Our body is made up of different complex systems. Therefore, you shouldn’t necessarily single out and look at the importance of just the one organ. But, in this case I believe we can.
Our amazing liver has more than 500 different functions in the body! If the liver is not able to work as it should, all of the functions that it is involved with will suffer. Other organs will try to pick up the slack for a while, but ultimately they will fail. This over time can make our bodies completely exhausted and sick.
I believe that it’s hard to take good care of something that we don’t understand. So, why not get a little better familiar with our super hero the liver? This short video gives an excellent summary of what’s going on. And if you are new to this blog, you can read a bit more about the liver here and here.
Let’s keep on learning to better understand our body! 😉
Last weeks post created some interesting conversations! So, if constipation is an end problem, where does it all start? It all has to do with proper digestion.
Digestion is a process moving from North to South. Meaning, it starts up top, moves through a “long tube”, the digestive tract, and comes out at the very end. This means that if things are not working well from the upper end of the tube, it will just be worse the further down the tube we go.
So, why don’t we go to the very first step of digestion and see what we can do to improve the situation on a daily basis. Do you think that the first step is when the food enters your mouth? Close, but that’s not it.
The very first step of digestion actually happens in your brain! When we see, smell or think of the food we are about to eat we trigger a response in the brain. This is an important step because the brain in turn sends signals to get the digestive tract ready for food. That’s why for instance we start salivating before we eat, and it also activates our stomach juices.
However, this can only happen when we are in a relaxed state, which is run by the parasympathetic nervous system aka “the rest and digest” system. If we are hurrying and feeling a bit stressed, it is the sympathetic nervous system that is turned on aka “the fight and flight” system. When this system is turned on we are not able to digest food very well. It makes a lot of sense to the body, because whenever the fight and flight mode is up and running, the body’s main concern is immediate survival.
We have gotten so used to being in constant stress, running from one place to the next that we now perceive this state as normal. It is not. Therefore, if you want to start your digestion off right you need to activate your parasympathetic, rest and digest, system. This can easily be done by sitting down at the table and taking at least 3 deep breaths, preferably more, before eating. By allowing your body to slow down and relax, it is now able to start the digestion process in a great way. Whether you are religious or not, saying grace before eating actually makes a lot of sense from a digestive point of view.
It also goes without saying that eating while driving, walking, or hurrying in between meetings is not going to be a great idea. To improve upon your digestion from the very start the principle is simple and easy to perform. Anyone can take 3 deep breaths before eating. We just have to retrain ourselves to slow down and relax before we eat.
Take a deep breath, slow down and enjoy your food! 😉
Constipation is a topic that we don’t really talk about, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Actually, being able to poop easily every day should be standard. It is a very important function within our body and it can immediately tell us a lot about the state ofour internal health.
So what does good bowel movement look like? The frequency should be once or twice a day. It should not take any effort, the shape should be like a large sausage, with the consistency of soft clay. Too frequent visits, just like too few, is an indication that something is off balance.
If you are not able to go daily you are constipated. If it also takes a long time and effort when you do go, then you should really pay attention. Your poop is your comprised internal garbage, and if it hangs out for too long in the large intestine it will cause problems. It’s like you have an open trashcan completely full, just sitting in your hallway. Within a short amount of time that garbage will make your whole house smell like s**t and nasty stuff might seep over the edges and spread into your house. Yuck!
When too much water gets reabsorbed your soft clay turns into very hard balls making pooping very difficult and even painful. Also, the longer the garbage hangs out in your intestine, more of the nasties and yucky stuff will get reabsorbed. Your intestines are very thin walls made of cells, and they are not completely solid. Meaning, it is possible for particles to seep through the walls of the intestine and get into other areas of the body. You do not want old trash hanging out in the wrong place. Hence, why you want to get the garbage out on time.
So, what can you do to assist your body in this process? The easiest thing to do is to make sure you are drinking enough water, eat plenty of vegetables and fiber. I like adding ground flaxseed to my food for added fiber. You can also improve on your position on the toilet by putting a small box or similar under your feet. It may sound silly, but as you will see in this video, it really does make a difference.
Pay attention – avoiding salt in your diet is outdated advice! As usual in our culture we like to make things either good or bad, but it is all about quality and balance. A few years back a good friend of mine ended up in hospital with severe heart problems, because he tried being “as healthy as possible” by completely avoiding all salt.
This guy was a top level athlete, but that didn’t matter because if the heart doesn’t get the right mineral balance, it cannot function properly.
“Low salt diets cause insulin resistance…If you go on a low salt diet, heart rate generally goes up pretty dramatically.” -Dr. James DiNicolantonio
I have previously written about the importance of salt in terms of hydration. Also, there is a very important distinction to make between healthy mineral and sea-salt, bad for you table-salt and the salt you find in processed foods. You can read about those things here.
The impacts of not having enough quality salt and the right mineral balance in our bodies is massively understated. You do however need to assess your own personal situation before making changes. Too much salt, especially the poor kind we find in processed is bad for you, and a reduction will probably do you well. But, not getting enough of a high quality sea-salt can also be very bad for you. In that case you will need to increase your intake. Remember, we are after a good balance.
“Most of the evidence shows that a low salt diet actually causes hypertension in the long run” -Dr. James DiNicolantonio
Salt is also important in creating the right amounts of stomach acid. We need a strong stomach acid in order to break down the minerals and access them on a molecular level. If we have a weak stomach acid we will not be able to absorb these vital minerals, even if they are in the food that we eat.
The following is a great podcast that expands on the importance of getting enough quality salt in your diet, and what happens if you are deficient. Did you know that if you find yourself craving potato chips – you are most likely mineral deficient?!
Salt is neither good or bad, it’s all about quality and balance! Enjoy your weekend! 😉
Flaxseed, also know as lineseed, is a very powerful little seed. It would be a very smart move on your part to add this to your daily intake of nutrient dense foods. Now why is that? I am so glad you asked!
Flaxseed contains a lot of fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans (antioxidants). These are very important factors that can help with digestion, healthy skin and hair, and protect against radiation toxicity. But, it doesn’t stop there, flaxseed has also been shown to lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure and is great at fighting cancer.
Flaxseed has been shown to lower cholesterol, improve arterial health, lower blood pressure and is great at fighting cancer.
Flaxseed isn’t very expensive and a little will go a long way. Buy it organic as a whole seed. You want to grind it up before eating it. I do not recommend buying flaxseed that has already been ground as it goes rancid a lot quicker, and you never really know how long it has been sitting in that bag. Add it to your salad or food as it is. If you want to pick it up another notch, you can soak or sprout the seeds first and then grind them.
Why not eating them just as they are? All the good stuff that we want is inside the seed. If we don’t break it open first, the seed will just pass through our digestive system without us getting what we need from it.
What about the oil?
The oil is a great addition if you are looking for extra omega-3 fatty acids. Add it to your food, or just drink it straight from a spoon. Depending on the extraction of the oil from the seed, the taste can be very different. I have tried a lot of different ones and found one that I really like. So, if you don’t like it the first time you try it, give another brand a chance. Always store the oil in the fridge as it is very sensitive to light and heat. Never cook with this oil, just add it onto the food afterwards.
For maximum nutrition and if I was on a budget I would choose to grind up the flaxseed myself. It’s cheaper, the whole seeds can be stored longer and you get all of the benefits in one go.
Make sure to drink enough water if you consume the flaxseed dry (not soaked), as they will absorb a lot of water in the digestive tract as they go through the system. If you want to learn even more on flaxseed here is a great article.
It’s the little things we do every single day that adds up. So add up on the flaxseed and let this little superhero help you!
Are you enjoying the Olympics and all the amazing athletes? I sure am! Have a great weekend everyone! 😉
Studies on Flaxseed and:
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25740909 – Reduction in Blood Pressure
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19515737 – Reduction in Cholesterol
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24013641 – Reduction in Breast Cancer
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19064574 – Reduction in Prostate Cancer
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16314082 – reduced hyperactivity in ADHD
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21677123 – Vascular health and Blood pressure
If you have read some of my earlier posts you will know by now the importance that I put on drinking water and being properly hydrated. Some of the feedback that I get when I talk to friends and clients about this, is that it is hard to keep track on just how much water and other liquids that you are drinking during a whole day. This is especially true for when you are traveling as you tend to be out of your own rhythm, and not necessarily in charge of the daily schedule.
Early Signs of Dehydration:
Cravings, Cramps, Anxiety, Fatigue, Irritability, Depression, Headaches
Rather than scribbling down how much you drink on a piece of paper, only to forget the paper somewhere, I thought to myself – there is probably an App to deal with that. Indeed. There are plenty of Apps out there to help you to keep track of your drinking habits. I tried out this one simply called “Water Drink Reminder”.
It is not perfect, but I really do like it, especially when traveling. The app gives you a daily number of how much water to drink, based on your weight. It does not add more water to your total if you drink a coffee, which I think it should, but you can adjust for this manually, so that’s OK. You can also customize what types of drinks you usually have, making the tracking swift and easy.
Mature Signs of Dehydration:
Migraines, Back pain, Joint pain, Heartburn, Fibromyalgia, Colitis, Constipation
I think that this App is a great tool, especially when trying to build new habits. Seeing in pictures what you drank, when and how much, really gives you a very clear idea of what is going on. The App is free, so why not go ahead and try it? Ask yourself, -are my drinking habits really as good/bad as I think they are?
Once you see what’s going on during a whole day, it’s much easier to see where your weakness is. Then you can figure out a plan of how to improve, and work on that until you’ve created anew habit. Do you already have a favorite drinking tracking App? Let me know what it is, I would love to try it out.
I wish you all a great start to your weekend, and keep up the good work on staying properly hydrated, day by day ;)
Your Body’s Many Cries For Water by F. Batmanghelidj
Certain foods can really benefit from some quick preparation, such as soaking. It makes the food (such as legumes and grains) much easier to digest, gets rid of the stuff we don’t want and enhances our absorption of their nutrients. It only takes about 2 minutes and a little bit of planning ahead, and that’s it!
So, why is soaking so beneficial? What would you do if all of a sudden out in the distance you saw a big wolf coming charging at you? I bet you would run away as fast as you could and take cover. Phew! That was scary, but now you are safe.
Well, what do you do if you are a plant? As the plant does not have the ability to run away to avoid the predator, it has to choose a different method. Chemical warfare! When plants are being eaten or attacked, lets say by insects, it changes its chemical structure around the area that was just bitten into to protect itself. It will taste more bitter to the animal, and maybe after a few bites the animal will leave the plant alone.
This is also why a fresh vegetable that hasn’t been damaged in transportation, will taste so much sweeter than a vegetable that has been banged up in transport. The vegetable is simply trying to protect itself. One year we had brussel sprouts in our garden, and a friend of mine liked eating them so much she decided to buy some at the store later that week. Unfortunately though, she told me that they had tasted so bitter that she really didn’t like them. That is how big of a difference plant chemical warfare can make.
Plants also protect their seeds with a layer of phytic acid. For us humans the phytate can irritate the lining of the gut, and also prevent the absorption of some minerals. All legumes, seeds, nuts and grains have this natural protective layer. We can usually handle a small amount of phytic acid, but not a lot. This is why some people experience a lot of extra gas or abdominal discomfort after having eaten beans for instance. The digestive system has a hard time with the phytic acid and so the beans do not get digested very well. When the beans enter the lower intestine the oligosaccharides (sugar) start to ferment there. Hence all the discomfort and gas.
Enter soaking! I will use lentils in this example. When we soak lentils in water before cooking them, the phytic acid gets broken down, and so it is much easier for us to digest. If you add a splash of apple cider vinegar, or lemon juice to the water you will enhance the process of breaking down the phytic acid even further.
An added bonus to this is that it is actually very inexpensive to buy organic dry lentils, and they will double in volume after soaking. It is also very easy to store them at home, so you could buy them in bulk to save even more. Lentils are also very nutrient dense and full of protein so it is a great addition to any diet. Having soaked the lentils also cuts down on the cooking time, so you will be even more efficient in the kitchen.
Soaking – what’s not to like?!
How to prepare the lentils The night before: Rinse your lentils well, and cover with plenty of water, and a dash of apple cider vinegar. The lentils will double in size so make sure you use a large bowl/pot. You could of course also start in the morning and cook them at night. Try to get at least +8h of soaking time.
The next morning: Pour out the old water and give the lentils a quick rinse with clean water. Put the lentils in a pot and cover them with plenty of water. *Exp.level; Add Kombu.
Put a lid on the pot and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and let it simmer until the lentils are tender. You want tender and not mushy. This takes approximately 10 min, depending a bit on which type of lentil you are using. Red and yellow lentils are usually very quick to cook (5min), and green/brown takes about 10min.
*Expert level: Add a piece of kombu to the lentils. Kombu is a large seaweed that has an amazing ability to neutralize some of the gas-producing compounds in the lentils. This is especially good when cooking beans, as beans have a tougher shell than the lentils. The Kombu will also expand in size, so a small piece will go a long way. Discard after cooking.
If you are using it with beans, take it out after about 45min of cooking otherwise it will be all mushy and hard to separate from the beans.
So you feel a bit guilty about having over indulged on food and drinks in the last few weeks. You have decided to jump into a detox program to give your body a break. That can both be good and bad, depending on your current health and energy. Jumping into the deep end of a detox from a state of overindulging, can be very hard for your body. Therefore it is better to prepare the body first before starting a detox.
In essence, you want to stop putting junk into your body, and you want to help the body to get rid of the junk that is already there. The main key organ working in detoxing is the liver.
With stop putting junk into your body, I mean limit as much as possible or avoid completely processed foods, fried processed foods, hydrogenated oils, sugar, cigarettes, snus, aspirin and ibuprofen (unless prescribed by Dr.), all alcohol, and caffeine. Why is caffeine included? Because the liver has to break down caffeine before it can leave the body, and that adds another burden to the liver. We want to leave the liver as much energy as possible for detoxing. I would also exclude dairy, unless it is a fermented, probiotic product, like kefir and natural yogurt without added sugar.
You can help the body with giving it good nutrients, so that it has all the building blocks that it needs to break down all the junk and get rid of it. Did you know that you need 42 molecules of magnesium in order to help break down 1 molecule of sugar in the liver…wow!(1)
It is easy to give he body what it needs by eating an organic nutrient dense whole food diet. The liver needs plenty of protein to do its job, so do your best to eat good quality, organic protein that you can get your hands on, at this time. Make sure that you are properly hydrated as well. If not, your body will have a much harder time getting the toxins out of your body, and you will feel a lot worse during this time.
So what are some of the type of toxins that we are trying to get rid of? We get toxins accumulating in our bodies from air and water pollution, radiation, chemicals, stress, cellular/metabolic wastes, poorly digested foods, heavy metal exposure, bacterial/parasitic/fungal overgrowth. Drugs, food additives and allergens can also cause toxic elements in the body. Basically, any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body is a toxin.
Going to the sauna, taking an epsom salt bath, and getting a deep tissue massage are also things that you can do to help your body detoxify. Adding movement into your day is also a great idea. Your lymphatic system works like a “pre-filter” for the liver, but it is a passive system. That means you have to move in order to move fluid through it. Optimal would be to jump on a rebounder every day. It does not have to be heavy exercise though, any kind of movement will help. This is also a reason why it is helpful to work at a standing desk opposed to a sitting one.
Remember, these are what some of the healing reactions may look like. I would say, the stronger you feel that these reactions are, the longer you need to stay on the preparation phase, before going into a full detox. Fatigue, headaches, bad smelling body odor, sleeping problems, bad breath, itchy skin and irritability.
Depending on your current and recent lifestyle, you might want to stay on the preparation detox schedule from anything for a week to quite a few. Also, some people might opt for just doing the preparation phase for a while without detoxing, and that is fine too. You will do your body a lot of good by just sticking to the preparation phase. If you want to learn more there are plenty of books out there that can help you further. I like the 7-Day Detox Miracle by Bennet, Barrie and Faye.
Good preparation is key, so stay with it, and let the body adjust with time 😉
(1) Lecture on detox, Nutritional Therapy Association
December is typically a month of over indulgence in terms of food and drinks. A common reaction to this, or New Years Resolution, is to have a couple of weeks of “clean” eating. Some may even go a bit further and decide to do a detox program.
The body feels and perform its best when it’s in balance. After the holiday season you may feel a bit worn out from the over indulgences, which has gotten your body out of balance, and drained any extra energy. Going hardcore into a detox program from this state may work for some, but it can be a very rough ride. The change is usually to much too quickly, and I wouldn’t recommend it. It is better to prepare the body first, and start gently. Remember, with the body there are no quick fixes, rather long lasting effects of the lifestyle choices you make. The following are some indicators that your body could do with a detox.
Smelly body odor and/or breath, stinky feet, dark puffy circles under the eyes, foul smelling stool and/or urine, skin problems, acne flaring up, headaches, shoulder and neck stiffness, and pain around the lower ribs on the right side.
When you decide to give the body a break from poor habits, or do a detox, you are helping the body to get rid of its “trash”, the toxins. It can be very smelly when deep cleaning your house, before gathering and getting rid of all the trash, and it’s the same in your body. It is good to know about some of the possible reactions that may show up. Sometimes it will get worse before it gets better.
These cleaning up reactions, aka healing reactions, will often intensify during detox and the healing process. It is because you are digging up stored away toxins and bringing it up to the surface. You may experience flu-like symptoms, headaches, acne flaring up, diarrhea, and nausea. Knowing this in advance can make a huge difference in being able to deal with these reactions. The symptoms will go away once the body has gone through the cleaning and healing process. Depending on how well your body is doing overall, will indicate how well your body will deal with a detox.
On one side of the spectrum I know of people who have only had a slight headache for a day or two during their detox. And on the other side I know of people that got so nauseous that they had to throw up, and had to stay in bed for a couple of days.
Therefore, choose your time wisely for doing a detox program, so that you can easier navigate any healing reactions that may occur. Also, the better prepared the body is before starting a detox, the milder the reactions tend to be. I will discuss this more in next weeks post.
Don’t want to wait until next week to get started? OK, here are a few tips. Reduce as much as possible your intake of sugar, processed foods and caffeine. Completely avoid any kind of alcohol. Eat a whole food, organic, nutrient dense diet and make sure that you are well hydrated at all times.
Are you holding your breath again? It is that time of the year where everyone is trying to wrap up all of those loose ends and finish the year with some amazing accomplishments. At least so that it looks like it on paper, am I right? That together with very busy holiday plans tend to push a lot of people into high stress mode. Staying in this stressed mode, where the sympathetic nervous system is in charge (fight or flight) creates a lot of tension. If you don’t have a method for relieving some of that inner tension, you may feel like the pressure is about to make you explode.
In order to relieve some pressure and get out of the fight and flight mode, we need to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system. A really easy way to do that is to use your breath. By something as simple as taking 3 deep breaths, you can calm your over active nervous system and get it to relax. Breathe in through your nose, let your lungs fill up completely, and then slowly breathe out through your mouth.
Someone I know uses this technique every time she has to stop at a red light while driving. Instead of getting worked up about “loosing time” she uses it as an opportunity to work on her breath. It is such a simple thing to do, but it really can make a huge change to your day.
If you have a little more time, (maybe you are standing in line waiting to pay for your groceries), try to see if you can make it all the way up to 10 breaths, and then count backwards with each breath until you get back to 0. In my head it would sound something like this “one, I breathe in – one, I breathe out, two…”. You get the picture. Again, it is very simple, but oh so effective. This can be a great technique to try as well if you have problems falling asleep.
If you feel like trying a 2 minute super easy meditation, then check out this video with Andy Puddicombe.
I am also a big fan of meditation and this is one of my favorite apps. You can check out my previous blog about meditation right here.
In terms of nutrition you can help your nervous system by keeping your blood sugar as steady as possible. For example, when you eat sugar, quick carbs and drink caffeine, these things all stimulate your nervous system to be in the fight and flight mode. That makes it so much harder for us to relax. So, if you feel the pressure building up try to stay away from these processed sugary types of foods as much as possible, and focus on whole nutrient dense foods instead.
I know I talk a lot about hydration but it cannot be emphasized enough! Make sure that you properly hydrate, especially between all the extra holiday drinks. Your liver and body will thank you.
Doing some exercise is also a great idea. If you don’t have time for a full session, try to get some simple movement into your day, like walking. It doesn’t always have to be strenuous to be doing you some good.
Do what you can, when you can. Every little piece helps. Have a great weekend! 😉
Photo by Gabriel Matula, Ben White, Afonso Coutinho and Ethan Sykes on Unsplash