Thursday, October 19, 2017

How to live longer: THIS supplement for under £5 protects from heart attacks and strokes 

MAGNESIUM supplements can help you sleep better, improve eczema, and even protect you from heart attacks and strokes. This is how much of the mineral you need to be in optimum health.

Reporting from

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Does having sore muscles mean I had a good workout?

Soreness has a number of possible causes, but it isn’t related to workout quality — it only means that you’ve damaged your muscles.

It could be that the movements were new, or that you changed variables like volume, weight, or intensity. If you don’t exercise for a week or more, even a relatively easy workout could leave you sore the next day, explains Dean Somerset, CSCS, an exercise physiologist in Edmonton, Alberta, who specializes in injury prevention and rehab.

It could also mean you’re changing elements of your workout too often — an approach known as “confusing your muscles” — which doesn’t give your body the chance to adapt to the stressors. “Exercise variation is a common cause of soreness,” says Somerset.

Chronic soreness after workouts could indicate that you’re skimping on important aspects of your recovery, such as sleep, nutrition, or hydration, or simply working out too frequently. Constantly pushing yourself to the point of soreness can lead to chronic fatigue, pain, and injuries that could land you on the sidelines.

A better way to gauge whether your workout is successful is to set measurable goals beforehand, Somerset says. For example, you might decide that you want to run a certain distance, maintain a specific speed, or lift a predetermined amount of weight. This objective feedback is a better indicator of workout quality than soreness, he explains, because you’ll know whether you’ve made progress.

This originally appeared in “Expert Answers” in the October 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Excerpt from

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Finding Calm in a Frantic World

You know the days: You wake up with a fresh mind, but worries soon emerge, triggered by distressing news stories, a bottleneck commute, concerns about people you love.

Before long, anxiety rears its wide-eyed head. Your heart starts racing and your mind trips over its shoelaces. If you were frazzled before, now you’re barely breathing.

We all get stressed, but when these isolated incidents turn into a state of near-constant turmoil, it can disrupt multiple areas of our lives. Chronic anxiety depletes the body, explains Henry Emmons, MD, author of The Chemistry of Calm: Digestion goes askew, sleep becomes less restorative, and the mind gets easily distracted and fatigued.

Yet just as the body knows how to rev up to protect us from danger, it also knows how to calm down — and we can help it do this more effectively. Techniques like meditation, yoga, and breath work can combine to create and sustain a tranquil mind.

“Training yourself in times of nonstress becomes increasingly important, because you build up those practices for accessing calm quickly,” Emmons says.

Even years of meditation or yoga practice, however, aren’t always enough to handle the challenges of the modern world. When anxiety takes you by surprise, these strategies will help you catch your breath and calm your mind.

Be Ridiculous

To calm yourself quickly, Emmons suggests, tell your autonomic nervous system that it’s OK to stand down. One cue that works surprisingly well is silliness. If you’re anxious before an important call, have a one-song dance party. Make faces in the mirror. Translate the day’s headlines into pig Latin.

Focus on a Game

In her book, Stress-Proof: The Scientific Solution to Building a More Resilient Brain and Life, Mithu Storoni, MD, PhD, recommends redirecting a racing mind by playing games, especially ones that require some concen-tration. Play Tetris on your phone or a round of 20 Questions with a friend.

Slow Your Breath

Rapid, shallow breathing is a common feature of anxiety, but Storoni points out that deliberately slowing the breath down — to six or seven breaths a minute — and inhaling twice the usual volume of air can lower sympathetic nervous system activity by as much as one-third.

Listen to Your Environment

One way to tune out the noise in your mind is to tune in to the sounds around you: the chirping birds outside your window, a humming air conditioner, a horn beeping down the street, the sound of a copy machine. “Allow your ears to simply receive whatever sounds arise,” recommends Nancy Colier, author of The Power of Off: The Mindful Way to Stay Sane in a Virtual World. If the sounds annoy you (like a neighbor’s television), try listening without attaching any meaning to the noise.

Sniff a Lemon

One study found that when subjects sniffed lemons at 30-second intervals for 15 minutes, they measurably reduced their heart rates and blood pressure and increased feelings of calm.

Carry a Talisman

Objects have the power we assign them, says life coach and author Jen Sincero. Pick an item that has some meaning and carry it with you. It might be a stone from a beach you love, a button from your grandpa’s old coat, even a Lego from one of your kids. Pull it out whenever you need a reminder that there’s more to life than whatever concern is dominating the moment.

Take a Play Break

If you can step away from a tense moment long enough to throw a Frisbee or pet your dog, you’re on your way to calming down. Play can trigger positive neurochemicals — serotonin, oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins — that increase well-being. Storoni notes that light exercise can lower cortisol levels.

Get Tech Support

Install an app like Calm, Headspace, Buddhify, or Sattva on your smartphone. Each one has simple meditations that help you start breathing again — and then, breathe deeper. Some also have reminders that nudge you to take regular breaks throughout the day.

Drink a Glass of Water

Simply slowing down to have a glass of water can be calming; it also supports stress recovery. Staying well-hydrated may reduce your HPA-axis response to stress, Storoni counsels.

Listen to Music

If you need to get out of your head, put on some tunes you love and listen actively, with your eyes closed. Calming music especially can have a direct effect on the autonomic system. This may be why music is now being used therapeutically in emergency rooms, as well as in pain-management and stress-reduction programs.


Produce your own instant music therapy by belting out a song or two (singing loudly with the radio absolutely counts). A 2013 McGill University meta-study showed that singing can measurably improve immunity, decrease stress, and raise oxytocin levels, which help promote social bonding.


If you’re feeling anxious about having too much to do, approach each task in a conscious way, suggests Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, author of The Distraction Addiction. “I’m going to answer emails for 10 minutes,” for example, or, “I’m taking 10 minutes to clear off my desk.” Even if you can’t complete them on the first try, it can be calming to get a start on lingering tasks — which is often the hardest part.

Eat Some Protein

Low blood sugar is a frequent trigger for emotional upset. If you haven’t had any protein in the last few hours, eat a handful of nuts or a hard-boiled egg.

Try Alternate-Nostril Breathing

Deep breathing is useful for slowing down the sympathetic nervous system, says Emmons, and alternate-nostril breathing can be especially relaxing. First, exhale completely, and then inhale deeply. On your next exhale, place an index finger against your right nostril to close it off. Inhale though the left nostril, and then close the left nostril as you release the right nostril. Exhale completely through the right nostril, and then inhale through that side. At the top of the inhale, close off the right nostril, release the left, and exhale. Repeat for 15 rounds.

Name the Feeling

If you’re spinning out, slow down and name the feeling: “OK, so this is anxiety.” “This is fear.” “This is anger.” Simply applying language to emotions brings the neocortex, the reasoning part of the brain, back online. This helps put the brakes on a reactive response.

Pet an Animal

Find the nearest domesticated mammal and give it a friendly scratch behind the ears. Studies show that petting dogs can lower your blood pressure, and having a pet of your own can be a reliable source of unconditional love that keeps stress in check over time.

Enjoy Some Greenery

Take a walk in the woods, if possible. Research on “forest bathing,” a practice that originated in Japan, has revealed that spending time among trees and plants can measurably lower cortisol, blood pressure, and pulse rate. Gardening is also a calming activity that gets you outdoors.

Reconsider Caffeine

Some people are more sensitive to caffeine than others. (There’s even a gene mutation associated with slower caffeine metabolism.) Ask yourself if your current panic attack could be coffee induced. If so, try drinking calming chamomile tea instead.

Make a Request

If you’re worried, try articulating what you want instead of what you don’t want, says Sincero. She suggests being wildly specific, like, “I want to have enough time tonight for a luxurious bath while listening to the deep tracks on my old Eric Clapton albums.” Whether it happens or not, at least some parts of your brain will respond to the request itself as if it’s already occurring. She adds that you may be surprised at how often you get exactly what you ask for.

Consume News Wisely

Be mindful of how much news you consume and the effect it has on you. Priming the brain with negative images can gear it toward threats, according to Loretta Graziano Breuning, PhD, author of Habits of a Happy Brain, and this can spur a state of perpetual anxious watchfulness. Set a media limit (no more than an hour a day) and be selective about your sources. Avoid sensationalist news outlets, which often use scary drama to hook news consumers and keep them hooked.

Write About What Matters

If you can take a few minutes for a writing practice, try this: Stanford researcher and best-selling author Kelly McGonigal, PhD, asks her students to write for 10 minutes about their top value, such as being a good friend or working for social justice. “The main exercise is to [understand] why these things are important to you,” she says. This can change how you relate to the stress you’re feeling.

Taste Your Food

When you notice you’re wound up and scarfing down a meal, pause for a moment. Take a deep breath and try tuning in to whatever you’re eating. Chew much slower than you would normally and really experience that sensation. Taste it completely and pay attention to the texture and smells. Bonus: This kind of conscious chewing aids digestion.

Use a Mantra

Originally used as a word or a sound designed to deepen a meditation practice,  “mantra” has evolved to mean “a statement that’s repeated frequently.” Breuning notes that this kind of repetition has cognitive benefits, allowing you to develop new neural pathways based on what you’re saying. An especially useful mantra during anxiety can be the simple “I am safe.”

Express Your Thanks

Numerous studies have found gratitude to be a life changer, bringing feelings of greater well-being and reducing depression. So write a note to a friend, say thank you to three people in an hour, express gratitude for the little things every day, like “Thank you, universe, for that amazing parking spot.” Or, “Thank you, universe. I am still alive. Perhaps my anxiety doesn’t know everything after all.”

Excerpt from

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

5 Tips for Losing Weight — Without Calorie-Counting

For a lot of people trying to lose weight, counting is comforting. Numbers define guidelines, goals, and success — and there are oh-so-many ways to measure the weight-loss potential of food: points, calories, grams, serving sizes.

But there is a different school of thought that looks beyond the numbers and toward a more holistic approach to eating, one that views food in terms of its effect on the broader health and balance of your whole body. And yes, this approach can help you find your way to a healthier weight, too.

“If losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight were as simple as counting, we’d be a nation of skinny minnies,” says Marcelle Pick, MSN, OB/GYN, NP, author of The Core Balance Diet.

Pick and other integrative-health practitioners advise paying close attention to how you feel instead of obsessing about numbers. “If you feel lethargic, moody, and sick most of the time, there is a good chance something is biochemically broken,” she notes. “No amount of counting grams of fat, protein, or sugar will help you lose weight until you identify and resolve the underlying health issue.”

In fact, evaluating your food strictly by numbers rather than by its nutritional and metabolic merits is not only ineffective, but it may actually lead to weight gain.

We talked to top nutritionists and integrative physicians about the factors that have the greatest effect on your ability to achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Here is their take on the five priorities that make a difference.

1. Reduce Inflammation

Chronic systemic inflammation is your body’s misdirected immune response that can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and more. A side effect of inflammation in your gastrointestinal system, or gut, is often weight gain. If you regularly drink alcohol, pop painkillers or antibiotics, eat processed foods, or have an autoimmune disease, your gut may well be inflamed.

When the gut becomes inflamed, calcium and sodium enter surrounding cells, which causes them to attract and hold water. Think of how a speck of dirt makes your eyes water. Now imagine your body drawing water into the tissue around your gut as it tries to flush toxins.

“The extra water causes bloating and lowers the function of the cells’ energy centers, or mitochondria, making the body feel sluggish,” explains Elson Haas, MD, founder and director of the Preventive Medical Center of Marin in San Rafael, Calif., and author of Staying Healthy With New Medicine.

You don’t only feel heavy — you look it. Haas calls this tissue swelling and abdominal bloating “false fat.” The bulge might appear to be 10 to 25 pounds of excess fat, but it’s not “true fat” (also called adipose tissue). It’s water-logged tissue, he says, “and it’s almost never corrected by conventional weight-loss diets.”

The biggest culprit behind inflammation-related weight gain is processed foods. Ironically, most reduced-calorie and “diet” foods stoke the fire.

“So many food products presented as a means of weight control are highly refined and full of chemicals that the body doesn’t recognize,” says Annie Kay, MS, RD, author of Every Bite Is Divine. “The standard American weight-loss menu is a diet soda and a frozen, low-calorie entrĂ©e,” she says. “It’s an inflammatory nightmare.”

You can reverse inflammation by eating nutritious whole foods and reducing or eliminating processed and packaged foods. As inflammation calms, the body often recalibrates to a healthy weight. Specific foods that fight inflammation include onions, turmeric, red grapes, and green tea, as well as berries, dark leafy greens, and coldwater fish.

2. Balance Your Blood Sugar

Simple carbohydrates are a bigger factor than calories in driving weight gain for most people. This is because they lack nutrients — namely fiber and protein — that slow digestion and balance blood sugar. “The refining process strips grains and natural sugars of their chewier, more nutrient-dense casings and leaves a simple carbohydrate chain that the body mainlines as glucose,” explains Pick.

When glucose enters the body quickly, blood sugar soars. In a scramble to balance the load, the pancreas shoots out insulin, the body’s fat-storage hormone. Blood sugar momentarily stabilizes, but insulin is overproduced, energy levels fall, and hunger returns. When we reach for another simple-carbohydrate-based snack, the cycle begins anew. Long-term consequences include weight gain and insulin-related metabolic syndrome, which sets the stage for diseases like type 2 diabetes.

To even out your blood sugar and maintain a healthy weight, eat plenty of nutritious proteins, fats, and fiber-rich vegetables, and reduce your intake of sugar and refined grains. Avoid all sodas, including diet sodas. The intense sweetness of artificial sugars can fool the body into releasing insulin, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, author of The Complete Guide to Beating Sugar Addiction.

Teitelbaum recommends nutrient-dense snacks and small meals to stave off sugar cravings. A half-cup serving of nuts, for example, can help keep the carb munchies at bay without weight-gain concerns. “At that pace, you don’t have to worry about the calories,” he says, noting that 2 to 4 ounces of high-quality nuts per day may also lower “bad” cholesterol.

3. Heal Your Microbiome

Ultimately, you can’t maintain a healthy weight without cultivating a healthy microbiome — the trillions of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi housed in your gut. That’s because a healthy gut is a cool gut, and a cool gut digests and metabolizes food efficiently.

To heal an inflamed gut and build a welcoming home for health-supporting microbes, start by targeting bad bacteria. Identify and curtail foods that you may have an intolerance to — common culprits include dairy and grains containing gluten. Signs of intolerance or sensitivity include belching, diarrhea, gas, fatigue, and irritability. (The best way to identify food sensitivities and intolerances is to do an elimination diet; see

Next, reduce your intake of nutrient-poor processed foods, including crackers, chips, baked goods, and some breads, as well as fast foods, sweets, and anything containing artificial ingredients and preservatives — all of which can disrupt gut flora. Most processed foods are also packed with oils high in low-quality omega-6 fatty acids, which fan inflammation.

Finally, cultivate friendly flora and fauna by diversifying your diet. Eat a variety of whole foods, including all types of berries, dark greens, nonstarchy vegetables, and legumes.

Liz Lipski, PhD, a certified nutrition specialist and author of Digestive Wellness, recommends up to two daily servings of cultured and fermented foods, such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and miso. All are natural sources of probiotics, enzymes, and prebiotics (soluble fibers that feed good probiotic microbes).

A high-quality probiotic supplement can help, but it’s not the same as eating fermented foods. “Historically, people have gotten their probiotics from food,” Lipski says. “It’s the life in foods that gives us life.”

(For more on building microbiome health, see “Build Your Microbiome“.)

4. Boost Your Mood

Depression and weight gain often go hand in hand — many antidepressant medications themselves can lead to extra pounds. Plus, the lower your mood, the more likely you are to succumb to cravings for food heavy in starches and processed carbs, such as pasta.

What your body may actually need is a shot of serotonin, the brain’s happiness chemical. Many people, and women in particular, experience significant carbohydrate cravings when they are deficient in this neurotransmitter, says Pick. Ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin is stored in the gut, so the happier your gut, the better your odds of a good serotonin supply.

Because serotonin is made of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, you’ll want to emphasize healthy proteins in your diet. The most important amino acid for making serotonin is tryptophan; numerous studies link mild to moderate depression and restless sleep with tryptophan deficiency. The body can’t manufacture tryptophan on its own, so you have to get it from your diet; top sources include milk, soybeans, cashews, and poultry.

More broadly, eating packaged and processed food can lead to nutrient deficiencies that tank both your mood and your metabolism.

“Mood is one of the first places nutrient deficiency shows up,” says Lipski. “Processed foods give our bodies information that says, ‘Be sluggish. Be in a bad mood.’ Wholesome foods make your moods more vibrant and help you feel more alive.”

5. Tame Stress With Relaxation

If you eat well and exercise but still can’t lose the weight, your hormones may be unbalanced. When people hear the word “hormone,” they tend to think of estrogen and testosterone, says Pick, but those are minor players. In truth, the body’s major hormones are insulin and cortisol.

As mentioned earlier, insulin’s job is to transport sugar from your bloodstream to your cells. “Food controls insulin, so what you eat has a huge impact on your hormones,” Pick says. Keep insulin balanced by eating regular, small, nutrient-dense meals.

Balancing cortisol, the stress hormone, is also vital to maintaining a healthy weight. Like most of your hormones, cortisol is made from cholesterol. When you’re stressed, your body makes extra cortisol to help it overcome a challenge — real or perceived — but your cholesterol supply doesn’t change. Your body has to divert cholesterol away from making hormones that keep your metabolism running strong. “That’s called the cortisol steal,” says Pick. In short, stress bogs down your metabolism.

The causes of stress, of course, aren’t just psychological; they’re also physical. A low-calorie diet can stress your body. When you don’t eat enough calories to properly fuel your resting metabolic rate, says Pick, “your brain sends a message to your body to slow metabolism. As a result, cells cling to calories rather than burn them quickly, and your metabolism downshifts.”

Counter cortisol by activating your body’s relaxation response, also called the “rest and digest” response. Start by getting plenty of sleep. Then carve out a bit of time each day to center yourself: Consider prayer, meditation, a walk in nature, or simply sitting in a park.

“Reconnecting to yourself,” says Pick, “will make an enormous difference to your hormonal health.” (For more on managing stress, see “The Cortisol Curve” and “Reset Your Stress“.)

This originally appeared as “Who’s Counting” in the October 2017 print issue of Experience Life.

Excerpt from

Friday, September 29, 2017

Adaptogens for Healing Burnout: Which Work Best?

Overwhelm is now technically considered a modern epidemic — but I probably don’t have to tell you. Most of us feel the burden of burnout regularly. We all know what it feels like to be running on empty and not giving ourselves any time to refuel and replenish.

Women are bearing the major brunt of burnout. We experience far more stress than men due to a complex constellation of factors, including the greater demands of managing multiple roles — and the influence of hormonal changes on our life cycles. Whether you’re a new momma; a woman juggling teens, a job, and older parents who also need your care; or a woman building a new career, you know what it’s like to feel like you’re on 24/7. And it can add up fast.

Burnout has many faces. Some are familiar – feeling stressed out and overwhelmed, feeling agitated, losing sleep, eating a bit more sugar than we’d usually choose to. We may find ourselves noticing that there’s more tension in our relationships than we care to admit when we suddenly lose it with a spouse, kid, or even the woman at the grocery store check-out.

But symptoms of burnout can also be subtle. For example, burnout causes anxiety, depression, and even procrastination and low motivation. It makes us less able to focus and concentrate, puts our memory on the fritz, and can cause us to feel brittle to the point of snapping like a dry branch.

Burnout can manifest in physical symptoms including, but not limited to:

  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Hives and rashes
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia
  • Weight gain — especially around your middle
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Chronic signs of inflammation, like joint aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Low libido
  • Decreased willpower and decision-making ability
  • Getting sick more often than you should with colds, UTIs, yeast infections, and cold-sore outbreaks.

What’s Really Happening When You’re Burned Out

Burnout happens when you’ve pushed your stress response system past its limit of resilience. You’ve been ‘stretched’ for so long that you’ve actually started to put strain on your body’s stress system –  the circuit between your brain and your adrenals — and the downstream effects show up in your body, mind, and mood.

Your brain starts saying, “I can’t let you keep pushing yourself like this anymore, so I’m going to basically send you into exhaustion and breakdown so you have no choice but to hit the brakes and pull over to the side of the road.” This is a phenomenon I call SOS, or Survival Overdrive Syndrome, which you can read about here.

The problem is that even though as women we’re incredibly resilient, overwhelm can eventually turn into burnout and burnout into breakdown — that’s where little physical symptoms you may have been ignoring can start to turn into bigger problems.

Adaptogens to the Rescue

Adaptogens are a group of herbs that were first categorized with that name around the 1940s, though they’ve been used in traditional herbalism for thousands of years for their ability to improve stamina, fertility, and immunity, and as general tonics to promote longevity and well-being.

These herbs are well suited to help us rebound from burnout because they help us adapt to and heal from stress (that’s why they’re called adaptogens). They help to regulate the hypothalamus and adrenal glands (your HPA axis), which are in charge of your stress response and cortisol production.

All adaptogens can help to heal the stress response system and boost your reserves and resilience, but adaptogens exist on a spectrum — from the calming, soothing, gentle, nourishing ones, to those that are stimulating and arousing.

When your energy tank is already “below the empty line,” and you’re running on fumes, adding high-octane adaptogens — for example, the more stimulating adaptogens like ginseng and rhodiola — can add fuel to a fire. When we’re in burnout, it’s more effective to soothe and repair the nervous system, and heal any damage that’s been done.

Therefore, when it comes to adaptogens for burnout and related symptoms, I typically start with the most gentle — ashwagandha and reishi mushroom, combined with herbs like lemon balm and motherwort which are not adaptogens, but are classically used to calm the nervous system. I may do this for for two to 12 weeks, while also adding in a daily meditation or yoga practice and a nourishing diet with special attention to blood-sugar balance.

Only after this do I usually add the next spectrum of adaptogens, those that are most energizing. I  reserve the more stimulating adaptogens (for example, ginseng) for women who aren’t actually burned-out at all, but need extra support for high-demand times in their lives — extra immune boosting for travel, during athletic training, while working night shifts, or when under a great deal of cognitive demand (like medical residents)!

While adaptogens are not generally recommended for use in pregnancy due to lack of safety data, they are a great ally for tired new moms — but again, only the most gentle in the calming and nourishing categories in this article to prevent overstimulating baby if you’re breastfeeding.

By definition, adaptogens are non-toxic, even with long-term use. But an important  caution: Adaptogens are not meant to be used to keep you pushing harder and for longer. They’re not a substitute for sleep, meditation, time in nature, time with friends, or good food. While adaptogens may give you the extra support you need for those occasional times when you just can’t hit the pause button, the real goal is to address the underlying issues that are keeping you in chronic overwhelm.

Choosing the Right Adaptogen(s) for You

Let’s take a look at some of the soothing and nourishing adaptogens – these are the ones at the end of the adaptogen spectrum that will help you feel like you’re getting restored, repaired, and replenished.

When taking adaptogens for burnout, start with the lowest dose, and choose the most gentle among them. Follow the tips for integrating adaptogens that I laid out in this blog, and if you still feel too stimulated, wait to take the adaptogens again until you’ve tried other self-care techniques. When your reserve tank has been empty for a long time, you may have to get a little bit more nourished before you can even start to add in something that supports the engine further. Make sure to balance your blood sugar and get enough sleep. Getting some root vegetables or whole grains at dinner can help you sleep better because it helps reset your evening cortisol levels. Sometimes I “prescribe” a weekly massage, a short morning and evening meditation practice, and an Epsom-salts-and-lavender bath at night.

Here are some of my favorites:


Ashwagandha: The mind, mood, and muscle soother

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I’m tired and wired.
  • I struggle to fall asleep.
  • I have chronically achy and painful joints or arthritis.
  • I deal with memory and brain fog.
  • I’m nervous or anxious.
  • I have chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, or chronic muscle tension.

Ashwagandha has over 4,000 years of traditional use in India and is used to heal deep exhaustion, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, and boost memory. It is also very helpful if musculoskeletal aches and pains are keeping you up at night or have started to appear as a result of exhaustion. Contrary to popular misinformation, this herb is considered safe for women with Hashimoto’s and other autoimmune conditions. It is a nightshade but is not usually considered troublesome for those avoiding nightshades, but use your discretion on how you feel and start with the lowest dosing.

Dose: 3 to 6 g dried herb in capsule/ day or 1 to 4 mL (20 to 80 drops) of tincture in water 3x/day

Reishi mushroom: The immune nourisher

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I need to sleep better and deeper.
  • I want to boost my immune system.
  • I’m getting colds and infections more often than I think I should be.
  • I need help detoxifying my body.
  • I usually feel overwhelmed and jangled.

Reishi mushroom is highly regarded in Chinese medicine for its ability to nourish and support adrenal function. It calms the nervous system and can be taken before bed for deeper, relaxing, and restorative sleep. It is also powerful herb for your immune system, so if you’re getting sick a lot because of stress, or never get sick and then crash on your first day of vacation, this might be a great choice for you.

Dose: 3 to 9 g dried mushroom in capsules or tablets daily or 2 to 4 mL tincture in water 2 to 3x/day. (Possibly avoid if you have a true mushroom allergy).


Ashwagandha (see Calming Adaptogens, above)

Holy basil: The vitalizer

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I want a gentle tonic for mind, mood, and immunity.
  • I am struggling with depression, anxiety, or low mood.
  • I have sleep problems.
  • I want help shifting to a new mindset and making healthy lifestyle changes.
  • I struggle with mental clarity.
  • I have chronic inflammation.
  • I have high blood sugar, cholesterol, or triglycerides.

Holy or “sacred” basil calms the mind and spirit and promotes longevity. This herb, called tulsi in Ayurveda, is used to improve energy and relieve fatigue, and it elevates the mood, especially providing relief from mild depression. While this herb is related to common basil, that is not a substitute.

Dose: 2 to 3 mL (40 to 60 drops) tincture in water 3x/ day

Maca: The mother of hormone nourishers

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I want more vitality and feel I need deep nourishment.
  • I have a low libido.
  • I have hormonal imbalances.
  • I want to improve my fertility.
  • I want to boost my mood, or I have anxiety or depression.

The Quechua Indians of Peru consider maca a food that promotes mental acuity, physical vitality, endurance, and stamina. Maca reduces anxiety and depression and is rich in essential amino acids, iodine, iron, and magnesium, as well as sterols that may possess a wide range of activities that support adrenal and hormone function.

Dose: 75 to 100 mg/day

Schizandra: The detoxifier

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I can’t focus. I have brain fog or memory problems.
  • I don’t have energy anymore. I tired out easily with physical exertion.
  • I have anxiety.
  • I want to support or boost my detoxification.

Schizandra, revered as an elite tonic herb in traditional Chinese herbalism, is used to improve mental focus, while having calming, anti-anxiety effects. It’s been widely used to enhance athletic performance and endurance, improving energy and stamina in general, and to relieve anxiety.

Dose: 20 to 30 drops of extract 1 or 2x/day or 2 to 4 capsules daily. NOT safe for use during pregnancy.

Shatavari: The hormonal harmonizer, queen of women’s adaptogens

It’s suited for when you might say:

  • I feel like I need rejuvenation, balance, and calm.
  • I have hormonal imbalances, including PMS, fertility, or menopausal problems.

Shatavari is considered the “Queen of Herbs” in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is beloved as one of the most powerful rejuvenating tonics for women. It is nourishing and calming, as well as hormonally balancing; it is used for irritability and many hormonal imbalances affecting the mood, for example, emotional symptoms of PMS and menopause. Avoid if you have a history of estrogen-receptor-positive cancer.

Dose: 2 to 4 mL (40 to 80 drops) of tincture in water 2 to 3x/day

When we’re tired we need to give ourselves what might seem impossible – time to restore, heal, and replenish. We need permission to pause. If you can learn to hit the reset button when you need to, the benefits will be many — greater longevity, inner peace, better relationships, a healthier more vital body and mind — and in the long run, more productivity, not less.

Excerpt from

NHS agrees to fund 'life-changing' drug for seven-year-old

The child has a rare condition which could cause brain damage if his diet is not controlled.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Listen to Your Thyroid

When Gerald came to my practice, he was confused and frustrated. An architect in his mid-50s, he had been diagnosed about 15 years earlier with hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland fails to produce enough of its hormones to energize the body or help stabilize weight and mood. Gerald’s doctor had prescribed a synthetic thyroid hormone, and his dosage had been rising steadily. He had been feeling good enough — until recently, when he found himself thoroughly exhausted, 12 pounds heavier, and overwhelmed by depression.

Gerald couldn’t understand why such debilitating conditions would overtake him so suddenly. His firm had recently landed a couple of exciting commissions, and he had been feeling hopeful and inspired. His doctor rechecked his labs and insisted his thyroid hormones were in the normal range and his supplemental hormone was at the right level. He offered to put Gerald on antidepressants.

But Gerald wasn’t interested in that, so he came to my functional-medicine clinic in Austin, Texas, where we focus on a variety of approaches to resolve thyroid dysfunction. When I ran Gerald’s labs, I discovered a common situation: The results were in the normal ranges, but they weren’t optimal.

It’s not uncommon to learn your thyroid lab numbers are normal, even though you have thyroid symptoms and feel lousy. This is partly because standard ranges were developed in reference to patients with malfunctioning thyroids, which is like developing healthy blood-sugar standards based only on people with diabetes.

The “thyroid signaling system” is complex; it doesn’t work in a linear way. Even a small departure from optimal hormone levels can have big effects, producing exhaustion and depression — as it did for Gerald and does for many others. It’s estimated that at least 20 million Americans suffer from thyroid dysfunction.

What’s more, there’s no universal treatment that works for everyone. I analyze lab results and tweak supplements to determine what’s right for each of my patients based on individual sensitivity to each intervention. Even optimal hormonal ranges vary from person to person.

I do, however, have a food-and-lifestyle protocol I recommend for anyone dealing with thyroid issues, because this gland — perhaps more than any other organ — does not operate in isolation. It’s uniquely sensitive to food and stress, as well as environmental toxins, and it affects us at the most basic level: by determining how much available energy we have to live our lives.

What is the Thyroid

If I offered prizes to different body parts, I’d give the thyroid the Most Important Yet Most Underappreciated Award. This small, butterfly-shaped gland in your neck is the true powerhouse for your entire body. Every cell has a receptor for thyroid hormone, which is like gas in your tank — you need a steady stream of it to fuel each cell.

When thyroid function is optimal, you feel terrific: vital, energized, optimistic. When it’s off, you can feel beyond rotten. Your cells can’t reproduce properly without exactly the right amount and type of thyroid hormone. Your organs cannot operate effectively.

It’s not enough to have “some” thyroid hormone, either. Every cell needs exactly the right amount. Too little, and your metabolism bogs down — which is hypothyroidism. You become cold, depressed, listless, and constipated, with mind-fuddling brain fog. You gain weight easily. Your sex hormones get out of whack.

Too much, and your metabolism revs up to warp speed — hyperthyroidism. You become panicky, anxious, and plagued by frequent bowel movements. You lose weight even when you eat constantly. Your muscles feel weak and your hands shake.

Your need for thyroid hormone is multifaceted and dynamic. On days when you are active, extra stressed, or fighting a cold, your thyroid works harder. It suffers when you don’t get enough sleep or eat foods that stress your digestive or immune system.

And when your hormone balance changes — due to pregnancy, childbirth, perimenopause, menopause, or andropause — your thyroid also takes a hit. (Most of these hormonal transitions affect women; they are five to eight times more likely than men to be diagnosed with thyroid issues.)

Once you understand how to support your thyroid, you can make sure this vital organ gets everything it needs to do its high-pressure job.

The Thyroid Network

The thyroid works in partnership with other organs, so I prefer to think of it as the thyroid signaling system.

It all starts with the hypothalamus. This part of the brain is your body’s air-traffic controller. It regulates hunger, thirst, sleep, and body temperature, and it directs the production of a variety of hormones, including all forms of thyroid hormone.

To keep your thyroid on task, the hypothalamus monitors hormone levels in your blood. If levels are too low, it dispatches a messenger to the pituitary gland called thyrotropin-releasing hormone, or TRH.

The pituitary is a pea-size gland located at the base of the brain, just below the hypothalamus, that regulates growth, reproduction, lactation, and stress. When it receives TRH from the hypothalamus, it releases thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH. This stimulates the thyroid to produce more of its energy-regulating cocktail of hormones. (TSH is a crucial indicator of how well your thyroid is functioning. If levels are too high on a lab test, it suggests your thyroid needs extra stimulation.)

So thyroid function involves not one but three body parts: the hypothalamus, the pituitary, and the thyroid itself. Sex and stress hormones, as well as the gut and immune system, play their own roles in the process.

Don’t just think thyroid; think network.

Imbalance Factors

A number of things can cause your thyroid signaling system to get off balance: consumption of foods your body doesn’t tolerate, a lack of thyroid-supportive nutrients, an imbalance of sex or stress hormones, excessive exercise or stress, sleep deprivation, a long-simmering infection, or exposure to environmental toxins. But the primary culprit is autoimmunity.

If your thyroid is underactive, you may have Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack and destroy its own thyroid tissue. Adjustments to diet and lifestyle can often correct the imbalance, though supplemental hormones are sometimes necessary to help you feel truly great — especially if you’ve had symptoms for a long time.

A less common autoimmune condition is Graves’ disease, the result of an overactive thyroid — and its outcomes can be serious. I was diagnosed with this and was on the verge of liver failure before I got my symptoms under control. (Other long-term effects can include osteoporosis and heart failure.) An overactive thyroid can be harder to treat — I compare it to catching a runaway horse versus coaxing a reluctant one out of the barn — but the same basic principles apply: Adjust food and lifestyle and add supplemental herbs and medication when needed.

Because the thyroid signaling system interacts with all your other hormones, when your signals are off, you don’t process stress well, your sexual function gets disrupted (low libido, diminished fertility), and your mood, memory, and focus all tank.

That gives you an idea of all the ways the thyroid needs support. Read on to learn how you can provide it.

Boost Your Thyroid

When I treat thyroid disorders, I put all my patients on a 28-day program designed to eliminate thyroid triggers, supply critical nutrients, and heal leaky gut syndrome, which commonly afflicts people with thyroid imbalance. You can find the full plan in my book The Thyroid Connection, where I also explain the nitty-gritty of different types of thyroid hormone — like regular and reverse T3 and T4, which are often ignored by conventional practitioners — as well as how to work with your health practitioner to get the testing you need.

If you struggle with thyroid issues, I strongly recommend seeking the support of a functional-medicine practitioner who is willing to see beyond the numbers and work with you to find a solution that makes you feel truly better.

These are the basics of my 28-day plan, which you can try on your own right now.

Focus on Nutrients

Your thyroid can go haywire with a nutrient-poor diet or a lack of dietary diversity. To keep your thyroid signaling system optimal, you need the following:

Iodine and protein. Iodine is a key building block of thyroid hormone, and protein helps keep you sated and off the blood-sugar roller coaster; this supports healthy metabolic function. For protein, choose high-quality, pasture-raised meat and wild-caught fish; get iodine from sea vegetables like kelp and dulse, which are easy to add to soup stocks.

Iron, selenium, and zinc. These minerals support proper function of the thyroid signaling system: Iron makes iodide (a component of iodine) available to the thyroid, selenium helps regulate excessive immune responses, and zinc supports white blood cell production. Food sources include spinach, grassfed beef, and pork, which contain all three nutrients; Brazil nuts are high in selenium.

Omega-3 fats. Without enough healthy fats, your cell walls lose their integrity. Coldwater fish, like salmon, and fish- and flax-oil supplements are good sources.

Vitamin A. This is vital to helping T3 enter your cells. Food sources include orange vegetables and fruits, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, winter squash, mangoes, and apricots.

B vitamins and vitamin D. B vitamins are critical to mitochondrial function; vitamin D helps promote T-cell production. Leafy green vegetables and broccoli (cooked to avoid a thyroid-suppressive effect), as well as beets and grassfed meat and liver, have plenty of Bs. Vitamin D comes mainly from sunshine and supplements, though it’s also found in fatty fish and portobello mushrooms.

Avoid Inflammatory Foods

If the attacks on your immune system continue — from food intolerances, simmering infections, environmental toxins, and chronic stress — the attacks from your immune system will keep coming. This is how autoimmunity develops; your beleaguered immune system starts attacking you.

A damaged gut is one of the most common sources of chronic inflammation because up to 80 percent of the immune system is located there. (Most threats to the system come from what we eat and drink.) So, to heal thyroid dysfunction, we need to heal leaky gut syndrome, which is one of the primary triggers for all autoimmune disease, according to the pioneering physician Alessio Fasano, MD.

Leaky gut occurs when stressors damage the small intestine and it begins to leak undigested proteins into the bloodstream. This puts the immune system on constant alert.

To heal the gut, avoid foods that might be damaging it. In addition to cutting out processed and fast foods, sugar, and caffeine — all of which are extremely inflammatory — I suggest eliminating these common food allergens:

Gluten. This highly inflammatory protein found in many grains and seeds (including wheat, barley, and rye) also mimics thyroid tissue, setting off autoimmune reactions.

Dairy. Like gluten, the casein in dairy can provoke autoimmunity, and the growth hormones farmers give to many dairy animals are thyroid disruptors.

Eggs. These are a common allergic trigger and can create low-grade inflammation.

Nightshades, nuts and seeds, all grains, legumes, and soy. These foods contain antinutrients, including phytic acid and lectin, which can aggravate autoimmune issues.

I also advise eliminating gluten and dairy permanently, because their proteins are similar to thyroid tissue, and they can double the damage of an autoimmune reaction. (For more on this, see “Molecular Mimicry”, below.)

I believe it’s best to avoid grains and legumes if you have an autoimmune condition. If not, you can gradually add those foods — as well as eggs, nuts, nightshades, and soy — back into your diet when the 28-day plan is done. (You can find guidance for reintroducing and testing foods in my book.)

Tame the Toxins

Food is medicine because everything your body absorbs has a crucial impact on your health. Unfortunately, there’s a downside to that principle: We also take in the industrial chemicals that saturate our air, water, and soil.

Every day, we’re exposed to hundreds of toxins that can disrupt the body’s thyroid function, as well as its immune system, digestion, and overall wellness. If we don’t take steps to combat this threat, this toxic burden can sabotage all the effects of our other healthy choices.

Because toxins are everywhere, there’s a limit to what we can do to prevent and recover from them. We are exposed to airborne chemicals from industrial polluters, and endocrine-disrupting chemicals have been found in ATM receipts, conventional cleaning products, personal-care products, home furnishings, and more.

Still, we can protect our thyroid’s health, both by eliminating toxic exposure when possible and by improving the body’s ability to detoxify. Here’s my toxin-defense plan at a glance.

Prevention: Reduce your exposure to toxins.

• Clean your air with a HEPA filter.

• Filter all your water, including for showers and baths.

• Buy organic and pasture-raised foods whenever possible.

• Use clean, plant-based body-care products.

• Have your dentist remove mercury dental amalgams.

Detoxification: Support your body’s ability to shed toxins.

• Learn if you have any gene mutations so you can determine the supplements you need to support your detox pathways. (For more on this, see “Making Sense of SNPs“.)

• Care for your liver with a non-inflammatory diet.

• Heal your gut.

• Support your body’s natural daily detox: elimination and sweat.

Stress relief: Stress of all types disrupts thyroid and immune function in multiple ways, including by slowing the production of thyroid hormone and making thyroid receptors less sensitive. For my patients, I prescribe some combination of magnesium (which gets excreted during high stress), B-complex vitamins (the adrenals use them to build stress hormones), and vitamin C (a shortage can trigger excess cortisol production) to rebuild depleted physical reserves. I suggest working with a functional-medicine provider to ensure you’re getting the right dosage of each.

I also recommend exercise in appropriate amounts. If you have hypothyroidism and are completely drained, a calm yoga session or a walk with a friend will be far more restorative than a vigorous bike ride. If you have hyperthyroidism, extreme exercise may exhaust you. Stick with movement that builds your energy, rather than depletes it.

Sleep: Perhaps the most critical thing you can do to support your healing is getting plenty of deep, regular sleep. Insufficient or irregular sleep boosts stress hormones, which can result in even more difficulty with sleeping. Here are my “sleep hygiene” suggestions:

• Get as much natural light as you can during the day to help reset your circadian rhythms.

• Go to bed and get up at about the same time each day.

• After sundown, use amber lightbulbs and avoid screens. If you must look at a screen, use a f.lux filter to shift the color of the device’s light from blue to orange. This makes it less stimulating.

• Keep your bedroom as dark as possible, and ban all electronics. Wake up with an alarm clock rather than your phone.

• Give yourself adequate time in the  morning to start each day calmly.

These actions alone can make a surprising difference in how you feel day to day. I want you to have the support you need to make your thyroid, gut, and immune system all function at their best, so you can feel energized, glowing, and optimistic.

That’s the optimal health that is your birthright.

Excerpt from