Why am I supposed to take fish oil?

Fish oil has been a pretty strongly-suggested supplement for years, if not a decade. It’s one we’ve almost all heard of. But there’s a lot more to adding it to your regimen than just stopping by the grocery store. Do you really need it? What does it do for your body? How do you make sure you get “the good stuff”? I wanted to share what I tell my patients and my perspective on fish oil just to maybe help clear some of these questions up.

Your body needs fatty acids to help generate energy, to store energy for later use, to insulate and protect the body, for absorbing and transporting those vitamins only soluble in fats, and to build cell membranes, synthesize cholesterol, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s so cool that through your diet, you can choose what your cell membranes are made of! The only fatty acids we need to consume are omega-3 and omega-6 (all other ones we can make on our own). If you fail to consume enough fatty acids you might notice itchy, flaky skin, diarrhea, and even infections.

Omega 3’s and 6’s will be metabolized down different pathways because of their different structures. To keep it very simple, the omega-3 pathway is anti-inflammatory and the omega-6 pathway is pro-inflammatory. If you have a diet that has a greater than 4:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, you’re more likely to be living with that pro-inflammatory pathway. The ideal proportion of omega-6 to omega-3 is 1:1, but less than 4:1 is still appropriate.

How do you know what your diet consists of? Well, omega-3’s are higher in the meat of grass-fed animals and in wild-caught fish and they are produced in the leaves of plants. Broccoli, lettuces, and flax oil are low in 6 and higher in 3. Omega-6’s are higher in grain-fed animals (including some farm-fed fish) and are produced in the seeds of plants. Oatmeal, corn oil, and potato chips have high ratios of omega-6 to 3.

Adding fish oil to your diet can help tip your ratios toward omega-3 fatty acids. How do you know what brand is a good one to buy, though? You want to try to find a brand that includes the antioxidant vitamin E, which helps keep the oil from becoming rancid. If your fish oil is rancid-smelling or tasting, it’s probably doing the opposite to what you intend it to do for your body. You might see the letters ALA, EPA, and/or DHA on a bottle of fish oil–those are the names of the types of acid present in that product. They’re all omega-3’s. A good dosage (which doesn’t follow the recommendations of the American Heart Association) is 1-3g per day. That can be several pills, so choose your dosage with that in mind.

I’m not going to endorse a particular brand here, but if you want to email me at MGGaskinLAc@gmail.com I’ll be happy to tell you what I take. In fact, if you have any other questions I’ll be happy to answer those as well!

Autumn Refresh

Although the Chicago weather might encourage us to pretend it’s still summer, today we enter the season of autumn. Trees are slowly turning gold and we can sense the days shortening. I see this as a time of great opportunity. To me, it almost makes more sense to set a goal to give something up at this time of year, rather than on January 1. We can take inspiration from the natural world:

When the days begin to shorten in the fall, a tree responds to the lessening of sunlight and cuts off circulation to its leaves, pulling back its resources to the essential trunk and roots. The leaves dry up and fall away, and as they return to the earth they enrich the soil the tree grows from. In this way the tree survives the short, cold days of winter. It can reproduce its foliage in the spring, when once again resources will be abundant.

The tree is a metaphor, but our bodies go through a similar transition. In my practice I talk with my patients about their feelings at this time of year. Many people notice a turning-inward, an inclination to hibernation, or a desire to snuggle up at home with warm carbs. We can all understand the impulse to sleep earlier and be a little less social when the days are short. These feelings are natural because our bodies are part of nature. We don’t need to fight them, and in fact I would suggest we embrace them. There is opportunity here that I invite you not to pass up.

With shorter days comes more time for introspection and possibly self-improvement. We all have things we hold on to that no longer serve us. Whether it is a grudge, old clothes, a habit, or a hairstyle, the autumn energy can inspire us to release the old to make way for the new. As these things fall away, we may be able to see more clearly the path to further growth. Maybe take a minute today to write down a few goals for the fall season, harnessing the potential of this time. Think of it as the start of a new era, rather than the end of an old.

Acupuncture and herbs are a must for flu season!

It’s getting cooler in Chicago, windows are closing, the heat is going on, and cold and flu season is here.  It seems inevitable that you or someone you know will catch a bug of some sort, and depending on how much time you have to spend around other people, odds are high you’re either going to catch it from that person, or spread a cold of your own.  Misery loves company, and the pharmaceutical and facial tissue companies of the world love cold and flu season.

Make this year different by keeping your acupuncturist in mind!  I highly recommend that my patients come in for treatment at the beginning of every season for a tune-up, and fall and spring are the two that really shouldn’t be missed.  If you have any imbalances, we can sort those out and get you strong and healthy to survive an office full of sneezing and coughing.  You might benefit from going on a formula for a week or two, because taking herbs helps extend your treatment for days longer than your acupuncture session alone.

If you’ve already started to feel that tickle in your throat, let me know that you might be coming down with something, and come in for a treatment!  We should be able to knock most colds out with some acupuncture, a formula, and maybe a few dietary adjustments.  In many cases, there was a reason you were susceptible to that particular cold, and we can talk about ways to avoid catching any more this season.  Acupuncture reduces inflammation and boosts the immune system, which will help you recover faster and feel better while doing it.

If you’re on the road to recovery but still feel fatigued, achy, or congested, make an appointment!  Chinese herbal medicine can easily treat congestion, achiness, or sore throat without the side effects common to pharmaceuticals.  There’s no reason to suffer this cold and flu season with acupuncture and Chinese herbs on your side.  Write me or give me a call if you have any questions, and book your fall appointment today!

Your health is more than a luxury.

Our health often seems to be the lowest priority in terms of where we spend our extra cash.  It’s great to save money, but the truth is that if you’re not healthy, you can’t be at your best to handle all the other things in your life–kids, job, playtime–and even just catching a cold can be costly.  Acupuncture can quickly, safely, and effectively treat most of the small ailments we’re presented with throughout the year.  Is your health a luxury item that you can afford to skimp on?

I refer here to “luxury” in the context of something that you could give up and still maintain your lifestyle.  Things like a weekly manicure, daily Starbucks, and yearly exotic vacation fall into this category.  But although acupuncture treatments may not be fully covered by your insurance, and a weekly treatment can pinch the wallet just a little, having a familiar relationship with your acupuncturist can save you money in the long run.

Try to seek out your acupuncturist as soon as you feel a cold coming on, or when your allergies start to act up in the spring–most people still head to the pharmaceutical aisle at the drug store, where you can find relief from symptoms, but not an actual cure.  Acupuncture’s focus on the cause of disease rather than symptoms can address both the tickly nose and the reason for the tickle! Many people keep a seasonal appointment with their L.Ac. and get a tune-up four times a year to avoid allergy flare-ups or seasonal flu.

Another area acupuncture excels in is stress management.  Many of you have probably noticed that if you’re stressed, it’s easier to catch cold or feel physically unwell.  Stress also produces its own symptoms, such as digestive issues, loss of sleep, and muscle tension, which themselves can reduce your quality of life.  Relieving stress and allowing the body to relax and heal itself can prevent illness, and preventing illness saves time and money.

I’d like to see acupuncture take its place as a cornerstone of preventative care in the medical world.  And if it is a little late to prevent an illness from coming on, acupuncture can often help alleviate the symptoms of a number of common ailments.  Either way, acupuncture deserves a place squarely at the center of your health-care regimen.  Your health deserves to be a high priority in terms of money and care spent, as it forms the bedrock of a healthy and productive life.

February Sleep Thoughts

Winter has been around forever, right?  It’s so much easier to want to sleep during the winter months, when the nights are longer than the days.  When my patients come to me complaining of poor sleep I have several standard things that I share with them, and I thought that the tail-end of winter was a good time to give these thoughts a wider audience.

You probably know sleep is a very important thing for you to get enough of, right up there with water, food, and exercise.  Sleep is the time when your body resets, heals itself, and your mind sorts through your day and comes out refreshed and ready to start a new one.  But what if you have a hard time getting to sleep, or staying asleep?  Nighttime might be a really frustrating time for you.

“Sleep hygiene” just means designing your sleeping habits to maximize your ability to get quality rest.  Think about your sleeping area–does it get dark in that room?  Is it quiet enough at night?  Is it just a little cooler than body temperature?  Are there any unusual smells that might invade the space (as in from a litter box or kitchen trash can)?  Last, do you feel good about your sleeping area?  This might be a little “out there,”  but I believe that the way you feel about your bed or sleeping area can affect the quality of your sleep.  If there are any frustrations at all about the bed or its surroundings, you might be carrying those feelings into slumber with you.  Say you’ve been meaning to get a new mattress, one that doesn’t have a big dip in the middle.  Say your pillows are old or kind of smelly.  Treat yourself to some new sheets (or at least fresh and clean ones), some nice pj’s you can enjoy putting on, and maybe even a white noise machine.

Next, think about what time you go to bed.  It’s common knowledge that our bodies like to get ready for bed at the same time every night.  If you are heading to bed at completely different hours every night, you’re probably confusing the sleep cycles of your brain.
Another way we in the modern age confust our brains is with glowing screens–our tv’s, computers, and phones.  Do you spend a lot of time before bed staring at one?  Allowing that quality of light to shine into your eyes at night could be telling your brain that it’s still daytime, which leads to your body needing more time after you switch everything off to ready itself for sleep.  If you really can’t get away from the computer or phone before bed, consider an app that will red-shift the light coming out of the screen so that it isn’t the same color temperature as sunlight.  I use f.lux on my computer, and Twilight on my phone, both of which red-shift the screen after sunset so I’m not fooling myself into thinking it’s daytime.  Better yet, shut down all devices an hour before you go to bed. IMG_20130708_164826

What do you do in your bed in addition to sleeping?  Do you read there?  Watch tv or eat snacks?  If you’re really having a hard time getting good rest, try to keep all of those activities out of the bedroom.  When you go into that room, your body will eventually start to believe that you’re going there for one purpose–a good night’s rest.  It’s a wonderful gift to give yourself, and one you can enjoy all day long.