Your body is constantly sending you signals about your health. Chronic digestive issues, headaches, fatigue- they’re all hints that’s something not right. In this episode Dr. Rachel Abrams, Integrative Medicine MD shares how to listen to your body and interpret its many signals, with tips from her book, BodyWise.
Integrative Medicine Doctor
Doctor Rachel is board certified in family medicine and integrative medicine. She received her MD from UC San Francisco and a Master’s Degree in Holistic Health from UC Berkeley.
In 2008 she opened the award-winning Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic. Dr. Abrams treats many of the world’s most influential people, from CEOs to billionaire entrepreneurs to Nobel Peace laureates. She has been voted “Best Doctor” in Santa Cruz County from 2009 through 2019. She is the author of BodyWise which teaches readers how to understand their body’s innate intelligence for health and healing.
Maria Marlowe: [00:00:34] Welcome back to the Happier and Healthier podcast. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Rachel Abrams. She’s a family practice physician with a specialty in integrative health, relationships and sexuality. She runs the award winning Santa Cruz Integrative Medicine Clinic and has been voted best doctor in Santa Cruz County every year from 2009 to two thousand and nineteen. She’s the author of a number of books, including Body Wise. And this is a book that we’re going to be talking about today. It’s all about listening to your body. And she is going to be sharing tips from the book on how we can listen to our body, what that means and how to better understand our bodies innate intelligence.
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Maria Marlowe: [00:02:44] Dr. Rachel, thanks so much for being on the show.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:02:47] My pleasure. So happy to be talking with you.
Maria Marlowe: [00:02:50] So my first question, I want to get into the book, but my first question for you, which I thought was interesting, you go by Dr. Rachel and I know traditionally a lot of doctors go by Dr. Abrams. They go by their last name. So I’m curious if there was a reason behind why you decided to really go as Dr. Rachel?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:03:10] Well, I feel like my mission in life is to make medicine and to help people understand their bodies in a way that feels familiar. And I was never crazy about this idea that doctors somehow separated me from my patients. It’s completely unnecessary. I’m not gonna forget I’m a doctor. They call me Dr. Abrams or, you know, I just feel like the more we break down the barriers between ourselves and the people that we’re trying to help, we’re really more accurately or trying to help help themselves. The more successful we are. So I tend to keep it familiar with my patients and have excellent professional boundaries, of course. But I think that being friendly and human really is actually more helpful to people than it is to have an opinion from somewhere on high, because to be perfectly honest, that’s just B.S. anyway.
Maria Marlowe: [00:04:01] And I love that and I love that it is more familiar and approachable. And I think that part of the problem with in the medical world is that it is there is this sense that doctors are God in a way, and that, you know, we have to listen to it in a way that they’re better than us, that they are on a pedestal. And that’s why I really brought that up, because I thought that was different and interesting. I have a friend whose father is a doctor and she thinks it’s very weird when doctors go by their first name. She’s like, it’s just so uncommon because that’s what she’s used to, that sort of old way of doing it. But I think being more approachable and using your first name is actually really, really nice as a patient.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:04:42] Right. And honestly, I mean, you’re a nutritionist and, you know, I would say maybe a thousand times more about nutrition than most doctors, do, and my mechanic knows more about my car than I do. Just because people have knowledge in specialized areas, which is why we see them, doesn’t mean they’re somehow better than us. Right, or smarter or more capable. And, you know, I wrote Body Wise because I really wanted people to feel empowered to listen to their own bodies and make their own decisions because the doctor does not inside your body and neither is the massage therapist. And neither is your best friend. You know, we really have to learn to listen to your own signals and our sensations and our deep intuitions in order to lead our health care and not just our health care, but really our lives and our decisions. So the more that we can take down guru mentality, I think the better we do. And I’m not saying that having a good teacher isn’t a beautiful thing or that having a really smart doctor isn’t wonderful and even maybe necessary. But it never takes away the necessity for us to really pay attention to life from our own lens, because nobody sees life the way we do. And everybody is genetically unique, epic, genetically unique, socially, environmentally, culturally unique. So lots of reasons that we really want to see ourselves as our own experts in all circumstances.
Maria Marlowe: [00:06:03] Yeah. So let’s talk about that a little bit. In body wise you talk about listening to your body. And this is a big part of how you work with your patients and you and what you teach. I’ve had this is also something I believe in 100 percent, something I was teach my students. And when I talk. But sometimes people will ask me, what does that mean to listen to my body? I don’t even know what that means. So can you break that down a little bit?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:06:27] Sure. So you really have to look at like why are we even asking that question? You know, which maybe to a few of you may seem like a silly question, but to many people is it is a quite normal question. And it’s because we live in this crazy time for the human body. So we are animals just like all the other animals. And for many, many, many thousands of years, we had to be in touch with our instincts and the way than any other animal did. Right. We had to be carefully walking through the jungle, listening to sounds with our auditory senses wide open, which we never do in the modern world, because it would drive us crazy because there’s too much noise to filter. And we had to have our eyesight finally changed and we had to feel the brush of the wind. And so that we had a sense of whether there was a predator nearby or to really smell that plant we’ve been looking for that we know is nutritious and good for us.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:07:18] So we being body wise, we’re just being a human animal for many, many years. And it’s still inside of all of us. It is our natural native gift, but because of culture and for a relatively short time. Right. Our human physiology is about ten thousand years old. But the culture we’re living in is really, you know, several. Years old, there’ve been dramatic changes. So it is possible now, for example, to live in an apartment where you not only do not gather your own food, you order it from takeout or you don’t even prepare your own food. You have your laundry brought. You don’t wash your own clothes. You don’t exercise at all because you don’t have to. And you could sleep all day and be up all night because you control the lighting and the place you live. All of these things are very natural for the human organism. And in that environment, you need to be body wise. You can ignore your body.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:08:30] And then we live in a society where being productive, being productive, meaning getting a lot done, making a lot of money, making a lot of products, whatever that is, is what we get rewarded for. And in order to do that like a machine, it’s sort of our brainwashing from the industrial age, then we have to ignore all the signals from our animal body in order to do that. I mean, medical training is really a perfect example of that. I had to learn how to not pee when I needed to not eat, when I was hungry, not sleep when I was tired. You know, ignore all body signals in order to do the rigorous and sometimes brutal training that it takes to be a physician. And I’m not saying that it’s not useful to have those skills, but to have that be your habit on a regular basis is dangerous because then you lose the signals that can actually give you that clue as to what might be wrong with your organism. You know what might not actually be working. So I always say when a patient comes into the room, the most valuable thing I have is not my stethoscope. It’s not the lab tests. It’s the patients felt sense of what’s going on and what might be wrong with them. And what they really sense is the problem. And we start there.
Maria Marlowe: [00:09:31] Well, I love that you say that. But I do feel that’s a very stark difference from what I’ve traditionally seen going to traditional M.Ds. Because usually you go there and they tell you what’s wrong with you. And I think growing up, it was like we don’t really know what’s wrong with us. The doctor is going to tell you what’s wrong. Do you know what I’m saying? And it’s not likely. The year they’re relying on tests and data and not what you’re saying or feeling in some senses.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:09:58] Yeah. Yeah. And, you know, I like to say your doctors are consultants, right? Your doctor is not in charge of the visit. You’re in charge of the visit. You bring what you want to talk about. You lead with what interests you. And then the doctor has an opinion. But it’s an opinion. Right. It’s like you hired a consultant. You hired a consultant who has like if you had a plumbing problem and I were your plumber, I would come in and you and I would say, oh, I looked in your pipes and there’s a clog below the house. And, you know, I look down with my camera just like a kaleidoscope can. Dusk appears. And I’m diagnosing a problem. You may or may not believe me. You might bring in another plumber because you don’t like what I’m charging. Or maybe you don’t believe you know what I’m saying is the problem that I need to replace all the parts in your sink. It should be not so different with your doctor. In my opinion, you know, you go in with your intuition. You listen to what they have to say because you’re seeing them because they’re an expert in the field of the body.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:10:54] But you don’t take it in as the sovereign truth. You listen to it, you filter it through your own perceptions and then you move forward if it seems reasonable. If it works for you and you know, I can’t really say enough about. There’s lots of people who see doctors they don’t like. I don’t understand that. Like, why would you see, you know, anybody you do. I mean, unless it’s a super, super sub-specialists that you’re seeing for a surgical procedure, you’re not going to be in relationship with them, but you’re seeing an internist or family practice doctor or ob/gyn or anyone you’re going to have a relationship with. There is a healing effect of the relationship with your healer. And it’s not small. It’s like 30 to 40 percent. Placebo effect is 30 to 40 percent. If you trust your practitioner, you don’t really want to lose that very important part of the interaction because you don’t trust or like the person you’re talking to. So I think it’s worth finding someone you like that you trust.
Maria Marlowe: [00:11:50] Definitely. So you talk about listening to your body. What are some of the common signals or signs your body is going to give you that something’s off it? Sometimes people may not realize, is their body trying to alert them to something?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:12:05] Right, exactly. Because as I said, we’ve sort of lost our ability to listen to the body. And then it’s also the case that a lot of people, a larger number than we’d like, something like one in five, one in four have suffered from physical or sexual abuse or neglect. And when that is the case, we also learn in our bodies to shut down sensation. So when you are a young person, if something terrible is happening to you and it’s emotionally and physically painful, you’re going to turn down the volume of your ability to sense your body, because what the body is sensing is awful. And the issue is that becomes a lifelong habit rather than just a survival skill, so I do work with a lot of people either because of cultural conditioning or because of physical abuse who have trouble listening to their body. So what I mean by that is paying attention to the sensations in the body like, oh, my scalp is a little itchy or others. This tightness in my neck right now or there’s grumbling in my stomach and maybe a little nausea. Those those sensations that the body has are really the body’s signals to us. It’s the body’s language. It’s the way the body tells us stuff. Just like dreams are the way the unconscious speaks to the mind, the sensations or the way the body speaks to the human.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:13:25] So when we feel those sensations and as I said, for some people, it’s hard to feel Statins of the body. I mean, many of us are walking around like we are heads. And then this there’s this thing that dangles down here neck that we ignore on the regular. So it’s a matter of starting to feel the sensations of the body and then begin to understand them. So I talk about it in body wise as the number one thing is measure. So measure is for the things that you can’t sense. So, for example, I have tons of patients who have high blood pressure and I practice and they wouldn’t know that unless they put a cuff on and measured their blood pressure. So sometimes you can’t feel it a super high blood pressure you can’t feel but slightly high blood pressure, not so much. So we do measure some things like basic lab tests, blood pressure, pulse, those kinds of things. I think that is helpful. Some measure.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:14:18] The next thing is sense. So again, sensing the sensations in the body. The third step is feel, by which I mean as sensation can have associated emotions with it. And then the fourth thing is discern sort of putting together what you’ve measured with the sensations are what feelings might be associated with those sensations and then discern as the story of the sensation, what does it mean? So we tell little story. So I think it will help with this. I have a patient that I adore and she is in her 60s as she came to see me, as as many people do, I mean, integrative physician, meaning I do more natural medicine. So I do preventive care, herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, functional medicine, those kinds of things. So she came to see me because she was having pain in her belly and she went to see her regular doctor. And a regular doctor very intelligently said, oh, you know, it sounds like it could be your gallbladder because of where it is and what it feels like. And did an ultrasound and said, I have gallstones, you need to have your gallbladder out. And this woman didn’t want to have surgery. She didn’t think she needed surgery. So she came to see me to see if I could figure something else out.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:15:27] So I’m talking to her. And, you know, the most important part of my practice is that I talk to people for a long time, for longer than a usual doctor. But if I just do usual doctor things, just the fact that I get time to hear about where they work and their relationships and those kinds of things can make a huge difference. So in this woman, I’m asking you about the timing. So when do you when do you get. Know. When does the pain happen? And she says, oh, that’s interesting. It always happens after I get off the phone with my mom. And I thought, oh, that’s really that’s interesting. And by the way, she had had measure the first part of that she’d had it. Blood tests done. No acute inflammation. She wasn’t imminently in danger. She’d had an ultrasound. So we knew that she was safe. Maybe she knew her gallbladder out, but there was no rush. And I said, OK. So here’s our intervention. You’re not going to talk to your mom for several weeks, you know, three weeks. And she didn’t. And you talk to her mom. And she didn’t have any pain. No pain.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:16:24] So in her world measure, she’s got normal lab tests. She does have gallstones since she was having tightness and pain in her belly. Feel. What associations are there with that emotionally? Well, her mom was physically abusive and neglectful. And so whenever she talked to her mom, she literally felt bad about herself. She couldn’t digest what her mother was saying. This is sort of how the body works metaphorically and then discern, oh, this is her body. Telling her the way that she’s in relationship with her mother, is not working for her, doesn’t work for her anymore. Right. She has a mom who is abusive. She’s trying as her mother gets older and doesn’t have any other kids to do what she can to be responsible, but that that is actually causing her pain. So our treatment plan for her besides some counseling was to decide with her mom that she would be in contact, but only for a certain amount of time. And that if her mother got abusive, she’d hang up the phone.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:17:22] And so far, other than a couple of times when her mom got abusive, she didn’t have a phone. She hasn’t had any pain. Right. So she doesn’t need her gallbladder out. She needs to change your life. And that’s not true for everybody. Sometimes people need their gallbladder out. Right. That’s a valid concern or their appendix or, you know, it’s something truly diagnosable, like cancer. But sometimes it really has to do with our life and what our bodies, the symptoms are our body talking to us, trying to tell us something about our life or about our relationships. And unless we trace those symptoms back to their actual cause, we can’t actually fix we can’t cure what’s happening.
Maria Marlowe: [00:18:04] That’s an incredible story. And it’s just a great reminder that everything in the body is connected. I think we sometimes tend to forget that the gallbladder or whatever organ is connected to a wider body, that also it’s not just physical, but it’s mental and emotional as well. I think since even with nutrition like food makes a huge, huge difference in our health. But if you don’t address the emotions and the mental aspect of things, you’re never going to be healthy.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:18:34] Right. Right. And even with food like. Do you think it’s interesting? I mean, you must see this. But I have patients who, you know, they can’t eat something they’re sensitive to. It upsets their stomach. It causes rashes, except when they’re on vacation. If they go on vacation somewhere, suddenly they can drink coffee and eat gluten again. And it’s no problem. I just I read I think the impact of our state of mind is large debate.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:02] And I think mindfulness is having a mindfulness and meditation practice is really helpful in putting us back into the present moment and putting us back into our body.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:19:11] I would agree, although I will say and I love mindfulness. I do it myself. I think it’s incredibly powerful. And a lot of mindfulness is about paying attention to body sensation. But some meditation traditions, I think, because they were really fundamentally invented by men for men in a kind of masculine context, remove you from the body. Like I’m going to treat the body as if it’s not me. I’m going to find a psychic space that is separate from the body. And I’m just daring out there that, you know, although that might be a tool, it’s not really where you want to sit on the regular. You want to actually be inhabited in this beautiful suit that you were given, which is precious and amazing and magical.
Maria Marlowe: [00:19:52] So I’m curious, do you have any meditation practice or is there one that you prefer?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:19:58] And it kind of depends on the circumstance. So I do meditate regularly. I haven’t always been able to. I’ve got to be honest. I’m one of those people who knows it’s wonderful, but had a hard time having a regular practice. Sitting still is hard for me. I prefer exercise, but I. This year, particularly because I had a rough year, just lots of tough things happened. I actually do now meditate regularly, almost daily, and I do either a simple mindfulness practice, but also sometimes I will dance and play music. I will draw. I really love tongue Lynn, which is a Tibetan Buddhist practice where you breathe in the pain of either a person you know or the world around you. Lots of that go around these days and then you breathe out blessing. And there’s something about that practice that really works for me, especially when I am in pain, concerned about a person. Or persons or the world or the earth or our future. Any of those things that it’s it’s really a beautiful practice, right? So I do that. And then I also do simple mindfulness awareness, practice, breathing practices. And then I’ve actually written a number of books on Taoism. So I also like Taois practices which are truly embodied because you’re actually in the in your breathing practice. You’re moving sheer you moving vital energy through the body in the practice and observing the body and learning to kind of play with those sensations and move your energy and your capacity around.
Maria Marlowe: [00:21:31] Yeah, I also had a really hard time initially getting into meditation and I found that the only time I was really able to build a regular practice was when I incorporated the mindfulness with the meditation and doing them together. And I had had a great meditation teacher actually on the podcast. For anyone who is interested in listening, it’s Emily Ziva. It’s called Stress Less, Accomplish More. I’m not sure what number that episode is, but it was really, really good. And she was really helpful for me to learn how to really meditate and be mindful and stick to it. So I’d love to play a little game with you called What is My Body Telling Me? And well, I want to ask you about some of the most common symptoms that I feel like not even just clients or students in my programs, but just friends, family. That seems like everybody has. So the first symptom that I hear a lot of is people that are tired or exhausted all the time, really low energy. What might that be a signal of?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:22:32] Right. Well, I mean, I laugh because I just again, last week had another patient in my office. This happens all the time who comes in with a major complaint of fatigue, which is one of the most common things that I talk about in my office, who doesn’t sleep enough. But I just think it’s hilarious that people think they’re going to be well-rested when they sleep six hours a night, you know, or five or four sometimes so or or they go to sleep. But then they’re up for three hours in the middle of the night. So honestly, sleep is something I talk about on the regular, partly because, you know, I said this body is 10000 years old, your physiology. But it’s living in this weird circumstance where we have artificial light, where we have like far more stimulation than we’re built for. Humans are built to know somewhere between 120 and a thousand humans. And that’s it. Right. The trials and tribulations and the reports and the the Twitter update of a thousand people or less. And we live in these overstimulating worlds where we know about what’s going on with 7 billion people and we have artificial light. We have this drive toward productivity and this feeling that being asleep is just lose. You’re losing the race if you’re sleeping because you’re not doing something. No. So many, many people don’t sleep enough.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:24:11] At the turn of the last century, around nineteen hundred the average person and this is in the United States, but I imagine translatable to Europe, Australia, many of developed countries. The average amount of sleep was nine to 10 hours a night. Can you imagine why people sleeping that much? Right. OK. But that’s really a marker of what the human body is made for.And now the average amount of sleep is six point five hours. So in 100 years, 200 years, in 100 years, we have decided that our physiology were just 10000 years old can be just dramatically changed in that we’re gonna be fine. And it’s not true.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:24:25] People need to sleep more and you need to do whatever you need to do to get good sleep. So I can talk about that more detail if you want to. But there’s all kinds of things between including what your bedroom looks like, what your bed looks like. There’s all kinds of herbs and portions. There’s ways to alter the light you’re exposed to so that your melatonin release can be normal. And that has to do with screens and all kinds of things.
Maria Marlowe: [00:24:49] What are your top like three tips? Is there anything? It’s always funny to me, like people who have like five cups of coffee a day and and can’t sleep and they wonder why I go there. Are there certain general things like that? Like these are a couple of things that might be why you can’t sleep. And then maybe what are your top three tips to get better sleep?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:25:09] Yes. So let me just go through some of the basic ones. So the first one, you can’t. Now, some people are high metabolizers of caffeine and they can have a cappuccino go to sleep. So there are people like that. That’s a genetic thing. That’s not most of you. OK. So, stop drinking, if you’re not able to go to sleep at night, you need to stop drinking caffeine earlier in the day. And that can be as early. It can be 3 p.m. or it could be noon or 11:00 a.m. It depends on the person. You’ve got to try it out in your own body. So there’s that and then there’s what you do before bed. OK. So I always say, if you’re trying to get your infant to sleep through the night, would you leave all the lights on and hand them an I-pad in the crib?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:25:49] You know, You got to think thank we are human animals, right? So we need quiet. We need dark. We need cool in the bedroom. All of those things, if you need earplugs, if you need an eye patch, if you need darkening shades on your window, if you need a more comfortable bed, if you need a fan, you know, whatever it is. And then what you do before bed really matters. So your melatonin is spiking at bedtime. That’s how. From your pineal gland in your brain. And that’s how you know that you start to get sleepy and go to sleep. And if you’re exposed to a screen, particularly a computer screen and a pad or a phone, that screen has blue light. So there is warm kind of yellow red light like think firelight that we’re meant to be exposed to at night. That was what the natural light was for humans. And then there’s daylight, which is bright white full spectrum light and full spectrum light is really important during the day. So if you get seasonal affective disorder, we use that therapeutically during the day, but at night you want that softer light. So in your house, you want to dim your lights a little bit, maybe use an incandescent bulb instead of a bright white bulb, or you can get eco bulbs that are warmer.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:27:01] That’s the word we’re looking for, a more sort of sort of orangey. And then on your pads and your screens and your phones, you can have an app that I use get flux dot com on my computer.And then when it starts to get dark and your computer knows it’s sundown wherever you are, the computer actually just it’s color to amber. It’s also a really good sign to get off your computer, which is something else for the day. And then many of the new phones come with this kind of software, so you can set that on your phone as well. And then I will say, even if you stop the light, because the blue light has double the suppressive effect of white light. So your computer, if you use it before bed, has double the suppressive effect on melatonin as, say, watching television or the light up in the ceiling in the room that you’re in. So we want to be careful, particularly with teens. This is a really big deal. It has an even bigger effect on them. So you want to limit screens before bed as best you can. Don’t put your phone next to your bedside. So phones are no longer phones.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:28:02] Ok. If this were a dial phone next to your bed, I’d be OK with that. But it’s not. It’s your everything. It’s your e-mail and your Twitter account and your work. And, you know, everything is on your phone. So it’s like you took your desk from your office and you stuck it next to your bedside every night. And now you think you should be able to go to sleep. It’s crazy. It’s crazy if you think about it logically. So you want to get the phone away from the bedside and then if you’re still having trouble falling asleep, there are a number of calming herbs that I find really useful. People are anxious for lots of reasons and have trouble sleeping. I really love valerian root. I use it all the time. It’s the most effective sleep herb. It’s very potent. So you want to start with a lower dose somewhere in the 20 milligram range. You go all the way up to 600 milligrams non-addictive. You can use it every night. It enhances deep sleep, which is healing anti-inflammatory sleep. Valerian also can cause nightmares. You want to look? For that, if that happens for you, it’s not a match. If you have hangover effect and then I also really like CBD oil. So cannabidiol, which is not marijuana, it’s a calming part of the hemp plant or the marijuana plants doesn’t make you high. It doesn’t have that impact. It’s anti-inflammatory and it’s calming. Can be very useful before bedtime. Also non addictive and then other gentle herbs like Passion Flower can be helpful for folks who can’t take the other ones. They called it L-theanine l dash t h e A and I N E. It’s a extract from green tea. It’s lovely. It’s calming. I used to during the day and a lot of my patients for anxiety. Somewhere in the 200 to 400 mg range before bed. Also helpful. What I like about L-theanine also is lots of people can fall asleep, but then they wake up in the middle of the night. So the two most common causes of that and my practice are the three most common causes are menopause for women. A lot of women have hot flashes in the middle all the night. You got to treat that like you’re treating menopause.That’s another big discussion.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:30:03] Drinking alcohol before bed – Your body’s very familiar with alcohol. Alcohol has been around a long time and the body metabolizes it quick. It does put you to sleep, but the body metabolizes it quickly. And within two or three hours, you’re awake again because now you’re an alcohol withdrawal. Your gabber receptors are no longer being stimulated and you’re awake. So drinking alcohol before bed? Not necessarily a great idea. Waking up the middle of the night.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:30:29] And then the third most common cause is just anxiety. You know, people wake and then they start thinking and then they’re anxious and can’t go back to sleep. So in the middle of the night, meditation hugely helpful. And I didn’t mention that about bedtime, but also helpful. Bedtime meditation is fundamental, but taking something can be helpful. And you don’t want to take valerian and you don’t want to take a sleep mat because you’re gonna feel terrible at 7:00 a.m., something like L-theanine that I just mentioned or CBD oil, super helpful because no hangover effects doesn’t knock you out, but it sort of calms the brain along with the meditation seeing go back to sleep. And then the last thing I want to say about that is, again, you’re a human animal. If you lie awake, not sleeping in bed either, because you just went about it because you woke up and all the night, you are training your bed to lie in bed awake. So if you’re in bed and it’s been 20 or 30 minutes, get out. Get out. Read a book. Do something. Don’t get on your phone or computer. Do something calm in lowlights until you’re sleepy. Then go back to bed again.
Maria Marlowe: [00:31:32] That’s a great tip. I’m curious, what are your thoughts on taking melatonin like the melatonin spray?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:31:39] I mean, I think it’s totally safe to take melatonin at bedtime. The reason I did mention is not that effective. It works great if you’re switching time zones because melatonin is your sleep clock. So your pineal gland in your brain secretes melatonin at that time to tell you it’s bedtime. So if you’re traveling through time zones or let’s say you’re a shift worker and you’re trying to sleep at a different time of day, taking melatonin can be helpful because it resets your clock. But for most of us and for some people, it works at bedtime. For most people, not so well. So it’s fine to take.
Maria Marlowe: [00:32:11] Yeah, I use it. This is like my go to because I’m traveling across time zones all the time. I use it on the plane. I don’t use it at night. Yeah. OK, so what about IBS? This is another really, really common one. I think so many people are diagnosed with IBS and I feel like it’s a bit of a catch all.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:32:30] Yeah. I called the garbage can diagnosis.
Maria Marlowe: [00:32:34] Of course they don’t know what to tell you.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:32:37] So the clue is the word syndrome. So IBS is irritable bowel syndrome. Anytime it’s a syndrome, it means doctors don’t know what the hell it is. Right. Oh, we made up something about it, but we really don’t know what causes it. Right. Irritable bowel syndrome. So this is what they diagnosed you with. If you have bloating or pain or diarrhea or constipation, you know, abdominal symptoms and we don’t know why. It’s not something simply diagnosable by a gastroenterologist, by a G.I. doctor. So irritable bowel syndrome is a very common diagnosis in my practice. And because I do functional medicine, meaning that I do different testing than a G.I. doctor. Everybody’s gonna be doing assessing. By the way, in the future, this is not crazy medicine. This is the medicine of the future. We’re looking deeply at bowel function to diagnose so that the typical person with irritable bowel syndrome in my practice might have an issue with digestion, low digestive enzymes, or they may have low stomach acid or they and leftover fat and protein in the stool. They might have inflammation in the gut caused by a variety of causes. We can test for that. They might have a disturbance in their flora, in their gut.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:33:47] I mean, given that you’re a nutritionist, I am sure that you have talked about the intestinal microbiome on your podcast. You’re such a cool thing that we started talking about holistic medicine 30, 40 years ago, a long time ago. But. Really kind of caught fire in the Western medicine world and is being researched all over the world because it’s so powerful and so important. So I was saying that we are nature and we really are. We have somewhere between six to ten times the number of bacterial organisms in our body as we have human cells. Imagine that you’re just like a walking carrier for these sweet bacterial friends that are left in your colon. And they actually do all kinds of things for us. They help us regulate our immune system. They help us regulate neurotransmitters. They do all kinds of things that affect health in unexpected ways. So one of the things I see and people there, Taco Bell syndrome is almost always a disturbance in their microflora. They’ve lost what should be their leading healthy organisms like lactobacillus before the bacteria E. coli and or they have an overgrowth of funny bacteria or they have yeast overgrowth or they have parasites in all of these things can be rebalanced to treat it. So we take what has been kind of the garbage can here, Taco Bell syndrome, and we can unpack it with functional medicine and do something about all of those things.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:35:10] And I’m just going to say, we were talking earlier about, you know, how your emotions can affect your health. And this is one of those clear relationships. So lots of folks with irritable bowel syndrome have emotional correlations to their symptoms. Like my patients who have diarrhea and bloating when they eat gluten and drink coffee. Where I live in the US, that they go to Italy and they’re just fine. Thank you very much, you know. So there could be lots of reasons for that, including the kind of wheat that they’re eating. But still, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that they’re on vacation.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:35:42] So there is the emotional component of irritable bowel syndrome as well. And then diet. The reason the microbiome has such an intense impact on the immune system is that you’ve got this massive number of bacteria that if they were in your bloodstream, could kill you. But they’re inside your body. So the immune system is massively arrayed around the colon and really takes its cue from the colon. And when you have a disturbance there like funny bacteria or yeast or parasites, then it creates inflammation which causes this term leaky gut or intestinal permeability, which is the newer term, whatever you want to call it, and can actually allow the immune system to be have more access to what’s in the looming or the inside of the intestine where the food is and become food reactive. And so we have this escalating number of food sensitivities and food allergies, really extraordinary, a doubling of what used to be the case. I mean, you’re pretty young, but when I was a kid, there were no with food allergies, the rare, rare child with a peanut allergy. And now it is unbelievably common. And this is not just in the Western industrialized world issue. This is world wide. And it has to do with a disturbance of the intestinal microbiome, with the antibiotics that we’ve been introducing since 1950, both by mouth, but primarily in our animal feed and the pesticides that we’re using on our foods, which have an anti microbial impact.
Maria Marlowe: [00:37:13] It’s amazing how we’re still living. We still have the antibiotics and the toxins and all of the thing going on. The body is really an amazing organism greater than we can repair it. Right. We can reverse things then. And I always like to tell people, because when we have symptoms like IBS or whatever problems we have, acne, this, that the other we tend to look at them as bad things and we don’t like them about ourselves. But really, I like to look at them as blessings in disguise because they’re a modest way of waking us up and telling us, hey, something’s not right. Something needs to change. Yeah.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:37:49] Exactly. Exactly. And as I know, you know, with irritable bowel syndrome, shifting diet is hugely important. Hugely important. And what’s complicated about that, and I’m sure you’ve talked about this, is that there’s so many different dietary suggestions that it’s very confusing for people. And other than the basics, which I’m sure you and I agree upon, which is lots of fruits and vegetables and probably organic and healthy clean protein sources other than some basics that everybody can agree on, that people’s bodies need different things. You know, I mean, again, this is why we need to listen to our body intelligence, because I have patients who, you know, become vegan and it changes their lives and they feel amazing and they feel super healthy on that diet. And I have patients who are vegan and they feel horrible and then they become paleo and they feel great. And then after a while, they don’t feel greater than they do. I mean, it’s it’s different for everybody and it’s different at different stages of life. And I just think that the less rigid we can be about our dietary program and the more that we can really deeply listen to what our body wants to eat in an accurate way and differentiate between food addictions and actual body guidance, which that is important, that we’re healthier. And we do better.
Maria Marlowe: [00:39:03] Yeah, I could not agree with you more. That is exactly what I always tell people. And I think it is really important that we stop choosing our diet with our head and we start choosing it with our body. So speaking of which, I know there is an exercise that you do with people that helps them to really tune in because it’s for some people listening. And I know this was me maybe 10 years ago, like I didn’t really know how to listen to my body. So what is the exercise? Can you lead us through that?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:39:32] Sure. I’d be happy to. Then I just want to say that my good friend and co-author actually Julie Gottman came up with this exercise is her exercise. But I love it because it’s such a beautiful way to access body intelligence. So wherever you are, if you’re still and you’re not driving, I want you to close your eyes. You’re driving. Please don’t close your eyes. Take a deep breath and put your hands on your belly. So take a deep breath so that your belly comes out of belly breath. By the way, taking belly breaths is a really awesome way to deal with anxiety and insomnia. Deep breath and your nose and out.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:40:10] And I want you to take one more and let your body gently relax.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:40:16] And now healing yourself. Ground it into the ground.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:40:23] And I want you to let come to mind something that you truly love, not a person, but something that you love without restraint. Something simple like a kitten or a puppy, or maybe a beautiful sunset or a waterfall or the ocean crashing.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:40:43] Or maybe you love chocolate. Whatever. It is something that you love in an uncomplicated way. OK. I want you to bring that wherever it is. Bring that thing to mind. And now I want you to repeat over and over in your head or out loud. I hate that thing. I hate roses. I hate puppies. I hate cats. I hate sunsets. Please stay with me when I get to this very long. I hate this thing over and over again in your head.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:41:18] And now I want you to pay attention to the sensations in your body. As you’re saying, I hate this thing. What sensation do you have in your neck and your shoulders? How about in your chest or your belly? What sensations do you have in your back or maybe your arms and hands inside your head? What sensations does your body have while you repeat? I hate this thing that you love.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:41:48] Ok. Now we can stop with that painful part. Yeah, I feel like I could actually really feel it like feel my arms and my upper body tensing up. I could feel it in my stomach, too. Yeah. What did you feel in your stomach?
Maria Marlowe: [00:42:01] Just like a little. Like like, I don’t know. Pit is the right word, but just it didn’t feel right. Something is off.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:42:07] Right. So and that’s those are really people have different sensations. So this is your body saying no. By the way, this is a lie. This is your body reacting to a lie that you’re telling. And you’ve got to pay attention to that, because the shoulders and I offered by the interesting that a lot of these sensations are kind of the body shut down protective posture. So shoulders tight and up and chest collapsed belly tight. You know, it’s that kind of protecting
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:42:37] Yeah, it’s a panic response. And, you know, this is a useful thing to know about yourself, because let’s say you’re hiring someone to assist you in your work and you’re paying attention to your body’s intelligence about this. And by the way, almost everybody’s had this experience with some body intelligence they didn’t pay attention to and it didn’t work very well. But if you’re having those reactions with a human being that you’re in relationship with, pay attention to that, because maybe something’s not right in that relationship. You need to figure out what it is because you’re in that protective posture.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:43:16] All right. Now I want you to close your eyes again. Hands on your belly and another deep breath in through your nose.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:43:22] And now over and over again in your mind. I love whatever it is. I love chocolate. I love sunsets. I love waterfalls. I love roses, and as you say that pay attention to the sensations in your body. What are the sensations in your head and neck? In your shoulders and chest. What sensations do you have in your belly? I love whatever this.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:44:06] And open your eyes.
Maria Marlowe: [00:44:09] Totally different experience when you feel I was breathing from my stomach instead of my chest like before, by my shoulders that intense. So they were relaxed and it was just a very calming, peaceful, good, happy feeling.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:44:25] Yeah. Yeah. So relaxed, open. So now we’ve got open chest, right. It’s a more confident and vulnerable posture.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:44:32] Right. I mean, we get to be in that open posture when we’re not in danger, when we’re not protecting against something. And it’s generally more pleasant. So those are your yes sensations like you’re you’re talking to somebody. You’re you’re picking out your dinner. You know, you’re at the grocery store choosing your food. You want to pay attention to the yes sensations and not the no sensations.
Maria Marlowe: [00:44:57] Right. Yeah. And I think once we tap into that, you know, do an exercise like this just once or twice. It becomes natural to do this sort of thing. Right. Yeah. So it’s just we have to remember, we already know how to do it. I think sometimes we just forgot or we just push it away a little bit. But it’s our nature to be able to have this sense.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:45:18] Hundred percent. And, you know, I always say it’s like learning any language. When you’re learning a foreign language, you start with, you know, tiny vocabulary and you sort of build from there. Now, the body’s vocabulary is sensation. And once you figure out sensation, you start thinking about, well, what does that mean or a feeling? So I have that’s like the metaphor of the body and then discernment telling the story like, oh, that chest tightness in that neck tightness. Is my body rejecting something that’s happening or saying that that’s a lie or something’s not okay. Oh, that’s discernment. That’s the story that we tell that the body tells to us. But to understand that language, you know, you have to play with it just like you do with any language. It takes time to learn.
Maria Marlowe: [00:45:58] Right. So I see this beautiful. I don’t know if this is a painting or photo behind. You have some plans? Yeah. I’m curious, what is the role of nature in our health?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:46:10] Yeah. Thank you for asking that question.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:46:13] So I wrote Body Wise because I can just see that in our society, the degree to which we are separate from our bodies causes all kinds of problems in our health and in our relationships, but that really we want to get into right relationship. And what that means to me. I love this definition. This is from Aldo Leopold. It was from the 1940s. He is an ecologist. And he said a thing is right in your Enright relationship, when you do something, a thing is right when it increases the integrity, the resilience and the beauty of the natural world. The integrity, the resilience and the beauty of the natural world. And there’s never been a time in history where we really needed to get into right relationship with the natural world more than we do right now. And that includes our health. So this idea that we’re somehow separate organisms and that out there is nature separate from us is just 100 percent false. You know, we have just said we have these bacteria inside us that we’re carrying around. But by the way, your intestinal microbiome is highly related to the soil microbiome in the place that you live. And the healthy bacteria in the soil are what make for nutritious fruits and vegetables that we grow in the ground. We are depleting and destroying those in the same way we are in the body with antibiotics.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:47:36] We’re depleting and destroying them with pesticides and herbicides. So we are doing damage on a global scale with our human created products, pesticides, herbicides, toxins in the environment. You know, the fifty thousand plus chemicals that we’ve created since 1950, something like 5 percent of them have been tested for human safety. And when as a doctor, when I want to give someone a medication, like let’s say I want to give you a hormone, I can give it through the skin. I can give you a patch or a gel or a cream. It’s absorbed just fine. So is everything else OK? Your clothing, the water, the air, the soil, whatever touches your body, your shampoo is absorbed. So we are hugely intimate with our natural environment on a regular basis. We breathe it in, we touch it, we digest it, we put it inside of us. So there is no separation between us, the natural environment. I’m talking about it right now in terms of toxicity. But there’s also this really this gorgeous connection between us and the natural world that is. It’s remarkable. So let me tell you a little bit of story about this. And this is all about finding. Right, relationship. Right. Relationship with ourselves. Right. Relationship with other people and then right relationship with the natural world.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:49:00] Those three things, those three sort of fundamental blocks. So a friend of mine, Suzanne Simard discovered the mother tree in the forest. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked about this on your podcast, but it’s pretty remarkable. So she’s Canadian and she grew up in the forests in Canada and started working for a logging company doing research. And as a child, you know, she would lay out in the forest, on the ground. And it was very soothing for her kind of kind of a rough childhood. And her research started to reveal that in a virgin forest that hasn’t been logged, that the big trees she calls in, the mother trees are in communication with all the other trees in the forest through their root systems. So the tree roots go quite a ways. But the fungal network goes. It covers the entire earth. I mean, it’s really tremendously interesting if anyone’s interested. But the tree roots work. Symbiotically with the fungal network to create a micro risin network that connects all the trees and plants in the forest. And the mother tree communicates with the other plants, including her offspring, through things that look like neurotransmitters. They look like glutamate and serotonin, actually. So they’re communicating through this and the network looks just like the network in our brain. It’s wired exactly the same. And then the trees also just like we have pheromones that come off our body and communicate to other human animals. They have pheromones that they’re in their leaves. So let’s say a pest comes into the forest and starts eating one of the trees. Well, that tree communicates through the micronized network and through its pheromones downwind to the other trees to up regulate their tannins, their bitter substances, so that they’re less delicious to the insects.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:50:49] So when the Japanese beetles came through the forests of Canada, the intact forests in unlogged forests, four times less likely to die than the forest that had been logged. And we’re just generic trees that were not as interconnected yet. So underneath our feet under one footfall is a hundred kilometers of Michael RYFLE network in a forest. One hundred kilometers is under one foot. So it’s this dense, interconnected network. And then we humans above the ground here and not just humans. The dogs and the cats and all the animals are the heartbeat. Also have an energy field. And I’m not talking woo-woo here. This is actually measurable, scientifically measurable in energy field that goes out almost 10 feet in either direction, which accounts for things like the fact that when I sit down on the couch with my cats and pet my cats, my heart beats my heart rhythms, synchronizes with my pet. T
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:51:49] The same thing happens if I’m hugging my friend. Our heart beats synchronized together and the mirror neurons in my brain. When I’m with a patient’s synchronized thought so I can actually intuitively feel what that person is feeling. You can see why this would be useful for the human animal to be able to resonate and understand people around them, both to coordinate and also for warning. Right. So, you know, when someone’s dangerous or angry or, you know, likely to be unpredictable. So our human senses, our energy fields, it’s our physical like them, like a rising network. But it’s no less connected. So we’ve got this dense network underground and we’ve got this human energy network on the planet. And not just human human animal plant energy network. And then the research on the impact that we can have on plants is pretty amazing as well, that our thoughts actually affect the plants that we’re around, that the plants have this really incredibly positive impact on us. So, you know, the Japanese talk about forest bathing, which is really just walking through a forest and smelling the forest bathing get high. And that has this remarkable effect on our health, so our health and our psychology.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:53:00] So, you know, I often talk about there’s this wonderful research study showing like thirty five different positive effects of humans being exposed to nature slash trees and plants that we have lower cortisol, that we are happier, that we get depressed less often, that we’re less aggressive, that there’s less racism, that there’s better community support, that there’s better concentration, that there’s improved productivity, that every single illness that reduces your lifespan is reduced when you’re around nature. And this is because we are connected. We were not created as human animals to live in little boxes without nature. So wherever you live. And believe me, we have a lot of people on the planet. We need concentrated housing. I’m not saying don’t live in an apartment, find live in an apartment, have some plants, go outside, hang out with trees. There’s research showing that if you live in an apartment in a city and you can see a tree outside as opposed to someone who can’t see a tree outside, that it has a dramatic impact on your level of depression. Well, you’re much less likely to become depressed if you can see one tree.
Maria Marlowe: [00:54:06] I believe it. I see when I was living in New York, I purposely never moved downtown because I needed to be near Central Park so I could go there often. I’d take my phone calls there, go for walking meetings was always there because I felt like I would go crazy if I just stayed at my little box.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:54:22] Exactly. And that is honestly I mean, I’ve got a lot of family in New York. And one of the beautiful things about many of our cities all around the world is that there are big natural spaces for people so people can live in a concentrated way. But you have access to nature regularly. We just have to do it right. We got to get ourselves there. But that immersion in nature, you know, is another way to become embodied to get back in your body. You know, I talk about it as the gates to embodiment, getting in natural water, forest bathing. Being with animals, having sex. Right. Another way to be in your human animal, listening to music and dancing. These are all ways to get back into our bodies. And when we’re embodied, we’re healthier. Right. We have more life force or cheer or prana and Chinese and Ayurvedic traditions.
Maria Marlowe: [00:55:15] I love that. I feel like I could talk to you forever. I have so many more questions for you. I think we’re gonna have to have you on the podcast again. You bet. But one last question I want to ask you. If you could leave our listeners with one tip or one piece of advice to live a happier and healthier life. What would that be?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:55:33] It would be to listen closely to your body and all the decisions that you make. You know, what would it be like if what you did for a living and the people that you hung around with, that you chose them from this deep sense of rightness, from this big. Yes, inside your body. And when you had to know you found a different path, you know, I think each of us is capable of. And mind you, some of us don’t have options like we have to stay at the job because we need the income to support our families or support ourselves. I get that we don’t all have complete agency, but in the ways that you do, it’s important to choose what nurtures you and to really have you be your own expert, chief, to have you be the guide for your wellness and your well-being in all ways.
Maria Marlowe: [00:56:23] I love that. Very well said. Well, thank you so much, Dr. Rachel, Body, Wise. This is so wonderful. And BodyWise, if anyone’s interested. It’s available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. And where can people connect with you?
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:56:41] So doctorrachel.com. So it’s all spelled out. d o c t o r r a c h e l dot com. It has all my upcoming events and speaking engagements and all my books.
Maria Marlowe: [00:56:52] Thanks so much, Dr. Rachel.
Dr Rachel Abrams: [00:56:53] You’re welcome. Have a great day.