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Alcohol: Is it healthy in small doses?

A glass of wine with dinner. A beer after a hard day at work. It’s not hard to integrate an occasional drink with a healthy lifestyle…is it?

In recent years, we’ve read that red wine is rich with antioxidants, and that an occasional beer can raise “good” cholesterol. But results from a new study suggest that even moderate alcohol consumption – the kind we tell ourselves is healthy – may actually be detrimental. In other words, all those health benefits you’ve been hearing about still don’t outweigh the risks of alcohol consumption. Which means there really is no safe level.

A recently published report looks at data gathered from almost 700 studies, spanning 195 countries and territories. Some of the findings are shocking:

●     Alcohol is the leading risk factor for death in those aged 15 through 49.

●     Alcohol use was responsible for 2.8 million deaths worldwide in 2016.

●     For women in particular, the health risks of drinking increase with age. Alcohol was responsible for over 27 percent of cancer deaths in women over 50.

The authors of the study are firm in their conclusion: “By evaluating all associated relative risks for alcohol use, we found that consuming zero standard drinks daily minimizes the overall risk to health.”

In other words, the only safe amount of drinks is none at all. This finding differs from many earlier studies, which often concluded that moderate drinking was the best approach.

Why did this study reach a more decisive conclusion than previous examinations of alcohol’s effect on health? Several factors are at play. This study was careful to consider the ways they measured consumption. For example, researchers looked at regional variations in alcohol consumption that could be attributed to things like tourism. In addition, the study looked at alcohol’s impact on 23 different health-related problems. For some of those problems (such as heart disease), mild alcohol consumption had a positive effect. But that positive effect was balanced by a greater negative impact on other health issues (cancer is a strong example).

So what does this mean? If you drink, should you stop? Alcohol consumption is a very personal decision. This study looked at the picture, worldwide. It was not studying individuals, but rather analyzing vast amounts of data previously collected, specifically looking at the risks for the 23 health issues. That data was conclusive. But how you apply it to your own life is up to you. This latest study can’t, for example, tell you what impact a glass of wine at New Year’s will have on you with your own unique genetics and lifestyle.

One thing is certain: If you’ve told yourself that drinking is healthy, you may want to reconsider that rationale. That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop right this moment. However in deciding whether or not alcohol is something you want in your life, it’s best to be realistic about the health risks.

Alcohol

If you’re wondering about alcohol, talk to a healthcare practitioner. And be upfront about your drinking during the visit. Many people underreport how much they drink, but it’s best to be honest. You want to have an open and fruitful discussion about all of your health concerns. Remember that healthcare providers aren’t looking to judge you: they want to work with you to create your best life.

You also want to look at your own medical history and perhaps check out more specific studies. For example, another recently published study concluded that alcohol is the biggest controllable risk factor for dementia. If you have other dementia risk factors that are out of your control, such as a genetic history, you may want take action on the things you are under your control.

Similarly, if you have a history of depression, consider alcohol’s impact on mental health. If you are trying to control your weight, the extra calories of alcohol aren’t going to help. Alcohol can also lower your judgment and keep you from making your best decisions.

Some patients express frustration at the different results they see in various health studies: One minute something is good for you, the next, it’s something we’re told to avoid altogther! Studies on alcohol use can be proof that when we read an eye-catching health-related headline, we need to look beyond the numbers.

One thing to keep in mind is that the media will typically seize the most dramatic sound bite, although it’s impossible to always convey the nuances of a well-run scientific study in a short headline. For example, a news story doesn’t always mention who funded the study. For the record, the Lancet study on alcohol safety was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, while some others that emphasized alcohol’s benefits were funded by companies who sell alcohol. That doesn’t necessarily mean the studies are false, but we should all remember the funders have a vested interest in how the results are positioned and presented.

As well, correlation doesn’t always equal causation. That’s sometimes hard to capture in reporting large studies. In fact there are studies that show that Resveratrol, an antioxidant found in red wine, is beneficial to your health however if you have other health issues like, poor gut function, low energy, or sleep issues, alcohol will likely have negative impacts and could make your health issues worse.

Whenever you’re confused about a health issue, the best approach is to consider it from a sample study of one: yourself. That means talking to a healthcare provider about your own personal history and choices and your current health concerns. We can help you sort through all of the information and competing arguments out there and figure out what’s best for your unique body – in fact, we do just that! Give our office a call, we are here to help 519-954-7950.

Sources:

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpub/article/PIIS2468-2667(18)30022-7/fulltext
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2874911/
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(18)31310-2/fulltext

Top 10 Tips for Staying Healthy Over the Holidays

Are you loving these last few weeks of 2018? It’s a fabulous and festive time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult time for maintaining healthy habits. Check out our list of the top 10 ways to stay healthy and happy over the holiday season.

1. Rethink your holiday expectations. Think about it – if you position the holidays as an exhausting test of your endurance, and holiday treats as evil temptations to be resisted with all available willpower, how will your body react? Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but many patients do come into the office at this time of the year showing signs of anxiety and tension. In fact, one study found that 90 percent of adults feel stressed over the holidays…which does line up with how joyous the holidays are supposed to feel!

These high stress levels certainly may come in part as a result of all that is going on at this time of year, and all the unique responsibilities we take on. Because we have more tasks to keep track of (even if those tasks are fun things like going to parties and buying gifts), our prefrontal cortex (in our brain) is overtaxed. This can affect our memory and overall ability to cope. Add in the extra pressure of attempting to maintain a perfect diet and workout schedule, and you have a recipe for sleep problems, digestive difficulties, and tense muscles – all of which can add to our stress. And when we’re stressed, we tend to overeat. It may be becoming clear why holiday stress often creates a vicious cycle of guilt…

Reframing our expectations of a “perfect” holiday while staying disciplined can end the frustration. So don’t beat yourself up if not everything goes according to plan. In the long run, our happiest memories are sometimes the ones when things didn’t go as we’d pictured them, or the times we slowed down to take in the moment. Letting go of visions of perfection (whether impressed on us by ourselves or others) will ultimately help our health.

2. Play games. If you get together with family or friends in the next weeks, why not introduce a low-tech way to have fun by playing board games? Board games also tend to offer cognitive benefits – not that you need an excuse to start rolling the dice.

3. Stay mindful. A mindfulness practice has obvious benefits when we’re extremely busy. Even if you’re not a regular meditator, just five minutes a day of meditation can help you cope with holiday stress. And why not share the love? Suggest a short meditation you can share with family before holiday meals, to help set the tone for a peaceful celebration. Studies show that meditation in groups can have powerful results.

4. Get moving. Fitting in some exercise can be easier when you mix it up by engaging in physical social activities with loved ones. Snowshoeing, making snowmen, skating…or if you’re not a cold-weather person, try bowling or a trip to the pool. You may not end up with six-pack abs, but it could be the start of a great, new holiday tradition. Suggesting fun activities for social gatherings also helps take the focus off food.

5. Cook up some love. Looking for a unique gift idea? Want to stay away from the mall and its atmosphere of seemingly relentless consumerism? Try baking some healthy holiday gifts. For example, put some homemade sweet and spicy holiday almonds into a fancy jar (you can find a  good recipe here: https://mywholefoodlife.com/2012/11/28/sweet-and-spicy-holiday-almonds/). Or wrap up a box of vegan hazelnut cups. (This recipe is amazing! https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-16557/like-nutella-try-these-vegan-hazelnut-cups.html) or even start making some natural soaps as gifts, it’s easy, natural and fun!

6. Go green. When you’re thinking about ways to keep your body healthy over the holidays, don’t forget that the planet deserves some love, too. It’s easy to have a green holiday season (even if it’s snowing). Use recycled wrapping paper, serve food on real plates (not paper/plastic), and consider turning the heat down a degree or two for large gatherings (who knows – maybe then you’ll see some amazingly ugly Christmas sweaters!). To conserve electricity, use LED lights only, and defrost your freezer before you load it up with holiday baking.

7. Learn to say no. This is a tough one for many people; but sometimes refusing a social invitation or a request to do work is the healthiest choice for everyone involved. If you find it hard to turn down an invitation or request, remember that you don’t need to apologize. Decline right away and resist the urge to make up an elaborate excuse. Suggest an alternative activity or a later date – but only if you really want to.

8. Keep your gut healthy. Sugar laden holiday treats, cocktails and parties galore can really put a damper on your gut health. Rightfully so an imbalance of extra sugar lowers both your immune system and can lead to an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut. Take some high quality probiotics and some digestive enzymes prior to meals to give your gut a healthy boost and some likely much needed assistance!

Healthy holidays

9. Start some healthy food traditions. The internet is bursting with healthy holiday recipes. Think about your loved ones’ food preferences and find some yummy dishes to bring to gatherings. For example, here are some outstanding vegan dishes: https://minimalistbaker.com/christmas-recipe-roundup/. Other guests might thank you for providing an alternative to Aunt Edna’s special salad! Try replacing carb heavy side dishes with healthy ones like Rutabaga and carrot mash or creamy butternut squash and thyme! Remember it’s OK to say no!

10. Be grateful. The holidays don’t always go the way we expect or hope. Sometimes we have to go to work instead of eating great meals. Sometimes we miss people we’ve lost over the years. It’s normal to experience sadness at this time of the year. Acknowledge your feelings and be gentle with yourself. Take some time to remember and be grateful for the good things (even if they’re not always picture-perfect). Grateful people experience better sleep, more optimism, and improved relationships. And we could all use a bit of that at this time of the year.

Happy New Year from all of us! We look forward to working with you to create a fulfilling and healthy start to 2019!

Sources

https://www.healio.com/psychiatry/journals/jpn/2017-12-55-12/%7Ba2fc3f63-4c18-455c-a761-5efae89bb9fb%7D/three-simple-mindfulness-practices-to-manage-holiday-stress#x02793695-20171117-01-bibr26
https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/254796
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21075238
https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-topics/napping/page/0/1

Getting to Know The “Good Fats”

If you believe that fats and oils are off the table as a dinner choice, you might be in for a surprise. Fat is actually a vital component to a balanced diet and is a requirement in order for the body to function properly. The problem is when your body takes in TOO much or the WRONG kinds of fat. With all the information out there on how to eat, it’s important to understand not just fads, diets, and tips but the actual needs of your body.

Every diet and lifestyle eating regime out there seems to extravagantly promote its own benefits while dismissing the science of others. It can be tricky to figure out which combinations of foods are really best for our own, unique bodies! In fact, it can feel like there’s a new discovery about the best way to eat every week making us question if we’re ever “doing it right”!

Lately it’s the popularity of the Paleo and Keto diets that has turned prevailing knowledge on its head, largely because of the emphasis these protocols place on eating significant quantities of healthy fats.

No matter what eating lifestyle you follow, newer science is showing us that there are more benefits to eating higher quantities of healthy fats than we previously thought. In fact, research is showing that the body is built to use fats as a major source of energy – some evidence even suggests that fat is a better energy source than carbohydrates! Fat is also important to a wide variety of healthy bodily functions.

Good fats…

  • Help build strong cell membranes for individual cells as well as the sheaths surrounding nerves
  • Assist in blood clotting, muscle movement, and inflammation control
  • Are essential for absorbing certain vitamins A, D, E, and K, and calcium, chromium, iron, magnesium, and zinc among other vitamins and minerals.
  • Can promote weight-loss
  • Help encourage blood sugar stability
  • Are a key factor in achieving hormonal balance
  • Play a critical role in brain function, memory, and attention span
  • Have a direct impact on the quality of hair, skin, and nail growth

These reasons should be enough for all of us to realize how important it is to include, rather than cut out, fats in our nutrition plans!

“But I thought fats were bad?”

For a long time that was a common way of thinking. The reality is that the reason fats have been stigmatized was because our understanding of how different fats work was still developing – and because we’d been eating too much of the wrong ones!

We understand now that not all fat sources are created equal – just like not all vegetables are equal (just compare iceberg lettuce with it’s dark, leafy counterparts, romaine and spinach). There are a lot of different kinds of fats; to understand them more easily, think of fats as being on a continuum. On one end of the continuum are “good fats” like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and on the other end are “bad fats” like industrial-made trans fats in processed foods. Saturated fats fall somewhere in the middle.

“So which fats should I be eating?”

Choosing mostly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, followed by a moderate amount of naturally present saturated fats in foods, is your best strategy. Obviously you’ll want to avoid bad fats – this will actually probably be easier than you think because they’re mostly present in treats and junk foods that shouldn’t be the foundation of your diet anyway!

Recent studies on Coconut Oil have found it to be useful in the reduction of body fat in the belly as well as helping to reduce Body Mass index (BMI). Just like any other nutrient, consuming a variety of fat sources is key to finding balance in your nutrition. Not only because variety is important in any diet, but because different foods are more than just a kind of fat, they offer different beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fibre too!

10 Source of Healthy Dietary Fat

  1. Avocado
  2. Cheese
  3. Dark Chocolate
  4. Whole Eggs
  5. Fatty Fish
  6. Nuts
  7. Chia Seeds
  8. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  9. Coconut & Coconut Oil
  10. Full Fat Yogurt

We recommend adding fats into your diet slowly, especially if you’ve been avoiding them until now. Your body needs to have developed healthy gut flora and enzyme production, among other things, in order to digest fats (or really anything) well. We’ve talked about gut flora at length, but enzymes (like lipase, the enzyme that helps break down and digest fats) are also a vital part of healthy digestion – but that’s a whole other conversation (stay tuned!).

Are you eating right for your mind, hormone production, metabolism? Get out of the “fat free” cycle and into a healthier diet that includes good fats. We have tools to analyze your body’s nutrient needs and can help experience optimal health every day through nutrition that’s ideal for you. Call our clinic for more personalized advice and support!

  • The Team at HealthSource Integrative Medical Centre

 

References:

https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-truth-about-fats-bad-and-good

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19437058

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25636220