The Ups and Downs of Perimenopause

perimenopause

Perimenopause is a confusing time as there is a lot of variation of when and what can happen. Often referred to as “second puberty,” it is used to describe the 2-12 year time period that precedes menopause (the absence of a menstrual cycle for 12 consecutive months).  It can range from as early as age 35 to as late as age 59.  Though cycles may remain regular, there are definitive hormonal changes that occur. 

A normal menstrual cycle is marked by ovulation (the release of an egg), followed by menstruation 2 weeks later. In the first half of the cycle, there is increased production of estrogen, with progesterone  predominating post-ovulation. Both hormones are needed for optimal health as their actions balance each other out. A normal cycle typically occurs every 21-35 days and can last between 2-7 days, with an overall fluid loss of approx. 15-80 mL (or 1-5 Tbsp).

Ovulation is necessary not only for successful pregnancy, it is also key as it leads to the production of the cycle’s second important hormone—progesterone.  During perimenopause, ovulation happens in more sporadically, so progesterone is on a steady decline. Simultaneously, estrogen levels fluctuate wildly, with dramatic highs and lows, which leads to very unpredictable levels and ratios of both estrogen and progesterone.

Though we think of estrogen and progesterone primarily as reproductive hormones, there are receptors on many different types of tissues – including your heart, lungs, brain, breasts, bones to name a few. Both estrogen and progesterone have many functions, which is why there are so many symptoms that accompany this time of hormonal flux.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF PERIMENOPAUSE

Irregular periods. Irregular ovulation can alter the length of time between periods and amount of flow. You may also experience random spotting or skip cycles altogether.

Hot flashes/night sweats. Hot flashes and night sweats are perhaps the most common symptom, with varying intensity, length and frequency. Often, they are triggered by dietary and lifestyle factors such as stress, alcohol intake and tobacco use.

Vaginal dryness and thinning. Vaginal tissues are susceptible to becoming thinner, drier and less elastic due the decrease in estrogen. For some, this can make intercourse painful. Sometimes, there is also an increased susceptibility to vaginal infections, urinary tract infections, and urinary incontinence.

Skin changes. Changes such as brown spots, dryness, easy bruising, and increased wrinkling may occur. Collagen is a key component of skin, and it is estimated that 30 percent of skin collagen is lost during the first five years after menopause.

Fatigue/sleep disturbance. Sleep is often affected by hot flashes and/or night sweats. Since progesterone is calming to the nervous system and can act as a brain neurotransmitter, its decline can also contribute to sleep problems and lowered ability to deal with stress.

Decreased libido is often reported during perimenopause which may be attributed to decreased estrogen levels, changes in mood and/or stress resilience.

Depression, anxiety and/or mood swings. Estrogen increases serotonin and the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, which can influence the experience of depression/anxiety/mood swings. Lowered levels of progesterone typically result in increased feelings of anger and irritability.

Bone loss is caused by declining estrogen levels, and can increase your risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures.

Changing lipid profiles. Decreasing estrogen levels may lead to unfavorable changes in your blood cholesterol levels, including an increase in low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol — the “bad” cholesterol — which contributes to an increased risk of heart disease. At the same time, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol — the “good” cholesterol — decreases in many women as they age. Other symptoms associated with perimenopause can include: changes in memory and cognition, scalp hair loss, facial hair growth, acne, palpitations, nausea, and headaches.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, right? Don’t worry, there is hope. There are a number of supportive therapies and strategies available to help transition through this phase of life more comfortably. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Nutrition and diet. This is truly a time to renegotiate your relationship with sugar and starchy carbohydrates, especially processed foods for optimal body composition and blood lipids. Avoid excessive alcohol (no more than 4 servings/week), center meals around whole foods such as meats, vegetables (that grow above the ground) and healthy fats like olive oil and avocadoes, with the addition of whole grains/legumes/root vegetables as condiments to round out the meal.

Manage stress. Re-evaluate your commitments (and cut back where you can) and supplement magnesium, a very calming mineral that soothes your nervous system. Not only does it facilitate better sleep, improves insulin and thyroid function, as well as as activates vitamin D for better bone density¹, for many women, magnesium on its own helps to soothe hot flashes by 50%.

Exercise regularly. Exercise will help with stress management, reduce the intensity and severity of hot flashes, increase your endorphin production for improved mental health and depending on the kind of activity, improve bone density (we’re talking weights here) and body composition.

Despite the physiology, is it really possible to age the same, or even better, with the same energy and vitality of your younger years? Absolutely. The big difference is now you need to pay closer attention and more importantly, take care of yourself. Women are known for putting the needs of others ahead of themselves (hmmm….traits that are really needed to raise a family). Women spend 1/3 of their lives in menopause, which is why supporting our health through this phase is so essential. For many women, this time of life is very empowering, as the focus of life moves away from childbearing/childrearing and becomes more about finding one’s path/voice/calling. Getting older is a chance to live life on your own terms – embrace it!

References:

  1. Uwitonze, A. M., & Razzaque, M. S. (2018). Role of magnesium in vitamin D activation and function. J Am Osteopath Assoc118(3), 181-189.

What Does Sugar Do to Your Brain?

No one really thinks of sugar as a health food, do they? Most of us are quite aware that it plays a role in weight management, tooth decay and the development of Type 2 diabetes. For the last forty years, we have been sold the myth that a calorie is a calorie and that sugar is pretty harmless, however, nothing could be further from the truth. Dietary fat has been demonized and sugar was supposed to be our salvation. Coca-cola, amongst other processed food companies, markets its products as part of an “active, healthy lifestyle.”

Perhaps there has never been a better time to remember the saying: “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” The illusory truth effect is the tendency to believe information to be correct after repeated exposure. In this day and age of social media and “alternative facts,” I cringe at times at the information that circulates, especially in the area of nutrition. 

Mortality rates in the developed world are not affected like they once were, by infection and lack of sanitation.  Today’s health woes are instead conditions that are chronic, degenerative and metabolic in nature. One of the biggest underlying factors is the change in our dietary intake, most notably with regards to sugar consumption.

Glucose – a type of sugar – is the main energy source for every cell in the body, the brain is no exception.  Studies show the brain accounts for 60% of the body’s glucose utilization. Thinking, memory and learning are all dependent on the amount of glucose available for brain function. Although the brain needs glucose, it wreaks havoc when available in excess.

To gain a better idea of amounts, the average Canadian aged 19 and older consumes 85 grams of added sugar per day. What is more remarkable is that it is less than the 100-115 g/day in children under the age of 8! The World Health Organization’s recommends a daily maximum or no more than 50 grams, and encourages an intake of only of 25 grams for added health benefits.2

Let’s examine some of key ways that sugar impacts your brain.

  1. Addiction and overeating. Science tells us sugar is more addictive than cocaine. When we eat sugar, a neurotransmitter called dopamine is released. Not only does dopamine make us feel good, it also controls mood, behavior, learning, and memory. Consuming excess sugar long term influences both the gene expression and availability of dopamine receptors and dopamine transporter proteins. 3,4 That means it takes more and more of the substance to create the same dopamine release. In situations where sugar is not available, people experience the same withdrawal symptoms as seen in other addictions, such as nervous tremors, teeth chattering and anxiety. Additionally, chronic sugar consumption blunts the brain’s ability to trigger feelings of satiety, which leads to overeating. 5
  2. Cognitive learning and memory. A diet high in added sugar reduces the production of a brain chemical known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF is a protein produced by nerve cells that is needed by our brains to learn and create new memories. This critically vital protein is lower in people with already impaired glucose metabolism (diabetics and pre-diabetics) and the more it declines, the more sugar metabolism deteriorates, causing insulin resistance. 6 Insulin resistance is like the boy who cried wolf – your body’s receptors no longer respond to the presence of insulin, because it is always in the bloodstream. Insulin resistance is the first step to a whole host of other serious health problems. A reduction in BDNF levels are seen after only two months of adopting a high fat, high sugar diet. 7
  3. Depression and anxiety. Sugar consumption contributes to feelings of depression in numerous ways. Firstly, it affects what intestinal microbes grow, where 90% of your serotonin is produced. Secondly, it competes for B vitamins and folic acid, both of which are needed to produce serotonin. Thirdly, it reduces the production of BDNF, which can result in depressive mood, increased anxiety, cognitive deficiencies as well as accelerated brain aging. 8
  4. Dementia and Alzheimer’s. Alzheimer’s has been recently described as a side effect of the Western high sugar diet. 9 In one study that tracked over 5000 people over ten years conclusively showed that they had a greater rate of cognitive decline than their normal blood sugar counterparts. 10 A person with Type 2 Diabetes is twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s. 11 Another study that investigated dietary intake of more than 1000 people. Those with the highest carbohydrate intake has 80% greater chance of developing Alzheimer’s. 12,13 Diabetes also weakens blood vessels, which can lead to multiple ministrokes in the brain, resulting in dementia. There are currently around 50 million people in the world with Alzheimer’s disease and the figure is predicted to rise to more than 125 million by 2050. 14

Sugar is bad news for brain health, period. When you do eat sugar, choose to do so, consciously and (very) occasionally. The rest of the time, reach for an apple instead a candy bar. Your brain (and the rest of your body) will thank you for it.

References:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusory_truth_effect
  2. https://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/sugar-guideline/en/
  3. Siresha Bathina and Undurti N. Das. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor and its clinical implications.Arch Med Sci.2015 Dec 10; 11(6): 1164–1178.
  4. Spangler R, Wittkowski KM, Goddard NL, Avena NM, Hoebel BG, Leibowitz SF. Opiate-like effects of sugar on gene expression in reward areas of the rat brain. Brain Res Mol Brain Res. 2004 May 19;124(2):134-42.
  5. Anaya Mitra,Blake A. Gosnell, Helgi B. Schiöth, Martha K. Grace, Anica Klockars, Pawel K. Olszewski, and Allen S. Levine  Chronic sugar intake dampens feeding-related activity of neurons synthesizing a satiety mediator, oxytocin. Peptides. 2010 Jul; 31(7): 1346–1352.
  6. Krabbe KS, Nielsen AR, Krogh-Madsen R, Plomgaard P, Rasmussen P, Erikstrup C, Fischer CP, Lindegaard B, Petersen AM, Taudorf S, Secher NH, Pilegaard H, Bruunsgaard H, Pedersen BK. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and type 2 diabetes. Diabetologia. 2007 Feb;50(2):431-8. Epub 2006 Dec 7.
  7. Neuroscience. 2002;112(4):803-14.
  8.  Molteni R, Barnard RJ, Ying Z, Roberts CK, Gómez-Pinilla F.A high-fat, refined sugar diet reduces hippocampal brain-derived neurotrophic factor, neuronal plasticity, and learning. Neuroscience. 2002;112(4):803-14.
  9. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2018/01/the-startling-link-between-sugar-and-alzheimers/551528/?utm_source=feed
  10. Fanfan Zheng, Li Yan, Zhenchun Yang, Baoliang Zhong, Wuxiang Xie. HbA1c, diabetes and cognitive decline: the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing. Diabetologia April 2018, Volume 61, Issue 4, pp 839–848
  11. https://www.cnn.com/2011/09/19/health/diabetes-doubles-alzheimers/index.html
  12. T. Ohara, Y. Doi, T. Ninomiya, Y. Hirakawa, J. Hata, T. Iwaki, S. Kanba, Y. Kiyohara. Glucose tolerance status and risk of dementia in the community: The Hisayama Study. Neurology, 2011; 77 (12): 1126
  13. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/higher-brain-glucose-levels-may-mean-more-severe-alzheimers
  14. 14. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/02/23/alzheimers-could-caused-excess-sugar-new-study-finds-molecular/

Get the Lowdown on Lyme Disease

What is Lyme Disease?

Lyme Disease is complicated. Named after the East Coast town of Lyme, Connecticut, where it was first discovered in 1975, it is a bacterial infection caused by an organism called Borrelia burgdorferi.  Transmission occurs by a tick (specifically a deer tick) or insect bite.  The tick, after feeding off infected deer, birds, rodents or even your pet, gets on you where it numbs your skin so you won’t feel it. It finds a dark spot such as your armpit or behind your ear, or your scalp to bite you. Depending on the season, the tick may be immature, called a nymph (which is about as big as a poppy seed). Lyme can also be transmitted by other ticks, fleas, mosquitoes and possibly even spiders.

Prevention is the best cure. Protect Yourself by:

Be aware of your environment. Take special care in moist and humid environments, particularly in and near wooded or grassy areas since this is where deer ticks live. Walk in the center of trails and avoid walking through tall bushes or other vegetation.

Cover yourself appropriately.  Use insect repellant and clothing (sun hats, long sleeve tops, long bottoms, tuck pants into socks, closed shoes) to keep ticks and other insects from biting.

Inspect yourself carefully.  Do daily tick checks after spending any time outdoors.  Be thorough and check all parts using a mirror, including:

  • Under the arms
  • In and around the ears
  • Inside the belly button
  • Back of the knees
  • In and around all head and body hair
  • Between the legs
  • Around the waist

Check your clothing, your children and your pets to prevent any ticks that might be carried into the house.  Remove ticks from clothes by putting them in the dryer. Remove any ticks from your skin you using fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. If a tick is attached to your skin for less than 24 hours, your chance of getting Lyme disease is extremely low.

Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Try to keep the tick intact.

Clean the bite area afterwards using rubbing alcohol or soap and water. Dispose of a live tick by putting it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet.

What to do if you suspect you have been bitten?

If you see a “bullseye rash,” seek professional help immediately. Keep in mind, it is not always bulls-eye shaped and this rash resolves rather quickly after the tick bite.

Besides the rash, some of the first symptoms of Lyme disease may include a flu-like condition with fever, chills, headache, stiff neck, achiness and fatigue. Treatment at this point is crucial because it may help you avoid chronic Lyme. If you don’t see the tick and remove it, it can progress to ailments like arthritis, facial palsy, nervous system and heart problems and a hundred other symptoms.

Diagnosis is be complicated for many reasons. Conventional lab testing is notoriously unreliable for picking up the infection. Many species of the germ exist and the often there exists co-infections from other germs from one tick/insect bite. Only a handful of strains are currently detectable with most up to date lab science technology.

But don’t let the absence of a rash stop you from pursuing care if you suspect infection. Lyme disease presents in many different ways, and most people who are infected by it, don’t look sick and their bloodwork appears normal. Many doctors and health care practitioners are not well-versed in thorough treatment strategies. You need to be your own health advocate.

If caught early, Lyme Disease does respond to antibiotic therapy (for a minimum of 10 weeks). There are specialized lab tests that are more sensitive than conventional lab tests. Get tested and get the proper care you need from a Lyme literate health care provider. Lyme Disease is too serious to not be taken seriously.

The Scoop on CBD

CBD

Since its recent legalization in Canada, the use of marijuana and related products has exploded, to the point where government-approved dispensaries are out of product three days out of seven.  Marijuana and its constituents have been used medicinally over decades and now with increased access, people of all walks of life are turning to the marijuana plant for a number of potential health benefits.

What is CBD?  Cannabis contains over 100 chemicals known as cannabinoids, of which cannabidiol (CBD) is one.  The two most well-known compounds are CBD and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the component responsible for creating the “high” one experiences when using marijuana, whereas CBD does not. CBD can be extracted from the flowers and the buds of either marijuana (high THC content) or hemp (low THC content).  

 How does CBD work?  Our bodies naturally make substances that have a similar structure to cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids.  The human nervous system and many other tissues in the body have receptors that bind with these endocannabinoids (referred to as the endocannabinoid system, or ECS), as well as cannabinoids.  While THC directly binds with both CB1 and CB2 receptors, CBD works by preventing the reuptake body’s own endocannibinoids, thereby increasing their concentration.

The legal status of the marijuana plant, until recently, prevented it being studied for its medicinal effects. Yet, there are numerous health benefits of CBD, which is validated by ongoing new scientific research.  Here are five areas where it shows promising therapeutic potential.

1.Anxiety.  CBD has been shown to decrease anxiety at a dose of around 300 mg per day. ¹, ²  It is important to note that doses higher or lower than 300 mg have been shown to have no effect, or even worse, increase anxiety.³  Some people have experienced an exacerbation at any dose.  It works by regulating the receptors involved in the fear response and anxiety related behaviours.

2. Cancer. Medical marijuana has often been used to alleviate the nausea and pain caused by conventional cancer treatments. For some, the effects of THC are not tolerated or desired. Fortunately, CBD on its own, offers similar relief as well as affects the underlying disease process. CBD has been shown to decrease cell division, increases the process by which the body cleans out cellular debris and damaged cells (autophagy) as well augmenting the effects of chemotherapy.,⁵,

3. Pain and inflammation. Chronic pain can be notoriously difficult to treat. Fortunately, CBD appears to be have an effective role in pain management. Based on the research, not only does it act as an analgesic, but also blunts the perception of pain, making it more tolerable. , The different types of pain studied include osteoarthritis , ¹⁰ nerve pain, and post-surgical pain. ¹¹, ¹²,¹³

4. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder Post-traumatic stress disorder affects approximately 10% of people at some point in their life. It manifests differently in different people – symptoms include sleep disturbances, mood changes, changes in emotion, reduced social skills and changes in cognition (reliving the trauma). Emerging research indicates that CBD oil exhibits effective treatment option for this condition, with its considerably fewer side effects than its pharmacological counterparts. ¹⁴

5. Seizures It has long been known in the scientific community that the ECS is involved in seizures. Consequently, there has been extensive research of the therapeutic applications of cannabinoids for seizures disorders. ¹⁵

One study gave 214 people with severe epilepsy 0.9–2.3 grams of CBD oil per pound (2–5 g/kg) of body weight. Their seizures reduced by a median of 36.5%. ¹⁶

Another study found that CBD oil significantly reduced seizure activity in children with Dravet syndrome, a complex childhood epilepsy disorder, compared to a placebo. ¹⁷

In 2018, the FDA approved the use of Epidiolex (a plant-based formulation of CBD) to treat seizures for people 2 years of age and older with Dravet syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome (LGS). ¹⁸, ¹⁹

CBD potentially inhibits seizures and is generally regarded as causing fewer adverse effects than traditional anti-epileptic drugs.

Due to its increasing popularity, CBD products are popping up all over the marketplace. However, despite the fact that CBD induces no psychoactive effects, it is still strictly regulated in Canada. Only licensed producers may make it, and only registered retailers may sell it. It is subject to the same regulations as its marijuana counterpart – the official legalization of marijuana on October 17, 2018 did not change its status. ²⁰ Unregulated CBD products on the market can range in quality and may not even contain the compound in the concentration stated, if at all. All licensed producers are required to meet standards for quality and consistency.

Though there is still much to be investigated regarding its efficacy and safety, the results of recent studies suggest that CBD may offer many beneficial effects for a number of health conditions. If you are considering using CBD therapeutically, inform your health care provider to ensure there are no interactions with your current medications and only use products that are regulated to contain the dosage you need.

Ten Easy Food Swaps for Weight Loss

What would the holidays be without a little overindulgence? Let’s face it, food takes centre stage during times of celebration. Holiday weight gain can take up to five months to lose, and most people just carry it over into the next season. Over time, this leads to adult onset weight gain and the decline in metabolic rate as we get older doesn’t help. Slow and steady wins the race – successful weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that it is sugar, more than dietary fat, that is the most likely culprit for packing on the pounds.  Dietary fat, when eaten on its own, doesn’t trigger weight gain.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar. The problem with low-fat diets is that fat is often replaced by sugar, which makes the “low-fat” offerings in the food aisle unkind to the waistline.

Changing dietary habits for most people can be quite challenging.  We, after all, are creatures of habit.  It is much easier to make small changes than it is to make drastic changes.  Every food choice does make a difference, especially when it is repeated.  Food is so much more than just nourishment and achieving a good balance is the key.  Following these easy food swaps will not only help to trim those extra inches, but also improve your health.

1. Eat at home. Cooking at home is good for you.  Food prepared at home is more nutritious and has fewer calories, fewer sugars, fewer carbohydrates and less fat.  It also has been shown to contain more fibre, calcium and iron.  A typical restaurant salad main course will average 1000 calories!  Be kind to your waistline and your wallet by eating in and packing your homemade lunch.

2. When it comes to coffee, keep it simple.  Drink coffee instead of the hyped-up coffee-like drinks (or should I say desserts? which can stack up to 900 calories) you find at the specialty coffee shops. Black coffee has no calories, so even with a tablespoon of heavy cream and sugar, you will save yourself up to 800 calories.

3. Be fruit-wise. Have a whole piece of fruit, instead of dried fruit, fruit juice or a fruit smoothie.  For example, you can choose between eight dried apricots or four whole peaches for 100 calories.  Juice (with no sugar added) concentrates the sugars at the expense of fibre – it takes two to four oranges to make one cup of juice.  Fruit smoothies are even worse, usually have 300 to 400 calories and average around 70 g of sugar.

4. Drink smart.  When it comes to alcohol, it is better to drink hard liquor (rye, gin or vodka – all of which have zero sugar) with a low calorie/sugar mixer or a  5 oz glass of wine (which range from 0.9g to 1.5g of sugar, depending on the variety, not including dessert wines) over sugary cocktails (which can range from 1-68 g of sugar per drink and up to 600 calories) or beer (while low in sugar, contains 12 g of carbohydrates up to 600 calories, depending on the kind).

5. Go a little nutty.  Choose nuts over croutons (processed carbs) on your salad for that satisfying crunch as well as appetite-curbing essential fatty acids.  Instead of snacking on a granola bar, reach for a handful of nuts.  While the calorie count is the same, the latter has no sugar, added protein and fibre as well as a variety of health benefits including weight loss and increased longevity.

6. Choose the best chocolate.  Dark chocolate is truly a superfood. One of the best sources of dietary antioxidants, it is loaded with nutrients that have numerous health benefits such as improved heart heath, better cognition and cancer prevention.  Dark chocolate contains fibre as well as a number of minerals necessary for good health and its reduced sugar content makes it much harder to overindulge than its milk chocolate counterpart.  The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits – aim to eat chocolate that is at least 85% cocoa.

7. Be condiment-conscious.  Make your own homemade vinaigrette with lemon juice or vinegar and oil and heart healthy olive or avocado oil and use a mister to spray your salad, or alternatively dip your fork in the dressing (on the side) before piercing your salad vegetables. Readymade dressings are not only high in calories, but often contain questionable ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  Other swaps in the condiment category include choosing mustard or flavored hummus over mayo in sandwiches and low fat plain yogurt over sour cream for dips.  When eating pasta or soups, always choose ones with a tomato base over ones made with cream.

8. Switch starchy grains for vegetables instead.  Grated cauliflower is a great substitute for rice, and mashed cauliflower (or other lower carb veggies like rutabaga and turnips) makes a great stand in for mashed potatoes.  You can also use either to thicken soups without the cream.  Spiralize zucchini or carrots for colorful noodles for your pastas and stirfries. 

9. Always buy unsweetened whenever possible.  Whether it is almond/cashew milk or yogurt, forego the presweetened varieties and instead buy the unsweetened version.  Sweeten to your taste with stevia (I prefer the stevia glycerite which even comes in flavors), xylitol or low sugar fruits (like berries).

10. Snack smart.  You can choose between nine potato chips (do you know of anyone who can eat just nine?), three cups of air popped (not microwave) organic popcorn, ½ cup of roasted chickpeas or two cups of cut up veggies like cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers.  All of these are about 100 calories as snack options, and the last three contain fibre which helps keep you satisfied.

Seven Surprising Facts About Sugar

Considering sugar is one of the most addictive, yet incredibly delicious substances on the planet, you have likely asked yourself – is it really that BAD for you?

Since 1989, WHO (World Health Organization) has been encouraging people to reduce intake of added sugars to less than 10% of daily calories and preferably only 5%, which translates to 6-12 teaspoons per day.  According to data from the most recent Canadian Community Health Survey, kids consume 33 teaspoons of sugar a day.

Sugar consumption has become a way of life, not only in the Western world, but worldwide.  Sugar is our celebration food, in good times and in bad, starting in early childhood and for most people, over the course of whole lifetimes.  I hope the following information helps you to make the best choices you can with regards to your long term health.

1.You’ve been duped. In the late 1960s, the sugar industry has aggressively campaigned that dietary fat is the primary causative factor of heart disease, diabetes and excess weight.  Their tactics have often been compared to those of Big Tobacco.  Since that time, sugar consumption has dramatically increased as low fat foods were introduced in the market to cater to newly adopted dietary guidelines that influence public demand.  As these policies have been implemented, that obesity and diabetes have risen to epidemic levels.  It is sad to realize that the overall health of people in the last forty to fifty years have been compromised due to dubious marketing strategies.

2. It is a serious addiction. Like other addictive substances, consuming sugar causes the brain to release opiods and dopamine into the bloodstream.  That is what makes it so difficult to have “just a little bit” of sugar.  Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the substance lights up the brain’s pleasure system in a way other foods do not, increasing the urge to overindulge.  When compared to cocaine, sugar (specifically Oreos) has been shown to be more addictive.  And just like humans, rats eat the filling first.

3. Sugar hides in many everyday “non-sugar” foods.  The sugar content of ice cream or candy might not surprise you, but what about pasta sauce, bread, yogurt or salad dressing?  Sugar is almost impossible to avoid, given the amounts that are added to all processed foods.  Of the 60,000 grocery items available to North Americans, 80% or more contain added sugar.  It is even worse in any foods labelled “low-fat,” as those fat calories are usually replaced with sugar to maintain the food’s appeal on the palate.  For example, a single cup (245 grams) of low-fat yogurt can contain up to 47 grams of sugar, which is 12 teaspoons.  Even foods we think of as healthy like coconut water or a green smoothie (depending on how fruit content)  can range from 20-45 grams of sugar.  Aside from the taste, sugar also acts as a preservative of processed foods and is a cheap substitute for other flavour enhancers like herbs and spices.  Possibly the worst offender are sweetened beverages, whether in the form of energy drinks, fruit juice, or fancy coffees, comprises 36 percent of the added sugars consumed.  Click here for a detailed infographic

4. Fruit counts towards your overall sugar intake. People are surprised to learn that fruit isn’t a free for all.  Fruit contains fructose which when consumed in moderation (I suggest to limit intake to 2 pieces/day), it doesn’t pose health issues. Optimal choices are low sugar fruits such as avocado, olives, tomatoes and berries. However, there are instances where fructose is overconsumed.  One example is in fruit smoothies (a Green smoothie from Jamba Juice contains 45 g of sugar), or fruit juice (a glass of orange juice contains 21 g of sugar), where numerous pieces of fruit are used to make a single serving.  Another example is the use of high fructose corn syrup (HCFS) in processed foods.

High-fructose diets  have been shown to cause free radical damage in the body, increase blood pressure, and impair the body’s ability to use and store glucose. ¹,²,³  Fructose confuses your hunger signals, so that you never feel full.  There are also significant detrimental effects on the brain which affects memory, learning ability and has been implicated in the occurrence of Alzheimer’s. ⁴

5. Sugar feeds cancer cells.  Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study that showed that over half of mice fed a sucrose-rich diet developed breast cancer.⁵  In an editorial in Nutrition, Dr. Undurti N. Das highlighted the fact that fructose, a constituent of table sugar, or sucrose, changes cell metabolism and raises the activity of cancer-promoting proteins.⁶ A study done in 2017 studied the process by which cancer cells generate energy.  Instead of burning sugar, cancer cells ferment it, which is not very efficient at energy production (which would not favor tumor growth). In this study, it was discovered that during the process of fermentation, there is an intermediate substance produced that is a potent activator of proto-oncogenes – which then get turned on and stimulate cell proliferation.⁷

6. Sugar causes aging. When there is excess sugar in the bloodstream, it will attach to other proteins in the body.  When it attaches to the collagen in your skin, it causes wrinkles.  When it binds to the connective tissue in your legs, it causes cellulite.  It is the same process that is involved in multi-organ breakdown seen in diabetics. A recent study linked blood sugar spiking foods to acne formation.⁸ It literally ages every cell of your body.  One study showed that one sugary canned drink per day changes cellular DNA similar to those you would see in a smoker.⁹

7. Sugar affects your hormones.  When you eat sugar, your pancreas produces insulin, which allows your cells to store that sugar as fat.  Insulin is closely connected to all of the other hormones in your body, including estrogen and testosterone. High insulin levels lead to elevated estrogen and testosterone. It also increases the production of testosterone, which is then converted into even more estrogen by fat tissue in the belly. This is true for men and women alike.

This, unfortunately, is the cold hard truth.  Tough to swallow, I know.  Breaking up with sugar is hard, I have been in those shoes.  On the up side, I didn’t expect to feel so good minimizing my sugar intake.  I hope that one day you get to feel that way too.

References:

1. Katrien Lowette, et al.   Effects of High-Fructose Diets on Central Appetite Signaling and Cognitive Function. Frontiers in Nutrition (2015) 2: 5.
2. Walker RW, Dumke KA, Goran MI. Fructose content in popular beverages made with and without high-fructose corn syrup. Nutrition (2014) 30:928–35.10.1016/j.nut.2014.04.003
3. Douard V, Ferraris RP. Regulation of the fructose transporter GLUT5 in health and disease. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab (2008) 295:E227–37.10.1152/ajpendo.90245.2008
4. Lindqvist A, Baelemans A, Erlanson-Albertsson C. Effects of sucrose, glucose and fructose on peripheral and central appetite signals. Regul Pept (2008) 150:26–32.10.1016/j.regpep.2008.06.008
5. Yang, Peiying et al. A Sucrose-Enriched Diet Promotes Tumorigenesis in Mammary Gland in Part through the 12-Lipoxygenase Pathway. Cancer Research (2016) 76:1
6. Undurti N.DasM.D., F.A.M.S., F.R.S.C.Sucrose, fructose, glucose, and their link to metabolic syndrome and cancer. Nutrition (2015) 31:1:249-55
7. Ken Peeters, et al .  Fructose-1,6-bisphosphate couples glycolytic flux to activation of Ras.  NATURE COMMUNICATIONS (2017) 8: 922
8. Smith, RN et al.A low-glycemic-load diet improves symptoms in acne vulgaris patients: a randomized controlled trial.  Am J Clin Nutr. 2007 Jul;86(1):107-15.
9. Leung, Cindy W et al. Soda and Cell Aging: Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Adults From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. American Journal of Public Health (ajph) (Dec 2014)

5 Brain Fuel Hacks

Every September is the beginning of a new academic year – an opportunity to create new habits and routines, after all of the summer festivities. With the new school year, it is a great time to refocus on eating well for best mental and cognitive health for every member of the family. Not only does improved nutrition enhance learning, it also decreases the number of absences due to sickness and improves overall behaviour, in children and adults alike. Refuel your brain with these five tips for best brain health:

1. Balance your meals.

Stable blood sugar levels are critically important for brain functions such as thinking, memory and learning.  The brain depends on glucose, as its main fuel source.  If there is not enough glucose available, the brain’s ability to produce neurotransmitters, the brain’s signalling chemicals, decreases. Low levels of glucose can also lead to a loss of energy for proper brain function, resulting in poor attention and cognition.

Ensuring meals contain relatively equal proportions of complex carbohydrates, protein and fats allows for balanced blood sugars for hours at a time (which also reduces the need for snacking).  We need to stop eating dessert for breakfast! Most “breakfast foods” like cereal, toast, muffins and waffles are rich in simple carbohydrates, which usually results in chasing your blood sugar all day long.  Better breakfast options include protein shakes made with plain yogurt/protein powder(for the protein), fruit (1/2 cup) and coconut milk or avocado (for the fats), veggie omelette, toast with almond butter and berries, oatmeal with berries (with a Tbsp or two of nut butter or nuts/seeds added in), or chia seed pudding.

2. Ditch the sugars.

Probably the worst food you could eat for your mental and physical health is sugar. It is shocking to learn that in North America, the average child under age 12 eats about 49 pounds of sugar annually in addition to 32 pounds of high fructose corn syrup, only 3 pounds less of each than the average adult (compared to 8 pounds of average broccoli consumption).

Sugar has many effects on a child’s learning ability.  It decreases attention span and memory. Eating sugar at an early age has been shown to impair memory function long-term as well as increase inflammation in parts of the brain. Other effects of sugar consumption an increased incidence of depression, anxiety, addiction and dementia.  All good reasons to cut back, if not eliminate it entirely from your diet.  I recommend using stevia glycerite to sweeten food & drink, which gives the sweetness without the compromise.

3. Add more fish.

We can’t make omega 3 fatty acids, so we have to get it through dietary sources such as wild salmon, flaxseed and walnuts.  When it comes to memory and brain health, most of the research indicates that is is specific to the effects of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).  It is not only neuroprotective but is a major structural component of brain tissue.¹

Though there is no upper limit, a little can go a long way.  According to one study in Rotterdam indicated that even one meal per week consisting of fatty fish could reduce cognitive decline by up to 60%.²

People with Alzheimer’s have been shown in several studies to have severely low levels of DHA in key parts of the brain needed for memory formation.³,⁴

So not only is it important not only to increase DHA intake, but also drastically reduce intake of omega 6 fatty acids commonly found in vegetable oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, cottonseed oil, soybean oil, and other common polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA’s). Historically, the human diet consisted of omega 3 intake in a ratio of 1:1 to omega 6 fatty acids.  With processed foods this has shifted upwards to a ratio of about 1:16 to 1:36. ⁵

DHA has also shown to benefit cognition in both older and younger rats in the absence of neurodegenerative disease. DHA is good for both the young and the old, and the sick and the healthy.⁶,⁷

4. Take a multivitamin/mineral.

Once you have the major macronutrients covered (though eating a balanced plant-based diet will usually suffice), ensure that your micronutrients aren’t lacking. Iron deficiency, for example, even in early stages can decrease dopamine (one of the four main brain neurotransmitters) transmission, thereby decreasing cognition.  Cognition and mental concentration are also shown to be affected by deficiencies in B vitamins (especially thiamine), vitamin E, iodine and zinc.⁸,⁹,¹⁰

5. Hydrate adequately.

Most North Americans are chronically dehydrated and mistake thirst signals for hunger signals. Even the most minimally dehydrated brain is 15% less efficient than a hydrated one.

The best choice for drinking for people of all ages is pure, filtered water.  Ideally, about 50% of your body weight in ounces everyday.  While plain water might get tedious, there are plenty of sugar-free flavoured water options now available, which makes it easier to change things up.  With autumn around the corner, other good choices include bone broth and herbal teas.

References:

(1) Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, et al. Consumption of fish and omega-3 fatty acids and risk of incident Alzheimer disease. Arch Neurol. 2003 Jul;60(7):940-6.

(2) Kalmijn S, Launer LJ, Ott A, Witteman JC, Hofman A, Breteler MM. Dietary fat intake and the risk of incident dementia in the Rotterdam Study. Ann Neurol. 1997 Nov;42(5):776-82.

(3) Soderberg M, Edlund C, Kristensson K, Dallner G. Fatty acid composition of brain phospholipids in aging and in Alzheimer’s disease. Lipids. 1991 Jun;26(6):421-5.

(4)  Prasad MR, Lovell MA, Yatin M, Dhillon H, Markesbery WR. Regional membrane phospholipid alterations in Alzheimer’s disease. Neurochem Res. 1998 Jan;23(1):81-8.

(5) Kris-Etherton PM, Taylor DS, Yu-Poth S, et al. Polyunsaturated fatty acids in the food chain in the United States. Am J Clin Nutr. 2000 Jan;71(1 Suppl):179S-88S.

(6) Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Fish consumption and cognitive decline with age in a large community study. Arch Neurol.2005 Dec;62(12):1849-53.

(7) Gamoh S, Hashimoto M, Sugioka K, et al. Chronic administration of docosahexaenoic acid improves reference memory-related learning ability in young rats. Neuroscience. 1999;93(1):237-41.

(8) Pollitt E. (1993). Iron deficiency and cognitive function. Annual Review of Nutrition, 13, 521–537.

(9) Chenoweth, W. (2007). Vitamin B complex deficiency and excess. In R. Kliegman, H. Jenson, R. Behrman, & B. Stanton (Eds.), Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th edition. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Greenbaum, L. (2007a). Vitamin E deficiency. In R. Kliegman, H. Jenson, R. Behrman, & B. Stanton (Eds.), Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th Edition. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Greenbaum, L. (2007b). Micronutrient mineral deficiencies. In R. Kliegman, H. Jenson, R. Behrman, & B. Stanton (Eds.), Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 18th Edition. Philadelphia: Saunders.

Bryan, J., Osendarp, S., Hughes, D., Calvaresi, E., Baghurst, K. & van Klinken, J. (2004). Nutrients for cognitive development in school-aged children. Nutrition Reviews, 62(8), 295–306.

Delange, F. (2000) The role of iodine in brain development. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 59, 75–79. Sandstead, H. (2000). Causes of iron and zinc deficiencies and their effects on brain. Journal of Nutrition, 130, 347–349.

(10) Lieberman, H. (2003). Nutrition, brain function, and cognitive performance. Appetite, 40, 245–254.

Frisvold, D. (2012). Nutrition and cognitive achievement: An evaluation of the school breakfast program. Working Paper, Emory University.

 

Is Your Water Bottle Making You Fat?

Did you know that most plastic water bottles contain substances that can cause weight gain?

By now, many of us have heard of bisphenol A (BPA), which has been used since the 1950s to make reusable water bottles, baby bottles, pacifiers, plastic utensils, children’s toys, compact discs, and certain microwaveable and reusable plastic containers. After it was determined that BPA acts as a endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) as well increase one’s susceptibility to cancer, many companies switched over to using bisphenol S (BPS), to make their plastics “BPA-free”.

Bisphenol-A (BPA)and its similar counterpart bisphenol-S (BPS) belong to a class of substances called obesogens.  An obesogen is a chemical that, you guessed it, disrupts normal development and fat metabolism and can, in some cases, lead to obesity.

According to a Canadian study, BPS, like BPA, can actually trigger fat cell growth.1  Cells when exposed to BPS were stimulated to accumulate fat as well as signalled to produce proteins that allowed the cell to become more efficient in fat deposition.  One study actually found BPS to be more effective in stimulating fat accumulation than BPA. 2

The mechanisms by which these toxins disrupt the body’s metabolism is complex.  They include the dysregulation of several hormones, disruption in regulation of hunger and satiety, and a reprogramming of metabolic set points. Both BPA and BPS have also been shown to affect the proper functioning of beta and alpha cells in the pancreas, fat cells, and liver cells which can contribute to the development of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. 3,4,5 Exposure to even small amounts of these substances in unborn children can trigger obesity later in life. These substances are not benign and have a significant impact on many aspects of our health.

So while drinking water is certainly beneficial for your health (it can speed weight loss by 550 percent and rev energy by 89 percent), you need to give your water container some serious consideration.

Here are five strategies to reduce your exposure:

  1. Carry your own water bottle (stainless steel or glass) with you. If you must buy water when you are on the go, choose water that comes in either a glass bottle or a box. Avoid plastic water bottles, as most are made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), another EDC which increases estrogenic activity.
  2. Avoid drinking from plastic cups or using other plastic kitchenware.
  3. Avoid touching cash receipts – as the paper is usually coated with BPA or BPS.
  4. Reduce your consumption of canned food – choose dry or fresh foods whenever possible. If you do buy canned items, try to find BPA and BPS-free versions, such as those made by Eden Foods.
  5. Don’t reheat foods in the microwave if they are in plastic containers. Instead, use ceramic or glass containers.  Better yet, reduce/eliminate your reliance on plasticware and plastic wrap to store food and go with glass instead whenever possible.

 

References:

  1. Boucher, JG, Ahmed, S, Atlas E. 2016. Bisphenol S Induces Adipogenesis in Primary Human Preadipocytes From Female Donors. Endocrinology. 2016 Apr;157(4):1397-407.
  2. Ahmed, S, Atlas, E. 2016. Bisphenol S- and bisphenol A-induced adipogenesis of murine preadipocytes occurs through direct peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma activation.  International Journal of Obesity volume 40, pp.1566–1573
  3. Bodin, J, Kocbach Bolling, A, Wendt, A. Eliasson, L, Becher, R, Kuper, F, Lovi, M, Nygaard, C. 2015.Exposure to bisphenol A, but not phthalates, increases spontaneous diabetes type 1 development in NOD mice. Toxicology Reports, Volume 2, pp.99-11
  4. Mirmira, P, Evans-Molina, C.  2014.  Bisphenol A, Obesity, and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: Genuine Concern or Unnecessary Preoccupation?. Transl Res. Jul; 164(1): 13–21.
  5. Provvisiero, D, Pivonello, C, Mucogiuri, G, Negri, M, de Angelis, C, Pivonello, R, Colao, A.   2016.  Influence of Bisphenol A on Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Int J Environ Res Public Health. Oct; 13(10): 989.

6 Simple Steps to Start a Fast (for Anything)

A fast is simply abstaining from something for a period of time.  Fasting is a time honored, often spiritual, tradition.   Though it is often associated with food, there are many elements that can insidiously insert themselves into our lifestyles when we are not paying attention.  Bad habits happen to all of us.  .

Fasting in all of its forms, is an exercise in self-control.  Whether it is caffeine, sugar, video games, shopping, cybersurfing, social media or television – pick your “vice.”. And self-control holds benefit for all—regardless of your spiritual background.

Here’s how to start:

  1. Choose your element – ask yourself what is the one thing you don’t think you could live without.
  2. Choose a timeframe – I recommend starting small and working your way up – can be one day, a week, a month, or even one day per week.
  3. Prepare yourself for the commitment you have made for yourself. If you decide to give up coffee, you might want to ensure you have an alternate beverage to replace it with. If you decide to give up eating out, you will need to make sure you take the time to prepare your meals.
  4. Expect it to be difficult – especially at the beginning. Let it be hard, accept that the difficulty is part of the process. If you don’t find it difficult, maybe your choice wasn’t as much of an issue for you as you may have thought.
  5. Be gentle with yourself. If you don’t manage to achieve your goal, be humbled by your efforts to try.
  6. Once the fast is over, then re-introduce the item back into your life gently and consciously. Let yourself decide if and/or how much this space this item/habit is permitted in your new routine. Choosing to do/eat something consciously changes the experience completely. Moderation will often be the “new normal.”

Fasting isn’t sexy, but it is of great value.  You will discover things about yourself from this practice.  You will regain self-control over all of the elements in your life.  You will feel better about yourself – you deserve it.