In This Issue:
In this specal issue, Mitra shares her perspective on something she has identified as ‘Nature Deficiency Disorder,’ and enthusiastically introduces our first contributing writer, Tamara M. Sachs, M.D.
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Nature Deficiency Disorder
by Mitra Ray, Ph.D.
Catchy title, eh? I saw an article in a Seattle newspaper that had this very same title — “Nature Deficiency Disorder” — and it really drew my attention! As you might have intuited, that article was about children not spending enough time outdoors. What I read was tragic; the author described children who didn’t know why anyone would want to play outdoors when there are no electrical outlets out in nature!
Our Attitude About Nature
Beyond the psychological implications of such an attitude – which is beyond my scope of expertise – I was thinking about the physiological implications of oxygen deprivation! One of my big pet peeves right now is oxygen therapy. It is entirely possible that you might have recently noticed an unusual sign in your neighborhood that says “Oxygen Bar.” Ever wondered about or thought of experimenting with oxygen therapy? They literally hook you up to a hose of pure oxygen to breathe for 20 minutes or so! And the oxygen comes in flavors – peppermint, wintergreen, your choice. But why in the world would people pay for what is already free? If you want to inhale more oxygen, breathe deeply in Nature and you will receive a generous dose of oxygen therapy.
Consider this: people are always looking for exercise programs – kids and adults alike – and often find themselves engaging in an indoor activity where there is poor air circulation. One might argue that this is not always a matter of choice. For example, what else are you to do to stay fit in a colder climate but exercise indoors? As I say in my book about nutrition – pointing to our ancestral history – if you couldn’t theoretically pick it, hunt it or gather it then you shouldn’t eat it. This same ancestral history applies for our exercise program. We evolved in an environment where physical activity was married to the natural environment, and no one whined about the weather – or if they had, they wouldn’t have survived anyway!
So, I’ve taken to power walking for an hour in the woods. I love walking. I can do it without much equipment; I can do it at my own pace; I can do it almost anywhere; and, you tone more muscles by walking briskly than jogging slowly! Currently, I walk in the Hampstead Heath in London. It’s my oxygen therapy.
Suffering from Nature Deficiency Disorder? Find some trees, I say! Go to nature’s “Oxygen Bar” where you select the flavor of the oxygen you breathe — pine, ocean, wildflowers, your choice.
by Tamara M. Sachs, M.D.
The average night’s sleep in the industrialized world has decreased since the beginning of the last century, from 9 hours to 7.5 hours or less. Some of us have tried giving up sleep in order to make room for more work and leisure. A bad mistake, I assure you, there are few quicker ways to damage your metabolism than by burning the candle at both ends. An appropriate amount of sleep is just as important to your wellbeing as proper nutrition and exercise. You can live longer without food than you can without sleep, and while the effects on the body of each type of deprivation are very different both are very serious.
As a matter of fact, a chronic lack of adequate sleep is associated with a prolonged stress response, weight gain, diabetes, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, accelerated aging, multiple hormonal imbalances, depression, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, just to name a few. Alarmingly, such damage may be only partially reversible. At the extreme, people predictably go insane if they are not allowed to sleep at all for several days on end. Is sleep beginning to seem less optional?
Sleep a Waste of Time?
Although sleep may appear to some to be a monumental waste of time, there is actually a great deal of important activity going on in your body. During sleep, your brain does not have to process massive amounts of visual, auditory, and tactile stimulation and intellectual information. It is therefore able to rest, which allows the re-allocation of the huge amount of energy generally used for consciousness. Healing of all kinds therefore takes place mostly during sleep: recuperation from illness, repair of physical injuries, as well as regular daily wear and tear to the body. Detoxification and biotransformation, emotional healing, spiritual or energetic healing also take place primarily during sleep.
While most cells have some detoxification capabilities, the liver is the major organ of detoxification. One of the liver’s main tasks is to take toxins from the circulation and transform them from fat soluble, charged toxins to safer, water soluble compounds that can then be eliminated via bile, stool, urine, sweat, and breath. You guessed it. The bulk of this work occurs at night, during sleep.
Not surprisingly, the biochemistry and physiology of the resting body at night differ from those of the active body during the day. Many critical nighttime functions will not occur at any other time. For example, melatonin is made from serotonin during the night and seems very dependent on darkness, among other things. If you miss the unique chance at night to make melatonin, you must wait until the next night’s sleep to try to produce it again. That is not only a problem in regards to the sleep function itself, but also has profound consequences for other cell functions. For example, melatonin is important in cancer prevention.
Lack of Sleep Related to Diabetes?
Researchers have shown that just one week of sleep deprivation altered subjects’ hormone levels and their capacity to metabolize carbohydrates. Granted, people who trade sleep for work or play may get used to it and feel less fatigued over time, but the health costs are high. During sleep-deprivation, the researchers found that the male participants’ blood sugar levels took 40% longer to drop following a high-carbohydrate meal, compared with the sleep-recovery period. The ability to secrete and respond to the hormone insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar, dropped by 30% in this study. These changes echo the effects of insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. In addition, the sleep-deprived men had higher nighttime concentrations of the hormone cortisol, which also helps regulate blood sugar, and lower levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone.
The raised cortisol levels mimic levels that are often seen in older people, and may be involved in age-related insulin resistance and memory loss. In this study, subjects’ blood sugar and hormone concentrations were restored after the sleep-recovery period, but it is unclear at what point this restoration may cease to occur or how long it may take. Also, these were healthy volunteers; some of us are not so lucky!
Sleep debts cause a certain type of physiologic stress. Most sleep-deprivation research has focused on what it does to the brain, but it is obvious that sleep has many functions. Muscle pain, joint pain, general malaise, and exacerbation of chronic injuries or health conditions are common with a lack of adequate sleep of only one or two nights, and especially as we get older.
Healing requires sleep. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Not sleeping is a serious problem and it must be addressed in order to be healthy. If you think you snore, if you wake with a headache frequently and /or have excessive daytime sleepiness, you may need a sleep study to rule out sleep apnea. If you wake up restless or anxious in the middle of the night, you are probably experiencing low blood sugar and should try having a small healthy snack before bed.
Occasional insomnia happens to many of us, but if restful sleep eludes you most of the time, find a holistic healthcare professional to help you find the cause and the remedy.
Sweet dreams to all!
Tamara M. Sachs, M.D.
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