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The Instant Pot: Great tool for a functional medicine protocol

733 instant potThe beauty of functional medicine is it puts your health journey in your hands. The curse of functional medicine is that, compared to popping a pill, eating healthy takes more time, which can feel stressful. Enter the Instant Pot, a relatively new kitchen appliance that is simple to use, makes it easy to stick to a whole foods diet, and takes a lot of stress out of cooking when your schedule is hectic.

What makes the Instant Pot a good functional medicine tool?

The Instant Pot’s success is in its multiple features and that it produces consistent results. The Instant Pot sautés, foolproof pressure cooks, slow cooks, makes yogurt, functions as a rice cooker, and quickly makes bone broths.

It is conducive to big batch meals that will create nutritious leftovers for a few days.

Here are some ways the Instant Pot can help you save time in the kitchen without sacrificing nutrition:

Cooks frozen meats. How many times have you forgotten to put the meat out to thaw for dinner? You can put your frozen meat in the Instant Pot and still have stew for dinner.

Cuts down on dishwashing. The Instant Pot allows you to do multiple things in one pot, cutting down on dirty pots and pans. For instance, you can sauté the onions and brown the meat in the same pot you cook your stew in. Additionally, you can cook in Pyrex bowls inside the Instant Pot, which can then be stored in the fridge and used as a lunch container.

Removes the stress of timing. Once you put your meal in the Instant Pot, you press a button for how long it needs to cook and then you can walk away. Not only will it shut itself off, it will also keep food warm for up to 10 hours. It makes reliable hard boiled eggs, and some people even crack their raw eggs into a bowl before cooking for a quick and easy egg salad that doesn’t require peeling egg shells.

Takes the complexity out of pressure cooking. The Instant Pot’s most popular feature is pressure cooking, which radically shortens cooking times. Best of all, it uses a foolproof design so you don’t have to worry about blowing up your kitchen.

It’s a great slow cooker. One of the most satisfying dinners is the one you make in the morning and it’s waiting hot for you in the evening. In addition to cooking quickly, the Instant Pot is a great slow cooker, and you can brown the meat in the same pot.

Makes dairy-free yogurt. Yogurt is a delicious and convenient snack that is hard to give up when you go dairy-free. Dairy-free yogurts are expensive and filled with thickening gums, which are irritating and immune reactive for many people. The Instant Pot is a great dairy-free yogurt maker, using gelatin or chia as a thickener. You will need to order a high-quality brand of coconut milk however, for a good end result.

Easy squash and root veggie cooking. Peeling and chopping squash and root veggies can be a real deterrent to including them in your diet. No worries, just toss them in the Instant Pot whole and then peel, seed, and chop them after they’re cooked. Cooking more fragile vegetables such as broccoli, however, is best left to the stove top steam basket to avoid overcooking.

These are just a few of the ways the Instant Pot can be a part of a functional medicine protocol to help you manage a chronic health disorder. Don’t be intimidated by it — the learning curve is quick and you’ll soon be able to intuit how to use it. The internet abounds with tips, recipes, and general enthusiasm to get you up to speed.

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Spore probiotics: The latest innovation in probiotics

732 spore probiotics

As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows. One important tool in this quest are spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.

Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.

Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria. As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.

There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits. It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible.

Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?

  • The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
  • They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
  • They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.

Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.

Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.

For instance, one strain of spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.


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New study shows sugar industry sold us lies for decades

731 sugar industry lied

A new investigation reveals the sugar industry successfully blamed fat for heart disease using skewed science, when sugar is the main culprit. This corporate deceit triggered more than 50 years of a nutritional “low-fat” policy that helped make Americans the fattest and most chronically ill population on the planet, thanks to diets high in sugars and processed carbohydrates. Sadly, it’s an ideology still touted today in many doctors’ offices.

Using tactics similar to those of the tobacco industry, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the role of sugar consumption in raising levels of fat in the blood and did not disclose findings that linked sugar with heart disease.

The industry’s own animal studies showed high-sugar diets increased triglyceride levels, thus raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, and also increased the risk of bladder cancer. They pulled the plug on the study before it could be completed.

The Washington DC-based Sugar Association said the study was stopped because it was over budget and coincided with restructuring of the Sugar Research Foundation. It also said scientific recommendations to limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories are “out of bounds.”

Had the study been completed, it could have led to further research and policies that put the welfare of American citizens — not the sugar and processed food industries — first. This could have saved millions of Americans and their families from the heartbreak and devastation of sugar-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.

We can see another telling example in a 2018 European study that shows a significant correlation between the amount of processed foods people keep in their homes and obesity and related diseases. Though Americans and Europeans have, surprisingly, eaten roughly the same number of calories over the decades, significantly more Americans than Europeans are obese and ill thanks to corrupt marketing and nutritional policy.

While the policies of the last several decades have steadily made Americans fatter and sicker, they have also been fuel for the multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry that arose in response to the collective weight gain. Sugar content simply replaced fat calories in fat-free foods dominating the shelves.

The trouble with foods high in sugar and processed carbs (which are essentially sugar once ingested) is not only do they make people fatter, but they also trigger a hormonal cascade that increases sugar cravings while turning off the satiety hormones so that one feels constantly hungry. Diets have been shown to fail most people in sustained weight loss and even trigger eating disorders.

The low-fat, high-carb diet sends you on a downward spiral that ends with a foundation for chronic disease based on high inflammation, accelerated brain degeneration, and metabolic imbalances.

In functional medicine, we see myriad chronic disorders that can be significantly ameliorated or even reversed simply by stabilizing blood sugar and saying goodbye to the Standard American Diet (SAD) in favor of a whole foods diet.

Ask my office for advice on the best diet for your chronic health condition.


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Exercise creates good gut bacteria independent of diet

730 exercise gut bacteriaWe’re learning what a vital role good gut bacteria play in immune health, brain health, mood, and, of course, gut health. We also know that the best way to beef up your good gut bacteria is through eating lots of different kinds of vegetables and fruits every day. But researchers have discovered yet another way to promote healthy gut bacteria: Regular exercise.

Our digestive tract is home to trillions of gut bacteria that weigh about three to four pounds all together, and are made up of over a 1,000 different species and 5,000 strains. Our body depends on these gut bacteria to:

  • Metabolize nutrients
  • Protect the intestinal wall
  • Produce vitamin K and short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are important for immune health
  • Maintain health of the digestive tract
  • Regulate immunity
  • Prevent inflammation
  • Promote good brain health and function

As our understanding of healthy gut bacteria evolves, so does the information on how to cultivate your own “microbiome” while inhibiting overgrowth of “bad” bacteria that are infectious and inflammatory. Initially, fermented foods and probiotics were thought to be the main recourse.

Then we learned eating a diet comprised primarily of vegetables and fruits and continually changing up the produce you eat is a great way to develop a rich and diverse gut bacteria population.

Now, scientists have used both a mouse study and a human study to show regular exercise, independent of diet or other factors, also promotes healthy gut bacteria.

In the first study, researchers transplanted fecal material from both exercised and sedentary mice into mice with sterile guts. The activity level of the mice receiving the transplants clearly mirrored that of their donors, showing that the kind of gut bacteria we have plays a role in how inclined we are to be sedentary or active.

The exercised mice recipients also showed more bacteria that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that promotes healthy intestinal cells, reduces inflammation, and increases energy. They also were more resistant to ulcerative colitis.

In the second study, researchers tracked the composition of gut bacteria in 18 lean and 14 obese adults as they transitioned from a sedentary lifestyle, to an active one, and then back to a sedentary one. Their exercise routine consisted of 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week for six weeks. Their diets remained the same.

They found that exercise raised levels of SCFAs and then declined again as the subjects became sedentary. A rise in SCFAs means concentrations of good gut bacteria increased. The lean participants showed more dramatic increases of SCFAs than obese ones, and more diverse ratios of bacteria, suggesting obese people respond differently to exercise. Nevertheless, increases happened in both populations.

As our knowledge of gut bacteria, functional medicine, and the human body continues to evolve, it nevertheless circles back to some age-old pearls of wisdom: Eat your vegetables and exercise.


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Canola oil worsens memory, raises Alzheimer’s risk

Canola OilWe’ve long been pitched canola’s health benefits. After all, Whole Foods uses it in all their prepared foods and many vegetarian and vegan products proudly promote it as a feature ingredient. But when scientists, who had shown the brain benefits of olive oil in mice, decided to run the same studies with canola oil, they uncovered a darker truth: Canola oil worsens memory and promotes amyloid plaques, a hallmark Alzheimer’s symptom.

In the olive oil study, researchers gave mice with Alzheimer’s Disease a diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and found that compared to the control group, the mice experienced improvements in memory as well as a reduction in amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, which creates the neurofibrillary tangles that degenerate the brain in Alzheimer’s.

They replicated the study with canola oil, one of the cheapest and most widely used oils in the world, to see what effects it might have on the brain.

The control group ate a normal diet while the study group was fed the equivalent of two tablespoons a day of canola oil.

After 12 months, researchers observed the following in the canola oil mice:

  • They weighed significantly more than the control group.
  • They suffered impairments in working memory.
  • They had greatly reduced levels of a beneficial form of amyloid beta (amyloid beta 1-40). Amyloid beta 1-40 acts as a buffer to the damaging amyloid beta 1-42. When amyloid beta 1-40 goes down, it leaves the 1-42 form unchecked to degenerate the brain.
  • They showed reduced connectivity between neurons in the brain. Synapses are areas of neurons through which they communicate with one another, playing a vital role in memory formation and retrieval. The drop in amyloid beta 1-40 caused extensive synapse injury.

The scientists plan to conduct a follow-up study to determine how soon neuron damage begins to happen after regular consumption of canola oil, whether it impacts tau phosphorylation, and whether canola oil promotes other neurodegenerative diseases in addition to Alzheimer’s.

What to eat instead of canola oil

When you eat out or buy processed and packaged foods, it’s difficult to find foods that don’t contain canola oil, soybean oil, or processed vegetable oils, none of which are healthy for the brain. It’s especially important to avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which have also been linked with memory loss.

The brain is made up primarily of fat, which means the fats you eat help determine the structure of your neurons and how well they are able to communicate with one another. For instance, hydrogenated fats have been shown to make cell membranes more rigid and less able to function properly.

Instead of industrially processed vegetable oils, use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee. Ask my office for more advice.


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How to talk to an overweight child about their weight

728 talking to overweight child copyOurs is a tricky culture in which to raise a child. We idolize thinness, shame the fat, yet live in a society that constantly begs — if not harasses — us to over indulge in sugary, fattening foods. Also, thanks to busy working parents, many kids are left to their own devices when it comes to meals and it’s no surprise they go for junk food and sodas. As a result, about 20 percent of America’s children are now obese and rates of type 2 diabetes among children are on the rise.

Children who are obese are more likely to be bullied. Research shows that not only does bullying impact a child’s mental health and self-esteem, it also further promotes obesity. The bullied kid eats more and is further sedentary in an attempt to cope with the painful emotions of being bullied.

The way children are spoken to, or in front of, by doctors and by their parents, as well as teased by family members, can also further promote obesity, according to research.

In essence, many people unconsciously believe that an overweight person does not recognize they are overweight and that telling them will address the problem and make it go away. As it turns out, this has the opposite effect of worsening the situation among children who are typically acutely aware and ashamed of their weight.

The effects of being bullied by peers and teased or shamed by family members last well into adulthood. For women especially, being teased and bullied about their weight as teens is associated with binge eating, poor body image, and obesity later in life.

About two-thirds of overweight children report being bullied by their peers and about a third are teased by family members. Because so many already experience enormous pressure and disapproval, it doesn’t help the overweight child to point out their weight.

Instead, caregivers and doctors should be careful with their language, focus on health instead of weight, and use positive reinforcement instead of shaming, guilt, blame, or stigmatizing.

Some ideas include:

Opt for neutral words such as “weight” or “body mass index” instead of the more emotionally charged words “obese” or “fat.”

Remember the whole child and not just the weight. Praise them for all that is positive about them so their self-esteem is buoyed when a challenging topic is discussed.

When talking about nutrition and exercise, focus on health and not size or weight.

Make small changes slowly, such as introducing one new vegetable at a time, clearing the kitchen of sugary drinks and junk foods, and introducing exercise in small, regular amounts.

And, most importantly, have the whole family adopt healthy habits regardless of their weight. In the end, thin people can be unhealthy too and good habits in kids start with good habits in parents.


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Balancing chronic autoimmune illness with raising children

727 chronic illness children

Because women make up about 75 percent of autoimmune disease diagnoses, this means many sufferers of chronic illness are also raising children. It’s common for women to feel disappointed or inferior because they are not the kind of mom they had envisioned. But the perfect mom is an unattainable myth, and it’s possible your illness is even cultivating good qualities in your children. In fact, some of the world’s greatest functional medicine researchers and innovators who have helped countless numbers of people discovered their passion because of their mother’s autoimmune illnesses.

A chronic autoimmune illness means days when energy is low or non-existent, or when brain fog, pain, anxiety, or depression rule. Regular life may include long treks to other cities or states to see a doctor who understands your condition and can help. Your diet is restricted and the house is void of junk food and sodas. Weekends may be devoted to batch cooking meals for the week and your autoimmune disease may require you to delegate chores to your kids. But none of this has to stand in the way of loving your kids and it may even make them better people.

A recent New York Times article explored the ways in which having a chronic autoimmune illness can benefit your children:

Patience. Everything moves more slowly when you’re chronically ill. Gratifications are delayed and trips to the doctor’s office long. When your kids are in tow, this can teach them patience, something most kids struggle with.

Flexibility. Having an autoimmune disease sometimes means canceling well laid plans because you are having a flare. Though disappointing, this prepares children for the inevitable snafus of life.

Self-sufficiency. Children who have everything done for them suffer when they strike out on their own. The child of an autoimmune mom has long been learning how to do their laundry, make their meals, walk the dog, clean the house, and so on. Adulthood won’t seem like such an ugly shock as a result. Though they may complain, this self-sufficiency is also a wonderful confidence builder.

Consideration. Children are egocentric by design. Having a mom with a chronic illness teaches them about the universality of human suffering and that sometimes we are all weaker than we’d like to be and need help.

Self-care. Autoimmunity means seizing the day when you feel good and retreating and resting when you feel bad. This teaches children the importance of a healthy diet, sleep, and other often ignored facets of good health. If you have a partner who helps and supports you, they also benefit from seeing that partnership in action.

Compassion. By seeing someone they love suffer, your children learn compassion for suffering in all people, including themselves. They may also be more likely to see grumpiness or impatience in others as symptoms of a possible illness.

Emotions. Living with a chronic illness is hard work. Sometimes the fatigue, pain, or disappointment can send us into an emotional tailspin, making it impossible to put on a happy face. Seeing a parent express their emotions around suffering can help children be more ok with their own bouts of emotional turmoil.