According the American Thyroid Association, over 20 million men, women and children have one form or another of thyroid disease. Over the course of the average lifetime, it is estimated that about 12% of the populace will fall into this category. Perhaps the most disconcerting part of this trend is that over 60% of those living with thyroid dysfunction are unaware of it. The consequences can be quite significant, putting unwitting individuals at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, depression, infertility, osteoporosis, pre-term pregnancies and beyond.
Many of my clients are looking for ways to limit carbohydrate and grain consumption. This mirrors some popular trends in the current nutritional landscape. Bestselling books such as Always Hungry?, Eat Fat Get Thin, Wheat Belly and The Whole30 recommend eating plans that are rich in healthy fats and fiber while limiting or omitting most grains – particularly those containing gluten.
In recent years, the low fat diet trend has lost a lot of steam. These days, many health authorities no longer recommend restricting dietary fat indiscriminately. Having said that, there is still a fair share of disagreement about what exactly constitutes healthy lipid sources. Just about everyone agrees that hydrogenated fats (aka trans-fats) are harmful. Likewise, most nutritional experts recommend seeking out omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in cold water fish, grass fed meat and select seeds, including flax, hemp and chia. On the other hand, saturated fats and vegetable oils tend to fall into the “questionable” category.
Earlier this year there was a major review in the journal Digestive Diseases focusing on the role of gut bacteria in relation to healthy aging. The authors of the paper describe various “pathophysiological” mechanisms such as impaired immune function and systemic inflammation, which appear to be linked to undesirable changes in the microbiota of seniors. However, this observation has not yet been matched with a widely accepted medical solution. In part, the reason has to do with uncertainty about exactly how to re-establish a healthier bacterial environment.
In modern times, culinary herbs and spices have primarily been relegated to the role of flavor enhancers. Want to liven up chicken or pork? Add some fresh garlic and rosemary sprigs. Tired of the same old oatmeal in the morning? Try a pinch of freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg to the mix. And, the skillful use of dill, sage or thyme can make all the difference when preparing seafood or vegetable dishes. But, what’s often missed is that common herbs and spices can be as healthy as they are tasty.
The idea of wearing tinted glasses at night may seem counterintuitive. In previous generations, there would be very few reasons to do so. But, in many ways, we live in a very different world today. The natural rhythm of the sleep-wake cycle was set up for mankind to slumber as day turns to night and awaken as night returns to day. However, this all changed with the advent of computers, digital displays, mobile phones, street lights and numerous other sources of nighttime illumination. And, I think it’s fair to say that the light genie is well out of the bottle and is unlikely to go back in any time soon.
There’s no doubt it: green vegetables are at the peak of their popularity. They are the rock stars of the produce section! These days, nutritionists are quick to recommend them as a healthy part of just about any dietary plan, whether gluten-free, low carb or macrobiotic. Finding greens while eating out is no problem either. Most restaurants from fast food chains to gourmet eateries now feature chard, dandelion leaves, kale or spinach as side dishes and, sometimes, even as primary components of a main course. And, of course, you’ve surely seen countless juices in your local markets or natural food stores that proudly proclaim their “greenness”. There is a lot of good to be found in this trend. However, the benefits can be even greater if you make more greens at home.
In recent years, western medicine has begun to embrace a wide array of traditional healing practices from other cultures. Acupuncture, curcumin supplementation, tai chi and yoga are but a few of many “alternative and complementary” therapies now being studied and utilized worldwide. The success of this burgeoning integration is also opening the door to historically revered treatments from other parts of the globe.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a relatively common condition which involves cyclical and unreasonable thoughts. Those living with OCD often engage in rituals to calm their exaggerated or unfounded compulsions and fears. The severity of OCD varies among individuals. For some, it manifests in rather innocuous ways such as the avoidance of specific clothing, foods or locations. On the other end of the spectrum, certain people find that OCD can be quite debilitating. A prevalent example is an excessive desire for cleanliness and/or fear of germs. In the most severe cases, the entire course of one’s life can be dictated by an insatiable “need” to follow certain rules in order to create the impression of control and order.
It’s cool, chocolatey and undeniably good for you! Of the three claims I just made, the first two probably won’t raise any eyebrows, but the latter one may ruffle a few skeptical feathers. After all, ice cream isn’t something you’ll find on most lists of wholesome dietary options. Even health food store varieties are probably best enjoyed as an occasional treat if only because of their sugar content. Today’s culinary creation is an exception to the status quo.
In July 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration warned of increased risk of heart attacks and strokes associated with the use of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs. Earlier this month, a different class of pain relievers, collectively known as opioids, was also linked to higher rates of early death primarily due to cardiovascular complications. As disturbing as this is, there is still a large segment of the population that will continue to use these medications in the short term and, sometimes, chronically.
Appetite suppressants have earned a well deserved, bad reputation in many medical circles. Time after time, so called miracle “diet pills” have failed to promote sustained weight loss and/or caused serious side effects. Perhaps the highest profile example is fen-phen, a drug combination consisting of fenfluramine and phentermine. In 1997, the FDA required that fen-phen be pulled from the US marketplace after numerous reports of heart valve disease and pulmonary hypertension became too common to ignore.
My fifth and final Expo West entry is geared towards healthier pleasures. These days, there are many faux-health foods on the market. Terms like “All Natural”, “Gluten Free”, “No Sugar Added” and “Non-GMO” are appearing on labels at an alarming rate. In some instances, this is the result of a positive shift in product composition which has largely been driven by consumer demand. So that is good cause to pat ourselves on the back. But, having said that, many of these so-called functional foods aren’t actually as health promoting as they may seem.
Diet, exercise, sleep and stress reduction usually top the list of modifiable risk factors that affect our well being, and, with good reason. Still, it’s important not to stop there. The products we use day-in and day-out to brush our teeth, care for our skin and color our hair are capable of causing dis-ease and/or endangering health. Fortunately, in many instances, a simple switch from conventional cosmetics, hair dyes, moisturizers and toothpastes to more natural alternatives can make a big difference.
One of the distinct pleasures of attending Natural Products Expo West is the opportunity to take part in some fascinating educational events. This year, three lectures in particular struck a cord with me. At the core of each presentation was a focus on specific supplements that have yet to break into the mainstream. However, based on the data that I’ve reviewed, this is likely to change in the near future.
The sub-title for this blog is, “Make It Better!”. Year-in and year-out, the one thing you can count on at Natural Products Expo West is a certain degree of flash and showmanship. Many of the exhibits are quite extravagant. You’ll find everything from comic book characters to marching bands all vying for your attention. But, oftentimes, some of the better products aren’t represented in this category. Instead of following the latest trends, they simply build upon traditional wisdom and aim to improve upon it in one way or another.