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

Natural Detox Strategies

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

Clean Air

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

Clean Water

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

Sweat

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

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

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

Clean Food

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sleep

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

Minimize EMF

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

Avoid Plastics

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

Avoid Chemicals in Cosmetic and Personal Care Products

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

What is Circadian Rhythm and How Does it Impact Our Health?

I’ve mentioned in several of my blogs about the importance of maintaining a good circadian rhythm for optimal sleep and wakefulness. In this blog, I’ll describe how this master clock in our body influences our daily pattern and its importance in keeping this internal rhythm balanced and healthy.

Your circadian rhythm is your 24-hour cycle that is part of your body’s internal clock that carries out essential functions and processes. It is controlled by your hypothalamus and translates signals from the environment to your body. Your rhythm is influenced by external factors like light and your body can regulate temperature and metabolism to keep you alert or help you fall asleep.

Your sleep-wake cycle is part of your circadian rhythm and during the day, light exposure sends signals to your brain to be awake, alert and active. When your brain detects darkness at night, it stimulates the production of melatonin which is a hormone that promotes deep sleep. And it is this alignment of day-wakefulness and night-sleep that maintains a healthy cycle of your body’s circadian rhythm.

The word “circadian” comes from the Latin phrase “circa diem” which means “around a day” and this rhythm works to ensure that the body’s processes are optimized during the 24-hour cycle. Just as the circadian rhythm of a flower determines when they open up during the day and close at night, the same goes for us humans with our mental and physical systems in sync throughout the body during this cycle. For example, our circadian rhythm tells us when to regulate our digestive system, temperature and hormones to manage our metabolism and energy expenditure. Our circadian rhythms are closely connected to day and night – light is the most powerful influencer on our hypothalamus and impacts how this part of the brain interprets signals to regulate our body’s activities. 

Disruption of the circadian rhythm not only leads to sleep disorders but research is now revealing how it impacts physical and mental health like obesity, diabetes, depression and mood. Studies have shown that circadian rhythm disruption can lead to cognitive impairment and metabolic syndrome as well as psychiatric illness and age-related dementia.

The most common causes of circadian rhythm disruption are due to:

  • Traversing multiple time zones and suffering from jet lag due to not being adjusted to the new day-night cycle of your destination. The easiest way to get acclimated is to try to quickly adapt to the new clock upon reaching your destination.

  • Working the night shift as this will always disrupt circadian rhythm – it will be hard to adjust even if you sleep in complete darkness during the day. My mom worked the night shift for 25 years and I am convinced that her Alzheimer’s was directly impacted by this long-term disruption to her circadian rhythm.

  • Going to bed very early and also waking up early (before sunrise). This is more prevalent in older adults but one percent of the population have this sleep phase disorder. 

  • Night owls who stay up late and then sleep late into the morning. This is more typical of teenagers but this delayed sleep phase disorder also impacts a small percentage of the adult population.

Maintaining a healthy circadian rhythm is critical to getting good sleep at night and functioning at your peak during the day. Here are some good habits to establish:

  • Aim to always sleep in the dark as even the tiniest amount of light can disrupt your circadian rhythm and production of melatonin and serotonin. Use blackout curtains and remove (or put electrical tape over) any remaining light.

  • Keep your room temperature lower than 72 degrees (between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit has been shown to be optimal). When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. So it’s no surprise that this cool environment is conducive to sleep as it mimics your body’s sleeping temperature. It helps your body regulate not only melatonin but also cortisol and growth hormone levels.

  • Avoid caffeine after 2pm. It’s been shown that for people that are slow metabolizers of coffee, the caffeine effects last long after the drink. Stick to organic decaf if you need that cup-a-joe. Also, be mindful of products and medications that contain caffeine.

  • Finish eating at least three hours before bedtime – the rise in blood sugar levels after a meal will delay sleep and laying down soon after a meal can increase the risk of acid reflux. Also avoiding foods that you may be sensitive to (like dairy, sugar and certain grains) could help reduce gastrointestinal upset, bloating, gas and the late night trips to the bathroom. If you notice that you have digestive issues, you might explore discussing your nutrition with a registered dietitian as addressing any possible food sensitivities can have a profound effect on digestion and sleep.

  • Make sure to get regular exercise (at least 30 minutes a day) as it can improve your sleep – but get it done at least three hours before bedtime so you don’t get the second wind from the exercise high. This study done by the National Sleep Foundation has shown that those who do moderate to vigorous exercise regularly reported higher quality sleep than non-exercisers.

  • Get sunlight in the morning. It will adjust your circadian rhythm to help you sleep better at night. Try to get at least 30 minutes outside every day – morning is best when the sun is less intense.

  • Stick to a consistent bedtime (even on the weekends) and aim to get to bed early so that your body maintains a good sleep rhythm. Deep sleep happens in the first half of your night so it’s important not to miss this time window which is when your body repairs and recharges.

  • Try to avoid doing work or watching TV in bed. It will be harder for your body to relax when it’s time to sleep – it’s important to keep your work space separate from your sleep space. Avoiding blue light from electronics close to bedtime is important as it’s been shown that blue light can delay sleep, suppress melatonin secretion and impair next-morning alertness. If you must watch that episode to wind down, try blue light blocking glasses and/or a blue light filter for your device. Here are some to try: Blue Light Blocking Glasses

  • If you need an afternoon snooze, make sure to keep naps short (20-30 minutes) and earlier in the afternoon so it doesn’t push back your bedtime and throw off your schedule. 

While establishing good sleep hygiene can help you maintain a good circadian rhythm, there may be other circumstances that can prevent you from getting optimal sleep. If you have persistent sleeping issues and/or daytime drowsiness, speak to your doctor or seek out a sleep specialist to dig deeper into the cause to get to the root of the problem.

How your snoring affects your well-being – “Healthy Attitude” podcast review

Bedtime may be the favorite time of the day for thousands of people, but it does not always represent rest time for everyone. Has the snoring of your relative or partner ever kept you awake at night? Yes, it has happened to all of us. But we must be aware of a reality: in addition to causing annoying noises, snoring can be an indicator that our companions are suffering from more than just a stuffy nose.

Dr. Ana Carolina Bassol, a graduate of Mexico’s National Institute of Respiratory Diseases, knows about this firsthand. The pulmonologist works at the Galenia Hospital in Cancun, in the south of her country, and has treated dozens of cases of sleep apnea, a condition related to snoring.

This sleep disorder, known in the medical community for being underdiagnosed by professionals and neglected by patients, affects a significant number of Latin Americans in the 21st century. According to this study (in Spanish), 20% of middle-aged adults have at least mild sleep apnea and 80% of cases remain unidentified.

Dr. Bassol is aware of these figures and the possible consequences of suffering from this condition, such as heart disease. That is why she participated in the podcast “Healthy Attitude”, produced by the hospital center where she works, to inform and educate Spanish speakers about snoring and sleep apnea.

Here is a summary of her intervention in the program.

What is sleep apnea?

Sleep apnea is the total or partial blockage of the upper airway (of the respiratory system) for more than 10 seconds and sometimes even for minutes. It occurs specifically in the pharynx, a tube that connects the nostrils and the oral cavity. This duct is opened by muscle tone but can close when the tone weakens during deep sleep.

According to the doctor, there are several factors that can disrupt the passage of air through the pharynx and increase the likelihood of sleep apnea. Some of the most important are large tonsils, a long tongue, a small nose, and a small chin. She also emphasizes fat deposits, as they can cause the pharynx to collapse even when the individual is awake (due to the great weight they exert on the neck).

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?

To know if you suffer from this syndrome, you can pay attention to the intensity and frequency of your snoring when you sleep. This is one of the most frequent symptoms of the condition, as it occurs when the air causes vibration of the relaxed tissues of the throat.

Another sign that can reveal if you have this condition is the sensation of choking when you just wake up. In fact, sleep apnea can cause you to stop breathing when you sleep. But do not worry: the brain is smart and will never let you die from lack of oxygen. The organ specializes in sending a signal of stress substances (such as adrenaline) that allows you to return to a light sleep and regain the muscle tone that keeps your pharynx dilated.

What else can sleep apnea cause?

According to Bassol, the problems associated with sleep apnea are not only limited to the pharynx but can also trigger negative consequences in the circulatory system.

Whenever there is an obstruction in the upper airway, oxygen in the blood can decrease, which generates inflammatory substances that increase the formation of clots. In addition, adrenaline injections from the brain increase blood pressure, increase heart rate, and change chest pressure. These last modifications place the heart in stressful situations. This is why sleep apnea is linked to cardiac conditions such as acute heart attacks, arrhythmias, heart failure and pulmonary hypertension.

What else can I do to detect sleep apnea?

Bassol comments that the clinical manifestations of sleep apnea when the body is conscious are drowsiness, anxiety, and depression. If you are overcome with doubts and you are not sure about what you have, there are two ways to achieve an accurate diagnosis.

The first option is to take a respiratory polygraphy test. Professionals perform at your home to gather information about your oxygen saturation, your chest and abdominal movements and your airflow in the airway. To get it, they need you to sleep one night with an equipment composed of nasal prongs, a chest monitor, two elastic bands (one on the thorax and one on the abdomen) and an oximeter.

On the other hand, the second alternative is to take a polysomnography test. It is more complete than the previous one and includes an electroencephalogram, an electrocardiogram, and the measurement of other arterial gases, as well as the muscle tone. This is performed only in sleep laboratories and requires observation of the patient for an entire night. It is the best choice if you are a person with previous diseases, such as heart failure.

If you want to listen to the complete podcast (in Spanish) and learn more about sleep apnea, you can click here.

Kicking off the New Year With Intent – Sleep

We spend a third of our life in bed (or should aim to). Sleep affects everything from energy and mood to chronic conditions like heart disease and Alzheimer’s. It has an impact on our metabolism, immunity and physical performance. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 35% of adults don’t get the recommended dose of at least seven hours of sleep. And we live in an espresso-buzzed, screen-fixated, shut-eye deprived world where it’s considered a badge of honor to function on less sleep. Did you know that in a meta-analyses of almost 13,000 studies conducted on sleep, subjects who had sleep disturbances had a higher risk of dementia?

The National Sleep Foundation released the key indicators of good sleep and they include:

  • Sleeping at least 85% of the time when in bed
  • Falling asleep in 30 minutes or less
  • Waking up no more than once per night
  • Going back to sleep within 20 minutes of waking up at night

If you are like most adults and struggle to meet all the guidelines of good sleep, I’ll share some tips and guidelines on evidence-based recommendations to improve the quantity and quality of your sleep.

Create Your Sleep Sanctuary

Creating a calm, comfortable environment is also an essential part of getting good sleep. Here are some tips:

  • Eliminate all lights in your room – use blackout curtains and/or wear an eye mask. I no longer use night lights or lighted clocks.
  • Limiting blue light in the evening has been shown to increase melatonin levels and sleep times. Blue light comes from your electronic devices like TV, ipads, computers and phones. Use a blue light screen on these devices or wear blue light blocking glasses. Here’s one to try: Blue Light Blocking Glasses. Here’s a blue light screen protector for the iPad: Blue Light Screen Protector.
  • Use comfortable bedding and treat yourself to some luxury PJs like organic cotton or silk.
  • Keep your room temperature lower than 72 degrees (between 60 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit has been shown to be optimal). When you sleep, your body’s internal temperature drops to its lowest level, generally about four hours after you fall asleep. So it’s no surprise that this cool environment is conducive to sleep as it mimics your body’s sleeping temperature. It helps your body regulate not only melatonin but also cortisol and growth hormone levels.
  • If you cannot block out external noise of traffic, neighbors, etc. you may want to try a white noise machine.  Here’s one to try: White Noise Machine.
  • Use several drops of essential oils in your diffuser. Good ones for sleep include: lavender, cedarwood and bergamot. Here are a few to try:

Establish a Routine

Creating a consistent sleeptime schedule that is aligned with your circadian rhythm will maintain your sleep and wake cycle. This also includes weekends and holidays when you may be tempted to stay up late and/or sleep in. So create a ritual for getting ready for bed and stick with it: brushing teeth and washing face for night-time skin-care,  putting on PJs, and a sleep-promoting activity like a warm bath, listening to calm music, reading or journaling. This will help you wind down and signal your body that it’s time for shut-eye.

Body Exercises to Help You Sleep

Aim for 150 minutes or more moderate intensity activity a week – that includes swimming, brisk walking, biking, hiking, and running. That’s only 30 minutes a day for five days. Mix it up to stave off boredom and exercise with a buddy. There are many free exercise videos to get your cardio in – here are a few to try:

In order to maintain muscle mass which becomes harder to do as we age, plan for two or more days of muscle strengthening exercise. There are many options if you are not a fan of weight-lifting like me: Pilates, Yoga, Free Weights, Kettlebells, Barre and more. Here are some free videos to try:

Mind Exercises to Help You Sleep

Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is a great way to gain control of your busy and stressed out mind. This technique will help you slow down and be present in your sensations and experiences. Mindfulness training has been shown to improve sleep quality and duration for those with debilitating conditions. Mindfulness exercises include meditation with breathing, yoga and Tai Chi.

There are a bunch of wellness apps that are available to users for mindfulness and guided meditations for sleep. Here are a few to try out:

  • Both Insight Timer and MyLife have a lot of free content with bonus material for premium members
    • Headspace has some free content but is a monthly or yearly subscription for premium content
    • Calm has an annual fee

Things to avoid or limit

  • Finish eating and avoid alcohol at least three hours before bedtime. The rise in blood sugar levels after a meal will delay sleep. Also, sleeping soon after a meal can increase the risk of acid reflux. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and help you fall asleep initially, but it will keep you from falling into the deep sleep your body needs in order to regenerate and repair.
  • Avoiding foods that you may be sensitive to (like dairy, sugar and certain grains) could help reduce gastrointestinal upset, bloating, gas and the late night trips to the bathroom. If you notice that you have digestive issues, you might explore discussing your nutrition with a registered dietitian as addressing any possible food sensitivities can have a profound effect on digestion AND sleep.
  • It’s a good idea to stop drinking fluids within two hours of going to bed to reduce the need to get up in the middle of the night. You should also make sure to empty your bladder before heading to bed.
  • If you are a coffee/caffeine drinker like me, aim to stop drinking caffeine by 2pm. It’s been shown that for people that are slow metabolizers of coffee, the caffeine effects last long after the drink. Stick to organic decaf if you need that cup-a-joe. By the way, the best decaf is produced by the Swiss Water method where hot water is used to remove caffeine as opposed to chemicals. Here are some good brands to try. In general, be mindful of products and medications that contain caffeine.
  • Naps can be a good supplement to your regular sleep but these catnaps should be no longer than about 20 minutes and be finished by 3PM in the afternoon so as to not interfere with your nighttime sleep.

Address Other Factors

  • If you are overweight, this can increase your risk of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where your breathing repeatedly stops and starts. If you snore loudly and feel tired even after a full night’s sleep, ask your doctor to give you a sleep test.
  • For generally healthy women, consider hormone support if faced with night sweats/hot flashes – talk to your doctor or consult a naturopathic physician about various options for dealing with menopause (the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians offers a directory with credentials and practice focus). Note that there are certain dietary factors that exacerbate hot flashes (e.g. caffeine, refined sugar, spicy foods) so be mindful about your diet.
  • Conditions like arthritis, back pain and fibromyalgia contribute to poor sleep, fatigue and mood disturbances. Using mindfulness, massage and relaxation techniques can help but work with your practitioner to optimize best practices to make pain more manageable so you can get quality shut-eye.  
  • Having heartburn or acid reflux can also interfere with sleep. Try carefully monitoring the food and drink that exacerbate this condition and finish your meals at least three hours before bedtime. If you continue to struggle with this, talk to your doctor about options.

Top 10 Essential Oils for Stress and Anxiety

In this blog, I’d like to discuss the use of essential oils for managing stress, anxiety and mood. Aromatherapy stimulates the receptors in the nose and sends messages to our nervous system which impacts the body’s energy systems. This fragrant modality has been used for centuries to maintain and improve well-being.

Here’s my list of recommendations.

1. Chamomile
Chamomile has a wonderful scent and is used widely in oil and tea form for general relaxation. This study showed the effectiveness of chamomile for treating generalized anxiety disorders (chronic anxiety and neurosis).

Here’s one that’s blended with jojoba and ready to use out of the bottle:

2. Fennel
This delicious anise spice is more commonly known for its digestive properties but this study highlighted the use of fennel in reducing depression and anxiety in post-menopausal women.

Here’s one to try:

3. Frankincense
Frankincense oil is extracted from the resin of the Boswellia tree and it means ‘quality incense’ in old French. In the Christian religion, frankincense was a precious spice with great significance and value in ancient times – it was one of the first gifts given to Jesus by the wise men to symbolize his divinity. This oil has a musky, strong aroma with hints of pine and citrus. In this study, frankincense was used to reduce anxiety in women during the first stage of labor (I sure wish I knew about this during my childbirth!)

Frankincense is very expensive but you don’t need much so here’s one to try:

4. Geranium
Geranium oil is extracted from the stems, leaves and flowers of the geranium plant and this sweet-smelling oil has been used widely for mood and emotional wellness. This study also showed how geranium essential oil can effectively reduce anxiety for women during labor. Here’s one to try:

5. Holy Basil
This is from the same plant family but not the same basil that is common to Italian cuisine. Holy basil is called tulsi and has been widely used in Ayurvedic medicine and contains eugenol, a compound that gives it a spicy, minty aroma. According to this study, holy basil was used effectively for treating anxiety, stress and depression.

Here’s one to try:

6. Jasmine
Jasmine oil can be used to increase your sense of well-being and calmness without the drowsiness factor. It also has a wonderful floral scent. This study showed that jasmine oil has stimulatory effects on the function of the nervous system promoting positive emotions. 

Here’s one to try:

7. Lavender
Lavender is a very popular oil and is thought to promote calmness by impacting the part of the brain that controls emotions. This study shows how lavender oil has been used to reduce pre-operative anxiety.

Here’s one to try:

8. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm has been used to support alertness, focus and a healthy mood. This study using lemon balm capsules demonstrates its effectiveness in reducing anxiety and improving sleep.  Lemon balm is readily available in edible capsules, tea and extract form. If using the essential oil, only use in a diffuser or in a bath.

Here’s one that’s ready to use out of the bottle and doesn’t need to be diluted:

9. Rose Oil
Rose oil, extracted from rose petals, has an intoxicating scent and in this study, it was observed that rose oil had physiological and psychological relaxation and anti-anxiety effects.   Remember that rose oil is not the same as the more common rosehip oil. Rosehip oil is produced from the fruits of various wild forms of the rose flower and is typically used as a carrier oil similar to jojoba or avocado oils. Pure rose oil is very expensive but if your wallet can handle it, here’s one to try:

Here’s a more affordable pre-blended version:

10. Valerian
Valerian is an herb that due to its mild sedative effect has been used over the centuries to promote sleep and calm nerves. This study shows the use of valerian to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.

Here’s one to try:

How to Use Essential Oils:

One of the easiest and safest ways to use essential oils is in a diffuser – they are inexpensive and do a great job of distributing the oil through the fine mist. With a diffuser, you only need 2-10 drops of pure oil (depending on the size of your diffuser) so more is not necessarily better. You can use it wherever you are during the day or put it in your bedroom in the evening. In lieu (pun intended) of a bathroom fragrance spray/odor remover, I use a diffuser and put 2-5 drops of different oil in depending on my mood. Or you can add them to a warm bath with a carrier oil (almond oil and jojoba oil feel great on the skin – half an ounce of carrier oil to 7 drops of essential oil is a good ratio you can pre-blend and add to your bath). Or you can find pre-blended essential oils if you don’t want to mix it up yourself. If you are on the go but looking for some essential oil relief, you can try this bracelet – just add a few drops into the cotton pad and it diffuses throughout the day. 

Diffuser Bracelet on Amazon

Safety Precautions:

  • Do not put ANY essential oil directly on your skin undiluted as it can burn and/or irritate the skin. Remember that more is not better when it comes to these concentrated oils!
  • Make sure you do NOT ingest essential oils – there’s insufficient research on safety for internal consumption despite claims that may suggest otherwise.

Here is the latest research on clinical aromatherapy and safety guidelines:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7520654/

Hacking Your Heart & Preventing Diabetes – Dr. Rocky Patel Podcast Review

I’ve always been a fan of Dave Asprey’s Bulletproof Podcasts – he is probably the most famous biohacker that’s out there. On one of his earlier podcasts, his guest was Dr. Rocky Patel, a family physician who focuses on prevention and early detection and treatment of diabetes and heart attacks. He practices what he preaches and lost over 85 pounds following the program that he now advocates for his patients. Here are some of the highlights from the show:

  • Current food recommendations are not based on science but on US policy – we’ve been vilifying saturated fats but science shows that saturated fats and cholesterol are not the culprits.
  • Eating quality fats and saturated meat is actually good for you and will raise HDL cholesterol and make the brain work better.  There are now prescription drugs based on medium chain triglycerides (MCT) oils.
  • Dr. Patel follows a Paleo-type diet with the right amount of quality protein and good fats to maintain his health and weight.
  • Diabetes is a disease of insulin resistance. The pancreas needs to make more insulin to decrease blood sugar levels – with the excess sugar we eat, it works so hard that it gives up and then starts decreasing the production of insulin. Then the blood sugar goes up and this triggers the diabetes process.
  • A fascinating fact I learned on this podcast is that the pancreas burn-out starts 20-25 years before you actually become a diabetic! In pre-diabetes, the current metric for fasting blood sugar is considered 100-125 and the post-grandial (after a meal) glucose is 140-200, but the actual disease process of insulin resistance is a spectrum.   
  • In an interesting study published by a leading diabetologist in 2010 at the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, a study on 8,000 patients showed that a one-hour post grandial glucose greater than 125 was consistent with insulin resistance. If the one-hour post grandial glucose was greater than 150, you are 13 times more likely to become a diabetic in the next eight years. In fact, the fasting sugar, two-hour post grandial glucose didn’t matter – ONLY the one-hour sugar number mattered. And you can do this test at home with a glucose meter.
  • He also noted that 80% of the patients he sees are insulin resistant.
  • Diabetes is correlated with heart attacks – LDL cholesterol did not make the top risk factor for heart attacks. The number one factor was the good to bad cholesterol ratio and number two was smoking. Taking your total cholesterol number and subtracting your HDL will give you the non-HDL cholesterol count which is a better marker.
  • Inflammation is a cause of atherosclerosis. Lipoprotein-associated phospholipase A2 (Lp-PLA2) is an enzyme that plays a role in the inflammation of blood vessels. Measuring Lp- PLA2 along with High-sensitivity C-Reaction Protein (Hs-CRP) will provide an indication of how inflamed your body is and your risk for heart attack.
  • Heart attack is not necessarily a progressive blockage – it’s the inflammation of the arterial wall over the plaque that can burst and cause blockage in blood flow.
  • Insulin resistance is the root cause of diabetes and inflammation is a cause of atherosclerosis. So if you are inflamed, your body will be laying down plaque and it won’t matter what your cholesterol is. You need to address the pro-inflammatory conditions of insulin resistance and diabetes.
  • For long-term and mid-term risk patients, he uses a combination of diet and lifestyle to address inflammation. Low dose aspirin, supplements like resveratrol, pcynogenol, grapeseed and pomegranate extract with niacin (B3) and Omega 3 (fish or krill oil) are basic add-ons to the program.
  • For near-term risk patients (those at the highest risk of heart attack), he will combine medications like statins and beta blockers/ace inhibitors to quickly squash inflammation to bring the risk level down so it can be managed over the long term by diet and lifestyle interventions.
  • His belief is that we need to combine natural and allopathic medicines to get the best outcomes. We don’t live in a natural world anymore so we need to biohack with the right combination that is personalized to our needs. We need a targeted approach but the long-term goal is to eventually wean patients off their medications.
  • One thing he absolutely recommends is getting dental check-ups every six months as periodontal disease will make inflammation go up and increase the risk factor.
  • He emphasizes the need to optimize vitamin D levels as most people have sub optimal levels. Don’t just take vitamin D – get tested first and then determine how much you need.
  • Managing stress and getting enough sleep is another must for optimal health – you need more than 6 hours of sleep per night.

The full podcast is posted below:

https://blog.daveasprey.com/podcast-32-hacking-your-heart-and-preventing-diabetes-with-dr-rocky-patel/

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!