Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Tips on Reducing Environmental Toxins

By Vivian Kominos, M.D., FACC
Integrative Physician 

I thought I was doing a good job protecting the environment: I recycle, grow organic vegetables, try to walk for chores instead of getting in the car, and buy food that is locally sourced. Then I read that my dental floss was toxic! It is coated with PFCs - perfluorinated chemicals. These are man-made slippery compounds that help the floss glide easily between teeth. PFCs are also the substances that are used in many products to make them waterproof, stain resistant and non-sticky. They are found in clothing, cookware, carpeting and furniture that are treated with Gore-Tex, Teflon, Stainmaster, and Scotchguard.

So what is the problem with PFCs? They have been linked to thyroid and fertility problems, immune system damage and hormone instability. So if we are using dental floss, the PFCs can be absorbed in our blood. And when we dispose of articles that contain PFCs, they eventually enter the waterways where they pollute our environment. We are surrounded by many toxins besides PFCs --- bisphenol A and phthalates in plastics, pesticides in fruits and vegetables, and antibiotics in meat, to name a few. Luckily, there are just as many ways to reduce exposure to these poisons.

We each have a responsibility to care for our earth the same way we care for our bodies. Follow these 10 tips to make our homes and planet safer:
  1. Use dental floss that is made with natural fibers, such as silk or flax, which is coated with beeswax.
  2. Use only organic teas. Non-organic teas may contain toxins; the longer you steep non-organic tea, the greater the chance you will be drinking metals and poisons. 
  3. Store food in reusable, lidded glass containers to cut down on plastic, foil and paper.
  4. Recycle paper, glass and appropriate plastics. Do not put paints or electrical appliances in your regular garbage. Instead check with your town to see if they have a special and safe depository. 
  5. Buy local, seasonal and organic food. This decreases the amount of fossil fuels used to transport food. Organic farmers do not use toxic herbicides or pesticides. Shop at farmers markets. 
  6. Use public transportation, share rides, walk or bike when you can.
  7. Eat less animal protein. Raising meat uses more resources than plants.
  8. Turn off lights when you leave a room, unplug electrical appliances when not in use and turn off the faucet while brushing your teeth. Run the dishwasher and washing machine only with full loads. 
  9. Use environmentally safe cleaning products for your body and your home. Refer to ewg.org (Environmental Working Group) for specific product information. This site has a wealth of information regarding safety in everything from cosmetics to fish to sunscreens. 
  10. Start an organic vegetable garden if you have the space and time. It is easy to grow herbs and salad greens in pots even indoors by a sunny window. And if you garden, use organic pest and weed control products. Look at OMRI.org for a list of products.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Red Light, Green Light, 1, 2, 3: Notes From The Field On Coping With Chronic Health Conditions

By Judson Chaney, ND, LAc
Acupuncturist

It is no secret that I love what I do. As an acupuncturist, and naturopath, I am provided a unique opportunity to work with individuals to encourage greater health and well-being, to reduce stress and pain, and hopefully to improve quality of life. What I love the most about what I do is that it feeds my love of learning. I love to learn about new information and research regarding health conditions, and treatment approaches. More so however, what really impacts me is what I am able to learn from my patients’ experiences and challenges, as they share and communicate with me during the therapeutic process. Everyone has a story. These stories are all unique, and special in different ways. Through the stories my patients share, I am provided a unique window into other ways of experiencing and living this life, and what that can entail. It is both an honor and a privilege.     

A common reason why people come to see me as an acupuncturist is for chronic health conditions.  The most common and striking example of this of course is chronic pain, but there are so many other chronic health conditions that affect people on a daily basis. I would like to share with you an insight I have gleaned from my work, in hopes that it may help you, or someone you know. The title of this post is a reference to a children’s game involving a traffic light - the reason being is that a traffic light can be a wonderful metaphor to help us deal with the challenges of a chronic health condition.  

Most of us, whether we are in good health, or suffering from a chronic complaint, have good days and bad days. For most, we shrug off the bad days and move on. However, when someone is experiencing the challenges of a chronic health condition, those bad days can take a much greater toll. The return of a symptom, or the worsening of pain after it had been lessened for a period of time, can have a cascading negative impact. I have witnessed this effect and impact first-hand, as I have seen patients deal with the toll of a flare-up in pain or auto-immune disease after a period of improvement or remission. The resulting outcome at times is that not only does this affect them in the present moment, but it can also steal from their future experiences as well. People understandably start to wonder about the future, "What will I, or will not, be able to do?," "What can I expect tomorrow, or next week, or how might this affect the vacation I was planning?" The emotional impact of this process can be significant. As someone who has dealt with both auto-immune disease and chronic pain personally, I can empathize and understand this reaction. I also have worked to understand the reaction and to navigate around it. This is where the traffic light comes in….

When we are driving from point A to B, invariably we may be confronted with the ever present traffic light -- the wonderful red, yellow, and green moderator of traffic flow which keep our roads running smoothly and safely. The traffic light, however, does not consider your individual needs and destination when it changes from green to red. It just happens, it just is. You may be late for work, or just on a weekend cruise, it does not matter to the traffic light. It changes red to green, green to red, cars go, and cars stop.

How often, when at a red light, does this affect your outlook on the future? In the course of my lifetime, I cannot think of one example. It may be an inconvenience surely, but ultimately when the light turns green, we press on and continue down the road.  

The perspective I am trying to convey and share is that when dealing with a chronic health condition, there can be set backs, flare-ups, and even times when we feel like we have to start over.   It is helpful therefore to think of these occurrences in a way similar to how we experience a red light.  They represent an unexpected, yet understandable delay, and a temporary one. In a way, by doing so, we give ourselves permission to experience our lives in the present, even if it is unpleasant, without letting that experience cascade into our future. This perspective can allow our resources to focus on the challenges as they arise in the present moment. More importantly, in my opinion, is that it allows us to acknowledge and recognize the possibility of a positive change in the future. 

I wish you patience and understanding when waiting for the red light to change. May you encounter many green lights ahead farther down the road. 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Let Me Share a Secret: It’s Not Easy, But It’s Worth It

By David C. Leopold, M.D. 
Medical Director

As our elected leaders continue to struggle with healthcare, we need to remember that all of us directly affect healthcare in our country by the way we approach our own health. As I discussed in my previous blog, we have a tremendous burden in this country for diseases that are largely preventable and modifiable. One of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves and for the healthcare system in general is to become proactive with our own health, to optimize our wellness and to prevent disease conditions from ever establishing.

In this blog, I will continue to discuss ways that anyone can improve their health. But first I want to take a slight detour to talk about some things that directly affect our ability to make healthy life choices.

Here is a secret you may not be aware of--something that healthcare practitioners do not like to discuss or even whisper among ourselves: the reality is most of these interventions are not easy. Most take some work and some actually take a considerable amount of work. Let’s admit it, exercise is hard! Trying to come to terms with what is causing you stress is hard, let alone doing something about it once you actually identify your stressors. Eating right is hard and we are constantly barraged with messages of instant gratification and satisfaction coming from food and food-like substances. Starting a lifestyle that focuses on physical activity, healthy nutrition, and stress management all require work and constant effort in the choices we make. 

I believe we do a disservice to people when we imply that these difficult changes should be easy and simply "flow." There is vast misinformation and messaging that these interventions and these changes should come naturally; that they are simple. Nothing could be further from the truth. These lifestyle changes are decidedly better for you, but they are not easy. This misconception places an undue burden on a person to succeed immediately which is something that is almost always not going to happen. This leads to people ultimately feeling even more frustrated, discouraged and it actually increases their stress. Who needs one more thing to try to do and to fail at it? So most people never even try, or they try and then after not succeeding immediately they go back to their old habits, more entrenched in those bad patterns than before. The reality is doing the right thing is almost always hard, and this is especially true when it comes to taking care of our own health.

I remind my patients all the time that medicine is an art, not a science, and therefore there are really very few guarantees in patient outcomes. I also tell my patients that something I can virtually guarantee is that most, if not all, of these interventions and lifestyle changes will make you feel better and significantly improve your health if you incorporate them into your daily lifestyle.

Are you ready for another secret? Everyone fails at these things before they ultimately find a way to make them work. Failure is the rule, not the exception. We know that almost no one makes changes and sticks to them without many failures along the way. The trick is to recognize that this is normal, it’s not just you and it does not mean you cannot do what you have set out to do! Failure at lifestyle change happens to everyone; in fact it usually takes about 12 weeks of doing something new before it even starts to become something that is incorporated into your "new lifestyle." So when, not if, you fall off the path, don’t be too hard on yourself--it’s totally normal. First and foremost, congratulate yourself for the courage to even try to make changes in the first place, and then really think about and examine why you fell off. Then get yourself back on the path, and try to be just a little bit better, more aware next time. "If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again."

I’ll end my blog today with one of my favorite quotes, one I have relied on since I was an overworked, underpaid, and thoroughly exhausted medical resident. I would often not want to even let it come into my consciousness because it inevitably meant I was going to do more work and probably go home much later. But it never let me down, and because of it I was able to sleep at night knowing I had done what I could.

“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” --- Norman Schwarzkopf

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Learning Garden

By Nina K. Regevik, M.D., FACP, ABIHM

Co-Director, Division of Integrative Health
Medical Director, Division of HIV Services

Gardening is a passion of mine. I like to think of the garden as our “farmacy” because there are so many nutrients in the veggies and herbs we grow. We started The Learning Garden, an on-site vegetable garden at Hackensack Meridian Health Raritan Bay Medical Center - Perth Amboy, to educate children and adults about container gardening and growing vegetables and herbs. It gives us a way to encourage healthy eating for our team members, patients and the community. The Learning Garden is overseen by the Integrative Health Services team and a Master Gardener. We are serious about gardening, but we have a lot of serious fun!

This is our hospital garden’s third season and it’s off to a great start. Before we even began planting this spring, we noticed a bunch of red and purple-fleshed potatoes sprouting from spuds we must have missed harvesting last year. If this happens to you, no need to worry because the potatoes will probably re-seed over the winter and grow into a whole new plant the next year. Our mixed lettuces did the same thing. They went to seed and re-sprouted early this spring, just as our Master Gardener, Connie Elek, predicted they would.

Besides a variety of vegetables and herbs, we planted Nasturtiums with edible flowers and leaves to add a bright orange color to our garden and a peppery taste to salads. They are also high in Vitamins A, C, and D. Sunflowers line the perimeter of the garden. Those large edible heads are filled with super nutritious seeds rich in bone-healthy minerals magnesium and copper and cancer fighting selenium.

You may have pulled this “weed” in your garden (see photo) from between your patio stones. Well pull no more! It’s a mega-nutrient. Purslane is its name and huge doses of omega 3’s is its game! My sources say there is not another plant that has more of these healthy heart oils than purslane. It also has six-times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. Toss it in your salads for a crunchy nutrient boost.

Unfortunately, most of our commercially available fatty fish have a lot of toxins. If you are going to eat them, do some damage control. We planted cilantro, a flavorful herb which is used in many cuisines. Try it in your fish dishes. It helps to prevent the absorption of heavy metals, especially when eating large fatty fish such as commercially available canned tuna.

How you water your garden is just as important as the amount of sunlight and the soil you use (by the way, we like organic mushroom mix soil). We chose an under-soil soaker system to save the planet’s water as well as to get the water directly to the roots where it is needed. And remember to water even if it rains. Rainwater slides off the leaves and misses the roots.

Stop by any Thursday from noon – 1:00 p.m. with your gardening questions and to learn from our Master Gardener. Registration is required by calling 732-324-5257.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Massage is a Necessity, Not a Luxury

By Amy Grutzmacher
Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT)

When I think about massage, I can’t help but be reminded of the Tinman from The Wizard of Oz – specifically the scene where Dorothy finds him rusted and stiff in the forest. I really identify with the relief he expresses when Dorothy oils his shoulder and arm and he’s finally able to drop the ax he’s been holding up for a year. While we don’t sit in the same position for a year without interruption, the stagnant repetitive lifestyle of desk work or unhealthy sleeping patterns can make us feel stiff and tight - just like the beloved Tinman’s rusty body.

“Oil my arms please. Oil my elbows. My neck. Oil my neck.”

Throughout the movie, the Tinman requires regular doses of oil so he can move properly. Our bodies benefit from regular massage in the same way. I like to picture myself as Dorothy with the oil can.

Massage Therapy is commonly associated with a relaxing treat or a luxurious add-on to vacation plans. It has been framed as an “extra” instead of a “necessary” part of the healthcare system. I’d like to try to change this perspective by letting people know how beneficial and valuable regular massage therapy really is for your mind and body.

It’s easy to see why massage is commonly described as a luxury - it makes you feel amazing! I love a good massage too! The feel-good emotion that we love is due to the release of endorphins that give us a feeling of well-being. Stress-causing hormones such as adrenalin and cortisol are reduced. Massage is not a long-term or sole treatment for depression, anxiety, or stress but this therapy can help to temporarily alleviate some symptoms leaving you feeling full of wonderful endorphins.

Pain is one of the most common reasons people book a massage. Many careers require you to sit or stand for long periods of time. A repetitive routine with minimal movement means our muscles don’t get the nourishing effects of good blood flow. Our bodies are not designed to sit for long periods of time and this can result in stiff, sore and achy bodies. Regular massage increases blood flow to the muscles, which helps them feel better. Think of a dried up sponge. Once water is added, the sponge becomes supple and pliable. This is what blood does for our tight muscles. Massage brings the blood to the tight muscles while delivering fresh oxygen and nutrients.

In addition to increasing blood flow, simple massage can help alleviate neck, shoulder and back pain. Improving the flow of the circulatory, lymphatic and digestive systems allows the body to deliver oxygen and nutrients to other areas of the body while removing toxins and access fluid more efficiently. This can make our bodies feel cleansed.

Here are a few personal experiences from our very own Integrative Health & Medicine team:

“I’ve actually only had a few massages in my life and they were pretty life changing. Besides feeling extremely relaxed afterwards, I also felt fatigued and my body felt achy a day or two after. After doing some research I learned that this is the body’s way of releasing toxins to promote healing in the body. It’s amazing to think that a simple relaxing massage can also help improve my energy, digestion, and mental health! A massage used to be a treat but now I combine regular massage with the cleanse that I do at the start of every new season.” - Nikki Cerillo, RN, LDN, CHNP

"I thought I hated massage until Amy told me massage therapists appreciate honesty and said that it’s ok to ask for more or less pressure. I thought that by asking this I was hurting the therapist’s feelings and not getting the best benefit from the massage. Amy was truly concerned with my massage experience and checked in with me but was not obtrusive.” - Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN

“This was my first massage ever. Since seeing Amy, my body awareness is much more on point. I didn’t realize how often I was clenching my jaw. I also learned that I’m not stretching enough after working out. I’m much more in tune with what my body needs now more than ever!” - Casey Gothelf, Medical Assistant


While massage is a really great way to treat yourself, I’d like for you to consider incorporating massage therapy into your monthly health regimen. A single massage can do so much for you but getting a massage regularly can do even more. This is the beauty of bodywork: the more you do it, the greater improvements you’ll see in your body and wellness. Taking part in this form of regularly scheduled self-care can play a huge part in how healthy you’ll be. Budgeting time and money for bodywork at consistent intervals is truly an investment in your health. And remember, just because massage feels like a pampering treat doesn’t mean it’s any less therapeutic. Consider massage appointments a necessary piece of your health and wellness plan and lets work together to establish a treatment schedule that best meets your needs. Call our clinic in Jackson at 732-994-7855 to schedule your appointment today.