Sunday, September 26, 2010

Maximizing Your Workout Effectiveness With Peak Fitness

In previous articles I mentioned the importance of decreasing sugar in the diet because fructose is a toxin. Too much sugar and a sedentary lifestyle leads to insulin resistance, and decreased cardiovascular fitness. Most people know the importance of an active lifestyle and many are involved in some sort of aerobic and/or strengthening regimen. These are valuable activities and important part of a healthy lifestyle but individuals who are overweight may get discouraged by taking longer to reach the desired results.

To understand why, we need to know that we have 3 types of muscle fibers and they use different energy sources. The types are slow twitch, fast twitch and superfast twitch fibers. Most forms of training only work the aerobic muscle fibers which are the slow twitch ones. One of the best ways to make your workout more effective is to engage those superfast muscle fibers that are involved with anaerobic activity. They are white muscle fibers and have fewer blood vessels and less ability to produce energy for prolonged activity which is why they are used for short bursts of activity. The use of these fibers results in the production of growth hormone which helps improve strength and reduce body fat. By engaging these muscle fibers you change your biochemistry and these changes can be measured up to an hour post-workout.

In order to engage these fibers you have to insert bursts of anaerobic activity into your regular workout. The way to do this is different for each person but you can tell when you have achieved this because you will be out of breath and sweat profusely during the anaerobic bursts. It is necessary to put the body in oxygen debt (being out of breath) in order to be working anaerobically. These bursts of intensity should last 20 -30 seconds followed by 90 seconds of recovery and repeated 8 times. Each person’s anaerobic threshold will vary greatly – for some climbing a hill is enough while others need to sprint up the hill. Pay attention to how you are feeling throughout the workout. Working out this way shortens the workout time to a mere 20 minutes of higher-efficiency workout. Substituting this method twice a week for your regular workout will show improved results.

Now that you've improved your growth hormone production you need to make sure you do not consume any sugar or fructose for 2 hours after the workout. This is because consumption of sugars will cause the production of a hormone somatostatin which stops growth hormone production. Please note that most sports drinks are loaded with sugars so it is better to have some water after the workout.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Naturally Protect Your Body From The Dangerous Effects Of Stress

Hans Selye was the first scientist to really bring the effects of stress to light in his book The Stress of Life. Stress is caused by changes in our environment and it can be positive or negative. Both elicit similar responses in the body. There is a predictable set of physiological changes in response to stressors and these were collectively called General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS).

There are 3 stages of adaptation:
1. Alarm reaction - this is the initial response which involves increased adrenal secretions and activation of fight or flight responses

2. Resistance - changes in water balance and carbohydrate metabolism representing adaptation to stress

3. Exhaustion - This involves depletion of adrenal secretory functions

The adrenal gland sits on top of the kidneys and it has two parts with distinctly different functions. The inner portion or the medulla secretes epinephrine and norepinephrine which are associated with the sympathetic nervous system. The outer portion which is called the adrenal cortex makes steroid hormones. The main functional groups of hormones from the adrenal cortex are mineralocorticoids such as aldosterone, glucocorticoids such as cortisol and sex hormones. The mineralocorticoids are responsible for water balance in the body and maintaining blood pressure by controlling sodium and potassium levels. Cortisol has anti-inflammatory properties and it also affects carbohydrate metabolism by raising blood sugar and using fat and protein for energy. It also promotes the deposition of fat in the trunk area of the body. The adrenal cortical secretions are controlled by chemical messengers from the brain through the hypothalamic-pituitary axis (HPA). The controlling areas in the brain work on a circadian rhythm as well as various feedback loops. In normal HPA function, we have high cortisol levels upon awakening (after fasting all night) and the cortisol levels fall throughout the day and are at the lowest point during the first two hours of sleeping.

Adrenal dysfunction can be described as a multi-stage process. 1. Acute adrenal dysfunction 2. Adrenal Fatigue and 3. Adrenal Exhaustion. Addison's disease which is a serious medical condition of adrenal failure could be considered the fourth stage. The first 3 stages correlate with the three stages of GAS.

In the first stage the patient has elevated levels of cortisol. This stage is often missed because in the absence of lab testing it simply appears that the patient is stressed and many people are stressed at work or home from busy lives. The first stage patient may have difficulty sleeping. The second stage is where symptoms become more apparent. The patient may begin to put on weight, especially in the midsection. They may have mood swings and suffer from hypoglycemia. Some patients suffer from chronic inflammation and perhaps develop fibromyalgia or headaches. The third stage shows increasing numbers of the above symptoms with added severe fatigue.

In looking at the functions of the adrenal gland and how it is stimulated there are several effective lifestyle changes that can maximize the proper function of the adrenal gland. It is important to address both the physical and mental aspects. You can really help your body manage stress by engaging in meditative practices such as yoga and tai chi or simply taking walks with pleasant scenery. Make sure you don't get stuck at your desk for hours on end. Take a break - even to just make a cup of tea and get a healthy snack. You have to walk to the break area to do it so that's like a mini-break.

Caffeine is a powerful stimulant and it really pushes the adrenal glands into overload. It also disrupts proper water balance since it is a diuretic. Have you ever noticed that when you drink a lot of caffeine it takes more and more for you to get that buzz that you are seeking? Over time the caffeine fatigues the adrenal glands and so you have less of that "awake" feeling from consuming caffeinated beverages. I was very disappointed to learn this because I really love coffee. I have several types of coffeemakers in my house. So, what to do? Naturally decaffeinated coffee is great! I tried decaf from the supermarket and it smelled foul upon opening and no wonder since it is decaffeinated by chemicals. Then I found naturally decaffeinated coffee in which they remove the caffeine by a water-based process. I got mine at Trader Joe's and if you are lucky enough to live in an area where they have those stores I heartily recommend checking them out. However, as more and more people become aware of the problems with caffeine there are naturally decaffeinated products showing up in our regular stores. You may wish to start off half caf or slightly decaffeinated to wean yourself off so you can avoid a nasty headache.

Make sure you get enough fiber as this helps to manage your blood sugar levels. You can supplement your fiber by adding psyllium husks to juice. Psyllium is one of the components in powdered laxatives but it is best to get the psyllium by itself without the added chemicals found in the laxatives. Start in small doses since it will take time for your digestive system to adjust and it can cause flatulence if taken in large amounts. I like to add it to fruit smoothies with yogurt which has the added benefit of providing beneficial bacteria for the digestive system. And when it is in the smoothie you can’t taste it. In my last article I spoke of the dangers of fructose consumption but when you consume the fruit whole (or blended in smoothie) you are not going to absorb as much fructose - even less so if you add psyllium to your smoothie. Do not skip meals. This includes breakfast. I asked a patient if they skipped meals and they said no but indicated that they eat breakfast 5 hours after getting up. This is like skipping breakfast. In order to keep your blood sugar levels in check you really need to eat something within an hour or so of getting up. Some good things for busy people on the go are a cup of yogurt and a fruit or a homemade smoothie with protein. You can also do toast with peanut butter (or sunflower butter). If you really like your fruit juice make sure it is a small juice glass.

In my office I have a protocol for testing hormone levels and special supplements to support the adrenal glands. But the lifestyle modifications mentioned above are also very important.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Great Fructose Debate

Over the past few years so much has been said on the topic of high fructose corn syrup.It is becoming increasingly apparent that this common processed food ingredient is harmful to our health.To understand this it becomes necessary to get some background on sugar metabolism.

Regular table sugar, or sucrose, is a disaccharide – it is composed to two sugar groups. It is one glucose and fructose bound together.These two sugars are metabolized differently. Glucose can be processed nearly anywhere in the body and our cells can make energy (ATP) directly from glucose. Fructose must be processed in the liver using the enzyme fructokinase. After processing, fructose products can be used to make glycogen (stored energy) or triglycerides (fatty storage material). This is where the consumption levels come into play.After the maximum amount of storage space for glycogen is used, than it must be stored as fat or triglycerides.

Fructose is naturally found in fruits and is certainly fine for human consumption in limited amounts. However, overconsumption of fructose can lead to liver problems, diarrhea, gas and bloating, elevated triglycerides and weight gain. The liver is entirely responsible for fructose metabolism. Research reported by Linda Forristal in the Fall 2001 issue of the Weston A. Price Foundation’s journal shows lab rats with high fructose diets have liver damage similar to that of alcoholics.

Fructose is absorbed in the intestines by special receptors and they can only absorb so much fructose at a time.Any fructose left in the gut leads to gas, bloating and diarrhea. Excess fructose is converted to fat. Fructose does not activate satiety (the feeling of being “full” after eating) and therefore consumption increases and insulin resistance develops. All of this leads to weight gain in general and central obesity or “belly fat” in particular.

Researchers have linked high levels of fructose consumption with the development of gout.Uric acid is a byproduct of fructose metabolism and accumulation of the uric acid crystals in the body leads to the painful condition of gout once common among wealthier elderly individuals. Dr. Robert Johnson published a book entitled “The Sugar Fix: The High Fructose Fallout That is Making You Fat And Sick” discussing this correlation.

High fructose corn syrup is particularly problematic because it has more fructose than glucose and they are not bound together as sucrose molecules. It is also found in nearly all processed foods and soft drinks. High fructose corn syrup is much cheaper than sugar and so it was economically viable to make the switch to this syrup rather than sugar in processed foods. Corn is heavily subsidized by the government and is therefore very readily available. In the past year some trials of sugar-sweetened soft drinks are making their ways to the shelf once again.

Another sweetener that is heavily touted for its “natural” appeal is agave nectar. The switch from sugar consumption to agave nectar is a mistake because agave nectar has much more fructose than high fructose corn syrup – as much as 80%. That means that the problems with high fructose corn syrup are found to a much greater degree with agave nectar.

Pure glucose sweetener can be cheaply purchased for use in the home. Fruit consumption is an important part of a balanced diet but be aware that you should choose fruits with lower amounts of fructose or have smaller servings in order to avoid excess fructose consumption. It should be noted that the consumption of sugar is way to high in the country. All forms of sugar can be harmful in excess. Processed foods contain so many hidden sugars. Imagine if you will the average burger in a bun. It has so much more sugar than if you would bake the buns at home and grill the burger yourself. We don't think of the buns as being sweets or sugary items but because the syrup is so cheap it is added to all processed items. This drives up our consumption and we didn't even realise it. It is much better to eat home-prepared meals and bypass the entire issue.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Naturally Beautiful Eggs For Spring Holidays

There are many good natural substitutes for the egg coloring kits available at the supermarket. These ingredients are readily available and non-toxic. Even the non-toxic kits can contain petroleum products. Any food product with coloring contains color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5. These additives are associated with allergies and according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors in the case of Red No. 3 and hives from Yellow No. 5. It is unnecessary to expose your families to these toxins when there are so many great natural substitutes available.

To make the dye make sure you have enough liquid to cover the eggs you are trying to color. The ratio should be ¾ cup water to 1 tablespoon of white vinegar. The vinegar helps to extract the coloring agent from the botanical ingredients. If you are using leafy greens then substitute 1 tsp of baking soda for the vinegar. Use up to 4 cups of vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart of liquid. Simmer the ingredients for about half an hour adding ingredients and/or vinegar to increase the color of the dye.

Colors available

Red - Red onion peels or Beets

Brown - Black tea

Orange - Peels from yellow onions

Red-orange – Chili powder

Yellow - Turmeric

Lime Green/pale yellow - Green Tea

Green - Frozen spinach, remember to use baking soda not vinegar

Blue - Red cabbage

Purple - Frozen blueberries

Several sources suggested leaving the botanicals in the dye solution in order to achieve a mottled effect on the dying process but you can strain the solution with a coffee filter if you want a smoother appearance. If you are not planning to eat the eggs you may want to try boiling them in the dying solution. This is not recommend for eggs that you may consume simply because it produces a rubbery texture and off taste.

You can experiment with other plants and spices to try and get different colors but remember that eggshells are porous and it is important not to use any toxic materials for the dye solution. Colors vary in intensity – for more color leave the eggs in solution for an extended time. Remember to turn them so that they take up dye evenly. Find a hard surface on which to dry the eggs because they will have imprints if you place them on paper towels to dry.

You can incorporate texture by pressing leaves and grasses onto the egg while dying them. You can also wrap the eggs with string prior to dying to leave lines on the finished product. Add a shine to the finished product by brushing with olive oil.

Hollow eggshells can be preserved by varnishing or a light coat of white glue.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Natural Disease Prevention

We’ve heard a lot about colds and influenza and the controversy surrounding the vaccination programs. There are some important steps that can be taken to naturally protect yourself from these diseases.

One of the most important steps is to make sure that you have adequate vitamin D levels. It is no secret that cases of colds and flu are found in greater numbers during the fall and winter seasons. During these seasons there is less sunlight and correspondingly lower vitamin D levels. Studies suggest that the optimal level in the blood should be 50 – 65 ng/ml (Holick MF. Calcium and Vitamin D. Diagnostics and Therapeutics. Clin Lab Med. 2000 Sep;20(3):569-90 as quoted in and even higher levels are recommended in the case of severe illness. Many Americans have levels below 20 ng/ml in late winter season. In previous years this vitamin was only mentioned in conjunction with calcium levels for bone density. But current research shows its importance in preventing and treating a vast array of conditions such as diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Exposure to sunlight aids in natural vitamin D production but there are concerns with excess sun exposure and skin cancer so supplementation may be used. However, it is important to have blood levels checked prior to beginning a supplementation program because vitamin D can build up to toxic levels in the body. The proper test checks the levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D which is the active form. There are many great articles online discussing vitamin D.

Make sure you take care of you body by keeping your spine in alignment – the proper function of the nervous system and body alignment keeps the immune system tuned for peak performance. Make sure to get enough rest and proper nutrition. Maintain adequate hydration – moist mucus membranes are one of our first lines of defense against bacteria and viruses. Use a vaporizer if your home air is dry due to use of the heating system.

Basic hygienic measures can be effective in prevention as well. Avoid touching your face, especially eyes, nose or mouth. These are portals of entry for bacteria and viruses and your hands may carry many of these pathogens. Wash hands frequently – use soap and warm water. Remember to soap well between fingers and around nails. Keep hands adequately moisturized after handwashing –dry cracked skin allows pathogens to enter. Do not lick fingers when counting money or shuffling papers. If you’ve been ill be sure to clean your phone and toothbrush to prevent reintroducing infection. Cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing to prevent spread of infection.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Artificial Sweeteners

There are multiple artificial sweeteners on the market now and they each have their own potential problems. The trend of using artificial sweeteners as a diet aid is a great mistake. One of the big problems is that the artificial sweeteners do not trigger a sense of fullness – called satiety. For this reason, people who use these products often overeat. Overeating leads to increased risk of metabolic syndrome, increased abdominal fat accumulation, high blood pressure and insulin resistance.

Aspartame is rarely used these days having been replaced by newer sugar substitutes. This sweetener goes by the name of Nutrasweet or Equal. Aspartame has been associated with such symptoms as headaches, dizziness, seizures, muscle spasms, vision problems, hearing loss, and a whole host of other problems related to nervous system dysfunction. Aspartame contains aspartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol. Aspartic acid is a class of chemicals known as excitotoxins. They are so-named for their excitatory effect on nerve cells, sometimes to the point of killing the cells by allowing too much calcium into the cells. Phenylalanine is a chemical that is normally found in the brain. People who have the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) are not able to process this chemical so intake of this chemical leads to dangerously high levels of phenylalanine in the brain. By ingesting aspartame even persons who do not have PKU can accumulate dangerously elevated levels of phenylalanine. Methanol is also known as wood alcohol and it is a deadly poison. This compound is responsible for blinding or killing many alcoholics or those individuals who try to distill their own liquor at home.

Splenda also known as sucralose is one of the newer sweeteners and is gradually replacing aspartame in many diet products. Splenda is made by adding chlorine to a sugar molecule. The manufacturer claimed that sucralose poses no danger associated with the added chlorine since it passes through the body unabsorbed. There are conflicting studies that suggest indeed some of it is absorbed and metabolized. The FDA has a report on this as well as the Japanese Food Sanitation Council. Some symptoms found in animal studies were enlarged liver and kidneys, shrinking of the thymus (an important immune organ), and decreased red blood cell count. Sucralose is relatively new and as such has the fewest studies of all artificial sweeteners but these preliminary findings certainly indicate the need for further inquiry.