Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine ● Longevity Nutrition

Nutritional Medicine

In spring time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.

-William Blake

The ancient Chinese physicians believed that, like plants moving their resources deep into the Earth during the dark winter months, the energy of the body also moved into the deepest parts to rejuvenate tissues like bone and marrow.  When we think of bone the first mineral we think of is calcium.  However, the bones are reservoirs of minerals like magnesium, potassium, zinc, copper, and strontium.  Studies going back more than thirty years have demonstrated that these less-known minerals are as important for bone health as calcium.  Diets in the developed world have moved in a direction that provides fewer and fewer minerals.  Many of the mineral-rich foods that used to be mainstays of our diets like heart, kidney, roots, kelp, sea salt and even bone have fallen out of favor.  Instead of eating the whole animal, which provides a flood of minerals from the Earth, we’ve limited ourselves to only muscle.   Since it is very common for bone tissue to age faster than many other tissues of the body, we will revisit this subject again and again.  It’s a very complex subject.  If you are feeling motivated, here is a post I wrote several years ago about the complexities of alkalizing foods and bone aging.  For now, here are some simple steps to begin to bring minerals back into your diet.

  • Replace your table salt which contains only sodium with sea salt which contains an array of minerals.
  • Try some coconut water.  Be sure to get the one with no sugar added.  It’s slightly alkaline taste is a result of the abundance of potassium.
  • Eat sardines with the bones left in.  The wild ones definitely taste better and are worth the bit of extra money.
  • Make some bone broth.  This can be done by adding bones, like beef ribs or bone-in chicken or turkey.  Simply boil these down into a nice consommé.  Adding a little lemon of vinegar to acidify the water helps to dissolve the minerals into the water.  Be sure to add some sea salt.  Eat this on its own or use it as a base for other recipes.
  • If you live in an area where you can get Japanese food, try some seaweed salad or miso soup.  Both of these are abundant in absorbable minerals. You might be surprised that you actually like it.  If you don’t, I will be posting a breakfast seaweed recipe soon that I promise tastes good.
  • Try some organ meats.  If you live in a country like the US where the taste for these foods  is very unfamiliar start with a little liver pate’.
  • Eat more root vegetables like beets, burdock, parsnips and carrots….Have you ever eaten a fresh beet?  It’s like infusing yourself with the fragrance of the Earth.
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Everyday, science teaches us something new about the benefits of the various chemicals found in plants.  Many common herbs and spices have powerful health benefits.   As we move forward we will explore more herbs.

Both parsley and cilantro contain compounds that help enhance elimination of toxic heavy metals.  Heavy metals are known to interfere with normal cellular function by blocking enzymes that help to drive normal  processes.  Over time, this interference can damage tissues.  Including cilantro or parsley in your daily routine can help eliminate mercury from fish and coal emissions, cadmium from air pollution and cigarette smoke and aluminum from antiperspirants and antacids.  Since most fish is particularly high in mercury, adding parsley or cilantro to a side salad is an effective way to reduce mercury absorption.  In addition, studies have demonstrated cilantro’s powerful ability to help regulate blood sugar, lower “bad” LDL cholesterol and raise “good” HDL cholesterol.

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I was first introduced to the concept of Sympathetic Overdrive while attending a lecture about the etiology of autoimmune disease presented by Gary and Rain Klepper D.C.  Over ten years later, any skepticism I had regarding the importance of this concept has fully dissolved.  There is an array of chronic diseases, including many autoimmune and skin disorders, which are ultimately and intimately related to gut health.  Overlooking this single issue can render an otherwise sound treatment protocol slow or ineffective.  For successful treatment of gut-related conditions it is imperative that the presence and severity of sympathetic overdrive be assessed and addressed.

Understanding Sympathetic Overdrive

There are two major parts of the nervous system.  The parasympathetic, which is activated when we relax, is known as the “rest and digest” part of our nervous system.  It stimulates blood flow to the digestive system, brain, extremities and sexual organs.  The other part, the sympathetic nervous system, is responsible for the “fight or flight” response. It is activated when our body perceives stress. It reduces blood flow to the extremities, brain and digestive organs in preparation for a perceived survival situation.   As we go through our daily lives, our external circumstances and our thoughts stimulate a constant dance between these two aspects of the nervous system. When a person is constantly stressed, their nervous system can be tilted into the state of sympathetic overdrive.  The stress can be brought on by various factors including constant worry, skipping meals, not getting adequate rest, not allowing adequate time to carry out tasks and difficult life situations.  People who work long hours that involve concentration and active thinking are prone to sympathetic overdrive.  This condition is rampant in corporate executives and hedge fund managers.  It can also be triggered by situations that remind our subconscious of stressful or scary events from our past.

When a person experiences enough stress to stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, they often experience cold hands and feet.  Less noticeable but more serious is the reduced blood flow to the digestive tissues.  If this only happens occasionally, the system usually has the resilience to recover.  However, if the body is in a state of sympathetic overdrive, tissues of the digestive system constantly experience a state of reduced blood flow and oxygen exchange.  Elevated levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, can lead to further damage to these tissues.

The effects of reduced blood flow from sympathetic overdrive interferes with the proper functioning of digestive organs, alters the balance of microbes residing within the gut, reduces the proper functioning of the immune system and interferes with proper filtering of nutrients that are absorbed. Many of the beneficial bacteria and fungi growing in our gut only thrive in an oxygen environment.  These bacteria are known as aerobes.  As the oxygen supply diminishes with circulation, bacteria that thrive in the absence of oxygen, anaerobes, begin to replace the withering populations of aerobic bacteria.  Clostridium Difficile (aka C. Diff), a common infection in hospitals, is a classic anaerobic bacterium.  Aside from C. Diff., there are likely hundreds of species of anaerobic bacteria that can or do reside in the human gut.  So far, it is estimated that we’ve only been able to culture and identify between 1-5% of these organisms.  However, we know they exist because we can test for one of their main waste products, beta-glucuronidase.   This little waste product can reap havoc on the body’s detoxification systems and will be discussed in another article.

One would expect significant digestive disturbances in this situation. However, some people never experience any digestive symptoms.  In the past 15 years I have seen hundreds of patients who tested positive for overgrowth of C. Diff, numerous pathogens or the presence of beta glucuronidase with no digestive symptoms.  On the other hand, most of these patients had other significant chronic diseases including eczema, psoriasis, tyramine intolerance, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and fibromyalgia.  I want to be absolutely clear that this scenario is only one piece of the puzzle in healing these diseases.

There are very few possibilities to explain how pathogenic bacteria can thrive in the digestive tract without initiating a proper immune response.  The most logical explanation is the disruption of proper immune functioning from gut-associated lymphoid tissue (GALT).  I suspect that this system either becomes defective or overloaded.  As a result, the constant stream of antigens override this system and they are passed along to other parts of immune system in the mucosa associated lymphoid tissue (MALT).  As a result, inflammatory conditions, like eczema and joint stiffness, arise in other parts of the body. This too is a very large subject that I will discuss in another article or in my book.

Assessing the Presence and Severity of Sympathetic Overdrive

There are several key signs that suggest a patient is experiencing Sympathetic Overdrive.  Many of these were originally observed in the Traditional Chinese Medicine literature under the concepts of Liver Qi Stagnation, Liver overacting on Spleen and/or Stomach.   Obviously, there are variations but here are some basic guidelines.

  • Cold hands and feet – This symptom can arises when the stress response is fairly pronounced.  Of course, it can be caused by other conditions that affect circulation.  However, as a general rule, if the patient is experiencing both cold hands and feet, it is usually a symptom of sympathetic overdrive.
  • Constipation or sluggish bowel movements without dry stools – the reduction of circulation to the digestive system slows churning in the intestinal tract and can lead to mild constipation or sluggish movement.   It is possible to have constipation with dry stools along with this condition but it will not be caused by it.
  • Overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria or elevated beta-glucuronidase on a stool and digestive analysis.
  • Any symptom that is generally worse with stress is often related to sympathetic overdrive.

 

Treating Sympathetic Overdrive

There are multiple ways of treating this problem.  However, tools that the patient can use several times per day will accelerate progress.  The most powerful remedy for this situation is a variation of abdominal breathing that originated from the ancient practice of Qi Gong.  This exercise, acts as a pump to restore circulation to the digestive tissues and directly stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Instructions:  Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your knees slightly bent.  Place your hands on the lower abdomen below the naval bringing your attention to this area.  Inhaling deeply, extend your abdomen out as if it is a balloon filling with air.  Exhale and squeeze the lower abdomen in imagining that you are trying to touch your naval to your spine.  The repetitions can be done fairly quickly averaging about 1 every 3-4 seconds or slowly for a deeper meditative effect.   You can also do this exercise while driving or lying down.  Repeat 5-10 times several times per day or whenever symptoms appear.  For amazing abdominal muscles repeat 100-200x per day.

You can find other meditative and breathing exercises in my previous post “Finding Inspiration Through Respiration”

Abdominal heat packs – simply applying heat to the abdominal area can stimulate circulation to these tissues and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.

Acupuncture is powerfully effective for “resetting” the nervous system and reducing stress. It has been demonstrated to treat the most extreme version of sympathetic overdrive, which we call post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.  It is so effective that a few years ago, the U.S Department of Defense funded The Air Force Acupuncture Center.  This is a clinic dedicated to treating military personnel who suffer from PTSD.  It is used as a practice and training facility for physicians and medical professionals for “battlefield acupuncture”.

Herbs and Homeopathic Remedies that Really Work

Please note that all of these recommendations should be administered under the guidance of a qualified health care provider.

Rescue Remedy – This is available in all health food stores and online.  Its intended use was originally for stress and traumatic experiences.  I have found it to be incredibly helpful for treatment of gut disorders that involve sympathetic overdrive.  Just follow the instuctions.

Psy-Stabil by Pekana – This is another remedy that falls under the practice of homotoxicology, which is slightly different from homeopathy.  Its effects are similar to Rescue Remedy but may be a bit stronger.  It is also very helpful for relieving anxiety.

Rhodiola – This herb is literally miraculous for restoring circulation to the digestive system and also balancing the nervous system.  It is also helpful for treating addiction and some causes of depression.  Be careful!  It has some interactions with medications.  Practitioners, be sure to take the time to inform yourself before prescribing it.

Lactobacillus Rhamanosus – This beneficial bacterium is one of the few that generates hydrogen peroxide.  It is very helpful for reintroducing oxygen to the digestive tract and reducing overgrowth of C. Diff and other obligate anaerobes.

Other tips for preventing stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system:

  • Don’t skip meals!  Every time your body has to accommodate a drop in blood sugar, it stimulates the production of cortisol and initiates a stress response
  • Take time everyday to do nothing
  • Give yourself the gift of extra time to complete tasks.  Cramming more and more tasks into your day increases stress and reduces creativity and the possibility of spontaneity.
  • Pay attention to the situations and people in your life who make you feel stressed.  Reflect on why they trigger these feelings in you and decide if there are ways of managing your exposure to them.
  • Spend time in Nature.  This is proven to reduce stress levels.

“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.” – Hippocrates

 

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This post is for a good friend who will be doing an overland adventure through the Amazon.  He asked me if there was anything he could do that would help keep him from getting sick while on his journey.  Travel healthy!

For my readers who live in litigious countries, I am legally obligated to say to you:  Please note the information below is not meant to diagnose, prevent or treat any disease.  The information is provided for information only. There are inherent risks with travel (in fact there are inherent risks with living).  If you make the sovereign decision to implement any of the information you obtain here, be sure that you aren’t allergic to any of the products I mention below BEFORE you go on your trip. 

Before I submerged myself into indigenous Ecuadorian existence for three weeks back March of 2010, I researched the medical literature and interviewed several herbalists, nutritionists and conventional doctors about disease prevention for rainforest travel.  Traveling with a group of Chinese Medicine Practitioners I had plenty of opportunities to see what other practitioners were trying, what worked and what didn’t.  The following is an assembly of what I learned from the medical literature, what I’ve learned from treating disease and what actually worked while we were traveling.

When traveling in the Amazon, several things became quickly apparent.  First, the South Park episode about saving the rainforest is a fairly accurate depiction.  The Amazon literally wants you to become a part of it.  Second, there are so many insects there who want to eat you that concerns about mosquito bites almost become a joke.  Just be grateful that malaria can be treated and hope that you don’t get something worse.

Prevention of Gastrointestinal Infections:

Step One:

Your digestive tract should naturally be full of an incredibly diverse population of gut flora composed mostly of bacteria and fungi.  When you consume food and water, unless it has been sterilized or chlorinated, you are naturally exposed to these various organisms and you establish a balance of both beneficial and pathogenic flora. Like an ecosystem, the more diverse, the more difficult it is to cause disruptions or allow invasion of non-native species.  When antibiotics or chlorinated water are introduced, the balance of the digestive flora is significantly disrupted and the diversity plummets.  Critters that wouldn’t normally be able to grow there are given the opportunity to invade.  Doing a 14-21 day course of probiotics, prior to embarking on your journey, can add an extra barrier of defense by reducing the viability and survivability of any potential bacterial and fungal invaders.  This is especially important for anyone who has been on a course of antibiotics in the past few months. You should also note that if you are on any proton pump inhibitors for heartburn like, Prilosec, Protonix or Zantac, you are at a much higher risk of GI infection since you have no stomach acid. 

The Best Probiotics:  Obtain a combination that provides various forms of bifidobacterium, lactobacillus and saccharomyces boulardii.  In my clinical experience, the refrigerated brands, which contain live bacteria, and are much more effective despite claims from companies that sell the non-refrigerated forms.  It’s important to get it from a company that ships these cold otherwise they die during shipping.  My favorite brands are Jarrow, Natural Factors, Metagenics and Pharmax.  These can be obtained from health food stores or from several online companies. If you order it online in the summer, pay the extra money for overnight shipping so it doesn’t overheat.  Take the suggested dose with at least 8oz of water, 30 minutes before or two hours after eating.  During your course of treatment, reduce your fruit and sugar intake and eat more vegetables, onions and legumes.  This will ensure proper survival and establishment of these bacteria. 

Of course you should take all the necessary precautions and try to minimize your exposure to unclean drinking water, uncooked vegetables and fruits that can’t be peeled. Be sure to educate yourself with more complete information at the CDC’s website.  

Step Two:

While You are Traveling

Oil of Oregano – I use this in my clinical practice for various bacterial and fungal infections.  I recommend it with a high level of confidence for prevention of GI infections while traveling.  To emphasize its effectiveness, I often have patients with GI symptoms send in stool samples for analyses.  Whenever pathogenic bacteria or fungi are found, sensitivity testing is performed so we know what substances will and will not kill the invaders.  Oil of oregano often tests equally or more effective than antibiotics for clearing the various pathogens.  Follow up stool tests almost always confirm these findings.  In over ten years of practice I’ve never seen any side effects. However, if you have a tendency toward gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) oil of oregano can irritate it.  If you develop any pain in the area above the naval (your stomach) I would discontinue it.  Make sure you aren’t allergic to it before you decide to use it as you main defense.

 In addition to the fact that this stuff really works, it provides additional benefits that make it ideal for travel in hot, humid areas.  First, it doesn’t seem to wipe out the beneficial bacteria in the gut.   Second, it has pretty strong antifungal properties and is an added tier of protection from topical fungal infections like, jock itch, candida and athlete’s foot, that thrive in warm, damp climates.  For women, if you do end up having to take strong antibiotics on your trip, it’s very effective at preventing yeast overgrowth.

Dosage:  For travel, I recommend 300 mg before every meal and an extra 150mg if you consume any small meal or drinks of unknown origin.  My favorite brand from Designs for Health but most brands in health food stores are acceptable.

 Story:  In my own experience traveling through the Amazon, I was in several situations where I ended up sharing foods prepared by the indigenous peoples and even sharing drinks out of one cup passed around entire communities.  No, I don’t recommend this.  However, I was fine for the first 17 days.  There was finally an incident where I decided to hike back from a village with a friend.  The kind Santa Agua gentleman, who guided us back down the mountain, led us to his home where his wife offered us some fresh strawberries.  It was so hot, we were tired and hungry, and the strawberries smelled so amazing.  I didn’t have my oil of oregano but decided to take a chance.  Sure enough, the next day I had new visitors in my tummy.  This leads me to what to do if you do get sick.

If You Get a Gastrointestinal Illness or Disturbance

For the reasons mentioned above, I do everything I can to avoid taking antibiotics.  However, I fully acknowledge that there is a time and a place for their use and urge travelers to get a prescription from their doctor to have if needed.  I think it’s important to understand that developing diarrhea is an immune response that is designed to make the intestinal tract uninhabitable for those little invading critters.  Just because you get diarrhea, doesn’t mean you have an actual pathogenic bacteria.  Your body will initiate an immune response against almost anything it’s not familiar with.  Stopping it with anti-diarrheal medicines can give invasive pathogens an opportunity to really establish themselves and make you really sick.  There is, of course, a balance.  If you are so sick that you are unable to stay hydrated then these medications might be necessary.  Consult a physician. 

Below is a combination I have found to be very effective at treating diarrhea or GI infections while traveling.  This combination usually results in significant improvement within a day or two and is even capable of warding off more severe infections.  It’s quite normal to still have loose stools and some cramping for several days after the initial infection.  Important:  If the diarrhea becomes severe or explosive, continues to get worse or is accompanied with vomiting or fever then it’s time to seek and use conventional medicine.

v  Apo-Enterit 30 drops in water 3-4 times per day.  Available from BioResource Inc.  This is a German Biologic Drainage Remedy designed specifically for food poisoning and diarrhea. 

v  Pil Curing (aka Culing Pills) – these are available in vials from Chinese Medicine Pharmacies or from Chinese Medicine Herbalists.  The best one is from the US Distributor, Solstice Medicine Company and is screened for various chemicals.  Take 1-2 vials three times per day.

v  Coptis – this is an herb with extremely potent antibiotic properties.  It was one of the primary herbs used for bacterial infections for several hundred years in China.  Take a small dose of 2-3 pills with each dose of Pil Curing.  Available from Chinese Medicine Pharmacies and Practitioners.  The company Mayway makes a nice preparation.   

v  L-Glutamine – this is optional but very helpful.  1000mg twice per day on an empty stomach helps to reduce inflammation in the wall of the intestines

Dietary recommendations if you are having gastrointestinal issues:  Avoid raw vegetables and fruit. Eat easy-to-digest grains and small amounts of animal protein.  A little fruit, fruit juice or coconut water throughout the day can provide extra potassium to help prevent dehydration. Careful, too much will make everything worse. Broth with lots of salt will also help to keep you hydrated. 

Watch for future posts about travel medicine.  Until then, travel healthy!

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I will be traveling to Mongolia for a few weeks and don’t expect to have the ability to do any posts. With regards to my series on Sugar’s Contributions to the Evolution, Then Devolution of Humans.   I would like to leave you with a story that demonstrates why it has taken so long for our society to become informed about the adverse health effects of sugar.  Before I start, I would also like to add that when I was traveling through Ecuador a few months ago, every medicine man and shaman that I met said one of the best things you can do to keep your people healthy is to minimize sugar.  They understood that fruit sugar was the same as any other sugar. It’s amazing to me that they didn’t require any scientific evidence for this.  They simply understood.

A few months ago, our nurse practitioner was following a study that was supposed to show that fructose, specifically from agave, had no adverse health consequences.  At the time, she was admittedly hopeful about the outcome because she loves sugar and was convinced that fruit sugar, because it’s natural, couldn’t be that bad.  The study looked at healthy individuals as well as type 2 diabetics.  Each group consumed a controlled amount of agave syrup daily in addition to their regular diets. After just a few weeks the researchers had to abandon the study because the blood markers in both groups (fasting glucose and hemoglobin A1C) continuously rose.  In the diabetics, the numbers reached unsafe levels.  Since the intention of the study was to show that fructose from agave was safe, nothing was published and this valuable information never made it into the scientific literature.

This is a photo of Intipaxi, a traveling healer, whom I met in Ecuador.  He would visit villages and teach the people how to use their local plants medicinally and how to keep themselves healthy. He continually talked about the importance of sunshine and walking barefoot on the Earth.

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Overconsumption of any sugar has deleterious effects on our health.  However, of the primary types of sugars that our cells can utilize; glucose (common in root vegetables and grains), fructose (common in fruit, honey, agave and corn) and galactose (common in legumes and milk) I propose that fructose has the most detrimental effects on human health. Unlike glucose, which is metabolized by most cells as an energy source, fructose is mainly metabolized by liver cells.    As I mentioned in my last post, a study appeared way back in 1988 in the Journal of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice that showed fructose has a reaction constant 7.5 times higher than glucose as well as a much higher calculated biohazard rating.  Supporting research has increased exponentially since then.

In small amounts AND in the presence of adequate antioxidants, the liver has no problem metabolizing fructose.  In fact, it converts it into glycogen which is the primary fuel for anaerobic muscles (the ones that get really big when you lift weights).  Any fructose left after the muscles have had their fill of glycogen is converted into triglycerides.  These “feed” fat cells for later use.  Depending on which study you read, this occurs if more than 5-7 grams of fructose is consumed in one sitting. In addition to being converted into triglycerides, the excess fructose initiates a damaging, inflammatory response in the liver along with producing elevated levels of free radicals known as reactive oxygen species (ROS).

Here is a brief summary of the amounts of sugar contained in one cup of various fruits and beverages:  Please note that I couldn’t find a breakdown of the glucose to fructose ratio.  Source: http://nutritiondata.self.com/

  • Coke                      (26g sugar) – almost all fructose
  • Bananas               (28g sugar)
  • Apples                 (13g sugar)
  • Apple juice         (24g sugar) – 15 grams of fructose
  • Grapes                 (23g sugar)
  • Apricots               (14g sugar)
  • Cherries               (15g sugar)
  • Grapefruit            (17g sugar)
  • Cantaloupe         (14g sugar)
  • Pears                     (16g sugar)
  • Plums                    (16g sugar)
  • Blueberries         (15g sugar)
  • Blackberries       (7g sugar)
  • Raspberries        (5g sugar)
  • Peaches               (13g sugar)

At first, the inflammation and free radical activity initiated in the liver from fructose results in fat accumulation inside the cells and mildly reduced function. If it continues along this path for any amount of time, a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, NAFLD, develops.  Scores of studies demonstrate that along with obesity, NAFLD incidence has been steadily rising in Westernized, developed countries and in counties that are becoming developed.   A study showed a 10-year doubling of NAFLD in one Chinese Population and demonstrated that a similar trend was seen in both Korea and Japan.

Note:  I thought it would be interesting to compare fructose consumption and NAFLD incidence in various countries.  I spent several hours and had a research assistant spend several more hours trying to find information on fructose sales or consumption in various countries. The information is very difficult and seemingly expensive to obtain.  If anyone has access to this type of information, please contact me or enjoy the dissertation subject. 

I would like to point out that many of these studies are performed by checking serum levels of the liver enzymes ALT and AST.  The pathological changes occur way before these enzymes levels begin to rise.  According to Dr. Michael Cave, a professor of hepatology, gastroenterology and nutrition at the Univerisity of Louisville, ALT and AST parameters should be much lower because these enzymes only begin to increase long after the inflammation and fat accumulation starts.  To be objective, Dr Cave also presents a strong case for an increase in fatty liver disease as a result of chronic exposures to several persistent organic pollutants  and xenobiotics.  Several studies show that exposing liver cells to fructose, then adding a xenobiotic, results in accelerated inflammation and disease.  It is possible that the rise of fatty liver disease has been a combination of increased fructose intake and exposure to these various environmental pollutants that are now ubiquitous in our environment.

Depending on which study you read, NAFLD is seen in 10-24% of America’s general population and 57-74% of obese individuals.  According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, they describe fatty liver disease as “common and for most people causes no signs, symptoms or complications”.  However, long before any physical symptoms present, the liver’s various functions diminish.  If this continues permanent liver damage occurs along with the cumulative toxicity effects of secondary dysfunction.  In addition, any persistent organic compounds that aren’t removed from the blood by the liver accumulate in fat tissue.

Here is a brief summary of the main functions of the liver:

  • Eliminating endogenous toxins like testosterone and estrogen
  • Eliminating exogenous toxins like gasoline vapors, prescription medications, pesticides, artificial fragrances, hormones from birth control usage that are now in the water supply and BPA from the PVC pipes that carry our water.
  • Generating antioxidants like glutathione which not only carry out Phase 2 detoxification in the liver but neutralize pollutants in the lungs and assist with the recycling of neurotransmitters in the nervous system
  • Metabolizing fat along with various types of cholesterol
  • Generating proteins and enzymes for physiological functions all over the body

It makes me cringe to think what is happening to the livers of those poor souls who become motivated to lose a few extra pounds.  They go running five miles per day, lift weights then drink a bunch of carrot juice or eat a banana because they’ve been misinformed into thinking it’s healthy.  Not only are they putting an extra burden on their liver to metabolize the fat that is being burned, they also have to detoxify the various persistent organic compounds that are released from that fat.  For the final assault they add massive doses of fructose.  It would be really interesting to check the liver enzyme levels on NBC’s “The Biggest Loser” contestants before and during the competition.  If I were them, I would do things to support the poor liver like eating more protein and vegetables, getting rid of the fruit and adding supplements like phosphatidylcholine, folic acid, B6, B12, alpha lipoic acid and N-acetyl cystiene.

Clearly, we evolved with the ability to eat fruit.  For the next post in this series, I will discuss this seeming idiosyncrasy along with how the rise of fructose consumption is causing us to devolve.

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Before I begin this first section of my series on sugar, I would like to note that I usually provide references for everything I write.  The information below is based on my daytime profession and years of assembling research.  It would take me too long to find all the references.  However, most of the facts on physiology can be obtained from any basic cell biology book. There are also several books available that are well-researched with solid references.  Here are a couple:  Transcend by Terry Grossman M.D. and Ray Kurzweil and The Zone by Barry Sears.

In our medical office where I’ve practiced longevity nutrition for over ten years, the term “The White Satan” (conceived by Terry Grossman, M.D.) is used synonymously with sugar.  Efforts to educate our “ever-expanding” population about the powerfully, deleterious health effects of sugar consumption have been like turning the Titanic.  The information has been clear and out there for at least 12-15 years but the emergence of sugar-induced obesity and its accompanying diseases; diabetes, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease, heart disease etc. has continued to increase in numbers.  The average age of people affected by these diseases has been falling steadily and it is no longer uncommon for teenagers to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.  Several factors have contributed to this trend.

  • Sugar’s highly addictive nature
  • The emergence of an entire monoculture-based industry providing the public with cheap, foods and  sweetened drinks packed full of high-fructose corn syrup
  • The false belief that fruit and fruit juice is healthy
  • Emphasis on starches and fruit on the Food Pyramid
  • The non-evidence-based, low-fat revolution which led people to believe that anything that didn’t contain fat, especially saturated fat, was good for them
  • Slow, weak and uninformed efforts to educate the public

Any time the level of sugar in the blood surpasses what the cells are capable of managing several problems occur. 

  • Inflammation – the hormone insulin is released by the pancreas into the blood to enable our cells to turn sugar into energy.  We obviously need insulin to survive.  However, excessive levels tend to magnify any inflammatory responses that are happening in the body.  In addition, sugar itself, especially fructose, causes direct inflammation in the liver.  Simply eliminating sugar from one’s diet will almost always result in improvement of inflammatory conditions like asthma, acne, and even back pain.
  • Elevated triglycerides – Insulin signals the liver converts excess sugar floating around in the blood into triglycerides.  Unless you possess a rare, genetic disorder, elevated blood sugar is the ONLY physiologic mechanism for producing triglycerides.
  • “Feeding” of fat cells – Triglycerides floating around in the blood are the direct contributor to “feeding” fat cells.  The higher the blood sugar goes, the higher the triglycerides and the faster weight gain occurs.
  • Immune system dysfunction – As pointed out in Transcend, excess sugar interferes with the ability of white blood cells to utilize vitamin C to carry out a proper immune response
  • Intestinal Dysbiosis – Excess sugar changes the body’s terrain, feeding and promoting overgrowth of yeast along with unbeneficial and some pathogenic bacteria.  The inflammatory response that results from the immune system fighting these critters has an effect on the entire body.  It can manifest as various diseases as the inflammatory chemicals make their way through the lymphatic system. 
  • Advanced Glycated Endproducts (AGE’s) -Glycation is a caramelizing, chemical reaction that occurs when sugars come into contact with proteins.  This reaction can be demonstrated easily in a Petri dish or seen when we bake a chicken and the skin becomes brown and crispy.  The same thing happens to our tissues upon exposure to sugar.  Glycation causes gumming up of enzymes and tissues which render them functionless. 

**Good story:  When I was in college, a gross human anatomy class was lucky enough to have an elderly lady as their study subject.  One of the first things the professor pointed out was the amount of glycation in her tissues.  If you sliced through a piece of her lung or liver, it was never difficult to find these areas of brown, crispy, glycated tissue.  Many age spots are the result of glycation.

It is important to know that these “excess” levels of sugar occur when a healthy human consumes more than 5-7 grams of sugar within a given meal.  Diabetics can tolerate 0-5 grams depending on the severity of their insulin resistance.   The glycemic index  is a useful gauge of how quickly a food raises blood glucose levels.  For example a medium, white potato releases glucose into the bloodstream very quickly and is the equivalent of eating 26 grams of sugar.  The glycemic load  is a measurement of the net glucose-release into the system.  For example, if you eat just a bite or two of that high-glycemic potato, the blood glucose goes up just a little.  I’ve noted that most of my readers are incredibly sophisticated in the thinking and I’m sure most have known about the glycemic index and glycemic load for more than a decade.  However, if you somehow missed out, I strongly encourage you to familiarize yourself with it and take it seriously. One teaspoon of sugar is approximately 5 grams. One teaspoon of honey is 6.5 grams of sugar.  A banana contains 28 grams of sugar. 

Here is a link to the most dangerous foods in America http://www.rense.com/general91/20_Worst_Drinks_in_America_2010.pdf

A severe misconception that has resulted from the spotlight shining on the glycemic index is that fruit and fruit sugar is healthy and safe because it has a low glycemic index.  Fruit contains a completely different sugar, fructose, which cannot be measured with a glucose meter.   A study appeared way back in 1988 in the Journal of Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice that showed fructose has a reaction constant 7.5 times higher than glucose as well as a much higher calculated biohazard rating.  Since then, there is a 1000 fold increase in the research that confirms these findings about the dangers of fructose. This information is just reaching the fringes of the mainstream now.  How sad.  In the next post, we will explore this further and then go on to discuss how the emergence of fructose in the Western diet has led to a rapid devolution.  Later I will present a hypothesis that fructose availability was a primary contributing factor to lifespan and longevity throughout the evolution of humans.

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A recent publication appeared in the April 7th issue of Science Translational Medicine concerning a novel approach to lung cancer prevention through detection of the oncogenic pathway, PI3K, and effective prevention of lung cancers with myo inositol.  This study represents the emergence of epigenomics and nutritional medicine into mainstream medicine.  It also represents a supreme opportunity for us to examine how the upregulation (switching-on) of a gene is directly related to a nutrient that acts as part of the whole. The study had two important aspects that were elegantly merged. 

First was that the researchers were able to identify a gene that upregulated (switched on) the cancer-related pathway PI3K, in people with lung cancer.  90% of lung cancers occur in people who smoke, used to smoke, or had significant exposure to second-hand smoke.  Of all those smokers, only 10-20% of them ultimately develop lung cancer.  In the past, lung cancer had been diagnosed using invasive procedures that are usually only utilized when the cancer has already progressed enough to produce symptoms.  At this stage both the treatment and prognosis are grim.  As the press releases stated, the gene(s) that upregulate the PI3K pathway are detectable in the airways of smokers long before the cells become cancerous.  This offers a novel approach to identifying those at high risk of lung cancer.   

Second, the researchers were able to identify what they call “a lung cancer chemopreventive agent” that down-regulates, or “turns off” the expression of the PI3K pathway-inducing genes.  The “chemopreventative agent” that they refer to is the semi-essential nutrient, myo-inositol. 

Before you run out to the health food store to get your bottle of inositol, there are two important considerations. First, the cancer-promoting PI3K pathway also plays some very beneficial roles in our physiology. For example, it is likely involved in the formation of long term memories in a process called Long Term Potentiation (LTP).  Chemicals that inhibit the PI3K pathway have been found to stop the expression of LTP.    The PI3K pathway is also involved in normal cell growth and development.

Second, myo-inositol is formed naturally in the gut when various species of bifidobacteria convert phytic acid, (found in grains, nuts, seeds, brewer’s yeast, and many vegetables) into myo inositol.  Bifidobacteria are an example of the good bacteria that have recently become part of the new nutriceutical digestive drink craze. Myo inositol facilitates several cellular functions like proper metabolism of cholesterol and transmission of neurotransmitter signaling of serotonin.  I use inositol (along with other appropriate supplements) in my practice in some cases of depression, insomnia and fibromyalgia when there are obvious signs of digestive issues.  I’ve found that if a person is actually low in inositol, they respond very quickly small doses (500-1000mg) with improved sleep and mood.  Ultimately this is a sign of imbalanced gut bacteria which must be addressed in order for the person to become healthy again.   Some practitioners use large doses of inositol for insomnia.  It works but because large doses may be too inhibitory of the PI3K pathway, I don’t think it’s making the patient healthier…it’s just using too much of the substance to knock them out.

A couple other interesting facts:  EPA, the omega-3 fat found in fish oil, improves the absorption of myo inositol in the gut which may partly explain why fish oil helps with depression.  Phytic acid intake (as mentioned above, phytic acid is the precursor to myo inositol) is associated with lower risk of colon cancer and also switches off the PI3K pathway in the colon.  There are several studies suggesting that colon cancer is also associated with the upregulation of the PI3K pathway.

Candida albicans, a yeast that commonly occurs in the gut, can use myo inositol as its primary food source.   Overgrowth of this yeast can significantly alter bioavailability of myo inositol creating a scenario in which it would compete with its host, the human, for the nutrient.  Giving a person myo inositol in a situation like this might initially help with symptoms but will ultimately lead to more yeast overgrowth in the gut making the situation worse.

Interestingly, many pathogenic species such as Salmonella prevent the production of myo inositol and produce more toxic and inflammatory byproducts of phytic acid.  These organisms can survive in the gut in smaller numbers that don’t produce an all out infection. It’s possible that constant, low-level persistence of these pathogenic organisms could result in a functional, myo inositol deficiency.

Since overgrowth of some pathogenic bacteria and yeast can halt or alter the production of myo inositol, here are the questions we should be asking: 

  • Is the expression of PI3K a functional deficiency of myo inositol? 
  • Is it possible that gut dysbiosis (depleted colonies of beneficial bifidobacter and overgrowth of candida) can result in a deficiency of myo inositol and ultimately lead to an increase in cancers related to the PI3K pathway?
  • How can we establish ideal ranges for myo inositol? 
  • At what level can PI3K be suppressed without negatively impacting its physiological benefits? 
  • Is it possible that the demographic with a high exposure to cigarette smoke has a higher incidence of upper respiratory infections which ultimately require more frequent use of antibiotics than the general population?  Would this lead to reduced bifidobacter species and candida overgrowth in the gut resulting in a functional deficiency of myo inositol?

 As with vitamin D and sunlight, will conventional medicine decide to replace myo inositol with a pill or will it strive to treat the root of the problem and create the conditions in which we evolved to give rise to its natural occurrence and create a healthier individual?

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