Our magnificent brains perceive stress a few different ways.
Physiological Stress – being chased by a lion, defending against an intruder, being in a car accident, etc.
Perceptual Stress – thinking that we may be in danger based on things around us, like a weird person following us at night, getting on a plane and thinking it might crash, etc.
Imaginary Stress – made up thoughts that aren’t actually occurring but that we stress about, for example “If I don’t perform at work I wont get a bonus and wont be able to pay my bills.”
Reason #1 Our brain can NOT differentiate between these stressors, and reacts the same to each one.
As our brain’s stress responses are activated, hormones flood the system that are intended to get us through short term, life saving situations (what stress originally was). Those hormones allow us to focus, think fast and make decisions by shutting down or temporarily disabling other processes like digestion, immunity, sleep and repair. The problem is, that this response was intended to be temporary – not chronic. As these hormones stay flooded throughout our systems we begin to see the negative effects in symptoms like digestive issues, sleeping difficulty, immune suppression, increased illness, and organ damage. This damage to our organs is shown in various ways, like brain scans showing atrophy of brain tissue and depletion of neurons and in cardiovascular labs with increased arterial plaquing and increased constriction of the arteries causing high blood pressure. What you think about and what you stress about, can in fact, make you sick.
2)Death of a loved one
8)Caregiver for a critically ill child or spouse
How many of these do you have going on in your life right now? How are you managing this life-altering stress?
In the Terman Longevity Project, they found that job stress, and in particular, the interpersonal relationships we deal with at our jobs, is a major risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
In the MacArthur Successful Aging Study they showed that job stress produced high levels of stress hormones that actually cause repeated surges of blood pressure and heart rate that increase the risk of heart disease due to: increased blood pressure, accelerated plaque formation that restricts blood flow, increased abdominal obesity, increased insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes, and an overall decreased immune response.
The average person in the MacArthur Study under “chronic job stress” producing these outcomes had the following:
•Blood Pressure of around 148/83
•Waist to Hip Ratio of >0.94
•Total Cholesterol to HDL Ratio of >5.9
•HDL Cholesterol level of <46 p="">
Is this you? Can you not even answer these questions because you don’t know your blood pressure, waist to hip ratio or lab values? Fix that.
Reason #2 Chronic stress can change the size and shape of our brain, affecting our memory as well.
The prolonged exposure to cortisol and other stress related events actually cause atrophy of the frontal and hippocampal areas, resulting in a reduced ability to encode and organize new memories. And we all know how stressful it is when we begin to forget things or can’t recall where we’ve put something or what someone has told us. Those little disruptions are red flags your body is waving, trying to signal you that something is wrong and not functioning correctly.
Reason #3 Chronic stress is also strongly associated with the development of depression and anxiety.
The chronic stress causes atrophy of the frontal lobes of the brain, which are responsible for control, leading to a lack of control over the emotional events we experience. This lack of control over our emotions tends to cause a distorted and negative view about the world: the glass is half empty. Its estimated the 4% of the world population suffers from depression. Yep, 4% of the WORLD.
It’s also important that we look at our “second brain” as well: The Gut.
There is an intricate network of 100 million neurons (brain cells) that are embedded into the gut wall and connected to the brain by the vagus nerve. There are 100 trillion bacteria in the gut and those little bugs have a significant effect on how the brain functions, including how the brain responds to stress and therefore, depression and anxiety. A 2011 British Nutrition study showed that just a 30 day course of probiotics led to decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety in humans.
Stress has become a part of our culture, something we’ve come to accept as normal and even something we learn to thrive on. However, what all of this science tells us, is that it is literally killing us. Stress is a major player in the top 7 causes of death in the United States, and some in the health community say that it is the biggest killer of Americans.
So lets turn the culture of Stress around and start to fight it like we do Cancer and Heart Disease. Here’s how.
Treatments for Stress, and therefore Depression and Anxiety
Of course there are lots of medications to choose from. But, lets rule out more natural and cognitive reasons you may be coping with stress inefficiently first. I challenge you to try these methods for at least 6 months before moving to a medication. In most cases, even if you still need help from medication, your strength and dosage needed will be much less after incorporating these first.
1)Rule out SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) by getting your Vitamin D levels checked. Supplementing with Vitamin D3 pills, drops or gummies can relieve this contributing factor fairly quickly. You can also buy SAD lights to put at your desk or in your home.
2) Take your probiotics. Since one of the variables that can contribute to damaged brain function involves the gut, lets just make sure you have the right amount of the right types of bacteria hanging out down there. I recommend a probiotic in the billions (CFU count will be listed on the bottle) with at least 4 different strains of bacteria.
3) Exercise. I know - no one wants to hear this and no one “has time” for this. But hear me out. Exercise, even 2 times per week for 30-60 minutes or just 20 minute walks each day, enormously improves cognitive performance, long-term memory and problem solving. All essential for managing stress. This consistent exercise literally cuts your risk for general dementia in half. Impressive? It cuts your risk for Alzheimer’s Disease by 67% and cuts your risk of Stroke by 57%. So get moving.
4) Go to the doctor. Awareness is where you have to start. Ruling out contributing factors that may affect your brain chemistry like thyroid disorders, is so easy to do with a simple blood draw. But you have to actually go to the doctor and ask for labs to rule that out. You should also be aware of your weight trends over time, as abdominal obesity is a surefire sign of poorly managed stress. Go to the doctor, be honest, and get checked out – once a year.
5) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Go see a therapist. I believe everyone can benefit from talking to an experienced and non-biased third party about our problems. There is nothing bad that can ever come of that. Sometimes we need to vent to release stress and anger, and other times we need to be guided on how to restructure those negative or catastrophic thoughts that bring us fear and produce anxiety and depressed moods. CBT is a proven method to help restructure the way our brain sends signals and communicates with our emotions and thoughts – leading to reduced stress, reduced disease, reduces depression and reduced anxiety.
For a list of some great doctors, therapist and other health care practitioners that can help you with these please see our referral list of people we work with and love.
Life is short, so figure out a way that works for YOU to be able to properly deal with stress in your life so you can repair any damage done and get to go enjoy life!
References: INR Study: Stress, Anxiety & Depression. Friedman HS, Martin LR. The Longevity Project. New York: Hudson Street Press, 2011. The MacArthur Foundation Successful Aging Studies. Medina J. Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press, 2008.
Advocare is a brand of nutritional supplements, with some emphasis on diet plan, sold via Multi Level Marketing sales through people that sign up to be distributors of the product. With so many people selling these supplements you have probably seen or heard of someone you know taking these products.
Recently I re-posted an article written by a wellness blogger, Lindsey Leigh Bentley. She is not a doctor, dietitian or nutrition expert, nor does she claim to be. But her article “Is Advocare Healthy?” was simple, well written and correct. Her article put out into the world things that I think and say in my office to my patients every day, but that I haven’t said out loud in a public forum before. My reposting of her article got many people quite uncomfortable! Along with this article you're reading now, my good friend and colleague Whitney Mack, personal trainer and owner of MacksMo, just wrote her own post about her thoughts on use of Advocare in the fitness culture. Both are good reads.
Here is my expert follow up article, to support their thoughts and to share my own opinion. First, what makes me an expert?
I am a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) with an additional Washington State Certified Dietitian (CD). My opinion on nutrition topics is important because I am an educated and trained nutrition expert. An extended version of why those specific notations make me an expert is here.
So, is Advocare healthy?
“Natural and Artificial Flavors”
Artificial flavors are chemical compounds not extracted from food, created to resemble food taste. It's much cheaper to use these than Natural Flavors most of the time. There isn’t really much testing, or any at all, that is done to verify safety for human consumption. Instead a principle called the Threshold of Toxicological Concern (TTC) is used to add these chemicals to our food. Several of the flowcharts can be seen and demonstrated in this paper. Scroll to click on the flowcharts. Artificial flavors are in our food on the basis that a little bit shouldn’t hurt us – but that is a huge risk to take when you can just stick to the natural flavors extracted from food.
Acesulfame Potassium (Ace-K)
Ace-K, also known as “Sunette” or “Sweet One” is an old school artificial sweetener that has been around since the 60’s. This chemical helps with palatability of foods and is almost always mixed with another sweetener so that each chemical masks the other one’s bad aftertaste. (In Advocare it’s mixed with sucralose – see below) This studyshowed that when pregnant and lactating mice consumed Ace-K, it did end up in the amniotic fluid and the breast milk, affecting the baby’s flavor preference for sugar and Ace-K itself. This study showed that long term ingestion of Ace-K in mice led to altered neurometabolic functions, which brought them to the conclusion that long term ingestion may impair cognitive function. With all FDA approved items, there is also a Delaney Clause that forces the FDA to remove a product if that product is shown to cause cancer in humans or animals. But it does not apply to individual pieces of that product. For an explanation click here and scroll down to Section II: Determination of Safety. This rule is what allows Ace-K to stay on the FDA approved list despite that it contains a known carcinogen, Methylene Chloride. For that explanation click here and scroll down to Section III: B: Methylene Chloride.
Sucralose, aka Splenda, is one of the newest artificial sweeteners to hit the market, approved in the US in the 90’s. Very similar structurally to sugar, it’s created by removing 3 hydroxal groups and adding a chlorine group. Recently, sucralose has gotten some media attention because of a soon-to-be-published Italian study, showing that sucralose caused leukemia in mice that were exposed before birth. It’s because of this study that the watchdog group CSPI just downgraded sucralose from “safe” to “caution” on their list of chemical additives. Now, this study is a life-long study of mice, which in general can produce hard to determine data – which is why we just need more studies that are done with strict guidelines. In general, I believe artificial sweeteners aren’t safe because they aren’t tested under strict enough standards and aren’t studied enough, especially for long term side effects. I would avoid them all and just stick to sugar, honey, pure maple syrup, etc. Not to mention in my practice alone my patients who ingest chemical additives like artificial sweeteners, colors and flavors have complained of things like headaches, fatigue, nausea, behavior changes, mood changes, cognitive lapses and on and on.
What if they just took these things out of their products, would they be healthy then?
Maybe. If prescribed appropriately by a professional...
Even when you remove these 3 things and make the product more whole food based and overall “healthier” there is still a major problem. Nutritional supplements are drugs. Yes they absolutely are. They may not be regulated like drugs quite yet in our country but when you put a synthetically or lab-created substance in your body whether it's medicine, hormones or vitamin c, that is a drug and should be treated like one. So you can guess my problem with Advocare – and really any other multi level marketing scheme that deals with drugs. They let ANYONE sell them.
I have a lot of people that I call friends, those that I trust, laugh with and respect, that sell Advocare. Are any of them dietitians? No. Some may have taken that 6 month course in New York on nutrition. Some may be personal trainers. Some may be stay at home Moms and Dads, or hairdressers or pilots. The fact that non-nutrition-experts can sell and recommend drugs to you, is a problem. I still love my friends that sell these things; I try not to mix business and pleasure too much. So don’t hold it against someone who sells these, they truly just don’t have the expertise to know the questions to ask to make a critical decision about the safety of products like these. Friends, I don’t mean to offend, I’m just saying I’m not the person to ask about bayalage hair color or how to do a proper squat, so we should all just stick to our own scopes of expertise here.
Side Note/Digression – Why do educated people (insert famous person or world renowned doctor's name here) in the health field sell this stuff then?
Sorry but it’s true.
Well, I should say money or they just don't know about these concerning issues.
No one initially gets into health care for the money. That’s for sure. Why would you go to 6+ years of schooling to become an MD, or 10+ years to become a surgeon when you can make the same amount of money (in the 100’s of thousands of dollars per year) in financial advising, mortgage sales, insurance sales, stocks, outside sales, etc? You can make more money, in less time, doing something else than you can make in health care.
Those of us in health care get into the field because we love science, health and helping people. When we finally look up from our books and into our bank accounts, we realize that when up against insurance companies that pay us insultingly for our time, and hours upon hours of time spent away from our families just to make a buck – we panic. We get desperate, and we are suckers for the salesmen & women that paint us a picture of a thriving practice, extra income, flexible hours and wealthy life that their product (Advocare, Isagenix, Usana, Arbonne, Nu Skin, Herbalife, etc) can provide for us. This panicked state can make even the smartest professional overlook the science, overlook the studies and move towards a “well, its not proven unsafe….” approach to paying their bills. Don’t fault them for it, they are just trying to be successful and provide for their families like you are.
When I started my private practice in 2008 I was hell-bent on not selling supplements. “Whole food all the way!” And then I noticed some of my teen girl patients weren’t eating enough calcium. I noticed all the studies done well on fish oil and wanted to help my patients with inflammatory diseases and heart disease. I kept running into situations where a quality supplement dosed appropriately would help my patients. So I started looking for those quality supplements. I took lots of meetings, I tried lots of products. And you know what, I went to an Advocare presentation.
In that Advocare presentation, an older gentleman by the name of Ron Reynolds spoke about the team of MD’s on their staff that helped develop and back their products. He spoke from the bible, and built trust using the words of Jesus. He told everyone in that room to cold call 10 people that night and offer them “an opportunity of a lifetime” because you make more money if you get other people to sell these products underneath you. And after signing up, you have to continue to sell more products per month to earn a higher status and discount within the company.
They also followed up with a phone call after that presentation. They conferenced me in with one of their top distributors, earning over 90k last year, who was “also a dietitian”.
Upon chatting with the sales rep and this dietitian, I learned that she lost her RD credential years before. She “didn’t need it anymore now that she sold Advocare” and had failed to maintain her continuing education hours required each year and was in fact no longer an RD and not practicing in the field at all. Yet they still refer to her within Advocare as a dietitian.
So after that, I knew Advocare wasn’t one of those quality supplements I was looking for. Not to mention upon further review of the ingredients I found my biggest problems with the product itself. Artificial flavors, Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
Ok, so what’s your deal with supplements then?
As a dietitian, I have access to pharmaceutical grade, food based, whole food and/or synthetically derived nutritional supplements. There are outstanding labs all around the world that design and create high quality nutritional supplements for lots of reasons. I just had to find the right companies that sold the right products. For me that means the highest quality/testing, whole food based or whole food period, in the least amount of pills possible, that people will take.
And I found some great ones. And I get to pick any lab, any product, anywhere. No one makes me choose or provide anything. I get to pick and choose whichever I believe is the best product for my patients. Which provides the public with a non-biased, expert approach for recommending what you need or don’t need.
My favorite fish oil is created by Douglas Labs. Its called Quell High EPA/DHA + D. I liked it so much that Douglas Labs let me private label the product with the Crave Health Logo. Is it expensive? The most expensive fish oil you can probably find. But it’s expensive because it’s the best quality (cleanest extraction of toxins and metals) and requires the least amount of pills to take for patients. You can get Douglas Labs products from any licensed health care professional.
My favorite multivitamin comes from a totally different company, Standard Process. They make a multivitamin called Catalyn, out of all food. Nothing synthetic. Meaning there is no risk of overdosing, malabsorbing or interacting with anything else. Three little mini tablets taken each day at a great price. That’s why they are my favorite multivitamin. You can get Standard Process products from any licensed health care professional.
And after Advocare’s 24 Day Challenge started to overtake all of my friends and patients, I went back to Douglas Labs and asked if we could create a safe, high quality option for these people that want this limited time kick start to health idea. I sat with one of their ND’s and we created a completely safe, clean, no artificial colors/flavors, alternative to Advocare’s 24 day challenge. I called it Crave Clean. Safe, 28 days, and consultation with a nutrition expert before starting in.
So for me to sit here and say I don’t sell supplements is incorrect. I do sell supplements. I sell high quality, appropriately dosed drugs in my office to those patients that need them. I am happy to work with patients individually to prescribe a supplement regimen that is appropriate for them if they need it. Nutritional supplement dosing and recommendations are a part of my job. And you know what is refreshing? If I screw up and tell someone to take something they shouldn’t, or someone gets sick from something I recommend - I can get my credentials revoked. That is a nice piece of mind for my patients.
If non-experts want to get into supplement sales, they are forced to sell things like Advocare or other MLM products because companies like Douglas Labs, Standard Process, Thorne, etc won’t let non-professionals access and prescribe their products. There are better, safer alternatives out there to Advocare and any other MLM nutritional supplement. And most of the time they are cheaper for the consumer.
No, Advocare is not healthy. Because of artificial flavors, acesulfame potassium and sucralose. Even if they reformulated the products, its not a good idea to buy nutrition supplements (drugs) from someone who is not a professional.
Those that do sell these products have just chosen to take a “it’s not proven unsafe” approach to health. Which may or may not hurt you. Everyone is different, but everyone should also have the full story in order to make educated decisions on what we put in our bodies.
If you have any questions about my opinions, my training, my experience or thoughts, you can email me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org. I encourage everyone to be open minded, think critically and ask questions. Please refrain from personal attacks.
*Thank you to my friends and colleagues that were supportive of me writing this article and who helped me review the drafts!*
This post is meant to be a brief but clear explanation that I can refer back to for other written articles or people that ask what makes me or any other Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) a "Nutrition Expert". This also clarifies the difference in titles: Nutritionist, Nutrition Therapy Professional, Nutrition Certification, Nutrition Specialist, etc.
It may seem braggy, but it's the one time I'm going to defend the education required to give nutritional advice to others.
I studied Nutritional Science for 4 years at a top university (Pepperdine University), in-person. I didn’t take a weekend course, or a 6 month online study in New York. I studied the biology, chemistry, art and physiological responses to food for 4 entire years. And even with that said, there is no way I learned everything there is to know, because nutrition science is young and we discover new ideas and principles every single day. Which is why I have to continue to take at least 15 hours of continuing education every year as a requirement to maintain my credentials. (75 hours per 5 year period).
As a 21 year-old undergraduate, I created and executed my own research study on genetically modified infant and toddler foods. I was torn on where I stood on this topic, so I needed more information. I spent an entire summer in a lab with pipettes and a spectrophotometer extracting DNA from cheerios, baby food, puffs and crackers and testing that DNA for genetic modification. That research is still being worked on today by other students at Pepperdine. My opinion on GMO’s after that and currently is: anti-GMO.
After those 4 years, I had to apply and compete against my classmates and fellow students all over the country to be accepted into a dietetic internship (think medical residency for food). These programs accept anywhere from 3-18 students per year. I was chosen and matched by another top university hospital and medical center (Vanderbilt Medical Center & Children’s Hospital), and spent the next 10 months studying more nutrition, going on rounds with doctors, nurses, dietitians and medical students where I was grilled on nutritional treatment interventions for burn victims, ICU patients, Type 1 & 2 diabetics, children with genetic diseases and any other medical situation you can think of. I made life and death nutritional decisions (you think I’m exaggerating but what do you think happens if I calculate a NICU babies feeding wrong?) under the supervision of the best of the best.
After passing and completing my dietetic internship I had to sit for and pass a 3 hour RD Examination in order to get the “RD” registered dietitian, now referred to as “RDN” registered dietitian nutritionist, credential. We are required to maintain this credential with those 75 CEU’s each 5 year period.
In my line of work, I interact and work with MD’s, ND’s, NP’s, RN’s, PA’s, etc every day on patient care. And you know what? I am the one that makes the final decision on anything nutrition related. I change meal plans or supplements or suggest alternative methods before medication intervention. I am respected among my peers and although many of them were in school for many more years than myself, I still have the most years in studying one thing: nutrition. Any medical student or MD will tell you that their nutrition course was short and mainly covered nutritional deficiencies.
All this is to say, that yes, I am a nutrition expert. At this point in time, I’ve spent the last 12 years studying and applying food and nutrition science. So my opinion, along with anyone else that carries that “RD or RDN” credential, counts when we are talking about nutrition.
1) Measure Something. Take before and after photos. Track your food online via something like sparkpeopleor myfitnesspal. Track your food via pictures using something like Eatly. Take body measurements like this. Record your weight via a traditional scale or one that doesn't actually ever show you your weight like the Quantum. You can also incorporate body trackers like FitBit, Basis, Nike Fuel Band and others.
2) Make it a Game. We thrive on competition, so share your goal with a friend or family member, or have them join in. Make it a bet with money on the line or something like Seahawk tickets or dinner at The Herbfarm.
3) Make it Challenging, yet Realistic. Take small bites out of a larger goal to create the momentum for change. Start with 5 lbs, 1 inch, 1 meal, 1 workout. If you can consistently hit that for 2-4 weeks, then up the ante.
4) Stay Motivated. Use social media, friends or apps like Lift to help you stay accountable and motivated throughout your goal.
Its said that less that 10% of goals set in January are actually ever achieved - so lets change the statistic!
1)USDA Organic is the biggest designation we currently have that ensures no pesticides, herbicides, non-organic feed or hormones.
2)Many farmers follow Organic practices, but don’t have the “Organic” designation. Just ask.
3)There are subtle differences between conventional and organic practices that tend to weigh heavily on peoples preferences. For example, the hormone estrogen (given to conventionally raised cows to help their growth) shows up in the meat we eat at around 0.3 nanograms per 3oz portion. A birth control pill is around 38,000 nanograms. This is a tiny amount, and may or may not matter to you.
4)It’s important to get the correct information, and make informed decisions for yourself and your family.
5)It’s important to know that antibiotics are NOT ALLOWED to show up in any meat or dairy period. Conventional or Organic. So the whole deal with antibiotic resistance is a moot point.
Here is my personal opinion. Why not? I am all for technological advances and moving forward to make our food healthier. However, I think we need to go backward, rather than forward on this issue – back in time.
Do you know how many people had gardens and grew their own organic veggies and fruits back in the day? I remember picking zucchinis in my grandma’s backyard, and let me tell you, there weren’t any chemicals on those plants we had to be careful of. The soils weren’t as contaminated and food wasn’t as “messed with” in the past. “Organic” is at the moment, one of the only designations we have to ensure that the food we are purchasing, and that our kids are eating, is without those toxic chemicals. Organic however is an expensive process to go through for farmers, and some cannot afford to spend the money to have this designation, despite the fact that they do in fact farm organically and treat their animals very well. This is where our families and our kids have a disconnect with our farmers – we need to connect with them and ask these questions so that we can make sure the food that we are eating is in fact clean and those animals were treated well and not confined to small cages or fed food outside their normal diet. I would love for your kiddos to know the farmers that grow their apples, and be able to ask the farmers how they make the cheese they eat. What a fun way to get kids excited about healthy food!
The best way to connect with the farmers is at the farmers markets. And guess what, its farmers market season again! I encourage you to seek out your fruits, veggies, meats and dairy at the farmers markets this summer. This gives you a chance to get closer to your food! Ask questions about the foods you eat to the farmers & families who grow them. Below are a list of the local markets, dates they open and where they are located.