Category Archives: Stress Reduction Techniques

Ear Acupuncture for Weight Loss, Insomnia & Addiction Recovery

Ear Acupuncture NADA protocolEar acupuncture has a large body of scientific evidence backing its effectiveness [1][2]. This clinically proven treatment approach is an efficient method for treating a wide number of conditions including weight loss, stress-related disorders, insomnia and addiction withdrawal. Auricular acupuncture can be very effective when stopping smoking and it can be used for withdrawal from any addiction.

Ear Acupuncture Santa Monica Los AngelesAuricular Acupuncture is the term for the specialized practice of acupuncture done on the ear. The ear has a complete map of the body from head to toe, and as such, the can be used to treat a variety of conditions. Some practitioners only use ear points for treatment while others use both body and ear points to get the best results possible. In either case, it should be noted that ear acupuncture is powerful enough to be applied as a stand-alone treatment and there is ample research to support this idea. [1]

Although needles are the primary treatment method in auricular acupuncture, “ear seeds” can also be used to stimulate reaction areas on the ear. Ear seeds are used to stimulate pressure points when they are attached (with tape) to the outer surface of the ears. The advantage of ear seeds is that they continue to produce an effect over the course of 2 or more days. These seeds are tiny pellets (vaccaria seeds) are applied on a small piece of tape to the ear. Using the ear map, seeds are placed in the area of the ear that best treats the patient’s condition.

One of the advantages of auricular acupuncture is how easily it integrates into a wide range of settings from hospitals to emergency clinics. Acupuncturists Without Borders (AWB) is an American group that uses ear acupuncture to provides support when traumatic events occur. AWB provided trauma care for both relief workers and victims after Hurricane Katrina and in St Vincents Hospital in Manhattan in 2001. Ear acupuncture treatments are easily given while people are seated and fully clothed, making it an ideal treatment method when resources are limited.

Patients receiving auricular treatment do not have to wait long to experience the benefits. A relaxation response generally occurs within minutes! Post-treatment surveys show increased mental clarity, reduced stress, improved sleep quality, reductions in pain, and lower anxiety.

Sleep and Insomnia – Natural Foods and Supplements

insomnia-acupunctureIf you are having difficulty getting good quality sleep, you are not alone in your search for rest. A variety of surveys report on average 10% of the American population struggle with sleep issues. From an natural view, there are so many helpful ways to improve both sleep quality and duration. There are options to try from food and supplements to exercise and mediation. Some people will only need to change 1 or 2 things in their life to improve sleep, while others will need to change as many habits as possible. In this post will focus on the food and nutrient side that supports restful sleep. In future posts I will cover some exercises and meditation techniques that can be useful.

I.) Foods for Improving Sleep:

While high stress remains the most common cause of insomnia, eating the wrong foods can be a major contributing factor and even make stress worse. The major problematic food classes include: sugar, caffeine, alcohol, gluten and poor quality fats (industrial seed oils). Therefore, removing some of these problematic foods and improving diet overall is an important first step toward towards more restful sleep. After removing problematic foods, start adding nutrient rich foods such as:

a.) Almonds:

A rich source of Magnesium, almonds are one of the best foods for treating insomnia. Found in food and supplement form, Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxing mineral and also works to calm the central nervous system. The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences (12/2012) published a study which found that magnesium can “improve subjective measures of insomnia, such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures, such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin and serum cortisol, in elderly people.”

b.) Cherries:

Cherries and especially products made from tart cherry juice have been linked to improved sleep. Some studies have shown that tart cherry juice concentrate can help to raise total melatonin levels, which are critical to deeper quality.

c.) Bananas:

Banana is well-known for boosting energy, but it also supplies many of the nutrients critical for sleep. Rich in magnesium, potassium and tryptophan, bananas contain the “magic trio” of sleep helpers. The amino acid Tryptophan is especially effective since it is a critical precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin (both are needed for sleep).

II.) Supplements for Insomnia

Below is a list of supplements shown to be helpful for insomnia. Dosages will depend on the individual, and ideally, should be based on the advice of a health care professional.

a.) Magnesium (glycinate or malate) – 200-600 mg/day.

b.) Passion Flower Extract – Taken as a liquid extract or capsule – passion flower can enhance GABA production to produce a calming effect

c.) L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea, also available as a supplement. Clinical studies have shown L-theanine to induce a sense of calm in patients with anxiety. At typical dosages (100-200 mg) L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. Hence it is a good support agent to melatonin and other supplements.

d.) Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular herbal sedative. Several double-blind clinical studies have substantiated valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. In fact, it has shown effectiveness equal to benzodiazepines. The advantage of valerian is that it does not cause daytime sleepiness, diminished concentration or impairment of physical performance. The dosage for the standardized valerian extract (0.8% valerenic acid content) is 150-300 mg 45 minutes before bedtime.

e.) Other Supplement Options:
-GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid)
-Phosphatidylserine (PS)

Try Breathing!

I’ve been lucky enough to have more time to meditate lately.  Yes, I know it may sometimes feels like there is not possibly enough time to sit and breathe, but you can start with 5-10 minutes a day and you may start seeing results.  To help you get started, I wanted to share Five Breathing Techniques that will give a point of focus and quell the “monkey mind”, if only for a brief time:

1. Mindfulness Breathing:
This is a classic Buddhist meditation technique. Mindful breathing focuses on mere awareness of your breathing – not trying to change it in any way. You are not forcing breath to be any particular way, just simply observing it. What usually ends up happening, however, is that the longer you simply observe your breath, the more relaxed and slow it eventually becomes. Take a moment to become aware of the air coming in through your nostrils and traveling down, filling the lungs, abdomen and expanding your diaphragm muscles. Then notice the air returning up and being released.  Play a game with yourself and see how long you can observe your breath, before you become distracted. Each time your attention wanders, bring it back to a place in the body, where you can feel your breath most clearly.
2. 4-7-8 Breathing:
This technique can help reset the nervous system when it is overwhelmed by stress. Inhale through your nose while counting to 4, then hold your breath counting to 7 and breathe out through your mouth, counting to 8. Repeat this technique 5 or more times and observe its effects on the body. You are likely to experience an immediate release of tension and perhaps greater calm and balance.
3. Square Breathing:
Visual people usually enjoy the “square breathing” technique. Close your eyes and visualize a square. With each breath, imagine you are drawing one of the sides of a square. Inhale, count to four and imagine drawing a horizontal line, then hold your breath, count to four and imagine drawing a vertical line, next exhale, count to four and draw a horizontal line, and pause, count to four, complete your square with another vertical line.
4. Mantra Breathing:
If you like the mindful breathing technique (#1 above), but find it hard to center you mind enough to follow your breath, try using a mantra as a focus point. A mantra can be any word or a phrase that you will repeat quietly to yourself, in rhythm of your breathing. For example, you could say: “IN” every time you breathe in, and “OUT” every time you breathe out. Repeat this over and over then watch your mind becoming more calm and focused.  Counting the breaths is also a good way to focus the attention as you breathe in and out.
5. Alternate Nostril Breathing:
Alternate Nostril Breathing (also called “nadi shodhana”) is a classic yoga (pranayama) breathing technique that can help you to calm the mind. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril, inhale slowly through your left nostril, then hold your breath, while you close off your left nostril, and breath out through your right nostril. Pause for a moment, then breathe in through your right nostril and repeat the process.

I hope these techniques help get you started on the path to enlightenment.  Try to make a bit of time each day to sit and enjoy your breathing!

Stress-Calming Foods – Naturally

Yes, food effects the way you feel!  This is especially true when it comes to managing stress and mood.  Refined sugars and carbohydrates will give a short-term high and then bring the inevitable long-term low in a matter of hours. This blood sugar roller coaster can influence so many aspects of performance including concentration, mood, energy and sleep.

When it comes to stress and mood, sugar metabolism is not the only factor at-play.  Nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are essential for adapting to stress.  These nutrients are best absorbed through food sources – taken in the way that we were meant to absorb them.  Here are some great stress-lowering food choices:

Spinach contains plenty of Magnesium which helps to relax nerves and muscles.  Magnesium, along with hydration, also helps prevent muscle tension, muscle cramping and fatigue. Spinach is a magnesium powerhouse, and also a good source of Vitamins A, C, Iron and Folate (B9). Buy organic spinach because the conventionally grown version is relatively high in pesticides.
* Other foods high in Magnesium: halibut, basil, pumpkin seeds and peppermint.

Basil contains anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties that are beneficial for a variety of inflammatory conditions – from tendonitis to IBS. Boost the taste of your food by adding fresh basil leaves and you get a dose of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and vitamin C.  Add basil near the end of the cooking to preserve most of its natural flavor.
* Other herbs that reduce stress: Lemon balm and chamomile.

Dark chocolate contains Tryptophan – an essential amino acid which is used by the body to create serotonin, a neuro-chemical that relaxes the brain and make you feel at-ease.  In addition, dark chocolate, contains heart-boosting antioxidants.  Choose a chocolate that is high in cocoa solid but low in sugar to get the maximum health benefit.
* Other foods high in Tryptophan: almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, nuts, oats and red meat.

Brazil nuts are high in Selenium.  A deficiency in selenium has been linked to higher rates of anxiety, depression and generalized fatigue. Selenium is only needed in small quantities.  Just a handful of mixed nuts, or 2 Brazil nuts each day will be enough to keep you feeling good.
* Other foods high in selenium: shitake mushrooms, tuna, cod, salmon.

Broccoli has a good dose of potassium.  Lower potassium levels in the blood can cause muscle fatigue and generalized fatigue can make you feel irritable and anxious. Broccoli is also high in beta-carotene, vitamin C and E which all work together to strengthen immune system.
* Other sources of potassium include: avocado, beet greens, banana, kale, cabbage, winter squash, and tomatoes.

Green Tea is a great source of L-theanine.  L-theanine is a naturally occuring amino acid mainly found in tea leaves.  Recent research has shown that this substance reduces stress, promotes relaxation and enhances mood by stimulating alpha brain waves (a calmer and more relaxed state).  In addition, green tea has been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, reduces blood pressure and promotes weight loss.
* Black tea and oolong tea also contain L-theanine and some of the anti-oxidizing properties found in green tea.

Kiwi and other fruits contain Vitamin C.  The human brain needs adequate amounts of vitamin C to convert tryptophan into serotonin. In fact, the brain has a specialized Vitamin C pump that pulls this vitamin out of the blood and pushes it into the brain.
* Other vitamin C-rich fruits include: strawberries, papaya, orange, grapefruit and guava.

Lastly, be sure to stay clear from moldy grains and legumes which contain some highly toxic, cancer-causing fungi.  Mold and fungus from grains and other improperly stored foods can quickly make you feel bad, causing symptoms like headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, etc.

Natural Mood Enhancers

Feeling good is all about chemistry.  Studies show that taking specific nutrients can enhance mood. The benefits of these suggestions below will likely be greater when you combine them with a good diet, a bit of exercise and more time in the sun (see Vitamin D, below):

  • Vitamin B-12 & L-Tyrosine (taken together) – The amino acid L-tyrosine is a building block of neurotransmitters like norepinephrine, which contributes to positive moods.  This effect if amplified with the addition of B-12 helps create neurotransmitters that influence your mood and sleep.
  • Vitamin B Complex – As a general function, B vitamins help convert protein building blocks into functional neurotransmitters;  In addition, they are involved with creating usable energy from carbohydrates. Vitamins B-3 (niacin) and B-6 (pyridoxine) have the most effect on mood.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – The active components of fish oil are EPA and DHA. These fatty acids have been shown to support brain development and a positive mood.  Part of this effect is accomplished by  helping in the development of neurotransmitters and increasing the health of brain cell membranes, which all facilitates communication between cells.
  • SAMe – This natural compound which may help produce serotonin and other neurotransmitters. It also helps neurotransmitters work better, leading to healthier moods.
  • Vitamin D – New research shows that low levels of vitamin D may play a role in mood health, especially during the shorter days of fall and winter.  Not to mention that Vitamin D is also essential for proper immune function.

Magnesium is Amazing!

Amazing: Magnesium (Mg) plays a key role in over 300 biochemical reactions that take place throughout your body.  Its benefits are best known in promoting good bone health (when combined with Calcium & Vitamin D).  In addition to healthy bones, Magnesium:
  • Maintains normal muscle and nerve function
  • Keeps the heart beat regular & supports cardiovascular function
  • Promotes a healthy immune system
  • Maintains blood sugar and blood pressure within normal range
  • Promotes energy metabolism
In practical terms, there are 3 conditions that I most often recommend Magnesium for:
1.) For Muscle Cramps or Spasms:  Take Mg in electrolyte powder form for maximum absorption into muscle tissue.  Electrolyte packets (such as “Electrolyte Stamina”) usually contain Magnesium Oxide or other easily absorbable forms.
2.) For Anxiety and Insomnia:  Use magnesium glycinate or magnesium maleate, twice a day for best effects.
3.) For Constipation:  Use magnesium citrate or magnesium oxide to bring more fluids in the digestive tract and gently support regularity.  Start with a low dose and gradually increase (two times per day).

Sleep Better in 7 Steps

Everyone has occasional sleep problems, but constant sleep shortage can add stress to your life.  Stress hormones produced during the day (like cortisol) are actually eliminated as you sleep at night. Try some or all of the suggestions below to see if it helps you sleep better:

  1. Adopt a Regular Routine (and follow it every day, including weekends). Going to bed at the same time every night and waking at the same time every morning can help your body maintain a regular sleep/wake cycle.
  2. Don’t Nap. People who nap often have trouble sleeping at night. Skipping the nap can help you fall asleep faster at bedtime and your body will be better able to maintain sleep throughout the night.
  3. Reduce or remove Caffeine and Alcohol. They are both diuretics that may cause you to wake up for a middle-of-the-night bathroom trip. Caffeine, a stimulant, interferes with good sleep and alcohol causes early awakenings and difficultly returning to sleep.
  4. Train the Brain. Use the bed for sleeping only, not for watching TV, eating, or working. These things make it more difficult for the brain to shut down. Instead, train your brain to know that once you get into bed it’s time to go to sleep.
  5. Avoid Carbs before Bed. Don’t eat sugar or carbohydrates within two hours of going to sleep. Make your next bedtime snack a food that promotes sleep, like turkey, nuts or warm milk.
  6. Exercise. Another reason exercising improves our health – it decreases stress, which increases sleep. Just don’t exercise in the evenings because it can cause brain stimulation which makes it difficult to snooze.
  7. Relax. If you’ve been trying to fall asleep for 30 minutes, but can’t, get up and try doing something relaxing for 30 minutes (like light reading or a warm bath). Go back to bed when you start feeling sleepy.

In a Bad Mood? Try These 5 Foods

There are some days that we feel angry, anxious, or just plain unhappy. Try one of these five foods to lift your spirits:

* Leafy Greens. For those down in the dumps days, the B vitamin folate can help break down homocysteine, which may be linked to depression. Other great sources of folate are beans, citrus fruits and fortified grain products.
* Turkey. To help calm your anxiety, try some tryptophan, which can help the brain produce feel-good chemicals. You can also try chicken, eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds.
* Black Tea. Stress less by sipping some hot or cold black tea—it may decrease cortisol, a stress hormone. It may also improve your memory and could help get rid of headaches.
* Dark Chocolate. For women experiencing PMS symptoms, the flavonoids in dark chocolate may help get rid of crankiness. Just one more reason to treat yourself.
* Fish. To improve your brain health and help you think more clearly, the omega 3s in fish can improve the communication between your brain’s cells. Try salmon, trout, sardines, herring or anchovies.

Fall Asleep Faster!

Have you had difficulty falling asleep any night this week? If so, you’re not alone. Here are three strategies you can use to get to sleep faster each night:

* Prime the Melatonin Switch with a Dimmer Switch
Your body naturally produces melatonin, the natural sleep chemical that helps prepare your body for healthy sleep. The real trick is giving your body the signal to start producing melatonin. One way to do that is with dim lighting (mimicking a sunset). So pick up a dimmer switch, or simply spend time in the early-to-late evening in a room with lowered lighting.

* Keep Your Hands and Feet Warm
This may seem a bit strange at first, but try wearing socks to bed… Extra layers on your extremities can help boost circulation, keeping your body warmer and more ready for sleep.

* Exercise
It’s so simple. Research shows that the single most helpful factor in getting a good night’s sleep is getting regular exercise. When you exercise, your body not only gets stronger, but it also resets its internal clock. This helps get your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) back to normal.