Don’t you love it when life hands you synchronicity? There is something magical when events converge to change your life…and this is exactly what has happened to me. Two months ago three things happened that, at the time, didn’t seem related: I started a new book on how to improve cognition and brain efficiency, I began my search for a seminar that met my CEU (Continuing Education Units) requirements for my board certification, and a past client came in to see me. As it turned out, these three events have changed my nutrition practice and my health forever.
Let me start with the book: Head Strong by Dave Asprey. Dave is the guy that created the “Bullet Proof Coffee” craze. (If you have been living under a rock and do not know what bullet proof coffee is, it is a lovely concoction of coffee, butter, and coconut oil that is blended to turn your morning cup of joe into rocket fuel that can keep your energy and your brain chugging away all morning long.) His book is a compilation of brain enhancing techniques that he has developed to produce clearer thinking, better memory, improved creativity, and accelerated learning. If you know me at all, then you know that this is right up my alley…I am always trying to find new ways to make my brain better. As soon as I cracked open the book, I realized he was speaking my language. His first and foremost “bio hack” was to eat real food! No GMOs, no packages, no refining…just as nature intended it. As I read on, he also spoke about the importance of sleep, exercise, stress resiliency, and community. He was preaching to the choir, but I loved every minute of it.
It was a Saturday and I could have happily spent the day being preached to, but I had other things that needed my attention. So I grudging sat down at my computer to begin the search for a conference that was interesting, not too far away, and that fit the requirements of my professional governing board, The National Association of Nutrition Professionals (NANP). As I checked out the usual suspects (and found them all wanting), I came across a two-day seminar in Dallas (but they also offered it live-stream…I could stay in my jammies!) on “Reversing Cognitive Decline” by one of my functional medicine mentors, Dr. Dale Bredesen. Wow, this was perfect and eerily connected to what I was learning from Dave Asprey. I signed up and paid (a rather large sum) right then and there.
Monday morning, I walked into my office to the phone ringing. It was one of my favorite clients (actually, they are all my favorite) who I had not seen in about four years. She was terribly distraught and was having a hard time explaining why she was calling me. This was not the woman who I had counseling four years ago. She was having problems organizing her thoughts and finding the right words to explain her situation. She had just turned 69 and had been having trouble maintaining her independent lifestyle. The doctor had told her that she had mild cognitive decline and was probably moving into full-blown dementia or Alzheimer’s and there was not much she could do about it. A medication might slow the progression a bit, but that was about it. This was not at all her style; she knew there had to be something else out there and so she called me to see if I could help.
Okay, now this was pretty crazy…the universe was definitely trying to tell me something…brain health should be my focus for a while.
Fast forward two months…I have long since finished the book, taken the course, and begun a plan to help my client get her life back. Personally, I have implemented many of the supplements and little life style changes that Dave suggested in his book and I have noticed increased performance in my own brain function. I have learned that cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration are not permanent and can be reversed (Dr Bredesen’s new book is called The End of Alzheimer’s and he has now reversed diagnosed-Alzheimer’s in over 100 people), and I have seen my client make improvements in her mental abilities in just two months. I will never look at the aging brain the same way again, in myself and in my clients. Here are the big takeaways and things you can do today to rejuvenate your mental prowess:
1. Eat real food. Sometimes I sound like a broken record, but if suddenly all processed food were to magically disappear from the world, it would solve the health crisis. Eat food as nature intended; without added sugar, chemicals, unnatural processing, and manipulation (i.e., GMO).
2. Don’t shortchange your sleep. Sleep is the time that we repair our bodies, consolidate new information, and restore our energy. It is also the time that we balance hormones that keep our mood stable, our weight healthy, and our bodies youthful. Make sleep a priority.
3. Move everyday…workout some of the days. We are not made to sit all day long. Plan movement into your day: go for a walk, bike to work, take a yoga/tai chi/pilates/whatever class, mow the lawn…it’s all good! Exercise is a main way to produce more BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which is a major chemical to produce new brain connections.
4. Find a community and be supported by them. Make sure that you get a hug, stroke a pet, chat with your BFF, or hang with friends every day. Research shows that isolation increases the risk of brain degeneration as well as other chronic diseases.
5. Create a stress-free oasis. When I tell my clients to “reduce stress” they look at me like I just asked them to fly to the moon, so now I say, “Find a place that you can take a vacation from your stressors”. I suggest taking a bath, reading a book, meditating, being in nature, or playing with your kids…just for a few minutes. These activities create a buffer from the stress of our world and will lower your inflammation, improve sleep, and reduce your risk of cognitive decline
6. Bonus idea: Choose some targeted supplements. There is a long list of supplements that improve brain function and many of them are familiar, such as probiotics, omega 3 fish oil, and turmeric. But here are three new ones that you may not know about. When added together in a “stack” (brain hacker’s term for putting multiple supplements together to get a big effect) produce more brain repair and less degeneration:
o Ashwagandha – improves mood and restores memory
o Citicholine – regeneration of neuronal connections and increases brain energy
o Lion’s Mane mushroom – neuro-protection and increased neuronal connections
When trying out supplements, quality matters more than quantity. It is more effective to spend more money on quality products without strange fillers, than to take a bunch of inexpensive, ineffective and possibly harmful products that you find online or in a discount store. Ask for some help in finding the best supplement for your dollar…and your brain.
I have implemented every suggestion here, plus a few more and I can tell you that my very good brain is even better than it was two months ago. Fix your broken brain and live longer, smarter, and happier. In the future weeks, I will be writing part two of this article, in which I will outline some of the advanced techniques I am using to fix my brain forever.
Kathy Westover October 14th, 2017
When I became a nutritionist ten years ago, I had a big goal: Improve the health of America one plate at a time! I work toward this goal everyday through the classes I teach, my corporate wellness program, and the many clients that I work with on a day-to-day basis. I love to explain how stress affects health, what happens when you don’t sleep well, and how vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals improve resilience to chronic disease.
The problem is, sometimes I get a little over zealous and my clients or students can get a little glassy-eyed. That is when I remember Barbara (name changed to protect the innocent).
Barbara is one of my typical clients; older than she wants to be, a little overweight, dragging around instead of conquering the world, and in general just feeling yucky. Toward the end of our first appointment (which is an hour and a half and can be a little like drinking from a fire hydrant) she looked at me and said, “I know you know your stuff…I wouldn’t have come to you if I didn’t think that. But I am tired and my brain is tired. Can you just tell me one simple thing that will change how I feel and give me back a little of my old self? Once I can get there, I will be able to listen better to your pearls of wisdom.”
Wow, that made me stop and think about the tidal wave of information that I give to people every day…all with the intent of convincing them to change their lifestyle, and now she wants me to boil it down to one thing! I looked at her and I said, “Yes, I can…Eat Real Food!” Once I said that, I realized that this idea is actually the most important component of diet and lifestyle improvement.
If nature made it, eat it…if she didn’t, don’t!
Real food; food which is unprocessed, unadulterated by chemicals and additives, and well grown, is the basis of health. Here are a few ways in which eating real food can change everything from the quality of your sleep to how well you fend off chronic disease:
The fiber in fresh vegetables keeps your digestive track running like clockwork. Having efficient elimination reduces toxicity in your bloodstream, lymph system, and liver. Modern life exposes us daily to a myriad of chemicals and toxins that need to be taken out with the trash on a daily basis.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide a plethora of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients that tune up the immune system, provide the “spark” that runs our biochemistry, and create the electrical signaling that allows our cells to carry out their important functions. These are the “additives” that we want in our food, not dyes, preservatives, and pesticides that come in processed/packaged foods.
Well-grown, pasture-raised, wild-caught animal products provide the body with all of the amino acids that are the main building blocks for all of the 100,000 biochemicals that we make in the body. Eating healthy animal-based proteins improve our mood and sleep as they contribute to the production of hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and melatonin.
Healthy fats from unprocessed oils, well-grown animal products, and whole-food fats such as olives, coconut, avocados and nuts and seeds improve brain function, provide a clean long-lasting fuel, and create healthy cellular membranes. Human health has steadily gone down hill since we began the low-fat recommendations. The trend toward healthy fat can turn that around.
Real food, in all of its forms, is the main component of healthy weight maintenance. Our reliance on convenient, nutrient poor and energy dense foods is a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in this country. Eating nutrient dense foods that come from nature will improve metabolic efficiency and decrease body fat storage signals such as high insulin and nutrient deficiencies.
Lately I have been starting off all of my presentations and client consultations with this statement:
“If I were to give you one fool-proof suggestion to improve all aspects of your health, energy and well-being it would be…Eat Real Food, just as nature intended”.
Kathy Westover September 24th, 2017
I love to figure out how things work. I have always been like this…I remember getting into big trouble on my 11th Christmas when I completely dismantled the transistor radio that was my “special present” to figure out how it worked. (Unfortunately, I could not figure out how to put it back together again.) My love of understanding the nuts and bolts of how something works is one of the most appealing things for me about being a clinical nutritionist.
This Christmas I gave myself a “special present”…a five and a half hour webinar by Dr. Ben Lynch on the complete genetic pathways of the Methylation Cycle. “What in the heck is the methylation cycle”, you may ask…I like to define it as the “cellular engine”. Without the biochemical activities of the methylation cycle in each one of our ten trillion cells, we would not be alive. Understanding the genetic underpinnings of the methylation cycle is the ultimate in “dismantling” metabolic function in the body.
For me, the five hours of learning about this complex subject was like savoring a piece of Christmas fudge (you know my love of chocolate…if not, see one of my first blogs), but when I was finished with the class, I realized that there was one big takeaway: the hardwiring of your DNA does not matter very much. What does matter is what we do to the DNA hardwiring that we are given.
From the moment we are conceived, we are installing software on to our brand new DNA ‘computer’. It starts as soon as our little egg begins to transform into a multi-celled zygote. The lifestyle habits of your parents (Did they smoke? Drink? Eat their veggies?) are the first bit of information used to influence your DNA potential. Did you grow up in the middle of L.A. or on a farm in Iowa? Did you have a stressful childhood? Party too much in college? Avoid the expense of organic food once you had a family? The list of things that affect your DNA negatively goes on and on. But so does the list of things that can positively affect it.
I am a good example of this…I did not have healthy parents; they both smoked and drank way too much. My mom thought TV dinners were haute cuisine. I grew up in southern California near an Air Force base. I was on the birth control pill for most of my adult life. I lived under the burden of extreme stress for most of my middle age. The list of assaults to my rather poor DNA profile is long. But so is the list of beneficial lifestyle factors. I have always been very athletic and exercise has been a priority in my life. I am also a good sleeper and have enjoyed quality and restful sleep since I was a kid. I would prefer a bowl of broccoli to a bowl of ice cream any day. I have multiple ways to modulate the stressors in my life. After tallying up the good and the bad influences to my DNA, the good have won out. I am a very healthy 63-year-old with great energy and zest for life.
So back to the main takeaway from my Lynch webinar…a healthy lifestyle matters.
If you didn’t do these things in the past, make the switch and work on doing them now. By the way, there is a fancy word for this concept: epigenetics. You may have heard this term before, but were confused by what it meant. In the next few posts, I will continue to explain how healthy lifestyle habits can positively affect your DNA and tell you more about what I have learned from the good Dr. Lynch.
Kathy Westover January 11th, 2017
You know what I realized the other day…I don’t think I have ever written about who I am and why I do what I do. My passion in life is to help middle-aged women feel as vibrant and look as fabulous as they did in their thirties. I am “62 years young” and I feel as energetic and as able to tackle life as I did before I went through menopause. It wasn’t always this way for me, however…Ten years ago, I was learning to live on my own again, going back to school, and fighting fatigue, weight gain, and brain fog the whole time. So, believe me, I feel your pain. But I am also here to tell you it can be different. At the end of this article, I will give you five quick secrets to help you regain some of your youthful energy and radiance (and a few other goodies as well).
So let me start by telling you a little bit about myself. I am a Nationally Board Certified Holistic Nutritionist® with a private clinical practice in Fort Collins, Colorado (I work with people all over the country and the world using Skype and phone). This is my third career; for 18 years I was an elementary school teacher and then owned a busy and profitable bookstore in the mountains of Colorado. A few years into my life as a bookseller, my stud-muffin husband, Dan, suddenly became a vent-dependent quadriplegic when a growth burst in his spinal cord. I was only 44 at the time and my good health and youth supported me through the initial few years of taking care of him and running my busy bookstore. But eventually the stress began to take its toll and I went through a very miserable and symptom-filled menopause. I gained weight, became depressed, lost my cognitive edge, and suffered from debilitating fatigue.
I started researching how to improve both my health and Dan’s through reading just about anything on healthy lifestyle and nutrition that I could get my hands on. (I actually read Michael Murray’s 946-page tome, The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine, from cover to cover.) I began changing our diets, our sleep patterns, and our toxic exposure. I made sure we both had some stress relief every day and I instituted a supplement regimen that complemented our new nutritional habits. Both Dan I began to feel the difference and I started the long journey to the vibrant health I have today. I also decided to sell my wonderful bookstore and go back to school for my nutrition degree.
After years of fighting pneumonia and kidney and bladder infections, Dan passed away peacefully one day while taking a nap. It was a sadness and a blessing all in one. I miss him terribly and think about him daily, but if it was not for that long painful journey, I would not be as happy and as healthy as I am today. And I would not have the absolutely amazing job of helping women like myself become happy and healthy also!
I specialize in helping women (and men, too) navigate the waters of middle age. It is neither natural nor normal for us to feel tired, depressed, overweight, and sleep-deprived as we move into our later years. In fact, with the kids out of the house, financial stability, and the gift of experience we should be having the best years of our life. But for many, this is not the case. Well, I am living proof that you can go through hell and come out smelling like a rose.
Here are five quick tips for menopause treatment and to turn your “MenoPause into MenoGo” as I have done:
1. Make sleep a priority – Don’t let menopause turn you into a night owl! This will create an imbalance in your hormones and neurotransmitters making you grouchy, fat, and sleepy. Sleep is your fountain of youth! Click here for my Sleep Worksheet, Rejuvenate Your Sleep Naturally.
2. Don’t diet…just eat real, whole foods as nature intended – As menopause looms, the hormones that regulate weight, appetite, and energy begin to go offline. The best way to rebalance them is to eat three meals a day of natural, whole food…very nutrient dense and full of the building blocks the body needs. No need to count calories if this is your “diet”.
3. Do three things every day to give you stress resilience – Stress affects all aspects of our life and, unfortunately, there is no way to remove all the stressors from our world. The best way to deal with stress is build resiliency. The way to be resilient is to spend as much time in “rest and digest” (R&D) and as little time in “flight or flight” as possible. One way I do this is to go into R&D as many times in a day as I can. I have just taken up coloring (yes, just like when I was a kid, but with adult coloring books and fancy colored pencils…this is my favorite coloring book, The Secret Garden). This is a great activity to help slow breath, put your mind in the moment, and improve hand-eye coordination. Two of my other favorite R&D activities are listening to music and picking weeds in my garden.
4. Reduce sitting and move everyday – Sitting is the new smoking. Our bodies were just not made to sit in a chair all day long. Try using a standing desk, a timer for the computer, and taking short walks throughout the day. Take a look at this amazing infographic illustrating some of the health issues related to Sitting.
5. Reduce multi-tasking and focus on one task at a time – The more things we try to do at once, the less we actually get done. This is a proven fact shown by numerous studies on productivity. Many of my clients complain they are overwhelmed by the amount of things that they have to do and they just can’t seem to get to the bottom of the pile. This takes its toll on our energy and our well being. I suggest working on one task at a time…try not to look at email, answer the phone, or let out the dog out while working on something. Having said that, you will improve your productivity if you take a break every 45 minutes or so then go back to the same activity.
Try one or two of these tips and notice the difference in how you feel. Don’t get frustrated if you fall back into some old habits, just get back on the horse…It can take up to 15 times before a new activity becomes a habit. One small change can make a huge effect on how you feel.
Kathy Westover July 25th, 2015
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Orininally posted on July 22, 2013 by To Your Health! Nutrition
I confess…I am addicted to chocolate. Everyday, around 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon, I have a cup of tea (my favorite is white peach tea) and two squares of Endangered Species Extreme Dark Chocolate (88% cocoa). It takes me at least two hours to have a couple of cups of tea and the two squares of chocolate…I savor each sip and each tiny bite (which I never chew…I just let it melt slowly in my mouth). This is such a ritual that I am often tempted to not schedule clients in during that time so that I can quietly enjoy my chocolate, although I have never done that. Some of my long-time clients know of my chocolate passion and I can indulge in their presence without guilt. Now the rest of you know, too.
This may seem like a contradiction, since I am a nutrition therapist and so I should be eating a completely healthy and clean diet, but actually my chocolate passion is not so bad for me. Here are some reasons why:
Like everything, chocolate is good in moderation. Okay, maybe not all chocolate, but dark chocolate, when eaten responsibly, provides a number health benefits. The dark chocolate I choose to eat has only 4 grams of natural sugar per ounce. Compare that to the 24 grams of refined sugar in your average 1.5 ounce milk chocolate bar.
But sugar is sugar, right? Not at all.
There are similarities between natural sugar and refined sugar. Both come from the sugar cane plant. Both are initially made by drying the juices of this plant into sugar crystals. This, however, is where the similarities end. Once the crystals have dried, phosphoric acid, calcium hydroxide, sulfur dioxide, and a host of other chemicals are added to refined sugar. Your body metabolizes chemicals much differently than natural foods. The end result is a shockingly higher caloric content, increasing your risk for diabetes and obesity.
While all sugar can cause health problems, limited amounts of natural sugar balanced with a healthy diet and exercise can provide the sweet flavor you desire without the dangers of its Frankenstein cousin.
There are numerous studies that have found two ounces of dark chocolate per day has several health benefits. Included in these are:
These benefits are particular to dark chocolate. In fact, a recent study by the National Institute for Food and Nutrition found that milk interferes with the absorption of antioxidants, therefor rendering milk chocolate incapable of providing these health benefits.
Buddhists and Hindus place offerings on alters. Catholics and Protestants recite liturgies. Me? I take two hours every day to practice my own ritual. This is my meditation, my space, my peace. This is where I cultivate both love and attention – beginning with careful preparation of my tea and ending as the last piece of dark chocolate melts completely away. Like a Japanese Tea Ceremony, I pay attention to every detail, savoring the entire experience, and centering myself for the rest of the day.
Being a nutrition therapist does not mean that I can’t enjoy foods. Quite to the contrary – being a nutrition therapist allows me to better enjoy foods; appreciating both their health benefits and their unique and expressive tastes. Eating should be a pleasure. It is my distinct honor to teach people how to enjoy it more.
Kathy Westover July 12th, 2013
Originally posted July 1, 2012
So here I am, ready to write about the “healthy pearls of wisdom” that I learned while at the IFM conference last month in Scottsdale. At first I wondered where I should begin and then I remembered the three things that Dr Mark Houston drummed into our heads for three and a half days…all cardiometabolic disease (and probably all disease) is caused by one or a combination of three things: inflammation, oxidative stress, or an autoimmune process . I want you to know, as a healthcare practitioner this was quite a ‘load off’. I constantly feel like I am playing a round of “Where’s Waldo” when I meet a new client; trying to find the key to whatever is unbalancing their health. The revelation that it boils down to only three things is very freeing…I just have to find the cause of the inflammation, oxidative stress, or immune dysfunction and I am half way there.
Inflammation is a healthy response in a healthy body. It is triggered by the immune system to protect us against all kinds of bad things: bacteria, virus, cell damage, antigens (foreign things to which the body reacts), toxins, etc. It is supposed to show up, do its thing and then get the heck outta Dodge. But in today’s world of chronic stress, pollution, poor food choices, global exposure to all sorts of bugs, and chronic health problems, inflammation is chronic and pervasive in our bodies. Almost everyone has some level of chronic inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, hypertension, and all cardiovascular disease. But why are we so inflamed? There are as many reasons for systemic inflammation as there are chronic health issues in the body, but let me give you one example: Periodontal disease.
According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research almost 9% of adults aged 20 to 64 and over 17% of adults 65 and older have mild to moderate periodontal disease. Periodontal (gum) disease is an infection of the tissues that hold your teeth in place. It’s typically caused by poor brushing and flossing habits that allow plaque—a sticky film of bacteria—to build up on the teeth and harden. In advanced stages, periodontal disease can lead to sore, bleeding gums; painful chewing problems; and even tooth loss. It also causes a smoldering inflammation that can move throughout the body causing many health issues.
All of the presenters at the conference include intake questions and a visual exam of the mouth with all of their new clients. I have added these surveys to my intake procedure also. There are many other reasons we can be chronically inflammed…here are just a few:
So what does all of this mean? For me, its easy…find the cause of the inflammation and I can help my clients to a healthier state. For you, it means to try to control some of the factors that cause inflammation: clean up your diet and take a good quality omega-3 fatty acid supplement, stop smoking or drinking too much alcohol, get your teeth as healthy as possible, take a quality probiotic, de-stress (don’t worry…I will be writing about that soon), do a detox or elimination diet once or twice a year, exercise smartly, and get some help from a functional health care practitioner if you need it.
Kathy Westover July 12th, 2012
Nutrition Counseling is not intended as a diagnosis, treatment, prescription, or cure for any disease, mental or physical, and is not intended as a substitute for regular medical care.
Nutrition Counseling does provide nutritional evaluation, balanced diet planning, nutritional supplement suggestions, and lifestyle recommendations for the purpose of enhancing health.
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