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Archive for the 'Diet, nutrition and exercise' Category

Consider this when depression hits

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

Treatment for dual diagnosis is often necessary when someone is affected by both chemical dependency and an emotional illness. We see a lot of this within our drinking population because so many people suffer from both depression and alcohol dependence. In fact, the question often arises: which came first?

Regardless of the answer, we find many alcoholics are prescribed anti-depressants or mood stabilizing medication.

Our blended program of nutritional supplementation, dietary changes, exercise, hypnotherapy–and medication, if appropriate–addresses chemical imbalances in the brain. Patients who adopt our therapy are often surprised at how quickly their depression lifts. One of advantages of our approach is that it is highly customizable and allows individuals to focus on problem areas. Some people look to renew their bodies (e.g. liver health or brain function) while others wish to improve their mental and emotional well being. The body’s entire system, both mental and physical, is compromised by excessive drinking and we find a multi-faceted approach is most effective when tackling an action plan for long term sobriety.

Sometimes a simple supplement can make a world of difference. Take Omega-3 fatty acid oils. They are often overlooked as a mood enhancer, but we’ve gotten some really great feedback about how well they work. Clinical trials are now underway to follow up previous studies and determine more precisely their mechanism of action. You’ll find info here.

We also have some excellent links in our Health Store regarding the many benefits of omega oil supplementation (it’s excellent for heart health) including the following overview:

“A now famous Harvard study (Stoll et al., 1999) determined that individuals suffering from manic and mood disorders collectively exhibit low levels of EPA and DHA. During this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, nearly 75% of the subjects treated with omega-3 experienced relief from their symptoms. According to Dr. Stoll, “Our study results indicate that fish oil does possess the elements needed to stabilize mood.”
Source: Now Foods Health Professor

Omega-3 supplements are generally easy to find, inexpensive and safe. However, consumers must be diligent about purchasing a high quality brand that’s been tested for contaminants such as peroxide, mercury, PBCs and dioxins. Best also to select one that meets or exceed FDA safety standards.

Modest exercise effective as meds for depression

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

exerciseThe findings aren’t new but they are important and were published by Duke University a few years ago. In a clinical setting Duke demonstrated that 30 minutes of moderate exercise (e.g. brisk walking) three times a week was just as effective as drug therapy in relieving symptoms of depression.

Researchers studied 156 elderly patients diagnosed with major depressive disorder. They were assigned to three groups: exercise, medication, or a combination of medication and exercise. To the researchers’ surprise, after 16 weeks all three groups showed significant and similar improvement in measurements of depression. They noted some patients who took the anti-depressants saw their symptoms alleviated sooner but by the 16th week, the group differences had disappeared

A follow up study six months later indicated that patients who continued to exercise had statistically significant improvement relative to those who took anti-depression medication or who took medication and exercised.

“One of the conclusions we can draw from this is that exercise may be just as effective as medication and may be a better alternative for certain patients,” said the lead researcher, Duke psychologist James Blumenthal.

And in response to the follow-up study Blumenthal said “the effectiveness of exercise seems to persist over time, and patients who respond well to exercise and maintain their exercise have a much smaller risk of relapsing.”

“Relapse,” of course, means a couple of things to us. I figure we should do anything we can to prevent it. Those of you who’ve read My Way Out know that moderate exercise is recommended three times a week. And those of you who do it already know it helps.

Give it a try if you haven’t. A brisk walk (approved by your doc) is all it takes.

Amino acid therapy and HTP-5

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

Amino acids play a critical role in craving reduction. They make up the essential building blocks of neurotransmitters and tell our brains whether or not we’re satisfied. Since their adoption in the mid 80’s, thousands of people have benefited from their use. We’re now witnessing a huge resurgence of interest in amino acid therapy.

We’ve recommended a number of blended and specific amino acids as part of the My Way Out program and I’ve recently developed a special interest in 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxytryptophan. It’s a compound created in the body and used to regulate serotonin levels in the brain. It’s believed to be quite effective in regulating mood, treating anxiety and helping facilitate weight loss. Many people coming off alcohol complain of sleep disturbances and irritability, so find it helpful.

We’ve recently made 5-HTP available in our Health Store thanks to our partner at NOW FOODS. We’ve included a link with more info about the supplement courtesty of Wikipedia, the infamous online collaborative encyclopedia.

Less objective but equally interesting are a number of quick blog entries below with general info that I found while googling today. I decided to take this rather unscientific approach after receiving a number of reports within a relatively short time from people (both doctors and patients, interestingly) extolling its benefits for a variety of conditions.

Anecdotal? Yup.  Junk science? I don’t think so:

I have a sex drive, I have energy, I don’t have back pain anymore, I feel good when I wake up

I have noticed that I do sleep better. I would say even better than when I was on vacation

Tryptophan (5HTP) is wonderful. I started taking it a week ago. It helps my sleeping (when I let it) and I’m hoping it helps me lose some weight

As far as the anxiety goes, I take 5-HTP that I get from my holistic Dr. and I haven’t had any anxiety problems since

I use HTP-5 50mg. twice daily, it a precursor of serotonin, bought over the counter, and 300mg. wellbutrin. I have noticed a significant decrease in my cravings, in fact sweets make me nauseated

(Please remember it’s important to let your doc know if you’re prescribed any meds before you start taking HTP-5. It is contraindicated when used with with some anti-depressants, herbals or other medications.) 

Got topa dopa?

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

workoutThen boogie to the beat.

Patients who take Topamax, one of the medications recommended in My Way Out, sometimes complain of short term mental fuzz, especially while they’re dosing up. I well remember grasping for words during conference calls or pulling out the calculator for simple math. It passed eventually.

But here’s an easy fix in the meantime: simply add music to your workout.

According to Charles Emery of Ohio State University, music can give your exercise program a mental boost. Emery was lead author of a clinical study evaluating the effects of music and short-term exercise in coronary heart patients. He says patients got an emotional lift after working out, whether or not they did so to music. However, improvement in verbal skills was twice as high for those who who jammed to the beat.

“Exercise seems to cause positive changes in the nervous system, and these changes may have a direct effect on cognitive ability,” Emery said. “Listening to music may influence cognitive function through different pathways in the brain. The combination of music and exercise may stimulate and increase cognitive arousal while helping to organize cognitive output.”

You’ll find the story here.

I gotta go…..!

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise


We sometimes get reports of members who experience gastrointestinal problems when first starting the MWO program and follow the nutritional supplementation recommendations. The supps are so important, I feel it’s worth reiterating what I posted on the board earlier today. (Condensed version anyway.)

1) Eliminate or reduce magnesium from the program and/or take it at bedtime. It’s a recognized stool softener.

2) Take a good probiotic! There are many out there, and we’ve got one coming soon.

3) Review the info sheet if you ordered from us. Good tips!

For details from this morning’s earlier post, visit this link.

50 mile commute: 45 cents?

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

 Harvard bike 

What a whizzer: introducing the lightweight Golden Eagle Bike Engine 4-stroke motor and belt drive kit. This fella claims it saves him the daily 50 mile commute by car (“environmentally obscene”) and enhances the traditional bike trek (“suicide in a Phoenix summer”). Awesome find, dude.

He says the $550 unit requires him to pedal when accelerating from a stop or climbing steep hills, but that it feels completely natural. He maintains an average 18 mph and says his ride to work is now ten minutes longer than before, but entirely less frustrating. And hey, no road rage!

Check it out at Golden Eagle Bike Engine.

Off the couch, you

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

I began extolling the benefit of exercise since first launching the MWO message board in October of ’04. Since then, we’ve seen that members who work out seem to have a much greater recovery rate. People who run, jog, swim, walk, bicycle, row, stair climb, spin, or otherwise commit to some form of regular cardiovascular activity reap tremendous rewards. It improves their mood, clears their head, reduces their cravings, and melts away pounds. It’s also clinically proven to help lift depression.

Many visitors to our community are undoubtedly in much better shape than me and I’m sure my exercise routine would pale in comparison. Here’s the rub about this critical element of MWO that I continue to endorse so ferociously: I often hate the thought of doing it. I’m busy, am involved in many projects I love, and can’t stand being pulled away for yet another workout. Honestly, outside of  team sports when I was younger, I’ve really never found exercising that much fun. I wish I had the endurance of a long distance runner or the enthusiasm of a jock.

However, I will never ever give up my little workouts. In the end (heck, by the middle) they make me feel way too good and I’m confident they also help keep me from slipping. The trick has been to keep the routine short and do them regularly. So every other day, religiously, I coax myself away from the computer to take a brisk walk or get on the treadmill, depending on weather.

My treadmill is funky and old and I bought it used. It makes a lot of racket and the dogs glare at me when I’m on it, having tail whipped everything in site once the tennis shoes appear. My old clunker doesn’t boast the fancy features like the one I ogled over at Sears the other day. But for me, it provides the perfect workout (along with a pilates video I know by heart.). To this day, I remind myself beforehand that the workout will be short, only 15, 20, maybe 30 minutes, which is nothing—I mean, it takes longer to compose a couple emails. Just depends what I’m listening to.

And that’s been another key. Over the past couple of years, I’ve powerwalked to upbeat music, podcast interviews, books on CD and fitness recordings. It helps keep it interesting. Last year I invested in an iPod Nano, and this year, Macally wireless earmuff headphones, which I adore. They’re not nearly as sexy as Nike’s new feedback shoe. But these muffs are also excellent for hypno sessions, as there’s no getting tangled up in bed and the sound quality is great. And unlike some of the electronics around here, I can always find the Macally’s. They are ‘way dorky’ according to my teens, who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing them.

But back to the motivating audio behind the workouts. A search on the Net or at Apple’s iTunes proves just how explosive the downloadable workout trend has become. There’s a ton of free material out there and best of all, much of it is free.

Here are a few sites and workouts I’ve either tested or looked into, along with some feedback:


Name: “Podrunner”, courtesy of dj Steveboy. Blends lots of hard driving music for an excellent one-hour workout.
Good: The mix is updated every week on iTunes and is really good.
Bad: I don’t do a full hour usually, so would prefer an earlier warmdown.
Find: In iTunes directory or on the website at

Name: Exertrack
Good: Cool website, especially for visual learners. Lots of tools.
Bad: Couldn’t deal with the computer generated audio instructions. Think Apple Computer’s original talking software
Find: on their website at

CHEAP (99 cents per workout)

Name: Marina’s Workout Podcasts
Good: Great for beginners. Short, ten to fifteen minute workouts with nice music groove and some inspirational jabber from a woman who lost nearly 100 pounds. Geared more to the female crowd and downloads come in many flavors, depending on your workout
Bad: Some of the downloads are simply too short at 12 minutes or so, but they can be kluged together. The way she laughs drives me nuts and I finally decided to move on
Find: in iTunes or on her site at

SPENDY  $11.99 each

Name: Nike Sports Music
Good: Very motivating with multiple selections and excellent coaching tips throughout. Includes a booklet with the download. The one I’ve used, “Treadmill Training”  provides a challenging 30 minute push, especially if you’re new to it, but it’s easily modified. Would work better with that machine at Sears.
Bad: The one I tested has great music, but there are more than a couple of references to alcohol in the songs, so not good if that’s a trigger.
Find: in iTunes or on Nike’s site under Sports Music at

Two fabulous free online communities:

Exercise Radio at emerging satellite service with nearly 10 million subscribers, this site offers four “channels”: cardio, yoga, kickboxing, strength training.

Fitpod at Comprehensive community offering both free and pay music, along with health news, product reviews, and other useful goodies.

As always, talk to your doctor before starting a new workout routine. We learned just this week, in fact, that exercise can kill you if you have an irregular heartbeat. Yikes!

Pick your drink

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

Recently a new member to MWO posted early success in avoiding alcohol withdrawal and craving by jump starting the program with “The Water Cure”. Idea is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water each day, supplemented with sea salt. Dr. Fereydoon Batamanghelidj, M.D. has been researching hydration for over 20 years and developed the program. He is a passionate advocate for its efficacy and believes we unintentionally dehydrate our bodies to dangerous levels. He says this is the primary cause of most medical conditions and ultimately leads to stress, pain and degenerative diseases. He claims his water cure reduces addictive urges, as well, something of particular importance here. Dr B’s solution in regainding our health is to simply drink more water.

I have to admit, I found much of what he said in the interviews here pretty compelling. In my book, I recommended drinking lots of water (my measurements aren’t quite as precise; I believe I used the word “boatloads”). A quick synopsis about his recommendations–and fascinating history–can be found in this article. In fact, the writer says she suffered terrible arthritis pain before applying the principles in Batamanghelidj’s book, “Your Body’s Many Cries for Water.” 

Again, sea salt is an integral part of the therapy and is to be taken in the amounts shown here. Alcohol and caffeine consumption are discouraged because of their diuretic effects. In fact, an additional 10 to 12 ounces is recommended for every 6 ounce beverage on the blackballed list.

People should check with their docs before starting the program, but frankly, most physicians don’t buy the water theory. And this just in: new research published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition claims tea is actually better for you.  According to the study, it not only hydrates, but its anti-oxidant flavanoids offer protective benefits against heart disease, cancer, tooth decay and bone loss. It’s also purported to improve mood and concentration. 

So, what to do? Neither concept is foreign to me, as I’ve been promoting both water and tea for quite a while. (Green’s really good for you.) I guess you just have to decide how much of each you want to drink. I admit to upping my water intake a bit since first learning about Dr. Batamanghelidj’s work, and I use sea salt, as recommended. After this week’s news about tea, I no longer worry about it eating into my daily quota.

I’ve largely ignored the advice about adding more water to offset caffeinated tea consumption because it just didn’t make sense to me. I don’t know about coffee, that might be different. I’m having a hard time keeping up with coffee. Last month it was good for your liver, this month it’s bad for your heart. I like New York Daily News columnist Lenore Skenazy’s assessment.

And I’m reminded of a hilarious routine by comedian Lewis Black who says “when I was young and water was free, nobody ever told you how much water to drink. Then, they started bottling water and suddenly they said eight bottles a day.”

Hey, maybe we’re not so dehydrated after all.

Hoodia, huh?

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

Here’s a thought–and frankly, I haven’t been following the hoodia craze, so it never occurred to me: hoodia to reduce craving. A woman emailed me recently asking if anyone I knew had tried it. She’s not able to get an Rx from her doc for the meds but is intrigued with accounts she’s read about Topamax and its piggy back weight loss side effect. She said she’d planned to purchase the CDs and supps and was committed to undertaking all aspects of the program. She wanted to know if she could take hoodia instead of Topamax along with the recommended MWO supps, as she’s desperate to lose weight along with her craving. She wondered if hoodia might help.

I have to admit, my industrial strength spam detector is incapable of holding the flood of messages about hoodia at bay, so I’ve always associated it with garbage. But it got me thinking that maybe I hadn’t given the supplement a fair shake. So I looked around a bit. Always start with the scholarly schtuff and was surprised to quickly learn that a controlled, double blind study had been published about its efficacy. And the results looked pretty good, though I haven’t run it by the official team here. However, from what I read, the data was so compelling, that much like kudzu, it attracted the interest of a large pharmaceutical company who hoped to turn it into a blockbuster. (Pfizer, but they ultimately dropped it when they learned they couldn’t reproduce the killer chemical in a lab.)

Hoodia, or hoodia gordonii to be specific, is derived from a South African succulent and it’s become one of the hottest selling weight loss products around. Although there are 20 types of hoodia, only the hoodia gordonii variety contains the natural appetite suppressant. The hoodia plant has been used for thousands of years by the Sans Bushmen tribe of the Kalahari Desert to suppress appetite in times of long hunting trips or hardship.

There are no reported side effects of hoodia, but that’s not necessarily true of products that aren’t 100% pure or don’t contain the specific chemical known to reduce appetite. Same thing goes for effectiveness–for example, varieties grown in different regions under other conditions don’t work nearly as well.

So how do you find the real deal?

A non-profit South African based company claims that 75% of hoodia products are fake, and they are dedicated to providing chemical analysis, along with potency reports on popular brands. They see what’s coming and don’t want the public falling victim to a flood of phony hoodia claims. They know their farmers have much invested–it takes several years to cultivate the real thing. According to the website, this company has spot checked a number of products, but admit they haven’t been able to do broad testing because of cost. Linked from their site is a “Hall of Pride”, “Hall of Shame” and invitation for manufacturers to join their program. I don’t know what their standards are but on first blush I was surprised to see a GNC label listed among others in Shame Hall. They provide data sheets with URLs to the limited products they’ve approved, which include Desert Burn, Ethno Africa, and King Hoodia. Maybe you need an ethnic/macho name to pass?

Then there’s Phytopharm, the company that actually gained rights to the appetite suppressing mystery molecule, P.57. They’ve tied up most of the hoodia gordonii market in a deal with the South African government, but as I understand, other companies are still able to legally provide it. It’s sorta complicated and we’re sure to be reading lawsuits about it in the near future.

Phytopharm spent about $20 million in research, which included human and animal studies. Their partner, Uniliver,(owner of Slimfast) plans to launch meal-replacement products in 2008 which contain the proprietary hunger suppressing agent in hoodia gordonii, P.57.

So back to the nice lady’s question. Should she take it? Will it work?

To be honest, I can’t really say–there’s certainly no research linking hoodia’s qualities to those that addiction specialists now know block opiate receptors or enhance/calm neurotransmitter activity. As I understand, hoodia imitates the effect of glucose on the brain. It simply makes you feel full. For a long time.

My gut tells me it will help with appetite; won’t help with alcohol. I hope I’m wrong. It’d be nice, anecdotally, anyway, if we could have asked those San Bushmen of the Kalahari if they felt less like partying after chewing on their day’s ration.

And unlike some of the supplements I’ve seen people pile onto our program, at least this one doesn’t seem a very reckless choice. As I’ve stated ad nauseum, I’m always concerned about the “more is better” philosophy because many people don’t fess up to their doc about their involvement in the MWO program, or are taking anti-depressants which may be contra-indicated with certain nutritional supplements, or have specific health conditions that have to be considered, or….

Overall, I guess this stuff looks pretty safe. I suppose the biggest issue would be for someone who’d be at risk for skipping meals.

This is NOT an official recommendation. To be honest, I find that often people ask me for advice and then go [fill in the blank] anyway.

So the important thing, I suppose, if our new MWO’er decides to [fill in the blank] is that she buys a high quality product, drinks tons of water when taking the supplement (hoodia reduces your thirst along with your hunger), and eats well balanced, healthy meals, even if she doesn’t feel hungry. Thin Topa folks have been there, done that. She should also eliminate sugar while force feeding herself.

And talk to the doc, talk to the doc, talk to the doc. Not sure hers will go for hoodia if s/he’s no fan of anti-craving meds in general. Hoodia schmoodia and all that. Maybe our friend will refer to the message below in finding someone to help out.

Have to admit, I can’t blame a girl for trying…I remember how wonderfully motivated I felt to keep up the good work after watching those numbers on the scale drop consistently each week.

I tell ya, I get the most interesting mail. I am rooting for her.

That damn amygdala

Posted by Roberta Jewell
Categories: Diet, nutrition and exercise

We’ve observed anecdotally that anxiety and alcohol dependence appear to go hand in hand. New research seems to indicate that a specific brain protein plays a role in both. According to this article, Subhash Pandey of the University of Illinois, Chicago says “…it is well established that high levels of anxiety promote alcohol consumption and also play a crucial role in relapse to alcohol drinking. Our study suggests a molecular, neurochemical mechanism in the amygdala which may be responsible for the association of high levels of anxiety with excessive alcohol-drinking behavior.”

The amygdala is an almond shaped structure deep within the brain that plays an important role in memory, imagination and emotion.

I suspect that’s why people who incorporate hypnotherapy, mediation, yoga, tai chi and other forms of relaxation have a better shot at recovery. I’m also reminded of an article I read a while back called “Talking to the Amygdala” which promoted specific hypnotherapy techniques to effect positive behavioral change. According to some, the amygdala can be “called upon” during hypno sessions to help settle the autonomic nervous system.

Theories also abound regarding the size of the amygdala in those more vulnerable to addiction. (Size, in this case apparently does matter.)

A diet high in fish, which contains omega-3 fatty acids and supplementation with SAM-e and GABA is said to improve amygdala function. So does something as simple as sleep. (The amygdala communicates closely with many other brain regions during REM sleep.)

I wonder if that’s why so many people who start our program report wild, intense dreams early on. Maybe it’s a sign the amygdala is getting better.

Fascinating, the noggin.