The single most important thing you can do for your health

Author Michael Pollan just published a new book entitled Cooked that was inspired by some burning questions he had, such as, “What’s one of the most important things we can do as a family to improve our health and well-being?”  Or, “What can we as individuals do to transform our food system?” [That is becoming ever more industrialized, is eliminating our self-sufficiency, and is having a strong, negative impact on our health].   His answer, as the title of his book suggests, is to get into the kitchen and cook.

This may sound like taking a step back today because many of us have created lifestyles that accommodate processed and pre-packaged foods and have replaced cooking time or food preparation with other activities.  Yet based on what we’re witnessing with our health, this has not necessarily been a step forward.

Even deeper than what this is doing to our health, Michael Pollan has this to say about living on processed food diets:

“This is a problem–for the health of our bodies, our families, our communities, and our land, but also for our sense of how our eating connects us to the world.  Our growing distance from any direct, physical engagement with the processes by which the raw stuff of nature gets transformed into a cooked meal is changing our understanding of what food is.  Indeed, the idea that food has any connection to nature or human work or imagination is hard to credit when it arrives in a neat package, fully formed.  Food becomes just another commodity, an abstraction.   And as soon as that happens, we become easy prey for corporations selling synthetic versions of the real thing–what I call edible foodlike substances.  We end up trying to nourish ourselves on images.”

What’s so interesting is that we have actually acquired palettes for less natural versions of food–in part because of their addictive nature.  To recover from these addictions while returning to the simplicity of real food would actually be a step forward in the right direction.   And so, in order to reverse this trend for our health but also the health of future generations, and the health or our planet, here are three simple steps:

Embrace cooking – Today, we so often see cooking as a chore or even a bother that is getting in the way of doing other things.  What if cooking became one of those ‘other things’ that was just as important as anything else?  Where in your schedule can you make the time for cooking?  Is it a few hours on the weekend?  Can you enlist help?  Then plan it in your schedule and think of ways to make it fun.

Cook with ‘raw’ materials - Sometimes we get busy and dinner means heating up a jar of pasta sauce and a box of pasta, but the more you can start with the really raw materials and create something, the more control you’ll have over what you’re putting into your body. Even if more basic cooking means sautéing some fresh vegetables and adding them to your pasta, it’s progress.

Visit your local farmers - This is the perfect time of year to visit a farm stand or farmer’s market and get to know your local farmers.  It’s not necessarily about eating organic. I’d rather eat local than buy something organic that‘s been grown thousands of miles away.  One farm I like to visit is not certified organic but uses organic practices and when necessary, uses integrated pest management.  And by not paying the high price of becoming certified, they pass the savings on to us.

The Food Revolution Summit

foodrevolution-summit-2013-banner-180x250If you watched the documentary Escape Fire a few weeks ago, then you found out that in the United States, we’re spending over $2.7 trillion/year on healthcare, yet in terms of life expectancy our country ranks 50th. Even more sobering is that regardless of life expectancy, the quality of life for many people starts to decline well before their life is over. Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

It makes so little sense to me that the bulk of our time, money, energy, and other resources is spent trying to fix sickness. Imagine if we could take all that money, manpower, time, and creativity and devote it instead to other things, like creating a world more beautiful than we’ve even imagined yet. Imagine how our creativity would soar if as a population, we were healthier and happier! This is something I think about all the time; it’s my vision. Call me a dreamer : )

If there is one thing I’m very passionate about, it’s our food supply and eating a diet that’s as clean as possible is one of the most effective ways to to gain and maintain health. Yet for many people, they’re simply unaware of where their food comes from, what’s actually in it, or exactly how it’s impacting their health.

That’s why I wanted to let you know about an upcoming event called the Food Revolution Summit. From April 27-May 5, bestselling author John Robbins is personally interviewing 24 of the world’s top experts in movements for healthy, sustainable, humanely-raised food.

These are some of the most educated, brilliant and inspiring voices in the world today. And you can get it all online, from anywhere in the world, for no charge. You can check out some of the speakers here.

When you register, you’ll have the opportunity to listen in on each interview and if you can’t make the time, you’ll be given access to the recording for 24 hours. This is a great opportunity to get a wealth of information about the real issues we face today with our food supply and going forward, you’ll be better equipped to make informed choices for you and your family to improve the quality of your lives, increase your longevity, and save the life of our planet for generations to come.

I hope you’ll take the opportunity to listen in.

Why it’s totally sensible to indulge…

ariel and salmonHere’s yet another reason make dieting a thing of the past:  our mind-body connection.  You probably already know that dieting leads to feelings of deprivation that can eventually lead to bingeing.  What you may not be aware of is that how you react psychologically to what you’re eating may have a direct impact on your physiology.

Seems simple doesn’t it?  We eat, we get full, and the motivation to eat stops.  However, it seems it’s a little more complicated than that.

A couple of years ago, researchers at Yale University carried out a study in which they had subjects come in on two separate occasions, set one week apart, to drink and rate two drinks.   One of the drinks, called “Indulgence”, had 630 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 56 grams of sugar; and had a picture of a hot fudge sundae on the label.   The second drink was called a “Sensi-Shake”.  It had 140 calories, 0 grams of fat, and 20 grams of sugar; and the label said “Guilt-free Satisfaction.”   You can see the actual labels here.

What the subjects didn’t realize was that although the labels were very different, the shakes were actually both an identical 380-calorie shake.  For each test, they showed up in the morning after a night of fasting.  Then, they were shown the label of the shake they thought they were about to drink and then given ten minutes to drink the shake.  The subjects were then asked to rate the shake on taste as well as their levels of hunger at different intervals.

In addition, blood samples were taken before they began, after they read the labels, and then again after they drank the shake to measure levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin that rises when the stomach is empty to induce the sensation of hunger in the brain.  Ghrelin levels then drop when the stomach detects food and nutrients.

This is where it got interesting.  When the subjects thought they were drinking an indulgent shake, their ghrelin levels rose sharply in anticipation of the shake and then dropped significantly in response.  But when they thought they were being sensible, ghrelin remained relatively flat, suggesting that their satiety levels were at least in part, governed at the psychological level.   In their minds, they didn’t derive as much satisfaction from the drink, and their bodies metabolically followed suit.

This begs the question, if you treat each meal or eating experience as an indulgence, will you be more satisfied physiologically?  We don’t know for sure, yet, but I know that every time I’ve had an eating experience that engaged all of my senses–and in particular, my sense of sight through a beautiful presentation, I also felt more physically satisfied.  Experiencing that amount of pleasure from a meal can only be positive.

If you’ve ever had the opposite experience–“being good” with a ‘diet’ meal or a meal that simply wasn’t satisfying and felt deprived, then you can probably relate to being hungry thirty minutes later or being obsessed with food, making the temptation to eat again stronger.

The authors also brought up a good point that may be hurting those trying to be ‘good’ with their eating.  A package, for example that’s labeled, ‘low-fat’ may have you thinking you’re eating diet food – even, for example, if it’s high in sugar.  Continuously reaching for foods like these that potentially never satisfy (and are addictive and stimulate the appetite) may backfire when it comes to weight loss and lead to even bigger health problems down the road.

My takeaway from this?  Enjoy whatever it is you’re eating and as always, the best foods come without labels.

A Lighter, Brighter, More Energetic You

chivesSpring is finally here!  One of the signs for me was a large tuft of chives that poked its head out of the ground a few weeks ago and that I’ve been picking from ever since.

This is a natural time of the year to cleanse.  In fact, our bodies instinctively want to do this after a long, cold winter of eating heavy foods and reduced movement.  And like magic, nature provides some of the best foods around this time of year for us, like dandelion, which is a potent cleanser.

The other day I was telling a client of mine that I was gearing up to do a detox and she asked why I detox?  Well, as much as I’d like to think my diet is ‘perfect’, it’s not.  I had never taken part in a cleanse of any sort until a few years ago, and I liked the results so much that I decided that they would become part of my spring and fall.

You’re probably aware that your body is designed to continuously detox through your breath, your skin via your sweat, and your digestive system; however, today, we’re continuously bombarded by chemicals like:

  • chlorine and fluoride in our water,
  • fumes from car exhaust and power plants that often contain heavy metals,
  • xenoestrogens from plastics, cans, cash register receipts and our personal care products,
  • pesticides, herbicides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics and hormones from our food

And much, much more and we don’t even know the full impact that exposure to one or more of these can have on us over time.   There is, however, a growing body of evidence that many of these so-called persistent organic pollutants, or POPs are playing a role in the chronic diseases on the rise today, such as obesity, early onset diabetes, cancer, etc.

And if you’re interested in exactly what’s showing up in people’s bodies, the CDC puts out a report on human exposure to environmental chemicals and the EPA’s site allows you to search by state or zip code to see which chemicals have been released into the environment and by whom.

What’s becoming increasingly apparent is that some of us are better at eliminating toxicity from the body than others.  And, if you diet is particularly burdensome on your body, it becomes much more difficult to keep up with the detox process.   Even with a healthy diet, we sometimes just need a nudge.  I remember a couple of years ago, I had a pesky rash on my left elbow for weeks that would not go away.   About seven days into my detox though, it had disappeared without a trace.  That surprised even me and my results have always been positive.

So, to give my body a rest and to clear some space to allow it to get rid of any gunk that may have built up over the long winter, and to transition into a lighter eating pattern for the spring and summer, I do a cleanse.

How might you know that a detox/cleanse is a good idea for you?  Your body will leave clues.  There’s a long list of signs that I will often go over with my clients and here are some of the most common that can be alleviated:

  • digestive issues like diarrhea or constipation
  • itchy or ringing ears
  • mood swings
  • fatigue or sluggishness
  • itchy or watery eyes or dark circles
  • headaches or insomnia
  • stuffy nose or chest congestion
  • poor memory or concentration
  • chronic coughing or canker sores
  • skin breakouts
  • joint aches or stiffness
  • water retention
  • weight gain or loss or trouble losing or gaining weight
  • bingeing or cravings

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I have several clients gearing up for detoxes and I’m about to begin my 14-day program.   This program includes a medical food and a supplement that both provide additional liver support so that when toxicity is released, the liver has enough resources to safely neutralize and ship it out for elimination.   The last thing you want is for your body to dislodge the toxins hiding out in your fat cells, only to circulate them around and do damage in your body, and then store them somewhere else.  I also offer a 21-day ‘food only’ detox designed to be gentler than the 14-day program.

If you’re ready to feel lighter, brighter, and more energetic, check it out my programs here.  You can also read about what some of my clients have to say about their detox experiences.  And if you order a program by April 15th, you’ll get a reduced rate of $100 off!.  So if you’ve been thinking about it, now’s the time.  You can order the program now and begin when you’re ready. Simply contact me here and we’ll get you set up!

Give Your Lower Back and Hips Some Love Today

If you sit for long periods of time throughout the day, then chances are you’ve experienced or are experiencing lower back discomfort or pain.  I know if I sit for longer that a couple of hours at a time, my lower back tightens up and I need to take care when standing up from a chair, or especially with getting out of a car so that I don’t torque my back from the combination of turning and rising.

One of my strategies has been to alternate between sitting and standing more often and even as I type this, I’ve got my computer propped on a pedestal on my desk and I’m standing.  It’s also good for circulation, helps burn more calories, and I often add in some isometric exercises as I type to give my muscles a workout.

If you don’t have the option to stand while you work, Judi Bar, a certified yoga therapist at the Cleveland Clinic demonstrates three simple stretches in this two minute video that you can do right at your desk to give your lower back and hips a good stretch.  There’s no need to change your clothes, take off your shoes (unless you want to), or even get up from your chair, although after the stretching, you may be motivated to stand up and stretch your upper body too!

If you’re not used to stretching, begin by moving slowly in and out of shallow movements and use the rhythm of your breath as a guide.  Over time, allow yourself to go into deeper stretches and hold them for more breaths.   Not only will you be giving some love to your back and hips, you’ll be taking a moment to slow down and get present, and that will help to reduce stress and at the same time energize you!!

Starting the day w/good intentions and ending it w/a pint of Haagen Dazs

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Courtesy of -Marcus-

Does this sound familiar?  You wake up in the morning ready for a day of healthy eating.  You eat a small bowl of cereal or a slice of toast for breakfast, or grab a banana and head off to work.  Lunch rolls around and you sip on a cup of soup or eat a vegetable salad – and all is well.   By 3 or 4 o’clock, though, you’re suddenly craving chocolate, you stop to pick up a pizza on your way home from work, you graze while you’re cooking dinner, or after dinner, you polish off a pint of ice cream.

If any of these situations sound like you, you’re not alone.  So many people I talk with begin their day with good intentions and end it forgetting all about them – over and over again.  Although there are many factors that can play into this scenario, one has to do with our bodies’ natural cycle of brain chemicals like serotonin that’s functions in appetite control, depression and anxiety relief, pain tolerance, and sleep.

For example, in the morning, levels of your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin are high and as the day progresses, they begin to dip.  And so by the afternoon, if you’ve depleted your supply without replenishing it, your cravings will begin – for foods like ice cream and chocolate, or a bowl of cereal with milk, or a gooey cheese pizza.   Why?  Because dairy (and cacao) is a good source of protein, and specifically tryptophan, the building block of serotonin.

As you’re probably well aware by now, though, concentrating these heavy, fatty foods later in the day will not only pack on the pounds, it will disrupt your sleep, impact your digestion, and ultimately lead to more serious health issues.   And if you’re like many people who have inherited less serotonin-making capabilities, then you’re much more sensitive to a diet that hinders its production.

If you suspect this is you, then here are some dietary/lifestyle habits that may help maintain your serotonin levels:

Eat regular meals that include protein.   If you’re skipping breakfast or lunch, or going light on them, you’re probably not getting enough protein during the day.  In addition, in most protein sources, tryptophan is low compared to other amino acids and in plant proteins, it’s levels can be up to ten times lower per serving than in animal proteins.

Even with animal proteins, wild game and animals that are raised on their natural food sources (like grass-fed beef) are higher in tryptophan than animals raised on corn so making the shift to cleaner sources of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy can help.  Some of the plant sources of tryptophan include legumes like beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, whole grains, bananas, winter squashes and sweet potato.  This page provides a list of a variety of tryptophan sources.

Include healthy fats in your meals.  Fat helps tryptophan become available to the brain so it’s important to include it at every meal.  Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil are all sources of healthy fats to include regularly.  In one study, researchers found that decreasing fat in people’s diets correlated with increases in low serotonin symptoms like anger and hostility.

Cut back on caffeine and artificial sweeteners.  If you’re beginning your day with a cup of coffee, you’re working against your serotonin stores early since as a stimulant, caffeine works in exactly the opposite way of serotonin’s calming capabilities.  In addition, according to Julia Ross in The Mood Cure, the artificial sweetener aspartame can also have an overstimulating effect because one of it’s components, the amino acid phenylalanine converts to the stimulants tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.  And it’s second component, the amino acid aspartic acid is also highly excitatory.

Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates that are naturally low in tryptophan and wreak havoc on your blood sugar and insulin levels that also promotes stress in the body and interferes with your good mood!

Get regular exercise because it increases oxygen in the body, which is important for serotonin production in the brain.  It also helps divert amino acids necessary for muscle building and repair to the muscles, freeing up some of the competition from tryptophan for crossing the blood brain barrier (remember, its supply is already low compared to other amino acids in dietary protein).  In fact, regular exercise helps to balance all brain chemicals naturally.  The important point here is ‘regular’ exercise because like everything else, it’s benefits are temporary.

If after trying these strategies, you still suspect your serotonin levels are still low, there are additional supplements that can be taken, even temporarily to help raise them. Contact me for more information and we can determine if you’re a candidate for them.

Why You May Never Arrive at Your Destination and Why That’s a Good Thing

ID-100132826“In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions.  It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” ~Tony Robbins

One day many years ago, I was leaving my place of work to go home for lunch and I saw a woman running down the street.  From my best guess, she was in her late forties and had accumulated excess weight in her abdominal area­, which we all know by now is dangerous.  She was running at a slow pace and appeared to be struggling with her breath.  Except for what I saw, I knew nothing else about her.

Over the course of several months, I would continue to see her pounding the pavement on my way home for lunch and what I began to witness was astounding.  Gradually, her step got lighter and quicker and I could see that she was breathing easier.  She also lost a considerable amount of belly fat, her face got thinner and she had a glow to her skin that wasn’t there before.  And the look of struggle was eventually replaced with a look of pure joy.   It didn’t take a genius to see that this woman was transforming her health.

Fast forward two decades.  I’ve been working out at the same gym almost daily for a little over a year.  When I first started going, I noticed a woman who came in regularly too and each time I ran into her, she was focused on her workout.  The last few times I’ve been, it dawned on me that this woman had lost a significant amount of weight.  Her hips, thighs, and arms had shrunk and she now had a waist.  She’s also more energetic, her complexion is pink, and she smiles a lot.  I also spoke with her the other day and she said that after years of putting herself last and feeling the effects of that, she put her foot down and decided that her own self-care was a priority. Yay for her!!

Yes, both of these women have lost weight.  AND their improved health is showing up as increased energy, healthier skin, and better moods.  Both women are examples of what you can accomplish when you make the commitment.  It’s like anything else, right?  If you commit the time and effort to furthering your education, working on your relationships, spending quality time with your kids, packing your own lunch, or maintaining your home, it will eventually pay off.  Often times in ways that you don’t anticipate.   For both of these women, their commitment, consistency, and determination was paying off.  Not overnight, but over time. 

If you agree with the expression, it’s the journey, not the destination, then you get that the transformation that happens along the way is what gets you there.  Where it really gets interesting, though, is that you may never actually arrive ‘there’, because as you change and grow, so does the destination.

My most successful clients are the ones that make a commitment to themselves and are consistent with their actions.  That doesn’t mean that they never splurge at a birthday party or holiday, or that they never miss a workout.  It just means that their new normal is healthier and they are much quicker to get back on track and move forward than they were in the past.  And this is in part because they’ve adopted new habits.

I was talking with one of my clients recently and she agreed that with everything she’s learned, she can’t really go back because she’s inherently changed.  She’s equipped with information that has changed the way she see things and she’s tried and experienced new things that have expanded her toolbox and her habits towards better health and she now knows what it’s like to feel good!

Not long ago, I saw the same female runner again – running of course.  Still looking amazing and still on her journey, and once again inspiring me…

If you’re motivated and ready to make a commitment to yourself but unsure where to begin, I’d love to help.

A Tiny Seed that Packs a Nutritional Punch

chiaseedsIf you’re looking for ways to boost the nutritional value of your diet without necessarily disrupting it too much, try chia.  For my clients who are not already eating chia seeds, they will frequently react with surprise, and I can understand why.  It took me some time to get past the idea of the chia pet and onto the seeds as the superfood that they are.

Salvia hispanica is a flowering plant related to sage that is native to central and southern Mexico.  The seeds are gray or brownish red and a white variety can also be found under the name of Salba.

By adding just one ounce, or ~2 tablespoons of chia seeds per day to your diet, you’re getting 11 g of fiber, 4 g of protein, a healthy dose of plant-based omega-3 fatty acids, and high levels of calcium, phosphorous, zinc, and manganese; all for about 130 calories.

When added to a smoothie or bowl of oatmeal at breakfast, they’ll help balance your blood sugar and keep you satisfied until lunch.  You may be wondering how these tiny little seeds can keep you satiated.  The secret is in their ability to absorb many times their weight in water–keeping you full longer.

Although they’re digestible in their raw dried state, soaking them ahead of time will produce a gel that can be added directly to smoothies or dishes for thickening.

In a glass jar, simply add 1 part of seeds to ~8 parts of filtered water.  Combine and refrigerate for several hours.  To use, add a heaping tablespoon of the gel/seed mixture to smoothies, juices, dressings and sauces.

For a quick breakfast to take on the go, add 1-2 T of dried seeds and a sprinkle of cinnamon to 8 ounces of almond milk.  Soak overnight in the fridge and drink in the morning.   I’ve also ground them in a coffee grinder and used the powder in granola recipes.

chiapuddingCraving something in the afternoon?  Try a chia seed pudding.  This is something you can mix up the night before or in the morning and let it thicken in the fridge during the day:

1 c almond or other milk

¼ c chia seeds

1T unsweetened cocoa powder

1 t vanilla

1 T real maple syrup

½ t cinnamon or other spices

Mix the ingredients in a blender or shaker cup.  Pour into a glass bowl or jar and refrigerate for two hours or until thickened.  Garnish, if desired, with fresh berries or chopped nuts.   Makes 2-3 servings.

A Weight Loss Strategy You May Not be Aware of

top of montserrat“Sitting has become the smoking of our generation.” ~Nilofer Merchant,  TED2013

There are many aspects of our lifestyles today that could be compared to smoking, like a diet high in processed and fast foods, and the fast-paced, stress-filled schedules we create for ourselves.  And there is also one habit that we’ve settled into that we don’t often think about as harmful and that is long periods of sitting.

For many of us, sitting comes with the job.  You may spend your days in front of a computer or in a vehicle.  And if you’re at all concerned about your health, you probably think more about how to change your diet or fit in more exercise.   As important as exercise is, it’s often not enough to offset the many hours you may spend in a chair.

As much as I make efforts to get out of my seat more during the day, this topic really came to the forefront for me last week when I was on vacation in Barcelona.  I knew that I wouldn’t be working out at the gym and so I initially thought about how I would incorporate exercise in everyday.  What I quickly realized was that it wasn’t that difficult at all.  Here are three ‘activities’ that I believe made it possible for me to maintain my weight while sampling the local, traditional foods, like paella, bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil, egg frittatas, Catalan crème, and lots more. I’m not suggesting that you adopt strategies so that you can eat with abandon on a regular basis, but rather as a means for you to get to an ideal weight or keep the weight from creeping up over time.

1.  Walking - Sounds so obvious, but it became very clear to me how little I walk!   And even with a daily workout, it’s not enough if you’re sitting for the rest of the day.  But in Barcelona, we walked everywhere.  Even if we chose to use the subway, there was plenty of walking through the system to get to and from the trains.  I actually went through a bit of a withdrawal when I got home.  Moving outdoors in the wide-open spaces was energizing and relaxing at the same time.  Think about where you can incorporate more walking into your daily routine.

2.  Stair climbing - We were staying on the top floor of an apartment building which meant climbing seven flights of stairs (if I chose to) to get there.  So I climbed them two to three times per day for the entire week.  Although it doesn’t sound like a lot, I was surprisingly winded when I got to the top, so it was well worth the effort.  I also chose the stairs in the subway system and the airport, which was also often faster than taking the escalator.  Not that I was in a hurry ; )

3.  Spending time in the cold - The temperature for most of the week was a ‘balmy’ 50-60 degrees F (when compared to CT), yet it was still cold enough to feel a chill after several hours.  It was also cooler at higher elevations, like at Montserrat, a mountaintop monastery (pictured above).  You may not often think about it, but if your body has to work harder to generate heat, you’ll burn more calories.  This article posted recently about using the cold for weight loss supports the idea through your body’s use of brown adipose tissue, or BAT, to stimulate your metabolism.  Although I don’t think it’s necessary to submerge yourself in an ice bath, but if you ski or ice skate, then you are probably already reaping the benefits.   If not, begin with spending more time walking outdoors in the cool weather or keeping your house at a cooler temperature.  It’s also a great way to save on your heating bill ; )

Hiding Out Because of a Cold Sore?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

I wanted to bring up a topic that I don’t talk about much, if ever, although one that I’ve had to live with for most of my life:  cold sores.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been prone to an outbreak and if you suffer from them or know someone who does, then you know what I’m talking about.  They’re unsightly, they’re painful, they can leave scars, and they feel like they can put my life on hold.

Ironically, the thought of addressing this topic now came as Valentine’s Day approached – how romantic!  Call me a rebel, lol.  But rather than talk about the benefits of dark chocolate or love, or how to keep your heart healthy, something attracted me to the lips.  Maybe it’s because the holiday signifies love and intimacy–and kissing and I wouldn’t want something like this ruin (or prevent) a good kiss : )

If you’re someone who gets cold sores, then you probably know very well that they’re caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1).   Amazingly, 95-98% of people harbor the virus and many may never know it if they don’t have an outbreak.   While dormant, it resides in our neurons and when activated, it targets the skin and mucous membranes, often on or near the lips.  If you do get one, it’s important to keep your hands away from your eyes to avoid ocular infections, including keratoconjunctivitis that can be serious.   And HSV is contagious, so it’s important to keep your personal hygiene items like hand and face towels, your toothbrush etc., separate to avoid contaminating others.

Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve been pretty successful at reducing both the frequency and severity of cold sores through some trial and error with anecdotal and scientific evidence (you can read about here), and personal observation about when I’m most susceptible.  My own personal treatment plan for HSV-1 has been relatively holistic.  There are actually drugs available to prevent outbreaks; of course they don’t come without side effects.  I have tried some of the topical treatments though that I’ll mention below.

In general, here are the triggers that I’ve found for myself.  Many overlap with those commonly reported and they may vary from what you’ve found:

Overexposure to the sun – this can lead to dry, parched lips and in general, anytime my lips have gotten overly dry, I’ve been susceptible.  In fact, if my lips get dry inexplicably and even lip balms don’t seem work, then I know something’s up and I take extra precautions.

Stress – not surprising, since stress can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult to ward off a viral attack.

Acidic foods  – for me specifically, these include things like citrus (oranges, grapefruit, and tomatoes, especially cooked), vinegars and drinks like Kombucha.

Arginine (arg)-rich foods like nuts and nut butters, seeds, coconut, even chocolate (sadly) – of course, foods that I love!

Poor diet in general  – too much sugar and refined carbohydrates that are going to weaken the immune system and of course promote hormone imbalances and stress.  And combining this with my monthly cycle increased the odds.

So, what can you do to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold sore or quicken healing?   Many measures are obvious and some not so:

Keep your lips protected in the sun – Wear a lip balm, preferably with sunscreen when you’re outdoors.  There are many brands out there, but I like Burt’s Bees because it’s petroleum- and chemical-free and easy to find.   As a general rule, avoid letting your lips get dried out or chapped.  If it happens, check in on your hydration and your diet, both of which can have an impact.

Reduce stress – Exercise, proper diet, enough sleep, mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing can all help here.

Avoid trigger foods – Maintain a healthy diet free from sugars and refined carbohydrates and try cutting back on citrus or concentrated foods like nuts and seeds, etc.

Take l-lysine (lys) – An essential amino acid found in high levels in animal products, l-lysine is believed to antagonize l-arginine, which activates HSV-1.  Foods like nuts and seeds contain both arg and lys, but the levels of arg are often much higher.  Some studies have shown that l-lysine supplementation can help.  I’ve been taking about 1000 mg everyday for at least a decade and sure enough, if I go off of it for several days, I’m more likely to have an outbreak.   I’m also more able to keep foods like nuts and seeds (and chocolate) in my diet if I am consistent with taking lys.

Apply ice – Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that at the first sign of an outbreak (usually a tingling on my lip), if I apply ice for as long as possible, even if I do get a cold sore, it’s usually much less severe and heals more quickly.   It may not always be practical to do this, but if you’re at home and can take the time, it may be worth it.

Use over the counter meds - In the past, I’ve used ointments like Abreva and also a homeopathic cream that worked well to shorten the duration of an outbreak.  Zinc sulfate has also been shown to speed healing time and there are a number of additional herbal remedies listed here that I haven’t specifically tried.

Seriously, cold sores are no fun and preventing them is always better than dealing with the healing.  Is there something you’ve found that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

And if you’d like support with transitioning your diet and with strategies for managing stress, I have an arsenal of tools that can help.  An eating plan and lifestyle strategy that reduces the chances of getting cold sores will help you across the board with your health.  Want more information?  Contact me to see how to get started.