Tag Archives: health

Longer Telomeres for Longer Lives

How do we live longer healthier lives? Is it inevitable that our cells will stop functioning properly and we will get chronic degenerative diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and dementia? My goal is to support my body now so that I can delay the “inevitable” for as long as possible.

We can keep our DNA and therefore our bodies functioning optimally by emphasizing healthy diet and exercise. A recent small study by Dr. Dean Ornish demonstrated that following a healthy lifestyle plan could actually lengthen our telomeres. Telomeres are the genetic caps on the end of each DNA strand. I think of them like these plastic protectors on the ends of shoelaces.

shoelaces
As our cells divide, our DNA is copied. With each copy, the telomeres get a little shorter. Eventually, we can lose so much of our telomeres that our DNA is not longer protected. The cells produced at this point don’t have all the tools they need to be fully functioning cells and our health can suffer.

The shortening of telomeres has been linked to many chronic diseases including some forms of cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. Because of this, some people regard telomere length to be the best marker of our true biological age.
In Dr. Ornish’s study, participants followed a plant-based diet, exercised regularly, and participated in stress reduction activities like gentle yoga-based stretching, breathing exercises, and meditation. The 10 men doing these lifestyle interventions had a 10% increase in the length of their telomeres over 5 years. The control group showed a 3% decrease in their telomere length during that time.

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This was just a small study using participants who had prostate cancer, so we cannot definitely say that everyone making similar healthy changes will see the same results. We also need more studies that confirm that longer telomeres contribute to longer healthier lives, but we know that these types of beneficial changes make sense anyways. Additionally, another study showed that women who took multivitamins had longer telomeres that their peers the same age who didn’t.
I consider studies like these to be further motivation for us to make these types of healthy changes to our lives. They give us hope that we can even undo some of the damage we might have already done by making better choices today.

Bulletproof Turmeric: An Herbal Alternative to Bulletproof Coffee

Bulletproof coffee isn’t the only way to have a delicious brain-boosting beverage. You can boost your cognitive function with curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin protects the brain from cognitive deterioration caused by stress. But I don’t know anyone who is dealing with stress! Especially not the law students who are popularizing the bulletproof coffee recipe in this area.

For my bulletproof turmeric, I have used coconut oil, butter, honey, and spices to optimize digest and the absorption of curcumin. Curcumin is notoriously difficult to absorb, but fats and spices, particularly the black pepper in the garam masala, greatly increase our absorption of curcumin into the blood stream.

Turmeric and Garam Masala

Bulletproof Turmeric

1 cup water

1 tsp turmeric powder or 1 Tablespoon fresh turmeric root, grated
(optionally add one capsule of turmeric extract that is 95% curcumin)

¼ tsp garam masala

1 tsp maca (optional, but delicious)

1 Tbs grass fed butter

1 Tbs coconut oil or MCT oil

1 tsp honey

Simmer water with turmeric, garam masala, coconut oil, and butter for 10 minutes.
Strain through a fine mesh strainer.
Add remaining ingredients and whirl in blender or with immersion blender until foamy.

Bulletproof turmeric

Bulletproof turmeric before and after blending

There are many possible variations to this recipe. Add coffee if you like that boost or cinnamon if you are working on blood sugar issues. Since this recipe doesn’t have caffeine, it can be drunk later in the day than bulletproof coffee.

This turmeric drink is also an excellent choice for people dealing with inflammation, pain, or elevated cholesterol. A recent study has confirmed that curcumin reduces knee pain associated with osteoarthritis. Curcumin is helping others achieve healthier cholesterol levels. In addition to having some nootropic benefits, turmeric might also help clear Alzheimer’s plaques from the brain.

The benefits of turmeric are numerous, and while you might not feel the same jolt you would from a cup of coffee, turmeric provides long-term protection to the mind and body on multiple levels.

P.S. For those of you who follow my blog, my bulletproof turmeric tea recipe originated from my healthy food experiment . Turmeric is the second food I chose. I wanted to try it in tea form and came up with this recipe. For a simpler tea recipe, try this one from Dr. Weil.

Would You Like to do a Healthy Food Experiment with me?

This food experiment was inspired by a recent consultation with a patient who had found that if she regularly ate avocados and apples, she felt significantly healthier. I theorized that the fats in the avocados were enhancing her absorption of the nutrients and antioxidants in her other veggies. The apples were maybe helpful as a source of quercetin, which has antihistamine, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

I frequently have patients do food experiments to help them figure out foods that are wrong for them, but this recent patient got me thinking about new ways to find the foods that are right for a particular individual. Since we are all unique, our nutritional needs differ slightly from person to person. I always recommend a varied diet to help people get the wide range of nutrients and antioxidants they need and maybe hit on those foods that really resonate with them.

blueberries

But to see if you can find a few foods that really help you feel vibrant, try this experiment with me. Check out the list of the 100 healthiest foods from World’s Healthiest Foods. Pick 10 or so foods from that list that appeal to you in some way. Try to choose a few foods that you haven’t eaten much before or are in season right now, like blueberries. For each food, eat a normal serving or two for three days in a row, while eating normally otherwise. Then try the next food on your list and so on. Take notice if there is one or more of these foods that you feel better after eating or you start liking more, or even craving! You could also find one that doesn’t agree with you. Just because it is healthy doesn’t mean it is the right food for everyone.

For each of these foods, World’s Healthiest Foods has a description of the health and nutrient benefits. Plus, there are recipes to inspire you with different way to prepare your chosen foods.

The same principle can be applied to herbs. If you take an herbal tincture or tea for three days in a row, often it will start tasting better to you (or at least more tolerable) by the end of those three days. This can be a message from your body that an herb is right for you and your tastes are adjusting to accommodate to what is healthier for you. If you don’t tolerate the taste any better, maybe try another herb that has the benefits you are looking for. Many of my friends have found that they like Kava kava better after trying it for a while, but it doesn’t agree with one so she uses California poppy instead to help her relax.

This experiment could be a great way to explore new foods and become more attuned with your body at the same time. I would love to hear about what you have learned from this experiment, so please leave a comment.

Epigenetics, Pesticides, and Your Health

We have made amazing strides in recent years in understanding the human genome. Many researchers have been surprised to discover that the DNA sequence doesn’t adequately explain why some of us are more susceptible to diseases such as cancer and diabetes. Instead they have found that the nutrition available to our grandparents can have a profound affect on our health and longevity via what are known as epigenetic changes.

Epigenetics translates literally to “upon the genes.” For example, a common epigenetic change is where a chemical compound known to us nerds as a methyl group is added to the DNA. It doesn’t change the basic code but it changes whether that particularly gene is expressed. Many studies have shown that cancer patients have much lower amounts of these methyl groups on their DNA than the average population.

Besides the availability of food, environmental exposures also lead to epigenetic changes. Higher exposure to pesticides and other chemicals is associated with fewer methyl groups on the DNA. This is leading some scientists to propose that epigenetic changes is one way that pesticides and pollutants contribute to cancer, diabetes, autism, and even attention deficit disorder.

fruits-vegetables

To avoid these negative epigenetic changes that may affect not only your health but also that of your children and grandchildren, it is important to make lifestyle changes to reduce your chemical exposure. Eat organic foods as much as possible. I especially make sure that meat and other foods containing fat are organic because pesticides can be stored in fats. Other chemicals that can influence our epigenetics are the phthalates found in many personal care products and BPA in many plastic food containers, so it is important to use clean body care products and safe food packaging.

Because pesticides can persist in the environment for decades, it is important to consider detoxification even with a clean diet. It is particularly beneficial to support our glutathione pathway, the enzyme system that neutralizes many toxins including some common pesticides. N-acetyl cysteine is an amino acid that helps us make glutathione and is one of my favorite supplements for detoxification. Finally, exercise both helps us detoxify and has been shown to improve our epigenetic markers.

Five Flavors, But Don’t Forget Bitter

Some cooking traditions focus on artfully combining the flavors our tongue perceives. The five flavors are sweet, salty, sour, spicy, and bitter. American cuisine doesn’t emphasize bitter as much as some other cultures. We will have coffee after a meal for something bitter or dark chocolate or maybe some slightly bitter greens in our salads.

Bitter is often thought of as an undesirable flavor, but it does have significant digestive benefits. The taste of something bitter on our tongues helps shift our nervous system to rest and digest mode and away from fight or flight mode. This is extremely important for getting the most out of our food. When we taste something bitter, our bodies increase their production and release of digestive enzymes. Bitters also improve muscle tone in the digestive tract and stimulate the liver, aiding in detoxification.

Gentian

Gentian

As I mentioned, we can add bitter tasting foods to our diet. There are also bitter herbs that are traditionally used as digestive aids. These included gentian, chamomile, yarrow, blue flag iris, and Oregon grape root. Often five to fifteen drops of one of these herbs, or a blend such as the classic Swedish Bitters, is taken with a small amount of water a few minutes before meals. Some people use these herbs instead of digestive enzymes. Bitters may also help relieve indigestion when taken after a meal, but slightly higher doses might be needed. Another classic use of bitters is for reduced appetite.

So chose delicious nutritious foods and get the most out of them by ensuring you have optimal digestion. Bitters can be a great way to stimulate a sluggish digestive tract.

Build a Better Brain with the Mineral Lithium

No, I am not crazy (or no more so than the average person), but you might describe me as very excited by the potential brain benefits of lithium. While lithium is most famous for its use in large doses for bipolar disorders, lower doses can have an impressive array of benefits for mood and long-term brain health. Lithium is a mineral just like potassium or magnesium and can be taken in doses of 5-20 mg per day. With these lower doses, there is not the concern about toxic side effects as with the prescription doses.

I first became interested in lithium because of its ability to help prevent Alzheimer’s disease and possibly other types of dementia. Lithium appears to protect against Alzheimer’s in at least three ways. It may help protect the brain against aluminum, which could be implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s. Lithium also may protect the brain against damage from excitotoxins, compounds that in excess can induce nerve damage. Monosodium glutamate is one of the best-known excitotoxins. Studies have indicated that lithium may inhibit the build up of beta-amyloid and tau proteins, the main components of the plaques and tangles that form in the brain with Alzheimer’s disease.

Even if you are not particularly at risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease, lithium may improve brain function. Lithium plays important roles in communication between cells in the brain, which is the basis of how we think and feel. It is well known that the brain tends to shrink as we age, but one small study actually showed that this mineral increased brain grey matter. Lithium might also protect the brain from numerous damaging compounds by increasing bcl-2, a protein that may improve the survival of brain cells even possibly from damage cause by a stroke. Because of these benefits, one group of researchers recommended that anyone taking medication for mood or seizure also take lithium to help protect against toxic medication side effects.

Finally, lithium can improve moodiness and irritability. Lithium influences serotonin pathways, and numerous people have noted that it has helped them feel calmer and less angry without feeling sedated. For alcoholics, lithium has been shown to reduce alcohol cravings and improve mood. These benefits combined with the potential brain protecting attributes makes lithium a mineral that could benefit many people.

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Hydrate for the New Year

In the summer time, hydration is often on people’s mind, but when it is cold, we can forget to drink water. Staying hydrated is one the most important steps you can take for your health any time of the year. Seventy-five percent of the human body is composed of pure water. This means that in order to maintain this level of hydration, one must consume at least half of their body weight in ounces daily.

Water stabilizes the internal temperature of the body and flushes out toxins from cells and ultimately the body. It also hydrates and promotes flexibility of the joints and moisturizes the skin to help it look and feel healthy. Since blood is mostly water, dehydration can increase the risk of coronary heart disease, due to the increased viscosity of the blood. Dehydration can cause electrolyte disturbances, which can interfere with electrical conduction of the heart and nervous system. Dehydration also increases the risk of developing kidney stones.

I pay attention to my lips to help me remember to drink enough water. If my lips are starting to feel chapped, I haven’t been doing a good job of keeping up with my water intake. I still occasionally use lip balm, but if I have been drinking my water I need it less. By the way, my favorite lip balm is the EcoLips Gold. And I prefer to drink water out of glass water bottles such as those made by Lifefactory. Glass bottles provide the best tasting water and you don’t have to worry about toxic materials leaching into your water like with plastic bottles.

P.S. Staying hydrated on New Year’s Eve can help you a happier New Year’s Day, since some of the symptoms of hangover are due to dehydration.

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Healthy Hints for Holiday Happiness

The holidays can be a time to relax and enjoy time with your family. And they can be a time to run yourself ragged trying to make holiday magic happen for others. On top of this, some struggle with seasonal depression from reduced sunlight and fewer opportunities to exercise. While winter can be an enchanting time, the additional stress to take a toll on our health. Stress reduces our ability to fight off infections making us more susceptible to winter colds and flu. In addition, long-term stress can increase the risk for diabetes, ulcers, osteoporosis, certain cancers, heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease. Stress can also contribute to mood issues such as anxiety and depression.

So as the holiday season gets into full swing, it is time to come up with a plan to reduce the negative impact so you can enjoy the good parts of the season.

First, give yourself some “me” time. As I mentioned in my last blog, you deserve the time to be healthy.

Practice your stress coping skills. Choose what works for you and make some time for it. Laughter, journaling, reading, prayer, meditation, imagery, writing, exercise, deep breathing, cultivating positive attitudes, and physical expressions of emotions are some of the more common techniques people have found to creatively manage their stress.

lavender

Try calming herbs. Herbs taken as supplements or teas can help calm the mind. Popular calming herbs like kava, skullcap, and California poppy can be found in capsules or liquid tinctures. Or make your own tea blends from relaxing herbs like lemon balm, catnip, passionflower, lavender, st. john’s wort, and chamomile.

Here is my recipe:

¼ cup chamomile flowers

¼ cup lemon balm leaves

¼ cup passionflower leaves

2 Tbs catnip leaves

2 Tbs lavender leaves

Mixes these together. To make the tea, place 1 teaspoon to 1 Tablespoon of the blend in one cup of water that was just boiling. Steep for 5-10 minutes, preferably covered. Strain the tea, or remove the tea ball if you were using one. Sweeten with honey or stevia if desired.

You can also try your own creation. You might like it so much that you decide to share it with someone on your gift list. Include a tea ball or strainer and a recipe card so they can make more for themselves.

If all else fails, buy yourself a present.

Give Yourself the Gift of Time

I am not going to lie to you. Being healthy takes time. It takes time to cook healthy food for yourself. I always make sure I have at least 30 minutes in the morning to make a nutrition breakfast. It takes time to exercise, but every hour you exercise is essentially an hour you are adding to your life. Adequate sleep is vital because between the seventh and eighth hour of sleep, we get almost an hour of REM sleep, the time when the mind repairs itself. So if you don’t allow yourself a full night’s rest, you are missing this important opportunity to repair and prepare for the next day.

But I didn’t follow my own advice recently. I was working extra long hours and started to feel run down. I took some of my favorite immune supporting herbs like elderberry, Echinacea, and garlic and spent part of a day resting, but the very next day I was busy from 7 am to 11 pm. I had just harvested the last of the garden produce and was determined to get it in the freezer right away so I worked the extra hours. But the cold that I had nearly nipped in the bud became a terrible case of bronchitis. I had to take days off and cancel appointments with patients so I wouldn’t get them sick. In retrospect, I needed to change my priorities. Those veggies could have waited a few more days before I took care of them.

I know that for most people the demands on their time aren’t related to getting this year’s harvest stored, it most likely is the demands of work and family life. For many Americans, time is even becoming a more precious commodity than money, in that they don’t have enough of it for themselves. But we can always consider making different decisions to put ourselves first. When it comes to health, it is okay to be selfish. Our health is a very valuable commodity. In my case, a few hours early on could have saved me days of misery later. And this same equation can hold true when we take little steps to be healthier now. Every extra minute we give ourselves to sleeping enough or eating well may help extend our years of healthy life long term.

Give yourself the gift of time to be healthy. You deserve it.

Cats sleeping

New Insights into Natural Diabetes Prevention

I recently cut fruit juice out of my husband’s diet. I told him I wasn’t going to buy it anymore for him because of a recent study that correlated the consumption of 3 servings of fruit juice per week with a 10% increased risk of diabetes. Even before reading this study, I hadn’t been a fan of juice because it contains the sugar of the fruit without the fiber that slows the absorption of sugar. On the flip side, consuming 3 servings of fruit per week can help reduce the risk of diabetes by 3%. Certain fruits like blueberries, grapes, and apples had an increased protective effect, due to antioxidant compounds located in the skin of these fruits.

So why are antioxidants helpful at preventing diabetes? Excessive consumption of carbohydrates and calories in general causes an overabundance of energy on a cellular level. Unless we are active enough to be burning this excess energy, it actually contributes to the production of free radicals that damage our cells. To protect themselves from this excess energy and subsequent damage, our cells reduce the number of insulin receptors on their surfaces. The result of this is insulin resistance, a prediabetic condition where the body makes extra insulin to try to get cells to remove excessive sugar from the blood stream, but the cells ignore this message.  This protective measure of the cells saves the cells from damage and possible destruction, but long term, insulin resistance can contribute to the development of not just diabetes, but also high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and kidney disease.

The solution is not to force the cells to take up the excess sugar from the blood stream, but to reduce the consumption of excess sugar, carbohydrates, and overall calories. Viewing insulin resistance as a defensive mechanism of cells helps us see why these dietary changes are so vital to preventing diabetes. Additionally, exercise increases the energy needs of cells and allows them to metabolize sugar without excessive damage from free radicals.

Finally, looking at insulin resistance in this way helps us understand why a number of antioxidants have been found to be useful in diabetes and insulin resistance. For instance, alpha lipoic acid is a powerful antioxidant that helps fight insulin resistance as well as having the potential to help diabetic neuropathy. Intake of minerals like zinc, copper, and manganese are commonly helpful to diabetics and prediabetics because they help the body make superoxide dismutase enzymes to neutralize free radicals. Understanding these mechanisms can help us make and stick to healthier dietary choices, especially at this time of the year when there are so many sugary temptations.

blueberries