LiveWell®

Wellness and prevention information from the experts at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing


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Breaking away from unhealthy American ways

AmericanWays.57300728By Megan Odell, LAc, MS

My professor was new to our school and the United States, having only recently left China. I had the privilege of observing this brilliant acupuncturist as he assessed patients’ concerns and composed treatments.

As he worked on a patient chart one day, he paused and with a big sigh asked, “Why does everyone here have this pattern?”

In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), the word “pattern” is used instead of “diagnosis.” Where conventional Western medicine works to whittle an illness down to a single cause, TCM instead looks at the whole body-mind ecosystem and attempts to find a pattern to what is happening. A treatment plan is created to restore balance and health.

My professor had noticed that Americans appeared in our clinic with one predominant pattern―Liver-Spleen disharmony. This doesn’t (necessarily) mean there is anything structurally wrong with a patient’s liver and spleen. The issue lies in the functions that the Chinese medical system attributes to those organs.

Patients with Liver-Spleen disharmony might express concerns such as headaches, high stress, digestive difficulties, menstrual pain, irritability, fibromyalgia, or a host of other symptoms.

So, if my professor’s observation was right, what is it about living in the United States (or perhaps an urban area of the Upper Midwest) that makes it so common? In my experience, this pattern is all about four things:

  • Stress: According to TCM, the liver is in charge of the free flow of Qi.  Qi is energy that moves through your body along channels. When you are healthy, the Qi moves freely. When you are in pain, sick or emotionally upset, the Qi can become stuck. When you are in a state of stress, the qi often stagnates (which you might express by clenching your jaw, stopping breathing or tensing your shoulders).
  • Emotions: In TCM, we believe that emotions come and go like water in a stream. If we let them come and express them, everything should be fine. However, sometimes we deny or “stuff” emotions, such as anger, sadness, grief or jealousy. I often speak to people who have semi-successfully hid from emotions for months or years with unintended physical results.
  • Exercise: If we aren’t physically moving, Qi is less likely to move.
  • Food:  In TCM, the spleen is largely attributed with the transformation of food into energy. Some foods, such as soup and lightly cooked vegetables, are easy to transform. Other foods, such as dairy, sugars, and fried foods, are difficult to transform. Eating too much of the latter can bog down the digestive system. And if we do other things while eating (working, reading, driving), the body’s ability to focus energy on digestion is hindered.

Does any of that look familiar? Do you see it in your life or our culture? I would offer that the “American way” often encourages stress, overworking, emotion-stuffing, screen-watching, and food-as-stomach-filler. Even when we try to avoid these things, it is easy to feel pulled in a number of directions in our daily lives. And usually our self-care is the first to go.

So what do we do? TCM offers solutions like acupuncture and Chinese herbs that can help. But improvements from those therapies will only be sustained if lifestyle changes are made, too.

  • Meditate or find another way to manage your stress. Biofeedback and Mindfulness Training are available at the Penny George Institute and offer excellent approaches to handling stress.
  • Feel. Know that your feelings are right, and they are temporary. If you feel you need help processing your emotions, please consider seeing a therapist to help you.
  • Move. It doesn’t have to be high-intensity interval training. Any time you move your body in a way that you enjoy, that is good.
  • Savor. Experience and enjoy your food. Experiment. Slow down. Smell it. Taste it. Eat only enough to feel 70 percent full.

Good luck – together we can work to change the American pattern to one of balance and harmony.

Megan Odell, LAc, MS, is a licensed acupuncturist and offers services at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern.


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A primer on probiotics – what’s all the hype about?

78652423.womaneatingyogurt.probioticsBy Jeannie Paris, RD, LD

Probiotics is a term that we hear about much more often than we did even a couple of years ago. Pick up any magazine and you’re likely to see an ad for probiotics. So why all the hype? 

Research confirms that foods and supplements with probiotics may provide benefits for many digestive problems and may even help promote a healthy immune system. This is because probiotics are organisms, such as bacteria or yeast, that are likely to improve health.

I find it fascinating that our digestive system is home to more than 500 different types of bacteria. Digestive disorders can happen when the balance of friendly bacteria in the intestines becomes disturbed. This may occur after an infection or after taking antibiotics, especially if taken for a long period of time.

Probiotics come in many forms, such as powders, capsules and liquids, and even in numerous foods.

If you wish to increase your probiotic intake through food, here are some top sources:

  • yogurt with “live and active cultures”
  • unpasteurized sauerkraut and the Korean dish kimchi
  • miso (fermented soybeans)
  • some fermented soft cheeses, like Gouda
  • kefir, which is thick, creamy and like a drinkable yogurt
  • acidophilus milk or buttermilk
  • sour pickles naturally fermented without vinegar
  • tempeh, which is made from fermented soybeans.

Probiotics in a supplement form may be more convenient than food and may also allow for targeting more specific microbes, including bacteria and yeast. Although they don’t offer the nutrition that foods can provide, supplements may provide higher levels of probiotics.

Different strains of probiotics provide different benefits. When using probiotics for a specific cause, such as support of the immune system or for diarrhea associated with antibiotic use, it is important to get guidance from a health care provider.

For most people, probiotics are safe and cause few side effects. For hundreds of years, people world-wide have been eating foods containing live cultures.

Still, probiotics (supplements and foods) could be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems or serious illnesses. As with all nutritional supplements, probiotics should be taken according to the directions and with the guidance of a physician or health care provider.

Here’s to eating more “friendly bacteria!”

Jeannie Paris, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietician with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. To make an appointment with Paris, call the LiveWell Fitness Center at Abbott Northwestern Hospital at 612-863-5178 or the Penny George Institute – Unity Hospital at 763-236-5656.

For more information on digestive health, read LiveWell blog entry,“Can you trust your gut?” by Greg Plotnikoff, MD.


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Responding to health headlines on the value of multivitamins and supplements

Vitamins.162362665An editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine last month suggested that multivitamins and supplements are a “waste of money.” The editorial bases its opinion on the results from three recent studies on the effects of these supplements.

The editorial was quickly picked up by national news organizations with headlines varying from “Studies say multivitamins don’t prevent disease” to “Research shows multivitamins provide some benefits.” Practitioners from the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing regularly recommend supplements to their patients and wanted to weigh in on the issue.

Two practitioners offered their opinions:

Bell_Debra_2013Debra Bell, MD, offers an integrative medicine, or holistic approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition.

Bell questioned whether the original editorial really reflected the studies. Each study report cautioned against broad conclusions, while the editorial ended by stating the case was closed and that multivitamins should not be used for chronic disease prevention.

Bell says: “I believe it is the summary of the editorial that generated the media buzz. This final sentence is a reflection of an important issue – the frustration of the medical community with the multi-billion dollar dietary supplement industry.  The large majority of supplements are poorly manufactured with the primary intent of generating revenue.  This irresponsible behavior undermines the dedicated work of professionals researching and developing good quality supplements.”

She added, “The various articles ignore that there is a respected group of professionals in Integrative Medicine who apply the large database of evidence demonstrating the efficacy of many natural supplements and vitamins.  Most Integrative Medicine specialists would agree that the best way to obtain nutrients is from diet, but sometimes multivitamins or supplements are necessary or helpful.”

Blair_JenniferJennifer Blair, LAc, MaOM, is an integrative, holistic provider with clinical specialties in acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, dietary therapy and integrative health coaching. She is a licensed acupuncturist with a master’s degree in Oriental Medicine.

Blair agrees with Bell that the presence of poor quality supplements in the marketplace degrades a valuable asset to the health and well-being of patients.  “Appropriate nutritional supplementation, individualized to a patient’s unique needs and provided by companies who focus on quality, safety, efficacy and optimal absorption can benefit health and address nutritional deficiencies that contribute to diseased states and inhibit the body’s natural regenerative abilities. We miss the whole picture when we allow media sound bites to guide our beliefs and decisions.”

Additionally, Blair points out that multiple factors contribute to sub-optimal nutrition that may lead to the need for quality supplements.  These may include some industrialized agriculture practices, poor soil quality and over-processed foods. “Combine these factors with inhibited digestive function due to inflammation or an imbalance of intestinal flora, and it can be difficult to absorb the proper nutrition from food alone,” she said.

Debra Bell, MD, and Jennifer Blair, LAc, MaOM, see patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern outpatient clinic.


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Getting to know gluten – what’s up with this new food issue?

Gluten is a hot topic. If you’ve been wondering what all the buzz is about, consider attending “Getting to Know Gluten – What’s Up with this New Food Issue” at Kowalski’s Woodbury Market from 6:30-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2013.

This class will feature Greg Plotnikoff, MD, integrative medicine physician with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, and Sue Moores, Kowalski’s Nutritionist. They will discuss celiac disease versus non-celiac gluten sensitivity, the pros and cons of testing and elimination diets, and ideas for delicious gluten-free eating.

Register here.


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My path to the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband, Daniel Wolpert.

Debra Bell, MD, hiking wth her husband.

By Debra Bell, MD

This fall marks the start of a new chapter for me in a more than 25-year journey as a family medicine and integrative medicine physician.

In September, I started offering integrative medicine consultations alongside two other physicians and a clinical nurse specialist at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – Abbott Northwestern Outpatient Clinic. I am part of a team of integrative health practitioners, including acupuncturists, massage therapists, integrative nutritionists, and a psychologist.

As a new team member, I’ve been asked to introduce myself and my style of practice. Doing that requires giving you some history on how I got here.

I consider my work in health care a calling. I was exposed at an early age to medicine and drawn to the notion of helping people. As a pre-med student, I became interested in women’s studies and birthing practices. I found inspiration from my mother’s first edition books from the 1950s and 1960s about natural childbirth and breastfeeding and went on to study natural remedies used by midwives and ancient healers.

In medical school, I took a year off to concentrate on an independent study of natural medicine. I met my husband, and we spent 10 months traveling internationally visiting spiritual communities around the world. This led us to choose a simple life in which health and spiritual well-being are a priority.

We moved to Vermont, where we had a small, commercial, organic farm. I started an integrative medicine family practice and home birth private practice. Later we moved to California, where my husband attended graduate school, and I worked in a practice with other integrative medicine providers. I enjoyed having like-minded colleagues, and we learned a lot from each other.

From California, we moved to Crookston, Minn. People often ask how we ended up moving to northwest Minnesota. Divine intervention? I felt drawn to the area for a number of reasons. I found the open space and big sky breathtaking. In my practice, I could offer my services to a broader population, and the clinic at the local hospital was very supportive.

I was pleased by the number of community members who previously had never considered natural therapies but decided to come to see me because they wanted a holistic approach. Often, they did not want another prescription and did want to address more than physical symptoms. With an integrative medicine approach, we could address all aspects of well-being and healing ― work life, home life, exercise, diet, stress, coping skills, emotional well-being, and spirituality

Holistic medicine refers to focusing on the “body mind and spirit,” but often there is less emphasis on the “spirit.” I try to make sure I focus on all three.

In time, I created an integrative medicine center in partnership with the hospital. I worked with acupuncturists, massage therapists, spiritual directors and others as a team to provide holistic care.

After 13 years in Crookston, I am ready for this new chapter at the Penny George Institute. I’m looking forward to working with a remarkable team of practitioners and serving patients in Minneapolis and the greater Twin Cities area.

Debra Bell, MD, is now seeing patients. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition. Call 612-863-3333 to learn more or schedule an appointment.


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Top breast cancer fighting foods

Plotnikoff_Greg_webGregory Plotnikoff, MD, MTS, FACP, talked about top breast cancer fighting foods and how our diet contributes to estrogen metabolism, an important risk factor for breast cancer on KARE 11 news @4  on Wednesday. Watch the KARE 11 news segment to learn more.

Plotnikoff also will be a featured speaker at the Minnesota-based Breast Cancer Awareness Association’s 12th Annual Education Conference on Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. The purpose of the event is to help anyone affected by breast cancer with treatment, survivorship and support.

Plotnikoff is a board-certified internist who has received numerous national and international honors for his work in integrative medicine. He practices at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.


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Mindful eating for the real world

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Molly Ellefson (right) offers one-on-one integrative health and wellness coaching sessions.

By Molly Ellefson, MS, CHWC

Mindful eating, a concept based on Buddhist traditions, is a process of putting all your focus on the food you are eating. You eat slowly with no distractions, while noticing all the nuances of each bite: temperature, texture, flavors, and sensations in your body.

While this can be a powerful experience, most of us aren’t able to eat like this all of the time. Then, how do we eat mindfully in the real world?

In her book, “Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat,” Dr. Michelle May defines mindful eating as “eating with intention and attention.” When you eat with intention, there is a purpose for eating – to satisfy hunger, fuel your body and for enjoyment. When you eat with attention, you tune in to the sensations and flavors of what you are eating. You also pay attention to your body’s internal cues about satisfaction and fullness.

Here are six ways to build mindfulness into your meals:
1. Before you eat, take a minute to think about why you want to eat. Are you physically hungry, bored or are you eating by the clock?
2. Remember that true hunger is a physical sensation. Physical hunger can feel like an empty or shrinking feeling in your stomach. You may also feel the effects of low blood sugar, such as: irritability, trouble concentrating, light headed, nauseated, or have a headache.
3. When planning what to eat, think about what foods make you feel good physically. The goal of mindful eating is to feel better when you’re finished eating, not worse.
4. Consider balance when choosing what to eat. What does your body need and what have you already eaten? Do you need vegetables, fruit, protein, carbs or fat?
5. Think about what foods make you feel satisfied and allow yourself to have them. Remember that satisfaction is both mental and physical. Deprivation of our favorite foods rarely works. How many times have you said to yourself, “I’m never having ice cream again,” only to find eating a pint of Häagen-Daaz two weeks later.
6. While eating, pause periodically. Put your fork down, take a couple of deep breaths and check in with your body and your taste-buds. Notice if you feel any sensations in your stomach or if the food is starting to lose its luster. If we pay attention, even when eating our favorite foods, we may notice that things become too salty, sweet, creamy, etc.

Try one or two of these tips at your next meal. You may notice that you feel much more satisfied when you eat when truly hungry and eat the foods that make you feel satisfied. If you balance eating for nutrition with eating for pleasure, you are eating mindfully. Eating is one of life’s great pleasures – just make sure it isn’t the only one!

Molly Ellefson, MS, CHWC, is an Integrative health and wellness coach with the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing’s LiveWell Fitness Center. She will be teaching the eight-session “Am I hungry?® Mindful Eating Workshop,” based on May’s book, starting Sept. 25. Learn more about the class.