The standard lipid panel consists of four different numbers – total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides. LDL and HDL refer to ‘low density lipoprotein’ and ‘high density lipoprotein’ respectively. LDL and HDL are the carrier proteins for cholesterol in the body and help to make sure the fat from our diets ends up in the cells needing the energy. Triglycerides are fat molecules circulating in the bloodstream. When triglycerides in the bloodstream are abnormally elevated due to poor diet, obesity, or type 2 diabetes, there is more deposition of fat in the tissues leading to weight gain. Total cholesterol is the sum of LDL, HDL and 20% of your triglyceride level. Looking at the values of these different numbers can give valuable clues into heart disease risk and overall metabolic health.  

When assessing a lipid panel, I like to use the numbers offered by functional medicine practitioner, Dr. Catherine Shanahan, M.D. in her excellent book, Deep Nutrition: Why Your Genes Need Traditional Foods. She suggests the following optimal lab values for the standard lipid panel: 

-Triglycerides less than 150. 

-HDL greater than 45 in men and greater than 50 in women. 

-LDL: HDL ratio less than 3 to 1. 

A high total cholesterol is not concerning if the ratio of LDL to HDL is maintained below 3.  Likewise, a high LDL number does not necessarily indicate an increased risk of heart disease if the ratio is maintained. It’s important to remember the gold standard test to determine the health of your lipid cycle is the LDL particle size count. The test assesses for damage to LDL particles – a damaged LDL particle is a smaller one. Damaged LDL particles are more likely to cause inflammatory reactions in the arterial walls leading to plaque formation and atherosclerosis. The LDL particle size count is rarely ordered by physicians due to the cost, however it remains the best test for assessing heart disease risk. 

Many physicians put their patients on a class of drugs called a statin which decreases the body’s natural production of cholesterol, especially the type of cholesterol bound to LDL particles. The problem with this is cholesterol is an important building block for many cells in the body including our steroid hormones which include testosterone, estrogen, and cortisol among others. Additionally, the brain contains the highest amount of cholesterol on the body, meaning lowering cholesterol with a statin drug may impair brain function and induce cognitive decline.  Statins come with a host of side effects including muscle aches and pains, altered liver enzymes due to liver damage, and increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is why it is so important to match your most recent lipid panel up with the numbers I give above before agreeing to start taking a statin drug. In future posts I will explain some of the diet and lifestyle factors you can adopt to help normalize the levels in your lipid panel without having to take a statin drug.  

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here

Goal setting has been touted as the most effective way to achieve success in life.  We’ve been told to write them down, stick them to our refrigerator door and even to write them on our bathroom mirror.  You’ve heard that goals should be SMART – specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time oriented.  I even wrote a blog post on effective goal setting.  Recently, I’ve moved away from goal setting with both myself and my patients, focusing instead on daily habit formation and the implementation of routines that set you up for success now and in the future.  The inspiration for this change came after listening to the Atomic Habits audiobook by James Clear.  Clear argues that goals are easily procrastinated upon, and can often be too daunting to even get started in the right direction.  By focusing on daily habits and routines, you will improve yourself each day, setting yourself up to achieve success and ultimately to conquer even the loftiest of goals. 

The problem with goal setting

One of the main problems I see with goal setting is that time oriented goals are susceptible to procrastination.  If my goal is to lose 20 lbs. by the end of the year, it’s very easy to let myself wait until 6 or even 3 months are left in the year to start working towards the goal.  Why start now when I have an entire year to accomplish my goal?  A goal that is set out over a year may lose steam after a couple of months, which is what I commonly see with patients looking to make health changes at the beginning of the New Year.  Everyone knows that you will see more people out walking in your neighborhood or exercising at the gym in January, February and March only for it to taper off as the year progresses.  Rather than setting a time oriented goal, instead pick daily habits that will incrementally help you achieve whatever you envision for yourself.

Define your ideal self

Before completely throwing away your list of goals, make sure you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want for yourself.  Envision your ideal job, body composition, and skill set.  Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years?  Where do you want to be financially?  How do you define your ideal self?  Once you’ve established these parameters, you are better suited to implementing daily habits that align with this vision.  If you envision yourself as having a fit and healthy body, implementing a daily habit that helps you save money or be more organized doesn’t necessarily bring you closer to your vision.  Instead, for weight loss, pick habits such as a consistent gym routine, a healthy breakfast at the same time each morning, or reading a book before bed to help promote optimal sleep and recovery.  

Do this instead

As stated previously, the alternative to goal setting is the implementation of daily habits and routines.  Habit formation is beneficial because it focuses on daily growth.  If we aim to grow and improve ourselves little by little each day, the culmination of consistent work will be incredible in the long term.  We may not notice the improvements on a day to day, micro level, however, if we step back after a year and look at the macro improvement the results are substantial.  True growth and change does not come with drastic lifestyle changes such as an extreme 10 day fast or juice cleanse but rather with small steps each day in the right direction.  

 

Next, I show you how to reframe your goals into daily habit formation.

Goal #1: ‘I want to lose 20 lbs. before summer’

Habit: I will work to implement a habit where I do 3 sets x 15 push-ups in the morning followed by drinking a 16 ounce glass of water.  

Habit: Weather permitting, I will go outside in the morning for a 10 minute walk in the sunshine before work.

(First morning exercise and sunshine stimulates cortisol release and helps to regulate our circadian rhythm.  Sufficient cortisol release in the AM will decrease cravings for fried and sugary foods in the evening which occurs if cortisol levels remain high.)

Habit: I will place a pan, plate, and eating utensils out in my kitchen before I go to bed each night.  Already having the pan on the stove increases the likelihood that I will cook a homemade breakfast and adopt a more consistent eating schedule that includes breakfast each day.

 

Goal #2: ‘I want to increase my sales at work by 15% this year’

Habit: I will wake up at the same time every day to ensure a consistent sleep schedule and to increase my productivity at work. 

Habit: I will call 2 potential new clients each day prior to leaving for lunch.

Habit: I will send a thank you card to 2 existing clients each week thanking them for their business.  

For work related goals, consider setting up a daily, weekly, and monthly checklist in a binder or whiteboard to track progress of tasks to be completed.  Make these tasks part of your habits at work and you will see your productivity increase.

 

Goal #3: ‘I want to improve my relationship with my parents’ 

Habit: Each morning I will practice gratitude by writing down 3 things in my life that I am grateful as part of a journaling routine. 

Habit: I will call one of my parents every Friday after work to check in.

 

Goal #4: ‘I want to be more organized’

Habit: Each morning I will make my bed as the first task to be completed in my day.  Making your bed each morning sets yourself up for success throughout the rest of your day and helps you to establish a task completion mindset.

Habit: Each morning when my coffee is brewing I will take 5 minutes to tidy up my living room so I leave for work with an organized living space. 

 

Goal #5: ‘I want to get better sleep this year’

Habit: I will develop a habit where I turn off all electronics at least 1 hour before bed time.  Blue light exposure stimulates cortisol release at the wrong time of day and will make falling and staying asleep more difficult. 

Habit: Prior to going to bed I will write out tomorrow’s ‘To Do’ list in a journal that I keep by my night stand.  Getting tomorrow’s tasks written down will give you peace of mind and allow your brain to turn off before going to sleep.

Habit: I will read for 20 minutes before bed.  Reading, especially fiction, gives your brain a singular point of focus, and helps you get your mind off of the day’s stresses.  

 

I hope this article gives you valuable insight into daily habit formation and the power it can have.  I finish with a quote from W.H. Auden – ‘Routine, in an intelligent man (or woman), is a sign of ambition.’

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here

Despite the chaos of 2020, the coming holiday season brings with it a time for self reflection, family bonding, and solidarity within the community. For many, personal health initiatives such as dietary, lifestyle, or exercise improvements go on pause during the holiday season, only to be resurrected come the new year.  To avoid taking steps backwards during the holidays, I’d like to offer some suggestions to make the end of 2020 your healthiest yet.

Gym Alternatives

Many people still feel uncomfortable going to the gym. However, not having access to a gym is not an excuse to let your fitness goals go unaccomplished. There are numerous ways to get an excellent workout from the safety and comfort of your own home with no equipment at all. One option is to perform a 15 to 30 minute guided yoga, tai chi, or qi gong class.  Each practice combines controlled movements with deep breathing and can help with stress and anxiety, as well as improve blood flow throughout the body. There are hundreds of free classes you can take on YouTube, turning your home into your own yoga studio. I personally enjoy the  Yoga With Adrienne YouTube Channel which has classes for all different skill levels and even has sports specific classes that cater to what you love most.

Another excellent alternative to going to the gym is to perform an at home bodyweight exercise circuit. You can create a challenging workout with no equipment necessary. Make sure to include movements such as the body weight squat, body weight forward and reverse lunge, wall sits, planks, side planks, and push-ups. Here is a sample home exercise routine that is a great alternative to going to the gym: 

Perform 3 rounds of: 

10 body weight squats

20 reverse lunges (10 each leg) 

15 push-ups

30 second wall sit 

30 second front plank 

30 second side plank (each side) 

(Rest for 2 minutes between each round)

Once this circuit becomes easy, you can add additional rounds, increase repetitions, extend the time for the planks and wall-sits, and decrease rest time between each round. You can also add more explosive movements such as jump squats, speed skaters, jumping lunges, clap push-ups, and burpees. If you have someone to join you for a home workout, have them provide manual resistance to make exercises such as the push-up and planks more difficult. 

You’ll be amazed at the quality of workout you can get once you start being creative and learn how to use your own body weight to your advantage!

Holiday Sweets Alternatives

Make this holiday season your healthiest yet by choosing these delicious alternatives to the sugar laden treats of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Each of these options is low in refined sugar and absent of harmful vegetable oils. These ‘desserts’ will leave you feeling energized instead of fatigued and mentally sluggish.

  • Dark chocolate and nut butter 
    • Opt for a dark chocolate that is 85% cocoa content or higher to limit the amount of sugar. 
      • Cocoa is an excellent source of nutritional antioxidants, bioflavonoids, and arginine which helps improve blood flow. It is also a great source of healthy saturated fat.
    • For the nut butter, do your best to choose a freshly ground, organic option.  Make sure the sugar content is 3 grams or less per serving or more ideally, none.  
      • Nut butters are an exceptional source of healthy fats and also are protective against heart disease and type 2 diabetes due to their high fiber and magnesium contents.  
  • Sliced apples fried in coconut oil with cinnamon
    • Over medium heat, sauté your thinly sliced apples in coconut oil until golden brown on each side. Sprinkle with cinnamon and enjoy by themselves or with unsweetened greek yogurt or whipped heavy cream from an unpasteurized milk source.
      • Apples are a great source of vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.  Regular apple consumption is consistently associated with lower rates of heart disease, cancer, asthma, and type 2 diabetes.
      • Cinnamon’s health benefits, which come from the oils in its barks, include reduced risk of heart disease, improved insulin sensitivity and decreased risk of type 2 diabetes. It also acts as a nutritional antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.  
      • Coconut oil is a top choice for healthy saturated fats and also has a high smoke point which makes it ideal for cooking.  
  • Paleo nut energy bars 

Connect with your family and community 

Staying connected socially is very important not only to the health of the body, but also the mind. Human beings crave connection, social interaction, and a sense of community. Consequently, the health of our bodies will suffer if we cannot maintain these connections. Having a positive interaction with your community is vitally important for your health. Steps you can take to improve your personal relationships, as well as with your community include sending a handwritten letter to a relative you haven’t spoken to for awhile, volunteering at a local food or clothing drive, helping an elderly neighbor with landscaping or other small maintenance job at their house, or preparing one of the desserts above to surprise your neighbors with a healthy treat! 

This holiday season could not come at a more vital time in our society. I encourage you to use these next couple months to treat your body and mind with care and to create a greater sense of unity in your family and communities.

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.

As we move into summer and start spending more time outdoors, it’s important to educate yourself on proper sunscreen usage, as well as the health benefits from sensible sun exposure. It is important to find a balance between harnessing the health benefits of sunshine while protecting your skin and body from UV radiation damage. Excessive sun exposure is linked to multiple forms of cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. To help prevent these skin cancers, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) suggests applying sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher 30 minutes before going outside and then reapplying every 2 hours while outside. Sunscreen is to be applied to all areas of the skin not covered by clothing. While these guidelines from the AAD should not be ignored, it is critical to address the consequences of effectively eliminating all sun exposure, such as vitamin D deficiency. The goal of this article is to move away from the ‘sun is dangerous’ paradigm which is promoted by the AAD.  While excessive sun exposure may cause skin damage, the negative health consequences with avoiding sunshine are much more concerning for our overall health.  

Vitamin D deficiency and cancer

It is estimated that upwards of 40% of American adults are vitamin D deficient, which is defined as having a serum level below 20 ng/mL 4.  Using 30 ng/mL as the cutoff for vitamin D insufficiency, it is estimated 75% of American adults and teens do not meet this mark.  Most functional medicine doctors recommend an optimal range of 60-80 ng/mL, which would place more than 90% of Americans in the sub-optimal category for vitamin D levels. Optimal vitamin D levels are protective against many forms of disease including cancer, heart disease, infection, autoimmune diseases like lupus, celiacs, multiple sclerosis, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and ALS.  Research shows breast cancer and vitamin D deficiency are closely associated, and one study showed women with a vitamin D level higher than 60 ng/mL were 83% less likely to develop the disease 9. Vitamin D is one of the body’s most potent anti-cancer fighting compounds. With most of America already vitamin D deficient or insufficient, and spending much more time indoors compared to our ancestors, it is dangerous to completely cover our skin with sunscreen.  In effect, we are blocking the production of one of our most potent anti-cancer fighting compounds by wearing sunscreen every day, placing us at an even greater risk of developing all forms of cancer, including skin cancer. Individuals with darker skin need even more exposure to sunshine because the increased melanin content in the skin slows the rate of vitamin D production. 

Nutrition and skin cancer

One of the best ways to protect our bodies from skin cancer is to make sure we are eating a diet rich in the antioxidants designed to protect us from cancer cell growth and proliferation. Excessive exposure to UV radiation can lead to free radical formation which damage all cell types and cause inflammation and the potential for cancer. Firstly, foods with high concentrations of the flavonoid proanthocyanidin are particularly useful in protecting our body from UV radiation damage and skin cancer 2.  Proanthocyanidins act in the body as an antioxidant, anticancer, antidiabetic, and antimicrobial compound 6. Foods highest in proanthocyanidins include blackberries, blueberries, marionberries, huckleberries, grape seeds, hawthorn berries, rose hips, and pine bark.  

Another food compound which is effective at preventing skin cancer is the flavonoid apigenin 1Apigenin also acts as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound and specifically protects our skin from UV radiation damage.  The best food sources of apigenins include chamomile, apples, oranges, celery, onions, and endive. Opt for a bottle of iced chamomile tea during your next day out in the sun!  

The last compound to mention is resveratrol.  Made popular for the health benefits associated with drinking red wine, resveratrol is a potent anti-oxidant and anti-cancer fighting compound.  Resveratrol promotes healthy cell differentiation, and being that abnormal cell division is one of the bases for tumor formation, resveratrol is exceedingly important for protecting ourselves from all types of cancer. The best dietary sources of resveratrol include grapes, cranberries, blueberries, red and white wine, peanuts, and cocoa.  If individuals make a conscious effort to increase the consumption of these foods, skin damage and the potential for developing cancer will significantly be reduced. 

Benefits of sunshine

There are many health benefits from regular, sensible sunshine exposure. In addition to vitamin D production, UV rays from the sun stimulate the production of melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH) which increases skin pigmentation and sexual arousal, as well as suppresses appetite 1.  For patients looking to lose weight, 10 minutes of direct sunlight exposure first thing in the morning assists hormone production and Circadian rhythm.  Additionally, UV rays produce beta-endorphins and natural opiates which help decrease pain and inflammation, and promote relaxation in the body 1.  Natural opiates and beta-endorphins produced within the body are stronger and more effective than pharmaceutical pain killers that often come with a host of side effects and risk of dependency.  Finally, UV rays help our body produce calcitonin, a vasodilatory peptide which helps protect the body’s cardiovascular system from problems such as high blood pressure (hypertension) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) 1.  With the multitude of drugs aimed at weight loss, sexual dysfunction, hypertension, CVD and chronic pain, more attention should be paid to direct sun exposure as a clinically viable intervention for these conditions. 

Avoid oxybenzone 

When purchasing a sunscreen, make sure to avoid products containing oxybenzone. Research shows that oxybenzone is an endocrine disruptor, meaning it alters your body’s hormonal system. Alterations in the hormonal system can lead to an array of detrimental health conditions including weight gain, chronic fatigue, altered pregnancy, sexual dysfunction and cancer among others 8.  Not only does oxybenzone act as an endocrine disruptor itself, it also enhances your body’s absorption of other hormone disrupting chemicals such as toxic herbicides, pesticides, and insect repellants 5.  Oxybenzone can damage our hormonal system and increase the risk of all kinds of cancer including skin cancer.  Other active ingredients highly absorbable into the bloodstream that can potentially pose a threat to your health include avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule 10.

What should I use? 

After reading this article, you may want to throw away your sunscreen and lay in the sun for hours on end with minimal clothing. Do not do this!  While the benefits of sun exposure are immense, the potential for skin damage is still prevalent.  If you are planning to spend more than 20 minutes in direct sunlight, make sure to apply non-nanoscale zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. Non-nanoscale means the sunscreen will not easily absorb through your skin and into your bloodstream like traditional sunscreens with microscopic particles that easily cross the skin barrier.  If kept on the surface, zinc oxide and titanium dioxide are safe on your endocrine system.  That being said, if absorbed into your bloodstream, both compounds can have similar detrimental effects as oxybenzone, so make sure to buy the non-nanoscale version!  Pay special attention to areas like the nose, top of the ears, shoulders, and back of the neck, because these areas are often exposed to more sun.  We recommend the sun care products from the company Badger Healthy Body Care due to their high quality and avoidance of toxic chemicals like oxybenzone.  

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here

References

  1. Greenfield, B. (N.d.) Is the Sun the Ultimate Source of Health and Vitality or just a Giant Orange Cancer Circle in the Sky?  Ben Greenfield Fitness.  Retrieved from: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/article/lifestyle-articles/natural-sun-protection-foods/
  1. Katiyar, S.K. (2015).  Proanthocyanidins from grape seeds inhibit UV-radiation-induced immune suppression in mice: detection and analysis of molecular and cellular targets.  Photochemistry.  Photobiology., 91 (2015), pp/ 156-162. 
  1. Mercola, J. (2020). Sunscreen Safety Questioned Yet Again.  Mercola.  Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2020/02/05/oxybenzone-sunscreen.aspx
  1. Mercola, J. (2019).  Top 5 Signs of Vitamin D Deficiency.  Mercola.  Retrieved from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2019/01/01/signs-of-vitamin-d-deficiency.aspx
  1. Pont AR, Charron AR, Brand RM. Active ingredients in sunscreens act as topical penetration enhancers for the herbicide 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2004;195(3):348‐354. doi:10.1016/j.taap.2003.09.021
  1. Rauf, A. Et al. (2019).  Proanthocyanidins: A Comprehensive Review.  Biomedicine & Pharmacology. Vol. 116. August 2019, 108999
  1. Sunscreen FAQs. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology.  Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/public/everyday-care/sun-protection/sunscreen-patients/sunscreen-faqs
  1. The Trouble With Ingredients in Sunscreen. (N.d.).  Environmental Working Group (EWG).  Retrieved from: https://www.ewg.org/sunscreen/report/the-trouble-with-sunscreen-chemicals/
  1. McDonnell SL, Baggerly CA, French CB, Baggerly LL, Garland CF, et al. (2018) Breast cancer risk markedly lower with serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations ≥60 vs <20 ng/ml (150 vs 50 nmol/L): Pooled analysis of two randomized trials and a prospective cohort. PLOS ONE 13(6): e0199265. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0199265
  2. Matta MK, Zusterzeel R, Pilli NR, et al. Effect of Sunscreen Application Under Maximal Use Conditions on Plasma Concentration of Sunscreen Active Ingredients: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. 2019;321(21):2082–2091. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.5586

It’s no secret we are living in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now more than ever, individuals need to take every possible measure to ensure the health of themselves and their loved ones. This post will focus on the steps you can take to stay healthy by boosting your immune system with diet and supplementation, sunlight exposure, exercise, and staying connected socially without in-person contact. 

Double Down on Vitamin C

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) acts in a multitude of ways in the body. Firstly, vitamin C is required for the manufacture of collagen, a protein which is responsible for holding body tissues together such as cartilage, connective tissue, ligaments, tendons, skin, hair, and nails. Additionally, vitamin C is exceedingly important for wound healing, healthy teeth and gums, immune function, and it also acts as a nutritional antioxidant. With specific focus on the immune system, vitamin C has been shown to improve white blood cell function and increase the body’s antibody response. It also increases interferon, which acts as the body’s natural antiviral and anticancer compound. In fact, interferon gets its name from its ability to interfere with viral replication. 

Foods highest in vitamin C include fruits such as guava, persimmons, strawberries, papaya, oranges, and grapefruit. Vegetables rich in vitamin C include red chili and red sweet peppers, dark leafy greens like kale, collared greens, and spinach, parsley, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage². The food with the absolute highest vitamin C content is the Acerola cherry, which is often sold in powder or supplement form. The vitamin C content in fruits and vegetables is markedly decreased with exposure to air, so eating fresh fruits and vegetables is essential.

During times of extreme stress and risk of infection, dietary sources of vitamin C may not be adequate. When choosing a supplemental form of vitamin C, make sure to use ‘liposomal’ vitamin C. The bioavailability, or the amount of a supplement your body actually absorbs, may be 20% or lower for traditional vitamin C supplements. GI upset and diarrhea is associated with consumption of high doses of traditional vitamin C.  When liposomal vitamin C is ingested, a phospholipid coating surrounds the vitamin in the GI tract. The effect of the protective coating is a much higher percentage of vitamin C absorbed, as well as less GI upset. Here’s a link to our online supplement dispensary where you can purchase the liposomal vitamin C supplement I suggest to my patients. Our favorite product is the one made by Dr. Mercola. As you might imagine, quality vitamin C supplements are in high demand right now. Even if the product is back ordered, I recommend ordering the supplement now as suppliers are promising to get new product out within the upcoming weeks.

Get More Sunlight

Getting direct sunlight is an excellent way to naturally boost your immune system. Vitamin D is more accurately defined as a hormone rather than a vitamin, since it is produced by our body in response to direct sun exposure on our skin, and has various signaling effects on many cell types in the body. The vitamin D hormone is most commonly associated with upregulating calcium absorption in the small intestine, thereby increasing the strength of our bones.  However, the vitamin D hormone has a wide array of positive benefits elsewhere in the body, as a result of cells in our bone marrow, brain, colon, breast tissue, and immune system all expressing the vitamin D receptor (VDR). Specifically, B and T cells (the two major components of our adaptive immune response) directly respond to vitamin D and upregulate our body’s ability to fight off all forms of disease¹. Not only does vitamin D help protect us from viruses, it can also halt the progression of autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, and systemic lupus. Additionally, the sun’s energy produces beta-endorphins, neuropeptides and natural opiates that regulate pain, decrease inflammation, and promote relaxation – all positive changes that strengthen our immune system and help our body combat infection. Opt for 15-20 minutes of direct sunlight exposure on as much exposed skin as possible.

Cut Out Refined Sugar

Refined sugar has a host of negative effects on the body, perhaps the most important being damage to our mitochondria and the associated oxidative damage that occurs with overloading of the electron transport chain. Oxidative damage or ‘oxidative stress’ is the result of increased free radical production in the body. Free radicals are molecules with an unpaired electron. They attack and damage healthy cells in our body, creating a state of chronic inflammation. When our body is in a constant state of low level inflammation from excessive sugar consumption, our ability to combat disease and heal wounds is significantly impaired. In fact, research suggests after consuming sucrose (white table sugar), our immune system is inhibited for six hours. Additionally, the only viable fuel source for pathogenic viruses and bacteria is sugar. Viruses and bacteria feed on sugar and multiply when placed in a high sugar environment. One of the best ways to combat viruses and bacteria is to remove their food source!  

Eat More Fermented Foods

Fermented foods are rich in natural probiotics and help replenish the beneficial bacteria that line or GI tract. The beneficial bacterial lining, also known as GI flora in our digestive tract acts as a natural barrier between the foods we eat and the insides of our body. The healthier and thicker the GI flora, the less likely pathogenic substances can enter our body and cause disease.  Naturally occurring probiotics are produced during the fermentation process in foods such as kefir, miso, kimchi, yogurt, sauerkraut, kombucha, and raw, grass-fed organic milk. Load up on these probiotic rich foods and your immune system will thank you!

Eat Garlic

Garlic is a potent antiviral, anti-bacterial, and antifungal. According to The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods, garlic is rich in vitamin B6, manganese, selenium, vitamin C, phosphorous, calcium, potassium, iron, and copper – all of which are needed for a healthy immune system.  Many of garlic’s benefits are associated with a sulfur-containing compound called allicin, which is a powerful anti-microbial. In fact, garlic has been called ‘Russian Penicillin’ due to its strong anti-microbial activity. Make sure to chop or crush the garlic and let it sit for 10 minutes before eating or cooking. Letting the chopped garlic sit for 10 minutes helps trigger the enzymatic process that transforms alliin into its active and beneficial form, allicin. 

Connect with Others 

One clear benefit of modern technology is our ability to connect socially with friends and family without having to see them in person. Utilize apps like Skype and Zoom to stay in communication with your friends and loved ones during these trying times. Staying connected socially is very important not only to the health of the body, but also the mind. Human beings crave connection, social interaction, and a sense of community. Consequently, the health of our body’s will suffer if we cannot maintain these connections. There are positive, simple ways you can stay connected with society, such as offering to do a grocery run for an elderly or at risk individual. When at the grocery store, purchase only what you need and avoid buying in excess. The next customer (and your wallet!) will thank you. Take a moment to say a prayer or perform a moment of silence for all those affected directly and indirectly by the virus. Performing small acts of kindness will keep you connected socially and add positivity to a society that desperately needs it right now. 

References 

  1. Aranow, C. (2011).  Vitamin D and the Immune System.  J Investig Med. 59(6): 881-886.
  2. Aschan, S. (2006).  Sugar: The Real Deal.  ABC News.
  3. Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2006). The encyclopedia of healing foods. Pages 112-114.

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.


The new year is a popular time for setting goals, health and lifestyle improvement, and new beginnings. We believe New Year’s resolutions offer an excellent opportunity to achieve your health and fitness objectives. Goal setting can be a tricky business, so we want to provide you with the tools you need to define, execute, and achieve your goals.  Make 2020 your best year ever and bring in the new decade with clear, focused intentions that push you towards a healthier and more fulfilling life. 

Establish Your Why

Before you start writing out your goals, you need to start by defining your ‘why’. Popularized by Simon Sinek’s excellent book, Start with Why, the idea of defining your why, or overall purpose in life, is the essential first step in goal setting.  What motivates you to succeed? Who do you want to help? What is your purpose in life? What are you truly passionate about?  Until you answer questions like these, the goals you set will lack a deeper meaning and you will be less likely to achieve them. Once you have established your why, you can align your goals with the vision for your life and how your goals directly relate to that why.

Write It Down 

In modern society seemingly all written documents are stored electronically. Everything from doctor’s chart notes, financial budgets, to the newest book on Kindle are digitized and meant to be read off of a screen. Instead of typing out your goals on a computer or cell phone, take the time to write them down on a piece of paper. There is value in writing your goals down on paper – a paper document is concrete, solid, and cannot be deleted with a stroke of your finger.  

Place this piece of paper somewhere you will see it everyday – on your desk at work, attached to the fridge, or take it a step further and tape a laminated copy of your goals on the inside wall of your shower! By seeing your goals in writing EVERYDAY you will be reminded of your goal, your why, and the ultimate purpose for achieving it. 

Write Out Action Steps for Each Goal

You can think of this as a to do list for each goal. Make one of these action steps something you can do TOMORROW. Examples of immediate action steps include purchasing a gym membership, cleaning up your resume, cleaning the junk food out of your fridge and cabinets, or calling a job or business lead. Make this first task simple to complete, so you will have zero excuses not to complete the task by the end of the next day. Subsequent action steps can be more complex and time intensive but should still have specific time frames for completion.  Giving yourself concrete deadlines will increase the likelihood you complete the action steps and ultimately achieve your goal.  

Create Goals that are: SMART

S= Specific: 

Your goal needs to be simple and specific. You should be able to answer the following questions: What do I want to accomplish with this goal?  Why do I want to accomplish this goal? What are the resources (people, monetary, time, etc.) needed to accomplish this goal? How will I know when I have completed this goal?  Once you have answered these questions you will have a clear vision of what you need to do to start on the path towards achieving your goals. 

M= Measurable:

Use specific facts, events, or metrics to clearly define your goal.  A clear and well-defined goal will better provide you with the blueprint you need to complete it. Instead of making a goal like, ‘I want to lose weight this year’, make a more specific goal such as:  ‘I want to lose 10 pounds by March and decrease my body fat percentage by 2-3%.’  

A= Attainable: 

While it’s okay to shoot for the stars, having practical goals you honestly have the resources to achieve are much more likely to be met. An unrealistic goal may demotivate you because you are asking too much of yourself. Use realistic timeframes. If your goal is going to take some time to complete, don’t give yourself a tight deadline which will ultimately end up stressing you out.  Conversely, don’t pick a goal that is overly easy to achieve. Find the sweet spot. You want a goal that will push you hard and motivate you, but not one that is so difficult it will cause stress and decreased confidence in yourself.

R= Relevant: 

Make sure your goal aligns with your life and career aspirations. Goals that do not push you towards your why feel empty and are less likely to be achieved.  By the time you’ve reached this step you should have already defined your why, and you can make sure your goals and your why are working for each other. 

T= Time Bound: 

Utilize a time frame and concrete deadlines.  As stated earlier, pick an action step to be completed by the end of the day tomorrow.  Pick another to be completed by the end of the week. Pick yet another more complex action step to be completed by the end of the month.  You can even pick goals that fall into different time frames. Write out a 1 month goal, a 6 month goal, a 1 year goal, a 5 year goal, and a 10 year goal. These goals can be interrelated or entirely separate.  Again, make sure these goals align with your why. Your 5 and 10 year goals should be intimately associated with your why because you will have had the most time to plan and execute these monumental goals.  

Ask for Help 

One of the best resources you have for completing your goals is your family and friends. Let them know what your goals are. Simply telling someone you have a certain goal is a powerful motivational tool. For added accountability, ask a family member or friend to check in with you periodically on the progress on your goal. If you have a career or skill acquisition oriented goal, find a mentor. Mentors can be a valuable asset in achieving your goals as they have likely had similar aspirations for themselves. Most mentors are more than willing to help an individual in their field as it gives them an opportunity to share the information they have worked so hard to learn. 

We hope these simple steps help you to define and conquer your goals in the New Year.  Make 2020 the best year of your life!

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.

Many patients come to me with the goal of losing weight. They have seemingly tried everything from complex dieting, hiring personal trainers and life coaches, to intense calorie restriction and juice cleanses, yet nothing seems to work. Many methods work for a month or two and then the patient reverts back to their previous way of eating, often consuming more of the unhealthiest foods as a means of compensation for months of dieting. This cycle is repeated many times until the patient is discouraged and feels like lasting change will never happen. However, with proper education and dedication towards taking small steps in the right direction, lasting change is possible. In the following blog post, I’ll outline simple ways to take steps toward losing weight and keeping it off for years to come. 

What is metabolism?

Metabolism refers to the caloric cost of all biochemical processes in the body: digestion of food, maintenance of blood pressure, regulation of body temperature, protection from pathogenic diseases, production of ATP for energy, etc.  As metabolic rate increases, the amount of calories burned each day increases as well. Basal metabolic rate or BMR refers to the amount of calories burned while at rest. If you were to lie in bed all day your body would still be using calories to perform it’s essential needs, and the amount of calories you’d burn would be your BMR.  A main goal of weight loss is to increase the patient’s BMR (metabolism at rest), that way they are using more calories during the day, even when not exercising. One of the best ways to increase BMR is through resistance (weight training) exercise.

When we perform resistance exercise of appropriate intensity, we increase the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  An increase in lean muscle mass is important because the metabolic rate is directly determined by the amount of lean muscle mass in the body.  As the percent of lean body mass increases, the metabolic rate also increases, resulting in more calories used throughout the day.  

An important point to remember is that lean muscle mass weighs more than fat.  This means that when you start performing resistance exercise, your body weight may initially increase. It is important to not get discouraged. Even though you are gaining weight, your metabolic rate is increasing and your percentage of lean muscle mass is increasing.  As metabolic rate continues to increase due to a higher percentage of lean body mass, you will eventually start to lean out and lose weight. I’ve seen too many patients get discouraged from an initial increase in weight and they end up missing out on the true benefits of resistance exercise.  

As an added bonus, one of the best ways to maintain the structure and function of your bones is through resistance exercise. Bones grow and remodel in response to external force.  You need to utilize barbells, dumbbells, kettlebells, and machine weight training to stimulate growth and repair in your bones. 

‘The Fat Burning Zone’: 

There is a common misconception that the best way to lose weight is through long duration cardio at a slow pace, such as taking long walks, slow jogging, or low level cycling on a stationary bike.  Most people have seen the charts on the treadmill or bike that highlight the ‘fat burning zone’ which supposedly gives the desired percentage of heart rate (HR) max that burns the most amount of fat.  The target zone is typically around 60% of the individual’s estimated heart rate max. While there is truth to the fact that our body’s burn more fat at lower intensities of exercise, the total amount of calories burned is much less when staying within the ‘fat burning zone’.  The amount of calories burned is more important than the percentage of fat being utilized for exercise. Higher intensity exercise such as sprints, repetitive jumping, resistance weight training, and plyometrics, burn more calories in less time and thus are more beneficial for weight loss.  

I prefer patients to perform short duration, high intensity bouts of exercise.  I’m not suggesting they completely give up taking long walks, or other forms of lower intensity exercise, but rather know the importance of getting their heart rate up and muscles firing in order to achieve a successful fat loss workout regimen.  Commonly known as high intensity interval training (HIIT), this training model uses short bouts of high intensity exercise, interspersed with brief periods of rest to reset cellular energy levels. The purpose of HIIT is to utilize and grow the body’s fast-twitch skeletal muscle fibers (type II fibers).  These fibers are responsible for sprinting, jumping, and heavy lifting, and are highly active metabolically (meaning they burn lots of calories). HIIT can be performed with running, biking, or with body weight exercises.  

A popular form of HIIT training is a Tabata workout. The classic Tabata protocol is 20 seconds of max effort high intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest.  Complete this cycle 8 times for a total workout time of 4 minutes. Exercises include squat jumps, burpees, lunges, push-ups, or any movement that can be performed repetitively and explosively.  If you are new to HIIT training, instead of jumping right into a Tabata, consider performing interval training starting at 30-45 seconds of a moderately fast pace, followed by 20 seconds of rest, for 6-8 cycles.

Decrease inflammation to lose fat

A growing body of research is linking inflammation and obesity.  Obesity leads to inflammation in the body, and inflammation makes weight loss more difficult.  Inflammation is the body’s response to injury or infection and is characterized by redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of tissue function. Inflammation can be looked at as the body’s alarm system. While an important and essential response to injury or infection, the body can kick on the inflammatory process in the absence of injury or infection.  When our body’s alarm system is in a constant state of activation, damage to tissues can occur. The most likely culprits of increased inflammation are diet, poor or absent exercise patterns, physical and mental stress, lack of sleep, and lifestyle diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.  

The common belief in human physiology for years was that after puberty, you are essentially stuck with the number of existing fat or ‘adipose’ cells in your body.  After puberty, the fat cells would only be able to shrink or grow, but the total number would stay the same your entire life. New research suggests this is not the case and that fat cells can die and even transform into other cell types such as muscle or neural tissue. This information should be very encouraging to an individual trying to lose weight. Even more interesting is the same research suggests that chronic low grade inflammation in the body makes fat cells more resistant to dying or transforming.  If the patient is seemingly doing everything, yet they are still not losing weight, look to inflammation as the culprit. Decrease inflammation in your diet by cutting out refined sugars and grains, corn, soy, pasteurized dairy, grain fed meat, and commonly used vegetable oils such as corn, peanut, safflower, and sunflower oil. Instead eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, grass fed meats, pasture raised eggs, sustainably caught wild fish, coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter, and a wide variety of spices (garlic, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, etc.).

Morning sunshine exposure

For each of my patients I recommend 10 minutes of sunshine first thing in the morning with as much skin exposure as possible. There are numerous health benefits to morning sunshine exposure, with the most important being the regulation of your circadian rhythm.  Think of your circadian rhythm as a giant clock, and at specific points in the day, certain hormones are released on a timed schedule. Cortisol, our ‘awake’ hormone, is released in the morning and is stimulated by UV light exposure from the sun on our eyes and skin. It’s important to get an adequate cortisol release in the morning to avoid elevated afternoon and night time cortisol levels. Cortisol is often wrongly referred to as our ‘stress’ hormone.  Cortisol release only causes stress when released in the afternoon and evening, when our body should naturally be shutting down and preparing for sleep. When cortisol levels are high in the afternoon, our body’s naturally crave refined sugars and unhealthy processed fats. You’ve probably noticed how you gravitate towards sweets and fast food when you are most stressed. You can avoid these cravings by making sure cortisol release in the morning is adequate.  

Leptin and ghrelin are two important hormones that also depend on an intact circadian rhythm to function properly. These hormones regulate appetite and need to be in balance if weight loss is going to be successful. Leptin is an appetite suppressor and ghrelin is an appetite stimulator. Leptin is released when our body has consumed enough energy from food and we no longer need to eat. Leptin is our satiety hormone, and tells our brain when we are full.  As you can imagine, if leptin release does not occur, we will not have the signal to stop eating and we will over consume calories and increase weight gain. Ghrelin does the opposite, stimulating appetite when our stomachs are empty. These two hormones work in alternate relationship to each other and both rely on a healthy Circadian rhythm to function. An excellent health initiative would be to visibly watch (no sunglasses/ no windows) the sunrise and sunset every day.  Balanced hormones, better sleep, improved energy, and better appetite regulation are some of the many benefits you’d get. 

In summary, three excellent ways to trigger weight loss are: 1) start performing a high intensity interval training (HIIT) program, 2) decrease inflammation through diet and exercise, and 3) regular sunshine exposure to optimize your circadian rhythm and hormonal balance. 

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC.  Check out his bio here.


More so than ever, professional athletes are paying closer attention to the foods they are putting into their bodies. Elite competitors understand the quality of food they consume directly correlates to their athletic performance. Athletes look to nutrition for a competitive edge, as well as a way to extend the longevity of their career.  In this week’s post, we will focus on ways you can maximize your athletic performance and overall health using proper nutrition.

Nutritional Basics

All foods are composed of three macronutrients – proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Fad diets, such as the ketogenic (high fat) and Atkins (high protein), claim that eating one macronutrient is the best for human health. However, for an athlete to perform at their highest potential they need to find a macronutrient ratio that best suits their sport and maximizes the amount of micronutrients they are consuming. Micronutrients refer to the vitamins and minerals found in food and are essential to human health and athletic recovery. Foods highest in micronutrients include organic fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meat, and wild caught fish and shellfish. In general, the best diet for athletes is one rich in diverse vitamins and minerals and has a balanced macronutrient distribution suited to a particular sport.

Different macros for different sports

Based on your activity level, there is a certain balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that will suit you best and enhance your performance.   

The power sport athlete – sprinting, weightlifting, discus, football – will function best on a diet high in carbohydrates and protein. These athletes need quick burning fuel, and carbohydrates are the best source of energy for the body to metabolize in high intensity exercises. Power sport athletes will also require adequate post-exercise protein to repair the damage done to muscle tissues.

The endurance athlete – long distance running, swimming, rock climbing, cycling – will function best on a diet high in fats and carbohydrates. Dietary fat is the most energy dense macronutrient, but it is also the slowest to metabolize, making it ideal for endurance athletes who need to fuel their bodies for longer periods of time. Carbohydrates and protein are also important for these athletes as they need to restore muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) stores and repair damaged tissues following exercise.

Following these general guidelines, athletes from each subset should maintain a balanced macronutrient distribution. The endurance runner needs dietary protein to repair their damaged tissues following a long, grueling race, while the power sport athlete needs dietary fats to maintain the health of their cell membranes, brain, and nerves.

Adopt a lifestyle, not a diet

When we exercise and metabolize foods for fuel, metabolic waste products are created causing inflammation in the body. However, post-workout inflammation is not inherently bad and is beneficial to stimulating growth. Nevertheless, if an athlete is eating a pro-inflammatory diet, the compounding effect of exercise, plus poor nutrition, can create a state of chronic inflammation in the body. As a result of athletes continually breaking down their bodies and causing normal post-exercise inflammation, they need to ensure their diets do not cause more inflammation. The goal of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle is to increase the amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, while decreasing the amount of pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids.

Foods that are high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids and lower inflammation levels include grass-fed meat, wild caught fish and shellfish, organic vegetables, fruits, stem tubers and roots (yams and sweet potatoes), nuts, omega-3 seeds (hemp, chia, and flax), and dark chocolate with a cocoa content greater than 85%.  These foods are also the richest in micronutrients and should be the focus of any athlete’s diet.

Foods that are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids and cause chronic inflammation in the body include refined sugars and grains, grain flour products, trans fats, alcohol, and refined omega-6 seed oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, and other vegetable oils). Dairy products and nightshade vegetables (white potatoes, eggplants, bell peppers, and tomatoes) may be pro-inflammatory for some athletes, and a food sensitivity test will help to determine if the athlete should be consuming these foods or not. Athletes who decrease their consumption of pro-inflammatory foods, while increasing their amount of anti-inflammatory omega-3 containing foods, will notice an improvement in athletic performance, mental focus, and muscle resiliency.

An excellent resource for anti-inflammatory lifestyle information is Dr. David Seaman’s ‘de-flame diet’.

We hope you enjoyed this week’s blog post on nutrition for athletes. Please reach out if you have any questions!

Post written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.


1. Use Magnesium, Not Melatonin

     For a supplement option, utilize magnesium to promote healthier sleep.  Magnesium can act as an inducer of GABA, the major inhibitory neurotransmitter of the body.  GABA helps the body slow down internal processes, especially in the nervous system. By decreasing facilitation of nerves, we help the nerves and the muscles they supply recover, which is extremely important for successful repeat athletic performances.  Magnesium comes in many different forms or ‘chelates’, and research suggests that magnesium threonate is the best inducer of GABA in the body, and will ultimately be the best choice for athletic recovery during sleep. Other supplements supported by the research include chamomile, kava kava, and Valerian root.

However, be careful about the popular sleep supplement, melatonin.  While very effective for some people, it’s important to remember that melatonin is a hormone that is naturally produced by the body.  This means that if you are taking the hormone externally, you run the risk of turning off your body’s natural production of the hormone, so reserve this supplement as a last ditch effort.

2. Avoid Late Night Workouts and Meals

Your late night workout or large meal close to bedtime may be disrupting your sleep.  Working out late at night can increase levels of our ‘awake’ hormone, cortisol, and decrease the body’s natural release of our ‘sleep’ hormone, melatonin.  Additionally, we induce a “fight or flight” sympathetic state when working out, which will make falling asleep more difficult. Shoot to finish your workout before 7pm to ensure that you give your body adequate time to calm down and relax before you go to sleep.  If your schedule absolutely requires that you workout late at night, make sure to utilize effective down regulation strategies after your workout to turn off your sympathetic system and activate your “rest and digest” parasympathetic system. Excellent down regulation strategies include post workout foam rolling, static stretching, and deep breathing exercises.

Choosing to eat dinner late at night may also disrupt your sleep.  Embedded in the lining of the digestive tract is the enteric nervous system, a complex web of neurons that has been called the ‘second brain.’  The enteric nervous system is important for the muscular contractions that move food through the digestive tract, the secretion of digestive enzymes, and communication with the brain via the vagus nerve.  The importance of the connection between the gut and the brain via the vagus nerve cannot be understated, especially when one considers that 90% of the nerve communication moves from the gut to the brain. In regards to healthy sleep, it makes sense that an active digestive system will send stimulatory signals from the digestive tract to the brain, keeping us awake at night.  Keeping this in mind, I like to finish eating at least 90 minutes before bedtime.

3. Foam Rolling for the Nervous System

     Many professional athletes utilize massage therapy as a post-performance or before bed treatment.  Massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (which are naturally high after exercise), while increasing serotonin and oxytocin, two hormones associated with relaxation and our parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ state.  While most of us do not have access to a nightly massage, a 10-minute foam rolling session before bed can have a similar down-regulating effect on the nervous system and promote healthy sleep. Focus on the calves, quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, as these areas may be prone to tightness after a full day of exercise or after a long day of sitting at work.

4. Consistency is Key

As with any health and fitness related goal you are looking to achieve in life, consistency and adherence to a predetermined plan is essential.  Make it a point to wake up, as well as go to sleep, within the same 60 to 90 minute time frame every morning and evening, even on the weekends. Do your best to schedule social activities during the day and evening so that you don’t feel like you missed out on anything by not staying up late on the weekends. Sporting events, outdoor activities like skiing and hiking, or a trip to the botanical gardens are excellent ways to have fun on the weekends without sacrificing your sleep schedule.

Want to learn more?  Check out Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson.  Many of the ideas mentioned above are draw on methods from this book.     

Post Written by Dr. Riley Kulm, DC. Check out his bio here.