Preventive Health Through Nutrition

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Natalie graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Food, Nutrition and Dietetics in 2005 and during school was a member of the Student Dietetic Association, American Dietetic Association, Phi Upsilon Omicron Society and the National Society of Collegiate Scholars. Natalie is currently completing graduate school and her dietetic internship through Marywood University to become a registered dietitian (R.D.). She is a member of the American Dietetic Association, Austin Dietetic Association, Nutrition Entrepreneurs, Weight Management Dietetic Practice Group and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutritionists (SCAN) Dietetic Practice Group.

Natalie has always been a food enthusiast, and even in childhood was nicknamed the “food police” by her family. She was always aware of what other people were eating and would voice her concerns if she didn’t agree with their portion sizes or food choices. Natalie’s innate sense of balanced eating combined with family members that were struggling with digestive issues made nutrition a deeply interesting field of study.

During her junior year of college, Natalie began to experience severe stomach issues and was later diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Conventional treatment methods for IBS had done little to relieve her pain and had sometimes escalated her discomfort. After graduation, Natalie began working for Transformation Enzyme Corporation in Houston, TX, a nutrition research and digestive enzyme company, in the clinical and technical support division. Although skeptical at first, it was at Transformation that she first began learning the importance of supplements and how they can dramatically improve health when diets and lifestyles are not balanced.

Natalie began a daily enzyme regimen specific for IBS and began noticing improvements immediately in her digestive function. Within 4 months, she had recovered from IBS and was able to integrate all foods back into her diet. This personal experience prompted Natalie to study, read and research information about supplemental enzymes in order to help others.

Since then, Natalie has gained experience in the retail food industry and health coaching services through working at Whole Foods Market and other established wellness companies. Her well-rounded, holistic view of nutrition and health has become the foundation for her own practice which has allowed her to consult individuals, families, groups and businesses on all aspects of nutrition and health. In addition to working with clients, Natalie writes nutrition articles for several research companies and renowned websites, is featured on radio programs and is currently working on several nutrition-oriented books and cookbooks. In an effort to reach more people via new media outlets, Natalie has a growing array of nutrition and educational videos posted on YouTube, MetaCafe, Google Video, Yahoo Video, and many other websites.

Natalie is inspired by helping others achieve their goals and knows that the primary way of doing this is by living what she preaches, so it is her utmost priority to be healthy, active and fit.

She has her own website that is full of health information: Nutrition by Natalie.

Questions and Answers

by Trung Nguyen

Question 1. A person is skeptical about the role of nutrition in developing and maintaining mental and physical health comes to you. This person believes, through the media, that diseases, mental and physical health are in the realm of only doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and prescription drugs. How would you explain to this person the relationship and science behind nutrition and mental and physical health?

Each person inherently contains the power to control their own lives. For example, you decide when you are going to move, what color you will paint your walls, and what car you will buy. There are obviously external factors that will influence your decisions (like what your spouse wants, what colors will match your furniture, and what your budget is,etc.), but ultimately you will choose. The same concept can be applied to our health with many similarities. Although genetics and how we were raised will influence our decisions, it is up to each one of us to choose a healthy lifestyle everday. A healthy lifestyle may not come naturally or easy, but choosing to eat healthy, exercise, manage stress, and avoiding behaviors like smoking and excessively drinking, will be the greatest determinants in what our health will look like as we age.

Recently I was doing some work for both a nursing and retirement home and I observed the enormous difference between two people who were the same age, both in their early 70's, and shared similar family backgrounds and geographies. One of the ladies lived at the nursing home, required almost total care (needed assistance with feeding, bathing, moving, etc.), suffered from multiple health conditions and was on many medications. Her quality of life was poor. The second lady lived at the retirement home in an independent living setting, went shopping several times a week, socialized frequently, wasn't on any medications, and attended a daily 65+ yr exercise class every other day. She was full of vitality.

When I met with these ladies privately to gain some insight, I found that the main difference was that the lady at the nursing home took poor care of herself throughout life (eating desserts frequently, mostly sedentary, ate vegetables very infrequently, and didn't pay attention to her health unless something major happended (heart attack, stroke, etc.), whereas the lady at the retirement home managed her health much more successfully. She maintained a healthy weight throughout life by walking everday, participated in a tennis club, was conscious of eating vegetables everyday, and minimized her sugar intake. This story represents the marked difference in health that two similar people can experience by choosing to live a healthy lifestyle.

Given the choice, I believe that very few would choose to live as the women lives at the nursing home. You can make a difference in your own health.

Question 2. I started Encognitive.com (formerly GamblingHelper.com) to help people with a gambling problem. As I researched gambling addiction, on the biological side of the addiction, I found that people who had a gambling problem had low levels of serotonin and low levels of dopamine in their brains, or they had very high levels of dopamine and low levels of serotonin. There was an imbalance of these neurochemicals. (Serotonin and dopamine are neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers in the brain for those who are not familiar.)

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that serotonin is derived from foods (food source -> L-tryptophan -> 5 HTP -> serotonin) such as turkey, milk, and others. And dopamine is also derived from foods (food source -> L-Phenylalanine -> Tyrosine -> L-Dopa -> dopamine) such as brown rice, cottage cheese, pasta, peanuts, etc. It seems that most, if not all, mental illness and degenerative disease can be linked back to nutrition, or specifically nutrients. Can you provide specific examples of how nutrients contribute to mental illness and degenerative disease?

*Vitamin B6 deficiency leads to irritability, muscle weakness, nervousness and insomnia.

*Vitamin E deficiency, early on in childhood, predominantly in those children with cystic fibrosis, results in decreased cognitive function, namely difficulty in reading and other intellectual skills learned in elementary school.

*A Vitamin B12 deficiency results in mental confusion and forgetfulness and studies show that depression is improved by B12 supplementation. In children, the symptoms are developmental delays, 4-8 months behind other children.

*Vitamin D deficiency has been associated with development and increased symptoms of certain mental illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia.

Question 3. I’d like to preface the next question with a quote by Bob Jackson on the Price-Pottenger Nutrition Foundation website, “Often the answers we seek have been found by others, but overlooked, since they are not ‘modern’ answers. Sometimes the answers are simpler than we would like to accept.” In your practice, do you find it difficult for people to accept, or maybe you have to work harder to explain, that health and nutrition are directly linked and often prescription drugs aren’t the answer to good health because you are a nutritionist and don’t have an M.D. after your name? Whereby a medical doctor can say, “You’ve explained your problems to me. Now, take these pills and everything will be all right.” And the person will do it.

This is a great question because many people still don’t link their behavior and lifestyle choices to their health. Even though there seems to be a slow shift towards preventative and complimentary medicine, it still seems that the majority of society depends on medications to “fix” their health problems. And although I’m not an MD, I find the people who do come to me are more distrusting of traditional practitioners and rather receptive of my services. However, seeing the rise in pharmaceutical drugs and knowing those companies are pulling in billions of dollars every year, it's obvious that popping a pill is the preferred choice for most Americans or at least they don’t know what the alternatives are.

Question 4. In your opinion, because of the way foods are grown and processed these days, can a person get all the required nutrients through foods to be healthy at their local supermarket without food supplements?

No, I don’t believe if a person is relying soley on conventionally grown and processed foods, they can get all the nutrients their bodies need. Processed foods are basically ripped of all natural vitamins, minerals and nutrients, and then pumped full of synthetic vitamins, chemicals, sodium, preservatives and flavor enhancers. These artificial ingredients stress our bodies out over time because we were not meant to have to process so many unnatural substances. Also, our bodies don’t treat synthetic vitamins the same as natural vitamins, which puts us at risk for nutritional deficiencies, even though the nutrition fact label on the product may say we are getting nutrients. The ideal solution is to eat organic, whole foods, not rely on supplements, but I realize that supplements assist many people as they are learning to adapt to a healthier lifestyle. The key is not to use supplements as a crutch for continuing unhealthy behavior.

Question 5. Research has shown that psychiatric drugs deplete the body of nutrients or its ability to absorb nutrients. Have you heard of this? If true, what are the dangers of this?

Decreased nutrient absorption, a side-effect of many medications, not just psychiatric drugs, is very real. When you take a medication, the underlying cause of the problem is not addressed. So in essence, the body is still struggling with the issue, you just don’t realize it because you aren’t experiencing symptoms. Psychiatric medications result in the following changes: increased appetite, involuntary weight gain or loss, decreased B vitamin absorption, reduced calcium blood levels, intestinal bleeding, restriction of healthy whole foods because of potentially dangerous toxicity problems when in eaten in combination with the drugs, and increased risk of anemia.

Question 6. You’ve made some very informative videos on ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). What is it about ADHD that interests you?

The topic interests me mainly because it appears that parents are ready to turn to medications without researching side effects and long term implications or addressing diet issues. Using nutrition and a healthy diet to address issues such as these is no doubt difficult with children, but that should be the first therapy, not the last.

Question 7. Can you provide some examples in your practice where people you’ve helped have become healthier through the proper application of nutrition?

One important aspect of nutrition is eating whole, nutrient-rich foods. Many people get hung up on the idea that being at a “good” weight equates to being healthy, but that’s not necessarily the case. Weight mainly involves calories in and calories out (consumption and expenditure). Health is complex and involves ensuring that healthful foods and the right amount of nutrients are being consumed. This is mainly what I focus on in my practice…educating people on the difference between eating to be thin (or to be at their desired weight) and eating to be healthy.

After consulting with me, many clients have reduced or no gastrointestinal symptoms, reduced medication dosages (per their doctor), weight loss, improved immune function and increased energy.

Question 8. What is the difference between a diet that is rich in carbohydrates and one that is rich in protein? When should one prefer one over the other? Or should they?

A diet rich in carbohydrates would be a diet that is 50% or more carbohydrates. This type of diet certainly provides enough nutrients for quick energy, but not enough protein for muscle development, recovery, growth, etc. Someone who mostly sedentary and is trying to reach a healthier weight but follows this type of diet is susceptible to storage of extra carbohydrates that are not used, interfering with weight loss goals.

A diet rich in protein would be a diet that is between 30-40% protein. I don’t agree with any extreme diets such as Atkins, which promote only protein and fat. These promote little to no carbohydrate consumption which drains the body of water and promotes ketosis. Ketosis occurs when you are sick, ill or injured. It is not normal or healthy to induce this process and it can lead to liver and kidney damage. I believe that the majority of Americans consume much more carbohydrates, especially refined sugar, than are necessary or healthy and should incorporate more lean protein and plant proteins into their diets for optimal health. The key is to consume a balanced and varied diet, not overemphasizing any one nutrient, which will inevitably cause imbalances. There are some medical conditions that merit specific diets…those with kidney issues, or PKU (phenylketonuria), would benefit from a low protein diet. Those with diabetes and pancreatic issues would benefit from a lower carbohydrate diet.

Question 9. It’s estimated that the weight loss industry was worth about $43.6 billion in 2004. In your professional opinion, what is the most effective way to loss weight and keep it off? Can you provide some examples of it?

The most effective ways of losing and maintaining weight are:

1. Eat until your hunger goes away, don’t eat till you are stuffed.

2. Eat high fiber foods which promote fullness and satiety.

3. Eat whole foods which are nutrient rich and reduce potential for food cravings because of nutrient deficiencies.

4. Exercise/be active at least 30 minutes (high intensity) or 45 minutes (moderate intensity) a day (kickboxing, cardio, weight lifting, sports, dancing, etc.)

5. Drink water throughout the day instead of calorie packed drinks.

6. Avoid chemicals and artificial ingredients which interfere with metabolism, hunger and cravings.

7. Significantly limit intake of processed and packaged foods and sodium.

8. Eat breakfast.

9. Don’t eat 2 hours prior to bedtime.

10. Save sweets for once or twice a week. Excessive, daily sugar is addictive.

11. Pay attention to your portion sizes. It is very easy to overeat in our society.

Question 10. I’ve interviewed other health practitioners on this site. The subject of sugar, especially refined sugar, is an interesting subject. Sugar has been linked to addiction, heart disease, diabetes, to name a few. What is it about sugar that makes it so harmful? Is it the way it’s processed or just the natural chemical make-up of it that makes it harmful?

It is actually both. Refined sugar is a processed food and during refinement, it is stripped of all the original nutrients that were found in the sugar cane. Consuming a food that is stripped of nutrients causes our body to pull nutrients from our cells just to digest the stuff! So in essence, we are promoting depletion of nutrients in our bodies. It is also the way our bodies process excessive sugar. Sugar is quickly sent to the bloodstream after ingestion which causes a rise in blood sugar. This causes a short-winded boost of energy. In order to combat this spike, the pancreas must release insulin to bring the blood sugar back down to a more normal level.

Often times, the insulin causes the blood sugar to go too low which results in fatigue, a quasi-hunger feeling, and a craving for the blood sugar high again. Over a long period of time this cycle puts tremendous stress on the pancreas and digestive system. When refined sugar is ingested but not needed for immediate energy it is stored as fat. Excessive sugar also promotes inflammation and long-term consumption results in chronic inflammatory conditions like diabetes, arthritis, pancreatitis, cardiovascular disease and other common ailments.

Question 11. Do you have any parting words for our readers?

The main point I want to leave with you is that eating to be healthy is vastly different from eating to be thin. Calories are not created equal and if we will focus on foods that are natural, whole, organic, and unprocessed, we are on the right path. My passion is to encourage, motivate and educate people to become healthier, and I sincerely appreciate you letting me share my passion for health with you.

Natalie's Health website: http://www.nutritionbynatalie.com/

Insight

Health and Nutrition Secrets That Can Save Your Life. Learn how the chemicals and compounds you encounter every day can lead to unexpected health complications and life-threatening disorders. Health and Nutrition Secrets presents the latest information about strokes and heart attacks, diabetes, protecting the digestive system, and the best ways to keep the immune system young and powerful. New revised edition has chapter on The Role of Fats in Health.

About the Author
Board certified neurosurgeon Russell L. Blaylock MD has recently retired as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi. He has practiced neurosurgery for the past twenty-four years and runs a successful private nutritional practice.

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