Sunday, April 8, 2018

Health and Wellness: Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Blog 6.3: Inflammatory Bowel Disease:

In the preceding blogs, we have primarily focused on the ill effects of the Standard American Diet(SAD), rich in animal foods and processed foods, on chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc. This month, we will focus on the growing body of evidence which clearly demonstrates the increased risk for autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease and rheumatoid arthritis with intake of animal foods and processed foods. On today’s blog we’ll focus our attention on Inflammatory bowel disease.

A review article in the American Journal of Gastroenterology from 2011 reviewed 19 independent studies, and came to the conclusion that processed foods and animal foods increases risk for developing inflammatory bowel disease(both Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis). Whereas increasing intake of fiber, fruits and vegetables reduces the risk for developing inflammatory bowel disease.

The exact mechanism responsible for development of Inflammatory bowel disease has not been established. However, most scholars agree that in addition to genetic predisposition, environmental factors such as diet and interaction of gut bacteria with our immune system are key factors in the development of this disease.

Multiple studies have shown that the variety of bacteria in our gut varies with our diet. There appears to be a continuum on what kinds of bacteria inhabit our intestines from the typical western diet to a vegetarian diet to a vegan diet. Plant based diets promote beneficial gut bacteria whereas diets rich in animal foods and processed foods promote gut bacteria which promote dysregulation of our immune system which can trigger diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease.

This link between plant based diets and beneficial gut bacteria has led to new research using Fecal Microbiota Transplant (FMT). FMT involves taking stool from healthy subjects who have large diversity of beneficial gut bacteria and transplanting it into the colon of patients who have Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Though these studies seem promising, we think it would be far easier and more effective in the long term to instead eat a diet that naturally promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. As the study below indicates, beneficial gut bacteria can rapidly proliferate on a healthy diet, one consisting of whole grains and variety of fruits and vegetables.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Health and Wellness: Meditation

Blog 4.2: Meditation

Continuing with our theme of mindfulness for the month of March, we will look at Meditation as an essential part of holistic wellness. Mindful practice of yoga improves not only our physical health but also our emotional health. Similarly, practice of meditation, in addition to improving our emotional health also improves our physical health. And both of these practices improve our spiritual health by allowing us to see the connections(to each other and the universe) that are routinely hidden from our conscious thought in our busy and distracted modern lives.

Scientific studies have now shown many health benefits of meditation. Increased immunity, lower blood pressure, increased attention span, reduced symptoms associated with depression, anxiety, pain, insomnia, and decreased age related memory loss are few of the many ways meditation can improve our health.

New scientific research is shedding light on how meditation is able to accomplish these benefits. A mechanism by which meditation improves physical health may be explained by epigenetics. Harvard study, led by Dr. Herbert Benson, showed that deep relaxation changes our bodies at a genetic level. The experiment showed that long term practitioners of meditation had more “disease fighting genes” active than control group. However, the good news is that when control group started practicing relaxation methods every day, their “disease fighting genes” switched on. ''After two months, their bodies began to change: the genes that help fight inflammation, kill diseased cells and protect the body from cancer all began to switch on.'' A mechanism by which meditation improves emotional health may be explained by neuroplasticity. Harvard Study, conducted by Dr. Sara Lazar, revealed that meditation literally rebuilds brain’s gray matter in 8 weeks.  Attached below is the link to her 8 minute ted talk so you can learn further about this study further.

Now that you have become aware of the importance of meditation in achieving optimal health and wellness, question arises which one to practice. There are many different types of meditation and there are overlapping and at times unique benefits to each of the different types of meditation. Perhaps, one way to divide this vast topic is to separate the types of meditation into 3 broad categories.

-Open monitoring meditations: these include Vipassana, mindfulness meditation, insight meditation etc. Common thread of these types of meditation is that they keep the practitioner in the present moment.
-Focused attention meditations: these include Pranayama, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, and chakra meditation etc. Common thread is that, they all focus on an object, breath, or sound(mantra).
-Loving Kindness meditation: Attention is withdrawn inward in the first 2 types, but in this type, attention is directed outward. But it incorporates elements of both of the above types of meditation in its practice.

Try a few kinds and see which one you like. All forms of meditation will bring positive changes, as long as you do them regularly. So find whatever style suits you at this time. Perhaps choose one that has a local center where you can deepen your practice. If no close by centers are available, there is a lot of support and information online. The key is to get started and to continue your practice everyday. As S.N. Goenka said, “Continuity of practice is the secret to success.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Health and Wellness: Yoga

Blog 4.1: Yoga

Image may contain: 1 person

On an earlier blog we looked briefly at the benefits of exercise. On today’s blog, we’ll focus on yoga. More so than in other blogs, due to the vastness of this topic, instead of giving a lot of information in the blog, our effort is to point the reader to different resources which allow for further exploration and then most importantly inspire the reader to begin his/her own journey of Yoga Practice.

Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word Yuj, which means to “yoke” or unite. One form of union in the yogic context is the union of body, mind and spirit. From a historical perspective, Patanjali is regarded as the author of the text, Yoga Sutras, which serves as the basis of all modern schools of yoga.

This text describes yoga as having 8 limbs, often likened to a flower with 8 petals. These 8 petals in order are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. Most of us are familiar with only two of the limbs, Pranayama(breath regulation) and Asana(practice of postures).

There has been extensive research on the health benefits of yoga. Yoga has shown to improve overall fitness, not just aerobic but also muscle strength and flexibility. In addition individuals who practiced yoga regularly had lower weight and were more mindful of eating, and were better attuned to hunger signals from their body.

Relaxation, byproduct of practicing yoga can reduce chronic low back pain, headaches and insomnia. Moreover, it increases body awareness, reduces stress and increases attention and focus. Best of all it can be practiced by people of all ages and fitness levels.

Here is an article in the Huffington Post, which contains not only a nice summary of the various benefits of yoga, but contains numerous links to various publications and research.

Other sources that the reader may find helpful:
-Books by B.K.S. Iyengar, particularly Light on Yoga, and Path to Holistic Health.
-Sivananda Yoga books: Yoga Mind and Body, Sivananda’s Beginner Guide to Yoga
-DVDs by Alan Finger of Yoga Zone. 3 volume set Conditioning and Stress Release, Flexibility and Tone, and Flexibility and Stress Release is especially good for beginner to intermediate practice.  

It’s always good to educate yourself, especially, if it’s a new topic, but like Bernie Roth says, our bias should be on doing. So, start your practice at  home or at a yoga studio and reap the amazing physical, mental and spiritual benefits of yoga.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Health and Wellness: Fats

Blog 8.3 Fats:

Comic created by Will McPhail, New Yorker

Fats, one of the three essential nutrient for our body, is no less crucial for optimal health than protein or carbohydrates. Fat is an energy source for the body like the other macronutrients. Moreover, fat is essential for production of hormones, optimal nerve function, cellular integrity, energy storage and absorption of fat soluble vitamins and many other vital functions in our body.

Fats are typically divided into 3 types: mono/polyunsaturated fats, saturated fats, and trans fats. Monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are found exclusively in plants. Saturated fats primarily come from animal products, although coconut, coconut oil and palm oil also contain saturated fats. About 1-5% of the fat in animal products(dairy, poultry, and meat) are in the form of trans fats. Trans fats can also be manufactured by hydrogenation of liquid oils. Historically, 20% of trans fats in the American diet came from consumption of animal foods and approximately 80% from products made with hydrogenated oils,  such as commercially baked goods and similar processed foods. But, with the increasing awareness of harmful effects of trans fats, it is being used less often in the processed foods.

So what’s so bad about trans fats? Trans fats raise bad cholesterol LDL, lower good cholesterol, HDL. They contribute to insulin insensitivity which leads to Diabetes. They cause inflammation which is linked to heart disease, stroke, Diabetes and several other chronic conditions.
The only safe amount of trans fats in the diet as per the National Academy of Sciences(NAS) is ZERO.

Saturated fats, though not as harmful as trans fats, are nevertheless harmful. They raise serum cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease. A few recent studies have questioned the link between saturated fat and heart disease. Although at this point, it is difficult to definitively conclude that saturated fats cause heart disease, it is amply clear from the available evidence that replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats reduces the risk of heart disease. Eating good fats(monounsaturated) fats instead of saturated fats reduces insulin resistance and our risk for diabetes. Furthermore, saturated fats are linked to breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia. The major sources of saturated fats in the American diet are pizza, dairy, meat products, cookies and other desserts.

The best fats which are health promoting as opposed to disease promoting are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. Consumption of these healthy fats reduces our risk for heart disease, reduces our risk for diabetes, and can lower blood pressure. These fats are exclusively found in the plant kingdom. So enjoy, the avocados, sunflower and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, edamame and tofu, and olives.

As seen in the last 3 blogs, fats, carbohydrates and protein are all crucial macronutrients and are an essential part of our diet. And with all macronutrients, it is the type and the source that determines whether they are beneficial or detrimental to our health. So for optimal health, avoid fats, protein and carbs from animal sources and avoid processed foods from plant and animal sources. As much as possible, consume food in its whole unadulterated form, just as nature intended.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Health and Wellness: Protein

Blog 8.2 Protein:

Protein, the macronutrient with a “halo” around it. The one nutrient many people believe is healthy no matter the amount or the source. Perhaps, we increase the protein in our diet because we want to look like this amazing couple. For the record, the husband and wife athletes in the above photograph are our friends and 100% Plant-based.

In this post, we’ll explore some of the facts and some of the myths around protein. We apologize for the length of this post. But if you don’t read another post this year, please, read this one.

MYTH: Protein is more important to our health than Carbs and Fats
FACT: Protein is an essential nutrient similar to Carbs and Fats, our body needs all 3.

MYTH: Individuals need to be very careful in their diets to get enough protein

FACT: Individuals in western societies are getting too much protein. What is lacking in our diet is FIBER.

The NIH(National Institute of Health) publishes data tables to give individuals an idea of how much macronutrients we should consume as part of a healthy diet. RDA(Recommended dietary Allowance) is a reference value established by the NIH.

RDA’s definition as per the NIH -- the average dietary intake that is sufficient to meet the nutrient requirements of 97.5% healthy individuals in a particular life stage and gender group.  Looking at the above table, and looking for the amount of protein needed for a hypothetical 70 kg male at age 40, give us the value of 56 grams. Each gram of protein provides the body with 4 calories of energy. For this same hypothetical male, the average daily caloric requirement is roughly 2500 calories. So, for 97.5% of individuals between ages 19-70, 56 grams of protein or 9 % of protein calories would be adequate. RDA is designed to prevent deficiency in the general population. They error on the side of too much than not enough. This means this value already exceeds the requirements of majority of individuals.
So, if the NIH tables indicate that roughly 9% protein meets the requirements of 97.5% males, then why does the USDA stick with the absurd recommendation that calories derived from protein represent 10-35% of our daily caloric intake. We have a few ideas, but here’s Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s explanation.

MYTH: Best type of protein is animal protein, because it is complete in amino acids
FACT: Animal protein(dairy protein, egg white protein, animal flesh protein), because of its “completeness”,  protein density, and high level of sulfur in the respective amino acids is linked to numerous diseases, often collectively referred to as diseases of affluence.

Animal protein raises our risk for a number of cancers, similar to cigarette smoking raising our risk for lung cancer.

Animal protein leads to insulin insensitivity which eventually leads to Type 2 Diabetes. Plant protein has NOT shown to cause insulin insensitivity.

Diet high in animal protein leads to fatty liver which progresses to cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure and death.

Animal protein increases stress on our kidneys, leading to hyperfiltration, which can progress to chronic renal disease and renal failure.

Hopefully, this post has convinced you that though a crucial macronutrient like carbohydrate and fat, protein does not deserve the “halo” we have given it. Unlike what the USDA and our pop culture would have us believe, too much protein, especially animal protein, is hazardous to our health. Fortunately, a whole food plant based diet provides us with more than ample protein, in the range of 10-12%. As the lovely couple in the pic above will vouch, it is absolutely possible to get a fit and muscular body on protein from plant foods.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Health and Wellness: Carbohydrates

Blog 8.1: Carbohydrates

As we discussed on the last blog, carbohydrates are an essential macronutrient and represent the primary fuel for our body and brain. So why are carbs so frequently maligned in our culture.

Because indeed there are “good” carbohydrates and “bad” carbohydrates. For simplicity, good carbohydrates can be classified as complex carbohydrates and “bad” carbohydrates as simple carbohydrates or simple sugars. Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, starch and sugar whereas simple carbs are composed of one or 2 sugar molecules. Simple carbs contain no fiber or starch.

In addition to table sugar, candy, soda, and syrups are common forms of simple sugars. Also, refined or processed flour such as white flour which is devoid of fiber and germ can be absorbed by our body nearly as quickly as simple sugars. Furthermore, the processing which is needed to turn a wheat berry into white flour removes not just the fiber, but most of the vitamins, mineral and phytonutrients which are essential for our health.  By eating highly processed products such as white bread, white pasta, and refined sugary cereals, you get a sugar spike in your bloodstream which is followed by an Insulin spike. Harmful effects of sugar spike and insulin spike include increased risk for Diabetes, heart disease, and  obesity.

Complex carbs, such as the ones found in whole grain wheat or barley, all vegetables, and essentially all fruits are health promoting because in addition to sugar they contain fiber and starch. These complex carbs are absorbed by our body in a much more deliberate fashion and do not lead to the sugar spike or Insulin spike. In fact, whole grains, vegetables, and fruits protect us from heart disease, stroke, cancer, Diabetes, and other chronic disease.

Furthermore, complex carbohydrates, when consumed in their unprocessed or minimally processed form retain essentially all of their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients. Recall, from our previous post, phytonutrients contain powerful antioxidants, anticancer agents, and anti-inflammatory compounds. So when you deprive yourself of these healthy carbs, by being on a low carb diet, you are depriving yourself of foods that reduce your risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Moreover, these amazing plant compounds are essential for eye health, have anti-aging properties, and are protective against neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s Dz.

So next time you are at the grocery store, load up on healthy carbs, such as the ones found in green leafy vegetables, colorful vegetables and fruits, beans of various kinds, nuts, seeds, and whole grain breads and pastas and skip the white bread, white pasta, refined sugary cereals, cookies, and sodas.

Health and Wellness: Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Blog 6.3: Inflammatory Bowel Disease: In the preceding blogs, we have primarily focused on the i...