Thursday, March 2, 2017

Is Snoring Really a Health Problem?

Inline_AdobeStock_69857947_WMThere’s a saying that people who snore always fall asleep first. My days of overnight sports chaperoning and group camping trips have frequently confirmed that notion. Most people would say that snoring is less a problem for the snorer than anyone lying awake in the vicinity, and on those specific nights in memory I probably thought as much. But the health researcher in me knows there’s more to the story.

We know sleep apnea is a big deal. No one wants that. But regular, run-of-the-mill snoring? Is it really an issue? Everyone has someone in their family who does it. It’s often a running joke, in fact. Some estimates suggest more than half of us snore (although that might be an exaggeration, given that the estimated range is so extensive). How concerned should we really be? And what is there to do about it anyway?

What exactly is snoring?

Snoring is simply a case of air moving over the relaxed tissues of the throat, causing those tissues to vibrate during sleeping. That vibration creates the sound.

The causes of snoring vary but include swollen nasal tissues due to allergies, upper respiratory infections, or a misaligned nasal passage. Certain meds also contribute (especially those that cause drowsiness), as does knocking back a few too many drinks.

Sleep apnea, however, takes snoring to a whole new level, with a physical closing of the airway along with the usual snoring. If you’ve ever been witness to sleep apnea, you’ll probably agree it’s a little alarming. The closing of the airway means a person literally stops breathing for what seems like an eon, until he/she wakes momentarily, sucks in a noisy gulp of air, and then resumes snoring. It may happen every 2 minutes, or it may only happen a couple of times per night. Either way, it’s a classic case of obstructive sleep apnea.

The most common cause of actual obstructive sleep apnea is excess weight and obesity. The tissues of the throat and tongue literally get fat, meaning that air has a hard time passing through when they relax during sleep. Sleep apnea might also be caused by engorged tonsils or a hefty overbite.

The thing is, the majority of all these causes shouldn’t really be much of an issue for the avid Primal enthusiast. Or…?

Snoring is more than a nuisance.

Let’s push sleep apnea to the side for a minute. No one would argue that sleep apnea is just a mild inconvenience. The medical establishment already treats it as a serious condition.

The same can’t be said for snoring. Very few people seek help for their snoring, regardless of how vehemently their partner complains every morning. Sure, snoring can be a symptom of sleep apnea, but most people who snore don’t actually suffer from apnea itself. Does that mean they’re in the clear? Unfortunately, no.

Research shows that snoring can exact a serious physical toll, even when it’s not classified as sleep apnea. A 2014 study found that snorers had a greater risk of developing a thickened carotid artery. This is a thickening in the lining of the two primary blood vessels that supply the brain with oxygenated blood—in other words, a big deal for cardiovascular health risks like heart attack and stroke. The increased risk from snoring was even greater than that for smokers or those who were overweight.

Even more alarming is the effect it has on children. In one study, children who suffered from primary snoring experienced more issues with attention, social skills, anxiety and depression. Overall cognitive ability and certain language and visuospatial functions were lower in children who snored compared to those who didn’t.

Sleep apnea, on the other hand, ups the ante considerably. Research shows it’s strongly associated with metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, and diabetes. Because excess weight is the primary cause, for many people it becomes part of a self-perpetuating cycle. Strangely enough, it seems that women are perhaps even more seriously affected by snoring and sleep apnea than men, at least when it comes to greater risk of heart failure and diabetes.

What are the options?

If you’ve ever asked your doctor for treatment ideas, you’ve likely heard a few of the following:

  • using nasal strips to pull your nasal passages open
  • using oral inserts (essentially glorified mouth guards) to keep the airways open
  • using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device
  • undergoing surgery to remove the soft tissue from the throat

You’ll notice that I listed those recommendations from least alarming to most alarming. Ideally, you shouldn’t need to employ any of those conventional “band-aid” methods, and you especially shouldn’t need to go slicing out bits of your throat. Unless you have true obstructive sleep apnea, you probably don’t want to rely (at least long-term) on a CPAP either, which can sound eerily like Darth Vader.

Other CW dictates avoidance of alcohol and sedatives, sleeping on your side, and staying well away from smoking. These are all good recommendations that essentially speak for themselves.

Next, what lifestyle changes can do…

A 2012 study showed snoring and sleep apnea improvements during REM sleep in those who made the shift from a “prudent diet” (a.k.a. one rich in “whole grains” and, presumably, low in fats) to a Mediterranean diet. I’ve spoken before about how I give a half-hearted thumbs up the the Med diet because, in many ways, it strikingly emulates the Primal diet—plenty of healthy fats, lots of veggies, less junk.

However, researchers also increased the physical activity of both groups, so it’s fair to say that a Mediterranean diet combined with more exercise was responsible for the improvements. But then again, was it the weight loss that improved the snoring, the increase in nutrient-dense and anti-inflammatory foods, or the exercise? It’s hard to say which was the catalyst (or if all of them together played a part).

That leads us to exercise as a form of snoring treatment.

A small 2014 study examined the effect of an “individualized exercise training program” on 22 patients with severe to moderate obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Over the course of the month, those who undertook the exercise program experienced significant improvements in their sleep apnea compared to the control group, who just got “education activity sessions” (whatever that means). They also showed reductions in weight, fasting glucose, and blood pressure.

Once again, it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario. Were the sleep apnea improvements due specifically to the personalized exercise program, the weight loss that resulted from this, or the participants simply being more “zonked out” when they hit the hay each night? Once again, maybe a combination of all 3 or maybe not.

What is clear, however, is that not all exercise is good exercise when it comes to treating your snoring problem. Grok was all about regular exercise, but he also knew when enough was enough—over-exerting the body by working out too long or too hard means exposing your body to excess stress. More stress means more inflammation, and we’ve already established that one of the root causes of snoring is inflammation of the upper respiratory system.

A couple additional/anecdotal options…

A friend of mine recently invested in a humidifier as he was concerned about excessively dry air in his apartment during the winter months. He began switching the unit on every night and letting it run until the morning, and found an interesting correlation. His partner’s snoring intensity and frequency dropped with increasing humidity, implying that excessively dry air may also play a role in snoring. It’s just one person’s story, but worth looking into if you’re already eating well, moving frequently and managing your weight.

But then there’s a wholly different kind of exercise for those with simple snoring issues—specifically exercise involving the mouth and tongue. In one small study, a regular practice of certain oropharyngeal exercises over three months time resulted in significant improvements for both snore frequency and snore “power” (there’s a concept).

Final thoughts…

Weight loss can be an effective tool for mitigating the effects of snoring, but as we’ve seen it may be difficult to achieve weight loss without first improving sleep. And how do you improve sleep without solving your weight issue?

If you’re a healthy weight, you might still suffer. It’s at this point you should look to your diet. Are you getting enough anti-inflammatory foods? Have you considered adding anti-inflammatory herbs and spices? Are you sure there aren’t any unaddressed allergies?

If you’re full Primal, you’re probably already investing in these choices, but it doesn’t hurt to do a little investigation. If necessary, get your partner to jot a few observations every morning regarding the night before. Maybe a rating system, with 10 being “I didn’t realize we lived on a fault line” and 1 being “ah, all’s quiet for once.” See if there’s a pattern with anything you did (or didn’t do) the day before.

Start experimenting with your diet and exercise routine, maybe throw in some pre-bed meditation, condition yourself to only sleep on your side, and try a humidifier to loosen mucus. Talk to your doctor about any medications you’re taking and if they might be contributing to the issue. Experiment with different pillows (there are so-called “anti-snore” options that tilt the head back slightly to keep the airway more open). Try the oropharyngeal exercises. Maybe try the nose strips. Take notes, recognize linkages between snoring reduction and certain lifestyle or dietary changes, and you may just become the next authority on snoring solutions.

Thanks for reading, everyone. Have I missed any Primal-friendly snoring treatments? Share your experiences and solutions. Take care.

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5 Ways to Improve Body Image

In a social-media driven world full of perfect, curated images, it can be hard to not compare yourself to others, and love the body you are in. Since we could all use a little boost from time to time, we chatted with top fitness and nutrition experts on simple ways to promote positive body image. After all, there’s never a better time to start loving yourself than right now.

 

  1. Exercise because you want to, not because you have to.

Consider your relationship with exercise; do you do it because you have to or because you want to? When exercise is viewed as a mandate, essential only for desired aesthetics, it begins to feel like punishment, creating a negative experience that can last well after the workout is through. According to K. Aleisha Fetters MS, CSCS creator of Show Your Strength, “when people begin to exercise for performance, rather than trying to ‘fix’ something, their body image changes drastically.” Seeing your body adapting, progressing and performing tasks that didn’t feel possible before allows you to have new appreciation for what your body can do.

To begin, focus on what activities bring you the most enjoyment. Ignore the suggested caloric burns on the machines (they’re usually off anyways) and instead focus on what makes you feel your best.

 

  1. Don’t dwell in negative space

Even the most self-assured individuals can feel down about their bodies from time to time. After all, we’re only human. Instead of lingering in that space, turn a negative into a positive. Anne Mauney MPH, RD, author of fANNEtastic food offers up this advice. “Anytime your notice yourself criticizing your body, acknowledge it and then offer up something positive instead that’s not image related. Focus on the things your body can do, like enjoying a nice walk or picking up your child.”

Additionally, begin to identify what triggers you to feel badly about your body. Rebecca Clyde MS, RDN, CD, Body Positivity Champion at Nourish Nutrition encourages you to “get to the source of negative thoughts about your body. If you are able to recognize and resist those feelings, you’re in a better place to move beyond them.” If you notice that you’re feeling less-than after watching a certain reality show, reading a magazine or being around various individuals, you’re able to either avoid these situations or create a game-plan for moving on.

 

  1. Follow body-positive people on social media

It’s easier to feel good about yourself and your body when you surround yourself with those who recognize the importance of liking yourself for who you naturally are.  The same is true for who we follow on social media. Rachael Hartley RD/LD, CDE, CLT, author of Joyful Eating, Nourished Life advises to, “follow plus-sized models and healthy-at-every-size activists on Instagram. In traditional media, we’re exposed to a very narrow definition of beauty. It’s important to train our eyes to recognize that beauty isn’t size specific.” Favorite accounts include @healthyisthenewskinny, @hapsters and @dove.

 

  1. Practice gratitude.

Keep a daily gratitude journal to reflect on all the wonderful things you were able to do or experience. Focusing on abundance, on possibilities, is a powerful framework for feeling good about one’s life, hopefully spilling over into body-image. Rebecca Clyde agrees, adding, “you are more than your body. Instead of focusing on how your body looks, write down a few things everyday about what you are grateful for.”

 

  1. Practice Self-Care

It’s easier to love your body when you take care of it. Whatever makes you feel your best, indulge often. Whether that’s 10 minutes of morning meditation, curling up uninterrupted with a good book, or getting a massage, you are worth it.

Alex Caspero MA, RD, RYT is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Yoga Teacher. She is the founder of Delish Knowledge (delishknowledge.com), a resource for healthy, whole-food vegetarian recipes. In her private coaching practice, she helps individuals find their “Happy Weight.” 

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.



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3 Things You Probably Didn’t Know Gut Bacteria Can Do

3D medical background with DNA strands and virus cells

 

By Eirik Garnas, http://ift.tt/2gpqpXI

The microbiome is all the rage these days. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, you’ve undoubtedly picked up on the fact that the microbes that dwell deep in your intestine have a profound impact on your health and well-being. You probably know that they affect your metabolism, digestion, mental functioning, and immune system. What you may not know though, is that they also affect a long range of things that can seem completely unrelated to the gut. In today’s article we’re going to talk about 3 such things…

  1. They affect your cold tolerance

Do you have poor cold tolerance? Can a drop in temperature throw you off balance? Do you feel freezing every time you’re out during the winter and just want to go home as soon as possible to take a hot shower? If so, then your gut microbiome is probably in a less than ideal state.

I’ve long suspected that gut bacteria affect the thermoregulation of their host. This suspicion largely arose because I’d noticed that at times when my microbiota wasn’t working as well as it could be – such as during times of disease or foodborne illness – my cold tolerance seemed to be markedly decreased. I quickly felt cold if I went outside, unless of course it was sunny and very warm, and I didn’t feel like my internal heating system was working as it should.

Back when I first started to suspect that there’s a link between gut bacteria and host thermoregulation, my hypothesis didn’t have much science to stand on. A couple of studies here and there indicated that there may be a connection, but no concrete evidence existed.

This has now changed. Over the past two years, it has become abundantly clear to me that the bacteria in our gut do indeed affect how well we’re able to adapt to drops in temperature – and probably also increases in temperature. One of the main reasons I’ve become convinced that this is the case is that scientific research investigating the link between the microbiome and host thermoregulation has been carried out.

Perhaps the most convincing study was published two years ago, in the scientific journal Cell (1). It found that when mice were transferred from a warm environment to a cold one, a major shift in the composition of their microbiota occurred. The number of bacteria belonging to a large group of organisms called Firmicutes increased dramatically, whereas another main group of bacteria in the gut – the Bacteroidetes – was suppressed.

The researchers found that the cold-exposed mice adapted to the cold temperature: they became better at extracting energy from their diet, in part because their intestinal absorptive area increased, and they also started converting white adipose tissue to heat-generating brown adipose tissue. In order to test whether gut bacteria contributed to causing these changes, the researchers transplanted microbiota derived from the cold-exposed mice (“cold microbiota”) into germ-free mice. What they found was that the infusion of cold microbiota into the guts of the sterile mice induced the same types of physiological changes that had been observed in the mice that were exposed to cold temperatures. Basically, the mice infused with cold microbiota started adapting to cold temperatures, despite the fact that they hadn’t been exposed to a cold environment.

Obviously, research in humans is needed to confirm whether we react in a similar fashion to cold exposure as the mice that were included in this study.  With that being said, there is no doubt in my mind that microbes play a key role in regulating our body temperature as well. They may even be the chief regulators of the thermostat. People who harbor an imbalanced, degraded gut microbiota are probably less tolerant to cold than healthy folks, due to the fact that their microbiota hasn’t got the same adaptive potential and their gut physiology is out of order.

  1. They affect your eye health

The reach of gut bacteria stretches all the way up to the head and into the eye – a complex and fascinating organ that has evolved over billions of years in response to evolutionary pressures.

How can this be? How is it possible for microbes that are “trapped” deep down in the human gut to affect what goes on in the visual system, which main components are located all the way up in the head?

The short answer is that we don’t really know exactly how it is possible. That said, we do have some idea. The different organs of the human body don’t operate in isolation – they are all connected in various ways. If for example adipose tissue starts spewing out inflammatory compounds – which is what happens in obesity – other organ systems in the body will be affected. This is one of the reasons why people who carry a lot of fat mass are at increased risk of developing chronic diseases that affect organs such as the liver and heart.

The gut microbiota can also be considered an organ, and as such, it too is a part of the complex web of interacting systems that shape how the human body functions. Actually, the microbiota seems to be at the center of this web – directing and controlling the less influential players. Via its production of neurotransmitters, hormones, and nutrients it affects how the other organ systems, including the visual system, function.

It seems that if the microbiota for some reason is thrown off balance and an inflammatory cascade is triggered, the eyes stop functioning according to their evolutionary design: they become prone to disease and degeneration. This idea is supported by recent research, including a 2016 study showing that the composition of a person’s gut microbiota affects his risk of developing Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD), a condition that is the leading cause of vision loss among adults above the age of 60 (2).

The researchers of this study gave a group of mice a high-fat diet. As expected, the microbiota of the mice changed in unfavorable ways, and their intestinal wall became leakier. Via a range of tests and experiments, the investigators found that these changes caused systemic inflammation and the creation of new blood vessels in the choroid layer of the eye – a common cause of AMD – and that the microbiota mediated these effects.

Could it be that gut bacteria are also involved in the pathogenesis of other disorders of the eye, such as myopia, an extremely common condition in the developed world? I certainly think so. The human microbiome has changed a lot over the past centuries, due in part to widespread use of antibiotics and consumption of processed food. I see it as likely that these changes have contributed to fueling the increasing worldwide incidence of myopia and other similar disorders of the eye. Dysbiosis is obviously not the only cause of vision loss and poor eye health, but it probably plays an important role in at least some eye-related disorders.

  1. They affect your dreams

If you’ve been involved in the ancestral health community for some time, you probably know that Resistant Starch (RS) – a nutrient that passes undigested through the small intestine, ending up as food for the bacteria in the colon – found itself at the center of the ancestral health scene a couple of years ago, brightly illuminated by spotlights that had been trained on it by people within the community who felt that RS was a highly beneficial nutrient that everyone should be consuming more of.

These RS lovers promoted the consumption of cold potatoes, raw potato starch, green bananas, and other foods that are rich in various types of RS, claiming that this behavior could boost weight loss and improve insulin sensitivity and sleep, among other things. Some people did indeed seem to experience these effects; however, not everyone did. What a lot of people did report though, was vivid dreaming.

According to them, resistant starch didn’t just make them dream more frequently than before, but it also made their dreams more powerful, lucid, and rich. Personally, I’ve experienced the same thing. In my experience, it’s not just resistant starch that induces these effects. Other fermentable carbohydrates (i.e., carbohydrates that are broken down by gut bacteria) can also elicit these responses.

The effects of resistant starch may be particularly powerful though, due to the fact that it’s very fermentable, and when it’s consumed, such as in the form of cold potatoes, the dose is usually quite high. Many of the people who jumped on the RS bandwagon took in as much as 50-100 grams of RS a day, which is a lot. No wonder they were noticing some changes in how their body worked.

At present, the hypothesis that gut bacteria affect dreaming hasn’t been adequately tested in scientific studies, in large part because it’s difficult to study how gut microbes affect what goes on in the human brain during sleep, particularly seeing as though the subjects can’t be awake, and therefore obviously can’t explain what they’re thinking about. That said, a wealth of anecdotal reports, as well as some mechanistic evidence, implies that there is a firm link between what goes on deep in the human gut and what goes on in the mind during sleep.

One blogger – Mr. Heisenbug – has been particularly fascinated by this connection and has examined it more closely (3). According to him, the most likely explanation for how microbes are able to affect the nature of their host’s dream has to do with the production of Short-Chain Fatty Acids (SCFAs) deep in the gut. SCFA’s – produced via microbial breakdown of resistant starch and other fibers – can enter into the systemic circulation of the host, where they can attach to receptors, inducing anti-inflammatory effects. This in turn may cause increases in REM sleep – a type of sleep that is associated with vivid dreaming.

 

erik-garnasEirik Garnas is a nutritionist, magazine writer, blogger, and personal trainer. He’s written for several different health & fitness websites and magazines, including Paleo Magazine. He is also the founder and owner of http://ift.tt/2gbnRtn, a website dedicated to ancestral health, nutrition, and evolutionary medicine. Over the years he’s helped clients of all different ages, body types, and fitness levels build a healthier, stronger body.

 

 

 

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The Woods Are Lovely, Dark, and Deep

^^From a recent hike at the Monticello Trail and title quote from one of my favorite poems. I love that trail so much! I was thinking recently that I need a weekly checklist of things I need to remember to do. Kind of like those summer bucket list checklists? It would have things like:

  • Hike the Monticello Trail
  • Eat a tin of sardines
  • Go to a yoga class
  • Read for an hour
  • Make a massaged kale salad
  • Take a bubble bath
  • Play a board game

You know, all the things that make life extra full : )

I did do a lot of those this week though – sardines included!

When I just have a smoothie for breakfast, sometimes I miss having something hot. Not just coffee, but something like eggs/toast/pancakes that is warm and cooked. But having buttered toast on the side satisfies that craving so a smaller smoothie + toast with butter has been my favorite breakfast combo of late.

I made a great Blue Apron dinner recently – Cajun Catfish & Spiced Rice with Collard Greens & Mushrooms – and it was a big hit! (Blue Apron is my favorite of the fresh meal delivery services out there, and I’m working with them this year on some posts. I have a fun recap of a Blue Apron girls night coming up next week!)

Mazen had a kids version, but he wasn’t interested in the little bites of fish I put on his plate. He really wanted A WHOLE FISH MOMMY! So I had a great idea – I opened a tin of sardines and presented him with a whole fish. And he ate the whole darn thing! Hahaha!

One was enough though, so I had the rest of the tin for lunch the next day : ) Sardine salad – check!

I’ve also been really into sandwiches recently, but they must have pickles or banana peppers inside. Plus smashed avocado and maple smoked turkey.

And finally, my mom sent Mazen the Moana soundtrack. This is a CD I don’t mind having on repeat all day 🙂 If you follow me on Instagram, you’ve probably seen some of the funny stories of Mazen listening and singing. Boy loves him some Moana! And  it’s one of my all-time favorite kids books!!

Mazen told me that he wanted a new mommy last week when he was being disciplined (sob), so I told him I could arrange for one to come the next day and that she would have dark hair and a ton of rules. Needless to say he changed his mind : ) My mom sent Miss Nelson Is Missing in the mail the next day, and he loves it (especially because I do a great accent for Miss Viola Swamp!)

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