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Posts Tagged ‘metabolism’

The next few posts will explore the role and important relationships of fat and oils  (together called lipids) in our bodies and our metabolism; what they are, where they’re located, what are “good” fats and what are “bad” fats, and some of the myths and misinformation relating to fats.  I’ll try and give you at least a short version of the skinny on fats.

There’s a story out there that fat is bad. It’s ugly, it’s nasty, it maims and kills, and nutritionally, we should stay as far away from it as we can. Well, guess what? All that’s not true. Fat is our friend  and we can’t live without it.  In fact, we’re “meant” to eat fat.

While water may be the most underutilized nutrient, fat is probably the most neglected, rejected and least understood.  So, why all the fuss about fat?  Because it’s involved in so many (dare I say most?) metabolic processes in some way, shape or form (and fat takes on all kinds of shapes and forms for being such a simple molecule).

For starters, most of our brain is fat (more than 50%), and our neurons could not function or fire without it.  About 75-80% of the myelin sheath that surrounds all of our nerve cells is made up of fatty acids.  Being a fat head is really a complement (to good health).

Fats are highly protective of our organs, giving cushioning and shock absorption to vulnerable tissues and cells.  With all of the jarring and jostling that our bodies take each day, fat softens the blows, making for happier, healthier organs.

Fats are the precursors and building blocks of many of our hormones, that complex chemical web of communication that tirelessly gives and receives messages for our myriad metabolic processes, like growth, reproduction, energy production and storage, construction and destruction of building blocks, fight and flight responses, pleasure, pain and on and on.  What would puberty be like without fat to get things stirring?

Fats are necessary for healthy liver function.  Both healthy cholesterol and bile are made from fat (cholesterol is found in nearly every cell of our body and is the main building block of most hormones).  Bile, which is made from fat, is also responsible for breaking down fats in our digestive processes, so that fats can be easily absorbed into our blood stream.  Bile is part of the great fat recycling system.

Fat is needed for the absorption of all of the “fat soluble” vitamins — A, E, D, and K.  These vitamins are instrumental in supporting healthy hair, teeth, bones, immune system function, calcium balance, cell growth, blood balance and clotting, antioxidant support and anti-aging qualities, amongst other things.

Fats are also imperative for managing anti-inflammatory responses.  The biochemical pathways for both inflammation and anti-inflammation start with good, healthy, and specific fatty acids.  Many practitioners see systemic and specific inflammation as the leading cause of many degenerative diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

Fats supply a slow and steady source of energy.  While carbohydrates burn quickly (like the kindling on a fire), fats burn at a more even pace (like a log on the fire), which gives a much more sustained form of energy (and therefore is more satiating).  Fats actually keep you from eating too much (unlike carbs).

Maybe the most important single characteristic of good fats is their role in the structure of every cell in our bodies.  Each of our 40-50 trillion cells has a membrane which serves as the brain and communication hub of the cell (much more important in many ways than the cell’s nucleus).  This cell membrane is made up of a phospholipid, or fat layer, that helps to protect and define the cell.  When we consume “bad” fats, such as hydrogenated oils, this membrane becomes compromised and the cell does not function effectively.

And, finally, fats  just plain taste good.  Humans have a natural attraction to fats (even though we’ve been told to avoid them like the plague, for the past 30 to 40 years).  Our hunting and gathering ancestors often went for the organ meats and fatty tissues first, and ate the lean meats as “leftovers” after making a kill.  Traditional societies still relish fats as the major nutrient in their diets.

Next time we’ll look at the many different types of fats, how they differ, and what makes a “good” fat and a “bad” fat.

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Toxicity—we’re surrounded by it, infused with it, breathe it, drink it and live with it on a daily basis.  This has been the way it’s always been (pretty much from the beginning of “life on earth”).  42-15534096It’s part and parcel of  balance and homeostasis: there are the creating or nutritive elements of life, and then there are the destroying or toxic elements.  All part of the ebb and flow of the cyles of life.

However, in recent years, starting about 200 years ago with industrialization and intensifying greatly about 60-70 years ago, toxins have played an increasingly important role in the “cost-benefit” analysis of life on earth, including our own health.

Toxins

A toxin is basically any substance that creates irritating and/or harmful effects in the body.  Toxins come from external sources (like air pollution) and internal sources (like cellular wastes).

Toxicity can occur from the side effects of drugs or from patterns of physiology that are different from our usual functioning.

Most drugs, food additives, and allergens can create toxic elements in the body.  In fact, any substance can create toxic elements in the body if overindulged or used in an unbalanced manner: even basic substances such as water, sodium, and almost all nutrients under certain circumstances.

Traditions of Detoxification

Purification/cleansing processes have been around for thousands of years.  Techniques include fasting, saunas and sweat lodges, herbs, water, rest and meditation, enemas, exercise, and a variety of bodywork techniques.

Detoxification occurs on many levels:

  • Physically: Assists the body in clearing congestion, illnesses and disease potential.  It can also improve energy
  • Emotionally: Helps uncover and express feelings, especially hidden frustrations, anger, resentments, or fear, and replace them with forgiveness, love, joy and hope.
  • –Spiritually:  Many people experience new clarity and/or an enhancement of their purpose in life.

Ayurveda (India) Perhaps the oldest organized health system around, the word means “wisdom” or “science” of health and teaches that the fundamental cause of disease is toxins in the system and has two types of treatment for eliminating toxins:

panchakarma

  • Pancha karma: Physical elimination processes such as purgatives and medicated enemas
  • Palliation:  Therapies that neutralize toxins such as fasting, herbs, exercise or sunbathing

Hippocratic Medicine (Greece) started about 500 BC with the beginnings of western philosophy and ideas, and grew into the first principles of western scientific medicine.

  • The Hippocratic Greeks  believed health depended on an equilibrium between the four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.
  • Early treatments (such as bloodletting, massage, and fasting) focused on cleansing and balancing techniques to reestablish humoral equilibrium.

Purification Rituals (Native America)

  • Sweatlodge: An enclosure physically similar to a steam sauna that induces sweating and therefore the release of toxins.
  • Smudging: Smoke from burning sage is waved around a person to eliminate negative energy.
  • Fasting: Used to purify oneself before ritual ceremonies .

Where toxins go in the body

While toxins can be, and are, stored in every one of our 10 to 40 trillion body cells, some parts of the body are especially problematic.  These include our fat cells (where many types of toxins are put in storage), liver cells (which has so much to do with detoxifying processes), our skin (the largest organ of our body and where many toxins migrate), our brain (so important for all nervous system processes and made up mostly of toxin attracting fats), and the cell membranes of all of those trillions of cells (cell membranes are also predominantly made up of fatty acids).

Organs and systems of detoxification

Because of the natural balance between nourishing/metabolic support and cleansing/catabolic processes, many of the body’s organs and organ systems are involved with detoxification.

These include the organs of elimination such as the lungs, the digestive system (especially the stomach and colon), the urinary system (comprised of the kidneys and bladder and very importantly, the skin).

It also includes the internal “freeway” systems of the body, made up of the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system, liver, gallbladder, and the multifaceted immune system.

So, what is detoxification, anyway?

Right out of my classes in Nutritional Therapy come the Big Ideas of Detoxification:

        1.  Detoxification is a parasympathetic process

–this means it works most effectively while we’re sleeping at night and when we’re in a calm and relaxed state

        2. Detoxification frees vital cellular and organ activities to function productively and efficiently

–this is kind of like clearing out your closet to make way for new clothes; as long as physiological “clutter” clogs up our cells and cellular processes, our systems can’t function in an optimal way

        3. NEVER, ever, ever, detoxify without addressing The Foundations first (digestion, sugar handling, hydration, mineral needs and fatty acid balance)….ALL elimination pathways must be open –Otherwise systems will back up and create even more problems (don’t attempt a major detox if you’re constipated, your bile is not moving, you have serious bladder infections, etc.).  Moving into gentle detoxing, as I’ll explain later, though, can be extremely helpful.

Next time we’ll look at the effect of toxins on the main foundations and discuss some gentle, yet powerful, detoxing regimins that I think you’ll all find very helpful in reducing toxic build-up and keeping the toxins in us to a minimum.

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