Your medication may not be safe

Are all medications bad? No! Used short-term, they may offer triage to help the body heal while the root cause of what is happening is addressed.

However, it is important to understand how your medication works and why it is important to get to the root of the issue as quickly as possible.  Statins for heart conditions, metformin used to treat diabetics, and beta-blockers, also for heart conditions, all interfere with CoQ10 levels. CoQ10 is a vital part of a biochemical reaction in the cells that makes ATP which is the chemical that provides us with energy. If you are on these medications too long, you will eventually feel weak and tired. Often time, patients are given a medication on top of the old to address side effects caused by the depletion of vitamins and minerals that resulted from the first medication.

One of the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety and depression are Prozac and Zoloft. These medications fall into a category called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors or SSRI’s.

Serotonin is an amino acid that is important for pain perception. When in balance it also allows us to control food cravings and helps us feel satisfied after a meal. It is also the pre-cursor to melatonin which is an amino acid that helps us to sleep. So, when serotonin is insufficient we struggle with pain, metabolism and sleep.

An SSRI works by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain. That allows the serotonin to be recirculated so the body is “tricked” into thinking that it has more serotonin than it does. The production of serotonin shuts down rapidly and eventually there is little to none left and the body does not think that it needs to create more.

SSRI’s lead to changes in the brain function and, should you decide to withdraw from one, should be done very gradually and under a physician’s guidance. Side effects from the medication and the withdrawals include anxiety, nervousness, sleep trouble, diarrhea or constipation, and low libido.

Serotonin is formed from tryptophan which is an amino acid, iron, folate, and vitamin B6. One of the reasons that people suffer from serotonin deficiency, which leads to anxiety and depression, are low stomach acid which may be caused by age, medication such as proton pump inhibitors, or stress.  People may have a perfectly healthy diet but not absorb the nutrients into their cells. If the nutrients do not make it into the cells, they can’t do their job. Some people have been on a low fat diet for decades and because of this do not have cell membranes that allow the nutrients into the cells and toxins out as fat is necessary to create healthy cell walls.

Many people find relief from anxiety and depression by making changes to their diet and adding in supplementation. In today’s world, even fruits and vegetables do not have the nutrient content that they did even 50 years ago. Some foods that help boost serotonin levels are salmon, poultry such as chicken and turkey, fried eggs cooked in a little fat such as coconut oil, nuts, seeds, and organic soy. Supplementation that may help you find relief include iron, folate, a vitamin B complex, and tryptophan.

As Dr. Mark Hyman says, “Depression is not a Prozac deficiency.” Depression is almost always a nutritional deficiency which a good functional medicine health coach can help you resolve.

  1. The Anti-Depressant Fact Book: What Your Doctor Won’t Tell You About Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Celex, and Luvox by Dr. Peter Breggin: De Capo Lifelong Books, July 2012.
  2. “Why Antidepressants Don’t Work for Treating Depression.” Dr. Mark Hyman, 19 May 2010,

Four ways to boost your immune system

This has been a tough winter for many. Here are 4 simple tips to help prevent you and your family from getting sick or, if it is too late, to lessen the duration of the cold or flu and decrease the potency of the symptoms.

  1. Consume a healthy diet. As a health coach, I hear all the time, “I eat well.” That means different things to different people. If you frequently eat at restaurants or even buy prepared foods at the grocery store, you are not controlling the quality of what you are consuming.  However, even eating roasted vegetables from the grocery store is better than not eating any vegetables at all. Frozen vegetables are another good choice. The point is, do eat a diet that is rich in anti-oxidants which are found in fruits and vegetables. Garlic and ginger have been shown to support the immune system, so include plenty of those as well.
  2. Get exercise but do not beat your body up. A brisk walk, light movement such as yoga or tai chi, gentle stretching are all great ways to get exercise without putting your body into a stress situation which actually lowers the immune system.
  3. Prioritize sleep. So many people joke about how little sleep they get but this is no joking matter! Treat yourself like you would a small child. Start your bedtime routine 30 minutes to an hour before bed. Take a bath. Turn down the lights. Read something fun. Stay away from t.v., the phone, and e-readers. These affect hormones in our brains that make it difficult to sleep.
  4. Wash your hands using simple soap and water. This is so simple and so overlooked. Be sure to use a natural moisturizer to prevent your hands from cracking. Our skin is our number one barrier to protect ourselves from the outside world. Take care of it.
  5. Bonus: Taking advantage of salt therapy can also help prevent or recover from illness:
  6. Dry salt therapy thins the mucus secretions which allows unwanted bacteria to be expelled.
  7. Halotherapy, aka, dry salt therapy cleans and detoxifies the lungs. When I first started learning about halotherapy, my mentor told me to think of it as a toothbrush for your lungs. By cleaning and detoxifying the lungs, the respiratory system works more efficiently which allows us to increase our oxygen uptake which, in turn, gives us more energy.
  8. Sitting in a salt room or salt cave lowers stress levels as does meditation and yoga, which can also be done in the salt room. Chronic stress wears down and weakens the immune system so relieve some of that stress by taking a break and relaxing.

Supporting your immune system is the key to being healthy. If you are struggling with any of these things, a Functional Medicine Health Coach can help you get on the path to optimal health.

problems with modern medicine

After working behind the scenes at a few prominent Boston hospitals for the past 30 years, I had an eye-opening experience these past few months as our “sick” care health system has hit way too close to home for comfort.

My son has been sick since November when he was home for Thanksgiving. At that time, he spent a couple of days being sick to his stomach, self-diagnosed it as a virus, and went back to his regularly scheduled life.

He came home again in December and spent several days in bed. At that point, he vomited so much that we took him to the emergency room. They ran some testing on him, gave him some anti-nausea medication, and told him it was most likely a virus and that he should ride it out.

Along comes the beginning of January. My son is now back at school in Chicago where he is in his last semester of college. Once again, he starts vomiting and goes to an urgent care center. The physician there tells him that he should not be throwing up so frequently and tells him that he really needs to find a primary care physician. My son does so and, at his appointment, she tells him that he most likely has an ulcer. She does more testing which, in her mind, confirms this diagnosis, gives him a medication to suppress his stomach acid so that it can heal, and sends him on his way.

This past week, his girlfriend calls me and tells me that she is bringing him to the emergency room at a prominent hospital in Chicago. He had been vomiting again and was in pain. After sitting in the emergency room for seven hours, the medical team decided to admit him to the hospital and this is where it gets very interesting.

At this point, I fly out to Chicago to be with my kid while he is in the hospital. By the time I got there, they had gotten his vomiting under control with another anti-nausea drug and he was hooked up to a saline drip “just in case.” They are not letting him eat anything to “let his intestines rest.” Then the surgical team came in to say that he was NOT a candidate for surgery. I asked, “Were you ever?” and he said not to his knowledge. Hmm… interesting, but I am glad that surgery is not necessary.

Then we meet with a gastro-enterologist, i.e. a gut doctor. They tell him that a test that was run while he was in the e.r. suggests that he has Inflammatory Bowel Diseease (IBD) or maybe IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I am still not sure what the difference is or if it matters. They then proceed to tell him that he may have a blockage in his small intestine related to “inflammation.” Then they say that he cannot eat anything because they want his gut to rest and then proceed to tell him that he will be in the hospital until at least Monday because his gut needs to heal before they are comfortable doing a colonoscopy which, by the way, we don’t do on the weekends so we are going to hold you here until then. (This is Thursday!)

By Friday morning, my son is no longer vomiting, has managed to have a bowel movement which was a requirement to being released, and had been promoted to a clear liquid diet. In addition, the medical team kept trying to give him anti-coagulant shots which is important if someone is bed-ridden and not moving around but my son was NOT bed-ridden and was losing his mind and feeling like a hostage.

The question has now become, why does he need to wait in the hospital for two more days to get a colonoscopy. MY question becomes, “does he really need a colonoscopy at all.”

When I pose this question to my son’s girlfriend, she says, “Well, they won’t treat him without a diagnosis.” And, this, my friends, is where I have officially lost all faith!

In three short months, my son has had 5 different diagnosis – virus, ulcer, IBD/ IBS, ulcerative colitis, and small intestinal obstruction caused by inflammation.

Not once did a doctor talk to my son about his typical college diet but when they took him off all food, the inflammation decreased significantly enough that he felt well.  When I suggested to the physician that maybe he should remove gluten from his diet, the doctor assured me there was no research to back my theory. (There is actually quite a bit of research on this.) They feel the need to do a potentially dangerous procedure because they NEED a diagnosis to know how to “treat” whatever his issue is. This translates to what pharmaceutical to give him.  And don’t get me started about the nurse that kept telling him that he is “very sick” and needs to stay in the hospital. I am just grateful that he never believed her because I am a firm believer that your beliefs turn into your reality.

Functional medicine would take a look at my son’s symptoms and find out WHY he is having these issues. A diagnosis is nothing more than a group of symptoms that can fit into a neat little box, sometimes. Also, while I may agree with suppressing his stomach acid short-term, they did nothing to help heal his gut lining. Without some support there, he could potentially have a “weak” stomach the rest of his life.

I don’t want people to think I am ungrateful for the hospital or what they did to help my son with his pain. Certainly, I have been on the supporting end of some traumatic events including saving the life of a motorcycle driver who was in a horrific accident and had lacerated his liver which resulted in being transfused with over 50 units of blood. (We have about 8 to 10 units of blood in our body at any one time.)

If you are unfortunate enough to have a traumatic or immediate event, please, go to the hospital. However, if you have on-going issues, look toward a Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you. We will have better success at educating you on diet and lifestyle changes that won’t put you in remission but will actually heal you.

Missy Cohen, MPH, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner has been working in Functional Medicine over the past decade.

Are You feeling blue this winter?

If the winter weather has you feeling down and even downright depressed, you may suffer from SAD, also known as, Seasonal Affective Disorder.

SAD is a type of depression. Symptoms of it include oversleeping or having problems with sleep, losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed, low energy, difficulty concentrating, and other signs of depression. What makes SAD different from depression is that it usually occurs from late fall through the winter and the depression is not felt during the summer months.

It is believed that the darker time of year leads to less sun exposure which causes disruptions in the circadian rhythms that tells us when it is time to be asleep and time to be awake. Exposure to sunlight also helps us create serotonin which is a “feel good” hormone.  Serotonin is also a hormone that  converts to melatonin which is necessary to help us sleep at night. Of course, no one feels well when they are tired and having disrupted sleep often contribute to the problem.

Anti-depressants may be prescribed to help with Seasonal Affective Disorder but anti-depressants come with a price. Many anti-depressants work by recycling the serotonin which results in the body making less serotonin because it thinks that levels are sufficient. This leads to more sleep issues, weight gain, and a lack of enjoyment in life or, as more than one of my clients has described it, “feeling flat.”

Many people prefer to go with a more natural approach to dealing with SAD. Some suggestions are:

  • Going for a walk in the morning to absorb as much natural light as possible.
  • Eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of vegetables, nuts, and seeds. Many people crave carbohydrates and sweets during this time of year but those foods drain energy and make the situation worse.
  • Exercise for at least 15 minutes every day. This could be gentle stretching when you first get out of bed followed by that walk that was mentioned earlier. Any time you move your body, your mood will improve. It could be something as simple as parking in the back of the parking lot and walking further to run your errands.
  • If you regularly participate in activities, continue to do so. Connecting to others makes us feel happier and more confident.
  • Make use of light therapy. A full-spectrum light is a light that is about 20 times brighter than room lighting and, when you are exposed to it for 15 to 30 minutes a day, it can help with the symptoms of SAD.
  • Limiting the amount of time spent on technology. Computers, e-readers, cell phones, televisions and other forms of electronics emit positive ions that contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.  Authentic Himalayan salt lamps reduce the effects of positive ions because they are naturally dehydrated sea water and, like the ocean, emit negative ions. I encourage my clients to have salt lamps at their work stations as well as rooms that they frequent in their homes.

Do you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder? How do you manage it?

Missy Cohen, MPH, Certified Functional Medicine Health Coach is the owner of Just Breathe, a salt room in Westborough, MA and helps people with chronic health conditions through lifestyle changes.  Just Breathe offers light therapy, as well as salt room sessions where people can experience the effect of negative ions emitted from a beautiful Himalayan salt wall. Ask about a SAD package.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), (2017, Oct.25). Retrieved 24 January 2019, from

C.J. Harmer, M. Charles, S. McTavish, E. Favaron, and P.J. Cowen. (2012 August) . Negative ion treatment increases positive emotional processing in seasonal affective disorder. Psychological Medicine. Retrieved from

A Tip to Survive the Holidays

Does getting invited to a holiday party put you into a cold sweat after all the hard work you have done to lose weight?

It doesn’t have to be that way!

The big focus of any party or gathering is getting to spend time with friends or families but there is no reason why you can’t enjoy the food. Take the time to scan the offerings and decide what you truly want to enjoy. Maybe it’s Grandma’s apple pie or a piece of your friend’s fudge. Whatever it may be, remember the “Three Bite Rule.”

Why 3 bites?

The first bite is going to be as enjoyable as you think it is going to be.

The second bite is still wonderful but not as wonderful as the first bite.

By the third bite, you have enjoyed the food as much as you are going to.

It is time to set it aside and hit the dance floor or visit with a friend.

Don’t be afraid of this time of year! Get out and enjoy yourself and please share with the community how you enjoy the holidays.

And if you do find yourself struggling with a sugar addiction this Holiday Season be sure to join our “Beat the Sugar Blues” challenge starting on January 16th. This is a 3 week program designed to get sugar out of your diet and start eating healthy again.

How Can We Help You?

Just Breathe is much more than a salt room. It is a community. A community of people who want to be and stay healthy and understand that doing so involves so much more than visiting the doctor for a yearly check-up. The people in this community do not define themselves by their symptoms and while some do identify with a diagnosis, many chose not to. At the end of the day, a diagnosis is just a group of symptoms that have a label put on them and symptoms are your body’s way of communicating to you that there is something wrong.

Continue reading How Can We Help You?

Are you making this common mistake regarding GERD?

Many people suffer from GERD also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease. This is often accurately described as stomach acid in the wrong place. The piece that many people get wrong is that they believe this is caused by too much stomach acid. In fact, it is almost always caused by too little stomach acid.

GERD is most commonly the result of a dysfunction in the lower esophageal sphincter. When this sphincter weakens, what little stomach acid is present backs up into the esophagus. The mucosal lining of the esophagus is not coated in the same way that the stomach is, so the stomach acid causes irritation to the esophagus that results in a burning sensation. If this occurs over a prolonged period of time, the pepsin in the stomach acid, which is a protein digesting enzyme, actually starts to digest the tissue in the esophagus. This causes inflammation that eventually, if left untreated, can lead to cancer.

So, what weakens the lower esophageal sphincter?

Continue reading Are you making this common mistake regarding GERD?

Relief from Gas, Bloating, Acid Reflux and More…

Back to Basics – Eating 101

As a Functional Medicine Health Coach, many people come to me because they suffer from gas, bloating, belching, acid reflux, and/or feeling overly full after a meal. Some people have a major GI disruption that may cause a closer look with your Functional Medicine Health Coach but, for many, the solution is in being aware of eating hygiene.

What is eating hygiene? It is a few simple tricks that will help you properly digest your food so that you do not have these uncomfortable issues. Here are 3 simple tricks that may help you reduce or even eliminate these annoying symptoms.

Continue reading Relief from Gas, Bloating, Acid Reflux and More…