Trends, research, and essentials to inspire you
Melissa Carr, DrTCM, RAc
We asked writer, lecturer, and doctor of traditional Chinese medicine Melissa Carr what’s on her trend-watching list. What are the new research frontiers she’s reading up on? The dietary trends worth trying? Which supplements are exciting her? She made us a handy primer to kick-start your New Year.
A new product in dairy aisles this year, A2 milk, derived from cows that have a specific genetic makeup, is said to be easier to digest and absorb than other types of dairy milk. Most milk on the market contains primarily the A1 form of beta-casein, a major protein component in milk, which may be linked to stomach discomfort caused by inflammatory compounds in the digestive system.
“I have a gut feeling” seems to be truer than we once thought. As a “second brain,” the gut communicates regularly with the brain in our skull, affecting our mood and perhaps even our decision-making. In fact, it’s estimated that 90 percent of our serotonin—a feel-good hormone— is produced in the gut!
As the most abundant protein in your body, collagen provides elasticity, strength, and structure to your skin, bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. No wonder it’s become a buzzy topic. To boost collagen production, make sure to eat plenty of foods rich in copper and vitamin C, such as mango and kiwi, and avoid smoking and too much sugar. You may also give collagen supplements and topical vitamin C cream a go.
Fair trade dark chocolate (70 percent or more) is my favourite prescription to follow. Rich in iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, and a bunch of antioxidants, in moderate quantities it may help protect your heart and blood vessels, defend your skin against sun damage, and improve brain function. Plus, it contains a chemical that is the same one your brain releases when you have those “I’m falling in love!” giddy feelings.
As one of your most primitive and powerful senses, your sense of smell is directly linked to your limbic system, the part of your brain that helps control your drive for survival, basic emotions, motivation, and some types of memory. No surprise, then, that smelling lavender can help you feel calm, peppermint can boost your energy, and citrus can lift your mood.
Before refrigeration, fermentation was one way we preserved foods. That’s why people around the globe have their own traditional fermented foods, from natto to kimchi, from sauerkraut to lassi. As the dancing bellies yogurt commercials indicate, one of the main benefits of fermented foods is the presence of good bacteria—probiotics—that support a healthy digestive system.
Still high on the trend-o-meter, golden milk and golden lattes are indeed golden in both colour and reputation. Most of that has to do with their main ingredient, turmeric: a potent spice that helps manage inflammation and improve liver function. Mixed with warm coconut milk or nut milk and sometimes spices such as black pepper, cinnamon, or ginger, this simple recipe is a delicious way to embrace health in the cold winter months.
If you have a whole cupboard devoted to tea, raise your hand. My hand is raised high. Herbal teas are generally caffeine free, and some favourites include ginger tea for digestion, camomile tea for calming, rosehip tea for vitamin C, and rooibos tea for antioxidants. Some other popular herbal teas include peppermint tea for digestive discomfort and antiviral hibiscus tea which may help lower blood pressure.
The word “inflammation” is often met with disdain because so many health conditions have it at their root. But inflammation, whether caused by injury or infection, is also a vital part of your healing process. Problems can occur when your body gets stuck in a state of chronic inflammation. Luckily, there are many natural anti-inflammatories, including turmeric and omega-3 fatty acids (for consumption) and arnica (for topical use or as a homeopathic formula).
Because juices have high concentrations of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients (healthy plant compounds), they can provide a powerful nutritional punch. While not a replacement for regular whole fruits and vegetables, juices are an easy way to boost your intake. Just try to emphasize the low-sugar vegetables such as leafy dark greens.
Kale has long been crowned king of the greens world, but it’s time to go beyond. Collard greens have more fibre, protein, calcium, and iron than kale, and Swiss chard is a better source of iron. Other healthy greens to grab include romaine lettuce, parsley, watercress, beet greens, radicchio, and arugula.
When it comes to superfoods, we often think first of the exotic ones from faraway lands. Emphasizing local foods not only helps protect our environment, but also supports local farmers. Luckily, for many of us, local superfoods can include berries, beets, buckwheat, and broccoli. And that’s just the Bs!
Though not hallucinatory, the medicinal mushrooms now being researched do seem magical. Depending on the variety, mushrooms such as reishi, maitake, cordyceps, turkey tail, and lion’s mane have been shown to fight viruses and bacteria, kill cancerous cells, calm the nervous system, and support the brain, heart, kidneys, and liver.
In 2017, The American College of Physicians (ACP) released updated guidelines calling for physicians to recommend non-drug therapies for patients with low back pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) were not recommended as the starting point. Instead, the ACP lists acupuncture, massage, yoga, exercise, progressive relaxation, and heat wraps as useful options.
Whole books have been written on omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs). They are anti-inflammatory and support the health of virtually every organ and system in your body. Simply put, if you want to feel good and look good, you need to make sure you get enough omega-3s. You’ll find them in sardines, herring, mackerel, salmon, and halibut, as well as flax and chia seeds—and as supplements.
You are more “non-you” than “you” because each person carries 10 times more bacteria than human cells! And that’s a good thing, because “good” bacteria—probiotics—improve digestion, fight off harmful bacteria, and even affect how we think and feel. Probiotics can be obtained through supplements or fermented foods (remember the “F” section of this abecedary?).
Close your eyes and listen. Is it quiet? For many, traffic, TV, music, smartphones, and other people provide constant background sounds. But quiet time is healthy for your physical and mental well-being. It may even stimulate brain cell growth. If you can’t find a quiet place, try earplugs or noise-cancelling earbuds.
Food waste is a huge concern. Can the leafy tops of root vegetables, stalks of leafy greens, and every part of animal meats be used rather than tossed? A growing number of Canadians say yes, and they’re finding creative ways to do so, according to trend experts. Following this food trend can be delicious, conscientious—and clever!
I imagine that King Triton would have told his daughter Ariel to eat her veggies—in this case, sea vegetables like kelp, wakame, dulse, and kombu. Seaweed is rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals, and it’s a good source of fibre. Many seaweed species are full of omega-3s. Seaweed adds a salty flavour and is easy to add to soups, stews, and salads.
Traditional Chinese medicine is no new trend, having been around for a few thousand years, but as research builds support for its use in various health conditions, TCM continues to grow in reputation and popularity. As a complete medical system, TCM uses acupuncture, herbs, nutritional guidelines, and a variety of other manual therapies and lifestyle recommendations to treat the individual and the root cause of illness, as well as the symptoms.
It’s a thing. There’s actually a day for it. On Friday, March 9/10 this year, the National Day of Unplugging will send you a cellphone sleeping bag if you take the pledge to unplug from sundown to sundown. Social media, work emails, and life’s demands are always just a tap, click, or call away. Psychologists and numerous studies say this constant connection is stressing us out, so mark your calendar and make a pledge to unplug.
Never heard of it? You should find out more, because this “wandering” nerve reaches many of your important organs and is key in helping you calm your nervous system. Some ways to stimulate your vagus nerve include dipping your face in cold water, deep breathing, acupuncture, and chanting. You want to create a vibrating sensation when you chant—for example, researchers say chanting the word “om” likely stimulates the vagus nerve.
Have you tried water kefir? A lightly sweet, acidic, sparkling, and slightly alcoholic fermented drink, it’s produced using water kefir grains (called tibicos or tibis) in a mixture of water, sugar, dried figs, and other ingredients such as lemon, depending on the recipe. It’s quite apart from the milk kefir we all know. If you don’t (or can’t) consume dairy, water kefir is a perfect probiotic drink alternative.
Xenoestrogens (pronounced zeeno-estro-jens) are chemicals that mimic your body’s own estrogen, so they can disrupt hormonal balance for both men and women. Some tips to avoid them include washing your fruit and vegetables well, avoiding cigarette smoke, and carefully reading skin care product labels.
Believe it or not, yoga is not about spandex and bendy-ness. Popular in the West as a form of exercise, yoga can involve physical movements, but may also be focused on mental or spiritual practices. The word yoga means “union”—making a connection. The emphasis is on awareness, so even if your goal is simply to touch your toes, practise yoga while unplugging (see “U”) and tuning into the present moment.
Getting sufficient, restful sleep is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy. So if you suffer from insomnia, consider some natural ways to help yourself sleep, including installing blackout shades for your bedroom windows, avoiding backlit screens for at least an hour before bedtime, and using supplements such as valerian, magnesium, melatonin, lemon balm, or camomile.