Showing posts with label integrative health and medicine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label integrative health and medicine. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Leaky Gut---What Is It? Do I Have It?

By Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN
Integrative Nurse Practitioner

Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "all disease starts in the gut."

How right he was! Getting your gut healthy is one of the most important things you can do for your health; in fact it is the gateway to our health. Your gut wall is home to 70% of our immune system. The gut’s primary function is to protect your body from unhealthy and harmful toxins, which flow through your intestine, from reaching your blood cells.

Foods go from your stomach into your small intestine where there is a membrane that allows nutrients to pass through into your bloodstream. Think of this membrane as a cheesecloth. However, sometimes this barrier gets compromised by ‘toxins’ such as antibiotics, NSAIDs (aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen), stress, infections, dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad bacteria in gut), unhealthy diet, and environmental toxins. This causes the ‘cheesecloth’ to develop microscopic holes. Now instead of only nutrients getting through, undigested food particles are leaking through from the small intestine into the bloodstream. Thus, the term ‘leaky gut’.

This loss of integrity may go on to cause inflammation and chronic disease may develop such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease, (Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s Disease) or Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) gas, bloating, constipation are most common. Other people experience systemic symptoms, such as, depression, anxiety migraine headaches, chronic fatigue, and brain fog. Others are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases like Celiac, Rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroid, and Type 1 diabetes.

The good news is you can heal your gut by removing the ‘toxins’, whatever that is for you and replacing it with a gut healing protocol. Talking with a functional practitioner and nutritionist are good first steps to begin the healing process.

This may include eating organic, adding more diverse and colorful fruits and vegetables, removing foods that may be causing inflammation, such as gluten and dairy.  Practicing meditation and exercise are also important part of healing.  Healing the gut is about healing the whole person - mind, body, spirit.

Contact me at 732-263-7999 to make an appointment today!

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Your Body is a Garden

By Marissa Winters, MA, RDN
Integrative Nutritionist

Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade” ~ Rudyard Kipling

The body is often described as a machine. We say the heart is a pump; the kidneys and liver are filters. If a part wears out, for example, a knee or a hips, we replace it. The mechanistic point of view sees each of us as made of individual units. Many of us take an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach, waiting until a health challenge arises before we consider adjusting our diet or activity.
 
This perspective does us a disservice. We are not machines. We are more like gardens.  Gardens are composed of different parts, all with their function, but all contributing to the health of the whole.  If a part of the garden is out of synch, the whole garden is affected. If the soil is missing nutrients, the plants are unable to reach their full beauty. Gardeners know that keeping the components of the garden in balance supports the whole system. Sometimes things must be added; sometimes things must be pruned away. But always, the whole garden is considered.

Gardens also operate within the cycles of nature. There are times to prepare the ground, and times to trim back the bushes. No garden could thrive if it tried to do every part of the cycle at the same time. Being aware of what part of the cycle you are in can help focus your attention and actions to have the best result with the least effort.

The benefits of working with an integrative health practitioner is the broader focus on all critical aspects of your life – mind, body, and spirit. Integrative practitioners help you see what is supporting and what is undermining you, and the team works with you to drill down to the root cause, not just manage symptoms.


Now is the time to start working on the garden that is your life.  How will you nurture yourself? What will you do to care for your garden? Be realistic; be honest with what you are able to implement within the boundaries of your other responsibilities. What things do you want to encourage to take root? What things need to be curtailed? This is your garden, you get to decide what you want to grow. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

May the Forest Be With You

By Paula O’Neill, MS, RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

Recently I was visiting my daughter. Hanging on her wall was a framed print she had recently purchased during her trip to Maine. The print read, “May the Forest Be With You”. Little did she know that this print expressed the essence of forest bathing or shinrin-yoku.

According to www.shinrin-yoku.org, shinrin-yoku is a term that means, "taking in the forest atmosphere" or "forest bathing." Developed in Japan during the 1980s it has become an important part of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine; and it is becoming increasingly popular in the United States.

So what are some of the health benefits of shinrin-yoku? Studies have demonstrated that forest bathing can:

• Lower blood pressure and heart rate
• Improve immunity
• Decreases cortisol (stress hormone) levels
• Improve sleep
• Improve mood and sense of well-being
• Increase creativity

There are a few thoughts as to why shinrin-yoku can produce these health benefits:

• Connecting with nature by walking in the forest, away from technology and our stressors, helps us feel relaxed.
• Trees release natural, scented oils called phytoncides. Phytoncides are responsible to protect trees from bacteria, insects and fungi. Dr. Qing Li, a researcher from Japan, found that exposure to phytoncides leads to increased activity and number of natural human killer cells, cells important to a healthy immune system. Phytoncides were also found to decrease stress hormones.
• There is a microbe in the soil, Mycobacterium vaccae, that when inhaled, helps to elevate mood.

Now that you’re ready to forest bath, here are some tips:
• Leave your phone and technology behind. This is your time and you don’t want to be distracted.
• This is neither a hike nor a powerwalk. Slow down…take your time. Use your senses to experience everything around you. As Dr. Li recommends, “Touch the trees, taste the air, breathe in the fragrance of the forest, behold the multitude of colors, listen to the wind blow and the birdsong.” 
• Immerse yourself in the forest!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Bioavailability: Using the Food We Eat In the Body We Have (Part One)

By Mary Brighton, M.S., RDN
Integrative Nutritionist

“Food is all those substances which, submitted to the action of the stomach, can be assimilated or changed into life by digestion, and can thus repair the losses which the human body suffers through the act of living.” Jean Brillat-Savarin

My last blog post ,“Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You Who You Are”, focused on food and water and the importance of mindfulness and making meals a sacred part of your day.

But good nutrition isn’t only about taking time for meals and eating healthy foods. There are two critical next steps: digesting and absorbing the food you eat. This *bioavailability* of food depends on that delicate process to “use the food we eat in the body we have.”

You have to use the foods you eat efficiently with the biological needs of your body both in how your body uses foods but also how foods we eat are nutrient-available for the body it enters! In other words, we cannot assume just because we open our mouth to eat a healthy diet that we use all the nutrients present in those foods. Digestion and absorption of nutrients is incredibly complex but is so critical for good health and overall wellbeing.

How do we know if our bodies are *bioavailable* and using food efficiently? The main area where most digestion and absorption of nutrients takes place is the small intestine, so problems in this area of the body puts you at risk for nutrition-related and other health issues. Chronic constipation, diarrhea, bloating, gas or frothy stools are a body’s signal that something is going wrong in your gut.

Furthermore, a poor diet lacking fruits, vegetables and variety of whole foods, chronic stress, trauma, and overuse of certain medications can put the gut area at risk for dysbiosis, an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the intestinal flora. This leads to increased risk of inflammation in the gut and other health problems.

Here at Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we look at a whole body approach, and support a Five Pillar approach (Purpose, Activity, Nutrition, Sleep and Resilience) to improve and optimize your health. We realize that an imbalance in one of these pillars can influence digestion and absorption of nutrients. We address this in our nutrition and health assessments and support you to be the best health shape you can be, one bite at a time!

In Part Two of Bioavailability: Using the Food We Eat in the Body We Have—how preparation of food and combining certain nutrients can influence the bioavailability of that food.

To meet with one of our nutritionists and learn more, call 732-263-7999. We are currently taking appointments in our Jackson and Old Bridge offices.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Intentional Recovery

By Sara Scheller BSN, RN, CCRN, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

What thoughts come up if I ask you about your work-life balance? Work-life balance isn’t always about how much yoga you do or how often you take a week’s long vacation (although both of these are really important!). Work-life balance is more how often we are we allowing our mind to feel safe so that it can repair, recover and rest on a regular basis. If I told you that we need an equal amount of rest as we do work, would you believe me? 

Let’s begin by unraveling the idea of “work”. You can define work as your job or career, but what about all of the other work we do as human beings? Caring for others, tending to our household duties, and even some hobbies can be work! When we look at our job or career, is it something we enjoy? There is a saying that goes, “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is something as simple as a mindset. Are we feeling like the work we do is fulfilling a need, serving a greater good, and connecting us with our purpose? This does not mean we have to do world changing things! I’ll share a story about a recent interaction I had with a diner waitress. On several occasions, I went out for a weekend breakfast at a local diner. It did not take long to notice this one waitress in particular. She always had a great big smile on her face that could easily light up a room and she almost floated through the restaurant with her energy as she happily asked if I needed a refill on my coffee. Observing her, I could tell she just loved what she did. I took a moment to affirm that to her, “I can’t help but notice you look like you really enjoy your job.” She replied, “I really do, I have been working here for more than 20 years and even in times of my life that were really difficult, this place always gave me a sense of joy.” Her energy was infectious and her attitude was so motivational. What if we change the way we look at the work we do in our lives? Are we doing something because we want to or we have to? How can we find moments of joy in the work we are doing in our lives?

Next, are you setting aside time to actually rest and recover? I know your first answer or at least thought is probably, “But where do I find the time?” What if you set an intention to actually make the time? It may not be easy, but I assure you it will be worth it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be scheduled, but don’t just set it aside for “someday” because we all know someday may never come. You should not be stressed out about sticking to your schedule to get rest in, because that defeats the whole purpose! Internally, can you recognize when your mind is on overload and you need to find a moment of calm? Deepak Chopra recommends using the STOP technique to insert a pause to combat the cycle of stress: first Stop, then Take 3 deep breaths and smile, Observe how you are feeling in the moment and Proceed with awareness. Recognize that there may be times you may have to grind to get the work done that you need to do, but there are still small moments you can insert a pause to keep you going in order to prevent burnout. Externally, what are you doing in your free time? One way to create balance is to do the opposite of what is causing the stress. For example, if you have a busy job where you have to be on your feet and you are physically drained, rest for you may look like lying down and reading a good book. Or if you work a desk job where you are sitting at a computer all day, maybe you need to be active like going for a walk or a run in nature. Also, are you prioritizing sleep? Physiologically, sleep is a time when our brain gets rid of toxins, allowing our brain and body to repair, recover, and prepare for the next day. So, a good night sleep may literally clear the mind. A 2011 study in Sleep reported insomnia to have an estimated cost to U.S. companies of more than $63 billion a year in lost productivity.  Furthermore, how are you fueling your body? Are you feeding your body and mind high quality, fresh, nutrient rich food? When we allow our brain’s parasympathetic nervous system (think opposite of our stress response) to operate, we are able to rest and digest. Our body can make optimal use of the food we feed it.

Balance is not an endpoint, it is ongoing. Just when you think you have it all worked out, something changes. The only constant in life is change, and how we handle or react to the change, the more we can build our resilience. When we practice tools to build our resilience it allows us to bounce back with more ease, preventing dis-ease. We believe practice makes progress, not perfect. In health coaching, we guide you to find what stress management practices you can use to build your resiliency. We look at what has worked for you in the past and we hold you accountable for consistently using your strengths to live your best life. Together, we can co-create a life where you feel empowered to manage your own health.

To learn more about health coaching, visit our website at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999.   

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Beat the Heat 5 Pillar Style!

By Lisa Sussman, Psy.D.
Health Psychologist

Here we are in the dog days of summer. Typically, July and August are the warmest times of year in the U.S. While it’s great to have warmth and longer days, by now we may be itching to cool down a bit, or at least regulate our bodies amidst relentless heat. At times, we may find ourselves overheated, both physically and mentally. At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we view health from our Five Pillar model: Sleep, Activity, Purpose, Nutrition, and Resilience. Let’s take a look together at how we can beat the heat through the perspective of the Five Pillars of Health and Well-Being.

Sleep: The ideal room temperature for sleep is between 60 – 67 degrees Fahrenheit.  Studies have shown that temps above 75 degrees can disrupt sleep.  To stay cool through the night and foster a good night’s sleep, use air conditioning, fans, cotton sheets, a light blanket, and light cotton pajamas. Pack up that winter quilt! There are also mattress pads and gel mats that can be purchased which provide a layer of coolness on the mattress.  Another point to consider about sleeping in summer is that our eating, exercising and overall activation time may happen later in the evening due to vacations, longer days, and increased socializing.   Try to put at least 3 hours between eating a meal and exercising before going to bed to optimize your sleep.  Alcoholic drinks also impact quality of sleep and tend to disrupt sleep.  When socializing, we can be mindful about what we are consuming, when, and how that may affect our sleep that night.  Carve out a wind-down period of 30-60 minutes between the evening activity and going to bed to relax the body and mind and initiate our melatonin production for sleep.

Activity: Current guidelines (American Heart Association and others) recommend 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both. How can we get this in during summer while minimizing our risk of getting overheated or having heatstroke? Exercising outdoors and participating in social or team sports gives an extra boost to our mood, releasing endorphins and even oxytocin, so plan to get out there either early in the morning, or after dinner, when the weather is cooler. Summer is also a great time to change our exercise routine, so try things such as biking and swimming. On stormy days or when it doesn’t work to be out in the cooler parts of the day, hit the gym with a fun class, yoga, or strength workout, or break out a fitness DVD in the house.

Purpose: While managing the dog days of summer, it’s important to infuse sparks of joy and meaning into the hot and sometimes energy-draining days.  What can we do in the summer that we can’t do as easily the rest of the year?  There may be more time for meaningful volunteer work and giving back, and enjoying more gatherings with family and friends.  Take that vacation or stay-cation!  Go watch the sunrise and take a walk on the beach (my personal favorite thing to do in the summer) before heading to work. When it’s too hot to be outdoors, stay in the cool house and enjoy that book we’ve been meaning to read or tackle the home improvement or craft project that’s been on our list.

Nutrition: Summer = more sweat = drink more water! Every day we should be drinking water equal to at leaset half of our body weight in ounces. Here in August, we need to make sure we are staying hydrated, and cool water does that best. Keep it fresh and appealing by adding slices of fruit or cucumber. Drink or make sparkling water for a change up, flavoring it yourself to stay away from chemicals and sugar. Ayurvedic teachings point us in the direction of consuming cooling foods in summer while staying away from spicing it up too much. Naturally sweet, bitter, and astringent foods are good choices. Go for ripe fruits such as cherries, peaches, pineapples, avocados and mangos, as well as green leafy veggies, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and green beans. Spices like mint and cilantro will help keep us cool.

Resilience:  Prolonged heat not only affects us physically, but can impact our mood as well.  The term “hot and bothered” comes to mind.  Emotionally, we may feel drained and irritable when it seems like there’s no escape from the heat, or when the events we attend are overly crowded.  To get balanced, incorporate daily activities that increase joy, and spend some quiet time in thought, meditation, or listening to music.  Whatever it takes to “cool down”!  Try some activities such as taking a cool bath with lavender essential oil, riding the waves in the ocean, digging your feet in the sand, walking in a shady park, or chilling on a raft or kayak.  Take a few minutes to breathe slowly and deeply, then imagine with all of your senses being at the beach, in the water, or somewhere cool.  The brain will get the “cooling” message and the body will physiologically start to respond, providing a respite and balance.  

We can use the Five Pillars of Health and Well-being to make the most out of the last few weeks of summer, keeping cool, healthy, and happy.   Enjoy!

For further information about the Five Pillars of Health & Well-Being and taking care of your mind, body, and spirit, visit our website at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999 to make an appointment! 

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Summer Simplicity

By Kathleen Welshman RN-BC, BA, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

Summer reminds us of simpler times, being carefree, running barefoot on the beach or in the grass. Close your eyes and visualize that, what do you see? What feelings does that evoke? Hear the waves crashing on the beach, the seagulls chirping and the smell of salt air, the warm breeze on your face……aaah, yes, summer has arrived. Perhaps you have feelings of freedom and not a care in the world, if only for that moment. A simple time.

Warmer weather often means flip flops, shorts and tank tops. Minimal clothing for comfort. As we have moved into the season of summer, perhaps we can begin to look at what we can pare down, besides our clothing. What can we minimize and simplify in our life? Often stress comes from too much “stuff.” Clutter can take many forms, it is not just physical. It can be toxic relationships, unhealthy attachments, emotional baggage or anything that causes overwhelm. We can even clutter our minds with our own to-do lists. We have become a society that thinks “more is better” and “busy is best.” We are always on, always connected. But at what cost do we stay on that fast track? We often rush through tasks, trying to get them done, so we can go on to the next thing. Or rush to drive somewhere, so we can hurry to the next destination. Have you ever stopped to think about what madness this all is? At the end of the day there is often a feeling of pure exhaustion and stress.

We hear words like de-clutter, simplify, minimize, limit, edit, purge…….what does this all mean and what is the benefit? When asked what he wanted for Christmas this past year, my son’s response was, “We don’t need any more stuff mom, we want experiences.” Well this spoke volumes to me and led me to look more into the art of minimizing. There are many benefits to living a simpler life. You may find yourself feeling less stress, more at ease. Discover what’s important, what you value, what’s your passion and find more meaning and purpose in your life. Do what brings you joy! Perhaps spend less time online and really connect with those you love. Don’t forget to also spend time alone. Living more simply can help us to live more consciously, more deliberately, perhaps even a more purpose-driven life. What adds value to your life? Consider streamlining your life, your closets and your to-do list. The benefits will astound you!

Find inner simplicity. Create a peaceful calm, rather than chaotic confusion. Be aware of the calmness you feel when your surroundings and your head are clear of clutter. Simplify your goals; you will feel less stress and more successful as you meet each goal, one at a time! Be mindful. Be present. Be here now.

“Whatever the tasks, do them slowly and with ease, in mindfulness. Don’t do any task in order to get it over with. Resolve to do each job in a relaxed way, with all your attention." --Thich Nhat Hanh

Visit www.HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999 to learn more about Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine and our Five Pillars of Health & Well-Being.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Why Do Massage Therapists Always Tell Me to Drink Water?

By Amy Grutzmacher, LMT
Licensed Massage Therapist

As a rule of thumb, it’s good to remember that drinking water in general encourages proper hydration which will help the kidneys and other organs process the various substances that move through the human body regularly.

Drinking water before a massage is recommended because a hydrated, soft muscle is easier to manipulate then a dehydrated, rigid one. Picture one of your muscles as a sponge. A dried up sponge is hard and rigid but once it’s submerged in water, it becomes supple. Our muscles also soak up water like a sponge and become more pliable with hydration.

It’s beneficial to drink water after your massage because as the massage therapist manipulates your muscles, substances are released. Drinking water post massage helps the body flush out any accumulated materials that were released during the massage. This is especially pertinent in deep tissue and therapeutic massage as massage stimulates circulation in the body while expressing water, salt and other minerals from the muscles. Circulation is designed to carry away waste materials. You can help sweep away these waste materials by drinking water.

Massage can be dehydrating. The manipulation of muscles can deplete them of water. By drinking water, you can rehydrate your muscles for the same reason you’d drink water after exercise and other forms of exertion because when the muscles are worked, they can lose water and electrolytes.

So, it is true you should drink water before and after massage because your body is using water at a faster rate, but the key is to be drinking enough water every day. Water is vital for every function that occurs in the body and necessary to maintain healthy, hydrated muscle tissue.

Visit www.HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999 to learn more about Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine and our Five Pillars of Health & Well-Being.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Key to Unlocking an Enriching Life

By Marjorie Catone, BSN, RN, CCRN-CSC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

I always thought my purpose in life was to be a mother. What could bring more joy to one’s life other than nurturing, raising and protecting your babies in a healthy and happy home? To carry an unborn child, to feel the tiny, miraculous movements from inside that nobody else in the world could feel. To connect with the spirit of a child who was about to uncover a world of their own. My life was complete with the birth of my second child. I had a fulfilling job where I was fortunate to work part-time in order to be home primarily to raise my children. My husband owned a thriving gym which was constantly expanding in space and popularity. I had a happy, loving marriage. What else more could I want?

Until, one day, something happened that changed my life forever. My only son, 20 months old, had passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly. I can remember the feelings that followed in the days and months that passed. Feelings of emptiness, loneliness, depression, confusion and the yearning to just hold him once again. The simplest things like getting out of bed in the morning, preparing meals, completing household tasks, attending friends and relatives parties all seemed unsatisfying, difficult and unbearable. However, I had my four-year-old daughter that needed me so I had a choice to make. I could continue to live with my head hanging low in the shadows of the days or use this crisis to thrive and live a more fulfilling and purposeful life.

Sometimes we find our life purpose when we are under a crisis such as an illness, death, divorce, retirement, or job loss. However, this crisis can become a catalyst for a purpose we never envisioned possible. Most of us tend to take life for granted and get lost in the busy and stressful days of the everyday hustle and bustle of life until a crisis wakes us up and forces us to ask some big questions. “Why am I here?”, “What is my purpose in life?”, “What do I want to achieve while I am here?” We end up letting go of petty concerns, conflicts and the need for control and begin to truly realize that life is short and every moment is precious. At our lowest moments and times of suffering, our heartbreaking situations that arise cause us to revisit our stories which ultimately reawaken us and help us see life a little more clearly. Previous importance’s fade in significance. As the dust settles and the fog lifts, we begin to see the true importance of life.  

Research has shown that having an authentic purpose in life creates better health outcomes. It can be important to overall brain health and well-being and make you less prone to illness and disease and ultimately help you live a longer, happier, more fulfilling life. But, how do we find our purpose? We all want to leave an impact on the world, to leave our footprints behind, to contribute to the greater good, to what speaks to our soul. We all seek growth, knowledge, compassion, love and joy. However, we must ask ourselves, “What is our unique purpose in this world?” A great place to start is by searching our childhood and seeing the gifts that were instilled in us, our passions and values, and asking ourselves, “What gives our life meaning?” For many people, purpose can be as simple as having a family and children or it can be a fulfilling career that rewards us with its gratification. We also must be aware that purpose can change, as life changes and unfolds. As we grow, learn and mature, we become wiser. As challenges arise, we find that our purpose sees us through and sometimes during this challenge, purpose finds us and we must answer. The truth comes from within, buried deep within our souls.

Through unimaginable pain, struggle and hardship, I found a new meaning and purpose in my life. Not only do we grow physically, but we grow spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and socially. I have chosen to live a more simple life and have found joy in nature and in all those that I meet. I try and find the good in all humanity, even at times when I have lost all hope. I have learned to love more deeply and be present in each moment, especially with my family. I have become an advocate for my son Nicholas, who no longer has a voice in a world that is so large. Through tragedy, I found transformation and every day I fight to turn my unimaginable loss into a legacy. Sometimes, as our true-life purpose unfolds, our story connects with others and encourages them to find their higher meaning in life and to motivate them to be a better person. We all want to become the best we can be. Through self-awareness and reflection, our purpose unfolds. You already have it in you. However, you are the only one that possesses the key to an enriching life. So, I challenge you to unlock your story, your gifts and your curiosity and find your life’s purpose. Therefore, I leave you with some questions to ponder and perhaps write down in a journal.

1.) What is your reason for getting up in the morning?
2.) How do you contribute to the world?
3.) What special characteristics make you unique?
4.) How do others see you?
5.) Why are you here?

Visit www.HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or call 732-263-7999 to learn more.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Essential Oils for Seasonal Allergies

By Grace Orosz RN-BC, CCAP
Integrative Registered Nurse

When I was growing up in Chicago, I can vividly remember how I looked forward to the change of seasons -- ALL FOUR OF THEM! The mid-west was an open, clean, fresh place to live.  I spent most of my free time outdoors. We almost never played inside.  We had many wonderful forest preserves, lakes and hiking paths.  I loved being in nature.

At the time, I was unaware of how pollen and grasses affected people.  I never had a problem with any seasonal allergies.  However, I knew several people that did.  I would privately make fun of them, in my mind.  I just could not believe that people could be suffering so miserably with allergies, hay fever, sinusitis etc.  It seemed almost “too dramatic” for me.  However, I tried to understand how maybe it affected them and make an effort to be sympathetic.   They were always going for Sinus X-rays, CT Scans and using a plethora of antihistamines, decongestants and steroidal sprays and inhalers.

Then, about 27 years ago, I moved to the East Coast. Initially the seasons were pretty much the same, but not for long. Everything started to change.  Perhaps the unhealthy climate changes, our polluted environment and dramatic fluctuations in the barometric pressure contributed to my newly developing allergy symptoms: sinus pressure, headaches, congestion, sneezing, phlegm and an annoying cough. OH BROTHER, NOT ME, I thought!

I found myself in the same position as I mentioned above – blame KARMA!  There I was with a cabinet full of all the over the counter (OTC) allergy medications you could imagine, and pretty much addicted to Sudafed.  Then I just could not stand taking those chemicals anymore. They made me feel so crummy! Can anybody relate?

It was about that time that I had a personal and spiritual awakening, about my health and my life...  I knew I needed to be more mindful of looking for a natural and holistic approach to treating this condition, as well as in my life in general.

This is when I started using Essential Oils to treat my sinus and upper respiratory symptoms.  I use them religiously and have to say that I cannot remember the last time I took an OTC allergy medication.

Allergens trigger symptoms in the nose, throat, lungs, ears and sinuses.  Therefore, I thought perhaps you might like to try something a little different if you suffer with these symptoms. I diffuse essential oils in my home almost constantly.  I switch up my essential oil choices depending on the time of year and the symptoms I have. Here a few tips that might help you too!

First, find yourself a moderately priced diffuser with an ultrasonic cool mist humidifier. They hold anywhere from 150 ml – 500 ml of water. Be sure to get one that has a timer and an automatic shutoff.

§  Lavender Essential Oil works as a natural antihistamine and possesses strong anti-inflammatory properties that will treat and relieve most allergic reactions.
§  Peppermint Essential Oil is strong, fresh and minty and opens clogged sinuses almost immediately. It also has anti-inflammatory, pain relieving and decongestant relieving abilities. It opens airways and relieves a scratchy throat.
§  Holy Basil Essential Oil reduces the inflammatory response of allergens, and supports our immune system overall. It has antimicrobial abilities and can remove toxins from our system, as well as clear airways.
§  Eucalyptus Essential Oil opens up the sinus and lungs, therefore improving circulation, which reduces the symptoms of allergies. It works as an expectorant, but also has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects.
§  Lemon Essential Oil works as a natural antihistamine relieving excess mucous and cools down inflammatory reaction. It also helps with respiratory conditions. Lemon is also known for its anti-bacterial properties.  Its best used in a blend with Lavender and Peppermint.

Depending on the capacity of your diffuser, use 2-5 drops of any of these oils mentioned, in whatever combination you like. You could also use 1 drop of each of these oils on a tissue and just directly inhale deeply. Experiment to find the combination that gives you the most relief.


As a Certified Clinical Aromatherapist, this affirms for me that this is the best treatment for so many ailments.  Here’s hoping that this information brings you some healthier options for relief this allergy season.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Summer Solstice: A Time to Mind our Skin

By Sara Scheller BSN, RN, CCRN, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

The first day of summer! I must admit, it is my favorite day of the year. It is a day when the sun is shining the longest than any other day and the New Jersey air is warm. All around, we see people getting outside and connecting with nature-gardening, walking the boardwalks, biking, hiking and boating. Warm weather and high humidity probably means we are wearing less clothing, leading to more exposure of our skin to the elements and potentially to toxic chemicals.

Did you know your skin is your largest organ weighing about eight pounds and covering some 20 square feet? When we expose our skin to that delicious summer sunlight, we are soaking up all of that Vitamin D which promotes healthy bones, can regulate blood pressure and the immune system, and can be beneficial in preventing certain types of cancer. In New Jersey, in winter months, we cannot rely on the sun for vitamin D, instead we must take in vitamin D through food, or with supplements. In summer months, it is recommended that about 5-10 minutes of skin exposure to your hands, legs and arms a few times per week is enough to put your vitamin D levels in the right range. Any longer time spent in the sun, be sure to put on a sunscreen with a rating of at least SPF 15, as this will reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. But before you apply, you will want to make sure that lotion you slather on is going to do more help than harm.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), “The average woman uses 12 personal products daily and is exposed to hundreds of chemicals - none of which are required to be tested for safety.” The chemicals that you apply get absorbed through your skin (as with sun lotion) or inhaled into your lungs (as with aerosol sun protection products). MADE SAFE is a great online resource for finding certified, non-toxic products from personal products to household products to cosmetics. In addition, each year, the EWG releases a safe guide to sunscreens, but they state “sunscreen should be your last resort.” You can reduce your risk of sun exposure by wearing protective clothing and eyewear, spending time in the shade, checking the UV index, and avoiding the sun during peak hours. 

Another thing to consider when spending time outdoors is the exposure of our skin to chemicals that can be found in bug repellant, pesticides and herbicides. This EWG guide to bug repellent can help inform you about the safest products to use so you can avoid viruses that can be carried by bugs like mosquitos and ticks but also minimize the amount of toxic chemicals placed on your skin. If you enjoy gardening, consider the chemicals you apply as pesticides and herbicides. These can be absorbed through your skin on contact or through inhalation. Some simple ways to prevent these from entering your body include wearing gardening gloves, wearing long sleeve shirts and long pants, wearing masks when applying airborne materials, washing hands thoroughly, and removing clothing and shoes when your return into your home. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables, even if home grown, before consuming. You can even find ways to practice more natural, organic gardening like using beneficial insects and native plants around your home. Look to a resource that can be trusted, like the Planet Natural Research Center or your local county park education programs.

As we transition through seasons, our health needs may change. Our team of clinicians can guide you to find optimal health and well-being, to minimize your disease risk and help you feel your best all throughout the year!

Please join us at Raritan Bay Medical Center – Perth Amboy campus at our Learning Gardens to understand the basics of gardening, through hands-on and interactive education. Come with your gardening questions and/or photos or samples of plants for discussion. Sessions led by Master Gardener Constance Elek. https://classfindweb.beryl.net/Search.aspx?ClientID=10413&ClassID=94394

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Tea and Your Health

By Emma Stafford, RN, APN-C, ACHPN, APHN
Integrative Nurse Practitioner

I was admiring my tea cup collection this week and offering gratitude for all the wonderful and healing cups of tea that they have given me. I would like to share with you some of the known health benefits of some of my favorite teas.

All tea, in general, is refreshing and contains no sodium, fat, carbonation or calories. More than that, it adds to your daily hydration requirement (half your body weight in ounces of water daily). In addition, tea contains flavonoids, naturally occurring compounds that have antioxidant powers that may provide important health benefits. Typically, caffeine levels for tea are less than half of those for coffee, ranging from 20-90 mg per eight ounces compared to 50-120 mg in coffee.

Studies have shown decreased incidence of heart attack  in those drinking black tea, whereas green tea was associated with lowering total cholesterol, LDL (the lousy cholesterol), triglycerides and increasing HDL levels (the healthy cholesterol). This benefit is due to the antioxidant effects in tea.

A study published in the February 2015 issue of the Journal of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research found that the main antioxidant in green tea, epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG), helps kill cancer cells through the destruction of the cells’ mitochondria.

According to research presented at the 2007 Scientific Symposium on Tea and Health, theanine, an amino acid that is for the most part uniquely found in tea (green and black), may help prevent age-related memory decline.

Besides black and green teas, I also enjoy herbal teas, although the studies on these teas have not been as robust. A study on Hibiscus tea showed that three cups daily lowered blood pressure in people with slightly elevated levels. Chamomile tea acts as an anti-spasmodic and can help those with irritable bowel and ginger tea benefits those with nausea (and much healthier than ginger-ale).

Consider the quality, savoring every sip, and mindfully enjoying the taste, the smell, as well as sharing the company of those you are drinking it with. I l use high quality, loose leaf, organic tea that is brewed at just the right temperature for the type of tea I am drinking. Boiling water can damage the delicate leaves of green and white teas. Tea in front of the fire in winter or on the porch on a summer’s night conjures up all kinds of warm memories. I enjoy drinking from different cups from bone china cups to my favorite ‘gratitude’ mug. But perhaps my favorite tea time is with my grandchildren using a tiny porcelain tea set that sits in my china cabinet and is reserved just for our tea parties! They delight in smelling the different flavors, picking their favorite one, and watching it brew in the clear glass teapot. Ahhh, so healing!

Learn more about at Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine and call 732-994-7855 to make an appointment!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Managing Resistance to Change

By Marissa Winters, MA, RDN
Integrative Nutritionist

“What you resist, persists” -Ancient Wisdom Tradition proverb

Change can be hard, really hard. Even when you are very motivated, it can be difficult to stop doing those things you do that keep you stuck. Here are some strategies which can help when your inner saboteur comes out:

1. Remember change is a process. It is learning and practicing new responses to the same old conditions and circumstances.

2.  Shift your focus. Instead of telling your “story”, become an observer. What is really going on here? For example, if you decide you want a brownie even though you have committed to avoiding sugar in your goal of living a healthier life, say so. What is going on is,I want a brownie. It’s not that I have no willpower, and this always happens, and I was so motivated and now there’s this brownie! Instead, stop, take a breath, observe what is happening, and then, proceed. Put some distance between yourself and your trigger. This may require stepping away from the situation for a brief time.

3. Remind yourself of the value or feeling you are bringing into your life. “I want to have more energy,” or “I want to feel confident in my clothes”. Now you have a benchmark against which to measure if the action you are considering will bring you closer to your desires.

4. Ride the urge. When faced with a craving, it is easy to forget that like all things, cravings end. When you’re in the ocean, and a big wave comes at you, what do you do? If you stand your ground, you’re likely to get knocked around.

Instead, you go under the wave and let the rough surf pass over. When faced with a craving, simply notice the sensations you are feeling. You may feel uncomfortable, but you don’t need to do anything. It will pass. Cravings crest, just like waves, and then subside, just like waves.

This is more effective than trying to use your willpower to fight the urge. Some research indicates we have the equivalent of about 15 minutes worth of willpower, and the more it’s challenged, the faster it wears down. Resistance is not an effective strategy. Instead, take a pause, honestly state what you are feeling, and remind yourself of your goals. These steps allow you to take action, rather than react to challenging situations.

Our team in the Integrative Health & Medicine practice can support you with tools and techniques to keep you heading in the direction you really want to go. Call 732-994-7855 to make an appointment with me directly!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Power of Gratitude

By Paula O’Neill, MS, RN-BC
Clinical Program Manager

According to the English Oxford dictionary, gratitude is “the quality of being thankful…readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness.” Gratitude is appreciating what you have and recognizing the simple pleasures of life…things we often take for granted.

Gratitude is a powerful force that can make us happier and healthier. Many studies, including those by Emmons and McCullough, found that people who focus on and write down what they are grateful for every day showed evidence of greater emotional and physical well-being at the end of the study than those who focused on difficulties. Research shows that people who focus on gratitude experience greater joy, get sick less often, are more creative, have less anxiety, and have stronger social relationships.

So how can you develop and nurture gratitude in your life? Here are some suggestions. 
  1. Keep a gratitude journal—each day before you go to sleep, before you get out of bed, or anytime during the day that works best for you, write down three things that you are grateful for. It can be the laughter of a child, the new job you just got, the smell of the spring flowers. What are those things that brought a smile to your face and joy to your heart? 
  2. If you don’t like to write, replace the gratitude journal with a daily reflection or gratitude meditation. 
  3. Write a thank you letter to someone who has had a positive influence on your life. According to Emmons this is a powerful way to cultivate gratitude. Some experts recommend that you read the letter to the person. 
  4. If you do not have time to write or personally thank a person, thank them mentally. 
  5. Change your perception of a difficult situation. Choose to find something positive about the situation. This can be difficult; however, this will help you to move from a negative emotion to one of gratitude. 
  6. Help others who are less fortunate. Not only does this demonstrate true compassion but it will make you more appreciative of what you have. 
"The more you practice gratitude, the more you see how much there is to be grateful for, and your life becomes an ongoing celebration of joy and happiness." - Don Miguel Ruiz

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You Who You Are (Part 2)

By Mary Brighton, M.S., RDN
Integrative Nutritionist

Welcome to Part 2 of Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You Who You Are. This blog is not about the food we consume, but about the most essential nutrient vital for health and life - our beloved H2O - water. In the last decade, the water we drink for our main beverage has changed from tap water to water from a packaged bottle. An average American consumes 300 bottles of water a year! The bottled water industry is a multi-billion dollar drink market.  The good news is that high-sugar soft drink consumption has decreased as bottled water sales have increased, and we know it’s always a good healthy habit to drink water in place of sugar rich drinks. 

Now I ask you: do you know where the water you drink comes from? Let me give you an example of what I mean. Last year I taught a nutrition class at a community college. My students were busy young adults who propped their water bottles on their desks during the lectures. During our lecture on nutrition and water I walked around the classroom and stopped by each student’s desk. I picked up the branded water bottle they owned, held it up and asked that student where the water they drank came from. 

Their typical answer: “I don’t know.” But they were curious. Where does Spring, P.W.S, Mineral or Purified water come from and is one water type better than the others?  Even if my students didn’t know where their water came from, they did consume a lot of it. And this is a good thing. We need about half our body weight in pounds converted to ounces in water daily to function well. As an example: A 160 pound man would need 80 ounces or 10 cups (1 cup equals 8 ounces) of water daily. 

What is the best water for health? That is a harder question to answer because the source is important. A clean water source that has been filtered is my go-to water. Tap water is low-cost and is monitored by the local authorities where you live.  If you drink tap water, you can add a water filter on your pipes or use a Brita-type water pitcher that filters your water for contaminants. 

If you drink bottled water, here are the main different terms and what they mean: 
'
Artesian is water obtained from a well that hits a confined aquifer which is an underground layer of rock or sand that contains water. 

Mineral is groundwater that contains minerals and trace elements from the source and has dissolved solids of at least 250 parts per million. 

Public Water Source P.W.S. is tap water. 

Purified is water treated from any source, including tap water, to remove chemicals and pathogens. 

Spring is water from an underground formation and comes naturally to the earth’s surface
Keep in mind that if you are concerned with your water source, check with the town or company where you drink your water from. Bottled water from a ‘natural source’ like spring water may not fully come 100% from that source, some water bottle companies mix their water sources from what it states on the bottle with purified water. 

Finally, water first is a good health mantra. You are what you eat, you are what you drink; good nutrition and clean water helps to keep the body functioning at its best. 


If you missed part 1, you can read it by clicking here: “Tell Me What You Eat and I Will Tell You Who You Are.”

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

You Know What You’re Supposed To Do, So Why Aren’t You Doing It?


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

As a physician, I have long been fascinated by what people do NOT do when it comes to taking care of their health. Why do we not make the choices that we know are best for us? As I have discussed before, healthy living choices in many ways are simple and straightforward, and definitively lead to healthier and higher quality lives. So why do people not do the things that they know they should? Some recent studies and papers have examined this and found some very interesting things.

There are 8 prominent reasons why people do not do the things that they know are better for them, and I will examine a few of them here and some in later blogs.

1) WE WANT IT NOW! As everyone is aware, we are creatures of immediate gratification. To sort of quote the late great Tom Petty (R.I.P Tom!), “Damn the Torpedoes! (full steam ahead)”.  (Well, actually that was Tom quoting U.S. Admiral Farragut , but you get the point).  We want what we want now; we don’t care about what happens in the future. If it is food or that new giant TV and the cost is to our bodies or our bank accounts, we want it now. And none of this makes for very good long term results.

2) GOOD STUFF CAN WAIT, BUT WE FEAR THE BAD. We are concerned with the bad stuff that can happen but not as much when it comes to positive outcomes. This may be because we are wired to be concerned with risk - particularly immediate risk, and avoidance of danger, but we are not really set up to appreciate the benefits of healthy behavior, and certainly not benefits that are in the future. So not making a healthy choice for activity is actually compounded by the immediate gratification of the poor choice (particularly relevant to food choices). The healthy outcome is just too far down the road.  We care a lot if we just had a heart attack, we don’t want another one, but until that big one hits, well, one more cheeseburger sounds pretty good….

3) WE THINK NOTHING IS REALLY GOING TO HAPPEN TO US. This one is particularly interesting to me; we have a false sense of optimism. We think: that won’t happen to ME. Smokers don’t think they will be the ones to get cancer, people who continually make poor dietary choices  don’t think they will be the one to get diabetes or have that heart attack; it will always be someone else. I can tell you right now, I have spent much of my career taking care of people who did not think they were going to be in a doctor’s office suffering from what they are suffering from. And the unfortunate part of this is that so much of our chronic disease is preventable. People have a false sense of their ability to avoid disease. Most don’t realize that they are on their way to an official diagnosis until it is too late, and then it is often very difficult to reverse what has occurred. An ounce of prevention is really better than a pound of cure, but few see it that way.

4) WE ARE ALMOST ALL IN SOME STAGE OF BURNOUT. Being in a constant state of depletion and fatigue often leads to making bad choices. These may be comforting in the moment, but are usually detrimental to our long term prospects. Who does not want to reach for the Ben & Jerry’s or that delicious chocolate scone when we are tired or feeling down? I have yet to meet the person who makes consistently great choices when they are feeling lousy, frustrated, down or hopeless.

So what can we do about all of this? Well, first realize that although the path to good health is clear and should be easy, in the modern world it is not. Temptation is everywhere and making poor choices is supported by industry and advertising all around you. Easily available poor and nonproductive options (e.g. sit around, eat poorly, take the elevator, pretend you are not a ball of stress, etc.)  are the constant devils on your shoulder, encouraging any amount of “bad” behavior you can image.
I was really struck once again by this recently watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament. This event is a paragon of athleticism, which is ironically completely dominated by ad after ad of things to eat that will absolutely wreak havoc on your physiology. How do we stay healthy when we are constantly inundated by things and ideas that want to pull us towards the unhealthy?

So, how to improve when the odds are so stacked against us? Good news, it is not hopeless, although it can be challenging. It can also be liberating and empowering and lead to a better life in our bodies and minds, and the same for those around us. (Here’s an added bonus; study after study shows positive health is contagious. People are healthier when they associate with healthier people. Imagine the implications to your family and friends if you take up the mantle of becoming a shining example of health for yourself and those close to you.) 

Next time, we will talk about the ways to accomplish these goals by focusing on immediate benefits, avoiding too many choices, making commitments to ourselves, being prepared, keeping it simple and believing in ourselves that we can make these positive changes. We will see how we can use the same principles that advertisers use to get us to do detrimental things, to do the good stuff. 
You will soon find that you can actually be feeling better by tomorrow, and soon you can be well down your path to wellness! 

In health and happiness,

David C. Leopold, M.D.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

How to Really Know Your Health Coach


By Kathleen Welshman RN-BC, BA, NBC-HWC
Integrative Nurse Health Coach

Health Coach? Wellness Coach? Life Coach? All trendy titles these days that catch people’s attention. But, what do these titles mean and what is the education and credentialing behind them?  If you google “health coach”, you will find varying information from how to become a health coach to where you can find a local health coach.  Consumer be aware. Because this is a new field, anyone can hang a shingle out calling themselves a health or wellness coach.  This does not mean they have any formal training or expertise.  There are many folks out there calling themselves by these titles, some with very little, if any, educational background in the healthcare field.  At Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine, we set the bar quite high.  All of our health coaches are Registered Nurses first. Our nurses have varying backgrounds and areas of expertise, all with at least 10-20+ years of nursing experience before becoming a health coach.  This background has given these nurses a solid foundation on which to build. 

Our registered nurse health coaches have all attended and graduated from coaching programs in “integrative health coaching,” not just “health coaching.”   Their knowledge in integrative approaches to health and well-being are based on evidence-based practices.  Our health coaches have attended programs at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and The University of Arizona, Center for Integrative Medicine.  Both of these schools have met all the standards and requirements by the International Consortium of Health and Wellness Coaches (ICHWC).  The ICHWC has joined with The National Board of Medical Examiners to develop a national standard for Health and Wellness Coaches.  They have set a measure of foundational competencies, knowledge, tasks, and skills essential to the practice of health and wellness coaching.  The application of coaching knowledge is assessed by the Health and Wellness Coach Certifying Exam.  Our health coaches have sat for the very first qualifying exam, have passed and are now National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coaches. They are among the elite, approximately 1,000 NBC-HWC in the country.  Add to this, the requirement of coaches at Hackensack Meridian Health, also are Registered Nurses.  So, when seeking out a coach to partner with on your wellness journey, do your research first and turn to Hackensack Meridian Integrative Health & Medicine for highly qualified and credentialed RN/Health Coaches. 

Meet our health coaches and learn more about health coaching here. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Importance of Flexibility


By Judson Chaney, ND, Lac
Acupuncturist

My last blog entry was about making your mornings mindful. In it I suggested you choose three things to help set yourself up for a successful day each morning. For this entry, I would like to share one of the items on my own top three list.  



Flexibility. As we grow older, one universally recognized change we experience is a decrease in natural flexibility. Alas, the days of youth with its effortless cartwheels and back bends, how quickly time goes by!  


All is not lost; it now simply requires your input of time and effort. We can counter balance some effects of aging by employing mindfulness. Making time each morning to stretch and improve flexibility is a great way to start our day. Which is why it is on my top three list to include each morning. I schedule 10 minutes prior to my morning commute to work on basic flexibility motions. There are many great options and programs out there and I encourage you to find one that works best for you and your body. Just remember to keep it simple.

Treat yourself like an athlete and your day like a challenge. Stretch before you begin. I know that I feel my best when I start my day off with stretching. My body feels more awake, more alive, and better cared for throughout the day. I feel more calm, centered, and have more flexibility in not only my body, but in my ability to adapt to the demands of the day as well. Get started today, your body will thank you for it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Choosing Safer Makeup

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


About 10 years ago, I was surprised to learn that my lipstick contained lead! This brought up images of the children I had treated during my pediatric rotations with lead poisoning. Lead can lead to brain damage, kidney damage, high blood pressure and other diseases. Was the makeup company trying to poison me? It turns out that the lead in lipstick finds its way there by accident through pigments. The pigments are washed free of most of the lead leaving only a small amount. But no one knows that there is any safe amount of lead. We are exposed to lead through air, water and food so why electively add more lead through lipstick?

I went on a quest to find the safest makeup possible which led to an increased awareness of potentially toxic chemicals in other products I used for my body and my home. 

Our skin has an enormous surface area. It is the largest organ in our body. A lot of what we put on our skin can be absorbed, enabling us to use the skin as a mode of entry into the bloodstream for certain drugs. Some chemicals cannot be absorbed due to their size, but many of the products found in cleansers, moisturizers and makeup are designed to be absorbed. That is how they exert their skin plumping, wrinkle releasing and deep cleansing effects. But some of these compounds can cause skin irritations or allergies, disrupt hormones, damage skin and increase risk for cancer. 

The Environmental Working Group reviews many products and ranks them according to their safety. Although the list of unsafe ingredients is too long, there are a few general guidelines:
  • Opt for products that have few ingredients 
  • Use fewer products 
  • Just because something is labeled as “natural” or “gentle” it doesn’t mean that it is safe 
  • Avoid tricolosan, fragrance, parabens, toluenes and oxybenzone
Stay safe while enhancing your beauty and click here for more information. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Five Ways Your Daily Routine Could Be Causing Your Lower Back Pain

By Amy Grutzmacher
Licensed Massage Therapist

Ah, low back pain. It’s so common. About 31 million Americans suffer from pain in their lower backs at any given time.

We know the importance of maintaining a healthy weight to prevent pain. But what if you’re a healthy, active adult and that backache still won’t go away?

Though your lower back pain may feel permanent, there’s a good chance your pain is likely a symptom of something else going on in your body. If you can find the underlying cause of the pain, you might be able to stop it for good.

Examine your daily routine to see if one of these five habits is contributing to your back pain and learn how you can fix it.

1. You Work From Home. 
Working from home can definitely be great! The problems arise when working from home really means working from the couch or worse yet, from bed. Both provide little support for your neck and back. It can be tempting to work on the sofa or lying in bed but this could be doing damage to your back muscles. By making a few simple improvements to your work station, you’ll be able to embrace the benefits of flexible working without the risk of back and neck problems.

Fix it: The key is to sit at a table, on a chair. Take regular breaks, walk around while on the phone and use your home to your advantage by adding in stretches whenever you can. Set the alarm on your cell phone and every hour, get up and do some quick shoulder rolls. Roll your shoulders back to counteract the forward shoulder position from sitting and looking at the computer.

2. You Sit Too Much. 
Our bodies are not meant to be continually hunched over and in a seated position. For any muscle to work effectively, it needs to contract and expand. Sitting too much leaves us in one forward motion, resulting in our back muscles arched forward. That’s where the lower back pain comes in.

Fix it: Counteract the motion of sitting by lying with your back on an exercise ball with your arms stretched out wide or stretch over a pile of pillows. Do this on your lunch break or at home after a long day. You can also try using an exercise ball as your desk chair. There are special frames for purchase that turn your ball into a chair. This can improve the strength of your core and in turn, improve your posture.

3. You’re Using the Wrong Pillow or No Pillow At All. 
To prevent back pain, you want your head and neck to relax. The ideal pillow position is when your head is lower than your neck. A 2016 study found that pillow height elevation significantly increased pressure on the head and neck and influenced the contracture of back muscles leading to pain and poor sleep.

Fix it: If you typically sleep on your back, place a pillow underneath your knees to help recreate the normal curvature of your back. Side sleepers, draw your legs up toward your chest and place a pillow between your knees to level out the hips. Avoid sleeping on your stomach if possible. By sleeping on your stomach, you’re increasing the arch to your lower back and the strain on this region.

4. You’re Skipping Exercise. 
You don’t have to engage in high-intensity training to help your back. A simple brisk walk can do great things! Exercise may reduce your risk of prolonged back pain. Studies have found that exercise can reduce back pain intensity by 10 to 50%.

Fix it: Go for a walk. Also try incorporating back and core strengthening exercises into your routine. A strong core assists the low back with the work of supporting the body. Start with crunches, planks, and side planks starting with 10 reps of each three times a week.

5. You’re Stressed Out. 
Stress is one of the top contenders that could contribute to back pain. Many studies have looked at the effect emotions have on pain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction can effectively improve back pain symptoms.

Fix it: Evaluate your stress level and start incorporating relaxation into your daily life. One way to do so this is through gentle yoga which can increase relaxation and decrease tension through meditation and gentle stretching.

To learn more about optimizing your health & well-being, visit our website at HackensackMeridianHealth.org/IntegrativeMedicine or give us a call to schedule a massage or appointment with one of our other practitioners at 732-994-7855.