally, we can borrow traditions from other cultures that use seasonal foods medicinally. For example, Chinese medicine prescriptions often include dietary therapy. Summer melons are used to give relief for those suffering from heat-induced disorders. Green onions guard against the bite of spring winds. Bone broth soup is used to bolster the immunity and is often fortified with seasonal herbs and spices to ward off winter’s chill or help someone recuperate from a serious illness.

Each season has its therapeutic prescription to strengthen one’s resistance against the prevailing weather.

The benefits of a seasonal rather than a perennial diet may be clear in terms of nutrition, but how does one make good choices at the supermarket when faced with such a large selection of produce? You can solve this dilemma in one of two ways: grow your own fruits and vegetables if you can, or buy them in-season at the farmers market. Cute little wheels that show you what’s in season are available online or at some grocery stores, but if you frequent your local farmer’s market, you’ll know what’s in season because that’s all you’ll find available there. Your weekly shopping trips will develop your appreciation for the nuances of each growing season, and will encourage you to enjoy fruits and vegetables at their peak. Once you have made yourself wait for those first fresh asparagus shoots in spring, you’ll scoff at the woody and flavorless Chilean variety on offer at the grocery store in fall. Why eat a mealy off-season tangerine when you can revel in a juicy blood orange in winter? We are incredibly lucky to live so close to farming communities that offer an abundance and variety of food crops. Organizing our meals around seasonal offerings will make a positive impact on our health, well-being, and joie de vivre.

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Lakeside Village.

September 2015

Pancakes, Deconstructed

Common dietary wisdom advises us to read the labels on food products before we buy them so that we know what we are really eating. However, product labels can be dazzling, mysterious, and misleading. A better rule of thumb might be to avoid packaged foods altogether: preparing most of what we eat from scratch would help to cut through a lot of trans-fat/carbohydrate/cholesterol/sodium red tape. But can we really do without our favorite ready-made foods?

If you don’t know what something on an ingredients label is, chances are good that you can do without it in your homemade version.”

Packaged foods generally start with inexpensive basic ingredients that are processed in some way to make them: 1) appealing to the palate; 2) convenient; and 3) unlikely to spoil anytime soon. The price to be paid for this miracle is twofold: 1) the finished product is now much more expensive than the original ingredients; and 2) much of the nutrition has disappeared in the process. It’s up to us to decide if the former three points are worth the latter two.

As an example, consider store-bought “fruit leather,” a staple in many children’s lunch boxes. It’s made of various mashed, strained, and cooked fruit that has been spread into a lovely flat sheet, dried, and conveniently wrapped into single servings. A few brands have added sweeteners, but all have enough concentrated fruit sugars to create a serious cavity risk. Nonetheless, one can fit an entire weeks’ worth of “fruit” into a small crevice of the kitchen cabinet. So great is its convenience that parents often stash a few packages in their glove boxes for their kids’ “emergencies” – and if they find themselves wolfing down a couple of forgotten packages a few months later when they didn’t have time for lunch, so much the better! The awkwardness of a round, perishable apple just cannot compare.

Nonetheless, we may take some common food products so for granted that we forget to question how much more convenient than homemade they really are. Take, for example, pancakes. Most folks have only made them with the ubiquitous boxed mix. But once you’ve added the egg and milk that most mixes call for, you could have just as easily made them from scratch for a fraction of the cost, and with a great deal more nutrition. Now, before you waste time looking for that dusty old Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, here is the basic recipe for pancakes: 2 cups flour, 2 cups milk, 1-2 eggs, ½ teaspoon baking soda. That’s it! Put it all in the blender if you don’t have a whisk, and use a hot, buttered skillet to cook them up. Use more flour if you like thicker, more cake-y pancakes, and more milk if you prefer them crepe-style. Add honey and vanilla extract to make them sweet, green onions and diced pancetta to make them savory, and whatever else you can think of to make them yours.

Now, the above recipe is much like “Doe-Ray-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti” before Maria replaced the notes with words. It’s just the beginning. Once you get the basics down, you can up the nutritional ante quite considerably by swapping out one ingredient for another. For example, you can replace the flour with some you’ve made from ground steel-cut oats (you can use a coffee grinder). Or you can use nut flours to boost the protein content (just lower the heat a bit while cooking, because the oilier nut flours can burn quickly). Substitute the milk with almond milk for a lactose-free version. Try using protein-rich quail eggs in the batter. If you want to make the flour as digestion-friendly as possible, soak it in 2 cups of yogurt and leave it on the counter overnight; finish making the batter in the morning without the milk.

Once you’ve mastered this simple skill, see which other packaged foods you can deconstruct and re-make yourself. If you don’t know what something on an ingredients label is, chances are good that you can do without it in your homemade version.

Whenever you have doubts about whether it’s worth it to make something from scratch versus just buying the processed version, remember that we either pay now, or pay later. Make your health a priority. And don’t forget that some food can be nutritious, delicious, and ready-made, like the lovely, round, and incomparable apple!

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Lakeside Village.

June 2015

Seven Surprising Boosts to Your Health

There are times when following conventional health wisdom doesn’t seem to help us reach our fitness or nutritional goals. Commonly accepted ideas can be too generalized or inaccurate to serve our needs. If you’ve run into obstacles to experiencing optimal health, consider paring down your habits. Oftentimes what you don’t do is just as important as what you do.

1. Cancel your gym membership. OK – not if you just love going to the gym. But if you drag your feet every time you go, or work out there because you think you “should,” then perhaps your body would be better served doing something else. Take a walk in your neighborhood, hike with friends, bike with your kids – all of these activities are just as good exercise as half an hour on the treadmill, or doing Zumba. If you enjoy doing something, you will find yourself doing it more often.

…during the winter months, load up on natural vitamin D from sun exposure. It may help with a variety of skin issues, and with combatting season-related mood disorders and allergies.”

2. Stop dieting. Low-calorie diets will, over time, lower your metabolic rate, which in turn will make it very difficult to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Instead of counting calories, use the Okinawan principle of hara hachi bu: eat each meal until you feel about 80% full. This requires you to check in with yourself while you’re eating, which makes it nearly impossible to overstuff yourself. The other 20% of feeling full will come in a few minutes, when receptors in the stomach have a chance to “catch up” to how much food you’ve consumed. Neither eating too little nor too much feels good; the Goldilocks principle of “just right” should be the aim of each meal.

3. Eat fat. The modern idea that eating fat will make one fat has proven to be overly simplistic and possibly mistaken. It’s now thought that the prevalence of low-fat dairy products may be linked to the rise in childhood diabetes, and studies on adults have shown a decrease in the risk of obesity when diets include full-fat rather than low-fat or non-fat foods. As for harmful trans-fats, if you are not eating many packaged foods, you are already avoiding them to a large degree. Low-fat and non-fat dairy products are made up of sugars and little else; eating the full-fat versions of these foods will help you feel satiated, and help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. And be sure find the best source of animal fats: those from pasture-raised animals are full of nutrients that are missing from those raised on corn. Make sure that your foods are minimally processed, and you can enjoy that cultured butter made from pastured cow’s milk.

4. Throw out your vitamins. If the label on your multi-vitamin says “Vitamin X as an-unpronounceable-chemical,” it is likely just giving you very yellow and expensive urine. These types of vitamin pills are pieces of molecules, rather than the biological complexes that naturally occur in food. They may make you feel great for the first few days of taking them, but after that you’re left with a feeling not unlike the Emperor with his new clothes (“Well… I think they’re working ...”). Vitamins and supplements should make a noticeable difference in the way you feel. If they don’t, they are not beneficial, despite what the product label claims. Look for a multi-vitamin that reads: “Vitamin X from a-whole-food source;” these will raise your energy levels and boost your immunity over the long-term.

5. Restore the salt shaker. The caveat: fill it with pink or grey salt. White salt is highly processed, stripped of several of its natural minerals. Your body has difficulty absorbing this type of salt, thus the myriad health issues associated with a “high sodium” diet. Almost all processed foods are made with this type of salt. On the other hand, colored salts retain their natural mineral content; your body knows what to do with these, and you’ll feel nourished when you use them.

6. Stop buying broccoli. That is, don’t buy it if you are not going to eat it! No matter how nutritious everyone tells you something is, it won’t do you any good sitting at the bottom of the refrigerator. Instead, experiment with vegetables that you may like better. Or mix up a variety of vegetables using a couple of broccoli florets and a lot of other things that are more appealing. If you love potatoes (and who doesn’t?), they can help make other vegetables more palatable when they are served in the same dish. Yes, you must eat some veggies, but here in California we are lucky to have lots to choose from.

7. Skip the sunscreen. If you are fair-skinned and it’s mid-summer, you’d best apply some sunscreen on exposed areas to prevent a burn, even if it’s foggy outside. But during the winter months, load up on natural vitamin D from sun exposure. It may help with a variety of skin issues, and with combatting season-related mood disorders and allergies.

As with all health-related advice, check with a healthcare practitioner before incorporating new habits. And don’t forget to ask yourself if any recommendation makes sense to you.

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Lakeside Village.

May 2015

Five Simple Ways to Improve Your Health

Many of us have had at least one grandparent who enjoyed a long, healthy life without the benefit of fad diets, calorie counters, or gym memberships. If we apply a few of their simple, time-tested principles, we too can enjoy better health. Most of these tips cost little or nothing, but their effects are profound. Add one of these practices into your life every few weeks, and prepare to be surprised at the difference they make in your overall well-being.

Well-trained herbalists, nutritionists, and naturopaths will spend a lot of time asking you questions about your health history and symptoms before prescribing any type of therapy.”

1. Sleep. Before the advent of the light bulb, the average American got ten hours of sleep a night. Nowadays the average is less than seven! This discrepancy has many unfavorable consequences to our health. Countless studies have shown that lack of sleep can lead to mood disorders, weight gain, driving accidents, and poor work performance. Those struggling with chronic health issues such as pain or allergies will seldom get lasting relief from any type of therapy if they do not consistently get at least eight hours of shut-eye per night. Adequate sleep is a drugless, effective, and economical way to treat many health complaints. Those who stay up late in an effort to “get more done” are often surprised at how much more productive they are during the day when they sleep more. And there is simply no easier way to drop five pounds of unwanted weight than getting to bed earlier!

2. Eat. This means: sit down, eat fresh foods, and don’t do other tasks while you are eating. Your digestive system requires a lot of energy to break down the food you eat into the nutrients you need to keep you happy and healthy. If you are splitting this energy between eating and, say, driving / watching TV / standing at the kitchen counter, etc., you are diverting your energy into too many directions. Giving yourself three or more time-outs from daily activities to eat a meal or a snack will give your mind and gut the rest it needs to recharge your batteries, which is the point of eating in the first place! Skipping meals not only depletes your energy, but also puts you at risk for slowing your metabolism and consequently causing unwanted weight gain. And make sure that what you eat counts as actual food. As Michael Pollan says In Defense of Food, if your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize it as food, it probably isn’t.

3. Wear a sweater. It’s easy to forget that we are not impervious to the elements. Our homes are heated, our cars have seat warmers, and few of us really need to brave stormy weather all day long. But our bodies expend a fair amount of energy keeping us warm, and if we are suffering from either pain or a cold, it’s best to conserve our internal resources. Parents who drop their young children off at school can see a daily example of insufficient protection: the kids who show up in a t-shirt and shorts on a classic foggy morning are the same ones with the perpetually runny noses. If you’ve caught a cold, you’ll get better more quickly if your body doesn’t have to struggle to stay warm AND fight a virus at the same time. If you have knee pain, keep it covered to promote circulation and give it a chance to heal.

4. Breathe. Most of us are “shallow breathers,” taking in air with just the uppermost portion of our chests. Unfortunately, this type of breathing stimulates the “flight-or-fight” aspect of our nervous systems, which we should really only be using in emergency situations. Constantly being on red alert leads to elevated stress hormones and related health issues. Bringing the breath lower into the abdomen is the hallmark of most meditative practices because it calms the nervous system. Reminding ourselves several times a day to breathe more deeply is an easy way to reset our systems and keep the stress responses under control.

5. Consult an expert. Health-related advice and information abound in books, on the Internet, and on Dr. Oz. The missing element in all of these resources is a practitioner who has taken YOU into consideration. Rather than risk your health by taking the vitamin or herb recommended on someone’s blog, enlist the personalized help of a professional. Well-trained herbalists, nutritionists, and naturopaths will spend a lot of time asking you questions about your health history and symptoms before prescribing any type of therapy. Even the most innocuous-seeming supplement may be contraindicated for someone with your physical constitution, or adversely react with other medications you are taking.

To your health!

Sharone Franzen is an acupuncturist and herbalist in Lakeside Village.

April 2015

What About Sunscreens?child applying sunscreen

We’ve come a long way since the days when it was common to apply baby oil to our skin and lay out at the beach or pool with aluminum reflectors to help us achieve that prized bronze tan. What could we have possibly been thinking? Nowadays the sun’s rays are well understood to be a major cause of skin cancers and premature aging. That beautiful, sexy tan has turned into leathery, spotted and wrinkled skin—if only we had known.

The sun is so damaging to the skin because light is energy. And the ultraviolet light that we are exposed to is like being showered with “bullets” of energy particles that destroy the very DNA of our cells, and it also creates free radicals that cause irreparable damage to the skin. It also breaks down elastin and collagen in the deeper part of our skin, destroying the very fibers which create youthful skin.

UVA and UVB wavelengths. The sun’s ultraviolet light is composed of both UVA and UVB wavelengths. We’re most aware of UVB, which is what causes the redness of sunburn. But UVA is a much larger part of the exposure we get from sunlight—and because we’re exposed to so much more of it—it’s even more dangerous. And to make things worse, UVA is not blocked by glass, so even if you’re “inside” but have a work desk with a view, or a skylight, or are driving, you are getting significant ultraviolet light exposure all day long.

SPF Number. Sunscreens are rated by the SPF number, its “sun protection factor.” The higher the number the better. But don’t be fooled—the SPF rating only refers to how well it protects against UVB and sunburn. An SPF of 15—which is what is found in most make-up—will presumably protect you 15 times longer than if you had no protection on at all. The SPF 15 works by blocking out about 93% of the UVB rays; an SPF of 30 protects you twice as long by blocking out 97%; but an SPF of 50 only blocks out 98% of harmful factors. However, if you are fair skinned with blue or green eyes, it only takes 2–4% of the UVB rays at noon to cause a burn, so beware! And, if you’re Asian or Hispanic or African American, you need protection also; you will get darker and darker, and develop the brown facial “mask” and spotting, known as melasma, from excess sun exposure.

What to look for. It’s a MUST that it block both UVA and UVB, and should be rated at least to an SPF of 30. To block out the UVA rays, most products will contain the physical blockers zinc or titanium oxide, or the chemical absorber avobenzone. And now, with the ability to micronize these agents, they go on without causing that white faded look.

Application. The best time to apply a sunscreen is about 20-30 minutes before you go out in the sun. That way it will be properly absorbed and ready to protect your skin. And just how much should we use? A lot more than we do! Generally the face and neck, (and don’t forget your ears) require at least a ½ teaspoon, not the few drops that we commonly use. The remaining skin, chest, arms, hands, and exposed legs require about an additional 2 tablespoons. As for reapplying sunscreen, do so every 2 hours, or after swimming or any exercise that creates sweating. And don’t forget, you need to wear sunscreen all year long. The goal is to stay protected.

And what else can you do? Consider limiting your sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10 am – 2 pm. Also, how about trying one of those fashionable wide brimmed hats, or one with the “tail” that covers the back of the neck. Go ahead, take a risk, be stylish, set your own trend. Also there is a whole array of sun protective clothing that is rated with a 30+ SPF, as well as UVA protection, that “lasts and lasts, even after 500 washes!”

Vitamin D. Remember that our bodies make Vitamin D from exposure to the sun, it’s important to supplement with a Vitamin D3 product, generally between 800-2000 IU a day (and best taken with food). Vitamin D is important for calcium absorption and good bone health, and recent studies are demonstrating its importance in cancer prevention and general well being.

Tanning salons? So, what to do if you’re committed to having that tanned look? Please, don’t use a tanning salon. They simply are not safe. The light that they use is UVA. It’s true that it tans without the burn, but you are exposing yourself to a major risk factor for future skin cancers and aging. Consider the spray-on or roll-on tanning products, they have improved significantly over time, and you can get a very complimentary color effect that will have you looking great for that special event.

By now, I hope you’re convinced about the importance of both UVA and UVB sun protection, and are committed to applying the right amount of a good quality sun screen every day. It’s the best insurance you have for a lifetime of healthy, youthful and beautiful skin.

Dr. Andrew Wagner, MD, is the Medical Director of Dimitra’s Skin Care and MediSpa, located at 324 West Portal Ave., 415-731-8080. He offers free skin care consultations. He performs laser therapy treatments for skin rejuvenation and hair removal, body contouring and cellulite treatments, and offers expertise in botox and dermal fillers as well. Dimitra’s also offers a full array of aesthetic skin care services, including peels, facials, waxing, spray on tanning, and massage therapy, as well as a medical quality skin care cosmeceuticals.

September 2009