Category: Health

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17
Mar

Understanding – and beating – food cravings

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Food cravings – those bouts of intense, seemingly uncontrollable desire to get hold of and eat a particular food, are one of the most distressing roadblocks encountered by people who want to lose weight and maintain healthy eating habits.

According to US research, nearly 100% of women and 70% of men report experiencing food cravings (1). Women tend to crave sweets, with chocolate topping the ‘crave list’, while men more often crave savoury foods such as chips. What’s virtually universal, though, is that cravings centre on high-fat and/or high-kilojoule foods (2).

(In over 20 years of clinical practice, I have NEVER had a client confess to me that they get totally out of control around alfalfa sprouts or broccoli!)

Contrary to popular myth, cravings do not indicate a need for particular nutrients (3); in fact, they have virtually nothing to do with the normal hunger drive, which is triggered by the body’s need to secure nutrients. Instead, food cravings involve brain chemicals that are also central to drug addiction: opioids and dopamine.

When we eat fatty and/or sugary foods, opioids – which are the body’s own morphine-type substances – are released into our bloodstream. They then bind to opioid receptors in our brains, giving us a ‘hit’ of pleasure. Intense opioid stimulation, such as from extremely fatty and sweet foods like chocolate, can produce mild euphoria (4).

Release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter that also floods our system during sex and in response to drug-taking, is linked in with the activation of certain memories involving the craved food, suggesting that what we are really going for when we develop a craving for a food, is the positive emotion or mood that is associated, in our memory, with an earlier experience of that food (1).

This goes a long way toward explaining 2 things:

  1. Why will-power doesn’t work when it comes to defying food cravings; and
  2. Why EFT does.

Poor old will-power really doesn’t stand a chance when your ’emotional brain’ is compelling you to get relief from your current emotional state, by eating a food that will trigger a psycho-physiological shift to a happier state associated with a food experience.

For example, as a young child, one of my clients, whom I’ll call Cherie, had a favourite uncle who would shower her with the love and affection she rarely got from her stern parents – not to mention with sweet treats like cakes and pastries – whenever he visited.

The sugary, fatty taste and luscious mouth-feel of these treats became inextricably linked in Cherie’s mind with feeling loved and valued. No great surprise then, that as an adult she found herself craving cakes and pastries whenever she felt lonely!

Using EFT, we were able to access and re-process her early memories of the love and approval Cherie felt from her uncle, and literally disconnect these positive, desirable emotional states from the food. Subsequently, she was able to induce these wonderful feelings whenever she wanted to, by tapping on the memory of her uncle’s face, voice and words – and lo and behold, the food cravings disappeared.

EFT works directly with our emotions and memories, allowing rapid relief from seemingly intractable food cravings, and smoothing the path to healthy eating and weight loss.

01
Mar

Coping With Animal-Cruelty-Induced Trauma As A Vegan

by Jess Ang, 1st March, 2016

If you’re vegan or thinking about going vegan, chances are pretty high that you’ve been exposed to some very disturbing information – whether it was in the form of a written article, a video, or a story told by a friend. The level of violence involved in the meat, dairy, egg, and other industries that use animals can be quite extreme, and it’s only natural if you’ve felt upset or even traumatised by it.

What is trauma?
‘Trauma’ comes from the Greek word for ‘wound’. Psychological trauma is like an emotional wound that you experience after going through a very stressful or distressing event, or series of events. You may be left feeling helpless or overwhelmed, with the belief that this world is a dangerous place to live in.

What causes trauma?
Events on their own don’t necessarily lead to trauma. Everyone is different and people rarely respond to the same event in the exact same way. It all depends on how a particular person makes sense of an event, how resilient he or she is, and how much support is available afterwards.There is a higher risk that an event will lead to trauma if it comes as a shock and you weren’t expecting it, and if you were in some sort of danger. Traumatic events can include being physically hurt or abused, or being involved in a life-threatening accident or a natural disaster like a bushfire or flood.Although traumatic events often involve harm or a direct threat to your own safety, it can result from witnessing or hearing about violence towards others as well. As stated on the website for Phoenix Australia: Centre for Posttraumatic Mental Health, traumatic events include “things that happen to you directly, or to someone you are close to. An event can be traumatic if you witnessed it happening to someone else, or if you were involved in the course of your work.”For example, I once spoke to a lady who experienced trauma after finding out that her daughter had been assaulted. She told me that she had become anxious and continued to have nightmares about what happened to her daughter even though she hadn’t actually been there to witness the event. She said she’d formed images in her mind of what had occurred, and these images arose unpredictably throughout the day which was extremely upsetting for her.I’ve also had conversations with people who said they felt traumatised after seeing  documentaries showing violence towards animals – some had vivid memories of what they’d seen, and described themselves as feeling a sense of hopelessness or believing there was nothing they could personally do to make a difference. It goes without saying that people who directly witness animal cruelty (such as through undercover investigations or rescue work as opposed to just watching it on TV) are at risk of experiencing trauma.

Symptoms of trauma
Some common symptoms of trauma include:
• Shock or disbelief.
• Nightmares and flashbacks.
• Finding it hard to concentrate during everyday tasks like reading or watching TV.
• Feeling down, moody and on-edge (e.g. you might get startled after hearing a door slam, or even from the sound of toast popping up from a toaster).
• No longer enjoying activities you used to like.
• Getting into more arguments or not trusting other people anymore.
• Losing your appetite or – at the other extreme – overeating.
• Avoiding places, activities, or people that remind you of the traumatic event.
• Becoming socially withdrawn and no longer wanting to see friends or family.
• Muscle tension, headaches, upset tummy, chest pain (be sure to see a doctor if you notice physical changes to make sure they aren’t caused by a medical condition).

Many people say it can be reassuring just to learn that their symptoms are common. If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms above after a traumatic event, you’re not alone – these are all normal reactions to trauma.

Coping as a vegan
When it comes to recovering from trauma, the support of friends and family can make a big difference. But what happens if you’re vegan or trying to transition to a vegan lifestyle, and your friends and family aren’t supportive or dismiss your concerns about how animals are treated?

It’s not unusual to be criticised for being vegan, even (and sometimes especially) by the people you love most. You may be called “extreme”, “self-righteous”, “too idealistic”, or “crazy”. People around you might be concerned that a vegan diet is unhealthy and try to pressure you to change your mind about it. All of these things can add to your distress.

You are also likely to be constantly reminded of what you’ve seen or heard regarding the treatment of animals just by walking past the local butcher, or when browsing through a supermarket, by seeing TV commercials advertising meat, or at the very least by seeing animal products on the plates of others.

You might wish that you could forget it all and go back to the way things were. Kind of like when the character Cypher in the movie ‘The Matrix’ wishes he had never woken up to reality, and says to Neo, “I know what you’re thinking, ’cause right now I’m thinking the same thing … Why oh why didn’t I take the BLUE pill?” Later on he takes a bite of steak that he wants to believe is “juicy and delicious” again, just as the Matrix wants his brain to believe, and tells Neo that “ignorance is bliss.”

It’s true that awareness of widespread violence and suffering doesn’t feel particularly blissful, and ignorance may seem appealing in comparison. However, by learning to cope with any symptoms of trauma that you’re experiencing, you’ll be healthier emotionally and in a better position to take a strong stand for issues that matter to you, such as protecting animals from cruelty.

Strategies to cope
As mentioned earlier, it can help just to realise that some of the experiences you’ve been having are common. At a workshop about trauma, I remember hearing a psychologist speak about how most people have bad dreams after going through something traumatic, and it can be comforting just to know that these nightmares are normal and provide a way for your brain to process the experience. Over time, the nightmares should become less intense and occur less often.

It’s also really important to be kind to yourself. I’ve heard people verbally beat themselves up about feeling traumatised: “I should really get over this, I don’t know why I can’t pull myself together”, or in the case of being upset about animal cruelty: “Other people don’t seem to get so disturbed. I guess I’m weak and just too sensitive.” Being sensitive means that you care, and caring does not mean that you’re weak. Trust that you can become stronger through this process, and if you want to learn more about how to cope better then try some of the strategies below:

• Care for yourself by eating healthy meals and going to bed at a regular time each night. Aim to get as much sleep as you need – for most people this ranges from 7-9 hours but you might be different. Even if it’s not easy to go to sleep, remind yourself that it’s worthwhile to at least lie down and give your body some rest.
• Pay attention to your breathing and try to breathe slowly into your lower belly rather than into your chest (which will feel weird at first if your breathing is normally shallow). This will help you to feel more calm.
• Bring your mind back to the present moment as often as you can. Notice what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling right now.
• Focus on what you can do to feel empowered rather than helpless. For instance, if you’re disturbed about violence towards animals, you might choose to no longer support industries that involve animal cruelty, or to start signing petitions and writing letters that can help promote change. You may also find it rewarding to visit an animal sanctuary or volunteer at an animal rescue centre.
• Educate other people who are open and interested in learning more about how animals are treated in various industries. Providing such information has the potential to inspire others to make more compassionate choices, and to help you feel that you’re making a positive difference.
• Limit or eliminate your exposure to graphic animal cruelty scenes if you can. For example, disconnect from certain Facebook pages or people who post violent scenes, and be careful about what documentaries and film clips you choose to watch.
• If you feel isolated, then consider reaching out to like-minded people, watching videos and reading books that were created to support vegans so you don’t feel alone, or joining a vegan community or meet-up group to share your experiences in a supportive environment. If you’d prefer not to talk to anyone else then it can be good to write in a journal about what you’re going through so that you don’t ‘bottle up’ your emotions, which isn’t healthy in the long-run.

Professional help
Although trauma symptoms are normal, it’s important to do something if you find that they’re impacting your life in a big way – for example, if it becomes difficult to carry out your everyday tasks at home or work, or you start to use more alcohol or other drugs than usual.

If you feel like your symptoms haven’t improved and if they continue to bother you over a number of months, it might be worthwhile seeking professional help. This can be particularly useful if you don’t have anyone in your personal life who you feel comfortable speaking with about this issue.

A good first step is to see a GP and have a chat about local mental health services, or ask for a referral to see a counsellor or psychologist for face-to-face sessions. You can even do your own search for a psychologist close to home by using the APS (Australian Psychological Society) website: www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist/

You can make a difference
There can be a very fine line between caring deeply and caring so much that you eventually feel traumatised or emotionally numb in response to the suffering of others. It’s important to continue caring while at the same time making sure that you care for your own well-being too. This way you can become a more effective advocate for those who need help, and really feel that you’re making a difference through your choices rather than being powerless to change anything. You may even become an inspiring role-model for others. Remember, you can make a stronger positive difference in the world simply because you do care.

About Jess:
Jess Ang photo  Jess Ang has enjoyed a vegan lifestyle since January 2010, shortly after surviving a 30-day vegan challenge!
Jess is an intuitive counsellor with over 8 years’ experience as a registered forensic psychologist. She offers
intuitive readings worldwide through JessAngIntuitive.com, as well as programs to help people change their
alcohol use.

21
Feb

Want to feel happier? Change what’s on your plate!

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Google the search terms ‘happiness’ + ‘research’ and you’ll get about about 171,100,000 results. Yet, as economists David Blanchflower and Andrew Oswald, and Professor of Public Health, Sarah Stewart-Brown, pointed out in a recent study, of the many thousands of scientific papers published on the various determinants of people’s happiness and psychological health, virtually none have investigated the role played by what people eat.

To address this glaring deficiency in our understanding of what makes people feel happy, the 3 researchers mined data from 3 large, representative, cross-sectional studies of random samples of adults in England, Scotland, and Wales – a total of over 80 000 UK citizens.

Each survey included questions on intake of fruit and vegetables, measuring it in standardised portions of up to eight or more a day; as well as on 7 different measures of mental health, from mental wellbeing (WEMWBS) through mental illness (GHQ-12), life satisfaction, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness and feeling low.

So what did they find?

Very simply,

“happiness and mental health rise in an approximately dose-response way with the number of daily portions of fruit and vegetables.”

(Translation: the more fruit and veg the survey participants ate, the happier they were.)

The researchers were aware, of course, that there are many potential confounders (factors that may make certain other factors appear causally related, when in fact they are simply correlated. For example,

  • Wealthier people can afford to eat more fruit and vegetables, AND they are also likely to be happier than poorer people who can’t afford as much of them – so having more money is a ‘cause’ both of being happier and of eating more fruit and veg; and
  • People who are happier generally take better care of themselves, for example by eating more healthfully, than unhappy people – so in this case, happiness would be the cause of eating more fruit and veg rather than the higher fresh produce consumption being the cause of happiness.

So they used standard statistical methods to take account of a wide range of potential confounders including age, sex, ethnic group, marital status, having or not having children, socioeconomic and educational circumstances, work and unemployment status, disability and major illness, being religious, smoking, exercise level, body mass index, intake of meat, fish and alcohol, and being sexually active.

And even after taking into consideration all of those factors, they still found

“a remarkably monotonic dose-response relationship between mental health and the number of portions of fruit and vegetables consumed.”

In other words, even after all the statistical adjustments they made to cancel out the effect of potential confounders, the association between better mental health and higher fruit and veg consumption remained strong.

How large was the effect of fresh produce consumption on mental health? Well, for example,

  • On the Life Satisfaction Scale, when compared to those who ate almost no fruit and veg, individuals who consumed 8 or more portions per day had an uplift in their life satisfaction score that was only slightly less than the uplift seen in people who were married vs those who were single – and being married is one of the most powerful positive influences on life satisfaction known to happiness researchers!
  • On the WEMWBS (Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale), which measures positive indicators of wellbeing, people who ate 7-8 portions per day had a wellbeing score approximately 3 points greater than those eating virtually none. If this doesn’t sound like much of a difference, consider this: unemployed people scored 2.4 points lower on average than those in employment, and people with a disability scored 6.4 points lower than the able-bodied; both unemployment and disability are considered by all researchers in the field, to be strong predictors of lower wellbeing.

One of the authors of the study, Dr Sarah Stewart-Brown, suggests that fruit and vegetable consumption may influence mental health through the nutrients fresh produce provides, which makes perfect sense: The brain is just like all the other organs in our body – it requires nutrients to function optimally; and if nutrient intake is inadequate, it will malfunction, resulting in emotional and mental symptoms.

Other researchers have found clear linkages between deficiency of nutrients found abundantly in plants, and various aspects of brain function. For example

  • A high potassium diet was found to ease depression and tension and increase vigour and the POMS global mood state score; while
  • Low folate levels are linked with depression – possibly because folate plays a crucial role in the activity of receptors for the neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) adrenaline and serotonin, which profoundly afffect mood.

Crucially, since many of the key nutrients in plant foods are water-soluble, they are not stored in our bodies for very long, and therefore must be consumed regularly. Hence, missing out on fruit and veg for even a few days can leave you feeling down in the dumps; but on the bright side, boosting your consumption if it’s been low, can lift your mood very rapidly.

As Dr Stewart-Brown points out, increased fruit and vegetable consumption is already known to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and many governments already have public health goals to increase consumption of fresh produce. However, on the basis of this recent research, current recommendations for 5 servings of fruit and vegetables per day are probably inadequate to improve mental health (and I would argue, too low to achieve meaningful protection against cancer and heart disease too).

The bottom line: when it comes to fruit and veg, it seems you can’t get too much of a good thing!

11
Feb

Inflammation: why you’re fat, sick, tired, depressed and in pain… and what to do about it

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

You may never have stopped to think about it, but every time you become unwell in any way, inflammation plays a key role.

That role is obvious in diseases like arthritis – inflammation of the joints, but perhaps less obvious in, for example, the common cold – major symptoms of which are rhinitis, or inflammation of the nasal passages, and fatigue, which results when inflammatory signals from around the body enter the brain; heart disease – which involves inflammation of the inner lining of the blood vessels; and cancer – which relies on inflammatory processes to grow and spread.

Then there’s the role played by inflammation in obesity – fat cells, especially abdominal fat cells, produce inflammatory chemicals which bring on insulin resistance, making it harder for you to lose weight – and in depression, which is associated with elevated levels of inflammatory chemicals both in the brain itself, and throughout the body.

Furthermore, obesity itself may contribute to depression, and not just because people feel bad about buying their clothes in the plus-size department, but because the inflammation brought on by being overweight affects their brain function (1).

So what’s driving this inflammation, and what can we do about it?

Fuelling the fire of inflammation

Inflammation is a response by the body’s immune system to a perceived threat, such as invading bacteria or viruses. One of the strongest triggers of inflammation is endotoxin, otherwise known as lipolysacccharide, a compound produced by certain types of bacteria. While you might think that exposure to infectious disease would be the primary source of this threat, many animal foods such as pork, turkey, cheese, yoghurt and ice cream contain signficant quantities of endotoxin – and this endotoxin is not destroyed by stomach acid or digestive enzymes (2).

In the study cited above, researchers proved that these endotoxin-containing foods caused human white blood cells to secrete inflammatory chemicals, and

“speculate that the occasional ingestion of meals high in LPS [lipopolysaccharide] and/or BLP [bacterial lipopeptide – another immune-activating compound produced by some bacteria] could promote transient, mild, systemic inflammatory episodes that predispose subjects to the development of atherosclerosis and insulin resistance.”

It’s worth emphasising here that the offending bacterial substances were

“minimal or undetectable in fresh fruit and vegetables.”

This relatively new research adds to the insights gained from previous studies, which found that a single fast food meal containing egg and sausage induced inflammation in the arteries of healthy young people, that persisted for more than 6 hours afterwards (3); while a meal containing animal fat caused inflammation in the lungs of healthy people, leading the researchers to speculate that regular intake of such foods may contribute to chronic inflammatory lung and airway disease, including asthma (4).

Endotoxin isn’t the only dietary culprit in inflammation. A study examining levels of inflammatory markers after intake of different foods found that people who consumed cream experienced not just increased levels of endotoxin, but also of the inflammatory markers NF-kappaB and TNF-alpha. On the other hand, in those given a glucose (sugar) solution to drink, NF-kappaB and TNF-alpha levels rose but endotoxin did not. Neither orange juice nor water caused any rise in inflammatory chemicals (5).

The bottom line here is that the major determinant of inflammation levels in our bodies – which in turn determines our risk of disease – is something completely under our control: our daily food intake. And while consumption of whole, unrefined plant foods is linked to lower risk of inflammation-related disease (6), consumption of animal products and refined carbohydrates has the reverse effect – in spades.

Sins of omission and commission

I often describe the effects of dietary choices to my clients with a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Catholic church’s concepts of sins of omission and sins of commission. Sins of commission are bad things which we know are bad but choose to do anyway, while sins of omission are good things we can and should do but fail to do.

Interestingly, Catholic theologians don’t consider either type to be more ‘sinful’ than the other; both kinds are equally pernicious.

In my analogy, the Western dietary pattern, with its heavy reliance on processed grains, sugar and animal products, and only token amounts of fresh, unprocessed plant foods, leads us to commit both sins of dietary omission and commission:

  • When we fail to consume ample amounts of fruits and vegetables, we omit from our diets the abundance of anti-inflammatory compounds – such as carotenoids and flavonoids – that they contain.
  • And conversely, when we eat eggs, yoghurt, beef, chicken, white bread and soft drinks, we load our bodies up with highly inflammatory substances, and the ‘punishment for our sins’ is the disease processes that eventually result: heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, depression, skin disorders and a host of other nasties.

That’s why I teach my clients that healthy eating is a package deal. It’s not just a matter of eating some token ‘good-for-you’ foods to expiate your dietary guilt (like having some iceberg lettuce on your white-bread cheese-and-ham sandwich); you have to minimise or avoid the ‘bad-for-you’ foods as well.

Fortunately, renouncing your dietary sins need not mean a life without culinary pleasure! Healthy food that fights inflammation is attractive to all the senses, delicious to eat, and imbues your body and mind with vitality and joy – just check out my recipe section! Even better, enrol in my 1-day nutrition intensive, Empowered Eating to learn how to make healthy eating simple and delicious, or join my 6-week nutrition and cooking course.

05
Feb

The Mediterranean diet: sorting fact from fantasy

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

Everyone who’s interested in diet and health has heard of ‘the Mediterranean diet’. Advocates of this dietary pattern claim that it protects against heart disease, stroke, metabolic syndrome (characterised by excess abdominal fat, blood pressure and/or glucose levels, elevated total cholesterol and decreased HDL cholesterol), many types of cancer, and even asthma, allergies, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis (1).

There is actually a fair bit of scientific evidence for these claims. The problem is that – thanks largely to the marketing efforts of the olive oil industry, and the personal biases of many writers who have published popular books presenting their spin on the diet – most people think that the key component of the Mediterranean diet is olive oil.

When I advise my clients to cut out all extracted oils, they ask “What about olive oil? Isn’t it heart-healthy? Surely you don’t want me to cut that out!” Yes I do, and here’s why.

‘The Mediterranean diet’ as we understand it today was first characterised and promoted by the American researcher Ancel Keys. He described it as a dietary pattern high in fresh vegetables and fruits, legumes, whole grains, nuts, fish and olive oil; and low in saturated fat-rich animal foods such as dairy products, red meat and eggs.

In his Seven Countries Study, launched in 1958, he found that the inhabitants of the Greek island of Crete – the examplars of the Mediterranean diet – had the lowest rate of heart disease of the 7 populations he studied, despite consuming up to 40% of their calories from fat (mostly from olive oil and fish).

Keys concluded that replacement of saturated fat with unsaturated fat from plant sources, would bring dramatic health benefits (2) – and the Myth of Olive Oil as Heart Disease Preventer was born.

What Keys failed to acknowledge in his initial study was that the Cretans were incredibly physically active (Crete is very mountainous and at that time, most of the people walked everywhere – up to 9 miles a day!) and their overall energy (calorie/kilojoule) intake was low.

But life in modern Crete is dramatically different than in the era when Ancel Keys’ study was performed. Olive oil consumption remains high, but sedentary lifestyle, decreased consumption of fresh produce and higher intake of high-calorie, refined and animal-derived food have come to Crete.

Over 60% of adult Cretans, and 50% of Cretan children, are now overweight and rates of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and heart disease have skyrocketed in recent years (3).

A recent study in Crete (4) found that patients with heart disease ate significantly more olive oil than people free of heart disease, making it crystal clear that olive oil holds no magical power to stave off the health-destroying effects of inactivity and poor dietary choices.

Cretans appear to be suffering from the same delusion as Westerners who have jumped on the Mediterranean diet bandwagon – they think they can continue to eat olive oil with impunity, even if they are overweight and sedentary.

The only thing that protected their forebears from the hazards of olive oil consumption was their high activity level and plant-based, low-calorie diet.

What you need to understand is that oils impair endothelial function. What’s endothelial function? It’s the ability of the thin layer of cells that line your blood vessels, to regulate the flow of blood through those vessels, and it’s a strong predictor of your risk of having a heart attack (5). A well-functioning endothelium keeps your blood vessels reasonably dilated, which in turn lowers your blood pressure and ‘smoothes’ the flow of blood.

Endothelial dysfunction results in constricted arteries, raised blood pressure, ‘sticking’ of inflammation-producing white blood cells to the endothelial lining, and turbid blood flow which in turn increase the risk of microscopic injuries to the blood vessels (6). These injuries are ‘patched up’ with cholesterol, like you would patch up a damaged plasterboard wall with Spakfilla.

If the injuries are infrequent, the cholesterol ‘patch’ is soon reabsorbed and the artery wall is repaired with normal, healthy endothelial cells. If there are repeated injuries, the cholesterol patches aren’t reabsorbed, but instead start to form an atherosclerotic plaque, which narrows the lumen of the blood vessel (the hole through which the blood flows), eventually causing symptoms such as angina, erectile dysfunction and chronic low back pain, and increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack.

When you ingest extracted oils and fats, you impair the function of your endothelial cells for several hours (the duration of effect varies with the type of oil) and during this time period, the growth of atherosclerotic plaques accelerates precipitously.

Olive oil dramatically impairs endothelial function (7). On the other hand, nuts do not impair endothelial function in spite of their high fat content, possibly because they contain antioxidants (which decrease the oxidative stress that causes endothelial dysfunction) and arginine (which endothelial cells use to make nitric oxide, a chemical that dilates blood vessels, prevents atherosclerotic plaque from forming on the vessel walls, and keeps blood flow smooth and even by preventing platelets from sticking together)(8).

As cardiologist Robert Vogel, the pioneer of the primary test used to assess endothelial function, concluded (7):

“the beneficial components of the Mediterranean and Lyon Diet Heart Study diets appear to be antioxidant-rich foods, including vegetables, fruits, and their derivatives such as vinegar [and omega 3-rich foods].”

The bottom line: extracting an oil from the nutritional matrix that it is packaged in by nature is asking for trouble. If you want to minimise your risk of cardiovascular disease, enjoy plant foods that are naturally high in fats, such as avocado, nuts and seeds, in moderation, but leave the extracted oils out of your diet. Slim, active people with no cardiovascular risk factors can get away with some consumption of oil, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for them!

25
Jan

Carbohydrates at night help you lose weight!

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

For years, I’ve been hearing from clients that their personal trainer/nutritionist/astrologer (OK, I made that last one up) told them not to eat ‘carbs’ after 4 pm, or 6 pm, or whatever particular witching hour their self-appointed weight-loss guru nominates, if they want to lose weight.

The popular theory goes that eating a lot of carbohydrate-rich food stimulates excessive insulin release, and that since we’re less active at night than during the day, all that insulin will cause the glucose we absorb from starches to convert to fat. This theory is quoted as gospel truth on gazillions of weight-loss websites… but it turns out it’s completely false.

A recent study compared the outcomes of 78 obese police officers who were put on a low calorie diet containing 20% protein, 30-35% fat and 45-50% carbohydrate. The control group was told to distribute their carbohydrate intake throughout the day, while the experimental group was instructed to eat most of their carbohydrates at night.

The researchers found that, after 6 months of following the dietary plan, the carbohydrate-at-night group had lost substantially more weight, abdominal girth and body fat mass than the control group, despite the two diets containing the same calories and the same proportions of macronutrients.

Furthermore, the carbohydrate-at-night group experienced less hunger and had greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, insulin resistance, cholesterol and the inflammation markers C-reactive protein, tumor necrosis factor-a, and interleukin-6, which are elevated in overweight people, and are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, cancer and depression.

Although you wouldn’t know it from reading popular weight loss books and websites, the idea that carbohydrate-rich foods caused increased insulin secretion was debunked last century, in a study that examined the insulin demand generated by various foods.

Researchers fed 1000 kj portions of a variety of foods to healthy people, and measured the amount of insulin their bodies secreted in response. They found that both protein-rich foods and bakery products (which are high in fat as well as carbohydrate) elicited disproportionately high insulin secretion.

Beef and cheese, for example, raise insulin levels more than pasta!

Even earlier research found that glucose raised insulin secretion only slightly more than an equivalent amount of protein.

The bottom line here is that popular theories of weight loss should never be used as the basis of your weight loss plan. There is no substitute for properly-conducted testing of these theories, no matter how ‘scientific’ their proponents make them out to be.

The scientific literature is, in fact, very clear about what works for sustainable weight loss – a diet based on unrefined plant foods. See my articles Eating meat: the fast track to diabesity, and The Big Fat Protein Swindle for more information and scientific references.

20
Jan

Can you change your genes?

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter.

What if you could change your genes, almost as quickly as you change your jeans? What if you could ‘switch off’ genes that cause disease processes, and ‘turn on’ genes that initiate healing processes?

Mention the word ‘genes’ to most people, and what they think of is fixed, immutable carriers of information. The term ‘blueprint’ is often used when discussing genes, as if they provide a very precise set of instructions that only has the possibility of producing one outcome. But the Human Genome Project (1) demonstrated beyond any doubt that this way of thinking about genes is outmoded and inaccurate.

Humans have approximately 20 000-25 000 genes – about the same number as mice and roundworms; not that many more than fruit flies (which have about 14 000 genes); and less than a water flea called Daphnia pulex which, at around 31 000, holds the record for the greatest number of genes in any organism whose genome has been sequenced (2).

We also share 97% of our genes with chimpanzees (3), but are clearly very different to them physically, behaviourally and psychologically. There is simply no way that we can explain the incredible complexity, diversity and adaptability of human beings using the old ‘genes = blueprint’ model.

While there is a small percentage of genes that act all by themselves to produce a particular outcome (for example, the genes that code for eye colour or blood type), this is the exception and not the rule. The majority of genes operate in remarkably complex networks, controlled by genes called transcription factors which themselves operate in complex networks.

And what controls these networks? Influences which scientists call ‘epigenetic factors’: changes in the environment of cells brought about by the level of various nutrients, hormones, neurotransmitters, toxins and so forth.

So if you want to change your genes in a health-promoting way, what should you do? Do what your mother always told you, and eat your fruit and veg. Not just one or two ‘superfoods’, by the way – the greater the diversity of plant foods in your diet, the more genes are influenced in a positive way.

Scientists used to think that fruit and vegies are good for your health because they contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta carotene. Antioxidants neutralise free radicals which could otherwise build up and damage DNA – the material our genes are made of – predisposing us to cancer and other diseases. However, human trials of supplementation of individual antioxidants have shown that they don’t protect against cancer, and some can increase the risk of cancer (4). What’s going on?

Well, it’s now known that phytochemicals (compounds that plants make to regulate their own metabolism, only some of which have antioxidant activity) actually increase our cellular defenses by activating those transcription factors I mentioned before. And what that means is that cells can recover their normal function even if their DNA is damaged by free radicals, rather than either dying, becoming dysfunctional, or turning cancerous.

The activation of transcription factors leads to a much longer-lasting protective effect than antioxidants, most of which have a very short half-life in the body.

In regards to dietary variety, a 2010 study (4) showed that adding 3 antioxidant-rich kiwifruit per day to the diet of male smokers with no known health problems, caused changes in the behaviour of 9 genes, 5 of them involved in cellular defence processes. But a dietary portfolio consisting of green tea, dog rose juice, cranberry juice, aronia juice, unsweetened bilberry juice, bilberry jam, bilberries, blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, pomegranate, dark blue grapes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, red cabbage, kale, blue potatoes, tomatoes, dark chocolate, pecan nuts, sunflower seeds, walnuts, extra virgin olive oil, rosemary, thyme and oregano changed the behaviour of 44 genes, 25 of them involved in cellular defence.

The moral of the story? If you want to activate your ‘good genes’,

  1. Choose a diet centred on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables;
  2. Avoid taking antioxidant supplements that contain isolated nutrients such as beta carotene and vitamin E, and
  3. Don’t waste your money on high-priced ‘superfoods’ such as acai and maqui berry, which are sold on the basis of their high ORAC (antioxidant) score – which is far less protective against disease than activating your own cellular defence mechanisms.
06
Dec

Plant-Based Nutrition and Coronary Artery Disease

Dr Caldwell Esselstyn is a force of nature. At 82, he still directs the cardiovascular prevention and reversal program at The Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, and travels around the US regularly (hopefully he’ll come to Australia one day!), spreading his message that coronary artery disease is a reversible condition, even when it’s so advanced that mainstream cardiologists have given up on you and sent you home to die.

I’ve covered the key elements of Dr Esselstyn’s heart disease reversal program in my 2014 International PBNHC Round-up video and discussed some of the myths about heart disease that Essy busts in a previous post.

In brief, he teaches his patients to eat a wholefood, plant-based (i.e. vegan) diet with no added oil; no nuts or seeds except a tablespoon of ground flax/linseed each day; no avocado; and no added salt; and with the addition of green leafy vegetables at every meal and snack. You can find all the details in his book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease, and his wife Ann and daughter Jane have authored several recipe books that teach you how to make this way of eating enjoyable.

But what I really want to discuss in this post is why more people don’t know about his work, and the implications of that ignorance.

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Let’s start with a little background. Caldwell Esselstyn has worked at the Cleveland Clinic, one of the most well-known academic hospitals in the US, since 1968. His surgical training was conducted there; he chaired the Clinic’s Breast Cancer Task Force and headed its Section of Thyroid and Parathyroid Surgery; he has served as President of the Staff and as a member of the Board of Governors. He received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Cleveland Clinic Alumni Association in 2009.

He has also served as President of the American Association of Endocrine Surgeons, was cited in The Best Doctors in America 1994-1995 for his surgical expertise in the categories of endocrine and breast disease, and is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology. On top of all that, he is the author or co-author of over 150 publications in peer-reviewed scientific and medical journals.

I’m telling you all of this to make it clear that Dr Esselstyn is not some underqualified nut-job pushing a half-baked theory of his own creation that has never been tested. (There are plenty of contrasts to him in the ‘alternative medicine’ sphere, such as Dr Natasha Campbell-McBride, who makes outrageous claims for her GAPS diet based on either no science at all, or badly outdated science that has since been disproven, and who has never published a single paper in the medical literature to document her approach).

No, Essy is the real deal – a highly-qualified and well-respected doctor with an impeccable academic pedigree. So why is that the vast majority of people who undertake his program find out about him through friends, relatives or internet searches, rather than being referred to him by their doctors, including cardiologists who work at the Cleveland Clinic and have known of him, and his work, for decades?

Well, as I discovered recently, it turns out that the Cleveland Clinic actually has a policy that no doctors employed by it are permitted to refer patients to Esselstyn’s cardiovascular prevention and reversal program, even though it operates inside the Cleveland Clinic! Ummmm, whaaaat?

It’s simple, really. The average cost for heart bypass surgery in US hospitals is US$117 000, and being a top teaching hospital, the Cleveland Clinic probably charges more than that. The failure rate for this procedure is high (see my article What Bill Clinton’s cardiologist didn’t know (and why you need to know it), so a significant proportion of people will end up back under the surgeon’s knife, or undergoing other invasive procedures. Even if they don’t, they’ll have to come back for regular check-ups and to get their prescriptions updated, ensuring that they become cash cows for the hospital.

In contrast, Essy charges next to nothing to participate in his program, has detailed the entire program in a book that you can buy online for around A$20, and explains how the program works in numerous videos that you can watch for free on Youtube. People who stick strictly to the program are virtually heart-attack-proof, as he has documented in the long-term follow-up studies that he has published, so they have no need to come back to the Cleveland Clinic, or to Essy personally, for any more treatment.

Follow the money, folks. Treating people with surgery, stenting and medication keeps them sick patients for the rest of their lives, which is highly lucrative; while teaching them how to take charge of their health gets them off the medical merry-go-round, saving loads of taxpayers dollars as well as their out-of-pocket costs.

What would you choose – to live the remainder of your life as a cardiac patient, or to get rid of your coronary artery disease and live the remainder of your life in robust health – like Essy himself, who in his 80s maintains a schedule that many 40 year olds couldn’t keep up with?

24
Nov

Plant-based diets for the treatment of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

PCOS is believed to affect up to 1 in 10 women of reproductive age in both Australia and the US. It is the most common cause of female infertility, since women with PCOS either only ovulate occasionally, or not at all.

I have seen many clients with PCOS over my 20 years in practice, which is one of the reasons why I was looking forward to Brie Turner-McGrievy’s presentation on it at the 2015 International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference. (The other was that she has published some amazing studies comparing the effectiveness of various diets for weight loss, but more on that a little later…)

Symptoms of PCOS include:

  • Infertility
  • Infrequent, absent, and/or irregular menstrual periods
  • Multiple cysts on the ovaries which can be seen on ultrasound
  • Acne (particularly cystic acne), oily skin, or dandruff
  • Weight gain or obesity, particularly around the waist
  • Pelvic pain
  • Male-pattern baldness or thinning hair
  • Increased facial hair
  • Dark patches of skin
  • Skin tags
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Sleep apnea

Woman with PCOS make too many androgens (‘male hormones’) in their ovaries, so they have elevated levels of these hormone in their blood. In addition they have low concentrations of sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG), a protein which keeps testosterone and estrogen in an inactive ‘storage’ state. Low SHBG translates to higher levels of active testosterone, which contributes to all the symptoms of PCOS, including infertility.

In addition, women with PCOS are insulin-resistant – that is, their cells don’t respond to the signals sent by the hormone insulin, resulting in high levels of glucose and triglycerides in their bloodstreams, and increased fat storage.

As a result of these metabolic abnormalities, women with PCOS have a higher risk of developing several chronic diseases, including:

  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Some forms of cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Metabolic Syndrome

The first-line treatment for PCOS is pretty simple, if not necessarily easy: lose weight. The problem, as Turner-McGrievy pointed out, is that up until recently, there had been no studies done to establish the most effective weight loss diet for PCOS sufferers. So she did what any self-respecting nutrition researcher with a history of co-authoring studies with the amazing Dr Neal Barnard, founder of the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine, would do – she decided to run such a study herself.

By way of background, Dr Barnard had found in an earlier study that women suffering from severe period pain had a significantly higher serum SHBG concentration when they were placed on a vegan diet than when they were eating their standard omnivorous diet (remember, women with PCOS have lower than average SHBG).

Then, in later Barnard-led studies that Brie Turner-McGrievy contributed to, an ad libitum (all you can eat) low-fat vegan diet was found to cause significantly more weight loss in overweight, postmenopausal women than the US government-developed National Cholesterol Education Program Step II diet, despite the lack of restrictions on portion size and energy intake in the vegan diet group. Not only were the  participants randomised to the vegan diet considerably lighter after the 14-week study wrapped up; they were far more successful than the ‘standard’ dieters at keeping the weight off, at both 1-year and 2-year follow-up.

The same diet was found to cause significantly more weight loss in type 2 diabetics, along with greater decreases in HbA1c (a measure of long-term blood sugar control), fasting glucose, cholesterol and LDL, than the ‘official’ American Diabetes Association diet – highly relevant to PCOS sufferers due to their increased risk of diabetes.

So Turner-McGrievy conceived the Healthy Eating for Reproductive Health (HER Health) study, to compare a low-fat, low-glycaemic index vegan diet with no caloric restriction to a standard, low-calorie diet for weight loss in women with PCOS. With very minimal instruction and 1:1 contact, the women assigned to the vegan diet group still managed to lose significantly more weight than the low-cal dieters at the 3 month mark, as well as having greater improvements in dietary intake at the 6 month mark.

Turner-McGrievy then went on to conduct the New Dietary Interventions to Enhance the Treatments for weight loss (New DIETs) study – a 2-month weight loss intervention with a 4-month follow-up period, which randomised overweight participants to either a vegan, vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, or omnivorous diet. All the test diets were carefully designed so that they were low in fat and glycaemic index. And the winner was… the vegan diet, which resulted in the loss of 7.5% of initial body weight after 6 months. Interestingly, although participants in all test diet groups lost weight by 2 months, the pesco-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian and omnivorous dieters began regaining weight after that, while those in the vegetarian and vegan diet groups kept losing weight.

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The take-home message for women with PCOS is that a low-fat, low-glycaemic index vegan diet is the best way to lose weight, balance hormones and restore insulin sensitivity. This backs up my experience with clients, many of whom have resumed normal menstruation and been able to get pregnant naturally by adopting a wholefood, plant-based diet without added oils and refined carbohydrates. – See more at: http://empowertotalhealth.com.au/plant-based-diets-for-the-treatment-of-polycystic-ovary-syndrome/#sthash.wNW5UEMF.dpuf
19
Nov

The Universe Within

By vegan naturopath Robyn Chuter

As I see more and more clients with complex, chronic health conditions, I am frequently reminded of Hippocrates’ statement from over 2000 years ago:

All disease begins in the gut.

Now, like a lot of pithy sayings, there will always be some exceptions to the rule, but as researchers delve into the inner workings of the digestive tract, more and more health conditions are turning out to have a significant gut component.

And as Dr Corey Howard explained in his presentation at the 2015 International Plant-Based Nutrition Healthcare Conference, that gut component of disease doesn’t just involve our own, human cells. Here are some startling facts to ponder:

  • Our bodies are comprised of around 37 trillion cells (in numerals, that’s 37 000 000 000 000).
  • The human genome contains approximately 21 000 genes.
  • 1.5% of those genes, or around 300 of them, code for proteins (that is, they contain the instructions for making particular proteins).
  • The remaining 20 700 genes regulate the expression of the 300 that code for proteins.
  • 100 trillion bacteria (that’s 100 000 000 000 000) reside in and on the human body – on our skin, in our nose, ears, lungs, eyeballs, the vagina in females, and of course in our gut.
  • There are more than 9 million unique genes in the human gut bacterial community, or over 400 times the number of human genes.

If you’re feeling a little creeped out by the discovery that you are more ‘bug’ than human, you’re not alone. We have been conditioned to think of bacteria as our mortal enemies, to be eradicated by any means necessary. Think of those advertisements you’ve seen for mouthwashes, kitchen sprays and toilet cleaners that proudly trumpet the claim that they ‘kill 99% of bacteria’. The market for antibacterial hand sanitisers has exploded in recent years, and many parents will beg their GP for an antibiotic if they even suspect that their child has a middle ear infection.

But as researchers delve deeper into the human microbiome and how it affects our physical and mental health, it’s becoming more and more clear that attempting to eradicate bacteria from our bodies and living environments is a Very Bad Idea.

Dr Howard focused his presentation on the gut microbiome, although the composition and function of bacteria that live on and in other parts of our bodies is a fascinating subject in itself.

The probiotic or ‘good bacteria’ that inhabit our intestines carry out several vital functions for us. They:

  • Produce some vitamins, including vitamin K and biotin, which we can absorb and utilise;
  • Synthesise amino acids – the building blocks of protein, which we can also absorb and utilise to build our own body proteins;
  • Carry out biotransformation of bile acids – metabolic waste products that contribute to bowel cancer and gallstones – so that they can be safely removed from the body;
  • Produce short chain fatty acids including butyrate, which decreases intestinal inflammation, heals ‘leaky gut’, modulates the sensitivity of visceral organs and improves intestinal motility (helping to overcome IBS), protects against colorectal cancer, lowers cholesterol and reduces insulin resistance… among many other benefits;
  • Secrete antimicrobial substances which inhibit the growth of ‘bad’ bacteria that can cause intestinal infections, leaky gut and inflammatory conditions including cardiovascular and autoimmune disease.
  • Interact with toll-like receptors, helping the immune system to identify and destroy harmful bacteria while tolerating beneficial bacteria, human cells and normal components of food.
  • Interact with dendritic cells, a type of immune cell, helping to calm them and reduce their production of inflammatory chemicals.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the delicate balance of the gut microbiome can be thrown out by a host of factors, setting the stage for all manner of ill-health.

  • Babies born by caesarean section are not colonised by the healthy bacteria that a vaginally-delivered baby will encounter on its way through the birth canal. Instead of its mother’s flora, the c-section baby’s gut ends up being populated by bacteria from the air in the operating theatre, and the garments of the doctors and nurses.
  • Breast-fed babies receive probiotic bacteria in their mother’s milk, as well as prebiotic oligosaccharides (carbohydrates that can’t be digested by humans, but feed the gut bacteria instead); while formula-fed babies miss out on both.
  • Antibiotics, whether prescribed for infectious illnesses (most of which are not life-threatening and would resolve spontaneously if left untreated), or consumed in dairy products, eggs and meat from factory-farmed land and marine animals that are routinely fed antibiotics, dramatically reduce the diversity of the gut microbiome and can set the stage for colonisation by pathogens such as Clostridium difficule.
  • A wide range of other drugs, including proton pump inhibitors (acid suppressors such as Losec and Nexium); non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and oral contraceptives, decrease the number of beneficial bacteria inhabiting the gut.

As Dr Howard explained, if you have acquired imbalances in your gut microbiome that are contributing to digestive discomfort and poor health, just taking probiotics won’t get you well again. You’ll need a total dietary overhaul to remove the substances that derange your microbial colonies (artificial sweeteners, animal products laced with antibiotics, refined carbohydrates) and add in the substances that restore balance (fibre, resistant starch, fermented foods); you need to get off drugs that wreak havoc on your gut flora; quit smoking and excessive drinking; and get regular exercise.

Does all of this sound familiar? The same lifestyle measures which promote the health of your human cells also promote the health of your microbiome… and perhaps that is no coincidence.

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