Blood Pressure Basics

by DeLois Weekes, RN PhD

High blood pressure is preventable. High blood pressure is silent. High blood

pressure is also treatable.

What is blood pressure?

  • Measures force of blood in the arteries                                                                                     
  • High blood pressure (HBP) = hypertension (HTN)                            

How is Blood Pressure Measured?

Blood pressure cuff measures BP in mm mercury. Two numbers are shown as a fraction:

Systolic/Diastolic Ex. 120/80. The Systolic is the top number in blood pressure readings and measures the pressure in arteries when heart is beating. The Diastolic is the bottom number in blood pressure readings and measures pressure when heart is at rest.

Who is at Risk?

Factors beyond our control:

  • Individuals with Family History: Parents, brother, sister 
  • Increasing age
  • Gender:
  • Women - after menopause
  • Early middle age more common in men
  • Race:  High Blood Pressure mcore common among blacks (Occurs earlier)

Factors Within our Control:

  • Excess weight which increases volume of blood and increases pressure/resistance that heart must pump against---enlarged heart muscle
  • Inactivity—heart becomes unused to “work” = heart beats harder/faster = more force on arteries = uses more oxygen per beat = higher heart rate at rest
  • Tobacco use which can lead to damage of artery wall, increases heart rate, encourages narrowing of arteries
  • Stress, causes unpredictable blood pressure and pulse increases along with potential inflammation in the vessel walls.

How do I know I have High Blood Pressure/Hypertension?

Very few people experience symptoms. This is a silent disease. The damage is done before symptoms develop. Some symptoms may be so it’s important to screen for HBP!

  • Headaches
  • Dizzy spells
  • More nosebleeds than normal

Primary vs. Secondary Hypertension

Most cases are called “primary”—have no identifiable cause. Family history likely ~5-10% are secondary.

Secondary HBP is likely caused by underlying conditions such as Kidney abnormalities, Tumor of adrenal gland, and Congenital heart failure defects.

What Effect does Hypertension have on the Body?

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure can damage vital organs like the:
  • Heart: heart attack and heart failure
  • Brain: stroke and “mini strokes”/transient ischemic attacks
  • Kidneys: slow loss of function
  • Eyes: small vessel damage—blindness
  • Arteries: narrowing in legs and bulging in aorta: aneurysm

Prevention of Hypertension by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Being physically active most days of the week
  • Eating healthfully
  • Quitting smoking
  • Limiting/not using alcohol
  • Reducing stress

Treatments for Hypertension

  • Diet
  • Lifestyle change
  • Medication
  • Treating with DASH Diet which was developed by the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute. The DASH eating plan that is…
  • Low in saturated fat
  • Low in cholesterol
  • Low in total fat
  • Emphasizes Fruits, Vegetables, Low fat and fat free milk,Potassium, calcium and magnesium
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Lifestyle Changes:

  • Weight loss
  • Increase physical activity
  • Reduce stress
  • Limit alcohol
  • Even healthy people can have blood pressure increases with alcohol use, quit smoking
  • Injures artery wall speeds up hardening of arteries
  • Reduce sodium by reading the label, banishing the shaker, and preparing food with less salt

Weight Reduction & Physical Activity can be accomplished by ↑ Physical activity. Take small steps at first:

  • Take stairs
  • Park farther away
  • Walk the dog one extra time
  • Just keep moving

Stress reduction can reduce blood pressure, yet may not be a replacement for medication. Work with your Health Care Provider.


  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Whatever relaxes YOU!

Goals of DASH Diet:

Total fat 27% of calories                    Sodium 2,300 mg

Saturated fat 6% of calories            Potassium 4,700 mg

Protein 18% of calories                       Calcium 1,250 mg

Carbohydrate 55% of calories             Magnesium 500 mg

Cholesterol 150 mg                             Fiber 30 g

Example of a DASH Diet:


1/2 cup instant oatmeal

1 mini whole wheat bagel

1 Tbsp peanut butter

1 medium banana

1 cup low-fat milk


chicken breast sandwich

3 oz chicken breast, skinless

2 slices whole wheat bread

1 slice (3/4 oz) natural cheddar cheese, reduced fat

1 large leaf romaine lettuce

2 slices tomato

1 Tbsp mayonnaise, low-fat


1 cup spaghetti

3/4 cup vegetarian spaghetti sauce

3 Tbsp Parmesan cheese

spinach salad

1 cup fresh spinach leaves

1/4 cup fresh carrots, grated

1/4 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced

1 Tbsp vinaigrette dressing

1/2 cup corn, cooked from frozen

1/2 cup canned pears, juice pack


1/3 cup almonds, unsalted

1/4 cup dried apricots

1 cup fruit yogurt, fat-free,

no sugar added



Most Americans will be on more than two medicines to get blood pressure to normal values.

Three main types are:

  • Diuretics
  • Beta-Blockers
  • Ace inhibitors

All work in different ways so more than one is commonly used to treat HBP

1.     Diuretics—also known as “Water pills”, reduce blood volume and cause kidneys to release more sodium and water in urine. They have been shown to be the key in preventing heart failure caused by HBP

  • Commonly used diuretics are: Dyazide and Lasix

2.     Beta-Blockers—blocks the effect of hormone norepinephrine on beta receptor sites in the body.

  • Heart beats slower and with less force, but more efficiently per beat therefore:
  • Reduces work load on heart
  • Work better when combined with diuretics, especially in African Americans
    • Examples: Toprol XL, Tenormin & Inderal

3.     Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors—relax blood vessels

  • Blocks formation of natural chemical that narrows blood vessels. Also, blocks production of aldosterone and retention of sodium and water
    • Examples: Altace & Vasotec

4.     Other Common Medications—Calcium Channel Blockers and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers

5.     Questions to ask your Health Care Provider:

  • Do I already have any damage to my organs from HBP? How do you find out?
  • What’s the name of my drug? What are the side effects? Can I stop it?
  • How do I know the medicine is working?
  • How often should I check my blood pressure?
  • Who do I call if I have questions?

Remember that high blood pressure is preventable and treatable. The methods shown to be most effective include:

  • Lifestyle changes
  • Diet changes – DASH
  • Medication
  • Combination approach very popular, necessary and yields best results for many



Hand Hygiene

Hand Hygiene

Hand hygiene is arguably our most important life skill. So, teach it well and teach it often to your children. Michael J. Blackburn.

Hand hygiene includes two primary actions:

Washing the hands with soap and water to decrease colonization of transient flora by removing bacteria, soil, and loose dirt. Rubbing hands with a small amount of highly effective, fast-acting antiseptic agent, termed such as a sanitizer.

Proper hand hygiene practices are one of the most important actions we can take to reduce the spread of infection in our homes between and among family members (Aziz, 2013). Germs spread by hands are the most frequent source of infections affecting hundreds of millions of people globally (World Health Organizations, 2014)


Skin physiology and normal skin flora/bacteria:

Primary functions of skin:

Skin is a body organ and varies in thickness from less than one millimeter in the eyelids to greater than four millimeters on the soles of the feet. It is composed of two layers, the epidermis and dermis, and is underlain by subcutaneous tissue called the hypodermis (Habif, 2004). It reduces water loss and provides protection against abrasive action and microorganisms. The skin also, acts as a permeable barrier to the environment and helps maintain body temperature and transmits awareness of external. It also serves as a barrier function for body by secreting glycerolipids and sterols to protect and nourish skin cells.


Flora (microorganisms) of the Skin:

Skin is covered with colonies of microorganisms. The two categories of flora on the skin: transient and resident. Transient flora colonizes the superficial layers of skin and are more amenable to removal by routine handwashing, and most frequently found in infections. Resident flora attach to deeper layers of the skin and are more resistant to removal.


Transmission of microorganisms by the hands:

Microorganisms are transmitted from person to person by our hands. They are present on our skin and objects in the environment that we touch (e.g., paper, computers, etc.). Pathogenic organisms may become resident flora on some people’s hands. Inadequate hand cleansing allows organisms to contaminate other people’s hands. Cross-transmission of organisms occurs by contaminated hands (WHO, 2009). The number of organisms present on intact areas of the skin varies from individual to individual.

Hand Hygiene Products:

With contamination by infectious organisms everywhere, properly practiced hand hygiene reduces the incidence infections. Studies have compared the rates of infection of handwashing with plain soap and water versus some form of chemical antiseptic hand-cleansing products. When hand cleansing was performed correctly, the infection rates were lower with chemical antiseptic products than with plain soap and water. Handwashing technique, wearing artificial nails or rings, contaminated soaps or cleansers all increase transmission of pathogens (WHO, 2012).

Soaps are detergent-based products that possess a cleansing action. Their cleansing activity is due to their detergent properties, which remove dirt, soil, and various organic substances from the hands.

Plain soaps have minimal, if any, antimicrobial activity that destroys or inhibits growth of microorganisms. However, handwashing with plain soap removes loose transient flora, but does not remove pathogens from the hands.


Does handwashing really reduce the spread of bacteria? Yes!  A scientific study found that when hands were not washed Staph bacteria was much more frequent than when hands washed with an antimicrobial soap. Several other studies also showed that washing hands reduces the spread of bacteria. Most of us don’t realize when we have germs on our hands. We can get hundreds of bacteria on our hands by doing simple tasks, like:

  • Shaking hands
  • Touching another person
  • Touching doors and door knobs
  • Touching the refrigerator handle or microwave or other equipment

Are alcohol-based handrubs really effective?

While handwashing is very good and necessary, published studies have also shown that alcohol-based hand-rubs, when used properly are more effective than either plain soap or antibacterial soaps in

Reducing the number of live bacteria on the hands. Advantages of cleaning hands with alcohol-based hand-rubs: Alcohol hand-rubs have the following advantages over soap and water:

  • take less time to use
  • can be made more accessible than sinks
  • cause less skin irritation and dryness 
  • are more effective in reducing the number of bacteria on hands
  • more likely to be used because of increased accessibility
  • leads to improved hand hygiene practices

Since alcohol hand-rubs work, when should I wash my hands with soap and water?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and infection control organizations now recommend that if hands are not dirty, it is very effective to use an alcohol-based hand-rub (a gel, rinse or foam). However, it is recommended that hands be washed with plain soap and water, or with antimicrobial soap and water if:

  • your hands are visibly soiled (dirty)
  • before eating
  • after using the restroom 

How do I wash my hands effectively with soap and water?

  • wet hands with warm water first
  • apply 3 to 5 ml (double pump) of soap to hands
  • rub hands together for at least 15 seconds
  • cover all surfaces of the hands and fingers
  • rinse hands with water and dry thoroughly
  • use paper towel to turn off water faucet
  • Open bathroom door with paper towel

Tips on how to use an alcohol-based hand-rub:

  • Apply 1.5 to 3 ml (double pump) of an alcohol gel or rinse to the palm of one hand, and rub hands together
  • Cover all surfaces of your hands and fingers
  • Include areas around/under fingernails
  • Continue rubbing hands together until alcohol dries

If you have applied enough alcohol hand rub, it should take at least 10 -15 seconds of rubbing before your hands feel dry. If after cleaning your hands 5 to 10 times with an alcohol-based hand-rub, you feel a “build-up” of emollients on your hands, wash your hands with soap and water.

What’s on your hands? Be sure to wash !


The Vicious Circle of Diabetes

By John Kannenburg

A few years ago, I was chatting with two sisters in their 40's who both had severe Type II diabetes. It was so severe that they already had lost much of their kidney function. In fact, they both were on dialysis with one of them going in twice a week and the other about once a week. This is a sad state to be in! My heart really went out to these two women.

I posed a question to them about what they knew about diabetes. For so many years of them being sick, I was interested to know what they had learned about their condition on their own or from their health care providers. Knowledge is power. Knowledge is life. Perhaps there was a chance that something had been missed?

Specifically, I asked, "What is insulin? What does it do in the body?"
I was shocked at the response I got. They said, "insulin works as a regulator of glucose in the body, working as a key to allow it to enter the cells. You see, when the glucose can't get into the cells, it's called decreased insulin sensitivity." This is all correct what they said up to that point.

And now for the shocking part. I continued, "Does insulin do anything else? 

"No. Nothing else as far as we know."

Uh-oh! See, the relationship to glucose in only PART of what insulin does. And knowing what else it does it THE big key in preventing and reversing diabetes.

Insulin's second function is to take excess dietary fat, the fat that you eat, and store it away as fat in the body. Now, why would insulin do that do us, you're asking!!! Well, let's think about it. The body has a natural survival system. In times of plenty and excess, it stores it away for times of famine, winter, and as a reserve for when ill. Unfortunately, our modern diet is all about excess so it's no wonder we are fighting expanding waistlines! But there's more to it than this. Fat on the cellular level works to actually inhibit the efficacy of insulin regarding the absorption of glucose in the body! It DECREASES insulin sensitivity. And so with fat intake at the same high levels ( most Americans get 45% of their calories from fat), insulin doesn't work well. So more insulin is given to boost effectiveness. And what does this do? Pack on more fat into the body! That fat further decreases insulin sensitivity. And the process is repeated. Do you see now the vicious circle I'm referring to? 

And what is the usual diet prescribed for diabetics? Low carbohydrate. Why? "Because" carbs turn into sugar (glucose) and high glucose levels can't be handled by the diabetic. But note, in this diet fat levels aren't mentioned!! Instead of 45% of calories coming from fat, they need to be in the 7-12% range. This is true "low-fat". 
I saw one study that said low fat diets don't work. Their definition of "low fat" was actually "lower fat" but still at a level of 33% of the diet! Ridiculous. This is still a high fat diet.

The key is to eat a diet HIGH in complex carbohydrates (the key is whole food carbohydrates, no doughnuts, white bread, or soda pop) with little to no added fat. The result we see is blood sugar levels drop even up to a 100 points the first week using diet alone. It's nothing short of amazing. 

But is it all really worth doing? Isn't it work to eat well? Perhaps. But what are the consequences if we don't change? Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness. And then there's eventual kidney failure, even amputations of extremities from poor circulation. I can't tell you how many people I worked with who were like this when I was at the old UND Rehab Hospital. And studies show that diabetics die earlier from the other diseases such as heart attack and stroke than the general population. 

Look, it's not a fair fight. Everywhere we are encouraged eat all kinds of foods that are exceedingly high in fats, sugars, and even proteins. Advertisers know how to get us to eat and drink just what they want. And it's all so convenient too!

Make a stand today that you will get educated on this important topic.

John's Hot Tips:

  • Eliminate simple sugars/carbs from your diet.
  • Increase complex carbs like brown rice, whole grain bread, beans.
  • Get 20 minutes of exercise a day.
  • Be happy and live for others.


by DeLois Weekes, RN PhD

Allergies are overaggressive immune responses triggered by ingesting certain foods, touching certain substances, or inhaling irritants such as pollen or animal dander. They are often associated with weakened adrenal, immune, and digestive functions, pollen, spores, mold, and dust (i.e., hay fever or allergic rhinitis). They affect the respiratory system and usually the most difficult to manage.

Adrenal and Immune Systems:

Hormones produced by the adrenal glands which are located on top of the kidneys. The stress hormone cortisol, which is secreted by the Adrenal glands plays an important role in regulating our immune system. Stress can increase or decrease cortisol levels leading to infections, chronic inflammation, autoimmune diseases or allergies. Balanced cortisol levels (stress)is needed for health.

When the body encounters a pathogen/allergen, the immune system responds by quickly attacking it. This causes inflammation, which is often a good thing (it means the immune system is working). Then the immune and endocrine systems are healthy, cortisol helps to moderate inflammation caused by an immune response, but does not eliminate it.


Natural treatments support and boost the adrenal and immune functions to alleviate allergy symptoms. For seasonal allergies, begin natural treatments 1–2 months before the season starts to help reduce severity of symptoms. Make a tea of one herb or a combination of herbs--drink 3 to 4 cups a day. If the herbs are in tincture form, combine several of them and take 1 -3 droppers 3 to 4 times a day.

Good nutrition helps to Reduce Allergy Symptoms:

  • Eat low-fat a high-complex-carbohydrate diet
  • Drink ½ of body weight in water daily
  • Include these foods:
    • Dark leafy green vegetables
    • Deep yellow and orange vegetables
    • Nettles, bamboo shoots, Cabbage
    • Beet greens
    • Carrots and yams
    • Onions, garlic, cayenne, horseradish

What to Eliminate from your Diet?

  • Caffeine
  • Dairy products
  • Bananas
  • Citrus fruit
  • Milk Chocolate
  • Food colorings (tartrazine) 
  • Peanuts
  • Red meat
  • Refined sugar
  • Refined wheat

Supplements to Include in Your Diet:

  • Bioflavonoids (natural antihistamines and strongly anti-allergenic), (e.g., quercetin, catechin, and hesperidin) 2-3 grams/day--If symptoms severe, take up to 6 grams
  • Bromelain and vitamin C can enhance action of bioflavonoids
  • Flaxseed oil - 1 tbsp. daily
  • Probiotics (e.g., lactobacillus acidophilus and bifidus) - one in morning and one in evening
  • Probiotics: bowel microflora organisms—microscopic bacteria that normally inhabit the intestines—buy quality products with 1-4 billion organisms/capsule

Vitamins and Minerals to include in Your Diet:

  • Multivitamin – High potency—customized if possible
  • Vitamin A - 25,000 IUs daily
  • Vitamin E - 400 IUs daily
  • Zinc - 30 mg daily
  • Vitamin C - 1-3 grams 2 to 3 times daily or as tolerated (Bowel tolerance: amount of vitamin C you can take without experiencing diarrhea (different for each person and can change if the need increases because the body is stressed, injured, or ill)

Herbal Remedies:

Herbal medicines rarely have significant side effects when used appropriately and in suggested doses.

Occasionally, an herb at the prescribed dose causes stomach upset or headache--may be related to purity of preparation or added ingredients, such as synthetic binders or fillers. Use only high-quality products. Remember, more is not better as overdosing can lead to serious illness and death. If you are taking prescription medications, consult with your health care provider before using herbal remedies.

Examples of Herbal Remedies:

  • Dong quai (Angelica sinensis) - antihistamine and anti-inflammatory
  • Eyebright (Euphrasia officinalis) - Reduces congestion and secretions, good for itchy eyes, sneezing, and excess mucus
  • Gingko (Gingko biloba) - Contains bioflavonoids has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
  • Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) - Helps reduce allergic, inflammatory, and histaminic reactions, supports liver function
  • Red clover (Trifolium pratense) - Helps build body’s resistance to allergies
  • Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) - antihistamine and anti-inflammatory
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) - Reduces congestion and secretions
  • Try hybrid Bermuda Grass

Good health can help ease allergy symptoms, and good health starts with nutrition (the right foods), vitamins, and minerals. If you’re sensitive to airborne allergens you may also be sensitive to certain foods. Identify and remove those foods and other elements from the diet to improve health and reduce allergy symptoms.

The Gut of Gluten

By John Kannenberg

If there ever was a fad food craze, gluten-free diets seems to be one of them! On TV, people who claimed to be on a gluten-free diet were asked what gluten is. So many didn't know! They were on this diet because a friend told them something or they want to appear health-conscious. But if you really are gluten intolerant, it's no laughing matter.

Gluten is a protein found in certain grains, most commonly wheat, barley and rye.

Many people react differently to gluten sensitivity. Various symptoms such as weight loss or gain, yeast infections, itchy skin, diarrhea, irritable bowels, headaches, nervous twitches, and joint pain are experienced. A close friend of mine can tell instantly if a dish has gluten in it. She gets a burning sensation on her lips and mouth. If she eats it, she will feel completely miserable for days.

Even a colleague of mine was diagnosed by a doctor more than 20 years ago as having MS. It turned out to be a gluten allergy, not MS.

There are a number of theories as to why some people react this way to gluten. It may be from the decades-long efforts in the hybridization of wheat to increase gluten content above normal levels. Others suggest pesticide residues may be to blame. Or, it could be something else which basically affects the intestinal flora, causing it to react to gluten. The Human Genome Project has even identified a genetic trait in some people which may cause them to be more gluten intolerant.

What To Do?

Remove all gluten from your diet. This means your usual breads, rolls, cookies, cereals, bagels, cakes, pies, and pastas need to go out the door! Yes, this is a big change in your life! Our mono diets of doughnuts, pizzas, pancakes and the like will need to change.

Replace those typical carbohydrates and starches with glutenless grains such as corn, rice, millet, amaranth, quinoa, sorghum, and even certified gluten-free oats. Increasing potato and sweet potato consumption will fill this void as well.

Because you now have a condition, you need to be doubly sure you are eating well in all other areas of your life. Subtracting one food from your diet will need to be replaced by another. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and mushrooms should be eaten of liberally.

As always, learn to read labels. Any time you see anything made with wheat flour in all its forms, avoid. Some people are even sensitive to the little bit of fermented wheat flour in soy sauce! Of course, if you are having digestive issues, the first thing to eliminate is all dairy products. So many will find that their digestive issues resolve themselves by taking this one step.

You Do Have Options

Many products are now available for the gluten intolerant. Corn and rice pastas come in all shapes and sizes. Many gluten-free breads are made with tapioca starch, rice flour and eggs. These are very processed foods but they do work in a pinch. Discover interesting grain products made from millet and oats.

John's hot gluten-free tips:

  • Discover unique recipes and products for gluten free living.
  • Even if you're not intolerant, eat a wider variety of grains other than just always processed wheat flour.
  • Be proactive! Don't wait for a miracle cure.
  • Ask your doctor for testing of this condition

Neurotransmitters and Mental Health

By DeLois Weekes, RN PHD


Proper amounts of neurotransmitters are necessary for maintaining optimal mental and physical health.
Neurotransmitters are defined as chemicals that determine how communication occurs in the brain. While there are numerous neurotransmitters, this focus of this article will be on: dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, acetylcholine, and GABA: (gamma-aminobutyric acid)/it is really an amino acid but classified as a neurotransmitter.  This discussion also focuses on the function of neurotransmitters in the body, causes of deficiencies, food sources, and how they relate to medications.

Functions of Dopamine:

  • Feelings of pleasure/bliss
  • Feelings of attachment/love
  • Sense of altruism
  • Integration of thoughts and feelings
  • Appetite control
  • Controls motor movements

Deficiencies of Dopamine result in:

  • Anhedonia/lack of pleasure, lack of interest and enthusiasm
  • Lack of ability to feel love/love another
  • Lack of remorse about actions
  • Distractibility
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Headaches—especially migraines
  • Premenstrual Syndrome
  • Very strong cravings for sweets
  • Appetite and Eating Disorders (e.g., binging or bulimia)
  • Depression, Anxiety, or Panic Attacks

Optimal levels can result in: wellbeing even during stressful situations. Excess levels can result in: anxiety disorders

Functions of Norepinephrine:

  • Energy, drive, alertness
  • Stimulation
  • Fight or flight
  • Long-term memory and learning

Deficiencies of Norepinephrine result in:

  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of motivation
  • Depression

Norepinephrine is produced from dopamine with the help of amino acids: phenylalanine, lysine, and methionine, and cofactors (Vitamins C and B-6, magnesium, and manganese). 

Natural sources of building blocks for Norepinephrine:

  • Tofu
  • Avocado
  • Nuts
  • Pineapple
  • Grains
  • Most green vegetables
  • Almonds
  • Bananas and apples
  • Blue-green algae

Functions of Serotonin:

  • Emotional stability
  • Reduces aggression
  • Sensory input
  • Calms and stabilizes emotions
  • Feel hopeful/creative               
  • optimistic/focused
  • patient/good natured                 
  • Reduced craving for carbohydrates
  • Improved sleep cycle
  • Appetite control
  • Sleep cycle
  • Reflective/thoughtful
  • More loving and caring

When we have a shortage of serotonin, lookout! We’re more at risk for depression, anxiety, irritability, impatience, and impulsivity. We may fly off the handle easily. In addition, we tend to have a shorter attention span and may appear to have scattered thought patterns. It is not unusual to crave sweets and high carbohydrate foods. In addition, we may suffer from insomnia and have poor dream recall.

Functions of GABA: (gamma-aminobutyric acid)/it is really an amino acid but classified as a neurotransmitter:

  • Induces relaxation and sleep
  • Balances excitation and inhibition in the brain
  • Stimulates HGH (human growth hormone) – HGH helps build muscle and prevent fat sedative effect – best taken before going to bed 

General Causes Neurotransmitter Deficiencies:

The most common cause of self-induced neurotransmitter deficiencies is limiting food intake to lose weight. This restricts the amounts of basic building blocks (neurotransmitter precursors) needed to produce enough neurotransmitters. Abnormal Sleep: neurotransmitters are needed for proper sleep, especially serotonin. Neurotransmitters are produced during REM sleep around 2-3 a.m. which converts to melatonin, the sleep hormone.

When serotonin levels are low, melatonin levels will also be low. Disrupted sleep occurs and production of neurotransmitters is decreased causing a vicious cycle. Studies from major universities, including Harvard, MIT, and Oxford, have documented that women on diets significantly deplete their serotonin within three weeks of dieting. Induced serotonin deficiency eventually results in cravings, moodiness, poor motivation, as well as rebound weight gain – the most common yet unfortunate consequence of dieting. Intake of dietary neurotransmitter precursor supplements during dieting is strongly encouraged to avoid yo-yo dieting.

Most neurotransmitters are made from protein or its subunits, amino acids. Eating adequate amounts of dietary protein is critical. The average person requires 40-70 grams (up to 90 grams for a very active athlete) of protein daily. Serotonin originates from the amino acid tryptophan, least common amino acid in food and most difficult to absorb into the brain making serotonin synthesis more difficult. Carbohydrates cause an insulin response that favors tryptophan absorption over other amino acids and as tryptophan absorption rises, so will serotonin production. High protein/very low carbohydrate diets lower serotonin levels, making us more prone to weight gain relapse, depression, excessive craving, bingeing, bulimia, severe PMS and seasonal affective disorder. Many people who need more serotonin and are overly-stressed or depressed start to “self-treat” by eating more sweets or starchy carbohydrates.

Dopamine is made from the amino acid tyrosine. Eating high protein foods promote dopamine production. Tyrosine is abundant in chicken, fish, dairy products, almonds, avocados, bananas, legumes, soy products, pumpkin and sesame seeds.

About two thirds of our brain is made of fat (lipids). Lipids are incorporated into the brain cell walls promoting membrane flexibility and strength. A filmy fat layer covers the branches of neurons allowing proper electrical transmission of brain signals. Dietary Fats such as lipids can be made directly by the body. Two lipids can come only from food such as essential fatty acids (EFA). The cell membranes of neurons are made from the essential fatty acids: alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) and linoleic acid (LA). Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) belongs to the “omega-3” fatty acid family. Main food sources of omega-3 ALA include flax seeds, walnuts, sea plants, green leafy vegetables, canola, soy, and walnut oil. Linoleic acid (LA) belongs to the “omega-6” fatty acid family. LA is found in the oils of seeds and nuts. The main food sources of omega 6 LA include expeller cold-pressed sunflower, safflower, corn and sesame oils.

Acetylcholine – helpful in learning and memory.  Made from B vitamins choline, found in eggs and organ meats, lecithin, and legumes/ 5 grams per day recommended dosage. (Alzheimer’s is due in part to low acetylcholine because of death of the cholinergic neurons that make it).

B Vitamins – help to manufacture neurotransmitters, and regulate energy release in brain cells. The B-Vitamins include: Cobalin (B12), Thiamin (B1, Riboflavin (B2), and Niacin (B6).

Other supplements that help brain Functioning:

  • Multivitamins – can raise non-verbal IQ scores
  • Antioxidants –help clean up the brain like rust cleaners to help keep the “rust: off our brain matter. (prunes, raisins, blueberries, blackberries, garlic, cooked kale, cranberries, strawberries, raw spinach, raspberries).
  • Omega-3 – helps brain functioning and mood. (e.g., walnuts, flax seed oil).
  • Selenium – naturally elevates mood. (grains, garlic, and Brazil nuts).
  • Vitamin E – blood circulation and heart conditions.
  • Folic Acid – low levels result in depression and increases the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. (supplements)
  • Ginko Biloba – helps prevent memory loss. Increases circulation of oxygen and blood to the brain.
  • Phosphatidylserine – stimulates acetylcholine and improves memory.
  • Chromium – suppresses a sharp rise in blood sugar.
  • B Vitamins – helps combat stress.  Improves memory and brain development.

Neurotransmitters and Certain Medications

Long-term use of diet pills, stimulants, pain pills, etc. can deplete neurotransmitter stores. For example, the use of ma huang, ephedra and prescription diet pills (like phen-fen, Fastin, phentermine) use up large amounts of dopamine and serotonin. The most commonly prescribed medications for abnormal moods (dysphoria) are the serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, called SRI’s (e.g., Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, etc.)

SRI’s prevent serotonin from reabsorbing back into storage vesicles leaving more available to stimulate the neurons.


Neurotransmitters play a vital role in brain function. Thus, it is essential that the necessary dietary building blocks are eaten on a regular basis. SO, eat right and keep your brain healthy.


Are We Full of Filth?

By John Kannenburg

Most think of constipation as being solely associated with the inability to defecate on a regular basis. But no, one can be constipated in their lungs, liver, lymph system and even skin. Did you
know that the skin is an organ of elimination? It is also known as the “third kidney” as it gives off over a pound of gaseous, liquid, and solid waste products each day (when functioning properly).

The body has seven main channels of eliminating its waste products: Blood; Bowels; Kidneys; Lymph, Lungs, Liver, and Skin. When any one of these is not functioning properly, the others have to carry the load. Often, they can't handle it. And so the entire system gets backed up and you have disease. This is the true definition of constipation.

One of the key modalities we use in our cleansing programs is hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is the liberal use of water internally and externally, especially in the form of hold and cold baths, alternating hot and ice packs and the like. This stimulates the perfusion of blood and oxegenates the cells while carrying off waste products.

We had a gentleman come through our institute doing a 10-day intense cleansing and healing program.

We had this man in the sauna, the jacuzzi, the steam bath ---and we could not get him to sweat! We finally put him into a neutral temperature bath and Pop! all those millions of sweat glands, which had been plugged for years, opened up. The water turned a foul color as the constipated organ, the skin, released its foul matter. Minutes later he remarked about how amazing he felt. No wonder!

We often see this as people go through these cleanses. Pent up toxins finally are released. But often the person initially often feels worse as these are migrating out of the body. Later, the mind and body feel amazing when freed from these things. When was the last time you felt truly good in your entire being?

When we are plugged up all over, the body begins to autointoxicate. That is, the body begins to reabsorb toxins that were intended for disposal. Even the FDA says that the average American has between 7-22 lbs of fecal matter inside of them at any one time. What would you suppose would be the effect of a body continually sitting in its own filth, all the way down to the cellular level? Aches? Check. Migraines? Check. Arthritis? Check. Lethargy and poor sleep? Double

Remember, no drug can cure permanently fix problems caused by poor eating and lifestyle habits. Clean living is the key to healthy living.

John's Hot Tips

  • Drink lots of water
  • Sweat, either from exertion or from a sauna/jacuzzi, to open the skin's pores
  • Eats foods containing fiber (fruits, vegetables, grains) to help
  • Evacuate the colon of old fecal material.

John Kannenberg is director of the Great Western Health Foundation

Summer Bounties

By Liz Erker, RD LD MS

Buying locally grown food is becoming more and more popular. If you haven’t started doing this already, summer is the perfect time of year to start. Check out Sunnydale Farms - delivered to 16800 Baxter Road in Chesterfield each Tuesday! Check out the variety of fruits and veggies. Stock up on tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers and try the recipe for Chilled Tuscan-Style Tomato Soup which I have adapted from Good Housekeeping. 
Healthy living starts early in life and most of us carry with us the habits that were formed at a very young age. Make sure that your family is headed on the track to wellness by incorporating these 5 basic healthy habits into your family lifestyle: 

  • Eating for health - mostly plants!!!
  • Drinking loads of water - it helps us metabolize fat!
  • De-stressing -  learn tools to help you manage the stress in your life
  • Getting adequate sleep - 7-8 hours nightly
  • Staying active - If you haven’t done so, you should download the Pokemon GO app to get you up and out exploring our parks and surrounding areas (be aware of your surroundings, avoid playing at night alone, avoid driving while playing and watch where you are going!!!)



Liz Erker, RD LD MS

Liz is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape For Life and registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association.  She educates, supports and develops a plan for making healthy lifestyle choices that will improve one’s quality of life. Liz Erker is a registered dietician and has worked in the field of nutrition for more than 25 years. She helps to educate individuals in nutrition knowledge, weight loss, weight management and food intolerances and sensitivities. In addition to working with individuals, and participating in community outreach Liz welcomes teaming with physicians, personal trainers and family members.

Health Tips for the Holiday!

by Liz Erkers RD LD MS

It’s hard to believe that the 4th of July is a few short days away! Being that it lands on a Monday, that makes it an automatic 3 day weekend and a time when many of us tend to find any excuse to veer from our weekday routine. To help manage your diet and lifestyle this holiday weekend:

  • hold yourself accountable
  • keep active….your body is a machine which is intended for movement
  • THINK about your choices, take one meal at a time
  • drink loads of water
  • don’t allow yourself to have whatever you want to eat and drink just because it’s a holiday weekend. BARGAIN with yourself! You can’t have it all anymore!!
  • be proud of yourself for making healthy choices
  • have a safe and healthy 4th

Here is a Tip for Thought!

While adding nutrients to refined foods can theoretically increase their quality, the reality is that foods that come from the earth are invariably more complex and more nutritious than those that have been refined, then fortified.

Foods from the earth: fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, peas, legumes
Have a wonderful 4th!

Liz Erker, RD LD MS

Liz is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape For Life and registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association.  She educates, supports and develops a plan for making healthy lifestyle choices that will improve one’s quality of life. Liz Erker is a registered dietician and has worked in the field of nutrition for more than 25 years. She helps to educate individuals in nutrition knowledge, weight loss, weight management and food intolerances and sensitivities. In addition to working with individuals, and participating in community outreach Liz welcomes teaming with physicians, personal trainers and family members.

Emotional Eating

by Nikki Yankee, MS LMFT

What is the difference between emotional eating vs. eating for hunger? How can we prevent emotional eating from getting out of control? Usually, emotional hunger feels sudden and urgent, where physical hunger tends to come on gradually. Emotional hunger causes a specific craving, like pizza or chips; physical hunger can generally be satisfied with any food. When we emotionally eat, we tend to eat too much leaving us with feelings of guilt which end up making us feel worse after the temporary 'high' from the food has worn off. 

Why Do We Emotionally Eat?

Emotional eating can be linked to our biology. When we don't get enough sleep or when we are overly stressed, our body produces hormones that cause us to crave fatty, sugary, and high carbohydrate foods. In return, these foods make us feel temporarily alert and excited. 

Numbing negative feelings or maintaining good feelings can be a primary factor for many individuals who emotionally eat. Eating can be distracting, and lots of people find it easier to avoid dealing with difficult emotions with their favorite 'comfort food'. Likewise, food can also be used to maintain or achieve a good feeling. Did you grow up with food symbolizing love or achievement? Perhaps home baked cookies or a big dinner out meant a 'job well done' or 'you are special'. In the way that love is demonstrated through food, we begin to subconsciously believe that we love ourselves through treating ourselves to food we enjoy. The opposite can also be true. We begin to feel that if we ‘deprive’ ourselves from eating a particular food, we are being punished or are somehow unworthy of love. 

To make it harder, the entertainment and media industry are constantly sending false and unhealthy messages about food. It becomes increasingly difficult to make wise, informed decisions about what to put into our bodies. Additionally, as technology has boomed over the last decade with tablets, smart phones, and hand-held gaming devices, we become less able to tolerate boredom and fill the void with food.

How Do We Stop Emotionally Eating?

Thankfully, we can break the cycle of emotionally eating! It takes practice and finding creative ways to successfully calm and soothe yourself. 

As a therapist, I use a form of treatment called Cognitive-behavioral therapy to help individuals overcome problems such as emotional eating. CBT takes a look at how our thoughts and feelings influence behavior and the triggers behind the emotional eating. Many times people have become so entrenched in negative or irrational thoughts surrounding their triggers, their don't even realize it. 

Break the cycle of associating food, particularly unhealthy foods, with certain forms of 'self-talk'. The voice in your head might be 'feeding' you bad information! For example: If someone offers you a piece of cake - rather than think "If I say 'no' the person will be offended or hurt" Think,"If I say no, it's not a big deal!" or "Hmm, what do I want to eat tonight? I had a rough day at work, so I am going to treat myself to lasagna. I deserve it." Think instead, "Hmmm, what should I eat tonight? I had a rough day at work so I am going to get to bed a little earlier. I am going to make a dinner I can be proud to say is healthy! I may not be able to control my bad day at work, but I can make sure to fuel my body with healthy food!" 

It can be helpful to keep track of the times when you notice you are emotionally eating and be mindful of the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. By doing this, we begin working to sharpen the awareness to the triggers and reinforce more positive, rational self-talk, resulting in less impulsive behavior.

I also believe it is fundamentally important to support ourselves through healthy lifestyle habits such as exercise, drinking enough water, getting adequate sleep, practicing time management, and setting aside time to pamper yourself.

To learn more great tips, check out this helpful article!

The Benefits of Walking

Walking for 30 to 60 minutes a day, five days a week, has many health benefits, such as reducing the chances of cancer, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, anxiety, and even depression.  It increases bone health, lowers the more harmful low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol and raises the more useful good high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol.  Studies have also shown that walking can help prevent Alzheimer’s and dementia. 

There is nothing simpler than walking, yet the benefits to the body’s health are amazing.  Brisk walking can improve your stamina, energy, weight control, life expectancy, and reduce stress.  It can also reduce your risk of getting osteoporosis, bowel cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, strokes and coronary heart disease.  It improves your memory skills, concentration, abstract reasoning – and not to mention that it can uplift your spirit!

There are many different forms of walking.   Some people are fitness walkers and use pedometers to track their steps.  Others enjoy leisurely strolls.  There are many ways to walk!  

Walking is convenient, it needs no special equipment, is self-regulating and inherently safe. Walking is as natural as breathing.
— John Butcher

The Health Benefits of Water

by DeLois Weeks, RN, PhD

Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.
— John 4:10 KJV

Water is vital to life and health. Our bodies are 55% to 78% water depending on body size. Approximately two-thirds of the body consists of water. The tissues and organs are primarily made up of water:

  • Muscle 75% water
  • Brain 90% water
  • Bone 22% water
  • Blood 83% water

Every cell in the body needs water.  For example, the brain cannot function well without sufficient water and without it, you will get headaches or migraines. Fatigue and headache may be signs of dehydration.

Harmful Effects and Symptoms of Dehydration:

  • Dark yellow or orange urine: Urine is typically pale yellow to clear
  • Dry skin: skin is the largest body organ and requires water
  • Hunger: Most people mistake hunger for the indication to eat more when it may be an indication of dehydration 

More Benefits of Water:

  • Regulates body temperature, and increases energy and fuel used by muscles during exercise
  • Aids digestion by raising metabolism
  • Works synergistically with fiber to facilitate peristalsis and relieve constipation
  • Lubricates joint and muscle helping to relieve cramps and strains
  • Helps fight cold, flu and other ailments like kidney stones and heart attack
  • Relieves fatigue by helping to flush toxins and waste products 
  • Lifts mood because when the body is well hydrated, you feel happy
  • Reduces the risk of bladder and colon cancer by diluting the concentration of cancer-causing agents in the urine and shortening the time they are in contact with bladder lining
Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid: for the LORD JEHOVAH is my strength and my song; …therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.
— Isaiah 12:2-3 KJV

Are You as Healthy as You Think?

Find out on May 1st 2016 at the West County Health Expo!

  • Participate in FREE screenings 
  • Counseling by a Physician - Nurse Practitioner 
  • FIVE interactive Health Demonstrations, one taking place every half hour! 
  • Sample a variety of delicious wholesome vegetarian food 
  • Visit informative Vendor booths 
  • Fun Child Activities 


Eating Right Does Not Need to Be Complicated

by Liz Erker, RD LD MS

As National Nutrition Month winds down, I encourage you to continue to think of food and water as medicine which is meant to nourish our bodies in an easy, delicious and economical way. Keep eating for health simply by focusing on this thought:

Eating right doesn’t have to be complicated — simply begin to shift to healthier food and beverage choices.

These recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans can help get you started:

  • Emphasize fruit, vegetables, whole grains (Lots of PLANTS!) and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products.
  • Include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts.
  • Make sure your diet is low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium) and added sugars.

Make Your Calories Count:

Think nutrient-rich rather than "good" or "bad" foods. The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients, and lower in calories. Making smart food choices can help you stay healthy, manage your weight and be physically active.

Focus on Variety:

Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups to get the nutrients your body needs. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned. Eat more dark green vegetables such as leafy greens and broccoli and orange vegetables including carrots and sweet potatoes. Vary your protein choices with more fish, beans and peas. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day.

Know Your Fats:

Look for foods low in saturated fats and trans fats to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Most of the fats you eat should be monounsaturated and polyunsaturated oils. Check the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels for total fat and saturated fat

Liz Erker, RD LD MS

Liz is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape For Life and registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association.  She educates, supports and develops a plan for making healthy lifestyle choices that will improve one’s quality of life. Liz Erker is a registered dietician and has worked in the field of nutrition for more than 25 years. She helps to educate individuals in nutrition knowledge, weight loss, weight management and food intolerances and sensitivities. In addition to working with individuals, and participating in community outreach Liz welcomes teaming with physicians, personal trainers and family members.

The Benefits of Sleep

By DeLois Weeks, RN, PhD

Sleep studies consistently show that sleep plays a vital role in promoting physical health, longevity, and emotional well-being. After a good night's sleep, we feel better, our thoughts are clearer and emotions are less fragile. Without adequate sleep, judgment, mood, and ability to learn and retain information are weakened. Sleep improves our memory, increases concentration, and enables the brain to more effectively process new experiences, knowledge and understanding.

During sleep, repairs are made to the body, and extra protein molecules that boost the immune system are produced. Sleep helps reduce stress. It also helps to control weight gain by regulating hormones affecting appetite. People who report sleeping less than five hours a night have been found to be more likely to become obese than those who sleep seven to eight hours a night.

Research indicates that sleep reduces the chances of Type 2 Diabetes by affecting metabolism of glucose (carbohydrates cells use for fuel/energy). Adults sleeping less than five hours a night are at greater risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes.

Requirements for sleep vary by individual: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke reports that most adults need 7-8 hours a night. Some people may need as few as 5 hours per night and others up to nine or ten hours of sleep each day for proper functioning.

Sleep reduces agitation, moodiness, depression and anxiety. It also decreases high levels of "inflammatory markers" like C-reactive protein and alpha lipoprotein both linked to heart disease and stroke. Sleep helps regulate blood pressure and cholesterol levels (both play a role in heart disease)

National Nutrition Month

By Liz Erker, RD LD MS

When it comes to choosing what to eat, nutrition is important but flavor is likely the true motivator and also the key to eating right. March is National Nutrition Month®, and the theme is "Savor the Flavor of Eating Right" which will hopefully encourage American’s to experiment with new flavors and flavor combinations in healthy meals.

According to consumer research, taste trumps nutrition as the main reason why consumers buy one food over another. For most of us, the foods we most commonly eat are often those we enjoy the most, so make taste a priority when preparing nutritious meals. To maximize food’s flavor and nutrition, choose high-quality ingredients at their peak quality, and be sure to store and handle foods properly. Proper food handling and storage can enhance the natural flavors of food and keep nutrient loss to a minimum. Overcooking can destroy both flavor and nutrients. So be sure to cook foods properly to retain nutrients and enhance flavor, color, texture and overall appeal.

Preparing meals can be easy, healthy, rewarding and cost-effective. Try some of these simple techniques to enhance flavor while experimenting with flavor combinations:

  • Intensify the flavors of meat, poultry and fish with high-heat cooking techniques such as pan-searing, grilling or broiling.
  • Pep-it-up with peppers. Use red, green and yellow peppers of all varieties—sweet, hot and dried. Or add a dash of hot pepper sauce.
  • Try grilling or roasting veggies in a very hot (450°F) oven or grill for a sweet, smoky flavor. Brush or spray them lightly with oil so they don’t dry out. Sprinkle with herbs.
  • Caramelize sliced onions to bring out their natural sugar flavor by cooking them slowly over low heat in a small amount of oil. Use them to make a rich, dark sauce.
  • Simmer juices to make reduction sauces. Use them as a glaze or gravy.
  • For fuller flavors, incorporate more whole grains such as brown rice or quinoa, or experiment with ancient grains such as amaranth and wild rice.
  • Add small amounts of ingredients with bold flavors like pomegranate seeds, chipotle pepper or cilantro.
  • Add a tangy taste with citrus juice or grated citrus peel: lemon, lime or orange. Acidic ingredients help lift and balance flavor.
  • Enhance sauces, soups and salads with a splash of flavored balsamic or rice vinegar.
  • Give a flavor burst with good-quality condiments such as horseradish, flavored mustard, chutney, wasabi, bean purees, tapenade and salsas of all kinds

Liz Erker, RD LD MS

Liz is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape For Life and registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association.  She educates, supports and develops a plan for making healthy lifestyle choices that will improve one’s quality of life. Liz Erker is a registered dietician and has worked in the field of nutrition for more than 25 years. She helps to educate individuals in nutrition knowledge, weight loss, weight management and food intolerances and sensitivities. In addition to working with individuals, and participating in community outreach Liz welcomes teaming with physicians, personal trainers and family members.

A Big Thanks! to Liz Erker RD LD MS

Liz Erker has graciously agreed to be a guest contributor to West County Health Expo's blog! We are excited to learn more about healthy living, thanks to her expert advice and helpful tips!
Liz is a Certified Health Coach with Take Shape For Life and registered dietitian through the American Dietetic Association.  She educates, supports and develops a plan for making healthy lifestyle choices that will improve one’s quality of life. Liz Erker is a registered dietician and has worked in the field of nutrition for more than 25 years. She helps to educate individuals in nutrition knowledge, weight loss, weight management and food intolerances and sensitivities. In addition to working with individuals, and participating in community outreach Liz welcomes teaming with physicians, personal trainers and family members.

Click here to visit her website!