Category Archives: Healthy Aging

The Best Plan for Natural Heart Health

Heart health is one of those things that we all know we should be taking care of, but don’t necessarily think about day to day until that horrible moment in the doctor’s office when you find out something is already wrong. That is not the best moment to be unprepared for. Maintaining natural heart health should be a priority for everyone, but deserves extra attention if there is heart disease in your family or if you have any contributing risk factors such as metabolic syndrome, MTHFR mutation, overweight, pre-diabetes or diabetes, or have an inflammatory disease. The great news is that a good plan for natural heart health is also a good plan for human health and will help you to become and stay healthy and vital in general and keep you feeling great into your later years. If you’re not sure about your heart disease risk, your Framingham Risk Score is the best way to find out how you stack up.

Key Elements for Heart Health:

Get Active

  • At least 20 active minutes every day this doesn’t have to be exercise, but you have to be moving! We’re all desk jockeys, so it’s important to remember that your body isn’t built for that. Lately I’m into doing these fabulous retro-90s 8 minute workout series – partly for the greatness of the workout and partly for the ridiculousness of the spandex. I’ll put the “8 minute Abs” right here, but have no fear. There are also 8 minute buns, legs, arms, and even 8 minute stretch.  Each one is just as awesome as the last. You’ll totally thank me for this:

  • Something that gets your heart rate up three times a week for 45+ minutes. If you’re a gym person, that’s awesome but I prefer to get outside and walk, jog, swim, dance, bike, kayak, toss a frisbee around, or generally do something fun. Besides taking care of my heart health gives me an excuse to do something fun three times a week! I get to legitimately put “dance” or “hike” or “kayak” on my calendar without guilt.




Natural Heart Health Diet

  • Balanced meals and snacks with higher protein, moderate carbohydrates and moderate fat. I like the zone diet which is 40/30/30, meaning 40% protein, 30% carbs and 30% good fats. The Mediterranean diet is also proven for heart health – this one focuses on lots of healthy veggies and fruits, good fats and proteins from nuts and olives and moderate lean meats and fish. Make sure fats are balanced between saturated (solid at room temp like meat and butter fat) and unsaturated (liquid at room temp).  Also minimize your sugar intake as much as possible.
  • Paleo and primal diet is great for so many reasons and it’s very popular right now, but it actually isn’t the best choice for your heart simply because the emphasis on protein, which usually ends up being meat protein, is higher than the average person needs.  If you’re an athlete, paleo is awesome but if you’re just kind of a normal person then this amount of animal protein can be more risky for your heart. It’s a great diet, just not perfect for this.
  • High fiber! This independently reduces the risk of death from heart causes as well as from cancer. At least 30 grams per day from your fruits, veggies and whole grains.
  • Ditch the processed foods – whole foods are the only way to go.
  • Reduce your total calorie intake. In developed countries, we tend to chronically overeat – for most people 2500 calories is enough, and for many it’s too much. Reduced calorie diets reduce the risk of death from all causes and are considered an “anti-aging” therapy.

Get Your Omega-3s (And Reduce Your Inflammation)

  • Inflammation is proving to be one of the biggest factors in heart health – along with every other type of health you have.
  • Fish oil improves heart health, reduces inflammation, stabilizes mood and reduces your risk of death from all causes. No worries if you’re not into fish, there are plenty of vegetarian options to supplement the essential omega-3 oils that we’re looking for.  Flax, hemp or mixed seed oils are great.  The emphasis should be on a mixed spectrum of beneficial fats but especially EPA and DHA.
  • There is a prescription fish oil but studies haven’t shown any difference between it and the over the counter fish oils.
  • 1500 to 2500 mg omega-3 per day, 5 days per week (I’m a huge fan of weekends off vitamins).

Magnesium

  • Magnesium relaxes smooth, skeletal and cardiac muscle and helps improve blood flow to heart muscle and can help those who suffer from chest pains and anxiety.
  • For natural heart health Magnesium Taurate is best if the heart muscle is weak and Magnesium Glycinate is best if there is a high-stress component. Here’s more detail about magnesium.

Support Your Nitric Oxide

  • Nitric oxide is the main molecule that your body uses to help open your blood vessels to allow smooth, easy blood flow when you need it.  It is one of the most important things your body does to keep circulation going to the areas that need it.  This makes it hugely important for your heart health.
  • The amino acid arginine is one of the main building block for nitric oxide, so 1000 mg of arginine on an empty stomach twice a day will help to open up those blood vessels – it’s great to take before a workout. For even greater results use sustained release arginine (Perfusia) which opens blood vessels and increases blood flow dramatically. The biggest issue with arginine supplements is that arginine is also the preferred food of the herpes virus and can cause outbreaks if you’ve already got the virus.
  • If arginine isn’t an option for you then boosting your nitric oxide can happen through lots and lots of dark green leafy veggies – especially beet greens, and also beets, beet juice or concentrated beet crystals in general. In fact because of this effect beets are the new performance enhancers for elite athletes because they help them legally boost circulation in key moments.

Stress Reduction

  • Because it’s just that easy to reduce stress.  Ha! I wish.  Still, reducing stress is very important – the most common time for heart attacks is Monday morning at 8 a.m. – no joke.
  • Meditation, yoga, laughter, whatever makes you happy
  • Working over 45 hours a week is not reducing your stress (just a hint and a reminder to myself too.)

    Reducing your stress will boost your natural heart health. Just take it from this frog. Also - the frog is from visboo and the quote was added by Amanda Hurt.

    Reducing your stress will boost your natural heart health. Just take it from this frog. Also – the frog is from visboo and the quote was added by Amanda Hurt. At least I think that’s how it all went down – so near as I can follow the interwebs.

Lose Weight if You Need To

  • Extra pounds mean extra stress on your heart, circulatory system, metabolism, hormones and antioxidants. In fact, for every pound of fat you lose your body can eliminate a MILE of blood vessels. Obviously losing a mile of unnecessary blood vessels is probably going to help with natural heart health.
  • Losing even 10 pounds can help lower your cholesterol between 7 and 10%.
  • Maintaining healthy body weight also reduces risk of death from other conditions such as diabetes, stroke, heart failure and some cancers.

An Aspirin A Day?

  • 81 mg baby aspirin has been suggested for primary prevention of heart attack and stroke and more recently some cancers.  It is still suggested by many doctors as an early therapy for heart disease and even many of the major health organizations.
  • Research about the effectiveness of aspirin is unclear – a recent meta-analysis published in PLoS One shows that there is an overall reduced risk of heart attack and reduced cancer mortality but an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeds, and hemorrhagic stroke. Talk with your doctor about this one, and maybe bring a copy of the full text of this research.

Reduce Your Blood Pressure

  • By any means necessary.  Having high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors and everything we’ve talked about so far will help. If it isn’t enough, then try supplements or talk with your doctor about pharmaceuticals.
  • Even if you don’t like the idea of taking a prescription (it’s not natural after all), it’s still better to use a prescription short-term while you work on other things that might raise your blood pressure (like MTHFR, weight, stress levels, poor sleep, chronic dehydration) than it is to leave it elevated.  Once things are under control you can quit the medication.

Check your MTHFR Status

  • MTHFR is a genetic pathway that helps you to activate folic acid, which then helps you to keep levels of inflammation down and make nitric oxide effectively so it’s all tangled up in heart health.  If you’re not sure what the heck I’m talking about, you can read more about MTHFR in general here, and if you kind of think you  might be a mutant (like me) then check here.
  • If your doctor gives you a blank look when you ask them about MTHFR testing, which happens sadly often, then a great way to do it is to order a 23andme test kit to test your own genes (you also get to find out what percentage neanderthal you are, which is pretty awesome).  The awesome folks over at 23andMe got slapped by the FDA for coming too close to giving health advice, so now you have to run your results from the full test through the methylation analysis at Genetic Genie. Then the real fun begins!  MTHFR is ridiculously complicated, so it can help to work with someone but start here to find out the right dose of methylated folic acid for you (this is the active form that you can’t make if you don’t methylate properly).

Hang Out With Some Trees

Natural heart health is essentially the same as natural human health so start today.  You don’t have to do everything all at once and suddenly be the amazing vice-free human, just make small steps forward and keep at them.  If it takes you a year to change your diet, then it takes you a year.  Just as long as you keep it changed that was a year well spent. None of this has to happen overnight unless you’ve just been lucky enough to survive a heart attack, in which case you do have to do everything at once to make sure number 2 doesn’t get you.  For most people though, change can be gradual and easy.  Make sure you are working with a physician if you have high blood pressure, abnormal blood clotting, a strong family history of heart disease, or are having chest pains (and it’s kind of a good idea in general).



What is an Antioxidant And Do I Need to Take One?

Clearly this is an important issue and everyone tosses around the word antioxidant like they know what’s going on, but what is an antioxidant really? To start, let’s look at the basics – like what is oxidation?

What is an antioxidant? It's what stops this from happening. The apple browning is oxidation at work.

What is an antioxidant? It’s what stops this from happening. The apple browning is oxidation at work.

What is Oxidation?

If you’re taking ANTI-oxidants, then it seems safe to assume that oxidation is bad, right? Actually oxidation is an absolutely normal part of life – it happens constantly as a byproduct of using oxygen for so many functions in our body. Each and every cell in your body maintains a delicate balance between reactive oxygen species (free radicals) which cause oxidation and the antioxidants which neutralize oxidation.  In the process of metabolizing oxygen, a tiny percentage of the cells and  molecules involved will suffer some damage and become free radicals. When asking what is an antioxidant, we need to first know what a free radical is and why it’s important to neutralize them.




What is a Free Radical? Essentially it’s an Electron Thief.

Free radicals and other reactive oxygen species are by-products of many reactions in your cells including your most vital energy producer called “oxidative phosphorylation.” As you may have guessed by the word “oxidative” in the title, this reaction uses these reactive oxygen molecules to create the most potent energy source for your cells.  In addition to normal metabolism, free radicals can also be created by some disease processes and by your immune cells to help kill invading bacteria and viruses. Free radicals  are substances that are missing a critical molecule (an electron, to be precise) so they are always looking to steal electrons from other things. Problems arise when they start stealing electrons from things like DNA, thereby creating the seed for disease.

What is an Antioxidant and How Does It Help?

Very simply, antioxidants are electron donors.  They can replace the electrons on your cells that are stolen by free radicals or donate electrons to help neutralize free radicals.  They are the Mother Theresa of your internal world – always giving, giving, giving. As a part of the grand design (what I like to call the Great Mystery) there are literally thousands of different antioxidants in natural foods like fruits, veggies, whole grains, nuts and legumes. Antioxidants include the usual vitamins – vitamin A, C, E, D and K but also all of the flavenoids, pigments, and complex molecules that come from whole foods.  Remarkably, different antioxidants seem to have an affinity for different tissues of your body so the bigger variety, the better.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Antioxidants?

When this system gets out of balance is when we start to see harmful changes that can lead to disease. For example, when LDL (“bad” cholesterol) becomes oxidized, meaning a free radical stole one of it’s electrons, then it starts to form plaques in our arteries, which can lead to atherosclerosis and heart disease. LDL itself doesn’t do anything to form plaque, but when a free radical steals an electron from it then it begins to cause harm. Oxidative stress is also thought to be a factor in diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gherig’s disease, and Huntington’s as well as chronic fatigue syndrome and potentially even the genetic damage that can cause a cell to become cancerous. Not only that, but oxidative stress is thought to be one of the major factors in aging, or at least that is one theory.

In general your body keeps balance really well – you have lots of overlapping systems to counteract this oxidative stress. In a natural diet you get lots of antioxidants from the plant-based foods you eat, so that’s one more layer of protection. The system becomes overwhelmed when your diet starts to get over-processed or when the stressor pile up including: toxins, alcohol, tobacco, mental and emotional stress, sleep deprivation and chronic infections. Taking a look at the real world, it’s easy to see we’re all exposed to toxins constantly – after all, we all breathe dirty air and drink polluted water. Most people drink some alcohol or come in contact with tobacco occasionally and I don’t know anyone with a perfectly clean diet (myself included). Also, realistically, I don’t know any living human who doesn’t have a high level of mental and emotional stress – that seems to be a condition of modern life. This is when lifestyle changes and possibly antioxidants can help to maintain that balance.

Antioxidants to the Rescue?

It is clear that balance needs to be maintained, but it isn’t totally clear how to best maintain that balance – simply because it has to be a balance. Too much of a good thing, in this case, can cause harm too. Essentially, when there are too many antioxidants floating around, we get the opposite to oxidative stress, which is “reductive stress” (nothing is ever simple with our bodies – nothing.) So that means that there are all kinds of molecules with extra electrons floating around and nothing to do with them, so they start giving them to other molecules that are better off without them. Keep in mind this is the ridiculously oversimplified version of this problem, but it’s the easiest way to make it understandable.

To Take Antioxidants or Not To Take Antioxidants?

Step one is always diet.  Add in colorful fruits and veggies with each meal and take out some of the processed foods and you’ve got a great start to regulating your oxidative balance.  You’ll get plenty of vitamin C and flavenoids from citrus fruits, vitamin E from whole grains and nuts and Vitamin A from liver, cod liver oils and fatty fish and beta carotene from carrots and orange veggies.  Orange and red veggies also provide the potent antioxidants lycopene and lutein.  Dark berries and fruits like blueberries, pomegranate, raspberries and black cherries are rich in flavenoids and dark green leafy veggies pack and antioxidant punch.  For many people a good diet is enough.  Take a look at the antioxidant infographic for specifics:

We've answered the question what is an antioxidant and the best news of the day is... THEY COME FROM COFFEE!!! :)

We’ve answered the question what is an antioxidant and the best news of the day is… THEY COME FROM COFFEE!!! 🙂 Thanks to the infographics design team at graphs.net

 




Antioxidants can be helpful to take as a supplement when you have specific conditions or know you’re exposed to undue levels of toxins, stress, or have some other factor coming into play like a chronic virus, sleep deprivation or a genetic tendency towards some illness. In this case the best strategy is to take a variety of antioxidants, either in a combination product or in a concentrated fruit and berry extract or both.  Always boosting dietary sources is the best strategy, and if that is not feasible in your life then the next best idea is to diversify in the form of a supplement that has many different types of antioxidants in it. Now, the next time you’re at a dinner party, you can answer everyone’s question What is an Antioxidant? Wait, is that not how dinner parties go? 🙂



Lifehack – The Bad Habit Reset Button – Fasting.

Don’t you wish you could just hit the button for a bad habit reset?  I do.  Especially right after the holiday season when I feel like I’ve eaten my weight in butter and “treats” (which are clearly not “treats” when you eat them constantly).  Sometimes it’s other habits or life areas that are struggling.  It could be that work hasn’t been going well, it could be that a relationship is rocky, it could be that I’m cultivating all kinds of bad habits I don’t need.  Whatever the reason, it’s nice to know that there is a reset button out there.  You heard me right, there is a way to hit the reset button – thank God for small miracles.

Fasting is the fastest bad habit reset button out there. Picture by © Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Fasting is the fastest bad habit reset button out there. Picture by © Brett Stoltz | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Hitting the reset button means taking a break from normal, but unfortunately life is full of obligations, so we can’t always up and fly to Tahiti, no matter how much we might need it.  What this means, is that we need a way to do it ourselves, at home, using things we have on hand and it needs to actually help us to break cycles.

The best reset I’ve ever found is a fast.  I know that’s not what anyone wanted to hear because “fasting” is right up there with “Chinese water torture” for lots of people, but those people probably haven’t tried it.  I’ll talk more about quick fasts in another upcoming post, because they are also one of my favorite life hacks, but in this case we’re looking at something different.  This is a little bit longer.  I’m not talking about Messiah-style 40 days, I’m talking about 3-5 days that are all about you.

Here’s how you do a fast for a bad habit reset:

  1. Choose the right time. Just a hint, if there is a massive deadline in the middle of it, it’s probably not the right time.  Pick a time where you can actually focus on getting in touch with you, getting to know your body, and taking out the trash in every sense of the words.
  2. Make a little space in your life. There isn’t any problem working during a fast, but if you can it’s nice to reduce your schedule to half days or to take a day or two off during your fast to give you a little bit of time for extra sleep, self care and cleaning house (which I always want to do when I’m fasting – I think it’s an external mirror for what is going on internally).
  3. Choose Your Type of Fast. During the fast you can either do all water plus the miracle drink (if you haven’t heard me talk about it before I’ll go over that in the next step), or you can mix freshly juiced veggies and fruits in.  I find that the all water and miracle drink is actually a little easier for me because the veggie juice pushes my body to detoxify too quickly.  Typically if this is the first fast you’re trying, then stick to 3 days and keep it simple. If you’ve fasted before and know your body can handle being really pushed to detox then maybe add in the veggie juices. If you choose to use veggie juices make sure they are actually juiced by you or right in front of you (not bought pre-packaged) and that you get 3-4 cups of the veggie juice throughout the day.  Also make sure they’re mostly veggie with just a touch of fruit or carrot for taste, but that the bulk is good green veggie.
  4. Make Sure You Get Enough Water! This is probably the most important thing, because without the water it’s hard for your body to clean house internally!  8-10 glasses per day is a minimum. When I’m fasting I set a timer every hour and alternate between the miracle drink one hour and water the next.
  5. Drink the Miracle Drink. People laugh when I call it the miracle drink, but it’s because they haven’t tried it.  This is such a great detoxifier and energy boost.
    1. 1 tbsp raw organic apple cider vinegar (Bragg’s is my favorite),
    2. honey to taste (no more than 1 tbsp please)
    3. 8-16 oz hot or cold water depending on how strong a flavor you like.  During a fast have this 3-4 times during the day to help your liver keep moving.



  6. Support Your System. If you have any icky feelings while you’re detoxing – this could be headache, grouchiness, mild sick feeling, bad breath, brain fog or a slightly hungover feeling – the do a little extra detox.  Anything that makes you sweat will help, so saunas, steam rooms, hot yoga, or hot baths are great.  Naps work well too.  In general make sure you’re giving yourself extra time for sleep
  7. Be Ready for Emotional Detox Too. Your body isn’t just taking this chance to get rid of the physical junk and bad habits.  There is emotional junk in there that needs to come out, and better out than in.  I love to journal so I use that as a tool to help process whatever comes up, but use whatever tools you like.
  8. Restart Your Life With Consciousness and Intention. This means that you should take some of this time to think about what you actually want in your life.  You’re resetting for a reason here. What do you want emotionally?  What do you want professionally?  How do you want to take care of your body?  What sort of food plan would you like? This is a great time to break bad health habits and restart with a clean slate.
  9. Simple Foods For Your Reentry Meal. The first meal you eat to break your fast should be simple and clean foods – preferably heavy on fruits and veggies, light on lean meats and even lighter (or not at all) on grains.  If you need a grain, choose something that is a cleaner grain like rice or quinoa.  You can eat as much of this fruit and veggie meal as you want, but make sure you’re not just jumping out of a fast into a large pizza because that’s not exactly the reset we’re looking for.

    Fasting is so much easier when you drink enough water. Adding lemon to your water is great to help support your liver through a fast. © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

    Fasting is so much easier when you drink enough water. Adding lemon to your water is great to help support your liver through a fast. © Johanna Goodyear | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Is It Really Hard to Fast?

Surprisingly, no.  It’s almost shockingly not-hard. Almost everyone I’ve done this with is hungry the first day, and then pretty fine for the rest of it.  Occasionally I’ll have someone who is a really fast detoxifier and by day three they feel kind of icky, but most people are just fine. There’s a lot of nostalgia about food because let’s face it – part of eating is the joy of eating that has nothing to do with physically needing food.  But seriously, if you can get through day 1 with it’s hunger then you’re good to go.

Is Fasting Safe for Anybody?

If you have insulin dependent diabetes or severe hypoglycemia then it is necessary that you talk to your doctor and possibly even have in-home supervision while you fast because it can be dangerous if your blood sugars fall too low. Also it’s not a good idea for pregnant or nursing mothers because the demands on your body are already considerable – we don’t need to ask it to do more right now. Also if you have a chronic condition then it’s best policy to talk with your doctor about it.

What Results Will You See?

Fasting is tremendous for your body – it’s essentially a break from the hard work of metabolism. You can expect:

  • Weight loss – 5 to 10 pounds is normal in 3 days.
  • Energy – nobody believes me, but usually your energy is awesome during a fast. Better than normal.
  • Good sleep – everyone thinks the hunger will keep them up. Never seems to happen.
  • Mental perspective – it’s a lot easier to see the bad habits you’ve gotten yourself into when you’ve got a little distance from them. Even if that distance is just a couple of days that are different.
  • Losing Those Food Cravings – 3 days is plenty of time for the food cravings to just fall off.  Your body doesn’t actually want to live on sugar, but if you’ve been living on sugar then you don’t know that.
  • Spiritual benefits – fasting has been used by most faiths in most cultures globally to bring spiritual clarity and discipline.  I’m not an expert on this by any means, but I’m guessing all of those people aren’t wrong.
  • Anti-aging – you may not be able to tell in the moment, but by fasting you’re actually slowing down your aging process. Awesome.

Short fasts of 3-5 days are a great way to clean house, lose weight, and one of the easiest bad habit resets in the book.  After a fast – especially if you can make it through 3 days – most people have lost their sugar and starch cravings and loosened up their bad habits. I suggest doing 2-4 per year  to help keep you healthy, happy and vital.  And did I mention that it’s strongly anti-aging and actually slows the aging process?  The research is entirely clear on this point.  Regular fasting both extends life and slows aging.  Yet another great reason to hit the bad habit reset button!



The Best Alzheimer’s Supplements

The last post talked a lot about healthy-living strategies for Alzheimer’s prevention, but it’s also important to know about the best Alzheimer’s supplements – especially when there are so many products to choose from. There is a limited body of research for natural supplements in Alzheimer’s disease, but some of the strategies are promising, and could often be used alongside conventional drugs for memory loss and dementia.

Ketogenic diet, Coconut Oil and MCTs

Perhaps the best known alternative therapy for Alzheimer’s disease, these three therapies are just different ways of skinning the same cat.  The theory behind this therapy is that while your body can use many fuel sources, your brain is limited to glucose, or sugar, as a fuel.  In order for your cells, including your brain cells to use sugar they have to be able to respond effectively to insulin signaling.  If your diet has always been a little higher in sugars or starches, or if you have a genetic tendency towards blood sugar abnormalities including diabetes then you may not have good insulin signaling.  The first sign of this is usually something called metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance.  Insulin resistance is the first step along the path towards both diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

Coconut oil or MCT oil - one of the best supplements for Alzheimer's disease. Photo by Aravind Sivaraj.

Coconut oil or MCT oil – one of the best supplements for Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Aravind Sivaraj.

In good news, even if your insulin signaling isn’t so good, there is a back-door to brain fuel, which allows you to bypass both glucose and insulin.  This back-door is called ketones. Ketones are made when your body breaks down fats for fuel instead of sugar and they can feed your brain even when glucose can’t. Ketogenic diets have been used to help children with epilepsy that is uncontrolled by drugs alone to reduce their seizure frequency and evidence with Alzheimer’s suggests that this could potentially be a good diet for neuroprotection in general.  Ketogenic diets generally have a 4:1or 3:1 ratio of good dietary fats: proteins and carbohydrates (including starches and sugar) combined.  There are urine test strips, called keto-strips, that you can use to test your urine to see if your body is in ketosis. Obviously this isn’t the easiest diet to maintain long-term so using fats that are more ketogenic, like coconut oil or MCT, can help.

Coconut oil is unique in that it contains a high proportion of a type of fat called medium chain triglycerides, or MCTs.  Most of the fats that we eat in our diet are made of long-chain triglycerides, but the shorter MCTs are more efficient for your body to convert into ketones, and so are more able to fuel your brain if glucose isn’t working. If a full ketogenic  diet is too difficult then using raw coconut oil, or the extracted MCTs from coconut oil can help boost your brain power.  In fact, five tablespoons of coconut oil or MCT oil spread out through the day is one of the best Alzheimer’s disease supplements that we know of. In fact a pilot study published recently in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease indicated that neurons treated with amyloid-beta (which induces the changes of Alzhimer’s disease) were actually protected by the addition of coconut oil.

Antioxidants – Some of the Best Alzheimer’s Supplements Around

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is extensive oxidative stress throughout the brain and neurological system. This includes the typical free radical formation, as well as protein and lipid oxidation (which means free radicals steal electrons from proteins and fats), DNA oxidation (scary thought – stealing electrons from your genes), and neuron death. Many antioxidants have been studied (here, here, here and many other places too) to help prevent or reverse this type of damage including:

We should all age so well. The best Alzheimer's supplements for this Female Buddhist lay rununciant at en:Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia (January 2005). Photo by Peter Rimar.

We should all age so well. The best Alzheimer’s supplements for this Female Buddhist lay rununciant at en:Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, Cambodia (January 2005). Photo by Peter Rimar.

  • CoQ10 – This substance acts as an antioxidant and also stimulates energy production at a cellular level. Not only that, it helps protect your heart.
  • Vitamin E – especially the gamma-tocopherol form, which is more fat soluble and crosses into the brain more effectively.
  • Ferulic acid – this is a phenolic compound found in flax seeds, coffee beans, apples, artichokes, peanuts, fennel and other plants. It is a strong anti-oxidant and in animal studies has shown direct effects against breast and liver cancer.
  • Polyphenols – including quercetin (from many foods) and resveratrol (from red grapes or red wine). These are good anti-inflammatories and anti-oxidants.
  • Alpha-lipoic acid – this fat-soluble (so brain-friendly) antioxidant will also help to lower blood sugars so that makes it one of the best Alzheimer’s supplements out there. It’s a double-whammy.
  • N-acetyl-L-cysteine (NAC) – this amino acids helps your body to recycle glutathione, which is your master antioxidant. It also helps to break up mucus and congestion, which can also be helpful in an elderly population.
  • EGCG – this is the most-researched antioxidant from green tea and has shown benefits to brain health, heart health and aging generally.
  • Curcumin – this strong anti-inflammatory from turmeric has shown a tremendous preventative effect in Alzheimer’s disease and helps to protect your brain from oxidative damage as well as inflammatory changes.
  • Melatonin – this is your natural sleep hormone, which has the added bonus of helping Alzheimer’s patients to sleep more soundly – which is usually one of the worst issues for both caregivers and patients in late-stage Alzheimer’s disease.



The research evidence shows that each one alone has significant benefits, but that combining a variety of different antioxidants is the best strategy for Alzheimer’s disease.  My favorite combination of supplements to start with would be alpha-lipoic acid 600 mg per day (take this one with food because the blood sugar drop on an empty stomach can be significant), CoQ10 400 IUs, and an antioxidant combo with vitamin A, E, and C in it at the minimum but look for some of the others as well.  Also a cup or two of green tea daily and melatonin, 3-20 mg at night for sleep. Of course you should talk with your doctor before starting this or any other suggestion.

Magnesium for Alzheimer’s Disease

Magnesium levels in the brain help to increase the density and plasticity of brain synapses. This means your brain cells can connect to each other more frequently and with more flexibility – changing more effectively as you learn new skills. Unfortunately keeping magnesium levels high in the brain, or even in the body, can be a challenge with modern diets – here is my recent post on Magnesium in general.  There are a couple of types of magnesium that might help with this:

  • Magnesium threonate – has been shown to be effective in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s.  It improved brain levels of magnesium and prevented and reversed cognitive defects as well as synaptic loss. This form of magnesium is taken orally so the dose is limited by bowel tolerance because any magnesium that you take orally will cause loose stools if the dose is higher than your body can absorb at one time.
  • Magnesium Oil – this form of magnesium, which is usually magnesium chloride, is applied topically so there is no trouble with the bowel tolerance issue.  There aren’t any research studies specifically about topical magnesium in Alzheimer’s disease, but logically this could be a good addition to the magnesium threonate to help restore magnesium in the brain and body. Magnesium oil can be applied several times per day and allows magnesium to absorb directly through the skin. Use caution on cuts or scrapes (or newly shaved skin) because it burns like salt water would.

Huperzine A – Best Alzheimer’s Supplement mimicking drug activity

Huperzine A, which is an Alzheimer’s drug in China, is sold over the counter in the US as a nutritional supplement.  It is a plant sourced compound that has strong acetylcholinesterase inhibiting activity in the brain – just like the most common class of drug used to treat Alzheimers, which are cholinesterase inhibitors. This includes the drugs Aricept, Exelon, Razadyne, Cognex and Namenda. Huperzine A has also shown neuroprotective effects as well as the surprising ability to reduce iron levels in the brain – and this may also be beneficial in Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s Disease is debilitating and tragic, but there is so much we can do to both prevent it as well as to slow down the progression. The products that I consider to be the best supplements for Alzheimer’s  is not a complete list of everything out there, but they are the supplements that I feel have the most credible research behind them.  As a starting place the lifestyle steps in the prevention article should be priority one, followed by the addition of useful supplements including  coconut oil, a mix of antioxidants, magnesium and huperzine A.  Above all, it is helpful to work with a practitioner who can help to guide you in these times and make sure any supplements or nutritional changes you make will work well with any pharmaceutical medicines you are taking.



Protect Your Brain – Seven Things You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s

Learning to prevent Alzheimer’s is a topic near and dear to my heart, simply because I have seen exactly how destructive it can be to both those who are struggling with it and to their family. There is a common misconception that Alzheimer’s will neatly eat away at your memory and leave other things intact, but it actually degrades your brain globally destroying memory, personality, skills and social functions. Alzheimer’s destroys everything about the person in a slow, systematic downhill slide.  It’s horrible for the person who is struggling and equally hard for their loved ones. Nobody knows exactly what causes Alzheimer’s disease, but there are clearly both genetic and lifestyle components. The great news is that there are many steps you can take to keep your brain healthy and sharp into old age.  There is no guarantee that you will be protected, but certainly you can reduce your risk.

Alzheimer's disease brain comparison

Normal brain (left) vs. Alzheimer’s brain (right). Notice the similarities between these pictures and the alcoholic brain pictures below.

Proven Measures to Prevent Alzheimer’s: The Seven Foundations of Good Health.

1. Active body

  • Physical exercise reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s dementia by 50% – that is a dramatic difference. Also, if cognitive decline has already started then getting more exercise can slow to progress of the condition.
  • Aim for 30 minutes of activity that increases your heart rate (or aerobic activity) 5 times per week.
  • Building strong muscles helps maintain brain health as well. Adding 2-3 sessions of resistance exercise like lifting weights not only increases muscle mass but also makes your brain healthier.
  • Exercises or activities that increase balance and coordination such as tai-chi, yoga, qi gong, or even stand up paddle boarding can help your brain to develop new connections, strengthen your body and even prevent head injury, which is also a contributor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of memory loss.

2. Active Mind

  • It makes sense that exercising the brain will help to keep it stronger and more active as you age.
  • Learn something new, take up a new hobby, or try strategy games, puzzles, riddles or memory games.
  • Do the same old thing in a different way – take a new driving route to the grocery store, try writing with the other hand or rearrange your kitchen.  Doing something a new way pushes your brain to create new neural pathways.

3. Active Social Life

  • Research shows that the more connected you are to your social group and to other people, the more likely it is that you will do well on test of memory and cognition.
  • It is easier with age to become more socially isolated so take care to cultivate and maintain healthy friendships and relationships.
  • If you are in a position with a recent move or transition out of the work force and don’t have great social connections then it is time to build some. Volunteer, take night classes, join a club or social group, visit a community or senior center, get out and about, or get a small part time fun job.

4. Healthy Diet

  • Alzheimer’s is highly linked to heart disease so adopting a heart-healthy diet will also help you to prevent Alzheimer’s long term. It is also highly linked to diabetes, so managing healthy blood sugars in key in keeping your brain functioning at its best.
  • Eat plenty of good quality fats and oils like olive oil, grass fed butter, fish oil, coconut oil and avocados.  Decrease the amount of fatty or processed meats, shortening, and especially trans fats.
  • Increase the amount of vegetables and fruits that you eat every day especially the darkly or richly pigmented veggies and fruits like blueberries, pomegranate, beets, carrots, raspberries, elderberry, and blackberry.
  • Minimize the candy, cookies, sweets and also breads in the diet.  Alzheimer’s is closely related to diabetes and involves an insulin-resistance within the brain itself so it is important that you maintain healthy blood sugar levels.
  • Eat small amounts regularly – for brain health, 4-5 small meals daily is better than 2-3 larger ones.
  • A daily cup of green tea has also been shown to reduce your risk and promote brain health.




5. Healthy Sleep

  •  Sleep can be a struggle with age so it is important to create a good sleep environment. Make sure to use good sleep hygiene with a totally dark room, no background noise and a regular sleep schedule.
  • Use melatonin if you have difficulty falling asleep or sleep lightly. Melatonin by itself has shown great benefit in protecting the health and function of the brain so this could be a double-whammy.  Also in a senior population melatonin at high dose, like 20 mg nightly,  is safe and possibly advisable because research is showing benefits with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
  • The average person needs 8 hours of sleep to peak creativity and productivity.

6. Healthy Stress Levels

  • Every life has challenges, but worrying has never actually solved any of them.
  • Undue levels of stress create changes in your body that then change your mental functioning.
  • Breathe – stress reduces the amount of oxygen in your brain, so deep belly breathing for a few minutes a couple of times a day can help to re-oxygenate and re-energize your brain.

7. Stop With the Self-Harm.

  • Avoiding some of the major triggers of Alzheimer’s disease will obviously keep you protected longer.
  • Quit smoking – smoking has been shown to lead to earlier onset of dementia.
  • Drink in moderation – excessive alcohol also speeds up the onset of memory loss and dementia, some of which is entirely alcohol related.

    Normal brain vs. an alcoholic's brain.  Notice any similarities to the Alzheimer's brain pictures? Drinking only in moderation helps you prevent Alzheimer's disease.

    Normal brain vs. an alcoholic’s brain. Notice any similarities to the Alzheimer’s brain pictures? Drinking only in moderation helps you prevent Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Protect your noggin – head injury is strongly linked to Alzheimer’s and protecting your head can help your brain to stay sharp.

As the US population ages the rates of Alzheimer’s disease are rising.  Protect your brain and adopt an anti-Alzheimer’s lifestyle.  It is literally never too late to make positive change – even if it’s walking around the block every day. There is always something you can do to change your health and well being and to change your disease risk – you can delay or even prevent Alzheimer’s even if you have a family history of the disease. Look to future posts to talk about some of the supplements and specific activities that can be helpful for Alzheimer’s disease.



The Best Kind of Magnesium For You

Right – so one thing you’ll notice about supplements is that everyone is pretty convinced that their product is the best. THE BEST! Except that it’s a little harder to believe when every product you see claims the same thing. You would think something like magnesium, which is a mineral, would be pretty straight forward. Naturally, that is not the case at all. Nothing is straight forward about it and sadly, there is no easy answer as to what is the best kind of magnesium, other than to answer what is the best kind of magnesium for you. 

What Is Magnesium Anyway?

Magnesium (Mg) is a mineral that is involved in almost every process in your body from muscle relaxation and proper muscle movement to hormone processing. Clinically it is used to treat muscle cramps, restless leg syndrome, high blood pressure, constipation and chronic stress. Magnesium is pretty much everywhere – it’s the fourth most abundant element in the earth as a whole and the ninth in the universe as a whole. Magnesium is also highly water soluble and is the third most common element dissolved in sea water. Generally, the composition of sea water and the composition of our bodies internal mineral balance is reasonably similar (although sea water is significantly higher in sodium) and as humans we function best when we have a rich supply of magnesium in our system. Magnesium is the center of the chlorophyll molecule in plants, so any dark green plant is a rich source. Magnesium is central to all of our energy-forming reactions in every cell in the human body and there are over 300 enzyme pathways in humans that are dependent on magnesium to run.

Magnesium crystals - this is probably not the best kind of magnesium for you. :) Picture by Warut Roonguthui in wikimedia commons.

Magnesium crystals – this is probably not the best kind of magnesium for you. 🙂 Picture by Warut Roonguthui in wikimedia commons.

Historically magnesium would have been a larger part of the human diet – partially as a mineral dissolved in spring water (which city water is not likely to have) and partly because the average human diet would have had a higher proportion of green vegetables.




How Do I Find The Best Kind of Magnesium For ME?

Magnesium can’t just be by itself as a molecule – it needs to be bound to something else to be stable, so the biggest difference in different magnesium products comes not from the magnesium itself (which is all the same) but from the molecule it’s bonded to.  The most common bonding agents I’ve seen are oxide, citrate, glycinate, sulphate or amino acid chelate. There are two things to look for about the molecule it’s bonded to: size, and function. There is the secondary consideration of absorption.

The size of the molecule matters because most people don’t want to take a tablespoon of something, they usually want to take a reasonably small amount – like maybe the amount that will fit into one or two capsules.  Magnesium itself is a very small molecule, but if it’s bonded to something large and floppy then you get a very small amount of magnesium, mixed in with a pretty large amount of something else.  So magnesium by weight is higher if it’s bonded to an extremely small molecule (like oxygen in Mg oxide) than if it’s bonded to a large molecule like glycine (in Mg glycinate) or an amino acid (in magnesium amino acid chelate). Citrate and sulphate molecules are somewhat in the middle for size.

The function of the additional molecule is also something to consider.  Oxygen is obviously useful to body tissues, as are amino acids but some amino acids have functions that may enhance one particular effect of the magnesium that you might be looking for clinically. We’ll go over different forms of magnesium individually.

Magnesium Absorption

Absorption is a separate concern. Magnesium itself is reasonably poorly absorbed (35% absorbed in the worst case scenario and 45% absorbed in the best). Generally if you are magnesium depleted then your body will absorb any magnesium better than it would otherwise.  Calcium and magnesium compete for absorption, so if you take calcium and magnesium together they will both compete with each other (meaning you will absorb less of each). Also high or low protein intake can reduce magnesium intake as well as phytates from some vegetables.  Generally if you’re taking a magnesium supplement it’s best on an empty stomach.  Magnesium also absorbs well through the skin (potentially far better than through the digestive tract) , so epsom salts baths (magnesium sulphate) and magnesium lotions, gels or oils (usually magnesium chloride) can be a great way to increase your body stores. Topical forms can be best if you’re using magnesium for it’s muscle relaxation and calming properties.

Orally magnesium citrate is the best absorbed form (but it’s bonded to a big molecule so there is a smaller amount of magnesium by weight). Mg oxide is the most poorly absorbed form but has the highest Mg per weight, so actually you may get more elemental magnesium out of the same dose of Mg oxide vs. another magnesium, simply because of the size. The other forms of magnesium are somewhere in the middle in terms of absorption.

What Are The Benefits of Different Types of Magnesium?

Magnesium Oxide

Magnesium Oxide (MgO) is simply bonded to oxygen, which is obviously also something your body needs so there is nothing unnecessary in the product. The oxygen is useable by your body but will not strongly affect the way you feel taking the Mg. This is the least absorbed form, but also has one of the highest percentages of elemental magnesium per dose so it still may be the  highest absorbed dose per mg. This is a great general purpose magnesium if really Mg is all you need.  It makes a simple muscle relaxer, nerve tonic and laxative if you take a high dose.

Magnesium Citrate

This is one of the most common forms of Mg on the commercial market. This is Mg bonded to citric acid, which increases the rate of absorption. Citrate is a larger molecule than the simple oxygen of oxide, so there is less magnesium by weight than in the oxide form. This is the most commonly used form in laxative preparations.

Magnesium Glycinate and Magnesium Amino Acid Chelate

In this form, Mg is bonded to the amino acid glycine.  Glycine is a large molecule so there is less magnesium by weight, but the glycine itself is a relaxing neurotransmitter and so enhances magnesium’s natural relaxation properties.  This could be the best form if you’re using it for mental calm and relaxation. Magnesium amino acid chelate is usually bonded to a variety of amino acids, which are all larger molecules.  In this form there is less magnesium by weight but the individual amino acids could all be beneficial for different things. Every formula is different so if you need both Mg and a particular amino acid, then this could be the way to go.




Magnesium Taurate

This is a less common form, and is typically taken for cardiac conditions and heart function in general. Magnesium helps the heart muscle relax, as well as the blood vessels that feed the heart to open and deliver more blood to the heart tissue itself.  Taurine is an amino acid that is known to feed cardiac muscle and enhance the quality of contractions of the heart so if you’re taking Mg for heart function this is probably the best form for you. Again, taurine is a larger molecule so there is a lower Mg by weight.

Magnesium Sulphate and Magnesium Chloride

These forms are both typically used topically, although there are some oral preparations as well.  Mg sulphate is best known as epsom salts.  If you’ve taken this internally you know it tastes horrible and has a very strong laxative effect, but when used in a bath or soak it is extremely relaxing to the muscles and can ease aches and pains.  Epsom salts baths can also help to lower high blood pressure and reduce stress levels.  Magnesium chloride is more common in the lotion, gel and oil preparations that can be used topically for muscle cramps and relaxation.

Sea water is high in Magnesium chloride. This is the sea in the straight of Gibraltar.

Sea water is high in Magnesium chloride. This is the sea in the straight of Gibraltar.

Generally magnesium is one of those universally necessary elements that needs to be in your body for proper function, no matter what.  Great dietary sources include coffee, tea, chocolate, spices, nuts, and of course green vegetables with chlorophyll. Good body stores of magnesium will improve your health, mood and general functioning so finding the best kind of magnesium for you is tremendously important.



Oil Cleansing – Your Skin Will Thank You For This!

Oil cleansing is one of those things I’d heard people talking about for years before I actually worked up the nerve to try it. Let’s face it, smearing oil on your skin to clean it just seems counter-intuitive.  Several years ago, in a fit of boredom, I decided to give it a whirl and I’ve never looked back.  After oil cleansing my skin literally felt softer than it has ever felt. Soft and smooth and it looked kind of dewy – you can’t buy that. It was an amazing transformation after oil cleansing just once so for all you skeptics out there who have used every product imaginable and are utterly jaded on the whole “miraculous difference” thing – just wait until you’re having a bored day, and slather up!

Why Does Oil Cleansing Work?

The basic idea behind oil cleansing is that oil is natural to your skin, where soap isn’t.  Oil naturally travels deep into your pores, because it’s pretty much what is meant to be in there, where water stays outside because oil and water don’t mix, and they’re already filled with oil.  So if your pores are filled with oil (which seems bad) but then you’re adding it on topically (supposed to be good) then what is the real story?  Essentially we’re  pulling out the gross, dirty oil from your pores and replacing it with oils that are beneficial to your skin and clean so that your skin can stay smooth and soft and lovely. This is great for acne-prone skin, dry skin or combination skin and it’s amazing for anti-aging because it keeps your skin hydrated and nourished.

What Oil Should I Use?

This is where it gets fun because you get to play kitchen chemist. First, let’s start with the base:

Oil Cleansing Base:50% Castor Oil
50% Jojoba

This base has the anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties of the castor oil as well as the stability of jojoba oil.  It also penetrates deeply into pores because the castor oils ha very small molecules and the jojoba is the most molecularly similar to your skin’s natural sebum. This base by itself is a great mixture and if you’re just starting out and not sure you’ll like it, it’s a great place to start. You can always add things to the mix later on.

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c

Great add-ins for Dry Skin

Kukui nut oil – high in essential fatty acids, readily absorbed into the skin to nourish the deeper layers.
Argan oil – rare, high in vitamin E which absorbs quickly and adds a level of luxury.
Baobab oil – light, rich in vitamins A, E and F which absorbs quickly and is specifically used for hydrating and protecting dry skin.
Sea Buckthorn OIl – exceptionally rich and healing for deeply dry, chapped skin. A small amount goes a long way.

Add-ins for Oily or Blemished Skin

Meadowfoam Seed OIl – healing and nourishing and high in natural salycilates, which reduce inflammation.Hazelnut Oil – highly suited for oily skin because it has astringent properties and helps to reduce excessive oil production.

Meadowfoam - of course this beauty would help your skin.

Meadowfoam – of course this beauty would help your skin.

Great additions for Anti-Aging

Pomegranate Seed Oil – it isn’t hard to imagine that this is highly prized for skin care and nourishes the skin while it provides antioxidant benefits. Promotes skin regeneration.
Rosehip Seed Oil – one of my favorites this is the predominant oil for wrinkled and aging skin.Black Seed Oil – highly nutritive and restoring to the skin. A little goes a long way.




Beautiful rosehip seed oil. My favorite.

Beautiful rosehip seed oil. My favorite. Mountain Rose Herbs is a great source for all of these exotic goodies.

So How Do I Oil Cleanse?

This is the best part:

  1. Get a headband to pull your hair back because stray hair gets oily really quickly.
  2. Put a dime sized amount of your oil mix in your palm and use the fingertips of your other hand to gently massage it into your face – don’t forget your lips, under your jaw line and your decollete, those are highly visible areas that often have the same problems as your facial skin, and your lips will just love the moisture. Use gentle upward strokes or light taps to encourage collagen production because god knows we all want more collagen.
  3. Leave the oil on your skin for five to ten minutes if you have some time, or you can skip straight to washing it off if you’re in a hurry.
  4. Run a washcloth under super hot water and wring it out then put it over your whole face and use the heat to dissolve and liquify the oil.  Don’t scrub, just use the heat to almost steam the oil off your face and wipe up what is left with the still hot washcloth.
  5. Marvel at the beauty of your newly lovely skin. Seriously, it’s amazing.
  6. Use a tiny amount of an oil based moisturizer – I love MiraCell Skin Relief and Support (for a premade product) but you can also make a lighter skin oil and use a few drops as a moisturizer. We’ll talk about that in a separate post.

    Miracell - a nice moisturizer after oil cleansing.

    Miracell – a nice moisturizer after oil cleansing.

The only part about this that I don’t absolutely love is the washcloths – simply because it’s hard to get the oil out of them.  The best trick I’ve found is soaking them in a bowl with baking soda in the water to dissolve the oil before you put them in the washing machine. In general it shortens the lives of wash cloths, but so spectacularly worth it for such lovely skin.

This is a totally different approach to skin care that has entirely changed the way I view soaps, and not for the better.  I source all of my carrier oils from Mountain Rose Herbs and keep them in the fridge to prolong their shelf life.  I mix up small batches (usually just an ounce at a time) of the facial cleansing oil, and then also end up using it as an after-shower moisturizer because it feels amazing.  Typically I use about 80-90% carrier oil, almost always a larger portion of rosehip oil because I’m pretty sure it’s addictive, and then experiment here and there.  I love changing it up a little bit and am always trying new combinations.  I have added essential oils before, but I honestly like the simple oils better by themselves. I hope you love oil cleansing as much as I do – let me know what you think!

Mountain Rose Herbs. A herbs, health and harmony c



The Benefits of Being Sick: Are You Being Honest About Your Suffering?

The Benefits of Being Sick: Audio Version

The folks at the Diabetes Council were kind enough to make an audio version of this article, read by Holly Houston (sadly I can’t claim that lovely voice). If you prefer to listen, rather than read then here it is!

The Benefits of Being Sick: Plain Old Written Version 😉

This is such a difficult topic because our culture likes to make things all “bad” or all “good” but the truth is, there are many social benefits of being sick and sometimes it’s hard to get well if you’re not willing to really look that whole concept in the face. For the most part, nobody actually wants to be sick.  There are some rare exceptions with psychological diseases, but at the end of the day most people want to be healthy, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t benefit in some way – usually some entirely unconscious way – from being sick.  When there are benefits of being sick, sometimes they can become an obstacle to truly getting better – simply because somewhere in your subconscious mind you aren’t ready to let go of whatever it is you’re getting out of being ill. It’s easy to generate a lot of judgement about this and to immediately recoil from the idea that people might have unknown motives even for suffering, but the fact of the matter is that your brain is more highly evolved than you can possibly imagine.  If your brain finds a way to get what it wants, it isn’t necessarily going to stop and ask for permission from your rational mind – it’s just going to go ahead and get what it wants and give your rational, thinking self a nice story (I’m sick – I have to stay in bed) to hold on to. Never underestimate the power of the human brain, and certainly don’t fall for the illusion that “you” – the part of you that you hear thinking in your head and that makes up all sorts of reasons why things happen – are actually the one in control.




Illness is a huge, multifactoral beast. Sure, there are plenty of colds and flus and simple things that you get because there is some kind of germ or bug going around. Although when you really look at them, even the simple things might not be so simple.  Why is it that some people go down with a particular flu and some don’t? Sure there are lots of arguments about immunity and previous contact with that virus. No question those things matter, but what about the convenient fact that often the people who get sick are the ones who really need to take a break? Or the ones who haven’t let themselves rest? Sure – their system is weakened from overwork, that is probably true, but it might also be true that being sick is a socially acceptable reason to stop, to rest, to take a break, to not be at work, and to actually give your body the sleep it’s been missing.  When you get into complex or long-term illness it’s a whole different animal.

The benefits of being sick. Image from © Shannon Matteson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The benefits of being sick. Image from © Shannon Matteson | Dreamstime Stock Photos

I want to say here that I am NOT trying to imply that people are fabricating illness in any way – absolutely not. When you get sick you actually get sick and for people who are chronically ill, they’re actually ill and not because they want to be. Still, if you don’t look at the benefits of being sick then sometimes that can become a barrier to becoming well, simply because your body isn’t willing to give up the benefits if you haven’t changed your life to incorporate them naturally. Let me start with an example – this is a pretend client that is based on literally hundreds of real clients I’ve seen in the same position:

“I’ve always been healthy and I was a really energetic person – I was always able to go above and beyond for everybody. I worked in a corporate setting and was in a high stress job but I really loved it, I loved the challenge and the business.  Everything was great, but when I had my second child it felt like everything suddenly shifted.  That child is a little more demanding than the first was and generally needs more of me and I just started to feel drained.  Now I’m on a leave of absence from work and I really don’t know if I’ll be able to go back because I feel worn out. My joints hurt, I’ve become sensitive to so many different foods it feels like I can hardly eat without something disagreeing with me.  My sleep has suffered but all I want is more sleep. I can get up to fix breakfast for the kids but that just wears me out and I have to spend the next few hours resting or watching TV or trying to recharge.  I feel pitiful – just getting up to make breakfast shouldn’t be all I have in me for the day.”

I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve heard variations of that same story. I was an uber-achiever until this thing happened and now I can’t keep up at all. I am forced to rest, to hold back, be home with my children, to not work, to constantly recuperate. No doubt this person is actually exhausted and actually has physical dysfunction – possibly autoimmune disease or mixed hormone failure. Absolutely. In reality those things are happening and need to be addressed. But what about possible benefits?

Primary Gain – The Benefits of Being Sick

Primary gain is a concept in medicine that looks at exactly this idea – that being sick does come with some advantages, even mixed in with all the obvious disadvantages, and that those advantages are a factor in healing. Primary gain deals mostly with the psychological benefits of being sick, which are typically entirely unconscious. These are the psychological perks of being ill that nobody actually notices or talks about, but that you may have a hard time giving up. Examples of primary gain might include:

  • If you’re not performing the way you think you should, being sick can reduce some of the feelings of guilt and inadequacy.
  • If you deeply believe that doing things for yourself is “selfish” or have a negative judgement about it then sometimes being sick is the only acceptable reason to allow yourself to care for yourself appropriately.
  • Being sick might actually encourage your partner to be more supportive, more caring or more nurturing.
  • Being sick is a valid reason to not do things that you might not want to (but probably think you should).
  • Being sick is a legitimate reason take breaks.
  • Being sick is a real reason to stay home more with the kids.

These are big obvious examples – but there are thousands of tiny gains that can be individual to each person and aren’t always obvious to them or to anyone around them (these are kind of obvious – but the best examples I could come up with this morning). Often in the healing process if we don’t address this issue, then healing gets stalled out as soon as we run into this wall. If we took the above example patient and re-balanced her hormones and addressed autoimmunity, chances are we’d get her to a great place right up until she started taking on too much again, because that’s her basic nature.  She’d pick up all of her old obligations and no doubt over-perform to make up for feeling guilty about being sick and inevitably land in a crumpled heap on the office floor despairing because she relapsed. I’ve seen it over and over and over again. People charge right back into the old way of being without examining what it was that their body was trying to tell them with the illness.  What was the benefit of being sick and how can they keep that without the sickness?

Of course it’s easy to talk about, but in real life this comes down to some incredibly hard transformations and evolutions as a human. Maybe it means letting go of the deeply ingrained belief that you only have worth based on what you produce. Or the feeling that your job is to take care of others (only others – anything you do for yourself is “selfish”).  Maybe it means confronting ideas from your faith about how good people suffer, or how suffering is a penance. Maybe it means sitting down with your partner and having the tough conversation about ways to change your circumstances so you can stay home with your children more. It could mean looking at your life and seeing if you’re still on the path you want to be, or if you really wanted to be an artist but your family thought that was a soft option. These issues are at the core of who we are, who were were taught to be, and are always the biggest, scariest and most challenging to actually work though.

Secondary Gain – The External Benefits of Being Sick

Secondary gain is the idea that there are also real benefits of illness that come from the outside – from society. These are far easier to see and to deal with and include things like:

  • Missing work
  • Avoiding military duty
  • Financial gain (disability, family support)
  • Drugs
  • Avoiding jail (insanity plea, etc…)

Again, although these are more obvious, more tangible benefits, they are still largely unconscious.  Your brain is tricksy and doesn’t let you see some of the subtle motivators.

There are No Benefits to Being Sick – This is The Worst!

I know – there are people reading this who are deeply and personally offended because they feel so crappy and have been struggling for so long to get better. I know that, and here’s the thing – it is 100% true. Being sick sucks in so many ways, but that doesn’t mean it has to be all black or all white – there are almost always shades of grey and sometimes looking at the grey areas can help you to examine your life more deeply, even if it ultimately doesn’t change the course of the illness at all. Here’s an exercise.  No matter how horrible you feel you can probably think of three good things that come out of being sick – even if you’re really reaching.

The Benefits of Being Sick Exercise:

1. Write down at least three benefits you get from being sick. These can be big things (like my partner is nicer and more supportive) or little things (someone else cleans the toilet).  At least three but list as many as you can think of.

2.  List three things you’ve learned about yourself and what your body needs directly because of being sick:

3. If you were suddenly 100% healthy, what would be the hardest for you to change?

4.  What are some ways you can keep the benefits of being sick but let go of the sickness? You don’t have to have concrete answers, but start the thought process.

Remember none of this is about judgement or right and wrong answers, it’s about learning something about you as a human and discovering a little more of what you need to be your happiest most functional self. Sometimes illness is the greatest teacher and you can choose to take the opportunity to grow from it. There are some benefits of being sick, but there are also ways to structure your life so that you have those benefits without actually having the sickness and finding them may help you on the path to healing.



Finding The Best Diet For You

The Best Diet For You!! It sounds like something you might win on a game show – in my mind I hear it said like “A New Car!” Like it’s the mythical prize that people might win with the spin of a wheel. It’s like unicorns or other mythical animals – we all want to find it, and yet it remains elusive.  Actually the problem in finding the best diet for you is not that you can’t find it, it’s that you’re looking for it to be validated by an outside source, instead of by the only source: you.

I think the thing that we forget in our frantic search for the newest, best, shiniest, most promising diet is that the people who created the diet in every case created it to be best for a whole bunch of people, but not necessarily for you as an individual.  I think in general we fail to recognize how wonderfully, beautifully unique we all are – and that includes right down to our meat and bones. To our physiology and what makes us tick. It also means that there is some fluidity in “best diet” that has to happen even for each of us through our lifespan. The best diet for me when I was 18 wasn’t the same as the best diet for me now in my 30s, nor will it be the same when I’m in my 60s. Just as I as a human am (god willing) changing and evolving, my body is also changing and evolving.  What does all of this mean? It means that the only person who can discover the best diet for you, is YOU, and you will have to revise and edit that best diet over time to stick to what your body wants most of all.

Your best diet has fruit in it.

Yummm for apples. © Ed Isaacs | Dreamstime Stock Photos

There is a best diet for you and it’s unique to you – to how your body processes nutrients and to the demands you place on it. The greatest part is that you can discover it at home.

Discovering Your Best Diet:

The great news is that there are some things that are truly good for everyone, so lets start with that.




The Basic Best Diet:

  1. Lots and lots of veggies. Everyone and their brother agrees that every healthy diet should have a bunch of vegetables in it.  This is where the bulk of our vitamins, minerals and nutrients come from along with our fiber and antioxidants.  Vegetables are the powerhouses of the food world – don’t ever skimp on these.  If you can only make one small change to your diet, make that change be an extra veggie with each meal.
  2. Eat Variety. Eating kale is awesome.  Eating lots of kale is also awesome. The only bad thing about eating lots of kale is that kale only has the nutrients that kale has, you know? You’re not getting tomato nutrients from kale, or salmon nutrients, or beef nutrients.  So even if you’re eating awesome foods, if you only eat one or two different ones then you’re automatically limited.  Throw off those limits and learn a little about squash or star fruit or mung beans. There is a limitless array of choice out there – why be dull?  Your body and health will thank you for the variety even as your taste buds do a little dance with the excitement of all the new flavors.  It can be scary at first if you’re expanding from a highly limited diet, but keep trying.  Try new foods at least three different times before you make a decision about them and keep an open mind to new flavors.  Don’t automatically dismiss the new and different.
  3. Eat Clean: I’m guessing it comes as no shock to anyone that preservatives, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial sweeteners, and other food additives aren’t actually food.  They don’t add any nutritional value and there isn’t any great reason for you why they should be added to your diet. They make it easier for companies that manufacture food to keep it shelf-stable, stop it from molding, make it slightly addictive or make you crave it – but none of those things make it any better for you and let’s be clear – your food should be all about you. Likewise genetically modified food is usually modified so that it can grow more easily or spoil more slowly or do something differently so that it’s easier to use as a commercial product but that has nothing to do with how your body uses it. All of these pseudo-foods are no part of the best diet for anyone.
  4. Get a Little Nutty: Nuts and seeds are packed with good oils, fiber, and protein and are a fantastic food for just about everyone.  They are high in minerals and represent a tremendous source of balanced nutrition for just about every type of person or constitution out there.
  5. Not Too Sweet: It’s pretty obvious to everyone that sugar packs on unnecessary calories and leads to inflammation, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and lowered immunity.  This can’t be a dietary staple no matter what – it isn’t that good for anyone at all, although real sugar and other real sweeteners are better than the artificial variety.
  6. Moderation: Food is our basic source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals.  We need it to survive and we enjoy it for pleasure. Food also is a tremendous amount of work for your body and creates a number of breakdown products that have to be dealt with in your daily processes of metabolism.  Research has shown consistently that the key to a longer, healthier life is actually a little bit of moderation in the food department.  Eating less actually helps you live longer and healthier because you’re not wasting so many of your body’s precious resources on food processing. Consistently people who eat fewer calories live longer lives with less chronic disease.

Adding Variables to Your Best Diet:

Now for the parts that everyone seems to fight about.  Some diets say you should eat a ton of meat, some say little to no meat, some say fruit is too much sugar, others say fruit is the best thing in the world.  And what about fats? My god there are so many ways to get your feathers ruffled over this. So let’s talk:

  1. Meat: Just the word sounds like a controversy waiting to happen.  I am actually a huge fan of meat, but it’s one of the things that you really need to adjust to your body type.  My constitution is lean and muscular so for me meat is essential to keep my body running – the best plan seems to be small servings of meat regularly and generally higher protein – but even that means small amounts of meat, not slabs of it.  For people with heavier constitutions a diet that is lighter on the meats may work out better to minimize  the impact of the high calorie and fat density that comes with animal products. The paleo diet advocates insist that meat should be a main component of every diet, and that’s true if you’re actually living a paleo lifestyle involving lots of physical activity and days filled with heavy athletics, but if you’re a desk jockey that may not be the best plan for your arteries or your saddlebags. The other extreme of vegetarianism or veganism is also incredibly  hard to do right and requires tight unwavering attention to your nutritional status, which many “vegetarians” (read: carbetarians) neglect to uphold.
  2. Dairy:  For centuries and across many cultures dairy products have been a valuable source of proteins and fats in the human diet.  For most of those centuries the animals were grass fed (not grain fed) and were obviously not treated with chemicals, hormones, and antibiotics.  Likewise the actual milk wasn’t bleached, preserved and processed to the extreme.  Also people centuries ago were not likely as sensitive to foods as we seem to be today.  Now the benefits from dairy depend largely on the quality of the dairy you’re able to get and your body’s own reaction to it.  I personally am a proponent of clean, organic, grass-fed dairy just as long as you’re not sensitive to it. If you’re not sure if you’re sensitive to it then read about uncovering your hidden food sensitivities here. Just to thow another wrench into the dairy debate there is the question of raw milk or not (I say yes, but there’s lots of controversy). For more information on raw milk you can do some reading here.
  3. Fish: Fish are obviously fantastic food, or at least they used to be. They’re high in omega 3 fats and a great source of protein and many of the minerals that are found in good concentrations in a sea environment.  They’re also, however, repositories for heavy metals and toxins because the ocean is a soup of heavy metals and toxins. I certainly advocate fish, but sticking mostly to younger, smaller, non-predator fish like anchovies and sardines could be a good idea, save the predator fish for rare treats.  This is simply because predator fish eat smaller fish and end up concentrating all of the heavy metals and toxins that those fish had in their bodies, so the levels of toxins are much higher than in smaller fish that are lower down on the food chain.  If you’re pregnant, be especially careful with ocean fish – in the UK the guidelines are fish no more than once a month (!!) Farmed fish also aren’t a great alternative because they’re usually grain fed (which means the fats from these fish aren’t omega 3 fatty acids, they’re omega 6 fatty acids just like grain fed cattle). Also they’re no less toxic, and sometimes more so, than their wild-caught brethren.
  4. Fruits: It seems like fruit shouldn’t be controversial, but it is.  Many diets advocate limiting sugary fruits because they contribute to a high sugar diet.  Fruits, however, are a valuable source of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – right up there with vegetables.  My general guideline is one fruit per two veggies and I’ll limit the carbs and sugars by limiting grains and sweets. If you are already diabetic you may need to limit fruits for a while until you shift to a no- or low-grain diet and cut out the sugars and artificial sweeteners.  Once your blood sugars have dropped back down to normal levels and stabilized there then you can start to re-introduce the fruits.
  5. Grains: Right now grains are the big bad.  Grains are basically just complicated sugar for your body and excessive consumption has been linked to diabetes, obesity, fertility issues in PCOS, insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome as well as Alsheimer’s disease, which is now being called “diabetes type III.” Grains include wheat, corn, rye, oats, rice and all of the less-used alternative grains like quinoa, amaranth, spelt, buckwheat, teff etc… There isn’t really anyone that I feel should be eating a high grain diet and in general I trend toward the fewer-the-better.  Grains provide a lot of calories without too much nutrition – especially our favorite super-starchy grains like wheat, corn and rice.  There is some fiber and nutrients if you’re eating whole grains, but all in all the starch is the main component.  Starch is what you make your body fat out of. In general, minimize the grains and your waist line and blood sugars will thank you.  Gluten is a whole different topic, but certainly if you haven’t taken the time yet to figure out if you’re gluten sensitive, now is the time to do it.
  6. Fats: Your body needs fats and thrives on them, but there’s still the question of which fats and how much. General guidelines – good fats come from nuts, seeds and vegetables; grass fed animals, and wild-caught fish.  Bad fats come from the deep-frier, processing plants (hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils) and grain-fed animals. Every body needs good fats and should avoid the bad fats, but how much of the good fats is a question for you.  Again, listen to your body. Fats help you feel full and satisfied, build healthy skin and connective tissue and help to nourish your neurological system, but also add a fair amount of calories to your diet.

Phew. Did we cover everything?  If I left out any major categories let me know and I’ll add them in. The bottom line is eat real food that grows from the earth, not a chemical company and always listen to your body. If eating a certain way is supposed to be healthy but doesn’t feel good for you then it’s most important to listen to you.  If you know certain foods make you gain weight or make you eat more then those aren’t the best for you.  Eat for YOU.