Beets, Beets, Magical Beets

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For the month of February we will be highlighting one of my favourite vegetables to grow, eat, and recommend: beets!

I come from a Lithuanian background, so I have been eating beets practically since birth. We eat them boiled, steamed, grated into soup (hot and cold), pickled - you name it, we've got a way to prepare beets. 

It wasn't until years later when I became a Naturopathic Doctor that I learned how magical beets truly are. Even though some may describe their flavour as "Earthy" or like a "damp basement”, there is no denying that these purple tubers swing a massive health punch. The foremost of these magical health benefits is improved blood flow and blood vessel health. But why do they have this magical effect? 

It's All About Nitric Oxide

Nitric Oxide (NO) is a substance in our bodies that promotes relaxation of blood vessel walls, leading to widening of the vessels, greater blood flow, and reduced stress on the heart. The more nitric oxide in our bodies, the better.

Our bodies have more than one way to make Nitric Oxide

Of course our bodies naturally have a system for making NO, however, the starting point for each pathway is different. The main difference is: when our bodies make NO it requires oxygen, whereas, when inorganic nitrites are used oxygen is not needed. This means that in situations where oxygen is low (lung disease, anemia, heart disease, exercise, etc), inorganic nitrates could help by increasing delivery of blood to muscle and other tissues.

What does this have to do with beets?

While nitrates are found in all vegetables, it’s especially abundant in beets. Recent research suggests that adding  nitrate-rich beets to your diet can not only decrease blood pressure but also reduce the amount of oxygen needed during exercise and enhance athletic performance. 

So that’s why I tell my patients to eat their beets! They’re very good for you - and delicious. And that makes the naturopath - and Lithuanian- in me very happy!

Pay attention to next week's post as we will dive into some of the research, as well as provide helpful tips on how to eat your beets.

Thanks for reading,

Dr. Oake, ND

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Why Tom Brady is Wrong... kind of

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Love him or hate him, Tom Brady is one of the greatest athletes of all time. He has won the most Super Bowls, played in the most Super Bowls, and has won the most regular season games of any quarterback in history. Clearly, he is an expert at what he does, but does this make him an expert in nutrition? Brady wrote a book called, "The TB12 Method". It's about his approach to diet and how he believes it led to his longevity in the NFL, a league trending toward earlier and earlier retirement. Let's break down one of the main components from the perspective of a Naturopathic Doctor. 

The "Alkaline Diet"

One of the key strategies Brady highlights is his use of an alkaline diet. He claims (as others do) that by eating food that is more alkaline (the opposite of acidic), you can decrease the acidity of your body, leading to decreased inflammation, improved recovery, and fewer injuries. To provide you with some background information, foods considered alkaline include kale, broccoli, garlic, ginger, and beets. Whereas foods considered to be acid-forming include: alcohol, milk, peanuts, breakfast cereal, and highly processed foods, full of salt and sugar. You don't need to be a Naturopathic Doctor to know which group of food would be better to consume. 

What about the theory?

As I mentioned above, the alkaline diet is supposed to change the pH (measure of acidity and alkalinity) in our bodies. The science, however, says the opposite; we are fairly certain that diet plays little to no role in the pH of our blood or urine [1]. So when Brady says his diet will reduce the pH in your body, there is no science to back it up. 

What about the pee?

Let's assume for a moment that Brady is right: what we eat affects the pH of our bodies. Advocates of this diet say urine pH is a good measure of its effectiveness and even tell followers to test their urine pH at home. But these home tests, called urine dipsticks, have been shown to be inaccurate as a measure of urine pH [2]. So even if we could change our bodies pH with diet and our urine pH changed with it, the test would not be accurate.

What's all the fuss?

Let's make another assumption: everything about the alkaline diet is true; what we eat effects the pH of our bodies, urine pH is a good representation of our body's pH, and it can accurately be measured. So what? Why put a label on a diet and try to prove that your label is the reason the diet is healthy? You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand that eating lots of fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed food is good for you. This is a classic example of taking something simple and putting a complex label on it, in order to sell it. Just like putting a "gluten free" sticker on a bottle of water and calling it something ridiculous like "gluten free di-hydrogen oxide"; it's still water and it's still good for you. To learn more about gluten-free water, check out this article.

Tom Brady is not wrong when he says eat your vegetables and skip the junk, but he is wrong about the reason. 

Thanks for reading. 

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Vitamin D and Your Full Potential

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Just in time for winter. Throughout December we highlighted the role Vitamin D plays in your performance. Vitamin D is not really a vitamin; it acts more like a hormone with effects on over 900 physiologic processes in our bodies. We have Vitamin D receptors in our intestines, lungs, breast, and bone making it one of the most important vitamins. Research is defining it's role in various diseases but how is it effecting your performance?

Week 1: Vitamin D Deficiency and the Athlete

Of Canadian adults, 32% are considered to be deficient in Vitamin D. That is almost 1/3 of Canadians who do not have Vitamin D levels sufficient to maintain bone mass. To provide some context: blood levels less than 50nmol/L is considered deficient, a level from 50-80nmol/L is considered insufficient, and a level greater than 100nmol/L is considered optimal. 

How does this compare to athletes?

Athletes have consistently shown to have insufficient Vitamin D levels as well, despite outdoor training. From soccer players (1), basketball players (2), gymnasts (3), football players (4), and runners (5) a large proportion have insufficient levels. It doesn't seem to matter if your sport is primarily outdoors or indoors, athletes tend to be low in vitamin D. 

Various reasons have been proposed for this insufficient level in outdoor athletes, including; over use of sunscreen, low dietary intake, and physical stress from training leading to more bone turnover and a greater demand of Vitamin D. It is most likely a combination of these factors that lead to an athletes insufficient levels. 

What this means for you? 

Getting your vitamin D levels tested is the first step in optimizing your levels and one notch closer to reaching your full potential. 

Week 2: Vitamin D and Performance Enhancement

Last week we highlighted how prevalent Vitamin D deficiency is in the general population and in athletes. This week, we'll discuss some of the ways optimal Vitamin D improves your performance and how insufficient levels may be harming it. 

We know that there are Vitamin D receptors on muscle tissue, which means there is a direct effect of Vitamin D on this tissue. This is clearly important when it comes to athletes. What does the evidence say?

  1. In a non-athlete population the highest blood levels of Vitamin D was associated with increased upper and lower body strength (1).
  2. There is some information to point to an increased VO2max (ability to use oxygen) with greater Vitamin D levels (2345).
  3. An animal model shows that high doses of Vitamin D decreases muscle recovery time from injury (6).
  4. A human study showed supplementing with Vitamin D at moderate doses helped participants maintain muscle power after muscle damaging exercise (7).
  5. Finally, and most importantly, Vitamin D status and supplementation has been shown to increase 10m sprint times and vertical jump in an athlete population (8).

Additionally, the effect on bone health is well understood and proper Vitamin D levels may prevent overuse stress fractures (9).

What does this mean for you?

Getting your levels tested and implementing a proper Vitamin D replacement strategy is important to optimize your performance, improve recovery time, and get another check-box on the way to your full potential. 

Week 3: Vitamin D's Hormonal Effects

Like I mentioned above, Vitamin D acts like a hormone, but it also effects other hormones. Certain ones are of interest to athletes since they can promote muscle building and bone strength, among other benefits. 

Testosterone
The male androgenic hormone testosterone is always a popular topic in sports and performance and for good reasons. Testosterone is associated with increased muscle growth, strength and power in both sexes (1). Vitamin D status and testosterone levels are related; men with sufficient levels of Vitamin D had higher levels of testosterone (2). Furthermore, supplementing with Vitamin D was associated with an increase in testosterone (3). 

Estrogen
The female hormone is also a popular topic not only in sports, but also in female and male health in general. Too much estrogen in females can cause uncomfortable menstrual cycles, weight gain, bloating, along with many other issues. Too much estrogen in males can lead to lowered sex drive, loss of muscle mass and weight gain. Vitamin D has been shown to lower estrogen in a female population (4). The reason for this is unclear, but could be related to a decreased aromatase expression (the enzyme responsible for conversion of testosterone to estrogen) (5). 

Sex Hormone Binding Globulin (SHBG)
SHBG is a protein in the blood responsible for binding testosterone and estrogen (with a greater affinity to testosterone) to decrease circulating levels. The more you have, the less free testosterone available for physiologic processes. Vitamin D is associated with a decrease in SHBG, making more testosterone available (6).

Remember, while these studies show an increase or decrease in a hormone, it is helpful to think that Vitamin D (or other natural options) have a modulating role; increasing levels if they are low, and decreasing levels when they are too high. It is also important to question whether or not the increase or decrease in hormones would be relevant to you. 

What does this mean for you?

Getting your levels tested and implementing a proper Vitamin D replacement strategy is important to optimize your performance, improve recovery time, and can help reach your full potential. 

Thanks for reading!

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Gastrointestinal Health and Your Full Potential

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During the month of November I highlighted some important topics in digestive health and performance in The Full Potential Newsletter; this is a summary of those emails:

One of the most important aspects of sports performance is proper nutrition; fuelling your exercising muscles to improve recovery, maximize performance, and reach your full potential. What is often overlooked is how your gastrointestinal system is functioning, are you absorbing all of those vital nutrients? 

Week 1: The Microbiota and Performance. 

No matter what you call it: the microbiota, gut flora, or good bacteria, it is extremely important when it comes to digesting, absorbing and using the nutrients you consume. Over the past decade or so, these good bacteria have been receiving a lot of attention both in the media and in the research realm. The question is, do they have any role in performance?

The research says "yes". There is a wide range of ways the microbiota can effect your performance:

First, the gut flora plays a role in inflammation. A more diverse microbiota is associated with lower inflammatory markers (1). Furthermore, constant physical and mental stress (similar to what athletes experience) can lead to increased stress hormone release which can increase these inflammatory markers. This inflammation can cause damage to the endothelial lining in our guts, leading to hyper-permeability, AKA "leaking gut" (2). As noted above, a healthy microbiota may help mitigate some of these inflammatory results, leading to greater gut health which results in better nutrient absorption. 

Second, a healthy gut flora may lead to less upper respiratory tract infections (the common cold) (3). In this study they looked at the effect that probiotics had on elite athletes. They found that those taking probiotics trained longer per week throughout cold and flu season and had fewer incidence of the common cold. 

Third, decreases in muscle recovery time were noted in those taking probiotics (4).

Fourth, the link between brain function and gut bacteria is becoming more mainstream (56). This link has important implications for athletes; your ability to focus plays a large role in competition and training. 

Week 2: Food Sensitivities and Performance

Be it gluten, dairy, eggs, or corn, food sensitivities and intolerance are a hot topic in health circles, but is there any benefit to elimination certain foods? How might certain foods be affecting your performance?

To be clear, food sensitivities are NOT allergies; although the terms are often used interchangeably they are quite different. In short, an allergy is an immune mediated response that can be as severe as throat swelling and could require an EpiPen. A food sensitivity is more like your digestive system not handling a food as well as it could. This does not mean that a sensitivity isn't negatively effecting your performance. 

Athletes are especially susceptible to digestive issues since they put themselves through constant physical and mental stress leading to a diversion of blood away from the GI tract to the lungs, the heart, and exercising muscles. This diversion of blood may lead to a decrease in your digestive system's ability to break down and absorb foods. The decrease in function may be more noticeable with certain foods resulting in decreased mental and physical performance. 

Should you eliminate foods from you diet? I can't recommend this without good reason. Especially for an athlete, the more high quality foods you have at your disposal, the better. However, if you suffer from GI distress, headaches or decreased mental function, going through a systematic food elimination and reintroduction may be warranted. 

Be warned, following an elimination diet can lead to issues of its own, such as: nutrient deficiencies and calorie restriction. Seeking guidance with a trained professional is key to maintain performance while determining what foods may be causing issues. 

Week 3 - The Digestive System and the Immune System - A Unique Relationship

We all know the importance of the GI tract and nutrient absorption, but more and more information is being uncovered on the multitude of roles the GI system plays in our bodies. One of these roles is the effect that the GI system has on our immune system. 

The immune system is constantly being developed as we go about our lives; we get exposed to bacteria and viruses and we have responses to these pathogens, often times without even developing symptoms. The GI tract is one of the first places our bodies encounter external pathogens (1) and we know our immune system interacts with the "external" environment through our GI tract, so it would make sense that a healthy GI system would lead to a better immune system. What does the research say?

Researchers have been working on the effect of the microbiota for over a century. We know that the interplay between our immune system and microbiota is largely responsible for the maturation of our immune systems (2). This maturation begins at birth and continues throughout the lifespan, with new antibodies being produced as we encounter different pathogens. 

Furthermore, the mucous layer that covers the inside of our digestive tract provides a layer of protection from pathogens, houses the good bacteria, and provides a medium for our immune system and pathogens to "meet" (3). This mucous layer can be disturbed, and lead to GI distress (diarrhea, bloating, constipation, etc). Maintaining this mucous layer is paramount to keeping your digestive system working optimally. 

So, what does all of this mean for your performance? Athletes put themselves through physical and mental stress on a daily basis, which may decrease immunity leading to a greater risk of infections (especially the common cold). Maximizing the immune system on a long term basis is the best option to prevent illness, decrease duration of illnesses, and get back to performing and feeling your best. A good place to start optimizing your immune system is where it all begins, in your gut. 

Week 4: Melatonin and GI System

Melatonin in a key player in our circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle): it helps us fall asleep and is highest in the middle of the night. It is released from a small gland in the brain called the pineal gland in response to visual low-light exposure. In the most simple sense, the interplay between melatonin and cortisol determine when we sleep and when we wake, but it does have effects elsewhere. 

The hormone Melatonin was discovered in 1917, was first found in an animal pineal gland in 1958 and was found in the human digestive tract in 1974. So since the 1970's we have known melatonin to be present in the digestive tract, but we still don't know the full role it plays in digestion.

We do know:

  • There is much more melatonin present in the gut VS the pineal gland (400 times more!)
  • Gut production of melatonin is not dependant on light exposure
  • Gut levels are no dependant on pineal gland production (the gut makes its own)
  • There are many melatonin receptors throughout the GI tract responsible for a lot of different important digestive functions

We also know Melatonin:

  • Has an effect on gut motility (how digesting food moves through your intestines),
  • Decreases fluid excretion into the intestines (reducing diarrhea),
  • Increases various immune molecules and,
  • Decreases inflammation in the gut (1).

How do you optimize it? Dietary source of the amino acid L-tryptophan (melatonin's precursor) can increase gut levels. So eat a wide range of protein sources including: red meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and yogurt.

So what does this mean for performance? The level of melatonin in our digestive tract is important for the optimal functioning of this important system. The better this system is functioning the more nutrients will be absorbed, helping you get closer to your full potential. 

Thanks for reading!

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A Sure Way to Succeed at Your Weight Loss Goals

This is the sister post to my previous blog post, A Sure Way to Fail at Your Weight Loss Goals, which can be found here.

As mentioned in this previous post, many of my clients have a weight management goal in mind when they come to the clinic, even if it’s not number one on their list. A common theme I find to be the greatest predictor of success when considering weight loss, is not what you eat, when you eat, or how you eat (although these are all very important). Often times it’s how well you manage your time that makes the biggest difference. For the most part, people already know what a healthy diet is; the problems arise when it comes to following through with this knowledge. Thats where I come in!

As an example, most days of the week you pack your own lunch (comprised of leftovers) with your portions all measured out to match your dietary needs and goals; hypothetically let’s assume this goal is about 300 calories a meal. Realistically on one or two days of the week you will run out of time to pack a lunch and have to go out to eat. You decide to purchase and eat the healthy option of a grilled chicken salad. Even this healthy choice will have about ~400 calories. Although only 100 calories more than your goal, over the course of a week, a month, or a year it could be the difference between losing those extra few pounds or not. Of course this is a simplified example and peoples diets will vary throughout the year, it does get the point across: time management and organization can make the difference in your weight loss goals. It’s a matter of making time in your often-busy schedule to shop for, prepare and pack your meals that will ultimately lead to the greatest results. 

This simple, common sense approach to weight loss is the best way to achieve sustainable results all while eating things you love and living a life you love.

If you have any questions or want to start today, don’t hesitate to contact me or book an appointment today!

A Sure Way to Fail at Your Weight Loss Goals

On almost every client’s intake form I see the word “weight” usually followed by the word “loss” as a goal of treatment. It doesn’t matter what condition they are coming in for, weight is somewhere on their list of goals. For this reason, I spend a lot of time with clients discussing the various weight loss strategies and discussing the pros and cons of each. Throughout these interactions I have found a common theme of our discussions; we spend less time talking about what my clients should eat and more time trying to change their relationship with food. Once your relationship with food has been adjusted, the way you eat adjusts automatically.

I do realize this sounds quite philosophical, so to put it simply, the surest way to sabotage your weight loss goals is to vilify the food you love, which may make you feel guilty every time you eat [insert “unhealthy” food here]. The reason? If you do this you will undoubtedly hate your lifestyle and therefore be unable to maintain it in the long run. As all of my clients know, sustainable and realistic weight loss is the only way to success.

Solution: Instead of vilifying your favourite “unhealthy” food, understand its place in your lifestyle and eat small amounts of it regularly to keep your cravings at bay.  

If you want to start changing your relationship with food or have any questions, book an appointment by calling (519) 967-0660 or contact me here.

Stay tuned for this articles partner blog post: “A Sure Way to Succeed in Your Weight Loss Goals”