Monthly Archives: December 2014

Natural Remedies for Liver Health and Support

In preparing for the new year I’d like to talk about natural remedies for liver health and support because let’s face it – livers don’t get a lot of love. It’s really easy to take your liver for granted, never really realizing how much it does for you on a day to day basis. But just in case you aren’t liver-savvy, this organ has got a lot going for it.

What Makes Your Liver so Special:

Your liver is the primary organ of detoxification and it deals with the burden of chemical and toxin exposure from normal everyday living. Let’s learn a little bit about it:

  • Your liver lives on the right side of your body at the bottom of your ribcage, right below your diaphragm.
  • It’s the only organ in the human body that can regenerate.
  • It regulates and stores glycogen (which is your storage form of sugar to protect you when your blood sugar levels fall).
  • It produces bile to help you emulsify and digest fatty foods – this bile then goes to the gallbladder to be stored and concentrated for use.
  • Your liver manufactures cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoproteins.
  • Your liver makes coagulation factors so that your blood can clot when needed.
  • Your liver stores basic nutrients for your body to use in emergencies. These include a 1-2 year supply of vitamin A, a 1-4 month supply of vitamin D, a 1-3 year supply of vitamin B12, and also vitamin K, iron and copper.
  • It helps break down old worn-out or damaged red blood cells.
  • Guesses as to the number of functions your liver is responsible for vary slightly, but most sources say around 500 (!!)

Needless to say your liver is absolutely essential to health, vitality and life itself so it’s important to learn to take care of it adequately.

Signs Your Liver Needs a Little Love

Livers are big organs, and vital so they have a lot of flexibility before there will be real problems and often liver enzymes, which is the quick measure for liver function on your blood work, will be normal even when the liver is mildly compromised. Some signs, symptoms and indications that your liver needs some support include:

  • Nausea or low-grade stomach ickiness for no reason.
  • Fatigue
  • Low-grade headaches (like a very minor hangover)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Itching for no reason – just general skin itching
  • Jaundice – this is yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes and if you see anything so serious as this please go see your doctor right away
  • Clotting or extremely dark blood in a woman’s menstrual flow
  • History of moderate to heavy alcohol use (>14-21 drinks per week for a woman or >21 drinks per week for a man)
  • History of smoking
  • History of drug use
  • More than 3 prescription drugs
  • Liver enzymes out of balance or evidence of a fatty liver (always work with your doctor if this is the case).

Natural Remedies for Liver – Foods and Nutrition

Your liver is one of the first places that break-down products from foods go once they’re absorbed into your blood stream so it is very vulnerable to foods and can easily be helped or hurt by foods. Here’s a healthy liver eating guide:

Artichokes are one of the great natural remedies for liver health. This picture was found on the California Artichoke Advisory Board website - who knew there was such a thing? If you're curious you can find them at

Artichokes are a great natural remedy for liver health. This picture was found on the California Artichoke Advisory Board website – who knew there was such a thing? If you’re curious you can find them at

  • Eat organic – pesticides, herbicides, hormones and antibiotics in your foods have to be processed by your liver. There are some foods that actually accumulate pestices – for those check the dirty dozen and clean fifteen.
  • Filter your tap water – if you don’t filter it, or get purified water, then your liver will have to. Tap water is fine for survival but not optimal for health because it countains small amounts of many pharmaceutical drugs, tiny amounts of metals and small amounts of industrial and agricultural chemicals.
  • Drink lots of water – like any other filtration system, your liver works best if there is lots of water flushing through the system helping to keep things clean, so to speak.
  • Add lemon juice or apple cider vinegar – adding lemon or lime juice or a little bit of apple cider vinegar to your water can encourage gentle detoxification and the acidity helps to clear bile and sludge from the ducts and gallbladder. It’s gentle but helpful.
  • Eat beets – your liver loves beets and they encourage and support liver function.
  • Eat dark green leafy vegetables – again, your liver loves these. Especially when there is a hint of bitterness to them like dandelion greens.
  • Eat artichokes – you know the weird feeling artichokes give your salivary glands? They do that to your liver too. It’s called a “secretagogue” and it increases saliva and bile production which also helps to flush toxins through the liver and ducts.
  • Avoid GMO foods – we don’t really know what the body has to do to detoxify these foods, so they may be just fine but the point is that we don’t really know – in situations like that, it’s best to just avoid as much as possible.
  • Avoid processed foods – the more chemicals you can’t pronounce that are in your food, the more chemicals you can’t pronounce that your liver has to figure out how to deal with.
  • Don’t eat artificial sweeteners – no matter what anyone says these are chemicals and all chemicals have to be processed by your liver. It increases the burden on your liver (not to mention the neurological reasons not to eat them!)
  • Drink coffee – nobody believes me because it sounds too good to be true, but 1-2 cups (6 oz cups – coffee cups are supposed to be small) of coffee per day can protect your liver from damage and even help to protect it from cancer. Here’s a link for more information.
  • DeTox Tea – many companies make detox teas that are gentle herbal formulas to support liver function. My favorites are Dandelion tea from Traditional Medicinals and DeTox Tea from Yogi Teas.
  • Cook at home – I know it’s not easy – I also live in the modern world where nobody has time and cooking is kind of a pain, but this is the best way to make sure you and your family are eating real food made of real ingredients.
  • Moderate your sugar and starch intake – too much sugar is obviously a risk for diabetes, but it also adds to the work your liver has to do – especially when blood sugar levels start getting out of control. This means your liver has to store more glycogen and adapt to ever-rising blood sugar levels.
  • Get at least one fruit or veggie with each meal
  • Eat enough fiber – the US RDA is 25 grams but the average intake is about 12.5 grams.  Make sure you’re getting at least 25 grams of fiber every day to help your bowels move effectively and carry toxins out of your system.  If your bowels are slow or there isn’t enough fiber in your digestive tract then toxins can be reabsorbed, which doubles the work your liver has to do.

Natural Remedies for Liver – Supplements

If you’re already eating a liver healthy diet but still having some difficulty then it’s time to support your liver a little bit more strongly. There are some great herbs and nutrients for liver support as well as some great combination products.

  • Milk Thistle – seems like everyone knows this one. It supports and nourishes liver detoxification and has been well researched. It’s an antioxidant and hepatoprotectant (meaning it protects liver cells). Milk thistle also boosts production of glutathione which is your body’s central antioxidant.
  • Choline – this amino acid acts as a methyl donor in detox reactions
  • Methionine – this amino acid also acts as a methyl donor
  • Vitamin B-6 – this vitamin is a co-factor in many detoxification reactions
  • Vitamin B-12 – this works with B-6. Make sure you’re getting the methylcobalamin or hydroxycobalamin form.
  • Folic acid – This vitamin is an important cofactor for detox as well and must be in a methylated form such as methyl-folate, 5-methyl tetrahydrofolate or metafolin.
  • NAC – helps your body to build more glutathione, the master antioxidant and protects liver cells from toxin damage.
  • Magnesium – helps to balance many detox reactions, including transmethylation.
  • Dandelion root – this also encourages bile production in the liver and helps detoxification pathways.
  • Cilantro – this detoxifier specifically helps to amplify detoxification of heavy metals.
  • Turmeric or curcumin extracts – this reduces inflammation and increases antioxidants and detoxification.
  • Chicory root – this aids in liver detoxification and will even help to elminate tiny stones and calcifications.

Just in Case you Want Supplement Names – Here Are My Favorite

  • Lipotrophic Factors by Integrative Therapeutics Inc. (ITI)
  • Livaplex by Standard Process
  • Liver Cleanse by Thorne Research
  • Liver Defend by NuMedica
  • Deep Liver Support by Gaia

With any liver support, start slowly and always make the dietary changes first to get your body ready for gentle detoxification.  Start with just one capsule or tablet daily and see how your body responds. If you’re not noticing anything then increase slowly and it’s always best to work with a practitioner.  Natural remedies for liver health are safe and highly effective, but if your liver symptoms get worse then please get checked out by a doctor because liver disease isn’t something to mess with.

Know the Basics – Nutrition 101

It’s really easy for me to spin out about nutrition and go into the finer points of a diet or get deep into conversation about this diet vs. that, but I also forget how many people don’t know the basics and really just need nutrition 101. Most people have heard the words “carbs,” “fat” and “protein” but it’s important to understand where those things come from and what they do in your body – it makes healthy decision-making that much easier.

The most important thing is knowing what your body does with particular nutrients.  For example there is a common misconception that eating fat will also add storage fat to your body and encourage weight gain.  This is actually not accurate, as the fats in your body are actually made from stored carbohydrates – that means the more sugars, starches, breads, grains and sweets that you eat the more fat your body can store.  Here are the basic food components, or “macro-nutrients.”

Nutrition 101 – Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates, or carbs, are all sugar in various forms.  Simple carbs are the simplest forms – which is just sugar.  There are different types of sugars like  glucose (the simplest sugar unit),  fructose (fruit or plant sugars), or sucrose – which is table sugar and consists of a glucose bonded to a fructose. All of these forms of sugar enter the bloodstream very quickly and either don’t need to be broken down, as is the case for glucose and fructose, or only need to be split once into it’s components for sucrose.

Nutrition 101 - simple vs. Complex carbs.  You can see that complex carbs are just a chain of simple carbs.  They can be split into simple sugars quickly and easily and have the same effect on blood sugars.

Nutrition 101 – simple vs. Complex carbs. You can see that complex carbs are just a chain of simple carbs. They can be split into simple sugars quickly and easily and have the same effect on blood sugars.

Complex carbs, or starches, as you can see from the diagram, are simply a chain of simple sugars all put together.  Digesting that is as simple as breaking the links in the chain – which means that breads, pastas, potatoes and corn all break down almost immediately to sugar in your body and have a huge impact on blood sugar levels. Sugar is absorbed right away and changes blood sugar levels immediately. Complex carbs are similar, with only a slight delay while the chain is being broken apart.  Carbs like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn, potatoes, wheat, gluten, breads, pastas, cakes and cookies are the reason for the diabetes epidemic and a big part of the obesity problem.  Big nutrition 101 tip: The only thing your body can use carbs for is quick energy and energy storage – which is fat.  Your body fat is made of carbs.

Nutrition 101 – Protein

Protein is made of amino acids, which are the basic building blocks for most of your body tissues including muscle, bone matrix, skin, hair, nails, blood components and immune cells. This is literally what your body is made of, what helps your body heal and repair and what keeps you strong.  Protein is found mostly in meats, eggs, dairy, nuts, seeds, fish and legumes.  Without adequate protein sources in your diet your body begins to break down your muscles to maintain vital organ tissues. This can happen even in people who are overweight but undernourished – their body will break down the muscle tissue to keep organs going. Protein is absolutely essential to survival.

Nutrition 101 – Fats

Fats got a bad reputation when we thought that fats were making people fat, but as it turns out that isn’t the case.  Fats are very calorie-rich and so they do contribute to high calorie diets, but they are absolutely essential to your body. Fats help your body to build hormones, nerve sheaths, vitamins and keep your brain healthy. There are many different types of fats but the best ones come from grass-fed butter (because those are originally fats from the grass itself, rather than inferior fats from corn via corn-fed butter). Also from fatty fish which are high in anti-inflammatory fats like omega-3s, nut and seeds or their oils, avocado, coconut and grass fed, pasture-raised beef, poultry and pork.  Animal fats are made from whatever the animal eats so be sure the meats you eat are grass fed and pastured – otherwise you’re getting the bi-products from feedlot corn.

Nutrition 101 – Fiber

Fiber is technically classified as a carbohydrate, but you don’t digest it in the usual way and so I count it separately.  In fact, you don’t digest it at all – it stays in your digestive tract and does fabulous things for your gut flora, your immune system and detoxification.  Fiber is one of the most underrated components of food. Most North Americans get about 12.5 grams per day.  The US Recommended Daily Allowance is 25 grams per day and I honestly think 30-50 grams is closer to what it should be. There are two types of fiber – soluble and insoluble, the difference being that the first dissolves in water and the second doesn’t. These have overlapping function but both improve digestive health, help your good gut bacteria to stay healthy and help your body eliminate toxins effectively.

This is Complicated! How about a Quick Nutrition 101 Summary:

You betcha!

Nutrition 101 - everything you need to know about the basics.

Nutrition 101 – everything you need to know about the basics.

There’s a printable version too – just click on: nutr101

I honestly feel every child going through school should have to take nutrition 101, but in the interim, I’ll settle for all of their parents reading this. I hope it’s helpful and everyone let me know if the nutr101 chart is simple enough to take to the grocery store or if we need to make it even smaller.  Actually – the smaller version would be really simple. So here’s Nutrition 101 in 100 words or less: Only buy food that is sold exactly like it grows, doesn’t come in boxes or bags and is on the outside wall of the typical grocery store. Done.

Naturopathic Medicine Reduces Healthcare Costs

I just have to post this quickie because money is always a big concern when people are considering seeing a naturopath, but according to someone other than myself (god knows I’ll say it all day long), naturopathic medicine reduces healthcare costs and saves you money.

Naturopathic Medicine Reduces Healthcare Costs

Naturopathic medicine reduces healthcare costs and helps you find optimal health

Naturopathic medicine reduces healthcare costs and helps you find optimal health

In a 2011 study tracking individual use of health care options, researchers found that:

  • 29% of those who use naturopathic medicine reduced their hospital visits!
  • 30% of those seeing a naturopathic doctor reduced their visits to specialists
  • 42% of people under naturopathic care reduced their visits to their GP
  • 48% of people seeing a naturopathic doctor reduced costly prescriptions

The bottom line? Naturopathic Medicine reduces healthcare costs and saves money in the long-term.

Another study on Canadian postal workers showed that the inclusion of naturopathic medicine to their existing care significantly decreased their cardiovascular disease risk.  A companion study showed that for those same postal workers the annual economic benefit to society was $1,138 per person treated and the cost savings to the individual or their employer were $1,187 per year.  Yup.  According to science, naturopathic medicine reduces healthcare costs.  That is awesome.

Rapid weight loss might be a myth, but real weight loss can and does happen. It's just that there isn't a shortcut.

The Biggest Loser Rapid Weight Loss – Why Isn’t This Real Life?

Rapid weight loss is what everyone seems to want and expect from themselves, in spite of the fact that it never seems to actually happen. Don’t you love TV shows where people go from morbid obesity to a relatively normal weight, losing what amounts to a couple of small children within a year?  It gives hope that you can probably shed that extra 15 lbs in a week.  Two at most, right? If those people on the television can lose 300 pounds in a year then surely 15 lbs in a week is reasonable. Except that in real life it doesn’t ever happen and the sad part is that it’s really easy to fall into the trap of beating yourself up about that.

Why Doesn’t Rapid Weight Loss Happen In Real Life?

Please be gentle with yourself – it’s not that you’re not strong enough or not dedicated enough, or sacrificing enough.  It’s not happening because it’s darn near impossible. When you lose weight the first weight you lose is water.  If you’re starting out at 450 lbs then there really are 20 lbs of extra water hanging around to lose in the first week.  If you’re starting out at 250 lbs, all of your extra water is probably 8-10 pounds.  If you only need to lose 15 pounds then maybe there’s only four or five pounds of water weight. It’s a whole different ball game. Of course you can lose the water weight quickly – just take the most inflammatory foods out of your diet. Lose the grains and dairy and processed foods and usually those pounds will drop off. But after that? Things turn real.

Rapid weight loss might be a myth, but real weight loss can and does happen.  It's just that there isn't a shortcut.

Rapid weight loss might be a myth, but real weight loss can and does happen. It’s just that there isn’t a shortcut.

There is a common misconception that fat weight doesn’t do anything, but research has shown that the fat in your body plays an important role in hormone balance or imbalance, toxin processing and storage and metabolic weight.  When you go for serious weight loss you are asking your body to re-distribute those tasks to other tissues. That means detoxifying and eliminating the toxins stored in the fat tissue you’re trying to lose, re-adjusting your hormone balance (usually for the better, but it’s still a slow process) and changing your basic resting metabolism. Not to mention that for every pound of fat you lose your body needs to re-organize, eliminate or reabsorb A MILE of blood vessels.  Whaaaa??? Literally a mile of blood vessels are necessary to properly feed and circulate each pound of fat and your body has to deal with that each time you gain or lose fat. Rapid weight loss sounds do-able but rapid elimination of a mile of blood vessels?  Not so much.

The obvious complexity of fat tissue! Image by Philipp E. Scherer  Touchstone Diabetes Center, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, published by NatureMedicine.

The obvious complexity of fat tissue! Image by Philipp E. Scherer
Touchstone Diabetes Center, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, published by NatureMedicine.

The Unreality of Reality TV Weight Loss

I am in no way trying to minimize the accomplishments of the people who go on reality TV and actually do the hard work to lose weight and keep it off. Just remember that most of the people on TV reality weight loss shows are going from 6000 calorie all fast-food diets with absolutely no activity to 1500 calorie diets (usually cooked by someone else) with personal trainers pushing them around for hours of every day.  Even if it’s possible for you to quit your job and devote your life to weight loss, it’s probably not possible to also pay a personal trainer, motivational coach and personal chef.  It’s just not real life – which of course is what makes it fun to watch on TV.

Real Life Weight Loss vs. The Rapid Weight Loss Dream

Today all I want you to know is that real-life weight loss is different than “reality TV” weight loss. It happens in fits and starts, there are pauses in progress.  Some weeks you might lose two pounds and some weeks you might not see the scale move at all. In fact, six weeks might go by where you’re doing everything right and the numbers on the scale aren’t changing.  That is totally normal.  It’s so easy to get discouraged and to be aiming for the numbers without paying any attention to how you feel, how your clothes are fitting or the tremendous amount of work your body is doing in that six weeks to normalize and re-adjust to this new you.

Even if you’re only losing two pounds a month, you’re still losing weight and getting healthier and making positive change.  The best part is you’re learning the behaviors as you lose to help you keep the weight off for the long run.  Just be gentle with yourself, be forgiving that you have to work in weight loss as a side activity and not as your whole purpose in life.  That isn’t a bad thing. Rapid weight loss isn’t real life and setting that as your expectation just sets you up for failure. Celebrate every progress and take time to admire how much hard work your body is doing in the times that the number on the scale isn’t changing.  It really is a big deal.  Your body is an amazing tool and an amazing gift – sometimes it benefits from a little appreciation as well.

Beyond Paleo Diet – the Ideal Cave Man Diet

The paleo diet is hugely popular because for so many people it changes the way they feel completely and improves their health beyond measure, but it’s not exactly right for some people, hence the Ideal Cave Man Diet.  The basic idea behind both of these diets is that your way-back ancestors (cave men in the paleolithic era) probably ate a diet that is closer to the optimal diet for your genetics.  This is actually pretty sound logic, especially given how much food has changed in the last 100-150 years with the advent of the modern chemical era.

Paleo Diet Basics

  • Based on an ancestral way of eating from the paleolithic era
  • Human diet pre-farming and domestication of animals this means:
    • No grains like wheat, oats, corn and rye
    • No legumes like soy, beans, lentils
    • No milk or dairy products because really how often would you hunt a nursing animal?
    • No refined or unrefined cane sugar
    • No artificial sweeteners
    • No processed foods at all
    • Diet based entirely on meat, veggies and fruit.
  • It’s easy to see why people feel better with this type of eating because everything they’re getting is nutrient dense real food (my favorite – nutritarian eating).

Paleo Diet Limitations

For people with a tendency towards inflammation the paleo diet is a mixed blessing. Many of the inflammatory foods, like refined carbohydrates, sugar and GMO grains are excluded from paleo, which is awesome. The problem is, of the allowed foods (meat, fish, veggies and fruits, limited nuts) the one that most people coming from a  standard american diet (SAD) eat is meat.  So paleo for the novice eater or non-health-nut can often mean “meatatarian.” Worse, it frequently means “baconatarian” which god knows is delicious, but not so good if you have clogged arteries already and a family history of early heart attacks.

Because of this, I usually give my clients the caveat of eating a “veggie heavy paleo diet” but really, what does that mean? It often creates more questions than it answers. Hence trying to simplify to the Ideal Cave Man Diet.

What Is The Ideal Cave Man Diet?

This is essentially the paleo diet, but with a nod to keeping your levels of inflammation down because unfortunately meat in large amounts can be inflammatory – so it’s the even-more-anti-inflammatory version of paleo. It’s not really a separate diet, but a modified way of looking at ancestral eating. Here’s what’s different:

  • More veggies – Veggies and fruits should be the centerpiece of every meal, with roughly twice the amount of veggie to protein (protein being meat, fish, some eggs).
  • Grains – Research has shown that people living in the paleolithic era did actually have some grains, some legumes and some starchy roots in their diet (which is not in the strict paleo diet). Keep in mind these would have been eaten in amounts you could stumble across in the wild, not amounts you would get from a farmed crop.  This means very little and infrequently.  So for ideal cave man eating this means:
    • Tiny amounts of healthy non-GMO and non-selectively bred grains or legumes, eaten infrequently.  So an occasional small serving of lentils, black beans, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat or teff is acceptable.
    • The majorly “bred” grains and legumes are still out – this would include wheat, corn, soy.
  • Tubers – paleo diet has been pretty clear about no starchy tubers, like potatoes. This makes sense because often potatoes make a good grain replacement and so people go crazy with root veggie starch when grain starch is taken out.  Research is clear though that tubers, albeit different ones, were actually a part of the true ancestral diet – with nut sedge being a clear example.  Like grains I feel this gives some wiggle room to add tubers and root veggies back into the diet in moderation – this would include things like yams, sweet potatoes, beets, Jerusalem artichokes, sunchokes and turnip. Not perhaps as the center point of a meal, but in small amounts here and there.
  • Your Family History – If you or members of your family have serious inflammatory diseases including heart and cardiovascular disease, autoimmune disease, and even cancer then the ratios of veggie and fruit to protein should be different than those of a person without severe inflammatory disease. Ideal Cave Man Diet essentially tailors the ratios of these foods to keep the diet more strongly anti-inflammatory for those who need it.
  • Dairy – The strict peleo people are going to hate this, but there is really great evidence from the Price-Pottinger Foundation that small amounts of raw or fermented dairy in the human diet is linked to better structural growth, more bone stability and better reproductive success. Provided there is not a specific food sensitivity to dairy (which would make it unhealthy for you in particular) then small amounts can be added in to the ideal cave man diet, especially fermented dairy like yoghurt, kefir, cheese and fermented butter.

Sound Complicated? Hopefully This Graphic About Ideal Cave Man Diet Will Help…

The Ideal Cave Man Diet helps give you all the great things about the paleo diet, with a little more flexability to take your family history into account.

The Ideal Cave Man Diet helps give you all the great things about the paleo diet, with a little more flexability to take your family history into account.

My whole take on nutrition is that every way of eating has to have some flexibility to take into account your particular needs – that means your genetic predisposition based on your family history as well as your own personal disease risk. Outside of that, there must be a little bit of wiggle room generally because it just isn’t healthy to eat exactly the same things all the time. There must be some variety and some variation and the ideal cave man diet makes a little more room for that than classic paleo.  For more information about ways to personalize this type of diet you can also check out this article on personalized paleo