How Much Salt do we Need?

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Salt or sodium is a naturally occurring substance that our bodies need to function.  We need it to:

  • Maintain the right balance of fluids in our bodies
  • Transmit nerve impulses
  • Contract and relax our muscles

Our kidneys naturally balance the amount of sodium stored in our bodies for optimal health. When your body sodium is low, your kidneys hold on to the sodium. When your body sodium is high, your kidneys excrete the excess in your urine.  But when there is too much sodium the kidneys increase blood pressure to try to excrete more of it. This increase in blood pressure over time can lead to stroke, coronary heart disease and heart failure.

The average Australian intake of salt is about 10g or 4000mg sodium per day. The suggested intake for optimal health is 4g of salt or 1600mg of sodium.  So Australians are consuming a lot more salt than they should be which is setting them up for future (or current) health problems.  The good news is that you lose sodium when you sweat, so when you exercise you may need to consume a bit more than this.  Otherwise, it needs to stay down!

Once your blood pressure has increased due to a high salt intake, it may not go down with reduced intake so it is important to decrease your salt intake before you have high blood pressure to prevent any damage to your body.

You may be surprised at how much sodium is in many commonly consumed foods.  Here are a few examples:

Masterfoods BBq sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 164mg sodium

Masterfoods tomato sauce = 15ml serve (1 tablespoon) = 127mg sodium

100g of beef sausage (about 1 sausage)= 652mg sodium

6 inch meatball sub from Subway = 695mg sodium

1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal = 144mg sodium

Masterfoods beef stroganoff sauce = 529mg sodium per serve

Lean Cuisine Chicken Chickpea Curry w Brown Rice and Quinoa = 763mg sodium

Gatorade 591ml bottle = 250mg sodium

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So, if you have 1 cup of Nutrigrain cereal (but most people probably have a larger serving), a sausage with sauce at Bunnings or your friend’s BBQ and then a Lean Cuisine for dinner, you are at your limit and you can’t have the hot chips, chips and dip, cheese or salted nuts for a snack.  Most of these processed foods are also high in sugar.  Read about what sugar is doing to your body and other reasons why you should watch these foods in my blog article about sugar.

Pre-packaged and processed foods as well as restaurant foods are where most people are getting their salt from in their diet.  Some of them may even look healthy with ‘heart ticks’ or stars on them, but make sure you read the label for yourself before assuming anything in a package is nutritious, because it usually isn’t.

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Even though you may not have high blood pressure now, it is important to implement healthy lifestyle habits before major health issues creep up.  Try to cut down on your intake of processed foods, especially meats, and decrease your take-away and restaurant food.  And for those in Australia, you don’t have to stop at every sausage sizzle you see!  I know they are everywhere, but that doesn’t make them good for you.

Enjoy your salt as a light sprinkle you add yourself and your kidneys will thank you.

 

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10% Human

Sailor kid looking ahead

I just can’t stop talking about the importance of healthy gut bacteria.  I borrowed the title for this article from a book I have been reading by Alanna Collen.  In it she discusses the importance of gut bacteria, also known as your microbiome.  The title refers to the percentage of our bodies that are actually human cells.  Of all the cells we walk around with each day, only 10% by number are actually our skin, blood, organs, tissues, etc.  The rest are mostly bacteria with some fungi and viruses. Slowly science is realizing just how important all these bugs in and on our bodies really are.  In order for us to evolve, we have had to hire out some of our essential functions.  These bacteria help break down plant fibers, fight off bad bacteria, create vitamin B12 and K and shape the intestinal wall just to name a few.  And in return we give them a nice place to live with lots of food.  But what happens when this symbiotic relationship gets disrupted?

Most people think their gut is only for digesting food, but in fact the digestive tract is the central area for the nervous, hormonal and immune systems.   This means that an imbalance in this area can have far reaching, and seemingly unrelated, effects throughout the body.

Improper or lacking gut bacteria (dysbiosis) are associated with digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease and food intolerances.  Any of these problems can cause debilitating symptoms.  Several autoimmune diseases are also associated with dysbiosis.  These include rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Type I diabetes and lupus.  Dollarphotoclub_64564172.jpg

Our digestive tract and our little bacterial friends play a role in regulating our mood.  One of the functions of gut bacteria is to make neurotransmitters such as GABA.  GABA is the calming chemical in the brain that decreases anxiety and helps relieve anxious depression.  Therefore a lack of gut bacteria can lead to anxiety and depression.  Gut bacteria are also involved in other mental health disorders.  A recent study found that supplementing a baby with probiotics (supplement form of good gut bacteria) decreased the incidence of ADHD when these children became teenagers.

Dysbiosis is also associated with autism, allergies, eczema, asthma, some cancers and obesity. And these are just the health problems we know of so far.  Research is only just beginning to understand the importance of the bugs that live in our digestive tract.  Scientists keep looking for a genetic cause for diseases because we have the technology to change some genes, at least for the coming generation.  But most of these disorders didn’t exist 100 years ago.  Human genetics have not changed that fast.  So that means something must have changed in our environment and lifestyles.

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How to Keep Your Microbiome Happy

There are some things that disrupt our microbiome that we don’t have much control over. Caesarean sections save baby’s lives but this means that they don’t get exposed to mother’s bacteria in the vaginal canal at birth. Formula has also saved lives but formula does not expose the baby to mom’s healthy bacteria. When antibiotics are used correctly they save many lives but these can wipe out a lifetime of healthy gut bacteria leaving a very upset micro biome.  But there are many things you can do yourself to keep your little bacteria friends happy.

Eat fibre. Avoid sugar. Eat lots of fruit and veggies (with the skin on), legumes and whole grains such as brown rice and wholemeal bread. This provides great food for your microbiome as well as making sure everything keeps moving. Gut bacteria thrive on a variety of fibre so try not to eat the same things every day.  Bacteria don’t like it when stool sticks around too long so make sure you eat fibre every day. Sugar only helps to feed the bad bacteria so try to limit your intake.  Read here for more information on the effects of sugar on your body.

Don’t eat preservatives. Preservatives are designed to kill and stop the growth of bacteria, and that is just what they keep on doing inside your body. These pesky chemicals have only been in our diet for less than a century and they are wreaking havoc on our gut bacteria. Avoid products with preservatives listed. ‘Flavouring’ and ‘colouring’ are full of preservatives, which might not be listed separately on the label so avoid any products with these.   Product labels only have to show ingredients that are higher than 10 parts per million, but many preservatives are very effective at even this low level. Keep in mind that food manufacturers are out to make money so they may lie on their labels (even if it is illegal). So if there is a product that doesn’t go off within a few days, don’t eat it!

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Buy organic from the dirty list. Pesticides are also designed to kill. Organophosphates have been banned in Europe and restricted in the US but are still widely used in Australia. These pesticides are linked to reduced IQ, weight gain, Type II diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Children under 7 years old do not have the enzyme required to excrete these chemicals from their little bodies so it just builds. The ‘dirty’ foods with the highest pesticide residues in Australia are, in order, apples, wheat, strawberries, pears, grapes, lettuce, nectarines, peaches, and tomatoes. To save money, buy these foods organic and buy foods from the ‘clean’ list conventional. The ‘clean’ foods are onions, sweet corn, pineapple, asparagus, sweet peas, mango, eggplant, kiwi and cabbage.  Here is a  link to the full American list for 2016.  This list is updated every year.

If you are worried about the state of your gut bacteria or already have symptoms of an imbalance, taking a probiotic supplement may help, but you should seek advice from your local naturopath to make sure you get a good quality one.

The bacteria in your gut are very important to your health and longevity. Be nice to them and they will be nice to you.

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about the importance of gut bacteria:

Stay Healthy This Winter (and all year long)

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While it is summer for all of you in the northern hemisphere, it is winter down under which means cold and flu season has come around again. Although for those of us with kids in daycare and school it seems that cold and flu season lasts all year-round! Here are some helpful hints for keeping the whole family healthy in winter and all year long.

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Sleep is the most important activity your body needs. When sleeping, your body restores, heals, and creates important hormones. Get to bed early and stay there for at least 7-8 hours each night.  Avoid caffeine to ensure you get a good quantity and quality of sleep.  Read my blog article about caffeine for more information on the effects it has on your body.

Psychological stress is associated with a greater risk of depression, heart disease and infectious diseases.[1]  Take time out – exercise, garden, meditate, whatever it is that helps you to relax.

What would one of my articles be if I didn’t mention exercise?  Exercise is important for everyone. To keep your immune system at its best you want at least a brisk 30-minute walk each day.  If you are an avid athlete you also need to take care, as very high intensity exercise can put a strain on your immune system.[2]bacteria on hands

Always wash your hands before eating.  There was a 75% reduction in flu-like symptoms when a test group wore masks and washed their hands.[3]  This is especially important for kids who are more apt to putting their hands in their mouths.  It can really be just that easy!

Our bodies are composed of 70% water. Proper hydration is important for the optimum functioning of all your body systems. Increase your water intake slowly getting up to 2L per day.  Check our my article about water for more information.

Hot-Cold showers are an excellent way of improving your immune system, increasing circula­tion and elevating energy levels. After finishing your regular shower routine, do 20 seconds of cold and 1 minute of hot. Alternate 2-3 times, ending with cold.  The increase in circulation will also help decrease sensitivity to the cold.

There are several supplements you can take to help boost your immune system. Daily zinc supplementation has been shown to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold, reduce the incidence of acute lower respiratory tract infections in preschool children by 45% and reduce the incidence of pneumonia by 41%.[4]

There are lots of herbs that can help boost your immune system.  You can check out my Cough and Cold Soother tea for a delicious mix that can help keep you healthy and fight off germs if you get sick.

Vitamin C is found in high concentrations in immune cells and is quickly consumed during an infection.  It is a natural antihistamine and has been found to reduce the severity and duration of the common cold and upper respiratory tract infections.

More than 80% of the body’s immune system is in the digestive tract.[5]  A lack of good bacteria in the digestive tract can cause a reduction in the immune system allowing increased infections.  Take a good quality probiotic to prevent bad bacteria from taking hold.

Vitamin D has a direct effect on the immune system. Vitamin D stimulates the production of natural antibiotic proteins thus killing more bacteria.  Insufficient levels are related to a deficiency in our immune system to protect us against infections.

These are just a few suggestions.  For personalized advice, contact your local naturopath. Let’s stay healthy this winter!
References

1  Cohen S, Janicki-Deverts D, Doyle WJ, Miller GE, Frank E, Rabin BS, Turner RB. Chronic stress, glucocorticoid receptor resistance, inflammation, and disease risk. PNAS, 2012 April 17; 109(16): 5995-5999.

2  Society for General Microbiology. Couch potato or elite athlete? A happy medium keeps colds at bay(Internet). ScienceDaily. 2012 January 5 (Retrieved 13 May 2012). Available from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/01/120105112158.htm

3  Aiello AE, Perez V, Coulborn RM, Davis BM, Uddin M, Monto AS. Face masks, Hand Hygiene, and Influenza among Young Adults: A Randomized Intervention Trial. PLoS ONE, 2012; 7 (1): e29744.

4  Hunter P. Health Benefits of Zinc. Bioceuticals Advanced Clinical Insights, 2004; 5.

5  Plummer N. Dysbiosis and Disease: Ground breaking new research into probiotics and their role in preventing treating disease (presentation notes). FIT-BioCeuticals, Ltd. Online. 2010.

Fertility, Not Just for Women

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When trying to conceive, most attention is on the health of the woman while the men’s health tends to be ignored until problems arise. Men contribute 50% of the DNA to create a baby, so it is important for men to contribute healthy sperm. It takes over 70 days for sperm to develop from immature to mature.  This is an important time for men to be taking charge of their health and lifestyle to give their baby the best start possible.

The place to start is to abstain from alcohol and quit smoking.  Male alcohol consumption, especially one month before conception, increases the risk miscarriage and not achieving a live birth. Alcohol effects sperm quality possibly due to a lowering of testosterone. The effects of alcohol on sperm begin to reverse when intake is ceased which is why it is important to stop a few months before conceiving. It is also very important to quit smoking a few months before conception as smoking reduces sperm production and motility and increases DNA damage.

Being overweight can have a significant effect on fertility. Being overweight is associated with infertility, decreased sperm concentration, decreased sperm motility and increased DNA damage.  There is also a very strong relationship between obesity and erectile dysfunction.

Of course I can’t forget to mention exercise.  Moderate physical activity for one hour at least three times a week shows significant benefits on sperm morphology.

Newborn Baby Girl Holding Grandpa's Hand

There are also several supplements that have been shown to improve male fertility.  A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids is correlated with decreased sperm motility. Sperm quantity can be increased with increased fish oil intake.  To ensure sufficient intake eat more fatty coldwater fish such as salmon, herring, sardines, or trout or take a good quality fish oil supplement.  Avoid king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tuna due to their high mercury content. High blood mercury levels are associated with abnormal semen.

Zinc is essential for male hormone metabolism, sperm formation and sperm motility.  Zinc deficiency can lead to decreased testosterone and low sperm count levels. Zinc supplementation has been found to improve these factors. Vitamin C also improves semen quality while vitamin E reduces oxidative damage and improves motility. Sperm motility and morphology are improved with coenzyme Q10 supplementation.

A diet high in fruits and vegetables is associated with improved semen quality.  This may be due to an increased antioxidant intake.  A pre-conception “Mediterranean” type diet by couples has been associated with increased conception success.

There are many factors that effect male fertility.  If you are planning on conceiving, talk to your local naturopath to get personalized advice.  Start getting healthy at least three months before conceiving.  This will give you the highest chance of success and give your baby the best start.