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Some General Info About Probiotics

Probiotic supplements have become relatively popular in recent years and I find that I continue to run into people with questions about them.  In my opinion, I find the science behind probiotics to make a lot of sense and I can absolutely see the health benefits behind them.  At the same time, if you’re going to consider taking them, you should know the reasons for supplementing in the first place.  Here’s a short explanation of the benefits of probiotics.

You probably already know that there are a lot of bacteria in your intestines.  Though there are some bacteria that are potentially harmful, a large majority are healthy bacterial strains such as bifidobacteria and lactobacillus.  These strains of bacteria are necessary for healthy digestion as the bacteria help break down food in order for nutrients to be absorbed through the intestinal wall. Without this help, human digestion wouldn’t be nearly as efficient.  In addition to aiding in digestion, healthy bacterial flora will also produce B vitamins!  Here you have two benefits already, more vitamins and better digestion.

A very important benefit to healthy bacterial is protection.  There is a constant battle between good and bad bacteria in the intestines as they are both constantly growing with only so much space to expand.  Fortunately, in most people the good bacteria wins and keeps the bad bacteria in check.  However, in cases of disease or many specific bowel issues, the bad bacteria can take over. Suddenly, there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria inside of you producing toxins.  This is absolutely a situation you want to avoid.  Think of taking a probiotic as sending reinforcements into the fight.

In addition to protection from bad bacteria, healthy bacteria also form a protective layer for the intestinal lining.  Did you know that 50-70% of you immune system is located within your intestines?  This is because the food moving through your intestinal tract is potentially harmful and so the intestines are a first line of defense.  However, over time the intestines can become damaged and micro-tears can develop.  Luckily, as these tears occur, the healthy bacteria produce a patchwork that allows for a safety layer to protect the damaged tissue.  As a result, the intestinal lining is allowed to heal and no further damage may occur. There have been recent theories behind this process and a possible connection with autoimmune disease.  As so much of the immune system is located within the gut, there may be a link between an overreaction of immune function and intestinal damage. Though more research does need to take place, the preliminary philosophy does hold water.

One last point to mention antibiotic medications.  When taking an antibiotic, there is a danger in developing an intestinal infection as a side effect.  This is because the antibiotic in use will kill every bacteria in the body, even that good bacteria in your gut.  As your healthy bacteria die off, space develops for the bad bacteria to fill in and this can lead to bigger issues.  Therefore, if you are on antibiotic therapy, supplementing with a probiotic should be your first priority.

If you do decide to supplement with a probiotic, look for a product that sells a quantity of colony units in the billions.  For example, the product that I recommend contains 15 billion units.  And don’t be fooled by yogurt.  Though they claim to have probiotic qualities, the numbers are much too low to make any difference.

The Pros and Cons of Sunscreen

Here we are in the middle of another beautiful summer.  Fortunately, we haven’t been plagued with much rain this season and even just experienced a fairly intense heatwave.  No doubt, when we people of the north get summers like this, we take advantage of them, spending as much time outside in the sun as possible.  However, with the hot sun does come some necessities, especially sunscreen.  Due to its popularity in the media, most people are aware of UV rays and their association with skin cancer.  But, is there any danger to using sunscreen?

There actually have been studies conducted to investigate certain chemicals found in sunscreen.  Interested in the findings?  The very chemicals designed to protect you from developing skin cancer are carcinogenic themselves!  There are a number of chemicals that are found in various sunscreens: Benzophenones, PABA esters, Cinnamates, Salicylates, Digalloyl trioleate, Menthly anthranilate, and Avobenzone.  These chemicals have been found to have some alarming effects within the body that go far beyond blocking you from UV rays.  For one, they are found to be powerful free radical generators.  Free radicals are reactive compounds that damage fats, proteins, and DNA, leading to cancer.  The chemicals found in sunscreen also have estrogenic activity, meaning they will mimic the hormone estrogen and alter the hormones activity.  Just as an additional note, breast cancer is related to estrogen hyperactivity.  Finally, these chemicals are stored in fat within your body, allowing for toxins to easily accumulate over time.  An recently read an article about some research conducted that found traces of these chemicals in human urine.  Even though your are only putting sunscreen on your skin, it absolutely will still absorb into your body.

Outside of the chemical compounds that directly damage the body, sunscreen also blocks your ability to get vitamin D.  The UV rays in sunlight that are blocked by sunscreen are the very rays necessary for your body to synthesize vitamin D3, the active form of vitamin D that your body needs.  If you read some recent research about vitamin D deficiency, you will learn about the link between low vitamin D levels and chronic disease such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.

With this information, I have two recommendations.  One, if you do decide to use sunscreen, you should really consider taking a vitamin D supplement.  The benefits found in taking in sunlight are immediately negated by putting on the lotion.  Secondly, look for natural forms of sunscreen.  Using lotions that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide are options that will both block the UV rays without the carcinogenic effects.  In the end, it’s great if you make the effort to protect yourself from the dangers of skin damage.  However, being informed of hidden dangers is just as important.  We are often told that sunscreen is the way to protect ourselves from the sun.  Unfortunately, we are never taught how to protect ourselves from sunscreen.

 

Some information in this article was retrieved on http://reverseskinaging.com/toxicsunscreens2.html

The Barefoot Runner

If you go out for a run or a walk today, you probably won’t find it hard to point out that runner wearing the Vibram Five Finger shoes.  In the last couple of years, there has been a lot of popularity with barefoot running and the barefoot running shoe. This rise in popularity seems trendy with books, shoe companies, and even youtube videos jumping on the bandwagon.  But is barefoot running only a trend or could there be some logic behind it?

I have done my own reading on barefoot running because there is a debate and I do receive questions about it’s purpose.  The idea of running on your toes and wearing shoes with very little cushion seems so uncomfortable and when one begins running this way, it can be difficult.  However, the more that I consider this style of running, the more logical it becomes.  Let me begin by saying that I love evolutionary biology.  I am a strong believer that humans, as animals, have evolved to our specific body design for a reason.  We are put together in such a way to give us advantages in some areas, while we are very weak in others.  To put it more simply, I believe in keeping things simple and natural.  In a natural sense, humans aren’t meant to even wear shoes.  The human foot is a sensitive and specifically designed structure that is completely capable of absorbing the impact involved in walking and running.  Not only this, when the foot is put in a fully cushioned and supportive shoe, it will eventually weaken because the small muscles of the foot no longer need to do their job.  Hello flat feet.  Another issue with the thick cushioned shoe is that you can’t feel the impact of ground under your feet when you run.  Your feet feel fine so you can hit harder, but this only creates an even stronger impact that travels up your body affecting the ankles, knees, hips, and back.  Could this be the reason that long-time runners eventually develop arthritis in their joints?

 

The idea behind barefoot running is two-fold.  One, the foot is not heavily supported and the muscles are forced to strengthen and work for themselves.  Second, the impact when hitting the ground is felt by the foot.  As a result, you will learn to step lighter on the toes, saving impact on your joints.  I do have one final note about barefoot running:  Build up slowly.  I see many people who hurt themselves as they switch over to this running style and it is because they buy the shoes and try to run for a few miles on the first day.  If you do buy some barefoot shoes, walk around in them first.  After doing this for a while, try running a very short distance.  Over time, you can increase your distance slowly.  Your feet and calves are going to need to adapt this new experience and if you don’t prepare them, you may end up in my office.

Picking Out a Good Mattress

This blog is at the request of one of my most dedicated readers…

You will spend about one third of your life sleeping and adequate sleep is crucial for good health. A lack of sleep results in higher stress levels, which has an effect on cortisol levels. Ultimately, with less than adequate sleep, you’re looking at the possibility of weight gain and increased blood pressure, among other issues. In fact, when counseling patients for weight loss, one of the points I make is to promote eight hours of sleep every night.

When considering the health issues mentioned above, ensuring a good night’s sleep sounds much more important. Furthermore, sleeping on a quality mattress that is comfortable and supportive is a key component of staying rested. But with so many mattress models out there, how can one even decide the correct fit? I have one major rule of thumb: Try to keep your spine as neutral as possible. In other words, I would like to see the spine to be in the roughly same position it would be if you were standing. In overly soft mattresses, the body tends to sink too far, resulting in a side bend in the spine. Though this softness may feel comfortable at first, sleeping an entire night in a bent position is going to feel very uncomfortable in the morning. At the other end of the spectrum, a very firm mattress isn’t going to have enough give, so you may feel some extra pressure at your shoulders and hips. I feel that with most people, a medium/firm mattress is usually best. However, every individual is different and it is important to test some mattresses out before deciding. I will mention that I am a fan of the memory foam mattresses. I like that they do have give at the heavier parts of the body and offer support throughout. Though they are generally more expensive, if the mattress is comfortable to you, then it is worth the investment.

On a side note, I will throw out the idea of an organic mattress for those really looking to change things up. Most mattresses straight out of the manufacturer also come with things like dust mites and other allergens. For individuals particularly sensitive to these things, a look into a naturally manufactured mattress may be an useful consideration.

Ultimately, the best way to choose a mattress is to pick one that is comfortable for you throughout the night. Being comfortable equals better sleep, which is your only goal for those eight hours. And don’t forget about your pillow. After all, if you’re trying to prevent back pain, you may as well prevent neck pain, too.

Out With the Food Pyramid, In With the Food Plate

Thanks Michelle Obama! It looks like the food pyramid has finally been removed. The food pyramid was such an incorrect guideline for eating habits, I’m surprised it survived as long as it did. The base of the pyramid was all pasta and bread. Way off.

Now we have been given the food plate. I can absolutely say it is a step up from from the pyramid, but it still contains key mistakes. One aspect that I do like is how it is a nice visual for people to reference. The plate serves as a nice comparison for any individual when considering their own dinner plate. Secondly, I would say that the ratios are mostly correct. However, I suppose that this is also my first critique. Personally, I think the grains section is still a little large. People can consume plenty of healthy carbohydrates through fruits and vegetables, therefore, grains do not even need to be standard. The truth is, grains are just hugely popular. Asking someone to remove breads or pastas from their diet is close to impossible. But, as I tell my patients, try to keep them as a side dish and make it whole grain. My second critique is the dairy. I don’t really understand why it is even in the picture at all. Granted, yes, most people take in dairy products every day and I won’t stop you, but this should not be considered a staple food group for every meal. The dairy industry must have some great lobbyists.

In the end, the food plate does look better than the pyramid by far, but it is important to remember that it is still just a guideline. As every individual is different and requires different amounts of nutrients based on gender, age, activity level, physical health, etc., these values need to change. In all honesty, the 3 meals per day rule is far outdated anyway. But that was covered in my last blog.

Eat More for Weight Loss

Eat more frequently, that is. It is the typical American practice to eat three meals each day: Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Though this has become the common habit, that doesn’t mean it’s the correct way to eat. Eating three larger meals each day induces a blood sugar roller coaster, resulting in the spiking and dropping of insulin levels. You know that mid-afternoon fatigue? That’s the blood sugar drop. Not only does the traditional three meals drastically affect blood sugar, it also isn’t very helpful if you’re trying to lose weight.

What if you ate five or six smaller meals each day? Keep your usual breakfast, lunch, and dinner with smaller portions and add a little more at mid-morning and afternoon. The first benefit is that this will help keep your blood sugar and insulin levels at a more stabile level throughout the day, which translates into preventing that fatigue in the afternoon. And, for those of you trying to lose some weight, it also will boost your metabolism. Of course, you will want to make these extra meals healthier options, with a balance of complex carbohydrates and protein. Your goal is to keep yourself in a state of not being extremely hungry or full, but comfortable throughout the day. Give it a shot, break that habitual barrier, and eat in a more efficient way!

Chronic Neck Pain or Headache? It Could Be Your Breathing.

The second most common complaint that chiropractors see is neck pain. Third on the list is headache. What some people may not realize is that these two complaints are often related. Not only this, but in many cases, the cause of the pain is a chronic tightening, or hypertonicity, of the shoulder girdle muscles, such as the upper trapezius, scalenes, and levator scap. When these muscles tighten, they often develop trigger points, which can refer pain into the head, causing headache. So, we know that the tightened muscle can cause neck pain and headache, but what causes the tight muscle?

There are multiple causes of tightened muscle which warrants a thorough evaluation to determine. However, in some cases, the cause is postural and may involve how you breathe. There is a correct form to breathing that people often train themselves out of. Take a look at any newborn and you will see their belly expand with each inhalation. However, there is a subconscious tendency for people to want to breathe with their chests. Men want their chests to look bigger and both men and women want to suck in their gut. This results in a habitual breathing pattern that ultimately inhibits the diaphragm, the key muscle for respiration. When the diaphragm becomes inhibited, other muscles have to take over and do the job. Which muscles take over? The upper trapezius, the levator scap, and the scalene muscles.

How many breaths per day do you think you take? Breathing does not turn off, it is a constant throughout your lifetime. If you think about it, the muscles being worked to breath are not given much opportunity to relax. Therefore, if your shoulder and neck muscles are not relaxing, they are tightening over time and the end result is that neck pain and headache that you are complaining about.

Developing correct breathing pattern is a key rehab exercise that I perform in my office with these types of patients. If this area is not addressed in care, you may be looking at persistent neck pain and headache that never really go away. You can even seek daily treatment, but if you’re still breathing incorrectly, get ready for an uphill battle.

Oh, proper breathing pattern also helps protect your low back. Think about that one.

A Brief Summary of Fish Oil

I often receive questions from patients or friends regarding fish oils. Most often, they ask me what does it do or does fish oil really work? The funny thing about nutrition is that there are always studies that bring media attention; this results in a trendy “buzz” and many people jumping on the bandwagon. Even with huge leaps in health popularity, most people taking part aren’t even sure why they jumped on in the first place. These very same people will ultimately discontinue the practice once the buzz dies down.

Fish oil became one the trendy health topics this past decade, much of the buzz being its role in heart health and cholesterol. Though it does play a part in that area, fish oil serves for many other uses that most people aren’t aware of. I feel it is so important, in fact, that I consider it to be one of the 4 essential supplements that everyone should be taking.

It is the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil that serve as the health benefits, which come in two forms: eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). EPA is known for regulating inflammatory process and DHA is known especially for central nervous system support (the brain and spinal cord). Let’s focus on EPA first.

If you look at virtually any type of disease there is a common component: inflammation. Heart disease begins with inflammation of the arterial walls, Crohn’s disease is inflammation of the intestines, rheumatoid arthritis is joint inflammation. I could go on forever listing diseases. EPA, as a regulator of inflammation, can help in controlling these processes. I am not saying fish oil is a cure, but it can absolutely aid in reducing flare ups and fighting the progression of disease.

DHA is a major supporter of central nervous system health and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in the brain. By supplementing DHA, you are improving brain function. In fact, a loss of DHA in the brain has been connected with depression and cognitive decline.

The listed health benefits are only a few examples what fish oil can do. To my patients, I typically recommend 1-2 grams of EPA and DHA every day for simple health maintenance. In cases where I working with disease processes, I may raise that number up to 4-8 grams per day, depending on the patient.

One final piece of advice to those that would rather get their oils from eating fish as opposed to the supplement. I applaud your philosophy in getting nutrients from whole food sources, however, in this case, you will not achieve the benefits. In order to get 1-2 grams of EPA/DHA per day you would be eating a lot of fish. Unfortunately, in today’s world, eating all of that fish also means ingesting a lot of heavy metals, such as mercury. The danger of heavy metal toxicity is much too great. Having fish in your diet is a great idea, but not every day. Supplement with a high quality fish oil supplement instead.

Big Pharmaceutical Tactic: Selling Vitamins as “Drugs”

Recently I have been seeing a lot of commercials for a new drug called “Niaspan”, a cholesterol lowering drug that can be prescribed by your doctor. The immediate thought in my head was You’re kidding, right? Niaspan, also known as niacin, is just another name for vitamin B3! Pharmaceutical companies have essentially patented a high dose, time release tablet of vitamin B3 which you can only get through prescription. You shouldn’t need a prescription for a vitamin! It’s really an attempt by the big pharmaceutical companies to now control the vitamin market. It’s this type of issue that has translated into inflated costs for health insurance!

Vitamin B3, like all of the other B vitamins, is important for many functions in the body. However, the commercial fails to mention that these vitamins work with each other as well as other vitamins for these bodily functions to work properly. You don’t want to take B3 alone, take it with all of the others! The claims of the Niaspan website are that it comes in a much higher dose than supplemental niacin, thus making it more effective. It is true that it’s concentration is higher, but you can just as easily increase your dose of supplemental B3 instead. However, be careful with your dosage of niacin as you can overdose and develop the “niacin flush”. The niacin flush is a reddening, warming, and itching of the skin when you take too much niacin at once. It really is not harmful, but people can become uncomfortable or alarmed when it occurs. Fear not, it will pass. But if you were to take the recommended dose of supplemental niacin a few times a day, this can be avoided. And the best part: Supplemented B complex is a whole lot cheaper than the other prescription “drug”.

Do You Have Sciatica? Don’t Jump Into Surgery Just Yet.

The posted link is an article about some research performed last year comparing chiropractic care to surgery for sciatic patients. In summary, the study published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, found that chiropractic care was equally as effective as disk surgery when it came to correcting sciatic problems. I do want to emphasize that the people who performed this research were neurosurgeons, with only one chiropractor! So, let’s compare these two treatment options. Surgery is much more expensive at around $25,000. Surgery is much more dangerous. During a surgery there is the risk of injury to any body tissue, not to mention the potential dangers of anesthesia. Finally, spinal disc surgery is going to include significant bed rest time, leaving the patient out of work and unable to function. It only makes sense that surgery not be your first option for this condition. Read the article for yourself.

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110510006339/en/Spinal-Manipulation-Proves-Equally-Beneficial-Surgery-Sciatica

I was having some trouble getting the link to work correctly. If that happens to you, try to copy and paste the URL instead.

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110510006339/en/Spinal-Manipulation-Proves-Equally-Beneficial-Surgery-Sciatica