Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What is Aromatase and Why Should You Care?

As women, we naturally are aware of and get concerned about our hormones.  Not only do they fluctuate during different stages of development and life, but they can also fall out of balance.  And for so many women today, too much sex hormone is manifesting as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, and reproductive cancers in the breast or uterus. Here’s the good news:  you have the power to prevent, and in some cases, heal these conditions through diet, nutritional supplementation, and lifestyle practices. 

This article and the next will briefly address three aspects of hormone metabolism: production, transport, and elimination, because while we often focus on how much estrogen we have (for example), how your body handles it is equally important. 

Steroid hormone production begins with cholesterol and can follow a number of pathways that can eventually lead to the production of one of the three forms of estrogen:  estradiol, estriol, or estrone. Like so many health related issues, functional medicine recognizes that your sex hormone levels can be negatively impacted not only by genetics, but also by nutritional deficiencies, excess weight, insulin dysregulation, inflammation, impaired detoxification, and stress.  And for women who are susceptible to or are suffering from the conditions I mentioned above, by managing these conditions, you can better regulate your hormones.

For example, if you consider just one enzyme, aromatase, that stimulates the production of estrogens, here are five situations where it can inappropriately take action:

  • excess adipose tissue (specifically belly fat, or VAT) increases inflammation and elevates estrogen levels by stimulating aromatase production; 
  • excess insulin stimulates aromatase which stimulates production of estrogen;
  • the pesticide atrazine stimulates aromatase;
  • fibroids and endometriosis tissue themselves have high aromatase activity and produce estrogen;
  • stress also creates an estrogen-dominant environment which stimulates aromatase

So, one strategy to get a handle on estrogen production would be to decrease aromatase activity.  Here are some natural aromatase inhibitors that can easily be added to your diet:

Dietary fiber and lignans - Ground flax as a source of lignans can be added to smoothies, sprinkled on your steel-cut oats or salads, or added to your pancake or muffin batters.

Soy isoflavones - I know many people avoid soy like the plague and for good reason.  Most soy in our food system is genetically modified and ubiquitous in the processed food world in the forms of textured soy protein, soy lethicin, and soybean oil.   And some people may have food sensitivities to soy. 

There’s also conflicting information about whether or not phytoestrogens activate estrogen receptors:

  • one interpretation is that they bind to the receptor and block the activity of stronger estrogens.  
  • data suggest that phytoestrogens bind to ER-beta, which inhibits cell growth, versus ER-alpha, which activates it;
  • additional data suggest that isoflavones block cell growth through mechanisms unrelated to estrogen receptor binding.

I believe that organic soy that’s been fermented to neutralize the anti nutrients (found in all grains and legumes) is perfectly safe to eat occasionally.  Acceptable forms include miso and tempeh (and natto).  And some health professionals recommend whole soy such as edamame.

Resveratrol - Grape seeds, and red wine, with California Pinot Noir and French Cabernet topping the list, are good sources of this phytonutrient.  Of course, go easy on alcohol because of the sugar content and because excess alcohol will increase the risk of breast cancer.

White button mushrooms - Lightly saute and add to salads or make a creamy mushroom soup thickened with coconut milk. 

Green tea - Lately the benefits of EGCG found in green tea have been all over the media for fat loss; however, please don’t treat it like a magic bullet.  If you’re concerned about the caffeine, to eliminate much of it, add boiling water to the tea bag and steep for a couple of minutes, then replace the water with fresh, boiled water. 

Of course, adding these food sources into an eating plan and lifestyle strategy that supports an overall balance of hormones will make them more effective.   Next time, I’ll look at hormone transport and elimination and why they matter.

If you’re ready to take control of your hormones holistically, I can help you get started.   Contact me for a breakthrough session today!

Image courtesy of zirconicusso

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Red Meat 'Guilty by Association'

After having so many people tell me that they’ve given up red meat because of their cholesterol levels or because they couldn’t lose weight, I wanted to say something about it.  Before I do, though, I first want to preface this with a couple of points:

1. If you’ve given up eating red meat (or any meat or animal products for that matter), for ethical, environmental, or another reason non-diet related, then this information wouldn’t apply.

2. When I talk about eating meat/fish, ideally it’s grass-fed, pasture-raised, or wild caught; free from added anything, including hormones, antibiotics, pesticide from soy or corn feed–which are also genetically modified.  This also implies that the animals have been raised humanely.

In an article written by Gary Taubes that was published in the Journal Science back in 2001, he raised the complex nature of fat in the diet and made these points:

  • while saturated fats raise LDL-C (which is plaque building and associated with increased risk of coronary artery disease), they also raise HDL-C (which is good);
  • some saturated fats, like stearic acid, found in chocolate are considered neutral because they raise HDL-C and do little or nothing to LDL-C; (a more recent review of stearic acid reported that it lowered LDL-C and was neutral with respect to HDL-C);
  • monounsaturated fats are beneficial because they raise HDL-C and lower LDL-C;
  • trans fats are bad because they raise LDL and lower HDL

He then goes on to show how this complexity can be applied to a select cut, porterhouse steak with a half-centimeter layer of fat (nutritional info can be found on the USDA website here).  After broiling this piece of meat, it reduces to almost equal portions of fat and protein.

  • 51% of the fat is monounsaturated (90% of this is oleic acid - the same healthy fat found in olive oil);
  • 45% of the fat is saturated, but 1/3 of that is stearic acid (the same fat found in chocolate, which is harmless);
  •  the remaining 4% is polyunsaturated fat, which improves cholesterol levels

This means that over 70% of the fat in this steak will improve cholesterol levels.   And, if this study was performed on a feedlot piece of meat, then the beneficial, omega-3 fatty acid profile may be understated compared to beef from a grass fed cow.  Think about what a porterhouse steak meal would look like if you added potatoes, bread, rice, or pasta to it.  Now, you’ve added foods that will raise your insulin and promote fat storage.   Is it possible that this steak is guilty by association?    Do you think that same piece of meat would be involved in fat storage if it were served with a plate filled with non-starchy vegetables and a fresh salad?  I don’t. 

Does this mean that I’m telling you to stock your freezer with beef and eat burgers everyday?  No.  For myself, I actually eat meat only occasionally, but I do it without fear.  But having this information will allow you to make informed decisions if you choose to reduce your animal product consumption, which I do think most of us should do, or decide to remove it altogether from your diet.  

Image courtesy of Suat Eman

Monday, October 8, 2012

[Testimonial] Yes, it's possible for you too

Laura Clark

I love to share client’s stories for many reasons:

  • I always get so inspired by their willingness to share their struggles and their commitment to making positive changes
  • Their stories allow others who may be weighing in on their own health to hear what’s possible and understand that they’re not alone;
  • The results are often far more than they bargain for;
  • And finally, their experience helps them to see the big picture with their health and motivates them to continue.

This is true for one of my recent clients and I want to share her story with you:

Before working with Linda, I was in need of a complete remake of my nutritional habits. I was lethargic and felt like an uber-blob. I felt bloated in my face and my abdomen all the time.

I chose to work with Linda’s detox program at first to plunge into a better way of eating. What I didn’t know is that I would get so much more than just how to eat better. Her program allowed me to take a long, hard look at my emotions around eating and address these at the same time.

The three most significant improvements I experienced during Linda’s detox program were:

~Weight loss & healthier looking skin
~Much more energy
~Improved self-care both nutritionally and emotionally

I feel lighter from a physical standpoint and that transcends into an emotional one because of the content of this program. I was able to get rid of a lot of weight (water weight, poundage AND emotional garbage).

Linda’s program is not only a program of information and tasty ideas ~ which it is. But, it is also filled with empathy, compassion and understanding. You can feel it every time you read something from her. She has a wealth of knowledge and understanding that is both supportive and inspiring. Her kindness has helped me make some changes that my body and spirit have long been waiting for and I’m certain will be long lasting.

~Laura Clark, Hope Valley, Rhode Island

What I’m most thrilled about for Laura is that she continues to practice healthier eating habits and continues to lose weight ~ as a beneficial side effect.  To me, weight loss is not the main objective I would like to see my clients achieve–better health is what I want for them; and if they do lose weight on their journey–which they often do as a result of their healthier habits, then I’m super thrilled for them. 

For Laura, she told me that she is far more aware and mindful of what’s she’s eating.  In addition, she’s simply making wiser choices across the board.  For example, she’s now eating more regularly, rather than concentrating most of her food later in the day.  While she would typically have a cup of coffee for breakfast, she now chooses a warm bowl of oatmeal.  And when she eats out, she also makes healthier choices without sacrificing what she likes.  The other night, for her birthday dinner out, rather than a stuffed lobster, she ordered a steamed lobster and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Improving your health doesn’t mean a future of deprivation.   We all know this doesn’t work.  The key is to develop your own personal relationship with food that satisfies your body, mind, and spirit.  If you’d like support in this area, contact me today - I’d love to help!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can You Handle Happiness?

I just finished reading a fascinating book by Gay Hendricks called The Big Leap.    The book is about how he created the life of his dreams by solving for himself what he believes is a universal challenge for most people:  The Upper Limit Problem.  He’s also gone on to coach some of the most successful people in the world to break through this barrier (which was holding them back, even in their successful lives). 

Gay says that we basically live in one of four different states:  zone of incompetence, zone of competence, zone of excellence, and zone of genius.    Each one of us has an internal setting that sets how much love, success, and creativity we’ll allow ourselves to enjoy, and if we go beyond this setting in any of these life areas, we’ll find a way - usually unconsciously - to sabotage the good feeling.   Even many uber successful people are stuck in their zone of excellence because of an internal block that they’re not aware of.

What does this have to do with your health, you may ask?  Well, if you’ve been to any of my talks, you’ll remember that I talk about the concept of primary (what you do, etc.) and secondary (what you eat) foods and how feeling unfulfilled in one area of your life can impact, among other things, your food and lifestyle choices. 

Here are some examples of The Upper Limit Problem:
  • You’ve been eating healthy and exercising all week, and then you go on a weekend binge that undoes all of your hard work.
  • You get a raving review and promotion at work and then you start an argument with your spouse or friend or colleague.
  • You start a new job and then you get sick and are laid up in bed, or you injure yourself. 
  • You are feeling good about something going well in your life and you suddenly begin to worry about something else for no good reason. 
  • You’re given a compliment and you deflect it with a self-deprecating statement.  
What do all of these scenarios have in common?  They all stop or block the flow of positive energy that you’re experiencing and brings you back into your comfort zone.   Except, this is not where you’re meant to live and preventing yourself from living in your Zone of Genius is why you may turn to cookies and ice cream while watching TV at night, or drink too much, or sabotage your relationships.    

The author asks probing questions in the book to help the reader identify their Upper Limit Problems and offers solutions, including an Ultimate Success Mantra that is an intention you use to center yourself in your Zone of Genius: 

“I expand in abundance, success, and love every day, as I inspire those around me to do the same.”

Recite this mantra anytime of the day, especially first thing in the morning to set a mood and mindset for your day.  And use it at any point throughout your day where you feel your spirit needs a lift or you want to re-center yourself.

This book forced me to take a long, hard look at many moments in my own life where my Upper Limiting beliefs have held me back and is helping me to move through those beliefs as I reach for my goals now.   I highly recommend it and hope that you too can take some jewels of wisdom and apply them in your own life. 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Is Food Porn Derailing Your Healthy Eating Efforts?

Last week, I made a very colorful, delicious salad then took a picture of it and posted it on Facebook.  And then, because I liked the picture so much, I made it the wallpaper on my computer.  Over the next few days, I noticed that the more I saw the picture, which by the way looks awesome on a 15-inch screen, the more I focused on eating healthy.  The fresh garden tomatoes, the chunks of red pepper and avocado all felt appetizing and almost made me feel as if I was doing something good for myself.   In a way, I was, because I ate more salad last week than I had all summer!

Yesterday, I knew I was on to something when I picked up the September issue of Women’s Health Magazine and found an article entitled, The Food Porn Problem.    The article explains how the growing obsession with looking at images of sinfully seductive dishes not only make us hungrier, they can cause us to overeat, even hours later. 

A study in the journal Neuroscience found that viewing images of delicious food lit up the reward centers of the brain and caused overeating and a study in the journal Obesity found that seeing food caused an increase in the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, even if someone had just eaten.   And a study in the journal Appetite found that dieters were more susceptible to overeating in response to seeing food on TV  than non-dieters.   Yet another reason why diets don’t work!

I know I never pass up the opportunity to eyeball a gooey fudge brownie sundae or a crispy, creamy forkful of something comforting.  And I’m not alone because food pictures are surpassing clothing and style re-pins by 50% on Pinterest and some food blogs have eliminated recipes altogether in favor of decadent close-ups.

If you suspect that even the sight of food is having an impact on your eating habits, here are some ways to weaken your brain’s response to food:

1.  Shift your focus - rather than focus on food, get in the habit of viewing images of beauty - like your favorite places to visit, style, interior design, etc.

2.  Exercise - regular physical activity is believed to dampen the brain’s reward center so that you’ll have less of a desire to look for food.

3.  Get plenty of sleep - when you’re sleep deprived, you’re more susceptible to the temptations brought on by the images of food.

4.  Cook more - getting into the habit of cooking will provide a multi-sensory experience around food that can result in smaller portions and fewer calories eaten.

And if you must look at images of food, the next time you make a pretty salad, take a picture and pin it up somewhere, like your computer screen, to encourage you to eat healthy… : )

Source:  Women’s Health Magazine, September 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Why Acne is More Than Skin Deep

The other day, I was on the elliptical machine at the gym and an infomercial came on for acne medication. When I went to the company’s website, it noted that there was no cure for acne.  If someone with problem skin read that, they may conclude that they’re doomed to years of breakouts and treating their skin with washes and creams and medications.

Well, have you ever heard the expression by Tony Robbins, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.”?   This holds true for skin breakouts!

Because in most cases, I believe there is a ‘cure’ for acne and it begins with a mindset shift–from thinking it needs to be treated on the outside to understanding how to prevent it from the inside–and then making the changes necessary to prevent it .   

Years ago, I had bouts of cystic acne and no matter what I used on my skin it didn’t help.  It wasn’t until I cleaned up my diet that the breakouts stopped.  And now if they ever show up again, I know it’s because of what I’m putting inside my body. 

If not triggered by allergies to outside sources, many skin conditions like acne and eczema are usually caused by food sensitivities that irritate the lining of your gut, causing it to leak.   The rash or the breakout is simply your body’s way of detoxing and is a message that something is wrong inside.   The offending foods may also be contributing to hormone imbalances that can also trigger a breakout.

In addition, like so many personal care products, many acne creams have ingredients like parabens, BHT, fragrances, and propylene glycol that themselves can cause allergic reactions or even act as xenoestrogens and increase your body’s toxic load. While there are some acne treatments that are relatively safe, the Environmental Working Group’s site Skin Deep, lists a number of products that scored as high as 9 out of 10 with 10 being the highest for concern.

To minimize the occurrence of breakouts once and for all, there are four steps:

1.  Remove the offending foods from the diet
2.  Heal the gut
3.  Replace offending foods with gut-friendly foods that also balance hormone levels
4.  Replenish the bacterial flora and feed them to keep the gut strong and healthy

It sounds like a simple process; however, it can sometimes be a challenge to identify the foods and/or eliminate them, especially if they’ve become part of your everyday life.  Whether you’re struggling with a skin condition like acne or eczema, or know someone who is, I bet you or they would be thrilled to take control of the condition.  It begins with a conversation to determine where you’re at and where we need to go from there.   To learn more, contact me and we can talk about whether my support will give you the relief you need, once and for all.   You have nothing to lose and clear, beautiful skin to gain.

It’s finally here, The ClearYou 21-Day Detox!  It’s completely online and can be started when you’re ready to begin.  And beginning tomorrow and for the next eight days, it’s being offered at a fraction of the regular price.  Find out more on Plum District here.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Artificial Sweeteners - Do they really save calories?

A couple of weeks ago, a joint statement came out from the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association that while non-caloric sweeteners may be useful for limiting carbohydrates and added sugars in the diet, the evidence is inconclusive as to whether it works in the long run to cut calories, reduce sugar, and lose weight.  The statement in itself was a bit curious since it states that the non-caloric sweeteners may be useful for limiting added sugars in the diet, but the evidence is inclusive that it reduces sugar in the diet.   On the contrary, data from a number of epidemiologic studies found that the evidence seems more in favor of the sweeteners increasing sugar and calorie intake and weight gain.  Why is this?  Here are two proposed reasons:

1.  They cause us to overcompensate.  Because the taste of sweet is normally followed by calories, as is the case with real/natural sugars, consuming artificial sweeteners may lead to overeating to compensate for the lack of calories.   Studies in adults showed that while consuming sucrose before a meal helped to lower the number of calories consumed at a subsequent meal, artificial sweeteners like aspartame did not.  This was also demonstrated in rats that were fed either water with sucrose/glucose or an artificial sweetener before a meal.  The rats fed artificially sweetened water ate more and gained more weight than the rats that drank sugar water, suggesting that a mechanism for energy balance is in play.

2.  They leave us wanting more.  There are two branches of the food reward pathway that target different regions of the brain.  The first involves the hypothalamus.  Functional MRI studies have shown that glucose and sucralose act differently on the hypothalamus.  In addition, aspartame binds to sweet taste receptors differently than sugar and activates the second branch of the pathway (that involves the insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and amygdala regions of the brain) to a lesser extent than sugar. This all suggests we don't derive the same pleasure from artificial sweeteners as we do from natural sugars.

On the topic of whether artificial sweeteners are safe to consume, I mentioned last week that the data is inconclusive but there is plenty of human experiences to suggest that they cause problems for many people.  If you read this Citizen’s Petition against aspartame on the FDA site, you will get a glimpse into some of the findings about aspartame during it’s development and testing.  A search on their site also turns up a number of complaints submitted to the FDA. 

In addition, while there has been some concern about aspartame and a risk of cancer, in one study, rats that developed higher numbers of lymphomas and leukemias that were fed aspartame, were given doses equivalent to 8 - 2,083 cans of diet soda per day.   Anything in excessive doses can be toxic, even water. 

Would I recommend using artificial sweeteners on a regular basis?  Not unless you can tolerate them and you can truly reduce your sugar/simple carb intake with them.  For many people, I don’t think an occasional diet soda is harmful unless you know for sure that you experience specific reactions to artificial sweeteners. For example, people with PKU who cannot metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine should avoid aspartame entirely.  In addition, while many people do not react to sucralose with a rash, knowing what it can do, I choose not to take the risk.

In my mind, the real issue here is not whether or not we should be consuming artificial sweeteners, but rather, why do we need so much “sweet” in the first place?  Yes, we have sweet receptors and there are lots of natural foods that can activate them, like fruits and sweet vegetables.  Why isn’t this enough for us and why is our food supply swimming in both calorie-containing and non-caloric sweeteners?  If we were sweetening our lives in other ways, perhaps our need for sweet taste would dissipate.  

Image courtesy of Audfriday13