Tuesday, December 31, 2013

DHA versus EPA in fish oil

EPA and DHA in fish oil

When you buy fish oil you will notice different companies tout how much DHA or EPA their product has. While both are beneficial, you may want to consider the unique properties of each to address different aspects of health. EPA has anti-inflammatory effects while DHA is known for boosting brain health.

DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid and EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid. Both are omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish. A vegetarian source of omega 3 is alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body may convert to EPA and DHA. Dietary sources include walnuts and flax seed. However, some people have trouble converting ALAs to beneficial forms of omega 3, particularly if insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) is an issue. Eating a diet high in omega-6 fats, those found in chips, fried foods, processed foods, and restaurant foods, may also hinder this conversion.

DHA supports brain health

Most fish oil supplements have a one to one ratio of DHA to EPA. If your goal is to dampen or prevent inflammation—aches, pain, swelling—then standard fish oils or a fish oil with more EPA may be desirable. However, if you want to improve brain function, then consider a fish oil with a higher concentration of DHA. A higher DHA ratio can support issues such as depression, mood swings, bipolar symptoms, or poor memory. Although some fish oils offer a 4 to 1 ratio of EPA to DHA, some products go as high as 10 to 1 or even 24 to 1. Ask my office for a good source of DHA-rich oil.

How DHA helps the brain

DHA is an important building block in the brain. It improves how fluid and flexible neurons are and enhances communication between neurons. When neurons are healthier and communicate better with each other, overall brain function improves. DHA has been shown to reduce brain degeneration, improve short and long term memory, reduce brain inflammation (which can cause brain fog), and improve quality of life.

How much fish oil should you take

Dosage recommendations seem to increase with each new study, perhaps because Americans continue to eat so poorly and are becoming less healthy.

One study recommends 3,500 mg for a person eating 2,000 calories per day. So if you eat 3,000 calories then you should take at least 5,250 mg of omega-3 oils daily.

This is important to realize because the average EFA capsule is only 1,000 mg, meaning many people should take at least 5 to 6 capsules of fish oil a day, versus the standard two to three. If you are on a blood-thinning medication talk to your doctor first as fish oil helps thin the blood.

Reduce consumption of omega 6 fatty acids to boost effects of DHA and EPA

To maximize the effect of your fish oil supplement, limit your intake of omega 6 fatty acids. Although we need omega 6 fatty acids, the average American eats far too much in relation to omega 3 oils. Foods high in omega 6 include fried foods, partially hydrogenated fats, and processed vegetable oils. Healthier fats can be found in cold water fish, olive oil, avocados, and raw nuts and seeds.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

One in five children have a mental disorder; lower the risk before pregnancy

333 1 in 5 children mental disorder

One in five American children today has a mental disorder and the rate is rising, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Affecting 13 to 20 percent of youth under 18, mental disorders impact a child’s behavior, ability to learn, and cope with their emotions. Although researchers don’t have a definitive explanation for the rise, studies have linked a mother’s autoimmune disease during pregnancyenvironmental chemicals, and industrialization of food with the rise in childhood brain disorders. All of these factors profoundly affect the developing brain in utero and can lead to a brain disorder in childhood.

The rapid rise in the rate of childhood brain disorders is alarming and unnerving. For instance, one study showed the rate of hospital stays among children for mood disorders increased 80 percent since 1997. Inpatient admissions for mental health issues and substance abuse increased 24 percent between 2007 and 2010.

The most commonly diagnosed brain disorder is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), affecting nearly 7 percent of children. Other commonly reported issues include autism, anxiety, depression, Tourette’s syndrome, and behavioral disorders. Alcohol and substance abuse are issues as well.

Autism linked to autoimmune disease in mothers

The brain begins developing as early as the first trimester and is profoundly impacted by the health of the immune system. When a pregnant woman has an unmanaged autoimmune condition, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, etc., it means her immune system is imbalanced and overactive. Research has shown that some mothers of children with autism carry immune compounds called antibodies in their bloodstream that react against proteins in the brain. These antibodies damage the developing brain of the fetus while in utero and may cause autism. Women with autoimmune disease are more likely to carry these immune antibodies.

A parent’s diet, physical activity, stress hormone levels, and exposure to environmental chemicals are other examples of factors that can affect a child’s brain development beginning in utero.

We see evidence of immune imbalances in children with brain disorders as they typically also suffer from multiple food intolerances, stomach pain, chronic constipation, leaky gut, asthma, eczema, yeast infections, and other issues that signal an imbalanced immune system.

The rising rate of childhood brain disorders is a pressing concern that will continue to affect all aspects of society. Although there is no easy answer, parents-to-be can lower their risk of giving birth to a child with ADHD, autism, or other brain disorder by limiting exposure to environmental toxins both in the home and outside (for instance, rates of autism are found to be higher in those whose mothers lived near freeways during pregnancy), eating a whole foods diet free of common food sensitivities (such as gluten), and testing for and managing any autoimmune reactions.

For more information about how to manage autoimmunity, contact my office.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What is MTHFR and why does it matter?

what is MTHFR

If you read the latest health news, you may have seen the acronym MTHFR popping up a lot recently. MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that plays a role in processing the nutrient folic acid/folate into a form the body can use. With the increased popularity of genetic testing, many people are showing a mutation in the MTHFR gene. This genetic defect impacts the body’s methylation pathways, which affects detoxification and other important processes in the body and thus can give rise to health disorders.

Methylation is a process of adding a methyl group to a molecule. Methylation’s roles include:

  • Turns on and off genes
  • Processes chemicals and toxins
  • Builds brain chemicals called neurotransmitters
  • Processes hormones
  • Builds immune cells
  • Synthesizes DNA and RNA
  • Produces energy
  • Produces protective coating on nerves

When the MTHFR genes work properly, you can more efficiently make proteins, use antioxidants, metabolize hormones, enjoy more stable brain chemistry, better eliminate toxins and heavy metals, and manage inflammation.

In the case of MTHFR genetic defects, the MTHFR enzyme does not work optimally. As a result, certain folate vitamins are not properly broken down. This can lead to high homocysteine, which raises inflammation in the body and increases the risk of heart disease and dementia. Synthesis of glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant, becomes compromised, as does the synthesis of important brain neurotransmitters, so that depression and other brain-based disorders may arise. Because the MTHFR gene is involved in such fundamental processes in the body, an MTHFR mutation has been associated with numerous health conditions, including an increased risk of heart attack, stroke, venous thrombosis, cancer, birth defects, inflammatory bowel disease, and mental and mood disorders.

One way you can test for MTHFR gene mutations is through genetic testing companies such as Spectracell or 23andme.com and an interpretation at geneticgenie.org. There are more than 50 MTHFR genetic mutations, however the two deemed problematic are C677T and A1298C (written as just 677 and 1298), which exist in a variety of combinations. It's important to understand that if you show a genetic MTHFR mutation, it doesn’t necessarily mean those genes have been expressed and are causing symptoms.

Dealing with a MTHFR enzyme defect that is causing symptoms can be complicated. But since this defect can result in compromised methylation, a good place to start is by supporting methylation pathways with methylfolate and methylcobalamin (methyl B12), avoiding supplements with folic acid, supporting glutathione activity, and taking care not to overtax your detoxification system by living as toxin-free as possible.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Reacting to fermented foods? Could be a histamine intolerance

histamine intolerance

Are you eating a good diet and finding certain healthy foods, such as sauerkraut, are causing hives, swelling of the face or throat, a headache, nasal congestion, skin problems, a racing heart, anxiety, watery red eyes, heartburn, or irritability? If so the problem may not be allergies but instead a histamine intolerance. Histamines are found in many common foods, especially those that have been aged or fermented, such as aged cheese, red wine, and sauerkraut. Reacting to sauerkraut and fermented foods? Could be a histamine intolerance

Histamine is a compound produced by the body when you have an immune reaction in order to increase blood flow to the affected area. It also plays many other important roles in the body. Most people are familiar with histamines in response to hay fever, which many people dampen by taking antihistamines.

How is histamine intolerance different from a food allergy

Histamine intolerance is different from an allergy in that the response builds up over time---the more foods with histamine you consume, the more you react. This is what makes it difficult to pinpoint. It’s common for people with histamine intolerance to screen for food allergies and have the results come back negative. They're not allergic to the high-histamine foods. Instead, they react to the elevated histamine levels they experience after eating too many of them.

In the case of a food allergy, the immune reaction happens soon after consuming the food. With an intolerance, however, the reaction does not necessarily happen immediately after. This is because histamine levels in the blood need to reach a certain level for reactions to take place.

What causes histamine intolerance?

A histamine intolerance is caused by defect in the breakdown process of histamine, particularly a deficiency of the diamine oxidase (DAO) enzyme. Normally, when histamine levels rise too high DAO helps breakdown histamine. When this system falters histamine levels climb too high and a person experiences allergy-like symptoms.

Why do people get histamine intolerance?

Many believe an imbalance of bacteria in the gut play a role in histamine intolerance. We all have both beneficial and harmful bacteria in our guts, although ideally the good outnumber the bad. However, modern diets, stressful lifestyles, and the use of antibiotics can tip these bacteria out of balance so that the bad outnumber the good.

When harmful bacteria rule the gut, food doesn’t get thoroughly digested and inflammation runs rampant, scenarios that create a build-up of histamine in the intestines. This leads to higher overall levels of histamine in the body so that eating histamine-rich foods could be the tipping point that causes symptoms. This is confounding for people who eat sauerkraut and other fermented vegetables to improve gut bacteria. Fortunately, there are other ways to help banish the bad bacteria and support the good, such as with probiotics, to address histamine intolerance. Ask my office for advice on how to balance your gut bacteria.

Foods high in histamines

While you are working on repairing your gut and restoring balance to your gut bacteria, it will be helpful to avoid foods high in histamines. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut are the biggest culprits (although anaerobically fermented foods may be fine).

Here is a list of foods to avoid on a histamine restricted diet:

  • Fish and shellfish, unless freshly caught
  • Eggs
  • Processed, smoked, fermented meats
  • Leftover meats (bacteria act on leftovers, producing histamines)
  • All fermented milk products, including all cheeses, yogurt, buttermilk, and kefir
  • Some fruits: Citrus, strawberries, apricots, cherries, grapes, raspberries, pineapple, cranberries, prunes, loganberries, dates, raisins, currants
  • Some vegetables: Tomatoes and tomato products, spinach, red beans, eggplant, olives, pumpkin, avocado, pickles, relishes, and other foods containing vinegar
  • Food additives: Tartrazine, artificial colors, preservatives, especially benzoates and sulfites (check your medications and supplements)
  • Seasonings: Cinnamon, cloves, vinegar, chili powder, anise, curry powder, nutmeg
  • Miscellaneous: Fermented soy (miso, soy sauce), fermented foods, tea, chocolate, cocoa, cola drinks, alcoholic beverages, and de-alcoholized beer and wine.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Good balance equals a better brain

good balance for brain health

Do you wobble if you stand on one foot? How about with your eyes closed? If you walk in a straight heel-to-toe line do you stumble? How about with your eyes closed? If you stand with your feet together and close your eyes do you sway to one side? Do you walk with a wide gait, or feel like you’re going to fall if you don’t hold the handrail going down the stairs? If you answered yes to any of these questions you have balance issues that could be a sign of compromised brain health and increased risk of dementia later in life.

Balance is governed largely by the cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain that also helps with precision, coordination, and timing of motor movements. The cerebellum is one of the most continually active areas of the brain because not only does it keep you from falling over, it also processes information from gravity.

A healthy cerebellum is important because it constantly feeds a steady stream of information to the entire brain, which is necessary for overall good brain health and function.

This is where problems can occur. When cerebellum function begins to break down, causing such symptoms as worsening balance, this impacts the stream of information going to the rest of the brain. For instance, a healthy cerebellum regulates this stream of information so as not to flood the brain. When the cerebellum degenerates, it can overwhelm the brain with excess input.

This can cause problems in other areas of the brain with symptoms that may seem totally unrelated to balance, including restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, being hyper sensitive to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and many more. These are signs the brain is functioning poorly and degenerating too quickly, increasing the risk of dementia or Parkinson’s later in life.

You’re never too young or too fit to work on improving your balance as it’s a great way to help protect and preserve brain health.

How to improve your cerebellum health

There are several ways to protect the health of your cerebellum. One is to perform balance exercises, such as the ones listed in the first paragraph. Yoga and tai chi are also beneficial. As your balance improves or if you are already athletic, continually challenge yourself, such as by doing your balance exercises on a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe!

Screen for gluten sensitivity. Believe it or not, a gluten sensitivity could be destroying your cerebellum and your balance. The proteins in gluten are very similar in structure to those in the cerebellum. If your immune system is attacking gluten every time you eat because you are sensitive to it, it could be attacking your cerebellum as well. This is called gluten ataxia and is actually pretty common. For some people, a gluten-free diet is imperative to restoring their cerebellum and balance.

Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. The brain is very sensitive to inflammation, including the cerebellum. Junk foods, sugars and processed carbohydrates, lack of sleep, too much stress, lack of exercise --- these are all factors that can accelerate degeneration in the cerebellum and the rest of the brain.

Ask my office for more advice on how to protect your brain health.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Fruit juices and smoothies not much better than soda

fruit juice harmful

You’re eating healthy by opting for fruit juice and fruit smoothies over soda, right? Wrong, unfortunately. These more natural alternatives are still loaded with excess sugar and high in fructose, creating largely the same health risks as drinking sugary sodas. That Coke and Pepsi have bought dozens of fruit juice and smoothie brands is testament to the dubious health claims of these products. When studies linking sodas with obesity and diabetes hit the media, these companies began touting fruit-based beverages as an alternative.

Fruit juice not the way to meet daily produce requirements

Bottled fruit juice and smoothie sell themselves as a way to meet your daily requirements for fruit. But these drinks do not fill you up the way eating a whole piece of fruit does, and they bombard your bloodstream with more sugar than the human body was meant to handle. A smoothie can have the same amount of sugar as a large soda. It doesn’t matter if the sugar is “natural” — the impacts are deleterious regardless the source. Ongoing studies on fruit juices and smoothies show they cause the same problems with weight gain and diabetes as sodas.

Fruit sugar linked with modern health diseases

High intake of fructose has been linked with weight gain, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, elevated triglycerides and LDL, and type 2 diabetes. One study showed subjects who consumed high levels of fructose over 10 weeks developed new fat cells around their organs and had problems assimilating nutrients. Subjects given glucose instead of fructose did not suffer the same consequences. This is because the body metabolizes glucose differently and with less burden to the liver. Also, glucose is utilized by the body more rapidly while fructose is converted to fatty acids for storage.

If your only fructose came from whole fruits and vegetables, you would consume about 15 grams a day. You would also receive fiber, minerals, enzymes, and healthful phytochemicals –- nutritionists recommend 28 to 35 grams a day of fiber. Unfortunately, the average teen today consumes more than 70 grams of fructose a day through fructose-sweetened drinks. Research shows those who drink fruit juice two or more times a week are almost 30 percent more likely to develop diabetes than those who don’t consume it. This is not far behind the 40 percent higher risk for soda drinkers.

Smoothies are slightly better because they also include the fiber, however they are still high, sometimes to a staggering degree, in calories and grams of sugar. Also, experts say that because smoothies don’t need to be chewed, the brain doesn’t receive signals that you’ve eaten. Studies show chewing leads to eating fewer calories.

Safely including fructose in your diet

This doesn’t mean you have to give up fruit completely, you just have to be sensible with your fruit intake. Skip the juiced and processed fruits and eat whole fruits instead, chewing thoroughly. If you love your smoothies, try vegetable smoothies that use a modest amount of fruit to make them more palatable.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

What your feet say about your brain

healthy feet healthy brain

Although they’re located at the farthest distance from your brain, the health of your feet can give you clues about the health of your brain, mainly whether your brain is receiving enough oxygen. When circulation to the feet is poor, creating a variety of symptoms discussed below, this is a red flag circulation to the brain is compromised as well. Just because you can breathe doesn’t mean your brain is getting enough oxygen.

If your brain is not getting enough oxygen it won’t function well. You may notice brain fog, declining memory, that you tire more easily, and that it is harder to learn new things. Depression is another common symptom. Poor brain oxygen is a serious matter because it accelerates degeneration of your brain—vascular dementia from lack of blood flow to the brain is the second most common type of dementia after Alzheimer’s.

Feet symptoms that could point to problems in your brain

Cold toes and feet. If your feet and toes are colder than your ankles or calves, this means circulation is poor to your feet, and hence to your brain. It’s hard to measure your own skin temperature so have someone else compare the temperature of your calves and ankles with that of your feet and toes. If the feet and toes are colder than your ankles and calves this means your circulation to the furthermost regions of your body is compromised. Cold fingers and a cold nose are common too.

Chronic fungal growth in toenails

Do you have chronic fungal nail infections, or chronic athlete’s foot? When circulation is poor the blood is not able to carry oxygen, immune cells, and nutrients to the feet to keep them healthy. As a result, infections can take root and be difficult to impossible to banish while circulation is poor. General nail health will also be poor. This is a sign circulation in your brain is also compromised.

White nail beds; poor capillary refill time

The nail beds of your toes should be a healthy pink color. If they are pale or white this is another symptom of poor circulation. Also, when you press down on a nail bed it turns white, but the pink color should return instantly. If it takes a few seconds for the color to return, this means blood flow to the nails is poor, as is blood flow to the brain.

Foot cramps

Sometimes people with poor circulation get foot cramps that seem impossible to relieve. This is because there is not enough blood and oxygen flowing to the muscles in the feet. They may also get cramps in their hands. Again, these are signs blood flow to the brain may be poor.

How to restore blood flow to your feet and your brain

It’s important to rule out a health condition that can cause poor blood flow to your feet, such as hypothyroidism, anemia, a heart condition, diabetes, or low blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is considered 120/80. If either number is 10 or more points below that it means blood is not getting pushed into these more distant capillaries of the feet and brain. People with low blood pressure typically also have low blood sugar (reactive hypoglycemia) and adrenal fatigue, a condition in which their stress response system is worn out.

It’s important to stabilize blood sugar by avoiding sugars and processed carbohydrates and not skipping meals. Exercise is great for increasing circulation, especially short bursts of high-intensity exercise. Also, a variety of nutritional compounds can support blood flow to your feet and your brain. Ask my office for advice and check out the book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

How to prevent autoimmune flare-ups while traveling

autoimmune diet while traveling

Managing your autoimmune condition—Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, alopecia, vitiligo, psoriasis, etc.—can be tricky enough. Traveling takes autoimmune management to a new level as you must attend to not only your diet, environment, energy expenditure, and sleep, but also the added stressors traveling poses.

Managing an autoimmune condition doesn’t mean you have to avoid travel. It’s just a matter of planning ahead and being more conscious of your self-care. By mastering some basics you can relax and enjoy your trip and quickly return to your routine at home without a long recovery period.

Below are some tips to help you keep your autoimmune condition under control while traveling.

Plan where and what you’re going to eat. Foundational to autoimmune management is the autoimmune diet, also known as the leaky gut diet. This diet, which is free of common immune triggers, is great for keeping your autoimmune condition under control, but without advance planning it can be tough to follow.

It’s important you determine ahead of time where at your destination you can safely eat. For instance, find out where the Whole Foods or other health food stores are at your destination. Make sure you have a refrigerator in your hotel room. Some people even pack a mini crockpot to heat up frozen stews they packed, or a hot plate and a frying pan for a stir-fry meal with fresh ingredients. Pack snack foods for when you can’t eat right away so hunger doesn’t trample your willpower. Ideas include beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.

Load up on glutathione. Travel has many stressors—early mornings, long days, new environments, crowded airplanes, and so on. These stressors can deplete your stores of glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant that keeps inflammation and autoimmune flare-ups at bay. Glutathione can also offer protection from increased exposure to radiation through flying at high altitudes. And although officials claim the new radio-frequency body scanners at airports are safe, a group of university scientists have doubts and are demanding more thorough testing. Some people feel choosing a pat down is a healthier option than the scanner. Glutathione precursors, such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle, can be supplemented orally, or you can use a transdermal glutathione cream.

Look for chemical-free hotel rooms. Some hotel rooms hit you with a synthetic-scent overload when you walk through the door. Feather pillows, dust, and stale air can also set off immune reactions. Fortunately, some hotels offer scent-free allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, fragrance-free bath products, and windows that open.

Keep a mask with you. Sometimes you just can’t avoid toxic exposure, whether it’s from exhaust, perfumes, or the person next to you on the plane sneezing and coughing. It’s becoming more common to see people wearing a face mask when flying, and it’s not a bad idea to carry one. A good face mask is comfortable and allows you to breathe easily while helping protect you from toxins and other pathogens in the air, preventing an autoimmune flare-up and glutathione depletion. Some companies even make face masks in a variety of colors and prints and for children and babies.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Six interesting and healthy ways to enjoy pumpkin this season

326 healthy pumpkin recipes

Tis the pumpkin season, which for most people conjures images of pumpkin lattes, pumpkin pie, and pumpkin cookies. However, this colorful, nutritious, and affordable squash does not have to be relegated to the dessert table or Starbucks drive-through. There are plenty of ways to enjoy the pumpkin’s bounty without spiking your blood sugar and loading up on calories.

Pumpkin soup

Pumpkin makes a great addition to soup, whether in chunks or as a puree. You can make a pumpkin puree soup with homemade chicken broth and coconut milk and seasoned with ginger, cloves, sage, and salt. For a finishing touch, add in chopped bacon bits. Or make a soup with chopped pumpkin and other veggies and meats.

Pumpkin bowl chili or stew

For this recipe, make your favorite chili or stew recipe and serve it inside a small, roasted pumpkin or squash. To roast your whole pumpkin, cut off the top, scoop out the insides, and place in a pan with a half inch of water and bake at 375 degrees for about 30 minutes or until soft. The sweetness of the pumpkin flesh is a nice complement to a spicy chili or stew.

Grain-free pumpkin pancakes

Pancakes are a versatile breakfast option because they are easy to make without grains. Pumpkin pancakes bring a new level of flavor and moistness. Use coconut flour and add pumpkin puree, vanilla, and pumpkin pie spices to make grain-free pumpkins reminiscent of pumpkin pie.

Pumpkin seeds

When roasted and seasoned, pumpkin seeds make a great snack that is healthy, filling, and high in fiber. Separate out the pumpkin seeds in a colander under running water, simmer in salted boiling water for 10 minutes, add oil and seasoning, and roast at 400 degrees on the top rack for five to 20 minutes, or until browned. You can choose from a large variety of ways to flavor your pumpkin seeds, either sweet or savory.

Pumpkin pie protein shake

This novel recipe gives you a pumpkin-pie approach to your protein shake. Use your favorite protein powder or gelatin and blend with almond or coconut milk, fresh or canned pumpkin, cinnamon, ginger, pumpkin pie spice, ice cubes, and a banana if desired for sweetness (or use frozen banana chunks in place of ice).

Pumpkin latte

Although it might be hard to compete with a Starbucks pumpkin latte, you can certainly do better in terms of sugar content. Most health-friendly versions call for brewed coffee, coconut milk, pumpkin puree, pumpkin spices, and the natural sweetener of your choice.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Study shows desserts and processed carbs really are addictive

processed carbs addictive

Scientists may have confirmed what millions of us could have already told you: One cookie is too many and 20 are not enough. Many people have found they can go along comfortably on a diet free of sweets, pastries, and desserts until they have that one bite. Then—zing!—the addiction sets in and you feel like you might die if you don’t eat more. Turns out you're not weak or gluttonous, it’s just your brain responding to the highly pleasurable and stimulating effect of cookies, cake, chips, and candy as if they were powerful drugs (which, really, they are). It’s no mystery why they’re also referred to as comfort foods.

These processed carbohydrates appeal to the same parts of the brain involved in substance abuse and addiction, as anyone with a carb addiction can tell you. A major player in addiction is the neurotransmitter dopamine, which gives us the feeling of reward and pleasure associated with activities that can be addictive. For instance, drug use, smoking, and gambling all release dopamine. In rat studies, rats given the option of pressing a lever that stimulates dopamine’s pleasurable effects or a lever for food chose the dopamine to their death.

In the recent study, researchers gave two groups of overweight men a milkshake. One group’s milkshake was higher on the glycemic index than the other group’s. This means it was sweeter and more processed, causing blood sugar to rise more quickly and then crash. Then four hours later researchers scanned the brains of both groups using an MRI.

The men receiving the high-glycemic milkshake felt excessively hungry and scans revealed intense activation in the area of the brain involved in addiction. These brain changes can trigger overeating.

Avoid high-glycemic foods

Avoiding triggering the pleasure centers of your brain with food is one of your most powerful allies in healthier eating and weight loss. Eating a whole foods diet that is satiating and prevents hunger is key to curbing cravings and taming carb addiction. This means including healthy proteins and fats to stabilize your blood sugar and sustain your energy, as well as plenty of vegetables for the fiber, which also helps keep your energy on an even keel.

The glycemic index measures how quickly foods become glucose after you eat them. The glycemic load factors in the amount of the carbohydrate eaten. So although a piece of candy has a high glycemic index, the glycemic load might be small if you eat a very small piece.

High-glycemic foods that can trigger carb addiction include:

  • White potato
  • White rice
  • White bread, bagels, muffins, rolls, etc
  • Pastries, cake, cookies, etc.
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Popcorn
  • Dried fruit
  • Ripe banana
  • Soft drinks
  • Fruit juice
  • Pizza
  • Candy bars

Ask my office for more strategies on how to turn off carb addiction in your brain.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why menopause and midlife can cause sleep apnea

326 menopause causes sleep apnea

We commonly think of sleep apnea as being caused by obesity or structural problems. However, in women the transition into menopause can contribute to sleep apnea too. When estrogen is low, the brain fails to signal the palate and tongue to retain its tone during sleep. As a result they over relax and block the airway.

Female hormones play a role in sleep

The hormonal factors that contribute to sleep apnea are different in women than in men. In a study involving rats, researchers discovered that young male rats respond to normal episodes of hypoxia, or brief periods of oxygen deprivation, during sleep by increasing brain activity to take deeper and more frequent breaths. The older male rats did not have the same response.

But when scientists looked at female rats they discovered they reacted much differently to these hypoxic episodes. For instance, older female rats had a more positive response to oxygen deprivation than the older males. That response was even better during certain stages of the menstrual cycle in younger female rats, suggesting female hormones play a role in the response to hypoxia during sleep.

This could help explain why many women begin to experience sleep problems during perimenopause (pre-menopause) and menopause, when estrogen production begins to decline. Estrogen influences serotonin, an important brain chemical that transmits signals, including to the tongue and palate.

To test the theory, researchers removed the ovaries from female rats, inducing estrogen deficiency and menopause. They found less serotonin in the region of the brain controlling the tongue, which compromised the female rats’ ability to respond to hypoxia during sleep. The lack of estrogen affected the brain function involved in breathing. This is consistent with evidence that shows the incidence of sleep apnea increases in women during midlife.

The rate of sleep apnea also increases in midlife for men, as declining testosterone results in worse brain coordination for sleep. This helps explain why many people start snoring as they get older.

Middle-aged men tend to snore more and experience the cessation of breathing during sleep. Middle-aged women, however, more commonly complain of insomnia, headache, fatigue, and irritability related to poor sleep. That estrogen deficiency promotes weight gain only compounds the problem of sleep apnea. Estrogen deficiency can also play a role in restless leg syndrome.

When estrogen begins to decline in women, the adrenal glands ideally take over the production of estrogen. The adrenal glands sit atop the kidneys and regulate the body’s response to stress. Stressful lifestyles, processed foods, high sugar intake, and other factors of modern life leave many women entering midlife with poor adrenal function. As a result, estrogen levels may drop too low during perimenopause and menopause. Estrogen is vital for all aspects of a woman’s health, including that of her brain, bones, immune system, and ability to sleep well. Adopting a whole foods diet free of processed carbohydrates and supporting adrenal health are some strategies to support estrogen levels.

For more information on supporting hormone levels and proper sleep, contact my office.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

When heart disease is autoimmune

324 heart autoimmunity

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting about 11 percent of the population. For the majority of people, heart disease is driven by diet and lifestyle factors, however research shows an increasing number of heart disease cases can also have an autoimmune component. This means the immune system is mistakenly attacking and destroying heart tissue, causing symptoms and weakening the heart.

Typically heart disease is linked with a diet high in processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of activity, and obesity. The good news is that means people who make the effort can ameliorate or reverse their condition through a whole foods diet and exercise.

However, when an autoimmune reaction is part of the picture, the approach is more complicated. If the autoimmunity has destroyed enough tissue, it can be too late to reverse the condition and its symptoms. With autoimmune rates exploding in recent years, hopefully more doctors will screen for autoimmunity so an autoimmune heart condition can be caught in time to manage it.

Heart autoimmunity

The symptoms of an autoimmune reaction against the heart mimic heart disease symptoms. They include cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), fluid retention, tiring easily, chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, edema with exercise, and difficulty breathing. An unmanaged autoimmune reaction to the heart can cause inflammation, scarring, and, in rare cases, sudden death. Also, poor heart function affects the lungs, liver, and other organs and systems in the body.

Typically, doctors in the standard health care model do not screen for autoimmunity until the end stages of disease when symptoms are severe. Fortunately, you can identify an autoimmune reaction before it’s too late with a blood serum antibody panel.

This panel screens for autoimmunity against heart tissue by checking for myocardial (a protein the heart releases in response to stress) or alpha-myosin (cardiac tissue) antibodies. If these come back positive it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle.

If you know you have an autoimmune condition, you can take the steps to potentially slow or halt its progression through proven diet, lifestyle, and nutritional therapy strategies. You should also regularly monitor your heart health.

Gluten sensitivity affects heart autoimmunity

Sometimes gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are associated with cardiomyopathy and a gluten-free diet can improve the condition, sometimes profoundly. For some it even reverses the condition. Cardiomyopathy has also been shown to worsen in those with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten. People with cardiomyopathy or a history of heart inflammation should always screen for gluten sensitivity using newer, more advanced testing since a gluten-free diet may significantly improve the condition.

Other strategies for heart autoimmunity

When a person tests positive for autoimmunity, a gluten-free diet should be adopted given the links between gluten and autoimmune disease, including heart autoimmunity. A more intensive autoimmune diet may be necessary to repair the gut, dampen overall inflammation, and help balance the immune system.

Ask about my office about nutritional therapy strategies to manage heart autoimmunity.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

How to become a morning person

how to be morning person

Are you one of those people who wishes the work day started 11 a.m. so you can go to bed late and sleep in? Staying up late keeps you caught up with David Letterman but puts you at odds with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Humans aren’t designed much differently than other animals when it comes to sleeping and waking—our internal clocks are set to the rising and setting of the sun.

This cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it affects more than when we wake up and go to bed. The circadian rhythm plays a role in hormone function, mood, immunity, and brain function. One way scientists have learned about the importance of the circadian rhythm is by studying the health of night shift workers, who have a higher risk of health disorders because of their disordered circadian rhythm.

Studies show early risers tend to be slimmer, happier, and healthier. Research also shows they earn better grades in college, are more organized and proactive in life, more physically active, and they enjoy deeper sleep. Early risers also report enjoying the time in the morning to exercise, meditate, or work uninterrupted.

Taking care of your circadian rhythm also promotes better brain health. The area of the brain that governs circadian rhythm—the hippocampus—also governs our short-term memory. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia. In fact, sleep disorders are being recognized as an early sign of dementia in seniors.

How to become an early riser

Deciding to become an early bird when you’re used to being a night owl can be tough at first, especially since genetics play a role. But here are some tips from the research that can help you reset your body’s clock.

  • Go camping for a week. Recent research has shown that sleeping outdoors for a week without the use of electric lights (camp fire only) put every study participant on a sleep schedule in synch with the sun’s, regardless of whether they were a night person or a morning person. Also, all electronic devices were banned for the week.
  • Exercise discipline. Many people stay up late to watch their favorite TV shows or surf the web. Record TV shows, rearrange your schedule, reward yourself for compliance, or do whatever else it takes to get yourself to bed earlier. You also need to get up at the same time every morning, including weekends. Otherwise you throw off your rhythm.
  • Expose yourself to sunlight first thing and during the day. The body takes its cues from nature, so exposing yourself to sunlight can help reset your clock. Get out in the sunlight first thing in the morning for at least 20 minutes and then on your breaks during the day. You can also use a full spectrum light box to simulate morning sun.
  • Minimize exposure to light after dusk. To contrast with daytime sun, you need to mimic the outdoor world by minimizing your exposure to light in the evening. Ideally this would include avoiding your computer, tablets, smart phones, and television, all of which emit sleep-sabotaging blue light. A more flexible option is to wear special glasses that block blue lights, use light bulbs that do not have blue lights, and install a F.lux  program on your computer that adapts the color of your screen to the time of the day so it is pinker in the evening.
  • Exercise intensely first thing in the morning. In his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Datis Kharrazian explains how exercising at your maximum heart rate for even just a few minutes can help you re-establish your rhythms so you’re more alert in the morning. You can do this through jumping jacks, sprinting, push ups, jump squats, or other activities that get you out of breath. You need to do this within a half hour of waking. You can do your regular workout later in the day—exercise is another way to establish a healthy rhythm.

These are just a few ways you can help nudge yourself to waking up and going to bed earlier. For advice on nutritional support to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, contact my office.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

How to use the placebo effect to your benefit

322 use placebo effect to benefit

The placebo effect—when a sham treatment produces desired results—is the bane of science, sometimes skewing results and outperforming pharmaceutical drugs. But instead of cursing the placebo effect, why not put it to use? Although it disrupts some studies, in other studies researchers look to understand why and how it works. By understanding the placebo effect as a valid phenomenon, you can employ it to improve your own health outcomes.

How the placebo effect works

The placebo effect happens in studies in which one group of participants is given a new drug or procedure, one group is given a sham drug (such as a sugar pill), and the results are compared. Neither group knows whether they received the sham treatment or the real drug. In some cases the placebo effect is nearly as good and sometimes even better than the actual treatment.

Why? A person’s beliefs and expectations about a treatment play a significant role in how they respond physiologically. In one study, participants’ pain dropped when they were told they received more of a pain-relief drug even though they hadn’t. Their pain then rose considerably when they were told the medication had been stopped, even though it hadn’t. MRI scans showed the expectation of pain activated the pain networks in the brain. This is an example of the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s evil twin. In the nocebo effect a negative belief causes a negative outcome.

Putting the placebo effect to work for you

You can enhance or diminish your own results of a health protocol with your belief systems. The person who doesn’t believe in their treatment, thinks their dietary prescription is bogus, and their supplements are all a waste of money is going to set into motion neurochemical responses that work against his or her success. Also, having a negative and pessimistic attitude promotes stress and inflammation, two considerable barriers to healing.

However, the person who believes in their health protocol, understands the effect of their supplements and diet, and enjoys working with their practitioner is creating a positive neurochemical response. This is because an optimistic attitude lowers stress and inflammation and promotes health.

Of course, the placebo effect doesn’t have a perfect track record; it’s estimated to work between 18 to 80 percent of the time as many other factors can influence health. And many drugs, supplements, and treatments are obviously powerful enough to influence outcomes regardless of the placebo effect. However, the mechanisms behind the placebo effect are important to consider.

Tips for activating the placebo effect to enhance your protocol

  • Believe in what you’re doing. Educate yourself about your diet, your supplements, lifestyle changes, and so forth. If you know why you’re doing something, it’s easier to believe in it.
  • Develop a positivity habit. A positive attitude, expecting the best, and enjoying your health habits will reduce stress and inflammation while triggering the release of your body’s own feel-good chemicals, which foster good health.
  • Develop relationships that encourage good health. Surround yourself with likeminded people who believe in and practice the same healthy habits. Be wary of people who dwell on the negative and are practicing the nocebo effect.
  • Ask my office for nutritional therapy tips in boosting your ability to feel positive so you can use the placebo effect to your benefit.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Unseen health crisis: Caring for yourself when you’re the caregiver

321 caring for the caregiver

While we focus on cures for disease, patient health, and tools for recovery, one important aspect of health care often goes overlooked: the caregivers. These are the folks who typically manage full-time jobs, a family with children, and household duties while also caring for an ill or disabled spouse or family member, often one with Alzheimer’s. Many caregivers work around the clock juggling their responsibilities, typically without help, and must cope with the sorrow and distress of caring for an ill patient. They can never be away long or take time off, they struggle financially, and do not have time for their own health care, hobbies, or social life. With so many people in the caregiver role today, it’s important they recognize when their own health is compromised.

Many caregivers die before patient from stress-related illness

The demands of caregiving can be demanding and overwhelming, often putting the caregiver's own health in jeopardy. In fact, many caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies. Women, who make up most of caregivers, tend to fare worse than men.

Caregivers are also more likely to suffer from a variety of stress-related disorders. Depression is of particular concern, affecting between 40 to 70 percent of caregivers, particularly those caring for someone with dementia.

Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments, obesity, serious illness, heart disease, and cancer. The combined effect results in a 60 percent higher mortality rate than their non-caregiving peers. These sobering statistics spring from the effects of unrelenting and severe stress on the body. It’s no wonder caregivers are also more likely to contemplate suicide.

Tips for caregivers to preserve health and prevent disease

There are no easy answers to the growing caregiver crisis, however awareness is important. By recognizing the toll caregiving has on health, caregivers are in a better position to get the care they need. Research shows the stress of caregiving can be alleviated by education and support programs. For instance, The Alzheimer’s Association offers a guide to local and online support groups, a 24-hour help line, and tips on managing your health.

Although it’s difficult for caregivers to squeeze in enough time for their own health, it’s imperative to prioritize it. Strategies caregivers can employ to protect their own health and well being include the following:

  • Make time to de-stress. There are many methods you can employ for even a few minutes a day to buffer the effects of stress, including meditation, yoga, walking, laughing, etc. It may not feel that rewarding in the moment, but the cumulative effect is significant.
  • Find social support. Whether it’s a support group or a therapist, regular social support can ward off depression.
  • Take advantage of available services. You may be unduly burdening yourself. Some areas have local agencies that can provide relief in the way of meals, adult day care facilities, or home health aides.
  • Put yourself first. Caregivers may feel uncomfortable putting their needs first. Ask for help from people in specific ways and understand you deserve to put your health first.
  • Walk it out. Regular exercise is one of the greatest ways to unwind and protect your health. If you’re too exhausted to work out vigorously, not to worry. Just 20 to 30 minutes of walking most days can still go a long way in terms of prevention and relaxation.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cauliflower: The versatile wonder vegetable

320 cauliflower versatile option

When you’re following a strict diet to calm inflammation, repair a leaky gut, or manage an autoimmune disease, the lack of variety can be frustrating. But you’d be surprised how deftly the humble cauliflower can jazz up your meals. Cauliflower’s first impression is not good. It’s pale, bland, and smelly when steamed. But cauliflower’s gift is in shape-shifting ability to mimic a variety of dishes by taking on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. Another plus? Cauliflower keeps well, patiently waiting for up to a few weeks in the refrigerator drawer for your attention, and prepping it is easy.

Mark Twain said “cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Indeed it is related to cabbage and a member of the disease-fighting brassicas, which also include broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Cauliflower is low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and a health protective compound called isothiocyanate.

Although rich in nutritious cancer-preventive phytochemicals, cauliflower also contains goitrogens, compounds that can suppress thyroid function. However, cooking neutralizes much of this property and cauliflower and brassicas are fine for many people with low thyroid activity when eaten in appropriate amounts (for example, not juiced and consumed in large quantities.) The more sensitive thyroid patients may want to monitor the effects of brassicas on their thyroid health. But for the average person the health benefits of cauliflower and other brassicas far outweigh any potential effects of goitrogens, the risks of which are not well documented in the first place.

Cauliflower can be enjoyed in a variety of ways

Cauliflower’s beauty is in its versatility, especially if you are on a restricted diet. Once you discover how to work with it, you may find it becomes a regular item in your shopping cart. Below are some of the ways you can enjoy cauliflower.

Mock mashed potatoes. When seasoned well, mashed cauliflower can be a delicious and attractive substitute for mashed potatoes without skewering your blood sugar. Steam or simmer in broth before mashing, and add garlic, salt, pepper, and your choice of healthy fat (ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or even duck fat).

Cauliflower rice. The secret to cauliflower rice is to pulse cauliflower florets in the food processor until it’s the size of rice grains. Sauté it in a pan with onions and a healthy fat and season.

Cauliflower pizza crust. Cauliflower pizza crust starts with using the food processor to make cauliflower rice, cooking (most recipes call for the microwave for this step), wringing it dry in a kitchen towel, and then mixing with egg and seasoning before flattening onto a pizza stone and baking. Then top with your favorite ingredients and bake again.

Roasted cauliflower, or cauliflower “popcorn.” It doesn’t sound that interesting, but roasted cauliflower can be a surprising crowd pleaser, especially if seasoned creatively. Cut cauliflower florets into uniform pieces, toss with your favorite oil and seasoning, and flip occasionally while roasting until evenly browned.

Cauliflower puree. Pureeing cauliflower in soups is a wonderful way to create a thick base without blood sugar-spiking flours. Add it to your favorite broth with sautéed onion or shallots and garlic, puree, season, and throw in some chopped vegetables for color.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Replace diet soda addiction with a whole foods habit

Photo of soda

You know you need to kick the soda habit, so why not just drink diet soda? It may be tempting, but there are no free rides when it comes to artificial chemicals. Aspartame, sold under the names NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal-Measure, and AminoSweet, is in more than 6,000 foods, including diet sodas, and has received more than 10,000 FDA complaints—more than all other food additives combined. Two-thirds of complaints are for neurological and behavioral reactions with the rest falling mainly to gastrointestinal effects. Since only an estimated 1 percent of the population reports complaints, it's believed many more people suffer from aspartame reactions.

Reported symptoms include headaches, mood alterations, hallucinations, seizures, nausea, insomnia, anxiety attacks, vertigo, fatigue, rashes, irritability, heart palpitations, slurred speech, loss of hearing, loss of taste, gastrointestinal distress, and many more.

Aspartame linked with neuro symptoms; cancer

The phenylalanine in aspartame increases levels of the brain chemical dopamine, known as the “pleasure-and-reward” neurotransmitter. Over stimulating dopamine can lead to low serotonin and symptoms of depression, and trigger other symptoms such as migraines.

Aspartame contains other chemicals that affect the brain and nervous system. The aspartic acid in aspartame is known to be an excitotoxin, meaning it over stimulates brain cells to the point they die. Excitotoxins also cause a breakdown in communication between neurons and the fibers that connect them, further promoting degeneration of the brain and potential symptoms.

Aspartame also breaks down into byproducts, which are toxic themselves and linked to cancer, particularly lymphomas and leukemias. In one study, rats given the equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day had high rates of these cancers.

Given the popularity of artificially sweetened sodas and other products, the safety of aspartame is controversial. However, if you're working to improve your health, relieving the toxic burden on your body is an important part of this process, especially given the potential for neurological effects. No two brains are alike and it’s impossible to determine how anyone will react to chemicals that affect neurology.

Replacing diet soda addiction with whole foods habit

Many people find diet sodas are addictive and difficult to give up. The truth is, weaning yourself off sweets and artificial stimulating foods takes commitment and effort. The goal is to develop a natural inclination and craving for whole foods  It sounds impossible at first, but people who have done it find they crave vegetables, fruits, and healthy meals. They say artificial and processed foods make them feel “icky” compared to the clean, revitalizing feeling you get from a whole foods diet.

Find a refreshing substitute for your diet soda habit, such as sparkling water with some lemon or lime juice. By replacing your diet sodas with real water you hydrate and cleanse your body, which helps reduce cravings. Often cravings for junk food are just a disguise for thirst.

Also, begin adding nutrient-dense whole foods into each meal and create a positive association with these foods. By gradually and repeatedly adding more nutrient dense foods to your diet you will begin to crave them while finding the drug-like artificial foods less appealing. Also make sure you are getting enough vital nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, and minerals.

For more information on developing a whole foods habit, contact my office.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Why you need to filter your tap water

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Do you really need to filter your tap water, or is that just a marketing gimmick to sell water filters? Modern water treatment systems protect us from serious waterborne diseases such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, parasites that cause illness. But while disinfecting municipal water supplies keeps us safe from parasites, we’re instead faced with the added toxic burden of the chemicals used for treatment, as well as the hundreds of pollutants that make their way into our water supplies.

Different chemicals are used to treat water, most notably chlorine and chloramine. Chlorine is used in most water supplies and has a long track record whereas chloramine, which has not been studied as extensively as chlorine, is in about one quarter of households. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia and is used because, unlike chlorine, it stays in the water longer and cannot be removed through boiling, distilling, or letting water sit uncovered. Although both kill waterborne pathogens, they are somewhat toxic in themselves. Chloramine is corrosive to pipes and increases exposure to lead in drinking water in older homes. Chloramine-treated water also should not be used in fish tanks, hydroponics, home brewing, or for dialysis.

Toxic byproducts in tap water

What’s worse is that these chemicals have been shown to react with ordinary organic particles in water to create toxic, carcinogenic compounds. These byproducts are quite a bit more toxic than the chemicals alone. In studies these chlorination byproducts have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, trigger the production of inflammatory free radicals, irritate the skin and mucus membranes, affect the nervous system, and cause birth defects. Some researchers even point to an association between these byproducts and thousands of cases of bladder cancer each year.

Although the EPA regulates water treatment, its standards are based on annual averages. In reality, levels of these toxic byproducts vary throughout the year according to farming cycles.

Also, the chemicals added to water aren’t the whole picture. Contributing to the toxic load are the hundreds of chemicals that make their way into water from car exhaust, pollution, farming, and industrial waste. Evidence of many pharmaceutical drugs can be found in water, too. Some research shows more than 100,000 of these chemicals are in our water supplies.

As you can see, filtering your drinking water can help reduce the toxic burden on your body. Unfortunately, bottled water is not always a good choice. It is often as contaminated as tap water, or worse. Also, discarded plastic water bottles create serious global pollution, particularly of our oceans.

Use a filter for cleaner water

Fresh spring water is a good source of clean water. If that’s not available, filtering your water can help cut down on your exposure to these many man-made chemicals and their toxic byproducts. Sediment, chlorine, heavy metals, hormones, drug residues, pesticides, and other chemicals will be removed with a heavy-duty carbon filter. Your filter should remove particles 0.8 microns or under. Chloramine can be harder to remove, so check to see if your city water has chloramine and look for a filter that can remove it.

Although you definitely want to filter your drinking water, it’s best to also filter water coming from taps and the shower as you also absorb toxic chemicals through the skin. Whole-house filters are a good option for this.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Resources for the autoimmune or leaky gut diet

317 leaky gut resources

The leaky gut diet, also known as the autoimmune diet or anti-inflammatory diet, changes lives. Removing inflammatory foods allows an inflamed and damaged gut to repair, which in turn allows damage in the body and brain to recover and repair. However, despite the phenomenal success rate of the leaky gut diet, it can look very daunting, if not impossible, to the beginner.

In a nutshell, the leaky gut or autoimmune diet is free of grains, dairy, eggs, all sweeteners, nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant), and processed foods. What’s left is a diet that focuses on plenty of vegetables, cultured vegetables, such as sauerkraut, and healthy meats and fats. You should eat regularly enough to avoid drops in blood sugar and drink plenty of filtered or spring water.

Because the diet is rather stringent, grabbing a quick meal while you’re out or conjuring a meal from an empty fridge is tricky. The most important strategy for success on the leaky gut diet is planning and preparation. You have to be one step ahead of yourself when it comes to future meals. Also, as the diet can be so new to people, simply knowing what to eat is a brain tease in itself.

Following are some resources to help you embark with confidence on the leaky gut diet.

Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook

The author created this book as a result of her own journey on the autoimmune diet and the significant recovery it brought her. Seeing a need for support with menu planning and recipes, she created the Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook.

Allergy-free Menu Planners

This is another support service in the way of planning and recipes. The Allergy-free Menu Planner sends you monthly menu plans that include shopping lists and menus for every night of the week.


If you’re new to eating gluten-free, the lists of legal and illegal foods can be confusing. Gluten is lurking in many seemingly innocuous foods, such as condiments, sauces, and even airline peanuts. Celiac.com is a site that details what is and isn’t safe on a gluten-free diet and provides information on gluten-free sources.

Cultures for Health

Consuming cultured foods and drinks is an essential part of the leaky gut diet to help restore a healthy balance of gut flora. To the newcomer, fermenting, culturing, and kefiring can seem foreign and even risky. Cultures for Health provides plenty of easy how-to articles and videos, as well as starter cultures. You also may be able to find starter cultures locally through food co-ops or on Craigslist.org. Pickl-It supplies airtight culturing containers for a genuine ferment that is low in histamines, compounds that can trigger inflammation.

Grass-fed meats

The ideal types of meat on the leaky gut diet are pastured meats raised on small farms. The animals are raised ethically and on diets nature intended, and are free from hormones, antibiotics, and GMO feeds. Because grass-fed meats have become so popular, you may be able to find them on small farms in your area or at health food stores. US Wellness Meats is an online source that can ship a wide variety of frozen pastured meats to your home.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil is a staple on the leaky gut diet, taking the place of butter for many cooking needs (unless you are sensitive, which some people are). Thankfully coconut oil is becoming more commonplace on the shelves of health food stores and even Costco. Tropical Traditions was one of the first to offer coconut oil for sale online and continues to offer premium oils.

These are just a few resources to get you started. For more advice on the leaky gut diet and nutritional compounds to facilitate your wellness journey, contact my office.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Can your brain breathe? How to oxygenate your brain

316 vascular dementia

Even though you can breathe normally your brain may not be getting enough oxygen. Lack of oxygen in the brain is not something the average person can recognize. However it can cause poor brain function and increase the risk of vascular dementia, the second most common form of dementia after Alzheimer’s. The brain can be hungry for oxygen years or decades before dementia sets in. Risk factors include high or low blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, smoking, alcoholism, and high cholesterol.

By learning to recognize symptoms you can take action to increase oxygenation of your brain, improve brain function, and reduce your risk of vascular dementia.

How to tell whether your brain can breathe

The brain contains one of the body’s most dense networks of blood vessels, which carry oxygen. It is very susceptible to any hindrances in blood flow. When the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain is hindered, brain cells die and the brain degenerates.

Many conditions can affect blood flow to the brain, things not normally associated with brain function. They include:

  • Smoking
  • Chronic inflammation (such as chronic pain, an autoimmune disease, or other inflammatory disorder)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • High blood sugar (insulin resistance)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Anemia
  • Chronic stress
  • Aging

Symptoms that may alert you to poor flow of blood and oxygen to the brain include cold hands and feet, becoming easily fatigued, brain fog, erectile dysfunction, and chronic toenail and fingernail fungus.

How to help your brain breathe better

Two of the most effective ways to oxygenate the brain are to lower inflammation and stabilize blood sugar. An anti-inflammatory diet is designed to lower overall inflammation in the body, which can boost blood flow to the brain. Be sure to eat a hearty breakfast with protein, eat regularly enough to avoid blood sugar lows (but avoid overeating), and avoid foods that spike your blood sugar, such as sweets or refined carbohydrates. Just focusing on an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet can go a long way to improving blood flow to the brain.

Certain herbs improve oxygenation to the brain. They include Ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine, and Butcher’s broom.

How to exercise to improve blood flow to the brain

Exercise is a great way to improve overall blood flow. High-intensity interval training in particular dilates blood vessels, lowers inflammation, and improves blood flow to the brain. This involves reaching your maximum heart rate with just a short but vigorous burst of exercise, resting, and repeating. It’s important, however, to work within your ability and avoid overtraining or you’ll negate the benefits. Even just a few minutes of high-intensity exercise can improve blood flow in the brain.

Improving blood flow to the brain may also include managing hypothyroidism, anemia, or other conditions. The book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? by Datis Kharrazian covers the topic of brain oxygenation. Ask my office for advice on improving brain health.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Quick and easy tip to avoid sitting disease

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Even if you exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, researchers are increasingly finding just the act of sitting for long hours—something many of us are forced to do for work—still predisposes you to many modern ailments. However, new findings show you don’t have to give up your desk job to stay healthy as long as you set an alarm that frequently reminds you to stand up.

Long days of sitting are linked with increased risk of heart disease, excess belly fat, chronic inflammation, insulin resistance, and diabetes. The metabolic changes predisposing us to these conditions happen quickly, within 24 hours.

Fortunately for the desk jockeys, former NASA researcher Joan Vernikos, who studied the negative effects of sitting and how to counteract them, presents evidence for a sitting antidote in her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals. Vernikos’ research found you can counteract the negative effects of sitting by standing up. A lot.

Best results are achieved by simply standing up every 20 minutes. It’s best to set an online alarm so you don’t forget because stretching out your intervals to even every 35 minutes provides only a fraction of the benefit. What is even more interesting is that standing every 20 minutes is more effective than going for a daily walk in terms of ameliorating the effects of long hours in the chair (although daily walks are extremely beneficial for a host of other reasons.)

Why standing up frequently helps combat sitting disease

The key to standing up frequently is that it forces your body to interact with gravity. One thing the space program has learned is the body and brain require gravity in order to function. Vernikos saw the lack of gravitational forces that sickened and prematurely aged astronauts had the same effect on bedridden people. NASA researchers learned a gravity-free environment accelerates the aging process by 10 times. The same mechanisms that cause one to age quickly in space lie behind the increased risk of disease from sitting long hours.

Although regular strength training workouts, high-intensity interval sessions, and even daily walks have been associated with dramatically lower risks of disease and dementia, the key to combating sitting’s detrimental effects is constant activity throughout each day that forces your body to work against gravity. Vernikos’ findings show gravity plays a role in health and aging, so use it to your advantage as frequently as possible.

This is good news for people who are not willing or able to stand all day at a standing desk (Vernikos says standing all day is also not healthy; we are meant to move through a variety of positions throughout the day). Nor do you necessarily have to build or invest in a treadmill desk. According to Vernikos, humans are meant to squat, kneel, and move consistently throughout the day.

The sitting disease antidote protocol

To combat the negative health effects of sitting disease, do the following:

  • Find an online alarm or alarm app that goes off every 20 minutes, reminding you to stand. Sitting and standing 35 times in a row does not deliver the same effect as spreading it out in regular intervals.
  • If possible, work against gravity more vigorously at your 20 minute intervals by squatting or doing squat jumps.
  • Move in your chair and maintain good posture with shoulders back as much as possible.
  • Incorporate “non-exercise” activity throughout the day, such as reaching for things, bending, kneeling, walking, lifting, and so on. Basically, avoid what is convenient for what is more active.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Are you in chronic pain? Go to the root cause

314 address chronic pain

Chronic pain can drain you of energy, joy, and hope and make everyday activities seem like insurmountable obstacles. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, prescription pain meds, and steroids may bring temporary relief, but they come with complications and do not address the underlying causes of chronic pain. For more genuine and permanent relief, it’s important to address what is causing the pain to be chronic.

Is inflammation causing your chronic pain?

One of the most common causes of chronic pain is inflammation. Inflammation is the result of an immune response to remove harmful compounds, including damaged cells. It is necessary for healing and protecting the body, however runaway inflammation keeps the immune system on red alert and can cause chronic pain anywhere (or everywhere) in the body. One of the most important things to address if you suffer from chronic pain is inflammation.

Anti-inflammatory diet for pain

Following an anti-inflammatory diet is foundational to dampening inflammation. Many everyday foods are actually very inflammatory and people can experience considerable relief by removing these foods from their diet. For instance, two of the most common pro-inflammatory foods are gluten and dairy, something most people eat at almost every meal. Many people have found considerable pain relief simply by eliminating these foods from their diet. You can find out which foods are inflammatory for you through a food sensitivity panel or simply by following the anti-inflammatory diet for about a month and then reintroducing foods one at a time every 72 hours and monitoring for reactions.

Some people find a group of vegetables called “nightshades” cause pain and inflammation in their joints. Nightshades include eggplant, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, and hot pepper products (cayenne, Tabasco, etc.). Simply removing nightshades from the diet has brought relief from joint pain for many.

However, don’t ditch vegetables completely. Ample vegetable consumption, including veggies that are cultured, is a key component to a pain-busting diet.

Ditch the sugar to tame chronic pain

In conjunction with removing anti-inflammatory foods, it’s also important the diet work to stabilize blood sugar. Blood sugar that is too low, too high, or that swings between the two will contribute to inflammation. One of the best ways to stabilize blood sugar is to ditch the sugar and refined carbohydrates. Not only does the sweet stuff destabilize blood sugar, it also directly causes inflammation. Eliminating or minimizing sweets is vital to taming chronic pain.

Unwinding vicious cycles of pain

The problem with chronic pain is it can create vicious cycles both in the immune system and in the brain that perpetuate pain. In other words, the pain itself stimulates the body to create more pain. Fortunately, certain nutritional compounds have been shown to help unwind these vicious cycles. They include therapeutic doses of emulsified and highly absorbable vitamin D3, omega 3 fatty acids, turmeric, and resveratrol. Other natural compounds and therapies can also help with pain relief while you work on bringing down inflammation naturally.

Ask my office for more information on alleviating your chronic pain by addressing the underlying cause.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Manage childhood obesity without dieting

313 childhood obesity

Although no one allows their child to become overweight or obese on purpose, being heavy is hard on children. It saps self-esteem, makes physical activity harder, and predisposes children to adult diseases earlier in life. Obesity doesn’t have to be a prison sentence for children—using newer understandings of obesity parents can help guide their children to a healthier weight. We know now it’s more than just calories in versus calories out. Food choices, inflammation, gut bacteria, and sleep are factors that influence obesity.

Balance blood sugar to manage childhood obesity

Low-fat diets have long been heralded as the antidote to excess body fat, but research increasingly shows it is excess sugars and refined carbohydrates that promote obesity. These foods negatively impact blood sugar handling and promote insulin resistance, a condition that often leads to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Many find the key to losing unwanted weight is to ditch the sodas, shakes, and fruit juices, substitute fruit for desserts, eat a protein-rich breakfast, and to eat a diet that includes vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Also, avoid meals that are heavy on high-glycemic foods, such as potatoes or rice.

Ditch junk foods to combat obesity in children

Food that is packaged, processed, or from fast food restaurants often contains hydrogenated oils, chemical additives, excess sugars and refined carbohydrates, and insufficient fiber. Hydrogenated oils skew cellular function and promote blood sugar imbalances and obesity. These foods are also designed to be addictive and promote overeating. It is best to limit these foods to special occasions, if at all.

Ferret out food intolerances to reduce obesity-promoting inflammation

Chronic inflammation has been associated with obesity. One of the most common causes of chronic inflammation is a sensitivity or intolerance to a food. Many people have food sensitivities and don’t realize it. The most common sensitivity is to gluten, the protein found in wheat, spelt, rye, barley, and oats (unless they’re gluten-free oats). A food sensitivity panel or elimination diet can tell you which foods are causing inflammation and possibly promoting childhood obesity. Many people lose weight simply by removing the offending food, gluten and dairy in particular.

Balance gut bacteria to manage childhood obesity

Researchers increasingly are finding imbalances in our gut bacteria are linked to many disorders, including obesity. These imbalances can have their roots in C-section deliveries, bottle feeding, and antibiotic use in childhood. Consuming cultured foods, such as brined pickles and water kefir, taking probiotics, and eating ample vegetables (the insoluble fiber promotes colonization of healthy bacteria) are ways to help balance gut flora.

Make sure your child sleeps enough to prevent obesity

Sleep deprivation has been solidly linked with weight gain. Chronic lack of sleep promotes fat storage, prevents fat burning, increases hunger and cravings for sweets, and lowers metabolism. Children should be getting plenty of sleep regardless—more than adults—to facilitate proper growth and development. But sufficient sleep is also critical to combating childhood obesity.

These are just a few strategies that incorporate new findings in childhood obesity and do not require your child to starve to lose weight. Of course, healthy portions and plenty of physical activity are still important, but by simply tweaking what’s on the menu you can help your child enjoy an active childhood in a slimmer body and reduce his or her risk of obesity-related diseases too early in life.

For more advice or support in managing your child’s obesity, contact my office.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Lack of sleep can make you fat

lack of sleep makes you fat

Finding it hard to lose weight? Although many factors can hinder weight loss, one of the sneakier is sleep deprivation. Research shows people who regularly sleep five hours or less a night can gain as much as two pounds in a week. One study showed women who slept five or fewer hours were more likely to gain about 30 pounds over time compared to women who slept at least seven hours per night. Poor sleepers are also more prone to obesity-related diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

Lack of sleep increases snacking on starchy foods

Lack of sleep increases cravings so people snack more frequently, particularly at night—eating on average an extra 300 calories a day. The sleep-deprived also tend to eat a small breakfast and choose high-carbohydrate snacks, undoubtedly for that quick energy fix, both of which lead to blood sugar imbalances and weight gain.

As one would expect, study subjects who sleep seven or more hours per night also exercise more, and thus burn more calories, while sleep deprivation prevents you from burning calories efficiently. One study of men showed sleep-deprivation reduced general energy expenditure by 5 percent, and reduced energy expenditure after meals by 20 percent. In other words, being tired slows your body’s metabolism down.

Sleep deprivation increases hunger and promotes fat storage

One of the more profound ways lack of sleep promotes weight gain is by influencing the hormones that control hunger and satiety. For instance, chronic sleep deprivation raises levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Cortisol tells the body it needs more energy to meet the demands of stress, which causes an increase of hunger and cravings.

Lack of sleep also increases grehlin, a hormone that promotes hunger and fat storage. In fact, one study showed that although dieters could lose weight while sleep deprived, they lost about a third of the weight compared to the healthy sleepers. Researchers believe this is due to grehlin’s fat storing actions.

Sleep deprivation also decreases leptin, the satiety hormone that tells you when you’ve had enough to eat. So in a double whammy, lack of sleep both increases hunger and inhibits the ability to feel full. The result is a natural inclination to eat more, and more frequently. Adding insult to injury is that the body burns most of its calories during REM, the deeply restful stage of sleep when you dream. Unfortunately, weight gain due to sleep deprivation doesn’t only happen slowly over time. Research shows just a few nights of sleep deprivation can pack on pounds.

Lack of sleep promotes insulin resistance

Sleep deprivation makes fat cells less sensitive to insulin, the hormone that ushers glucose into cells so they can produce energy. In effect, it makes a person more insulin resistant, which is a stepping-stone to obesity and diabetes. After depriving subjects in their twenties of sleep, researchers said their fat cells behaved like those of someone 20 years older.

Sleep deprivation promotes weight gain in people of all ages, including children. Although sleeping more may not necessarily cause you to lose unwanted pounds, getting adequate sleep is a vital component to any weight loss program.

Ask my office how we can help you promote better sleep to aid you on your weight loss journey.