Monthly Archives: August 2013

Positive Thinking – Build Your Emotional Bank

Much research has been published on the benefits of positive thinking.  Barbara Frederickson, a professor of psychology at UNC and a leading scholar of positive psychology, has led many NIH supported research projects on the benefits of positive thinking.  She asserts that people’s experience with positive emotions accumulates over time to become a resource in the future.   IMG_0431The more time we spend depositing into our “positive” bank the more it will accumulate with interest over time.  This yields downstream outcomes such as improved sense of purpose, improved social support and marital satisfaction, fewer depressive symptoms and improved health as well as financial wealth.  Her research found that “positive emotions momentarily broaden people’s attention and thinking, enabling them to draw on higher-level connections and a wider-than-usual range of percepts or ideas”.   These broadened outlooks help these individuals to discover and develop cognitive, psychological, social and physical resources that help with being mindful and finding solutions in the present.  This can help us gain a sense of mastery over environment challenges, the ability to give and receive emotional support and the ability to fend off a cold.   Sounds vague but also promising.

Society Keeps A Frenetic Pace

My husband and I were watching a 50 year old news clip showing Martin Luther King on Meet The Press a few days ago.  I remarked how slowly and calmly each person spoke in the group.  There was no interrupting, or sense of impatience.  Each person took their time forming and stating their thoughts as each participant listened and in turn spoke.   Today the show is fast paced  with smaller, less in depth interviews, more interruptions, less listening and more focus on getting the message across.  This is a symptom of our culture.

Today we are constantly bombarded with technology.  Work doesn’t stop when you leave the office.  There are emails, late meetings, and texts to continue into the evening.  There are more societal pressures to get our children involved in sports, dance, theater, or music at a very young age in order to catch the wave of success.   Between work, family and other demands it is hard to fathom making positive deposits!

How To Create Positive Thinking Deposits on a Shoe String Time Budget

1.  Find a group in your community that does guided meditations and learn how to quiet your mind.    Contemplative time helps us to connect with our thoughts and dispel false assumptions about the sources of one’s happiness.  Suffering really comes from distorted beliefs about our reality.  Being still and focusing on the breath helps us to look beyond our fingers and to the spaces between them.  Barbara Frederickson also found that meditating in groups significantly augmented positive outcomes versus just doing personal meditation.

2. Practice Loving Kindness Meditation.  Take 15 minutes before the day or at the end of the day, go to a quiet room, disconnect from all electronics and sit upright in a chair or on a pillow on the floor.  Make sure you are comfortable so that discomfort does not become your focus but make sure your back is straight so you can remain alert.  Focus on your breath and state the following loving kindness mantra:

  • Let me filled with loving kindness.
  • Let me be well.
  • Let me be peaceful and at ease,
  • Let me be happy.

Start by saying this several times, and then gradually extend it to a loved one, your family, a friend, a coworker, an acquaintance, a group, the world and then the universe.  Research indicates that when loving kindness is broadened this way it helps shift people’s basic perspective to themselves in relation to others, increasing empathy and compassion.  At a minimum it gives us a break from worries, concerns and moments of anger.

3.  Foster gratitude.  At the end of the day write down three things you are grateful for that happened that day.  It can be as small as a smile someone gave you or a random act of kindness.  Keep a journal of these things and see how it changes over time.  Notice how your outlook changes.

4.  As you fall asleep at night review a scenario that did not go as well as you had wanted that day and replay it in your mind changing it to a more positive scenario.  Reworking through challenges to find a more positive approach changes neural pathways in our prefrontal cortex, creating stronger more creative approaches to problems in the future.

We Are What We Think

How we fill our emotional bank can lead to either profits or losses.  By taking the time to make positive thinking deposits through group guided meditations, personal meditation, being grateful and reworking challenges with a positive twist will help us to reap rewards in the future with greater sense of purpose, life satisfaction, and success in all our relationships as well as improved health and wealth!  Now that is a deposit worth making!



Phytochemicals- How Food Choices Can Battle Cancer

Eat your colors!  We hear this often but do you know why?  Foods with more color tend to be packed with phytochemicals, special chemicals that help to protect our body against cancer.  Phytochemicals stimulate our immune system to recognize and eliminate abnormal cells that can become cancerous, discourage the development of cancer cells, and decrease the cancer causing inflammation discussed in a previous post.  Some are antioxidants that fight off the damage done by free radicals that lead to chronic diseases like arthritis, hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) and cancer.  Think of them as the street sweeper that goes around sweeping up broken glass, garbage, small twigs and sand that can puncture tires and make roads more dangerous for cars and bikes. There are thousands of phytochemicals but some are getting a lot more attention for their cancer prevention and health benefits.  For a

Important Phytochemicals

  • Carotenoids – such as beta-carotene, lutein, lycopene, zeaxanthin.  They may inhibit cancer cell growth, boost the immune system and have oxidative properties.   They are found in red, orange and green fruits and veggies such as broccoli, carrots, cooked tomatoes, winter squash, sweet potatoes, apricots, cantaloupe, oranges and watermelon.
  • Flavonoids – such as anthocyanin and quercetin.  Research indicates they inhibit tumor growth and boost the immune system as well as help to produce enzymes that detoxify the body.  They are found in apples, citrus fruits, onions, some spices, soy products, coffee and tea.  For a recent USDA data base of flavonoid content of foods click here.
  • Insoles and Glucosinolates.   They help the body to get rid of carcinogens, limit the production of hormones that promote tumor growth and block carcinogens.   They are found in cruciferous veggies like broccoli, cabbage, kale, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, cauliflower.
  • Inositol.  They may retard cell growth and work as an antioxidant.  They are found in bran from corn, oats, rice, rye and wheat, nuts, and soy products.
  • Isoflavones – such as genistein.  Research suggests they limit tumor growth, block the production of hormones that help cancers to grow and work as an antioxidant.  They are found in soy (tofu, soy nuts, miso and other soy products)
  • Isothiocyanates.  They may detoxify carcinogens, act as an antioxidant and block tumor growth.  They are found in cruciferous veggies.
  • Polyphenols – such as resveratrol.   Research supports that they may prevent cancer formation, prevent inflammation and work as an antioxidant.  They are found in wine, grapes, green tea, berries, citrus fruits, whole grains and peanuts
  • Terpenes.  Research indicates that they protect cells from becoming cancerous, block tumor growth, boost the immune system, help fight viruses, block hormones that support tumor growth and act as an antioxidant.  They are found in cherries, citrus fruit peel and rosemary.

How To Begin Eating More Phytochemicals

  1. There are several foods that offer many phytochemicals.  Notice that broccoli and other cruciferous veggies, citrus fruits, soy products and green tea are listed several times.  Begin by adding more of these to your daily diet.
  2. Eat more soy by substituting your usual pasta with Shirataki noodles and substitute half your flour with soy flour (Bob’s Red Mill makes some).   Good sources are tofu, miso, soy nut butter, soy nuts, soy milk and soy hot dogs.  Soy is higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates which can help with weight loss and the fullness factor.
  3. Eat fruits and veggies with different colors and strong flavors (great article about the breeding of nutrition out of our foods, written by Jo Robinson from the New York Times).
  4. Eat these foods rather than taking a supplement.

For more information go to AICR.

Try Different Recipes

Try the following to target many phytochemicals all at once!  Have with a cup of green tea and berries for dessert and your body will be well armed to protect itself!

Phyto Thai Delight


  • 1 tbsp. peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 small head broccoli cut up
  • 1 small chopped red pepper
  • 1 chopped large onion
  • 1 cup thinly sliced 1″ long green cabbage
  • 1 pound firm tofu cubed
  • 1/2 cup water
  • rind from one grated orange
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar
  • 2 tbsp. low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. molasses
  • ground cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup peanuts
  • 8 oz. Shirataki noodles or whole grain noodles

Cook the noodles as directed and set aside.  Add tofu, peanut oil, orange rind and veggies to well seasoned large cast iron pan and sauté until tofu is browned and veggies are al dente.  In separate bowl,  mix peanut butter, water, vinegar, soy sauce, molasses and cayenne pepper.  Add sauce to noodles and toss together.  Add veggie mixture and peanuts and mix all together.  Serves 4






It’s About Inflammation, Not Your Weight!

We are our own harshest critics when it comes to our weight.   Appearance is usually the motivator for losing weight, but often times that is not enough to make the weight loss stick.  There is a stronger motivator but it is not as visible.  Shifting the focus from weight to the burning fire within your body is the best reason and the one that will give you the greatest payback.

Testing For Inflammation

What if your focus is on reducing the slow burning up of our body by inflammation?  This is what leads to the slow destruction of our organs and interferes with our ability to function at our best. fire It leads to chronic disease like heart disease, diabetes, dementia, depression and cancer.  Even though we may not “feel” inflammation, there is a strong likelihood that it is there if any of these diseases are present.  It can be tested for by checking C-reactive protein (CRP) in the blood.  Generally there is no CRP in the blood.  The presence of CRP is an indication that you have inflammation.  This is not a routine test because it is not disease specific and can lead to a plethora of further testing to identify the source of inflammation. There is also a more sensitive test, the high-sensitivity c-reactive protein or hs-CRP that can be done to test specifically for heart disease.  Results greater than 3 mg/L indicate high risk for cardiovascular disease.

Instead of going through the expensive testing assume that if you are obese with a BMI greater than 30, are feeling tired, are not getting adequate sleep, are being treated for heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, GERD or depression, there is a strong likelihood that there is inflammation.  How about making small changes that can smother the burn, soothe your organs and restore your energy?

Smothering the Burn of Inflammation

Instead of focusing on the scale, make your goal smothering the fire.  Let’s break it down into actions you can take starting tomorrow.

  1. Walk for 10 minutes several times every day.  Walk fast enough to breath a little hard and swing your arms.  Doing this for ten minutes after a meal can diminish the rise in blood sugars and insulin levels that often occur after eating.  Large swings in blood sugars and insulin levels can lead to weight gain.
  2. Take the stairs whenever you have a chance.  No more elevators unless it’s greater than three floors.
  3. Set a sleep schedule time and get a minimum of seven hours of sleep.  We know adequate sleep helps fat metabolism.  Too much fat, especially around the belly, is the fuel for inflammation.
  4. Avoid toxins from things like mercury (choose low mercury fish from below), excessive alcohol, and pesticides.
  5. Eliminate allergens that may be contributing to asthma and bowel disorders.  Lactose and wheat are fairly common ones.
  6. Eat fewer processed foods and whole fat dairy that are full of the inflammatory-causing trans and saturated fats.
  7. Eat more high Omega 3 foods:
  • Fish – particularly sardines, striped bass, wild salmon, herring and anchovies.
  • Eat two tbsp. of ground flax seed daily.  You can put it in hot cereal (after cooking), add it to sauces or put it in a smoothie.
  • Eat two tbsp. of walnuts daily- this makes a perfect topping for oatmeal or yogurt.
  • Eat one serving of either Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach and watercress daily.

8.  Eat more foods high in antioxidants like kidney and pinto beans, berries-especially blue berries, and artichoke hearts.

Try gradually adding these actions to your daily routine, be mindful of your energy level and see what wonderful things will happen one month from now.  Instead of your body burning up, your body and mind will be more stable and alert and you will notice some of those clothes fitting much better as a byproduct without even focusing on your weight!


Is It Menopause or Low Blood Sugars Causing Your Night Sweats?

Do you wake up at night and throw off your covers because you are feeling hot and damp?  Do you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes?  Did you eat a lot of crackers, ice cream, pretzels or chips in the evening and wake up with soaked sheets?  There are many causes of night sweats but often times people who have not been diagnosed with diabetes or prediabetes do not consider the possibility that they might be having low blood sugars in the middle of the night and not just hot flashes from menopause.

Low Blood Sugars Could Be Causing Your Night Sweats

If you have a family history of diabetes, you are “overwaist” with a waist circumference greater than 35 for a woman, you do not exercise regularly and you eat refined carbohydrates in excessive amounts, you might have prediabetes.   Eating a large amount of sugary foods or white flour products can cause a rapid rise in blood sugar which then tells your pancreas to release extra amounts of insulin.  This extra insulin can bring your blood sugar down rapidly and actually cause a low blood sugar.  Have you ever felt shaky mid morning after eating cold cereal or pancakes with lots of syrup for breakfast.  Have you munched on a whole bag of pretzels commending yourself for them being low fat but noticed you had night sweats that woke you in the middle of the night?  Have you noticed on the days you eat more whole grains, lean protein, Greek yogurt, nuts, lots of veggies with a small night snack of fruit that you do not wake up with night sweats?  To get a better understanding let me explain what happens with Type 2 diabetes.

What Is Type 2 Diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a completely different disease process than Type 1 diabetes.  Type 1 is an autoimmune disorder that results in complete loss of insulin production by the pancreas.   Those individuals are dependent on insulin from a needle in order to live.  Insulin is the transporter of glucose or sugar into the cells for energy.  Without enough insulin, cells lose their fuel source.   Type 2 diabetes is really a stress state in the body, highly genetic but really a problem with insulin effectiveness.   In Type 2 diabetes the body does not recognize its own insulin – this is called insulin resistance.  Having excessive abdominal fat is associated with insulin resistance.  Because the body does not recognize it’s own insulin there is a series of events that further exacerbates the situation:

  • The cells do not get enough glucose to do their work.
  • The pancreas works even harder making more insulin in an effort to get glucose into the cells.
  • Glucose builds up in the blood stream damaging the arteries and causing blindness, nerve damage, kidney damage and heart disease.
  • The pancreas begins to tire out and makes less and less insulin.

Before full fledged Type 2 diabetes develops, the pancreas makes extra insulin in order to get the glucose into the cells.  It’s similar to your furnace.  If your furnace has not been cleaned for years it gets more inefficient at burning oil due to poor mixing with the air and your furnace ends up burning through more oil (and on top of it can back fire making a huge mess!!).   That extra insulin is a sign that your body is not working efficiently.  In addition, the extra insulin can lead to low blood sugars at certain times depending on food choices.

Diagnosing Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes has a history.   It does not just suddenly come on like a switch.  It begins with a gradual rise in glucoses that your healthcare provider can detect as part of the Basic Metabolic Panel, especially if the blood sample is taken in the fasting state.  Normally glucose is well below 100 but as the body gradually becomes more resistant to insulin, blood sugars begin to rise.  There are two other tests that are used for diagnosis.  The Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) that looks at blood samples two hours after drinking a sweet substance.  And the A1c that looks at an average of blood sugars over 2-3 months time.  Below are the diagnostic criteria for prediabetes and diabetes:

  • Prediabetes – fasting blood sugar 100-125; OGTT 140-199; A1c of 5.7-6.4
  • Diabetes – fasting blood sugar > 125; random blood sugar > 200; OGTT > 200; A1c 6.5 or greater

What You Can Do

Connect the dots...look for patterns

Connect the dots…look for patterns

Know your family history.  Type 2 diabetes has a strong genetic link.  Then look for patterns and connect the dots between your food choices, your energy state 2 hours after eating and the frequency and timing of your night sweats.  Have your fasting blood glucose checked and either a OGTT or an A1c.  Being diagnosed with prediabetes and being willing to lose 7% of your weight and exercising at a moderate level of intensity 150 minutes a week can preserve your pancreas, decrease insulin resistance and restore your energy.  Use a health coach or sustainable weight loss program to get you started.  You will get payback for the rest of your life!!

Do You Know How Your Kidneys Are Doing?

You probably don’t think much about your kidneys.  ẢnhDid you know symptoms of kidney disease might not manifest until there is 90% loss of kidney function?  Decline in kidney function can be caused by certain disease processes, genetic defects, exposure to certain bacteria or drugs or congenital defects during birth.  Knowing your family history will alert your healthcare provider to test for it but knowing your numbers will heighten your awareness of what steps to take to maintain healthy kidney function.

Kidney Function

We have two kidneys, each about the size of a fist, one on each side of the back of our abdomen.   They filter all our blood several times a day while:

  • maintaining fluid and electrolyte balance
  • removing waste from our body
  • removing drug end products
  • producing an active form of vitamin D that helps strengthen our bones
  • releasing hormones that regulate blood pressure
  • making a hormone called erythropoietin that assists with the production of red blood cells

Types of Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is defined as having some kind of kidney abnormality (such as protein in the urine) that results in declined kidney function for three months or longer.  There are many types of CKD.

Hypertension and Diabetes

Having poorly controlled  diabetes is the most common cause of kidney damage.  Diabetes is caused by a defect in insulin production or insulin use that results in high blood sugars.  Think of high blood sugars being like sandpaper inside the arteries of the kidneys gradually destroying the filtering units of the kidneys.  Poorly controlled high blood pressure is another very common cause of chronic kidney disease.   High blood pressure causes damage to the fine meshwork of arteries inside the kidneys – visualize the impact of a heavy rain on the banks of small brooks.

Inherited Types of CKD

Polycystic Kidney Disease is the most common type that results in the formation of large cysts that gradually harm kidney function.

Inflammation of the Kidneys

There are tiny filtering units called glomeruli in the kidneys that can be damaged from exposure to bacteria.  Some examples are E Coli from eating contaminated foods or streptococcus from strep throat.  Autoimmune diseases like Systemic Lupus Erythematosas can also cause chronic inflammation of the kidneys.

Congenital Defects

These are defects that happen while the fetus is developing in the womb.  A common defect involves the malfunction of a valve in the urine tube that causes urine to back up and damage the kidneys.

Drugs and Toxins

Many over-the-counter pain medications, such as Aleve and Ibuprofen, cause kidney damage.  Repeated use of antibiotics can cause kidney damage.  Exposure to poisons and pesticides and illicit drugs like crack and heroin can all cause kidney damage.

Simple Tests for Kidney Disease

There are several ways to detect kidney disease.  Early detection can preserve kidney function.

  • Check blood pressure with the goal of keeping your blood pressure under 130/80 for those with diabetes, and under 140/90 for those with hypertension.   Checking your own blood pressure at different times of the day – even at work when it can be highest – is essential.   Your heart is beating 24 hours a day, not just at the doctor’s office and often times the doctor office results can be less accurate due to anxiety, not sitting for five minutes or not having your arm at the right height.  You can purchase a reliable one at Walmart for less than $50.
  • Have your healthcare provider check for protein in your urine.  The presence of protein in the urine indicates some damage to the filtering units of the kidneys.   Heavy exercise can cause this so this should be repeated several times.
  • Have your healthcare provider check your blood creatinine- this is a simple blood test that is part of a basic metabolic panel.   Creatinine is a metabolic waste byproduct that are is indicative of how well your kidneys are working.  Used in conjunction with your age, race, gender and other factors  your estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (GFR) can be calculated.   A GFR under 60 is considered the threshold of CKD.  Use this calculator to determine your GFR

Treatment for Chronic Kidney Disease

There is a lot that can be done to control the damage from CKD.  There are many drugs that can control and preserve kidney function.  There are many dietary changes that people can follow to keep kidneys healthy.  Eating a low fat, low sodium diet can go a long way in protecting the delicate filtering system of the kidneys.  The average American consumes well over 4000 mg of sodium daily.  Getting that closer to 1500 mg by avoiding high salt foods like smoked foods and deli meats; canned, prepared and packaged goods that are not low sodium; pickles; olives and many cheeses to name a few, can make a big difference.  Eating a low fat diet by reducing saturated and trans fats from foods like hot dogs, sausage, red meat, many chips and crackers, whole fat dairy will reduce the bad fat that leads to hardening of the arteries.  In addition, eating mostly grains that are whole (they are high in natural fiber that act like sponges soaking up the bad artery-clogging fats) will go a long way in keeping your arteries soft and flexible.  For those with diabetes, checking blood sugars, particularly checking 2 hours after a meal when blood sugars can be the highest, will give you an idea of your blood sugar control.  Eating a diet of carbohydrates that are high in natural fiber like those in whole grains and fruits in portioned amounts; lean protein from fish, chicken and tofu and emphasizing your lunch and dinner plate being one half nonstarchy veggies, can be more effective than medications in controlling your diabetes.  If this seems like a daunting task then schedule an appointment with a dietitian; dietary changes are as important as prescription medications in controlling hypertension and diabetes and often times can mean getting off some medications.

You Are In Control of Your Health

We can’t feel if our kidneys are being damaged.  Visible signs of kidney disease only happen when there is serious damage.  But being an educated health care consumer can alert you to early warning signs and put you in the driver’s seat of your health.  Know your blood pressure, find our your blood creatinine and calculate your GFR.  A result well over 60 (and hopefully over 90) is an indication that your are living a healthy life, a priceless payback!