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Dr Ron Ehrlich on Holistic Stress Management

Dr Ron Ehrlich on Holistic Stress Management

how important is quality sleep

 

Today I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Ron Ehrlich. Ron is a holistic dentist and the author of the book “A Life Less Stressed: the five pillars of health and wellness” Read on to learn about the stress management model that Ron has used for the last 40 years, the five pillars of health and wellness, how you can build resilience, and why breathing through your nose is much more beneficial. 

Stress is a huge deal for me. Stress is the reason that my life collapsed 10 years ago. I found myself in an apartment on the verge of suicide. Stress was the driving factor. A low level of stress is motivating. But when stress becomes overwhelming then that leads to a whole myriad of health issues. Dealing with stress in this current pandemic environment, we need guys like Ron to help us.-Kriben Govender

What is your background?

I am a holistic dentist and have been in practice for almost 40 years. I have been interested in the holistic view of healthcare in the last 38 years. A holistic dentist is a dentist that recognizes that the mouth is connected to the whole person. That person has a digestive system, a respiratory system, immune system, nervous system, and a musculoskeletal system. The reason I started being a holistic dentist was through the treatment of headaches, neck aches, and jaw aches. It used to be in the ‘80s as TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorders). In 1983, I attended a course and it struck a note with me. It talked about stress and it provided me with a model of stress that I have followed since that time. 

It has been a part of my professional and personal journey. I have written a book called “A Life Less Stressed” and I have to qualify that by saying the book is not autobiographical; it is aspirational for me now more than ever. It covers all of the things that I have been pursuing at that time. I am focused on family and my health too. 

What is the Stress Management Model?

Most people would agree that stress impacts on health in our modern world more than ever before. This can affect your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. Not all stress is bad but if stress is a problem and you are going to solve a problem, it always helps to know what that problem is. The model I had worked on for over 35 years is a function of five stressors. Those 5 stressors are:

Emotional

Environmental

Postural

Nutritional

Dental

The one that often raises an eyebrow is dental stress. There are two reasons why I include dental stress:

  1. I am a holistic dentist with 40 years of experience so I feel like I am qualified to talk about it.
  2. With anyone with a mouth that is interested in their health but never really connected the two. 

The oral cavity is the black hole of healthcare. This is because:

  1. The dentists are so focused on the minute of what we do. Accuracy is measured in microns in dentistry. It is easy to forget that there is a person attached to it! Health practitioners know almost nothing about what goes on in the dental cavity. And then patients and practitioners often equate oral health with the absence of pain. They think “I’m not in pain it must be fine” and nothing could be further from the truth. 

If you think of our lives as a balancing act, there are those things that have the potential to break us down and compromise our health (the 5 stressors). The other side of it is to build resilience into your life to deal with those stressors. One part is to identify and minimize those stressors. That is why that 5 stressor model gives you a model to do that. But on the other side of the balance, is to build resilience. You do that by focusing on 5 pillars of health.

 

The 5 pillars are:

 

Sleep

Breathe 

Nourish

Move 

Think

If you imagine that seesaw between stress and pillars of health, the fulcrum is about our genetics and our epigenetics. There are a lot of chronic diseases and a lot of them like cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, and heart diseases have a lot in common. The reason they manifest themselves in one person and not the other is genetics and epigenetics. It's not just about the genes, it's about how the genes express themselves.

 

stress management

The 5 Stressors Breakdown:

Emotional

We live in an attention economy where we are constantly bombarded by news, information, people, devices, and social media. It is very easy to become disillusioned. There is a certain manipulation that goes on that makes it a useful tool to make you go out and do things you should not. We may not have control over events in the world or people in the world but one of the most powerful things we have is our ability to change how we perceive events, the world, and the people around us. That is an empowering thing to have on our side. Emotional stress is something we all feel. It raises the issue of our values and what is important in life. Harvard University did a 75-year long study on what are the best predictors of health wellness and longevity. They looked at all the different variables and the one they came up with most was relationships. 

If you have a significant other to share your life with, that is one thing. BUT it doesn't have to be that though, it can be family, friends, community, real relationships. One of the challenges we face in our modern world is the impact of technology on our emotional wellbeing. And the disconnect. We are disconnected from the world, we could have thousands of friends but we are not connecting to the person next to us and that is an important part. 

The development of social media over the last few years has put us in a situation that we have never been before as a species. These technologies if you look back to how they were developed, whether it was Facebook or Instagram, these systems were developed to capture attention. There was a lot of science, psychology, that started as a good intention. They wanted to connect the world together. But unfortunately, these systems have now evolved into something that is a marketing machine. There are financial incentives behind these systems. The question is, what toll is it taking on our emotional wellbeing? You will see things like Instagram changing their systems to stop showing how many likes you are getting because they realize it's not great for business. If people are consistently comparing themselves to their friend and their friend is getting 1000 likes and you are getting 10 likes, they are less likely to engage with the platform. But then what does it do for self-esteem? Something has shifted in our social structure. -Kriben Govender

There was a study done recently and it asked “how many people could you rely on?” 20 years ago people’s average was 2.5 and now the average is 0.7. I have grandchildren that are 1 and 3 and I can see the impact of just how pervasive technology is. It has a neurological neurotransmitter dopamine addictive quality to it. Which is one of our biggest challenges. 

If you look at the statistics now the biggest killer of teenagers is suicide. Why is that? What is happening to our kids and young adults? We need to put the phones down and connect with human beings looking at people, eye contact, connection, which is fundamental for being human. What brings us joy? What makes us happy? Human connection and connecting with friends and family. -Kriben Govender

Environmental stress:

When I explored this in 1983 the environment wasn’t a major issue at this point. But it has become a major one. We are exposed to tens of thousands of chemicals daily. We make this assumption that if it's on the shelf, that it has been approved, tested, that everything is fine. This is not true. This is a story that is easy to miss but once you hear it it's difficult to ignore. Less than 10% of those chemicals have been tested to any degree. When they have been tested, they were tested one chemical at a time, over a limited period of time, and tested on a university student or a young adult who volunteered. But this is not the way that chemicals have been delivered to us, they are delivered to us in combinations.

If you gave one chemical a toxic value of 1 and you gave another a toxic value of 1 when you add 1+1 it's not a linear relationship. 1+1 might equal 10. When you combine chemicals they multiple in their toxicity and their effect. We are not exposed to them for only a short time. We are exposed to them throughout our whole life in combinations of various ages and various health statuses. The environmental effect of chemicals is huge. 

No one needs to look any further than its impact on agriculture. We have taken an adversarial approach. The thought that we need pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, antibiotics we need to keep everything microbial free. The impact of chemicals on our environment has been huge. The degradation of our soil that we grow our nutrient-dense foods in, is huge. 

We talked about technology and there is another side to it besides the mental and social aspect, it is the Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) impact too. Einstein said that every atom in the universe is both matter and energy. That means every atom in our bodies! We work on micro currents. Every cell, muscle, nerve, and even our brain works on microcurrents. To assume that this electromagnetic bath that we have surrounded ourselves in is not having an impact on our health is naive at the very least.

In 2011, The World Health Organization classified electromagnetic radiation as a class 2B carcinogen. That means it is possibly a carcinogen (cancer causing)  And class 2A is a probable carcinogen, the class 1 is a carcinogen. In 2011, wifi radiation was classified as a carcinogen. We have chemicals, soil degradation, air pollution, plastics in the ocean, endocrine disruptors, water pollution, this is a story that is very easy to miss…..but it is very difficult to ignore. You can throw your hands up and say what more can I do? The point of my book is to empower people to say, no! You do have control if you make informed decisions. The good news is you can reduce your exposure to chemicals and radiation by 80%-90%.

EMF’s, whether it's your Bluetooth, wifi, or radiation, it's almost like if you are sitting in the office and the Bluetooth is on, these frequencies are the same as a microwave oven. It is like sitting in a low dose microwave 24/7. How many people think about turning their wifi off at night? My family has gotten rid of wifi all together and everything is hard-wired in my environment. With radiation, it is very important for children. Their nerves aren't fully myelinated yet so they are the segments of our population that are most likely affected by EMFs. -Kriben Govender

This is a story about kids in particular because whether you have them or not they are important because they are the canaries in the coalmine. They used to put a canary in a bird-cage in the coalmine to check the air. If the canary died, people wouldn't go down. When children hold their phones up to their heads, because their head is smaller and their bones are denser, the penetration of wifi is 5 times deeper! 

The other canary in the coalmine on a macro level is the gut. The gut cells turn around every 4 days and then you have a new lining. The other canary is the mitochondria. The mitochondria are endosymbiotic ancient archaea which is an old form of microbe. The environmental toxicity and the most microlevel thing we can think of is mitochondria. They are the most susceptible to all of these toxicities (emf, antibiotics, pesticides, chemicals, endocrine disruptors) a lot of is going to lead to mitochondrial damage which is a big deal.-Kriben Govender

Synergy vs the survival of the fittest. I never thought of evolution as a political construct but it turns out that it is. Survival of the fittest is a great metaphor for the way our economy and our political system is. It almost justifies it. The successful company will survive “I earn more than you, aren't I great?” Evolution is about synergy. A cell is about synergy. For a cell to work well, all of the components in that cell need to work well. When two cells come together to form a multi-cell organism. That was synergy working together. This is a much more profound statement of evolution than the survival of the fittest. It is a different way of looking at the world.

That is an important lesson for us to learn. Enabling nature rather than trying to dominate nature is a pretty good way to go.

Postural

A lot of us sit too much and movement is important. Sitting is the new smoking, it’s a huge problem. BUT the liberating thing here is that you don't need to do too much to make a difference. Postural stress isn't just the way we sit it is how we carry our head on our shoulders too. We need to balance this 4-5 kilo head on a spine. If we have good alignment it's good, if we have a head forward posture or your head tilts you can have implications. The way we sleep and posture is very important. Stomach sleeping is the worst thing for it.

Postural stress is a factor of sitting too much, the position you sleep, the way you walk, and the way you carry your head. This is an important thing and it's impacted by a whole range of things. Carrying the phone having your head tilt or looking down. When you are looking down you change the 5-kilo head, into a 27-kilo head. If you try holding a bowling ball above your head it is challenging. But what if you hold that bowling ball in front of you? Even harder. That is keeping your head up vs looking down. And many people walk around with their heads down. 

healthy food and mental health

Nutritional Stress

 

When we look at nutritional stress you will often see, hamburgers chips and junk food is the problem. I would say that this nutritional stress started with the food pyramid. It said:

We should be eating 6-11 servings of grains a day

Carbohydrates are the base of every diet

Moderate fats and fats were demonized

Protein was okay

The food pyramid that was favoring industrialized grains and carbs vs demonizing the fats that we grew up with over hundreds of years. This is the biggest part of nutritional stress.

Also, public health advice said we need 3 meals a day and 2 snacks. Both of those have set us up for failure. One of the biggest challenges for us in the modern world is that we are not aware that almost all of the health advice that is given to us is nothing more than a marketing exercise. It is marketed through science, sponsorship of research, through experts who are delivering a message and they don't even realize themselves that they are part of this marketing exercise. In good faith, they convey a public health message which if they took an opportunity to step back and look objectively, at history, at logic, and common sense they would know that the world is becoming complicated, but the solutions are simple. Nutritional stress is confusing because of the marketing exercise that is going on in the chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industry. Our health in our modern world speaks for itself. 

I don’t blame the people for that system. When you see those health experts, bear in mind that these people are getting paid a lot of money to talk about these messages. The other thing that is very prevalent in our modern society is we have gone from having very scarce snippets of information like reading a book, talking to a friend about a diet, and now we have gone to a point in our evolution where there is just overloads of information. The little nuggets of truth are hidden in this plethora of digital media and scientific studies. -Kriben Govender

Dental Stress

There are many connections between health and dental health. 

  1. It is the gateway to the digestive tract. You are meant to chew your food to make it more available for absorption in the rest of your gut. A well functioning masticatory system which includes teeth, and a jaw joint to chew food is important.

  2. It is the site of the two most common infections known to man women and children, tooth decay, and gum disease. Because of tooth decay and gum disease, we have to put foreign material into people’s bodies. You would hope those filling materials are bio-compatible and non-toxic and that is a challenge

  3. The common denominator in all common diseases is chronic inflammation. The body is connected, if you have chronic inflammation somewhere in the body it will affect other parts of your body. The most common place for inflammation is your gums. If you have ever flossed your teeth and you had bleeding and thought you should just avoid it...wrong...That is an indication that you have inflammation! If it's there for more than 3 months it's chronic inflammation. That is why gum disease has been linked to heart disease, cancer, autoimmune, diabetes, and low birth weight in children. 

  4. It is also the gateway to the respiratory tract. The shape and size of your mouth determines the size of your upper airway. So if you have narrow jaws or crowded teeth then you will have a narrower upper airway than you have evolved to have. We have evolved to have 32 teeth. How many people have all of their teeth through and in perfect alignment? If you had your wisdom teeth out, crowded lower teeth, that means you don't have all 32 of your teeth through. The question is why? The answer to that question is that the size and shape of your mouth is determined by the nutrient-dense diet of your parents from before the time of conception. At the time of conception, during your mother's pregnancy, through your infancy, through your childhood, through your adolescence, a nutrient-dense diet will develop a broad, flat, arches in the mouth, lots of room for your teeth and tongue. The shape and size of your mouth play a significant part in your sleeping. The question is are you a mouth breather or a nose breather has all sorts of impacts on your body chemistry and your posture.

The respiratory system is part of that dental stress. The final part is that there is so much neurology in this area that if it is out of balance and you clench and grind your teeth, not only do your jaw muscles tighten, but your muscles around the neck, shoulders, and head tighten. So the connection between an imbalance in the jaw, clenching and grinding, and chronic tension headaches are significant. There is more going on in your mouth than just “I’m not in pain so I must be fine”

Is it Better to Breathe Through our Nose or Mouth?

There is a difference between breathing and breathing well. Breathing well means you breathe through your nose. Your nose  warms, humidifies and filters the air before you take it into your lungs. There are 5 levels of filtration when you breathe through your nose. They are very important in cleaning the air before you take it into your lungs. If you are a mouth breather you bypass the first 4 and you rely on your tonsils! If you are a mouth breather it makes you more prone to:

Allergies

Asthma

Upper Respiratory Infections 

The other thing about breathing through your nose is that it helps regulate the carbon dioxide level in your lungs which is an important regulator of acid/alkaline balance which a lot of people focus on in their nutrition. If you want an alkaline diet, one of the best ways to balance it is to breathe well.

Another important thing is that 60% of the nitric oxide that the body produces is produced in the nasal passages only when you breathe through your nose. Nitric oxide has:

Antimicrobial properties

Important Body Regulator

Nasal breathing is an important part of being healthy. Nitric oxide is how viagra works! Viagra improves the circulation through the body. 

If you look at dental problems such as tooth decay, gum disease, and oral cancer in the vast majority at least 90% of the time, no pain associated with it at all. The absence of pain is not a measure of health. 

The mouth is the start of the gut. There are billions of bacteria in the mouth. The state of your oral health and your mouth microbiome is going to facilitate these organisms moving lower to the small intestine and then if they survive, the lower intestine. It is fundamental and it's a great place to start by having good oral hygiene. To make sure this microbiome is optimized. A lot of people want to look at adding in fermented foods, probiotics, but think about this, you are swallowing billions of bacteria so why don't you get the right bacteria in the mouth first? If you are having gum disease, inflammation, bad breath these are all potential warning bells. -Kriben Govender

Listen to your body. Your body does send you messages every day. Bad breath, bleeding gums, tooth decay. If you think about it, if the hardest part of your body, tooth enamel, decays because of what you have eaten, just imagine what is going on in the rest of your body. I did a talk in the mid ‘90s that said the oral microbiome consists of between 200-400 different species of microbes and then 20 years later it said 700 species. Then recently another study listed 1400 species.

There is a similarity between the gut, oral, and soil microbiomes. The key is the more diverse the microbiome is, the more resilient and healthy you will be. Whether this be in the gut, in the mouth, or the soil. Soil microbiomes are very important to give us nutrient-dense foods. We can grow food with pesticides and it will look great but it is not nutrient dense. Diversity means resilience and resilience means health. 

The microbiome research is in its infancy. Metagenomic shotgun sequencing is the go-to technology and the guys that are researching in that field are discovering new bacteria, yeast, fungi, viruses, parasites all of the time. It is like the equivalent of stepping into a rainforest and you are just at the start, then you have to work your way through that rainforest. These organisms are being reclassified, renamed, they are discovering new ones, it is an exciting field.-Kriben Govender

Typically if you had to think about it, what would be a more resilient square mile of land? A rainforest or a wheat field? A wheatfield is monocropped relying on pesticides and fertilizers. If it doesn't rain, drought comes quickly and it is destroyed. But with the diversity of a rainforest, it is much healthier and much more resilient for not just its environment but its whole environment and us as individuals.

yoga and mental health

The 5 Pillars:

Identify all of your stressors first. Once you do this, you need to build resilience. If you have 1 goal in life, it is to fulfil your potential as a human being. To fulfill your potential being healthy is a good goal to set. Focusing on these 5 things is useful.

Breathing

Breathe 8-12 breaths per minute from the diaphragm. This means you are using it all and that sheet of muscle that sits under the lungs every time you breathe is moving. Then you are also massaging your internal organs with that muscle and that has a profound impact on the pelvic floor. Which is important for women after childbirth and for men as they get older.

Sleep 

Sleep is your built-in non-negotiable life support system. If you aren’t taking sleep seriously you are not taking your health seriously. You are missing out on the cheapest form of making a difference to your life, mentally, physically, and emotionally. Sleeping well means getting a good night's sleep, quality, and quantity. For over 90% of the population, it means 7-9 hours a night. If you sleep 3-4 hours you will measure poorly on every health score imaginable. The group that sleeps 6 hours think they get enough sleep but they will measure just as bad as the 3-4 hour group. Putting your head on the pillow is not enough. You have to breathe well while you are asleep as well.

I had a patient that had chronic fatigue for over 25 years and some of the questions we asked were “Is it easy to fall asleep? Do you wake up in the night? And do you wake up feeling refreshed?” She said sleep isn’t a problem and she sleeps 10 hours a night. But if you are suffering from chronic fatigue and never had a sleep study then something is going on. You need to look at the quality of sleep, putting your head on the pillow is not enough. There are over 80 sleep disorders, snoring and sleep apnea are two of them. Take your sleep seriously! 

Sleep impacts:

 

Your hormone balance

Insulin level

Leptin (metabolizes fat) then you become obese

Your immune system is compromised

Chronic inflammation goes up

Testosterone goes down

Poor sleep leads to smaller testicle size

Our amygdala starts to go crazy, when you are tired that's why you are more emotionally fraught 

The short term memory goes down

Your ability to filter out waste in your brain which makes you more susceptible to dementia

Sleep is important!!

Move. 

The liberating part of this is that less is more! You don't have to go into the gym and do an hour's worth of aerobics every day. If you do 10 minutes of high-intensity intermittent exercises that will keep your metabolism up for 48 hours. If you go for a 10 km run it will keep your metabolism up for 6-8 hours. Less is more! Walking is a great exercise as well. Standing at your desk. Movement is important. 

Nourish. 

It is not complicated to eat real food. If it's in a packet it's not good for you. Eat organic fresh food from regenerative agriculture which provides nutrient-dense food. Meat has been demonized and I believe that factory-farmed meat IS an animal right, humans right, and environmental rights issue. Eat grass-fed free-range animals. Drink reverse osmosis filtered water with a pinch of Himalayan salt and then you have your own mineral water. 

The advice of 3 meals and 3 snacks. When have we ever eaten this in the history of our species? If we had 1 meal a day we did well. We may have gone times without eating anything. The idea of time restricted eating and intermittent fasting, does it get any cheaper? This will help your insulin levels across the board. There is this thing called autophagy which is the body tidying up weak and dead cells when you are fasting. The weakest cells are getting eaten up first. BUT to go from a low-fat diet to intermittent fasting is not the way to go. You will be hungry, you need to go into a low carb (70g per day) diet for a few weeks first.

Think

When you are moving and eating well now is a good time to start having better control over what you think. This goes back to the emotional stress. You set resilience and put it into the system. I use the model from Martin Seligman Who is the pioneer of positive psychology in America. He has the PERMA model:

POSITIVE: If you have negative thoughts, you have chemicals in your body that are being attached to cell membranes and causing genes to express themselves in a positive or negative way.

ENGAGED: are you engaged in what you do?

RELATIONSHIPS: which we talked about, real relationships

MEANING: is there meaning in what you do or is your work a pointless exercise? 

ACKNOWLEDGE: your accomplishments

He has recently involved health as well. The best person to take control of your health is you! 

What is your Recommendation on Improving Gut Health?

Take control of your own health and listen to your body. Your body sends you messages every day, usually in the toilet. What you see in that toilet bowl is your body sending you a report. That report is important and you should react to it. strong>At least 80% of skin conditions are a reflection of poor digestion. Listening to your body and taking control is an important message. 

Ron’s book, “A Life Less Stressed” goes deeper on these stressors and pillars of health. If you can take care of the 5 stressors and build resilience, it will lead to a happier and healthier life. Remember to move your body, nourish your body with real food, breathe nasally, sleep well, and take care of your thoughts. Share this with a friend that can benefit from this information!

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