Alcohol: Is Any Amount Safe?

Or Is Alcohol Really a Detriment to Your Health?
Or How Much Alcohol is Safe to Drink?

A glass of wine with dinner. A beer after a hard day of work. It’s not hard to integrate an occasional drink with a healthy lifestyle. Or 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 to our health. In other words, the much-heralded health benefits of drinking don’t outweigh the risks. As a result, there is no safe level of alcohol consumption.

A recently published research study looks at data collected in almost 700 studies, spanning 195 countries and territories. Some of the findings are startling:

  • Alcohol is the leading risk factor for death in the age 15 through 49 age group.
  • Alcohol use was responsible for 2.8 million deaths worldwide in 2016.
  • For women in particular, the health risks 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 come into 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).

What does this mean for you? 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 it’s up to you how you apply it to your own life. This latest study can’t, for example, tell you if it’s OK to have some wine for New Year’s given your own unique genetics and other lifestyle factors.

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

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 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 can 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 health studies: One minute something is good for you, then suddenly we need to avoid it! 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 reported.

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, sleep issues and more, 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 you face every day and figure out what’s best for your unique body, in fact we are experts in doing just that! Give our office a call, we are here to help 416-234-1888

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 Healthy Holidays

Are you enjoying the final stretch of 2018? It’s a fantastic and fun time of the year. Unfortunately, it’s also a difficult period for maintaining healthy habits. Check out our list of the top 10 ways to stay healthy and happy over the holiday season.

1. Reframe your holiday expectations. Consider this: If you think of 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? That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but many patients 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. Isn’t this supposed to be a joyous time?

These high stress levels may be at least partly attributed to the fact that many of us simply have more to do at this time of the year. Because we have more tasks to keep track of (even if those tasks are going to parties, buying gifts, and other fun stuff), our prefrontal cortex (in our brain) is overtaxed. This can affect our memory and overall ability to cope. Add in the extra pressure of maintaining 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. You can probably see why holiday stress can create a vicious cycle of guilt.

Reframing our expectations that we need and having a “perfect” holiday while staying disciplined, can end the frustration. So don’t beat yourself up if everything doesn’t go as planned. 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 expectations of perfection (from ourselves and 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 some old-fashioned fun by playing board games? Board games can also 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 before holiday meals. It can set the tone for a peaceful celebration. Studies show that group meditation can have powerful results.

4. Get moving. Fitting in some exercise can be easier when you mix it up by with physical social activities with loved ones. Snowshoeing, making snowmen, skating for those in the cold climates: there are plenty of options. 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 might start a 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 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 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), and consider turning the heat down a degree or two for large gatherings (maybe you’ll encourage guests to bring out their tacky holiday 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 patients who come to the office. However 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 have 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!

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 Mary’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 as planned. Sometimes we have to go to work instead of eating great meals. Sometimes we miss people who are no longer in our lives. It’s normal to experience sadness at this time of the year. Acknowledge your feelings and be gentle with yourself. Take some time to think of 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
http://neuro.hms.harvard.edu/harvard-mahoney-neuroscience-institute/brain-newsletter/and-brain-series/holiday-stress-and-brain

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

Dealing with Depression

Have you ever suffered from depression? If so, you’re not alone. The World Health Organization estimates that 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide and that it is a leading cause of disability. Fifteen percent of adults will experience depression at least once in their lifetime.

Depression knows no bounds. It can impact anyone at any point in their life, regardless of age, gender, medical history, or socioeconomic status. While depression may seem like an invisible condition, there are warning signs to look for.

Signs of Depression

So, how can you tell if you or someone you know might be experiencing a major depressive episode?

A major depressive episode is defined as a depressed mood lasting at least two weeks or more. Life seems filled with darkness or heaviness, and there is a loss of interest or pleasure in almost all activities. Depression also comes with the baggage of other symptoms that can interfere with your work, school or social life. These symptoms include:

  • Sleep issues — either sleeping too much or having difficulty falling asleep
  • Low energy or feeling fatigued almost every day for no reason
  • Inability to focus, make decisions or think clearly
  • Moving slower than usual or making unintentional motions to a degree that is noticeable by others
  • Changes in weight and appetite, with an increase or decrease of more than five percent in body weight a month
  • Recurring thoughts about death or suicide, a suicide attempt, or a specific plan in place for suicide

If you are or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to start a conversation right away, get professional help to identify the cause, and find some appropriate solutions.

What Causes Depression?
What makes depression so elusive is that there is no one single cause. Hormones, brain chemistry, family genetics, life experiences and physical health are all possible factors that can trigger a depressive episode. While some types of depression can be attributed to conditions such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or postpartum depression, for many the source might not be immediately apparent.

Unfortunately, in many situations, doctors prefer to medicate rather than investigate, prescribing antidepressants instead of exploring the cause of the condition. Antidepressants may have their time and place, but with a myriad of possible side-effects, they are not always an option for everyone. Also, a lifetime prescription to antidepressants is only a band-aid solution that never really addresses the underlying problem.

Research shows that high levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammatory disease, have been documented in subjects with depression. In fact, results from a national health and nutrition examination survey showed that subjects with depressive symptoms had CRP levels that were 46 percent higher than those of non-depressed subjects. Studies also suggest that subjects with a depressed mood have low levels of fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), which is an indication of airway inflammation.

Over time, depression can also lead to significantly more inflammation in the brain. Inflammation is our body’s response to injury or illness, and when left untreated, it can cause chronic illnesses like heart disease and potentially even neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. So not only is identifying the cause of depression early on important for your mental health; it’s also for your long-term physical health!

This is why visiting a naturopathic doctor can be so crucial. Not only is depression a serious condition not to be taken lightly, but there are so many possible influences, that it requires a 360-degree assessment to determine what might be the cause. The first thing you need to ask yourself is “Why am I feeling depressed?” Then take it from there.

Ways to Treat Depression
For those with mild to moderate depression, there are a variety of natural options that can help fight the blues effectively, without pharmaceuticals.

1. Sunshine & Exercise
It may sound trite to suggest a little fresh air and exercise; however, you can never underestimate the value of a brisk walk in the sunshine. Activity pumps up serotonin, dopamine and endorphins, which are our feel-good happy chemicals. Go for a run to experience a true natural high.

And don’t forget, the sun doesn’t just light up the sky. It can also lighten up your mood with feel-good rays of vitamin D. Invest in a therapeutic light box for those cloudy days and winter months.

2. Create a Regular Bedtime Routine
Depression and sleep issues are intimately connected. For those who have trouble falling asleep, a nighttime routine can help ease you into a more restful slumber.

Set a regular bedtime and unplug from all devices at least two hours beforehand. Use that digital downtime time to take a bath, read a book, listen to music, meditate or unwind in any other low-key way. By eliminating sources of constant stimulation and slowing down your evening habits, you will foster a better mental environment for sleep. If you’ve been dealing with insomnia for a while, melatonin is also a helpful natural supplement to reset your internal clock.

Keep yourself on a consistent schedule by setting your alarm to go off after 8 hours. If you need a nap later in the day, then, by all means, take one, but try to resist the urge to sleep your life away.

3. Natural Supplements
Serotonin is a vital chemical and neurotransmitter. It regulates our moods, behaviour, libido, sleep, and memory. Keep your serotonin levels elevated by getting your fill of healthy omega-3 fatty acids ─ the kind you find in fish, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, and more.

Cut down on coffee, which can reduce serotonin levels. Instead, try green tea which has L-theanine, an amino acid that has a relaxing effect. L-Theanine boosts neurotransmitters and helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Rhodiola rosea and St. John’s wort are other natural supplements that many individuals have had success with for treating depression. That said, St. John’s wort may interfere with birth control or other medications. This is why it is always important to get professional guidance on which supplements and what dose might work best for you.

4. Get Your Hormones Balanced
Our hormones have an impact on our entire bodies. They can be the reason behind depression, chronic fatigue, weight gain, and more. Think of your adrenal, sex and thyroid hormones as Jenga blocks. When certain blocks become imbalanced, it can send our whole life tumbling out of control. The longer you take to correct the imbalance, the more difficult it will be to heal. Getting your hormones tested is an easy and effective way to assess the issues so that you can effectively identify what your options are to get back into balance.

5. Talk to someone
While you may feel vulnerable or uncomfortable at first, opening up to friends and family may be the relief you need to get through dark times without feeling so alone. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your burdens with the people you know, then seek professional counselling, whether a therapist, life coach or trusted doctor. They are there to help and can offer you a new perspective on things.

If you think you are dealing with depression or can’t shake the blues, I invite you to reach out to our clinic. Please feel free to book an appointment with us by calling or emailing us at 416-234-1888 or wellnessreception@sympatico.ca.

You don’t have to battle depression alone. We can help you get your life back!

To your best health!

Wellness Institute

References:
https://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lanpsy/PIIS2215-0366(18)30087-7.pdf
http://www.psychiatrist.com/JCP/article/Pages/2016/v77n12/v77n1221.aspx
http://ndnr.com/mindbody/case-study-herbal-treatment-of-depression/”
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0005791617300629#sec4

Sitting is the New Smoking

On average, how many hours a day do you spend sitting, uninterrupted? One hour? Two hours? Three…or more?

Our ancient ancestors spent much of their time on the move, hunting and gathering to serve their basic needs. Obviously, the balance between movement and fuel has shifted dramatically over time, most notably since the technological revolution.

Unlike our ancestors, we no longer search for food. Instead, we are now on a quest for time, as hours fly by while we’re hunched over a keyboard. On an average day, many of us are likely sitting more than we are moving and consuming more calories than we are burning. Many of us regularly put in eight-hour workdays seated at a desk – sometimes even more. We then go home and unwind on the couch, binge-watching our favourite shows. The hours begin to add up.

Maybe we make a little time to fit in some exercise each day; however, with more conveniences at our fingertips, we can do a lot more while moving a lot less. The longer we sit, the more our bodies begin to feel tight, tired and sore. It’s clear that too much sitting isn’t good for us. But did you know that it can even lead to earlier mortality?

Sitting and Premature Death

That’s right…too much sitting can kill you! In fact, some are saying that “sitting is the new smoking” because its impact is so significant. According to recent research from the Journal of the American Heart Association, prolonged sitting presents similar health risks as smoking, such as heart disease, lung cancer, and diabetes. It also increases premature death by about 50 percent! Even more surprising, too much sitting increases your risk for an early death regardless of your fitness level or other lifestyle habits.

But sitting isn’t just bad for your heart or metabolism; it is also bad for your brain! Researchers at the University of California have discovered a connection between sedentary behaviour and thinning regions in the brain that is critical to new memory formation.

So, what if your job requires you to be at a desk, all day, every day? Are you supposed to quit? Well, of course, that’s not practical. However, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure that you keep your body regularly moving for a longer, healthier life.

Tips to Sit Less & Live Longer

1. Fit in Exercise Whenever Possible
Bottom line, the more frequently you work out, the more you reduce your risk of premature death. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. While exercising 10 minutes or more at a time is ideal, shorter but frequent bursts of exercise, like taking the stairs, can also be an excellent way to keep active.

2. Move Every 30 Minutes
Research shows that people who sit for less than 30 minutes at a time have the lowest risk of early death. Meetings and deadlines don’t always offer the freedom to move, but ideally, you don’t want to be sitting for any longer than three hours at a time. Setting a timer on your phone can be a helpful reminder to take regular moments for movement.

3. Use a Fitness Tracker
Fitness trackers are an effective way to ensure you’re getting enough activity in your day. As health and fitness wearables grow in popularity, there is an increasing number of options available for every budget and lifestyle. There are also a wide variety of exercise apps out there to track your progress and monitor your success with motivational milestones to keep you moving.

4. Try a Standing Desk
As awareness grows about the health concerns associated with chronic and prolonged sitting, more companies have already begun re-examining ways they can improve employee wellness. In some environments, adjustable desks are offered to provide workers with opportunities to stand instead of sitting if they so choose. If a standing desk is not an option for you, try moving your laptop to a tall counter or table as a means to squeeze in more standing.

5. Opt for Less Convenience
We live in a world of many technological conveniences, and yet, we take so many of them for granted — and in some cases to our detriment. Turn back time and reverse the mortal clock by opting for “less convenient” choices in your day. Walk over and have a conversation with your colleague instead of sending an email. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Bike to work instead of drive. Small activities can make a significant impact!

Do you spend excessive amounts of time sitting? Do you experience any health problems that you think could be related to a sedentary lifestyle? Let’s chat and get to the root of your health issues. Book an appointment with us, and together we will find ways to improve your overall health and well-being so that you can live your life to its fullest.

Call us at 416-234-1888 or email us at wellnessreception@sympatico.ca.

To your best health!

Wellness Institute

References

http://jaha.ahajournals.org/content/7/6/e007678
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180412141014.htm
http://annals.org/aim/article-abstract/2653704/patterns-sedentary-behavior-mortality-u-s-middle-aged-older-adults