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Tips to Strengthen and Stabilize Your Digestion (the Earth Element)

October 1, 2015
Pumpkin (Winter Squash) excellent for digestion@

Happy October! I hope everyone is having a great week! I’ve been focusing on our digestion and how the spleen-pancreas and stomach work together to digest and transform what we eat into usable energy (i.e., qi, blood, and fluids – read here and here to review these concepts). Our digestive systems thrive on an intricate balance between extremes. In order for plants to grow and thrive, the earth that nourishes them cannot be too wet or too dry, too hot or too cold. Our digestion works on the same principle. A healthy digestive system has just enough fluid and enzymes to digest properly (it is not too damp/wet or too dry). Our stomachs are the strongest when its internal environment is not too cold or too hot. Like the late summer season and the earth element, our digestion represents being balanced and centered. So what do we do when our digestion goes out of balance? Here are some tips to strengthen and stabilize your digestion.

1) Healthy eating habits = healthy digestion

Our digestive systems become weak with poor eating habits. Eating too quickly, skipping meals, eating too late at night, overeating, eating too many rich or sweet foods, eating when you are angry or stressed, and eating with people you don’t like, all contribute to poor digestion. If you are guilty of any of these habits, the best way to begin healthier eating habits is to first set regular times of the day to eat, make sure to chew your food enough for easier assimilation, and eat food that is at least moderately well-cooked (not too raw and too overcooked).

2) Eat warm foods (thermal nature and temperature wise)

Foods that strengthen digestion are generally either warming or neutral in thermal nature. Cold foods and food cold in temperature weaken digestion. The rule of thumb is to choose foods that are not too warming or too cooling but in between and balanced in nature. Are you getting the theme here? Balance, balance, balance!!!

The spleen-pancreas doesn’t like the cold. Foods that are cold in temperature (raw and chilled foods) weaken digestion (i.e., cold foods “extinguish [or put out] digestive fire”) requiring more digestive energy to secrete enzymes and absorb nutrients. The raw food diet is not for everyone. If your digestion is weak, it’s best to moderately warm/cook food to make digestion easier. Be careful not to overcook as this can leech out nutrients. Also, drinking iced drinks expands the stomach, and if done chronically, will injure the digestive system in the long run.

3) Eat sweet flavored foods

Foods with sweet flavor (review The Five Flavors here)  strengthen digestion. I am talking about full sweet (real whole foods) and not empty sweets (e.g, refined foods usually full of sugar like cookies, cake, ice cream, candy, etc). The sweet flavor is abundant in our foods because it is the core or central food for our bodies and digestion.

  • Begin with complex carbohydrates – Carbohydrate rich vegetables include winter squash (pumpkin, butternut, acorn, spaghetti to name a few), carrots, rutabaga, parsnip, turnips, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, and yams. Avoid simple carbohydrates such as sugar, refined grains, flour, pasta, and white rice. Simple carbs are the carbs you want to “cut”, as they break down fast in the body, causing blood sugar spikes. The more complex the carb, the slower it takes the body to breakdown, which helps to stabilize blood sugar.
  • Whole grains all have a sweet flavor. Again, eat grains that are neutral or warming in thermal nature such as buckwheat, rice (long grain, short grain, black, brown, or red rice), quinoa, millet, spelt and amaranth.
  • Root vegetables are neutral to warming in nature and very sweet like beets, carrots, parsnips, yams, sweet potatoes, and potatoes. Some are also complex carbs also mentioned above.
  • Lentils and legumes (all beans and peas included) are sweet and complex carbohydrates.
  • Whole fruit are full sweets with varying degrees of sour and bitter (as opposed to fruit juices which tend to be more empty sweet without intact fiber). Most fruits are more cooling to neutral in nature. Peaches are slightly more warming. Berries tend to be sweet and sour (which is also good for the liver), while apples are sweet and slightly sour, and bananas are sweet.
  • Add small amounts of sweeteners and cooked fruits like barley malt, molasses, cherries, and dates to help stimulate digestion.
  • Meats, (yes meat!) are sweet and most have a warming thermal nature. Use beef chicken, turkey or lamb, with minimal seasoning in soup or congee (rice and water) especially if you are having GI issues (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea). This helps to soothe digestion. Always remember to chew meat more thoroughly to aid digestion. Seafood such as mackerel, tuna, halibut and anchovies are also good sweet sources of protein.
  • Nuts and seeds are all sweet and neutral to warming in nature. They are also very good for heart health (review here).

3) Use pungent vegetables and spices moderately in your diet

Add onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, and nutmeg in your dishes. The pungent veggies all have a warming thermal nature that warms the stomach, strengthens digestion, and clears phlegm. You will see a lot of Chinese restaurants use garlic and ginger with their green vegetable dishes to balance out the cold of the veggies. The key word is use them moderately.

  • Warming pungents include onions, cabbage, brussel sprouts, mustard greens, bell peppers and spices like lavender, rosemary, oregano, basil, tarragon, and sage.
  • Some root veggies are neutral pungents like sweet potato, taro, and turnips.
  • Garlic and horseradish are hot so use sparingly as the stomach doesn’t like to be too hot or dry. Limit hot and spicy foods as well.

4) Avoid damp and phlegm forming foods

As mentioned before too much raw, cold, sweet, or mucus-forming foods cause dampness. Excess raw food including too much raw fruits, veggies, sprouts, and juices can cause a thin, watery mucus or dampness. Too much cold food (in temperature) will have a similar effect. Food should normally be room temp or warmer.

Other factors that increase dampness in the body:

  • Highly refined/processed or chemically treated foods
  • Too many ingredients in a meal (poor food combining)
  • Late-night eating and overeating
  • Foods that cause dampness and form phlegm include anything with refined sugar, refined carbohydrates, excess gluten, dairy products, cheese, greasy and fried foods. Damp foods cause the digestive system to be sluggish and slow. Too much dampness in the system also affects our minds, causing decreased mental clarity.

Foods that can dry dampness include rye, amaranth, corn, aduki beans, celery, lettuce, pumpkin, scallion, alfalfa, turnip, kolhrabi, white pepper, and raw honey. The one dairy product that will not usually contribute to dampness in the body is raw goat’s milk.

5) Exercise

The digestive system and earth element do not like to be inactive. In fact, inactivity will injure digestion in the long run. Keep active and moving so that your digestion keeps active and moving. Tailor your exercise regimen to fit your needs. Whether you like walking, jogging, swimming, kick-boxing, dancing, yoga, or sports, staying active will ensure your digestion is in good shape!

6) Supplement yourself

One of my must-have daily supplements is an effective pro-biotic to ensure the healthy flora (bacteria) of your digestive system is is not deficient. This is not only important for digestion but your immune health as well. Digestive enzymes may also be necessary for those who tend to have weaker digestive systems. I will focus more on digestive supplements in later posts.

Have a great weekend!

In health and wellness,

Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford
The New Whole Foods Encyclopedia by Rebecca Wood

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women's Health

White Peony Root – Radix Paeoniae Alba

June 3, 2015
White Peony

It’s no secret that the peony is one of my favorite flowers and I’m sure a favorite for many of you! I used it as my logo for several reasons. Peonies are actually perennial plants that can live for many years. If healthy and cared for properly, they survive the winter season without needing any special treatment and blossom every spring.  Peonies are beautiful and fragrant, and their roots have been used for years as an herbal remedy for anti-aging and regulating the female hormone cycle. This flower is essentially a low-maintenance hearty plant, that produces gorgeous blooms during spring, but also possesses powerful properties in its roots for your health. What is not to love about the peony?! Let’s take a look at the White Peony Root and its medicinal properties.

White Peony Root Properties

  • White peony root’s pharmaceutical name is Radix Paeoniae Alba.
  • It is a tonic herb that builds and cleanses your blood.
  • It has a slightly cold thermal nature.
  • It has a bitter and sour taste which is associated with the heart and liver. Review the Five Flavors here.
  • It affects and enters the Liver and Spleen channels. (Remember from last week’s post on Spring – the Liver is the organ most affected during this season).

White Peony Root Functions

White peony root is a blood tonic. It not only nourishes but cleanses and purifies our blood. It is used to regulate menstruation and the female hormonal cycle, and is commonly used to treat women’s disorders with symptoms like menstrual cramps, abnormal vaginal discharge, and uterine bleeding.

It also has the ability to relax both smooth and striated muscles, which help to alleviate cramps and spasms throughout the body. Most notably it is known for its effectiveness in relieving menstrual cramps as well as leg and foot cramps. It contains a pain-reducing agent and has a calming effect. In women, it works effectively as an emotional stabilizer. PMS anyone?

White peony root also soothes and calms an overactive Liver (too much Liver yang) and alleviates pain, especially in the flank, chest, or abdomen. Pain in these areas usually point towards Liver Qi stagnation or a disharmony between the Liver and Spleen. It has been used for headache and dizziness also due to imbalanced ascending Liver yang (to review the Qi direction and pathology of the Liver, read here).

This herb has the ability to preserve the yin in our bodies, which is helpful in anyone with yin deficiency symptoms (e.g., symptoms seen especially as we get older such as dry and cracked skin/lips, insomnia with night sweats, dry mouth, dry and brittle hair, and low back soreness). It can also help stop continuous sweating seen with wind-cold problems (review wind patterns here). Hence it has a nurturing and protective function. In fact, white peony root is considered to be a premium anti-aging herb in China and used to promote beauty. Since it purifies blood, it also purifies the skin (your skin and hair are indicators of how healthy your blood is – review properties of blood here). If used over time, it should make your skin smoother and softer.

White Peony Root Combinations

Usually white peony root is used in conjunction with other herbs for optimal effects. It is actually known more as a supporting cast member, rather than the star of the show.

1) Blood Tonic – White peony root is usually combined with Dang Gui (a well known Chinese blood tonic and gynecological regulator) and Rehmannia (a yin, jing, Kidney, and blood tonic. This combination helps dizziness, blurred vision, and dysmenorrhea (painful periods). For these combos, I like to use these formulations from Dragon Herbs:

  • Women’s Jing contains Dang Gui, Rehmannia, and White Peony Root, among other herbs that help support a healthy female reproductive system, improve pelvic circulation, while also benefiting the Liver and Kidney.
  • Magu’s Secret has Dang Gui, White Peony Root, as well as Schizandra Berry, Longan Fruit, and Goji Berry, all combined as a women’s tonic and essence/jing tonic. This formula is mildly yin.
  • Magu’s Treasure has the same herb formulation as Magu’s Secret above plus additional herbs from Deer Antler, Placenta, Royal Jelly, and Pearl. The addition of Deer Antler, Placenta, and Royal Jelly make this more yang, but in general is a balanced formula especially good for anti-aging and post-partum conditions.
  • Profound Essence has Dang Gui, Rehmannia, and White Peony Root, plus herbs that tonify Kidney Essence (yin and yang).

2) Liver tension, Liver Qi Stagnation, overactive Liver Yang – For these conditions, white peony root is usually combined with Bupleurum Root. Bupleurum root, although not a tonic herb, is extremely useful for its ability to relieve Liver tension, digestive problems, and associated flank and abdominal pain. It also has detoxifying and anti-microbial properties. Bupleurum, in combination with other herbs, has the ability to clear stagnation anywhere in the body. This combination can relieve spasms, muscle tension, lumps, bleeding from heat, and menstrual irregularity. Together, these two herbs are cold and detoxifying. I like to use these formulations from Dragon Herbs:

  • Bupleurum and Peony – This formulation helps balance hormones and treat PMS, menstrual cramps, and water retention seen with the menstrual cycle. It also nurtures the blood and supports the Kidney.
  • Easy Qi – This formulation contains bupleurum and peony as well as cinnamon twig and pueraria, which help to increase circulation and ease tension in the upper neck and shoulders. It is great as an “anti-tension” remedy and for those with increased stress and trouble sleeping.

Contraindications of White Peony Root: This herb is on the colder side so use with caution if you are excessively cold or are yang deficient.

I hope that you now have a better understanding of the healing properties of this herb! Use in good health!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

The Ancient Wisdom of the Chinese Tonic Herbs by Ron Teeguarden
Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica by Dan Bensky and Andrew Gamble

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Health for the Body, Herbs, Supplements

7 Herbs That Boost Brain Health

May 20, 2015
Periwinkle Vinpocetine May Boost Memory and Brain Health

If you’ve been following my instagram feed, you will see that there are a lot of common fruits and veggies that can help boost brain health and function. I’ve compiled a list of herbs and spices that are also good for brain health, memory and may even help prevent against Alzheimer’s disease. Let’s take a look at what makes them so great for your brain!

Periwinkle Flower
Periwinkle Flower
Vincopetine, derived from periwinkle seeds contain neuroprotective properties.
« 1 of 7 »

 

1) Periwinkle – This flower, which comes in a lovely shade of violet or blue, contains a substance called vinpocetine derived from periwinkle seeds. With the rising number of people developing Alzheimer’s disease, the interest and research in vinpocetine has also increased. A study on stroke patients found that vinpocetine increases blood flow to the brain by inhibiting phosphodiesterase type 1 (PDE1) as well as reducing levels of intracellular calcium (read more about the actions of calicum here). PDE1 and calcium cause contraction of blood vessels. By inhibiting their actions, vinpocetine relaxes the vessels and increases blood flow. Vinpocetine also has antioxidant properties that may protect brain and nerve cells where blood flow may be decreased, by blocking sodium channels in our cells. A recent study on subjects taking a 5mg vincopetine supplement twice daily also showed improved memory and concentration in cognitively impaired patients.

2) Ginseng – This is one of the more recognizable herbs resembling a human body with a large head, body and multiple limbs. American ginseng root (aka Radix Panax Quinquefolium) has a cooling thermal nature with sweet and slightly bitter flavor. It contains a substance called RB1 saponin. Studies in Canada and Australia found that RB1 saponin could restore memory in rats by stimulating the release of acetylcholine (the brain neurotransmitter responsible for memory and mental clarity) from the hippocampus (our brain’s memory center) and increasing the uptake of choline. Choline then stimulates the production of more acetylcholine. (Many pharmaceutical drugs for Alzheimer’s disease work using the same mechanism). A randomized, double-blinded, placebo controlled study in Australia tested 32 healthy men and women and found that those who took supplements of ginseng (100 mg, 200 mg, or 400 mg) had improved memory and mental performance as well as faster decision making skills. Researchers in Japan also found that RB1 saponin can restore damaged nerve cells in mice chemically induced with Alzheimer’s, thereby protecting their memories.

3) Tumeric – This plant, native to South India and Indonesia, is better known as the brilliant yellow colored powder used in curries and yellow mustard, and has a hot thermal nature. The extract curcumin, taken from tumeric root, has long been studied for its effect on Alzheimer’s disease. An overview of studies done on curcumin has shown that it may help macrophages (large scavenger cells in our bodies) clear the amyloid plaques found in Alzheimer’s. Curcumin also has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties that may dissipate the inflammation of nerve cells and inhibit the formation of free radicals that cause damage to neurons seen in Alzheimer’s. Finally, the lipophilic nature of curcumin allows it to cross the blood brain barrier and bind to the characteristic Alzheimer beta-amyloid plaques, inhibiting its metabolism in the brain. It’s no wonder that residents in India, who use large amounts of turmeric in their diets, have the lowest rates of Alzheimer’s disease, according to the World Health Organization.

4) Sage – This herb is a member of the mint family and has a cooling thermal nature. This is great to use for those who tend to run more hot. In a British study, 44 healthy adults were given capsules of 50-150mg of sage oil as well as a dummy capsule. The study participants took a word recall test between 1 and 6 hours later. All those who took the sage oil, did better, averaging recalling 8% more words than those who took the dummy capsule. Sage was found in studies to inhibit acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (which break down acetylcholine), thereby increasing acetylcholine in the brain. Another study conducted the same year showed that compounds in Chinese sage could offer an alternative to pharmaceutical treatment of Alzheimer’s. I think sage is one of my favorite herbs and I should really cook more with it. It can be easily added to omelettes, tomato sauce, and roasted chicken, pork, or lamb. For therapeutic uses, steep 2 teaspoons dried sage in boiling water, and drink as a tea.

5) Garlic – This pungent herb has a hot thermal nature and is great to cook with your veggies as it balances out the cooling thermal nature found in most greens. A study where garlic was continually given to rats, found enhanced memory function by increasing serotonin levels in the brain, also improving cognitive performance. Garlic has also been shown to have neuroprotective effects, protecting neuronal cells against beta-amyloid toxicity seen with Alzheimer’s. Garlic thins the blood and prevents blood clots (use with caution if you are on a blood thinner).

6) Rosemary – Rosemary is a warming herb and has been associated with memory enhancement since ancient times. It was also referred to as the “herb of remembrance” and used symbolically in weddings, war commemorations, and funerals. An interesting study found that sniffing rosemary can increase memory by up to 75% in humans. Researchers had 66 adults enter one of two rooms, one room with no scent and another room infused with rosemary scent for 5 minutes beforehand. Participants in the rosemary scented room did better on prospective memory tasks than those who were in the room without a scent. How can that even happen from smelling something you ask? Researchers explain that the compound found in rosemary, 1,8-cineole, enters the bloodstream in mammals after inhalation or ingestion. Blood analysis of the participants’ blood found a significantly greater amount of 1,8-cineole in the plasma of those in the rosemary scented room.

7) Gingko Biloba – One of the oldest tree species on earth, gingko biloba has continued to survive even after major extinction events and possess unique qualities such as growing over 130ft and living for over 1000 years. The medicinal properties come from the extract of the leaves on the trees. Studies have shown gingko to improve cognitive function (i.e., thinking, memory, and social behavior) in dementia patients. A placebo controlled, double blind, randomized study concluded that gingko extract was safe to use and could stabilize and improve cognitive performance and social function in mildly to severely demented Alzheimer outpatients for 6 months to a year. Another double blind placebo controlled study found that healthy adults taking a combination supplement of gingko biloba and ginseng had enhanced memory function.

I hope you will be able to use some of these herbs and spices in your daily routine to improve brain health!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

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

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Supplements, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Six External Pathogenic Factors and Spring Wind

April 21, 2015
Spring Wind

I hope everyone is enjoying their Spring so far! I want to introduce another concept in Chinese medicine that we are all affected by. The six external pathogenic factors refer to environmental or climatic factors that may cause internal disease in our bodies. We are especially susceptible to these climatic changes if they are stronger than usual or if our body’s qi or immune system, is weak compared to the climatic change.

What are the six external pathogenic factors?

The six external causes of disease are:

  • Wind
  • Cold
  • Heat
  • Dampness
  • Dryness
  • Fire

Usually, weather should not have a pathological effect on the body, as our bodies are designed to withstand these changes in weather and protect against them. The exterior of the body, which includes the skin, muscles, nose, and mouth, function to defend the body from these pathogenic factors. The weather causes disease only when our bodies and Defensive Qi are relatively weak compared to the climatic factor. I say “relatively” weak since you don’t have to be extremely weak for the pathogenic factor to invade your body. These exterior factors can invade a relatively strong and healthy person if it is stronger than that person’s body energy at that point in time. Make sense?

A person’s basic constitutional make-up, which is different in everyone, will also determine which exterior pathogenic factor will affect them the most. Someone who is born with a hotter constitution (heat intolerant) will tend to be more affected by heat and dryness, while someone who is more cold intolerant will be more affected by wind and cold.

Each pathogenic factor is also associated with a season during which it is more prevalent. However, pathogenic factors can occur during any season.

  • Wind – Spring
  • Heat – Summer
  • Dryness – Autumn
  • Cold – Winter
  • Dampness – Late Summer
  • Fire – Summer

While these pathogenic factors invade the exterior first, the internal organs may also be affected if there is already weakness and disharmony in that organ system. Once it invades the body, they can easily change their nature. Wind-Cold can easily turn into Heat. Dampness can also generate Heat. Extreme Heat can turn into Wind.

The climatic factors will trigger certain clinical symptoms indicative of that climate. That is, the symptoms your body experiences mimics the pattern and behavior of the pathogenic factor. So not only is the pathogenic factor a “cause” of the disease, but the behavior of it becomes clinically relevant as “patterns of disharmony” in the body that need to be treated. I will give examples to make this easier to understand.

Spring External Wind

Since we are in the heart of spring, I will focus on Wind and its clinical manifestations of the body. Wind is yang in nature and tends to injure the blood and yin of our bodies. Wind can carry other pathogenic factors into the body (i.e., cold can enter the body as Wind-Cold and heat can enter the body as Wind-Heat). Like wind, the symptoms happen quickly and can change rapidly.

The behavior of wind include:

  • rapid onset
  • causes rapid changes in signs and symptoms
  • causes signs and symptoms to move from one area to another area of the body
  • can cause tremors, convulsions, as well as stiffness and paralysis (extreme cases: Parkinson’s and stroke)
  • affects the top part of the body (especially the head and neck)
  • attacks the lungs first
  • affects the skin
  • can cause itching

Wind-Cold Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold or wind, shivering, sneezing and cough, runny nose with white-watery mucus, no fever or slight fever (seen more with Wind-Heat), severe occipital stiffness and aching, itchy throat, possible sweating (Wind-Cold with a stronger cold component will have no sweating as cold contracts pores, while Wind-Cold with a stronger wind component will have slight sweating, since the pores are open), no thirst. Tongue body color – no change with thin-white coating. Floating-tight pulse.

Wind-Heat Signs and Symptoms – aversion to cold, shivering, sneezing, cough, runny nose with yellow mucus, fever, occipital stiffness and aching, slight sweating, sore throat, swollen tonsils, thirst. Tongue body color – red on the tips or sides, thin-white coating. Floating-rapid pulse.

(Note: Chinese Medicine uses the tongue and pulse to diagnose diseases. Tongue diagnosis is based on the color, shape, coating, and moisture of the tongue while pulse diagnosis is more complex. These subjects will require their own posts!)

Do the signs and symptoms of Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat sound familiar? Yes, it’s the common cold or flu. When these symptoms are not promptly addressed or your body’s constitution and defenses are too weak to fight them, the symptoms can invade deeper into the body and cause more severe respiratory problems such as bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, and pneumonia. From a Western medicine perspective, the common cold is caused by viruses, not bacteria, which is why antibiotics don’t work on a cold.  We have viruses and bacteria in our bodies all the time. It is not until our defenses (“Defensive Qi” or immune system) are compromised that our bodies cannot handle them and we get sick.

Finally, the internal organ that is most affected by Wind in the body is your liver. According to the Five Element Theory, Wind is associated with the season of Spring, the Wood element, and the Liver (more about this later). Exterior Wind can aggravate an already weakened Liver disharmony in the body which can cause stiff neck and headaches. It can also “stir” Blood (since wind moves) stored in the Liver manifesting symptoms of skin rashes that will start suddenly and move all over the body (e.g. urticaria and hives).

Note: I have been talking about “external” wind, from climatic changes. Internal wind, can also cause disease. Some of the clinical manifestations may be similar to external wind, but it is mainly caused by Liver weakness and disharmony (i.e., Liver issues will cause internal wind in your body).

What are practical ways to prevent and treat the common cold?

Wind usually enters the back of the neck under the occiput, while cold enters the bottoms of the feet or the base of the neck. If you are already cold intolerant, it’s important to keep your feet warm on colder days and wear a scarf to protect your neck on windier days. We are most vulnerable to catching colds during season changes, especially winter into spring, or summer into fall. Poor nutrition, lack of sleep, too much alcohol, overwork, and increased stress will also make us more susceptible to getting sick.

When we get sick, supportive care is usually the best way to get through a cold. Increase your fluid intake (water is best) and get plenty of rest and sleep. Adding lemon, ginger, and honey to warm or room temp water can also help wind-cold symptoms, as lemon strengthens your liver, ginger can clear wind and is slightly warming, while honey is soothing to your throat. Try to stay away from cold or iced drinks which can increase phlegm and mucus in your body, aggravating symptoms. It is important to spit out any phlegm (whether you have cold or heat symptoms) since swallowing it back into your system will keep the pathogen in your body longer.

If you are more internally hot, a cold can quickly turn into Wind-Heat in your body. Feeling warm or flushed, fever, sore throat, and yellow mucus are early signs of Wind-Heat in your body. Focus on drinking fluids only (water, dilute juices, and herbal teas such as green or peppermint tea, which can clear heat symptoms – green tea and peppermint have a cooling thermal nature). Eat only if you are truly hungry as fasting for a day can clear heat from your body quickly.

If you are not sweating, it may be helpful to induce sweating to release the pathogen (in both wind-cold and wind-heat). In this case, drink a strong cup of ginger tea followed by a hot bath until your entire body is sweating. Once this happens, stay in for another 5 minutes, dry off completely, cloth yourself completely to avoid exposure to cold, and then take a long nap.

Food, herbs, and supplements for the common cold

For Wind-Cold:

Anti-wind herbs  – ginger, fennel, basil, anise, and valerian – can also use cinnamon, garlic, and onions (which all have detoxifying properties)
Wind-cold reducers: oats, pine nuts, shrimp

For Wind-Heat:

Anti-wind herbs – peppermint and peony root
Wind-heat reducers: celery, mulberry, strawberry

For both Wind-Cold and Wind-Heat:

Wind reducers with a neutral thermal nature – black soybeans, back sesame seed, fresh flax oil, herbs – sage and chamomile
Pears, especially Asian pears, are good for cough and help to moisten the lungs.

Foods to avoid:

Wind aggravators : eggs, crabmeat, and buckwheat

Phlegm producing foods: all dairy products, bananas, sugar, cold drinks, alcohol, rich and heavy foods (phlegm and mucus are perfect breeding grounds for virus and bacteria)

Supplements and Herbs

Vitamin C – A meta-analysis of 29 trials in a total of 11,306 participants found that supplementing with 200mg Vitamin C daily did not reduce the frequency of colds, but did reduce the severity and duration of colds.

Echinacea – Lab and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains substances that enhance our immune systems, relieve pain, reduce inflammation and may have anti-viral and anti-oxidant effects. One study found that of 95 people with early symptoms of cold and flu, those who drank several cups of echinacea tea every day for 5 days felt better sooner than those who drank tea without echinacea. Echinacea has been found to work well with Vitamin C.

Tinctures are the best way to take echinacea since they are better absorbed and easier on the stomach than taking capsules. Drink 1-3ml or (20-90 drops) of a 1:5 tincture, added to warm water or tea, 3-4 times a day.

Goldenseal – This is also used in conjunction with echinacea to treat colds, but because it is cooling, it should only be used with symptoms of wind-heat. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is currently funding studies on possible anti-bacterial mechanisms and cholesterol lowering effects of goldenseal.

Reishi – This medicinal mushroom has long been known for its immune boosting properties. It should be used more for long-term immune building and prevention rather than treatment of acute colds. (More on this soon.)

Your cold should generally resolve in 7-10 days and you shouldn’t need to take supplements and herbs for longer than this. If your symptoms don’t improve, go see your doctor!

What do you do when you catch a cold?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

The Foundations of Chinese Medicine by Giovanni Maciocia
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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

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

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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 Group Recommended # 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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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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