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

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

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:

Best Exercises for Diabetes & Pre-Diabetes

If you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, you’ve probably heard from your physician about the importance of a good diet and regular exercise. Consistent body movement (which goes beyond walking to the fridge) will help boost energy, better manage blood sugar levels, reduce insulin needs, manage stress, improve your mood and promote better sleep. If you’re like me and have glucose management issues, the temptation to sit on the couch after a long day is often overcome by my uplifted mood and energy level after a brisk walk or workout.

So here are some of the best exercises to engage in.

Aerobic dance

Dancing not only provides a physical workout but boosts your memory with the mental work required to remember steps and sequences. Have you tried Zumba? It’s a form of dance that’s a fun way to increase physical activity, lower blood sugar and reduce stress. In this study, a 16-week Zumba dance class program improved markers of health and fitness in Type 2 diabetic or overweight women. Here’s a beginner 20-minute Zumba workout to try: 

Cycling

Did you know that diabetes is a predictor for osteoarthritis? In this study, the findings showed a strong correlation between Type 2 diabetes and development of severe osteoarthritis. Another common risk with diabetes is diabetic neuropathy which damages nerves causing joint pain. So for those with joint pain, choosing low impact exercise like cycling can help you get the movement without straining your joints. If you have a bike and a decent path around the neighborhood, this is a fun exercise to enjoy with a partner. I prefer to ride on flat roads and gradually increase the length of time on the bike but if you’re up for the challenge, try a hill or two! Here are 10 popular bike trails in North Carolina: https://www.visitnc.com/story/hVVj/popular-north-carolina-bike-trails-cycling-routes    

Pilates

Pilates is a form of exercise that is performed on a mat (or equipment) to promote muscular strength, stability, endurance and low-impact flexibility. According to this study, 12 weeks of Pilates training improved glycemic control in older women with Type 2 diabetes. The beauty of Pilates is that you don’t need any fancy equipment to get the benefits and you can do this at home in the comfort of your living room. Here’s a 25-minute beginner workout to try:

Swimming

This is one of the most joint-friendly activities with maximum aerobic benefit as it works your heart, lungs and muscle without putting pressure on your joints. This study demonstrated the reduction in HbA1c levels in patients with Type 2 diabetes after 8-12 weeks of aquatic exercise. So whether it’s freestyle, backstroke, breast stroke, water aerobics or jogging in place, find a pool nearby and jump in!

Tai Chi

This centuries-old Chinese martial art utilizes slow, flowing exercises with movement, meditation and rhythmic breathing. This analysis of 14 research studies showed that Tai Chi can effectively reduce blood glucose and HbA1c markers in Type 2 patients with diabetes. New to Tai Chi? How about this 15-minute sunrise Tai Chi (or whenever you are up) to start your day?

Walking

You may have heard that being sedentary is as bad as smoking for your health. One of my favorite activities is walking as it can be done just about anywhere and the only equipment required is a good pair of sneakers. In this analysis of 81 studies, there was a strong correlation between physical activity and decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes. All subtypes of physical activity were beneficial whether it was vigorous or low intensity. The Standards of Medical Care of Diabetes recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. So aim for 30 minutes of brisk walking 5-6 times per week and bring a pet or a friend along for company. If you are walking on the treadmill, find a good Netflix show to indulge in – I’ve often walked over an hour on the treadmill because I was so engrossed in the show that I didn’t realize how time had passed!

Weightlifting

Resistance training and other strengthening exercises help build muscle mass but also increase the number of calories burned. According to this study, 10 weeks of resistance training has shown to increase resting metabolic rate and reduce visceral fat, resting blood pressure and HbA1c. Don’t have weights at home or have a desire to venture out to the gym?  No problem – resistance bands are also effective in improving glycemic control according to this study. I have a set of these at home – they come in a set and are easy to carry when traveling.

Yoga

Yoga is one of the perfect exercises for diabetes. It incorporates fluid body movements to build flexibility, strength and balance while lowering stress and improving mental function. This study demonstrated the feasibility of yoga as a complementary therapy with significant reductions in HbA1c and improved blood glucose and psychosocial factors in patients with Type 2. You don’t have to pay for a class or join a gym to enjoy yoga as there are a plethora of free options. Here is one of my favorite channels:

Kicking off the New Year With Intent – Diet and Exercise

I’m sure many of us are happy to say goodbye to 2020 and have plans to kick off the new year with resolutions, lifestyle changes and programs to improve our well-being. I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions as I always break them so I prefer to make small changes as I go. So in this blog, I’m providing some simple tips and guidelines on diet and exercise that you could consider and easily adopt as part of your new lifestyle in 2021.

Diet

It’s often easier to add something to a diet than to eliminate something completely. So, here are some suggestions on what to add to your diet to improve your overall well-being when it comes to eating.

  • Fat – Opt for healthy fats like olives, avocados, flax seeds, MCT oil and fat from pasture-raised meats and wild-caught small fish
  • Fruit – Stick with low-glycemic fruits like berries and grapefruit and eat them whole with the fiber, not in juice form
  • Non-starchy veggies, cruciferous vegetables and mushrooms – Kale, Swiss chard, lettuces, fennel, leeks, cucumbers, radishes, onions, garlic, broccoli, cauliflower, shiitake, button and portobello mushrooms
  • Nuts – Almonds, cashews, macadamia nuts, pine nuts, pistachios, walnuts, flax seeds, chia seeds. Read my blog on nuts.
  • Protein – For plant protein, beans are a great option. Check out my blog here. For animal protein, opt for wild-caught, grass-fed and/or pasture-raised. Fatty fish like wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and anchovies are great for their omega-3 content. And remember the “condi-meat rule” – small portions are all you need. 
  • Seeds – Black cumin, hemp seed, flax seed, pumpkin seed, sesame seed. Check out my blog on seeds here.

Now here’s what to limit or avoid:

  • Dairy – Avoid conventionally-raised dairy that includes milk, butter, yogurt, ice cream. If you are sensitive to dairy, it’s best to avoid or limit consumption. Many of us are lactose intolerant and that’s our body’s way of telling us to NOT eat it. I think it’s funny that Lactaid is so popular. We still insist on eating something that our bodies are telling us otherwise. I will occasionally indulge in ice cream and rich dairy products with Lactaid knowing that I am creating inflammation in the body – but infrequently, I think it’s ok.
  • Gluten can be tolerated by some people based on their genetic profile but not others – so if you’re like me and cannot process gluten, limit foods like wheat, rye, and barley to avoid inflammation caused by these proteins.
  • Refined grains, processed foods If its shelf life is for months/years and it comes out of a bag or box and has ingredients that you cannot comprehend (or pronounce), just don’t eat it!
  • Sugar of all types including high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols, cane sugar, aspartame and artificial sweeteners. And that includes not only drinks but in dressings, dried fruits and even frozen foods. Real maple syrup and sustainably-raised honey are good in moderation – but remember, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean you should eat a LOT of it.

Exercise

If you’re planning to add more movement and strength training in the new year, adding variety to spice up your workouts will create sustainability and fun to your new lifestyle. Here are some options to add to your training program:

  • High Intensity Interval Training – There is compelling research that shows that high intensity interval training (short bursts of high intensity exercise) provides significant health benefits like boosting your body’s production of fat-busting enzymes, human growth hormone, while improving insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation. This is one of the most efficient and effective forms of exercise and it can be done in under 20 minutes. Here’s one to try.
  • Hiking – If you are a fan of the outdoors, hiking is a fun activity that can make your body work harder as you navigate through the different terrains and long distances.  Here is a map of all the trails in the US. Just enter the city and state where you are interested in hiking and all the trails will come up.
  • Jump Rope – Jump roping is inexpensive and one of the most effective cardio exercises you can do. It’s quick and challenges your endurance and your hand-eye coordination. And you only need 10 minutes to get started! Check out this video.
  • Rowing – If you’re in search of a low intensity workout that is a calorie crusher, try a rowing class. It’s a low impact exercise that engages the core muscles on your legs, glutes and lower back without beating up your joints. If you’re looking for something a bit more pedestrian try paddle boarding or kayaking.
  • Swimming – This is considered the king of all exercises because it works every muscle in your body and builds strength, endurance and cardiovascular fitness. Also, it’s fantastic for those with excess weight and/or joint problems. Look for your local Y or a fitness center that has a lap pool so you can get in 30 minutes of swim time.
  • Treadmill – How about walking or running on the treadmill on a virtual trail with rivers and waterfalls? Try this video to simulate being outside enjoying nature. It’s a 45 minute virtual walk.
  • Yoga – There are many health benefits of practicing yoga like strength, balance, flexibility and stress reduction but did you know that research indicates that yoga can provide similar benefits as other moderate to vigorous exercises? Yoga was found to be superior to other forms of exercise for improving self-reported outcomes on aerobic fitness, muscular strength and health status on older adults. It’s also been found to benefit those who are already aerobically strong as yoga strengthened the running performance of distance runners. Similarly, yoga performed for 8 weeks led to improved balance, leg strength and muscle control in young athletes. Need we say more? If you want to do yoga but don’t want to pay for a class, try the Yoga with Adriene series. There’s something for everyone on this site.

Dr. Joel Kahn Podcast Review: Heart Health, Mitochondria & The Gut

I recently listened to one of the earlier podcasts by Dave Asprey (the Bulletproof Executive) on heart health where he interviewed Dr. Joel Kahn, a cardiologist and author of the best-selling book, The Whole Heart Solution. Dr. Kahn is a well-recognized clinician in the field of invasive, interventional and preventative cardiology and was awarded the title of “America’s Holistic Heart Doc” by Reader’s Digest. He is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, MI and the Director of Cardiac Wellness.

It was interesting to hear that Dr. Kahn is a low-fat vegan (which is something Dave Asprey is not a fan of for various reasons) and in this interview, he mentioned that when dealing with patients with cardiac artery disease (CAD), a mostly vegetable and low fat diet (oil free, not fat free) has been proven to help. Note that he didn’t advocate this necessarily for prevention but for treating severe CAD patients.

Here are some key highlights:

  • A healthy mitochondria is the key to a healthy heart. Mitochondria is where ATP is produced and is the powerhouse for cells (ATP or Adenosine Triphosphate is a complex organic chemical that provides energy to drive many processes in living cells). When you have heart disease, your body is producing less ATP and conversely, when you produce less ATP, you are prone to heart disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc.
  • Your mitochondria is very prone to toxicity – published data has shown that mycotoxins and air pollution can actually trigger heart attacks. In a study conducted around the Beijing Olympics, the incidence of heart attacks went down when all the factories were turned off for the Olympics but then went back up when the factories starting running again. It’s critical to live in a clean air environment. Dr. Kahn advocates a HEPA filter, if necessary, for the home.
  • Heavy metals like mercury amalgams (in your teeth) can also be mitochondrial toxins.
  • Our body makes less CoQ10 (a powerful antioxidant) as we age so we need to bring our levels up after age 40 with supplements. He also recommends PQQ supplement as a booster (Pyrroloquinoline quinone or PQQ is a recently discovered vitamin-like compound that is commonly found in plant foods and can stimulate mitochondrial function).
  • CoQ10 combats oxidative stress and is needed to make ATP – also, drugs like statins deplete CoQ10 so it’s important to take CoQ10 when on statin therapy. A peer-reviewed study conducted in Australia showed the benefit of CoQ10 before and after open-heart surgery: those that took CoQ10 had fewer complications and got discharged earlier.
  • Dr. Kahn is very selective about the use of statins and for non-high-risk patients, prefers to manage patients with lifestyle, diet and detoxification methods.
  • Dr. Kahn also believes that cholesterol shouldn’t be lower than 150 nor does he want to see levels in the high 200+. If patients he sees do not have heart disease, he uses vitamin supplementation to keep mitochondria healthy (Selenium, Glutathione, Vitamin D, CoQ10, Vitamin E, Trans-resveratrol to name a few).
  • Here’s a nice flight tip: Dr. Kahn noted that airline pilots have increased risk of melanoma due to the ionizing radiation in the sky and recommends taking chlorella and glutathione before a flight for protection.
  • He also advocates N-Acetyl Cysteine during flu season.
  • Dr. Kahn has seen transformative results with heart patients on CoQ10, Magnesium, L-Carnitine and D-Ribose supplementation but this is not supported by clinical trials/ research. There are other cardiologists that are using nutraceuticals to support their patients’ heart health.
  • A randomized study of sick heart patients that took the probiotic Saccharomyces Boulardii showed that heart ejection fractions went up with improved symptoms and ability to walk longer distances. Dr. Kahn believes that strengthening the defenses of the gut as a heart-related therapy is important. Having a sick gut from a poor diet that includes gluten, alcohol, sugar, etc. releases endotoxins and this has shown to affect cardiac function.
  • Dr. Kahn recommends taking charcoal to bind endotoxins and resistant starch prebiotics to mediate heart attack risk.
  • Dr. Kahn also recommends eating fermented foods but they must come from the refrigerator section; otherwise, they have been pasteurized so it’s not ‘living’.
  • Dr. Kahn recommends as a preventative measure the Carotid Intima-media thickness (CIMT) test with ultrasound to check the thickness of the inner layers of your carotid artery. 60% of Americans are at risk of heart attack but are asymptomatic so it’s a good idea to get the tests done. He prefers this over CAT scan as it minimizes radiation.
  • An interesting study has shown that repeated ultra exercise may actually accelerate heart calcification (I’m glad I don’t like ultra exercise!)
  • Here is another interesting study since I am a fan of Pellegrino. People that drank a lot of San Pellegrino mineral water took Vitamin D and Vitamin K2 to counteract the large amount of calcium present in the water – and it worked. So, I can continue to drink on!
  • A quote from another well-known researcher, Dr. Thomas Seyfried: “ A man is as old as his arteries.”
  • In summary, here are Dr. Kahn’s three recommendations to perform well:
    • Forks – food is power and can reverse plaque and heart disease
    • Feet – MOVE and avoid SITosis
    • Fingers – don’t smoke

His book Whole Heart Solution can be found on Amazon:

Dr. Daniel Amen Podcast Review: Memory Rescue – How to Stop Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Dr. Daniel Amen is one of the leading authorities on brain health – he is a physician, founder of Amen Clinics and BrainMD, a double board-certified psychiatrist and nine-time New York Times bestselling author.  I found this podcast easy to listen to with great tips from his Memory Rescue book (published in 2018) on how to take control of your brain.

Here are the key highlights:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple in the next 35 years. What most people don’t realize is that this disease starts decades before symptoms appear. Based on imaging studies, a 59-year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s most likely had negative changes to her brain in her twenties. There is also no known cure on the horizon and it is estimated that 50% of people 85 or older will be diagnosed with it.  This may be a cause for people not wanting longevity in their life!   
  • Depression has increased by 400% since 1987 and it now affects 50 million Americans. It is also a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
  • Another risk factor is diabetes. A study showed that 50% of the US is either diabetic or pre-diabetic due to poor diet. Two studies have shown that as your weight goes up, the physical size and the function of your brain goes down. With 2/3 of Americans overweight, including 1/3 obese, it is the biggest brain drain in the US and now considered a national security crisis. Up to 70% of people signing up for the military are now rejected because of their weight problems. 
  • What’s important to note is that diabetes/obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s are not separate disorders but different expressions of the same unhealthy lifestyle.
  • Dr. Amen scanned his own brain at the age of 37 and noticed damage; he played football in high school, had meningitis, and poor sleep with unhealthy habits. This spurred him to develop the brain program – 20 years later, his brain scan looks like a healthy 37-year-old. 
  • Dr. Amen is a fan of brain imaging (SPECT) – his philosophy is that you need to look because imaging will show you if your brain is healthy, injured, over or under-active or has Alzheimer’s. At his Amen clinics, the first thing they do is look at your brain scans.  The imaging looks at blood flow and brain activity to get a view of how well your brain is functioning.
  • He developed a pneumonic (BRIGHT MINDS) for his Memory Rescue book and it’s as follows:
    • B is for blood flow – low blood flow is a key predictor of Alzheimer’s and anything that damages the blood vessels will damage the hippocampus. Tips: Limit caffeine and treat high blood pressure, keep your heart healthy and be physically active. Eat foods like chili peppers, beets and ginkgo biloba to increase blood flow. Brisk physical exercise is also a must as is hyperbaric oxygen therapy which can be used to increase blood flow to the brain.  
    • R is for retirement and aging – the older you get, the more serious you need to be about keeping the brain healthy. Your brain can become less active with age but with the right plan, you can slow or even reverse the aging process. Avoid factors that accelerate aging; avoid being lonely, being in a job that does not require new learning or not challenging your brain. When your brain stops learning, it starts dying. To slow aging, it’s important to be socially connected, engage in lifelong learning and stay physically and mentally active. Dr. Amen also advocates taking vitamins (multi and C) 
    • I is for Inflammation – chronic inflammation is like a low-level fire destroying your organs and this increases dementia. At his clinic, he measures the C-reactive protein (level of inflammation) and Omega-3 levels. Symptoms like joint pain, rosacea and gum disease are all indicators of inflammation which will lead to memory loss. He recommends eating more Omega-3s (oily fish), and cooking with spices like turmeric. In a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the hippocampus was found to be healthier in people with the highest omega 3 levels.
    • G is for genetics – having a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s is a wake-up call, not a death sentence. If you think you are at risk, early screening is essential and be serious about prevention as soon as possible. Losing your memory and independence is hard and expensive. Alzheimer’s causes a build-up of toxic plaque in the brain and it’s been shown that vitamin D, blueberries, sage, turmeric and green tea can decrease plaque.
    • H is for head trauma – head injuries are a major cause of depression, addiction disorders and memory problems. A study showed that one third of people that played football had lasting brain damage. Head trauma affects the front part of the brain which affects focus and decision making. On Dr. Amen’s memory rescue program, 80% of NFL players showed improvement in blood flow, memory, attention, mood and sleep. In his podcast he shares case studies of an NFL player and a pro surfer, and their brain scans before and after the Memory Rescue program – it is quite impressive and worth a look.
    • T is for toxins and a common cause of memory loss in aging. Smoking (tobacco and marijuana), mold exposure, carbon monoxide exposure, cancer chemotherapy, radiation and heavy metals (mercury, aluminum and lead) will all lower blood flow to the brain. Lead is still found in 60% of lipstick and lead is also in airplane fuel. Dr. Amen recommends limiting exposure to toxins, buying organics and reading labels (Say NO to phthalates, parabens and aluminum). What goes on your body goes in your body and affects your brain. You need to support your organs of detoxification: kidneys – drink plenty of water;  gut – eat plenty of good fiber; liver – eat lots of brassicas (cruciferous vegetables) like broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts to support detoxification; skin – sweat and do saunas. A recent study has shown that people who took the most saunas had the lowest risk of memory problems.
    • M is for mental health – chronic stress, emotional trauma, grief and depression are associated with lasting memory problems. It is critical to get this treated. For example,  ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) affects 10% of the adult population. American Journal of Psychiatry studies indicated that nutraceuticals are a low-cost option that should be considered like Omega 3, saffron and SAMe (involved in the formation, activation, or breakdown of other chemicals in the body, including hormones, proteins, phospholipids, and certain drugs.) In addition, exercise, meditation, hypnosis and a vegetable-rich diet can help your overall mental health.
    • I is for immunity and infections – if you struggle with memory, infectious diseases need to be explored. Dr. Amen suggests keeping vitamin D levels optimal, taking probiotics and eating anti-viral foods like garlic.
    • N is for neurohormone deficiencies – without healthy hormones, you will be tired and foggy and your hippocampus will be smaller and weaker. A healthy testosterone for both men and women will improve mood. Optimal thyroid levels give you energy and mental clarity. The hormone DHEA helps to fight aging, and the right level and balance of estrogen and progesterone helps with blood flow. Dr. Amen suggests that you get tested annually once you reach your 40s to keep hormones strong. Avoid hormone disruptors like pesticides, BPAs, phthalates and parabens.
    • D is for diabesity which is being diabetic, overweight or both. As weight goes up, size and function of the brain goes down. Remember that the excess fat in your body is not innocuous; it disrupts hormones, stores toxins and increases inflammation. When obesity is combined with diabetes, the risk is worse as high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. 
    • S is for sleep – 60 million Americans have sleep-related issues and chronic insomnia, while use of sleeping pills and sleep apnea all increase risk of memory problems. You need adequate deep sleep to provide the opportunity for the brain to clean itself – when sleep is disrupted, trash doesn’t get taken out and builds up in your brain. Dr. Amen suggests that to sleep better, make the room cooler, darker and quieter. He also advocates use of magnesium, melatonin and 5-HTP to promote better sleep.
  • Dr. Amen’s 5 diet rules for the brain: 1. Eat high-quality calories (and too many); 2. Eat clean protein at every meal to balance blood sugar; 3. Focus on healthy fats including nuts, seeds and avocados; 4. Eat smart carbs that do not raise blood sugar like those found in colorful fruits and veggies. Stay away from bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as they are pro-inflammatory; 5. Liberally use spices and seasonings like pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric, and garlic to keep the brain healthy.

Here is Dr. Amen’s podcast on Youtube:

Tackling Coronavirus: How I Boost My Immune System

With Coronavirus dominating the headlines and being classified as a global pandemic, people are looking for natural ways to boost immunity and/or lessen the severity of cold and flu-like symptoms. My philosophy has always been prevention so here are some of the things I do to keep my immunity level functioning at its peak.

  • Sleep – This is a simple solution but not easy to achieve for many including myself. I have trouble staying asleep so some of the things I do to try and get as many hours of sleep include:
    • No drinking liquids after 7:30pm (to minimize middle of the night restroom visits)
    • Turning off all electronics and wi-fi (or put on airplane mode to listen to an Audible book)
    • Putting blue-light protectors on my iPad (I use my iPad at night to wind down)
    • Taking melatonin and GABA supplement (when I need it)
    • Shutting down all work-related emails/chats after 8pm
  • Immune booster supplements – I’ve been taking 3-4 grams of vitamin C (buffered or liposomal), lysine powder (good anti-viral), beta-glucans (like those derived from Reishi mushrooms – Swanson brand reishi mushroom has been tested by ConsumerLab along with New Chapter LifeShield Reishi), elderberry extract (I recommend New Chapter Elderberry force – shown by ConsumerLab to have the highest amount of anthocyanosides; for a syrup, I recommend Sambucol Black Elderberry syrup), liposomal glutathione, selenium, zinc, vitamin D, a good probiotic (see product recommendations here) and a whole-food-based multi-vitamin for starters. Here’s an interesting study on how beta-glucan boosts immunity: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31877995)
  • Exercise – I lift weights twice a week, work at my standing desk for 3-4 hours a day and stay active with walking. I don’t track my steps as I can get obsessive about these things so I will eat less when I am not as active. I no longer do high-intensity exercise like running – because of my low thyroid and adrenal function, this makes my body crash.
  • Eating right – I’ve been trying a mainly fish and vegetables diet over the past month and think cutting down on meat has been easier on my digestion. On days when I lift weights, I will have some animal protein which helps me recover more quickly. Also, I’m a big fan of bone broth. I buy grass-fed beef bones at the local co-op and cook it in the instant pot. I make soups and use it as a base for everything. I also keep the fat layer and use it to stir-fry veggies, eggs, and meat. I feel best when I avoid wheat, most grains, dairy, sugar – even most fruit except for some berries as I’m insulin resistant. For carbs, I love air-fried purple and sweet potatoes and also indulge in cassava root chips, cauliflower crackers and an occasional gluten-free pizza. Since I’m Asian, rice has been one of the easiest forms of carb to digest.
  • Others:
    • I love taking Epsom Salt baths with essential oils (lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus). It is very relaxing and also helps me sleep. I’m thinking about a homemade sanitizer spray (equal parts aloe vera, grain alcohol and essential oils including lemongrass, clove, eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary) and then fill the rest with distilled or reverse osmosis water. It’s nice to have around the house and smells awesome. Or, I may just do a diffuser if I don’t have time to make the sanitizer recipe.
    • Avoiding toxins and stress – I don’t drink alcohol and do my best to stay away from sugar, dairy and processed foods. I was told that I juggle too many things in my life so it’s important for me to minimize unwanted stress. Meditation and massage have worked well for me.
    • I feel fortunate to have a full spectrum infrared sauna at home so use it religiously 2-3 times a week. It’s important to replenish the trace minerals and salts (I use Nuun electrolyte tablets and Trace Minerals Research drops).

This may seem like a lot of work but over time, it will become second-nature. Wishing you the best of health and calm during this crazy time.

More Natural Ways to Boost Your Defense Against COVID-19

As a follow-up to my previous blog on boosting immunity, I’ve put together summaries of some recent articles on COVID-19 and managing our health during this crisis. 

Five powerful supplements for immunity

This article highlights that the best line of defense against a viral infection is to boost immunity – in addition to a high nutrient diet, adding these five supplements to your regimen can provide us the boost we are all seeking.  These supplements and associated evidence are as follows:

https://www.womansworld.com/posts/health/supplements-for-immunity

Lack of sleep leaves us vulnerable to infection

Although there are no studies on the effects of sleep on COVID-19 yet, researchers in 2015 found that volunteers deliberately infected with the common cold were four times more likely to develop cold symptoms if they slept less than six hours than those who slept for a minimum of seven hours. It is during sleep that our immune system produces and distributes T cells; these T cells attach to infected cells in our body and destroy them. So, even with anxiety and stress levels elevated during this time, it is important to get the right amount of shut-eye.

Check out my blog on How to Sleep Better and Create your Sleep Sanctuary

Vitamin C and Quercetin for COVID-19 patients

A pulmonologist in New York is treating COVID-19 patients with high-dose, intravenous vitamin C. As intravenous vitamin C has been shown to be an effective treatment for the severe swine flu back in 2009, there’s now a clinical trial submitted for this study with hope that this high dose therapy will work as effectively for the coronavirus.

Post the SARS epidemic, Canadian researchers have been investigating the use of quercetin as a powerful immune booster and broad-spectrum antiviral. Quercetin is a plant flavonol from the flavonoid group of polyphenols. It is found in many fruits, vegetables such as kale and red onions, leaves, seeds, and grains. Last month, this Canadian team started a clinical trial on quercetin for use in prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

NY Hospitals Using Vitamin C for Seriously Sick Patients

Exercise is key to building your immune system

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrients indicates the mechanism of immunoprotection from physical activity and exercise.

New Study Confirms Exercise Is One of the Keys to Build Your Immune System for Coronavirus

Dr. Bonnie McLean’s Blog

Finally, check out our Wholistics Advisor, Dr. Bonnie McLean’s Blog on COVID-19: Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ways to Boost Immunity

Wishing you all the best of health!