What is “normal”?

The word “normal” is a funny word in the English language – in the dictionary, it actually has multiple meanings.  The first definition states:

“conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal; regular; natural”

I have my own opinions, of course, about how this word delineates a moral right and wrong, and can make people feel pretty crummy when used in a certain way, but my point here is to get how it relates to Western & Chinese medicine.  Another definition, which declares its definition for Biology & Medicine states:

free from any infection or other form of disease or malformation, or from experimental therapy or manipulation; of natural occurrence.” 

If you think about what that means in terms of medicine, a lot of people might not know.  It basically means that you’re not sick and in relatively good health.  And I feel when it comes to people’s health, this is a commonly unasked question by folks seeking healthcare advice.  For example one might ask, “is it normal that my knees are popping all the time?”  Or they’ll say, “It’s pretty normal that I get headaches all the time.”  Or maybe your shoulder pain has been there for so long, it seems “normal” now.

Look at these sweet little mushrooms doing their thing in the forest in Mindo, Ecuador!  Ok, sidetracked…but we were talking about what natural is!!  

“What’s it like for other people?” is another common one that I see people hesitantly ask, and also interesting, because we all want to know what other people are experiencing because we want a baseline for what we think our bodies should be doing.  A “norm”, a “natural state” of health – but what is that? One thing is that we are all different, and our norms and baselines can all be different.

I bring it up today because I think it’s a question that many adults are afraid to ask whoever they are receiving care from, because as an adult, you’d think we know all the answers by now, right?!?  WRONG.  And let me tell you why.

Here’s  a story of how we grow up with different “norms”:  Sally’s “normal” was being the only female in a family full of boys – mother passed away and her dad never taught her about shaving her armpits or legs, fart jokes were pretty common, and there was no shortage of diarrhea jokes from her brothers (you remember the diarrhea song, right?).  At a certain point, Sally starting getting stomach cramps, she just assumed this was “normal” because all the boys in the house were constantly farting and laughing and it seemed like it was funny and enjoyable to them, even though it wasn’t for her, so why ask?!  She ate what a lot of kids ate, or so she thought – chips, lunch meat sandwiches and Root Beer and would usually get stomach aches after meals that got worse throughout the day – she knew her dad was allergic to nuts, because he would break out in a rash on his arms every time he had them, and that was all she knew about allergies.  She never said anything to anyone because she just assumed having tummy aches and gas was “normal”.

Some of these “normal” things are influenced by society, culture and religion, and now of course, media.  But when it comes to this – what I ask for myself is, “What is a natural standard of health for my body that suits me at this time?”  I have conversations like this with my patients all the time, and it’s a conversation you shouldn’t be afraid to ask your health care provider.

Look at these natural little mushrooms 🙂

To me, a standard of good health or “natural” state of health is to NOT have headaches, to NOT be constipated or have daily loose stools, to NOT be bloated all the time, to NOT be moody, crashing daily and exhausted, and so on.  These are great things to consider in your life – does this resonate with you?  Are there a list of things you’ve always thought to be “normal” health-wise because a lot of people you know experience them and are just dealing with them or medicating them?  I have good news – this is something acupuncture and herbs can treat!!  Your body is an amazing machine that just needs slight tweaks to keep it running optimally and to support all of its other symptoms, and sometimes it just needs a little help to do so.

And now, one last cute little mushroom to get you thinking about nature some more…

**Please note: as with anything written in this blog, I am not a doctor, but am a student and write my observations based on my clinical training.  Always talk with your health care provider and decide for yourself what is best – I do not give out medical advice on this blog, only opinion.

A story of wheatgrass: choosing what’s right for you.

I confess that sometimes I ask Google for help.

I browse the internet looking for what people are writing about herbal remedies, and I find these funny websites where I see things written that look like a little cut and paste: “Want to know how to heal IBS?  Top 10 herbal remedies!”  I actually had a couple friends who would get hired to write these things, and they were actually paid to cut and paste from other sites (and free-write)!

Recently I came across this forum where a woman told her story about wheatgrass.  She had started drinking wheatgrass shots daily, sometimes twice, because of the advice of a friend because it’s a “superfood”.  She started breaking out in this horrible skin rash that wouldn’t go away, experiencing nausea and digestive upset.  After elimination of the shots and going to the doctor, the skin cleared up, but the woman’s question on this forum was, “How can I continue to drink the wheatgrass shots without having this horrible side effect?”  In other words, how can I continue to do this thing that I think is so good for me even though it’s causing harm to me?

I had a friend whom whenever I would go to their house, they would show me all the supplements they were on.  Dr. Oz or Oprah or someone told them about XYZ, maybe that week they learned that everyone was Vitamin D deficient, so they ran out and bought some Vitamin D.  Or probiotics – probiotics are all the rage right now!  I asked, well what are you eating?  (And if you’ve read any of my other entries, I of course asked about exercise, sleep, water, etc.)  And they weren’t really doing any of those things.  Not sleeping, never going on walks, digestion was poor, and so on.  My point is that sometimes what we think is universally good, actually is not for us as individuals at that time.

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(A swirly universe inside my Watermelon juice with wild blue-green algae, served up at the lovely Wendy Green’s Casa Verde Raw Yoga Retreat in Ecuador)

So my answer is: Listen to your body!!!  The above photo is a great example – these green superfood powders like Spirulina, or Blue-Green Algae are so great for you, right?  So is watermelon – it’s a fruit!  But together, this is a very cold combination – if it’s middle of Winter in Seattle, you probably shouldn’t be drinking this everyday (and the quality of the product too is extremely important).  Not everything is good for everyone all the time.  Ever heard the phrase, “Even moderation of moderation is good”?  I have tended towards food sensitivities most of my life, so I understand this.  The first Naturopathic doctor I ever saw said I had a wheat and dairy allergy, which at the time I had a sensitivity (probably just like everyone else), but I held onto that diagnosis for a long time.  Sometimes those things can change, and you sometimes can make them change.

What if you let go of the wheatgrass for now (or whatever your “wheatgrass” is)?  It doesn’t mean forever, and maybe it does.  If you could never drink those wheatgrass shots again, don’t you think it’s possible that you could find that “superfood” and those “super nutrients” in another food or get those in another way?

It’s worth a thought!