5 Principles for Optimum Health: A Blueprint

If there’s one thing we know to be a primary cause of illness and disease, it’s inflammation. Not the kind of swelling and redness that can occur when you injure yourself or when your body is fighting infection—we’re talking about chronic systemic inflammation. A number of things can cause systemic inflammation, including stress and environmental toxins.

Your diet can be another major contributor to inflammation, but the good news is that you can choose foods that reduce inflammation while you also eliminate foods that contribute to it. Systemic inflammation is being called “the silent killer”, and healing cannot begin until inflammatory foods are removed from your diet.

If you don’t think altering your diet is worth it or that it’s too much trouble, think about just a few of the serious diseases where inflammation is a primary contributor to their root cause:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Thyroiditis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • MS
  • Many other autoimmune diseases

Other conditions caused by inflammation that can negatively impact your lifestyle include chronic flare-ups of existing health issues, joint pain, ADHD, autism, migraines, vertigo, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and more.

If you’re ready to reduce the inflammation in your body to achieve optimum health, follow these 5 anti-inflammatory principles for at least 30 days, and note the positive changes you feel.

1. Go grain free, dairy free, and soy free.

These types of foods are inflammatory and contribute to many of the chronic and recurring symptoms and conditions mentioned above.

2. Eliminate starchy foods, simple carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, high glycemic index fruits, sweetened foods, etc.

Sugars affect insulin, hormones (cortisol), and brain health; they also cause cravings and weight gain. Some sugars, like artificial sweeteners, can be neurotoxins as well. Health issues linked to sugars include diabetes, Alzheimer’s, yeast overgrowth, cancer, and dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiota).

3. Introduce healthy fats, quality plant and animal proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

These types of foods can be utilized by the body at the cellular level to restore health. It’s especially beneficial to eat raw, steamed, poached, and lightly prepared meals because the enzymes, nutrients, and minerals remain intact; this will also increase your fiber intake.

4. Eat more frequently—up to every 2 or 3 hours and within an hour of waking.

As you change your eating habits from a carb/sugar-based diet to a fat-burning diet, you will be managing your blood sugar throughout the day. This results in more energy, clearer thinking, and lack of hunger; on the other hand, when your blood sugar isn’t regulated, you can have cravings, feel jittery, get headaches or feel hungry more often, which can lead to poor food choices.

5. Drink more water. Work up to drinking half your body weight in ounces—and herbal teas count!

Dehydration is a common condition—as many as 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. This can cause cravings, poor nerve flow, acidity, electrolyte imbalances and chronic inflammation. More importantly, water (as well as healthy fats) is an essential lubricant for metabolic processes that convert food into cellular energy. Water is also important for flushing toxins from the body.

Many people who strictly adhere to these anti-inflammatory principles see results after only the first couple of months. As their inflammation quickly subsides, pain and other symptoms are eliminated or greatly lessened while their health issues begin to be corrected.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet on a permanent basis will help you avoid many health problems, but if you don’t want to remain as strict after you reach your initial goal, you can slowly introduce certain foods one at a time to see if you have any negative reactions. (Omitting processed foods permanently is vital, as is omitting or greatly minimizing foods with added sugars.) However, keeping as close as possible to the optimum health blueprint and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, wild-caught fatty fish (avoid farm raised fish), organic blueberries and red grapes, etc. into your family’s meal plans will play a big role in achieving your best possible health for years to come.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Can Processed Meats Affect Your Brain?

It’s no secret that processed foods are major contributors to unhealthy environments in our bodies, from poor gut health and inflammation to organ and bone damage. This, in turn, results in a myriad of serious health issues including cancer, weakened bones, infertility, kidney failure…the list goes on and on.

But many times, the term “processed food” is thought of as frozen meals and pizzas or canned and prepared foods down the central aisles of the supermarket—these are only part of the picture. Deli meats, jerky, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and the like are also heavily processed foods containing added chemical nitrates, and studies are now showing a connection between these processed meats and brain health.

A Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study (conducted on over 1,000 people with no history of psychiatric disorders) published in Molecular Psychiatry stated that “nitrated meats are associated with mania in humans and altered behavior and brain gene expression in rats.” Previously, environmental toxins were more highly associated with the onset of mania and other psychological disorders, but researchers have now shown that a history of eating processed meats with nitrates is strongly associated with mania in humans at a “95 percent confidence” level. The study examined a variety of “dietary exposures”, but the study’s lead author, Robert Yolken, said that “cured meat really stood out.” Yolken went on to say that “the key is probably inflammation.”

To a lesser degree, but still significant, human consumption of processed meats containing nitrates were associated with other mental health disorders, including schizoaffective disorder, attention deficit, and delusional thinking. Rats that were fed meats with added nitrates showed changes in both brain pathways and in intestinal microbiota, which were equivalent to those associated with bipolar disorder and hyperactivity in humans. Researchers also found that people admitted to the hospital with episodes of mania—such as insomnia, hyperactivity and euphoria—were more than three and a half times more likely to have eaten meats containing nitrates than those who had no psychiatric issues.

The nitrates referred to in this study are the chemicals that are added to processed meats to preserve color and inhibit the growth of bacteria, not those that are naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. These added chemicals negatively alter gut bacteria—which are directly connected to the brain and have a profound effect on overall health—and have previously been connected to neurodegenerative diseases.

Not only are added nitrates in foods potential links to psychiatric disorders and episodes, processed foods of all kinds contain added sugars, sodium, bad fats and other chemicals that contribute to an unhealthy microbiome and disease. What’s worse is that the added sugars and sodium have an addictive effect, creating cravings that can make people dependent on them for brief bursts of energy (followed by an energy drop) and taste satisfaction.

As opposed to the chemical nitrates added to processed meat products, the naturally occurring nitrates in fruits and vegetables are actually good for you. Plant nitrates are balanced by antioxidants within the plant that convert nitrates into beneficial nitric oxide, which promotes heart health, lowers blood pressure, decreases plaque in the arteries, and improves systemic blood flow. By improving blood flow in the brain, plant nitrates can improve mental function and may help to reduce age-related cognitive decline. And because people with type 2 diabetes also have impaired nitric oxide production, it may also help to manage, treat, or prevent the disease.

The takeaway from all this is that while added chemical nitrates work against you by harming your overall health as well as brain function, natural plant nitrates work for you by improving brain function and overall health.

Exchanging processed meats for unprocessed, natural meats is a good first step toward better health; you can take it one step further by switching to grass-fed organic meats. To increase your body’s nitric oxide levels, look to fresh organic fruits and vegetables that are high in naturally occurring nitrates, including root vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.), dark leafy greens, garlic, green beans, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and more. A general rule of thumb is that the closer to the soil a vegetable or fruit grows, the higher it will be in natural nitrates.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Are Kidney Stones Preventable?

If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you know how severe the pain can be—it’s said to be one of the most unforgettably excruciating pains a person can experience. Made up of salts and minerals, these hard deposits affect an estimated one in ten people in the U.S., sending over half a million people to the emergency room each year, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Kidney stones can range in size from a fraction of an inch to a few inches large and are formed in the kidney but may move to the ureter via the urinary tract. They can sometimes be eliminated through the urine stream, but if they’re too large or become lodged, they may require surgery or laser lithotripsy, which breaks the stone down into smaller, passable pieces.

A kidney stone can be a sign of other health problems, and lodged stones can cause complications including kidney damage. Other long-term problems can also arise once you develop kidney stones; for example, your chances of forming more stones within the next five to seven years are fifty percent higher, and there is an increased risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

So what causes kidney stones? There are several factors that can put you at a higher risk of developing kidney stones, including:

  • not drinking enough water
  • obesity
  • a diet with too much sodium
  • too much fructose in the diet (this includes processed sugars and high fructose corn syrup)
  • lack of or low amount of calcium in the diet
  • lack of or too few vegetables and fruits in the diet
  • acidic urine
  • too much or too little exercise
  • certain health conditions such as diabetes, urinary tract infections (UTIs), hyperparathyroidism, Crohn’s disease, and high
  • blood pressure

While some kidney stones are so small they pass without incident, the majority have warning symptoms that should be heeded immediately. Depending on the severity, you may be able to avoid a trip to the emergency room, but you should see your doctor without delay. These symptoms include:

  • blood in the urine
  • pain in the lower back, possibly severe
  • fever and chills
  • low urine output or a flow that stops suddenly
  • cloudy or smelly urine
  • nausea or vomiting
  • unrelenting stomach ache or pain
  • pain during urination
  • frequent urination

Prevention is the best cure, and the good news is that there are a number of dietary changes you can make to help prevent kidney stones. Keeping your body well-hydrated is most important, but it’s also important to choose the right type of hydration—water is the best choice. You can take it a step further and squeeze some lemon into the water, which will help neutralize and lower uric acid levels, one of the underlying causes of kidney stones. Stay away from liquids like energy drinks, soft drinks, bodybuilding drinks, “enhanced” waters and such, which do more harm than good.

Our bodies can become acidic from environmental toxins, medications, stress, high sugar intake, processed foods, and more. Alkalizing your body naturally will not only help to prevent urine from becoming acidic, it will also benefit your health in a number of other ways. Neutralizing your body’s pH level by improving your acid-alkaline balance will help boost your immune system, improve brain and heart function, lower inflammation, and much more. Some steps you can take include starting your day with a glass of lemon-water, minimizing or managing stress, minimizing sugars and eliminating processed foods, and adding alkalizing foods to your diet such as almonds, cucumbers, pink grapefruit, cantaloupe, cabbage and others. Organic is always the best choice; check with your functional medicine doctor first to make sure you’re not allergic or sensitive to any of these foods and that you don’t have any known or underlying health issues that may contraindicate adding certain foods to your diet.

A good magnesium supplement—especially for anyone taking calcium for osteoporosis—can help prevent kidney stones by dissolving calcium and binding oxalates, which helps to prevent calcium oxalate crystals from forming. Vitamin B6 and certain probiotics can also help to reduce oxalate acid. Your functional medicine doctor can work with you to determine the best way to lower your risk of kidney stones and help to eliminate or minimize underlying causes that can lead to stones and other kidney problems.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

A Healthy High Fiber Diet May Not Be What You Think

In our last blog post, we talked about the importance of a high fiber diet and how it can help you correct or avoid chronic constipation and the myriad health issues it can cause. Medications and/or enemas aren’t the answer, since each can cause its own set of complications, even having the opposite effect and becoming the cause of constipation themselves.

While the idea of a high fiber diet may sound relatively simple, there’s a lot of misleading information about what constitutes a healthy high fiber diet. Just scour the internet and you’ll see practically every healthy living and medical website recommending high fiber cereals as a good way to get your daily fiber. However, most of these sites aren’t discussing a few important considerations.

If the cereal isn’t organic, it’s probably made with genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.
The safety and health risks of GMOs throughout our food supply—meats, fruits and vegetables—is probably one of the most hotly debated topics today. Gene manipulation in plants, insects and animals has raised concerns among consumers as to its safety for humans as well as for crops and nature in general. And with no long-term studies on their effects on human and animal health prior to releasing these altered genes, there are good reasons for concern. Among them are:

  • the creation of new allergens
  • increasing the level of allergens already present in a food
  • introducing allergens to a food without public knowledge
  • creating more antibiotic-resistant genes
  • increased human exposure to pesticides
  • the unpredictability of altering genes without enough testing for long-term safety and reactions

The wheat, soy, corn and other grains used to make non-organic cereals all contain GMOs, so while they’re touted as being “healthy” in the respect that they may be high in fiber, they’re also potentially harmful because of their genetically-modified ingredients. By choosing a high fiber organic cereal, you’re getting the extra fiber without the risks that GMOs can present.

If your cereal isn’t organic, every spoonful contains dangerous chemicals.
There’s been a lot of news about the dangerous pesticide glyphosate that’s been found in just about every non-organic grain-based cereal on the market. Glyphosate, a key ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup, is an herbicide that has been greatly minimized or banned in 14 other countries (that number continues to rise) due to its strong potential as an endocrine disruptor and for birth defects, its disruption of the reproductive system and destruction of beneficial gut bacteria. It has been classified as a “probable carcinogenic to humans” by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer.

And that’s just the start, because plenty of other pesticides and fungicides are also used on crops that go into breakfast cereals, including corn, wheat, oats, soy and more. Certified organic cereals not only eliminate these toxic chemicals, they also contain no GMOs. Be careful to choose “certified organic” foods and products rather than those simply marked “non-GMO”—by definition, organic crops and products cannot contain genetically modified ingredients, but products marked only “non-GMO” may not be organic and so may still contain harmful pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

How much sugar are you starting your day with?

Reading and understanding ingredients and nutritional information on cereal packages is a cornerstone of choosing the right high-fiber cereal. Added sugar can appear in different forms including fructose, dextrose, maltose, sucrose, glucose, lactose and corn syrup; this is also true of terminology used for sodium. Check the serving size as well—what may look like a low amount of sugar could actually be the amount of sugar you get in a very small amount, like a quarter of a cup, which is far less than you’d have in one breakfast serving. It’s also important to remember that starchy ingredients like corn turn to sugars once consumed, adding to the total amount of sugar delivered to your system.

How much fiber is enough and how do I get it safely?

Recommendations vary as to how much fiber we need, ranging from 21 to 38 grams per day, but it’s safe to say that if you base your diet on organic foods high in fiber, you’ll not only get enough to keep you “regular”, but you’ll also be supplying your body with plenty of important and essential nutrients naturally. These include such choices as pears, apples, chia seeds, avocados, raspberries, lentils, artichokes, carrots, oats, almonds, popcorn and many more.

It’s not difficult to reinvent your family’s diet to include high fiber selections that are free from toxic additives, and you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel and how much more energy you have. At the same time, you’ll be strengthening your body’s immune system and creating a healthy gut microbiome, both of which are important to maintaining good health.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Is an Iodine Deficiency at the Root of Your Health Issues?

Iodine deficiencies are being called a “silent epidemic”; it’s been estimated that approximately 74 percent of adults have iodine deficiencies worldwide. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, Iodine Deficiency Disorders (IDD) are considered to be among today’s biggest health problems, affecting over 1.5 billion people around the world.

The health problems that can result from an iodine deficiency include:

  • goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
  • hypothyroidism
  • skin problems
  • neurological issues
  • gastrointestinal abnormalities
  • cognitive impairment

Each of the above IDDs has its own set of symptoms, from puffiness and fatigue to heart and joint problems, as well as additional complications such as cardiovascular problems, peripheral neuropathy, and depression.

Children and teens with an iodine deficiency may experience poor mental or dental development, slower growth rate, and delayed puberty. Infants can also develop IDD if they don’t get enough iodine in their first year of life or if they didn’t receive enough iodine in utero—pregnant women actually require extra iodine, and if their intake is too low, it can cause an IDD in their unborn baby.

A well-rounded whole food diet that includes choices with naturally occurring iodine can help stave off IDD. These foods include:

  • eggs
  • shellfish
  • saltwater fish
  • sea vegetables (kelp, seaweed, etc.)
  • dairy from grassfed cows grazed in iodine-rich fields

Pure sea salt can contain some natural iodine, but not as much as iodized sea salt. (Processed foods contain high amounts of salt and sodium, but the salt used in these prepackaged products is unhealthy and is not iodized.) A pure iodine supplement in an amount recommended by your functional medicine doctor specifically for your body’s needs is another way to keep iodine levels where they should be.

What makes iodine so important to our bodies, and why must we make a concerted effort to eat foods rich in iodine? Iodine is an essential mineral, but our bodies don’t make it naturally, so we need to consume it in our diets. Iodine is critical for the production of thyroid hormones, which control bodily functions including metabolism. Recent research has shown that iodine may also function as an antioxidant, drawing free radicals away from tissue and lowering cancer risks. The Journal of Mammary Gland Biology and Neoplasia reported in 2005 that diets high in iodine are associated with lower breast cancer rates. Iodine is also used by the eyes, salivary glands, stomach lining and other organs.

During pregnancy, increased iodine intake is necessary for fetal brain development and to lower the risk of miscarriage, birth defects, low birth weight and stillbirth. The Lancet published a study in 2013 that followed the children of women who did not consume enough iodine during pregnancy. By the age of 8 or 9, these children scored poorly on tests for verbal and reading abilities. Another report in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism states that in early childhood, insufficient iodine levels can result in slower mental development and function, poor nerve development and learning abilities, and speech and/or hearing problems.

While there are general guidelines as to how much iodine people need based on their age from birth to adulthood, these guidelines vary greatly depending on the source; more importantly, your individual needs are likely to be different from generic numbers.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Salt vs. Sodium: Is Either One Healthy?

The words “salt” and “sodium” have practically become synonymous, but they’re not really the same thing. When most people refer to salt, they’re talking about table salt, which contains 40 percent sodium and 60 percent chloride (a mineral). Both sodium and chloride are necessary to good health, but what’s not healthy is the excessive amounts of sodium—not always salt itself—contained in processed foods. Ingredients like monosodium glutamate (MSG), the preservative sodium nitrate, sodium phosphate, and many more all add hefty doses of unhealthy sodium to packaged foods.

The human body needs a certain amount of healthy sodium in order to function properly; the scales shouldn’t be tipped too far in either direction. Whereas the right amount of sodium intake helps to regulate blood pressure, promote sleep, and helps with brain, muscle and nerve functions (among other things), too much sodium can result in such health issues as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

There’s been a war raging against salt for years. It started as early as the turn of the 20th century but hit fever pitch in the 1970s. Salt as a whole has been demonized to the point that some people turned to low-sodium diets that actually harmed their health. Being sodium-deficient has been shown in some studies to cause increased insulin resistance, greater risk of death for those with diabetes or heart failure, an increase in triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, and hyponatremia (particularly for athletes and those on medications or with certain medical conditions).

Choosing the right type of salt for good health is just as important as getting the right amount of sodium. Table salt comes from underground mines and undergoes heavy processing, during which it’s superheated, eliminating beneficial minerals and altering its chemical structure. Anti-clumping aluminum compound agents are then added to keep it free-flowing, and the salt is also bleached; in some other countries, fluoride is also added to table salt. Although iodine is added, which is necessary to maintain a healthy thyroid, that isn’t a reason to use table salt, since you can use a high-quality iodine supplement according to your functional medicine doctor’s recommendations.

Sea salt has been touted as being healthier than table salt, and largely speaking, it is. Rather than being superheated, the water from which it is extracted is evaporated, so the salt retains its high mineral content. But not all sea salt is equally healthy; there are a couple of things to take into consideration before you buy:

  • Read the label to find out where the salt you’re buying has come from—some sources have pollution issues and salt from these waters should be avoided.
  • Look for unrefined sea salt; Celtic (gray) and Himalayan sea salts are among the best, but check to see if the label lists any additives. Free-flowing, pure white sea salt may have been bleached and contain anti-clumping additives. If sources and/or ingredients aren’t on the label, see if you can find the source and ingredient information online. Typically, companies selling pure sea salt from clean waters are open with this information.

Unrefined sea salt can be found in a variety of colors and is coarse; it may also contain some of its naturally occurring moisture. The coloring, ranging from black to pink to gray, comes from the different types of natural minerals  contained in the salt. Among the many benefits of unrefined sea salt are:

  • Great source of electrolytes, which are important for muscle function and the cardiovascular system.
  • Helps your body produce HCL (hydrochloric acid), essential to digestive health, and allows your body to absorb necessary minerals, vitamins and other nutrients from food.
  • Balances fluids and helps you avoid dehydration—it’s only if you overdo your salt intake that your body will start to retain water.

Don’t be deterred by the courseness of unrefined sea salt—there are easy ways to prepare it for daily use. One simple way to turn coarse salt into a much finer texture is to grind it in an electric coffee grinder so you can quickly make it as fine as you like.

By avoiding the unhealthy salt used in packaged, processed and prepared foods and using unrefined sea salt in moderate amounts, you’ll maintain a healthy sodium balance and enjoy its positive health effects.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Is it Healthy to Go Vegan?

The debate over whether a vegan diet is healthier than a diet that includes animal products has been going on for decades. Both sides have presented opposing information, which is confusing for anyone trying to decide which side of the argument makes more sense. However, the truth is muddied when either side exaggerates or misrepresents facts to bolster their beliefs.

In my practice, I’ve been seeing an increasing number of young vegans who are experiencing a range of health problems, from hormonal imbalances caused by incredibly low cholesterol to anxiety stemming from poor blood sugar management. I don’t challenge their choice to be vegan – most do it for completely understandable reasons, whether religious or over animal welfare, environmental or health concerns – and I work with them to restore their health within their chosen dietary parameters.

If you’re trying to decide whether to go vegan like approximately two million other Americans have, there’s more to consider than how to get enough protein through non-meat sources. First, let me state that I’m not advocating for or against following a vegan lifestyle, but it’s important to understand the known health concerns associated with any dietary shift before embarking on it.

Vegan is different from vegetarian in that a vegan diet not only eliminates all meats and fish, it also excludes any and all products from meat or fish sources, such as dairy (cheese, milk, yogurt, etc.), eggs, gelatin, and so on. While plant-based diets are generally associated with lower cholesterol, lower risk of cardiovascular disease, lower blood pressure and the like, these health benefits are achieved only through “appropriately planned diets”, as stated by the American Dietetic Association.

One of the pitfalls people can fall into on a vegan diet is not getting enough of the important nutrients that are provided by animal products. Protein, of course, is one of the primary deficiencies vegans can face if they don’t have a complete understanding of the difference between plant and animal proteins as well as their body’s protein requirements. Because plant proteins are different from animal proteins, vegans may need to take in more grams of plant protein than would be required from animal proteins. Also, it’s important to get plant proteins from a variety of sources, such as nuts, beans, seeds, whole grains, lentils, and more.

Because the heme iron in animal products is better absorbed by the body than the non-heme iron in plant sources, a sufficient amount of vitamin C needs to be included in the vegan diet, which increases absorption of non-heme iron. On the other hand, consideration should be given to the fact that phytic acid in the same plant protein sources – lentils, whole grains, nuts, beans – can inhibit non-heme iron absorption.

Another important nutrient found mainly in animal and dairy products is vitamin B12, which helps to regulate the nervous system. Deficiencies in this vital vitamin can cause health problems that range from fatigue and immune system disorders to pernicious anemia and neurological issues. Vegans need to make sure they choose foods fortified with vitamin B12 and/or take B12 supplements (always check with your functional medicine doctor to make sure any supplements you take are pure and that you take the right amount for you personally).

Omega-3 fatty acids, derived mainly from fish and eggs, is an important nutrient in many ways, including controlling blood pressure and contributing to heart health. If your diet is missing or low in Omega-3s, you may experience symptoms like fatigue, poor concentration, dryness of hair, nails, eyes and skin, sleep problems, moodiness, irritability, joint discomfort, lower energy, and others. A high-quality Omega-3 supplement as well as including flaxseed and walnuts in your diet is important to avoid these issues as well as other long-range health problems.

One final note: Sometimes people following what they consider to be a healthy diet forget that they also need to be vigilant about the amount of added refined sugars they ingest. Vegan snacks and desserts, especially if they’re processed, may fit within the scope of a vegan diet, but if consumed too frequently, they can still cause health problems. Similarly, soda may be vegan, but it’s an unhealthy beverage choice for anyone and should be avoided.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

How a High-Fiber Diet Can Add Years to Your Life

We’ve always known that fiber-rich foods are important to good health, but scientists are now finding out why this is true, and you may find the answer surprising.

Eating foods high in fiber, like fresh fruits and vegetables as well as beans, nuts and seeds, has long been recommended to help manage or lower the risk of chronic health issues like obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and diabetes. With these and other benefits, a diet filled with fiber-rich foods can actually help you live longer. What scientists are now discovering is that it all comes down to one important thing – gut health.

Here’s a simple explanation: our gut microbiome is made up of hundreds of types of bacteria that rely on different kinds of dietary fiber to survive and stay healthy. And if the bacteria in your gut is healthy, you’re more likely to be healthy because you’ll have less inflammation and a stronger immune system.

Scientists reached this conclusion through tests in which they fed mice two different types of diets: one was a low-fiber, high-fat diet; the other was a high-fiber, high-fat diet. Since both groups of mice received high-fat diets, the only variable was the amount of dietary fiber they ingested.

The low-fiber, high-fat diet, as explained to The New York Times by biologist Dr. Fredrik Bäckhed of Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, contained about twenty percent fiber and high amounts of sugar and lard – it was essentially “what you’d get at McDonald’s,” Bäckhed explained. The study focused on the resulting diversity of bacterial species in the microbiome of mice, and the results could only be described as “dramatic”.

After just a few days, bacterial diversity was significantly altered with many species becoming rare, chronic intestinal inflammation developed, and both fat and sugar levels were elevated. The intestines shrank and the all-important intestinal mucus layer thinned, causing bacteria to move closer to the intestinal wall. This, in turn, produced an immune reaction.

Mice on high-fiber, high-fat diets fared much better – with only a modest amount of inulin fiber added to their diets, these mice gained far less weight, their intestines were more normal, and their gut bacteria remained at healthy levels.

These studies show that a low-fiber diet actually starves important gut bacteria, which causes a chain reaction and disrupts the entire gut ecosystem. This causes inflammation and makes us vulnerable to many forms of chronic illness. Biologist Justin L. Sonnenburg of Stanford University goes even further, stating that his own research, separate from that discussed above, indicates that diets low in fiber can actually cause inflammation beyond the gut and throughout the entire body.

The takeaway from these studies is that a high-fiber diet is necessary to maintain a healthy gut microbiome and to help keep inflammation down while healing, preventing or better managing disease. However, dietary fiber sources should come from a variety of plants in order to maintain a good diversity of gut bacteria, since different bacterial species feed on different types of fiber. Couple this with reducing or eliminating processed foods and sugars, and you’ll be on track for a healthier gut and a healthier you.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Added Sugars and Heart Health

For decades, Americans – and people around the world – were led to believe that fats were the true evil behind cardiovascular disease. Doctors preached that a protein-packed breakfast of eggs and meat should be replaced by whole grain cereals and other carb-based choices. But now JAMA Internal Medicine, the American Heart Association and the British Heart Foundation report that it is actually added sugars, not fats, that contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

Many people don’t realize how much sugar they’re ingesting on a daily basis, mainly because they’re used to unhealthy choices being a regular part of their lives, they don’t realize how much added sugar is in the products they’re eating, or because of hidden sugars in some products. But when all of these commonplace or seemingly small everyday choices are added together, the amount of sugar being consumed by most people is staggering. JAMA reports that most adults consume 10% of their calories from added sugar, and 10% of adults get a whopping 25% or more of their calories from added sugar. When researchers compared these two groups to people who get less than 10% of their calories from added sugar, there was a significant difference in cardiovascular disease rates and mortality.

Just how serious are these numbers? The study showed that adults who consumed 21% of their caloric intake from added sugars had more than twice the risk of a heart attack; those with the highest sugar intake raised their risk of cardiovascular disease by 400%. Those are some pretty serious numbers.

Sweetened drinks like sodas, sports/energy drinks, bottled iced tea drinks, specialty coffees and others top the list of the most heavily consumed sugar-added products. For perspective, a 12-oz. soda can contain anywhere between 9-1/2 to 12-1/2 teaspoons of sugar – if you drink a 16 oz., 20 oz. or larger container or if you have more than one soda per day, you can see how quickly your sugar intake increases just from soda alone. Then add in even more sugar from these commonly consumed culprits (and many others):

  • Sweetened breakfast cereals and oatmeal mixes
  • Jams, jellies, preserves, honey, spreads, syrups
  • Cakes, candy, cookies, etc.
  • Yogurts with sweetened fruit added
  • Other processed foods like packaged meals, frozen waffles, etc.

Naturally occurring sugars found in the structure of fruit isn’t the same as “free sugars” that are added to products, and the study found fruits did not contribute to heart disease. In addition, fresh fruit offers many other important nutrients that benefit good health.

There are a few different ways that sugar takes a toll on heart health. First and most obviously, an excess of sugar can lead to becoming overweight or obese, both of which are known to increase the risk of heart disease. But regardless of weight, sugar also raises blood pressure and creates inflammation in the body, which is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other health problems.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have any sugar in your diet, but less is more when it comes to your health. The American Heart Association has revised its recommendation for sugar consumption, stating that women should have less than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day and men should consume less than 9 teaspoons per day. One small 12 oz. soda already exceeds both of those numbers.

The majority of children, teens and adults are consuming far more added sugar than is considered safe, but the good news is that it’s easy to find healthy alternatives that will benefit you in multiple ways and begin to reverse the effects of added sugars. Replace sugary snacks with fresh fruits, seeds, nuts and the like, squeeze citrus fruits into sparkling water or cold still water to replace soda and “enhanced” waters, and use fresh vegetables, rice and meats rather than frozen or prepackaged products. You’ll be surprised how many health improvements these simple dietary changes can make.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Minimizing Your Exposure to Phthalates

Yet another revelation to underscore the health advice, “shop the perimeter of the supermarket.” This most recent disclosure, stemming from a study conducted by the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, is that most boxed macaroni and cheese products contain high levels of the industrial chemical phthalate – including products labeled as organic.

Phthalates are plasticizers that make plastics more pliable; they’re also used in packaging inks and as solvents and adhesives. Although they’re not added as a listed ingredient in packaged food products, phthalates leach into foods from packaging or during the manufacturing process. Six types of phthalates have been banned from certain children’s toys and child care items, but not from all child-related products – the chemical was only banned from items that researchers believed children might put into their mouths. However, alternative plasticizers and other types of phthalates that were not banned can still be used.

This ban did not address the presence of phthalates in foods or other personal care products. According to The New York Times, “food, drugs and beverages, and not toys, were the primary source of exposure to phthalates.” These chemicals build up in fatty foods because they bind with fats – this is especially dangerous with packaging on infant foods and formulas, fast foods, baked products, and more.

The study tested thirty cheese products for the presence of phthalates, and of those thirty, twenty-nine showed phthalate contaminations. The highest concentrations were found in boxed mac and cheese products, which contain highly processed cheese powder. These concentrations were four times higher than in other cheese products such as string cheese, block cheese, and cottage cheese. But boxed mac and cheese isn’t the only everyday product containing phthalates – they’re also found in cosmetics, vinyl, hair products and just about everything packaged in or processed with plastics.

Some of the known health issues associated with phthalates are:

  • endocrine disruption, particularly regarding male hormones
  • learning and behavior disabilities in children
  • genital birth defects in boys
  • infertility
  • risks to young children and pregnant women

Besides these health problems that can be caused by phthalates, the National Toxicology Program’s “Report on Carcinogens”, Fourteenth Edition regarding dioctyl phthalates, is introduced with this sentence: “Reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Studies have also linked phthalates to myriad other conditions, from asthma, ADD, and breast cancer to type 2 diabetes, low IQ and autism.

The perimeter of the supermarket is generally considered to have the healthiest foods – that’s where you find fresh produce, meats, dairy and fish. On the other hand, the central supermarket aisles contain a wide assortment of processed foods that are loaded with chemicals, refined sugars, high sodium content, bad fats and other unhealthy ingredients. Local organic farm markets are even better choices for produce, both environmentally to lower your carbon footprint and health-wise, since you’ll be avoiding pesticides and herbicides as well as getting the maximum number of vitamins and minerals from freshly picked produce. Try to avoid storing or microwaving foods in plastic bags or containers; instead, use stainless steel, ceramic or glass, and never put hot liquids into plastic cups. Minimizing your family’s exposure to phthalates in whatever ways possible is the best course of action.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.