Use Your Past to Pave Your Future

The road to Hell is wide and paved with good intentions. I can’t remember when I first heard this old adage, but the other night it rang loudly in my mind. The evening I had envisioned – a wholesome, relaxing homemade dinner with the children and filled with interesting conversations about their day followed by the stimulating intellectual discourse resulting from homework spanning six different grade levels — was doomed from the start. At first undaunted by an unexpected dinner-time soccer practice, my serenity quickly eroded with an upcoming social studies test, forgotten books at school, and the icing on the cake: the 6 p.m. announcement that an assignment requiring copious amounts of yet-to-be-purchased craft materials was due the next day. As I lay my head on the pillow hours later and a few Domino pizzas delivered to quickly feed the troops, my mind finally had time to catch up to my body. I took stock in the evening. What happened?

We’ve all experienced the disappointment when best-laid plans go awry. For those of us for whom this scenario seems to repeat itself in one form or another every day, it is critical that we pause to examine how we approach the maelstrom.

On this particular evening I thought back to my grandparents, recalling and yearning for the simplicity of times past. After all, they had it so easy, didn’t they? Well, no. My grandmother suffered from heart disease. While she did not have to build an Egyptian pyramid out of spaghetti at 10 p.m., the simpler life I imagine she had didn’t save her from chronic disease either.

Knowing I have a genetic risk of cardiovascular disease – and my life seems infinitely more complicated than my grandma’s in the 1950s – I realized in bed that night that I could look to my grandmother’s example and lay down my pavers differently. I can choose a path that will lead to a healthy heart and a happy life, while modeling a family culture handed down from earlier generations.  We cannot eliminate the stressors from our lives but we can navigate our potholes better.

Be real as a parent and simply roll with it. Once in a while a pizza night is in order. Stress is omnipresent, but we choose whether or not to let this get the best of us. Just as we model healthy behaviors in other aspects of our lives, our children look to us to show them the best way to weather the turbulence. Breathe, make the best of a trying situation and show your kids how
to have fun regardless. Remember kids have an easier time making fun than adults do – they will automatically fall behind your lighthearted leadership.

Practice mindfulness. This is not an esoteric ideal – it is the simple practice of being aware of one’s surroundings rather than letting life pass by cloaked in the distractions of daily life. Research indicates that mindfulness may reduce the risk of heart disease, improve psychological well-being, and reduce visits to the hospital. Yet in a 2010 Harvard study of 2,250 volunteers the subjects’ minds wandered an average of 46.9% of their waking time while engaged in a variety of activities. Find a moment for being quiet each day, and train yourself to put down the screen when eating a meal or waiting in a line. Mindfulness can also be learned through relaxation techniques such as meditation and yoga.

Be active every day. What will it take? Getting up a little earlier? Running (literally) the kids to school? Putting exercise time on the calendar? Exercise elevates mood, improves stamina, boosts the immune system, and reduces the risk of heart disease and depression among many other benefits. A little self-discipline will go a long way to ensure good health and vitality down the

Build a strong and resilient body.  Eat a healthful diet with a variety of organic fresh fruits and vegetables, lean protein, low-fat dairy and whole grains. Complement your healthy diet with nutritional supplements. The four I keep by my toothbrush are a whole food multivitamin (which I take in the morning) and a probiotic supplement, vitamin D, and fish oil caplets (which I take at night).

Go to bed! Eight hours every night is still what the doctor orders. We don’t allow our preschoolers to run around all night long, so why do we allow ourselves? Be the example. Go to bed each night when your body starts to feel tired. You will wake more refreshed, look younger and stay healthier.

Meeting the endless but very real daily needs of our families doesn’t require us to rush around in a whirling dervish. Stop. Look. Listen. Your past can show you the new pavers you can lay to create a healthier path for you and your family.

Thanks, Grandma.

Guest Feature: Benefits of Exercise for Children by Udo Fischer, PhD

Those of you who have read my articles in the past already know how much significance I attribute to the benefits of exercise and nutrition on our mental well being. I am often being asked why I think we have so many children, and adults by the way, diagnosed with something we call ADHD, mood or anxiety disorders. Well, one day we may possibly find out that there is something particular in our food or environment that directly causes it. And for some children reducing simple sugars, gluten, or other additives can make a big difference. However, thinking about some friends of mine and how they absolutely do not function well when they do not keep up their rigorous aerobic workout routines made me consider something else; and remember my own childhood. Can you, our valued reader, think back of a time where we, especially our children, lived a sedentary lifestyle to the extent many actually do today? I can assure you that I was hardly ever chauffeured anywhere, nor did I enjoy being inside the house for longer than my mandatory homework. We ran and played outside every single minute we had. We drove our bicycles to school and back home under all weather conditions. And the same held true for soccer, football, and all other extracurricular activities. Let me ask you a different question: What does a dog do when you don’t walk it enough and keep it locked in the house for too long? You know the very few possible answers to this question. Now here comes some scientific evidence, which today we have in abundance. A study published in 2011 in the peer reviewed journal ‘Health Psychology’ by Davis et al. [1] came to the following conclusion:

Consistent with results obtained in older adults, a specific improvement on executive function and brain activation changes attributable to exercise were observed. The cognitive and achievement results add evidence of dose-response and extend experimental evidence into childhood. This study provides information on an educational outcome. Besides its importance for maintaining weight and reducing health risks during a childhood obesity epidemic, physical activity may prove to be a simple, important method of enhancing aspects of children’s mental functioning that are central to cognitive development. This information may persuade educators to implement vigorous physical activity.”

Particularly something called ‘executive function’ improves in children who follow a regular aerobically focused exercise routine. ‘Executive function’ includes cognitive processes predominantly associated with the frontal lobe of the brain, such as planning, working memory, attention and set shifting, problem solving, verbal reasoning, inhibition, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, and initiation and monitoring of actions. It is easy to understand why improvements in these functions lead to not only higher academic achievement, but to more socially acceptable behavior overall. As mentioned before the benefits of regular exercise and physical activity are not limited to executive functioning. They extend to other areas of the brain that seem to be affected in patients with mood and anxiety disorders. It appears that our brain metabolism has a tendency towards self-regulation given the right circumstances, a phenomenon called homeostasis in medicine.

(If you copy the following link into your browser you can find many more studies confirming these findings, approved by the US National Library of Medicine of the National Institutes of Health:

[1] Davis C., Tomporowski P., McDowell J., Austin B., Miller P., Yanasak N., Allison J., Naglieri J.  (2011): Exercise improves executive function and achievement and alters brain activation in overweight children: a randomized, controlled trial. Health Psychology, 2011 Jan;30(1):91-8.

About Udo Fischer

My name is Udo Fischer and I have been practicing psychotherapy in Naples for five years. Trained in clinical psychology and neuropsychology in Europe I further deepened my skills at the Beck Institute for Cognitive Behavior Therapy in Philadelphia. In Germany I conducted research with Prof. Dr. Rainer Sachse, a thought leader in the treatment of somatoform and personality disorders. A second mentor was Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schulte, president of the German Behavior Therapy Association and leading researcher for the treatment of mood and anxiety disorders.
Besides resolving clinical issues I apply a communication, conflict management, mediation approach that has been successfully applied in corporate and diplomatic contexts as well. My success rate with couples in crises is 100% assumed that both parties are motivated to resolve their issues amicably.

Heart Health Starts on Day One

For centuries, the month of February has been associated with affairs of the heart – first with a pagan Roman fertility celebration on February 15 and later with the advent of St. Valentine’s Day on February 14. No one knows the true identity of the Valentine that lent his or her name to the holiday we know today, and stories explaining the origin of Valentine’s Day are as varied as the sentiments in a bag of candy hearts. But the indelible icon representing Valentine’s Day has remained constant – the heart.

Today, Valentine’s Day celebrations often revolve around decadent dinners and toothsome classroom treats. Chocolate truffles and cupcakes with mile-high frosting take center stage as we celebrate the love in our hearts. What if we instead used this opportunity to pay homage to the organ itself? To use Valentine’s Day as an annual opportunity to assess our heart-healthy habits (even as we’re biting into that cupcake)?

Although it is the leading cause of death in America, few realize that heart disease begins to develop at birth – perhaps even in utero. Anatomical changes in the heart and arteries that will strongly predispose a child to future cardiovascular disease and/or stroke have been observed as early as age 5. But like any of life’s challenges that face our children, there are things we can do to help mitigate the risk of a heart attack or stroke later in life. Making positive changes to a child’s diet, environment, and lifestyle can diminish their genetic predisposition to heart disease.

  • Get rid of Bisphenol-A (BPA) plastics, which are known hormone disruptors and may lead to heart disease and obesity. Purge your kitchen of old water bottles (or even some newer ones that still contain BPA). Use glass food storage and lunch containers wherever possible, and use wax wrappers rather than plastic baggies.
  • Don’t overlook school meals. Kids consume about 40% of calories at school, so make sure healthy choices are available. Send a healthy, appealing home-packed lunch. Shop for ingredients together and allow your child to pack his or her own lunch, choosing between the healthy options that you’ve purchased together. Your child is more likely to eat a lunch that he or she has made.
  • Get the family moving. Sure it is great to bike ride or hike together, but it is also important to instill heart-healthy habits into a child’s daily routine. Take the stairs. Park at the far edge of the parking lot. Walk to school or the store. Wherever life presents a convenient-yet-less physical option, opt out!
  • Slow down! Nearly one in five American meals is eaten in the car, where it is difficult to offer freshly prepared lean meats or veggies. In one study of eighteen developed countries, the United States had the highest obesity rate yet was near the bottom in the average amount of time spent eating each day.
  • Shop the perimeter of the grocery store. Whole ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and dairy are usually found around the sides of the store, whereas processed foods are generally found within.
  • Visit farmers’ markets for local, seasonal produce. Even many northern cities offer indoor markets during the winter. The selection won’t be as vast as a grocery store importing plums from South America, but the items that are available will be tasty and nutritious, and will have had a far smaller environmental impact.
  • Our heart is a muscle that never stops and needs the right nutrients to function properly. You may remember that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell and provides all the energy. Here is a list of supplements that help this little engine work: magnesium, CoQ10, vitamin C, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid, carnitine and ribose.

Valentine’s Day evolved from a ceremony of fertility to one of love, or from primal to interpersonal connection. Let’s take it one step further this year and make our child’s environment full of love. Embrace them as you always do and add healthy eating, supportive supplements and an increased awareness of toxins.

Six Steps to a Natural ADHD Approach

add_sign_smallADHD is a religious experience and there are believers and nonbelievers. Different places have different approaches, and these are based on many factors, such as the country’s general cultural belief about children and learning or the economic system that supports healthcare or limits access to healthcare.

The American Journal of Psychiatry reports that the geographic difference is due to collection methods by the researchers rather than true geographical differences. Here is an example of the cultural divide and disparate approaches to prescribing ADHD medications:

Germany requires that parents who are concerned about the possibility of ADHD in their children must try to learn parent-training strategies before the doctors start writing prescriptions for medicine. In contrast, the US health economy is biased toward medication use and we don’t do that much counseling — parent training is not an element that is culturally validated by parents or practitioners.

Almost 11% of children ages 4 to 17 years in the US have been diagnosed with ADHD per a 2012 CDC report while the general worldwide incidence per the American Journal of Psychiatry is 5.29%. Why is there a two-fold difference in the number of children diagnosed with ADHD in the United States compared to the rest of the world? This is an important question since the annual societal ‘‘cost of illness’’ for ADHD in the US is estimated to be between $36 and $52 billion in 2005 dollars or between $12,005 and $17,458 annually per individual, according to the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

I have been in private practice for 11 years and in two very distinct practice settings. When I worked in a traditional insurance-based office and saw 30-50 children a day, I wrote many prescriptions for Ritalin, Concerta and Strattera.  Once I switched to concierge medicine where I see six to ten kids a day, I had time to educate parents, work on parenting techniques, focus on diet as well as natural supplementation. As a result I have only had to place one child on ADHD medication over the past eight years.

Here is a list of natural approaches that have worked well:

1. Minimize Food Additives. A 2007 study of nearly 300 kids ages 3 to 8, published in The Lancet, found that those given drinks containing artificial dye showed significantly higher hyperactivity within a few hours. The British government now requires labels warning that children’s products containing dye may impair attention.

2. Consider an Elimination Diet. A first-of-its-kind 2011 study, also in The Lancet, showed that when 50 kids with ADHD were put on restrictive hypoallergenic diets free of allergens like gluten and dairy for five weeks, their symptoms improved far more than those in the control group. When the eliminated foods were reintroduced, symptoms returned in 63 percent of the children. Deichert says that ADHD patients with digestive problems, recurring ear infections or skin problems— all symptoms of possible food sensitivities—are particularly good candidates for elimination diets.

3. Reduce Electronic Media and Replace with Exercise. Very large studies have associated TV and video game use with a worsening of ADHD symptoms.

4. Buy Organic Foods. A 2010 study of 1,100 children, published in the journalPediatrics, found that the more pesticide residue children had in their urine, the more likely they were to be diagnosed with ADHD.

5. Check Iron Levels. Studies in the Archive of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicineand elsewhere have shown that children diagnosed with ADHD are more likely to have lower iron levels, and when those that are deficient take iron supplements, their symptoms either subside with- out medication or they react better to lower doses of medications.

6. Safe Supplements. Clinical research is still inconclusive but in my practice ADHD patients have benefited from zinc, ginkgo biloba, acetyl-carnitine and omega-3 supplements.

The diagnosis and treatment of ADHD is a result of cultural bias. Use a therapeutic prism to illuminate the different options available to you. The first step is to find a practitioner that is willing to invest time in your child and explore all the options available under the rainbow.

Fighting with your teen can be a good thing

A growing body of research suggests that this can actually be a good thing. How disagreements are handled at home shapes both adolescent mental health and the overall quality of the parent-teenager relationship. Not only that, the nature of family quarrels can also drive how adolescents manage their relationships with people beyond the home.

In looking at how teenagers approach disputes, experts have identified four distinct styles: attacking, withdrawing, complying and problem-solving.

Adolescents who favor either of the first two routes — escalating fights or stubbornly refusing to engage in them — are the ones most likely to be or become depressed, anxious or delinquent.

Those teenagers who take the third route and comply, simply yielding to their parents’ wishes, suffer from high rates of mood disorders. Further, teenagers who cannot resolve arguments at home often have similar troubles in their friendships and love lives.

In contrast, teenagers who use problem-solving to address disputes with their parents present a vastly different picture. They tend to enjoy the sturdiest psychological health and the happiest relationships everywhere they go.

So how do we raise teenagers who see disagreements as challenges to be resolved?

Compelling new research suggests that constructive conflict between parent and teenager hinges on the adolescent’s readiness to see beyond his or her own perspective.

We also have evidence that parents can make the most of their teenagers’ evolving neurobiology by being good role models for taking another person’s perspective. Adults who are willing to walk around in their teenagers’ mental shoes tend to raise teenagers who return the favor.

garden-variety disagreements offer the opportunity to help young people better understand themselves and others, building in them the lifelong skill of finding room for civility in the midst of discord.

No parent looks forward to fighting with his or her teenage child. But the friction that comes with raising adolescents might be easier to take when we see it as an opening, not an obstacle.