The Greatest Influence on Your Health is Not Food or Exercise; It’s…

mindset…your mindset.

Mindset refers to the thoughts that occupy your mind and the way your brain processes them, which are then translated into observable traits– your body language, facial expression, tone of voice, words you use, posture, situational choices and actions.   Mindset can also influence your physiology, such as your heart and respiratory rates.  Mindset is essentially your “operating software.”   It has a stronger influence on who you are as a person than your genetic makeup, in more ways than one.

But it’s not that simple.  After all, if choosing your mindset is all it takes to be a healthy, happy, and financially successful person, then the population would be a lot healthier than it is today.   There are a multitude of factors, some of them unknown, that combine to make you the person you are today.  The question of “nature vs. nurture” is often brought up when discussing this topic.  Some believe that nature (natural tendency; genes) determines what kind of an adult a child will become; others believe it is nurture (the environment– parents, siblings, school, etc.).

What we do know is that it is possible for one to change even the most ingrained mindset.  We see it all the time.  And in many cases, it doesn’t require the services of a mental health professional such as a counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.  For some people, it takes a life-changing event such as surviving a heart attack or losing a loved one unexpectedly.  And there are those who just “put their mind to it,” educating themselves on personal transformation techniques, and successfully willthemselves to change.

While a self-destructive mindset can lead one to a state of bad health by cultivating bad dietary habits, the good news is that it is quite possible; even probable, to be able to change your mindset to one that promotes health and well-being.  It is the one thing that separates man from animals; it is the gift of higher intelligence.

Four Letters You Should Know About That Are Central to Health

mtorThe Molecule that Dictates Every Cell’s Activity Level

mTOR – The Mechanistic Target of Rapamycin, or Serine/threonine protein kinase plays a central role in regulating cellular metabolism, growth, protein synthesis, motility and survival in response to hormones, growth factors, nutrients, energy and stress signals.

In biochemistry, a kinase is a type of enzyme that catalyzes (initiates) the transfer of phosphate groups (“phosphorlyation”) from high-energy, phosphate-donating molecules to specific substrates; in the case of mTOR, protein substrates containing serine, a threonine or a tyrosine.  Phosphorylation “turns protein enzymes on and off,” thereby altering their function and activity.  mTOR directly or indirectly regulates the phosphorylation of at least 800 proteins in your body.

Ok, in simple terms what the above basically means is that this special molecule controls what your cells do— your liver cells, heart cells, kidney cells, and so on. When it is too active, it promotes/ facilitates cancerous growth. If we interfere with the mTOR pathway (the steps of its formation in the body), it helps stop the formation of new blood vessels which feed the tumor. These mTOR “inhibitors” help people with pancreatic cancer and possibly induce remission, at least for awhile. This was shown in February 2011, in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, entitled, “mTOR Inhibitor Treatment of Pancreatic Cancer in a Patient with Peutz–Jeghers Syndrome.”

The scientists in this particular study used a drug called everolimus (Afinitor). Other mTOR inhibitors available today include Certican and Torisel, and others are currently being developed.

Suzy Cohen, RPh, points out in her blog there are natural compounds which are known to interfere with mTOR but to a lesser extent compared to these cancer drugs. Resveratrol, found in the skin of grapes is one of them, as reported in The Journal of Biological Chemistry (November 19, 2010). Resveratrol, which is available in supplement form is a powerful herbal with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and nerve-protecting effects on the body.  But now we know that it has a weak inhibitory effect on the mTOR pathway.

Curcumin, one of the active compounds in that bright yellow Indian spice turmeric is another mTOR inhibitor. Many studies prove curcumin slows down the growth of different types of cancer. Curcumin may be helpful for pancreatitis because it reduces inflammation in the pancreas and reduces inflammatory pain-causing chemicals. This is great, but according to Suzy you may need special IVs or supplements to get it to work.

Saffron (Crocus sativus) is yet another potential mTOR inhibitor. Consisting of the dried pestels of the saffron flower, saffron is the spice (a very expensive one at that) that gives Spanish rice (paella) that yellowish color and wonderful fragrance. Saffron is also available as a supplement (by Exir). Crocetin, a carotenoid derived from saffron appears to compete with the drug gemcitabine which is one of the standard therapies for pancreatic cancer. Saffron supplements also seem to help reduce chemotherapy-induced cell damage (damage to the DNA). Remarkably, both the herb and the chemo drug compete for the same receptor site, which is the doorway into your cell.

Suzy warns that the discussion of using resveratrol, curcumin or saffron is between you and your doctor. She states, “Even though these are natural herbs with excellent safety profiles, I have no idea what’s right for you and your safety is my first concern. Ask a licensed practitioner about customizing your personal health regimen.”

That being said, I personally believe that it wouldn’t hurt to add these natural compounds to your meals on occasion. If you notice, they happen to be plant-based and have been eaten by mankind for centuries.

References:

http://www.uniprot.org/uniprot/P42345

http://suzycohen.com/articles/three-herbal-supplements-have-anti-cancer-activity/

Sugar – What is it made of, and is it really bad for you?

sugarSugar, the tiny white crystals that revolutionized eating starting in the early 1800s, is one of the most discussed and debated topics in nutrition.  Some say sugar is downright poisonous to the body while others say consuming moderate amounts is OK, and even part of a healthy diet.

Let’s take a closer look at what sugar actually is, and its effects on the body.

The term “sugar” is a generalized reference to chemically-related, sweet tasting substances that naturally occur in all plants.  It is basically the end product of photosynthesis.   Sugar cane and sugar beets are the only plant species with a high enough concentration of sugars for commercial extraction and processing.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, consisting of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen.   Simple sugars are called mono-saccharides which include glucose (also called dextrose), fructose, and galactose.

Di-saccharides are two monosaccharides connected together molecularly and include sucrose, maltoseand lactose.

Sucrose, which is what table sugar is, is comprised of glucose and fructose.  It is derived from sugar cane and sugar beets.

Lactose, or milk sugar, is comprised of glucose and galactose.

Now, do you have that all straight?

The sugars that should concern you the most are sucrose, fructose and glucose; mostly because these are the forms that comprise the bulk of total sugar consumption in the world.

You will find added sugar (sucrose) in most manufactured food products, and not just dessert foods and other sweets.  Just about all sauces, condiments, soups, cereals, yogurt, flavored drinks and processed meats include added sugar.  One teaspoon of table sugar weighs about 12 g and contains about 48 calories.

Fructose is the sugar that naturally occurs in fruit and honey, and is the sweetest of all the sugars.  In fact, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is made by hydrolyzing  corn starch, which breaks down into corn syrup containing mostly glucose, and then adding enzymes to convert some of the glucose into fructose to get the desired sweetness.  Depending on the product, HFCS can contain 55%, 42% or 90% fructose.  The higher the percentage, the sweeter.

HFCS is the preferred sweetener for food manufacturers because it is cheaper than table sugar, due to government subsidies for corn farming.  It is widely used to sweeten beverages (sodas including Coke and other flavored drinks), breads, and snack foods.

Now the question:  what does your body think of sugar?

When sucrose is consumed, it breaks into its components of glucose and fructose.  Glucose, which is what is measured when one gets a blood sugar lab test, is metabolized, or can be metabolized, by all cells in the body to use as fuel.  It is a quick source of energy, which comes in handy in those situations that require it (sports, doing heavy labor, mental tasks, etc.).  Glucose that is not used is converted intoglycogen and stored in the liver and skeletal muscles.  Think of glycogen as a reserve gas tank in your body that will release fuel when the normal supply (blood glucose from the diet) is out or low.

Fructose, on the other hand, is treated differently by your body.  Did you know that fructose does not significantly raise blood sugar?  When consumed, fructose is directly metabolized in the liver, skipping the rest of the body, into free fatty acids, which eventually convert to triglycerides and stored as fat.

According to Dr. Robert Lustig, a prominent researcher on the subject of sugar metabolism, fructose metabolism promotes fatty liver disease, where these free fatty acids deposit in the liver and skeletal muscles as tiny fat droplets.  It’s the same pathology seen in alcohol-related fatty liver disease, but without the alcohol.  He says another problem with fructose is that it does not not suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin like glucose does; meaning, you don’t know when you’ve had enough, resulting in over-consuming the fructose-laden food.  That’s probably why it’s easy for a lot of people to finish an entire Big Gulp at the 7-11!  Prolonged over-consumption leads to insulin insensitivity, a precursor to Type II diabetes.

Side note:  some believe that this characteristic of high fructose corn syrup– it’s tendency to not trigger fullness, resulting in eating more of the product– is the real reason why big food manufacturers like using it in their products.

So, does sugar deserve all the scorn it is getting in the media?

Ideally it is best to avoid processed sugar, especially fructose.  You get enough sugar from eating plants and fruit; and also from grains and starches, so any added sugar in processed foods represents excessive, unnecessary calories.

However, what is life without an occasional dessert?   The key word is occasional.   Go on ahead and treat yourself to that ice cream cone, with the understanding that you are doing it just for the taste, not for the nutrition.   Once a week is reasonable.   If you find yourself eating sweets as a regular, integral part of your diet, you are setting yourself up for problems.  This includes sodas, flavored drinks, pastries, and candy.  These foods can easily add hundreds of excess calories a day, most of which will go directly towards making fat cells.

Eliminating or sharply reducing processed sugar from your diet will do wonders for your health; just ask Alec Baldwin, who lost 30 pounds in four months and is keeping it off to this day by doing this.

This was originally posted in my previous site, WeightLossMavens.com

How to Avoid Getting the Flu and Colds During Winter

Most people understand that, as winter approaches, so does the chance of catching the flu or a cold.  As a result, they stock up on over-the-counter medications like NyQuil, Ibuprofen, Sudafed, Mucinex, and generic cold medicine.  However, they fail to question why colds and flu are more common in the winter months; they just accept it.  Are you one of them?

I’d like for you to contemplate exactly why more people get sick during the winter months.  Does cold weather somehow cause bacteria to divide faster and viruses to replicate at a higher rate, making them more abundant in our surroundings?  No, it does not.

Does cold weather somehow weaken your body, making it more susceptible to microbial invasion?  No, not cold in itself.  Your body maintains its temperature around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit whether you feel cold or hot.

Having ruled out these false beliefs, the next step is to think about what changes occur in our environment and/or habits as winter approaches, that may open us up to infection.

Here is a list of pertinent factors, off the top of my head:

CHANGES THAT HAPPEN AS WINTER APPROACHES

  1. Temperatures drop
  2. People spend more time indoors
  3. People wear more layers of clothing, covering more of their body
  4. Days are shorter
  5. The sun’s rays are less direct as they reach Earth’s surface
  6. More cloud cover
  7. More rain & snow
  8. Less availability of seasonal fruits & vegetables
  9. Holiday celebrations – eating high calorie foods
  10. For some, holiday stress, depression

So, which ones do you think are responsible for the increase in colds and flu during the winter?

To me, numbers 3-6 are the main culprit.  These factors, altogether, result in less sun UV ray exposure to the skin.  The sun’s UV rays are needed in order for your skin to synthesize vitamin D.  Without adequate vitamin D levels, the body is more prone to disease.

Vitamin D’s main function is to enable calcium absorption in the gut to maintain balanced serum calcium and phosphate levels to ensure proper mineralization of bone, and provide calcium ions for proper neuromuscular function.

Other critical roles of vitamin D include modulation of cell growth, immune function, and reduction of inflammation.

Note:  Vitamin D itself is biologically inactive and must undergo conversion into 25(OH)D in the liver and then into the active form 1, 25 (OH2)D in the kidneys.  Serum 25(OH)D is the best indicator of your vitamin D levels and is what is measured in blood tests.

Could it be that the drop in vitamin D levels from decreased exposure to sunlight during the winter months somehow creates conditions in the body where bacteria and viruses can thrive, explaining why more people get sick in the winter?

It makes logical sense.

According to the National Institute of Health, season, time of day, length of day, cloud cover, smog, skin melanin content, and sunscreen are among the factors that affect UV radiation exposure and vitamin D synthesis.

Laboratory and animal evidence as well as epidemiologic data suggest that vitamin D status could affect cancer risk. Strong biological and mechanistic bases indicate that vitamin D plays a role in the prevention of colon, prostate, and breast cancers.  How it does this is uncertain.  If vitamin D affords these powerful protective health benefits, it is plausible that it can do the same for the colds and flu.  In fact, a study done in Japan showed that schoolchildren taking 1,200 units of vitamin D per day during the winter time reduced their risk of getting influenza A infection by about 40 percent.

The factors that affect UV radiation exposure and research to date on the amount of sun exposure needed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels make it difficult to provide general guidelines; however, the conventional belief is that approximately 5–30 minutes of sun exposure between 10 AM and 3 PM (when the sun’s rays are strongest) at least twice a week to the arms, legs, or back without sunscreen usually lead to sufficient vitamin D synthesis.

Optimal levels of serum 25(OH)D are between 50-70 ng/ml; anything below 50 is considered deficient.

So, what can you do to avoid experiencing a drop in vitamin D during Winter? (and reduce your chances of getting a cold or the flu)

Here are my suggestions:

1.  Increase your intake of Vitamin-D containing foods.  There are not many foods that contain Vitamin D, but they include sardines, mackerel, salmon, mushrooms, and cod liver oil (my favorite).

2.  Supplement with Vitamin D.  The Institute of Medicine recommends

  • 600 IU of vitamin D a day for everyone ages 1 to 70
  • 800 IU of vitamin D a day for those 71 and older

However, some people, especially natural healthcare advocates believe that these numbers are inadequate.  They believe that 3,000 IU of vitamin D per day is a better recommendation (for those with low Vitamin D levels – less than 20 ng/ml) in order to achieve appreciable therapeutic effect; the main reason being that much of oral Vitamin D does not make it into your cells; perhaps as much as 75%.  Since vitamin D is fat soluble, it helps to take your vitamin D after a meal rich in saturated fats, or better yet with fish oil.

3.  Deliberately expose large areas of your skin to the sun during the winter months (not your face, though because it gets enough exposure and is more susceptible to wrinkling from UVA rays).  Expose your trunk (back and front) and legs, primarily.  Remember, the sun’s rays are weaker during winter so 20-25 minutes at least 2x/ week is a good rule of thumb; being careful not to get sun burned.

If it is too cold outside, find an area in your home where the sun shines through a window onto your floor.  Open the window (most windows are UV tinted to block out UV rays, which you don’t want), place a mat on the floor where the sunlight lands and sun bathe on it.  Again, make sure to cover your face.

Another option, especially if you are in area that gets long bouts of rain, snow or overcast skies is to use an Indoor UVB Lamp.  This can be enough to encourage vitamin D synthesis when ambient light is low.

Other steps to take to avoid getting the flu during the winter:

Being aware of what’s around you and being conscious of what you are doing; i.e., being vigilant, can go a long way towards avoiding contracting a cold or the flu.

Here are my recommendations:

1.  Wash your hands frequently throughout the day.  Use warm running water, soap, and rub your hands vigorously under the running water, paying close attention to the fingertips and between the fingers.  Do for at least 1 minute.

2.  Avoid directly touching frequently handled items in public:  all doorknobs, levers and handles (especially bathroom door knobs), toilet flush handles, telephone handsets, chair backs, elevator buttons — anything in public that is meant to be touched or grabbed.  The same goes for currency — coins, bills.  These items have high concentration of germs.  Use a glove or napkin when handling them.

3.  Watch out for glasses and silverware in restaurants.  Potentially sick waiters/ waitresses handle them.  It annoys me when I see a waiter pick up a bunch of drinking glasses by sticking his/her fingers inside and pinching them together; or grabbing spoons and forks on their “business” end when setting a table.  Where were those fingers just a few minutes ago?, I wonder.  Also, I have seen on many occasions waiters delivering bowls of soup to a table where the soup touches their thumb as they  grasp the soup bowl.  This is a good way to get food-borne illness.

4.  Avoid touching your eyes and mucous membranes.  These areas are highly vascularized and don’t have the protection of a skin layer, making them ideal entry points for pathogens.

5.  Be especially vigilant whenever you are in the vicinity of large groups of people— busy stores, classes, lectures, restaurants, sidewalks.  If there is a lot of coughing and sneezing going on, consider breathing through a thin scarf.  Whenever someone sneezes, an invisible mist hangs in the air for several seconds; the fine droplets of lung fluid may contain transmittable viruses and/or bacteria and you can walk right into it without even knowing it.

6.  Use a humidifier at night and pour some eucalyptus oil into it.  Also, get a handkerchief and sprinkle a few drops of eucalyptus oil on it, keep it in your pocket and breathe the fumes periodically.  Eucalyptus has antibacterial properties, and it wouldn’t hurt to make it difficult for pathogens to settle in your body.

7.  Take anti-viral foods and immune-strengthening supplements.  My recommendations are high dose Vitamin C, garlic, onions, mushroom extract, elderberry extract (Sambucol) and zinc.

Now, isn’t it worthwhile to practice these behaviors and make it through the winter months without a day looking like this poor guy?sick

In summary, there are simple yet powerful and effective strategies you can implement that can guard you against the flu and colds during the winter.  The old adage “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” says it all.


Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Longevity

friendsEvery so often, I contemplate my mortality.  For most of my life, I felt that the typical human lifespan is very short– you’re born, have your childhood, go to school (so far about a short 21 years), get a job and career, work until you retire, turn grey and live for 10-20 more years then you die.  “75 years” is often quoted as the average human lifespan.  To a child, that seems like an eternity.  But to an adult, when time seems to accelerate, the number is scarily short.

But what I’ve now realized is that this is an example of what I call “learned misconceptions.”  Just because the conventional view of old age as previously described is something I believed all my life does not make it right.  People who believe that we are considered “old” starting at age 60, and are “supposed” to die in our eighties believe this only because it is what they have been led to believe.   And what the mind thinks, the body usually listens, which I believe plays a big role in lending validity to this belief– that many people do tend to wind down their lives and die in their eighties.

But what about those few lucky ones among us who live past age 110?  And, are not confined to a wheelchair or beholden to taking medications?  How do they buck this trend?

I just read a great article on the book The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study,  a fascinating book by health researchers Friedman and Martin, which examines an eight-decade-long Stanford University study of 1,500 people designed to examine the factors that determine who lives a long, healthy life, and why.  I’m glad I did, because it affirmed what I now believe– that you don’t have to “start dying” as you enter your eighties, and that although you cannot stop the advancement of time, you can influence your rate of biological aging by being mindful of the way you live your life.

Here are key findings of the book:

After age 40, your chronological age is actually a poor predictor of how “old” you are.

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, a massive effort that tracked 3,000 people from their 20s to their 90s, concluded that people age at such vastly different rates that by the time they reach 80 or 90, the differences are so marked that birth dates are entirely irrelevant, and after age 35 or 40, the date on your birth certificate is one of the least accurate indications of how old you are.

Every day you get older but the pace at which you grow older varies enormously from person to person.  Obviously we don’t have control over the former, but we do have far more control than we think over the latter.

Be a little vain: People who look young for their age live longer. Making an effort to look young and act young can help you stay young.  This is consistent with the mind-body theory that “what the mind thinks, the body obeys.”

Older people with positive perceptions of aging lived 7.5 years longer.

Here are the Five, interesting discoveries of the study:

1) Relationships are the most important thing

When it comes to slowing down the rate of aging, connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.  Hang out with unhealthy people and you are more likely to become unhealthy as well.

In a study led by Derek Isaacowitz, it was found that the capacity to love and be loved was the single strength most clearly associated with subjective well-being at age eighty.

2) Be a good person

Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

3) Be conscientious

This means, be conscious of what you know you need to do, and do it.  Don’t be too laid back, or “happy go lucky.”  Put your mind to the things you do in life, and do it with purpose.

4) Stress isn’t always bad

Believe it or not, the people who work the hardest tend to live longer.  The responsible and successful achievers thrived in every way, especially if they were dedicated to things and people beyond themselves.

5) Make yourself happy

Here are the tips recommended in the study to stay happy:

1. Watch less TV, engage with the world more often instead.

2. Improve social relations — spend time with friends

3. Increase levels of physical activity — go for a long walk

4. Help others and express gratitude to those who have helped you

5. Take on new challenges to remain fresh and in-the-moment

Laugh a lot. Be happy. Be optimistic. Have lots of good sex. Get enough sleep. Stay out of debt. Forgive.

CONCLUSION:   Life doesn’t have to end at 80!   Being too concerned about diet and exercise and ignoring the social factors related to longevity is a mistake. Those who live long, happy lives engage with others, have a support network, keep themselves busy with a worthwhile cause, and remain conscientious– they know what they need to do, and follow through.  And, they know how important it is to stay happy.

 

 

Is It Good to Starve Yourself Once in a While?

ghandiGhandi went without food for 21 straight days and survived, and there are substantiated reports of individuals going without food for as long as 40 days and surviving.

Starvation, of course, is what happens when your body is denied the food it needs for an extended period, to the point where it is dangerous to your health.  Since all living, multi-cellular organisms are in a constant state of regeneration and degradation (old, dead cells being replaced by newer cells), material is needed to serve as building blocks (proteins, fats); a source of energy is needed to keep this going and to drive the organism’s life processes (carbohydrates, fats and protein); micronutrients are needed to catalyze and support the metabolic pathways and a myriad of other functions in the body (vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients); and of course, water is needed to maintain osmotic pressure in the cells which is essential in order for proper cell physiological processes to occur.   A well-balanced diet supplies all of these requirements.

In the event food is not available, the body has energy storage in the form of glycogen (stored glucose) in the liver and skeletal muscles; and of course its own protein and fat composition.

But are there times when you should purposefully starve yourself temporarily (but continue to stay hydrated) in order to lose weight?

The answer is no; it’s not worth the risk.  Starvation, while it can force the body to burn fat stores, increases the risk of heart attack and organ failure.

But that doesn’t mean the idea of going without food is bad in itself.   After all, when you metabolize food, harmful byproducts called free radicals (reactive oxygen species) are created that, some researchers believe, are the source of aging (animals with high metabolism such as mice have short lifespans, while animals with slower metabolism have longer lifespans).   Free radical generation from “burning calories” contained in food is somewhat analogous to generating carbon monoxide by burning gasoline in a car engine.

While your body has natural defenses like glutathione, peroxidases and polyphenols to neutralize reactive oxygen species, not all are neutralized.  Free radicals “rip” electrons from cells and can cause a chain reaction, adversely altering their structure and therefore function.   The accumulation of free radical damage is called oxidative stress, which is basically what happens when metals exposed to air turn into rust.   Yes, your body can rust in its own way!

Lab results show that drastically cutting food intake can nearly double longevity (lifespan) in rodents, worms, and flies; and a massive 20-year study on rhesus monkeys, a species closely related to humans, found that the benefits of the diet seem to be universal: a resistance to cancer, heart disease, and age-related cognitive decline.

The key is to find that “sweet spot” where you are eating an amount to keep your body healthy while minimizing free radical generation.   Frequently munching on snacks throughout the day and eating big, over-sized portions comprised of high-calorie foods (standard American diet) are two good ways to generate a lot of free radicals inside your body and will put you on a fast track to aging.

The way to eat well and minimize free radical generation is to fast occasionally (about once a month for 1-2 full days), and frequently engage in intermittent fasting, where you don’t eat for up to 18 hours.  For the two day fasts, you can choose to do vegetable juice fasts or clear broth fasts instead (no solid food, no added sugar) if you are not up to doing the real thing.

For intermittent fasting, since it is a shorter time interval, make it a complete (no food whatsoever) fast (except water).

Fasting has the following benefits:

1.  Increases your insulin receptor sensitivity, which means your pancreas do not have to produce as much after a meal and as a result there is less circulating insulin.  Insulin’s main function is to enable glucose to enter the cell for energy extraction.  Persistently high levels of insulin, which is common in Type 2 diabetics, prevent the body from burning fat.

2.  Promotes weight loss in the overweight and obese.   Calorie deprivation kick start the metabolic pathway of ketogenesis where your body burns fat stores and produces energy molecules called ketones for energy.

3.  Increases the production of human growth hormone (HGH) and as a result,

4.  Promotes muscle mass (leaner body)

5.  Improves cognition, guards against cognitive decline (Alzheimer’s, dementia)

6.  Protects against heart disease; atherosclerosis

7.  Protects against cancer by denying potential cancer cells glucose, their preferred fuel source

So, the bottom line is don’t “starve” yourself; instead make fasting/ intermittent fasting a normal part of your routine.

If you don’t like the idea of doing a full fast, you can at least do intermittent fasting.  A popular method of intermittent fasting is to have your last meal of the day at 6 or 7 PM, sleep through the night, skip breakfast (don’t worry; it’s not as important as they say!) and have your first meal of the day around noontime.  That’s about an 18 hour fast.

By late morning, especially if you exercise, you should have burned through most of your glucose from the previous day and glycogen stores, and be in a state of ketogenesis where you are now burning body fat for fuel.   Another way to view this approach is to eat only between the hours of 12 noon to 6:00 PM each day.  It makes things a lot easier.

If you are in need of burning fat and losing weight and have not had any success to this point, see the Optimal Body System Weight Loss Program, which incorporates intermittent fasting.

 For more information on calorie restriction, check out The Calorie Restriction (CR) Society.

Seven, Fun Ways to Burn 300 Extra Calories Per Day

Are you anchored to a desk job for most of the day?  Is exercise the last thing on your mind when you come home after a long day of work?

Prolonged sitting is one of the worst things you can do to your body, after smoking and alcohol bingeing.  Yes, it is that serious.  According to a growing body of scientific research, the more time you spend sitting, the higher your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and even premature death, regardless of how much time you spend working out.

Learn more about the sitting disease and how you can prevent it with the Locus Workstation.

Did you get that last part?  It basically says that you can’t sit all day and expect to make up for it by exercising.  Once the damage is done, it is done.  While the mechanisms are not clear, there is an observed association between prolonged sitting and increased markers for cardiovascular disease, such as body mass index, waist circumference, triglycerides, fasting blood glucose, insulin levels and blood pressure.  One working theory is that resting muscle (which is what happens with prolonged sitting) seems to inactivate production of lipoprotein lipase (LPL), a molecule involved in fat metabolism.  A reduction in LPL greatly increases triglycerides (circulating fatty acids) and lowers “good” cholesterol.

There really isn’t much to it — the bottom line is to do your best to keep moving, FREQUENTLY throughout the day.

Here’s what you can do to spread your exercise over the course of your work day, which can even be more effective than doing an hour exercise at the end of the day:

1.  Get a standing desk.  Not only does standing burn more calories than sitting, it is actually better for your back.  When you stand, it puts your lumbar (lower spine) into a natural arc which strengthens the supportive capacity of your lower back (this is the reason why long bridges are not straight but have a slight arc to them).  When you sit, the lumbar spine bows the opposite direction, weakening its ability to support the torso weight and placing excessive pressure on your discs, especially L4/5 and L5/S1 discs.

2.  Park a block away from your building and speed walk to your office (wear sneakers to work, keep your formal shoes under your desk).  Carry 5# dumbbells and pump your arms with them as you speed walk.

3.  Take the stairs.  If you work in a high rise, skip the elevator and take the stairs.  If your office is on the second floor, do ten repetitions of going up and down the stairs before you enter your office; if you are on the 25th floor (you get the point) take the elevator to the 10th floor and take the stairwell the rest of the way.

4.  Every 20 minutes, stand up from your office chair and do some stretches, run in place briefly, do some leg squats– anything to move your body for just a few minutes.

5.  On your lunch break, do a quick workout:  run in place for 2 minutes, do 20 pushups, 20 squats, 20 lunges and 20 crunches.  Get a yoga mat for this; keep it in your office.  Wipe off with a wet face towel (keep a bunch in your office).

6.  If there is any lifting needed in your office (supply runs, mail room) volunteer to help out for a minute or two throughout the day.

7.  Maintain a mini-gym in your office.  Here are the pieces of gear I recommend:

  • 5# and 25# dumbbells
  • 5# ankle weights
  • Swiss exercise ball
  • 8-10# medicine ball
  • Yoga mat
  • Push up handles
  • Chin up bar for a doorway
  • 40# Russian Kettlebell

That should be sufficient.  When you feel the positive changes in your body from engaging in ongoing physical activity, you won’t ever want to go back to prolonged sitting, and will be out of that danger zone for good!

Mindset Transformation: How to Replace Unhealthy Habits With Healthy, Life Promoting Habits

Molecular ThoughtsIf there is just one concept I’d like for you to take from this blog, it is that MINDSET is the primary determinant of your health.

Let’s analyze this in terms of something we are all familiar with — computers.  People are essentially biological computers, with the brain as the processor and mindset as the operating software.   Whenever there is a bug in computer operating software the computer malfunctions and the “blue screen of death” awaits.   It can also cause slower speeds, crashes, flickering screens and other problems; analogous to to how a “bug” in your mindset (thoughts that drive unhealthy behavior) eventually lead to body dysfunction such as fatigue, pain, and heart attacks.

Mindset drives behaviors that have a direct impact on your health.  And not just in food selection.  Negative thoughts can lead one to neglect his health as they consume his attention and envelop him in a self-imposed bubble that prevents change from occurring.

If you are overweight and/or sick, tune in to your mindset.  The good news is that, as hard as it may seem, it is possible to transform one’s mindset and have a change of attitude.  That is the first step towards eliminating a diseased state and achieving optimal health.

But What About Brain Health?

The brain is an organ, just like your liver and kidneys are, and can therefore also become “sick.”  If you have bad habits, can it be blamed on brain dysfunction?

Using brain scan technology, we have a good idea of which parts of the brain control various functions such as reward, pleasure, and other emotions.   We know how neurotransmitters work—the molecules that enable communication between nerve cells.  And, scientists are learning more about the “wiring” of the brain and therefore how learning and dementia develop (TIP:  “use it or lose it” is the over-arching rule of brain function).  But how does all this information help with mindset?

While brain health is important, mindset is something that most people can influence on their own and is typically independent of physiological brain function.  For example, a person with brain cancer can have a more positive mindset than a person who has a healthy brain but one that contains psychologically harmful thoughts.

If you are struggling with mindset issues that are impacting your health, for example, sugar bingeing, overeating or smoking then realize that there IS a path out of it; one that doesn’t require surgery, drugs or any other medical procedure.  Yes, it sounds harsh, yes the thought is averse to you since those activities likely give you some sort of psychological reassurance or gratification.   But this is a fact– you can change if you desire it enough, have a plan and execute it.

When you attempt to put an end to your vices there may be withdrawal but withdrawal symptoms, while unpleasant, do not kill you.  You just need to realize that it is your unhealthy habits that are killing you, and stop fearing the consequences of stopping.

We All Have Internal Struggles

Human behavior is a complex, fascinating subject.  EVERYONE has behavioral issues or challenges that they struggle with; it is human nature and is nothing to be ashamed of.  Every person you pass on the street, every person you meet during your day is experiencing some kind of internal struggle, whether they are rich or poor; healthy or sick; young or old.  That is why we have clergy, motivational speakers, counselors, gurus and others.  The business of self-improvement will thrive as long as humanity exists!

The point I want to leave you with is that, if you are struggling with bad habits that you KNOW are taking a toll on your health, there is a way out.  Understand that there is no physical barrier in the brain that prevents you from doing so.  The reason why changing your behavior may seem insurmountable is that people naturally cling to what they know, what they are used to, and avoid the unfamiliar.  It can be a good instinct, but it can also be bad.   In regards to bad habits, some event or occurrence from your past set you on this path, and with each repetition of the behavior, your brain–you–got accustomed to it and now cling to it.

New Paths Can  Be Created

A good analogy to describe my point is the formation of a footpath in the woods.  As people walk through thick brush in the woods, pushing away the thicket as they move forward, a path gradually forms.  The more people walk through it, the clearer and wider it gets.  So, when someone reaches that part of the woods (analogous to an instance where you face the choice of engaging in the bad habit or not), the natural inclination is to take the path that is there (the bad behavior), which happens to lead to a patch of poison ivy.

However, just a hundred yards to the right of the path, obscured by the thick brush is the world’s most beautiful waterfall surrounded by berry bushes (analogous to health).  It is being missed because of the natural tendency to take the beaten path.  But just as the path to the poison ivy was formed, a new path to the beautiful waterfall can be formed in a similar way.  You may get cuts and scrapes (withdrawals, willpower struggles) as you beat a new path to the waterfall, but once you’re there and repetitively walk on that path (engage in healthy activities), it will soon be effortless (no willpower needed; no sense of feeling deprived).

Choose the unbeaten path.  Get out of your comfort zone; make a change.  Do the opposite of what you’re used to doing; mix things up a bit in your routine and don’t be afraid.  Use the nervous energy to drive you, not stop you.  Seek out that unknown, and go for it.   Learn how to thrive in uncertainty.   This is how people successfully overcome their fears and limitations.  It is a way to catalyze a change in mindset and transform health.

The Main Causes of Muscle and Joint Pain

(This article originally appeared in The Pain and Injury Doctor Blog)

Musculoskeletal pain refers to pain affecting the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints and sometimes bones.   Sometimes it is straight-forward; other times it is not.  Before you convince yourself that you know the origin/cause of your musculoskeletal pain, consider the following:

Pain can be due to trauma/injury where the tissue itself is generating the pain due to ruptured cells and the effects of inflammation.  This is the most unambiguous case because it is connected to an identifiable event.  This pain can be acute, meaning relatively recent onset; sub-acute, referring to a state where the injury still is healing but pain and some swelling are still present; and chronic, which basically means symptoms that remain after the body has done all it can at the moment to heal the injury.

Pain can also manifest in one area of your body due to abnormal movement in a different location.   The abnormal movement might be caused by a previous trauma event like a car accident or sports injury, it can be congenital (developed at birth) or it can be from repetitive movements required by a certain occupation or hobby/sport.

Abnormal movement (called dyskinesia) can also arise from muscle imbalances, where one muscle loses strength due to inactivity, decreasing joint stability and facilitating excessive, restricted, or other abnormal movement of that joint, forcing distal joints to make up the difference in lost movement or compensate to create more stabilization.  The distal muscle(s)/joint(s) then work in a fashion that they were not designed for, leading to strain, spasm and even injury to the muscle or joint.

This is the most tricky type of pain manifestation because it is often mis-diagnosed resulting in the wrong treatment approach and lack of resolution.  An example of this is sciatica (pain in the buttock) from a spasmed piriformis muscle scissoring the sciatic nerve due to an unlevel pelvis coming from hyperactive same-side erector spinae musculature.  If the back muscle and pelvic imbalance is not corrected and the patient simply gets massage to the piriformis muscle, you can see how this pain will never go away with this type of treatment.

Pain can be referred pain.  In referred pain, the brain senses the pain to be in one area of the body when in actuality the pain-generating tissue is in another area.   For example, a myocardial infarction (heart attack) can cause referred pain to the left jaw, neck and left arm.    Despite an increasing amount of literature on the subject, the mechanism of referred pain is still unknown; however, it is widely believed to be related to embryonic tissue development.

The image below illustrates commonly observed types of referred pain and their true source (credit to Wikipedia).

referred_pain2

Pain can arise from hypoxia (insufficient oxygen to the tissues).  An extreme example of this kind of pain, again, is a myocardial infarction where a major artery to the heart muscle is blocked, preventing oxygen from reaching a section of the heart.  Biochemical reactions take place when this happens, which generate pain.

Thoracic outlet syndrome is a condition where the nerves and blood vessels supplying the arm get compressed in the neck region by tight scalene muscles or the collar bone.  The resulting hypoxia can contribute to pain in the arms and hands.

Pain can come from trigger points, also known as trigger sites or muscle knots, are described as “hyper-irritable spots in skeletal muscle that are associated with palpable nodules in taut bands of muscle fibers.”  Trigger points are usually only a few centimeters in diameter.

Clinical textbooks on the subject establish the following requirements to meet the definition of trigger points:

  • Pain related to a discrete, irritable point in skeletal muscle or fascia, not caused by acute local trauma, inflammation, degeneration, neoplasm or infection.
  • The painful point can be felt as a nodule or band in the muscle, and a twitch response can be elicited on stimulation of the trigger point.
  • Palpation of the trigger point reproduces the patient’s complaint of pain, and the pain radiates in a distribution typical of the specific muscle harboring the trigger point.
  • The pain cannot be explained by findings on neurological examination.

As in referred pain, the mechanism of trigger points is still being debated.  Trigger point tissues have been biopsied, and findings indicate the presence of hyperactive muscle spindles, special cells whose function is to detect the rate of lengthening in a contracting skeletal muscle and initiating the firing of complementary muscles to complete the desired goal.

Wikipedia gives a nice summary of what causes trigger points to form:

Activation of trigger points may be caused by a number of factors, including acute or chronic muscle overload, activation by other trigger points (key/satellite, primary/secondary), disease, psychological distress (via systemic inflammation), homeostatic imbalances, direct trauma to the region, collision trauma (such as a car crash which stresses many muscles and causes instant trigger points) radiculopathy, infections and health issues such as smoking.

Finally, there are more highly-complex causes of pain related to dysfunction of the central nervous system, sympathetic nerves, biochemical and hormonal issues, and even psychosomatic.   These types of cases are difficult to diagnose and are often treated using pharmacological agents, psychiatry and various holistic approaches.

NO MATTER what pain you may be experiencing, know that it always, always helps to detoxify your body as best you can via a nutritionally-dense diet centered on naturally-occurring, non-GMO, organic unprocessed food sources; reducing your processed sugar and grain intake; regular exercise, getting enough sunshine to your body; targeted supplementation, meditation or other relaxation methods, and even nurturing social support.   This is the theme of this blog, because there is no shortage of treatment methods for pain and not enough emphasis coming from doctors or the government on prevention, wellness and health optimization; i.e. Healthy Lifestyle Education.

In the next couple of blog posts, I will talk about real, practical ways you can reduce your pain without the help of your doctor by making strategic lifestyle modifications.  Your body has a potent array of disease-fighting systems and has an innate ability to repair and regenerate itself.   The problem is that in many pain sufferers, these systems are burdened by unhealthy habits and are not running at their full potential.  Imagine what can happen if those systems were brought back on line, constantly doing what they are naturally programmed to do– protect you and keep you alive; fighting germs, cancer cells and developing diseases; and repairing injured sites so that you can function better.  Isn’t this a goal worthy of your efforts?

More to come, stay tuned!

Dr. Perez

Re-Thinking Exercise

Jumping on the beach

Exercise— some people love it, many don’t.

While the evidence is indisputable that exercise has numerous health benefits such as (partial list);

  • improved cardiovascular function
  • stronger muscles, joints and bones
  • leaner body mass
  • better sleep
  • improved cognition

some people still refrain from doing exercise because, well, it’s just not that important to them or they don’t like the feeling of “suffering” that comes with exercise.

They envision the “torture” of gasping for air while running.  They abhor the thought of burning muscles while doing an aerobics class or lifting weights.  That, understandably, is good motivation to just take it easy.

Perhaps as a compromise, the non-exercisers take a short walk in the evening.

To me, if you don’t exercise regularly; that is, reach your maximum heart rate* or get close to it at least 2-3 times a week via demanding body movements, then you are missing a simple, effective, and free way to improve your health.   This is bad, and has consequences.   Many people don’t give it a second thought to pay a $20 co-pay for a doctor’s appointment, and don’t give any thought at all  to do a workout “for free.”  In both cases, this is exchanging your personal time to tend to your health– right?  Which of the two do you think will give your body a better net improvement in health:  20 minutes talking to your doctor and receiving a prescription for a symptom,  or 20 minutes of great exercise?

*Maximum heart rate:  males – 202-[.55 x Age]; females 216-[1.09 x Age]

If you fit in the category of folks who are averse to the thought of exercising, I have an alternative for you.

You see, new research shows that even short duration exercises, when done regularly, can have the same benefit as a 60 or more minute workout.  And, they don’t have to be that rigorous and unpleasant.

Can you spend just 15-20 minutes to exercise, just a couple of times a week?  Think about it; you probably spend twice that much time checking your email every day; or surfing the web.

Here is a quick, 15 minute routine you can do any time during the day; even at work:

  • 60 seconds running in place
  • 20 trunk rotations (10 clockwise; 10 CCW)
  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 20 side squats + arm raises
  • 20 lunges
  • 20 push-ups
  • 60 second plank
  • 20 mountain climbers
  • 50 crunches

That’s it; shouldn’t take much more than 15 minutes including some short rests. Just wipe yourself off with a wet towel, and resume your day.

Do this the same time on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday (or all days) to make it a routine, and you’ll see how easy it is to fit exercise into your schedule.  But best of all, you will notice how much better you feel each day.

In summary, if you do not exercise regularly, you are missing a powerful, proven and inexpensive way to improve your health and extend your life.  You’ve got to find a way to do it.  One way is to make exercise fun and convenient.   Understand that short exercise sessions will get the job done, and you get about the same benefit than longer ones.   But don’t cut corners; you do need to generate a bit of sweat and breathe harder to make sure you are getting cardio and muscle strength benefit.

Give it a try– just go for it and don’t look back.