When I examine people’s diets, one of the most common weak areas is insufficient vegetable consumption. I understand the issues: sometimes it is the flavor of certain vegetables, the time it takes to prepare them, and I see very few people who crave vegetables like they might other foods. But I also understand the advantages of increasing vegetable intake to the recommended 3 cups per day. Vegetables and fruits are not only high in vitamins and minerals; they are also rich in diverse antioxidants that are as vital to our longevity. Numerous studies have shown the benefits of diets high in antioxidants from foods in helping prevent cardiovascular disease. When they study a single antioxidant like Vitamin C, they don’t find the same preventative benefit as with the complete package offered in produce. The natural matrix and cofactors found in fruits and veggies enhances the absorption of vitamins so that getting a few milligrams of a vitamin from vegetable might be the equivalent of hundreds in a supplement.
To help you get more of these benefits, here are some of my favorite tips for increasing vegetable intake.
Keep it colorful. Every different color represents a different antioxidant.
Use prewashed salad mixes to add quick salads to any meal.
If you make smoothies, add greens to them. Try baby greens or sprouts or anything else tender that your blender can grind up.
Throw sprouts or grated vegetables on sandwiches, wraps and salads. Broccoli sprouts highly concentrate the cancer preventing compounds of broccoli.
Keep frozen veggies around for when you don’t have time to chop some up yourself. Freezing doesn’t destroy too many of the nutrients.
Add flavor to nearly any vegetable by sautéing it with olive oil and garlic. Add a splash of vinegar at the end, I like balsamic.
Use veggie sticks from carrots, celery, cucumber and/or bell pepper to dip in hummus or other healthy dips.
If you are still not getting enough veggies, consider adding a green food powder to your regimen.
Since February is Heart Health Month, I want to continue raising awareness about the risk factors for cardiovascular disease, particularly those that are clustered together in metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a complex of symptoms that can be the precursor of diabetes or heart disease. It is defined as the presence of three or more of the following markers: high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, elevated blood sugar, and increased abdominal girth. The high levels of insulin seen in metabolic syndrome appear to increase the progression of atherosclerosis, the deposition of high cholesterol plaques on the artery walls. Many people who have this constellation of issues don’t realize that they are interrelated and can be addressed together to some extent.
Hibiscus is a delicious tasting beverage tea that seems to be uniquely suited for people with metabolic syndrome. One study with diabetic patients, showed that two cups of hibiscus tea daily helped lower triglycerides and total cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol, the good cholesterol. These finding were supported by a second study, which also showed a reduction in blood sugar levels in participants with metabolic syndrome. It is hypothesized that hibiscus helps improve insulin resistance, which is an underlying aspect of the symptoms of metabolic syndrome. Finally, hibiscus has been show to slightly lower blood pressure. I like hibiscus tea sweetened with stevia and served over ice. And its beautiful red color can make it a great addition to a Valentine’s Day gift for any one whose heart you love.
A recent study on heart disease served as a dramatic eye opener about the impact of risk factors like elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and diabetes. Having two or more of these risk factors at age 55 gives you a 30% chance of death from cardiovascular disease by age 80. Even more shocking was the finding that only 5% of the thousands of people in the study had optimal blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and non-smoker status. This optimal profile was associated with about a 5% lifetime risk of cardiovascular death. Even if you are not in this 5%, there is still hope that reducing your cardiovascular risk factors can improve your odds. In another study on male doctors, the number of cardiovascular risk factors that were controlled correlated with decreased risk of a serious cardiovascular event such as a heart attack. With each risk factor that was managed, the odds of a heart attack dropped further. Those participants with uncontrolled high blood pressure had nearly a 70% greater risk compared to people with normal blood pressure. When blood pressure was controlled, this risk of a serious cardiovascular event dropped to 34%. Their odds weren’t as good as participants who had never had blood pressure issues, but the drop was enough to warrant intervention.
Natural medicine offers many options to help control high blood pressure. Individual options tend have fairly mild effects so I often warn people that with more elevated blood pressure that they may need to use a combination of intervention, including sometimes medication. Whether medications are part of the plan or not, lifestyle factors are extremely important for cardiovascular health. In a recent study, fitness was found to be better predictor of heart disease risk than body weight. Numerous other studies have shown the heart protecting benefits of eating a diet high in antioxidants from fruits and vegetables. Potassium is another nutrient that may help lower blood pressure, and many Americans don’t get enough of this mineral. The RDA recommends we get 3500 mg daily, but many people only get half this much. While potassium supplements are available, they are limited to 99 mg per capsule. Instead, look for potassium rich foods. One of my favorites is coconut water, but to find a full list of potassium powerhouse foods check out the website for World’s Healthiest Foods.
I have always been known as a sharp person, and as I intend to practice medicine until I am quite old, I need to make sure I maintain my keen mind. There are many different challenges that can lead to memory impairment as we age. Circulation to the brain can be decreased by atherosclerosis, leading to lower available oxygen. The energy centers of our cells, mitochondria, can stop functioning at peak efficiency. This leads to a decline in energy levels in the brain, and these dysfunctional mitochondria release larger amounts of free radicals that can damage the brain cells. Free radicals are a contributing factor in many neurodegenerative conditions including Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
These potential challenges to proper brain function provide us with clue for where we should look for support, as we grow older and wiser. Vinpocetine is notable for addressing many of these issues. Vinpocetine is derived from an extract of Vinca, better known as periwinkle. It can help increase blood flow to the brain and reduce the levels of damaging free radicals. This is why it is gaining a reputation for protecting brain cells. Vinpocetine may also increase the efficiency of dysfunctional mitochondria in the brain so they can produce more energy. The production of neurotransmitter related to memory may also be enhanced by vinpocetine. Placebo controlled studies on elderly patients with age-related mental decline further supports vinpocetine’s potential. The patients taking vinpocetine outperformed those taking placebo on several different tests of mental function.
When it comes to staying healthy, some people are cautious about what they put in their bodies but are oblivious to the ingredients in the products they put on their bodies. They don’t realize how easily we can absorb things through our skin, yet the Center for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the skin was the “most common path of toxic substance exposure.” The skin can absorb a ride range of substances. This is why patches are now popular delivery methods in medicine. In addition, studies have shown the accumulation of body care ingredients like parabens in our bodies. These ingredients are not well regulated. Most ingredient and products don’t have to be tested before they are released on the market, so there is little government oversight of body care and cosmetic products. This is definitely an area where the buyer needs to aware.
When working to clean up your personal care products it helps to prioritize and get rid of the worst offenders first. Choose one or two ingredients you would want to eliminate and look for products that avoid these ingredients. After you have eliminated these ingredients from your skin care routine, continue learning about other ingredients to avoid and review all of your products for those. In other words, take things slow instead of overwhelming yourself by trying to understand every single ingredient. Also, our knowledge is still evolving in this area so it is important to evolve too as the information is updated. Ingredients to consider eliminating are parabens and fragrances. Parabens are preservatives that mimic estrogen. They may disrupt the endocrine system and contribute to reproductive disorders, including possibly some cancers. Fragrance is a catchall word for hundreds of different chemicals that can be associated with allergies, dermatitis, respiratory distress, and potential effects on the reproductive system. There are also some particular types of products to avoid including: skin lighteners, perfumes, hair straightener, and permanent hair dyes. While skin lighteners can cause skin irritation and sometimes damage, hair straightens and dyes have been linked to possible increased cancer risk. People who get their hair dyed regularly are twice as likely to get bladder cancer compared to the average population.
So look for places where you can clean up your act a little. Some of my favorite lines are Ultra Aesthetic, Alaffia, MyChelle, and Dr. Hauschka.
Many New Year’s resolutions focus on being healthier by quitting smoking or eating healthier. Another important aspect of maintaining our health is improving how we cope with stress. It would be ideal if we could eliminate some of the stress causers in our lives, but this is not always possible especially when the stress is tied to our incomes or all too often these days our lack of income. Excess stress is a significant contributor to short-term and long-term health issues. It can cause headaches, body pain, stomach upset, and increase our susceptibility to colds and other illnesses. In addition, stress may be a contributor to insomnia, depression, high blood pressure, diabetes, dementia, and even cancer.
So what can we do about stress? I know there are some stressful circumstances we can’t change, but pay attention to where you might be putting unnecessary stress on yourself. Become aware of when you use the word should. If you are “shoulding” yourself about something that is unrealistic, replace it with a more manageable goal such as a concrete step you could complete that day. Or just drop that unnecessary demand on yourself all together. If your shoulds are about another person, instead try to accept that person for the wonderful if imperfect person they are. Since you can’t change another person, don’t stress yourself out by focusing on what they are not.
In addition to this emotional and mental work, add some healthy lifestyle habits to keep your body strong and mind balanced. Look for fun ways to fit exercise into your day. Ideally, get a workout buddy so you can also benefit from having a friend to talk things over with. Remember to take deep breaths, even if it is just a few when you are stopped at a light. Eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruits and vegetables and whole grains. There are also herbs like Ashwagandha and Siberian Ginseng that can help the body deal with the effects of long-term stress. These herbs can help balance the body’s output of stress hormones, as well as improve energy and stamina.
If you want more tips on dealing with stress, check out Managing Stress at healthfinder.gov.
Many people like to start out their new year by following a body detoxification program. This can be a prudent time do a body cleanse since we often have reduced elimination of toxins in the winter. There are 5 organs that remove toxins from the body: the bowels, kidneys, liver, lungs, and skin. We can get rid of a wide range of toxins through our skin by sweating, but in the winter we don’t tend to sweat as much so we may hold on to more toxins. There are still options for us to sweat during the winter: exercise, saunas, or hot baths. Combine one or more of these sweating options with nearly any detoxification plan you follow, and make sure to continue it throughout the year. The unfortunate truth is that the levels of toxins around us are so great that to some extent we have to live a detoxifying life and not just rely on periodic cleanses.
Fiber is another important aspect of any cleanse that can also be a yearlong focus. Fiber is found in beans, lentils, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. There are also many supplemental options including psyllium powder, oat bran, acacia powder, apple pectin, or ground flax seeds. Fiber is a great detoxifier as it binds fats, chemicals, metals, and other desirables in the intestines. This helps reduce the intake of new toxins, and it also binds toxins released into the intestines by the liver after neutralization. In a study on Amazonian people who ate a lot of fish, the people who had the most fiber in their diet had markedly lower rates of mercury accumulation in the body compared to the low fiber group. The fiber in their diet was thought to bind most of the mercury from the fish so it couldn’t be absorbed.
To learn more about detoxification strategies, come to my lecture this Saturday January 7th at noon in the Ozark Natural Foods deli seating area.
Cell salts are homeopathic dilutions of the mineral salts that our cells need to function properly. They are made from combinations of essential minerals and electrolytes, and then are diluted to enhance and modify their impact on the body. They can be used to enhance the effect of supplement or replace certain supplements in people who cannot tolerate them. For some cell salts, I often use them for conditions that I would choose the corresponding mineral for either with or without the addition of that mineral.
This might make better sense if I explain the uses of some of my favorite cell salts. Calcarea phosphoricum is the Latin name used for the cell salt made from calcium phosphate. As these are minerals that are found in our bones, this cell salt is useful for nearly any issues related to bones from helping heal fractures to preventing osteoporosis. I think of this diluted mineral preparation as aiding our assimilation and utilization of calcium from our diet and supplements. This cell salt, which usually labeled calc phos, is also used during recovery from prolonged illness and during growth spurts in children. Ferrum phosphoricum, aka iron phosphate, similarly can help balance our body’s iron, which is needed for proper oxygenation of tissue. It also has actions that are different from other supplemental forms of iron. For instance, ferrum phos can be useful for fighting fever and inflammation, especially at their onset.
I will have to write about my other favorite cell salts another day, but I wanted to give a quick mention to the blend of all 12 cell salts called Bioplasma. Many people like to use this as an overall mineral and electrolyte balancer.
It is the first day of winter, and though the weather has been slightly warmer than usual here, I am still having some trouble adjusting to the cold. It is no wonder that many of the traditional holiday treats involve warming spices to help us feel cozy. Some of my favorites are mulled apple juice with cinnamon, cloves, and ginger and hot teas that have similar spices in them. Warming spices can also stimulate our digestion to help us with heavy holiday meals. Cinnamon, cloves, or ginger can help ease discomfort associated with indigestion.
Cinnamon is a favorite herb of mine because of its diverse benefits. It is antimicrobial and breaks up mucus making it useful for colds, flus and cough. It is also astringent and can help slow down bleeding, such as with heavy menstrual periods. It can also help reduce blood sugar. Many people look for the true cinnamon that goes by the Latin name Cinnamomum zelanicum, but in this case the more common Cinnamomum cassia is a better choice, according to a study. Many cooks also prefer the cassia cinnamon for its more robust flavor. I have personally found cinnamon to be a little bit stimulating. Once I drank so much of a spicy tea that contained cinnamon that I had insomnia. When I backed off, my sleep normalized.
Ginger is another powerhouse herb that has many uses beyond making gingersnaps. It addition to the digestive benefits I already mentioned, ginger is a very popular herb for nausea and motion sickness. Ginger is also a great inflammation fighter that can be considered for nearly any inflammatory issue from colds to arthritis. Ginger has antimicrobial benefits that make it further useful as part of protocol for upper respiratory infections. Ginger is also one of the many foods that help reduce the formation of new blood vessels by cancerous tumors. Without increased blood supply from new blood vessels, cancers cannot grow as quickly. Finally, ginger can help protect blood vessels, kidneys, and the liver. I hope I have given you plenty of reasons to add these tasty herbs to your winter recipes or enjoy them as teas to help you stay warm and healthy.
It seems like I spent the majority of my life being a student. Even though I am no longer a student, my learning process is still continuing. This habit is one I recommend to my patients that wish to keep their brains sharp. Often people consider puzzles and games to helpful, but I believe the best way to keep the brain nimble is to learn a new thing, even if it is just a different route home or a new type of puzzle. I also practice memory exercises where I try to commit things the memory that I don’t have to. An example of this could be learning a friend’s phone number even though it is already in your cell phone. I have also used herbs to help my brain and memory. There is a category of drugs and supplements known as nootropics that are used to enhance cognitive function and memory. When I was reviewing a list of the herbs that have this action, I noticed that many of them are in the mint family: lemon balm, lavender, sage, and rosemary. Other herbs in this category include bacopa, gotu kola, ginkgo, magnolia, and ginseng.
Many of these herbs are very well known like rosemary, but we might not think of them having any benefit beyond making our food more flavorful. Others like ginkgo are well known for their memory benefit. What many don’t know about ginkgo is that it benefits our circulation and can be used as part of a program to support the cardiovascular system. In fact, it may be that it helps memory by increasing blood flow to the brain. A study on both young and old rats showed that a combination of ginkgo and ginseng helped both groups with the retention of learned behavior. So maybe it will help us in our rat race. Rosemary shares many of the characteristics of ginkgo including its circulatory and memory benefits. In addition, rosemary has been shown to have antimicrobial properties and may be helpful for topical and respiratory infections. Lemon balm is also gaining attention for it ability to enhance memory as shown in a recent study with young adults. Lemon balm is also a nerve tonic that is uplifting and calming. It has a pleasant flavor that makes it a good choice in teas, so kick back with a cup of tea and a new book to help stimulate your brain.