Don’t Go Breaking Your Heart – Myth-busting and Top Tips for a Healthier Heart

I recently listened to a healthy heart masterclass sponsored by the Food Revolution Network where Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a holistic cardiologist, shares tips on how to prevent or reverse heart disease without relying solely on drugs, surgeries or stents. So, in this blog, I’ll highlight the top myths along with health tips to keep your blood pumping machine in optimal condition.

Myth #1:

  • Your genes are not your destiny. Did you know that 90% of heart disease is related to lifestyle? And because these lifestyle and environmental factors are passed down from previous generations, you see family histories of heart disease. 
  • And according to Dr. Dean Ornish who is a proponent of a plant-based diet, four out of five cases of coronary atherosclerosis can be reversed using diet, exercise, meditation and group support. I’m personally a fan of the pegan or flexitarian diet (mostly vegetables and fruits but occasional meat and fish consumption) which is considered mostly plant-based.
  • Age and genetics do not seal your fate. You’re never too old to adopt new habits in spite of what all the old, ‘not-so-wise’ sayings indicate. Based on this Johns Hopkins study, conducted on 6,000 atherosclerosis patients aged from 44-84 years old, healthy lifestyle changes decreased risk of death by 80% no matter what age group they were in. 

Myth #2:

  • There is more evidence pointing to the lack of evidence on dietary cholesterol as the main risk factor in heart disease. In fact, up to 75% of people who experience heart attacks have what’s considered normal cholesterol levels.
  • Read my earlier blog on the role that cholesterol has in heart disease: https://community.wholistics.health/heart-disease-and-the-role-of-cholesterol/
  • In order to avoid or reverse heart disease, you need to consider all pillars of health (nutrition, exercise, mind and sleep) and stop focusing on just a number that is not even a good predictor of heart disease.

Myth #3:

  • According to Dr. Guarneri, if medicine took care of heart disease, it wouldn’t be killing eight million people every year. She states that 92% of first heart attacks are totally preventable.
  • Medications can decrease heart disease risk but they are almost never as effective as sustainable and lasting lifestyle changes.
  • Addressing root causes of heart disease is what’s important, not reducing symptoms with medications.

Heart Health Tips #1:

  • Eat more of the right omega oils (omega 3) like oily fish and fish oil to get the right balance.
  • You need omega-6 oils but we consume way too much with oils like corn, safflower, soy, sunflower and canola and these processed vegetable oils create a pro-inflammatory response in our bodies.
  • The best vegetarian sources of omega-3 oils are flax seeds and chia seeds which should be ground up prior to consumption so they are digested properly.
  • Of the three types of Omega 3s (ALA, EPA, DHA), ALA is found in flax and chia seeds but EPA and DHA are mainly found in fish and algae. And your body needs all three, so if you don’t like the idea of consuming oily fish, you can opt for algae. Here’s my favorite that’s been tested to be free of heavy-metals:

https://www.energybits.com/energybits.html

Heart Health Tip #2

  • White flour, sugar and other processed foods cause inflammation and increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
  • When consuming grains, opt for whole grain to ensure you’re also getting the soluble fiber and the phytonutrients.
  • Pseudo-grains like quinoa, millet, buckwheat and amaranth are good options.
  • I’m personally not a fan of a lot of whole grain consumption – eating a bowl of whole grain pasta will make my glucose monitor sing but when eaten sparingly, it’s fine.

Heart Health Tip #3

  • Dr. Guarneri suggests to NOT eat red or processed meat. Although I agree with avoiding processed meat which is high in salt, nitrates and other additives, I think eating clean, grass-fed meat in small portions should be ok if you are generally healthy and want to avoid heart disease.

Heart Health Tip #4

  • If you don’t visit the dentist regularly for oral check-ups and cleaning, you should know that periodontal (gum) disease is related to heart disease. Evidence has shown that bacteria in the mouth that causes gum disease travels to the heart and triggers inflammation in the blood vessels and increases your cardiovascular disease risk.
  • So keep up the daily flossing, Waterpik (which I love) and the bi-annual visits to the dentist.

Heart Health Tip #5

  • Did you know that evidence shows that emotional intelligence plays a significant role in the occurrence of coronary heart disease? When you experience feelings like anger and hostility, you can increase your risk of heart attack by more than 200%!
  • It’s important to be in loving relationships with family and friends as it will have a physical impact on your heart health.
  • Make sure to take actions to support your emotional well-being with mind care (yoga, meditation, etc.) and positive social interactions.

Heart Health Tip #6

Heart Health Tip #7

  • Dr. Guarneri suggests dancing as an excellent form of exercise as it’s not only great physical movement but the music and the rhythms elicit positive emotional responses which are great for the heart.
  • If you prefer regular exercise over dance, keep it up 3-5x per week and make sure to include aerobics, strength training and stretching into the regimen.
  • Remember – variety, frequency and FUN are key to a sustainable program of movement.

Heart Health Tip #8

  • Did you know that more than 70% of all visits to the doctor are related to stress? And research shows that chronic stress can raise your blood pressure, cause inflammation and increase your risk of a heart attack.
  • Engaging in activities like yoga, meditation and deep breathing exercises can calm your heart and your brain.
  • I like Dr. Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise to shift the energy balance to a peaceful state: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/

Heart Health Tips #9

  • The journey is as important as the destination so focus on progress with small, tangible steps that you CAN do that will become a habit over the long term.

To learn more about this masterclass visit: https://heart.foodrevolution.org/masterclass/?orid=174172&opid=364

Every Breath You Take – 5 Ways to Keep Calm

You’ve heard the advice, “take a deep breath” during times of anxiety, uncertainty and stress. Active breathing techniques have been used over the centuries to calm the nervous sytem (activating the parasympathetic system) and reduce our heart rate. The beauty of breathing is that these subtle exercises become more effective with repetition and practice so they are better than tranquilizers (which lose efficacy over time!)

Research has shown the effectiveness of deep breathing techniques on reducing physiological and psychological stress as well as blood pressure. Also, did you know that there is a direct link between nasal breathing and cognitive functions? This study found the impact that deep breathing has on modulating cognitive processing and behavior.

So, in this blog, I’ll share some breathing tips (also called pranayama or “breath control”) to help you stay mentally fit, keep calm and carry on (which we all need nowadays).

Equal Breathing (Sama Vritti)

This easy breathing technique can be done anywhere and is great at bedtime to guide you into sleep.

  • Inhale and exhale through your nose for a count of 4
  • If you can go longer, try 6-8 counts per breath

Abdominal Breathing

Try this when faced with a stressful situation:

  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and take a deep breath through your nose (as long as you can) and exhale slowly through your mouth. Try for about 10 minutes to get yourself into a calming parasympathetic state.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana)

This alternate breathing is said to unite the right and left sides of the brain to bring balance, calm and focus, so it’s best done during the daytime.

  • Hold your right thumb over your right nostril and breathe in deeply through your left nostril. Close off your left nostril with your index finger at the peak of inhalation. Repeat the same pattern of breathing in with your right and exhaling with your left nostril.

Stimulating Breath (Bellows Breath)

As the name implies, it is used to increase alertness and energy and you should feel this on your diaphragm, chest and abdomen. 

With your mouth closed, inhale and exhale rapidly (3 in-and-out breaths per second) through your nose. Try this for 5-10 seconds then breathe normally. Repeat until you can do this for up to a minute. Watch this video for a tutorial:

https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/the-stimulating-breath/

The 4-7-8 (or Relaxing Breath) Exercise

This is like a tranquilizer for your nervous system and can be done anywhere without getting weird stares from people around you.

  • Start by placing the tip of your tongue right behind your upper front teeth
  • Exhale through the mouth, making the exhaling sound
  • Close your mouth and inhale through your nose for 4 counts
  • Hold your breath for 7 counts
  • Exhale throught your mouth for 8 counts making the exhaling sound
  • Repeat the cycle 3 more times for a total of 4 breaths
  • Watch this tutorial to do the 4-7-8 Breathing Technique: https://www.drweil.com/videos-features/videos/breathing-exercises-4-7-8-breath/

Breathing App

If you do better with a visual, download this FREE Breathing App – it offers six rhythms of inhales/exhales (2:3 to 5:7) and shows a ball with a calming sound that inflates and deflates to the rhythm.

Beautiful Skin Comes from Within

Have you heard this ‘beauty’ quote? 

“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being skin deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want, an adorable pancreas?” Jean Kerr, Author

And to that, I would say – absolutely yes! If everyone in this country had a beautiful pancreas, we would not have the epidemic of diabetes we have today. The point is, beauty may be skin deep but that all happens from within. So if you’re suffering from acne, psoriasis, eczema and other skin issues, it’s your insides telling that you have inflammation within that is being manifested on your skin. Stress, poor diet, food allergies, gut imbalances, hormone swings and nutrient deficiencies are to blame for what’s showing up on the surface.

Many of us seek dermatologists to get creams, pills and treatments to address these issues but you really need to start looking beyond the superficial or temporary fix to find the root cause of the skin flare-ups. So in this blog, I’ll share some tips on building beautiful skin from within to keep skin looking gorgeous and young.

Your skin is a reflection of what you put in your mouth

  • Stay away from processed foods, sugar, factory-raised meats and artificial additives. Did you know that excess sugar consumption will create Advanced Glycation End (AGEs) products that age your skin? Those sunspots/liver spots you often seen in elderly people are formed when protein, sugars and the heat in our body combine in a chemical reaction known as the “Maillard reaction” to create charring. Desirable in cooking, recipes often call for sugars as a coating on BBQ or steak to create the charring on the meat. The same happens in our body but we don’t want charring to show up on our skin.

  • Eat whole foods and up to nine servings of vegetables and low sugar fruits. If you simply cannot eat that much, you can supplement with some low sugar vegetable juices every now and then. This is what I drink when I know I won’t be eating well for whatever reason: https://farmersjuice.com
    It’s not cheap but it’s organic, low sugar (very important as a lot of commercial juices are loaded with sugar or cheap high sugar fruit), packs a pound of veggies in each serving and saves me the hassle of juicing my own.

Food Intolerances

If you have sensitivities or allergies to certain foods, it can flare up on your skin. Well-known culprits include dairy, wheat/gluten, legumes, corn and peanuts. So, you can get an allergy test done or try an elimination diet to see if your skin improves. Check out this resource to learn more.

Optimize your gut

  • Your skin is a reflection of your gut so it’s important to keep the trillions of bacteria in your digestive tract healthy and happy.

  • Eat prebiotic foods that feed friendly bacteria so it can eat the sugars you ingest before it goes to your gut. According to Dr. Amy Myers, here are some of the key foods to eat:
    • Asparagus
    • Bananas
    • Apples
    • Onions
    • Garlic
    • Leeks
    • Jicama Root
    • Dandelion greens

Detox through your skin

Skin is the largest organ in your body and a great vehicle for getting rid of toxins. So work up a good sweat during your exercise routine. If you are like me and do not sweat easily, you could seek a sauna in your area to amp up the detoxification. When used regularly, it will do wonders for clearing up the skin! 

Optimize nutrients

You want to ensure that you are getting optimum nutrition from your diet but you may need to supplement as deficiencies can contribute to skin conditions like eczema, acne and psoriasis. Here are some to consider:

  • Vitamin D: Did you know that Vitamin D deficiency is implicated in a whole host of skin conditions including cancer? It’s important to keep your vitamin D levels optimal as there is compelling scientific evidence that vitamin D plays a crucial role in cellular function and skin health. Ask your doctor about getting your levels tested so you know how best to supplement.

  • Zinc: Did you know that the skin is the third most Zinc-abundant tissue in the body? So, it’s no surprise that zinc deficiency is implicated in skin disorders. Here’s a zinc compound that is balanced with copper and selenium that I use:

  • Collagen and Vitamin C: Collagen is an essential protein that is the most abundant protein in the human body. It’s made in mammals but not in plants. You can take collagen (l like the multi-collagen form as it gives you all five forms your body need: https://www.vitacost.com/ancient-nutrition-multi-collagen-protein-vanilla) but did you realize that you can eat the appropriate amino acids (L-lysine and L-proline) to have your body make your own? Good options for supplying these amino acids include beets, leeks, Parmesan cheese (and related milk products), avocados and nuts. Collagen is like rebar in our blood vessels and skin but they are knit together with Vitamin C so you need both to keep your skin looking youthful. Since we do not make vitamin C, we have to eat foods rich in vitamin C (oranges, grapefruit, peppers, strawberries, broccoli, brussels sprouts, tomato juice). In addition to the foods I eat, I take a gram of vitamin C 2X a day. Here are some options to get your C in:
  • Liposomal:

  • Powder to add to your shake/drink:

Get proper sleep

Poor sleep not only makes you feel lousy but is associated with increased signs of aging and diminished skin barrier function according to this study. So make sure to incorporate good sleep hygiene into your habits as part of your skin beautifying regimen.

Manage stress

Studies have shown that skin reacts to psychological stress and influences skin diseases. In fact, it’s also been shown that psychiatric treatment (pharmacological and non-drug interventions) has positive effects on dermatologic conditions. So, manage your stress levels with proper sleep, good diet and mind health techniques like meditation and breathing exercises. 

Here’s a reality quote:

Some guys say beauty is only skin deep. But when you walk into a party, you don’t see somebody’s brain. The initial contact has to be the sniffing.”  James Caan, Actor.

Like it or not, we live in a world where there is a lot of ‘sniffing’ so put your best skin on by taking care of your insides (and inner self)!

You Are What Y’all Did With What You Eat

I recently listened to a great webinar on one of my favorite health experts, Dr. Robert Lustig, a neuro-endocrinologist and New York Times best-selling author (Fat Chance, The Hacking of the American Mind, and Metabolical). He has been active in promoting health policy to reverse the obesity and diabetes pandemic that is engulfing our society.  

In this blog, I’ll share some highlights from this 70-minute webinar (hosted by the Commonwealth Club of California) and the two key tenets from his new book, Metabolicalthe Lures and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition and Modern Medicine.

Dr. Lustig’s standard mantra used to be “you are what you eat” but now stands corrected with the revised statement that “you are what y’all (food industry) did with what you eat”. He is referring to food processing and the food industry that tricks you into thinking you’re eating healthily when in fact, you’re eating all the foods that are basically designed to destroy your health.

So, he has two essential rules to live by when it comes to judging ‘healthy food’. Eat foods that:

  1. Protect the liver
  2. Feed the gut

Any food that does both is healthy and any food that does neither is poison.

Protect the Liver

  • Ged rid of sugar in the diet. Sugar is like alcohol as liver metabolizes it the same way and over time, leads to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Although virtually non-existent in the 1980s, 45% of us have NAFLD today. In particular, children are what he calls the “canaries in the coal mine” as they are getting these diseases of aging. Type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease used to be diseases of alcoholics and aging and now children are getting them. Dr. Lustig estimates that 20% of normal weight children and 40% of obese children have a fatty liver today and blames this on the sugary, processed foods that kids consume.
  • Eat organic and stay away from pesticide-ridden foods (eg: Round-up), excess iron and heavy metals.
  • Avoid eating too much BCAA (branched chain amino acids) – unless you are a body builder, you don’t need to consume excess BCAA as this gets converted to liver fat and results in insulin resistance.
  • Dr. Lustig advocated two lab tests to get a baseline on your liver condition:
    • ALT – 25 is optimal , NOT 40 (which is the new reference range). In 1976, the ALT upper limit was 25 but now it’s 40 because so much of the population has fatty liver disease. These reference ranges reflect the population so as the country gets fatter, the ranges are also moving up.
    • Uric acid level – upper limit is 7.0 but it should be no higher than 5.5 as this marker is a proxy for sugar consumption.

Feed the Gut

  • You need to feed the bacteria in your gut with insoluble and soluble fiber to keep it happy and avoid conditions like leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome and systemic inflammation.
  • Dr. Lustig is known as the “anti-sugar crusader” in the industry and his lecture has over 100,000 views (I watched it three times as it was that good) – here’s a condensed version. However, he claims that fruit is healthy even though it has sugar because the amount of sugar in fruit is dwarfed by the amount of both soluble and insoluble fiber which prevents sugar absorption in the gut. Insoluble fiber forms a latticework and soluble fiber forms a gel and they both act as secondary barriers to prevent early absorption of sugar getting to the liver. If your gut doesn’t absorb it early, it goes further down to the intestine where the bacteria will chew it up for consumption to feed the gut. So even if you consumed the fruit, some of that sugar was spent to feed the microbiome.
  • Processed food has no fiber and there’s a reason why the industry doesn’t like fiber. For example, an orange does NOT freeze well as the ice crystals macerate the cell walls and when thawed, becomes mushy. But if you squeeze the orange and freeze it, it’s highly storable making it easier to sell. However, in processing the orange, you’ve deprived your microbiome of all the important fiber in the fruit.
  • Dr. Lustig explains that it’s what’s been done to the food that matters. There are four classifications of processed foods known as the NOVA system, and he uses an apple to describe what each class means:
    • Nova Class 1: An apple is unprocessed and doesn’t need a food label
    • Nova Class 2: Apple slices have been minimally processed as it’s been sliced, destemmed and placed in packaging
    • Nova Class 3: Apple sauce has been crushed/cooked and may or may not have added sugar
    • Nova Class 4: Apple drink which is the juice plus preservatives and added sugar with all the fiber removed. Nova Class 4 is considered ultra-processed and the predictor of disease. He claims that if it has a logo (those juices in the boxes with a cool name on it), it’s ultra-processed.
  • Meat is another example. You would think that meat should be Nova Class 1 if you are buying from the refrigerated meat aisle in the supermarket. However, if the animal comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), that animal had to be pumped with antibiotics in order to survive. This permanently changed the cow’s microbiome which pervades in the meat. And when we eat it, we are causing gut dysfunction by eating the ‘sick’ meat. Hence, this meat is considered “processed” because of what the food industry did to it. But it’s not on the label as the food industry does not have to disclose any of this.

It’s the Insulin, Not Just the Glucose

  • Dr. Lustig says that people think glucose is the problem but it’s insulin that drives chronic metabolic disease. Rising glucose levels are a proxy for a rise in insulin so it’s important to keep both down. Giving insulin to Type 2 diabetics to control blood sugar is not the answer and it’s important to note that insulin has two functions:
    • The first is metabolic – insulin takes up blood glucose and lowers blood sugar
    • The second is cell growth – Insulin also drives cell division and can promote coronary artery muscle division to drive heart attacks and promote breast glandular cell division to develop cancer. 
  • Dr. Lustig states that it’s not just glucose but fructose (like high fructose corn syrup) that accelerates metabolic disease and insulin resistance. Fructose goes to the brain and negatively affects cognitive and behavioral health. There’s a wealth of research and evidence on how food affects the brain and the use of sugar-free diets (ketogenic) to treat conditions like bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

So, what did I learn from this? First, get some baseline data on liver, fasting glucose and insulin levels as Dr. Lustig recommends so you know where you stand today.  Second, eat a whole-foods, non-processed diet with plenty of pesticide-free vegetables and fruits and clean, grass-fed meat. Dr. Lustig follows his own advice – he and his family used to go out twice a week for meals but given that you really don’t know what you are being served at most restaurants, he has cut back his meal outings to just once a month.

Want to learn more? Check out Metabolical – this book has over a 1,000 references which could not be printed as it would add 70 more printed pages so he made all the references available on the book’s website.

Natural Detox Strategies

Did you know that there are over 15,000 man-made chemicals that are in our environment that our body doesn’t know what to do with? As humans, we have not evolved enough to deal with the bombardment of these toxins from the air, water, ground and the atmostphere. We know that toxins are harmful to our biological function so what to do? Thankfully, there are a number of ways to mitigate the risks even though we may not be able to eliminate them completely. So, in this blog, I’ll share some tips on ways to keep your body optimal so it can repair and detox itself.

Clean Air

You need to note what is going into your body that is contributing to your toxin load. One of the most important is the air you breathe. Did you know that air pollution was linked to a higher risk of dying from COVID-19 in the US? If you’re a city dweller, it’s especially important to prioritize clean air in your living space. You may want to invest in an air filter for the areas where you spend most of your time – at least get one for your bedroom so you have clean air to breathe while you sleep. There are plenty of good air filters to choose from in many price ranges. Here are several to consider:

Clean Water

Even if you get tested city water where you live, the drinking water can be contaminated with disease-carrying organisms and toxins leaking into your water source from run-offs from industrial plants, factory farms and even fracking. You can search for the quality of your water in the EWG’s tap water database. Put in your zip code and it will show you which chemicals are above acceptable levels. You can also request a report from your water source on the quality of the tap – keep in mind that only certain contaminants are tested so you won’t actually know what’s in there. So, if you’re not up to solving a mystery, how about opting for a whole house filtration system if the quality of your water source is not up to par? If you cannot afford a whole house filter, invest in a reverse osmosis filter system to put under your sink for drinking/cooking and a shower filter to minimize contact with your skin. Here’s what I use:

Sweat

When you sweat, your skin’s pores open up to eliminate toxins including heavy metals and foreign chemical substances. As your body’s largest organ, the skin can flush wastes out through sweat thereby putting less burden on other organs like the liver, intestines and kidneys. So get a good workout and work up a good sweat. If you are like me and don’t sweat easily (nor want to do a lot of strenuous exercise to get there), you may want to look into a sauna. I like infrared saunas as they don’t require any special hook-up in your home. The infrared saunas use electric and infrared light to create heat waves which are absorbed by your skin. They only go up to about 150 degrees but they do a great job of penetrating through your skin to get you sweating like a pig in no time!

There are many infrared saunas out in the market today – they used to be very expensive but now they have ones for every budget. Alternatively, if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, try one of the sauna blankets – this one got top ratings on Amazon.

Here’s the one I have at home – it’s an investment but it will last at least a decade with proper use.

Clean Food

Eat Organic – Organic food has more nutrients and are rich with natural antioxidants and disease fighting chemicals. If you have your own garden, you are well on your way to feeding your body with optimal nutrtion. If you cannot afford all organic, how about avoiding these dirty dozen that are the most pesticide laden?

Avoid GMOs – Many grains, grain by-products and produce are genetically modified, so always look for the “Non-GMO” label when purchasing. Here are the most prevalent genetically modified products: Soy, Corn, Canola Oil, Mik, Sugar, Zucchini, Yello Squash, Papaya

Grass-Fed or Wild Meat – Grass-fed and wild-caught meat get their diet from natural sources (not corn and other foods that these animals are not meant to eat) and as a result, have a favorable profile of nutrients and essential fatty acids. Same goes for fish – opt for fish choices like wild salmon to minimize contamination over farmed salmon.

Natural Sweeteners – Did you know that artificial sweeteners like aspartame can disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar and actually promote obesity by altering the function of the bacteria that’s in your gut?  With most people trying to lose weight rather than gain, this sounds like a bad idea. But you don’t have to give up the sweets – just stick to natural sweeteners like stevia, monk fruit, allulose and erythritol. They even make tasty sodas from these sweeneters. Here’s the one I drink when I’m craving soda.

Minimize Gluten – Gluten has been linked to intestinal and neurological disorders but it’s in almost everything we eat – bread, pizza, bagels, baked products. Wheat flour being grown today has been hybridized to maximize gluten content to satisfy western tastebuds. Steer clear of gluten if possible – if you are eating out/traveling and find it impossible to avoid, take some digestive enzymes with your meal. Here’s one to have handy.

Artificial Colors and Additives – Did you know that according to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), there are more than 10,000 additivies that are allowed in food? It’s mind boggling what you need to know to avoid as these additives are linked to chronic health issues.  For example, studies have shown a correlation between consumption of artificial food coloring and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children. There has been controversy on the safety of these artificial colors so it’s best to avoid them even if they are considered ‘safe’. The most common ones to look for are Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5, and Yellow No. 6.

Here’s the dirty dozen of food additives you want to steer clear of.

Sleep

Your body powers down at night so it can get to work on cleaning up all the waste that’s been accumulated in your body and brain throughout the day. So, make sure you are getting adequate and proper shut-eye.

Minimize EMF

Were you aware that EMF radiation can negatively impact sleep quality as it reduces the amount of melatonin your body produces at night? So keep that cell phone powered down and away from your bedroom. If you need a device (iPad) to wind down at night like me, download the podcasts and episodes and watch them on airplane mode. I’ve got to have my nightly podcast but with the app, it’s easy to download all the sleepy material to put me under. 

Avoid Plastics

Plastics are not only littering our oceans and harming sea life, they’re harmful to our health, too. A commonly-used plastic additive called Bisphenol A is a known endocrine disruptor leading to hormone dependent cancers and metabolic disorders. Switch to glass (Pyrex is heat and crack-resistant) and or metal containers and bottles. They retain the thermal quality of the food/drink WITHOUT chemical plasticizers and other additives. 

Avoid Chemicals in Cosmetic and Personal Care Products

Were you aware that most personal care and cosmetic products sold in the US are not regulated by the FDA and do not require safety testing of ingredients as they are ‘generally regarded as safe’? There may be dangerous chemicals lurking in your makeup and personal care product so you need to take charge of what you’re putting on your skin, hair and nails. You can go to the EWG database to look up which products are safe to use. Alternatively, you can use the Redify app to scan any product barcode and determine whether it contains toxic ingredients.

Weekend Warrior Injury Prevention and Management: Part 2

As we age, our mind may say ‘yes’ but our body says ‘no’. If you love sports and activities but mostly enjoy them at the weekend, you may be a Weekend Warrior. In this blog, I will highlight some nutritional and supplement tips for injury prevention and management. You don’t have to stop doing what you love if you take stock of what your body is telling you and give it the TLC it needs to regenerate and repair.

Bromelain

Did you know that this enzyme that comes from pineapples is used as a meat tenderizer to break down the connective tissues that makes meat tough? If you want to tenderize a cut of meat fast, make a marinade with some pineapple – it will make the chewy cuts of meat more enjoyable. Bromelain’s enzyme action has been touted and widely used as a natural remedy for improving digestion and reducing inflammation. There’s a lot of scientific evidence (more than 70 studies) evaluating the benefits of bromelain on a variety of conditions including connective tissues injuries, ACL tears, sprained ankles, tendonitis, joint pain and arthritis. In this study, oral bromelain supplementation was as effective as a prescription non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug in reducing pain, swelling and quality of life. 

Bromelain is safe for most people but if you are on blood-thinning medication or supplements, it may increase the risk of bleeding so get the ‘ok’ from your doctor before supplementing. Here’s one to try:

Collagen

Collagen is the most abundant protein in our body and vital to our health as it gives strength and elasticity to our bones, muscles, tendons and skin. As we age, our body naturally loses collagen which leads to sagging skin and achy joints. Your body needs collagen to heal and repair damaged tissue. In this study, daily supplementation with collagen peptides improved skin elasticity while improving joint function and general wellbeing. To get collagen from food, try adding beef or chicken bone broth to your diet. I use it as a cooking base in the winter for soups and stews. I prefer to make my own and store in freezable containers. Here’s a simple recipe:

https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/recipes/a83002/how-to-make-beef-broth/

If you decide to supplement, opt for the multi-collagen variety. Our body has over 15 types of collagen in the body so you want the most comprehensive collagen available in supplemental form. Here’s my favorite:

Magnesium

This essential mineral is involved in over 300 chemical processes in our body to support bone health and aid in the healing of connective tissues and muscles. Magnesium also impacts your muscles’ ability to contract and relax so it’s great for relieving cramps and pain. In this study, even one week of magnesium supplementation showed improvements in muscle soreness and pro-inflammatory responses after strenuous exercise.

 Some magnesium rich foods include spinach, avocado, pumpkin seeds and dark chocolate. If you need a supplement, opt for a type which has multiple forms. I use this one as it contains all seven forms of magnesium.

MSM, Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Most often sold in a combination, these three are natural components of connective tissues and support and restore cartilage tissue and joints. MSM (methylsulfonylmethane) is a great source of sulfur which is critical to the proteins of muscle tissues, bones and joints. Glucosamine is a simple carbohydrate that is used to synthesize cartilage tissue and chondroitin is formed from glucosamine.  Chondroitin is responsible for structuring the connective tissue and providing strength to cartilage, ligaments and bones. These three compounds are produced in sufficient quantities in young and healthy bodies but slow down as we age which result in loss of strength and elasticity.

It is recommended that the compounds are taken together as they reinforce each other’s actions. This controlled trial shows the clinical benefit that the combination of MSM, glucosamine-chondroitin has on osteoarthritis patients.

Here are two to try:

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Often called essential fatty acids (EFAs) as our body is not capable of producing its own so we need to consume it in food or supplement form. There is plenty of well-established evidence on the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids for supporting cardiovascular, skin and mental health, but did you know that EFAs are as effective as NSAIDS in reducing arthritis pain?  

The best sources of omega-3 fatty acids are from cold water fatty fish like salmon, sardines and anchovies which can be consumed twice a week for optimal health benefits. If you are not a fan of fish or prefer to supplement, here are two high-dosage products that have been tested for freshness and purity.

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Turmeric

Known as a super spice and widely used as a powerful anti-inflammatory agent, the active compounds in turmeric, curcuminoids, have also been frequently studied for their impact on joint pain. Turmeric helps heal and repair damaged tissues so the spice should be an integral part of your diet. If you’re like me and don’t cook with turmeric often, you can opt for the supplement form – look for ones that contain bioperine (ingredient in black pepper) to optimize bioavailability. Here’s one to try:

Vitamin C

An essential micronutrient, vitamin C aids in healing and is a potent antioxidant that reduces inflammation and provides immunity by supporting cellular function. There are numerous studies on the role of vitamin C to support immunity. In this randomized clinical trial, high-dose vitamin C (2,000mg/daily) and E (1,400mg/daily) reduced muscle damage and inflammatory responses in athletes.

There are so many ways to get vitamin C into the diet but if you need more than 1,500mg, you can supplement with pure ascorbic acid powder. It is inexpensive but as it can give you disaster pants on too high of a dosage, take it slow until your body can tolerate it (bowel tolerance = until you get the runs). Or if you don’t want the hassle, take the liposomal vitamin C which is more expensive but coated to prevent intestinal discomfort with good bioavailability. I take the more economical powder form at home and add it to my shake but have the liposomal capsules on hand for travel. Here are a couple to try:

Pure ascorbic powder:

Liposomal Vitamin C:

5 Ways to Achieve Mental Fitness

Recently, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting up with Cara Bradley, who is a best selling author (On The Verge: Wake Up, Show Up and Shine), mental strength coach and recently named as one of the most powerful women in the mindfulness movement. Cara exudes a sense of presence and calm that’s apparent when you are with her. Cara’s belief is that similar to the fitness craze that started several decades ago, we are now heading into the mental fitness era and so she developed a protocol that outlines her cross-training strategies to feel alive and vibrant. Here, I’ll highlight the key pillars of the protocol. For a full read, you can submit a request to get your own copy.

First, what does being “mentally fit” mean? It is a mind and body approach that optimizes your physical and emotional state to provide you with clarity, sharpness and resiliency.

Movement

Daily exercise and movement are key to building physical and mental fitness. And as we age, it’s not only aerobic exercise but resistance training that is critical to keep our bodies strong. Aim for 30 minutes most days of the week. Need motivation? How about a workout buddy? Or use a friend to help track progress; for example, I tell my friend that I’m committing to X days a week on resistance training/swimming/walking/hiking and then update her on my progress several times a week. I can do it myself but it’s nice to know someone is keeping tabs on me to make sure I commit to getting it done.

Nervous System Regulation

We are bombarded by negativity and news of calamity which promotes fear, anger, anxiety and stress. Cara suggests that rather than succumb to these ill effects, choose to shift to a calmer state through mindfulness meditation, yoga, proper sleep, spending time outside and optimizing the gut-brain connection.

Sleep

We all know the importance of sleep (check out my earlier blog on getting proper sleep). Poor sleep leads to not only foul moods but also a weakened immune system and even weight gain –  it makes you hungrier and promotes insulin resistance according to this study. So make sure to develop good sleep habits and make sleep a priority. Here’s a 3-minute mindfulness movement for sleep that Cara recommends: https://www.mindful.org/mindful-movement-ease-sleep/

You can also check out my tips on ways to optimize sleep.

Mind Training

Meditation is a practice of being present with your mind while sitting still and breathing. It’s called “practice” because you need to keep doing it on a consistent basis to achieve mental fitness. Here are some tips from Cara to get you going:

Purpose of meditation:

https://www.carabradley.net/50-stable-body-stable-mind-and-the-purpose-of-meditation/

Meet your mind:

https://www.carabradley.net/episode-20-meet-your-mind/

Guided meditation with deep breathing:

Gut-Brain Optimization

Have you heard the famous Hippocrates quote: “All disease begins in the gut”? Well, Cara proclaims that “Mental fitness begins in the gut”. Recent studies have shown that our gut microbiome is made up of more than 100 trillion bacterial cells and they produce more of the feel-good transmitters like serotonin and dopamine than the brain itself.

So, to improve our mood and mental clarity, we need to combine psychological approaches with dietary ones to optimize our gut microbiome. A healthy whole foods diet is a foundational pillar but did you know that the nutrient density of our produce grown in the US has declined in the past 50 years? According to The Rodale Institute, we are eating plants that are nutritionally starved thanks to all the industrial agriculture depleting soils worldwide. So, it’s also important to take supplements to ensure you are getting all the vital nturients critical to your health. I am happy to make what naysayers call ‘expensive urine’ as I don’t have my own soil-rich organic garden nor live in a toxin-free bubble.

I’ve been a long-time fan of the products that are produced by Amare Global – they are a mental fitness company with high quality natural products.  Here’s info on the mental fitness pack:

http://ltl.is/xq9tks2

And Last But Not Least, Get Going!

You don’t need to commit to all of the above at once, but gradually adding one of these practices will form your new habit and an established cross-training routine for your mental health. 

You can check out more of Cara’s mental fitness podcast episodes here: 

https://wavve.link/wvo80HTdW/episodes

Your Gut & Weight Loss Connection

Have you heard all the buzz lately about the role that your gut microbiome has on your weight? There’s an ever-growing body of research around this with plenty of evidence for the association between gut bacteria and obesity in both infants and adults. In fact, the microbial changes in your gut can be considered a factor involved in obesity development as modifications to the bacteria in the digestive tract can reshape the metabolic profile. So, if that has you thinking about popping bottles of probiotics or even a fecal transplant to lose that extra baggage, read on…

Awesome bacteria

We have many hundreds of different species of bacteria in our gut and while some are harmful and cause illness, most are necessary for human health. They produce vitamins (like vitamin K) and can help your body fight off invaders. They determine how the foods you eat are digested and can promote satiety. So, having a lot of varied, beneficial bacteria is clearly good for you. This study conducted on human twin subjects showed that the obese twin had lower bacterial diversity compared to the non-obese twin.

The bacteria in your gut can even impact how fats from foods are absorbed and stored in the body. I envision these bacteria running around my gut doing aerobics to burn off the dietary fat I consume so it’s not stored in my thighs.

Sharing awesome bacteria

I am definitely not advocating sharing any fecal matter with anybody (unless you absolutely need a transplant) but this research is part of a growing body of evidence that your gut CAN shape your weight. A fecal microbiota transplant, also known as a stool transplant, is the process of transferring fecal bacteria and other microbes from a healthy individual into another individual. FMT is an effective treatment for C. difficile infection. This study showed that the sharing of thin mice fecal matter prevented the development of increased body mass and obesity-related markers in obese mice mates.

So, how do we cultivate awesome bacteria? As Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”

  • Fiber

One of the reasons why the whole foods-based approach to eating is recommended is due to its high fiber content. So, it should come as no surprise that studies are showing that people eating a high fiber diet have lower weight. This is not just due to the fact that fiber lowers insulin levels and promotes satiety but also the role that the gut bacteria has in digesting that fiber. This review shows how fermentation of dietary fiber by gut microbiota leads to the production of short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate and acetate) which suppresses inflammation, carcinogenesis and maintains a healthy balance of the digestive tract.

Remember, processed food = no good fiber (cardboard has fiber but your gut won’t process it)

Whole food = good fiber

Eating a diet rich in high-fiber vegetables and fruits will keep the bacteria in your GI tract busy and happy and help you achieve a thin-person gut microbiome. 

If you feel like you need some help as no one has a perfect diet, you can try supplementing with probiotics. There are numerous studies done on various strains of probiotics and its impact on weight loss. Here are a couple for you to check out:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24299712/

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25473159/

Strains containing Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus have the most evidence for assisting with weight loss – here are ones that have been independently tested for strength and quality:

Lactobacillus:

Bifidobacterium:

  • Flavonoids

Did you know that your gut likes to digest antioxidants commonly found in plants called flavonoids? And that studies have shown that flavonoids can prevent weight gain? Flavonoids are a class of compounds (with six different subtypes) that are rich in antioxidant activity to help ward off inflammation, rid toxins and keep you svelte.

Here is a list of foods rich in flavonoids:
  • Fruits – apples, all berries, peaches, grapefruit, lemons, limes, red and purple grapes
  • Vegetables – broccoli, kale, onions, tomatoes, lettuce, scallions, celery, red peppers
  • Herbs/tea – chamomile, parsley, peppermint, white/green/oolong/black tea
  • And don’t forget dark chocolate!

Injury Prevention Tips for Weekend Warriors

If you enjoy the great outdoors, yardwork, gardening, sports but like many of us, have sedentary jobs, you may be labeled a ‘Weekend Warrior’. These folks typically sit in the office all week and then physically exert themselves on weekends to ‘catch up’ on all the activities they love. Unfortunately, this can be a shock to our bodies particularly as we age, and can often result in a whole list of ailments including shin splints, pulled/strained muscles, plantar fasciitis (heal pain), tennis elbow, knee pain, back pain, neck pain, tendonitis, rotator cuff injuries, ankle sprains – and more! Many of us are no longer 20-somethings but continue to dive into activities forgetting how much more pliable, fit and well-trained we were as youngsters. If you are not frequently training to improve your core strength, flexibility and endurance, you are almost certainly putting yourself at risk for Weekend Warrior injuries. 

So, in this first blog of a series, I’ll cover tips on how to enjoy your activities without getting hurt.

Gradually increase your activity level and do it often!
  • Increase your workouts 10-20% a week to give your body time to build and include enough rest days to ensure adequate repair. The older you are, it’s likely you will need more time to recover so don’t try to keep up with the teenagers but go at your body’s comfortable pace. Keep in mind that even young, competitive athletes train to gradually build strength and endurance over time. When I was in my 20s and 30s, I would push myself to do 5-6 intense workouts a week but was constantly catching a bug/cold. If only I knew then what I know now…
  • If you are active most days of the week with exercise and resistance workouts, you are ‘conditioning’ your body for the weekend ahead and preventing injuries. So don’t be a couch potato during the week – aim for at least 20-30 minutes of exercise daily. If weather is not cooperating, you can do resistance training at home or a short Tabata workout (intense 20-40 sec movement with 10-20 sec break) which requires no equipment. Here are several to try:
Wear the right gear!
  • In addition to safety gear (helmets, knee and elbow pads) and comfortable/supportive clothing, you need proper footwear. If you like to run, buy running shoes that support your shins and feet. You can have the right ones measured for your sport and foot form at stores like Fleet Feet. And make sure you replace the shoes after 350-500 miles. Click to find a Fleet Feet store near you: https://www.fleetfeet.com  
  • To protect your bones and muscles, you can try compression socks and wraps to help reduce inflammation and swelling. I wear compression socks for long plane rides so my shoes will still fit by the end of the journey! They are widely available in different lengths and styles. This one got high marks but make sure you hand wash them so you can wear them for a long time.
Stretching and posture
  • You should incorporate a stretch routine daily even if you are not working out. Stretching can improve flexibility and range of motion while reducing muscle tension. If you’re like me and have little patience for stretching, here’s a 5-minute full body one to try: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2L2lnxIcNmo
  • Have you heard of the Egoscue technique? It was designed to build proper posture and body alignment to prevent injuries and pain. When you are in alignment, the spine and muscles  work in sync with optimal function instead of trying to compensate for each other’s weakness. Try out this 5-minute Egoscue exercise to start your day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FdNS95hpL-o
Keep hydrated!

It’s important to keep yourself hydrated especially during the summer heat to avoid cramps, muscle pains and other injuries. Your body sweats out water, electrolytes and even toxins so you should replenish all of it minus the junk. These are good tablets to have around to add to your water. They taste good and have calcium, potassium, magnesium and sodium:

To take a comprehensive approach to hydration, you should also add the trace minerals that your body needs. Trace minerals are essential but only needed in small amounts. Your body depletes them through activity and sweating so it needs to be replenished in small quantities. I like the fulvic and humic trace minerals because they are plant-based, 100% bioavailable and work in concert to support hydration, optimize nutrient uptake and assist in removing cellular waste. As a fan of fulvic/humic mineral complexes, I take it daily even if I’m not doing any physically exerting activities. There are many on the market but this one is pure, odorless and tasteless so mixes in nicely with whatever drink you are having:

Magic Pills for Weight Loss?

If you are like many Americans that are always on a ‘diet’ or hoping to lose the muffin-top, you may have tried many strategies and ‘potions’ that are on the market today. The weight loss market is a HUGE (no pun intended) industry and rife with all kinds of get-thin-quick scams and beautiful before and after photos and videos of successful losers. Don’t fall for the hype – you didn’t gain the weight overnight so why would it disappear as quickly? There are also a lot of weight loss supplements with proven claims of weight/fat loss – most are modest and usually funded by the supplement manufacturers.

Cutting carbs and processed foods, eating whole foods which have low sugar and high fiber (clean veggies, fruit and protein), good sleep, adequate exercise and a healthy mind are still the keys to a successful weight loss effort.

If all this sounds overwhelming, Iet’s focus on what we put into our mouths. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence-based ways to boost your weight loss regimen with key ingredients that are available in foods.

 

Berberine

As a pre-diabetic, berberine is part of my daily arsenal in the fight against rising blood sugar and insulin levels. This is technically not a food (I bet it doesn’t taste good) as berberine is an extract found in roots of plants like goldenseal (also called orangeroot or yellow puccoon, a perennial herb in the buttercup family). It has been shown to be as effective as metformin (a diabetes drug) in reducing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. And it has also been shown to lower total and LDL cholesterol. In this systematic review of studies conducted on the efficacy of berberine, its impact on decreasing lipid and glucose levels and modulating gut bacteria (it can eliminate H. pylori) demonstrated its use in obesity treatment and prevention.

Here are several to try that have been independently tested:

Green Tea (EGCG)

Green tea contains a class of catechins (called EGCG) which is the primary antioxidant and has been shown to reduce body weight in obese subjects by increasing energy expenditure and fat oxidation. This study indicates EGCG’s mechanism of action is by increasing the activity of norepinephrine, a hormone that helps you burn fat.

There are many green tea extracts on the market but I prefer to consume it in whole form – it’s delicious and you derive the same benefit. Here are several brands to try – look for organic if possible and check if it’s been tested for pesticides and contamination:

 

Fiber

Did you know that consumption of dietary fiber is a key predictor of weight loss? This study done on 345 overweight participants showed that fiber intake was the most influential factor in promoting weight loss and dietary adherence.

It’s important to note that both soluble and insoluble fiber are essential:

  • Soluble fiber dissolves in water and forms a gel-like material as it passes through your digestive tract so it reduces your body’s ability to absorb fat. It also feeds the healthy bacteria in your gut to improve digestion while lowering inflammation. Good sources include: apples, beans, carrots, and oats. I personally like a form of fiber called inulin which is also considered a prebiotic. It’s available in powder form and I have it in my morning shake. This one come from the agave plant:

  • Insoluble fiber keeps the bowels moving, prevents constipation and can reduce your risk of hemorrhoids and other colorectal conditions. Good sources include: berries, nuts, vegetables (including cauliflower, cabbage, green beans, potatoes), and wheat bran.

Psyllium contains both soluble (80%) and insoluble (20%) fiber and can be used to supplement if you think you’re getting insufficient quantities from your whole foods diet. Here are two that have been independently tested to be free of lead, cadmium and other contaminants:

Glucomannan

Glucomannan is also a form of fiber and found in the roots of the elephant yam – it’s also known as konjac root. It becomes gel-like and absorbs water in your gut to promote a feeling of satiety. This randomized, controlled study conducted on 176 subjects demonstrated that glucomannan fiber added to a healthy diet promoted up to 10 pounds of weight loss over a five week period.

I actually don’t mind the zero taste of konjac root which is sold as shirataki – it comes in noodle and rice forms. It is a bit weird in texture (some describe it as rubbery) so I use the rice to add to soups and mix the noodles with regular spaghetti. Here are several to try:

Shirataki/konjac root is considered low carb, low calorie, gluten-free, Paleo and ketogenic – so if you’re interested in doing more with this miracle food, check out the recipes below:

https://miraclenoodle.com/blogs/recipes

 

Sulforaphane

Did you know that activating a protein called Nrf2 (sounds like nerf ball) in your body will not only increase fat burning but also turn on cells that generate antioxidants and assist with detoxification? And guess what – sulforaphane is a powerful Nrf2 activator. What is sulforaphane? It’s the active compound in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts and cabbage that has anti-inflammatory, detoxifying and brain enhancing benefits. And the best part is that you can get them all through the foods you eat.

Broccoli sprouts are considered to have 25X more sulforaphanes than regular broccoli. If you want to supercharge your diet with broccoli sprouts, you can get them at your local store (in small containers) or if you are ambitious, grow your own.

For the green thumbs out there, here are options and instructions to grow your own

https://harpersnurseries.com/how-to-grow-broccoli-sprouts/

If you want to stick to regular broccoli, try steaming or lightly cooking them as it will increase the amount of sulforaphanes your body absorbs by up to 300 percent. And remember to buy fresh broccoli as frozen ones have little to no sulforaphanes left due to processing.