All about inflammation and anti-inflammatory lifestyle (Part 1)

inflammation

Over the course of evolution, our bodies developed some fantastically complex and truly amazing defense mechanisms.  Jointly, they keep us safe and alive, protecting us from foreign bacterial and viral invasions, ensuring tissue regeneration and healing, cleaning up cellular metabolic debris and deactivating and destroying malfunctioning cells to limit the damage that they can inflict on surrounding tissues.

Many times, however, the same processes that are supposed to protect our bodies from harm cause greater harm when allowed to progress unchecked.  For instance, cholesterol patches originally deployed to limit the damage from vascular lesions may lead to dangerous plaque formations that elevate the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.  Free radicals, the generation of which is a part of normal ATP production in mitochondria wreak havoc in large amounts – to a point of causing DNA damage. Our immune system, designed to combat foreign microbes and irritants and keep us safe, can go out of control and cause a whole range of dysfunctions – from benign allergies to serious auto-immune disorders like lupus or arthritis, when it loses the ability to differentiate between foreign invaders and host tissues.

This article will discuss yet another biological process that is a part of your innate immune system and is intended to protect you from harm, but often gets out of control and creates the opposite effect.

We are, of course, talking about inflammation.

You probably hear about it quite often – most likely in the negative context.  From doctors prescribing anti-inflammatory drugs, many popular websites talking about anti-inflammatory foods and diets, etc. – but just as in many other cases, most of these measures are trying to fight the symptom, rather than the root cause.

What exactly is inflammation and should you really fear it or fight it?  What causes it and what effects does it have on your body?  What should you do to control it and how can you minimize any negative effects?

Continue reading to find out!

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6 big myths and misconceptions in healthy eating

healthy eating myths debunked

When it comes to healthy eating, there are many myths and misconceptions that just won’t die.  Some of them may be silly, while some others may be dangerous, because following them may lead to the results opposite to what you would expect (to the detriment of your health).

The funny thing is that most people who propagate them by trying to “educate” their friends have no idea why they need to follow these “guidelines” – they were just told to, at some point, by another friend, a popular magazine or even doctors, who got stuck in the last century and didn’t care to update their knowledge with the latest research.

Are any of these myths worth believing in?  See for yourself!

Myth # 1: Low-fat food

For many years, caught in the semantics and mislead by mass media (and even some very authoritative sources), people have been equating dietary fat (the fat you eat) to body fat (the fat you store).  The solution, in the age of prevailing heart disease and stroke and total cholesterol hysteria, seemed simple – remove fat from your food and you will be forever lean and healthy.

As it turns out – that’s not quite the case.  In fact, the effect is often the opposite – if you get overzealous, you risk developing quite a few health problems.

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Is red meat bad? (Part II – IGF-1, risk of cancer and more)

Is meat bad for you

Let’s continue our discussion that we started in Part I and see if there really is any association between meat and cancer.

It’s different if you already have a pathology

It is often implied that high-protein diet causes damage to your kidneys by “overloading” them with nitrogen by-products of protein digestion (that they naturally metabolise and excrete) – but as a healthy individual, you will have difficulty overconsuming protein, since your body has natural regulatory mechanisms that drive the desire for protein-containing foods.  So you are unlikely to ever eat too much.

But is it correct to say that eating any amount will put a strain on your kidneys?  Should you specifically reduce protein consumption to avoid damaging them?

The answer is – very unlikely.  If you already have a kidney disease – increased protein consumption can definitely contribute to their pathology.  But if you are healthy – you probably don’t have anything to worry about (read this article by Chris Kesser).

Methionine

Meat contains a complex array of several amino acids.  One of these amino acids is methionine – and recent studies have suggested that it’s this specific amino acid that may be responsible for increased oxidative stress and the ultimate link between meat, IGF-1 (see below) and cancer.

If you recall our discussion on organ meats – you will remember that methionine is balanced by glycine – another amino acid contained in large amount in bone broth, gelatin and organ meats – which helps your body metabolize and neutralize potential harmful effects of methionine. What follows is that if you balance your intake of methionine with your intake of glycine (by consuming collagen/gelatin, organ meats, bone broth, etc.) – potential harmful effects of overconsuming muscle meat can be greatly reduced.

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Is red meat bad for you? (Part I – gathering the facts)

Red meat slices

What you might miss in studies that claim red meat causes cancer

A lot of people who are attempting to eat healthy are searching for an answer to a question that seems to bother vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike – is red meat bad for you?

At first glance it seems to be a no-brainer.  You will find quite a few studies and experiments proving that red meat causes all sorts of bad things – high blood cholesterol, cancer (specifically colon, prostate and breast cancer), high blood pressure, Alzheimer’s and more.

So many studies can’t be wrong, can they?  Should you be worried?

Well, as with many things, it’s the little details and subtleties of the research behind these grand statements that make all the difference.  Most people do not care (or do not bother to verify) whether conclusions made by research were based on relationships that are causative (when a disease is a direct result of one specific and tightly controlled variable) or associative (where disease isn’t necessarily caused by a specific variable, but is merely  associated with it – with no regard given to other important co-variables).

Most people do not read into the details of such research papers.  Ask them a question “why is red meat bad?” and, most of the time, you will hear some mumbling without any specific reference to studies, reports or conclusions.  They will cite some vague reports that eating meat causes cancer, point to some poorly designed study republished by tabloids that links meat consumption and health decline and even refer to their doctor, who also “recommends limiting the intake of red meat” (and, probably, as ironic as it is – doesn’t mind recommending some “whole grains”, instead).  Or, they will pull out their biggest gun and refer to “The China study”, which, on the surface, seems to have delivered a significant blow to the “omnivore human” theory and converted many thousands of scared adults into vegetarianism.

Except – those little details hidden behind smoke screens and marketing messages matter a lot.  In fact, they are the details that can make or break the whole case – and understanding them and using them to arrive at your own conclusions may prevent you from fatal errors that have a profound impact on your health.

Is meat bad for you?  You can make your own call in the end after looking at all the facts below.  Without diving too deep into any religious restrictions or ethical dilemmas (we have briefly discussed these in a previous article on veganism, let’s just see why some people believe meat is bad for you is and whether the data they are using holds up to scrutiny.

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Why deep-fried food is such a bad food (even in moderate amounts)

deep-fried food

There is really no shortage of bad food out there – probably around 80% of what you can buy at grocery stores or restaurants is harmful to you in some way.  Some items merely require caution – and very close attention to their source and quality.  Some others, however, fall into the “really bad foods” category – no matter where or how you get them.

One common type of such really bad food has more to do with the cooking method used, rather than the ingredients – because if you use this cooking method, you can easily destroy even the healthiest product and turn it into poison.

The cooking method we are talking about is deep-frying.  It is used extensively by restaurants and also, to a large extent – by home cooks, with a wide variety of home-use deep-fryers available on the market.

While the chefs (and sometimes even the scientists who are behind the modernist cuisine movement) have been focusing primarily on perfecting sensory characteristics of deep-fried food (such as French fries) – perfect crisp, creamy center, even color – the health impact of those deep-fried foods has not been in the center of attention much.  And when it has – the focus was on all the wrong things – and changes introduced as a result had the opposite effect.

For instance, until 1990s, fast food restaurants (think McDonald’s) used to deep-fry their French fries in beef tallow.  But as a result of fear-mongering around saturated fat and cholesterol it was replaced by a mixture of plant-based and chemically-extracted oils.

Since then, the matter has only gotten worse.  These days, with the variety of techniques and equipment, people can (and do) deep fry anything – which typically happens in the same plant oil medium.  Most ethnic cuisines (or at least what is represented as such in the Western world) have some staple deep-fried foods to brag about – Indian samosas, Spanish churros, Chinese spring rolls, Middle Eastern falafel, Japanese tempura or the all-American French fries and onion rings are just a few examples.  But there is really no limit to what else you can deep-fry – anything goes and the choices range from jelly beans, Mars bars and Oreos to silkworms and even such oddities as Coca Cola or ice cream.

It is understandable why deep-fried food is hard to resist – this cooking technique definitely creates something very appealing for the human palate.  Food that is crispy and crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and infused with flavors originating from the Maillard reaction and caramelization of sugars awakens cravings that seem to be hardwired into our brains.

“Tasty”, however, doesn’t always mean “healthy”.  In fact, deep-fried foods are probably the pinnacle of “unhealthy”.  Deep-fried food is the worst foods to eat in a restaurant, period – and a lot of the reasons behind this statement might sound new to you, until you read them below.

What makes deep-fried food such a bad food?  There is no shortage of arguments – let’s look at a few.

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How to live longer, slow down aging and feel awesome

Slow down agina

I often look at pictures of some people I grew up or went to school with and get scared.

Because, looking at me from the screen, are weathered, aged, overweight and tired individuals who look way beyond their biological age – and I know it doesn’t have to be that way.

It’s true that none of us is getting younger with time.  Whether you like it or not – aging is an inevitable and natural biological process that affects every single living creature.  And although there seems to be some break-through in the field of anti-aging technologies – at this point you cannot reverse aging or stop aging completely.

What you can control, however, is how quickly you age and the quality of life you enjoy as you get older.  You can absolutely extend the span of your younger years and continue to look, feel and perform your best way beyond your 50s and 60s.  You can absolutely extend your life expectancy by eliminating bad habits and introducing good ones.  And the best part is – It’s not that complicated.

If you ask yourself what aging is – you will probably narrow this generic term down to a few indicators – wrinkles, forgetfulness, grey hair, limited mobility and a plethora of diseases.  But all of those are just visual and/or subjective manifestations and symptoms – not the root cause.

Nobody dies of just “old age”.  The majority succumb to disease “common” for and associated with old age – because their weakened bodies lose the ability to fight it off.

Your genetic potential probably allows you to live up to 120 and even beyond (the oldest documented age is 123).  But the average life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization does not exceed 73, with the highest being around 83 (generally, women live longer than men) – and in some countries life expectancy currently much less.

Why such a huge discrepancy?  Because the way you age – and your life expectancy – has little to do with your genetic potential and a lot to do with epigenetic external factors, as most recent studies confirm.  Your bad (or good) habits, diet, environment, activity and stress directly affect which genes get expressed or supressed – so, over the course of your life, cell-activity regulators get added to or removed from genes, dialing their activities up or down. As these changes accumulate, our muscles weaken, our minds slow down and we become more vulnerable to diseases.

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Supplement selection pitfalls – and things to keep in mind

Herbal supplement bags

Recently, a friend of mine asked me to check out and comment on a certain supplement stack she found online.  This supplement claimed to contain about 200 different active herbal ingredients and, as a result – cure what seemed to be every malaise possible under the sun.  Fatigue, too much body fat, too little muscle mass, bad sleep, depression, slow metabolism, hormone disruption – you name it.  All of this was delivered in a convenient size and was claimed to be “super-concentrated” at a somewhat affordable price.

Seems like a great deal, right?

But, however tempting it sounds, we are not going to discuss this particular one supplement.  Instead, we are going to have a bit of a more general discussion about how to sort through claims made by supplement manufacturers and separate truth from fiction.

If you don’t know how to do this – you will be paying MEGABUCKS for supplements that are questionable at best – and often detrimental in the worst-case scenario.

So let’s look at a few important considerations when picking a supplement from a health store.

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Get better sooner: what to eat when you’re sick with cold or flu

man sick with cold or flu

Ah, that miserable feeling when you’re sick with cold or flu…  Sore throat, headache, muscle ache, fatigue, fever, cough, stuffy nose and perhaps nausea – and no desire to do anything other than lay in bed…

Not fun at all.

If you are lucky (and, generally, diligent in strengthening your immune system to prevent viruses and bacteria from taking you down) – you don’t get sick too often.  But whenever you do – it feels terrible.  A common question that is often asked is, then – what to eat when you’re sick.  Are there foods and supplements that help you get well quicker?  Today we will take a closer look at what you should eat, drink or take when you are sick with cold or flu – and why some conventional methods of overcoming the disease do not work that well.

But first – let’s get the basics right…

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Saturated fat & unsaturated fat: what you didn’t know about bad fats and good fats

saturated fat and unsaturated fat examples

For many years, when people talked about healthy eating, any low-fat diet was a staple.  The USDA food pyramid and its equivalents produced by government authorities responsible for making sure we eat well have been vilifying fat for decades.  American Heart Association still recommends limiting foods containing saturated fat, such as butter or red meat – and to go for leanest cuts whenever you do eat red meat.  They still recommend “replacing foods that are high in saturated fat with healthier options can lower blood cholesterol levels and improve lipid profiles”.  In their own words:

“You should replace foods high in saturated fat with foods high in monounsaturated and/or polyunsaturated fat. This means eating foods made with liquid vegetable oil but not tropical oils”.

Canadian Heart and Stroke foundation recommends something along the same lines: they recommend mono- and poly-unsaturated fat over saturated fat (ironically, the “Healthy Recipes” project on their website is funded by by CanolaInfo.org – a website supported by Canada’s canola growers, crop input suppliers, exporters, processors and food manufacturers – does anyone see any conflict of interest?).

At the same time, these authorities have no problem recommending low-fat products, whole grains and loads of sweet fruits.

Food processing industry caught on pretty early with all this low-fat craze and flooded the market with a wide variety of food-like items that were branded as “heart-healthy”.  Ironically, this has not stopped the obesity epidemic – as we saw in a recent article, obesity rates in North America have quadrupled over the last 30 years – the same 30 years that the war on fat has been raging with full force.

The reason why this didn’t work is simple – dietary fat rarely makes you fat.  But a lot of other ingredients used in processed foods do — as the fat went out of food, in went the sugars, artificial flavors, and other fillers that add bulk and empty calories, but reduce food quality and nutritional value.

What’s more, fat (granted it is the right kind of fat — and no, it’s typically not the kind of fat that is being glorified by those same nutrition authorities) doesn’t make you sick either (as previously discussed, all these fears around cholesterol that lead to the creation of a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry are generally unfunded).

So what do you need to know about fat?  What fats are good and what fats are bad?  Does the amount or type of fat you eat make any difference?  Which foods have the good fats to support your health?  Which foods should you absolutely avoid?

Keep reading to find out!

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Halloween candy and children: dispelling the myths

halloween

With Halloween just around the corner, kids of all ages are more than ready to trick or treat and bring home a large variety of colorful and sweet stuff – after all, candy has long been an integral part of Halloween.

And while a lot of adults may easily justify their children’s unlimited indulgence in what seems to be several month’s supply of colorful sugary treats (”oh, come on, let kids be kids!”) – you really should know better, because this practice is not as harmless as you  may think – and the way you handle this today may have a huge impact on their health and development in the future.

Halloween is surrounded by myths, superstitions and misconceptions.  But today we are not going to talk about the typical urban legends, like razor blades in candy, or Bloody Mary.  Today we will be talking about other myths – the myths around Halloween candy – which are probably no less scary, when you know and understand the details.

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