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Arab Health-Tips

Precious Sleep
Mariam Alireza

We all go through sleepless nights when we are excited and stimulated physically, emotionally, or mentally and when the brain is highly aroused and racing with negative thoughts, anxiety, and worries. We either toss and turn in bed or stare blankly at the ceiling, coaxing ourselves to sleep. The more anxious we are, the less likely we fall asleep. Sleep disorders have become common conditions, getting worse with age. Though insomnia is not a life-threatening problem, it can be quite devastating to those who experience it, leading to fatigue, poor physical and mental performance, mental confusion, depression, and possibly cancer.

To overcome insomnia and restless sleep, we require lifestyle modifications. These include diet changes, environment improvement, regular activity, and relaxation techniques, which lead to sweet dreams. You may want to ask, “What has diet to do with sleep?”

Certain foods or drinks interfere with your sleep cycle. I am quite certain many of us have experienced a sleepless night due to a late cup of coffee or tea though not everyone has the same reaction to caffeine. So the first proscription is to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and sugar (sugar makes children hyperactive) before bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulator and diuretic, compelling you to void frequently at night. While some foods and nutrient deficiencies can prompt restlessness and insomnia, others induce healthy sleep.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is available in milk, eggs, cheese, soybeans and its products, legumes, and meat (turkey in particular). The nutrient is a precursor of the hormone serotonin, which influences sleep. However, mixing many proteins of different sources does not necessarily produce the desired effect. Eating too much protein causes tryptophan to build muscles instead of make serotonin. Therefore, one helping of a tryptophan-rich food is sufficient for dinner.

Low calcium and magnesium levels can lead to sleep loss, according to Jane Guiltinan, ND, director of the Bastyr Women’s Wellness Center, Seattle. Sleep can be disturbed by muscle cramps due to calcium deficiency. Magnesium insufficiency leads to restless legs syndrome (RLS), causing fidgeting and sleeplessness. German researchers recommend 300mg of magnesium to improve RLS and sleep. Dietary calcium and magnesium intake should be increased by eating dairy products, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds. Guiltinan recommends the supplement of 1,200mg of calcium and 300mg of magnesium. They are absorbed better when divided in two doses (morning and bedtime). Calcium uptake is improved at night.

The more known herbs for inducing slumber are valerian, Valerian officinalis, chamomile, Matricaria recutita and Chamaemelum nobile, kava, Piper methysticum, and passion flower, Passiflora incarnata. Their effect only lasts four hours, but they calm anxiety and tension to improve sleep. Most of them work better when taken regularly before bedtime.

Your bedroom should be comfortable and soothing to the nerves with minimum furniture and mess, having calming colors. According to the ancient Chinese art of Feng shui, nothing in the bedroom should remind you of work, excitement, or activity. No stimuli such as a computer, television, or exercise equipment should be around. If you have no choice but to have them in the room, hide them behind a screen. The bedroom should be night dark during sleep for serotonin to convert into melatonin, the sleeping hormone.

Waking up should be gradual and smooth as it influences sleep quality. Light should enter the room progressively and not suddenly flood the room; neither should you be awakened by the drilling sound of an alarm clock. Why should you be bullied to wake up? Your rising should be smooth to keep your mood calm all day. Light therapy enhances sleep. It is important to fill your eyes with the lights of dawn and twilight. The sun sets gently; so should you and the sun rises progressively; so should you.

Try yoga to improve sleep and reduce stress. Inversion poses, like Legs Up the Wall pose, help sleep. For this pose, put a bolster or two folded blankets three inches away the wall. Lie on the support with hips against the wall and legs on one side. Lift legs slowly one at a time against the wall until lined up with your hips; your lower back and ribs should be on the bolster; and your head and shoulders on the floor with fore-arms along head and palms facing up towards. Keep your legs extended along the wall with eyes closed for 5 to 10 minutes. Come down gently by pushing the wall with both feet. Other poses are Downward Facing Dog and Bridge Pose before bedtime to reduce middle of the night arousals. Inversion poses also balance hormone levels, calm the brain, and lower blood pressure.

The evening should be time to prepare for bed. Complicated physical or mental chores should be avoided. All activities should be stopped at least an hour before bedtime. That hour should be dedicated to unwinding like lounging with a cup of chamomile or valerian, reading a book, doing a crossword puzzle, or watching a nonviolent, relaxing television program or movie. Take a lukewarm bath with two cups of Epsom salt; it contains magnesium to relax body tension.

Rather than rushing to swallow sleeping pills or tossing and turning in search of sleep, try these natural approaches. They are your key to sweet slumber. Sshh… Good night!

Mariam Alireza

An increasing number of people are suffering from stomach acid reflux. While once it was an occasional disturbance, recently it has become a daily sufferance of heartburn, pain, and reflux rising up the throat, interfering with sleep; resulting in acrid mouth taste and gum recession; provoking upper respiratory infections; and promoting the risk of esophageal cancer.

Obesity and present-day stressful lifestyles gave way to the surfacing of chronic conditions such as gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). While stress and obesity are triggers of GERD, unhealthy diets and lifestyles, genetics, and digestive tract structural defects (hiatal hernia) are also significant factors in provoking acid reflux.

GERD is characterized by stomach acid reversing up the delicate esophagus, provoking painful upper chest burning sensations and sometimes sore throats.

Doctors prescribe stomach acid neutralizers and inhibitors to relieve reflux. H2 antagonists that suppress stomach acid were popular for a while, until the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) took over.

PPIs block stomach acid for over 24 hours, relieving acid reflux and becoming one of the highest selling over-the-counter drugs in the US, but do they provide genuine cure for GERD or only temporary relief? Let us see what happens when stomach acid is suppressed.

Stomach acid is essential for breaking up food like meat; for protecting the digestive system from infections; and for absorbing nutrients.

When stomach acid is inhibited, the digestion of food, proteins in particular, is slowed down. Stomach acid inhibiting drugs are then not treating the underlying cause of GERD; they are only suppressing the symptoms, giving temporary relief for the esophagus to heal.

Short-term use may give significant relief, but what happens when the stomach acid is indefinitely inhibited?

Suppressed stomach acid exposes the digestive tract to microbes found in food, resulting in diarrhea, salmonella, and respiratory tract infections including pneumonia and acute stomach inflammation in children who use PPIs.

Low stomach acid lead to anemia, in users, due to their inability to assimilate B vitamins, calcium, and iron. Users of PPIs sometimes develop antibiotic resistance, making treatment of infectious diseases difficult. They also become more susceptible to developing cancer and tumors.

On the other hand, certain lifestyle modifications and natural approaches and therapies provide relief and cure as they address the underlying cause of GERD.

Tradition Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurvedic and Arab traditional medicines offer therapies and herbal remedies for conditions of hyperacidity.

TCM applies acupuncture and herbal therapy to quell “stomach fire,” resulting from stress that makes the liver spill “over into the stomach where it causes things to heat up and rise.” Acupuncture, moist nourishing food, and Chinese herbs quell acid reflux, calm the liver, and soothe pain and heartburn.

According to Dr. Anil Minocha, director of digestive diseases and nutrition at University of Mississippi Medical Center, lifestyle changes are important to treat GERD.

These include lighter and more frequent meals in a calm atmosphere; abstinence from food three hours before bedtime; chewing food slowly and thoroughly; keeping away from stress especially during meals; avoiding caffeine, nicotine, mint, chocolates, alcohol, fries, excess salt and sugar, spices, pickles, and fatty and junk foods (they weaken esophageal muscles). He also suggests taking digestive enzymes to promote digestion.

Many herbs and aromatic seeds have healing properties that are effective against GERD and enhance the digestive process.

Aloe Vera juice (half a cup twice daily between meals) lines and protects the esophagus from acid reflux. It may produce diarrhea, hence it is neither recommended during pregnancy nor for long-term use.

Deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL) offers anti-inflammatory effects and protects the esophageal lining. Avoid in hypertensive conditions.

Lemon balm infusion thrice daily relieves bloating and quells acid reflux.

Bitter greens like dandelion (hindiba) and arugula (jarjeer) increase digestive juices and relieve hyperacidity.

Coriander and cumin seed infusion neutralize acid reflux, thrice daily, once before bedtime.

Turmeric powder is an important remedy in Ayurvedic medicine for many ailments including heartburn and for breaking down fat. Add the powder to food (yogurt, soup, dressing, stews, marinades).

Chewing gum, especially Arabic gum (luban lami), enhances saliva secretion for better digestion and reducing acidity.

Dr. Jabber Al-Qahtani, professor and chairman of the King Saud University’s Department of Pharmacognosy (jqahtani@alriyadh.com) and a leading herbalist, recommends equal parts of honey and water before breakfast, lunch, and bedtime for GERD and heliobacter pylori. Mistaka gum coats the esophageal lining and destroys bacteria.

He also recommends drinking green tea for its antibacterial and digestive properties.

From personal experience, I found banana dipped in powdered mistaka very effective, in the morning.

But nothing is more healing and relieving to heartburn and GERD than water. Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water in between the meals and as you wake up to dilute acid reflux.

Dr. F. Batmanghelidj, author of Water for Health, for Healing, for Life, treated many gastrointestinal problems including GERD with water. Water is healing to many diseases. Help yourself to water; you will see and feel the difference!

Mariam Alireza

Recent researches suggest that inflammation is a major risk factor in the development of such devastating illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, lupus, cancer, and Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases. Let us see how inflammation provokes, for instance, heart disease.

The immune system perceives cholesterol accumulation in the arteries as damage, so it releases white cells to attack the area to repair it. This embattled spot becomes inflamed and plaque starts building. When inflammation fails to heal, plaque falls apart and causes blood clots that obstruct blood circulation, leaving the person victim to a heart attack or stroke. This is the story of inflammation in the blood vessels and artery walls.

In general when inflammation proteins spread in the body, they attack organs, brain (Alzheimer's), blood vessels (plaque), or joints (arthritis). Inflammation may cause pain or may not at first. Unfortunately, prescribed non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) relieve pain and inflammation, while suppressing cartilage repair in joints thus speeding up its destruction.

However, a diet free of inflammatory foods and harmful substances and consisting of anti-inflammatory food and herbs and a healthy lifestyle of regular activity and free of stress can be healing to the suffer, thus reducing dependence on steroids and NSAIDs. Dr. Gloria Gilbere, doctor of natural health who suffered an inflammatory disease, cured herself with such a diet.

She prescribes avoiding inflammatory foods like pure sugar (in soda drinks, candy, syrups, desserts) as well as refined, processed, and junk foods. The latter contains inflammatory and carcinogenic substances like trans-fats (hydrogenated fats), artificial preservatives and additives (in hotdogs, sausages, milkshakes, ice-creams), taste enhancers (sodium glutamate), and artificial sweeteners (aspartame) in sweets, chewing-gum, throat-soothing candy, and breath fresheners. By the way, aspartame is a major suspect in triggering autoimmune diseases (rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis).

She also recommends keeping away from inflammation-inducing vegetables and fruits like tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant, pimento, okra, and blue berries. They contain the chemical solanine that blocks the production of cholinesterase; the enzyme improves muscle movement and flexibility, preventing pain and stiffness. She also suggests the consumption of the following anti-inflammatory foods:

  • Omega-3 rich nuts and seeds like walnuts, freshly ground flaxseeds, almonds, and pecans. They heal and prevent inflammatory diseases. Remember your portion of fish, especially cold water fish like wild salmon, halibut, or cod three times weekly or take fish oil supplements (mercury-free)
  • Include healthy omega-3-6-9 fatty acids in salad dressings and vegetables (I use virgin olive oil for stir-fries and light cooking as well as in salads)
  • Brightly colored fruits and vegetables provide anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Add fresh or dry aromatic herbs (oregano, rosemary, thyme) to your dishes. Not only do they enhance food flavor but also add to your antioxidant intake
  • Spices like ginger and turmeric offer anti-inflammatory action and enrich the taste of your cooking
  • Make sure chicken and meat are free-range containing no antibiotics or growth hormones. Avoid red meat; it exacerbates inflammation
  • Your dairy product intake should be low in fat and from grass-fed goats, sheep, or camel.

I also suggest to consider the following inflammation-reducing recommendations.

  • Herbal infusions like chamomile and valerian are useful sleeping aids. Adequate restful night sleep helps the body repair inflammation and bolsters its fighting ability
  • Make sure you make regular exercise part of your lifestyle habits to decrease C-reactive protein (inflammation indicator) levels
  • Wheat and barley grasses have anti-inflammatory properties. You can grow them from simple grains at home. Add a small amount of the grass to a carrot-based vegetable juice. It is best taken before a meal. Seaweed also contains these healing characteristics. Include them in your salads, vegetables, and soups

For those who suffer from an inflammatory disease such as arterial plaque, arthritis, joint pains, or autoimmune disease (lupus, fibromyalgia, rhumatoid arthritis), Gilbere recommends the following supplements:

  • Predigested greens and food-based glucosamine and chondroitin, collagen from free-range chicken for bone and joint repair
  • Anti-inflammatory enzymes (protease, bromlain, papain, amylase, lipase, and cellulase)
  • Goat-milk whey that naturally contains twenty pre-digested minerals for maximum uptake
  • Anti-inflammatory herbs that include white willow bark (natural aspirin) and others
  • Probiotics for boosting the intestinal microflora and immune system

Protect Our Children’s Health
Mariam Alireza

We are at an age where antibiotics, painkillers, NSAIDs, steroids, vaccines, and other pharmaceutical drugs have become part and parcel of our daily diet. Though they cure diseases, they can also damage livers, kidneys, and digestive systems; decrease nutrient absorption; and destroy both “harmful” and “beneficial” intestinal bacteria (microflora) as well as enzymes, making immune systems impotent, systems defenseless, and bodies exposed to simple pathogens, viruses, yeasts, infections, and allergies.

They are definitely appropriate interventions for acute crises, but not for passing viral infections and minor health problems.

Because our children are constantly bombarded with antibiotics, medications, vaccines, food additives and preservatives, and pesticides that drain their immune responses, we should bolster their immune systems to protect their little bodies against microbes, viral, bacterial, and yeast infections, allergies, and environmental toxins. So what do we do to stop the depletion of their immunity and revive their innate defenses in order to regain healthy intestinal ecosystem?

Children’s health can be recovered through rebuilding their exhausted microflora. When a child becomes exposed to an infection, the health care practitioner hastens to prescribe an antibiotic course and/or other medication for the condition. Antibiotics wipe out the infectious bacteria as well as “beneficial” bacteria in the intestinal tract, which are there to protect against pathogens.

Healthy bacteria become depleted after the treatment and the body becomes exposed to recurrent colds, flu, earaches, sinusitis, tonsillitis, respiratory and yeast infections, diarrhea, and gastritis.

In the face of such consequential disorders, we should neither remain impotent nor passive. There are ways to revive depleted microflora and regain good health. By feeding children live culture yogurt (probiotics), “beneficial” bacteria will be stimulated to prevent the above-mentioned disorders. As probiotics are natural inhabitants of the gut, children benefit from them to reduce repeated yeast and bacterial infections.

Dietary or supplementary probiotics should not be taken simultaneously with the dose of antibiotics, as antibiotics wipe out “good” bacteria along with the targeted “bad” bacteria [read last week’s column: When Can Bacteria Do Us Good? Arab News, Oct. 24, 2007]. A nutrition rich in fresh fruits, raw or lightly cooked vegetables (heat destroys enzymes) and whole foods also helps improve intestinal health to ward off invasive micro-organisms and yeasts. Sugar, sweets, and soda drinks, too, revive yeast infections and deplete immunity.

Children and infants’ immune defenses should not only be strengthened immediately after birth through breastfeeding, but also before birth, in utero. How is that possible? Pregnant mothers should take probiotics and eat live culture yogurt to bolster their immune systems as well as their unborn babies’ immunities.

According to a Finnish study, mothers, who took daily probiotics for the last eight weeks of their pregnancies and six months after delivery and breastfed their infants, had babies with stronger immune systems, having less food and skin allergy incidents (skin conditions, eczema) than those whose mothers did not take them daily.

Other benefits, expectant mothers reap from probiotics, are that they become more resistant to bacterial vaginosis, vaginal yeast infections, inflammatory bowel diseases, and recurrent bladder infections. They also become less prone to preterm labor.

Dr. Gloria Gilbere, N.D., Ph.D., doctor in natural health and author of many health books, recommends a probiotic formula, containing multiple strains of cultures in a substrate of goat-milk plus natural vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and proteins. Why goat-milk? Because, goat-milk has a similar molecular structure to breast milk, hence more easily digested. So, it is our duty as parents to make smart decisions to protect our children’s health, before and after birth.

By preserving their intestinal microflora and bolstering their immune systems with probiotics to prevent diarrhea, intestinal disorders, skin and food allergies, respiratory disorders, and recurrent bacterial and yeast infections, we reduce risk of chronic diseases, requiring debilitating pharmaceutical drugs, and hospitalization. Please, don’t remain helpless. Help your child today and tomorrow they will enjoy good health!

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