Saturday, April 18, 2020

Food to nourish and protect you


 Is anybody else eating way more than usual or is it just me? Since food is frequently on my brain and helping my patients improve their chances of staying healthy during this pandemic means helping them optimize their immune function, I thought it would be good to talk about how food can help (or hurt).

I posted early on (before the WHO actually declared this a pandemic) some strategies to help everyone stay safe but wanted to expand that to specifically talk about immune function. I saw this graph (below) online this week. If you can't read it very well, it shows a green curve with a baseline mark at the low end of the scale and a red curve with a baseline mark higher on the scale. On the vertical axis is the measure of inflammation.


You can see at the top of the graph a dotted line marked ARDS threshold. For the non-medical folk, ARDS is the main reason people die from Covid-19. It stands for acute respiratory distress syndrome. The lungs fill up with byproducts of inflammation and debris and you lose the ability to breathe. Not good.

So what does this have to do with food? Well, certain foods are very inflammatory. We know that sugar is the main inflammatory food and poor blood sugar regulation raises your baseline inflammation level.

So to significantly lower your risk of dying from Covid-19, the first step is to lower your sugar intake (hard, I know!). The next step would be to lower your exposure to toxins in food which can cause inflammation and stress on your system. Avoiding GMO foods would be one way to lower inflammation and stress in your body. Meat fed with GMO corn (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) has more pesticides in it - especially the fattier meats like beef and pork.

These are inflammatory, so look for pastured animals, free range and organic meat sources and wild caught fish. Farmed fish are usually stressed because of the enclosures and crowding and may be laced with colorants and antibiotics.

When your body is working hard to combat baseline inflammation you are also using up raw materials that could be used to fight off the virus. Some of these raw materials are vitamins and minerals necessary for the immune system to be at its best.

The short list of nutrients needed to optimize your immune function includes vitamins A, D, C, E, B6, B12, folate(B9) and minerals Zinc, Iron, Copper, Magnesium and Selenium. Specifically for this coronavirus, Potassium is very important if you get infected because low potassium levels have been linked to more severe illness and mortality.

If you are thinking about going out to buy these nutrients I have bad news, most of them are on backorder.

So let's talk about how to get these nutrients in the food you eat. I'll start with the avocado toast seen above.

Avocados are an excellent source of vitamins C, E, K and B6. They also have folate, magnesium and potassium. You also get beta-carotene (your body can make vitamin A from that) and omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory molecules. There is even a little zinc, copper and fiber. They also provide a good amount of pantothenic acid (B5) - and since one of the consequences of having too little B5 is respiratory infections this would be a good nutrient to have around!

So the avocado by itself is a super food to have on a regular basis. It has no cholesterol, salt or sugar. The fats are healthy, anti-inflammatory fats. They are also pretty tasty smashed up on a piece of whole grain toast. If you can find sprouted whole grain sourdough bread you will likely get selenium, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and vitamin B6.

You may have noticed there are 'sprinkles' on my avocado toast. These include dried garlic granules, crushed red pepper flakes, white sesame seeds and black currant seeds. These are not just for decoration! Besides making this avocado toast very tasty, they provide additional nutrients including vitamins A, C, E, and B6, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and manganese. Other health benefits included are decreased appetite from the capsaicin in the red pepper flakes and super antioxidant effects from the anthocyanins (pigment chemicals) in the black currant seeds.

What you can't see in the photo is the grass fed organic butter that I put on the bread when I toasted it in the toaster oven. I rarely do dairy but the grass fed butter does provide vitamin A, vitamin K2 (bone and heart health) and omega 3 fatty acids (because it is grass fed - this doesn't apply to regular corn fed cow butter!).

So this one plate gave me almost all of the nutrients I needed to help my immune system work at its best. I've been working on other 'plates' to do the same thing.

Yesterday I made pan-fried pastured pork chops with sauteed dandelion greens. I used grain free crackers made from cassava flour and almond flour rosemary crackers and pounded them into tiny pieces and added some tiger nut flour for the pork chop coating (seasoned it with cajun spices, of course).

For the dandelion greens, I dunked them into boiling water then into a colander to drain. Then I sauteed purple onions and garlic in ghee and when the onions began to turn translucent I added the dandelion greens. I had roasted some golden beets earlier and diced one up and sprinkled it on top of my serving of greens.

There is no photographic evidence because I was really hungry. Slurp.

If you would like to get a tool kit that includes handouts of the nutrients needed for immune support and the foods that have these nutrients along with a handout for mindful eating and a food plan to protect your heart and lower your blood sugar (therefore inflammation) then just go here and scroll to the bottom to the downloadable handouts section.

There is also a handout of immune supportive supplements. We don't get adequate levels of some of the suggested nutrients on a daily basis so some supportive supplements plus a nutrient dense diet is the best plan to ward off infection or beat it if you get exposed. You can look for these supplements here.

If you have any 'antiviral recipes' you like, please share in the comments.

Namaste and stay safe.






Saturday, April 4, 2020

From 'Wow, this year is flying by' to 'When will it be over?'

I know, I know! Everyone and everything is about Covid-19 right now but a significant 'side effect' of all this disruption is exacerbation of anxiety and/or depression and cognitive impairment.

I thought it might be nice, as a diversion, to discuss strategies for maintaining your sanity, mood and ability to think straight whilst adapting to uncertainty and seclusion.

This graphic is a depiction of the neural pathways related to anxiety and proposed neurotransmitter imbalances.

While this blog post is not intended to diagnose or treat or substitute for work with a practitioner, I hope that you can add some tools to your toolbox to improve your mood and lessen your worries and fears.

So, in general, anxiety is associated with too many excitatory neurotransmitters, called catecholamines. So there are lifestyle and nutrition strategies to balance catecholamines. There are also supplements with herbs and vitamins designed to balance catecholamines.

Since I am a Functional Medicine doctor, I use lifestyle and nutrition to address the 'root cause' of chronic disorders like anxiety. When I see patients with anxiety, I like to run tests to see if there is an underlying endocrine or toxicity or pathogen associated with the anxiety. I might also do stool testing, organic acid testing and neurotransmitter testing. If genetic testing for psychiatric medications hasn't already been done, I might do that as well.

In general, without these diagnostic tests, most patients would benefit from an anti-inflammatory, low toxicity, Mediterranean-type eating strategy. Since red meats can potentially increase your excitatory neurotransmitter tone, I generally have patients avoid these until we've finished our diagnostic testing.

If you'd like a more detailed handout with specific dietary recommendations, message me via my website millerfunctionalmedicine.com and I can send you one. (For legal purposes I have to tell you this doesn't establish you as a patient or create a doctor-patient relationship.)

For lifestyle strategies I recommend regular movement. I like to dance so I started an 80s dance playlist the other day and danced for an hour. It all started with an earworm of Axel F from Beverly Hills Cop! Go ahead, listen to it and see if you don't get up and dance (or maybe that's just me - like my momma, may she be dancing in heaven right now - I love to dance).

Find some movement that speaks to you. I also do daily yoga (my studio moved to online classes a few weeks ago) and I try to get out and walk our dog regularly. I also enjoy energy yoga and was missing my sweet teacher when I got her email about an online video class. Check her out - many of the moves - the tapping and meditative breathing - are all beneficial for releasing pent up emotions.

Get at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Don't stay up binge-watching The Morning Show. (I was definitely not doing that last night, ahem).

Practice mindfulness. There are many apps to help you out here. I like Stop, Breathe & Think and Insight Timer but have patients who have also mentioned Head Space and Calm.

If you like books, I love Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are and Luminous Mind - Meditation and Mind Fitness by Joel and Michelle Levey.

Do an activity with your friends or family that you enjoy. (If you enjoy your family. If not, do something you like without your family!) My son and I did a project this week. Behold.

We painted the badly worn oak banisters a nice black.

We already had brushes, sandpaper and painter's tape. I called Sherwin Williams and they were taking orders 'to go' so I stood outside the store and confirmed the paint chip and waited a few minutes for them to mix up a primer and paint. There were two other customers waiting and we all stayed at least 6 feet apart!

Painting or an adult coloring book are ways to focus the mind on a single activity and disengage from unruly emotions and stress. Doing a puzzle or reading a good book (see my friend Moe's excellent book here) are also options.

Finally, for supplements there are multiple options. If you feel stress levels rising, theanine is one supplement that helps lower cortisol. It occurs naturally in green tea, which may also help improve intracellular zinc which helps your body fight viruses. Win-win!

I like this treat (-->>) which also happens to have 200mg theanine in it. It also has dark chocolate, another stress buster, and coconut, which has beneficial fatty acids for the brain. You can get these on my Fullscript page.

Other supplements that may also help include magnesium (found in kale, spinach, Swiss chard, pumpkin seeds, almonds, cashews, black beans and dark chocolate). Try to get 300-400mg daily. I like Natural Calm by Natural Vitality. You can find it on Fullscript but also at Sprouts and Whole Foods.

Other supplement options for unrelenting anxiety include Catecholacalm by Designs for Health (on Fullscript) and CBD drops.

Right now you can't find CBD on Fullscript but I hope to have some good organic options available on my website soon. Stay tuned! Meanwhile, try Joy Organics - they are having a 15% off new customer special. Veritas Farms is another excellent option, they list the COA (Certificate of Analysis which checks for quality and contamination) for each batch. Their website says they are offering a 35% off special right now to new customers. Stock up!

In general, get the lowest dose full spectrum drops and start at either 1/4 dose or 1/2 dose (usually a 1/4 dropper or 1/2 dropper) under the tongue for 30 seconds.

Drops have a faster onset than capsules for faster relief but only last 2-4 hours so they are convenient if you need situational relief (hosting a big online meeting? Wondering how to safely get your groceries?)

The Catecholacalm supplement has vitamins, minerals, amino acids (including L-theanine) and adaptogens like Ashwaganda and Valerian (from whence Valium was derived) to help balance your neurotransmitters and help create calm and improve adrenal health. The adrenals can become dysfunctional with catecholamine imbalance so this can also help the adrenals get back in balance.

If you plan on getting some supplements from my Fullscript, wait until Friday - I'm having an Easter weekend Spring Sale Event. Everything 10% off.

Finally, finally! I like to relax after dinner with a warm cup of tea like Pukka tea's Relax or night time tea. If I need extra relaxation, I do a foot bath with either Epsom salts in hot water or my Ion Cleanse to detox from the day's toxin exposures (car fumes, gas fumes, paint fumes, off gassing from appliances - the list goes on!).

So take care of yourselves out there in Quarantineland. Don't watch too much news. Stay safe. Stay home. Save lives.

Namaste.