COVID’s got Nothing on the ‘IceMan’…

By. Dr. Marika Geis, ND

As an enthusiast of the ‘ancestral health’ model, I’m always looking for cool ways to incorporate elements of our prehistoric life into this modern one. Things like avoiding grains and legumes (especially if you have IBS/IBD or SIBO), waking up with the sun and going to bed with the sun (season permitting), higher fat diets and fasting multiple times weekly (provided we have stable blood sugar). So, when I came across ‘IceMan’, Wim Hof, I discovered yet another way that we can engage our biological programming, born of millennia evolution, to create the conditions for health and healing. Our harried modern life taxes us in unnatural and inappropriate ways; we are wired for physical stresses, not chronic psychological ones.

So, what’s the deal with the IceMan you ask? In short, he is able to accomplish what should otherwise be impossible. In the year 2000, Hof set the Guinness World Record for farthest swim under ice, a distance of 188.6 ft. In January of 2007, Hof set a world record for fastest half marathon barefoot on ice and snow, with a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes, and 34 seconds. He has set 16 world records for direct body contact with ice the longest of which was 1 hour 53 minutes and 2 seconds. Naturally, scientists were curious. Conventional medical wisdom would have us believe that once a body’s temperature falls below 90°F, it is unable to warm itself back up. You can imagine their confusion when, trying to set yet another world record for full body ice immersion (wearing only shorts), his core temperature having started at 98.6°F, dropped to 88°F after 75 minutes of cold immersion then rose during the next 20 minutes to 94°F. Say what?! That’s not supposed to happen!!

Clearly, Hof is unique, both in his motivation and determination, yet he is still a human? Using breathing techniques similar to ‘pranayama’ and the Tibetan ‘Tummo meditation’, the ‘Wim Hof Method’ (WHM) is able to coach a body, any body, into tolerating longer and more intense periods of cold exposure. There are many variations of the breathing method. The basic version consists of three phases as follows (each stage with specific instructions):

  • Controlled hyperventilation
  • Exhalation retention
  • Breath retention

These three phases may be repeated for three consecutive rounds.

 

The effect?

Cold Breathing
The buildup of brown fat and therefore increased basal metabolic rateIncreased energy
Appropriate immune activity (think: autoimmune conditions)Mental clarity
Decreased inflammation Boosted immunity
Balanced hormones Improved sleep
Increased endorphins thus improved mood

Since research began into how Hof was able to accomplish these seemingly superhuman feats, scientists have been able to explore how this method: helps humans acclimate faster to higher altitudes, how we can voluntarily activate our autonomic nervous systems (supposedly beyond our control) and attenuate our innate immunity, how the combination of concentration, cold exposure and meditation can influence inflammation and how it can lead to shifts in metabolic activity, stress resilience and brain activity. Collectively, the effects of the WHM benefit respiratory conditions such as COPD and Asthma, Autoimmune conditions, Fibromyalgia, Arthritis, Migraines, recovering from Lyme disease, and high blood pressure. As of 2019, universities in Germany, Netherlands and the United States all have multiple studies exploring inflammation, mental health and metabolic issues thus expanding the body of evidence attempting to explain how and why this is even possible.

I’m not sure about you, but when I first came across the WHM, I thought “Cool, but do I really have to get into an ice bath for 95 minutes to get the benefits of cold exposure, ‘cuz it just ain’t gonna happen?”. The short answer? No, although it’s certainly something to aspire to. With the understanding that the human body was designed to handle environmental stresses, as this was the hostile and uncertain environment we, as animals, are born into, we can start off with gradual exposure to cold and, using the method outlined by Hof and his son, Enahm, slowly learn how to gain mastery over our environment and the stresses that go along with it. Since I’m the biggest chicken, I’m starting with a minute of cold after every shower…..but….at least I’m starting? (face palm).

 

https://youtu.be/VaMjhwFE1Zw

Mind Body Wealth

Clarifying Values as a Path to Financial Wellness.

By: Dr. Marika Geis, BSc, ND

 

Here’s a sobering reality: Women in Canada earn just 74 cents on the dollar compared to men. Women have longer life expectancies and are therefore more likely to live alone and cash poor in their old age. Despite a new reality where women rely less on their spouses for financial stability (women are earning more, increasingly educated, and demanding more control over their financial futures) women remain at a disadvantage for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the absence of a model that resonates with our values and not just our bottom line.

Personally, one of my biggest obstacles to financial freedom aside from the very legitimate debt that I racked up going to school, was the fact that I lacked a clear plan to tackle it. This was largely due to the shame I felt about my situation. I was mature, responsible and capable but the tape that was playing in my head was: “How can you be this far behind? You’re in your 40’s, you’re still paying off debt when you should be saving for retirement” and on and on it went. It didn’t help that when I went to banks to try and consolidate all my student debt, I was told repeatedly that I was high risk because I didn’t have enough in the way of assets (because I was in school) and “sorry, no, we can’t help you”. Ugh. How discouraging. I was almost ready to resign myself to a revolving door of income and debt with no control (“maybe this is how some folks just need to manage?”) Thankfully, my brain would not accept that and I went on the hunt for help.

Enter money whisperer, Zena Amundsen certified financial planner, Divorce Financial Analyst, and Cash Flow Specialist. Having endured her own financial challenges, she listened to my entire story and assured me that my situation was FAR from unusual and in fact typical. Can I tell you what a relief this was to hear? Her empathy and compassion allowed me to move past my shame and get to the task of addressing my student debt. I realized I wasn’t alone; I wasn’t irresponsible for having made the choices I did and I didn’t need to judge myself so harshly for the vulnerable position I found myself in. Accepting my reality without judgement left me with more bandwidth to structure my cash flow instead of worrying about it. 5 years later my student loans are now paid off. Yay me! BUT… life happens and I have found myself in a position where I need her unique advice again except that this time, the goal isn’t just tackling debt, it’s to make sure that I am financially ‘well’.

To gain more financial literacy, restore our financial identity, and to pass along healthy attitudes about money along to our children, we need to reframe some of our attitudes surrounding money – to that end Zena’s book “The Heart of Your Money: A Woman’s guide. How to Create Your Family Financial Values System and Take Control of your Money”, outlines a clear and practical method that helps us unpack some of our unspoken beliefs about money. Using her own experience, she creates a different language to help women understand how and why they spend their money the way they do and encourages them to evaluate whether or not these habits align with their values. Exercises such as considering your money memory and how it influences your spending habits, your money lessons and money shame allow us to mindfully observe our conditioning around money and become more comfortable with taking charge of our financial health, crisis or no crisis.

As someone who has gone through this process, I can tell you that it isn’t easy. It’s been humbling and at times uncomfortable (I mean, who really wants to curb their habits?) but I can tell you that at the end of the day, while my circumstances haven’t changed, my perspective sure has. There’s less angst about spending money so long as it’s in accordance with my values, I don’t judge my circumstances nearly as harshly; many people are in the same predicament as I, I have less worry about the future as Zena assures me there is still time to build my retirement fund, and most importantly, there’s still room to enjoy my life and pursue my passions. Less bandwidth on worry means more energy for living. My only wish is that I would’ve come across this book about 2 decades ago. No matter, my kids will fare better than I. I see this as being required reading for my household! I can already hear my kids groaning LOL.

 

Click on the link below to see Zena in action….

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs_fz0hFg98

The Right Question in the Darkest Hour

Like most people coping with this new reality, my family and I have settled into a new routine that includes strings of pajama days, eating and sleeping at odd hours, and rationing out chores lest I run out of things to do (did I mention that my house is REALLY clean? LOL). I’ll even admit to a little Netflix coma now and then when things get desperate. During one such moment, a movie I was watching was able to rouse me out of my stupor and inspire this blog post.

You may have noticed that our clinic has grown up in recent months. New décor, new website and now a concerted content strategy to educate and stay connected to our community. But what to write?

In the film “The Darkest Hour”, from the king down to his closest advisors under treat of resignation, Winston Churchill faced ENORMOUS pressure during the War Cabinet Crisis of May 1940 to sign an armistice with Hitler. After the Nazi advance over much of Europe, England’s defeat seemed all but certain. Churchill had one choice: sign the treaty and hand over the country to a madman, or fight to the end. After suggesting he was open to a peace agreement, he still could not bring himself to draft the letter knowing that by doing so he would be surrendering the soul of England. One night, still unsure of how to proceed, he decided to evade his chaperones and steal away to London’s ‘Underground’ (the subway) for the first time in his life and put the dilemma to its passengers. What to do? Not surprisingly, they responded with a resounding “H**L NO! Fight!!” and that was that. The exchange birthed “We shall fight on the beaches”, the second of his most memorable speeches effectively uniting a fractured British Parliament in the fight against Hitler and characterized England’s stubborn resistance to the Nazi advance.

Okay – so we’re not in an armed conflict, but we’re certainly in a version of one. I was struck by the humility of acknowledging that just because you’re in a position to lead doesn’t mean you have all the answers and sometimes the simplest thing to do when you don’t know is, well… ask. COVID-19 has certainly done an effective job at sucking all the oxygen out of the room, but here’s the thing, there’s life and love beyond a pandemic and what we want to know is: What’s important to you these days? What kind of information are you hungry for in the crazy human time that we’re all living through? Let us know and we will diligently try and find the best possible answers for you!

Germ theory vs Terrain? Pasteur and Beauchamp duke it out!

Ever wonder to yourself why you can have two people with similar exposure to a certain pathogen yet one person has only mild symptoms and the other is laid up for weeks on end?

Western Medicine, insofar as it relates to infection, is based primarily on Louis Pasteur’s work on pasteurization (he is AKA the “Father of Microbiology”) The theory goes like this: The body is sterile, vulnerable to attack by external pathogens, and should said pathogens take up residence in the body, a clear clinical course associated with that pathogen ensues. Further, the rationale suggests that in order to be truly well, we need to kill all the bugs and do whatever we can to avoid contact with said bugs in the first place.

This body of work led to the framework for modern medicine: antibiotics, vaccines, sterilization, all tools we are familiar with. This mindset places ALL the emphasis on the bug but says nothing of the terrain into which it’s introduced. One would be forgiven for thinking that if this were the case, things like nutrition and sleep are basically pointless.

Of course, we know this to be untrue. We are starting to see the limits of this theory. More antibiotic resistant infections, skin rashes (bacterial in origin) because of overuse of alcohol-based hand rubs killing protective microbes, and more susceptibility to infections in general because of poor immunity are now some of the mainstays of visits to the doctor’s office.

Looking into Claude Beauchamp’s work (a contemporary of Louis Pasteur) you will find he was widely regarded as a quack, that the body of his work is “comprehensively wrong” as one author put it. Yet there are millions and millions of dollars being funnelled into research investigating the role of the microbiome and the resultant susceptibility to disease.

The thinking basically goes, and this is something I think you will find time during these precarious times, is that the severity of the infection will correlate with the patient’s health status. In other words, the unhealthier the lifestyle, the more out of balance a body is, the more susceptible they will be to disease. Further, the disease will be much more severe in that person compared to a body that is physiologically stable and healthy.

So far, what we’ve gathered with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic, is that the ones who are experiencing the most severe symptoms and thus dying from this virus, are men. Looking closer, the working theory is that men are more likely to binge drink, eat poorly, smoke, and keep erratic hours (women, by the way, would be just as vulnerable if they chose to engage in these behaviours). Knowing the impact that these habits have on our body is it any surprise that this group is more vulnerable to complications?  As of last night (March 26, 2020), CTV reported that more young people are contracting the virus and experiencing complications. The common denominator? Vaping.

It’s important to keep in mind that there are only a few STRICT pathogens out there, one where, if you get exposure to these microbes, you WILL GET SYMPTOMS, no matter who you are. These include malaria, HIV, and syphilis. MOST other microbes are what we call ‘opportunistic’ in that the severity will be determined by your susceptibility to infection in the first place. Is COVID-19 a ‘strict’ pathogen? That remains to be seen. Who should you believe? Pasteur or Beauchamp? Believe them both. Neither of them is wrong. It’s all about the context. Here’s some food for thought though: Louis Pasteur is rumoured to have said on his deathbed in a moment of inspired lucidity, “the terrain, the terrain!”. The modern medicine machine was well underway by then.

 

For more info:

 

http://www.futurehopepediatrics.com/real-immunity

 

https://dreddymd.com/2020/01/30/germ-vs-terrain-theory-which-do-we-adopt-to-be-healthy/

 

 

Say What, Now? Vinegar can help my diabetes?

By: Dr. Marika Geis, BSc, N.D

 

After almost 15 years in practice, I think I can safely say that the two most powerful disruptors of health are chronic psychological stress and the poor diet choices that go along with it (not that these two variables need to go hand in hand, only that they often do). We’ve witnessed the erosion in our health for some time: shift work, fraying family units, smart phones (with the implicit expectation that we need to be ‘ON’ 24 hours a day 7 days a week), lack of social supports, and economic stressors in concert drive the need for easy, processed, hyperpalatable, and lamentably, nutritionally bankrupt foods. Is it really any surprise that our medical offices are congested with people desperate to alleviate their depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, migraines, insomnia, diabetes, and weight gain? Let’s be clear. These are diseases of civilization! Our bodies didn’t all of a sudden just decide to revolt against us to make us suffer in this way. Our lifestyles are overwhelming our body’s capacity to maintain balance during these unprecedented times and we are diminished as a result.

The good news is that if we can work in a few keys areas we can mitigate MUCH of the risk factors that leave us vulnerable to chronic disease.

By now, I think many people are starting to realize the pitfalls of eating without any regard for the consequences, especially as it relates to blood sugar. More and more my patients are coming in with an impressive understanding of:

  • Glycemic index
  • Glycemic load
  • Adequate protein, carbohydrates, fibre, and fat,
  • The relationship between blood glucose/insulin/exercise
  • How stress can overwhelm glycemic control
  • The vicious cycle of insulin dependency and worsening insulin resistance.

However, we can know so much that simple solutions having tremendous benefits are often overlooked. In the context of blood sugar or glycemic control, our unsung hero today is apple cider vinegar (ACV). Beyond its use as a skin tonic, a household cleaner, a condiment, an antiseptic, a preservative, (you can even use it to kill weeds?!!), it also happens to be a very handy way to reduce morning blood sugars simply by consuming 2 tablespoons (diluted) at bedtime. In effect, it lowers fasting morning sugars, what diabetics know as the ‘dawn effect’, a phenomenon whereby morning blood sugars are higher independent of any meal consumed.

How it works isn’t well understood. Some researchers suggest that vinegar exerts a protective effect on the insulin response itself, improves satiety, and perhaps may inhibit salivary amylase (the enzyme that digests carbohydrates). Regardless of how it works, the data is clear.

  • 2 teaspoons of ACV with a high carbohydrate meal reduces blood glucose and insulin by 34%
  • Vinegar to sushi rice lowered glycemic index by 40%
  • When consumed with peanuts (I know, random!) glycemic response was reduced by 55%

I’m often asked: how should I eat to balance all these variables; to live my life, balance my health, and avoid risk factors for chronic disease?

This plate leaves lots of flexibility for Paleo diets, AIP diets, Vegetarian and vegan diets and even a “regular diet”. It simply requires that we stick to whole foods. I will add one more layer to this when considering how to build your plate:

50% of your calories should come from healthy fats

25% of your calories should come from lean protein

25% of your calories should come from complex carbohydrates

Annnnd….. 2 tablespoons of unpasteurized apple cider vinegar before bed. Welcome to your health!

 

For more on Glycemic Control and apple cider vinegar, check out Jason Fung’s Website for more info.

https://www.idm.health

A New Kind of Contagion: An Invitation to Mirth, Surrender and General Silliness

If there was ever a time to find levity in our circumstances, it’s now.  It is no secret that laughter is good medicine, but beyond improving mood and alleviating stress, it also happens to be good for our immune systems? Let’s unpack this ….

In 1964, a political journalist named Norman Cousins, managed and eventually cured (according to his own perception) his Ankylosing Spondylitis (an autoimmune condition affecting the spine). He did this though good nutrition, massive doses of Vitamin C and scheduled boughts of hysterical belly laughter courtesy of “The Three Stooges”. He reports:  “I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep”. Further, “When the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval”.

Really? Laughter? In the words of Bernie Siegel, an internationally recognized expert in the field of cancer treatment and complementary holistic medicine: “The simple truth is that happy people generally don’t get sick.”

 

Taking a dive into the medical literature we find that laughter exerts its effects primarily by engaging the diaphragm (you know, that massive muscle that allows you to breathe?). It just so happens that when the diaphragm is working, the rate of lymphatic circulation increases about 10-15x it’s normal rate.

“What’s lymph?”, you ask. Our lymphatic system is a series of vessels and nodes located throughout the entirety of your body.  These are the guys that get swollen and tender under your jaw when you have a sore throat.  They clear away metabolic waste, excess fluids, dead cells and even a few microorganisms.  More crucially, they make the cells that protect your body from future infection: your ANTIBODIES.

Our blood circulates through a network of vessels with the heart as a pump. The lymphatic system, also a network of vessels, does not have a pump. Instead, lymph gets moved by physical manipulation (a little dry skin brushing anyone?), muscular contraction and…. wait for it: BREATHING!! The deeper we breathe, the more lymph we move and thus production of those precious antibodies is increased.

Turns out that laughing heartily is correlated with (among other things) the following:

  • Increases baseline sIgA levels; this is the MOST ABUNDANT ANTIBODY in your immune system.
  • Increases Natural Killer cell ‘cytotoxicity’; particularly helpful in fighting viruses.
  • Increases the number and activation of ‘T-cells’ destroying cells that are infected by a virus/bacteria
  • Increased levels of B cells – the cells that make antibodies (they require activation by T-cells)

And lastly, anything that engages the diaphragm also engages the parasympathetic response. This is the “rest and digest” portion of the autonomic nervous system. That makes it a great stress reliever. I’m not sure about you, but I could use a little more stress relief in my life!!

The take away message is NOT that a good hearty chuckle is all that’s required to help bolster our body’s immune system.  Instead, the point is that laughter is a critical tool by which our body’s defenses are enhanced making it harder for infection to take up residence. So your Covid-19 tool bag might include: painstaking handwashing, using oil of oregano, Vitamin C, wearing a protective mask, physically distancing, zinc, echinacea and…..some time with Napoleon Dynamite (OMGoodness – can I just tell you how much that movie makes me laugh??).