Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

But you look so good!

 

Invisible

I have not posted in a while – life is full and I was feeling somewhat lazy.  However, it is a rainy, stormy day and a long weekend, so I feel a desire to think and write.

The fantastic news is that I am officially in remission. The final diagnosis is generally Autoimmune Disease, but more specifically, Hashimoto’s Disease and Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria (“CIU”). I take a synthetic thyroid daily and the hypothyroid symptoms improved dramatically within a few months (less hair loss, less joint pain, better sleep, more focused). As I mentioned in my last post, I was prescribed Hydroxyzine in January for the CIU. Within the first week, the giant welting hives started transitioning to small chicken pox-like hives, then NOTHING. I have not had a CIU flare-up in any form since early February and I no longer need to take the Hydroxyzine.

My flare-ups have occurred about every six years since my early twenties. I am hopeful that with what I have learned about taking care of myself in the last crazy year, the cycle may finally be broken, my body will completely heal, and just maybe I can prevent a recurrence. I know now that taking exceptional care of my body is simply not enough – true wellness requires taking care of my mind and soul, as well.

It was initially very difficult for me to tell anyone that something was wrong – I am a very private person. When I reached out to friends and family about my “mystery” illness, I was touched by the responses I received. However, I was also very confused and hurt that so many people that I thought were close friends not only did not respond, but said nothing to me at all when I did see them. It wasn’t cancer, but it wasn’t nothing either.  Didn’t they care?  Maybe they didn’t believe that I was really sick?

The term “invisible illness” is relatively new.   Some examples include other autoimmune diseases like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, depression and mental illness, digestive disorders like Celiac’s Disease, etc.

People often judge others by what they see – this is natural human behavior. For a long time, my illness was a mystery to me, as well, so when people asked me to explain, I could not and I would often hear, “but you look so healthy” or “you really don’t look sick.” It was also frustrating when people offered unsolicited advice – if my doctors and I could not figure it out, what made them think they had an answer? I had another friend tell me, while I was in the middle of a terrible flare-up, that I should look at it as a blessing. Good advice, but REALLY bad timing to tell me this when I was in the depths of it – excuse me if I don’t feel very blessed right now!  Of course, now that I am moving beyond it, I DO feel that it was a blessing – but that’s a post for another day.

Very few friends or family actually saw the illness because I was often in hiding. I stayed home a LOT and did not accept invitations or reach out to friends. When they did see me, I looked healthy. My husband is the only one in my life that I think truly understands what this last year did to me because he lived it every day – it also deeply affected his life, as well as our relationship. I know that he felt frustrated and helpless, yet was loving, supportive and encouraging to me.

Those friends that appeared to be “fair-weather” are still in my life. They simply did not see sickness. If they did, they certainly did not see it on a daily basis – the symptoms, the frustration, the depression and the isolation.   In hindsight, I think my expectations of their response were idealistic and unrealistic, so I choose to release any judgment of it now and hopefully educate people along the way.

We all are sick on occasion – we pick up viruses here and there.   But what if your virus never went away? In fact, what if it just progressively got worse and days turned into months, with no hope of resolution?  What if your doctors (even specialists) could not pinpoint the cause, provide a diagnosis or find a treatment, and you were told that it could potentially be part of your life forever?  Then try to imagine explaining this reality to your friends and family – when you look perfectly fine on the outside.

Our culture is taught to believe that illness and disease are visible and apparent, and that when we are sick, we go to the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the issue and prescribes treatment. That did not happen to me, nor does it happen to a lot of people, even in our very medically advanced world.

There is still more that we don’t than what we DO know. We need to continue to educate ourselves, let go of the past, manifest kindness and release judgment.

Of course, sometimes, this is easier said than done (especially in an election year).   😉

May 28, 2016 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

No news is good news

stability

It has been a while since my last post, as I was enjoying the holidays, during which my symptoms remained quite stable. I had a few flare-ups after going off the Prednisone, but no angioedema or severe urticaria. I credit the stability to the changes I made to my diet, the immune boosting vitamins and minerals I take, time off of work (with no plans to do anything but rest and relax!) and increased yoga and meditation.

During this time, I did some additional research on Xolair. I found some discussion boards online that had mostly good feedback, but some bad feedback, as well. There were a lot of people that found immediate relief (from the chronic urticaria), but after several months of shots, the urticaria eventually returned. I am becoming skeptical that this is the cure for me.

Then a week ago, my insurance provider made a decision on the Xolair. They will not cover it. This is a big deal because it is a VERY expensive shot. Their reasoning is because I have not yet tried Hydroxyzine. When I asked my immunologist why they have not yet prescribed this drug, they responded that “it’s just another H1 antihistamine” so they did not understand how this was a reason for insurance to deny coverage.

SO…

I suggested the obvious – that he prescribe Hydroxyzine anyway. If there is no change, then we can tell my insurer that we have tried it and it was not enough. OR…maybe it will work?

I started Hydroxyzine five days ago in place of the Cetrizine. I take it at bedtime and it knocks me out cold (it is very sedating for me). I still have hives, but they are small and in clusters now – they almost look like chicken pox.  The Hydroxyzine is doing something.

I am hopeful that the stability over the holidays is a sign that I am healing and going back into remission.

The doctors have so far only treated the symptoms – they have done what they could to make me feel better right now, without knowing the source of the problem or how to fix it.

In my next post, I will talk about the lifestyle and dietary changes that I made over the last few months, which I believe have helped.

I intend to start healing my body from the inside out.

Angela

January 12, 2016 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patient Heal Thyself

Yoga Meditation

As mentioned in prior posts, after another angioedema episode that brought me back to urgent care for another epi shot, I started on a strong dose, slow taper of prednisone. It did the trick – no hives, urticaria or angioedema for the course of the Prednisone.

I finished the Prednisone two weeks ago. A week ago, I woke up with a couple of hives and over the last week, I have had a few hives here and there – no giant hives, no urticaria, no angioedema – nothing like a real flare up.

So I AM rebounding after discontinuing the Prednisone, but it is a small rebound. I am going to hold onto that as a good sign.

I visited the immunologist last week and received a diagnosis: Chronic Idiopathic Autoimmune Urticaria, which is caused by anti-FcεRI and less frequently, by anti-IgE autoantibodies that lead to mast cell and basophil activation, thereby giving rise to the release of histamine and other proinflammatory mediators (Ref 1).  It is not known if this could be related to the hypothyroid issues I am experiencing.  From the treatment summary:

“Angela’s history and laboratory evaluation are not clearly suggestive of a specific etiology or process to explain her relapsing-remitting urticaria and angioedema. We discussed the limitations of commercially availably laboratory tests to assess immune function, which is broad, complex and influenced by genetics and environment.”

So the immunologist’s treatment plan is to continue to suppress the immune response with high doses of the histamine inhibitors and asthma medication, with a plan to start tapering in a few months, and to continue with the immune system boosting vitamins and supplements that I currently take.

MY plan is to make 2016 the healthiest year of my life. To help make that happen, I have adjusted my mindset, diet, exercise and lifestyle.  See my next blog post for the deets on my course of action.

Angela

References:

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2810697/

November 21, 2015 Posted by | Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More than a Best Friend

Jordyn

“It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them, and every new dog who comes into my life gifts me with a piece of their heart.  If I live long enough, all the components of my heart with be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are.”  ~Anonymous

We recently lost one of our beloved dogs, Jordyn (to heart failure).  We miss her terribly.  She brought so much joy, comfort and happiness to our lives – simply with her presence and unconditional love.  This post is dedicated to her memory.

Of course, we all know that dogs are used for service – helping those with disabilities and special needs in a functional capacity, and by law enforcement (police dogs, DEA, searching).  Dogs are used for hunting.   Children love playing with and caring for dogs.  However, many do not realize that dogs help us in other ways that are not so obvious and can make a tremendous difference to our wellness and well-being – dogs are actually good for our health!

Spending time with dogs can improve our mood.  Research shows that petting a dog boosts mood-related brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine.  When dogs are near us, we tend to calm down, and speak more slowly and softly.

Dogs encourage us to exercise and socialize.  Dogs need to be walked, which also gets us out exercising and socializing with neighbors and other pet walkers.  Having a dog with us makes us more approachable (ask any man – dogs are chick magnets!).

Stroking a dog (or cat) can lower blood pressure and heart rate.  Heart attack sufferers recover more quickly and survive longer when they have a pet.

Dogs are companions that can help stave off loneliness.  A study conducted at Saint Louis University in 2006 evaluated 37 nursing home residents who all had high scores on a loneliness scale and who were interested in receiving weekly 30-minute visits from dogs.  Half of the residents studied had dog-only visits and the other half shared the dog with other residents.  All of the residents studied felt less lonely after the dog visits – interestingly, the decrease in loneliness was more significant with those that had the dog-only visits.

Dogs have special instincts.  They know when someone is hurting or needs help.   Several years ago, the Lutheran Church Charities developed the “K-9 Parish Comfort Dogs of Addison, Illinois,” which uses dogs in disaster response situations.  They train golden retrievers to provide comfort, help and hope to those recovering from tragedy.  Several dogs were sent to help residents in Newtown, Connecticut following the shootings there.

So the next time you are feeling low or anxious, spend some time with your pooch (or borrow a friend’s) for a fabulous boost to your heart and soul.

Angela, Friend to the Furry 🙂

References:

  1. “How Owning a Dog or Cat can Reduce Stress – The Health Benefits of Pet Ownership,” About.com
  2. “How Pets Comfort Us,” Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Alert, May 27, 2009
  3. “Man’s Best Friend:  Study Shows Seniors Prefer Dogs,” Saint Louis University, January 4, 2006
  4. “‘Comfort Dogs’ Relieve Emotional Stress in Grieving Newtown,” People Magazine, December 28, 2012

January 1, 2013 Posted by | Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cha-cha-cha Chia!

I had never heard of chia seeds until I bought some gluten-free bread that boasted chia seeds as one of its fabulous ingredients.  I was curious and looked into this interesting little seed.

Chia (salvia hispanica) is a species of flowering plant that is a member of the mint family, native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala.  It is grown commercially for its seeds.

Some benefits include:

  • Rich in omega-3 fatty acids (seeds yield 25-30% extractable oil, including a-linolenic acid, aka ALA) – omega 3’s protect against inflammation (arthritis) and heart disease.  Chia seeds actually contain more omega-3’s than salmon and flax seeds!
  • Rich in antioxidants (antioxidants block harmful chemical reactions caused by oxidation – they help promote general health and slow the development of many age-related diseases)
  • High in protein (1 ounce contains 4 grams)
  • High in fiber (1 ounce contains 11 grams) – fiber makes you feel full
  • Contains essential minerals phosphorus, manganese, calcium, potassium, sodium

When added to liquid, they form a gel.  Researchers suggest that this reaction also occurs in the stomach, so when ingested, the gel slows the process by which digestive enzymes break down carbohydrates and convert them to sugar.

Chia seeds have a nut-like flavor.  They can be eaten raw as a whole seed (sprinkled on cereal, yogurt, salads), ground into a coarse flour (used in baked goods), soaked and used in gruels, porridges and puddings.  They are even consumed in Mexico as beverage called chia fresca by adding the seeds to water or fruit juice.

I enjoy my chia seeds in my morning smoothie.  The seeds quickly expand and soften as they soak in the liquid (I use coconut milk and almond milk).

And if you decide that chia seeds are not for you, you can always moisten and apply them to a terra cotta figurine in the shape of your favorite pet and… (you see where I’m going with this?)

Angela, Chia Chick 🙂

References:

  1. “Salvia hispanica,” Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salvia_hispanica)
  2. “What is Chia?”  Ask Dr. Weil (http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA365093/Chia-for-Health.html)

September 30, 2012 Posted by | Health, Nutrition | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The skinny on body fat: The health effects of obesity

“The devil has put a penalty on all things we enjoy in life.  Either we suffer in health or we suffer in soul or we get fat.” 
~Albert Einstein 

Americans are getting fatter and fatter.  Obesity rates reached 30% or more in nine states last year, 26.7% of the population nationally.  Of course, these rates are based on a phone survey of 400,000 participants who were asked their weight and height, rather than having it measured by someone else.  People usually describe themselves as taller and lighter than they really are (just take a look at someone’s driver’s license), so the reality is probably even worse!

Obesity is not the same as being overweight.  Obesity is an excessively high amount of body fat or adipose tissue in relation to lean body mass.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determine obesity by using the body-mass index (BMI).  The index is calculated from height and weight.  Scores of 30 or more are defined as obese.  However, while it may work with most to determine obesity, it is not perfect – for instance, someone with a lot of muscle mass may be “obese,” based on their BMI calculation (20 pounds of fat weighs the same as 20 pounds of muscle), which is obviously one of its flaws.  (If you are interested in calculating your BMI, you can go to http://www.bmi-calculator.net/)

In addition to a bad self-image, we all know that obesity causes complications, some of the worst of which include:

  • Heart disease and heart attacks
  • Strokes and high blood pressure
  • Colon cancer (now associated with excess fat consumption in the diet)
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (arthritis), sometimes crippling and leading to a need for joint replacement
  • Diabetes Mellitus (high blood sugars), with a long list of related complications in the circulatory (heart), renal (kidney), neurological (nerves), retinal (visual) systems and with infectious diseases and problems with healing
  • Depression (obese patients are typically inactive which can lead to increased incidences of chronic clinical depression that could be treated and greatly improved with exercise)

And these are only the major complications.  The medical costs for obesity are estimated to be as high as $147 billion per year. 

Why are we getting so fat?

The causes of this “obesity epidemic” should be a surprise to no one.  While genes strongly influence body type and size, the environment plays the largest role in the obesity problem we see now.  We make unhealthy food choices – like high-calorie, low-nutrient snacks and beverages, we eat high quantities of processed foods, we eat larger portions of food – and we lead sedentary lifestyles.  Unfortunately, this trend is increasing.  Children and teens are now most at risk.

The effects of excess fat

So why does obesity cause so many problems?  What does an excess of body fat actually do to our bodies?

Obviously, carrying extra weight puts added stress on the bones and joints of the body – especially the legs and back.

Obesity strains the heart.  With more body mass, there is more blood flowing and being pumped by the heart throughout the body.  The heart must work harder to pump blood, which causes a strain.  This is often doubled when the obese person exerts themselves and experiences a higher heart rate.  An obese person has more body fat, which means more fatty molecules (such as cholesterol) in the blood vessels.  The fats constrict the blood vessels, making the heart pump harder to push blood through them, causing high blood pressure.  Obesity leads to heart failure because the heart is simply overworked.  A heart attack occurs when the heart muscle dies due to not being supplied with oxygen because blood flow is blocked through a fat-clogged blood vessel.

In the case of diabetes mellitus type II (“type 2 diabetes”), when there is excess fat in the body, insulin is less effective at getting glucose (the body’s main source of energy) into cells.  More insulin is then needed to maintain a normal blood sugar and insulin resistance progresses to diabetes.  About 80-90% of those with type 2 diabetes are obese.  The prevalence of type 2 diabetes has increased in the U.S. by 25% in just the last ten years.

Cancers of the colon, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium, kidney and esophagus are all associated with obesity, accounting for 25-30% of these cancers.  However, the mechanisms by which obesity affects these cancers are not well understood and are still being studied.  The National Cancer Institute (NCI) has several studies underway.

What they do know is that weight gain during adulthood has been found to be the most consistent and strongest predictor of breast cancer risk.  Excess breast tissue in obese women may also contribute to the difficulty in detecting lumps and abnormalities.  Excess abdominal fat has been linked to colon and endometrial cancers. 

Death rates from all cancers are greater in persons who are obese.

What can you do?

Obviously, preventing weight gain is the key to avoiding the complications associated with it.  If you already have weight issues, you should avoid additional weight gain and lose the excess fat through diet and exercise. 

While I am very grateful for my height and long legs, contrary to what people might think, I am not “naturally thin.”  I come from a genetic family background of obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and knee replacements.  My mother in particular suffered the effects of these diseases at a very young age and passed away prematurely as a result.  Her conditions were brought on by obesity and her obesity was preventable – she chose a very unhealthy lifestyle.  Therefore, I choose to live a very healthy lifestyle to counteract those problems to which I may be predisposed.

I avoid weight gain by making healthy food choices and staying very active.  I eat whole foods and lean proteins (organic as much as possible).  I avoid all processed foods and sugar (although I do enjoy dessert in moderation).  I eat healthy fats (olive oil, avocado, coconut oil, organic dairy).  I exercise regularly (and not excessively), pushing myself to workout at times, even when I am really, truly just not in the mood. 

Lifestyle is a choice. 

Angela, Heart-Healthy Chic 🙂

References:

  1. “Obesity Rates Keep Rising, Troubling Health Officials,” by Denise Grady
  2. “How does obesity affect your health?” Answers.com
  3. “Obesity and Cancer:  Questions and Answers,” National Cancer Institute

November 7, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cleaning out the Junk

“My body is a temple where junk food goes to worship.”  ~Unknown Author

Vacations are amazing and necessary, and I never regret taking them.  Unfortunately, vacations also take me away from my fitness routines and the healthy diet that I practice.  Having just returned home from a glorious vacation to the Pacific Northwest, it is time for detox!

When I slip away from my healthy lifestyle for more than a day or two, I feel sluggish, fatigued, bloated and crabby.  When on vacation, I eat too much food (much of which is processed), consume loads of white flour, and drink too much alcohol and not enough water (sounds like the standard American diet, eh?!).  Unfortunately, while enjoyable, eating out every day is not healthy – you have little to no control over the source of your food or how it is prepared.

“Detoxing” is a very trendy term right now and carries different meanings for different people.  One can detox from alcohol or drugs, OR one can detox their body when they have strayed from healthier habits that keep the body in sync.  Obviously, my focus will be on the latter.

Many believe that it is not only what we consume that is toxic, but also the chemicals in the polluted air that we breathe, and the chemicals that we apply topically (makeup, deodorant, lotions, shampoos, etc.).  Over time, these toxins build in our bodies and may cause or contribute to a variety of illnesses and diseases. 

Ayurvedic detoxification (panchakarma) is the basis for most “detoxing.”  Ayurvedia is considered the oldest medical science in the world.  It is a form of holistic healing practiced in India for more than 4,000 years.  The term is derived from Sanskrit:  “Ayus” meaning life and “vid” meaning knowledge (“knowledge of life”).  Ayurvedic detox is an internal cleansing to remove toxins from the body resulting from incomplete digestion.  The “cleansing” or “flushing” process for this detoxification can be lengthy (45 days) and can include therapeutic vomiting, laxatives, medicated enemas, fasting, and cleansing of the sinuses. 

Other methods of detox include:

  • Dietary changes (diets low in fat, high in fiber, and mostly vegetarian, with an emphasis on raw food, avoiding processed foods, alcohol and caffeine)
  • Fasting (one of the oldest detox methods – often used for severe conditions, as it is one of the quickest ways to promoted elimination of toxins)
  • Herbal supplements (such as milk thistle extract, which detoxifies the liver; herbal laxatives, like psyllium seeds; vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids)
  • Chelation therapy (chelates are substances that bind to heavy metals and speed their elimination)
  • Sweating therapies (saunas, exercise, therapeutic baths, steam rooms – thought to help eliminate toxins stored in the subcutaneous fat cells)
  • Body therapies (massage, acupressure, shiatsu, manual lymph drainage, polarity therapy – which improve circulatory and structural problems, reduce stress and promote the body’s healing responses)

However, I find that you do not need to make dramatic changes in your lifestyle or diet to detox on a simpler level.  In fact, sudden and very dramatic changes in diet (such as fasting or removing entire groups of foods from your diet) can result in nutritional deficiencies and other health problems.  My personal methods incorporate a little of several of the methods noted above, without any ill effect. 

When I need to detox, I practice the following:

  • I do NOT go out to eat!  This way, I know where the food comes from and I can control how it is prepared.
  • I focus on primarily vegetarian foods of high quality and freshness – whole, organic fruits, vegetables and grains (what I like to call “clean eating”).
  • I eat lean, organic protein (salmon, chicken, turkey).
  • I avoid all processed foods, sugar and all white flour.
  • I double my water consumption (see my 2/26/10 blog “Got Water?” for more on the fabulous benefits of drinking H20).
  • I increase my cardio (I enjoy jogging and working up a good sweat – the endorphins give me a natural “high” and it helps clear my mind).
  • I practice more yoga (you can never have too much yoga, right?!).

I notice that the time it takes for me to detoxify my body is about the same amount of time that I spent toxifying it!  So…one-week post-vacation, I feel back to my old self.

Happy cleansing!

Angela, Delightfully Detoxed 🙂

References:

  1. “10 Ways to Detoxify Your Body,” Deborahann Smith, Gaiam Life
  2. “Ayurvedic medicine” and “Detoxification” (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com)
  3. “The Pollution Within,” David Ewing Duncan, National Geographic (http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2006/10/toxic-people/duncan-text)

September 12, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The bike is back!

“Nothing compares with the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”  ~John F. Kennedy

As far back as I can remember, I loved the feeling of flying down the road on my bike with the wind in my hair (no, we didn’t wear helmets back in the day).  It filled me with a sense of freedom, energy and life.

To this day, biking is one of my favorite summer activities.  My husband and I spend much of our spring, summer and fall on our bikes.  Our children have a growing interest in it, as well.  We are fortunate enough to live in Plymouth, Minnesota, named Money magazine’s number one Best Place to Live in 2008 (for cities with populations of 50,000 to 300,000).  In Plymouth, we have more than 120 miles of trails for walking, running and biking.  Additionally, through the park district, the paths link up to other paths throughout the Twin Cities.  In its May issue, Bicycling Magazine named Minneapolis America’s best bike city.  Minneapolis has 127 miles of bikeways, with 83 of those being off-street trails. 

So it is obvious that biking is very popular in Minnesota, but it’s also resurging in the rest of the country.  I am sure that Lance Armstrong helped considerably with that, winning seven consecutive Tours de France.

The bottom line is that it is a sport in which almost anyone can participate.  Most of us generally learn to ride a bike as a child and most of us never forget how to ride it.  Biking is not a weight-bearing exercise, allowing you to bike vigorously and then relax and coast for a period of recovery.  It increases your cardiovascular endurance and physical strength.

Biking is cheap transportation and is good for the environment (no emissions).  In Minnesota, a lot of people (even business professionals) now bike to work.

It is an incredible way to see large parts of the city or countryside.  In four hours, one can cover dozens of miles and at a speed that allows you to appreciate your surroundings in the way that traveling in a car cannot.  Mountain biking allows you to access trails otherwise not accessible.

It is also a great social activity.  Many cities have cycling clubs.  Road cyclists ride in groups to take advantage of the extra speed.

The physical benefits

While running may burn more calories than bicycling, it is very traumatic to the joints, making cycling a great cardio alternative.

The number of calories you burn depends on your weight, the activity, intensity, and will be slightly higher or lower depending upon each of those factors.  

  • Vigorous cycling (“vigorous effort” – 14-15.9 mph) burns 54-62 calories/mile if you weigh 190 pounds, 44-50 calories/mile at 155 pounds, and 37-42 calories/mile at 130 pounds.
  • Moderate cycling (“moderate effort” – 12-13.9 mph) burns 50-58 calories/mile at 190 pounds, 41-47 calories/mile at 155 pounds and 34-39 calories/mile at 130 pounds.
  • Light cycling (“light effort” – 10-11.9 mph) burns 44-52 calories/mile at 190 pounds, 35-42 calories/mile at 155 pounds, and 30-35 calories/mile at 130 pounds.

A fascinating study

Dr. Bastiaan R. Bloem of the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center in the Netherlands studied a man who had Parkinson’s Disease (a neurological disorder in which some of the brain cells that control movement die) for ten years.  The man trembled and could only walk a few steps before falling; he froze in place as though his feet were bolted to the ground.  However, he told Dr. Bloem that he was a cyclist, which one would think impossible considering his disease.  He not only rides his bike, but does so several miles a day.  Indeed, Dr. Bloem observed him riding the bike effortlessly and in complete control of it.  As soon as the man got off the bike, however, his symptoms returned.  So Dr. Bloem studied 20 other patients and found the same result – all could do it.  (SEE the video at http://video.nytimes.com/video/2010/03/31/health/1247467498167/bicycling-with-parkinson-s.html)

Those with Parkinson’s can often do other complex movements for a few minutes if given appropriate signals (emotional or visual) clues, such as dancing, running, and walking.  But it does not last long and they always return to the same state.  The effect is known as the kinesia paradox.

One explanation for the finding might be that bicycling uses a different part of the brain than walking and might not be so severely affected by Parkinson’s disease.  Or it might be that the rhythmic pressure of the pedals on patients’ feet cues the nervous system to allow a cycling movement.

Dr. Boehm has expanded his study to a clinical trial of 600 Parkinson’s patients.  He is finding that while it does not appear to cure the patients, it may slow the progression of the disease.

What do you need to bike right now?

Obviously, if you don’t already have one, you need a bike! 

Unless you plan on doing some serious street cycling (ala Lance), you do not need an expensive street bicycle or any expensive, fancy gear.  A decent multi-purpose bike (new) will cost you $300-$1000.  However, you can also find a nice bike on eBay or Craigslist for much less.  And unless you are planning to ride your bike off-road for the most part, do not buy a mountain bike.  The wheels are large and knobby and the bike is usually heavier than a street bike, both of which make it more difficult to ride on paved paths and on the city streets.

If you plan on spending more than an hour at a time cycling, it is worthwhile to dress for it.  Definitely wear comfortable, moisture-wicking fabrics (stay away from cotton, which does not wick away sweat and is slow to dry).  The idea of wearing padded shorts may sound funny at first, but after sitting on a narrow seat with little padding for more than an hour, you will quickly appreciate padded shorts!  You can expect to pay at least $30-80 for padded compression shorts.

You don’t need special footwear to ride a bike, but it helps if you have shoes that don’t have a big toe-box (which tends to make pedaling more challenging).  Also, biking shoes have a stiffness to them that makes it easier to pedal.  You can find decent biking shoes for less than $100. 

ALWAYS wear a helmet – even if you are not riding on the street.  Should you lose control or if something malfunctions on your bike, you could very easily take a tumble.  So please protect your head.  A nice helmet will cost you less than $50 and is worth buying new (as opposed to used), so you know it is clean, has not been damaged, and is the right size and fit for your head. 

A good source to locate cycling gear is REI (http://www.rei.com/).

So what are you waiting for?  Summer doesn’t last forever!

Angela, Biker Chick 🙂

References:

  1. City of Plymouth (http://plymouthmn.gov)
  2. Minneapolis City of Lakes (http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles)
  3. “Cycling Provides a Break for Some With Parkinson’s,” by Gina Kolata, NY Times, March 31, 2010 (http://www.nytimes.com)
  4.  Livestrong.com (http://www.livestrong.com)
  5.  “Why cycling is such a popular sport,” by Erich Rosenberger, M.D., Helium Sports & Recreation (http://www.helium.com)

July 5, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How sweet it isn’t!

“Things sweet to taste prove in digestion sour.”  ~William Shakespeare

I don’t drink soda pop or “soft drinks” and that puts me in the minority in this country.  In fact, the average consumption of soft drinks in the United States is now over 600 12-ounce servings per person per year.  Since the 1970s, it has doubled for females and tripled for males, with the highest consumption by males between 12 and 29 years of age.  They average a half-gallon per day (160 gallons per year!).

There has been much ado in the last 20 years about the dangers of soft drinks – everything from the marketing of it to children to the obesity epidemic, with sugar and high fructose corn syrup at the top of the list of culprits.  As a result of the frenzy, soft drinks labeled “diet” and “light” have skyrocketed in popularity, the most popular being Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Mountain Dew, Diet Sprite, etc., and most of which contain aspartame or a combination of aspartame and other artificial sweeteners.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA as food additives and six intensely sweet sugar substitutes are approved for use in the United States:  saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium and stevia. 

Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener, originally synthesized in 1879 when it was discovered by accident.  It is 300-500 times sweeter than sugar. 

Aspartame is currently the most popular artificial non-saccaride sweetener used as a sugar substitute.  It is 200 times sweeter than sugar.  It was first synthesized in 1965 and approved by the FDA in 1974 (known under the brand names of Equal, NutraSweet, Spoonful, Canderel, AminoSweet).

The others – sucralose (“Splenda”), acesulfame potassium and stevia –  are usually used in combination with saccharin or aspartame.

To date, the FDA has not found enough scientific information that these sweeteners are unsafe.  Interestingly, many of the studies on the safety of these chemicals were conducted or funded by the manufacturers of the sweeteners. 

Additionally, artificial sweeteners cost the food industry only a fraction of the cost of natural sweeteners.  It is, therefore, not surprising that the industry heavily promotes its “diet” or “light” products, as they are reaping huge profits!

Makes you go “hmmm…,” doesn’t it?

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably IS

As you can tell from other posts to this blog, I am not a fan of sugar – it is extraordinarily bad for our bodies and causes multiple problems.  However, I do not believe that substituting it with an artificial chemical is a solution.  Let me just focus on the most popular:  Aspartame.

Aspartame is composed of three chemicals:  aspartic acid (40%), phenylalanine (50%) and methanol (10%). 

  1. Aspartic acid converts to aspartate, which readily crosses the blood brain barrier, resulting in free-radical formation and nerve cell damage.  In childhood, the blood brain barrier is not fully developed, does not completely protect all areas of the brain and can be damaged by chronic and acute conditions, leaving brain cells vulnerable.  This is frightening when you consider the fact that many parents think it’s better for their children to drink diet soda than regular soda (in an effort to avoid the sugar or corn syrup).
  2. Phenylalanine is an amino acid normally found in protein foods and in the brain.  When used prudently, it is a safe amino acid.  However, in people with genetic disorders, excess levels can lead to phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder that can cause schizophrenia and seizures.
  3. Methanol is wood alcohol, a deadly poison that can cause blindness and death.  It is released in the small intestine when the methyl group of aspartame reacts with the intestinal enzyme chymotrypsin.  Methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, a deadly neurotoxin and known carcinogen that interferes with DNA replication and can cause birth defects.  When aspartame is heated (improper storage or shipment), “free methanol” is created, speeding up the absorption of methanol and magnifying its effects.  Of note, in 1993, the FDA approved the use of aspartame in food items (like gelatin desserts) that required heating!

Additionally, aspartame metabolizes to diketopiperazine (DKP) once inside our body.  DKP is associated with increased incidence of uterine polyps, elevated cholesterol and stomach cancer (Dr. Jacqueline Verrett, FDA toxicologist, before the U.S. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, November 3, 1987).

Aspartame has been linked to everything from headaches, migraines, weight gain and fatigue, to birth defects, brain cancer, diabetes, epilepsy and seizures.

While we may be able to consume aspartame in moderation without consequence, it is a CHEMICAL.  Our bodies were not built to process chemicals.  Who knows what the long term effects are?

Drink diet soda = lose weight?

Think again!  Our bodies get confused by artificial sweeteners.  The dissociation between sweet taste and calorie intake may put the regulatory system that controls hunger and body weight out of sync, thus sabotaging weight loss plans.  A study on rodents showed that those fed saccharin actually gained weight compared to rodents fed sucrose (sugar).

When you consume sugar substitutes, the taste buds tell the brain that food is coming in, but the body doesn’t get the energy it’s expecting, undermining the ability to judge how much food you consume, leading you to eat more.  Additional studies found that it may actually stimulate the appetite, prompting cravings for carbohydrates.

With the intense sweetness of artificial sweeteners, we get used to that much sweetness, making normal sweet flavors (i.e. fruit) seem bland, reducing our desire to eat them.  Some research has indicated that the taste of sweetness is addictive – the more you consume, the more you need to feel satisfied.

An addiction to diet soda is no different from any other addiction.  The only way to break out of it is to stop consuming it and go through the withdrawal.  Eventually, the cravings subside and you will wonder why you waited so long to say goodbye!

Angela, Anti-Aspartame 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Inc., Nutrition Series 2009
  2. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)
  3. Everyday Wisdom (http://www.everyday-wisdom.com)
  4. “Three Reasons to Rethink that Diet Coke You’re About to Drink,” Fooducate Blog (http://www.fooducate.com)
  5. “Aspartame:  The Not-So-Sweet Facts about Aspartame,” The Healthier Life (http://www.thehealthierlife.co.uk)

June 20, 2010 Posted by | Health, Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Food of the Gods

So what’s the big deal about coconut oil?  Likely, much more than you realize. 

Coconut oil boosts the metabolism, reduces bad cholesterol, augments the immune system, acts as a powerful antioxidant, and makes skin and hair soft and smooth.

How does it work?

Coconut oil is different from most other fats because it consists of medium chain fatty acids, which are sent straight to the liver and are immediately converted to energy, acting more like a carb than a fat.

Lauric acid, a saturated fatty acid found in human milk, cow’s milk and goat’s milk, is also found in coconut oil.  Coconut oil is about 50% lauric acid.  Lauric acid has been found to have antimicrobial, antioxidant, antifungal and antibacterial properties.

The body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, which helps in dealing with viruses and bacteria that cause disease.  It has been extensively used in Ayurveda, a system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and practiced in other parts of the world as a form of alternative medicine.  Coconut oil also contains capric acid, which also forms into monoluarin and has antimicrobial properties.

Oodles of benefits

One of the most interesting facts about coconut oil is that it is GOOD for your heart.  Past claims that coconut oil increases cholesterol have now proven unfounded.  A common misconception is that because it contains a large quantity of saturated fat (92%, in fact), it will increase LDL (bad cholesterol) levels.  However, not all saturated fats are created equal.  Coconut oil actually reduces the incidence of injury in arteries and helps in preventing atherosclerosis.  It stimulates thyroid activity, increasing metabolic rate and normalizing cholesterol by converting it (specifically, LDL cholesteral) into anti-aging steroids, pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA.  It actually LOWERS cholesterol.

Consuming coconut oil helps you lose weight.  It breaks down quickly in the body and is burned for fuel long before it can be stored as fat.  Replacing other fats with coconut oil means that the rate at which your body stores fat slows down, because more of your dietary fat is metabolized for energy.  But beyond that, coconut oil actually increases the rate at which you burn stored fat, even beyond the extra fat you burn simply because you exercise more and work harder. 

Coconut fat normalizes body lipids, protecting against alcohol damage in the liver and improves the immune system’s anti-inflammatory response.

Coconut oil contains natural antioxidants.  Whether ingested or applied topically, it is effective in preventing the free-radical damage that can lead to aged and wrinkled skin.  It absorbs easily into the skin, is good for the relief of dry, rough skin, and treats various skin problems, including psoriasis, dermatitis and eczema.

Coconut oil is used topically in the Indian subcontinent for hair care.  It’s an excellent conditioner and helps re-growth of damaged hair.

The dangers of hydrogenated oils

Hydrogenated coconut oil has a completely different chemical makeup than virgin coconut oil and none of the same benefits.  Hydrogenation is the process of heating an oil and passing hydrogen bubbles through it.  The fatty acids in the oil then acquire some of the hydrogen, which makes it more dense.  If you fully hydrogenate, you create a solid (a fat) out of the oil.  But if you stop part way, you a semi-solid partially hydrogenated oil that has a consistency like butter, only it’s a lot cheaper.  Because of that consistency, and because it is cheap, it is a big favorite as a butter-substitute among “food” producers.  It gives their products a richer flavor and texture, but doesn’t cost near as much as it would to add butter.

Hydrogenated oils contain high levels of trans fats.  Trans fats are deadly.  They interfere with the metabolic process of life by taking the place of a natural substance that performs a critical function.  In the long term, consumption of trans fats can produce a variety of diseases and in the short term, they make you fat.  If you buy packaged/processed food, you must read, read, READ the labels!  Even foods advertised as “healthy” and “organic” often contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

Just 3.5 tablespoons a day of non-hydrogenated, unrefined virgin coconut oil provides numerous benefits.  Use it as a substitute for butter or any oil for baking.  Two that I recommend are:  Spectrum brand “Naturally unrefined expeller pressed virgin organic coconut oil” (SEE http://www.spectrumorganics.com); and Nutiva brand “Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil” (http://www.nutiva.com).

One of my favorite ways to use coconut oil is to sauté dark leafy greens (like kale or spinach) with it and a little garlic.  The taste is decadent, the benefits supreme.  Trust me, you will love it!

Angela, Coconut NUT 🙂

References:

  1. Nutritional Weight & Wellness, Nutrition Series 2009
  2. Organic Facts (http://www.organicfacts.net)
  3. “Metabolic Poisons:  What’s Wrong with Partially Hydrogenated Oils?” and “Coconut Oil:  Miracle Medicine and Diet Pill,” Eric Armstrong (http://www.treelight.com)
  4. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org)

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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