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The Heart-Mind and Fire Element

June 26, 2015
The Fire Element

Happy Friday! I hope that everyone had a great week! A couple months ago, I talked about tips to stay heart healthy and how to prevent heart disease on a physical level (read the tips here). Today I want to focus on the heart on a mental level and as an emotional center. In Chinese medicine, the heart houses the mind and controls our consciousness, spirit, sleep, and memory. It is safe to say that our mental hearts and our minds are one and the same. When the heart-mind is harmonious and balanced we have mental clarity. We are able to solve problems easily where solutions come to mind (no pun intended) logically and quickly. When the heart-mind is imbalanced, we will see a whole host of problems ranging from depression, anxiety, and loss of memory to insomnia, palpitations and restless energy. To better understand this concept, we need to understand the fire element, the element associated with summer (read the basics of the summer season here).

The Fire Element

The fire element of the heart governs our ability to feel love and joy while dealing with all “matters of the heart” on an emotional level (read about the mind body connection and our emotions here). It also reflects our relationship with ourselves and others. The fire element is the spark that ignites our emotional hearts and inspires us to live our lives to the fullest. When our heart-mind is in balance, we are genuinely happy and we are able to feel and give love.

Imagine a bonfire at a summer party. When the fire is in balance, it is warm, glowing, radiant, and emitting the perfect amount of heat. People are naturally drawn to the warmth of the fire and congregate together. This resembles the positive qualities of the fire element, when we feel love, joy, connection, fun, and a sense of community and sharing.

What happens when the fire starts to die out? We see the remains of a fire, fading embers, and gray ashes. There is no longer a radiant flame. The people surrounding the fire become cold and leave. This is what happens when someone’s heart fire becomes deficient or depleted and they become lifeless, cold, isolated, depressed, and weak. This is especially apparent in the eyes, where they literally lose their sparkle. The sparkle in the eyes reflects our spirit or shen (one of the three treasures that I discussed about here).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, what if this fire starts blazing out of control? People start dispersing to protect themselves as the flames spill uncontrollably out of the firepit. This reflects people who have excessive heart fire and a difficult time controlling their emotions or are excessive attention seekers. They may laugh inappropriately or uncontrollably and drive others away with their lack of boundaries.

Heart-Mind Disharmony

Let’s review the different spectrum of heart-mind disharmony.

For those with deficient heart fire (i.e. those who have lost their spirit), we may see:

  • palpitations
  • irregular and weak pulses
  • lethargy and general body weakness
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • apathy or hopelessness
  • poor circulation
  • weak spirit
  • aversion to cold
  • general body weakness
  • chest pain
  • hardening and thickening of the arteries
  • nervous disorders such as anxiety with irrational fears and phobias

This is generally caused by a deficiency in qi energy and yang of the heart. The organs most related to a weak qi energy are the lungs and spleen-pancreas, as well as liver qi stagnation, or inability of the liver to smoothly circulate energy throughout the body. (To review the functions of qi energy, read here.)

For those with an unstable spirit, or excessive heart fire, we may see:

  • initially, incessant mind wandering
  • aversion to heat
  • insomnia or restless sleep
  • memory loss
  • lack of boundaries
  • attempt to control self or others
  • excessive or inappropriate laughter
  • a scattered or confused mind
  • speech problems such as stuttering, excess verbiage, or confused speech
  • restless, scattered, or explosive energy
  • irregular or racing heartbeat
  • excessive dreaming
  • irrational behavior
  • or in extreme cases insanity or mental illness

This is generally caused by deficiency in yin of the kidney or deficiency in blood (review the properties of blood here).

Healing the Heart – Calming and Focusing the Mind

The heart truly depends on other organs of the body, namely the kidneys, lungs, spleen-pancreas, and/or liver for its nourishment and energy. Once these organs are restored to balance, heart fire balance will follow suit. Also, a general rule of thumb is to eat less mucus and phlegm producing foods as they can physically clog the heart and arteries.

To calm and focus the mind, a simple diet is best. Avoid foods that scatter the mind or overheat the body such as spicy and rich foods, refined sugar, alcohol, coffee, or late night eating and eating large heavy evening meals. The following foods help decrease nervousness, treat insomnia, and improve mental clarity:

  • Minerals, such as calcium and magnesium help to build the yin of the heart, hence calming the mind. Green veggies are generally rich in magnesium since magnesium is usually at the center of every chlorophyll molecule. Magnesium also facilitates calcium to function properly in heart and nerve tissues. (Review the many healing properties of calcium and magnesium here.)
  • Grains like whole wheat, brown rice, and oats can gently but significantly calm the mind.
  • Mushrooms all have very cerebral effects. I have talked about how Reishi mushroom can calm the mind, improve memory, sharpen concentration and focus, increase willpower, and build wisdom.
  • Silicon containing foods such as barley, cucumber, celery, lettuce, and celery/lettuce juice improve calcium metabolism and enhance nerve and heart tissue.
  • Fruits such as mulberries and lemons calm the mind (mulberries being the stronger of the two).
  • Jujube seeds are widely used as a Chinese herbal remedy to calm the spirit.
  • Spices such as dill and basil can be eaten with food or added to teas to calm the mind.
  • Bitter flavored foods also affect and heal the heart. They can cleanse the physical heart and deposits in the arteries while also cooling an overheated heart.

I hope you have a better understanding now of our heart-mind as an emotional unit. Be happy and have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Men's Health, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

The Four Vital Substances Part 2 – Essence (Jing)

May 1, 2015
Walnuts nourish Essence and Jing

May is Mental Health Awareness month and couldn’t come at a better time since the Vital Substance I am talking about today is closely associated with our mental vitality. Earlier this week, I introduced the concept of Qi (energy) as one of the four Vital Substances in our bodies (read about it here). The next Vital Substance, Essence, also known as “Jing” in Chinese Medicine, is essential to life and one of the foundations of mental health.

Essence

Essence in Chinese is “Jing” (精). The Chinese character defines it as “something derived (or extracted) from a process of refinement of a larger crude substance.” For example, the essence of a perfume is extracted from raw materials such as flowers, grass, spices, fruit, or wood. Hence, Essence is a concentrated and precious substance. It is associated with our genetic potential and the aging process. The quantity of Essence we have dictates our lifespan and vitality.

1) Prenatal Essence or Original Jing – At conception, the combination of the mother and father’s refined Essence forms Prenatal Essence. This blended Essence develops an energy that is the basis of new human life.  Before birth, the fetus relies on the mother to protect and nourish its Prenatal Essence. After birth, Prenatal Essence becomes active and helps in transformation of food to energy.  A small amount of Prenatal Essence is constantly released which is used by our bodies to maintain function. Prenatal Essence determines our constitutional make-up, how long we live, and our individual vitality. This largely depends on the age and health of the parents at conception, and especially the age and health of the mother. This is also what makes each of us unique. Original Jing is fixed in quantity and quality, meaning once it’s used up, it cannot be replenished and we die.

2) Postnatal Essence or Postnatal Jing – Formed after birth, this Essence is extracted and refined by the Stomach and Spleen (the digestive system) from food and fluids. When Postnatal Essence is maintained at sufficient levels, our Prenatal Essence is used more slowly, which in turn slows the aging process. This is why people take Jing tonic herbs, to maintain Postnatal Jing levels.

3) The Essence (Jing) – This Essence, used for the entire body, is stored in our Kidneys and derived from both Prenatal and Postnatal Essence. It is also a hereditary energy that determines our constitutional make-up, but can be replenished through interaction with Postnatal Essence. It is the root of our vitality and a very concentrated energy. Strong Jing energy will lead to a long and healthful life, whereas loss of Jing will cause physical and mental deterioration, leading to a shortened life.

The difference between Essence and Qi:

– Essence comes from our parents, while Qi is formed after birth
– Essence is fluid-like, Qi is energy-like
– Essence is stored in the kidneys, Qi is everywhere
– Essence is difficult to replenish, while Qi can be restored daily
– Essence changes slowly and gradually, whereas Qi moves quickly

So is Essence more yin or yang relative to Qi?? If you’ve been following, the answer is easy. =)

Essence Functions

  • determines growth and development – Essence controls growth of bones, teeth, hair, brain development, sexual maturation, reproductive function and fertility, which are all part of the Kidney’s function in Chinese medicine. Deficiency results in stunted growth, poor bone growth, infertility, frequent miscarriages, mental retardation in children, loose teeth, and premature graying hair.
  • forms the foundation for Kidney Qi (Kidney energy) – Deficiency of Kidney Qi results in poor sexual function, impotence, weak knees, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and deafness.
  • produces Marrow – This Marrow is not the same as the bone marrow recognized in Western Medicine but a broader term. Marrow not only produces bone marrow but also constitutes the brain and spinal cord, nourishing these areas. This means that Kidney Essence plays a crucial role in brain function and mental health. Weak Kidney Essence may lead to lack of concentration, poor memory, dizziness, and more serious mental problems if severely depleted.
  • determines constitutional strength and our resistance to exterior or external pathogenic factors. Our Defensive Qi draws from Kidney Essence. Weak Kidney Essence results in frequent colds, influenza, susceptibility to exterior pathogenic factors, chronic rhinitis, and allergies.

Factors that Deplete Essence (Jing)

  • chronic and acute stress, chronic pain and illness
  • excessive behavior such as overwork, excessive emotions (especially fear, anxiety and shock, emotions which weaken the Kidney), substance abuse, sexual excess (especially in men and old age)
  • excessive menstrual patterns (heavy periods) and too many pregnancies (more than one’s constitution can adequately support, which is different for everyone)

Foods that Nourish Jing

In general, foods that nourish the Kidney will also nourish Jing. However, choosing the appropriate foods and herbs to use as Jing tonics largely depend on each individual’s constitution and condition.

Cooling Jing Foods – for those who tend to have heat signs and symptoms, yin deficiency, or excess

– chlorella, spirulina, black beans, seaweed, wheat grass, blue-green microalgae, almonds, and bone marrow soup

Warming Jing Foods – for those who tend to have cold signs or deficiency symptoms

– royal jelly, bee pollen, milk, clarified butter, placenta, dear antler, walnuts, animal products (chicken, liver, beef or lamb kidney) and warming seafood (especially mussels; also trout, salmon, anchovy)

For children with severe Jing deficiency, there will be stunted growth, learning disabilities, mental retardation, skeletal weakness and deformities, and failure of the fontanel (skull bones) to close. Deer antler is specifically used for these conditions as well as tortoise shell in failure of fontanel closure.

Note: Did you notice that walnuts and salmon are included in this list? They are both high in Omega-3 fatty acids making them good for the brain which also means it strengthens Essence. See how everything is coming together?

The Three Treasures

A final note on Essence and mental health. Essence and Qi form the foundation of the Mind also known as Shen (神), which is the most immaterial substance in our bodies. Together they form the “Three Treasures” which are the three fundamental physical and psychic substances of human beings. The Chinese word “Jing Shen” 精神 collectively means spirit. The strength of our spirit and mental health ultimately depend on the strength of our Essence (Jing). Coming soon, I will discuss some major Jing tonics that help strengthen and stabilize our mind and spirits keeping us mentally sharp and strong!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Magnificent Magnesium Deficiency Continued

April 17, 2015
Dark Chocolate for Magnesium Deficiency

Earlier this week, we discussed the intricate relationship between calcium and magnesium (read more about it here), and established the current dilemma we have with overemphasis on calcium consumption while minimizing the importance of magnesium. Because of this, an estimated 80% of Americans are deficient in magnesium. Not only is magnesium necessary for over 300 biochemical reactions in the body and responsible for a host of basic functions such as muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and our heartbeats, but studies have now shown that it may prevent heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and osteoporosis.

What are the risk factors for magnesium deficiency?

  • age – Our ability to absorb anything decreases with age. The elderly are also more likely to be on medications that may interfere with magnesium absorption.
  • over-exercising – Magnesium is lost in sweat.
  • menopause – Magnesium levels fluctuate with menstrual cycles and decrease even more after menopause. (Ever wonder why you crave chocolate before your period? It could be magnesium deficiency.)
  • diabetes – Diabetics have increased magnesium loss in their urine, especially if poorly controlled.
  • kidney disease – Those with unhealthy kidneys will also lose magnesium through their urine.
  • malabsorption or gut problems – Digestive problems such as Crohn’s disease or leaky gut syndrome will interfere with your ability to absorb magnesium.
  • use of certain medications – Diuretics, antibiotics, and certain cancer medications can result in magnesium deficiency as they interfere with its absorption.
  • eating processed foods with high sugar content and drinking soda – This depletes magnesium in our bodies, since magnesium is used to metabolize and detoxify these foods.
  • alcoholism – Alcoholics tend to have low magnesium levels.
  • exposure to heavy metals and environmental chemicals – Magnesium is depleted through detoxification of these exposures.

What does magnesium deficiency cause?

According to Dr. Carolyn Dean, a leading researcher in magnesium and author of the book, The Magnesium Miracle, magnesium deficiency has been found to trigger 22 medical problems including:

  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • asthma
  • blood clots
  • bowel diseases
  • cystitis
  • depression
  • detoxification
  • diabetes
  • fatigue
  • heart disease
  • hypertension
  • hypoglycemia
  • insomnia
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • migraines
  • musculoskeletal conditions (e.g. cramps, fibromyalgia, chronic back pain)
  • nerve problems
  • obstetrics and gynecology (e.g. PMS, infertility, preeclampsia)
  • osteoporosis
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • tooth decay

Review: How do I know if I am magnesium deficient?

Early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, nausea, headaches, loss of appetite and weakness. Signs of chronic magnesium deficiency may lead to more serious symptoms of numbness and tingling, muscle contractions and cramps, seizures, coronary spasms, abnormal heart rhythms, and even personality changes. An easy way to find out if you are deficient is to get a magnesium RBC test. The “normal values” are between 4.2-6.8mg/dl, but you really want your levels to be 6mg/dl or higher. Once you find out your baseline, check every 3 months to make sure you are taking enough to maintain your levels. According to Dr Dean, unlike most medications, “as your body becomes saturated with magnesium, your body will need less, not more, to maintain these levels.”

How do I increase my magnesium levels?

The foods with highest concentrations of magnesium (per 100mg or 3.5 oz) include:

– seaweed: kelp (780mg), dried agar (770mg)
– dark leafy greens: kale (88mg), swiss chard (86mg), and baby spinach (87mg) (if it’s green, it’s got magnesium, as it plays a central role in the chlorophyll molecule)
– nuts and seeds: pumpkin seeds (534 mg), flaxseed (392mg), sunflower seeds (325mg), almonds (286 mg), Brazil nuts (376mg), and walnuts (201mg)
– fish: mackerel (97mg), halibut (83mg), and wild salmon (37mg)
– legumes: soybeans (86 mg), lima beans (188mg)
– avocado: 58 mg in one avocado (another great reason to eat one a day!)
– dried fruit: dried figs (68mg), dried apricots (62mg)
– cocoa and bitter chocolate: ounce for ounce, dark chocolate (with cocoa content over 80%) delivers the most magnesium (327 mg)

Review: Magnesium supplements

With the depletion of magnesium in our soil, we are probably only getting 200 mg of magnesium from our daily diet versus 500mg in the past. The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium for young adults is 400mg for men and 310mg for women. In adults over 30, the RDA is 420mg for men and 320mg for women. It is important and necessary to supplement and perhaps even double this recommended allowance through food and supplements, especially if you have stress in your life (who doesn’t?), as stress uses up our magnesium stores even more.

Magnesium glycinate provides the highest level of magnesium absorption. Metagenics comes in 100mg tablets (take 2 twice a day for a total of 400mg/day) and OrthoMolecular Products offers 235mg in 2 tablets (also taken twice daily for a total of 470mg). It is probably best to start with the recommended dosage and adjust according to your levels.

The many benefits of magnesium

1) Magnesium protects the heart.

Studies have reported a a 34% lower risk of sudden cardiac death in women who took higher levels of magnesium. When a heart attack occurs, there can be increased damage to heart muscle when calcium rushes into the muscle. Blood clots can block blood vessels to the heart. Decreased circulation can cause blood vessels to constrict. New formed arrhythmia in the injured area can occur. Magnesium counteracts these events by dilating blood vessels, preventing spasm in the blood vessels and heart, opposing the action of calcium which increases spasm (remember, magnesium is the “calming” mineral with a relaxing action), dissolving blood clots, lessening the site of injury thereby preventing arrhythmia, and using its antioxidant activity against free radicals that may form at the injury site.

2) Magnesium may prevent diabetes.

Magnesium reduces insulin resistance. In a study with overweight subjects, the group taking 365 mg of magnesium daily for 6 months had lower fasting blood sugar levels and less insulin resistance than the control group. It seems that magnesium controls the activation of the enzyme tyrosine kinase, which is required for proper functioning of our insulin receptors.

3) Magnesium may prevent and treat symptoms of stroke.

A study found that for every 100mg increase in magnesium intake, risk of stroke was decreased by 8%. Intravenous magnesium has also been used for neuroprotection in patients with acute stroke.

4) Magnesium may prevent osteoporosis and hip fractures.

Magnesium is involved in bone formation and bone health. It regulates osteoblast activity (cells involved in bone formation) as well as osteoclast activity (cells involve in bone breakdown). It influences parathyroid hormone and vitamin D, which are both major regulators of bone homeostasis. Researchers also discovered that women with osteoporosis had lower serum levels of magnesium than women with osteopenia or women without osteoporosis or osteopenia. In Norway, a study found that those who drank water with magnesium had a lower risk of hip fracture in both men and women.

4) Magnesium has been used in colorectal cancer prevention.

Higher intakes of dietary magnesium was correlated with lower risk of colorectal cancer. The data from this study showed that for every 100mg increase in magnesium intake, the risk of colorectal cancer tumor decreased by 13% while colorectal cancer risk decreased by 12%.

5) Magnesium promotes weight loss.

Finally, we see a positive correlation between magnesium intake and weight loss. The more magnesium we have in our bodies, the more our bodies are able to regulate insulin and control our blood sugar levels, leading to prevention of diabetes and obesity.

Hopefully, I’ve give you plenty of incentive to check your magnesium levels and start supplementing as needed! Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

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The Yin and Yang of Calcium and Magnesium

April 14, 2015
Kelp and Fish - Calcium and Magnesium

You’re probably wondering why I used an image of kelp to talk about calcium and magnesium. Kelp actually contains one of the highest concentrations of both calcium and magnesium with 1,009 mg of calcium (more than 9 times the amount of found in milk!) and 780 mg of magnesium (the highest amount delivered in any food) in a 3.5 ounce serving. See? There is a method to my madness. Moving on, let’s talk about two important minerals we absolutely cannot live without and how they need to be balanced in order to function correctly. Let’s examine the yin and yang of calcium and magnesium.

What are their respective roles?

Calcium is the most abundant mineral in our bodies and makes up 2% of our body weight. We use 99% of our body calcium towards our bones, teeth, and maintaining our skeletal structure and function. The other 1% is utilized for:

  • cell signaling
  • blood clotting
  • nerve function
  • muscle contraction
  • enzyme activation
  • ion transport across cell membranes
  • sending and receiving neurotransmitters for cell communication
  • conducting electricity in our bodies crucial in maintaining a regular heartbeat, since it contains an electric charge

Magnesium, is the fourth most abundant mineral in our bodies that regulates over 300 biochemical reactions. As one of the most common enzyme cofactors, it is necessary for:

  • protein synthesis (a building block for RNA and DNA)
  • muscle and nerve function
  • blood glucose control
  • regulating blood pressure
  • energy production (generating ATP)
  • glycolysis
  • oxidative phosphorylation
  • aiding in digestion of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats
  • a precursor to neurotransmitters like serotonin
  • calcium and potassium transport across cell membranes vital in nerve conduction, a normal heart rhythm, and muscle contraction.

Magnesium is the yin to calcium’s yang

Since magnesium is the mineral that moves calcium across cell membranes, it is considered the gate keeper and controls when calcium should be moved out of the cell.

This is best summarized in Magnificent Magnesium, an article published in Weston A. Price Foundation’s quarterly magazine:

Magnesium works in concert with calcium to regulate electrical impulses in the cell—magnesium concentration inside healthy cells is ten thousand times greater than calcium, and there are crucial reasons for this safeguard. Cellular calcium channels allow that mineral to enter the cell only as long as needed to conduct an impulse; it is ushered out immediately by magnesium once its task is fulfilled. This vigilance is necessary to prevent calcium accumulation in the cell, which could cause dangerous hyper-excitability, calcification, cell dysfunction and even cell death. When excess calcium enters the cells because of insufficient magnesium, muscle contraction is sustained for too long, and we suffer, for example, twitches and tics in mild cases. When magnesium deficiency becomes chronic, we suffer the symptoms of heart disease such as angina pectoris, hypertension and arrhythmia, or the spasms and contractions characteristic of asthma, migraine headache or painful menstrual cramping.”

So if we are experiencing any type of cramping, whether it is muscle cramps or leg cramps, the mineral we should be looking to for a deficiency is not calcium, but in fact, magnesium. Magnesium is what is needed in order to move calcium out of the cell to relax our muscles. Calcium causes contraction while magnesium elicits relaxation. The article goes on to state that:

“Magnesium operates as a natural calcium channel blocker and is responsible for relaxation—counter to calcium’s contraction. Thus magnesium is pivotally important to the healthy functioning of our parasympathetic nervous system. It may be hard to believe, but our bodies were actually designed to operate for the most part in a calm, relaxed parasympathetic state, rather than in the heart-pounding, stress-and adrenaline-driven mode of sympathetic nervous system dominance that is nearly constant for many of us today, and which uses up great quantities of magnesium.”

Magnesium is a very important mineral in managing and dealing with stress as it is the calming mineral which opposes the excitable actions of calcium. The more stressed we are, the more our muscles tense up and contract. Hence, when we are stressed, we need more magnesium to relax our muscles. It counteracts calcium and acts as a necessary antagonist in order to maintain balance in a body function as basic as muscle contraction and as vital as our heartbeats.

What should our calcium magnesium ratios ideally be?

Calcium and magnesium need to be in balanced amounts in our body in order to carry out their roles. Researchers previously suggested that 2:1 is a healthy ratio. However, according to Dr Carolyn Dean, MD, one of the leading researchers in magnesium, this 2:1 ratio has led her to see statistics with a “700 times increase in osteoporosis in a 10-year period, even while taking calcium”! In fact, many supplements reflect this ratio where there is 1200-1500 mg of calcium versus a few hundred milligrams of magnesium. The frightening reality is that our ratios are probably closer to 4-5:1 with our high calcium and low magnesium diets along with extra calcium supplementation! A more appropriate ratio should be 1:1 and some have even postulated that a 1:2 ratio is warranted. This is because we have tipped the scales so heavily towards calcium with over-supplementing and calcium fortification of our foods.

More concerning, there have now been studies in the past several years showing that calcium supplementation may not only increase your risk of heart attack by up to 30%, but also does not slow the process of bone loss and may even increase your risk of prostate cancer! Bone is made up of at least a dozen minerals and supplementing with only calcium may actually increase your risk of osteoporosis. Other studies have shown that higher bone density in women may actually increase your risk for breast cancer by 2 fold, because bone density is a marker for life-time exposure to estrogen.  (I also do not recommend taking osteoporosis drugs such as bisphophonates, as there is enough evidence to prove that they do not decrease fracture risk nor strengthen bones, but cause other deleterious side effects including bone death, liver, kidney, and digestive problems. More on this later.)

How does calcium over-supplementation cause this? When we have too much calcium in our bodies, it gets deposited into areas where they shouldn’t be. Calcium deposits can cause kidney stones, gallstones, bone spurs, stiff joints, osteoarthritis, coronary artery disease, artherosclerosis, hypothyroidism, and obesity. It is the calcium deposits in blood vessels that actually cause hardening of your arteries (not cholesterol, which is a soft, malleable waxy substance), and may increase the risk of heart attack.

What’s worse, magnesium deficiency is widespread. It is one of the most depleted minerals in our soil. Now, more and more new plant hybrids are made to survive mineral depleted soil, so our foods are already grown with less minerals. Magnesium is further depleted and even lost during harvest, refrigeration, transport and storage. For some reason, calcium is much more resilient during these processes. Maybe because it is a more yang and robust mineral? (To review the basics of yin and yang, read here.)

In addition, processing foods continues to deplete magnesium. Magnesium in grain is lost in milling. Magnesium in nuts is lost in roasting. Magnesium is leached out into water when we cook greens. Then, eating processed foods with high sugar content, drinking alcohol, and soda also deplete the magnesium in our bodies since it is needed to metabolize and detoxify these foods. According to Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride, “the body requires at least twenty-eight molecules of magnesium to metabolize a single molecule of glucose. Phosphates in carbonated drinks and processed meats (so-called “luncheon meats” and hot dogs) bind with magnesium to create the insoluble magnesium phosphate, which is unusable by the body.”

What is the solution to this huge calcium/magnesium imbalance?

The best way to get your calcium is through your diet. In fact, studies show that calcium from food sources are more effective than calcium from supplementation as our bodies absorb calcium from food sources more completely. Food sources highest in calcium include seaweed (hijiki, wakame, kelp, and kombu, which are available in most whole-food or Japanese markets), dark leafy greens (such as kale, spinach, and collard greens), nuts (such as almonds, hazelnuts, and brazil nuts), wild salmon, sardines and parsley. The calcium content in milk does not even come close to these foods. While calcium is necessary at all ages, certain stages require more calcium than others. Calcium requirements ramp up during increased periods of growth and should be supplemented during pregnancy and lactation. I supplemented 500mg calcium daily in addition to my pre-natal when I was pregnant and nursing, then decreased to 200mg daily, once my son started solids. (My multi-vitamin, has a 1:2 (10mg:20mg) ratio of calcium to magnesium.)

How do we know if we are magnesium deficient? Early signs and symptoms of magnesium deficiency include fatigue, nausea, headaches, loss of appetite and weakness. Signs of chronic magnesium deficiency may lead to more serious symptoms of numbness and tingling, muscle contractions and cramps (as I stated above), seizures, coronary spasms, abnormal heart rhythms, and even personality changes. An easy way to find out if you are deficient is to get a magnesium RBC test. The “normal values” are between 4.2-6.8mg/dl, but you really want your levels to be 6mg/dl or higher. Once you find out your baseline, check every 3 months to make sure you are taking enough to maintain your levels. According to Dr Dean, unlike most medications, “as your body becomes saturated with magnesium, your body will need less, not more, to maintain these levels.”

What form of magnesium supplement is the best and how much of it should I take?

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of magnesium for young adults is 400mg for men and 310mg for women. In adults over 30, the RDA is 420mg for men and 320mg for women. If you don’t get enough in your food, which probably applies to most people, then we need to supplement. There are many forms of magnesium in the supplement market because magnesium must be bound to another substance in order to be absorbed. One of the cheapest and most common forms, magnesium oxide, is not absorbed very well by our bodies (4% absorbed, with the remaining 96% going through your intestines). This is what is usually used as a stool softener and laxative, which is helpful if you have constipation.

Magnesium glycinate probably provides the highest level of magnesium absorption. Metagenics comes in 100mg tablets (take 2 twice a day for a total of 400mg/day) and OrthoMolecular Products offers 235mg in 2 tablets (also taken twice daily for a total of 470mg). It is probably best to start with the recommended dosage and adjust according to your levels. Other forms, which provide less absorption include magnesium chloride and magnesium lactate (12% absorption) and magnesium taurate, which is used for its calming effects. I will talk more about the additional health benefits of magnesium in later posts!

Here’s what you need to know:

  • calcium and magnesium have a yin and yang relationship — calcium is the active yang mineral, while magnesium is the calming yin mineral.
  • we need calcium and magnesium to be in constant balance in order to carry out our body functions.
  • most people over-supplement with calcium and tend to be deficient in magnesium.
  • you can get your magnesium levels checked with a magnesium RBC test to see if you are deficient.
  • the most highly absorbable magnesium supplement is magnesium glycinate.

Do you think you are magnesium deficient?

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

Contact Dr. Elain
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Fitness, Health for the Body, Herbs, Men's Health, Nutrition, Supplements, Women's Health

10 Things To Do To Stay Heart Healthy and Prevent Heart Disease

April 9, 2015
Avocados to prevent heart disease

The follow-up post to our discussion on cholesterol and heart disease is here! To sum up what we last talked about, cholesterol and saturated fats are not the “bad guys” that they have been portrayed to be in the 80’s and 90’s. In fact, it plays a number of essential roles in our bodies. Low cholesterol levels would not only prevent our bodies from functioning properly, but we could potentially get very sick. Sadly, it has also been used as the scapegoat for heart disease, the leading cause of death in the world. Now, more and more research on people taking statins to lower their cholesterol has refuted this “lipid hypothesis” where dietary fat and cholesterol are the culprit of heart disease. There has already been a movement in Sweden (which started several years ago), where people were getting healthier (and more fit) by stopping their statins and eating high fat and low carbohydrate diets. It is time to relearn what we know about preventing heart disease! Here’s what you need to do to.

1) Eat a heart healthy diet. 

a) A heart healthy diet is high in healthful fats and low in processed carbohydrates and sugars. Healthful fats include:

  • monounsaturated fats like olives and olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds (macadamia nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, almonds and almond butter, cashews and cashew butter, pistachios). Food fact: Adding one avocado per day to a moderate fat diet lowers LDL more than a moderate fat diet without the avocado.
  • polyunsaturated fats which include omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Omega-3’s are turned into anti-inflammatory hormones in our bodies to decrease inflammation. Foods with high levels of omega-3’s include salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, flaxseed, chia seeds, butternut, and walnuts. Food fact: Eating four walnuts a day raises α-Linolenic acid, or ALA, and improves your lipid profile.

A note on omega-6 fatty acids: The essential omega-6 fatty acid that our bodies need in small amounts is linoleic acid, or LA, (not to be confused with α-Linolenic acid, or ALA, the omega-3 precursor of DHA and EPA). I know, I get confused with these terms too. Omega-6’s are turned into pro-inflammatory hormones in our bodies to increase inflammation when we catch a cold or sprain an ankle. This acute inflammatory process is basically turning our immune systems on to fix a problem. So inflammation is necessary! However, problems occur when our bodies are out of balance and our immune systems cannot shut off, resulting in chronic inflammation and autoimmune disease. Ideally, we should be eating an omega-6:omega-3 ratio range of 1:1 to 5:1, but the American diet’s ratio range is more like 20:1 or 50:1. This is because processed and deep-fried foods are rampant with omega-6 fatty acids so we will rarely be deficient in omega 6’s.

Food fact: Nuts, such as walnuts and pine nuts, also contain high concentrations of omega-6 fatty acids. Potato chips contain omega-6’s because they are fried in vegetable oil. You want to eat more of the nuts and less of the chips, because the omega-6 oils from the potato chips have been oxidized and damaged in the frying process, while nuts contain their own antioxidants that protect the oils from damage. Think of oxidation when you peel an apple and it starts to turn brown from being exposed to the air. Make sense?

b) The low-down on saturated fats:

  • Saturated fats or cholesterol laden foods such as egg yolks, fatty meats (including red meat), poultry (chicken with skin), full-fat dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese), butter, coconuts, coconut oil, and palm oil are not bad for you. In fact, including them in your diet can decrease the risk of heart disease by lowering lipoprotein a, Lp(a), which correlates with a strong risk for heart disease.  Some research has even concluded that it may be to our advantage to include fats in as much as 50% of our diets. (Not ready for that yet? It’s ok, baby steps). It’s not a far-fetched notion since breast milk, the ideal diet for developing infants, has been found to average anywhere from 41-46% saturated fats, based on mothers from different cultures.
  • The saturated fats you do want to stay away from are those produced through hydrogenation of vegetable oils. If the label says “hydrogenated,” then steer clear.

Note on meat and dairy: you want to choose grass-fed beef that is not injected with added hormones or antibiotics rather than corn-fed beef. If you’re going to eat bacon (one of my favorites =) choose bacon that is nitrate free (uncured). And sorry for those of you who love Popeye’s chicken (my husband included), deep frying chicken in trans-fat oils will negate the effects of saturated fats. Also, eating too much dairy has been linked to allergies as well as increased dampness (phlegm and mucus) in your body. Dampness is one of the external pathogenic factors in Chinese medicine that I will discuss soon. If you are someone who tends to have more phlegm and mucus, or is more allergy prone, I would minimize dairy products in your diet.

c) Trans-fats are what you want to avoid:

  • Trans-fats found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, shortening, and margarine were previously used by companies in processed and fast foods (for deep frying and re-frying) because they were easy to use, inexpensive to produce, and had long shelf lives. A study published in 2009 found that “in 87,000 U.S. women followed over 26 years, trans-fat intake was linked to increased risk of sudden cardiac death among those who had underlying coronary heart disease. In this group, the women eating the most trans fats were three times more likely to die of cardiac arrest!” Yikes!

d) Increase the amount of organic or locally grown fresh vegetables. A great way to do this is visit your local farmer’s market at least once a week. A recent study done in 2014 showed that eating 5-7 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 36% lower risk of dying from any cause.

e) Eat organic foods as much as possible to avoid exposure to harmful agricultural chemicals such as glyphosphate.

f) Avoid genetically modified ingredients (GMO’s) that are detrimental to your health and have been linked to chronic inflammation, heart disease, cancer, and infertility.

g) Decrease sugar and eliminate processed foods. Diets high in sugar and processed foods increase insulin resistance and the risk of diabetes. This is a hard one for me too! I have trouble strictly adhering to this and have been known to eat the occasional Krispy Kreme donut or Egg McMuffin and hashbrowns for breakfast (it just brings back childhood memories for me =).

h) Avoid food or sugary and/or diet drinks loaded with artificial sweeteners such as Equal, Nutrasweet, Splenda, Sweet N Low, and high fructose corn syrup. Opt instead for the stuff nature intended – cane sugar, raw sugar, or raw honey. (Diet drinks have also been known to cause severe neurologic problems).

i) Try eating one third of your food raw and avoid cooking foods at hot temperatures to maintain nutritional integrity of the food for absorption (read more about how the different ways of cooking affect foods here).

j) Drink plenty of water. This article explains very well how to tell if you are not drinking enough water. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fatigue and/or mood swings
  • Hunger even though you’ve recently eaten
  • Back or joint aches
  • Dull, dry skin and/or pronounced wrinkles
  • Infrequent urination; dark, concentrated urine, and/or constipation

2) Supplement yourself to bridge the nutritional gaps

  • Omega-3 lower triglyceride levels and raise HDL levels. Find a high quality fish, krill, or algae oil (for vegetarians) with high concentrations of DHA (at least 300mg) and EPA (read more on Omega-3’s here).
  • Vitamin D – A recent study in 2014 has shown that supplementing with only 400 I.U.’s of Vitamin D improves serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels in menopausal women which improved their lipid profiles (increased HDL, decreased LDL and triglycerides). Supplement with enough Vitamin D to get your levels between 40-60ng/ml (read more on Vitamin D here). See how everything is coming together?
  • Multi-vitamin mineral use has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in women. In the study, women, but not men (sorry gentlemen), who took a multi-vitamin mineral supplement for at least three years had a 35% lower risk of dying from heart disease. (This doesn’t mean that men should not be taking one either.) Look for a whole food based multi-vitamin rather than synthetic, for obvious reasons. The brand I like to take is MegaFood. Whatever you choose, make sure your multi-vitamin does not contain sodium selenite or selenate, which have been found to be carcinogenic and genotoxic.
  • Magnesium is a mineral that is important because calcium depends on it to function correctly. In addition, magnesium deficiency may result in many cardiac symptoms such as angina, arrhythmia, and hypertension. I will talk more on how to determine whether you are magnesium deficient and what to do about it.
  • Herbs – Chinese herbs that have been found to improve lipid profiles include Reishi Mushroom and Gynostemma which I will also discuss in more detail later.

3) Exercise Regularly –  Exercising is beneficial for heart disease and diabetes because it can help normalize your blood sugar, insulin, and leptin levels. It releases endorphins, which gives you that high afterwards and is a great stress reliever. It also helps you sleep better, maintain a healthy weight if done correctly, and optimizes brain function.

If you are not used to exercising regularly or are overweight, the best exercise to start with is walking. It is recommended to take 10,000 steps per day, which can easily be tracked using a pedometer. Start slow and begin walking 5-10 min per day if you are out of shape. The key is to be consistent and listen to your body. Don’t push yourself beyond your limitations. As you build endurance you can increase length and intensity of training. Incorporate strength and resistance training with weights. Again, start with lighter weights and increase as you improve your strength. A study has shown that doing 1 set of repetitions (or reps – the number of times any muscle or group of muscles is used) is just as effective as doing 3 sets of reps. Building core strength to prevent back injuries and stretching are also important aspects to add to your fitness program.

Note: Studies show that endurance type exercise, such as marathon running, may damage your heart and increase your cardiac risk. This is because running long distances may increase inflammation and trigger a cardiac event. For those with documented heart disease or heart failure, it is imperative not to overdo it and add extra stress on the heart, as it is already decompensated and weakened.

4) Don’t Smoke – Smoking is all-in-all a bad habit for your health. It can lead to so many devastating diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke, which you won’t see until many packs per day later. If you smoke, try to quit and make sure that your diet is in good shape before you quit as health problems from poor diet may actually be worse than smoking.

5) Alcohol in Moderation – This means 1-2 drinks/day for men and 1 drink/day for women. There have been studies done on mice that show the antioxidants from polyphenols, called resveratrol, found in red wine may benefit the heart by protecting them from obesity and diabetes as well as lower LDL. But to get the same dose of resveratrol used in mice in these studies, a person would have to drink 1000 liters of wine every day. Ahem, this is not advisable. My thinking is if you don’t have alcoholic tendencies or liver disease, and a glass of wine a day makes you happy and helps you wind down, do it. (See #10 below)

6) Avoid Statins and also Diabetic Medications – I discussed this in my previous post. If you must take statins, make sure you add at least 100mg (if not 200-300mg) of CoQ-10 to your supplement regimen. Anyone over 40, take the ubiquinol (most reduced form) of Co-Q10 as your body’s ability to convert CoQ-10 to ubiquinol decreases with age. The ubiquinol form is also more bioavailable.

A recent study published in Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology showed that patients who manage diabetes with drugs that lower glucose or blood sugar, may be at higher risk for heart failure. The study was also presented in March 2015 at the 64th Annual Scientific Session of the American College of Cardiology in San Diego, CA. What?! Looks like I will have to dedicate a different post to this subject.

7) Get enough sleep – I mentioned in the previous post that our brains make cholesterol when we sleep. Sleep is so important to recharge your brain and give your body the rest it needs to replenish itself. A recent study showed that poor sleep may lead to brain shrinkage and may even accelerate Alzheimer’s onset. Here is the most recent recommended sleep guide from the National Sleep Foundation:

Age GroupRecommended # of hours of sleep needed
Newborns (0-3 months)14-17 hours
Infants (4-11 months)12-15 hours
Toddlers (1-2 years)11-14 hours
Preschoolers (3-5)10-13 hours
School-age children (6-13)9-11 hours
Teenagers (14-17)8-10 hours
Young adults (18-25)7-9 hours
Adults (26-64)7-9 hours
Seniors (65 and older)7-8 hours

8) Manage your stress – There is not doubt that emotional stress affects you physically. I have not expounded too much on the mind-body connection yet, but there is a clear correlation between emotional stress and physical disease. This is actually one of the tenets of Chinese Medicine. We are spiritual souls connected to a physical body. Emotional stress from anger, frustration, depression, grief, worry, fear, and anxiety cause mind-body blockages, a disconnect between our spirit and our bodies which can lead to physical disease if not promptly addressed. So besides exercising to relieve stress, what else can you do? See #9

9) Get regular body tune-ups – If you take your car in for tune-ups and oil changes every few thousand miles, why would we think that our bodies don’t need the same maintenance? The tune-ups I get are the treatments that my father and I give to our patients on a regular basis. The treatment we do is a powerful form of acupuncture, which my father coined Neuro-BioEnergetics Treatment or NBE. In short, we combine the Chinese Medicine principle of acupuncture with Western anesthetic injections or trigger point injections. We inject acupuncture points with a diluted solution of anesthetic and clear these mind-body blockages that occur in your body from stress in your life, emotional or physical trauma, eating wrong, not exercising, not sleeping enough, drinking too much, smoking…the list goes on. I will expound on this more in future posts, but you can check out what we do on drtong.com

10) Do something every day that makes you happy or makes you laugh – Finally, to be heart healthy, you have to be happy. Why is this? The emotion associated with the heart in Chinese medicine is love, joy, and happiness. A blockage in these emotions, can also cause blockages in your physical heart. Whatever makes you happy, whether it is watching a comedy, taking a dance class, cooking, or reading a book, try to do it daily. There is something to be said about laughter being the best medicine.

What makes you happy?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

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Cholesterol – Facts and Myths

April 6, 2015
High Cholesterol Foods

Cholesterol has gotten so much recent press that I feel it is a topic that needs to be addressed. Last month, a 6 year Finnish study of 9,000 men concluded that the cholesterol lowering medication, atorvastatin and simvastatin, increased the risk of Type 2 diabetes by up to 46% – the higher the dosage, the greater the risk. It appears that statins “increase a person’s insulin resistance” and also “impair the ability of the pancreas to secrete insulin.” And now, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) is saying that “cholesterol is not considered a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.” So what is going on? Cholesterol lowering medication is causing a disease (diabetes) that can lead to a disease (heart disease) that it was originally trying to prevent? And we shouldn’t be concerned about having too much cholesterol in our diets? It seems that everything about cholesterol originally ingrained in our knowledge has done a complete 180. Let’s get the facts straight.

Cholesterol 101 – What is it and why do we need it?

  • Cholesterol is not a fat, but a steroid alcohol that is not water soluble. Around 75% of the cholesterol in our bodies is produced in the liver while the other 25% comes from food.
  • Cholesterol is essential for the production of all our cell membranes, bile acids (for digestion, fat metabolism, and elimination of cholesterol), sex hormones (such as testosterone, estrogen, progesterone), adrenal hormones (such as cortisol, DHEA, aldosterone), and Vitamin D (read more about Vitamin D here).
  • It maintains structure in our cells and blood vessels, and regulates protein pathways for cell signaling and communication between all our cells.
  • It is essential in our nervous systems, helping us with learning, memory, and cognitive function.

Our brains, which constitute only 2% of our body weight, contain 25% of the cholesterol in our bodies, and most of that 25% is made in our brains when we sleep. This is why babies sleep so much — while they sleep their brains are making more cholesterol to help them grow and develop. Infants and toddlers also need adequate amounts of cholesterol in their diets for proper brain development. For the elderly, it was found that those with high cholesterol in their brains had the best memory function, while those with low cholesterol had a higher risk for depression and even death! For all of us in between, it goes without saying that we also need cholesterol to function properly.

Ok, so now we have established that cholesterol is very important and ESSENTIAL to life.

If cholesterol is so good, why do statins even exist??

Let’s define the main components that make up cholesterol.

LDL – This is the “bad cholesterol” contributing to plaque build up in your arteries causing them to harden, also known as atherosclerosis. If a blood clot forms and blocks a narrowed artery, then a heart attack or stroke may result. However, what is not commonly known is that there is “good” LDL and “bad” LDL as well. According to Dr. Ron Rosedale, M.D.:

“LDL particles come in many sizes and large LDL particles are not a problem. Only the so-called small dense LDL particles can potentially be a problem, because they can squeeze through the lining of the arteries and if they oxidize, otherwise known as turning rancid, they can cause damage and inflammation.”

HDL – This is the good cholesterol that carries LDL away from the arteries and back to the liver where it is processed and eliminated.

Triglycerides – This is fat that contributes to atherosclerosis. It is caused by being overweight or obese, lack of exercise, alcohol, smoking, and a diet high in carbohydrates (more than 60% of total calories). High triglycerides are actually a higher risk factor than LDL for developing diabetes and heart disease. (You’ll see why in a second).

VLDL – Very low density lipoproteins are considered bad cholesterols.

Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a) are made up of LDL plus a protein (apoprotein a). High levels of Lp(a) also contribute to diabetes and heart disease.

Total cholesterol (TC) is the sum of all the above components.

So how do statins work?

Statins block the synthesis of cholesterol by inhibiting an enzyme in the liver called HMG-CoA reductase. This enzyme is what controls the production of cholesterol in the liver.

The problem is that HMG-CoA reductase also makes CoQ-10 in our bodies which is a major energy source for our hearts and responsible for energy production in all our cells. Therefore statins also decrease CoQ-10.

Statins increase insulin levels in our bodies. Chronically elevated insulin levels can cause inflammation and ironically, heart disease. Isn’t this the reason why people are prescribed statins — to decrease heart disease? Elevated insulin levels may also cause high blood pressure, heart attacks, thyroid issues, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s and even cancer.

Statins increase the risk of diabetes because it raises your blood sugar levels. How? Excess sugar that you eat from a meal is shunted to the liver where it should then be processed and stored into cholesterol and triglycerides. If the cholesterol production is blocked, then the sugar is kicked out of the liver and back into your blood stream, raising your blood sugar levels, which increases your risk of diabetes. This is exactly what the researchers in Finland discovered in their study.

How do I know if I’m at risk for heart disease?

If you visit your PCP or cardiologist, they will check your lipid profile to assess your risk for heart disease. The old school of thought is that your total cholesterol should be 200mg/dl or lower and under 150mg/dl if you already have heart disease. Your HDL should be over 40mg/dl, your LDL should be under 100mg/dl or under 70mg/dl for high risk patients, and your triglycerides should be under 150mg/dl. (Note: The lipid panel should be done fasting.)

Better and more accurate indicators of your risk for heart disease is using the following criteria according to Dr. Joseph Mercola:

1) HDL/Total Cholesterol Ratio : Divide your HDL by your Total Cholesterol and multiply by 100. This should ideally be 24% or higher. If your ratio is 10% or lower, then you are at significant risk.

2) Triglyceride/HDL Ratio: Divide your triglycerides by your HDL. This should ideally be under 2.

I’ll use my own numbers to illustrate 1 and 2 above.

TC = 194  HDL = 68 LDL = 116 Triglycerides = 61

My HDL/TC ratio is 68/194 x 100 = 35% > 24%

My triglyceride/HDL ratio is 61/68 = 0.89 < 2

As you can see from the ratio calculations, LDL is not even a factor considered in assessing heart disease risk. This indicates that lowering LDL does not have as much influence in lowering your risk as raising HDL and lowering triglycerides levels do.

3) NMR lipoprofile: This test measures the “bad” LDL levels discussed above, the “smaller more damaging LDL particles.” These particles can cause inflammation and are also connected with insulin and leptin resistance.

4) Check your fasting insulin: Normal insulin levels are under 5, but should ideally be under 3.

5) Check your fasting blood sugar: Those with a fasting blood sugar of 100-125mg/dl have almost 3 times the risk for heart disease than those with levels under 79mg/dl.

6) Waist to hip ratio (waist measurement/hip measurement) is a much better indicator than Body Mass Index (BMI) because BMI underestimates obesity rates by not accurately measuring your visceral, or belly fat. An ideal ratio for men is under 0.8. For women, the ideal ratio should be under 0.7. A ratio over 1 for men and over 0.85 for women is considered high risk.

7) Iron levels: Excess iron levels can potentially damage blood vessels, increasing the risk for heart disease. Check your ferritin levels and make sure they are under 80mg/dl. The best way to get rid of excess iron is donating blood.

Should I take statins if I am at risk or already have heart disease?

I rarely, if ever, prescribe statins. And if a patient comes to me on a statin, I will usually take them off the statin and use diet, supplements, and herbs to treat them. The only benefit that has been seen with statins is with middle-aged men who already have documented heart disease (according to cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra) or those born with a genetic defect called familial hypercholesterolemia which prevents them from normalizing cholesterol levels (these patients come in with extremely high numbers: TC >300 and triglycerides > 400). Even then, your total cholesterol levels do not need to be lowered below 150mg/dl nor does your LDL need to be below 70mg/dl. Lowering your cholesterol to these levels puts you at risk for cognitive issues including depression (low cholesterol levels may indirectly link to lower serotonin levels in the brain since cholesterol is needed in nerve cell membranes for serotonin receptors to work properly), memory loss, and Alzheimer’s dementia (with low HDL levels as a risk factor). Instead, use the ratio calculations above to make sure your lipid profile is in the optimal range.

Another valid reason to take the lowest dose of statins, if you must take them, is because there have been hundreds of studies (900!) validating the damaging side effects from statins including muscle pain, cognitive loss, neuropathy, anemia, frequent fevers, cataracts, and sexual dysfunction. In addition, studies have shown that lowering cholesterol levels with statins don’t lower mortality rates from cardiac related deaths but actually increase the mortality of cancer. Researchers now also believe that high LDL levels are not the culprit of heart disease risk since those people dying from heart related diseases had the lowest levels of cholesterol ever (i.e., the 3 year mortality rates of heart attack patients with low LDL were twice as high)!

Also, if you are taking a statin — you must supplement with at least 100mg of CoQ-10 daily (if not 200-300 mg) as this is depleted in those taking statins. And if you are over 40, it is better to supplement with the ubiquinol form of CoQ-10 (more about this later).

Coming soon: I’ll talk about effective ways to improve your cholesterol health and prevent heart disease. For now, be comforted in knowing that eating foods high in cholesterol and saturated fats such as eggs and uncured bacon, as well as foods high in unsaturated fats such as avocados are a step in the right direction towards these goals.

What does your cholesterol profile look like?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

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The ABC’s of Omega-3’s

April 2, 2015
Pink Salmon Omega 3's

In the last 30 years, there have been over 10,000 studies published validating the many health benefits of omega-3 fatty acids. This really should be no surprise as omega-3’s are a crucial component of all our organ and tissue membranes. In addition, they play a critical role in our metabolism, cardiovascular and immune system, brain development and cognitive function, as well as skin, joint, and eye health. Let’s look at the key points of omega-3’s.

What are omega-3’s and where do they come from?

Omega-3 essential fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) necessary for normal metabolism. They are considered essential because our bodies cannot synthesize them, and we must acquire them either through diet or supplementation.  The three types of omega-3’s are:

  • α-Linolenic acid, or ALA (short-chained fatty acids) found in plants such as flaxseed oil, hemp oil, and chia seeds.
  • eicosapentaenoic acid or EPA (long-chained fatty acids) found in algae oil or marine oil such as fish or krill oil.
  • docosahexaenoic acid or DHA (long-chained fatty acids) also found in algae or marine oil.

ALA is a precursor to EPA and DHA, but our bodies are very inefficient at converting ALA into EPA and DHA. This process also worsens with age. Because the greatest health benefits come from DHA and EPA, we should be getting our omega-3’s directly from either fish, fish or krill oil, or algal oil for vegetarians.

What are the health benefits of DHA and EPA?

DHA comprises about half of the omega-3 fatty acids in the brain and is naturally found in breast milk. Some of its roles include:

  • infant brain and eye (particularly retinal) development
  • cell communication
  • memory and cognitive health
  • lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease and lowering triglyceride levels if combined with a healthy lifestyle
  • supporting eye health and reducing the risk of age-related vision issues, such as macular degeneration

Because DHA is so critical in infant development, pregnant and breastfeeding women should supplement and have a diet high in DHA (at least 300 mg/day if not more). This is especially critical during the 3rd trimester, where DHA concentrations increase dramatically (up to 300-500%) in the infant brain.

EPA is useful and applicable in later stages of life. For children, EPA is important once they start school to aid in cognitive development and social adjustment.  For adults and the elderly, EPA helps to decrease inflammation, improve cardiovascular function, support cognitive function, and treat depression.

What is the best way to get omega-3’s?

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends consuming 3.5 ounces of cooked fatty fish at least 2-3 times a week (for a total of 7-10 ounces), in order to supply ourselves with all the omega-3’s we need. However, mercury, heavy metals, and radioactive poisons found in fish now make it much more difficult to maintain the levels of omega-3’s our bodies need.

The best fish to eat is wild salmon, herring, and mackerel, (which have the highest concentrations of DHA and EPA with lowest amounts of mercury per 3 ounce serving), or smaller fish such as sardines and anchovies, which will be less susceptible to mercury contamination due to their size. Fish should be baked or grilled and not fried, as frying eliminates much of the nutritional content of the fish. It is best to avoid larger fish such as king mackerel, swordfish, shark, and tilefish due to high levels of mercury. Beware also of farmed salmon, which may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB’s), chemicals that can cause serious long term health effects.

If you cannot eat enough fish in your diet or are strictly vegan, then supplementation will be essential.

What should you look for in an omega-3 supplement?

The best omega-3 supplement will be fish oil in the triglyceride form, which is the natural bioidentical form found in fish for our bodies to maximize absorption. This is opposed to fish oil in an ethyl ester form which results in lower absorption and lower assimilation into our cells and tissues.

The fish oil should be pollution-free and purified of any mercury, lead, harmful chemicals, or pesticides. It should also be non-GMO and hexane free.

It should be fresh without any fishy odor or taste. The oil should be burp free, found in products where the fish protein is completely removed.

Finally, it should be eco-friendly and come from a sustainable source.

The two brands I recommend for my patients are:

If you are vegan, then Nordic Naturals offers a vegetarian option algal oil:

For babies and children, Nordic Naturals has several options:

  • Baby’s DHA, liquid form for babies 5-35 lbs, with 350 mg EPA, 485 mg DHA, and 300 I.U.’s Vitamin D
  • Baby’s DHA vegetarian, liquid form from microalgae source for babies 5-35 lbs, with 225 mg EPA and 450 mg DHA
  • Ultimate Omega Junior, for children 5+ with 325 mg EPA and 225 mg DHA in 2 soft gels

Note: I usually recommend the formulations with the highest concentration of EPA and DHA. These concentrations are good for everyone in general, and especially for pregnant and nursing women as well as those with documented coronary heart disease, as recommended by the AHA. However, everyone responds differently, may have different needs, or may be sensitive to higher concentrations. Higher concentrations of fish oil may also increase the risk of bleeding, particularly for those who are on blood thinners such as Coumadin. Please use with caution.

Now time to bake that salmon!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
Mercola.com
Fish 101 AHA recommendations

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10 Fruits and Vegetables That Can Help Prevent and Treat Diabetes

March 30, 2015
Rainbow Carrots

In Loving Memory of Cher Lee

With a prevalence of over 30 million people with diabetes and 86 million people living with prediabetes in the United States(1), most of us will be affected by this disease, whether you have diabetes yourself or know of someone who has it. It is the 7th leading cause of death in the world, but if not kept in check can lead to even more devastating ailments, such as heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the world(2). I compiled a list of common fruits and vegetables you should include in your diet to help prevent diabetes.

1.) Carrots have a neutral thermal nature (read about the thermal nature of foods here) and sweet flavor (read about the five flavors of food here). It is a chi or (qi) tonic and benefits almost every organ system, but especially the liver, lungs, and stomach. It is a blood sugar stabilizer, treats indigestion associated with heartburn and increased stomach acid, and can prevent constipation. In addition, carrots are the most abundant source of beta-carotene, the pre-cursor of Vitamin A, which improves night vision and prevents cataracts.

Caution: Carrot juice is sweet and overconsumption may weaken kidneys. Don’t drink more than four cups of juice daily.

2) Sweet potatoes and yams have a cooling thermal nature, sweet flavor, and strengthen the spleen-pancreas and digestive system. It strengthens the kidneys and is also a good source of Vitamin A, with the darkest orange flesh colored yams having the highest amount of beta-carotene. They help stabilize blood sugar levels, like the carrot, but also improve our body’s response to insulin. It tonifies your chi, blood, and yin (read about the basics of yin and yang theory here).

Caution: Overeating sweet potato can lead to indigestion and abdominal swelling.

3) Artichokes have a sweet flavor and are an excellent source of inulin, reducing the body’s need for insulin. It is a blood and yin tonic, making them helpful in anemia, and also strengthen the liver and gallbladder. It contains the phytochemical cynarin, increasing bile production and aiding digestive diseases caused by inadequate fat assimilation. Cynarin also lowers blood cholesterol levels and improves blood-clotting time. Artichokes are also a good source of Vitamin C.

4) Asparagus have a slightly cooling thermal nature and bitter, mildly pungent flavor. It is good for the kidneys, lungs, and spleen. Asparagus clear excess heat, toxins, and water in your body, hence also making it a great diuretic since it has asparagine in it, which gives it its characteristic urine odor. Like artichokes, asparagus also contain inulin. It is also helpful in cardiovascular issues such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and arteriosclerosis.

Caution: Too much asparagus can also irritate the kidneys.

5) Green beans, or haricot vert have a neutral thermal nature with a sweet flavor, supporting the spleen and kidneys. They increase the yin of the body (e.g., fluids and hormones). They have diuretic properties and help treat diabetes. Fresh beans have Vitamin A, B-complex, calcium and potassium.

6) Pears have a cooling thermal nature with sweet and slightly sour flavor. It nourishes the lungs, eliminating mucus and can quench thirst. Pears have been used to treat diabetes, cough, and constipation.

Caution: Don’t eat pears when you feel internally cold or have diarrhea.

7) Purple plums are slightly cooling, while yellow plums are neutral. They have a sweet and sour flavor and support the bladder, liver, large intestine, stomach, and spleen. They are helpful in digestion, quench thirst, and relieve constipation and dehydration.

Caution: Eat with caution if you have sensitive digestion, stomach ulcers, or inflammation. They have a high content of oxalic acid, so eat in moderation to prevent depleting calcium in your body.

8) Coconuts have a warming thermal nature, sweet flavor, and eliminate wind (one of the external pathogenic factors that I will discuss later). It is hemostatic (stops bleeding) and strengthens the heart. It greatly quenches thirst and builds yin fluids in the body. It is helpful in eliminating edema from diabetes and heart problems. It is fairly high in iron, phosphorus, and zinc.

9) Lemons and limes have a cooling thermal nature and very sour flavor. It helps the liver and can increase bile formation, increase mineral absorption, promote weight loss, and treat high blood pressure. It increases fluid production in the body, thereby treating the fluid deficiency seen in cramps and diabetes. Lemons are high in Vitamin C, Vitamin B1, and potassium. I will have to dedicate a post to lemons and limes later because of its many healing properties.

Caution: Use with caution if you have too much stomach acid or ulcers.

10) Blueberries are cooling and support the lung, spleen, and stomach. They are an excellent antioxidant helping to slow cell deterioration. I included blueberries in this list because it supports eye function and protects against macular degeneration. Ocular issues are common sequelae seen in diabetics, a microvasular disease. Blueberries also nurture the kidney’s yin function, which is often depleted in diabetics.

Start eating more of these fruits and veggies!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

(1) Current Diabetes Statistics
(2) World Health Organization (WHO) – The top 10 causes of death
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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Baby Nutrition, Health for the Body, Men's Health, Supplements, Women's Health

Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

March 27, 2015
Sunshine and Vitamin D

One of the most important supplements I take is Vitamin D. Ideally, we should be getting Vitamin D from the sun. Realistically, most of us are indoors all day and do not soak up nearly the amount of sun we need to make enough Vitamin D.

Why is Vitamin D so important?

Vitamin D is actually a misnomer, because it is not a vitamin, but, in fact, a fat-soluble steroid hormone obtained from sun exposure, the foods we eat, and supplementation.

A few of its vital roles include:

  • absorption of calcium to promote strong bones and teeth
  • regulation of the neuromuscular system for muscle control
  • regulation of the immune system to fight infection
  • support of the cardiovascular system for heart function and circulation
  • support of the respiratory system for lung function
  • aiding brain development
  • anti-cancer effects

Recent studies have shown that Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, weight gain, and inflammation as well as Type 2 Diabetes and emotional disorders such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s. It was found that people with higher levels of Vitamin D generally have a lower risk of these diseases. This is possibly because scientists have discovered about 3,000 genes that are controlled by the Vitamin D levels in our bodies.

How do I get Vitamin D and how is it metabolized in my body?

1) Sunlight is the best way to get Vitamin D. Your body can potentially produce 10,000 – 25,000 International Units (I.U.’s) of Vitamin D in half the time it takes your skin to turn pink or burn in the sun during mid-day (e.g., if it takes you 30 minutes in the sun to burn, expose your skin for 15 minutes). The most Vitamin D is produced when a large part of your skin is exposed to the sun (i.e., the skin on your back, rather than just your arms and legs).

Metabolically speaking, when UVB rays from the sun hit your skin, Vitamin D3 is produced and taken to the liver where it is changed to 25-hydroxyvitamin D3. 25-hydroxyvitamin D3 is then sent to your kidneys and transformed into its activated form or 1,25-hydroxyvitamin D3, the form that allows Vitamin D to carry out its various tasks.

2) Some foods that contain higher levels of Vitamin D include:

– Cod liver oil – 500 I.U.’s per teaspoon
– Fatty fish – 792 (eel), 645 (trout), and 307 (wild salmon) I.U.’s per 3 ounce serving
– Portobello and Maitake mushrooms – 384 I.U.’s per diced cup (86g)
– Cheese – 134 I.U.’s per cup (122g)
– Egg Yolks (hard-boiled) – 44 I.U.’s per egg

When you ingest Vitamin D supplements or foods containing Vitamin D, your gut will send Vitamin D3 to your liver and repeat the same reactions mentioned above.

3) Vitamin D3 supplements are necessary if you can’t get enough sun exposure or eat enough Vitamin D rich foods to produce sufficient amounts in your body.

Who is at risk for Vitamin D deficiency?

Risk factors for Vitamin D deficiency include:

  • age > 50 – With age, our ability to convert sunlight into Vitamin D and our kidneys’ ability to convert Vitamin D into its usable form decreases.
  • people with more melanin in their skin (darker skin) – If you have dark skin, you may need up to 10 times more sun exposure to produce the same amount of Vitamin D as someone with fair skin.
  • obesity – Vitamin D is fat soluble and gets trapped in fatty tissue preventing metabolization in the body.
  • people with malabsorption or gut problems – Any gastrointestinal issues that may affect your ability to absorb fat will also affect your ability to absorb Vitamin D (e.g., Crohn’s Disease, Whipple’s Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Celiac Disease, any type of liver disease).
  • sunscreen use and staying indoors – Using sunscreen blocks the UVB light needed in our skin to convert Vitamin D to its usable form. This is a dilemma as we also need sunscreen to protect against skin cancer from prolonged sun exposure.
  • geographic latitude – People who live north of 35 degrees latitude receive less sunlight.
  • use of certain medications – Anti-seizure medications, glucocorticoids (steroid medications), Rifampin (Tuberculosis medication), HIV medication, and St. John’s Wart have been found to affect Vitamin D metabolism.

What levels should my Vitamin D be at?

The old school of thought shows a wide “normal” range for Vitamin D levels from 30-100ng/ml. Extensive research has now shown that the optimum level should be between 40-60ng/ml. We will revisit how researchers have come up with this number in a later post.

How much Vitamin D do I need to take to reach optimum levels?
First, get your baseline Vitamin D levels checked. The test you want is a 25-hydroxyvitamin D or 25(OH) D test (remember, this is what is produced in your liver). If you are not deficient, you may only need 1000-2000 I.U.’s daily to maintain your levels. If you are deficient, (i.e. under 40ng/ml), the guidelines are as follows:

Age Under 5: 1000 units daily
Age 5-10: 2500 units daily
Adults: 5000-6000 units daily
Pregnant and Nursing Women: 5000-10000 units daily

In general, to achieve optimal levels, most adults and the geriatric population need to be taking between 5000-6000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months, and from all sources combined (sun, food, and supplements). Don’t worry about overdosing, as there have been no reported cases of Vitamin D toxicity below 10,000 I.U.’s of Vitamin D per day. As with anything, everyone responds differently to supplementation. Some people may require a smaller dose to reach optimal levels while others may require more. These are, of course, rough guidelines and the best way to determine how much you need is to recheck your levels at least once a year and adjust your dose accordingly.

What is the best form of Vitamin D to take and when should I take it?
Because it is a fat-soluble vitamin, the best form to take is liquid Vitamin D3 with your heaviest or fattiest meal of the day to maximize absorption. When I am pregnant or nursing, I take 6000 I.U.’s of Ortho Molecular Products Liquid Vitamin D3 daily. Otherwise, I take 5000 I.U.’s daily. For my son, I gave him Carlson Super Daily D3 drops for babies, 400 I.U.’s daily until he was 6 months old. Afterwards, I increased his dosage to 1000 I.U.’s daily using Ortho Molecular Product’s Vitamin D3. My most recent level (taken last summer) was 44ng/ml, while his level was 49 ng/ml. As you can see, taking 5000-6000 I.U.’s daily kept me just above the optimal level!

I hope you now have a better understanding of the basics of Vitamin D. Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:
Mercola.com
The Vitamin D Solution (Book Excerpt) by Micheal F Holick, PhD MD

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