Stressed Out? Maybe These Techniques Can Help

Stressed Out? Maybe These Techniques Can Help

Stress is completely natural and, biologically speaking, intended to be very beneficial. It is the body’s response to certain life demands or threats that helps you perform better. Like when you come upon a tiger and need to run away or when you are hunting gazelles with spears and need extra strength, alertness and focus. Oh wait. Fast forward to the present and that doesn’t happen to most of us anymore. Stress can help you though meet the deadline for a work project, make the game-winning shot, deliver an amazing presentation or react superhumanly to avoid an accident. The “stress response” of the body was intended for physical, immediate, short-term circumstances that occur infrequently. The problem is that for many people, the stress response is constantly activated more so emotionally than physically, leading to chronic stress that brings with it a variety of health complications.

The Stress Response: What Happens in the Body

When your body is under stress, it responds by releasing various hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol produced by the adrenal glands. These hormones cause an increase in heart rate, constrict blood vessels which causes blood pressure to rise, hones your sense of sight, smell and hearing and enhances brain function. All of these effects lead to the sudden increase in strength, stamina, speed and reaction time. The body is simply amazing!

Once again though, this response was designed to either help you win a fight or flee from danger. In my case it is mostly to flee from danger; I haven’t been much for fighting. My older brothers can attest to that. What happens though when the body is under chronic stress?

Possible Signs and Symptoms of Chronic Stress

  1. Depression and anxiety
  2. Sleep problems
  3. Digestive issues
  4. Weight fluctuations
  5. Cognitive difficulties
  6. Headaches
  7. Irritability
  8. Impaired immune system
  9. Autoimmune disease
  10. Hormonal imbalance
  11. Chronic yeast infections

Techniques to Effectively Manage Stress

Let’s face it. Stress is an inevitable part of life and you needn’t run away or hide from every stressful situation you are confronted with. You probably know a number of people in your life that never appear to get stressed out. How is that possible? Could it be that their life is gum drops and roses all the time? I doubt it. The key is to learn how to balance and manage your stress so that you can be healthier, happier and more productive. With practice, anyone can become stress masters! Some of the following tecniques are based on HealthGuide.org’s stress management section.

1: Identify what causes you stress

Sounds easy, but aside from the major stressors in one’s life, I wager there are many tiny things that are causing you stress that you are completely unaware of. Heck, just the way you think can influence your levels of stress. You alone play the biggest role in creating or maintaining your stress levels and you alone play the biggest role in controlling them.

Start a stress journal. Each time you feel stressed, record it. Over time, you will be able to identify patterns. Try and answer these questions:

  • What caused your stress?
  • How did you feel? (physically and emotionally)
  • How did you respond?
  • What did you do to make yourself feel better?

Ask friends and family. Often times it takes someone on the outside to help you identify what’s happening on the inside.

2: Replace unhealthy coping strategies with healthy ones

Contemplate your current coping methods for stress and identify which ones are healthy and productive and which ones are unhealthy and unproductive. The last thing you want is to respond to stress in a way that actually compounds the problem. Once again, you may find it beneficial to ask friends and family what they see as unhealthy coping strategies you may not of thought of.

Examples of unhealthy coping strategies are smoking, drinking alcohol, drugs (prescription and illegal), social isolation, food bingeing, procrastination, excessive sleep, distracting oneself with technology (Facebook, Instagram, movies, tv, video games).

Examples of healthy coping strategies are physical activity, deep breathing, meditation,yoga, friends, humor, hobbies, pets (careful though, pets can also cause a lot of stress as well), prayer, positive self-talk,service, organizing your space and a healthy diet.

3: Relaaaaaax…

Each day you should set apart time to allow your body and mind to relax. The following relaxation tecniques are some of my favorite and all have the potential to lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, lower respiratory rate and lower cortisol levels.

  • Deep breathing. Breathing deeply sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax (1). It is extremely effective at managing stress. In summary you want to breath in and out through the nose and down into your tummy. This website does a good job at describing how to practice the technique of deep breathing (click here).
  • Yoga. There are various modalities of yoga and surely one of them will feel right to you. Most classes are free for the first time so go out and experiment. Maybe group classes or paying a monthly fee isn’t something you want to do. That’s okay. Youtube offers an amazing selection of great yoga videos you can do at home.
  • Meditation. Is training for the mind. Don’t think you need to become a monk to meditate nor do you need hours to do so. Even just a few minutes can be effective in reducing stress and relaxing. Click (here) to read up on tips on how to begin meditating.There is also great online meditation videos that will walk you through the process if you’re a newbie.
  • Massage. I don’t think I need to talk much about massage therapy. Anyone who has recieved a professional massage has experienced its awesome benefits. If you haven’t ever had a professional massage, you need to!
  • Reflexology. This really is a modality of massage, but deserves its own bullet point. Reflexology can directly stimulate energy meridians and organ function that may need support due to chronic stress, like the adrenal glands.

4: Physical Movement

Notice how I didn’t say exercise? Too many people equate exercise to strenuous activity. But even simple bodily movements can provide serious stress reducing benefits. Regular exercise (movement) helps improve mood, takes your mind off of current worries, increases the feel-good neurotransmitters known as endorphins, improves sleep and helps build self-confidence and self-worth. (1)

5: Tapping (Emotional Freedom Tecnique)

This technique is based on the theory that there exist energy meridians within the body and that by tapping with your fingers on different points on the body relieves stress and anxiety. Really? Tapping myself is supposed to help me? Surprisingly yes (3). I know countless people who swear by it. Before you dismiss it, why not give it a try? Click here to view an instructional video on tapping.

6: Avoid unnecessary stress.

Not all stress can or should be avoided, but seriously, there is a lot of stress in people’s lives that really shouldn’t even exist.

  • Remember, you can almost always say “no”. Don’t wait until your plate is already overflowing with commitments. Learn to say no before you reach your limit. It’s easy, I’ll teach you. Repeat after me, “no”. Good job. Now, one more time, “no”. You got it!
  • Stay away from people who cause you stress. Either limit your time with them or end the relationship.
  • Take control of your environment. If driving in traffic stresses you out, take public transit. If crowded malls make you anxious, shop online. If doing dishes makes you want to pull your hair out, make your kids do it (haha… just kidding. Slightly.)
  • Prioritize your to-do list. Only God could accomplish everything on some people’s to-do list. Prioritize your to-do list with the most important things to do at the top and then decreasing in importance towards the bottom. If you don’t finish everything on the list, oh well. At least you have accomplished the most vital.
  • Simplify. Many of us love to complicate our lives by filling it with stuff. Try organizing your home or work space and get rid of unnecessary items. My wife and I try and live by the one-year rule. If we haven’t used something within the last year, we don’t need it! 

7: Have fun!

Nothing relieves stress as quickly as laughing and having a good time. Research has proven it over and over again (5)(6). It also helps to take your mind off of matters that are worrying you and allows you to revisit them with a fresh perspective. As you prioritize your to-do list, make sure a little “me/fun” time is near the top each day.

8: Social Connecting

There is something magical and soothing about spending time with someone who listens to you and understands you. There is a brilliant Ted Talk titled “The Power of Vulnerability”, and I fully agree with what the speaker says. Don’t be afraid to take down your walls of defense and open up to those close to you. Facebook, Snapchat or email just won’t do here. It is the literaly face-to-face interaction with another human that helps reverse the body’s defensive stress response.

9: Learn the skill of adaptability.

  • Put on the lens of positivityYeah, the traffic sucks, but at least your favorite song is on the radio.
  • Take a bird’s eye view. Is the current situation really going to matter tomorrow? Next month? Next year? If not, I’m sure you can save your energy for more productive tasks.
  • Adjust your standards. While perfection is nice, “good enough” isn’t all that bad either.
  • Find things to be grateful for. It’s amazing how effective this is at relieving stress. You can be grateful for personal qualities, your family and your life in general.

10: Get outside!

There is something magical about being out in mother nature. Few things can call calm the soul like a gentle breeze, the sound of moving water, the melodic singing of birds and clean, fresh air. All it takes is 10 minutes or so outside to feel revitalized and calm. You could also practice deep breathing outside for an incredible stress reducing combo. To get even more benefit from being outside, take your shoes off and feel the grass and dirt beneath your feet. This simple act allows you to connect with mother earth energetically and is known as earthing. For more information on earthing and its amazing health benefits, visit our blog post here.

11: Accept the unchangeable. 

Some things just are the way they are no matter what we do. Death cannot be changed. The financial market moves up and down independent of you. And no matter how well a guy aims, urine will always get everywhere.

  • Learn to forgive 
  • Time to put on the lens of positivity again
  • Communicate your feelings

 

Stress is real. You simply can not avoid it altogether. But you certainly don’t have to allow it to dominate you life. Start making steps to manage and control your stress today!

The Dangers of Dairy

The Dangers of Dairy

The dairy industry, along with government institutions, have convinced us that not only is consuming the milk from another species completely natural, but also a necessity. This magical liquid is needed for adequate growth and good health because it is loaded with calcium, protein and various other vitamins and minerals. We have also been told over and over again how dairy builds strong bones and prevents osteoporosis. But is dairy really a superfood and vital in obtaining optimal health? Could it actually be dangerous to one’s health? Let’s put dairy under the microscope of science and critical thinking and see how it holds up.

Nutrients in Milk

It’s true. Dairy is loaded with calcium, has lots of protein and contains other vitamins and minerals like phosphorus, potassium, vitamins B12, riboflavin and niacin. It is also fortified with the vitamins A and D. But how did all those nutrients besides the ones added get into the milk? They came from the cow’s food – plants. Eating a variety of vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains will provide you and all humans with all of the nutrients found in dairy plus many others like fiber and antioxidants. There is one exception though – Vitamin B12* (see bottom of page).   What I am trying to say is that dairy is not the only source of certain essential nutrients and humans do not need dairy to be healthy. In fact, all that calcium and protein may not be in your best interest as I will explain later. A recent  journal article summed it up nicely, stating that “humans have no nutritional requirement for animal milk” (1). Why not skip the middle man and get all of the nutrients you need from plants?

Some Non-Nutrients in Milk You Probably Want to Avoid

Artificial hormones. Many are already familiar with or at least heard of recombinant bovine growth hormone (rbGH) and recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST). They are synthetic hormones given to dairy cows to increase milk production and have been under public scrutiny for potential health concerns in humans. Research has shown cows given artificial hormones have higher levels of IGF-1 (which has been linked to higher cancer risk) (2). They also suffer from increased rates of mastitis – infection in the udder – that require increased doses of antibiotics which may lead to more antibiotic-resistant bacteria that get transferred to humans (2). Interestingly, Canada, Europe and other countries have banned the use of these artificial hormones due to health concerns, yet the United States continues to allow them. Now you can find many dairy products that are certified to be free of artificial hormones. While it is a step in the right direction, artificial hormones are not the only hormones you should be worried about in milk.

Estrogen. Dairy is loaded with various natural hormones, principally estrogen and in turn can cause imbalances in your own hormones. Much research has been done on estrogen and it’s effects on health. Excess estrogen has been linked to thrombosis (blood clotting) which can then lead to a stroke, pulmonary embolism, heart attack and organ failure (3)(4)(5). Excess estrogen also increases risks of developing prostate cancer in men and breast and uterus cancers in women (6)(7). Excess estrogen can also delay puberty in boys and accelerate it in girls (8).

Toxic chemical residues. The environment of both humans and animals is becoming more and more toxic every day. Just like humans, animals are exposed to herbicides, pesticides, fungicides, air pollution, heavy metals, drugs and so on. Also like us, the toxins that are not eliminated get stored in fat cells. These toxic chemicals can disrupt endocrine function, affect the reproductive system, be neurotoxic, carcinogenic and immunotoxic. It just so happens that these chemical contaminants are passed along in maternal milk, not only in humans but also in cows as well (8)(9). I don’t know about you, but I’m willing to take my chances that the chemical contaminants in breast milk won’t cause too much harm during the brief period of an infants life. But what about the remaining 70+ years of that infant’s life continuing to consume dairy products?

Calcium and Strong Bones. Maybe.

The thought process is and has been for over a century that because bones contain lots of calcium, the more calcium we ingest the stronger our bones will be. And because dairy contains so much calcium, obviously consuming lots of dairy is going to lead to increases in bone mineral density (BMD) and prevent the onset of osteoporosis. But does it really? Let’s take a look at some of the research. According to one meta-analysis of nearly 50 cohort and randomized controlled trial studies, “dietary calcium intake is not associated with risk of fracture, and there is no clinical trial evidence that increasing calcium intake from dietary sources prevents fractures. Evidence that calcium supplements prevent fractures is weak and inconsistent.” (10) Another meta-analysis of over 59 randomized controlled trials concluded that, “increasing calcium intake from dietary sources or by taking calcium supplements produces small non-progressive increases in BMD, which are unlikely to lead to a clinically significant reduction in risk of fracture.” (11) This makes complete sense though when you stop and think about it. The body is extremely intelligent. If the body’s vitamin and mineral needs and reserves are met, it simply discards the excess. Also, there is a lot more that goes on to build strong bones other than just consuming calcium. Adequate levels of Vitamin D, vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, silicon, boron, zinc, manganese, and copper are also needed, along with numerous hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, insulin, parathyroid hormones, thyroid hormones, cortisol, growth hormones, calcitriol and calcitonin (12)(13). Yeah, I know right? I find it humorous that the medical community and society as a whole focus so heavily on calcium when obviously there could be a number of factors effecting one’s current bone health.

So how much calcium does the body really need? It is believed that the minimum intake to sustain health is around 200mg per day. The World Health Organization recommends about twice this much at 500mg each day. The US recommends between 1000-1200mg per day. That’s quite a spread! Studies show that above 500mg of calcium daily little benefit to bone health is obtained (14)(15). Interestingly, the countries with the highest dairy intake also have some of the highest osteoporosis rates (16). Also worth mentioning is the fact that cow’s milk has nearly 4x the amount of calcium than human milk! Cow’s milk was designed for baby calves, not for humans.

*Side note: If you are really concerned about your bone health, I would first look at the amount of exercise you do rather than increasing calcium intake (17). Exercise is essential for bone health and I’d wager more people are lacking exercise than they are dietary calcium, especially in developed nations.

Increases IGF-1 Levels

Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) is a hormone produced by all mammals and plays an important role in normal growth and development.  IGF-1 is largely responsible for childhood growth and continued growth of organs and muscles into adulthood. Because this hormone specifically promotes cell division, it has also been linked to promote various types of cancer growth, including breast, prostate, pancreas and colon cancer (18).

Well, consuming dairy actually increases levels of IGF-1 by either direct absorption from the milk itself or its digestion (19). One study showed that dairy consumption increased IGF-1 levels in adults by 10-20% and in children by 20-30%. And as another study pointed out, kids who drink plant milk instead of cow’s milk are slighty shorter than their peers (20). But ask yourself, is adding an additional centimeter to a child’s height worth the heightened risk of developing cancer later on in life?

Dairy and Digestion

Lactose intolerance.  Lactose is a sugar molecule in milk and the specific enzyme lactase is needed for its digestion. Lactose intolerance is simply the lack or insufficient amount of lactase to digest milk. Infants are blessed with lots of lactase to allow them to live off of breast milk. Naturally, once a child is weaned, the body produces less and less lactase. Nature didn’t intend us to keep drinking milk. Many people become lactose intolerant while some retain sufficient lactase amounts to continue digesting milk. Did you know around 75% of the world’s population is lactose intolerance (21)? Interesting how many governments, institutions and companies promote dairy as a part of a healthy diet when the majority of the population can’t even digest it properly! And some of those 75% may actually not be intolerant to lactose per se, but rather a specific protein in milk called casein.

Casein. Cow’s milk has more than triple the protein content of human milk with the protein casein making up around 80 percent.  Casein only accounts for around 40% of the protein in human milk. So cow’s milk has more than 6x the amount of casein than human milk (22). Why does this matter? Casein has repeatedly proven itself to be quite the trouble maker with regards to health. As the casein is digested, the molecule bovine beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) is formed. BCM-7 has been linked to intestinal inflammation, which affects bowel transit time and consistency, can disrupt intestinal flora and lead to diarrhea, constipation, leaky gut, various skin conditions like acne and eczema, ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease (23). BCM-7 is also known to increase mucus production also influencing various bowel disorders. Casein has also demonstrated in various studies to increase the proliferation of prostate cancer cells (24). Dr Campbell, author of The China Study, discovered through years of research that casein literally acts as a switch turning on and off cancer cell growth.

Dairy and Cancer

Breast cancer. – As mentioned briefly above in the estrogen section, dairy has been linked to increase the risk of developing breast cancer. This occurs due to several influencing factors including the onset of precocious puberty, increased levels of IGF-1, and increases in estrogen levels (7)(18).

Prostate cancer. – As mentioned briefly above in the dairy and digestion section, dairy consumption is linked to and increased risk of prostate cancer. This occurs due to several influencing factors including high intakes of calcium, increased levels of IGF-1, and the protein casein. (18)(25)(26).

Dairy and Type 1 Diabetes

Remember that I mentioned consuming dairy (and other problematic foods) can cause intestinal inflammation and lead to the development of a leaky gut? A leaky gut is definitely something you don’t want to have as it is influential in the development of autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes. A leaky gut, also known as increased intestinal permeability, is when the lining of the intestines is damaged to the degree that small perforations occur. These “holes” in the gut lining allow substances to pass into the blood stream that wouldn’t be allowed otherwise, like undigested food, waste, toxins, viruses and bacteria. Your immune system targets these foreign substances, develops antibodies against them and begins to attack them, as it should. An autoimmune disease can develop though when one of these foreign substances is so similar to a healthy and inherit substance within the body that the body’s immune system can’t distinguish between self and non-self. Your body not only attacks the foreign substances, but also similar healthy cells. Keep in mind that sometimes autoimmune diseases occur simply due to genetic bad luck. However, many times it is environmentally instigated. In the case of type 1 diabetes, one environmental factor is the consumption of casein from cows milk in the presence of a leaky gut (27). The protein casein leaks into the blood stream where the body recognizes it as foreign and develops antibodies to fight it. Well, it turns out that the casein protein is very similar in structure to insulin producing beta cells of the pancreas and in a matter of time all of these cells are wiped out. Again, maybe milk is not the super food it is touted to be.

Consuming Dairy is Absolutely Unnatural

I just have to end with this. Have you ever seen a grown cow push a calf out of the way in order to get a shot of mama’s milk? Or how about a dog for that matter? Or a cat? Have you ever seen any animal for that matter, under natural circumstances and once it has been weaned, return to drinking milk on a daily basis? If you have, please send me the video! It just isn’t natural. But let me pose an even stranger scenario. Could you imagine seeing the new born calf tromp its way over to the dog who has just given birth and try and get its fair share of dog milk? I’m sure you agree with me that it would be weird for a grown human to go back to drinking mom’s milk on a daily basis. Shouldn’t it be even more unsettling and more unnatural then to see a grown human drink the milk of another species? Cow’s milk is for calves. Monkey milk is for baby monkeys. Human milk is for infants. Stop fighting nature by stopping to consume dairy. You may just find that your health will improve.

Dairy Replacements 

Luckily, we live in a time of when companies have developed substitute foods for practically everything, oftentimes creating products that taste and feel identical to the food they were meant to replace. Gone are the days of the tasteless, cardboard-like veggie burgers. There are now vegetable substitutions for sausages, eggs, beef and you guessed it, a variety of your favorite dairy products. The really neat thing that is happening is that these plant-based options are now available at many mainstream supermarkets. You no longer have to search for the obscure health food store.

Plant milks. Take your pick from one of the delicious options in a variety of flavors of soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, cashew milk, coconut milk, hazelnut milk or oat milk.

Plant cheeses. Choose from various plant cheeses made from cashews, tofu, almonds, aquafaba, potatoes, carrots, hazelnuts or coconut. Check out this website for some amazing, delectable, knock-your-socks-off plant-based cheeses! (click here) 

Plant yogurts. Just like regular yogurt is made from the milk of animals, you can make yogurt from pretty much any of the plant-based milks as well. And many companies have! Walk into your favorite health food store and you are sure to find a variety of options to choose from.

Plant butters and creams.

Plant ice-cream. The options really neat. Not only can you make ice-cream using similar ingredients for the plant milks, cheeses and creams, but you can make some amazing, creamy ice-cream with just frozen bananas! A new name has even been coined for banana based ice-cream – NICE-cream. My personal favorite is to add lot’s of cinnamon to the banana mixture and then top with raw cacao pieces.

Take Away

Wow. This post turned out longer than anticipated. I hope you made it through to the end and learned something new. Even better would be if you were to make the decision to ditch the dairy and come on over to the plant side! Milk is kind of a double-edged sword. Despite the nutrients milk contains, it can also pose as a serious hazard to health.  As always, please feel free to leave any comments below or shoot us an email!

* Vitamin B12 is actually produced by certain bacteria found in the intestines and in the soil.  Although humans also have the vitamin B12 producing bacteria, we tend to run away from anything with dirt on it so supplementation is almost always needed. The way I see it is you can either supplement your diet with vitamin B12 by consuming dairy and meat products, or buy a manufactured supplement.

 

References

  1. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/1704826
  2. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/recombinant-bovine-growth-hormone.html
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6925385
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17310026
  5. https://www.webmd.com/dvt/features/dvt-dangers-prevention#1
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15203374
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3357167/pdf/brc0005-0044.pdf
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1240884/
  9. http://scialert.net/fulltext/?doi=ijds.2007.104.115
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26420387
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26420598
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3330619/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK45504/
  14. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/106/1/40?ijkey=8d9d1e7b49b7f086325eaccf9aef9fbc52f130a6&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
  15. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/115/3/736?ijkey=06d38fb5905fec9ee1033237a7e57016cf24f358&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
  16. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/89/5/1638S.full#ref-21
  17. https://www.bones.nih.gov/health-info/bone/bone-health/exercise/exercise-your-bone-health
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15562834
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2715202/pdf/de0101_0012.pdf
  20. http://edition.cnn.com/2017/06/07/health/milk-children-height-study/index.html
  21. http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vegdiets/what-is-lactose-intolerance
  22. https://www.coursera.org/learn/lactation-biology/lecture/OMF8L/cow-vs-human-milk-composition
  23. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586534/
  24. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25237656
  25. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3249408/pdf/kwr289.pdf
  26. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15203374
  27. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518798/
Fasting – The Holy Grail

Fasting – The Holy Grail

Fasting is voluntary abstinence from food and/or drink for a period of time. Fasting is not a new trend, but has been practiced by civilizations throughout history. It is very common for members of religious sects to practice fasting as a means to obtaining spiritual enlightenment and closeness to Deity. But fasting has benefits far outreaching spiritual matters alone. Researchers are discovering numerous health benefits as a result of fasting as well. Results will vary of course from the kind of fast you choose to follow. This post is mostly geared toward fasting from food entirely, where only water is consumed. This type of fast yields the most significant health benefits.

Potential Health Benefits of Fasting

Weight loss. Guess what? If you don’t eat, you lose weight! Don’t worry, it is not unhealthy weight loss either as you will discover further in the post.

Increases insulin sensitivity. This is especially true in fasts where only water is consumed. Because you are not consuming steady doses of sugar/carbohydrates your pancreas produces less insulin. Lower levels of insulin has the side effect of increasing insulin sensitivity in cells. Also important to note is that excessive fat stores also appear to contribute to insulin resistance in cells. Intermittent or extended water fasting thus has the potential to help those suffering from Type 2 Diabetes by reducing fat stores and limiting sugar/carbohydrate consumption. (1)

Increases Levels of Human Growth Hormone. Human growth hormone (HGH) is produced by the pituitary gland and is responsible for normal development. Extremely low levels of HGH in adults leads to loss in bone density, decrease in muscle mass while increasing body fat. It is believed that many effects of aging are influenced by low levels of HGH. Synthetic growth hormone is available and while does produce various beneficial results, also carries with it high risks of side effects and is extremely costly. Wouldn’t it be awesome to increase HGH naturally? Fasting does just that, potentially increasing levels by 5-10 times! (2)(3)

Encourages cell recycling (autophagy). Cellular autophagy is different than cellular apoptosis. Apoptosis is the designated time of death of a cell (various cells have different life spans) and is a completely natural and beneficial process. Our body is in a state of constant renewal of getting rid of the old and replacing it with new. Here are a few fun facts: your lungs are constantly replacing themselves around every three weeks; your taste buds every 10 days; your skin every 2-4 weeks and your bones even are completely replaced every 10 years. But before cells die and get replaced, they can suffer damage and malfunctioning, much like a used car. Cellular autophagy then is similar to taking your car to the repair shop. The parts and pieces that aren’t working get replaced and recycled by the body to use in other ways and the cell gets a nice tune up. Increased levels of glucose, proteins and insulin all inhibit the process of autophagy or cellular recycling. Basically then, constantly eating throughout the day does not allow for cellular autopahgy. Only during the night can our body start doing some house cleaning and recycle and replace damaged cellular components. Often times though the night isn’t sufficient for all the cleaning and recycling that needs to be done. Fasting then sets the stage for deep, deep cleaning without any interruption from the ingestion of food. This celluar recycling helps prevent aging and keep cells functioning optimally. Essentially, fasting can lengthen your life and help you look longer. (4)

May help prevent Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s disease is characterized by the abnormal accumulation of amyloid beta (Aß) proteins in the brain. Current science believes that accumulations of these Aß proteins damage and eventually destroy the synaptic connections in the memory areas of the brain. Under normal circumstances, Aß protein is disposed of through autopahgy so that it can be recycled into other molecules as the body sees fit. For some reason, this autophagy process is hindered and the Aß proteins accumulate, leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Theoretically, fasting then may play a beneficial role in preventing Alzheimer’s disease by encouraging and stimulating cellular autophagy. (5)

Improves heart health. First, fasting has the potential to improve triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood. Both triglycerides and cholesterol are types of fat and higher levels of both are linked to various heart diseases. Second, fasting also helps lower blood pressure.  (6)(7)

Decreases inflammation. While inflammation can have many causes, one main contributing factor is one’s diet. Processed foods, meat, dairy, over cooked food, sweeteners and alcohol all provoke inflammation in the body. Obviously then, going without food for an extended period of time will help lower dietary-related inflammation. Other provokers of inflammation are allergies, wounds, infection and day-to-day metabolism. Fasting has shown to also help lower inflammation generally, not just related to diet. (8)

 

Fasting Myths

Fasting leads to muscle catabolism. The body stores excess fuel as small amounts of glycogen and mostly fat, not as protein. Muscle is reserved until fat reserves dip so low – less than 4 percent – that the body has no other choice than to start burning muscle. Let’s put that in perspective. An average male of 70 kg (160 lbs) with 15 percent body fat is carrying around 10.5 kg (24 lbs) of fat. Each gram of fat equals 9 calories so this same person has almost 100,000 calories in reserve fuel. Even at 2500 calories per day expenditure while fasting (which is relatively high), it would take roughly 40 days to use up all this fuel. To assume that the body is going to start eating your muscles when there is all this fat around would be similar to you having a 3 month food supply of grains, beans, tubers, canned fruit and vegetables, and when famine hit, you went looking for tree bark and insects. Kind of absurd. Also, remember that during fasting HGH levels actually increase, helping maintain lean muscle mass. Take a look at the chart below. You can see that during fasting the body actually starts conserving muscle, not burning it.

 

Source: McCue, ed., Comparative Physiology of Fasting, Starvation, and Food Limitation.

Fasting is equivalent to starving. Starvation simply put is death brought on by a lack of food. The point of starvation is different for every person and highly dependent on the current situation. In fact, fear alone may kill a man faster than abstinence from food ever could. As mentioned above, an average person is carrying weeks, if not months of reserve fuel to feed him during a fast. Fasting then is abstaining from food until these reserves are consumed. Starvation then is abstaining from food after these reserves are depleted. I find it ironic that so many people are so concerned about starving (fasting) to death, while all the long encourage the constant stuffing oneself to death. Frankly, much of the worlds population in developed nations could seriously benefit from missing a few meals on a regular basis.

 

How does one fast?

My favorite thing about fasting by only drinking water is how incredibly simple it is. It is absolutely free and requires no preparation or planning. If you want to practice intermittent fasting (IF), simply stop eating and continue only drinking water for 12-48 hours. Intermittent fasting is repeated shorter fasts, possibly every day, every few days or every week. However, if an extended fast is what you are after, it is advised that before you start, you prepare your body by eliminating all processed foods, lower carbohydrate intake and increase healthy fat intake. The ideal scenario would be if you were already in a state of nutritional ketosis. Since during fasting you will switch from burning glucose to fat as fuel, it will be a smoother transition if you are already encouraging your body to burn fat instead of carbohydrates as fuel.  This will lead to less hunger pains and adverse side effects during the first few days of fasting. Also, you may want to take some form of natural laxative to empty the bowels as it is very likely you will not have any bowel movements during the duration of your water fast. Once you start your fast though, there is nothing else to remember other than to drink water (pure, filtered or distilled water is preferred). Rest is also strongly advised during an extended fast. Hunger usually disappears after day 2 or 3 and you may experience times of weakness and lightheadedness. Please don’t plan a marathon or an adventure in the mountains while fasting!

 

How does one end a fast?

Ending a fast may just be as important if not more important than all your fasting days put together! If all you are doing is intermittent fasting, something less than 48 hours there is not much concern on what you eat afterwards. However, if you are coming off an extended fast longer than five days but shorter than 30 days, some caution should be had. It is also suggested that during an extended fast your body will clearly tell you when it is time to end by the return of true hunger.

If you want to continue on with a ketogenic diet, then I would recommend breaking the fast with either a spoonful of coconut oil or half an avocado. Then later in the day some more coconut oil or avocado. The following day slowly add in more fat-based foods that adhere to a ketogenic diet plan, but I would still hold off on any raw veggies or meat until the third day. 

If you plan to go back to a high carbohydrate diet, then I would recommend first drinking some coconut water to get some healthy electrolytes back into your system. Then for breakfast some fresh fruit, like watermelon, papaya or pineapple. I would have fresh fruit for breakfast and then again for lunch. For dinner you might have some light vegetable soup or boiled potatoes with the broth. The second day I would first eat fruit again for breakfast, then for lunch more cooked vegetables or maybe a small portion of oatmeal or other cooked cereal grain and dinner somewhat the same. By day three you should be able to basically resume old eating habits without any problems. But hopefully after your fast you will stay away from all processed foods and follow a whole-foods, plant based diet! Also, pay attention to each food you add to your diet and how your body digests it. After a water fast is a great time to test your body for any food sensitivities or allergies that may have been causing problems before. 

While I do recognize the potential health benefits of a high fat, low carb and moderate protein diet, I still strongly believe that such a diet should only be used for the short term. For long term health and wellness, there just isn’t anything better than a vegan, whole foods, plant based diet. 

 

Is fasting for everyone?

While most people are perfectly capable of fasting, even for extended periods of time, some will need to consult with a medical professional before starting any kind of fasting regime.

Those with diabetes, who are taking medications or suffer from gout, should first consult their health practioner before making any significant dietary changes, like fasting. 

Pregnant or breastfeeding women should not practice fasting. 

Those under the age of 18 should not fast any longer than 24 hours. 

Those underweight or undernurished should not practice fasting. 

 

I hope you have learned alot about fasting and are more confident incorporating fasting, be it intermittent or extended fasting into your life. I am sure you will discover for yourself some of the many health benefits described above! 

 *For a more comprehensive reading about fasting, please check out Dr. Fung’s new book – The Complete Guide to Fasting

References

  1. http://journals.lww.com/co-lipidology/Abstract/2008/06000/Free_fatty_acids_and_skeletal_muscle_insulin.4.aspx
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC329619/
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1548337
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20225336
  5. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0104423013000213#sec0020
  6. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0104423013000213#sec0020
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1274154/
  8. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150216131146.htm

 

Early to Bed; Early to Rise

Early to Bed; Early to Rise

Are some people really programmed naturally to stay up late into the night? I don’t believe so. Everyone has an internal clock that cycles between sleepiness and alertness known as circadian rhythm. This sleep/wake cycle is controlled by the hypothalamus and heavily influenced by light and darkness (1). When darkness falls at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus letting it know that it is time to feel tired.  This leads to the release of the chemical melatonin which makes you tired. There is some degree of variance in circadian rhythm from person to person, but typically this falls between a range of a couple hours. So while staying up till 10pm is understandable, staying awake past midnight is not. 

The problem that many night owls have is that their lives are “off beat” from their circadian rhythm. Shift work, late night tv, video games, texting, Facebook,high stress, caffeine, college all-nighters, parties, sugar intake and other factors can all cause an individual to resist and override their natural sleep/wake cycle. I’m not saying that everyone should go to bed as soon as the sun sets or at one designated time. What I am saying though is that staying awake into the wee hours of the night is not only unnatural, but also potentially unhealthy.

Potential Health Benefits of Going to Bed Early and Rising Early

  1. Positive thoughts. One study found that those that go to bed early tend to worry less and have a more positive outlook on life (2).
  2. More in control and less stressed. Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to wake up to an alarm clock? Well you shouldn’t really have to. One huge benefit of going to bed early is getting adequate sleep. Most of us need to be up by a certain time in the morning, so while the time of falling asleep vary, the time to get up is nearly constant. Those that retire early usually wake up naturally well before they have to be somewhere or do something. The night owls are often the same people who continue to hit snooze on their alarms until the last possible minute and then in a panicked hurry get ready for wherever they have to be. Poor or inadequate sleep are linked to feelings of irritability, stress and short tempers (3).
  3. Enhances your chance of success. Some research has shown that early risers tend to get better grades, are more proactive, better at solving problems, more cooperative, more conscientious, and have increased memory and concentration (4).
  4. Makes you happier (3). I think we have all experienced this. You just feel good and happier after a good nights rest. 
  5. Strengthens the immune system. Have you ever noticed that when you are running on less than desired sleep that you are more prone to getting sick? Adequate and quality rest help keep you healthy and disease free by strengthening the immune system (5) . Maybe instead of the flu shot, people just need to get more sleep?
  6. More energy in the morning and throughout the day.

Tips to help you fall asleep earlier so that you can enjoy the health benefits of those listed above!

  1. Exercise early in the day
  2. Don’t eat late at night
  3. Listen to sleep meditation at the time you want to fall asleep
  4. Drink a warm glass of chamomile tea an hour or so before bed
  5. Don’t bring your electronics with you to bed. Try reading a book instead.
  6. Limit caffeine intake to the morning

Good luck on making going to bed earlier and waking up earlier a habit! In fact, I’m off to bed!

 

It’s All About Your Poop!

It’s All About Your Poop!

Did you know that one of the most effective ways your body communicates with you is through your poop? Constipation, diarrhea, green poop, black poop, small poops, large poops and smelly poops are all forms of communication. And it’s not just about how often you defecate either, but the quality and quantity as well. One of the most important things you can start doing right now is looking at your poop each time you sit on that white throne of yours. Let’s analyze your poop together!

First, let’s go over the shape and size of your poop.

Check out the chart below. The ideal poop shape is typically type 4. Type 4 is long (about 9-12 inches), at least 1 inch in diameter and it should coil in the toilet bowl or make an s-shape. Pencil-thin poops are usually a sign of inflammation or obstruction. Type 3 and 5 are okay, and you shouldn’t be too sad if you are having either of these. Type 1 and 2 are serious signs of a lack of fiber and water in the diet. Type 6 and 7 could be due to a dramatic increase in fiber intake, a cleanse of some sort or an infection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Now let’s talk about color.

  • Brown stools are ideal. The brown color is due to bile from your gall bladder being metabolized by the bacteria in your intestines.
  • Red stools can be a sign of lower GI bleeding (hemorrhoids, colon polyps, or an inflammatory bowel disease) with worst case scenario being cancer. But before you rush off to the doctor for a checkup, ask yourself if you have eaten beets or maybe even something with a lot of red dye in it.
  • Green stools usually is a sign of undigested bile or possibly Crohn’s disease (which causes bile to pass through your intestines too quickly). Taking antibiotics is also known to change stools green in some people.
  • Yellow stools are usually a sign of liver and/or gall bladder issues. Dandelion root or milk thistle are great liver tonic herbs. Yellow stools may also be caused by giardia or a sign you have celiac disease.
  • Balck (super dark) stools and may indicate upper GI bleeding. Iron supplements may also be the culprit here.
  • White or clay colored stools are no bueno (sorry guys, I really wanted to use white text to coincide with stool color but I also wanted you to be able to see the text). This stool color is likely related to a liver disease or pancreatic disorder.

*Remember, color variation is quite normal if it is just for a day or two. Any color variation though lasting longer than a few days may require a visit to the doctor.*

Last but not least, is smell.

I mean, poop naturally stinks, but I am talking about those rancid, super strong smelling stools that even you can’t tolerate. Most likely, the toxic smell produced by your stool is caused by a change in diet. It takes time for the bacteria in your gut to adjust to new food or dietary changes. Other times it could be due to an imbalance in gut flora or dysbiosis. Really stinky poop may also be a sign of malabsorption, due to an infection, disease such as celiac or Crohn’s, food allergies or dairy protein intolerance. Sometimes medications and/or supplements may also be behind your smelly behind.

And before you go poop just yet, I want to leave you with a few suggestions on how to poop.

  1. Never push hard to get your stools out. If you are straining to poop, stop. Try increasing your water intake and fiber content (whole grains, veggie and fruits). Your poop should literally just slide out (with a tiny itsy-bitsy push) and typically you should be finished pooping in less time than it takes to pee.
  2. Squatting is more natural than sitting on a toilet and helps the bowels release. Try propping your feet up on a kids stool the next time you poop. Or you can always get really crazy and buy yourself a squatty-potty.
  3. RELAX. Try deep breathing when you poop if you are struggling. Don’t strain yourself!
  4. For women – wipe front to back! If you wipe back to front you will likely smear bowel movement into the vagina. In your intestines there is a relatively harmless E coli, a natural occurring bacteria kept balanced and checked by the gut. When E coli finds it way into the vagina though, it causes a UTI ( urinary tract infection) and those things are not pleasant!
  5. Before you flush, LOOK AT YOUR POOP. See what your body is telling you.

In summary, a healthy poop should:

  • Be brown in color
  • Long and snake-like, smooth with no cracks and at least an inch in diameter
  • Stink, but not make your eyes water
  • Occur at least once a day
  • Should not hurt, but easily come out

What can you do to have healthy poops:

  • Drink lot’s of water. Typically 2 – 4 liters. Most people are chronically dehydrated.
  • Follow a whole foods, plant-based diet. This will provide you with lot’s of fiber that the bowels love to help push things along and clean the walls of the intestines
  • Don’t eat meals just before bed
  • Engage in light to moderate exercise every day which helps stimulate peristalsis

Happy pooping everyone!