No matter how you celebrate the approaching New Year, what we all have in common is a desire to be healthy. Without our health, our dreams are impossible to achieve. If you are someone recovering from an illness or injury, you know this to be true - There are no dreams unless you are well and have the strength and clarity to accomplish them. Now, the new field of Epigenetics empowers us to make small changes that will alter the genes we thought we were stuck with.
In 1942, two scientists discovered the link between our environment and our genes. Using fruit flies in their first experiments, they found that by changing their environment, they could also change their genes, proving that our genes are malleable. Almost thirty years ago when I was studying neurology in medical school, we also believed that neurons didn’t change or grow. Because of some long lived nuns who donated their brains to science after they died, we now know that by challenging our brains, getting regular aerobic exercise, eating certain foods and excluding others, our brains can thrive long into old age. This is also true for our DNA; you are not stuck with your grandma’s genes and the field of Epigenetics tells us so.
Since then, another subculture within this new science, Nutriepigenomics was born, looking at the ways that food and Epigenetics work together to influence our genes. These exciting discoveries allow each one of us to be proactive by choosing to eat foods rich in phytonutrients and important fats to keep the brain vibrant. Adding good sleep hygiene, balanced work stress and movement, we can avoid or heal the diseases of our time: Cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, autoimmune disorders and more.
What makes this even more interesting and important is the knowledge that an unborn child can achieve health long into adulthood before she is even born. This is because what the mother eats and drinks, the toxins surrounding her on a regular basis, her stress level and her movement while she is pregnant all affect her offspring; a fetus is influenced by the mother’s behavior from one generation to the next. In some studies, when pregnant women ate a Mediterranean style diet throughout her pregnancy, the babies born were protected against cardiovascular disease and diabetes later in life. In other studies, when pregnant women were exposed to air pollution, her offspring were more prone to developing asthma; if she ate a diet high in sugar, the chance of her children developing ADHD increased, and so on…..
The research now tells us that the diseases of our time, including cancer, conditions of blood sugar control, like diabetes, conditions of the gut, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome and brain syndromes like dementia and Alzheimer's disease are not about our genes - they are about our lifestyles. What all these conditions have in common is their connection to our habits - our stress levels, the toxicity in our environment, what we eat and drink and how socially connected we are. These conditions are not inherited from our parents or grandparents; they are about how we live.
Fortunately - thankfully - the world of medicine is changing. As people become more and more frustrated with doctors who have little time for them, in a system that is outdated and broken, those practicing Functional Medicine are taking their place. Those of us practicing Functional Medicine look at conditions that most allopathic doctors are not skilled at treating or don’t have the time for. Instead of writing prescriptions for medications that can be dangerous and often don’t work, we in the Functional Medicine world look at lifestyle habits to find out who the person is. Then, we design an individual program of wholesome nutrition, recommend supplements and herbs, appropriate movement and tools to manage stress. What a concept! This empowers each one of us to choose the habits that will allow us to live a long life and be as healthy and vibrant as we wish, from one generation to the next.
A Chinese poet wrote:
Ten thousand flowers in Spring
The moon in Autumn
A cool breeze in Summer
Snow in Winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things. This is the best season of your life.
I look forward to supporting you, your family and friends in making the year ahead “the best season of your life”…May you always live in robust health.
The great, Michael Pollan, wrote the words above in a little book called, “Food Rules”, following his masterpiece, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” - an investigation of how human Omnivores ate, from the first humans to the present. “Food Rules” is short and to the point; page after page contains simple, practical advice that speaks to us from the gut - the place where truth lives and food and thoughts are digested simultaneously.
Although there is lots of information online about the dangers of Sugar, even worse are highly refined vegetable oils that we have been made to believe are safe. Perhaps because they have the word “vegetable” in them, we think they are good for us; nothing could be farther from the truth. When you take a highly sensitive substance, heat it, press it, bleach it and extract it with chemical solvents, refining it so that it can no longer be recognized as the healthy seed it once was, it transforms into a cheap, dangerous version of itself. It is now some sort of “Frankenfood” that oxidizes when heated, creating cascades of free radicals inside the arteries, damaging our mitochondria, enzymes, hormone receptors and DNA. This is the stuff (not cholesterol) that strokes and heart attacks are made of.
“Nature does not make bad fats, factories do…”
-Cate Shanahan, MD
Dr. Cate Shanahan, wrote “Deep Nutrition”, one of my favorite books on nutrition, explaining the four food groups that all cultures, from anywhere on the globe, have eaten for centuries to stay healthy. Whether your ancestors were European, Middle Eastern, Asian, Native American, African or Russian, they all prepared and ate some versions of the following: Fresh food, meat on the bone, fermented and sprouted foods and organ meats.
Dr. Shanahan is also the doctor now feeding the Los Angeles Lakers; rather than filling them up with short lived sugary carbohydrates that break down quickly into glucose, they are eating bone broth, rich in collagen and healthy saturated fats to give them sustained energy and increased muscle mass. These foods are nature’s steroids; their collagen, vitamins and minerals will not only make you strong, they will also make you beautiful!
Dr. Shanahan, along with many other smart and knowledgeable doctors warn against the vegetable oils found in almost every packaged product on the grocery shelf. See for yourself - walk down the middle aisles of any food store and read the labels.
You will find cereals coated with a vegetable oil varnish, crackers, pastries and breads made with cheap oils to preserve their shelf life and salad dressings, mayonnaise and sauces with these oils as their base. Even canned sardines that say they are packed in Olive Oil are most likely packed in a blend of tiny amounts of Olive Oil and cheaper vegetable oils…All to save money.
What Can’t Take the Heat?
When wondering about what to use when cooking and what to keep away from heat, think about these simple definitions (without having to know the chemistry): All liquid oils are unsaturated, mostly come from plants and are liquid at room temperature; fats are generally saturated, mostly come from animals and are solid at room temperatures. Solid fats are safest for use in high heat cooking, while oils are best not used in high heat cooking. Knowing this, you are good to go!
The chart below gives a very complete list of most oils and fats.
Ever wonder why your stomach hurts after you eat a plate of black beans or why it seems hard to digest grains containing gluten? According to some theories, our gut issues began at the start of Agriculture - just a few thousand years ago - when humans began eating things they had never previously consumed. This is the basis of the Paleo diet concept, where believers feel that eating as hunter/gatherers did during the Paleolithic era is the healthiest way for us to eat, even now. But, that leaves out the vegetables, fruit, grains, seeds and nuts that have become important staples in our diets - especially if you are not a meat eater.
Dr. Steven Gundry, a former cardiologist and author of “The Plant Paradox”, walked away from doing pediatric heart surgery when he discovered that he could do more good teaching his patients how to eat. He keeps all his patients away from foods containing a sticky protein called Lectin. Lectins are compounds found in most grains, beans, nuts and seeds that mimic insulin, binding to sugars and preventing the absorption of minerals and vitamins.
Gluten, the protein found in all wheat that gives bread its spongy quality, is also a Lectin. Aside from Celiac sufferers, who should avoid it completely, it is believed that all of us are Gluten sensitive. Gluten eventually pokes holes in the gut lining causing damage that can lead to autoimmune responses from a “leaky gut”. Don’t be fooled by the “Gluten Free” aisles in the supermarket - now a multi-billion dollar industry. It’s nice that the industrial food complex has removed gluten from the refined wheat they use to make cookies and cakes, but don’t forget to look for added sugars, fillers and dangerous vegetable oils in those products. Read the labels and remember that you are still eating junk food - with the gluten removed.
Lectins are just one in a category of “anti-nutrients”, keeping company with other substances known as phytates, saponins and oxalates. All work in similar ways, mimicking compounds that block specific minerals from being absorbed in a kind of chemical warfarePlants are clever - The grains and legumes that we consume are actually their reproductive seeds. Since plants can’t run from danger the way animals can, instead they produce toxic substances that are part of the plant’s defense mechanism against hungry predators - humans, other animals and insects. To a plant, humans are just giant insects!
Why are dogs going "grain free" and not humans?
This is Audrey, my six year old Cockapoo. She looks like a cuddly toy, until she goes to her food bowl where she chews on marrow bones and eagerly consumes the meat I give her. She is driven to eat animals because dogs are carnivores; it makes sense to keep grain products out of their diet and, for that matter, leave it out of cat food as well. All my cats have been fierce hunters, dragging rats into the house that weighed more than they did. It still haunts me to think that my wonderful cat, Fanny, died from diabetic complications, most likely from the grain sourced kibble I fed her. If I’d only known then what I know now…
What to do
It’s no surprise that cultures have been eating legumes and grains for centuries with no problems; they knew how to prepare them. For instance, white rice is healthier than brown rice because in white rice, the hull where the Lectins live are removed. If you are eating white rice, make sure to balance the portion with good fats and protein to dampen the high glycemic load. Eat sourdough bread or sprouted bread, instead of regular refined breads. Fermented foods are lectin free foods, so load up on sauerkraut! Since Lectins are found in the seeds, hulls and skin of the plant, removing them will remove the problem. Your Italian grandmother knew what she was doing when she removed the seeds and skins from the tomatoes and eggplants.
Here’s how to begin:
Chart courtesy of Experience Life.
We are designing a new website with lots of recipes and healthy information.
Here’s a simple recipe to try:
1.) Measure 1 cup of your favorite almond, cashew, pecan or pistachio. In this case we are using almonds. Place in bowl. Make sure to soak and sprout nuts and seeds first.
2.) Add enough water to cover- about 2 cups- soak for 12 hours.
3.) Drain the liquid through a strainer and add soaked nuts to any household blender. I am a big fan of the Vitamix.
4.) Add 3 to 4 cups of water to the blender along with any flavor-enhancing ingredients, if desired (coconut/vanilla are a good combo
5). Blend on high speed until consistency is smooth (about one to two minutes).
5.) Pour liquid through a strainer or cheesecloth, and enjoy!
When I entered Chiropractic College, I was approaching forty years old. I had already been working for over twenty years and living on my own since I was seventeen. My first years of working were in the music business where “harassment” was an every day occurrence; it wasn’t spoken about but was something we each dealt with on our own terms privately. There are lots of stories I could tell, if I wanted to.
By the time I reached Chiropractic College, I had left the music business and been trained as a Hellerwork Practitioner - a type of Structural Integration physical therapist in the tradition of Ida Rolf, working with physician referrals. I had chosen one of the best Chiropractic schools in the country for its Harvard Medical School model and international student body. I was in a class of one hundred and fifty smart, competitive students, about eighty per cent male and most, right out of college. By then, I was skilled, mature and knew how to work with patients.
The first week of this intense four year program was an orientation, where professors introduced themselves and described labs, expectations and protocols - as in any medical school. The labs were split into small groups, while the lectures were all done in large lecture halls with all the students present. That week, we all filed into the lecture hall for an introduction by the head anatomy professor, who began a slide program.
The anatomy professor was a man in his forties, with frizzy red hair. He passed out a syllabus, introduced himself and started the slides. It began as expected, with slides of human dissections. Perhaps to keep the interest of the room, within five minutes of the first dissection slides, were slides of his Mexican fishing trip. The focus of these slides were young girls in bikinis. The room exploded with whistles and shouts from the young men when the girls in bikinis came on the screen; when it got quiet again, the dissection slides continued, interspersed again and again with more girls in bikinis from his vacation. This went on until the lecture concluded.
During this time, I was seeing private patients, two of whom were attorneys whose expertise was in sexual harassment in the workplace. They were hired by large companies, like Disney, to present workshops on the topic and they were experts on the subject. I saw them (they were a couple) frequently and they were excited to hear about how my first week of Chiropractic College went. When I told them about the slides of girls in bikinis, they sat me down and said, “Risa, we are going to coach you on how to handle this”. They were serious. They said I was to make an appointment with him in his office and not tell him beforehand what the meeting was about. Then they said I was to sit down with him and tell him exactly how I felt watching the slide presentation, without anger or blame. I was to report back to them after I had done it.
I did exactly as they said, arranging the meeting, and once in his private office, telling him how shocked I was when the first slides of the girls in bikinis came on the screen. I continued, telling him how embarrassed, disappointed and hurt I felt - for myself and for the other young women in the room. The more I spoke, the quieter he became; he didn’t speak a word to me until I had finished. I told him that I was forty years old, had already been through this kind of workplace harassment and was hoping to have a different experience in medical school. As I was coached to do, I never blamed him and only told him how I felt.
At first, he looked shocked; I know he was not expecting this conversation. He sat down and listened to me until I stopped speaking. When I finished describing how I felt, he apologized and said it would never happen again. He kept his word.
Honestly, I was going to write you a holiday blog, but with the stories coming out about sexual harassment, I felt it was important to tell this story now. I do extend my wishes to you for a wonderful holiday and hope, alongside your celebrations that you teach your children well.