We often think of antioxidants as awesome for our health. They're great for our hearts and our skin. They're also extra great for our ovaries and sperm, which means they're super awesome for makin' babies!
Oxidative stress causes free radicals. These are little molecules that go around bumping into the cells nearby and causing them damage. It's a bit more complex on a biochemistry level, but you get the point and it's not a good one. Stress, high blood sugar, and smoking are probably the worst offenders when it comes to oxidative damage. I've talked a lot about stress in previous posts, so I'll give my spiel on smoking here: don't smoke. (That's the whole spiel.)
Unfortunately, we're all subjected to free radicals as our body normally does produce some, and the environment we're in doesn't often help. Here's where antioxidants come to the rescue! They sop up those free radicals bumping around and prevent any damage they can cause. We get a lot of these from an oh-so-healthy diet, rich in brightly-coloured fruits and veggies. These will help you age gracefully and keep your cardiovascular system in tip-top shape (with healthy exercise, of course).
How does this all hinder fertility? That super space-age-looking blob in the picture is one of your mitochondria. These are the little powerhouses of energy that help each and every cell function. As we age, these guys don't work as well. All of those free radicals damage the DNA production that your mitochondria are in charge of. This is pretty serious when trying to make a whole new person. DNA integrity is of the utmost importance! Damage here will not allow a cell to replicate.
Ladies, your ovaries love coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10). This is a major mitochondrial antioxidant. Higher levels of CoQ10 in the ovary result in higher quality eggs and better pregnancy and IVF outcomes. Same with zinc, another great antioxidant, though speak with someone before supplementing as it comes with some risks.
Gents, your sperm love zinc and selenium, and vitamins C and E. These are awesome antioxidants that help prevent defects in motility and morphology. They also help preserve the sperm's DNA and protect it from any free radicals flying around.
Keep in mind, these aren't designed to offset those cigarettes and there really isn't enough antioxidants in the world that can do so. Reduce that level of damage by managing stress (breeeeeeeeeathe), don't smoke or be around smoke, and keep that blood sugar stable. Pump in the berries and veggies.
Love your mitochondria.
Abad C, et al. Effects of oral antioxidant treatment upon the dynamics of human sperm DNA fragmentation and subpopulations of sperm with highly degraded DNA. Andrologia. 2013 Jun;45(3):211-6.
Buhling KJ1, Grajecki D. The effect of micronutrient supplements on female fertility. Curr Opin Obstet Gynecol. 2013 Jun;25(3):173-80.
Grieger JA, Clifton VL. A review of the impact of dietary intakes in human pregnancy on infant birthweight. Nutrients. 2014 Dec 29;7(1):153-78.
Ko EY, Sabanegh ES Jr, Agarwal A. Male infertility testing: reactive oxygen species and antioxidant capacity. Fertil Steril. 2014 Dec;102(6):1518-27.
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Happy (belated) Valentine's Day! I hope everyone had a chance to get out there and spread some love.
Last week we covered food. I get asked so often if there's something natural people can take to fix the cholesterol or the insulin resistance or the blood pressure. Today we'll go over the three magic bullets to keep your heart healthy. Unfortunately, you have to do some work and they don't come in pill form. Hey, why not stand up while you're reading this?
1. Stress less.
We have two modes of our nervous system. Our sympathetic mode is our fight-or-flight response when cortisol production ramps up, adrenaline gets going, blood pressure increases, blood sugar increases, and we're prepped for fighting or running for our lives. Except these days, we're fighting traffic, deadlines, grocery lines, etc. This leaves our parasympathetic system (aka your rest-and-digest response) struggling to get your body repaired and fuelled properly. It's hard to repair all of that vascular damage from consistent high blood pressure when, well, you don't get a good change to repair it.
Signs you're over-stressed: you're reaching for coffee when you're tired, you're reaching for the sleeping pills because you can't sleep, you're slathering the cortisone cream on your eczema, you have IBS, your hair is falling out, your periods are wonky, you're having a smoke at any time... to name just a few.
Breathe. Don't sweat the small stuff. Practice gratitude. Leave earlier. Ask for help. Quit smoking.
2. Eat well. Not sugar.
Sugar, especially fructose, gets metabolized into the bad cholesterol in your liver. This clogs arteries. Sugar is pro-inflammatory. This oxidizes cholesterol in your arteries. This creates a perfect storm for a heart attack and some really bad times. These clogs also create a perfect storm to throw a clot out into your circulation and cause a stroke. Again, really bad times.
Eat whole, real food. Can you pronounce that ingredient? Is it from a package? Will it go bad? Ask yourself all of these questions when prepping for meals. I get it - you're busy. You're tired. It's been a long day. That's okay. Please know that there are really easy swaps and excellent, tasty choices out there to keep you risk for heart disease low, you just need to know where to look for them. Talk to a nutritionist or a licensed ND about what easy swaps you can make. You don't need to overhaul anything. If you'd like a place to start, eat more fibre by adding an extra 2 servings of fruit or veggies each day.
3. Move your body.
Sedentary lifestyles put you at a high risk for cardiovascular problems. Set an alarm in your phone to do a lap or two around your office every hour. Get exercising. It doesn't have to be running an hour a day - do something slow and relaxing if you're predisposed to anxiety or stress. Yoga is just as effective as other exercise for reducing cardiovascular risk. Get out the door, walk for 10 minutes, then turn around and come back. Get some buddies on your team and do it together. The point is you just need to move your body.
Did you stand up while you read this? High five to you!
I know these seem quite obvious and we've all heard them a thousand times. Unfortunately, there's no lazy way around these 3 magic bullets, but they are proven to work again and again. Now get out there, take some deep breaths, grab an apple, and move!
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Xiao Q, Keadle SK, Hollenbeck AR, Matthews CE. Sleep duration and total and cause-specific mortality in a large US cohort: interrelationships with physical activity, sedentary behavior, and body mass index. Am J Epidemiol. 2014 Nov 15;180(10):997-1006.
Chu P, Gotink RA, Yeh GY, Goldie SJ, Hunink MM. The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Eur J Prev Cardiol. 2014 Dec 15.
Eaton RJ, Bradley G, Morrissey S. Positive predispositions, quality of life and chronic illness. Psychol Health Med. 2014;19(4):473-89.
There's tons of information out there when it comes to what to eat and when. Is butter good? Saturated fat? Egg yolks? If you're still stuck on the egg-white omelettes, read on.
When it comes to heart health and researched diets, the Mediterranean Diet is king, but its buddy, the DASH diet, is also a winner. Let's go over the best stuff to eat for keeping your heart happy!
The Mediterranean Diet
What it does:
The DASH Diet
What it does:
Busting the Myths:
Please, don't waste those egg yolks!
Adding a pat of butter is fine.
Cholesterol and sugar are connected. Strongly. Minimize your sugar.
So, now we cheers with our one glass of red wine to these amazing, risk-reducing, delicious-tasting menus!
Turati F, et al. Glycemic load and coronary heart disease in a Mediterranean population: The EPIC Greek cohort study. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Dec 11
Sofi F, Macchi C, Abbate R, Genuine GF, Casini A. Mediterranean diet and health status: an updated meta-analysis and a proposal for a literature-based adherence score. Public Health Nutr. 2014 Dec;17(12):2769-82.
Alkerwi A, et al. Cross-comparison of diet quality indices for predicting chronic disease risk: findings from the Observation of Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Luxembourg (ORISCAV-LUX) study. Br J Nutr. 2014 Dec 5:1-11.
Martinez-Gonzalez MA, et al. Empirically-derived food patterns and the risk of total mortality and cardiovascular events in the PREDIMED study. Clin Nutr. 2014 Sep 16.
Siervo M, et al. Effects of the Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Nutr. 2014 Nov 28:1-15.
Saneei P, Salehi-Abargouei A, Esmaillzadeh A, Azadbakht L. Influence of Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet on blood pressure: a systematic review and meta-analysis on randomized controlled trials. Nutr Metab Cardiovasc Dis. 2014 Dec;24(12):1253-61.
Stradling C, Hamid M, Taheri S, Thomas GN. A review of dietary influences on cardiovascular health: part 2: dietary patterns. Cardiovasc Hematol Disord Drug Targets. 2014;14(1):50-63.
Kelishadi R, Mansourian M, Heidari-Beni M. Association of fructose consumption and components of metabolic syndrome in human studies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition. 2014 May;30(5):503-10.
It’s always the right time to give your ticker a little TLC. From hemp hearts to happiness, this month I’ll be giving you some weekly tips on the best ways to keep your cardiovascular system healthy.
I would say at least half of my patients over 40 are on at least one medication for a cardiovascular-related health concern: blood pressure and cholesterol are the biggest ones. There are some great herbs and supplements with lots of research behind them that can help these meds to work best and support the rest of the cardio system, but we won’t discuss those here since it’s quite individualized. Plus, if you’re on meds, talk to a licensed ND who will make sure there’s no contraindications.
Beyond meds and supplements, what else can be done? LOTS! First, review your risk factors for heart disease to see where you can make some best-bang-for-your-buck changes. Here’s the biggest, changeable factors according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation:
There certainly are some things that we can’t do much about: genetics and health history are two of them but they certainly aren’t a guarantee. If you have a strong family history of heart disease, there’s lots you can do to change your fate.
Stay tuned: up next week, we'll go over the best foods for your heart. Hint: they're (unfortunately) not cinnamon hearts.
Whoever came up with the term 'hanger', you were bang on.
I see quite a few people in my office who can't leave the house without a snack in their pocket. First it starts with a bit of anxiety, then come slight shakes, then full on aaaaaangry... all in a span of 1 minute or less. To which I respond: I hear ya. I've had Dan run to find me a banana when we couldn't decide what to eat for dinner. Not a good scene.
Why this happens:
When blood sugar tanks (called hypoglycemia), the symptoms can feel like an anxiety attack: irritability, shakes, sweating, nervousness, etc. A hormone called glucagon gets released in order to free sugar stores from your liver. Insulin from your pancreas tells the cells to take the sugar in. This should be enough to keep your body calm, but if the process is slow or if the cells aren't responding to sugar and insulin properly, hanger ensues.
Problems relating to blood sugar regulation include diabetes, anxiety, insomnia, PCOS, and insulin resistance. Often, chronic stress can contribute to hanger (as if you needed something else to stress about...)
What to do:
1. Exercise. Cardio helps the body to respond to sugar and insulin in a nice, smooth fashion. 20-30 minutes, 4-5 times per week.
2. Always have protein, fat, or fibre with your carbohydrates, especially if they're simple carbs (hint: if it will dissolve in water, it's a simple carb). Simple carbs will spike sugar and insulin, causing a subsequent crash. If you're not making this a smooth transition, get ready for the hanger.
3. Snack. Have small snacks between meals. If you're prone to hypoglycemia during the day and also have insomnia, consider having a protein-rich snack before bed.
4. Consider supplements. There are many herbals and minerals that can help your body respond to insulin and sugar such as gymnemma or chromium. Ask your ND which ones are best for you, and make sure you're getting safe and effective doses. Often these are short-term and can work wonders.
Also, remember that your loved ones love you, that's why they run to get you that banana. Help return the favour. Get help your hanger.
It might start with just feeling 'off'. Then the vision starts to go. Then the blinky lights set in. Then it's a frantic search for the meds of any type to try and get it before the pain starts. Sound familiar?
I'm down to maaaaybe one migraine per year (the last one was post-superbowl weekend if that's any idea). I used up all my sick days in a month at my previous-life cubicle job so this is a massive improvement, obviously. At the time, the neurologist just said it was genetic. Okee doke. This is actually how I found naturopathic medicine.
Diet, hormones, stress, genetics - all of these can cause an attack at any time. The good news is that there's a pretty good list of where to start and it's usually quite easy to determine where the culprit is based on a thorough history and seeing what else, beyond your migraines, is going on.
1. Check your food sensitivities. This goes beyond red wine and strong cheese (thankfully... not sure I could imagine a life without those). There's a simple finger-prick blood test to find food antibodies in the blood. Cut these foods out and there's likely to be a huge improvement. This is especially great if there's digestive symptoms such as IBS. Also, lots of studies link artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and now possibly sucralose to migraines. It's not a far leap to try cutting out other food additives (i.e. packaged foods) to see if you get some relief. Definitely no harm done there.
2. How's your blood sugar? Does the Incredible Hulk come out if you go to long without eating? Hint: ask your loved ones about that question. Fluctuations in blood sugar and subsequent insulin reactions can also be the cause. Generally there's also other symptoms of poor blood sugar regulation present such as fatigue, yeast infections, ovarian cysts, skin tags, or a family history of diabetes. You may be chronically stressed where elevated cortisol (our stress hormone) is causing these fluctuations.
3. Have your full menstrual cycle evaluated. From Day 1-Day__. Particularly if you're prone to migraines before your period, chances are there's other symptoms of PMS and heavier or more painful periods. Determining if it's estrogen, progesterone, or testosterone can help target where hormone regulation needs to happen. No matter which hormone's involved, supporting the liver and digestion is a must to help clear out the hormonal metabolites and remove them from the body.
4. Stress management. It's not what happens or how big or small the stress is, it's what we do with it that matters. Find a healthy outlet: exercise, talk, walk, knit, write, rock, pet a dog, etc. Cortisol influences just about every other hormone in our body, and not in a pleasant way, when it's chronically elevated. Acupuncture can help decrease cortisol as can many herbs. Magnesium is also great here as it's relaxing for muscles especially if you have charlie horses, cramps, or twitches, but it also stabilizes blood vessel spasms which can trigger migraines.
It might not be just one of these factors that are affecting you; it might be a combination of them. It might be genetics but there are common genetic mutations that are implicated in migraines, particularly surrounding vitamin B12 activation and metabolism. In my practice, the majority of migraines, if not all, have been helped by assessing each one of these factors and treating there.
Just because we all have migraines, doesn't mean they're the same migraine and that one study can apply to everyone. Gosh, this philosophy is how I fell in love with naturopathic medicine in the first place. Aw.
Aydinlar EI, et al. IgG-based elimination diet in migraine plus irritable bowel syndrome. Headache. 2013 Mar;53(3):514-25.
Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S. A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul;34(3):255-62.
Finocchi C1, Sivori G. Food as trigger and aggravating factor of migraine. Neurol Sci. 2012 May;33 Suppl 1:S77-80.
Kokavec A, Crebbin SJ. Sugar alters the level of serum insulin and plasma glucose and the serum cortisol:DHEAS ratio in female migraine sufferers. Appetite. 2010 Dec;55(3):582-8.
Krejza J, Rudzinski W, Arkuszewski M, Onuoha O, Melhem ER. Cerebrovascular reactivity across the menstrual cycle in young healthy women. Neuroradiol J. 2013 Aug;26(4):413-9.
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Li QQ, et al. Acupuncture effect and central autonomic regulation. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med;2013:267959. Mathew PG, Dun EC, Luo JJ. A cyclic pain: the pathophysiology and treatment of menstrual migraine. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2013 Feb;68(2):130-40.
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I don't eat much meat, maybe only a few times per month. I have developed some simple yet pretty high standards for animal products: ethical and nothing-added. And no pig. In the process, I've become quite adventurous in the kitchen and have learned some pretty amazing recipes, including my all-time fave Meatless Meatballs. Heaven.
Switching to a veggie diet can be a daunting task so starting small can help. Enter Meatless Mondays. Probably due to my veggie-loving influence, we've been meatless weekdays (Dan's idea, believe it or not) for about 6 months, but even he started out small and it grew from there. When asked how he feels from then to now, here's what I got: "Definitely better. Less logey." The latest addition is the morning smoothie (thank you, dear Vitamix) and I can't wait to tell you about that later. What a wonderful guinea pig.
Here's why a meatless day might be a good addition to your schedule.
1. Health Benefits. From reduced cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer risks to reduced all-cause mortality, there's a fair body of evidence showing the benefits of a more plant-based diet. Now, whether or not going veggie one day a week will provide drastic results is hard to say, but it's certainly a step in the right direction. It's all part of adopting healthier habits and a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, it probably won't undo the Big Mac you had yesterday.
2. Gets you exercising your culinary cleverness. Who knew you could make meatballs with walnuts or gooey nacho cheese sauce with potatoes and carrots? Tempeh is a great meaty substitute, or try seitan if you're okay with gluten. Invest in a nice and thick vegan or vegetarian cookbook to give you ideas you never new existed. There's tons of ideas out there. I even made fake ribs the other day which were meat-lover approved! What?!
3. Your children and children's children will thank you. The environmental impact of raising factory-farmed animal sources is huge. Sustainable veggie diets can reduce nitrogen footprints by a substantial amount, though dwarfed by pollution, industry, etc. But still, it's something.
4. You'll get to go on vacation sooner and more often. Beans, lentils, quinoa, millet, brown rice, barley, and chickpeas: all mainstays in our kitchen. I probably spend about $60 every 6 months at the bulk store stocking up on these staples. Yes, you read that right. Fresh veggies are, of course, stocked more frequently but you get the idea of the savings. Much cheaper than what our future medications would cost.
Aside from the 5-pound Toblerone on my kitchen counter (which isn't technically mine but let's be honest, we know where some of that's going), the leftovers and goodies are gone. Phew.
I'm convinced they're hanging on for dear life somewhere along my digestive tract though, as it sure doesn't feel as clean inside as it could. I'm sure many of you can relate. I'm even switching to tea most days instead of coffee. That tells me it's time for some clean-out. I've compiled some of the simpler tips to regulate digestion and clear out December:
1. Lemon water in the morning. 1 glass of room temperature water, 1/2 lemon squeezed in there. Drink when you first get up and wait about 20 minutes before having breakfast.
1.b. Follow with sun salutations.
2. FIBRE and WATER. Yes, I'm raising my blogging voice to stress their importance. The kidneys and bowels need water to get them flushed out, and the bowels need fibre to get moving. Don't just leave the garbage in the garage, help it get to the curb.
3. Nutrient-dense smoothies. I'm fortunate enough to live with a Vitamix, but it's easy to make these with any blending apparatus. Use one scoop of good quality protein powder (no sugar), berries, 1/2 banana, or apple, then add in veggies such as beets, kale, spinach, or carrots, and finish with some kidney and liver supportive herbs such as parsley and ginger. The combination of these gives tons of nutrients, fibre, and water which all support metabolic processes of the liver and kidneys, and gets you pooping.
4. Teas. Great ones include ginger, peppermint, dandelion, and chamomile. Chicory teas are great if you're swapping for coffee, or try steeping a cinnamon stick (my personal fave...soooo warming and delicious). An added bonus is that you don't have to drink as much boring water when you fill the void with tea!
5. Move. I'm having trouble with this one, I'll admit it. It's cold out. The city is frozen still. It's nicer under a warm blanket. Due to this freakishly intense winter so far, I have not got out for a run in about two months even with my warming-with-sweat socks (which are super cool. Thanks Running Room!). Indoor activities can be fun if they're kept interesting. I found this wonderful 30-day challenge with exercises ranging from push-ups to planks to lunges... keeping it interesting, quick, and indoors. Love it!
I don't recommend them, except in very specific cases. I don't believe they prevent chronic disease or will help to you live longer. I don't believe they're a targeted approach to your specific concerns. I do believe they can help, if slightly, make up for a nutrient gap caused either by widespread depletion from medications (such as oral contraceptives) or in cases where people, for whatever reason, refuse to eat real food or visit the produce section.
In the wake of a recent editorial in the Annals of Internal Medicine which was also a hot topic in the Toronto Star this week, I'm getting a fair number of questions about them. My approach has always been: there are about 20 things everyone can take just because they're 'healthy', but that doesn't mean they're therapeutic. Absorbing and assimilating large doses of the full nutrient spectrum in one shot isn't what we're built to do. We're built to get nutrients from food where there's enzymes and cofactors and a nifty little mix of nutrients that absorb really well. Plus, this just makes a healthy diet, which is a great foundation for health and longevity.
Multivitamins don't make up for a poor diet and a poor lifestyle. These things will make you sick eventually. We all fall off the healthy wagon at times (hellooooo December) but if we get back on in January and keep going as best we can until November, that's not too shabby. For people who are on the go, eating out, in court all day, running around a hospital all night, just forget to eat (?!), etc, there might be a case there if the diet doesn't stack up.
Wondering if your diet is good enough? Ask. Track it. Have someone who knows nutrition (wink, wink) take a peek and see if there's any gaps. Have someone evaluate how you're doing physically and mentally. Have someone take a look at your list of meds and figure out what might be dropping out and get some therapeutic advice.
If you make regular trips to the produce section and are otherwise healthy, save that money to invest in some more dark leafy greens. That's my two cents.
Many people are taking fish oil for cardiovascular concerns, inflammation, neurological function, mood, pregnancy, or just because they don’t eat fish in their diet. It’s one of the most common supplements I see self-prescribed and I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. But, not all brands make comparably therapeutic fish oil, meaning the components in it, namely the EPA and DHA, aren’t up to snuff. Here’s what to look for.
The label on a fish oil will be divided into a few things: Total fish oil, EPA, and DHA. The total fish oil just says how much is in there.
EPA is what you want for inflammation, cardiovascular health, or mood and mental disorders such as depression. The dose here varies depending on what the concern is but the range is about 1,000 to 2,000 mg of EPA alone (always ask your healthcare provider when dosing the higher end of the range to see if it’s right for you, or if you’re on other meds or supplements). To compare, a typical generic brand has about 300-500mg of EPA per dose or serving.
DHA is often used for neurological support and growth, so in pregnancy a higher DHA supplement can help build babe’s brain. Use of DHA in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s prevention can be beneficial, though the evidence is conflicting. In most supplements, DHA is in a lower ratio than EPA so keep that in mind if you want a supplement beefed up (er, fished up?) with DHA.
Many of the generic brands will have a high amount of total fish oil and boast a high content of ‘omega-3s’ however they combine the total of EPA and DHA to make this number meaning the actual amount of those omega-3s are quite lower than that. Make sure you check the actual nutrition label as opposed to sticking with the health claim on the bottle!
Aside from dosing issues, there's quality and contamination issues to be aware of. Mercury is something a lot of people ask me about which thankfully isn't an issue with fish oil supplements. Contamination with PCBs is, unfortunately, a bit more common.
If you decide to go the fish-eating route, ensure you're actually relying on cold-water, fatty fish. Use the acronym SMASH: Salmon, Mackerel, Anchovy, Sardine, Herring. I tend to think sushi. Consult SeaChoice for help on choosing sustainable and healthy fish options!