Fats are a hot topic of debate in the health-conscious community, and recent reports have made it hard to separate facts from fear-mongering. Canola and coconut oils are two popular fats that have received a lot of attention over the years, and thankfully recent studies are showing us more clearly which fats to embrace, and which to avoid.
To understand which fats are healthy, it’s helpful to understand “good” HDL and “bad” LDL cholesterol, small fat and protein packages that transport cholesterol throughout the body.
High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol helps protect your arteries from cholesterol and removes excess arterial plaque.
Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries to form plaque that narrows them and makes them less flexible (atherosclerosis).
Triglycerides. Elevated levels are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Risk factors include smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, overweight, and a diet high in sugars and grains.
HDL, LDL, and triglycerides come in small and large particles. While the large particles are practically harmless, the small, dense particles are more dangerous. They can lodge in arterial walls, leading to inflammation, plaque buildup, and damage that eventually leads to heart disease.
When considering test results, your doctor will note:
HDL levels versus LDL levels
The ratio between triglycerides to HDL
The ratio between total cholesterol and HDL
The size of the particles
Here’s where the former warnings about fats and cholesterol have been misleading: We now understand that more important than knowing your total cholesterol is knowing the ratio between your HDL and your LDL, and especially the size of the particles.
In addition, the Mayo Clinic says many doctors now believe that for predicting heart disease risk, total non-HDL may be more useful than calculating your cholesterol ratio. Non-HDL cholesterol is figured by subtracting your HDL cholesterol number from your total cholesterol number.
Finally, either option appears to be a better risk predictor than your total cholesterol level or simply your LDL level.
Note: In some cases, people have a genetic tendency toward extremely high cholesterol. In those situations, it may take more than diet to manage cholesterol levels.
Should I consume saturated fats?
Sourced from tropical oils and animal products, saturated fats are typically solid or semi-solid at room temperature. Common dietary sources include beef, pork, lamb, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, palm oil, and coconut oil.
Saturated fat sits at the forefront of the debate about dietary oils. Why? For years, we’ve been warned that it increases the risk for cardiovascular disease because it raises LDL, the “bad” type of cholesterol.
This recommendation was based on four hand-picked studies done nearly 40 years ago and doesn’t reflect recent studies that shine a different light on fat intake. What the studies didn’t do is take into consideration other things saturated fats do to help balance the equation:
Raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
Change LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from small, dense particles — dangerous for heart health — to large particle LDL, which does not increase heart disease risk.
Support brain health.
Possibly reduce stroke risk.
In fact, a recent meta-analysis of studies showed there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
For some people there are legitimate reasons to moderate saturated fat intake:
Saturated fat intake can be associated with lighter, less restorative, more disruptive sleep (yet increased fiber can help increase sleep quality).
ApoE4 carriers (increased Alzheimer’s risk) see a much higher spike in LDL cholesterol from high saturated fat in the diet, without a matching rise in HDL. They may benefit from lower intake of saturated fat which can lower LDL cholesterol and improve HDL/LDL ratio.
A small percent of the population does experience a skyrocketing increase in LDL concentrations along with increased inflammation levels measured by C-reactive protein.
Ask meabout a diet that is sufficient in healthy fats, void of bad fats, and customized to your dietary needs.
Many of us start the day with a small breakfast as we run out the door, followed by a medium sized lunch and a large dinner. We also tend to snack throughout the day and even grab a bite before bed. However, while what we eat is important, a growing body of research suggests when we eat matters too.
The digestive system’s circadian rhythm
While you have likely heard of the circadian rhythm, the master “clock” in the brain that governs our sleep-wake cycle, we actually have a variety of circadian clocks that govern the daily cycle of activity for every organ.
These rhythms exist because every organ needs downtime for repair and regeneration.
The digestive system is no exception. During the day, the pancreas increases production of insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, and then ramps it down at night.
Circadian clocks optimize our health by aligning our biological functions with regular and predictable environmental patterns. Disrupting our circadian clocks — such as by skipping breakfast or eating at midnight — can result in health issues such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more, and if you want to know more about YOU and YOUR health, schedule a FREE 15-minute consultation with Dr. Celaya.
Eat breakfast daily
About 20 to 30 percent of American adults skip breakfast. Some do it to save time, many do it in an effort to lose weight. However, studies show that people who eat breakfast daily are less likely to be obese, malnourished, suffer from impaired blood sugar metabolism, or be diagnosed with diabetes.
They are also less likely to have the heart disease risk factors of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Even the American Heart Association recently endorsed biologically appropriate meal timing to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Just eating breakfast isn’t the only important thing, however. It’s critical to start the day with a breakfast that provides plenty of protein and healthy fats, and a minimum of sugars. This helps support blood sugar balance and proper brain function throughout the day.
Make breakfast the largest meal for weight control and fat loss
The timing in relation to the size of our meals is also important.
Research shows having the largest meal in the morning appears to help with weight control compared to having a large meal in the evening.
In fact, a person eating the identical meal at different times of day might deposit more fat after an evening meal than a morning meal.
This is partially because insulin, a hormone that helps with blood sugar control, appears to be most efficient in the morning. In addition, we burn more calories and digest food more efficiently in the morning than later in the day when most of us eat our largest meal.
In one study, a group of overweight women with metabolic problems were put on a 1400 calorie-per-day diet. Half consumed 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at supper and the other half reversed that pattern.
Women in both groups lost weight and experienced reduction in fasting glucose, insulin, and ghrelin (a hunger hormone), but in the same time frame the large-breakfast group experienced added benefits:
They lost 2.5 times the weight compared to those who ate the largest meal at dinner.
They had a significantly greater decrease in fasting glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels.
Their satiety (sense of fullness) scores were significantly higher.
They also lost more body fat, especially in the belly.
According to the researchers, a high-calorie breakfast and a reduced calorie dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for managing obesity and metabolic syndrome.
The body needs fasting periods for optimum health
Fasting signals to the body to start burning stores of fat for fuel. Most of us eat meals and snack from the time we wake up until shortly before bed — or even in the middle of the night. In fact, studies show the average person eats over a 15-hour period during the day. This short fasting time period may interfere with optimal metabolism and increase weight gain.
Researchers put a group of prediabetic men through two eating cycles. In one phase, they ate meals within a 12-hour window for five weeks.
Then in another phase, they ate the same meals in a time-restricted six-hour window starting in the morning.
They ate enough to maintain their weight, so they could assess whether the time-restricted regimen had benefits unrelated to weight loss.
In addition, the men who ate only one or two meals per day fared better than those who ate three meals.
A recent review of the dietary patterns of 50,000 adults over seven years provides added evidence that we should ingest most of our calories early in the day, including a plentiful breakfast, a smaller lunch, and a light supper.
The researchers said that eating breakfast and lunch five to six hours apart and making the overnight fast last 18 to 19 hours may be an effective method for preventing long-term weight gain.
Another recent study found that subjects who added snacks to their daily meals tended to gain weight over time, while those who had no snacks tended to lose weight.
Light exposure is key for proper metabolism
Sufficient exposure to natural light and darkness also play an important role in how we metabolize food for either energy production or fat gain.
At night, the lack of sunlight signals our brain to release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. In the morning, the light stops melatonin production and we wake up.
When we change that signaling — whether from a late-night meal, artificial lighting at night (especially blue screen light), shift work, flying and travel, or changing our eating patterns — it confuses our bodies’ circadian clocks. Eating at the wrong time of day strains the digestive organs, forcing them to work when they are supposed to rest.
Shift workers, who account for about 20 percent of the country’s workforce, have a particular problem with disturbed circadian clocks. Many frequently work overnight shifts, forcing them to eat and sleep at odd times. Nighttime shift work has been linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer.
Studies have linked poor melatonin activity and disrupted sleep-wake cycles with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, cancer, autoimmune flare-ups, obesity, and more.
Low blood sugar may require a before-bed snack
One important exception to the “don’t eat right before bed” rule is for those who have chronic low blood sugar. For these people, keeping blood sugar stable throughout the day — and night — is critical for brain health, energy level, and more.
If you suffer from the following chronic low blood sugar symptoms, it may be best to take a small, high-protein low sugar snack just before bed:
Constant sugar cravings
Nausea or lack of appetite in the morning
Irritability, light-headedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
Craving caffeine for energy
Eating to relieve fatigue
Afternoon energy crashes
Waking around 3 a.m.
Daily habits to maximize your dietary rhythm
To help maximize your meal timing and metabolism, incorporate the following habits into your day:
Make breakfast your largest meal and make dinner your smallest. While this may prove difficult for those with a busy social life or family that sits down to a big dinner every evening, make the evening meal smaller whenever possible.
Prioritize protein and healthy fats with breakfast, and minimize sugar and caffeine intake especially before lunch, to stabilize blood sugar and regulate metabolism.
Avoid between-meal snacks and bedtime goodies. The exception is for those who have chronic low blood sugar as mentioned above.
Try a time-restricted eating pattern, or intermittent fasting, to maximize weight management.
Manage exposure to blue light at night:
Avoid screen light in the evening
Install the f.lux app on your phone and computer
Read a book
Wear blue-blocker glasses at night
Install amber or red light bulbs for evening use
If you have chronic low blood sugar, a small before-bed snack with plenty of protein may be a good idea to keep your blood sugar stable all night and prevent that 3 a.m. wake-up.
While studies suggest that prioritizing larger meals early in the day helps support metabolic health, it does not necessarily mean that you should skip dinner. Instead, have your dinners earlier and make them relatively light.
The take-home message here is like the old proverb, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Schedule a FREE 15-Minute Consultation with Dr. Celaya.
It’s not easy being female — the hormonal ups and downs each month through puberty and then menopause can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating. Although many, if not most, women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS and menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, most likely because of stress.
Hormone balance is very sensitive to stress, inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Because the reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re off, brain function and mood suffer.
In women, imbalances are characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Stress and blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and a miserable menopause transition.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
Frequent or irregular menstruation
Changes in weight or appetite
Low progesterone from chronic stress
One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal,” when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone in order to make stress hormones instead. This leads to PMS and sets the stage for a miserable menopause transition.
When it comes to stress, the brain does not know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after snacking on a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping being trampled by a bison. All it knows is to prepare for fight or flight and that reproduction hormones can wait until things have settled down. But for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed Americans fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely truly happens.
The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream; first address the sources of stress. A primary stress-buster is a diet that stabilizes blood sugar. People often either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.
Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:
Sugar, sweeteners, starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), too much caffeine
Leaky gut and gut inflammation symptoms — gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, irritable bowel
Pain and inflammation — joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, respiratory issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression
Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
Overdoing it, over exercising, not taking time for yourself
Bad diet of junk foods, fast foods, processed foods
Restoring hormonal balance naturally
Ideas to halt pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity. These are functional medicine basics. Make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids. Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems. Ask my office for more advice.
It’s now common knowledge that nighttime exposure to computer, tablet, and TV screens sabotages sleep —the light they emit simulates sunlight, thus suppressing sleep hormones. However, plenty of daytime sunlight is vital for good sleep. Most of us don’t get near enough.
Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. For shift workers it’s even worse. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, a hormone that puts us to sleep.
A Finnish rat study observed one group living under fluorescent lighting and another group exposed only to sunlight through windows every day. While both groups received the same duration of both light and darkness during the study, the rats exposed to sunlight produced significantly more melatonin.
It’s not that the artificial light was detrimental. It simply wasn’t strong enough — the sunlight was more than seven times brighter than the fluorescent light. This is what boosted melatonin production. Researchers assert variation of light throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, also supports healthy melatonin production.
During a sunny day, lux levels (which measure the intensity of light) reach 50,000. Compare this to indoor lighting, which ranges in the low to mid hundreds at the most. For most of human history we have lived with natural light and it plays a significant role in the function of the body and brain.
Why melatonin and light rhythms are so important
Anyone who has suffered through insomnia and sleep deprivation understands the importance of sufficient and quality sleep.
However, melatonin and our sleep-wake cycle (also called circadian rhythm) are intertwined with every system in the body, affecting much more than how rested or tired we feel. Heaps of studies point to the importance of a healthy sleep-wake cycle for overall immune, hormonal, and mental health.
For instance, one study found that women suffering from PMS show chronically low melatonin levels. Just two hours a day of exposure to sunlight increased their melatonin levels and relieved their symptoms.
A German study showed subjects with mood imbalances exhibited healthier serotonin levels after just one week of light therapy.
Another study showed subjects experienced a 160 percent increase in melatonin at night after just a half hour of exposure to bright light from a light box.
How to get enough outdoor light in an indoor world
It’s not easy getting enough sunlight when you’re indoors all day working or going to school. But it’s vital for healthy sleep, brain function, and metabolic function to get enough light exposure.
Some solutions are obvious — spend time outside as much as you can. Eat lunch outside and go for a walk on your breaks. Maybe you can even work outside on your laptop if your job is portable.
If possible, work near windows that get plenty of natural light. One study showed employees working near a window received twice as much light as their coworkers who didn’t and hence enjoyed more sleep.
If sufficient exposure to natural light isn’t possible, indoor light therapy has been shown to help relieve sleep and mood imbalances.
Look for a light box that delivers plenty of lux and is big enough for sufficient exposure. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics provides criteria for purchasing a reliable light box, which they recommend using for at least a half hour in the morning.
Your hypothalamus in your brain stimulates your pituitary gland to release TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). When your thyroid gland receives this hormone, it increases T4 production (inactive hormone), thus increasing T3 (active hormone) in the process. T4 is converted to T3 in the liver, gut and peripheral tissues. It then goes to the cell receptors to stimulate the cells. As a result, cell metabolism increases and efficiency in vital cell function improves.
Halides are a category on the periodic chart of elements and have similar characteristics.
Halides are atoms that have a negative charge. Because of this, they can be interchanged with each other. Bromide, chloride and fluoride can all be used instead of iodide. This can cause problems because iodine is an important substance that plays a role in the making of thyroid hormone.
Bromide is found in several forms. One of them is methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is used as a pesticide for strawberries. Citrus-based beverages and other soda drinks use brominated vegetable oil as an emulsifier, which keeps the flavor suspended in these drinks. Potassium bromide is a dough conditioner found in commercial bakery products.
A British study found a correlation between the amount of fluoride in public drinking water and hypothyroidism. Interestingly, fluoride was used as a prescription drug for hyperthyroidism until the 1950s.
In China, researchers discovered that when fluoride exposure and iodine deficiency go hand in hand, the combination can jeopardize brain development. This is in contrast with just iodine deficiency. Fluoride is so similar to iodine that it can easily replace iodine and cause thyroid hormone problems. This, in turn, can create hypothyroid issues.
Most cities add fluoride to your drinking water and you don’t have an option to opt out. My entire house is filtered and I suggest you do the same because of fluoride’s harmful effects.
In a study that the Environmental Working Group and Commonweal spearheaded, two researchers based in prestigious laboratories discovered an average of 200 types of pollutants and industrial chemicals. They found these substances in umbilical cord blood drawn from 10 babies who were born between August 2004 and September of 2004 in US hospitals.
Perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) are considered the breakdown products or active ingredients of household items like Scotchguard, Teflon, carpet protector, fabric protector, and food wrap coating. These are strongly associated with cancer and birth defects. Repeated use of items with PFCs will eventually result in the substance’s accumulation in the food chain. As a result, all levels of the food chain may get fluoride-related problems.
According to the US Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, drinking water sources have higher levels of PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid) or similar chemicals than what’s normally acceptable. Therefore, people should consider having activated carbon water filters installed or drink bottled water. The problem is, EPA (Environmental Protection Authority) doesn’t regulate PFOA levels.
Based on the results of studies related to PFOAs, the Scientific Advisory Board of the EPA suggested that there is evidence of carcinogenicity. However, the board agreed that this was not considered significant enough to check PFOA’s potential to cause cancer in humans. Thus, they will consider new studies and evidence as they become available. Given these premises, it’s still highly advisable to be cautious of these materials just the same.
Furans and PBCD (polychlorinated dibenzodioxins) are regarded as PVC production byproducts. These are carcinogenic in nature as well. DDT chlorine, organochloride pesticides, and other types of pesticides are already banned in the United States in 1972. Despite the prohibition of these substances, the byproducts still persist in the environment. Thus, the risk of having cancer because of these remains.
Polybrominated diphenyl esters are found in flame retardants, furniture, furniture foam, computers, and televisions. Polychlorinated naphthalene is found in wood preservatives, machine lubricating oils, varnishes, and waste incinerations. Both chemicals are found in the umbilical cord blood of babies.
Can you imagine what we have been exposed to over time? Many chemicals have been banned or not in use since the 70s, and we still are seeing them in our current exposures. Not only are these chemicals toxic but are also endocrine disruptors. As disruptors, they can affect how your thyroid gland produces thyroid hormone.
Metals can accumulate in our body and disrupt chemical reactions.
Most people don’t know they have issues with metal until all other options are ruled out. The worst part about metals is that once they build up in your body, they can cause irreversible damage over time. The sad part is, most doctors don’t even know how to deal with metal toxicity.
Metals can be a contributor to autoimmune issues. However, trying to remove them when autoimmunities are already flared up can exacerbate the condition even worse. The flare-up can then lead to yet another set of autoimmune diseases.
Dental amalgam may be made up of 50% of mercury and they’re putting this toxin in your mouth. When it falls on the floor of a dentist’s office, it’s considered a hazardous material. When they put in your mouth, it’s okay. If you do have amalgam fillings, it’s important to get them removed the correct way. Otherwise, you may experience other problems not only in your body but also in the environment.
Fish can also be another source of mercury toxicity. The larger the fish, the greater its potential to accumulate heavy metals. If you’re planning to consume fish oil, make sure that the fish oil is from a small fish species that haven’t had time to accumulate this toxin.
Vaccines use mercury in the form of thimerosal as a preservative. You can also have mercury in contaminated water, which can be a byproduct of vaccines or industrial manufacturing.
Lead is another heavy metal that we have to be concerned about. We can get this from lead-based paints, leaded gasoline, contaminated water, lead batteries, rubber products, glass, and lead oxide fumes from the demolition of industrial buildings.
Aluminum comes from contaminated water, aluminum cooking pans, aluminum foil, antiperspirants, medications, some vaccines and flu shots, aluminum baking powder, and processed foods.
The obvious medications that can affect thyroid hormone functions are lithium, amiodarone, sulfonamides, ethionamide, anticonvulsants, iodine, interferon, high-dose glucocorticoids, cholecystographic agents, tyrosine kinase inhibitors, proton pump inhibitors, and angiogenesis inhibitors. I’m sure there are others as well.
Estrogens can also interfere with thyroid hormone conversion.
Take, for example, birth control pills. You have a different amount of estrogen and progesterone in your body. Usually, it’s estrogen-dominant. Also, BPA (Bispehnol A) was used as a synthetic estrogen until the 1930s. Scientists found out that if they mixed BPA with phosgene, it produced a clear, shatter-resistant plastic. When these plastics get heated, BPA is released as a synthetic estrogen.
Canada and France have banned BPA in products that may get in contact with food. On the other hand, it is still used in the US and is regulated by each state.
Estrogen creams can also cause conversion issues. As a woman gets older, her progesterone level drops, which can lead to estrogen dominance. This can also cause hypothyroid issues.
There are also foods that you may want to avoid if you have thyroid problems.
Gluten can cause autoimmune diseases, and as a result, thyroid issues. Even just a small amount of gluten, for certain individuals, can trigger a cascade that increases permeability of the digestive system. This then lets in undigested amino acid sequences which the immune system later mistakes for thyroid tissue, resulting in an autoimmune thyroid condition.
Soy is also a goitrogen which can interfere with the uptake of iodine. It eventually causes a problem with thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme responsible for incorporating iodine during thyroid hormone production.
I wouldn’t be too concerned about eating miso soup or tofu as they are fermented and don’t exhibit the same issues. However, if you want to play it safe because you are at risk of having hypothyroid issues, you might want to moderate your soy product intake.
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, and cabbage can also interfere with thyroid hormone because they are goitrogens. But if you cook them, this lessens the goitrogenic effect. They have great anti-cancer properties. Just make sure to eat them in moderation.
Sugar and Processed Foods
Sugar and processed foods cause inflammation in the body. This inflammation causes a problem with conversion from T4 to T3.
As you can see, there are a lot of toxins that can affect thyroid function. That means you need to keep the exposure as low as you can. You have to make sure to stay away from exogenous chemicals, food allergies or sensitivities. You also need to minimize your nutritional deficiencies and also ensure that your detoxification system is strong so it can keep up with the stresses.
At this point, I hope you have learned some things about thyroid care. For more information regarding your thyroid health, just visit my official website to know more about your health.
Have you ever wanted to know everything there is to know about your thyroid? This 7-part video series will cover thyroid lab testing, nutrition and infections that affect the thyroid, toxins, thyroid hormone conversion, lifestyle, and adrenal interplay.