Thanks to science and public awareness, we know environmental pollution from industry harms our health. Same goes with tobacco. But did you know “social pollution” is just as harmful? Social pollution refers to the long hours, lack of economic security, high cost of health care, exhaustion, surviving in a gig economy, lack of parental support, and high stress that has come to characterize work life in the United States and other industrialized countries. It is now recognized as they fifth leading cause of death.
In the new book Dying for a Paycheck, author and Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer uncovers the disastrous toll of modern work life on human health.
Sixty-one percent of American workers say workplace stress has made them sick, and 7 percent have been hospitalized by it.
Workplace stress contributes to the chronic diseases that make up three quarters of the health problems crushing our health care system, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) cardiovascular disease, and circulatory diseases. Disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and overeating are also linked to high stress and the erosion of family and social structures from work-related stress.
In fact, one of the worst aspects of modern work life is the effect it is having on our social support structures. Long, stressful hours at work breaks up marriages and families, leaves too little time for healthy socializing with friends and family, and makes it difficult for single people to date or establish new relationships.
Research clearly shows regular healthy socialization is vital to good health and that isolation and lack of positive social time can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When work place stress and social pollution keeps you stuck in fight-or-flight mode
One of the many downsides to workplace stress and social pollution is that it can keep your nervous systems stuck in fight-or-flight mode. A normal stress response is to flee, fight, or freeze. When work stress and the havoc it causes on your home life is constant, you never get a chance to unwind from being in a fight-or-flight state.
The chronic stress from this is devastating to brain and body health. It accelerates brain aging, causes leaky gut, raises inflammation, imbalances the hormones, and increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and addictive habits.
What can you do to protect yourself from social pollution and workplace stress
Unfortunately, most of us cannot single-handedly change this unhealthy situation in which we find ourselves. However, you can be aware of and not psychologically buy into the subtle or not-so-subtle shaming and unhealthy expectations around productivity.
Many companies expect longer hours at lower pay yet provide little to no job security, sick days, maternity or paternity leaves, and so on. Be aware of this and don’t internalize the messaging that working long days with no days off makes you a better person. It doesn’t, it makes you a sicker person.
If you can downsize your housing, car payments, or other expenses, consider the positive impact living more modestly can have on your health. It could be the ticket to a dramatic health turn around.
However, not everyone can afford to downsize as many are working non-stop to barely get by. Although there is no easy answer to this, recognize your situation and don’t ask too much from yourself.
The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have at changing public perception and workplace policies.
In the meantime, support your health the best you can with an anti-inflammatory diet, seek out support, and make sure to include healthy, restful, and relaxing time in your life as much as possible.
If you have a desk job and are too tired to make it to the gym, take regular breaks to move your body and go for short walks as frequently as possible. Regular physical activity is vital to the heath of your brain and body and will help protect you from the harm of workplace stress.
For years we’ve been warned the cholesterol in eggs raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, however new research shows that in people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, eggs do not raise cardiovascular risk if they are part of a healthy diet. What’s more, they pose no additional challenges to weight loss. These findings, along with previous research, indicate we need to jettison the outdated stance on cholesterol dangers.
The study emphasized a healthy diet that replaced saturated fats such as butter with monounsaturated fats such as olive and avocado oil. In tracking cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, no significant differences were found between groups.
Researchers tracked two groups for one year: a high-egg group that ate 12 eggs per week and a low-egg group that ate fewer than two eggs per week. They found the following:
In the firsts three months of the study, neither group experienced an increase in cardiovascular risk markers.
During the second three months, both groups participated in a weight-loss diet while continuing their egg consumption protocols and achieved equivalent weight loss.
In the final six months, both groups achieved equivalent weight loss and showed no adverse changes to cardiovascular risk markers.
Eggs are commonly immune reactive
While the heat is off regarding egg consumption in relation to cholesterol levels, it’s important to know that for many people eggs are immune reactive and need to be avoided. Cyrex Labs offers a variety of panels that test for reactivity to eggs.
“Despite being vilified for decades, dietary cholesterol is understood to be far less detrimental to health than scientists originally thought. The effect of cholesterol in our food on the level of cholesterol in our blood is actually quite small.”
— Dr. Nick Fuller, lead author in the research
Why we need cholesterol
Conventional medicine would have us believe dietary cholesterol is bad, but we need to consume plenty of it in the form of healthy, natural fats.
Cholesterol is found in every cell of our bodies, and without it we wouldn’t survive. We use cholesterol to make vitamin D, cell membranes, and bile acids to digest fats.
Sufficient cholesterol is necessary to digest key antioxidant vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Cholesterol is also a necessary building block for our adrenal hormones and our reproductive hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
The brain is largely made up of fat, and the fats we eat directly affect its structure and function, providing insulation around nerve cells, supporting neurotransmitter production, and helping maintain healthy communication between neurons.
Unraveling “good” vs. “bad” cholesterol
We hear a lot about “good” HDL and “bad” LDL cholesterol. They are actually lipoproteins, small fat and protein packages that transport cholesterol in the body.
HDL: High-density lipoprotein. Called “good” cholesterol, HDL helps keep cholesterol away from your arteries and removes excess arterial plaque.
LDL: Low-density lipoprotein. Called “bad” cholesterol, LDL can build up in the arteries, forming plaque that makes them narrow and less flexible, a condition called atherosclerosis.
Triglycerides. Elevated levels of this fat are dangerous and are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Levels can rise from smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, and being overweight. A diet high in sugars and grains also puts you at risk.
Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a). Made of an LDL part plus a protein (apoprotein a), elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk for heart disease.
When considering test results, your doctor will pay attention to:
HDL levels vs. LDL levels
The ratio between triglycerides to HDL
The ratio between total cholesterol and HDL
The size of the particles
There are small and large particles of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Large particles are practically harmless, while the small, dense particles are more dangerous because they can lodge in the arterial walls, causing inflammation, plaque buildup, and damage leading to heart disease.
More important than knowing your total cholesterol is knowing the ratio between your HDL and your LDL, and especially the size of the particles.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, many doctors now believe that for predicting your heart disease risk, your total non-HDL cholesterol level may be more useful than calculating your cholesterol ratio. Non-HDL cholesterol contains all the “bad” types of cholesterol; it is figured by subtracting your HDL cholesterol number from your total cholesterol number.
However, either option appears to be a better risk predictor than your total cholesterol level or simply your LDL level.
In some cases, people have a genetic tendency toward extremely high cholesterol. In those situations, it may take more than diet to manage cholesterol levels.
Contact me to learn more about diet and lifestyle to support healthy cholesterol levels, find out about your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk, and to test for egg reactivity.
The Epstein-Barr virus infects more than 90 percent of people in the United States by the age of 20. At least one in four of those infected will develop the commonly-known disease mononucleosis, or “mono,” experiencing a rash, enlarged liver or spleen, head- and body aches, and extreme fatigue.
However, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is not only related to mono. Recent studies indicate it may be a catalyst for at least six more diseases, most of which are autoimmune in nature. These include multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
EBV isn’t the only virus associated with autoimmunity. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) has been linked to Sjögren’s syndrome, upper respiratory viral infections and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) have been linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), and EBV has previously been linked to lupus.
Chronic viral infections can contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases
It has long been thought that viruses play a part in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, especially autoimmunity. Many healthcare practitioners report there is frequently a hidden infection that either precedes or seems to trigger an initial autoimmune attack, or subsequently appears when the immune system is weakened once autoimmunity is activated.
This creates a vicious cycle of infection and illness. Infections are opportunistic and often travel together — many autoimmune patients find they host multiple infections that are bacterial, viral, parasitic and/or fungal, driving the inflammation that leads to symptoms.
The relationship between viral infection and autoimmune disease is multifaceted, involving numerous complex processes in the body. Scientists believe that a variety of factors must usually be present for an infection to result in an autoimmune condition. This includes not only a genetic predisposition but also lifestyle and environmental factors such as:
Poor sleep habits
Dietary inflammatory triggers
In a nutshell, chronic disease develops as a result of an improper immune response to a viral infection due to other predisposing factors. The virus acts as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Chronic viruses can prevent autoimmune remission
Remission from autoimmune symptoms is possible with proper diet and lifestyle management. However, if you already have an autoimmune condition, a chronic viral infection can prevent you from alleviating your symptoms and halting progression of the autoimmunity. In fact, a chronic virus is a deal-breaker in recovery for many patients.
If you have an autoimmune condition and suffer from symptoms that don’t get better after addressing inflammatory triggers through diet and lifestyle, you should consider testing for viruses associated with your condition.
Viral infections can occur years before developing autoimmunity
Viral infections usually occur well before any symptoms associated with autoimmunity develop (sometimes years), so it can be difficult to make a definitive link between a particular infection and a yet-to-be autoimmune disorder. However, if you have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition but have had any of these viruses in the past and have unexplained symptoms now, it’s worth getting tested for autoimmunity and a chronic virus.
Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the number one cause of disability in the US, afflicting 31 million people. Until now, treatment strategies have been aimed at pain relief but not the inflammatory factors driving it.
However, new research shows that improving the gut microbiome — the community of bacteria that live in your gut — through prebiotic fiber may be the key to not only reducing the pain of osteoarthritis, but also curbing the inflammation.
Inflammation drives the arthritis of obesity
Obesity is a key risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. While it has been long been thought this is due to the extra weight overloading the joints, the new findings suggest it’s more likely linked to inflammation caused by shifts in an “obesity-prone” gut microbiome profile.
In the study, obese, arthritic mice showed less beneficial Bifidobacteria and an over abundance of inflammatory bacteria. The harmful bacteria caused inflammation throughout their bodies, leading to rapid joint deterioration.
However, when researchers fed the mice a nondigestible prebiotic fiber called oligofructose (a type of inulin), it shifted their gut microbiome to reduce inflammation protect from osteoarthritis despite no change in body weight.
This research suggests a new approach to treating osteoarthritis with a focus on gut microbiome and inflammation.
Prebiotics feed your gut bacteria
The effect of gut bacteria on arthritis pain is only one reason to improve your gut microbiome. It also helps your immune system, brain function, mood, and more. Systemic inflammation, regardless of obesity, is at the root of many chronic health disorders, including autoimmunity, heart disease, cancer, and more.
While probiotics — bacteria that line your digestive tract, support your body’s absorption of nutrients, and fight infection — have received a lot of notice in recent years, prebiotics are only now getting the press they deserve.
Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that serve as food for the bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. They come in the form of dietary fiber supplied by the fruits and vegetables you eat.
Prebiotics pass through the small intestine undigested. Once they reach the colon, gut bacteria consume them for fuel and create byproducts, such as vitamins and short chain fatty acids, valuable to human health.
Strong sources of prebiotics include all vegetables but especially:
Prebiotics and probiotics together are important for battling inflammation and lowering overall disease risk.
Support plentiful SCFA for proper immune function
The short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) gut bacteria produce are essential to dampening the inflammation implicated in obesity and osteoarthritis.
One of the most important SCFAs is called butyrate. To increase butyrate and other SCFAs:
Eat abundant and varied fruits and vegetables daily — 7 to 9 servings is recommended.
Eat probiotic-rich fermented and cultured foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and coconut water kefir.
Take SCFA-supporting supplements such as Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus sporogenes, and DDS-1 Lactobacilli acidophilus.
Take arabinogalactan, a compound made up of protein and sugar, which is helpful for immune support and SCFA production.
Intolerance to gluten, dairy, or other foods also provokes joint pain
Joint pain can also be driven by immune reactivity to certain foods.
Two of the most common inflammatory foods are gluten and dairy — prevalent in most people’s diets. When a person with gluten sensitivity eats gluten (not just wheat, but gliadin, glutenin, and transglutaminase proteins in other grains), the immune system jumps into action, releasing pro-inflammatory signaling cells. This leads to systemic inflammation affecting the body’s organs and soft tissue, including the joints and even the brain. A similar process happens for those reactive to dairy.
Some people find vegetables in the nightshade family cause pain and inflammation in their joints. These include eggplant, potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams), peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot pepper products (cayenne, Tabasco, etc.), and pepper-based spices. Simply removing nightshades from the diet has brought relief from joint pain for many, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis.
Gluten, dairy, and nightshades are common reactive foods, but there are more on the list. An anti-inflammatory diet is a great tool for dampening pain and inflammation while helping you determine your immune reactive foods.
Chronic pain can create vicious cycles both in the immune system and in the brain that perpetuate even more pain. Fortunately, through dietary measures and nutritional support, we can unwind these vicious cycles.
Ask me for more information on alleviating your chronic joint pain by addressing the underlying cause.
Do perfumes or heavy fragrance make you gag or trigger your inflammation or autoimmune symptoms? Do scented products, gasoline fumes, car exhaust, tire stores, new rugs or carpet, or other sources of chemical odors give you headaches, fatigue, and other symptoms? You are not alone. An increasing number of people suffer from migraines, rashes, fatigue, mood changes, autoimmune flare-ups, and other symptoms when they encounter chemical scents, odors, or fumes. Even products we used to associate with freshness and cleanliness, such as scented dryer sheets, can trigger debilitating symptoms.
The toxins in environmental chemicals have myriad short and long-term health effects and should be avoided by all people. However, some people become extremely sick from even mild exposure, which can limit their ability to be in public, their careers, relationships, and where they live. Just a walk in the neighborhood can turn toxic when the neighbor is running their dryer.
This is because the same underlying loss of immune tolerance is at the foundation.
How someone with TILT reacts depends on how they express inflammation and immune dysregulation. Reactions include asthma, migraines, depression, anxiety, fibromyalgia, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, incontinence, neurological dysfunction, and rashes.
Research shows primary reason people develop TILT is depletion of the master antioxidant: glutathione. If the body’s glutathione levels are healthy, the risk of TILT and other immune-based disorders is much lower.
A healthy gut microbiome is increasingly being shown as a vital factor in preventing chemical sensitivities. The gut is the seat of the immune system and our gut bacteria profoundly influence all aspects of health, including immune function. When gut bacteria are not diverse enough or over ridden with bacterial infection, the immune system cannot respond appropriately to threats and becomes overzealous, reacting to everything.
Addressing leaky gut, inflammatory foods in the diet, and gut inflammation are equally important.
Deficiencies in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, chronic system inflammation, and chronic or acute stress are other factors that can contribute to the development of chemical sensitivities.
If you have autoimmune disease, be especially careful with toxic chemicals in everyday household and body products. Autoimmunity means the immune system is already hyper reactive and thus more prone to TILT.
Reducing chemical sensitivities can require a thorough functional nutrition protocol. Strategies include boosting glutathione levels, eating a wide and ample variety of vegetables to diversify your gut bacteria, shoring up on vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids, exercising regularly to boost immune-taming endorphins, practicing stress relief techniques, and following an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet.
Keeping your immune system resilient and stable with a customized functional nutrition approach can help prevent and reduce chemical sensitivities. Ask me for more advice.
Want to improve your mood, health, and brain function? An ample and diverse supply of healthy gut bacteria has been shown to be essential, and that is best obtained through eating lots of different kinds of produce. Try going out of your comfort zone in the produce aisle and incorporating some new varieties of vegetables and fruits.
The digestive system is host to nearly four pounds of bacteria — some considered “good,” some considered “bad” — and while both have roles to play, it’s critical to actively support the good bacteria to avoid leaky gut, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and systemic inflammation, all of which contribute to autoimmunity and other chronic illnesses.
Gut bacteria rely on the fiber from fruits and vegetables as a source of energy. When bacteria metabolize fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), vital compounds that regulate immune function, reduce inflammation, and boost brain health.
Support gut bacteria with plentiful and varied produce
Simply eating plentiful — and diverse — fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to support a diverse population of bacteria in your gut. Also, probiotics work best in a gut environment that’s already being supported with plenty of fiber – from the fruits and vegetables on your plate.
The recommended produce consumption is seven to 10 servings a day. That may sound like a lot, but one serving is only a half cup of chopped produce, or a cup of leafy greens. Aim for produce low on the glycemic scale — sugary fruits may create problems for those with unstable blood sugar.
Expand your options with new and unusual produce
If you are looking to expand your consumption of produce and need some inspiration, seek out some of these fresh fruits and vegetables at international or health food stores that bring in varieties of produce lesser known in the west:
Ayote is a tropical squash used similarly to summer squash or pumpkin. It can be eaten whole when tender, or when mature, made into a stew, creamy soup, or sweet dessert or pie.
Bitter melon (balsam pear, bitter gourd, bitter cucumber) is a tropical green melon native to Asia, Africa and parts of the Caribbean. Unripe it is bitter, but allowed to ripen, the interior turns a reddish hue and has a sweeter flavor. Cooked like zucchini, bitter melon has cancer-fighting properties, is reported to help cure diabetes, and can help cleanse the body of toxins.
Camote: A starchy white sweet potato that can be prepared and eaten in the same way as the sweet potato. In Costa Rica camotes are used in soups or mashed into puree and served with a bit of milk, butter, and sugar. Camote can also sub for sweet potato in casseroles.
Cherimoya (cherimolia, chirimolla, anone): Native to southern Ecuador and northern Peru cherimoya is the size of a large apple or grapefruit, with a green dimpled skin and a creamy white, sweet-tart flesh. The flavor is a blend of pineapple and banana. Eat cherimoya like an apple, cubed, scooped out with a spoon, or cut in half and peeled. It can also be pureed and used as mousse or pie filling.
Choy Sum (bok choy sum, yu choy sum, flowering Chinese cabbage) looks much like baby bok choy, but its yellow flowers set it apart. The leaves are more bitter than the stems, and the entire plant is edible. Steam or saute, or try blanching and then cooking in oyster sauce.
Daikon Radish (Asian or Oriental radish, mooli, lo bok) is a large white radish with a lighter flavor than small red radishes. Used in kimchi, as a palate cleanser, and as an accompaniment to sashimi, it’s also great in light salads where its flavor isn’t overwhelmed by other ingredients.
Galangal (galanga root, Thai ginger, blue ginger) resembles ginger in appearance, but has a distinct waxy skin ringed with reddish-brown skin. The flesh is white but turns brown when exposed to air. Used in the same way as ginger root, galangal is more spicy and pungent.
Guava: A common tropical fruit, guava can have white, pink, or red flesh. It is eaten fresh, juiced, made into jam or preserves, and used in desserts.
Lemongrass (citronella grass, fever grass, hierba de limón) is a native Southeast Asian plant with a thick woody stem used to flavor dishes. To impart its lemony flavor, bruise the stalks, simmer or saute in the dish, then remove before serving. Lemongrass also makes a nice herbal tea infusion.
Plantain: A staple crop throughout West and Central Africa, India, the Caribbean and Latin America, plantains are used both green and starchy like a vegetable, as well as yellow and sweeter like fruit. Plantains must be cooked. A green plantain can substitute for potato, and ripe yellow plantains are commonly baked, boiled, or fried in coconut oil and served with salt.
Rambutan: Very similar to lychee and longan fruit, rambutan are common in Costa Rican markets. Great for snacks, with a sweet and sour taste somewhat like grapes.
Taro Root (cocoyam, arrow root, kalo, dasheen): A tuber native to Malaysia, its somewhat plain flavor makes it a good host for stronger flavors. In Hawaii, taro is used to make poi; in Indian cooking, slices of taro root are seasoned and fried; it’s also used in China as taro cakes and moon cakes. In the U.S. it’s common to find snack chips made from taro.
Yacón: Also known as Peruvian ground apple, this tuber consists mostly of water and contains inulin, a low-calorie, high-fiber sweetener that aids digestion while inhibiting toxic bacteria.
Yuca (cassava, manioc): Different from yucca, yuca is a starchy tropical tuber that is made into flour for bread and cakes, and can be cooked just like a potato to make chips or mash.
Smoking is bad for you and cleaning house is good, right? Wrong, if you use conventional cleaning products — you may as well smoke. A new study shows the lung decline over 20 years caused by using conventional cleaning products, which have no federal regulations for health or safety, equals that of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. The toxic chemicals used in cleaning products damage the lungs little by little, adding up to a significant impact that rivals a pack-a-day smoking habit.
The Norwegian study tracked 6,000 women over two decades — women responsible for keeping the home clean, women who cleaned as a job, and women not regularly engaged in cleaning. Compared to the women who didn’t clean house, the regular home cleaners and occupational cleaners who used cleaning sprays and other products showed an accelerated decline in lung function.
This study was the first of its kind to look at the long-term effects of cleaning products on the respiratory tract. Shorter term studies have already established a link between cleaning products — bleach, glass cleaner, detergents, and air fresheners — and an increase in asthma. In fact, the women who cleaned regularly in the Norwegian study also showed an increased rate of asthma.
Household cleaners are toxic and damaging to multiple systems in the body
The lungs aren’t the only part of the body conventional cleaning products damage. They also impact the brain, immune system, hormonal system, and liver.
For instance, phthalates are used in the perfumed scents many cleaning products have. Phthalates lower sperm counts, cause early puberty in girls, and raise the risk of cancer and lung problems.
Perchloroethylene (PERC), a solvent used in spot removers, carpet and upholstery cleaners, and dry cleaning, raises the risk of Parkinson’s disease and cancer.
Although hundreds, if not thousands, of studies have repeatedly demonstrated the toxicity of chemicals in common household ingredients, their use in manufacturing is largely unregulated.
Our over exposure to toxic chemicals has been linked to skyrocketing rates of autoimmunity and even autism, which is a neurological presentation of autoimmunity in many people.
In the past few decades we have seen autism increase tenfold, leukemia go up more than 60 percent, male birth defects double, and childhood brain cancer go up 40 percent.
Helping protect your body from toxins
Unfortunately, it is not possible to be toxin-free in today’s world. Toxins have gotten into our air, water, food (even organic), and our bodies. Everyone carries hundreds of toxins in their bodies, even newborn babies.
When a person has a highly reactive immune system, various toxins and heavy metals can trigger inflammation in the same way a gluten sensitivity can, causing a flare up of autoimmune and inflammatory symptoms. By using functional medicine principles to keep inflammation as low as possible, we can help prevent toxins from becoming immune reactive.
To accomplish this, first avoid toxins as much as possible and use non-toxic products in your home and on your body. The Norwegian researchers suggested cleaning with a microfiber cloth and water.
Also, eat an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet consisting primarily of produce, nurture healthy gut bacteria, exercise regularly, spend time in nature, have healthy social interactions, and supplement with compounds such as vitamin D and glutathione precursors (the body’s master antioxidant). These are a few ways to support the body and make it more resilient to the many toxins it must battle.
Ask me for more information on how to help protect your body from toxins.
Our muscles stiffen as we age, including the heart muscles. However, a new study showed that middle aged adults who took up moderate- to high-intensity exercise developed the heart flexibility of someone 15 to 20 years younger. But there is a sweet spot in midlife for this to work. Similar studies on 70-year-olds did not produce the same results.
Going into midlife with a sedentary lifestyle causes the heart to stiffen, shrink, and become less efficient at pumping blood and oxygenating the body. As a result, people develop shortness of breath, fatigue, edema, coughing, and other symptoms of heart disease.
For the two-year study, researchers tracked more than 50 volunteers who ranged in age from 45 to 64. They were healthy but sedentary. The participants were divided into two groups.
The first group did non-aerobic exercise three days a week, including basic yoga, balance training, and weight training.
The second group did moderate- to high-intensity aerobic exercise four days a week. Compared to the first group, this group saw dramatic improvements in their heart health.
Their hearts became noticeably more flexible and could process oxygen more efficiently. One researcher in the study said they were able to take a 50-year-old heart and turn back the clock to a 30- or 35-year-old heart.
These participants became stronger and fitter overall because their more flexible hearts were able to fill with more blood and pump more blood to the rest of their bodies during exercise.
The group who did the non-aerobic exercise three days a week saw no change in their heart flexibility or efficiency.
Interval training is key to a healthier heart
The key to the study subjects’ dramatic heart health improvement wasn’t just aerobic exercise, but aerobic exercise that incorporates interval training — short bursts of high intensity with short rests in between.
Although there are many ways to do high-intensity intervals, the study subjects did “4X4” training: four minutes at 95 percent of maximum ability followed by three minutes of active recovery, done four times.
The magic lies in pushing the heart to near its maximum ability, which forces it to work harder and pump more blood.
However, the window for this magic apparently closes if you wait too long. People in their mid-forties to early sixties still have flexible enough heart tissue to effect dramatic results. Once you are older, your blood vessels may be too rigid.
Interval training excellent for the aging brain
People who take up interval aerobic training typically report overall increased well being and feeling happier.
When the brain receives more blood flow and oxygen from a healthier heart, its function improves too. Also, interval training releases a number of hormones and neurochemicals that boost brain performance, improve mood, and lower inflammation.
For instance, endorphins released during exercise not only make people feel happier, they also dampen inflammation.
High-intensity interval training also boosts brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a brain chemical necessary for the formation of memories and for learning and recall, important qualities to hang onto as we age.
People with sedentary lifestyles may feel daunted by the idea of high-intensity workouts. Luckily there are many options for guided workouts these days. For instance, Orange Theory Fitness is a chain of gyms around the country that show you your heart rate on a large monitor during guided workouts so you can begin to learn what sort of exertion is required to get your heart rate up to its near maximum.
Although it’s important to push your heart, it’s also important not to overdo your exercise routines. Over exercising raises inflammation and can trigger or exacerbate chronic inflammatory or autoimmune conditions. However, when you exercise within a healthy range, exercise has anti-inflammatory effects.
Many people think the main keys to avoiding arterial plaque and heart disease are to watch cholesterol, avoid smoking, and exercise. But what is less known is how dependent your heart health is on your gut. If you have digestive problems, multiple food sensitivities, or chronic inflammation, these could be signs your gut health is putting your heart health at risk.
If you have digestive problems, chronic pain or inflammation, multiple food sensitivities, or an autoimmune condition you aren’t managing, chances are you have a leaky gut.
Leaky gut is also referred to as intestinal permeability. It means the lining of the small intestine has become inflamed, damaged, and overly porous. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, molds, and other antigens to enter into the bloodstream. Because these compounds don’t belong in the sterile environment of the bloodstream, the immune system views them as toxic and attacks them, causing inflammation. This chronic inflammation plays a role in many health conditions, which can include artery blockages and heart disease.
Inflammation from leaky gut clogs arteries
Inflammation from leaky gut can be a primary factor in causing arterial plaque and blockages. In fact, patients with heart disease show higher incidences of leaky gut compared to those who don’t have heart disease.
Inflammation creates lesions on arterial walls. The body “bandages” them up with cholesterol, which becomes plaque. This process is known as atherosclerosis.
Inflammation not only promotes plaque in the arteries, it also weakens the stability of this plaque. Plaque stability is important to prevent heart attacks. Rupturing of plaque causes it come loose and block the artery, starving the heart of blood and leading to a heart attack.
Leaky gut is recognized as a primary factor in causing chronic inflammation that not only can clog your arteries, but also inflame your joints, cause skin issues, inflame your brain with symptoms of brain fog, depression, or memory loss, or trigger autoimmunity. Inflammation affects each of us differently depending on our genetics and environment.
Pathogens from leaky gut damage arteries
Leaky gut also promotes arterial plaque and heart disease in another way — by allowing infectious bacteria and other pathogens into the bloodstream.
Our guts are home to several pounds of a diverse array of gut bacteria. New research shows how vital these gut bacteria, called the microbiome, are to all facets of our health. The microbiome produces vital nutrients, activates anti-inflammatory plant compounds, regulates metabolism and immune function, and influences brain health and function.
Unfortunately, Americans have by far the unhealthiest microbiomes of the populations studied. Many Americans not only lack diversity in their healthy gut bacteria, but they also have too much bad, inflammatory bacteria in their guts.
Gut bacteria have also been linked to obesity, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels. People with healthy blood lipid levels also showed more diversity of gut bacteria.
Many people develop leaky gut in part because of poor stomach health and infection from h. pylori, the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers. H. pylori has been linked with irregular heart rhythms (atrial fibrillation), which increases the risk of heart failure.
Don’t let your gut sabotage your heart. Ask me how we can work together to shore up the health of both with proven functional nutrition strategies.
If there is one thing Americans love, it is a prescribed diet, and the internet abounds with rules for grams of protein, fats, and carbohydrates, genetic and body type diets, calorie counting, and so on. But a recent 12-month study found focusing on whole foods and ditching sugars and processed foods resulted in weight loss and improved health for the subjects.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed it didn’t matter whether the diet was low-carb, low-fat, the genetic factors, or insulin response issues.
Here is what the subjects were told to eat:
Nutrient-dense, minimally processed, whole foods cooked at home as often as possible.
Legumes and whole grains for the low-fat group
Grass-fed meats and salmon for the low-carb group
Lean meats for the low-fat group
Nuts and nut butter
Healthy fats for the low-carb group
Low-fat dairy for the low-fat group
Hard cheeses for the low-carb group
Here is what all participants were told to avoid:
Products made from refined flour: Breads, pasta, bagels, muffins, etc.
Sugary snacks and beverages
Processed foods, even if they were low-fat or low-carb
Participants were also encouraged to follow national guidelines for physical activity but generally did not change their exercise routines.
After 12 months in the study, which included nutritional counseling and support, the low-carb group lost an average of 13 pounds while the low-fat group lost an average of 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in body fat, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
However, individually, some members of the study gained weight while some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Those who lost the most weight were the ones who reported changing their relationship with food. They no longer snacked in the car or in front of the television and they cooked at home more often.
The researchers concluded it is time to shift the national focus from calories to nutrient-dense foods.
What this study means for functional medicine
In functional medicine, we always emphasize the importance of a whole foods diet and avoiding processed foods and sugars.
However, people managing complex health conditions may need to go beyond a basic whole foods diet as grains and dairy are inflammatory in many people.
Dairy and gluten are common triggers in people with autoimmunity and many feel better avoiding them. Many people also find they react to other grains, such as corn. The lectins in legumes pose a problem to some as well.
This study is great because it cuts through the clutter of complex dietary recommendations — and the industries built on them — and shows the value of getting back to the basics of human nutrition.
If you suffer from a chronic inflammatory condition or autoimmune disease, that is a great first step. However, if you continue to have problems, you may need to temporarily follow an elimination diet to identify dietary triggers of inflammation. Ask me for more advice.