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Happy Brain, Healthy Body

Here in New England, awfully far from the equator, we are feeling winter's knock on our door. Though the weather has been relatively mild, the sun sets just before 4:30, and leaves bid farewell to branches, crunching underfoot. This is the beckoning of big yin; grandmother nurturer calls us to slow down, begin storing, and enjoy more quiet contemplation, rather than the constant action of summer's big yang. It can be a welcome time for stew on the stove, in bed earlier with a good novel, and anticipation of snow.

However, this is also the most difficult transition of the year for most people; sunshine and outdoor time are less available as easy sources of health and happiness. By now most of you are probably familiar with the hype around getting enough Vitamin D. But as winter is upon us, what else will keep our bodies and minds healthy, and why exactly are things like Vitamin D helpful?

Well first of all, what do you think Acupuncture, exercise, sex, and chocolate have in common? Much like that sunshine-outdoor time, they all make you feel good, right? Well it turns out, there is little better for your health than feeling good. Yes, it really is this simple, and this isn't woo-woo stuff, this is science. What these four feel-good things have in common is that they induce the body to produce endorphins. Endorphin essentially means "endogenous morphine," or your body's very own happy drugs. When your pituitary and hypothalamus release these neurotransmitters (chemical messengers), your immune system is boosted, your brain tells your body to have less pain, and as we say in qigong, "hao la"; all is well.

So getting endorphins is essential to health, and as the season of heightened susceptibility to depression and colds/flu is upon us, its time to up your daily intake of all-things-feel-good. Come see me for more of this type of prescription (yes, my doctor said to "feel good" every day!). But if you are hesitant to gorge yourself on chocolate (moderation is also good for you!) and the other three aren't always realistic in everyday life, what else can nourish your neurotransmitters and immune system?

There is a lot of hype about Vitamin C, which could be an article in and of itself, so for now I will simply say two things; first, most C supplementation is ascorbic acid, which is not only synthetic (as Michael Pollen says, its not just the Vitamin C in broccoli the body needs, its the broccoli) but also only the preservative part of the entire bioflavanoid complex the body actually needs and uses. Secondly, C might be less important for immune health than adequate amounts of D3 (cholecalciferol), fats, direct sunlight (no sunscreen, that's right, I said it), and enough good gut bacteria (probiotics). As it turns out, these things also make your brain happier, so we see a connection here.

As I was explaining to a patient the other day, germ theory was revolutionary to medicine (late 19th Century); it saved so many lives when we accepted that the body could incur infection from outside entities. However, where much of western medical thinking has gotten stuck, is failing to recognize the other, equally important half of this picture, which is the internal ecosystem. If only the outside invasion mattered, and the internal territory were irrelevant, everyone would get the same germ in the same way at the same time. As a personal example of why this isn't entirely true, I noticed when I was working at a community clinic, seeing up to 60 sick patients a week, I didn't get sick once the entire year. However, at another point in my life when I wasn't working much, I was sick every other week.

It might be thought that in the winter we are in closer quarters, with less ventilation, so germs spread more easily. This might be part of the picture. But what else happens in winter? Less sunshine, less Vitamin D. These two synthesize via the natural oils on our skin and the cholesterol in our body (yep, its not evil, we need it). Without adequate levels of D, not only do we get depressed, but calcium/mineral absorption drops, which lowers pH of tissues, making them inflamed and more susceptible to infection. So this might explain the previous example; though I was in close quarters with multitudes of coughing and sneezing folks last winter, I was taking Cod Liver Oil and a Vitamin D3 dropper daily, and of course, doing my best to get my daily endorphins!

Hopefully this all explains a little more why keeping your internal ecosystem happy is so vital to health, and highlights two powerful ways for you to do this; getting adequate endorphins and Vitamin D.

Contact me with any questions about how to feel good every day and why this is more important than you could even imagine. I can't wait to talk with you! In the meantime, I'm wishing you an abundance of winter warmth, reflection, and robust brain and body health.