Ashwaganda and Adaptogens

I just returned from a fascinating trip to India where we visited among other areas, Kerala, in southern India. Kerala is famous for spices and tea plantations dating back to the time of the Roman empire. Cochin, the port city of Kerala, has been a center of commerce and home to successive waves of European traders for centuries. In the verdant hills of Kerala we toured a spice plantation which grew vanilla, black pepper, cardamom, ginger and ashwaganda, an important herb in Ayurvedic medicine.

Though our guide emphasized that ashwaganda was the ‘Indian Viagra’, I knew it had many other important properties. Ashwaganda, as I described in The Adaptation Diet, is one of the most potent adaptogens, a group of herbs that supports healthy adrenal function and improves the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances. Studies show less adrenal enlargement, blood sugar elevation or cortisol depletion in animals pretreated with ashwaganda and exposed to stressful conditions. People treated with ashwaganda are less anxious in stressful situations. It has effects on androgen production,GABA levels in the brain as well as reducing inflammation and improving immune function.

Ashwaganda, along with the program outlined in The Adaptation Diet, can be an important tool in maintaining the ability to adapt to stressful circumstances.

The Curious Case of Gluten

When I wrote The Adaptation Diet, one topic I included which causes a lot of  confusion for  my patients, is gluten intolerance and celiac disease. Gluten is the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, malt, triticale, spelt, and kamut.  It doesn’t make much sense that  foods that were integral to human evolution  have caused so many people health problems. However, like many things in life, too much of a good thing has become a problem for some people. Sensitivity to gluten is widespread in the Untied States, especially in people of Northern European extraction (Scandinavian,English, Irish, and German).

Individuals vary in their response to gluten proteins. On one end of the continuum is simple gluten intolerance (also called non-celiac gluten intolerance) with symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive bloating, flatulence,diarrhea, weight gain, skin problems, depression, and joint or muscle pain. It is estimated that one in ten Americans could have gluten intolerance or wheat allergy. On the other end of the continuum is the more serious celiac disease, with major bowel symptoms, a less common problem with an incidence of 1 in every 133 Americans.

There are blood tests to help identify if you have gluten intolerance, but if there is any question the best approach is to adopt a gluten-free diet  for at least 3 months. If you are concerned about the celiac disease aspect, see a gastroenterologist to discuss the need for a biopsy before you stop eating gluten.


Forgiveness and Health

One reason I wrote Power of the Five Elements was to bring to light some startling new research on the effects of long term stress on health. Bruce McEwen and other researchers found that once someone has been exposed to chronic  stress the brain actually resets the amount of stress hormone secreted. This leads to possible serious consequences such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. The price one pays to adapt to stress is called allostatic load, something to avoid at all costs.

Luckily certain innate or acquired attitudes and behaviors such as forgiveness, leads to lower stress hormones and less damage to the body. In one study researchers measured  blood pressure and heart rate of seventy-one college students while they were thinking of times they had been lied to, insulted, or betrayed by family member. When they imagined forgiving the people who had wronged them, their blood pressure and pulse rate dropped dramatically.

By following these behavioral tips, it is possible to reduce the risk of chronic disease.


Mediterranean Diet and inflammation

In an recent study done at the University of Navarra in Spain, 41 obese subjects were placed on a low calorie Mediterranean style diet and followed for 8 weeks. Those who adhered most closely to the diet not only had the greatest weight loss, but had a marked reduction in blood levels of inflammation including CRP, complement C3 and TNF alpha. The conclusion of the researchers was that this type of diet, which I outline in The Adaptation Diet, not only helps with weight loss but can markedly reduce inflammation and improve features of the metabolic syndrome and other inflammatory conditions.

We often underestimate the effect of diet on metabolism and overly rely on medication instead. So before reaching for the prescription pad, give yourself a chance to improve your health by following The Adaptation Diet.

Power of the Five Elements

I have a new book coming out, Power of the Five Elements; The Chinese Medicine Path to Healthy Aging and Stress Resistance. It can be pre-ordered from North Atlantic Books and will be released April 6th,2010. Based on my thirty years of medical practice, Power of the Five Elements presents the Five Adaptation Types, a modern application of the Five Elements of Chinese medicine to reduce the stress response and prevent chronic disease.

The five types allow readers to identify through questionnaires and case histories their own energetic patterns for adaptation and to create strategies for reducing stress and improving health. Focusing on the fact that maintaining health and preventing stress-induced diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer, requires adapting successfully to changing circumstances, Power of the Five Elements offers a range of behavioral changes and exercises such as meditations and visualizations to enhance adaptive responses. It is essential reading for anyone under stress or at risk for chronic disease.

Mediterranean Diet and health

Dietary patterns close to the Mediterranean diet, rich in fruit and

vegetables and high in monounsaturated fats, reduce  features of the metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome, also called syndrome X, includes high blood pressure, insulin resistance, truncal obesity (fat around the waistline),high triglycerides and blood sugar, and low HDL cholesterol. It is a major risk factor for heart disease and diabetes. Some recent studies, including one done by Balbio in Spain,  have demonstrated a 25 percent net reduction in the prevalence of metabolic syndrome following lifestyle changes mainly based on nutritional recommendations.

The Mediterranean Diet has the following characteristics:

Low-glycemic-index carbohydrates such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetable in large amounts

Minimal snacking between meals and no fast foods

Moderate consumption of red wine (5 ounces per day)

Olive oil as the principal fat, with significant amounts of fish, nuts,

and seeds and a balanced omega 6 to 3 ratio

Significant intake of fish, especially salmon and small fish like

sardines rich in EPA-DHA fatty acids

Little saturated fats from butter, cream, full-fat dairy, or red meats

Protein primarily as beans and lentils with moderate amounts of fish and poultry

Dairy consumed as low-fat yogurt, kefir, or cheese

Fat consumption is 25–35 percent of calories, with saturated fat less than 8 percent

Desserts are fruits, often fresh

Use of local produce, fish, and poultry with minimal importation from distant sources

Slow food approach, eating leisurely meals in a social setting with family and friends

These are some of the principles included in The Adaptation Diet, available early February from on-line book sellers.

The Adaptation Diet

I have a new book to be released in early February, The Adaptation Diet, which details how to control excess stress hormones including cortisol, leading to weight loss. reduced risk of heart disease and diabetes and improved adaptation to stress.

The diet is based on 30 years of clinical experience and hundreds of research articles. The key aspects to control cortisol are to reduce inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, avoid food allergies and use large amounts of adaptogenic foods.

On this blog I will post summaries of  research on nutrition that is in agreement with the ideas of The Adaptation Diet.