Understanding nutrition is difficult at best because there is so much conflicting information. Understanding nutritional supplements is also difficult because one person will get great results using a specific herb or vitamin and the next person will get not results on the same product. There are so many studies that report on a single nutrient – for example, cinnamon seems to be the most popular supplement for controlling blood sugar. But what about chromium, vanadium and biotin? They still work and are available in blood sugar control formulations?
Our human nature makes us tend to focus on the “one” thing that will make us healthy instead of following a balanced approach. I like to think about how the body actually works and use common sense. For example, are those who are using cinnamon for blood sugar control doing anything else to help manage blood sugar? What about dietary changes such as eating low glycemic index foods and eliminating the wrong kind of fats? What about regular exercise which is proven to be a crucial component of managing blood sugar levels? What about magnesium which most diabetics tend to be deficient in?
The cholesterol craze is another single focus issue that many are concerned about. When you know how the body works, then you can take a balanced approach to managing it. One component of the cholesterol puzzle is what you eat – not only the wrong kind of fats, but too many refined carbohydrates as well. A sign of poor carbohydrate metabolism and a diet too high in refined carbohydrates is high cholesterol combined with high triglycerides. People with this problem tend to either be diabetic or have insulin resistance (meaning compromised blood sugar handling). Low glycemic diets and supplements that help manage blood sugar levels help reduce both cholesterol and triglycerides.
Another part of the cholesterol puzzle is the understanding that the body eliminates cholesterol through the digestive system. The bile which is made by the liver to emulsify fats contains cholesterol which is meant to be carried out of the body with other waste products through the colon. Fiber acts like a sponge and soaks up the cholesterol so that it can be eliminated naturally. If the diet does not contain enough fiber, or if there is a problem with constipation, then the cholesterol is reabsorbed rather than being eliminated.
Liver problems will also contribute to cholesterol problems. The standard American diet and lifestyle tend to be hard on the liver with several common foods such as coffee and chocolate making the bile thick and congealed. If the liver is congested such that the bile does not flow freely, then the cholesterol will not be eliminated. I have seen cholesterol drop 40 points in short periods of time just from cleaning the liver.
Another piece of this cholesterol puzzle is essential fatty acids that are not in the standard diet. These include flax oil and fish oil. These oils reduce the melting point of cholesterol so that it stays liquid and does not harden into arterial plaque. When supplementing these oils, cholesterol will sometimes increase as cholesterol deposits are melted and returned to circulation.
The point of all if this information on cholesterol is that chronic health problems are typically complex and require understanding of what your specific nutritional issues are. The one size fits all approach of prescription drugs will certainly fix the symptom, but will they solve the problem so that it does not happen again? Normally chronic health problems are the result of many years of imbalance in lifestyle (including diet) that finally result in symptoms. If the problem was caused by lifestyle and nutrition, then it is reasonable to assume that adjustments to lifestyle and nutrition will correct the problem given enough time.
Margaret Durst owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas. www.naturalcowgirl.wordpress.com