February is American Heart Health Month Heart health is something to consider at any age and during any month. The heart is responsible for continuously pumping blood filled with vital compounds and molecules like hormones, various cells, oxygen and other nutrients around the body. This circulation allows for all the organs and parts of the body to perform the actions need to function. Heart function is very complex; It has its own electrical system, specialized muscles, and valves which control the rate of blood flow. With such an important role in the body and the complexities of being such an intricate wonder of the world (IMO), finding ways to keep your heart healthy is key to overall wellness. Here are 28 ideas ( February, get it?) to help keep your heart healthy based in research.Quit Smoking- The most controllable factor one can do to reduce heart disease risks is to stop smoking, and avoid tobaccos completely. This will help to improve blood vessels and overall health. Find support to quit now!Know your numbers- blood lipid numbers, blood sugar numbers, blood pressure- learn the optimal range for your sex and age, and knowing these vital numbers from yearly physicals can help you identify earlier when and where you need to make changes in your life by working with your doctor.Inform your Doctor- Have a heart-to-heart with your doctor about your genetic risk associated heart disease. If a close relative (mother, father, sister or brother) had a heart attack or stroke or died of cardiovascular disease (CVD) especially at a young age then the health of your heart may be at greater risk as well. This is another reason to have yearly (or more) check ups. Get On Up- Long periods of sitting, be it a WFH Zoom marathon or a Netflix binge-a-thon can shorten your lifespan. Research shows being sedentary can have unhealthy effects on blood sugars and blood fats, both contribute to increased heart disease risk. A growing amount of research suggests that just standing -- even if you don't walk around -- can have health benefits. To get the right balance, sit 20 minutes out of every hour at work, standing for eight minutes and moving around for at least two minutes.Start Moving- Its no surprise that physical activity is needed for maintaining a healthy heart. Starting with 15-20 minutes of walking a day can have a huge impact. Making movement enjoyable is key for consistency. Find something that is right for your body. Even things like household chores count towards movement. Increasing movement by simply parking father away, or taking the stairs adds to increasing heart healthy physical activity. Eat Breakfast- The first meal of the day is an important one. Eating a nutritious breakfast every day can help you maintain a healthy diet and weight. To build a heart-healthy meal, reach for:whole grains, lean protein sources, and fruits and vegetables.Eat the Rainbow- Speaking of fruits and vegetables; the beautiful colors you see in fruits and vegetables are from antioxidants and phytonutrients. Each color is made from various chemical compounds that contribute to lower risk of heart issues and overall optimal body function. If you shoot for 1-2 servings of different color veg every day (the darker the better), by the end of the week you will be close to 30 phytonutrient packed colorful servings!Reduce Stress- Chronic Stress is not good for our health, but research shows the mental/ emotional stress influences blood pressure and may be associated with an increase of unhealthy heart habits (smoking, overindulging, and lack of physical activity) which can lead to increased risk of cardiovascular events. Find ways to address the stressors in your life and get support if needed.Dance It Out- Put on your favorite song, turn it up, and get down! Dancing makes for a great heart-healthy workout. Like other forms of aerobic exercise, it raises your heart rate and gets your lungs pumping. This can also help to improve your mood, de-stress and spend silly time with your loved one. A heart-health, family-fun activity to do with the kiddos!Simplify Life- Simplifying your life can go a long way to reduce stress, which can help to reduce cardiovascular risk. That could mean cleaning up or organizing your space, it could mean meal planning on the weekends, it could be up dating the family calendar, or managing your emails. Anything you can do to make your day-to-day easier can impact your wellbeing.Date Night- In a hectic, busy world its important to carve out time to spend with your loved one, friends and or yourself (heck yeah, solo date nights are a thing). Finding a work-life balance means making time to unwind, have fun and elevate your mood. Between the Sheets- A date night might lead to sex, which is another great way to improve heart health. It can elevate your heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce stress. Studies show that having regular sexual activity reduces the risk of cardiovascular events.Time in the Sheets- Sleep, the other important thing you do in bed, plays a role in heart health. Studies show short sleep duration or poor sleep quality, are associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and atherosclerosis. Chronic short sleep increases the chance of cardiovascular events. Review Food Labels- To make heart healthy food choices, review food labels; look for low amounts saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, and salt. Look for food with higher amounts of dietary fibers, mono/polyunsaturated fats, and vitamins (C, E,A,D)/minerals (Iron, Calcium). Eat like you're visiting the Mediterranean- This means loading up on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, plant based proteins (beans, legumes, nuts), lots of fiber and unsaturated fats from olives, avocados and seeds. The Mediterranean diet plan also incudes moderate amounts of alcohol, specifically red wine, that can be protective of the heart and raise HDL to healthy levels.Stretch it Out- Stretching feels great! In the form a yoga it has been shown to improve cardiovascular disease risk, by reducing stress, adding movement and blood flow, reduce blood pressure.Brew it Up- The polyphenols and antioxidants in green tea and coffee has benefits for heart health. A recent study shows that drinking green tea and coffee lowers risk of death in people that had a cardiovascular event.Fill up on Fiber- Dietary fiber comes in so many foods- fruits, vegetables and whole-grains, nuts/seeds. Both soluble and insoluble fiber provides the body with all kinds of nutrients that reduces heart disease risk, lowers LDL and total cholesterol, raises HDL, improves elimination and supports the liver, balances hormones and aids to improve overall metabolic factors that influence CVD risk.Go Fishing- Eating a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids can also help ward off heart disease. Many fish, such as salmon, tuna, sardines, and herring, are rich sources of omega-3 fatty acids. The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests to eat fish at least twice a week. There are non-fish sources of omega 3s found in chia, hemp, flax seeds and algae.Find a new Hobby- Something to help calm down and reduce stress and most importantly have fun; try knitting, wood-working, painting or sculpting, writing books or songs, cooking or puzzles.Take Care of your Teeth- Make sure to visit your dentist and keep up with oral hygiene, with brushing and flossing! Research has linked gum disease and heart disease. Harmful bacteria from the mouth can cause systemic inflammation leading to damaged and elevated heart disease risk. LOL- Laugh out loud in your daily life. Whether you like watching funny movies or cracking jokes with your friends, laughter may be good for your heart. Research suggests laughing can lower stress hormones, decrease inflammation in your arteries, and raise your levels of high-density lipoprotein (HLD), also known as “good cholesterol.” Laughing Yoga might be something to try!Add Soy- Products like tofu and tempeh or foods like edamame are full of soy isoflavones which are associated with lowing LDL cholesterol, controlling blood sugar and and may reduce inflammation.Stay Connected- Socializing can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, and social support can help you recover from heart health issues. Finding ways to connect with family, friends or even just meeting people will like interests is important to feeling connected and improve your health. Get Outside- Being outside is definitely an underrated step to supporting out bodies and especially our heart. Fresh air, trees providing oxygen and sunshine on our skin can provide Vitamin D, where insufficient Vitamin D levels are linked with CVD and type 2 diabetes.Have Some Dark Chocolate- Again with those delicious and nutritious flavonoids and antioxidants to help reduce inflammation and provide heart healthy. Chocolate with higher content of cacao 60% or more have more of the good stuff!Get Spiritual- In whatever form that fits for you...prayer, meditation, gratitude, etc. Spirituality (either demonstrative or simple and private) has been shown to relieve stress and improve mental and physical health. Research links spiritual practice with lowering blood pressure, improving sleep, and even strengthen your immune system!Own a Pet- Our pets offer more than good company and unconditional love. They also provide numerous health benefits. Studies suggest that owning a pet may lower your chances of dying from heart disease.There are so many simple and fun ways to improve your heart health and reduce risk of cardiovascular disease. Celebrate Heart Health this month - and every month - by taking some time for yourself.
It's Apple Season!Apples are such a delicious and versatile fruit full of antioxidants, a good source of Vitamin C and potassium, and soluble fiber. They are easy to eat on the go, can be paired with other foods as part of a healthy snack or meal. There are so many varieties of apples, each with their own unique flavor and texture, it would be easy for everyone to have a favorite! They also seem to grow most climates, so many people can try local varieties. Apple picking is a fall fun family tradition.A medium apple -6.4 ounces or 182 grams - offers the following nutrients : Calories: 95Carbs: 25 gramsFiber: 4 gramsVitamin C: 14% of the RDIPotassium: 6% of the RDIVitamin K: 5% of the RDI2–4% of the Recommended Daily Intake: manganese, copper, and the vitamins A, E, B1, B2, and B6.
Apples are also a rich source of flavonoids which benefit the whole body studies show they effect the heart, brain, lungs, gut and may be protective against cancers. The antioxidants, polyphenols and fiber that make apples so nourishing for the gut microbiome are found mainly in their skin, so make sure to eat the whole organic apple;) The Environmental Working Group has consistently found that apples are commonly sprayed with pesticides, more so than other fresh fruit and vegetables.Quercetin, a nutrient that also occurs in many plant foods. Studies show quercetin may have anti-inflammatory, antihistamine, antiviral, anticancer, and antidepressant effects. Catechin, a natural antioxidant, catechin is also present in large amounts in green tea and research has shown to improve brain and muscle function.Chlorogenic acid, also found in coffee, chlorogenic acid has been found to lower blood sugar and prevent diabetes.Pectin, a fiber found in apple skins, has been shown to promote the presence of anti-inflammatory beneficial bacterial species in the Firmicutes family, which are known for their health-supporting functions.Procyanidins, a class of antioxidant flavonoids, from apples can prevent obesity in mice by improving the ratio of good to bad bacteria in the microbiome.Eating apples affect your gut microbiome by proving prebiotic fiber, polyphenols and antioxidants to nourish the beneficial bacteria. A recent article look at at the microbiome of organic verse conventional grown apples and found that consuming the whole organic apple includes an approximate uptake of "100 million bacterial", which sounds gross, but in reality that's what helps our own microbiome to become healthy and diverse. Some simple and yummy ways to eat an Apple a day:Apple and yogurt, topped with flax, pumpkin and chia seedsRoasted apples topped with granola and honeyChopped apples with roasted beets and goat cheese and walnuts on a bed of mixed greensApples dipped in chocolate hummusApple and Butternut squash soup
Self-Care for your Health
Self-care isn't about being selfish. Self-care is needed for optimal health and wellness, by all. With all that is going on in the world, and in your life, taking moments for yourself each day, or a full day, or whatever time you have is key to improving your health. Providing yourself with love, focus and most importantly (and maybe the hardest) time, can have significant personal, social and even economic benefits.
However, for some the idea of self-care conjures up the image of an expensive "spa day" with head-to-toe pampering or "Instagram worthy" meals, fancy detox programs, or other products pushed by the "self-care/wellness" industry. While these examples certainly qualify, they might be out of reach for a multitude of reasons. I'm talking about the kind of self-care that is really focusing on your health, and putting you as a priority.
Self-care can be as simple as a 5 minute a day routine of breathing, journaling, meditation, or prayer. It can be keeping your phone or tablet out of reach during meal time or while in bed. It can be taking a walk outside or an on-demand yoga class, while the laundry is going. Making that doctor's appoint that you have been putting off or finding a new medical professional that will take the time to listen to you. Self-care can be being gentle with yourself for needing more support or help. It can also be as simple as doing what you enjoy and allowing yourself to enjoy it- a comfort meal, watching your favorite show, reading that book you love again. Sometimes its saying "no" instead of yes to some things you might not want to do. Conversely, it can be saying "yes" to some new things that get you out of your box.
Take the self-care check-up and find where you can practice simple, daily self-care:Nutrients- Increase variety in meals, less guilt around comfort foods, trying something new and exciting, focus on eating vs. working through lunch, Movement- Increase daily movement, find an activity that brings you joy, walk or hike a new area, engage in a social outing with some new movement (ax throwing, golf, pick up games etc.)Sleep- Rest and sleep are vital to health and happiness. Find ways to improve sleep hygiene, take a nap, reset your bedtime/wake timeLaugh is Medicine- Make it a point to watch a comedy, read comics, find a funny video, or call or visit that one person that makes you laugh more than anyone elseSocial Expansion- Find a new hobby, join a club or meet-up, cooking classes, partner yogaSoul Journey- Reconnecting with your spiritual side, meditation, prayer, going to a place of worship (old or new)Practice Mindfulness- Being more present in the moment, reduce the thoughts of the past and the "what-ifs" of the future.
The most important thing is finding something that will help you de-stress and come back to your everyday life and responsibilities a little more refreshed, energized, or with a different mindset. Self-care is listening to what your body, mind and soul need in the moment, and more broadly as well. Stress reduction, even momentarily, can help build resilience and improve all bodily functions. Given the current state of the world, we could all use as much love and support as possible, especially from ourselves. The kindness we give to ourselves, the more kindness there is in the world.
September is PCOS Awareness Month
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of infertility in women. The condition is determined by genetics, reproductive hormonal imbalances and environmental factors. 1 in 10 women have PCOS, making it one of the more common women’s health conditions.
Common Symptoms used in diagnosing PCOS:
· Irregular periods - a big contributor to infertility (missed periods, not ovulating, very heavy bleeding, excessive pain)
· Polycystic ovaries (enlarged ovaries or many follicles)
· Excessive androgen hormone levels (excessive facial/body hair, acne, baldness)
Other symptoms often seen in people with PCOS are:
· Difficulty managing weight (disordered eating may be involved) *
· Fatigue (low energy, poor sleep)
· Mood Changes (anxiety, depression)
· Pain (pelvic, ovarian, menstruation, headaches)
· Skin changes (darkening patches, acne)
· Unwanted or excessive hair growth (facial/body)
· Hair (baldness, thinning)
There are four types of PCOS. People can have one or multiple factors that contribute to their main type of PCOS.
· Insulin Resistance (IR) PCOS* (majority of cases)
· Adrenal PCOS (stress triggered)
· Inflammatory PCOS (chronic inflammation)
· Post-Birth Control pill PCOS
*The vicious cycle of IR is a cause for PCOS and the weight gain around the middle section of the body, inability to lose weight, and carbohydrate cravings. Higher body weight is a symptom- not a cause for PCOS. IR contributes to abnormal levels of hunger hormones, which lead to inability to listen to the body innate hunger cues and satiety cues. Weight loss is often given as a “treatment” for PCOS- however, research shows that maintaining your body’s natural set point weight, (which differs for each person) is healthier than weight cycling.
The first line of defense against all forms are PCOS are through dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Working with a Functional Nutritionist is a great way to assess and address the contributors to your PCOS. Everyone with PCOS will have individual aspects that can be addressed to improve symptoms. Functional medicine looks to support the individual needs and underlying causes of dysfunction.
A Functional Nutritionist can guide you in adjusting diet and lifestyle based on the type(s) of PCOS one has and support the biological systems like the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal axis for optimal health and wellness for that individual.
Ways to improve life with PCOS:
· Dietary changes based on your food intake influences hormonal balance, insulin resistance, gut, thyroid, and immune health. Work to increase healthful food choices, understand how specific foods affect your body and improve your relationship with food in general.
· Supplemental / Herbal therapies as a natural approach to support optimal functions and balance in the H-P-A axis, to improve your symptoms and your health based on your health history and present symptoms.
· Lifestyle adjustments to reduce and cope with stress, such as work to heal from past traumas, which are stored in the body.
· Find joyful movement that makes you feel good. Anything (walking, swimming, kickboxing, yoga, resistance training, gardening, dancing, etc.) that you want to do, as often as you can, based on what feels good for your body.
· Improve sleep, so your body can operate at is best during the day.
Conventional medications are available for people whose symptoms resist diet and lifestyle changes. There are also many advanced reproductive technologies that make it very possible for people with PCOS get pregnant.
PCOS is a chronic condition with multiple contributing factors, including genetics and environment. It can be helpful to find PCOS social supports, through social media, podcasts, and books to work through the many emotions surrounding PCOS diagnosis, symptoms, and treatments. Ultimately, making an individualized plan to adjust and support your body to manage PCOS symptoms and underlying causes can allow you to live your best life. Research suggests that there might be an evolutionary advantage to PCOS, that we as a species are still perfecting.
Azziz, R., Dumesic, D. A., & Goodarzi, M. O. (2011). Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: An Ancient Disorder? Fertility and Sterility, 95(5), 1544–1548. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fertnstert.2010.09.032
Bernadett, M., & Szemán-N, A. (2016). Prevalence of eating disorders among women with polycystic ovary syndrome. Psychiatria Hungarica: A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag Tudomanyos Folyoirata, 31(2), 136–145.
Dapas, M., Sisk, R., Legro, R. S., Urbanek, M., Dunaif, A., & Hayes, M. G. (2018). Family-based quantitative trait meta-analysis implicates rare noncoding variants in DENND1A in pathogenesis of polycystic ovary syndrome (p. 460972). https://doi.org/10.1101/460972
Wang, Fan, Zheng-Hong Zhang, Kai-Zhuan Xiao, and Zheng-Chao Wang. “Roles of Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis and Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Ovary Axis in the Abnormal Endocrine Functions in Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.” Zhongguo Yi Xue Ke Xue Yuan Xue Bao. Acta Academiae Medicinae Sinicae 39, no. 5 (October 30, 2017): 699–704. https://doi.org/10.3881/j.issn.1000-503X.2017.05.017.