Tips for Health from a Doctor and Mom
January 6, 2023
Dr. Bojana Jankovic, a board-certified internist with Cedars-Sinai Medical Group in Los Angeles, sat down with Healthy Child Healthy World to share her experiences as a doctor and a parent, as well as some of her best advice.
How has your perspective as a doctor changed since becoming a mom?
I have always intuitively followed approaches that reduce exposure to chemicals and increase connection to nature. Being a mom, of course, I am responsible not only for my exposure, but my family’s.
Over the last year, I have been educating myself more on the topics of nutrition, wellness, healing, and contribution of our environment and stress to many disease processes.
What steps do you take in your own home to reduce your family’s exposure to harmful chemicals?
EWG’s Guide to Healthy Cleaning and Healthy Child Healthy World shopping guides have been lifesavers. As a physician with an academic, medical background, I carefully reviewed the EWG Cleaners’ Guide scoring system and was deeply impressed by the level of scrutiny, detective work and scientific rigor that EWG’s scientists apply when assigning a safety grade to household chemicals.
As an example, many antibiotic soaps, detergents, furniture or toys contain triclosan. It is used to prevent bacterial contamination of products, although there has not been good evidence that it does so successfully and there have been concerns that it can actually promote bacterial resistance. Although we do not have direct evidence of human toxicity with daily exposures, there are enough concerns, and no proof of its benefit, that I avoid using it.
What’s your approach to nutrition?
I buy everything organic and avoid GMOs. Of course, since GMOs are not labeled, this can be tricky. There is enough information in scientific literature that raises concerns about GMOs – as well as food that is not organic – so my philosophy is to avoid anything that may be harmful, to the best of my ability. Purchasing certified organic foods and avoiding processed foods helps avoid GMOs.
What piece of information about children’s health do you find that people most commonly get wrong?
One area that we often overlook is how our behavior is perceived and mimicked by our children. It is really important to model to our children the behaviors that we value. I am a big fan of Brené Brown, who talks about this topic in her book Daring Greatly. We can certainly tell our children what they should eat, that they should exercise and practice mindfulness, but unless we practice this ourselves, they will be less likely to follow this path.
I will often be practicing yoga or meditating, and one of my kids will come into the room. I will explain what I am doing, and invite them to join me, without putting any pressure. They have become very curious and have both done yoga with me, and my daughter has meditated with me as well. Same goes for nutrition and exercise. If we say mmm . . . this broccoli is so yummy, there is a chance they’ll try it . . . eventually!
What are some of the most common ways you see the environment impact your patients’ health?
Stress is a huge component of health and well-being. I have yet to find a day in my practice where my patients tell me they are not stressed out, and I have yet to find a medical condition that is not in some way impacted by stress. I think this is due in part to the fast pace of our culture, multitasking and expectations that we set for ourselves and others.
In this age of information and social media overload, we have to be mindful of face-to-face connection and deepening of relationships, as well as having quiet time for ourselves. Sometimes, it’s just nice to take a walk, appreciate nature or connect with a friend.
What advice do you have for parents looking to make healthier choices for their families?
Unfortunately, as a health care professional, I have not been trained to educate people on toxic chemicals in our environment. I couldn’t tell a paraben from a phthalate – until I became acquainted with EWG and Healthy Child Healthy World. I would highly encourage everyone out there, including health care professionals, to use EWG and HCHW as a resource.
Take advantage of the free Skin Deep app, and many product guides EWG has when making decisions about your dishwashing and laundry detergent, your child’s soap, shampoo and sunscreen. Also, when possible, choose organic, non-GMO food.
What tips can you share for boosting our immune systems, especially as we head into cold and flu season?
Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. We all know sleep is important, but scientific research has supported some of the benefits of sleep as well. A recent study published in Sleep medical journal revealed that those who get less than 5 hours of sleep per night are 4.5 times more susceptible to the common cold, compared to those who sleep more than 7 hours per night.
In her book, Thrive, Arianna Huffington also emphasizes the importance of sleep, and its role our well-being and optimal functioning – at work, at home, and within. It is so important to honor our bodies and minds, and the hard work they to keep us active and well. This is our way of giving back.
I also recommend keeping up with vaccines as recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What other factors do you worry about in your children’s environment?
We are exposed to larger doses of radiation now then ever before – with wireless Internet, mobile phones and tablets in our homes.
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer at the World Health Organization categorized radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and other devices emitting similar electromagnetic fields as a possible human carcinogen. Studies have shown associations between brain cancer and such exposures in humans. Furthermore, we do not have enough data to know the implications of this to developing brains, which, frankly, is frightening.
I turn my phone on airplane mode overnight, at least to ensure no exposure while asleep. We try to keep the phones away from our bodies, and almost always use the speaker or earpieces when talking. I minimize use of tablets and cell phones, especially for prolonged periods of time, for my kids.
Although rare, if they are going to be using an app for a short period of time on one of the devices, or look at pictures on my phone, I try to ensure it is on airplane mode whenever possible. We also turn our wireless Internet off between midnight and 6 a.m.
What proactive steps should we be taking to maintain good health and prevent illness?
How much time do you have? Let me focus on three tips that I consider to be the most important:
1. Meditation. There is scientific evidence that supports meditation as a tool for coping with stress, depression and anxiety, as well as cardiovascular risk factors, such as high blood pressure. A colleague, who is a cardiologist, recently told me about a study that meditation helps with dangerous heart arrhythmias. This is incredible!
I can speak from personal experience. Since I started meditating earlier this year, I have noticed a significant difference in my internal sense of self, well-being, and happiness, as well as my interactions with people – whether it be at work or at home. Practicing meditation helps us tune in to what we are feeling, our soul, and our intuition. It helps us love and accept, and tap into gratitude.
2. Exercise. Depending on one’s exercise capacity and physical ability, as well as time, I recommend doing some form of exercise daily. I start with at least 10 minutes of yoga, every day, just after I wake up, and before I meditate. It helps me wake up and feel refreshed. It also helps me be more mindful of how my body is feeling and where I am holding stress. I also try to walk as much as I can, almost always take the stairs, and then hike or work out at the gym a few times per week.
3. Nutrition. I am learning about Ayurvedic teachings through the Chopra Center and am fascinated by their approach. This is a 5,000-year-old traditional practice of medicine from India and recommends dietary choices based on one’s unique mind-body type and imbalance they may have.
Regardless of whether you follow a particular diet, I recommend several servings of fruits (3-4) and vegetables (4-5) daily. I am also a big fan of Dr. Andrew Weil and often share his anti-inflammatory diet pyramid with my patients and family members.
Photo 1: Dr. Bojana Jankovic speaks at the Healthy Child Healthy World Gala on Oct. 1.
Photo 2: Dr. Bojana Jankovic with her husband, actor Michael Weatherly at the Healthy Child Healthy World Gala on Oct. 1.
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