Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Effects of Aspartame

Most people have heard of the the artificial sweetener called Aspartame and the controversial arguments that seem to follow it.  Although aspartame is made from a mixture of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are both found in foods and used by the body as building blocks for proteins, it is not derived from natural sources but rather from hydrocarbons or from fermentation.  Since it is made from amino acids, aspartame will cross the blood-brain barrier.... scary stuff.  I personally don't recommend the use of aspartame at all and I feel that it isn't completely safe.

I could go into detail about my general health concerns regarding aspartame: that some investigations indicate that aspartame can damage the nervous system or brain, not only in rats but also in humans; that there are concerns that it can cause mood and behavioral changes, epileptic like seizures, insomnia, depression, headache and even menstrual disorders; and that its effects have been known to mimic Multiple Sclerosis in certain sensitive people.  However, there is truly not enough scientific evidence to support this.  I had a dear and very close friend who had breast cancer several years ago.  After she recovered she continued to drink diet soda daily and I warned her about my concern regarding a connection with aspartame and cancer but she said she enjoyed drinking it too much. Unfortunately, she developed bone cancer and passed away in a short time.... I would hate to think that the aspartame had anything to do with her recurrence of cancer but I really believe that it didn't help matters.

What HAS been scientifically proven is the fact that aspartame does NOT help people lose weight.  When we consume foods or drinks with aspartame our brain thinks that its receiving sugar (energy) but when the sugar energy doesn't come, the brain wants and craves more (sugar).  The end result is over-eating.  I have dealt with numerous people who are overweight and who consume a great amount of diet sodas daily.

Another concern I have is with children, whose smaller bodies and organs are more susceptible to the detriments of food additives such as aspartame.  Like food coloring, aspartame (as well as MSG) can cause problems for children who are sensitive to its effects.  Aspartame is a chemical and our bodies have to process this chemical--I wonder what a chemical like this can do to a child's small liver.

It is always better to eat the naturally sweet foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to obtain an adequate level of vitamins, fiber and minerals along with that sweet flavor.  It also comes down to bringing our cultural "sweet tooth" into balance.  If you do want to consume a sweet drink, its better to go with the real thing, sugar.... something that our bodies already know how to break-down and digest properly. In moderation of course.  A better option is stevia, an herb that has been used by some cultures in the world for thousands of years.

 For more information on aspartame, please see a link to Dr. Mercola's website:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Terror of Tartrazine

There's something that can make my youngest son a complete terror.  It lurks and hides in inconspicuous spots such as ice cream and brightly colored processed foods.   My son jokes about eating it but really, it makes him feel angry and gives him an out-of-control feeling.  It also makes him feel ill and has even been known to cause an asthma attack.  What is it?  Tartrazine.  It also goes by the name Yellow 5.

Tartrazine is used in yellow-colored foods such as puddings, jello, soft drinks, ice cream, cereals, candy and even some brands of spaghetti.  I often wonder how many kids that are misdiagnosed with ADD, ADHD or other behavioral issues are actually sensitive to food colorings such as Tartrazine.  Red #3 (Erythrosine) is another big one that is on the "safe list" but there are legitimate concerns that it can cause gene mutations, cancers or changes in brain chemistry.  Since there is not enough clear evidence, the FDC keeps Red #3 on the safe list and does not have to be listed on labels except as "artificial color".

What bothers me most about the use of food colorings is that manufacturers DO have other, healthier, options. The problem is, these options are more expensive.  Natural colorings that are found in beets, carrots, blueberries, etc. can and ARE used by companies in the natural food business.  My favorite store, Whole Foods, will not sell any items in their stores that have artificial colorings.  YES!!

My son isn't the only one in our family who is sensitive to Tartrazine.  My sister experiences migraines and an overall sense of frustration after consuming it.  I also have a cousin whose daughter is affected by it as well.  I can't help but think that more people are affected than we realize.  Of course, Tartrazine (and any food coloring) is something that we try to avoid as much as possible!

Obviously, Yellow #5 and Red #3 are not the only food colorings out there.  Red #40, Blue #1, Blue #2, Green #3 and Yellow #6 are all used and, while some are considered "safe", there are definite questions about others.  I hope that more and more consumers push food manufacturers to replace their artificial colorings with other suitable, healthier options.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Fingernails - A Picture of Health?

How healthy are your fingernails?  As an RHN I not only look at what's going on inside your body, I also pay attention to outward signs such as skin, hair and fingernails.  Fingernails can often give some vital clues about what is going on with a person's health.

Fingernails are hardened keratin, a tough protein that is waterproof and protects exposed skin surfaces.  While nails are translucent in color, because of the rich blood supply in the dermis layer, their color appears pink.  This is just one of the factors when differentiating disease: in someone with Raynauds, the nail beds lose all color due to the shut down of capillaries.  Bright red nail beds may indicate a temperature increase, as in fever. A blue tinge may indicate Cyanosis, which is low oxygen in circulation, or pneumonia. Some heart problems can be associated with bluish nails.

Take a good look at your nails - are there any white dots?  This can indicate a zinc or calcium deficiency.  Do they have noticeable lengthwise grooves?  This can indicate kidney disorder, iron deficiency or a tendency to have arthritis.  Lengthwise striations in the nails can also indicate malabsorption of nutrients, something I see quite often.  Someone may eat healthy, take supplements and work out but their body may still not be absorbing nutrients properly.  If our digestive system isn't working up to par, unfortunately, all that great work won't do our body a whole lot of good.

If the nail surface is rippled or pitted, this may be an early symptom of inflammatory arthritis or psoriasis. If you have pitting brown spots on your nails (nails resemble hammered brass) this can indicate psoriasis or alopecia areota and extra vitamin C, Folic acid and protein are needed.  Spoon shaped nails can indicate an iron deficiency, anemia or B12 deficiency.  Dry, brittle nails that crack or split easily have been linked to thyroid disease and cracking or splitting that is associated with a yellow tinge can indicate a fungal infection.

Dark lines or spotted brown or black discolorations that spread to fingers can indicate malignant melanoma - please see your doctor immediately if you have this.

Healthy fingernails should be smooth, without marks (such as white or brown dots or white streaks), have no indentations and have a little bit of a shine to them. They should also maintain a consistent pink color from the cuticle to the edge of the nail bed.

Although nail changes accompany many conditions, these changes are rarely the first sign.  Some nail abnormalities are just that - an abnormality.  If you've examined your fingernails and are concerned at all, please  see a doctor, a Naturopath or a Registered Holistic Nutritionist.  An RHN will work with you to improve your digestive system which can lead to an increase in overall health.  Be proactive with your body!  While the eyes may be the window to the soul, the fingernails are certainly a window to our health.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Immune Boosters

With all the colds and flu viruses that seem to be going around right now I thought I would write a little about how to rev up our own immune systems so that we can help our bodies to fight those nasty little germs.  Whenever I feel the beginnings of a scratchy throat, or are starting to feel the tiredness that can come on before an illness, the first thing I reach for is.... Vitamin A.

As well as consuming the foods mentioned, I take extra doses of this important immune-building vitamin for a few days. Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin so, like other fat-soluble vitamins, you can take too much of it (the exception to this is Beta-Carotene as there are no known toxicity levels.... well, other than your skin turning orange. Really.). Its perfectly fine for a short time, such as a week or so, to take extra and so I take 1 or 2 pills (10,000 IU's) with breakfast and sometimes dinner as well (always take fat-soluble vitamins with food as to help your body absorb them better). I do this for a couple of days and then decrease to 1 or 2 pills/day for the rest of the week.  

Most everyone knows about Vitamin C and you can take this with or without food (water-soluble vitamin, if you take too much you'll pee it out).  I recommend taking Vitamin C complex (ascorbic acid is just one part of the complex) and make sure it includes Bioflavanoids to get the most out of it.  I usually take between 1,000-2,000 mg of this while I'm sick.  And I can't forget garlic - increase your intake of nature's antibiotic (anti-fungal, anti-viral as well) whether cooked, raw or in pill form.

A few other important points - decrease your dairy intake as well as orange juice.  While orange juice contains Vitamin C it, as well as all dairy, can be mucus-causing which is something you don't want more of when you have a cold.  Magnesium (which I've talked about in a previous blog) is also an important mineral for our immune system, as is drinking lots of pure water (herbal teas are fine as well), getting enough sleep and making sure you eat on time.  Avoid all processed sugar (and white flours) as sugar will demobilize our white blood cells (think fighter cells) for approximately 30 minutes after consumption.  We need to arm our bodies with the weapons (quite literally) that it needs to keep those germs at bay!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dirty Dozen

When checking out at the grocery store cashiers often strike up a conversation with me asking me about organic foods.  They've noticed my food choices and are curious if I think its worth it or not.  For me personally, as well as professionally, I definitely think this is a resounding YES.

There are a few caveats with organic, however, and the first one is that organic foods are usually more costly.  It can sometimes be hard to find a wide variety unless you are eating "with the seasons" (meaning, consuming certain fruits and vegetables when they are naturally in season).  Here is a list of the so-called "Dirty Dozen" list of produce that contain the most amount of pesticides so if you can, try and purchase these as organic.  Of course, not eating certain fruits and vegetables because they aren't organic isn't a good choice either.  Fruits and vegetables are GREAT for you no matter what.  Another plus?  No need to count calories when eating whole fruits and vegetables - fill up!!

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Nectarines (imported)
  • Grapes (imported, especially from Brazil)
  • Sweet Bell Peppers
  • Potatoes
  • Blueberries (domestic)
  • Lettuce
  • Kale/Collard Greens

When fruits and vegetables are consistently sprayed with pesticides, fungicides, etc. the produce itself lessons in its natural immune protection.  What this means for us is that this protection isn't passed on to us in such a strong force.  Just one example of this is Resveratrol, a phytoalexin (think HEALTH to our immune system), that is found in the skins of blueberries, grapes, and mulberries as well as in cocoa, dark chocolate, peanuts and hops.  Studies have shown that spraying these foods with fungicides lowers the natural amount of Resveratrol in the skins of these foods!  Of course, this would mean that when we consume these we're not getting the amount of this important cancer-fighting nutrient as God had intended for us.

Whether or not to eat organic is a personal choice; however, if you can avoid the "Dirty Dozen" and choose organic in these instances, all the better.  Some examples of produce that is considered "Clean" (by the Environmental Working Group) and therefore much safer to eat in its conventional form are:  Onions, sweet corn, pineapples, avocado, asparagus, sweet peas, mangoes, domestic cantaloupe, kiwi and watermelon.

For more information on this, check out the EWG's website: