Grilling or barbecuing meat at high temperatures leads to the production of heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), compounds known as “mutagens” which damage DNA and may increase risk for developing cancer. HCAs are formed when amino acids and sugars present in meat react under high temperatures. Additionally, liquid fat drips into the flame of a barbeque and creates smoke filled with PAHs, coating the surface of the meat. While the best solution is to use other cooking methods when possible, there are several simple ways to balance the effects of grilling your favorite foods.
Choose meat wisely
Emphasize leaner cuts of meat. Less fat drippings means less smoke and less exposure to PAHs. Further, removing the skin from poultry before cooking will reduce HCA formation.
Not only does marinating meat impart more flavor, it can also be protective against carcinogenic compounds. Acid-containing marinades (e.g., those containing vinegar or lemon/lime juice) are best to reduce formation of HCAs. It is also important to note that traditional barbeque sauces, which tend to have a high sugar content, can increase formation of HCAs. If using these sauces, they should be added to foods after they have been cooked.
Add herbs and spices
Herbs and spices have been shown to reduce formation of HCAs when meats are grilled. Mint, onion, turmeric, garlic, rosemary, ginger, thyme, and red chili pepper are all great choices. These herbs can be used in marinades, mixed into ground meats, or used as a dry rub.
Avoid over-cooking or charring
The amount of time your meat contacts the grill makes a difference. Try quicker -cooking proteins like fish or shrimp, or cut your meats into smaller pieces to reduce cooking time (meat and vegetable kebabs are a great solution). Rotate meat frequently to allow the center to fully cook without overheating the surface. Blackened or charred areas of meat can be removed to reduce exposure to HCAs and PAHs.
Try grilling other food groups
Fruits and vegetables have been shown to inhibit activity of HCAs and reduce DNA damage caused by these compounds. Fortunately, antioxidant rich produce can also be delicious when grilled. Try zucchini, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, apples, peaches, pineapple, or even watermelon for a unique addition to your meal.
Your Partner in Health!
Clarissa A. Kussin, ND, RYT 500
It is a very common fat that everybody has (or should have from now on) in their fridge. As opposed to industrial trans fat, which increases the the risk of heart disease, the trans-rumenic acid called conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is thought to decrease the risk for cardiovescular disease. CLA along with other natural trans fats as well as vitamin K2 are abundantly found in grass-fed meat and dairy products, which is why butter is a great source to maintain cardiovescular health and to prevent heart attacks.
2. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil currently has gained in popularity for all kinds of health remedies and benefits. The hype is justified and it definitely belongs in the kitchen and on this list! First of all, coconut oil is one of the best oils to cook with as it is with more than 90% almost entirely saturated. Its chemical structure stands out to other fats and oils in our diet, which has a significant effect on the body and the heart. Coconut oil is composed of a special type of saturated fat called medium chain triglyceride (MCT). This structure makes the oil special because the vast majority of fats and oils we consume are composed of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA). In fact, both the saturated and unsaturated fat found in meat, eggs, milk, and plants consist of LCFA.
That means that most of the western world gets way too much of these fats and not enough of the MCFA’s that are found in coconut oil.
Why does that matter? Because of its shorter chemical composition, MCFA’s are absorbed with ease without requiring pancreatic enzymes to break them down. This means less work for the pancreas and the fatty acids can go directly to the liver from where they go into the mitochondrias and are immediately utilized for energy. The best part is that coconut oil makes our heart happy by protecting it from heart disease as well as lowering the risk of atherosclerosis.
3. Duck Fat
Just like butter, duck fat is packed with the favorable CLA’s and natural trans fat that were found, in animal studies, to prevent fatty streaks and plaque formation in the arteries of rodents by changing macrophage lipid metabolism.
Another statistic, however, shows that the same effect seems to apply for humans as well. According to the World Health Organization’s Multinational Monitoring of Trends and Determinants, in the United States, of every 100,000 middle-aged men, 315 die of heart attacks each year. However, in the Gascony region, where duck liver is a steady part of the diet, this rate is only 80 per 100,000. A great statistic for the consumption of duck fat and the relation to a healthier heart!
4. Leaf Lard
This fat is a highly popular fat in the kitchen of every celebrity cook. For good reason! Lard is a very stable fat which makes it an excellent choice for frying. Morover, it has a higher smoking point than other fats therefore it is excellent for cooking in general. It is gained from the visceral fat deposit that surrounds the kidney and loin and because of its little pork flavor, leaf lard is considered the highest grade of lard.
Nutritionally speaking, lard is composed of more than twice the monosaturated fat and nearly one-fourth the saturated fat than butter. In addition to that, it is also low in omega-6 fatty acids, known to promote inflammation, which is good news for a healthy heart.
Ghee, a great fat for cooking, taste, and cardiovescular health. It is made from butter, however, the milk solids and impurities are removed, which makes it consumer friendly for everybody, including people who are lactose or casein intolerant.
Just like coconut oil, it is composed of medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which are directly absorbed to the liver and burned as energy. Besides of being a fabulous energy source, it contributes to a healthy heart as it protects the arteries from hardening. A study from 2010 found that people in India, where ghee is originated from and thus has the highest population of consumers, had fewer cases of heart disease than our western world.
As if managing an autoimmune condition isn’t hard enough, traveling and holiday schedules can make it downright daunting. Staying with relatives, life on the road and in airports, trying to prepare a good meal in a hotel room, and constantly being offered foods that will throw your autoimmune symptoms into a tailspin all present constant challenges. However, sticking to your autoimmune protocol and diet as much as possible will help prevent flares and relapses so you don’t spend the holidays crashed in bed.
So how do you manage? First, check in with your stress levels. Stress is one of the most potent triggers for flare ups, so commit to a no-stress, can-do attitude. You simply need to invest in a little advance planning and strategic thinking.
Following are tips to stick to your autoimmune protocol and diet while traveling.
Don’t let yourself get too hungry! Letting yourself get overly hungry is the biggest saboteur of the best laid plans. It’s only natural to want to eat when your energy is flagging and you’re starving. This will make you more likely to eat trigger foods, such as gluten or dairy.
Map out your options at your destination before you arrive. Is there a Whole Foods or other health food market in the area? Will your hotel room have a fridge?
You can also travel with frozen food you have insulated to heat up at your destination. Some people even bring their own hot plate and cookware.
Also, make sure you have plenty to eat on long flights, such as beef jerky, celery, sardines, olives, coconut meat, and other filling snacks.
Pack plenty of anti-inflammatory support. Traveling during the holidays is stressful. As much as we love them, sometimes our family members can be stressful. Make sure to save space in your check-in luggage for your go-to anti-inflammatory supplements, such as liposomal glutathione, resveratrol, and turmeric. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and essential for preventing and taming autoimmune flares. Liposomal resveratrol and turmeric in high doses are also great.
Early morning flights, long travel days, overstuffed flights, Aunt June’s air freshener, uncomfortable guest beds, and so on — these stressors can deplete glutathione and raise inflammation, so have your arsenal handy.
Effective anti-inflammatory supplements include glutathione precursors such as N-acetyl-cysteine, alpha-lipoic acid, cordyceps, and milk thistle. You can also take s-acetyl-glutathione, or an oral liposomal glutathione. Note that taking straight glutathione is not effective. You also may want to bring a bottle each of a powerful liquid liposomal resveratrol and turmeric — ask my office for more info.
Search ahead for unscented hotel rooms. Sadly, some hotel rooms can knock you over with the sickly perfume stench as soon as you walk through the door. Or the rooms are dusty and stale. Look for hotels that offer scent-free, allergy-friendly rooms with hypoallergenic bedding, air purifiers, and windows that open. Or at least ask them to air out the room for you before you arrive.
Carry a mask to avoid inhaling triggers. Sometimes you’re simply trapped in an environment that is overly scented, smoky, or potentially triggering in some other way. Just in case the woman next to you on the plane reeks of perfume, keep a face mask with you so you can breathe safely. Invest in a quality face mask that allows you to breathe comfortably. If you wear glasses look for one that won’t fog them up. Some companies also make face masks for children.
Schedule in alone time, time away, and time to rest. It’s too easy for a vacation to feel like an overbearing job. Make sure you take naps, read, meditate, or go for peaceful walks. Stress is one of the most powerful inflammatory toxins, so create and enforce boundaries to keep yours as low as you can.
If you have been researching how to improve your health, you may have heard of leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability. If that conjures an unpleasant image of your gut contents leaking into the rest of your body — that’s not too far off the mark.
Leaky gut happens when contents from the small intestine spill into the sterile bloodstream through a damaged and “leaky” gut wall. This contamination of the bloodstream by not only partially digested foods but also bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens begins to create a foundation for chronic inflammatory and autoimmune health disorders.
Symptoms and disorders linked to leaky gut include fatigue, depression, brain fog, skin problems, joint pain, chronic pain, autoimmune disease, puffiness, anxiety, poor memory, asthma, food allergies and sensitivities, seasonal allergies, fungal infections, migraines, arthritis, PMS, and many more. Basically, your genetic predispositions will determine how leaky gut manifests for you.
Leaky gut is referred to as intestinal permeability in the scientific research. It means inflammation has caused the inner lining of the small intestine to become damaged and overly porous. This allows overly large compounds into the small intestine. The immune system recognizes these compounds as hostile invaders that don’t belong in the bloodstream and launches an ongoing attack against them, raising inflammation throughout the body. Also, some of these compounds are very toxic (endotoxins) and take up residence throughout the body, triggering inflammation wherever they go.
At the same time, excess intestinal mucous and inflammation from the damage prevents much smaller nutrients from getting into the bloodstream, which can lead to nutrient deficiencies and poor cellular function.
Leaky gut is increasingly being recognized as a common underlying factor in most inflammatory symptoms and disorders.
Medicine finally recognizes leaky gut
Conventional medicine has long ridiculed leaky gut information and protocols as quack science and alternative medicine folklore, but newer research now establishes it as a legitimate mechanism. In fact, pharmaceutical companies are even working on drugs to address leaky gut.
Research has established links between leaky gut and many chronic disorders. It’s good this long-known information is finally being validated in the dominant medical paradigm as the gut is the largest immune organ, powerfully influencing the rest of the body, as well as the brain.
Current studies link intestinal permeability with inflammatory bowel disorders, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, depression, psoriasis, and other chronic and autoimmune conditions. Given what we know about the connection between gut health and immunity, it’s vital to include a gut repair protocol in overall treatment of inflammatory and autoimmune disorders.
How to mend leaky gut
Sometimes, repairing leaky gut can be as simple as removing inflammatory foods from your diet. Other times it’s more complicated. Most importantly, you need to know why you have leaky gut. Either way, however, your diet is foundational.
Many cases of leaky gut stem from a standard US diet of processed foods and excess sugars. Food intolerances also contribute significantly, especially a gluten intolerance. A leaky gut diet, also known as an autoimmune diet, has helped many people repair intestinal permeability. Keeping blood sugar balanced is also vital. If blood sugar that gets too low or too high, this promotes leaky gut. Stabilizing blood sugar requires eating regularly enough to avoid energy crashes. You also need to prevent high blood sugar by avoiding too many sugars and carbohydrates. Regular exercise is also vital to stabilizing blood sugar and promoting a healthy gut.
Also, failure to eat enough fiber and produce leads to leaky gut by creating a very unhealthy gut microbiome, or gut bacteria. Our intestines (and entire body) depend on a healthy and diverse gut microbiome for proper function. A healthy gut microbiome comes from eating at least 25 grams of fiber a day and a wide and rotating variety of plant foods.
Other common things that lead to leaky gut include antibiotics, NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, excess alcohol, hypothyroidism, and autoimmunity.
A leaky gut protocol can help you improve your health, relieve symptoms, boost energy, make you happier, and clear your brain fog. Ask my office for advice on improving your well being through a leaky gut diet and protocol.
Eating a vegetable-based diets has loads of proven health benefits, including enriching your gut bacteria diversity, loading you up with plant vitamins and minerals, and ensuring you get plenty of fiber. However, if your plant-based diet is strictly vegan or strict vegetarian you may be missing out on this essential dementia-fighting nutrient: Choline.
Choline is only found predominantly in animal fats and is a vital brain nutrient that helps prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s.
In addition to supporting the brain — which is made of primarily fat, by the way — choline also supports healthy liver function. Good liver function is necessary to not only keep the body detoxified, but also to keep chronic inflammation in check. A choline deficiency raises the incidence of fatty liver.
Choline is also an essential part of cell membranes in the body and brain; cell membranes act as the cellular command center in directing cell function and communication.
Choline is found primarily in meats, fish, dairy, and eggs. Significantly smaller amounts are found in nuts, legumes, and cruciferous vegetables. The liver is able to manufacture a small amount, though not enough to meet the body’s needs.
Experts say that in order to meet the brain’s needs for sufficient choline, it needs to come from dietary sources rich in choline.
Most people are choline deficient
The bad news is most people aren’t getting enough choline, and some people are genetically predisposed to a deficiency. Research shows the rising popularity of vegan and vegetarian diets is raising rates of deficiency.
The recommended daily intake of choline is about 425 mg a day for women and 550 mg a day for men.
The two richest sources of choline are beef liver and egg yolk. Research has shown that people who eat eggs regularly have higher levels of choline (we can assume most people aren’t eating liver these days).
In fact, pregnant women who consume at least one egg a day are eight times more likely to meet choline intake recommendations compared to those who don’t.
Beef liver capsules can be a good source of choline if you don’t prefer to eat straight liver. Most products recommend 6 capsules a day. Look for a grass-fed source that has been tested for purity.
Choline is vital for the fetal and infant brain
The choline recommendation for pregnant and breastfeeding women is about 930 mg — choline is vital for the developing child’s brain.
Choline is vital for the adult brain
Choline is also recognized as a vital brain nutrient for the adult brain. In a study of mice bred to have Alzheimer’s like symptoms, a choline-rich diet resulted in improvements in memory and brain function in the mice and their offspring.
Choline protects the brain in several ways. First, it reduces homocysteine, an inflammatory and neurotoxic amino acid if levels are too high. High homocysteine levels are found to double the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Choline prevents this by converting homocysteine to the helpful compound methionine.
Choline also reduces the activation of microglia, the brain’s immune cells that cause inflammation and damage to brain tissue when triggered.
Choline is an essential component of acetylcholine, a brain chemical known as the memory neurotransmitter. Sufficient acetylcholine is vital for memory and healthy brain function.
Choline also helps regulate gene expression.
Choline is just one of the many essential nutrients necessary for healthy brain function. Ask my office how we can help you support your brain health.
Although they are more than a couple of decades behind functional medicine, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) is finally recommending lower carbohydrate diets for people with diabetes.
In functional medicine, we have long seen the deleterious effects of carbohydrate-laden diets on not only blood sugar, but also on chronic inflammatory disorders, weight, hormonal balance, and brain function.
High blood sugar disorders such as type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes, not only make you feel worse, they also significantly raise your risk of numerous chronic health disorders, including heart disease, stroke, autoimmune disease, and Alzheimer’s. In fact, some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes because high blood sugar is so damaging to the brain.
While it’s heartening that such a large and official organization is finally making dietary recommendations to stabilize blood sugar, their list of recommended foods remains problematic. Some foods on the ADA list have been shown to trigger autoimmune attacks on the pancreas, worsening type 1 diabetes and increasing the risk of developing autoimmune diabetes in people with type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle-induced disease.
The ADA’s new recommendations for carbohydrate consumption
Previously, the ADA warned against diets under 130 grams a day of carbohydrates because people would be deprived of essential nutrients. They also stated the brain needs more than 130 grams a day to meet its energy needs.
However, given the success of lower carb diets in not only reducing the need for insulin but also in lowering heart-disease risk, the ADA has adjusted its recommendations to support a lower carb diet.
In what may eventually prove to be a sea change in government recommendations, the ADA bases the new recommendation on findings that a low-carb diet better manages health than a low-fat diet.
It also states that dietary recommendations should depend on the patient and that a “one-size-fits-all” diet should not be given to every patient.
They do not recommend a low-carb diet for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, people who have eating disorders or at risk of developing eating disorders, people with kidney disease, and for those taking SGLT2 inhibitor medication.
ADA guidelines on low-glycemic foods fail to consider foods that trigger autoimmune attacks
It’s a step in the right direction that the ADA is finally recognizing the vast amounts of research and the countless case studies linking lower carb diets with better health.
However, they have yet to recognize the science showing that some ADA recommended low-glycemic foods trigger autoimmune attacks on cells that cause type 1 diabetes.
The most prevalent triggers are gluten and dairy, although other foods also cross-react with cells involved in type 1 diabetes. This does not mean that these foods trigger an autoimmune attack in all people, but research shows certain foods raise the risk of exacerbating autoimmune diabetes.
For the person with type 1 diabetes it’s especially important to be aware of which foods may trigger autoimmune attacks that worsen their condition. You can screen for these foods with testing from Cyrex Labs.
However, research also shows that about 10–20 percent of people with type 2 diabetes, which is lifestyle induced, also have undiagnosed type 1 diabetes. This is referred to as type 1.5 diabetes.
Should you go on a low-carb diet?
The average American eats more processed carbohydrates than the human body was designed to handle. The incidences of inflammatory disorders related to high blood sugar are crushing the healthcare system — diabetes, obesity, heart disease, chronic pain, depression, dementia, and neurodegenerative diseases are just a few.
However, this doesn’t mean every person should be on the same diet. For some, a very low-carb ketogenic diet is highly therapeutic. For others, such as those with compromised brain function that has caused dysregulated metabolic and neurological function, a ketogenic diet can be disastrous.
Although finding your optimal carbohydrate consumption may take some trial and error, it’s safe to assume you do not need sugar, high fructose corn syrup, processed carbohydrates, and industrial oils. Instead, the bulk of your diet should come from a diverse array of ever changing vegetables and fruits (be careful not to go overboard on fruits), and healthy fats and proteins.
It’s also safe to assume the human body was designed for daily physical activity, time outdoors, and healthy social interaction.
Ask my office for help on customizing and diet and lifestyle plan designed just for you.
For some people weight loss is pretty straightforward: They just need to cut out sodas and sweets and hit the gym regularly. For others, especially those with a chronic health disorder, weight loss remains elusive and weight gain happens far too easily despite doing everything right.
Weight gain and weight loss resistance are very common symptoms among people with chronic health disorders. Contrary to popular belief, an inability to lose weight or keep it off is not a sign of a character flaw but instead flaws in your metabolic, immune, or neurological health.
Fat shaming is culturally accepted, particularly in the alternative health spaces and against women. The truth is, overweight and obese people may have some of the healthiest diets and lifestyle practices you’ll encounter. They have to — should they dare to eat “normally” they would quickly balloon out of control.
Instead of beating yourself up if you can’t lose the weight or you have mysteriously gained it too easily, consider if any of the following underlying causes may apply to you.
Nine possible reasons why you can’t lose weight — none of which are due to being lazy or undisciplined
1. You are a veteran lifelong dieter. The multi-billion-dollar diet industry coupled with unrealistic cultural body image standards have turned low-calorie dieting into a way of life. That works great in your youth, but as you age your metabolism fatigues from constant famines.
The human body responds to famines by progressively lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage hormones. As a result, each low-calorie diet can make you a little bit fatter than the last one once you resume normal caloric intake. This explains why diets have such low long-term success.
This phenomenon was most poignantly illustrated in a study of participants from the The Biggest Loser reality TV show. Six years after participating in the show, researchers found they were burning 800 fewer calories per day and the majority of them returned to their pre-show weight and had to under eat by 400–800 calories a day just to not gain weight.
2. Your hunger hormones are out of whack
Conversely, if you routinely eat ample sugar and desserts and processed carbohydrates (breads, pastas, white rice, etc.), you likely have leptin resistance and skewed hunger hormone function that causes constant food cravings and hunger. Minimizing or eliminating processed carbohydrates and exercising regularly helps improve leptin sensitivity so your hunger cues and fat burning returns to normal.
3. Your thyroid isn’t working well
One of the most common causes of weight gain and weight loss resistance is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid activity. And the most common cause of this is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and damages the thyroid gland. This is why many people do not lose weight even after they start taking thyroid medication. It’s important to address the underlying causes of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism to improve your health and lose weight.
4. You are chronically inflamed
Chronic inflammation skews hormone function, metabolism, and gut health in a way that can promote fat storage and prevent fat burning.
Many people enjoy easy weight loss by following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. Nutrient-dense foods void of inflammatory triggers also manage pain, gut problems, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, depression anxiety, and other health issues.
5. You’ve had a brain injury or have compromised brain function
Many sufferers of concussions and brain injuries find they suddenly gain weight after their injury and are not able to lose it. Brain injuries cause inflammation in the brain, which can not only impact brain function, but also disrupt metabolic, hormone, and immune in a way that promotes promotes weight gain and inhibits fat burning. Brain injury victims also often struggle with fatigue, exercise intolerance, depression, and other symptoms that interfere with appropriate fat burning and storage.
6. You have mold illness
Mold illness is increasingly being identified as an underlying cause of many health disorders and symptoms, including weight gain and weight loss resistance. Almost a quarter of the US population is susceptible to mold illness. Toxicity from mycotoxins, the byproducts of molds, can seriously impact metabolic, immune, and neurological health leading to unexplained weight gain and weight loss resistance. This refers not just to the dreaded black mold but also the more commonly found strains of mold caused by leaks and water damage in buildings.
7. You were born with an obese gut microbiome
Research into the gut microbiome, our trillions of gut bacteria, show they impact virtually every aspect of our health, including whether we are more likely to be thin or heavy.
Studies on both mice and humans have shown that obese subjects inoculated with the gut bacteria of thin subjects went on to quickly and easily lose weight.
Factors that impact your gut microbiome “signature” in a way that promotes obesity include being delivered via C-section, being formula fed versus breastfed, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood.
8. You are a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault or have PTSD
After more than two decades of trying to understand why most obese people regained the weight they lost, an obesity researcher made an accidental discovery — the majority of his study subjects had been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted right before the time their weight gain began. This can drive complex PTSD and the genesis of a food addiction to cope.
Likewise, researchers have found a correlation between food addiction and PTSD in women.
9. You have a brain-based disorder that promotes food addiction and an eating disorder
For many people with weight issues, food becomes the source of torturous addictive behaviors that can then morph into eating disorders. It is increasingly being found that addictions and eating disorders are linked to brain-based disorders such as ADHD. Skewed neurological function triggers the obsessive thought patterns that lay the foundation for addictive eating and eating disorders.
Look for the underlying cause of weight gain and weight loss resistance to develop self-compassion
I hope this article helps you understand some of the factors that play into a chronic struggle with weight gain and weight loss resistance. Our society begs us to gorge on eat sugary foods and drinks through incessant advertising while a multi-billion-dollar diet industry and impossible pop culture body ideals value human worth based on thinness.
The result is millions of people, the majority of them women, internalize society’s fat shaming and develop shame and self-loathing around food and their bodies when the real sickness is in the society and not the individual.
The body is a miraculous machine that operates in constant service to us. You can learn to live and eat in a way that honors good health and function regardless of your size. Ask my office how we can help you.
A controversial new study found that high cholesterol does not shorten life span and that statins are essentially a “waste of time,” according to one of the researchers. Previous studies have linked statins with an increased risk of diabetes.
The study reviewed research of almost 70,000 people and found that elevated levels of “bad cholesterol” did not raise the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease in people over 60.
The authors called for statin guidelines to be reviewed, claiming the benefits of statins are “exaggerated.”
Not only did the study find no link between high cholesterol and early death, it also found that people with high “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) actually lived longer and had fewer incidences of heart disease.
The co-author and vascular surgeon went on to say that cholesterol is vital for preventing cancer, muscle pain, infection, and other health disorders in older people. He said that statins are a “waste of time” for lowering cholesterol and that lifestyle changes are more effective for improving cardiovascular health.
Naturally, the paper drew fire and its conclusions were dismissed by other experts in the field. Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs — one in four Americans over the age of 40 take statins and the drug accounts for more than $20 billion in spending each year. Statin use has gone up more than 80 percent in the last 20 years.
Statins linked to higher risk of diabetes and other health disorders
In functional medicine we recognize cholesterol as a vital compound in the body for multiple functions, including brain function and muscle strength. Overly low cholesterol is linked with an increased risk of several health disorders, including diabetes.
One study of almost 9,000 people showed that people in their 60s who used statins had an almost 40 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They also had higher rates of high blood sugar and pre-diabetes, or insulin resistance. High blood sugar disorders underpin numerous chronic inflammatory conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Previous research found a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes in women who took statins.
In addition to raising the risk of high blood sugar and diabetes, statins also may cause such side effects as muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.
Statins do not address the underlying cause of heart disease: Chronic inflammation
Statins may lower cholesterol, but they do not address the underlying cause of heart disease, which is typically chronic inflammation (some people are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease). The body uses cholesterol to repair arteries damaged by inflammation — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.
For instance, the vast majority of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol. In other countries where people have higher cholesterol than Americans, they also have less heart disease. In fact, low cholesterol in elderly patients is linked to a higher risk of death compared to high cholesterol.
Improving heart health through functional medicine instead of statins
Functional medicine is a great way to improve cardiovascular health because it avoids drugs that cause potentially harmful side effects. Although lifestyle changes may require more work than popping a pill, they address root causes of your disorder versus overriding them. This means you feel and function better overall.
What does a functional medicine approach to heart health look like?
- An anti-inflammatory diet
- Releasing feel-good endorphins on a regular basis through exercise (endorphins are anti-inflammatory)
- Targeted nutritional support
- Identifying and addressing the root causes of your inflammation, which are different for everyone. Possibilities include high blood sugar, poor thyroid function, an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, chronic bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, leaky gut, or a brain imbalance, such as from a past brain injury.
It’s important to address things from this angle because cholesterol is vital to good health. It is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for healthy brain function.
Inflammation promotes heart disease
Chronic inflammation and not cholesterol is the concerning factor in heart disease. The blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP) identifies inflammation. If it’s high, you have a higher risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Having normal cholesterol but high CRP does not protect you from heart disease.
By using functional medicine to lower your inflammation and improve your heart health, you not only avoid the risks and dangers of statins, but also you get to better enjoy your golden years thanks to improved energy and well being.
Although the produce section at the grocery store may look vast, it only represents a fraction of edible, nutritious, and tasty plant foods. It’s estimated there are more than 20,000 species of edible plants, and that we only eat about 20 to 50 of them. As a result, this may be playing a significant role in the rapidly declining health of westerners. Our gut bacteria, or gut microbiome, is a foundation to our health, and healthy gut bacteria depend on a diverse and ample array of vegetables.
Ancient humans harvested wild fruits, nuts, and seeds that varied with the seasons. They also dug up underground roots and stems. Studies of the Hadza people, in Tanzania, one of the last remaining hunter-gatherer populations left on the planet, gives us additional insight into the human microbiome and health.
The Hadza have one of the most diverse gut microbiomes on the planet; Americans have the worst. The Hadza gut microbiome diversity is about 40 percent higher than that of the average person in the United States.
Americans consume an average of 15 grams of fiber a day, most of it coming from grains. The American Heart Association recommends eating 25 to 35 grams a day. Some microbiome authors suggest even higher amounts — at least 40 grams of fiber a day.
In contrast, the Hadza consume about 100 to 150 grams of fiber a day, with the average Hadza person eating almost 600 species of plants that vary with the seasons. They suffer almost none of the same diseases that have come to characterize the average American — obesity, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, and cancer.
Studies show fiber also lowers heart disease risk by binding with “bad” cholesterol to remove from your body. A high-fiber diet also lowers high blood pressure and thus the risk of stroke.
They type of fiber you eat matters too. What gut bacteria need for optimal function are “prebiotic” fibers mixed in with a diverse array of produce.
Prebiotic fibers best feed the healthy bacteria in our guts, thus improving overall health. Good sources of prebiotics include all vegetables but especially:
- Jerusalem artichokes
- Dandelion greens
- Brussels sprouts
Not only do prebiotic fibers help with bowel regularity, they also change the composition of the gut microbiome in a favorable direction. They help strengthen intestinal walls, improve absorption of important nutrients, produce hormones that control appetite, reduce anxiety, and help protect you against chronic disease.
If you’re not used to eating high amounts of plant foods loaded with fiber, don’t double or triple your intake overnight. Your gut may rebel with constipation, diarrhea, pain, bloating, and gas. It takes your digestive system and gut microbiome some time to adapt and be able to adequately digest large amounts of fiber. Gradually increase the amount of fiber you eat by 1 to 2 grams a day over several weeks to give your system time to adjust.
Also, you may have noticed legumes, or beans, are especially high in fiber. It’s tempting to make those a staple in your diet as a result, and if they don’t disturb your health then go for it. However, many people cannot tolerate the lectins in legumes — they trigger inflammation or autoimmune flare-ups. For people with SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, they also cause intense digestive issues and inflammatory responses.
Also, some people need to avoid nightshade vegetables because they trigger inflammation, particularly in relation to arthritis. 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.
Lastly, some people have gut or immune disorders that make a high-fiber diet inappropriate until they resolve those. Ask me for more information if eating fiber makes you miserable.
What does a high fiber paleo diet look like?
Most people with chronic inflammatory and autoimmune disorders fare best on a paleo diet that eliminates grains and legumes. As grains and legumes are sources of high fiber, what does a high-fiber paleo diet look like?
The recommended produce consumption is seven to 10 servings a day. That may sound like a lot, but one serving is a half-cup of chopped produce, or a cup of leafy greens. Because sugary foods can be inflammatory, aim for veggies and fruits that are low in sugar and unlikely to destabilize your blood sugar.
Therefore, shoot for at least three to four servings of produce per meal – that’s 1.5 to 2 cups of chopped veggies or 3 cups of leafy greens. Or break that up into five meals if you eat more frequently to stabilize low blood sugar.
Ask our office for more ways to support your gut microbiome.
If you feel like you have a harder time staying slim than your grandparents did at your age, you are right. We are about 10 percent heavier than people in the 80s, even when we eat the same foods and exercise just as much. This may be due to changes in lifestyle and environmental factors that impact our BMI, or body mass index.
Recent research by York University’s Faculty of Health shows it’s harder to maintain the same weight at a certain age than it was for someone 20 or 30 years ago. Even if you eat exactly the same macros (protein, fat, and carbs) and do the same amount and type of exercise, you are likely to be heavier than they were at your age.
In fact, with all factors accounted for, the predicted BMI has risen 2.3 points between 1988 and 2006.
According to study author Jennifer Kuk, “Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40-year-old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight. However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”
Specific factors contribute to our increased BMI
Historically we tend to look only to dietary and exercise habits when we consider our weight or BMI (body mass index).
However, weight management is much more complex than watching what you eat and how much you work out. Our BMI is affected by many factors such as:
- Medication use
- Environmental toxins
- Meal timing
- Stress level
- Gut bacteria populations
- Nighttime light exposure
While the study’s authors admit we need more research to determine exactly how these factors play into the changed BMI picture, they suggest three main players:
Increased environmental toxins. Compared to 30 years ago, we are exposed to a higher level of environmental toxins such as pesticides, air pollution, heavy metals, flame retardants, plastics used for food storage, and more. These toxins put a heavy burden on the endocrine system, altering the hormonal processes that affect metabolism and weight management.
Increased use of prescription drugs. Since the 1970s our use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically. Many antidepressant drugs are linked with weight gain and are the most prescribed drugs in the US for people between 18 and 44.
Our gut microbiome has changed. The gut microbiome, or the community of good and bad bacteria that naturally inhabit the digestive tract, have changed dramatically since the 80’s.
Americans eat differently than they used to. The products we eat are more filled with antibiotics, pesticides, and other toxins; we eat more artificial sweeteners; and we eat more junk food. All of these factors may negatively affect our gut bacteria populations.
A hot topic of research, the gut microbiome is linked to more and more aspects of health and disease. We now know that some gut bacteria are linked with weight gain and obesity. In fact, doctors are even using fecal implantation — insertion of gut bacteria from a healthy slim patient into the gut of an unhealthy obese patient — to reduce chronic obesity.
Support your microbiome with SCFA
In functional medicine we consider the gut microbiome to be a foundation of health. An imbalanced gut microbiome can prevent you from healing from many health disorders, so it makes sense to do everything you can to support yours.
One important factor is oral tolerance, or the body’s ability to properly recognize food proteins. When we lose oral tolerance, the immune system mistakenly thinks more and more foods are pathogens, and we begin to have more food sensitivities, increased hormonal issues, increased autoimmunity, and imbalanced metabolism and weight gain.
You can support oral tolerance by fixing leaky gut, supporting liver function, taming histamine reactions, reducing stress, and balancing blood sugar. But one of the best ways to support it is by providing your body with plenty of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).
Your gut bacteria not only make SCFA, they also need them as fuel to produce more SCFA. The more you eat them, the more your good gut bacteria can outweigh the bad.
Three main SCFAs include:
SCFA bind to cell receptors that control your hunger and appetite, turn off insulin resistance, and burn body fat more efficiently.
When you are low on SCFA you will:
- Have a larger appetite
- Be prone to insulin resistance (think pre-diabetes)
- Store body fat better than you burn it
When gut diversity is ruined, SCFA can’t signal properly and you end up with what we call an “obese microbiome.”
How to support SCFA
To support healthy levels of SCFA, adopt the following habits:
Eat abundant and varied produce. Eat plenty of diverse vegetables so your gut bacteria stay adept at recognizing many different food proteins. Aim for 7 to 9 servings a day. One serving consists of a half cup of chopped vegetable or one cup of shredded greens. Go easy on high-sugar fruits to keep your blood sugar stable.
Supplement with SCFA. You may benefit from also supplementing with butyrate, the main SCFA. Start with one capsule a day and work your way up to two capsules twice a day.
Boost glutathione levels. Glutathione is the master antioxidant that helps dampen inflammation, a main factor in loss of microbiome diversity. Take absorbable glutathione such as liposomal glutathione, s-acetyl glutathione (regular glutathione isn’t absorbed well), or its precursors such as n-acetyl cysteine.
There are many other helpful ways to support a healthy microbiome. Contact our office to determine your microbiome health and how to improve it, so you can maintain a healthy weight.