Saturday, July 21, 2007

How Stress Depletes Precious Stomach Acid

I want to revisit the topic of stomach acid because it is so crucial to good digestion. Almost every patient that I see has some problem with digestion. For example, bloating after meals, frequent bouts of gas, problems with constipation, difficulty losing weight, food allergies and much more. Stomach acid is absolutely necessary, yet many people have depleted their acid for a few different reasons.

First of all, why is acid in your belly so important? The stomach should have an acidic pH when food is present. It is much more alkaline (about 6.0) when the stomach is empty. When you eat, the acid produced in the stomach should bring the pH to 2.0. This wonderful acidic substance is secreted from cells called parietal cells in mucosal lining of the stomach. The acid is important in protecting us from bacterial, parasites and other microorganisms that might come in to the body in our food supply. The acid also activates enzymes that digest proteins. When proteins do not completely digest the word for this is called putrefaction. Isn't that lovely? They rot in your intestines and the waste products can become poisonous. You also don't get the benefit of a completely digested food. You do not receive the needed amino acids from those proteins. Ultimately, you eat protein, so that it will break down into amino acids that your body will use. If the food will not digest properly, what's the use in eating it?

The ideal cirucmstances for perfect digestion would go a little like this. You begin preparation of your meal with your family by going out to your own garden and picking fresh vegetables. You see the fresh food, the vibrant colors, and completely appreciate all the time and effort that has gone into growing it. Not just your effort, but the plant's effort and the miracle of the sun, the soil, the seed all coming together to create beautiful food. You lovingly prepare the food together. You bless the food first, and eat the food over lively conversation, listening to music that is conducive to good digestion, like classical music, jazz or something similar that appeals to you.

WHO eats this way today? Here's a tasty tidbit of information. 40% of americans eat breakfast in their car. So, I know that this meal situation is something that you strive for, but might not achieve. In that situation, the parasympathetic nervous system is highly stimulated. At this point, all the enzymes necessary to break down the food are released. The stomach cranks up the production of that lovely acid, also called gastric acid or hydrochloric acid. Perfect digestion becomes possible.

If you eat breakfast in your car, take lunch at your desk, or eat when you feel stressed, just the opposite takes place. If you are in a state of stress, worried about work, see the person in front of you slam on the brakes, thinking about financial worries, then you are in "fight or flight" mode. The brain is perceiving danger in an ancient way, thinking that you are facing a life or death situation. Blood sugar, blood pressure, heart rate all increase in anticipation that you may need to soon fight for your life. Does this seem like a good time to digest a burger? Not to your body either. So, the body shuts down the production of enzymes, and, of course, your awesome stomach acid. It also sends the blood from the stomach to the skeletal muscles. Remember how mom told you not to swim within 30 minutes of the whole meal thing?

Being in a constant state of stress, or at least stressed out when eating creates a poor environment for digestion. As a result, food stays in the stomach longer. This can create a feeling of bloating. The putrefaction can lead to the creation of gas in the body, which can "express" itself as belching or the lovely flatulence. This prolonged time in the stomach along with the putrefaction can cause organic acids to form. Guess what that makes you feel like you have? Yep. Acid reflux or heartburn. So, what do you take for that? You got it, acid blockers. Tums or your favorite over-the-counter acid blocker. Now, how do you think that will help your already challenged state of low stomach acid? Stay tuned for more information about the benefits of stomach acid, and how to tell if yours is low, and how to improve it.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Every Day Makes A Life

As I was working the 23rd of 26 poses during 90 minutes of Bikram Yoga, I was thinking back to a couple of months ago. During my first class, I could hardly remain in the room, which is heated to 104 degrees. Now I was finishing the postures with ease. In a short time, I had made so many changes. Chronic shoulder pain - gone. Mild lower back pain - no more. My energy, mental clarity, flexibility were all so greatly improved, my posture better and so much more. I often recommend yoga, tai chi, or qi gong to patients. If you go to the gym every day, you are putting out a long of yang energy, or what could best be described as "go-go-go" energy. Yoga is nourishing and tends to increase yin energy. This helps you to restore energy instead of feeling burned out. I find that this is what people need most.

The postures of hatha yoga have a wisdom that is thousands of years old. The more you study how the postures work on the body, the more fascinating it becomes. These are not just random stretching exercises. Each exercise not only works the body, the muscles, the joints, but also massages the internal organs, improves the health of the spine allowing energy to flow easily through the spine. Yoga postures balance the meridians of the body, and even helps your endocrine system to function better. Many of the compression postures help the thyroid, pituitary, pancreas and other endocrine organs function better. This means that if you have diabetes, low thyroid function, difficulty sleeping or other endocrine issues that they may be helped without any medication, without any supplement, but by doing a specific exercise you can create health within your own body.

When I travel, I realize more than usual how terribly overweight not just the adult population is, but teenagers and children seem to be carrying a frightening amount of excess weight as well. I want to emphasize again how incredibly important it is to exercise EVERY day. If your work life is so busy that you have no time to exercise, then what kind of a life are you living? Movement is crucial, not just to prevent illness, but to feeling truly alive. Each day, you are either improving your flexibility, or you are losing it. You are improving the functioning of your heart, or the heart muscle is becoming weaker. You are forming beta endorphins and other brain chemicals that will help you to feel happy, alive, creative, or your are moving toward depression or mood swings, just from lack of movement! When your hips are tight, your shoulders locked up, when it is hard to get up, take a walk, do exercise, you are losing the very essence of life. You are losing that which makes you most truly you, your brightest, your healthiest.

When your body is conditioned, fit, the muscles are toned, the body is flexible, you feel good. It affects every interaction, your creativity, what you are able to achieve in your life. I highly encourage you to strive for daily exercise, doing activities that you feel drawn to. I do recommend some yoga, tai chi or qi gong. If you do not currently feel that you have time in your life for exercise, let me know. I will work with you to create the space in your life. Everything is possible. Make room for this just like you were fighting for your life. Because, as it turns out, you are.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Are Plastics Into You?

One of my teachers in Environmental Medicine loved to remind us of the famous line from "The Graduate" where Dustin Hoffman discloses that his post-college plan are to "get into plastics." "But now", Dr. Crinnion would always exclaim with glee, "plastics have gotten into us!" Indeed, he is correct. They are so into us that these miracles of chemistry are causing any number of hormonal imbalances and increasing the risk of cancer. Many people have absolutely no idea how important it is to be aware of plastics in their world. Here are some tips regarding plastics:

- Avoid plastics with the following recycle numbers: #3, #6, #7. These are the most dangerous.
- NEVER heat ANYTHING in plastic. This makes it much more likely that the plastic will end up in your food and then in your body. Most of this heating requires a microwave, so while you are at it, throw out the microwave. If you have any doubt about this, try this experiment. Microwave 1 glass of water and water one of the plants in your home with it for a couple of weeks. Water a different plant with purified water. See the difference in growth in a short amount of time. One participant in my 14-Day Renewal Cleanse tried this, and plant watered with microwaved water actually died, so be aware of that.
- Don't eat anything that is packaged in styrene or styrofoam. Styrene is what is in styrofoam and it is a known carcinogen. You might get a tuna sandwich at a convenience store that is on styrene, you might get soft serve ice cream or yogurt on styrene, and I always wince at this, you might be offered coffee or tea in a styrofoam cup (it is heated, even worse!). I do not recommend drinking or eating from these products. Also, keep in mind that a fatty food is more likely to pick up the styrene. So, tuna with mayo on top of a styrene plate, or 1/2 and 1/2 with coffee in a styrofoam cup. That is a real disaster, between the coffee, the half and half, the styrofoam.
-Store and drink water out of glass bottles or stainless steel containers. A good stainless steel container is the Klean Canteen, which I highly recommend.
-There are many products out there for children that specifically avoid harmful plastics. I will have more information on these products soon. There has recently been a run on glass baby bottles as more families have become aware of the hazards of plastics for children.

Polycarbonate Plastic: It lurks in strange places...

It is very important to know where you might come into contact with polycarbonate, as I discussed in the last post. You will have to start checking your recycle numbers in the same way that you check the ingredients on food labels. Here are some places, though, that you are likely to find polycarbonate plastic:

-Sippy cups.
-Baby bottles.
-Plastic water bottles at the water cooler.
-Nalgene-like bottles that are used for sports.
-Brita Filter - The plastic pitcher that holds the water is made of polycarbonate plastic. The filter is fine, so just get one that attaches directly to the sink, rather than using the pitcher or the large plastic container that has a spigot connected to it (also polycarbonate).
-Inside lining of most cans. Yes, cans. Your soup can, your tuna can, your can used for infant formula. Have you notices that they now contain a plastic liner inside of them? It is good 'ol polycarbonate plastic, unfortunately.
-Baby toys that are made from plastics. You might have to check with a manufacturer to find out what type of plastic is used. However, you MUST do this. I will be discussing the likelihood that our most vulnerable population for all of this plastic exposure are children who have developing reproductive systems. For this group, these exogenous estrogens may cause the most harm.
-Plastic container of the Vitaminx Blender.
-Tooth colored dental fillings as well as dental sealants.

You might be needing to sit down right now and grab a sip of water. Just be sure you are drinking out of a glass. Seriously, we need to demand that these plastic resins are better studied, or studied at all. Many plastics are put into use, with tacit approval from the FDA, which classifies them with a nifty acronym, GRAS. This means it is Generally Regarded as Safe. The chemical companies swear the plastics are not harmful, and there studies appear show that to be true. The studies that were not funded by the industry show that Bisphenol A (BPA) can cause hormonal disruption, pre-dispose a person to reproductive cancers, especially younger people, contribute to insulin resistance as well as Attention Deficit Disorder.

There is actually some good news, though, so stay tuned.

Plastic Blues: How Your Water Bottle Can Make You Infertile

When I am at the yoga studio, the gym, teaching at a local massage school or just visiting with people around town, I almost always stop in mid-sentence when I notice someone drinking out of a hard plastic water bottle, often a Nalgene or Nalgene-like bottle. Please check your favorite bottle right now. Does it say #7 inside the recycle triangle? If so, it is very likely that it is made from Polycarbonate Plastic. This type of plastic is made with a chemical called Bisphenol A, a plastic and resin ingredient that has harmful effects.

Now, I know what you might be thinking. This is a hard plastic, right? The kind which will not leach. Yes, that is what you were told. However, it is not true. The unfortunate truth of polycarbonate is that the bonds are broken through hydrolysis. Hydro-lysis. Water breaks the bonds. The more that you use your bottle, the more you leach the plastic into the water. This is also true because the polycarbonate plastic begins to degrade over time, so it is easier for more plastic to make its way into the water you are drinking and then into your body.

What happens when this plastic does get into your body? After all, wax coatings on apples simply wash out of the body, why not the plastic? This type of plastic stays in the body. It is quite active. It disrupts hormones by fooling the body to recognize it as the hormone estrogen. This form of estrogen does not have the same effect as a biological form. It is more likely to result in harmful effects. This means that for women, it may increase their risk of breast cancer. In men, it can lower sperm count and contribute to infertility. An exogenous estrogen, as this is called, does not break down after time, as the natural estrogens to. Also, the body tightly regulates estrogen to minimize harmful effects. It does this by increasing sex hormone binding globulin which binds up the estrogens until they are needed. Exogenous estrogens are not reduced, unfortunately, by sex hormone binding globulin. So, low amounts of exposure to the plastic may have larger effects.

I will be discussing where else you might find this harmful plastic, why it is absolutely imperative that children are not exposed, and what alternatives might be useful.