Alicia Stanton, MD Blog Posts

A New Way to Exercise to Improve Hormone Balance

When it comes to exercise, it is usually recommended that we partake in 30-40 minutes of cardio alternated with strength training sessions. However, studies are showing that interval training and strength training using complex, functional movements, rather than isolated movements, provides better fitness results in better hormone profiles.

A functional movement is one that mimics the nerve and muscle patterns that we use in everyday life. One of the benefits is that they create a high neuroendocrine response, which means they are helpful in boosting the hormones that we want boosted, such as testosterone and natural human growth hormone.

Today, I’d like to pay particular attention to a form of exercising called Tabata Exercises. Named for Dr. Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan, Tabata Exercises consist of intermittent training using 8 sets of 20 seconds at maximum intensity and then rest for 10 seconds between each bout. Dr. Tabata found that this high intensity intermittent training improved both anaerobic and aerobic supply systems significantly. And what is really great is that within 4 minutes you get an incredibly intense workout. I often use this method with squats, sit-ups or pushups, but you could do it with almost anything; sprinting, rowing, cycling, pull-ups, jump rope, etc.

These short bursts of exercises, followed by 10 seconds of rest allows the body to recover and doesn’t put too much strain on cortisol.

Dr. Stanton’s Upcoming Speaking Appearances

Today, Dr. Stanton is speaking at the Connecticut Women’s Conference on a panel about Women and Vitality. In the next coming months, Dr. Stanton will be travelling all over North America, and even a trip to Germany,  to speak at various medical and business conferences. Here’s a sneak peek of her schedule:

April 1-2 Toronto, Ontario for PCCA (physicians and pharmacists)
April 7-9 Orlando, FL for A4M (physicians)
May 2 Las Vegas, NV for Raymond James (financial professionals)
May 7-8 Frankfurt, Germany for Receptura Pharmacy (European physicians)

Fat is Your Friend

You’re probably thinking right now, what?! Fat is our friend – since when? This statement comes as a shock because for decades we’ve been told that fat is bad and that low fat is the way to go.

The hype around low fat diets first began in the 1960s. By the 1980s low-fat foods were widely promoted as healthy options and America jumped on the bandwagon. We started eating more processed foods and refined carbohydrates like pasta, rice cakes, cereals, bagels and other baked goods. But to appeal to taste buds, low-fat foods compensated with refined flour and sugar, which has triggered a host of health problems including obesity and diabetes.

Now we know that one of the most basic links between diet and hormones is this: consuming too much refined flour and sugar disrupts hormonal balance by increasing insulin demand. Chronically high levels of insulin contribute to insulin resistance which leads to fat storage. However, eating fat does not trigger the release of insulin. And, contrary to popular belief, eating fat does not cause you to store fat. Healthy fats are necessary for cell function, reduce inflammation, help balance hormones, reduce the risk for heart disease and diabetes, support healthy function of the brain and nervous system and protect against mood swings and depression.

You know about the healthy sources of fat like fish, nuts and olive oil, but here some other sources of fat that you’ve probably cut out, but really aren’t necessary to:

  • Avocado – yes, avocadoes are high in fat, but high in healthy, monounsaturated fat. Avocadoes have shown to reduce cholesterol.
  • Egg yolks – stop throwing away your egg yolks and stop eating just the whites. Egg yolks are the richest source of choline, which boosts brain function and reduces inflammation. Eggs also promote weight loss and protect eyesight.
  • Milk – it’s okay to have some fat in your milk. You don’t have to limit yourself to just skim milk. Studies have shown that drinking whole milk may be better for building muscle and both – skim or whole – improve cholesterol levels.
  • Red meat – red meat does have health benefits and you don’t have to cut it out entirely. Stick with leaner meats of beef and try to go for grass-fed beef when possible, but it is okay to consume red meat. And don’t forget about other red meats like venison and bison, which are naturally leaner than the cow.
  • Butter – while a healthy oil is a better alternative, I’d rather you use real, unsalted butter than margarine. Margarine has trans fat, which is much worse that the saturated fat found in butter. You can incorporate butter or other healthy oils such as organic ghee (clarified butter) into your meals.

Now I don’t want you to think all fat is good – because it isn’t. You want to focus on high-quality fats, eat  saturated fat in moderation and avoid trans fat at all costs. Trans fat is man-made and the human body has absolutely no physiological need for it. So if you see “partially hydrogenated” oils or shortening listed on an ingredient label put that item back on the shelf and walk away.

The Hormonal Impact on our Skin

Did you know that our skin is an organ in our body that depends on hormones too? The skin has three layers; the dermis, epidermis and subcutis. Cells within these layers actually have receptors for the hormones estradiol, progesterone, testosterone, human growth hormone (HGH), thyroid, melatonin and Vitamin E. This is why hormone imbalance in our bodies can show up in our skin.

Estrogen provides the skin with a number of benefits including improving inflammatory skin disorders and protecting against skin photo-aging from the sun. It has the ability to protect from free radical damage similar to antioxidants like vitamins C and E. Estrogens help to build up the dermis by increasing cell division and growth of the skin. They also hydrate the dermis and epidermis which makes the skin look fuller and reduces wrinkle depth. There are variations in skin thickness consistent with the variation in our hormones during the menstrual cycle. During menopause, as estrogen levels drop, your skin becomes thinner, drier and less firm with an increase in number and depth of wrinkles.

Progesterone is considered the hormone of wisdom. It tightens connective tissue by remodeling collagen, the tissue that supports our skin structure. Progesterone also stabilizes and regenerates the epidermis which keeps skin looking younger. On the other hand, testosterone is known as the hormone of power. It tightens skin structures, stimulates the breakdown of fat and strengthens the collagen strands that support the skin. This stabilizes the connective and fat tissues within the skin which creates a firmer looking skin.

So what can you do to protect and improve your skin? Start with a well-balanced diet supplemented with a quality multi-vitamin. The B vitamins are also good for healthy skin. Quit smoking! Use skin products that contain vitamins A and C for their antioxidant effects and creams with collagen help firm the skin. Use a high quality daily sunscreen or moisturizer with an SPF of at least 30. Stress can lower your body’s estrogen, progesterone and testosterone so try to unwind a little bit. Get some sleep! And of course, hydrate your skin by drinking lots of filtered water.

Dealing with Stress in Times of Uncertainty

Lately a lot of events have taken place across the world that could leave anyone, even the most laid back person, a little on edge. Earthquakes, tornadoes, the war on terrorism; and if that isn’t enough, hurricane season is right around the corner. Having anxiety in times of uncertainty is understandable, but worrying about things you have no control over isn’t doing any service to you either. Below are some techniques that can help you deal with stress in times of uncertainty. These will keep you physically and mentally healthy.

Deep Breathing Technique – You can do this anywhere (traffic, a tense meeting) and you don’t need any equipment. Take a deep breath through your nose to the count of six. Make sure that your belly distends so the air goes all the way into the base of your lungs. Hold the air in for a count of six. This allows the oxygen to go through your body. Release the air through your nose for a count of six. Repeat 4 to 6 times, at least 3 times per day.

Pay close attention to what is bothering you, and then ask yourself – “Is this my business, someone else’s business or God’s business?” If it is something you truly have control over (taxes), decide what you can do to alleviate the stress and do it. If it is someone else’s business (a relative’s drug problem), let them handle it. You might ask if there is anything you can do to help. However, if it’s not yours to handle, don’t try to. Lastly, if it’s God’s business (hurricane, terrorism), realize that there is nothing you can do to control it and that worrying about it won’t improve the situation.

Preparation – You can’t control events like terrorism or natural disasters that are out of your hands, but you can prepare for them. Have a home kit of supplies in case of a disaster or emergency – water, batteries, radio, food, etc. Pick a place for your family to meet in case phones are out of service.

Know your sources of stress – One of the first things that you need to do when you begin thinking about stress management or stress reduction is to appreciate what creates stress in your life. One way to do this is to get out a piece of paper and write headings that correlate with various aspects of your life: your home life, your job, your family, your relationships, your hobbies, etc. Under each heading, write down the things that create stress for you whether it’s your boss, your commute, not feeling satisfied at work, a family issue or any number of other things. In order to start creating solutions, you have to truly understand what the problems are. As your problems and stressors become clearer, it will be easier to set goals and establish boundaries that will reduce your level of stress.

Gratitude Journal – It is impossible to feel stress and gratitude at the same time. When you stop focusing on what you don’t have and start focusing on what you do have, you will immediately feel more peaceful. That is the beginning of your attitude of gratitude. As you continue to write in your gratitude journal, the attitude of gratitude will become natural to you and you will experience less stress in your life and more freedom. There is no specific way that you have to write in your journal. You can write long descriptive paragraphs about your activities of the day and what you appreciated about them. You could make a journal that just lists the things your grateful for a year, choose a preset number or leave it open to write as much or as little as you want that day. Your main goal is to be in a state of mind that reflects gratitude as you write in your journal. The best way to be successful in keeping a journal is to create a schedule and stick to it. The more often you write in your journal, the more likely you are to continue doing so.

Restoring a Sense of Calm and Balance

Summertime, and the living is easy, right? Or so we’re told. But for many of us, this has been a more stressful time than usual. Tornadoes and wicked storms have been devastating many parts of the country, and watching scenes from Joplin last weekend made us all heartsick.  Tornadoes ripped through the town next to mine a few days ago, wreaking havoc on homes and businesses I visit all the time. Adding fears about how to protect your home and family from situations over which you have little control to an already high stress load can take a toll on your health. And while stress reduction is a theme we address often here, I think it makes sense to offer a few more tips for restoring a sense of calm and balance:

  1. Regain your sense of control. Some of the most common stressors are triggered by a sense that we’ve lost control of something. Beating yourself up over money worries, time management issues, poor eating habits, or work challenges can become habitual and contribute to poor self worth. Empower yourself by working on one challenge at a time, and forgive yourself for letting the other things slide. For example, if poor eating is an issue, write down what you plan to eat tomorrow (three healthy meals plus two snacks). Prep-make whatever you can the night before, and keep it simple. Tick off all the healthy things you’ve consumed as you move through your day, and praise yourself each time. Not having to think about food gives you a sense of freedom and the ability to focus on other tasks, and keeping your focus on one day at a time helps you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  2. Claim at least 15 minutes for yourself every day. Schedule time on your calendar each day to do whatever you want – go for a walk, sit in a quiet spot to meditate, or grab a magazine and curl up in your favorite chair. Make sure everyone in the family knows you are “off the clock” for at least 15 minutes and expect no interruptions. Enjoying some daily “me time” is one of the most important gifts you can give yourself, and helps you get into the habit of making sure you get to be your number one priority at least once every day.
  3. Have sex! Way too many Americans who are married or in relationships don’t make time every day to reconnect with the person they love. Complaints of being too tired or too stressed out are common excuses people make – and then suddenly months and even years roll by without their having been intimate with their partners. This, of course, is not healthy and can add tension to a relationship. But couples who make regular sex a priority enjoy a host of health benefits – with stress reduction topping the list. Check out WebMD’s rundown of the top 10 health benefits here.

Remember that stress is something all of us have to live with. Learning how to manage stress instead of letting it manage you is key. Got great tips for managing stress? Share them with us by posting a comment!

Top Summer Superfoods – Get Them in Season!

Summer is a great time to put superfoods center stage in your diet.  Superfoods are designated as such because of their powerful antioxidant content and disease-fighting properties.They help boost immunity, reduce your risk of heart disease and cancer, and contribute a host of health benefits to protect and strengthen your system. Here are a few superfoods that are in season now or make especially good additions to your diet during the warmer months:

Blueberries. Blueberries are in season right now, and if you can find them, make a beeline for the tiny wild ones. These little blue powerhouses are packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, plus heaping doses of potassium and vitamin C. Wild blueberries are even more potent sources of antioxidants than their conventionally grown cousins, and are readily available in the freezer section of most health food stores and supermarkets. Toss some of these on your cereal or in your morning smoothie, eat them out of hand, or combine them with other fresh berries for snacks and desserts. When possible, opt for organic to avoid pesticide residue or be sure to rinse very thoroughly before eating.

Beans. Humble, inexpensive beans are versatile nutritional superstars. Red, kidney, pinto and black beans are tops in total antioxidant capacity, so be sure to include plenty of these beans in salads, spreads, and side dishes all summer long. Dried are best, so soak a few bags of beans in cold water overnight and then cook up a batch to use all week. Dress them up with herbs and vinaigrettes for a cold side dish, sprinkle them on tacos and salads, or whiz them in the food processor with your favorite seasonings for a tasty alternative to chick pea hummus. (Hummus, by the way, is fine, too!).

Wild Salmon. Gorgeous, deep pink or coral colored wild salmon can be found fresh in most supermarkets from June – August. Wild Salmon is superior in every way to farm raised in terms of taste and nutritional benefits. It’s an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help keep your heart healthy and your skin glowing. Wild salmon also delivers healthy amounts of vitamin D and selenium, a mineral that is increasingly linked to optimal brain function and also protects your skin from the negative effects of sun exposure.  Grill it, broil it, poach it – however you prefer to enjoy this delicious fish, be sure to consume lots of it!

Tea. Green or black, be sure to drink lots of freshly brewed iced tea to keep you cool and hydrated and amply supplied with antioxidants all summer long. Green tea has a slight advantage in terms of antioxidant content over black, but both pack an admirable free-radical busting punch. Be careful not to go overboard since both green and black teas contain caffeine, and make sure you choose small amounts of healthy, natural sweeteners or fruit juices if you prefer your tea on the sweet side. Adding spices such as ginger and herbs like mint give a nutritional and flavor boost to plain tea. Go ahead and experiment with your own concoction!

Sunflower Seeds. Heading to the ballpark or an air conditioned movie theater to escape the summer heat?  Bring along a big bag of sunflower seeds (in the shell) for everyone to enjoy.  Sunflower seeds are fun to eat and can keep your mouth occupied for a long time without delivering as many calories as the shelled variety. These little seeds are loaded with vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant, heart healthy Omega-3 fats, and bone building phosphorus and B vitamins.

Getting these foods into your diet each day isn’t hard and will help keep you in top form all summer. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads who make our lives that much more special.

Relieving Hot Flashes this Summer

Last week marked the official start of summer, as if you weren’t hot enough. If you’re experiencing hot flashes, the summer heat probably isn’t giving you any relief, but below is a list of tips that might help relieve your pesky hot flashes.

  1. Keep cool. Any slight increase in your body’s core temperature can trigger a flash. Keep your air conditioner flowing and your ceiling fan turned on to lower the room temperature. When you feel a flash come on, sip an ice cold drink. In hot weather, wear all cotton clothes to allow your skin to breathe.
  2. Avoid dietary triggers. Hot and spicy foods, caffeinated beverages and alcohol can all trigger hot flashes. If your hot flashes seem worse after consuming these foods, eliminate the offender and see if the flashes diminish.
  3. Herbal and dietary supplements such as black cohosh and Vitamin E have been shown to reduce the occurrence and severity of hot flashes and night sweats.
  4. Exercise at least 30 minutes every day. Walk, ride a bicycle, run or do some other activity, but don’t exercise within 3 hours of going to bed to help prevent night sweats.
  5. Speaking of bedtime, eliminate hot showers or baths before bed.
  6. Relax with yoga, meditation, abdominal breathing or other stress-reducing techniques.
  7. Quit smoking. Yet another reason to stop smoking: research has shown that smoking increases the occurrence of hot flashes.
  8. If your hot flashes are really severe and don’t seem to be getting better with these lifestyle and dietary adjustments, you may need more assistance. Speak to your doctor about taking natural progesterone as it has been found to provide relief for hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.

I hope these changes provide you with some relief. Here’s to keeping cool and enjoying your summer!

Eating Well but Weight Still Creeping On? Pay Attention to Portion Sizes, Snacking

Two disturbing news items about adult obesity in America have come out this month that should encourage us to re-examine the kind and amount of food we consume each day. The first is the just-released report F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011 from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. According to the report, the obesity rate in America continues to rise, and 16 states saw an increase in the percentage of obese citizens within the past year alone. Every state with the sole exception of Colorado now has an obesity rate of over 20%, and twelve states – mostly in the South – have obesity rates exceeding 30%.

The costs of the obesity epidemic – to our individual health as well as our nation – are monumental. Policymakers are calling on everyone from the medical community to the food and beverage industry to help reverse this public health crisis.

How is it that we’re getting fatter and fatter despite the constant barrage of information about diet, exercise, and healthy eating habits?

One clue can be found in another study released this week from researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study, which examined US population and diet data dating back to 1977, looked at the contributions of the energy density of foods, number of eating occasions and portion sizes over time. It was discovered that the average American today consumes about 570 more calories each day than back in 1977. Without any commensurate increase in daily activity to burn those extra calories, that could translate to up to a pound a week in weight gain!

Dr. Barry Popkin, lead author of the study, concluded that larger portions and more frequent snacking are major contributing factors to the increase in our daily caloric intake. “First, the food industry started ‘super sizing’ our portions, then snacking occasions increased and we were convinced we needed to drink constantly to be hydrated,” Dr. Popkin explains. “This study shows how this epidemic has crept up on us. The negative changes in diet, activity and obesity continue and are leading to explosions in health-care costs and are leading us to become a less healthy society.”

So even if you’re making positive changes to your diet and eating well- balanced, nutrient dense foods, the amount of food you consume and the calories you burn up each day will determine your ability to maintain a healthy weight. What can we conclude from all this? Nothing you haven’t heard before: Move more, eat less.

What Took America from Fit to Fat

The annual U.S. obesity report issued by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Report came out this week and some of the findings are downright shocking. For instance, adult obesity rates rose in 16 U.S. states over the past year, and NOT ONE state decreased. Twelve U.S. states now have obesity rates above 30 percent, versus just one state four years ago. With a direct and indirect cost of $147 billion annually, obesity is anything but just an aesthetic issue. Obesity is a cost to our personal health and our health care system.

Dr. Joseph Mercola, a New York Times best-selling author and osteopathic physician, posted some comments to this report on his Web site , which align with many of the points I make in my books about the causes of hormone balance and weight gain. Dr. Mercola mentions that severely restricting carbohydrates (sugars, fructose, and grains) and increasing healthy fat consumption are the two keys to curb out-of-control obesity.

Dr. Mercola points out that fats, even saturated fats, provide a concentrated source of energy that is far more ideal than carbohydrates. The only really dangerous fat out there is trans fat. Saturated fat is the preferred fuel for your heart and fats slow down absorption of your meal so that you feel satiated longer.

So how is fructose causing America to be overweight? Dr. Mercola explains how it tricks your body into gaining weight by fooling your metabolism, as it turns off your body’s appetite-control system. Fructose doesn’t appropriately stimulate insulin, which in turn does not suppress ghrelin (the hunger hormone) and doesn’t stimulate leptin (the satiety hormone), which together result in eating more and developing insulin resistance. And as I have pointed out many times, insulin resistance leads to hormone imbalance and is the underlying cause of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and many cancers.

I have a feeling it will take awhile for the food industry to come around, so it is up to you to take control of your diet. The easiest way to cut back on fructose is leaving the sugar-laden processed foods on the shelf.

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