9 Foods With Amazing Healing Benefits


Dealing with a minor illness? Before heading to the medicine cabinet, I recommend considering remedies in your kitchen cabinet first.

There are many safe and effective natural cures hiding in plain sight in your spice rack and among your baking supplies. Of course, these aren’t meant to replace necessary prescription medications. Always consult your physician first to make sure these treatments are right for you and your family.

As an integrative physician, I researched natural therapies for my book,Treatment Alternatives for Children. As I discovered, food-based remedies generally have fewer potential adverse effects than conventional over-the-counter medications — and they can be just as effective. Here’s a list of nine of my favorites, and how they can help you heal:

1. Apple cider vinegar

Traditionally, apple cider vinegar has been used to help alleviate constipation and indigestion. Research also suggests it can balance blood sugar and lipid levels. Most people who use it in this way drink 1 tablespoon daily, diluted in water.

2. Baking soda

Baking soda can have a soothing effect on irritated skin, relieving itching and irritation from insect bites and stings. Apply a small amount mixed in any natural moisturizing cream or ointment as needed.

It can also help clean teeth and eradicate bad breath when mixed with water — simply rinse as you regularly would and spit out.

3. Cinnamon

Research shows this spice can help improve cognitive skills like memory. Cinnamon may also assist in regulating blood sugar and cholesterol. Use it liberally in cooking or baking, or sprinkle onto your morning coffee.

4. Coconut oil

Coconut oil moisturizes the skin and helps heal inflamed skin conditions like eczema. I also recommend it as a great topical treatment for babies with cradle cap. Coconut oil has both antibacterial and antifungalproperties.

5. Ginger

Ginger is one of my favorite anti-nausea and anti-motion-sickness remedies. You can find it in chewable form, or simply dice fresh ginger and mix it in hot water as a tea to sip. Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties, so people sometimes use it to help with arthritis.

6. Honey

Honey is truly magical, with research showing it’s an effective cough remedy. It also has antimicrobial properties – especially New Zealand’s Manuka variant – and is useful as a topical agent to combat minor skin infections. Finally, locally cultivated honey has been proven useful to prevent seasonal allergies if ingested in small amounts prior to developing symptoms.

7. Turmeric

Turmeric, a spice often used in Indian dishes, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. Often combined with other spices like ginger, it can help relieve joint pain from inflammation.

8. Olive oil

Olive oil is a key ingredient in the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, so use it as much as you can while cooking. It also happens to be useful as atopical oil, with anti-inflammatory properties to help address skin conditions like eczema, seborrhea, and psoriasis.

9. Sea salt

Sea salt is not only a healthy alternative while cooking, but it can also be mixed with distilled water to make a DIY saline solution to relieve nasal congestion. When added to warm water, sea salt can also help soothe aching feet at the end of a long day.


(originally posted for MindBodyGreen)

School Stress: Rescuing Our Children


Stress, according to noted Slovakian researcher Hans Selye, is neither good nor bad. Instead, it is defined as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” At some point, though, stress ceases being an impetus for productive effort in the service of positive performance and instead overwhelms our bodies, minds and spirits. The result? Fatigue, withdrawal and, ultimately, breakdown. As a pediatrician, I witness this phenomenon regularly in the form of the American adolescent, one after another, coming to me with debilitating migraines, chronic abdominal pains and severe depression.

The daily life of a high school student is marked by poor eating habits, limited physical activity, lack of adequate sleep, no outdoor time and not one minute of downtime. Any time not spent being “productive” inevitably involves a screen of some sort. According to a recent study, teens manage stress predominantly by playing video games, surfing the internet and watching TV/movies. Snapchat, Netflix, Mortal Kombat… take your pick. These diversions are our kids’ stress coping skills. Sadly, it appears they’re learning well from their parents. While 43 percent of adults report exercising to alleviate anxiety, a whopping 62 percent claim their go-to stress reliever involves screen time. When I ask kids how they believe their parents are coping, most say “poorly.” We clearly need to be better role models for our children. The good news is there are alternative stress-coping methods that are inexpensive, accessible, safe and effective. In a newly published systematic review, my colleagues and I concluded that yoga has a significantly positive effect on pediatric psychological functioning. Specifically, educational programs incorporating yoga in stress management programs improved academic performance, self-esteem, classroom behaviors, concentration, and emotional balance. Mindfulness training for students and teachers is now widely recognized as a valuable tool to improve stress coping, improve focus and complement social-emotional learning initiatives. Pediatrician Dzung Vo, author of The Mindful Teen, has created a wonderful resource for teens to explore and integrate mindfulness meditation in their lives. Finally, kids who spend more time in natural settings have measurable improvements in health, cognitive functioning, and classroom behavior. The Children and Nature Network has compiled a thorough review of research on how nature impacts our children’s well being.

School stress — both academic and social — is a major contributor to deteriorating adolescent health. According to a recently published landmark study, nearly half of 11th grade students surveyed reported “a great deal of stress” on a daily basis. They declared “schoolwork, grades, and college admissions constituted their greatest sources of stress.” While some in the study found moderate amounts of stress could be motivating, an astonishing one in four subjects was suffering with symptoms of clinical depression. So here is the rub — how much stress is the right amount?

Dr. Mary Alvord and Dr. Marya Gwadz are psychologists, experts in the field of adolescent stress. Both were quoted in The Atlantic’s piece profiling Gwadz’s study.

“[T]oo much stress has many effects on the body and mind, Alvord says. In the short term it can cause anxiety; over long periods of time, elevated levels of stress hormones can degrade the immune system, cause heart problems, exacerbate respiratory and gastrointestinal issues, and bring on chronic anxiety and depression. That’s bad for anyone, but it can be especially bad for high schoolers: “Colleges are complaining that kids are disengaged, they’re dropping out, taking a long time to graduate. It’s not developmentally appropriate for them to work so hard,” says Gwadz, one of the authors of the recent study. And since everyone has a different psychological capacity for stress, it’s hard to know when a student is pushed to the point of degrading his or her health.”

 We want to prepare our children for the real world, allowing them to experience challenges and even (yikes!) fail at times, developing resiliency. We must, however, find a better balance, evaluating common stressors, and ask ourselves — what in the educational environment no longer serves us?

Vicki Abeles, director and producer of the seminal educational documentary, Race to Nowhere, and a just-released sequel, Beyond Measure, believes the answers to this question are in fact many of the strategies we are employing to fix a broken-down educational system. Standardized common core curricula and testing measures are contributing unnecessarily to stress while failing to create a productive and healthy educational environment. Abeles challenges our preconceptions with a barrage of thought-provoking questions.

“Rather than ask why our students fail to measure up, the film asks us to reconsider the greater purpose of education. What if our education system valued personal growth over test scores? Put inquiry over mimicry? Encouraged passion over rankings? What if we decided that the higher aim of school was not the transmission of facts or formulas, but the transformation of every student? And what if this paradigm-shift was driven from the ground up? By students, parents, and educators? By all of us?”

The film (and its accompanying book), thankfully, does not simply point out what’s gone wrong but also offers us models that could serve as templates for a brighter future. The schools profiled in Beyond Measure nurture creativity, collaboration, persistence and resiliency as critical life-long skills. They provide for us a much-needed road map to a different kind of success — one that does not sacrifice our children’s well being in the process.
(originally written for the Huffington Post)

7 Science-Backed Reasons To Get Your Kids Outside


(Originally posted for MindBodyGreen)

Most of us intuitively know that we feel better when we spend time outside.

But sadly, as our lives become more dependent on technology, we are increasingly disconnected from the Earth — and this disconnect could be harming our children more than we think.

Acknowledging the adverse effects on children’s well being, author Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder.” His research has led pediatricians like myself to prescribe time in nature as a way to combat the health ills associated with lack of free outdoor play.

Looking for encouragement to get your kids off the couch this summer? Here are seven research-based reasons to venture into the Great Outdoors:

1. It encourages exercise.

The closer kids are to green spaces, the more likely they are to run around outside: a recent Canadian study found that the physical activity of 11 to 13 year olds rose relative to the amount of tree-filled space in their neighborhoods. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re out of luck if you’re a city dweller — simply make time for play in a shaded public park.

2. It reduces anxiety.

Children in Maryland and Colorado who played in green schoolyardsreported less stress compared to their peers. They also showed an increased sense of competence, as well as ability to form supportive social groups.

3. It improves focus.

One study of kids in Illinois found that even just a twenty-minute walk in the park led to a substantial attention boost. As the researchers note: ” ‘Doses of nature’ might serve as a safe, inexpensive, widely accessible new tool in the tool kit for managing ADHD symptoms.”

4. It makes kids smarter.

Researchers found that Barcelona school children with more exposure to outdoor greenery performed better on cognitive testing. The effect was greatest when both home and school environments provided “green” time.

5. It builds a sense of community.

Canadian adolescents living in greener environments reported a stronger sense of “place,” or belonging to a healthy community. This finding has important ramifications, as these emotions might also increase kids’ engagement and involvement in keeping their neighborhoods safe and healthy.

6. It helps them develop deeper connections with family.

In a survey of 60 American families, participation in camping experiences was found to improve family relationships.

7. It raises their interest in the environment.

Childhood exposure to natural settings is associated with a greater interest in environmental stewardship — and ultimately with pursuing professional careers and adult hobbies connected to nature and the environment.

HCWH: A Conversation with Pediatrician Lawrence Rosen


Health Care Without Harm’s Safer Chemicals Program seeks to eliminate dangerous chemicals in the health care setting that can adversely affect patient health and employee safety without sacrificing quality of care. To achieve this goal, we focus on promoting a “green” approach to health care that prevents or reduces exposure to toxic chemicals among patients and staff, while also taking into consideration health care’s impact on the environment.

To learn more about the leadership role that physicians play when it comes to greening health care, we spoke with Dr. Lawrence Rosen, a pediatrician and founder of The Whole Child Center in Oradell, New Jersey. Taking a more holistic approach to health care delivery, Dr. Rosen set out to practice an integrated style of medicine that takes environmental exposures into consideration when treating his patients. The Whole Child Center is also a leading example of ecological sustainability in health care, designed in a way that minimizes impact to the environment while promoting health for staff and patients.

(Continue reading on HCWH’s site)

Bats, Birds, Bees and Butterflies In Crisis: What It Means For Us


One of my strongest memories of summers past, despite my lack of affection for insects in general, is the steady buzzing of bees and fluttering of butterflies in my mom’s garden.  These sounds and visions, along with the heat and abundance of time to play outside, were simply what made up “summer” as I knew it.  Adults, as we age, have a tendency to romanticize the “good old days,” yet the truth is – in some ways – things have indeed changed for the worse.  In a major environmental shift now recognized officially by the White House, we are witnessing catastrophic and accelerating declines in the honeybee and butterfly populations.  Furthermore, strange illnesses are increasingly reducing specific bat and bird populations.  What are the causes of these changes?  And why should we care?

The Washington Post notes, “…over the past five years, winter losses of commercial honeybee colonies have averaged roughly 30 percent. A consortium of universities and research laboratories announced last week that beekeepers lost 42.1 percent of their colonies between April 2014 and 2015, an 8 percent spike from the previous year, and that the number of summer deaths exceeded winter deaths for the first time since the survey began in 2010.”  Additionally, the monarch butterfly population now covers only a small fraction of the forest area in Mexico compared with their activity twenty years ago.  Little brown bats, at one time the most common bat species in the U.S., are dying off by the thousands, affected by the fungal “White Nose Syndrome.”  Mortality rates are greater than 90% in many states.  Finally, we are hearing more and more about large-scale bird flock deaths – in some cases, up to thousands at one time.  Most recently, sea birds along the California coast up to the Pacific Northwest have been dying in increasing numbers.

Why are we seeing these dramatic population shifts in such a short period of time?  Scientific evidence points to several potential causes.  Initial concern centered on increased exposure to pesticides, though more recently, a complex multifactorial answer is emerging – one that has direct relevance for human health.  Possibly related to climate change, a variety of infectious agents (parasites, viruses, bacteria and fungi) are killing the animals and insects noted above.  Circularly, some of the treatments used to limit these infestations are making things worse.  Loss of botanical food sources and habitats are some of the indirect sources of deaths, and each loss of population is compounding the others.  What we have is a complicated cyclical impact of change in climate conditions (air and water temperatures, pollution, effect on food sources) leading to new infectious agents affecting immune health, and the treatments themselves potentially causing further harm to natural immune system repair mechanisms.  Does this sound vaguely familiar?

Concern related to the massive deaths of these species has historically centered on the impact on our economic well-being.  It is estimated that, through direct affects on pollination and crop development, the loss of bees, birds, bats and butterflies could cost the US roughly $15 billion a year.  While the direct costs involved are substantial and deserve our attention, what is especially eerie is that notion that the increase in health morbidities we are witnessing, particularly in children (e.g., immune and inflammatory disorders), may be caused by the exact same sequence of events described above.  Activists have pointed out that climate change will potentially affect human health via an increase in vector-borne infectious diseases, like Lyme disease or malaria.  However, little attention has been paid to how subtle shifts in direct viral, bacterial, fungal and parasitic pathogens will alter the human gut microbiome and its ability to modulate immune function and detoxification.  Disruption in the human microbiome, connected to environmental toxins, then worsened by the overuse of antibiotics, could be seen as the human model of what we’re witnessing in bats, bees, butterflies and birds.

What can we do?  We must devote resources to better understanding the complex infectious etiologies of catastrophic species death.  Reversing true root causes, if climate change is the major culprit, is essential but will take time.  Today, we must develop safe and effective ways to protect these species, perhaps through microbiome modulation (using probiotics, for example, to change microbiota balance). Probiotics for bats, anyone?  In fact, researchers have not only used metagenomic methods to sequence the bat microbiome, they have found some bats are resistant to White Nose syndrome, perhaps due to variations in microbiota on their skin.  Similar work is being done in bees, demonstrating a relationship between levels and types of probiotic organisms and hive health.  Perhaps we can learn something from these experiences that would be adaptable to human health concerns.  Ultimately, addressing the needs of the birds and the bees (and the bats and butterflies) is a win-win situation for all of us.

(originally written for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center)

7 Things I Wish Everyone Taught Their Kids

buddha on scale

Every December, I start to think about intentions for the coming year. Not as once-a-year resolution making but as part of an ongoing process of self-reflection and re-commitment to what is true for me.

Lately, I find myself meditating often on a theme that’s central to my roles as both father and pediatrician: what essential truths must we teach our children?

For me, as I suspect for you, this is and will remain a work in progress. Coming to grips with the reality that — surprise! I’m human too! — has served to deepen (rather than undermine, as I feared) my connection with my patients and their parents.

As we practice together, I welcome your comments and additions to the list.

1. Have the courage to fail.

Both purposefully and inadvertently, we are giving our kids the message that perfection is the goal. So many kids I see are struggling with measuring up to “ideal” that they become increasingly anxious and depressed, giving up prematurely on dreams and withdrawing from friends and family.

The greatest inventors of our time all have one thing in common — they failed, many times, until finding their way. It takes a lot of courage to fail, admit it, and get back up again. Honoring this process is crucial and does not contradict having goals. In fact, I’d argue both are keys to developing self-worth.

2. Nurture your creativity.

When we are young, much of our time is spent freely creating — art, music, dance — anything involving imagination. Creating is simply the act of making something that was not there before. It’s all about freedom of expression. Yet somehow as they grow, our kids learn that things have to look “right.”

No! Musician Peter Himmelman, the most spontaneously creative human I know, offers, “A kid’s greatest asset is a sense of wonder. The freedom to fearlessly explore the world is the bedrock of human creativity.” It is this fearless exploration that I believe will lead us to out-of-the-box solutions to our greatest 21st century challenges.

3. You have much more in common with your fellow humans than not.

Scientists currently estimate we share about 99% of DNA with each other. We have so much in common with our fellow earth-dwellers despite our apparent outward differences. Too often, these differences — racial, ethnic, religious, cultural, generational — are used to justify horrific acts of prejudice and aggression.

If you watch young children at play, you see how easy it is for diverse people to get along without judgment. What is profoundly sad is that we train this tolerance out of our children. This must stop! Think how much more peaceful a world we would live in if we honored our shared dreams, visions and desires.

4. Embrace your differences.

Though we are far more the same than different, it is also important to celebrate the things that make us unique. While not an excuse to exclude or judge others, we can acknowledge we all have special gifts and challenges. For example, we all learn differently. Anyone who spends enough time with babies realizes that they display noticeable variation in motor skills, language development and social play. Yes, some children have extreme challenges requiring specialized support and educational assistance. But much of what we diagnose today as a “disorder” is in fact well within the bell-shaped curve of “typical.” These variations need not be “treated” but respected and nurtured.

5. We are the Earth, and the Earth is us.

Native Americans have taught me a crucial ecological belief, one I’ve tried to impart to my children and my patients. The well being of every living entity is absolutely interconnected. How we treat the earth and our fellow creatures has a direct impact on our health. The most recent example? Pregnant women exposed to high levels of air pollution are more likely to give birth to children ultimately diagnosed with autism. Global climate change is real, it’s here, and it’s going to cause universal harm – unless we act now.

6. When left alone, we usually heal ourselves.

One of the most powerful lessons I teach my patients is that our bodies have such innate powers, such wisdom, that they spontaneously recover from most common ills. Colds, coughs, sore throats, and fevers do not usually require heavy-duty medications to resolve, and many of these treatments offer more potential for harm than good.

I often point out during office visits how well minor scrapes or cuts are healing, and kids are amazed that their little bodies have done that all by themselves. A tincture of time is an extremely powerful prescription.

7. You can’t get rid of all the stress in the world but you can learn how to better cope with it.

There are days I wish I could wave a magic wand and evaporate the stressors plaguing my patients (and my kids). Yet I’ve learned that, one, I can’t, and two, nurturing equanimity in the face of challenges is one of the greatest gifts we can bestow on our children. We must teach them more effective ways, like yoga and meditation, to cope with what inevitably will come their way.

(Originally written for MindBodyGreen)

Food as Medicine


Recently, I was honored to be included in Mother Earth Living magazine’s piece on foods that “fight illness” (or better yet, prevent them).  I was one of several integrative practitioners, including Andrew Weil, Tieraona Low Dog, and Aviva Romm, who contributed recipes for yummy and healthful dishes.  My “Sautéed Wild Medicinal Mushrooms” recipe – perfect for a cold winter evening – can be found here.  Bon appetit!

Plastic Babies: The DEHP Dilemma

New Page
(Originally posted for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center)
DEHP (di-(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate) is a compound commonly found in plastic medical devices made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  This chemical has come under increased scrutiny with respect to the care of our most vulnerable children: critically ill newborns hospitalized in neonatal intensive care units (NICU’s). The incredibly sophisticated level of care found in the NICU saves the lives of thousands of premature babies every year, but it seems that the very equipment used to aid these infants may in fact be causing serious harm. The FDA lists the following products commonly used in NICUs as containing DEHP:
– IV bags and tubing
– Umbilical artery catheters
– Blood bags and tubing
– Nasogastric feeding tubes
– Respiratory tubing
– Enteral nutrition feeding bags
Concerned by the widespread exposure of sick newborns to these devices, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – asreported by NPR – “determined that a critically ill preemie hooked up to multiple tubes and devices containing DEHP could be exposed to 16 milligrams per kilogram of body weight a day of the chemical, which is 160,000 times higher than desired to avoid liver damage.”  Why would this be a concern?  For one, DEHP has been linked, per report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to endocrine disruption, birth defects, asthma and cancer in animal studies. Additionally, Dr. Eric Mallow, the lead researcher on the Hopkins report, notes, “DEHP and other phthalates are proinflammatory, and most of the injuries that preemies get are inflammatory in nature.”  A recent review of the adverse effects of DEHP and related phthalates on children’s health found that “fetal and childhood exposure to some phthalates may perturb normal development, with several studies consistently reporting increased risk of allergic diseases” and offered that “providers can counsel concerned patients to reduce phthalate exposures in order to protect the developing fetus and child from potential adverse health outcomes.”
In this spirit, some hospitals have tried to eliminate or reduce the use of phthalate-containing products.  However despite  best intentions, hospitals have been unable to replace DEHP in all areas including the NICU. Why? Because there is a shortage of  vendors able to supply alternative, theoretically safer products.  “Consistent supply is essential to getting hospitals to switch to DEHP-free products. Additionally, as more healthcare facilities create demand, the more manufacturers will respond,” comments Kyle Tafuri, Sustainability Advisor at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey.  Erin S. Ihde, MA, CCRP, researcher at the The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center at HackensackUMC, advises, “One of the keys to the success of DEHP-free medical products is having clinicians and administrators advocating for the change within their departments. It only takes one person to educate others and move the process forward.”
Does the benefit of current medical therapy in NICU’s outweigh the harm? While one would not advise abandoning the use of feeding tubes, IV’s, blood products and breathing tubes given their life-saving contributions, we should be concerned about the ongoing exposure of premature, critically ill babies to potentially toxic plasticizers.The theoretical, animal and preliminary human evidence linking DEHP and its metabolites to the disruption of hormonal and immunological pathways is deeply troubling.
Sadly, studies to evaluate the immediate and long-term impact of DEHP on babies’ endocrine, immune and neurological systems are lacking.  Under the precautionary principle guidelines, many environmental health scientists advocate for avoiding the use of any potential toxic chemicals until we can adequately insure human harm will not result from exposure. Yet, this is not the current regulatory environment in the United States. Too often, chemicals are introduced into mainstream use, even in the healthcare industry, without adequate proof of safety.  As we’ve previously noted, children in particular are quite vulnerable and are frequent victims of environmental injustice.  For the preservation of our children’s health, and our future, we must work together to adopt new integrative strategies to address the complex environmental challenges we now face.

Educating the Whole Child


This month marks the public television premiere of a very important film, Race to Nowhere. Vicki Abeles’ provocative documentary tells the story of children, parents and teachers who are increasingly frustrated by an educational system pushing our kids to breaking point. As a pediatrician and a parent, I am heartbroken by the growing number of kids I see with anxiety, depression and mind-body ailments like ulcers and migraines associated with the stress of just trying to keep up. Shockingly, some of these children are in elementary school.

(Continue reading at Huffington Post)

Food Allergies: Why They’re So Common Today + What You Can Do


Growing up, I don’t remember my friends and classmates having food allergies. In fact, there was one kid in my entire elementary school with a peanut allergy — it was so unusual we all knew who he was.

Today? The prevalence of food allergies has skyrocketed, and it’s estimated that 8% of children and adolescents 18 and under have been diagnosed. Amazingly, 30% of these kids have multiple allergies. Equally concerning is that the severity of reactions has worsened over time.

What’s going on and what can you do about it? Here are answers to five questions many people have about food allergies.

(Continue reading at MindBodyGreen)