Food & Seasonal Allergies

The best way to support your body during allergy season is to limit exposure, which may mean watching what you eat.

Grass allergies are nothing to sneeze at, so to speak. They can be worse if you’re not aware of how your diet can help or hurt the situation.

grass photo.jpgIt seems overly simplistic, but all the foods we eat were first grown in fields. Bread, the staff of life, is made from grass.  Wheat is a type of grass, as are oats. Your favorite 12-grain bread is a nightmare for the immune system if you are already struggling with grass sensitivities.

During allergy season, your immune system is stimulated to fight off invaders coming through your eyes, nose and mouth.  Sneezing, coughing and watering eyes are all ways to expel the toxins. But if we also eat grains, it extends the response into the digestive system, and the body becomes overloaded. The best way to help your body cope is to limit exposure.  Most of us already do that by not going outside or using face masks and the lightweight beekeeper’s suit my neighbor uses for mowing his lawn. It just doesn’t occur to us to put our lunch into the same category as outdoor activity.  Recognize what it is that you’re eating. Switch out the sandwich for a salad or some other non-bread option that will nourish your struggling immune system, and you may feel a lot better for it.

Since every person is unique, the best way to find out what works for you is by keeping a food journal. Take note of what you eat and how you feel. If you find yourself tired within an hour of eating, something has stressed your immune system.  Alternatively, if you feel like going another round with the yardwork after eating, you’ve chosen well.  Your body is happy and productive, and everything is working as it should.

Strangely enough, fully processed white breads may not be a problem.  The allergic reaction is triggered by proteins in the grain or pollen, and white bread has had proteins processed out for shelf stability. Whole grain breads have intact proteins which will strengthen your body’s defenses, but add to the trigger load.  So you have to consider the payoff:  while white bread will not nourish your system, it will not stress it, either. I use whole grains to build up the body in the off-season when they don’t cause such a problem, and white breads when rest is necessary but only bread will suffice.

Don’t forget that emotions and mindset play into the strength of the immune system. Comfort foods are often helpful to calm the body’s over-responsivity, especially for a child. A peanut butter sandwich on white bread can be a big relief in the midst of allergy season.

And while bread is a big offender, it is not the only one.  Corn or rice in chips or cereal can be troublesome, since both are grain-based. Corn syrup is a common ingredient in many foods. A beer could be troublesome for its barley content. And different seasons have their own foods. Mold allergies can be made worse by cheeses, wine, or grapes, as well as yeast, which puts bread off the plate again. A food journal really is your best asset to find these connections.

Know that your efforts do make a difference. The worst puzzle I ever had was while dealing with multiple food sensitivities in my son.  We’d moved to the Las Vegas desert to avoid pollens, but spring was especially hard on him.  It turned out palm trees in the neighborhood were blooming, and the date sugar I was using to minimize obvious stressors made him very sick. Palm trees are so tall, it hadn’t occurred to me they were blooming. Neither did I make the connection that dates are the fruit of palm trees. But I had a journal, and a wise consultant helped us to put that in the past. Eliminating the date sugar and nourishing his system with other wholesome foods gave him the strength to handle palm season appropriately. Now, ten years later, he doesn’t react to anything.

As you work with your body to surmount problems,  your body will reward you with excellent health year-round.

 

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Overweight and Undernourished

Better health comes from the inside.

I read today that the National Institutes of Health spend $800 million a year trying to find the cause of obesity.  Really?  Isn’t this fairly obvious?

Actually, it’s not. Because most people today are struggling with eating more than they want but still being hungry.  There are two reasons for this.

The most common cause of overeating is refined food. Pasta, bread, potatoes, white rice, and breakfast cereals are staples in the standard American diet, but give very little nourishment. The body requires carbohydrates, but most of the carbs we eat today are stripped of their fiber and nutrients, leaving only empty calories. They end up just acting like sugar and making us feel good without any real benefit to the body. If you stop eating them, though, the energy quickly depletes and you get the well known sugar crash of children after a birthday party. It’s a little more subtle in an adult. It looks more like a 3 o’clock slump. Grabbing a soda gets us through the afternoon, and a mixed drink after work keeps us comfortable until dinner. If you can’t go more than 2 hours without some sort of snack, you may be dealing with this.

The long term results of this type of eating are not good. Simple carbohydrates (including alcohol) require insulin to process into energy or storage for later use. The pancreas regulates the amount of sugars circulating in the blood, releasing hormones to either shunt them off into storage in fat cells, or bring some of those storage sugars back into the system. With constant demand, the pancreas tires and begins ignoring sugar more and more. Other organs strain to hold equilibrium, which eventually leads to heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The second issue is related. A diet of mostly simple carbohydrates and processed food is lacking in most nutrients. So while we’re eating more than ever, our bodies are actually malnourished.  Fortified breads and cereals are composed of stripped grains and synthetic vitamins which are more shelf stable. They lack the complexity and balance of whole foods. Even after eating an entire meal, the nutrients our body needs for fuel (or to process what we just ate) aren’t there, so we begin scavenging quickly after leaving the table. The average American eats far more calories than necessary and yet reaps very little real nutrition. Without substance in our food, the body can only compensate so much before it runs out of raw materials for energy.

Calorie restricting diets, then, become laughable because willpower cannot stop the body’s need for nourishment. More exercise will only increase the demand for food. The body resorts to its bi-hourly “fix”.

The solution to the obesity epidemic is not another alternative to the bacon double cheeseburger or more flavors of rice cakes. The only solution is for each individual, that’s you and me, to shift to whole foods. Choose rich, colorful salads with diverse raw and steamed veggies, fruits, whole grains, and a variety of different meats. Mix up what you eat during the week, so that no night looks exactly like the others. Try new things at the supermarket, and only shop the outside edges: produce, meats, dairy.

The picture that motivated me: “Which one’s the cow?”

The biggest problem here is not that we don’t know this, but that implementation is hard. On cold days, I don’t want a salad. When I’m busy, I don’t have time for a lovely sit-down meal – I’m just happy I could grab a slice of pizza on my way to the next appointment. And to be honest, it’s more expensive to get a real meal than to just grab donuts and coffee on the way.

We must keep the payoff in mind. The food budget may go up a bit, but the medical expenses will go down as health improves and doctor visits become shorter and further apart. Change requires intentionality and effort.  No pill will cure obesity. If you catch yourself still browsing the kitchen after you’ve eaten a meal, recognize it! Recognition is the first step toward better habits. Try to ride it out or choose a protein snack.  I find a cheese stick or celery stalk is more gratifying than I’d expect and gets me through those moments. At the next meal, choose more complex foods that will nourish your body and hold you longer. I’ve recently added an extra vegetable at dinner – my plate is more interesting, there’s more to eat, and I’m feeling better for it!

Celebrate little strides toward health with something not related to food. It may take longer to see results than you’d like, but hang in there. Better health comes from the inside, and will eventually find its way to the surface. You will see that healthy glow again!!

 

 

Omega-3s: the essentials, and how to choose what’s right for you

Omega-3 EFAs, Fish Oil, Krill Oil, or Cod Liver Oil. Which do you choose? 

20180409_213158.jpgIt doesn’t really matter what we eat because the body can make anything it needs from what it gets, right? Well, not exactly. If the raw ingredients aren’t there, the body can’t operate properly.

Essential fatty acids, which fuel the brain and keep the heart healthy, are commonly missing ingredients that the body cannot make on its own. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, “Clinical signs of essential fatty acid deficiency include a dry scaly rash, decreased growth in infants and children, increased susceptibility to infection, and poor wound healing.”  It also impacts memory, neurological function, and coronary heart disease. And it’s far from rare. A Harvard study named omega-3 deficiency as one of the top 10 causes of death in the US, causing up to 96,000 preventable deaths per year.

Essential fatty acids are mainly thought of in two types. Omega-6  fatty acids are found in vegetables, nuts and seeds, common in household cooking oils, as well as processed and fried foods. They are important for immunity, and have been shown to help reduce inflammation and symptoms of many chronic diseases. However, omega-3s (DHA and EPA) are not so prevalent, only available in fatty fish and shellfish in any appreciable amount. They are crucial to building cell membranes.

The issue at stake is that omega-6 oils from plant foods must be kept balanced with omega-3 oils from fish, and most people don’t eat enough fish to make an impact. Actually, it would be very difficult to accomplish. The ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 should be in the range of 1:1 to 4:1. Most people are in the 10:1 to 25:1 range. This is why omega-3 supplements have become big business.

But the minute you go to buy a bottle at the store, you’re confronted with choices: Omega-3 EFAs, Fish Oil, Krill Oil, or Cod Liver Oil. Which do you choose?

Omega-3 EFAs can be vegan, made of seed and nut oils (ALA), which must be converted by the body into the DHA and EPA it uses for brain development and activity. Flaxseeds are the best source of ALA, but it takes twice as much flaxseed as fish to get the same amount of omega-3s. Since only 3% of ALA are synthesized into what you need, it’s not overly efficient. I’m a huge fan of flaxseed oil – just not for balancing omega-6s. Check the label for what it truly is.

Fish oil is omega-3s that are derived from various fish, usually herring and mackerel, which tend to build up EPA and DHA in their flesh. Since many fish also build up mercury in their flesh, there is a risk in the oils derived from them. All omega-3 oils are polyunsaturated, which makes them very vulnerable to rancidity. They should always be processed quickly and without heat or chemicals to avoid destroying them. When the type of fish is unspecified, it may be a cheaper form of supplement, subject to cheaper and harsher forms of processing. Not necessarily, though; take the time to research your source and ensure that you have a high quality one.

Krill is a type of shellfish, which is important for people who follow a biblical diet or have shellfish sensitivities. Krill oil contains astaxanthin, a pigment which has anti-inflammatory properties and fights free radicals, as well as stabilizing the oil somewhat. Unlike other fish oils, the omega-3s in krill are bound to phospholipids, a type of lecithin, that are said to reduce fish burps and increase absorption. Many makers of this supplement do not divulge their extraction process, however, which may be chemically based and impacts its purity and freshness. This is a “buyer beware” supplement, a mix of great benefits with possible negative aspects. Do your research.

Cod Liver Oil comes from (obviously) the liver of the codfish, which is a concentrated source of EPA and DHA combined with vitamins A and D.  These vitamins work synergistically with the fatty acids to help absorb calcium and thereby build strong teeth and bones, as well as promoting eye health.  Compared to fish oil, there is less omega-3 per serving, but the integrated vitamins improve utilization in the body. The amount of vitamins A and D is high, which may be desirable in light of studies indicating that vitamin D deficiency is also very common. Cod liver oil is a time-tested supplement (the Vikings used it extensively) that builds a strong immune system and improves longevity. Tests have shown that it improves cognitive development, reduces depression, improves wound healing (even when used topically), and reduces upper respiratory illness in children.

Personally, I have used all of them, rotating supplements to get the benefits that each offers while offsetting the drawbacks. Take note of which one makes you feel the best – that’s your winner!

Connecting the Dots to Health

The cycle of chronic illness can be broken. The integrity of the body is the key.  If the spiral can go down, it can also go up. We can use the connectedness of the body to reverse chronic problems and launch a cascade of health.

Doctors have taught us to look at each specific symptom separately, going to an optometrist for eye troubles, the psychiatrist for mental breakdown, and the gastroenterologist for stomach ulcers. If the problem is an injury, that is a very appropriate approach. But most troubles today are chronic and not so specialized. The question needs to be: What is the cause of my symptom? This question is key to achieving health.

Remember in high school, when we were taught that the brain sends a message for the hand to move and the hand moves? But the body is a lot more complex than this. In a burn situation, the hand can retract independently, even before the brain knows of a problem. Nerves in the hand then sound the alarm, and appropriate rehabilitation processes begin right in the immediate area as well as in the brain, where larger scale measures are engaged.

And then the stomach may get upset.  Ever think about why that happens? It has nothing to do with the injury. Yet it’s part of the nerve response, the switching from normal to emergency procedures. All digestion shuts down for more important issues. No one piece works alone, but in concert with all others to accomplish the body’s purposes.

If the emergency lasts too long, such as if you are traveling and can’t address the burn properly, an ulcer may appear. Or migraine headaches. The ulcer or headache is not the problem; it’s a reflection of an inability of the system to rebalance.

Our bodies are integral. Once we truly grasp that everything is related, health can be effectively addressed. It seems so elementary, yet so profound. The true solution to your ulcer is not another swig of Mylanta; it’s to overcome the obstacle which has kept you in emergency mode. The inability to relax will keep your stomach overly acidic and underactive. In time, the burn will heal, but the stomach, once a complication, is now its own issue, causing new consequences.

The body is composed of entire systems of nerves and chemical reactions that send messages and receive feedback, act independently, respond to commands, and transmit status reports to maintain balance in the organism. The same network that causes proper response in an emergency will make problems when the situation turns chronic.

But the cycle of chronic illness can be broken. The integrity of the body is the key.  If the spiral can go down, it can also go up. We can use the connectedness of the body to reverse chronic problems and launch a cascade of health:

  • Most important is a good night’s sleep. Cleaning and maintenance happens during sleep, especially in the pre-midnight hours, to clean out cell debris and restore readiness for a new day’s work. Cleanliness starts at the deepest levels.
  • Eat whole foods the way they grew. Life starts at the ground level. Minimal processing means the energy of the food can be transferred to your cells effectively. Dead or synthetic foods are no way to live.
  • Pure, filtered water and plenty of it washes the body clean, lubricates moving parts and maintains proper temperature. Hydration also keeps the skin wrinkle free and younger looking.
  • Exercise daily. Whether walking or high intensity interval training, strong muscles prevent injuries and movement promotes detoxification. Fitness is good medicine.
  • Collect like-minded people on your path. Together, you can develop a culture of healthy practices, encourage accountability and celebrate success. The difference friends make to your brain health is significant.

Even if you can only do one of these points, it will make a positive difference. That investment will compound when combined with other steps you can add. Just like a savings account, a little bit added regularly turns into a big deposit in your future. Even if you’re inconsistent, as more pieces are added, you’ll begin to see benefits. Consistency will get easier. And the sooner you start and the more diverse your efforts, the more secure your health will be.

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SAD: What’s going on and How do I get out?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) feels like a dark, cumbersome blanket that holds you back from life – and yet you just want to wrap yourself inside it and disappear.

Port Aransas (personal collection)

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is something I’ve struggled with most of my adult life, as did my dad. It just feels like a dark, cumbersome blanket that holds you back from a vibrant life – and yet, because it’s cold outside, you just want to wrap yourself inside it and disappear.  It is bleak. Nobody seems to understand depression, much less when it is merely seasonal.  It’s easier to deny the problem and hope nobody notices.

But it is real. The brain is dependent on light hitting the eye, where the photosensitive retina communicates directly to the pituitary gland. Signals from the pituitary are sent to other glands and cascade through the body to regulate mood, digestion, sleep and memory. When the days are short and dark, there just isn’t enough light to trigger the communications to other glands. Depression and fatigue result as the normal interplay of hormone messages falls into disrepair. And just about the time it becomes debilitating, Spring appears and everything miraculously returns to normal.  My dad, like many people, never understood that it was light, not post-holiday letdown, that caused his winter doldrums. Knowing that it will pass with the cloud cover, though, doesn’t make it any easier. It also becomes a major drain on the body’s defenses long term.

 

Like so many maladies, knowing the cause leads to the cure. If I’m tired, I grant myself extra sleep. But sleeping in isn’t the answer here. It is the bright morning sun, with its higher ratio of blue rays, that is most effective for regulating the body’s rhythm. And it’s often obscured.

Food quickly becomes a factor. Less stimulation of the pituitary means digestion is impaired, which slows the system and encourages weight gain. The same stresses that slow digestion also trigger a desire for comfort foods, which further strains the already struggling system of checks and balances among the organs. Lack of sunshine depletes Vitamin D in the body, compounding the insufficiency of the (also SAD) Standard American Diet and lowering the immune response. The spiral of effects reaches far into the body’s systems.

The need for support during these days is essential. Fresh whole foods are difficult to find in the pseudo-death of winter, but they supply the life that the body needs to get through it. Fermented foods are time-honored for preserving and actually improving enzyme activity and digestion. Sprouting is an easy, uplifting hobby during the winter, and snips of whatever is growing in your windowsill can be a very nutritious finishing touch to soups, stews and casseroles just before serving.

Exercise, particularly outside during the bright mornings, helps on all fronts. Movement helps to improve mood and normalize glandular activity, as well as move toxins out and oxygen through every cell. Sunshine on any exposed skin converts to Vitamin D and boosts immune response.

Avoid wearing sunglasses during the winter to encourage as much light as possible to reach the pituitary gland,  If the weather really doesn’t cooperate with providing sunshine, full spectrum lights can be a useful addition to the regular morning routine. Limit artificial light at night, whether it’s cutting out TV before bed or drawing the shades against street lights outside while you sleep, to support your body’s efforts to maintain normalcy.

In short, every little thing that you can do to maximize light and proper diet during the bleakness of winter will help to keep the SAD blues away.  Those that become habit will protect you from succumbing again in future years. My worst season was cured by a camera I was given as a gift. I vowed I would take one picture a day, and the more I moved and spent time outside looking for that photo, my depression melted. Find your “camera” – whatever keeps you moving in the sunlight and seeking health – and know that you are not alone. You and I are in this together.

 

For further reading:  https://philmaffetone.com/sun-and-brain/ 

 

 

The basics of staying healthy when everybody is sick

Illness occurs, partly from bad salsa, but primarily because of the poor state of the body at large.

Everybody has something right now. It’s flu season, cold season, and basic communicative crud season. Those who aren’t sick are disinfecting like crazy, trying to keep from getting it all.

It seems like a good idea, but fighting to keep every germ away or dead is not overly effective. Honestly, if hanging hand sanitizer amulets around every child’s neck and every stroller handle were a real solution, why does illness still plague us?

The average person carries 39 trillion bacteria – for reference, there are about 30 trillion human body cells – and yet somehow most of us stay resoundingly healthy. There’s something else going on here than the stray dirty germ.

Susceptibility to disease has more to do with the strength of the person than the amount or virility of the attacking germs. The body needs bacteria for digestion and neutralizing invaders. Most of the bacteria we fear are everyday residents of our intestinal tract, essential to proper digestion and assimilation, which have just gotten out of balance.

Balance is key.  Just like a muscle must contract one side while relaxing the other, intestinal flora must have an equilibrium of forces. Germs are not terrorists that run amok under cover of anonymity until bombing an unsuspecting organ. If we seek to eradicate any germ of this sort, we may avert disaster to that organ, but we are simultaneously allowing that organ to become weak in its defenselessness.

The body is equipped with detoxification systems and an immune system to keep the person well. As long as those systems are functioning properly, disease is not  really a worry. Bacteria on unwashed vegetables are immobilized and discarded. Viruses are identified by the immune system, which then adapts to the current threat to appropriately overcome it.

But if the liver or kidneys are overworked by a season of eating rich desserts and overindulging in alcohol, the body has less ability to detoxify a bad batch of salsa.  Add some stress to those holidays, and the body’s pH level actually turns acidic – which makes a much more hospitable environment for germs to take root. The body has become a Petri dish of sorts, an acidic environment replete with sugar to feed the quickly multiplying intruders while the systems designed to keep this at bay are buried in work, unable to keep up. Illness occurs, partly from the bad salsa, but primarily  because of the poor state of the body at large.

This is where many believe that antibiotics are necessary. While there is certainly a place for emergency medicine and acute care, I like to prevent using them if possible. Antibiotics kill good antibodies as well as the invading bacteria. In essence, antibiotics work on the premise that once everybody on the battlefield is dead, the war is over. The patient goes home. But the next day, he comes in contact with another germ. Only now there’s nobody guarding the fort. He is completely undefended from invaders, and the inhabitants will be pillaged without another infusion of antibiotics. Anybody who’s had a toddler suffer 10-12 earaches in a year has seen this. It’s not rare.

So how do you stay well and promote wellness? Let yourself ride the next little cold. Don’t run to the doctor for antibiotics to get rid of the discomfort of the war within. Each time your body is allowed to run its course and triumph over the minor stuff, it gets stronger and there are fewer bouts with big league illnesses. Probiotics, either in capsule form or in naturally fermented foods, are the best way to rebuild the body’s defenses after a round of antibiotics. They are also helpful pre-season strategy, too, to build up the body’s strength before flu season or traveling.

Staying healthy is a combined effort. Proper handwashing keeps intruders at bay, and proper nutrition keeps the defensive lines strong. The body is a living organism, capable of adapting to new invaders and becoming stronger with each test of its abilities. Don’t give the bad guys the upper hand by submitting to fear.

Image result for Pasteur quote milieu

 

When Food is a Problem

Using the Wheelbarrow Concept to unravel food sensitivities and work toward a solution.

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Most mothers will struggle at some point with at least one of the following scenarios, all of which involve food:

  • the child who, after eating a bowl of breakfast cereal, either becomes argumentative or hyperactive, only to crash into depression or fatigue after an hour.
  • the adult who develops a headache after lunch, especially fast food.
  • a toddler with recurrent ear infections and nonstop congestion year-round

Reading labels on foods can help to identify additives that may be a problem, like high fructose corn syrup causing a “sugar high,” or synthetic ingredients triggering headaches. But often that isn’t enough; finding conclusive patterns of what causes an issue is nearly impossible with the extensive and often vague ingredient lists for most foods. Whole, unprocessed foods are simpler and limit the variables, but this, too, is often inconclusive.

Keeping a food journal is an effective way to spot patterns. With my own son, I found about a dozen suspect foods but eliminating them wasn’t resolving his issues. Tests revealed he was sensitive to more than 50 common food items and many neighborhood trees.

We can’t just eliminate 50 common food items for a child; he still has to eat.

Enter what I call the “wheelbarrow concept.” On any building site, workers haul loads of rocks, dirt, and bricks. No load is particularly heavy, and the workers continue all day until the work is finished. While it’s tempting to want to just make one heavy load of everything, that load overwhelms the tools and strength available. Essentially, what the wheelbarrow concept explains is that no worker can haul rocks, bricks, and dirt together in his wheelbarrow without it tipping over or breaking.

It translates to food this way: many people, adults and children alike, don’t handle milk products well, but they can have them in moderation. Sugar is a burden but not normally a problem. Corn products are unnoticeable in nearly everything.  However, combine those ingredients in a bowl of Frosted Flakes, and the food sensitive person’s wheelbarrow tips over. Hyperactivity and emotions become nearly uncontrollable. The very predictable crash happens about an hour later, with apathy and sometimes severe depression lasting for several hours. The reaction is totally out of proportion to the ingredients and not always obviously related. Add a cheeseburger and a soda for the next meal (more corn syrup and milk products along with the related beef proteins), and the body begins protecting itself by producing mucus which plugs the ears and inflames the gut.

Essentially, this is negative synergy at work. Several items that aren’t significant stressors on their own combine together to make a big reaction.

Now think about the ramifications. To a person with grass allergies, eating wheat bread during hayfever season could be life threatening. Recognizing that it may not be one ingredient, but a combination of seemingly benign ones, helps to understand why that person’s wheelbarrow has tipped over. It also leads us to the solution.

The only way to strengthen a weak muscle, organ or system is to give it a rest. Problem foods and exposures must be separated. Rotation allows an overactive immune system to heal while still eating.

Since the body takes approximately four days to completely clear a meal from its system, nothing is eaten more than once every 4 days. Different grains go onto separate days, as do meats, vegetables and fruits. Sweeteners are separated out into different types. The idea is to give the body time to clear small problems singly and not overload it with troublesome combinations. It also ensures eating a varied diet, which begins building the immune system to handle food more effectively.

This requires a plan to administer, and the discipline that goes into actually accomplishing it is admittedly huge.  But the benefits are worth the investment. The longer you can maintain it the better the results. Beginning after a few weeks, inflammation and congestion begin to disappear, excess weight drops off, learning difficulties can clear up, and seasonal allergies lessen or go away. The food budget has probably gone up, but the medical line item goes dramatically down.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
― Hippocrates

 

 

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