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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Where is This Rash Coming From?

I want to share a story with you shared with me by one of my clients in the hopes that may be helpful for you or someone you know. 

During our first session, she told me about a rash that she had developed that spread over her body and that was so itchy that, as she describes it, she couldn’t dig down to the bone far enough to scratch it.  She visited several doctors and dermatologists who couldn’t figure out the source of it, until one finally suggested it must be an allergy.

She went home and thought about what she was doing on a daily basis that might be the cause.  At the time, she was drinking Waist Watcher’s diet soda that’s sweetened with sucralose (Splenda).   So she did a search on the internet for sucralose and rash and sure enough, forums popped up filled with people complaining about the same symptoms from using sucralose and her rash was identical to the rashes that were described.  So she stopped drinking the soda and lo and behold, the rash went away.  And when she tried the soda again, the rash returned.    She was also able to help a number of her patients (she’s a nurse practitioner) who were having the same problem.

Sadly enough, when she contacted the makers of Splenda, they denied that it could be causing the problem.  The makers of Waist Watcher’s soda; however, were interested in what she had to say. 

The scientific data on whether or not artificial sweeteners are safe is inconclusive, although reading about it was enough to give me whiplash.  For example, one study that concluded that sucralose impaired gut microflora in mice was quickly deemed flawed by a “panel of experts” on the subject.  

If you suspect that you do have issues with sucralose, or any artificial sweeteners for that matter, “do the experiment” and eliminate it from your diet.  Then, if you’re not convinced, “challenge yourself with it again to see if your problem comes back.  In addition, to help you identify potential sources that may be hiding out in your diet, visit Food Facts for a list of foods that are made with specific artificial sweeteners.   You’ll be surprised where they’re showing up, such as in canned fruit, yogurt, jams and jellies, popcorn, vitamins, ketchup, protein powders, frozen meals and sparkling water. 

Why else might you want to remove artificial sweeteners from your diet?  More on this next week…

Image courtesy of Keerati

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Are You Good to Your Heart?

While I was at the Institute for Functional Medicine Convention a couple of weeks ago, I got to listen to Dr. Mimi Guarneri, a cardiologist from Southern California and the winner of the Linus Pauling award this year for her outstanding work.  I just finished reading her book, The Heart Speaks, in which she talks about her journey from being a type A, by-the-book cardiologist to someone who has grown to appreciate and respect the power and influence that thoughts, feelings, emotions, and a sense of belonging have on heart health.   Because of this, she began support groups for her heart patients that included yoga and meditation, and she was initially laughed at by her peers.  Today, her classes are full and her programs are a success.  In fact, in her book, she quotes Larry Dossey who said:

“Scientists working in the new field of psychoneuroimmunology have demonstrated the existence of infinite links between parts of the brain concerned with thought and emotion and the neurological and immune systems.  Based on these discoveries, we know beyond doubt that thought can become biology.”

I’m always talking about the importance of a healthy diet, but if you’ve ever been to one of my talks, then you’ve heard me speak about ‘primary food’, which is everything in our life except food (which is considered secondary food).  This may include career, relationships, your spiritual practice, etc.  Whatever balance may look like for you in these areas, that is to say, whatever combination of factors in your area of primary food make you happy or feel a sense of well-being, if they’re not being fulfilled, then the negative impact they have on you emotionally in some ways can be just as bad as eating fast food everyday for lunch.  

Eating all the kale and quinoa in the world will not prevent an unhealthy balance of hormones that can arise from constant anger, frustration, or despair.   And of course, living under a cloud of constant negative emotions will eventually influence the steps we take–or don’t take–to maintain our health.

Dr. Guarneri tells remarkable stories about some of her patients and how it wasn’t until they overcame emotional issues, opened the lines of communication with their spouses, or found a reason to live (one elderly woman got herself a small dog and it changed her world) that they were able to get on the road to recovery. She also described a high-powered, female executive patient who had no signs of heart disease or risk factors yet who had suffered a heart attack that was brought on by intense anger and an emotional outburst.   

And, she tells some fascinating stories about the power of prayer and how one of her patients was transformed by a healer.   Not something that you would hear most doctors talk about or even believe in.   She certainly didn’t until she saw a miraculous recovery.  She even uses the power of healing touch herself on her patients that helped spare one from surgery.

Overall, this book has me taking a look at my life, my relationships, and anywhere I may be harboring negativity or other low energy emotions that could be harming me physically.  It has reminded me of the importance of primary food in my life, in addition to diet and exercise.

One night at the conference, I met Dr. Guarneri.  A small group of women were talking, and she mentioned to us half jokingly that she would like to give up her practice and start farming.   I told her if she wanted some tips on how to get started to go visit my daughter in Northern California.  She smiled… 

Think about all the ways you may be hurting your heart and the impact it is having on your life or of those around you.  Then, commit to turning those actions around to something positive.  You may be surprised how far-reaching your actions go.

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Safely Protect Your Skin from the Inside and Out

What’s going on?  The use of sunscreens and the spf factors have both increased, yet the rate of skin cancers is also increasing.  There are lots of theories about this.  One is that we are just not applying them properly or that we are overestimating their ability to protect our skin. 

Another theory is that some of the chemicals found in many sunscreens are actually harmful and may be contributing to skin damage.  For example, vitamin A (listed as retinyl palmitate) applied topically has been shown to actually accelerate the development of tumors.  And several additional ingredients found in very popular sunscreens actually generate free radicals themselves when they absorb the sun’s UV radiation.

Then there’s the issue of blocking our bodies’ ability to produce vitamin D when we’re not letting in the sun’s rays.  Vitamin D is so important for a strong immune system and bones, and it’s thought to help prevent several types of cancer.  In addition, there is still no compelling evidence to suggest that when used properly, sunscreens reduce the risk of skin cancer. 

From someone who has had melanoma, this is something I’m particularly interested in.  To take matters in my own hands, here are the things that I do and recommend for you and your family.  You’ve heard many of these before, but it’s always nice to get a reminder…

Avoid direct sun at its hottest - You know that the sun is hottest when it is at it’s highest–usually between 10 am and 2 pm, depending on where you are.  Try to stay out of the direct sun during those hours. If you can get your yard or garden work done or your bike ride in early or later in the day, you’ll need less cover-up and the temperature will be more bearable. 

Cover up - We’ve all experienced tan lines from a bathing suit, so we understand how effective clothing can be at preventing sun exposure.  If I’m at the beach these days, you’ll find me wearing a hat, sunglasses, and a long-sleeve, linen cover-up.  Alternatively, I’m under an umbrella.  Avoiding the direct sunlight is the best way to prevent sunburn.  Also remember that an overcast day won’t prevent the sun’s rays from reaching you, so cover up on a cloudy day as well.

Wear sunglasses - Many people don’t realize that like the skin, UV radiation can also damage the eyes.  An “eye sunburn” from excessive amounts of UV radiation over a short period of time can cause photokeratitis–a condition that can feel like grittiness or a foreign object in the eye.  This is something that usually clears up.  However, excessive, long-term exposure to the sun can increase the risk of cateracts or macular degeneration.  

For the safety of you and your family (even small children), wear sunglasses that block out 99 - 100% of both UV-A and UV-B radiation as well as 75 - 90% of visible light.  For more information, check the American Optometric Association’s website.

Wear a safe sunscreen - Although there is still no compelling evidence to suggest it prevents skin cancer, keeping your skin burn-free is certainly one way to lower the risk. When choosing a sunscreen, the Environmental Working Group recommends choosing one that is free from several ingredients, including oxybenzone or vitamin A. 

Of all the products they’ve evaluated, they recommend non-mineral sunscreens with avobenzone or mineral-based formulas using zinc or titanium (however, not in spray or powder form).  Check their site for a list of the safest bets to choose from.

Don’t forget to apply it to the feet and the ears–this is actually a common spot for skin cancer.  For women, it’s the back of the legs, which is where I had it.  Reapply after going into the water or after sweating. 

Eat your fruits and veggies! -  Studies have shown that carotenoids and flavonoids, which protect plants from photo damage, also help prevent UV damage in humans and animals.  One study showed that mice who were fed the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin had a reduction in the UV-B induced inflammatory response and also exhibited less cell death and less inappropriate cell development.

Lycopene, which is abundant in tomatoes (and is found in watermelon), has been shown to decrease the sensitivity of UV-induced erythema (redness of the skin).  In addition, a meta analysis of seven studies also concluded that beta-carotene supplementation protects against sunburn.   And the longer the duration of supplementation, the better the protection.

What better way to protect ourselves from the damaging rays than from the inside out?  A strong arsenal of internal antioxidants will help to offset the damage that sunscreens don’t prevent and a consistently healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits will ensure that we’re getting the best natural protection.

I wish you all a happy and healthy and sunburn-free summer! 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

6 Reasons Why Eating Locally is a Holistic Practice

This is the time of year when the farmer’s markets start popping up and depending on where you are, you may have access to quite a variety of produce and locally produced foods.  And while sometimes it’s much easier to run into the grocery store for the items you need, there are some real benefits to visiting a local farmer or an outdoor market:

1.  Freshness - since the produce is locally grown, you can bet that it’s not only fresh, but picked at its peak so that it has the greatest abundance of nutrients possible.  Much of the produce found in the large grocery stores is picked long before it’s ripe and then travels long distances.  Sometimes they’re also treated with chemicals to ripen them on the trip.

2.  Seasonal Eating - These days, we have access to everything around the globe, which means it’s easy to make a tropical fruit salad in winter, or even have access to quinoa from South America.  When we eat locally produced, seasonal foods, though, we live in harmony with nature and give our bodies what they need naturally.   Here in New England, spring and summer are the times to eat early greens and berries, and they’re naturally detoxifying and cooling, which is exactly what our bodies need in the hot weather.  Root vegetables that are in season in the fall and winter naturally add more warmth to the body.  

3.  Getting to Know Your Farmer - Buying your produce at a farmer’s market give you an opportunity to get to know your farmers and their farming practices.  For example, I’ve spoken to several farmers about pesticide treatment.  Most have told me that they practice integrative pest management, which means that their fields are inspected regularly and then only treated for a specific bug or disease if and when necessary.  One farmer in Boston explained to me that they must often treat their apple trees after the greenhouses in Canada open up, because they release spores into the air that travel hundreds of miles and infect their trees.  When you understand how and why a farmer is raising their produce, you can make more educated decisions about the food you spend your money on and eat.

4.  Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) - Many farms now offer CSAs, meaning that members of the community can pay a one-time fee to receive a basket of produce and locally crafted foods on a weekly basis.  The nice thing about this is that you’ll be given what’s fresh and coming up at the time.  In addition, you’re investing in the success of the farm, which is a win-win situation for everyone.  The more support the farms can get, the more likely they’ll survive and be there to offer the best quality produce you can get.

5.  Reducing Your Carbon Footprint - Produce that is grown and sold locally on smaller farms requires less fuel for transportation and potentially less petrochemical fertilizers that are often required for large-scale growth.  This helps us all reduce energy consumption in a way that has a direct benefit on our health.

6.  Fostering a Sense of Community - By supporting your farmers, you help strengthen the local community and meet like-minded people in the process.  We all want to belong to something and supporting local farms isn’t limited to farmer’s markets or CSAs.  Today, many farms team with local and popular restaurants to host “chef-to-table” or “farm-to-table” dinners that feature the farm’s ripe produce as well as other local fare.  I attended one at Starlight Garden Farms in Durham, CT that offered a seven-course meal and was set out in the open field of tomato plants.   The food, the atmosphere, the conversation, all made for a memorable event.

To find farmer’s markets in your area, visit Local Harvest, where you can also find farms and their offerings as well as purchase farm-produced products from their online store.