February 26th, 2015

Dreaming of Better Sleep: 7 Natural Fixes for Insomnia

rec-woman-sleeping-Stockbyte-thinkstockphoto-4-30-12-mdWhen sleep seems an impossible dream, it’s tempting to reach for the pill bottle–and an instant fix. But sleeping drugs are not the answer to insomnia. In fact, they can be the stuff of nightmares. But here’s some good news: Some key dietary changes and supplements can give you the rest you’re dreaming of.

WHAT IS INSOMNIA?

If you have difficulty achieving or maintaining normal sleep, you have insomnia. Trouble falling asleep at bedtime is referred to as sleep-onset insomnia. If your trouble is with waking frequently or very early, you have sleep-maintenance insomnia. Insomnia usually has a psychological cause–depression, anxiety, or tension. But it can also be triggered by various foods, drinks, and medications. Numerous compounds in our diets (most notably caffeine)–as well as more than 300 drugs–can stand in the way of a good night’s sleep.

DIETARY FIXES

The first step in improving slumber is to look for–and eliminate–triggers. Here are some dietary tips for promoting healthy sleep.

CUT OUT CAFFEINE.

Stimulants are a no-no for people with insomnia. Eliminate coffee, as well as less obvious caffeine sources such as soft drinks, chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream, hot cocoa, and tea. Even small amounts of caffeine (as in decaf coffee or chocolate) may be enough to trigger insomnia in some people. But caffeine isn’t the only culprit. Some food colorings can act as stimulants. Food sensitivities and allergies can also cause insomnia. And while they’re not technically stimulants, sugar and refined carbohydrates can interfere with sleep. Eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates and eating irregularly can cause a reaction in the body that triggers the “fight or flight” part of the nervous system, causing the mind to be alert– and therefore wakeful.

ELIMINATE ALCOHOL.

Even though it’s a depressant, alcohol can interfere with healthy sleep. It causes adrenaline to be released and disrupts the production of serotonin (an important brain chemical that initiates sleep).

AVOID LOW BLOOD SUGAR.

A rapid drop in blood sugar during the night is an important cause of sleep-maintenance insomnia because it causes the release of hormones that regulate glucose levels, such as adrenaline, glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone. These compounds stimulate the brain. They are a natural signal that it is time to eat. Eating to control blood sugar levels throughout the day is the first step in stabilizing the blood sugar levels throughout the night. A good bedtime snack that can keep blood sugar levels steady throughout the night is a small bowl of oatmeal. Or try the Thanksgiving meal trick: tryptophan. Foods high in this amino acid, such as turkey, milk, cottage cheese, chicken, eggs, and nuts (especially almonds), may help promote sleep. In the brain, tryptophan is converted to serotonin and melatonin, natural sleep-inducing compounds.

NATURAL HELPERS

There is a long list of natural sleep aids. Check with your doctor before adding supplements or making significant changes to your regimen. The four that I like the best (either alone or in combination) are:

1. MELATONIN is an important hormone secreted by the pineal gland, a small gland in the center of the brain. Melatonin is one of the best aids for sleep. Melatonin supplementation has been found helpful in inducing and maintaining sleep in both children and adults. It appears that the sleep-promoting effects of melatonin are most apparent when a person’s melatonin levels are low. So it’s not like sleeping pills or even 5-HTP–it will only produce a sedative effect when melatonin levels are low. A dosage of 3 mg at bedtime is more than enough. I prefer under-the-tongue (sublingual) tablets.

2. 5-HYDROXYTRYPTOPHAN (5-HTP) is converted in the brain to serotonin–an important initiator of sleep. 5-HTP has also been reported to decrease the time required to get to sleep and to reduce awakenings. Boost 5-HTP’s effects by taking it near bedtime at the recommended dosage of 50 to 100 mg.

3. L-THEANINE, a relaxing amino acid found in green tea, is available as a supplement. L-theanine induces a sense of calm in people with anxiety. At typical dosages (100-200 mg) L-theanine does not act as a sedative, but it does significantly improve sleep quality. That makes it a good supporter of melatonin and 5-HTP. At higher single dosages (400 mg) L-theanine does act as a sedative. I like L-theanine the best for children.

4. GAMMA-AMINOBUTYRIC ACID (GABA) is a natural calming and antiepileptic agent in the brain. In fact, it is one of the brain’s most important regulators of proper function. It appears that many people with anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and other brain disorders do not manufacture sufficient levels of GABA. PharmaGABA is a special form of GABA naturally manufactured with the help of a probiotic (Lactobacillus hilgardii) that has been shown to improve sleep quality.

There are a lot of reasons to try to get a good night sleep without resorting to prescription sleeping pills. These pills are habit forming, have significant side effects, and are associated with increasing the risk of dementia and earlier death. For more information, go to Doctormurray.com and download my free book on Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia – What the Drug Companies won’t Tell You and Your Doctor Doesn’t Know

February 25th, 2015

How to Juice for Healing Power

juiceJuice has gotten a bad rap. We’re often advised to eat whole fruits and vegetables—for the fiber and because they are lower in calories than an “equal” amount of juice. But for the many Americans who don’t eat the recommended three to five servings of vegetables and two to three servings of fruit daily, juice can be a lifesaver—literally. Juice is loaded with nutrients that protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and other chronic conditions.

We can pack in a day’s worth of fruits and vegetables in just 12 to 16 ounces of juice. How to do it right…

Opt for fresh juice, not packaged. Packaged juices, whether in a can, bottle, carton or frozen, are lower in nutrients. And packaged juices have been pasteurized, which destroys health-­giving compounds.

Example: Fresh apple juice contains ellagic acid, an anticancer nutrient that shields chromosomes from damage and blocks the tumor-causing action of many pollutants. In contrast, commercial apple juice contains almost no ­ellagic acid.

Use a quality juicer. If you juice once or twice a week, try a high-speed centrifugal juicer. They’re relatively inexpensive, starting at $100 or so. (Examples: Juice Fountain Duo or Juice Fountain Elite, both from Breville.)

If you juice more frequently, consider investing in a “slow juicer” ($300 and up) that typically operates at 80 revolutions per minute (RPM), compared with the 1,000 to 24,000 RPM of a centrifugal model. (I use The Hurom Juicer.) A slow juicer expels significantly more juice and better preserves delicate nutrients. And because the damaged compounds produced by a centrifugal juicer taste a little bitter, a slow juicer provides better-tasting juice.

Follow this basic juice recipe: Use four unpeeled carrots and two unpeeled, cored apples cut into wedges as a base for creating other juice blends by adding such things as a handful of kale, spinach, radishes and/or beets. Ideally, use organic fruits and vegetables. If not, be sure to wash them thoroughly.

Keep blood sugar balanced. Fruit and vegetable juices can deliver too much natural sugar, spiking blood sugar levels, a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

What you need to know: The metabolic impact of the sugar in a particular food can be measured using the glycemic index (GI)—how quickly a carbohydrate turns into glucose (blood sugar). But a more accurate way to measure this impact is with the glycemic load (GL)—a relatively new calculation that uses the GI but also takes into account the amount of carbohydrate in a specific food. Beets, for example, have a high GI but a low GL—their carbohydrate is digested quickly, but there’s not a lot of it. Charts providing the GI and the GL are available on the Internet. I like those at Mendosa.com.

Bottom line: Limit the intake of higher-GL juices such as orange, cherry, pineapple and mango. You can use them to add flavor to lower-GL choices such as kale, spinach, celery and beets.

February 24th, 2015

Ginger as Effective as Synthetic Drug in Migraine, but Without the Side Effects

ginger-690Introduction:

Migraine headaches are estimated to affect over 28 million Americans. These headaches are caused by excessive dilation of blood vessels in the head and are characterized by a throbbing or pounding sharp pain.

The standard medical approach is the use of over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription (Rx) drugs. The OTC options are pain relievers alone or in combination such as the combination of acetaminophen, aspirin and caffeine. OTC choices are usually of limited benefit, especially in more severe cases.

The most popular Rx drugs are the triptans. These drugs work by constricting blood vessels as well as blocking pain pathways in the brain. Sumatriptan (Imitrex) is regarded as the gold standard of these drugs as it has the longest track record and is the most studied. It brings about almost immediate relief for many patients, but headache recurs in almost 40% of people within 24 hours after taking the drug. Minor side effects of triptans include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness and muscle weakness. But, these medications can also cause more serious side effects such as coronary artery spasms, heart attacks, stroke, abnormal heart beats, and seizures.

There are a number of dietary and supplement strategies that have been shown to be effective alternative treatments in migraine with success rates often superior to standard therapy. In particular, a new study compared ginger powder head-to-head with Sumatriptan. Ginger showed equal effectiveness, but a better safety profile.

Background Data:

Historically, the majority of complaints for which ginger was used concerned the gastrointestinal system. Ginger is generally regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance that promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance that relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Several double-blind studies have shown ginger to yield positive results in a variety of gastrointestinal issues, especially those related to nausea and vomiting.

Ginger was also used historically in pain and inflammation. Some, but not all clinical studies have supported this use with positive results in various forms of arthritis, chronic low back pain, painful menstruation, and muscle pain. The active compounds of ginger are the volatile, aromatic compounds like gingerol.

Ginger has also been shown to exert a number of very interesting anti-inflammatory effects in experimental studies. Early studies in the treatment of migraine headaches were promising, but most were conducted with a combination product containing ginger extract and feverfew.

New Data:

In a study conducted in Iran, a team of neurologists compared ginger and sumatriptan in 100 men and women who had suffered migraines for an average of seven years. The patients were randomly assigned to either the ginger group or the sumatriptan group. They were given a box of 5 caplets containing their test medication (250 mg caplet of dried ginger powder or an identically looking caplet containing 50 mg of sumatriptan in a double-blind fashion. Neither the participants nor the observers knew which caplets the patient was taking until the study was completed. Patients were instructed to take a caplet as soon as a migraine started.

For each headache that occurred during that month, participants recorded the time the headache began, headache severity before taking the medication and degree of pain relief at 30, 60, 90 and 120 minutes as well as 24 hours after taking it.

Results showed that ginger was equally as effective as sumatriptan achieving 90% relief within two hours after ingestion. While ginger had a very small percentage (4%) experiencing minor digestive symptoms, 20% of patients taking sumatriptan reported dizziness, drowsiness, or heartburn.

Commentary:

The dosage of ginger used in this study was very low (250 mg dried ginger root). Higher dosages more than likely would have produced even better results. Most clinical studies have used a dosage of 1g powdered ginger daily. My feeling is that fresh ginger at an equivalent dosage would yield even better results because it contains active enzymes and higher levels of other more active constituents as well. This equivalent dosage would be about 10g or one-third ounce fresh ginger, roughly a quarter-inch slice. The best method to take advantage of fresh ginger is to juice it. Ginger is a great addition to virtually every fresh fruit and vegetable juice. You can also juice or grate fresh ginger and add it to sparkling mineral water for some real ginger ale.

Fresh ginger can now be purchased in the produce section at most supermarkets. It is a phenomenal, easy available super natural medicine. When buying fresh ginger, the bronze root should be fresh looking, with no signs of decay like soft spots, mildew, or a dry, wrinkled skin. Store fresh ginger in the refrigerator.

Reference:

Maghbooli M, Golipour F, Moghimi Esfandabadi A, Yousefi M. Comparison between the efficacy of ginger and sumatriptan in the ablative treatment of the common migraine. Phytother Res. 2014 Mar;28(3):412-5.

Dr. Michael Murray
2/24/15