Author Archives: Dr Isaac Eliaz

About Dr Isaac Eliaz

Dr. Isaac Eliaz is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, product formulator, and clinical practitioner. He has been a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine since the early 1980s. Dr. Eliaz is a frequent guest lecturer on integrative medical approaches to health, immune enhancement, and cancer prevention and treatment. Visit www.dreliaz.org

Botanical Solutions For Anxiety And Depression

Published: February 1, 2016 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

What are your mornings like? Do you check your phone messages before you even get out of bed? Do you hurry to get the family up, prepare meals, answer a few work emails, read some news and be out the door to beat the morning rush, if you can?

For many people, the day becomes a hectic maelstrom even before 8 a.m. arrives.

And if just reading this makes you feel anxious and exhausted, that’s no surprise. As hectic schedules accelerate, so do our stress levels. On the other hand, our health and wellness decrease.

So what can we do about it?

First of all, here’s what we should avoid: Don’t keep moving at breakneck speed without taking the time to reduce stress with healthy stress-control techniques.

Chronic stress and anxiety increase levels of cortisol, the hormone linked to the fight-or-flight reaction. Cortisol and other biochemical stress chemicals can fuel inflammation while increasing the risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, autoimmune disorders — the list goes on. What’s more, anxiety can deprive us of sleep. That leads to more stress and inflammation.

Tools To Cope

What’s the best approach to anxiety? Our first suggestion: Slow down.

Of course, slowing down is difficult for many people. They think that if they slow down, things don’t get done — a perception that produces anxiety.

In truth, if we slow down just a little bit, say with a 10-minute morning meditation session, we can actually get more done. That’s because stress can impair the brain, making us feel frazzled and less effective in our tasks. Conversely, regular meditation and other mind-body practices that help us slow down, even momentarily, have been shown to increase brainpower. These cumulative effects, over time, allow us to function from a calmer and clearer state of being.

But there’s no substitute for taking care of ourselves physically as well as mentally. In a rushed state, we may neglect to eat properly or exercise, two activities that mitigate stress.

We cannot exaggerate the extreme importance of eating right. Stay away from high glycemic index foods that rapidly boost blood sugar and then allow it to quickly crash. Stick with whole, unprocessed foods emphasizing high-quality protein, healthy fats and lots of green vegetables. These foods can boost brainpower, help stabilize moods, support detoxification of stress hormones and provide the body with optimal nutrition to better address anxiety.

Adapting To Stress With Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens are botanicals that armor us against stress and illness. They work by helping us adapt our internal responses to external influences, as their name implies. A variety of studies have shown that specific plants can reduce the biological response to stress on the cellular level.

Two excellent examples:

  • Ashwagandha root: Also known as Indian ginseng, ashwagandha has been shown to reduce stress in a number of studies. In one study, people with chronic anxiety experienced a significant reduction in symptoms, as well as lower cortisol levels, after ingesting ashwagandha for 60 days. In another, ashwagandha reduced evidence of anxiety in animals. Other research found similar anti-anxiety effects. Traditional use and recent research demonstrate ashwagandha to be free of unwanted side effects, including dependency.
  • Schisandra chinensis: One of the most important, fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine, schisandra is a powerful antioxidant that can help defend against acute and chronic stress, along with related imbalances. It is used as an anti-aging herb to combat premature aging and promote longevity. It may strengthen immunity, normalize blood pressure, balance blood glucose levels and help heal tissues after surgery.

Natural Calming Herbs

Some herbs are prized in traditional, natural medicine for their abilities to calm anxiety through different mechanisms.

Here are some particularly effective herbs and extracts that can support natural calm without causing dependency, mental fog or unwanted side effects. In fact, these herbs can also boost other areas of health as well (a win-win situation).

  • Passionflower: Anxiety can be linked to low levels of the neurotransmitter. Passionflower has been used for centuries to control anxiety, and recent research has demonstrated that it works by modulating GABA receptors in the brain to support increased GABA activity.
  • Lavender: A recent study found that lavender is a potent sedative, making it especially useful to overcome anxiety as well as insomnia. Many people find relief just smelling the essential oil. It’s also available as a tea and in some supplements. There’s nothing as uplifting as fresh lavender; so if you can, consider growing some near your home to have on hand whenever stress arises.

Life Noise

Chronic stress and anxiety are like background noise. We become so accustomed to these feelings that we hardly notice them anymore. But just because we get used to the stress doesn’t mean our bodies can handle it any better. Eventually, chronic stress has cumulative effects on our physical and mental health. But if we pay attention to our stress triggers, do what we can to control the underlying causes and finally take measures to alleviate it with natural solutions, we can gain some relief. We can also achieve greater wellness, satisfaction and, ultimately, more productivity along the way.

 

A Sweet Solution To Allergies?

Published: October 15, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

Spring is finally here in all its glory — and so are seasonal allergies. This year, experts are warning us in advance: Take shelter and stock up on pharmaceutical antihistamines! But is there a better way to protect against allergies, even as they appear to be getting worse? Nature says yes.

Seasonal Allergies On The Rise

According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology(ACAAI), seasonal allergies affect about 60 million people in the United States, and the numbers are growing. If you have allergies, you know the symptoms: excess sneezing; stuffy or runny nose; watery eyes; sinus headaches; and itching of the nose, eyes, throat or roof of the mouth. The scientific term for this condition isallergic rhinitis. Most of us just think of it as misery.

There are many ways to manage these irritating occasional symptoms without resorting to prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals like antihistamines and steroid drugs. These methods only suppress symptoms and don’t get to the root cause. As a result, allergies often come roaring back each year.

To address allergies holistically for long-term relief, there are a number of natural approaches that can help balance immune defenses, reduce the chronic inflammation that aggravates symptoms, clear sinuses and reduce histamine reactions. These include:

  • Nutrients and herbs like quercetin, vitamin C, nettle and Bromelain
  • Anti-allergy foods like capers, apples, berries, greens and others
  • Homeopathic allergy preparations
  • Natural detoxification
  • Dietary changes that eliminate inflammatory foods like gluten, sugar and trans fats
  • Neti pot therapy for nasal congestion and irritation
  • Natural stress relief and mind-body balancing with yoga, meditation and tai chi

What About Local Honey?

One home remedy for seasonal allergies is eating local honey. But while many people swear by eating 2 teaspoons to 4 teaspoons per day in divided doses for allergy prevention, the consensus in the medical world is inconclusive. Few studies have been published on the subject; and so far, the results are mixed. The logic behind the idea of using honey to help allergies is similar to the way vaccinations work: Introduce a safe amount of a pathogen to your system to encourage your body to develop immunity to that same pathogen. Flu shots are an example of this type of approach.

Mixed Results

A 2011 study published by the South Karelia Allergy and Environmental Institute focused on 44 human participants specifically allergic to birch tree pollen. This study approached allergy treatment much like a flu vaccinethat works only on the specific strain of flu present in the vaccine. This study tested the theory that honey may reduce allergies only to those pollens present in the honey.

A portion of the group was treated with honey that was specifically created from birch tree pollen in addition to their normal protocols. Another portion was treated with non-specific honey in addition to their normal protocols. A third group was given a honey-flavored placebo along with their normal protocols.

The results showed that those patients who were treated with honey specifically created from birch pollen had “significantly better control of their symptoms than did those on conventional medication only.”

A 2002 study published by the University of Connecticut Health Center conducted a similar study but received very different results. Like the 2011 study, researchers examined the use of local honey likely made from the same pollens that caused the participants’ allergies, as well as nationally collected honey. Participants were asked to use their usual allergy medications only when needed, rather than in preventative fashion. Like the 2011 study, 36 participants were split into three groups: One group consumed a tablespoon of local, unpasteurized, unfiltered honey per day; a second group consumed a tablespoon of nationally collected, pasteurized, filtered honey per day; and a third group — the control group — consumed a tablespoon of honey-flavored placebo per day.

The results showed no definitive difference in allergy relief between the three groups.However, conflicting data is not uncommon in medical research. And with so few studies conducted on local honey as a treatment for allergies, the question comes down to personal experience.

While the jury is still out on whether eating local honey will reduce allergies, there are a number of other important benefits of raw honey, particularly a special type that’s demonstrating powerful effects against drug-resistant bacteria. Honey also contains a number of unique enzymes and nutrients for health protection — just go easy if you’re addressing metabolic issues.

Have you used local honey for seasonal allergies? Share your thoughts and experience in the comment section.

 

Wash these toxins out of your hair

Published: October 14, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

Are you lathering yourself with poisons, even in so-called healthy body care products? Since they wash right off, many people don’t feel they need to worry about toxins in soaps, shampoos and conditioners. Worse, many more people don’t even realize they’re washing toxins right into their system through the largest route of exposure: the skin. The truth is transdermal absorption (absorption through the skin into the bloodstream) of chemicals is a very real and serious issue.

If you currently use body products with any of the ingredients listed below, you could be exposing yourself to dangerous levels of health-robbing toxins that disrupt hormones, generate inflammation and oxidation, compromise immunity, and fuel a number of chronic illnesses down the road.

Some common contaminants can be quite dangerous, an example being 1,4-Dioxane. Others include:

Parabens

Parabens are a common cosmetics preservative added to eliminate bacteria and fungi. Reducing bacteria levels means the products can stay on the shelf longer. However, parabens are dangerous to more than bacteria, having been linked to increased estrogen levels, which can lead to hormonal disorders and even cancer.

Methylparaben and ethylparaben have been linked to allergies, endocrine disruptions and immunotoxicity. Studies have found that methylparaben applied to the skin can react with UVB radiation, leading to premature skin aging and DNA damage.

Parabens have been found in breast cancer tumors and have also been shown to mimic estrogen, which can play a role in breast cancer. The estrogen-mimicking may also be a factor in early puberty in girls.

Parabens have also been linked to skin irritation, contact dermatitis and rosacea in people with paraben allergies.

Quaternium-15

Another ingredient, quaternium-15, is known to release formaldehyde, which is a skin, eye and respiratory irritant. The compound has also been linked to cancer, specifically leukemia. Quaternium-15 is also an allergen and can cause contact dermatitis.

Fragrances

Most deodorants, shampoos, sunscreens, body care and baby products contain some type of artificial fragrance. Fragrances are complex and can be made up of as many as 4,000 ingredients. Many of the compounds in fragrances are allergenic, while some are toxic and even carcinogenic.

People have reported to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration a variety of reactions to fragrances, including headaches, dizziness, rashes, coughing, nausea and skin irritation. Fragrance exposure can impair the central nervous system, causing depression, hyperactivity, irritability and other behavioral issues.

Methylisothiazoline

In research conducted by the National Institutes of Health, methylisothiazoline (MIT) has been linked neurological damage. The compound can increase the risk of brain defects in unborn children, as well as lead to Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders. This ingredient is commonly found in Head & Shoulders, Suave, Pantene, Clairol and other well-known shampoos.

Sodium Lauryl Sulfate

Sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) and sodium laureth sulfate (SLES) make soaps foamy and are found in nearly every brand of shampoo and body wash. Interestingly, they are also used in car washes. These chemicals have been linked to skin and eye irritation, endocrine disruption, possible genetic mutations and cancer.

Glycerol Propylene Glycol

Also used in shampoos, glycerol propylene glycol is closely related to car antifreeze. Propylene glycol can cause dermatitis, dry skin, rashes, kidney and liver issues, and cell membrane damage.

Various oils and synthetic silicone polymers are also added to shampoos, along with thickeners, such as xanthan gum, and emulsifiers, such as glycol stearate.

Colorants

Made from coal tar, colorants are known to cause allergic reactions and cause cancer in animals. Thickeners are also used to change a shampoo’s consistency and appearance. For example, some shampoos generate a “pearly” sheen by adding flakes of wax.

1,4-Dioxane

Very few personal care products list 1,4-dioxane as an ingredient, even though it has been found in 22 percent of the products in the Skin Deep database from the Environmental Working Group. Ironically, 1,4-dioxane is not listed because it is a contaminant, not an intentional ingredient. The chemical is a byproduct of the ethoxylation process. Ethoxylation is a relatively common chemical process that renders harsh cleaning ingredients gentler. However, regardless of intent, it has been linked to numerous health issues. Issues with dioxane:

  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies dioxane as a probable human carcinogen.
  • Under Proposition 65, dioxane is classified in the California as a carcinogen.
  • In the journal Cancer’s 2007 review of mammary carcinogens, dioxane was one of 216 chemicals linked to breast cancer.
  • The chemical 1,4-dioxane is used to produce varnishes, paints, inks and detergents. It can even get into food via packaging materials or pesticide residue.

Nitrosamines

Cocamide DEA, a foaming agent often added to shampoos, reacts with nitrosating agents to form nitrosodiethanolamine (NDEA), a potent carcinogen, which can penetrate skin. As a result, some manufacturers test their finished products for nitrosamines. Studies have identified nitrosamines in more than half of all body care products.

Phenylenediamine

Phenylenediamine (PPD) is present in more than two-thirds of chemical hair dyes and is known to be toxic to the immune system, skin, nervous system, respiratory system, liver and kidneys.

Rinse And Don’t Repeat

The best way to protect yourself is to seek out shampoos and cosmetic products that are low on ingredients with potential harm or, better yet, find products that are completely toxin-free. This may be difficult when shopping at regular supermarkets or salons; however, a search online or visit to your local health food store can help you locate products free of dangerous chemicals. One practical strategy that is not used enough is to add beneficial ingredients to shampoos, such as herbal extracts high in antioxidants that can protect against oxidative and inflammatory damage.

In addition, consuming high amounts of protective ingredients in the form of foods and supplements can help prevent damage and detoxify the body of harmful chemicals.

Some top ingredients include:

It’s a good idea to engage in regular seasonal detoxification practices, and spring is one of the best times of year to support the organs of elimination (liver, gallbladder, kidneys, digestion, skin, lungs) in their job of removing toxins and metabolic waste products. A healthy detox diet, targeted supplements such as those listed above and regular exercise can go a long way toward eliminating pollutants from the body and optimizing your long-term health.

Your Metabolism Affects Much More Than Just Weight

Published: | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

When we hear the term “good metabolism” in social situations, it’s usually about somebody who seems to be able to eat and eat — without gaining weight. But metabolic health entails much more than this. Although it’s true that your metabolic rate is the speed at which your body burns calories, your metabolism has more to do with health than just your weight.

Metabolism has a huge impact on overall wellness, encompassing areas of health such as glucose balance, cardiovascular function, eating habits and cravings, daily energy levels, hormone balance, mood and cognition, circulation, immune response and much more. A healthy metabolism can mean you feel great and your overall health is good. Poor metabolism… well… often means the opposite.

We now know that metabolic health can be impacted by a variety of factors, including lifestyle, diet, toxin exposure, sleep patterns, stress levels, other health issues and of course, genetics. The good news is that there are plenty of ways we can support metabolism, thereby also improving overall health and happiness.

First, let’s take a look at 4 signs that can indicate a need for metabolic health support. Then, we’ll discuss some simple ways to do just that.

1. Wide Waist
What’s your waist size? Excessive weight around the abdomen is the most common sign that you may need to support your metabolism. If you are a man with a waistline of 40 inches or greater, or a woman with a waistline of 35 inches or greater, your metabolic health may need to be examined.

2. Fatigue
Do you generally feel run down, like you’re “running on fumes?” Feeling sleepy once in a while after a restless night can be expected. But, if you are frequently tired with low energy throughout the day even after a good night’s sleep, your metabolism may be to blame.

3. Excessive Sweating
Do you sweat for no apparent reason? It’s normal to sweat when it’s hot or during physical exertion, but if simple, everyday tasks like doing the dishes or walking up a flight of stairs make you drip, you may need to address your metabolic health.

4. Low Circulation
Are your fingers and toes always cold or do your hands and feet fall asleep frequently? When you hurt yourself, does it take you a long time to heal? Low circulation may be a sign that your metabolism could use some help.

How to Maintain Metabolic Health

So you’ve determined that your metabolism isn’t what you want it to be. Now what? The good news is, it’s not rocket science. Promoting your metabolic health mainly involves common sense actions and lifestyle adjustments.

Address Stress

High stress is a little-known culprit in metabolic mayhem. Try adding 15 minutes of meditation to your daily routine. That time you spend hitting “snooze” in the morning, for example, may be better used for meditation. Using the first minutes of your day in this way can really get your day rolling in a positive way. Or try meditating for 15 minutes in bed just before you fall asleep. This may help relax your mind and prepare you for a deep, rejuvenating sleep. Better yet, try both!

In addition, when you feel your stress levels getting out of hand, take 20 seconds to stop whatever you’re doing and simply breathe. Take 3 deep breaths and exhale fully, pulling your bellybutton toward your spine to completely empty your diaphragm. 20 seconds is so quick that nobody will even notice that you “checked out” for that time – but it may be enough to bring you (and your metabolism) some peace.

Exercise

Any kind of cardio (aerobic exercise) will help to both rev up your metabolism and reduce your stress (which should please the multitaskers).

Recent studies are showing that 1 ½ hours per week of moderate physical activity, like brisk walking, keeps the average person healthy (more is needed if you want to lose weight). What’s more, studies show that 10 minutes here and there work just as well as 45 minute workouts, as long as your total exercise time adds up to 90 minutes or more over the course of the week. This is a relief for any busy person, as it’s much easier to fit a 15-minute walk into your daily lunch break than it is to get up an hour early to go to the gym.

Although cardio is absolutely necessary, don’t forget to include some muscle-building (anaerobic exercise). Muscle is more active than fat, so more muscle means higher metabolism. Explore different ways to fit muscle training into your day. Do squats while you’re waiting for dinner to cook. Do some push-ups or sit-ups while waiting for your shower to get hot. Install an over-the-door pull-up bar and do one or two pull-ups every time you walk by. Be creative!

Healthy Diet

Super easy tip: More green vegetables, less sugar.

This alone can do a lot to support metabolic health. But we can take our healthy eating habits to an even higher level for greater vitality and health.

Learn the difference between good fats and bad fats (for example: deep-fry oil, trans-fat and anything hydrogenated = bad fats. Omegas, essential fatty acids, coconut, avocados, olive oil, raw seeds and nuts = good fats). Incorporate vegetables of some form into every meal – even breakfast! Try blending some spinach or kale into a fruit and yogurt smoothie – we bet you won’t even taste the greens! Vegetables should make up at least half of each meal. Aim for foods that are low on the glycemic index, which means they don’t cause a glucose spike, and subsequent crash that can hinder metabolic health over time.

If you’ve got a sweet tooth that just can’t be tamed, get yourself a bag of xylitol. It looks, tastes, mixes and bakes just like regular sugar, and has an extremely low glycemic index (meaning it will not throw your metabolism out of balance the way refined sugar and corn syrup do). As an added bonus, xylitol is actually good for your teeth by promoting healthy bacterial balance. Xylitol can be found at most natural food stores and online.

Eat Breakfast

Food is fuel. Not only do you need to put the right kind in your body, you also need to add more when you run out.

When you wake up, you have already gone a long time without eating. Skipping breakfast is like running your car on fumes and causes your body (and your metabolism) to slow down in order to stretch the energy from your last meal. Eating breakfast fuels your body and kick-starts your metabolism for the day.

Metabolic Health Formula

To help you on your journey of maintaining metabolic health, ecoNugenics offers ecoMetabolic™, their new, advanced metabolic formula that offers comprehensive, natural metabolic support from multiple angles. It contains unique blends of botanical extracts and nutrients drawn from multiple health traditions, to provide comprehensive support for overall metabolic function and efficiency, healthy glucose and cholesterol levels, and reduced sugar cravings.*

Combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle, ecoMetabolic™ offers targeted natural support for overall metabolic health and long-term wellness.

Food and satisfaction: Eat right, stay full longer

Published: October 6, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

Sometimes we eat a good meal but don’t get up from the table feeling satisfied. We’ve eaten enough, but our bodies keep telling us to eat again, eat more, overindulge… This message can be difficult to resist. Most likely, sooner or later, we find ourselves rooting through the refrigerator for that perfect food item to calm those cravings. This can lead to weight gain, digestive problems and metabolic imbalances.

So why does this happen? Satiety — the feeling we’ve had enough to eat — is as much a function of brain chemistry as it is the stomach. If the brain isn’t getting the appropriate signals, regardless of how much is eaten, we feel unsatisfied. It’s not even hunger really; it’s purely the desire to eat more.

This can be especially troubling when we’re trying to lose the holiday half dozen, or following any weight-loss program. We have a plan that maps out meals and activities: Everything should be in order.

Except we need that extra something.

That’s the downside, but there’s also an upside.

While certain foods may fail to satisfy us for very long, others can help us feel more satisfied for hours. So by choosing wisely, we can cancel those cravings and even eat less.

When Hormones Talk, The Body Listens

Like so many biological functions, satiety is governed in part by hormones. One of these hormones is leptin, which is part of a complex system of biochemical signaling that influences feelings of hunger and food satisfaction. People who have a leptin imbalance are almost never satisfied. Diminished hormone levels continually tell their bodies that they’re in the middle of a famine and that they need to eat more.

The other important satiety hormone is ghrelin. While leptin signals us to feel satisfied, grehlin has the opposite message, telling us that we’re hungry. Ideally, after a meal, grehlin levels drop, while leptin increases. However, it doesn’t always work that way: These hormone signals can become imbalanced, and their receptors can become desensitized. These effects can happen for a number of reasons: increased body fat, consumption of certain foods and other hormone. For example, fructose appears to induce leptin resistance, which causes us to feel hungry all the time.

These relationships are complex and appear to influenced by gender, weight and other factors that researchers are just beginning to sort out.

However, studies have shown that lifestyle, supplements and specific foods can help balance hunger signals and feelings of satisfaction. Lack of sleep, for example, is associated with more ghrelin and less leptin, causing us to feel hungrier. Yet another reason to maintain healthy sleep habits.

Eating For Energy

Though it may seem counterintuitive, one of the best ways to increase satiety is to limit calorie-dense foods like fatty meats, cheeses and fried foods, etc. While these items deliver a lot of calories, they don’t leave us feeling satisfied for long. Cravings return shortly.

On the other hand, by eating a higher volume of low-calorie foods, we fill up on fiber-rich and water-filled foods that help us stay full and energized for longer. This way, we gain an edge on satiety.

In this approach, fruits and vegetables are ideal foods, which is good news, since they’re also nutrient-rich. Sprouted grains, beans and lean protein are next on the list. On the upper end of the caloric-density spectrum: Fatty meats, cheese, snack foods, nuts or butter are more likely to leave us unsatisfied after a short while.

To make things simpler, there’s a satiety index. Created by Australian research Susan Holt, the index is a handy guideline to help us choose the foods that may provide the most satisfaction.

This scale is different from the glycemic index, which measures foods by how quickly they increase and/or lower blood sugar. Sugary and simple carb foods (like white bread and pasta) are high on the glycemic index, meaning they trigger blood sugar levels to spike and crash shortly after eating, causing hunger to return quickly. The satiety index doesn’t measure glucose spikes and crashes, but it does help determine how long you can feel satisfied after eating certain foods. So by emphasizing foods that are high on the satiety index and low on the glycemic index, we can balance eating habits and blood sugar to get the most energy and benefit from our diet.

Supplements

A number of nutrients and botanicals can contribute to satiety and help stave off hunger. For example, chromium picolinate has been used for years by weight lifters to build muscle. Plus, this nutrient may affect satiety. A study out of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana showed that chromium may have a direct effect on the brain’s perception of satiety.

Another supplement that may improve food satisfaction is fenugreek, a fibrous plant commonly found in Indian food and drinks. Researchers in Minnesota found that fenugreek fiber significantly increases satiety.

Alginates, which are extracted from brown seaweed, showed similar results in anotherstudy. They can also be effective when combined with pectin. A study published in theAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition found a beverage with this combination increased satiety. And we need only look in our cupboards to find a box of satisfying green tea. Researchers in Sweden found that the beverage increases satiety.

These items are all easy to find. In my practice, I particularly recommend anintegrative metabolic formula, which includes chromium, alginates, fenugreek as well as the amino acids alpha-lipoic acid and l-taurine plus other targeted botanicals. This combination supports glucose metabolism, promotes fat and sugar metabolism and, importantly, helps control cravings while increasing satiety.

Eating Habits

Another way to increase satisfaction from meals is to cook and eat mindfully. A colorful presentation of diverse whole foods appeals to our senses and signifies nutritional value and, hence, greater satisfaction. Chewing food slowly and thoroughly allows enough time for the hormonal signals from the digestive tract to reach the brain, telling us we’ve had enough to eat. Chewing food longer increases nutrient absorption in the gut, so we get more nutritional value and, as a result, feelings of satisfaction.

These and other findings highlight our complex relationships with food. It’s not just how much we consume, but also what, when and how we eat. By gaining the upper hand on satiety with the right foods, habits and supplements, we can increase our nutritional intake and our satisfaction with food in general, which ripples out to other areas of health in the process.

 

Heal Yourself with Food

Published: October 5, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

The Western diet places heavy emphasis on commercial animal proteins and processed, grain-based carbohydrates that have a low nutritional value. This way of eating is often referred to as the Standard American Diet (SAD) — a fitting acronym. In addition to drug-filled animal products and pesticide-laden produce, the SAD is often full of processed food toxins, packaging chemicals, estrogen-mimicking compounds, residual heavy metals and artificial and highly refined ingredients. Over time, this type of diet can produce a chronic inflammatory, overly acidic state in the body and can lead to metabolic diseases, cardiovascular and weight conditions, cancer, dementia — the list goes on.

Maintaining Balance

Your overall health depends on precise balance, and maintaining the right pH balance is one of these keys. The abbreviation pH refers to the “potential of hydrogen,” a measure of acidity.

Hydrogen ions contribute acidity to any tissue or organ, such as the contribution of hydrochloric acid to acidic stomach secretions. The scale used to measure pH is a logarithmic scale. So there is a tenfold difference between each number ranging from 1 to 14. The lower numbers (1-6.99) represent the acid (or H+ donating) range, and the higher numbers (7.01-14) represent the alkaline (or H+ accepting) range. Neutral is 7.0. Some body systems such as the blood (7.35-7.45) are more tightly regulated than others. Urine has a broader pH range, from 4.5-8.0, which makes it an ideal body fluid for keeping track of dietary adjustments in pH.

Being too acidic compromises health and contributes to a number of chronic degenerative conditions, including gastrointestinal issues, suppressed immunity, osteoporosis, kidney disease and muscle wasting. For example, the body uses bone tissue to buffer acidity, and bones can be weakened when the alkaline minerals calcium and magnesium are removed to keep the body in the proper alkaline balance. Increased calcium excretion from bone also increases the risk of kidney stones.

Food Affects Your pH Levels

Dietary modifications can help maintain the right pH within the body’s various systems, so the foods you eat have to include the ones that support organs that work so hard to maintain pH values within their optimal ranges.

A high intake of vegetables, which are for the most part alkalinizing, can neutralize over-acidity and positively influence your bone metabolism, strengthening the skeleton by increasing the retention of phosphates and calcium and reducing bone depletion.

These lists of food can help you tell which ones are more acid forming and which are more alkaline. Most fruits are acid forming, with the exception of a few such as lemons and limes. Lemons and limes certainly have acidic properties, but are actually alkalizing once digested. That is why lemons and limes are so highly recommended during a seasonal cleanse or detoxification program.

Highly Alkalizing Foods

Himalayan salt, grasses, cucumber, kale, kelp, spinach, parsley, broccoli, sprouts (soy, alfalfa etc.), sea vegetables (kelp), green drinks, sprouts.

Moderately Alkalizing Foods

Avocado, capsicum/pepper, mustard greens, cabbage, okra, celery, onion, collard/spring greens, radish, red onion, ginger, endive, garlic, rocket/arugula, tomato, butter beans, soy beans, lime, quinoa, lemon, white haricot beans, chia/salba seeds, green beans, beetroot, lettuce.

Mildly Alkalizing Foods

Artichokes, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, carrot, chives, zucchini, leeks, new red potatoes, peas, rhubarb, swede, watercress, buckwheat, spelt, lentils, tofu, almond mild, most herbs and spices, olive oil, coconut oil, flax oil.

Mildly Acidic Foods

Black beans, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, cantaloupe, currents, dates, nectarine, plum, cherry, amaranth, millet, oats, spelt, rice, soy, hemp protein, freshwater wild fish, brazil, pecan and hazelnuts.

Moderately Acidic Foods

Butter, apple, apricot, banana, blackberry, cranberry, grape, mango, peach, orange, papaya, pineapple, strawberry, brown rice, wheat, wild rice, ocean fish.

Highly Acidic Foods

Alcohol, over-the-counter and prescription drugs, coffee, tea, cocoa, sugars and sweeteners, dried fruit, beef, chicken, eggs, farmed fish, pork, shellfish, cheese, most dairy (except raw dairy which can be slightly alkalizing), mushroom.

Your Home ph Lab

You can buy pH test strips at your local pharmacy or online, so you can experiment with testing your urine and saliva to see what your results are after eating certain foods.

Think of yourself as your own laboratory, and experiment with different foods and testing times. Studies have shown that urine pH can show modifications in as little as two hours after a meal. Your goal is to be in the green or slightly alkaline range, which should be fairly easily accomplished with a diet high in green leafy vegetables (alkalinizing foods) and lower in proteins and carbohydrates (acidifying foods).

Role Of Potassium, Magnesium And Calcium

The best way to increase your alkalinity is to balance your diet. Emphasize nutrient-dense, complex carbohydrates, along with smaller portions of organic and grass-fed meats and high-quality plant protein sources such as sprouted, fermented grains and legumes.

Alkalizing minerals, such as potassium, magnesium and calcium, are best obtained from organic food sources. Emphasize red potatoes, avocados, Brussels sprouts, green leafy vegetables, broccoli, sea veggies and green drink powders.

While sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is often recommended for alkalinizing, studies show that potassium bicarbonate and potassium citrate have a much more protective alkalizing effect. Potassium chloride on the other hand, which is commonly found in processed foods, does not have the same alkalinizing ability as potassium citrate.

Studies conducted on postmenopausal women show that potassium chloride can weaken bones, while potassium citrate increases bone density and is more effective in reducing calcium excretion in the urine. Products like Alkala provide a combination of potassium and sodium bicarbonates, and can be used to help maintain alkaline urine and promote better detoxification. Always check with your healthcare provider before using any concentrated mineral supplement such as this. Some conditions or drugs can cause an accumulation of potassium or sodium in the body, which can be dangerous for certain individuals.

We also recommend comprehensive men’s and women’s multinutrient formulas with synergistic blends of minerals, vitamins, nutrients and botanicals. Such formulas can help support optimal nutrition, bone strength, hormone balance, detoxification and other targeted areas of health for men and women.

To achieve and maintain optimal long term health, it all comes down to balance. Our bodies work hard to maintain very precise levels of balance and homeostasis within our complex systems. When things are in harmony, we feel our best, with radiant vitality, clarity and well-being.

A Look At America’s Heart Health

Published: October 4, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

American heart health is struggling today.

Even though we’ve made advances in our understanding and treatment of cardiovascular disease, it’s still the top killer. Most people point to lifestyle issues as the prime risk factors: things like a nutrient-poor diet, lack of exercise and smoking. But statistics suggest other culprits. Above and beyond anything else, chronic stress, anger and other similar issues appear to pose the biggest risk. Physical, mental and emotional stress over time can increase chronic inflammation and trigger a cascade of harmful biochemical reactions that damage the cardiovascular system. Even just living at a fast pace and not getting enough sleep can greatly increase your chances of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, however, new research suggests it’s not necessarily the stress, as much as how we feel about it that can be so problematic. Though the studies are preliminary, it’s been suggested that when people believe that stress is not hurting them and that their stress is meaningful for their work or life, then they actually show signs of better cardiovascular health than people with no chronic stress.

This demonstrates another fascinating connection between the power of the mind to influence health and physical states.

Certainly, however, other lifestyle factors play a significant role. One of the best known risk factors of course is diet: too many high-glycemic (high-sugar) foods, too much trans fat, too many calories and too much processed food. Also related to diet is dehydration, which negatively influences the cardiovascular system and can seriously affect the heart. These factors also fuel chronic inflammation and high blood pressure while promoting cholesterol oxidized deposits in arteries and hardening of cardiovascular tissues.

Ancient Approaches

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can do a lot for heart health, particularly for addressing the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. In Western medicine, we tend to look at cardiovascular disease as a general category with different manifestations. In TCM, however, we distinguish different forms of cardiovascular disease and their outcomes.

According to TCM, there are individual energetic patterns that affect the cardiovascular system. These patterns correlate with Western medicine. For example, from a Western point of view, you can have cardiovascular disease because your genes make you susceptible to thickened blood. Similarly, TCM views this state as being “emotionally stuck” — corresponding to Qi congestion or blood congestion.

In conventional medicine, cardiovascular disease can develop because of chronic inflammation. In TCM, this is considered an issue of heat in the liver or heart channels. And while a TCM practitioner may believe you have heart problems because of dryness, lack of fluidity and a lack of nourishment in the heart, these problems correlate with inflammation and hormonal imbalance.

Consequently, TCM offers a different system to diagnose and address various cardiovascular disease manifestations. And while TCM’s observations correlate with Western medicine’s view, it uses different concepts, terminology and herbal remedies to treat what are essentially the same issues.

Heart Healthy Diet And Lifestyle

If you follow a low-glycemic (low-sugar) diet with balanced omega-3 and omega-6 fats, you can go a long way in supporting a healthier heart. You should also eat plenty of phytonutrient-rich vegetables and fruits to combat inflammation to keep arteries clear.

Caloric restrictions are important, regardless of how healthy your diet. Often, people tend to think that if they eat a low glycemic diet, they can eat as much as they want. But it’s not true; you’re still going to gain weight.

Another dietary caution: Make sure you consume enough minerals (especially electrolytes). You need magnesium and calcium at a 1:1 ratio as well as items like potassium, zinc and selenium. Minerals support numerous aspects of cardiovascular/heart health.

In terms of lifestyle, it’s important to take the time to slow down, get sufficient rest and reduce chronic stress in your life. Mindful meditation, even just 10 minutes a day, has been shown to reduce cortisol levels and alleviate anxiety and depression more effectively than antidepressant drugs.

Supplements

There are a few categories of supplements that are important for cardiovascular health. The standard category consists of the B vitamins along with vitamins A, C, D3, E (tocopherols), A, K2 as well as the minerals mentioned above.

A great example of a useful herbal formulation is a Tibetan herbal formula which has more than 50 published papers showing significant benefits in cardiovascular health. And there are also individual herbs, like Dan Shen (Salvia) and hawthorn berry that support cardiovascular health with multiple benefits.

In addition, a fast-growing body of research shows that supplements that block the biological protein galectin-3 can help protect against chronic inflammation and the remodeling of blood vessels and heart tissue. Of the beneficial galectin-3 blockers,modified citrus pectin (MCP) has been shown to be extremely promising. In fact, the American Heart Association published a study showing that elevated galectin-3 in the body contributes to hardening of the arteries and atherosclerosis, and that MCP reversed these effects through its ability to bind and block galectin-3.

The enzymes nattokinase and lumbrokinase also help with hyperviscosity and can reduce arterial plaque formation and increase circulation.

New FDA-Approved Test For Cardiovascular Risks

In 2011, in response to several large-scale population studies and other data, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the galectin-3 blood test as the only new cardiovascular screening assay to be approved in the past seven years.  This simple test is recognized by most health insurances as a diagnostic and prognostic tool to measure the risk and progression of cardiovascular disease and heart failure. Elevated levels of galectin-3 can also indicate: metastatic cancer risk, risk of progression in established cases of cancer, arthritis, hepatitis and type 2 diabetes.

How To Stick With Your Program

With any health program, a program designed for prevention, it can be very hard for people to stay on the right track. One thing that helps is to focus on supporting your motivation, which usually crumbles under stress.

So if you can address stress, be happier and have a better outlook about life, you are naturally more inclined to take better care of yourself. Daily meditation practice, even for just 10 minutes, can really help in this area. Another important factor is exercise. When you exercise and mobilize your energy, your world view is refreshed, you feel better, you have fewer cravings and you feel more motivated to keep your program going.

An often overlooked aspect of diet consists of good hydration. When you are dehydrated, you may tend eat more sweets. But if you stay hydrated the craving for sweets shrinks dramatically.

 

Relieve Stuffy Sinuses Naturally

Published: | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

Chronic sinusitis is a common health condition that affects more than 37 million people in the United States annually, particularly this time of year and into the summer season. What’s more, these numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Equally concerning, most cases of sinus trouble may be misdiagnosed as bacterial infections, leading to an overuse (and misuse) of antibiotics. More recent data suggests, however, that sinus infections and chronic sinus problems often come from mold, other fungi, dust mites or environmental pollutants.

Long-term sinus problems can be more serious beyond the pain and discomfort they produce. They can signal imbalances in other systems, specifically immunity and digestion. A recent study from St. Louis University showed that some sinus problems may stem from an inflammatory immune reaction to harmless microorganisms in the sinus membranes — in other words, a specific type of allergy. This study also supports the finding that most sinusitis cases are due to inflammation in the membranes and not specifically harmful bacteria. Chronic sinusitis can be addressed using natural remedies, since antibiotics may not actually treat the underlying cause (even if there is a bacterial culprit) and usually provide only temporary relief, along with potential side effects.

Testing For Underlying Sinus Problems

It’s actually very easy to know if you are suffering from an ongoing hidden sinus infection (caused by bacterial, fungal or other sources) by performing a simple test that anyone can do: Push your three middle fingers into your maxillary sinuses (just under the bone under your eyes) or frontal sinuses (in your forehead) and see if you feel pressure or pain. If you do, keep applying the same pressure and wait. If the pressure or pain increases over time, you may have chronic sinusitis, in which case you should follow up with a holistic health professional for further diagnosis and treatment.

Causes And Treatments

Acute sinusitis can become chronic, leading to an abnormal production of sinus fluid, ongoing sinus pain and respiratory issues. The transition into chronic sinusitis occurs in a smaller percentage of cases and can result from physiological and environmental factors, immune system imbalances, allergies and infectious agents.

The inflammation and congestion present in an acute sinus infection, coupled with the warm, moist environment of the nasal passages, is a perfect environment for pathogens to thrive. Often, the progression to chronic sinusitis involves the presence of these bugs, which are usually embedded in their own protective biofilm coating, making treatment even more difficult.

The holistic treatment of chronic sinusitis addresses multiple areas of health: the digestive system, allergies and inflammation, immunity, circulation and sinus drainage. Treatments can include manual therapies like massage and cranio-sacral therapy, detoxification, acupuncture, dietary changes, herbs, supplements and homeopathic remedies. These approaches can offer long-term support not just for sinuses, but for overall health as well.

Allergies And Digestion

Allergy symptoms and digestive function are closely interconnected. In traditional Chinese medicine, issues with the stomach and large intestine are known to affect the sinuses. In Western functional medicine, we can identify inflammation in the digestive tract as a source of food allergies, which trigger symptoms like sinus and respiratory problems.

In fact, it’s believed that one of the most common sources of allergies in general is inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, which allows large food molecules to enter the circulation (leaky gut syndrome). When the immune system encounters these foreign molecules, it launches an attack against them.

The result is an allergic reaction that initiates an inflammatory process that can also affect the sinuses. Two of the well-known dietary allergens implicated in sinus congestion and allergies are dairy products and gluten (found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt and kamut). Avoiding these two foods often ameliorates sinus problems and provides relief from allergies.

Circulation And Drainage

To support optimal sinus, respiratory, immune and overall health, we have to increase the circulation and help the body clear excess mucus and toxins.

Some helpful treatments:

  • Infrared sauna: An infrared sauna gives off infrared heat that can be absorbed by the body, promoting circulation in the sinuses.
  • Neti pot: Irrigating the sinuses with a traditional Ayurvedic neti pot is a simple and inexpensive way to promote drainage. A 5 percent salt solution may be used, or a tiny drop of tea tree oil may be added to the water. Another option is to add herbal extracts of Hydrastis canadensis, Berberis vulgaris or Berberis aquifolium.These herbs contain berberine, a plant alkaloid with antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. For instructions on use of a neti pot, click  here. Note that sterilized or distilled water should always be used when irrigating the sinuses.
  • Cranial sacral therapy: Cranial-sacral therapy by a trained practitioner can help improve sinus conditions by creating more space between the cranial bones, promoting normal drainage and relieving sinus pressure.

Environment

Poor air quality plays a role in promoting chronic sinusitis. Research has shown that reducing fungal air concentrations using a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filtration system helps restore sinus mucosa. You can also lower your exposure to other allergens, such as dust mites and animal dander, by removing carpeting and feather bedding.

Supplements And Herbs

A variety of herbs and supplements can be useful in reducing allergic reactions, decreasing inflammation, and helping to thin and expel mucous in chronic sinusitis.

  • Vitamin C has been shown to have an antihistamine effect.
  • Zinc is a nutrient necessary for the operation of the immune system; a deficiency can impair immune system functioning.
  • Quercetin and hesperidin are plant flavonoids that inhibit inflammation-producing enzymes and inhibit the release of histamine from immune cells.
  • Bromelain, a pineapple enzyme, has anti-inflammatory properties and helps thin and expel mucous. Clinical trials have shown that bromelain helps reduce inflammation of the nasal mucosa in acute sinusitis patients.
  • Tibetan Herbal Formula is a well-researched botanical combination with neem, Icelandic moss and other herbs. It has been the subject of dozens of clinical studies over recent decades, and it is shown to reduce inflammation and support a balanced immune response.

Chronic sinusitis is an uncomfortable and potentially debilitating disorder not often treated successfully by conventional medicine. Fortunately, chronic sinusitis can be addressed with an integrative, holistic approach to digestion, inflammation control and immune support, promoting and sustaining multiple areas of health and vitality.

 

Fight Diabetes with Herbs and Detoxification

Published: | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

Our bodies evolved by developing sophisticated mechanisms that help us adapt to changes in diet, lifestyle and the environment. But what happens when too many negative influences impact our health all at once? Unhealthy foods, an overload of environmental toxins and a sedentary lifestyle can challenge our health so overwhelmingly, the body can’t adapt well enough. Our complex biological mechanisms can start to misfire, and we have trouble maintaining the biochemical balance needed for optimal health. As a result, a number of chronic illnesses can start to develop. Diabetes is a classic example.

We will explain the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes in just a moment. But first, let’s look the main problem in both types of diabetes: how the body responds to food.

Diabetes: Causes And Effects

Normally, when we eat, cells in our pancreas (beta cells) detect glucose (blood sugar) and release insulin, which tells other cells to ingest the glucose from the blood. This provides energy for cells and keeps circulating blood sugar at healthy levels. An overabundance of sugar in the bloodstream damages blood vessels and wreaks havoc on organs and tissues, potentially leading to eye problems, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage and many other serious conditions.

People develop diabetes when their bodies lose the ability to properly handle blood sugar. In type 1 diabetes, once called juvenile diabetes, an autoimmune response destroys pancreatic beta cells, though we don’t entirely understand why. However, as a result, insulin is no longer released, cells don’t get the message to take in glucose and blood sugar accumulates to toxic levels. Type 1 diabetes was generally fatal until injectable insulin was developed.

Type 2 diabetes is a bit more complicated. Cells gradually lose their ability to respond to insulin, causing toxic levels of glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream. This gradual loss can be caused by age, obesity or other issues such as overconsumption of high-sugar foods. As blood sugar accumulates, pancreatic cells have to work harder to produce more insulin. The condition gradually escalates: Cells become more insulin-resistant; glucose accumulates in the bloodstream; and the pancreas produces more insulin to compensate. Eventually, pancreatic beta cells burn out and the condition can become more like type 1 diabetes, in which no insulin is produced at all.

Metabolic Syndrome

So far, there’s not much that can be done to prevent type 1 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a different story. It takes a long time to develop type 2 diabetes and it’s often preceded by a condition called metabolic syndrome, which comes with a laundry list of warning symptoms:

  • Excess belly fat.
  • Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and too little good cholesterol (HDL).
  • Inflammation.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Excessive blood clotting and poor circulation.
  • Initial insulin resistance.
  • Elevated fasting blood glucose.

If many of these warning signs look familiar, it’s because they are also associated with cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome’s close-knit relative. However, these conditions are controllable and even reversible, with a healthy diet, supplementation and lifestyle changes.

Spring Cleaning With Diet And Exercise

Perhaps the greatest contributor to metabolic syndrome, and ultimately type 2 diabetes, is being overweight. Multiple studies have made the correlation between excess weight and poor sugar metabolism, especially belly fat around your midsection. This type of vat, visceral fat, is the most dangerous type of fat. It surrounds your inner organs and can be a big contributor to metabolic dysfunction. In this case, the age-old approach may be the best at fighting the disease: Increase activity and emphasize a healthy diet.

The spring season is a great time of year to detox our diets and emphasize clean eating: Consume mainly fresh vegetables, minimal fruits (berries are excellent choices with their high antioxidant content), lean protein, extra fiber, sprouted grains and legumes, and healthy fats, including nuts, seeds and avocados.

For people with concerns about diabetes, metabolic syndrome or weight, it’s critical to emphasize low-sugar foods that are low on the glycemic index. This index measures the amount of time specific foods take to break down into glucose. The faster they’re metabolized, the quicker blood sugar ticks up — something you want to avoid. Find foods that are low on the glycemic index scale and won’t cause blood sugar to spike and crash. Good choices include high-fiber vegetables, sprouted whole grains and legumes and lean protein. Avoid foods like sugary cereals, high-sugar fruits, white enriched pastas or bread and white potatoes.

Many studies support this approach. When people eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly, they cut their risk of diabetes in half. In our view, this is the smartest approach and requires no medication. And it’s important to recognize that exercise doesn’t have to mean running a marathon. Simply walking 30 minutes a day has been shown to provide remarkable improvements in metabolic, cardiovascular and overall health.

The Role Of Stress

Even with a healthy diet and regular exercise, however, our relationship with insulin is still somewhat complicated. While excess weight can lead to insulin resistance, so can mental and emotional stress, as well as environmental toxins and other factors that increase oxidative stress in the body. Again, studies have shown that elevated stress can lead to spikes in insulin production, which can also cause insulin resistance. In addition, stress elevates cortisol levels, which in turn elevate blood sugar.

Embrace methods to fight stress. Exercise, yoga, Tai Chi and meditation are all effective. Find the mode that works best for you and practice diligently.

The Botanical Approach

Traditional Asian medicine is an abundant source of powerful herbal remedies that can help address diabetes and metabolic syndrome from many angles. Here are a few examples:

  • Fenugreek: Its seeds contain fiber and protein and are shown to help control glucose levels. This botanical slows carbohydrate absorption and balances production. Studies demonstrate that patients have improved blood sugar control and lower triglyceride levels.
  • Holy basil: May support beta cell function and has shown positive results for patients with type 2 diabetes.
  • Gymnema leaf: Can improve insulin release and glucose absorption, as well as support beta cell growth. Studies show that patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes experience benefits with gymnema leaf extract.

We recommend a comprehensive metabolic formula to address diabetes and metabolic syndrome. This formula blends a number of Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs, medicinal mushrooms and nutrients to support beta cell function, glucose balance, insulin sensitivity, circulation and antioxidant activity. It also offers other important benefits related to metabolic, digestive, cardiovascular and overall health.

Even though the number of people with these conditions continues to increase, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes are treatable conditions. And by addressing them with natural solutions, you can benefit numerous other areas of health in the process.

 

Foods That Help Fight Alzheimer’s

Published: September 29, 2015 | By Dr Isaac Eliaz

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, more than 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. That number could triple by 2050. The disease is far-reaching, often creates life-threatening stress for caregivers, and is invariably fatal. It is now the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. And while the death rates for cancer, heart disease and other conditions have been declining, the rates for Alzheimer’s disease are climbing.

Contributing Factors

A number of factors can put us at greater risk for this all-too-common disease. Genetics are an important cause of your risk, but how genes influence your chances of Alzheimer’s is not entirely understood.

For example, a gene called APOE-e4 increases your risk of Alzheimer’s, but does not make it a certainty. There are other genes that have a more direct link to the condition and are associated with rare, usually early-onset, versions of the disease. Individuals may want to have their genes sequenced to clarify their risk.

Heart health has emerged as a major factor. Because the brain is so heavily reliant on the oxygen and nutrients carried through the bloodstream, any cardiovascular difficulties can produce a ripple effect on the brain. High blood pressure and cholesterol can both significantly boost your risk of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. Because Latinos and African-Americans tend to be at higher risk for cardiovascular disease, they can also be at higher risk for dementia.

Other major risk factories include a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, depression, diabetes and obesity. Women seem to have a slightly higher risk for the disease, though it’s unclear whether this is due to differences in body makeup or simply because women, on average, live longer than men.

Food For Thought

Eating a whole food, unprocessed diet also appears to reduce dementia risk. Again, diet can help or hurt your brain: Good food choices help, and bad choices can wreak havoc, not just for brain health but every other area of health as well. As previously noted, if you have cardiovascular disease, you have an increased risk for cognitive decline.

So if you eat foods that protect the heart — lean proteins, whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables — you can potentially improve your brain health as well.

Your meals should emphasize greens and cruciferous vegetables — items like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale and collards. Some research has shown that these can reduce cognitive decline. As a bonus, they are also good for the immune system, detoxification and hormone balance.

Omega-3 fatty acids have also been found to support brain health. One study has shown that people are deficient in omega-3s tend to have smaller brains. That is also a risk factor for cognitive decline. Fatty fish, like salmon, are a great source of these fats, as are nuts and flax seed. Some animal studies have shown that a form of omega-3 known as DHA reduces beta amyloid plaques, a defining characteristic of Alzheimer’s.

Animal studies have shown that rats fed a standard Western diet of processed foods have more trouble with learning and memory. This makes sense: Fat-laden diets are also bad for cardiovascular health and glucose metabolism.

Botanicals And Nutrients

We think of mental stress as the overwhelmed sensation we feel when too much is going on, but there’s another form that can affect the brain: oxidative stress caused by unstable molecules called free radicals. Free radical oxidation wreaks havoc on cells and tissues, fueling chronic inflammation and even damaging DNA. There is a growing body of data showing that excess oxidative stress can contribute to dementia, Alzheimer’s and general cognitive decline.

Resveratrol, a compound found in particularly high concentrations in red wine, has shown some promise in studies as a potent antioxidant. Research has shown that people who drink moderate amounts of red wine are at lower risk for Alzheimer’s. Animal studies have also shown that resveratrol reduces amyloid plaque.

Another powerful antioxidant is honokiol, derived from Magnolia bark. Honokiol has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years as a mild sedative. New research has shown that, as an antioxidant, honokiol is a 1,000 times more powerful than vitamin E. It’s also been shown in preclinical studies to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and neuro-protective agent to help support brain health and much more.

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, has also been used in traditional
Asian practices for many centuries. Again, modern research is confirming its benefits. In another powerful study from the Salk Institute, a drug created from curcumin reversed Alzheimer’s in mice. More research will need to be done to confirm this finding, but it’s a good confirmation of curcumin’s benefits for brain health.

In addition, with what we know about the relationship between cardiovascular disease and dementia, we should also work to improve circulation. Found in a fermented soybean product called Natto, nattokinase promotes healthy blood flow. Another good supplement for circulation is the amino acid L-Carnitine, which is also an antioxidant.

Exercise is Good For The Brain

Numerous studies have shown that exercise can delay cognitive decline, and poor circulation is a factor in dementia. And of course, this works both ways — better circulation seems to reduce risk: Exercise has been found to enhance brain connectivity.

A number of studies have compared the mental acuity of older adults based on their physical activity. One study looked at women over 65 who walked 30 minutes each day. Other research examined the activity in people over 70. The results have been consistent. The people who exercise do better on mental tests and don’t suffer as much cognitive decline as do sedentary people who rarely partake of physical activity.

A study by scientists at the University of British Columbia also found that women with mild cognitive impairment improved their memory with weight training and aerobics compared to simply stretching. At the end of the study, the women doing weights and aerobics scored better on memory tests than the women who only stretched.

Mind-Body-Brain

Good for the brain in many ways, meditation (and other mind-body exercises) can control stress and maintain positive mood. It also appears to improve memory. One study observed participants, some of whom had mild cognitive decline or Alzheimer’s, performing a specific type of meditation. In follow-up tests, participants increased blood flow to the brain and improved their scores on cognitive tests.

Another study showed that meditation can actually change how your brain is structured. Scientists at UCLA found that meditation increases the folding in the cerebral cortex, which improves how the brain deals with information. This positively impacts the ability to retrieve memories, form decisions and focus.

Making Connections

In addition, social activity improves brain function. People who volunteer, have large social or family networks, or have other forms of engagement have been shown to increase life span, improve health and decrease depression.

Currently, there’s no cure for Alzheimer’s disease. However, continuing research is uncovering basic, everyday ways to address cognitive decline. A healthy diet, regular movement, targeted nutrients, relaxation and social connections can all help to keep our minds sharp over time, offering tangible benefits for every area of health.