What About Milk?


In recent years, it’s become just as faddish to avoid dairy products as it has been to avoid gluten. Both are demonized in our current culture, so what’s the real story? Is cow’s milk a nutritious drink? Or is it toxic, and to be avoided at all costs?

First of all, it’s true that plenty of other calcium sources are available to you if you prefer to avoid milk. Leafy greens like kale and bok choy are particularly rich in calcium, but so are nuts, legumes, canned salmon, and seaweed. Other countries in Asia and Africa get by without milk, and so can you.
It’s also true that dairy and other animal products have been linked to increased rates of heart disease, diabetes, auto-immune conditions, and certain cancers. In the immensely popular 2005 book “The China Study”, Colin Campbell and his son Thomas cite epimediological evidence collected from 65 different counties in rural China during the 1970’s which show increased mortality rates for people whose diet contains high quantities of animal-based foods. It’s pretty damning evidence against meat consumption, and the book is said to have made a vegetarian out of Bill Clinton. However, to be fair, dairy was deemed a lesser culprit than other animal products, like beef and pork.
Sales of dairy milk have dropped 40% in North America over the last 40 years, and books like “The China Study” have likely been a big reason for those reduced numbers. Alissa Hamilton adds her voice to the anti-dairy group with her recent book “Got Milked?”, where she also questions dairy’s prominent place in our culture. She argues that the dairy industry has been unfairly propped up by the government, due to the $16.2 billion dollars it contributes to Canada’s annual GDP. Rather than giving dairy products status as an entire food group, she suggests that they be lumped in with other high-protein foods.
Considering the fact that most non-European races are lactose intolerant, and come from cultures where dairy products have never been consumed, the emphasis on dairy products in North America does seem rather ridiculous.
In Chinese medicine, the dietary advice concerning dairy is flexible. A blanket statement demonizing dairy products would never be appropriate, since the strength of Chinese medicine has always been its emphasis on each individual and their own particular strengths and weaknesses.
People of European descent whose ancestors have consumed copious amounts of dairy products over generations can continue to partake, provided they digest it well. If you experience bloating, difficult elimination, or excess mucus production after consuming dairy products, then they’re not for you.
Those who are lactose intolerant should not feel be made to feel guilty if they are not drinking enough milk each day. As mentioned above, there are other high calcium foods which can serve as excellent replacements for dairy products.

We Can Win the Battle (Against Obesity)

If your waistline has gotten a bit thicker over the last decade, you’re not alone. The majority of people in North America (68.8%), are now either overweight or obese. But it’s not your fault.
We have a natural tendency to crave foods containing high amounts of sugar and fat, since they provide our body with instant energy.  The only problem is the ubiquity of these foods in our modern environment.  But why are some people better able to withstand their lure than others?

A scientist named Schacter has provided us with an interesting answer to this question.  He conducted a number of experiments in the 1960’s and 70’s to examine human eating behaviour, and found that thin people follow different eating cues than everybody else.  According to Schacter, thin people use hunger pangs as a guide to how much they will eat, whereas overweight or obese people follow external cues about the food itself, such as the way it smells, or looks, or tastes.  In our modern, media-saturated world, guess whose appetites have been easier to manipulate?

One external sensory cue which has been heavily manipulated in our modern culture is serving size. Studies have shown that people tend to empty their plates, regardless of how much food is on it. This means that food served on a larger-sized plates, will be eaten just as readily as a smaller amount of food on a small plate.  What is crucial here is that most people don’t even realize they’re eating a different amount of food.

According to surveys, yogurt containers in North America are 82% larger than those in France, where the tendency towards obesity is much lower.  Candy bars in North America are also 41% larger and soda cans are 52% larger.  When we try to evaluate why French people are so much thinner than North Americans, we tend to fixate on what they eat, rather than how much.  It’s very likely that, despite our best intentions, we simply eat more.  The bigger serving sizes in grocery stores and in restaurants may be largely to blame for this.  The popularity of buffet restaurants, which encourage over-consumption, also play a part.
Schacter’s studies also showed that people tend to eat more when they are with friends or loved ones, rather than alone.  This is why couples tend to gain weight once they start living together and share meals.  Again, the crucial fact here is that we don’t even realize we are eating more food.  If asked, we assume we have eaten the same amount of food as usual.  Yet studies show that we take hunger cues from the people with whom we eat, and if they eat more, we’ll eat more too.   (Vartanian et al., 2008)
Of course, stress is an important factor in any discussion about diet.  Studies show that 81% of people experience a change in their appetite when stressed, with 62% of people eating more than usual.  When stressed, we also tend to make poorer food choices, indulging in high calorie foods, like cake, doughnuts, or burgers, rather than healthy, low calorie foods like fruits and vegetables.   And because these high calorie foods increase feel-good neurotransmitters like serotonin in our brains,  a cycle is created where we crave the same foods again the next time we’re stressed.  We become like Pavlov’s dogs:  every time our mood needs a lift, we feel a craving for the same foods that improved our mood in the past.
Heavily restricting our food intake doesn’t seem to help much.  In a study done in 2003, girls whose parents placed them on a heavily restricted diet showed a greater tendency to binge on the restricted foods  when given the chance, even if they weren’t hungry.  Girls whose parents did not restrict their eating had a normal respect for sensations of hunger, and ate only when necessary  (Birch, Fisher, & Davidson, 2003).

If none of this has convinced you of how elastic, and easily manipulated our appetites are, this final study will.  In a study done in 2012, patients with amnesia were offered a second and then a third meal, each one 10-30 minutes after the last.  No matter how much food had been eaten previously, participants continued consume each meal in succession.  Since the patients couldn’t remember when they had last eaten, they readily ate the next meal whenever it was presented to them.  Presumably, their stomachs were still full, but that didn’t stop them from continuing to eat whenever more food was offered.  A second study showed similar results in people who didn’t have amnesia. These two studies are damning evidence for easily our natural hunger cues can be ignored.

With all these psychological cues working against us, how are we to win the battle with the weight scale?  To a certain extent, it should be helpful just knowing how badly the cards are stacked against us.  And now that we know all the ways our brain can be tricked into over-eating, we can make plans to thwart those natural tendencies.   It’s also important to be gentle and forgiving of ourselves if we happen to over-indulge when we shouldn’t.  We may not be able to win every battle, but with enough awareness, we can still win the war.




Your Liver: An Amazing Blob


The liver is a dark and mysterious organ. It’s also powerful and knowing. Other organs, like the heart and lungs, are showier. The heart, so red and vigorous, often takes centre stage. The lungs, with their delicate tissue, is like the gossamer princess of the body. By contrast, the liver is just a big, purplish, seemingly inert blob. It’s the mousy introvert in the room, mostly ignored and overlooked, yet quietly magisterial in its proficiency and its value.

The liver is the largest organ in your abdomen, and resembles a beached sea lion, yet it “breathes” in its own fashion, swelling and shrinking by up to 40% every 24 hours. During this rhythmic period of swelling, It is thought that new proteins are being synthesized so that any cells damaged during its never-ending filtration duties are fully restored. When the liver shrinks, old or damaged proteins are destroyed to help prevent incapacity or cancerous growths from forming.

Its daily to-do list numbers in the hundreds, each task providing us with vital protection from any toxic foods we may eat, or from potentially hazardous chemicals in our environment. Constantly filled with blood, your liver always holds at least 13% of your body’s total supply at any given time, which is why a puncture wound to the liver can be fatal.

Liver cells are “stippled with holes”, so that blood can dribble directly onto them, and are also covered with microvilli, like the wall of your small intestine. These microvilli substantially enlarge the surface of each of your liver cells so that blood is filtered as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Unlike other cells in our body which have only two sets of chromosomes, liver cells can have up to 8 sets, and it is likely this wealth of chromosomes that accounts for its famously regenerative abilities. If only 25% of liver mass remains, due to surgical removal or chemical injury, it can still regenerate back to its full size, given adequate time.

Most intriguing, new data suggests that the liver may secrete hormones that influence our choice of food. After drinking a sugary drink, the liver makes an attempt to divert further sugar binges by secreting a hormone called fibroblast growth factor 21, or FGF21. People with a mutant, weaker version of this hormone may have a life-long struggle with sweets.

Scientists suspect the liver may secrete similar hormones to influence cravings for protein or fat. By using these methods to influence our choice of foods, the liver may act much like a second brain. With its more intimate and familiar contact with our blood and the molecules it contains, its food preferences would likely be wiser than the ones our brain habitually makes.

All the more reason to be kind to your liver, and lavish it with some attention from time to time. Yearly liver and gallbladder cleansing can help to keep this vital organ in tip top shape and prevent health problems down the road. If you are interested in more information on how to have a successful flush, please contact us by phone at 416-248-2930, or by email at rebecca@sensiblehealth.com.


Coconut Oil Still an Unhealthy Fat Choice


This news will not be appreciated by coconut oil lovers.

After reviewing all recent studies, experts at the American Heart Association still find that coconut oil should be avoided by those with heart problems, as it may raise saturated fat levels. Since fully 82% of coconut oil is saturated fat, compared with only 63% in butter, or 39% in pork lard, they warn that it should not be mistaken as a healthy fat choice.

Proponents of coconut oil claim that 83% of this saturated fat comes from medium chain fatty acids, or medium chain triglycerides, which are quickly turned into energy, rather than stored as fat. It is due to these medium chain triglycerides that coconut oil has recently been promoted for its use as a weight loss supplement, and as a cholesterol-lowering food which improves cardiovascular health. However, the AHA says there is no good quality evidence for either of these claims.

As before, the American Heart Association recommends that people try to limit the amount of saturated fat in their diet, and rather than use butter or coconut oil, it is best to choose unsaturated oils, such as olive or sunflower. Just by switching from a saturated to an unsaturated oil, studies show that cholesterol levels can be lowered just as much as when taking a cholesterol-lowering drug.

As for the recent headlines reporting that “butter is back”, those are also misleading. In 2014, a much-reported study from Cambridge University found that there was “no clearly supportive evidence for the guidelines that encourage cutting saturated fat from the diet”. However, one of the researchers at Cambridge University would like to clarify that remark, saying “that is an oversimplification, we never said that butter is a healthy fat choice.”

Further examination of different saturated fats indicate that some may be more beneficial than others, and further studies will be needed to uncover which are best avoided completely. In the meantime, it is best to follow the age-old advice to practice moderation in all we do, and particularly when it comes to diet.

While the occasional use of butter and coconut oil can be part of a healthy diet, it is not wise to consider either as a health food. The most important distinction is to consider which foods you replace your saturated fat with. If you replace butter with coconut oil, you shouldn’t assume that your level of saturated fat will go down. The safest choice of oil is still olive oil. And if you reduce the amount of fat in your diet but replace it with increased amounts of refined carbohydrates, your heart will not thank you.

In essence, what researchers have learned about diet in the last few years is, like so much else in life, that nothing is as simple as it seems.

How Strong is Your Sense of Smell? Why It Matters.


We’ve all learned to expect a certain amount of vision and hearing loss as we get older. Reading glasses and hearing aids are common accessories among our aging relatives.

What’s interesting is that people rarely consider a diminishing sense of smell to be a worrisome harbinger of age. And yet, it’s becoming increasingly evident that a poor sense of smell is like the proverbial canary in the coal mine: it’s a solid sign of poor health.

Evidence is strong that poor odor identification is a better early indication of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s than memory problems or signs of tremor. While about half the population of adults between the ages of 65 and 80 have some demonstrable loss of smell, it is often markedly worse in those with early Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. Researchers have found that an olfactory test can clinch a diagnosis for either of these conditions if other signs of the disease are there.

Many neurologists thought olfactory tests seemed flaky in the past, but due to consistent results from researchers in the US and in Europe, it’s now being taken seriously. And as the cost of an olfactory test is much less than an MRI or PET scan, and it’s less invasive than a spinal tap, it can reduce health care costs as well.

According to Chinese medicine, your sense of smell is linked to the health of your lungs. This means that if your lungs are strong, you should have a sharp sense of smell as well. Wouldn’t it be interesting if it was one day found that herbs known to strengthen the lungs helped to prevent the onset of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s? In any case, it can’t hurt to try to keep your lungs strong as you age.

For those who suffer from health problems related to weakened lungs, such as allergies, and asthma, we recommend the use of our Chrysanthemum tincture. This tincture contains herbs known to strengthen the lungs over time, such as chrysanthemum flower, and astragalus root. It can also be used regularly to help prevent your lungs from weakening as you age.

Another Reason to Walk


In recent years, we’ve been told repeatedly that sitting for long periods of time is very, very bad. It’s been associated with high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and an abnormal cholesterol level, as well as an increased risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. In fact, if you routinely sit for more than three hours a day, it can shave two years off your life.

To this list, you can now add a decrease in creativity.

While walking and talking one day, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz took notice of the fact that their doctoral advisor tended to brainstorm while strolling outdoors. It’s not uncommon. Apparently, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg also held meetings while walking as a way to stimulate new ideas.

Oppezzo and Schwartz decided to study whether creativity was boosted by walking. They questioned 176 different people while they were walking, and while they were sitting, and found that the number and quality of creative answers increased by 60% when a subject was walking. For example, when asked to list alternative uses for a common object, such as a shoe, participants were able to list a greater number of uses, and more original ones, while walking.

Views of nature didn’t affect the outcome. Creativity spiked whether walking indoors, or outdoors. The walk didn’t even need to be very interesting: the researchers noted a positive effect on creativity even when the subject was walking on a treadmill, facing a wall.

We know that aerobic activity improves thinking and memory, and it’s the only proven way to decrease your likelihood of developing dementia. It could be that the same increase in blood flow to the brain that helps memory also boosts creativity. More studies will be needed to find exactly why walking is so beneficial.

Stanford study finds walking improves creativity

Heart Problems? Avoid “The Plank”


“The Plank” has become a very popular – even trendy – exercise recently. It’s a yoga pose touted for its ability to strengthen deep abdominal muscles, the pelvic floor, and the transverse abdominis, which supports your back. Fitness trainers will often recommend that the pose be held for as long as possible each day, as it can be a powerful tool used to strengthen your core.

However, Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo says this recommendation is a bad one. Holding the plank for too long can cause back pain, and because it increases pressure in your abdomen, it can also cause blood pressure to rise. For people who already suffer from high blood pressure, or other heart and circulatory problems, sustained holding of plank can be bad for your health.

Rather than holding the plank steadily for 1-5 minutes, Professor McGill recommends holding it for just ten seconds three times in a row. After that, you can take a short break before holding the pose for another ten seconds twice in a row.

While being able to hold plank for more than one minute is a sign that your core is strong, it also means that the plank is no longer giving you much of a challenge. In that case, you can try alternately lifting up one arm or one foot, or doing a side plank instead.


A Novel Way to Remove Kidney Stones


If your idea of summer fun includes a few rides on that big, record-breaking roller coaster at your local amusement park, you may be getting more out of it than you thought.

Dr. David Wartinger, urological surgeon and professor emeritus at  Michigan State University, was frequently regaled with intriguing anecdotes from his patients who claimed to have passed kidney stones after a vigorous ride on a roller coaster.  The ride most often mentioned was Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida.  When one of his patients claimed to have released not one, but three separate stones during successive rides on this coaster, his interest was piqued.
He decided to conduct an experiment, requiring a clear, silicone kidney made from a 3-D printer, a container of real urine, a trip to Disney World in Florida, and no less than 200 rides on Big Thunder Mountain.  The results of his experiment will be of great interest to anyone currently suffering from the pain of kidney stones.  Dr. Wartinger found that by riding the roller coaster with his special silicone kidney, kidney stones could indeed be passed naturally after a ride on Big Thunder Mountain.  In fact, Big Thunder Mountain was not the only roller coaster ride which provided these benefits; any moderate-intensity roller coaster accomplished the same trick.
For maximum results, the back seat works better than the front seat.  Kidney stones were passed 63.89% of the time when the silicone kidney was placed in the rear seat of the roller coaster, compared with only 16.67% when it was placed at the front.  It’s also important for the kidney stones to be small.  Stones too large to fit through the ureter, the duct which connects your kidneys to your bladder, won’t be able to move out with this method.  Still, it’s intriguing news for people who suffer from kidney stones and would prefer to avoid the excruciating pain, and the potential danger of an emergency room visit.
Now that Dr. Wartinger has compiled these preliminary results, the next step is for real humans with real kidney stones to get involved.  Patients included in the study will need to have before and after ultrasounds taken to confirm their results.  But if the new study is successful, there will be a new reason to include an annual roller coaster ride on your list of summer activities.  Not only is it fun and invigorating, but it may improve the health of your kidneys too!

Using Black Pepper to Protect Against Cancer


Meet the spice that will now allow you to enjoy barbecued food guilt-free: black pepper.

If you’ve been avoiding barbecued food for years, you know it’s because of its carcinogenic properties, which have long caused health advocates to label it as a big dietary no-no. These carcinogenic properties are due to the presence of heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, that form on the surface of meat or vegetables whenever you cook them over high heat on the barbecue.

A long-time lover of barbecued food, Dr. J Scott Smith of Kansas State University has found a solution to this problem. Through his research, we now know that the application of ground black peppercorns to your food can halt HCA production almost completely. That’s right! The carcinogenic properties of barbecued food are almost completely eliminated just by sprinkling enough freshly ground pepper on it.

For anyone who knows a thing or two about black pepper, this is not terribly surprising. Known for centuries as the “King of Spices”, black pepper was so coveted by the people of Europe that it was also called “black gold” and was even used as currency. In the fifth century, Attila the Hun agreed to stop attacking Rome if more than a ton of black pepper was delivered as ransom. Europeans were in such a frenzy for the spice that they accidentally discovered North America while searching for a faster way to get it.

This love of black pepper quickly extended into traditional healing systems as well, with black pepper fast becoming a favoured and well-used component of ancient medicine. In Chinese and Ayurvedic healing traditions, black pepper has been valued for its potent warming, and circulatory stimulating effects, so much so that the Sanskrit name for black pepper is “Maricha”, which means “the sun”.

Black pepper is known to dry up wet, dripping mucus conditions, expel phlegm, and stimulate digestion. In fact, the application of black pepper to your food will increase the bio-availability and absorption of nutrients by an astounding 154%.

It also has well known detoxification properties, with the ability to fight bacteria, and protect against staph and E. coli infections. If a small amount of black pepper is taken at the first sign of a cold or flu, it can halt its progression.

Black pepper can even be used to prevent the depletion of glutathione in the liver, thereby protecting against liver damage.

If that isn’t enough, black pepper is also packed with antioxidants, and due to its circulatory effects, it can be used to increase your libido. Quite simply, black pepper is a wonder spice that has been taken for granted in the modern age, even while it retains a perpetual place in our spice cupboards.

To raise the effect of black pepper against HCA production to nearly 100%, blend it with other antioxidant-rich spices like oregano and garlic. We’ve forgotten that many of the spices we regularly apply to our foods, like basil, dill, or turmeric, have health benefits of their own that can be used to your advantage, in addition to enhancing the flavour of your food.

So, this summer, fear the barbecue no longer! Generously sprinkle a combination of freshly ground black pepper and other of your favourite spices onto burgers and steaks, and enjoy that magnificent barbecue flavour guilt-free.