Tag Archives: Health

“Odd” Habits – Part 2: Detoxing

I sometimes get anxious about all of the potential things in our environment that can cause us harm.  It’s overwhelming to weigh all of the advice: don’t eat that kind of seafood unless you love mercury…sunscreen can do more harm than good…sure, that food is healthy but did you know that the container it comes in causes cancer?  Good grief!  Is there really anything I can do about all of the things I’m exposed to every day?

When I was thyroid sick, I decided to learn the ins and outs of detoxing, pun intended.  I had no clue what it was, much less whether or not I should be doing anything about it.  Here is a simple run-down of detoxing:

WHAT: Detoxification is a multi-phase process that our bodies go through automatically and continuously.  Some of the primary players in detoxing are the: skin, lungs, lymphatic system, liver, kidneys, and large intestine.  We take in all sorts of toxins from our environment; it is amazing how our bodies were designed to get rid of the bad stuff!  Unfortunately, today we are inundated with toxins, and our built-in mechanisms are overburdened. Consider that Americans of all ages are carrying over 219 toxic chemicals in their bodies, according to the CDC’s 2009 report.  Many don’t realize that they also have genetic predispositions that inhibit their body’s detoxing capabilities.

WHY: I was surprised to learn that many of my symptoms that I shrugged off as “just the way I am,” could be the result of my body’s increased toxic burden.  This burden is described as the point when the level of toxins coming into the body exceeds the body’s ability to remove them.  Toxins can cause a wide variety of symptoms: fatigue, inflammation/joint pain, bad breath/coated tongue, digestive complaints/constipation/hemorrhoids, general nausea/lack of appetite, weight gain, acne, excessive body odor/belching/gas, headaches, brain fog, hot flashes, allergic reactions, sinus problems, and infertility.  Taking steps to support detoxification can improve or eliminate these symptoms, and optimize the body’s metabolism.

SOURCES of TOXINS

Food – It might seem obvious that processed foods, food additives/preservatives, artificial sweeteners/colors, sugar, alcohol, and pesticides are toxins.  Would you believe that excessive amounts of certain foods are also toxic?  Brazil nuts, tuna, cruciferous vegetables (kale, Brussels sprouts, spinach, etc.), and certain spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).

{I personally overdosed on cruciferous vegetables several years ago.  I ate a lot of raw kale and spinach (approx. 7 cups/day) and gave myself a serious iodine deficiency, which was crippling my thyroid.  Our bodies need iodine and I was repeatedly depleting my body of it because those vegetables in raw form steal iodine!  I still eat those foods, but I cook them and balance them with other non-cruciferous vegetables. This was a valuable lesson in the realm of “more isn’t necessarily better.”}

The point is that if certain healthy, natural foods can be toxic in massive quantities, how much more-so are processed, fake foods.

Environment – heavy metals, medications, beauty and self-care products, plastics, air, water (even tap water), and cleaning products.  These toxins can disrupt hormones and cause disease, including cancer.  Good grief. Do you feel like you want to live in an organic, BPA-free-non-plastic, bubble yet?

The Body – Before you start googling alternative living arrangements, you must know that your body is also a toxin source.  Chronic stress alters the body’s metabolic processes, hormonal balance, and immune system functioning.  It can also increase inflammation and the overgrowth of bad bacteria, hampering the body’s natural detoxification processes.  This bad bacteria can produce endotoxins that accumulate in the body’s fat stores and bloodstream, making us sick.

HOW:  So what can we do?  First, detoxification in the liver (our primary detox organ) occurs in two phases, and then the toxins exit through the bladder via the kidneys, or the bowels via the bile/gallbladder.  You may have seen “cleanse” or “detox” products on the market – many of them are merely colon cleanses, and do nothing to help with the first 2 detox phases.

Before you turn to products on the market, here are some things you can do on your own:

DAILY Detoxing 

Decrease the burdens on your body: try natural personal care and cleaning products; drink the cleanest water you can; use glass instead of plastic; choose organic whole foods; eliminate processed foods, sugar, and reduce/eliminate alcohol consumption (which impacts the liver’s ability to detox).

Manage your stress effectively by building in regular activities (daily/weekly) that relax and recharge you: walking (not speed walking), restorative yoga, tai chi, meditation, quiet time, unplugging from media, naps (can I get an amen?), face to face social connections, Epsom salt baths, sauna and spa time.

Nutritionally support body’s detox mechanisms: drink plenty of water; eat plenty of vegetables –especially leafy greens (deeper color is best), beets, carrots, and celery; fruits –especially berries and granny smith apples; and use spices such as turmeric, rosemary, cayenne, cumin, and curry. Fiber and probiotics are crucial. If your liver is good at detoxing, but everything gets backed up in the colon, you’ll make matters worse.  Toxins need an effective exit strategy!

SEMI-ANNUAL Detoxing

Every 6 months, especially in the spring, you can do a focused detox for 1-3 weeks:

  1. EAT more veggies (7-10 cups/day) and little or no animal protein or dairy (which increases the burden on the liver). Whole grains should be high quality: quinoa, aramanth, millet, or buckwheat. If you like protein shakes, opt for plant proteins powders (my favorite “affordable” powder is Naturade Vegan Smart). Focus on soups, salads, fruits, and healthy fats in food form (i.e., avocados, coconuts, olives, flaxseeds).
  2. DRINK tons of water, no alcohol or caffeine. Herbal teas (especially milk thistle and dandelion root teas). Some experts say green tea is ok, even though it does contain caffeine. I know, coffee lovers, this one kills me too.  It’s just a week or two, right?
  3. ADD fermented foods – cultured vegetables, kombucha (GT’s Organic multi-green flavor has a double benefit due to green ingredients and probiotics), and apple cider vinegar in water. Here is a drink that I make every day. I must give credit to Dr. Axe for the main recipe, and I’ve tweaked it a bit:
  • 12-16 ounces of hot or cold water
  • 1 T – Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 T – lemon juice or one drop of lemon or grapefruit oil
  • 1 tsp – wild raw honey
  • 1/8 tsp each: cinnamon, turmeric, and ginger
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  1. REDUCE stress – deliberately address your stress daily during your detox week(s) using tips from the list in the previous section.
  2. SWEAT, but don’t overdo the exercise – this isn’t the time to engage in intense exercise, but sweating is an excellent natural detoxifier. Spend some time outside in the warmer months, walk, do yoga, go kayaking, go to a sauna. If you are an avid exerciser, this is a great time to do a recovery week or two.
  3. THINK progress, not perfection. These brief detox periods can be a great way to gradually integrate healthy eating habits into your lifestyle. You may not hit all 5 of the strategies at first and that’s ok!  Strive for improvement each time you do it.  As a special note to women, it’s best not to attempt a detox week during the time of the month when you are ravenous and could eat anything not nailed down.  Believe me, it sets you up for failure!

There are more advanced steps that one can take to support the detox process (i.e., genetic testing for mutations that predispose one to impaired detoxification, supplementation, etc.)  Since I am not a doctor, it is beyond my scope to discuss these things.  I have tackled these issues in my own life with the guidance of an integrative/functional medicine doctor, and highly recommend this avenue for those who have tried all of the above and are still struggling.

High Cholesterol? Things to Consider Before Taking a Statin Drug

I never thought that I would write specifically on this topic, but my life experiences dictate my material.  Also, I embrace any opportunity to “geek out” with new research.  There was A LOT of information, some conflicting and controversial, to wade through on this topic.

Obligatory disclaimer:  If you are currently taking a statin drug to manage cholesterol, I am NOT telling you stop taking it.  I am merely advocating an awareness of the risks of taking these drugs.  It is better to be informed, so that you can ask the right questions the next time you see your doctor.  Moving on…

When my mom told me that she was being tested for lupus, fibromyalgia, and rheumatoid arthritis, I sprang into action, combing through research trying to understand the why behind her sudden onset of pain.  A red flag for me was her long-term use of a statin drug for high cholesterol.  I knew that this drug had potentially dangerous side effects, including muscular pain, and wondered if this was the underlying cause.  So this was my starting point:  what kinds of statin-induced pathologies are proven through research?

What I found might shock you.

Statin-Induced Pathologies

As I suspected, numerous studies have found that statins cause muscular and neurological damage.  This is extremely troubling, since the HEART is a MUSCLE and these drugs are supposed to prevent heart disease!  Statins also deplete some of the body’s cardioprotective minerals such as zinc and selenium, as well as more complex compounds, like Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) and Omega 3 fatty acids (found in fish oil).  Studies have also shown that statins can increase calcification in the arteries around the heart.

Other side effects associated with statins that are supported by research include: cataracts, pancreatitis, liver damage, kidney disease, memory loss, certain types of cancer, and autoimmune responses (http://www.greenmedinfo.com/disease/statin-induced-pathologies *).  Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are specific autoimmune diseases that have also been linked to statin drugs.  In fact, my mom was ultimately diagnosed with Statin-Induced Lupus-like Syndrome, meaning that she had symptoms of lupus that were caused by her cholesterol medication!

A particularly alarming finding is the association between statins and type 2 diabetes, since many people who have high cholesterol also have diabetes.  Studies have shown that statins increase the risk of developing diabetes, especially for post-menopausal women.  This 2012 study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found a 71% increase in diabetes risk for women.  After controlling for age/race/weight/BMI, the risk was still high, at 48%.

Do These Drugs Actually Prevent Heart Disease?

With such serious risks on the table, the next logical question is:  do statins actually prevent heart disease?  The research findings are rather underwhelming.

Generally, there are two populations taking these drugs:  1.) those considered to be at-risk but with no known heart disease; and 2.) those with a history of heart attacks/heart disease.  Studies show that statins tend to be effective for people who have had a previous heart attack (#2), but not for people who have never had one (#1).  A meta-analysis published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, examined 11 different trials on the effectiveness of statins, involving over 65,000 patients.  Researchers concluded that, “statins provided no benefit in preventing all cause mortality in the high-risk primary setting” (i.e. the drugs did not prevent death for the people in the at-risk/no heart attack history population).

When discussing the effectiveness of a drug, the Number Needed to Treat (NNT) is very important information.  It refers to the number of patients that need to be treated, for a period of time, in order for ONE to benefit (compared to a control group).  The ideal number is 1, meaning that everyone who takes this drug will benefit.  Therefore, the higher the NNT, the less effective the treatment.  There are various NNTs out there, depending on the study.

For the population that has no history of heart disease, even though they have risk factors, the lowest number that I was able to find is 60, over 5 years.  This means that patients would need to take the statin for 5 years in order to have a 1 in 60 chance of avoiding a heart attack (with no distinction between fatal and non-fatal).  I also found numbers of 100 and 155, while some analysts suggest that this number is over 1000 for men, and 5000 for women under the age of 50 (i).  Now, for the population with a history of heart disease, the most common NNT that I found was 83 (over 5 years) for fatal heart attacks.

Another very important point to consider is that the Number Needed To Harm (NNH), is 50 for type 2 diabetes, and 10 for muscle damage.  Meaning, after 5 years of taking this medication, 1/50 will develop diabetes and 1/10 will have muscle damage.  Based on this data, patients are more likely to develop a serious complication than to prevent a heart attack!

Is High Cholesterol a Big Deal?

There is no question that statin drugs reduce cholesterol, but we have seen that when taking these medications, heart attacks are not overwhelmingly prevented.  Does this mean that high cholesterol might not cause heart disease?

This is a complex issue.  After LOTS and LOTS of reading and research, I can tell you this:  Cholesterol plays a role in heart disease, but there are many factors that determine whether high cholesterol will actually cause heart disease.

When you get your cholesterol checked, you are given some numbers referring to LDL and HDL.  Technically, these are “transport molecules” (lipoproteins) that move cholesterol through the body, allowing it to perform very important jobs.  Our bodies need cholesterol.  It is the building block of hormones, cell membranes, and brain cells.  Cholesterol also aids in bile production for digestion and vitamin D synthesis.

Problems occur when the LDL doesn’t get the cholesterol into the cells and is just hanging out in the bloodstream.  The longer it stays outside the cells, the more it breaks down, which isn’t a good thing.  This leads to inflammation…and diabetes and metabolic syndrome make this situation worse.

Interestingly, research has repeatedly found that inflammation (measured as c-reactive protein, or CRP) is associated with heart disease.  The higher this number, the higher your risk.  One landmark study (AKA the JUPITER trial) demonstrated that lowering inflammation in the body is instrumental in preventing heart attacks and death.

To summarize, the key is not necessarily to lower the concentrations of lipoproteins (LDL) in our body, but to prevent the inflammation that can occur when they break down.  Even though statins are known to reduce inflammation for some patients, there is a much safer way to tackle it.

What Can I Do?

It doesn’t surprise me that this rabbit hole led to the conclusion that cholesterol doesn’t entirely cause heart disease.  The enemy is inflammation.  It is the root of all disease, including cancer.  Here is an action plan to manage your inflammation:

– Have your c-reactive protein (CRP) checked in order to assess your risk.  This is a blood test that your doctor must order.

– Engage in regular exercise and manage your stress.

Avoid:

– all processed foods, including processed meats and vegetable oils (canola, corn, safflower, soybean, cottonseed, and anything listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated).

– refined carbs like sugar and flour

– foods that trigger allergic reactions and intolerances for you.  This takes some detective work, but the biggest offenders are gluten, dairy, corn, soy, nuts, and eggs.

– alcohol consumption (or dramatically reduce it)

Consume:

– vegetables, especially broccoli, kale, spinach, bok choy, celery, beets

– fruits, especially blueberries and other berries, tart cherries

– fatty fish, such as Wild Alaskan salmon, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, rainbow trout, tuna, Pacific halibut

– healthy fats in food form (preferred source): avocados, olives, walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, unsweetened coconut, other nuts and seeds

– healthy fats in oil form: olive, coconut, avocado, palm

– spices, such as turmeric and ginger

– dark chocolate, small amounts at 70% cacao or greater (this one is for all of the chocolate lovers out there, myself included)

– bone broth (I make my own, with bones left from cooking a chicken)

In conclusion, it’s always scary to experience serious side effects from medications, and it has been astounding to hear from other people, especially women, who have suffered while taking statins.  I wanted to share my investigation in hopes that others might be empowered to ask questions and advocate for their health.  I personally have “high cholesterol” and needed to get to the bottom of this long-standing debate for my own sake, as well as my mom’s.

* © GreenMedInfo LLC. This work is reproduced and distributed with the permission of GreenMedInfo LLC. Want to learn more from GreenMedInfo? Sign up for the newsletter here http://www.greenmedinfo.com/greenmed/newsletter

i.  Austin Publishing Group.  Statins and Changing Number Needed to Treat (NNT). J Cardiovasc Disord. 2015; 2(3):. 1018. J Cardiovasc Disord – Volume 2 Issue 3 – 2015

Put the Scale in its Place!

dsc08399The only time I have a good relationship with the scale is when I don’t get on it…or when it’s broken…or “lost.”  (I’ve gone so far as to have my husband hide it from me.)  Inevitably, I find that stupid scale again and the dance begins, especially when I know that I’ll be going to the doctor in the near future.  Why can’t doctor’s offices measure us another way, perhaps assessing our desire instead?

The assessment could go something like this.  You say:  I really want to have a certain number on the scale.

The scale readout says:  That’s the correct answer.  It’s yours!  You are now the proud owner of ‘X’ pounds!

I digress a bit.  Seriously, how do we deal with this?  We can’t stop going to the doctor.

I suppose we could choose not to look at the number on the scale.  I found myself in an Urgent Care Clinic on my 40th birthday and I told the nurse, “Hey, it’s my 40th birthday, so I really don’t want to know what the number is.  I’m not about to let it ruin my Fabulous-at-40-Vibe.”  While that tactic was just fine in the moment, making a regular habit of not looking at the number still gave the scale some degree of power over me.

It’s time to put the scale in its place, which requires a deliberate mental shift.

Here’s the thing:  the number on the scale is merely a data point, amidst many other data points that comprise a picture of our health.  We tend to put way too much emphasis on this ONE point, and we lose sight of the bigger picture, sometimes at the expense of other more important numbers.  Other data that make up our health pictures include:  waist circumference, body composition, LDL cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, triglycerides, blood sugar A1C, inflammatory markers, strength, endurance, flexibility, balance, and just plain HOW WE FEEL.  Truly, these data points give us far more information than the number on a scale.  In my own life, there have been times when I was “overweight” or at my “ideal weight” and was quite unhealthy in both scenarios.  Obsessing about a number is flat-out dangerous.

The National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) studies people who have lost 30+ pounds and have kept it off for more than a year.  They have found that participants who weigh themselves daily are the most successful at keeping the weight off.  I’ve been a participant in NWCR’s database for many years; I lost 55 pounds more than a decade ago.  Did weighing daily help me keep the weight off?  Sure.  But it came with a hefty price:  a very unhealthy relationship with the scale, food, and exercise.  Very unhealthy.  Yes I weighed every day, not at the suggestion of NWCR (they make no recommendations to their participants), but due to my own desperate need for control and an obsession to reach some arbitrary “ideal” weight.  That number on the scale dictated my mood for the day, my sense of security and control, and my self-worth.  It even affected my personal relationships, AND my health took a nose dive.  That is a stiff price to pay just to be a certain weight or size!  I came out of the experience just plain angry that a small piece of equipment had such power over me.

Let me illustrate something that I hope will forever change your relationship with the scale.  Below are two pictures of me at different times in my life, but the number on the scale was nearly the same.  In the first one, I’m holding one of my nephews who is now 17 years old.  I weighed 145 pounds and was a size 12.  The second picture is me today, at 142 pounds, and a size 4-6.

140s-3

This difference is explained by body composition.  Muscle weighs more than fat, but takes up less space.  (I’m a big fan of lifting heavy things, but I’ll save that for another post.)  Muscle mass also makes the traditional BMI (Body Mass Index) irrelevant, because BMI does not account for lean mass.  It only accounts for total weight.  Therefore, I can’t put much stock in the recommended weight range for my height.  The number on the scale tells us very little about what’s going on in our bodies!

So, the next time you step on that blasted scale (because let’s face it, you probably still will, but hopefully with a deliberate mental shift), remember this:  it’s just a number that tells you almost nothing, one tiny piece among many bigger pieces of the puzzle.  At the end of your life, there is no medal for achieving or maintaining a certain weight.  Consider spending more time and effort on the other data points mentioned earlier.  You will be in a much healthier place, and able to live life to its fullest.

Why should such an insignificant number have so much power over us?

Let’s put the scale where it belongs.