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A Health, Nutrition, and Alternative Medicine Blog

Friday, February 20, 2009

5-HTP (5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan) for depression and anxiety?

Feeling depressed or anxious? Can’t sleep? Have a headache? You may want to try picking up some 5-HTP (5-Hydroxy-Trytophan) supplements from your local pharmacy or health food store. 5-HTP comes from the seed pods of the West African plant, Griffonia simplificifolia, and has been linked to serotonin production and melotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that is responsible feelings of well-being and melatonin is a hormone that promotes sleep.

5-HTP has been studied extensively. Many studies have found it to be a competent supplement for depression and anxiety disorders; one clinical trial found it to be of equal effectiveness to fluvoxamine, a antidepressant medication that comes with many side effects. In earlier days tryptophan was also proven to be helpful for depression, but since then 5-HTP has been proven to be even more effective than tryptophan. Other studies have found 5-HTP helpful for obesity, migraine headaches and even fibromyalgia treatment.

Many people use 5-HTP to help promote regular sleep cycles. The supplement may be found in capsule, extract and powder forms.


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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

South Beach Diet: What it Is, What it Isn't

What’s the perfect diet for you? That’s the question many people ask themselves. Just as we change outfits because they don’t feel right, some of us do the same with diets. We’re searching for that perfect fit. How do you know which one is right for you?

The South Beach diet was created by Dr. Arthur Agatston, a highly respected cardiologist. He wanted to create a meal plan that would be a safe and effective way to lose weight. What’s interesting about this diet is that it works in phases for a set amount of time, and once you hit the last phase you supposedly stay there for life (or until you go off the diet).

Let’s take a closer look at each of the phases. I’ve included a few of the foods that should be avoided and included in this diet. If you want a complete list I would highly recommend that you purchase the book, The South Beach Diet.

Phase One

The focus of Phase One is to remove the cravings you have for sugars and starches. No fruits or grains are allowed during this phase and most dairy products are eliminated as well. Phase One lasts for 14 days, and this stage of the diet is sometimes called the “strict phase” because many dieters find it the most challenging. Phase One drastically limits the foods that you can eat. Even if a food is highly nutritious, it cannot be eaten if it is on the elimination list. Some people lose a pound per day during this time, and others discover that they lose a significant amount of belly fat.

Phase One Foods to Avoid

· Alcohol- Absolutely no alcohol
· Meats – Many types of meat and poultry are not allowed, including beef, prime rib, dark meat from chicken, and turkey, and honey baked ham.
· Milk – No whole milk
· Starches - No bread, cereal, pasta, potatoes, and rice
· Sweets- All sweets must be avoided, including fruits and fruit juices
· Vegetables (some types) - carrots, corn, beets, and green peas (they contain sugar)

Phase One Acceptable Foods

· Beans- Black eyed peas, chickpeas, great northern beans, and pinto beans.
· Cheeses- Low fat cheeses are acceptable.
· Eggs
· Fats and oils- Olive oil or avocado oil is all healthy fats.
· Meats- Some types of meat you can consume include boiled ham, lean ground beef, turkey, and chicken breast, all seafood.
· Nuts- A serving of nuts is acceptable. Remember nuts are a healthy fat.
· Vegetables (some types) - Lettuce, okra, onions, mushrooms, spinach, sprouts, and tomatoes are just a few of the vegetables you can consume during Phase One.

Once you’ve been on Phase One for 14 days you can move on to Phase Two. Dr. Agatston believes that some individuals should begin at Phase Two. Nursing mothers, children, and teenagers should begin at Phase Two. If you don’t have to lose a lot of weight, you can also start at Phase Two.

Phase Two

The big difference between Phase One and Phase Two is that there is no set amount of days to be at this level. Phase Two lasts until you reach your desired weight. During Phase Two you can still eat the foods that you were eating during Phase One. Additional foods will also be added. During this phase fruits low on the glycemic index, whole grain bread, pasta, and potatoes will be introduced.

Phase Two Acceptable Foods

Artificial Sweetener
Chocolate - Semi-sweet chocolate is accepted.
Fruits- Apples, bananas, cantaloupe, and grapes
Pudding (fat free)
Starches- Cereals, whole wheat bagels, whole wheat pasta, and whole grain crackers
Vegetables- carrots, green peas, potatoes, pumpkin, and yams
Wine- You are allowed one or two glasses daily.

Phase Three

Once you’ve made it to the Phase Three there is nothing more to eliminate or add back to your diet. You can eat whatever you want. Those who advocate the South Beach Diet believe once you have reached this state you should have acquired all the skills needed to maintain your weight goal. If you find yourself gaining weight, though, ease up on the carbohydrates.

South Beach Diet Warnings

Now that you know what the South Beach diet is, let’s take a look at what some of the critics have said about the diet.

Carbohydrates are restricted during Phase One, which results in decreased energy levels. When the body doesn't have energy the body will use the energy that is stored in the muscles. One result of this is that it will make you look thinner, but another is that the body will begin to cannibalize muscle tissue. Others, like myself, question whether two weeks is a long enough time to break lifetime addiction to carbohydrates and sugar? Critics point out that artificial sweeteners are incorporated in this diet. They are not believed to be safe, and numerous reports have been written about the dangers of using them. Phase One looks a lot like a protein diet, although Dr. Agatston claims this isn’t the case.

Before starting any diet regimen you should research the pros and cons and consult with your health care provider. There is no miracle diet that will magically melt the pounds. No, you have to change the way you view food, and realize that whole foods need to make up a good portion of your diet. Changing the way you view food can take time; however, the benefits are amazing. When you start making healthier choices, getting plenty of exercise into your lifestyle, and looking at positive ways to handle life issues, you are enhancing your overall health and physical well-being. The payoffs of a healthy lifestyle will be far greater than those of a diet that promises to help your reach a desired weight or to have a skinny body.

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Cordyceps can increase oxygen supply and blood flow

Did you know that there is a mushroom that can support heart, kidney, immune system and liver function? Were you aware that this same mushroom is also able to increase energy, stamina and endurance, all while being a powerful antioxidant and aphrodisiac that can increase sex drive and help impotence? In addition, the powerful fungus can increase oxygen supply and blood flow throughout the body. The special, medicinal mushroom is called cordyceps sinensis and has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries.

Cordyceps – also known as the Chinese caterpillar fungus –can be found in health food stores, Chinese specialty stores, and at online retailers. While cordyceps are now produced in Western countries as well, the most potent cordyceps are thought to come from the Tibetan regions. The mushroom can be found in its wild state (sometimes still attached to the caterpillar), or bought in the supplemental forms of extract, tincture and capsule.

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Chondroitin helps in the formation of cartilage

Chondroitin is a substance produced by the body that helps in the formation of cartilage, while also protecting cartilage from breaking down due to enzymes and keeping the cartilage moist and flexible. Not producing enough chondroitin can cause cartilage loss that can lead to osteoarthritis in some people. While it is known that taking chondroitin supplements can help the body create more cartilage, there are also many other uses for chondroitin supplements.

Chondroitin can help relieve pain and stiffness in the joints, may be useful in preventing kidney stones, and is helpful in supporting natural blood flow in the body. Many studies have been done to link chondroitin to lowering cholesterol, preventing atherosclerosis, and treating conditions from congestive heart failure to ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. This amazing supplement can be found in tablet form alone, and can also be found combined with glucosamine for pain relief.

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Monday, February 9, 2009

The Path of Chocolate: Raw Cacoa

Ahhh...chocolate. Almost everyone loves it. It makes us happy and blissed out; some may say it’s better than sex or an almost religious experience. Yet are we really eating the true, delicious chocolate? Where does it originate from? What path has chocolate taken from being discovered as a delicious drink used in cultural and religious rituals, to finding itself in stores across America wrapped in a little foil as one of the 80 million kisses that are made each day by Hershey’s?

While no one is sure as to when chocolate was first consumed by humans, the path to discovery looks a little something like this: Mesoamerican societies found that the pulp around cacao beans was edible. Some Mesoamerican archeologists believe that people were eating the pulp from the wild-growing South American cacao tree as early as 1500 B.C., but the Maya are the ones that discovered that the beans yielded...chocolate.

The Maya discovered that they could grind the beans into a powder. It was quite a long time before the solid form of chocolate was created. First, it was a delicious drink revered for its rich, unsweetened/bittersweet taste. The drink made by the Mayans was a mixture of ground cacao, spices, chilies, and water. It was not a common drink. At that time, cacao had a cultural and religious significance; it was used in religious and cultural ceremonies such as baptism, and was even used as medicine and currency. Cacao and cacao drink recipes written on pots have been found in burial vessels in Guatemala.

It is thought that Christopher Columbus was the first person to bring cacao to the Old World. First, it was kept a secret among the royal court, but eventually it started spreading. Then, during the Industrial Revolution, the first solid chocolate that you could actually eat, instead of drink, was born. Funny enough, no one knows who combined the melted fat that occurs in the cocoa beans with cocoa powder and sugar – but it changed the face of chocolate. In 1907 the Hershey’s kiss was born.

Today we find chocolate everywhere, usually made with milk instead of water, and filled with processed sugar. Unfortunately, milk coats the tongue and lessens the rich flavors. All is not lost though..rich, natural, unprocessed, raw cacao is making a huge comeback. While many think that the addition of spices and chilies is a new, delicious invention, it dates back to the Mayans and the original cacao drink.

Want to try some raw cacao for yourself? Check out these websites:

http://www.rawcacao.com

http://www.wildbar.info

http://www.ulimana.com


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Walk! Save Money and Lose Weight

A new trend shows that many in suburban areas are hopping on the walking train. Well, they are hopping on the train to save money and walking to the train to save their health.

While gas prices are skyrocketing, many are seeing the benefits of using public transport to shave their cost of commuting. Not only does this save gas money, but also saves money by creating less wear and tear on their vehicles. In addition, those who walk to the train station and/or walk to work from the train are realizing the benefits of getting daily exercise and fresh air. The best benefit is losing weight.

Walking is one of the easiest and most beneficial ways of exercising. It raises your heart rate, keeps your blood pressure down, helps your cardiovascular system and wards off a host of diseases.

So next time you your doing your budget or noticing that you could stand to lose a few pounds, grab your tennis shoes and get yourself to work by walking and utilizing public transport. Your body, not to mention your pocketbook, will thank you for it.

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The benefits of sugarless gum may go beyond healthier teeth

Recently, researchers at UNC-Chapel Hill found that sugar free gum helped bladder patients have bowel movements sooner than those who did not chew gum. This may be an important discovery because bladder surgery and other abdominal surgeries cause the bowels to stop working for as many as four days. During this time, patients may suffer from painful bloating, nausea, and even vomiting. Researchers, found that sorbitol (a sweetener in most sugarless gums) had a laxative effect upon patients who were constipated.

Although, this study found that sugarless gum has a laxative effect on patients, other studies has shown that chewing sugarless gum has no laxative effect at all. Still, other studies have found that chewing too much sugar free gum may lead to chronic diarrhea and unhealthy weight loss.

Also, for what it's worth, casual gum chewers are not likely to feel the laxative "benefits" of sugarless gum because an individual has to chew at least a pack of gum a day to experience the laxative benefits of sugarless gum.

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Friday, February 6, 2009

The Truth About Fats: Healthy Fats and Harmful Fats

Are Fats Unhealthy?

Our total fat intake should be between 20% - 35% of our total caloric intake. How many of us are actually practicing that? Our bodies need certain types of fats in order to function effectively. Our bodies need the unsaturated fats (good fats).

Unsaturated fats aid in the absorption of certain vitamins, such as A, D, E, and K, along with carotenoids. Healthy fats are also a major source of energy. Fats also add flavor to the foods we eat. Adding healthy fats to the diet, within moderation, plays an important role in our overall health.

Fats that Heal: Unsaturated Fats - The Good Fats

Unsaturated fats are the good fats. They don’t raise our cholesterol levels. To maintain good health we should consume more unsaturated fats and less saturated fat. Why is that? Unsaturated fats provide our bodies with the essential fats that our bodies need for healthy cell development. The Omega 3s and Omega 6s, which are found in the good fats, are critical for the normal growth and development of our bodies. They are also needed for brain function. Unsaturated fats work by lowering our overall cholesterol, including our low-density protein (LDL) cholesterol.

Monounsaturated Fats

The majority of the fats we consume should come from monounsaturated fats. According, to research conducted by the American Heart Association, monounsaturated fats are heart healthy. They can lower the risk of heart disease. Monounsaturated fats are considered to be the healthiest of the saturated fats. If we consume monounsaturated fats we will increase our high density lipoprotein (HDL) (also known as the good cholesterol). Monounsaturated fats remain a liquid at room temperature, but they can become a solid if put into a refrigerator. A few sources of monounsaturated fats are canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil. Other food sources that contain a high amount of monounsaturated fat are avocados and most nuts.

Polyunsaturated Fats

Polyunsaturated fats can also aid in lowering our LDL. Polyunsaturated fats will usually remain liquids at room temperature or when placed in the refrigerator. Vegetable oils such as cottonseed, corn, safflower, sunflower, and soy oil are all polyunsaturated fats.

Fats that Harm: Saturated Fats - The Bad Fats

Saturated fats are the main culprits of high blood cholesterol. Low-density protein (LDL) causes fatty buildup in the arteries. The cholesterol deposits place a lot of demand on our heart and circulatory system, making it harder for the blood to flow through the body. A high level of LDL in the blood increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Saturated fats can be found in animal foods and in certain plant foods. A few examples of animal fat are butter, beef, dairy products, eggs, cheese, lamb, milk, pork, poultry fat, and veal. Saturated fats can also be found in some vegetable fats like cocoa butter, coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, and palm kernel oil.

Hydrogenation

When foods are processed, the fats sometimes go through a procedure referred to as hydrogenation. Hydrogenated fats are commonly used in baked goods like cookies, cakes, most breads, and fried foods. Hydrogenated fats remain solid or semi-solid at room temperature. You can usually find them in vegetable shortenings and margarine. Hydrogenation occurs when the manufacturer adds hydrogen to a vegetable oil. This process increases the shelf life of foods containing hydrogenated fats, along with the flavor of the product, but at what cost?

Trans Fats

Trans fats raise our LDL and are very unhealthy. They also increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. When we add trans fats to healthy foods like steamed vegetables and baked potatoes, they become unhealthy. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals over two years of age should limit the intake of trans fat to less than 1% of their total calories.

Make Healthy Choices: Choose Healthy Fats

Our bodies need fat to function. It’s important to greatly reduce our consumption of saturated fats. If we consume too much, we face a higher risk of developing a disease. It’s important that we choose unsaturated fats, especially the monounsaturated fats. If you aren’t doing this already, get into the habit of reading the labels on food packaging. You want to ensure that you are choosing the right types of fats.

If you are consuming too much fat, reduce your intake. In addition to monitoring your fat intake, be sure you add plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet and engage in some type of physical activity.

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A New Purple, Antioxidant Tomato

Scientists were surprised to find out that their experiment with creating a hybrid purple tomato had such a positive outcome on health. The study was published by Nature Biotechnology and was funded by the John Innes Center in Britain. It was led by plant biologist Cathie Martin of the John Innes Center.

Ms. Martin and her colleagues first took tomatoes and genetically engineered them with genes from the snapdragon flower, an annual flower also known as Antirrhinum majus. This infusion caused the tomatoes to create the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is commonly found in blackcurrants and blackberries.

Anthocyanins are known to lower heart disease and help combat cancer, and have even been linked to produce a lower risk of some neurological diseases.

The result was a purple tomato rich in antioxidants that was ready to be fed to mice to determine the effects. The researchers were excited by the results: mice that were genetically engineered to develop cancer lived much longer when fed the purple tomato. In fact, the mice on a standard diet, with and without regular tomatoes, only lived around 142 days, while the mice fed the purple anthocyanin tomato lived an average of 182 days.

The scientists based their study on the fact that berries, specifically blackberries and blackcurrants, contained healthy antioxidants, but that the average person does not eat enough of these foods on a regular basis. They were excited to find out that changing one’s diet could result in much better health.

Specifically, they are researching whether or not these antioxidants can help deter cancerous tumors.

While the study was on mice and not humans, it did produce noteworthy results that lead them to believe that people may be able to increase their health by changing their diet and eating foods that are genetically modified to carry more vitamins and nutrients than regular foods.

For now, it is too soon to tell if these foods can actually reduce the risk of cancer, but plans to do more studies and human-based trials are in the works.

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Can drinking red wine extend your life?

Can drinking red wine extend your life? That is what researchers are trying to prove, but results are not yet pointing in their favor. A recent study on mice was conducted by the National Institute on Aging and though their study showed many positive health results, it did not prove that drinking red wine could extend your life.

You may or may not be aware of the compound found in red wine that is being studied, resveratrol. Resveratrol is an antibiotic produced by plants when they are under attack by germs. Although resveratrol is found in many plants, the highest content is found in the red wine, grapes and peanuts. This highly studied compound has been found to have anti-flammatory, blood-sugar-lowering, anti-cancer properties in rat and mouse studies. In some species of animal, mostly short-lived species, it has also been proven to extend the life span. Armed with this information, researchers are working diligently to find out if the compound can have the same effects on humans.

What the recent researchers did find was that resveratrol had some effects of calorie restriction, prevented decline in aging and obesity related cardiovascular function, reduced cholesterol and improved inflammation in the heart. They also found a plethora of other positive effects, such as better bone health, reduced cataract formation and enhanced motor coordination in the studied mice. All good news!

Even though drinking red wine might not extend your life per say, the health benefits seem to be clear: some red wine is better than no red wine. Just look at the French!

Resveratrol is also sold in supplement form and has been chemically synthesized. If you don’t drink red wine, you may still reap its benefits through supplements or eating grapes and peanuts.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here is for informational purposes and is not medical advice. Individuals wishing to use supplements or alternative medicine therapies should consult with their doctor beforehand.

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