Office Job Hazards: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

In previous articles in the “Office Job Hazards” series we looked at the hazards of prolonged sitting and close-up reading.  In this article we’ll look at the hazard presented by typing and using a mouse all day long — carpal tunnel syndrome.

I never would have thought that performing an activity as benign as typing or applying a small amount of pressure to a mouse could cause immobilizing pain and numbness. Then I personally experienced the consequences of stressing my carpal tunnels, and I was shocked.  After two years of using a laptop during grad school, with no peripheral keyboard or mouse, I started having pain and numbness in the tips of my index fingers and thumbs.  Shortly after the initial symptoms, I started weight-lifting, which seemed to exacerbate the problem at first.  I then frantically researched ways to reverse the problem.   After applying what I learned, I’m happy to say that I no longer have symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.

Here are a few strategies, based on my own experiences and some of the latest medical research, that I hope will help you prevent or alleviate the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome:

Stretching: While there are likely several likely causes of carpal tunnel syndrome, there is growing evidence that at least one of the causes is repetitive motion, and clicking a mouse or using a keyboard throughout the day definitely qualifies.  Research indicates that activities like clicking a mouse can cause the transverse carpal ligament to grow, which then cinches down on the median nerve in the wrist, causing pain and numbness.  The good news is that regular stretching can help prevent and (in my case) reverse the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome.  While working on the computer throughout the day, try periodically performing the following stretches:

  • Prayer stretch – place your palms together in the “prayer position,” up against your chest.  Then, lower your hands towards your stomach, keeping your palms together, until you feel a gentle stretch.  Hold for 6 seconds.
  • Backhand stretch – place the back of your hands together and up against your chest.  Then, raise your hands toward you chin, keeping the back of your hands touching, until you feel a gentle stretch.  Hold for 6 seconds.

Exercise: Since one of the causes of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive movement, it’s important to vary your movements with exercise.  There’s also evidence to suggest that exercise can promote the body’s ability to heal damaged nerves.  If you have severe carpal tunnel symptoms, you’ll likely have to modify the exercises you do (for example, I started doing push-ups on my fists or with perfect push-ups, until my symptoms were alleviated), but don’t let that stop you from moving.  Your health depends on it!

Get enough B-vitamins: B-vitamins, especially vitamins B-12 and B-6, are crucial for nerve health.

Reduce Inflammation: The body’s inflammatory response to excess stress on the carpal tunnel can make carpal tunnel syndrome even worse.  Be sure to eat an anti-inflammatory diet, low in refined sugar and omega-6 fatty acids, and high in omega-3 fatty acids, vegetables, and fruit! 

Use the right equipment: I’ve found that this has been an essential part of reducing the strain and impact of working on a computer all day.  The amount of pressure required to click the mouse is directly related to the amount of pressure put on the transverse carpal ligament.  Pressure placed on the wrist through being constantly bent backwards can also cause excess strain.  Here’s the equipment you’ll need:

  • A mouse that allows you to place your hand in a sideways position (with a less bent wrist) and one that is easy to click.  
  • A keyboard that is angled to prevent excess wrist flex.

Recommended products:
Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse by Microsoft (Amazon.com)
Leap Motion – I’m really looking forward to this one! Leap Motion will allow users to control the mouse cursor with the motions of their hands in the air (without touching anything)!  This will drastically reduce repetitive movement and strain on the wrist!

References: Transverse Carpal Tunnel Ligaments and Thenar Muscles, Mechanical Strain, B12 and Peripheral Nerve Damage, Omega-3 and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.

Originally posted 2013-02-28 03:10:00.

How Much Salt is Too Much?

SaltfieldThaiLandI’m tired of being told not to put too much salt on my food.  Personally, I love salt.  It brings out the delicious flavors of my favorite savory foods.  It was my love for salt that motivated me to find out how much salt is really too much.  Here’s what I discovered: Despite the warnings of the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, and other influential health organizations, moderate salt intake, the amount most Americans consume, has a very minimal affect on blood pressure and cardiovascular health.  The research indicates that it’s really only people who have high blood pressure that need to worry about lowering their salt intake, and even then, salt intake isn’t the main culprit of high blood pressure.

The average American consumes approximately 3,400 mg of sodium per day, which is the amount in about one and a half teaspoons of salt.  Since a reduction in sodium from this level can result in a slight reduction in blood pressure, most US health organizations recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg per day.  Here’s the thing, one of the most comprehensive studies on the effects of sodium consumption to date found that people who consumed a moderate amount of sodium (between 4,000 and 6,000 mg per day!) had lower mortality rates and fewer cardiovascular problems that those who consumed either greater or lesser amounts.  While this study caused quite a bit of controversy, it continues to call traditional assumptions into question.

While it’s clear that intake above 6,000 mg per day is unhealthy, it is yet to be seen exactly how much salt is healthy or what other factors come into play.  At some level, sodium intake is essential for good health.  Sodium is the body’s principal extracellular electrolyte; it works in conjunction with potassium (which gathers within the cells) to ensure proper nervous system function, muscle contraction, optimal blood pressure, and cardiac function.  Sodium also promotes intestinal absorption of water, glucose, amino acids, and chloride.  Chloride, in turn, competes with heavy metals for absorption in the body, promoting detoxification.  

As far as blood pressure goes, sodium intake is only half of the puzzle.  Potassium is the other half of the puzzle, and it’s a nutrient that many Americans are short on.  Numerous studies show that increased potassium intake results in lower blood pressure and fewer incidences of stroke.   Many sports nutritionists recommend achieving a potassium to sodium ratio of 2:1, but getting that much potassium requires eating a lot of whole foods. 

Whole foods that are particularly good for cardiovascular health include:

  • Potatoes, oranges, avocados, spinach, and bananas — they’re are all great sources of potassium and help improve the potassium to sodium ratio.  They also contain cardiovascular supporting antioxidants and phytonutrients. 
  • Dark Chocolate – its high magnesium (which most Americans are deficient of) and rich polyphenol content reduce hypertension almost immediately after consumption.
  • Hibiscus tea – it’s relaxing, tasty, and several studies have shown that it effectively reduces hypertension.

Based on the evidence surrounding sodium intake, potassium, and blood pressure, I’m led to believe that the amount of salt consumed isn’t so important as the types of food salt is added to.  According to one government health site, Americans get 75% of their salt from fast food!  The Center for Disease Control says that American get 90% of their salt from food bought from stores or restaurants.  In other words, we get very little salt from what we add to homemade food.  It’s all the refined and pre-made foods that contain most of the salt we eat, and there are other problems with those foods besides their salt content (like their refined sugar, refined flour, and seed oil content).

The take away:  

The current evidence indicates that moderate consumption of salt (2 tsps) can be part of a healthy diet.  Nevertheless, eliminating fast food and refined foods from one’s diet would likely reduce total sodium intake far below this.  Therefore, instead of focusing on reducing salt consumption, it makes more sense to focus on increasing whole food consumption (while allowing generous use of salt as a seasoning).  A diet that emphasizes tubers over grains as a carbohydrate source would also go a great way towards increasing total potassium intake.

As a final note, there are several means of supporting cardiovascular health in addition to eating whole foods, these include: regular exercise, stress free living, and getting quality sleep.  In other words, to maintain good cardiovascular health: EAT real foods, PLAY outside, and REST often!

References:
JAMA Research on Sodium Intake and Mortality
Harvard’s Response to JAMA
Potassium to Sodium Study
Linus Pauling Institute on Sodium

Originally posted 2013-02-02 05:54:00.

The Cost of Poor Health: $3,525+ Per Year

Imagine you had an extra $3,525 per year with which to take better care of yourself.  You could take an extra week or two off work, eat higher quality whole foods, or maybe sign up for that pilates class or gym membership you thought was too expensive.  Well, what if I told you that the average American does (or at least could) have this much to spend on better health.  It is all about priorities after all.  All we would have to do is save the money we would otherwise spend on treating the diseases of affluence (heart disease, diabetes, and cancer) by living healthier lives.  Buying and eating less refined food would be a great start!

Below I’ve compiled a list of the annual costs of treating the diseases of affluence in the United States, as well as the amounts we spend on various junk foods.  I added these costs together and divided them by the US population to arrive at a very rough estimate of how much the average American spends on treating preventable diseases and buying junk food each year.

$444 Billion – amount spent treating heart disease in 2010
$227 Billion – amount spent treating cancer in 2007
$174 Billion – medical costs associated with diabetes in 2007
$165 Billion – amount spent on fast food in 2010
$65 Billion –  amount spent on soda every year
$29 Billion – amount spent on candy every year
$7 Billion – amount spent on potato chips every year

$1,111,000,000,000.00 –  Total cost of diseases and poor health choices (a very rough estimate that doesn’t even include wasted food or cigarette and alcohol use)$1,111,000,000,000/315,209,000 (U.S. Population) = $3,525 per year for every man, woman, and child!
I hear people complain about how it’s expensive to eat healthy food or how it takes more time to prepare, but my question is “How valuable is your health?” In reality, we either pay for our health now, or we pay for it later.  In my opinion, after relationships, good health is the most valuable asset we have.  I think most people agree with this, but for some reason, perhaps because of the pressures of society to work and consume, we end up putting our time, effort, and money towards things that aren’t so important. Biblical wisdom puts it this way:

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” -Isaiah 55:2

Each is called to take care of his body and the people and environment that surround him.  When we don’t, there are many unfortunate consequences.  When we make poor health decisions, we aren’t the only ones to reap the consequences — our loved ones and the greater society are affected as well.  Preventative health, living healthy, just makes sense.  It may cost more upfront, but the long term benefits are incomparable.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying that all the diseases mentioned above are always preventable (or at least we don’t always know what would have prevented it), but by and large heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are symptoms of the foods and lifestyles associated with industrialized society.  We were created to EAT real food, PLAY outside, and REST often.  As simple as these things sound, our culture makes them difficult to do.  I for one, am going to take my $3,525 per year and put it towards living a healthy lifestyle, even if it means I have to forgo the chips, candy, and soda.

References:

Heart Disease, Diabetes, Cancer, Soda, Candy, Fast Food, Potato Chips

Originally posted 2013-01-25 20:16:00.

The Gluten-Free Diet: A Not So Groundless Trend

“…Gliadin causes a release of zonulin, and zonulin signals the tight junctions to increase permeability, making an opening for a macronutrient invasion!” 

The gluten-free diet is undoubtedly a trend right now.  Gluten-free sections are sprouting up in supermarkets across America, and gluten-free options at restaurants are all the rage.  Yet, despite the popularity of going gluten free, it’s likely that gluten sensitivity is still under-diagnosed.  The estimates for the amount of people with gluten sensitivity range from 12-44% of the population.  Part of the reason gluten sensitivity is under-diagnosed is that it’s misunderstood — that its workings sound like a scene from a science fiction movie doesn’t help.  People are also skeptical that gluten can cause serious health problems.  Something as benign (and tasty) as bread can be responsible for or contribute to major intestinal problems, psychological disorders, arthritis, malnutrition, and a whole list of other problems — really?  Yes, really.

I too was reluctant to believe that gluten could be a serious threat to health.  Don’t get me wrong — I didn’t doubt that a few people were deathly allergic to gluten (in the case of celiac disease), but I was skeptical that those who didn’t suffer from celiac disease could benefit much by giving up a food as wholesome and delicious as sprouted, whole grain bread.  My posture towards gluten sensitivity wasn’t too different from that of the mainstream medical community.  If someone has a list of health problems and suspects gluten-intolerance, most doctors will usually test for celiac disease but discount the impact that gluten sensitivity can have.  After talking to friends, however, and hearing story after story about how eliminating gluten from their diet vastly improved their health, my perspective started to change.   I started doing my own research on why gluten sensitivity and celiac disease occur, and now I’m convinced that if someone has unexplainable health problems, especially related to their digestive system, gluten should be identified as a highly likely culprit.   

Understanding Celiac Disease:  Since celiac disease is essentially the extreme form of gluten sensitivity, an understanding of what causes it will help shed light on the causes of gluten sensitivity as well.  Celiac disease is caused by two factors: genetics and diet.  People with celiac disease have a genetic predisposition for extreme sensitivity to the gluten found in wheat, barley, rye, and sometimes oats.  When this type of gluten enters the small intestines of someone who’s highly sensitive to it, several things happen that cause the body’s immune system to start attacking itself instead of an actual threat (an auto-immune disease).  If gluten continues to be consumed it will lead to major digestive issues and the serious health problems mentioned earlier.

Here’s how it happens (This is a bit technical.  If you’re more interest in the “what” than the “how,” then skip ahead a couple paragraphs.):  Gluten is composed of two different types of proteins called gliadins and glutenins.  Gliadin is the primary culprit in celiacs disease.  When gliadin enters the small intestine, it’s still in its complete form because the human digestive system can’t digest it.  In response, the cells in the intestinal wall treat gliadin as a threat, as if it was a bacteria or virus instead of food  The cells proceed to release a protein called zonulin that signals the adjacent cells to separate, creating openings in the tight junctions of the intestinal wall (the spaces between the cells that line the intestine wall, called the mucosal barrier).  Usually there are openings just large enough to absorb fully digested nutrients, but the cells make a larger opening for the gliadin in order to expose it to the immune system.  

The larger openings in the mucosal barrier allow the gliadin to get through, but bacteria, fungus, and other harmful substances can get through too, and that’s just the beginning of the problem. Once the gliadin passes through the mucosal barrier, the intestinal cells release an enzyme that is part of their structure called tissue transglutaminase.  The transglutaminase binds to the gliadin to help equip the immune system to eliminate gliadin from the body.  The big problem is that the immune system mistakes transglutaminase as part of the gliadin, when it’s actually part of healthy cells throughout the body.  As a result, the immune system release antibodies against the transglutaminase that proceed to destroy healthy human cells in the intestinal wall, thyroid, brain, and elsewhere.  

Gluten Sensitivity: In people with gluten sensitivity, much of the same process takes place, but for whatever reason, their bodies don’t attack the transglutaminase to the same extent.  They may still, however, have many of the symptoms of celiacs disease, such as digestive problems, lethargy, thyroid problems, and psychological imbalance.  Gluten sensitivity can also cause the body to burn through its vitamin D stores, which is alarming given vitamin D’s importance in immunity and proper cellular function.

It should also be noted that the gliadin in gluten causes permeability in the small intestine whether one is sensitive to gluten or not.  This permeability can allow harmful organisms and toxins to enter the blood stream and can contribute to inflammation, acne, diabetes, allergies, and asthma.  

The take away: If you have any of the symptoms mentioned throughout this article and can’t seem to figure out what’s causing it, you may want to try going without gluten for a month.  If the symptoms go away, it’s likely that you have a sensitivity to gluten.  You can also talk to a doctor who’s knowledgeable about gluten sensitivity about being tested.  

If it seems odd that God would create an edible plant that has negative consequences for such a large percentage of the population, keep in mind that modern wheat has been transformed by the technologies of civilization.  Wheat has undergone extensive hybridization and genetic modifications, not for its nutritive value, but for pest resistance and crop yield.  Also, wheat is being consumed in larger quantities than ever before due to advances in agricultural and processing technologies.

Ancient forms of wheat, “uncivilized wheat,” so to speak, seem to have contained forms of gluten that didn’t affect the immune system the way modern wheat glutens do.  An ancient wheat called “einkorn” is still available today and shows promise for those with gluten sensitivity, but studies are still under way.  In the meantime, if you want or need to go without gluten, there are a variety of grains that are gluten free, including quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, and rice.  And like I mentioned earlier, the gluten-free diet is a growing trend, so gluten-free options are on the rise.  In another positive light, less bread means more room for vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, and free-range meats, which are healthier for us anyway! 

 

References:Celiac Disease Symptoms, Celiac Disease is the Tip of the Ice Berg, Zonulin and It’s Roll in Intestinal Barrier Function

Originally posted 2013-01-18 03:48:00.

Whole Oranges vs. Orange Juice

Have you ever wondered if drinking orange juice is as healthy as eating the whole orange? Perhaps you haven’t, but many people seem to think that drinking a serving of fruit juice is equivalent to eating a serving of whole fruit. This misunderstanding is reinforced by claims the USDA allows fruit juice companies to make on their products, such as “One serving is equal to one serving of fruit.” I’m not quite sure how the USDA arrived at supporting such a statement (probably because of the lobbying pressure from large food companies), but to say what is in some cases little more than liquid sugar is equal to a serving of whole fruit is preposterous. Don’t get me wrong, some juices are better than others, such as the less refined ones that are unfiltered or with pulp, and fruit juice is usually healthier than soda, but even juice with a little bit of fiber left in it doesn’t compare nutritionally to a serving of whole fruit.

Whole oranges and orange juice provide the perfect opportunity to compare the differences between the two. Check out the picture above of the three glasses of processed oranges. The glass on the left contains the juices of three hand squeezed oranges while the two glasses on the right contain the pulp and juice of three whole oranges that I liquified in a blender (minus the peel). Three whole oranges produced almost twice the volume of material as the juice alone. That extra material is the pulp and pith which contain a number of important nutrients that work together to make the whole orange a highly nutritious food.

To start, the high fiber content of a whole orange helps the body properly process the high fructose content of the juice. The fiber actually blocks some of the sugar from being absorbed, which makes the orange more nutritious for the amount of calories it contains. The fiber also makes a whole orange much more filling than the juice (it’s far easier to consume several glasses of high sugar orange juice than several whole oranges). If you eat a whole orange you’ll also be more satisfied and less hungry for calorie-dense, nutritionally-deficient food later on.

In addition to the benefits of the extra fiber in the pulp, a whole orange contains numerous health promoting micro-nutrients that aren’t found in the juice alone. One of the most researched is a flavanoid called hesperidin, which is concentrated in the pulp and inside of the peel. Hesperidin shows promise as an anti-inflammatory, in lowering blood pressure, and in promoting healthy cholesterol. One animal study also found that a diet rich in orange pulp increased bone density!

I’m not saying that we should never drink orange juice again; studies have shown that fresh-squeezed orange juice has significant anti-oxidant properties. It’s just important to know that the juice isn’t as healthy or satisfying as the whole fruit. Juices and other drinks can be a hidden source of surplus calories for those trying to live healthfully. A diet that emphasizes whole fruits over juices contains fewer sugary calories and more health promoting nutrients!

Originally posted 2013-01-12 02:35:00.

The Creation-based 3 Day Cleanse

The ideal cleanse will flush out the digestive system, give the liver and kidneys a rest, promote a healthy metabolism, provide restorative nutrients for every cell in the body, and serve as a jump start toward healthier eating habits.  The Creation-based 3 Day Cleanse meets these goals because it’s simple, obtainable, short, and effective!  Long/extreme cleanses are often counterproductive because they either cause the body to store more fat when the cleanse is over or they’re unrealistic and provide few immediate or long term benefits. 

By integrating foods that should be consumed as a part of an every day diet, the Creation-based Cleanse promotes long term health.  Its short duration promotes healthy weight loss (if desired), as well as ease of participation.  It really doesn’t take long to cleanse the digestive system, and while long term cleansing of the cells can take months or even years of healthy eating, our 3-day cleanse will help get you on the right track.

Here are the things you’ll need:

Purified/spring drinking water (approximately 9 liters or 2.5 gallons)
1 lb of organic frozen spinach
Cage-free/organic eggs or plain organic yogurt
Wild-caught salmon
3+ lbs of organic vegetables (carrots, romaine lettuce, celery, greens)
Extra virgin olive oil
3+ lbs of organic fruits (especially berries – frozen are fine)
Pink Himalayan or Celtic Sea Salt

Things you won’t need:

Refined foods, soda, juice, sugar, grains (baked goods, cereals, or rice), dairy (besides plain yogurt), or meat (except wild-caught salmon).

Instructions:

The basics: Drink lots of water and eat lots of fruits and vegetables!  For added cleansing and detox take a teaspoon of sea salt per day.  Avoid anything that takes long to digest or can prevent the effectiveness of the cleanse (grains, dairy, meat, refined foods, sugar).

Drinks: Drink primarily pure, unchlorinated drinking water (aim for 10 cups per day).  You can also drink coffee or tea made with pure water.  Coffee and tea are diuretic and contain healthy anti-oxidants (just keep the caffeine below 200 mg per day).  Avoid juice, soda, or alcohol, which contain high amounts of sugar, processed by the liver.  Also, avoid any artificial sweeteners or other chemicals. 

Breakfast: In order to help cleanse the digestive system as well as promote the maximum amount of antioxidant and nutrient absorption, it’s important to eat the right combination of foods as well as the most easily digestible ones.  If you aren’t lactose intolerant you can eat either plain, unsweetened yogurt or eggs for your protein/fat content along with fruits and vegetables.  If you choose yogurt, set some berries aside the night before to add to your yogurt.   Go crazy with the berries, and add as many as you can to your yogurt, or make a berry smoothie with yogurt and water.  Blueberries are probably the best, but raspberries and strawberries are good too! There are so many things you can do with eggs, and they serve as a great vehicle for vegetables.  Try scrambling them with spinach (after you’ve lightly sauteed it first), mushrooms, and onions.  

Snacks: One of the primary goals during this cleanse is to eat as many vegetables as possible!  Vegetable fiber promotes healthy bowel movement, and the hundreds of phytochemicals vegetables contain help purify the blood and heal the body’s cells and organs. In between meals, cut up celery and carrot sticks and dip them in hummus; eat an apple or orange; enjoy a handful of raw nuts, or make a berry/banana smoothie.

Lunch: Make a romaine/spinach salad with a hard-boiled egg, a romaine lettuce and banana smoothie, an avocado milk smoothie, or make a big pot of vegetable soup to have for all three days.

Dinner: Enjoy a 4 oz fillet of salmon (wild, alaskan-caught) with a side salad, sauteed greens (spinach, collard greens, or kale), steamed broccoli, and/or steamed carrots.  If you don’t feel like salmon and veggies, enjoy some vegetable soup or a large salad topped with nuts and an olive oil/vinaigrette dressing.

Salt water cleanse: Taking extra salt can stimulate the digestive system and have a slight laxative effect, further promoting your cleanse.  Sodium chloride (table salt) also competes for cellular absorption with any harmful heavy metals you may have inadvertently consumed.  Pink Himalayan and Celtic sea salt also contain a wealth of important trace minerals!  If you choose to participate in this part of the cleanse, add 1 teaspoon of one of these salts to 16 oz of warm water.  Stir till dissolved then drink.  The best time to drink the salt water mix is early in the morning, about an hour before breakfast, or in between meals.  

You are going to rock the Creation-based 3 Day Cleanse!  I believe that you’ll feel so good at the end that you’ll want to continue eating more vegetables and fruits in your everyday diet! Your body’s digestive system, cells, and organs (especially your liver), will thank you for eating the way God intended us to eat.  

If you want the cleanse to be part of achieving a healthy body mass, emphasize leafy vegetables over fruit and be sure not to binge after the cleanse is over.  After you complete the cleanse, continue to avoid refined foods and sugar, but integrate more free-range meats and some healthy dairy and whole grains.

Originally posted 2013-01-03 01:55:00.

Boost your brain power with healthy living

We’ve all experienced days when our thinking and memory were a bit sluggish and other days when our minds seemed to be functioning at full-throttle. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more days with clarity of mind and full-throttle thinking? While all of the brain’s workings aren’t completely understood, researchers have unlocked a few important nutrition and exercise-related factors that can help you achieve optimum brain performance, perhaps even better than what you’ve ever had! If you incorporate the following practices, you be well on your way to nurturing a healthy brain.

1) Obtain enough rest – It has been known for some time know that getting enough quality sleep is essential for proper brain function and memory solidification. It is also thought that reading or studying something right before bed-time is especially helpful for reinforcing retention of that material. To store information, the brain creates neuro-pathways, and these are reinforced during sleep.

Recent research is also pointing to the importance of resting the mind while awake. Neuroscientist at New York University found that neuro-pathways are reinforced if the brain is given a chance to be idle after acquiring new information. [1] Giving our brain a few moments of idle time during the day can be difficult in our society. With computers, TV, cell-phones, i-Pods, and the like, our brains hardly have time to rest. Try taking a few moment throughout the day to cut out all the noise. The extra time you take to rest when asleep and awake can help your mind more efficiently process all those important goals and tasks throughout your day.

2) Eat the right foods – Fat, carbohydrates, and protein are all important for optimum brain function, but it’s important to get the rights kinds. One of the most important kinds of fats for brain function, one many people are short on, is Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA). DHA is an Omega-3 fatty acid that is an important building block of the brain’s structure.[2] Adequate Omega-3 consumption is shown to improve the brain’s circuitry and synapse health and may improve overall brain function. The recommended dietary consumption of Omega-3s is 1,500 to 3,000 mg per day.

As far as carbohydrates, these are the brain’s required source of energy, and it’s preferred type of carbohydrate is glucose. In fact, all of the body’s cells operate most efficiently using glucose as an energy source. There are at least two important reasons why the brain operates best on glucose. For one, glucose is metabolized in the brain in a way that causes it to signal the body to feel full once it has had enough; this is not true of fructose. Secondly, in a recent study that compared the effects of fructose and glucose on the brain, it was found that glucose resulted in an increase in neurological activity for 20 minutes after consumption, while fructose consumption resulted in a depressed state of neurological activity for 20 minutes.[3] While the implications of these results are not yet known, it seems to me that increased neurological activity is what we’re looking for! Unfortunately, many people’s diets are high in added sugars which are typically fructose-based. Glucose is found in whole-food staples like potatoes, vegetables, grains, and seeds.

Finally, the brain relies on protein for proper memory function. It uses a special type of protein to mark neurological pathways for short and long term memory. It can’t make these markers, however, if you don’t have enough protein in your diet! Be sure to get all the amino-acids your body needs by eating high-quality protein sources like, meat, dairy, and quinoa.

3.) Exercise – It turns out that the old adage, “dumb jock,” simply isn’t true. Physical exercise is an important, perhaps even vital, part of optimum mental/brain health. Studies have found that regular exercise from 20-40 minutes in duration can improve brain activity from 80-120%. Exercise also improves brain plasticity and neurogenesis. In other words, exercise helps the brain learn and operate better. Finally, statistical studies have draw a firm correlation between exercise and decreased levels of depression. So, there’s really no excuse for not getting outside to play and exercise.[4][5] Not only will it help improve your attitude, taking the time to exercise/play, will actually help you work more efficiently.

Conveniently, if you’re living a creation-based lifestyle you’re already doing these things! Obtaining rest is so much easier when we trust in the Lord and know that he is taking care of us. It can be so easy to be moved by circumstances and think that we have to do everything in our strength, never giving ourselves an opportunity to rest. Yet, I can’t help but think of how Jesus slept peacefully while a storm was threatening to capsize his boat. What a great example of trusting in the Father’s care! Also, if we look to the Creator and realize he created good things for his children, it’s easy to see that eating the foods he made for us (vs the processed foods made by man) will lead to good health. Furthermore, he created a beautiful creation for us to get out and enjoy, to move in, to run in, to play in. Mental, physical, and spiritual health are inextricably linked in various ways So it’s not surprising that exercise and rest (which can be an important spiritual discipline) promote good mental health and optimum brain function!

References:

Originally posted 2011-10-05 17:24:00.

Does the Master Cleanse work?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Master Cleanse is a popular detox diet, touted to have all kinds of health benefits. But does it really work? Supposedly, if you follow the Master Cleanse for 10 days, it will purify your body from toxins, eliminate intestinal parasites, and “dissolve” fat. While I’m not a doctor, I don’t remember anything from my science class about lemon juice dissolving fat when ingested.

At any rate, many have reported great results from following the Master Cleanse program and torturing themselves with its strange concoctions: First, drink a salt solution so that you dehydrate your body and induce the runs. Then, don’t eat or drink anything for ten days except for a mixture of freshly squeezed lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper powder. The sickness and strange feelings experienced during the diet are supposed to be a result of the detoxification process. Hmm, I think drinking cayenne pepper lemon aid and being half-starved for over a week might have something to do with it.

People usually report weight-loss, but that’s not a surprise considering the program entails consuming only 100-600 calories per day for 10 days. Yet, is the weight-loss accrued sustainable? Most likely not. Loosing weight with a drastic fast is usually followed by an immediate return of the weight after the fast is over. According to Harvard University, prolonged fasts, such as the Master Cleanse, are more detrimental to the body than helpful.[1] The calorie quality consumed during the Master Cleanse is also less the optimal, consisting primarily of sugar (which is toxic in high doses). People who repeatedly complete the Master Cleans also run the risk of disrupting the body’s acid-base, which can cause severe health problems.

The Master Cleanse can be appealing because of all the wonderful things it promises, including a quick fix. Unfortunately, in life there are few quick fixes. Toxins accrued over a lifetime of environmental exposure and poor eating habits can’t be eliminated over night. The best way to detoxify is to start living a creation-based lifestyle. A whole food diet prevents consumption of toxins and is high in foods that contain blood cleansing and detoxifying phytonutrients. Many toxins, however, are stored in adipose tissue (stored fat), which means weight-loss is indeed an important aspect of detoxification. Weight-loss, however, must be accomplished by sustainable means.

Intermittent fasting (IF) is an effective and healthy (unlike the method of fasting used in the Master Cleanse) method of losing weight. A lot of promising research is being done with IF, and it holds the possibility of many health benefits beyond weight-loss. IF is different than sustained fasting in that it involves fasting every other day, reducing calories every other day, or fasting once or twice per week, rather than fasting for long periods of time. Intermittent fasting’s health benefits are attributed to a biological attribute known as hormesis.

Basically, hormesis is the body’s response to mild stressors. Exercise is a perfect example of how hormesis works. During exercise, physical stress tears down muscle cells, but the body responds by releasing healthy hormones, antioxidant chemicals, and initiating positive gene expression. Apparently the same type of reactions occur when the body faces short-term calorie restriction on a repeated basis. Some of the potential health benefits of intermittent fasting include long-term weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, improved cardiovascular health, and inhibition of cancer. Another great thing about intermittent fasting is that it isn’t necessarily tied to overall calorie reduction, as much as to the limited stress it places on the body. Thus, it’s OK to replace the calories missed during intermittent fasting by consuming as much healthy food as desired the day after fasting. [2][3][4][5]

So, if you want to lose weight and detoxify the body, I think it’s better to chuck the Master Cleanse out with the cayenne pepper juice. Instead, eat a whole-food diet; live a healthy lifestyle, and perhaps start practicing intermittent fasting. Healthy living promises sustainable health and weight loss rather than cyclical weight-loss/weight-gain accompanied by the forced consumption of strange concoctions. Spare yourself the torture; enjoy life and its reasonable stressors, but eliminate the things that are overly taxing.

A great analogy for hormesis can be found in scripture. Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He didn’t say he would get rid of burdens completely, but he did say they would be easy! Stressors produce growth and strength. Too much stress, however, harms the body. In my opinion, the Master Cleanse produces stressors that are beyond helpful limits.

Originally posted 2011-09-20 18:44:00.

Why sugar is toxic:

We all know it’s unhealthy to eat too much sugar, but now we’re starting to understand how unhealthy some sugars really are. Researchers are discovering that not all sugars are created equal. Too much glucose and other sugars can be bad, but too much sucrose or fructose can be plain TOXIC. Below you’ll discover the reasons many researchers are convinced that excess sugar consumption promotes disease and obesity. Keep in mind that these are simplified explanations, and the exact workings of these concepts are under constant scientific debate.

Empty calories
It’s easy to consume hundreds of excess calories in the form of fruit juice, soda, candy and other junk foods without feeling full. In the U.S., calorie consumption per capita has increased over the last 50 years and is directly correlated with an increased consumption of sugar. Fast-food and other refined foods are loaded with calories but lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber. They are easy and tasty to consume, but they don’t provide the feeling of being satisfied associated with eating whole foods. As a result, people in the United States and other Westernized countries are eating more than enough calories but are still deficient in many important vitamins and minerals. Eating a whole-food (creation-based) diet promotes feelings of satiety, as well as an adequate supply of vital nutrients.

Glycation
Glycation is the bonding of glucose or other sugars to proteins in the body (keep in mind that protein is the primary building block of life). Glycated bonds are generally destructive to the body, causing oxidation and damage to cells. The amount of glycated hemoglobin and other important proteins in the body increases with the level of sugar consumed. While too much glucose (the sugar found in whole foods like bread, pasta, and potatoes) can promote glycation, fructose and sucrose (the primary sugars used for sweetening), can cause 10 times the amount of glycation. Glycation is indicated in the hardening of the arteries, Alzheimer’s disease, cellular damage, and cancer.

Insulin resistance
Too much glucose in the blood stream eventually causes insulin resistance. Insulin is the hormone that signals cells to uptake sugar for energy use or storage. When the blood stream is constantly flooded with insulin, the body’s cells grow resistant to insulin and normal uptake of sugar is interrupted. Fat cells, however, continue to remain sensitive to insulin (even when skeletal and muscle cells grow resistant), storing glucose for later energy use – resulting in weight gain around the mid section. A constant rise in the body’s at-rest blood sugar level is known as hyperglycemia/diabetes. Hyperglycemia requires close management. If not properly controlled, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the brain, kidneys, and neurological system.

Leptin resistance
Leptin is a hormone released by the body’s fat cells and is responsible for maintaining body-weight and metabolic equilibrium. When the body has enough stored-energy, leptin signals the brain to feel full and satisfied after meals. A person with leptin resistance, however, continues to feel hungry even after eating. Leptin resistance is associated with over consumption of fructose and sucrose. These sugars are processed by the liver and transformed into triglycerides (fats) and released into the blood stream. It is thought that high triglyceride levels are responsible for blocking the brain from properly receiving leptin signals. Obese people have high levels of circulating leptin, but the leptin can’t perform its function.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
The liver processes fructose and sucrose similarly to the way it processes alcohol. As a result, these sugars can have the same effect on the liver as alcohol, causing fat-build up and damage of the liver.

Uric acid production
When the liver processes fructose/sucrose (but not glucose and other sugars), one byproduct is excessive production of Uric Acid. Excessive Uric Acid interferes with Nitrogen Oxide production. Nitrogen Oxide is responsible for regulating the body’ blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels. Thus, fructose/sucrose consumption from sweets, juice and soda can lead to hypertension, usually evidenced by a rise in systolic blood pressure.

Increased triglyceride level
A high blood triglyceride level is a well-confirmed precursor to or indication of cardiovascular disease. High triglyceride levels used to be attributed to fat consumption. Today many scientists are starting to believe that high triglyceride levels are linked to refined sugar consumption and insulin resistance. Fructose doesn’t signal insulin production, thus when corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners are consumed, they are transferred to the blood stream as triglycerides but without the insulin signals to absorb them. Healthy fats, consumed as part of a healthy diet, don’t remain in the blood but are used by the body for energy.

Effects on LDL cholesterol
Low-density-lipoproteins play an important role in the body. They are responsible for transporting lipids (fats) within the water-based blood stream. Too much LDL, however, is thought to cause atherosclerosis. Since increased fat consumption causes higher cholesterol levels (including LDL), people are warned not to consume fats. The misnomer, however, is the idea that all LDLs are the same. This simply isn’t true. There are two primary types of LDL: one is light, large, and fluffy; the other is small and dense. It is the small and dense LDLs that are responsible for penetrating beneath the endothelial cells of the blood vessels, leading to arterial plaque build-up. By contrast, light and fluffly LDLs float along in the blood stream, serving their function, without damaging the blood vessels. While the mechanisms aren’t exactly understood, high production of dense LDL is associated with high consumption of refined sugars. Low-sugar diets, high in healthy fats (not trans fats or over consumption of Omega 6s) cause the body to produce a light and fluffy, harmless form of LDL.

The above information points to the importance of reducing or eliminating consumption of refined sugar, excess fructose in the form of fruit juice or other sugary drinks, or added sugar. It should be noted that the fructose in whole fruits and vegetables is buffered by the whole-food content of fiber. Fiber inhibits fructose absorption. Glucose and healthy fats from whole foods are the body’s best energy sources. An emphasis on whole food consumption promotes healthy nutrition, good energy levels, healthy metabolism, and cardiovascular health.

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Originally posted 2011-09-19 01:07:00.

Microwaving Revisited

I’m not a big fan of the microwave:  I hate the sound it makes; the idea of stray microwaves damaging my cells kind of freaks me out, and it seems like microwaved food is always overcooked.  That being said, my long held notion that microwaving damages vegetable nutrients more than traditional stovetop cooking was wrong.

While I’m personally not about to start using a microwave again, several studies (one dating back to the 80s) confirm that overcooking, not microwaving, is the primary cause of nutrient degradation in cooked vegetables.[1] A study performed with broccoli found that nutrients like vitamin C and broccoli’s cancer fighting compounds, glucosinolates and sulforaphanes, were damaged by sustained heat and water leaching.[2] By altering the microwaving practice (using shorter microwave times, lower intensity, and less water) broccoli’s nutrient’s were preserved just as well as with traditional cooking methods, such as steaming.

The difficultly with microwaving, however, is that it can be difficult to evenly cook the desired vegetables (even with a built in turn table) without overcooking them.  Also, it’s easy to set the timer and let the microwave run past the optimal heating point.  On the other hand, it can be just as easy to over steam vegetables if they are left unattended on the stove for a few minutes.  So, what’s the verdict Personally, I find steaming an easier method to prevent overcooking my veggies, but if microwaving your veggies works for you and means you’ll eat them more often – have at it!  The important thing, whether steaming, sautéing, or microwaving your veggies is to only lightly cook them.  They should retain a bit of their crispness, most of their water, and all of their good flavors.  Better yet, just eat them raw!

[1] Nutrition and Food Science
[2] Agricultural Food Chemistry

Originally posted 2011-09-13 05:47:00.