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Archive for January, 2015

loneliness causes addiction copy

Everyone is familiar with addiction to some degree, whether it’s that daily dose of chocolate you can’t give up or watching a loved one succumb to drug abuse. Many factors play a role in addiction, but some research suggests loneliness plays a pivotal role in encouraging addiction, and that taking measures to remedy loneliness can be powerful therapy.

Addiction can apply to any substance or activity (alcohol, drugs, shopping, sex, food, gambling, Facebook, etc.) that delivers pleasure but becomes compulsive and interferes with daily life and health. The addict is often not aware his or her behavior is out of control. Addiction is recognized as being a reaction to emotional stress; loneliness is so stressful it carries the same mortality risk as smoking and is twice as dangerous as obesity. Our physiological aversion to loneliness stems from our days as hunters and gatherers, when connection with others improved the odds of survival.

Research shows loneliness impairs the brain’s ability to exercise control over our desires, emotions, and behaviors –- the sort of qualities necessary to maintain healthy habits and avoid bad ones. This is called having executive control  and without it, we are more susceptible to addictive behaviors. Loneliness also triggers our fight-or-flight stress hormones, further creating that need for relief that erodes willpower and propels addictive behavior.

Studies show social connection inhibits addiction

In older studies on addiction, rats placed in cages with a bottle of pure water and a bottle of water laced with heroin or cocaine inevitably chose the drugged water until it killed them. The rats were alone.

However, rats kept in a comfortable cage with plenty of friends, fun activities and toys sampled the drug-laced water but mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats consumed. Also, unlike the isolated rats who became heavy drug users, none of the socialized rats died.

After two months of addictive drug use, researchers then took the isolated rats and put them in the fun, socially active cages. The rats exhibited withdrawal symptoms initially and then voluntarily gave up their addiction, despite the availability of the drug-laced water.

Researchers saw similar outcomes in humans during the Vietnam War, during which about 20 percent of soldiers became addicted to heroin. Of those who returned home, about 95 percent simply stopped using heroin, presumably because they shifted from a “terrifying” cage to a safer, more comfortable one.

And although painkiller addiction has become a serious national problem, the majority of people temporarily prescribed pain pills for an injury or surgery don’t become addicted, even after months of use. These examples show evidence that drug addiction is not just a chemical dependency.

The remedy for addiction is connection

With one of the worst drug problems in Europe, Portugal put these principles to test. It jettisoned the war on drugs and instead poured resources into reconnecting addicts with their own feelings, other people, and a feeling of purpose through job programs. A follow-up study showed the program reduced the use of injected drugs by 50 percent.

Humans are wired to connect and bond with one another. If we can’t bond with other people we bond with the source of our addiction. Nutritional therapy, supplemental support (amino acids in particular can positively influence brain chemistry), and other functional medicine strategies can encourage healthy brain behavior that reduces addictive tendencies. However, it’s vitally important to also address the psychological and spiritual underpinnings of addiction, which often include loneliness and isolation.

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diet sodas make you fat copy

If you regularly drink diet soda and use artificial sweeteners because you think it will help you lose weight, you’re unwittingly sabotaging your efforts. Sure, artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharine, and aspartame save on calories, but a recent Israeli study shows they can skew the composition of gut bacteria, or our microbiome  in a way that promotes obesity and diabetes. 

We’re increasingly learning about the trillions of bacteria that live in the gut, weighing in at 3 to 4 pounds, and the profound influence they have on human health and behavior. In addition to providing nutrients and aiding in the digestive process, gut bacteria also influence moods, behavior and mental health; immune function; energy levels; and how well we burn or store fat.

Our microbiome consists of beneficial and harmful bacteria. We carry a diverse array of bacteria –- hundreds of varieties –- and the proportions of these bacteria can play a role in how our body, brain, and even personality function. 

Unfortunately, as promising as the idea of calorie-free drinks sound, they skew the balance of bacteria in the gut toward high blood sugar. This in turn promotes insulin resistance (pre-diabetes), fat storage, and chronic inflammation. In the study this phenomenon was referred to as glucose intolerance. 

Artificial sweeteners promote high blood sugar

The study began by looking at groups of mice that were given plain water, water with sugar added, or water with an artificial sweetener added. After 10 weeks the groups given the artificial sweeteners consistently showed high blood sugar, regardless of whether the sweetener used was saccharine, aspartame, or sucralose. Even a group of mice given a high-fat diet and sugar water maintained healthy blood glucose levels while the group given a high-fat diet and artificial sweeteners did not.

To further validate the findings, researchers transplanted fecal matter from the mice given artificial sweeteners into germ-free mice. The germ-free, too, developed glucose intolerance. When scientists gave the affected mice antibiotics to kill the overgrowth of fat-promoting bacteria, their blood sugar normalized.

Studying artificial sweeteners in humans

Of course, not everyone is going to be sold on the results of a study using mice. After all, we’re not mice. So the researchers ran the study on a small group of human volunteers, all of whom showed elevated blood sugar and alterations in their gut bacteria composition after just one week.

How to cultivate healthy gut bacteria 

In addition to avoiding artificial sweeteners, there are other ways to cultivate your inner garden of gut flora to promote fat burning instead of weight gain. One of the best ways is to make vegetables the primary part of your diet, including cultured vegetables. Not only are they loaded with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, they promote and maintain good gut bacteria. At the same time, avoiding processed foods, sugars and sweeteners, and artificial additives will prevent the bad bacteria from taking over and giving you health problems.

Ask my office for probiotic supplement recommendations to further enhance your good gut bacteria.

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Where does fat go when you lose weight?

434 where fat goes when you lose weight

If you’re like most people you are hoping to start the New Year by losing a few pounds. However, did you ever stop to wonder just where those pounds go when you lose them? Turns out most experts don’t know either, and the answer may surprise you.

Most people think that when we burn fat it creates heat and energy, but that’s not true. Instead, the majority of the fat we burn leaves through our lungs when we breathe – the more you breathe the more fat you can burn (providing of course you’re eating consciously). And what’s the best way to increase respiration? That’s right, exercise! So although exercise promotes weight loss by boosting metabolism and building muscle, simply increasing the number of breaths you take is going to help release those unwanted pounds from your body.

A recent Australian study was able to show exactly where our fat goes when we lose weight. For every 22 pounds of weight lost, more than 18 pounds are exhaled as carbon dioxide. The rest leaves as water through urine, sweat, tears, and other bodily fluid. The extra breathing you do when you exercise unlocks the carbon atoms found in fat, thus breaking the fat molecules down. The carbon then leaves through your lungs.

On average, people breathe about 12 times a minute when at rest, which takes with it 10 milligrams of carbon. If you’re completely sedentary and not going above that 12 breaths a minute it will put a cap on how much fat you can release.

And in case you’re wondering, losing weight is not contributing to climate change. It is simply returning carbon atoms that previously had been trapped in food to the atmosphere.

How you gain weight

We gain weight when we eat more food than we need. Those excess carbohydrates and proteins are converted into triglycerides (compounds made up of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen), which are stored in lipid droplets inside fat cells. Losing weight requires breaking down those triglycerides to access their carbon.

Making triglycerides is an energy demanding process. Do you ever feel sleepy after a high-carbohydrate meal, like a big plate of pasta, a bowl or rice, a large dessert, or maybe simply too much food? That tired feeling stems in part from the energy your body requires to make triglycerides that can be stored as fat.

Other weight loss tips

Naturally, you want to avoid that sleepy feeling, not only because naps are inappropriate at your work desk, but also because you’re making fat! Try reducing the amount of carbohydrates you eat and/or the amount of food to avoid that fat-promoting sleepy feeling. If you still feel sleepy after eating a healthy meal of moderate portion size and sensible carbohydrate content, you may need nutritional support to address insulin resistance. Ask my office for advice – some nutrients and herbs are very effective at helping stabilize blood sugar.

Regular exercise not only helps you breathe away excess fat, but it also better sensitizes and regulates cell function to be fat burning rather than fat promoting.

The key to promoting fat burning is to keep your blood sugar stable by not overdoing carbohydrates or portion sizes and by keeping your body active.

Ask my office for more advice on how to turn your body into a better fat burner.

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433 electronics cause insomnia copy

Do you like to play a little Candy Crush or surf Facebook before bed? Or maybe you’re vegging out in front of your giant LED television or reading a novel on your iPad. Then when you turn the lights off you toss and turn frustratingly into the wee hours of the morning, glancing constantly at the bright blue numbers on your alarm clock just inches from your face. You’re not alone – Americans are alarmingly insomniatic and sleep-deprived these days. The CDC says insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic and research has established that the constant exposure to blue light from electronic devices is a major culprit.

How smart phones, computers, tablets, and TVs cause insomnia and wreck your health

The bad news is not only are these much-loved devices causing chronic insomnia, but also long-term health problems because of the blue light they emit. Our brains perceive blue light as daytime light, which suppresses melatonin, the sleep hormone. Melatonin also plays a role in immune function, and chronic melatonin suppression has been linked to a higher risk of prostate, colorectal and breast cancers. Chronic sleep deprivation is also linked to obesity, diabetes, chronic inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.

In the latest study that looked at the effects of these devices on sleep, one group of subjects read on an iPad for four hours before bed while the other group read from a printed book in dim light. After a week, the groups switched. In just five nights, the iPad group displayed reduced levels of melatonin, they took longer to fall asleep, and they spent less time in the restorative REM sleep  They also reported being sleepier and less alert in the morning, even after 8 hours of sleep, and showed disruption in their sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.

Because blue-light emitting devices have such profound biological effects, the research team proposed they be subjected to the same safety evaluations as drugs. A sleep poll shows 95 percent of Americans uses some kind of light-emitting device at least a few nights a week before bed, making this a national concern.

What to do to sleep better without totally unplugging

The obvious answer to sleep better is to quit using blue-light emitting devices at nightfall. But for most Americans that’s simply asking too much. Luckily strategies exist to protect your melatonin production:

  • Use the Kindle e-reader that does not have a backlit screen. Or just read a regular book.
  • Put orange bulbs in your lamps that you use at night, especially next to your bed.
  • The simplest way to protect yourself from blue light at night is to wear orange glasses. You can buy a cheap pair from Amazon or choose from more style options at Low Blue Lights.
  • Install the f.lux app on your computer or Android phone (it won’t work for iPhones). This turns the light on your screen an orangeish-pink hue.

Ask my office for other ways to support healthy sleep.

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