How Important Is Zinc?
More important than you think.
Here's the short list:
Diabetes, Neuropathy, Mood Disorders, Digestion, Sleep, Immune Function, Cholesterol, and the sense of Taste.
Zinc is crucial for all of these and more. Zinc is required for the proper functioning of more than 100 enzymes in the body. Most people know, it supports immune function, reproductive health, but isn't even the really important stuff. Unfortunately, many people are deficient in zinc.
Most people fail to get enough zinc from their diet. This is a bad situation made worse by a very interesting relationship between zinc and another metal, one that is ubiquitous in our environment and crucial for our health, but too much of it blocks our ability to absorb zinc. (More on that below.)
Okay, back to zinc. It is an absolutely crucial, but way under appreciated mineral. Supplementing zinc (if it's deficient) can make all the difference in many conditions. One area of research that has exploded over the past decade is its effectiveness in the treatment of metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and obesity. In today's newsletter we'll examine why it is so important for these conditions, and how you can find out if you are deficient in zinc yourself.
Mineral function in the human body is extremely complicated and we'll just brush the surface in this newsletter. Simply put here are the basics: zinc works with insulin from start to finish as it regulates glucose levels in the body. It accompanies insulin like a trusty side-kick on its journey through the body. Here are a few examples
Chicken or the egg? Well...both.
So does someone with diabetes have diabetes because they are deficient in zinc, or did they become zinc deficient because they used up all their zinc battling their high blood sugars? Well, either can be the case. As blood sugars rise and the body is using more and more insulin to manage it, naturally more zinc is going to be depleted to accompany all that insulin. But, if zinc levels become too low from insufficient intake, then the insulin will not be able to function as well, the pancreas won't be able to produce as much insulin, and blood sugars will rise, making the zinc deficiency even more serious, in turn making the diabetes worse, and so on in a constant spiral.
Is Zinc Deficiency really a problem in The United States?
Surprisingly, nearly 50% of adults over 60 fail to get sufficient zinc in their diets. And because one of the most common sources of zinc is nuts and grains, the number may be a lot higher than 50%. You see, nuts and grains contain a compound called phytic acid that binds to zinc and other minerals, preventing their absorption. So, very likely, most of us already aren't eating enough. But, there's another problem. Zinc has a special relationship with another mineral in our diets, copper. Our traditional diets were often rich in both zinc and copper, and foods that contained a lot of one would most likely contain a lot of the other. Our bodies evolved to treat them as a pair. If there is enough of either in the body, our digestive system will stop absorbing both of them. If we have enough of one, our bodies assume we have enough of both. That's a real problem because lots of water pipes are made out of copper. Most people end up with plenty of copper in their systems, which means not nearly enough zinc. Studies have demonstrated that type 2 diabetics often have sufficient or even excessive levels of copper, but insufficient levels of zinc.
So, How Much Zinc Should I Take?
Not so fast. Zinc is an important mineral, but like all nutrients in the body, zinc is complicated. Just because some is good, that doesn't mean that more is better. Your body is like goldilocks when it comes to most nutrients, and that includes zinc. It doesn't want too much, or too little. It wants zinc intake and zinc stores to stay in a narrow range. If you are already getting enough zinc, then getting more can have some serious side effects for you, one of which being that you'll stop getting enough copper. It can also lower your good cholesterol, cause emotional disorders, and in the case of a dozen or so elderly patients who absorbed zinc from their denture cream in the early 2000's, cause debilitating nerve and spinal damage.
Okay, so I won't rush out and buy a zinc supplement. I promise. But, what now?
Well, you've got to figure out if you are zinc deficient. Unfortunately, a blood test is not particularly good at detecting zinc deficiency. The majority of zinc is tied up in the cells, and the amount in your blood is tightly controlled. A blood test won't accurately reflect your actual zinc levels. But, there is an easier and better way to test your zinc stores. A zinc taste test allows you to assess your zinc levels without drawing blood or playing a guessing game. Your taste buds will let you know if you need more.
It's called a zinc taste assay. You hold a specialized solution of zinc in your mouth. When you have sufficient zinc, your taste buds are able to perceive the unpleasant, strong metallic taste. It's clear that you don't need any more. When you are deficient, the solution tastes like water. Then, it's safe to supplement. Pretty cool huh?
Your response is evaluated on the following guidelines:
I look forward to seeing you!
A Recent Study Shows Acupuncture Effective in the Treatment of Chronic ConstipationIt's estimated that 16% of Americans struggle with chronic functional constipation. This type of constipation has no clear structural cause. Because of this, treatments available from western medicine are few, and mainly limited to laxatives. Unfortunately, the symptoms return as soon as the laxative wears off, without creating any long term creative effects. This study from the Annals of Internal Medicine from September of 2016 evaluated the efficacy of acupuncture in the treatment of this type of constipation. Having successfully treated a number of patients with this symptom over the years in my practice I can attest to the efficacy of acupuncture in this case, however the solid data in this study offer a welcomed reminder to try this effective, safe, and underutilized therapy.
This was a very good study for a lot of reasons. First, it was published in a reputable, peer reviewed journal, The Annals of Internal Medicine. Secondly, this was a very highly powered study, meaning the way the study was designed and run made it statistically extremely unlikely that the results were from chance. One of the things contributing to its statistical power was the fact that this study consisted of a great number of patients, a total of 1075 in all, spread out over 15 hospitals in China. The study was also very good because besides evaluating the patients during the course of treatment, they also monitored them for 3 months after treatment to see if the benefits continued after the last acupuncture treatment.
Each patient was randomized to receive either acupuncture or "sham" acupuncture, (placing needles at locations of the body that don't contain any commonly known acupuncture points.) This eliminates the chances that the benefits seen are just the result of a placebo. The treatment group had an improvement in bowel regularity and ease, which was double that noted in the sham acupuncture group. When these patients were followed up on over the course of the next 3 months the benefits didn't just remain, they actually continued to improve (going from 1.76 more bowel movements per week on average at the conclusion of treatment, to 1.96 more bowel movements per week 3 months later.)
This study is generating buzz in the medical community because functional constipation is a frustrating condition for doctors. The treatment options available, such as laxative use have only been able to relieve symptoms briefly, and have not had any curative effects. The use of laxatives can also be accompanied by side effects. And lastly, they can be habit forming, leaving someone unable to have a regular bowel movement at all without their use.
Acupuncture to treat constipation often uses points located over the abdomen, as well as points on the arms and legs. In some situations, the needles are stimulated with a very mild electrical current, as was done in this study. For the patient it often feels like a subtle buzzing or tingling, and it can increase the effectiveness of the acupuncture. In many cases, electricity is not needed to have an effective and lasting treatment. In fact, I rarely use it in my own practice.
Acupuncture is often a superior treatment option because unlike other interventions it is entirely free of side effects. It is not habit forming, doesn't introduce unexpected drug adverse effects, and in fact is often quite relaxing and pleasant to receive.
A typical course of treatment for constipation depends on the patient's individual situation, but often 4-8 treatments are sufficient.
Read the study abstract here:
A Fool Proof Weight Loss TemplateThe United States of America contains over 220 million overweight citizens. That’s more than 2 out of every 3 people in this country. And, while there ARE a lot of low quality foods, and people DO have more sedentary lifestyles than they have had in the past, for many of these 220 million people, repeated efforts at reducing calories and increasing exercise hasn’t, and won’t, result in lasting weight loss. There is often more going on than simply “calories in versus calories out”.
In our last two articles we looked first, at some surprisingly common imbalances in the fundamental systems of the body, imbalances that can occur as the result of exposure to environmental pollutants, hormones that have gradually gotten out of sync, or chronic, low-level inflammation. In our second article, we looked at simple steps you can take through diet, lifestyle and with some commonly available supplements, to address these obstacles to successful weight loss. In today’s article we present a simple template for successful weight loss. There are a few key concepts that you need to adhere to in order to make a weight loss program effective. Apply those, and modify the rest to make it fit your lifestyle and goals. For the majority of people, following these key principles will result in progress. If you haven’t had a chance to read the previous two articles, we suggest you go back and read them now as, this article assumes that you already understand the concepts covered in those articles, but also, the steps we suggest here should only be taken once you have already addressed those issues we discussed in the previous articles.
You have probably heard that losing weight is just a matter of “calories in versus calories out.” And, yes, of course, on paper that is exactly true. However, there is a lot that takes place in the mind and physiology of the human body that isn’t contained in that simple equation. A much better model has been researched, proposed, and well described by a researcher and neurobiologist from the University of Washington in Seattle, Wa. Stephan Guyenet proposes that weight gain and loss are determined by how a food influences two separate tracts of appetite regulation: the hedonic system, and the energy homeostasis system.
The energy homeostasis system is akin to the thermostat in your house, only this one regulates fat. (Many refer to it as an adipostat (“adipo-” meaning fat), which is the term we will use.) The body has an ideal body weight that it strives to maintain. An interaction between the various metabolic hormones (leptin, ghrelin, insulin, glucagon, adiponectin, etc.) and appetite and satiety processing parts of the brain located in the hypothalamus all work together to maintain an ideal weight. It strikes a balance between having enough stored energy (in the form of fat) to make it through gaps in available resources, yet not so much that the ability to move efficiently and purposefully is hindered. The body has some surprisingly powerful mechanisms in place to maintain the body at the appropriate weight. One such mechanism is of course, the appetite. A hormone called leptin is produced in relation to the amount of fat stored on the body, with more fat resulting in more leptin circulating. This leptin in turn signals the appetite center in the hypothalamus to suppress appetite in order to reduce energy stores. Movement is also regulated by our adipostat. We are compelled to move more when we are carrying more than our body thinks is ideal, and we become lethargic when stores are low and need to be replenished. One quick look around any public place in America will tell you that the adiopostat system isn’t working, we still seem to have no problem accumulating more stored energy than is practical or ideal. This is where our conversation turns to the hedonic system of appetite.
In our evolutionary history there were times when we were confronted with a food that is so full of calories and beneficial nutrients that our best interests would be served by eating more than what would simply fill us up. In other words, the hedonic value of the food would override the adiopostat regulation of appetite. These types of foods were rare in our evolutionary history, so there was little risk of overeating as a result, and from a survival standpoint, there was good reason to take in these energy dense and nutrient dense foods whenever possible. Unfortunately, the food industry has capitalized on this aspect of our physiology and actively engineers our food to trigger a hedonic effect. There are various cues in a food that triggers this override of our energy homeostatic system: rich flavors, combinations of sweet, salty and savory flavors as well as certain textures such as crunchy or juicy. Many of the foods at the grocery store are carefully designed and engineered to strike exactly the right balance between these flavors and impart a pleasing mouth feel in such a way that it is very hard to let appetite work as intended. In his book, “The End of Overeating” former FDA commissioner, David Kessler described this ongoing battle food manufacturers are waging over our mouths and our dollars. At one point he quotes a food industry scientist, saying “ For product developers, it is of interest to add elements to a food that make a food highly desired and liked, both initially and over repeated consumption.” He goes on to describe the lengths and research the food industry has gone to in order to create foods that hack our biology and create highly pleasurable food, from little chemical nuggets of artificial flavor, to seemingly endless refinement of recipes to get that perfect product. In short, the goal is food that is very difficult to say no to, food that entirely bypasses our adipostat. This brings us to our first principle of successful weight loss: “eat close to the ground”. Avoid processed foods because they don’t work with our physiology the way they should. Processed foods bypass our natural system for weight maintenance. An example from my own life is steak, I really enjoy a good steak. But I couldn’t sit down and eat six steaks. I could on the other had sit down and eat an entire bag of potato chips, no probelm. Steaks are not a novel food for my physiology. Humans have been eating red meat for a long time, and my adipostat knows what to do when steak comes in. Potato chips on the other had, are a carefully engineered food, one that strikes the perfect balance between salty, crunchy, and fat. If you eat those sorts of foods, maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight will be difficult.
1. The first principle of successful weight loss is to avoid processed food of all kinds.
Only shop the perimeter of the grocery store (the produce section, the frozen section, and the bulk section) avoid anything that has extra steps of processing, instead choose the foods that are as close to their natural form as possible, the foods that are “closer to the ground.”
The second principle, which is crucial for successful weight loss, is to restore insulin sensitivity. Everyone knows insulin as the hormone that relates to diabetes, where it is responsible for shuttling glucose into cells. A better way to think about insulin would be as a director that switches us to storage mode. When insulin is circulating, energy gets stored. This storage can take place in a few different ways. First, the glucose goes directly into cells where it can be converted in energy (in the form of ATP). When you are physically active, this glucose is used up and the system returns to a state of homeostasis. In a more sedentary state however, the cell’s need for glucose is met more quickly, but there is still glucose in the bloodstream that needs to be removed. In this case glucose moves into additional storage locations. First the glucose can be bound into starch chains called glycogen, which is then stored in muscles and in the liver (this is the goal of carb loading familiar to endurance athletes). Once these stores are filled, the remaining glucose is converted into free fatty acids, which are then stored in adipose cells, as fat. (for simplicity we paint this process as sequential, when in reality it is much more complex, with all three of these process happening at once, but the concept is accurate and sufficient for our purposes). The important part is: the more insulin is circulating, the more glucose is stored as fat. When the body becomes resistant to insulin, it takes more insulin to get the same effect. This accelerates the process of fat accumulation. In order to stop storing fuel as fat, you need to bring down the insulin levels. Fortunately, that can be easily done. Insulin is released with the consumption of carbohydrates mainly (but also to a lesser degree, with the consumption of protein.) The more carbohydrates in a food, typically, the higher the insulin response will be, however several other factors also influence how a food influences insulin levels. The more processed a food is, the more severe the insulin response will be. For instance, corn on the cob causes a rise in insulin, but not as much as cornmeal, which also doesn’t raise insulin nearly as much as corn flour, which in turn doesn’t raise insulin nearly as much as cornstarch. The more processed a carbohydrate, the more rapidly the glucose derived from it reaches the bloodstream and the more quickly the body needs to respond in order to maintain balance. Those severe spikes in insulin level are what drives insulin resistance, and increasing insulin levels. Improving your insulin sensitivity requires two steps: first avoiding process foods because they cause a more rapid spike, and second reducing your intake of carbohydrates. If your goal is weight loss, you should ideally be getting between 10-20% of your calories from carbohydrates. Protein and fat on the other hand are able to supply energy needs without damaging insulin sensitivity, so increasing your intake of those two classes of calories will actually result in weight loss. I know it can seem counter intuitive that eating fat can result in losing fat. If you just remember that it isn’t about fat, it’s about insulin, then it makes sense. In fact, this was borne out in a study in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2007. This study, termed “The A to Z study” compared the effects of a several different diets including a high fat-low carbohydrate and a high carb-low fat diet, and found that the biggest reductions in weight and waist measurement happened with the high fat-low carbohydrate diet. Not only that, but the high fat diet also caused the greatest improvement in blood pressure, and cholesterol. The vilification of fat that has been a main talking point from the medical community for the last several decades is not in agreement with the most current research, and the best informed doctors are changing their recommendations on this issue. Having addressed that aside, by reducing one’s carbohydrate intake, the body’s response to insulin returns to normal and the body can function properly again. So the second step is:
2. Reduce your carbohydrate intake to 10%-20% of total calorie intake.
First calculate the number of calories per day that is ideal for your target weight (here’s a great calculator). Next, multiply the total calories by 10%. There are 4 calories in each gram of carbohydrates, so to figure out how many grams of carbs you need per day, divide the number of calories from carbs by 4. This will yield the number of grams of carbs you should eat to reach 10% of calories from carbs. Repeat the process for 20% to get a range to stay within each day. For example in a 1,800 calorie diet, you should consume between 45 and 90 grams of carbohydrates per day.
The third crucial piece to a successful weight loss diet, is that unyielding fact of thermodynamics: calories in must be fewer than calories out in order to reduce energy stores in the body. The good news is that your body is very good at regulating this when you are eating the right foods. Once you cut the processed food out of your diet, you’ll find that it is much, much easier to only eat the calories you need. Not only that, but unprocessed food is much more dense with vitamins and minerals than processed food, so you’ll feel more satisfied, have more energy and likely other symptoms will improve as well. (Poor sleep, reduced energy, muscle aches, headaches, and many other symptoms can all relate to nutritional deficiencies.) Adhering to the calorie target you used above to calculate your total carbohydrates is a valuable part of a weight loss program. In my experience however, it isn’t as important than counting carbohydrates. In other words if you consistently go over on calories, but maintain within your goals on carbohydrates, you’ll do much better than the if you err in the reverse fashion. The impact on insulin is just too strong to ignore that of the equation. Keeping track of carbohydrate and calorie numbers is difficult at first. You’ll need to keep a journal of some kind and write down everything you’re eating and look them all up as you go (I like the site http://nutritiondata.self.com/) Once you have those numbers looked up, it becomes very easy. From one day to the next most people eat a lot of the same foods. Most of it is just copying and pasting. In time you’ll start to recognize what a plate of food should look like for your weight. That is a valuable lesson. The servings in America are way too big, a problem continuated by a largely cheap and processed food supply. Getting a sense of what is a realistic serving size is a valuable lesson and one that will help to make your weight loss a lifelong change rather than just one cycle of the yo-yo.
3. Stay within the target calories for your weight loss goal.
So to review, the three key pieces of a weight loss program are:
1. Eliminate Processed Food.
2. Reduce Carbohydrates to 10-20% of calories.
3. Reduce Calories to align with your target weight.
We hope you appreciate this information. This three part series is a basic skeleton of the dietary program we run in our office. With our program we add acupuncture to help reduce food cravings, and address the underlying obstacles to weight loss through herbal supplements, and dietary counseling. We’ve also partnered with a local gym to get you a discount on your exercise program. If you’re serious about weight loss, our program gives you the guidance and support that ensures success.
Unlock your Weight LossFor some, despite repeated weight loss programs, countless hours sweating away at the gym and following whichever new super diet is the fashion at the time, efforts to lose weight never materialize. You’d be justified in feeling frustrated. You may wonder, “How can I not be losing weight?!” If this is you, the problem may not be a lack of trying or a lack of willpower. For many, there are problems in the core, interrelated systems of the body, keeping the weight from coming off. In our last newsletter, we reviewed the three hidden obstacles to successful weight loss. In today’s article, we’ll cover strategies to address each of these concerns using only diet, lifestyle changes, and commonly available supplements. In our final piece in this series, we’ll cover a basic diet template that is remarkably effective, once these three obstacles have been addressed. First, let’s review briefly the three weight loss obstacles that we covered in our last newsletter.
First, blame goes to our chemical laden environment. Compounds like BPA, and brominated flame retardant actively interfere with hormone signaling and metabolism to cause weight gain, and impede weight loss. These compounds deposit in fat stores, where they are so potent in interfering with weight loss that a new term was coined to classify them: “obesogens” (meaning: “make obese”). The second cause is latent inflammation: by driving up stress hormones, latent inflammation makes the body resistant to insulin and drives the body to store more energy as fat. The third common underlying obstacle to weight loss is hormonal imbalance. Most often, this relates to elevated estrogen compared to progesterone, however, imbalanced thyroid, and dysregulated adrenal hormones can both also hinder weight loss. Any, or all of these three basic physiological imbalances could be getting in the way of weight loss for you, and without addressing them first, weight loss can be very difficult.
When we work with patients, frustrated with repeated attempts at weight loss, we usually start with a blood panel that identifies how severe these underlying issues may be. This is a valuable step to save time and money. It ensures that our efforts are being focused at the most important aspects. But, even without the insight from a panel of blood tests, there are still some clues that may indicate that one (or more) of these core problems exist for you, which in turn indicates the need for steps you can easily do on your own, with dietary change, some lifestyle interventions, and some simple supplements you can obtain from your local supplement store. Each of these topics are vast, and an entire series could be compiled on each, but in this short article we’ll give you the most effective steps that you can take without getting professional help.
Excessive Burden of Environmental Toxins
In our last article we looked at how an excessive burden of certain types of chemicals called, “obesgens” can interfere with hormone signalling and metabolic function. The best approach to finding out if this is a concern for you is reviewing your personal history. If you have an occupational history or exposure to a wide variety of industrial chemicals, live, or lived, in close proximity to an industrial area, or use a lot of mainstream cosmetic or personal care products, then addressing your body’s detoxification pathways is a worthwhile step towards your weight loss goals. While the links between occupational and industrial areas is clear, the concern around personal care products may be less obvious to some. Many of the personal care products and cosmetics used today contain a variety of synthetic, petroleum based ingredients that are absorbed readily through the skin. Some of these compounds, such as parabens and pthalates are established obesogens. Other compounds are toxic to liver cells and directly affect the ability of the body to clear toxins. These compounds include Hydroxymethylpentylcyclohexenecarboxaldehyde, often referred to, for obvious reason, by its tradename, “Lyral”. Lyral and other compounds like it aren’t directly listed on the ingredient list,they are all clumped together under the heading: “fragrance.” It is an extremely common ingredient, used in the majority of mainstream personal care products, including deodorant, perfumes, shampoo body wash, shaving gel and cosmetics. The accumulated burden of Lyral and related compounds continues to increase over years and decades. Switching to higher quality brands that only use natural ingredients is the only way to be sure that you are not continuing to be exposed to these chemicals.
When you embark on a new weight loss program and begin liberating fat from storage, you are also liberating the toxins stored in that fat. When these toxins return to circulation they further impeded the weight loss process. The more fat you lose, the harder it is to make any progress.
You eliminate fat soluble toxins through the liver. The liver converts these compounds into less harmful forms and expels them through the bile into the intestines to be carried out. Less commonly, the liver also converts them to water soluble forms which are filtered out of the body by the kidneys. Another important pathway for detoxification is through sweating. Both in preparation for, and as you are losing weight, make sure to follow the steps to ensure the burden of toxins isn’t slowing down your process.
Address any sources of Latent Inflammation
Even without doing more in-depth testing, there are still some general steps you can take to reduce your background inflammation level. The two main causes of underlying latent inflammation are: smoldering low grade infections (often dental or digestive) and nutritional deficiencies (the body’s ability to quell inflammation is dependent upon the presence of several key nutrients). Here are some simple steps you can take:
Balance your Hormones
Even without knowing which hormones are out of balance, there are three steps you can take that will have a general effect on balancing your hormone levels.
If you are embarking on a process of weight loss, it would be best to follow these recommendations for a period of time prior to initiating that weight loss program. Depending on how influential any of these three obstacles are for you, taking 1-4 weeks focussing on the above recommendations before starting would be appropriate. If you want to work on these at a deeper level consider seeing a practitioner to get a closer look at where exactly your system is going wrong.
Okay, so now you know how to unlock the weight loss process. In the next article we’ll cover a basic template that will result in rapid and easy weight loss for you.
Why is it so hard for some people to lose weight?
Sometimes, there is more to weight loss than simply cutting calories. For some, despite all their efforts: following a diet and exercising consistently, progress is fleeting and painfully slow. This is a familiar story for many, and they know, the problem isn’t a lack of willpower. The problem can be an imbalance in one or more of the underlying systems of the body, making weight loss difficult if not impossible. The good news is that there are ways to remove these obstacles. Identifying these imbalances and resolving them should be the first step in your weight loss plan.
Obesity is all to common in our culture. While the availability of empty calories and our sedentary lifestyles are largely to blame, there is more going on here than just sloth and gluttony. For many there is a hidden problem in the body that is locking their metabolism in a fat storing mode. In the first part of this series we’ll cover three common obstacles getting in the way of successful weight loss. In a following article we’ll give you the basic steps for addressing each of these. Our third article will cover the steps for successful weight loss once you have these first three obstacles addressed. Following these steps will result in significant changes in most people seeking weight loss.
After pain, the second most common complaint we hear from our patients is that they have difficulty losing weight. While, obviously, exercise and proper diet are essential to weight loss, in some, that won’t be enough to reach their weight loss goals. Without addressing the underlying imbalances, the proverbial monkey wrench will continue to hamper your progress. The three main obstacles that we see are:
1. Excessive burden of environmental toxins
2. Hormonal imbalance, and
3. Latent inflammation
Any one, or all of these, could be shackling you to extra pounds. As a result of poor diet, ubiquitous environment toxins, and lack of consistent exercise, these three issues are surprising common in Americans. Let’s look closer at each.
Excessive burden of Toxins
We live in an environment that is increasingly laden with chemical pollutants. Many of these compounds have entered our environments within the past few decades. Unfortunately, despite all your efforts to minimize exposure, it is unlikely that anyone is able to truly avoid these chemicals. Studies have shown the presence of more than 200 chemical pollutants in the umbilical cord blood supplying newborn babies. Even in this most precious of places, at the deepest recesses in the body, and filtered by the placenta, these chemicals are still able to find their way. Just imagine what is running through your blood! These toxins burden the liver, interfere with hormone signaling and trigger inflammation. All of these can indirectly cause weight gain by interfering with fundamental processes in the body. But, some of these compounds can also directly cause weight gain. Called "obesogens", these compounds include Bisphenyl A, polybrominated flame retardants, pthalates, many pesticides and even many medications, including the popular SSRIs, used to treat depression. These compounds directly alter your physiology, resulting in weight gain. They compounds bind to receptors in the body that regulate metabolism or appetite and directly cause increased weight gain and make weight loss more difficult.
Many of these compounds are fat soluble. Because they dissolve in fats, they become stored in fat tissue. This makes losing weight increasingly difficult. As soon as you make progress in weight loss you liberate more of these compounds into your blood stream, making future progress even more difficult. In order to make weight loss possible in the presence of these toxins, you need to support your body’s natural detoxification processes, so that as these toxins are liberated they are effectively flushed from the body, allowing your weight loss to continue unfettered.
Identifying if you have an excessive toxic burden can be done through a combination of blood work, reviewing your occupational history, and discussing your personal medical history. One blood test called GGT, or gamma glutamyl transpeptidase, measures the activity of an enzyme that becomes elevated when the requirement for the body’s natural anti-oxidant, glutathione, is increased. This increased demand can indicate that there is an increased toxin burden on the body, requiring targeted treatment and dietary interventions.
The HPA axis is a term used to describe the triad of endocrine glands: hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal. These three glands interact and influence each other and a great many other hormones and glands in the body. When dietary, emotional, lifestyle, and environmental factors cause a disruption in any of these glands there can be a cascading influence on the body. Weight gain is one of many possible symptoms when these hormones are out of balance. Improperly converted, produced, or binding thyroid hormone, for example, can result in difficulty losing weight. Impact on the hormone leptin can result in difficulty regulating appetite properly. Excessive, or deficient adrenal output of the hormone cortisol can result in elevated blood sugars, insulin resistance, and weight gain. Simultaneous fatigue and anxiety can also make weight lose much more difficult. If you experience certain symptoms including unexplained fatigue, a history of extreme or prolonged stress, anxiety, short temper, or difficulty regulating temperature these symptoms may indicate that a closer look at your hormones is warranted. Identifying if there is an underlying hormonal imbalance can often be done through simple saliva testing, and herbal, lifestyle, and dietary interventions are often sufficient to restore balance.
When most people hear the word inflammation, they think of something red, swollen and painful like a sprained joint or an infected cut. But inflammation doesn’t always have to be so obvious. Sometimes inflammation can be more like a smoldering fire hidden within the body, quietly eroding your health. This type of latent inflammation may be occurring anywhere in the body. Common locations include the digestive system, a dental abscess, or the blood vessels. This constant inflammation causes weight gain by driving up the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn drives up blood sugars. It also reduces the body’s sensitivity to insulin, making your body store more energy as fat. The longer the inflammation is present the more damage is done to your metabolism. Identifying and treating the underlying inflammation is essential to losing weight and restoring a healthy metabolism.
How do you know if you have a smoldering fire hampering your weight loss efforts?
Often, current symptoms or clues in your health history can raise suspicion, which is further investigated by looking at some specific blood tests. The specific test will depend on the organ system that is suspected. Tests such as C reactive protein, homocysteine, adiponectin, and an essential fatty acid profile can all help to identify locations and causes of latent inflammation.
Identifying the systems in your body that are imbalanced is the first step in restoring a healthy metabolism.
Once you know how your metabolism is going wrong, that paves the way to determine your specific interventions. Even though the goal weight loss is the same, the interventions for you may be very different from someone else with a different set of metabolic challenges. This is one of the reasons that no weight loss program works for everyone. If you've tried many different approaches without seeing results, it is likely that there is something going on beneath the surface that needs to be addressed before weight loss can proceed. You may have a suspicion that one of the above issues applies to you, and fortunately, there are many interventions that you can do yourself that are both effective and safe to try at home. We'll cover strategies to resolve each of these issues in the next article.
Yours In Health,
That’s because what you eat and how you treat your body are what ultimately determine your health. It's just a matter of knowing how to turn off the disease genes and turn on the genes for health and longevity.
We’ve known about the importance of a good diet and lifestyle for a long time, but more recent developments in the our understanding of how our genes work are renewing our understanding of diet and lifestyle factors as the true drivers of health or disease.
With the mapping of the human genome came a promising new understanding of the disease process. We found that certain genes associated with certain diseases. It seemed we now had a way to telling who was going to get sick and with what disease. Fortunately for us, it didn’t turn out to be that simple.
There is no certainty that you’ll get any of the diseases foretold in your genes. In studies on identical twins (who have identical genes) most of the time it is only one of the two twins will go on to develop the hereditary condition. Just having the gene isn’t enough. You also must express, or activate that gene, which could otherwise lay dormant your whole life. So the obvious question is, “what triggers the gene?” This question sparked the birth of a new field of study called epigenetics. This is the study of how our genes interact with the world around us. What determines which twin will get sick? What activates that dormant gene and triggers the disease? As you might suspect, this interaction is much more important than what genes you have. After all your genes don’t decide if you are going to get sick, they only influence what kind of disease it’ll be when you do. You may be surprised to find this, but in fact our genes are all pretty similar. When it comes to our genetic information, we are all about 99.9% the same. Go ahead and look it up. The genetic variation between any two humans is only one-tenth of one percent on average. So, that’s the part we can’t control (the 00.1%). The vast difference in how we all experience health and disease comes more from which genes are turned on (or expressed) and which genes aren’t. That’s the part we can control (the other 99.9%). Think of your genetic information as blades of grass on a football field. The amount of difference between any two people is represented by the strip of grass that is painted at each end of the field to mark the start of the end zone. All the rest, the other thousands upon thousands of blades of grass, are exactly identical. (The entire playing field.) Now imagine that each blade of grass contains a specific set of instructions. One blade carries a set of instructions that, when coded causes a process that helps heal wounds, another contains the instructions for hair to grow, there is a set of instructions for the different processes of how your immune system works, and the exact structure of your eyebrows…even ones that trigger diseases, all written in short snippets on these blades of grass. Epigenetics is the study of how your body chooses which blade to pluck and read. Some of these genes have sets of instructions that start processes in the body that result in health, and some result in processes that hasten aging and erode health. The fortunate thing is that you choose which set of instructions your body turns to with the choices you make throughout the day. These choices are called epigenetic triggers, and the most influential trigger, by far, is diet.
One famous example of epigenetic activation relates to a gene called the sirtuin gene. This gene codes for a set of instructions that has wide reaching beneficial effects in the body. It reduces damage to DNA, fights cancer and promotes longevity. When animals were induced to express this gene more they lived longer, sometimes 10-20 percent longer, sometimes, way longer, like twice as long. Translating that information into studies on humans and other mammals is difficult, partly because our systems are so much more complex, and also because of our already relatively long lives, but some studies are showing that similar benefits occur in humans as well. This is where epigenetics really gets exciting, because there are compounds in some foods that trigger this gene to express. When you eat these foods your body gets a message to go pick this particular blade of grass out of the field and run the instructions found on it. Not surprisingly, the foods that induce this gene are the same sort of foods that we have always recognized as healthy, but now we understand a little more about why they are so healthy. Some of the most powerful triggers include the compounds quercetin and resveratrol. These are both compounds in a class called polyphenols that are found in fruits and vegetables. These specific polyphenols trigger the sirtuin genes. Good sources of these compounds include red wine, grapes, currants, capers, citrus, strawberries, and dark colored berries. Eating these foods more cause this particular, very beneficial section of your genes to be expressed more often.
Another snippet of genetic information that is particular protective is called the ARE, or anti-oxidant response element. When this section of genetic information is activated there is a global anti-oxidant process that takes place throughout the body. This effect is several hundred times more potent than you can get from simply getting exogenous antioxidants. There is a receptor called Nrf-2 (nuclear factor 2) that becomes activated by certain foods, which in turn sends a signal to the nucleus of the cell, telling it to activate the ARE genes. Some of the foods that activate this nrf2 receptor include rosemary, green tea, broccoli, coffee, and turmeric.
This field is extremely exciting, and so far we have only scratched the surface of complexity regarding epigenetic triggers. There is an important take away: your food determines your genes. Very little is pre-ordained. Remember that the compounds that trigger beneficial genes tend to be the phytochemicals found in food. Foods that have a higher phytochemical content, like organic food, a wide variety of fresh multi-colored vegetables, fresh herbs, and spices will be the most potent activators of various epigenetic triggers. Be sure to make these a priority in your diet. It’s not as if we needed another excuse to eat a diverse diet, rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, but it seems you are running out of excuses not to.
In the west we recognize 4 seasons, but in Chinese Medical thought, there is an extra, fifth season and it is the most important one. Each of the seasons has a special association in Chinese Medicine. Every time we transition to a new season, a whole new energetic is brought to the forefront. Chinese Medical theory has developed a very sophisticated set of associations with these seasons, going all the way back to the ancient text, “The Yellow Emperor’s Classic” written in the third century BC. This text associates flavors, organs, and emotions to each season and advocates ways to stay in balance with those seasons. Maintaining health through the year by staying aligned with the seasons has become a sophisticated part of Chinese Medical theory and practice. So, what easy steps can you take today to be true to the seasons, including our current, fifth season, known as late summer?
The Farmer's Market is a great place to get foods that are appropriate to the energetics of a given season. The foods that are made available by nature in your locale at a given time, also happen to be the right foods for that time.
This fifth season takes place in what we typically would call late summer. In Paul Pitchford’s classic textbook, “Healing with Whole Foods”, he describes the fifth season this way:
“Late summer, a short and relatively unrecognized “season,” is approximately the last month of summer and the middle of the Chinese year. It is the point of transition from yang to yin, between the expansive growth phases of spring and summer and the inward, cooler, more mysterious fall and winter seasons. A pleasant, tranquil, and flourishing season, it is as if time stops here and activity becomes effortless, dreamlike. Unity, harmony, and the middle way are summoned between the extremes.” (1.)
In order to align yourself with the season of late summer, you should try to enjoy and savor the sweetness of the warm, abundant late summer and enjoy the foods that are so plentiful during this time of year. A good metaphor for this period is captured by a ball thrown up into the air. This point in the year is akin to the point a ball reaches at the zenith of it’s path. After rising up (passing through the warming and growing period of summer) the ball stops for a split second at the apex. If you were inclined to anthropomorphize our ball, you could image it taking a much deserved breath to stop and appreciate the view and note how far it had risen. This is exactly the energy you want to try to embody in this time of year. Take a moment and savor the abundance of the season and truly experience the sweet warmth of it in a leisurely way.
This season is also known for such foods as ripe, sweet stone fruits, early squash, and plentiful fresh veggies. There is a wholesome sort of sweetness present that is captured perfectly by fresh peas picked off the vine and popped out for heir pods into your mouth. It’s isn’t at all like the overpowering sweetness from candy or pastries, rather it seems to capture the warm sun in every bite. That is the sort of food that becomes most nourishing at this time. The foods recommended by Paul Pitchford for this time of year include: “mildly sweet foods, yellow or golden foods, round foods, and/or foods known to harmonize the center: millet, corn, cabbage, garbanzo beans, soybeans, squash, potatoes, string beans, yams, tofu, sweet potatoes, sweet rice, rice, amaranth, peas, chestnuts, filbert, apricots, and cantaloupe.”
Biomedical Evidence also Supports these Concepts
You may notice that these foods are good sources of carbohydrates, and that is no surprise as the “mildly sweet” flavor is largely a result of complex carbohydrates (as opposed to the overly sweet flavor of refined carbohydrates). As such they are ideal for a time of year when you could expect a high level of physical activity. This is the case in late summer. This is the time of year when the weather and environment allows, and the future mandates the most activity in order to prepare for the coming seasons of relative scarcity. The increased activity makes this sort of high energy food appropriate and even necessary. This is in sharp contrast to the foods recommended for the winter (a time characterized by inward movement and a relative decrease in activity), which include (again from Paul Pitchford’s “Healing with Whole Foods”) heart soups, dried foods, small dark beans, seaweeds, and steamed winter greens. The energy needs of the body are appropriate to the foods suggested in each season, and indeed the foods typically available locally tend to be the same foods that are ideally suited to the body at that time.
One of the seasonal associations noted thousands of years ago, is for specific flavors. The summer associates with bitter, the late summer with sweet, fall with spicy, winter with salty and spring with sour. The seasons also associate with organs, again summer with the heart, late summer with the spleen, fall with the lungs, winter the kidneys and spring with the liver. Each flavor is thought to affect that specific organ, and in fact the early practice of herbal medicine was built on this concept. Biomedical research has made some new discoveries that lend additional credence to this concept. Recently, a research group working out of the Queensland School of Biomedicine discovered that taste receptors are present on the heart! (2.) And these taste receptors are for the bitter flavor, exactly the flavor that Chinese Medicine assigned to the heart organ. Not only that, but when researchers exposed these receptors to a bitter substance the contractile force of the heart was inhibited. It is remarkable that the ancient practitioners of Chinese Medicine could have determined this relationship thousands of years ago.
Americans are particularly opposed to the bitter flavor, and it spurs us to a very unbalanced diet. Our aversion for bitterness is not a universal dislike across cultures. In many cultures around the world, the bitter flavor is sought out as much as our more familiar savory and sweet flavors. Many cultures consume small amounts of bitter alcoholic drinks as “digestives,” supporting healthy digestive function after a big meal. Angostura bitters are even used by many alternative medicine practitioners to stimulate digestive function. Some bitter foods are also being recognized as particularly healthy, dark chocolate and dark leafy greens to name a few, hopefully they will help to open our palates to this whole new world of satisfying flavors. Chinese Medical theory would suggest that our avoidance of one flavor in exchange for an over-indulgence of the others is partly to blame for the epidemics of chronic disease occurring in America (cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity). Indeed, a biomedical exploration of the attributes of these flavors and the impact of the foods that carry them would certainly support this claim. Seeking out a wider variety of flavors and eating more fresh, local and seasonal foods will all help to provide more nutrition as well as the particular nutrients that optimize your health at any given time of year.
A few easy ways to get in tune with the seasons:
1. Incorporate more healthy bitter flavors in your diet in the summer (greens, grapefruit, and dark chocolate are some easy ones), more spicy in the fall (like radishes, parsnips, ginger, and daikon), more salty in the winter (seaweed is a great option), and more sour in the spring (this is a great time to use more fermented foods, and some high quality vinegar on those fresh young salad greens!).
2. Eat what’s locally available as much as possible; going to the farmer's market for your produce is a great way to make sure you are eating seasonally.
3. If you’d like more information or to personalize this sort of a dietary approach for your unique health concerns, seek out a nutritional appointment with a practitioner of Chinese Medicine.
I'm Kieran, clinician and founder at The Parani Clinic. I'm an acupuncturist, herbalist, and functional medicine practitioner for the past 10 years. I have a deep curiosity in health, biology, culture, medicine, history, and a healthy obsession with the pursuit of the perfect state of health.