The Mind-Body SHIFT

Nourishing the Body, Feeding the Mind, Nurturing the Soul


Why More Athletes Need to Add Yoga to Their Workout Routines


Building Strength in Crow Pose

An increasing number of athletes are recognizing that yoga can not only improve their game, but also help them more quickly recover from injuries and prevent future ones. A comprehensive yoga practice helps to build core stabilization, strength, flexibility and balance required in a variety of sports. By adding yoga to their workout regimen, athletes can loosen up tight areas of the body that hamper optimal performance, recover faster from workouts, improve range of motion and gain greater mental focus and concentration. They can also improve coordination and mobility with the increased body awareness that comes from the integration of body and breath in yoga.

“In my opinion, EVERY athlete–irrespective of sport or discipline–has the potential to enhance his or her ability by adopting a consistent yoga practice,” writes famed ironman triathlon Rich Roll in MindBodyGreen. “I’d go so far as to say that if you’re not practicing yoga, you’re competing at a disadvantage and missing an opportunity to enhance peak performance.”

Holding your own bodyweight through arm balances, one-leg balance poses and planks, along with revolved body postures, builds strength and improves lean muscle mass, creating strong, supple and sculpted muscle. The isometric holding of poses adds an extra tool to resistance training. Each pose is designed to reinforce the muscles around your spine, strengthening the core and back. Sustained poses or a sequenced flow of poses challenge the muscles to work together simultaneously to maintain stamina and endurance. A focus on balance and coordination increases body awareness, allowing you to better hone proper technique and form in a sport.

Legendary Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter and retired MMA champion Rickson Gracie famously has used yoga, meditation and breathing exercises in his training, in combination with Gimnastica Natural. “Besides being a fighter, I try to keep my physical [training] very smooth and a combination where I can be very flexible, very strong, very fast, very strong, very well-coordinated with a good balance and good breathing,” he said in the 1999 Documentary, Choke.

Yoga loosen joints and muscles, engaging all the ranges of motion. Enlisting muscles rarely used that can support the major muscles and joints help reduce muscular imbalances. By strengthening, stretching and lengthening muscles, yoga is a powerful antidote to sports injuries.

Eka Pada Rajakapotasana

Forward Folding Pigeon Pose

The most common weak spots in fighters frequently are inflexible hip flexors and psoas, as well as a tight shoulder girdle. Yoga can loosen and lengthen these muscles to improve flexibility and mobility, increasing the range of motion and opening up more options for martial artists to employ in a given fighting scenario. Yoga can correct muscular and skeletal imbalances that can develop from consistently defensive postures.

Common injuries for athletes in general involve the knee, shoulders, hamstrings, hip flexors and the ilotibial bands. Injury of the illotibial band is one of the leading causes of lateral knee pain in runners. Cyclists, weight lifters (especially those who do squats) and hikers are also vulnerable to this band of fascia, which is crucial to stabilizing the knee. Poor core strength, limited flexibility and misalignment are usually main causes for these types of injuries. Yoga directly addresses these weaknesses.

Running and cycling involve very repetitive movements, usually in a single direction in one plane of motion—the sagittal plane—with front-to-back movement. Standard gym lifting workouts also predominately operate in the sagittal plane. Baseball players dwell more in the transverse plane, with rotational movements that include turning and twisting, like throwing balls or swinging bats. Tennis players rotate their spine, shoulders and hips with great force to swing through a ball, only to come to a stop almost instantaneously. Golfers swing from the ground up, relying on rotation of the hips, core strength and well-developed coordination.

Over time, the repetition of running, lifting and swinging can cause the overdevelopment of certain muscles at the expense of under-utilized muscles. Tight hamstrings, hip flexors, quads and shoulders will lead other muscles and joints to overcompensate, leading to muscle imbalances and injury.


Dancer’s Pose

The pose downward facing dog is great for runners, cyclists or weightlifters to stretch the entire front of their body while improving flexibility and circulation. Dancer’s Pose lengthens the entire front of the body, as well as releases tension in the quads, which can be very tight in runners. Runners will also benefit from poses that stretch the lower body and keep the muscles long—high lunge strengthens the ankles and feet, while stretching the hip flexors, calves and groin.

Stretching the short, rigid of muscles built by running also increases the shock absorption of the body and creates a lighter footfall. A runner has approximately 1,000 footfalls per mile, and with each step, the feet, legs and hips absorb three to four times his or her bodyweight. Increased flexibility and elasticity of the muscles helps to reduce the risk of developing injuries cause by repeated trauma to connective tissues, including shin splints.

Lolë running ambassador Leanne Shear uses yoga for her post-run recovery practice. “For some of us runners, stretching and yoga is an afterthought at best,” said Shear. “However, flexibility will definitely make you a better runner.”

Parivrtta Utkanasana

Revolved Chair Pose

Golfers, tennis and baseball players largely focus on rotational movements. Favoring one side of the body leads to better range of motion and flexibility on their dominant side and muscle imbalances on the other. Rotating the torso, twisted lunge or revolved chair pose are chest and shoulders openers that correct any upper body imbalances. They also keep the core tight. The obliques, or external abdominal muscles, function in the transverse plane to help you rotate, as well as prevent you from rotating too much. These revolved yoga poses twist the body in the transverse plane, which open up tight obliques and lower back muscles.

Former pro wrestling champ Diamond Dallas Page credits yoga for helping him to recover from ruptured discs in his back. After three weeks of steady practice, Page began to notice positive changes in his body. “I was blown away by how much flexibility and strength was coming,” he said in an interview.


dolphin pose

Swimmers and others who heavily use their upper bodies can benefit from the dolphin pose. Lifting the rib cage away from your shoulders and pressing your heels to the floor, this inverted pose, which rests the body on forearms and distributes weight from one leg to the other, stretches tight shoulder and chest muscles.

Cyclidopldosts often suffer from tight hip flexors and thighs. Pigeon pose is a great stretch for these areas of the body. Tree pose stretches the inner thigh and groin, while also strengthening the thighs, as well as the calves, ankles and spine. It is a great pose for improving balance and establishing a center of gravity.

Passive holds relax the body while giving the muscles a deeper stretch. These restorative poses aid recovery for the next workout. In corpse pose, the limbs are outstretched and all the muscles and the mind are relaxed to sink deeper into a meditative state. This expansive pose can be held for 5 to 15 minutes, allowing for deep relaxation of both the body and mind.

Another crucial component of yoga is pranayama, or breath work. Erratic or jerky breath can cause increased respiration rates and tension in the muscles. Learning how to properly breathe from the diaphragm, for instance, makes the body more energy-efficient, enhances flexibility of the ribs and spine and increases lung capacity. Controlled and steady nasal breathing relaxes the muscles, allowing them to be stretched more easily.

Finding Center with Breath Control

Coming Back to Center With Breath

Breath work increases circulation and flexibility, which helps the body to recover more quickly. Lastly, it improves concentration and focus, allowing athletes to stay present in the moment. Reducing anxiety and mental stress allows athletes to stay calm under pressure and pace themselves through a challenging game or competition.

“Sometimes when I make my routines, I get into a very special stage of meditation. And this is beautiful because I am able to exercise and totally clean my mind and keep myself in the present moment,” Gracie said.

He believes meditation helps practitioners get a deeper understanding of fears and emotional stresses. “When you control your breath, you can actually control yourself–mentally and physically,” he said.






Rediscovering and Rooting Myself In Nature

garden flowersIt appears that autumn is finally starting to creep into Connecticut. It’s back to pajama pants, socks and the comforter on the cooler nights, and I bundle in my lightweight hoodie and bedroom slippers to comfortably get through the chilly mornings. Days give way to sunny, yet mild temperatures. And as someone with heat and sun sensitivity, I embrace these days because it means that I can enjoy playing outdoors again.

Last week, it was so nice that I ventured outdoors to practice some yoga in our yard. Surrounded by a colorful mélange of flowers, the green, green grass and the deep roots of a magnificent tree, I felt more grounded at the same time as feeling freer. I was jazzed about my new, gripping yoga Toesox, which are a godsend for a flat-footed girl like me who often struggles to create as a solid triangle of balance with my feet to stabilize me in one-footed poses—my base foot typically tends to roll inward or face out instead of ahead.

Vrksasana or Tree Pose

Vrksasana or Tree Pose

Standing in front of the broad tree that is centerpiece of the yard, I brought my foot up into inner thigh and mimicked the tree’s rootedness in Vrksasana pose. I found myself able to balance there much longer than usual. Was it the toesox, or the fact that my feet could wrap around the uneven ground or the confidence of being back in a natural habitat that made me feel so steady? It was likely a combination of all three.

The last time I had practiced yoga outside, in the late spring or early summer, I recaptured the carefree abandon of my youth gymnast years, finding myself willing to try things I hadn’t done in ages—like fall backwards into a backbend without fear of landing on my head, ha. Knowing there was the cushion of grass to catch me and wearing shoes that clung to the earth of course didn’t hurt.

Camatkarasna/Wild Thing Pose

Last week, I again arched my back and reached for the grass with my outstretched hands. My torso lifted and opened to greet the sun and embrace the fresh air of nature, feeling safe and free enough to fully express my soul through body. After weeks of cooping myself inside to protect myself from the heat and humidity, I felt fully alive once again.

Yesterday, we woke up to mild weather and sun after rain the previous day. I had mentioned we go on a hike that weekend—it had been almost a year since my last one. To say I was itchy to get back on the trails is a gross understatement.

Last year at this time, I was about to sink into a really rough period of my previously controlled movement disorder, dystonia. Literally being unable to stay on my feet and muscles jerking uncontrollably for months had a sobering affect physically and emotionally. Fortunately, I was able to rediscover a semblance of control, strength and confidence on the yoga mat. My health became stable once again, but the uncertainty about doing anything more taxing with my legs lingered, especially in the draining sun.

With fall just around the corner, I decided couldn’t stay off the trails any longer—no matter how mild the trail. So we decided to take a hike in a place we’d never been before, which was recommended by my brother living in California—he’d read about the place online. In a state forest, the trails promised a view of six waterfalls. While it wasn’t exactly the best time of the year to catch waterfalls at the dwindling end of the summer, the route was short enough to be manageable and the woodsy scenery was sure to be picturesque.

Enders State Forest

Enders State Forest

Enders State Forest 2

We discovered the main, marked trail which was fairly flat and mild, so we scrabbled down closer to the stream of waterfalls, scampering up and down muddy inclines, crisscrossing fallen trees and hopping rocks to explore both sides of the falls. While a couple of the falls lacked force, others were very beautiful. We imagined returning on a hot summer day in the future when we could cool off with a dip under the falls.

Enders Falls

Enders Falls ©2014 Renée Canada

Enders Falls

Enders Falls © 2014 Renee Canada

Ender Falls

Ender Falls © 2014 Renee Canada

Enders Falls

Enders Falls ©2014 Renee Canada

True, this was no trek in Nepal. However, it was a big leap forward to fully embracing more of my “old life” again. It was refreshing to feel my heart pumping and challenging my muscle legs even more. Back outdoors with the man I love, I felt overcome by a deep peace and contentment. It reminded me that there are few things more life affirming and rejuvenating for me than spending an hour or two soaking in nature.

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The Path to Finding Your Dream and Pursuing Your Destiny

The Artists Way and The Alchemist


It is no coincidence that the day I returned to practices for rediscovering and awakening my creative self, I began to learn the great lessons of The Alchemist, the tale of a boy who discovers the true desires of his heart and embarks on an ambitious quest to fulfill his destiny. In a powerful Super Soul Sunday, when Oprah spoke with Paulo Coehlo, the author of the international bestseller, each great truth he shared resonated deeply in my soul. The similarities of the book’s great truths with the lessons of Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way—my guide to rediscover my creative calling and spur me further in the direction of my dreams—are uncanny.

How The Universe And Your Thoughts Shape Destiny

At the heart of both is the idea of synchronicity, as Cameron calls the laws of universe that we set in motion by making a commitment to our passion or calling and taking the steps in the direction of our truest dreams. By doing so, we prepare ourselves to see and act upon the favor of fortune, or a “thousand unseen helping hands,” which Cameron believes we can count on presenting itself. Coehlo summarizes this principle as follows: “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.”

On Super Soul Sunday, he shared his belief that the universe is working for us, not against us. Coehlo said that whenever really wanted something, he always got it. Yet, since the universe does not judge or think, it is our own thoughts—positive or negative—have the power the shape our reality. In other words, we set the tone for what manifests in our lives.

As Charles Reade put it:

Sow a thought, reap an act;

Sow an act, reap a habit;

Sow a habit, reap a character;

Sow a character, reap a destiny.

When we dwell on the negative and see the bad everywhere we turn, it should not surprise us when we continually draw negativity to our lives like magnets—both people and things. Like attracts like, and the mind is a very powerful tool for shaping our reality—for better or for worse.

When You Manifest Bad Things

Super Soul Sunday with Paulo Coehlo“You have this subconscious mind that is sometimes attracting tragedy, attracting bad things because you want to be a victim,” Coehlo explained to Oprah. “To be a victim is to justify a lot of frustrations and failures in your life.”

Facing their dreams, many are paralyzed by fear—of both failure and success. “Anyone honest will tell you that possibility is far more frightening than impossibility, that freedom is far more terrifying than any prison,” Cameron writes.

People grow concerned with what they might have to give up along the path to their dreams or how that choice might negatively affect others around them. They worry that living a life that enthuses them makes them selfish, that risking the leap makes them crazy or irresponsible. They worry about how they will get food on the table and take care of their loved ones, whom Coelho assures, want to see them happy.

“Most people get hung up on the burden, and they lose the dream,” said Oprah.

People make excuses, like, ‘I don’t have time right now,’ or ‘When I retire, then I’ll pursue my dream to write novels,’ or ‘When I make x amount of money, then I can start my own business.’ Coehlo said it isn’t that people lose the dream, it’s that they try to hide it or bury it with excuses, like the father of the main character in The Alchemist who has buried this own dream to travel the world under the burden of daily life.

“That’s why you see so many self-destructive people today,” he said. “They know that they had a dream that they weren’t brave enough to fulfill. So one day, Death will come and say, ‘what about your dream?’”

Cameron writes, “Turn aside your dream and it will come back to you again.”

Finding the Courage to Follow Your Dream

Coehlo compares our heart to the flower, which “can be very brave, but it can be easily hurt.” The possibility of being hurt or rejected makes us very fearful and may lead us to abandon our faith in our own potential. In truth, “before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way,” he writes in The Alchemist.

Courage is the primary spiritual quality one needs to have to live his true destiny, and it is the most essential to understand the “Language of the World,” Coehlo believes. Without courage, we reduce the world to our own limited understanding, which is based on our past experiences and others’ shared perspectives—including their own failures and fears. We suffer from an inability to see the signs and open doors of possibility, which are everywhere all the time.

“We like to pretend it is hard to follow our heart’s dreams,” Cameron writes. “The truth is, it is difficult to avoid walking through the many doors that will open [in the pursuit of them].”

We must be brave enough to actively pursue our dreams and to keep following the path in that direction, no matter what happens. This doesn’t mean the scope or direction of the dream won’t alter in any way. It doesn’t mean we won’t make mistakes or take a wrong turn. It does mean we stay committed to the quest and the belief that we can live a life of deep purpose and contentment.

Honoring Your Calling

Paulo Coehlo and The Alchemist“You are here to honor something called the miracle of life,” Coehlo said. According to him, we honor that by pursuing our calling—the thing for which we have the most enthusiasm and is the reason why we are here on this earth in this particular form at this particular time.

Our calling, or “personal legend,” is different from someone else’s, and the quest for it may take us along many different paths. We will encounter many different people—some who are our champions and others who are enemies of our spirit, threatened by our courage and passion. Rather than grow so frustrated and discouraged by the perceived missteps or setbacks we may experience that we quit the pursuit, we can learn from every step in our journey and come to appreciate each experience and person that we encounter.

The true test of our lives comes at the time of our death, Coehlo believes, when we are asked, as Oprah describes it, “Did you open your heart to fully embrace every single moment?”

We must be daring enough to embrace the uncertainty of the unknown. By doing so, Coehlo said, we will be rewarded with kindness from it. “The universe will reward you for taking risks on its behalf,” says author Shakti Gawain.

It is hope in the alternate possibility—that we will find great joy, peace and fulfillment—that must propel us forward. When we are honest enough with ourselves to acknowledge and pursue our deepest, truest desires, we will be divinely guided on your path. Even if you take some wrong steps along the way, Coehlo said, the universe guides you back on track.

“It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” Coehlo writes in The Alchemist. Pursuing it should be the greatest adventure of our life!

If we allow the seeds of our deepest desires to unfurl their wings to the mysterious winds, there is great promise that they will become embedded in the firmament, and they will blossom and bloom. And when the dream blooms, we blossom, bringing more beauty and truth not only to our lives—but also to the lives of everyone we touch.


Six Common Foods That Cause Acid Reflux and Key Foods To Heal It

6 Common Foods That Cause Acid RefluxYesterday, in my interview with Dr. Jonathan Aviv—a world-renowned ENT physician and surgeon, as well as author of Killing Me Softly From Inside—we explored the surprising link between acid reflux and the rise in esophageal cancer. In addition to talking about the use of sulfuric acid to make high fructose corn syrup, we discussed the mid-1970s legislation that requires acidifying any food in bottles or cans, including baby food, which introduces additional acid into our bodies from infancy. Today, we’ll take a look at foods that people with acid reflux should flat out stay away from, identify which acidic foods can be neutralized and share which ones can help heal acid reflux.

When looking at acid reflux disease, Aviv said foods are looked at in physiological terms—what they do to the muscle that protects the esophagus from acid in the stomach, the LES. Food is also categorized how much acidity it contains.

Six Common Foods That Contribute to Acid Reflux

Foods that loosen the esophageal barrier and foods with high acidity play a major role in acid reflux disease. “It’s these kind of substances we urge patients to stay away from them in the quest of healing their acid reflux naturally,” said Aviv. “In other words, using food as medicine, as opposed to medicine.”

Avid said there are six very common foods we eat that are not especially acidic, but they loosen the LES muscle:

  • Caffeine
  • Chocolate
  • Alcohol
  • Mint
  • Onion
  • Garlic

Caffeine is on the list for loosening the LES and for its nature of increasing hydrochloric (HCL) acid production in the stomach.

“Not only does it de-activate the protective muscle, it takes stomach acid and increases it,” said Aviv. “So the stomach produces more acid, that muscle doesn’t work or is deactivated, and stomach material is going to come up the wrong way.”

Chocolate is on the list for its caffeine content, which comes in varying amounts in different types of the candy.

“Very often, chocolate can be a trigger food in my patients,” Aviv said. “People will really feel, if not heartburn, what I call throat burn. They’ll feel the coughing, clearing, lump-like sensations.”

Alcohol, mint, onion and garlic all in general loosen that LES muscle. People cook with a lot of onion and garlic, so in developing his Acid Watcher® Diet, Aviv came up with a list of alternatives to use so people can still have flavor in their food.

What About Other Triggers?

Aviv said that, after a while, patients get a feel for what they can and cannot have. They can also take a proactive role in identifying foods that trigger acid reflux specifically for them.

One reader brought up how dairy also causes the stomach to produce more acid. Her acid reflux symptoms were eliminated simply by cutting out all dairy–milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.

“Some people come in and say, ‘I was having a banana and it was like someone was stabbing me in the heart.’ You know what I say to that? Don’t eat bananas,” Aviv said. “When you’ve identified things that trigger your symptom, whether it’s a throat burn symptom or a heartburn symptom—let’s stay away from that.”

The Power of pH and Pepsin

Those with Acid Reflux should stay above pH 5 / Img Src: MindBodyGreen

Those with Acid Reflux should stay above pH 5 / Img Src: MindBodyGreen

“There’s a sort of magic number when looking at pH, which is a scientific term for relative acidity,” Aviv explained “You want substances above pH 5 as you’re beginning to heal very vigorously, and then you can ease back to above pH 4.”

The pH numbers in food is critical (find the pH of common foods, fruits and vegetables here) because pepsin gets activated below pH 4. Pepsin is a type of enzyme that normally gets activated in the stomach to break down food when acid is present. Pepsin only is activated in a very acidic environment.

“But with acid reflux, pepsin receptors can float up into esophagus, into the chest, vocal chord and throat area, and they sit there,” Aviv said. “When something acidic comes by, these receptors get activated and it starts basically eating you.”

This is why he cautions against the lemon and apple cider vinegar remedy for reflux disease. “When you pour acid down that area, those receptors—think of them like Pac-Man—get activated. They start inflaming the tissues.”

Soda, one of the most acidic substances we consume, activates pepsin receptors, attacking the throat. Aviv finds it ironic that voice competition shows, like The Voice or American Idol, have their judges with a cup of branded cola at their tables. “So the thing that can destroy voices sponsors the voice shows. It’s sort of like the tobacco companies sponsoring the Olympics,” he said.

“There is just a little bit of a disconnect, and people probably aren’t aware of that. [Soda] beverages activate these receptors and there’s not a health benefit to consuming them to begin,” said Aviv. “So I join the acidic healthy foods with the acidic, non-healthy foods, which are sugary sodas, which are extraordinarily acidic.”

Citrus foods—like lemon, lime, pineapple, orange, and orange juice—are considered very healthy. However, they are also highly acidic. In people with acid reflux, citrus can wreak havoc on the pepsin receptors in the throat.

Acidic Foods That Can Be Alkalinized

There’s another set of healthy fruits, berries, of which patients with acid reflux should be cautious. While high in fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory, most berries are also rather high in pH and quite acidic. Fortunately, the acidity of berries can be neutralized with something alkaline, like unsweetened almond milk.

“You can combine handful of berries and almond milk in a smoothie You can add banana, hemp protein and spinach, and alkalanize these acidic fruits and eat them safely when you have acid reflux disease,” he said. Any tree nut milk, coconut milk, non-GMO soymilk or rice milks is very alkaline and concentrated, helping to neutralize the acidity of berries.

Honey is another example of an acidic food that can be neutralized. Nut butter can neutralize the acidity of nut butter, according to Aviv.

He says that unfortunately it’s almost impossible to neutralize the substances, like caffeine and alcohol, which cause the physiological effect of loosening the LES muscle. Aviv says alcohol and caffeine are the hardest for most people to give up.

“Yet knowing that if they have less coffee or less alcohol, they will feel better is very empowering,” Aviv added. “While it’s hard to change your diet and lifestyle, knowing you can fix the problem by changing what you eat is very powerful. When people are uncomfortable or worried, they’ll step up and do what they need to do to get better.”

Foods the Help Heal Acid Reflux

Eat Your Greens!

Eat Your Greens!

So we know which foods harm people with acid reflux. What are foods that can help? “You want to stay with the fruits and vegetables that are certainly above pH 5, if you can, or pH4 as your healing is taking place,” said Aviv.

Fruits like watermelon and banana are well tolerated, helping to heal acid reflux. Yet green vegetables seem to be the food of choice as they are very alkaline. They are also high in fiber, which will fill you up.

Dr. Aviv’s Acid Watcher® Diet

Aviv developed the Acid Watcher® Diet, which is a low acid, high fiber diet that has balanced amounts of the three macronutrients—proteins, fats and carbohydrates. He’s had his patients use a modified form of the diet for years, but now he can offer a series of recipes and pH tables with his book, Killing Me Softly From Inside.

The book also has hundreds of foods that Aviv tested and broke down into different categories—fruits, vegetables, commonly consumed liquids, etc. He said that since the book came out, he has about 1200 people on the diet.

Dr. Aviv noticed that more and more patients on his Acid Watcher Diet were having fairly consistent and predictable weight loss, as fiber revs up the metabolism. “We’re seeing anywhere from 4-10 lbs weight loss and an average of about an inch off the waist in the first 2-3 weeks from people on the diet. Then it levels off to about 2 pounds a week,” he said, “If you’re going to rev up metabolism and get rid of processed food, you are going not only feel good but look good.”

As Aviv pointed out in yesterday’s article, getting rid of processed food is key for people with acid reflux, especially as any food substance in a can or bottle is acidified to prevent bacterial overgrowth and food poisoning. Aviv believes that eventually the government will reveal to the public that foods in jars and cans are acidic. He recommends readers continue to read food labels and watch out for sulfuric acids in processed foods–including backing off foods with HFCS.

For now, the key is to raise awareness. “We need to raise awareness that things that you may be eating are acidic and that chronic throat symptoms should be considered alarm symptoms that require a doctor’s attention,” said Aviv.

While he admits that using food as medicine is still considered maverick idea in a lot of medical circles, Aviv feels changing what you eat is key to healing acid reflux and putting a halt to the rise in esophageal cancer.


What’s Acid Reflux Got to Do, Got to Do With Esophageal Cancer

Src: Web MD

Src: Web MD

Did you know that esophageal cancer is the fastest growing cancer in America and Europe? The National Cancer Institute estimates that there are 18,170 new cases of this form of cancer in the U.S., with 15,540 deaths from the disease so far in 2014. What’s perhaps even more shocking than the rapid growth of esophageal cancer is its link to a rather common health problem—acid reflux. Yet the remedy may be as simple as changing what you eat.

The esophagus is a muscular tube in the chest, which carries food from the throat to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a set of muscles located where the esophagus meets the stomach. The stomach contains acid, which is used to break down food for digestion. When working properly, the LES closes, keeping acid and the contents of the stomach safely in the stomach. In acid reflux, the muscular protection of the LES is compromised.

“So if there is a malfunction down there, acid in stomach comes up, up into the esophagus, or it can keep going up into the throat, into the lungs, into the sinuses, into the ears and to the teeth, causing enamel damage,” Dr. Jonathan E. Aviv, MD, FACS, a surgeon and world-renowned physician of the ears, nose and throat (ENT), said in a recent interview. “So you really want that muscle to work.”

Killing Me Softly From InsideEarlier this year, Aviv published the book, Killing Me Softly From Inside, which is about the connection between esophageal cancer and acid reflux, as well as between acid reflux and common complaints of the throat, such as chronic cough and hoarseness.

WebMD estimates that more than 60 million people experience the symptoms of acid reflux. Yet that number may be a considerable underestimation. When most people think of acid reflux, they think of the chest pain of heartburn, where stomach acid comes back up into the esophagus. But you can also have acid reflux with much more subtle symptoms.

“One of the more dangerous things we see is that people don’t have heartburn—all they have is la lump in throat, throat clearing, hoarseness or chronic cough,” Aviv said.

He explained that when most people experience chronic cough or hoarseness, they assume it’s from post-nasal drip—that the cause is allergies or some sinus problem. After six months or longer of these symptoms, when antihistamines and other allergy medicines aren’t helping them to get better, that’s when patients grow concerned.

“The idea that the stomach is connected to the throat is foreign,” said Aviv. People find it difficult grasp that an organ by the belly button can have anything to do with one by the jaw.

“One of the reasons esophageal cancer from too much acid has been out of control since mid-70s is that the traditional symptoms we think of, like heartburn, don’t happen in these folks. So no one knows to look at the esophagus,” he said.

What happened in the mid-70s to lead to this problem? According to Aviv, the Food and Drug Administration enacted a law called Title XXI. This law said that any substance in a can or bottle must be acidified to prevent bacterial overgrowth and food poisoning.

“It was a great idea,” Aviv said. Yet he pointed out that baby banana food out of a glass jar is 100 times more acidic than a whole banana. “Acid insinuations in our life starts at infancy.”

The move from expensive cane and beet sugars to less expensive, corn-based sugar, like High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) also played a big role in the rise of esophageal-related health problems.

“I know [HFCS] been vilified, but there’s some science here. Science is as follows: in manufacturing, sulfuric acid is often used, which is acidic,” Aviv explained. “Chemicals used in the food processing also have the physiologic effect of loosening that muscle that protects the esophagus from the stomach.”

Aviv draws a direct link between what we eat and food industry and government changes. “Now this was inadvertent. No one tried to do this,” he said. Yet a combination of legislative intervention and food industry changes has led us to this situation where the silent symptoms of acid reflux—symptoms other than heartburn—are being undetected and esophageal cancer is rising.

Larynx damage from acid reflux

Normal Larynx vs. Acid-Injured Larynx/Src: Dr. Aviv

“Sure enough, we have a cancer that is very fast-growing. Some GIs, gastroenterologists, believe that within 10 years, if we don’t do something, esophageal will exceed colon cancer as the second most common cancer killer in the United States,” Avid said.

He suggests that if these chronic throat symptoms don’t go away after 8 weeks, people should see a doctor and ask to have their esophagus looked at. Aviv developed a procedure for looking at the esophagus without general anesthesia. With a little numbing medicine in the nose, a camera “about the sixe of a piece of spaghetti” is placed via the nose to look at the throat and esophagus.

“It’s not a very long and involved test. It’s much safer, as you’re not undergoing sedations,” he said. “And you can tell instantly if you have a potentially pre-cancerous lesion, which is called Barrett’s esophagus. That is the stomach lining creeping up into the esophagus, caused by inflammation.”

While it’s rare for patients with Barrett’s to develop esophageal cancer, Aviv says people with Barrett’s are at an increased risk for developing the cancer. “But it’s so slow growing, you can follow it,” he said. “And as soon as it changes into something more dangerous, you can actually remove it or get rid of it very, very easily.”

While the rapid increase of esophageal cancer is worrying, Aviv is reassured by the opportunity to intervene. “We can capture this in the pre-cancerous stage and stop it. So it’s unusual that we have this opportunity,” he said.

While a head-and-neck cancer surgeon familiar with advanced surgical techniques, Aviv does not want people’s health to even get to that point. The solution, he says, is food as medicine, which regular readers of this site know is just what this health coach ordered.

Learn more about the role of food in acid reflux in part II of this article coming tomorrow.


MasterChef Competitor Jaimee Vitolo Increases Awareness About Dystonia

Jamie of MasterChef Season 5Additional spotlight has been cast on dystonia lately, thanks to one of this season’s MasterChef competitors speaking up about having the disorder. A Season 5 contestant of FOX’s cooking reality show, Jaimee Vitolo, who has successfully avoided elimination in the show thus far, explains her “voice issue and awkward movements” to viewers as symptoms of the movement disorder.

On August 11, Vitoli announced on Facebook, that she was recently diagnosed with the neurological disorder, which causes muscles to involuntarily spasm and contract.

Focal dystonia affects only a specific area of the body or set of muscles and may be task-specific, like writer’s cramp. Vitolo and others with spasmodic dysphonia—or laryngeal dystonia—have uncontrollable spasms specifically in the muscles of the larynx only while trying to speak. These spasms cause interruptions in the sound of one’s voice.

“I have spasmodic dysphonia, which causes my voice to break, sound weak, and even be painful to speak,” Vitoli wrote. She said she also has another type of dystonia, presently unidentified, which is responsible for continuous muscle contractions, aching joints and clumsiness.

Dystonia is the third most common movement disorder, after Parkinson’s disease and essential tremor. According to the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association, an estimated 50,000 people live with this type of focal dystonia in North America.

Award-winning NPR radio host Diane Rehm also has spasmodic dysphonia (or SD), which nearly ended her voice-dependent career in 1998. Her condition first manifested as coughing, and later tremors, while speaking. After receiving successful treatment, including voice therapy and Botox treatments to the affected muscles, Rehm sought to spread awareness as she returned to The Diane Rehm Show after an absence of four months.

Nightline ABC dedicated an entire episode of the program to Rehm’s discussion about living with the disorder. The radio show host also recounts the physical and emotional struggle with SD in her book, Finding My Voice.

Since returning on air, Rehm’s show has grown into one the most popular public broadcasting programs after more than 30 years on air.

Despite her altered voice, of which listeners have taken note, Rehm believed there was hope. “I can keep doing [the show]. I can keep talking about it,” she said. “The doctors will keep learning about it.”

Vitolo shares Rehm’s optimism. “Treatment is underway, and it looks promising!” she writes.

Make September Dystonia Awareness MonthThe dystonia community wishes her the best as she continues the MasterChef competition and learns more about how to better manage her symptoms.

While there are treatments for different types of dystonia, the cause of it is still uncertain, and there is currently is no cure. Boosting awareness about the debilitating movement disorder, which affects more than 250,000 people in the United States, is key to funding more research and knowledge about dystonia. This is why there is a petition, starting September 1, asking the White House to officially recognize September as Dystonia Awareness Month. Please consider signing the petition and help to bring greatly needed attention to this complex disorder.

Learn more about the petition here:

MasterChef airs on FOX on Mondays, 8 p.m. EST/PST, and 7 p.m. CST.


How to Reclaim Your Sense of Self After Life’s Shattering Setbacks

Goddess Pose YogaThe past several days I have been cocooning myself in self-care. Eating food that nourishes the body, and foods that comfort the soul. Centering myself on the yoga mat. Immersing myself in a delicious novel. Cuddling with my man and relishing “us” time. Visiting with old and dear friends to help remind me who I am and where I’ve come from. I desperately needed the emotional and physical recovery and rejuvenation after the last week I’ve had.

When Life Imitates the Movies

Last Friday, I hit a brick wall with great velocity and force. I was burnt out and exasperated after a week of slaving away in an exciting, new job opportunity, which was poised to positively and significantly transform my life. My boss, however, was a man with grandiose, unrealistic expectations and was complimentary and encouraging one minute, then insulting and challenging the next. With growing frustration and suspicion, research revealed that this man suffered from much more than mood swings; he was a pathological liar and con artist.

To say that I was stunned is a gross understatement. I felt betrayed, vulnerable and foolish. All that time and all that hard work were for naught but a mentally sick man’s gain. The loss of an amazing opportunity that proved to be false made me heartsick.

I had ignored the red flags and building unease. I excused it as my own resistance to increasing challenges and to insecurities about my abilities to take on such an important, time-consuming role. I fell into the trap so many of us do—women especially—of stuffing a pillow into the mouths of our own intuition and claiming someone else’s inadequacies as something lacking in ourselves.

Any anger with him quickly dissipated and led to a depressed funk. There went the excitement over a dream job that married two of my greatest passions. Goodbye to the chance at building a very sound financial foundation with my partner. Away slid the hopes to quickly and completely pay off my debts. Not only was this a betrayal of trust, it was a betrayal of my dreams.

How to Recover and Reclaim Your Sense of Self

I refused to let the weight of this keep me at a standstill. I was not going to let the encroaching quicksand of self-doubt and sadness keep me rooted in the past, looking down. Instead I was going to brush myself off and look up and move forward. After all, I know how to successfully marry my two passions on my own two feet. I, not this twisted person, am in control of my dreams. And it helps tremendously to be surrounded by people who love me, who keep reminding me of my own skills and capabilities.

With so many of my friends enduring their own trials or raising children or living far away, on top of my own limiting health challenges, one gets used to living through much of the days solo. Staying busy with my passions, spending time with my family, my man’s friends and family, keeping touch with friends virtually, I try to distract myself from the feelings of disconnectedness and isolation inside, but it never completely goes away. So when one of my oldest friends invited me to go on a special mini-vacation, I couldn’t refuse.

Girlfriends in WinterHealing the Hurt with Social Support

When it comes to spending time with my own girl friends, the opportunity is often feast or famine. I took full advantage of the feast this time. On Saturday, I was off to the farmers’ market with a dear friend and her children. On Monday, I left for Long Island for a couple nights with one of my oldest friends. While there, we had a surprise visit from another old schoolmate we hadn’t seen in 20 years. We reminisced over old times and caught up on the 20 years of life since. Then I was re-energized by the new and thrilling experience of being on stage while an extremely popular band performed to an amphitheatre full of fans. On the way back, we stopped by my best friend’s home and spent several, life-affirming hours with her and her daughters. Her warm and familiar presence always helps to center me and remind me of the importance of balance.

Take a Step Back for Perspective

It can be extremely healing to slip out of your daily skin for a little while and temporarily leave behind whatever worries, problems and tribulations that threaten to bog you down. Sometimes you can surround yourself in a circle of loving friends. Other times you have take yourself out on a date, doing things that bring out your playful side of you, the child within who still exudes exuberance and boundless buoyancy when facing life. Or you may find solace in an absorbing saga in literature or film that takes you away into another world entirely for a couple of hours. Spewing out all your feelings in a journal (or blog) doesn’t hurt either. Releasing those emotions frees you up for bigger and better things.

Whether you take a mental escape or a physical one, playing around in a new environment or from a different viewpoint can help you find perspective, clarity and eventually peace. I’m so grateful for both my physical and mental escapes, and the people who helped to make it happen. Now I am once again ready to jump back into life, claiming the reigns of my destiny and looking ahead with hope and excitement for what is to come.


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