Train Your Brain to Boost Your Immune System

Running half-marathons barefoot in the snow. Climbing mountains while wearing only shorts. Standing in a cylinder filled with 700 kilograms of ice cubes.

Self-proclaimed “Iceman” Wim Hof, claims that he can do all of these things by influencing his autonomic brainnervous system (ANS) through concentration and meditation. The “Wim Hof Method,” is an intensive meditative practice that includes focused concentration, cold water therapy, and breathing techniques. Until recently, the idea that anyone could influence their autonomic nervous system was thought impossible given its assumed “involuntary” nature. The ANS is the system that controls all of our internal organs and regulates body functions like digestion, blood flow, and pupil dilation.

Our brains also use the ANS to communicate to our immune system, which might explain another of the Iceman’s recent feats: suppressing his immune response after being dosed with an endotoxin (a bacteria), which in most people leads to flu-like symptoms and high levels of inflammation in the body. When researchers looked at the Iceman’s inflammatory markers after being exposed, they discovered the markers were low, and his immune response was 50% lower than other healthy volunteers. Basically, he showed very few signs of infection.

Hof is definitely a statistical outlier, though one recent study followed students trained in his method. Apparently, they replicated Hof’s results and experienced no symptoms after being injected with Escherichia coli, a bacteria that normally induces violent sickness.

So, outlier though he may be, researchers are intrigued by the mounting evidence showing that mindfulness has a positive impact on our immune system.

The Floating Brain: Our Best Defense

The immune system is one of the most critical purveyors of our physical wellness. It’s our defense system, our armed forces that work to protect us from foreign invaders like viruses or bacteria. It is so precisely designed that it can distinguish between harmful unwanted pathogens and our own healthy cells and tissue.

When our immune system struggles, it’s like a welcome sign for infection and disease.

It is so wise that the immune system has even been referred to as our “floating brain,” aptly named for its ability to communicate with the brain through chemical messages that float around inside our body. This means that if our immune system is weakened, perhaps as a result of chronic stress or invading pathogens, our whole body system won’t operate as usual. When our immune system struggles, it’s like a welcome sign for infection and disease.

Mindfulness and the Immune System

Beyond the Iceman’s superhuman experiences, there is increasing evidence that mindfulness meditation does impact our immune system.

A recent and groundbreaking review looked at 20 randomized control trials examining the effects of mindfulness meditation on the immune system. In reviewing the research, the authors found that mindfulness meditation:

  • Reduced markers of inflammation, high levels of which are often correlated with decreased immune functioning and disease.
  • Increased number of CD-4 cells, which are the immune system’s helper cells that are involved in sending signals to other cells telling them to destroy infections.
  • Increased telomerase activity; telomerase help promote the stability of chromosomes and prevent their deterioration (telomerase deterioration leads to cancer and premature aging).

These results need to be replicated with more rigorous methodology, but they are promising, and potentially pave the way for using mindfulness-based techniques to boost the immune system, enhancing our defense against infection and disease.

And this isn’t the only study showing positive results. In another eight-week study, researchers at UCLA had 50 HIV-positive men meditate daily for 30-45 minutes. Doctors found that, compared with a control group, the more training sessions the men attended the higher their CD-4 cell count at the conclusion of the study (remember, CD-4 cells are the immune system’s helper cells). This study links mindfulness with a slowing down in CD-4 cell count drop, which is associated with healthier immune system functioning.

Richard Davidson, esteemed professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, also conducted a study investigating whether mindfulness meditation could alter brain and immune function.

In his study, people were injected with the flu vaccine and were either part of a group receiving mindfulness training or a control group. After eight weeks, the mindfulness group showed greater levels of antibodies available to respond to, and prevent, potential illness.

Mindfulness Meditation and Possible Mechanisms of Increased Immunity

It’s tempting to get carried away by the implications of the research suggesting that mindfulness can help improve immune functioning. However, the question still remains as to the exact mechanisms involved in the mindfulness-immune system connection. Ask any researcher and they’ll tell you they don’t know yet. Some possibilities have been suggested, and it is likely that a convergence of all of these play a role. Here I present three possible ideas:

  1. Decreased Stress, Increased Emotional Regulation: It has been confirmed through research that what we think and feel impacts our immune system via chemical messages from the brain. Therefore, stress, negative thinking styles, and certain emotional states can have a negative impact upon our immune system, creating an environment increasingly susceptible to disease. Mindfulness’s mechanisms toward greater well-being are complex and multifold, but practice is implicated in decreased stress, decreasedrumination, and increased ability to deal with difficult emotions. In this way, practicing mindfulness might stave off impaired immunity.
  2. Targeted Brain/Immune System Communication: Another link between mindfulness and the immune system is mindfulness’s direct impact upon brain structures responsible for talking to the immune system. More specifically, research indicates that mindfulness meditation increases activity in the prefrontal cortex, right anterior insula, and right hippocampus, the areas of the brain acting as our immune system’s command center. When these parts are stimulated through mindfulness, the immune system functions more effectively.
  3. Activation of the Second Brain (the Gut): Mindfulness can boost immunity via the gut microbiota. As per a previous article I wrote here on Mindful, the human body is comprised of trillions of micro-organisms, most of which reside in the gut, which are called the gut microbiota. It turns out that the gut microbiota are key players in the development and maintenance of the immune system; the bacteria in the body that helps distinguish between intruder/foreign microbes vs. those that are endogenous. Studies have shown that stress tips our microbial balance, putting us at risk for dysbiosis, (a shift away from “normal” gut microbiota diversity), stripping us of one of our prime defenses against infectious disease, not to mention the cascade of reactions that ensue, which potentially wreak havoc on the central nervous system (CNS). Mindfulness-based stress reduction impacts our immune system by helping to maintain healthy gut microbiota diversity that is often upset by stress.

No matter the exact mechanisms, there is viable evidence that practicing mindfulness meditation helps boost our defense against disease, and fosters wellness. And while we are a long way from this becoming a mainstream treatment practice—given possible egregious side effects if not done properly and the fact that very few of us can be an Iceman—this research paves the way for the addition of a new wellness adage: “Meditation each day keeps the doctor away.”

Strengthening Exercises for Ski Season

By Jessica CassityTraining during preseason and between ski trips can help you ski better and longer, plus safeguard your body from injury.So what workouts prep your body the best for playing in powder?ski season

“The most important components of ski conditioning are balance, agility, strength and endurance,” says Regan Nelson, a fitness instructor and former competitive ski racer with an MS in exercise physiology. “Lower body strength, including the quadriceps, glutes and hamstrings, is extremely important for making strong turns and having stamina to ski throughout the day. The core and the muscles in the back support your body, reduce lowback pain, keep you in an athletic position and improve your balance.”

Nelson has created the following training plan to prep your body for the challenges of ski season. Follow this plan two to three times a week to have an easier time moving quickly from ski to ski, making shorter-radius turns and maneuvering in varying terrain such as powder and bumps.

Cardiovascular Endurance And Lower Body Strength

Do three times, for a total of 15 minutes

  • Run up/down stairs: 4 minutes
  • Wall sit with knees bent to 90 degrees (press your back against a wall and walk your feet about 24-inches forward; bend your knees and slide your back down the wall until your hips are almost as low as your knees): 1 minute

Lower Body Strength, Balance And Agility

Do three times, for a total of 9 minutes

  • Walking lunges with hands on hips (step your right foot forward to a lunge, bending right knee over right ankle with left leg extended long behind; press weight into right foot and lift left foot, bringing it to meet the right foot; repeat to the left): Do 20 lunges, alternating right and left
  • Lateral hops with legs together and arms out in front (stand with feet hip-width apart and knees bent; spring up and to the right; land with feet hip-width apart; repeat left): Do 20 hops, alternating right and left
  • Squat and reach: Lower to a squat position then lift up to stand on your toes as you reach arms overhead. Do 10 squats and reaches

Core/Total Body Strength And Balance

Do three times, for a total of 9 minutes

  • Plank on all fours for Donkey Kicks (on hands and knees, hover knee one inch off of mat, flex right foot and extend leg behind you; return foot to floor for one rep): Do 20 kicks, alternating right and left
  • Side plank (start in a plank; spin to outside edge of right foot, stacking left foot on top of it, and lift left hand so weight is on right foot and hand; keep core tight so hips stay in line with feet and shoulders): Hold for 30 seconds on the right side, then hold for 30 seconds on the left side
  • Superman swims (lie facedown with arms extended by ears; pull belly in as you lift right arm and left leg then left arm and right leg): Do 20 swims, alternating right and left

Tips for a Heart-Healthy Valentine’s Day Dinner

valentine’s-day-heart-healthy

With Valentine’s Day being one of the biggest restaurant nights of the year, it’s easy to indulge yourself in a rich, heavy meal that loads up on calories and fat. Don’t let this meal ruin your New Year’s resolution and worse, giving you unwanted heartbreak during the national month of heart health! By following these easy tips, you can trim down the calories and fat while still enjoying this romantic holiday.

1.    Skip the breadbasket. Although you may think you are starving upon arrival to the restaurant, keep in mind you have a whole meal ahead of you. Pace yourself. That also goes for tortilla chips at Mexican restaurants.

2.    Easy on the appetizer. Opt out, split an appetizer, or start lightly with a cup of broth-based soup or salad with the dressing on the side. If you aren’t careful, some appetizers can have the same or more calories than your actual meal. By following these tips, you won’t deter your daily or meal caloric intake.

a.    Heart health tip: Be sure to include spinach in your side or appetizer salad for some extra vitamin C and A!

3.    Drink lightly. If you are going to drink alcohol, keep your mixers low calorie, such as water, diet soda/juice, or diet tonic water. Also be sure to keep in mind that Valentine’s Day is about enjoying each other’s company and laughter. To ensure that you remember all the lovely details of this great night out, limit yourself to 1-2 alcoholic beverages.

a.    Heart health tip: Choose red wine (1-5 oz. glass for women and 2-5 oz. glasses for men).

4.    Modify your meals. When choosing entrees, try to stick with broiled, baked, or steamed, instead of fried or breaded, to avoid extra saturated fat calories. Substitute French fries or potato chips/mashed potatoes for a side of non-starchy vegetables or fruit.

a.    Heart health tip: Choose salmon or tuna to bump up your omega 3 fatty acid intake.

5.    Portion control. Be sure to keep an eye on how your plate looks when it arrives to the table. To keep your plate in check, ask yourself…is my plate colorful? Is a quarter of my plate lean protein, a quarter starch or carbohydrate, and half devoted to fruit and/or vegetables?

a.    Heart health tip: Make your side vegetable red, yellow, or orange. These colorful veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, and red peppers are chalk full of heart healthy antioxidants.

6.    Be devious with your dessert. Choose a fruit-based dessert to get in an extra fruit serving for the day, choose dark chocolate over milk chocolate to boost your antioxidant intake and heart health benefits, split a dessert to reduce overall calories, gift with a small chocolate box instead of a large box, or gift each other with non-food related things, such as a spa day or a bouquet of flowers.

a.    Heart health tip: Opt for the dark chocolate to ensure you get your heart health benefits from flavonoids. Dark chocolate-covered strawberries or three Ghirardelli dark chocolate squares should do the trick!

– By Liz Weber, Registered Dietitian at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s

Winter blues got you down? Try these foods to bring you up!

Diet is an important component of mental health and there are many foods that can help fight depression by affecting your neurotransmitters!  Some of these include:

TurkeyTurkey

The traditional Thanksgiving bird has the protein building-block tryptophan, which your body uses to make serotonin. That’s a brain chemical that plays a key role in depression, researchers say. In fact, some antidepressant drugs work by targeting the way your brain uses serotonin. You can get the same mood-boosting effect from chicken and soybeans.

Brazil NutsBrazil nuts

This snack is rich in selenium, which helps protect your body from tiny, damaging particles called free radicals. One study found that young people who didn’t have enough of the nutrient in their diets were more likely to be depressed. The researchers couldn’t say that low selenium caused depression, though. Other foods with this mineral include brown rice, lean beef, sunflower seeds, and seafood.

Carrotscarrots

They’re full of beta-carotene, which you can also get from pumpkin, spinach, sweet potatoes, and cantaloupe. Studies have linked this nutrient to lower levels of depression. There’s not enough evidence to say that it can prevent the disorder, but it can’t hurt to get more in your diet.

Clams and Musselsclams and muscles

These seafood favorites are a good source of B-12. Some studies say that people with low levels of the vitamin are more likely to have depression. It may be that a lack of it causes a shortage of a substance called s-adenosylmethionine (SAM), which your brain needs to process other chemicals that affect your mood. If you’re looking for other B-12 foods, try lean beef, milk, and eggs.

Coffeecoffee

A jolt of caffeine can be a pick-me-up that helps you feel more motivated. But if you have postpartum depression or panic disorder, some studies suggest that it might make your symptoms worse. Other researchers say a cup of joe can lower your risk of getting depression, though they’re not sure why.

Leafy Greensleafy greens

They’re packed with folate, which your brain cells need to work well and which may help protect against depression. Food manufacturers in the U.S. add this vitamin, also known as B9, to enriched grains like pasta and rice. You can also get it from lentils, lima beans, and asparagus.

Salmonsalmon

This and other fish like herring and tuna are high in polyunsaturated fats. Researchers think those can help you fight depression. One type of these fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, may help brain cells use chemicals that can affect your mood. A few small studies show that people who weren’t depressed had higher levels of omega-3s than those with the mood disorder.

Milkmilk

It’s a good source of vitamin D. If you have very low levels of this nutrient in your body, that can sometimes cause depression. One Norwegian study found that people who took a vitamin D supplement were less depressed a year later than those who didn’t. Don’t like milk? Boost the D in your diet with enriched cereals and juices, and canned fish.

CAUTION: Alcoholalcohol

It might seem like just the thing to take the edge off your worries or make you feel more social. But most of the time, it’s best if you drink wine, beer, and mixed drinks only in moderation. You might feel better in the moment, but heavy drinking can make depression symptoms worse over time, because alcohol makes your brain less active. It also can make antidepressant medications less effective.

CAUTION: Junk Foodjunk food

It may be fast and filling, but these processed foods can be bad news for your mood. Scientists have studied how diets high in sugar, simple carbohydrates, and fatty foods affect how you feel. Many found some link between these unhealthy eats and depression. Your best bet: a well-balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein.

What’s the big deal about MTHFR?

By: Jill Carnahan, MD

MTHFR stands for methyl-tetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme that is responsible for the process of methylation in every cell in your body.  MTHFR is a common genetic variant that causes this key enzyme in the body to function at a lower than normal rate.  Although there are over fifty known MTHFR variants, the two primary ones are called C677T and A1298.  Your doctor can order a blood test to determine if you have these genetic variants.

What’s the big deal about methylation?

Methylation is a core process that occurs in all cells to help your body make biochemical conversions.  When people with genetic mutations is MTHFR are exposed to toxins, they have a harder time getting rid of them which can cause some very serious illnesses.  The methylation process is responsible for:

  • Cellular Repair: synthesis of nucleic acids, production & repair of DNA & mRNA
  • Detoxification and Neurotransmistter  Production:  interconversion of amino acids
  • Healthy Immune System Function:  formation & maturation of red blood cells, white blood cells & platelet production

The MTHFR anomaly is reported out as heterozygous or homozygous.  If you are heterozygous that means you have one affected gene and one normal gene.  Your enzyme activity will run at about 60% efficiency compared to a normal.

If you are homozygous or have 2 abnormal copies, then enzyme efficiency drops down to 10% to 20% of normal, which can be very serious.   The worst combination is 677T/1298C in which you are heterozygous to both anomalies.  Many chronic illnesses are linked to this anomaly.   Fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, chemical sensitivity, frequent miscarriage and frequent blood clots are all conditions associated with MTHFR anomaly.  For a great diagram of more methylation related health problems, check this out:

MTHFR Related Health Problems 

Glutathione is the body’s primary antioxidant and detoxifier.  One of the ways that MTHFR gene mutation can make you susceptible to illness is by lowering your ability to make glutathione.    People with MTHFR anomalies usually have low glutathione, which makes them more susceptible to stress and less tolerant to toxic exposures.  Accumulation of toxins in the body and increased oxidative stress, which also leads to premature aging.

Treatment for MTHFR

Fortunately, you can easily be tested for the MTHFR mutation.  If you find out that you have one or more of the gene mutations, you can supplement with methyl-folate  and methyl B12, the active forms of these B vitamins.   You can also supplement with liposomal or acetyl-glutathione, the end product of the pathway.  Glutathione is poorly absorbed so either the liposomal form or a precursor, called n-acetylcysteine (NAC) may be used, [ask your doctor what they’d recommend for you].

Patients who I recommend screen for MTHFR mutations:

  • Pre-conception care: test both man and woman
  • Mental dysfunction including but not limited to depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, schizophrenia, bipolar
  • Infants and children of parents with MTHFR mutations
  • Family members related to someone with MTHFR mutations
  • Elevated folate (not processing to active 5-MTHF due to inability to methylate)
  • Elevated homocysteine (due to low active 5-MTHF and methylcobalamin)
  • Elevated s-adenosylhomocysteine (due to low active 5-MTHF and methylcobalamin)
  • Elevated serum cobalamin (due to inability to methylate cyanocobalamin to methylcobalamin)
  • Elevated methylmalonic acid (due to methylcobalamin deficiency)
  • Patients with syndromes: IBS, Chemical sensitivity, Fibromyalgia, Down Syndrome, Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Neurological disorders: Multiple sclerosis, Autism, Alzheimer’s, Epilepsy, Parkinson’s to name a few
  • Cancer: family history of cancer or undergoing cancer treatment
  • Cervical dysplasia
  • Infertility
  • Cardiovascular risk: family history of strokes, embolisms, heart attacks, clots, essential hypertension
  • Birth defects: cleft palate, tetralogy of Fallot, spinal bifida, midline defects
  • Drug sensitivities: methotrexate, anti-epileptics, nitrous oxide, anesthesia

Nutritious Halloween Meal Idea

Potatoes can be a key ingredient to ensuring kids eat something nutritious and stay satiated on Halloween night. Before the family heads out for Trick ‘r Treating, try Pumpkin and Potato Stew with low-fat milk for a spooktacular meal!

Recipe By: Gina at Running to the Kitchen

IngredientsBoo-Potato-Pumpkin-Stew-360x240

For potatoes:

  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

For stew:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3 ½ cups cubed baking pumpkin (1/2-inch pieces)
  • 1 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium beef broth
  • ½ cup whole milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas, plus extra for garnish

Preparation

For the potatoes:
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring to a boil and cook until potatoes are fork tender. Drain and place them in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a regular bowl and use a handheld mixer or mash by hand). Add the milk, cream cheese and butter and beat until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

For the stew:
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Heat the olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the beef, season with salt and pepper, and brown on all sides. Add the pumpkin, onions and garlic and cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix. Cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and return the pot to the stove.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the butter. Once the butter is melted, add the flour to the pot and whisk for about 1 minute. Add the beef broth and milk and whisk until thickened over a simmer, about 5 minutes. Add the beef mixture back into the pot with the peas and stir to combine. Spoon the mixture into a large cast-iron skillet or baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the pumpkin is tender and the sauce is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes to cool.

Place the mashed potatoes in a pastry bag or a plastic bag with the end snipped off. Pipe potatoes in the shape of a ghost on top of the stew. Garnish with the peas as the “eyes.”

Calories: 428 Fat: 16g Cholesterol: 77mg Sodium: 296mg Vitamin C: 39% Carbohydrates: 47g Fiber: 5g Protein: 27g Potassium: 1541mg

 

Food Synergy: Nutrients That Work Better Together

Why Eating a Variety of Whole Foods is Your Best Nutritional Bet

by 

Sometimes in life, we don’t see the forest for the trees. And the field of nutrition is no exception. We can get so focused on the health benefits of a certain vitamin or phytochemical that we miss an important point: Different components in a single food can work together to benefit our health, and so can components in different foods that are eaten together.

I remember sitting in nutition 101 class 20 years ago and learning that vitamin C (from citrus fruits and dark-green vegetables) enhances the body’s absorption of iron (found in lean meats, fish, beans, and some leafy green veggies) when these foods are eaten at the same time. This was an early example of what we call “food synergy.”

David Jacobs, PhD, a researcher from the University of Minnesota, loosely defines food synergy as the idea that food influences our health in complex and highly interactive ways. The Produce for Better Health Foundation explains it as nutrients working together to create greater health effects.

Either way, food synergy is a very good thing. It brings us back to the basics: For good health, it’s important to eat a variety of whole foods.

There is still much we don’t know about how the components in food work together. Case in point: In the past 10 years, scientists have identified hundreds of biologically active plant-food components called phytochemicals (also called phytonutrients). A decade ago, we didn’t even know about phytochemicals like lycopene (the one that has made tomatoes famous) or anthocyanins and pterostilbene (which have propelled blueberries into the news).

We do know that eating food as close to its natural form as possible is by far our best bet for improving health and preventing disease. Vegetables, fruit, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are great examples of foods that are rich in a combination of important vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, antioxidant, and more.

Here are just a handful of examples in which different nutrients and components in food work together:

  • Pairing broccoli with tomatoes could be a match not only made in Italy, but in health heaven. In a study to be published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Nutrition, prostate tumors grew much less in rats that were fed tomatoes and broccoli than in rats who ate diets containing broccoli alone or tomatoes alone, or diets that contained cancer-fighting substances that had been isolated from tomatoes or broccoli. The take-home message: A lycopene supplement may not hurt, but the whole tomato will probably help more. And a tomato eaten with broccoli may help a lot more.
  • Antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E; is of lavones from soybeans; and other compounds are thought to be important in slowing the oxidation of cholesterol — which is as important to reducing your risk of congestive heart disease as lowering your blood cholesterol level. Antioxidant protection is a complex system that includes many nutrients and phytonutrients. You need all of them for maximum effect.
  • Research on the so-called DASH diet (for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) showed how different dietary patterns build on each other. A diet high in fruits and vegetables lowered blood pressure. But blood pressure went down even more when people also ate a reduced-fat diet and included daily servings of low-fat dairy products. Blood pressure was lowered the most when people did all this plus ate less sodium.
  • “Eating a little “good fat” along with your vegetables helps your body absorb their protective phytochemicals.”

    • Three B vitamins (folic acid, vitamin B-6, and B-12) TOGETHER reduce the level of an amino acid that, in high levels, is thought to damage artery linings, leading to heart attacks and strokes.
    • Test-tube studies have shown that vitamin C and the phytoestrogen found in various fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans (including soy) work together to inhibit the oxidation of LDL “bad” cholesterol.
    • A recent study found that the phytochemicals quercetin (found mainly in apples, onions and berries) and catechin (found mainly in apples, green tea, purple grapes, and grape juice) worked together to help stop platelet clumping. Platelets are a component in blood that play an important role in forming clots. Platelets’ clumping together is one of several steps in blood clotting that can lead to a heart attack.
    • The Mediterranean-style diet is a perfect example of food synergy because it includes several healthful food patterns. (It’s rich in plant foods, whole grains, legumes and fish; low in meat and dairy products; and contains more monounsaturated than saturated fats because of its emphasis on olives, olive oil, and walnuts.) A recent study concluded that the Mediterranean diet may reduce the prevalence of both metabolic syndrome(a condition that includes excess body fat, high blood fats, and high blood pressure) and the cardiovascular risk that goes along with it. Another study found that a Mediterranean diet was associated with a 23% lower risk of early death from all causes.
    • Several dietary factors — including saturated fat and, to a lesser extent, cholesterol — work to raise cholesterol in the human body. Several others, like plant sterols, soy protein, soluble fiber, and foods such as oats and nuts, help lower blood cholesterol levels Your cholesterol levels are determined less by the intake of one particular nutrient than by your overall diet.
    • Eating a little “good fat” along with your vegetables helps your body absorb their protective phytochemicals, like lycopene from tomatoes and lutein from dark-green vegetables. A recent study measured how well phytochemicals were absorbed after people ate a lettuce, carrot, and spinach salad with or without 2 1/2 tablespoons of avocado. The avocado-eating group absorbed 8.3 times more alpha-carotene and 13.6 times more beta-carotene (both of which help protect against cancel and heart disease), and 4.3 times more lutein (which helps with eye health) than those who did not eat avocados.
    • In lab studies, Cornell University researchers found that apple extract given together with apple skin worked better to prevent the oxidation of free-radicals (unstable molecules that damage cells and are believed to contribute to many diseases) than apple extract without the skin. They also found that catechins (a type of phytochemical found in apples), when combined with two other phytochemicals, had an effect that was five times greater than expected.
    • Studies have indicated that oats may help protect against heart disease. Besides being one of our best sources of soluble fiber, oats contain a laundry list of other healthful compounds, including beta-glucan; a beneficial amino acid ratio; magnesium; folic acid; tocotrienols; and a phytochemical so far identified only in oats — avenanthramides. The protective effect of oats is thought to come from the collective effects of all of these components.

    All these examples remind us of just how complex nutritional relationships are. In my opinion, Mother Nature knew what she was doing when she created plant foods: There is magic in the packaging.

Balancing your hormones naturally

By Ruth Clark

Simply put, hormones are chemical messengers. They travel in your bloodstream to tissues and organs. The release of hormones is one way that parts of the body communicate with one another.

Hormones affect many processes in the body, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function/reproduction and mood. If your hormones are off it can make you feel exhausted, moody, grouchy and completely out of sorts.

Five tips for better hormonal balancehealthy meat and greens

1. Control blood sugar. Keep your energy constant all day by making sure your blood sugar is well balanced. When blood sugar is low it can make you feel tired, light headed and “hangry.”
Eat regularly, including healthy balanced snacks to avoid becoming ravenous. Include foods that contain a good mix of complex unrefined carbs, good protein and some healthy fat like a fresh fruit with some nuts, or hummus and veggies. Controlling blood sugar is key to helping keep insulin levels low. Too much circulating insulin can result in calories converting to fat instead of energy.

2. Get enough sleep. From 7.5 to 9 hours is considered adequate. More and more data shows the effect of lack of sleep on obesity and diabetes. This is mostly due to the effect on several hormones. Cortisol, the stress hormone, is elevated after by inadequate sleep. Sleep is important for regulating the two hormones responsible for regulating hunger/appetite. Sleep affects how well your cells use insulin. Most people overeat after a poor night of rest because they feel they need the energy and are coping with a hormonal stew which sets them craving more food.

3. Watch the caffeine. Drinking too much caffeine is almost as bad as insufficient sleep. It elevates your cortisol levels, lowers your thyroid hormone levels and basically creates havoc throughout your body.

A good substitute is green tea, which has about 10 mg caffeine per cup versus 240 mg in a cup of coffee.

4. Eat healthy fats. Essential fats are foundational building blocks for hormone production. I’m often surprised in my practice to hear women say they are afraid to eat foods like olives, avocado and nuts because they are high in calories. This outdated weight control practice ignores modern science. Let it go. Avocado with a little balsamic vinegar or fresh tomatoes and basil is a delicious snack that will help your hormones.

Balance your ratio of Omega-3 to Omega-6 fats. The body creates hormones from both of these fatty acids. Those from Omega-6 fatty acids tend to increase inflammation while those from Omega-3 fatty acids decrease it. With the advent of processed and convenience foods the ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fats in our diet has gone from a healthy 1:1 to a very risky 20:1. Avoid oils high in Omega-6 fats: safflower, sunflower, corn, cottonseed, canola, soybean and peanut. Favor foods that are naturally high in Omega-3 fats such as fatty fish, walnuts, flax and chia seeds, and grass-fed animal products. Consider an Omega-3 supplement if you don’t eat fatty fish at least twice per week.

5. Take good care of your adrenal glands. Our world of nonstop stimulation and stress easily creates adrenal fatigue, leading to an outpouring of the hormone cortisol. The more demand on your adrenal glands, the harder it is for the adrenals to deliver. Because the fight or flight response is innate and tied to our very survival, the adrenal glands get priority for hormone production, leaving the sex and thyroid hormones in deficit.

High levels of cortisol are also major contributors to belly fat. Cortisol increases the release of blood sugar which makes sense if you need to run away from a saber tooth tiger but isn’t very helpful when you are stuck at a desk under deadline for a work project.

Take care of your hormones and they will take care of you!