The Healing Power of Nature - ParkRx Day

This past Sunday, April 28, 2019 was National ParkRx Day. This is a day celebrated across the United States to promote the growing movement of prescribing parks and nature to patients. When I first heard about this celebration I thought to myself, “Heck yes, this is what Naturopathic Doctors have been saying for ages!”. In fact, one of our founding principles of naturopathic practice is based on the Vis Medicatrix Naturae, aka the Healing Power of Nature. This principle represents both the ability of exposure to nature itself to create healing, but also the fact that many of our therapies and treatments that heal are made from the natural world (herbal medicine, vitamins, minerals, hydrotherapy, etc).

As with so many things in naturopathic medicine, the science is now catching up to what we have known and practiced for many years. In preparation for the celebration that I organized around National ParkRx Day (our very first Walk with the Doc) I started to delve into the research on the impact of nature on human health. Here are a few of the most compelling conclusions:

  • Exposure to nature can improve depression, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (Sugiyama, Leslie, Giles-Corti & Owen, 2008)

  • Exercising outdoors can reduce sadness, anger, and fatigue and improve attention spans (Blower, Buyung-Ali, Knight & Pullin, 2010)

  • Time spent in places with natural landscaping can encourage social interactions and integrations (Kweah, Sullivan & Wiley, 1998)

  • Time spent in nature may contribute to children’s cognitive, emotional, social, and educational development (Strife & Downey, 2009)

The fascinating connection seen in these studies is that it is not just an outdoor setting that creates the positive improvements. It needs to be outside in an area with “greenscaping”, which is somewhere with growing plants and foliage of some sort. The inner city concrete jungle basketball court does not create the same changes in mental health that is seen when the children are exposed to a green park. This leads me to the next bit of research that is exploding on green light therapy. Perhaps you have heard of the more popular red light therapy? Green light therapy is similar in that it is the usage of a certain wavelength of visible light to impact health. The most stunning impact of green light therapy appears to be on pain and the nervous system. There is data on green light therapy being used to reduce the dosage of opioid painkillers. Green light has also been shown to reduce levels of stress and the hormone cortisol. The theory is that our brains developed very specific receptors for the color green in the evolution of human development given the fact that for thousands of years we lived in environments where the color green meant abundance in food sourcing.

I have been sharing this research with my patients over the past week and although this may sound like simple information, it is such a necessary reminder. I heard stories this week from a patient who is a schoolteacher and after she heard about this was inspired to do more teaching outdoors. Another patient shared this data with a friend of hers suffering from depression due to a recent cancer diagnosis to encourage her friend to get out of the house and take a walk in the park. I know that I personally feel a deep difference when I have spent time outdoors in nature and I encourage you to make an effort to spend some time outdoors in a beautiful setting every day.

Here’s my official prescription for all of you:

Rx: The Great Outdoors

Sig: 30 minutes

Dispense: Daily

Refills: Your soul

Dr. Kristen Coles

Women's Wellness Wednesdays

As a naturopath my tools of the trade can look a lot different than my conventional medical colleagues. During medical school we had to learn the details of over one hundred different botanicals by look, usage, taste, smell, action, etc. These form the basis of our herbal medicine cornucopia. Out of the hundreds of herbs I certainly have my favorites, my shining stars, so to speak. The next series of blog posts will focus on my favorite herbs for the menopausal transition.

Hops, not just for beermaking

Hops - Humulus Lupulus

Hops, yes you heard correctly, hops - as in the primary herbal ingredient to beer. Hops actually has a long history of medicinal use and is classified as an isoflavone in regards to its chemical constituents. Isoflavones are considered phytoestrogens - meaning plants that have an estrogenic effect. As an herbal medicine, hops could be used in any situation of low estrogen (specifically menopause). These phytoestrogens can weakly bind to estrogen receptors, tricking your body into thinking it has been stimulated by estrogen. Because of this property, hops has a potent effect on hot flashes and night sweats with an added bonus of helping with insomnia. It can be used in a combination herbal formula or as a single herb.

In regards to beer - I find that many of my female patients who are perimenopausal report that they have increased their alcohol intake, often in the form of wine at the end of the day. This seems to be directly correlated to the fact that they have a lowered ability to deal with stress and having a drink tends to be the only way they feel relaxed. This is very common in menopause and I encourage my patients to begin using other techniques for stress management if this is the case. These women also report that hot flashes and sleep are main concerns. incidentally, wine is one of the worst types of alcohol to drink if hot flashes are an issue - as wine causes flushing and is very warming. Ideally I recommend they discontinue alcohol, as any alcohol can often make these symptoms worse. But, if they must have something to drink I recommend trying a small amount of beer instead of wine (at least you will be getting the hops effect). One of my herbal medicine professors once told us that New Belgium 1554 was the perfect beer for a perimenopausal women - it apparently is similar to a recipe monks used back in the year 1554 and is full of additional helpful herbs. (Please note - this is not a plug for any particular beer brand. Also note - I do not recommend alcoholic beverages as any form of medical treatment).