Tag Archives: winter

Minimizing Colds and Flu for Athletes

iStock_KidsSoccerCold and flu season is here! This morning when I dropped my kids off at school there were 16 kids missing out of 50 due to illness. Seeing all these spaces on the list made me curious to come home and do some research to see what the scientific literature has found to be the best ways to prevent colds and flu. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the colder Autumn months are associated with the lungs which provide “defensive energy”; meaning our ability to maintain a good barrier between ourselves and the outside world. Here are some of the best ways that Western science has found to help keep our immune systems and lungs strong as we head into the holidays:

Crowded offices, schoolrooms and homes predispose us to sharing germs; higher humidity in these indoor spaces increases the risk of transmission because sneezed or coughed viral particles more readily enter into water droplets that can be inhaled. What to do? Beyond the obvious regular handwashing and sneezing into your elbow, minimize the use of the humidifier and open doors and windows whenever possible to let in fresh air.

Both the quantity and the quality of sleep play a role in immune function; make sure to get enough hours of sleep and try to minimize disturbances during the night.

Both too much and too little exercise tends to decrease immunity and increase incidence of infection. Consistent, daily, moderate exercise has been shown to prevent colds and flu.

While exercise will boost endorphins and immune function, chronic exposure to cold air during endurance exercise can damage bronchial and lung tissue. While you ski, snowboard, run, or skate in cold weather, wear a balaclava or neck gaiter to help warm the air you are breathing.

If you are doing some significant exercise, the most effective way to support the immune system is to ingest a carbohydrate-rich drink before, during, and after. This helps to moderate blood sugar and minimize the impact on immunity.

Generally keeping blood sugar consistent is also key for maintaining immune health. Minimize consumption of alcohol, white flours, and refined sugars, and eat a significant source of protein at least twice per day.

A couple of my favorite immune-boosting foods are jerusalem artichokes and coconut oil.

Stay Healthy!

Does Grapefruit Really Help with Weight Loss?

As we start to turn the corner from wintertime and head into spring, many of us start thinking about how we are going to “spring clean” any extra accumulation from the winter.  As we start sweeping out the dust bunnies under the bed, we may also start thinking about how to lose the few extra pounds we have accumulated during the cold months.  Because it is still wintertime we do still need to focus on support of our internal energy production; (for more on this, see Conserving) but this is possible to do while also starting to increase the body’s metabolism in preparation for the warmer months.

In my 12 years of seeing patients, I have encountered many diet regimens; my patients have come in zoning, flushing fat, south beaching, low fat, high fat, vegan, high protein and everything in between.  But one diet that seems to have persisted over time is the grapefruit diet: basically, eat grapefruit at the beginning of every meal, limit your calorie consumption to less than 800 per day, and the grapefruit will burn the fat right off of you.  So let’s take a moment and talk about whether this is a good regimen and whether grapefruit can play a role in weight loss.

First I’ll talk about the second half of the grapefruit diet:  Any long-term regimen that recommends less than 800 calories per day will probably aid in weight loss at the outset.  That said, after a week or two the body will reset its metabolism and go into starvation mode.  The effect of this is that you will stop being able to lose weight by restricting calories and your metabolism will still be lowered once you return to your normal caloric intake causing rapid weight gain.  Also, when you lose weight rapidly in combination with low levels of food in the bloodstream, your body can go into ketosis, which is dangerous for the health of the brain.  Also, if you are burning fat quickly you can release stored toxins into the blood very quickly; especially for those who already have other health conditions this can make you feel downright nasty.  So, I’m not an advocate for the severe caloric restriction part of the plan.

So now, let’s talk about grapefruit.  There are studies that indicate that eating grapefruit at the beginning of each meal will help you eat less and lose weight.  One study, however, compared this to drinking a glass of water or any high density low calorie substance and didn’t find much difference; the point here is that your stomach is full before you start eating the high-calorie stuff.  That said, those people who had grapefruit rather than water developed better blood cholesterol levels over time.

Another study compared people taking grapefruit either in whole, juice, or capsule form against those taking a placebo capsule.  Those eating whole grapefruit lost the most weight, but all three groups had a statistically significant weight loss greater than those who took the placebo.  This does indicate that the grapefruit itself can accelerate weight loss.  Also, those who were taking grapefruit had lower levels of insulin in their bloodstream following a meal, and showed improvement in insulin resistence (which can lead to type 2 diabetes).

One interesting study done on mice just looked at the effect of inhaling the scent of grapefruit oil.  This study found that inhalation of grapefruit oil scent helped to excite the sympathetic nerves, reduce appetite, and increase fat burning.  They then blocked their sense of smell, and inhalation of the oil without being able to sense the scent showed no effect.  This indicates that having your brain register the scent of grapefruit in itself may help with weight loss over time.

Overall, grapefruit does seem to be a useful adjunct to a weight loss plan.  It can possibly help burn fat, improve insulin and cholesterol levels, and replace unwanted extra calories by filling you up at the beginning of your meal.  So eat reasonably, and enjoy this tasty late winter delight to help boost metabolism and get ready for the warm weather to come!

Seaweed and Thyroid Health

During the winter months, as I have mentioned a few times, we want to support our own internal sources of energy production.  One of our primary hormone producing centers in the body is the thyroid.  Generally speaking, the thyroid helps to regulate how “fast” the body runs.  A good way to illustrate this is to talk about what happens when the thyroid gets out of balance:  too much thyroid hormone will make the heart beat too quickly and cause weight loss from increased metabolism.  Too little thyroid hormone will cause weight gain, slowed production of skin, hair and nails (causing hair loss, weak nails, and dry skin), weight gain, and constipation from slowed digestion.

Seaweed has traditionally been used as medicine for the thyroid.  In Chinese medicine, it is seen as cooling and good for dissolving any type of swelling.  In autoimmune thyroid conditions such as Hashimoto’s or Graves disease, it has been used to decrease inflammation and swelling. In hypothyroid, the swelling of the thyroid known as “goiter” has also been treated by seaweed.  In Western medicine, this is assumed to be related to replacement of deficient Iodine.

To read the rest of this article on Dr. Rosen’s blog, click here

Cortisol, Blood Sugar, and Adrenal Health

One of the primary goals for our seasonal eating during the winter is to keep the blood sugar balanced. Especially during the winter months, it is crucial to work on preserving and increasing the health of the adrenals; controlling blood sugar is one very important way to do this.
During this time of the year, because we are not getting much energy from the sun and fresh foods, we must rely more heavily on our body’s own methods of energy production from the hormone, or endocrine system. One of the primary organs we want to support during this time are the adrenal glands, as they are responsible for producing many of the hormones that help us feel energetic.

The hormone we associate most with our ability to feel “awake” is cortisol. Cortisol is a sugar-mobilizing hormone we produce for two primary reasons: as a response to stress and when our blood sugar drops too low. Historically, stress for humans has meant “fight or flight” or as I like to put it “I have to run from the bear.” During stress, our body makes adrenaline which helps prepare us for running: our heart pumps faster and lungs open wide to help provide more blood to our brain and muscles. At the same time we are producing adrenaline, we also produce cortisol, which mobilizes sugar from storage so the brain and muscles can work extra hard, run fast, and climb that tree.

When blood sugar drops low and we start to feel fatigued and foggy, our body will also make cortisol so we can boost the blood sugar and feel clear and awake again. A diet high in refined starch and sugars has the tendency to spike blood sugar. When the blood sugar spikes, the pancreas will produce a lot of insulin which will put that sugar into our cells very quickly, which in turn will drop the blood sugar very low. Some of us know this feeling of hypoglycemia which can produce groggyness, crankiness, headache, and a desire to nap. When the body becomes hypoglycemic, the adrenals will produce cortisol to try to manage the low blood sugar.

The problem with this pattern is that, over time, the adrenals can become accustomed to producing more cortisol than is healthy for them. The combination of a stressful lifestyle and chronic hypoglycemia can fatigue the adrenals which compromises their ability to function properly. This can lead to insomnia, weight gain, extreme fatigue, and can even contribute to heart disease.

The wintertime is the ideal time to replenish our adrenals. The dark, cold weather helps us to bring our focus inward and take the time to rejuvenate our own sources of energy production. The simplest ways to do this are adequate sleep, managing stress properly, and keeping the blood sugar well regulated. The rules of keeping the blood sugar stable are:regular meals, avoiding refined starches and sugars, and focusing more on eating proteins, high fiber, and fats.