Category Archives: Vitamins and Minerals

Debating Titanium Dioxide

Element Titanium

Sometime ago, a young woman came into the supplement store looking for a titanium dioxide free iron supplement. She began telling me about the research on this ingredient and the reports that it was carcinogenic. She then went on to ask why a vitamin maker would use a whitening agent only to then turn around and dye the supplement another color. The absurdity behind this process was so conspicuous; I admittedly felt a little dumbfounded. I honestly had no answer for her other than the possibility of market research leading manufacturers to believe we consumers prefer pretty colored pills to naturally hued, and whitening a substance’s natural color probably allowed another color to take better. We both had to tilt our heads and roll our eyes as the words tumbled out and over themselves, but in that moment I decided to look into the meat of the issue and find out the deal with TD.

From the research I’ve read so far, much of the studies done on the carcinogenicity of titanium dioxide have been performed on rats, not unusual, and with powdered TD. Many of these studies did find that prolonged and excessive – six hours per day, five days per week, for two years- exposure of lab rats to TD dust did result in lung tumor development. And some of these studies did acknowledge the marked difference between the ways the body of a rat processes powders and dust particles in comparison to those of larger mammals like primates and humans. There are also studies, dating as far back as the 1960’s and conducted on larger mammals and humans, that tested the amounts of titanium dioxide present in the body after ingesting the substance through the diet over extended periods of time. These studies stated that no detectable amounts of TD were found in the urine, blood, kidneys or liver, giving way to the determination that dietary consumption of titanium dioxide did not lead to its absorption and thus accumulation within the human body.

So, surprise surprise, it’s a mixed bag. Findings like these enable the FDA to deem it safe for use and consumption. And boy oh boy is it used.

If you’ve become the diligent ingredient label reader I’ve encouraged, then you know what I’m talking about. TD can be found in everything from our multi colored multi vitamins to our body lotions and cosmetics. And because it occurs naturally in several minerals, it is widely used in mineral based make-up, especially the powdered foundations, bronzers, eye shadows and blushes.

So are there any benefits? Probably the more pointed question is whether the substance serves any function, has any use?

Titanium dioxide results from oxygenation of the widely present element titanium. Its strength and resistance to breakdown, along with its pigmentation make it a successful thickening and whitening agent for a variety of products like paints, inks, pills, toothpastes, cosmetics, foods and beverages. In addition, it is an able ultra violet light absorber and thus popular component of sunscreens and blocks. But is it truly, ultimately safe; and if so, then why the fuss?

Titanium_Dioxide_43Well it turns out that the nano-sized, ultra small particle form of TD is of concern to researchers. And many of them view the synthesized state as the real threat because this form is more susceptible to collisions/reactions with other particles and can potentially infiltrate otherwise protected areas of the body. It is these traits that make for an unpredictable agent with unforeseeable consequences, and thus no definitive answer to the question of long term safety.

Given the particular concern being powdered titanium dioxide and its impact on our lungs, the greater danger may be in our exposure to the inhalable forms and not the ingestible. Only time will tell for sure, but it is certainly our prerogative to play it safe. These manufacturers may provide some effective alternatives to their TD containing counterparts.

For titanium dioxide free mineral cosmetics: http://www.rejuvaminerals.com/store/titanium.html
For nanoparticle free sunscreens and blocks: http://mexitan.com/

As for ingestible products containing titanium dioxide, opting for clear veggie gel capped supplements or color free pills and tablets is a relatively easy adjustment. New Chapter, NOW and Source Naturals all offer TD free vitamin and mineral options in their supplement lines. Finding a medication that is free of titanium dioxide is probably more challenging; but when faced with the need for immediate care, healing in the now naturally takes priority over questions of future challenges. For those needing to take medications over an extended period of time, there should be no hesitation in asking about any additional ingredients or additives that cause concern. Let us remember that these are our bodies, nourished by our minds and without peace of that mind, health cannot truly be obtained.

Until next time…

Be Informed, Be Selective

BeWell

Sources

http://ezinearticles.com/?Titanium-Dioxide:-Toxic-or-Safe?&id=34675

http://www.eoearth.org/article/Nanoparticles

http://www.gcsescience.com/a37-nano-science-nanoparticles.htm

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Feeling Shot ByYour Energy Drink?

In recent news, reports have emerged of deaths attributed to energy shots like 5 Hour Energy, and I recently read a report that drinking more than three energy drinks per day may increase the risk of stroke and other life threatening incidents. Though it is hard to fully quantify these claims without knowing the specifics of lifestyle, family history and pre-existing health issues, it is by no means hard to believe them possible having spent years reading and researching the ingredient labels of these performance enhancers. Add to that my own personal trial usage and the claims become completely plausible. But, distinguishing the true culprit from the sometimes lengthy list of suspects is another task all together.

Caffeine and B-vitamins, energizer staples, are in and of themselves hardly hazardous in moderation. Even at their upper limits, the side effects are more easily managed and the possible damage more capable of being repaired and reversed. However when the formulators fall victim to temptation and start tossing in layers upon layers of herbs, amino acids and other ancillary nutrients, watch back! The resulting potions can be potent and seductive when we discover what we can do faster, better and longer with their assistance. I know you recall my declaration of brain buzz indulgence, and I know I am not alone. Life is demanding and the more focused and energized we are, the more confident and capable we feel. So, what’s the harm in drinking a shot or two of these enhancers, right? It’s not like they’re drugs, right? And therein lays the real question being asked by scientists and researchers. Their specific target of focus is the amino acid taurine.

Taurine is a free form amino acid naturally and easily obtained from foods like fish, meat, dairy milk, eggs and even seaweed. With the help of vitamin B6, taurine is also manufactured by the body from other amino acids cysteine and methionine. A safe daily dose of taurine is between 100 and 500 mgs per day and offers health benefits to the brain, eyes and central nervous system. Unfortunately, the amounts found in your typical energy drink can be twice this amount. Possibly even more concerning is that these drinks usually contain synthetic taurine and that combined with the large dosages can have effects on the brain and body similar to those of illicit drugs, causing an unnatural and extreme stimulation of the central nervous system followed by a hard melancholic crash in energy.

Increased blood pressure, disturbances in sleep cycles, moodiness and irritability, seizures, heart palpitations, and manic episodes are some of the reported and observed side effects of excessive taurine intake. The list only grows longer and more dangerous when use of this ingredient is combined with anabolic steroids or alcohol, as in the Red Bull & Vodka cocktail. Consequently, Switzerland and other countries are leading the way and banning taurine containing energy drinks. Although the US FDA doesn’t appear to be firmly decided, it is publicizing consumer reports of adverse reactions to the substance and my advice is to take heed. This does not necessarily mean stopping supplemental use all together, but perhaps pulling back.

  • Start reading the ingredient labels of the sports and energy drinks, checking for the amounts of taurine and caffeine as well as the number of servings in the bottle or can.
  •  Beware of the words “proprietary blend” and note that the ingredients listed first on that list are the most abundant ones.
  • Decrease daily intakes by half, reduce days of use to two per week, and take full breaks from use every four to six weeks.
  • Increase dietary intake of natural taurine according to your lifestyle and eating habits.
  • Increase the body’s production of taurine by making sure that vitamin B6 is also present in the diet.

Most importantly, tune in to your body’s reaction to these drinks pre, during and post use; and be honest with yourself regarding observations of side effects like unpleasant physical sensations, mood swings, energy fluctuations and even your own cravings for the drinks. It’s all relevant and we are all responsible. A friend of mine recently shared his professor’s view on the supplement industry as the “Wild Wild West” and there’s a lot of truth in that. So, I’ll be keeping that in mind as I venture. Til next time, be aware, be wise and…

BeWell

Resources

Break Studios, Evelyn De Matias

http://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/dangers-of-taurine/

http://www.naturalnews.com/025148_taurine_benefits_body.html

Some Supplement Combos to Avoid

Recently I was asked to clarify which herbs could not be safely combined with other supplements. I thought, “sure, no problem,” knowing that there are literally hundreds of thousands of different herbs with countless compounds, properties and actions warranting another encyclopedia set’s worth of break down. And then it occurred to me that it would be of more benefit to just list some resources that I’ve relied upon to help me sift through the herbal options and determine the appropriate combinations to supplement.

Cover of "Prescription for Nutritional He...
Cover via Amazon

My most frequent go to are the books A Prescription for Nutritional Healing by Phyllis A. Balch and Staying Healthy with Nutrition, published by Celestial Arts Publishing. The first provides both quick reference lists of select herbs and more detailed supplement recommendations for various conditions. Staying Healthy…is an A-Z guide of all vitamins and minerals plus a breakdown of different diets with suggested appropriate recipes. For a list of medications and their corresponding restrictions the Physicians’ Desk Reference is a must have, but make sure you are referring to the most updated edition as the pharmaceutical world is an ever-changing one.

As said before, a full list of supplemental conflicts could very well absorb your computer’s memory stores. Let me be clear though, not because they’re so many conflicts, just that many supplements. Generally speaking, herbs, vitamins, minerals and their active compounds are safe when used properly. But when used outside of their recommended dosages and durations, some issues can arise. And more often, these issues are not at all the same types of risks associated with the misuse of prescription drugs. Usually any risks associated with natural substances fall within the following categories:

  • Interference with the absorption of other vital nutrients
  • Development of allergic reactions due to over use and/or too prolonged use
  • Competition with, interference with, or duplication of the actions of other supplements or medications

Below is a brief list of common herbs, courtesy of A Prescription for Nutritional Healing, along with some corresponding condition, supplement, and medication combinations to avoid.

Astragalus fever (condition)
Burdock iron (supplement)
Chamomile other sedatives (medications)
Damiana iron
Dandelion diuretics (medications)
Don Quai diabetes (condition)
Echinacea auto immune disorders (condition)-for   prolonged periods of time
Ephedra anxiety, diabetes, glaucoma, heart disease, hypertension, thyroid   disease (conditions);monoamine oxidase (MAO) inhibitor drugs
Fever Few blood thinners, pain killers (medications)
Garlic anticoagulants (medications)
Ginger anticoagulants
Ginkgo blood thinners, pain killers
Ginseng asthma, heart disorders, high blood pressure, hypoglycemia, insomnia   (conditions)
Hops antidepressants (medications)
Horsetail vitamin B1-Thiamine
Juniper iron and other minerals
Kava Kava alcohol, anti-anxiety, antidepressants (conditions and medications)
Lady’s Mantle iron and other minerals
Peppermint iron
Uva Ursi pregnancy (condition)

Though the above should certainly not be used as a means of self medicating, it can make designing an appropriate and supportive nutritional supplement program a bit easier. Let your physician and health care professionals do the heavy lifting but take some time to do a little extra fact checking on your own.

Until next time…BeWell

Fertile Ground-Love for the Ladies

Hanging with my girls at a recent BBQ, the topic of female fertility came up. As we marveled at a 50+ woman who looked decades younger we segued into the progress that has been made in the anti-aging industries and pondered what a relief it would be if we could preserve our reproductive health as gracefully as we potentially can our beauty. As thirty something women, no matter how accomplished or professionally focused we may be, it can be very hard to avoid what my friend calls the “no baby crazies”. And though we may not be ready at this very moment those proverbial biological ticks can, at times, dong as loudly as the liberty bell, trample over an otherwise relaxed encounter and bear down on a blossoming relationship like a souped up Mack truck.

Now I know the world of nutritional healing has both its share of long guarded secret recipes as well as new and innovative approaches to slow the aging process, so I immediately focused my hunt on if and how we women could preserve our creative capabilities. Certainly the overall state of our reproductive health has to be analyzed first. Our bodies are beyond complex and so many factors come into play when making that determination. But, as that is literally an encyclopedia set’s worth of information, we will start with the assumption of an already healthy and fertile system.

Laying the Foundation

A diet rich in anti-oxidant foods and supplements is extremely important to overall reproductive health. These nutrients counteract potentially damaging effects of environmental and metabolic toxins. Protective super-foods like vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables along with anti-inflammatory essential fatty acids and the absence of risky habits like cigarette smoking and heavy alcohol consumption (more than 1-2 drinks/day, 3-4 days/week) definitely provide ongoing nourishment to an already healthy system. Additionally, certain vitamins and minerals are especially significant to women.

B6 is believed to both regulate and extend the length of a woman’s Luteal Phase. The Luteal Phase is the portion of the menstrual cycle beginning the last day of ovulation and continuing through the first day of menstruation. The results are the formation of corpus luteum and the secretion of the progesterone hormone. The progesterone hormone prepares the uterine lining for implantation of the fertilized egg and helps to sustain that egg through the first trimester of pregnancy. Consequently, a healthy Luteal Phase is critical to both conception and full term pregnancy. 300 mg/day of B6 is a good supplemental amount; and as vitamin B6 is water-soluble (any unused amounts are excreted by the body) a sustained release version is preferred over the quicker forms.

Getting a Head Start

I’ve previously written about the importance of a good multi-vitamin supplement and that could not be truer than for those looking to conceive in the near or far future. Many health professionals recommend taking pre-natal vitamins in place of generic formulations to get more targeted nutritional support that provides appropriate amounts of those nutrients critical to both an expecting mother and her growing child. The prenatal vitamins will have at least 400 mcgs of folic acid to insure the full development of the baby’s brain and spinal cord and more modest amounts of vitamin A to protect against the birth defects that have been linked to the excessive intake of this vitamin.

Another extremely important nutrient to the baby’s brain formation and functioning is docosahexaenoic acid or DHA. This component of omega 3 fatty acid is obtained from cold water fish such as wild salmon, tuna and mackerel. Due to the risk associated with ingesting high levels of mercury when consuming large amounts of seafood, supplementing 300 mg of purified DHA per day may be the safest way to obtain adequate amounts of the nutrient.  Some prenatal multi-vitamins now also include DHA in their formulation.

Herbs for Her

It’s no surprise that my hunt uncovered two commonly used tonic herbs, Vitex or Chaste Tree Berry and Don Quai. Each of these has a long history of use by women to tone the reproductive organs and regulate hormonal activity. Consequently, both herbs are frequently recommended for female conditions ranging from PMS and menstrual irregularities to post partum care and menopause.

Studies on Vitex have revealed its ability to positively act upon the pituitary gland and thereby increase the duration of the Luteal Phase and resulting luteinizing hormone production and progesterone secretion. Did I mention we women were operating some complex machinery? In the simplest of terms, it can help enhance the processes and hormones that enable and sustain pregnancy while decreasing those that prevent it. Vitex should not be taken alongside fertility drugs and should not be used while pregnant. I currently take 400 mg/day and find it very helpful in regulating my cycle and soothing some of the discomfort experienced towards its end.

Don Quai or the so-called “female’s ginseng” has been used for centuries by traditional Chinese doctors to promote overall reproductive health and vitality, increase sexual desire and enhance energy. However, it contains certain compounds that act as estrogen does and may consequently increase risk levels and complications with estrogen related ailments like uterine fibroids, endometriosis and cancers of the reproductive system. Don Quai also contains the volatile oil safrole that may be cancer causing when taken for long periods of time. Therefore, it is safest to take a whole herb supplement or crude extraction instead of a highly processed and concentrated blend of the herb’s active chemicals. Crude preparations tend to keep a more volatile herb safe by maintaining the various compounds in proper proportion to one another, naturally protecting the consumers from danger. Studies have confirmed 3-15 grams/day of the crude herbal extract to be safe. I have personally experienced significant improvements from taking a daily 550 mg dose of the whole herb in capsule form. But because I do suffer with fibroids and adenomyosis, and have seen improvements in the latter condition, I will continue my supplementation at the lower level.

Like Vitex, Don Quai should not be combined with other fertility drugs and should not be taken by women who are already pregnant or nursing. Additionally, Don Quai contains the chemical coumarin that shortens blood clotting times and should therefore not be combined with aspirin or other blood thinning medications. My experience has also lead me to think that Don Quai has the potential to increase menstrual flow and should therefore be suspended in the days leading up to and on through a woman’s period. Both herbs are considered very safe when used as directed by the manufacturer or health care practitioner.

As I close out, I can actually feel my no baby crazies cooling down. Although I believe our bodies definitely do have a mind of their own, I also have faith in nature’s bounty, and think with her wisdom and our thoughtful application anything is possible. The following article may also be helpful.

http://www.conceiveonline.com/articles/pros-and-cons-fertility-supplements

Let’s keep caring for ourselves ladies! Until next time…

BeWell   

Sources:

Balch,Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healings. New York: Avery of
Penguin Putnam Inc, 2002.

http://thefertilityshop.com/fertility_herbs_vitamins.htm

Side Stepping the Stroke Slope

Stroke- “the interruption of blood flow to the brain”*– can result in conditions as correctable as slurred speech to those as irreversible as paralysis and, sadly, death. Not all strokes are alike in cause. The less common hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding within the brain and the more common ischemic stroke is caused by clotting within a vessel supplying blood to the brain or by a clot that has traveled from another part of the body to the brain.

Though not applicable to all sufferers, there is an ever-growing theory that, though seemingly an unpredictable occurrence, the likelihood of a stroke can be predetermined from a list of five causative conditions. This group, called “Syndrome X” or the “Metabolic Syndrome”, consists of five hazardous health characteristics-abdominal obesity, high blood sugar, high triglycerides levels, high blood pressure, and low high density lipoprotein (HDL) levels. When we find ourselves struggling with any three of the five, we in turn find ourselves teetering along the edge of a very slippery slope.

The below chart lists each individual risk with methods of preventing its onset and, if necessary, improving the already existing condition.

Abdominal Obesity
Prevention:

  • Include   adaptogenic herbs like Rhodiola to reduce cortisol production
  • Walk,   run, swim, cycle and/or dance 3-5 times/week for 20-45 minutes to maintain   healthy overall body fat percentage.
  • Increase   the amount of Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), decrease saturated fats, and avoid   trans fats in the diet.
Improvement:

  • High –linoleic Safflower oil increases the belly fat   hormone adiponectin that increases both fatty acid breakdown and blood   glucose regulation.
  • CLA, conjugated linoleic acid helps the body break down fatty –   acids that would otherwise be stored by the body.
  • L-Carnitine helps bodies utilize stored fat for energy.
High Blood Sugar
Prevention:

  • Choose   foods on the lower end of the Glycemic Index.
  • Limit   the consumption of simple carbohydrates and sugars.
  • Try   sweetening with natural sugar alternatives like agave nectar and stevia.
Improvement:

  • Include   the mineral Chromium Picolinate and   the herbs Bitter Melon and Cinnamon to   help the body better metabolize sugars and maintain blood sugar balance.
  • Help reduce sugar cravings with Gymnema Sylvestre.
High Blood Pressure
Prevention:

  • Incorporate   stress management techniques such as physical and/or intellectual exercise,   yoga, meditation or prayer.
  • Maintain   proper electrolyte (sodium, potassium, magnesium) balance within the body.
  • Reduce   dietary intakes of fried, fast and processed foods.
Improvement:

  • Grapeseed extract helps the body maintain healthy blood   pressure levels.
  • Pycnogenol helps to strengthen blood vessel integrity.
High Triglyceride Levels
Prevention:

  • Avoid   overeating, especially late at night when we’re less active.
  • Reduce   intakes of alcoholic beverages.
  • Maintain   a diet low in sugar and fat.
Improvement:

  • Treat   inflammatory ailments with non-steroidal and non-diuretic medications when   possible.
  • If   overweight, reduce bodyweight by as little as 5-10 lbs to help lower   triglyceride levels.
  • Eliminate   cigarette smoking.
High LDL and/or Low HDL Cholesterol  
Prevention:

  • Choose   foods low in cholesterol and unhealthy fat.
  • Include   fiber containing foods in the diet.
  • Increase   HDL levels by keeping moderate aerobic exercise in your life.
Improvement:

  • Phytosterols, plant sterols, compete with less healthy   animal sterols for absorption and thereby help lower total cholesterol   levels.
  • Policosanol, derived from sugar cane, has shown promise   in lowering LDL while increasing HDL levels.

Not at all surprising are the above recurring themes- getting regular exercise, eating a diet low in sugars, simple carbs and unhealthy fats, limiting alcohol and cigarette smoking, and adding stress management techniques to our daily lives. These lifestyle adjustments are at the core of most preventive plans and, in spite of their consistent need for attention, are not that hard to accomplish. My suggested starting place and current mission is the ever elusive concept of stress management. In my observation and experience, so many bad habits begin with the attempt to cope with our lives’ loads of stress. Whether we opt for the high fueled emotional rant, extreme veg out or over indulge in our spirited, sweet, rich and creamy cravings, it’s all in a desperate effort to overcome what can seem an insurmountable mound of worry- to do’s, to have’s, to be’s. This necessary adjustment has led me back to some age-old adages like doing what feels good for activity and exercise, seeking the middle ground with food and alcohol, and fighting the feeling in emotionally toxic scenarios. With no panacea to turn to, it’s a daily endeavor that’s sometimes only attainable through minute by minute milestones; but I’m beginning to believe that when faced with life’s most trying times, when missteps and bad choices can force us out of the game, slow and steady really does win the race. With that in mind…

Be aware of where you stand, be willing to move and as always, BeWell

*Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healings. New York: Avery of Penguin Putnam Inc, 2002.

A Few Spring Forget Me Not’s

Though Mother Nature has seemingly been a bit torn between seasons here in New York, this week is looking to be more on the side of Spring, and today perhaps Summer, than Winter. Of course there may be an abrupt change of heart in future forecasts; but why not step in time with this moment, revisit some necessary to-do’s, and take a look at this season’s treasures.

1.       Cleanse

I know by now you are fully aware that cleansing is my top of the list recommendation during a change in season. And though I don’t advocate cleansing as a weight loss tactic, I’ll briefly jump on that bandwagon and point out some aesthetic benefits of the cleansing process:

  • It’s a great way to clean the slate and start a new eating plan or diet.
  • It often leaves the tummy noticeably flatter due to the removal of all that un-digested, let’s just call it “matter”, in the intestinal tract.
  • The eyes have been known to brighten and the skin to glow after cleansing.

2.       Replenish Your Allergy Kit

Truth is allergy sufferers have really not gotten a break since last Summer’s A season began. Remember that the warmer winter ushered in an early bloom of several flowers and plants; and my understanding is that we should buckle in for a long haul because those bloomers will not be shortening their stay to account for the early arrival. Just in case you’ve forgotten your natural anti-histamine options:

  • MSM (methylsulfonylmethane), found in seafood, meats and fresh fruit, has antihistamine capabilities that rival those of over the counter allergy meds. Taking 1000mg twice a day has helped me to sneeze and cough less over these last few weeks.
  • Honey, especially the locally harvested, increases your tolerance for the pollen floating through the air and can bring quick relief from allergy symptoms. A tablespoon or two taken at the first sign of a reaction should do the trick.

3.       Delight in Spring Fruits and Veggies

Eating with the season helps us to rotate foods and that not only keeps our diets fresh and diverse, but also helps prevent the development of food allergies. Nutritionally speaking, these spring treats have what it takes to keep us both strong and beautiful.

  • Beets are definitely a rooter to the tooter powerhouse. The green leafy tops are rich in fiber, Vitamin A, and other age defying anti-oxidants. The vegetable’s roots are not only highly regarded for their rich Iron and Vitamin C content; but they also contain the phytochemical Glycine Betaine that counteracts plaque promoting homocysteine and thus helps protect us from stroke and coronary heart disease. Eating beets raw or lightly cooked guarantees the fullest dose of nutrients.
  • Asparagus are definitely among the under-appreciated members of the vegetable family. Hopefully that ceases right here and now as they are excellent sources of several nutrients and therefore offer multiple health benefits. Asparagus contain significant amounts of folates, important to DNA synthesis, and are thus highly beneficial to expectant mothers. They are also rich in B- Vitamins and thereby capable of enhancing both metabolic function and energy production. Another understated asparagus gem is their Vitamin K content; one serving offers 35% of the recommended daily amount. Vitamin K helps our blood to clot, bonds calcium to our bones and may reduce our bodies’ susceptibility to bruising.
  • As delicious as they are, berries usually need no amen corner to boast their benefits. The commonly adored strawberry is not only low on the glycemic index, as all berries tend to be, it is also packed with antioxidants like Vitamin C and critical minerals like Potassium and Magnesium. And due in part to those assets, this celebrity berry is great for joint health. Apparently the high antioxidant content helps keep many arthritis and gout symptoms at bay. Making fighting degeneration, maintaining healthy joint fluid, and preventing toxic build-up all strengths of the strawberry.
  • Few may regard the apricot as the secret beauty weapon it is but that doesn’t change its worthiness of praise. Among many other nutrients, apricots happen to contain more beta- carotene than almost any other fruit. Beta-carotene is one naturally occurring, highly pigmented compound our bodies can use to make the biologically active Vitamin A. Vitamin A is a potent antioxidant associated with preventing premature aging of the eyes and skin. Additionally, apricots are high in fiber and consequently protective to the digestive tract, helping to ward off conditions such as constipation, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and diverticulosis. Enjoy apricots fresh, canned or dried without sulfur dioxide as its use has been linked to various health issues.

4.       Last But Not Least

Make time to feel the sun and smell the flowers. Tis the season of renewal and sometimes a moment of rebirth can be achieved by simply standing and savoring the day before us. Until next time, take a moment…

Be Still and BeWell

Sources

http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/beets.html

http://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/health-benefits-of-strawberry.html

http://apricotfacts.com/apricots/Health+Benefits+of+Apricots/

Meet the Mac, A Guy and Girl’s Best Friend

In my quest for truly effective energy enhancers that don’t overheat, over stimulate or become habit-forming to the system I happened upon Maca Root, or Lepidium Meyenii for the truly technical speakers. Now I’d passed this herb over several times because of its prevalence in men’s health and performance products; but it recently pulled me in after multiple female customers came in requesting it. So, I decided to give it a try. Let’s meet the Mac.

This herb hails from the Peruvian and Bolivian rainforests of the Andes Mountains. It is in fact a diet staple of those native to this region. Similar in size to a turnip, the Maca is a cruciferous root vegetable belonging to the potato family. It is able to grow in very cold harsh conditions where few others can survive, including potentially contaminating pests, which allows for a mostly organic cultivation of the plant.

The Reputation

Rumored to be the pregame fuel of the ancient Inca warriors, the root of the Maca plant is indicated for enhancements in strength, endurance, virility, sexual appetite and immunity. The roots are prepared as other vegetables of the kind-roasted, baked and/ or boiled, mashed and blended into porridge, but rarely if ever eaten raw. The leaves, less medicinally revered, can be eaten as a raw salad or cooked green. There are yellow, red, purple and black hued variations of the Maca, but the yellow seems to be the preferred food and the black may be the most healthful for the male reproductive system. All are apparently used to make Maca supplements.

Why it Works

The Maca’s reputation as a super herb is by no means unwarranted. For, its contents meet the majority of our nutritional needs. Richly diverse, it is a high carbohydrate food that still contains protein and approximately 20 different amino acids. It also houses some health benefitting fatty acids like linolenic, palmitic and oleic oils. And the vitamin and mineral contents surely contribute to its potency:

Lepidium meyenii maca
Image via Wikipedia

Energizing B Vitamins 1, 2 and 12

Blood building Iron and Copper

Bone nurturing Calcium, Magnesium and Phosphorous

Thyroid aiding Iodine

Immune Boosting Vitamins C and E with minerals Zinc and Selenium

Maca root also contains phytochemicals like tannins, saponin, beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol. Tannins are thought to help protect the body against viruses, infections and parasites. Saponins have shown the ability to help nutrients penetrate our bodies’ cellular walls, and beta-sitosterol is a type of plant cholesterol that helps reduce the bodies’ absorption of the less healthy animal based sterols. Stigmasterol, also a phytosterol, benefits us in the same way and is used by the body to make estrogen, testosterone and natural steroid type hormones that counteract inflammation and stress. All of these components combine to create an herb that is fully beneficial to both the ladies and gents.

What it Helps Most

Females                               Males                                    Both Genders

Anemia                                  Decreased virility                    Depleted energy

Menstrual issues                     Low sperm count & motility     Immune deficiency

Menopausal symptoms            Impotence                             Chronic Fatigue

Supplemental FYI

Maca powders are made from both the raw and dried roots. These are available for use in drink and smoothie mixtures, teas, capsules and liquid extracts.

Dosages may range from 100mg per serving for the pure powder to 500mg per serving for the encapsulated versions. Maca Root can be supplemented alone or formulated with other herbs and nutrients for specific health benefits. Always use a product as directed by the manufacturer’s label.

Current research indicates that supplemental Maca is generally safe; however, pregnant and nursing women are advised to consult with their physician beforehand for clearance. And anyone taking pharmaceutical meds should also speak with their doctor about possible negative interactions or interference with their prescriptions.

I’ve only been taking Maca Root capsules for a short time, but so far my experience has been good. I’m anemic, which is what really caught my eye with this herb, and it has made a positive difference in my overall energy levels and, therefore, mood. Many of my more mature female customers swear by it for hot flashes and hormonal balance. It is not a stimulant in the usual sense, so don’t expect to feel that caffeine like rush. The energy is more sustained and results in me feeling less worn through the day. If you’d like to give it a whirl, the following link has some great information and supplement options. Maca Root can also be purchased from your general health food and vitamin stores. Enjoy the new-found vigor! And until next week…

Be Happy, Be Strong and BeWell

Resources

http://www.wholeworldbotanicals.com/best-maca-root-product

http://www.ams.usda.gov/

Sources

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lepidium_meyenii

Balch, Phyllis A. A Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY, NY. The Penguin Group

Holding Back the Years

Don’t know about you, but I fully intend to be CUTE when I’m 90, cute, spry and agile! Perhaps because I’ve been blessed with more than a couple 90 plus friends who’ve shown me what we have to look forward to; or because I have faith in the human body’s ability to achieve a long life when properly cared for.

True, there are many unavoidable consequences of aging- reduced production of vital bodily chemicals, resulting in the probable decline of things such as bone density, joint flexibility, metabolic efficiency and physical resilience, to name a few. But we are not powerless to affect change in the aging process. In fact much can be done to slow and even offset these effects. Accepting the need to change our ways with the times, maintaining healthy diet and exercise habits, keeping our vices in check, and staying abreast of our states of health are all at the top of the list. And for many, a particular class of nutrients has nestled right beneath. The OPCs-oligomeric proanthocyanidans. What a mouthful! Thank goodness for the abbreviation.

OPCs are a sub-group of the powerfully antioxidant, organic chemicals called flavonoids. They have more than 50 times the potency of Vitamin E and 20 times that of Vitamin C. This is partly due to their high level of bioavailability, short fancy speak for the physiological availability of a nutrient. They are natural substances that can be found in many foods, primarily plant-based ones. The body absorbs them quickly because of their water-soluble nature.

OPCs also work with the body’s intrinsic antioxidants like glutathione to regenerate other essential nutrients like Vitamin C and Vitamin E. Uniquely, OPC’s are able to cross the blood brain barrier and thus directly impact the health of the brain and nervous system, protecting them from damaging free radicals:

“An atom or group of atoms that contain at least one unpaired electron… If an electron is unpaired, another atom or molecule can easily bond with it, causing a chemical reaction.”*

Because necessary biological processes occur from chemical reactions, free radicals are not the bad guys. But one does go on to produce another, and so on; and like all things, too many of them can create a dangerous environment, especially for our cells.

“…antioxidants neutralize free radicals by binding to their free electrons…by destroying free radicals, antioxidants help to detoxify and protect the body.”*

Additionally OPCs act as anti-inflammatorys by reducing the body’s production of histamine; anti-aging agents by repairing and strengthening the body’s connective tissues (joints, ligaments, tendons, etc.) and cardiovascular system; and immune enhancers by inhibiting certain viruses. Two of the most potent OPCs are Pycnogenol and grape seed extract.

The French Fountain of Youth

Pycnogenol is the trademarked name for an extract of the bark from the French coastal Maritime Pine Tree. It is especially beneficial to circulatory health, helping to strengthen blood vessel integrity. Maintaining healthy, strong blood vessels helps to keep the blood and therefore oxygen flowing freely to the heart.  Along with those health benefits, the side bonuses can include reduced occurrence or appearance of varicose and spider veins and decreased darkness of bruises and skin discolorations.

Pycnogenol’s ability to enhance circulation also makes it useful for exercisers, both pre and post. The additional blood and oxygen fuel the muscles and prime them for longer bouts of activity, and the antioxidant regenerating capabilities help the body recover from the oxidative stress created by more intense and longer duration activities.

Pycnogenol is unique because this pine bark extract is composed of such a high percentage, as much as 65-75%, of procyanidans (part of the antioxidant group known as proanthocyanidans). Procyanidins, as previously mentioned, are able to increase cellular levels of Vitamin C and E. They are also able to bond with collagen and thereby help maintain the elasticity of our skin, joints, hair and nails and the health of our bones, gums and teeth.

The Value in Vino

Fruits and vegetables, rich in vitamins, potas...
Image via Wikipedia

Grape seed extract, also a strong source of procyanidans, is pulled from various types of grapes, though it is thought that the wine-producing ones offer the greatest health benefits. Among other beneficial nutrients, grape seeds also contain the substance resveratrol.

Resveratrol is present in both the skin and seeds of wine-producing grapes. In scientific studies it has demonstrated cardio protective potential, decreasing LDL cholesterol (potentially artery clogging low- density lipoprotein) levels and preventing blood clots and blood vessel damage.

Resveratrol has been given credit for the low incidence of heart disease experienced by the French despite the relatively high consumption of rich and fatty foods and prevalence of cigarette smoking within their culture.

In addition to enhancing heart health, resveratrol also has its own reputation for enhancing physical beauty by helping the body renew damaged skin and worn muscle fibers.

Working OPCs into your Regimen

Pycnogenol and grape seed extract are not the only OPC containing foods. Procyanidans can also be found in apples (the highest amounts in Red Delicious and Granny Smiths), cinnamon, cocoa beans, green tea, bilberries, cranberries, black currants and acai oil pressed from the fruits of the acai palm. Resveratrol is present in peanuts (sprouted nuts yield higher amounts), blueberries and cocoa powder among other foods. Adding these foods to your diet is easy enough, but if you’d rather supplement the nutrients there are many ways to do so.

Now Foods Pycnogenol 30 MG 150 Caps Resveratrol 200 (120 tablet) by Source Naturals

Pycnogenol is available in capsule form, in a range of dosages. It is not inexpensive, so it’s totally appropriate to supplement it conservatively. For circulatory benefits and general wellness enhancement, I currently take one 30mg capsule before bed. Doses can be as high 200mg twice daily for assistance with muscular endurance and blood pressure reduction. But this should be advised by a physician or other qualified health care practitioner. Pycnogenol should not be taken by pregnant or nursing women or people taking immune-suppressing medications.

Grape seed extract and resveratrol are available in both capsule and liquid forms as well as chews and gummies. As these are not essential nutrients, there is no set recommended dosage. Like all supplemental nutrients, you want to look for the purest products that clearly state what percentage of that nutrient is contained in them. For both grape seed extract and resveratrol, that may be anywhere from 50mg to 500mg per serving. Some resveratrol studies have indicated that people in their 20’s can benefit from 100-200mg/day, with those in their 30’s safely supplementing  200-300 mg and people 40 years of age and older seeing the greatest results from the higher doses of 450-500mg/day. Currently there are no known adverse side effects, even in high daily doses. But, like Pynogenol, pregnant and nursing women should avoid supplementation until further research is available.

I think that’ll do for now folks. Be sure to make some time to take a load off, kick up your feet, and turn back the clock with a little indulgence.

Until Next Week, Be Wise and BeWell

*Balch, Phyllis A. A Prescription for Nutritional Healing. NY, NY. The Penguin Group

I Heart You: The Tale of Q & A

There are, no doubt, many nutrients that benefit the heart and cardiovascular system, the EPA component of omega 3 fatty acids and the grape seed extract of red wine to name a couple. But two crucial nutrients are especially worthy of attention, if not for the multi faceted support they actually provide, then to dispel the claims of what they’ve been rumored to do.

Coenzymes Q10 and A, Our Silent Helpers

First, what is a coenzyme? A substance that works with an enzyme to perform its function

And so, what is an enzyme? A protein that acts as a catalyst for a chemical action*

Our cardiovascular system is comprised of the heart, blood vessels and blood that carry nutrients through our bodies. A healthily functioning system relies upon many biological conditions and processes to properly perform its duties, including effective nutrient metabolism, sufficient energy production, and efficient circulation. And these are all aided by various enzymes of which Coenzyme Q 10 and Coenzyme A are the king and queen.

The King

Interestingly enough, the existence of Coenzyme Q10 was first reported in 1957, simultaneously, by two different scientists. One Dr. Frederick Crane of Wisconsin isolated it from the heart of a cow and another Professor Morton of England extracted it from the liver of a rat. It is from this widespread presence that CoQ10 gets part of its scientific name, ubiquinone. Partially from the word ubiquitous, meaning that it exists everywhere.

Ubiquinone, aka CoQ10, is made by the body and present in every nook and cranny. But, the majority of this nutrient’s reserves are found in the heart. CoQ10 is critically involved in the production of the primary cellular fuel adenosine triphosphate, or ATP for short. All cells depend on ATP to perform their duties; but the body only stores small amounts of ATP at any given time and thus has to constantly produce the substance. CoQ10 actually carries the necessary protons and electrons into the energy producing portion of the cells for ATP synthesis. There, CoQ10 is stored and used by that cell to perform its specific actions or functions. Inside the heart, this function is to circulate blood. So, without CoQ10 the heart could not perform because it would not have the energy to do so.

Additionally, CoQ10 helps the cells break down and utilize fats and cholesterol, aids circulation and thus the flow of oxygen to the heart, helps lower blood pressure and provides a potent anti-oxidant. The body converts CoQ10/ubiquinone to the active antioxidant compound ubiquinol. Ubiquinol is thought to be more adept than Vitamin E at protecting our hearts from oxidative damage.

Because the body’s ability to convert CoQ10 to ubiquinol declines with age, it is thought that supplementation of the ubiquinol form should begin in the 40’s and should definitely be included in the treatment program of those with histories of cardiovascular disease or heart attack. Most CoQ10 supplements are in the ubiquinone form and suitable for preventive purposes. The richest natural sources are oily fish like mackerel, salmon and sardines; but good amounts are also found in organ meats, peanuts, whole grains and spinach.

Many mental and physical performance enhancers now include CoQ10 because of its role in ATP production, but you shouldn’t expect to “feel” the power of ubiquinone as it doesn’t energize in the way that caffeine or sugar does. In fact, unless you are managing a cardiovascular or circulatory ailment you may not feel the work performed by this nutrient at all. The measure of its effectiveness may instead lie in what you won’t feel-unprotected and vulnerable to cardiovascular disease.

The Queen

Coenzyme A, aka CoA, has a few things in common with CoQ10. It too was first defined in the 1950’s and it is also present in all of the body’s cells. Coenzyme A works with CoQ10 to generate energy and metabolize fats; and it supports the adrenal glands’ production of stress managing hormones like cortisone. CoA also aids the body in the removal of toxins. It is believed to be the most active metabolic enzyme within the human body, acting as a catalyst to more than a hundred different chemical reactions.**

CoA is essential to our body’s processing and utilization of carbohydrates and fats. It helps the cells generate energy from glucose, and it carries fatty acids from the cell’s cytoplasm (the jelly like cellular filling) to the mitochondria (the cell’s energy production center). In this way, CoA actually starts the process of fatty acid metabolism and initiates the cell’s energy/ATP producing cycle.

Without Coenzyme A, approximately 90% of the body’s required energy would go unproduced, and consequently the processes fueled by this energy would go unfulfilled. This includes the work of the heart muscle, to which ATP greatly contributes. CoA thus becomes a cardio-protective nutrient through its role in ATP production and ATP’s role in increasing the heart muscle’s strength, density, energy and stamina.

United They Stand

Supplemental CoQ10 is available in a range of doses and can be taken in the powdered, liquid, gel, pill and even quick dissolving tab form; but the liquid and gel forms are thought to be best. Ubiquinone is better absorbed when taken with fatty foods, and the ubiquinol form is the most absorbable, consequently requiring much lighter dosages and smaller amounts.

30-50 mg/day of CoQ10 is appropriate for young healthy individuals, 50-200 mg is beneficial for heavy exercisers and middle-aged persons, and those with cardiovascular risks such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol may be prescribed doses as high as 400 mg/day. In most cases, CoQ10 can be taken along side cholesterol lowering statin medications without interference and can therefore help counteract the ubiquinone deficiency often caused by this class of drugs. Be selective when purchasing CoQ10 supplements; the purer the better and the color is a good gauge of this. The nutrient is naturally a bright yellow/orange color and virtually tasteless. Store the supplement in a dark cool place for safe keeping.

CoA is produced from Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid) so sufficient levels of this nutrient must be maintained in order to insure CoA levels are adequate. A 50-100 mg/day dose should do the trick. Coincidentally, pantothenic is derived from the Greek word pantos which means “everywhere” and refers to its abundant presence in foods. Sound familiar? It even has some food sources in common with CoQ10- organ meats, whole grains, peanuts and spinach. Egg yolks, fish, chicken, cheese and dried beans are also good sources.***For supplemental options, Coenzyme-A Technologies, Inc is a highly regarded source.

Please don’t hesitate to check with your physician before adding these nutrients to your regimen. Happy healthy heart month! And as always…

BeWell

*http://chemistry.about.com/od/chemistryglossary/g/Coenzyme-Definition.htm

** http://www.electronichealing.co.uk/products/coenzyme.htm

*** Hass, MD, Elson M.(1992). Staying Healthy with Nutrition. Berkeley,CA. Celestial Arts Publishing

Looking to be Born Again?

Happy New Year folks and welcome to 2012! For me, the start of a new year is an extremely unique and powerful time because it is one of the few times that I actually embrace CHANGE. That’s right, I admit it, I don’t like the Big C. It yanks me from my illusory comfort zone and thrusts me into new frontier and that can feel a little scary and taxing. If it must come, and I keep hearing it’s what this game is all about, then I prefer it sneak in slowly and gently with some distracting fairy dust attached.

But for some reason, during the New Year season I am far less resistant to the ebb and flow and am actually welcoming, optimistic and receptive to it all. A real live grown up about it! And I know I’m not alone.

The heightened awareness of the times gets us cleansing, checking in on our states of health, visiting our doctors and re-evaluating our wellness plans. We are all so brave, ready to disassemble and rebuild ourselves. I love it! So, it got me to thinking. What else? What goes beyond rejuvenation? Bingo.

REGENERATION

To paraphrase Wiki’s entries, regeneration is the process of renewal, restoration, and growth that makes cells and organs resilient to natural fluctuations or events that cause disturbance or damage. The field of regenerative medicine holds the promise of regenerating damaged tissues and organs in the body by replacing damaged tissue and/or by stimulating the body’s own repair mechanisms …

I think I’m feelin that, especially the latter part. The notion that the human body is capable of healing itself is the cornerstone belief of wellness, and enhancing this capability, the primary agenda of its practitioner. Though we don’t have the same skills as some of our tailed, four-legged and sea dwelling friends, we humans do have some organs and parts that are capable of regeneration, namely the skin, muscles, bones, liver and adrenal glands. These organs house some of the most crucial processes within the body and impact our health and wellness in the most critical of ways. Enhancing their innate healing capacities actually gets in front of degeneration and disease and sits us firmly in the seat of prevention. And when we speak of regeneration, what we are most basically speaking of is DNA synthesis and cellular renewal. This is the source; from here a series of biological processes determines how these new cells will be used and what they will become. But complete regeneration not only refers to an organ’s form. It also refers to its function, and certain nutrients can help push the creative process along while supporting the organ’s functional development. Let’s start at the surface and work our way in.

The Skin’s Friends

The skin we live in is the largest of the bodily organs. And as such, it has some very important jobs. It covers and protects the internal body and eliminates its toxins and wastes through sweating. Exfoliation helps to clear away the skin’s dead cells and can be done by bathing with loofahs and brushes. But deeper exfoliation that sparks skin’s renewal can be achieved by adding alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA)  containing substances like milk, strawberries, pineapples and grapes to your bath. Scrubbing salts and sugars are effective as well. Too much, however, can stress the skin and break it down. Be gentle and figure out a schedule that keeps the skin fresh without over doing it. Extreme redness, slight abrasions and inflammation are sure signs you’ve gone too far.

For “inside to out” skin care, eating raw fruits, nuts and vegetables increases skin’s renewal process and the naturally occurring enzymes in unprocessed foods help the body fully access nutrients and use them for skin, muscle and bone construction.

Muscle Master

Until doing research for this post I was naïve to the scope of work performed by glutamine. In the world of sports nutrition it is recommended for muscle recovery; a few months ago a customer educated me on its benefits to the digestive tract; but it was looking further into regeneration that brought me to a point of praise for this amino acid. “Glutamine is the most abundant free amino acid found in the muscles of the body. Because it can readily pass the blood-brain barrier, it is known as brain fuel…and is the basis of the building blocks for the synthesis of RNA and DNA”.*

Not surprisingly, glutamine is a star in our defensive line. It increases antioxidant protection and is released by the muscles into the blood stream during times of stress, injury and trauma. It prevents our muscles from wasting away. Consequently, those on bed-rest, with arthritis, managing auto-immune disorders, living with cancer and/or immune deficiency syndrome or trying to overcome sugar and alcohol cravings can benefit from supplemental glutamine in the form of L-glutamine.

L-glutamine can be purchased in pill and powder forms and should be taken as instructed by the product’s label. The supplemental form should also be stored in a completely dry space as moisture will cause it to break down into, among other compounds, ammonia. Not a good thing. Some natural sources include raw spinach and parsley, cabbage and ricotta cheese. Glutamine does not stand up well to cooking. So the raw sources will always be the best.

Bone Builders

While it is certainly true that calcium, magnesium, phosphorous and Vitamin D are necessary to bone’s health and structural reinforcement, actual bone building requires more. Methylsulfonyl-methane (MSM) , a natural compound of the mineral sulfur, is found in all of the body’s connective tissues and is used by the body to build cells for these tissues. Meat, milk, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables all contain MSM, but MSM is easily lost during food processing. Again, the raw approach best insures a natural supply of this nutrient.

MSM along with glucosamine and chondroitin are needed by the body to develop bone. These three are also widely supplemented for joint health and come in a variety of potencies. They are available both individually and together and should be supplemented as directed by the product’s label.

Copper , another mineral found in almonds, avocados, beets, broccoli and garlic, aids in bone formation; and Vitamin K , found in dark leafy greens, yogurt and egg yolks, is essential to the production of bone protein. Follow the less is more rule for both of these as deficiency of either is rare. The current RDA for copper is 1 mg and approximately 100 mcgs for Vitamin K. Neither should be over supplemented without your physician’s awareness and consent.

Designing Your Regenerative Plan

To support an ongoing renewal process, aim to add the natural food sources to your daily diet, and look to the supplemental forms as needed to assist with particular conditions. Our bodies are often a few steps ahead of us. So tune in and respond accordingly. If your seasonal cleanse has left you underwhelmed and wanting, then you too may be due for some regeneration. Next week we’ll take a deeper dive and explore the renewal of a few precious organs. But until then…

Thank you for visiting and supporting BeWellWarrior. I’ve had an amazing time researching and writing these posts and I love reading the responses you provide. I look forward to bringing you more. So feel free to drop a line and tell me what you really want to know.

Armed and Ready to BeWell in 2012!

*Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the A-Z Guide to Supplements. New York: Avery of Penguin Putnam Inc, 2002.