Thursday, March 26, 2009

Food & Allergies

Food is essential to life, but for those who suffer from allergies, food can be a dangerous proposition. You’ve likely heard of a child who’s dangerously allergic to peanuts, but you may not know that many of us have hidden adverse food reactions. Because the effects of this problem are often masked, it can be difficult to identify which foods are causing harm. The symptoms can be diverse, including heartburn, indigestion, bloating, IBS, frequent colds, sinus and ear infections, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, and arthritis. Food can even contribute to serious diseases like lupus, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, MS, Crohn’s, and celiac disease. In kids it can cause ADHD symptoms and other behavioral problems.

The terms used to describe food allergies can be confusing. In general, food allergy is when antibodies from our immune cells are produced against the offending food. This antibody response can lead to anaphylactic shock, but also causes the symptoms of hay fever, allergic asthma, atopic dermatitis (eczema), and hives. A growing number of health professionals believe food allergies in the population are grossly underestimated because an immune response can be delayed, making it difficult to associate with any one food. These responses can cause inflammation, tissue damage, and disease. There can also be reactions to food and additives that don't involve antibodies at all, referred to as food intolerance and food sensitivity. Adverse food reactions are influenced by other factors such as medications, chemicals, and stress. Unfortunately many doctors don’t have a clear understanding of how food contributes to many health problems.

To understand how food sensitivities occur one must recognize the close relationship between our immune system, the digestive tract, and what we eat. The immune system is our defense against infection and the gatekeeper of the digestive tract. Immune cells are found throughout the body, but the digestive tract; including the mouth, throat, stomach, small and large intestines; is unique in that 70% of our entire immune system is found there. Though we think of the immune system as simply fighting off infection, its job is actually more complex. Since birth our immune cells have been going to school, learning what is friend and what is foe. As food and microbes make their way through the digestive tract, the immune cells must determine what is OK and what is not. When this system of checks and balances is disrupted, uninvited guests can leak through the intestine wall and cause an immune reaction. While some may notice immediate symptoms, many do not.

This scenario, referred to as leaky gut or increased gut permeability, can lead to the health problems listed above. This process contributes to allergies. A common scenario is as follows: a food component, infection, or medication irritates the GI tract causing inflammation and leakiness; immune cells make antibodies to foods; certain foods continue to irritate the GI tract; the body will make more antibodies to various foods; various immune problems and diseases occur.

In addition to food allergies, some have allergic reactions to pollen, molds, grasses, animals, insect bites and stings. This is often true for those with a family history of allergy. Food is often an important factor in these situations. Referred to as the atopic triad; eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever) are often greatly improved by addressing the diet.

An obvious question is why are an increasing number of us more reactive? One theory gaining credence is the Hygiene or Old Friend Hypothesis. It points out that allergies have correlated with cleaner living conditions. Where there are lower rates of parasitic infection there are higher rates of allergy. Modern innovations like chlorinated water, antibiotics, and vaccination are clearly associated with increased allergies. This helps explain why probiotics and treatments to restore a healthy gut can alleviate allergies and other conditions. The lesson here is clear; our modern obsession with killing bugs and using antibacterial products ad libitum is having unintended consequences. In addition, poor eating habits, medications, environmental pollutants, and stress further impair immune and digestive function.

All of us are absolutely unique. While following generic advice may provide some benefit, it may not adequately address your individual needs. It may unnecessarily restrict your diet leading to nutritional deficiencies and conditions like osteoporosis, anemia, neurological and hormonal problems. Arbitrary or “hit and miss” approaches usually don’t give a clear indication of what foods are the prime culprits. Consulting a doctor experienced with adverse food reactions can better address your situation. Once identified and treated, adverse food reactions can sometimes be eliminated allowing you to eat some of these foods again. More importantly, by addressing these issues now you can avoid many long term health problems.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eat Well, Be Well Part 2

Today we have more information about human nutrition than at any time in history, yet in some cases we are much less healthy then in times past. How can that be? Largely it’s the result of being human in a post-industrial society. No one needs to exert much thought or energy to have his or her caloric requirements met. Unfortunately what makes good business for the food industry often doesn’t mean good nutrition for you and me.

That brings us to the concept of the Paleolithic Diet. This diet merges both physical anthropology (what we observe mankind has subsisted on) and human nutritional science (what modern science tells us humans need). The diet emphasizes nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, along with lean meats and animal products. It noticeably avoids excessive grains and refined sugar. Essentially one can imagine going back in time before food industrialization and modern agriculture. Humans lived on what grew and roamed wild.

Over time humans learned that seeds from various plants (grains) could be used as food, though in most cases it required some “processing” to make it digestible and nutritious. One example is the use of corn as food. Native-Americans knew by tradition that maize had to be soaked in alkali, typically ash or lime (calcium carbonate) before using as food. When corn was introduced into other cultures, like the deep southern US, the art of soaking was overlooked. The malnutrition that resulted became known as pellagra. It took until the 1930’s for science to identify the problem as a niacin deficiency. The art of soaking in lime allows the B-vitamin niacin to become available. In addition, indigenous peoples combined corn with beans or other protein sources to get all of the essential amino acids (the required protein building blocks of protein).

Though science has helped show us what is required for basic nutrition, much is lost in translation from the research lab to what is on the grocery store shelves or available at the drive-thru. When it comes to food there are lots of mixed messages coming from advertising and even the “medical experts.” Suggesting that people eat better isn’t very helpful unless you also explain why and how. I have found that to make better eating choices I had to first understand why it was important. Going back to the two great human motivators, pleasure and pain, it might help to rationalize how changing the way you eat can bring you more pleasure while avoiding pain. The key is to understand that the benefits may be delayed. An investment up front will yield dividends later by avoiding diseases such as diabetes, cancer, and stroke. There are also benefits that can manifest more quickly, such as more energy, better sleep, less pain and inflammation, and weight loss.

How does one apply the principles of the Paleolithic Diet? For some the biggest challenge is reducing grains. It’s important to recognize that not all grains are the same. Wheat is the most common grain in our food supply and is found in numerous products made with white flour. White flour is largely devoid of trace nutrients and fiber even though it is typically fortified. It is mostly starch, which is quickly converted to sugar in the body. Excess sugar is efficiently stored as fat. The consequences can be weight gain and an increased risk for diabetes. Wheat can also cause inflammation in the digestive tract, for some severe enough to cause what’s known as celiac disease. Whole wheat provides more nutrients and fiber, but still can be problematic in excess. I recommend consuming other whole grains in moderation, such as quinoa, buckwheat, and millet, while reducing wheat consumption. Sprouting or soaking improves digestibility, so buying 100% sprouted grain breads and making hot porridge for breakfast is a better alternative to white bread and cold cereals, which are heavily processed and contain added sugar. To ensure you get a complete protein, remember to include seeds, nuts, or beans in your diet, especially if you don’t eat much animal protein.

The other big challenge is getting enough vegetables in your diet. These are the dark leafy greens, cruciferous, carrots, beets, squash, peas, onions, garlic, and celery to name a few. Starchy “vegetables” like corn and potatoes don’t count. And neither does ketchup. Along with learning to cook and prepare these foods, it’s important to learn the basic art of seasoning. Herbs and spices not only provide flavor, but also provide nature’s medicine and protective phyto-chemicals. From cinnamon improving blood sugar control to oregano preventing GI infections, they are an essential part of good health. For those who find it impossible to eat enough vegetables, it would benefit you to use whole-food supplements containing green foods, fiber, and protein.

Lastly, when it comes to meat and animal products, it pays to be selective. Remember that the hunter-gatherers didn’t eat a ton of meat. But when they did it was wild and they prized the organ meats, a long lost tradition in our society. We instead esteem the grain-fed muscle tissue from a couple of domesticated animals like beef, pork, and chicken. I’d recommend eating meat a few times per week, including alternatives like bison, lamb, and grass-fed beef, along with free-ranged turkey, wild salmon, sardines, free-range eggs, and perhaps liver now and then. When it comes to dairy remember quality over quantity. Daily consumption of cow milk can be problematic, whereas fermented foods like yogurt and kefir are often better tolerated and have enhanced health benefits.

A few recent news items may further motivate your dietary transformation. It was recently reported that high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can contain significant levels of mercury. If you needed another reason to avoid this non-food, this would be it. Along with potentially containing a neurotoxin, HFCS is already associated with increased rates of obesity and liver disorders. Concern is also being raised over the sugar substitute, Splenda, which contains sucrolose. Touted as safe by its promoters, new reports indicate it can reduce the beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract by as much as 50%. It can also alter the way the body metabolizes some medications. Ironically, the little Splenda packets labeled “No calorie sweetener” actually contain 95% sugar providing 3.31 calories per packet. This labeling loophole is also prevalent on all the products that now advertise as being trans-fat free. Reading the ingredients you’ll notice they often contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, a guaranteed source of trans-fats. How can this be? The labeling laws allow manufactures to say their products have zero trans-fats if there is less than 0.5 grams per serving. So by simply keeping the serving size small, every product can be labeled as having zero trans-fats, which is a big fat lie! The moral of this story is to read the ingredients and don’t trust the food industry, or expect the government to protect you… nutritionally anyway. Another good rule of thumb is if you don’t know what is, you probably shouldn’t be eating it. For example, here are the ingredients in McDonald’s French Fries:
Potatoes, vegetable oil (canola oil, hydrogenated soybean oil, natural beef flavor [wheat and milk derivatives]), citric acid (preservative), dextrose, sodium acid pyrophosphate (maintain color), salt. Prepared in vegetable oil ((may contain one of the following: Canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, hydrogenated soybean oil with TBHQ and citric acid added to preserve freshness), dimethylpolysiloxane added as an antifoaming agent).

Unfortunately there are no McPaleo fast food restaurants, at least not yet. There are better choices when it comes to dining out, but it will be very difficult to obtain good health if you don’t prepare most of your own food. As a kick start to eating better it might be helpful to consider a brief fast. If you’re not ready for that kind of deprivation, then perhaps consider the Caveman or Cavewoman Cleanse. Eat well, live long and prosper.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Do you have fibromyalgia or CFS?

Clinical Study
Do you or someone you know have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome? Dr. Graves is participating in a clinical study to test the use of a natural substance in treating these conditions. If eligible you will receive a free supply of this natural supplement and receive the benefits of naturopathic care. Call the office to schedule an appointment or to see if you qualify to be a part of this study. 408-379-0133,

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cleanse & Purify

Are you ready for some serious spring cleaning with your health? Maybe you’d like to lose weight, reduce pain and inflammation, have more energy, and help your body detoxify and heal. Along with your New Year’s resolution to get in shape, it’s time to follow through and complete the circle of good health. Dr. Graves is offering a FREE cleanse workshop. You’ll learn the principles of the Paleolithic or Caveman Diet and the basic concepts of an effective cleanse protocol.
This FREE workshop will be offered for a limited time. The next session is on Thursday March 26th, 6:30-7:30pm. Sign up now by calling 408-379-0133.

Take advantage of starting a 21-day purification program with others, including Dr. Graves. You'll receive the essential support you need to dramatically improve your health; YOU WILL NEVER FEEL THE SAME! You'll get personalized visits with Dr. Graves at an incredible 40% discount. Next group cleanse will start the weekend of March 27th.

Get a preview on the program here:

Eat Well, Be Well

As a naturopathic doctor and nutritionist I get asked lots of questions about food and health. There is a never-ending stream of information about what you should eat to be healthy and there is always another diet that is in vogue. Over the last ten years I’ve spent a great deal of time pondering the question, “what is the ideal diet?” Though I believe there is no one-size-fits-all diet, there are basic principles that can benefit most people. Much of what is healthy is common sense, or at least it use to be. The challenge is restoring the “uncommon” common sense, to eat the way you were designed to.

Just as you wouldn’t want to run your car without the right fuel, so it is true with your body. Just as important as the fuel, however, are the “cofactors.” To continue the analogy, imagine running your car without the oil or lubricants in the engine and that surround every moving part. Imagine draining the coolant fluid, and letting most of the air out of the tires. Now fill up the tank with premium unleaded, start the engine, put it in gear, and hit the gas. Perhaps it’s a convertible and you begin to cruise down the boulevard. Though the ride feels a bit strange, you merge onto the freeway, really putting the pedal down. It’s at that moment that you notice the red light on the dash board and hear the squeal of metal on metal. Your joy ride comes to a sudden halt. It is the same with the human body. The fuel is the calorie content of what you eat. The oil, fluids, and air are the “cofactors” of the body, namely vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, protein, amino acids, fats and essential fatty acids. Just like a car needs fuel and supportive factors, so does your body if it is to last a lifetime.

More and more people are waking up to the fact that the average diet is lacking. Food is plentiful, but much of it is missing those essential cofactors, the nutrients that keep the body operating properly. In some cases one’s diet may be inappropriate given your individuality. It has been said that the diversity of the appropriate human diet is akin to the diet of a cow versus a lion. Lions don’t do well on a vegan diet and neither do cows on a carnivorous one. Humans are equipped to be very adaptable. However, depending largely on your genetic makeup and individual characteristics, you may thrive on a healthy vegetarian diet or it can make you sick. Despite the variability there are basic principles that come close to being the ideal diet for most people. The caveat is that when someone is suffering from a specific disease or health problem, his or her diet can be tailored to encourage healing and restore health, especially when diet was the primary cause.

Hopefully you are now on the edge of your seat waiting to discover the “diet for all people.” The evidence to support this diet recommendation comes from both science and the human history of nourishment from the past. By studying cultures that are the healthiest and looking at human nutritional science, many now believe the ideal human diet is the Paleolithic or “hunter-gatherer diet.” This diet consists of nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, lean meat and animal products. What are notably missing from the diet are grains, refined sugar, homogenized milk, and most processed foods. Though I don’t think it’s practical or even necessary for most people to follow this diet to a tee, it does provide an important template. The take away message is that we eat too much grain-based foods and sugar, while getting too few vegetables. In addition, the animal products we now eat bear little resemblance to what our ancestors hunted in the wild. The nutritional profile of domesticated beef for example, is quite different from that of wild deer or even grass-fed bison.

The challenge for us all is to tame the tendency to take the path of least resistance, stopping at the drive-thru, grabbing the unhealthy convenience foods, not planning ahead, and never really taking the time to learn how to feed oneself. In today’s world healthy eating requires exercising your brain a little before your gustatory and digestive systems.