Category Archives: Blog

The Whole Life Medicine blog, where our practitioners share their insights and expertise on health and wellness.

Is plastic disrupting my estrogen?

The investigative journalism magazine, Mother Jones, just published a compelling story on the presence of xenoestrogens in BPA-free plastics.

BPA-free plastic food containers and utensils remain ubiquitous in our kitchens. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND.

BPA-free plastic food containers and utensils remain ubiquitous in our kitchens. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND.

Xenoestrogens, synthetic chemicals that are capable of stimulating estrogen receptors in human (and other animal) bodies, are a growing concern worldwide. Exposure to xenoestrogens can come from the food supply, as they accumulate in the fat of animals that are exposed to some to them, primarily through herbicides and pesticides (atrazine is the most notorious), and then find their way into milk, butter, and meat. They can also come from direct contact with certain plastics, or from food  stored in plastic containers. The now-banned BPA-containing plastics were the most notorious offenders, but now we have strong reason to believe that they are not the only ones.

This topic is of significant interest to those of us at Whole Life Medicine who care for women with diseases of estrogen-dominance, such as PCOS, fibroids, endometriosis.  Is part of what’s driving these disease processes environmental exposure from plastics? And if so, how can we limit that exposure to protect our health?

I have a personal stake in this game. I am one of those estrogen-dominant women. I even have genetic test results that show my body is a slow estrogen metabolizer. What this means is that I don’t make a full compliment of the enzymes that break estrogen and estrogen-like chemicals down and inactivate them, so they spend a longer time in circulation with the opportunity to stimulate my estrogen receptors, which in the long run can cause tissues that are sensitive to estrogen to be overactive and create health problems.

I’d also like to state very clearly that I am not “anti-chemical” by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve had too many years of chemistry, organic chemistry and biochemistry education to fear “chemicals” or even “synthetic chemicals” generally; I understand that chemicals generally speaking make up pretty much everything we are and interact with and do not inherently pose a threat to health. But as an Environmental Studies-Biology major at Whitman College, I began getting curious if some of the synthetic chemicals we interact with on a daily basis like plasticizers, specifically phthalates, might not be interacting with our bodies’ hormone system in ways that could be harmful to our health.

Years after undergrad, my interest was reignited after reading Nena Baker’s The Body Toxic. In this book Baker, an investigative journalist, considers the evidence about what is and isn’t known about common industrial and synthetic chemicals that haven’t been subjected to rigorous safety screening; and whether multiple exposures from daily living might lead to a “chemical body burden” that is beyond the scope of individual safety profiles to comprehend. For example, if over the course of the day I am exposed to ScotchGuard and food heated in plastic and the  plastic in my toothbrush, those exposures together could accumulate to levels  that are dangerous, even if individually each exposure would be considered safe by the safety data on ScotchGuard, the plastic in my tupperware and the plastic in my tooth brush. Xenoestrogens feature prominently in the book as a case study for chemicals needing further human safety data.

What I took away from The Body Toxic is that BPA-contianing plastic is worth avoiding, but that BPA is probably not the end all and be all of  my xenoestrogen exposure because all plastic may be suspect, which is indeed the point that the recent Mother Jones article makes. And that foods that are moist or have an appreciable fat content are the ones most likely to leach xenoestrogens from their plastic containers into the food I would consume, so those are the foods I can prioritize creating, storing and consuming from non-plastic containers. I also read labels of all products that I put on my skin to avoid those containing “phthalates.”

To the right is a picture of my stash of containers for storing left-overs, prepared foods and things I don’t want to wilt in the refrigerator.

My glass food storage collection. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND.

My glass food storage collection. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND

And after making those changes around 4-5 years ago, which proved to be sustainable in my life in terms of time and money spent on them, I considered myself reasonably protected. Certainly I still receive exposures to xenoestrogens but my goal isn’t 100% avoidance, it’s harm-reduction.

The new news on BPA-free plastic, however, has me wondering if that is enough. While the data on exposure to plastics and causation of estrogen-related diseases is not strong enough for me to offer much proscriptive advice. What I will say is probably in everybody’s best interest to avoid xenoestrogen exposure from plasticizers is:

  • Store moist or fat-containing foods in metal, ceramic or glass containers, not plastic.
  • Do not heat foods in plastic containers, no matter how microwave safe.
  • Check labels in grooming products to avoid anything with “phthalates.”
  • Be aware anything listed as “fragrance” may be diethyl phthalate (DEP).
  • Avoid air fresheners: many brands contain phthalates but are not required to list them on the label.
  • Choose ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) over PVC plastics in toys and building materials, as EVA does not require plastic softeners, polyethylene or other plastic polymers.
  • Read the Mother Jones article on BPA-free plastics and other well-researched work on the issue, and check to make sure they cite their sources if they make strong claims about risk or safety.

Beyond that, I think it’s up to the individual to decide what’s right for them in terms of time and money costs, as well as availability. Here are some of the issues I’ve started thinking about in my pantry, which currently looks like this:

My plastic-filled pantry. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND.

My plastic-filled pantry. Photo by Miranda Marti, ND.

What amongst this plastic-wrapped shelf must I worry about? The reality is, I don’t know that I can make the switch for everything that comes in plastic packaging. So here are the top three daily-consumed foods I’m considering making changes for re: purchasing and storing habits:

 

  • I love sunflower seed butter and use it almost every morning with breakfast, but the brand I’ve been buying lately from Trader Joe’s is in a plastic container, which is concerning because of the product’s high fat content. Perhaps it’s time to switch to a brand that comes in glass. This should be easy to do with the occasional trip to another store, such as PCC or Whole Foods.

 

  • For the past few years I’ve used coconut flour, which is high in fiber, to make my morning waffle. Ordinarily I wouldn’t worry too much about grains or flours in plastic packaging because these products are generally dry and have very little fat that could leach xenoestrogens, but coconut flour is an exception due to it’s fat content. I’d like to buy and store it in non-plastic packaging, but I don’t recall ever seeing it offered outside of a plastic bag. Perhaps there is a bulk buying option at PCC where I could bring my own glass or paper container….but honestly, will I? Those are extra steps to take that I might not be motivated to actually take, but I will at least explore my options.

 

  • Almonds are another food I consume frequently, going through at least a pound per week. I usually buy a 1 lb bag from Trader Joe’s or a 3 lb bag from Costco. Almonds are not moist, but they do have a considerable fat content. I know for sure I could buy the in bulk in a non-plastic container, but the price difference for doing so would be considerable compared to what I’m used to paying.

 

As I continue to peruse my pantry over the next several days, I’m sure I’ll come across many more oft-consumed items that are packaged or stored in plastic to consider. It’s an on-going process, and I’ll be sure to let you know if I come up with any brilliant ideas to avoid plastics without great inconvenience cost or inconvenience.

This post is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti.

The Hormonal Poetry of Sex and Love

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

Photo courtesy of the Orange County Archives.

The hormones most directly related to love, bonding, romance and sexual arousal can be remembered through the apt acronym POET: prolactin, oxytocin, estrogen and testosterone.

While both men and women respond to these hormones, they do so in different ways and with different results.  There is currently a great article on Medscape on the topic, Miriam E. Tucker. Hormonal ‘POETry’ Key to Valentine’s Day Romance. Medscape. Feb 13, 2014 (note: to access the full article a medscape log in is required, but an account is free to set up and open to anyone over the age of 18).

If you don’t have time for the log-in, however, here is a quick run-down of the role these hormones can play in men and women.

Women:

Prolactin “generally has no effect on libido in normally cycling women, but it can suppress sexual desire when levels are too high, such as in women who are breastfeeding, have prolactin-producing tumors, or are taking medications that affect dopamine pathways.”

Oxytocin, “the ‘cuddly hormone,’ induces uterine contractions and facilitates milk ejection after childbirth. Elevated levels appear during orgasm, but its role in female sexual desire isn’t as clear as it is with men.”

Estrogen “directly affects vaginal engorgement and lubrication, and it regulates female genital tissues’ “receptivity” to sexual activity.”

Testosterone “ also correlates with female sexual desire and satisfaction.”

Men:

Prolactin  ”likely is responsible for the immediate decline in sexual desire and the onset of sleepiness following orgasm” and may be an indicator of satiety.

Oxytocin “recent studies suggest that oxytocin in men increases their empathy for and speed of response to facial expression cues; increases activity in brain areas associated with arousal, reward, memory, and social bonding ; and increases their willingness to share emotions.”

Testosterone, contrary to popular belief “high testosterone levels do not correlate with sexual function. However…small decreases in testosterone can affect sexual desire and satisfaction, as can visual cues and relationship issues.”

This blog post comes courtesy of Dr. Serena McKenzie.

 

Which Exercises Improve Major Depression?

Photo by USAG-Humphreys

Photo by USAG-Humphreys

News we’ve been waiting for years to hear is finally in! A study in the May Journal of Psychiatric Practice has pinpointed what type of exercises are best for improving symptoms of major depression.

Exercise is seen to improve the symptoms of depression, such as low mood and sleep and appetite changes, both as a solo therapy or as an augmentation to other treatments, like counseling, nutrients or medications.

Here is a summary of the findings on using exercise to alleviate depression:

  • Aerobic and resistance (e.g. weight training) exercises are both beneficial, though aerobic exercise was found to be MOST helpful for alleviating depressive symptoms
  • Aerobic intensity needs to reach 50% to 85% of the maximum heart rate, and in resistance training, patients need to do 80% of one repetition maximum, the maximum weight that can be lifted at a single time.
  • Three to five exercise sessions weekly for 10 weeks are needed.
  • Each session should be 45 to 60 minutes.

Keeping an exercise journal can be a great way to keep track of your progress and keep you motivated until you cross that 10 week (or 1350 – 3000 minute) threshold for improvement.

Bear in mind that these findings are specific to the diagnosis of major depression and may not apply to all types of low mood and depression. While this study is provides helpful guidance for type of exercises, and length and duration of use for alleviating symptoms of major depression, it should not be extrapolated that exercise is a panacea or silver bullet for treating all depressive symptoms; response to exercise as a treatment for depression may be variable. If you have depressive symptoms or low mood or a diagnosis of major depression, please talk with your doctor and/or mental health provider about how exercise might fit into your individualized treatment plan.

This blog post is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti. She has a strong interest in the mind-body connection and the organic (physical and biochemical) contributors to mental health and well-being.

Unmanageable periods? Could be endometriosis.

Sites of endometriosis in the pelvis and abdomen.

Common sites of endometriosis in the pelvis and abdomen.

March is Endometriosis Awareness Month. 

Do you know someone whose life becomes unmanageable around the time of her period due to intense pain or strange symptoms, like allergic reactions, digestive problems or fatigue? The problem could be endometriosis.

Endometriosis is a painful condition that can cause digestive symptoms, abnormal menstruation and infertility. It occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus, the endometrium, starts growing elsewhere in the body. This most often occurs within the pelvis around the ovaries, but can happen anywhere – even the brain!

Pain that is suggestive of endometriosis includes pelvic and lower abdominal pain or low back pain that occurs:

  • during menses that does not feel better with the use of anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, or other types of conservative pain control, like heating pads
  • between periods but feels likes menstrual cramps
  • before, during or after sex
  • with bowel movements and urination, especially during menses

Other unusual symptoms of endometriosis are:

  • allergies, migraines or fatigue that are worse during menses
  • difficult bowel movements or alternating constipation and diarrhea that does not respond to standard IBS treatment or dietary changes
  • bloating, nausea and vomiting during menses

The pain and other symptoms associated with endometriosis have a reputation of being hard to diagnose and treat through conventional medicine alone. That’s why all of our physicians are trained to view the body holistically and treat not just the symptoms of endometriosis, but the underlying cause of hormonal imbalance and inflammation.

One of the major reasons endometriosis occurs is due to an imbalance of estrogen levels in the body. Many doctors address this imbalance primarily through the use of additional hormones, such as birth control pills, and pain management medications. This treats the symptoms of endometriosis, but it doesn’t treat the cause.

Broccoli and other members of the Brassica family of vegetables help promote healthy estrogen balance.

Broccoli and other members of the Brassica family of vegetables help promote healthy estrogen balance.

Estrogen Balance and Nutrition:  

One important avenue for treating endometriosis is to focus on foods that support efficient hormone metabolism and avoiding non-organic vegetables. meats, dairy and other foods that may be a significant source of hormone exposure.

“It’s not just the hormones in the cows, but the pesticides on the fruits, vegetables and grains that can influence estrogen levels in endometriosis. You have to focus on the diet to treat the disease.” – Dr. Mary O’Connell, gynecologist

There are also a number of herbal protocols that can help the body balance estrogen and progesterone levels on its own to reduce symptoms and progression of endometriosis.

For pain management, our doctors provide guidance on how to develop an anti-inflammatory eating plan, how to effectively use supplemental anti-inflammatory oils and herbs for long-term pain management. Our clinic also has acupuncturists who are skilled in treating pelvic and low back pain.

If you know someone whose life becomes unmanageable around the time of their menses, share this blog post or have them schedule an appointment to evaluate their symptoms and assess their hormone balance.

This post is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti.

Picture of common sites of endometriosis courtesy of Tsaitgaist via the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Picture of broccoli courtesy of La Grande Farmers’ Market via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0Generic license.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month

Do you know when you’re due for your next annual exam?  Your next Pap smear?             Is your appointment already scheduled?

A Pap smear evaluates the cervix, an annual exam evaluates the entire reproductive system.

A Pap smear evaluates the cervix.
An annual exam evaluates the entire reproductive system.

If you don’t know or aren’t sure:      call or email us today!

Phone: 425-398-9355

Email: you can use the contact form below or write to us at balancinghealth@frontier.com

 

 

When to screen for cervical cancer

Recommendations for how most women should be screened for cervical cancer have changed in the past year. For some women, this means getting a Pap screening every 2-5 years instead of every year.

But there are exceptions to every rule! Women who are at high risk for cervical cancer or have other health concerns may still require yearly screening. Contact your PCP or gynecologist to make sure you know which screening schedule you should follow.

Risk factors for cervical cancer include:

  • Early onset of sexual activity
  • Multiple sexual partners (2x risk with 2 partners, 3x risk with 6 or more partners)
  • Sex without condoms
  • Smoking
  • Personal history of  sexually transmitted infections: chlamydia, herpes, high-risk HPV
  • Low immune system function (e.g. HIV)
  • Family history of cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the 3rd most commonly diagnosed cancer of the female reproductive system. The average age at time of diagnosis is 48. For detailed information about cervical cancer, check out this information from the National Cervical Cancer Coalition and Planned Parenthood.

 An annual exam covers much more than just a Pap screening!

Though Pap screening recommendations have changed, recommendations for annual exams and check-ups haven’t. Unless otherwise specified by your doctor, you should still have an annual screening with to evaluate other aspects of your reproductive health, such as the size of your uterus and ovaries, and to discuss other important preventative medicine topics related to hormones & reproductive health, like bone density.

This post is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti and Dr. Serena McKenzie from the offices of Balancing Health Integrative Medicine in Bothell, WA.

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The Balancing Health Holiday Guide

Image by Mark Skrobola.

This post on navigating the holidays in health and happiness is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti and the rest of the staff at Balancing Health.

Between now and the New Year you’re likely to encounter many demands on your time and attention. With that in mind, here is a selection of local services you may find worthwhile to help you maintain a healthy balance between the joys and challenges of the holiday season.

Entertaining yourself, your kids or your guests

Fresh Picked Seattle is a fantastic day-by-day calendar of food and nature-related activities going on throughout the Seattle area. Best of all? Many of them are FREE!

We find Fresh-Picked Seattle to be an essential resource for finding fun, natural and affordable activities throughout the year, but particularly so during holidays when we have out-of-town guests or out-of-school kids to entertain.

From cooking classes for toddlers to jewelry making for teens to beer, wine, whisky and chocolate tasting for adults, Fresh-Picked Seattle has an option to keep everyone entertained and in good spirits.

Finding living trees, local and sustainably made gifts

Living tree image courtesy of Our Living Forest

Woodinville’s own Molbak’s Garden & Home is our favorite place to find living trees for seasonal indoor and outdoor decor. They also feature many local, sustainably made gifts, including hummingbird feeders, bamboo kitchenware, gardening gloves and ornaments.

One of our favorite living gift ideas are Molbak’s beautiful herbal topiaries that will keep in your kitchen during the holidays and can later be planted in your garden for year-round enjoyment.

Also check out the Chick N Coop Crafts Holiday Bazar and many other holiday events at Country Village, a collection of over 40 locally owned small businesses in Bothell.

Keeping your inner peace during the holidays

Do you have acupuncture or massage benefits that are due to expire at the end of the year? Now is the time to schedule in some self-care with acupuncturists Janna Rome and Miranda Marti. Acupuncture can do wonders for promoting relaxation, improving sleep and focusing energy.

Avoiding holiday weight gain

It’s not just the holidays themselves that tempt us with more alcohol and snacks, not to mention leftovers – it’s the entire holiday season from now until New Year’s. And for some of us, that can lead to an average 1-5 pounds permanent weight gain, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Join us on Tuesday, November 27th at 7 pm at the Balancing Health office for Dr. Mona’s Guide to Avoiding Holiday Weight Gain. Dr. Mona Fahoum provides advice and practical tips on how to avoid unintentional weight gain this holiday season while still enjoying a delicious holiday season. This event is free and open to the public. Please RSVP at 425-398-9355 or via email at balancinghealth@frontier.com

Finding a new balance point in the New Year

Yoga image courtesy of Tom Mooring.

Looking to find a new balance point in your life?  Need a positive antidote to the onslaught of body-shaming gym promotions that capitalize on the traditional New Year’s resolution to lose weight?

Come January, consider joining Insideout Yoga’s Realize Your Radiance Group for Women as an avenue for regaining or reinforcing a healthy mind-body balance after the holidays. Instructor Kim Trimmer offers yoga and meditation classes and workshops for individuals at any experience level in a body-positive environment.

Or if you’re looking to kick your yoga practice into high gear, consider signing up Balance Yoga Studio’s 30-Day Challenge: 30 classes in 30 days, starting January 2nd.

 

Monthly Migraines: Causes and Cures

Image courtesy of Pierre Willemin, Creative Commons.

This post on the role of estrogen in monthly migraines is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti.

For many women a monthly migraine is an estrogen-associated migraine.  Particularly if the timing of the migraine is predictable, such as around the start of menses.

Estrogen-associated migraines occur because of the effects a sudden withdrawal of high estrogen levels has on serotonin levels and blood vessels. This can be a natural occurrence within a woman’s menstrual cycle, it can be a scheduled withdrawal from estrogen-containing medications (such as the placeholder pills in an package of oral birth control) or it can be accidental from a missed dose of any estrogen-containing medication, including hormone replacement therapy.

Stopping the pain

So, what can be done about monthly migraines?  Quite a lot, from symptom relief to cure. Our doctors, including gynecologist Mary O’Connell and our naturopath physicians, all specialize in balancing hormone levels to stop the pain of monthly migraines.

For women using any form of hormonal birth control, one of the first places to start is to ask: does it contain estrogen? Is there a lower dose estrogen or estrogen-free option that could work for me?

There are also many non-drug approaches to managing estrogen-related migraines that can provide pain relief, some as simple as supplemental magnesium taken during specific times of the menstrual cycle.

Curing the pain

To address the root cause of why a woman’s body is responding to estrogen this way, one must look at her body as a whole and evaluate not just how much estrogen is being delivered, but how the estrogen is being processed and eliminated.

This is holistic medicine and it is something that our naturopathic physicians excel at.

For all women with estrogen-associated migraines, the question to ask is: how efficient is my estrogen metabolism? Factors affecting estrogen metabolism and breakdown include the liver detoxification, digestion, and possibly estrogen receptor stimulation via pesticide exposure.

Liver Metabolism

Many women don’t realize that their body has to break down estrogen in the liver the same way it does many other biologically active chemicals, like caffeine and alcohol. Some people have an inherently lower capacity to do this than others because of their genetics, and some people have a lower capacity to do so because their liver has a high burden of exposure to many substances needing detoxification.

Signs that your estrogen metabolism could be improved:

  • Sensitivity to or intolerance to: caffeine, alcohol or medications
  • Other symptoms of high estrogen levels, particularly PMS: premenstrual weight gain or bloating, mood swings, cramping, breast tenderness

Digestion

After estrogen has been broken down into metabolites in the liver, the body moves these waste products via bile into the intestines so that they can be eliminated from the body in a bowel movement. Constipation or sluggish digestion can interfere with this process significantly because it gives the body time to reabsorb some of the estrogen metabolites back into circulation. Laxatives are not a long-term solution to this problem.

Women with monthly migraines and infrequent bowel movements (fewer than 5 per week) or frequent bouts of constipation could benefit from addressing their digestive concerns. Our approach is to focus on healthy non-laxative stimulation of digestive function, primarily using foods and fiber.

Pesticide exposure

Some pesticides are suspected to have the ability to stimulate our estrogen receptors and disrupt our distort our normal hormonal function, as is discussed in my blog post on organic foods.

Effectively treating and eliminating monthly migraines is about more than hormone and medication management. It is about being able to look at the body as a whole and recognize which systems can bring the body back into a stable and sustainable homornal balance.

Food and Health: Organic Still Matters

Photo courtesy of Masahiro Ihara under Creative Commons license.

This post comes courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti, a naturopathic physician who has been following organic food research for over ten years.

There are a lot of sensational headlines in the media this week about organic food. Some of them imply that a recent study from Stanford proves there are no health benefits from eating organic food. This is an unfortunate overstatement of the study’s findings.

The study, which is itself a meta-analysis of many studies, provides us with important information that is primarily about the food itself (nutrient content, incidence of pesticide contamination, etc.) from organic and conventionally grown sources.

For example, because they found that organic foods were no more or less likely to be contaminated with bacteria associated with food-borne illnesses, like E. coli. So, we can be reasonably sure that our risk of getting food poisoning from organic foods is about the same as it is from non-organically grown food.

It also helps confirm something that has been long suspected, that the nutrient profiles of organic produce are virtually the same as those of their conventionally grown counterparts. [Personal anecdote: a full decade ago when I was working on my senior project at Whitman College for my Environmental Studies-Biology major, I would have loved to study the differences in nutrient content of conventionally and organically grown foods. But even back then it was fairly apparent that there was little or none to be seen, so instead I ended up doing field work that involved measuring soil level of nitrogen and phosphorus and the biomass of earthworms on Hawaiian coffee farms utilizing conventional and organic agricultural practices.]

The New York Times does a lovely job of covering these aspects of the study, complete with an interview with someone from the Environmental Working Group, the organization which regularly compiles the Dirty Dozen and Clean Fifteen lists of which fruits and vegetables bear the most and least pesticide contamination.

But the study cannot, and was not designed to, tell us anything about the long-term consequences of eating organic foods or long-term exposure to pesticides from food sources. The studies included in the meta-analysis that involved human health outcomes had, at most, a two year period of data collection. So, it cannot tell us whether or not pesticide residue on foods over time influences our hormonal activity or our immunity, or how it contributes to our liver’s burden of detoxification.

These are important issues to address because we have reason to suspect that pesticide residue on food has the potential to do all of those things, and that for some people it can have long-term health consequences. For example, here is a link to the EPA program that is in the process of studying whether many chemicals, including pesticides, that people in the US are exposed to have the ability to disrupt human hormones.

So, what about organic food and health?

My clinical recommendations, which have always been aimed at minimizing pesticide exposure, have not changed. In light of all the unanswered questions on the long-term health effects of pesticide residue on foods, I suggest that the prudent approach is to minimize our exposure to the worst of it. Beyond that, the degree of investment in organic produce, meat or dairy depends on personal preference and health status.

I recommend that everyone prioritize eating foods on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list that comes from organic sources, be that your own garden or an organic CSA or the grocery store, and primarily eat organic dairy and meats.

This is especially true for women who have gyn conditions related to high levels of estrogen activity, such as PMS, fibroids, PCOS or fibrocystic breast disease. As I tell my patients with these conditions: Some pesticides, such as atrazine, stimulate aromatase, the enzyme that creates active estrogen from hormonal substrates, pesticides can monopolize your liver’s detoxification pathways and keep them from efficiently metabolizing your estrogen, and can even be converted in the body to estrogen-like substances (xenoestrogens). In other words, exposure to certain pesticides may make estrogen-related symptoms or conditions worse.

Recommended Reading

To learn more about the potential long-term health consequences of pesticide exposure from foods, I recommend the book The Body Toxic by Nena Baker.

Baker, an investigative journalist, does an excellent job examining many environmental and health concerns associated with common chemicals, such as pesticides, phthalates and flame-retardants, that we are exposed to every day. She also gives a devastating overview of how, from a legal standpoint, all of this is allowed to continue without much public outcry. And, perhaps most importantly, she gives sound advice about what people can do to learn more and to protect themselves until more definitive information about the health risks are known.

 

Getting to Know Your Gut Flora Part II – Prebiotics

Photo courtesy of agriculturasp under Flickr Creative Commons-licensed content.

This post on the role of prebiotics on health is courtesy of Dr. Miranda Marti.

Prebiotics are carbohydrates that are not absorbed by the human digestive system, leaving them available to selectively feed and promote the activity of colonies of healthy gut bacteria, particularly most Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species.

Please see Part I for more detailed information about the ways healthy gut bacteria benefit us, but in a nut shell they help keep our immune system in check, promote healthy metabolism and appetite control, help us absorb nutrients from our food, and directly provide us with certain vitamins and anti-inflammatory fatty acids.

What you eat directly affects your gut flora

Eating vegetables high in prebiotic fibers promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Conversely, eating meats and simple sugars can actively promote the growth of non-beneficial bacteria and promote inflammation throughout the body.

To INCREASE your good gut flora and discourage the growth of bad or pathogenic gut flora: eat a healthy diet high in fiber, especially prebiotic fiber, and moderate your intake of meat and simple carbohydrates, like sugar and white rice.

Prebiotic Foods

All prebiotics are fibrous, but not fiber-containing foods are prebiotic. The types of fiber specifically that have prebiotic effects are pectin, inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides.

Foods that are highest in prebiotic fiber are:

  • Chicory root
  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichoke
  • Raw dandelion greens
  • Garlic

A chart of the inulin and oligofructose content of these foods, and many others found in the American diet, can be found here.

How meat and saturated fats can affect your gut flora

To DECREASE your good gut flora and preferentially promote the growth of bad gut flora and systemic inflammation: eat a diet high in refined carbohydrates, simple sugars and saturated fats or meat.

Why is saturated fat a problem?

Diets high in meat and saturated fat also tend to contain high levels of lipopolysaccharides (LPS). LPS is a molecule that is on the outside of most gram-negative bacteria, including E. coli. It is recognized by the human immune system as an endotoxin, so exposure to LPS in the diet triggers an immune response that creates inflammation in the gut that can be spread throughout the body. This happens regardless of whether or not a toxic threshold of LPS exists, like it does with food poisoning.

Studies that look at diet and bio-markers for metabolic syndrome (triglyceride levels, insulin resistance, and inflammation) show a positive correlation between levels of LPS and those markers.

Chronic intake of a high-fat diet appears to alter the intestinal environment by influencing the type of gut flora that thrive, as well as by increasing the permeability of the intestines (leaky-gut), which then allows for the absorption of more LPS into general circulation.

For more a more detailed look at the physiologic mechanisms involved, check out this excellent review article on Metabolic Diseases and Pro- and Prebiotics.

10 Lessons From Nutrition Science

Photo courtesy of Masahiro Ihara under Creative Commons license.

This post on the evolution of nutrition science comes courtesy of Registered and Certified Dietitian Cheryl Decker.

Check out the following slideshow from Eating Well Magazine’s Blog for an excellent synopsis of nutrition science promoting healthy eating patterns with succinct & valuable tips for optimal health: 10 Health Lessons Learned