January 23, 2017

The Important Functions of Cholesterol

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

For this article, I conducted a short survey with some of my patients. I asked, “What is cholesterol?” The following answers come from a college-educated woman:

  • “Bad fats.”
  • “Clogs up your veins.”
  • “You have to eat healthy to not get it.”
  • “You get it from trans-fats.”
  • “Bad for your heart.”

Actually, cholesterol isn’t a fat, nor does it come from eating fat. In fact, every cell in the body makes cholesterol. Cells engage in a long process and use their energy to create cholesterol from triglycerides (oils). If we eat more cholesterol, our cells make less. If it were bad, why would our cells be making it?

Cholesterol is a different kind of lipid that is essential to the functioning of cells. All animal cells make cholesterol, since it is vital to every cell membrane.

The fat we eat has very little cholesterol in it. However, all animal products contain some cholesterol. Plants don’t make cholesterol; they make something similar called phytosterols.

Important functions of cholesterol include:

  • Synthesizes vitamin D – important for calcium regulation and immune function
  • Produces Co-Q10 – re-energizes your cells
  • A precursor to testosterone – keeps your strength, stamina and muscle mass up
  • A precursor to progesterone – important for brain function, as well as regulation of menses in women
  • A precursor to estrogen – allows a woman to do all the functions of females
  • Derives adrenal hormones (cortisol, aldosterone) – regulates metabolism, immune function, minerals, and many other processes
  • Produces bile – aids in the absorption of oils, fats, and vitamins A, D, E, and K
  • Forms myelin – A sheath that protects nerve conduction like the plastic around an electrical wire
  • Regulates cell signaling – the ability of the cells to receive signals from hormones and proteins

Besides that, cholesterol is essential for keeping the cell membranes stable. Cholesterol decreases the fluidity of the cell membrane to get nutrients into the cells and keep toxins out.

This cholesterol functions like your skin. If you didn’t have the protein, keratin, in your skin, then it would tear easily and not be able to protect your body from invasion by germs or toxins. Cholesterol is that important for the integrity of every one of your cells. You cannot make any cells, or keep them alive, without cholesterol.

Lack of Cholesterol Dangers

Dangers of low cholesterolWhen people don’t have enough cholesterol, the production of hormones, energy, cells, and immunity go down as well. A cholesterol deficiency produces:

  • Early aging – Cells cannot reproduce when they lack cholesterol
  • Immune dysfunction – This includes frequent infections and hypersensitivity reactions, such as allergies. (The instability of immune cell membranes causes the excessive release of chemical granules that cause a reaction.)
  • Brain dysfunction – Nerve cells require cholesterol to conduct and generate an impulse. For example, multiple sclerosis shows areas where there is a lack of myelin in the brain.
  • Depression and anxiety – Without sufficient cholesterol, serotonin doesn’t bind to its receptor.
  • Muscle fatigue/pain/cramps/cell death- Mitochondria require cholesterol to make energy from lipids. Without enough energy, the muscle cell fatigues easily, cramps, and dies.
  • Hepatitis – Without cholesterol, the liver cannot produce energy. Moreover, the fluid cell membranes comprise the cell. Liver cells cannot get rid of toxins efficiently so they may build up.
  • Low testosterone – Many men may worry about low testosterone. They may not realize that medications that lower cholesterol also lower testosterone.

Dangers of Statin Side-Effects

Compare the cholesterol deficiency list to the side-effect profile of a “STATIN,” or a drug that lowers cholesterol. This is taken directly from the package insert:

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Do Your Genes Determine Your Destiny?

by Dr. Scott Saunders, M.D.

We have been told that our genes are responsible for everything from how we look, to what foods we like, to whom we marry. The old concept of “fate,” “determinism,” or “pre-destination” now has a physical presence in the genes! Is this true? Do we believe in fate? Is our destiny sealed the moment the sperm from our father penetrates the egg of our mother?

The answer is: no!

We are as free to choose our fate as we could be. Nobody is predetermined to do anything. However, some may have genetic weaknesses to overcome.

I had a patient in my office last week. I’ll call her Becky. Her answer to everything wrong with her was: “My mom had that so I do;” or, “I got that from my aunt.” I could not get through to her that she could make changes in her life that would preclude the need for her medications. She didn’t understand that her genes do not destin her to living with any of these so-called genetic illnesses. Hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes need not be her fate.

On the other hand, there are genetic diseases that don’t respond to the environment. One young woman, Alice, had a “pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency.” Don’t worry…I couldn’t pronounce it either. It caused her to get severely fatigued every day. She didn’t get sleepy, but just felt unable to move for lack of energy.

This enzyme deficiency wouldn’t let her fully use sugar, so she only got a tenth of the energy out of each sugar molecule. Moreover, the acids left over built up in her tissues and she became extremely fatigued by the middle of the day. After she rested overnight the acids would clear out of her muscles and she felt fine in the morning. She would go about her day and the acids would build up until she couldn’t move anymore, and she would have to lie down. Her fiancé finally dragged her into my office saying, “Something is wrong with her!”

five senses turn genes on and offEpigenetics is the study of how the environment affects the genes.

It turns out that everything we:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Touch
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Think

…affects our genes. Not just “affects,” but actually turns them on and off. I can give you a simple example:

I could say just a few words that produce a vibration in your ear. Your brain interprets the vibration and turns on some genes that dilate your blood vessels in your cheeks and makes you blush. This example produces a temporary effect, but there are other examples that produce permanent effects.

We have amazing mechanisms to turn genes on, or turn them off. Thus, it isn’t the genes that determine what we become, but what we do with them.

The study of all these effects is fascinating. Genetic material functions like the blueprint for creating an organism. But just like the blueprint for a building, there is some leeway in how we follow it.

As a young man, I was a carpenter, building condominiums in Los Angeles. I knew that the final structure of the building is often different from the plans given to us by the architects and engineers. We used to complain that the architects didn’t know what was possible. We thought they should all be required to actually build some structures before they started drawing them.

A very similar situation occurs with our genes. The cell may need a certain protein, but that gene may be turned off so it has to do without, or use something else. It can take time, and a lot of different factors to turn on a gene.

Food has a huge effect on genes. Everything we put in our mouths is turning on, or off, our genes. Click to Tweet.

At the very least, food affects our genes during digestion. But food can have far-reaching effects—even generational.

Eating certain foods during pregnancy may increase or decrease the chance of illness for your child later in life. Take diabetes, for example. Diabetes was unknown to the Pima tribe in Arizona on their original diet. But, since they started eating highly processed American food, they now have a diabetes rate of 80%!

oxygen free radicals damage DNAEight out of ten Pima Indians will have diabetes in their lifetime. What’s more, diabetes is showing up among youths and even young children. These kids are genetically predisposed against diabetes, but sugar turned on their genes that create diabetes.

The nutrients we consume affect our genes. Oxygen free radicals from food damage our genome (our complete set of DNA), causing dysfunction of cells, and even cancer.

However, even if everyone else in our family gets cancer, it doesn’t mean we have to get it. Though we may be predisposed to cancer genetically, we can create an environment that promotes healthy genes.

We need vitamins and minerals, and we need to avoid toxins that cause genetic mutations. (Promoting healthy genes like this also keeps the immune system functional to remove any cancer cells that may arise.)

Even our thoughts can change our genes. Many of us have had the experience of seeing a scary movie that caused our hearts to race and fill us with anxiety. You know that you can think about that movie and recreate the same reaction. If you experience fear over and over again, then you will develop a pathway of fear in the brain. This changes both neurotransmitters and your anatomy. The brain makes more physical connections as a pathway is used.

So, what about all this “epigenetics?” What does it mean for us? Well, this is an extremely empowering concept.

Becky felt doomed to her fate of hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But, she can change those genes. She is not destined to die young or slowly because of these genetic illnesses.

In one study, pregnant rats were fed gluten. The rats born from the research only had an increased risk of diabetes if they overate, became obese and didn’t exercise. When rats ate more proteins, less carbohydrates, less food in general, and exercised, then they didn’t get diabetes.

Alice, on the other hand, had a different problem than Becky. She had an enzyme that was defective and didn’t work at all. Luckily, half of her cells are normal, allowing her to live.

Even with Alice we can work around some of these abnormalities.

  • We still used the concept of epigenetics, modifying her environment to work with her genes.
  • We put her on a sugar-free diet so she couldn’t build up the acids in her muscles.
  • This forced her body to use fat and protein (which is made into sugar) for energy.
  • She had just enough sugar from the protein, and enough energy from the fat to allow her to function normally all day.

Several weeks into her new diet Alice was feeling pretty good, planning her wedding, and brought in her mother. Her mother told me, “I have been tired all my life, and the doctors just gave me anti-depressants! I’ve been on every drug for depression, and most of them made me worse! I want to take that test.”

However, we didn’t need to perform the test because we found out the deficient enzyme was on her daughter’s X-chromosome. This means it had to come from her mom because the males with this defect all die before they’re born. We put her on the same diet and her fatigue disappeared almost immediately. This is how knowledge is power!

Recommendations For Good Epigenetics [am4show guest_error=’noaccess’]

1. Avoid toxins:

  • Eat raw, organic fruits and vegetables
  • Avoid all processed foods
  • Avoid GMO (GE) foods

2. Consume antioxidant rich foods:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables (vitamin C, B-vitamins, Folate, Vitamin A)
  • Raw Almonds (vitamin E)

3. Take your minerals:

  • Selenium – 200 mcg daily for 90 days, then once per week (or a couple of brazil nuts)
  • Chromium picolinate – 1 mg per day for 90 days, then once per week
  • Magnesium – 400 mg per day, take at night (or eat lots of leafy green vegetables)

4. Practice stress reduction:

  • Exercise daily.
  • Forgive everyone.
  • Write in a journal.
  • Have a regenerative hobby.
  • Garden (fresh vegetables from your own garden are tastier and more nourishing than store-bought produce).
  • Meditate and pray – ½ hour per day.
  • Be positive. Looking for the good in everything will dramatically reduce the stress of life, and protect your genes.


This is probably the most important protection for your genes, allowing them to work well by keeping the toxins out of the cells.

You can lengthen your telomeres, repair your DNA and prevent all forms of aging with periodic fasting. Click to Tweet.

Most of my patients fast one day per month.

When they fast, they eat a regular supper on Saturday, drink only water on Sunday, and then a regular breakfast on Monday. I have one patient who does a water-only fast for thirty days once per year. (He goes to a clinic to do this.) Fasting is great for getting rid of toxins and resetting the metabolism.

toxin fastYou can also engage in various modified fasts, such as:

  • Eating only raw, organic foods for thirty days
  • Drinking only fresh vegetable juice
  • Doing the Master Cleanse, which is water, lemon, cayenne pepper, and maple syrup.

There are many ways to cleanse the system. This helps your genes function normally, turning on the ones you want, decreasing inflammation and improving energy efficiency. Cleansing also turns off those genes that promote inflammation, obesity, and metabolic disease. With this knowledge, the Pima people could have a population completely free of diabetes in less than one generation. This is the power of epigenetics!

Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that your genes are coded for a certain predisposition. You are not doomed to live with a disease weakness or cancer tendency all your life.

The study of epigenetics is finally putting the myth of genetic determinism to rest. We now know you can turn on or off your genes by changing the environment inside the cell.

If you eat a lot of toxic substances, such as sugar, you will change your genes to create high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity. However, if you avoid toxins, then your genes will function normally.

Provide your genes with antioxidant vitamins, methylation vitamins and minerals, and your cells will make the proteins and enzymes you need to have a healthy body.

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Dr. Scott SaundersDr. Scott D. Saunders, M.D. (Ask-an-MD) is a practicing physician, specializing in preventative health care, who utilizes eclectic health care for the whole family, including conventional, orthomolecular and natural medicine. He is also the medical director of The Integrative Medical Center of Santa Barbara in Lompoc, CA. He went to UCLA medical school and is board certified in family medicine. View natural remedies with Dr. Saunders at: http://drsaundersmd.com




Preventing Parkinson’s One Bite at a Time

 By Amanda Box, N.D.

I’ve seen a particular picture roaming the internet and social media lately. There are different versions, but they all have the same message. It is a picture of a fruit and vegetable stand with a sign that states, “Nature’s Pharmacy,” “The Original Pharmacy,” or “The Farmacy.”  You might think that it’s cute or clever, but there is really a stone-cold truth in that lighthearted photograph.

Nutrition provides us with what we need to combat disease in our body. If we are lacking in nutrition, our cells do not function properly. And when cells aren’t able to do their God-given jobs, disease is the result.

Brain Nutrition

Our brain is made up of primarily fat and nerve cells. Those cells are called neurons, otherwise known as nerve cells. These nerve cells are amazing in their biology. They can transmit information from one area of the body to another in less than a millisecond!

Certain neurons in the brain produce chemicals, as well. One of those chemicals is called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical that reduces muscles contractions. Without sufficient dopamine in the brain, the result is uncontrolled tremors, freezing muscles, and uncontrollable movements. This is also known as Parkinson’s disease (PD).

Nerve cells need certain amino acids, enzymes, vitamins, and minerals in order to do their jobs. Even the production of dopamine is created from a particular combination of these nutrients! Could it be that many cases of Parkinson’s disease are truly caused by lack of nutrition?

One of the most important nutrients for the brain is the amino acid L-Tyrosine. Without it, we cannot produce dopamine in the brain. The above image illustrates how this process works.  L-Tyrosine converts to L-dopa, which in turn becomes dopamine. Our body does not make L-Tyrosine on its own. You must either eat foods containing L-Tyrosine or its precursor, L-Phenylalanine.

Many people with Parkinson’s disease, or those with Parkinson’s in their family, supplement with L-Tyrosine to keep up their dopamine production. I do have to caution; however, if you are taking L-dopa or Levadopa, do not take L-Tyrosine because it can inhibit the action of those drugs.

brain foodL-Tyrosine can also be consumed in everyday foods! This brings me back to the picture of the “Farmacy.”  Great health starts at its source, good food! Some of the top tyrosine containing foods include:

  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Shrimp
  • Mustard Greens

The formation of dopamine requires several other nutrients, as well. These become co-factors and co-enzymes in dopamine production. These important nutrients include:

Folic acid  

Otherwise known as folate. It is considered one of the B vitamins. Folic acid is found in:

  • Lentils
  • Most beans
  • Spinach
  • And collard greens


Another B vitamin. High levels of B6 are found in:

  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Potatoes
  • Cod
  • Sunflower seeds
  • And spinach


Often called Niacin, this B vitamin is found in:

  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Beef
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • And peanuts


This important mineral is found in:

  • Liver
  • Beef
  • Spinach
  • And lentils


You can consume your zinc by eating:,

  • Beef
  • Spinach
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Beans
  • And nuts

I believe that giving your brain cells the nutrition it needs can keep the production of dopamine running smoothly, therefore preventing Parkinson’s disease.

Peter Piper’s Pick for Parkinson’s

One of the most flabbergasting prevention treatments for Parkinson’s that I’ve come across is smoking!  Research has found that those who smoke have a lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease than non-smokers. Nonetheless, I don’t find this to be a valuable excuse to continue smoking – or even to begin for that matter! Smoking causes a plethora of other diseases! But why would something as harmful as smoking prevent Parkinson’s? Scientists have concluded that nicotine in tobacco lowers Parkinson’s risk.

Tobacco is in a family of plants called Solanaceae. Other members of the Solanaceae species include tomatoes and peppers. These foods actually contain low levels of edible nicotine! The Annals of Neurology published a study this past May that included 500 people who were newly diagnosed with Parkinson’s and 650 people who did not have Parkinson’s disease. The study concluded that the more peppers a person ate, the lower their risk of Parkinson’s became!  This decrease added up to a whopping 19%!! Pretty great results for a spicy vegetable!!

I must also point out that this protection was most apparent in those who were non-smokers. This study is a huge step towards proving that nutrition provides a powerful role in disease prevention. Who would have guessed that peppers would have neuro-protective properties?

Caffeine’s Parkinson’s Perks

Coffee drinkers, I am happy to announce to you that your cup of joe has benefits in both Parkinson’s treatment and prevention!! As I explained earlier, Parkinson’s is the result of our brain’s neurons not producing adequate levels of dopamine for our body. Caffeine, however, is a dopaminergic. This means it stimulates the release of dopamine.

There have been several studies linking caffeine consumption and lowered risk of acquiring PD. Yet, until last year, there was no clear evidence on its effects on Parkinson’s symptoms. In August 2012, a study was published in Neurology concluding caffeine also benefitted those suffering with Parkinson’s. Participants in the study took either a placebo or the equivalent of 2-4 cups of coffee in caffeine pills a day. Those who took the caffeine pills had on average a 5-point improvement on the Parkinson’s symptoms scale! They also experienced a 3-point improvement in both their speed of movement and how much stiffness they experienced compared to those taking the placebo. (1)

These benefits don’t begin and end with coffee. Tea is a great example of another healthy source of caffeine. Green tea, for example, contains not only caffeine, but polyphenols, as well. It is also believed that polyphenols can be neuro-protective!

Healthy Fat = Healthy Brain

Did you know that ⅔ of your brain is composed of fats! That’s right! But not just any fat. These specialized fatty acids are the building blocks for the not only cell membranes, but the myelin sheaths of your nerve cells!  Scientists have reported that those with neuro-degenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease, display fatty acid membrane loss. Luckily, incorporating the right fats into your diet you can protect your brain cells!

The most abundant fat in the brain is DHA. DHA is known for its abilities to:

DHA makes up much of the neuron’s myelin sheath and cell membrane. Therefore, getting adequate DHA in our diet is extremely important! Eating fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines are great sources. However, many of these fish can also contain high levels of mercury, a neurotoxin to the brain. I instead would recommend supplementing with a quality, third party tested fish oil instead. Start out with at least 500 mg of DHA per daily dose.

MCTs or Medium Chain Triglycerides, like those found in coconut oil can be beneficial to the brain, as well.  A 2004 study published in the journal Neurobiology of Aging found that the MCTs almost immediately improved cognitive function in older adults with memory disorders! This is due to something called ketone bodies, present in medium chain triglycerides. These ketone bodies serve as an alternative source of fuel that boosts blood flow to the brain. Increased blood to the brain decreases the degeneration of neurons. Supplementing with 2-4 tbsp. of coconut oil a day or 1 tbsp. of pure MCT oil is a great daily dose.

Butter for the brain?

Your brain needs cholesterol in order to function. Where does it get that cholesterol? From the food you eat! Butter is also high in oleic acid, which is another important fatty acid in the myelin sheath of neurons. Not just any ol’ butter will suffice. Be sure and buy a quality grass-fed butter. Grass fed cows produce more nutrient dense butter than other cows.  The color of grass fed butter is a nice deep yellow.

Not all fats are beneficial for the brain!

There is one particular fat you want to avoid like the plague: trans-fats. Trans-fats are not only a cause of high cholesterol and heart disease, but also brain diseases. Things like french fries, chips, margarine, and anything that is hydrogenated, are trans-fats. These lab-altered fats alter our brain chemistry, creating “brain blocks.” Trans-fats can take the place of DHA in the brain and interfere with the electrical activity of our neurons. This just sets the stage for degeneration of these nerve cells, which leads to neuro-degenerative diseases.

Butter Coffee for Better Brain Function

butter coffee

One of newest health trends is called Butter Coffee. Otherwise known as Bulletproof Coffee, this concept was introduced by health blogger Dave Asprey. He was inspired to create this combination after visiting the mountains of Tibet. The Tibetan people there drank Yak butter tea.  A lover of coffee, Dave decided to add high quality butter to his morning joe instead. He boasts butter coffee’s ability to increase energy and promote weight-loss. I, however, am touting it for it Parkinson’s prevention abilities.  Bulletproof Coffee contains only 3 ingredients, all of which I have covered as beneficial to preventing and treating Parkinson’s disease.

  • 2 cups organic coffee
  • 2 tbsp. grass-fed butter
  • 2 tbsp. MCT oil or extra virgin coconut oil

Coffee can be highly sprayed with pesticides, so using an organic blend is very important.  In order to get the best benefits from the butter, it must be grass-fed. Kerry Gold is a fantastic brand of grass-fed butter and can be purchased at nearly every health food store. MCT oil is around 6 times stronger than coconut oil, but can be more difficult to find.  You can purchase it here.

This trifecta of ingredients contains both brain boosting fats and caffeine! I recommend blending the mixture as the oil want to float to the top. When blended, it creates a frothy, cappuccino like effect.

Brain Boosting Salsa

As I mentioned early, both tomatoes and peppers are in the Solanaceae family of plants that are known to lower the risk of PD. My absolute favorite way to consume this combination is in fresh salsa!!

Use fresh tomatoes, shelf stable tomatoes in glass or boxed containers. Canned tomatoes have unfortunately been found to contain high levels of BPA, which is a synthetic estrogen that has been linked to reproductive issues and heart disease. This salsa also contains cilantro, which has mercury-binding properties. This helps to detox that neurotoxic metal from your body and brain. (By the way, it is a possibility that mercury is one main environmental contributor to PD. By lowering dopamine levels, mercury is often held responsible for tremors associated with Parkinson’s.)

brain boosting salsa

This salsa is incredibly easy to make and serves as a great condiment for fish, chicken, or your favorite Mexican dish.


  • 3 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely diced onion
  • 5 serrano chiles, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons lime juice

Chill for at least an hour to let the flavors meld together.

Adopt the “Farmacy” lifestyle and let nutrition heal you. These foods can reduce the neuro-degeneration that leads to Parkinson’s.

Not only will good, nutrient rich foods keep you out of the doctor’s office, but it will save you money in medical bills. Parkinson’s, like so many other diseases, can be prevented with the right combination of nature’s best foods. Your daily diet is a simple way to encourage your brain to produce more dopamine.

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Amanda BoxAmanda Box is a Doctor of Naturopathy and a graduate of Clayton College of Natural Health. She’s been in the health and wellness industry for over 10 years and currently has a Naturopathic consulting practice in Sioux Falls, SD.  Her passion is helping others achieve wellness of the whole person – mind, body, and spirit. If you don’t have a good local naturopathic doctor to turn to for your personal needs, Dr. Amanda does phone consultations! She can help you with weight loss, detox/cleansing, acute and chronic illnesses, skin and body care, grocery shopping, pantry overhauls, and more! Visit her blog “My Life in a Healthnut Shell” at http://amandabox.blogspot.com/ for contact info.
(1) http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504763_162-57484791-10391704/caffeine-from-two-to-four-daily-cups-of-coffee-may-reduce-parkinsons-disease-symptoms/


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