The Link Between B-12, Brain Function, and Memory

Green vines on a wall shaped like a human head. B-12 is good for overall brain health.

Due to vitamin B-12’s association with energy metabolism, you might wonder what purpose it serves in your brain’s health and memory. There are a few complex roles that this B vitamin participates in—beyond releasing energy—that play a role in neurological function. This article will shed light on the primary reasons B-12 is indispensable to healthy brain aging.

Vitamin B-12 primarily functions as an enzyme cofactor. These roles include the production of red blood cells, the synthesis of myelin (a protein that coats nerves), genetic expression, amino acid balance, and the detoxification of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other chemicals. These activities are essential to maintaining brain function and preventing neurological problems like memory loss and cognitive decline.[1, 2]

B-12 Deficiency and Cognitive Impairment

For decades, numerous brain diseases have been associated with low B-12 status, particularly those conditions characterized by cognitive difficulties like muddled thinking and forgetfulness. But the precise mechanism wasn’t identified until relatively recently. More researchers and doctors are beginning to see that cognitive problems associated with advanced age might be due, at least in part, to undiagnosed low B-12 status.[1, 3]

Brain atrophy is a normal part of the aging process, but years of unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices can significantly increase this rate of decline. Nearly 23% of Americans who reach their 70s will develop at least some degree of cognitive impairment. For far too many, this is an irreversible, progressive decline that requires specialized care by family members or costly facilities.[4, 5]

One study found that low B-12 status was associated with poorer memory performance in older adults when compared to those with adequate intake. Remarkably, older adults with insufficient B-12 had structural anomalies to the region of the brain of most associated with memory, the hippocampus.[2] Emerging research has found that B vitamin supplementation—specifically with folate, B6, and B-12—slows the progression of brain tissue loss and cognitive impairment. These benefits are limited to those with a low B vitamin status. If you already have normal serum levels of these B-vitamins, adding extra doesn’t seem to have any beneficial effects on brain health.[3, 6] That said, a variety of factors increase the likelihood of poor nutritional status in aging populations.

A Primer on B-12 Absorption

From food to cell, B-12 meanders through a complicated, multi-step route, meaning that adequate intake isn’t the only factor that determines whether you have enough in your body. Your B-12 status is determined by how much you get in your diet, how well your digestive system frees the vitamin from food, how much you can absorb from your small intestine, and how easily you can convert dietary B-12 to an active form your cells can use.[7]

B-12 attaches and detaches itself to and from several carrier proteins along this route with the aid of digestive juices. Essentially, it needs to catch several different buses to reach its destination, i.e., before it can be absorbed from the digestive tract into your body. It first attaches to R-factor (haptocorrin) in your saliva, and is then cleaved from this complex by the hydrochloric acid once in your stomach. From here, B-12 binds to intrinsic factor (IF) at the beginning of the small intestine. The last stretch of the small intestine absorbs the IF/B-12 complex, transporting it across the intestinal wall and inside the body. Before the vitamin circulates in your blood, it has to decouple from IF and join another carrier protein called transcobalamin. Once attached to transcobalamin, it travels to where it’s needed in the body. Once it makes its way inside individual your cells, it may require further processing if it’s not in its active form.[7]

Absorption of B-12 in Older Adults

As we age, we begin to slow down in more ways than one. Organ function becomes less efficient, a consequence that extends to the stomach. As many as 30% of older adults (seniors aged 60+ years) develop a condition called atrophic gastritis, or achlorhydria. This condition means that the stomach secretes less acid with which to digest food. Without gastric acid, B-12 is not able to separate from R-factor and bind to IF for absorption, preventing B-12 absorption despite sufficient dietary intake. To analogize, the B-12 you ate can’t get off the bus (R-factor), as it drives past the exit for the airport (last third of the small intestine), and misses its flight from the digestive system into the blood.[8, 9]

Elderly populations also manifest a lifetime of damage and immune and organ decline that leads to decreased B-12 absorption. The specific health issues that contribute to low B-12 status include intestinal inflammation, autoimmune disorders that prevent the production of B-12 carrier proteins, damage to the wall of the intestine, hostile gut organism overgrowth, pernicious anemia, and certain medications.[9]

Age-associated Factors That Affect B-12 Status

With age, the body’s ability to absorb and use vitamin B-12 can change. Below are common, age-associated factors that affect B-12 status.

  • Insufficient gastric acid output
  • Chronic H. pylori overgrowth
  • Imbalance of the gut microbiota
  • Taking medications such as proton pump inhibitors and Metformin
  • Folate deficiency
  • Decreased production of intrinsic factor (IF), usually associated with autoimmune disorders
  • A prolonged history of inflammation in the intestine
  • Decreased appetite associated with aging or illness

How Low B-12 Status Harms Brain Health

B-12 status intersects with brain health a few different ways. Inadequate B-12 in the body promotes brain shrinkage and atrophy (similar to muscle wasting), harms cardiovascular health, and decreases your brain’s ability to break down hormones and neurotransmitters.

The Neurological Effects of B-12 Deficiency

According to the NIH, B-12 deficiency manifests as the following neurological symptoms:[2]

  • Difficulty balancing
  • Depressed mood
  • Confusion
  • Dementia
  • Poor memory
  • Developmental delays in infants

Accelerates Brain Aging

Low B-12 status accelerates mental decline by inhibiting the methionine cycle, a process that converts the essential amino acid methionine into other amino acids to build proteins. You need folate, B6, and B-12 to convert the nonessential amino acid homocysteine into methionine. Homocysteine is a normal metabolic product, but it also comes from diets that contain excess animal protein. With inadequate B-12, the homocysteine levels build up in your blood and brain, leading to nerve damage, delayed communication between nerves, and brain shrinkage.[4, 10]

Low B-12 status also decreases the production of a prolific detoxifier called SAMe (S-adenosylmethionine), a cosubstrate involved in the modification of other molecules. SAMe donates a piece of itself, its methyl group, to other molecules. Estrogen, neurotransmitters, other chemicals require this methyl group to breakdown into safer molecules for recycling or elimination. When you don’t have adequate B-12, you cripple the production of SAMe, impeding this detoxification process and contributing to a buildup of these unnecessary molecules in the brain and degrading neural tissue.[10]

Inhibits Production of Neurotransmitters

Low B-12 status appears to significantly depress production of neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine. It acts as a coenzyme during the synthesis of these neurotransmitters, so a deficiency limits your brain’s ability to produce these important chemical signallers. This effect disrupts emotional stability and can affect your sleep quality.[1, 11]

Reduces Blood Flow to Brain

As if homocysteine didn’t cause enough damage to your brain, it also targets your vascular health. Elevated levels of homocysteine contribute to arterial thickening, stiffness, and the development of atherosclerosis. All of these effects reduce blood flow to the brain and contribute to stroke risk, which compounds neurodegenerative damage to the brain.[12, 13,14]

Healthy Brain Aging With Adequate B-12

B-12 supplementation offers promise for decreasing the risk of accelerated brain atrophy and may even lead to limited cognitive improvement in B-12 deficient older adults. One Oxford study on older adults found that B vitamin supplementation over the course of two years slowed brain atrophy by an astonishing 30% compared to the group that didn’t receive any vitamin supplementation. Participants with the highest levels of homocysteine responded with a remarkable 53% reduction in brain atrophy, compared to their placebo-controlled counterparts. Speak with a trusted healthcare provider about vitamin B-12 supplementation or switching to medications that don’t about interfere with B-12 absorption.[3, 4]

Staying Sharp at Any Age

Taking your B vitamins isn’t the only way to keep your brain healthy throughout your lifetime. A healthy diet and regular exercise keep your arteries strong and flexible so that they can carry necessary nutrients to your brain and waste products away from it. If you smoke, keep in mind that you’re not only harming your lungs; the effects of smoking also extend to your brain. One study found that smoking has debilitating effects on memory, processing speed, and general brain function.[15]

You can also try a low methionine diet, a plant-based diet that specifically limits the methionine intake, to prevent high homocysteine levels before they cause any damage. Consuming animal protein contributes to high homocysteine levels, along with the additional deleterious effects of a high meat diet.

Meditation and stress management are—pardon the pun—a no-brainer when it comes to your cognitive health.[16] I also highly recommend lifelong learning as another way to delay age-associated cognitive decline. Challenging your mind, even well into adulthood, forms new neural connections in the brain that safeguard against these kinds of difficulties.[17] Try learning a new language or how to use an instrument you’ve never played before to stay sharp at any age.

Got any brilliant ideas about protecting your brain that we missed? Share your tips in the comments!

The post The Link Between B-12, Brain Function, and Memory appeared first on Dr. Group's Healthy Living Articles.


Best Natural Products for Sun Protection and Sun Damage

Summer is here, and in full swing. To celebrate, I teamed up with iHerb to pick out my fave pre and post-sun favourite natural products and remedies from their site to share with you. Here’s what I’ve selected for my most recent haul:

Natural Suncare from iHerb

Pre-Sun Essentials

Sunscreen and sunblock is my #1 way to protect from the sun, following of course: a hat and some shade. I also try to keep covered up during the peak sun hours (from 12 – 2 PM) since I have fair skin and tend to freckle and burn.

When that’s not possible – because, you know, summer involves things like going to the beach – I’m lathering on my sunscreen and sunblock essentials, ranging from SPF 30 – SPF 40.

What is SPF anyways?

Sun protective factor, or SPF, is a rating of how long sunscreen will protect your skin from ultraviolet rays. For example, when a sunscreen is labeled “SPF 30,” this means that 1/30th of the UV rays will reach the skin. Most experts recommend using sunscreen or sunblock with an SPF of 30 or higher to ensure you’re adequately protected.

What I’m loving at the moment are these three products: Babo Botanicals Daily Sheer Sunscreen for Face SPF 40, Devita’s Solar Body Moisturizer SPF 30 and Goddess Garden’s Sport 30 SPF Spray.

Natural Suncare from iHerb

Babo Botanicals Daily Sheer Sunscreen for Face SPF 40

This is a great product for young ones, and that’s why I also love it for me – it’s great for the face and for sensitive skin. The formula is non-greasy and sheer. So long as you rub it in correctly, you won’t see any white glaze (which can be the issue with some mineral sunscreens). It contains a unique combination of clear zinc oxide and titanium dioxide as physical barriers to UVA & UVB Rays while also containing Aloe, White Tea, Avocado and Jojoba Oil which are powerful soothing and moisturizing ingredients.

Devita Solar Body Moisturizer SPF 30

This super light moisturizer is also a 100% natural mineral sunscreen. It’s the perfect all-over body sun-ray blocker and absorbs after a few quick rubs. It is non-greasy, and super light. You do not need too much to get the job done. The mineral sunscreen has non-nano particles (it’s made with pure micronized zinc oxide) so it sits on the skin to protect you, while still light enough to not leave a white film. Careful not to apply too liberally, or you’ll have some of the mineral sunscreen rolling off. This is a gentle, physical mineral sunscreen that is skin and ocean friendly.

Goddess Garden Sport Spray SPF 30

Goddess Garden has a huge assortment of products when it comes to suncare, but I picked up the sport spray for a few reasons. While I love the Devita for the daily outings, if I’m going to be swimming or spending time doing activities outside, it’s nice to have something that holds its own in the water. This one protects for around 80 minutes before needing reapplication (even with swimming and sweating). The spray is also really handy for quicker application. Again, it is non-nano, and uses no chemical sunscreens, but rather Zinc Oxide and Titanium Dioxide and red-raspberry seed oil. This one is especially useful for the active lifestyle types. Do note, you will need to rub in the spray to make sure it’s blended before heading outside.

Why is natural sunscreen better?

The unnecessary and often harmful chemicals found in sunscreens and sunblocks can be absorbed into your skin, potentially causing long-term reactions and allergy flare-ups. Furthermore, research by the Environmental Working Group suggests that some chemicals in common sunscreens and sunblocks are endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with certain hormone processes such as the thyroid! For this reason, focus on ingredient’s first and find mineral sunblocks that aren’t absorbed into the skin.

Post-Sun Natural Skincare

Natural Suncare from iHerb

Ok, so sunburn is one thing, but I’m also about just plain-old care for post sunned skin.

For sunburn, my go to is both pure aloe vera and/or calendula.  Aloe vera is probably the most popular post-burn antidote since it’s cooling gel can give some instant relief. It has an ability to both soothe and heal burned skin. Calendula, on the other hand, is is a golden orange flower that naturally contains antioxidants. It has been used for many years to soothe and nourish skin damaged by the sun.

Calendula for sun damage

Herb Farm’s Calendula Oil hand-harvests their marigold (calendula) flower while in full bloom, and then extracts and concentrates it into cold-pressed, certified organic olive oil. Because it is already mixed with the olive carrier oil, you can directly apply onto sun damaged skin to help heal most skin conditions, even especially slow-healing wounds, bruises and other cuts — and of course, sunburn.

I also love Real Aloe Inc’s Gelly,  which is quite pure (especially from a shelf-product, as the plant is obviously the most fresh) and soothing. I love that Real Aloe’s gelly is organically grown in California.

Best Rose Water Hydrosol

My other fave for soothing well-sunned skin is Heritage Store’s Rose Petals Rose Water. This has been a long-time favourite product of mine, and a super wonderful budget buy.  The most potent and pure rose water I’ve tried to date. I LOVE this product. It is great for soothing the skin, and it is so refreshing.

To all my lovelies, you can get $5 USD off on your iHerb order for first time orders using this link – and it doesn’t matter where you live, iHerb ships to over 160 countries (and is Google trusted & translated in 10 languages)!

Happy summer!



The post Best Natural Products for Sun Protection and Sun Damage appeared first on Living Pretty, Naturally.


The Fasting Diet: Tips for a Successful Fast

Drink plenty of water during a fasting diet.

A fasting diet is a nutritional therapy involving either full or partial caloric restriction. It can be a challenge if you embark on one unprepared and unaware. There are many ways you can prepare yourself for a fast. In this article, I’ll give you the tips and tricks that’ll help you successfully reach your fasting goals such as healthy habits, nutrition, and hunger management.

Make things easy on yourself from the very beginning. First, make sure you do your research into fasting, especially if you’re aiming a for specific health benefit. Not all fasts have the same results, so choose your fast carefully to achieve your goals. Before embarking on your fast, speak with your trusted health care provider about your plans. They’ll be able to advise you if any medications or supplements you take will need to be adjusted for the fast.

Tips on How To Get Through a Fast

  • Get a head start on any new projects before starting your fast.
  • Complete any chores to make mornings easier.
  • Don’t overcommit to social engagements for the duration of the fast.
  • Prepare yourself emotionally for hunger and irritability.
  • Begin fasting on Friday afternoon.
  • Take a nap during lunch breaks.
  • Go easy on your workouts.
  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Drink plenty of water, or tea.
  • Trying indulging in a hobby you don’t normally have time for to keep busy.
  • Set clear boundaries before beginning.

Establish Clear, Measurable Goals

With any new routine or healthy habit, it’s important to set measurable goals, instead of vague undefined objectives. Assign a number to the goal. Pick a percentage, duration length, or reading on a ketone strip. You’ll get a big boost in your sense of accomplishment once if you make it. If not, you’ll be able to evaluate how close you got to it, giving a new milestone for next time. When fasting, your goal might be to go a set amount of time without breaking the fast, liver detoxification, losing body fat, cleansing your diet of particular foods, or experiencing the clear thinking associated with fasting.

Know Yourself

Despite the many benefits, fasting is still challenging. If you’re crabby when you’re hungry, expect to be the same on your fast—only slightly worse. For the first 2-3 days, you’ll likely experience some negative sensations, and your mood may suffer as a result. During the first day or two, intense hunger is normal, but this feeling quickly fades. You may find the mild physical discomfort of hunger pales in comparison to the effect on your mood. Some people report feeling shaky, weak, dizzy, or just generally out of sorts while their body adjusts. Prepare yourself mentally for these sensations.

These feelings can affect how you respond to adverse situations and interact with other people. Check in with yourself and your feelings. Are you impatient for a reason or are you just feeling a little irritable? Are you dealing with your challenges in a healthy way, or are you letting them get the best of you? Be cognizant of your mental state and emotional disposition throught your fast and do what’s necessary to steer yourself toward a more positive experience for yourself and those around you. When you speak with others, try to acknowledge that any crankiness is due to low blood sugar rather the person or project you’re currently working on. Take a moment to compose yourself by breathing deeply or try meditating to reflect on your emotional state.

Get a Jump on Work

The first few days will be the toughest, so prepare yourself at home and work so that your days run as smoothly as possible. To compensate, try to get ahead on any projects that require intense mental effort in the days leading up to your fast. The best practice is preparing as though you’ll be slightly dazed for the first 2-3 days. Stress and fasting are not a good pair, so try to make up for any heavy mental lifting early by getting ahead. That way you can relax, and you’ll be able to dial it back a little and take the pressure off for the first few days.

Detox Your Diet

Two weeks before your fast, eliminate the food you crave the most. If you have a particular weakness for soda or fries, try eliminating these items from your diet before you begin fasting. Cravings for specific foods are normal, but while you’re fasting, you won’t be able to satisfy them. To dispel their power over you, try cutting these kinds of foods from your diet a week or two before fasting.

Tidy Up at Home

Losing your shoes, misplacing your keys, or not having something to wear are some of those daily frustrations that you can easily avoid with some timely preparation. When you’re fasting, these kinds of frustrations can feel a lot more frustrating, so plan ahead for them to make mornings easier.

Before your fast, complete your chores. Pick up the dry cleaning, pay any bills due soon, wash and fold your laundry, make sure all the walkways in your home are clear of tripping hazards—take care of anything that might cause you to hit a snag or have a meltdown. As you fast, you might begin to feel floaty and euphoric, so try to be diligent about putting your belongings where they need to go.

Overcoming Obstacles While Fasting

Now that you know what to expect, here’s a little primer on overcoming the obstacles that arise while you’re fasting.

Drink Water to Manage Hunger

Cravings are one of the most significant obstacles when you’re just starting your fast and it may begin to feel like an uphill battle with little incentive to keep going. You may notice that your sense of smell is heightened when you’re fasting. Fortunately, you’ll only feel cravings for the first 72 hours.

Hunger and thirst are often confused, and while this might not be the case on day two of your fast, filling up on water can help alleviate some feelings of hunger. You could also try an appetite suppressant like Slimirex® to quell your cravings. Warm, fragrant herbal teas are another excellent option to quiet a grumbling stomach. If you’re not on a strict water fast, you can also have some clear broth or thinned juice to keep your energy up.

Keep Your Fast to Yourself

Of the many potential foibles that stand in your way, the one you might not expect is the people around you. Scientific research on fasting research is not well circulated or well-known among the general populace, so you’ll likely meet with vehement resistance if you tell anyone that you’re fasting for health purposes.

You friends and family might not approve, especially if they’re unfamiliar with fasting. Most people equate fasting with starving and immediately dismiss the merits of the practice out of hand. Of course, you could show your naysayers studies and articles on the benefits of fasting once in awhile, but chances are you won’t be able to change their mind. Your best bet is only telling the people who need to know. This list includes your partner, your health care provider, and maybe your immediate supervisor.

Start Your Fast Before a Weekend

Since the first 2-3 days are the toughest, try timing your fast to begin on a Friday after lunch. This way the most difficult days will be on your own time when you don’t have to deal with getting ready for work, traffic, or the scent of donuts wafting from the break room.

Get Plenty of Rest

Expect to feel tired, initially. Your body is adjusting and you’ll likely feel drained both emotionally and in terms energy. Treat yourself to a good night’s rest.

Go Easy at the Gym

Take it easy on your workouts. Fat metabolizes much more slowly than carbohydrates and protein, so your best bet to spare muscle while fasting is an easy walk or a restorative yoga class.[1, 2]

Coping With Boredom

Without all the meal prep, cleaning, and meal times, you might find you have some extra time on your hands. To avoid giving into that initial gnawing hunger, try picking up a new hobby you don’t normally have time to do. Something that keeps your hands busy is a better option than idly sitting and watching tv. Knitting, sewing, reading, woodworking, journaling, video games, or another hobby are effective ways to keep your idle hands from reaching into the pantry. Find something you look forward to doing to keep your mind off eating.

Take a Nap

Mealtimes might be difficult, so don’t hesitate to skip out and take a powernap. If you’re at work, try taking a short siesta in your car or in a quiet room. You’ll wake up feeling refreshed and ready instead of stuffed.

Remind Yourself of Your Goals

If you find yourself trying to rationalize breaking your fast earlier than you planned, simply reflecting on why you wanted to fast to begin with will help you overcome this desire. That said, make sure to listen to your body. If you begin to feel ill or very weak, don’t put off breaking your fast out of stubbornness or competition. Don’t try to do more than your body can handle. Don’t worry, you can always try again.

Keep Your Energy Levels Up

Fasting can leave you feeling depleted in more ways that one. In addition to staying hydrated, you might also consider supplementing with B vitamins to recoup some of your energy. VeganSafe™ B-12 is formulated with methylcobalamin, the form of B-12 your body needs to keep you energized.

Breaking Your Fast

Breaking your fast properly is critical. The first foods you feed your body after fasting determine how successful you are at maintaining the progress you’ve made. Don’t undermine all the progress by breaking your fast with unhealthy starchy, greasy, or fried foods.

When you’re coming out of your fast, try to stay away from sugary foods. The ideal first meal would be something like watermelon or a small healthy mixed green salad with some healthy fats like walnuts and a scant drizzle of full-fat salad dressing. You can also try raw veggies with a little tahini or some olive oil with herbs. Avoid bottled dressings that are loaded with sugar, salt, and vinegar that may be a bit too sharp for your palate. This will help you refamiliarize your body with solid foods without overwhelming it with a flood of sugar.

Ideally, the foods you eat in the transition period between fasting and eating normally should be the kinds of things you would eat on a cleanse. This is going to be things like raw, fibrous vegetables, watery soups that don’t contain too much starch, nuts, seeds, and ancient grains mixed with raw or steamed vegetables. Start incorporating fruit back into your diet 1-2 days after breaking the fast. Fruits contain a lot of sugar, so try sticking with low-glycemic fruits like cherries, coconut meat, watermelon, avocados, and blueberries.[3, 4,5,6]

Lasting Changes After Fasting

Think of breaking your fast as the chance to upgrade your lifestyle. Fasting is not only one of the best ways to activate your body’s self-healing process, it’s also re-sensitizes your palate to subtle flavors.You’ll find that foods that were once bland or uninteresting are now bursting with flavor.

This is your opportunity to structure your diet around micronutrient-dense foods bursting with vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that are essential to your health.Eat the kinds of meals built around foods you usually aspire to eat—celeriac, kale juice, and smoothie bowls—all of those beautiful healthy things you would eat if you only had that time and the inclination.

If you want to learn more about fasting, read our guide to the different types of fasting to figure out which fast is right for you.

Do you have any fasting tips to contribute? Tell us about them in the comments below!

The post The Fasting Diet: Tips for a Successful Fast appeared first on Dr. Group's Healthy Living Articles.


Overhead Lat Stretch, An Essential Cure for Kyphosis

If you want to eliminate your neck, shoulder and upper back pain one of the first steps you must take is to stop schlumping. Many people suffer from kyphosis, a.k.a. schlumping, which is technically defined as an upper back curvature greater than 35 degrees. When you schlump on a regular basis, your head has no place […]


Iron Toxicity: All You Need to Know About Iron Overdose

Iron toxicity can negatively affect the body.

We need iron to live. Without it, our red blood cells wouldn’t be able to carry oxygen through our blood. Iron plays essential roles in energy metabolism, hormone synthesis, growth, development, brain function, immune activity, and cellular function.[1, 2] However, you only need trace amounts of this important nutrient to maintain proper iron balance. Excess iron intake can quickly become dangerous.

Iron toxicity is an overdose caused by ingesting too much iron. It can be either gradual or acute. Acute iron poisoning is very dangerous and requires immediate action.

What Is Iron Poisoning?

The term “iron poisoning” generally refers to a sudden, acute iron overdose rather than a slow, gradual buildup of iron. It usually occurs when a person greatly exceeds the recommended dosage of iron pills. Excessive iron is corrosive to the digestive system, making the symptoms traumatic and hard to miss. The symptoms of iron poisoning come in several distinct stages.

Stage 1: This stage occurs in the first six hours after ingestion. Initial symptoms of iron poisoning include abdominal pain, nausea, drowsiness, diarrhea, and bloody vomiting. Continuous vomiting may cause dehydration. In more extreme cases the patient may lose consciousness or lapse into a coma.

Stage 2: The second stage typically lasts a day or two. In this stage, symptoms seem to improve. Many people assume this means that the danger has passed, but this is still a very dangerous time. The initial symptoms appear to ease because the iron has moved from digestive system. However, it is now in the bloodstream, where it can do even more damage.

Stage 3: Over the course of the next few days, iron will circulate throughout the body, slowly damaging organs and tissue. This leads to seizures, shock, internal bleeding, severe liver damage, and dangerously low blood pressure, any of which could each be fatal. [3]

When to Seek Help for Iron Poisoning

If you suspect that yourself or a loved one are currently experiencing acute iron poisoning, call your local poison control center immediately! If you’re anywhere in the United States, you can dial 1-800-222-1222 to contact the free poison helpline. Operated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this national helpline is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

While anyone can suffer from acute iron overload, children are particularly vulnerable. The FDA requires that all iron supplements include the following warning directly on the label:

“WARNING: Accidental overdose of iron-containing products is a leading cause of fatal poisoning in children under 6. Keep this product out of reach of children. In the case of accidental overdose, call a doctor or poison control center immediately.”

Iron pills often take the form of small, bright red disks that could be mistaken for candy by a curious child. Take steps to make sure that children can’t get a hold of your iron supplements.

  • Use child-resistant containers, but remember that there is no such thing as “child-proof.” Given time, a sufficiently determined child can get into anything. A child-resistant container should slow them down, but don’t rely on it as your sole means of deterrence.
  • Keep all vitamins and supplements out of the reach and sight of children. Like child resistant containers, this is just one precaution, not a complete solution. Children can and will climb on anything. Putting your pills are on a tall shelf doesn’t mean that they’re entirely out of reach. If possible, keep your supplements in a locked cabinet.
  • Make sure that all purses and bags that contain vitamins and supplements are also out of a child’s reach. Be aware of any guest’s bags as well.
  • Never put disposed-of medications in an open trash container where children can reach them.
  • Be aware of all medications, vitamins, and supplements in your own home, and any home where your child spends time, like grandma’s or a friend’s house.

Iron Poisoning in Pets

Like children, pets also have a habit of eating things they shouldn’t. The symptoms of iron poisoning in dogs are very similar to that of humans—vomiting, bloody diarrhea, lethargy, and abdominal pain. Symptoms can progress to tremors, cardiac distress, liver damage, and severe shock.

You can keep pets safe from iron poisoning by following the same precautions you would with children. Keep your supplements well out of the reach of your furry family members. Some pets seem to regard the garbage can as a type of buffet, so be extra aware of what goes in the trash. Iron can also be found in chemical hand warmers, fertilizers, and oxygen absorbers (those little “do not eat” packets found in some prepackaged foods and consumer goods). Be sure to keep these items away from pets.

What Is Gradual Iron Toxicity?

Slow, chronic iron toxicity is usually referred to as iron overload disease, ferrotoxicity, or iron buildup. While not as immediately life-threatening as acute iron poisoning, it nonetheless carries its own severe health risks.

Once absorbed, the human body doesn’t have a mechanism for getting rid of excess iron. While trace amounts of iron are lost through urination and excretion, you mostly lose iron only when you lose blood. This includes menstruation, which is one reason why women have higher iron needs than men. Excess iron damages your organs and tissues and increases oxidative stress throughout your body.[4]

What Is Hemochromatosis?

Hemochromatosis is a hereditary condition that can exacerbate iron toxicity. Normally, a liver hormone called hepcidin regulates the absorption, use, and storage of iron in the body. In those with hemochromatosis, a genetic mutation disrupts hepcidin, causing the body to absorb iron indiscriminately, regardless of iron status. It can increase the risk of joint issues, diabetes, liver damage, coronary issues, and reproductive abnormalities.

Hemochromatosis most heavily affects people of European descent; approximately 1 in 10 are potential carriers of the gene that causes this disorder. Most people who carry this gene are asymptomatic, but the condition is active in about four out of every 1000. Hemochromatosis is far less common in other ethnic groups. If you have hemochromatosis, avoid iron supplements and monitor your intake of vitamin C.[5]

Does Iron Interact With Other Supplements or Medications?

High-dose iron supplements can react poorly with many types of medication. Possible interactions can occur with thyroid replacement hormones, birth control, antibiotics, blood pressure medication, and prescriptions that treat ulcers and other stomach problems. Check with a healthcare professional before starting iron supplements if you take any kind of medication, vitamins, or supplements.[6]

There are two main types of dietary iron—heme and nonheme. Heme iron comes from animal sources, while nonheme comes from plants. Heme iron is absorbed by the body more quickly, so it is often mistakenly thought that vegans and vegetarians are more at risk for iron deficiency. Research, however, has found that those who follow a plant-based diet are no more likely to suffer from iron deficiency anemia than anybody else.[7]

In fact, nonheme iron provides a safer and more stable iron absorption rate. Nonheme iron is associated with significantly lower rates of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and cancer than its meat-based counterpart. For every milligram of heme iron you consume, your risk of heart disease increases by 27%. The cancer risk also increases significantly.[8]

This may be because iron acts as an oxidant in the human body, adding to your free radical load and causing oxidative damage. Nonheme iron is often found in foods that contain potent antioxidants, like vitamin C. These antioxidants inhibit oxidation and terminate the chain reactions that produce free radicals.

Find the Right Balance

Iron is a double-edged sword. If your iron levels are low, you may face the health risks of iron deficiency anemia; too high, and you’ll have to deal with acute or chronic iron toxicity. Ultimately, like many things in health and life, iron is all about finding the right balance. Try getting your iron from food sources instead of pills; this reduces the risk of overdose drastically. Food, particularly plant-based food, is the safest way to incorporate iron into your diet. Fortunately, there are plenty of excellent, plant-based, iron-rich foods.

Supplementation may be beneficial in some cases, such as iron deficiency anemia or during pregnancy. If you do supplement with iron, I advise caution. Some people approach supplements with the assumption that “if some is good, then more must be better.” This is a reckless attitude that can have serious, possibly dangerous, health consequences. Consult your trusted health care advisor before taking an iron supplement, and take only as directed.

Never give iron supplements to a child younger than 18 unless under the supervision of a healthcare professional. A healthy adult should only need between 18 and 27 mg of iron each day. Pregnant women should aim for somewhere between 27 and 45 mg total.[1] Except in cases of extreme deficiency, iron doses higher than that are unwise and unhealthy.

If you do choose supplementation, be sure to do your research. Avoid elemental iron supplements. I recommend a nonheme supplement with no more than 18 mg of iron per serving.

Have you had an experience with iron toxicity? How do you make sure you have the right iron balance? Let us know in the comments!

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Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs

Good carbs vs bad carbs. Image with a bowl of nuts.

Following a healthy diet is one of the most effective measures you can take to support your health and well-being, and the carbohydrates you eat can make or break you. The right ones will provide slow, steady-release energy along with important nutrients; the wrong carbohydrates, such as high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, and bleached flour, can set you back and actively work against your pursuit of health. Here, we’ll cover what you need to know to choose the best sources.

What Are Carbohydrates?

Along with fat and protein, carbohydrates are one of the three main macronutrients. Their primary function in the human body is to provide energy. Carbohydrates, which are categorized as simple or complex, encompass a broad range of sugars, starches, and fiber.

Sugar, Starch, and Fiber

In nature, sugar is found in animal milk and fruit.[1] Sugar is categorized as either monosaccharides or disaccharides. Monosaccharides, which are the simplest of sugars, are individual sugar molecules. The human diet contains three monosaccharides—glucose, fructose, and galactose. Individual monosaccharides combine to form disaccharides—maltose (glucose + glucose—malt sugar), sucrose (glucose + fructose—table sugar), and lactose (glucose + galactose—milk sugar).

Starches, also called polysaccharides or complex carbohydrates, are longer chains of individual sugar molecules.

Fiber, which is undigestible, non-starch polysaccharides, encourages bowel regularity and significantly reduces the risk of many lifestyle-related conditions.[4] Dietary fiber also feeds the health-promoting microbes in the gut to boost immune function, encourage healthy weight and metabolism, and even influence mental well-being.[5, 6, 7]

What Are Complex Carbohydrates?

Simply put, complex carbohydrates are the good carbohydrates you should base your diet on. Complex carbohydrates are sugar molecules that are strung together in long, complex chains. Because of that structure, the body digests them slowly and they generally don’t produce a spike in blood sugar. Oatmeal, brown rice, beans, green vegetables, and alternative grains are all good sources of complex carbohydrates. As you might guess from those examples, one of the benefits of complex carbohydrates is that they’re typically a good source of vitamins, minerals, and other important nutrients.

What Are Simple Carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates, also called simple sugars, are just that—simple. They’re comprised of one or two sugar molecules and the body is able to digest them quickly, which makes them a fast-acting source of energy. If, for example, you’re an athlete in the middle of a competition and need energy to burn, that can be a good thing. But, if you’re sedentary, simple carbohydrates are more likely to spike your blood sugar and make you gain weight.

Not all simple carbohydrates are bad. Fresh fruit provides simple carbohydrates, but it also provides fiber. Simple carbohydrates with fiber are more like complex carbohydrates, and the body digests and absorbs them more slowly.

Refined Carbohydrates: Too Simple

Conversely, removing fiber from complex carbohydrates will cause your body to react like it would to simple carbohydrates. These carbohydrates, often referred to as refined carbohydrates, come from whole, natural foods, but they’ve been processed to the point that they no longer resemble their original form. High fructose corn syrup and bleached white flour are common examples. High fructose corn syrup is better described as a chemical sweetener than a natural corn product. Pasta, white bread, and even fruit juice are examples of refined carbohydrates.

The questionable value of fruit juice is a surprise to many people. It’s easy to think a large quantity of fresh fruit juice is nothing but good, but keep in mind that the fiber has been removed and the simple sugars remain, sometimes a remarkably high amount of sugar. It’s best to limit your intake of simple carbohydrates, especially if they’re refined. If you need to clean up your diet, eliminating simple sugars is the best place to start.

Choosing the Right Carbohydrates

Selecting the right carbohydrates is easy when you keep a few fundamental guidelines in mind.

Eat Your Vegetables

First, build your diet around whole, organic vegetables and fruit. Plant-based nutrients encourage graceful aging, promote healthy cell division, and reduce your risk of lifestyle-related health conditions. Lean toward produce that has bright, vibrant colors as it provides a wide spectrum of phytonutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Unfortunately, less than 3% of adults get enough fiber every day.[2] That’s no surprise, considering 76% of Americans don’t eat enough fruit and 87% don’t eat enough vegetables.[3] As a rule of thumb, I try to consume twice as many vegetables as fruit.

Beans, Seeds, Nuts, and Alternative Grains

Legumes like lentils, beans, and peas are nutrient dense and versatile. Seeds and nuts, especially almonds, walnuts, macadamias, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds are good sources of carbohydrates. When selecting starchy foods, such as rice, bread, or any other product made from flour, it’s best to opt for whole grain versions. Whole grain foods affect blood glucose levels more slowly than other carbohydrates.

Many people depend on the glycemic index to determine if their food is a good source of carbohydrates. The glycemic index rates carbohydrates according to how quickly they raise blood sugar. Although the glycemic index can provide food for thought, it’s best to treat the index as more of a guideline than a hard and fast rule. Some research suggests the accuracy of the glycemic index may vary.

Good Sources of Carbohydrates

There are a number of good sources of carbohydrates that provide energy and important nutrients without artificial ingredients or additives.

  • Organic steel cut or rolled oats
  • Organic nuts and seeds
  • Organic whole, unprocessed grains: quinoa, spelt, buckwheat, millet, and wheat berries
  • Organic legumes: black beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, and mung beans
  • Organic fruit: berries, tomatoes, and citrus fruits
  • Organic vegetables: beets, carrots, purple potatoes, sweet potatoes, and winter squash

Bad Sources of Carbohydrates

Even more than simply being devoid of nutritional value and fiber, bad carbohydrates like high fructose corn syrup, white flour, and refined sugar are actively detrimental to your health and well-being. Minimize (or, preferably, eliminate) refined and processed carbohydrates from your diet. Soda, white flour, refined sugar, and the like don’t provide any real nutritional value and often times are the very food that clutters up an otherwise healthy diet.

  • Baked goods: bread, muffins, bagels, and cornbread
  • Sweetened beverages: soda, energy drinks, fruit juice cocktails, alcoholic mixers, sweet tea, sweetened smoothies, sugary coffee-based drinks, and milk shakes
  • Packaged snacks: cereal, gummy snacks, pretzels, and cereal bars
  • Overly processed foods: french fries, chips, most frozen meals, toaster pastries, pizza dough, and cereal
  • Confections and candy: ice cream, cake, brownies, and cookies
  • White pasta, vermicelli, fideo, and couscous

A Balanced Diet Is Key

A balanced diet is key to experiencing good health and wellness. To thrive, consider what’s best for you, not just what’s good enough. If eating clean isn’t helping you meet your health goals, consider fasting. I designed a Vegan Ketogenic Fast to help the body release stored toxins and reset.

What’s your take on carbohydrates? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts with us.

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Biofilms in the Body

Biofilms form in the different areas like the appendix, mouth, lungs and the colon.

Long before you became a part of your community and, hopefully, a contributing member of society, there were the original communities, which were made of a network of bacteria. The inhabitants of these worked together to ensure the survival of as many members as possible. Today, these communities are called biofilms and they’re found almost anywhere they can survive. Fossil records indicate they’re at least 3.25 million years old, and they’ve been with us ever since.[1]

What Are Biofilms?

Biofilms are slimy, microbial strongholds that grow in aqueous environments and typically adhere to surfaces. If you’ve ever taken a microbiology lab, you’ve probably seen sticky glue-like substances grow in Petri dishes after performing a smear. The small slimy colonies smeared on plates are biofilms. They’re inhabited by tiny individual microbial colonies of bacteria, yeast, or algae. Outside the lab, the types of surfaces biofilms stick to range from the interior of sink pipes to boat hulls, the exterior of rocks and leaves, and even areas of the body like your teeth and tissues. Some well-known examples you might be familiar with include pond scum, mildew, kombucha SCOBYs, and dental plaque.

Biofilms help ensure the survival of the various microscopic organism species that they’re composed of by decreasing their chances of being removed or eliminated by soaps, antiseptic detergents, and antibiotics. Usually, only the surface or edges of the biofilm are affected, protecting the deeper layers of microorganisms and slime from removal. This presents a health concern if the biofilm contains harmful microorganisms. In fact, some researchers believe that some persistent or recurring infections may result from stubborn biofilms in the body that evade immune defenses.[2]

Biofilms aren’t all bad, though. Beneficial biofilms in your gut provide a stable colony of probiotic bacterial and fungal species that prevent harmful colonies from gaining a foothold in your gut ecosystem. Biofilms develop in the appendix, mouth, vagina, colon, ear canals, lungs, and nasal passages. Despite being a seemingly dry tissue, your skin harbors a community of S. epidermidis in a biofilm structure found throughout the outer layers of your epidermis.[3]

How Do Biofilms Form?

The microorganisms most people are familiar with are planktonic, or free floating, organisms. The formation of a biofilm usually begins when a single planktonic microbe tenuously clings to a surface. In the body, this typically means a given microbe finds a molecular handhold called an adhesion site on a surface (epithelial) cell of one of your tissues or organs, but microbes can also cling to the mucous layer that covers certain tissues. From here, other microbes begin linking to the original.[4]

This small collection of microorganisms forms a settlement on the surface by secreting a substance called extracellular polymeric substance (EPS), which is made of enzymes, DNA, proteins, and sugar molecules called polysaccharides. It’s kind of like microbial terraforming. They make your body a more hospitable environment for more microbial cells and act as a sort of spider’s web, preventing microbial cells from dislodging from the matrix. Notably, these colonies are more slime than cells. Only about 15% of a given biofilm is made up of cells. The remaining 85% is comprised of the slimy EPS matrix.[3]

This network of microbes and slime develops channels to transport nutrients and water to the microcolonies embedded within it, much like how the blood vessels in your body supply your cells with nutrients. These cells almost function as an organ by communicating with each other using the slimy matrix to deliver chemical messenger molecules, a mechanism called quorum sensing, This chemical communication leads to gene regulation, in which genes are activated and inactivated as needed to preserve the biofilm or help it grow.[3, 5]

Just like the mildew in your shower, biofilms grow. They form a stronger hold on their surface, making them more difficult to wipe out. This is an excellent characteristic for health-promoting biofilms, but it’s alarming when harmful microbes plant their flag in your body to start settling down.

Healthy Biofilms in the Gut

Your gut is uniquely suited to biofilm formation since the lining of the intestine is covered with a mucous gel-layer that protects your gut microbes. Gut microbes can infiltrate this layer to set up stable colonies. Notably, microbes are rarely able to fully breach the protective mucous layers throughout your body to reach the underlying epithelial cells. In the gut, your immune system appears to encourage biofilm formation by secreting immunoglobulin A (IgA), an immune protein that makes bacteria stick together, or agglutinate. This phenomenon encourages stable microbial composition and inhibits the growth of harmful organisms.[3, 6, 7]

Some researchers think that intestinal biofilms are another line of intestinal defense. They simultaneously assist the development of biofilms, but also prevent microorganisms and undesirable substances and molecules from crossing into the body from the colon. You can think of them as a sort of sealant that protects a potentially porous tissue from being infiltrated, like a wood varnish that seals out water to prevent mildew.[8]

Biofilms Harmful to Your Health

Unfortunately, biofilms and the mucous layers they assimilate with also protect harmful microbes from being eliminated. In fact, a harmful gut ecosystem might be more challenging to balance because the mucous layer that coats the intestines tends to thicken to defend your surface cells from inflammation-provoking substances, foods, drugs, and microbes. This gives the unhealthy microbes a larger mucous layer in which to proliferate. The microbes huddle down, guarded by their biofilm matrix, to weather whatever immune defenses your body tries.[2]

The Effects of Harmful Biofilms

Harmful biofilms protect harmful organisms from physical removal, immune activity, antimicrobials, and antibiotics. Not only do they allow unchecked harmful organism overgrowth, but they also impede the development of health-promoting biofilms. In the presence of harmful biofilms, there is potential for increased virulence due to gene transfer between cells in the biofilm.

Biofilms have proven frustratingly resistant to efforts to thwart or address organism overgrowth. They are especially worrying for people with cystic fibrosis and chronic sinus infections due to the great quantities of mucus generated that can quickly become a safe harbor for harmful microbes.[2]

An Example of Harmful Biofilm: Dental Plaque

One easily observed biofilm is found right in your mouth. Dental plaque is a biofilm that tends to harbor acid-producing microbial species. If you don’t remove it regularly by brushing, flossing consistently, and seeing the dentist, the acid these microbes produce can damage your teeth. Poor dental hygiene leads to bad breath, tooth decay, dental cavities, and gum disease. It may also contribute to the incidence and severity of respiratory conditions in people with weak immune systems when biofilm is transferred from the mouth to the lungs.[9, 10]

Although you can’t sterilize your teeth, you can physically remove oral biofilms, yeast, and bacteria by brushing and flossing after every meal. Eliminate sticky candies, refined sugar, and refined carbs from your diet to discourage the harmful bacteria like Streptococcus mutans from dominating your mouth microbiota. These kinds of food cling to your teeth and feed harmful oral bacteria. Stay hydrated to prevent dry mouth, a condition that also contributes to stable harmful colonies.[9]

Going even further, you can try to nourish helpful oral bacteria growth like Streptococcus salivarius by eating fermented foods, probiotics, and cutting down on the alcohol-based mouthwashes which indiscriminately wipe out both healthy and harmful oral microbes.

How to Encourage Healthy Biofilms

Biofilms can occur almost anywhere that microorganisms live on your body. Therefore, it’s essential to promote healthy biofilms in the gut and reduce your chances of developing harmful biofilms in other areas of the body with good (but not excessive) hygiene, a strong immune system, and a healthy diet. Managing biofilms in your body often requires actions specific to the tissue or area, like brushing your teeth. Consult your healthcare practitioner if you suspect harmful biofilms may be affecting your health.

Research is still emerging for solutions to biofilms in difficult to reach tissues, so there aren’t any hard and fast recommendations to address them. That said, aromatic phytochemicals like thymol, eugenol, carvacrol, and cymene have distinct biofilm-inhibiting properties, and they’re easy to incorporate into your diet.

Consume herbs and spices like thyme, oregano, and cloves to get these beneficial phytochemicals, along with many conutrients like terpenes, into your diet. You can consume the oils of these spices by adding a tiny drop to a pot of fragrant tea or a large jar of homemade salad dressing. Look to your food first to preserve your health. Relying on a diverse health-promoting diet provides you with a complementary array of active phytonutrients that offer a multi-pronged approach to keep you in excellent health.[11, 12, 13, 14]

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