Obesity is an issue of health. Excess weight in terms of complementary medicine is seen as an excess condition of toxicity that needs to be eliminated. If you don't believe me carry around a ten-kilo bag of potatoes for a day and you will soon realise the strain this places on your heart.
Did you know that central obesity is as much linked to cardiovascular disease as cigarette smoking? However there is no add campaign telling us that fast food will lead to gangrene, although it can. Obesity is associated with complications in pregnancy, heart disease, late onset diabetes and certain cancers, in particular those related to oestrogen and the gastrointestinal tract.
Alarmingly I find that women of a healthy weight are now described as skinny and overweight women are accepted as the norm because they are the majority. People often have an excuse as to why they are overweight. Age, menopause, slow metabolism, child bearing, convenience and big bones, are some excuses people use. From a naturopathic perspective, there are legitimate reasons why people may gain weight that can be identified and addressed.
Why Diets Don't Work
- We feel deprived.
- Diets perpetuate an unhealthy obsession with food.
- We go on them to go off them. Why not just find a good one!
- Diets often provide inadequate nutrition.
- Diets treat the symptom and not the causes.
- Diets upset the bodies' metabolism, slowing down our Basal Metabolic Rate BMR.
- Diets don't address cravings.
- Diets don't work alone, often needed in combination with counselling and ongoing support networks.
Effective Weight Loss Measures
- You must sweat you must go hungry
- Have reasonable expectations i.e. 1kg /week.
- Include a realistic intake of energy.
- Ensure diet is nutritionally adequate.
- Reduce meal portions or have five small meals per day.
- Eat complex carbohydrates, nuts and seeds, legumes and grains and fat
- to give satiety.
- Eat food high in fibre to slow digestion and increase satiety.
- Relax, take a deep breath, and eat slowly.
- Select food low in saturated fats i.e. red meat, milk and cheese.
- Limit sugar, supermarket foods low in fat are high in sugar.
- Drink 6-8 glasses of room temperature water a day
- Exercise, exercise, exercise to increase your BMR. Buy that wet weather gear.
- Follow the rules of healthy eating for life and not a diet for weeks/months.
Naturopathic Causes Weight Gain and Obesity
- Excess calories consumption and deficient exercise
- Blood sugar imbalance AKA Insulin Resistance
- Functional hypothyroid AKA Low Basal Metabolic Rate
- Deficiency of good fats EFAs leading to decreased Thermogenesis
- Low stomach acid AKA Hypochlorydria
- Sluggish liver AKA fatty liver
Naturopathic Treatment Principles for Weight loss in Obesity
- Balance blood sugar and improve insulin sensitivity
- Boost the BMR
- Stimulate thermogenesis
- Increase stomach acid
- Improve liver function
Insulin Resistance and obesity
Insulin resistance (IR) is a physiological condition where the natural hormone, insulin, becomes less effective at lowering blood sugars leading to hyperglycaemia and resultant health problems. Certain cell types such as fat and muscle cells require insulin to absorb glucose. When these cells fail to respond adequately to circulating insulin, blood glucose levels rise. The liver helps regulate glucose levels by reducing its secretion of glucose in the presence of insulin. This normal reduction in the liver's glucose production may not occur in people with insulin resistance. See also Carahealth health articles, Insulin resistance.
Insulin resistance is often found in people with central obesity, hypertension, hyperglycaemia and dyslipidaemia involving elevated triglycerides, small dense low-density lipoprotein (sdLDL) particles, and decreased HDL cholesterol levels.
Causes of insulin resistance
There is clearly an inherited component but like with all genetic predispositions, our future is not necessarly writtem.
PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome) as either causing it or being caused by it.
Excess sugar consumption causes Insulin Resistance
Insulin resistance has certainly risen in step with the increase in sugar consumption and the commercial usage of HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, currently the least expensive nutritive sweetener available).
Studies have linked insulin resistance to increased amounts of fructose (i.e. HFCS). Fructose causes changes in blood lipid profiles due to its effects on liver function.
High amounts of ordinary sucrose causes Insulin Resistance
High amounts of ordinary sucrose (i.e. table sugar) also has some causative effect on the development of insulin resistance (sucrose is 1/2 fructose).
Excessive refined High GI carbohydrate causes Insulin Resistance
Excessive refined High GI carbohydrate intake causes insulin resistance.
Excess insulin causes Insulin Resistance
Prolonged and repeated elevations of circulating insulin contribute to insulin resistance via down-regulation of insulin receptors or the GLUT4 (type four glucose receptors) on the cell's membrane. This leads to a greater need for insulin, which again leads to fewer glucose receptors. Exercise reverses this process, but if left unchecked, it can spiral into insulin resistance.
Inflammation causes Insulin Resistance
Inflammation is also implicated in causing insulin resistance. Studies have shown that insulin resistance do not develop under dietary conditions that normally produce it in the absence of inflammatory mediators such as interleukin 6 (IL6) and tumour necrosis factor TNFalpha).
Central obesity causes inflammation and thus insulin resistance
Central obesity is related to fat cells called visceral adipose cells. These fat cells produce significant amounts of proinflammatory cytokines such as tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-a), and Interleukins-1 and -6, etc. Proinfammatory cytokines profoundly disrupt normal insulin action in fat and muscle cells, and may be a major factor in insulin resistance.
Central obesity is also related to an accumulation of fat in the liver, a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The result of NAFLD is an excessive release of free fatty acids into the bloodstream and an increase in hepatic glucose production, both of which have the effect of exacerbating insulin resistance and increasing the likelihood of type-2 diabetes.
Vitamin D deficiency causes Insulin Resistance
Vitamin D deficiency is also associated with insulin resistance.
Drugs causes insulin resistance
Certain drugs may also be associated with insulin resistance (e.g., glucocorticoids).
Magnesium Deficiency causes insulin resistance
Magnesium (Mg) is present in living cells and its plasma concentration is remarkably constant in healthy subjects. Magnesium levels are closely related to insulin. Poor intracellular Magnesium concentrations are found in noninsulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (NIDDM) and in hypertensive patients, By contrast, in NIDDM patients daily magnesium administration improves insulin sensitivity.
Excess consumption of bad fats causes Insulin Resistance
Some types of Monounsaturated fatty acids and saturated fats appear to promote insulin resistance, whereas some types of polyunsaturated fatty acids such as omega-3 can increase insulin sensitivity.
Herbal Medicine to imporve insulin sensitivity and balance blood sugar
Carahealth Blood Sugar contains Cinnamon (Cinnamonum zeylanicum), Gymnema (Gmynema sylvestra, Globe artichoke (Cynara scolymus), Nettle (Urtica dioica), Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum, Milk thistle (Silybum marinarum)and Bilberry (Vaccinium myrtillus).
Carahealth Blood Sugar contains hypoglycaemic herbs specifically formulated to prevent sharp rises in blood sugar and to lower blood sugar levels. The tincture also reduces cravings for sugar by blocking sugar receptors in the tongue. It is indicated for reactive hypoglycaemia (This results from initial high blood sugar and resultant pancreatic dumping of insulin), and can alleviate symptoms including hunger, shakiness, nervousness, sweating, dizziness or light-headedness, confusion, difficulty speaking, anxiety, weakness. As this tincture reduces balances blood sugar levels and cravings for carbohydrates, it is useful as part of a programme to promote weightloss.
Carahealth Blood Sugar is specific to treat and prevent insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and is also useful to manage sugar levels in type 1 diabetes. The herbs potentiate the effect of prescribed insulin so that less insulin will be required under medical supervision. More broadly the tincture can treat Metabolic Syndrome, a condition associated with blood sugar imbalance, fasting hyperglycemia, diabetes mellitus type 2, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, central obesity, decreased HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides.
Cinnamon bark Cinnamonum zeylanicum
Cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating.. Cinnamon significantly improves insulin activity.
Gymnema / Gurmari Gmynema sylvestra
Gymnema is antidiabetic, antisweetener and anti-inflammatory. The herb has been shown to reduce blood sugar levels when used for an extended period of time. Additionally, Gymnema reduces cravings for sugar by blocking sugar receptors in the tongue, thus some use it to fight sugar cravings.
Globe artichoke Cynara scolymus
Globe artichoke is anticholesterolemic, antirheumatic, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, hypoglycaemic and lithotropic. The globe artichoke has become important as a medicinal herb in recent years following the discovery of the bitter-tasting compound, cynarin which improves liver and gall bladder function, stimulates the secretion of digestive juices, especially bile, and lowers blood cholesterol levels.
Nettle leaf Urtica dioica
Nettles are rich in vitamins A, C, D, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium and chlorophyll. Urtica has been shown experimentally to have both hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemic properties, the hypoglycaemic component being 'urticin'. Nettle leaf extract contains active compounds that reduce TNF-α and other inflammatory cytokines associated with obesity.
Fenugreek seeds Trigonella foenum-graecum
Fenugreek is much used in herbal medicine, especially in North Africa, the Middle East and India. Research has shown that the seeds can inhibit cancer of the liver, lower blood cholesterol levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Milk thistle Silybum marinarum
Milk thistle is the trophorestorative of the liver. Milk thistle is used to increase the secretion and flow of bile from the liver and gall bladder and contains constituents, which protect liver cells from chemical damage. As the liver breaks down glycogen into glucose between meals, taking a liver remedy is part of the naturopathic approach to balancing blood sugar. As milk thislte imorves bile flow from the liver, milk thistle treats a sluggish liver, fatty liver or non alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus
Bilberry is a remedy for diabetes if taken for a prolonged period. The leaves contain glucoquinones, which reduce the levels of sugar in the blood. Bilberry will help prevent retinopathy.
Nutritional supplements to improve insulin sensitivity
Vitamin C improves insulin sensitivity
People with Type 1 diabetes (IDDM) and insulin resistance or Metabolic syndrome or pre-diabetes have low vitamin C levels. Vitamin C lowers sorbitol in diabetics. Sorbitol is a sugar that can accumulate and damage the eyes, nerves, and kidneys of diabetics. Vitamin C may improve insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance in Type 2 diabetes (NIDDM).
The transport of vitamin C into cells is facilitated by insulin. It has been postulated that, due to impaired transport or dietary insufficiency, a relative vitamin C deficiency exists in the diabetic and that this may be responsible for the increased capillary permeability and other vascular disturbances seen in diabetics. Dosage is 1-3 grams per day of vitamin C in the form of calcium ascorbate or magnesium ascorbate.
Chromium improves insulin sensitivity via its role in Glucose Tolerance Factor GTF
Chromium supplements such as chromium picolinate have been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. As a key constituent of the 'glucose tolerance factor,' chromium is a critical nutrient to promtoe insulin sensitvity. Supplementation in the form of chromium picolinate (200 mcg 2 x daily) has been demonstrated to decrease fasting glucose levels, improve glucose tolerance, lower insulin levels and decrease total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while increasing HDL-cholesterol levels. Exercise increases tissue chromium concentrations.
Magnesium improves insulin sensitivity
Magnesium levels are lowered in patients with insulin resistance. Scientists believe that a deficiency of magnesium interrupts insulin secretion in the pancreas and increases insulin resistance in the body's tissues. Supplementation with magnesium leads to improved insulin production in elderly people with Type 2 diabetes. Elders without diabetes may also produce more insulin as a result of magnesium supplements. Insulin requirements are lower in people with Type 1 diabetes who supplement with magnesium.
The therapeutic dose of magnesium in patients with insulin resistance is 300-400 mg of magnesium per day.
Zinc improves insulin sensitivity
Zinc is involved in virtually all aspects of insulin metabolism including synthesis, secretion and utilisation. Zinc also has a protective effect against beta cell destruction, and has well-known anti-viral effects. People with Type 2 diabetes (NIDDM) also have low zinc levels, caused by excess loss of zinc in their urine, which may impair immune function.
Zinc supplements lower blood sugar levels and iomporve insulin sensitivity. Take zinc with food to prevent stomach upset. If you take over 30 milligrams of zinc on a daily basis for more than one or two months, you should also take 1 to 2 milligrams of copper each day to maintain a proper mineral balance. Recommended dosage is 25mg once daily.
Dietary Advice to improve insulin sensitvity and treat Insulin Resistance
Research has shown the Maitake mushroom (Grifola frondosa) has a hypoglycemic effect, and may be beneficial for the management of diabetes. The reason Maitake lowers blood sugar is due to the fact the mushroom naturally acts as an alpha glucosidase inhibitor. Other mushrooms like Reishi, Agaricus blazei, Cordyceps lowers blood sugar levels.
Adopt a general anti-inflammatory diet to reduce IL6, IL1, TNF alpha & CRP as these are high in obesity
Mediterranean diet lower CRP, IL1 & IL6 (high in obesity)
Levels of C-reactive protein can be decreased by increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables. Sticking to a Mediterranean diet, high in fruits and vegetables and low in saturated fats, lowers levels of inflammation as reflected by lower levels of C-reactive protein, IL1 and IL6.
Foods high in fibre lower CRP, IL1 & IL6 (high in obesity)
In a study of 524 healthy adults, investigators found that those with the highest fibre intake had lower blood levels of C-reactive protein CRP than those who ate the least fibre. The findings support the general recommendation that adults get 20 to 35 grams of fibre per day in the form of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains. Both soluble and insoluble fibre lower CRP levels. Soluble fibre is found in oatmeal, beans, berries, apples, kidney beans, pinto beans, and black-eyed peas ect while whole grains and many vegetables are good sources of insoluble fibre.
Flavonoids lower C-reactive protein
Intake of dietary flavonoids is inversely associated with serum CRP concentrations in U.S. adults. Intake of flavonoid-rich foods reduces inflammation-mediated chronic diseases. Food sources of flavanoids include, tea, green tea, apples, apricots, blueberries, pears, raspberries, strawberries, black beans, cabbage, onions, parsley, pinto beans and tomatoes.
Vitamin C lowers C-reactive protein (high in obesity)
Vitamin C treatment significantly reduces C-reactive protein.
Omega-3 fatty acids lower CRP, IL1 & IL6 (high in obesity)
Higher intake of n–3 polyunsaturated fatty acids from marine or fish is inversely associated with serum C-reactive protein (CRP) concentrations. Therefore, eating more fish or taking fish oil capsules can reduce C reactive protein levels.
Dark chocolate or natural cocoa powder lowers C-reactive protein (high in obesity)
Consuming cocoa can reduce C-reactive protein levels.
Bitter Melon imporves insulin sensitivity
Actions of bitter melon
Abortive, contraceptive, antimicrobial, antifungal, bitter, cardiotonic (tones, balances, strengthens the heart), digestive stimulant, emetic (causes vomiting), hypocholesterolemic (lowers cholesterol), hypoglycemic, menstrual stimulator, purgative (strong laxative), vermifuge (expels worms)
Indications of bitter melon
- Insulin resistance
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- H. pylori ulcers
- Bitter digestive aid for intestinal gas, bloating, stomachache, and sluggish digestion
- Intestinal parasites
The traditional South American remedy for diabetes is to juice 1-2 fresh bitter melon fruits and drink twice daily.
General Anti-inflammatory Diet
Certain foods contain compounds which are naturally anti-inflammatory. Examples of such compounds are omega 3, curcumin, resveratrol and flavanoids.
- Eat plenty of berries and cherries and fruits and vegetables.
- Minimise saturated and trans fats. Trans fats raises blood cholesterol. Found in crackers, biscuits, snack foods, commercially prepared baked goods, cake mixes, microwave popcorn, fried foods and even salad dressings. Some margarines have trans fat. Check the label for trans fat. Some big chains are now cottoning on that we want these removed.
- Eat a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish (salmon, tuna, herring, sardines and makerel) or fish oil supplements, walnuts and flax.
- Reduce intake of refined carbohydrates such as pasta and white rice.
- Eat plenty of whole grains such as oats, brown rice and bulgur wheat ect
- Cut back on red meat and full-fat dairy foods.
- Eat lean protein sources such as chicken.
- Avoid refined foods and processed foods.
- Ginger, curry, and turmeric have an anti-inflammatory effect.
- Green tea and tea are rich in anti-inflammatory flavaoids.
Lifestyle advice to improve insulin sensitivity
Increase physical activity
Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week. Think of ways to increase physical activity, such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or riding the kids to school. Reach and maintain a healthy body weight. Being a healthy weight range can lower your risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke but even many types of cancer including colon, breast and prostate.
Exercise reverses insulin resitance by increasing GLUT4 receptors on the cell to improve insulin sensitivity. Beware of exercise studies shown to imporve insulin sensitivity. Recommended exercise should improve cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity too.
Tonify the Thyroid to Increase Basal Metabolic Rate
The thyroid gland, situated in the base of the neck, controls Basal metabolic Rate. Ie metabolism. Sluggish function of this gland can lead to weight gain. Sometimes a woman may have thyroid hormones within the normal range but still be experiencing symptoms of hypothyroid i.e. weight gain, constipation, dry skin, depression. Even though the thyroid hormones are within normal range they may still be on the low end of it and can produce symptoms. A naturopath calls this Functional Hypothyroid.
Functional hypothyroid is also known as Thyroid Hormone Resistance, where the thyroid does not respond to thyroid hormones in a normal way resulting in symptoms of a low thyroid or hypothyroid. Symptoms of functional hypothyroid include weight gain, constipation, dry hair and skin and more.
TSH levels may be within the "normal range", indicating a normal functioning thyroid gland, however when T3 and T4 levels are checked they are often low with the patient presenting with many signs and symptoms of hypothyroid.
Naturopathic causes of functional hypothyroid or thyroid hormone resistance
Fluoride & the Thyroid
Fluoride is an endocrine disruptor in the broad sense of altering normal endocrine function or response, although probably not in the sense of mimicking a normal hormone. The mechanisms of action remain to be worked out and appear to include both direct and indirect mechanisms. For example, direct stimulation or inhibition of hormone secretion by interference with second messenger function or indirect stimulation or inhibition of hormone secretion by effects on things such as calcium balance and inhibition of peripheral enzymes that are necessary for activation of the normal hormone."
Fluoride's potential to impair thyroid function is perhaps best illustrated by the fact that, up until the 1970s, European doctors used fluoride as a thyroid-suppressing medication for patients with HYPERthyroidism (over-active thyroid). Fluoride was utilised because it was found to be effective at reducing the activity of the thyroid gland - even at doses as low as 2 mg/day. Today, many people living in fluoridated communities are ingesting doses of fluoride (1.6-6.6 mg/day) that fall within the range of doses (2 to 10 mg/day) once used by doctors to reduce thyroid activity in hyperthyroid patients.
Cortisol impairs conversion of T4 to T3 and results in Thyroid Hormone Resistance
Excess cortisol production from prolonged stress causes increased amounts of thyroid hormone, at a time when adrenal secretion is also elevated. This can lead to what can be compared to insulin resistance and is known as Thyroid Hormone Resistance. This is where too much cortisol, again caused by the adrenal glands' response to excessive stressors, causes the tissues to no longer respond to the thyroid hormone signal. It creates a condition of thyroid resistance, meaning that thyroid hormone levels can be normal, but tissues fail to respond as efficiently to the thyroid signal.
This resistance to the thyroid hormone signal caused by high cortisol is not just restricted to thyroid hormone but applies to all other hormones such as insulin, progesterone, oestrogens, testosterone, and even cortisol itself. When cortisol gets too high, you start getting resistance from the hormone receptors, and it requires more hormones to create the same effect.
Excess oestrogen production can block thyroid function and contribute to functional hypothyroid
Thyroid is related to reproductive hormones in two ways.
- First, thyroid hormones regulate metabolism, i.e. the activity of the cell. Different cells, such as brain cells, bone cells and ovarian tissue cells, have different activities. Thus thyroid affects many physiologic activities of the body, including reproductive gland activity.
- Secondly, thyroid hormones have similarities with certain metabolites of oestrogen and progesterone, and receptor sites for thyroid uptake can be blocked or facilitated by oestrogen and progesterone.
Mercury inhibits conversion of T4 to T3 the more active thyroid hormone
There is evidence to suggest that mercury leaches from dental amalgam fillings and contributes to thyroid disease and anaemia. While large doses of mercury can induce hyperthyroidism, smaller amounts can induce hypothyroidism by interfering with both the production of thyroxin (T4) and the conversion of T4 to T3.
Mercury disturbs the metabolism of copper and zinc, which are two minerals critical to thyroid function.
Naturopathic treatment of functional hypothyroid
- Eliminate Heavy Metals
- Eliminate Fluoride and Chlorine
- Avoid excess goitrogens
- Replenish all thyroid hormone cofactors, zinc, selenium, iodine, tyrosine, EFAs
- Supporting the health of all the body systems with particular focus on the endocrine system and the adrenal gland.
Eliminate Heavy Metals
It is especially important to begin treatment with a focus on chelating heavy metals.
Avoid excess goitrogens
Isoflavones and isothiocyanates appear to reduce thyroid function by blocking thyroid peroxidase, and also by disrupting messages that are sent across the membranes of thyroid cells. There are two general categories of foods that have been associated with disrupted thyroid hormone production in humans
1. Soybean-related foods
2. Cruciferous vegetables.
Broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, mustard, rutabagas, kohlrabi, and turnips. Isothiocyanates are the category of substances in crucifers that have been associated with decreased thyroid function.
Replenish all thyroid hormone cofactors, zinc, selenium, iodine, tyrosine, EFAs
Herbal medicine for hypothyroid
See Carahealth Thyroid Tonic
Carahealth Hypothyroid tincture contains
Alfalfa Medicago sativa, Astragalus Astragalus membranaceus, Black Cohosh Caulophyllum thalictrides and Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosus
Nutritional advice to increase thyroid function and BMR
Like all things in the body the thyroid also requires nutrients to function properly. Nutrients to improve thyroid function are; Iodine: Involved with thyroid hormone thyroxine that stimulates the burning of brown fat cells. Iodine is found in seaweed products like carrageen and dilsk, kombu and wakame. Use these instead of flour to thicken stews, soups and gravies or eat them direct or on salds and in stirfries. Eat seaweed salds and nori roles.
Tyrosine and vitamin C Improves thyroid function
Tyrosine and vitamin C Improves thyroid function and metabolism and can suppress appetite
Testing your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) or Thyroid function at home
To test yourself for an under active Thyroid, keep an Electronic Thermometer by your bed at night. When you wake up in the morning, place the thermometer in your armpit and hold it there for about 10 minutes. Keep still and quiet. Any movement of the body can upset your temperature reading. Temperature of the Body rises when you begin moving around. A temperature of 36.4 °C / 97.5°F. or lower is indicative of an under active thyroid. Keep a Temperature log for five days. Menstruating women should perform test on 2nd, 3rd & 4th day of menstruation. Menopausal women or women with irregular periods can check on any day.
The Sluggish Liver
Do you suffer from weight gain, chronic fatigue, headaches, constipation, gall bladder disease/gall stones, aversion to fats, terrible hangovers etc? These are some common symptoms of what is known in naturopathic terms as a sluggish liver, or in other words a sign that your liver is overburdened by too many toxins.
Symptoms of a sluggish liver
- As 80% of the cholesterol is generated by the liver, if the liver is not functioning well there will be abnormalities in the level of fats in the blood like elevated LDL cholesterol and reduced HDL cholesterol and elevated triglycerides.
- A sluggish liver leads to poor digestion, bloating or flatulence after the meals.
- Since the liver plays an important role in eliminating toxins from the body skin disease is considered as the first sign of liver damage. Rashes, psoriasis, eczema, boils or acne indicate the liver is removing toxins through the skin.
- The liver also helps regulate blood sugar levels, hence signs that the liver is not maintaining blood sugar levels may include, loss of appetite, weakness or dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
- As the liver filters hormones, a sluggish liver in women results in symptoms including heavy or clotted menstruation, irregular periods, fibroids in breast or uterus, hot flushes, ovarian cysts, mood swings or menopausal problems.
- A fatty liver is associated with central obesity.
Functions performed by the liver are:
- Produces bile, an alkaline compound which helps in digestion through the emulsification of lipids.
- Glucose to glycogen conversion
- Manufacturing of amino acids (proteins)
- Removal of toxic substances from the blood
- Storage of vitamins and minerals, Iron B12, fat soluble vitamins A, D, E & K.
- Maintaining proper levels of glucose in the blood
- The liver also performs methylation
What is methylation?
In simple terms it is a process in which certain chemicals called 'methyl groups' are added to various constituents of proteins, DNA and other molecules. These are needed to keep them in good 'working' condition. For example, if the antidepressant, "feel-good" brain chemical serotonin is not methylated it will become inactive which leads to depression. Hormones, homocyteine, histamine and even heavy metals are all methylated in the liver.
Methylation and cancer
The pattern of methylation has recently become an important topic for research. Studies have found that neoplasia (cancer) is characterised by "methylation imbalance" where genome-wide hypomethylation is accompanied by localised hypermethylation and an increase in expression of DNA methyltransferase.
Methylation and homocysteine
Probably the most important methylation process is when it is applied to homocysteine a marker of cardiovascular disease. Homocysteine is a by-product of the amino acid methionine and is what remains when methionine is used to methylate your proteins and DNA. Homocysteine needs to be methylated to convert it back to methionine. If this process is impeded there is an increased risk of many diseases including heart disease, osteoarthritis, eclamspia and even cancer.
High levels of homocysteine result in low levels of a valuable subtance known as nitric oxide (NO) also known as endothelial derived relaxing factor (ENDR). ENDR relaxes arterial muscle walls therefore reducing blood pressure. Exercise also increases NO.
High levels of homocysteine also results in low levels of sulphur being available for the disulphide bridges used in making connective tissue. This leads to a weakening of connective tissue in the body and leads to early aging, weak vascular walls and weak bones.
Histamine is Methylated in the liver
Histamine is also methylated in the liver by Histamine N-methyltransferase (HMT, HNMT) one of two enzymes involved in the breakdown of histamine. Histamine N-methyltransferase catalyses the methylation of histamine in the presence of S-adenosylmethionine (SAM) forming N-methylhistamine. The other enzyme involved in histamine breakdown is diamine oxidase. Diamine oxidase is a B6 dependent enzyme therefore deficiency in B6 will result in histamine excess such as seen in histadelia.
Some people are over-methylators which leads to low histamine levels, whilst others are undermethylators, leading to high histamine levels. As latest research in mental illnesses shows, histamine imbalance is associated depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, OCD anorexia/bulimia and even autism. This is due to problems with either over-methylation or under-methylation and needs to be INDIVIDUALLY determined. You cannot say for example that all people with depression are under-methylators.
Naturopathic causes of a sluggish Liver
Excessive accumulation of fat within the liver cells due to alcoholism, obesity, diabetes, drugs (like corticosteroids, tetracycline and aspirin) or elevated serum triglyceride levels can lead to impeding liver function.
Other cause for sluggish liver function is intrahepatic problems which occur due to over exposure to food additives, solvents (cleaning materials, formaldehyde, toluene, benzene, etc.), heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, and aluminum), and other toxins.
Viral infections of liver like hepatitis, inherited disorders like Gilbert's syndrome, hyperthyroidism, consumption of anabolic steroids/synthetic oestrogens/oral contraceptives are some other factors that can restrict the bile flow in the liver and cause impaired liver function.
Lack of physical activities, poor nutritious diet, aging, etc, are some other common causes for sluggish liver function.
Naturopathic lifestyle and dietary advice for a sluggish liver
Eat a diet low in bad fat high, in good fat, high in soluble fibre, nutrients and clean water. Avoid alcohol and processed food and incorporate plenty of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet along with lean protein foods like fish, tofu, legumes, etc.
Herbal medicine for a sluggish liver
See Carahealth Metal Metal & Plastic Detox
Milk thistle Silybum marinarum Bupleurum/Chai Hu柴胡 Bupleurum falcatum Globe artichoke Cynara scolymus Barberry Berberis vulgaris
Carahealth Liver contains herbs that regenerate liver cells, promote the flow of bile and assist liver functions in particular, digestion and detoxification. It is recommended for liverish conditions such as irritably, melancholia, nausea, feeling sluggish and particular disorders of the liver. The tincture treats organic liver disease such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, alcoholism, haemochromatosis, cancer of the liver, Wilson's disease, autoimmune disease of small bile ducts, Budd-Chiari syndrome, obstruction of the hepatic vein and Gilbert's syndrome and assists detoxification, especially of heavy metals.
Hypochlorhydria and obesity
Hypochlorhydria is low stomach acid. People who have symptoms of indigestion such as bloating, burping, flatulence and constipation may have low stomach acid. Cold food in Chinese Medicine terms weakens the Spleen Yang, which is responsible for transforming and transporting nutrients from our food into our blood streams. Anything eaten cold must first be warmed before it is absorbed. Why waist your bodies' energy heating foods unless of course you live in the tropics in which case it would be far more tolerated. Provide food already warm, especially in winter. Avoid cold foods, drinking with meals (as this dilutes stomach acid), cold fruit and excess salads. Tonifying the digestion will help you lose weight. Zinc is the most important nutrient to increase stomach acid.
Fat deficiency and obesity
Fat is not a dirtyword. In fact not having enough essential fatty acids can result in weight gain.
There are two types of fat cells
- White fat cells (primarily store fat)
- Brown fat cells (produce heat)
Stimulating brown fat metabolism stimulates weight loss. We cannot alter the amount of fat cells in our body. We can only make them smaller. Stimulating what is known as thermogenesis increases burning of the brown fat cells. Getting cold will help you lose weight. There are nutrients to stimulate the burning of the brown fat cells.
Nutrients that stimulate thermogenesis to promote weight loss.
- Essential fatty acids including omega 3,6 and 9
- Amino acids carnitine and tyrosine
- Spicy foods
- Green tea
Coconut oil (the new olive oil) is thermogenic (burns fat)
Coconut oil, as a virgin coconut oil, is cholesterol free. Coconut oil contains medium-chain triglycerides, when these are digested they go straight to the liver and are transformed into energy, not fat. Coconut oil contains fewer calories than many other oils and fats. Coconut oil is high in lauric acid, which is a key constituent of breast milk. Lauric acid is believed to have both anti–viral and anti–fungal properties, helping to prevent and treat health problems such as yeast infections and candida. Coconut oil oil has been used for centuries in Eastern Ayurvedic Medicine to prevent and treat conditions including diabetes, viral infections and cardiovascular problems. Coconut oil is thermogenic, which means it helps to increase the body's metabolism, contributing to increased energy levels and weight loss.
Herbal medicine for weight loss
Milk thistle Silybum marinarum Burdock Arctium lappa Gymnema Gymnema sylvestre Cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosus Poke root Phytolacca decandra
Carahealth Weight Loss tincture contains a blend of herbs specifically formulated to;
1. Balance the blood sugar to reduce cravings for sweets, and carbohydrates like bread and potatoes
2. Improve insulin sensitivity to treat Metabolic Syndrome and address central obesity
3. Promote bile flow from the liver to help assist in fat metabolism as bile emulsifies fats
4. Tonify the thyroid gland to gently boost the Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)
Balancing carbohydrates, proteins and fats to stimulate Weight Loss
A Diet to Promote Long Term Health also known as The Zone Diet. This diet is beneficial to prevent the development of insulin resistnace and therefore late onset diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Balance is the key to any diet. This diet does not deprive the body of essential nutrients.
Aims of the zone diet
- To balance the ratio of carbohydrate:protein:fat.
- To regulate the production of two hormones, insulin and glucagon.
Insulin is secreted in response to sugar. Insulin inhibits gluconeogenesis. This is when fats are broken down to make glucose. Quite simply, insulin is the storing hormone. Insulin causes energy from your food to be stored as fat and stops fats from being broken down into energy. Excess insulin in the blood stream results in excess fat also. Insulin resistance is associated with obesity.
Glucagon on the other hand, is also a hormone secreted by the pancreas during periods of low blood glucose. In regard to fat regulation, glucagon promotes gluconeogenesis i.e. conversion of fats and proteins to glucose. The important thing here, in relation to promotoing weight loss, is that glucagon breaks down fats for energy.
The Zone Diet
The zone diet aims to reduce insulin levels and promote glucagon levels thereby increasing the utilisation of fats for energy. Balancing the ratio of carbohydrates: proteins:fats slows down the absorption of blood glucose therefore decreases the amount of insulin produced. This can stimulate weight loss by stimulating fat usage for energy. The correct ratio of carbohydrate to protein to fat should be 40:30:30.
The diet simply involves;
- Working out your daily protein requirement.
- Balancing this with low glycaemic index GI carbohydrates.
- Adding healthy fats.
- Drinking water.
How much protein?
The Palm Rule
At any meal only consume an amount of protein equal to the length and thickness of the palm of your hand. Think about it for a moment; that is a small steak, a handful of nuts or a slab of tofu. During pregnancy, lactation, for children and sport increase this amount by approximately 1/3.
Glycamic Index GI
GI is determined by the amount of carbohydrate in the food and the amount of fibre. Low GI foods are best.
Always eat vegetables and fruit with the skins as they are higher in fibre therefore have a lower GI.
Low GI Food List
Artichoke, Asparagus, Alfalfa sprouts, Green beans, Bok choy, Brocolli, Brussel sprouts, Cabbage, Celery, Cauliflower, Chickpeas, Collard greens, Eggplant, Kale, Leeks, Mushrooms, Okra, Onions, Sauerkraut, Turnip, Yellow Squash, Spinach, Zucchini.
Alfalfa Sprouts, Bean sprouts, Cucumber, Endive, Chicory, Capsicum, Iceberg lettuce, Romaine lettuce, Radishes, Snow peas, Tomatoes.
Black beans, Kidney beans, Lentils.
Apples, Apricots, All berries, Cherries, Grapefruit, Grapes, Kiwi fruit, Lemon, Lime, Nectarine, Orange, Mandarin, Peach, Pear, Pineapple, Plum, All Melons.
High GI Food List
Beetroot, Butternut squash, Carrots, Corn, Parsnip, Peas, Potato, Sweet potato.
Banana, Cranberries, Dates, Fig, Guava, Cumquat, Mango, Pawpaw, Prunes, Raisins, All Fruit juice.
Lima beans, Pinto beans, Baked beans.
Bread, Buckwheat, Couscous, Croissant, Muffins, Millet, Noodles, Pancake, Pita bread, Popcorn, Rice white/ brown, Rice crackers, Corn crackers, Rolls, Taco shell, Tortilla
It's a visual thing
Animal protein should take up 1/3 and low GI carbohydrates 2/3 i.e. roast beef and vegetables. This is the preferred option.
Less preferred option
Animal protein should take up 1/3 and high GI carbohydrates1/3 i.e. chicken breast and rice
Vegetable protein takes up ½ of the plate and low GI carbohydrates ½. I.e. tofu and vegetables, tofu and lentils.
Less preferred option
Vegetable protein should take ½ of the plate and high GI foods 1/3 i.e. tofu and rice.
As previously mentioned, essential fatty acids are necessary to boost metabolism and stimulate thermogenesis which is the burning of brown fat cells for heat. In the zone diet, fats are necessary as they, like fibre, slow the rate of glucose absorption into the bloodstream. They also make food taste better and they cause a release of a hormone called cholecystokinin, which tells your brain you are satisfied and to stop eating. Use cold pressed virgin oils, organic if available. Try flax seed oil, canola and olive oils, walnut, sunflower and almond are also beneficial.
Hydrogenated fats found in processed foods are bad. Since the introduction of margarine, the rate of heart disease came down but cancer increased. Saturated fats in animal products promote inflammation. Please note that whilst organ meats (offal) are high in saturated fats, they are also high in omega 3, which is why they are traditionally so good for you. Lean meats, chemical free poultry and low fat dairy foods are preferable.
Examples of Breakfasts
Scrambled eggs, smoked salmon on a bed of spinach NO BREAD
In coconut oil, fry 1 piece bacon, 1 egg, half fried tomato, fried mushroom and half an avacado NO BREAD
Vegetable omelette NO BREAD
Examples of Snacks
Wholemeal Pancakes with tahina and banana
Ryvitas, corn or rice crackers topped with salmon or tuna, cottage cheese and tomato
Wholemeal Pita bread with chicken salad
Almonds, sunflowers, pepitas
Examples of Lunches/Dinners
Chilli con carne with kidney beans / no rice
Grilled fish and low GI vegetables
Roast with low GI vegetables
Nori rolls with salmon
Chicken, mango, avacado and macadamia nut salad
Detox to kick start weight loss
Who needs to detox?
Anyone who is not pregnant, breastfeeding or under 16 and lives in the 21st century can benefit from a detoxification programme. Anyone who suffers from any chronic disease will benefit from an internal spring-clean. Sufferers of atopic diseases such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, where there is a component of food allergy will benefit as well as those with general symptoms of unwellness such as sore joints, aching muscles, fatigue, headaches, acne and constipation.
Level 1 Toxicity
This is associated with incomplete digestion, poor absorption of nutrients and inadequate elimination. Symptoms relate to food and environmental sensitivities. This leads to an overgrowth of unhealthy bacteria in the intestines leading to headaches, flatulence, fatigue, indigestion, sinus, muscle aches and pains, cold hands and feet, insomnia and menstrual dysfunction.
Level 2 Toxicity
This is an expression of genetic weakness due to ongoing inflammatory and free radical damage. This leads to a dysfunction of the intestinal and liver protective mechanisms and is associated with chronic inflammatory disease and severe behavioural changes. Examples of Level 2 toxicity include autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythromatous SLE etc, eczema, psoriasis, food allergy, asthma, hayfever, addictions and cancer.
What to expect from a detox
Of course symptoms vary depending on the level of toxicity. Some people may find that there are no aggravations and may start to feel improvements immediately. Common symptoms of detoxification include headaches, dizziness, mood swings, muscle aches and pains, stiff joints, difficulty concentrating, gastrointestinal upsets and skin breakouts. Please be patient though, as these aggravations of symptoms are short lived and soon you will be feeling better than ever.
Unfortunately some practitioners seem promote strict regimes and the use coffee enemas to detox. Whilst coffee enemas do have their place in detoxification programmes some people develop an unhealthy obsession with them. Some patients end up losing weight after being placed on extended detoxification programmes. It is important not to use these more powerful techniques unless the patients constitution is up to it. Meanwhile, detoxification can be achieved without enemas or starving. The food we eat can actually assist the removal of toxins from our bodies. Sulphur rich onions and garlic assist liver detoxification pathways, fibre grabs heavy metals and assists elimination from our bodies, mineral rich nuts and seeds oppose heavy metals.
See also Liver Flush
There are Two Ways to Detox;
Fasting is the voluntary abstinence of all food and drink. Lasting from 12 hours – 90 days, usually due to religious or therapeutic reasons. I am only suggesting a short fast, even Jesus only managed 40 days.
Aim of therapeutic fast
1. Provides physiological rest for the gastrointestinal tract. Remember that the hardest thing our body does is to digest food.
2. Mobilisation of detoxifying defence mechanisms.
3. Promotes recuperation in chronic illness.
Physiological changes that occur during a therapeutic fast
Fasting can cause certain changes to occur. There is weight loss initially, lowered blood pressure, heart rhythm changes, a decrease in triglycerides and cholesterol as the fats are mobilised from the liver, an increase in uric acid (therefore is contraindicated in gout) and a decrease in blood sugar. Fasting also enhances immune function and decreases inflammation.
Short fast 3-5 days with no food.
This is known as a water fast. Consume only fruit, vegetables and water for 24hrs prior to and just after fasting. Try and maintain a stress free environment. Fast on a holiday. Drink spring/filtered water only when thirsty. Encourage gentle exercise i.e. Stretching. Avoid extremes. Drink prune juice if constipation develops.
Nutrients to improve detoxification and protect against liver damage
There are 2 phases of detoxification in the liver. Certain nutrients are involved in each. These are;
Phase I Vitamins B1, B2, B3, A, C, E and minerals, calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc and protein
Phase II Vitamins B2, B3 and minerals chromium, selenium and zinc
Other important nutrients are lecithin, methionine, cysteine, inositol and choline.
Silymarin 420 mg day – after 6 weeks can see normalised cell changes in the liver.
Nutrients for the bowel to support detox
Fibre is important as it actually grabs heavy metals and gets rid of them out of the body. This is called chelation. Oat bran, pectin, guar gum, psyllium and slippery elm are examples. Avoid psyllium if you have diverticultis. Probiotics such as acidophilus, bifidus and casei and prebiotics such as fructooligosaccharides and inulin are important for bowel health. Fructooligosaccharides and inulin are the food that the good flora eats. Take fibre away from medications/supplements.
Carina Harkin BHSc.Nat.BHSc.Hom.BHSc.Acu.Cert IV TAE.