Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stress and Your Health

Stress can just wear us down. And not just the big stress events - weddings, illness, kids' grades, finances, overbearing boss, etc., but daily little frustrations and aggravations they can really wear down your body. There's a growing body of research showing that stress doesn't just wear us down mentally, it actually activates lots of negative biochemical functions in our body. The main culprit we'll talk about today is cortisol.

What is cortisol? In its normal function, cortisol helps us meet the challenges of life by converting proteins into energy, releasing glycogen and counteracting inflammation. For a short time, that’s okay. But at sustained high levels, cortisol gradually tears your body down, leading to sustained or chronic inflammation. Sustained high cortisol levels destroy healthy muscle and bone, slow down healing and normal cell regeneration, co-opt biochemicals needed to make other vital hormones, impair digestion, metabolism and mental function, interfere with healthy endocrine function; and weaken your immune system.

Because cortisol is secreted from our adrenal glands, some call saturated cortisol adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue suppresses the immune system, creates insulin resistance and it may also produce a host of other unpleasant symptoms - fuzzy thinking, acne, weight gain, even hair loss.

Ways to Reduce Stress and Cortisol in Your Body

  • Dietary changes to enrich your nutrition and reduce carbohydrates and stimulants. Specifically, fish oil or flax seed - rich in omega-3's - can be effective as well as a diet consisting of anti-inflammatory foods - ginger, cinnamon, olive oil, fish, etc.
  • Stress reduction, including moderate exercise and taking more time for yourself. It’s helpful to make a list of your stressors, especially those that are constant.
  • Get more rest. Your body needs time to heal.
  • Practice relaxation techniques and deep breathing during the day
  • Let go of emotional burdens that are shadowing your life.
  • Use prayer and meditation daily.
  • Find ways to enjoy life - work is a gift, family is precious, create legacy in your life.

Ways to Maintain a Healthy Immune System

The best way to keep from getting sick may be boosting your immune system. A healthy immune system is a more reasonable approach than trying to systematically destroy or protect yourself from all the germs in your world. That being said, it's good to wash your hands to protect yourself and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to protect others. That being said, a healthy immune system should be cornerstone of staying healthy and your first line of defense.

One thing to keep in mind with the immune system, is that more isn't always better. Both an a overactive or underactive immune system means trouble. When the immune system is weak the body is more susceptible to to an intruder like a virus or bacteria leading to an infection. A critically underactive immune system can also lead to cancer if the body cannot rid itself of these cells at the onset. An overactive immune system leads to trouble as well. An over active immune system starts to attack itself. At low levels this looks like allergies, asthma, and particularly eczema. At more intense levels, it leads to autoimmune disease, where the body begins to attack itself. In this case, the immune system has power to stop the bad players, but has trouble recognizing the good from the bad agents. So, we want a healthy immune system that knows the good from the bad and deals effectively with bad agents.

The immune system is very complex and difficult to understand, but let's take a look at some of the key factors that contribute to the effectiveness if your immune system.
  1. Good Nutrition - Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole foods
  2. Regular exercise - 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day
  3. Enough Sleep - It is recommended to get 8 hours of sleep a day
  4. Reduce Stress - Stress hormones reduce effectiveness of the immune system
  5. Stay Hydrated - Decrease caffeine intake and drink more water
  6. Eat less sugar - Elevated blood sugar levels reduce the effectiveness of the immune system
  7. Maintain a healthy weight
  8. Live in harmony
  9. Laugh

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Seeds of Nutrition

Seeds are a great natural source of minerals and other nutrients.

Almost everyone has heard about the food pyramid. It has been promoted and marketed by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to help understand the fundamentals of nutrition. We know about the fruits and vegetables. Beans are now included with meats as sources of protein. You may even recall dairy. But what about seeds are they included with the grains? There actually is a category called "Oils" in the food pyramid, which calls out sunflower oil and mentions sesame oil. It also mentions some nuts, such as walnuts. Walnuts seem to get all of the glory as a superstar in the world of nuts and seeds. But, what about other seeds?

Many seeds have a fantastic nutrition profile. Seeds are highly nutritious and some are even characterized as super foods and should not be forgotten in nutrition. Many seeds have high concentrations of minerals, which is what bumps them into the superfood classification. A few of the healthiest seeds include.
  1. Flax seed
  2. Pumpkin Seeds
  3. Sunflower Seeds
  4. Sesame seeds
  5. Chia seeds

1. Flax seeds are highly lauded as a source of omega 3 fatty acids. They are also a great source of plant sterols. Furthermore, like other seeds, flax is a great natural source of minerals. It is a good source of the following minerals: manganese, magnesium, copper, selenium, phosphorus, iron, and zinc. Wow, what a powerhouse, not to mention it's high levels of thiamin.

2. Pumpkin seeds are a great natural source of minerals. A quarter cups of pumpkin seeds provides roughly half of the daily recommended allowance of magnesium, manganese, and copper. They are also a good source of iron and copper. Click here for more information on pumpkin seedss by World's healthiest Foods.

3. Sunflower seeds are a great healthy snack and have high levels of vitamin E and thiamin (vitamin B1), in addition to a host of other vitamins and minerals. Additionally, sunflower seeds have the highest levels of phyosterols of common seeds for snacking.

4. Sesame Seeds are a very good source of copper and also a good source of other minerals like calcium and magnesium. Additionally, they are a good source of phytosterols.

5. Chia seeds are becoming more popular as of late for in the words of diet, nutrition, and sports. There is not as much nutrition data readily available on nutrition, but there has been talk about a variety of potential health benefits. Chia has the unique ability to form a gel in water, so it actually slows down the digestion process, which helps to level out energy levels.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Brain Food #2 - Plant Antioxidants

Scientists are continuously uncovering new characterisitics of plant nutrients. One of the most existing are a class of compounds called polyphenols. Polyphenols are potent antioxidants and people who consume high amounts of plants rich in polyphenols have lower rates of Alzheimer's disease. Cognitive decline and memory loss are the natural result of a lifetime of oxidative and inflammatory injury to brain tissue. Blueberries and grapes are two fruits some of the highest concentrations of antioxidant polyphenols that can suppress/sequester oxidative injury.

Grape skins and seeds are rich in a group of polyphenols known as proanthocyanidins. These compounds have known cardiovascular benefits which is an important risk factor in dementia. Grape seed extracts have been shown to have anti-stress and neuroprotective capacity in studies with rats - preserving rats' cognitive function amid stress. Grape seed protects from oxidation injury in the brain. [It's interesting to note that the grape seed's benefits were improved in the presence of a vital neurotransmitter - choline. All these things work together - they are no silver bullets.] Researchers have seen a reduction in protein deposits associated with Alzheimer's disease in mice fed grape seed extract.

In 1999, a seminal study found that blueberries are potent source of neuroprotective polyphenols, improving rats' performance in an array of cognitive tasks. A 2003 study using mice found that blueberries prevented cognitive deficiencies even thoough these mice had predisposition toward to Alzheimer's disease. The researchers stated, "for the first time, it may be possible to overcome genetic predispositions toward Alzheimer's disease through diet."

Ideas for incorporating grapes and blueberries in your diet: add them to your cerreal, oatmeal of yogurt in the morning. Have a glass of red wine occasionally. Put a bowl out for your kids to munch on...substitute instead of popcorn for movie night.