What Are Hormones?

What are hormones? Falmouth, ME

Ever find yourself blaming “hormones” when you’re feeling particularly moody or emotional one day? While some hormones can certainly make you feel out of sorts, your hormones do a lot more good than bad! Turns out, many people blame hormones when they aren’t entirely sure where they come from or what they do. So, what are hormones, and what is the endocrine system?

What Is the Endocrine System?

The endocrine system is the network of glands that are responsible for producing and dispersing hormones. Your endocrine system is responsible for regulating some pretty important bodily functions including body temperature, metabolism, body growth and sexual development.

The endocrine system is made up of primary and secondary organs. The primary organs include the pancreas, hypothalamus and the pituitary, thyroid, pineal, and parathyroid and adrenal glands. The secondary organs include the kidneys, heart, gonads, and thymus.

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are essentially chemical messengers. Hormones are secreted by the endocrine system and travel through your bloodstream. These hormones only stick to cells that have receptors for them, which explains why certain hormones only affect certain systems. Once received, the hormones affect the behavior of the cells. If one type of hormone binds to enough cells, it will cause a change in body and organ function.

How Do Hormones Get Released?

Like most bodily functions, it all starts in the brain. Located in your brain are the hypothalamus and the pituitary glands, which are the command centers of your endocrine system. The hypothalamus receives signals from other parts of the brain and translates them into endocrine language: hormones (which then travel to the pituitary gland). Once these signals are set in motion, other signals decide whether to inhibit or release certain hormones. Some of these hormones will act directly, affecting muscular development or starting processes such as birth and nurturing. Others will send signals indirectly to secondary organs.

What Do Hormones Do?

Well, a lot. As we mentioned above, your hormones are essential to many different bodily functions and changes. Your hormones play a huge part in everything from puberty and childbearing to feeling sleepy or happy. They can make you gain or lose weight, trigger the “fight-or-flight” response, and regulate ovulation and menstruation. The list of functions affected by hormones is almost endless.
The health of your hormone-producing glands can have a huge impact on your life. For instance, if a part of your endocrine system isn’t working, you can expect to see a significant impact in your life. Symptoms will vary depending on which organs or glands are affected.

Interested in learning more about your endocrine system and the various issues surrounding it? Contact Heritage Integrative Healthcare in Falmouth or Bridgton to schedule an appointment today!

Why Sitting Is Bad For You

We all know that a sedentary lifestyle can wreak havoc on the body. If you’re like a large amount of Americans, you spend at least 8 hours a day sitting down. If your job requires you to sit at a desk, you may be at risk for a host of conditions as you age.

While sitting is not inherently bad for you, the amount of time that Americans spend in front of their computers or on the couch is a huge contributor to disease. Why is that the case?

Why do we sit so much?

Unfortunately, our society is set up in a way that makes sitting for long periods of time less of a choice and more of a necessity. If you hold a job where you sit at a desk for 8 hours a day, it’s difficult to get up and move as much as you should. Standing desks are a start, but are no replacement for exercise. Studies show that even with exercise, sitting for long periods every day can greatly increase your risk of disease.

The role inactivity plays in our health

Like most things, sitting is not harmful if done in moderation. Sitting is so ingrained into our culture that it seems like seconds nature. Work, socializing, studying and travelling are all typically done from a seated position. So, how can one of our most natural positions be so harmful to our health?

It’s like eating. It’s a necessary part of your life, but if you do too much of it, you pose a serious risk to your health.

Inactivity in general is linked to obesity. Longer sitting hours mean less physical activity, which means less calorie burning and more weight gain.  With obesity comes a host of other problems. Obesity is a known cause of conditions like heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. All of these conditions can lead to shorter lives.

What can you do?

We get it. If your job requires you to sit for long periods of time, there isn’t too much you can do to eliminate the issue altogether. However, you do have control of what you do outside of work. If you get home from work every day and plop down on the couch to watch TV, that’s a problem too.

Be sure to incorporate plenty of exercise into your after-work routine. If you can, go on a walk during your lunch break. Get up and move as frequently as you can.

If you would like more advice on how to minimize your risk, or if you would like to schedule an appointment with us, contact Heritage Integrative HealthCare at our Falmouth, Maine location.

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Why Sports Drinks are a Bad Idea

Most people believe that sports drinks are the best alternative to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes when exercising, but that’s simply not true. Many sports drinks contain as much as two-thirds the sugar of sodas. They also typically contain high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), artificial flavors and food coloring, none of which contribute to optimal health.

Sugar After Exercise

Furthermore, consuming sugar after exercise will negatively affect both your insulin sensitivity and your human growth hormone (HGH) production.  Ironically, while these drinks are often referred to as “energy” drinks, in the long run the sugar they contain does just the opposite. After causing a quick explosion of energy, your energy plummets as your pancreas and other glands do all they can to balance out the toxic stimulation to your blood sugar.

Too Much Sodium

Most also contain high amounts of sodium (processed salt), which is meant to replenish the electrolytes you lose while sweating. However, a far better option is to simply add a small amount of natural, unprocessed sea salt to your water. Contrary to processed salt, this natural salt contains 84 different minerals and trace minerals that your body needs for optimal function.

Coconut Water as an Alternative

Another excellent option when you’re sweating profusely is pure coconut water. It’s one of the highest sources of electrolytes known to man. Some remote areas of the world even use coconut juice intravenously, short-term, to help hydrate critically ill patients and in emergency situations.

And, if your sports drink is low-calorie and sugar-free, be warned that it likely contains an artificial sweetener, which is even worse for you than fructose.

The Truth about Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are necessary to your health, because every cell in your body uses them for energy. In fact, your brain can only use carbohydrates for energy.  With the popularity of low-carb diets, many people are afraid to eat any carbohydrates, but it’s important to distinguish between the health-robbing effects of simple sugars and other carbs, and the health-giving properties of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates

Complex carbohydrates are high-fiber foods, which improve your digestion; they help stabilize the blood sugar, keep your energy at an even level, and help you feel satisfied longer after your meal. The healthiest foods are high in fiber, and contain complex carbohydrates along with many other vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. They will also contain other nutrients, such as protein and fats, in moderation. These foods will not be highly refined.

Some examples of healthy foods containing complex carbohydrates are:

Spinach Whole Barley Grapefruit
Turnip Greens Buckwheat Apples
Lettuce Whole wheat bread Prunes
Water Cress Oat bran bread Apricots
Zucchini Oatmeal(steel-cut oats) Pears
Asparagus Oat bran Plums
Artichokes Muesli Strawberries
Okra Wild rice Oranges
Cabbage Brown rice Yams
Celery Multi-grain bread Carrots
Cucumbers Pinto beans Potatoes
Dill Pickles Navy beans Soybeans (tofu)
Radishes Rice milk Lentils
Broccoli Almond milk Garbanzos (chickpeas)
Brussels Sprouts Plain Yogurt Kidney beans
Eggplant Whole mealspelt bread Split peas
Onions Cauliflower
Tomatoes Hummus

 

Simple carbohydrates

Simple carbohydrates are more refined, are usually found in foods with fewer nutrients, and tend to be less satisfying and more fattening.  They can alter your mood, lead to cravings and compulsive eating, cause wide swings in your blood-sugar levels, and cause weight gain in most people.  In addition, a high consumption of sugar can lead to uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you finally decide to improve your diet and forgo the sweets. Unfortunately, over-consumption of sugar and other highly refined carbohydrates has been associated with a higher incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even breast cancer.  Sugars and other simple carbohydrates are also a leading factor in the worldwide obesity epidemic.

Some examples of foods containing simple carbohydrates are:

Table sugar
Corn syrup (high fructose corn syrup)
Fruit juice
Candy
Snack foods
Bread made with white flour
Pasta made with white flour / rice mixes
Soda pop, such as Coke®, Pepsi®, Mountain Dew®, etc.
Junk food / Fast food
All baked goods made with white flour
Most packaged cereals

 

If you are trying to eliminate simple sugars and carbohydrates from your diet, but you don’t want to refer to a list all the time, here are some suggestions:

  • Read the labels – If the label reads sugar, sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, white or “wheat flour,” these foods contain simple carbohydrates.  If these ingredients are at the top of the list, they contain mostly simple carbs and little less and should be avoided.
  • Look for foods that have not been highly processed or refined – Choose a piece of fruit instead of fruit juice, which is high in naturally occurring simple sugars and fiber.  Choose 100% whole grain breads instead of white bread.  Choose whole grain oatmeal instead of instant oatmeal or packaged cold cereals.  The closer you get to nature, the closer you get to health.

The Importance of Proper Hydration

Water is life.  You need water to eliminate toxic substances, produce digestive enzymes, maintain healthy skin, hair and organs, and to help your body absorb essential vitamins, minerals and natural sugars.  Water also regulates body temperature, stimulates metabolism and helps promote regularity.  Fluids other than pure water don’t act the same as water in your body, and they don’t meet your needs for hydration like water does.  Most people are slightly dehydrated from relying on other fluids besides water for their fluid intake.  Coffee, tea, alcohol, sodas (or any other caffeinated beverages) don’t count; they’re diuretics, which means they actually remove water and nutrients from the body.

Chronic dehydration

Chronic dehydration has been linked to the following symptoms and disease processes:  Fatigue, constipation, headaches, indigestion, muscle and joint aches and pains, high blood pressure, depression, allergies, lack of mental clarity, skin issues and excess weight.

Whenever you’re thirsty or hungry, reach for water first to see if it satisfies you.   At Heritage IHC, we recommend drinking spring water—Evian or Fiji bottled water is preferred (due to proper pH levels).  Drink as many ounces of water every day as are equal to half your body weight in pounds (e.g., body weight 150 pounds = 75 ounces of water a day).  Use more water in hot weather or after strenuous exercise.  When you’re actually drinking enough water, your urine will be essentially clear.

Many digestive problems, joint and muscle issues, problems with fatigue and even your complexion will clear up with the use of more water, especially when you limit or eliminate fluids that actually dehydrate your body (sodas/caffeinated beverages/alcohol).

It’s okay to drink some water with meals because digestive enzymes are hydrolytic (they are activated by water).  So drinking a little water with meals is fine .  The bulk of the water you drink throughout the day, however, is best taken between meals.

Nutrition 101 for High School Athletes

The Importance of a Healthy Diet:

The food you eat supplies much more than just fuel for your body to function properly.  It provides the raw materials from which your skin, hair, muscle, bone, and all other tissues are made.  Your diet provides nutrients that are necessary to manufacture hormones and enzymes that control the function of every cell in your body.  Your body also uses these nutrients to make neurotransmitters that regulate how you think and feel.  Therefore, ensuring a proper balance of nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals) is essential to your overall health, muscle development and performance.  You really are what you eat, and that’s why a balanced diet is SO important.

Eating three meals daily (starting with a hearty breakfast, as breakfast sets your metabolism for the day), and 2-3 snacks daily is the best way to keep you properly energized and satisfied.  Eating or not eating affects hormone levels that can cause muscle loss as well, so it is extremely important NOT to skip meals.  Healthy snacking, especially before practices or games, is also important.  This will provide the energy you need for optimal performance, and more importantly will help guard against injuries and help with recovery time.  You should develop good, consistent eating habits, even during the off-season, as this will provide a solid foundation during times of competition.  Remember, the best fueled athlete is the better athlete…

The quality and quantity of the food you consume is important.  The metabolic requirements for active teens can be as high as 3,500 calories a day, for example, which means your body requires this amount of calories to function properly.  Also, the less processed the food, the more nutritious it is.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates provide our main source of energy (they are the body’s preferred source of energy) and are found in unrefined whole grains, legumes, fruits and vegetables.  They are also good sources of fiber (the indigestible portion of our diet that helps with the absorption of nutrients into the body), vitamins and minerals, and are essential for optimal health.

Nature provides many sources of good carbohydrates:

  • Organic fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and lentils (also known as legumes)
  • Unrefined whole grains (some examples include 100% whole grain bread, brown rice, unprocessed oatmeal such as steel-cut oats, and barley).

Foods that are high in refined (highly processed) carbohydrates or sugars should be avoided, as they do not provide the body with optimal nutrition and over time can lead to excess fat storage, low energy levels, muscle loss, and increased risk of chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease as you age.  These foods include the following:

  • Sodas (both sweetened and diet)
  • Candy
  • Baked goods (cakes, cookies, etc.) made with white flour
  • White bread
  • Sugary breakfast cereals (including instant oatmeal)
  • White rice and pasta
  • Junk food
  • French fries and potato chips

Strive to increase your daily intake of fruits and vegetables (eating twice as many vegetables as fruits daily is recommended), whole grains and legumes, which will give your body the energy it needs for optimal health and athletic performance.

Protein

Protein is a key component of muscle, skin, hair, and other tissues of the body.  You also need protein to manufacture the enzymes and hormones that are involved in digestion, metabolism (how your body produces energy from the food you eat), tissue growth and repair, which is why protein should be added to every meal.  Good sources of protein include:

  • Lean meats (beef, chicken, pork, lamb and fish)
  • eggs
  • Organic dairy products (such as cheese and plain yogurt)
  • Raw nuts (avoid peanuts)
  • Natural nut butters (peanut and almond butter)
  • Fermented soy products (such as miso, tamari and tempeh
  • Legumes (beans, peas and lentils)

Fats

Fats are needed for your body to function properly.  Besides being an energy source, fat is used in the protection of cell membranes and helps regulate blood pressure, heart rate, blood clotting and the nervous system (especially important with proper brain functioning).  Fats also help maintain healthy hair and nails, and carry fat-soluble vitamins from the food you eat into your body.  There are two types of healthy fats:  Saturated (usually from animal fats such as butter and cheese) and Unsaturated (from raw nuts, seeds, fish and plant oils).  Look for foods low in saturated fats and avoid bad fats (trans fats or hydrogenated fats that are chemically processed), found in fried foods, junk food, and some cooking oils.  Good sources of healthy fats include avocados, cold water fish (tuna, salmon, and mackerel), raw nuts (except peanuts), nut butters, seeds, and cooking oils (Coconut, Olive, Safflower and Sesame Oil).

Minerals

Minerals are critical to normal body function; they are not produced in the body and must be obtained through the food we eat and by proper supplementation.  The BIG 4 include calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium.  Calcium and magnesium help build healthy bones, especially important for stress prevention (such as stress fractures).  Sodium and potassium are important in maintaining proper fluid balance (electrolytes) and muscle functioning.  Good sources of these nutrients include dairy products, green leafy vegetables, beans/lentils, fish, nuts/seeds, whole grains, bananas, potatoes, beets, oranges and peppers.

Vitamins

Vitamins play an important role in our overall health and nutritional status as well and also must be obtained through the food we eat and proper supplementation.  There are two types—fat-soluble (which are stored in the body) and water-soluble (which cannot be stored and need to be replenished often).  Good vitamin sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats, nuts, dairy products and plant oils.

Water

Water is also essential to proper body function.  It helps regulate and maintain body temperature, transports nutrients and oxygen to the bloodstream, removes waste products (toxins), and helps maintain proper fluid balance and muscle functioning, especially crucial during times of strenuous activity such as sporting events.  It’s important to drink water throughout the day, but especially before, during, and after periods of extended physical activity to avoid dehydration, which can zap strength, energy and coordination, and lead to other health problems and injuries.  Experts recommend that young athletes drink approximately 1 cup (240 milliliters) of water for every 20-30 minutes of physical activity.  Shorter competitions may not require drinking during the activity, but it’s important to drink afterwards to restore fluid lost through sweat.  Although many sports drinks are available, plain water is usually enough to hydrate the body.  Gatorade and other sports drinks available have added sugar, which should be avoided.

Game Day

It’s important to eat well on game days, but you should eat at least 2 hours before the event — early enough to digest the food before game time.  The meal itself should not be very different from what you’ve eaten throughout training. It should have plenty of carbs and lean protein and be low in fat, because fat is harder to digest and can cause an upset stomach.  After the game or event, have a well-balanced meal. Your body will be rebuilding muscle tissue and restoring carbs and fluids for up to 24 hours after the competition, so it’s important that you get plenty of protein, fat, and carbs in the postgame hours.  Also, don’t forget to drink plenty of water before, during and after games.  Most of all, it’s important to eat healthy meals and snacks consistently, even during the off-season, as this will provide a solid foundation during times of competition.

As well as adequate water intake pre and post activity, good healthy snacks should be encouraged—which provide the energy needed before and after sporting activities.  If it’s going to be a long practice or game, pack a healthy snack — a small tuna or natural peanut butter sandwich on whole grain bread, a handful of nuts and a small piece of fruit are all good options.  Always avoid candy and soda; while the sugar may give you a quick energy boost, it will fade quickly, and you won’t have enough energy to finish the fourth quarter!

Instead of having a Powerbar or Gatorade, try some of these healthier snacks that will provide the nutrients you need to keep up your energy and have a great game:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Whole grain pita with hummus; raw veggies and hummus
  • Whole grain bread with natural peanut butter and banana
  • Whole grain crackers and cheese
  • Fruit and a handful of nuts
  • Plain yogurt with fruit and nuts
  • Fruit smoothies (blend 6-8 oz of rice or almond milk with a medium banana, ½ cup berries and 1-2 ice cubes for a nutrient-rich and energizing snack).
  • Tuna sandwich on whole grain bread
  •  *Paleo Bars and *Whey Protein (*offered at Heritage Integrative Healthcare)

Foods high in potassium are also recommended, especially post-exercise, to replace electrolytes lost from perspiration.  Bananas, yogurt, melons, oranges, strawberries, pears, peaches, grapes, sunflower seeds and walnuts are good choices and easy snacks to pack.

Label Reading Tips

The first thing you’ll see is the label on the front of the food package. Manufacturers can say most anything they want on the front label (to get the real story, see the Nutrition Facts panel on the back, especially the Ingredients). Here are some terms you may see there, and what they really mean:

  • Fortified, enriched, added, extra, and plus. This means nutrients such as minerals and fiber have been removed and synthetic vitamins added in processing. Look for 100% whole-wheat or 100% whole grain bread for example.
  • Fruit drink. This means there’s probably little or no real fruit, and lots of sugar. Look for products that say “100% Fruit Juice,” or better yet, have the piece of fruit instead, which is better for blood sugar balance.
  • Made with wheat, rye, or multigrain. These products may have very little whole grain. Look for the word “whole” before the grain to ensure you’re getting a 100% whole grain product (wheat flour is just another name for white flour).
  • Natural. The manufacturer started with a natural source, but once it’s processed, the food may not resemble anything natural. Look for “100% All Natural” and “No Preservatives.”
  • Organically grown, pesticide-free, or no artificial ingredients. Trust only labels that say “Certified Organically Grown.”
  • Sugar-free or fat-free. Don’t assume the product is low-calorie. The manufacturer may have compensated with unhealthy ingredients — and have no fewer calories than the real thing.

As a general guideline, ingredients are listed in descending order—the main ingredient is listed first and the smallest ingredient is listed last; usually, fewer ingredients are best, and always avoid products with words you can’t pronounce.

What is Insulin Resistance?

Insulin resistance is a condition that develops when the body cannot use insulin properly, which, over time, causes the development of chronic diseases of aging. Insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, helps the body use glucose (a form of sugar that is the body’s main source of energy). Our digestive system breaks food down into glucose, which then travels through bloodstream to cells throughout the body. Glucose in the blood is called blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. As the blood glucose level rises after a meal, the pancreas releases insulin to help cells take in and use the glucose.

When people are insulin resistant, their muscle, fat, and liver cells do not respond properly to insulin. As a result, their bodies need more insulin to help glucose enter cells. The pancreas tries to keep up with this increased demand for insulin by producing more.  Eventually, the pancreas fails to keep up with the body’s need for insulin and excess glucose builds up in the bloodstream.  This blood sugar disregulation contributes to obesity, cholesterol abnormalities, elevated blood pressure (hypertension), osteoporosis, cancer, and ultimately the development of Type 2 diabetes (also called adult-onset diabetes) and cardiovascular disease (heart attack/stroke).  Therefore, controlling your insulin levels is one of the most powerful strategies you can possibly implement.

Symptoms of Insulin Resistance

Fatigue

The most common feature of Insulin Resistance is that it wears people out; some are tired just in the morning or afternoon, others are exhausted all day.

Brain fogginess

Sometimes the fatigue of Insulin Resistance is physical, but often it’s mental. The inability to focus is the most evident symptom. Poor memory, loss of creativity, poor grades in school often accompany Insulin Resistance, as do various forms of “learning disabilities.”

Low blood sugar

Mild, brief periods of low blood sugar (called hypoglycemia) are normal during the day, especially if meals are not eaten on a regular schedule. But prolonged periods of this “hypoglycemia,” accompanied by many of the symptoms listed here, especially physical and mental fatigue, are not normal.  Feeling agitated, jittery and moody is common in Insulin Resistance, with almost immediate relief once food is eaten.

Intestinal bloating

Most intestinal gas is produced from carbohydrates in the diet. Insulin Resistance sufferers who eat carbohydrates suffer from gas, lots of it.

Sleepiness

Many people with Insulin Resistance get sleepy immediately after eating a meal containing more than 20% or 30% carbohydrates. This means typically a pasta meal, or even a meat meal that includes potatoes or bread and a sweet dessert

Increased weight and fat storage

For most people, too much weight is too much fat. In males, a large abdomen is the more obvious and earliest sign of Insulin Resistance. In females, it’s prominent in the buttocks.

Increased triglycerides

High triglycerides in the blood are often found in overweight persons. But even those who are not overweight may have stores of fat in their arteries as a result of Insulin Resistance.  These triglycerides are the direct result of carbohydrates in the diet being converted by insulin. See additional information about Increased triglycerides.

Do You Know How Margarine is Made?

Manufacturers begin with the cheapest oils (many of which are now from genetically modified crops)—soy, corn, cottonseed or canola, already rancid from the extraction process—and mix them with tiny metal particles-usually nickel oxide.

The oil with its nickel catalyst is then hydrogenated (subjected to hydrogen gas) in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Next, soap-like emulsifiers and starch are squeezed into the mixture to give it a better consistency; the oil is yet again subjected to high temperatures when it is steam-cleaned, which removes its unpleasant odor.

Margarine’s natural color, an unappetizing gray, is removed by bleach. Dyes and strong flavors must then be added to make it resemble butter. Finally, the mixture is compressed and packaged in blocks or tubs and sold as a health food.

Now, is this something you really want to eat?

 ALWAYS choose real organic butter!

The Truth About High Fructose Corn Syrup

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), a highly processed sweetener made from corn, was introduced to the American market in 1975.  Food and beverage manufacturers began switching their sweeteners from sucrose (table sugar) to corn syrup when they discovered that HFCS was far cheaper to make and also about 20 times sweeter than table sugar. It was expected that less sweetener would be needed per product, but unfortunately the amount of sweetener used has steadily risen.

Since the use of HFCS, there has been a steady incline in the incidence of obesity (particularly childhood obesity), adult-onset diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer:

  • Glucose in other sugars is used by your body, and is converted to blood glucose, whereas the fructose from HFCS is a relatively unregulated source of fuel that your liver converts to fat and cholesterol.
  • Consumption of HFCS in high amounts can cause scarring and hardening of the liver, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
  • HFCS breaks down into a variety of waste products that are damaging to your body, one of which is uric acid. Over time, elevated uric acid drives up your blood pressure, increasing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • HFCS increases your insulin level, which causes you to store fat and overeat (largely due to its addictive quality and the suppression of appetite-controlling hormones)—a major cause of obesity, insulin resistance and the development of Type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes.
  • HFCS is almost certainly made from genetically modified corn and processed with genetically modified enzymes, linked to an array of heath problems from food allergies to cancer.