Get rid of plastics for your body’s sake

The discovery of the negative effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) in animal studies over 10 years ago has spurred much research over the past decade in an effort to explore the human health impacts of BPA and other toxic chemicals from plastics.  BPA is a chemical used to manufacture many products such as polycarbonate plastics, food cans and dental composites and sealants.

Because BPA is considered a synthetic estrogen, it has a potential to effect reproduction and growth in children (both girls and boys) and has been correlated to infertility and cancers in adults.  Currently, eight states have banned BPA in baby products such as baby bottles, sippy cups, and canned baby formula (but does not include other canned foods or beverages).

It’s not surprising that marketing is now focused on products that are “BPA-free”.  From water bottles to food containers, consumers feel safer purchasing BPA-free products.  But is it really safe?

A recent study published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP) tested for estrogenic activity (EA) in many commercially available plastic materials, including products advertised as BPA-free.   The researchers chose over 450 plastic items specifically for food storage, ranging from plastic bags to baby bottles and deli packaging.

The alarming results revealed that over 70% of the plastic items tested positive for EA. Then the researchers subjected the materials to “stress” by microwave heating, moist heat, and UV light in order to simulate real world conditions of the microwave, dishwasher or sunlight. After the stress, 95% of the products leached chemicals with EA. In addition, the researchers noted: “In some cases, BPA-free products released chemicals having more estrogenic activity than BPA-containing products.”

So what to do with this information? Although the results from the study are highly suggestive, it’s important to note that the study above is just one study.  Not to mention, one of the authors, George Bittner, has a financial interest in the testing lab used in the study and the company that is working to develop EA-free products.

Further research is now being conducted to assess the potential health risks of plastic chemicals that are used in BPA-free products. The preliminary results don’t look too promising for those chemicals either.

For those who have become slightly chemophobic after reading this post, you may want to follow some simple tips to minimize the plastics altogether. Consider using glass, ceramic, or stainless steel containers; bring your own reusable bags to the supermarket; and try avoid bagging every single food item in a plastic bag.  If you find that you really can’t part with the plastic, remember that heating or placing hot liquid or food in plastic only increases the chance of chemicals leached into the food.

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Spring clean your body

March welcomes the much-anticipated arrival of spring. Transformation from winter hibernation reveals flowers blooming, birds chirping, and longer, warmer days. We shift with spring’s awakening by shedding the winter blues from our home and bodies to create space for new ideas and intentions.

Maintaining health in body, mind, and spirit is especially important during these seasonal transitions to prevent illness–which is the reason why a spring detox is so popular.

So what are we detoxing exactly? We live in an ever increasingly toxic world where the air we breathe and the food and water we consume are the most common sources of toxins.

Airborne allergens can include pollen, molds, dust mites, and countless chemicals released from car exhaust or industrial byproducts and pesticides. Drinking tap water in DC leaves much to be desired while drinking bottled water doesn’t fare any better with the exposure of hormone disruptive plasticizers. The standard American diet contains food laden with preservatives, hormones and antibiotics, artificial flavorings, pesticides and colorants that are known to be harmful to the body. To top it all off, exposure to chemicals in our environment from common household items like soap, laundry detergent, lotion and shampoo further raises our toxic load.

These toxic exposures bog our bodies down and make us more susceptible and vulnerable to variety of illnesses including headaches, fatigue, allergies, hormone imbalances, and inflammation.

It becomes quite clear the need for giving the body a break by undergoing a detoxification protocol. There are plenty of detoxification products sold in stores these days, usually with the same key ingredients: fiber to bind the toxins, laxative to encourage the release, and herbal and mineral supplement to support the body’s biggest detox organ – the liver. Other detoxification plans include juicing, fasting, or making a popular concoction called The Master Cleanse. Knowing which products to use or detox system to follow largely depends on the detox goal and how much you’re willing to give up.

In practice, I prefer putting patients on a gentle detoxification diet with an emphasis on whole foods: whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds, fruits, and vegetables. Springtime makes this easier with the arrival of colorful and lively fruits and vegetables. Specific foods that enhance detoxification include: garlic and onions, beets, burdock, dandelion, artichoke, and dark leafy green vegetables. More often than not, patients end up introducing more foods in the diet versus taking foods out. The experience allows the patients to become acutely aware of their energy levels as a result of consuming different nutrient dense food.

Along with being mindful of what goes in, you must be sure that those toxins are moving out. For that process, I support patients through colon hydrotherapy treatments. Colon hydrotherapy facilitates the removal of toxic build up in the colon from everyday poor or fast and convenient food choices. It also helps to strengthen the muscles in the wall of the colon to increase peristaltic tone, which allows for stronger and more complete bowel movements.

Patients usually feel lighter, less bloated, and more energized after a colonic treatment. For more information on colon hydrotherapy, read here.

So why not jump into spring and take advantage of a detoxification protocol that can leave you feeling more vibrant and renewed. And always remember to have fun with it!

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Has life gotten you into a pretzel? Unwind and de-stress with a craniosacral therapy treatment.

Craniosacral therapy is a very gentle, hands-on energy therapy that works to free up tension patterns in the body.  Tension patterns can be created through stress from physical, emotional, or mental disturbances.  The result of that stress can create feelings or symptoms of anxiety, headaches, low energy, back pain, or central nervous system disorders, among other imbalances.

During the treatment, you are fully clothed, lying down on the treatment table.  Evaluation of the craniosacral system is done through light touch on various parts of the body (feet, shins, lower back, upper chest, neck and head), assessing for imbalances, restrictions and constrictions in the fascia layer.

The fascia layer is the connective tissue that surrounds and envelops all of our organs, muscles, bones, and nerves. It is also connected to the layer that surrounds our spinal cord and brain. Essentially, it’s like the sock or nylon that keeps everything together and connected.

Tension patterns are released by placing both hands on the area of restriction, and following the energy rhythm or pull. What you feel at the end of the treatment is complete relaxation and a sense of being more grounded.

Unlike massage, the amount of pressure is very light and non-forceful. Craniosacral therapy differs from acupuncture because there are no needles involved and is completely non-invasive.

One of the key aspects of craniosacral therapy is the connection between the doctor and patient. Craniosacral therapy requires creating a sacred space, quieting and grounding body and mind, in order to tune in to the subtle energy rhythms of the craniosacral system. In that quiet space of listening to the body, I have come to find that much information is held in the tissues, information I find that is very useful to assist in the patients healing process.

If you’ve been feeling like your shoulders are scrunched up at your ears, or know that you carry your stress in your stomach or elsewhere, craniosacral therapy may be the treatment that will help you find your ease.

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Lose the right kind of weight, permanently

A common scenario:

Your goal is weight loss and you have tried every diet plan: Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, The Zone, Atkins, and Cabbage Soup Diet.

More often than not, you are not eating because eating equals weight gain.

Exercise can be extreme at nothing at all or a hamster on a treadmill.  You may initially lose weight, but then a few months later it comes right back on and more.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Here’s the skinny:

The answer can be found in a great book by Jade and Keoni Teta, called The New Me Diet. “Me” stands for Metabolic Effect, and the book offers an eye opening and “non-conventional” view on diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes resulting in fat loss.

Fat is what we all want to lose, isn’t it? Our body composition consists of fat mass, fat-free mass, and water.  Weight loss can occur in any of these compartments but the most meaningful and health-altering weight loss should come from fat.

The Teta brothers happen to be my Naturopathic colleagues, which means I am in total agreement with their explanation of both hormonal metabolism and nutritional plans.  They also happen to be certified personal trainers who have years of experience with getting people toned, lean and fit. A great combination, I’d say!

The New Me Diet starts off with a metabolic effect questionnaire, so you can see what type of fuel your body currently prefers to burn. Based on the questionnaire, the book then outlines a diet specific to your metabolic type and an easy to follow exercise plan that can even be carried out in the comfort of your own home.

The Diet

Good news for those of us who don’t like to starve ourselves: you get to eat! The focus is not on quantity of calories but rather quality of calories to bring about the desired hormone signals for fat loss.  Understanding the hormone response to foods is important as it determines whether your body will burn fat or store it.

A great example from the book compares a 600-calorie intake of donuts vs. chicken. While the caloric intake is the same, the response in energy, feeling full and fat burning capability are drastically different.

There are tips for eating healthy including the right amount of protein, fat, and carbohydrate consumption for each metabolic type. Recipes and detailed food plans are also included.

The Exercise

More great news: no need to be in the gym for two hours five days a week! In fact, all that is needed is 30 minutes three times a week. The exercises are laid out with photo illustrations which make them easier to follow for a visual person. Grab a pair of dumbbells, which can be found in the gym or purchased at any sporting goods store, and you’re good to go.

The goal of the workouts is to “push until you can’t and rest until you can.” This is where the difference lies. Push as hard as possible and for as long as possible until you can’t anymore. After resting, start the exercise again with the same intensity. This results in high quality workouts at the gym with less time wasted.  Work until you are breathless and sweating.

If fat loss is your goal for 2011, get yourself The New Me Diet – a wonderful book that will help get the job done.

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What’s in your supplement?

The estimated size of the US dietary supplement industry is $25 billion for 2010. That number is not particularly surprising when weekly advertisements tout a new supplement to cure everything from high cholesterol to diabetes.

So what happens when you do give in to these advertisements? Or, you decide to buy nutritional supplements based on another friend’s recommendation? What do you choose? Remember, you pay for what you get!

A few things to think about:

1)  Quality assurance

Sadly, not all vitamins are created equal. In fact, often times, there can be huge discrepancies in nutraceutical products with some being contaminated with heavy metals, solvents or chemicals.

Quality assurance is measured by authenticity – the ingredients on the label match the ingredients in the product; potency – the amount of each ingredient on the label is the minimum amount contained by the expiration date; and purity – the ingredients are free of fillers, additives, and contaminants.

The FDA recently established dietary supplement good manufacturing practices (GMPs), guidelines of general principles for manufacturers to keep products safe, effective, and free of contaminants.  Third-party audits are carried out by organizations such as Natural Products Association (NPA), United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and/or National Sanitation Foundation (NSF).

In order to identify a higher quality supplement, look for companies that are GMP certified, or have their own in-house testing by conducting laboratory assays. It pays to know about the companies you are buying from.

2)     Can your body digest and assimilate the supplement?

It is possible to find vitamins and minerals in many different forms, with some being more bioavailable and better for digestion and absorption compared to others. A good example of this is vitamin E. The natural form of vitamin E your body can use is d-alpha tocopherol, though some companies opt for the cheap, synthetic version called dl-alpha tocopherol. It is always a good idea to take a look at the label and especially the fine print in order to fully understand what you are buying.

While you are looking at that label, you don’t want to see excessive non-organic mineral salts, such as chlorides, oxides, phosphates, and sulfates which are inexpensive and relatively non-absorbent. Instead, look for organic salt acids such as citrates, chelates, picolinates, and gluconates, which are the more absorbable forms to increase bioavailability.

A good way to test bioavailability at home is to see how quickly a tablet is able to disintegrate in solution. Supplements that dissolve quickly can be more available for absorption in your intestinal tract. Higher quality supplements will dissolve within 30 minutes.

3)  Extra things you didn’t know you were getting

Apart from the active ingredients listed on the label, companies use excipients – non-medicinal substances that are inactive but serve a role as fillers, binders, preservatives, lubricants, coating agents, or emulsifying agents.

The less number of excipients used, the better your product.  Look for any number between 4-8 to ensure the required function of the supplement without sacrificing quality. Acceptable excipients are from only natural sources include: from plants – starches, sugars, cellulose; animal – lactose, gelatin, stearic acid; or minerals – calcium phosphate, silica.

Definitely avoid any supplement that contains artificial food colorings, which can cause allergies or have been shown to be carcinogenic.  Look for D&C or FD&C on the label.

4)     Dosing – too much, not enough, or not at all?

It is very common for patients to come in with a list of supplements that they are taking because they heard that it is good for them. What often happens is the dosage of each supplement is not enough or maybe not even appropriate at all.

Relying on a label’s RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) value doesn’t guarantee optimal dosages, rather just the minimal amount to prevent disease.  Therapeutic dosages are often many times higher than the RDA.

***

It is very important to disclose all dietary supplements to your doctor to get better guidance on dosage instructions.  Naturopathic doctors are trained in nutritional and herbal supplementation as well as potential herb-drug interactions.  If you have a preexisting condition, it would better to discuss the appropriate supplement needs with your doctor, who can then guide you on dosage, timing, and your body’s nutritional needs.

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Gratitude in every day, every way

Recently, I decided to join World Gratitude Gathering’s last 42-day project, “a project of Go Gratitude – a global service organization dedicated to empowering Wisdom, One-ness and a Great-full heart!”

Each day in my inbox, I receive messages to remind myself to connect and live life purposefully with gratitude, love, and respect. Why not, right?

Today’s message that I particularly enjoy reads:

Just for today …
Look around ~ what (k)new views may be gained
by using Gratitude to transform:

challenge to gift,
chore to chance,
detour and delay to a Divinely timed dance.

I guess it’s quite easy to overlook being grateful for the things that we tend to take for granted. Simple things like:

  • Being able to see, feel, and hear the world around us
  • Having an umbrella when it’s pouring rain
  • The ability to video chat with family across the world
  • A thoughtful card sent snail mail from a friend

When we are reminded to tap into gratitude, we are likely to think of things that bring us joy. What about being grateful for things that challenge and push us out of our comfort zone?  Experience shows us that those are the times that we grow.

It takes both practice and patience to be thankful for the “one step back” so that we can go “two steps forward.” Changing perspective in the face of adversity helps to open up a whole new world of possibilities.

So next time you’ve got a frown, turn it upside down and remember that there will be a chance to be grateful for even that moment.

For more information: http://www.worldgratitude.com/.

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Nourish yourself while traveling

You’re doing so well – you’re exercising, drinking water, sleeping sound at night, waking refreshed, and – then you go on vacation.

Your vacation is meant to be fun – you overindulge, drink alcoholic beverages, stop exercising, sleep late, and end up with weight gain and feeling like you need a vacation from your vacation.

So how do you maintain your healthy state while traveling? Here are five tips that will help you stay on course:

1) Pack snacks for the transport.

Whether you’re traveling by car, bus, rail, or plane, you’re bound to have a handy shoulder sack that can hold a few nutritious snacks in Ziploc bags. Look for healthy treats that provide protein and fiber, which helps to keep your blood sugar and energy stabilized to decrease cravings and mood swings. Smart snacks will also keep you satisfied so you don’t veer toward fast food joints or vending machines which are havens for foods high in sugar, fat, and calories.

•  Trail mix: You can make your own by combining almonds, walnuts, pecans, cacao nibs, dried apricots, blueberries, and coconut.

•  Fruit: berries, grapes, orange; cut up apples, pears, mango, papaya.

•  Beef, venison or turkey jerky.

•  Protein shake: If you have a big canister of protein powder you can opt to take it with you, or just divide single servings into Ziploc bags and carry the amount that you need.

•  Protein bars: Nutritious protein bars include: Balance, Cliff, Think Thin, and Zone.

2) Choose wisely when dining out.

Put a little effort in researching healthy dining options near the place where you are staying. Using a great online tool like Yelp makes the job even easier. Explore menus and decide ahead of time where you would like to eat so you’re not opting for the tempting fast food chains that are conveniently located right off highway exits and next to hotels.

If you find yourself in a group where someone else has chosen the restaurant, choose grilled fish, meats and veggies; whole grains like quinoa or brown rice; and spinach or arugula salads, and soups vs. the fried foods, creamy pastas, and cheese laden meals that will surely taste good but are low in nutrients and fiber.

3) Recognize portion distortion.

Since portion sizes have increased over the years, take a moment and look at what is being served before you take that first bite. If it looks like it can feed two, it probably can. Divide your plate in halves and eat one side first. Take a break and talk with your friends. If you still find yourself hungry, then eat a little more.

The point is to “check in” with your body by giving yourself a break from eating and look for your signals of satiety – the state of being full. If that voice in your head (that suspiciously sounds like your mom) is telling you to “eat everything on your plate,” kindly ignore it and pack the leftover half “to go” and eat it the following day. Avoid the need to have to carry your stomach out of the restaurant.

4) Don’t forget your water.

It happens every time. For some reason, when traveling, the easiest thing to do is forget about the vitally important liquid that makes up almost 70% of the human body. Especially when traveling by plane, it is extremely easy to get dehydrated in aircraft cabins that are not always properly humidified. This can be avoided by following the rule of drinking half your body weight in ounces – every day. Carry your own water bottle while you’re out and about and remember it’s ok to have to urinate. It’s one of your body’s important ways of flushing out toxins.

5) Fit in time for movement.

While on vacation, explore your new surroundings by foot or bike. Plan a hike or take the opportunity to visit the nearest yoga studio. Body movement is great to maintain energy levels, increase vitality and mental clarity. Not to mention, if you did happen to eat a few bites of french fries, it only benefits you to work those calories off.

At the end of the day, you are on vacation. Relax and enjoy it. Just remember to eat and live in moderation. If you indulge a little too much, then tomorrow will give you an opportunity to start off on a better foot.

Oh, and don’t forget your sunscreen!

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