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Health & Nutrition Blog – Healthy Planet Canada

Creatine: A Guide to the Popular Pre-Workout Supplement

Creatine Supplement
What Is Creatine? Creatine itself is naturally formed (made) in the kidneys and liver from bodily processes involving amino acids – glycine, arginine, and methionine.  Creatine is primarily consumed through the meat (red meat, poultry, fish) or individually as a dietary supplement.  It helps fuel high endurance or intensity exercise or workouts.  When ATP is used up (during these activities), it is converted into ADP (adenosine diphosphate) and AMP (adenosine monophosphate). Creatine helps increase the overall amount of cellular phosphocreatine (this is what creatine exists in cells as) and this, in turn, helps speed up the process of recycling ADP back into ATP.  Creatine transfers a high-energy phosphate from creatine phosphate to ADP to essentially regenerate ATP. This means more energy and strength for workouts. Creatine not only appears to benefit strength during intense exercise or resistance training (helping to contribute to increased lean mass gain) but also appears to be of benefit for mental fatigue and cognitive function.  This may be especially true for those who are vegan or vegetarian and intake less through dietary means, given that these prerequisite amino acids are found in high concentrations in meat and seafood.  Creatine is one of the most clinically studied, safe, and peer-reviewed supplements available. There are well over five-hundred publications (according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine) regarding the various aspects of creatine supplementation, including its efficacy, safety, and tolerance of it.  Many people consider creatine to be a “natural anabolic,” which might be a tad confusing for some people, as creatine doesn’t have anything to do with anabolic steroids directly. Even Allmax Nutrition themselves proclaim creatine to be the most trusted natural anabolic.  What exactly does this all mean? Let us touch on anabolic steroids. Anabolic steroids are essentially a ‘synthetic’ version of androgenic hormones – most commonly testosterone, and are sometimes used with resistance training for the sole purpose of enhancing the speed of muscle mass gain and strength gain.  This increase comes from testosterone entering the muscle cells, binding with the “intracellular androgen receptor,” and increasing the expression of particular genes. This leads to increased ATP (adenosine triphosphate production).  Creatine, as a supplement, can increase the capacity of ATP as well as energy produced during resistance or strength training, and as such is often compared to synthetic hormones as a ‘natural anabolic.’  Therefore, we can say that creatine functions physiologically in a similar way to steroids (and can help performance in the same way), they are not the same in the way they do this, nor are they categorized in the same way because of this.  Anabolic steroids have a different chemical structure than creatine and are blatantly considered prescription drugs as regulated by the FDA.  So, while many companies or bodybuilders may refer to creatine as a “natural anabolic” – they might not be exactly correct, but they also aren’t explicitly lying.  Creatine and Hair Loss  A quick cursory search around the internet for creatine will probably garner hundreds of results of men worried about creatine causing baldness, hair loss, or accelerating male pattern baldness.  Is any of this true? Is there any validity to these second-hand stories? Creatine itself absolutely does not directly lead to hair loss. The science is clear on that, so we should establish that immediately.  Most men aren’t going to want to make the choice between being ripped and having a nice head of hair.  The primary connection between creatine, hair loss, and concern online – all really just comes down to a single fairly small study of Rugby players who were found to have increased conversion of testosterone to DHT (dihydrotestosterone).  This potentially shows that creatine may cause an elevation in a hormone (DHT) that can speed up the process of hair loss, but only in men predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness genetically.  The study does not explicitly link the two. In addition, the people in the study were taking quite a large serving size of 25g per day, compared to the recommended 5g. The size of the study is quite small as well, profiling only 20 volunteers.  What is the connection of DHT to balding? In men, DHT can bind to potentially susceptible androgen receptors in hair follicles and cause them to ‘shrink.’  Any anecdotal stories of men online may be men taking larger amounts of creatine long-term, who are at the same time genetically predisposed to hair loss or male pattern baldness.  Usually, these men also claim to recover any signs of thinning hair after stopping the creatine supplem ...

Black Cohosh: A Menopausal Supplement Extraordinaire

Black Cohosh
Known as a member of the ‘Buttercup’ family of flowering plants, Black Cohosh is a plant used as an herbal and botanical extract in naturopathic medicine historically for women’s health.  Previously, the Natives often used it to address menstrual pain or irregularity, as well as fever and cough – now, present day: not much has changed. Black Cohosh today is used as an ingredient in many formulations for women’s hormonal health, or individually as a supplement targeted for menopausal symptoms. These types of symptoms include such things women may experience as hot flashes (or flushes), night sweats, sleep issues (apnea), irritability, vaginal dryness, and nervousness.  Menopause typically occurs in women around 50-60 years of age, at the cessation of menstruation and the supposed “end of the reproductive period.” However, menopause can begin earlier and can also be much more severe in terms of symptoms for many women.   Black Cohosh for Menopausal Symptoms: What Does the Research Say Black Cohosh is typically prepared for use as a medicinal supplement by using the roots and stems of the plant, which is then sold as a dietary supplement via whole herb, liquid extracts (alcohol-based tinctures), and dried extracts in pill form. Typically, as with most supplements – you’ll likely find the liquid-based tincture to be the most effective, as it is the most easily absorbed and utilized in terms of concentration and strength. However, capsules are a great option as well for people that would like to avoid consuming alcohol in tinctures.  The compounds believed to be responsible for the menopausal relief in Black Cohosh are likely the ‘glycosides’ present in the herb, along with natural caffeic, and fukinolic acids. You’ll notice many Black Cohosh products ‘standardized’ to contain a certain quantity of glycosides per capsule or dose, which is the amount of ‘active’ compound you’re after for benefit/relief from menopausal symptoms.  When picking a product, keep an eye out for whether it states “standardized to triterpene glycoside content” or simply “equivalent to [X] amount of Black Cohosh root.”  This will help you to determine how potent the supplement you’re purchasing actually is.  So, how exactly does Black Cohosh work to relieve menopausal symptoms? There are believed to be a number of possible pathways in regard to this action – some note that it is through the antioxidant abilities of Black Cohosh, in addition to it be a selective estrogen receptor modulator.  What this essentially means is that Black Cohosh may potentially increase the level of estrogen in the body (which is in much lower levels in those with menopausal symptoms) due to this reduced natural production of estrogen. In those with higher estrogen or estrogen dominance, it may act to lower estrogen through the ‘modulation’ of estrogen receptors.  Black Cohosh can then be said to function as a phytoestrogen.  While studies are never conclusive (and you always need to determine if a product is right for you, individually), Black Cohosh appears to help reduce symptoms of hot flashes/flushes, and sleep disturbances related to menopausal women – what there is not great evidence for, is using Black Cohosh for fertility purposes: a modest improvement in pregnancy was shown in women with infertility when using Black Cohosh along with pharmaceutical medication.  Additionally, Black Cohosh does seem to help with other symptoms associated with women’s health specifically – and the importance of hormonal balance. Those with irregular menstrual cycles, PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), and uterine fibroids have found relief through supplementation with Black Cohosh (often in addition to prescribed medication).  This includes increasing the chances of getting pregnant, a reduction in the size of fibroids, and helping to ensure a regular menstrual cycle in those with PCOS – outside of those who are menopausal.  Black Cohosh: Precautions, Safety, and How to Supplement with It Typically, any side effects noticed (or noted) with Black Cohosh are extremely mild – and usually, just involve some sort of digestive upset or nausea if the individual reacts poorly to it.  Black Cohosh, has in rare cases, been linked to liver damage – this is important to note for those with liver disease, as this may be related to how effectively the liver processes the glycosides and compounds in it – generally, most people seem to tolerate daily use without issue.  For those taking it as a supplement, the dosage will depend on whether it is being taken as a capsule or liquid tincture. Dosage will vary between brands – anywhere from 20mg – 120mg as an extract or powered capsule.  Generally, most of the studies indicated benefits for menopausal symptoms at 20mg of Black Cohosh daily. Overdoing it on dosage may in ...

Goji Berries: A True Superfruit and Anti-Oxidant Powerhouse

Goji Berries
We all know some of the most nutritious, antioxidant-packed (super)foods are berries – from blueberries to mulberries – and everything in between. How does the goji berry or “wolfberry fruit” stack up against its humble competitors? Is Goji a true superfruit and anti-oxidant powerhouse as purported? Goji has been an integral part of Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years, and a popular superfood for fighting free radical damage, aging, and markers of disease. Typically, goji berries are eaten raw and dried, but can also be used in a powdered form for smoothies, bowls, and shakes. Nutritional Content of Goji Berries Before even getting into the polyphenol and antioxidant content of goji berries, the nutritional content alone is quite impressive. ¼ cup provides (depending on dried or powder form, and how they’ve been processed) approximately: 70 Calories 12g of Sugar 9g of Protein 6g of Fiber 150% DV Vitamin A 84% DV Copper 75% DV Selenium 27% DV Vitamin C 21% DV Potassium 15% DV Zinc 42% DV Iron Goji berries are also extremely rich in “phenolic acids,” “polysaccharides,” and “flavonoids” – biologically active compounds with beneficial health properties. These compounds are responsible for many of the health benefits attributed to goji berries. Various studies and literature denote the many health-promoting properties of goji berries, such as those documented and compiled here. Vision Support, Macular Degeneration, and Eye Health Goji contains many ‘carotenoids’ – the natural pigments that give fruits bright orange and red colors, such as carrots (and goji berries). This is why you have probably heard the old adage that carrots are great for vision health. They are extremely high in Vitamin A, and this is due to the beta-carotene content. In particular, goji is high in the carotenoid “zeaxanthin” which is sometimes sold as an individual natural supplement for vision support. Research shows this compound protects the retina and improves retinal function. Further, human and animal studies looking at goji berry extract (not just zeaxanthin) found that goji was protective and restorative in the early stages of retina and macular degeneration. Cardiovascular Protection, Lipid and Cholesterol-Lowering Support Studies demonstrate goji berry extract as having a notable reduction in total cholesterol and triglyceride levels compared to non-goji berry treated animals with elevated blood pressure and hyperlipidemia. Meanwhile, “good” cholesterol levels, HDL, were unaffected or increased with the dosage of goji berry extract. Aside from the high antioxidant levels of goji, they have also demonstrated the ability to lower blood lipid levels effectively in diabetic animal studies. Abnormal fat oxidization and accumulation in the blood vessels were inhibited in animals fed a high-fat diet after administration of goji extract. Goji appears to also be beneficial for diabetes from other studies, which point to its ability to lower blood glucose levels significantly and impact the rate of glucose uptake. Anticancer Benefits and Neuroprotective Benefits Not only are goji berries beneficial for heart health, cholesterol levels, and lipids – but they also have potent benefits in the fight against neurological disorders like Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s and even in protecting against cancer cell growth. Goji has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for many decades specifically to prevent the progression and early onset of cancer – the whole goji berry seems to have a better preventative effect than just extracts of specific compounds alone (those most commonly sold as supplements). The polysaccharides which are present in goji (polysaccharides are also extremely beneficial parts of what make medicinal mushrooms great) have the ability to inhibit and prevent tumor growth without negative side effects. Neurological brain health is an extremely important area of study, and the benefit of goji has been shown to reduce glutamate excitotoxicity, which is implicated in neurogenerative diseases. Treatment with goji showed a reduction in neurological deficits in stroke models and improved cognitive performance. Goji – Should I Be Adding Them to My Smoothies or Bowls? Similar to many other potent superfruits, goji berry offers a natural, whole-food antioxidant powerhouse that does not require supplementation or medication to confer benefits against cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, cancer, neurological disorders, and vision degeneration. Best of all, goji is easy to incorporate into daily diets in a wide variety of dried forms, powders, and extracts for any need – all available at Healthy Planet Canada.

Eating Gluten-Free at Restaurants

Gluten Free
Most people have a tendency to automatically assume certain food items are gluten-free and thus ‘safe’ for those with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. Chicken salad is gluten-free, right? Fries should be safe, shouldn’t they? Where could the gluten be lurking in chicken or a salad? Should you be genuinely concerned about eating out at restaurants? As always, those with severe gluten intolerance, allergies, or Celiac Disease should consult or contact the restaurant prior to dining to ensure they can enjoy their meal with peace of mind, as no one can confirm the absolute safety of environments where other gluten-containing food is being prepared. Those looking to avoid gluten – whether due to allergies or personal health reasons, are entitled to enjoy a meal at a restaurant without having to worry about problematic ingredients in their food making them sick.  Tips & Tricks for Enjoying a Gluten-Free Meal As we mentioned previously, never automatically assume a food or dish prepared in a restaurant is gluten-free. While it may seem ‘obvious’ that things which are not made from wheat or barley are ‘safe’ – this just is not the case.  Restaurants often prepare gluten-containing foods in the same kitchen, using the same utensils. This is in addition to ‘hidden’ ingredients that could be derived from wheat or barley and thus trigger a reaction. Ensure Proper Communication with Staff About Your Dietary Needs This extends far beyond just going gluten-free. If you have any sort of allergies, food preferences, or dietary requirements (such as a strict vegetarian or vegan diet), it is essential you let staff know prior to ordering. As such, they can either advise you on what to avoid (or if it is possible to accommodate you) or ensure the food is prepared isolated from potential problem ingredients. This tip applies to any restaurant you would be dining at. If the server has difficulty understanding your concerns, it is best to ask to speak to a manager, kitchen staff, or a supervisor to adequately address your concerns.  You should never feel guilty or critical for doing this, as it is the staff’s job to accommodate their customers and ensure their safety. Not yours. You should never feel like a burden for advocating for your health or dietary needs. Look for Potential ‘Problem’ Ingredients; Stick to ‘Simple’ Foods Never trust that all the ingredients in a dish are listed on the menu. If you are still unsure of what to order based on menu descriptions (which often will not accurately list all the ingredients), stick to food that is simple and straightforward. Gluten, from wheat or barley-related products, may be hidden in things labeled as “house dressing,” “sauce,” or “marinade.”  Look for dishes with a designated ‘gluten-free’ icon next to them, always ask the waiter or staff prior to ordering, and stick to things that are a ‘safe bet.’ This means things like fries or a fruit salad – are incredibly unlikely to have any sort of gluten due to the preparation process. It is also extremely unlikely that these dishes would have come into contact with wheat or barley and been ‘cross-contaminated.’  “Cross-contamination” is also a huge concern for people with severe allergies – not just to gluten, but to other problematic allergens like shellfish. What Does “Cross Contamination” Mean, and Should I Be Worried? Cross-contamination is not a gluten-specific term. The Department of Health actually qualifies cross-contamination as “the physical movement or transfer of harmful bacteria from one person, object, place or [location] to another.” This usually applies to things like raw meat contaminating, say, a salad – which may result in food poisoning due to improper handling techniques. This terminology, however, also extends to gluten and other allergens. Cross-contamination is a risk factor for anyone with a gluten allergy, or intolerance,  especially those with Celiac Disease. While you should have a healthy level of concern over cross-contamination, especially when your safety depends on it, many times it is difficult to know fully how food is prepared – in a facility producing pre-packaged food, or in a restaurant. Studies also offer conflicting information on this. While one study indicated that it is minimal or no gluten transfer between tools like toasters and knives when used for both gluten-containing and gluten-free foods, other studies indicate a major risk to those with Celiac Disease. Despite researchers finding ‘low’ gluten transfer between things like toasters, knives, and pans – there were still concerns over things like using the same cooking water for gluten-free pasta after cooking wheat pasta, and for restaurant appliances like fryers. This is why it is always best to check with restaurant staff to ensure optimal safety d ...

Are Sodas Naturally Gluten-Free?

Gluten Free Soda
Itching for a refreshing root beer to pair perfectly with your burger? Or simply wondering if you can safely enjoy a cream soda or can of coke? Worried about the ‘hidden’ ingredients in things like soda?  Gluten has become recognized much more prominently as a problematic allergen in recent years, but it can still be incredibly difficult to determine what foods and drinks actually contain gluten in them – especially for those eating out at restaurants. Anyone can request gluten-free burger buns, and things on the menu like fries are obvious ‘gluten-free’ options, but what about something like root beer? Is root beer truly gluten-free? Yes, generally, most soda and soft drinks are indeed gluten-free. While gluten can seemingly hide in any sort of food product or drink, most sodas are naturally gluten-free as well. The importance lies in checking specific brands – formulations can change from one company to another, and some corporations may use ingredients or natural flavoring that is derived from gluten, or which has come in contact with gluten. This is often referred to as “cross-contamination,” and the reasoning behind why people with Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance react to things like oats that do not naturally contain any gluten. In this article, we will further explore what soda is most frequently made from (mostly carbonated water and sugar, with flavoring), what gluten actually is, and how to spot potentially problematic ingredients that may contain gluten – whether in a restaurant or a grocery store. Not all soda is created equal.  What Is Soda Actually Made From? Traditionally, most sodas are typically made from carbonated water, sugar (or glucose-fructose), flavoring, and preservatives. Very few soft drinks contain any traces of gluten, and if they do contain wheat or wheat-based ingredients, they would be labeled explicitly as allergens on the bottle or can. While you might not see the gluten-free label plastered on the outside of the can or bottle, most of the major corporations like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co ensure the products are safe for those with Celiac Disease so as not to cut this large demographic out of the market. The concern lies in the “natural and artificial flavoring” and things like “caramel color,” which could potentially be derived from wheat or barley. These additives have caused a lot of stress for people wondering if that can is really safe for them to drink.  More on these problematic additives will help better clear up the fear among consumers looking to avoid gluten – but first, let us actually explain what gluten is and if you need to be avoiding it if you do not have Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance. What Is Gluten? Should I Avoid It? So, what is gluten, actually? Gluten is used as a very broad and general term for the complex of proteins specifically found in wheat and wheat-related grains. Most people have likely heard the phrase ‘gluten-free’ by now, but many are still blissfully unaware of what gluten is all about. Shall we? As we mentioned, gluten relates to the proteins found in wheat and wheat-related grains, which include everything from durum wheat semolina (often used to make pasta) to rye, barley, farro, farina, spelled, triticale, and emmer.  You do not need to be familiar with all of these varieties of wheat to understand that essentially any grain that is not specifically marked or indicated as ‘gluten-free’ on the packaging has the potential to contain gluten, or be “cross-contaminated” with gluten. For most people, this is not a problem – as we have consumed bread, baked goods, cereals, pasta, and soups containing these grains for over 10,000 years. Part of the issue lies with a lot of modern food production processes. Current wheat crops have been bred to have an especially high gluten content, as this is desirable for leavened bread, the perfect consistency of pasta, and that ‘rise’ we get in dough and baked goods. However, a higher gluten content means more of the problematic proteins in wheat that can cause people allergies and intolerance – just as people have digestive upset from milk and cheese due to the ‘casein’ protein found in dairy. This means that current wheat crops may be more inflammatory and allergenic than those in the past. For those without Celiac Disease or gluten intolerance, gluten does not need to be avoided. “Celiac Disease” is an autoimmune disorder that results in the body attacking itself upon consumption of wheat or gluten-containing grains.  As a result, gluten damages the intestines by immune cells in the body attacking it. Damage to the small intestine can result in “intestinal permeability,” which can lead to a whole host of health issues including vitamin deficiencies, i ...

Astaxanthin: Carotenoid Super-Power, and Antioxidant Powerhouse

Astaxanthin
The name may be hard to pronounce, but there is no mistaking the slew of health benefits associated with this powerhouse of a carotenoid.  Before we delve into astaxanthin specifically, first we should understand what carotenoids ‘are’ and their benefit to human consumption. Carotenoids are responsible for the pigments or colors you see in brightly colored fruit and vegetables. These are found in plants, along with other lifeforms like algae and bacteria. Often, these specific compounds are associated with bright reds, yellows, and oranges in plant matter.  All About Carotenoids These carotenoids also act as potent antioxidants in the human body. Dietary intake is associated with benefits due to this antioxidant and anti-inflammatory potential for reducing the risk of chronic illness, disease, and oxidative stress. There are plenty of fairly popular carotenoids that are now regularly used as supplements to address a variety of health concerns – lycopene (tomatoes), lutein, beta carotene, zeaxanthin, and astaxanthin are among the most common.  These compounds are fat-soluble and should be consumed with dietary fat. This ensures enhanced absorption and utilization by the body. Often, supplements for carotenoids like astaxanthin or beta-carotene will be in a soft gel capsule that contains oil (fat source) or encapsulation of fatty acids. Carotenoids themselves are associated with a variety of health benefits and protective benefits (cardioprotective and neuroprotective). They are routinely linked to eye health, anti-carcinogenic properties, reducing risk factors for heart disease, LDL or “bad” cholesterol, stroke, and cardiovascular events.  Specifically, we are looking at astaxanthin, which is among the most potent and protective – noted scientifically for the extremely high antioxidant levels it contains, comparable to that of Chaga mushrooms and much higher than that of acai berries. While we know most of these carotenoids come from fruit and vegetables, astaxanthin is derived from a microalga that has a stark red-orange hue. Aquatic life that eats these algae and feeds on it are often noted for their red pigments – salmon, shrimp, krill, crabs, lobsters, crayfish, and red trout are all notable examples that display the astaxanthin pigment.  In Europe, it is considered for use as a food dye, and the FDA has approved it as a color additive in animal food products. In general, astaxanthin from natural sources (algae or yeast-derived) or synthetic sources (lab produced) is given the “generally recognized as safe” approval from the FDA for use in supplements.  Astaxanthin’s Rise to Popularity as Powerhouse Supplement While astaxanthin is a supplement that has only more recently begun to be clinically researched and studied (~10 years), there is already a wealth of evidence of its role in human health as a major source of antioxidants that offer protection from liver injury, kidney injury, high blood pressure, poor vision, LDL “bad” cholesterol, and joint pain – to name a few.  The liver is absolutely essential to healthy functioning, given its important role in the body of metabolizing harmful substances and chemicals, toxic by-products, and regulating hundreds of other vital functions. Astaxanthin seems to confer protection from a wide range of liver disease-related conditions by offering extremely potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory support. Liver fibrosis, liver cancer, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, drug-induced liver injury, and liver ischemia were all accounted for in studies. It exerts protective and therapeutic effects in these cases, offering protection as a preventative measure or therapeutic relief in those with these pre-existing conditions.  Not only is astaxanthin regarded for its antioxidant powers on the liver, but it also appears to help regulate insulin resistance and fat synthesis, and inhibit tumor growth.  If astaxanthin is healthy for the liver, it seems to make sense that it confers a benefit to our other important organs. In studies, kidney health was also positively impacted by supplementation with astaxanthin versus controls. As astaxanthin prevents oxidative stress, several studies have looked at it as a potential therapeutic in addressing kidney injury and function – astaxanthin appeared to prevent necrosis and destruction of the kidneys after oxidative injury in kidney tissue.  Astaxanthin also suppressed cell proliferation of cancerous cells, and this not only applies to the kidneys but our other vital organs. Anti-carcinogenic, it can inhibit tumor growth and cancerous cell proliferation. Astaxanthin and other carotenoids were also found to reduce the risk of kidney disease, along with the severity in sufferers.  Astaxanthin seems to prevent and reduce the replication of H. pylori – the bacterium associated with gastric distress, stomach ulcers, SIBO, and other digestive c ...

Shea Butter: Synonymous with Hydration and Won’t Clog Your Pores

Shea Butter Benefits
One of the most commonly used ingredients in ‘natural’ moisturizing skin care products, shea butter, is a force to be reckoned with. Beyond being a natural, non-comedogenic moisturizer, it also boosts a high vitamin E content, fatty acids, vitamin A, and allantoin, and has benefits for those with fine lines, wrinkles, or skin conditions like acne or eczema. For those with dry, flaky skin – opting to try out pure shea butter as a soothing morning or night application and skin calmer is a no-brainer. Those with tree nut allergies tend to still tolerate shea butter without a reaction, as it doesn’t appear to contain any appreciable quantity of the problematic tree-nut proteins that can trigger allergies or anaphylactic response. Allergic reactions or adverse skin reactions to shea butter are exceptionally rare. The Production Process of Shea Butter Shea butter is not refined in the traditional sense, and the production process is quite simple. Extracted from the shea nut tree’s oily kernels within the seed, once the kernel is removed, they are ground and boiled to extract the fatty portion – the ‘butter,’ which becomes solidified. Most shea butter, regardless of organic certification, is sourced from West Africa.   The Many Therapeutic Skincare Applications of Shea Butter Shea butter can always be used on its own or incorporated with other ingredients as a combination moisturizer. Given how dense and solid shea butter is at room temperature, it is usually best incorporated with other body oils for an easier application process. The high amount of natural (and healthy) fatty acids like oleic, linoleic, and palmitic, combined with natural phenols and vitamin E content make it an ideal cosmetic product for soothing irritation or dry skin – the composition of fatty acids also makes shea butter mildly anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Shea butter’s natural anti-inflammatory properties make it not only suitable as a moisturizer for dry, irritated skin, but also for sunburns, wrinkles, fine lines, aging, scarring, acne, plumping the skin, eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis, and puffiness. Shea’s properties, including concentrations of linoleic acid, are specifically beneficial in treating inflammation and irritated skin without being pore-clogging or leading to overproduction of oil. Picking and Storing Shea Butter Shea butter should always be stored out of direct sunlight – and it usually lasts about 2 years from the date it was produced. Even after exposure to heat, it will re-solidify back at room temperature.   Refined or unrefined, which works best? Almost all of the shea butter you’ll find at Healthy Planet Canada is unrefined, meaning it is not extracted using any solvents or formulated with preservatives, or bleached. Some people prefer refined because they dislike the smell of natural shea butter’s nuttiness and the consistency may be smoother, but unrefined shea butter allows you to experience all the natural benefits of shea butter with its full range of antioxidants and compounds without any worry of what was used in the production process. Unrefined shea butter has more of a light beige or yellow color, and is much more ‘earthy.’ If you need some skincare help in the form of an all-natural, moisturizing powerhouse that protects against aging, skin conditions, and inflammation, look no further than shea butter. 

Safe Sunscreen: Avoiding Harmful Ingredients

Sunscreen
Sunscreen is increasingly important in the warmer and brighter months – but the frequent use of sunscreen could be contributing to vitamin D deficiency. Additionally, sunscreen (at least conventional sunscreen) can often contain harmful ingredients which are penetrating the skin on a daily basis given how sunscreen is applied and absorbed into the skin (often during excruciatingly hot days). Many of the common-place ingredients used in conventional sunscreen, like “oxybenzone,” for example, are well known and documented endocrine and hormone disruptors. Ingredients to Avoid in Sunscreens and Sunblock Products It is always best to opt for a sunscreen that contains primarily ‘mineral-based ingredients – oils, fatty acids, and plant-based extractives are generally totally fine as well. All of these ingredients – those harmful (and those that are benign), are absorbed into the skin after one application, so it is extremely important to only pick a natural sunscreen that is safe (i.e., paraben and - benzene free). Oxybenzone may also be labeled as ‘benzophenone-3 and is the most concerning active ingredient in sunscreen products. Studies have found that young boys exposed to higher levels of oxybenzone had dramatically lower total and free testosterone levels, and an increased risk of endometriosis in girls. Other notable ingredients to avoid are: Octinoxate – UV filter that offers protection from UVB rays, and is linked to reproductive toxicity, and endocrine disruption. Also, may be labeled as “octyl-methoxycinnamate.”   Homosalate – Linked to hormone disruption, and enhances the penetration of other harmful ingredients into the skin. This product is found to persist and is not broken down easily. Avobenzone – Systematically absorbed into the body after a single use and persists in the blood weeks after use, like oxybenzone. Known as a hormonal and endocrine disruptor with reproductive toxicity. Octocrylene – is often contaminated with known carcinogens, and has “endocrine-disrupting potential” in higher concentrations. It easily absorbs through the skin at several times the level the FDA labels as ‘systemic exposure to the chemical. Safer Alternatives You’ll notice the sunscreens available on Healthy Planet Canada are often zinc or titanium oxide based (i.e., mineral-based) and these are often much safer options, especially for younger children. Zinc Oxide is a natural UV absorber and often gives these natural sunscreens their distinct ‘white’ paste color. It is often more effective as a natural sunscreen than titanium dioxide, as it provides broad spectrum UVA and UVB ray protection compared to titanium dioxide, which is primarily effective against UVB rays. Choosing the Right Sunscreen by Reading Labels Always opt for a sunscreen that is explicitly advertised as a ‘mineral’ or ‘natural’ sunscreen – these often guarantee that the active ingredients will be paraben and oxybenzone-free while being zinc or titanium-based. In terms of ‘base’ or inactive ingredients, always ensure there’s nothing un-needed in there: things like emollients (oils and fatty acids) are fine, as well as things like beeswax, vitamin E, or botanical extracts. These are all perfectly safe to be applied topically, and also help retain moisture and protection of the skin itself. SPF numbering may throw some people off, in that they automatically assume more is better and needed, but this isn’t really the case. The increase from, say, SPF15 to SPF30 isn’t that dramatic and is mostly unwarranted unless you will be outside for a much longer or more prolonged period of time. SPF15 blocks ~93% of UVB rays, while SPF30 blocks around 97% of UVB rays. However, SPF50 only blocks 98% -- not much more than SPF30. SPF is also a measure of protection against UVB rays only, which is why it is important to look for products that specify “broad spectrum” protection specifically, which means protection against UVB and UVA rays. UVA light is the kind of rays associated with premature aging and wrinkles – exposure to UVB light is shorter, and associated with sunburn and damage to the skin common in those staying outdoors for long periods of time in the summer without proper protection. However, protection against both is important, especially for those that care about their skin.

Seabuckthorn Oil: Is it The Superior Skincare Oil?

Seabuckthorn Oil for Skin
Rosehip oil may easily be the most popular therapeutic skincare oil on the market, superseding jojoba, coconut, grapeseed, almond, argan, marula, and olive. But few people are aware of a possible contender for the spot of number one.  Before we explore the benefit of seabuckthorn and how it stacks up to rosehip, we should investigate the therapeutic benefits of rosehip, which is also a highly recommended, nutrient-rich skin care option.  Seabuckthorn or Rosehip Oil – How Do They Stack Up? Rosehip oil is derived from the seeds of the fruit on rose bushes – this oil is now widely used as a topical skincare oil and treasured for the high content of fatty acids and antioxidants. These natural compounds can help improve skin elasticity and reduce visible signs of aging – fine lines, dry skin, wrinkles, sun damage, and discoloration. Rosehip is also touted for the ability to more effectively moisturize the skin than traditional moisturizers, without causing the staining or heaviness associated with a lot of cosmetic creams and lotions.  The main components of rosehip are essential fatty acids, and these are naturally anti-inflammatory and moisturizing. Rosehip is also extraordinarily high in vitamin C and antioxidant compounds like carotenoids.  Rosehip is not new – it has been used since prehistoric times, and more interestingly, by Egyptians, Mayans, and Native Americans for a variety of health concerns, infections, oral health, diseases, and skin applications. The Romans used rosehip to dress animal bite wounds. In other preparations, it was used as a jam. The healing properties of rosehip are noted in old Icelandic texts, and by many other ancient cultures. The interest in rosehip oil as a potential for cosmetics and skincare in North America did not rejuvenate until the 1980s and 1990’s when more clinical research showed the benefits of rosehip for sensitive skin types and the impact it had on reducing fine lines, wrinkles, and the appearance of scar tissue.  Many proponents of commercial skincare and cosmetics products will suggest that there are no actual scientific studies to demonstrate rosehip oil’s effectiveness on any claimed benefits – but this is not exactly true.  There are quite a few studies that show promising results (including one from 1983 conducted at the University of Santiago) that shows rosehip oil may promote healing, reduce scar appearance, reduce the appearance of stretch marks, even skin complexion and reduce fine lines and wrinkles.  These studies are substantiated by simply looking at the composition of rosehip oil. This is an oil that is extremely rich in vitamin a, vitamin c, carotenoids, retinoids, and fatty acids like linolenic, alpha-linolenic, and oleic. This combination of free fatty acids, carotenoids, retinoids, and high vitamin-C content makes for a potent anti-aging oil.  Okay, so rosehip oil is great – what about seabuckthorn?  For starters, seabuckthorn contains over 190 bioactive compounds such as plant sterols, flavonoids, carotenoids, retinoids, and fatty acids – including the uncommon “omega-7.”  Omega-7 is not commonly found among plants. This fatty acid is known to promote skin repair and cellular regeneration, as well as work as an aide in soothing skin and skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.  Seabuckthorn also contains the essential fatty acids omega-3 & omega-6 in a perfect ratio of 1:1, which is the ideal ratio for human health. Seabuckthorn is also often sold as a supplement and liquid extract (by the brand Sibu) which can aid in whole body wellness and contribute to reduced cellular inflammation and reduce oxidative stress. Seabuckthorn has a strong positive effect on the cardiovascular system in trials, and this seems to be associated with the wealth of beneficial oils and compounds found in the oils and juices.  The Final Word on Seabuckthorn for Skincare and Whole-Body Wellness While much has been made about seabuckthorn’s internal benefits, let us get back to skincare and how seabuckthorn proves as beneficial for the skin as rosehip! The plant sterols in seabuckthorn can help with skin elasticity, hydration, smooth skin, and complexion – seabuckthorn is particularly rich in beta-sitosterol and campesterol. The unique combination of essential fatty acids also lends seabuckthorn restorative and regenerative properties for the health and integrity of the skin. The fatty acid gamma-linolenic acid helps to promote blood circulation, which can aid in nourishment and oxygen supply. This can help promote a healthier appearance, tone, and overall complexion.  In summary, for skin: seabuckthorn can help reduce oxidative stress, fight free radical damage, promote skin elasticity and healthy aging, reduce fine lines, scars, and wrinkles, help address skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis, acne, and dermatitis, moisturize and soothe the skin, protect ...

When should you take a probiotic?

Probiotic Food
Can probiotics solve all your health concerns? The truth is, probiotics are one of the most complex natural supplements because each probiotic varies greatly from one another. It’s not as simple as picking a probiotic that your best friend recommended because it worked perfectly for them. When it comes to probiotics, choosing the best one depends on your unique symptoms. Probiotics, or “good bacteria”, are living species that live naturally in our digestive tract. Each bacteria has a different effect on your body, so we need a good balance of various species to have a healthy gut. When your gut bacteria become unbalanced, you may experience symptoms such as an upset stomach, weight changes, difficulty sleeping, food intolerances, diarrhea, or constipation. When this occurs, you may need to supply your body with a healthy dose of good bacteria. You may need to take a probiotic if you find yourself in the following conditions After you take a round of antibiotics Antibiotics are prescription drugs that wipe out the bacteria in your gut, good or bad. Because they kill the good bacteria, you may notice an increase in digestive symptoms after taking a round of antibiotics. The most common symptom is antibiotic-associated diarrhea. The good news is that you can preserve your gut bacteria for whole body health by taking a probiotic along with your antibiotics, and for a short period afterward. By taking probiotics along with antibiotics, you prevent healthy gut microbes from being lost, while mitigating antibiotics' side effects. There are many high-dose probiotic formulas created specifically to replenish gut bacteria. Make sure to take them at least 3 hours before or after antibiotics, so that they have the best chance of surviving. Best choice: Genestra HMF Antibiotic Care 14 caps To combat Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) Many people can agree that UTIs are one of the most uncomfortable infections to have. When unfavorable bacteria grow in the urinary tract, the infection may result in symptoms like a persistent urge to urinate, a burning sensation when urinating, passing frequent but small amounts of urine, or cloudy urine. When left untreated, UTIs can progress to a more severe kidney infection. UTIs are conventionally treated with antibiotics, though some may want to avoid frequent use by choosing an alternative instead. Probiotics can also be used in conjunction with an antibiotic, to ensure optimal results. A probiotic called Lactobacillus rhamnosus has been shown to be effective in preventing and fighting UTIs. This bacteria can fight pathogens in the vaginal and urinary tract by preventing them from sticking to the track and multiplying. Best choice: Genuine Health Probiotic Gut Health Women’s UTI 30 capsules When you have reoccurring yeast infections Yeast infections are another extremely unpleasant infection. They occur when there is an overgrowth of a fungus called Candida living in the vaginal tract. Common symptoms include itchiness and discharge that resembles a cottage cheese-like texture. If yeast infections are reoccurring frequently, it may be a sign that your vaginal flora is imbalanced. A healthy vaginal microbiota should have varying quantities of different Lactobacillus bacteria. They work together to fight pathogens that may grow in the vaginal tract. A probiotic formula containing high doses of many Lactobacillus species can help prevent and fight yeast infections. If you are currently fighting the infection, using a probiotic suppository can distribute good bacteria to the vaginal tract faster. Best choice: NFH Flora SAP 10 capsules, Renew Life Ultimate Flora VS for Women Probiotic 50 Billion 60 Veggie Caps Are probiotics safe? Although probiotics can improve many unpleasant symptoms, they can sometimes cause more harm than good. Before taking any probiotics, make sure to consult with your healthcare practitioner so they can help you choose the best option. Author Grace Tien is a women’s health holistic nutritionist. She helps her clients optimize their nutrition habits so that they can get rid of afternoon slumps and live each day full of energy. Grace specializes in nutrition for healthy periods, you can find out more at @gracetien.ca on Instagram.
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