January 25th, 2015

The Collagen Connection

This unheralded protein plays a key role in keeping us together—literally

The most abundant protein in the human body, collagen is also the main component of connective tissue such as tendons, ligaments, cartilage, bone, and blood vessels.

As we age, the collagen-rich support structure of the skin (known as the dermis) changes. The activity of fibroblasts—cells responsible for making collagen—slows down, which leads to changes that make skin look old.

The collagen production in our joints also slows with age, which may lead to osteoarthritis. And decreased collagen in bone is a key factor in osteoporosis. The amount of collagen determines the number of “bone mineral binding sites.” If the collagen content is low, bone becomes more brittle and fracture risk increases dramatically.

Increasing Collagen

To fight the problem of declining collagen levels, we need to increase the activity of collagen-producing cells. One of the best ways to do this is the use of a special from of silica—choline stabilized orthosilicic acid (ChOSA). In one study, women with signs of aging skin who received 10 mg of ChOSA daily saw a 30 percent improvement in fine lines, 55 percent increased skin elasticity, and a reduction in brittle nails and hair.

ChOSA has also shown benefits in promoting bone health. In a detailed double-blind study of postmenopausal women with low bone density, ChOSA was able to increase the collagen content of the bone by 22 percent and increase bone density by 2 percent. The typical dosage is 6–10 mg per day.

Flavonoids are Critical

Flavonoids are plant pigments that support healthy collagen levels. Especially beneficial are the blue or purple pigments—anthocyanidins and PCOs (short for proanthocyanidin oligomers)—found in grapes, blueberries, and pine bark and grape seed extracts. Among their benefits:

  • They have the ability to crosslink collagen fibers, reinforcing the natural crosslinking that forms the collagen matrix of connective tissue.
  • They inhibit destruction of collagen structures by enzymes secreted by white blood cells during inflammation.

To take advantage of these flavonoids, increase your intake of richly colored berries and other fruits. And supplement with a PCO-rich extract such as grape seed or pine bark (50– 150 mg per day) for general support.

January 24th, 2015

How to Eliminate Food Cravings

Despite what you may have heard, overcoming food cravings has nothing to do with willpower

Oxygen, food, and water are the three main things we need to stay alive. If we’re deprived of any of them for a significant period (not very long, when it comes to oxygen), the body and brain have powerful mechanisms that move us to breathe, eat, or drink. In the case of food, the brain is particularly sensitive to sudden drops in blood sugar and releases a number of chemicals that drive us to crave sugars and sweets to raise blood sugar levels. Our intestinal tract and fat cells also secrete hormones that tell us it’s time to eat.

Appetite in Overdrive?

People without weight problems benefit from a fully functioning system of appetite control—compounds such as hormones, peptides, neurotransmitters, and glucose that circulate in the blood and are sensed and acted upon by the brain. People of normal weight don’t usually experience frequent cravings for unhealthy foods. They simply feel hungry at appropriate times. They are also inclined to feel satisfied when they eat modest sized portions that don’t promote weight gain.

Unfortunately, when abdominal fat cells are enlarged in overweight and obese individuals, this complex system of appetite control becomes altered. The key factor that leads to this disruption is insulin resistance.

Resetting Appetite Control

Resistance to the hormone insulin sets the stage for intense food cravings. In more primitive times, insulin resistance filled the purpose of helping humans pack on the pounds when food was abundant so that they could survive during famine. Today, we don’t usually have that problem, and as a result our physiology is stuck in the fat-storing mode with an overactive appetite.

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to fix your appetite control system and free yourself from excessive food cravings. Two powerful natural approaches to doing this are stabilizing blood sugar and boosting serotonin levels in your brain.

Stabilizing Blood Sugar

The first step to eliminating food cravings is to treat the cause—in most cases, blood sugar volatility due to insulin resistance. Using breakthrough technology, Michael Lyon, MD, and
I discovered that maintaining blood sugar levels within a very narrow range is the real key to controlling
an overactive appetite. When people are on what we call the “blood sugar roller coaster,” they have very little control over their appetite or portion sizes. This is because every time they experience a quick drop in blood
sugar levels, the brain goes into panic mode and secretes powerful appetite stimulators, as well as hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, to boost blood sugar.

Much of the effect of blood sugar fluctuations on appetite control can be traced to specialized brain cells called glial cells that surround every brain cell. Glial cells are important in sensing the level of glucose in the blood. Every time blood sugar drops rapidly, glial cells send powerful signals to brain regions, such as the hypothalamus, which then stimulate food cravings. Because of insulin resistance and its accompanying poor glucose regulation, overweight people often experience near constant commands to eat.

So, how do you improve blood sugar control and insulin resistance? Here are seven keys:

  1. Eat a low-glycemic-load diet. One to try: The Blood Sugar Solution by Mark Hyman, MD.
  2. Try a viscous fiber supplement (the super fiber PGX has the most data behind it; take 2.5–5 grams before meals).
  3. Supplement with chromium, which is necessary for insulin to work properly, at a dosage of 200–400 mcg per day.
  4. Get a handle on stress.
  5. Ensure that you never really get hungry by consuming low-calorie snacks, such as fresh vegetables and fruit, between meals.
  6. Engage in physical exercise for at least 30 minutes every day.
  7. Plan your daily menu in advance.

5-HTP and Saffron

Low levels of the brain chemical serotonin are another factor involved in food cravings. The manufacture of serotonin begins with the amino acid tryptophan. Insulin resistance or excess cortisol creates a block in the conversion of tryptophan to 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)—the intermediate step between tryptophan and serotonin. Fortunately, several studies have shown that taking 5-HTP supplements can reduce cravings and carb intake, leading to significant weight loss.

A new alternative to 5-HTP is Satiereal, an extract of saffron that shows similar effects in reducing food cravings and boosting serotonin levels. For 5-HTP, the usual dosage is 50–100 mg three times daily. For Satiereal, the dosage is 15 mg twice daily.

January 23rd, 2015

Quiet Please

Natural ways to silence the ringing, roaring, and hissing of tinnitus

Millions of Americans suffer from tinnitus, a condition more descriptively known as “ringing in the ears.” People with severe tinnitus may have trouble hearing, working, or even sleeping. Causes include exposure to loud noises or certain medications, particularly Valium-type drugs (benzodiazepines) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Tinnitus may also be a symptom of other health issues, such as allergies, high or low blood pressure, tumors, and problems in the heart, blood vessels, jaw, or neck.

Treating Tinnitus Naturally
The easiest way to treat tinnitus is to identify and eliminate the cause. However, if the ringing is due to prolonged exposure to loud noises or music, scuba diving, or other irritants that damage the eardrum, it can be difficult. Some studies have shown that supplementing with magnesium may help in these cases (150–250 mg three times daily). Other natural medicines of note include:

Zinc. Supplementation with zinc (20–30 mg per day) can relieve or eliminate tinnitus in those with zinc deficiency— a common occurrence in many cases of tinnitus.

Ginkgo biloba extract (GBE). The results from double-blind studies using GBE to treat tinnitus are contradictory. People with recent-onset tinnitus are more likely to respond than those who have had tinnitus for at least three years. The recommended dosage of GBE for tinnitus is 240–320 mg per day.

Vitamin B12. Nearly half of all tinnitus patients are deficient in this key vitamin. Many people with low B12 levels experience complete resolution of their tinnitus when given the methylcobalamin form of B12 (see sidebar on p. 26). Take 3,000–5,000 mcg daily for one month, then reduce your intake to 1,000 mcg daily as a maintenance dose.

The Promise of Melatonin
Two recent studies have demonstrated that taking 3 mg of melatonin per day at bedtime can significantly improve tinnitus as well as overall sleep quality. The latest research was conducted at The Ohio State University Eye and Ear Institute and published in the July 2011 issue of the Annals of Otology, Rhinology and Laryngology. In the study, 61 adults with chronic tinnitus were randomized to receive 3 mg of melatonin or a placebo nightly for 30 days, followed by a one-month washout period before switching to the other treatment. Results demonstrated convincingly that melatonin was associated with a significant decrease in tinnitus intensity and improved sleep quality in patients with chronic tinnitus. Melatonin was most effective in men with more severe and bilateral tinnitus and/or those with a history of noise exposure. Researchers believe that one of the ways melatonin helps tinnitus is by improving sleep quality, an interesting mechanism of action, since tinnitus is often a side effect of prescription sleeping pills.

Are You Deficient in Vitamin B12?
According to mercola.com, the following symptoms are associated with a deficiency of B12:

  • Mental fogginess
  • Problems with your memory
  • Mood swings
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feelings of apathy
  • Fatigue and a lack of energy
  • Muscle weakness
  • Tingling in your extremities

Tinnitus isn’t the only condition linked to low levels of this important nutrient

The richest sources of vitamin B12 are liver and kidney, followed by eggs, fish, cheese, and meat. However, the absorption of vitamin B12 requires the presence of a digestive factor in the stomach known as intrinsic factor.

Studies have shown that levels of vitamin B12 decline as we get older, with as many as 40 percent of people age 65 and older showing a deficiency. Thisis likely due to a reduced secretion of intrinsic factor as we age. A B12 deficiency can be devastating at any age, but in the elderly it can lead to significant impairment in mental capacity.

One study examined blood levels of vitamin B12 in 100 geriatric outpatients who were seen for various acute and chronic illnesses. It found that 11 of them had serum B12 levels at 148 pmol/L or below (the cut off for vitamin B12 deficiency); 30 had levels between 148 and 295 pmol/L; and 59 had levels above 296 pmol/L.

After the initial assessment, the patients who had acceptable blood levels of B12 were followed for up to three years. (Those who already had a deficiency were removed from the study and treated.) The average annual decline in B12 for patients who had higher initial levels was 18 pmol/L. And among those who had lower initial levels, the average annual decline was a much greater 28 pmol/L. These results indicate that testing for vitamin B12 deficiencies—and appropriate supplementation—are indicated for most seniors.

Methylcobalamin is the active and preferred form of B12; however, many supplements contain cyanocobalamin and hydroxocobalamin, which the body converts into methylcobalamin. Older people may have a reduced ability to make this conversion. While methylcobalamin led to increases in lifespan in animal models, cyanocobalamin had no effect. Methylcobalamin also produced better results in clinical trials, and should be considered the best form for obtaining specific benefits.

I recommend that anyone over the age of 65—or vegetarians at any age—take 1,000–3,000 mcg daily of methylcobalamin. This high dosage bypasses the need for intrinsic factor to aid absorption.

To determine whether a supplement contains methylcobalamin or cyanocobalamin, you’ll have to read the label carefully. High-quality products list the form of B12 in parenthesis on the ingredient panel. Many companies also include ‘methylcobalamin’ or ‘methyl B12’ on the front of the label.