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.
If you struggle with chronic exhaustion, insomnia, poor immunity, and persistent low blood sugar symptoms, you likely have poor function of the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys and secrete stress hormones. However, your conventional doctor may have told you there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue based on guidance from The Hormone Foundation. What they may not understand is that there is a continuum of adrenal function and that the brain plays a role in adrenal fatigue.
The debate about adrenal fatigue versus primary adrenal insufficiency
The term “adrenal fatigue” has become a household word in the chronic illness world, and for good reason. The adrenal glands are our frontline against stressors large and small. In our constantly chaotic and nutritionally-depleted lives, these hard-working little glands can become worn down, sometimes to the point of barely working, right along with the areas of the brain that govern them.
What’s confusing is a recent statement by The Hormone Foundation which claimed adrenal fatigue does not exist and is not supported by any scientific facts, and that primary adrenal insufficiency is the only real version of adrenal dysfunction.
However, according to integrative physician Richard Shames, MD, both adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency exist along the same continuum but are separated by the severity of symptoms and treatment methods. In a nutshell, adrenal fatigue can also be referred to as mild adrenal sufficiency.
Primary adrenal insufficiency is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, such as by an autoimmune condition like Addison’s disease that attacks and destroys adrenal tissue. Primary adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed through blood tests and can be treated with medications that replace adrenal hormones.
Symptoms of primary adrenal insufficiency include:
Loss of appetite with weight loss
Craving salty foods
Dizziness, low blood pressure
Feeling lightheaded when standing up
Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort
Adrenal fatigue describes when lab tests don’t support a diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency but a person still experiences adrenal-related symptoms such as:
Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stress
Craving salty foods
Functional medicine practitioners diagnose adrenal fatigue by considering symptoms as well as results from a 24-hour saliva cortisol test.
Current blood tests are good at diagnosing severe forms of adrenal insufficiency such as Addison’s disease but not mild adrenal insufficiency, or adrenal fatigue.
This debate between adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency is reminiscent of the former debates about “mild” hypothyroidism. Twenty years ago, many endocrinologists denied mild hypothyroidism as a true diagnosis because they believed that as long as a patient was within conventional TSH reference ranges they could not possibly be sick.
However, doctors trained in functional medicine recognize that a functional reference range — a narrower TSH range that reflects optimum thyroid health — means that a serious thyroid problem can exist within the conventional TSH range.
As testing and recognition of adrenal fatigue, which affects many people, continues to gain medical acceptance, we will start to refer to it as mild adrenal insufficiency.
The role of the brain in adrenal fatigue
It’s important to understand the brain plays an important role in adrenal fatigue. This explains why nutrients to support your adrenal glands may not go the full mile when the real problem is happening between your ears.
Adrenal fatigue has at its roots poor function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis refers to the feedback loop between your body and areas of your brain that govern adrenal function. Unrelenting stress beats up this entire system, not just the adrenal glands, and it is more complicated and involved that simply low cortisol. The problem is compounded by the brain’s predilection for efficiency, in this case becoming so efficient at stress until the tiniest thing triggers a big stress response. Or, you are so advanced you are too tired to respond to anything.
How the adrenals become fatigued
When our bodies experience stress, no matter how small or large, our adrenals pump out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help us fight or take flight. Our bodies are designed to return to baseline after a stressor so the nervous system can return to a “rest and digest” state necessary for daily function.
However, in our chronically stressed modern lifestyles, our bodies are constantly reacting to stressors, many we are not even aware of, such as dietary triggers, toxins, and even electromagnetic frequencies.
This constant state of high-stress hormones damages tissues in the body and brain and is linked to:
Insulin resistance and diabetes
High blood pressure
Increased belly fat
Removing all stressors in life is impossible, but there is much we can do to support adrenal function and buffer the damage of stress.
While the eight-to-five workday may suit a man’s physiology, female researchers are finding women can capitalize on periods of heightened creativity, productivity, enhanced communication, and reflection depending on where they are in their menstrual cycle. We tend to think of female hormonal cycles as problematic or negative, but the truth is they can facilitate different aspects of productivity once you learn how to use them to your advantage.
Understanding your hormonal cycles of productivity can help you learn the best time to launch or finish a project, brainstorm a creative endeavor, meet with a boss or coworkers, or step back and reflect on operations.
Looking at a functional medicine view of female hormones — aiming for optimal functional and balance instead of just focusing on when things go wrong —can help you plot your course through each work week. Women can look at their cycles as offering four different periods of enhanced performance, with day 1 representing the first day of your period:
Days 1-5, Intuition and Reflection: During your period, your left and right brains are communicating more efficiently, allowing you to better access intuition, analytical thinking, and long-range visionary thinking. This is the time to reflect on past and future endeavors, re-evaluate whether your course aligns with your vision, and consider which relationships need attention.
Days 6-14, Creativity: During the follicular phase, which actually begins day 1, estrogen is increasing and you are at your creative peak. This is a good time to start new projects, plan, strategize, and brainstorm.
Days 15-17, Communication: During the ovulation phase your communication skills and magnetisms are at their height. This is a great time for negotiations, meetings, and pitches.
Days 18-28, Power: During the luteal phase you are primed to power through project completion, take care of all those administrative tasks, and follow up on meetings.
When your hormones are out of balance
Unfortunately, thanks to stress, unhealthy diets, environmental toxins, and other facets of modern life, it’s easy for your cycles to become unbalanced.
One of the most common causes of hormonal imbalances in women is chronic stress and poor blood sugar balance (another form of stress).
Eating a high-carb diet of pastas, breads, and other processed carbohydrates, eating too many sweets, drinking too many sweetened coffee drinks, not sleeping enough, being too stressed out, not getting enough physical exercise — all these things can drive both estrogen and progesterone out of whack and give you miserable hormonal symptoms.
PMS, irregular periods, infertility, hair loss, overly heavy periods, and other symptoms of hormonal imbalance are signs you need to bring your diet and lifestyle habits more in line with nature’s design.
Through functional medicine protocols of anti-inflammatory diets, blood sugar balancing, gut healing and repair, liver support and detoxification, and stress-reduction, our office can help you better balance your hormones so you can function at your best.
The benefits of modern life are undeniable. Who would not accept cold air coming from an air conditioner on a hot day? Could you completely stop using your cell phone for two or three consecutive days? Could you travel from one country to another without using modern transportation such as airplanes or bus services? The logical answer is NO. Most of us are totally dependant on the luxuries of life made available because of advances in modern technology. Yet, there is another side of the coin, and simply, nothing comes without a price.
Very often, advances that speed up the pace of our life can also disturb the normal balance between nature and our human bodies. Unfortunately, this can negatively impact our health, and this is usually seen in the form of an overload of toxic substances inside the human body. According to the Merriam-Webster (America’s most-trusted online dictionary):
“A toxin is a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism and is usually very unstable, notably toxic when introduced into the tissues and typically capable of inducing antibody formation.”
I can simply say that toxins are deleterious substances, which have undesirable short-term or long-term effects on our health. Overexposure to toxic substances with concurrent failure to correctly metabolize them can produce various symptoms such as nausea, migraine headaches, malaise, joint pain, and allergies or flu-like symptoms. This toxic accumulation can also contribute to inflammatory and neurological diseases. While it is nearly impossible to preclude accumulation of toxic substances that come with modern life, you may have the power to restore balance to a healthy lifestyle!
Detoxification, or body cleansing, aims to clear the body of toxins or harmful substances. Detox diets, considered to be the base of detoxification, are dietary plans that facilitate toxin elimination and weight loss, thereby promoting health and well-being. The liver is the most important organ in the body involved in the detoxification process. The liver can convert the toxic substances into less harmful components, facilitating their removal from the body. Hence, it is believed that the best way to boost your liver function is to depend on detox diets ranging from fasting (total or juice/water) to food modification. Usually, detox diets are rich in fiber. Proponents claim that detox diets stimulate the body to release stored fats including fat-stored toxins into the blood, facilitating their excretion through urine, breath, and feces. Many detox diets contain a combination of laxatives, diuretics, multi-vitamins, minerals, herbs, celery, and other juicy low-calorie vegetables. In the rest of the article, I will try to summarize the most important components of detox diets.
Many vitamins especially vitamin A, vitamin B-6, and vitamin B-12 play a leading role in boosting the detoxification function of the liver. Patra et al., (2006) showed that there is a strong ability of the essential amino acid L-methionine to cleanse the body from the harmful effect of lead, a heavy metal. Taurine, which is an amino acid, is also suggested as having an antioxidant effect against lead-induced oxidative stress. Obinata et al., (1996) showed that taurine was effective in treating fatty liver in children with simple obesity regardless of the success/failure of weight control. Taurine administration is also considered to be helpful as an adjuvant therapy for fatty liver. Inositol, which is a type of sugar related to glucose, is currently considered as a liver supplement. Silymarin, which is the active constituent of milk thistle, is considered one of the best liver supports and liver detoxification. Bile is a major way to excrete harmful substances. Bile also emulsifies dietary fats and facilitates their digestion and absorption. Ox bile is currently reported to promote bile production. The Romans used Chelidonium majus or greater celandine as a blood cleanser. The extracts of greater celandine have shown toxic effects in harmful organisms, as well as liver protecting activities. The artichoke is a plant with antioxidant activities. Mehmetçik et al., (2008) indicated that in vivo artichoke extract administration may be useful for the prevention of oxidative stress-induced hepatotoxicity. Beet, which is a high-antioxidant vegetable, is used as food coloring and as a medicinal plant. Do you know that by eating beets you can help your body cleanse your liver? Váli et al., (2007) showed that the table beet has excellent liver-protecting effects during ischemia-reperfusion.
In conclusion, I would recommend that you incorporate a mixture of all the previous detox diets if you wish to detox your body, cleanse your liver, and stay healthy.
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.
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.