Sunday, May 15, 2011

Some Steps For Natural Health Of The Digestive System

The last post was about the importance of health in the gut and we will continue that discussion here. We have good bacteria in the gut that protect us from infection and it is also responsible for producing vitamin K which is essential in blood clotting.

To keep the membrane functioning properly we need to have proper chewing, adequate digestive enzymes, limit inflammation, and a good dose of fiber (the American Dietetics Association recommends 20 – 35 g per day for adults). It is also important to engage in some level of physical activity to keep things moving.

Abdominal exercises can be especially useful in promoting movement in the gut. In fact there are special yoga exercises that are promoted particularly for digestive health. Those yoga series include such moves as boat pose, bringing knee to nose and alternate leg raises. Many of these poses involve compressing the abdomen to one degree or another. Another exercise that may help with digestive movement are bicycling the legs from a supine position.

Remember that the intestines are membranes surrounded by muscular tubes and like the other muscles of the body they need to have exercise to work correctly. The consumption of high fiber foods helps to provide resistance as the intestines contract in waves called peristalsis to move materials through the digestive system.

The overuse of antibiotic medications can lead to intestinal distress and yeast overgrowth in the gut. These problems can be addressed by the use of specific supplements and dietary modification and after the gut heals the whole body feels better!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gastrointestinal Health - More Than Just Digestion

The digestive tract is a very important system in the body and has many critical functions. Many problems in other body systems can be traced to problems found here. Some important components of GI health are: Digestion, Elimination, Microflora Balance, and Gut Integrity. 70% of immune system function takes place in the G.I. tract.

Maintaining proper barrier function prevents food particles and microorganisms from passing through the gut wall and entering the blood stream or lymphatic system.

“Leaky Gut leads to Leaky Brain” and indeed problems such as “brain fog” and joint pain and irritability can be related to digestive problems like yeast overgrowth, hypoglycemia, food allergies and nutritional deficiencies.

These types of problems affect the production of gut neuropeptides which are small molecules that carry information. These neuropeptides allow the release of chemicals in the brain. A great book that addresses this topic is "Molecules of Emotion" written by Candace Pert who received her PhD at Johns Hopkins University and has served in positions at NIMH and Georgetown University. In this book Dr. Pert coined the term “bodymind” which really explains the complex relationship between the brain, all body systems and mental state.

One of the important functions of the GI tract is to take in food items, break them down into their usable components (such as lipids, carbohydrates and amino acids from proteins) and allow absorption of these nutrients. It also serves as a barrier to prevent the absorption of large foreign proteins. So in a simplistic sense, the gut disassembles the foods we eat into functional nutrients, which are absorbed through the selectively permeable membrane that is the intestines and all non-usable compounds are expelled from the body in the form of fecal material. Leaks in this membrane allow those foreign proteins to penetrate the gut wall and escape into the body where they set up various inflammatory reactions and cause food allergies.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Naturally Decreasing Inflammation And Pain

Our bodies use the food we eat to maintain bones and muscles and also to produce chemical messengers that affect how we function. A diet rich in highly processed foods, especially sugars, can cause an increase in the amount of chemicals associated with inflammation in the body. When these chemicals are found in higher levels we experience increased pain sensations including but not limited to muscle aches, spasms and joint stiffness.

Inflammation is a process by which there is an increase in temperature and amount of fluid in an area of the body. There may also be redness and pain associated with inflammation. The inflammatory process is a means by which the body can heal itself and so it often happens after an injury. However, if the inflammation persists it can lead to ongoing pain or other problems in the body.

A higher level of inflammation in the body, besides causing pain, can lead to serious problems in the future. Research studies showed a link between high levels of inflammation and the possibility of developing heart disease. (

Foods like leafy green vegetables, and cold water fish such as salmon help to reduce inflammation. Limiting consumption of refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta, sugary snacks and white rice can help to decrease pain. The use of certain supplements like essential fatty acids, ginger or digestive enzymes may be helpful in reducing inflammation.

It is very important to read labels on foods. Highly processed foods contain more of the inflammation-causing substances. Did you know that high fructose corn syrup is often used instead of sugar and it has the same effect of increasing inflammation? Another confusing fact is that a box or can of food often contains more than one serving. The nutritional information is only given per serving so the amount of fats and sugars may appear lower than the content of the box or can. A bagel from a typical bagel shop is 3 - 4 servings of bread! The Department of Agriculture has some useful information about serving sizes:

A good way to assess your diet is to keep a diet diary listing everything you eat and drink for 1-2 weeks. Once you have gathered the listing, see how many sugars and starches you are eating. Large numbers of those items can actually be a cause of bodily pain but you can improve how you feel by following the nutritional guidelines.

Pineapple is full of enzymes that help decrease inflammation. Curry powder that contains turmeric is another great thing to incorporate into your diet if you have chronic pain. Cherries have been associated with a decrease in joint pain for people that have certain types of arthritis. As you can see the foods we eat, as well as those we choose to avoid, really make a big difference in decreaseing inflammation and keeping us feeling our best!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Natural Anti-Aging Strategies

As the Baby Boomer generation reaches retirement age we are seeing an increase in research in the field of anti-aging. Baby Boomers as a group are active and want to maintain their physical activities long after retirement age.

Research shows that growth hormone is a key component in anti-aging as the levels of this important hormone drop off throughout adult life and contribute to the signs of aging. There are anti-aging clinics that use injections of growth hormone as part of their protocol. However, natural growth hormone production in our own bodies is much more effective.

Growth hormone is involved not just in growth but in the daily maintenance of the body parts. All cell growth and repair is controlled by this hormone. We know that the body is constantly breaking down tissues and replacing them with new tissues. This is a normal function and helps us to adapt to the stresses we place on our systems on a daily basis. As we age, the rate of rebuilding tissues can decrease and this leads to visible signs of aging. There is a decrease in growth hormone production as well.

There are certain things that you can do in order to maximize your growth hormone production.

• The first is caloric restriction.

This means first keeping your calorie intake appropriate to your activity level but also it relates to intake of food after exercise. There are many calorie calculating programs online that use your height, weight and gender to determine appropriate calorie levels. It may be less than you think.

• Another point is peak fitness which means that you exercise for short intervals at peak intensity (90 seconds) and you do this several times throughout the workout.

This allows you to perform shorter workouts as well. It is important to avoid consuming any sugar for 2 hours after working out. Most sports drinks contain large amounts of sugar and so it is better to consume some water after working out. The periods of intense exercise trigger the production of growth hormone but if you take sugar within that 2 hour window after exercise you will stop the production. Check out previous posts related to peak fitness.

• Get adequate sleep 7-8 hours is best and including a couple of 20 minute naps throughout the day is even better.

• Finally - the old adage of "use it or lose it" is true. If you don't exercise you will lose strength in your muscles and joints. If you skip stretching your muscles will tighten. Stretching is particularly important to do daily. Have a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit sugar. And remember - if you argue for your limitations by saying "I'm too old to do exercises" those limitations will surely be yours.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Natural Allergy Symptom Relief

It’s that time of the year again and here in Georgia we are experiencing the early start of what may be fondly called “Yellow Car Season”. At this time the pollen is so thick in the air that it coats everything in a layer of yellowish dust. We have not yet seen the infamous yellow dust but the pollen levels show us that we have elevated levels of tree pollens and many of my patients are complaining of allergy symptoms ranging from sinus congestion to stinging watery eyes. Environmental allergies are present when an affected individual experiences a strong inflammatory reaction following exposure to a substance that is not generally considered harmful. This is often accompanied by itchy watery eyes and sneezing. Some substances that provoke such reactions may be house dust, pollen and animal dander and certainly pollen is the main culprit right now. There are many over the counter medications that can provide limited relief but they often contain harmful ingredients and cause serious side effects. Some of the OTC remedies can cause hypertension and a rebound congestion issue.

A better approach uses natural products that can help limit or eliminate the allergic reaction. Quercetin is a bioflavinoid that has the ability to prevent white blood cells from releasing histamine during an allergic response. Histamine is one of the major triggers to the overall allergic response. Stinging Nettles can be effective when used for hayfever and it can be taken in tincture form or in tea. N-Acetyl Cysteine breaks the chemical bonds in mucus, making the mucus thinner and easier to eliminate. Bromelain is an enzyme from the stem and fruit of the pineapple and papaya plants and it is approved status by the German Commission E for micro inflammations that occur with allergic reactions Bromelain has the added benefits of inhibiting of platelet aggregation, breaking down mucus, antibiotic activity and functioning as a smooth muscle relaxant. I love pineapple and often make myself a smoothie with pineapple and lowfat greek yogurt. This has the benefit of no added sugar and good amounts of fiber and protein. The enzymes in Pineapple and papaya help with inflammation associated with allergies but they also help with painful conditions such as arthritis. These items can be found at an herb store and some in the grocery store. In our office we carry a supplement that has all of them in a convenient capsule form.

Some other strategies are aimed at removing as many of the allergens as possible from your environment. One good allergy prevention strategy is to purchase a HEPA filter for your home. You can get a smaller room model at such stores as Target and Walmart or you can install a house model as an add-on to your central HVAC unit. Make sure you wash your hands and face well when you come in from outside. Use warm, moist compresses over your eyes and forehead area to stimulate drainage from the sinuses. The use of a neti pot is often very helpful to those who have severe congestion. Of course it is very important to make sure you drink enough water so that the mucus can easily flow.