Can We Control Inflammation?

When we experience muscle and joint pain it usually means that damage has occurred in the tissue to some degree. The body now needs to repair this damaged tissue, and that is the job of inflammation. Inflammation is an essential process that includes cleaning up the damaged tissue, then making repairs so the tissue can be used again. Inflammation can add to the pain that we experience from an injury. It is for this reason, that we do not want inflammation to carry on too long, or over react to the situation it is involved in fixing.

Many of us hear, continually, about how bad the American diet is. How it leads to increased heart disease and diabetes. Well, the one that hits close to home in any Chiropractic office is the effect that our diet has on the inflammatory process within our bodies. It has been shown that the average American diet is “pro-inflammatory”. What this means is that the foods an average American eats cause the inflammatory process to over react, therefore adding to the amount of pain we may experience from lower back pain, tendonitis, muscles in spasm, etc.

A while back I had a patient come into the office after not having seen her for some time. One of the first things she shared with me was a conversation we had had the last time she was in about the effects of sugary foods on joint achiness. I had shared with her that I noticed an increase in the general achiness of my joints when I ate a lot of sugary food. When I had significantly reduced the sugary foods I ate, the joint achiness reduced. Well, she had given the idea a try. She took a long 3-day weekend and eliminated all sugary foods from her diet, and she couldn’t believe the effect. Within a day or so she began to notice a reduction in the overall achiness of her joints just like I had.

That may be anecdotal evidence, but it is a fact that if you want to reduce the pain from inflammation we need to reduce the sugary foods from our diet. Not only the sugary drinks, cakes, cookies, and candies, but the breads and pastas as well. Without too much thought, if we just reduced the amount of food we ate it would help. It may take a shift in the menu, but it will be more than worth the hassle. Without the overreaction of your inflammatory process, tissues will heal better and be less painful. Your injured tissues will thank you for it.

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.

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!

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”.

What is CoQ10 and do I need it?

CoQ10, or Coenzyme Q10, is a supplement that has become more popular in recent years. I often get questions from patients about what CoQ10 is and if they should be taking it. In an attempt not to make it too complicated, here is my explanation.

CoQ10 is a coenzyme also called ubiquinone and it is found in the cells of your body within small organisms called mitochondria. Interestingly enough, mitochondria aren’t actually human and contain their own DNA! Despite this fact, the mitochondria are crucial for human survival because they are known as the “power plants” of cells, with their primary purpose being energy generation. Within the mitochondria is where CoQ10 is located. Without going into the chemistry too deeply, CoQ10 aids in electron transport that ultimately creates energy for the body in great amounts. Without CoQ10, your body will not be creating energy as efficiently as it should be.

Different tissues and organs in the body have different concentrations of mitochondria. The heart, for example, has very high levels because it is constantly working and needs a lot of energy. Makes sense. This is why CoQ10 is said to help the heart. More CoQ10 means more energy production from the mitochondria, translating into more energy for the heart (among other organs in the body).

This topic brings me to mention statin drugs. Statins are the drugs that people with high cholesterol are typically prescribed. The purpose of these drugs is to block the body’s production of cholesterol. This also makes sense, but here’s the kicker: The very bodily process that makes cholesterol also creates CoQ10. Therefore, blocking cholesterol production is also blocking our CoQ10. It’s funny that a drug intended to improve cardiovascular function is also reducing our heart’s energy. That being said, anyone who takes a statin drug for high cholesterol should also be supplementing with CoQ10.

Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

Let’s face it, Maine residents don’t get enough sunlight. We experience long winters, which translates into more days out the year spent indoors. In addition to that, more snow equals more cloud cover. Even in many months where we are outside, it is still relatively chilly and we are in long pants and jackets. This can develop into long term health problems because sunlight is crucial in converting vitamin D into an active form which the body can utilize. Many people already know of the dangers of osteoporosis, particularly in women, but what about other health issues?

There has been a lot of recent research conducted to explore the health benefits of vitamin D. There was one published research article in the journal Anticancer Research that found a 50% reduction in chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, and multiple sclerosis when the vitamin D blood saturation level was above 50 ng/ml. This is especially important news for Maine residents, as well as any other community in the north where sunlight is scarce. Vitamin D supplementation should absolutely be considered in everyone’s diet. Not only this, many consider the FDA recommendations to be the bare minimum for vitamin D supplementation. Personally, I feel the bare minimum vitamin D intake should be around 1,000 IU, and even more benefit can be found at the 4,000-5,000 IU levels. Every individual requires a different amount, but generally speaking, everybody needs more vitamin D.