Detox, cleanse, renewal season

It seems as thought everyone is jumping on some sort of detox right now, after the delicious holiday binges. I get a lot of questions and comments about different ‘cleanse’ diets available. There are some common reactions, hopefully this will help you on your journey.

I am evening getting on the band wagon, but just doing a very simple detox: removing sugars (alcohol, refined carbohydrates, refined sugars, refined flours) and getting back to real food (fresh vegetables, local meats, wild caught fish, nuts, legumes, seeds). Delicious. Basically cutting out most processed foods.

Many people do these sorts of cleanses to lose weight. My first warning, or expectation management: it is entirely possible to drop significant weight the first week of a detox (6-10lbs). Why? Because many programs involve removing foods that cause inflammation. Ridding the body of inflammation, rids the body of a lot of extra weight. One night off the diet can make for a depressing trip to the scale the next day. But do not fear, just note the loss and focus on your other goals (better health, glowing skin, less pain, vitality, etc.). It should all level out over the course of the detox and show a more steady loss (or maintain, depending on the diet).

Moodiness is also very common as the body fights to get rid of built up toxins.

Also know that not every detox works well for every person. We are all biochemically unique and have different needs to thrive. Be kind to yourself, know when to rest, and be grateful.

Good luck! Let me know how it goes.

Bandaids are only that, bandaids

I was recently on a long flight, and started chatting with a nice fellow next to me. He was on his way to a snowboarding vacation in the Colorado mountains with his buddies. He was curious about my nutrition therapist learnings and asked how to ‘fix’ his inability to sleep and was very disappointed in my answer.

Sleep can be a tricky beast to ‘fix’, there are many potential causes, but most can be put into two primary categories: blood sugar imbalances and stress. Sleep hygiene techniques can help with excess stress and help calm the mind for rest. Adjusting the diet can help with the blood sugar issues. (I’ll save details on those nuggets for another post.) After a short conversation (he didn’t know a potato was a vegetable) and observing what he selected from the beverage cart, I had a pretty good idea what was interrupting his sleep. I made a couple recommendations (emphasizing that it was based on what little information he gave me).

He did not like my recommendations, he even said I was a bad nutritionist for telling him what changes to make to his diet. He really did not want to change anything. I chuckled. I gave him a little analogy. If his leg was broken and he went to a doctor, and the doctor told him he couldn’t snowboard for number of weeks and he had to wear a cast, it would be as if he then had a tantrum and asked why he couldn’t just have a bandaid or a pill to fix the broken bone.

Food has a profound affect on our bodies, for better or worse. If we feed our cells soda packed with high fructose corn syrup (or artificial sweeteners), refined sugars, refined carbohydrates, and other nutrient void ‘foods’, our bodies are going to eventually (or sooner) break down in some way. The way in which our bodies break down will likely be different for everyone (frequent illness, diabetes, skin issues, migraines, cancer, etc.), as we are all biochemically unique. Eating well — a diet packed with a variety of fresh vegetables, legumes, ancient grains (quinoa, millet, teff), wild caught fish, pasture raised meats, free of toxins — in general, our bodies will respond with better health, energy, and vitality.

Changes do not have to all happen over night. Changes can happen in small doses, baby steps. Small steps can often be the best for many, as they tend to stick and become life-long habits toward better health. For today, what will be your next steps toward better health?
Add more vegetables to your daily meals?
Drink more water?
Eat less candy?
Swap out a piece of cake for some fresh fruit?
Quit drinking alcohol (or limit it to once a week)?
Start exercising?
Learn a new way to relieve stress (deep breaths? yoga? meditate? pets?)?

I’d love to hear what beneficial changes you are making today!
Be well, eat greens, and breathe!

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A light in the dark place.

Depression is so taboo in our present culture that it’s almost regarded as an infection disease. Don’t get too close, you might catch it too! In general no one wants to hear about it or discuss it. Unfortunately many believe it is something that someone can ‘just snap out’ of, or exercise and it’ll be gone, or that it is a lack of positive thinking. However, the real story behind depression is very often a deficiency in some key nutrients. Mood, behavior, and mental performance all depend on the balance of neurotransmitters, the brain’s chemical messengers.

Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States to address this chemical imbalance. They have a significant effect on the body, especially in the gut and the brain. Unfortunately antidepressants come with many side effects and dangerous warnings. How can we avoid these or enhance their action in the body and decrease side effects?

What is depression?

There are a variety of types of depression. However, I will focus on the most common types of depression: major depression, also known as clinical depression, and chronic depression, also known as dysthymia. These types are the result of a chemical imbalance in the body, and last longer than a few days.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or empty feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • Overeating, or appetite loss
  • Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems

Causes of depression

Depression is generally diagnosed as a disorder of the brain, where important neurotransmitters—chemicals that brain cells use to communicate—are out of balance. Neurotransmitters travel around the brain and nervous system and help determine how a person feels. There are hundreds of different kinds of neurotransmitters, the key neurotransmitters, however, in the brain-mood connection are GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), works to calm and relax; Epinephrine (aka adrenaline), which is made by the adrenal glands and is the motivator, mostly to stimulate a response to stress; Dopamine and norepinephrine are the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters, which aid in feeling energized and ‘in control’; endorphins promote a feeling or sense of euphoria (also involved in the ‘runner’s high’); Acetylcholine addresses memory and concentration; Serotonin works both to make happy and calming feelings, improving mood and sleep; and Melatonin helps with circadian rhythms, helping with sleep.

Seeing the action of each of these neurotransmitters in the brain can show how any one being out of balance can create feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, lack of motivation, concentration, and/or interest. Depression can set in with there’s a state of good neurotransmitter starvation. Loss of neurotransmitter production can occur in a number of ways, primarily by not getting the correct nutrients to feed production of these neurotransmitters. Other factors and risks involved are eating a poor diet (high in sugar, caffeine, processed foods, low protein, low fat), chronic stress (saps nutrients), not getting enough exercise, genetics (base-line brain chemistry can be inherited), not enough light in the evenings or winter, gender (women are twice as likely to get depression than men), age (elderly are more likely), triggers such as traumatic events, health conditions (cancer, heart disease, thyroid, chronic pain, diabetes), drugs (medications, alcohol, birth control pills, etc.).

Brain-Gut Connection

There is yet another source of depression, and that source is in the gut. Often the gut is forgotten in mood disorders. Alcohol is an example of a direct brain-gut connection, in which the gut aspect is often forgotten or dismissed. Alcohol is widely understood to have effects on the brain and nervous system, and its connection is very simple: it is ingested into – dramatic pause – the gut. If the gut is unwell, it will affect the rest of the body. Leaky gut, for example, is a common gut dysfunction that can affect the brain and, for example, show up as depression.

What is leaky gut? Leaky gut syndrome is a problem with intestinal permeability. Food particles, toxins, and bacteria are able to get past the intestinal wall cells, causing an increased immune response. This enhanced immune response is may lead to chronic inflammation ultimately increasing the risk for a number of illnesses—including depression. In addition, some of the toxins produced by bacteria and yeast are very toxic, especially to the nervous system (lipopolysaccharide). Antidepressants have the potential to further exacerbate the gut dysfunction.

Conventional treatments

Conventional treatments for depression generally include antidepressant medications, psychotherapy, electric shock treatments, and cognitive behavior therapy. The most popular kind of antidepressant, the serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), acts by increasing the action of serotonin in the brain.

Side effects. There are a myriad of warnings that come with these medications and many unknowns about taking long term. Because the majority of the serotonin in our bodies is produced in the gut (approximately 80%), any medication affecting the action of serotonin is going to have an effect on the gut. Common side effects of SSRIs include diarrhea, sinus infections, upset stomach, vomiting, flattening of emotion, loss of libido and inability to perform sexually and/or attain orgasm, suppressed rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (the rejuvenating sleep, needed for a well-functioning endocrine and nervous systems), headache, nausea, stomach upset, loss of appetite, agitation, insomnia. In rare cases SSRIs they have shown to cause suicidal and violent thinking and behavior.

Antidepressants affect the brain and the digestive system; again, because of the gut-brain connection. Deliberately altering serotonin levels can cause a wide range of unwanted effects, especially in the gut with many digestive side effects (diarrhea, constipation, stomach ache, dry mouth, nausea). There haven’t been enough studies to show long term use side effects, but some have reported growing evidence of long-term use in adults being linked to bleeding in the gut and increased risk of stroke.

Alternative protocols

Alternative protocols for depression generally include supplements, addressing gut dysfunction, whole-foods diet, and lifestyle changes.

  1. A healthy intestinal environment: address gut dysfunction.
  2. Avoid nutrient robbing foods and substances.
  3. Eat the right nutrients for good brain chemistry.
  4. Identify and reduce causes of stress in the body.

Nutrition

Nutrition can have a significant impact on the neurotransmitters. Protein, especially, is needed for proper neurotransmitter function. The protein consumed is broken down into amino acids, specifically for brain function, are: tryptophan, tyrosine, GABA, glutamine, taurine. These amino acids are turned into the important neurotransmitters, with some help from cofactors vitamins B3, B6, folate, B12, and C, and minerals zinc and magnesium. Essential fatty acids and glucose are also key components to make this all happen.

Tryptophan has an uphill battle to fight to get to the brain to make these feel good neurotransmitters. First, there needs to be enough in the diet. Second, it has to get through the amino acid-selective gateway of the blood brain barrier (BBB). Third, it is a relatively small amino acid, so it has a harder time than other amino acids getting through the BBB, and needs help. There are many supplements that can help, such as 5-HTP, which is derived from tryptophan, which is converted (with vitamin B6) into serotonin.

Glucose is fuel for the brain. Complex carbohydrates are the best option for assisting tryptophan through the blood brain barrier. Complex carbohydrates are also a brilliant nutrient-dense package of important phytonutrients and fiber—helping to stabilize blood sugars in addition to providing needed nutrients. Refined sugars, grains, processed foods offer quick sugars, which the brain will quickly gobble up. However, the sugar highs from these quickly dissipate (sugar lows) and the brain wants more, which can quickly lead to blood sugar imbalance and mood swings. A deficiency of amino acids, especially, can elevate sugar cravings.

Lifestyle & the gut: We live in a very fast paced world and are constantly subjecting our bodies to an excess amount of stress (which stimulates our fight or flight nervous system—and cortisol—not allowing our digestive nervous systems to work) that it’s not equipped to handle. Cortisol and serotonin have an inverse relationship. The higher the stress and cortisol output, the lower the serotonin levels will be. Anything from a mountain lion attacking, to emotional stress to eating too many carbs/sugar causing blood sugar imbalances to going to bed late can cause this stress reaction. Stress is cumulative, as is its effect on the body. Find ways to reduce stress and breathe (breathing helps release stress and lowers blood pH, literally riding our body of acid): meditation, yoga, quiet walks, massage, exercise. Yoga specifically, has a three-fold approach toward mind-body balance: it involves meditation with physical postures, breathing techniques, and relaxation. Exercise is also an important element in healing depression. Different types of exercise (walking, running, dancing; cardiovascular and strength training) can lower stress, help relax, help reduce symptoms of depression, and increase serotonin naturally in the brain.

Nutrients to help depression

Nutritional therapy can work better than most anti-depressants for a number of reasons. However, antidepressants should never be quit cold-turkey, there can be serious side effects to abruptly ceasing these meds. Working with a physician to decrease the dosage and adding in nutritional therapy can be the most effective means to get off the medications and restore balance.

Supplementing is two-fold, one part making sure there’s a good foundation and the other part is addressing deficiencies that generally accompanying mood conditions. Because there are a lot of supplements to take, a daily chart to keep track of supplements and when to take them is advised.

Supportive foods/nutrients:

  • Tryptophan rich foods: 20-30g of protein per meal from sources such as turkey, beef, pork, dairy products, chicken, salmon, halibut, cod, and eggs. Vegetarian sources: nutritional yeast, pumpkin seeds, nuts, and seeds
  • Complex carbohydrates: potatoes, yams, beans, quinoa, lentils, broccoli, squashes, root vegetables.
  • Probiotics will help restore a healthy gut, and concurrently stronger immune system: kefir, kombucha, fermented vegetables.

Diet suggestions:

  • Eat regularly, don’t skip meals, this will help keep blood sugar levels balanced and provide a reliable and even amount of nutrients to feed the brain.
  • Breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. It sets up the body’s metabolism for the day and gives the brain a jump start on producing healthy neurotransmitters.
  • Eat a carbohydrate vegetable with proteins at every meal to help the tryptophan through the blood brain barrier.

Avoid the following as they will deplete nutrients needed for the brain and a healthy gut.

  • Refined sugar, syrups, powders. Sugar will perpetuate low serotonin levels and systemic inflammation.
  • Bad fats, aka highly processed fats: hydrogenated, synthetic, or highly altered fats (trans fats), vegetable oils, margarine, corn oil, soy bean oil. These fats harm the body and brain, by creating carcinogens that oxidize LDL cholesterol, damaging cells.
  • Processed foods (nutrient void) and food additives: artificial flavorings, dyes, artificial sweeteners, MSG, caffeine, diet sodas, chocolate. These can contribute to irritability and mood instability. They also deplete melatonin, B vitamins, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, and zinc.

Depression is a difficult topic to discuss for many, taboo even, making solutions even harder to find. It is very easy to walk into a doctor’s office and get prescription for antidepressants. Nutritional protocols can offer alternatives to antidepressants and a much healthier way to bring the brain back to balance from depression. It is a tough road, but there is hope of getting off or avoiding antidepressants for good. Healing the gut, addressing stressors, nutrient deficiencies, and increasing good brain-chemical nutrients are keys to bring about balance. Time, patience, and persistence can be invaluable tools in concert with this nutritional protocol to bring about balance.

Brain pain

There are many types of headaches, and even more potential causes to headaches. Food intolerances, however, are the most common, and yet, the least-considered source of many headaches, especially chronic migraines. Other common causes (which I’ll save for another post) are aspartame, candida, and other types of bacterial overgrowth. The health of the gut is a direct indicator of the health of the brain. The two are inseparable for good health.

My headache story. My headaches grew over time. They seemed to get the most intense when I was in my late 20s and 30s. I was afflicted with daily headaches (they would last anywhere from 2 to 6 days), sinus headaches (which I thought all of them were initially, turned out many of my ‘sinus’ headaches were migraines), exercise-induced headaches, low-estrogen headaches, and eventually chronic migraines. I would get about one migraine a week (or more). I had a daily prescription medication for the daily headaches, another for when I ran, and another for the migraines, in addition to taking over the counter medicines (NSAIDs, pseudoephedrine). Needless to say, my liver wasn’t doing too well (it has to process all these medications). I was also put on birth control for the low estrogen levels, with the idea that would help keep enough estrogen in my system to keep my bones strong. I tried every treatment I could think of and that was suggested: acupuncture, massage therapy, chiropractic care, hydrotherapy, a neurologist (cat scans), a general practitioner physician, and an ObGyn.

The Nature of Headaches. Headaches have a tremendous variety of causes and types of pain. Their pain can range from mild, steady, dull, to a vise-like aching in the head. They can be the result of a severe medical condition such as a brain tumor or simply from dehydrated. Tension headaches and migraines tend to be the most common for which people seek medical treatment. Migraines are the most painful. Headaches caused by brain tumors are very rare. According to the Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, the primary classifications and subclasses of headaches are the following:

  • Vascular headaches include migraine, cluster, hangover, exertional, hypertension, and toxins/drug-related headaches.
  • Nonvascular headache include tension, TMJ, brain tumors, sinus/dental/inner ear infections.

migraineTension headaches are the most common type of headache. They are generally a steady, constant, dull pain that starts at the back of the head or in the forehead and spreads over the entire head­­ –­ like a vice grip on the skull. These types of headaches are usually caused by the tightening of face, neck, or scalp muscles (can be the result of poor posture and/or stress). The tightening of the muscles results in a pinching of the nerve or its blood supply, which results in the sensation of pain and pressure. Relaxation usually brings immediate relief.

Migraine headaches are vascular headaches, throbbing or pounding sharp pain, often associated with symptoms of nausea, sensitivity to light and noise. This type of headache is not as common as a tension headache, but they appear to be on the rise. Vascular headaches are caused by an excessive dilation of blood vessels in the head. The pain comes from lining of the brain (meninges) and from the scalp. Some can come on without any warning, other times some have a warning ‘sign’ or symptom, an ‘aura’ before the pain starts. An aura is an optical condition that can last from a few minutes up to 20 minutes. It is usually a visual experience of blurring, fragmented light/vision, or bright spots. Auras are also sometimes accompanied with anxiety, fatigue, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body. There is a theory that some famous artists suffered from optical auras (and the following migraines) and that the visual effects influenced their art, such as Picasso’s abstract paintings.

What Causes of Headaches. Tension and migraine headaches can have many causes, as I’ve learned. However, more often than naught, they are linked back to a few underlying issues such as food allergies or food intolerances, poor serotonin levels, or stress. Other common causes are from sugar, caffeine, withdrawal of addictive substances, low estrogen, PMS, dehydration, and/or chronic use of pain relievers. TMJ (temporomandibular joint) dysfunction syndrome, time zone changes, chemical inhalants (perfume, etc.), altitude, bone structure misalignment, nutritional deficiencies, or even fatigue. Many of these causes can be triggered by food allergies/intolerances. According to common research theories, the metabolic pathways leading to migraine headaches are triggered by serotonin, platelet disorder, stress, vascular instability, and/or nerve disorder.

Serotonin. Research suggests that migraines are partially caused by a drop in serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter in the brain). Serotonin is a chemical that serves many functions in the body: sleep regulations, feelings of wellness, and blood vessel health. Serotonin also plays a role in the state of relaxation or constriction of blood vessels. Too little serotonin can trigger constriction of the blood vessels, causing pain, which can play a role in the onset of a migraine. A deficiency may result in chronic pains, sleep disturbances, anxiety, depression and a overeating. Low serotonin levels are found in migraine sufferers with increased frequency including depression, irritable bowel syndrome, as well as, other chronic pain syndromes.

Platelet disorder. Migraine sufferers, in research studies, show spontaneous clumping of platelets during and between headaches and significant differences in the structural composition of the platelets.

Stress. Emotional stress is one of the most frequently cited triggers of migraines and also could explain, in part, why art has a therapeutic effect on migraine headaches; creating art increases serotonin levels, which reduces stress.

Vascular instability. Studies have shown reduction of blood flow prior to the migraine attack. This is followed by a stage of increased blood flow that can persist for more than 2 days. The abnormal blood flow appears confined to the outer portion of the brain.

Nerve disorder. The nerve disorder hypothesis is that the nervous system plays a role in initiating the vascular events. The nerve cell dysfunction releases into the blood vessels a compound known as “substance P” (P = pain). In addition to substance P being released, is the release of histamine and other allergic compounds by specialized white blood cells known as mast cells. Chronic stress is thought to be an important factor with nerve disorder.

The most common migraine triggers that stimulate the above action are as follows:

  • Low serotonin levels (genetics or shunting of tryptophan into other pathways)
  • Foods: food allergies, histamine releasing or containing foods ß primary cause of most migraines
  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Chemicals: nitrates, MSG, nitroglycerin
  • Caffeine or drug withdrawal (blood-vessel constricting drugs)
  • Stress
  • Emotional changes (especially post-stress let down, and intense emotions: anger)
  • Hormonal changes: menstruation, ovulation, birth control pills, very low estrogen
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Exhaustion
  • Poor posture
  • Muscle tension
  • Weather changes (barometric pressure changes, exposure to sun)
  • Eye strain
  • Drug-induced headaches
  • Substance withdrawal

Food allergies. Food allergies induce migraines as a result of platelets releasing serotonin and histamine. There are two primary types of food irritants, IgE (immunoglobulin E), which is an immediate severe reaction, rare, such as anaphylaxis reaction, and food intolerances or sensitivities, IgG (immunoglobulin G), delayed reaction, common, which causes systemic inflammation in the body. The immune system and inflammation reaction both play a role in a vast number of migraine cases. Identifying and eliminating allergic or intolerated foods has shown, in many double blind studies, to greatly reduce migraine symptoms in the majority of patients.

Dietary amines are another cause of migraines; amines such as chocolate, cheese, beer, and wine. These examples contain histamine and /or other compounds that are common migraine triggers in sensitive individuals, causing the blood vessels to expand. Red wine, for example, contains histamine that stimulates the release of vasoactive compounds by platelets (20-200x more than white wine). It is also higher in flavonoids (which are a good antioxidant) that can inhibit the enzyme phenolsulphotransferase, an enzyme that normally breaks down serotonin and other vasoactive amines in platelets.

Conventional Medical Treatments. Standard medical treatment for most headaches is over the counter (OTC) medication, generally non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Tylenol, or ibuprophen. There are also a variety of prescription pain medications prescribed for severe and chronic migraine headaches that do not respond to OTC. These drug treatments, however, only address the symptoms of a migraine or headache, not the underlying cause.

Alternative Protocols. Alternative protocols for most headaches are generally more physically based: relaxation techniques, stress management, massage, chiropractic care, acupuncture, and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS–low levels of electricity stimulate the muscles to cause them to contract and then relax)—such forms of body work have shown to be very effective. Headache relief from these protocols indicate that the headache is structural in nature; so addressing the physical body can often offer relief to chronic suffers of tension headaches. Other therapies that have been affective are art therapy and guided meditation or imagery.

Chronic migraines, however, that do not respond to structural therapies, require a more in-depth look at the body and what could be triggering the migraines. Keeping a journal and identifying triggers is a first step, next is to identify food allergies, and finally look for trends and/or the metabolic action of any medications taken that could be a contributing factor.

Nutritional Protocols for Prevention and Treatment

Elimination Diet. Given that there are so many potential food irritants that can contribute to systemic inflammation and consequently headaches, one of the most effective first steps is to identify and eliminate those irritants. The Elimination Diet (or Challenge Diet) is an effective means to doing that; no blood test or doctors needed. An initial phase removes common food irritants and then slowly adds them back in, noting any negative reaction. The most common irritant foods are gluten, dairy, eggs, corn, yeast, and soy. Removing (at least) these food categories, along with eating a diet high in plant fiber, calms inflammation and gives the body a break.

An anti-inflammatory diet can also significantly help reduce body-wide inflammation and eliminate inflammation-related headaches. An anti-inflammation diet is two-fold, one part riding the body of irritants, removing processed foods, pollutants/toxins, and increasing foods that will reduce inflammation. Following are the anti-inflammation diet’s guidelines.

  • Avoid foods that cause inflammation:  trans fats (hydrogenated), carcinogens; most vegetable oils, fried foods, breads and other refined carbohydrates, packaged foods/microwave meals (processed foods), fast food, fruit juice beverages, sodas, and remove (or at least limit) nightshades (tomatoes, eggplant, peppers).
  • Eliminate sugar: refined sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined grains, sodas (diet and regular).
  • Embrace foods that reduce inflammation: omega 3s, antioxidants; olive oil, wild-caught cold water fish, fresh vegetables, low-glycemic fruits (berries), pasture-raised meats, game meat, mineral water.
  • Eliminate toxins by choosing organic produce, pasture-raised meats, dairy, eggs, and wild-caught cold water fish. This is one of the best first steps to reducing inflammation.
  • Wide variety of vegetables: this will increase nutrients via the countless phytonutrients vegetables provide.
  • Choose herbs and spices over table salt.
  • Use coconut oil and grapeseed oil for cooking, olive oil for salads, raw foods. These oils have a higher heat tolerance and will not go rancid.

Specific Nutrients for Headaches. The following supplements can help headache sufferers, especially if there are deficiencies, but if the underlying condition is a food allergy, the supplements cannot replace following an elimination and then anti-inflammatory diet.

  • Magnesium
  • 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
  • Vitamin B6
  • Essential Fatty Acids, always and forever: every cell in the body needs good essential fatty acids, especially the brain.
  • Riboflavin can increase cellular energy production, which could potentially have preventative effects against migraines.
  • L-tryptophan to increase serotonin, L-tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier, which is necessary for serotonin to be made in the brain and spinal cord.
  • Willow bark extracts
  • Feverfew, can help to decrease the frequency and intensity of headaches & migraines.
  • Ginger. Anti-inflammatory and has significant effects against platelet aggregation.

It is possible. But not always an easy journey.

Currently, I only occasionally get migraines, at most (knock on wood) 2-3 times a year. The rest are mostly gone. I do still have a sensitivity to heat that causes some headaches, which I am working on and hope to have figured out soon. I’ve been through this headache journey, and I know there are answers to the signals the body gives us of dysfunction.

Eliminating these headaches took a lot of work and investigation on my part. There was no one answer. I had to work at it and keep track of my daily foods, stress, and pain levels. I learned I had to eliminate many foods that were irritating my systems and made significant changes to my lifestyle (stress management) that brought about headache-free days. I am a living example that committing to addressing intolerances, removing toxins, reducing stress, and learning what triggers headaches can greater improve the quality of life of headache sufferers.

On top of the world and FREE of brain pain.

On top of the world and FREE of brain pain.

 

 

 

 

 

Sources.

To juice, to smoothie, or just fork it!?

Many have asked me about juicing, if it’s a healthier way to consume veggies and fruits, or why some are so crazy about it. Ditto for smoothies, why not just eat a salad? Well, there are reasons, but if a salad is what you want, my all means, please, eat a salad!

Juicing. There are some significant benefits to juicing produce. In many cases, micro nutrients are destroyed when they are cooked: a bunch of points scored for raw produce! We get TONS of enzymes from eating fresh raw produce. Enzymes? what be those? you ask. The quick answer: enzymes are required for every single metabolic (i.e., chemical) reaction in the body. Want more energy? get more raw veggies in your diet. Simple, easy, done. That said, the greater quantity of these produce gems we can get, the greater support we are giving our bodies. Juicing reduces the produce to an extremely easy-to-absorb form. It’s a glass full of fresh, real, nutrients with a direct, free pass to the cells of our body. Juicing is also a great way to add a wider variety of vegetables to your diet. Most juicers come with recipe books. Or grab what looks good to you and have fun with the different combinations. 

My morning juice. Grapefruit, lemon, beets, celery, and carrots.

My morning juice. Grapefruit, lemon, beets, celery, and carrots.

Juices, however, should generally not be considered a whole meal, since there is no protein or fat in juices. (Cleanses/detoxing, however, is another topic.) The downside to juicing, we lose the fiber. However, a savvy juicer will use it to make crackers with tasty seasonings, and ground nuts and seeds. Use it all and waste nothing.

Smoothies are a quick and easy meal. They are also a great way to get a massive amount of nutrients (although, not as much as juicing will render) plus all the fiber! Not much downside to this option. It does beat out salads for nutrient density, however. A salad will have maybe 2-3 cups of vegetables, and a smoothie can have up to 4-6 servings (and less prep work). If I’m having a smoothie as a meal, I make sure to add in a fat, such as an avocado, fresh ground flax seeds, coconut milk, chia seeds, almond butter, for example, to balance the macro nutrients. This also aids in metabolizing the fat soluble vitamins. Gulp it down, good.

Salads: always a brilliant choice. Anyway we can get fresh produce into our systems is a good way. The chewing process is good for stimulating digestive juices. Chewing the veggies also benefits the health or our teeth (and whiteness).

A few guidelines: always wash the produce before juice/blend/chomping it. Use organic vegetables when possible. Conventional produce is often genetically modified (body knows real food best) and always coated in various ‘cides (insecticide, pesticide, herbicide, etc.). At least choose organic for the Dirty Dozen, since juicing and blending will render any chemicals immediate access into your blood stream and instantly create a toxic load on the body.

  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Celery
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Cherries
  • Pears
  • Grapes
  • Spinach
  • Lettuce
  • Potatoes

Do you have a favorite smoothie, salad, or juice combination you love? Do you do something different every time? Do you use spices to mix it up?

Coming soon, a guest will review, from the trenches, juicers for us. There are so many kinds, shapes, models, how to choose what’s best for you!

Spring up!

The tulips and hyacinths are pushing through dirt on my little chunk of land. I’ve gone to 5 yoga classes in 6 days and am feeling sore, but also a little bit stronger. Yoga and spring, right after a detox is all such great timing for me. Although, any time we make positive changes in our lives is great timing. Now that I’m feeling a little strength come back, I feel more motivated to do even more. Get outside in fresh air, reconnect with friends and family I haven’t seen in a while. Weed the garden.

Exercise is the other critical factor to good health. Nutrition and exercise work together so well. Our organs and bones will age with us, but we can do a lot to keep them strong and functioning well into old age through exercise and eating nutrient-dense, foods (a wide variety of vegetables, fruits, legumes, especially). Muscles, however, are another story. We lose muscle mass in old age because of inactivity, not because of aging (excluding a very few disease conditions). If we strength train when young, middle aged, or when elderly, it will benefit our strength, stability, digestion, moods, and of course that cute tush. Some moderate cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and good nutrition can set up a beautiful foundation for health, energy, and quality of life.

What do you do to stay motivated to exercise?

Happy hiker.

Happy hiker.

Forward we march

Post detox. My cravings were anxiously waiting for the end of the 21-day detox; the end arrived, and well, meh. I wasn’t so interested in binging, splurging, indulging, or otherwise reverting back to where I was. Yes, this is a good feeling. The feedback from the other detoxers is also exciting. The level of compliance varied, but so did the individual goals. Any change we can make toward eating more health-supportive foods is a great accomplishment. Here are the most common results from the fellowship:

  • Cut out some processed foods and drank less soda/alcohol
  • 100% compliant with the protocols
  • Increased energy levels
  • Weight lost (5-15lbs!)
  • More real food intake
  • Less processed food intake
  • Cholesterol levels were cut
  • Tummy aches, sinus issues, were eliminated
  • Sleep was deeper and more restful

Those were just a few of the most common results of this detox. But the one I love most of all: awareness. Awareness was increased around foods that heal and foods that make us sick, stuffed up, and inflamed. Of course, a detox isn’t the answer to all that causes ill, but it can be a start. It can help give the liver a break so that it can function better. Bigger issues can take longer to heal and require specific nutrients, and lots of patience.

My next personal challenge: 20 yoga classes at my local studio in April. I’ve been out of practice for a couple months, too laden down by work, school, other work, pups, life. But I’m going to take advantage of this sense of commitment and get back to it! It’s all part of the equation to live long, strong, and energetically.

What is your personal challenge this month?

Day 19.

19/21

Tick tock. Tick tock. GO CLOCK GO! Spring is attempting to overwhelm me with fresh air, sunshine, and warmth. The mighty seducer is also trying to pull me from my work and get my fingers in the dirt, my feet on the trail, and my soul outside. How do you fight that? Don’t. Just go.

I’ve been reflecting on the past three weeks and I realized I’ve gotten more work, projects, and assignments done than the previous 3 months combined. Of course, part of that is due to the dramatic increase of my work load this past month (if it’s got to get done, a way will be found to get it done, right?). However, I’m sure not having to drag my over sugared self around helped considerably. My energy levels have gone up and sleep has been so beautifully delicious (sorry, Spring, there is another lover, Sleep) on this detox.

My big garden is also looking at me with puppy eyes, ‘Come play in the dirt! Let’s get our grow on!’ It was such a thrill last summer (first season with my big front-yard garden) to go out and collect food, right before I made dinner. Gardens make it easier for us to eat more veggies and, consequently, help teach kids about real food; kids tend to eat their veggies more when they participate in the growing, weeding, and harvesting process. The upside is limitless. Gardening is the most sustainable thing we can do for the planet. Period. And wonderful phytonutrients we get from vegetables, is one of the best things we can do for our bodies. Period.

Blank canvas

Blank canvas

My mom taught me (she’s still trying, some things I’m slow at picking up) that we can grow food in just about any container there is. So far I have only tested this minimally, but I have seen food grown in a crazy variety of containers: trellis tomato plants on a small balcony, old re-purposed dressers, buckets, cinder blocks. It’s endless. As long as the plants get the right amount of light, soil nutrients, and water: we get FOOD!

Do you have a garden? How do you garden? In the city, on a farm, in the kitchen (grow sprouts on the kitchen counter!)

Counter top grown sprouts

Counter-top grown sprouts

Day 17.

17/21

Soooooooooooo, it’s been requested I discuss some cholesterol and glucose numbers. And since yesterday was “Diabetes Alert Day”, I’ll delve into that topic. Sugars (yes, again) are the fundamental source of so much that threatens our good health. We need glucose (sugar’s form in the blood) to fuel the brain, muscles, and create energy. However, the amount we need is grossly less than what the average American consumes. If the grocery store layout were indicative of what foods we need most, the produce section and the whole middle section with the aisles would swap places. All those aisles would be condensed to a few shelves in the corner.

And, this layout would help eliminate type II diabetes, much of the obesity issues and related diseases, cancer would be asking for handouts in the streets (kicked out its fancy mcmansions), and inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, would be added to the rare species list. But, I diverge.

Blood tests for cholesterol and glucose levels can be indicators of how our systems are working (there are many more that can also help, but we’ll stick to these today). One member of the detox had her cholesterol and blood sugar checked last week, and the numbers were significantly better than what the were before the detox (eliminated the sugar in her diet and increased vegetables, variety, and home cooked meals). Consequently I went and had mine checked this week. Also, much better. My HDL (‘good’) cholesterol number (51) was higher than previously, my fasting blood sugar (glucose) levels were lower (82), and triglyceride levels (57) were lower. Huzzah!

Eating well really does make a significant impact on our health.

Day 13.

13/21

What a ride! We got an unexpected* snow storm, over a foot so far and it’s still coming down! (*the weather peeps said it was coming, but I don’t believe them anymore.) My fridge is full again. Whew! Today I have spaghetti squash and fresh greens, black beans, and lots of seasons to spice things up (and help with the detox).

I still can’t seem to get enough of my juicer lately. Breakfast juice was 1 lemon, 1 beet, 2 carrots, parsley, and 2 celery stalks. Beets are a wonderful aid in detoxifying.They have a great little phytonutrients called betalains, which have many benefits such as providing antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support (especially phase 2 liver detox involving glutathione). The longer they are cooked, however, they start to loose nutrients. Eat them raw, juiced, steam around 15 minutes, or roast under 60 minutes (best to least in that order). They are also high in folate, manganese, fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. They are a great food for athletes.

My favorite ways to eat beets are roasted with butter. But I also love them raw shredded over a salad, juiced, and most definitely I love fermented beets. Deeeeeeeeeeeeeelicious! How do you like these ruby gems?

Day 7.

7/21

One full week! The group has been reporting better detox symptoms (less headaches, brain fog). It sounds like most have been compliant, too. This is great and warms my heart so very much. It was a rough week for some, especially with the caffeine withdrawals. But, alas, perseverance and good food have won out. Forward we march to better health and habits.

I had a delicious, slightly more bitter juice this morning: 1 small beet, 1 pear, 2 celery stalks, 2 small carrots, 1 lemon, and about 1″ of ginger. I had that with a side of garlicy guacamole and some flax seed crackers. Breakfast! My juicer hasn’t seen this much action ever. I’m happy to be getting some work out of it.

Now I’m off to take the crazy pups and myself for a nice long walk. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Eat good greens!

Jones & Indy

Jones & Indy

Day 5.

5/21

Yesterday morning I was a bit over the top cheerful. Pretty sure that if there had been any other human around me, I would have been slapped. But my energy sank as the day dredged on. I only wanted to nap. And, I had a little bit of a headache.

I’ve had many moments where I think “no one would know if I had a piece of chocolate.” But that’s not true. I would know. In the in end, I’m doing this for myself. So, to the next day I go, reminding myself of how important it is to my health to give my body this break and time to repair. It’s also important to me to get back to some of the good habits that got dropped off over the past several months.

One thing this nutrition therapist journey has brought me is outstanding tools to be healthy. My diet has changed (for the better) a lot over the past two years. But, I’m human. And like other humans, I’m a creature of habit. When times are stressful, it’s easy to fall back on old habits. These old habits haven’t served me very well in the past, nor were they currently, and I know they won’t in the future. For this reason (and many others) I push on. I push through this day 5, and to day 6, and through to day 21. After day 21? I hope to have reinvigorated my healthy habits again. Refreshed. Spring!

In spite of all the food I made on Day 3, I woke up and had no appetite. So much cooking and now I’m not hungry. Thankfully I have a big freezer. And knowing me, my appetite will return soon, it never says away for long. I had some juices and by evening my appetite came back.

I got this from a former classmate, for left over juice pulp. I’m going to try it this weekend.

Pulp from juicing

  • Mix the pulp with freshly milled flax seed (or almond, coconut flour, etc.)
  • Fresh garlic
  • Spices such as a curry mix.
  • Mix it all together and dehydrate it, or bake it in the oven on a low temp, until it’s your desired crunchy level (or less crunchy)

Have a great weekend, all.

Day 3.

3/21

Today isn’t as shiny as yesterday. I have a low grade headache and have a little brain fog. Nothing unexpected. I actually thought the headache would be worse, as it has been in the past. But that could be the benefit of me doing regular detoxes: every detox cleans up the diet a little (or a lot) and better habits get solidified.

Last night was rough, however. I wanted some sugar treats bad. I got a massage, which was wonderful, and then focused my attention on an avocado and some herbal tea. I slept so soundly! Avocado, incidentally, is a wonderful food to help lower blood sugar levels. It’s got lots of good fats for the brain, and all of the body’s cells, a ton of fiber, and it is low in carbohydrates (which will elevate blood sugar levels).

There’s a lot going on in the kitchen today. I’m a procrastinator when it comes to cooking. I can find so many other things to do before preparing food. But as soon as I do make something, I’m reminded that it really didn’t take nearly as much time as I thought it would. (Dear Self, please remember! It really doesn’t take that long too prep and cook good food and it is yummy!)

I’m cooking up the butternut squash ginger soup (finally) with extra ginger, garlic, and onions (sulfurs and anti-inflammation spices are good for the detox). I’ve also made up a big batch of 4 ancient grain cereal (amaranth, teff, millet, quinoa) and will start some congee. Congee is an ancient Chinese soup. It’s very healing, very easy on the digestive system, and makes a nice snack (or meal). It’s a basic rice broth (very diluted rice), with some veggies tossed in, and then you can build on it from there. Pulp from juicing? Toss it in the congee. Left over greens from dinner? Toss it in the congee.

My congee: 1 cup brown rice, 9 cups water, 1-2 cups mixed greens (spinach, kale, red lettuce), 1 lemon quartered. Slow cooker: 4 hours high/8 hours low. Remove lemons, squeeze juices out, puree soup.

IMG_0157

And for my friends out there joining me in this detox: keep at it! Get lots of rest. The first week is the hardest. And I’m so very proud of each of you! You’re doing this for your health and wellness. It’s worth it.

Day 2.

2/21

Last night was better than I expected but not blissful. Habits are hard to change and I believe habits can last longer than cravings.

Planning and not planning. I think I need to balance these as well as the stress in my life. Stress is the primary motivator for my detox. I need to take the bull by the horns and get control of this runaway beast. School and work and life have all been kicked up a couple notches recently, and I’ve let my healthy habits fall to the side. My the excuse was that I’m too busy, too much else to focus on. But deep down, I know that this is the most important time to address and deal with these stressors. Or I will be trampled by that bull, and I only have myself to blame. My resolve: attack. Attack with a good diet, relieving a lot of stress on my organs, nervous system, brain chemistry. Attack with massage, stretching, yoga, long walks (my nutty pups love that one most), and deep breathing. I need to calm the heck down. Attack with attitude: Moxie and good vibes.

As I sipped on my tea last night, I found myself worrying about the weekend (still days and days away), about wine and chocolate temptations mostly (yep, total girl cravings). I thought “wait a second. that’s NOT today, and I’m doing GREAT today.”

With any new diet change, your best friend is going to be planning (and best defense against the stress from the changes). The better you plan, the more successful you’ll be. However, I think it’s important to know when not to plan. But, this is nothing new, it’s the old wisdom of taking one day at a time. Let go of yesterday, let go of tomorrow, live in today.

With a slow deep breathe, I tackle today. And only today.

Last night I made stock out of the chicken bones, and roasted a butternut squash. There will be soup with lots of ginger very soon. And Congee is up next as well! Stay tuned.

What is interesting on my menu for today? Probably lunch (and hopefully soup): Shrimp sauteed in garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric (one of the best health supportive seasonings out there), in coconut oil, with quinoa & arame.

Hope you all had a great day 2! I know a lot of caffeine headaches and moodiness are running bulls out there. Address, breathe, and remember, it’s just today. Tomorrow is its own problem, not today’s problem.

Estrogen, the masked villian

Estrogen tends to be the culprit behind many symptoms of PMS and menopause, specifically estrogen dominance. Estrogen dominance is where the hormonal balance is offset (the whole endocrine system plays a dance that keeps us health, full of energy, sane and happy) and there is too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. Hormonal function relates to the health of the whole body, not just estrogen or progesterone, the health of the ovaries, liver, lymphatics, and thyroid are all affected. The whole body needs to be functioning well for there to be proper hormonal balance. There are many drugs out there given for this, but there are also FOODS we can eat to help bring balance back to our bodies.

The endocrine glands work in concert with one another. If one system fails, others will suffer, which can lead to various issues: digestion, infertility, weight gain, mood changes, depression, apathy, sleep disorders, immune system, etc.

3-5lbs a week of cruciferous veggies!

3-5lbs a week of cruciferous veggies!

Chronic stress and liver congestion are considerable contributors to excessive estrogen levels. This is a functional imbalance for which most doctors do not test because it is not a clinical diagnosis.

Some symptoms of low progesterone/ high estrogen (around the menstrual cycle): PMS, heavy bleeding, spotting, clotting, cramping, water retention, bloating, weight gain (especially common in pre/menopausal women), headaches/migraines (could also be not enough estrogen), depression, breast tenderness, lumpiness, post menstrual headaches/migraines, irritability, anxiety, anger, nervousness, decreased sexual response, endometriosis (low progesterone), infrequent menses.

Estrogen and the Liver. If the liver is stressed by excess toxins it can result in a hormonal imbalance. Examples of toxins are: processed foods, trans fats/partially hydrogenated oils, sugar (including gluten, which acts like sugar in the digestive tract), infections (especially mononucleosis).

The endocrine glands secrete hormones that need to be altered and eliminated by the body. This job falls to the liver. The liver excretes these waste products into the bile, which then gets eliminated by the bowel. If the liver is not functioning properly (or is over taxed by environmental and/or dietary toxins), there may easily be an excess of hormones circulating in the body. A poorly functioning liver is often a primary reason for excess estrogen.

Balancing estrogen starts with the liver: eliminating environmental and dietary toxins that are over stressing the liver.

Correcting excess estrogen also involves increasing the body’s ability to detoxify (i.e., estrogens and toxins), and addressing the health of the whole body. Nutrition that can help in these processes, especially with liver detox of estrogen, are:

  • Only eating organic produce, pasture-raised, hormone free meat & dairy, wild caught fish
  • Avoid processed foods
  • Lots of cruciferous vegetables (3-5lbs/week, fermented, cooked, or raw), such as cabbage, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts
  • Whole food sources of vitamin B: sardines, salmon, tuna, chicken, venison, kombucha, turmeric, dark berries, potatoes, spinach.

Supporting progesterone. Progesterone cream can help some, adrenal gland support (see section on adrenals), Iodine (sea vegetables, meats, Celtic sea salt), Chase tree (vitex) in the morning to support the ovaries. It strengthens the link between the brain and the ovaries—stimulates the pituitary to send a message to the ovaries to produce more progesterone.

 Xenohormones. Other major contributors to imbalance of hormones are xenohormones. These are man-made substances that have hormone-like properties. Most have estrogen-like effects on the body; however, they are foreign to the body and can cause many menstrual and fibroid issues. Common sources of xenohormones are:

  • Birth control pills
  • Conventional meat sources (beef, chicken), which are fed estrogen to fatten them up faster
  • Pesticides, herbicides (nearly all are petro-chemicals)
  • Solvents/adhesives (nail polish and remover, glue, cleaning supplies)
  • Car exhaust
  • Emulsifiers (soap, cosmetics)
  • Plastics (BPAs)
  • PCBs (industrial waste)

What harm can they do? Decrease fertility, increase reproductive cancers, decreased sperm count, lower testosterone levels and abnormally small penis size, increase incidence of retracted testicles, increase PMS issues, estrogen dominance.

How can they be avoided?

  • Organic meat, dairy, and produce
  • Avoid all synthetic and horse hormones (oral contraceptives, and conventional HRT, hormone replacement therapy)
  • Reduce/eliminate conventional pesticides, lawn and garden chemicals
  • Do not cook or heat in plastics, substitute with glass

Adrenals & hormone balance. Stress is the most common interrupter of hormonal balance. If the female body is in a chronic state of stress its likely going to shut down a system that requires 9 months-to several years of attention.

During times of stress, the adrenal glands will trigger an overproduction of cortisol and DHEA (precursor hormone to estrogen and testosterone). Chronic overproduction eventually leads to adrenal gland exhaustion, in which state the body can no longer respond to stress adequately. Depleted DHEA leads to less available reproductive hormones and, hence, poor reproductive health.

Diet: Adrenals need essential fatty acids, from a quality source. Omega 3s: fish oil, cod liver oil. Chia seeds, flax seeds (fresh ground), salmon, sardines, whole eggs, and real butter, olive oil. Eat whole fat, skip the ‘low fat’ or ‘non’ fat; it will contribute to adrenal exhaustion as well as poor cellular health (which equals poor overall health).

What to do:

  • Try to get 8 hours of quality sleep (this will go a long way for hormonal balance.
  • Take time to rest (or better, meditate) each day.
  • Reduce/eliminate sugar (including gluten, acts like sugar).
  • More protein in the diet, to help energy stabilization.
  • Opt for Celtic or Himalayan sea salt, over conventional (processed) salt.
Breathe.

Breathe.

Sources: Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, scientificpsychic.com, phytochemicals.info, Dr. Bob’s Drugless Guide To Balance Female Hormone, Robert DeMaria

Scale me no more!

Dear Scale,

You no longer dictate what my day will be like, or how I’ll feel about myself. You never controlled how my clothes fit. You never made my meals or made me feel strong or healthy. You can F**K OFF scale.  I am free of you. It was hard to quit you, I was tempted more than once to pull you out of the back of the closet and check in. I turn to myself now, to check how I feel. I ask my gut and my head “Hey Gut, Hey Head, how do you feel today? Feeling good? Then awesome! Feeling bad? Well, let’s fix that!” Green smoothies are my current best medicine for days when I feel brain foggy or feel a bug trying to latch on. They’re packed full of all those thousands of phytonutrients that science still hasn’t fully identified, but science does know they make us better (magic!). Bug be gone, shoo! Go hang out with my Scale for all I care, just not here, no room, too much good green stuffs.

I tried on a pair of my jeans recently, which I have been ignoring lately. Hey! They fit! Yippie! My jeans fit, my gut feels GOOD, my head isn’t plagued with headaches every day, migraines every couple weeks. I know how to keep illness away. I am off all my medications for allergies, hormones, sadness, achy parts, and I’ve gained super powers. Well, ok, that last part is a stretch. But I feel that way sometimes. I had some guests recently, they were all sick with colds. I pumped them full of good stuff all week, and didn’t even consider I might ‘catch’ what they had. I didn’t. I never do. Or very rarely do, it’s been a long time. If I get sick next week even, that’ll be the first time in years. My ‘illnesses’ used to show up as headaches, brain conditions, mostly. But, I have to stay on top of it; I have to eat lots of greens (basically, not exclusively, of course, but those are the easy to NOT get, and the  most important to load up on) and some smart supplements, and, voilà, good to go. If I get off that regime and eat sugar and drink wine (my weaknesses), I start to feel like poo again.

So, my not-so-dear Scale, I really don’t care about you anymore. I’ve got much more important things by which to judge myself: shiny skin, healthy bones, strong heart, and happy outlook.  In the immortal words of the Bill the Cat:

Very Sincerely,

Mariah

Feed me, Seymour! FEED ME!

Sadly, one very important point has been neglected more and more as the standard American diet (aka S.A.D.) dives into processed, refined, genetically modified foods: how we feel. How does food make you feel? These days we tend to eat more to satisfy cravings, hunger, emotional stress than to heal our bodies and enjoy feeling good. Think about how food makes you feel, not just emotionally, but physically. Do you feel energized and happy, restored, revitalized after a meal or a snack? Do old aches feel better? Do you sleep better?

It’s taken me a long time to make the connection between food and how I feel, and as long to make adjustments to my own diet. Not just physically but emotionally. Food is more than something fun and tasty to shove in our mouths, it provides essential, vital nutrients to make us function well, and not get sick. How long has it been since you last got sick? If it’s less than a year ago, something is not functioning well. Nutrition could very well be the reason: an irritation or a deficiency in most cases.

Making changes to eat better is not easy. I’ve been there, I know intimately the processes. When I gave up gluten I had mini panic attacks, “where will i get carbs for running?!” I had considered myself a ‘really good’ eater back then, too. Nope. There was so much to be improved on to feel better. Fortunately, I stuck with it, continued to evaluate and make changes, and today am feeling tremendously better.

Best (or worse, depending on your view point) is that I didn’t even realize how bad I was feeling previously. I had learned to live with low energy, brain fog, headaches, endless mix of digestive issue. That was my ‘normal’. Doctors didn’t have any revolutionary diagnosis for me to play with, just meds to help with the symptoms. In the end, it was my diet that was the culprit.

My friend Aly picking up a massive purple cabbage from my garden.

If you look to your skin, your GI tract, your mind, your energy; is that how you envision your ideal ‘normal’ to be? Do you wonder if something can be done? What are you feeding your body?

‘I love you with all my liver': my detox

Ode to the mighty incredible, hardest working organ in our bodies, I detox for thee. (And all the other systems in my body.)

Recently I had a required detox retreat for class. I’m in my second year of school, and it’s no less intense as last year, and I had the brilliant urge to get a puppy on my month break between terms. Really, what the hell was I thinking? He’s a sweetie bug, cutie, snuggler, goofy ball dork, and I am happy to have and love him. But, still, puppies are a huge responsibility and a time suck: what was I thinking? Hahaha. “Just keep moving forward”, I tell myself. Needless to say, the ‘required’ part was adding a considerable stress load to my brain ‘plate’ of daily To Do items. What to do with the puppy, Jones, my other dog, Indigo, and the books that need to be read for my other classes, and my own health and race training.  Insert elevated stress levels here.

Detoxes are important to help flush our systems of harmful toxins, be them from the air we breathe, food we ingest, or chemical processes in our bodies. It also, as I learned, has an element of emotional detoxing. Stress, which shows up as cortisol in our system, is detoxed from our bodies. I learned later that this is a chemical reason behind the reactions I had. This was also my biggest challenge for this detox retreat: relax. I had been craving knitting, it being fall and all. I started a very small knitting project, which had a beneficial side effect of occupying my hands during the long discussions.

The assignment was to detox for 7-10 days. We were given a few products to try, packed with supportive nutrients for phase 1 & 2 liver detox. The dietary guides weren’t too restrictive for me. I already have a pretty sugar free diet, no gluten, dairy, eggs, no alcohol. Basically, for me this meant I had to eliminate eggs and wine.  I didn’t expect to have any standard detox symptoms (insert hindsight snicker). Little did I know.

The biggest challenge, as it turned out, for me was reducing stress from my life, which shows up as a chemical (cortisol) that works its ‘magic’ in the body. I fought it, resisted the retreat experience as much as I could, thinking I had bigger and better things to be doing, until I realized that I needed to experience this. I needed to heal my body, and I needed to know what it was like for myself and future clients I work with. Stress was clearly something that I wasn’t dealing with as well as I thought I was. I thought I was all mellow and organic in regards to dealing with all the stressors in my life. I was wrong, very, very wrong. I’ve come to accept that I am much more stressed than I thought, and it has a profound effect on my health. I eventually ‘let go’ and grabbed my knitting (pre-retreat instructions said ‘no homework…only relaxing activities like hand knitting’). There’s a detox reaction from stress too (more to follow, see Day 7).  Following is a sample of what I ate and what I experienced.

Neck warmer

Day 1: smoothie with the supplements (Vital Nutrients, ‘Vital Clear’), blending with water and some fruit, per the protocol I was given. Plus its ‘Fiber’ supplement that should have been named “Omega”, since there wasn’t that much fiber (less than 5 grams) and made up with mostly chia and flax seeds (good sources of omega 3s). It’s always a little angst inducing taking a new supplement. Any sort of a plethora of digestive results can result. Fortunately, nothing! Huzzah! And whew!

Day 2: craving some dark chocolate, at least.  And the monster started to set in.

Day 3: I replaced the water with almond milk, to add some substance to the smoothie. And smoothies were upped (per the protocol) to two times a day. The monster, Ms. Cranky Pants, arrived by evening. My poor pups had to endure my cranky butt.  I did roast a chicken that was very yummy. My best educated guess is that toxins were starting to be expelled from my liver, from my cells.

Day 4: about the same, but the cranky feeling was more intense.

Day 5: start of the detox weekend. We met at the school at noon. All meals from this point on were prepared by the chefs, with focus on our detox. The meals were about half the normal caloric intake I was used to. All vegan, gluten free. And, as a side note, very fresh and delicious; lots of cruciferous vegetables, soothing/healing soups, and juices.

Day 6: full on retreat mood. Yoga was offered for each day. Treatments of acupuncture and lymphatic massage were offered. I took advantage of all. The massage was toward the end of day 6, and helped tremendously. My headache went away and I felt revitalized. This is saying a lot. Due to type of foods, and the lower caloric intake, very little protein and fat, my mind was foggy and everything was tired. I did run about 7 miles that morning, but I was much too tired to just blame the run. The brain fog was apparently common among everyone. Fortunately I didn’t share the constipation that a lot of people seemed to have. At least in that area: ‘all systems go’, thankfully.

Day 7: the last day of the retreat.  I was tired, had some brain fog. We met, had breakfast, a light soup, “congee,” that was supposed to be healing for the digestive track and yet filling. It was my least favorite of the meals. But it did fill me up for quite a while.­ In addition to the physical symptoms, I had emotional symptoms.

Physical: Brain fog and headache. For all days I had a low grade headache, which could have been due to the low estrogen levels that week and the focus on foods that detox estrogen.

Emotional. Clearly the Ms. Cranky Pants me was one, but by the weekend, I had some very significant emotional surges, which were almost alarming. During one of our yoga sessions, I was nearly overcome by an opening feeling. It was a very strong feeling of gratitude. I pretty much wanted to start sobbing, tears, cries. But, yet, still all very positive, like something was being shed, and a new openness was becoming available to me. It was strange, but completely real. Tears during yoga?!? It was a positive experience, so no complaints here.

We mostly had discussions this last day, in which we also discussed how we were feeling at different points in the detox.

Everyone was different. Everyone’s detox experience was different. I think this is an extremely important point. I’ve been through this process. I have my own reactions, experiences, and thoughts; however, my experience will be different from my colleagues and for everyone with whom I work. These experiences will all be different. Why? Because we are all biochemically unique: we all have our own unique biochemical signatures. These unique signatures come from our environment, our families and what we experience: allergies, genetics, and injuries, or experiences make our bodies and how they process toxins, food, air, we are all biochemically unique.

Have you tried a detox? What did it require? How did it make you feel? Or have you been interested in trying one? I’d love to hear your stories!

Ahh, the sweet stuff! CRACK!

How do I break my sugar habit? I’ve been getting this question a lot lately. I’m thrilled that my message of “SUGAR IS BAD! BAD! BAD!” is getting through to those around me. If asked one thing to cut from our diet: Sugar.  Big bad: refined sugar, wheat (any refined grains), high fructose corn syrup, agave syrup, etc. Honey is a border line one. In moderation it’s ok, as it at least offers some trace nutrients.

Sugar, the Big Bad, has many disguises that have thickly woven into the standard American diet over the past 50-60 years especially. The biggest disguise, I think, is wheat. Yes, even whole wheat. It has a higher glycemic index than a candy bar. Here are some more common places the Big Bad likes to slip into our systems: sauces, salad dressings, protein/performance bars, applesauce, cereals, Starbucks drinks, smoothies, protein powder, peanut butter, soup, medications, processed/frozen foods, milk, cheese, fruit juices, pretty much just about anything in a package. Don’t think artificial sweeteners are the answer either; they are equally bad, if not worse. They affect our brain chemistry, taste sensors, and appetite control centers.

Why, do you ask, is it the Big Bad? Isn’t it a natural, all-American product? Yes it is an all-American product. Natural, definitely not. It’s been so overly processed that sugar has been compared to cocaine, and not just in texture, but how it affects the body (and I’m just talkin’ about the white refined sugar; corn, rice, etc. syrups are even more refined/processed).  Check out the movie Hungry for a Change.

Sugar is deficient in nutrients. Processed sweet foods contain calories with no other nutrients, aka empty calories.  Other than the ones your parents and dentist warned you about, dental caries (bacteria in the mouth ferment sugar and produce an acid that dissolves tooth enamel), dental plaque (gummy mass of bacteria that grows on teeth; builds up depends on chemistry of saliva and genetics), tooth decay (starches and sugars begin breaking down to sugars in the mount), there are physiological effects it has on every system in our bodies: immune, cardiovascular, reproductive, neurological, etc.

Sugar and its effects. Don’t feel too bad about yourself at this point. Sugar creates cravings that are psychological.  There is a chemical reason behind these cravings. Sugar causes big spikes and big dips in serotonin. Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter essential to brain function, levels are responsible for our moods, i.e., mellow, peaceful, relaxed.  It also, if in balance, increases impulse control, allowing you to ‘just say no’ (to that piece of cake). Low levels of serotonin are shown in depression cases, craving simple carbohydrates, the later which helps tryptophan move thru the blood brain barrier to make serotonin. By eating too much sugar, substituting nutrient dense foods with sugar, we are creating a vicious cycle (among other potentially very hazardous conditions) that messes with our brain chemistry, leaving us depressed, waiting for that next fix of goodness. Then dropping down to bottom again. Repeat. Great book on this topic, if you want more information is Potatoes Not Prozac, simple solutions to sugar sensitivities, by Kathleen DesMaisons, PhD, Addictive Nutrition.

What’s going on elsewhere? Here are some bullets on what sugar does to us.

  • Suppresses the immune system
  • Upsets the body’s mineral balance, chromium and copper deficiency
  • Causes kidney damage
  • Reduces HDLs (good cholesterol)
  • Causes inflammation in the body and increases blood pH, which is the source of many of the big illnesses we face today (vs back in the late 1800s, we were a lot less sick then than now): cancer of the breast, ovaries, intestines, prostate, and rectum.
  • Can cause/exacerbate (inflammation again) arthritis, asthma, candida, gallstones, hermorrhoids, varicose veins, increase cholesterol, cause food allergies, contribute to eczema in children
  • Interferes with absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  • Weakens eyesight
  • Produces an over-acid stomach
  • Raises adrenaline levels in children
  • Causes tooth decay and periodontal disease
  • Contributes to aging (inflammation, again)
  • Leads to anxiety, difficulty concentrating (kids and adults)
  • Leads to insulin resistance, leptin resistance, diabetes

Now, how to kick the habit? You can go cold turkey. I did that once, on a dare, gave up sugar for a year. And it was right between Halloween and Thanksgiving. NOT EASY! Kind of close to hell, actually. But I’m stubborn, so couldn’t lose the bet. I had a serious sugar addiction, and as addictions go, I still do. But I keep it under control. And the best way I’ve found to that is education and action. When I have a craving, I think about what I’ve eaten. Cravings, of any sort, are a sign of some nutrient deficiency.  Here are some tips and guides for gradually kicking the habit or going cold turkey.

  • Be aware of what you’re eating. Read labels, pick products that have less or no added sugar.
  • Drink more water, get more fiber. No brainer? Maybe. But we need to flush out the bad stuff and these two lovelies are the studs that can get the job done.
  • Try crowding the sugars out: fill your bowls and plates with nutrient dense foods. Aim for a minimum of 8 servings of vegetables a day (shocking how hard that might actually be). Green smoothies are a very quick way to do this. See my post on green smoothies: http://mariahehlert.com/2012/03/11/green-smoothie-101/
  • Pay attention to how you FEEL. A good friend said, after all the diets, numerous nutritionists, that only one of them ever asked how she FELT after eating crap food vs good food. You will notice a difference. Eventually you’ll become so sensitive that you’ll feel the sugar spike in your system from a few crackers (gluten free even).
  • Add bitter. Add bitter foods, our taste buds adjust to what we eat. Add in foods that taste bitter. Gradually! I started having lemon juice in my water when I learned how beautifully it helps the liver out and to help balance blood pH (=healthy. Good.). However, it was so bitter, I couldn’t stick to it. Next I tried a little lemon juice in warm water. That did the trick. After a couple weeks, I was able to add crazy amounts to my cold water. Added benefit to this: your tastes buds come alive! You’re able to taste flavors that you weren’t able to previously (masked by the sweetness).
  • Chew longer. Chewing combines digestive enzymes in your mouth with your food, and guess what? The food turns sweeter with this action. Chemistry is cool. So eventually that bitter veggie will start to not only have flavor, but taste kind of sa-weeeeeeet.
  • Craving replacements: Fruits are initially a good grab when a craving hits. Sugars from complex carbs such as vegetables, legumes, fruits come in a natural nutrient-dense package of fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.  All things our bodies need.
  • Exercise. Aside from the plethora of benefits of exercise, this will also help brain chemistry, which will help keep cravings at bay, and help flush out toxins from sugar (detox).

Nutrient dense foods. In the end, we need to fill our bodies with what they need most: nutrients. Not empty calories that harm us. A diet made up of nutrient dense foods exclusively (think veggies, fruits, well-raised animal protein, seeds, nuts) is not only therapeutic, but promotes longevity, energy, and that all-over good feeling. When we are getting what we need, the cravings will go away, as will excess weight.

Good luck, fight the good fight! Let me know if you have any other tips!

Bad days

Sunshine. Flowers. Happy people. Puppies. Rainbows. Bliss. Loving friends & family. Good food. Mountains. Restful sleep. Sore muscles. Deep breathing. Respect. Creativity. Resourcefulness. Quiet beaches. Productivity. Storms. Down time. Nice breeze, warm day. Kindness.

Mountains. Trails. Beauty.

All of that, does not a bad day make.

As we all know, ‘shit happens.’ Yesterday was not a great day for me. This whole week actually has been a bit of a struggle. One of the most important goals of mine in starting a business, going to school full time, working full time, training a baby dog, competing in dog sports with my other pup, and training for my own races (more of a sanity move than anything) is to continue to practice what I preach. I want to improve my health and ingrain good lifetime habits.

My strategy right now: reassess, reattack. Our bodies never stop working for us, no matter how much crap we stuff into them, the organism of our body never stops trying to keep us alive and well. I can not give up on working to support my body either. But stress, comfort food, stress, emotions, stress, delicious blocks of cheese and tasty wine in large quantities sometimes get the better of my sensibilities.

I came across this picture and really love the idea. Take an empty jar, fill it with notes of good things that have happened. Read all the good things on New Year’s Eve. I’m going to set up my own jar today.

Good Things Jar

What are your strategies for staying on track, eating well, and managing stress?

I hope you all have a GOOD DAY.