All posts by Jaime Askew

Adrenal Health

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adrenal glandsYour adrenal glands are found just above your kidneys, and they secrete reproductive hormones as well as stress hormones. Needless to say, they play an important role in how your body responds to stress.

When faced with danger (real or perceived), a series of events takes place internally to ensure you have the energy and clarity needed to deal with the situation at hand. This response to any stressor starts in the brain and activates the HPA axis.

What is the HPA Axis?

HPA axis stands for hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. The hypothalamus is a structure within the brain. When there is a perceived threat, the hypothalamus first sends a signal to the adrenal glands to release epinephrine (also known as adrenaline).

Epinephrine makes the heart beat faster to pump more blood and nutrients to vital organs. It also causes rapid breathing to supply more oxygen to the brain and increase alertness. In addition, epinephrine raises blood glucose levels to facilitate energy production.

After the initial burst of epinephrine, the hypothalamus releases a hormone known as corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH). This hormone triggers the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which signals the adrenal glands to release cortisol.

Hypothalamus

Cortisol keeps the body fueled with energy and on high alert. During this time, all other bodily functions are halted. Once the threat has passed, the body resumes normal functioning.

It’s important to understand that this stress response is normal and essential for survival. It evolved to protect humans from life-threatening circumstances. However, the HPA axis wasn’t designed to handle constant threats. And unfortunately, chronic stress is far too common in our modern society.

As a result, the HPA axis may become dysfunctional. This may cause either abnormally high or low cortisol levels in the body.

Symptoms Related to HPA Axis Dysfunction

HPA axis dysfunction can lead to a variety of physical and mental symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Brain fog
  • Poor memory
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent illnesses
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Infertility
  • Allergies
  • Dry or itchy skin
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Food cravings
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle and joint pain

Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is typically described as having low cortisol levels along with several of the symptoms above. And it’s believed to be caused primarily by chronic stress.

Therefore, one key factor to adrenal health is reducing and managing stress. However, it’s important to recognize there are many potential sources of stress.

Potential Sources of Stress

Psychological stress is almost always a factor involved in HPA axis dysfunction. Sources of psychological stress often include:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Family responsibilities
  • Finances
  • Health status
  • Significant life events (i.e., divorce, relocation, career change)
  • Poor self-image
  • Social pressure

However, several other external and internal stressors may also be at play, which include:

  • Digestive dysfunction
  • Imbalanced gut bacteria
  • Environmental toxins
  • Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances
  • Chronically low or high blood sugar
  • Physical injury or trauma
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Nutritional deficiencies

Unfortunately, adrenal fatigue is quite common. And HPA axis dysfunction is linked to all other systems in the body as well as many other serious health conditions, including autoimmune disease, diabetes, mental illness, and heart disease.

There is also evidence that HPA axis dysfunction during pregnancy can affect fetal development. Therefore, your adrenal and HPA axis health is not something to be ignored.

 

References:

Guilliams, T. G. (n.d.). The Role of Stress and the HPA Axis in Chronic Disease Management. Point Institute.

Guilliams, T. G., & Edwards, L. (2010). Chronic Stress and the HPA Axis: Clinical Assessment and Therapeutic Considerations (2nd ed., Vol. 9, Rep.). Point Institute.

Herman, J. P., McKlveen, J. M., Ghosal, S., Kopp, B., Wulsin, A., Makinson, R., … Myers, B. (2016). Regulation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical stress response. Comprehensive Physiology, 6(2), 603–621. http://doi.org/10.1002/cphy.c150015

Xiong, F., & Zhang, L. (2013). Role of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis in Developmental Programming of Health and Disease. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 34(1), 27–46. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.yfrne.2012.11.002

Good Carbs versus Bad Carbs

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Carbs (a.k.a. carbohydrates) often get a bad rap in the nutrition world. But the idea that carbs are universally “bad” is a gross oversimplification.

Carbohydrates are macronutrients found in plant-based foods. In general, they are broken down into glucose once consumed. The glucose is then used by cells to generate energy. And our bodies use this energy to move, grow, repair cells, digest food, circulate blood, etc. Essentially, all biological processes require energy.

Thus, carbohydrates provide a source of fuel. However, not all carbs are created equal.

Carbs can be broken down into two main categories: refined and unrefined.

Refined Carbohydrates

The main sources of refined carbohydrates include white flour products (i.e., bread, pasta, cereals) and sweeteners.

One of the biggest problems with these foods is the refining process, which strips “whole” foods (i.e., wheat berries and sugar cane) of most of their nutrients.

Thus, these “simple” carbs are metabolized into glucose quickly. There is no fiber or protein to slow down their absorption into the bloodstream. As a result, this leads to spikes in blood sugar and insulin.

Refined carbohydrates are the main ingredient in processed foods. In fact, it is estimated that up to 74% of all packaged foods contain added sweeteners. And, an excess of refined carbohydrates has been associated with many serious health conditions including type 2 diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

Thus, we think it’s safe to say that refined carbohydrates are “bad” and their consumption should be limited.

Unrefined Carbohydrates

On the other hand, unrefined carbs are digested more slowly because they still contain fiber and protein. In addition, they naturally contain health-promoting vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.

Thus, unrefined carbohydrates are a healthy component of a well-balanced diet. They help to sustain energy levels and prevent blood sugar and insulin spikes.

The best sources of these “good” carbs include:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains (i.e., quinoa, brown rice, millet)
  • Bean and lentils

And we can’t neglect to mention the benefit from fiber these carbs contain. This natural source of fiber found only in these plant-based foods helps to maintain healthy cholesterol levels, supports bowel health and detoxification, and feeds the good bacteria in your gut among other things.

To Sum it Up…

In general, refined carbohydrates found in processed foods do more harm than good. And because of their lack of nutrients, they’re also easy to overeat.

On the other hand, unrefined carbohydrates are packed with nutrients and offer many health benefits. And this is why you’re sure to find a healthy dose of “good” carbs in our Pure Plates meals.

Pure Plates: Our Nutrition Philosophy

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The food we eat affects every aspect of our health and well being, including our energy, mood, behavior, weight, sleep, immunity, and more! When we eat, we’re either boosting wellness or promoting disease.

At Pure Plates, we believe it’s important to eat foods that truly nourish our bodies as opposed to foods that burden our systems. Therefore, we’re committed to using the cleanest, nutrient dense foods available.

Food Is Fuel

Our whole food ingredients supply your body with fuel as well as all the vitamins and minerals needed to convert that fuel into energy. And with a good balance of proteins, healthy fats, and carbohydrates, your energy is sure to last.

On the other hand, processed and fast foods provide limited nutrition and only short bursts of energy.

Food Is Medicine

Our whole food ingredients offer an abundance of nutrients needed to prevent and heal from disease. This includes potent antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, which also delay the aging process.

On the other hand, processed and fast foods contain a variety of harmful ingredients and food additives that are capable of causing inflammation and disease as well as accelerating the aging process.

Food Should Be Chemical Free

From antibiotic and hormone free meats to organic produce to health promoting olive and coconut oil, we’ve got you covered! We also go the extra mile to avoid the most common food allergens, including gluten, dairy, and soy.

Food Should Taste Amazing

Our meals are loaded with nutrients as well as bursting with flavor. No baked chicken and steamed veggies in our kitchen! We use a variety of herbs, spices, and sauces to create healthy, mouth watering meals.

Food Brings Families Together

Eating meals with loved ones provides a wonderful opportunity to connect and share experiences. It strengthens bonds and offers a sense of belonging. Family meals also help foster healthy eating habits and lead to special family traditions.

Healthy Food Is Our Passion

We don’t believe in sacrificing health for convenience, which is why we created Pure Plates. We’re committed to providing convenient and nourishing meals that taste delicious.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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Overview and Symptoms

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a disease defined by severe, unrelenting, and unexplained fatigue lasting for six months or more. It affects over one million Americans. And women are twice as likely than men to be diagnosed.

Some report the onset of chronic fatigue feels like the flu. However, the symptoms never go away.

Those affected may also experience the following:

  • digestive dysfunction
  • joint and/or muscle pain
  • inability to focus
  • poor memory
  • chills and/or night sweats
  • exercise intolerance
  • swollen lymph nodes

It’s important to note that the level of fatigue often experienced can be disabling. Some are unable to work or even socialize with friends and family.

In addition, conventional medicine is not well-equipped to diagnose or treat chronic fatigue syndrome. As a result, people are often told that they need more sleep or that the problem is in their head.

Therefore, emotional well-being is often a big concern. And people often suffer from:

  • Guilt and shame
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Suicidal thoughts

Leading Cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

According to current research, mitochondrial dysfunction is the main culprit behind the fatigue in chronic fatigue syndrome.

Mitochondria are cellular components mainly responsible for converting energy from the food we eat (i.e., glucose) into a form of energy our bodies can use (a.k.a. ATP). However, our mitochondria have many other functions, including:

  • Storing calcium ions necessary for blood clotting, muscle contraction, and cellular fluid balance
  • Making iron used by red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body
  • Initial production site for the synthesis of steroid hormones (i.e., cortisol, estrogen, and testosterone)

Mitochondria also have the capacity to initiate cell death by halting energy production, creating harmful free radicals, and/or secreting deadly proteins. This process was most likely designed to protect the body from unnecessary or abnormal cells.

However, we now know that mitochondrial dysfunctional may also be brought on by chronic stress and inflammation. And the symptoms associated with mitochondrial dysfunction cause further stress and inflammation. Thus, it’s a vicious cycle!

Sources of Stress & Inflammation

In one way or another, stress leads to inflammation in the body. For example, there is evidence suggesting an overactive immune system may be at play with chronic fatigue syndrome. And an overactive immune system is stressful and inflammatory. In addition, there is a stressor that is causing the immune system to overact. Therefore, treatment must involve reducing all sources of stress and bringing the body back into balance.

Sources of psychological stress often include:

  • Unhealthy relationships
  • Poor work-life balance
  • Family responsibilities
  • Finances
  • Health status
  • Significant life events (i.e., divorce, relocation, career change)
  • Poor self-image
  • Social pressure

However, there are also physical sources of the stress that must be considered, which include:

  • Digestive dysfunction
  • Imbalanced gut bacteria
  • Environmental toxins
  • Food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances
  • Chronically low or high blood sugar
  • Physical injury or trauma
  • Sleep deprivation
  • Poor diet and nutrition deficiencies

Functional Medicine Approach to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Unlike conventional medicine, I won’t suggest taking pills to improve your sleep or medications to treat depression. Because then we’d just be treating the symptoms. And the underlying problem would still be there.

Therefore, if we determine chronic fatigue syndrome is troubling you, we’ll work closely together to identify and reduce all possible sources of stress discussed above.

The healing process will then involve personalized dietary and lifestyle changes as well as specific nutrients to support healthy mitochondrial function and reduce inflammation.

Conventional medicine may have you believe that chronic fatigue syndrome is a death sentence. But I’m here to tell you it doesn’t have to be that way. While it’s not something that can be cured overnight, reversing this disease and regaining your health is possible.

References

Bland, J. (2015). The disease delusion: conquering the causes of chronic illness for a healthier, longer, and happier life. New York: HarperWave, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Booth, N. E., et al. (2012). Mitochondrial dysfunction and the pathophysiology of Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS).International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine5(3), 208-220.

Myhill, S., Booth, N. E., & McLaren-Howard, J. (2009). Chronic fatigue syndrome and mitochondrial dysfunction. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, 2(1), 1–16.

Morris, G., et al. (2015). Central pathways causing fatigue in neuro-inflammatory and autoimmune illnesses. BMC Medicine,13(1), 28. doi:10.1186/s12916-014-0259-2

Morris, G., et al. (2014). Oxidative and Nitrosative Stress and Immune-Inflammatory Pathways in Patients with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME)/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). Current Neuropharmacology, 12(2), 168–185. doi:10.2174/1570159X11666131120224653

Morris, G., et al. (2015). The many roads to mitochondrial dysfunction in neuroimmune and neuropsychiatric disorders. BMC Medicine,13(1). doi:10.1186/s12916-015-0310-y

Heart Health

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It claims approximately one million lives each year.

And despite a booming cholesterol-lowering statin drug industry, rates of heart disease keep increasing. In fact, experts predict it will be the number one cause of death worldwide by 2020.

This is because conventional medicine focuses mostly on cholesterol as the major risk for heart disease. Therefore, statins are far too frequently prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels. And statins do effectively lower cholesterol. But that’s it.

Statins relieve a symptom (high cholesterol), but they don’t address the underlying risk factors that can lead to heart disease.

The truth is diet and lifestyle play a critical role in the development of cardiovascular disease even when a genetic predisposition exists. Therefore, we must address these factors to end the heart disease epidemic.

How Heart Disease Begins

We now know heart disease begins with damage to a single cell lining of the arteries, known as the endothelium, that pump blood to the heart. When the integrity of the endothelium is compromised, fat cells, oxidized LDL cholesterol, immune cells, cellular debris, and calcium begin to build-up within the coronary arteries.

This “sticky” substance is often referred to as plaque. If the plaque grows large enough, it starts to restrict blood flow to the heart. Another complication occurs when the plaque ruptures. The body instantly forms a blood clot (thrombosis), which further blocks the flow of blood and prevents the heart from efficiently and effectively receiving critical nutrients as well as oxygen. This often leads to a heart attack or in some cases sudden death

In some cases, a heart attack is the first sign of heart disease. And sometimes individuals have no symptoms before a heart attack occurs. Others may experience the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal heart beat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fluid in lungs
  • Dizziness
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Swollen feet and ankles
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety

Leading Cause of Heart Disease

We also now know that inflammation and oxidative stress are the leading causes of endothelium damage, which leads to the development of heart disease.

In fact, LDL-cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is not all bad. It is only dangerous once it becomes oxidized. The process of oxidation makes it sticky and more likely to adhere to the arterial wall.

To make matters worse, once plaque begins to accumulate in the arteries, it causes further inflammation, oxidative stress, and other conditions such as high blood pressure and vascular autoimmunity.

Comprehensive List of Risk Factors

Inflammation and oxidative stress most often result from a nutrient deficient diet high in trans-fatty acids and refined grains and sugars. Other factors that cause and/or worsen inflammation and oxidative stress include:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Poor sleep
  • Obesity and visceral fat
  • Diabetes
  • High insulin levels
  • High blood sugar
  • Insulin resistance
  • High triglycerides and/or cholesterol
  • Elevated homocysteine levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Chronic stress
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Environmental toxins
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Chronic infections
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Inflammatory diseases

Genetic Risk Factors

While inflammation and oxidative stress are at the top of the list, it is important to note there are also genetic factors involved in the progression of heart disease. Genetic predispositions associated with heart disease include:

  • Family history of early heart disease
  • Male-pattern baldness
  • Diagonal earlobe crease and hairy earlobes
  • Short stature (men < 5’5” | women < 5’)
  • Tall (men > 6’ | women > 5’8”)

However, it’s extremely important to understand that various individual factors can and do influence your genetics. This is known as epigenetics, which means you have the power to defy your DNA. And a healthy diet and lifestyle can prevent the expression of your “disease” genes.

Additional Risk Factors to Consider

Other unique risk factors include:

  • Defective heart muscle and/or function
  • Age (55 in men | 60 in women)
  • Gender (males are at higher risk until a woman hits menopause)
  • Osteoporosis at menopause
  • High levels of estradiol (form of estrogen) in men
  • Hormonal deficiencies
  • Kidney disease

Why Conventional Treatment Isn’t Working

As you can see, there are many risk factors associated with heart disease. Not just cholesterol or high blood pressure. And this is why administering medications to lower cholesterol and/or blood pressure will not reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

In fact, research has even shown cholesterol-lowering statin drugs can actually accelerate the progression of heart disease. While there are several ways in which this happens, two specific mechanisms include the depletion of CoQ10 and the inhibition of vitamin K2 synthesis. And these are two nutrients essential to optimal heart health.

The Functional Medicine Approach to Preventing Heart Disease

Heart disease is 100% preventable. However, it requires identifying and addressing all sources of inflammation and oxidative stress (the underlying causes).

Dietary support should rely heavily on anti-inflammatory and antioxidant foods. Therefore, I always recommend a nutrient-dense whole food diet rich in a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, high-quality proteins and fats, nuts, seeds, herbs, and spices. In addition, targeted nutrient support may be necessary.

Stress management, restful sleep, and exercise are also critical lifestyle factors to arterial and heart health.

My goal as a functional medicine doctor is to help you identify your individual risk factors as well as create a personalized diet and lifestyle plan to prevent heart disease as well as achieve vibrant health.

References

Bowden, J., Sinatra, S. T., & Rawlings, D. (2015). The great cholesterol myth: why lowering your cholesterol won’t prevent heart disease – and the statin-free plan that will. Beverly, MA: Fair Winds Press.

Houston, M. (2012). What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Heart Disease. New York, NY: Grand Central Life & Style.

Hyman, M. (2012). The Blood Sugar Solution. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.

Rath, M. (2003). Why Animals Don’t Get Heart Disease…But People Do! Fremont, CA: MR Publishing, Inc.

Okuyama, H., Langsjoen, P. H., Hamazaki, T., Ogushi, Y., Hama, R., Kobayashi, T., & Uchino, H. (2015). Statins stimulate atherosclerosis and heart failure: pharmacological mechanisms. Expert Review of Clinical Pharmacology,8(2), 189-199. doi:10.1586/17512433.2015.1011125

Petursson, H., Sigurdsson, J. A., Bengtsson, C., Nilsen, T. I. L., & Getz, L. (2012). Is the use of cholesterol in mortality risk algorithms in clinical guidelines valid? Ten years prospective data from the Norwegian HUNT 2 study. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice18(1), 159–168. Doi:10.1111/j.1365-2753.2011.01767.x

Could You Have Scurvy (even though you’re not a pirate)?

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What is Scurvy?

Scurvy is a disease caused by a vitamin C (ascorbic acid) deficiency.

Without vitamin C, the body is unable to synthesize collagen necessary for wound healing and healthy skin, bones, teeth, joints, and blood vessels.

Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant that effectively fights free radicals and prevents oxidative stress throughout the body.

In addition, it plays a critical role in adrenal and thyroid function.

Scurvy Symptoms

If you’re not eating fresh fruits and vegetables regularly, then you’re likely at risk of developing scurvy. This should be your first clue.

Other early warning signs and symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Muscle spasms, cramping or pain
  • Brain fog
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Fever
  • Bruising
  • Wounds that won’t heal
  • Bleeding or swollen gums
  • Tooth decay or tooth loss
  • Weight loss
  • Coiled hair
  • Skin rashes or red spots
  • High blood pressure
  • Depression

Resurgence of Scurvy

In the 18th century, scurvy caused the teeth of sailors to fall out due to a lack of vitamin C in their diet aboard ship. However, it appears scurvy isn’t just a disease of the past.

Based on data collected between 2003 and 2004, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found 6 to 8% of the general population had a vitamin C deficiency severe enough to qualify as a scurvy diagnosis.

Between 2009 and 2014, almost 25% of patients admitted to a hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts with unexplained symptoms were diagnosed with a vitamin C deficiency.

In the United Kingdom, the rate of scurvy-related hospital admissions increased by 27% between 2009 and 2014.

And a researcher at a Diabetes Center in Australia documented more than a dozen cases in recent years as well.

Why is Scurvy Making a Comeback?

This resurgence is surprising to doctors and health officials because the amount of vitamin C needed to prevent scurvy is relatively low. For example, one large orange or one bowl of strawberries a day provides enough vitamin C to do the trick.

But the sad truth is that more and more people don’t regularly eat fresh fruits and vegetables. Or, if they eat these foods at all, they are either from a package or overcooked, which almost entirely diminishes the vitamin C content.

Other modern day factors may also deplete the body of vitamin C, which includes:

  • Chronic stress
  • Environmental toxins
  • Illness
  • Injury
  • Synthetic hormones and birth control pills
  • Steroid medications
  • Diuretics
  • Aspirin

It’s also worth noting that a well-functioning digestive system is necessary to properly digest and absorb vitamin C (and all other nutrients) from food. Thus, with the rise of gastrointestinal diseases and dysfunction, this could also be a contributing factor.

Best Sources of Vitamin C

Uncooked, fresh fruits and veggies are the best sources of vitamin C. Those you can enjoy raw with the highest vitamin C content include:

  • Papaya
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Strawberries
  • Pineapple
  • Oranges
  • Kiwi
  • Cantaloupe
  • Cauliflower
  • Kale
  • Cabbage
  • Grapefruit
  • Raspberries
  • Tomatoes

In Conclusion…

Scurvy, a condition caused by a severe vitamin C deficiency, is making a comeback around the world mostly in part to our modern way of life. This means your risk may be real even though you’re not an 18th-century pirate.

Therefore, it’s important to consume fresh vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables every day to prevent a vitamin C deficiency and the development of scurvy.

References

National Institutes of Health – Vitamin C Fact Sheet for Professionals

Pelton, R. (2001). Drug-induced nutrient depletion handbook. Hudson, OH: Lexi-Comp.

Scurvy makes surprise return in Australia. (2016, November 29).

Scurvy Is a Serious Public Health Problem. (2015, November 20).

The World’s Healthiest Foods – Vitamin C

Myth Busted! Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

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Dietary fat is making a comeback in the health and nutrition world. And science has confirmed why fat should have never been demonized in the first place.

In fact, this article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association provides evidence that the sugar industry paid researchers to perform studies to downplay the link between sugar consumption and heart disease. In addition, they made us believe fat was the enemy.

Health Benefits of Fat

Our bodies can’t make fat. Thus, it must come from our food. And fat is an essential component to the health of every cell in your body as well as many biological processes.

Let’s take a closer look at the key roles of fat…

  • Each cell membrane is made of a layer of fat. Thus, healthy fat consumption promotes optimal cell membrane function, which includes obtaining nutrients, eliminating toxins, and communication.
  • Fat-soluble vitamins, including A, D, E, and K, require the presence of fat for absorption. Thus, if you’re eating a salad without a healthy source of fat, you’re not benefiting from all the vitamin A and K in those leafy greens.
  • Your brain consists of mostly fat. Therefore, it requires a steady stream of fat particles for optimal performance as well as development. This means that low-fat diets can actually negatively impact your mood, behavior, and memory among other cognitive functions.
  • Hormones such as estrogen and testosterone are made with fat. Thus, low-fat diets can lead to infertility as well as other hormonal imbalances. These imbalances often cause dysfunction, which ultimately leads to disease if left untreated.
  • Fat provides a layer of protection for your organs as well as insulation for your nerve cells.
  • Your metabolism and body temperature are regulated by fat.
  • In the absence of carbohydrates, fat can be used as a source of fuel to produce energy.

Why Eating Fat Doesn’t Make You Fat

Now that we’ve established that fat is an essential component of a well-balanced diet, it’s also important to understand that eating fat won’t make you fat. Despite what we’ve been led to believe for so many years.

For example, the fat in an avocado doesn’t instantly accumulate in your fat cells. Just like eating protein doesn’t automatically give you big muscles.

Research has shown that eating fat is highly satiating. It also slows down the digestive process and triggers appetite-suppressing hormones. Thus, you’re more likely to stop eating when your body has what it needs. And you’re less likely to snack in between meals.

However, unhealthy fats found in heavily processed foods don’t offer the same benefits. Especially because they’re typically combined with refined carbohydrates.

This explains why it’s easy to overeat chips, but the chances of you overindulging on raw nuts are slim.

It also leads to the next key point, which is all calories are not created equal.

Let’s take a closer look at the nutrition facts of non-fat yogurt and avocado to further illustrate this point.

One serving of non-fat yogurt typically offers the following:

  • 0 grams of fat
  • 10 grams of sugar
  • 5 grams of protein
  • 90 calories
  • Synthetic sources of vitamin A & D
  • Added flavors, colors, and preservatives

And if you’re eating this yogurt as a snack, most likely it’s not very filling. You’ll probably eat two servings or grab something else with it or soon after.

On the other hand, a half of an avocado contains:

  • 14 grams of fat
  • Less than 1 gram of sugar
  • 2 grams of protein
  • 160 calories
  • 6.5 grams of fiber
  • Natural vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients

Based on these facts, an avocado will always be the healthier choice. First, it is much more filling than a cup of non-fat yogurt. Thus, you’ll probably eat less in the long run. And, the extra nutrients provide your body with much more than energy.

These nutrients are necessary for proper hormone function, digestive health, gene expression, brain health, immune function, and a healthy gut microbiome among other things. And these factors all impact your metabolism and your body’s ability to burn fat.

Further, research has shown that those following a low-carb, high-fat diet burn more calories daily than those eating a high-carb, low-fat diet.

Therefore, if you’re avoiding fat in an effort to eat fewer calories and lose weight, you might want to rethink your strategy.

In addition to the above, eating less fat often means consuming more carbs.

For instance, if you opt for non-fat yogurt as opposed to an avocado, you may be consuming fewer calories, but your refined sugar intake is much higher.

And sugar releases insulin, which ushers glucose into your cells and stores any excess as fat. Therefore, an overconsumption of sugar and other refined carbs is one of the key contributing factors to gaining fat.

Sources of Healthy Fats

It’s important to understand not all fats are created equal. It’s always best to stick to whole food sources of fat, such as:

  • Avocado and avocado oil
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Raw or sprouted nuts and seeds
  • Coconut and coconut oil
  • Whole eggs
  • Grass-fed butter and ghee

Unhealthy fats to be avoided include:

  • Heavily processed vegetable oils (canola, corn, and soy)
  • Trans fat (hydrogenated oils)

For maximum health and fat burning benefits, it’s also recommended to balance your healthy fats with other whole foods (as opposed to processed foods). These include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, legumes, and healthy animal proteins.

In Conclusion…

Dietary fat is an essential nutrient to achieve and maintain optimal health. And despite popular belief, eating egg yolks and smothering your sweet potato with butter will not spontaneously put fat on your body.

However, not all fats are created equal. Therefore, stick to fats from whole foods as opposed to heavily processed and refined fats and oils.

References

Ebbeling, C. B., et al. (2012). Effects of Dietary Composition During Weight Loss Maintenance: A Controlled Feeding Study. JAMA : The Journal of the American Medical Association, 307(24), 2627–2634. doi:10.1001/jama.2012.6607

Hall, K., et al. (2015). Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity. Cell Metabolism,22(3), 427-436. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2015.07.021

Hyman, M. (2016). Eat fat, get thin: why the fat we eat is the key to sustained weight loss and vibrant health. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Montmayeur, J., & Coutre, J. L. (2010). Fat detection taste, texture, and post ingestive effects. Boca Raton: CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.

Sherman, H., et al. (2012). Timed high-fat diet resets circadian metabolism and prevents obesity. The FASEB Journal,26(8), 3493-3502. doi:10.1096/fj.12-208868

Diverticulitis 101: Overview & Natural Interventions

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What is Diverticulitis?

In some individuals, small bulging sacs known as “diverticula” form along the lining of the colon. When this occurs, it is referred to as diverticulosis. This condition is often asymptomatic.

However, diverticulitis is a condition that occurs if these sacs in the colon become infected or inflamed. When this occurs, noticeable symptoms arise.

diverticulitis

Symptoms

The pressure on the colonic wall increases due to the inflammation and enlargement of the diverticula sacs. This pressure causes severe pain and cramping. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • Fever
  • Increased white blood cell count
  • Abdominal tenderness
  • Nausea
  • Change in bowel habits

And while constipation may be a symptom, it may also be a contributing factor.

Contributing Factors

One or a combination of the following often triggers diverticular disease:

  • Structural irregularities in the colon wall
  • Dysfunctional intestinal mobility (i.e., constipation)
  • Dietary fiber deficiencies

The risk of developing diverticulitis increases with age. Other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • Long-term pharmaceutical drug use (i.e., anti-inflammatories and opioids)
  • Smoking

Prevalence

The prevalence of diverticulitis is high, especially in developed countries with Westernized diets that lack dietary fiber.

In the United States, it is estimated that 10% of the population over 40 are affected. In Finland, the rates of diverticulitis have increased by 50% over the last 20 years.

Treatment

If an infection is present, antibiotics may be necessary. And difficult recurring cases may even require surgery.

However, early stages of diverticulitis may often be addressed with diet and lifestyle changes as opposed to medical intervention. Thus, it’s important to know the symptoms discussed above.

Dietary Interventions

Western diets are loaded with sugar, unhealthy fats, and heavily processed foods. And these processed foods lack dietary fiber, a key contributing factor to the development of diverticulitis.

Thus, consuming less processed foods and more dietary fiber from whole foods (i.e., fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes) is essential for prevention as well as the healing process.

However, bombarding a delicate system with loads of fiber is not recommended. Instead, it’s often suggested to start with easy to digest foods, such as:

  • Bone broth
  • Fresh fruit and vegetable juices
  • Pureed fruits and vegetables
  • Pureed vegetable soups
  • Smoothies

Once symptoms ease, small amounts of natural sources of fiber may be added to the diet. It is then recommended to gradually increase your consumption of fiber.

Once healed, a well-balanced whole foods diet is important to maintain optimal colon health.

It’s also worth noting that eating slowly and thoroughly chewing food improves the digestive process as well as the absorption of health-promoting nutrients.

Botanical Support

Demulcent herbs are known for their ability to soothe and heal inflamed mucous membranes within the digestive tract. They contain mucilage that forms a gel-like substance that coats the lining of the intestines when consumed. This cool and soothing gel helps to protect the mucous membranes and reduces inflammation. While there are many options to choose from, a few of the most common demulcent herbs used to soothe and heal the intestinal tract include:

  • Aloe
  • Marshmallow Root
  • Slippery Elm
  • Licorice Root

Turmeric is also a powerful anti-inflammatory herb. Fresh or dried turmeric powder can be added to smoothies and juices.

Curcumin (the main active ingredient in turmeric) supplements are also available. However, curcumin alone isn’t very effective because its bioavailability is low. Therefore, look for supplements that also include bioperine (an extract of black pepper fruit), which helps to increase the bioavailability of curcumin.

Fiber Supplements

Fiber supplements may also be helpful. However, as previously mentioned, it’s important to start slow.

Psyllium husk is a whole food option that provides a mixture of both soluble and insoluble fiber. It comes in a powder form, which can easily be added to smoothies. Organic and 100% pure psyllium husk is recommended to reduce chances of further irritation.

Lifestyle Changes

While diet is essential to preventing and healing from diverticulitis, lifestyle habits also play a significant role. Quality sleep, stress management, and exercise are all equally important.

In fact, this study suggests physical activity along with a high-fiber diet is an effective approach to preventing symptomatic diverticular disease.

In Conclusion

Diverticulitis is a painful disease caused by inflamed and/or infected diverticula sacs within the colon. It’s especially common in developed countries with Western diets lacking dietary fiber.

A well-balanced, high-fiber whole foods diet along with adequate sleep, stress management, and exercise are key factors in the prevention of diverticulitis as well as the healing process.

References

Aldoori, W. H., Giovannucci, E. L., Rimm, E. B., Ascherio, A., Stampfer, M. J., Colditz, G. A., … Willett, W. C. (1995). Prospective study of physical activity and the risk of symptomatic diverticular disease in men. Gut36(2), 276–282.

Crowe, F. L., Balkwill, A., Cairns, B. J., Appleby, P. N., Green, J., Reeves, G. K., … Beral, V. (2014). Source of dietary fibre and diverticular disease incidence: a prospective study of UK women. Gut63(9), 1450–1456. http://doi.org/10.1136/gutjnl-2013-304644

Matrana, M. R., & Margolin, D. A. (2009). Epidemiology and Pathophysiology of Diverticular Disease. Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery22(3), 141–146. http://doi.org/10.1055/s-0029-1236157

Strate, L. L., Liu, Y. L., Syngal, S., Aldoori, W. H., & Giovannucci, E. L. (2008). Nut, corn and popcorn consumption and the incidence of diverticular disease. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association300(8), 907–914. http://doi.org/10.1001/jama.300.8.907

 

Collagen: What, Why, and How?

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Collagen is a protein abundantly found in:

  • Bones
  • Muscles
  • Skin, hair, and nails
  • Tendons and ligaments
  • Cartilage
  • Digestive tract
  • Veins and arteries
  • Teeth (dentin)
  • Eyes (cornea and lens)

Thus, it’s essential to maintaining optimal health.

The term collagen stems from the Greek word “kolla,” which means glue. This makes sense because its key responsibility is to provide structural integrity for a variety of tissues throughout the body.

Collagen Synthesis and Natural Decline

Symptoms such as wrinkles, loose skin, joint pain, and poor wound healing occur as we age due to a natural decrease in collagen production. This natural decline also increases the risk of heart disease and digestive dysfunction if damage to the arterial walls or intestinal tract occurs.

Your diet and lifestyle can also affect collagen synthesis. For example, the body needs an adequate supply of vitamin C and silica (trace mineral) among others to produce collagen. In addition, vitamin C is quickly depleted when your body is under stress.

High sugar diets, smoking, and prolonged sun exposure have also been shown to negatively impact or damage collagen in the body.

However, there are specific foods and supplements we can add to our diet to boost our synthesis of collagen. These include vitamin C and silica rich foods as well as bone broth, and collagen peptides, which I’ll discuss in more detail shortly.

Health Benefits of Collagen

Supporting your body’s natural production of collagen has many health benefits. Some key advantages include:

Skin: Collagen promotes firm skin. Thus, it’s nature’s perfect anti-wrinkle compound. And collagen will also help to reduce sagging skin, cellulite, and stretch marks. In addition, it helps to keep skin moist and smooth.

Hair and Nails: Collagen is the key structural component of your hair and nails. Thus, it keeps them from breaking. And this study suggests collagen may even help to prevent hair loss.

Joints: Collagen is a smooth substance that covers your bones and holds them together. Thus, it allows your joints to move with ease and without pain. Athletes may also benefit from collagen stimulating supplements to protect their joints from degeneration and improve their performance. Further, this study provides support for using collagen to effectively treat osteoarthritis and other joint disorders.

Digestive Tract: The key amino acids in collagen (i.e., glycine and proline) both nourish and heal the lining of the digestive tract. Thus, those suffering from gut-related disorders (i.e., leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disorders, and reflux) may benefit significantly from consuming collagen. In fact, this study found that serum concentrations of collagen are reduced in those with inflammatory bowel disorders. It’s also worth noting that since a large portion of the immune system resides in the gut, maintaining a healthy digestive tract is essential for immune health.

Muscles: One of the key roles of glycine is to help create energy to build muscle cells. And strong muscles are necessary to effectively support your bones, especially as we age. In addition, muscle cells are effective at burning body fat.

Heart Health: Proline helps to repair arterial wall damage as well as keep your arteries free from plaque. Thus, collagen reduces your risk of developing heart disease.

Boosting Your Synthesis of Collagen

Increasing your intake of vitamin C and silica is recommended to increase collagen production. This can be accomplished by eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables each day. Silica is also found in oats.

Bone broth is a great source of glycine and proline needed to synthesize collagen. To learn more about bone broth as well as how to make it, please refer to this article.

When it comes to supplementation, I highly recommend Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides. It’s rich in glycine and proline, and it’s made from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows. Thus, it’s free from hormones, antibiotics, and pesticides.

Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides come in a powder form with virtually no smell or flavor. They are highly digestible and soluble in both hot and cold liquids. Thus, you can simply add a scoop or two a day to the following:

  • Tea or coffee
  • Fresh juice
  • Smoothies
  • Soups and stews
  • Sauces and gravies

In Conclusion

Collagen is the most abundant protein in your body and is essential for vibrant health inside and out. Its synthesis naturally declines as we age, which is why I often recommend supplementing with Vital Proteins Collagen Peptides.

Adding collagen peptides to your diet promotes youthful skin and strong hair, bones, muscles, joints, and teeth. It also protects your heart, boosts immunity, and improves digestive health.

Additional References:

Vital Proteins Website: Why Collagen

Medical News Today: What is Collagen? What Does Collagen Do?

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The Ketogenic Diet

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(Originally written for Pure Plates)

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Overview

The ketogenic diet, also commonly referred to as the “keto” diet, is a relatively recent nutrition trend sweeping the Internet. However, it’s been around for quite some time. And it has been proven to be beneficial for some people, especially those with metabolic-related diseases or neurological disorders.

The keto diet involves drastically restricting your intake of carbohydrates and consuming mostly high-fat foods instead. The concept is similar to the Atkins diet.

By significantly lowering your carb consumption, your body shifts from primarily burning carbs as fuel to efficiently burning fat. This metabolic process is known as ketosis (not to be confused with ketoacidosis).

As a result, blood sugar and insulin levels drop. And the liver begins producing ketones, which have been shown to supply energy to the brain. These are the key changes that make the keto diet beneficial for some.

Keto and Weight Loss

There is plenty of research suggesting calorie restriction is a successful weight loss strategy. There is also a strong body of evidence supporting the use of a keto diet for weight loss as well.

However, eating a high-fat diet is very satiating. This means most people on a keto diet naturally consume fewer calories. And they do so without having to count calories or keep track of points.

Turning the body into a fat burning machine as well as producing ketones and decreasing blood sugar and insulin levels may also be contributing factors.

Keto and Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder resulting from chronic high blood sugar and insulin resistance.

By lowering glucose and insulin levels, the keto diet has been shown to drastically improve insulin sensitivity. In some cases, individuals following a keto diet have been able to reduce or eliminate their diabetes medications.

Keto and Heart Disease

In many cases, eating a high-fat diet raises your “good” cholesterol (a.k.a. HDL cholesterol). It can also lower your triglycerides levels. And these two positive consequences are associated with a lower risk of heart disease.

Keto and Neurological Disorders

Studies have shown the keto diet is effective at reducing symptoms experienced with neurological conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and Parkinson’s. Evidence suggests ketones are highly effective at protecting brain cells from damage.

What to Eat and What Not to Eat

The keto diet is based on eating high-fat whole foods, which includes:

  • Cold water fatty fish (i.e., salmon, halibut, sardines)
  • Eggs (with yolks)
  • Grass-fed and pasture-raised red meat and poultry
  • Grass-fed dairy
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Healthy oils (i.e., coconut, olive, avocado)
  • Avocados and olives
  • Herbs and spices
  • Low-carb and non-starchy veggies (i.e., leafy greens, onions, tomatoes, celery)

On the other hand, the foods that must be eliminated on a keto diet include:

  • Fruit
  • Sugar-laden foods (mostly all processed foods)
  • Grains
  • Starchy vegetables (i.e., roots and tubers)
  • Beans and lentils
  • Alcohol
  • Artificial sweeteners

Caveats of the Keto Diet

While the keto diet can be beneficial to your health in many ways, it’s not for everyone.

  1. The diet is very restrictive, which can prove to be challenging and stressful for some. And any change that adds stress to your life is counterproductive.
  2. It’s extremely important to understand your current health status to ensure you don’t make matters worse. Therefore, if you’re serious about trying the keto diet, we strongly suggest you work with your healthcare provider or a qualified nutrition professional.
  3. Not everybody will react the same way. While your friend may drop 20 pounds and gain lots of energy, your experience may be completely opposite. We are all unique in many ways, including our genetics, microbiome, and environment. Therefore, it’s important to understand there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to losing weight and improving your health.
  4. The keto diet may not be best suited for athletes and individuals wishing to gain muscle mass.

To Sum It Up…

The ketogenic diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It creates a metabolic state known as ketosis, which utilizes fat for fuel instead of carbs.

The keto diet has been shown to be an effective weight loss strategy as well as help those suffering from diabetes and neurological disorders. It may also reduce risk factors associated with other conditions, such as heart disease.

However, the keto diet is not for everyone. Therefore, before implementing this diet, please consult with your healthcare provider or a qualified nutrition professional.

References

Bessesen, D. (2006). Effect of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet on Appetite, Blood Glucose Levels, and Insulin Resistance in Obese Patients With Type 2 Diabetes. Yearbook of Endocrinology,2006, 149-151. doi:10.1016/s0084-3741(08)70336-6

Gasior, M., et al. (2006). Neuroprotective and disease-modifying effects of the ketogenic diet. Behavioural Pharmacology17(5-6), 431–439.

Hemingway, C., et al. (2001). The Ketogenic Diet: A 3- to 6-Year Follow-Up of 150 Children Enrolled Prospectively. Pediatrics,108(4), 898-905. doi:10.1542/peds.108.4.898

Hession, M., et al. (2009). Systematic review of randomized controlled trials of low-carbohydrate vs. low-fat/low-calorie diets in the management of obesity and its comorbidities. Obesity Reviews,10(1), 36-50. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789x.2008.00518.x

Manninen, A. H. (2006). Very-low-carbohydrate diets and preservation of muscle mass. Nutrition & Metabolism3, 9. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-3-9

Mcpherson, P. A., et al. (2011). The biochemistry of ketogenesis and its role in weight management, neurological disease and oxidative stress. Journal of Physiology and Biochemistry,68(1), 141-151. doi:10.1007/s13105-011-0112-4

Veech, R. L. (2004). The therapeutic implications of ketone bodies: the effects of ketone bodies in pathological conditions: ketosis, ketogenic diet, redox states, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial metabolism. Prostaglandins, Leukotrienes and Essential Fatty Acids,70(3), 309-319. doi:10.1016/j.plefa.2003.09.007

Yancy, W. S., Foy, M., Chalecki, A. M., Vernon, M. C., & Westman, E. C. (2005). A low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet to treat type 2 diabetes. Nutrition & Metabolism2, 34. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-2-34

Yang, M. U., et al. (1976). Composition of weight lost during short-term weight reduction. Metabolic responses of obese subjects to starvation and low-calorie ketogenic and nonketogenic diets. Journal of Clinical Investigation58(3), 722–730.