LiveWell®

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


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Women’s wellness: Embracing change

This article originally ran in the Fall 2014 issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, advises women to recognize the importance of balance and to be deliberate about building it into their lives.

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, advises women to recognize the importance of balance and to be deliberate about building it into their lives.

If Nancy Van Sloun, MD, could get one message across to all women, it would be this: Love the body you’ve been given.

In appreciating your body, Van Sloun, an integrative medicine doctor at the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing-WestHealth, believes you are more likely to take care of it.

And rather than seeing aging and different stages of life as something to fear, Van Sloun advises women to embrace their life’s path. “It’s easy to focus too much on how we look,” she said. “Instead, we should be thinking about what’s next on our life’s journey: How can we best go through it, remain content and do the things that are most important to us?” Van Sloun identified some ways that women can live well throughout their lives.

Twenties and thirties

Whether or not you have children, this is a time when finding balance in your life can be a challenge. Van Sloun encourages women to recognize the importance of balance and to be thoughtful about building it into their lives. “Know what it is that fills you back up, and be deliberate about making time for it,” she said.

If you are planning a pregnancy, check in with your doctor to see what you should do to ensure a healthy pregnancy. Talk about whether vitamins and supplements might be helpful, and discuss any pregnancy risks you may face. If you already have children, remember that you’re a role model. “How kids eat, how physically active they are and how they respond to stress is reflected in what they see in you,” said Van Sloun. “Give your kids the gift of modeling a healthy lifestyle.”

Forties

Changes in your menstrual cycle and mood may be signs of peri-menopause. “These changes are easy for some women and harder for others, but overall, women tend to do better if they are exercising and eating a plant-based, whole food diet,” said Van Sloun.

Because we all lose muscle mass as we age, Van Sloun recommends that women include strength training in their exercise routine. “Maintaining muscle mass also makes weight gain less likely,” she said.

This is also a time when your family life may be changing. “It’s time to refocus on yourself and think about what’s next in your life,” said Van Sloun. Don’t overlook the emotional and spiritual components of health. “Maintaining social connections and having a sense of purpose is important to your health. If your focus has been on your kids or your job and that’s changing, you may need to cultivate new interests.”

Fifties and beyond

As we age and after we go through menopause, we are at higher risk for many diseases. At the same time, women are living longer after menopause. These are two important reasons to maintain a healthy lifestyle and a healthy weight.

While women tend to focus on breast cancer, heart disease is a much bigger threat. “As much as 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented through modifying our lifestyles,” said Van Sloun.

With a longer life expectancy, you want to age well, said Van Sloun. “Investing now in eating an optimal diet, staying active and learning how to handle stress will reap benefits as you get older.”

 

Nancy Van Sloun, MD, sees patients at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing – West Health in Plymouth. For appointments, call 612-863-3333.

 


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Busting menopause myths

WomensHealth

Healthy living – exercise, sleep, good nutrition, and avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine – is the first step in managing the symptoms of menopause, according to Debra Bell, MD, of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

This article will run in the upcoming issue of the LiveWell® Newsletter of the Penny George Institute for Health and Healing

Contrary to popular belief, menopause isn’t just about estrogen.

In reality, there are many hormones involved, including several types of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA and pregnenolone. Aging can affect other hormones as well, such as those that control metabolism and other body functions.

Another misperception about menopause is that it reflects a hormone imbalance. “Menopause is not a state of imbalance, and it is not a disease. It is a state of change,” said Debra Bell, MD, an integrative medicine doctor at Penny George Institute for Health and Healing.

Adding to this complexity, fluctuations in hormone levels affect women differently. In fact, the severity of menopause symptoms is not directly related to an individual’s hormone levels. That’s why Bell does not routinely check hormone levels when a woman is experiencing symptoms.

But this does not mean women have to simply endure menopause.

Bell said her goal is to help women go through this change with the least amount of symptoms. “What we do depends on what else they are doing in their lifestyle and what their symptoms are.”

While hormone replacement may have a role in helping some women, “I think it’s important to not just focus on hormone replacement,” said Bell. She recommends that women take a more holistic approach.

“Healthy living is the first step: exercise, sleep, good nutrition, avoiding excessive alcohol and caffeine. For many women, this is enough to keep their symptoms in check. For others for whom that’s not enough, there are many treatments that can help,” said Bell.

That includes dietary supplements, herbal preparations, acupuncture, mind-body techniques and more. For example, Bell often prescribes black cohosh and vitex to treat hot flashes, anxiety and other symptoms. “Herbals often work together synergistically, so we put different herbs together to address different symptoms,” she said. Before considering herbs or supplements, it is best to check with a health care practitioner.

Bell encourages women to view menopause as a new stage of life and to be open to adapting to it. “This is more about a process than a quick fix. We should be thinking about what we can do to be healthy at different stages of our lives.”

Going through menopause? Help yourself with these tips:

• Eat wholesome foods.
• Avoid sweets, alcohol and caffeine.
• Get regular exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day.
• Try yoga, meditation and other relaxation techniques.
• Try acupuncture.

If you do not have other medical problems and are not taking prescription medicines, consider supplements or herbal remedies that are formulated to address menopause symptoms. These should be purchased from a reputable natural foods store.

Consult with an integrative medicine provider if:
• Your symptoms are very disruptive and make you uncomfortable.
• Your symptoms are affecting your sleep, your work life or your relationships.
• You have tried addressing the symptoms on your own without success.
• You are not sure if your symptoms are related to menopause or to something else.

Debra Bell, MD, sees patients at the Penny George Institute – Abbott Northwestern in Minneapolis. For appointments, call 612-863-3333. See her profile at wellness.allinahealth.org/bell.


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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.