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fasting for better health

Extended fasting during the night fast may lower your risk of breast cancer or improve your prognosis. Fasting has also been shown to decrease the risk for other types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

In the first study of its kind, researchers analyzed 11 years of data from non-diabetic breast cancer patients, with surprising results.

The women who fasted less than 13 hours per night showed a 36 percent increase in breast cancer recurrence compared to those who fasted for 13 or more hours per night.

In other words, going at least 13 hours between between dinner and breakfast is associated with a lower risk of cancer.

The study looked at daily sleep and dietary habits, serum blood sugar and inflammation markers (hemoglobin A1c and C-reactive protein), and the recurrence of cancer and breast tumors.

Longer fasting for better sleep and less disease risk

The study showed that each two-hour increase in fasting time made for longer nights of sleep. This is important not only because it helps people feel better, but also because it points to a healthier sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm  An imbalanced circadian rhythm increases cancer risk, including breast cancer, along with numerous other chronic diseases.

Each two-hour increase in fasting time also reduced blood sugar and systemic inflammation, hence lowering the risk of diabetes and other diseases.

The longer nighttime fasters showed significantly lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a protein made in the liver that increases with inflammation. Chronic inflammation leads to serious diseases, including heart disease, some forms of cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s disease.

Got low blood sugar or adrenal fatigue? Then a bedtime snack may be appropriate

While the new research makes a strong case for extended nighttime fasting, long fasts may be detrimental to those with low blood sugar or adrenal fatigue.

In these cases, allowing blood sugar to drop too low through fasting can cause a series of negative hormonal consequences that result in insomnia, mood issues, fatigue, and poor brain function.

If you wake up anxious at 3 or 4 a.m., you may be a victim of low blood sugar and need to eat a little protein to fall back asleep. Eating a little bit before bed can also help prevent those all-too-early wakeup calls. You also need to follow a diet during the day that stabilizes blood sugar.

Eating a healthy blood sugar diet over time may help you stabilize your blood sugar to the point that you can comfortably adopt the extended nighttime fast.

A simple, non-medical strategy for reducing cancer and disease risk

These findings suggest that simply extending the time between dinner and breakfast to at least 13 hours may be a simple, non-medical strategy to reduce the risk of breast cancer and chronic disease.

If you have questions or concerns about nighttime fasting, sleep habits, blood sugar balancing, or disease prevention, please contact my office.

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crash and awake copy

Are you often wide awake around 3 or 4 a.m., your mind racing with anxiety, but then collapsing into a near coma in the late afternoon? This maddening cycle of waking up and falling asleep at inconvenient hours is often relieved by managing low blood sugar.

Why you’re wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.

Although sleep is a time for the body to rest, your brain is still busy working on repair and regeneration, transforming the day’s impressions into lasting memories, and keeping you entertained with dreams.

The brain demands more fuel than any other organ, about 20 percent of the body’s total supply. These needs don’t abate during sleep, when your body is fasting.

In the absence of food, the body keeps the brain going by gradually raising the adrenal hormone cortisol, which triggers the production of glucose to feed the brain through the night.

At least in theory.

Chronic low blood sugar breaks this system down because it skews cortisol rhythms and release. When your brain starts to run low on fuel during the night, cortisol may lag in triggering glucose release.

The brain cannot wait until breakfast and perceives this lack of fuel supply as an emergency. As a result, the body releases more urgent “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones, which raise blood sugar back to safe levels.

Unfortunately, these adrenals hormones are also designed to help you either flee from danger or fight it. This does not bode well for a sound night’s sleep and explains why if you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., it’s usually with a mind racing with worry.

Meanwhile, 12 hours later when you could really use the energy to finish a work project or deal with after-school duties, you crash and can barely function thanks to blood sugar and cortisol levels bottoming out. Reaching for that shot of caffeine may pull you through, but in the long run it’s only compounding the problem.

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

If you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, eating a little something may feed your brain and calm your mind so you can fall back asleep. But do not eat something sugary, which will spike blood sugar and perpetuate the cycle. Instead, eat some protein and fat.

Examples include nut butter, a little bit of meat, boiled egg, or a coconut snack. Have these prepared ahead of time and even next to your bed so you don’t have to go into the kitchen and turn on bright lights. You will not feel hungry because adrenal hormones are appetite suppressants, but you don’t need to eat much.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

To avoid the afternoon crash without caffeine you need to stabilize blood sugar as a way of life. Eat frequently enough to avoid sending blood sugar into a nose dive, and avoid foods that cause blood sugar to spike and crash: Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, too many carbohydrates, and starchy carbs.

How do you know if you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning (this is caused by stress hormones)
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue

A variety of nutritional compounds can further support your blood sugar handling and stress hormone functions so you sleep better. Ask us for advice.

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HbA1c glucometer copy

High blood sugar is ground zero for chronic disease: diabetes (obviously), heart disease, dementia, autoimmune disease, chronic pain, and hormone imbalances. Testing your HbA1c on a blood panel can tell you whether high blood sugar is setting you up for major health problems.

High blood sugar can:

  • Trigger chronic inflammation, thus setting the stage for autoimmune disease
  • Radically imbalance hormones, causing high testosterone in women, high estrogen in men, PCOS, PMS, hormone deficiency, and imbalances in hormones that regulate satiety so that you’re always hungry
  • Damage the walls of blood vessels
  • Damage brain tissue and accelerate brain aging, increasing the risk for dementia (some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes)

High blood sugar is also associated with eye disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, and stroke.

Getting a handle on your blood sugar can help you better manage or prevent these radical health imbalances. The HbA1c shows you your average blood sugar levels over the last three months and is a simple way to look at the influence of blood sugar on your health.

HbA1c stands for glycated hemoglobin, which refers to a protein in red blood cells that has bonded with glucose. The higher your HbA1c the higher your blood sugar and the greater your risk for disease.

Using standard lab ranges, an HbA1c less than 5.7 is normal; 5.7%–6.4% indicates pre-diabetes; and if it is 6.5 or higher this indicates diabetes.

However, in functional medicine, we shoot for optimal health and like to see an HbA1c in the range of 4.6%–5.3%. One study shows heart disease risk rises considerably when HbA1c is over 5%  and another shows risk is higher when it’s over 4.6%.

Although HbA1c is said to look at your average blood sugar levels over the last three months, not everyone’s blood adheres to a strict schedule  In fact, people with pre-diabetes or diabetes have a higher turnover of blood cells, while those with normal blood sugar have longer lasting red blood cells, so that an HbA1c can reflect the last 5 months.

It’s important to look at HbA1c along with a couple of other blood sugar markers. If you’re working to manage your blood sugar, a glucometer is very useful to measure blood sugar throughout the day.

Checking fasting blood sugar first thing in the morning before you eat or drink (except water) is a popular indicator of blood sugar health, with optimal ranges being in the low 80s. A fasting blood sugar of 100 mg/dL or higher indicates pre-diabetes in functional medicine (126 mg/dL is considered diabetes).

However, people on very low-carb diets or on ketogenic diets can also have fasting blood sugar around 100. If you’re fasting blood sugar is around 100 but your HbA1c and post-prandial (below) blood sugars are healthy, then you know this mechanism is at work.

It’s highly useful to look at your blood sugar two hours after meals. This is called post-prandial blood sugar. Optimal blood sugar two hours after a meal should be under 100 to 120 mg/dL.

Lowering blood sugar levels requires eliminating sugar and sweets, minimizing carbohydrate intake (especially processed carbs such as pasta and bread), eating plenty of fiber, avoiding inflammatory foods, and exercising daily. Certain herbs and nutrients can also help lower your blood sugar. Ask my office for advice.

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blood sugar imbalancesOften chronic health problems can be traced back to one thing: unstable blood sugar that comes from eating too many desserts, sweet coffee drinks, processed grains (bread, pasta, etc.), and other starchy foods. Our cultural complacency with high-carbohydrate diets has made us the most obese and chronically sick population in the world.

How blood sugar becomes imbalanced

We only needs about a teaspoon’s worth of sugar in the bloodstream at any one time, a level we can meet just by eating vegetables. Consistently indulging in high-carb foods — dessert, pasta, potatoes, rice, sweet coffee drinks – requires the pancreas to secrete increasingly larger amounts of insulin to lower overly high blood sugar. These insulin surges cause blood sugar to drop too low and create symptoms. As a result, you crave sugar or high-carb foods to reboot your blood sugar, which starts the whole cycle all over again. Although these blood sugar highs and lows constitute a normal day for many Americans, they underpin many chronic health issues, including hormonal issues, autoimmune flare ups, fatigue, depression, anxiety, insomnia, poor brain function, chronic pain, and more.

Eventually, these extremes exhaust the body’s cells. In a move of self-protection they turn off their receptors for insulin so that neither insulin nor glucose can get into the cells. This is called becoming insulin resistant and is a stepping-stone to diabetes. Blood sugar levels remain too high in the bloodstream, damaging the arteries and the brain, while glucose can’t get into the cells to make energy, causing fatigue. The excess glucose in the bloodstream is eventually converted to fat for storage.

What is normal blood sugar

You can test your fasting blood sugar with a store-bought glucometer  Fasting means you have gone at least 12 hours without eating or drinking anything other than water; it’s best to test first thing in the morning.

The lab range for fasting blood glucose levels is usually 70 to 105 mg/dL. In functional medicine we like to see your fasting blood glucose level between 85 and 99 and consider anything over 100 to signify insulin resistance. The American Diabetic Association designates a fasting blood sugar level of 106 to 126 to be insulin-resistant or prediabetes, while anything above 127 is diabetes.

Symptoms of low blood sugar

If your blood sugar is below 85, it is important that you eat every two to three hours to keep blood sugar stable. You don’t have to eat a whole meal, just a few bites of a low-carb, sugar-free snack between meals and a light snack before bed.

  • Craving for sweets
  • Irritability if meals are missed
  • Dependency on coffee for energy
  • Becoming lightheaded if meals are missed
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
  • Feeling agitated or nervous
  • Become upset easily
  • Poor memory, forgetfulness
  • Blurred vision
  • Insulin Resistance

Symptoms of high blood sugar

If your blood sugar is over 99 you may have insulin resistance. You need to moderate your carb intake so you don’t feel sleepy after meals and avoid overeating. It’s also important to exercise regularly to help the cells become more sensitive to insulin. If your blood sugar is over 126 you should be screened for diabetes.

  • Fatigue after meals
  • General fatigue
  • Constant hunger
  • Craving for sweets that is not relieved by eating them
  • Must have sweets after meals
  • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Migrating aches and pains

Ask my office for more advice on balancing your blood sugar for better health.

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how to prevent stroke

Strokes are scary, seemingly leaping out of nowhere. They are the third leading cause of death in the United States and for those who survive, they are the leading cause of disability in adults. But strokes don’t have to be mysterious. In fact, research shows 90 percent of strokes are caused by dietary and lifestyle factors, which means you can lower your risk with a few changes to how you live.

A stroke occurs when an artery that carries blood to the brain either becomes blocked or ruptures. This starves the brain of blood and oxygen, often causing permanent brain damage. A stroke can leave someone with impaired speech, memory, or movement. How this damage affects the person depends on which parts of the brain were damaged and to what degree.

What causes a stroke

Although strokes are a leading cause of disability in adults, the good news is up to 90 percent of them are preventable. This means simple changes to your diet and lifestyle will protect your brain health well into old age. Research has found the great majority of strokes are caused by the following:

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is the strongest link, more than doubling the risk
  • Smoking: Doubles your risk
  • Poor diet: Increases the risk by 30 percent
  • Lack of exercise: Exercise four or more hours a week reduces your risk by 30 percent
  • Drinking too much: Thirty or more drinks a month increases the risk by 50 percent
  • Stress and depression: These raise the risk by more than 30 percent
  • Diabetes
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • Heart disorders

Revamping your diet is key to stroke prevention

The most important thing is to revamp your diet. This means focusing on whole foods, plenty of vegetables, healthy fats, and ditching sodas, desserts, sweet coffee drinks, and processed foods. It can be difficult at first but most people begin feeling significantly better right away, which motivates them to stick with better eating habits.

Lower stroke risk by stabilizing blood sugar

A whole foods diet should focus on keeping blood sugar stable. High blood sugar causes inflammation, which damages and thickens arterial walls and promotes the formation of arterial plaques and blood clots. People with Type 2 diabetes, a disease of high blood sugar, are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack than those without the disease.

Just because something is natural, whole, or organic does not necessarily mean it is good for stabilizing blood sugar levels. Use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, agave, or honey sparingly, and minimize consumption of starchy foods such as potatoes and grains.

Regular exercise prevents stroke or severity of strokes

When it comes to protecting brain health, exercise is a magic bullet. Regular exercise helps keep blood vessels strong and dilated, improves blood flow to the brain, and helps maintain a healthier metabolism. If one does have a stroke, research shows having exercised regularly significantly lowers the severity of the stroke and offers a better chance for long-term recovery. You do not need to take up bodybuilding or triathlons; simply walking regularly can be very beneficial.

Nutritional compounds to prevent stroke

Although diet and lifestyle strategies are key to stroke prevention, certain nutritional compounds can help support the arteries and healthy blood pressure, oxygenate the brain, stabilize blood sugar, and more. Ask my office how we can help you lower your risk of stroke and support your brain health.

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sugar hangover cureThe tin of peppermint bark is empty, the pies polished off, and the Yule log cake reduced to crumbs.

Left in their wake, however, is the sugar hangover, that annual holiday tradition that may include an upset stomach, headache, lethargy, brain fog, skin problems, join pain, mood swings, allergy symptoms, and a heap of regret.

How to recover from a sugar hangover

While alcohol hangover cures are a folklore staple, you can take solid steps to recover from your sugar hangover:

  • Quit eating sweets. Those holiday treats have sent your blood sugar levels skyrocketing and plummeting repeatedly, taxing the immune system, the brain, hormone balance, and every other system in the body.

    To recover, put blood sugar levels on an even keel by eating protein every two to three hours, eating a good breakfast, and avoiding starchy foods, desserts, and sweet drinks (soda, sweet coffee drinks) that spike blood sugar. Instead focus on quality proteins, leafy vegetables, and good sources of fat (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, salmon, etc.)

  • Drink plenty of water. This is also the most popular alcohol hangover cure for a reason. Staying hydrated with clean filtered water will help flush your body of toxins and aid in recovery.

  • Support your liver. Processing all those sweets burdens your liver. Help your liver flush these toxins with such liver detox nutrients as milk thistle, dandelion, N-acetyl L-cysteine, beet root, panax ginseng, and more. Contact my office for more advice on liver detoxification.

  • Restore your gut. Sweets cause inflammation, promote overgrowth of harmful yeast and bacteria, and irritate the gastric lining. You can restore gut health by avoiding sweets and other starchy foods, temporarily adopting a strict detox diet that eliminates common immune triggers (i.e., gluten), and by eating cultured and fermented foods.

  • Move your body. A brisk walk, a swim, yoga, or some other gentle exercise will get your lymphatic system pumping and blood flowing to help flush toxins and rejuvenate cells. You may want to avoid extremely vigorous exercise until hangover symptoms subside so as not to further promote inflammation.

Why not go for a New Year’s detox?

These are some basics to help you recover from a sugar hangover and get you back on the wellness path. In fact, all of these tips will help you recover from an alcohol hangover, too. For more advanced strategies and to get started on a detox plan for the New Year, contact my office.

What are your tips for a sugar hangover cure?

Of course the best way to cure a sugar hangover is to avoid one. But if you happen to overindulge on special occasions, what are some of your tips for a sugar hangover cure?

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