Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Homemade Toothpaste

All my life, I have used commercial toothpaste, all of which had fluoride as one of the main ingredients. Until recently, I never really questioned it. However, the more reading and research I did into health and wellness, the more I started to see reports connecting fluoride to possible cancers and issues with brain development. The research remains controversial and I will leave it up to you to decide for yourself.

Link to a debate between two dentists.
Link to Dr. Josh Axe's discussion of the health risks.
Link to discussion of fluoride's role as a neurotoxin.

In the end, each person has to make their own decision. I decided that I wanted to try to make my own toothpaste, not only because of the fluoride, but also because of the artificial sweeteners and other toxic chemicals they put in toothpaste. Of course, you could buy a more natural toothpaste like Tom's of Maine, but even those contain a lot of chemicals. So, if you want to try an experiment, here is my super simple recipe for making your own toothpaste.

Recipe for Homemade Toothpaste


With 3 or 4 simple ingredients, you can have healthy teeth and gums. Note that the measures are approximate, as I rarely measure things out when I am making my "creations." You may have to adjust the ratios to your own taste.

Ingredients


1/3 cup of extra virgin coconut oil
2 tablespoons of baking soda
Oil of peppermint
Oil of spearmint (optional)

Preparation Instructions


  1. Warm the coconut oil slightly until it gets soft, but not completely liquid. 
  2. Stir in the baking soda until it is mixed thorough.
  3. Add several drops of peppermint oil and, if you like, spearmint oil. 
  4. Mix thoroughly and let it return to room temperature

I prefer mine "minty," so I use about 10 drops of peppermint oil and 8 drops of spearmint oil. You can adjust according to your taste.

Directions for Use


I use the back of toothbrush to scrape up a "ball" of toothpaste about the size of a half of a teaspoon. Then, I scoop it up with the bristle side of the toothbrush and brush as usual.

Notes:  

It will not foam because it has no added 'foaming agents." This is normal.
Because it is mostly coconut oil, your toothbrush will get a little bit oily. I wash the handle with a little bit of soap and warm water when I am finished.

My Observations Using Natural Toothpaste


After using my natural toothpaste for about one month, here are some of my observations.

  1. I don't have that "dry mouth" feeling after brushing that I have always had after brushing.
  2. My tongue has lost the white film that was always on it. I used to think that was due to the dairy products. But then I went vegan. So I thought maybe it was the almond milk I use in my coffee. Or something else. I could never get it to go away. Now, it is gone. I truly believe it was the toothpaste. And I have always scraped my tongue after brushing for years.
  3. My teeth are getting whiter. I drink coffee almost everyday. However, I always tried to avoid "whitening" toothpastes, because my dentist said that they can damage your enamel. While it has only been a month, the difference in my teeth in noticeable.

If you try my recipe, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments.




Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Drink more water, really!




We hear it all the time, "Drink more water. Drink extra water. Remember to drink water." In the past, no one was more skeptical of this refrain than me. However, I eventually became a believer and I will tell you how.

For most of my life, I have not been a big water drinker. I always wanted something with "flavor" (i.e., sugar). Luckily, I never really liked soda that much. I do not like carbonated drinks, so I would drink much less soda than the average American. However, I made up for it by drinking fruit juices, sports drinks, or non-carbonated drinks like "vitamin water." Up until recently, I also drank a fair amount of coffee. Years ago, I did train myself not to drink coffee with sugar and I always used unsweetened almond milk or cashew milk in my coffee.

As part of eating more healthy, I decided to cut out processed fruit juices, sports drinks, soda, and other sugary drinks. But even after cutting out those drinks, I did not really drink more water. Maybe I would drink 16-24 ounces a day. I did get liquids from coffee, green smoothies, herbal teas, and such, but I am sure that it was not as much as I should.

As I started doing tai chi, yoga, and exercising more, I really noticed that the next day, my muscles would often be sore. At first, I just chalked this up to getting older. However, again and again, I heard the answer to soreness as well: "drink more water!" In particular, my daughter who is a dancer and fitness instructor would harp on me to drink more water.

Finally, I wanted to put it to the test for myself. While my wife was travelling several months ago, I decided to do a "mini-retreat" and challenged myself to do tai chi or yoga everyday for 10 days. In addition, I resolved to put the water theory to the test by drinking three liters of water each day during that time.

I kicked it off on a Sunday with double yoga. Sunday morning's first yoga class was rather strenuous so I expected to be sore on Monday morning. To my pleasant surprise, I wasn't sore on Monday. On Monday, took a very hard vinyasa yoga class. This time I knew I would be sore the next day for sure. Again, to my delight, I was not. That pattern continued for all 10 days.

Since then, I have been monitoring my water intake and noticing the results when I do drink plenty of water and when I do not. Here are some things I have found for me:

  • When I drink plenty of water, I am not sore or stiff after exercise
  • When I drink plenty of water, I don't get headaches
  • When I drink plenty of water, I have more energy, need less caffeine. and feel less sleepy in the afternoon
  • When I drink plenty of water, I sleep better
  • When I drink plenty of water, my skin is clearer and my sinuses are clearer

I would be interested to hear your experiences with drinking water. Please add them to the comments below.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Hello Serotonin, Goodbye Depression



With depression in the news recently, due to the high-profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, I thought I would talk about serotonin, its role in depression, and natural ways to keep your serotonin levels up.

What is Serotonin?


While serotonin functions similarly to a hormone, technically it is a neurotransmitter that is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. Also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (or 5-HT), 90% of the serotonin in your body is in the intestines and GI tract and 10% in the nervous system and brain. Neurotransmitters help transmit information from nerves to other types of tissue such as muscles or glands. The primary function of serotonin is to regulate the muscular contractions in the intestines as part of the digestive process. However, the serotonin in the brain is connected to feelings of well-being and happiness as well as the "get up and do things" feeling. Because most hormones only have a single function (like adrenaline or dopamine), serotonin in unique in having several different functions within the body.

Read more about Serotonin on Wikipedia.

As mentioned above, the lining of your gastrointestinal tract (GI tract) produces 90% of serotonin in your body. Technically, it is the Enterochromaffin cells that produce the serotonin in the GI tract. By interacting with the muscles in the stomach and intestines, serotonin helps orchestrate the contractions that move food along the digestive tract. This process is managed by the Enteric Nervous System (ENS). A part of the autonomic nervous system or "automatically managed" part of our bodies that we are not consciously aware of, the ENS acts as a "second brain" running the complex process of digestion with very little interaction from the actual brain itself. That is why it is often referred to as the "gut brain." The brain stem produces the remaining 10% of serotonin which is transported in the blood stream and interacts with the brain.

Very recent research is now exploring the relationship of the gut microbiota or gut bacteria and the ENS. While the research is still in the early stages, scientists see a possible connection between the gut bacteria and the ENS or gut brain which in turn can influence the human brain. Some hypothesize that if gut bacteria can affect serotonin production in the GI tract, it might also affect serotonin production in the brain stem as well.

Why is Serotonin Important?


Because serotonin performs several different functions in the body, having healthy levels of serotonin is vital to physical, mental, and emotional health. First of all, as I discussed, the majority of serotonin lives in the GI tract and regulates the digestive process. In addition, serotonin is the "wake up and get going" hormone. As it gets dark, our body begins to produce melatonin which makes you sleep and regulates your sleep cycles. In the morning, as it begins to get light, your body starts producing serotonin instead to wake you up and get you ready to be active. Thus, the first function is serotonin is to get you up and about in the morning. Together with melatonin, it helps regulate the circadian rhythms of sleep and waking.

The final main function is to provide a sense of well-being or happiness. When we feel happy, our body is producing serotonin. Doctors and psychiatrists typically link low levels of serotonin in the body with clinical depression. This does make sense because a common symptom of clinical depression is a desire to stay in bed and a lack of motivation, another function of serotonin besides a feeling or happiness. Therefore, current medical practice sees depression as a "lack of serotonin" and seeks to remedy this by using medications that keep serotonin in the system longer.

The two basic types of anti-depressants are SSRIs (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors). MAOIs function by preventing the breakdown of serotonin, thus keeping it in the brain longer and increasing the concentration. Due to the severity of side effects from MAOIs, they are often a "last resort" drug for severe depression and not commonly prescribed. On the other hand, you will probably recognize the names of common SSRIs such as Prozac, Lexapro, Paxil, and Zoloft. Scientists do not yet fully understand how or why SSRIs increase serotonin levels, they only know that they do. (I personally find the fact that we don't how or why these drugs "work" very disconcerting.)


How Can I Boost My Serotonin Levels Naturally?


So, if you don't want to be depressed, but you don't want to take anti-depressants, what can you do to naturally increase your serotonin levels?

Eat foods that are high in tryptophan. The ideas that tryptophan makes you sleepy and that turkey contains a high level of tryptophan are both myths. Tryptophan is the key amino acid in the production of both serotonin and melatonin, thus helping with proper cycles of sleep and wakeful activity. Foods that are high in tryptophan include: chocolate, oats, dried dates, dairy, red meat, eggs, fish, poultry, sesame, chickpeas, almonds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, buckwheat, spirulina, and peanuts.

Spend time outside or in places where there is natural light. When your body is exposed to natural light, it will naturally create more serotonin. To multiply the effect of the light, exercise or walk briskly outside. Combining the exposure to light with moderate exercise will ramp up the serotonin production. This is part of the cycle we see with those suffering from depression: they want to stay in bed, often in a dark room, which inhibits the serotonin production, making them more depressed.

Take care of your gut flora. When you eat fermented foods, plant-based foods that are high in fiber, and take probiotics, you boost your gut flora and keep it healthy. A healthy gut flora influences the "gut brain" to produce serotonin which likewise influences your brain stem to do the same. At the same time, you will want to reduce or eliminate processed sugar.

Think positively. Sounds simple and logically it makes sense. If you want to feel good and not be depressed, think happier, more positive thoughts. Research consistently shows that those who tend to be more positive and optimistic have higher levels of serotonin.

Increase your intake of B6 and B12 vitamins, either naturally or as supplements. Studies have show that these vitamins help your body to produce healthy levels of seratonin.

If you are looking for a natural alternative to SSRIs or MAOIs, there are also 5-HTP supplements. 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is an amino acid that is readily converted to serotonin in the body. 5-HTP supplements should not be taken if you are taking SSRIs or MAOIs, as they can lead to excessively high levels of serotonin. Consult your physician or medical professional before taking any 5-HTP supplements.

Further reading: "How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs" from the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.



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Wednesday, June 6, 2018

What Exactly is a Health Coach?



When you hear the word "coach," that often conjures up an image of a sports coach. Perhaps you imagine someone yelling at his players or yelling at the referees. You picture that person giving instructions and barking out orders to the players.

However, as a spectator, you probably don't see what goes on behind the spotlight. A coach helps create the plans that will lead the player or team to success. They stretch each individual to help them reach their fullest potential. They teach and provide valuable feedback because they can see things the individuals cannot see. Coaches use their experience and wisdom to guide their players. While health coaches do not argue with referees or yell at their clients, in many ways, health coaches share similar roles with sports coaching. Here, I would like to explain what health coaches do and don't do, so you can decide if working with a health coach is right for you.

What a Health Coach Does


Let's start with a basic list of what a health coach does:

  • Health coaches help their clients get clear on their goals for their health and wellness. By helping clients pick realistic, but challenging goals to attain, they push their clients to be better versions of themselves. (Sports analogy: A coach will help the team or individual set goals such as winning so many games or achieving a certain level in a tournament.)
  • Health coaches help their clients understand why the goals are important. By getting their clients to see the importance underlying each goal, they help motivate their clients to achieve those goals. (Sports analogy: A coach will help motivate the team or individual to achieve the goals. While obviously winning is a typical motivating factor in sports, developing teamwork, character, or perseverance might be others.)
  • Health coaches help their clients formulate a plan to get from where they are now to where their want to be. (Sports analogy: A coach will help the team or individual set goals develop a "game plan." They will also structure practice and exercises designed to help the players achieve their goals.)
  • Health coaches provide support for their clients. By providing an open, judgment-free space for people, a coach can provide emotional and mental support when a client is feeling overwhelmed or ready to give up on their goals. (Sports analogy: A coach will support all the players both within the game as well as outside. Many players develop strong bonds with their coaches. Coaches often act as personal mentors and sometimes even parental figures for their players.)
  • Health coaches hold their clients accountable for the changes and habits that they want to change. When a client is ready to give up or give in, the coach can provide the tough love and gentle kick in the butt to move them past their resistance. A coach knows that a client's success is always within reach and they will not give up on a client, even if the client wants to give up on themself. (Sports analogy: A coach will some times yell and sometimes cheer the players on to encourage them. The coach pushes the players to continue on even when they are feeling down or tired.)
  • Health coaches are masters of habit change. They help their clients change behaviors consistently, so that these new behaviors become habits. By gradually improving the default behaviors, clients find themselves making healthier and healthier decisions without any effort. (Sports analogy: A coach will help the team or individual practice the skills or techniques needed over and over again until they become a habit or second nature.)


What a Health Coach Does Not Do


While it may seem that health coaches do many things, there are also some things that you might think they do, but they do not do. Here are some examples:

  • Health coaches do not diagnose or treat disease, prescribe medication, or perform the functions of clinical occupations. This is the role of your doctor or physician. Health coaches are happy to work with your physician or specialist to help you maximize the treatment plan that has been prescribed for you.
  • Health coaches do not recommend or prescribe specific diets in order to treat or alleviate any medical conditions. This is the role of a licensed nutritionist or dietitian. Health coaches are happy to work with your nutritionist or dietitian to help you maximize the nutritional plan that has been outlined for you.
  • Health coaches do not psychological therapy. This is the role of a licensed psychologist or therapist. Health coaches are happy to work with your psychologist or therapist to help you maximize any plans that has been outlined for you.
  • Health coaches do not tell you what to do or offer advice. Coaches help you uncover the solutions that you already have within you. They then help you formulate a plan to implement the solution and provide the support to execute on that plan. A coach may provide stories about strategies that have worked for them or their clients in the past, but ultimately, the client decides on what to implement in their life.
  • Health coaches do not force you to do anything that you do not want to do.

Would You Like to See What Coaching Can Do for You?


Now that you understand what health coaches do and do not do, would you like to try it for yourself? Since you have read through this blog post, I would like to invite you to a free Get Healthy Now Strategy Session. In this free consultation, you will experience what it is like to have a coach on your side. Click here to sign up for your free session now!