Category Archives: Ask The Doctor

Articles by Dr. Catherine Wilbert about health, nutrition and fitness.

Weight Training: Weighing in for Adolescent Weight Control

In the United States at least one child in five is overweight and the number continues to grow each day. Over the past two decades, the number of children who are overweight, as well as the number of grossly obese children has more than doubled. And no, children do not out grow it. Overweight children are at a higher risk of becoming unhealthy adolescents and adults. And, it’s overweight adults who are most at risk for a number of problems including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and all forms of cancer. Overweight in children and adolescents is generally caused by lack of physical activity, unhealthy eating patterns, or a combination of the two, with genetics and lifestyle both playing important determining roles. Children whose family members are overweight are also at an increased risk of becoming overweight, although not all children with an obese family will become overweight. However, it is more likely then not, shared family behaviors such as bad eating habits and lack of activity will have an impact on a child’s body weight.

Our society has become very sedentary with television, computer and video games contributing to children’s inactive lifestyles. Children are spending less time playing outdoors and more time watching TV or sitting in front of their computers, and as a result, they’re getting heavier.  In fact 43% of adolescents watch more than 2 hours of television each day, and only half of U.S. children get as much exercise as they need. As a result, children are displaying signs of heart disease and diabetes before they even reach their teens.

The good news is that almost any kind of physical activity can help prevent the rising tide of obesity. In addition, studies have found that physically active children are far less susceptible to emotional problems, are more likely to stay away from drugs, resist smoking cigarettes, delay sexual activity; develop more self-confidence and higher self-esteem, and even get better grades.

In addition to competitive and recreational sports, weight training has become increasingly popular as an effective method of exercise for preadolescents and adolescents. From Hercules to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the image of the muscular hero has inspired children for generations. And now, perhaps more than ever, physical education experts are encouraging kids to hit the weights.  The benefits of weight training in the preadolescent and adolescent population outweigh any possible risks. Improved muscular strength, endurance and flexibility; prevention of bone loss and osteoporosis; improved self-image, confidence and well-being; improved motor coordination and sports performance; decreased risk of injury; lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels; weight maintenance; neuromuscular therapy and physical rehabilitation; improved aerobic capacity; and the promotion of a lifelong lifestyle of physical activity can all be attributed to weight training.

Weight training also offers particular advantages to children who are overweight and struggle to keep up with their peers in more traditional sports.  By lifting weights, children can improve their strength, endurance and coordination, enhancing their performance in other sports. And, when they lift weights, children can exercise in privacy, away from the critical eyes of their schoolmates.

Despite increasing acceptance of strength training for preadolescents and adolescents, some parents, coaches and instructors are skeptical that weight training offers benefits without causing harm. Myths and misinformation have helped persuade many to disapprove of preadolescent weight training. This is changing, however, as new knowledge replaces old misconceptions. The most common is the concern about musculoskeletal injury and epiphyseal fracture, however, this old “damage the growth plates” myth has never been clinically proven to occur as a result from weight training, but most often from falls due to horseplay or simple accidents.  If we consider that a standard push up involves pressing 60% of your body weight with the muscles of the arms and chest, then a child weighing 80 pounds doing 10 push ups is basically pushing 48 pounds with his arms and chest for 10 repetitions. Why would this be safer than having the same child do a bench press with a 20 pound barbell for 10 repetitions? The answer is…it’s not!!  Damage to the bones and epiphyses, or growth plates, is potentially serious, however, it is more likely for injury to occur due to improper training techniques or lack of supervision. The risk of injury can be minimized with a properly designed training program and close adult supervision.

As with any sport, however, children can injure themselves if movements are not performed properly or with too much intensity. Children should not be treated as miniature adults, particularly in terms of intensity, and training principles for adults do not necessarily correspond to those for children. Children are affected by interacting components such as musculoskeletal growth and sexual maturation.  Therefore, borrowing exercise prescriptions from adult strength-training programs is inappropriate. For example, pushing to failure and performing forced may be dangerous. Exercise prescriptions must be tailored to children’s individual needs, and fitness professionals or certified trainers must closely supervise all children while performing weight training exercises. It is imperative that trainers possess the background knowledge and experience to handle the preadolescent population, as well as have current CPR and first aid certifications.

In 1996, the National Strength and Conditioning Association laid out guidelines to ensure the of children safety who want to lift weights.  Considering these general guidelines, as well as some basic principles of a good beginner weight-training program, the following recommendations should be considered when starting a child on a weight-training program.

Children can begin around the time they would participate in organized sports (about age 7), but each child’s readiness needs to be evaluated on an individual basis with careful attention given to their ability
to follow directions.

Children should use machines that are properly designed for their size. Only child certified machines or weight-lifting equipment specifically designed for children should be included in a preadolescent and adolescent weight-training program. Machines designed for adults are not safe for most children because children’s arms and legs are not long enough to use them correctly. Light free weights may be more appropriate for some children, but even doing squats while holding a broomstick may be a good starting point.

Optimal prescription parameters, such as the number of sets and repetitions, have yet to be defined for the preadolescent population. It is recommended that children use the minimum amount of training that produces beneficial improvements in strength and health without undue risk.

Of all of the strength- training parameters, exercise intensity seems to be the key determinant of an effective program. Present guidelines suggest that intensity be moderate (approximately 10 to 15 repetitions) and that preadolescents avoid lifting maximal amounts of weight.

A child should begin a program with one set of little or no weight and concentrate on learning proper form. Once proper technique is demonstrated, a resistance can be selected that allows approximately 10 repetitions to be performed. The number of repetitions is slowly increased until the maximal number (15) can be completed. Resistance is then advanced in small increments of one to three pounds. As the child advances, one to three sets can be performed as tolerated.

The sequence of exercises should progress from larger muscle groups to smaller ones, and the frequency of training can start at two days per week and advance to three, as long as at least one day of rest is permitted between each training session.

Workouts of approximately 30 minutes should be preceded by an appropriate warm-up and finished with a cool-down. Proper training techniques, such as lifting in a controlled manner, must be demonstrated and consistently emphasized throughout the program.

Supervising trainers should encourage children to achieve at their own personal best and discourage children from competing with their peers.

Competitive sports such Styles of Olympic powerlifting and bodybuilding should be highly discouraged in the growing child and adolescent.

Perhaps the most valuable lesson is to be a good role model for your child and teach the next generation how to develop a lifelong habit of physical activity. If your child sees you enjoying healthy foods and physical activity, he or she is more likely to do the same now and for the rest of his or her life. Promoting a healthy lifestyle, maintaining the habit of activity throughout the school years and preventing sedentary behaviors in adulthood will benefit not only today’s children, but also future generations to come.

Time to Detox: A Three Day Juice Fast to Jump Start Your Health

The Holidays are over and the lure of parties and King’s cakes are but fond memories with only the lingering inches around our waists to remind of the months of festivities in which we partook.  For many, this is a time of finally getting around to (or back to) those New Years resolutions.  Not only is this a good time to evaluate the lifestyle changes you might want to make, but perhaps a good time to get you body off to a fresh start.  A good way to do this is with a purification or detoxification fast. Over time, toxins build up in the body as the result of the pollutants in the air we breathe, the chemicals in the food and water we consume, or even in the medications we take. Fasting is a safe and effective method of helping the body detoxify itself with greater speed and few symptoms. In fact, fasting is recommended for many illnesses, such as colon disorders, allergies, and respiratory diseases. By relieving the body of the work of digesting foods, fasting permits the system to rid itself of toxins while facilitating healing.

Fasting is one of the oldest therapies in medicine and has been used for thousands of years. Many great doctors of ancient times believed fasting to be an integral part of healing and prevention. Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, believed fasting enabled the body to heal itself. Ayurvedic medicine, the world’s oldest healing system, has long advocated fasting as a major treatment for illness.

Fasting has also been used in nearly every religion in the world, including Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and Islam. Many of history’s great spiritual leaders fasted for mental and spiritual clarity, including Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed. In one of the famous political acts of the last century, the Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi fasted for 21 days to promote peace.

Fasting has been used as a medical treatment in Europe for years. Many spas and treatment centers, particularly those in Germany, Sweden, and Russia, use medically supervised fasting for numerous conditions. Fasting has gained popularity in American alternative medicine over the past several decades, and many doctors are finding it beneficial.

Fasting is a central therapy in detoxification, a healing method founded on the principle that the build up of toxic substances in the body is responsible for many illnesses and conditions.

How Fasting Works

The principle of fasting is simple. When the intake of food is temporarily stopped, many systems of the body are given a break from the hard work of digestion. The extra energy gives the body a chance to heal and restore itself, burning stored calories to rid stored toxic substances. During fasting, the liver and immune system are essentially freed to detoxify and heal other parts of the body.  Many healers claim that fasting is a particularly useful therapy for the American lifestyle, of heavy diet, overeating, and constant exposure to food additives and chemicals. Some alternative practitioners have gone so far as to estimate that the average American is carrying 5-10 pounds of toxic substances in their bodies, for which fasting is the quickest and most effective means of removal.

Fasting for Prevention and General Health

Fasts can be performed for varying lengths of time, depending on a person’s particular health requirements. Fasts from one day for prevention to seven-days for healing, are commonly performed. Therapists may even recommend fasts from two to four weeks for specific or chronic health conditions. The most popular fasting program, however, for prevention and general health, is a three-day juice fast. The advantages of a juice fast are that they are less intensive than water fasts, and fruit and vegetable drinks can supply beneficial nutrients and energy. A live-juice fast both removes toxins and promotes healing by supplying the body with vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. Such a fast is also more likely to lead to a continued healthy diet once the fast is over, as it will accustom you to the taste of raw vegetables and the vitality that this diet promotes. It is easy to fit a few days of juice fasting into a normal schedule or over a long weekend without much disruption to regular activities or significant drops in energy.

The Three Day Detox

Be prepared. Fasts must be entered into with care. Eat only raw vegetables and fruits for two days. This will make the fast less of a shock to your system.

While on the fast, consume at least eight 8-ounce glasses of distilled water per day, plus fresh juices and up to two cups of herbal tea a day.

Do not drink orange or tomato juice, and avoid all juices made with sweeteners or other additives. You may dilute juices with the water, adding about one part water to three parts juice.

As a general rule, you should not combine fruit and vegetable juices. Apples are the only fruit that should be added to vegetable juices.

One of the best juices to use during your fast is fresh lemon juice. Add the juice of one lemon to a cup of warm water. Fresh apple, beet, cabbage, carrot, celery, and grape juices are also good, as are “green drinks,” which are made from green leafy vegetables. These green drinks are excellent detoxifiers. You can also use Udo’s Flor Essence which is good for detoxifying and comes in liquid or tea bags.

Herbal teas may be consumed throughout the fast, once or twice per day or more if you wish. A tea of alfalfa, burdock, chamomile, dandelion, milk thistle, red clover, and rose hips will rejuvenate the liver and cleanse the bloodstream. Do not use chamomile on an ongoing basis, as ragweed allergy may result. Avoid it completely if you are allergic to ragweed.

Two parts echinacea and pau d’arco tea mixed with one part unsweetened cranberry juice, four times a day, will rebuild the immune system, aid in bladder function, and rid the colon of unwanted bacteria. Do not use echinacea if you have any kind of autoimmune disorder.

Peppermint tea is good for its calming and strengthening effect on the nerves, and for indigestion, nausea, and flatulence.

Slippery elm tea is useful for inflammation of the colon and is also beneficial when used as an enema solution.

Take two enteric coated, odor controlled garlic caps twice per day. Garlinase 4000 or Allicin 5000 by Enzymatic Therapy is a good choice.  It contains the highest standardization for allicin and will digest in the small intestine and will not leave a lingering odor. Garlic supplements may be taken on a daily basis before, during, and after a fast to promote overall health, build immune function, aid in the healing process, and rid the colon of may types of parasites.

Take a fiber supplement on a daily basis before and after your fast to promote cleansing of the colon, but NOT DURING the fast. Psyllium is an excellent source of fiber as is apple pectin and oat bran. Try to avoid supplements containing wheat bran, as they may be irritating to the colon wall. Also, make sure to drinks plenty of water with your daily fiber, as fibers such as psyllium can hold as much as 500 times their weight in water.

Take spirulina during your fast. Spirulina is high in protein and contains a wide range of vitamins and minerals, plus chlorophyll for cleansing. If you are using tablets, take 5 tablets three times a day. If you are using powder, take one teaspoon three times daily, mixing the powder with a cup of unsweetened juice. You may also use an organic green foods blend before, during, and after your fast. These products contain all the nutrients needed to aid in the healing process.

If used during the fast, these products may replace a cup of the “green drink.”

If you have hypoglycemia, never fast without also using a protein supplement.

Do not chew gum while on the fast. The digestive process starts when chewing prompts the body to secrete enzymes into the gastrointestinal tract. If there is no food in the stomach for the enzymes to digest, troubles may occur.

Fasts should be ended as gradually as they are entered, going from lighter to heavier foods progressively. Follow the juice-water-and-tea fast with a two-day diet of raw fruits and vegetables. The desired effects of the fast can be ruined by eating cooked foods immediately afterward. Since both the size of the stomach and the amount of secreted digestive juices may decrease during fasting, the first meals after a fast should be frequent and small and should emphasize fresh, wholesome foods.


Fasting isn’t appropriate for everyone and, in some cases, could be harmful. Any fast for more than three days, should only be done under the supervision of a qualified health care professional.

If you have diabetes, hypoglycemia, or another chronic health problem, even short fasts should be supervised by a doctor or alternative medicine practitioner, such as a homeopath or naturopathic or ayurvedic doctor. Pregnant and lactating women should never fast.

Plenty of water should be consumed during a fast since dehydration can occur.

Saunas and sweating therapies are sometimes recommended to assist detoxification, but should be used sparingly.

Those fasting should significantly slow down their lifestyles. Taking time off of work, or at least reducing the workload is helpful and getting plenty of rest is a must. Exercise should be kept light, such as walking and gentle stretching.

Side Effects

During a fast you may experience side effects of fatigue, aches and pains, emotional duress, acne, headaches, allergies, swelling, vomiting, bad breath, and even cold and flu-like symptoms. These reactions are sometimes called healing crises, which are caused by temporarily increased levels of toxins in the body due to elimination and cleansing. These symptoms are not serious and will quickly pass. To alleviate any of these symptoms, a daily lemon juice enema may be used cleanse the colon, and daily coffee enema to rid the liver of impurities.

Studies from around the world have shown the beneficial results of fasting as a treatment for illness and disease. The physiology of fasting has been widely studied and documented by medical science with beneficial effects such as lowered cholesterol and improved general functioning being shown. A few years ago, fasting was even featured on the cover of the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Although mainstream medicine has generally ignored fasting and detoxification for treatment as valid medical procedures, in the alternative medical community, fasting is an essential and widely accepted treatment for many illnesses and chronic conditions.

Check out my Detox and Cleanse for Weight Loss and Wellness Program.

The End of an Era: Rethinking Menopause and Hormone Replacement Therapy

In light of the recent findings on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) many women find themselves with a big question about taking a little pill.

A large, federally funded clinical trial, part of a group of studies called the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), has definitively shown for the first time that the hormones in question – estrogen and progestin – are not the age-defying wonder drugs everyone thought they were. As if that weren’t bad enough, the results proved that taking these hormones together for more than a few years actually increases a woman’s risk of developing potentially deadly cardiovascular problems and invasive breast cancer, among other things. The principal message was taking estrogen and progestin for years in the hope of preventing a heart attack or stroke can no longer be considered a valid medical strategy.

Here at last was a rare moment of clarity. The debate over the long-term benefits and risks of HRT has lasted for decades. Now we have at least a few concrete answers. This wasn’t just another isolated study contradicting the last one to make headlines. Federal health officials announced that the jury was finally in-and that the drug Prempro (a combination of estrogen and progestin) does significantly more harm than good when taken for long periods of time. Women have been told for decades that estrogen taken with progestin would not only ease hot flashes and insomnia but help preserve bone strength, mental acuity and, most important, heart health. There’s no question that HRT can ease the acute symptoms of menopause, and the claim about bone strength has held up to scrutiny. But after observing more than 16,000 women for roughly five years, researchers found conclusively that the hormones in Prempro raise the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer. The federally sponsored study was supposed to run for eight years, but the five-year results were so decisive that researchers cut it short and urged the participants to stop taking their pills.

The findings are so striking that the study was stopped three years short of its scheduled completion.  With more than an estimated 13.5 million U.S. Women using hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat symptoms of menopause such as hot flashes and vaginal dryness, and to protect against bone-thinning osteoporosis, it’s no wonder the news caused such gasps and the talk hasn’t stopped since. Women across the U.S. immediately called their doctors, mothers, daughters, and friends, questioning whether they should still be taking their pills and what, if any, are their alternatives?

Why HRT in the first place?

For decades, millions of women have been told that HRT is a veritable fountain of youth. More than 40% of all women in the U.S. start some form of HRT in their menopause years. Although it is estimated 50% of the women on HRT discontinue it within the first year, many continue it well into their 70s and 80s, convinced that the little pills will stave off aging and a host of other health concerns.

Once upon a time the concept of menopause and its symptoms were almost unheard of because the vast majority of women rarely lived long enough to experience them.  And, for the women who did survive, menopause was seen as a marker for imminent and inevitable physical decline.  Until the early 1900’s that is, when it was first discovered that extracts from pigs’ ovaries could “put off old age for a score of years,” or at least “mitigate its effects when it has asserted itself with all its terrors.” By the early 1940s, drug makers were mass-producing estrogen from pregnant mares’ urine (hence the brand name Premarin). And by 1960 the New England Journal of Medicine was commending the drug for “everyone with evidence of an estrogen lack”- which is to say virtually every woman over 50.

Over the years the medical arguments for prescribing estrogen may have changed, but the idea that a single pill might turn back the clock still holds promise to many.  Last year U.S. pharmacists filled some 45 million prescriptions for Premarin and an additional 22 million for Prempro, which consists of the same drug with added progestin.

Menopause is not a disease – why do we treat it as one?
Perhaps the real question we need to answer is – is it time to stop treating menopause as a disease, and to look at it as a natural, normal, physiological process. The idea that our bodies fail us at menopause is ludicrous, sexist and just plain wrong.  And yes, for many there are undeniable unpleasant symptoms that go along with it.  But wouldn’t it be more appropriate to treat those symptoms, perhaps even naturally, rather than treat menopause as a medical condition requiring pharmaceuticals?

What are the alternatives?

For millions of women, the question of whether to take hormone replacement therapy after menopause just got more confusing. And the thought of quitting HRT if it has successfully mitigated symptoms can be a scary thought. If you’re using HRT in hopes it will protect your heart, prevent osteoporosis or relieve symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia, memory loss, vaginal dryness and declining libido, you will be happy to know that many women have found tremendous success in a more holistic approach of herbs and nutritional supplements, whole foods – particularly soy, and exercise.

Herbs -Vitamins

Long before Premarin, women sought relief through herbal remedies. A basic regimen of vitamins, minerals and a few herbs work very well to relieve the symptoms of menopause.  Every woman has different needs, but basically a program that includes calcium, magnesium, black cohosh, vitex (chaste berry) dong qui and sometimes low-dose DHEA and perhaps St. John’s wort work very well in controlling the symptoms of menopause.
Dong quai, an adoptogenic, balances hormones.  Vitex or Chaste Berry has been used for decades to regulate estrogen and progesterone production by working through the pituitary gland.  Black cohosh has been the menopausal “tonic” of Native Americans throughout history.  Studies have shown, black cohosh extract, to provide as much symptomatic relief as Premarin. DHEA can help with decreased libido and overall declining energy levels and St. John’s wort can help combat depression and mood swings.

Building Bone/Preventing Osteoporosis

In dealing with supplementation for women at any age, preserving and building bone density should always be considered. Unfortunately, only about 11% of women get adequate calcium everyday. Studies have clearly shown the importance of Calcium in building and preserving bone. Magnesium deficiency is as much a problem in bone health as inadequate calcium.  Again, more than 80% of American women are magnesium deficient, and because calcium and magnesium work in balance with each other, it is important to supplement these together.  Supplemental Vitamin D is necessary for the proper absorption of calcium, and Boron has also been shown to have bone-building properties.

Numerous studies have also shown ipriflavone to be particularly useful in the treatment of low bone density and osteoperosis.  Ipriflavone, a derivative of the soy isoflavone diadzein not only prevents a type of bone cell called osteoclasts from breaking down bone, but also stimulates other bone cells, osteoblasts, to build new bone. Ostevone, the branded Ipriflavone I recommend, has been chemically shown to rival their not so healthful pharmaceutical counterparts, and without the devastating side effects.

Foods and Phytonutrients

Perhaps not as easy as swallowing a pill, eating a healthier diet can significantly ease the transition through menopause, as well as provide additional benefits in treating or preventing other illnesses.

Current research points to the role of phytoestrogens (phyto  means plant), natural plant hormones that provide a mild estrogenic activity in the body. By incorporating foods high in these into your diet, not only do you ease symptoms of menopause, they also provide the added benefits of reducing your risk of heart disease – still the leading cause of death for older women.


When it comes to easing menopause symptoms, soy seems nothing less than a wonder food.  A number of recent studies have found soy foods to reduce these symptoms due to the powerful phytoestrogens called isoflavones that they contain. Soy is what is known as an “adaptogenic” – the phytoestrogens genistein and diadzein in soy can have an estrogen like effect if your estrogen levels are low, and will actually bind to estrogen receptor sites and block estrogen if levels are too high.  For this reason, soy is a great natural way to balance hormone levels and can be used as a safe alternative to hormone replacement therapy, offering most of the benefits, without the risks or side effects. Other studies have also suggested that these same isoflavones can increase bone mass and reduce cholesterol levels – two other main concerns for menopausal women. Functional soy beverages like OptiPRO S have been specifically formulated with high standardized levels of isoflavones, calcium, magnesium, boron, selenium and specialized enzymes to provide one of the simplest, easiest ways to mitigate symptoms, while protecting cardiovascular health, bone density, lower cancer risk, and manage weight.

Fruits, Vegetables and Whole Grains – It’s important to make sure your diet includes plenty of phytonutrient rich foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  Phytoestrogens can be found in apples, carrots, plums, peas, green beans, barley, oats and rye.

Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli contain the powerful phyochemical indole-3-carbinol, shown to convert powerful estrogens in the body to weaker, less carcinogenic ones.  Citrus fruits and other foods high in biflavonoids, such as blueberries, cherries and grapes are also particularly beneficial.

Biflavonoids not only strengthen the circulatory system, which is helpful in treating hot flashes, menstrual flow and varicose veins, but they are also powerful anti-oxidants useful in the prevention of cancer.

Flax seed is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 essential fatty acids as well as one of the best sources of a form of phytoestrogen called lignans.

Lignans have been shown to reduce hot flashes and are beneficial in the prevention and treatment of breast and colon cancer, lowering cholesterol levels and promoting breast and vaginal health.


There’s no better natural way to treat both the physical, as well as the emotional, symptoms of menopause than with exercise.  Exercise relieves stress, which is known to exacerbate symptoms, not to mention improves mood, builds strength, helps control weight, and increases bone density.

In light of the recent findings, some physicians will change their thinking dramatically; others will not change at all and will be as proactive for HRT as they’ve ever been.  One thing is for sure, however, it’s time for women to take responsibility for their own bodies and how to best protect themselves from osteoporosis and other ravages of age without resorting to old-fashioned hormones.  The world of menopause management is in for some big changes, and the age of estrogen, without question, is over.

Restoring Digestive Function

More than 60 million Americans experience acid indigestion, or heartburn, and spend literally billions of dollars on pharmaceuticals in an attempt to ease their burning pain.

Over 8 billion dollars is spent annually on drugs to relieve indigestion, with additional billions spent annually advertising those drugs.  In fact, in 1999, Prilosec, a powerful acid suppressing drug, surpassed Prozac and Premarin as the top selling prescription medication in the United States.

Clearly America is experiencing an epidemic of gastrointestinal disorders.

So why does it seem necessary to spend billions of dollars taking countless medications to coax our gastrointestinal system into doing what it’s supposed to do.  Digestion is a complex process that is both mechanical and chemical.  It involves and relies upon the proper functioning of the mechanical processes of grinding, churning, pumping, squeezing, valves and gates opening and closing, as well as the chemical processes of the secretion of enzymes and the breakdown of nutrients to be absorbed and utilized. When any part of this process malfunctions, indigestion of some sort may occur.  Factors such as the foods we eat, how much we eat, drinking too much with our meals and smoking all can contribute to the disruption of proper digestion.

Indigestion refers to any number of gastrointestinal complaints, which can include anything from gas, belching, bloating, and flatulence, to heartburn, which is the pain caused by the backing up of hydrochloric acid from the stomach into the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.  The hydrochloric acid in stomach fluid helps to breakdown and digest the food we eat as well as prevent the growth of bacteria in our stomach and intestines. Hydrochloric acid is very strong and corrosive, and while the stomach has a special lining to protect it, the esophagus does not. When this potent stomach acid accidentally backs up into the esophagus, the result is burning pain.

This accidental backing up of hydrochloric acid into the esophagus is caused when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the muscle at the end of the esophagus, doesn’t function properly.  The LES is the stomach’s gatekeeper and uses pressure to open and close.  When food travels from the mouth down through the esophagus the LES opens allowing food to enter the stomach then closes keeping it from going back up the esophagus.  When the LES opens at the wrong time hydrochloric acid and other stomach fluids back up into the esophagus.  The result — heartburn.  Persistent heartburn may be a more serious problem known as GERD or gastro esophageal reflux disease which can, over time, erode the delicate lining of the esophagus and increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer as well as cancer of the larynx and throat.

So how do we eliminate these worrisome and potentially hazardous digestive disorders and live symptom free without harsh drugs or extraordinary medical intervention?  Simple changes in habits and diet, such as making better food choices, considering portion size, quitting smoking and limiting coffee and alcohol can have a profound effect on relieving simple digestive disorders.  And while taking antacids and heartburn medications may seem easier and provide temporary relief, they do not cure the problem and come with many severe side effects. Inhibiting or shutting down the production of hydrochloric acid can actually cause serious long-term problems such as interference with the absorption of important nutrients, such as calcium, increased vulnerability to bacteria in the stomach and food poisoning, and even acid rebound, where the stomach tries to produce even more acid to do its job.  Too little stomach acid actually creates an environment where food cannot be completely digested, and further down the digestive tract, cause symptoms such as gas, belching and bloating, which in turn brings on the repeated use of antacids thus the cycle of antacid addiction.

What we choose to eat can play the most fundamental role in breaking this cycle and restoring digestive health. A balanced diet, complete with essential vitamins, minerals and fatty acids is critical not only to digestive health, but processes and functions in our bodies, as well as our overall vitality and sense of well being.  A simple approach to a balanced diet is choosing foods proportionately from three categories of foods – Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary.  The Primary group is the one that comprises the majority of your dietary choices.  These are whole grain foods and proteins. The best choice of proteins are from lean animal sources, soy protein foods, such as tofu, tempeh, soy burgers and dogs and the growing number of tasty soy food products on the market today, as well as beans, but to a much lesser extent. Next, are the Secondary foods, which consists of seasonal fresh vegetables.  Finally, there are the tertiary foods, such as dairy, eggs, and fruits, as well as unsaturated fats.  Unfortunately, the typical American diet bears little resemblance to such balanced nutrition, with over processed, over refined carbohydrates, consisting of little more than sugar, completely lacking in fiber and important minerals, and saturated, or worse trans-saturated fats, occupying staple positions.  And, the availability of these nutritionally empty and potentially harmful foods is far more abundant than their healthful counter parts. This, coupled with the lack of critical nutrients without supplementation, contributes significantly to America’s disordered digestive situation.

Not only what we eat, but how we eat it plays a role in relieving indigestion. Portion control is also important, as large portions of any foods can overfill the stomach and force stomach acid past the LES, causing heartburn.

Even something as simple as practicing the lost art of chewing is an important first step on the road to recovering digestive health.  By skimping on this first, most important step in digestion, we fail to adequately start the digestive process not only mechanically by the lack of grinding our food, but chemically by limiting the exposure of our food to the digestive enzyme amylase which is contained in saliva.  By the time our food hits our stomach it then requires additional digestive enzymes to further break it down.  This, combined with the fact that as we age the amount of digestive enzymes we produce decreases, creates a prime environment for indigestion.  Supplementing with digestive enzymes can significantly improve the breakdown and absorption of our foods and nutrients. Look for full spectrum vegetarian enzyme, such as in nZymax, which works in all Ph ranges to break down all food groups – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, dairy, and even fibrous vegetables, seeds, sprouts, and beans. The mere addition of a digestive enzyme such as this often eliminates many digestive disorders.

Herbs are also a useful way to supplement our diet, providing not only important and often deficient nutrients, but also improved assimilation of those vital nutrients.  One simple (and tasty) method of doing this is by way of common kitchen spices and culinary herbs.  Most herbal spices are carminatives, herbs that stimulate and aid in the digestive process and subsequently relieve gas and bloating.  Basil, ginger, bay, garlic, dill, oregano, sage, thyme, cloves, cumin, fennel, cardamom and caraway are all tasty spices that can help with digestion.  Parsley, dandelion, alfalfa, yellow dock and seaweeds are all important for adding important vitamins and nutrients to your foods.

While cooking with herbs provides an easy means of including these digestive and nutritive aids to your diet, additional herbal support may be necessary to repair or restore digestive function.  There are numerous useful herbs for digestion.  Papaya, ginger root, peppermint, fennel seed, goldenseal, licorice, and gentian are but a few.  These are often commercially packaged as single herbs or herbal formulas, sold as either capsules or tinctures.  While this is certainly the mostconvenient method of supplementation, it can be the most disappointing.  It is important to understand that many companies package herbal products with little to none of their active ingredients present in them, and frequently the dosage is significantly less than an efficacious amount.  Where and from whom your purchase your herbs is also of utmost concern.  Whether commercially prepared or in bulk, the standardization is important if you expect results. Combining several of these herbs, such as peppermint and papaya leaves with ginger root, catnip, fennel seed and saw palmetto berries in some type of infusion device to make an herbal tea is fairly simple and proves quite beneficial as a digestive aid when sipped prior to and after a meal.

Additionally, FOS (fructooligosaccharides), and acidophilus may prove beneficial to improving digestion.  Including cultured friendly flora containing foods, such as yogurt or kefir have also been helpful in improving digestive function.  Compounds like DGL, the deglycyrrhized form of licorice, and d-limonene, from orange peel extract, can actually repair damage causes by chronic digestive disorders and help you maintain a symptom free lifestyle.

By incorporating these herbal, supplemental and nutritional therapies in our fight against heartburn and indigestion, we are providing our bodies the best treatment possible – one that restores the body to its normal function, rather than one that interferes with it.

The Great Protein Shakedown

So you get it.  You’ve learned that protein is necessary to build and maintain lean muscle tissue, which is critical for maintaining or increasing metabolism.  You’ve also learned that eating several times a day can also help preserve and build lean muscle tissue and increase metabolism.  So supplementing protein once or twice throughout the day can certainly facilitate this process.

Sounds simple, right?  Not so fast.

Just when you thought you’ve got it down, you’re finding out that now you are faced with the task of choosing the RIGHT protein supplement.  Not all protein products are created equal, in fact, some products marketed as protein shakes, actually contain very little protein and are loaded with sugar and/or fat completely contrary to the goal you’re trying to achieve.

So how do we begin to make a good choice?

First and foremost when choosing a protein Shake, or any supplement or food, for that matter, READ YOUR LABELS!  This is critical!

If you are choosing a prepackaged, pre-mixed product for convenience, make sure you choose one that at least uses a high quality protein source such as whey or soy, or a blend of whey, soy and casein, and that isn’t loaded with sugar and fat.  Many products claim to be “high in protein”, but upon examination of the Nutrition Facts we discover there is more than a 4 to 1 ratio of sugar to protein.  Slim Fast, advertised to be a nutritious way to loose weight, high in protein and vitamins, and now with heart healthy soy, forgets to mention the ingredient it’s highest in — sugar! With more than 42 grams of carbohydrates, 36 grams from sugar (that’s equal to 9, yes NINE teaspoons of pure white sugar), I hardly see this as a “healthy” way to loose weight.  It’s more like a fast rollercoaster ride through spikes in blood sugar and insulin, inconsistent energy levels, and “yoyo” dieting. The very things that have led to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

They also forget to mention the isoflavone content (the compounds that actually give soy all of its health benefits) of their soy product – could it be because they are not actually in the product?
A typical problem with soy products, now that they are now realizing such popularity because of their health benefits, is that manufacturers, for the sake of cost and flavor, are using cheaper sources of soy that have low or no isoflavones.

LaBrada – Shakes and Muscle Milk in TetraPaks (cardboard cartons) are decent choices in pre mixed high protein low carb, low fat products.

Again here, you need to watch out for cheap knockoffs of these products that use less quantity and lower quality protein in a similar product made to look like the original higher quality product.  It’s easy to get suckered at a large discount store or drugstore when you see a familiar brand name or packaging of a “reputable” product for a great price, only to find later that the price was “great” because the product actually has very little value.  Many sports supplement companies that have been in the business for a long time and have gained reputation and name recognition, have ventured into the “quick buck from the masses who are suckers for weight loss products market” and have actually manufactured cheaper product look-alikes containing extremely low quality proteins and flavored with cheaper ingredients, high in sugars and hidden saturated or trans saturated fats.  Again, READ YOUR LABELS!  The brand name and the package often don’t mean much.

Even label claims can be completely misleading.  You would think a drink called Carb Solutions, for “low carb dieters” would be a fairly safe choice.  Upon closer examination, you will find that in fact the carbs are low, (so is the protein quality for that matter), and if you don’t mind 18 grams of fat from the #1 ingredient – CREAM, you are okay!  I guess “for low carb, high fat dieters” would be a bit of an oxymoron, and “increases the risk of cardiovascular disease” wouldn’t be a good selling point on the label.

Your best choice, to assure the highest quality in a protein, would be to choose a powdered product you mix yourself.  You say “yuk – inconvenient and lumpy!” Wrong.  Gone are the days where they are all clumpy, nasty tasting powders that must be mixed in the blender with all kinds of things added to cover the awful taste. A powder like OptiPRO M is a delicious protein that mixes easily in water, milk or any beverage with just a spoon or shaker.  No mess, no clumps, no awful taste, just 100% high quality protein.  And, with a product like this, you actually get more high quality protein, with other added nutrients and health benefits than the premixed shakes, and for less cost per serving – a little more than $1 per scoop.

Be aware, however, that even within the world of protein powders, the quality levels differ drastically.  Why does this matter?  The lower the quality protein, the less bioavailable it is, or the less your body is able to absorb. Proteins even within the same family, such as whey, may range in quality from isolate being the highest quality and the purest form, with the most biolavailabity, to concentrate, which is much less absorbable.  Look for products that contain the isolate forms of whey and soy proteins.  These are the highest quality and most bioavailable forms of two of the best protein sources for burning fat and building lean muscle tissue. Whey is very easily absorbed and is high in Branched Chained Amino Acids – critical to building muscle. Soy is high in the amino acids Glutamine and Arginine, which are essential to tissue repair, immune function, and assist in fat loss and blood sugar regulation.  Together they provide an optimized amino acid profile for fat loss and lean tissue gains.  Soy also provides the additional benefits of antioxidant, anti carcinogenic protection, regulating cholesterol, promoting cardiovascular health, stabilizing blood sugar, and balancing hormones in both men and women.  Blending a high quality whey, which is very quickly digested, with another high quality, but slower digesting protein, will also provide you with the benefit of feeling fuller, longer.

Again, with blended products, not all proteins are created equally. Beware of label loopholes! A product may claim – (this is where the labels get misleading and confusing) to be 100% whey, and contain whey protein isolate. However, when you read the ingredients on the label, the first ingredient is some trademarked, proprietary name for the protein.  Then, in parenthesis, you see a list of several different types of protein, including isolate.

The parenthesis is the labeling loophole that allows the manufacturer to not list ingredients in the order of amount in the product.

For example, whey protein isolate may be listed first within that parenthesis and whey protein concentrate last, however, the product could very well consist of 99% cheap protein concentrate or worse, hydrolyzed protein (gelatin – very unabsorbable) with no more than a sprinkling of isolate – just enough to list it on the label.  You will find this on most of the large “value” size protein products – this explains their great “value.”  It’s cheap to make a protein powder with hardly any protein in it.  Also beware of exaggerated claims.  Most claims on a certain product are not about that specific product at all, but refer to an ingredient, which might be common to all the other products, also.  For example, “builds muscle 200 times faster”.  200 times faster than what?  Any protein builds muscle 200 times faster than not eating at all.

So, Caveat Emptor! Or Let the Buyer Beware!  Cheap and convenient don’t always end up being best and usually not even cheap.  Hopefully, armed with a little more information, you will be able to find a convenient cost effective protein product with what it takes to produce the results you are looking for.  My best advice – Read your labels, be careful, do your homework, know if it sounds too good to be true it just might be, and always buy from a reputable source where you can be assured they stand behind the quality of their products and where there is someone who can help you sort through claims, hype and misleading, confusing labels to assure you the highest quality, most cost effective product, that fits into your lifestyle and your goals.