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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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Tips on eating well to sleep well

EatingWellThis article originally ran in the LiveWell newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

The notion that in order to be fit and healthy, your body needs good nutrition applies to more than your waking hours.

“To prepare your body for a good night’s sleep, what you eat throughout the day can have a positive impact on overall energy, mood and the ability to achieve a restorative sleep,” said integrative nutritionist Jeannie Paris, RD, LD. “Good nutrition and good sleep go hand in hand.”

Tips on eating well to sleep well

  • Be careful with alcohol. Alcohol can disrupt sleep and cause fatigue the next day. Limiting alcohol may improve sleep. If you do have an alcoholic beverage, follow it with a glass of water to help rehydrate the body.
  • Serotonin is important to sleep. Serotonin is the “deep sleep neurotransmitter.” It is depleted in the body by alcohol, sugar, stress, caffeine and processed foods. If you are having trouble with sleep, try avoiding caffeinated beverages after lunch. Also try boosting intake of magnesium-rich foods, such as green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Magnesium is necessary for the body to process serotonin. Vitamin C, vitamin B6 and folic acid are also needed to synthesize serotonin.
  • Incorporate nutrient-rich foods to help achieve a healthy, restorative sleep. Along with avoiding foods that deplete serotonin, try incorporating foods that give your body tryptophan—an essential amino acid and a precursor of serotonin. These include: cheese, yogurt, eggs, poultry, meat and fish, and also nuts such as pecans, almonds or walnuts. In order to boost serotonin levels, tryptophan needs the help of a complex carbohydrate, such as oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, barley or yams.
  • Fight fatigue with food. There are many hidden causes to fatigue. Don’t ignore it. It’s important to have chronic fatigue checked out in order to rule out any medical causes. When the body is deficient in certain nutrients, it loses its ability to fight fatigue. These include vitamin D, essential fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, iron and magnesium. Seek professional help from a nutritionist to learn more about incorporating these nutrients into your diet.
  • Try natural remedies to help with sleep. Certain teas such as chamomile before bedtime or scents such as lavender may help calm the body. Melatonin supplement may also be helpful for falling asleep, however be sure to talk with a health care professional before taking any supplements.
  • Know that sleep challenge changes as you age. Many people experience sleep issues during their 40s or 50s. For women, menopause and perimenopause are often factors. Hormonal fluctuations may cause sleep disruptions or hot flashes during sleep. Good nutrition plays an important role in dealing with these changes. The recommendations on how to address these issues are so individualized that it’s important to talk to a health profession.

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.


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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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Celebrating International Integrative Medicine Day

By Debra Bell, MD

Today, Jan. 23, is International Integrative Medicine Day. The mission of the day is to “inspire worldwide dialog, education, collaboration, research initiatives, and programming about medicine that is patient-centered, holistic, economically and environmentally sustainable, and open to a global palette of care options.”

Integrative medicine ― sometimes called holistic or complementary medicine ― has been evolving for many years and is now utilized by more than 50 percent of the general population. It is becoming more accepted by main stream medicine every day.

A good example of this is the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing, the largest integrative health center embedded in a health system in the country. The Penny George Institute is part of Allina Health.

At the Penny George Institute, we are engaged in the national and international forum of those committed to integrative medicine research, education and clinical services.

I have been involved in the field for 30 years, long before it was ever called integrative medicine. I am thrilled that there is now a designated day to recognize this valuable aspect of health and healing.

To honor this day, I invite you to take a moment today to pay attention to your health ― to the way you live, how you feel, and the choices you make. Reflect on what is contributing to your wellness and any changes you might make for better health.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing. She offers an integrative medicine, or holistic, approach, to women’s health, fibromyalgia, fatigue, allergies, chronic disease and nutrition.


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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.