Christopher Lepisto, N.D.MEDICINAL ROOTSGrand Junction Free Press Health & Wellness Columnist

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January 3, 2013
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LEPISTO: Guide to 'SENSE'-sational health

Not to scoff at tradition, the Grand Valley holidays brought the usual display of lights, music and feast of the senses. As I did my usual holiday gawking, for the first time in my life I've noticed that my vision is starting to change. Not an improvement, of course. I have never heard of anyone's vision and hearing improving steadily as they age. That'll be the day... "Well I just past my 96th birthday and I finally got rid of those glasses since childhood!" It did happen in the film "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," when Benjamin, played by Brad Pitt, ages bizarrely and backwardly into a younger and younger man.Since that is not apparently happening to me or anyone I know (yet), I am forced to realize that my slight visual astigmatism is really just a sign of the normal process of aging. So how much do I need to accept that "aging happens," and how much can I actually do about it? Well, I can certainly just get a pair of glasses, but without a doubt there are some nice preventive measures I can do to keep my sensory experiences healthy and bright. Much of my advice as a naturopathic doctor really just has to do with simple practices. While I'm not a fan of setting New Year's resolutions, which really just sets us up for failure, I do suggest picking a few of the following recommendations that seem like a good place for you to start. *PLEASE NOTE - If you have any significant changes to your vision, hearing, taste, smell, or any tingling or numbness, pain, etc., please see a doctor to rule in/out potentially serious causes.

Maintaining visual health is based upon three principles of nutrition, exercise and rest. The considerations below support these principles:• Breathing: Simple deep breathing (full, diaphragmatic) will help blurry, tired or strained eyes. While doing deep breathing exercises visualize yourself with strong eyes and keen vision. Visualize the retina at the back of your eye clearly receiving focused light. Picture the cone cells in the back of the eye awakening for daytime vision and the rod cells becoming alive at night or in the dark. Experience your side/peripheral vision widening as the retina is stimulated.• Eye muscle exercises: Focus on an object in front of your nose then focus on an object far away. Repeat several times. Focus your eyes up and left and hold for 3-5 seconds, then straight up overhead for 3-5 seconds, then up and right for 3-5 seconds, then down and right, straight down and down and left. Next, roll your eyes in a circular path, following the same and opposite directions several times. Finally, close your eyes, briskly rub your palms against each other to create heat and cup your palms over your closed eyes and let your eyes bask in the warmth and relaxation.• Diet: Follow a whole foods diet that is adequate in protein, high in complex carbohydrates (a variety of vegetables and fruits), adequate in whole grains, low in saturated fats and optimized in the balance of essential fatty acids. Ensure adequate intake of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids via diet and supplementation. See your naturopathic doctor or nutritionist for specific dietary recommendations. A helpful resource on visual health is by Kaplan, Robert-Michael. "Seeing Beyond 20/20," 1991.

Viral, bacterial, fungal or other parasitic ear infections can occur in the outer, middle or inner regions of the ear's anatomy and produce a variety of symptoms, including hearing impairment. Allergies can also commonly affect the health of your ears and your hearing.Hearing loss via damage from loud noise/sounds is cumulative and gradual. Protect your hearing when using power tools or other loud equipment, listening to music/movies/television, watching fireworks, etc.Patients may deny that they have a hearing deficit while it may be a threat to their self-image, perhaps requiring emotional support to help them cope with their individual situation. This is a tricky one with aging elders. Tread here lightly!Refrain from using cotton swabs, bobby pins and other tools for self-removal of cerumen, as these tools can compact the wax further or cause damage to the eardrum (tympanic membrane). An earspoon or ear wash can be helpful instead.

In addition to fully functioning olfactory nerves, taste also requires intact brain and cranial nerves, as well as functioning tongue (taste) sensory papillae (i.e. "taste buds") to fully experience the sense of taste as a complex combination of sweet, salt, sour and bitter. For example, nasal blockage affects taste and smell greatly.Drugs (especially pain medications) can interfere with the full functioning and perception of these senses.Dietary deficiencies can affect the full functioning and perception of these senses. For example, zinc deficiencies can dramatically affect the ability to taste. Other nutrients are also essential for the health of the components of these complex sensorineural mechanisms. Nuts (especially pumpkin seeds), meats, dairy products and whole grains are great sources of zinc.

Damage to nerves anywhere in the pathway by trauma, lesions, chronic elevations of blood glucose (as in diabetes), demyelinating diseases, etc. can significantly affect tactile (touch) perception.Nutrient deficiencies or excesses can affect nerve cell functioning and these pathways of touch perception. For example, Vitamin B6 and B12 (from meats and meat products, predominantly) are key nutrients in nerve health and deficiencies or excesses can affect the functioning of nerves involved in touch perception. Some medications can also affect the perception of touch.Check in with your senses and work to keep them healthy. You know the adage (and this one's actually true) - an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.


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