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Archive for May, 2016

salt inflammatory copy

Those with high blood pressure and heart disease know to avoid salt, but researchers have learned salt comes with another risk — too much alters immune cells in a way that promotes autoimmune disease.

Examples of autoimmune disease include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, lupus, and type 1 diabetes. Autoimmune disease rates have skyrocketed in recent years, affecting more people than heart disease and cancer combined.

Although salt is not in itself harmful, Americans are guilty of eating way too much salt, more than the human body was ever designed to process. Fast foods, junk foods, and snack foods are all heavily salted to increase palatability and mask their inherent poor quality.

Sadly, our extreme consumption of salt raises the risk of the body’s immune system attacking itself and destroying viable tissue; this is what autoimmune disease is. For instance, in Hashimoto’s, the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. In type 1 diabetes, it is the pancreas that falls under attack. This gradual tissue destruction, along with the inflammation generated from the autoimmune attacks, causes a wide array of chronic and seemingly irresolvable symptoms.

The cells in the immune system responsible for this auto-destruction are called TH-17 cells. Researchers discovered that immune cells exposed to salt turned into TH-17 cells. Further experimentation showed mice fed a high-salt diet were more likely to develop a disease similar to multiple sclerosis.

A later study on human subjects showed just seven days on a high-salt diet put the immune system into inflammation overdrive, just as if it were encountering an infection or in the throes of an autoimmune attack. An interesting side note: The high-salt diet used in the study represented salt intake for the average American.

Increased TH-17 means increased inflammation in general. This not only raises the risk of autoimmune disease, but other inflammation-based diseases all too common today: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and disorders of the gut, skin, and respiratory system.

Should you stop eating salt?

Although researchers are quick to say removing salt is not going to cure an autoimmune disease, it’s important to pay attention to your salt intake if you are working to manage an autoimmune disease or other chronic inflammatory condition.

Researchers found lowering salt intake in human subjects produced beneficial, anti-inflammatory changes in the immune system.

The USDA daily recommended intake of sodium is 2300 mg, which is the equivalent of only one teaspoon of salt. Some argue we need even less than that and get plenty from produce and meats. Either way, the average American consumes twice the recommended amount, which research has shown causes inflammatory changes in the immune system.

Those who have low blood pressure may have been told to consume extra salt in order to raise blood pressure. Low blood pressure means tissues in the body, including the brain, are not getting sufficient oxygen, nutrients, and other compounds. In this case, trial and error may be necessary to see what works. Glycyrrhiza, a compound in licorice root, may also be effective in raising blood pressure.

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bad marriage bad for health copy

Although we’ve all read the stories about marriage being good for your health, a bad marriage is bad your health. In fact, bad marriages are far worse for you than healthy marriages are good for you. In other words, if your marriage is a constant stressor, you’ll lower your risk of chronic disease either going it alone or doing the work to make the marriage a good one. What’s more, the risks are higher for women.

Contemporary studies show marriage lowers your risk of many modern ailments, including heart disease, cancer, and even dementia. Why? Research into adult attachment shows humans are hardwired to depend on a significant other as a matter of survival. Though we may think it’s about love and romance, to the human brain, a long-term relationship is the difference between life and death.

However, these benefits don’t extend to troubled relationships. It’s the human body’s life-or-death approach to relationships that also makes a bad marriage a health risk. One study went so far as to show a bad marriage entails the same risks as smoking, and another showed being single is healthier than having married and divorced, prompting researchers to encourage people to try and make a bad marriage good again.

Stress negatively impacts the immune system

When researchers analyzed blood samples of unhappy couples immediately after a big fight, they saw a significant decline in immune function, with the biggest drops happening in those whose fights were the most hostile. Fighting couples also showed slower wound healing.

Fighting and hostility in a relationship both depress immune function and promote inflammation, particularly for women, raising disease risk.

Constant fighting and bickering with your spouse can trigger inflammation and exacerbate symptoms if you have Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. 

Men and women respond differently to arguing

Researchers measured how different styles of arguing affected couples’ health. The results showed surprising differences in how men and women react physiologically to arguing.

For women, the biggest predictor of health risk is lack of warmth and openness from her partner. For instance, small cues during an argument (a term of endearment or a squeeze of the hand) gives a woman the reassurance she and her partner are still connected.

Men, on the other hand, are triggered by battles for control and use of controlling language.

Either way, hostile fighting turns out to be as predictive of heart disease in women and men as a history of smoking. The key isn’t to stop the inevitable arguments, but rather to learn how to fight in a more thoughtful manner that doesn’t trigger the subconscious, immune-sabotaging threat to survival.

Why health depends on a healthy relationship

Healthy relationships are good for us because they give the survival-wired brain back-up during times of stress. Affection from a caring partner during a stressful time helps you regulate negative emotions, relieving the brain of the need to do it all alone, and thus buffering the body from the detrimental impacts of stress.

Even the best of marriages will have conflict. The key is to use those times to repair and strengthen the relationship rather than damage it.

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gut bacteria and anxiety copy

New research has found a link between gut bacteria and anxiety — the diversity and quantity of your gut bacteria can affect your anxiety levels. Scientists believe this could play a role in treating PTSD, or post-traumatic stress syndrome.

In the study, researchers subjected mice to stressful conditions until they showed signs of anxiety and stress: shaking, diminished appetite, and reduced social interaction. Fecal samples showed the stressed mice had less diversity of gut bacteria than calmer mice who had not been subjected to stress.

When they fed the stressed mice the same live bacteria found in the guts of the calm mice, the stressed mice immediately began to calm down. Their stress levels continued to drop in the following weeks.

Brain scans also showed the improved gut flora produced changes in brain chemistry that promotes relaxation.

These biomarkers, according to researchers, can indicate whether someone is suffering from PTSD or is at a higher risk of developing it. Improving gut microflora diversity may play a role in treatment and prevention.

The role of healthy gut bacteria in the military

Because about 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD, the military is interested in the potential of influencing gut bacteria to manage and predict the risk of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Enhancing gut microflora may also help submarine crews who go for long periods in confined spaces and with no daylight.

How to improve the health of your gut bacteria for anxiety, PTSD, depression, obesity, eating disorders

The quality and diversity of gut bacteria, or the “gut microbiome,” has been linked to not only anxiety, but also depression, obesity, eating disorders, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other common disorders.

In other words, if you want to improve your health, you need to tend to your inner garden and make it richly diverse and bountiful. Although we’re still a ways off from a magic-bullet approach, there are many ways you can enrich the environment of your gut microbiome:

Cut out foods that kill good bacteria and promote harmful bacteria: Sugars, processed foods, processed carbohydrates, alcohol and energy drinks, fast foods, food additives, and other unhealthy staples of the standard American diet.

Eat tons of fiber-rich plants, which good bacteria love: All vegetables but especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, as well as fruits. Either way, eat a large diversity of veggies on a regular basis instead of the same thing every day.

Use probiotics: Live, “friendly” bacteria that bolster your gut’s population of healthy microbes. Read the label to make sure they are high in live bacteria. Dietary fiber nourish these friendly probiotic bacteria. This combination of pre- and probiotic support is vital for healthy gut bacteria.

Eat fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt contain live microbes, and can also help boost the probiotic content of your digestive tract. Not all fermented foods have live cultures so make sure to read the labels.

Protect your existing gut flora: Medications, age, health status, and stress influence your gut microbiome. Eating a fiber-strong, gut-friendly diet and supplementing with probiotics and fermented foods is one of your best strategies for supporting gut health, a healthy mood, and stress resiliency.

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Want to get fat? Go on a diet

 dieting makes you fat copy

It’s an addiction to insanity in our culture, one of the most overfed populations in human history — the weight loss diet.

Despite plenty of scientific evidence that diets don’t produce lasting results for most people and despite countless numbers of dieters, most of them women, thrown into a lifetime of damaging despair, low self-esteem, and self-hatred thanks to failing diets, our culture still blindly adheres to the low-calorie diet as the panacea for all life’s problems, including those extra pounds.

The reality TV show The Biggest Loser provided the perfect high-profile platform for scientists to showcase what millions of Americans have learned the hard way: diets make you fatter in the long run.

Why dieting makes you fat

For most of our species’ history, meager food supply and bouts of famine have been the norm. As a result, the body prioritizes conserving fat and energy through altering its metabolism and fat-storing hormones.

Metabolism slows dramatically for years

Eating fewer calories to lose weight significantly slows your metabolism and causes you to regain the weight quickly and easily. The body will fight for years to get back to its previous set point. Contestants on the Biggest Loser learned they now burn between 400 and 800 fewer calories six years after their televised weight loss journey. In other words, they have to under eat just to not continually gain fat.

Satiety hormones skewed for years

Diets also skew levels of leptin and other satiety hormones. These hormones control hunger and food cravings. All of the show’s contestants had normal levels of leptin prior to losing weight. After losing weight their leptin levels plummeted to near nil. A follow-up study showed after they had regained the weight leptin levels were at about half of original levels. Other satiety hormones were also out of range.

This caused contestants increased hunger and cravings.

Televised torture for weight loss

The weight loss program The Biggest Loser contestants were put on not only ultimately damaged their metabolisms, it was unrealistic, tortuous, and exhausting. Contestants ate too few calories and exercised many hours a day, needing to quit their jobs to meet the weight loss demands. Maintaining the weight loss required exercising two to three hours a day and continued under eating. They were also left with mounds of loose skin.

Understand how the body works to lose weight

Fortunately, sustainable weight loss is possible for many people who understand functional medicine approaches to metabolism, satiety hormones, and the effects of stress and inflammation on weight. Unfortunately, those who have lost and gained weight repeatedly during their lives will have a bigger battle. It is also important to manage underlying causes of weight gain, such as emotional and addiction issues, PTSD, and chronic stress. For instance, one study showed many overweight women have been sexually abused as children.

Although portion control and regular physical activity are important, so too are managing the types of foods you eat. For instance, processed carbohydrates and sweets trigger the mechanisms that cause cravings and weight gain. On the other hand, consuming ample vegetables can alter the composition of gut bacteria in a way that fosters weight loss. Eliminating foods that are inflammatory, such as gluten in the case of gluten-sensitive people, can reduce stress on the body, thus facilitating fat burning.

And lastly, ditching the self-loathing and shame that accompanies diets can also reduce fat-promoting stress.

Ask my office for ideas on how to release weight in a way that is sustainable and healthy for the body.

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