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Fighting Depression Naturally

Depression

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Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.

5-HTP

If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.

SAMe

Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

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Fast Food Chains To Offer Statins With Their Meals?

Below is a blog post from cnn.com.  It simply amazes me that a peer reviewed journal would suggest that fast food companies offer statins with their meals to offset their horrible health effects.  See my comments at the end of the article.

CNN Blog Post

A new report in the American Journal of Cardiology suggests that fast food restaurants should offer statins – a popular class of cholesterol-lowering medications – alongside their unhealthy food.

“We propose that the fast food industry is well placed to offer advice and supplements to counteract the cardiovascular harm arising from the foods they purvey,” the report said. “These companies already have an infrastructure for providing a variety of condiments… A generic statin could be added to the panoply of items in the self-service tray at little additional cost.”

The study – which likened taking a statin before eating to putting on a bike helmet before biking – was based on analyses of other scientific studies, and concluded that taking the drugs could offset the risk of eating fast food just enough to render the food harmless.

“Most of the primary prevention statin regimes we examined, with the exception of pravastatin, had the strength to counteract the increase in risk caused by an unhealthy diet; or eating an additional 36 g[rams] of total fat or 2.8 g[rams] of trans fat per day – approximately equivalent to a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small milkshake,” the British researchers said in the study.

But Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association, says that not only isn’t the solution that simple, it could be dangerous.

“There are other things regarding obesity that are important that a statin won’t neutralize, such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Sacco said. “Even though we agree statins have a lot of good evidence in reducing cardiovascular and stroke risk, there are certain risks with any medications.”

The risks are relatively infrequent but include liver damage, muscle cramps and long-term muscle damage.

The British researchers concluded that the risks of eating fast food are much greater.

“Statins have been shown to be safe even at high doses,” the report says. “The documented safety record of statins is substantially better than that of fast foods, which carry not only direct cardiovascular risks, but other risks due to obesity.”

But regardless of whether the benefits do in fact outweigh the risks,  Sacco says there are far better ways to reduce the negative effects of obesity.

“If you can control it with diet and exercise, that would be our preference rather than having to take a medicine.”

Dr. Court’s Comments

This is perhaps the most ridiculous recommendation I have ever seen from a mainstream medical publication.  They are suggesting that fast food chains offer cholesterol lower medications, called statins, with their meals to offset the negative health effects they have on human physiology. This is the pinnacle of not taking responsibility for one’s health.  Why take responsibility if you can take a pill to supposedly offset the detriments to your health from eating the most unhealthy foods in the world?

Statin medications are not as safe as Big Pharma would like you to believe. Statins are HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors, that is, they act by blocking the enzyme in your liver that is responsible for making cholesterol (HMG-CoA reductase). The fact that statin drugs cause side effects is well established—there are now 900 studies proving their adverse effects, which run the gamut from muscle problems to increased cancer risk.

For starters, reported side effects include:

  • Muscle problems, polyneuropathy (nerve damage in the hands and feet), and rhabdomyolysis (a serious degenerative muscle tissue condition)
  • Anemia
  • Acidosis
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Immune depression
  • Pancreas or liver dysfunction, including a potential increase in liver enzymes
  • Cataracts

These side effects hardly seem harmless and to give them as an option with your value meal from McDonald’s is outrageous.  It is a great marketing ploy by the pharmaceutical industry to get as many American’s on statins as possible.  Think about it.  Wouldn’t this kind of strategy significantly increase sales of statin drugs?  Of course it would.  And where do we start and stop giving them to people.  Does a 3 year old eating a happy meal get a statin to go with it?  What about people who are already taking statins?  Do they just take extra because you really never can get to much medication can you?  The slope is a slippery one and I cannot believe this has even been suggested.

I was happy to see the president of the American Heart Association take the other side of this story.  He mentions that statins do nothing to offset the other health complications of fast food like diabetes and high blood pressure.  This is true.  You can’t take a statin to avoid diabetes.  What he doesn’t mention is the fact that those kinds of food – food high in refined sugar – are notorious for raising inflammation in the body.  When you raise inflammation you raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, cancer and osteoporosis to name just a few.  You can’t control inflammation by taking a statin.  Some new research does suggest that statins lower one of the inflammatory enzymes called CRP.  But that’s just one.  There are others that are still detrimental to one’s health.

This kind of a recommendation is dangerous.  Period.  It is also irresponsible for the American Journal of Cardiology to publish such information.  It plants a dangerous seed.  This kind of a recommendation encourages people to continue to make poor decisions regarding their diets.  It gives them an excuse to continue to destroy their health under the pretense that they are offsetting their bad decisions with a pill.  Instead, we should be encouraging people to make healthier choices regarding their diet and lifestyle.

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Food Additives You Must Avoid

The Center for Science in the Public Interest is a research and non-profit group that is an advocate for nutrition and food safety.  They recently published a list of food additives to avoid and ones that are safe. You know, those ingredients that you can’t pronounce on the back of every packaged food label you pick up and read?  Below I have selected some of the most offensive additives to avoid at all costs.  You may read the full article from CSPI here.

Food Additives to Avoid

ACESULFAME-K

Artificial sweetener: Baked goods, chewing gum, gelatin desserts, diet soda, Sunette.

This artificial sweetener, manufactured by Hoechst, a giant German chemical company, is widely used around the world. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. In the United States, for several years acesulfame-K (the K is the chemical symbol for potassium) was permitted only in such foods as sugar-free baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts. In July 1998, the FDA allowed this chemical to be used in soft drinks, thereby greatly increasing consumer exposure. It is often used together with sucralose.

The safety tests of acesulfame-K were conducted in the 1970s and were of mediocre quality. Key rat tests were afflicted by disease in the animal colonies; a mouse study was several months too brief and did not expose animals during gestation. Two rat studies suggest that the additive might cause cancer. It was for those reasons that in 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting acesulfame-K in soft drinks. In addition, large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product, have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. Hopefully, the small amounts in food are not harmful.

ASPARTAME

Artificial sweetener: “Diet” foods, including soft drinks, drink mixes, gelatin desserts, low-calorie frozen desserts, packets.

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), a chemical combination of two amino acids and methanol, was initially thought to be the perfect artificial sweetener, but it might cause cancer or neurological problems such as dizziness or hallucinations.

A 1970s study suggested that aspartame caused brain tumors in rats. However, the Food and Drug Administration persuaded an independent review panel to reverse its conclusion that aspartame was unsafe. The California Environmental Protection Agency and others have urged that independent scientists conduct new animal studies to resolve the cancer question. In 2005, researchers at the Ramazzini Foundation in Bologna, Italy, conducted the first such study. It indicated that rats first exposed to aspartame at eight weeks of age caused lymphomas and leukemias in females. However, the European Food Safety Authority reviewed the study and concluded that the tumors probably occurred just by chance.

In 2007, the same Italian researchers published a follow-up study that began exposing rats to aspartame in utero. This study found that aspartame caused leukemias/lymphomas and mammary (breast) cancer. It is likely that the new studies found problems that earlier company-sponsored studies did not because the Italian researchers monitored the rats for three years instead of two. The Italian tests remain controversial, with the industry contending that they were flawed in several ways and with the FDA stating its scientists couldn’t evaluate the studies because the researchers refused to provide their original data.

In a 2006 study, U.S. National Cancer Institute researchers studied a large number of adults 50 to 69 years of age over a five-year period. There was no evidence that aspartame posed any risk. However, the study was limited in three major regards: It did not involve truly elderly people (the rat studies monitored the rats until they died a natural death), the subjects had not consumed aspartame as children, and it was not a controlled study (the subjects provided only a rough estimate of their aspartame consumption, and people who consumed aspartame might have had other dietary or lifestyle differences that obscured the chemical’s effects).

The bottom line is that lifelong consumption of aspartame probably increases the risk of cancer. People—especially young children—should not consume foods and beverages sweetened with aspartame, should switch to products sweetened with SUCRALOSE (Splenda), or should avoid all artificially sweetened foods. Two other artificial sweeteners, SACCHARIN and ACESULFAME-K, have also been linked to a risk of cancer.

BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA)

Antioxidant: Cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, vegetable oil.

BHA retards rancidity in fats, oils, and oil-containing foods. While some studies indicate it is safe, other studies demonstrate that it causes cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. Those cancers are controversial because they occur in the forestomach, an organ that humans do not have. However, a chemical that causes cancer in at least one organ in three different species indicates that it might be carcinogenic in humans. That is why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration still permits BHA to be used in foods. This synthetic chemical can be replaced by safer chemicals (e.g., vitamin E), safer processes (e.g., packing foods under nitrogen instead of air), or can simply be left out (many brands of oily foods, such as potato chips, don’t use any antioxidant).

OLESTRA (Olean)

Fat substitute: Lay’s Light Chips, Pringles Light chips.

Olestra is Procter & Gamble’s synthetic fat that is not absorbed as it passes through the digestive system, so it has no calories. Procter & Gamble suggests that replacing regular fat with olestra will help people lose weight and lower the risk of heart disease.

Olestra can cause diarrhea and loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe.
Olestra reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids (such as alpha and beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and canthaxanthin) from fruits and vegetables, but an occasional serving wouldn’t be a problem. Those nutrients are thought by many experts to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Olestra enables manufacturers to offer greasy-feeling low-fat snacks, but consumers would be better off with baked snacks, which are safe and just as low in calories. Products made with olestra should not be called “fat free,” because they contain substantial amounts of indigestible fat.

PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL, HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (Trans fat)

Fat, oil, shortening: Stick margarine, crackers, fried restaurant foods, baked goods, icing, microwave popcorn.

Vegetable oil, usually a liquid, can be made into a semi-solid shortening by reacting it with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils – and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease. A committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in 2004 that on a gram-for-gram basis, trans fat is even more harmful than saturated fat. Ideally, food manufacturers would replace hydrogenated shortening with less-harmful ingredients. The Institute of Medicine has advised consumers to consume as little trans fat as possible, ideally less than about 2 grams a day (that much might come from naturally occurring trans fat in beef and dairy products). Harvard School of Public Health researchers estimate that trans fat had been causing about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually, making partially hydrogenated oil one of the most harmful ingredients in the food supply (see discussion of salt below).

Beginning in 2006, Nutrition Facts labels have had to list the amount of trans fat in a serving. That spurred many companies, including Frito-Lay, Kraft, ConAgra, and others, to replace most or all of the partially hydrogenated oil in almost all their products. Usually the substitutes are healthier and the total of saturated plus trans fat is no higher than it was. Foods labeled “0g trans fat” are permitted to contain 0.5g per serving, while “no trans fat” means none at all. Consumers need to read labels carefully: foods labeled “0g trans” or “no trans” may still have large amounts of saturated fat.

Restaurants, which do not provide nutrition information, have been slower to change, but the pace of change has picked up. They use partially hydrogenated oil for frying chicken, potatoes, and fish, as well as in biscuits and other baked goods. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, KFC, Taco Bell, Ruby Tuesday, and Red Lobster are some of the large chains that have largely eliminated trans fat or soon will. Most large chains and many smaller independent restaurants continue to fry in partially hydrogenated oil and their French fries, fried chicken, fried fish, and pot pies contain substantial amounts of trans fat. Fortunately, the use of partially hydrogenated oil dropped by 50 percent from around 2000 to 2007.

In Denmark, the government has virtually banned partially hydrogenated oil. In 2004, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to immediately require restaurants to disclose when they use partially hydrogenated oil and to begin the process of eliminating partially hydrogenated oil from the entire food supply. While the FDA rejected the idea of requiring restaurants to disclose the presence of trans fat, New York City, Philadelphia, Boston, and other jurisdictions have set tight limits on the trans-fat content of restaurant foods. Meanwhile, the FDA is continuing to consider CSPI’s petition to revoke the legal status of partially hydrogenated oil (the FDA considers that oil to be “generally recognized as safe,” even though it and everyone else considers it to be “generally recognized as dangerous.”

Fully hydrogenated vegetable oil does not have any trans fat, but it also does not have any polyunsaturated oils. It is sometimes mixed (physically or chemically) with polyunsaturated liquid soybean oil to create trans-free shortening. When it is chemically combined with liquid oil, the ingredient is called inter-esterified vegetable oil. Meanwhile, oil processors are trying to improve the hydrogenation process so that less trans fat forms.

POTASSIUM BROMATE

Flour improver: White flour, bread and rolls.

This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb (the not-crust part of bread) structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide. However, bromate itself causes cancer in animals. The tiny amounts of bromate that may remain in bread pose a small risk to consumers. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning might be required on the label. In 1999, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban bromate. Since then, numerous millers and bakers have stopped using bromate.

SACCHARIN

Artificial sweetener: Diet, no-sugar-added products, soft drinks, sweetener packets.

Saccharin (Sweet ’N Low) is 350 times sweeter than sugar and is used in diet foods or as a tabletop sugar substitute. Many studies on animals have shown that saccharin can cause cancer of the urinary bladder. In other rodent studies, saccharin has caused cancer of the uterus, ovaries, skin, blood vessels, and other organs. Other studies have shown that saccharin increases the potency of other cancer-causing chemicals. And the best epidemiology study (done by the National Cancer Institute) found that the use of artificial sweeteners (saccharin and cyclamate) was associated with a higher incidence of bladder cancer.

In 1977, the FDA proposed that saccharin be banned, because of studies that it causes cancer in animals. However, Congress intervened and permitted it to be used, provided that foods bear a warning notice. It has been replaced in many products by aspartame (NutraSweet). In 1997, the diet-food industry began pressuring the U.S. and Canadian governments and the World Health Organization to take saccharin off their lists of cancer-causing chemicals. The industry acknowledges that saccharin causes bladder cancer in male rats, but argues that those tumors are caused by a mechanism that would not occur in humans. Many public health experts respond by stating that, even if that still-unproved mechanism were correct in male rats, saccharin could cause cancer by additional mechanisms and that, in some studies, saccharin has caused bladder cancer in mice and in female rats and other cancers in both rats and mice.

In May 2000, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services removed saccharin from its list of cancer-causing chemicals. Later that year, Congress passed a law removing the warning notice that likely will result in increased use in soft drinks and other foods and in a slightly greater incidence of cancer.

SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM NITRATE

Preservative, coloring, flavoring: Bacon, ham, frankfurters, luncheon meats, smoked fish, corned beef.

Meat processors love sodium nitrite because it stabilizes the red color in cured meat (without nitrite, hot dogs and bacon would look gray) and gives a characteristic flavor. Sodium nitrate is used in dry cured meat, because it slowly breaks down into nitrite. Adding nitrite to food can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines), particularly in fried bacon. Nitrite, which also occurs in saliva and forms from nitrate in several vegetables, can undergo the same chemical reaction in the stomach. Companies now add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to bacon to inhibit nitrosamine formation, a measure that has greatly reduced the problem. While nitrite and nitrate cause only a small risk, they are still worth avoiding.

Several studies have linked consumption of cured meat and nitrite by children, pregnant women, and adults with various types of cancer. Although those studies have not yet proven that eating nitrite in bacon, sausage, and ham causes cancer in humans, pregnant women would be prudent to avoid those products.

The meat industry justifies its use of nitrite and nitrate by claiming that it prevents the growth of bacteria that cause botulism poisoning. That’s true, but freezing and refrigeration could also do that, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has developed a safe method using lactic-acid-producing bacteria. The use of nitrite and nitrate has decreased greatly over the decades, because of refrigeration and restrictions on the amounts used. The meat industry could do the public’s health a favor by cutting back even further. Because nitrite is used primarily in fatty, salty foods, consumers have important nutritional reasons for avoiding nitrite-preserved foods.

The list could go on and on, but the above information is great.  I strongly encourage everyone to check out the CSPI website (link at the beginning of the post) and view the entire list because there are additives that sound scary that are actually good for you.  Ascorbic acid (or vitamin C) comes to mind.  My advice for you is to shop around the edges of the grocery store.  There you’ll find meats, fruits, vegetables and nuts.  That’s all you need to eat.  If you consume those foods most frequently and on a regular basis, avoiding the above additives is easy.

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Quick! Get that kid some bacteria!

I recently came across an article that got my interest for a couple of reasons.  The article was about allergies and how many health practitioners are reporting an increase in the number of children they are seeing with allergies.  I agree.  In my office I see several children whose parent’s only complaint is their child’s allergies.  The second reason for my interest was one of the proposed reasons for this – an unhealthy balance of bacteria in the gut.

The number of kids with food allergies went up 18 percent from 1997 to 2007, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 3 million children younger than 18 had a food or digestive allergy in 2007, the CDC said.  These numbers are high and seem to be rising rapidly in rich, industrialized countries like the U.S. and Britain.  In fact, a recent study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology found that visits to the emergency room at Children’s Hospital Boston for allergic reactions more than doubled from 2001 to 2006.

In my practice I have always contended that the Western diet and lifestyle plays a major role in the development of allergies in our children.  Now a small Italian study seems to confirm what I have postulated.

My theory has always been that the combination of being overly clean and eating diets high in refined carbohydrates and other allergenic foods has caused a massive immune imbalance.  This imbalance leads to over activation of the entire immune system resulting in reactions that range from minor annoyances to life threatening.

A study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences compared the gut bacteria from 15 children in Florence, Italy, with gut bacteria in 14 children in a rural African village in Burkina Faso. They found that the variety of flora in these two groups was substantially different.

The children in the African village live in a community that produces its own food. The study authors say this is closer to how humans ate 10,000 years ago. Their diet is mostly vegetarian. By contrast, the local diet of European children contains more sugar, animal fat and calorie-dense foods. The study authors posit that these factors result in less biodiversity in the organisms found inside the gut of European children.

Now, in my opinion, it has very little to do with the fact that this African culture eats very little meat and simply with the fact that they consume a more natural, raw diet.  This leads to a more favorable balance of bacteria in the gut because of exposure.

Why are these bacteria important?

The bacteria in our gut work symbiotically with our systems in order to help us survive.  It is a true symbiotic relationship in that neither one of us (the bacteria or the person) would survive without the other.  They are important because they help digest certain proteins, help up absorb certain vitamins and minerals and perhaps most importantly with regards to allergies, maintains gut wall integrity or permeability.

Gut wall integrity is crucially important in not only preventing allergies but maintaining the health of the entire immune system.  So what happens when the balance of good bacteria changes in the gut?  Good question.

As the balance begins to be altered, the permeability of the gut begins to increase. Our digestive systems are designed to absorb a lot of things, but these things must be fully digested and of the appropriate size to be absorbed.  When our system becomes overly permeable, proteins that are undigested or are partially digested may get absorbed into our blood stream.  This is problematic.

Proteins are simply chains of amino acids linked together.  A small chain of amino acids is called a peptide.  A larger chain of amino acids or several peptides linked together is called a protein.  When we consume a hamburger, for example, the proteins are large and may be thousands of amino acids long.  It is the job of our intestinal tract to break down each and every one of those proteins into its individual components or amino acids.  If this does not happen, then peptides are what remain.  This is not problematic unless you have high gut permeability or a leaky gut. This leaky gut, from abnormal bacterial balance, now absorbs these peptides into the blood stream.

Why are these peptides a problem?  Because your body doesn’t recognize them as useful.  Your body recognizes amino acids as helpful.  Amino acids are often referred to as building blocks because they are used for so many things in the body.  That is precisely the reason the digestive system is designed to break down proteins into these components.  Peptides are not recognized and therefore the body sees them as foreign invaders and generates an immune response, or allergy, to them.  For some people this response is minor (itchy eyes, runny nose, hives, etc.) and for others it is life threatening (anaphylaxis).

Gluten, the protein from wheat, rye, oats and barley and casein, the protein from milk are notorious for being broken down incompletely in the gut and causing allergic reactions.  They are the most common simply because they are two of the most commonly consumed foods in the world (wheat and milk products).

What can I do to help myself or my child?

There are many things you can do.  First and foremost eliminate any food that you know causes you an issue. Secondly, you may consider having an allergy test.  This is important because many people are allergic to things they aren’t aware of.  An allergy test should also include food sensitivities. These are reactions to foods that don’t necessarily generate a full immune response in your body but do initiate a response on a lower level.  These are important to know because reducing your total allergic load is critical for helping you overcome your major allergies.

Also, take a digestive enzyme that is high in protease.  A protease in an enzyme that breakdown protein.  If you take this with a meal it will help insure that all proteins are properly digested.

Last, but certainly not least, take a probiotic.  A probiotic will help restore the healthy balance of bacteria in your gut and help you maintain the integrity of you gut wall.  This will insure that the permeability is appropriate and you are not absorbing micronutrients that your immune system views as dangerous.

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Stress and Your Health – Don’t Ignore It

In these uncertain economic times, many of us are under more stress than we may be used to.  While stress is a necessary and sometimes unavoidable consequence in life, we must know that it can take a toll on our overall health if we’re not careful.

The human body is an amazing machine.  It is very well adapted to respond to our environment and allow us to survive and flourish in a myriad of situations.  One of the ways it adapts is through the stress response.  The stress response is critical for human survival.  That being said, chronic or undue stress can be harmful for our health.  The stress response may be activated by physical or mental anguish.  Interestingly, whether a mental stressor is real or perceived the response by the body is the same.  The body is also unable to distinguish the difference between physical and mental stress.  Both produce the same response.

The stress response begins with the activation of the fight or flight system in our bodies.  This is called the sympathetic nervous system.  This releases hormones like adrenalin and noradrenalin.  This signals the body that there is an alarm.  It raises the respiratory rate, heart rate, increases sweating, dilates the pupils and shuts down the digestive system along with anything else unnecessary for immediate survival.  The adrenal glands also secrete cortisol which allows us to have a ready supply of energy if needed.  This scenario is called acute stress.  Our bodies are designed to handle this form of stress.  When the stress becomes chronic, as it all too often does in modern society, it becomes extremely detrimental to our health.

Humans evolved to handle acute stress not chronic stress.  If you lived 20,000 years ago long term stress was not part of your life.  Acute stress was but once that scenario was over so was the body’s stress response.  For example, if you were being chased by a saber toothed tiger that scenario had two possible outcomes – 1. you got away and the stress was over or 2. the tiger got you and the stress was over.  Our bodies evolved to deal with this, not low grade chronic stress.

Chronic stress most often occurs because of a negative change in our lives, such as a down-turn in the economy, and causes the same reaction in the body as acute stress, only on a lower level.  It can lead to problems such as ulcers, trouble with digestion, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, back pain, weight gain and high blood pressure.  Remember, the stress response is designed to help us deal with life-threatening situations and should only be short acting.  When situations arise that have long-term implications, chronic stress may become part of your daily life and negatively affect your health.

Your best bet to guard against the effects of chronic stress is to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Exercise is a great stress reliever.  Getting 20-30 minutes of exercises daily not only reduces our perception of stress, but it also helps prevent the physical ailments associated with it.  A healthy diet is also essential.  It provides us with the fuel to manage our day.  I also recommend supplements to support your system.  In particular, I like supplements that are designed to support the adrenal glands.  Many companies make these but consult a practitioner trained in functional medicine to get a quality brand.

Remember, stress not only has an effect on our mental health, it also can have severe effects on our physical health.  If you feel as if stress is a significant factor in your life, don’t put off doing something about it.  Taking action steps to help yourself is often stress relieving in and of it self.  Waiting may have deleterious effects later in your life.

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6 Blood Tests Everyone Should Ask Their Doctor For

At the Vreeland Clinic we use nutrition and diet to manipulate health.  Our main goal is to improve overall health and help people feel energetic and youthful.  To know if we’ve achieved our goal we rely, in part, on our patients to inform us on how they are feeling.  This is not, however, the only marker we use to “check up” on our patients.  We use a wide variety of blood work to make sure that along with feeling great, our patients are protected from the dangers of aspects of disease that do not always manifest in overt symptoms until it’s too late.

This blood work is a huge part of our practice and today I am going to share with you the blood work that you should be asking for when you go to your doctor.

1. Particle Size Cholesterol Test

Now, cholesterol is an interesting subject.  Knowing the total number is useless.  Knowing the breakdown of the “good” cholesterol (HDL) versus the “bad” (LDL) is a little more revealing but still is far from telling the whole story.  What you need is to find out the particle break down.

Cholesterol testing has historically been used as the standard indicator for cardiovascular disease classified as HDL (good) or LDL (bad). However, it is actually the lipoprotein particles that carry the cholesterol throughout the body, not necessarily the cholesterol within them, that are responsible for key steps in plaque production and the resulting development of cardiovascular disease.

It is the particle size that is important.  Small, dense and hard lipoproteins are dangerous while light and fluffy particles are not quite as worrisome.  We know that just as many people with low cholesterol have heart attacks as people with high cholesterol.  If total cholesterol was a good indicator of heart disease then why do people with “healthy” levels have heart attacks? It’s because your total cholesterol doesn’t tell the whole story.  You must know the particle breakdown to have any real idea about your cardiovascular risk.

Below is a schematic from SpectraCell Laboratories that illustrates why this type of test is important.  They are a national lab that runs these tests and their panel is called an LPP panel.  There are many other companies that can do these tests.  The other lab I am familiar with is Atherotech Diagnostics Lab.  They call their test the VAP panel.  Either test works.  Your doctor can order these tests easily. (Please click the picture to enlarge it).

2. Fibrinogen

Fibrinogen is an important factor in blood clotting and increases in response to tissue inflammation.  Fibrinogen can help predict the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Fibrinogen will not only be high in people with heart disease, but it’s also high in other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.  High levels of fibrinogen also increase the risk of venous thrombosis (blood clots).  Blood clots are silent killers that are often discovered too late.  This is a simple test that almost all labs are capable of running.  If you take appropriate steps, lowering fibrinogen can lower your risk of many inflammatory diseases.

3. Hemoglobin A1C

Having your fasting blood sugar tested is very valuable, but it’s just a spot shot.  It only tells you what your blood sugar was at the moment your blood was drawn.  And if you followed the instructions, you fasted before that test so your blood sugar is likely as low as it’s going to get.  (Remember with blood sugar, lower is better than higher).  High blood sugar leads to diabetes.  A hemoglobin A1C (or HbA1c) checks your blood sugar control over the last 2-3 months.  A much better check!  High HbA1c is an independent risk factor for heart disease for people with or without diabetes.  Higher HbA1c leads to an increased risk of heart disease and vice versa.  HbA1c is another test that every lab can perform and is easily ordered by any physician.

4. DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.   Blood levels peak in one’s twenties and decline significantly as we age.  They reach a level of about 20%-30% of one’s youthful peak between the ages of 70 and 80.  Healthy levels of DHEA supports immune function, bone density, mood, libido and a healthy body composition.  This is another easy test to order and almost all labs can perform it.

5. Homocysteine

Homocysteine is formed in the body from the metabolism of the amino acid methionine.  It is inflammatory in nature.  High levels have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture and poor cognitive function.  Other studies have linked high homocysteine to macular degeneration and gall stones.  Some patients, because of a genetic defect in the way they metabolize folic acid, have very high homocysteine.  Lowering this is critical for long term health.  It is easily lowered with activated B12, activated B6 and activated folate.  Homocysteine is easily performed at any lab.

6. C-Reactive Protein

CRP, as it is abbreviated, is another inflammatory enzyme.  CRP is a powerful predictor of systemic inflammation and is a great indicator of risk for heart disease and stroke.  It may predict heart disease years before it becomes problematic.  It identifies at risk populations while they are still healthy.  This truly is a great tool.  A review of epidemiological data shows that CRP was able to predict heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and sudden cardiac death in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular disease.  Again, this is a simple test and can easily be ordered by your doctor.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good start.  Each individual person may require more testing depending on their specific condition.  These are, however, a great way to evaluate your overall health and predict disease that might await you years down the road.  Once you have found your specific risk factors appropriate steps can be taken to avoid the consequences in your later years.

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How to protect your brain – ward off dementia with these simple steps

Well it’s been some time since I have been able to post here on our blog.  The fourth of July holiday and some time away from the office kept me from posting the latest in health information for you.  However, I am back with new information regarding dementia.

Dementia is a scary disease that affects millions of Americans and the numbers are expected to sky rocket as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement age.  Dementia robs people of their faculties long before their time.  It can go on for many years and cause heartbreak and hardship for family members.  It is eventually fatal, but it is a long, slow process that destroys lives and relationships along the way.

For years it was thought that genetics played the most important role in determining who developed dementia and who did not.  It was almost a role of the dice, or so was thought.  In the last 5 years research has been mounting that dietary supplements and exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing dementia.  A new study just released confirms some of those findings.

In a recent study people who exercised, regularly consumed tea and had the highest levels of vitamin D had the lowest risk of developing dementia.  This truly is great news.  There is something you can do to significantly reduce your risk of developing this disease.

Exercise

The first piece of this equation is about exercise.  Exercise has been shown to improve almost every single factor related to health that has been studied.  If you are not exercising, you are not truly taking care of yourself.  With respect to dementia, researchers looked at participants from the Framingham cardiovascular study.  They looked at 1,200 elderly people over 20 years, 242 of whom developed dementia.  They found that participants who had moderate to heavy levels of physical activity had about a 40% lower risk of developing any type of dementia. Those who reported the least amount of activity were 45% more likely to develop dementia compared with those who had higher levels of activity.

Regular Consumption of Tea

In a second study, including data on more than 4,800 men and women ages 65 and older, participants were followed for up to 14 years. Tea drinkers had less mental decline than non-tea drinkers. Those who drank tea one to four times a week had average annual rates of decline 37% lower than people who didn’t drink tea.  The results did not appear to be related to caffeine, however, because coffee drinkers did not see the same benefit except in people who drank coffee heavily (and that has it’s own problems).  Some teas, like green tea, are loaded with antioxidants and that is likely the mechanism of this protection.

Vitamin D

In a third study, British researchers looked at vitamin D’s effect on brain health. They examined data from 3,325 U.S. adults ages 65 and older from the NHANES III study. Vitamin D levels were measured by blood test, and cognitive tests were administered. Odds of cognitive impairment were about 42% higher in those deficient in vitamin D, and 394% higher in people severely deficient.  The research continues to mount on vitamin D.  It truly is amazing just how potent a weapon vitamin D is.  It is also clear to me that the current medical recommendations are far too low and that current sun safety guidelines are actually creating a society of people that are deficient in this life saving nutrient.

The benefit of these three things do not change your genetic make up.  They change the expression of those genes.  This is the study of epigenetics.  Essentially, each gene has a switch on it – an epigene.  These determine which genes get switched on and which do not.  Exercise, the antioxidants from tea and vitamin D seem to have a favorable affect on the epigenes.  They keep the bad genes turned ‘off’ and the good ones turned ‘on.’

Recommendations

Exercise at least three times per week.  Exercise should include weight training and cardiovascular work done in interval style training.  Exercise improves blood flow to the brain, reduces inflammation, increases necessary feed back to the brain and improves the efficiency of many metabolic pathways.  For more information visit www.bendearman.com.  Ben is a trainer that I work with and he’s got a great handle on how to exercise properly.

Take EGCG.  EGCG is the extract from green tea.  It has been studied rigorously and has been shown to be neuroprotective.  I recommend at least 500mg per day.  If you decide to start it please consult someone trained in functional medicine so they can provide you with a quality supplement.

Take vitamin D.  I have many blogs on my site that discuss the huge benefits of vitamin D.  If you’d like to read more about it please click vitamin D in our word cloud to the right or simply type it into our search feature.  It should be taken daily by just about everyone.  I recommend that people take anywhere from 2,000-4,000 IUs per day for maintenance.  Individually one may need even more depending on your condition.  It should be monitored with blood tests and you should shoot for a level no lower than 55 ng/ml.  Just about everyone will require supplementation to reach that level.

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