Thursday, November 5, 2015

Immune Boosting Chicken Soup

·         6 cups organic chicken broth
·         2 cups water
·         1 organic chicken breast
·         2 – 3 organic chicken thighs
·         1 large onion chopped
·         5 cloves of garlic chopped fine and left to sit for 10 minutes
·         1 inch of minced ginger
·         1 tsp turmeric powder
·         ½ tsp black pepper
·         1/4 cup lemon juice
·         2 heads of baby bok choy chopped
·         or a small napa cabbage chopped
·         4 cups of organic baby spinach or chopped bunch of kale
·         2 teaspoons coconut oil or 1 tablespoon olive oil
·         ¼ cup of chopped flat leaf parsley
·         Salt to taste

Finely chop the garlic and let it sit for 10 min.
After 10 min heat 2 teaspoons of coconut oil or a tablespoon of olive oil in a stock pot and let it get hot (not smoking). Add turmeric powder and black pepper.  Let it sizzle for 10 – 20 sec and then add onions, garlic and ginger.  Add a splash of chicken broth and sweat the onions till they are softened.  Then add the remainder of the chicken broth and the chicken pieces.  Add salt to taste.  Let the soup simmer on medium low heat till the chicken is tender (about 30 min).  Put the chicken on a cutting board and shred it chicken with two forks, pulling apart the fibers into bite size pieces.  Put the chicken back in the pot and then add the bok choy or napa cabbage.  Once it is tender, add the lemon juice, ¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper and simmer till flavors are incorporated.  Add prewashed organic baby spinach or and turn the heat off.  Cover the pot to keep the soup hot.  Add parsley before serving. Serve with organic toasted bread with olive oil.

I have added cubed potatoes and carrot to this soup as well.  If you choose to do this, add them after the broth is added so they can soften by the time the soup is ready.

For a VEGETARIAN VERSION, use vegetable broth and add cubed and broiled tofu instead of chicken.
Serves 8

fun MEDICINE facts:
  1. Garlic needs to sit for ten minutes after being crushed or chopped for the enzyme alliinase to be activated and stimulate its anti-cancer and bactericidal properties.  If garlic is not allowed to sit for 10 minutes and is fried soon after it is chopped, its health benefits are lost.
  2. The anti-inflammatory properties of ginger are well known.  It relaxes the walls of the intestines relieving intestinal spasms, has anti-colon and ovarian cancer properties and boosts the immune system.
  3. Frying black pepper with turmeric with black pepper in oil increases its absorption by 2000 fold. Turmeric has powerful anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties and also regulates blood sugar levels..
  4. Bok choy as a super food is high in fiber, Vitamin C and folic acid.
  5. Parsley is high in Vitamins K, C, A and contains a small percentage of iron and folate.  It also cleanses the liver.
  6. Kale is one of the most nutrient dense greens available.  Some are worried about the high concentration of oxalic acid (forms kidney stones) in kale.  When heated or cooked, the oxalic acid concentration diminishes decreasing its likelihood for kidney stone formation.
I made up this recipe for chicken soup when I came down with a bad sinus infection this year.  I did not want to take antibiotics so I proceeded to my chemistry lab (my kitchen) to concoct a soup that would give my immune system a boost and clear my sinuses.  After three bowls of this and a good night’s sleep, I awoke with a significant reduction in my symptoms and a return of my vitality and resilience.

So far, many of my patients used this recipe when they had colds and it miraculously healed them!

Enjoy this soup when you are sick or just to comfort you after a hard day’s work.  It will nourish your body and soul.

Food is Medicine!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Personal Toll of Corporate Medicine

I am a board certified internist.  I am Stanford trained and have been practice for nearly 25 years.  I have a very busy practice.  I love my patients.  To help, heal and to love them every day is a daily gift. I want to help them make sense of their suffering, to help awaken and empower them and help them gain health.  I have also been a lifelong seeker.  I seek to gain consciousness every day, with every life experience.  I also seek to stay current with medical and scientific progress.  I love science.  I love Medicine.  This is what I was born to do.

I have been in private practice for nearly 17 years.  I worked in corporate health care straight out of residency, nearly 25 years ago.  It didn’t fare well for me.  I struggled inside, conflicted by the dissonance between the true mission of medicine and that of corporate medicine.  The corporate mission saw patients as commodities for money and physicians as work horses.  The boards of these systems used profit alone as the measure of the physician’s success.  I saw my colleagues losing contact with what was real.  When the hospital told me I did not admit enough patients to meet their projections, I left corporate medicine and never looked back.  My vision of medicine conflicted with theirs.

As a physician in private practice, I need to interface with the corporate system.  My medical practice accepts insurance, I am a part of an Independent Physician Network which is affiliated with a local hospital.  They base their measure of credibility on what the ABIM (American Board of Internal Medicine) dictates.  Their standards have been shown to have little correlation with physician competence and performance. Their requirements of physicians are inhumane.  Physicians are weighted down to serve two patriarchs.  The corporation that pays their wage and the larger corporation that credentials them.  They can’t possibly serve three masters – their vocation and two patriarchs with all their demands.

I write this as a physician who can see through the fa├žade and racket of what corporate medicine has created.  This system is like an abusive parent.  It is abusive towards physicians who are made vulnerable and dependent. They pay with their cell tissue at the cost of their creative fire. Physicians are hurting.  Drug abuse, alcohol and suicide rates among them is at an all-time high.  Physician morale is at an all-time low.  They are afraid to admit they are hurting.  They are forbidden to complain or show vulnerability.  What does this say about the health of the healers within the system itself? How do we begin to bring healing to them?

The most recent experience I had with ABIM is when I took the Maintenance of Certification exam. Preparing for this exam entailed studying for nearly 40 hours a week, in addition to my working hours, for months. My brain does not work like a standardized test.  When I am with my patients, I utilize both my intuition and medical knowledge to access what I need to construct a differential diagnosis and provide solutions.  I cannot function under time pressure like the exam expects. There were many questions that upon further thought I wanted to correct.  However, finding them again was impossible in the maze of unnumbered questions.  I fail this exam, I will have to start over, preparing again to retake it. This maintenance of certification is tied to my insurance reimbursements.

Does this happen to me in the exam room with my patients? Never.
Can I access the information that I need and synthesize the information to diagnose, treat and heal? Yes.
Does a standardized test measure this? No.
Can a standardized test have so much power over one's life? Passing, failing?

Does failing a test like this negate everything we know in favor of being evaluated by a system that has lost its soul? The board? Who is this board? What gives them the power to do this to physicians who have been in the trenches for decades, helping, healing and loving their patients and their work?

When we entered medical school we placed our spontaneous, creative nature to the side. The critical parent became the voice in the background.  It demanded perfection. It still does.  Our performance has become the neurosis we perfect for survival.  This kind of perfectionism is normalized.

When we complete our training, exhausted and worn, we are vulnerable to the demands of the outer patriarch–corporate medicine.  He is satiated by the money we make.  If we adapt to his demands, we are rewarded.  If we don’t we are abandoned.

My experience of the exam was nothing short of torturous.  The Board has become the external critical parent colluding with the critical parent within.  He runs roughshod over our sensitivity, creativity, heart and intuition.  Without these, our health is at stake.  We must reclaim these parts to be whole again.

This is what is upon physicians today.  That which makes us human, is not even seen. We are herded together like hostages, serving this angry patriarch. I am questioning what we have created here. What kind of system is this where is no room for process? Fast paced, material centric, product oriented, side stepping the heart - where is it all going? The stress this creates is the highest risk factor for all diseases.

I write about this because I must.  I too was a hostage of this system.  In some ways I still am.  I have not slept well in weeks. Anxiety, worry, fatigue, weariness, nausea....all symptoms triggered by the boards. I have heard and held the pain and anguish of my patients, many whom are physicians. I know this part of the shadow of medicine is real.

We must talk about these issues if we want change.

In the words of Paul Teristein M.D., …”many physicians are waking up to the fact that our profession is increasingly controlled by people not directly involved in patient care who have lost contact with the realities of day-to-day clinical practice. Perhaps it's time for practicing physicians to take back the leadership of medicine.”

I think it is time we do.

What do you think?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Pill for Libido. Really?

As an internist who sees hundreds of women in the second half of life, I am all too familiar with women’s waning libidos.  Having gone through menopause myself, I have personally experienced the power that changing hormones have on many psychological and bodily functions that the younger me took for granted.  As an integrative physician, I am always searching for causes of symptoms and for natural and integrative ways to treat and heal them.  Our society sees a waning libido as a pathological symptom.  Viewing our aging bodies as pathological is where our problem truly lies.

Our collective maturity level in America can truly be seen as ‘adolescent’.  We are a society with many compulsions.  We seek fast ways to manipulate the body, to manage symptoms, and to regain youth. We want pills as substitutes for inner work, diets for rapid weight loss, and shots to stop menstruation considered inconvenient by many.  We are addicted to an ideology that has proven not to work over the past three decades.  Somehow, we are unable to make the shift to a more mature way of thinking.  Industries that support these compulsions make a lot of money.  The money itself becomes an incentive to keep the compulsions in place.

We have promoted the ‘anti-aging’ ideology for nearly 3 decades. We have yet to find a way to turn back the clock.  We are fearful of aging because we lack respect for process, and have not created a way to mark and consecrate our life stages from a place of reverence. Our society normalizes this. Mother Nature, in all of Her wisdom, marches on in time.  It is about time we find a way to gracefully honor the rhythms of the natural order of life and learn how not to resist aging due to our adolescent fear.

A woman’s libido has many facets that influence it – hormonal, psychological, emotional, and spiritual. Hormones have powerful effects on the biological nature of sexual desire.  When we are young and fertile, our hormone surges are aligned with the zeal to procreate.  In other words, the desire for sex is aligned with Nature. This is a powerful force that underlies our libidos when we are young.  As we age our hormones change, and we are less able to procreate - and Nature is less supportive of our libidos.  Women in their mid-40s complain about their waning libido, their changing body, and mostly their newly discovered need for balance.  They feel depleted after half a life of caring for others.  Energetic depletion, alongside changing biology creates less desire for sex. There is a greater desire for more intimacy, spiritual and emotional fulfillment, and the restoration of balance in both a woman’s body and life.

By our 50’s, most of us have experienced enough pain and difficulties to last us a lifetime.  These experiences are meant to serve as catalysts for inner growth and self-discovery. In midlife we must move out of the compulsion to ‘please the world’ and into an inner place of authentic connection.  We must learn how to be true to ourselves.  For us to find meaning and not feel victimized by our past requires hard work and a desire to seek.  The process of seeking itself deepens our ability to be intimate and fulfilled. In my medical practice, I find that women, who are committed to ‘seeking’ as they age, feel more fulfilled with intimacy, rather than the sex act alone. They are able to more readily accept their changing bodies. Sexual pleasure to them feels different, in some ways more fulfilling, even though their libidos may not be as heightened as in youth. The irony is that they are the ones who feel more sexual fulfillment than those who continue on the treadmill defined by the collective, with expectations of eternal youth.

Because our society has glorified youth and the sex act in favor of aging and intimacy, as we age, society expects us to perform both physically and sexually similar to when we were young, but with limited success.  Our aging bodies have different needs: the need for a pure diet, exercise, work/life balance, attention to inner process, and - one that we have not yet normalized in our society - a search for meaning. The spiritual aspects of ourselves call to us more powerfully and with greater zeal as we age.  Our physical bodies also require more attention.  Continuing the unhealthy diet of our younger years, does not nourish our changing bodies, and many of the lifestyle choices that have gained traction do not support our emotional or physical bodies.  This level of self-awareness needs to be paramount as we age if we desire to achieve a state of true health, which should no longer be defined by a ‘hard body’ or a ‘boundless sex life’.

For men, Viagra and Cialis do not fulfill these needs.  The ability to hold an erection for a longer time is not an adequate substitute for health, meaning, or intimacy.

Our society is struggling with the choices it has collectively made.  Frankly, our collective ideology is in contrast to the laws of Nature.  In other words, it goes against the laws of Nature.  Due to the decades of traction behind our unnatural ways of life, we continue to pump out pills as substitutes for what is missing at deeper levels of our being. The woman’s libido pill Addyi will not be able to offer what women consider as sexual fulfillment – namely:  intimacy, meaning, and a renewed relationship with themselves and their partners. The risk of life-threatening side effects alone is not worth taking a libido pill.

As we age and seek deeper levels of meaning, biology (not surprisingly) follows suit.  Not necessarily with the same intensity as it did during youth, but our aging physical bodies respond to emotional and spiritual depth differently than when we were young.  The zeal to live from depth is what Nature supports as we age, in favor of the zeal to procreate as in youth.

At this time we do not need yet another pill with more side effect casualties left at the altar of our flawed ideology.  We need to reframe our collective consciousness and normalize the necessity for healthy aging as defined by physical, emotional, and spiritual health.  This is a much more powerful way for us to live and will go much further in our level of fulfillment, both sexually and spiritually, than any pill can ever offer.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dog Medicine

When the Man waked up he said, ‘What is Wild Dog doing here?’ And the Woman said, ‘His name is not Wild Dog any more, but the First Friend, because he will be our friend for always and always and always’ – Rudyard Kipling

"A dog can’t change the world but they can change your world. And if each of us can pass along even a fraction of the unmitigated, world changing love we receive from our dogs, maybe we can see about that whole changing the world thing"
~Will from Will and Mr. Eko.

I still feel the profound loss of my beloved soul companion Jazmine. No, she has not appeared to me in a dream yet, (I'm still waiting) but I feel her love every now and then during moments of loneliness, heartache or struggle. Her gentle presence says, "I love you Mom", and I can exhale and not feel so alone in those moments.

I still reach down by my leg for Jazmine while I am reading or studying or watching a show, and feel the impression of her beautiful imprint she left by my side. I feel into the imprint to see if I can feel her - her warmth, love, support and yes, her goofiness. What a personality she was, and proud of it.

How does one process the loss of a companion, of any loss in life?

Why do we say, "Get over it," "It's been long enough, move on".

Why would we want to "move on" from having loved so profoundly, so deeply? What does that even mean? What does that do for one's heart?

We need to trust in the process of love and of grief.

We can only do this by being present for each other, in any stage that another may be.

Boosie is now present for me. He entered our lives 2 years ago, when Jazmine was growing visibly old at 13. His relationship with her was profoundly special. He offered her his love, his companionship and his heart in ways that only a dog could. He also offered her his love of play. She played hard with him during the last few years of her life. I feel that because of him, she lived longer and with more joy in her heart. Jazmine's four legged companion gave her a connection with her own kind. It is what she needed after giving so much of herself to me.

Boosie is now with me - my companion, who grieved with me, the loss of my Jazmine, and his favorite and only four legged companion. He too has a feeling of loss, a loss that only a dog can feel with the loss of one of their kind.

Now we are forming our own sacred bond, one where I never take a day with him for granted. Each day that I am with this little dog -who has a HUGE capacity for love - is sacred. He is helping me heal, one day at a time. He is helping me remember the great times with Jazmine. He is reminding me each day, that I am still loved.

He is now my companion.

Our country has a palpable and profound loneliness within it. In some profound way, my Jazmine, and now Boosie have and continue to teach me what it feels like to feel connected and loved.

For a sensitive, this is a profound gift.

We can and should do this for one another...again (as we did not too long ago). Like Boosie and Jazmine, we need to be there for our own kind as well.

Maybe then in some heart filled way, our lives can again be shaped by love.

People say they don't need relationships, they are self-sufficient, they are self-sustaining.

I feel this is a fallacy.

We DO need to feel witnessed, loved and supported.

Relationships do that for each one of us. Pushing that aside like many do, creates needless loss and pain.

To be felt and witnessed is the greatest gift of all.

Thank you Jazmine and Boosie for your profound and sage teachings on love.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Lifestyle Medicine

Spring is in the air and we are all looking forward to being outdoors, leaving our hibernated indoor bodies and getting back in shape again. Many of my patients are on a 6 month-on/6 month-off exercise regimen. They lose sight of the importance of exercise during the cold winter months and eat more comfort foods. The majority of them put on at least 10 extra pounds that they spend the summer trying to lose. The result is they have difficulty taking weight off and, by fall, are frustrated with the impending winter and the threat of weight gain.

This kind of lifestyle is unhealthy. And, it doesn't work for most. Living a healthy lifestyle that includes a plant based, organic diet, with 5 to 6 days a week of aerobic exercise 52 weeks of the year, is necessary for all to stay healthy and lean. In fact, numerous studies have shown that having a lifestyle that includes such choices prevents, and even reverses heart disease, cancer, and slows down aging. In randomized controlled trials, it has been shown that lifestyle changes reverse, slow, and stop the progression of severe coronary artery disease, type 2 diabetes, and early stage prostate cancer. My patients feel better, more vital and less tired when they adopt these changes in lifestyle. Their
health care costs decrease, and overall life-happiness improves significantly.

Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Their length is shortened as we age. When we age more rapidly, they are shortened faster. Dean Ornish,et al, published a study in Lancet Oncology, September 2013 that an anti-inflammatory diet with exercise, stress management, and social support increased telomere length. The implications of this on slowing down the aging process are huge.

This wisdom is common sense. We have seen over decades that people in cultures that consume a Mediterranean diet and get regular exercise with community support live longer, and age more slowly. Now we know why. Given our mass disillusionment with the traditional medical model that supports symptom management once diseases have manifested, we all need to return to common sense wisdom and engage ‘Lifestyle Medicine’ as our main approach to health. It is known that 86 % of the 3 trillion dollars (and rising) spent yearly in the U.S. on health care for chronic diseases is entirely preventable.

As a practicing internist, I encourage my patients to adopt a healthy lifestyle for a few months and see the difference they feel. 100% of them feel better and no one, so far, has reverted back to their unhealthy habits after experiencing the increase in vitality that accompanies healthier choices.
I encourage all of you to try this as well.

We need to normalize Lifestyle Medicine as mainstream for chronic diseases. This is the only way we can change our personal and collective health and significantly reduce our health care costs.

We will also be a much happier and healthier society.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What has happened to Health Care?

Over the past few months, I have received more phone calls than ever before from physicians who work within corporate health care. They ‘want out’ of this health care model. They feel it is dehumanizing for both physicians and patients.

What happened to health care?
16 years ago I left corporate health care to create a health care system within which I could practice medicine authentically from a place of integrity. I felt the dissonance (in the corporate model) between the mission it espoused to serve and its behavior towards its patients and physicians.

Physicians were caught in the middle of this dissonance and were being feared into treating patients like commodities for revenue. Two decades ago, this behavior was subtle and did not pervade all health care systems. In the past decade, this has become the normal business framework within corporate health care. Physicians adapted to this approach at first, but over the past decade, the consequences of this approach have been harder to bear. Many have had enough. More than
ever, doctors are leaving corporate health care to practice medicine in the community again, to restore meaning to their work.

When I left corporate health care, I wanted to create a system where the business model served not only my vision of health care, but was restorative of its larger vision which had been cast aside by the corporate health care system. I wanted it to be scientifically and medically grounded, yet open to growth and learning, and above all, patient-centered.

What I envisioned were two intersecting circles. One circle represented my vision and mission, and the other the business model. I wanted these two aspects to relate to one another symbiotically, with synergy and resonance.

The health care practitioner in this model would serve its vision while remaining cognizant of the need to be a healthy, sustainable, and cost effective business. It needed to be environmentally friendly and committed to creating minimal waste. [Health care is one of the largest generators of environmental waste in our country]. It would be committed to promoting health in the community. The standard of practice would be of the highest caliber and its patients and clients would be served with expertise balanced with love and compassion.

In this manner, the model I envisioned could bring meaning to both the practitioner and patient, and restore the soul of health care. This model’s success would be
reflected in a change in the health of the community served. One of the markers of this would be a rise in the health food market within the surrounding communities demanded by conscious consumers who desire organic food and options for a healthy lifestyle.

What I realized nearly two decades ago was that the mission of corporate health care and its business model were worlds apart. The separation between the two has only grown wider in recent years. Physicians are courted to join the corporate system, but soon discover that what they are serving is a model run by a ‘profit at any cost’ mission.

Administrators fear physicians into herding patients through their day to increase profit margin while compromising quality of care. The mission of health care administrators (profit) is far removed from the mission of medicine (healing).

This results in a continued loss of meaning for both physicians and patients. The current corporate model is not symbiotic, collaborative, or sustainable. In fact, it is opportunistic. When cells in the body stop collaborating and become opportunistic, we call this ‘cancer’. Corporate health care today resembles the cancer cell in its behavior towards both physicians and patients. It has lost its way.

Years ago when I left corporate health care, I was shamed by administrators who told me I was not a ‘team player’. I did not ‘tow the party line’. Even my colleagues questioned my lack of loyalty to the system to which they had adapted. I refused to adapt to the corporate practices that came between me and the mission of medicine. My conscience would not allow it. After creating The Ommani Center, I practiced alone with no collegial support for well over a decade. I directed my energy towards creating a compassionate yet scientifically grounded health care model based on integrity that embodied a synergy between my vision of health care, its business model, and the essence of Medicine. I wanted it to restore the ‘soul’ of Medicine while honoring the scientific method. This was the only way it could keep patients safe.

Now, 14 years later, my vision and hard work is bearing fruit. Our community has more health food stores, earth based,and organic food than ever before. Fitness centers are plentiful. Even the standard grocery stores have organic choices.

The consumer has awoken to the power of ‘food as medicine’ and has experienced a restoration of health and well-being with lifestyle changes. More people are seeking to be educated in how to keep themselves healthy and empowered.

I am greatly encouraged by the movement underfoot. The consumer of health care and the physicians who are squeezed to perform for profit in corporate health care are waking up to the reality of its shadow. It is only by making its shadow conscious can we transform a system.

As we continue to shine the light on corporate health care’s shadow, it will be forced to transform. My hope and dream is that we emerge on a large scale from this with a healthier and more integrative model of health care, one that honors patients, physicians, and also engages a healthy and sustainable business model.

The Ommani Center has proven that this model is a successful as well as a viable solution to the crisis in health care.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Why Are We Depressed?

• An 80 year old woman who just lost her husband to cancer

• A 55 year old man who just lost his job

• A 22 year old who just broke up with his girlfriend

• A 70 year old woman whose dog just died

• A 42 year old in the midst of a divorce

• A 51 year old man 2 weeks after his heart attack

• A 45 year old woman whose hormones are out of balance

In all of these examples, grief or depression would be a normal and healthy result of these losses. Would any of these examples fit the criteria of mental illness, requiring medication, or would their grief and sadness be seen as a normal response to what they had just experienced?

A few days after 9/11/2001, many patients came to see me when they realized they did not feel the emotions others did upon witnessing the devastation surrounding the Twin Towers. They felt numb from being medicated with anti-depressants previously prescribed by their physicians for circumstantial grief and depression that surfaced years ago after experiencing similar life events as those described in the list above. Although the situation that catalyzed their feelings had long passed, they had not received any support or help to process their emotions at that time, nor was it suggested that they wean off their anti-depressants. Their response to the 9/11 devastation made them realize they had unknowingly been emotionally numb for years due to the anti-depressants they were still taking.

This was a powerful sign for me to evaluate how we diagnose and treat depression. I also became acutely aware of the surprising amount of complacency that is normalized in the medical system when prescribing pharmaceuticals for symptoms of depression, anxiety, grief, or sadness. In fact, grief and sadness have been so pathologized in our society that people feel the need for medication if they experience either emotion. For many, feeling numb is preferred over experiencing intense emotions, which are actually a normal part of being human.

Our mental and emotional well-being is intrinsically related to how isolated and alone we feel during times of loss and transition, and whether or not we are a part of a larger community. People who feel their lives do not matter, are more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. People who are emotionally sensitive are vulnerable as well. Never before in the history of the human race have people felt so alone and isolated as they do today. Our connection with one another has been contaminated with technology and the mechanization of our systems. Before cell phones and computers were the norm, we actually spoke with one another. This has been replaced with texting and emailing, a method of communication that lacks heart or emotion. We have sacrificed our emotional and energetic connections with one another for convenience. Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and grief are the consequence of these choices.

When feelings of isolation, loneliness, or sadness arise, neurotransmitter levels (that regulate our moods) fall. Some important ones are serotonin, gamma-amino-butyric acid, L-Dopa, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine. Neurotransmitter levels are also directly affected by diet and exercise, our perceptions, and attitudes. It has also been well established that one of the most effective anti-depressants is regular exercise, as it affects neurotransmitter levels that regulate our mood. These levels are also affected by a sense of belonging. In fact, several studies have shown that women with breast cancer who were part of a support group lived twice as long as women who were not.

A diet high in Omega-3 and antioxidants and low in sugar and grains supports our nervous system and neurotransmitter levels. A diet high in refined sugar, processed food products, carbohydrates, chemical additives, and food colorings has a negative effect on neurotransmitter levels. When people use addictive substances such as recreational drugs and alcohol to ‘medicate’ their feelings, these can amplify depression and cause a rollercoaster of emotions. Unfortunately, this form of self-medication is normalized and present in epidemic proportions in our society today. In fact, it is a part of how we mark ‘the coming of age’ in our society.

An additional cause for mood disturbances is hormonal shifts in midlife. Between their late thirties and fifties, women experience a drop in levels of the hormone, progesterone, which causes their neurotransmitter levels to decline, intensifying feelings, and amplifying depression and anxiety. Both diet and exercise support the nervous system, as previously mentioned and, along with natural hormone balancing, are extremely effective in healing these symptoms.

Synthetic hormones, both prescribed and those present in non-organic food have the opposite effect, causing serotonin levels to fall, making everyone more vulnerable to depression and anxiety. A lack of sleep can also have this effect on mood and emotional health. Diet, exercise, and hormone balance are highly effective and restorative for sleep disturbance as well.

Processing our emotions and supporting each other during life’s transitions and losses (in addition to a healthy lifestyle) are the most powerful antidotes for depression and anxiety. Compensating for and normalizing our mood to appear unwavering (as expected by society) results in the denial of our very human experience of joy and sorrow. Having our feelings validated can do more for our sense of well-being than any anti-depressant ever can. If we require an anti-depressant for a brief period of time to help move through a window of difficulty, it is important to process our pain and wean off it, under a physician’s guidance, once we are stable enough to do so. When dealing with organic or familial depression or anxiety, prescription medication may be an important intervention. Normalizing the need to medicate our very human feelings is both dangerous and unfulfilling.

Traditional medical thinking is still archaic in its approach to our emotional and mental health. Physicians rarely make the correlations described above or take the time to understand why their patients feel what they do. They are quick to prescribe anti-depressants, the majority of which are unnecessary. It requires discernment to bring awareness to what is a normal emotion and what requires treatment. The medical system has still not normalized the impact that lifestyle can have on mood, despite the strong evidence showing a direct correlation. We must widen the context from which we understand mental and emotional health, and practice courage in exercising our choices for self-care that support it.

In the long run, nurturing, authentic relationships, acknowledging and accepting our emotional sensitivity, and living a lifestyle that optimally supports and optimizes our biology are some of the most effective ways to heal depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders that plague our society.

Ultimately, how we love and treat each other is the most powerful medicine of all.

This article was written in memory of Robin Williams, who brought joy and laughter to so many. He compensated for his depression with his gift of comedy. In death, he awakened us to the importance of honest, self-awareness of our emotional world.

May he find peace as he returns to the Light.