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Great Video on Epigenetics

This is a great PBS video which looks at the divergent health outcomes that occur in indentical twins based on how lifestyle differences cause different epigenetic expressions.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/epigenetics.html

Learn and enjoy!


Books to Help the Understanding of the Health Impact of Chemicals: Part 1

We live in a growing “soup” of chemicals.  This environment has important health implications which are becoming progressively more common and better understood.  The difficult task is for each individual to become more informed so that they better understand their particular health concerns.  Today’s blog starts the discussion of three very well written books to help with this seemingly complicated task.

The first is the book The Excitotoxins:  The Taste That Kills by Russell Blaylock, MD.  My first interest in this book came from the need to better understand the interaction of food with migraine headache.  The “excitotoxins” that Dr. Blaylock discusses in this book are both chemicals and modified food products.  The unique property of this group of food additives is that they can over-excite neurons or nerve cells to the point that they dysfunction and become injured.

Because the exposure to excitotoxins in food is ongoing, these substances may induce gradual, progressive damage to neurons in the brain, and are likely to be a factor in the epidemic of degenerative brain disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease and several others.  Another group of disorders also appear to be related including migraine, ADD, ADHD. 

Two very notable excitotoxins are monosodium glutamate and aspartame.  MSG is a taste additive in many foods and aspartame is an artificial (that should tell us something!) sweetener.  The breakdown products of these additives, such as a single molecule of glutamate, can act as neurotransmitters and activate receptors in the brain called NMDA receptors.  These are receptors that “excite” brain neurons, something that must be done only in measured amounts. The brain is normally protected from high exposure to these two neurotransmitters by the special lining of the arteries of the brain called the blood brain barrier (BBB).  However, some people have variations of the BBB making them more susceptible to higher brain fluctuations associated with diet.  Many health problems also weaken the BBB increasing the population with higher brain levels of excitotoxins associated with diet.

So why would we add these things to food in the first place?  The answer is simple.  There is a strong economic interest.  Taste enhancers also enhance activation of nerves in the mouth and tongue (taste buds) which excite the center in the brain that drives the desire to eat; a good objective if you are selling the food but not so if you are the consumer.  The taste of sweet and the taste of glutamate drive pleasurable taste.

Because many people have a direct negative effect from the strongest source of glutamate, MSG or monosodium glutamate, we have “sham” labeling requirements to disclose them.  If they are added directly to food, it has to be listed in the ingredient list.  However, if wholesale manufacturer “A” concentrates glutamate from some vegetable protein source, they can sell that to food manufacturer “B” as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”.  Manufacturer “B” then adds that ingredient to their packaged food and is only require to disclose “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”. 

Dr. Blaylock’s book gives lists of food ingredients which hide higher levels of excitotoxins.  Perhaps more importantly, he helps with the understanding of the very negative impact of these altered food products on the human brain and nervous system.

The Excitotoxins:  The Taste That Kills is a must read for anyone who has a brain, literally!

Next week’s blog covers two more very helpful books about our chemical exposure, and the health implications regarding cancer and autoimmune disease!


Stuff Disguised as Food – Sugar, Sugar Everywhere

  

The amount of sugar in the US diet is far in excess of what most people understand and appreciate.  A historical perspective is helpful in appreciating this.  In the late 1800s the average sugar consumption per person was about 5 lbs per year.  One hundred years later it had risen to about 120 lbs per year, or a whopping 2300% increase.

Throughout the last 2 decades the increase has steadily continued with the current estimates putting the yearly consumption at about 180 lbs, or a full pound every 2 days!

The consequences of the explosion of sugar in our food are an epidemic of diabetes, metabolic syndrome and obesity.  Almost 1 in 7 adults is now diabetic and another 1 in 5 is prediabetic.  One in three children born in 2000 or after will develop diabetes in their lifetime living in our current food environment.

 The obesity from sugar consumption surprises some people as they believe, “only dietary fat can cause belly fat”.  However, humans only store one form of excess dietary energy or calories; fat.  Excess sugars are rapidly converted to a storage fat, triglyceride, by the liver and put back into the circulation destined for fat tissue.  When this is happening at high levels, we often make more triglycerides than can be transitioned into fat tissue at any given time and our blood triglycerides become abnormally high.

All of this brings up an important question, why do they put so much sugar in our food?  The answer is simple; it stimulates our appetite and drives us to eat more food.  This is perhaps advantageous if you sell food, but it is very problematic from a health standpoint.

Humans are wired to be driven to eat in response to the tastes of fat, sugar and salt.  These taste drives served man well for most of the first 3 million years of his or her existence when man struggled to get enough to eat and needed to desire energy dense food.  It has, however, become a problem over the past 50 to 100 years when we face the availability of plenty of food.  The food industry is taking advantage of this evolutionary trait to manipulate excessive food consumption.

To get a grip on the problem, read the label of everything you buy or use for 1 month.  First look at the grams of sugar.  Most of the inherent (naturally occurring in the carbohydrates) sugar comes from fruits, vegetables and grains.  A serving of each should have the following inherent sugar content:

                                    Sugar                         Fiber

Fruits                          5-10 grams                1-2 grams

Vegetables               0.5-1 grams               1-2 grams

Grains                        0.5-1 grams               2-4 grams

The Nutritional Information box must list the grams of sugar per serving.  In a natural grain without added sugars, it should be between 0.5 and 1 gram.  Most breads, cereals, muffins, etcetera will have from 8 to 20 grams.   This must be added sugar as it exceeds the natural inherent sugar by 8 to 40 times!

Next go to the ingredient list and look for the added sugars.  They have many names:

  • Sugar
  • Corn syrup (wet sugar derived from corn)
  • High fructose corn syrup (same as corn syrup but with more fructose)
  • Any “ose” (glucose, fructose, maltose, etc)
  • Cane syrup (wet sugar from sugar cane)
  • Cane sweetener (sugar from cane)
  • Brown rice syrup (wet sugar extracted from rice)

Some of the above terminology seems a little tricky and confusing.  That is exactly how it is designed to create the “what you don’t know won’t hurt you” phenomenon. 

Sometimes all of this can be seen more in perspective by using the cupcake scale.  The single packaged chocolate cupcakes have 18 grams of sugar in them.  Is that a good breakfast? The standard cereal bars or granola bars have 14 grams, or 75% of the relative cupcake value yet we think of them as a suitable breakfast.  A fruit (actually sugar/fruit syrup) in the bottom yogurt has about 21 grams of sugar, or is 125% of the sugar value of a cupcake.  From a sugar perspective, a cupcake is healthier.  Tomato soup has 13 grams, or about 70% of the cupcake value. 

The average daily sugar intake in the US is equivalent to eating 15 cupcakes per day.  The trick is to appreciate that we have 15 cupcakes in our average diet, but they just were different costumes.  How they “name” a product does not determine how unhealthy it is, the content does.

The trend towards more corn based sugars is two-fold.  Corn is an abundant, inexpensive source of sugar.  It also contains more fructose than most other sugar source plants.  Fructose is the sweetest of the individual sugars so it drives desire (and therefore consumption) more than any other type of sugar.  Once this was realized, the fructose was concentrated even more so in corn syrup to yield high fructose corn syrup.

The whole situation sounds a lot like the drug dealer handing out free samples at the playground.  It typically insures it will produce a future customer.  The best that each of us can do is to be knowledgeable and manage our own situation.  The food industry is the largest and most funded single lobby in Washington so don’t look for the solution to come down from the top.

While humans 50 years of age and younger have always lived in a high sugar food environment, this is new in the broader picture to mankind.  We are more than 99% genetically identical to our ancestors of 100,000 years ago, but we are trying to consume a diet that we are ill suited to.  The disease statistics speak for themselves about how poorly this is working out.  Be informed, read labels intelligently, and fend for yourself!


Food Sensitivities/Allergies

photo via ezwebrus.com

Progressively more people are developing food sensitivities each year.  This trend is thought to relate to several factors including genetic modification of crops, high levels of antibiotics in animal based food altering digestive tract bacteria, the diverse numbers of chemical additives used in food and other assorted factors.

Unlike food allergies which cause aggressive symptoms closely related to the food exposure, food sensitivities are typically delayed and inconsistent making diagnosis difficult.  They also do not cause the body to produce antibodies against the offending foods making blood tests unhelpful.

Food sensitivities are also puzzling in that they cause varying symptoms from one person to the next.  Some of the symptoms and signs that food sensitivities cause include:

  • Digestive symptoms such as reflux, bloating, gas, diarrhea, etc.
  • Atopic disease such as asthma and eczema
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Fatigue
  • Skin conditions
  • Chronic joint and/or muscle aches/pains
  • Sinus and/or ear congestion

While this list includes some of the more common symptoms, food sensitivities can cause broader, more diverse symptoms based on their mechanism, inflammation.  Any symptom or problem can be caused or worsened by inflammation may result from a food sensitivity reaction.

Food sensitivities and their symptoms or secondary problems tend to become very chronic.  The chronicity stems from two reasons. First, the delay between the food exposure and the symptoms prevents early diagnosis. Secondly, some foods that trigger sensitivity actually activate pleasure and reward centers in the brain.  When we should connect food “A” and symptoms, we are misled by a period of pleasurable feeling immediately after eating these foods.

One of the complex body reactions in dealing with adapting to abnormal situations is to up-regulate chemicals in the brain called opioids.  This creates a period of “feeling good” between the food exposure and feeling bad.  The natural tendency is to be fooled into thinking that “eating __XXX__ doesn’t cause me any trouble.”

How Can Food Sensitivities be Diagnosed?

Because of the traits of food sensitivities they are very difficult to isolate and treat.  However, doing so may be very rewarding in terms of patient improvement.  One of the most innovative ways to test them is with Biomeridian Analysis.  This test process is a bioenergetic analysis of acupuncture points which reflects a spectrum of body systems.  A balanced or normal point within the allergy response system can be re-measured with different food challenges.  A positive reaction to a food will cause the point to significantly imbalance.

Balanced Allergy System Point

Same Point Stressed Against Milk

The various food groups and individual foods can be systematically tested to create a “sensitivity” list to then be used on a 2-4 month withdrawal diet.  An example of the sensitivity list is shown below.

The typical patient has sensitivity to 2 to 5 foods, although it can be a single food or a larger group.  The true confirmation of a food sensitivity is a positive result with the withdrawal diet.  Once the true association between symptoms and food sensitivity is seen, the individual is happy to avoid these foods and enjoy good health.


Increased Menopausal Symptoms: A Sign of Adrenal Cortisol Imbalance

Many women have found that taking small amounts of natural bio-identical progesterone relieves many of the symptoms associated with perimenopause and menopause itself.  This observation may suggest that they have an underlying adrenal cortisol imbalance that is contributing to the symptoms in the first place.

Progesterone has distinct effects on reproduction but also influences almost all tissues in the body.  It is important in helping calm the brain for sleep and in priming cells to be stimulated by estrogen.

This latter function is particularly important with age as estrogen levels decline.  If progesterone levels have declined more so, cells are not adequately “primed” and do not become stimulated by estrogen.  The net outcome is an exaggerated estrogen deficiency effect.  This is why taking small amounts of natural progesterone actually relieves many of the symptoms thought to be caused by estrogen deficiency.

So what does all of this have to do with the adrenal glands?  After all, progesterone is made in the ovaries.  Actually, like many hormones, progesterone is made in multiple tissues in the body.  The second greatest amount in young women is made in the adrenal glands.  The majority of this progesterone is used to make cortisol, but some become available to contribute to the other cells in the body.

In young women the vast amount of progesterone available to the body comes from ovarian production as the graphic below shows.

This balance gradually shifts towards a general decline in ovarian production but the contribution from the adrenal glands should be maintained.  With this combination, the adrenal glands become the dominant source of progesterone as menopause progresses.

Healthy progesterone balance going into perimenopause is dependent on healthy adrenal gland function.  Stressed adrenal glands result in greater symptoms during this transition.  Those who are having a symptomatic transition should consider having their adrenal function tested.


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