Locations + Medicine: How Locations Can Impact Physiology and Sense of Place with Dr. Corina Dunlap

February 14, 2020

I am so excited to start sharing a bit of what goes on in my life outside of travel. I’ve been working with Dr. Corina Dunlap, a naturopathic doctor located in Portland, Maine, on a bunch of different things as they relate to my gut, immune, and overall health and well-being.

Dr. Corina Dunlap is a licensed naturopathic doctor and medical researcher specializing in women’s health at all stages of life. Dr. Dunlap’s work is frequently published in medical journals and she has co-authored several guides on women’s health. She is a clinician and medical research consultant to women’s owned companies like LOLA and SkinTe, and often asked to write for or speak to medically trained audiences. She lives in Maine with her husband, Amos, and her two daughters, Madeleine and Emilia.

Let’s get to the chat with Dr. Corina Dunlap, shall we?

Q1: We all have heard of the ‘travel bug.’ How is it that geographic locations can impact overall physiology of the human body?

A1: Our environment influences everything about who are and how we behave. When it comes to our actual human physiology, this is really fascinating. There is a whole body of research being done on this topic. You can take a person for example, and expose them to a city landscape with mostly cement surroundings, city noise, and little foliage, measure their vitals and cortisol response (stress hormones), and then take that same person and expose them to a forest and watch these same biomarkers drastically change. Our sensory receptors are literally built to respond to all sorts of cues from our environment such as temperature, humidity, and altitude, perception of safety or danger, and comfort or dis-ease.

This phenomenon shows up in research on “forest bathing,” or (Shinrin-yoku). This Japanese tradition of “bathing” in nature is practiced for actual physiologic benefit. When we measure biomarkers, we see changes such as lowered blood pressure, improved immune status, decreased stress responses, and a sense of contentment with less anxiety and depression. So cool!

Q2: Can you explain what a dosha is and how geographic locations can affect it?

A2: According to the philosophy of Ayurveda, humans have physical and behavioral differences that are classified into one or more of three metabolic forces, or doshas. These doshas, known as vata, pitta, and kapha, are the vital bio-energies responsible for promoting and sustaining the health of each individual. Each dosha comprises five elements: earth, air, fire, water, and space. Vata is the combination of air and space, pitta, of fire and water, and kapha, of earth and fire.

An individual’s specific Prakriti, or constitution, refers to the physical and behavioral qualities that remain stable throughout one’s life. Ayurveda considers seven Prakriti classifications, however, there are ten possible combinations depending on relative predominance of dosha: vata, pitta, kapha, vata-pitta, pitta-vata, vata-kapha, kapha-vata, pitta-kapha, kapha-pitta, or Tridosha; the dosha listed first being the more dominant of the two for an individual who is Dvidoshic. Each Prakriti classification describes the
predominant dosha(s) that is likely to overpower the others, producing a certain set of characteristic physiologic imbalances. From an Ayurvedic point of view, knowing one’s Prakriti enables a person to make educated lifestyle choices in order to minimize the effects of such inherent tendencies.

Vikriti on the other hand, is a term used to describe the changed condition of body, mind, and consciousness. While Prakriti remains stable throughout one’s life, Vikriti is a temporary state of imbalance of the doshas, constantly changing depending on one’s lifestyle habits. It is imperative for the success of an Ayurveda treatment plan that the physician correctly diagnoses an individual’s Vikriti; but, it is very helpful for the individual and the physician to know the underlying Prakriti or constitution as well as it can inform potential future imbalances, disease susceptibility, and long-term treatment plans. When evaluating effectiveness of an Ayurveda prescription, for example, it is important to consider Prakriti. An appropriate constitutionally based prescription can enhance therapeutic effects and minimize adverse effects.

Different Prakriti constitutions do better in different physical environments based on the bioenergetics of that place. For example, Vata constitutions do better when the physical environment feels balancing to them for example, in a place that is warm and wet, such as in Hawaii. A Pitta constitution does well in places that are cool and dry, like in the northern great plains. Kapha constitutions can thrive in places that are of higher elevation and arid, like Colorado (; This is all because people of certain constitutions can easily become imbalanced in the energetic direction of their dosha, but if their geographic environment is balancing for them, they will more easily thrive.

corina dunlap

Q3: Can other places really make us happier?

A3: Yes, absolutely! As I explained about forest bathing, some people may actually NEED nature to feel happy, or at least this is a big factor in their overall health. Same goes for finding a place that is energetically balancing such as understood through our Ayurvedic doshas. Then of course, we know how strongly impacted our brains can be by light and dark. Many more people struggle with conditions such as Seasonal Effective Disorder (SAD) in dark climates than in sunny/bright ones. This is why “snow birds” do what they do when they winter over in sunnier climates. It’s not just about the warm; it actually makes people happier to be exposed to more light! Hence, light therapy lamps used as treatments for people with SAD who can’t pick up and leave.

Q4: SLEEP! I can speak for so many here including myself, the perfect amount of sleep doesn’t exist when traveling. Especially when there is jet lag involved. We always seem to overdo it because we want to see, do, experience, and eat everything! Do you have any tips for keeping everything balanced while traveling? What are your go to sleep supplements to assist in helping you sleep well?

A4: I’m a HUGE fan of melatonin + simple amino acids.

One of the things I love most about melatonin is that it literally is the hormone that helps regulate every aspect of the body’s circadian rhythm and taking melatonin doesn’t deplete our own production, since there is no known internal feedback loop. In my naturopathic medical practice, I use melatonin for so many hormonal concerns from fertility, general ovarian health, PCOS, to endometriosis and cancer prevention.

My favorite amino acids are glycine, 5HTP, tyrosine, and l-theanine. They all have slightly different indications and are very gentle, yet effective.

Botanicals can be so incredible as well! I especially love passiflora, chamomile, and lemon balm. There are many more that can be helpful for sleep depending on that individual’s specific need and the properties of the plant. Just make sure and have your doctor prescribe them to avoid any interactions with other medication and to get the best blend for you!

That’s it for now. I hope you enjoyed reading through this chat with Dr. Corina Dunlap! It is the first installment of a series I will be doing with her. Next time, we will build on all of this but I wanted to make sure I provided a base for you to work from. Now, that is a lot to digest so reach out with any questions. You can find Dr. Corina Dunlap on Instagram @drcorinadunlap and on her website.