sugar blues

Hello faithful readers!  I write to you today as a happy momma. It’s hard to believe it’s been  8 months since the happy day when Flynn entered the world.  Nothing could have prepared me for the wonder of it all.  There is so much joy and love.  At the same time there have been challenges.

Slow progress on settling into a regular sleep schedule has kept me for getting back to blogging (and counseling).  Things had started to get better in late October but then in November I went back to my urgent care job part-time and it’s been hard to find a regular sleep routine since then.   We are making progress, but I’m still pretty sleep deprived.

With sleep deprivation has come not only the usual fatigue and foggy thinking; but also some serious sugar cravings.  Through my health counseling work I understand my cravings have multiple origins.  Some of the time I just crave the quick energy of a simple sugar.  Other times I feel worn out and crave a “treat” for myself.  And other times I find myself a little bored and a trip to the local coffee shop calls to me.  Since I’m breast feeding I still need extra calories every day and if I don’t get enough healty protein and healthy fat in my meals then I’ll find myself craving sugar.

My philosophy in health counseling is one of “balance.”  This means I don’t like to demonize food.  Everything has it’s time and place.  Too much of anything can lead to imbalance.  And some foods will cause imbalances sooner than others.  White sugar is definitely one of those foods.  That doesn’t mean you need to remove it completely from your diet (though some people do find this approach to be helpful).  However, knowing that it has harmful effects, I want to be very mindful about how I use it.  Sweet foods, made with love, are a wonderful way to celebrate the sweet things in life. Still, there are many reasons to be judicious in your use of white sugar. The research around the detrimental health effects caused by sugar continues to grow.

White sugar intake has been linked to increased risk for :

diabetes  (type2)            obesity                      high cholesterol                 high blood pressure        heart disease

fatty liver                           cancer                      memory impairment        mood swings                     inflammation

dementia                          yeast infections    dental disease


I know this and I am completely convinced about the negative effects of sugar; yet I still struggle… why?

1) Sugar is everywhere:  As a people Americans take in a huge amount of sugar.  This has been steadily going up for decades.  Sugar is all around us and eating large amounts of it is socially acceptable and even encouraged at times.   Sweet drinks and foods are constantly in front of us, tempting us.

2) Sugar is sneaky: Sometimes sugar will appear in foods when you least expect it.  Most packaged/ processed foods will have some added sugar.  Some places you may be surprised to find a high amount of added sugar:

–BBQ sauces,  Asian marinades (teriyaki sauces, etc), salad dressings, frozen dinners, frozen breakfast foods

Even things that seem like they could be healthy choices often have a LOT of added sugar such as:

–oatmeal, “wheat” bread, yogurt, packaged fruit, cereal bars, vitamin drinks, and bottled tea

Remember to read labels.  4gm of sugar = 1 tsp of sugar.  And look at the list of ingredients too.  Remember there are many euphamisms for sugar here are some:

-corn syrup                            –high fructose corn syrup
-sucrose                                   -(pretty much anything ending in “-ose”
-maltose                                   -dextrose
-lactose                                     -fructose
-honey                                      -white grape juice or other fruit concentrate
-barley malt                            -maple sugar
-sucanat                                   -natural cane sugar
-dehydrated cane sugar   -brown sugar
-turbinado sugar                   -invert sugar
-beet sugar                                -buttered syrup
-cane juice crystals               -caramel
-molasses                                 -sorghum syrup

3) Sugar is addictive: Sugar can stimulate some of the same “feel good” hormones in your brain that many street drugs activate.  That is not to say sugar is equal to those drugs,  it is just to show you that it has effects in your brain that can lead to cravings which have nothing to do with “will power.”

Research  done with rats showed that when they were given sugar to binge eat they showed brain changes similar to those in getting off drugs.  Also studies with humans have shown that when subjects were asked to look at pictures of milk shakes, their brains would react in a way similar to those seen in drug addicts.

Addiction has both biological and behavioral aspects.  Sugar definitely has biological effects in the body but these do not seem to affect every person that same way.  Those who struggle the most with sugar also have a strong association with sugar as a “reward” both physically and psychologically.

Nonjudgmental awareness of how you relate to sugar is one way to begin to change that relationship.

4) Sugar speaks to my brain: Besides stimulating the pleasure and reward areas of the brain sugar has another advantage.  Plain glucose is the main fuel source for our brains.  Other, more complex carbohydrates and sugars, are broken down in the body to glucose in order to fuel the brain an other organs/ systems in the body.  When your energy is low, your brain knows that a simple sugar will raise your blood sugar the fastest and so that is often what you end up desiring the most.

However, the best way to keep your brain happy is to keep a steady level of glucose in the blood (not to put yourself on the up and down roller coaster of simple sugars).  Foods that are digested more slowly will allow for a more level and consistent blood glucose level.  This is behind the concept of glycemic index (a topic I’ve have written on many times in the past).  Low glycemic index foods help to curb sugar cravings and keep the body healthier and happier.  (See to learn more).


So, yes, it’s a challenge.  But I know I can do it.  In fact I usually do a “cleanse” each year where I give up sugar for 2 to 3 weeks.  And I know plenty of people who have given up white sugar 100% as a daily lifestyle choice.  I can do it.  But that said, I’ve been trying to do it for months now.  Some reason always comes up as to why it’s a good time to put that off.  A family party is coming up and there will be good treats and cake and I don’t want to offend anyone but not eating it (nice rationalization at work there!).

So here we are at the change of the year and I figure this is as good a time as any.

Cleanses work for me because they help me to reinforce my healthier food options and they help me to be more aware of how I am using sugar in my daily life.  However, if you have never done a cleanse before then extreme, 100% removal of sugar may not be the best course of action for you.   “Diets” don’t work.  Their restrictive nature can lead to strong cravings and ultimately binge eating of the thing you are trying to avoid.  That can lead to guilt and the next thing you know your mood is low and your brain has you craving even more sugar to get those “feel good” hormones back to work.

So I encourage you to look at your daily food intake and increase your awareness of how much sugar you are eating. It has been estimated that in the US we eat on average 22 teaspoons of sugar EACH DAY!  Remember sugar has many detrimental effects on our health.

Here’s a handout I give to my clients called “the top ten ways sugar ruins your health”

Top Ten Reason’s Why Sugar Ruins Your Health:

1) Sugar raises your insulin levels leading to low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) which has been associated with fatigue, “brain fog“, moodiness, and irritability.

2) High Insulin levels over time leads to insulin resistance a condition associated with
-Type 2 Diabetes
-High serum triglycerides (fat)
-Low HDL (good) cholesterol
-Heart Disease
-Some Cancers (breast, colon, ovarian)
-Polycystic Ovary syndrome and infertility

3) Refined sugar is empty calories and regular intake raises the risk for weight gain and obesity.
-Just one 12 ounce bottle of sugar soda daily contains 150 calories which translates to an extra 15 pounds each year.

4) Sugar can suppress the immune system

5) Sugar interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium leading to weak bones (osteoporosis) among other problems

6) Sugar can cause a rapid rise in the adrenaline levels in children

7) Sugar can cause headaches, including migraines

8) Sugar can cause depression

9) Sugar may contribute to Alzheimer’s disease

10) A high sugar diet leads to inflammation in the body. And inflammation has been linked to many medical problems, diseases.


So if you want to join me in reducing the amount of white sugar in your life, I welcome the support and want to offer mine to you as well.  I have started a google group for this purpose.  Anyone who would like access to the group please email me (  In this online group we can share our success and our challenges and increase our success.  The great thing about healthy eating is that the more you do it the easier it becomes.

Foods that help and harm the brain; Preventing dementia through diet

I was fortunate enough to go to New York City at the beginning of March to attend the Integrative Health Symposium.  On the first day David Perlmutter MD (author of The Better Brain Book) spoke about the link between diet and brain health.  He touched on many aspects of this but one thing that came out loud and clear is SUGAR IS BAD FOR YOUR BRAIN.

Where there is Smoke there is Fire:

When it comes to a disease like Alzheimer’s, modern medicine often focuses on the end product of the destructive process going on in the brain.  In Alzheimer’s this is often the excess Beta Amyloid levels.   Dr Perlmutter argues that these “end products” are actually more like “smoke” we can do a lot more good for people if we stop focusing on them and instead bring our attention to the “fire” that is producing them.

His theory (and it is supported by many well done studies ) is that one of the major contributors to this disease are something called “Advanced Glycation End products”  or AGEs.  What the heck are they? Well “glycation” has to do with sugar.   In the simplest terms, these  a diverse group of molecules formed when sugar attaches to a protein or a fat.  Once formed the reaction is irreversible.   If you have more sugar circulating in your blood than is needed to meet your normal energy needs then you will make excessive AGE’s.  Over time they can build up in the tissues of the body .

Ill effects of excessive AGE’s include: wrinkles, joint aches, cardio-vascular disease, fatty liver, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

Other things that cause AGE’s to be formed include:  normal aging, oxidative stress (more on this later), and inflammation in the body.  AGEs are also found in foods.  They are most highly concentrated in animal products exposed to high heat (such as grilled, fried, or broiled meat).  Those dark lines that form on grilled meat may not be the best thing for your brain!

AGEs have been known play a role in other neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s disease and also in heart disease and other chronic illnesses.  And they have been clearly linked to an increased risk for cognitive decline (memory loss, etc).

Sugar and the Brain:

Anytime you have more sugar circulating in your blood than you need to run the machinery of your body, you’ll end up making more AGE’s.  Considering that the average American now consumes 2.5 pounds of sugar per WEEK, you can see how we are setting ourselves up for chronic disease.

An article way back in 1994 had already implicated AGE’s and Alzheimer’s ds (Vitek et al.   “Advanced glycation end products contribute to amyloidosis in Alzheimer’s disease.” Neurobiology.  vol 91.  pp 4766-4700. May 1994)

Avoiding excessive sugar intake is vital for brain health.  Especially highly refined sugars because they are more likely to lead to spikes in your circulating blood sugar.

Having excessive AGE’s  increases overall inflammation in the body.  Read on to see how you can combat inflammation and oxidative stress through a healthy diet.

Oxidative stress, is fuel for the fire:

Oxidation is the process that puts rust on metal and when it happens inside of us it makes us pretty rusty, too.  Oxidation happens when harmful substances called “free radicals”  act on healthy proteins and cells.

Free radicals are atoms of oxygen with an unpaired electron. That electron does not like to be unpaired and so it will take another electron away from other molecules in the body. Free radicals cause damage this way when they steal electrons from your DNA, cell walls, LDL cholesterol particles, or structural proteins. In face these free radicals have been implicated in many health problems including: premature aging, cancer, heart disease, arthritis, memory loss, and cataracts.

Where free Radicals come from:                                                                                                                                                                             —-Some free radicals are normal byproducts of the body’s metabolism.

—–However many come from our environment:  from pollutants in the air we breathe, the food we eat, and the water we drink

—–Other sources include charbroiled meats, cigarette smoke, SUGAR, excessive stress, and sunlight exposure.


In Alzheimer’s disease the beta amyloid that causes the destruction inside the brain is “glycolated” and “oxidized”.  One study published in Neurobiology in 1994 showed that the brains of people with Alzheimer’s  have 300% more of AGE modified beta amyloid than healthy brains. (Vitek, Michael et. al. “Advanced glycation end products contribute to amyloidosis and Alzheimers disease” Neurobiology. May 1994. Vol91: pp 4760-4770).

Glycated proteins (those changed by sugar), produce nearly 50 x more free radicals than non-glycated ones in the human body.


Antioxidants to the rescue:

The Good News:  if high sugar diets and excessive free radicals are contributing to Alzheimer’s disease and dementia there is something you can do about it.   You can change your diet.

Free radicals can be neutralized by antioxidants.  These wonderful natural defenders are abundant in many foods.  Some research has looked at using antioxidants in a pill form, as supplements, and the results have been mixed.  Some early research did show that taking vitamin C and vitamin E may help to reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.  Other research on vitamin E has shown increased risk for other problems.  It’s complicated and so I’m not going to strongly come out for or against supplements right now.  I believe the best way to get your antioxidants is in food, the way nature intended!

Most experts agree that diet and lifestyle changes are most effective when done BEFORE any symptoms arrive.  But it’s never too late to make a healthy change.


Foods that Help the Brain:

1) Antioxidants:   Antioxidants are most abundant in brightly colored vegetables and fruits.  Most people get more than enough fruit and not enough vegetables so keep that in mind when planning your meals.   Antioxidants are also found in coffee and dark chocolate but the research seems to indicated that for brain health you want to focus more on the ones in vegetables and fruit (though organic coffee in moderation may also have some protective effect).

Goal:  “eat the rainbow” –try to have something from each color of the rainbow every day.  There are different ways to break up these food groups.  At the conference one nutrition expert did it this way:

Blue/Purple:  (they kept this as one group b/c they share many similar phytonutrients but I would still try to get some of each).  Blueberries,  blue corn chips (organic),  Black berries, beets, eggplant, purple plums, prunes, raisins, grapes, purple kale, purple potatoes, etc.

RED:  Apples, strawberries, raspberries, red plums, tomatoes, pomegranates, red peppers, etc

ORANGE:  Winter squashes, carrots, apricots,  sweet potatoes, mangoes, oranges, bell pepper, etc

YELLOW: Bell Peppers, corn, yellow onion, yellow squash, yellow peppers, avocado

GREEN:  Broccoli, all the dark leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, artichoke, asparagus, green beans.  GREEN TEA too (there is some research showing intake of green tea can prevent demential

2) Follow a low carb/ low glycemic index diet.  Sugar is a carbohydrate; but not all carbohydrates are unhealthy.  In fact they are a great source of prolonged energy and we need them to be healthy.  But not all carbs are alike.  Some will turn quickly into sugar once you eat them and lead to quick spikes and then crashes in your blood sugar.  These are called “high glycemic index” carbs and are best avoided.  “Low glycemic index” carbs tend to be more a more complex type of carbohydrate such as a vegetable or a whole, unrefined grain.  To learn more about how to switch to a low glycemic index diet check out the following web page:

3) Eat Lean Proteins:
Lean proteins such as beans, tofu, fish, are less likely to lead to the creation of excessive AGE’s.  And are less inflammatory to the body than proteins high in saturated fats.

4) Eat Healthy Fats: Omega 3 fatty acids (such as those found in fish and nuts) are anti-inflammatory to the body and essential for normal brain function.  The Omega 3 fatty acid DHA is crucial for brain function and we cannot manufacture it in the body. It must come in through our diet.  The main source of this fatty acid is fish.  If you do not eat any fish then you may want to consider taking a fish oil (or krill oil) supplement.

5) Avoid unhealthy fats, too much animal protein, and processed foods.  Some examples of foods known to be unhealthy for your brain include:

-trans-fats                              –White sugar                           –Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)                 —Chemical food additives  -hydrolyzed vegetable proteins                                        –soy protein isolates                                             —overcooked meats                 –caramelized foods             –excessively sugary foods

6) Buy organic whenever possible:
Though we don’t know exactly what the impact is of pesticides on brain function, we do know that some pesticides are neurotoxins and it seems wise to avoid those if you want to keep your brain functioning at it’s best.  It can be expensive to do 100% organic all the time.  However some fruits and vegetables are known to excessively accumulate pesticides and those are best eaten as organically grown only.  Leafy greens and berries are two examples that come to mind.  You can also check out the “dirty dozen” list put out  by the Environmental Working Group each year.  It lists the produce with the highest pesticide levels and also those with the lowest.

7) Get enough Vitamin B12: An 8 year study of people in their 70’s looked at memory and other signs of healthy brain function.  The researchers found that cognitive function declined much faster among the subjects with the lowest B12 levels.  Surprisingly these people did not have to have levels below normal to show ill effects.  Just being in the low normal group was enough.  It is certainly a good idea to have your B12 level checked at your physical and it wouldn’t hurt to take a supplement.  Most of the  multivitamins for people over age 55 add in extra B12, or you could just take it as a stand alone with 25 to 50mcg for prevention and much higher doses (500 to 1000mcg) to treat deficiency.


Don’t forget about Stress:

Stress is inflammatory to the body as well.  A key part of brain health is having a healthy way of coping with stress:

–exercise           –meditate       –laugh       –be creative          –do some yoga, or tai chi      –get enough sleep  –have a massage


Exercise :

Finding a type of exercise you enjoy is essential for overall health.  Besides helping you to cope better with stress, exercise also helps you to use up excessive sugar and makes the insulin you have circulating in your body work better.  It burns fat and the less fat you have sitting around your mid-section the less inflammation you have in your body.  If you want to minimize the amount of AGE’s in your body then regular exercise is key.

You don’t have to run a marathon either.  Just walking for 30 min 5 x a week is enough.  If that seems like too much start with shorter walks and work your way up.


consider the impact of medications (over the counter and prescription):

In his “Better Brain Book” Dr Perlmutter goes to great lengths to discuss all the potentially harmful medications out there.  I recommend checking it out.   Also there has been some new research  recently reporting on the dangers of benzodiazepines (xanax, klonopin, valium, ativan, etc).   A prospective study looking at 1063 men and women (mean age 78) who were all free of dementia at the onset of the study.  They were followed for 15 years.  The researchers compared those who started benzodiazepine use at year 3 or later in the study to those who never took them and found a 50% increased risk for dementia in the group using benzodiazepines.

This really struck me because poor sleep is a common problem as we age and these medications are often used to help with sleep.  I think the message here is to think long and hard before taking these and to investigate more natural ways to cope with insomnia and anxiety.  Contact me if you want to learn more about how to do that for yourself.


Helpful Links:  For those of you who want to learn more:

Dr Perlmutter on Alzheimers:

Eating a low glycemic index diet:

Eating Organic:

Sleeping Better:

Exercise more:

Stress management tips:


Beware of the dangers of too much calcium….

Calcium rich foods are an important part of a healthy diet.  BUT, as always, balance is important.  Too much of a good thing is not always a good thing.  And when it comes to calcium, research is showing that too much (especially when it comes from supplements) may actually be harmful.

When I was in medical school and residency I was always told to encourage women to drink milk and eat yogurt and if they didn’t do that daily to advise a calcium supplement. The recommended doses at that time were 1000mg for pre-menapausal women and 1500mg for post-menopausal women.   In many conferences and lectures we were encouraged to just given women 1000- 1500mg of calcium in supplements to be sure they were getting enough.

I went along with that for a long time. Interestingly, in noticed that my patients often took less than I prescribed. Perhaps these women had an intuitive sense that too much calcium from supplements might be unnecessary or even potentially harmful.  I will outline some of the potential risks in this blog today.

But what about the “potential benefits?  Every pill or supplement you take into your body will offer you both potential risk and potential benefit.  It is wise to keep this in mind and to be sure you are fully aware of both sides of the equation before deciding if something will be part of your regular routine.

Let’s start with the benefits…..

Calcium is an important mineral to the body.  It is largely stored in the bones and does contribute to bone strength.  In fact 98% of the calcium in your body is located in your bones.  The rest is divided between your teeth (1%) and your blood (1%).

In women who have a low intake of dietary calcium, research has shown the taking 500mg a day of calcium citrate does improve the strength of bones in the femur, spine, and wrist.   Other research has made it clear that adding vitamin D to the calcium supplement is needed to show definite benefit in decreasing the risk of osteoporosis in post menopausal women.  The reason you need to take the vitamin D is because you need adequate vitamin D in your body or else the calcium will not be properly absorbed.

A 2010 report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) found that most Americans get more then enough calcium from diet to maintain healthy bones.  The only group who did not seem to be taking enough in through diet was girls aged 9 through 18.  This may be why research published in 2011 in Osteoporsis Int showed improved bone strength in a group of girls aged 9 through 13 who took calcium 800mg  PLUS vitamin D  (400mg) for 6months.

In contrast, many post-menopausal women may be taking too much calcium if they take high dose supplements.


Other potential benefits of calcium supplementation include: reducing PMS,  slightly lowering blood pressure, slightly improving cholesterol levels, and possibly preventing polyps in the colon.  Some favorable research does exist for each of these conditions.

There was a time when calcium was reported to aid in weight loss but follow up research proved that was not true.

There was a study with white, postmenopausal women published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in 2011 that showed a 3.8% reduction in risk of death over a 22 year period in the women who took up to (but not over) 900mg per day in supplements.

Another recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn this year followed a large group of men and women for 12 years and showed a decreased risk of death from heart disease with increased calcium intake (from all sources combined), up to a total of  about 1200mg per day.

Remember that is 1200mg from BOTH food and supplements.  Taking 1000mg a day in supplements is very likely to put you well over this and into a much higher range of calcium intake.  This is important to realize because excessive calcium intake appears to carry with it some pretty concerning risks.  Read on to learn more….

The Risks of calcium supplementation: 

In addition to the findings that some calcium intake may be protective to the heart research is showing that too much calcium (especially from supplements) may be doing just the opposite.

In recent years medical research has certainly shown that we have good reason to be cautious.  In 2010 a study in the British Medical Journal showed an increase in heart attacks in women taking high doses of calcium.  Interestingly this risk was NOT seen when the women took both calcium and vitamin D.  So there are still a lot of questions about what is really going on here.

Still that same study mentioned above, the one published this year in JAMA, showed that in men taking more than 1000mg a day of calcium in supplement form, there was a significantly increased risk for death from heart attack over the 12 year period studied.    This finding was not seen in the women in that study but other studies have shown some association between heart disease in calcium supplementation for both men and  women if  they  were already taking in more than 805 mg of calcium from foods.  Fortunately there was NO association between dietary calcium and an increased risk for heart attack.  The problem seemed to come from combining a moderate to high amount of dietary calcium along with the supplements.

More recently the British Medical Journal published a 19-year study conducted in Sweden that showed a significantly higher risk of Death in women with high calcium intake (especially if it came from supplements).  Women in the group taking >1400mg of calcium per day (from diet and supplements) were 40% more likely to die during the trial period compared to women in the group taking in 600mg to 1000mg per day(Michaelsson, BMJ 2013).

Some experts have theorized that there is a high spike of calcium in the blood following ingestion of a supplement and speculate that this “burst” of calcium may increase the risk for the calcium to deposit in the arteries leading to increased risk of developing plaques/ blockages in those arteries.  We still don’t know.  But there are enough questions re: safety to make it clear that more is not better when it comes to your calcium pills.

2) PROSTATE CANCER:  Here’s a quote from the Harvard School of Public Health on this issue:

“A diet high in calcium has been implicated as a probable risk factor for prostate cancer. (17) In a Harvard study of male health professionals, men who drank two or more glasses of milk a day were almost twice as likely to develop advanced prostate cancer as those who didn’t drink milk at all. (18) The association appears to be with calcium itself, rather than with dairy products in general: A more recent analysis of the Harvard study participants found that men with the highest calcium intake—at least 2,000 milligrams a day—had nearly double the risk of developing fatal prostate cancer as those who had the lowest intake (less than 500 milligrams per day). (19)”

More research is needed.  But until that time it seems wise for men to limit their calcium intake.  Most experts agree it is best for men to get their calcium from food and to keep their total intake to <2000mg per day.  If a man does take a supplement most experts advise to keep it to 500mg or less.

3) KIDNEY STONES:   Research has shown that there can be an increased risk of kidney stones from calcium supplementation, especially with doses 1000mg or over.  Fortunately there has not been any problem found from dietary calcium so if you have a history of  kidney stones you can still feel safe to get your calcium from food.



So the question remains, is there benefit to taking calcium supplements?  The answer depends on you.  Do you follow a very acid diet?  Is your dietary intake of calcium low?

The calcium in your bones does play a role in keeping your bones strong but it also has another function.  It is critical to maintaining a healthy acid-base balance in the blood.  Your blood must keep within a very narrow pH range.  Going just a little bit too high or too low will lead to dire health consequences.   If your pH begins to drift out too much into an “acid” range then the bones release calcium into the blood to buffer the excess acids.

This is key to understand because the standard American diet is one that drives the body toward an acid state.  In fact the amount of calcium you take in may not be the only thing we need to focus on when it comes to bone health.  Equally important is reducing the amount of high acid foods and getting enough alkaline foods.  Acid forming foods include: Soda (regular AND diet),  meat,  dairy (yes, dairy!), white sugar, processed foods, trans-fats.  Alkaline foods include: fruits and vegetables, beans, herbs).  High salt intake can also trigger the kidneys to excrete calcium and lead to weakening of bones (

Loss of calcium through the urine goes UP when diets are high in protein and sodium.  In fact it has been shown that vegans (people who eat no animal protein) have low excretion of calcium in their urine and vegetarians lose less than omnivores. (Breslau, J. of Clincal Endocrinology and Metabolism. 1988)

Furthermore, calcium absorption will be increased and excess loss decreased by:

–Keeping your vitamin D level in the normal range

–Avoiding excess animal protein (have some vegetarian meals if you can)

–Limit your intake of sodium to less than 2400mg per day (read labels!)

–Eat more fruits and vegetables, they help keep the blood more alkaline.  (aim for 7-9 servings/day)

–Avoid excessive caffeine and alcohol (both have been linked to accelerated bone loss)

–Avoid white sugar and simple carbohydrates (they push the blood in the acid direction)

Also there may be foods that are particularly protective.  One researcher looking into this and according to the textbook on Integrative Medicine:

“Muhlbauer described 25 plant foods as bone resorption inhibitory food items (BRIFI). These include garlic, rosemary, Italian parsley, sage, thyme, parsley, dill, onion, arugula, prune, fennel, orange, leek, yellow boletus, wild garlic, field agaric, red cabbage, celeriac, red wine, and lettuce.[51] In addition to effects on acid-base balance, the benefits of plant foods also appear to be related to the pharmacologically active compounds they contain. Certain specific monoterpenes,[52] flavonoids, and phenols[53] may be responsible for the observed beneficial effects on bone.”

Keeping these foods in your diet will likely slow your loss of calcium and therefore decrease your need for supplementation.



And of course including plenty of dietary sources of calcium helps, too.  I’m going to include a link to a table here to guide you but bear in mind adding up the “millgrams” of each of these is only part of what will keep your bones healthy.

Some foods may be more “bioavailable” meaning that the body is better able to absorb the calcium they contain (this is likely true for dark greens).  Also some people may be better able to absorb calcium.  Pregnant women have been shown to be better able to absorb and maintain calcium in their systems during this time.  They still need to take in calcium but they don’t need to take in more than their non-pregnant peers.

For those who like hard numbers the following recommendations currently exist:

For those ages 1-3: 700mg/day, ages 4-8: 1000mg/day,  ages 9-18:  1300mg /day,  ages 19-50:  1000mg/day,  ages 51- 70: 1000mg/ day for men and 1200mg/day for women, ages >71: 1200mg.

Here’s that link that lists the specific calcium content in foods:



If you do take supplements then bear the following in mind:

–Do not take more than 900mg/day in supplements.  Looking at the research suggests that a max of 500mg is  enough.

–Be sure to take vitamin D with your calcium so it can be absorbed

–Calcium citrate is better absorbed and can be taken with or without food.  This type of calcium may be a better choice for people with low stomach acid.  Calcium carbonate is less expensive but less easily absorbed so it is better to take with meals.


Additional References: Calcium monograph

Rakel, David MD.  Integartive Medicine, 3rd ed

Harvard school of public health web site: : product review of calcium supplements

Taking control of your DNA

After 5 years of having a regular email newsletter I have decided to branch out to blogging.  As with my newsletter  the purpose of this blog will be to empower you to be healthier and happier by providing you with information about how you can alter your environment to optimize your health and happiness.  Today I’m writing an article about health, but other blogs will focus on specific foods and recipes that will help you to follow a healthier path.

Today’s Article:

Taking control of your DNA:  How diet and lifestyle change your cells.

Medical research has shown that our health has much more to do with the environment we place the cells of our body in than it does with the DNA blueprints handed down to us from our families.  What do I mean by “environment”?  Read on to learn more.

The Environment of your Body and Cells:

The environment that influences the way your cells express or manifest the information encoded in your DNA consists of many things.  In this article I break them down into 4 major categories:  1)Food,  2) Exercise 3) Stress 4) Social support.

For today I am going to mainly focus on #1.  Future posts will offer more details on the other factors listed above.

1) The food you eat:   Just like your mom may have told you when you were young,  “You are what you eat.”  It’s not just a matter of getting enough protein, carbs, and fats to run the motor of your body each day.  The quality of those proteins, carbs, and fats makes a huge difference.


Quality proteins come from:  beans, tofu, nuts, fish, eggs, lean poultry.

The much studied “Mediterranean diet” places these proteins front and center.  Research has confirmed that those who follow this diet have reduced risk of heart attack.  According to the Harvard School of public health,  “Hundreds of scientific studies have linked the diet, which emphasizes fish, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, olive oil, and less red meat and dairy, to reduced heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, type 2 diabetes, and other conditions.”

Poor quality proteins come from : deep fried fish,  meat raised on a factory farm with antibiotics and hormones, full fat dairy like ice cream.  Eating more high quality proteins and less or no unhealthy ones will start you on the track for improved health and well being.


Quality carbohydrates  include whole grains and vegetables.

These healthy carbs are what has been called low glycemic index carbohydrates.   You may recall from past newsletters what I  mean by low glycemic carbohydrates.  These carbs are more slowly digested and so lead to a slower rise in blood sugar and more sustained energy after eating them.  To offer a brief summary these are complex carbohydrates, minimally processed like whole grains,  non-starchy vegetables, some fruits.  You can click on the link on the sidebar titled “glycemic index” to learn more.

Poor quality carbohydrates are either highly refined or so simple to digest that they almost immediately turn into sugar in your body once you eat them.  These include white bread, baked goods, pastries, cookies, white rice, candy, sugar sweetened drinks, and fruit juices.

Eating diets high in poor quality carbohydrates increases your risk for high cholesterol, obesity, and of course diabetes.  In the United States we are experiencing epidemic levels of obesity and diabetes.  The health consequences for both can be quite dire.  To quote the Harvard school of public health “In a study of more than 160,000 women whose health and dietary habits were followed for up to 18 years, those who averaged 2 to 3 servings of whole grains a day were 30 percent less likely to have developed type 2 diabetes than those who rarely ate whole grains.” (  de Munter JS, Hu FB, Spiegelman D, Franz M, van Dam RM. Whole grain, bran, and germ intake and risk of type 2 diabetes: a prospective cohort study and systematic review. PLoS MedOpens in New Window. 2007; 4:e261).  So you can see that choices you make in your diet now can influence your future health.


Quality fats are unsaturated fats.  These include the fats found in olive oil, avocados, raw nuts, fatty fish.

Unhealthy fats are transfats and saturated fats.

Trans fats are the worst kind of fat.   Although there are some naturally occurring transfats in red meat, the majority of trans fats available for the standard American diet come from man made trans fats.   Trans fat is a vegetable oil that has been processed so that it will take longer to spoil. It gives packaged snacks a longer shelf-life. It is also commonly found in oils used for deep frying in restaurants and fast food chains. This type of fat is not natural. It has been altered and the change in it’s chemical structure creates a lot of problems with the human body.

Foods that may contain trans fats: stick margarines, vegetable shortenings, french fries, doughnuts, packaged pastries and cookies, and non-dairy creamers.  Intake of trans fats has been linked to increased inflammation in the body and may play a role in the development of diabetes, arthritis, and heart attack.  Eating more trans fats causes higher levels of “bad” cholesterol and lower levels of “good” cholesterol.  BUT if you change the environment of those cholesterol producing cells and surround them with more healthy fats and less unhealthy one the opposite is true.  Levels of good cholesterol go up and the levels of bad cholesterol go down.  A good goal is to remove all trans fats from your diet.  The good news is that due to public health efforts a lot of trans fat has already been removed from foods.  But don’t be fooled. Read labels and beware of fried foods when eating out.  Ask the restaurant what kind of oil they use.

Since 2006 the US Food and Drug administration has required manufacturers to list trans fats on the nutrition label. BUT if a product contains less than a gram, it can be listed as zero. But this is still dangerous for you as the quantities can add up with multiple servings.

You can avoid this pitfall by reading the ingredient list as well. Trans fats are listed as “partially hydrogenated oil”, “vegetable shortening”

Saturated fats are those that come from animal sources (meat and dairy).  And high intake of these has also been associated with increased risk for heart disease and high cholesterol.  Some research (see the book “The China Study”) has also linked the intake of animal proteins with increased risk for cancer.  Research has shown that removing saturated fats from your diet can improve your health IF you replace them with unsaturated, healthy fats.  (Siri-Tarino PW, Sun Q, Hu FB, Krauss RM. Saturated fatty acids and risk of coronary heart disease: modulation by replacement nutrients. Curr Atheroscler RepOpens in New Window. 2010;12:384-90.)

However, replacing saturated fats with “low fat” processed foods does NOT improve health.  In fact research shows it actually worsens it.  First of all our bodies need healthy fats, they are essential to proper cell function.  Secondly the “low fat” cookies, etc at the store have almost universally replaced the fat that was there with unhealthy carbohydrates (ie: sugar).   Again to quote the Harvard school of public health, “Eating refined carbs in place of saturated fat does lower “bad” LDL cholesterol—but it also lowers the “good” HDL cholesterol and increases triglycerides. The net effect is as bad for the heart as eating too much saturated fat—and perhaps even worse for people who have insulin resistance because they are overweight or inactive. (17,25)”

Do not be fooled by health claims on low fat products.  It is best to eat real foods, whole foods and to make foods that are high in unhealthy proteins, fats, and carbs an occasional  thing, not a regular practice.  If you can eat healthy 80% of the time that is most likely good enough.  You don’t have to be perfect, if you eat healthier more than half the time your body will see the improvement.

As you place your cells in the environment of healthy foods they will be different.  They will express DNA differently.  Dean Ornish MD showed this in his research on prostate cancer.  When a man is diagnosed with low stage prostate cancer he is often advised to wait to start treatment because the treatments may be more harmful than watchful waiting.  Dr Ornish  took a group of men with a history of low stage prostate cancer and some of them continued with their regular diet and lifestyle (they were the control group) while the other group followed a diet high in vegetables and fruits with protein from vegetarian sources and almost no saturated fats (called the study group or experimental group).   Here’s a quote from his website summarizing that research:  “We examined the effects of intensive lifestyle changes on men with early stage Prostate Cancer after 1 year. After 1 year, none of the men in the experimental group underwent conventional treatments compared to 6 in the control group. Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) decreased 4% in the experimental group compared to a 6% increase in the control group, and prostate cancer cell growth was inhibited almost eight times as much in the experimental group compared to the control group. These results indicate that intensive lifestyle changes may effect the progression of early low grade prostate cancer.” (Ornish D, Weidner G, Fair WR, et al. Intensive lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Journal of Urology. 2005; 174(3): 1065-70).

Other aspects of his research showed that those in the experimental group had cells were cancer fighting genes were turned ON and cancer promoting genes were turned OFF.  The opposite was true in the control group.  Perhaps the expression of the genes in each group was different because the environment they put their genes in was different.


Which brings me to some of the other aspects of “environment”.  Once again when I talk about the environment you put your body and cells in I am referring to the food you eat, but also much more.  This environment is also made up of several other factors including:

2) Healthy movement:  This means having a regular exercise practice that you enjoy.  You don’t have to kill yourself to get the health benefits.  Any movement helps to reduce stress and improve health.  Walking is great.  Walking outside is ever better (because of enhanced reduction of stress).  The key factor is to choose something you enjoy doing and then to find a way to fit it into your life as a regular practice.  Even 30 min 3x a week can have a profound impact.

3) Reduced effects of Stress:   I could write several newsletters on this topic alone!  I have written on the topic of stress in the past and I will write about it again in the future.  To summarize here though, chronic stress leads to hormonal changes in your body that can advsersely affect your mood, your concentration, your sleep, your digestion, your fertility, your blood pressure, and more.  There will always be stressful times in life and often you will not have control over them.  What you can control however is how you respond to the stress and how the stress impacts your body and spirit.  Techniques known to help in this include: yoga, tai chi, exercise, meditation, guided imagery, hypnosis, massage, acupuncture, having a creative outlet, sleeping well, spending time in nature….just to name a few.

4) Social support:  No one can make it through this life on his/her own.  We all need love and support.  Having healthy supportive relationships is an essential part of whole health.  Of course being on good terms with family, friends, and coworkers help quite a bit.  In addition many people find comfort from the support of a spiritual practice.  This can be through organized religion or through your own individual path.  However we are more than our bodies.  I know there is much debate around this area but it is clear that there is something more to a living person than just their body.  Connecting with your spirit in a healthy way reduces stress and enhances health.


In the prostate cancer research mentioned above from Dr Ornish the study/ experimental group followed a special diet but they also did much more than that.  They also engaged in regular exercise such as walking and participated in a program to help reduce stress either through yoga or meditation.   Finally they were also offered enhanced social support.  It is likely all of these things together that brought about the healthy cellular changes.

This brings me back to health counseling.  When I studied at the Institute for Integrative nutrition the founder of the school taught us about his concept of “primary foods.”  Primary foods are what feed our souls.  These include : a regular type of exercise that you enjoy,  healthy relationships,  satisfying career, and a spiritual connection.  If something is out of balance with your primary foods then you will most likely find yourself  drawn to unhealthy foods as a way to comfort yourself.  It is in times of stress that we crave simple sugars and unhealthy fats.  Becoming aware of this allows you to begin to change it.

Working with my clients using both health counseling and hypnosis, I help them to uncover where there may be blocks or imbalances adversely affecting their health and happiness.  And then we work together to help them find their way to make a healthy change.

I write this article today to help all my readers to know they have much more control over their own health than they may have been previously led to believe.  And also to encourage you to make one or two changes  now to improve the environment of your cells.  It is a new year after all and a great time for setting healthy intentions.  You don’t have to do it all, just start moving in the right direction and keep adding on you go.  Here are some examples of simple changes to get you started:

–Eat one vegetarian dinner a week or if you feel more inspired

–Eat one vegetarian meal a day

–Start walking

–Take up yoga

–Sit down to eat meals.  Sit at a table, turn off the TV and be with each other (this reduces stress, improved portion control, and enhances social support)

–Bring your own lunch to work once a week (or more).

–Remove all trans fats from your kitchen

–Start cooking with olive oil

There are so many options, I could go on and on.  I just want to finish up by reminding you that even one small change can set you on a path to being healthier and happier and may just prevent illness in the future.   Whatever you decide for your new years resolution I hope it is something that supports you and nourishes you.

Please feel free to let me now how you like the new format.  And please feel free to share the link with friends and family.  Happy 2013 Everyone!!