Saturday, June 12, 2010

Tea: The Elixir of a Long Life

Tea: The Elixir of a Long Life: "Lengthen your years, starting with this one simple tip: drink more tea. Delicious, low-calorie and brimming with antioxidants, tea is one of the most commonly enjoyed beverage by centenarians around the world, second only to water. Even in the US, its popularity is rapidly growing. With the healthy longevity benefits you stand to gain, you too will want to drink up.

What is tea and what makes it so healthy?

Technically speaking, 'tea' is the dried and processed leaves of Camellia sinensis, a tree that is indigenous to Asia. There are four main varieties of tea: black, oolong, green, and white tea. (Yellow and pu-erh are two other varieties of tea, but are not as widespread.)

Black tea, produced when tea leaves undergo an oxidizing process that turns the leaves black, has the strongest flavor and the highest caffeine content -- about one third the caffeine you would get from the same cup of coffee. Oolong tea is slightly less oxidized and has less caffeine. Green tea is steamed, rolled and dried immediately after harvest, which halts the oxidation process, allowing the leaves to retain their green color. White tea undergoes the least processing -- the young tea buds are picked and air-dried. All of these varieties have different health benefits, with green tea and white tea leading the pack.

According to studies published in the Journal of American Medical Association, tea lowers your risk of death from all forms of cardiovascular diseases. And, there is growing evidence that tea potentially has cancer-fighting properties, plays a role in improving beneficial intestinal microflora, wards off diabetes, and helps protect your brain from free-radical damage. Also, the amino acid L-theanine, found almost exclusively in the tea plant, actively alters the attention networks of the brain, stimulating the production of alpha waves in the brain and producing feelings of well-being. Because it crosses the blood/brain barrier, it can increase levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which benefits mood while improving learning and concentration.

While all the choices are good, in many ways, green tea brings the most benefits to the table. Research has found that green tea has the power to effectively protect against Alzheimer's disease and other forms of mental degeneration with its natural anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Green tea is packed with polyphenols, antioxidants that have been found to increase cognitive acuity and learning ability. One particular polyphenol is responsible for these beneficial brain effects: catechin. The concentration of catechins in green tea is four times that of black tea. Researchers aren't exactly sure why, but some conjecture that the minimal processing used for green tea may help to preserve a higher concentration of the antioxidants.

How to get the benefits into your body? A study from Purdue University found that more antioxidant catechins are absorbed in the bloodstream when citrus is added to the tea, so for best effects, squeeze a little lemon in your teacup.

What about herbal tea?

Well, herbal tea is not really tea at all, but actually an infusion or tisane made from various leaves, flowers, fruit or herbs. For thousands of years, the Chinese have blended specialized herbal teas from plants that exhibited medicinal properties to maintain health and prevent illness.

While 'real' tea has many health benefits, a major pro to herbal tea is that it is caffeine-free. Originating from plants, herbal tea also offers many of the same polyphenol antioxidants that benefit your long-term health. Also, you can tailor your tea to your needs by selecting herbs and plants that address the health issue you want to target. To soak up some of the health benefits, try the following key herbal teas for health and longevity.

Peppermint has many well-documented properties: it increases healthy gastric secretions, relaxes the intestines, soothes spasms, settles the stomach, and alleviates gas.

Ginger, also extensively studied, has been shown to soothe the digestive lining and balance gastric juices. It will also naturally fire up your energy. Make ginger tea by slicing fresh ginger root into two inch long slices and boil in one cup of water for five minutes. Strain out the ginger and sip the tea slowly.

Chamomile is another excellent herb for settling the stomach. It also soothes the nervous system and relaxes the muscles, making it a perfect choice for the evening, an hour before bed.

For maximum health benefits, I suggest you work with a licensed acupuncturist or traditional Chinese medicine practitioner to find an herbal blend tailored specifically to your health needs. Among my patients, a very popular herbal tea is Internal Cleanse Tea, which is specially combined to detoxify, calm nerves, clear the mind, balance emotions and ease digestion.

Here are some brewing tips for the best health benefits:

• Tap water affects the taste of tea, so it is better to use water from a high-performance filtration system, such as Aquasana.

• To extract the most beneficial compounds from the tea leaves or bags, let them steep for three to five minutes.

• It is best to drink tea unsweetened and without milk, which can minimize some of the health benefits. Forgo the sugar and try instead honey, stevia products, or a stick of cinnamon.

I hope you drink to your health for years to come! May you live long, live strong, and live happy!


Friday, June 4, 2010

Blueberries and Kale Placed on Most Toxic List

Blueberries and Kale Placed on Most Toxic List: "The 'dirty dozen' list of the 12 fruits and vegetables with the highest content of pesticides is published by the Environmental Working Group at their allied site For years I have been recommending that my patients, friends and family use this list to choose which foods they should purchase organically. If you like to eat any of the dirty dozen, then these are the foods you should be using your 'organic food budget' money to purchase, rather than using it for foods that are not high in insecticide content (they also list the 'clean 15').

The classics that have been on the list for the last decade are still on there: strawberries, peaches, apples, celery, bell peppers, spinach, cherries, imported grapes and potatoes. But this year, two new ones made it onto the list: blueberries and kale. Kale is the first of the brassica family (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and kale) to hit the list. Many of its relatives have been on the 'least toxic' list in the past, so this is quite surprising -- as is the presence of one of my most favorite foods on the list: blueberries.

But, what is the deal with blueberries?

The EWG's dirty dozen list is based upon the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Pesticide Data Program. The most recent report, published in December of 2009, comprised all the data they had accumulated in 2008. It turns out that this was the first year that they had included blueberries in their study. This provides part of the explanation for its presence on the current list. However, I was really puzzled because I used to have blueberry bushes at my home in the Seattle area. I had four bushes that were over 75 years old, and they produced a lot of wonderful blueberries. Now, I did raise my entire garden organically, but I did not need to use any pest control on the blueberries with the sole exception of bird netting. So, I have been quite baffled by the addition of blueberries to the most toxic list, as pesticides shouldn't be necessary on them in the first place.

When I reviewed the Pesticide Data Program annual summary for 2008 I did find that the information was given by pesticide, not by food. So, there was no easy way to read all of the pesticide compounds that were found on blueberries. But, there was a table that gave basic information about many of the foods, including blueberries.

Here is what they said about blueberries:

They began with 726 samples of blueberries. Of those 726 they ran 166 analyses each for a total of 120,797 measurements (each for a different insecticide compound). Of those 120,797 tests 1,736 were positive and 119,061 were negative. They found a total of 46 different pesticide residues -- which is why blueberries made the list.

When I studied the report (by going through all the insecticides to see how the blueberries rated, I found that 17 out of those 46 pesticides were only found on less than one percent of all the blueberries tested. Another 14 of the 46 were found in less than nine percent of all blueberries tested, which means that 31 of the 46 pesticides that were found most likely drifted from other agricultural areas. Such infrequent contamination would have also been found on my backyard organic blueberries! Of the 46 insecticides found, seven were present in 15 percent or more of all samples with two fungicides found in over 30 percent. All but one of those seven commonly found compounds were fungicides, which makes much more sense for berry crops (but is still unnecessary). While I will still buy organic blueberries, I feel better knowing blueberries are not as toxic as I thought after reading the new list.

The other piece of good news that I found in this hunt was that frozen blueberries had less than half the number of insecticides present as the fresh berries. Since frozen blueberries deliver a much higher load of the health-giving berry pigments than fresh berries, this is the form that I typically recommend people consume.


Are Your Weight Issues Tied to Insulin Resistance?

Are Your Weight Issues Tied to Insulin Resistance?: "Frequently, a new client will walk into my office knowing he or she needs to lose weight, get in shape and improve their health. Perhaps they feel sluggish and are hungry a good part of the day, and nothing they do makes a difference. Multiple diet regimes, exercise programs, lose-weight-quick gimmicks -- they've tried them all and are just fed up.

With no visible results, many are still searching for the root of the problem, which could actually be insulin resistance. Not until the last 10 years did many health care professionals really understand what it is and its impact on the body. It affects metabolism, hunger levels and zeal for life, and if untreated, can turn into diabetes.

A Key That Won't Turn

Simply put, insulin is the key that unlocks the cell for sugar to get in, which in turn enables your body to use the food you consume. However, somewhere along the line, the key either gets stuck or has difficulty getting into the lock. Or, if it does get in, it can't turn the lock, hence the term 'resistant.' If your body develops a resistance to insulin, you are not able to utilize the food you take in, which can increase your fatigue and your cravings for ever-increasing amounts of carbohydrates.

Why is this a problem? Well, if your insulin is not working properly, it sets up a cascade of effects which are not in your favor. This includes the ability to store fat more easily, as well as increases in blood pressure and cholesterol or triglycerides, which can lead to fatty liver.

Lifestyle or Lifelong?

Is insulin resistance a lifestyle issue? The answer is yes, but ...

Insulin resistance is associated with a sedentary lifestyle -- a diet high in processed carbohydrates and calories beyond one's metabolism -- but it can be present at birth.

Research now shows what a mother eats or how much she exercises during pregnancy affects the child's genetic tendencies toward weight issues, insulin resistance or possibly diabetes.

The classic insulin-resistant body has thin arms and legs and stores much of its fat in the abdominal region, which many of us know as 'belly fat.' This type of body is also known as apple-shaped. If you have a different body shape, you may still be insulin resistant, but to a lesser degree.

Get the Facts and Turn the Tide

What can you do if you think you are insulin resistant and want to avoid diabetes as well as lose weight and increase your energy? Work with your doctor to get some data.

Have your physician monitor not only your cholesterol panel, but your fasting blood sugar, insulin levels and your three month average blood sugar, called the glycosylated hemoglobin A1C.

Here's what you want to see:

* A fasting blood sugar less than 100 mg/dl. (A level of 100-115 mg/dl. indicates pre-diabetes)

* Fasting insulin levels should be less than 10

* The glycosylated hemoglobin A1C should be within a range of four to six

Changing three major ingredients of your lifestyle -- eating healthy meals, exercising and getting enough high-quality sleep -- can make a huge impact on these values.

Make Systematic, Healthy Meals

A proper diet is very effective at calming the system down, and can be achieved by eating regular, nutritionally-rich meals.

A healthy way to put together a meal is:

1. Start with a healthy source of protein such as organic and/or grass-fed meat, poultry, wild fish, organic eggs, plain yogurt, cheese, raw nuts/seeds and natural nut butters.

2. Balance it with a natural carbohydrate, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. Carbohydrates coming from fruits and vegetables seem to have less of an effect on insulin resistance than starches, even if they are whole grains.

3. Round out the meal with a healthy fat such as avocado or olive oil.

Foods that contain omega-3 fats such as olive oil, nuts, fish, fish oil and ground flax seed have been shown to make insulin more efficient, which can lead to increased fat loss.

Exercise Turns the Key

Research shows that exercise can make your insulin work up to 50 percent better.

According to Glen Gaessar, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at the University of Virginia, 'Exercise is essential because muscle is the biggest tissue in the body, making up 30-40 percent of body mass. It's the major site of glucose (sugar) disposal. Inactive muscle is not as sensitive to insulin.'

Exercise literally opens up the flood gates of the cells and allows the glucose or sugar to get in. When people ask if there is a magic pill for insulin resistance, I tell them that exercise is that pill!

Count Your Sheep

What if your diet and exercise are in line, but you don't get enough rest? If you are lacking sleep, the hormone that increases your appetite -- called ghrelin -- increases. Higher levels of ghrelin in combination with insulin resistance are a perfect combination for weight gain and fatigue.

So, where does all this information leave us? Even if you have a genetic tendency for insulin resistance and diabetes you can still control the symptoms and have good health. You may have to work harder than those who are insulin sensitive and naturally thin, but results are achievable.

Your recipe for life is a combination of lifestyle factors that include diet, exercise and sleep. The goal is to have these elements work together in concert to achieve optimal health and vitality.

For more information on insulin resistance visit: