Focus On The Positive, Rather Than The Negative

So often in life, we’re told what we shouldn’t do. Don’t speed. Don’t worry. Don’t lie. Don’t give up on your dreams. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t text and drive. Don’t smoke. Don’t spend too much time on Facebook. Don’t watch too much TV. Don’t sit for too long. These are all good aspirations, and if you can follow them all, no doubt your life will be the better for it. Nevertheless, it can feel a little like whack-a-mole after awhile. By always focusing on the negative, you can become overly-anxious. After all, it’s impossible to remove every last potential threat to your health and happiness, and if you work too hard at it, your life can become so small and restrictive that you suck the joy right out of it.

Which is why I really liked the results of a study published in The Lancet just this past week. After re-analyzing a mountain of health data from countries all around the world, starting from 1990 and working all the way through to 2017, researchers concluded that the number of people who die each year from drinking too many sugary drinks, or eating too much red meat are actually relatively small. Don’t get me wrong. It certainly doesn’t hurt to avoid these things. But you may be surprised at how small the potential boost to your health is, compared to what you’ve been led to believe.

According to the researchers of this study, if you really want to improve your health and prevent disease over the course of your life, you’d be better off focusing on what should be in your diet, rather than what shouldn’t be there. And what appears to cause more deaths the world over aren’t trans fats, tobacco smoke, or chemical preservatives, but just a plain, old unhealthy diet in general. We’re just not eating enough whole grains, fruits, vegetables, fibre, legumes, and polyunsaturated fats.

According to the study, one in five deaths in 2017 occurred because of too much sodium, and a lack of whole grains, fruit, seeds and nuts. Overall, more than half of all deaths were due to just three risk factors: eating too much salt, not eating enough whole grains, and not eating enough fruit. In case you think those results don’t apply to you, they held true regardless of the socioeconomic status of most people and nations. So we’re not just talking about poor people in under-developed countries, here. It means all of us. Says Ashkan Afshin, assistant professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, “studies are published every year on how we eat; however, the amount of data considered and the global representativeness make this study worth attention.”

So, what can we do to improve our diet now? Rather than concentrating on avoiding certain types of food, we should instead try to ensure that half of our plate is filled with fruits and/or vegetables at every meal. Also, we should try to vary the kinds of fruits and vegetables we eat so we’re not consuming the same nutrients all the time. You can make a start by including just one whole grain, fruit or vegetable to each meal or snack and then work from there. Over time, as the amount of whole grains, fruits and vegetables in your diet increases, you should find that less healthy options start to disappear because you just won’t have room for them.

Tell Me Your Secret, and I’ll Tell You Mine

You have a secret.  I know you do.   The person sitting next to you has a secret too.   According to a new study conducted at Columbia Business School,  we all carry secrets, with the average person keeping 13 all at once, including 5 that are buried so deep, they’ll never see the light of day.

It’s interesting that we use the word “carry” when we talk about secrets.  Intuitively, we understand their weight and the burden they place on us, so we choose language that accurately conveys this.

What this new study tells us, is that the “weight” of your secret is no joke.  When you keep a secret, it causes increased stress, sleep loss, reduced productivity, and memory loss.  Because secrets raise your cortisol level, your immune system can weaken, your blood pressure can rise, you can develop osteoporosis more easily, and your skin will wrinkle.  Still think that secret is worth keeping?

Neuroscientists now believe that it’s better to confess your secrets than hold on to them.  The same is true of grudges.  They use up too much of your willpower, and too much of  your conscious thought to be healthy.

According to this new study, the difficulty of secrets doesn’t come when you think it will – during those brief moments where you’re consciously hiding what you know from others.   No.  The damage to your health comes when you’re finally at home, alone with your thoughts, in the middle of the night.  That’s when the rumination starts.

You might try to avoid thinking about your secret, but your mind won’t let you.  A battle will rage between your pre-frontal cortex, which controls decision-making, complex thought and deception, and your cingulate cortex, which is triggered when you feel anxiety or fear.   The bigger your secret, the greater your anxiety and fear.  It will wear you down.  You will feel burdened.

According to Chinese medicine, worry, or excessive thought – such as you might experience when keeping a secret – is said to weaken your spleen.   Normally, when your spleen is healthy, you will have strong energy, a good appetite, and a light feeling, as if you are being lifted up.   However, when your spleen weakens, not only will you feel tired and listless, but you’ll feel heavy too, like you’re carrying a ton of bricks on your back.  That’s the heaviness secret-carriers feel.

So how can you help your spleen?  Well, for one thing, don’t willingly carry a secret for others, if at all possible.  If you must keep that secret and you have no choice, you can reduce its weight, and the burden on your spleen, by writing it down.   Somehow, the act of putting your secret down on paper releases some of the load, reducing stress hormones and blood pressure, and improving your mental health.  Telling your secret to a trusted friend helps too.

To further help your spleen, you can also consider taking our Meta Plus tincture, which contains herbs that directly strengthen spleen functioning. But whatever you do, think carefully before agreeing to keep a secret for someone.  Above all else, your mind yearns for authenticity, and you will never be authentic when you’re withholding the truth.

 

 

Time To Start Meditating

If you meditate regularly, you’ve probably already noticed how it calms you, elevates your mood, and improves your focus.   That’s reason enough to continue your practice right there.

But there are plenty more reasons to meditate daily, and scientists have only just begun to quantify them.   Here are a couple.   In a recent study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry, it was found that stressed adults who practiced mindfulness meditation for just four months had reduced signs of inflammation in their bodies.   Their brains were also positively altered, so  that the regions involved in attention and executive control showed greater connectivity.

The reduction in inflammation is important.  Low grade inflammation has been linked to long-term, chronic health problems such as auto-immunity, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, so reduced inflammation is a great predictor of better health, and a longer life.

In another study published in the journal Psychiatry Research, 89 people with generalized anxiety disorder were divided into two groups.  One group took an 8-week mindfulness-based stress reduction course, while the other took a course on Stress Management Education.  This course included tips for improved sleep and nutrition, as well as other wellness topics.

Before and after the study, each of the participants was required to give a speech before an audience, an activity that most people dread.  The study participants who took mindfulness-based stress training showed significantly reduced signs of stress immediately after the speech, including lower blood cortisol levels and inflammation markers.  By comparison, the subjects who took the general stress reduction course experienced no reduction in blood cortisol levels and no reduction in inflammation.  In other words, resilience to stress increased markedly after just 8 weeks of mindfulness-based training.

When you combine these results with the impressive study released in 2014, where mindfulness was found to control depression as well as many anti-depressant drugs, it becomes increasingly clear that mindfulness meditation is something we should all be doing.  In a world that just keeps spinning faster and faster, and where problems only multiply, now is a great time to start.  To begin, search out meditation courses near you, or pick up a good book on the subject.  Authors like Sharon Salzberg or Jack Kornfield, who have decades of experience in meditation instruction, are particularly recommended.

 

 

 

 

The Dangers of Ibuprofen Use

ibuprofen

When large numbers men start to have fertility problems, you know there is something wrong with the environment.  For a long time, scientists were unsure this was really happening.  However, repeated studies have confirmed that male sperm counts in Western continents are 59% lower than they were in 1971.  They are now directing their attention to possible reasons why.

What they’ve found should make men more concerned about their use of over-the-counter drugs.  A recent study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences  has found that when men use ibuprofen on a regular basis, it can lead to hypogonadism.  This is a condition normally seen only in elderly men, but researchers were able to  induce it by giving men two 600 mg tablets of ibuprofen daily for several months.  When they administered the ibuprofen directly into testicle samples (provided by organ donors), testosterone production declined in just 24 hours.

Luckily, testosterone levels rose again once the study ended, so the problem can be reversed – at least when ibuprofen is taken only for short periods of time.  However, scientists are now concerned about the many male athletes who take ibuprofen on a daily basis to control inflammation and pain.  Ibuprofen is one of the most widely used medications, and larger doses of the drug, taken for years at a time, may make this condition irreversible.

The hypogonadism generated in the study seems to have occurred because of increased production of luteinizing hormone by the pituitary gland.  When luteinizing hormone increases, it causes a relative reduction of testosterone, leading to infertility, erectile dysfunction, fatigue, depression, and loss of bone and muscle mass.

This is not the first time that ibuprofen has been implicated in fertility issues.  In a previous study, women who took ibuprofen during pregnancy gave birth to boys with impaired testicular development.

Concern has also been raised over the safety of other over-the-counter drugs, such as acetaminophen.  In addition to its tendency to cause liver damage when taken in high enough doses, acetaminophen has been linked to an increased risk of behavioural issues and ADHD among children when mothers take it during pregnancy.  Another study found that people who used acetaminophen to control pain had reduced empathy, and other positive emotions.

We’ve always known that drugs come with some negative side effects.  But which side effects are we prepared to accept?  At what point do the negative consequences of these drugs outweigh their potential benefits?  Many herbs have valuable pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory properties, with fewer, if any, side effects.  To save our environment, and ourselves, we need to start using these more natural options.

If you have any questions about how to use our tinctures to reduce pain and inflammation safely, please write us at rebecca@sensiblehealth.com, or give us a call at 416-248-2930.

 

 

 

 

Yet Another Reason to Reduce Salt

salt

Do you have a sweet tooth?  Or, perhaps you prefer salty snacks?  Indulging in either craving can cause your waistline to expand, and damage your cardiovascular health in the long term.  However, a new study focusing on the effects of excess salt consumption in mice has found that salt is particularly damaging to mental functioning, irregardless of whether your blood pressure rises.

In the study, mice were given 8-16 times more salt than normal for several months, comparable to what humans consume when they eat a high-salt diet.  MRIs later showed reduced blood flow to areas of the brain involved in learning and memory.  The mice also performed significantly worse on maze and recognition tests, and became unable to build nests, something normal mice do every day.

But here’s the really interesting part:  contrary to what the researchers expected, the decreased flow of blood to the brain was not caused by salt-induced high blood pressure, but by changes to the gut.   It appears that the increased salt consumption caused the production of a particular kind of white blood cell to escalate (T- helper lymphocyte TH17).  This resulted in dysregulation of the inflammatory response, which increased inflammation – already known to damage delicate neurons and deprive them of oxygen.  Meanwhile, nitric oxide production within blood vessels also decreased.  Nitric oxide is a gas that causes blood vessels to relax and  open, thereby increasing the circulation of blood throughout the body, including to the brain.

Reassuringly, once the excess salt was taken away from the mice and their diet returned to normal, their brain functioning improved within four weeks.   This implies that if we humans were to also reduce our salt intake, we might see a similar increase in cognitive function, and a reduced chance of developing dementia.  It’s just another reason to stay away from salt!

Intriguingly, this research also points towards another avenue for dementia research:  gut health.   It may be that the root of cognitive decline isn’t in our cardiovascular system, as has previously been thought, but in our digestive system instead.  All the more reason to keep improving your diet, reducing salt intake, and while you’re at it, keep an eye on your liver health.  Since the liver is the most important organ in the digestive system, keeping your liver in tip-top shape will ensure that  your digestive health is as optimal as possible.

 

 

 


 

The Psychological Importance of Pets

dogs

Do you have an only child?  If so, you may be concerned that your child’s emotional development may be negatively affected by the lack of a sibling.   After all, friends are important, but there’s something comforting about having a brother or a sister, even if you don’t get along very well.  Their very existence makes you feel less alone in the world.

Enter the family dog.  A new study done last year at the University of Cambridge suggests that household pets have a significant effect on childhood development, positively influencing their social skills and emotional well-being.  For children who don’t have siblings, or who are shy or emotionally sensitive, having a family pet may even improve psychological health later in life.

In this most recent study, 77 pre-adolescent children in the UK reported having a better relationship with their pet than with their brother or sister.  They were more likely to confide in their pets, got greater satisfaction from their furry friends, and also had less conflict with them.  Dogs, in particular, were associated with higher incidence of companionship and satisfaction than cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, or fish, but it’s probable that any family pet can have a positive influence.

Given the emotionally fraught nature of most sibling relationships, having a pet may provide stress relief and added comfort when arguments inevitably erupt.  For those who don’t have a sibling, a pet can help to fill the void, and even create a more positive, supportive relationship than any sibling ever could.  Whatever the case, evidence continues to accumulate that inviting a pet into your home has both physical and psychological benefits, particularly for children.

 

 

 

A Very Simple Weight Loss Strategy

standing

My previous blog was about the difficulty in maintaining weight loss when chemicals in our environment (PFAs) can cause pounds to return easily.  Continuing with that focus on weight loss, here’s a new idea for shedding extra pounds:  simply stand more.

A new study from the Mayo Clinic has found that when people stand for six hours per day, they burn an additional 54 calories.  That may not sound like much, but it accumulates over time, translating into a loss of 5.5 pounds of body fat over the course of one year, or 22 pounds over four years.   Interested now?

This new research follows other well-publicized studies about the health benefits of standing, including the one published in 2015 that found an increased risk of Type II diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and an early death from any cause, when you sit for prolonged periods of time – even if you also exercise regularly.  If the risk of premature death so far hasn’t caused you to take action, maybe increased calorie loss will.

Keep in mind that the extra 54 calories you burn when standing can also be extended by moving around rather than just standing still.  You can walk around while talking on the phone, or do a quick set of squats when you’re bored.  You can bring in a small set of weights and carry them around with you, or even throw balls of paper into your trash can.  All of this will add up to even more calories burned on that particular day.

Researchers caution that standing for long periods of time can have its own negative consequences, like back pain, leg soreness, and blood varicosity that causes circulating blood to pool at your ankles.  Those with low blood pressure will also have difficulty standing for long periods of time.  However, just getting up and walking around for a minute or two every hour can help, and is doable for people with other health problems that prevent them from exerting themselves too much.

What I like about this particular study is its flexibility.  It’s really encouraging to see how even a tiny increase in energy output can have such a positive, long-term effect.  I suppose it’s like anything in life.  Small steps add up to big changes.  So be inspired!  If you’re currently struggling with weight loss, try moving around just a little bit more.  It all counts.

 

 

 

Chemicals May Un-Do Weight Loss

fat

They call it an obesity epidemic.  According to the CDC, 37.9% of American adults are now considered obese.  If you also include overweight people in this category, the number becomes a whopping 70.7%.  It’s not even just a North American problem.  According to a recent analysis published in journal The Lancet, 30% of the world’s population is now overweight or obese.  Many struggle each day to change their diet and exercise habits to encourage the loss of pounds.  Why is it so difficult to keep weight off nowadays?

We all know the typical culprits:  a more sedentary lifestyle that causes us to burn fewer calories each day, long work hours that don’t allow for the preparation of fresh and healthy meals, combined with a ubiquity of fast and convenient food choices which are high in fat, sugar, or both.  However, a recent study suggests there may be another, more insidious cause which we can do little to combat:  hormone-altering chemicals in our environment.

According to a study published recently in the journal PLOS, oil and water-repelling chemicals commonly used in fast-food wrappers, non-stick pans, stain resistant fabrics and carpets, clothing, and some cosmetics are now being associated with unexplained weight gain.

In this study, 621 overweight or obese men and women were followed for two years as they were put on energy restricted diets.  On average, the participants lost 14 lbs during the initial 6 months of the study, but many regained the weight during the rest of the study.  It’s not uncommon for people to regain the weight they initially lose while on a diet.  However, researchers found that those who gained back the most weight also had the highest amount of PFAs (perfluoroalkyl substances) in their bloodstream.  PFAs have already gained a reputation among scientists as “obesogens”, but this is the first time their fat-generating capabilities have been seen in a human study.

The weight gain was due to a lowered metabolic rate, and it’s not yet clear if the extra PFAs caused this lowered metabolic rate, or if the reduced metabolic rate allowed the PFAs to accumulate.  Whatever the case, the correlation is disturbing.  It means that we may have less control over our ability to lose weight than we thought.

Unfortunately, these PFAs are so prevalent in our environment that it’s virtually impossible to avoid them.  They also take a long time to break down, so once they’re there, it’s very hard to get rid of them.

Luckily, the liver is a filtration organ with an amazing ability to break down and remove chemicals and other toxins from our bodies.  Therefore, keeping your liver in the best health possible should help.  We have had many customers tell us of their sudden ability to lose weight once their liver was well cleansed, and it could be due to increased breakdown and removal of these PFAs from the body.  If you are interested in doing some liver and gallbladder cleansing, please contact us for more details.  In an increasingly chemical-laden world, it appears to be our best option for maintaining optimal metabolic health.

 

 

 

Some Not-So-Good News About Coffee

coffee

Recently, all the news about coffee has been great.  Not just great – fanstastic!   It has so many health benefits, that many now consider it to be one of the healthiest beverages on the planet.

Due to hits high antioxidant content, and the fact that most people drink more coffee than they eat fruits and vegetables, it is considered the richest source of antioxidants in the average North American diet.  It also contains other beneficial nutrients, like Vitamins B2, B3, B5, manganese, magnesium and potassium.

It boosts brain function, including memory, mood, reaction time, and general cognitive ability.  It boosts your metabolic rate and increases fat burning to help you lose weight.  Due to the release of epinephrine in the bloodstream with the intake of caffeine, it also increases your energy level, which can help with your daily workout.

In other studies, coffee has been shown to have marvelous preventative effects against a score of chronic health conditions, like type II diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, liver cirrhosis, liver and colorectal cancer, heart disease, stroke, and depression.  Considering all the conditions coffee drinking seems to prevent, I suppose it’s not surprising that coffee has also been shown to extend your life and reduce your risk of death overall.

Amidst all that good news, it was inevitable that something negative would come along soon enough.   But if you really like coffee, you can relax.  It’s not that bad.

It seems that excessive caffeine intake among pregnant women can cause childhood obesity.  The stimulating  effect of caffeine crosses through the placenta easily and can alter how the infant’s brain develops.  Previous studies have found that high caffeine intake increases the risk of miscarriage and can cause restricted fetal development.   This new study shows that excess caffeine intake (more than 200 mg daily) also causes rapid infant growth during the first year of life, and can increase the risk for obesity both as a child, and later as an adult.

In light of this new information, researchers are suggesting that pregnant women reduce their daily intake of caffeine from all sources, including soft drinks or energy drinks, so that they are consuming less than 200 mg of caffeine.  Ideally, they would avoid caffeine entirely.

There is other bad news for those who prefer their coffee black.   I’m sorry to have to say it, but….chances are higher that you’re a psychopath.   In a new study performed by Sagioglou and Greitemeyer at the University of Innsbruck in Austria, it was found that people who prefer black coffee often have psychopathic or sadistic tendencies, compared with people who prefer coffee with cream and sugar.

After asking study participants to report on their taste preferences, each was then subjected to several personality tests, checking for  Machiavellianism, psychopathy, narcissism, and everyday sadism.  It was found that those who prefer bitter flavours also showed an increased tendency towards antisocial personality traits, and a negative correlation towards agreeableness.   The more people liked bitter tasting foods, such as black coffee, the darker their personality was.

Previous studies have also shown that bitter-tasting foods or drinks cause people to have harsher moral judgements and express hostility towards others.    It seems that physical disgust (induced after eating or drinking something bitter) also elicits feelings of moral disgust.  So, be careful what you eat!  The more bitter foods you eat, the more bitter you will be too.

I think it’s important to note here that not everyone who likes bitter foods, or drinks black coffee, will be judgemental or sadistic.  But it’s interesting to know that a correlation is there.

 

 

 

E. Coli in Vegetables

lettuce

Let’s talk about salads.   We love to eat them, particularly in the spring and summer months because they’re so cool and crunchy and fresh.  We also know that we need to eat more vegetables in general because of their high nutrient content.   What better way to “beef” up our vegetable intake than by eating a great big salad every day?

Well, there are a couple of problems with that.  Firstly, and most seriously, there is the increasing frequency of E coli outbreaks in fresh produce.  If you go back a couple of decades, most people were more worried about E coli outbreaks in their meat and poultry products.   Back then, improperly cooked hamburger or chicken were the most common culprits – so much so that a vegetarian diet began to seem, not only the healthier choice, but the safer one as well.

Jumping back to current times, however, and the situation has changed considerably.  According to a 2015 estimate from the CDC, produce is now the most common cause of food-borne illnesses, comprising 42% of all cases, while meat and poultry are the culprits only 22% of the time.   Vegetable row crops, such as lettuce, broccoli, celery, asparagus are most commonly implicated.  A fifth of all outbreaks are caused by lettuce alone.

Which brings us to the most recent E coli outbreak – one that some are calling the worst since 2006, at least when it comes to leafy greens.   It has sickened 98 people and hospitalized 46, including 10 who developed kidney failure.   You may have heard of it.  The suspected cause was a crop of romaine lettuce grown in Yuma, Arizona.  Ironically, our newfound preference for fresh, pre-made salads, made with every intention of improving our health, is instead increasing our risk of severe illness and death.

Pathogens in chopped and pre-packaged lettuce are thought to be rinsed off with the use of a special chlorine wash, but studies show that these rinses are only partly effective at removing bacterial contamination.  The reality is that vegetables are grown in dirt, irrigated with water that may be contaminated with cow manure, and then handled by many other people and machinery all along its way to your grocery store.  Bacterial contamination can occur anywhere along this path.  The only sure way to kill pathogens is to use heat, and we prefer to eat our lettuce raw.

This brings us to the second problem with eating salads on a regular basis:  much of the nutrient content of vegetables is lost when they are eaten raw.   Many nutritionists and natural health practitioners will insist that vegetables are best eaten raw because of their high enzyme content, which assists with their digestion and assimilation.   Since cooking will kill off these naturally occurring enzymes,  it is thought best to avoid the heat and eat them raw.

However, while cooking does remove some beneficial enzymes, it also breaks down the cellulose matrix (plant fibre) so that nutrients are more available to your body.  You can see this when vegetables are lightly steamed.  The colour of the vegetables becomes brighter, richer.  This is a sign that the vitamins and minerals in the vegetables have been released, and are now more available to your body.   In Chinese medicine, there is a saying:  “It’s not what you eat, it’s what you assimilate”.  If your body cannot easily extract the nutrients from raw vegetables, then there is no benefit in eating them.

According to Chinese medicine, raw vegetables are also thought to be very cooling, and weakening to your digestive system.  This makes sense.  If your digestive organs have to expend a lot of energy in order to extract the nutrients from raw vegetables, there is a high gross output for little net gain.  When vegetables are steamed or lightly cooked first, part of the digestive process has already been accomplished for them.  The nutrients in the vegetables are now more readily available to your body, resulting in a lower gross output and a higher net gain.

Bottom line:  your digestive organs are less stressed when eating cooked vegetables when compared with raw, and yet still receive a greater reward of nutrients for this reduced effort.   It all translates into stronger, sturdier organs that will retain their vitality well into your years.    And since raw vegetables are now more dangerous to consume because of potential bacterial contamination, this is all the more reason to steam your salad before you eat it.