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:

  • 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.