• 6 pitted dates
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened plain almondmilk
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon pure vanilla extract


Place dates and almondmilk in a medium bowl or liquid measuring cup and refrigerate for 2 hours.  

Combine dates, almondmilk, cocoa powder, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and vanilla in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into 2 tall glasses.

Nutritional Info: 

Per Serving: 110 calories (25 from fat)2.5g total fat0g saturated fat0mg cholesterol,135mg sodium22g carbohydrate (4g dietary fiber16g sugar)2g protein

Can a Common Spice Treat Depression?

by Donald McGee

If you find yourself grappling with depression, you are—for better or worse—not alone. However, if you do suffer from depression, you do feel alone.

Healthline reports that, as of 2012, diagnoses of depression are growing at an alarming rate and, as if depression alone weren’t enough, states that report high rates of depression also report accompanying physical manifestations of stress with greater obesity rates and incidences of heart disease.

Perhaps you have tried talking with a therapist or counselor, which is an effective way to tackle this often desperation-inducing condition, but it often works even better when you treat the chemical side of the issue. Doctors often prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) such as Fluoxentine, Sertraline and Citalopram, and they are often effective but they sometimes come with side effects that may complicate treatment, at the very least.

Another option you might consider is looking into natural treatments for depression. You might even ask your physician or psychiatric professional what experience and information they have regarding natural approaches to treating depression.

Some of the most common treatments include St. John’s Wort, 5HTP, SAMe, L-Theanine, Vitamin D3, B-vitamins and Fish Oil.

Treatment with Turmeric

Lurking in your spice rack is a potentially powerful component of your depression treatment. Something as delightful and delectable as turmeric that adds the beautiful yellow color to your curry dishes and mustard can actually become an integral part of your wellness. Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for a wide range of conditions, illnesses and disorders for more than 4,000 years and in China from 700 A.D.

Curcumin and Neurogenesis

Curcumin, which is turmeric’s active ingredient, has been tested on animals and has shown effective improvement over depression in the animals.According to Dr. Weil, curcumin spurs nerve growth in the frontal cortex and hippocampal portions of the brain. One line of thinking attributes depression to damage to the hippocampal neurons, so anything that serves to repair that area might serve as the secret weapon against depression. Along with high impact exercise, bright light and learning, Curcumin has the potential to increase neurogenesis to decrease the negative effects of depression, if not the depression itself.

Curcumin and Turmeric Increase Serotonin and Dopamine in the Brain

Similar to the benefits of SSRIs, turmeric and curcumin increase serotonin levels, which help regulate sleep, learning, memory and mood. To a lesser degree, curcumin increases the level of dopamine in the brain, which controls emotional responses to situations and movement.

Turmeric On Its Own for Treating Depression?

While turmeric is effective in conjunction with SSRIs, it is not yet certain whether you could eschew your antidepressant prescription quite yet. Your doctor might have more information about the synergistic effects of taking turmeric or curcumin as a complement to your SSRI prescription or any other medication you might take to help with depression.

Food Addiction Part 1: The Science Behind the Syndrome

by Dr. Sara Gottfried, M.D.

Most of us have a wonderful relationship with food. Beyond eating for survival, we enjoy food in moderation and know that it brings us nutrition, joy, and health. For some people, though, food is an obsession that dominates their life. Food addiction—a cluster of chemical dependencies that leads to a loss of control over food—can wreak havoc. In many respects, the behavior of food addicts is similar to those who abuse drugs and alcohol, which makes it that much more dangerous, especially if left untreated.

Many of us joke that we’re “addicted” to certain foods, but for true food addicts, this is a daily reality. “Refined food addiction involves the compulsive pursuit of a mood change by engaging repeatedly in episodes of binge eating despite adverse consequences,” explains Kay Sheppard, author of Food Addiction: The Body Knows. “The brain and body of a food addict react differently to addictive foods due to an inherited predisposition to the disease of addiction. The term food addiction implies there is a biogenetic, physiological, biochemical condition of the body that creates craving for refined foods: carbohydrates, fats, and salt (1).

There is no single explanation for cravings and food addiction. Evidence shows that some food addicts experience physical craving; that is, a powerful desire for food that is physiologically-based, suggesting an internal chemical basis to the problem. At the same time, there are multiple types of physiological food addiction, just as there are different biochemical processes that create different types of food addictions. That means food addition cam have many layers and many sources.

Bingeing and Food Addiction: The Making of an Obsessed Eater

Food addicts have a greater predisposition to find pleasure in eating certain kinds of foods, even if indulging leads to negative consequences like weight gain or adverse physical reactions. Healthy food doesn’t solve the problem. If a food addict becomes fixated on it, they will eat too much.

We used to think this was a problem of willpower, but our understanding has changed as we’ve learned more about food addiction. We’ve come to realize that the power of a craving can completely overpower willpower or reason.

Researchers at Yale University have developed a way to classify human cases of food addiction using something called the “DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for substance dependence.” Evidence suggests that the Yale Food Addiction Scale(YFAS) has become a very valid source of measuring eating pathology—especially binge eating— and may be a useful tool to identify potential food addicts. Also, in a recent neuroimaging study, researchers also found that YFAS scores were directly related to neural activation in specific brain regions that play a role in the experience of craving—and that high scorers had activation patterns that directly correlated with a reduced ability to control their eating. This means YFAS can be a very useful tool for identifying eating patterns that resemble classic addiction and it reinforces the view that food addiction is a classifiable condition, it has clinical symptoms, and it has a behavior profile similar to conventional drug abuse disorders. These studies (including ones at Harvard, too) show that food addition is real and that we can take the best practices from drug addiction to help sufferers manage it (2),(3),(4),(5).

Is “Big Food” Out to Get You?

I believe corporate food production could be considered the “Big Tobacco” of the 21st Century. Companies like PepsiCo, Dole, Kraft, General Mills, and Nestle turn us into unwitting test subjects as they manipulate sugar, fat, flour and salt to make their food addictive and irresistible.

Modern foods are engineered to increase the likelihood that susceptible individuals will develop an addiction. It’s tough for even the most disciplined individual to avoid the temptation. Making food available everywhere, increasing portion sizes, enhancing the taste experience—these are all steps purposely designed by Big Food to hook us. The more intense our food experience becomes, the more we’ll consume and the greater the chance we’ll become addicted.

Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Dr. Kessler coined the term “hyper palatable” for good reason. Research suggests that highly-palatable food that excessively pleases our taste buds are also uniquely fattening and addicting (6),(7). For those people who become addicted to these appetite-stimulating foods, this powerful reward-seeking behavior can overcome the body’s innate mechanisms to balance energy intake and expenditure (8).

Here’s the problem. Palatability powerfully re-enforces the behavior around consuming (9). It is overseen by the hedonic system in the brain, which is associated with the reward system. The reward system is what motivates us to eat and the hedonic system influences the amount eaten (10). The more palatable the food, the more that reward processing part of the hedonic system can be changed and compromised. When this happens, the amount of palatable food we eat often exceeds the amount we need to satisfy our energy needs and it sets us up to over consume. And it’s no great surprise to learn that the high sugar, fat, and salt goodies pedaled by Big Food have abuse potential similar to addictive drugs (11). Research has demonstrated that each of these nutrient elements affects specific neurotransmitter systems in the brain (12). If you mess with them in just the right way, you can create food addiction.

Brain and Hormone Causes of Cravings

Here’s the interesting part: Food changes the structure and function of your brain, especially if you’re vulnerable, as I am. Food addiction research shows that there are neurochemical similarities between substance dependence and binge eating of processed foods. Critical data on food addiction also suggest that certain foods, such as sugar and fat, initiates addictive mechanisms in the human body similar to drugs like heroin or crack. The commonalities between overeating and drug abuse shared similar neural and hormonal pathways, which helps explain why some people cannot stop eating, even though it’s damaging their health. I will write more about this topic in future blogs, particularly about the role of the corticotropin releasing factor, which signals the body to release cortisol.

Overeating: Brain Chemicals That Hijack the Controls

For many people, hyperpalatable foods may lead to binge eating behavior by overstimulating dopamine receptors in the brain. Foods that are dense in fat and sugar prompt the striatum to make endorphins, the "feel good" chemicals that can trigger binge eating. These foods also spark dopamine, which motivates feeding behavior, and the prefrontal cortex, which influences decision-making. In some people, the actions of endorphins, dopamine and other chemicals that regulate reward systems can overcome hormonal signals and conscious attempts to stop eating when full. A strong motivation to eat high-calorie foods wins out over the knowledge that what you’re eating is damaging your health.

Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, is a known link between food pleasure, obesity, and addiction. Like other pleasurable behaviors including sex and gambling, eating can trigger the release of dopamine. The chemical reward, in turn, increases the probability that the associated action will become habitual, thanks to positive reinforcement conditioning. If activated by overeating, neurochemical patterns can make feeding behavior hard to control. The modern food environment we live in today may raise dopamine just as high as drugs (13),(14).

The areas of the brain that is involved in pleasure and self-control relies on dopamine. In both drug addictions and obesity, dopamine D2 receptor reductions are lower. There is a theory that binge eaters overeat to increase the amount of dopamine in the brain (15). In many substance abusers, a low level of dopamine receptors, caused by genetics or behavior, means they have to seek more dopamine-inducing substances to reach the neurochemical reward level of enjoyment (16).

Bingeing stimulates a change in the dopamine area, and the brain creates the increased instinctual appetite for the same foods that created the change (the craving). Brain imaging research shows dopamine receptors “light up” in drug and food addicts when they were thinking about their food or drug of choice (17).

Leptin acts as an appetite inhibitor and promotes thermogenic metabolism. Leptin plays a pivotal role in the regulation of energy balance, including appetite and metabolism. Research has indicated that normal leptin production is critical for maintaining healthy energy balance and avoiding obesity (18). Additionally, fructose (which is everywhere in the food supply) blunts leptin signaling, promotes sensations of hunger, and creates a desire for consumption even if we don’t need the extra food energy. While glucose stimulates the release of insulin (which decreases the desire to eat), fructose is a very weak insulin stimulator. Consequently, when eaten in abundance, fructose can result in biological changes that promote overconsumption (19).

Studies demonstrate that obese individuals show an abnormally high level ofghrelin in the body experience extreme appetites (20). Chronic lack of sleep increases ghrelin, creating hunger when one does not need to eat. This is likely the reason why lack of sleep is so often associated with obesity.

We begin to secrete insulin just by thinking about food. Insulin preps the body that glucose is on the way, so the body begins craving glucose. The greater the insulin and blood sugar response, the more intensely we like the food in our mind. Insulin signaling is sensitive to dietary fat and sugar intake (21). Those with sugar and carbohydrate cravings tend to be insulin resistant. Insulin resistant individuals have elevated blood insulin levels that stimulate appetite and the drive to eat.

How to Overcome Food Addiction

We’ve talked about the science behind food addiction. What can we do to overcome it?

As a scientist I feel addiction is a biochemical problem. As a doctor who specializes in hormones and weight loss, I feel people can change their biochemistry and cravings through personalized, optimal nutrition. Put another way, you can manage your food addiction through resetting your biochemistry.

Not eating enough (dieting), unstable blood sugar, low functioning thyroid, food allergies, and amino acid and fatty acid deficiencies can all weaken neurotransmitter mechanisms and disrupt brain chemistry. Nutrition should contain sufficient essential fatty acids and amino acid precursors to build sufficient serotonin and dopamine, including phenylalanine and tyrosine. Plus, we know that serotonin inhibits food intake, particularly intake of carbohydrate.

One of my most challenging online clients, Phoebe (a 42-year-old freelance writer), struggles with binge eating. She joined my online detox earlier this year and told me the following during our first Q&A call:

“Dr. Sara, I’ve read and researched everything written about how to stop bingeing. If I could just take a bath, call a friend, or just let the craving pass, don’t you think I’D DO THAT?  If I could stop the tsunami that compels me to drown in a sea of brownie batter, I would. Why the heck can’t I stop eating?”

Phoebe explained to me that she can feel a binge coming on. She told me that she could feel her body craving food, especially if it was processed. Why? Because she kept feeding her body refined carbs and white wine. It created the perfect storm. Her hormones were in junkie mode and wanted their fix.

Addictions, including eating disorders, are multifactorial and need a multifactorial solution. The overwhelming desire for certain foods can be genetic, environmental, or most likely a combination of the two.   Nutritional therapy can be one of the most beneficial ways to win the war. We know that when you stop eating binge foods – particularly the processed foods that contain sugar, fat, and flour—you will dramatically reduce your cravings and addictive feelings.

Armed with knowledge about your biochemistry and how the food industry is working against you can help you smack down those addictive feelings and break the hold they have on you. It won’t be easy. You need to be diligent. However, it gets easier as your brain transmitters and hormones get reset.

Understand that as a food addict, the food you reach for is designed to lead you astray. Don't let it. Break the cycle. Understand that your addictive feelings are biochemical and you need to give your body a fighting chance. Diet adjustments can make you more resilient in the face of food seduction. Strengthen that muscle instead of relying on willpower, which doesn’t stand a chance against the addictive biochemistry of dopamine and its receptors.

You can definitely become stuck in an addicted/overeating cycle because of vulnerability to certain foods. If you think you might be one of those people, see if you have any of these symptoms.

  1. Food is all you think about.
  2. You want to stop—but you can't.
  3. You eat in secret, or lie about what you've eaten.
  4. You eat beyond the point of fullness.
  5. You are compelled to eat, especially certain foods.

One of my teachers is Pema Chodron, the Buddhist nun and granny to addicts worldwide. Pema says:

“Working with addictions is about… not just grabbing for something to fill up the space, not giving in to this impulse to feel okay and just to get comfortable as soon as possible. But when we instead experience the raw quality of the itch or pain of the wound and do not scratch it, we actually allow the wound to heal.”

I agree. Use your food addiction as an initiation; as an important message from your body that we want to decode. Start by creating the space between the craving to eat or binge—and the giving into it. That’s where the healing begins.

In my next blog, I’ll give you my best strategies to help you beat food addiction, including the foods and supplements I recommend to reset dopamine and serotonin levels naturally. I understand that food addiction is painful and I want to help. Most important, I know that you can beat it. Armed with information and a plan, we can beat food addiction together.




Corwin R, Grigson P. (2009). Symposium overview--food addiction: factor or fiction?. J. Nutr., 139(3), 617-619.

Gearhardt A, White M, Potenza M. (2011). Binge eating disorder and food addiction. Curr Drug Abuse Rev, 4(3), 201-207.

Gearhardt A, Corbin W, Brownell K. (2009). Preliminary validation of the Yale food addiction scale. Appetite52(2) 430-436.

Davis C, Curtis C, Levitan R, et al. (2011). Evidence that 'food addiction' is a valid phenotype of obesity. Appetite57 (3), 711-717. 

6  Gearhardt A, Yokum S, Orr P, et al. (2011). Neural correlates of food addiction. Archives General Psychiatry68(8), 808-16.

Luttner M, Nestler E. (2009). Homeostatic and hedonic signals interact in the regulation of food intake. Journal Nutrition139(3), 629-32.

Avena N, Gold M. (2011). Variety and hyper palatability: Are they promoting addictive overeating? Am J Clin Nutr94(2), 367-368.

Mitra A, Gosnell B, Schioth, H,  (2010). Chronic sugar intake dampens feeding related activity of neurons synthesizing a satiety mediator, oxytocin. Peptides, 31(7), 1346-1352.

10 Olszewski P, Levine A. (2007). Central opiods and the consumption of sweet tastes: When reward outweighs homeostasis. Physiol Behav91(5), 506-12.

11 Gearhardt A, Davis C. (2011). The addiction potential of hyper palatable foods. Curr Drug Abuse Rev4(3):), 140-5.

12 Yarnell, S. Avena, N. Gold, M. (2013). Pharmacotherapies for overeating and obesity. J Genet Syndr Gene, (April 1;4(3):131).

13 Volkow N, Wang G, Fowler J, et al. (2008) Overlapping neuronal circuits in addiction and obesity: Evidence of systems pathology. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 363(1507),3191–3200)

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15 Volkow N, Wang G, Tomasi D, et al. (2013). Obesity and addiction: neurobiological overlaps. Obesity Rev, 14(1):2-18.

16 Wang G, Volkow N, Fowler J. (2002). The role of dopamine in motivation for food in humans: Implications for obesity, Expert Opinion Therapeutic Target, 6, 601-9.

17 Volkow N, Wise R. (2005) How can drug addiction help us understand obesity? Nature Neuroscience, 8(5), 555-560.

18 Bjorbaek, C. (2009) Central Leptin Receptor Action and Resistance in Obesity JInvestig Med, 57 (7) 789-794

19 Bocarsly M, Powell E, Avena N, et al. (2010). High fructose corn syrup causes characteristics of obesity in rats: increased body weight, body fat and triglyceride levels. Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior97 (1) 101-106.

20 Daws L,  Avison M, Robertson S. (2011). Insulin signaling and addiction.Neuropharmacology, 61(7), 1123-8.

21 Gearhart A, Corbin W, Brownell K. (2009) Food addiction: An examination of the diagnostic criteria for dependence. Journal of Addiction Medicine, 3(1), 1-7

Mercury Exposure and the Autoimmune Connection

There has been a significant increase in the incidence of autoimmune disorders over the past several decades. If we know what causes the immune system to attack itself and we know some of the triggers that cause a malfunction in the immune system, we can successful assist with these conditions. Autoimmunity can occur a few different ways. First, there can be a mistaken identity and the body attacks itself. This can occur with a virus, where there is tissue destruction and it appears to be foreign to the body. The second way is called molecular mimicry. This occurs when the body makes an antibody (a protein that attacks objects in the body that appear to be foreign) to a specific antigen. These antigens can resemble certain proteins in the body and the antibodies attack our body’s own tissues. Third, is the development of the T cells (the immune system). This can be affected by genetics, stress, and environmental triggers.

One of the main categories integrative doctors work with in functional medicine are environmental triggers. These can be food-oriented, such as gluten or other food sensitivities that can trigger inflammation, as well as anything coming in with the food such as toxins or molds. In addition, we look at the nutrient status of the person. This can focus on antioxidant status, vitamins, essential fatty acids, vitamin D, etc. Also of great importance is gut health, including “leaky gut” and dysbiosis. Finally, there are toxins that can affect the status of the immune system, such as heavy metals and xenobiotics, as well as the total toxic burden in the body.


The connection between gut health and autoimmune disease has been constantly in the news, however, one of the greatest risk factors for autoimmunity is exposure to mercury such as through seafood, according to a new study from the University of Michigan. This study published last month in Environmental Health Perspectives, found that mercury, even at low levels that are generally considered safe, was associated with autoimmunity. According to Emily Somers, Ph.D., Sc.M, lead author of the study, “In our study, exposure to mercury stood out as the main risk factor for autoimmunity." 

Autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Sjögren's syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis are among the top ten leading causes of death among women. Researchers analyzed data among women 16 to 49 years of age from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between the years 1999-2004. They discovered that a greater exposure to mercury was associated with a higher rate of autoantibodies, which is a precursor to autoimmune disease. Most autoimmune diseases are characterized by autoantibodies where the immune system fails to distinguish between its own tissues and potentially harmful cells.

Most recommendations on fish consumption are targeted at pregnant women, nursing moms and young children. Researchers note that while seafood offers many health benefits, such as lean protein and essential nutrients, their findings provide evidence that women of reproductive age should be cautious of the type of fish they consume. Fish such as swordfish, king mackerel, and tilefish contain the highest levels of mercury whereas shrimp, canned light tuna and salmon have lower levels.

The presence of autoantibodies doesn't necessarily mean they will lead to an autoimmune disease. However, we know that autoantibodies are significant predictors of future autoimmune disease and in many cases precede the symptoms and diagnosis of the disease by years. This is definitely a factor that should not be overlooked.  Various specialty laboratories offer panels that can assess current heavy metal exposure (whole blood) or heavy metals in the tissue (provoked urine challenge). Dental amalgam fillings are also a common source of mercury exposure.

There are many natural agents that can safely support the detoxification of heavy metals without the harsh side effects of common synthetic chelating agents such as, chlorellaglutathioneN-acetyl-cysteine (NAC)alpha lipoic acidgarliccilantro, and modified citrus pectin.

by Michael Jurgelewicz DC, DACBN, DCBCN 

Saturated Fat is Back... Really!

A slew of recent magazine and newspaper articles is introducing laypeople to what holistically-minded healthcare practitioners have recognized for years: the advice to severely limit dietary fat in favor of starchy carbohydrates-which has been institutionalized and entrenched in government nutrition recommendations, with popular belief following in lock-step-may, in fact, be one of the primary drivers of the obesity and chronic disease epidemics it was originally intended to prevent.


The first step was the popularization of the Mediterranean diet, thanks to mainstream medicine's embrace of monounsaturated fats-most commonly found in olive oil, avocado, and nuts and seeds-as well as the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) found in fatty cold water fish, flax, and chia. But what is really making headlines these days is the massive shift in thinking regarding saturated fats-the ones found in many of the foods we have long been advised to avoid for the sake of heart health and maintaining a healthy body weight: red meat, butter, full-fat dairy, and egg yolks.

The turning of this tide owes itself to a growing body of scientific literature supporting the efficacy of reduced carbohydrate diets-even ones that contain relatively high amounts of not just total fat, but of saturated fat, in particular-for improving a wide array of health conditions, including diabetes, PCOS, heart disease, hypertension, and multiple features of metabolic syndrome.

Researchers who have surveyed the body of evidence supposedly linking saturated fats to a slew of health woes have come to some surprising conclusions. According to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, "There is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease." And, "Despite the conventional wisdom that reduced dietary saturated fat intake is beneficial for cardiovascular health, the evidence for a positive, independent association is lacking." This reflected an earlier AJCN paper, which found that, regarding the influence of saturated fat on heart disease, "The evidence is not strong, and, overall, dietary intervention by lowering saturated fat intake does not lower the incidence of nonfatal CAD; nor does such dietary intervention lower coronary disease or total mortality."

Other researchers have reported similar findings: "The lack of any clear evidence that saturated fats are promoting any of the conditions that can be attributed to PUFA makes one wonder how saturated fats got such a bad reputation in the health literature. The influence of dietary fats on serum cholesterol has been overstated, and a physiological mechanism for saturated fats causing heart disease is still missing."

Dwight Lundell, MD, a heart surgeon with over a quarter-century in practice, has said, "The science that saturated fat alone causes heart disease is non-existent. The science that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol is also very weak. Since we now know that cholesterol is not the cause of heart disease, the concern about saturated fat is even more absurd today." Moreover, he goes on to affirm that some of the poor health outcomes medical practitioners commonly see today are the result of overconsumption of the PUFAs that were recommended in place of the naturally occurring saturates: "Mainstream medicine made a terrible mistake when it advised people to avoid saturated fat in favor of foods high in omega-6 fats." We have "simply followed the recommended mainstream diet that is low in fat and high in polyunsaturated fats and carbohydrates, not knowing we were causing repeated injury to our blood vessels. This repeated injury creates chronic inflammation leading to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and obesity." 

Not only are biochemical mechanisms for the supposed dangers of saturated fats largely lacking, but evidence is accumulating that certain types of saturated fats-specifically, the medium-chain triglycerides found in coconut and palm kernel oils-may be beneficial, particularly regarding cognitive function and neurodegenerative diseases.

Of course, the vindication of saturated fat is not an excuse for patients to load up on the bacon. But the good news is, they might be willing to eat a lot more vegetables now, knowing it's okay to melt a nice pat of butter on top!

Are you getting the quality protein powder you thought you paid for?

Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN at Designs for Health

Did you know there's a chance you may be wasting money on your protein supplements? Over the past year there have been issues with what is known as "protein spiking," as well as with protein powders that failed to meet their label claims.

Protein spiking is adding some non-protein substances to a protein powder to increase the overall nitrogen content of that powder. Proteins are the only nutrients that provide nitrogen; carbohydrates and fats do not. In the dietary supplement and food industries, the current standard used to test for protein analysis measures the total nitrogen in protein products. Since this test determines the nitrogen content, it is then used to calculate the total grams of protein in a protein supplement. This has created an easy way to manipulate the final test result by spiking the protein with other compounds that contain enough nitrogen to artificially inflate the final protein results. As a result, the tests may indicate that a protein powder contains more protein then it actually does if the test measures a non-protein substance simply by its nitrogen content. Companies that spike their protein powders are well aware of this limitation in regards to testing methods and use it to their advantage.

In the past, protein spiking has occurred by using the compound melamine, which is dangerous. However, this is not an issue in the industry anymore. More recently, manufacturers have been spiking proteins powders with amino acids such as glycine and taurine. This method uses compounds that are inexpensive, not toxic, and are extremely easy to mask due to the product's flavor profile. In addition, arginine and creatine have also been used. Arginine has approximately three times more nitrogen than whey protein, and creatine has one and a half times the nitrogen content, and at half the price. Protein spiking is a low-cost way to increase the nitrogen content without adding high-quality protein.

In some cases it may make sense to add an amino acid to a protein powder, which should not be confused with spiking. For example, adding an amino acid like glycine can improve the taste, texture and consistency. This is important because compliance of a product oftentimes is based upon taste. However, adding glycine should not be used to increase the nitrogen content and should not be calculated in the total protein present in the product.

There are many applications and benefits to amino acids; yet, they do not have the same beneficial effects as whole proteins do. Proteins are digested and absorbed differently than amino acids. Di- and tripeptides from proteins are absorbed intact and then released as free-form amino acids or released into the circulation. Less than 1% of protein that passes through the gastrointestinal tract is lost in the stool. Free-form amino acids do not have the same high level of absorption as these large amounts of protein.

The best way to avoid products that have been subjected to protein spiking is to understand the basics of the product in question and to use NSF-GMP professional companies that conduct in-house testing on every lot of their protein powders for quality, purity and potency. This would ensure that rigid standards are being adhered to and that the end product is what you are looking for.

Vitamin C may help people who suffer from respiratory symptoms after exercise

Michael Jurgelewicz, DC, DACBN, DCBCN at Designs for Health

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that may have significant effects on intense exercise since physical activity increases oxidative stress. In several studies, vitamin C mitigated the increased oxidative stress caused by exercise. Vitamin C is also involved in the metabolism of histamine, prostaglandins, and cysteinyl leukotrienes, all of which are mediators in the pathogenesis of exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.

A meta-analysis of three studies that looked at pulmonary function demonstrated that vitamin C halved post-exercise FEV1 decline in participants who suffered from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. FEV1 - forced expiratory volume at timed intervals of 1 second - measures the large-airway obstruction and is the standard test for pulmonary function for assessing if a person suffers from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.  Five other studies also revealed that vitamin C halved the incidence of respiratory symptoms while an additional study showed that it halved the duration of respiratory symptoms in adolescent male swimmers.

The analysis showed that exercise induced a decline in forced expiratory flow 25-75% (FEF25-75), twice as great as the decline in FEV1. While FEV1 measures the large-airway obstruction, FEF25-75 measures small-airway obstruction. Therefore, FEF25-75 or FEF50 (50%) might provide relevant additional information about the possible effects of vitamin C.

A secondary analysis of a study with 12 participants was carried out by Dr. Harri Hemila of the University of Helsinki in Finland. All of the participants had asthma for approximately 26 years and suffered from exercise-induced bronchoconstriction. In 42% of the participants, exercise caused a decline greater than 60% in FEF60. This dramatic decline indicates that the post-exercise level of FEF60 is an important outcome. Vitamin C administration increased the post-exercise FEF60 level in these five participants by 50-150% while no difference was seen between the vitamin C and placebo days in the other seven participants. The increase in post-exercise FEF60 level by vitamin C is a unique finding, which demonstrates that vitamin C may have a significant effect on small airways.

Nine randomized trials confirmed the benefits of vitamin C against exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and respiratory symptoms. Due to the safety and low cost of this vitamin, it makes sense for physically active people to supplement with vitamin C if they have exercise-induced bronchoconstriction or suffer from respiratory symptoms such as cough or sore throat after exercise.