Cardiovascular Disease is Not Just About the Heart

I listened to another great podcast on Dr. Mark Hyman’s Farmacy – Longevity Roadmap series.  He and his guests from The Ultrawellness Center where they focus on a functional medicine approach to treat patients, talk about drivers of heart disease and what we can do to prevent it.

Here are the highlights:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not just about the heart

You need to look at the whole vascular, endothelial and lymphatic system.

  • The endothelial layer is the cell layer that lines inside of our arteries and this needs to relax to allow blood to get to all the tissues in the body. If this does not relax, blood pressure will go up. It can take years of endothelial dysfunction before one can develop hypertension.
  • Oxidative stress and inflammation can damage the endothelium.
  • Visceral fat (weight around the belly) actually secretes IL6 and tumor necrosis factors which cause inflammation of the body. So when men gain weight around the belly, they also have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
  • Did you know that blueberries are rich in anthocyanins that contribute to the improvement of your endothelium? One cup of blueberries twice a day can drop systolic BP as much as blood pressure medication.

Insulin resistance is the enemy

  • Insulin takes the food we ingest and gets it into cells to use for energy.
  • However, the poor diet we eat forces our bodies to become insulin resistant which means more insulin is produced to get the energy into the cells. High levels of insulin cause you to gain weight around the belly and have been associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia.   
  • Everyone should get their fasting insulin measured – why isn’t this standard practice?
  • Fasting insulin of less than 12 is considered normal BUT ideal should be closer to 5! So if your insulin is between 7-12, you could be pre-diabetic. A high fasting insulin means you have insulin resistance. My levels vary between 5-9 so I check them regularly.

CVD is NOT about cholesterol

Rather, it’s about inflammation and how cholesterol responds.

  • Cholesterol is not water soluble so it must be carried by lipoproteins (HDL/LDL). 
  • LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to parts of the body where it’s needed.
  • HDL carries it from the periphery of the body back to the liver for disposal. Like giant dump trucks taking away the trash, HDL carries cholesterol away to dispose of it so it is considered “good cholesterol.”
  • Cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation. When the endothelial lining of the blood vessel wall gets inflamed, it creates an opening in the protective lining. When this happens, the immune system recognizes it as a foreign body and initiates an immune response – which makes the LDL flood to the inflamed area to cover it. This grows and turns into plaque which eventually prevents blood flow, leading to ischemic heart disease. That’s why cholesterol gets a bad rap even though it’s inflammation that’s causing it.
  • Standard American diet staples like refined carbohydrates, processed vegetable fats (corn, soy, sunflower) and sugar all cause inflammation. It’s no surprise why heart disease is the number one killer in the US.  
  • Statins for primary prevention have no role. Statins are poisonous to the mitochondria and can increase insulin resistance and diabetes. Statins should NOT be used for preventive heart disease. High cholesterol is NOT a statin deficiency!
  • Around 0.5% of the population have what’s called familial hypercholesterolemia which is a genetic trait where one cannot get rid of cholesterol easily. If you have total Cholesterol of over 300 with LDL levels higher than 190, you may want to get tested to see if you have this genetic variation. This group of patients would really benefit from a cholesterol controlling medication like statins.
  • Did you know that you can make your LDL get bigger and fluffier by removing sugar and processed foods from your diet? You should ask your provider for an NMR Lipid Profiles Test to determine the molecular structure of the lipoproteins (number and size). “Particle number” is a measure of how many LDLs you have and the size is how big/fluffy they are.  Small, dense LDLs penetrate into the endothelial layer and build plaque quickly. But if you have big LDL particles and fewer of them, you are at less risk. It’s covered by most insurance so ask your provider for the test.

What to take to optimize your cholesterol

  • Plant sterols (compounds found in plants) will bind to cholesterol in the intestines and remove them via the stool. It’s been shown that 2 grams of plant sterols can lower LDL cholesterol by 10%. So make sure to include legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet as these are rich in plant sterols.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) can have a positive impact on cholesterol – it can lower triglycerides and LDL and raise HDL. But work with your provider if trying niacin as it can cause very uncomfortable hot flushes.
  • Fish oil has been widely studied to lower LDL cholesterol, TG and raise HDL. The rule of thumb is that if you eat less than 1.5 servings of oily fish per week, supplement with ~1 gram of fish oil per day. If you’re mostly pescetarian, you may not need additional fish oil.  Not a fan of fish? Flaxseed (1-2 TBPS) and nuts (1 oz daily) can also impact cholesterol. To minimize the healthy oils going rancid, buy fresh flaxseed and raw nuts and keep them in the freezer and take out as needed.
  • If you’re taking statins, you should supplement with Co-Q10 as statins are known to inhibit Co-Q10. Co-Q10 is vital for body and mitochondrial function. Also, as we get older, our Co-Q10 levels drop so it may be a good idea to supplement.

Genes may load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger

  • Inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance and toxins from bad diets, stress, nutritional deficiency, lack of exercise, etc. all lead to high cholesterol, high BP, high sugar levels and ultimately heart disease.
  • BUT, 90% of all diseases including CVD are caused by the sum total of all our life inputs into our body: diet, activity, stress, sleep, relationships, connections, meaning, purpose, toxins, microbes, allergens and more.  So the good news is that we have control over almost all of it.

Adopt these 4 behaviors to prevent heart disease

  • A multinational study of over half a million participants showed that four simple behaviors prevented 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers.  No medication can do that!
    • Stop smokingStick to a plant rich diet, low starch, nuts, seeds, with a moderate amount of quality fish and meatExercise – at least 150 minutes per week including resistance training
    • Maintain strong mental health with stress-relieving meditation and breathing techniques

Click here to listen to this podcast.

The Diet Army Against Cancer

Albert Einstein said “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”  

A proper whole-foods based diet does more than keep you healthy, it can also help your body actively fight against cancer and prevent its development. With more and more people in the US getting diagnosed with cancer each year, it’s vital to know how you can best prevent cancer with your lifestyle, especially your diet! 

In the US, the probability of being diagnosed with cancer is almost 40%, and it’s slightly higher for men than it is for women, as reported by the American Cancer Society. About 4,700 people are diagnosed with cancer each day in the US, and many of those diagnoses are due to lifestyle choices which give rise to cancer development.

Research has shown time and time again that a varied plant-based diet can help prevent and at times, even reverse cancer. But where do you even begin? Today, we’ve outlined six foods you can prioritize in your daily meals to fight cancer:

 

Legumes—AKA beans!

You might remember the childhood song that starts with “Beans, beans, the magical fruit…” Well, beans obviously are not a fruit, but their fiber content will certainly get your digestive tract moving as the lyrics of the song allude to.

Increased fiber intake has been linked to decreased rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. One study even connected eating lentils and beans to reduced risk of cancers anywhere on the digestive tract (mouth, stomach, colon, rectum). Legumes also include folate, lignans, and saponins, and other phytochemicals important to maintaining your health!

 

Leafy Vegetables—Anything colorful in the produce aisle!

Vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, and other greens are high in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these have been shown to slow or prevent cancer development in its early stages. The compounds which give these veggies their dark green hue—carotenoids—have also been connected to a reduction in a variety of cancers.

Having a kale salad, choosing collards as a side dish, or sauteing spinach in with a pasta dinner can give you more of these helpful nutrients, and help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer down the line.

 

Add in Some Cabbage & Cruciferous Veggies

Cabbage we all know, but you might not be as familiar with the term cruciferous vegetables. Examples of these are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and many of the dark, leafy greens we just discussed.

Eating cruciferous vegetables has been connected to a reduced rate of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer. These veggies contain isothiocyanates (ITCs) which strongly work against cancerous compounds and cells. Other compounds in cruciferous vegetables have also been shown to decrease inflammation and support other processes in the body to fight cancer.

These are some of the best vegetables for your health! Consider roasting cauliflower or broccoli in the oven with a range of spices for a healthy and delicious addition to your meal.

 

Have a Celery Snack!

This stalky veggie is 95% water, and though the hydration is helpful, the real power is packed in its apigenin and luteolin content. Apigenin and luteolin fight free radicals in the body which can lead to cancer development. Apigenin has been shown to cause certain types of cancer cells to essentially self-destruct, while luteolin has been shown to cut the reproduction cycle of cancer cells!

Munch on some celery with nut butter or have it chopped up in your tuna salad to access these cancer fighting benefits!

 

Eat more berries

Berries are infamous for their cancer fighting properties! Ellagic acid is found in most berries. This acid slows tumor growth and consequent cancer development. Berries also have a variety of antioxidants, which aid protection against skin, bladder, esophageal, breast, and lung cancers.

Add some berries to your morning cereal or an afternoon smoothie for the antioxidant, cancer-preventive boost!

 

Spice it up with Garlic & Turmeric

Many spices can be extremely helpful in preventing cancer. Turmeric, a bright orange root typically used in Indian food, has a compound called curcumin which has been linked to decreased cancer risk. Curcumin is most effective from turmeric directly (rather than a supplement or powder), so consider slicing it or grating it in your next curry dish.

One longitudinal study followed over 40,000 women, tracking their diet over five years. The food most highly correlated with a decrease in colon cancer was garlic—women who ate more garlic had a 50% lower risk of certain cancer. It’s believed that the compound diallyl disulfide found in garlic contributes to its anti-cancer abilities. The good news is that you probably already eat a lot of these foods and they’re readily available at your local supermarket—you don’t need to go hunting for them at some small, organic supermarket in your area. There are plenty of ways you can weave these cancer-preventing foods into your diet in a delicious and nutritious way. Get creative and get started today to empower your body against cancer!

Hypertension – It’s Not Just About the Salt

Hypertension is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the nation, affecting nearly half of all adults in the US. However, many people are unaware of the risks and complications associated with high blood pressure. Before delving into the lifestyle modifications that can reduce the risk of and manage the diagnosis of high blood pressure, let’s start off with the basic tenets of Hypertension Comprehension:

  1. Hypertension is characterized by a blood pressure of over 130 systolic and over 80 diastolic. (If you’re unaware of your blood pressure and fear you may be at risk of hypertension, see a doctor to obtain an accurate reading).
  2. High blood pressure puts you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the US.
  3. African-Americans and males are at a higher risk of developing hypertension.
  4. High blood pressure does not come with any warning signs or symptoms, causing most unaffected individuals to be unaware of their condition.

It is generally well known that excess salt consumption can play a factor in elevating blood pressure levels. However, recent research has shown increased intake of sugars and carbs to play an equal, if not more significant, role in developing hypertension. A 2018 study published by the Journal of American Medical Association found an increased prevalence of hypertension in participants with a diet high in processed, fried, and sweetened foods. The REGARDS (Reasons for Geographical and Racial Differences in Stroke) study indicated an association between this finding and the high disparity of hypertension prevalence in African-Americans.

 

The hidden risks of processed foods

Processed foods, as defined by the USDA, are foods that have undergone a procedure, whether that be canning, freezing, or pasteurizing, that alters the whole food. Most processed foods are chocked full of additives, including preservatives, sugars, and salts, which frequently destroy the natural nutrients produced by the food. These time-saving meals are part of the diet for many households but their effects can be detrimental to our health. How does this happen?

  • Processed foods contain an unnatural ratio of salts, sugars, and carbs to healthy nutrients. The excess amount of sugar, salt, and carbs cannot be digested properly, causing many of the nutritious vitamins and minerals to dissipate and leaving only the influx of salt, sugar, and carbs to enter your blood stream.
  • Your body craves balance, a concept known as homeostasis, and the excess amounts of processed foods in your diet hinder this equilibrium and cause your body to over-compensate for the imbalance.
  • In response to the carbohydrates, your body will over-produce insulin, which in turn causes your kidneys to decrease sodium and water excretion, constrict your blood vessels, and increase your blood pressure.
  • An influx of sugar in your diet inhibits your body’s ability to produce a molecule called Nitric Oxide, which serves to dilate your blood vessels. Lack of nitric oxide leads to constriction of your blood vessels, directly increasing your blood pressure.

Processed foods contain very high amounts of sugars, carbs, and salts, all of which significantly increase your risk of hypertension.

  • The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 24 grams (~100 calories) of sugar. For reference, a can of Coca-Cola contains 39g of sugar.
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommends ~300g of carbs each day. A soft pretzel contains 65g of carbs, which is over 20% of your daily intake.
  •  

So, what can you do about it?

Despite the detrimental health qualities of sugar, few people will disagree with its taste. If you’re still feeling a sweet-tooth, try swapping for an alternative. Stevia, monk fruit, Allulose and honey are all great replacements.

  • Stevia is an element of the sunflower leaf containing stevioside, a compound that is 200 times as sweet as sugar. It contains no carbohydrates or calories and has been shown to lower blood glucose levels.
  • Monk fruit contains compounds 300-400 times as sweet as sugar. Again, with no carbohydrates, sodium, or fat, and no effect on blood glucose levels.
  • Allulose is another great alternative, offering limited carbohydrates and no effect on blood glucose levels, due to ability to be absorbed quickly by the digestive tract.
  • Honey is great in moderation, as it is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for your body. However, it can still influence blood glucose levels.

Similarly, alternate seasonings can be used while cooking to reduce salt consumption, while still offering a flavorful meal. Garlic, lemon juice/zest, dried/powdered onion, pepper, paprika, dill, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and ginger are wonderful additions to any culinary dish. These seasonings will enhance the natural flavors of the food you’re cooking, which frequently contain enough sodium on their own. When you do want to use salt, keep in mind that different types of salt are not necessarily healthier. An AHA survey indicated that 61% of Americans believe sea salt to contain less sodium than table salt. In reality, these salts all contain the same chemical composition and the same amount of sodium by weight. The type of salt you choose – whether it be Himalayan, Celtic, or Kosher – is purely a matter of taste and preference. The healthiest choice in this regard is simply to limit your intake, regardless of your penchant for a certain type of salt.

For more information on what constitutes a processed food, see this article: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/

Breaking the Binge Eating Cycle: Darn it – It’s your hormones

Binge eating plagues a lot of us. The post-meal or late night snack raids of Domino’s pizza, a box of Oreo’s, or a pint (or two) of Jenni’s ice cream has become a secret, shame-ridden ritual for many people, especially in places like the US where heavily processed food is more common and readily available.

For some people, it really is a harmless, occasional late night snack. For others, however, these binge eating habits can snowball into a collection of disorders colloquially referred to as binge, compulsive, or emotional eating, but may formally fall under Binge Eating Disorder.

But what’s behind this desire to binge? Why do 3M Americans struggle with what’s called Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

The underlying factors causing BED are many and varied, and in this series, we’re focusing on two of them: hormonal imbalances and emotions. Today, we’re diving into the hormones that drive binge eating and how you can bring them back into balance.

 

Which hormones affect binge eating?

Hormones are chemical messengers that move throughout our body, signaling from the brain to various organs what needs to happen, and vice versa. When hormones are out of balance, it’s like they’re sending the wrong messages—eating when not hungry, eating past full, etc.

Dr. Mark Hyman termed the “four hormones of the apocalypse” which contribute to the desire to binge eat. They’re listed below with their various effects:

 

Insulin
The body manufactures insulin to process any form of sugar (glucose, sucrose, fructose) that you ingest. When you eat a sugary meal—pancakes with syrup for breakfast, for instance—your insulin will spike (a “sugar rush”), but then crash. That crash makes you hungry for food, even if you just finished a big (sugary) meal.

 

Leptin
Leptin is a hormone that signals to your brain when you’re done eating and are satiated. But ingesting high amounts of sugary, processed foods and carbs leads to leptin working less effectively. So even if leptin tells the brain “Hey, I’m full!”, a high-sugar diet makes the brain effectively ignore those messages from leptin. Hence, this leads to more eating without any brakes to control it.

 

Ghrelin
Ghrelin is what tells the brain when we’re hungry and ready to munch. It’s produced in the stomach and highly affected by sleep. Ghrelin imbalances lead to a constant feeling of appetite, even if your body doesn’t actually need food.

 

Peptide YY
Similar to Leptin, Peptide YY is another hormone which signals that you’re full. If it’s not produced enough or if its messages aren’t received by the brain, then we will likely overeat and constantly snack.

 

BONUS: Cortisol
We might have mentioned four horsemen earlier, but really, there are five. Cortisol is the hormone that’s produced under stressful conditions to help our body escape stress. The effects of cortisol on the body require more energy, which leads to more hunger and higher blood sugar levels. In part 2 of this series, we’ll talk more about the importance of cortisol in emotional regulation!

 

These hormones are all here to work for us, not against us. It’s just a matter of getting them back in balance so they can send their messages effectively.

 

How can I balance my hormones to curb binge eating?

Get enough sleep
Sleep is one of the BIGGEST factors affecting appetite. With decreased sleep, ghrelin production goes up! In other words, your brain is getting signals that your appetite is higher, even if your energetic need for calories hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, peptide YY production also goes down under sleep-deprived conditions, meaning you’re not getting the right signals to stop eating.

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and notice how your appetite changes with adequate sleep!

 

Eat regularly
The intermittent fasting trend has some people skipping meals and eating within a small window, but the key is eating balanced meals regardless of your eating window to maintain your blood sugar. As a pre-diabetic, I do not do well on intermittent fasting beyond a 14-hour period (if I finish dinner by 7pm, I usually have to eat breakfast around 9am the next day) but this varies widely by individual. I have family members that easily fast for 18 hours and do not even realize it.

If you skip breakfast and feel tired and weak, then make it a goal to start eating a protein-full breakfast each morning. This will make it less likely for your appetite to spike late at night, and will keep your blood sugar steady.

 

Balance your meals

When you eat, ensure that you’re eating enough fiber, protein and healthy fats (you can read more about which fats to use in our blog post here). The combination of fiber (from veggies and complex carbs like beans), protein and healthy fat keeps your blood sugar steady.

Similarly, avoid highly processed, sugary foods, especially drinks! Everything in moderation of course—don’t feel like you have to cut out every bit of sugar from your life. Make an effort to decrease your sugar intake, however, as it can become addictive and fuel hormonal imbalances. Starting by cutting out any sugary sodas or coffees can help get your hormones and blood sugar back on track.

 

Regulate your stress
The stress-hormone cortisol often has a multiplier effect on worsening other parts of your physical health, including appetite and weight. If you find yourself eating when you’re stressed, consider adding more mindfulness into your habits with food. This means asking yourself things like: “Am I actually hungry? What do I feel in my body right now? Why do I want to eat this right now?”

Following that mindfulness moment, see if there’s another stress-reducing action you can take: a few minutes of deep breathing, a short walk, a conversation with a friend. Weave stress-relieving techniques into your daily schedule, too, to decrease your overall stress and better regulate your hormones! Check out our article on stress management here for more research-backed ways you can decrease stress.

 

Consider supplements
Some supplements can help you balance your hormones and blood sugar as well. Two in particular—Omega-3 fats and Vitamin D—can be especially helpful.

Omega-3 fats, typically found in fish oil supplements, can help fight insulin resistance and decrease erratic appetites. Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested:

Vitamin D is another supplement that can work wonders for your health. It regulates hormones and balances insulin. If you find your stress weighing on your mental health, too, Vitamin D is often recommended to increase overall mood.  

Medium dose (2000 IU):

High dose (5000 IU):

Binge eating can feel defeating and shame-ridden, but when you realize that your body and hormones are driving you to overconsume, some of that guilt can be mitigated as you’ll realize it’s not just an issue of willpower. Use these tips to start balancing your hormones, and check back on another post on how to manage the emotional components of overeating!

You are the Salt of the Earth – Common Myths About Hypertension

Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a catalyst for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the United States. Nearly half of the adults in the US have high blood pressure (characterized by a blood pressure of 130/80mmHg or higher) and only one quarter of those are properly managing their condition. Hypertension is known as the “silent killer”. Because there are no warning signs for high blood pressure, many people are unaware that they are living with this condition, and thus do little to maintain control over it.

Have you ever heard the saying: “Be careful what you believe, even salt and sugar look alike”?

Allow me to apply it in de-bunking a common myth about hypertension. While salt and sugar have similar characteristics in terms of size, shape, and coloring, their effects on your body couldn’t be farther from the same. Many people believe excess salt intake to be the primary cause of high blood pressure. Physicians are unestablished on where this consensus arose from, as studies dating back 100 years have been unable to indicate a positive correlation between salt intake and blood pressure. In fact, a 1998 review study comparing dietary sodium intake and mortality rates actually found little correlation between the two, indicating that decreasing your salt intake can lower your blood pressure, but that was only found to be a short-term fix. To that end, a study published by the American Journal of Medicine in 2006 examined a similar relationship and actually found that too little salt (<2400mg/day, as advised by the AHA) can significantly increase your risk of heart disease by 50%.

So, if it’s not just salt, what is the culprit behind hypertension? You might’ve guessed…it’s the not-so-sweet “look-alike”, Sugar.

Obesity, insulin resistance, and increased levels of Triglycerides have been dubbed the Triad of Hypertension. The commonality among them? Sugar. Let’s break them down one-by-one:

Obesity. There are a lot of factors at play when correlating obesity and hypertension. Obesity can alter your sympathetic nervous system (your body’s fight-or-flight response) and induce hormone signaling pathways. One important effect of obesity is the over-compression of your kidneys, which is caused by the increase of visceral fat tissue in your midsection. Your kidneys work to excrete water and regulate the salt levels in your body to maintain the body’s blood pressure. But the increased stress caused by the excess visceral fat tissue can inhibit proper kidney function, which in turn, causes high blood pressure.

  • Insulin Resistance. Insulin resistance occurs when the cells in your body are unable to use insulin effectively. Due to this, your body attempts to produce more insulin, leading to increased levels of glucose in the blood, increased water and sodium retention, and, as a result, increased blood pressure.
  • High Levels of Triglycerides. Triglycerides are a form of fat created by your body after eating, which your body will store for energy use between meals. High levels of triglycerides can occur from over-eating, under-exercising, and high consumption of alcohol. When your body encounters a chronic build-up of triglycerides in the blood, your arterial walls begin to harden and thicken, causing them to narrow. The excess strain on your arteries will, in turn, increase your blood pressure and cause hypertension.

Now that we’ve uncovered the medical causes behind hypertension, here’s how you can manage your blood pressure to prevent hypertension.

  1. Eat well. Your body requires sufficient nutrients to survive. Eating a well-balanced meal is incredibly important in allowing your body to reach its peak performance.
  2. Exercise. It is crucial to allow your body some movement daily. Yoga, walking, or an at-home workout video are great ways to manage your weight and ensure you are keeping your blood pressure under control.
  3. Limit your sugar, salt, and carb intake. Processed foods are chock full of excessive amounts of salt and sugar, both of which are negatively impacting your blood pressure.
  4. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption. Many alcoholic beverages contain high amounts of sugar and carbs, which are directly affecting your blood pressure. Excessive consumption of alcohol is also a common cause of obesity.
  5. Eat anti-inflammatory foods. Healthy fats, such as fish, eggs, turkey, avocadoes, and nuts are great sources of antioxidants, and help to limit inflammation of your blood vessels and reduce your blood pressure.
  6. Avoid inflammatory foods. While anti-inflammatory foods can lower your blood pressure, inflammatory foods can significantly increase your blood pressure. Grain products, fried foods, processed foods, soda, fast foods, and commercial salad dressings are all known to cause inflammation in your blood vessels. It’s best to avoid these to reduce your risk of hypertension.

Excess salt intake is blamed for hypertension, and while it can have negative effects on your blood pressure, excess carb and sugar intake are stronger forces causing hypertension. People with high blood pressure should take care in limiting their salt intake but be conscious in avoiding excess amounts of carbs and sugars, as well. Remember, you’re sweet enough already!

Read more on the 1998 review study here: https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736%2897%2909092-2/fulltext

Read more on the 2006 second NHANES study here: https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343%2805%2901046-6/fulltext

You may also be interested in this book where evidence points to other factors beyond salt as the enemy of good health: The Salt Fix – How Experts Got it Wrong

Nature’s Brilliance — Food as Medicine

How 6 Natural Foods Have Impacted Modern Medicine

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” is attributed to Hippocrates and although he did not see food and medicine as the same, it’s indicated from his writings that diet and lifestyle are central to health. 

But ancient cultures have used food as medicine for centuries, dating all the way back to the Egyptians who used various plants to treat everything from animal bites to mental health issues. Similarly, Chinese Herbalism and Indian Ayurvedic medicine are rooted in eating different foods to manage or cure different illnesses.

Pharmaceutical companies took notes from these ancient cultures and developed new drugs from the active compounds found on land and sea. My PhD thesis was on the synthesis of an anti-cancer compound that was extracted from natural plants – how cool is that?

This blog will highlight the wonders of nature – I’ll cover six foods and how they have impacted modern-day drugs.

 

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

Whether it’s a green Granny Smith or a shiny Honeycrisp, apples have been integral to the research on drugs to balance blood sugar levels.

Apples have always been known to be great for managing blood sugar due to their fiber content, but a newly discovered compound in apples has actually led to the development of a new diabetes drug.

Discovered in the 2010s, the active compound in apples is phlorizin. The compound is found in unripe apples as well as apple tree bark, and it’s now used in drugs to help balance blood glucose levels in people living with diabetes.

 

Yam’s Medicinal Qualities

Yams are known for being sweet potato’s less popular cousin who gets to shine on holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. But did you know a compound in yams, specifically Mexican yams, has provided a multitude of medicinal benefits?

In the 1930s, researchers found the compound diosgenin in Mexican yams. Diosgenin was first used in the advent of birth control pills in the 1960s. In the years to follow, developers found that the compound was also effective to decrease inflammation for people with arthritis and dermatitis.

The Mexican yam derivative, diosgenin, is still used in drugs today, though it is more likely to be made in a laboratory than extracted from yams themselves. The holidays remain a yam’s time to shine!

 

Willow Bark’s Medicinal Qualities

Willow bark may be less commonly seen in day-to-day life, but if you have a willow tree in your yard, you may encounter it regularly!

In the 1820s, salicin was discovered in the bark of several varieties of willow trees. Since then, its uses have blossomed, providing anti-inflammatory as well as pain relieving effects. Its derivative, salicylic acid, is commonly used in the treatment of acne.

Salicin was also the original source of aspirin, one of the most commonly used pain relieving agents today.

 

Barley’s Medicinal Qualities

Barley is a grain that serves as a base to many foods: cereals, bread, beer, whiskey and more. Barley is a good source of carbohydrates and energy (and a buzz when in alcohol form), and has also opened doors for researchers to develop new drugs to assist with dental surgery.

Within Barley is a compound called gramine, which scientists found in the 1930s. Research on gramine led to the discovery of isogramine, which was then used to design lidocaine.

If you’ve ever gotten a tooth pulled, the dentist likely used lidocaine. We have barley to thank that a trip to the dentist can be (relatively) painless!

 

Peppermint’s Medicinal Qualities

Anyone have any gum? Well, a stick of gum likely doesn’t include peppermint’s active compound, though it takes on the minty flavor.

Peppermint is one of the longest used herbs for its medicinal qualities. Ancient cultures and today’s pharmaceutical companies alike have used peppermint to decrease joint pain, soothe itching on the skin, and manage hives (specifically hives connected to a condition called urticaria).

The compound in peppermint resulting in all of these health benefits is menthol, which is more of a household name as far as drug compounds go. Menthol directly sourced from peppermint is still in use today! BenGay is a commonly used topical pain reliever that uses menthol for pain relief.

 

Chili Pepper’s Medicinal Qualities

Chili peppers add more than a little (or a lot) of spice to your food. They’ve also made leaps and bounds in various pain relief medicines!

In the 1870s, scientists discovered the compound capsaicin in chili peppers. This is actually the same compound that makes your mouth burn when you eat something spicy!

In the medicinal context, however, capsaicin has been used in topical creams to relieve pain, especially for people suffering from osteo-arthritis and nerve pain from the shingles.

“Nature is so smart it put the medicine inside the food”  

Nature has created a plethora of fruits, herbs, and veggies that have been used to support health for centuries, in ways beyond providing basic nutrition. The best part? This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Researchers are currently exploring how herbal remedies, traditional medicines, and other compounds in everyday foods can open the doors to life-changing medicines. If you want to dive deeper into how food is used as medicine, check out the BBC article linked here for more information!Please note: this information is shared out of interest and not as a replacement for current medical treatment or as any medical advice. If you have any of the conditions mentioned in this article, please consult your doctor for medical advice.

What’s Growing in Your Backyard? An Introduction to the World of Herbalism

If you do not use chemical fertilizers or weed killers around your house (like me), then you may have some healthy herbs growing in your backyard. However, they can be tricky to identify, so as tempting as it might be, it’s best to leave the foraging to the professionals. With that in mind, we can still look to the vibrant, colorful plant kingdom for inspiration. Even if we aren’t going out and picking plants ourselves, exploring natural remedies can be rewarding.

In this blog, I’ve invited an herb nerd and colleague (Teaghan Aston) to take us on a journey to introduce us to the world of herbalism.  

Generally speaking, herbalism describes the intricate world of the use of plants to promote wellbeing. Most cultures have their own unique systems and beliefs surrounding how plants can be used to promote wellness, some of which have roots going back thousands of years. For example, Ayurveda is more than 5,000 years old, with Traditional Chinese Medicine following close behind, rooted in practices that began approximately 3,000 years ago.

While these two systems, in particular, typically incorporate many different modalities, herbs often play a huge role in how they work to improve balance in people’s lives.

The US is home to a plethora of valuable plants and herbal traditions of its own, which vary based on region. Many of these plants are still valued today by the herbalists and practitioners of holistic medicine.

Herbalism in Today’s World

Thanks to today’s training programs, modern herbalists have access to all sorts of information. As a result, many combine herbs from various traditions and parts of the world when working with clients. However, some specialize in traditional systems and stick to using herbs and modalities from those systems exclusively.

With that said, not everybody interested in using natural modalities can afford to work with an herbalist. With the ongoing increase in popularity of using natural approaches to foster wellbeing, all sorts of herbal products and formulations can be found online and in large chain stores.

Caution: The availability of herbal products makes it easy for people to explore these options, but access comes with a BUYER BEWARE warning.

  • Not all herbal products are created equally, and not all herbal products are for everyone.
  • There are herbs out there that have contraindications, which is why everyone, even those who have access to an herbalist, should still check with their doctor before adding an herbal product to their routine. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, you should never start working with a new herbal product or supplement without first consulting your healthcare provider.

  • Many herbal products are contaminated with heavy metals with sources of origin unknown or suspect. And you cannot tell from their online reviews.

On a more positive note, there are some things that you can do to reduce your risk while exploring herbal remedies.

Gather Your Information From Trustworthy Sources

While heading over to sites like Pinterest to look at other people’s recipes may seem quick and easy, it’s best to avoid finding information on sites like that when it comes to wellness, as anybody can put up anything, making it hard to discern what can and cannot be trusted.

Stick to Simple, Well Researched Herbs 

As mentioned above, there are all sorts of different herbal concoctions out there. However, complicated doesn’t always mean better, and when you’re working without the guidance of an herbalist, it’s generally best to keep things simple, and some herbs are more beginner-friendly than others. However, “beginner-friendly” is a very subjective term, and it’s important to use your discernment when assessing your comfort level surrounding the use of herbs for wellness.

Where to Begin?

Teaghan mentioned some herbs that she thought would be great to discuss in this post (purely for educational purposes). The herbs mentioned below are primarily a mixture of adaptogens, nervines, or nourishing herbs, although some (cinnamon) do not fall into the pre-mentioned categories.

Here is a great educational blog post from Mountain Rose Herbs, which breaks down the basics of understanding nervines and adaptogens that may be helpful if these terms are new to you.

Here are Teaghan’s top picks:

Hawthorn Berries

Hawthorn is a wonderful plant that may have cardiac trophorestorative (rectifies deficiency in organ/organ system) properties. It is a favorite among herbalists and people who are looking to provide their hearts with extra support. While popular as a general heart tonic, Research suggests that Hawthorn extract as an adjunct treatment (although most certainly not a “cure,”) may even be of benefit for symptom control in individuals experiencing chronic heart failure. Some people believe that Hawthorn can also be useful for soothing the “emotional” heart as well – although this is anecdotal. This makes sense, as in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Hawthorn is one of the many herbs used when creating herbal formulas for calming “disturbed shen” (spirit).

With that in mind, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing cardiac symptoms. If you are already receiving treatment for a cardiac condition, it is essential that you get approval from your healthcare provider before determining if Hawthorn is appropriate for you, as there is some important information to be aware of, including but not limited to how Hawthorn can increase the risk of bleeding after cardiac surgery.

Reishi Mushrooms

Reishi mushrooms is experiencing a surge in popularity, which is no surprise, as there is much excitement in the herbal world surrounding their potential benefits. Reishi is thought by many to be a powerful ally for immune support, the nervous system, as well as a host of other things. While Reishi has a long, rich history of traditional use, the human research that we currently have available is limited although the studies that we do have are promising. For example, in this study, it was shown that a mycelium-based extract of Ganoderma lucidum may have been responsible for suppressing colorectal adenomas (precancerous lesions in the bowel).

In another human study, it was found that Ganoderma lucidum spore powder improved cancer-related fatigue in breast cancer patients during endocrine treatment. In this same study, the participants also reported overall improvements to quality of life, such as less anxiety and depression.

If you have mushroom allergies, Reishi products are not a safe choice for you. Additionally, Reishi may interact with anticoagulants/antiplatelets, immunosuppressants, and potentially other medications, such as those used for blood pressure and diabetes.

This is not a complete list of potential contraindications, so be sure to speak with your doctor before trying out Reishi mushrooms if it has piqued your interest.

Milky Oats (Avena sativa)

Teaghan says a tincture made out of fresh milky oat tops is one of her go-to choices when she’s feeling frazzled from the effects of stress and when she knows that her nervous system is in need of extra support. However, since oats are considered to be a “food” herb and are thought to primarily work through trophorestorative actions, they seem to work best when used consistently over time (from Teaghan’s personal experience), much like Hawthorn. Generally speaking, slower-acting herbs like these also tend to be more gentle than quick-acting herbs (although this is not always the case), which is why these “nourishing” herbs are typically the first ones that those new to herbs choose to experiment with.

However, research indicates that there could be some acute benefit, as we’ll touch on below.

While Teaghan’s knowledge of milky oat tops is mostly anecdotal, as human research is very limited, she did point out this study, which takes a look at both the potential acute effects as well as the potential chronic effects of Avena sativa (Green oat) extract.

Here is a brief excerpt from the study: “The results showed that both a single dose of 1,290 mg and, to a greater extent, supplementation for four weeks with both 430 mg and 1,290 mg green oat extract resulted in significantly improved performance on a computerized version of the Corsi Blocks working memory task and a multitasking task (verbal serial subtractions and computerized tracking) in comparison to placebo. After four weeks, the highest dose also decreased the physiological response to the stressor in terms of electrodermal activity. There were no treatment-related effects on mood. These results confirm the acute cognitive effects of Avena sativa extracts and are the first to demonstrate that chronic supplementation can benefit cognitive function and modulate the physiological response to a stressor.

It’s important to note that Milky Oat products are contraindicated for those who have celiac diseaseas well as those who have gluten sensitivities. There could also be other contraindications that we are unaware of, so be sure to double check with your provider.

Ceylon Cinnamon

If you’ve heard about the numerous reported benefits of Cinnamon, you’ve probably run into some confusion. When most people hear Cinnamon, they assume that there is only one kind, but there are multiple, and they are not all created equal. The variety that we are discussing here is Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as “true” Cinnamon, and its potential extends far beyond the spice cabinet.

According to this randomized, controlled trial, it was discovered that participants with type 2 diabetes who had been given Cinnamon experienced reductions in serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol, although it is unclear to readers which type of Cinnamon was used during the trial.

With that being said, Ceylon Cinnamon is generally thought to carry fewer risks than other varieties of Cinnamon, like Cassia cinnamon. This is because “True” Ceylon Cinnamon is believed to have lower amounts of coumarin (which can be toxic to the liver) than other varieties.

If you’re curious to learn more about Ceylon Cinnamon, Teaghan noted that this article published by Healthline appeared to do a great job of explaining it. However, while additional online resources are helpful, you still need to check with your doctor before pursuing cinnamon supplements. This is especially true if you are already taking diabetes medications or insulin, as mixing these with cinnamon products could lead to Hypoglycemia.

As you’ve probably determined, there’s a lot to consider even when working with seemingly basic herbs like the ones we’ve touched on here. If the research we’ve linked to is any indication, the plant kingdom holds a lot of potential power. While precautions need to be taken, such as those we’ve touched on throughout this post, we hope you’re left feeling inspired by some of the possibilities!

Genius Kitchen – Can I eat this?

I recently listened to an interesting podcast featuring Max Lugavere, a health and science journalist and author of a new cookbook called Genius Kitchen. His earlier New York Times bestseller, Genius Foods, has been published in 10 languages. Some of the research he has done for the Genius Kitchen is highlighted here in this blog. 

Dessert:

  • It’s fine to eat dessert and indulge every once in a while – that means infrequently, not every other day 😉
  • The best time to eat dessert is after some activity so your body can clear the glucose from the blood with exercise. So, eat dessert later in the day after a workout. Also, going for a walk after dinner reduces postprandial blood sugar.
  • Max recommends drinking apple cider vinegar (ACV) and taking cinnamon to reduce blood sugar spikes after eating starches. So if you’re going to treat yourself to that pasta dish, it may be a good idea to have a glass of ACV-infused water and some Ceylon cinnamon tablets. Here’s one to try:

Sugar:

  • Max likes non-glucose spiking sugars like monk fruit, stevia and erythritol. But sugar alcohols like erythritol may give you an upset tummy, gas and diarrhea although it is often better tolerated than xylitol and sorbitol. Did you know that prunes are a natural source of sorbitol? That’s why they’re widely used to keep the bowels moving.
  • Erythritol’s action is a bit different as it is fully absorbed in the small intestine and you’ll pee it out. Hence, it may be okay but given that everyone has different levels of tolerance, make yourself the guinea pig and test it out.  
  • There is a new sweetener called allulose which may be worth trying as it shouldn’t give you an upset stomach. I found this at my co-op and it’s used one to one with regular sugar. Here’s a brand you can try:

Dairy:

  • Dairy is a good source of protein like whey and casein. Whey is a highly bioavailable source of protein and the amino acid leucine which are required for muscle synthesis and maintenance. His bottom line is: if dairy doesn’t agree with you, do NOT consume it. Popping lactaid while indulging in foods your body cannot digest is not the solution.
  • Whey protein isolate is 99% free of lactose so you may be able to tolerate it. One of his favorite recipes is faux ice cream where he mixes whey protein, water and frozen berries. I may have to try this recipe – I’m lactose intolerant but the isolate may be something I can have every now and then.
  • If you can have dairy, Max recommends Greek yogurt (full fat) due to the high biological protein value (~19 g protein in a serving).
  • Full-fat dairy has a significant amount of vitamin K2. K2 is an underappreciated vitamin – it helps maintain calcium homeostasis so it stays in your bones and teeth and not in the arteries and kidneys. Vitamin K2 is present in higher amounts in grass fed cows and organ meats.
  • Here’s why Max recommends full-fat dairy:
    • Full-fat dairy has a compound called milk fat globule membrane (MFGM) and this MFGM encapsulates triglycerides in the dairy. 
    • Consumption of full fat dairy is associated with BETTER metabolic health and NOT associated with higher levels of cardiovascular disease. 
    • Heavy cream and butter are the same product but when you churn cream to make butter, you disrupt the MFGM. I found this fascinating: there is no impact on LDL cholesterol with heavy cream consumption but with butter, there is an increase in LDL. The protective effect is MFGM which encapsulates the fats. MFGM is also rich in phosphatidyl choline which is part of the brain cell membrane. So, the takeaway is: if you can handle dairy, enjoy products like full-fat cream that have intact MFGM, but go easy on the butter.  

Coffee:

  • It is the most commonly consumed psychoactive drug but it can be addictive so don’t over consume. 
  • Caffeine is a PCSK9 inhibitor which increases the efficiency of liver to recycle LDL particles.
  • Max recommends starting your day with a glass of lemon, electrolyte or ACV-infused water and then after about 45 minutes, drink coffee. Coffee can raise cortisol levels in the morning (when our levels are already high) which can contribute to the mid-body weight gain.
  • To make coffee healthier, he suggests using a paper filter for drip or a pour-over. Why? Because coffee has a compound called cafestol which is known as a powerful elevator of LDL cholesterol. So, while caffeine inhibits LDL, the cafestol elevates it. If you’re using a French press, filter the coffee before imbibing (I’ve been doing this anyway because I don’t like the small grinds in the cup but now I have an even better reason to do it).

Fat:

  • No need to fear fat. Foods like grass fed beef and fatty fish both have saturated fat but there are different types of saturated fat (i.e. stearic, myristic, palmitic) and not all are created equal. For example, stearic acid can boost mitochondrial function. Grass fed beef has a higher portion of stearic acid with less overall saturated fat and more omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Breast milk is filled with saturated fat and that’s what babies thrive on.
  • As for fatty fish, the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks (mercury and toxins in seafood).
  • I was surprised to learn that ghee (which is clarified butter) has a prevalence of oxidized cholesterol so it’s not good to over-consume.
  • Max is not a fan of concentrated coconut and MCT oils and suggests eating the whole foods instead.

Salt:

  • Salt is important and unfortunately, most of what we consume comes from processed and canned foods. If you take out processed and restaurant prepared foods, only 11% of the dietary sodium comes from the salt shaker or is added to recipes. So, where are you getting your salt from? 
  • Did you know that the #1 source of salt in the American diet is from bread and rolls?
  • We need salt for good health and if you’re eating a low carb diet, you will need more sodium.
  • Flaked salt (vs. fine or coarse) is a great way to finish off the food.
  • About ~25% of the population are sodium sensitive so if you have hypertension, you have to be careful. But remember that added sugar also plays a huge role in the hypertension epidemic. It’s been shown that one single sugar beverage raised systolic pressure for two hours. So, it’s not just about the salt!
  • We used to consume 4X more potassium than we do now and it’s important to balance out the sodium intake with adequate potassium. Grass fed beef and wild salmon are good sources of potassium.

Bottom line:  Every food has benefits and risks and you have to know what works for you – it’s important to get blood work done annually to check your status so you’re not eating ‘in the dark’.

Here’s the podcast:

https://shows.acast.com/broken-brain/episodes/top-food-hacks-to-supercharge-your-health-with-max-lugavere

And here’s Max’s new book:  

www.Geniuskitchenbook.com

The Role of Uric Acid on Diabetes and Chronic Diseases (It’s Not Just about Gout)

I listened to a great podcast featuring Dr. David Perlmutter’s new book. He is a board-certified neurologist and five times New York Times bestseller including the well-known “Grain Brain”.  The new book was released in Feb 2022 and called “Drop Acid” which is NOT about LSD but refers to the role that uric acid plays in the development of diabetes and other chronic conditions. 

Here’s a summary of the podcast interview:

  • Up to 88% of Americans are metabolically unhealthy, with at least one component of metabolic syndrome like high blood sugar, insulin resistance, hypertension, obesity, cardiac disease and even Alzheimer’s. It was very eye-opening to learn about how uric acid plays a critical function on the development of chronic conditions.

  • Uric acid is measured in blood and typically associated with gout BUT it’s also an important marker for metabolic conditions.

  • In an 8-year study, it was found that all-cause mortality was dramatically increased with high levels of uric acid. For example, heart disease and stroke related mortality was 35-40% due to high levels of uric acid.

  • Uric acid levels are easy to check during an annual check-up. Ideal level should be 5.5 mg/deciliter or below. For every point above 7, there is an 8-13% increased risk of all-cause mortality in addition to gout.

  • Uric acid is raised by 3 key factors: Alcohol, Purine and Fructose
    • Wine has not been shown to raise uric acid much; Hard liquor raises some but BEER raises it a lot. Why? Beer contains purines from the brewer’s yeast so it’s a double whammy of alcohol AND purine to contribute to the beer belly
    • Purines are from organ meat consumption but unless you’re eating a ton, it doesn’t raise the bar much
    • Fructose is the elephant in the room!

  • Unlike glucose, fructose is metabolized directly into uric acid. As fructose raises uric acid, weight, blood pressure and insulin all go up. An interesting study showed that if you give the gout drug (allopurinol) to participants eating a lot of fructose, their uric acid levels drop.

  • Fructose means energy storage whereas glucose means energy utilization. That’s why bears eat a ton of fruit during the summer so they can store fat for hibernation in the winter.

  • Fructose in the form of fruit is okay because it’s a whole food and not processed. It has fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. However, modern fruit has been hybridized for ultra sweetness so an apple a day is fine but that doesn’t mean a half dozen…

  • 60% of the food in the store with a bar code has been sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or some derivative of it. Our bodies are designed to seek out sweet food for our survival. Were you aware that the US gov’t sponsors corn production to the tune of ~$500B/year and a lot of that goes into making HFCS which then makes us fat and sick?

  • When you eat fructose like HFCS, you are turning on gluco-neogenesis (body makes glucose), compromising insulin functionality and setting the stage for diabetes. Fructose inhibits leptin sensitivity (hunger suppressing hormone) which makes us want to keep eating and contributes to weight gain. Fructose also requires energy for it to be absorbed and uses up all the ATP (energy cells) in the gut. The uric acid enhances inflammatory bacteria and increases gut permeability leading to leaky gut syndrome. 

  • There are also medications that increase uric acid: Aspirin, diuretics, proton pump inhibitors, acid blockers, beta blockers and even the sugar substitute xylitol.

 

What to do?

  • First, get your uric acid levels checked. You can ask your physician or buy a test kit on Amazon: Here’s one to try.

 

How to Reduce Uric Acid

  • Eat a mostly plant-based, high fiber, high color diet. It’s better for you and your bacteria.
  • Limit fruit and do NOT drink fruit juice as it’s a concentrated form of fructose. I stopped buying green drinks at the grocery store because they contain fruit juices to make it palatable to most of us. If you drink juice, stick to vegetable juice only (which is hard to find).
  • Shellfish, anchovies and organ meats are rich sources of purine – it’s hard to eat a pound of anchovies in one sitting so no worries as long as everything is enjoyed in moderation.
  • Alcohol, especially BEER, should be avoided except for an occasional glass of wine (and I mean occasional, not every other day occasional!)
  • Coffee is a great drink for lowering uric acid.
  • Vegetables like broccoli have higher levels of purine BUT it is rich in fiber, bioflavonoids and vitamin C so enjoy to your heart’s content. 
  • Minimize consumption of refined grains like flour – flour elevates insulin and this increases uric acid by inhibiting its excretion in the kidneys.

  • Supplements that Dr. Perlmutter suggests to lower uric acid include:
    • Quercetin (500mg/day) is a powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory bioflavonoid and is present in foods like onions.
    • Vitamin C (1000mg/day) aids in the excretion of uric acid.
    • Luteolin (100 mg/day) also lowers uric acid and is on par with the gout drug allopurinol!
    • DHA (1000mg/day) present in fish oil offsets the damage of uric acid.
    • Tart cherry extract can also bring down uric acid.

It has been estimated that 25% of the western world has elevated uric acid so it’s important to get our levels checked so we’re not part of this statistic. 

Here’s the podcast.

And Dr. Perlmutter’s new book.

The Importance of Self-Care Part 1

We all know that the choices that we make, even seemingly small ones, can have a big impact on our health. Incremental efforts add up like little steps which over time can amount to skyscraper-height changes!

The key to making these positive, lasting changes is patience (sprinkled with kindness). If you’re making the shift towards a healthier lifestyle, you have to be patient and commit to caring for yourself (first) so you have the health and vitality to care for those around you.

And self-care doesn’t have to be overwhelming. It can be a rewarding and luxurious experience, all while on a budget! So, in the next several blogs, I’ll cover some simple self-care tips that will help you stay on track with your wellness goals.

Building a Foundation With Nourishing Foods

You’ve probably had people advise you to stay out of the “inner” aisles while at the grocery store, as this is where most of the processed, sugar-laden foods hang out.

While that’s fantastic advice, it’s also intimidating. But focusing on fresh vegetables and whole foods doesn’t mean you have to give up flavor.

Instead, try thinking of it as an opportunity to experiment!

  • How about adding in a new spice each month? These days, most basic chain grocery stores have large seasoning sections with inexpensive options.

  • If you see a spice that you’re unfamiliar with, try looking it up to see what recipes it’s traditionally used in. This is a great way to get inspiration, keep your home-cooked meals from getting boring, and to learn about new cultures.

  • Try out new ways of working with produce. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather have flavorful, roasted, caramelized broccoli than mushy bland steamed broccoli. Check out this recipe that packs an explosion of flavor with just a couple of ingredients:         

Do You Wake Up Feeling Rested?

Getting a good night’s rest is more than just managing fatigue. Sleep plays a crucial role in all sorts of bodily processes. Research has shown that those who have poor quality sleep are at an increased risk for numerous health issues.

Some of the potential short-term consequences of sleep disruption:

  • Decline in cognition, memory, and performance
  • Difficulties with emotional regulation

Some of the potential long-term consequences:

  • Increased risk of hypertension
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Increased risk of metabolic syndrome
  • Increased risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus

Not to scare you, but evidence shows that practicing good sleep hygiene is imperative to any good self-care routine. So, if you aren’t sleeping well at night, it’s best to consult with a professional to get to the root of the underlying cause. However, if you suspect that it’s simply a matter of being stressed out or not being able to “shut your mind off” at night, there are some things that might help you out. And even if you are sleeping well at night, these techniques are great for relaxing in general and could make a great addition to your stress management toolbox.

Breathwork

Guided breathwork is a beginner-friendly way to practice mindfulness. If you’re like me who’s tried meditation but rather than being present, you’re busily putting together a to-do list, then following a guided video could help you ease into a calm state. Guided videos give the brain something to listen to and make it easier to stay focused on the exercise.

Several studies have shown promising data on how deep breathing exercises could improve mood and anxiety.  

How about this guided video with several tips to try:

How About a Massage? No Spa Required!

Treating yourself to an at-home massage could be just the thing you need to facilitate relaxation at the end of a long day, or even in the morning if you find yourself waking up “on the wrong side of the bed”.

There are many techniques for self-massage, but rest assured that no fancy oils, equipment or uncomfortable twists and turns are required to give yourself relief!

Have you heard about the Vagus nerve? The Vagus nerve is a main nerve that connects our brain to our organs in the body. This nerve also activates our rest and digestive system (parasympathetic). By stimulating simple points within our ear, this Vagus nerve massage technique can help reduce stress and anxiety. Give it a try:

It’s All About What Works for You

Everyone’s circumstances are unique. A part of what makes self-care enjoyable is finding little ways to nurture yourself that mesh well with your needs.

The suggestions mentioned here are only meant to serve as inspiration for your journey. Always be sure to check with your healthcare provider before beginning a new regimen, and most importantly, have fun!