Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Potent Berries for Eye Health

Bilberry, known as Vaccinium myrtillus, is a shrubby perennial plant one to two feet in height and can be found in the mountains and forests of Europe and the northern United States. The berries and leaves are used medicinally, but the berries have been found to be most beneficial for eye health. Historical uses include military soldiers in the field that ate the jam of the berries to help with night vision. The sweet and tart tasting berries of the plant are commonly used in supplements and tinctures. The berries contain vitamin C and anthyocyanins, giving them potent anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Common eye concerns include glaucoma and cataracts. Glaucoma is a condition that damages the optic nerve that sends signals from the eye to the brain. It is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. The condition is a result of increased intraocular pressure (IOP) in the eye. Depending on the reason for the increased IOP, the condition can be asymptomatic or can cause symptoms such as pain in the eye, cloudy vision, nausea or vomiting, halos around light, or a swollen feeling. Visual deficits are usually in the peripheral fields. The best way to diagnose glaucoma is with an eye exam and a series of testing to check not only for eye pressure changes, but for other signs of damage.

Cataracts are common in the aging population. The lens of the eye becomes clouded, causing blurry vision, colors that appear faded, glaring, impaired night vision, and double vision. Compared to glaucoma, the blurring usually occurs in the central line of sight. Changes take place slowly over time. People with metabolic disorders and unstable blood sugar, such as diabetes, are especially at risk for developing cataracts.

Bilberry helps the eye by strengthening collagen cross linking and increasing the integrity of the vascular system.  It is also anti-oxidant leading to decreased damage to the vascular system generated by free radicals. One recent study published by researchers in Japan, found that anthocyanin-rich bilberry extract has a protective effect on visual function during retinal inflammation. They also found that bilberry extract prevented the impairment of ocular photoreceptor cell function.

The berries reduce damage to the vascular supply to the eyes and are utilized to treat cataracts. Significant improvements have been seen with both diabetic retinopathy, damage to the retina as a result of diabetes, and hypertensive retinopathy, damage to the retina as a result of high blood pressure, in patients supplemented with Vaccinium extracts.  One specific study examined patients taking 115 mg anthocyanins per day for one month and found beneficial improvements in eye health.

Bilberry is generally safe, but should be discussed with a healthcare professional. Bilberry is in the same family as other commonly consumed berries such as blueberries and cranberries. Stock up on berries this fall and eat your way to better eye health! 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Outsmart Your Genetics

Our brains are wired to perform very important tasks, some that we control consciously and some unconsciously. When it comes to brain health, addictions can be a difficult problem to correct. The American Society of Addiction Medicine issued a policy statement that defines addiction as "a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry." This is not a novel statement based on decades of research that have been spent studying addiction. The new definition does, however, bring to light the fact that addiction may not be a matter of simple self- control. The statement defines addiction as a disease, just as any other brain, heart, musculoskeletal or other organ functional problem may be defined. If addiction were simply a matter of will power, there may be more success stories of smoking cessation, ending bad eating habits or giving up alcohol addictions. Not many people want or choose to be controlled by these substances, but somehow they are. The statement also defines characteristics of addiction that may include inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, a craving for drugs or other substances, diminished recognition of significant problems with behaviors or relationships and a dysfunctional emotional response. 

What substances or behaviors can be addicting? Drugs (illegal or prescription), alcohol, gambling, shopping and food are considered common addictives. Perhaps the increasing epidemic of obesity may be somewhat related to a food addiction. Food is often used as a motivator or source pleasure as opposed to being considered a fuel for the body. According to Dr. Mark Hyman, a leading expert on functional medicine, industrially processed, sugar-, fat- and salt-laden food, food that is made in a plant rather than grown on a plant is biologically addictive. Not many folks would eat a 2 pound bag of broccoli or a 5 pound bag of apples. But imagine a bag or potato chips, a plate of cookies, or an extra large pizza? The latter is easy to see vanishing unconsciously. Broccoli is not addictive, but chemically processed and refined foods will train our brain to unconsciously crave and consume them to excess. 

The research also points to genetic factors as a reason for addiction. The likelihood that an individual will become addicted can be accounted for by genetics in approximately fifty percent of cases. This implies that if a person has a known family history of addictive behavior, they can be aware of their resulting risk and work to modify their genetic tendency by changing things like environmental influences and life experiences. Changing environmental influence may mean relocating to an area without emotional triggers, avoiding specific activities that cause addictive behaviors and focusing on creating positive life experiences that are free of potential habit forming substances. A comparison can be drawn between family history of cardiovascular disease and family history of alcoholism. A person may decide to modify diet and lifestyle, go for regular cholesterol checks and take medicines or supplements to lower cardiovascular risk. We wouldn’t want this person eating fast food every day, living a sedentary lifestyle, and avoiding regular doctor visits. The same goes for a family history of alcoholism. A person may focus on a diet and lifestyle that avoids activities and situations where drinking alcohol is a form of entertainment, motivation and reward. They may instead choose to focus on other activities of motivation and reward such as creative projects, recreation, or other activities that can be enjoyed socially, without potential addiction concerns.

Unfortunately, re-wiring the brain and changing genetic tendencies can be a process. Recognizing genetics and current habits is a way to start considering the risk for addiction. For those struggling with addiction, having the support of friends, family and loved ones can be a critical element of recovery. There are also many support groups available for individuals and friends and family members of those struggling with addiction.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Potato Chip Study

Is a calorie just a calorie? The conventional  notion that weight loss really a simple equation of calorie intake vs energy expenditure may not be completely true. Especially in the long term.  Recent research suggests that avoidance of specific foods may lead to a more stable weight pattern.

What is the potato chip study? The New England Journal of Medicine published a study in June 2011  titled “changes in diet and lifestyle and long term weight gain in women and men.” The study looked at weight changes at regular intervals in three study groups. The data was pooled and evaluated for dietary intake patterns and weight change.

The participants who ate either potato chips, French fries, or potatoes (prepared another way) had the most weight gain over the four year period. The greatest weight loss was seen in groups that consumed low fat yogurt and nuts.

What does this mean? You can simplify this data to mean that consuming high levels of simple carbohydrates lead to weight gain. The other foods looked at in the study confirm what we already know about foods: consuming a diet high in vegetables, fruits,  nuts, and minimally processed grains may be the best for long term metabolic health. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Forward to Seasonal Allergies

Allergies can be year round or seasonal. In the Midwest, the first major allergy reaction season begins when trees begin to release pollen. Trees with little or no visible flower actually release the highest amount of pollen because they rely on wind rather than insects for pollination. Another source of potential allergens is in the form of fungal spores. Spores are high all times of the year when there is no snow cover. Other allergens include grasses or crops in more rural areas.

Why do some people react to common allergens and others don’t? It has to do with genetics and immune system tolerance. Having certain types of immune cells in the body can help shift the response. The body’s immune system can be supported in a variety of ways! The gastrointestinal tract makes up a whopping 60-80% of the mechanisms responsible for immune response and therefore supporting gut function is of particular importance when combating allergies.

Easy steps to take to reduce exposure include using a dehumidifier to reduce humidity and reduce indoor allergens such as dust mites or mold spores. Also reducing the number of dust collecting items in the home like carpets, curtains, cloth furniture can be beneficial. Removing shoes in the home is another way to keep outdoor allergens away.

There are many natural alternatives to the common over the counter meds that most folks turn to for relief. Options can include dietary modification, supplementation, plant medicines or even homeopathy. One particular supplement that I have used with success is Quercetin. Dosing depends on the person but it generally well tolerated. Combine this nutritional supplement with dietary change and gut support and most of my allergic patients can finally get relief for the spring and fall. With naturopathic medicine, there is no “one size fits all” approach for allergies! So put a little more spring in your step this allergy season and find a natural alternative and lasting solution to allergies. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Hormone Balancing Act

One of the most frequent concerns I've seen in my office within the past few weeks is that of weight gain. The new year has (once again) prompted people to seek help with one of the most common New Years resolutions-- lose weight! 

I have successfully helped many folks lose weight over the years. There are some key factors that I have found that need to be modified before weight loss can be successful and maintained for the long term. 

Stress reduction! Stress does not just come from work, your boss or driving in traffic. Inflammation in the body,  chronic disease, excessive worry or emotional problems, or environmental toxins are all perceived by the body as stress. Some develop coping mechanisms to stress and some become chronically maladapted to stress leading to imbalances in cortisol. Stress reduction techniques such as yoga, tai chi, breathing or meditation, and massage can all be useful strategies. It is important, however, to measure the amount of cortisol that the body is making in order to support underlying imbalances. 

Sex Hormones! The hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone play an important role in both males and females. In both men and women, estrogen excess is often to blame for inability to lose weight. Estrogen excess can come from many sources in our environment. Certain foods can mimic estrogen (soy), pesticides used on non- organic foods can disrupt sex hormones, and plastics (BPA specifically) can also have estrogen like effects.Many women have a history of or are currently taking  birth control pills-- which puts excess estrogen into the body on a daily basis! 

Thyroid! The thyroid is often blamed for weight problems, although treating the thyroid alone often does not lead to weight loss. Thyroid health can be supported by a variety of methods and in combination with sex hormone and adrenal hormone support can optimize weight loss results. 

As you can see, weight loss can be more than just diet and exercise. A comprehensive hormonal evaluation can  uncover underlying causes of weight can and be the first step on the road to weight loss. 

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

7 Foods to NEVER Eat

I saw this article shared on many of my friends Facebook profiles and hope that you too had a chance to read the post which was actually published in Prevention Magazine. It was such a good foundation to "food rules" as I call them, that I thought it would be worth sharing. In my mind, food rules are things that you just agree with yourself to not do. One of my main food rules is: no high fructose corn syrup. If I read a label and its in there, I wont buy or eat it. For me its a simple way to be able to make good choices. I am now considering adding some of these to my "food rules" category: 

1. The Endocrinologist Won't Eat: Canned Tomatoes
Fredrick Vom Saal, is an endocrinologist at the University of Missouri who studies bisphenol-A.
The problem: The resin linings of tin cans contain bisphenol-A, a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to ailments ranging from reproductive problems to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Unfortunately, acidity (a prominent characteristic of tomatoes) causes BPA to leach into your food. Studies show that the BPA in most people's body exceeds the amount that suppresses sperm production or causes chromosomal damage to the eggs of animals. "You can get 50 mcg of BPA per liter out of a tomato can, and that's a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young," says vom Saal. "I won't go near canned tomatoes."
The solution: Choose tomatoes in glass bottles (which do not need resin linings), such as the brands Bionaturae and Coluccio. You can also get several types in Tetra Pak boxes, like Trader Joe's and Pomi.
Budget tip: If your recipe allows, substitute bottled pasta sauce for canned tomatoes. Look for pasta sauces with low sodium and few added ingredients, or you may have to adjust the recipe.

2. The Farmer Won't Eat: Corn-Fed Beef
Joel Salatin is co-owner of Polyface Farms and author of half a dozen books on sustainable farming.
The problem: Cattle evolved to eat grass, not grains. But farmers today feed their animals corn and soybeans, which fatten up the animals faster for slaughter. But more money for cattle farmers (and lower prices at the grocery store) means a lot less nutrition for us. A recent comprehensive study conducted by the USDA and researchers from Clemson University found that compared with corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E, omega-3s, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), calcium, magnesium, and potassium; lower in inflammatory omega-6s; and lower in saturated fats that have been linked to heart disease. "We need to respect the fact that cows are herbivores, and that does not mean feeding them corn and chicken manure," says Salatin.
The solution: Buy grass-fed beef, which can be found at specialty grocers, farmers' markets, and nationally at Whole Foods. It's usually labeled because it demands a premium, but if you don't see it, ask your butcher.
Budget tip: Cuts on the bone are cheaper because processors charge extra for deboning. You can also buy direct from a local farmer, which can be as cheap as $5 per pound. To find a farmer near you, search

3. The Toxicologist Won't Eat: Microwave Popcorn
Olga Naidenko, is a senior scientist for the Environmental Working Group.
The problem: Chemicals, including perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in the lining of the bag, are part of a class of compounds that may be linked to infertility in humans, according to a recent study from UCLA. In animal testing, the chemicals cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer. Studies show that microwaving causes the chemicals to vaporize--and migrate into your popcorn. "They stay in your body for years and accumulate there," says Naidenko, which is why researchers worry that levels in humans could approach the amounts causing cancers in laboratory animals. DuPont and other manufacturers have promised to phase out PFOA by 2015 under a voluntary EPA plan, but millions of bags of popcorn will be sold between now and then.
The solution: Pop natural kernels the old-fashioned way: in a skillet. For flavorings, you can add real butter or dried seasonings, such as dillweed, vegetable flakes, or soup mix.
Budget tip: Popping your own popcorn is dirt cheap.

4. The Farm Director Won't Eat: Nonorganic Potatoes
Jeffrey Moyer is the chair of the National Organic Standards Board.
The problem: Root vegetables absorb herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides that wind up in soil. In the case of potatoes--the nation's most popular vegetable--they're treated with fungicides during the growing season, then sprayed with herbicides to kill off the fibrous vines before harvesting. After they're dug up, the potatoes are treated yet again to prevent them from sprouting. "Try this experiment: Buy a conventional potato in a store, and try to get it to sprout. It won't," says Moyer, who is also farm director of the Rodale Institute (also owned by Rodale Inc., the publisher of Prevention). "I've talked with potato growers who say point-blank they would never eat the potatoes they sell. They have separate plots where they grow potatoes for themselves without all the chemicals."
The solution: Buy organic potatoes. Washing isn't good enough if you're trying to remove chemicals that have been absorbed into the flesh.
Budget tip: Organic potatoes are only $1 to $2 a pound, slightly more expensive than conventional spuds.

5. The Fisheries Expert Won't Eat: Farmed Salmon
Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany, published a major study in the journal Science on contamination in fish.
The problem: Nature didn't intend for salmon to be crammed into pens and fed soy, poultry litter, and hydrolyzed chicken feathers. As a result, farmed salmon is lower in vitamin D and higher in contaminants, including carcinogens, PCBs, brominated flame retardants, and pesticides such as dioxin and DDT. According to Carpenter, the most contaminated fish come from Northern Europe, which can be found on American menus. "You could eat one of these salmon dinners every 5 months without increasing your risk of cancer," says Carpenter, whose 2004 fish contamination study got broad media attention. "It's that bad." Preliminary science has also linked DDT to diabetes and obesity, but some nutritionists believe the benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks. There is also concern about the high level of antibiotics and pesticides used to treat these fish. When you eat farmed salmon, you get dosed with the same drugs and chemicals.
The solution: Switch to wild-caught Alaska salmon. If the package says fresh Atlantic, it's farmed. There are no commercial fisheries left for wild Atlantic salmon.
Budget tip: Canned salmon, almost exclusively from wild catch, can be found for as little as $3 a can.

6. The Cancer Researcher Won't Drink: Milk Produced With Artificial Hormones
Rick North is project director of the Campaign for Safe Food at the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility and former CEO of the Oregon division of the American Cancer Society.
The problem: Milk producers treat their dairy cattle with recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH or rBST, as it is also known) to boost milk production. But rBGH also increases udder infections and even pus in the milk. It also leads to higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers. "When the government approved rBGH, it was thought that IGF-1 from milk would be broken down in the human digestive tract," says North. As it turns out, the casein in milk protects most of it, according to several independent studies. "There's not 100 percent proof that this is increasing cancer in humans," admits North. "However, it's banned in most industrialized countries."
The solution: Check labels for rBGH-free, rBST-free, produced without artificial hormones, or organic milk. These phrases indicate rBGH-free products.
Budget tip: Try Wal-Mart's Great Value label, which does not use rBGH.

7. The Organic-Foods Expert Won't Eat: Conventional Apples
Mark Kastel, a former executive for agribusiness, is codirector of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm-policy research group that supports organic foods.
The problem: If fall fruits held a "most doused in pesticides contest," apples would win. Why? They are individually grafted (descended from a single tree) so that each variety maintains its distinctive flavor. As such, apples don't develop resistance to pests and are sprayed frequently. The industry maintains that these residues are not harmful. But Kastel counters that it's just common sense to minimize exposure by avoiding the most doused produce, like apples. "Farm workers have higher rates of many cancers," he says. And increasing numbers of studies are starting to link a higher body burden of pesticides (from all sources) with Parkinson's disease.
The solution: Buy organic apples.
Budget tip: If you can't afford organic, be sure to wash and peel them. But Kastel personally refuses to compromise. "I would rather see the trade-off being that I don't buy that expensive electronic gadget," he says. "Just a few of these decisions will accommodate an organic diet for a family."

Monday, November 21, 2011

Eat your Essentials!

Omega three oils are very important to our health. They are called “essential fatty acids” because our body cannot manufacture them itself and they must come from the diet.  The name omega three refers to the length and molecular bonging structure of the fatty acid molecule. The two most important omega three fats are EPA and DHA.

Plant sources of omega three’s include flax, soy, walnut, hemp, and dark green vegetables. Plant forms of omega three may be thought of as the building blocks for EPA and DHA because there are many enzymatic steps that must occur in order for the oil to be changed into the EPA or DHA  form. The best sources of EPA and DHA are oily fish, game meats, grass fed meats, omega three eggs and fish oil supplements. Oily fish high in EPA and DHA include salmon, herring and sardines. They are also a great source of protein and calcium. Beef that is grass fed and grass finished has omega three fats and a substance known as conjugated linoleic acid which has an effect on satiety.

Fish oils have very beneficial effects on the heart and overall cardiovascular system. They are responsible for cell membrane fluidity, moderating the inflammation response, and help to maintain blood vessel integrity. They are also very helpful in high doses for lowering lipid levels. HDL levels can also be raised with high doses of EPA and DHA. EPA and DHA are also helpful for pain, those with insulin sensitivity, help with allergic response, and are beneficial for neural and cognitive development in infants.

There is no known recommended dose for EPA and DHA. Eating oily fish 2-3 times a week and/or taking a supplement with at least two grams of EPA/DHA daily may fulfill the body’s basic need. Dosing strategies for EPA and DHA change depending on the therapeutic result that is desired. Also, be sure to tell your doctor about your fish oil intake, as they have known blood thinning properties.