The role of epigenetics in our health

I recently read the book, “Super Genes” by Rudi Tanzi and Deepak Chopra, because I was given it by Blogging For Books to read and review.  I went into it somewhat curious about what they would have to say.  As a former behavioral neuroscientist, and someone who tries to keep at least toe still in the scientific world, and being someone who works as an acupuncturist and is deeply involved helping people come to balance in their own spirituality, this book sounded right up my alley!

After reading it, I will say that I think having all that experience actually worked against me somewhat, because I was already aware of a lot of research discussed (I used to be in the Alzheimer’s field even, like Dr. Tanzi), and this book was written more for people who do not have so much background knowledge, but I was appreciative of the epilogue section in which more detailed research was presented.  That being said, this book does present good information about how epigenetics and the microbiome can influence our health, and in Section 2, the authors present some ways to help bring yourself into a better state of balance.  Many of the suggestions may be things you are already doing, but I found even as someone who coaches people in similar ways, that I certainly also have room for improvement (not that I thought I was perfect!!).

I found Section 3 to be the most interesting of the book, and I could tell that this was where they were doing their best to integrate mind/body medicine and everything they had discussed prior about epigenetics and the microbiome.  I think there was still quite a bit more that could have been delved into.

In general, I found the book to be “ok,” as much as I love Deepak Chopra’s work that he does in the world.  My background in science made me really just want to read a scientific paper that summarized the key points of what they said, and I felt like quite a bit of it was repetitive and not necessarily innovative.  It is a ground breaking concept- that of epigenetics and the microbiome- and I’m very excited to see where the field will go, and I think that this information could have basically been presented in a 20 page paper, or at least a shorter book.  It is something that I hope more people pay attention to and so I’m glad they wrote this and do speak about it; it is important information.

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My adventure with an adult coloring book

So you may have heard about adult coloring books.  These books contain incredibly detailed drawings that adults or kids over 10 color in most commonly with coloring pencils, though certainly you could try your luck with crayons or other means. I recently had signed up for the  Blogging for Books program, and “The Time Garden” by Daria Song popped up as a possibility for review, so I happily signed up to receive it in exchange for a review.  I figured since adult coloring books were touted for their meditative quality that maybe it’s something my patients and clients could benefit from, and maybe me too!

So there I was, with my new $1 box of colored pencils (yeah, I went all out for this…) that I’d picked up from Target, and this gorgeous book full of amazing drawings.  I was ready!  Let’s get my coloring on!  I chose one of the first pages that had a drawing of a clock and an owl and some stars and other details.  I decided not to get too caught up on what colors I thought things should be, or what they might look like in reality and just go for it (hey, that’s kind of a big deal for someone as left-brained as me).

I colored, and colored, and colored.  I think an hour went by and I was amazed at how little of this drawing I had actually colored in that time.  The detailing in the pictures was so ornate that it took a really long time to color.  I think I hung in there for another hour, after which point, I’d maybe colored 1/4 of everything to color on that page.

Yeah, seriously, this took about 2 hrs.

Yeah, seriously, this took about 2 hrs.

I’d like to tell you that I hung in there, and had a magical transcending time and space kind of experience while coloring, but I didn’t on either account.  I actually found myself kind of frustrated that I’d spent a couple hours coloring instead of doing something else that I needed to do or found more useful.  I want to say that maybe my lesson was learning to delight in the little things or in doing something that resulted in beautiful art…but it wasn’t.  All I learned is that I’m not into adult coloring books.

Here’s the thing.  When I meditate, it’s all about connecting to God and being taken on a journey to be shown something, or having questions I ask be answered in some way, or things along those lines.  I don’t consider being present to be the same thing as meditating, and I think that is where this diverges for me.  Adult coloring books help you be PRESENT, but they don’t exactly help you meditate.  It’s like yoga works for me…I am very present to the yoga when I practice it.  I was present to the coloring when I was coloring…however, unlike yoga, where I feel like I’ve moved my energy by doing something physical/emotional/spiritual, with coloring, I didn’t feel anything amazing.

I did enjoy the tiny details; it reminded me of a class in acupuncture school where we were tasked with examining the tiny details of items in nature, like leaves or grass.  If you really look at a leaf, you see every tiny little vein.  It’s beautiful.  The pictures in this book are like that leaf- incredibly beautiful and delicate.  I loved looking at the drawings and imagined how they’d make lovely framed pictures if they were colored (or without even).  So this book is amazingly gorgeous; there’s no arguing that.  The artist has undeniable talent.

So if you’re looking to get out of your own head and get present, adult coloring books could be for you.  If you’re looking for an adult coloring book, I highly recommend this one.  It’s a nice mix of fantasy and left-brained clock oriented drawings.  It’s a neat story (there are some words in it), and incredibly beautiful.  As for me, I think I’ll stick to helping my daughter color “My Little Pony” and “Mickey Mouse” coloring books with crayons.  Those are more my speed. 🙂

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Brrrrrrrrr… – My thoughts on winter


romanesco broccoli

One would think that March would be the beginning of new life in nature. Bright green grass begins to spring up, buds on the trees are popping out and birds are chirping happily. We are all ready for the great outdoors. Yet, Mother Nature has other plans. Yet again we were blessed with another blanket of the white stuff. Schools were closed, even the Federal Government shut down and we were encouraged to stay indoors to allow the Department of Transportation to clear the roads.

After a brisk walk in the fresh air, I was inspired to prepare a bowl of Kasha. This is my grain of choice during winter. This hardy grain is a relative of the rhubarb. In medieval Russia it was a feast of choice. Kasha is roasted buckwheat; it has no connection to wheat at all. It is a gluten-free food.

Buckwheat is a cooling grain. It supports the stomach, large intestine and the spleen. Of all the grains, buckwheat has the longest transit time in the gut. It is therefore the most filling and stabilizing for blood sugar irregularities. This is the optimal grain for diabetes patients. Other great characteristics of this grain are that buckwheat helps neutralize the toxic acidic waste in the body, helps to lower cholesterol, and is an excellent choice as a blood building food. Buckwheat is high in rutin and quercetin, flavonoid glycosides that have beneficial effects on blood vessels. It helps to lower high blood pressure, reduce capillary permeability and increase micro-circulation in veins. Did I mention it has all eight essential amino acids? It is higher than all other grains in lysine and has 100 percent more calcium than other grains, thus it is considered a nutritional powerhouse.

Buckwheat pairs well with mushrooms since both have great earthy flavors. Enjoy this exquisite dish on a cold winter day and let’s hope that spring is around the corner.

egafton recipe march 2014

 Buckwheat with crimini mushrooms and broccoflower and fresh cilantro

 1 cup Kasha

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cup filtered water

1 cup crimini mushrooms sliced

½ head broccoflower (Romanesco broccoli) cut in small florettes

¼ cup fresh cilantro chopped

½ teaspoon sea salt

Fresh ground pepper


Bring two cups of water to boil add salt. In the mean time add the oil to a sauté pan and sauté the sliced mushrooms and broccoflower florets. Rinse well your kasha. Add kasha, sautéed mushrooms and broccoflower to the boiling water and cook for 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed.  Allow cooling and fluffing; season to your taste with fresh chopped cilantro, fresh ground pepper and more salt if needed

The texture of grains can be changed by boiling the water before adding the grains. This will keep the grains separated and prevent a mushy consistency. This is the only way to cook kasha (Buckwheat). Do not add kasha to cold water, as it will not cook properly.


eleonoraEleonora Gafton is a faculty member and professional chef in the Nutrition and Integrative Health program at Maryland University of Integrative Health, one of the nation’s top graduate schools for health and wellness studies. Growing up on an organic farm and winery in Romania, Ms. Gafton developed a passion for natural foods. She completed her chef training at Ministerul Turismului International in Bucharest, Romania and went on to work in a three-star hotel, becoming the first female executive chef in a communist country. Ms. Gafton holds a bachelor’s degree in hotel management from Cornell University, a master’s degree in herbal medicine and clinical studies from Maryland University of Integrative Health, and a certificate in health coaching from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in NY.  For more great recipes and information, visit her website at


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Eating to Feel Good = Comfort Food

photoI recently read an article in the latest issue of Yoga Journal where the author was talking about comfort food, and redefining what that meant.  She stated that instead of eating our typical comfort foods (macaroni and cheese or other heavy pastas, mashed potatoes, or whatever), that comfort food should be redefined to mean food that makes you feel good…not just temporarily.

I really like this idea, because it is right in line with what I teach in The 21 Day Chinese Medicine Cleanse.  While you *can* indulge in the plan, you choose to do so, knowing you may not feel so great.  When we have that conscious choice to feel good for a few moments, or to feel good for days/weeks/years/lifetime, and we choose to feel good overall, it becomes a self-reinforcing habit.  Sure, we will all still want to have brownies and pizza every now and then (two of my foods I love that don’t make me feel so great)…but it’s the feeling of health that keeps us on the right path.  I know for me, it’s a flat belly and a lightness of being that I feel when I’m eating on the cleanse.  So I eat like that the vast majority of the time.  When I don’t, I pay the price.  Comfort food?  Not so comforting to feel your intestines twist around or to feel massive bloating!

So let’s come up with some new comfort foods.  I’d love it if you shared them here.  Let’s get rid of tons of dairy, wheat, sugar, and other items that load us down, and instead fill our plates with healthy whole foods!!  Post below to share your recipes!

-Jen 🙂

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Every Moment We Can Start Over…

By the end of January, most well-meaning people have ultimately abandoned their New Year’s resolutions.  One of the most popular resolutions to abandon is that of weight loss.  Gyms that were packed with fitness enthusiasts, wearing brand new outfits fresh from the holidays, are back to normal by February.  Sad, but true.  Why is this?

In Chinese Medicine, the Liver is responsible for springing those ideas into action, but also for the follow through.  If your energy is stagnant and stuck, it’s harder to follow through.  Ironically, by exercising, you move that stagnant Liver energy.  If these people had only stuck with it a little longer, maybe it would become a habit!  I digress, however, because the other thing that usually works against us is either a self-induced perfectionism or the “magic bullet” syndrome.  Some people quit because they aren’t achieving their goals perfectly; if they binge on ice cream, they may as well quit, because they’ve “messed it up.”  These people are more in the perfectionist category.  Others quit because changes don’t happen fast enough for them.  They haven’t lost 10 lbs in 2 weeks and therefore I may as well give up because it “doesn’t work.”  These people went into their resolutions with a “magic bullet” type mentality.  If it doesn’t work fast and with little effort on their part, they claim it isn’t effective.

I’m here to turn both ideas upside down and state that every moment we can start overAs I tell people in The 21 Day Chinese Medicine Cleanse, every meal or snack is a chance to start over.  Every day or decision point (“do I go to the gym or do I watch tv?”) is a chance to start over.  The past is the past.  Now is now.  Choose what will serve you as you move forward.  Who cares if you just ate a pint of ice cream by yourself?  Now it’s done and you can start over.  So you didn’t go to the gym for 2 months and you’re just throwing money out the door at them?  Decide to go today, even for just a few minutes.  Or resolve to quit the membership and walk with your partner around your neighborhood every day if it’s not working to keep the gym membership.  Do you tend to get angry?  In this moment you can resolve to go scream into a pillow or beat your bed with a whiffle ball bat, as one of my colleagues recommends to her patients.

The point is, whatever your resolution is, whatever your goals are, to know that every moment is a new opportunity and you can choose to follow the path that aligns with your goals.  Leave self-judgment behind.  Weigh your options and choose consciously.  You are worth it.  Now move forward with the freedom of forgiveness, and go chase those goals down!!  And if one of them is weight loss or feeling better, then I’d love for you to join me on The 21 Day Chinese Medicine Cleanse.  Now is the start.

In health,

Jen 🙂

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