Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Sleep and Insomnia - Natural Help from Foods and Supplements

If you are having difficulty getting good quality sleep, you are not alone in your search for rest.  A variety of surveys report on average 10% of the American population struggle with sleep issues.  From an natural view, there are so many helpful ways to improve both sleep quality and duration.  There are options to try from food and supplements to exercise and mediation.  Some people will only need to change 1 or 2 things in their life to improve sleep, while others will need to change as many habits as possible.  In this post will focus on the food and nutrient side that supports restful sleep.  In future posts I will cover some exercises and meditation techniques that can be useful.

I.) Foods for Improving Sleep:

While high stress remains the most common cause of insomnia, eating the wrong foods can be a major contributing factor and even make stress worse.  The major problematic food classes include: sugar, caffeine,  alcohol, gluten and poor quality fats (industrial seed oils).  Therefore, removing some of these problematic foods and improving diet overall is an important first step toward towards more restful sleep.  After removing problematic foods, start adding nutrient rich foods such as:

a.) Almonds:
A rich source of Magnesium, almonds are one of the best foods for treating insomnia. Found in food and supplement form, Magnesium is a natural muscle relaxing mineral and also works to calm the central nervous system. The Journal of Research in Medical Sciences (12/2012) published a study which found that magnesium can “improve subjective measures of insomnia, such as ISI score, sleep efficiency, sleep time and sleep onset latency, early morning awakening, and likewise, insomnia objective measures, such as concentration of serum renin, melatonin and serum cortisol, in elderly people.”

b.) Cherries:
Cherries and especially products made from tart cherry juice have been linked to improved sleep. Some studies have shown that tart cherry juice concentrate can help to raise total melatonin levels, which are critical to deeper quality.

c.) Bananas:
Banana is well-known for boosting energy, but it also supplies many of the nutrients critical for sleep. Rich in magnesium, potassium and tryptophan, bananas contain the “magic trio” of sleep helpers. The amino acid Tryptophan is especially effective since it is a critical precursor to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin (both are needed for sleep).


II.) Supplements for Insomnia:

Below is a list of supplements shown to be helpful for insomnia.  Dosages will depend on the individual, and ideally, should be based on the advice of a health care professional.

a.) Magnesium (glycinate or malate) - 200-600 mg/day.

b.) 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is converted in the brain to serotonin – an important initiator of sleep. The sedative effects of 5-HTP can be enhanced by taking it near bedtime with a carbohydrate source such as fruit or fruit juice. start with a dose of 50 mg at night.

c.) L-theanine is a relaxing amino acid found in green tea available as a supplement. Clinical studies have shown L-theanine to induce a sense of calm in patients with anxiety. At typical dosages, e.g., 100-200 mg. L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. Hence it is a good support agent to melatonin and 5-HTP. At higher single dosages, e.g., 400 mg L-theanine does exert sedative action.

d.) Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is the most popular herbal sedative. Several double-blind clinical studies have substantiated valerian’s ability to improve sleep quality and relieve insomnia. In fact, it has shown effectiveness equal to benzodiazepines. The advantage of valerian is that it does not cause daytime sleepiness, diminished concentration or impairment of physical performance. The dosage for the standardized valerian extract (0.8% valerenic acid content) is 150-300 mg 45 minutes before bedtime. I would reserve use of valerian until after giving melatonin, then 5-HTP a try.

e.) Other Supplement Options:
-GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) 
-Phosphatidylserine (PS) 
-Passionflower Extract (liquid or capsules).

How Acupuncture Works based on Science

services-acupuncture-needlesThe scientific basis of Acupuncture is now well understood. Let's move on from esoteric discussions of "qi" and "meridians" as they relates to acupuncture. A short summary of the science is given below, the full article goes into even deeper into the science. Acupuncture has been shown to act on several mechanisms in the body. Explaining these physiological mechanisms can become complicated, however the basis of acupuncture is quite simple: Acupuncture's effect is dependent on the stimulation of the peripheral nervous system (PNS). This is confirmed by the fact that when nerves innervating acupoints are blocked acupuncture has no effect. Research suggests that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system to release natural chemicals that alter hormonal output, pain response, and other biological processes. In 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted an extensive review and analysis of clinical trials involving acupuncture. According to this report acupuncture impacts the body on multiple levels, concluding it:

how_acupuncture_works_neurology
  • Stimulates conduction of electro-magnetic signals, which can promote immune system cells or pain-killing chemicals.
  • Activates the body's endogenous opioid system, which may help reduce pain and induce better sleep quality.
  • Stimulates brain centers including the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which modulate numerous body systems.
  • Changes in the secretion of neurotransmitters and endocrine hormones, which may positively effect brain chemistry.
Read more on the full article.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Healthy Hair with Foods and Supplements - Women’s Hair Loss

women's hair lossPerhaps there's good reason women care so much about their hair. Quite simply, good looking hair is a reflection of good internal health. A full head of healthy hair indicates that the endocrine organs (especially thyroid) and digestive tract (especially small intestine) are healthy too. Hair is formed as a direct result of good nutrient absorption. The list of nutrients needed for healthy hair is long, but the essential ingredients include:

  • B Vitamins (especially folate and B12)
  • Minerals (including zinc, copper, calcium and magnesium)
  • Essential fatty acids (especially DHA and EPA)
  • Iron and Protein (with the correct balance of all 8 essential amino acids).

Although nutrients are important, hair loss is not always the result of nutritional deficiencies. There are quite a few health conditions that can cause hair loss, even when there are sufficient nutrients available. Some of these medical conditions include:

  • Hyperthyroidism (excess thyroid hormone)
  • Hypothyroidism (low thyroid hormone)
  • Hashimoto's Thyroiditis (autoimmune thyroid condition)
  • Hormonal Imbalances including: high or low estrogen, low progesterone, low hormone levels due to menopause, high testosterone, and PCOS.
  • Stressors such as sudden weight loss, post-pregnancy, surgery, moving, etc.
  • Food intolerances or allergies.
  • Medications: anti-depressants, beta-blockers, or NSAID pain relievers.
  • Scalp conditions including: alopecia areata, scalp dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, ringworm, lichen planus and others.
  • Chemical treatments, chemotherapy
  • External irritants including shampoos, conditioners and other common hair products.

The list of possible reasons for hair loss is quite long and most people do not know which of these conditions apply to them. Working with a 
holistic health care practitioner
 is the most effective approach to identify and reverse the root cause of hair loss. Finding the root cause of hair loss will involve taking a look at various aspects of your life including diet, stress levels, exercise, lab results, and health history. After a proper assessment has been completed, the necessary changes can be made to efficiently and quickly restore a healthy head of hair.

In the meanwhile, it is always helpful to maximize the nutrients your body has available to grow new healthy hair. Below is a list of healthy food choices that will help to do just that:

1.) Vitamin C: Collagen is the substance that wraps around hair strands. As we age collagen gradually degenerates, causing hair to break and thin. Surprisingly, vitamin C is the best way to boost collagen, there is not need for pricey medical procedures. High vitamin C foods include: citrus fruits, strawberries and red peppers. Taking a supplement with 250-1000 mg daily can help increase collagen production and even reduce skin wrinkles.

2.) Biotin: Biotin, is possibly the most important B vitamin for healthy hair. As a water soluble vitamin of the B complex, biotin encourages hair growth and a healthy scalp. Food sources of biotin include nuts, brown rice and oats.

3.) Essential Fatty Acids: EFA's are those fats that are essential to the proper functioning of your body. The human body is not able to create these fatty acids on its own, so it is important to eat foods containing them. Get Essential fatty acids from cold-water fish, chia seeds, grass-fed beef, walnuts, flaxseeds and avocado.

4.) MSM: MSM (or Methylsulfonylmethane) has been shown to aid in the production of keratin, which is the main protein found in hair. In addition, MSM can even strengthen hair follicles. In a recent study, 100% of test subjects who added a supplement with MSM showed less hair loss and increased hair growth in less than two months. Foods with MSM include: Leafy vegetables, such as Swiss chard, cabbage and watercress, asparagus and beets.

5.) Iron: Essential for hair growth, iron is found in: grass-fed beef, green vegetables, blackstrap molasses, cashews, figs, and berries. Taking vitamin C at the same time will help your body absorb more iron from food sources.

6.) Minerals Silica and Zinc: Most people know about the mineral zinc, but the lesser-know silica is also critical for hair health. Foods containing silica include: cucumber, green leafy vegetables, beans, celery, asparagus, mango, and horsetail herb. Some foods high in zinc: grass-fed beef, fresh oysters, eggs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, pecans.

 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Foods for Glowing Healthy Skin

Want glowing skin? Get the glow back by eating foods that make skin cells radiant from the inside. Eating plenty of "good fats" during the dry winter months can be especially helpful to nourish the skin from the inside and maintain moisture. Below is a short list of the best skin nourishing foods:  

1.) Cucumber: One of the most alkaline foods on the planet, cucumber is fantastic as a cleansing aid. The skin of cucumber contains lots of silicon and a variety of other "green" nutrients. Choose organic to avoid pesticides.

2.) Hemp Seed: Help is a complete nutrient food - containing all 9 essential amino acids. It is one of the best vegetarian protein sources and high in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and minerals. You can buy help seeds raw or purchase a hemp protein powder to add to smoothies.  

3.) Coconut & Coconut Oil: Full of healthy saturated fat, coconut contains lots of antioxidants and has been show to help control blood sugar levels. In addition, coconut can boost thyroid health and help in skin repair. Coconut can be eaten straight, used for cooking, or blended into smoothies and even used topically on the face and body.  

4.) Avocado: Full of the "good fats" and high in vitamins and minerals, the nutrients in avocados are especially beneficial for skin glow. Some of the nutritional power-houses found under the peel include: vitamins E, C, K, B6, selenium, zinc, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and healthy fats.

 5.) Olives & Olive Oil: Get lots of vitamin E in your olive oil; This fat-soluble vitamin is well known as a source of beauty that helps the skin by rebuilding connective tissues. Olives are full of vitamins, minerals and mono-unsaturated fats that work together to keep the skin moist and smooth, especially during the dry winter season.  

6.) Arugula & Spinach: Greens are great to alkalize the body and provide nutrients such as vitamin A & sulfur. The nutrients in these super-greens can help protect skin from oxidizing sun damage. Acne is often improved by adding vitamin A, as are other skin conditions.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Try Breathing!

I've been lucky enough to have more time to meditate lately.  It sure is nice to be on vacation ;)  Yes, I know it may sometimes feels like there is not possibly enough time to sit and breathe, but you can start with 5-10 minutes a day and you may start seeing results.  To help you get started, I wanted to share Five Breathing Techniques that will give a point of focus and quell the "monkey mind", if only for a brief time:

1. Mindfulness Breathing:
This is a classic Buddhist meditation technique. Mindful breathing focuses on mere awareness of your breathing - not trying to change it in any way. You are not forcing breath to be any particular way, just simply observing it. What usually ends up happening, however, is that the longer you simply observe your breath, the more relaxed and slow it eventually becomes. Take a moment to become aware of the air coming in through your nostrils and traveling down, filling the lungs, abdomen and expanding your diaphragm muscles. Then notice the air returning up and being released.  Play a game with yourself and see how long you can observe your breath, before you become distracted. Each time your attention wanders, bring it back to a place in the body, where you can feel your breath most clearly.

2. 4-7-8 Breathing:
This technique can help reset the nervous system when it is overwhelmed by stress. Inhale through your nose while counting to 4, then hold your breath counting to 7 and breathe out through your mouth, counting to 8. Repeat this technique 5 or more times and observe its effects on the body. You are likely to experience an immediate release of tension and perhaps greater calm and balance.

3. Square Breathing:
Visual people usually enjoy the "square breathing" technique. Close your eyes and visualize a square. With each breath, imagine you are drawing one of the sides of a square. Inhale, count to four and imagine drawing a horizontal line, then hold your breath, count to four and imagine drawing a vertical line, next exhale, count to four and draw a horizontal line, and pause, count to four, complete your square with another vertical line.

4. Mantra Breathing:
If you like the mindful breathing technique (#1 above), but find it hard to center you mind enough to follow your breath, try using a mantra as a focus point. A mantra can be any word or a phrase that you will repeat quietly to yourself, in rhythm of your breathing. For example, you could say: "IN" every time you breathe in, and "OUT" every time you breathe out. Repeat this over and over then watch your mind becoming more calm and focused.  Counting the breaths is also a good way to focus the attention as you breathe in and out.

5. Alternate Nostril Breathing:
Alternate Nostril Breathing (also called "nadi shodhana") is a classic yoga (pranayama) breathing technique that can help you to calm the mind. Use your right thumb to close off your right nostril, inhale slowly through your left nostril, then hold your breath, while you close off your left nostril, and breath out through your right nostril. Pause for a moment, then breathe in through your right nostril and repeat the process.

I hope these techniques help get you started on the path to enlightenment.  Try to make a bit of time each day to sit and enjoy your breathing!

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Eat the Yolk!

Reasons to Eat Your Yolks

It amazes me that people still eat eat egg white omelets.  I guess everyone isn't yet aware that the low-fat diet didn't work... and that cholesterol does not actually cause heart disease.  Egg yolks have so much to offer when it comes to health. Starting your day with whole eggs can help regulate blood sugar, so it is more likely that you will make good food choices throughout the day.  In addition, eating eggs anytime of day can help with weight management because eggs are an easy way to get satisfying protein and healthy fats into the diet. Always buy the best eggs you can afford preferably from organic, pastured chickens that do not eat soy (note that most organic eggs are from soy-feed chickens).


1. Egg yolks are a good source of  the essential mineral chromium which helps to maintain proper blood sugar levels, lower body weight, increase lean body mass, reduce triglycerides and cholesterol. (Murray,2005). Eating just two 2 eggs yolks provides nearly 400 mcg of chromium which is double the suggested amount needed per day. (Murray,1996)


2. Whole eggs are an excellent source of Vitamin K which is vital for strong bones and preventing osteoporosis. (Murray,2005)


3. A whole egg only has 65 calories 5.3 grams of fat, only 1.3 grams is saturated. One egg also has 6 grams of protein.(Murray,2005) Saturated fat is good for you but if you think it isn’t maybe this will convince you.


4. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people who eat four whole eggs per week had lower cholesterol than people who ate just one egg per week. (Murray,2005). Our hormones are made from cholesterol and it is a healing substance. Read more about the powerful benefits of cholesterol here.


5. Eggs yolks are rich in choline which is vital for healthy brain function. Choline has been shown be to be crucial for helping to prevent depression and Alzheimer’s.(Murray,1996) Whole Eggs are a good source of Vitamin B-12 and Folate which work together to protect the brain from degeneration and produce healthy red blood cells. (Murray,2005)


6. People who ate eggs rich in choline have 20% lower levels of inflammation than those who do not get enough choline. (whfoods.com,2010)


7. In a study of obese people lasting 8 weeks whole egg eaters lost double the weight of people who ate bagels for breakfast. They also lost 80% more inches and had more reported having more energy. (whfoods.com,2010)


8. Eggs rich in choline are important for heart health because choline regulates homocysteine which in excess can damage blood vessels. (whfoods.com,2010)


9. In another study children who ate eggs everyday for two months improved their LDL particle size which reduces their risk of heart disease. (whfoods.com,2010)


10. Egg yolks are a good source of Vitamin D and selenium  both of which can help prevent breast and colon cancer. (Murray,1996)


Why You Need Cholesterol

It was not until the 1960's that Americans started to fear saturated fat and cholesterol. Our grandparents ate lots of meat and saturated fat, and they were statistically more healthy. In the early 1900’s most Americans had a difficult time keeping weight on, while heart disease was not even on the radar. Compare this picture to the present day, where people are still obsessed with low-fat diets and cutting cholesterol.  Where is the reward for all of this low-fat living? This fat and cholesterol phobia has contributed to a national obesity rate of 35%, where one-third of all deaths are blamed on heart dis
ease.  And the problem seems to be getting worse...

Where did this fat phobia come from?  Dr. Ancel Keys performed research in the 1950’s, where he proposed that countries with a higher intake of saturated fat and cholesterol have increased rates of heart disease. The Seven Countries study had a lot academic critics, but it caught on like wildfire and was adopted by the public. What no one, including the US government and the American Heart Association, took into account was that he had left out data from the other 15 countries he surveyed, making his results useless. Yes, our fear of saturated fat and cholesterol is based on a flawed and cherry-picked study.

10 Reasons You Need Cholesterol

During the past 50 years this fear of fat has caught on, and rates of heart disease and obesity have surged upward, with no end in sight. Cholesterol is a natural healing substance that has many vital functions in the human body. If you are worried about cholesterol levels from a high fat diet, here are some reasons to put your mind at ease:

  1. Cholesterol is a vital structural component of every human cell membrane and it aids in communication between cells. It’s a necessary component in making new, healthy cells, and it gives us the ability to heal from illness or injury.
  2. Cholesterol helps reduce bloating by regulating the salt and water balance in the body.
  3. Cholesterol is converted into bile in the liver, which helps us to digest fats. Many people who have been on a low-fat diet will have trouble with fat digestion.
  4. You need cholesterol to make adrenal hormones, cortisol, and aldosterone, which help us cope with the stress of day-to-day living. A low-fat diet often does not supply enough substrate to make these hormones, which leads to adrenal fatigue, feelings of exhaustion, and belly fat storage.
  5. UVB rays from the sun interact with the cholesterol in your skin to convert it to vitamin D. Cholesterol helps the absorption of Vitamin D, which is vital for proper immune function.
  6. Many studies indicate that cholesterol may act as an antioxidant to heal free radial damage. The standard American diet (SAD) is full of oxidized vegetable oils and sugars, which are pro-oxidants. These non-foods wreak havoc on your cells and cause damage that contributes to heart disease. The body produces more cholesterol in response to these inflammatory foods in an attempt to heal the damage they cause in our blood vessels.
  7. Cholesterol helps in the formation of your memories and is crucial for proper neurological function. People with low HDL cholesterol can have impaired memory and are at an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.
  8. Elevated cholesterol is a sign that your body is making more to heal damaged cells. It is key to look for the true cause of the inflammation (ie: sugar, grains, vegetable oils), not kill the messenger by taking cholesterol medication with possibly dangerous side effects.
  9. Many times a high cholesterol test is your body trying to send you an important message, so listen up! Healing cholesterol is often produced in excess when there is a lack of thyroid hormone and/or there is an autoimmune thyroid attack. Normalizing thyroid hormone levels can help balance cholesterol levels, as well as following a lower carb nutrient dense diet.
  10. Cholesterol is very important for the communication between brain synapses, which make the feel good chemical serotonin. There have been many studies where people with abnormally low levels of cholesterol have tendencies toward violence or depression.

In Summary

Cholesterol is an essential building block for the steroid hormones which help control our moods, metabolism, inflammation, immune, and sexual functions. The human body needs cholesterol in order to function, and without it we would not survive. The liver will intuitively make more cholesterol when the diet does not provide enough.

Many studies have shown that low cholesterol is a bigger risk factor for heart disease and mortality than high cholesterol. Elderly people with low cholesterol died twice as often from a heart attack, when compared with elderly people with high cholesterol.  According to Dr. Mark Hyman, higher cholesterol predicts lower risk of death from heart disease.

When evaluating your own cholesterol levels do some critical thinking about what is best for you. Follow the money trail when your doctor advises you to take Statin drugs, and ask for some hard evidence on why they are recommending them for you.

Lifestyle interventions such as a low carb, Paleo diet can help people achieve optimal lipid panel markers, in a very short time, without any dangerous side effects. Use your best judgement when you hear how foods that kept our great grandparents healthy like grass-fed meat, raw cheese, and grass-fed butter, are to blame for new diseases.