High blood pressure, or hypertension, seems to be an ailment that is accepted as some people’s lot in life. However there are certain modifiable risk factors, other than family history, which make some people more susceptible to high blood pressure. It’s important to address these, particularly if you also have a family history of heart attack and stroke. One of the most influential risk factors for hypertension is your weight. When you think about it this really make sense. The higher the weight, the larger the network of circulation and the harder the blood has to pump to get the blood reaching the entire body. Eating a low GI, nutrient dense diet along with exercise, which has an independent impact on blood pressure, are the best ways to go about doing this.
Salt has long been demonised in the fight against blood pressure but the sodium in salt is an important electrolyte in the body. What is more important is maintaining the correct balance of sodium with potassium in the body. You can do this by avoiding take away and processed foods, choosing a high quality sea salt (Celtic and Himalayan are the best) which have higher potassium content and increasing your intake of high potassium foods such as fruit (eg bananas and berries), veggies (eg sweet potato) and nuts and seeds. Magnesium, the calming mineral, is another nutrient which can improve blood pressure when taken from dietary and supplemental sources.
Of course there are also herbs which can help to lower your blood pressure. These include Mistletoe, Lime flowers, Olive leaf, Hawthorn and Cramp Bark. Once again, garlic proves itself as a broad spectrum medicinal food with it’s blood pressure lowering ability.
Symptoms of magnesium deficiency are commonly seen in my practice, unfortunately being a bi-product of over processed foods and poor soil quality. The symptoms can be quite debilitating especially if a multitude of them are experienced at any one time.
Unfortunately many over the counter magnesium supplements are almost useless due to poor absorbability (around 8% of magnesium oxide is absorbed) and this also leads to adverse side effects such as diarrhoea. A chelated (amino acid bound) magnesium product such as magnesium diglycinate, the type found in Metagenics products, is highly absorbed and effective. So how do you know if you are magnesium deficient? Symptoms include high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia, muscle cramps and myofascial pain (ie trigger points), period pain, irritability and low stress tolerance. Download this handy quiz to find out just how deficient you might be.
The best dietary sources of magnesium include: meat, nuts and seeds, tahini, yeast, chocolate (dark), chilli powder, curry powder, mustard powder, goats milk, dried fruit, passionfruit, banana, blackberry, raspberry, legumes, shallots, spinach and parsley.
The pH is a scale of 1-14 used in chemistry to measure how acidic or alkaline something is. It is logarithmic which simply means that with each number on the scale the intensity multiplies by 10. For example something with a pH of 3 is ten times more acidic than something with a pH of 4. But what does all this have to do with you? Different parts of the body have a pH at which they function at optimal levels. For example stomach acid has a pH of 1.2-3.0 which is very acidic owing to the hydrochloric acid contained in gastric juices but the pH of the blood is ideally 7.35 – 7.45 which is slightly alkaline. So what happens if our blood becomes too acidic? Well there are several negative outcomes which can result from a state called metabolic acidosis.
- Bone demineralisation – in an effort to raise the pH of the blood, calcium and phosphorous in the bones re-enter the bloodstream potentially leading to osteoporosis, kidney stones and the calcification of joints and arteries.
- Cancer – tumours tend to thrive in an acidic environment and studies demonstrate that treatment with sodium bicarbonate (an alkalizing agent), makes tumours more susceptible to cancer drugs and prevent the spread of cancers.
- Detoxification of certain toxins (e.g. fluoride) in the liver slows down.
- Weight gain – the body tends to store acidic waste and excess toxins in the fat cells in order to protect your organs from their damaging effects.
- Increased pain perception – an acidic environment sensitises ion channels in the nerves which lead to a lower threshold for pain.
The good news is you can easily shift the body back into an more alkaline state by choosing particular foods which raise the blood pH such as green leafy vegetables, certain fruits and healthy fats and by reducing foods which lower your pH such as dairy, coffee, red meat and refined carbohydrates. If you are wondering if your pH levels are too low I can test them for you and put you on the right track with your diet. I also stock two Metagenics products which raise your pH levels; one for those susceptible to anxiety and one with added detoxification benefits which is perfect for weight loss.
Being Heart Week this week it seemed like an opportune time to discuss cholesterol in the body, what it is and why it gets such a bad rap? Cholesterol indeed has a bad reputation but did you know that a healthy level of cholesterol actually has important roles in the body. Not only is it a structural component of our cell membranes contributing to their permeability and pliability but it is an important pre-cursor to the steroid hormones, bile and vitamin D. Having a high cholesterol level doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a heart attack. If there is little inflammation in the body, including in the blood vessel walls, the cholesterol has no reason to go there to form plaque. This is the substance which causes the narrowing of the arteries. Cholesterol is often categorised as good (High Density Lipoproteins or HDLs) cholesterol and bad (low Density Lipoproteins or LDLS) cholesterol. In fact these are not cholesterol molecules at all but rather fat & protein molecules which transport cholesterol around the body, the good taking the cholesterol to the liver where it can be broken down and the bad to the artery walls to form plaque, amongst other places.
Despite having a role in familial hypercholesterolemia (genetic disposition to very high cholesterol) pharmaceutical drugs which hinder the production of cholesterol such as the statins (eg Lipitor & Crestor), will subsequently hinder the production of other important compounds such as vitamin D. They also deplete the body of an important nutrient for the production of energy in the muscles called Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and this includes the most important muscle in the body… you guessed it the heart! If you absolutely must take these drugs make sure you are taking vitamin D and CoQ10 as supplements.
Much can be done to naturally control the amount and type of cholesterol and the levels of inflammation in the body. Thankfully they are often the same strategies. Include deep sea fatty fish in the diet such as sardines, tuna, mackerel and salmon. Take a good quality fish or krill oil supplement every day. I recommend Metagenics for their potency and purity. Limit the amount of saturated fat in the diet. This is generally the fat from animals other than fish including non-organic dairy and cage eggs.
You can also take herbs which lower the cholesterol and inflammation levels in the body such as Globe artichoke, Cacao, and Fenugreek. The antioxidant vitamins (eg vitamin E) and minerals (eg selenium) will also assist in this area. Anti-cholesterol foods you can incorporate into your every day diet include onions, garlic and turmeric.
What oil are you cooking with at home? The most common answer I hear is olive oil but is olive oil all it’s cracked up to be and is it the best oil to cook with. The answer is yes and no. The suitability of oils for frying has much to do with the way we nutritionists classify fats and oils; as saturated, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated. Given that most people haven’t studied organic chemistry I won’t bore you with explaining the difference except to say that each type of fat is more or less susceptible to changing it’s structure by heating (ie stability), and when you change the structure of fats bad things happen. Carcinogens and ‘trans fats’ are created which contribute to coronary heart disease, cancer, liver dysfunction, diabetes and even infertility. However, it’s not a black and white issue as some fats can handle high heat, whilst others a gentle heat without becoming unstable, depending on their level of saturation.
So which fats are the most resistant to heat? The saturated ones. Saturated fats do have a bad reputation for causing heart disease, but this reputation is not always warranted. It’s the long chain saturated fats from animal products which contribute to heart disease and inflammation in the body. Coconut oil on the hand is perfect for high heat cooking. It contains medium chain fatty acids such as lauric and myristic acids and the body tends to use these immediately for fuel rather than storing it.
As for some of the other oils many of them can be used at low heat, for example for sauteing and slow cooking and this includes macadamia oil, avocado oil and light olive oil. Peanut oil and extra virgin olive oil should be reserved for salads, breads and drizzling over the finished product.
The oils I do not recommend for cooking and eating are those with a high degree of unsaturation that have been processed with heat (remember what I said about heat) and additives. These include canola, rice bran oil and margarine. For example, rice bran oil goes though a heat and chemical extraction process and then is deodorised and bleached to make it more visually and tastefully appealing. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound very appealing.
I hope this clears up some of the misconceptions about fats and oils and I hope to see you in clinic soon.
It seems every second person these days is going gluten free in the hope that it alleviates various digestive upsets such as bloating, wind, reflux and even irritable bowel syndrome. Gluten intolerance is certainly on the rise and it is generally accepted that this is due to the way foods that contain the tough, elastic protein such as wheat, rye, oats and triticale are processed. For example bread was traditionally left to proof for a longer time and the process of fermentation would cause gluten to begin breaking down.
It is important to note that gluten intolerance is different to Coeliac Disease, a genetic condition where the gluten literally attacks the lining of the small intestine if even the smallest amount of gluten is consumed. Conversely gluten intolerance can be either due to a lack of digestive power causing the undigested food to ferment in the large bowel or a true immune reaction to the gluten itself (similar to an allergy). In any case the intolerance is not only caused by the ‘toughness’ of the protein but there appears to be other factors in the intestinal terrain responsible for this reaction and by avoiding gluten as the only remedy to their symptoms people are not addressing those underlying factors which will manifest in other health problems down the track. Those underlying factors include dysbiosis (imbalance of good and bad flora in the intestines), leaky gut syndrome, pancreatic insufficiency and/or lack of stomach acid.
Do you think you might be gluten intolerant? I can order a saliva test which tests for immune reactivity to the protein ($195) or alternatively I can help you trial a gluten free diet. Most importantly, I can help you identify and address the underlying drivers of your digestive issues.
Further evidence that omega 3 fatty acids are crucial for the health of the brain with a Swedish study published in the Journal Of Internal Medicine demonstrating that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids does indeed cross the blood brain barrier to reduce the inflammation involved in Alzheimer s disease. Alzheimer’s patients are a group who had previously demonstrated lower levels of a key omega-3, docosahexanoic acid (DHA), in the cerebrospinal fluid and supplementation increased these levels. This further compounds the reputation of omega-3 supplements, particularly those with higher amounts of DHA, to treat other brain related conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and autism. Read more about the study here.
Unlike Americans we don’t have a specific time of year to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives but Christmas often becomes the time to do this. Many of you will be familiar with the Law Of Attraction philosophy, the crux of which is that you attract into your life what you think and feel most. One of the cornerstones of this philosophy is giving thanks and having gratitude for the good in our lives, not just at Christmas but as part of a daily routine. Studies on gratitude have found that participants who undertake daily activities related to gratitude including keeping journals, thinking about significant others’ positive traits and making lists, experience less depression and stress, have healthier relationships and feel better physically than controls. From a health perspective, this concept is extremely important. If you continue to focus on pain and discuss your symptoms with those around you, you will continue to attract those symptoms into your life. Try and focus on your diet and treatment program and undertake the gratitude strategies that suit you best. Some ideas include:
- Keeping a journal or a list of things that make you grateful each day. Schedule this time into your diary;
- Telling your loved ones what you admire about them;
- Starting a gratitude tree. This can be as simple as placing a branch into a vase and hanging notes on it with things you are grateful for;
- Starting a charm bracelet (Christmas present idea alert) and collecting charms that represent certain aspects of your life; and
- Volunteering for the less fortunate as this can often highlight for you the amount of abundance in your own life
Make a list of things you are grateful for right now and see how it makes you feel.
Christmas often becomes a traumatic time of year for people who are undertaking a wight loss program because of the constant barrage and temptation of food that comes their way. Generally it’s not what you eat on Christmas day itself. I definitely think you should have a leave pass for your diet for that day because you are honestly not going to undo all your good weight-loss work just because you decide to partake in a piece of pavlova one day of the year. It’s all the pre and post Christmas events and gifts you receive that is the undoing of newly established dietary habits. So if you manage to get though these events without too much over indulgence you are on your way to enjoying your food on Christmas Day without the pre-established guilt of the work party last week still hanging over your head. Then you can get back to your new routine shortly after.
Here are some tips for staying on track for the Christmas and New Year period:
- Avoid over consumption of alcohol as it contains hidden calories. If you do decide to have a couple of drinks to be sociable opt for light beer or choose soda water as a mixer.
- Get involved in organising the work Christmas party so you can help choose the venue and/or menu.
- Request to see a menu before you go to an event so that you can choose the healthier options.
- Hold other social gatherings in your own home so you can prepare the food yourself or alternately take a healthy dish to other events so you can be assured there is at least one healthy option available.
- Have a protein based snack before you leave home so that you are not ravenous when you arrive.
- If people give you food as presents accept gratefully and find a new home for these gifts. You can either re-gift them or give them away to charity. You do not need the temptation in your home.
- If you are holding Christmas day at your house try not to over cater in order to minimise leftovers. Politely decline if people attempt to give you leftovers.
- Christmas can also be a stressful and/or emotional time. If you are an emotional eater stick to your diversionary tactics for dealing with your emotions.
It always alarms me when people complain or even joke about this issue of healthy eating being tasteless and boring. It need not be any of these things. Some of our best natural flavour enhancers such as chilli and cocoa (in its pure form) are actually fat burning and there’s a multitude of other herbs and spices that can be used to flavour food which do not contribute to caloric intake. Some of these herbs and spices also have added medicinal benefits. Turmeric is highly anti-inflammatory, oregano is potently antimicrobial, peppermint calms the digestive system and garlic is an absolute powerhouse with it’s immune stimulating properties, broad spectrum antimicrobial activity and antioxidant action (due to it’s sulfur content) which prevents heart attacks, lowers cholesterol and contributes to liver detoxification. If you have trouble sticking to your diet there are plenty of options for adding flavour. It’s time to start a spice rack and grow some herbs!
Stress can be difficult to deal with at the best of times but did you know it could actually be contributing to your weight? When stress becomes a significant part of everyday life, levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol rises which can impact on weight in a number of ways. Unfortunately cortisol causes the body to store fat in the belly. This special kind of fat called visceral adipose tissue (VAT) contains a number of substances which signal the body to do certain things. Examples of these substances include leptin which contributes to appetite, restin which contributes to inflammation and is thought to contribute to diabetes development and angiotensinogen which leads to increased blood pressure and increased blood clotting. If you are stressed you invariably suffer from fatigue, especially if it is affecting your sleep, and this leads to poor, usually carbohydrate laden, food choices and lack of energy for exercise.
Another way stress can affect your weight is via the thyroid gland, the butterfly shaped gland in your neck which regulates metabolism. Cortisol blocks both the production and secretion of the thyroid hormones. It can also preferentially create an inactive thyroid hormone called reverse T3 (rT3). Standard pathology tests cannot differentiate this hormone from its active counterpart and so pathology results will be returned as ‘normal’.
Weight also exists in a vicious cycle with stress. Fat cells produce inflammatory chemicals which in turn cause the release of more cortisol. The insulin resistance that is created from being overweight will contribute to fatigue so stress will be felt more severely. That’s why it is important to not only focus on diet and exercise in order to lose weight but to also address the way you deal with stress. There are several herbs for this purpose called adaptogens and these include the Ginsengs and Withania. There are also herbs which tonify the adrenal glands such as Rehmannia and Liquorice. The most important vitamins for the adrenal glands are Vitamins B5 and B6 and the best food sources for these vitamins are Liver, Yeast, Rice bran, Egg yolk, Mutton, Pork, Cashews, Peanuts, Coconut, Crab, Salmon, Mushrooms, Kangaroo, Chicken, Turkey (lean) Veal, Silver beet Eggplant, Sunflower seeds and Pistachio nuts. If you feel stress is possibly impacting on your ability to lose weight a test is available to measure salivary cortisol levels ($137). If other stress related conditions such as anxiety, insomnia and low thyroid function exist these can also be treated as part of a holistic plan.