Three Ways to Improve Your Sleep

According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of The Ultramind Solution, here are his tips on how to improve your sleep:

  1. Avoid stimulants like caffeine, sugar, alcohol, nicotine before bed.
  2. Try to go to bed at the same time everyday, ideally before midnight.
  3. Don’t watch TV or use your phone or laptop two hours before sleep.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone which is excreted by the pituitary gland when it is dark.

This hormone makes you sleepy, especially when you’re chilling in a dimly lit room.

However, if you watch TV or use your phone or laptop, you’re stopping the natural melatonin secretion from happening.

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The Truth About Sauna & Magnesium Supplements

Sauna

Chilling in the sauna is such a beneficial pastime.

It relaxes, detoxifies, and rejuvenates. It works wonders for your skin.

But perhaps most importantly, the sauna can activate two genetic pathways that curtail the stress of ageing, according to Dr. Rhona Patrick, ph.D in biomedical science and expert on nutritional health.

One of these pathways includes heat shock proteins which are activated by heat stress. These proteins decrease the rate of cell degeneration.

Interestingly, the effects of these proteins can extend for up to 2 weeks after going to the sauna.

It also activates a gene called Fox03 which is a gene that creates proteins that protect cells from inflammation and oxidative stress.

What this translates to is this: the more you go to the sauna, the lesser your risk of developing any form of cancer.

Magnesium supplements

It’s interesting how you want to do the best for your health and well-being by taking supplements, but if you’re just blindly taking them, you may as well stop and save yourself the time and effort.

Case in point.

I made the mistake of buying the wrong magnesium not once, but twice.

I’ll tell you where the mistake lies.

Both of my magnesium supplements had Magnesium Oxide (i.e. MgO), which is poorly absorbed by the body.

MgO supplements contain 60% magnesium but they’re less bioavailable and for this reason are poorly absorbed by the body.

On the other hand though, magnesium citrate supplements, which have 15% magnesium, are much more bioavailable that MgO and are a better choice for magnesium supplementation, according to a 1990 study published in the “Journal of the American College of Nutrition.”

Basically, using the better absorbed magnesium citrate is a better bang for your buck than supplementing on MgO.

Magnesium lactate and magnesium chloride are also more bioavailable and hence better absorbed than magnesium oxide.

Just goes to show that with anything, you have to get a deep understanding of what you’re doing and immerse yourself in the subject at hand.

Taking supplements blindly isn’t good enough, you’ll spend your money, spend the time taking them, but if you’re doing it wrong – nothing’s going to come of it.

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Why Caffeine is a Poison

It’s interesting how fruits and flowers have evolved to increase their chances of survival.

You know how roses have thorns at their sides?

Well, it’s a defensive survival mechanism to keep animals from eating them.

And the seeds in apples?

Apparently, just one apple seed has enough toxins in it to kill ants on an exponential scale (harmless for humans, though.)

And coffee beans?

The survival mechanism in coffee beans is caffeine.

To insects, caffeine is poisonous whereas for humans it gives us a nice buzz.

In fact, coffee mimics the same effects as dopamine, which explains that sense of euphoria we’ve come to know and love.

Is caffeine really harmless for us?

I love caffeine but short answer: it can be.

It’s a diuretic which means it flushes out water from your body, along with essential minerals like magnesium. Which is why if you drink too much coffee, you might notice that you’re eye or pinky finger might start twitching.

So replenish that magnesium init. Cause magnesium deficiency prevents your body from making serotonin.

It dehydrates you so replenish that water init.

But also, it causes your body to release stress hormones in your body.

When you ingest caffeine, it stimulates your nervous system in the same way that a lion charging at you to eat you would stimulate your nervous system (just on a smaller scale…)

If you’re an avid coffee-drinker, you might not feel the effects of caffeine but your body definitely does because it’s still producing stress hormones to fuel your body.

Caffeine also contributes to the premature ageing and damaging of the brain if not consumed in moderation.

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Why Do You Keep Having Nightmares?

One big part of the answer – and the part we will look into today – is low blood sugar.

Mystery solved. Read on for the juicy details.

Low blood sugar = Nightmares

If you eat something sugary or a big carb-heavy meal before going to sleep, in all likelihood your blood sugar will drop in the middle of the night.

This is because the carbohydrates in your meal spike your insulin levels which in turn lower your blood glucose/sugar levels because the insulin is taking the glucose from your bloodstream and feeding it into your cells.

But after a carb heavy meal or even after a lot of sweets, there is way too much sugar in your bloodstream and hence a huge insulin secretion follows.

What ends up happening is the insulin pushes the glucose into your cells but if you’re asleep and you’re not eating (i.e. supplying glucose to your bloodstream) then your running out of sugar in your blood meaning you end up with low blood sugar.

From experience, I’ve realised that this leads to some really weird dreams and nightmares.

These dreams tire your mind out and upon waking up you don’t feel as well-rested.

How to avoid nightmares caused by low blood sugar?

The body doesn’t process carbs well at night so it is wise to lower your carb intake after 6pm if you don’t need the energy.

If you eat too many carbs in the evening, you end up stocking up on energy/calories which, if not used, end up turning into fat.

Dr Mark Hyman, author of The Ultramind Solution, suggests you don’t eat for up to 3 hours before going to sleep.

In case you get hungry or are in the mood for a snack, the best way to go is to choose a low-glycaemic carbohydrate with protein and/or some form of fibre that will slow the digestion of the carb and will release glucose into your bloodstream at a slow and steady pace.

A common night snack is a handful of almonds, egg whites, Greek yoghurt etc. Cottage cheese has casein which slows carb absorption.

Side note: Aspirin lowers blood sugar! I had some pretty scary nightmares on the two nights that I took aspirin when I wasn’t feeling too well.

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Why Stress Affects Your Happiness

If You Want To Be Happy, Make Your Gut Happy

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that contributes to your overall happiness, among other things.

It just so happens that 95% of serotonin is produced by gut nerve cells.

So it makes perfect sense to make your gut happy, if you want to be happy yourself.

Because everything that’s happening in your gut is relayed to your brain via the nervous system. After all, the small intestine has as many neurons as the spinal cord.

In the words of Mark Hyman, M.D, author of The Ultramind Solution – “fix the gut, and mood, behaviour, and cognition will improve.”

Happy gut, happy mind.

But some foods can be misleading.

Sugar, for instance.

You eat some sugary food and you feel a pleasure come over you in an awesome wave.

That’s because sugar causes a burst of serotonin.

So yes, temporarily, sugar will make you happy.

But sugar also causes inflammation.

And inflammation leads to low serotonin levels.

This is interesting – in the short term, sugar will make you happy. But in the long term it will make you miserable.

Why does inflammation lead to low serotonin levels?

Stress – The Enemy to Your Happiness

Because where there is inflammation, there is the stress hormone called cortisol.

And cortisol happens to stimulate the activity of enzymes that break down tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin.

In other words, tryptophan is needed to create serotonin.

Trytophan is an amino-acid which comes from food protein like nuts (e.g. almonds, peanuts), eggs, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, buckwheat, spirulina, oats, chocolate, red meat, chickpeas, and poultry.

Cortisol reduces vitamin B6 and Magnesium

But cortisol doesn’t only stimulate enzymes that break down tryptophan; it also happens to reduce tryptophan-to-serotonin-converting enzymes.

More specifically, stress (as well as alcohol or birth control) reduce vitamin B6 levels – an important catalyst for enzymes that convert trytophan into serotonin.

Enzymes needs B6 to tranform tryptophan into serotonin.

What else prevents the creation of serotonin?

Magnesium deficiency, which can also be caused by high levels of stress.

Also, people who have a diet high in caffeine, alcohol, or sugar are likely to have less magnesium in their bloodstreams.

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Lifestyle and Dietary Revelations Part III

Avoid Drinking Water From Plastic

Plastic has thalates which seep into your water.

I’ve recently switched to glass and have started using a glass jug.

But I’ve also started to boil my water and let it cool as this gets rid of the toxins in tap water. Plus it actually tastes better.

Watch Out For “0 Trans-Fats”

Take a close look at trans-fat content on the labels on your food.

Dr Hyman emphasises that food companies are allowed to state that there is 0 trans fats in a food as long as there is less than 0.5mg of trans fats per serving. Crazy, huh?

Be mindful that there is more than one serving in a, say, 450g pack of chicken kievs.

Are “Health Bars” Really Healthy?

I recently travelled to Barcelona for a few days and swung by to a few “health bars.”

In one of them I ordered eggs Benedict with a black creme cheese waffle and hollandaise sauce.

All of this was great until I got so jacked up on sugar that I couldn’t finish the rest of my waffle. The creme cheese waffles had such a high Glycaemic Index that I ended up being jacked up on sugar and slumped an hour later.

My friend on the other hand ordered an acai bowl. He too felt really, really stimulated after it and I wasn’t surprised. Granola – a key ingredient in these bowls – is oftentimes so loaded with sugar.

Anyway, in short: our breakfasts were loaded with hidden sugar giving way to our respective pancreatic onslaughts, leaving us temporarily jacked up but lethargic and sleepy shortly afterwards. Not a healthy start to the day and definitely not a “health bar.”

Vitamin C, Iron bioavailability & Potatoes

It’s interesting how cultures started pairing ingredients to maximise nutrient absorption from the foods they were eating.

The food pairings on your plate aren’t all that accidental – these pairings are actually the end product of generations and generations of accumulated dietary knowledge.

Through trial and error, cultures figured out that vitamin C increases iron bioavailability.

This is why hot peppers (high vitamin C) are paired with meat (high iron) because you’ll maximise iron absorption this way, getting a better nutritional bang for your buck.

For this same very reason, it is common to add dairy to potatoes. Potatoes have high levels of vitamin C and aid iron absorption.

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High Pressure Processing (HPP) in a Nutshell

Every now and then, I’ll happily share with you lifestyle- and diet-related things that just blew my mind when I first found out about them.

High Pressure Processing (HPP)

HPP is a form of pasteurisation that uses high pressure to pasteurise food.

I learnt a lot about HPP from this pretty cool website.

Here are the key takeaways from it:

HPP heats juices
High pressure creates heat that changes enzyme and protein structure of the juice.

HPP reduces microbial content
Pasteurising food kills bad bacteria to increase food shelf life.

With HPP, even the good bacteria (a.k.a probiotics/ commensal microflora) is killed off. Which is a shame because commensal microflora safeguards us against pathogenic microorganisms.

Some nutrients in juices just aren’t shelf-stable
HPP is used to extend the shelf-life of juices but some nutrients in juices aren’t shelf-stable so anything beyond 3 days and the nutritional value of juices are affected considerably.

Antioxidant, enzyme, and vitamin content degrade as juice is allowed to sit.

Which nicely leads us into the next point:

Be wary of nutrition labels on HPP juices

Why?

Because the vitamin content for the nutrition label was determined shortly after juice extraction.

Which means that the nutritional value on these labels are no longer valid information the longer the juice has been sitting around.

Know where to buy your juices

All juices available in gyms, supermarkets, and spas are required to be pasteurised.

You won’t be getting the best nutritional bang for your buck if you buy these.

How to drink juice

Having read all that about HPP you might be wondering well how should I drink juice to make sure I’m getting all the health and cleansing benefits?

According to this website, cold-pressed juice is the way to go:

“When drinking juice for cleansing, cold-pressed juice is the gold standard when the juice is fresh, organic, and consumed within 5 days of being pressed (…)

Cold pressing extracts juice from fruits and vegetables to retain more of the phytonutrients, vitamins, enzymes but only for a certain amount of time.”

To ensure your juice is as nutrient dense as possible, cold press raw organic fruits and/or vegetables as soon as you can.

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