All posts by ashleyhealth101

About ashleyhealth101

Part time health-centric blogger gradually learning the craft

Finding Balance while Living with Autoimmune Related Conditions

March is autoimmune disease awareness month.

For those of you who know or follow me, you are likely well aware that living healthful and well is a key focus area for both my personal life and professional niche.  This may be in spite of having chronic conditions or underlying physiological dysfunction.  The fact that I carry my own diagnosis and am a fit to “autoimmune wellness warrior” can present certain idiosyncracies to maintaining balance.

Professionally, I work with people to live better, well, and most healthful, while personally, I am often holding on tight while navigating through turbulent, bumpy roads all while working to keep it all together!  Naturally, it can give me greater ability to express empathy, but it can also leave me feeling that I have a massive case of imposter syndrome.

A few insights on autoimmune related conditions are as follows (more can be found via the AARDA):

  • Approximately 50 million Americans are afflicted with an autoimmune-related condition.
  • There are over 80 conditions confirmed associated with underlying autoimmune dysfunction and the list is growing.
  • Women are disproportionately affected.
  • Late or misdiagnosis has been common.
  • Despite supportive evidence for lifestyle interventions significantly influencing outcomes, immunosuppressant treatment is still common yet may result in devastating long-term side effects.
  • The body of research centered on effects from environmental factors and the manifestation of autoimmune-related conditions is mounting.

For people who are able to put autoimmune conditions into remission, a 3-5 year timeline is common.  This is typically curated through a “lifestyle-medicine” approach which will involve a range of shifts including dietary approaches, relationship with sleep and stress, reduction in adverse environmental exposures where possible, and a potential range of therapeutic related approaches to nudge the body closer to healthful homeostasis.  For many of us, like myself, complete remission may not be realistic, but a significant reduction in the severity could be possible.  Therefore, 5 years not just after a diagnosis, but from the time in which notable lifestyle changes are begun is kind of a relevant time to do a robust check-in.

This spring will mark 5 years since I have had a formal diagnosis for autoimmune related conditions, (which often cluster and may come with secondary conditions that are considered to be present as a result of the specific autoimmune condition(s) manifestation).  In many ways, things are going relatively well.  There may still be an occasional flare-up or mishap, but many of my symptoms have been significantly reduced, my antibody labs came back the best results I have seen since I started this journey, and I have indoctrinated the lifestyle changes to become my new normal without much mental anguish to think it all through.

Which brings up a good point.  As much as these conditions are physiological, there is also a chaotic dance in store for the mindset.  However, although sometimes haphazard with certain unexpected variables, it’s still one that can be orchestrated.  Therefore, a few wellness tips can also be rather impactful!

Manage expectations through letting go of perfect.  “Well” does not mean perfect.  Hey type A-ers, I’m talking even a little more closely to you.  Systems and plans can be fantastic for staying on track, but remaining flexible while having a sense of humor can also go a long way!

It’s ok to say No.  Not everyone is going to understand what we are dealing with.  It’s not personal, educate when it’s appropriate, but otherwise, let it go.  Time and energy are much better spent on other areas in which we can enthusiastically say “yes”.

Focus on the unintentional gifts.  For me, I have significantly more knowledge and perspective than I would have had otherwise.  Also, I have been able to shift various focus and responsibility to a more meaningful purpose.

A few other bloggers’ posts that are a little similar to this one that may provide further insight and inspiration.

Autoimmune Disease Warriors, About Us

The Advantages of Disadvantages

Why I Am Not an Autoimmune Warrior


Photo by Marion Michele on Unsplash


Live Out Your Joy

It was a blast to plan out an Instagram contest with a fellow entrepreneur who takes center on healthful living.  Be sure to follow @theConureLife and @LiveConscientiousLiveHealthful on Instagram to play along.

It starts on February 13th (US time) which also happens to coincide with “National Self Love Day”.

The daily themes center on healthful habits and behaviors that can be easily and consistently addressed, such as hydration, breathing, eliminating negative facets that don’t serve you, movement, and appropriate rest.

Additional ideas for you to “Live Out Your Joy” can be found in this Mind Body Green article, 10 Everyday Choices for a Soul-centered, Joyous Life.  I also love this article written by Eric Barke, How to Live Joyously Like an Old Person, that gains perspective on joy from our elder population.

Feel free to join us!



Photo credits to @JuicePlus and @WellnessStockShop

What About Vermont?

The Green Mountain State may just live up to it’s “green” status and perhaps there is a little bit of truth to Keep Vermont Weird as well.

In mid-October, I visited this lovely state.  It was just as the leaves were starting to change in color.  Therefore, I saw plenty of green with some pleasant pops of red, yellow, and orange as well.

My decision to take the trip was, ultimately, the result of two state-wide campaigns that went viral about mid-2018.  One, a grant-funded remote-worker relocation incentive program that was passed by their state legislature and, two, a tourism campaign referred to as Stay-to-Stay which invited people to visit Vermont with the consideration of relocation and included a schedule of events centered around leading a life there.

In a nutshell, I just had to see about Vermont…

As a long-standing practitioner of green living, I have always been curious about things I had heard with regards to life in Vermont.  Perhaps this has been partly a picturesque pipe dream of becoming a homesteader paired with another part desire to “get out of dodge”, however, it continued to stick in the back of my mind for some years.  When I learned of the two programs, the notion re-emerged to top of mind and I simply could not let the thought pass without taking action.

I spent most of my time in the Burlington area.  Coming from living primarily in a major urban environment, I felt it would give me a good sample of Vermont while also keeping a bit of an urban feel.  (When I return to Vermont, I would also really like to visit the Rutland area).

So what did I learn from visiting this unique place?

There are many facets I could comment on, but the ones that stood out the most include the following:

Smaller sized population areas do NOT need to impede larger scale support for farmers markets and locally sourced food.

In fact, the Burlington Farmers Market, which is not the only one in Burlington, but is the most well known, could just about give Pike Place Market in Seattle a run for their money.  There is so much enthusiasm for “Vermont made” and many options are organic and/or sustainable.  Also, in the main center of Burlington, no big-box grocers reside.  The primary grocery shopping center is a neighborhood co-op, City Market, Onion River Co-op.

Luck had it that a fellow alumni from where I received my undergraduate and Master of Business Administration degrees worked in leadership for this co-op and was willing to meet me.  His enthusiasm for the place was invigorating.  Also, he shared some impressive data points that reflect just how much Vermont seems to throw support towards local growers.

Social impact and business can co-exist… really, they can.

This theme was salient across my time there.  From the presentations at Vermont Tech Jam, a meeting with a hybrid co-working/business accelerator space, VCET, to casual conversations with business owners residing there, it was evident that this is a priority.

“Vermonters”, be they those raised there or transplanted, seem to have strived to work sufficient and smart, yet not lose consciousness for the communities in which they operate and service.  This is further illustrated by the number of Certified B Corporations there.

I gained a sense of small but mighty from the business community there.  Successes originating and/or operating within Vermont, such as Jet Blue, Seventh Generation, Gardener’s Supply Company, Mamava, and Sustain Natural, only add to the tout that business can behave better, even if just a little.

Green and healthful living can be practiced on a regular basis anywhere, but a few small yet supportive infrastructures may help us to be mindful of doing so.

Perhaps it was the air of the place (pun intended), but there were certainly signs for support of health promotion.  Even subtle reminders, such as attractive light pole banners reading “Smoke-free community” within areas where people work out and play outdoors were noticeable and seemed to be well-respected.  More information in these links; Church Street, Burlington Parks

There were also consistent reminders to take the idea of a socially-supportive community into consideration.  The lake monster themed change stands in downtown Burlington, for example, were fun and artistic but served a relevant charitable purpose.

It was also very easy to find recycling, which, believe it or not (…in 2018!), some municipalities still fail at royally!

Yoga really does help fuel the body, mind, and soul.

I was blown away by the number of yoga studios and the quality of instruction I received.  Many private studios offer a range of classes and most include some sort of donation based class at least once a week with a charitable beneficiary designated.

Spaces calling themselves wellness co-ops or collectives housed an interdisciplinary range of allied health, wellness, and fitness professionals.  These centers and shared spaces reflected both a mutual support for one another in business and presented convenience which seemed more patient-centric and nurturing by design.  Some of them centered on social services.  Almost all of them included a range of holistic services, including various yoga modalities and therapy.

Not to mention, this state has thrown their hat in the ring to support integrative healthcare, for example, naturopathic physicians (NMD’s) can operate as PCP’s (primary care physicians).  In addition, as compared to other states in the U.S., Vermont policy is more supportive for the range of nutrition-related professionals.

In closing…

I came back feeling a little more fresh and cleaner.  The landscape was spectacular.  With the scenic beauty and crisp “mountain air,” it’s hard to imagine not feeling a little more well after spending time there.

Vermont, like any state, is certainly imperfect.  However, I have little doubt that the sense of community and cultural norms centered around green space, healthful living, and social-consciousness in Vermont have kept this a really, really great place to not just visit, but also live, work, or play!

For a little fun, more Vermont slogans available here.

I also would like to give a special nod to the yoga apparel store Yogarama Athletica.  If in Burlington, it is definitely worth stopping in.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Support your body to better ward off infection & illness with this recipe

Herbs and spices have various “healing” properties.  They can also play a role in prevention.

Specific profiles will vary, but in general, appropriate usage of herbs and spices in our dietary protocols can make a favorable impact on digestion, circulation, blood sugar regulation, and immune response.  Within the scope of health-beneficial herbs and spices, options such as cinnamon, cloves, and ginger are often revered.  (click on each of them for more info)

I am happy to share this nourishing hot beverage from my mother’s recipe Rolodex.  A true inspiration, she has been steadfast in practicing whole-food, natural-living protocols for many years.

This warming drink comes especially in handy for times that you notice signs and symptoms of a nasty bug coming on, such as a cold or other viral infection.

Start with the following:

  • cinnamon stick (break it up if you can)
  • 1 tsp whole clove buds
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • two large mugs of water

Put the water in a pan and bring to a high boil.  Add cinnamon and clove.  Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Turn off heat and add ginger.  Steep for about 15 more minutes.

Time to get warm and spicy.  Drink up.  Strain the desired amount.  Add lemon juice and honey to taste (optional).  Keep any remaining beverage to sip on later.

Photo credit Wellness Stock Shop #wellnessstockshop @wellnessstockshop

Free Fitness Fav’s

This fall I ended up booking a fair amount of travel across a 6-week period.  Previously, I had not leveraged various online fitness resources.  However, this time frame allowed me the chance to give them a try and figure out my favorite go-to’s.

In considering this avenue, there are essentially two directions to take;

  1. pick and chose from pre-set workouts, many of which are on platforms that include filters to help make a decision
  2. sign up for online programs that provide courses in a sequential nature

It seems a little more likely to find free options in category #1, but for paid options in category #2, the price point may not be high and the structure they provide could help to stay on track.

I tried the following;

  • Fitness Blender is very easy to follow, has great filter settings and covers a wide range of fitness type and levels.  Also, I LOVED the timer.
  • Jessica Smith TV had been featured in a Greatist article.  Her cues are well paced and easy to follow.  For someone who needs a little music, her videos are synced with instrumental fitness-oriented beats and tunes.
  • Commune offered a sequential online yoga program for free and it was perfectly timed to my travel schedule.  Courses are considerate of all levels and often shorter in duration so they can fit into busy and/or irregular schedules.

Tips I would provide are likely familiar but good reminders;

  • invest in resistance bands and keep 2-3 options for varied workouts (also, these pack easy and don’t add extra weight to luggage)
  • talk to your favorite trainers before you leave for their best tips and tricks on the go
  • keep a flexible perspective as there will undoubtedly be variability in various factors such as space, weather, and scheduling

Other suggestions are to check out retailers such as Athleta or Lululemon for community-based options.  Also, yoga studios, both franchise and locally owned, are fantastic resources.  I even found some local community center options for pilates and yoga.  Many events can be found through perusing Eventbrite or Facebook.  You might even make a new friend!

*Photo credit to Wellness Stock Shop.

Reasons to Get to Know your Local Farms

#ShopLocal represents a bit of a movement for many reasons…  supporting local economies, helping small businesses and entrepreneurs, and enjoying specific, regional options are a few of those.  When it comes to nutrition, it can also equate to greater transparency, produce picked at peak ripeness, reducing an urban footprint, and some regional health benefit, such as honey that is more likely to support a reduction in allergy symptoms related to a local area.

It’s also a personalized experience! 

A recent trip to a local grower, Wauka Meadows Farm, near the area my mother retired to introduced a new food (for my knowledge) that carries a nutritional punch, the muscadine grape (pictured above).  It also led to a healthful discussion with one of the owners with regards to local produce, the growing environment and regional climate, and some barn kittens running around the property.  Having the ability to speak directly with the owners is a fantastic opportunity for places such as this.  It also allows us to vote with our consumer dollar which for transitional farming areas may be quite impactful.  Finally, you may just meet a local billy goat who relishes the idea of your attention!

* provides a write up on muscadine grapes HERE.

*Find sustainable and organic farms in the North and Central Georgia area via Northeast Georgia Locally Grown CSA (community supported agriculture) program.

A segway into glyphosate and engineered plants for food

I am someone who grew up in a farming family from the Midwestern part of the US.  For me, it was times two.  Both grandfathers operated commercial farms.  One of these eventually closed up when I was in middle school while the other still exists today.  However, my paternal grandfather’s story was a bit of an interesting one.

In late middle school, we were given an assignment to interview someone living during World War II.  I interviewed him.  Little had I known that he hadn’t gone to war.  He was, in fact, in chemistry for the Department of Agriculture and it was determined that his work was relevant enough to avoid the draft.  He later left due to a disconnect with some of what that they were doing.  It wasn’t until many years later that I came to further understand the significance of this.

I wish I could tell my late grandfather that it got better.  Unfortunately, we have a silent war occurring over chemical based applications in farming and glyphosate (a predominant agent in Round Up) is one of the most controversial headliners involved.  The US is one of the battle grounds.

It is no doubt that even adding a post of this nature will raise some eye brows.  However, despite this, I feel it is imperative to provide information that may be relevant to health.

Recently, I attended a community sponsored presentation delivered in a “state of” format.  The lead presenter, a retired chemist who worked on genetic engineering of food, began following literature centered on glyphosate and engineered foods post-career.  As a result, he became concerned and shifted into information based advocacy.  This blog post synthesizes what was provided.

The History

Glyphosate, a molecule, is one of the most successful chemicals in terms of global distribution.  It was developed and patented in the early 1970’s, then formulated as the herbicide “Round Up” in 1974.  Later, it was patented as an antibiotic.  (Remember this fact as it will come up again).

Initially it served to be a weeding agent which could reduce time and costs related to plowing fields.  In theory this could impact yield, but concrete and clear, non-biased* data suggesting benefit to yield may not be available.

Over time, additional applications of the substrate have emerged.  This includes topical applications to GMO (genetically modified organisms) and a process called “chemical ripening” which includes another spray application just before harvest.  The intent of chemical ripening is to even out the harvest across the land.

…Are you counting?

This is now three layers onto the soil in which the plants grow and, if the plants are GMO, one layer directly on to plants themselves (in which you may consume).

In countries such as the US, we have also observed a shift in the approved MRL (maximum residue limits), ie the trace amount of the pesticide legally allowed to be left over from the application.  At this point in time, more residue is allowed to remain on the food or feed as compared to years past.  The presentation did not address if there is a MRL for the soil in which the plants are grown.

…That’s right, you are now legally allowed to be exposed to more in the US.

It is also used “everywhere”.  Beyond farms, there is distribution direct to consumers for around homes, landscape applications, and other commercial ones such as along train routes and highways.

To not be exposed at all to this agent in industrialized countries such as the US would be literally impossible.

Professionally, I can tell you that we have only recently started taking “collective burden” seriously for exposures to chemical agents across the board vs LOAEL’s and NOAEL’s** on a per substrate basis.  Dr’s  Walter Crinnion and Joseph Pizzorno are two leading environmental medicine professionals who can share a wealth of information covering this topic.

What is Controversial?

As I would hope readers will understand, a commercialized chemical agent with this large of market share will have its share of study data, some of which will be funded for and directed by the company of manufacturer (it is likely you have heard of them…), while others will be independent in nature, ie external to the company of manufacture.

Although not an absolute safe guard against biases, independent, peer reviewed studies are considered gold standard.  Funding sources for external studies can vary.  There may be incentives for findings in industrial studies, but this will not be the case for university based trials.

Some findings in non-company funded and directed research has raised cause for concern.  Including, but not limited to (note, support and level of significance for each of the bullets below varies based upon the area of research);

  • animal studies suggesting vulnerability from exposure to the chemical
  • mitochondrial damage (remember, mitochondria are bacteria)
  • association to inflammation and gut lining permeability in humans (two precursors for chronic disease, particularly those related to immune dysfunction)
  • potential link to adverse cellular health and DNA damage (studies have suggested that glyphosate can enter cells in replace of an amino acid glycine, but, if so, will not fold correctly)
  • accumulation in proteins, such as animal and human milk
  • observation of “super weeds” that are resistant to glyphosate

Research reflecting possible adverse effect from current applications of glyphosate has piqued interest on a global level.  As it stands, the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a call for concern.  In the US, the EPA has not reissued the WHO’s call (to date).  From a historical perspective, this is NOT common.

Dr. Zach Bush is one provider who maintains various information related to health concerns and pesticide exposure.

Other Cause for Concern

Although slightly outside of the scope of this presentation, countries such as the US have very high rates of obesity and chronic conditions associated to being over weight or obese.  Concern for the over consumption of refined and processed food choices providing limited to no quality nutritional value is high.  Many of these processed foods represent applications of widely produced GMO crops such as soy, corn, and rapeseed that makes canola oil.  As mentioned above, these foods are not only being refined and processed, they are the ones directly sprayed with herbicides in commercial farming.

Why a Community Presentation?

Local communities have little to no authority to regulation pesticides, yet some communities would like to do more.  Some policy driven organizations have formed and will vary by the local level.  National agencies do also exist.

In Closing

Product selection, including food, is one way to reduce risk and provide some level of a consumer voice (via purchasing decisions).  GMO based crops are herbicide resistant by design.  This includes soy, corn, canola, sugar beet, alfalfa, sorghum and cotton.  These crops are sprayed directly as plants and.  Chemical ripening is popular in grain, seed, and legume based crops.  Therefore, these plant sources for food and consumer products may have the highest application frequency.

A few other resources are listed below.

Typically I allow comments on posts.  Due to the offensive nature some take towards anyone who presents any sort of information related to this specific topic, I have turned comments off.  As I said, there is a silent war.  I believe it is a sad and disturbing one.

Other resources

Research publications

Clair, E., Mesnage, R., Travert, C. & Seralini, G.E. (2012, Mar).  A Glyphosate-based Herbicide Induces Necrosis and Apoptosis in Mature Rat Testicular Cells In Vitro, and Testosterone Decrease at Lower Levels.  Toxicology In Vitro, 26(2), 269-279.

Gasnier, C., et al. (2009, Aug 21).  Glyphosate-based Herbicides are Toxic and Endocrine Disruptors in Human Cell Lines.  Toxicology, 263(9), 184-191.

Kruger, M., et al. (2014).  Detection of Glyphosate Residues in Animals and Humans.  Environmental and Analytical Toxicology, 4(2).

Larsen, K., Najle, R., Lifschitz, A. & Virkel, G. (2012, Nov).  Effects of Sub-lethal Exposure of Rats to the Herbicide Glyphosate in Drinking Water: Glutathione Transferase Enzyme Activities, Levels of Reduced Glutathione and Lipid Peroxidation in Liver, Kidneys and Small Intestine.  Environmental Toxicology and Pharmacology, 34(3), 811-818.

Samsell, A. & Seneff, S. (2013, Dec).  Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance.  Interdisciplinary Toxicology, 6(4), 159-184.

Samsell, A. & Seneff, S. (2013, Apr 18).  Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases.  Entropy, 15, 1416-1463.

Swanson, N.L., Leu, A., Abrahamson, J. & Wallet, B. (2014).  Genetically Engineered Crops, Glyphosate and the Deterioration of Health in the United States of America.  Journal of Organic Systems 9(2).


*Non-biased is a descriptive term commonly used in reference to scientific information.  Essentially in any form of scientific presentation (published studies, information used in white papers, citations used in verbal/visual presentations, etc), peer-reviewed, independent studies are considered the standard for "non-bias".  Some bias may still exist in how the information is presented or how the study was conducted.  Despite a scientific preference for peer-reviewed and independent, studies funded by companies, that are also self-directed and reviewed, can be published.  Some journal standards do exist, but there are many publications and media sources to date.  Academic based research institutions and the researchers involved are not compensated with incentives related to research outcomes in the same way as they could be if private industry is their workplace and/or setting of research.  Disclosure of this information is suppose to be indicated when it is published (see... ).

**LOAEL and NOAEL refer to Lowest Observed Adverse Effect Level and No Observed Adverse Effect Level.  These scientific standards are used in assessing safety and approving various products that may be produced for commercial reasons.

Medical Cannabis, oh my…

If you had asked me a few years ago my thoughts on medical marijuana (or cannabis), I would have likely half way nodded, then mumbled something about attending a public health centered presentation on it once and it’s typically a very low dose that is necessary.

As it stands now, I live in a state piloting a medical cannabis program. In the last few months I have seen it presented to an area health professionals networking group I am a part of, observed the launch of a docu-series, The Sacred Plant, and met some representatives from a local dispensary who were set up at a farmer’s market. Therefore, a few weeks ago, I made a point to attend an informational session presented by the dispensary. I also asked my integrative physician (M.D.) about it.

Now, I am one of the many patients who skirts a fine line. I have diagnosis’ (multiple autoimmune conditions) that are similar to those on my state’s list of “approved conditions”, but am not an exact match to the program as it currently stands. Based on some of the information presented in the docu-series, this could be an unfortunate disadvantage. However, the list is apparently evolving and hopefully expanding to be more inclusive for those who could be better served if access to the program were available.

I learned a few key points from an information session on medical cannabis.

Dose and consumption options for medical cannabis are vast and dependent on bio-individual factors. Some trial and error may be required to arrive at appropriate dose (amount, frequency, and compounding proportions). Therefore, a program directed by medical regulation can be beneficial.

Essentially, the two main compounds of interest for medical dose/compounding are CBD and THC. Again, proportioning is very, very personal.

There are oils, tinctures, topical applications, edibles, and hash (which would need to be smoked). Pricing will vary across a somewhat wide range. Again, bio-individuality and specific circumstances will play a role (despite how policy is written).

The Illinois program is designed, in part, to support local growers and be beneficial to job growth/creation within the state. (*No mention of farming methods was provided, such as organic, sustainable, or conventional).

At this point, for my particular state, ONLY medical cannabis is approved. A list of medical conditions will likely be available from your state health department. Some states have approved a recreational dose. Including a recreational provision is thought to support sustainability of the growers and operators within the industry.

The Illinois program is riddled with fees for those seeking a medical card and approval is for a limited duration. So far, no aid based program exists for those who may have need, but cannot shell out the several hundred dollars just to apply for the medical card. A finger print (think forensics) is also required and this represents another fee.

There are also no guarantees of approval and, if denied, there is no refund of the fees. Therefore, it is critical, before applying, to meet with an appropriate representative 100% knowledgeable on the regulatory aspects of the program.

A physician directive is required and, at this point, ONLY the M.D. designation counts (no D.O., P.A., etc). Also, not all physicians are on board. Dispensaries have lists of those open and willing to work with their specific centers if your preferred physician is not comfortable providing a directive. The dispensaries are also aggressively working on outreach at both consumer and professional levels.

Care takers can be designated in order to help facilitate purchasing/pick up from dispensaries and specific approval processes exist for them.

So what?

As you can see, there are definitely enhanced options available to those with medical conditions that could benefit from medical cannabis in specific states and/or for those who simply wish to use these therapies in their treatment protocols. However, there are caveats to be considered. It will also take support in planning the financial aspect. Some centers have employed health educators and coaches to help patients in the lifestyle planning facets.

Information sessions and workshops are now being offered by both dispensaries and advocacy groups, but offerings will vary based on where you live. Some groups have been able to line up time and space at local libraries.

A brief overview of possible health benefits of medical cannabis is provided in this Harvard Health Letter published in early 2018.

A broader lens on advocacy, legal information, industrial applications, and synthesis of medical use can be found from NORML.

Further information on costs are synthesized by another dispensary;

I would also throw a word of caution that the business aspect of this has become a HUGE topic in both media and on the black market. Due to this frenzy, misinforming media could be out there.

Recently in Illinois, “tainted synthetic pot” led to several hospitalizations and a few deaths. It was eventually linked back to a man in the Peoria area. A Chicago Tribune article provides further details here.

If I use affiliate links, small monetary compensation may be received.

What is “functional” and how does this apply to YOUR health?

Photo credit: Jan Kahánek, @honza_kahanek.

“Functional” is a bit of a buzzword these days with respect to health and healthcare.  There are applications across physical fitness and movement, food and nutrition, and healthcare practice.  For the purposes of this post, I am focusing on the application for professionals operating in healthcare and health service specialties.  My aim is to provide you a brief synthesis to support you when seeking out someone working with functional healthcare frameworks.

The term “functional” in healthcare emerged over 25 years ago as the field of integrative health practitioners and scientists was working to standardize processes into systematized approaches.  This was not just in the practice of care, but in the teaching of up and coming health professionals.  The movement is largely credited to Dr. Jeffrey Bland who still takes on national speaking roles and will leave his audiences with no shortage of relevant information.  More on this history can be found here.

Regardless, the key take-away is that the term “integrative” represents a broader application of approaches and methodologies while “functional” indicates specific training in systematized frameworks for these approaches, ie “functional” is a module within “integrative” health.

As I have found both in practice and personal experiences, taking the comprehensive lens that “Functional Medicine/Healthcare” provides leads to greater clarity and understanding for the full picture.  This is sometimes referred to as “whole health”.  Furthermore, this creates greater efficiencies and helps reduce decision fatigue.  We set better, more realistic goals for ourselves and engage better in our professional relationships with healthcare providers.

Andrea Nakayama, founder of the Functional Nutrition Lab training institute (in which I have trained), describes this further in a blog post (click here).  Furthermore, she also defines Functional Nutrition as “a therapeutic focus on restoring the optimum function of the body and its organs, that works with systems and frameworks towards resolving the root causes of any sign, symptom, or diagnosis, with a highlight on the importance of diet and lifestyle modification as part of its approach” (n.d.).

In healthcare practice and continued education, there are applications of systematized approaches and there are certification programs.  Ideally, these two components will be combined.  More realistically, neither provide an absolute for the quality of care you will receive and problem solving ability of the practitioner.  However, relying on professionals who have had some validation by way of structured training in functional approaches can help steer you in the correct direction.  Secondary to that, professional development training can speak wonders to how the professional operates (communications, utilization of time, how they run their business, expressions of empathy, etc).

In healthcare, specific licensed practitioners can become certified by the Institute of Functional Medicine.  These practitioners will likely be more involved in the community facets around functional medicine (learning modules, events, etc) and they will be included on the IFM directory.  Essentially, these providers will likely have earlier access to information and updates related to the practice.  Other practitioners select training modules leveraging the approaches, but, for a variety of reasons, may not pursue IFM certification or they may be representative of professional categories in which certification is not an option.

Over the last 10-15 years, we have observed a boom in other supportive allied health professionals, such as health coaches, herbalists, essential oil experts, etc.  Much of this is associated to our current landscape of chronic disease and conditions.  Certification and licensing of professionals in these categories is evolving and varies by state.  There has been work to standardize health coaching certification in the last 1-3 years.  However, training programs in which organizations such as the International Consortium for Health & Wellness Coaching recognize continue to evolve.

Therefore, my suggestion is to always ask questions.  Don’t be shy.  You are the health consumer and we are working to empower you to make better decisions for you and your family’s health.

I am always happy to receive and respond to questions!  More information about my background and training can be found on the “about” page within my website.

Tips from Deanna Minich, leading nutrition professional?

“DNA is like a canvas, food is like the paint…”  – Dr. Deanna Minich

The art of nutrition (and the science) is a practice that has captivated me.  Starting as early as my adolescent years, it has carried me from a passionate interest and professional focus through, more recently, a healing journey with autoimmune conditions.

Someone who has masterfully crafted this “art” is a nutrition professional introduced to me a few years ago while I was studying public health and the University of Illinois, Chicago.  As you can imagine, the opportunity to see her speak live was something not to be missed!

Deanna Minich is an educator, scientist, author, and sought after speaker.  She seeks to focus on health and vitality through healing protocols that are both scientific and creative.

Throughout her career, she has sought to “unite people to talk about food in a cohesive way.”  In doing so, she relies on colors of the rainbow as a primary teaching aid.  Her newest book, The Rainbow Diet: A Holistic Approach to Radiant Health Through Foods and Supplements, encourages a nourishing relationship with food and includes recipes, activities, and a wealth of information.

As she explained in her live talk, food is both information (the scientific lens) and connection (part of the art).

One illustration is from a look at “healing spices”.  Flavor brought about from specific spice and herb combinations can be definitive to styles of cuisine.  As it turns out, there are also certain healing properties of these plant compounds (otherwise, informative).  However, they can also warm the heart, so to speak, and bring about larger concepts, such as social connection.  Across the various profiles from turmeric and paprika to parsley or cilantro, we see the colors of the rainbow begin to emerge.

Shifting into a larger edibles, we can look at whole foods, such as strawberries, carrots, potatoes, cabbage, and kale (to name just a few).  Not only are these foods power houses for various phytonutrients related to skin and flesh colors (information), they can elicit specific moods and feelings (connection).

Digging deeper into color, there is an emotional spectrum associated to various colors of the rainbow, such as red commonly associated to energy.  That being said, as an educator, connecting food options can become just as much creative as it is scientific or routine.

Synthesizing her work and the related science could result in a much longer blog post!  However, a few key take away points and resources are as follows:

Take Away Points

Embrace small bites & sampling – Avoid falling into the phytonutrient gap.  Across all color groups, eat a wide variety of foods in smaller doses of each to optimize micro-level nutrition.

Consider the possibilities – Don’t like tomatoes and worry you may be missing lycopene?  Guess what, nature figured that out.  There are other foods in nature that will deliver the same compounds.  Try watermelon, guava, or cooked sweet red peppers.

Aim for ripeness – Foods picked when they are ripe, generally deliver more optimal nutrient profiles.  Therefore, buying direct from the source and eating seasonally becomes quite relevant.  For scenarios in which this can not occur, there are a few sensory tips and tricks to follow OR we even have newer technologies to guide us.

Couple up – Some micro-level nutrients absorb better in the presence of macro-level compounds such as healthful fat or complete protein (ie “food synergy”).

Get creative – Buy yourself a box of crayons and mark yourself up a colorful canvas each week representing different foods you intake by color.  Are any of the colors missing from your canvas?


Food and Spirit health professional training – explore creative ways to illustrate scientific concepts associated to food and receive various tools for support

2 1/2 min video on finding fresh produce in the super market – also, check out Jo Robinson’s book Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health

SCiO The World’s First Handheld Moelcular Sensor – Development Kit (1) – digital sensory tool that can assess molecular aspects of substrates such as macro-nutrient profiling of food or lab results for skin care (see demo here)

Self monitor through options such as Berkeley Test Nitric Oxide Saliva Test Strips, 10 Count or Ph Test Strips 200 Count – Great for Alkaline diet and overall ph balance – Free Alkaline Food Chart (Sent Via Email) and also ask your practitioner to provide you a Nutrition-focused Physical Assessment/Exam

***Thank you to the Chicago Functional Forum chapter including Dr. Amy Weiler and Anne Gnuechtel for organizing and hosting this impressive presentation.

In need of formalized support to make healthful lifestyle changes?  Contact me through my business site.

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