5 Tips for getting though Cold and Flu Season

It’s been a hot minute since I have done a blog post, but now I’m back with 5 more wholesome tips to add to your healing toolbox!

Cold and Flu Season has arrived. The flu already hit me hard, and after two weeks, I think I am finally getting over the hump. For those with chronic illness, boosting the immune system is especially important, but these 5 tips can be used by anyone seeking to avoid being down and out this holiday season.

 

1. Elderberry Syrup

Elderberries are both anti-viral and anti-bacterial, making them ideal to fight off both the flu and/or a cold. Additionally, they are high in Vitamin C and antioxidants, which helps boost your immune system and combat damage caused by oxidative stress.

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Make Your Own Elderberry Syrup:

Ingredients:

¾ cup dried elderberries

3 cups water

Optional:

¼ cup raw honey (wait until last if adding so that it is not heated)

1 cinnamon stick

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and cook on medium-high heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour. The mixture should be thick and reduced by half. Let cool. Strain the syrup into a bowl, pressing the juice out of the berries. Remove the whole pieces of berries and whisk in the honey and pour into a jar.

Take 1-2 Tbsp. per day to help boost your immune system!

2. Infrared Sauna

denny-muller-626876-unsplashInfrared saunas are known for their incredible detoxing benefits. These saunas use light to create heat, and in addition to helping with many chronic conditions, can also help your body reduce its viral load. By sweating you are eliminating toxins within your body that may be inhibiting you from fighting off viruses and infection. Saunas offer a deeper sweat than that of exercise alone; combine the two for a double dose of immune-boosting goodness.

3. Vitamin D

laura-pratt-536001-unsplashVitamin D, also known as the sunshine hormone, is essential for proper immune function. Research has shown that increasing Vitamin D3 levels (not D2) when you have a viral illness such as the flu can actually increase your chances of fighting off the virus faster. Ask your doctor about increasing your vitamin D levels and check out these two articles about the amazing healing benefits of Vitamin D:

Can Vitamin D3 Heal Autoimmune Diseases?

Vitamin D Protects Against Colds and Flu, finds major global study — ScienceDaily

4. Take an Epsom Salt bath.

jelena-ardila-537078-unsplashEpsom salts have profound effects on your health. Not only is it an excellent form of self-care to help you reduce stress and muscle tension, but it can also help your body fight off viral and bacterial infections. “Soaking in Epsom salt helps spur a process called vasodilation, which increases white blood cell production and helps the body fight illnesses quicker.” (Home, 2018).  Adding essential oils to your bath will only increase the benefits. I like to add Frankincense, Ginger, Lavender, and Eucalyptus. Combined, these oils help to boost cellular function, increase respiratory function, and have antiviral and antibacterial properties. Of course, I always recommend finding an essential oil blend that works best for you. If you have any questions about what oils to use, when, and how much, please send me a message or comment your questions below!

 

5. Chyawanprash

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Now you’re probably thinking “what? Morgan…now you’ve officially gone insane” but hear me out. Chyawanprash is an ancient Ayurvedic jam that has been used for centuries to promote overall health and wellbeing. The jam is basically an avenue to get healing herbs into your body. “The primary action of chyawanprash is to bolster the immune system and to support the body’s natural ability to produce hemoglobin and white blood cells. Amalaki (the main ingredient in chyawanprash) aids in the elimination of ama (toxins) and supports the blood, the liver, the spleen, and the respiratory system; it therefore nourishes and protects the body’s natural defense systems. Chyawanprash also builds ojas—the essence of immunity and youthfulness” (Chyawanprash, 2018).

You can buy Chyawanprash HERE

In addition to these tips, always remember to get plenty of rest, continuously sip fluids, and don’t forget to gently move your body to get your lymph system operating.

Do you have any tips for overcoming cold and flu season? Share them in the comments below!

 

 

 

Citations:

Chyawanprash. (2018). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.banyanbotanicals.com/info/ayurvedic-living/living-ayurveda/herbs/chyawanprash/

Home Remedies for the Cold and Flu. (2018, September 13). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from https://www.epsomsaltcouncil.org/expert-advice/doctors-treat-coldsflu-with-epsom-salt/

 

I was a Vegan for One Week…here’s what happened.

A couple of weeks ago, I was preparing a blog post on my “diet”. Basically, it was about what kinds of food I eat and why. The premise of the post was that I was pretty proud of that fact that I don’t typically follow any particular diet, but am more of an intuitive eater. However, partway through writing, I realized that I was about to preach a lifestyle choice that in reality was not doing me any good. I was still in pain every day, not sleeping well, had no energy, etc.

I had the epiphany…I would not encourage someone else to continue eating this way, so why was I.

I’ve read books and done research on all kinds of dietary theories, and continue to learn more every day, but I had never strictly implemented any of them because, from a dietary perspective, I thought I was fairly healthy. But, I decided to nix all preconceived notions that how I was eating was good, and completely revamped my diet.

For one week this carnivore became a vegan.

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The Plan:

For the first three days, I went completely raw. Only eating raw fruits and veggies. No nuts, seeds, etc. Only raw fruits and veggies were allowed. This was based on the Medical Mediums 28 day cleanse protocol.

During those three days, my energy slowly began to increase and my headaches became less frequent.

I originally had planned on staying on track with the Medical Medium healing plan for a bit longer, but by day four the weather was getting colder and my body was screaming at me for something cooked. So while I was still only eating fruits and veggies, some of those veggies were sauteéd on days four and five.

After day five I added in some nuts and seeds. Chia and Hemp seeds are both high in protein and healthy fats. My body seemed to be needing these around by day six, since around day five I was feeling like I had less energy again. Simply by adding in vegan proteins and a little extra fat (besides the avocado I was eating every day), my energy once again returned.

On day seven I was able to go on a hike. Something I have not had the energy to do for three years!

After day seven, I added in fish and started to reduce my fruit intake to limit the sugar. I tried to limit my animal protein to dinner time and continued with no eggs, dairy, gluten, grains, soy, beans, or sugar (not even “all-natural” sugars like honey and maple syrup were allowed). For days eight through fourteen, I continued on this pescatarian diet.

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What Happened:

In the first seven days of being vegan, I was able to wean myself off of my anxiety meds. And during the full fourteen days, I was able to wean myself off of one of my major pain medications.

On day fifteen, I had gluten-free waffles dairy-free waffles (that did contain eggs), and bacon. For the following two days, I felt awful. I could not get off the couch, I was sleeping terribly, and I had no energy to make my own meals, as I had for the past two weeks.

Since then (it has now been almost a month since I set off on this endeavor), I have been determined to stay on track with the pescatarian diet I was following in week two.

I even went out to dinner twice and was able to make healthy enough choices (fish with a side of veggies), that despite probably not being cooked in the oils I usually use (avocado, sesame), I did not have the same negative side effects that I did when I ate the waffles.

The key was also getting right back on track the next day, and not feeling guilty for going off the plan. Guilt can cause a worse reaction than an actual food intolerance. Enjoying life is just as important as eating healthy. You need to find a balance in all areas of your life in order to feel your best.

I don’t plan on eating this strictly forever. As I continue to heal I hope to add in some grass-fed beef, eggs, quinoa, and beans. My idea is that these would be on occasion. And if I ever feel like I am going completely backward on my healing journey, I can always revert back to raw fruits and veggies for a couple days to get my body back on track.

I am still getting some headaches, and some days I lack in energy, but I feel better than I have in a long time.

This week I started school at the Institute of Integrative Nutrition. I can’t wait to use this opportunity to learn more about how to change my life to become a happier healthier me, and I hope to use my knowledge so that I can guide all of you in doing to same.

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Happy Healing.

A Healthier Way to Hydrate

With everyone packing around water bottles and constantly guzzling water, you would think that hydration and electrolytes imbalance would be the least of our worries. However, did you know that our water is becoming so filtered that it is actually being depleted of essential minerals? That’s why when brands such as Smartwater and Fiji advertise themselves as “remineralized”, they are not doing this just to jack up the price tag or appear fancy but adding magnesium and potassium and other electrolytes is essential so that their water actually hydrates you.

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Going beyond mineralized water, companies are using this hydration “trend” to capitalize off of the electrolyte empire Gatorade started in the sixties. But replenishing your electrolytes is more than just some fad with tasty beverages. Electrolyte imbalances can cause severe consequences to your health if not taken seriously. Luckily, they can easily be identified, just by noticing simple symptoms of dehydration, brain fog, and muscle weakness, or through routine blood tests. (Holland, 2018)

I am especially prone to electrolyte imbalance because of my diabetes insipidus, a condition where the pituitary gland does not secrete an adequate amount of ADH (antidiuretic hormone), causing excessive thirst and urination. Basically, it means that I am constantly drinking, and peeing, and my kidneys are working in overdrive.

For years I have tried to find products to satisfy my thirst. Most of the time I feel like I cannot get enough water, and just drink and drink and drink.

Then, I was diagnosed with a severe electrolyte imbalance. My potassium levels were very low, meaning I was hypokalemic. I was having such severe muscle pain in my legs that one day I could hardly get out of bed. Walking was becoming an arduous task.

 

I was not about to start on any of the “ades” as I call them. You know…Gatorade, Powerade, etc. Those things are full of sugar and artificial dyes and who knows what else. I try to avoid these things as much as possible. Sugar is terrible for inflammation, tumor growth, and much more, so the idea of drinking a sugar-filled beverage every day, maybe multiple times a day, while appealing to my taste buds, was not appealing to my pain levels.

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Thus, began my journey to finding a low-sugar alternative that was both effective and tasty to bring my electrolytes into balance and leave me feeling hydrated all day!

 

Here are my TOP THREE FAVORITE PRODUCTS for balancing my electrolytes.

 

  1. LAIRD SUPERFOOD HYDRATE

Okay, this entire post could be about Laird Superfood Hydrate because I honestly think it is the best thing since sliced bread. I love that it has only two ingredients: Freeze dried coconut water and Aquamin, which is “a mineral rich, calcified sea alga”. There are no added sugars. I can drink this any time of day without having to worry about it keeping me up at night like an energy drink might. It also has greatly helped my diabetes insipidus, and I feel hydrated for longer, and I don’t crave sugar or more water immediately after drinking it, like some of the sugarier electrolyte beverages caused. I enjoy the taste, it is quite mild and tastes very similar to coconut water, which I find refreshing. I have even added it to half water half coconut water, which adds a bit more flavor and sweetness. However, if you do not like coconut water, you may not enjoy the flavor of this. Finally, I appreciate that it is a mix, so it does not come in a prepackaged plastic bottle, which makes it more environmentally friendly.

Overall, Laird Superfood Hydrate is by far my favorite of the three products.

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2. NUTRIBIOTIC ELECTRO-C POWDER

While not quite as long lasting in its hydration as Laird Superfood Hydrate, Nutribiotic Electro-C still leaves me feeling replenished. I especially enjoy the high content of vitamin C that it contains. It also has more flavor than the other two products. I got the lemon flavor, which is subtle, but refreshing. My favorite time to take this is in the morning mixed with part water and part coconut water. Like Laird Superfood Hydrate, I like that you mix it on your own.

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3. CELL FOOD ESSENTIAL SILICA FORMULA

While I did not find this as long lasting or satisfying in hydration as the other two, I love Cell Food because it can be added to anything with essentially no flavor. In plain water, it tastes a bit like adding lemon, but when added to tea, either hot or iced, I did not taste it at all. It also is easy to take on the go. You can throw it in your bag and then when needed, add some drops to whatever you are drinking, whether it be your water bottle while on a hike, your iced tea at a restaurant, etc.

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BONUS: NUUN HYDRATION

Although these little gems did not make my top three, I think they are a very viable option for someone looking to replace sports drinks to replenish their electrolytes.

Things I like is that they come in a wide assortment of flavors. There are also ones that contain caffeine so if you are looking for something to give you energy, then these would be for you. I like that they are easy to travel with as they are little effervescent tablets that come in a tube, so you don’t have to worry about powder or liquid exploding everywhere on your travels.

Personally, I am not a big fan of anything effervescent so that is one reason that these are a turn off for me. The second is that they do not seem to satisfy my thirst as much as my top three products listed.

Other than that, they are delicious and there are so many to choose from that you’re bound to find at least one flavor that you enjoy!

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Sources:

Holland, K. (2018). Electrolyte Disorders: Types, Symptoms, and Causes. [online]

Healthline. Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/electrolyte-disorders#treatment [Accessed 12 Aug. 2018].

 

*This post contains affiliate links that help keep Wholesome Morgan up and running. Your support is appreciated*

All About Acromegaly

Let’s start with the most basic yet most complicated question…

What is Acromegaly?

Acromegaly is a disorder caused by a tumor on or near the pituitary gland that produces excess growth hormone. This causes the soft tissues of your body to continue to grow even though the rest of you has stopped growing. Externally, growth is most prominent in your hands, feet, jaw, nose, and forehead. However, the growth can also continue internally, causing enlargement and swelling of the organs, such as your heart, liver, kidneys, and so on. This can lead to many secondary diseases when these organs are no longer able to function to their full capacity.

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Your heart is one of the organs that can be affected by Acromegaly leading to heart disease and other complications.

Acromegaly is considered very rare, with fewer than 20,000 cases per year. I have a version caused by a genetic mutation that is even rarer, but more likely to be found in young females diagnosed with the disease.

Many hormone-related disorders are also associated with acromegaly such as hypothyroidism and Addison’s disease. This is because many tumors grow into the pituitary gland, preventing it from sending out the proper signals that then create these hormones. For example, the pituitary produces TSH, which signals the thyroid to produce T3 and T4. However, a damaged pituitary may not always produce TSH when needed so either TSH or T3 and T4 will need to be synthetically added to the body through medication.

In my case, most of my pituitary gland was removed throughout my three surgeries, therefore I have to synthetically replace my thyroid, cortisol, estrogen, and progesterone because my body no longer makes enough on its own.

 

How were you diagnosed?

I started going to a gynecologist after two years of amenorrhea (lack of periods) and unexplained weight gain. I was running cross country at the time, and while everyone else on the team kept improving, my times continued to get slower. Also, no matter how much I ran or how clean I ate, I kept putting on more weight. It didn’t make any sense.

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My gynecologist ran some blood work, found some disparities in my hormone levels and suggested that I get an MRI. She (mis)diagnosed me with a slow-growing pituitary micro-adenoma and told me not to worry.

Fast forward five months, I was back east where I was attending school in New Hampshire. My Grandpoppi had just been diagnosed with glioblastoma and my symptoms continued to get worse.

My mom decided we needed a second opinion.

By some miracle, my Granny was able to help get me in to see one of the top pituitary surgeons in the world, along with the endocrinologist he worked with.

We drove down to Boston and discovered that my “slow-growing” tumor had grown from the size of a pea to the size of a golf ball in less than four months. My pituitary gland was completely smashed and barely visible in the MRI. I needed surgery ASAP.

Honestly, my first reaction was to wait. It wasn’t cancerous. It couldn’t be that serious. I had Nordic Ski Training in Canada in a couple of weeks. Dr. Laws quickly changed my mind. Just because it was benign did not mean it was not threatening. I could wait, he said, but it might kill me. (They later actually started to treat it very similarly to cancer because it kept coming back, but this blog mostly focuses on the acromegaly treatments)

Immediately my mind was changed. Surgery it was.

After I was diagnosed, it was much easier to put a name to my symptoms. I had often complained of my tongue feeling too big for my mouth. Buying shoes had also become difficult because my feet were so swollen, I needed a double extra wide just to be comfortable. I thought I was going crazy. My diagnoses gave me peace of mind.

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My feet had become so swollen it was difficult to find shoes.

After my first surgery, all the swelling in my body went down immediately. I lost 15lbs during my first five days in the hospital, mostly just swelling and water retention caused by the disease.

Treatment

First off, I would like to say that my current endocrinologist, Dr. Kevin Yuen, is remarkable and is always researching new treatments to try, and I’ve tried a lot of them. Second, my treatment journey is also uncommon because of how many surgeries and medical treatments I have tried. Just note this as we go through my treatment journey.

  1. Transsphenoidal Surgery (brain surgery through the nose) to remove the pituitary tumor. (Sophomore year of high school)

Note: not all of the tumor was able to be removed at this time as it had grown so large that it had spidered into the left side of my brain, wrapping around my carotid artery.

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My surgeon described trying to remove all the tumor as being like trying to remove individual pieces of sand.

2. Medical Therapy: Lanreotide/Somatuline Depot. A deep subcutaneous injection received once per month. This drug was supposed to prevent further growth of the tumor. For me, this was not the case, and we later learned that this is because my tumor is due to a genetic mutation, and these are less likely to respond to Lanreotide.

3. Second Transsphenoidal Surgery (Senior year of high school). This surgery was much more aggressive and resulted in the removal of part of my pituitary gland.

Note: Lanreotide was stopped before surgery.

4. Medical Therapy: Pegvisomant/Somavert Injection. This drug intercepts growth hormone secretion receptors, lowering levels of IGF-1 (Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1) which is used to measure acromegaly. If I remember correctly, I was on this injection every day at first. I currently take it every 10 days.

Octreotide/Sandostatin LAR injection. This drug reduces growth hormone and IGF-1 by intercepting receptors and also helps reduce tumor growth. I am prescribed this “as needed” when I have symptom flare-ups. This drug can be taken up to three times per day.

5. Third Transsphenoidal Surgery (March of Freshman year of college). MRI images made it appear that the tumor had grown back, but during surgery, it was discovered that it was mostly just inflammation caused from my body rejecting the artificial bone graft put in during the second surgery. The fake bone was removed, along with scar tissue, and some tumor. Most of the tumor was inoperable as it had wrapped around my carotid artery.

Note: Having three surgeries is rare.

6. Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (May of Freshman year of college): This is a type of radiation that uses hundreds of beams of low dose radiation that all intercept at a precise point to administer a very high dose of radiation. It works by damaging the DNA in the tumor. This prevents the tumor from growing, since like any cell, it grows when the double helix of the DNA splits in an attempt to replicate itself, but since the DNA is now damaged, when it splits the enzyme complex that usually binds to the DNA cannot bind to it and the DNA strand is left to die. It takes approximately three to five years to see results from radiation. Gamma Knife can have negative side effects as well, such as increased headaches. Also, any sort of radiation has the risk of causing new tumor growth in the future.

Note: Octreotide was stopped about a month before radiation and was not continued after because you want the tumor to be actively growing so that when the DNA splits it will die, killing off the tumor.

7. After radiation, I started to go to the infusion center twice a week where I am given a whole cocktail of drugs, (I am almost done with this treatment! Hooray!!). I take octreotide on an as-needed basis and I take Pegvisomant every ten days and have my blood work checked every week. I also have many other complications due to acromegaly and my surgeries and radiation that I also have to take care of, but I’ll save those for a future blog post. This illness is what inspired me to start looking into holistic approaches to healing, begin to revamp my diet, and not rely solely on Western Medicine.

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It has taken a long time, and lots of trial and error, but for now my acromegaly is controlled. It is important to note that while this disease can be controlled if caught on time, it can never be cured. Like any chronic illness, I and others with the disease will live with it and its complications for the rest of our lives. However, the important thing to remember is not to let your illness define you and to continue to adapt and overcome and learn to live your best life possible and shine your light for the world to see.

UPDATE: I am happy to report that my last MRI came back tumor-free. I am now growth hormone deficient and am taking growth-hormone injections instead of growth hormone suppressors. I still deal with the side effects of my illness and all of its treatments daily, but my pain and fatigue are slowly getting better.

Finding Bravery in Vulnerability

 

“You are so brave and quiet I forget you are suffering.
― Ernest Hemingway

 

I have loved this quote for a long time.

From the moment I read it in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, I felt that it described me and my life with chronic illness so well.

And I was so proud of that.

To live in pain every day, and to rarely express it. To downplay it, even to my closest family members, I saw as an act of bravery.

My mom would ask me to rate my pain, and proudly I would say two when in reality, every day I should have been saying anywhere from a four to a six on the pain scale.

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Pain Assessment Scale

These were on good days.

On bad days, when I should have been rating my pain a seven, I would proudly state that it was only at four or five.

I would proudly and bravely say that I was saving my nines and tens for when I truly felt like I was dying.

When friends would come over, I would become animated, and sit up off the couch, exerting all my energy through that pain. They would come and go, thinking I was fine.

Not realizing my suffering.

Not knowing that immediately after they left, I would collapse. Unable to function. So exhausted and in pain I would be reduced to tears.

I thought this was bravery. I thought this was fighting through my illness.

Then my port became infected.

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I was sweating through my clothes every night.

I kept trying to fight it. Not show my fear that something was wrong.

That I felt like I was dying.

When I finally asked my mom to take me to the emergency room, and I was told that I was septic, I realized my silence was not bravery or something to be proud of.

I needed to be vulnerable. Something that would take more courage than I thought I could muster.

As I lay in the hospital for a week receiving IV antibiotics, and then another four weeks at home receiving more IV antibiotics and continuing to recover from one of the scariest events of my life, I realized that people forgetting that I was suffering was not what I wanted. I wanted to inspire people with my suffering because they too may be suffering and maybe I could help them along their healing journey.

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I am learning that there is a great strength in vulnerability.

I am also learning that being vulnerable takes time and practice. Oh, so much practice.

I have wanted to share my chronic illness journey for some time now, in the hopes of helping others going through something similar but have been too scared to make myself vulnerable. I now realize how trivial this is because there are things much more frightening than being vulnerable.

So here I am, stepping out of my comfort zone, to share with all of you everything from illness to wellness. Whether it be through good eats, mindful movement, beauty from the inside out, or anything else that I am finding interesting in the health and wellness world at the moment.

Hopefully, you will learn something from my experiences along the way. And hopefully, I will learn something from you as well.

Thank you for joining me and following along!

xo – Morgancourtney-hedger-336844-unsplash