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.