Monday, May 27, 2013

Lowering Those Darn Triglycerides

A client of mine recently had a very upsetting blood test result-- her total cholesterol levels were well over 300, and her triglyceride levels were, as well.  Her doctor immediately wanted to put her on statin drugs.  Statins are widely prescribed for cholesterol; however, they have several pretty awful side effects and are not even truly proven to prevent coronary incidents.  Not only that, but there is some controversy as to exactly how much a relationship there is between cholesterol and heart disease

What does seem to be more significant than cholesterol levels and heart disease is triglyceride levels.  Ideally, triglyceride levels should be below150 mg/dL (or 1.7 mmol/L for our metric system users).   So what do you do if your tri's are high?  First of all, let's discuss what makes those numbers go up:

High Fructose Corn Syrup and Corn Syrup: These icky substances are in more packaged foods than you may realize.  Get in the habit of reading your labels so you can avoid this nastiness.  Corn syrups of both varieties have been shown to increase triglyceride levels in humans.  (1) (2) (3), although these claims should be taken, so to speak, with a grain of salt

A high glycemic load diet seems to put women, but not men, at a higher risk for cardiovascular events. Stay away from sugars and processed foods (duh). 

The following conditions can cause high triglycerides:
-renal disease
-high alcohol consumption
-uncontrolled diabetes

The following medications are among those have been shown to raise triglyceride levels:
-Diuretics such as Thiazides
-Birth control pills, depending on estrogen content
-Oral Estrogen
-Steroids such as Prednisone
-Some Beta-blockers

There is also a genetic component to high triglyceride levels (1) (2) (3)

So what can you do to lower your triglyceride levels?  There are a number of dietary and lifestyle modifications you can make to get your numbers back to healthy levels.  Here are some:

First and foremost, you know the drill:

EAT YOUR VEGGIES AND FRUITS (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
EXERCISE (1) (2) (3)  (although this may not be as useful for already fit individuals)

Foods high in nitric oxide/nitrites/nitrates, such as beets and green leafies, are excellent for the heart and have been shown to significantly reduce triglyceride levels.  (1) (2) (3)

Cocoa.  Chocolate lovers, rejoice!  Cocoa is very cardio-protective. (1) (2) (3)  Just make sure you keep it sugar-free (or as much as possible) and make sure the cocoa content is as high as possible (minimum 70%) and as unprocessed as possible (raw cacao is ideal). 

Oregano.  I love oregano oil for its antibacterial qualities, especially during cold and flu season.  However, intake of oregano oil also seems to significantly lower triglyceride levels.  (1) (2Rosemary, Sage, Garlic, and Melissa (lemon balm) have also shown some promise.  Most of these studies have been done on animals, however, so human studies really need to be done before any conclusions can really be made here.  However, they're all great herbs with plenty of health benefits, so no harm in making liberal use of them!

Niacin.  This B vitamin lowers triglycerides (1) (2) and is present in the following foods:
-Marmite (I may be the only American to love this yeast spread, but yes, it is very high in B vitamins!)
-Rice and wheat bran
-Paprika (!!)
-Sun-dried tomatoes (NOM)

Tocotrienols:  Tocotrienols are members of the Vitamin E family.  The richest sources come from these oils:
However, you would have to eat fairly large amounts of these oils in order to get what you need as far as tocotrienols.  The best thing in this particular case would to take a supplement (here are some decent ones from brands I have used and trust (I do not push supplements, nor do I make any money off of them): 
Now Foods

Red yeast rice seems to be very useful for lowering triglycerides.  (1) (2) (3)  You can buy red yeast rice supplements easily online; as with all supplements, make sure you get a reputable brand.  Do your research.  I do know Now Foods makes a good red yeast rice supplement.

Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to provide good cardiovascular protection.  (1) (2) (3) While many like to get their Omegas from fish oil, I prefer algae oil

In some studies, cinnamon appears to have a favorable effect on blood lipid levels (and is nummy, too).  (1) (2) (3)  However, results are varied in studies, and are also dependent on the health of the individuals and on the variety of cinnamon used (there are many kinds of cinnamon).

Capsaicin (the stuff that makes hot peppers hot) may to be useful in lowering triglycerides (and, let's face it, chili makes everything better).  (1) (2)  Again, however, the results are inconsistent

I believe the best approach to triglyceride-lowering would be a multi-pronged approach.  Try combining some of these treatments along with a very healthy, very low processed food/sugar, very high veggie diet, and see what happens!  Results may not occur for six weeks or more, so be patient. 

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Pour Some Sugar On Me (or, you know, not.)

I have several clients currently dealing with high blood sugar/prediabetic/diabetic conditions, and the question often comes up:  How can I keep high blood sugar at bay?

Some of the answers are obvious:  lose the extra body fat, clean up the diet, stay away from sugary/starchy/processed foods, go heavy on the veggies.

Pay attention to your symptoms.

There are, however, some pretty awesome foods and supplements that can help keep your blood just the right amount of sweet.  Here are some of the most promising I've found:

Fenugreek:  Fenugreek has been shown in several studies to lower blood sugar significantly in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)  As an added benefit, it lowers triglycerides (which sugar has been shown to increase) and improves blood cholesterol profiles. (1) (2) (3) (4)  Fenugreek does have the interesting side-effect of making your sweat smell like maple syrup (no joke!!), but I personally think that's kinda cool. 

Acai:  Despite its hype as the Superfruit of the Year, Acai has surprisingly little research behind it.  However, the research that does exist shows that it is, indeed, a superfruit.  Its antioxidant profile appears unparalleled, and it seems to be a superior cancer-killer and yeast-inhibitorA preliminary study shows that acai may also seem to have a very good effect on normalizing blood lipid and blood sugar levels.  While more research needs to be done, the promise is very impressive. 

Alpha Lipoic Acid: This antioxidant has been shown to improve glucose sensitivity in type 2 diabetics and, at least in rodents, has been shown to have an antiobesity component.  What alpha-lipoic acid seems particularly effective at, however, is reducing the neuropathy and eye damage that often comes along with diabetes.  (1) (2) (3) (4)

Chromium: Chromium is a mineral that appears to help glucose metabolism as well as help normalize cholesterol levels in both type 2 and gestational diabetes.  (1) (2) (3)  However, it does not seem to be useful as a preventative antidiabetic measure.  The American Diabetes Association states that there is insufficient evidence to recommend chromium supplementation.

So if you find yourself hyperglycemic, give some of these a shot (and get on a regular exercise program, and clean up your diet).  You might just find your diabetes risk become a thing of the past.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

And Now, on a Personal Note... "Me Time"

There are three things I believe in with a vengeance:

1)  Never neglect your "me time."
2)  Take the utmost care of your body and your mind.
3)  Never pass up an opportunity.

Not long after I moved to Los Angeles in 2001, I was given an art photograph of Delicate Arch in Arches National Park.  I have had that photo on my wall ever since, and from the moment I saw it, I said, quite vehemently:


Aaah, but life got in the way.  Not that I was sitting back on my laurels-- my schedule was filled with great things like education and clients and travel to places all over the country and the world.  I've been extremely lucky to be able to go to so many places and satisfy my wanderlust while hanging out with some of the awesomest people in the strength and fitness biz and beyond.  However, none of these trips got me anywhere near Arches. 

Not long ago, I was given the honor of being invited to assist at the StrongFirst Level 1 kettlebell certification in Salt Lake City.  When I accepted the opportunity, I knew there was no way I was not going to seize on the chance to finally get to Arches.  And it could not have possibly come at a better time.

Since my mom died (about 6 months after the unexpected death of my closest childhood friend, Mike)  I've been in sort of a weird limbo.  I don't know how to explain it.  I just feel numb.  This is extremely difficult for me, because I am generally a very balanced, extremely happy person.  People often ask me what I'm on-- I have way too much energy most of the time, and I just tend to be super-cheery because I love life and see beauty in just about everything.  So to go from that to this morose, moody, relatively indifferent alter-ego is very unsettling for me.  I have my very good "up" days, when I start to think it's all turning around and I'll  be back to normal again, but the strangest things send me into a tailspin.  I'll be in the car, for instance, and think, "Oh.  I should call Mom..." and then realize I can't.  Mother's Day was pretty sucky.  Even today, I was asked to sign a wavier form for the StrongFirst workshop, and when I got to the part where I had to enter my emergency contact, I suddenly started tearing up.  That used to be my mom.

So, with all this going on, I knew I had to get away for a while by myself, preferably out in nature.  Arches was the perfect thing.   I took an extra two days off of work, rented a little Fiat, drove four hours from Salt Lake City to Moab, and had a phenomenal experience.  It was everything I dreamed it would be.  The scenery was breathtaking.  I hiked and rock-scrambled well over 12 miles, from trail to trail, till my feet were sore and my shoes were full of red sand.  And, perhaps the best part, for six glorious hours, I was unreachable.  No email, no phone calls, no text messages, no Facebook, no nothing.  You have to understand-- I am a junkie about these things.  I am That Person-- the one who shuffles down the street, answering texts.  I never wanted to be That Person, but my phone/email/texts are fairly endless because of what I do for a living (and also, I am very unfortunately but inextricably addicted to Facebook).  I love what I do, and I wouldn't trade it for the world, but it requires me to be connected most of the time.  So I am.  It's really freeing to disconnect, even if it's just for a few hours.  I was in the very unusual but very needed position of not needing to worry about anyone but me, and I needed that at this time in my life more than anything else.

I think people underestimate the power of a little "me time."  I honestly don't know how people do without it.  I start work at 5:30AM and finish at 7:30PM with a small break from 1:00-4:00 to myself (more or less, depending on the day). That block of time is sacred to me-- I answer emails, have lunch, take a nap, unwind, snuggle my dogs and cats.  It is my time to ground myself and take care of me.  I really think everyone should take some time to themselves each day-- even if it's just 5 minutes.  Take yourself to a movie.  Have dinner for one at your favorite restaurant.  Meditate in your office for a few minutes.  Lock yourself in the bathroom and have a nice, hot, uninterrupted shower.  Something.  Anything.  You deserve that time, and you'd be surprised how valuable it can be to your sanity.

As for me, I recognized my need for a little more than my usual "me" time, so I made it happen.  It was a little tough, financially, to take the extra time off of work, but it was worth that and more.  I feel like I've pressed a big reset button on myself, and I feel like my mental and emotional needs have been addressed for the time being.  Life is good.  Very good.

So yes-- take opportunities that come your way.  Pay attention to what your body needs.  And never, ever take your "me time" for granted-- put it in your schedule if you have to.  It's worth every precious second.

Delicate Arch!!  Melody wuz here!!

Oh, and on a side note-- you know how I'm always blabbing on about how astaxanthin is such an awesome supplement?  Well, one of the things it does is protect the skin from the sun.  And let me tell you this-- for 6 hours, I was hiking in BRIGHT DESERT sun, with little to no shade.  I did not wear sunscreen.  Normally, I would have spontaneously combusted.  I did not even get a little bit sunburned.  It's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Food As Medicine Part 4: The Stomach

If you're like me, you're thinking about your stomach pretty much all the time.  Yep, I loves me some nomz.  Unfortunately, over 25% of the world's population suffers from some sort of chronic stomach disorder.  If your stomach isn't working properly, your body can't get the nutrition it needs, and other sicknesses will arise.  In addition, the stomach contents are highly acidic-- any leakage can lead to serious injuries to any organ system stomach acid touches.  So it's best to keep your tummy happy. 

The stomach is a large, hollow, muscular organ resting between the esophagus and the small intestine.  It is, of course, very important in the digestive process, and the digestion of protein begins here.  The stomach has three main jobs:  to store food, to mix food with stomach acids, and to move that mixture on down to the small intestine. 

How the stomach empties itself is dependent on the kind of food eaten and how much muscle action occurs in the stomach and small intestine.  Fats stay the longest in the stomach; protein stays for a shorter amount of time, and various carbohydrates are stored for the shortest amount of time, with simple carbohydrates like glucose and sugars spending the least amount of time in the stomach.   Gastric emptying time seems to differ between males and females

In Chinese medicine, improper functioning of the stomach will impair the spleen's TCM function of creating qi and blood, which will lead to weakness in other organs.  The stomach is also in charge of "separating the pure from the impure," so that the "pure" essence of food can be used to power the body, while the "impure" essence will be sent to the next organ to be processed or eliminated.  In Chinese medicine, the stomach moves things downward, so when stomach qi moves upward (i.e. vomiting, belching, acid regurgitation, hiccups, etc), the stomach is considered to be "rebelling."  In sickness, the stomach will often overheat. 

A lot of disorders of the stomach are caused directly by poor food choices and by stress.  Stress can cause nausea, vomiting, cramping, ulcers, Crohn's disease, poor digestion, and even cancer.  We live in a very stressful society, and all that stress is, literally, a killer.  I found several resources that cover good ways to manage stress (like this one).  If you have a lot of stress, you need to learn to deal with it in a healthy manner, so don't take this lightly.  Take advantage of your days off and your vacation time.  Make time for your hobbies and your family.  If you have trouble sleeping at night, get a sleep study done to get to the bottom of the issue-- sleep is extremely important for your health

There are many plant-based supplements you can take that can help lower cortisol levels (and therefore helping to mitigate some of the damage stress does to the body).  Some of these are:

-Holy Basil:  Holy Basil has been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-depressive, and cortisol-lowering properties. (I actually drink holy basil tea; it definitely helped me cope after my mother's death).
-Rhodiola: Rhodiola has been shown to reduce fatigue, improve attention, and reduce cortisol levels in stressed subjects, and has been shown effective as an anti-depressant
-Siberian Ginseng may help reduce inflammatory markers and cortisol levels
-Ginger and Turmeric  help reduce inflammation and reduce stress markers
-Saffron has been shown to be an effective anti-depressant and anti-anxiolytic.

Your stomach's relationship to food can be a complicated one.  Foods that are good to one person's stomach may be a nightmare for another's.  First and foremost, avoid foods that do not make you feel good when you eat them.  It might take some research to figure out which foods, exactly, are causing your issues-- the basic approach would be to eliminate all the possible culprits for a week or so, and then very slowly add them back in one by one to see what the problem foods are.

Stomach cancer, although extremely common, is somewhat of an anomaly.  Foods that appear to have antichemoprotective properties with other types of cancers do not seem to react the same way with gastric cancers, and the evidence both for and against different dietary habits are mixed.  Certain foods have been linked to stomach cancer.  These include:

-Red meat, although more research needs to be done on this.  (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
-Processed meats (1) (2) (3) (4)
-High intake of salted and pickled foods (1) (2) (3) (4) (5)
-Heavy (not light or moderate) alcohol consumption (1) (2)

At the same time, a diet high in fruits and vegetables, as with other organ systems, is generally recommended to protect the stomach from cancers and other diseases, although the data are inconsistent.  (1) (2) (3) (4)  Some of the positive reactions seem to be more pronounced in smokers than in non-smokers, and some studies show that men reap the benefits of these diets in relation to gastric cancer, but women do not.  Among the winners in the fight against gastric disease appear to be:
-soybeans (1) (2)
-green and black tea (1), although some studies show the opposite (2)
-Allium vegetables (onions, garlic, chives, shallots, etc) (1) (2)
-citrus (1) (2)

It would be safe to say, though, that sticking with a diet heavy in fruits and veggies, lowering alcohol intake, and staying clear of cigarettes would be wise in protecting the stomach against disease in general. 

H. pylori infection seems to be at the root of many stomach diseases.  Practicing good hygiene can generally help you stay clear of this dangerous bacterium.  Wash your hands often and thoroughly (avoiding antibacterial soaps, which can create resistant strains), and use single-use towels or dry your hands with an air dryer.  Wash cutting boards and dishes well (and use a dishwasher if possible to help sterilize them).  Do not eat questionable food or food that has been sitting out.  Try to keep your work areas well-ventilated.  Use a paper towel or similar to open bathroom doors.  Do not drink water from an "iffy" source-- if in doubt, go with filtered or bottled water, or use another method of water decontamination.  Cranberry juice seems to help get rid of H. pylori, as do blueberries and other berriesRed grapes and chili/capsaicin are also effective, as are probiotics

Capsaicin may also be effective in reducing ulcers, surprisingly.  (1) (2

Bottom line: 
-Stay away from foods that do not agree with you.
-Reduce stress in your life as much as possible. 
-If you drink heavily or smoke, stop.
-Cut down on the salt, and watch how you prepare your meats.
-Eat your fruits and veggies, especially berries, citrus, and chili.
-Take your probiotics.
-Be hygenic.

If you do all this, chances are, you'll have a happy tummy for a long time to come, and you can come have some good nomz with me. 

Oreo says that a good regimen of belly rubs keeps his tummy happy, too.

Questions?  Comments?  Post 'em here!