In response to my offer to answer your health-related questions, some really interesting although sometimes challenging ones came in. This also gave me a good idea as to the topics you would like to hear more about. Although I have replied to the senders personally, I thought I should dedicate this newsletter to three of the questions, answering them in more detail than required for the benefit of you, the reader.
Low cholesterol levels
The article in your July newsletter on the dangers of statins was a real eye-opener and I forwarded it to a friend who is on Lipitor and experiencing severe pain in his calf muscles. Although his cholesterol level is below 5 now his doctor believes the lower one can get it down the better, which got me wondering: Can cholesterol levels be too low?
I know that some doctors believe that, where cholesterol is concerned, ‘lower is better’, yet this defies results of studies concluding that low levels of cholesterol are associated with enhanced risk of death, perhaps most notably from increased risk of cancer. This is understandable considering that cholesterol is a component in cell membranes, and an essential constituent of steroid hormones and vitamin D (which increasing evidence suggests has disease-protective properties, particularly with regard to cancer prevention).
Other studies have linked low cholesterol levels to mental health issues. This is also not surprising bearing in mind cholesterol’s role in brain cell health. A seven year study which assessed the relationship between cholesterol levels and depression in a group of French men and women over 65, found that in men low levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol were associated with an increased risk of depression and in women, strangely enough, low levels of high density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol were associated with an increased risk of depression
A Spanish review of all evidence obtained from various studies concluded that: “It is shown that low cholesterol levels in serum are associated and related to different neuropsychiatric disorders. Lowered cholesterol levels seem likely to be linked to higher rates of early death, suicide, aggressive and violent behaviour, personality disorders, and possibly depression, dementia and penal confinement among young males.”
Some may argue that any problems with lower cholesterol need to be balanced with the ‘benefits’ of this, in terms of reduced risk of heart disease. We do need to be slightly wary of this argument, though, because there is actually quite a lot of evidence that in the elderly, higher cholesterol levels are not necessarily associated with an enhanced risk of cardiovascular disease and/or overall risk of death. Please see my article “What really causes heart disease” in my September 2009 newsletter.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
My 28 year old daughter is desperate to fall pregnant but has been told she may never conceive as she has PCOS. Her doctor has put her on Metformin. Do you have any nutritional or other advice for her that may improve her chances of conception?
PCOS is a condition characterised by multiples cysts in the ovaries, lack of ovulation, infertility, abnormal hairiness and acne that may result from higher than normal levels of androgens (‘male’ hormones) in the female body.
It is well known that women with PCOS tend to be insulin resistant. The chief function of insulin is to reduce blood sugar levels. So, if insulin isn’t working too well Metformin is often prescribed. There is also an idea that higher levels of insulin (common in insulin resistance) can stimulate androgen release.
Fortunately diet can play a significant role in correcting the sugar imbalance and may even reverse the condition of insulin resistance, so your daughter is not condemned to a life on medications. Obviously it makes sense to avoid eating foods that cause spikes in blood sugar. The diet usually recommended is one based on low glycaemic index (low GI) foods – i.e. foods that release sugar relatively slowly into the bloodstream. Studies have shown that people on a lower GI diet do have improved blood sugar control and insulin action many have experienced improvement in the regularity of their menstrual cycle.
However, my advice for women with PCOS looking to improve their condition through diet is not to eat a low-GI diet, but to eat a low-carb one. This is because it is possible to eat a low-GI diet and still eat a lot of carb. And, in essence, the less carb someone eats, the less insulin they secrete and the better the result. So eat organic protein (with no growth hormones), limit carbs to the non-starchy ones, so lots of leafy green veg and the non-sweet fruit such as berries of all kinds, apples and pears. Avoid all refined flours and sugars and include only good fats in the diet. An Omega-3 fish oil supplement will be of great benefit too.
Reversing the insulin resistance is the first step your daughter needs to take towards improving her chances of falling pregnant.
However there is another issue linked to PCOS: Women with PCOS tend to have lower levels of progesterone. I assume your daughter has had her levels checked? If low she should then consider using a natural progesterone cream such as Renewed Balance as this is the most user-friendly of all the ways progesterone can be given. The key to getting pregnant, besides general health and well being, is ovulation and regular menstrual cycles and progesterone can play a vital role here. Supplementation with progesterone needs to be done under the guidance of a health care practitioner as it is not straight forward, especially for someone trying to conceive. She is welcome to contact me should she require advice on this.
Alternatively, if she is progesterone deficient, Vitex Agnus Castus (Chasteberry) may increase her chances of conceiving. The ability of chaste tree berry to raise progesterone levels in the body is an indirect effect, so the herb itself is not a hormone. It acts on the hypothalamus and pituitary glands by increasing luteinizing hormone (LH) production and mildly inhibiting the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). This results in a shift in the ratio of estrogen to progesterone, with a rise in progesterone.
She should also avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking.
So reversing the insulin resistance and balancing hormones are key here, however she needs to be patient as this may take 3 to 4 months or longer.
Budging the belly blip
I am in my early sixties and have been struggling with a spare tyre around my middle since menopause. I eat a healthy diet and do a lot of walking, swimming and I attend a gym, but the belly fat will not budge. Do you have any nutritional advice that may help?
Oh Boy, don’t we senior ladies know about this? It seems that as we hit menopause our abdomens take on a personality of their own! The timing says it has to do with hormonal changes but these are too complex to go into here. In women, the relationship between excess body fat, testosterone, estrogens, and progesterone is somewhat complicated and excess body fat, especially abdominal fat, disrupts the normal balance and functioning of these hormones. Natural hormone replacement may help however this needs to be done under the guidance of an integrative health practitioner and certainly one who does not believe in synthetic hormone replacement. Some researchers suspect that the drop in estrogen levels at menopause is also linked to increased levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that promotes the accumulation of abdominal fat.
To know whether your abdominal fat poses a health risk one needs to know whether it is subcutaneous or visceral fat. Fat accumulated in the lower body (the pear shape) is subcutaneous, while fat in the abdominal area (the apple shape) is largely visceral. Subcutaneous fat is the kind you can grasp with your hand. Visceral fat, on the other hand, lies out of reach, deep within the abdominal cavity, where it pads the spaces between our abdominal organs. Visceral fat may pose a heart health risk which can be assessed with a few blood tests such as fasting glucose and insulin, triglycerides and cholesterol tests. This will determine whether you are at risk of insulin resistance or pre-diabetes. If you are not producing sufficient insulin to deal with your blood sugar the excess sugar will be stored as fat and particularly fat around the abdomen. If you are generally overweight then you may want to do some blood tests to put your mind at rest, although with all the exercise you are doing, I don’t foresee a problem here. Also check your Waist to Hip Ratio: should be less than 0.8 for women and less than 1 for men.
Since you mention a “spare tyre” my guess is that your abdominal fat is the less harmful and more easily disposed of subcutaneous fat.
So now to your original question: How to get rid it?
Firstly, toxins love to accumulate in fat tissue and once there they make it that much more difficult to shed the fat. So a three day detox would be a good place to start. See my January 2010 newsletter. This will detox the digestive tract as well as the liver and it is important to have the toxins moving out of your system while doing this, so a good fibre supplement such as Herbal Fibre Blend and lots and lots of good quality water, preferably distilled, is essential, while detoxing. I would even follow up the detox with a course of a liver detoxing supplement. (See Liverchol or Liver Detox on my supplement list). For a good cleanse, continue with the fibre supplement for 3 months.
You say your diet is good so I am assuming you are eating plenty of fresh vegetables, keeping to organic or free range meat and staying away from processed foods loaded with sodium and other nasty additives? Eat food in its natural state or cook it yourself.
To your daily regime add a green wholefood multivitamin and mineral supplement. They burn body fat and balance blood sugar levels. Green Vibrance is my favourite as it also contains probiotics to keep the digestive tract healthy. Fish oil is known to break down saturated fat so this would help too.
As for exercise, you are doing well already. Remember though that tummy exercises don’t necessarily reduce abdominal fat, especially not the subcutaneous fat. I find that the exercises which concentrate on side and back muscles tend to work better for spare tyres by lifting and strengthening the upper torso. Twisting from the waist, sideways bends, bouncing on a rebounder while twisting the body works well and for balancing the entire endocrine system yoga is the perfect exercise type.
How do I stay young forever?
Eat healthily, exercise regularly and lie about your age!
On that silly note, I’ll say cheers till we chat again in the Spring. Please keep the emails coming.