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

Flavors of Spring – Pungent and Sweet

May 29, 2015
Cabbage - Pungent and Sweet

Happy Friday! We talked earlier this week about basic lifestyle, nutritional and cooking tips for the Spring season. Spring is also the best time to cook with pungent and sweet flavored foods. Both these flavors are yang in nature and energizing, qualities that reflect the active nature of spring. Cabbage, in the featured image above, have both a pungent and sweet flavor.

Pungent Flavor

The pungent flavor is a yang flavor, expansive, and dispersive. It tends to have a warming thermal nature and stimulates circulation of energy and blood, by moving this energy upwards and outwards to the periphery of the body. Pungent herbs can stimulate digestion and disperse mucus caused by mucus forming foods like dairy products and meat. It protects against mucus forming conditions like the common cold. The pungent flavor also lightens the effects of grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, which have a tendency to build mucus in the body.

In general, the pungent flavor has these effects on the organs:

1) Enters and clears the lungs of mucus conditions.
2) Improves digestion and rids gas from the intestines.
3) Moistens the kidneys, which affect fluids throughout your body (eg ginger increases saliva and sweat in the body).
4) Stimulates blood circulation and strengthens the heart.
5) Clears obstruction and improves a sluggish liver function.

Pungent flavored foods benefit those who are sluggish, dull, lethargic, or overweight. Those who are overweight from overeating should choose cooling pungents. Those with cold signs will benefit from warming pungents. Warming pungents should be used with caution if you have heat signs. This flavor also helps those who are thin (with dry condition – more on dryness later) or those who tend to be nervous and restless (wind condition – review the properties of wind here). The seed pungents relax the nervous system and improve digestion. These include fennel, dill, caraway, anise, coriander, and cumin. Pungent roots are stimulants but also help stabilize and increase circulation. These include ginger, cooked onion, and horseradish.

Contraindications of pungents: some pungents will actually worsen those who are “dry” or “windy” (above). Sage, raw onion, and all hot peppers (especially cayenne), worsen these conditions. In general, those with deficiency in qi or stagnant qi (seen with liver problems) should avoid these foods.

Examples of different pungents:

Warming pungents : spearmint, rosemary, scallion, garlic and all onion family members, cinnamon bark and branch, cloves, fresh and dried ginger root, black pepper, all hot peppers, cayenne, fennel, anise, dill, mustard greens, horseradish, basil, bay leaf, nd nutmeg.

Cooling pungents: peppermint, marjoram, elder flowers, white pepper, and radish and its leaves.

Diaphoretic pungent herbs that induce sweating for the common cold: ginger, mint, cayenne, elderflower, scallions, garlic, and chamomile.

Neutral pungents: taro, turnip, and kohlrabi

(Note: For those with cold signs or coldness, the best warming pungent herbs to use are dried ginger and cinnamon. They are deeply warming for a relatively long period of time and gentle on the system. This is opposed to cayenne and other hot peppers, which are also warming, but so extreme that they quickly change to a cooling effect. Also, for the full effect of pungent flavored foods, it’s best to eat them raw or pickled as simmering and steaming can diminish the pungent properties. Leafy herbs such as mints should be steeped, and barks and roots like ginger and cinnamon should be simmered.)

Sweet Flavored Foods

Sweet flavored foods like grains, legumes, seeds, and sweet starchy vegetables like young beets and carrots are also best eaten during the spring. The sweet flavor, which is also yang in nature, increases energy, especially in combination with warming foods. Sweet foods also build the yin of the body (building and nourishing fluids in the body), and strengthen weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet foods, in the form of complex carbohydrates, are usually the foundation of most traditional diets. They energize but also relax the body, nerves, and brain. Complex carbs, such as grains, vegetables, and legumes, that are more warming can also treat cold signs and deficiency symptoms.

Sweet flavored foods have these effects on our organs:

1) Enters and strengthens the spleen-pancreas, or digestive system.
2) Appropriate for the liver as it soothes aggressive liver emotions such as anger and impatience. Sweet foods have been traditionally used to calm acute liver attacks.
3) Sweet foods also reverse dry conditions of the lungs through a lubricating action on the lungs and calms an overactive heart and mind.

Examples of Sweet Flavored Foods

Warming sweet foods help to acclimate to springtime. These include: spearmint (also pungent), sweet rice, sweet potato, mochi, rice syrup, molasses, sunflower seeds, pinenuts, walnuts, and cherries.

Neutral sweet foods: cabbage, carrots, shiitake mushrooms, figs, yams, and peas.

Sweet flavored foods benefit those who are dry, cold, nervous, thin, and weak. The sweet flavor will help increase their energy and strength. They are contraindicated in those who are sluggish, overweight, obese, or those who tend to have increased mucus in their systems. Eating sweet flavored foods will exacerbate these conditions. Also, in Chinese medicine, eating too much sweet flavored foods can damage the kidneys and spleen/pancreas (digestive system), weaken our bones and may cause hair loss (from the head). As I have always emphasized, balance and moderation is key!

Have a great weekend and happy eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

 

Contact Dr. Elain
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Ayurvedic Medicine, Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Health for the Body, Herbs, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

Nutritional and Lifestyle Tips for the Spring Season

May 27, 2015
Spring Flowers

I hope everyone is having a great week! The year is flying by and before summer creeps up on us, I wanted to go over some nutritional and lifestyle tips for the Spring season. The Chinese believed that the seasons have a cyclical influence on human growth, development, and well-being. Climatic changes occur with each season and the best way to stay healthy is to live in harmony with these changes.

Spring Basics

Spring represents new beginnings, cleansing, and rejuvenation. This is when seeds sprout into plants, flowers bloom, and the sun shines brightly. It is the time of year to wake up early with the sun and take walks in the morning. It is a time to be active and expend energy. These are all yang activities that reflect the “ascending and active nature of spring.” If you look at plants and vegetation in the spring, their actions mimic this yang action. Plants and flowers grow upwards towards the sun after a time of hibernation during the winter.

The five elements of Chinese medicine are wood, fire, earth, metal, and water (more on this fundamental concept soon). Spring is represented by the Wood element. Wood symbolizes plants, nature, and new growth, all seen during the spring season. The internal organ associated with spring is the liver and gallbladder. If you recall my post from last month on the external pathogenic factors and spring wind, the liver is the organ that is most affected during the spring (read more here), which is why we should pay close attention to the liver and gallbladder during this time.

Usually during spring, we should eat less, and even occasionally fast, to cleanse the body of the fats and heavy foods eaten during winter. Have you noticed that during the holiday season you may eat more heavy and fatty foods, feeling the need to go on that healthy detox diet after the new year? The Spring diet should be the lightest and the foods should represent the yang, ascending, and expansive qualities of spring. These foods include young plants, fresh greens, and sprouts. It is best to avoid salty and heavy or fattier foods which have a more sinking and descending energy. These types of foods stagnate the liver which can lead to indigestion and other liver problems.

Here are some basic concepts to remember about the Spring season:

  • Five elements: Wood
  • Organs: Liver and Gallbladder
  • Sense Organ: Eyes/Sight
  • Tissue: Tendons and sinews (ligaments)
  • Emotion: Anger and impatience
  • Voice Sound: Shouting
  • Fluid Emitted: Tears
  • Paramita (Way to correct imbalance): Patience
  • Enviromental Influence: Wind
  • Development: Birth
  • Color: Green
  • Taste: Sour
  • Direction: East

“Spring” into Spring

1) Eat your Greens – The color green is associated with springtime and the liver. As I mentioned above, this is the time to eat, fresh leafy greens, sprouts, young plants, and raw foods. This will ultimately strengthen your liver and improve it’s overall function, which is to control the overall smooth movement of Qi in our bodies (review the function of Qi here).

2) Stretch, stretch, and stretch! – The liver controls our tendons and ligaments. When we are at rest, the liver stores our blood and releases blood to our tendons during activity, which helps to maintain flexibility and tendon health. When we are stressed, angry, and impatient, this tightens our tendons making us less flexible physically. When we are less flexible physically, we also become less flexible emotionally which leads to more anger and impatience as well as other aggressive emotions (review the emotions associated with the liver here). Take time to stretch a little every morning. In general, it is important to stretch every day, all year round.

3) Protect your Eyes – Our eyes are a reflection of our liver health and vice versa (i.e., if your liver is healthy, your eyes are also healthy). Make sure you wear sunglasses with UV protection when you are outdoors and rest your eyes after long periods of time in front of the computer. Supplement with Omega-3’s which contain DHA crucial for eye health (review Omega-3’s here). Lutein and zeaxanthin supplements may also be helpful for those with more serious eye issues (more on these supplements later).

4) Eat Sour Foods – The flavor associated with the liver is sour (review The Five Flavors here). Sour flavored foods can stimulate and strengthen the liver. An easy way to do this is add slices of lemon into your water, which will also help to stimulate digestion. Squeezing lime onto beef or chicken is a great way to brighten flavors. Using oil and vinegar in your salad dressing is also a simple way to add “sour” to your diet.

5) Increase Outdoor Activities – Outdoor activities are yang in nature and will also help move stagnant liver qi. Hiking, swimming, and biking are all great outdoor activities that will easily stimulate and circulate energy.

Raw Food During Spring

Spring, which is the first season of the year, also represents youth, vitality and raw energy. Because of this, raw and sprouted foods can be eaten more during the springtime, which reflect the young and early stages of food. Raw foods are cleansing and cooling. According to Ayurvedic medicine, raw foods are vatic (vata) or “wind-like” which encourages quickness, rapid movements, and outward activity, much like yang energy.

Raw foods should be consumed more in those with heat signs, those living in warmer climates, and during times of greater physical activity. A little bit of raw food daily is cleansing for the body, and should be consumed more during spring and summertime. However, be careful not to overdo it with raw foods as it can also weaken digestion and may cause excessive detoxification of your system, resulting in fatigue and stomach symptoms like indigestion and diarrhea. Do not eat raw foods if you have bowel inflammation or weakness and deficiency symptoms.

Spring Cooking

Finally, when you’re cooking during the spring, it’s best to cook food for shorter periods of time, but at higher temperatures. This way, your food is not thoroughly cooked, especially the inner part of the food, preserving some of the raw energy of the food. Also if using oil, quick high temperature sauteing or stir frying is the best way to go.

Happy spring eating!

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Eastern Medicine & Natural Healing, Nutrition, Traditional Chinese Medicine

The Mind-Body Connection and Our Emotions

May 13, 2015
The Mind Body Connection and our Emotions

While Western medicine usually sees emotions as a secondary factor or an effect resulting from physical disease, Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions and oftentimes as the primary cause of disease. Emotions are not “good” or “bad”, but reflections of how we interact with life experiences as well as ourselves. It is important for us to express different emotions at appropriate times. For example, when a loved one passes away, one should feel grief and sadness. In fact, it is abnormal not to, and detrimental to our physical health if we ignore or suppress these emotions as they will manifest physically in our bodies. Our emotions also become the cause of disease if they are extreme and especially if they are prolonged over time. The inseparable connection between the mind and body shows that emotions are not only the cause of disease, but that they can also be caused by disease. For example, having prolonged fear and anxiety, the emotions associated with the Kidneys, can cause Kidney weakness. On the same token, weak or deficient Kidneys, which can happen after having too many children in a short period of time, may cause fear and anxiety.

Suppressing appropriate emotions or having prolonged emotions will cause emotional blockages in our meridians and may ultimately lead to physical disease. Each emotion is connected to a different organ system in our bodies. It is important to find out the underlying emotional component and treat the appropriate organ system and its corresponding meridian (I will discuss meridians and acupuncture points in more detail later). These emotions are then processed and released, so that we do not become “stuck” with the emotions, resulting in physical problems. This is the intricate connection between the mind and body. There are seven major emotions in Chinese medicine. Let’s take a look at each of these emotions.

Anger

Anger is the one emotion that will include several other related emotional states. It is probably the emotion that most of us deal with on a day to day basis from stress (road rage anyone?). It can also be expressed as:

  • resentment
  • repressed anger
  • irritability or annoyance
  • frustration, (internalized anger)
  • rage
  • indignation (anger or annoyance provoked by what is perceived as unfair treatment)
  • animosity
  • bitterness
  • impatience
  • violence or belligerence
  • arrogance
  • stubborness
  • aggression
  • impulsive or explosive personality

These emotional states will mainly affect the Liver and if they persist can cause Liver Qi or blood stagnation (review Qi and Blood pathology here and here). Anger can also cause Qi (energy) to rise in our body causing signs and symptoms to show up in our head and neck such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, a red face, red tongue, or thirst. Headaches are one of the most common symptoms caused by anger. Who hasn’t gotten a headache after being really angry?

Repressed anger and resentment, usually towards a family member, can also develop into depression. In this case, someone can appear subdued, depressed, and pale. The way to determine whether the depression is due to anger or sadness is to look at the tongue color. Depression due to anger will manifest a red or dark-red tongue and wiry pulse.

Anger can also affect the Stomach and Spleen (digestive system). The interaction between our Liver and Spleen/Stomach (digestive system) will become clear when we discuss The Five Element Theory. The take home lesson of this is not to get angry while you are eating, which can easily cause digestive problems.

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Liver

– When liver qi stagnates, the best thing to do is eat less (unless you are malnourished). It is also important to eliminate foods that further damage the liver, such as foods high in saturated fats (meat, cream, cheese, and eggs).
– Foods that get rid of liver qi stagnation are moderately pungent foods, herbs, and spices (review the Five Flavors here) : watercress, all members of the onion family (chives, garlic, leeks, scallions), mustard greens, turmeric, basil, bay leaf, cardamom, marjoram, fennel, dill, ginger, horseradish, rosemary, mint, and lemon.

Joy

Joy is only a cause of disease when we experience excessive excitement or continuous mental stimulation (no matter how pleasurable), which will affect the Heart and cause Heart Yin deficiency. For example, a migraine attack can be triggered by sudden excitement from good news. Have you ever been so happy and excited about something that caused a headache or your heart to flutter and skip a beat?

Nutritional Guidelines to Treat and Heal the Heart

In order to enrich the body’s yin, the Heart will usually rely on Kidney Yin for replenishment. Foods that strengthen Kidney Yin will also strengthen Heart Yin. These foods include parsley, wheat berry (sourdough bread), and sweet rice. Herbs that strengthen Kidney Yin include: rose hips, oyster shell (in supplement form), clam shell, schisandra fruit, raspberry and blackberry leaves.

Sadness

Sadness or grief directly weakens Lung Qi but also affects the Heart. Prolonged sadness and grief can lead to symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, depression, or crying. This is most common after the death of a close family member. In cases of severe grief, this can lead to more devastating diseases. A poignant example is when Christopher Reeve’s wife, Dana Reeve was diagnosed with lung cancer at age 44, despite never smoking, less than a year after his death. Sadly, she also passed within 7 months of her diagnosis.

Foods that support Lung Qi

– Foods and herbs that strengthen lung qi include rice, sweet rice, oats, carrot, mustard greens, sweet potatos, yams, potatoes, ginger, garlic, molasses, barley malt, and herring.
– Cooling and mucus forming foods should be restricted (citrus fruits, milk and dairy products, spinach, chard, and seaweed).

Worry and Pensiveness

Anyone out there who thinks or studies too much? If so, your Spleen and Stomach, or digestive system will directly be affected causing symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, and loose stools. This is most commonly seen in those in school, graduate studies requiring excessive mental work, or those with demanding intellectual occupations. Spleen weakness and deficiency will cause accumulation of mucus and phlegm in our bodies and is further aggravated by a person who doesn’t eat on time, eats too fast, or discusses work while eating. Sound familiar?

Chronic worry will not only injure the digestive system, but also the Lungs. The most common causes of worry are financial, employment, and family problems. Weak Lung Qi will lead to anxiety, shortness of breath, and stiffness in the shoulders and neck. Instead of worrying about your problems, do something about it, since worrying will only make you sick and do nothing to resolve the situation.

Foods that strengthen Digestion/Spleen and Stomach Qi (previously discussed here)

– Foods that help Spleen Qi deficiency are sweet and/or pungent.
– This includes complex carbohydrates: rice (in the form of congee), oats, spelt, sweet rice
– Carbohydrate-rich vegetables: winter squash, carrot, rutabaga, parsnip, trurnip, garbanzo beans, black beans, peas, sweet potato, yam, and pumpkin
– Pungent veggies and spices: onion, leek, black pepper, ginger, cinnamon, fennel, garlic, nutmeg
– Severe deficiency will require small amounts of animal products in congee: mackerel, tuna, halibut, anchovy, beef, chicken, turkey, or lamb.

Fear

As I discussed above, fear and anxiety are the emotions associated with the Kidneys. An easy way to remember is when someone is scared, they pee in their pants. Good analogy? Fear drains Kidney Qi and makes it descend. It also drains our Essence (read more about Essence here). Fear in children causes descending Qi and nocturnal enuresis, usually from insecurity. In adults, fear and chronic anxiety will deplete the Kidney’s Yin, or cooling power, and cause heat in the face, night sweats, palpitations, dry mouth and throat.

Foods that Nourish Kidney Yin and Essence/Jing (previously discussed here)

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

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

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

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

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

Shock

Mental shock affects the Heart and Kidney. It will suddenly deplete Heart Qi leading to palpitations and insomnia. It also affects the Kidneys since our bodies must use Essence to replenish the sudden exhaustion of energy. This can cause night sweats, dry mouth, dizziness, and tinnitus.

What you need to know:

  • Chinese Medicine views the emotions as an integral part of our internal organ’s interactions. This is the mind body connection.
  • If emotions are suppressed or prolonged, physical disease may manifest in the associated organ. Weak organs can also cause the emotions to appear.
  • The seven major emotions are anger (liver), joy (heart), sadness (lungs), pensiveness and worry (stomach and spleen), fear (kidneys) and shock (heart and kidneys).

Which emotion do you think you are most affected by?

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

The Yin and Yang of Calcium and Magnesium

April 14, 2015
Kelp and Fish - Calcium and Magnesium

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

What are their respective roles?

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

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

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

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

Magnesium is the yin to calcium’s yang

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

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

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

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

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

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

What should our calcium magnesium ratios ideally be?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what you need to know:

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

Do you think you are magnesium deficient?

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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

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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10 Fruits and Vegetables That Can Help Prevent and Treat Diabetes

March 30, 2015
Rainbow Carrots

In Loving Memory of Cher Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caution: Too much asparagus can also irritate the kidneys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Start eating more of these fruits and veggies!

In health and wellness,
Dr Elain

References:

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

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Intro to Yin Yang Theory

March 23, 2015
Yin and Yang Crystals

A fundamental principle of Chinese Medicine is Yin and Yang Theory. In Chinese, yin (陰) literally means shade, while yang (陽) means the sun. Yin and Yang, in an essence, are pairs of opposites. Here are some examples*:

Yang                                    Yin

Active                                  Passive

Function                              Substance

Outside                                Inside

Mind                                    Body

Masculine                            Feminine

Light                                     Dark

Heat                                      Cold

Excess                                   Deficiency

Exterior                                 Interior

Expansion                             Contraction

 

Yin and Yang, Black and White

If we apply this to our foods and their thermal nature, yin foods will cool us down while yang foods will tend to warm us. Yang is energizing while yin is nourishing by building blood and fluids in our bodies. Yang contains ascending energy while yin contains descending energy.

 

 

 

Yin and Yang Theory can also be used to describe human personality and physiology*:

Yang                                              Yin

Warmer body and personality        Cooler body and personality

Dry skin/less body fluid                  Moist skin/more body fluid

Outgoing                                          Introverted

Active                                               Passive

Positive                                            Negative

Focused mind                                  Serene

Hyperactive mentality                     Unclear, dreamy

Aggressive                                        Timid

Angry, impatient                              Fearful, insecure

Loud voice                                       Soft voice

Urgent                                              Tardy

Logical                                              Intuitive

Quick                                                Slow

Motivated                                          Complacent

Red Complexion                               Pale complexion

In general, for someone who possesses a more characteristically yang constitution, both physically and mentally, it is best to avoid or limit foods that tend to warm and heat the body, such as spicy foods, garlic, and cayenne pepper. On the flip side, one with a more yin constitution should eat more warming foods and limit cooling foods such as raw lettuce, cucumber, and celery. The main goal is to maintain a constant balance between yin and yang in order to achieve physical and emotional health.  So balance and moderation is key as eating too much of anything, can put you from one extreme to the other.

What you need to know:

  • Yin and Yang Theory is used to describe pairs of opposites.
  • This principle can be extrapolated to describe food, physical attributes, as well as personality traits.
  • Balancing your body’s yin and yang is key to establishing and maintaining health.

Do you think you are more yin or yang?

In health and wellness,
Dr. Elain

References*
Healing with Whole Foods by Paul Pitchford

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Food, Neutral Foods

Common Neutral Foods

March 21, 2015
Red Beets
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Food, Warming and Hot Foods

Common Warming and Hot Foods

March 21, 2015
Yellow Onions
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Food, Veggies

Vegetables

March 21, 2015
Frisee Lettuce

Scroll through the various vegetables by alphabetical order.

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