Saturday, July 31, 2010

Dr. Mark Hyman & Functional Medicine

One of my favorite lecturers during my program at IIN was Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The UltraMind Solution, Ultrametabolism, The UltraSimple Diet, and Ultraprevention.  He is a Medical Doctor (yup, educated at an accredited institution and fully trained) and when he first started working in the ER, he thought he was above taking care of himself because he was a doctor. He became very sick and ended up healing himself through natural methods including heavy metal detoxification and diet changes.  
He now practices functional medicine, an emerging system of medicine that addresses and solves the root cause of a disease vs. just masking a disease's symptoms.  Common sources of disease are hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, inflammatory foods, and stress.  Dr. Hyman's lecture really resonated with me because I'm not a big fan of pharmaceuticals and OTC medicine.  Medications are 99.9% of the time a band-aid not a true treatment of the disease or disorder.
Below is a great article Dr. Hyman wrote on functional medicine and autoimmune disease.  A great simile he uses to describe functional medicine is: 
"Functional medicine is a different way of thinking about disease that helps us understand and treat the real causes of inflammation instead of finding clever ways to shut it down. Medicine as it is practiced today is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while a fire burns down your house!"
What are you thoughts on functional medicine?  Have you heard of Mark Hyman before?

Inflammation is "hot" topic in medicine. It appears connected to almost every known chronic disease -- from heart disease to cancer, diabetes to obesity, autism to dementia, and even depression. Other inflammatory diseases such as allergies, asthma, arthritis, and autoimmune disease are increasing at dramatic rates. As physicians we are trained to shut off inflammation with aspirin, anti-inflammatory medication such as Advil or Motrin, steroids and increasingly more powerful immune suppressing medication with serious side effects. But we are not trained to find and treat the underlying causes of inflammation in chronic disease. Hidden allergens, infections, environmental toxins, an inflammatory diet, and stress are the real causes of these inflammatory conditions.
Autoimmune diseases, specifically, now affect 24 million people and include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, thyroid disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and more. These are often addressed by powerful immune suppressing medication and not by addressing the cause. That's like taking a lot of aspirin while you are standing on a tack. The treatment is not more aspirin or a strong immune suppressant, but removing the tack.
It you want to cool off inflammation in the body, you must find the source. Treat the fire, not the smoke. In medicine we are mostly taught to diagnose disease by symptoms, NOT by their underlying cause. Functional medicine, the emerging 21st paradigm of systems medicine teaches us to treat the cause, not only the symptoms, to ask the question WHY are you sick, not only WHAT disease do you have.
I recently participated in a group discussion with a conventional doctor, a rheumatologist, and patient with an autoimmune disease, and one of my patients who was cured of a complex autoimmune disease by addressing the causes. The focus of the other doctors, however, was on how to suppress the inflammation with medication, not finding and treating the cause. Functional medicine is a different way of thinking about disease that helps us understand and treat the real causes of inflammation instead of finding clever ways to shut it down. Medicine as it is practiced today is like taking the battery out of a smoke detector while a fire burns down your house!
When my patient described how he cured his autoimmune disease by finding and eliminating the causes of inflammation in his diet and environment, it was dismissed as a "spontaneous remission." In the face of a paradigm-shattering medical case, these docs were hardly curious and quickly dismissive, describing what was shared as anecdotal.
My patient on that panel, a hard-working 46-year old father of three was once so inflamed he could barely function. By treating the underlying causes of his inflammation he is now in vibrant good health, enjoying his life with his kids and fully capable of caring for them.
Stories like these (and the many others I have shared in my blogs, books, and on television) are not anecdotes but a giant compass pointing us in the direction we should be looking to find answers to our health problems.
In today's blog, I will explain what autoimmunity is, how inflammation spirals out of control, describe some of the underlying causes for these fires in the body, and provide you with nine steps to cool the fires of inflammation and overcome conditions that range from allergies to arthritis and more.
Autoimmunity: What it is and How it Occurs
We are facing an epidemic of allergic (60 million people), asthmatic (30 million people) and autoimmune disorders (24 million people). Autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, celiac disease, thyroid disease, and the many other hard-to-classify syndromes in the 21st century. These are all autoimmune conditions, and at their root they are connected by one central biochemical process: A runaway immune response also known as systemic inflammation that results in your body attacking its own tissues.
Your immune system is your defense against invaders. It is your internal army and has to clearly distinguish friend from foe -- to know you from other. Autoimmunity occurs when your immune system gets confused and your own tissues get caught in friendly cross-fire. Your body is fighting something -- an infection, a toxin, an allergen, a food or the stress response -- and somehow it redirects its hostile attack on your joints, your brain, your thyroid, your gut, your skin, or sometimes your whole body.
This immune confusion results from what is referred to as molecular mimicry. Conventional approaches don't have a method for finding the insult causing the problem. Functional medicine provides a map to find out which molecule the cells are mimicking.
Interestingly, autoimmune disorders occur almost exclusively in developed countries. People in poor nations without modern amenities like running water, flush toilets, washing machines, and sterile backyards don't get these diseases. If you grew up on a farm with lots of animals, you are also less likely to have any of these inflammatory disorders. Playing in the dirt, being dirty, and being exposed to bugs and infections trains your immune system to recognize what is foreign and what is "you."
In this country, autoimmune diseases when taken all together are a huge health burden. They are the eighth leading cause of death among women, shortening the average patient's lifespan by eight years. The annual health care cost for autoimmune diseases is $120 billion a year representing nearly twice the economic health care burden of cancer (about $ 70 billion a year). (i)
Unfortunately, many of the conventional treatments available can make you feel worse. Anti-inflammatory drugs like Advil, steroids, immune suppressants like methotrexate, and the new TNF-alpha blockers like Enbrel or Remicade can lead to intestinal bleeding, kidney failure, depression, psychosis, osteoporosis, muscle loss, and diabetes, not to mention overwhelming infection and cancer.(ii)
When used selectively these drugs can help people get their lives back. But they are not a long-term solution. They shouldn't be the end of treatment, but a bridge to cool off inflammation while we treat the root cause of the disease.
There is another way to deal with autoimmune conditions. Let me share the same story I told the doctors on that panel.
Recovering from Autoimmunity: Addressing the Root Causes of Inflammation
My patient Sam ended up on a long misadventure through the medical system before he came to see me. For years he went from doctor to doctor getting all kinds of labels for his problems but no real help in treating them.
This hard-working, once healthy trade professional had suddenly developed a series of inflammatory conditions including chronic sinus and prostate infections. Many doctors gave him many antibiotics for these infections.
Shortly thereafter, he developed severe chest pains and went to the emergency room. While he was there, doctors found swollen lymph nodes and told him he had lymphoma, a form of cancer. For three weeks he lived in despair until the biopsy results came back. It turned out he didn't have cancer but an autoimmune disease. Which autoimmune disease? The doctors weren't quite sure ...
He had many abnormal blood test results -- like low white blood cell and platelet counts, high levels of auto-antibodies of all types (antibodies that attack our own tissues), high immunoglobulins (the foot soldiers of the immune system), and autoimmune thyroid disease. But doctors had a hard time putting their finger on what was wrong. They couldn't label him.
Meanwhile, Sam developed metabolic syndrome and weight gain (pre-diabetes) as a result of the runaway inflammation in his body.
Here is a quote from one his specialist's notes:
"Whether he has lupus or Sjogren's syndrome is a bit unclear. Regardless, he merely needs observation and no therapeutic intervention at this time."
This unfortunately is all to common. What exactly did they plan to observe, how bad he felt? Or would they just wait for him to get worse before intervening?
That's when he came to me. Using a functional medicine approach, a new way of thinking about the underlying causes and imbalances in chronic disease, I began by asking Sam some simple questions. Then I went hunting for toxins, allergens, and infections -- all common causes of inflammation -- and found the real causes of his symptoms. He had taken so many antibiotics that altered his gut flora or bacteria and promoted yeast overgrowth. Fungus and yeast flourished in his body, growing between his toes, on his toenails, in his crotch, and scalp. He had Helicobacter pylori bacteria in his gut. He had a leaky gut and reacted to many foods, including dairy and gluten. He was exposed to toxins at his job and had high levels of mercury. And he had chronic sinus infections.
So we went to work cleaning house. I treated his yeast with anti-fungals and the H. pylori with antibiotics, got rid of his food allergies, fixed his gut, detoxified him from metals, and cleaned up his sinuses. Then I helped heal his immune system by supporting it with nutrients. I gave him zinc, fish oil, vitamin D, herbs, and probiotics, and put him on a clean, whole-foods, allergen free, anti-inflammatory diet.
At his next follow-up visit, I asked Sam how he was doing, expecting him to say that he felt a little better. However, his response surprised even me. He said he felt fine.
"What about the fatigue?" I asked.
"I have great energy."
"What about the bloating and gas?"
"What about the reflux?"
"What about your sinuses and chronic phlegm?"
"All clear."
"What about your memory and concentration problems?"
"All better."
And he lost 15 pounds.
When his labs came in, they confirmed what he told me -- they were all back to normal. His white cells increased and his immune markers calmed way down.
Sam's results simply reflect the application of a new model of thinking about problems called Functional medicine -- it's a way to get to the root of health problems and treat the underlying causes of what ails you instead of suppressing symptoms with medications.
If you have an autoimmune disease, here is what you need to think about and do.
Nine Steps to Treating Autoimmune Disease
1. Check for hidden infections -- yeast, viruses, bacteria, Lyme, etc. -- with the help of a doctor, and treat them.
2. Check for hidden food allergens with IgG food testing or just try The UltraSimple Diet, which is designed to eliminate most food allergens.
3. Get tested for celiac disease, which is a blood test that any doctor can do.
4. Get checked for heavy metal toxicity. Mercury and other metals can cause autoimmunity.
5. Fix your gut. For details, see my blog on irritable bowel syndrome.
6. Use nutrients such as fish oil, vitamin C, vitamin D, and probiotics to help calm your immune response naturally.
7. Exercise regularly -- it's a natural anti-inflammatory.
8. Practice deep relaxation like yoga, deep breathing, biofeedback, or massage, because stress worsens the immune response.
9. Tell your doctor about Functional medicine and encourage him or her to get trained -- go to for more information and to get a copy of the Textbook for Functional Medicine.
Give these steps a try -- and see if you don't start feeling less inflamed. As I said earlier, the answers are right in front of you. Treat the underlying causes of your illness and you will begin to experience vibrant health once more.
Now I'd like to hear from you...
Have you been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease?
How is your doctor treating you?
Have you been frustrated by the medical advice that you've been given?
What steps have you taken to get to the root of the problem, and what have your results been?
Please leave your thoughts by adding a comment below.
To your good health,
Mark Hyman, M.D.

Friday, July 30, 2010

How to Read those Produce Labels

Sometimes I get an apple with a sticker on it and it just won't come off.  It's not meant to be a pest but to be informative. On the sticker may be the name of the specific type of apple (or whatever produce) you may be eating.  More importantly, what's also on there is the price look up (PLU) code.  This code is a really important tool in identifying the way that your produce was grown.  There's actually a whole site devoted to helping you decipher fruit labels.

There are really only 4 types of stickers to remember and 3 categories. Labels with:
4 digits beginning with 3 or 4 are conventionally grown, non-GMO produce.  This produce has been sprayed with weed killers and chemical pesticides but is not genetically modified
5 digits beginning with 8 means that the produce is genetically modified (boo! hiss!)
5 digits beginning with 9 means it is organic! (refer to my post on the Dirty Dozen to see what foods to prioritize in buying organic)

Here are examples of different tomatoes:

~Conventionally grown with pesticides and plant killers but not GMO
~Conventionally grown with pesticides and plant killers but not GMO 

Genetically modified! Don't buy it! 


This may be confusing but very important when you are buying produce at the supermarket!  Here's an easy little rhyme I learned to help you remember all this information:
"8, we hate.........4, is poor.........9, is mine."
Happy Shopping!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Just Say "No" to GMO's


Genetically modified organisms, GMO's for short, are a loaded topic. A genetically modified organism is a plant or animal that has had genes from other organisms inserted into its DNA structure.  A huge reason for the popularity of GMO's is because of agriculture.  Some people think GMO's are going to save our planet from world hunger.  By modifying plants, they can grow under harsher conditions and/or more quickly.  The same with animals.  For instance, an "antifreeze" gene from fish has been introduced to tomatoes so that they can grow in colder weather.  And salmon has a gene from another fish, called a pout, that enables it to continuously produce growth steroids anyone?  

The popularity of GMO's in the US is unfortunately growing.  You'll be surprised to learn what countries already have restrictions on GMO's.  See the list below (courtesy of

The following countries have banned or restricted the import, distribution, sale, utilization, field trials and commercial planting of GMO’s:
  • Africa: Algeria, Egypt
  • Asia: Sri Lanka, Thailand, China, Japan, Phillipines
  • Europe: The European Union, Norway, Austria, Germany United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Portugal
  • Latin America: Brazil, Paraguay
  • Middle East: Saudi Arabia
  • North America: Maryland has banned GE (genetically engineered) fish and North Dakota and Montana have filed bans on GE wheat. The Municipalities of Burlington, Vermont (declared a moratorium on GE food), Boulder, Colorado (bans on GE crops) and the City and County of San Francisco (urged the federal government to ban GE food) are the only towns or states to take some sort of stand against plants, animals, foods, crops and body products that are, or contain Genetically Modified Organisms.
    NOTE: The U.S. government, and the FDA do not require anything Genetically Modified to be identified on ingredient lists. Genetically Modified foods and products are in widespread use and distribution throughout the U.S.
  • Pacific: American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Australia, New Zealand
Percentage of crops that are Genetically Modified in the U.S.:
  • Soy (85%)
  • Cotton (Cottonseed) (76%)
  • Canola (75%)
  • Corn (40%)
  • Hawaiian papaya (more than 50%)
  • Zucchini and Yellow Squash (small amount)
  • Quest brand tobacco (100%)
GMO's are controversial. (What topic on this blog hasn't been?)  Scientists state that there are no negative side effects from eating genetically modified plants and animals.  What does your gut think? Mine says that we are trying to play the role of God (or whoever is in charge).  If tomatoes were meant to grow in the cold weather, they would!  And if fish were meant to grow faster, they'd be able to!  But alas, they do not.  

How can someone believe that slicing and dicing the genetic makeup - essentially, the being - of a plant or animal do not change them and how they react in our bodies?  My suggestion is to avoid GMO's.  Unfortunately, it's hard to identify what is a GMO or what products contain it. There is no law in the US that requires for GMO's to be labeled.  I have seen some products state that they are GMO-free.  Also, by default, organic produce and packaged food do not contain GMO's.  Here is a shopping guide with a ton more information.  As consumers, we vote for what we want to buy every time we are at the register.  Make wiser choices and companies will respond!!  Take action!
Check back tomorrow for a post on how to read those numbered produce stickers at the grocery store.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Baby Food Diet

Have you thought you'd seen it all in terms of fad mono diets?  There's tons of diets based on eating a single food or food group.  These include the grapefruit diet, the legendary cabbage soup diet, the popular cookie diet, and even the fried chicken diet!  The basis of a mono diet is that a person can only eat one, single thing for a certain period of time.  Then due to human nature, the person will get so bored of eating that one thing that they won't want to eat anymore. So they stop eating and lose weight.  But when a person returns to a normal diet, they start eating EVERYTHING due to deprivation and then gain all the weight back and likely some more.  Despite the predictable failed outcome to these diets, they continue to reappear in new forms.  The most recent being in innocent baby food form. 

This may make the most sense of all the diets I mentioned.  Pureed organic baby food does not cost that much and there is a lot of variety including vegetables, fruits and lean meat.  Unfortunately, it is still not enough for a person to sustain themselves on. The nutrients available in baby food is made for, you guessed it, babies. Cute little 10 pound creatures. Not adults.  Plus at the end of the day, the stuff is still processed.  So I'd ask that you stay away from this diet and any of these fad mono diets.  However, I do have a tip around baby food that I learned from fellow holistic health counselor, Liz of Mind Body Basics.  For those of us who can't seem find a great snack on the go or when traveling, bring along a pouch of baby food like the one in the above picture and when hungry, slurp it like a Go-gurt.  It's a convenient, cheap and organic snack.  Happy slurping!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Quote for the Week: Overwhelmed

It's been a remarkable weekend. I am officially a certified holistic health counselor! There were many quotable quotes this past weekend from teachers, students and past graduates.  One really resonated and stuck with me and I will be using it for a while.

"Overwhelmed is about your not being up to speed with what you asked the universe for."

Attention. The Systems are Down.

Continuing the conversation from my post on Friday…

The article gave 4 tips. Essentially, eat more vegetables and fruits and less fats and meat. Oh, and exercise. Apparently, we're not doing that. Is this news? The rate of obesity has been on the rise for almost a century. The public hears recommendations that experts and the USDA suggest, but for some reason, they're not following them. Why not?

The article touches lightly on it. “For Americans today, healthy eating is like swimming upstream.” The system does not allow for people to make the best choices. Sheer human will power has something to do with our failed health but I’d say the majority of it has to do with the systems that touch upon food. The systems I am covering are very complicated. There are multiple facets that would take years and years of blog posts to cover. What I’m offering are my high level thoughts on how they impact our inability to make healthy choices.

The food system is completely distorted and extremely complex in the US. The government has a very large hand in the food industry and that really shouldn’t be the case because it has its other hand(s) in making laws, the country’s economic wellbeing, and a much much more. The agenda of government sponsored groups are a bit hazy. Who are they working for? The people? The industry lobbyists? The US economy? I’ll let you decide for yourself.
The reality of the situation is that vitamin and antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables are not subsidized by the government while soy, corn, wheat, milk and meat are. And because of the way those foods are subsidized, farmers and livestock growers try to produce as much bulk as possible, sacrificing quality for quantity. The citizens’ health and wellbeing are not concerns. Shouldn’t the food system and the food pyramid be based on healthy BMI’s or blood pressure and not $$$?? There are many more aspects of food and politics. If you are interested, I’d suggest one Marion Nestle’s book Food Politics and her very informative

The issue with the education system is 3-fold.
1) Food education itself is minimal. What I remember learning about food was a brief overview of the food pyramid and minimal cooking experience in a 7th grade Home Ec class where I remember making cookies and cakes vs. kale or hummus.
2) School food is an atrocious excuse for food. It's the garbage pail for the subsidized food system.  If a student is receiving any adequate information on healthy eating, he or she experiences an extreme disconnect once they get into the cafeteria. School food needs to align with what we teach our children and we need to teach our children correctly.
3) Physical education aka gym class is being eliminated or drastically cut from many schools in favor of more classes to meet demands of higher test standards. This is counterproductive, people! No kid is going to sit through 3 hours of class without fidgeting or acting up-then they get diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.  They are full of boundless energy and our schools need to embrace it. Let's allow our kids to release that energy so that when they get back into the classroom, they can learn!

We are a capitalist society. Although it's built our country to becoming pretty powerful, our economy has us prioritizing money over public health. This happens every day in America. Our children are preyed upon by big food corporations with artificially colored cereals and gummies and with funny, entertaining commercials for cookies and candies. Restaurants and fast food chains offer the biggest bang for the buck with big portions or low cost, low quality foods. Some doctors have even admitted that their practice is a business and if their patient wants to come in for a second bypass surgery, they’ll let them. Prevention and taking vitamins is not encouraged because it doesn’t make any money, honey! When the economic engine of our country is run by drivers with $ signs in their eyes, our health takes a back seat.

Society is broken. Our values are no longer driven internally or by our family. Instead, we are constantly reaching out externally to learn and adopt unhealthy values. One such value is the value of beauty. Our society’s value of beauty usurps that of emotional intelligence and logical intelligence as well as just being a damn good person. Our standard of beauty is unattainable with ever-shrinking Barbie dolls being an ideal image to girls AND boys. Beauty ads have models airbrushed to perfection. Many of us grow up under the idea that we need to become physically perfect. We ignore the bags under the skinny girl’s eyes or the steroids that the bodybuilder is injecting into himself.
Another value is the value of our selves! Society says it’s a “no-no” to concentrate on you. No matter if you are a mom, dad, daughter, son, student, dog owner, entrepreneur, accountant, line cook, psychologist, or even a doctor, you are not a priority to you.
Society is complex and I only brought up 2 values-keep the conversation flowing. This is something to change overnight. It will take a generation or two. Don’t your grandparents or parents still have the same values they grew up with?

Yikes! This is that big dustball that keeps getting swept under the bed. The difference this time is that Obama is cleaning house! There are a multitude of issues with the healthcare system, only some of which is being addressed so far with the reform. Our healthcare system is not about health. Some, like my teacher Joshua Rosenthal, would say it's a disease management system.  Let's practice prevention-not reactional therapies!  

We need to take the reins back and take control of our environment and change them so they support a healthier lifestyle-not butt heads with it. Start with yourself. What is one thing you can do to better your health? Then move onto family and friends. How can you support and/or educate them to eat and live healthier? Then go on to your community. Can you talk to the PTA and start a wellness committee at your school? Maybe start a community garden? Change the local school lunch program? The possibilities are boundless. You don’t need to do any large like eradicate pesticide use or hormone raised meat. Start with ONE small thing. Maybe buy the cookies without the trans fats for your family next shopping trip and let them know why you are doing it. Take a “ME” day so that you are more focused at home and work and are a more pleasant person to be around.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Newsflash! America, We're Fat...

I just read an article (see below) that was full of "the latest" information on obesity.  Apparently, it's taken more than half of the US population to become overweight and more than of half deaths to be attributed to heart disease, cancer, and strokes (all lifestyle diseases strongly linked to obesity) before an "expert panel" could declare that obesity is "the single greatest threat to public health in this century." It's 2010!  And a half!  You mean it's taken them 10.5 years into the 21st century to determine this?  If you remember my post earlier this month, in 2000, 22 states had an obesity rate of 20% or more in their state's population.  A reminder that being obese means to have a BMI over 30 and being overweight is to have a BMI between 25 and 29.9.  I bet that the classification of 30+ BMI was not even established 20-30 years ago.  When they added this new range to the index, if anything, that should have been a red flag!  So, how is it NOW that obesity is declared such a large threat?

Alright, enough of my frustration on our country's ridiculous need for validation through studies and analysis versus common sense and for it to hit a breaking point before it will do anything.  Take a look-see at the article and let's chat tomorrow about what they recommend we should do about this humongous threat and of course, my thoughts on their thoughts. 

Happy Friday!

Panel: Obesity is century's greatest public health threat
Obesity is "the single greatest threat to public health in this century," an expert panel declared in a report Tuesday that urges Americans to slash calories and increase their physical activity.

An advisory committee for the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans calls on people to cut back on added sugars and solid fats (butter, marbled meats) and to follow a more nutrient-rich, plant-based diet.
The report is based on the latest scientific evidence and was prepared by a 13-member panel of national nutrition and health experts. The public now has 30 days to comment at
The final 2010 dietary guidelines will be released later this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services.

About two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. The advisory committee highlighted four major steps:
  • Reduce excess weight and obesity by cutting calorie intake and increasing physical activity.
  • Shift to a more plant-based diet that emphasizes vegetables, cooked dry beans and peas, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds. Increase the intake of seafood and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, and eat only moderate amounts of lean meats, poultry and eggs.
  • Significantly reduce intake of foods containing added sugars and solid fats, which contribute about 35% of the calories in the American diet. Cut sodium intake gradually to 1,500 milligrams a day and lower intake of refined grains, especially those with added sugar, solid fat and sodium.
  • Meet the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Those recommend that adults get at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity each week, such as brisk walking, or 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity, such as jogging or swimming laps, or a combination of the two types. Children and teens should do an hour or more of moderate-intensity to vigorous physical activity each day.

The report calls for many changes in the food environment, including:
  • Improve nutrition literacy and cooking skills, and motivate people, especially families with children, to prepare healthy foods at home.
  • Improve the availability of affordable fresh produce through greater access to grocery stores, produce trucks and farmers' markets.
  • Encourage restaurants and the food industry to offer health-promoting foods that are low in sodium; limited in added sugars, refined grains and solid fats; and served in smaller portions.

The dietary guidelines were first published in 1980 and are updated every five years. They're used for government nutrition programs and education, as well as by dietitians and health professionals to help educate people about eating healthier.

"Basic nutrition advice hasn't changed much over the 30 years that the dietary guidelines have been published, but what has changed is it is harder and harder to eat well," says Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer group based in Washington, D.C.
"For Americans today, healthy eating is like swimming upstream. It's not that you can't do it, it's just it's so hard," she says. "Without changing the food environment, people don't stand a chance of following the advice in the dietary guidelines."

Three steps to lower your calories, she says: Cut portions, eat less when dining out and drink fewer sugary beverages.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open Forum!

"In Pursuit of Vitality" has been in production for 3 months and I know there are some (very quiet) readers out there. Hello to you all!

I wanted to take this opportunity to A) thank you lots for reading the blog and motivating me to continue to write and B) solicit your suggestions and participation. We've covered a wide variety of topics. What have you liked or disliked? What would you like to hear more of or less of? Are you bored? Intrigued? I'm here writing for YOU!

Comment below your thoughts and suggestions or email me at lisachinhhc(at)gmail(dot)com.

Have a happy Tuesday!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Quote for the Week: Courtesy of Thich Nhat Hanh

Every Sunday I will post a quote, thought, or tip to ease you into Monday and carry you throughout the week.

I'm going to keep it really short and sweet this week.  In following my theme of meditation the past couple of posts, here is a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist.

"Life is available only in the present moment." 

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Today was Day 1 of my 7 day challenge to spend 10 minutes a day meditating.  I usually practice sitting meditation and did so today.  Surprisingly the 10 minutes passed by very quickly.  My mantra was "peaceful mind, mindful peace." Because I have a busy mind, I find a mantra or a saying is a very helpful way for me to remain present.  I have not yet found a mantra that I feel resonates with me fully.  This week will be a great way to experiment.  How was your day 1?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Do You Have Time to Breathe?

In today's post, I am going to speak about my experience with meditation.  The reason why I am talking about meditation on this blog is because I see it as one of my Primary Foods, Spirituality.  (Please refer to my post on Primary Foods to refresh yourself on the lifestyle elements of health.)  Here is a reminder of my view on Spirituality: 
Spirituality: Now, don’t be turned off by the term spirituality. It can mean your relationship with God, but to me, it really means your relationship with yourself and how you see yourself in relation to the world. Believing in a greater being is only a component of that. I work with clients to believe in themselves and seek a spiritual practice that works best for them. That may encompass working on self esteem or better understanding their relationship with God.

The first time I practiced sitting meditation was in a class entitled "Do You Have Time to Breathe?" It was a 6 week course at Back Bay Yoga led by Buddhist monk, Joseph Kappel, in which I and 25 other people spent 1.5 hours "sitting" (another way to say meditating) and learning about Joseph's experience as a monk in Thailand as well as his views on being present. It was an amazing experience and I learn a lot from Joseph and the other students in the class.  By the last session, I definitely noticed a calmer and more relaxed mind and demeanor. I don't think I will ever be completely present during a meditation but meditation is not about that. Just like yoga is not about being able to do a flawless half moon or a perfect savasana.

Meditation is practiced differently by different people. It may seem like a very daunting practice but it actually couldn't be a simpler concept.  The ultimate goal is to be present-to have a still mind.  Not very easy to achieve but its about the journey, not the destination.  How you practice meditation can vary-you don't have to sit to meditate.  Some practice sitting meditation, others meditate while walking-being aware of every step they take, others practice through movement like yoga and I'm sure there are others of which I'm not aware.  At the end of the day, it is about being present, comfortable in your surroundings and in your own skin. 

Moving into a condo, traveling to NYC every month for school, additional responsibilities at work, starting my own health counseling practice and juggling obligations at home have all made for a hectic 2010.  It has been a challenge to integrate a regular yoga practice and meditation practice.  Why am I telling you this?  Well because at the end of the day, I am a student too on my journey through life.  My experiences are lessons for me and part of the value I add to my clients' programs as well as this blog.  So, in the spirit of learning together, I invite you in joining me on a week of spending time to "breathe."  I plan to spend 10 minutes everyday for the next 7 days sitting and meditating.  If anyone would like to join me, post below your intentions and I will check in again in one week to see how it went.  If you read this post later on in the week, you can still join me!  Have a great weekend and remember to breathe!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Value of You

It's Wednesday night, which means that "hump day" is officially over.  "Hump day" marks the middle of the work week, and when we get over this "hump" the weekend is in sight. Do you have certain weeks that just feel extra super duper long? I had such a week just last week. Monday was a holiday and I planned to take off on Friday for a "me" day. So I had a three day week but boy, did it feel different from this week! By "hump day" last week, also a Wednesday, I was burned out. I couldn't wait to get out of the office. Today, after my third day of work this week, I'm feeling fairly good, considering I've been pulling unanticipated 10 hour days in the office. The week has passed fairly quickly and I'm looking forward to the weekend but not with the anxiety that I had last week. The reason for the change in my outlook was practicing the ultimate act of self care last Friday. On my "me" day, I took a day to do just what I wanted to do. It left me recharged and fulfilled. 
When was the last time that you took a vacation? No, not with the kids or to visit your parents or to go somewhere your partner wanted to go. When was the last time you took a day to do just what you wanted to do. For me, it was to sit in Barnes & Noble all day and work on my business, then go out to dinner with friends and catch up over a glass of wine. We all have multiple obligations, multiple people and activities to split our time between. 99.9% of us do not put ourselves on that list of people we need to spend time with or to do things for. I challenge you to do that this summer. Take a day off-I mean really off!  See a movie, go to lunch with a friend, treat yourself to a yoga class, lay on the couch all day rereading Harry Potter, whatever you'd like! And do not feel guilty about it. The value of spending a day investing in you is priceless.  You will be surprised how much more pleasant and more productive you will be.  
When was the last time you took a day for yourself?  What does your ideal day look like? When are you going to take it?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & Your Health (Part 3 of 3)

My deepest apologies for the hiatus. It has been a busy weekend filled with birthday festivities and hosting visitors from out of town. Thus, I fell behind on my blog. So I’m back this week refreshed and ready to attack the week with vigor and a new laptop!
Last week, we talked about meat and your health examining the use of antibiotics in livestock and hormones in dairy cows. I would like to speak today about the use of hormones in cattle.
It is estimated that about two-thirds of cattle in the US are injected with growth hormones. The purpose of growth hormones is quite self explanatory. By injecting hormones into cattle, they grow a lot quicker which brings the cattle to slaughter sooner, lowering costs, and increasing profits for the cattle industry. Today, there are six steroids being fed or injected into cows in the US and Canada today. The use of hormones in cattle is extremely controversial, as it is in dairy cows. Intuitively, if hormones make cattle grow, it will make humans grow. Breaking it down, if it makes cattle cells grow, it will make human cells grow, and this includes cancer cells. There are no concrete studies to prove the safety or dangers of hormone use but the human hormonal system is extremely sensitive and an imbalance can cause many issues. Hormone use in cattle has been linked to early puberty, obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer.
Did you know that hormone use is prohibited in the raising of chickens and pigs in the US? In the 1930’s, DES, a synthetic hormone, was founded in the US and used in chickens. By the 1950’s the FDA saw that the hormone was building up in the tissues of men who were eating hormone injected chicken and changing the men’s hormonal activity. It caused un-descended testicles, higher pitch voices, abnormal breast enlargement, small genitalia size, impotence, infertility and increased risk for testicular cancer. Yowzers! So for obviously reasons, the use of hormones was discontinued in chicken in the 1950s. However, as the FDA was discontinuing the use of DES in chickens, they approved the use of DES in cattle. Since the 1950s, DES has been linked to more health issues and since discontinued in its use for cattle. Now, there are six approved hormones that US and Canadian cattle ranchers use.
The use of hormones in cattle is only approved for use in a handful of countries including the US and Canada. Other nations have found similar health issues to consumers of hormone injected beef as were found with those who ate hormone injected chickens. The use of hormones on beef cattle has been banned in the European Union since the 80’s. A study done in Europe found that meat from injected cattle could impact the hormonal balance of humans and cause issues in the reproductive system or cause breast, prostate or colon cancer. Furthermore, Europe banned US beef imports in 1989.
After all of this controversy, why hasn’t there been a study done to show the safety in eating meat injected or fed hormones? Well A) because it is hard to do such a study-it would require lots of time and monetary investments and B) because the cattle industry is very powerful and any indication that a study of this sort was going to be done would be squashed-and probably has been.
The cattle industry may be large, but it is not that formidable. And you are not without choices. You can cast your opinion every time you buy food-whether it be raw or prepared. Instead of beef, try to pick up an alternative like free range bison or turkey. Or better yet, get your protein from beans. Remember, you are feeding your whole self when you eat, not just your stomach.

Sources & Resources:,-Modern-Meat-Hormones,-Cervical-Cancer-And-A-Small-Penis&id=275718
DES Timeline:
EU Ban details:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & Your Health (Part 2 of 3)

Tuesday, I wrote about how the antibiotics in meat affects our health.  See post here.  Today I will be talking about another set of chemicals, hormones, that dairy cows receive to produce more milk. I know milk is not Meat and it brings up many other issues that does not apply to my Meaty Monday theme but it does come from the same convoluted industry and I feel like this is such an important topic. Look for info on meat and hormones in my next post.

Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH) scientifically known as bovine somatotropin (BST), is a naturally occurring hormone. When ingested by baby cows, it stimulates growth. When taken by adult cows, it stimulates milk production. In the early 1990’s, scientists at Monsanto developed a synthetic version of BGH called recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST) via biotechnology. Their goal was to sell the hormone to dairy farmers with the value that it would increase the rate of milk production. Monsanto produced an inadequate study that observed 30 rats over 90 days of rBGH exposure to the FDA. The study was never published but according to the FDA, it did not show any issues. So, the FDA approved the use of rBGH! Monsanto now sells rBGH to dairy farms across the country with the continued support of the FDA. Today, about 20% of dairy cows, the majority in large herds (500+ cows), are injected with rBGH and as a result, milk production increases 8% to 17%. That is a lot of milk for the 20 billion gallon per year industry.

Thank you, Huffington Post

The use of rBGH is extremely controversial, so much so that Canada, Australia, Japan and the European Union all have prohibited the use of rBGH! It’s unbelievable that the FDA and USDA continue to permit the use of this hormone. The label on the container of the hormones actually lists over 20 toxic side that rBGH has on cows!! Bacterial udder infections in dairy cows that are administered rBGH have increased by 25%, which increases the use of antibiotics…*shudder* Due to these infections, bacteria, blood, pus and more not-so-appetizing things secrete into the milk. And folks, that’s why our milk needs to be pasteurized… Additionally, milk from cows injected with rBGH has higher levels of a hormone call Insulin Growth Factor-1 (IGF-1). Both colon and breast cancer have been linked to people with elevated levels of IGF-1. Additionally, the countries that have banned rBGH milk have done tests of their own with outcomes that have steered them from the use of rBGH in their country.
So how can the US sell such a product? Well the answer is long and very much entangled as the relationship between Monsanto and key decision makers in the government are very close. Instead, let’s explore what you can do about hormones in your milk. Due to increasing consumer awareness and concern, some dairy products do state that they are “rBGH (or rBST) free.” Now you may have seen labels say rBGH-free but then also say “'no significant difference has been shown between milk from rBST-treated and untreated cows.” (see below) The reason for this is 100% political. Don’t believe that statement for a second. As consumers become more aware and voice their opinions, stores are responding. I know that my local Trader Joe’s has dairy products without rBGH-not sure if it’s all of them though. In 2007, grocery store chains, Kroger and Safeway, banned the use of rBGH-treated milk in their store-branded dairy products. In January 2008, Starbucks stopped using rBGH-treated milk, and in March 2008, WalMart banned rBGH use in their store-brand milk products. Now, I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of WalMart but I do believe that it does have an enormous amount of buying power in the market and am excited that they made this move. It also shows a trend in the consumer market since I’m sure WalMart only made that decision based on market demand.

Thank you

If you do not shop at Kroger, Safeway, Trader Joe’s, or WalMart, you can check out Sustainable Table's Eat Well Guide for listings of stores, restaurants and producers who sell milk without rBGH and their rBGH-free dairy map.

My sources & great resources in general:

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Meaty Mondays Series: Meat & Your Health (Part 1 of 3)

Yes, I know. It's Tuesday but bear with me because I'm still on holiday schedule.  In honoring the primary foods of my life and recognizing that almost every work day feels like a Monday in the summer, I'm breaking up my lengthy Meaty Monday post to 4 parts this week.  Happy Reading!

The environmental impact and animal ethics of factory farming, which I covered in my Meat & the Environment and The Meatrix posts, are the basis for many vegetarian or vegans diets. It is also a big reason for the growing popularity in grass-fed and cage-free meat. Although factory farming has a big impact on the environment and the animals, are you still wondering how this directly affects you?  If that is the case, I'd like to cite some impacts of meat on your health throughout this week.  Today I'll cover antibiotics and their direct and indirect affects on your health. 
Factory farming moved livestock from the natural surroundings of sun-kissed green pastures to crowded indoor dark pens.  This change has drastically affected the health of the animals.  When confined to that space, immunity drops from lack of sun and lack of natural foods.  Disease increases and spreads rapidly.  To compensate, the "farmers" do not move the animals outside or change their profitable business model.  Instead, they feed the animals antibiotics two ways to keep them alive until slaughter.  First, they put small doses of antibiotics in their feed to maintain their health.  Kinda like how we take vitamins...kinda... Second, they treat them re-actively with more antibiotics when they become sick.  About 20 millions pounds of antibiotics is used each year on animals.  80% of it is given to animals simply to promote growth and the remaining 20% is given to treat disease.(source)  This means a) we are eating low quality meat that has been raised for quantity, NOT quality, b) we are eating unhealthy animals, c) we are ingesting antibodies, antibiotics, and dangerous bacteria,.  Does any of this sound appealing at all?

The use of antibiotics in factory farming has a direct and indirect affect on our health.  Directly and obviously, we can get sick from eating sick animals.  The living conditions that animals live under in factory farms promote contamination of feces and bacteria with the meat.  When we purchase that meat, bring it home, cook it to medium rare, slather it with some sauce and eat it, there is still bacteria in the meat.  About 76 million people become sick from their food annually.  Last week's "stomach bug" could likely be caused by the spaghetti and meatballs you ate.  Indirectly, the low doses of antibiotics cause bacteria to become resistant by mutating into stronger strains which can endanger our existence as a race.  It is growing more and more difficult to find antibiotics to fight these new bacteria.  The National Institute of Health says that it takes about 17 years for us to develop an antibody.  Bacteria can switch their genes in minutes.  One example is the H1N1 virus or the "swine" flu.  This virus was previously only seen in pigs and mutated to make humans sick.  Even with the vaccine, people caught H1N1. 

These posts contain a lot of information and are definitely not meant to scare you, but to inform.  Later on in the series, I will speak about alternatives to factory farming.  In the meantime, I would suggest that you go to your local farmers market and speak to the farmers and other patrons about alternatives to factory farmed meat.  I know that they would love to speak to you.

Stay tuned this week for more Meaty posts!  In the meantime, check out some great resources that I will be citing throughout my posts this week:

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Tip for the Week: Happy Party Food Guilt Independence!


Happy Independence Day!  Independence Day is one of my favorite holidays.  When I was younger, it symbolized the start of summer and still reminds me of fireflies and neon glow necklaces.  I really enjoyed seeing fireworks at Foley Field-ooo'ing and ahh'ing at the bright flower-like lights and heavily anticipating the aftermath of the "sonic booms."  Today, it still represents the quintessential summer night but the fireworks don't mean too much to me anymore.  It is really a time to get together with family and friends to enjoy each others' company and oh yeah, good food, especially BBQ.  I love food but since I have changed some of my eating behavior, I will sometimes leave a party feeling guilty about what I have eaten.  This is really the worst feeling because it is totally avoidable!
If you anticipate feeling bad about what you eat at a party today or at any time during any season, practice this party-food-guilt independence tip!   My advice is to bring your own dish to contribute to the party.  This enables you to have more control over what you put into your mouth.  This doesn't mean you can't enjoy the other food that you normally would eat at a BBQ but you can feel good that some space in your belly that would have otherwise been filled with chips and dip is instead filled with your healthy choice.  Some suggestions for what you can bring:
  • Appetizer/side: peppers to roast (these can be added into salads or upgrade your hamburger), quinoa salad (what a great opportunity to teach people about quinoa!), pre-soaked corn to roast, rice and beans
  • Main dish: ground turkey to make turkey burgers, salad loaded with lots of vegetables, whole portabella mushrooms to make burgers instead of a meat based burger-better yet, ditch the bun!
  • Dessert: fruit salad or just a whole watermelon (who doesn't like watermelon?), even better-a watermelon bowl fruit salad
  • Drinks: fresh lemonade (not great but better than the soft drinks with high fructose corn syrup), soda/sparkling water
Besides leaving a party guilt free, you will also look like a great guest.  Most hosts will be grateful for more food to serve.  I know that I am always thankful when my guests bring something.
So here you go. The ultimate party food guilt independence tip for your Independence Day celebration!

Friday, July 2, 2010

What are Obesity Rates in your State?

A recent article stated that more than two-thirds of states in the US have adult obesity rates of 25% or more!  This statistic is staggering because just 10 years ago, in 2000, no state had rates over 20%-24%.  The country is undergoing a serious epidemic of widespread obesity.  These maps below show the evolution of obesity in this country since 1985.  In most of my lifetime, the country has gone from not having even tracked obesity to having six states with more than 30% obese adults.

Twenty years ago, they didn't even need the four of the colors! 
(for less fuzzy numbers see the source)

These maps are an indication of an extreme not only healthcare, but also financial issue in the US.  By 2018, the country will be spending ~$340 billion annually on obesity-TRIPLING current levels! (source).  Additionally, obesity is linked to many lifestyle diseases which lead to premature death.

In rank order, the 15 leading causes of deaths in 2005 were 1) Diseases of heart (heart disease), 2) Malignant neoplasms (cancer), 3) Cerebrovascular diseases (stroke), 4) Chronic lower respiratory diseases, 5) Accidents (unintentional injuries), 6) Diabetes mellitus (diabetes), 7) Alzheimer’s disease, 8) Influenza and pneumonia, 9) Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis (kidney disease), 10) Septicemia, 11) Intentional self-harm (suicide), 12) Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, 13) Essential (primary) hypertension and hypertensive renal disease (hypertension), 14) Parkinson’s disease, and 15) Assault (homicide). (source)  Twelve of the fifteen top causes are lifestyle related and almost all of them can be linked to obesity.  Those twelve causes make up almost 73% of deaths in the US.  Imagine if we took preventative measures towards obesity before people developed lifestyle diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.  The healthcare system could focus on health-not disease and the country would not have the financial troubles that it has now.  The US would have a healthier population and in my opinion, a more productive workforce which in turn would help the economy even more!  The army has recently stated that they are have issues recruiting because so much of the younger population is obese.  So obesity is even affecting national security!

Obesity is literally and figuratively a very large problem.  Groups around the country are starting to form to combat this epidemic.  The government is starting to look at the obesity issue and taking strides against it with Michelle Obama's Let's Move program, a promising healthcare legislation is in the works and an increased focus on childhood obesity is happening everywhere including on TV with Jamie Oliver's Food  Revolution and reality shows.  What can you do in your neighborhood to help fight the problem?  Can you start in your home and start educating your family or roommates?  How about only bringing healthful items into your home so you don't turn to the bag of  chips when you are too tired to make dinner?  Would your community be interested if you started a walk or run club in your neighborhood?  Ever thought of hosting a healthy potluck?  The obesity issue is not going away anytime soon.  Efforts need to be made on a large and small scale to attach the problem from all angles.  What are you going to do about it?

Here are some sources you can check out for more information on obesity: 
Obesity Rates Jump in 28 States, Report Shows
F: As in Fat  How Obesity Threatens America's Future 
CDC US Obesity Trends
National Vital Statistics: Deaths-Final Data for 2005

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Today's Yogi Tea Quote

I realized last week that I have not drank tea in a while.  Maybe it's been the warmer weather but I'm basically just drinking water and the occasional coffee, coconut water, and kombucha.  I missed the relaxation I immediately felt from inhaling the steam from an herbal tea.  This afternoon felt like a tea afternoon so I pulled out my Yogi Tea Kava blend for Stress Relief from the depths of my desk drawer.  It's brewing right now and I thought I'd share the quote from the tea bag.  I think I look more forward to the quote than I do the tea itself.  :)

"Noble language and behaviors are so powerful that hearts can be melted."

How about you? Are you a tea drinker?  Haven't in a while?  Do you have a quote to share from your Yogi Tea today?