How to lose weight … slowly!

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I don’t like to use the word diet, as that implies a sudden change in what you are eating for a short period of time.  Losing weight, in a healthy way, requires a lifestyle change.  No, you won’t be dropping kilograms each week, but you will slowly notice that your clothes are a bit looser, you have more energy, and that you just feel happier. Everyone has their own reasons to lose weight and become healthier.  Find yours and start today.

There are basics that apply to everyone, which I will talk about in this article, but each person is going to be different.  If you eat and exercise the exact same as someone else, you won’t both lose or gain the same amount of weight, or both be your healthiest self. When I was taking my degree the college had a program called “Be Your Best Self”.  I love this title because that what’s its all about.  It’s not about how you compare to someone else. Be the best you, you can be.  Finding the healthiest lifestyle for you may take some trial and error, but you will get there eventually, and you will feel better for it.

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The most important part of a healthy lifestyle is what you eat. If you have seen me as a patient, you know my plate analogy.  Cut your dinner plate in half and put veggies on one side.  On the other half, make two-thirds protein and the last third carbohydrates. If you have a sweet tooth it is usually because you are not eating enough protein.  Make sure you have protein in every meal as well as plenty of good fats to make you feel fuller longer. Don’t be afraid of healthy fats.  I have lots of information on my blog explaining why you need them and which ones to pick. Drinking plenty of water is also important for losing weight as it helps make you feel full and improves your metabolism.

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What you eat is about 80% of losing weight, but exercise is still needed to achieve a healthy lifestyle.  It improves cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, depression, sleep apnoea, sleep, arthritis, immune health, and how you look and feel. Just to name a few. It will also help you lose weight when combined with other healthy lifestyle choices. Read here for tips on how much you need to exercise.

Last, but certainly not least, you need to get enough sleep and reduce your stress level. If you need help with sleep, check out my blog article with some sleep hygiene suggestions. In times of stress, our bodies like to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  Make sure you are getting enough rest at night, and taking time during the day to let your body and mind relax.

Food intolerances and other digestive issues can be a barrier to losing weight and being healthy.  If you are eating foods that don’t agree with you, your body could have a lot of inflammation. As with stress, it makes your body want to hold on to fat ‘just in case’.  If you have any digestive issues, make sure you talk to your local naturopath so you can start on your journey to a healthy lifestyle.

 

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Is Your Sleep Obstructed?

 

Girl and baby sleeping together

Sleep apnea is when there is a pause in breathing while asleep. There are 3 different kinds of sleep anpea – obstructive, central and mixed. Obstructive is when the airway has become narrow, blocked or floppy. Central is when the brain temporarily stops sending signals to the muscles that are responsible for controlling breathing. Mixed is a combination of the two. This article will focus on obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), although many of the causes and treatments are similar for all kinds.

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It is estimated that between 3% and 7% of the population have OSA but this number could be higher as many people do not seek treatment. Older men who are obese are more likely to have sleep apnea, but it can effect women and any age group including children. Obesity is the biggest risk factor for OSA so it is projected that OSA will become more common as the population becomes bigger and bigger.

 

OSA can cause increased blood pressure and is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. It is also associated with an increased risk of stroke, daytime drowsiness, motor vehicle accidents and lowered quality of life. Rates of depression are also higher in people with OSA so it is very important to seek treatment.

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Treatments

Starting to exercise is the first place to begin if you have OSA. Studies have found that OSA improved even when participants didn’t lost weight. This can have a big effect on improving overall quality of life as decreased OSA will result in a better sleep leading to more energy during the day. Then you will be able to exercise more! You want to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a week. See my blog article on exercise for weight loss for more details.

Studies have shown that acupuncture and herbal medicine are both safe and effective treatment options for OSA.

It is also important to avoid sleeping on your back. Purchase a pillow that encourages you to sleep on your side or you can sew a tennis ball into the back of your pyjamas to keep yourself on your side.

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Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol within 6 hours of sleep will worsen sleep apnea.

Quit smoking. Easier said than done, but smoking is another major risk factor for OSA.

Sleep hygiene is also very important.  Read my article about sleep to make sure your are doing everything you can to get a good night’s sleep.

If you think you may have OSA it is important to see your healthcare provider as even mild cases are associated with increased morbidity. For natural treatments, contact your local naturopath and start on your path to better sleep and better health.

 

Cancer Prevention

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Nobody wants to have cancer, but everyone has been touched by it in some way. The good news is that research estimates that only 5-10% of cancers are hereditary, meaning that 90-95% are due to lifestyle and environmental exposures and are therefore preventable. Some exposures such as pollution in the air we breathe are difficult to avoid, but there are many other steps we can take to minimise our risk of getting cancer.

The leading cause of preventable cancer is still smoking. But I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that it is bad for you so I won’t waste words here.

After not smoking, keeping yourself at a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do to prevent cancer. Obesity actually changes your hormones, causing increased inflammation, which can lead to cancer. Now I don’t want you to start the next trend diet. Very slow (as in 1-2kg per month) weight loss is the best for keeping off the weight. And the best way to do this is to just eat well and start exercising (exercise also independently decreases your risk of cancer!).

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Besides causing weight gain and diabetes, research has found that sugar is a cause of cancer in and of itself. It was estimated that “in 2010, sugary drink consumption was responsible for about 184,450 deaths worldwide, with 133,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease and 6,450 deaths from cancer.” Recent research has discovered a possible mechanism. When we consume excess sugar, it feeds cancer cells. Now you may say that you don’t have cancer so it doesn’t apply to you. Our bodies are constantly making cancer cells, which our immune systems usually deal with before they get out of control. But if you are consuming more sugar than your body can handle, the cancer cells may win over your immune system.

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You also want to keep your digestive system and your gut flora (bacteria that live in your gut and keep you healthy) happy. Dysbiosis is when you have improper or a lack of gut bacteria and this is associated with some cancers. The best way to have a happy, healthy gut is to eat plenty of fibre-rich fruits, vegetables and legumes while minimising your intake of processed meats, which the World Health Organization has declared a cancer risk. Fibre is needed for proper digestion and can help to prevent colon cancer. You also want to eat most of your produce as organic because preservatives and pesticides can kill your friendly bacteria as well as increase your risk of ovarian and other cancers.

Although the government guidelines like to encourage everyone to drink lots of milk, data from some very large studies including the Nurses’ Health Study, has actually found an increased risk of some cancers with increased consumption. Not to mention that the Australian dietary guidelines say it is ok to drink sugar-laden flavoured milks and yogurts so that people are getting a double whammy. There are lots of other foods that contain plenty of calcium. The vegans of the worlds do not go around with rampant cases of osteoporosis.

The American Cancer Society says that half of all men and one-third of women will develop cancer in their lifetime. Don’t let yourself or your loved ones be part of this statistic. Talk to your local naturopath for advice on how to minimise your risk of cancer.

Aspartame – As sweet as we think?

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There is a lot of conflicting information about aspartame available to consumers.  Soft drink companies and government regulators will tell you that it is safe.  On the Food Standards Australia New Zealand website they state that “Scientific evidence to date supports the safety of aspartame for use as a sweetener in food.” but there is in fact a lot of scientific evidence to the contrary.

Aspartame was initially approved in the US in 1974.  The initial approval process raised allegations of bribery and corruption, which prompted many people to doubt its safety, but governments have stood firm in their statements that it is safe.  Over the years there has been increasing evidence that this is not true.

The initial fear was that aspartame could cause cancer.  These concerns seem to be unfounded, but scientists have discovered it causes other problems.  Most recently a French study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, followed 66,000 women over 14 years.  The authors found that, compared to regular soft drinks, there was a 15% higher risk for diabetes in those who drank just 500ml/week of diet soft drinks, and a 59% higher risk for those who drank 1.5L/week. Although aspartame is suggested for people with diabetes, it may actually be making it worse.

In a 2011 study in the US, people who drank diet soft drinks, as an overall group, had a 70% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users. Those who were in the highest bracket and drank two or more diet soft drinks a day had a 500% greater increase in waist circumference than non-users.

One of the metabolites of aspartame is methanol.  There have also been studies that have found detectable methanol in the blood after chronic consumption of aspartame affecting the brain.

There have been many studies on rats and mice consuming aspartame.  Although these can’t be directly applied to humans, it is cause for caution.  Aspartame has been found to promote hyperglycemia and insulin intolerance and impair spatial cognition and memory.  It may accelerate atherosclerosis as well as lead to liver damage.  Aspartame and saccharin consumption, when compared to sucrose (sugar), resulted in increased weight gain even at the same caloric intake.  So even if you are eating a low calorie diet, you may not lost weight simply because you are consuming products containing aspartame.

Clinically, I have had patients lose weight just from taking diet soft drinks out of their diet even if they replace them with regular ones.

But it isn’t all about weight gain.  Children whose mother’s drink artificially sweetened drinks during pregnancy, are more likely to have asthma and allergic rhinitis.  Also people who work in soft drink factories that have asthma can not go into the filling room containing artificial sweeteners.  Even those without asthma can develop asthmatic symptoms when they enter the filling room.

Artificial sweeteners are just that, artificial.  The body does not recognize them and so cannot digest them properly.  This can lead to the body holding on to fat and water in an attempt to dilute these unknown particles.

Make sure you always check labels especially on products that say they are low in sugar.  Aspartame can also be written as ‘951’ on an ingredients panel.

Although regulators have deemed it safe, there is enough evidence to the contrary that it doesn’t seem worth taking the chance.

951 Chemical

References:

Abdel-Salam OM, Salem NA, El-Shamarka ME, Hussein JS, Ahmed NA, El-Nagar ME, Studies on the effects of aspartame on memory and oxidative stress in brain of mice. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci 2012 Dec; 16(15):2092-101.

Abhilash M, Paul MV, Varghese MV, Nair RH, Effect of long term intake of aspartame on antioxidant defense status in liver. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2011 Jun; 49(6):1203-7.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Saleh SM, Andres B, Inglis A, Al-Rabiah R, Al-Mohanna FA, Gender dimorphism in aspartame-induced impairment of spatial cognition and insulin sensitivity. PLoS ONE 2012; 7(4):e31570.

Collison KS, Makhoul NJ, Zaidi MZ, Al-Rabiah R, Inglis A, Andres BL, Ubungen R, Shoukri M, Al-Mohanna FA, Interactive effects of neonatal exposure to monosodium glutamate and aspartame on glucose homeostasis. Nutr Metab (Lond) 2012; 9(1):58.

Feijó Fde M, Ballard CR, Foletto KC, Batista BA, Neves AM, Ribeiro MF, Bertoluci MC, Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels. Appetite 2013 Jan; 60(1):203-7.

Frincu-Mallos C, ENDO: Use of Artificial Sweeteners Linked to 2-Fold Increase in Diabetes. Medscape News. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/704432

Iyyaswamy A, Rathinasamy S, Effect of chronic exposure to aspartame on oxidative stress in the brain of albino rats. J. Biosci. 2012 Sep; 37(4):679-88.

Jang W, Jeoung NH, Cho KH, Modified apolipoprotein (apo) A-I by artificial sweetener causes severe premature cellular senescence and atherosclerosis with impairment of functional and structural properties of apoA-I in lipid-free and lipid-bound state. Mol. Cells 2011 May; 31(5):461-70.

Maslova E, Strom M, Olsen SF, Halldorsson TI, Consumption of Artificially-Sweetened Soft Drinks in Pregnancy and Risk of Child Asthma and Allergic Rhinitis. PLOS 2013 Feb 27. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0057261

Szponar J, Górska A, Majewska M, Tchórz M, Drelich G, Methanol poisoning in a 61-year old male with recently diagnosed diabetes–a case report. Prz. Lek. 2011; 68(8):521-2.

What’s the Deal with Dairy?

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There is a lot of controversy regarding the consumption of dairy products. The Australian Dietary Guidelines suggest a moderate intake of reduced fat milk, yogurt and cheese. The Canadian Food Guide suggests 2-4 servings per day depending on age.  At the same time other health professionals are saying that milk is unhealthy. So how does this affect you?

Government guidelines are based on the idea that cow’s milk contains a lot of calcium so we should consume it to strengthen bones in growing children and reduce the risk of osteoporosis and fractures as we get older. Unfortunately, data from the Nurses’ Health Study has shown that there may actually be an increased risk of not only fractures but some cancers and obesity. Cow’s milk may contain lots of calcium, but it is made for growing baby cows and is difficult for humans to absorb. Human babies should not consume dairy until at least 1 to 2 years of age. After this age, you can introduce dairy if you choose, but it is not something they need to be healthy and should not make up the majority of their calories.

The Australian dietary guidelines also say that there is an association between milk consumption and decreased risk of heart disease and some cancers. But research also shows that milk consumption is associated with an increased risk of prostate and possibly ovarian cancer.

And then there is the issue with low fat vs high fat. People have long believed that the consumption of fat is unhealthy for you. This was flawed research, which has since been proven false. In fact, eating or drinking low fat products (including milk) can actually lead to weight gain as it does not fill you up so you then consume more calories. It also contains more sugar in the form of lactose, and as we all now know, it is sugar, not fat, that leads to weight gain. There is a lot of research out these days about fats (including saturated) being healthy while sugar is the culprit for many health issues.  Please check out this post to read more on the Truth About Fats.

It is estimated that 50-60% of people have an allergy or intolerance to dairy, most of whichindigestion2 is undiagnosed. This can manifest as many symptoms including seasonal or other food allergies, eczema, constipation, acne, and irritable bowel syndrome. If you want to know if you have an issue with dairy, take a break for 2-3 weeks and see how you feel. If symptoms return when you eat it again, you have your answer!

And finally we also need to question government dietary guidelines. In 1992, the Canadian government tried to decrease the recommended servings of dairy and meat in their food guide based on research at the time. Due to complaints from the Canadian Meat Council and Dairy Bureau of Canada, the serving suggestions were increased. Are food guides really for our health, or the pocket book of business?

Supplementation of calcium is not recommended as this may increase the risk of kidney stones and does not take into consideration the other nutrients such as Vitamin D and K2 needed for calcium absorption. Eating whole foods rich in calcium is best for bone health and can actually help prevent kidney stones. The best way to get your daily calcium is by having a diet rich in nuts, seeds, broccoli, dark leafy greens and small fish (with bones).

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Don’t get me wrong, dairy is delicious! But it seems that it isn’t as healthy for us as we once thought. If you have any questions about diary, talk to your local naturopath. If you are looking to avoid osteoporosis and fractures, the best thing to do is weight-bearing exercise (you knew I was going to say that!).

Having Trouble Sleeping?

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As we are sleeping our bodies have many important jobs to do.  This is the optimum time for growth and rejuvenation of the immune, nervous, skeletal and muscular systems.  This is when muscle growth, tissue repair and protein synthesis occur.  Our bodies are healing, as this is the best time for white blood cell and antioxidant functioning.  We also secrete hormones such as growth hormone and melatonin and clear the build up of substances like adenosine.  Sleeping is also the key time for brain development and memory processing.

Although we still don’t know everything our bodies do while we are sleeping, we do know what happens when we don’t get enough sleep.  Lack of sleep can more than double the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.  It can also be a risk factor for weight gain, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.  Sleep difficulties are associated with depression, alcoholism and bipolar disorder.  Sleep deprivation affects judgment, mood, ability to learn and retain information and increases the risk of accidents and injury.  When sleep deprived our white blood cell count decreases.  In a study, animals deprived entirely of sleep lost all immune function and died within weeks.  Sleep problems have even been associated to digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel and Crohn’s disease.

So what is enough sleep? One study found that people who sleep six to seven hours each night live the longest.  But this is only if people wake naturally instead of with an alarm clock.  It is generally accepted that you have had enough sleep if you have no periods of tiredness through the day.

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If you suffer from sleep problems the first thing to start with is to look at your sleep hygiene.

  • Keep the TV, computer, tablet, phone, anything with a bright screen out of the bedroom.  Artificial light can shift your circadian rhythm.
  • Sleep in complete darkness.  Even a little light can stop the creation of sleep hormones such as melatonin.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea or energy drinks after noon.  Some people can take as long as 18 hours to clear caffeine from their system so should not drink it at all.  Check out my blog article on caffeine for more information about its effects.
  • Try using an alarm clock with sleep stage monitoring.  This monitors what stage of sleep you are in so you are woken during a lighter sleep rather then a deep sleep.
  • Avoid alcohol.  Although this will initially aid going to sleep it gives a worse quality sleep and you can wake in the night.
  • Most sources say a routine is very important.  Counter to this is the theory that you should only go to bed when you are tired.  Try both and see what works best for you.
  • And last but certainly not least, exercise and diet. Regular exercise and a healthy diet will improve your sleep along with most other ailments.  Check out my blog article about exercise to learn more about how much we need.

If you are still having problems with your sleep some supplements may be helpful in the short term, but talk to your naturopath before trying anything.  Happy sleeping!

 

References

Ferrie JE, Shipley MJ, Cappuccio FP, Brunner E, et al. A prospective study of change in sleep duration: associations with mortality in the Whitehall II cohort. Sleep 30 (12): 1659–66.

Harvard Medical School: Healthy Sleep

http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits‐of‐sleep/why‐do‐ we‐sleep

Thase M. Depression and sleep: pathophysiology and treatment. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience 8 (2): 217–226.

Rowland R. “Experts challenge study linking sleep, life span”. CNN.

What’s the deal with fibre?

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Fibre is a carbohydrate that is neither digested nor absorbed in the small intestine. High fibre diets are associated with lower cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer as well as improved cholesterol, irritable bowel disease, uptake of calcium, Mg and iron, and lower body weight. Fibre also helps us to feel full and improves our immune function. It reduces the prevalence and duration of infectious diarrhea and antibiotic use in children. Adequate fibre intake is also needed to prevent constipation.

I often write about the importance of our gut bacteria, or microbiome, and how dysbiosis of these bacteria is associated with many different health problems including weight gain, inflammation and depression. Fibre is what these bacteria need to grow. But different bacteria like to eat different types of fibre so to have a diverse microbiome it is important to eat a variety of high fibre foods. If these good bacteria don’t have enough food in the form of fibre, they may turn to eating the mucous lining of the gut causing chronic inflammation.

Increasing your fibre intake will have an effect on your gut bacteria within a few weeks, but fibre needs to be eaten every day. Bacteria don’t like being starved for even a day. And if you stop eating enough fibre, the gut bacteria will decrease again.

Studies show that gut bacteria decrease over generations of low fibre diets. So if you, your children, and your grandchildren all don’t eat enough fibre, you can actually wipe out entire species of bacteria. This leads to an increased risk for all the diseases associated with gut dysbiosis that I have previously discussed. And even if your great-grandchildren eat a super healthy diet with lots of fibre, they cannot increase the number of bacteria of a species that isn’t there to start with.

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Some fibre foods that are great for specific health promoting bacteria are leeks, asparagus, chicory, Jerusalem artichokes, garlic, onions, wheat, oats, and soybeans. Other foods that are high in fibre include whole grains, legumes, fresh fruit, vegetables, and dried fruits.

Most people consume about 15g of fibre per day, but this is not enough to promote health. Fibre intake should be at least 25g/day.  This really isn’t hard to do. If you have muesli with almonds, sunflower seeds, sultanas and dried apple for breakfast, an apple for morning tea, a sandwich with 2 slices of wholegrain bread for lunch, a pear for a snack, and include brown rice and some carrots for dinner you will have consumed 26g of fibre.  Too easy!

When looking to increase the fibre in your diet, try to avoid white foods. Have sweet potato instead of white potato, brown rice instead of white (it tastes better anyway) and wholegrain bread instead of white bread. Increase your fibre intake slowly until you are getting at least 25g per day.

Start increasing your fibre intake today! Your gut bacteria will thank you (and so will future generations).

Check out my Healthy Heathcote 90-Day Challenge video about fibre here: