Forget Weight loss – Focus on Your Health First!

Each month, there are an estimated 4 million google searches about weight loss. 4 million!

 

On the one hand, that is an astounding number. On the other hand, considering more than one-third of U.S. Adults are obese with two-thirds overweight, along with alarming rates of growing obesity within our youth, suddenly 4 million searches seem just about right.

 

Of even greater concern, this growing obesity epidemic has coincided with increasing occurrences of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

 

It appears as if Google has yet to solve our obesity crisis. Why not?

 

One study suggests that Less than 3% of Americans are living a generally healthy lifestyle. Less than 3%! That means less then 3% of Americans are:

  • Performing moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a week
  • Following a healthy diet as defined by the healthy eating index
  • Maintaining a body fat percentage of under 20 percent for men or 30 percent for women
  • Not smoking

 

It’s not lack of information that is most likely the issue. It’s the lack of attention to our behaviors and habits and our mindset regarding a healthy lifestyle.

 

We live in an impatient world that is addicted to convenience. We expect everything, from our food to our information, to be packed in a neat and convenient package for immediate consumption.

 

It is this attitude that has led many who are suffering from obesity to resort to weight loss drugs or dramatic interventions popularized by T.V. shows such as The Biggest Loser.

 

Unfortunately, neither of these options are making our society healthier.

 

Why?

 

Because weight loss by itself does not equate to better health. And because our health can’t be solved with convenience.

 

Weight loss drugs: Wrong Goal- Wrong Approach

 

Over the course of the last few years, weight loss drugs such as Qnexa, Contrave, & Lorcaserin have hit the market and have seemingly become the solution for many people’s weight loss problem.

 

But, if you dig deeper, these drugs are anything but a solution. Significant side effects, not to mention exorbitant costs, limit their efficacy.

 

Contrave (ranging from $55 to $200 depending on the plan) demonstrated 9% weight loss after 56-weeks with the most common side effect being nausea (did it work by making people feel sick so they ate less? One has to wonder).

 

Lorcaserin, also known as Belviq (starting at $213), also showed modest results. In its main study, only half of the subjects taking the drug lost more than 5% of their body weight. Once the drug was stopped, most regained the weight. The main side effect again was nausea, along with headache and dizziness. Are you seeing a pattern?

 

Lastly, a panel of FDA advisors recently voted against the approval of Qnexa. It showed a modest 5% weight loss and showed increased depression, trouble concentrating and suicidal thoughts. Hardly a path to health.

 

One of the biggest problems is that these drugs aren’t changing anyone’s behavior toward food. They aren’t changing habits or mindsets. Instead, they’re applying a band aid to the problem, creating a reliance on the drug, and ultimately helping the drug company shareholders more than your health.

 

What else can we do if drugs aren’t the answer? Unfortunately, some have taken it even further to create a surgical form of bulimia. The AspireAssist is a pump that is surgically implanted into the stomach so that you can drain out what you just ate. The studies show that it can help you lose weight. No question about it. But what about your nutrition, vitamins, energy, and quality of life? Apparently, those are less important for some.

 

These weight loss drugs and surgeries are a direct contradiction to the development of healthy habits. Habits that create and maintain our health. It may not be easy to adopt these habits, but easy rarely leads to the best results.

 

Where can America learn the healthy habits that will produce results?

 

The biggest loser? It’s society that loses

 

The T.V. show The Biggest Loser has caught the attention and hearts of the American public for years. Watching men and women shed pounds along with witnessing the emotional hurdles they overcome is a powerful representation of overcoming health struggles.

 

But there’s a lot of the story that isn’t displayed on the television screen.

 

Contestants are losing weight and following strategies that aren’t kind to their metabolism and aren’t likely to succeed in the future. Astudy done on contestants from season 8 of the biggest loser found the majority regained most or all of the weight, and they showed a significant slowing of their resting metabolism. A slower metabolism makes it that much harder to keep the weight off. In essence, their own bodies were fighting against their efforts to lose weight.

 

Here’s a more sustainable alternative

 

If weight loss drugs and rapid weight loss programs aren’t the answer, then what is?

 

  1. Focus on your entire lifestyle, not just one part

 

We frequently hear about nutrition and exercise, but paying attention to factors such as sleep and stress levels will pay huge dividends with your health and weight loss as well.

 

When your body does not respond well to stress, the increased cortisol and adrenaline hormones sabotage your weight loss efforts, and negatively impact your overall health.

 

A regular mindfulness or meditation practice is the first step in correcting your body’s reaction to stress. Over time, your stress hormone response will diminish and your body will more efficiently lose weight and restore health.

 

The same applies to sleep. A poor night’s sleep is one of the best ways to sabotage our health or weight loss goals. It creates an imbalance in our leptin (I’m full hormone) and our Ghrelin (I’m hungry hormone), thus tricking our body into feeling hungry. That usually results in snacking on nutrient-poor, processed, high-carb foods. In short, a recipe for disaster.

 

  1. Commit to consistent activity

 

This doesn’t mean exhaustive boot camps or rigorous workouts for hours each day. Don’t get me wrong, those are great too. But they are not the only goal. Instead, focus on being active in your daily life.

 

In his book, Blue Zones, Dan Buettner identified the most common habits in societies where people live the longest. Guess what? They didn’t do triathlons or run marathons. Instead, they made regular physical activity a consistent part of their lifestyle.

 

If you can do that and still get your boot camp workouts done, fantastic! If not, don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Develop the habits that will keep you moving. Start gardening, walk to do your errands, take the stairs. You have heard these before, now you just need to start doing them.

 

  1. Be okay with losing weight slowly

 

Slow and steady truly does win the race. Rapid, extreme weight loss disrupts our hormones and can create long-lasting metabolic changes that counteract our intentions in the future.

 

Focusing on healthy habits instead of weight loss ensures that your body does not react in a counterproductive way. Slow and steady is less likely to trigger deleterious hormonal and metabolic shifts within your body. And most importantly, slow and steady is more sustainable for the long term.

 

  1. Reframe your goal

 

If you want to lose 20, 50 or 100 pounds, this can be an overwhelming task.

 

To lessen the psychological toll of such a task, it’s better to break it up into mini goals and get small wins along the way.

 

Small victories can still have health benefits.  For example, 5% weight loss in obese individuals results in improved insulin sensitivity, an important factor for diabetes, heart disease, and dementia.

 

The small wins can add up to big wins, and the ultimate goal becomes less onerous and stressful.

 

Conclusion

 

If weight loss is your goal, stop and ask yourself why. Especially if you have considered weight loss drugs or intensive rapid weight loss programs. Take a moment to think about the difference between weight loss and health.

 

Being skinny but also stressed out and with a disturbed metabolism doesn’t sound like much of a victory.

 

Commit to healthy lifestyle habits, embrace them as part of who you are, and watch the weight steadily fall away. Slow and steady wins the race to your health.

Understanding Health Fads: Juice Cleanses

It’s hard to say when the juice cleanse craze began, but it’s definitely still here and probably not going anywhere soon. Whether it was the early 90s, or in the 2000’s when the internet started pouring out endless health tips, juice cleanses were deemed as the best way to “detox” and “lose weight fast”. Celebrities churn out endorsements for different juicing brands and you can even purchase pre-made juice cleanses sent right to your door step. The question is, are juice cleanses really a benefit to our health?

Let’s break down the two health claims that come from juicing and why they might not be so accurate…

Juice cleanses claim to act as a detox, a method to rid your body of toxins and reset itself to a healthier state. But what your body is actually detoxing from during a juice cleanse might be many of the essential nutrients we need for our body to properly function.

By only consuming fruit and vegetable juice we’re actually stripping out vital vitamins and minerals we need such as Vitamin D, E and B-12 that help power our metabolic functions, such as converting our food into glucose and energy.

And even though fruit and vegetable juices do contain many healthy vitamins such as Vitamin C, A & B, these vitamins need to work in conjunction with other foods to be best absorbed. Removing good fats from your diet prevents your body from processing those potentially healthy vitamins. In the end, you’re wasting your body's chance to absorb these great vitamins by restricting yourself to just vegetables and fruits and eliminating other valuable elements in your diet such as nuts, seeds and, yes even coconut oil (yes coconut oil can be part of a healthy eating pattern!)

Also, it’s important to note our body has its own detoxifying functions to keep you healthy and rid your system of anything it doesn't need. This is what your kidneys, liver and GI tract function as, organs that help rid our bodies of harmful substances. Keep those organs happy and healthy with a well-balanced eating pattern full of real foods and you should be fine functioning with just your own internal detox system!

The second biggest promise a juice cleanse offers is the opportunity to lose weight – fast. In a sense, this claim might actually be true because you are in fact reducing your daily calorie intake, sometimes to as low as just 1000 calories a day. However, if you're looking for a long-term weight loss solution, a juice cleanse will do anything but that for you.

The quick weight loss from a juice cleanse comes predominately from the loss of water weight because as your body is starved for calories it will turn to its stores of glycogen for energy and as your glycogen is depleted so is the water attached to it. So rather than any true fat loss being accomplished, your body is only losing the grams of water in the glycogen that it is burning to keep you functioning on the few calories you’re ingesting. Once you end the juice cleanse and return to your regular diet, your glycogen stores will quickly be replenished, along with the water attached to them, returning you to your initial weight.

If you really want to lose weight fast, you are better off with a fasting mimicking diet full of healthy fats and low carbohydrates. This helps you metabolize your own fat stores rather than burning through your stored glycogen. But even then, short term weight loss is not synonymous with health! In fact, it is usually quite the opposite.

In the end, a juice cleanse won’t deliver on either of its promises, and it will also lead to unpleasant side effects such as headaches, nausea and mood swings on top of faltering energy levels (usually from the lack of fiber and protein in your diet). As you can imagine, these side effects will only slow you down on your path to better health.

It might be appealing to consider a diet that promises to change your life in just 3-5 days, but with a juice cleanse not only is the change short lived, it’s not of considerable benefit to your overall health. To really make a lasting impact on your health, there are no short cuts. So don’t believe it when someone tries to sell you one.

Instead, make a long-term commitment to your health. Implement daily lifestyles that will help you feel better and be better. That involves smarter decisions around nutrition, exercise, mindfulness and more. To learn more and get practical tips on how to accomplish this, consider taking the first step to achieving your best health ever with the Boundless Health Program.

 

8 Ways to Instantly Improve Your Mood

Are you struggling to snap out of a funk? Whether you’re a little grumpy or you’re in an all around bad mood, you don’t have to spend the rest of your day wallowing. Need a few ideas for turning that frown upside down? Here are 8 ways you can instantly improve your mood.

1. Tidy Up Your Spaces

When your spaces are too cluttered, it can have an effect on your mental state. Juggling hectic schedules and constant deadlines means something else has to give, like organization. It’s easier to let things pile up around you when keeping a clutter free zone isn’t your priority. So start with just one thing you would like to tidy up, such as your office cubicle, the laundry room, or the trunk of your car. Set the kitchen timer for 30 minutes and focus on cleaning whatever you can for that amount of time. If you’ve got more time, rummage through your closets and then donate any clothes your family doesn’t wear. Or go through the pantry and donate any food that is no longer part of your healthy lifestyle!

2. Take a Nap

Maybe you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Or maybe you didn’t get enough deep, restful sleep (which is the more likely culprit of your bad mood). Feeling tired can make it that much harder to meet deadlines, be creative, or enjoy time with your family. Kick back for a 20-minute power nap to feel more refreshed and able to take on the rest of your day. Just keep in mind that naps are not a substitute for getting good quality sleep every night.

3. Write It Out

Is your mind’s playlist loaded with worries and stuck on repeat? A quick way to fix that broken record is to get all of those thoughts out of your head. Grab a notepad and organize a master to-do list, then break it down into smaller, more manageable lists. Kick start a project by doing 15 – 20 minutes of research, which can also get the creative ideas flowing. Or try journaling to put any worries or anxieties onto paper. Sometimes seeing them in writing can take a weight off your shoulders and leave you with more energy to take on the rest of the day.

4. Play a Word Game

If you love Scrabble, give Words with Friends a try. It’s a free virtual word game you can download to your smartphone and play to test your skills. Plus, feeling that Triple Word Score victory will definitely have you grinning ear to ear! You can work also in a little brain fitness. Just like your body, your mind needs a regular workout, too. Playing strategy games is an effective way to challenge your brain and keep it smart as you age.

5. Spend Time with Others

Are you communicating more and more by text, instant message, and email? Having real conversations can be a real mood booster. Meet a friend for coffee, or if you just can’t get away from your desk, call each other on Skype and switch on your web cameras for a virtual coffee chat. Go on a hike with your family and talk about what’s happening in each other’s lives. Or walk to a co-workers desk next time you have a question that can be answered with a quick chat.

6. Pump Up The Jams

Turn up the tunes you loved as a teenager (hello, Duran Duran!) and dance like it’s 1985. Not only is it fun, but also moving freely to high-energy music can liberate you from your bad mood. That’s because like running, dancing releases feel-good endorphins that can curb stress and anxiety. Don’t want to dance alone? Join a social fitness class like Zumba or Jazzercise and follow along to the beat.

7. Doing Something Nice for Someone Else

Performing a random act of kindness can go a long way for making your day—and someone else’s. Next time you’re in line at the coffee shop, you could show a “pay it forward” act of kindness by buying the drink of the person behind you. Who doesn’t love a surprise freebie? You could also leave sticky notes on your kids’ bathroom mirror and start their day with an inspirational message. Or you could offer a simple gesture, like giving someone a smile as you pass by. Chances are, they’ll smile back! It’s win-win.

8. Move Your Body

Being physically active is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. But you don’t have to squeeze in a midday workout to reap the mood-boosting benefits of exercise. Just going for a 10-minute stroll by yourself or with a walking partner can get you on the path to feeling happier—and help you work toward your daily goal of 10,000 steps. Is your day packed with meetings? See if there are any you don’t need to be physically present for; you may be able to call into the meeting during your walk and get some stimulating fresh air and vitamin D to boot.

Next time you’re in need of an instant mood boost, give one of these simple techniques a try. You might be surprised just how well it works!

 

 

Fly Fishing as a Guide to Our Health

I just had one of my best vacations in recent memory. Biking, hiking, and fly fishing my way through Bend, Oregon. The mountains, the rivers, the trails. It doesn’t get much better.

 

But I realized I can’t “turn off” completely and get away from my desire to help people improve their health and their lives. Nor do I want to.

 

My fishing guide and I had a 45-minute drive to the Crooked River northeast of Bend near Prineville, Oregon.  He is a great guy (and a phenomenal guide), and we immediately struck up a lively conversation. He is full of stories and tall tales of life as a fly fishing guide.

 

His tune changed, however, when I told him what I do. His response? “You can probably tell, I am not the healthiest guy around. I drink a little too much beer. Well, OK. A lot too much beer. I don't eat right. I'm active on the job but I’m not into exercise. I know I should be healthier. Do you have any advice to help me?” 

 

Where do I begin? I was at a loss at first where to start. I wanted to hear more stories about rainbow trout, nymphs, flies, and the “one that got away.” But since the conversation turned to health and I saw a chance to help, I knew this deserved a long discussion.

 

I could have told him to eat more veggies, get regular exercise, consume fewer empty calories, prioritize sleep more, and of course, Drink Less Beer.

 

Unfortunately, that wouldn’t have helped him at all. He knew all that. His problem was not one of poor advice or poor understanding of the unhealthy aspects of his lifestyle.

 

He didn’t need me to tell him what to do. Instead, he needed to understand why he does the things he currently does.

 

We all develop patterns and routines in our lives. Some become more entrenched than others. The key is making sure those routines are as healthy as possible.

 

For instance, we tend to have patterns of usual restaurants we go back to again and again. Whether it is a night with friends or loved ones, or a dinner business meeting, we likely have a handful of choices from which we choose.

 

Our job is to make sure those choices look more like True Food KitchenFlower Child, or Tender Greens and less like Olive Garden, the Chop House or other over-sauced, “under-vegetablized” establishments.

 

What about our post-dinner routine at home? Sitting on the couch, raiding the fridge for food our body does not need, and drinking one too many beers is an easy pattern to fall into.

 

Why not take a walk instead? Read a book in a room away from the kitchen. Meet friends for games that involve no or at most one beer.

 

The first step is understanding why our patterns exist.

 

My fishing guide drinks too much beer. He likes the taste. Ok, I say, but you can get the taste from one beer and savor it. That wasn’t it.

 

He likes the way it makes him feel, he likes the buzz. The buzz takes volume to get. One beer won’t cut it. We had to question, what else can give him similar joy? Did he need the buzz, or did he just need to feel good about something? 

 

It turns out, outside of fishing, his life was not very full. He had no nearby family, no real hobbies outside of fishing. He had plenty of friends, but they were all big drinkers and thus it was all too easy to drink on a regular basis.

 

I wasn’t going to help him by citing studies showing the dangers of being overweight, or the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.

 

He needed to escape his routines and the company he keeps.

 

It’s remarkably difficult to tell someone you just met that they need to find their purpose in life. They need to like themselves more. And they need new friends, or at least to see current friends less. 

 

Thankfully before I overstepped my bounds, we reached the river and were well on our way of creating our own tall tales of rainbow trout, nymphs, flies, and the one that got away.

 

In the end, however, I was able to lay the groundwork for what will hopefully be a change in perspective regarding his life. It won’t happen overnight. It will take time, and it will take work. And it all starts with understanding why we do what we do.

 

Ask yourself that question. Question your assumptions and your routines. Find ways to alter them a little more towards health. We don’t have to be perfect. We just need to be better.

 

And we all need to get to the Crooked River to catch some fish. It’s simply beautiful.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

Action Item: Find one routine per day and question it. Even something as simple as where you park your car. Or where you sit after dinner. Question one routine per day. Understand why you do what you do. Then see if you can reframe it in a healthier way. You don't have to be perfect. Just be a little better every day.

 

Sleep as if your health depends on it!

We all need more sleep, right? YAWN! We have said it or heard it hundreds of times. Get more sleep for better health. Yet despite the prevalence of the advice, there is a clear disconnect between hearing it and implementing it. For one, there is a positive stigma or bragging rights associated with “I only need 5 hours of sleep per night.” Secondly, our lives have become so busy, over scheduled, and over stressed, that it is easy to prioritize everything else before sleep. And lastly, even when we want to get more sleep, many of us are unable to do so for a variety of reasons that we will address.

As with many areas of health, the first step is educating ourselves about the importance of sleep. Only once we understand the real importance of sleep can we prioritize sleep adequately, thus committing to the sleep hygiene practices that help us achieve better health. Without education, the rest never follows.

The scientific literature is saturated with evidence that sleep is important for health. It would be overwhelming to try to summarize all the literature here, but here are some of the highlights. Poor sleep has been linked to:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Weight gain
  • Poor job performance
  • Poor athletic performance
  • Car Accidents
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Strokes

And more…

One of the most common associations is the connection between poor sleep and poor performance in life. What does that mean? It means not achieving your goals. Whether it is athletic performance, work performance, or improving your overall health, inadequate sleep dramatically reduces the chances of success.

Let’s look at one of the most frustrating failures of lack of sleep- inability to lose weight. Numerous studies have shown that poor sleep habits lead to increased hunger, increased snacking and poor nutritional choices. Not only is there a proven relationship, but there is also a biological reason for this. Ghrelin is a hormone in our body called the “hunger hormone.” It signals to your body that you are hungry and need to eat. Leptin has the opposite effect. It says to your body that you are full and don’t need to eat. When we do not get adequate sleep, our ghrelin levels spike and our leptin levels are inhibited. Thus we have a biological reason for feeling hungry and snacking more. Plus, since our mental clarity is reduced and our emotional control is inhibited by poor sleep, we tend to make impulse decisions in reaction to the feeling of hunger. Impulse decisions rarely end in preparing a well-balanced meal of veggies with high-quality fats and proteins. Instead, they may result in standing in front of the freezer eating the Ben and Jerry’s right from the carton with no end in sight. I’d be lying if I said I have never been there before. But I can also say that I will never be there again.

The next concept I want to address is our perception of how much sleep we need. Many people with inadequate sleep may feel like they are doing just fine. But a fascinating study published in the journal Sleep in 2003 showed that people who got no more than 6 hours of sleep for 10 days had a similar decline in cognitive function and physical reaction time as those who were completely deprived of sleep for 2 whole days. The amazing part, however, was that they had no idea how bad their performance was. They felt they were thinking clearly and performing well on all the required tests, and they did not feel tired. That makes it even more dangerous! To perform so poorly and not even realize it is a recipe for disaster. At least those who were deprived of sleep for two whole days knew they were exhausted, and they could change their lives accordingly. The same cannot be said for the group who got less than 6 hours of sleep per night. So it is clear that we frequently need more sleep than we realize.

Yet another incredible study was recently published looking at the sleep patterns of traditional hunter-gatherer tribes. Sleep problems were so rare in their cultures that the three tribes studied did not even have words for insomnia in their language.

The study showed that they averaged 7.5-8 hours in bed per night. In addition, they had an absolutely consistent sleep-wake schedule thus maintaining a stable diurnal rhythm. Couple that with their lack of distractions from computers and phones, and it is no wonder their society had no concept of sleep problems.

What about those who say “Sleep is a waste of time. It is unproductive time I could spend accomplishing things.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. “Restorative Sleep” is a combination of Stage 3 sleep and REM sleep. It is appropriately named because your body literally restores itself while you sleep. Learning, memory, and concentration are improved while you are in REM sleep, and your body is able to heal and restore physical energy when you are in Stage 3 sleep (deep sleep or delta wave sleep). Without adequate time spent in each stage of sleep, the body is not able to perform its essential “reboot” functions. Lack of sleep robs your body of these restorative functions. In addition, alcohol and sleep medications can disrupt the balance of sleep stages, thus resulting in less restorative sleep. Part of the importance of maintaining a steady sleep schedule is that it allows your body to cycle through the stages of sleep consistently, ensuring that you get adequate time in the deep and restorative stages.

Lastly, part of the problem is that even those who want to sleep more find they cannot. Insomnia is a growing problem in our society with prescriptions for sleeping medications increasing over 50% since 2008. As with many things in medicine, prescription drugs are simply Band-Aids. They treat the symptom without addressing the underlying cause. Sleeping medications come with their own risks of developing dependence, rebound insomnia, potential short-term memory loss, and distorting the stages of sleep so that the sleep you do get does not have the full restorative power of naturally achieved sleep.

Once you have made sleep a priority for your health, there are a number of specifics to consider. Here are some tips to incorporate into your life for better sleep:

  • Reduce exposure to screens and artificial light– they disrupt the circadian rhythm and fool your brain into not being tired. Avoid screens 60 min prior to sleep or if that is not possible, consider using blue blocker glasses which help filter out the blue light from your devices. You should also maintain a very dark room for sleeping. Use black out shades, cover your clocks (or if you need them keep them more than 3 feet away from your head), if you need light use low wattage yellow, orange or red lights, not standard white lights
  • Maintain a consistent schedule– this can be difficult for many, but going to bed and waking up at the same time every day has been scientifically shown to improve sleep performance and allow for consistent deep, restorative sleep
  • Meditation-A study comparing individuals engaging in a mindfulness meditation practice vs. those who were given general sleep hygiene education showed significant improvements in sleep quality as well as less depression and fatigue in the mindfulness group. This does not mean you need to meditate for an hour a day. Just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation has proven results.
  • Avoid caffeine in the afternoon. Caffeine is a stimulant that can keep you from falling asleep. Even those who say caffeine has no effect on them have demonstrated reduced sleep performance than those who do not drink caffeine
  • Limit alcohol or any liquid for that matter. The more you drink, the more likely you are to wake up to urinate, thus giving your brain a chance to wake up and start spinning and reducing the chance of going back to sleep. Although alcohol may make you feel tired and help you “get to sleep,” it can dramatically alter the stages of sleep and prevent you from getting fully restorative sleep
  • Get outside and get light exposure during the day- This helps your circadian rhythm stay in sync with proper sleep-wake patterns. Studies in Hunter Gatherer societies have highlighted the importance of daytime light exposure. This may also help with your vitamin D levels, which are also linked, to better sleep performance.
  • Exercise during the day, but not within an hour before going to bed.
  • Keep your room cool, between 60-68 degrees
  • Bed is for sleeping and sex only, no TV books or phone use
  • Journaling to clear your mind before bed. This helps you get your thoughts out on paper so your mind is not ruminating on them and keeping you from falling asleep.
  • Low carb diet increases slow wave sleep, but fat can increase GERD, very individualized
  • Magnesium supplements (usually in the form of magnesium glycinate or malate) has been shown to help with falling and staying asleep
  • Melatonin is beneficial for short-term use when natural timing is disrupted, such as with travel or when your sleep cycle has been disrupted for other reasons. It is not meant to be used long term
  • Get checked for sleep apnea – This is a very common cause of poor sleep and now there are easily accessible home screening tests that can be ordered by your physician. Keep in mind that sleep apnea is more common in overweight people, as well as those who drink alcohol or take sedatives

The list is long, but hopefully, you will notice that most of these are actions that are easy to implement. Once we understand the importance of restorative sleep, and we prioritize sleep as a pillar of our health, then the above list becomes an easy “to do list” that will help you on your path to better sleep, better health, and a better life. 

4 Fitness Apps To Try

Living a healthy lifestyle has many benefits, from taking fewer trips to your healthcare provider each year to managing stress and anxiety with ease. Luckily, getting on the path to your best health ever is right in the palm of your hand. Here are 4 fitness apps you should try today.

MapMyFitness

If someone asked you to choose your favorite workout style, could you choose just one? With MapMyFitness, you don’t have to. Choose from dozens of traditional workouts, like swimming, jumping rope, and weightlifting, to less traditional activities, like bowling, fishing, and horseback riding.

MapMyFitness also offers outdoor training routes near you, which are created and shared by other users. Simply search for a route based on the type of activity you want to do, make sure the app has a good GPS signal, and start your workout. If you’re a creature of habit, you also have the option to add private routes to your profile and do them again as often as you like.

Got a favorite way to exercise outdoors? There are several versions of the “MapMy” apps to choose from:

  • MapMyRun
  • MapMyHike
  • MapMyRide
  • MapMyWalk

All versions work the same way in terms of functionality, but each one provides map suggestions tailored to the default activity.

Charity Miles

Make your workouts meaningful with Charity Miles. Research shows that giving can be good for your mental health. Why not give your mind and body a boost by earning money for charity while you get fit?

All you have to do is pick a charity, select an activity, and start tracking your mileage using your smartphone’s GPS. There are more than 30 world-class charities to choose from, including the ASPCA, Habitat for Humanity, and Girls on the Run. Are you passionate about multiple causes? Charity Miles gives you the option to switch charities at any time.

A donation will be made for every mile you complete, and you can log miles through your choice of 5 outdoor and indoor activities. Once you tap to start tracking, the app lets you know who’s sponsoring your workout. Be sure to stop and save your miles when you’re done or your activity won’t count. (You can always tell the app to send you a reminder.)

Fitbit

Walking is a great way to boost your fitness level, lose weight, and feel healthier. It’s recommended that you get 10,000 steps a day, but how can you be sure you’re getting all those steps in? By tracking your daily steps with a wearable fitness device, like the Fitbit.

The Fitbit family of devices sync with the Fitbit app to give you a real-time look at your day. And you can track more than just exercise—the app allows you to log and monitor your sleep, weight, and food, which all adds up to a healthier and fitter you. Just choose the device that fits your goals, and then register it with the app.

Are you motivated by friendly competition? Get an extra dose of motivation by creating challenges among your Fitbit friends. Choose from fun options like Goal Day, Workweek Hustle, and Weekend Warrior. Or go on a virtual Adventure Race together and see who can reach the finish line first. The Fitbit app also features a community tab, where you can share your wins, join groups dedicated to your favorite healthy lifestyle topics, and connect with other Fitbitters.

MyFitnessPal

Keeping a food journal can help you build healthy eating habits—and what you consume is just as important as what you burn. Based on your fitness profile, MyFitnessPal will suggest a daily net calorie target to help you meet your nutrition and weight loss goals. As you fill up on foods and log your meals, the app will display your remaining calories. It will also show you the distribution of where those calories are coming from, be it fats, proteins, or carbohydrates.

Being mindful of what you eat and drink is a good practice for healthy living. As you create new journal entries, MyFitnessPal shares a snippet of nutrition advice to keep you aware of the healthy (or not so healthy) choices you’re making. For instance, if you decide to go out for an ice cream sundae, the app may alert you about the amount of sugar it contains, along with a reminder of your sugar goal for the day. Likewise, if you opt for a fruit cup, the app may tell you it has lots of Vitamin C.

You can also use the app to track your activity. Depending on how many calories you burned, the app automatically adjusts your net calorie needs for that day. Just sync your daily step counts and workouts from your smartphone or wearable fitness device to the app, and MyFitnessPal will figure out the rest. Another option is to manually log your cardio and strength workouts—the app will estimate your calories burned based on your current fitness profile.

Using an app is a great to get in shape and stay fit. Making small tweaks to your daily routine—like moving more and eating better—can go a long way in helping you live your best health ever. Try out one of these fitness apps today and let us know how it worked for you.

 

 

The Number One Secret to Living Forever!

OK, maybe not forever, but pretty darn long. Here is the secret to the fountain of youth.

 

Metformin.

 

Maybe.

 

Metformin is a common medication used to treat diabetes and has also been shown to decrease the cellular aging process in mice and other animals. Now it has been approved for human studies to see if it increases our longevity as well. If not, then we will just have a bunch of young mice running around as we continue to age away.

 

The longevity community is full of excitement that this may be the one drug that pans out and makes a real difference. Not just for the high-profile Silicon Valley CEOs who want to live forever, but for masses of people. The hope is that it will drastically delay the onset of cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases. We have been down this road before  with resveratrol, so many are tempering their enthusiasm.

 

But this time may be different! Or so we hope.

 

How Metformin Works

 

Metformin helps us lower our glucose production, keep our insulin levels low, and helps our cells respond better to insulin.

 

It works by activating an enzyme called AMP Kinase, which decreases glucose production in the liver. The key point is that it lowers glucose levels without increasing insulin.

 

Insulin is a fat storage and potentially pro-inflammatory hormone. It is also associated with an increase in insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF1), which has been implicated in cancer promotion over the long term. Safely minimizing insulin, therefore, should have direct health and longevity benefits. 

 

Metformin has other actions that directly improve muscle cell sensitivity to insulin. This means our bodies require less insulin to provide us with energy, thus ultimately reducing insulin resistance.  In addition, metformin can potentially alter the oxygenation of cells, providing the right balance of oxygen to stave off cellular aging.

 

 

Why would this help us live longer?

 

Lower blood glucose and insulin levels mean lower risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and probably neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. That certainly seems like a reasonable goal.

 

In addition, lower insulin and lower insulin growth factor 1 (IGF1) could mean less risk of developing cancer. In fact, studies have shown that those who take metformin have a lower incidence of most cancers. This does not prove that metformin itself reduces cancers, but it certainly makes for an interesting hypothesis that deserves further investigation.

 

And of course, anything that can slow down cellular aging could be of great benefit for longevity.

 

We have plenty of data to suggest metformin might be a fountain of youth.  Now, we eagerly await the results of the randomized, prospective, placebo controlled trial. The pinnacle of scientific evidence.

 

In the meantime, what can we do to help us extend our lives?

 

What Else Has Shown Promise for Longevity?

 

For starters, don’t smoke. No brainer there.

 

Also, wear your seat belt.

 

Don’t text and drive.

 

Don’t drink and drive.

 

It may sound like glib advice, but if you want the biggest return on your longevity investment, start there.

 

Caloric restriction

 

As the saying goes, caloric restriction may not make you live longer, but it certainly makes your life feel much longer

 

Calorie restriction has different definitions, but in general it means cutting your caloric intake by 30-50% or down to about 1500 kcal per day while avoiding malnourishment. If you have tried this, it can be a challenge to do and remain a social being in modern day society.

 

If living longer means being hungry and grumpy all the time and not being able to socialize, then no thanks. I will pass. As will most of the Silicon Valley elite.

 

But what can we learn from why long term caloric restriction works?

 

It turns out, caloric restriction improves insulin sensitivity, sound familiar? It also reduces our metabolic rate and reduces oxidative stress.

 

Calorie restriction also reduces the activity of a compound called mTorc1. The long name for this compound is mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1. The drug rapamycin has been around for decades as an antifungal and anti-cancer drug, but has now become the new kid on the longevity block. Some believe that the right dosing of rapamycin and/or inhibition of mtorc1 could reduce cellular aging and delay age related diseases.

 

Interestingly, AMP Kinase (the same mechanism stimulated by metformin) also inhibits mTorc1. When mechanisms combine, that gets scientists really excited. And when scientists get really excited, watch out.

 

So, in the end, we want to reduce glucose levels while also keeping insulin and IGF1 levels low. We want to reduce oxidative stress. And we probably want to reduce mTorc1.

 

Metformin can do this. Calorie restriction can do this. Rapamycin might be able to do this.

 

We Don’t Need Drugs

 

But guess what?  We Don’t Need Drugs to do all that!

 

If you are sleeping 4 hours per night, you are stressed out, you eat low quality- high carb fast food, and you sit on your arse all day, do you think metformin will help you live longer? Sorry Charlie.

 

If we have any interest in living longer and living better, we all have to start with the basic and critical elements called lifestyle.

 

Consistent, restorative sleep improves your cortisol levels, thus improving your glucose and insulin levels.

 

Managing your stress likewise reduces your cortisol and adrenaline spikes, again maintaining lower average glucose and insulin levels.

 

High intensity exercise and resistance training increases our mitochondrial activity, which increases glucose utilization, thus decreasing serum glucose and insulin levels.

 

Then there is nutrition.

 

This is a big one, and potentially the topic that is more variable from person to person. The key is to eat the minimum number of calories needed for nourishment, while still allowing you to enjoy your life and thrive. Specifically, we need to choose food that will keep our average blood glucose and insulin levels as low as possible.

 

A few tricks to achieve that:

  1. Avoid/limit added sugars. Hopefully this is obvious to everyone at this point.
  2. Avoid/limit processed simple carbohydrates (white flour, packaged snack foods etc.).
  3. Make low starch veggies (like green leafy veggies, cauliflower, zucchini etc.) the focus of the majority of your meals.
  4. Liberally add healthy fats (nuts, avocado, olives and olive oil).
  5. Don’t overdo it on the proteins. We only need 0.36- 0.5 grams of protein per pound of ideal body weight each day. So, if you weigh 180lbs., you only need 65-90gm of protein per day. If you are overweight and weigh 250lbs (but your ideal body weight is around 180 pounds), you still only need a maximum of 90gm of protein per day. So, don’t worry too much about getting enough protein. Instead, make sure you are not eating too much.

 

Once you have implemented all those lifestyle factors, then and only then should you even start to think about the effects of metformin, rapamycin, or other fountain of youth drugs. The future may be promising for a quick fix to slow the aging process. But one thing will hold true for ever:

 

The best way to live better and live longer is to make your life worth living.

 

Live with a purpose.

 

Take care of yourself emotionally and physically.

 

Take care of others.

 

And don’t forget to take care of the earth as well. Our health may just depend on it.

 

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com 

Coconuts are Driving Me Nuts!

How does this headline sound to you?

“Newsbreak! We have no new information about Coconut Oil, but we have a news alert that we still think all saturated fat is bad for everyone.”

That is the real story behind the headline “Coconut oil isn’t healthy. It’s never been healthy” that has grabbed the attention of millions.

The American Heart Association released a statement that, to summarize, says:

  1. Coconut Oil is a saturated fat.
  2. Saturated fat can raise LDL.
  3. High LDL has been associated with increased risk of heart disease.
  4. Therefore, coconut oil will increase your risk for heart disease

Is there any direct proof that coconut oil is dangerous to our health?

No.

Is there any new evidence directly linking saturated fat to heart disease?

No.

Can we say that because “A” is true above that “D” has to be true?

No way.

But that sure is an attention-grabbing headline to try to connect the dots.

What Evidence?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the AHA is making this up out of thin air. They are basing their opinion on decades of science. Decades of poor quality science. But since that was all the science we had for years, you can see why they came to the conclusion.

LDL cholesterol is an important part of the puzzle when it comes to your health. But it is exactly that. One piece of a very complicated puzzle.

What else does saturated fat do? It raises of HDL. For many, the total cholesterol-to-HDL ratio remains the same.  Does that increase the risk of heart disease? There is no good data to support that claim, but likely not.

Let’s look at it another way.

Is an LDL of 150 dangerous? That depends. Are you overweight, sedentary, have a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, eating a high inflammatory diet, and have a strong family history of heart disease? Then an LDL of 150 likely is dangerous. And you likely also have a low HDL, high triglyceride level (TG), high blood sugar etc.

On the other hand, do you eat real food, mostly vegetables with appropriate portions of animal fats? Do you exercise, manage your stress, and have few if any other cardiovascular risk factors? Are your HDL, TG and glucose levels near ideal? Then that same LDL of 150 is likely not as dangerous for you.

It is misleading to suggest one size fits all.

(For more details on the saturated fat debate, and why the data is not as clear as most seem to think, see our prior article on the topic here.

Unfortunately, the American Heart Association discounts the evidence that shows no association between saturated fat intake and cardiovascular disease.  They continue to promote industrial, processed oils over natural fats. Again, rooted in decades of science. Poor quality science.

Both Sides Fail

In essence, the attention-grabbing news flash is simply restating the AHA’s longstanding position. There is nothing new.

To be fair, however, do we have good evidence saying coconut oil is healthy?

No, we do not.

Can we prove saturated fat reduces our heart disease risk?

No.

Can we believe Dr. Axe when he claims that coconut oil has 20 proven health benefits (including curing UTIs, protecting the liver and preventing osteoporosis)?

No way. That’s crazy talk.

If we are going to question the poor-quality evidence against saturated fat, we certainly have to question the horribly inadequate evidence supporting views like Dr. Axe’s.

So, what can we conclude?

We can conclude that nothing new was found for or against coconut oil.

Nothing new was found for or against vegetable oils.

Saturated fats (and by extension coconut oil) are not inherently bad, especially if they are a component of a real-foods, vegetable-based, Mediterranean style of eating.

Vegetable oils are highly processed, pro-inflammatory, fake foods that have evidence both for and against their use.

It’s all so confusing! I know. Trust me, I know.

What Can We Do?

What is someone to do in this sea of contradictory news?

Don’t believe the hype.

Focus on real, minimally processed foods.

When it comes to cooking fats:

  1. Olive oil is the best for low heat.
  2. Avocado oil is the best for medium heat.
  3. Higher heat gets tricky due to concern over smoke points.

    1. First, ask yourself, why are you cooking or frying in high heat to begin with? Can you get the same result with lower heat?
    2. If it’s something you have to do, you can choose from coconut oil, butter, ghee, and vegetable oil. Make you decision based on taste, or even better, mix it up.

Action Item: Do you want to know how cooking oils affect you, as an individual? Get your labs done (at a minimum check LDL, HDL, TG, TC, hsCRP, glucose. For more advanced testing try WellnessFX or other ways to get advanced lipid testing). Then switch to 100% coconut oil as your cooking oil for a month and recheck your labs. Review your labs with someone who has an open mind and looks at more than just your LDL number. LDL does not exist in isolation, but is part of the whole picture.  Now you know how it affects you. Individualized medicine beats general guidelines any day.

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com 

The Three Most Important Things You Need to know About Statins!

Can you find a more polarizing topic than statins? One article says they are miracle drugs that should be given to everyone. Then you turn the page, and you read how they are poison and you should stay away from them no matter what.  How can one drug cause such differing views? And which should you believe?

 

The statin debate has intensified ever since the 2013 ACC/AHA cholesterol treatment guidelines increased the number of people without heart disease who “should” take a statin to 43 million Americans. That is for primary prevention, meaning the individual has never had a diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, never had a heart attack, and never had any type of a heart problem.

 

As you can imagine, this has been a windfall for the drug companies. But are we healthier and better off as a result? That is unknown.

 

The problem is understanding the bias of whoever is writing the story.

 

Subtleties of Science

 

But wait, you say. Won’t the science tell us if statins are good or not? Isn’t it an objective fact if they are good for us?

 

Not so fast. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is the application of science.

 

Are you getting advice from someone who believes prescribing more medicine is better? Or someone who believes a more natural lifestyle is better? 

 

Are you reading a report sponsored by the pharmaceutical company that paid for the research?

 

Or are you getting advice from a scientist who is more focused on statistical benefits, or someone who is more concerned with the potential benefit for the one individual they are taking care of at the moment?

 

It is a confusing sea of conflicting information, and you have to find which approach resonates more with your beliefs and your life.

 

The Three Keys

 

Regardless of who you are and your beliefs, I promised you the three most important things you need to know about statins. Here they are:

  1. All statin studies are worthless! That’s right. All statin studies that have been done to date are worthless and don’t apply to anyone who follows healthy lifestyle principles.
  2. Statins will not prolong your life. Not at all. Not for a single day.
  3. Statins DO reduce your heart attack risk, by about 0.7% over 5 years.

All of a sudden, statins don’t seem so powerful, do they? Let’s go deeper into these points to learn why.

 

1-All Statin Trials Are Worthless

When designing a trial, you have to decide what your control group is going to be. You have to show that the drug is better than something. The key is defining what that something is.

 

Therein lies the problem. In order to show beneficial effects, primary prevention statin trials need thousands of subjects, studied over years. That is very expensive to do. The vast majority of trials, therefore, rely on drug company funding.

 

Do you think they are going to fund a trial that makes it easier or harder to show a benefit? Of course, that was a rhetorical question.

 

Pharma companies don’t have an interest in your health and wellbeing. Their priority is to their stock holders and their bottom line. They are going to sponsor trials that are most likely going to benefit them.

 

How does this make the trials worthless? They compare statins to “usual care.” That means a brief, and ineffective attempt to educate people about healthy nutrition and physical activity.

 

In addition, the specific nutritional guidance that was used has always been a low-fat diet. As we now know, what does a low-fat diet usually include? Lots of sugars and simple carbohydrates. What does that diet do? Increase your risk of obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and eventually heart disease.

 

That’s setting the bar pretty low to show a benefit from statins. And that is exactly what the drug companies want.

 

What we need is a control group that is involved in a comprehensive lifestyle intervention program. A program that helps participants get regular physical activity. Helps them eat vegetable based, real food, low in added sugars and simple carbs, and high in natural healthy fats.

 

Since that is the way we should all be living, THAT is what the control group should be. I guarantee you, the results would be far different compared to the standard control groups used to date.

 

That is the trial the drug companies never want to see and will never fund. And that is why all statin trials to date are worthless.

 

If you can focus on proper lifestyle interventions, using healthy foods, physical activity and stress management as medicine, then we have no idea what effect, if any, statins would have. But I assure you it will be minimal if any benefit.

 

2-Statins Will Not Prolong Your life

 

You read that right. For people who have never had heart disease before, the multi-billion dollar drug won’t help you live longer. The overwhelming majority of primary prevention trials involving statins show no difference in overall mortality between those who took the drug and those who did not.

 

That surprises a lot of people. Statins are promoted as if they are wonder drugs that save lives left and right. That’s good marketing and good PR. Reality is far different.

 

If they don’t help you live longer, they must increase the quality of your life, right? Nope. In fact, 30-40% of people on statins will experience muscle aches and weakness causing them to exercise less and decreasing the overall quality of their lives.

 

So, if they don’t help us live longer, and they don’t increase the quality of our lives, why do we take them????

 

3-Statins DO Reduce Your Heart Attack Risk

 

If the news was all bad there wouldn’t be any debate about their use. But the truth is that statins do reduce the risk of heart attacks, and that is why in some cases it may be beneficial for you to take one.

 

But the big question is: How much do statins reduce your heart attack risk? The answer is not as much as you would think. Considering the recommendations keep getting more and more aggressive for statin therapy, you would think statins would be immensely powerful at reducing heart disease risk.

 

In reality, they reduce the risk of a heart attack by 0.7-1.5% over 5 years. That means you need to treat 66-140 people for 5 years to prevent one heart attack.  (as an aside, for people with pre-existing heart disease, so called secondary prevention, you need to treat approximately 40 people for 5 years to prevent 1 heart attack and 85 people to prevent 1 death)

 

When presented like that, it should certainly temper the enthusiasm for statin therapy. Again, it may still be the right choice for some people, but given the potential risks and side effects, I would hope for a much greater benefit.

 

Better Than Statins

 

A common response is that statins are “the best we have to offer” to reduce one’s risk of cardiovascular disease.  If you are talking about a drug manufactured in a laboratory, then that would be correct. But what else are options?

 

It turns out following a Mediterranean eating pattern with vegetables, fruit, fish, legumes, and lots of nuts, olive oil and avocados reduces the risk of cardiovascular events as well. For something as simple as nutritional choices the benefit must be much less than a statin, right?

 

That is what the drug companies would want you to believe. In reality, you need to “treat” 61 people with the Mediterranean diet for 5 years to reduce 1 cardiovascular event (a “combined endpoint” of stroke, heart attack or death).

 

To be fair, you cannot compare one trial to another as they have very different populations studied, and the outcome measures are different. So, it is not scientifically fair to say, “The Mediterranean diet has been proven to be more beneficial that statins.”  That would require a head-to-head trial. Unfortunately, that trial is unlikely to ever happen.

 

But it makes for an obvious answer when asked “If statins aren’t all that helpful, what else can I do to reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease?

 

  • Follow a real food, vegetable-based, Mediterranean style diet, low in sugar and high in healthy fats.

 

  • Maintain a physically active lifestyle.

 

  • Exercise with some form of moderate cardio exercise, resistance training and higher intensity interval exercises.

 

  • Practice stress reduction techniques.

 

  • Don’t smoke.

 

  • Manage your other risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

 

If you can follow these healthy lifestyle principles, you will be doing far more for your health than any pill you could take. And the best part? The only side effects are having more energy, feeling more empowered, and reducing your risk for chronic diseases.  Sounds like a good trade off to me!

 

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

Are Gluten-Free Diets Killing Us?

Gluten has come full circle in the eyes of popular media. It was initially portrayed as the cause of all our health concerns. Eliminating it was the quickest path to feeling better and living healthier. After all, how else can we explain Tom Brady’s Super Bowl prowess????

 

Now, however, avoiding gluten has been implicated in increasing our risk of heart disease and causing a harmful disruption of our gut microbiome (the bacteria in our digestive tracts and plays an integral role in our health).

 

So, which should we believe?

 

As with most health topics in popular media, the key is in the details. But first, a quick primer on gluten and gluten sensitivity.

 

Gluten 101

 

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and in foods made with those grains, like bread, cereal, cookies, crackers and pasta.

 

In people with the medical condition of celiac disease the body sees gluten as a foreign invader and is unable to properly absorb it. Gluten causes an autoimmune response against the lining of the intestines causing intestinal damage and decreased absorption of necessary nutrients.

 

Symptoms of celiac disease include abdominal pain, bloating, and rashes. It can also cause anemia, bone problems, and malnutrition. Your doctor can diagnose celiac disease with a blood test and a biopsy of your small intestine.

 

Without question, those with proven celiac disease must avoid gluten. Fortunately, it is a rare medical condition.

 

More commonly, people may be sensitive to gluten even though they don’t have celiac disease. They simply find that they feel much better when they avoid gluten-containing foods. They have more energy, less bloating, clearer skin, and have improved concentration and mental clarity.

 

This is not a medical diagnosis. There is no way to objectively prove if this is the case or not. This is a subjective feeling. Do you feel better while avoiding gluten or not? It’s that simple.

 

This is similar to numerous other food intolerances that abound. Some people feel better avoiding dairy. Some feel better avoiding meat. Some feel better avoiding legumes. Gluten is no different. It just gets more attention lately given its popularity among celebrities and weight loss pundits.

 

If you feel better avoiding gluten, then you should avoid it. After all, our bodies do not require gluten for good health.

 

Our bodies need proteins and fats, vitamins and minerals. There is no physiological need for gluten. If it makes you feel poorly, there is no need to eat it.

 

Gluten Coming Full Circle

 

Now, however, people are starting to question the safety of gluten-free diets based on recent research.

 

An article published in May in BMJ (British Medical Journal) suggested that avoiding gluten increased our risk of heart disease.  What followed was a social media and popular media storm of gluten-free backlash with the end result being confusion and frustration.

 

Who do we believe and what do we do now?

 

Take A Breath, Then Dive Deeper

 

First, take a breath. Remember that health claims, good or bad, are rarely as extreme as portrayed by the media.

 

Next, dive deeper. Understanding the implications of the study depends on understanding the details of the study. I know that not everyone has the time/desire/resources to dig deeper into the studies, so we did it for you.

 

This study was an observational study that followed healthcare workers without heart disease (at the time of enrollment) for 26 years. There was no specific intervention, the researchers simply collected data over time on who had heart attacks and who did not, and also collected data on what they ate. By going back and statistically crunching the data, they tried to find an association between the amount of gluten eaten and the risk of heart attacks.

 

Here is the main conclusion to the study. There was no significant difference in heart disease risk between those who ate the most gluten compared to those who ate the least. No significant difference.

 

Why all the news reports that it increased the risk of heart disease?

 

Statistical massaging of the data showed that those who ate the least amount of gluten and the least amount of whole grains did have a small increased risk of heart disease.

 

So, what was the problem? Was it the missing gluten? Or the missing whole grains? This study does not prove cause and effect. It does, however, suggest it was the lack of whole grains, not just the gluten, that was associated with a very small increased risk of heart disease.

 

How small?  There was a 15% relative risk increase. The absolute increase was not reported, but looking at the numbers it was around 0.1%. The difference was 1 person out of 1000. Hardly earth shattering.

 

Said another way, if the subjects avoided gluten containing cookies, crackers and processed bread and substituted gluten-free cookies, crackers and processed bread, they were not any healthier, and may have increased their heart disease risk by 0.1%.

 

Yawn. That type of analysis wouldn’t sell many papers or get many clicks. Thus, the media did not report it as such. Yet that is what the paper found.

 

Gut Bugs

 

What about gut microbiota? Can gluten-free diet hurt our gut bugs?

 

A 2010 study suggested eating a gluten-free diet harmed our gut microbiome. This one should be an easy one to explain.

 

What helps healthy gut microbes flourish? Fiber. Specifically, fermentable fiber.

 

The most common gluten substitute is rice flour. Rice flour has very little fiber, thus very little ability to feed the healthy gut bacteria.

 

The result? A relative overgrowth of the unhealthy gut bacteria. The bacteria that like high-sugar and low fiber foods flourish while the fiber-eating bacteria die off.

 

Wheat on the other hand, tends to have more fiber. Especially whole grain foods. So once again, it is likely that limiting whole grains in favor of low-fiber, processed foods is not helping our health, whether we are talking about our guts or our hearts (and by extension, likely our brains as well).

 

Gluten- Guilty or Not?

 

Is there anything inherently dangerous about eating gluten free?

 

No.

 

The key is what are you eating instead. If you are eating low fiber, processed gluten-free foods, then you are not doing yourself any favors.

 

But if you feel better avoiding gluten, and you are replacing it with real food, fresh veggies (both starchy and non-starchy), fruit, seeds and nuts, then chances are you will feel better and be healthier.

 

What if gluten doesn’t bother you? Then there is no real need to avoid it as long as you are eating whole grains, minimally processed versions of gluten, and avoiding the processed and refined junk.

 

It’s that simple Let’s not over complicate it.

 

Action Item: Take two weeks to see how you feel without eating gluten. Do you feel any better? More or less energy? Can you think or focus better? Do you have fewer aches and pains? Did your weight change? If not, then eat what you want (as long as you continue to follow a real food, vegetable first, low sugar and low processed food way of eating). If you do feel better without gluten, then stock up on the foods listed below. Avoid gluten, but also be careful not to add processed, low-fiber, gluten-free alternatives. Just because it is gluten free doesn’t mean it is good for you!

 

Whole grain gluten-free foods:

Amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, oats. 

 

Other fiber containing foods:

Legumes such as beans, lentils and peas

Green leafy vegetables

Starchy vegetables such as yams, sweet potatoes, carrots and other root vegetables

Apples, pears and berries

Nuts and seeds

 

Thanks for reading.

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

Cardiologist, author, founder of Boundless Health

www.DrBretScher.com

 

Bret Scher, MD FACC

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