Are you and your cell phone attached at the hip?

Energy was the topic at the most recent Institute for Functional Medicine conference in all forms.   And this included a form of energy that often feels like the elephant in the room – electromagnetic frequency (EMF) energy.  Today, significantly more so than even four years ago, we’re surrounded by EMFs from cell phone towers and WiFi.  And the phones are getting more powerful than ever, which also means that the radiofrequency (RF) energy they’re emitting is stronger than ever.
There is an ongoing debate about whether cell phone usage causes cancer, including brain cancer.  According to the FDA and the World Health Organization, there is no definitive data to link radiofrequency from cell phones to negative health outcomes.  There are studies; however, that were presented at the meeting that conclude otherwise.  Here are a few of the findings:
  1. A study published in Brain Research found that prenatal exposure of 900 MHz of EMF for 60 minutes/day during the entire gestation period resulted in a decrease in numbers of pyramidal cells in the rat brain hippocampus.
  2. Researchers from Gazi University in Turkey found a significant increase in oxidative DNA damage and lipid peroxidation in non-pregnant and pregnant rabbits exposed to 1800 MHz of radiofrequency radiation for just 15 minutes/day for seven days.
  3. A study in PLoS One exposed purified human sperm in test tubes to 1800 MHz of EMF-RF in a range of specific absorption rates (SAR) and found with increasing SAR, greater mitochondrial DNA damage, reactive oxygen species, reduction in motility, and death compared to unexposed sperm.
  4. Research published in JAMA found that spending 50 minutes with a cell phone turned on and against the ear significantly increased the rate of glucose metabolism in the brain. The significance of this is not yet clear; however, the results do indicate that our brains are sensitive to RF-EMF exposure.
There are a number of precautions you can take to limit your exposure to the potential damaging effects of RF-EMF energy:
  • When on the phone, keep it at least 5/8th of an inch from your ear (this is also stated clearly in the iPhone User’s Manual), with the antennae turned down towards your shoulder.  Better yet, wear a wired hands free device for phone calls.
  • Limit phone calls and text instead, and if possible, limit texting too.
  • Avoid carrying your phone in your pocket or in your bra (which evidently many women are doing!).  Carry it in a purse or bag to get some distance from your body.
  • Put your phone on airplane mode when not in use to stop the signal when you’re not using it.  Keep it away from your bed, especially in active mode.  And if possible, turn it off at night.
  • Don’t allow your children to play with your phone.  Skeptical or not, it took decades to determine that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer.  The cells that are the most vulnerable are those that are rapidly growing like stem cells, spermatocytes, neuronal cells and embryonic cells.  And children of course are now being exposed to RF-EMF from day one, while many of us were adults when the technology became common.
I’m not ready to give up my phone, I’ve grown too attached to it.  But I’ve been using many of the suggestions above to lower my risks.  And at times when I’m feeling frazzled, I walk away from all technology for a short time and it helps too.

Starting the day w/good intentions and ending it w/a pint of Haagen Dazs

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Courtesy of -Marcus-

Does this sound familiar?  You wake up in the morning ready for a day of healthy eating.  You eat a small bowl of cereal or a slice of toast for breakfast, or grab a banana and head off to work.  Lunch rolls around and you sip on a cup of soup or eat a vegetable salad – and all is well.   By 3 or 4 o’clock, though, you’re suddenly craving chocolate, you stop to pick up a pizza on your way home from work, you graze while you’re cooking dinner, or after dinner, you polish off a pint of ice cream.

If any of these situations sound like you, you’re not alone.  So many people I talk with begin their day with good intentions and end it forgetting all about them – over and over again.  Although there are many factors that can play into this scenario, one has to do with our bodies’ natural cycle of brain chemicals like serotonin that’s functions in appetite control, depression and anxiety relief, pain tolerance, and sleep.

For example, in the morning, levels of your ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter serotonin are high and as the day progresses, they begin to dip.  And so by the afternoon, if you’ve depleted your supply without replenishing it, your cravings will begin – for foods like ice cream and chocolate, or a bowl of cereal with milk, or a gooey cheese pizza.   Why?  Because dairy (and cacao) is a good source of protein, and specifically tryptophan, the building block of serotonin.

As you’re probably well aware by now, though, concentrating these heavy, fatty foods later in the day will not only pack on the pounds, it will disrupt your sleep, impact your digestion, and ultimately lead to more serious health issues.   And if you’re like many people who have inherited less serotonin-making capabilities, then you’re much more sensitive to a diet that hinders its production.

If you suspect this is you, then here are some dietary/lifestyle habits that may help maintain your serotonin levels:

Eat regular meals that include protein.   If you’re skipping breakfast or lunch, or going light on them, you’re probably not getting enough protein during the day.  In addition, in most protein sources, tryptophan is low compared to other amino acids and in plant proteins, it’s levels can be up to ten times lower per serving than in animal proteins.

Even with animal proteins, wild game and animals that are raised on their natural food sources (like grass-fed beef) are higher in tryptophan than animals raised on corn so making the shift to cleaner sources of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy can help.  Some of the plant sources of tryptophan include legumes like beans and lentils, nuts and seeds, leafy greens, whole grains, bananas, winter squashes and sweet potato.  This page provides a list of a variety of tryptophan sources.

Include healthy fats in your meals.  Fat helps tryptophan become available to the brain so it’s important to include it at every meal.  Foods like avocados, nuts, seeds, olive oil are all sources of healthy fats to include regularly.  In one study, researchers found that decreasing fat in people’s diets correlated with increases in low serotonin symptoms like anger and hostility.

Cut back on caffeine and artificial sweeteners.  If you’re beginning your day with a cup of coffee, you’re working against your serotonin stores early since as a stimulant, caffeine works in exactly the opposite way of serotonin’s calming capabilities.  In addition, according to Julia Ross in The Mood Cure, the artificial sweetener aspartame can also have an overstimulating effect because one of it’s components, the amino acid phenylalanine converts to the stimulants tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline.  And it’s second component, the amino acid aspartic acid is also highly excitatory.

Eliminate sugar and refined carbohydrates that are naturally low in tryptophan and wreak havoc on your blood sugar and insulin levels that also promotes stress in the body and interferes with your good mood!

Get regular exercise because it increases oxygen in the body, which is important for serotonin production in the brain.  It also helps divert amino acids necessary for muscle building and repair to the muscles, freeing up some of the competition from tryptophan for crossing the blood brain barrier (remember, its supply is already low compared to other amino acids in dietary protein).  In fact, regular exercise helps to balance all brain chemicals naturally.  The important point here is ‘regular’ exercise because like everything else, it’s benefits are temporary.

If after trying these strategies, you still suspect your serotonin levels are still low, there are additional supplements that can be taken, even temporarily to help raise them. Contact me for more information and we can determine if you’re a candidate for them.

Hiding Out Because of a Cold Sore?

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Image courtesy of Stuart Miles

I wanted to bring up a topic that I don’t talk about much, if ever, although one that I’ve had to live with for most of my life:  cold sores.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve been prone to an outbreak and if you suffer from them or know someone who does, then you know what I’m talking about.  They’re unsightly, they’re painful, they can leave scars, and they feel like they can put my life on hold.

Ironically, the thought of addressing this topic now came as Valentine’s Day approached – how romantic!  Call me a rebel, lol.  But rather than talk about the benefits of dark chocolate or love, or how to keep your heart healthy, something attracted me to the lips.  Maybe it’s because the holiday signifies love and intimacy–and kissing and I wouldn’t want something like this ruin (or prevent) a good kiss : )

If you’re someone who gets cold sores, then you probably know very well that they’re caused by Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1).   Amazingly, 95-98% of people harbor the virus and many may never know it if they don’t have an outbreak.   While dormant, it resides in our neurons and when activated, it targets the skin and mucous membranes, often on or near the lips.  If you do get one, it’s important to keep your hands away from your eyes to avoid ocular infections, including keratoconjunctivitis that can be serious.   And HSV is contagious, so it’s important to keep your personal hygiene items like hand and face towels, your toothbrush etc., separate to avoid contaminating others.

Over the last 10-15 years, I’ve been pretty successful at reducing both the frequency and severity of cold sores through some trial and error with anecdotal and scientific evidence (you can read about here), and personal observation about when I’m most susceptible.  My own personal treatment plan for HSV-1 has been relatively holistic.  There are actually drugs available to prevent outbreaks; of course they don’t come without side effects.  I have tried some of the topical treatments though that I’ll mention below.

In general, here are the triggers that I’ve found for myself.  Many overlap with those commonly reported and they may vary from what you’ve found:

Overexposure to the sun – this can lead to dry, parched lips and in general, anytime my lips have gotten overly dry, I’ve been susceptible.  In fact, if my lips get dry inexplicably and even lip balms don’t seem work, then I know something’s up and I take extra precautions.

Stress – not surprising, since stress can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult to ward off a viral attack.

Acidic foods  – for me specifically, these include things like citrus (oranges, grapefruit, and tomatoes, especially cooked), vinegars and drinks like Kombucha.

Arginine (arg)-rich foods like nuts and nut butters, seeds, coconut, even chocolate (sadly) – of course, foods that I love!

Poor diet in general  – too much sugar and refined carbohydrates that are going to weaken the immune system and of course promote hormone imbalances and stress.  And combining this with my monthly cycle increased the odds.

So, what can you do to reduce the likelihood of getting a cold sore or quicken healing?   Many measures are obvious and some not so:

Keep your lips protected in the sun – Wear a lip balm, preferably with sunscreen when you’re outdoors.  There are many brands out there, but I like Burt’s Bees because it’s petroleum- and chemical-free and easy to find.   As a general rule, avoid letting your lips get dried out or chapped.  If it happens, check in on your hydration and your diet, both of which can have an impact.

Reduce stress – Exercise, proper diet, enough sleep, mindfulness techniques like meditation and breathing can all help here.

Avoid trigger foods – Maintain a healthy diet free from sugars and refined carbohydrates and try cutting back on citrus or concentrated foods like nuts and seeds, etc.

Take l-lysine (lys) – An essential amino acid found in high levels in animal products, l-lysine is believed to antagonize l-arginine, which activates HSV-1.  Foods like nuts and seeds contain both arg and lys, but the levels of arg are often much higher.  Some studies have shown that l-lysine supplementation can help.  I’ve been taking about 1000 mg everyday for at least a decade and sure enough, if I go off of it for several days, I’m more likely to have an outbreak.   I’m also more able to keep foods like nuts and seeds (and chocolate) in my diet if I am consistent with taking lys.

Apply ice – Over the last couple of years, I’ve found that at the first sign of an outbreak (usually a tingling on my lip), if I apply ice for as long as possible, even if I do get a cold sore, it’s usually much less severe and heals more quickly.   It may not always be practical to do this, but if you’re at home and can take the time, it may be worth it.

Use over the counter meds - In the past, I’ve used ointments like Abreva and also a homeopathic cream that worked well to shorten the duration of an outbreak.  Zinc sulfate has also been shown to speed healing time and there are a number of additional herbal remedies listed here that I haven’t specifically tried.

Seriously, cold sores are no fun and preventing them is always better than dealing with the healing.  Is there something you’ve found that works for you?  I’d love to hear about it!

And if you’d like support with transitioning your diet and with strategies for managing stress, I have an arsenal of tools that can help.  An eating plan and lifestyle strategy that reduces the chances of getting cold sores will help you across the board with your health.  Want more information?  Contact me to see how to get started.

How to Safely Eliminate Estrogen

Last week, I talked about the estrogen production in the body and how the enzyme aromatase was a key player in regulating how much estrogen your body makes.  Once it’s made, it needs to be transported to the tissues and cells, for example reproductive tissue, bone, and brain, where it functions in a number of signaling pathways.

Estrogen (in the form of estradiol, and testosterone) is transported by a large protein called SHBG.  Think of SHBG as a school bus carrying lots of children (estrogens) to where they need to go, letting them get off when they should get off.  If the number of school buses is too low, then there are children loose all over the street­–this is not a good thing, so it’s important that we make enough SHBG.

What are some of the factors that result in not enough SHBG?  Fat fat cells.  Believe it or not, fat cells can be too fat, and when they are, they don’t work. If you remember, last week, I wrote about how VAT increases inflammation, which stimulates aromatase to make more estrogen.  When VAT cells are too fat, they contribute to insulin resistance and a rise in insulin levels, resulting in less SHBG (and chaos on the streets!). This means that excess fat can both increase estrogen and decrease SHBG.

If estrogen does arrive safely and does its job, in the liver, it then needs to be converted into an intermediate form, which is actually more dangerous to the body than free estrogen, and then it’s transformed into its final, safer form to be eliminated from the body through the feces.

The conversion process is one place where a surprising number of people can have problems.  For example, a process called methylation is carried out which adds a methyl group to estrogen.  Some people are poor methylators, either because of genetic variations in the genes responsible for this, or because of poor diet and the lack of nutrients needed.   As a result, besides the BRCA1 and 2 genes that are risk factors for developing breast cancer, genes involved in detoxing estrogen (COMT, CYP17, CYP1A1, GST) have also been implicated as risk factors for breast cancer.

If estrogens are safely neutralized, they’re transported via the bile to the feces to be excreted; however, the story is still not over.  Gut bacteria can produce an enzyme called b-glucoronidase that can transform the inactivated estrogen back into an active form that’s taken back up into the body.   The enzyme is more active in an unhealthy gut and constipation will also increase the chances of reuptake, which is why good digestion and elimination is so important.   Stress will also increase the activity of this enzyme.

So how do you ensure that you’re detoxing and removing estrogen safely?  Here are a few tips:

  • eat your cruciferous veggies: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower – they’re sulfur containing and produce something called I3C that is involved in estrogen detoxification and balance;
  • take high quality supplements  that support processes like methylation.  I carry a number of supplements that support healthy detox.  Contact me for recommendations;
  • eat a plant-heavy diet with lots of fiber to keep your digestion running smoothly and get any animal sources of protein from grass-fed, organic,  animals;
  • keep your gut bacteria healthy with a good probiotic.  I can offer you a number to choose from depending on your health situation;
  • keep or get your weight at ideal levels so that your fat cells work to maintain a positive impact on insulin, blood sugar, and inflammation.

If you’re struggling with your health because of hormone imbalances, I can help you make changes that will transform your health now and help you move into a healthy future.  Contact me to see if my support is a good fit for you.

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 following two 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 production 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 to suggest that phytoestrogens bind to ER-beta, which inhibits cell growth, versus ER-alpha, which activates it;
  • additional data to 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 why it matters.

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