• Coffee: Why You Should Pour Yourself a Cup of Joe

    WarmTEaIs waking up with freshly brewed java the way you kick start your day? Besides the burst of energy it provides, you can feel good about a whole host of benefits coffee gives us.

    Drink to lower your risk of Type 2 Diabetes.

    Coffee, especially fresh-brewed, is full of disease-preventing antioxidants, and it’s high in magnesium, riboflavin and chromium too. This potent package has been shown to lower the risk of type 2 diabetes by up to 11% and help control blood sugar levels. The studies show the more you drink (up to 6 cups a day) the lower the risk.

    Drink to protect your brain.

    Researchers have proven that you can lower your risk of developing neurological conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and stroke by drinking two to three cups of caffeinated coffee a day. In fact, those who drink coffee regularly, from midlife on, have a 65% less chance of developing dementia in later life.

    Drink to protect your arteries.

    Drinking 3 to 5 cups of coffee a day is a good way to keep your arteries clear. A study published in the medical journal Heart says that calcium buildup in arteries was less in healthy individuals who drank black coffee compared to non-coffee drinkers, possibly lowering the risk of future heart disease.

    Drink to prevent cancer.

    Coffee has been linked to lower cancer levels, especially liver and endometrial cancers, says the American Institute for Cancer Research. The laboratory research continues into how and why coffee helps prevent cancer but coffee compounds chlorogenic acid (a powerful antioxidant) and lignans (these cause abnormal cells to self-destruct) are believed to be part of the answer.

    Drink to prevent cavities.

    A compound in black coffee works to prevent cavities by keeping the cavity-causing bacteria S.mutans from adhering to tooth enamel. And freshly roasted caffeinated coffee, decaffeinated or even instant gives us the same benefits, but it only prevents cavities if you leave out the cream and sugar.

    Black is better.

    When it comes to health benefits we’re talking black coffee with less than 5 calories, not a sugar-laden whipped caramel mocha that can easily have a whopping 500+ calories. With the wide variety of fresh roasted beans that are now available, you can taste the pure essence of the roasted bean when it’s not masked with sugar or cream and find your favorite underlying notes like fruit, nuts or chocolate.

    Support fair trade, sustainable and organic farming.

    We can aid farmers in developing nations by choosing fair trade coffee that’s ethically produced. Fair trade guarantees farmers a fair minimum price for their coffee and links them directly to importers (bypassing costly middlemen) helping farmers earn better incomes. Fair trade certified coffee farmers commit to environmental standards too, like protecting water resources, restricting pesticides and banning GMOs. Farmers are given resources for switching to safe environmental and organic growing practices, and so far more than half have successfully made the changes necessary for fully organic farming.

  • Regulating and Preventing Insulin Resistance

    We’ve seen how diet and lifestyle can lead to insulin resistance. The good news is that the right nutrition and behaviors can also help prevent and actually treat insulin resistance. Here are some of the best ways to maintain balanced blood sugar and decrease your chances for developing type 2 diabetes.

    Get active. Exercise causes the body to burn sugar for energy and increases insulin sensitivity, allowing the body to use insulin more efficiently. The result is lower blood sugar and decreased burden on insulin production by the pancreas.

    Eat smaller, balanced meals more frequently. A well-balanced meal includes protein at about 20 percent of total calories (examples include coldwater fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and low-fat or fermented dairy); complex carbs at 55-60 percent of total calories (try beans, yams, brown rice); and healthy fats below 25 percent of total calories (examples include avocados and raw nuts). Avoid simple sugars, saturated/hydrogenated fats and starchy vegetables. Include protein at each meal and shoot for at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast.

    Get your fiber. Fiber slows down digestion and absorption of carbs, prevents hyperglycemia, increases sensitivity to insulin, prevents overproduction of insulin and improves glucose uptake by the cells. Fiber is best when it is consumed through diet (e.g. legumes, oat bran, nuts, seeds, psyllium seed husks, pears, apples and most vegetables), but supplemental fiber can also be helpful; I recommend Renew Life’s Fiber-Tastic, Sprinkle Fiber or Organic Triple Fiber.

    Get to know the glycemic index. Foods with high scores will create spikes in blood sugar, so choose foods with lower scores. Low GI food examples include whole grains, beans and low-fat dairy. High GI examples are donuts, refined cereals, candy, white breads and soda.

    Get balanced sleep. Studies suggest that consistently getting less than 6 hours of sleep—or more than 9 hours—increases risk for insulin resistance.

    Try blood sugar-balancing herbs and supplements.

    Cinnamon can significantly improve insulin sensitivity and greatly improve glucose metabolism. Try New Chapter’s Cinnamon Force, Pharmaca brand or Natural Factors’ WellBetX Cinnulin PF.

    Chromium is a trace mineral that is crucial for insulin sensitivity, yet chromium deficiency is widespread in the US. Studies have shown that for chromium-deficient individuals, supplementing can produce significant increases in good blood sugar metabolism. Try New Chapter’s GTF Chromium Food Complex, Thorne Research’s Chromium Picolinate or Pure Encapsulations’ ChromeMate GTF.

    Helpful herbs such as bitter melon, gymnema and fenugreek (from Solaray) have shown blood sugar-lowering properties.

    Speak with a Pharmaca practitioner about best practices for optimizing your blood sugar metabolism and decreasing your risk of insulin resistance.

  • Carbohydrates and Insulin Resistance

    So we already know how our bodies work to maintain blood sugar balance. But how is our blood sugar affected by what we eat?

    Carbohydrates—alongside fat and protein—are one of the major nutrients the body requires in large, balanced quantities. All consumed carbohydrates manifest as blood sugar, but how they affect blood sugar balance depends on whether they are simple or complex.

    Simple carbs are those that are made of one or two simple sugars, like fructose or glucose. Examples of simple carbs include white flour, white rice, pasta and sweeteners, which have been processed to remove everything—such as the bran and germ—except the quickly digestible carb. This process gives the grain a finer texture and prolongs shelf life, but removes key nutrients such as B vitamins, fiber and iron.

    Complex carbs, on the other hand, are chains of simple sugars bonded into larger structures; examples include whole grain breads, bran, beans, lentils and peas. They contain fiber and other nutrients along with the carbohydrate, and therefore take longer to digest, allowing for slower absorption of the glucose and consequently a slower rise in blood sugar. (Read more about a recent study showing how legumes can help stabilize blood sugar among diabetics.)

    The Glycemic Index (GI) is a useful tool that ranks how quickly different foods will increase blood sugar after ingestion. Foods are indexed based on their relativity to glucose (which rapidly raises blood sugar and has a GI score of 100, the highest). Yogurt and whole barley come in around 20; a baked potato ranks 98 on the scale. Whole grain foods are often the best option because they are typically lower on the glycemic index. Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, tend to have the highest GI scores. (See examples of GI scores of many common foods from Harvard Medical School.) High glucose-rich foods, when combined with fiber, protein or fat will lower the GI of that food.

    Because of the differences in GI scores, choosing carbohydrates wisely is vital for good blood sugar regulation and nutritional health. When we consume too many simple carbs (and don’t exercise enough), a detrimental cycle develops: blood sugar spikes from refined carbohydrate intake, insulin is released, glucose is stored in the cells, blood sugar drops, the body thinks you’re hungry, and you crave carbs…and the process starts all over again.

    The problem is that the cycle wears down over time and the body’s cells begin to lose sensitivity to insulin. The body compensates for this by pumping out more and more insulin in an effort to get the sugar out of the bloodstream and into the cells. Lack of fiber, high sugar intake, too much iron (e.g. high red meat consumption), free radicals and a sedentary lifestyle all contribute to insulin resistance.

    In addition, insulin resistance can cause excessive weight gain even without overeating because excess glucose in the blood is eventually stored as fat. There is also a relationship that exists between stress and elevated cortisol which drives insulin resistance and stores fat in the belly. Belly fat then perpetuates insulin resistance because it acts as a hormone disruptor (insulin in particular), and the unhealthy cycle continues.

    Insulin resistance is also associated with high blood pressure, high triglycerides, plaque buildup in the arteries and low levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Together, this is called Metabolic Syndrome, a pre-diabetic state. Insulin resistance is a serious condition that, left untreated, is a strong risk factor for heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    Next we’ll talk about simple strategies for regulating blood sugar and preventing insulin resistance.

  • Blood Sugar Balance--Why It's Vital to Good Health

    Most people understand that blood sugar balance is important for sustained energy, preventing diabetes and overall health. But blood sugar and insulin are part of a complex process in the body that is highly influenced by our diet and lifestyle choices. Here are the basics of how our bodies regulate blood sugar.

    What is blood sugar?
    Sugar, or glucose, comes from the carbohydrates (i.e. sugars and starches) in our diet. Glucose serves as a primary source of energy for the body’s cells and brain, and our metabolism is constantly working to maintain a healthy balance between sugar in the blood and its uptake into fat, muscles and the liver, either for energy use or storage. The pancreas is key to this balance, as it produces the hormones necessary to move glucose in and out of cells.

    Blood sugar imbalances
    Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, happens when blood sugar falls below the normal range. When this drop happens—either as a result of food deprivation or exercise—the body responds by releasing glucagon, a hormone made by the pancreas that frees stored glucose in order to raise blood sugar to a normal level. A severe drop in blood sugar (or elevated stress) can even prompt the release of adrenaline and cortisol, which provide quicker breakdown of glucose for energy.

    On the other end of the spectrum are blood sugar spikes, which the body responds to by releasing insulin (also a hormone made by the pancreas). The function of insulin is to remove sugar from the blood and direct it to the cells of muscle, fat and liver to be stored or used as energy; proper insulin function, therefore, is key to regulating blood sugar. If insulin is insufficient or cells aren‘t receptive—a condition also known as insulin resistance—the glucose remains in the bloodstream and creates high blood sugar, or hyperglycemia. Chronic high blood sugar is associated with obesity, pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

    Next we’ll talk about how excessive intake of refined carbohydrates can cause an unhealthy cycle of blood sugar imbalances, and, ultimately, insulin resistance.

  • Strategies for Diabetes Prevention

    Eat your leafy greens

    People who eat an average of 1.5 daily servings of green leafy vegetables have a 14 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes compared with those who consume less than half a serving of those vegetables per day, says a review in the August 2010 British Medical Journal.

    More diabetes news from the American Diabetes Association

    More than 23 million Americans suffer from diabetes—a full 8 percent of the population. The vast majority of those cases are Type 2 diabetes, however, which experts believe is largely preventable. In honor of Diabetes Month, here’s what you need to know about the different types of this disease.

    Type 1 diabetes (formerly juvenile diabetes)
    Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, this type occurs when the body stops producing insulin, a hormone need to convert nutrients into energy. It’s a result of an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

    Type 2 diabetes
    According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 5.7 million people in America are as yet undiagnosed with Type 2 or are pre-diabetic. People with this more common form either do not produce enough insulin or their cells “ignore” the insulin they do produce. Instead of moving normally into your cells to produce energy, the insulin builds up in the bloodstream.

    This imbalance leads to symptoms such as increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision, slow-healing sores and frequent infections. While these symptoms come with the full onset of Type 2, they are prefaced by a cautionary period called “pre-diabetes,” which is indicated by heightened glucose levels.

    Though experts are unclear about exactly why Type 2 occurs, there seem to be direct correlations between Type 2 and excess body fat and inactivity. In addition, certain ethnic groups—including African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans and Asian Americans—are more at risk for this type. We spoke with herbalist Lisa Ayala at our new Menlo Park store about how she counsels pre-diabetic and diabetic clients. “A lot of people can control Type 2 diabetes with diet,” she says. “I’ve seen miracles.”

    “The first thing you need to do is get the sugar out of your life,” says Lisa. “Eliminate foods such as white rice, and pasta and breads made with white flour.” She also recommends removing fruits from your diet that are high on the glycemic index—like dates, figs, raisins and bananas. These changes can be helpful for anyone, Lisa says, including those who are diabetic, pre-diabetic or just looking for overall good health.

    Diabetics or pre-diabetics should also be regularly checking their blood sugar levels  with a medical doctor. While there are home glucose tests, Lisa recommends getting a full blood test so that you can see everything that’s going on—including any other issues that might affect blood chemistry. The doctor can then prescribe necessary medications, and practitioners like Lisa can come alongside and help develop a nutritional support protocol, either through dietary supplements or herbs. “It’s dependent on the person, but I often suggest things like cinnamon, bitter melon and fenugreek,” she says.

    Lisa also recommends starting with a colon cleanse that is appropriate for your body type to help kick-start the reduction of sugar in your system. Add some probiotics and enzymes to help support the digestive system, including the pancreas, which a key player in the diabetes disease. And finally, make sure you’re getting enough exercise, since it can help burn up excess sugar in the system (the American Diabetes Association suggests that even 30 minutes, five times a week can help reduce your risk).

    With these steps, “You’re helping to balance the body chemistry, and changing the terrain of the body—not just treating symptoms,” Lisa says. “We work in baby steps, but you have to get a grip on it or it can blossom into other health problems.”

    If you or someone you know may be pre-diabetic, speak to a Pharmaca practitioner today to get advice about exercise, nutrition and which blood-sugar-regulating supplements may be helpful. We’ve also recently expanded our product selection for people dealing with diabetes, including glucose meters, herbs and supplements, as well as drinks and snacks developed for diabetics.

    Sources: American Diabetes Association and Mayo Clinic

  • Yoga Beneficial for Blood Sugar Control in Type 2 Diabetics

    Turns out that yoga doesn't just feel great, it can also have far-reaching health benefits. A new study shows that yoga, in combination with standard care, may improve blood sugar control and help reduce body mass index (BMI) for type 2 diabetes patients. It has been proposed that health may be affected by the mind-body interactions involved with various yoga techniques, and the daily practice of yoga may therefore help to maintain wellness.

    In a recent study, 123 type 2 diabetes patients were assigned to receive either standard care alone or in combination with yoga for three months. The researchers found that the patients who practiced yoga in addition to standard care had a significant reduction in BMI, improved blood sugar control and increases in vitamin C and glutathione. There were no notable differences between groups for blood pressure, waist circumference or waist-to-hip ratio.

    Want to learn more about the health benefits of yoga? Check out what the Mayo Clinic has to say about how yoga can reduce stress and anxiety, increase fitness, help you sleep better and more. Namaste!

  • The Link Between Omega 3 Fatty Acids and Diabetes Risk

    Diabetes, which affects more than 23 million Americans, is the most common disorder of the endocrine system and occurs when blood sugar levels in the body are consistently higher than they should be. Approximately 3.4 million people die from diabetes each year; the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts diabetes-related deaths will double between 2005 and 2030. While type 1 diabetes is caused by the body's inability to make insulin, type 2 diabetes is caused by the body not responding to the effects of insulin. Unlike type 1, which is genetic, many experts believe that type 2 is largely preventable.

    According to three new studies in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, taking in an increased amount of omega-3 fatty acids from marine and plant sources may reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Omega-3s are an unsaturated fatty acid found predominantly in fish oils and plant seed oils, and are an essential nutrient that most people simply don't get enough of in their regular diet. There are three main omega-3 fatty acids: ALA, EPA and DHA. Fish, especially fatty fish (cod, salmon, trout, mackerel, haddock), is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

    The AJCN published the results of three studies--two on Chinese subjects and one on US subjects. The first Chinese study included data collected from more than 150,000 men and women and found that plant-derived omega-3 fatty acids were associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, while the second Chinese study found that omega-3 acids from fish sources was associated with reduced type 2 diabetes risk. The second study also showed that females responded better than males to the intake of omega-3s from fish. The US study followed 3,000 older men and women and found that both omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plant sources were associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.

    Regardless of your age or where you live, it seems that omega-3 fatty acids from fish and plants can help reduce your risk of developing this deadly disease. Ask your Pharmaca practitioner about how omega-3 fatty acids can be taken safely to reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.

  • Video: Diabetes & Vitamin B12

    Contributor: Ross Pelton, R.Ph.
    Dr. Ross Pelton explains how diabetic medications can permanently affect vitamin B12 absorption. He also discusses how extended vitamin B12 deficiencies can cause long-term and sometimes irreversible neurological damage.
    From: Healthy Living Lecture Series (Redmond, WA)
    Time: 00:01:40

    More about Dr. Ross Pelton
    For 25 years Ross Pelton’s passion has been keeping up with the latest research on the science and technology of life extension and anti-aging. Dr. Pelton specializes in what is often referred to as complementary or alternative medicine.

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