Friday, December 19, 2008

Copper: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Copper plays a role in bone, hemoglobin, red blood cells, collagen, and nerve sheath formation. It is also involved in the metabolism of vitamin C, energy production and needed for taste sensitivity.

Dietary Sources
Copper is found in oysters, lobster, and other shellfish, as well as in nuts, avocados, potatoes, organ meats, whole grains, beans, peas and raisins.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
Deficiency is rare, although some people with celiac disease may have trouble absorbing copper.

A rare disorder called Wilson's disease results in copper accumulation in the liver, causing toxicity and if left untreated, may result in death.

Boron: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Boron is necessary for healthy bones and calcium and for the metabolism of magnesium and phosphorous.

Dietary Sources
It is found in carrots, apples, grapes, pears, leafy vegetables, and grains.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
Boron deficiency is rare, although some elderly people may need small supplements to aid in calcium absorption.

It is thought that boron may prevent bone loss and demineralization, especially in postmenopausal women.

The Electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium and Chloride)

Role in the Body
All are necessary for maintaining water balance and blood pH, nerve impulses, and muscle contraction. They are important for regulating blood pressure and are involved in transporting substances in and out of cells.

Dietary Sources
Sodium and chloride are found in virtually all foods. Good sources of potassium include apricots, bananas, dates, brewer's yeast, nuts, potatoes, and raisins.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
People who have had severe vomiting or diarrhea may experience electrolyte imbalances, as may people taking diuretics.

Potassium may protect against stroke, and keeping sodium-potassium balance is important for maintaining low blood pressure (reducing sodium and increasing potassium).

High sodium intake is linked to high blood pressure.

Sulfur: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Sulfur is required for the synthesis of a number of amino acids, and it protects against radiation and air pollution. It is also necessary for the keeping the integrity of the skin intact.

Dietary Sources
Good sources of sulfur include eggs, fish, milk and dairy products. It is also found in onions, cabbage, beans, garlic, kale, soybeans, and turnips.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
Deficiency is unheard of.

Because of its protective role against harmful substances, it may slow the aging process.

No known toxicity.

Magnesium: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Magnesium is necessary for healthy bones and teeth, nerve transmission, muscle relaxation, and needed to produce hundreds of enzymes. It's involved in regulating blood pressure and keeps your heart beating. It also helps in calcium and potassium uptake.

Dietary Sources
Good sources include nuts, beans, dark green leafy vegetables, milk, soymilk, bananas, whole grains and seafood.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you are an alcoholic, have diabetes, kidney disease, or have diarrhea, use laxatives often or vomit excessively (as in bulimia).

May prevent sudden heart attacks, heart arrhythmias, lower blood pressure, prevent and lessen the severity of asthma attacks, may help diabetics control their blood sugar, may reduce migraine attacks, and along with calcium and vitamin D, prevents osteoporosis.

At high doses magnesium can be toxic. If you suffer from congestive heart failure, you should not take magnesium supplements.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Calcium: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Calcium is necessary for strong bones and teeth. It is also needed for nerve transmission, hormone and enzyme production, blood clotting, muscle contraction, and controlling blood pressure.

Dietary Sources
The best sources are milk and dairy products such as yogurt and ice cream. Other sources include broccoli, spinach, kale, beans, nuts, tofu, sardines, and salmon.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you are lactose intolerant, smoke, drink alcohol, or take steroid, thyroid, high-cholesterol drugs, or antacids. Female athletes and menopausal women are also at higher risk. If you are deficient in vitamin D, you can't absorb or use calcium.

Calcium prevents osteoporosis and may prevent high blood pressure, decrease the risk of colon cancer, and prevent kidney stones (only if the calcium comes from dietary sources, not supplements).

People with a history of kidney stones or disease should not take calcium supplements.

Pantothenic Acid: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Pantothenic acid, sometimes referred to as vitamin B5, is used by the body to make coenzyme A, an enzyme needed to break down fats and carbohydrates into usable energy. It is also important in red blood cell production, synthesis of cholesterol and hormones, nerve transmission, and healthy adrenal gland functions.

Dietary Sources
Found in most foods, the good sources include: meat, eggs, saltwater fish, milk, mushrooms, beans and fresh vegetables.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?

No known toxicity.

Biotin: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Biotin is a member of the B vitamin family, although it is not considered a true vitamin in that it is made in our bodies by intestinal bacteria. It is necessary for the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins, and healthy skin, hair, and nails.

Dietary Sources
Most of our biotin is made by our intestinal bacteria, but it can be found in beef liver, brewer's yeast, cooked egg yolks, poultry, soybeans, saltwater fish, milk, cheese, rice bran and whole grains.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you take long antibiotics for a long time, you are on a very low calorie diet for a long period of time, or bodybuilders who eat large quantities of raw eggs.

There have been claims that biotin can prevent baldness, but the evidence is only in cases of an underlying biotin deficiency.

Considered non-toxic.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is necessary for cell growth and division and healthy red blood cells. It is also involved in the formation of the myelin coat of nerve cells and is needed for proper digestion and absorption of food.

Dietary Sources
B12 is found in animal sources such as beef and lamb kidneys, beef, calf, and pork livers, fish, eggs, and small amounts are found in soybean products.

Who is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan or if you are over the age 50. You may need additional B12 if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, smoke, or take drugs for heartburn or ulcers, or if you have been on prescription potassium supplements for a long time.

Prevents anemia.

No known toxicity. High doses of vitamin C should not be taken within an hour of B12.

Folate (Folic Acid): Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Also known as folic acid or folacin, folate is needed for energy production. It plays roles in synthesizing proteins and genetic material, building muscle, making new cells, especially red blood cells, and transmission of nerve signals.

Dietary Sources
The best sources of folic acid are liver (chicken, beef, lamb and pork), beans, green leafy vegetables, and brewer's yeast.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you are elderly, pregnant or breastfeeding, you drink alcohol or smoke, you take birth control pills, or certain prescription medications for seizures, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis or urinary tract infections.

Folic acid is a B Vitamin that everyone needs for cell growth. It is especially important for women who may become pregnant.

The most well known benefit of folic acid is its ability to prevent neural tube defects, spina bifida, and anencephaly if taken in early pregnancy, preferably months prior to conception. Folic acid also breaks down homocysteine, which can prevent heart disease, and may prevent cervical and colon cancer.

There is no known toxicity of folic acid. Note it can interfere with a number of anticonvulsant drugs.

Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) : Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Pyridoxine is essential for virtually every body function and like the other B vitamins, is involved in energy release from food. It is also involved with red blood cell formation, antibody production, the making of many neurotransmitters of the nervous systems, and is needed for the synthesis of DNA and RNA.

Dietary Sources
The best sources of pyridoxine are chicken, beef, pork, fish, eggs and milk. Fruits and vegetables are low in pyridoxine, but the best choices include: bananas, mangoes and potatoes.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you drink alcohol, smoke, are a strict vegetarian or vegan, are pregnant or breastfeeding, take birth control pills, or take some prescription medications used to treat high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis, and asthma.

Pyridoxine has been found to help people suffering from asthma, diabetic neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, premenstrual syndrome, kidney stones, depression, morning sickness, and can help prevent heart disease.

Too much pyridoxine can cause neurological symptoms such as tingling hands and feet.

Vitamin B3 (Niacin): Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Niacin is involved in fat metabolism and energy production, and maintaining blood glucose levels. It is important for proper blood circulation and the synthesis of sex hormones. The body can make some of the niacin we need from tryptophan, an amino acid obtained from protein.

Dietary Sources
Niacin is found in meat, poultry, fish, eggs and many whole grains and cereals have niacin added. Tryptophan is abundant in protein foods such as milk and dairy products, eggs, meats, poultry, and fish.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you are an alcoholic or a strict vegetarian or vegan.

Niacin has been found to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood at high doses. Note that high doses should be taken only under a doctor's supervision.

Niacin supplements should not be taken if you are pregnant, diabetic, or suffer from gout, liver disease, or peptic ulcers or are on high blood pressure medicine. Excessive amounts of niacin taken over time can lead to liver damage. A reddening of the face and neck (flush) is common at some doses of niacin.

Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Riboflavin is essential for extracting energy from the carbohydrates, protein, and fats in the foods you eat. It is also important for red blood cell formation, antibody production, and keeps the mucous membranes that line the mouth, eyes, nose throat, urinary and digestive tracts healthy.

Dietary Sources
Riboflavin is found in lean meats, poultry, fish, cheese, eggs, milk, whole or enriched grains, and vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, mushrooms, avocados, and spinach.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk for deficiency if you are older, exercise strenuously, are a strict vegetarian, have diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome or other malabsorption disorders, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or take tricyclic antidepressants or birth control pills.

Some research suggests that riboflavin may reduce the incidence and severity of migraines. It is also thought to be beneficial in carpal tunnel syndrome, cataracts, rheumatoid arthritis and sickle cell anemia.

There is no known toxicity.

Vitamin B1 (Thiamin): Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Thiamin is involved in the breakdown of carbohydrates for energy. It is also important for brain function, memory and mental performance, proper growth, appetite, and heart function.

Dietary Sources
Good sources of thiamin include: pork, beef liver, fish, fortified breads, cereals, flour, and pasta, wheat germ, whole grains, nuts, sunflower seeds, beans, and peas.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
Alcoholics are the group most at risk. Thiamin deficiency is also more common in schizophrenics, long-term kidney-dialysis patients, diabetics and the elderly. You may need more thiamin if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, take oral contraceptives, have an overactive thyroid or are on a high-carbohydrate diet. Large amounts of coffee and tea may also reduce the body's absorption of thiamin.

Thiamin may prevent canker sores.

There is no known toxicity.

Vitamin C: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin C, also called ascorbic acid, is necessary for the development and maintenance of the connective tissue, for healthy gums and wound healing, and it helps fight off infections and boost immunity. Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant and protects the body's tissues from free radical damage.

Dietary Sources
Good sources of vitamin C include: papayas, cantaloupe, citrus fruits, strawberries, green peppers, sweet red peppers, tomatoes, and broccoli.

Who is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you smoke, drink alcohol, are stressed, have diabetes, allergies, asthma, a cold or flu, have had recent surgery, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or take contraceptives, antibiotics, steroids or aspirin regularly.

Vitamin C may prevent cataracts, heart disease and cancer and is helpful in allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Very high doses of vitamin C may result in diarrhea. Aspirin and vitamin C taken together in large doses may cause stomach ulcers.

Vitamin K: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin K is involved in blood clotting. It is necessary for the synthesis of prothrombin, which after various conversions forms the blood clot. Vitamin K is also necessary for bone formation and the making of new bone cells. While vitamin K can be obtained from dietary sources, bacteria that live in our intestines make much of the vitamin.

Dietary Sources
Vitamin K is found in dark leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens, broccoli, green cabbage as well as in tomatoes, liver, egg yolks, whole wheat, fruits, cheese, ham and beef.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you have liver disease, Crohn's disease, if you have been on antibiotics for an extended period of time, or take certain cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Vitamin K is necessary for preventing, and may slow down, osteoporosis.

Large doses should not be taken during the last month of pregnancy. Large doses of synthetic vitamin K can be toxic and cause liver damage. Antibiotics interfere with the absorption of vitamin K and kill the bacteria in the intestine responsible for synthesizing much of the body's vitamin K.

Vitamin E: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant, protecting cells from free radicals and oxidative damage. It is also important in maintaining the immune system, and making red blood cells. Vitamin E improves circulation, promotes wound healing and reduces scarring.

Dietary Sources
Vitamin E is found in many oils, including: wheat germ, hazelnut, sunflower, almond, safflower, soybean and peanut oils, as well as in whole grain cereals, eggs, peaches, avocados, and leafy greens.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk if you suffer from Crohn's disease, liver disease, cystic fibrosis, or it you are on a very low-fat, low-calorie diet.

Higher doses of vitamin E may help to protect against heart disease, cancer, and cataracts, and boost the immune system.

Vitamin E supplements and iron supplements should not be taken together, as inorganic forms of iron destroy vitamin E.

Vitamin D: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin D is essential for the absorption and metabolism of calcium and phosphorus from food and for maintaining proper calcium levels in the blood. It is very important for strong bones and teeth, is involved in cell growth, enhances the immune system, regulates blood sugar levels, and is necessary for nerve impulse transmission and muscle contraction.

Dietary Sources
Vitamin D is found in fortified milk (all milk in the United States is fortified with vitamin D) and fortified cereals, butter, margarine, cheese, fish, and oysters.

In addition, the body can make vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Direct sunlight on the face and arms for 10-15 minutes, three times a week is recommended to meet vitamin D requirements.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk for deficiency if you don't get much sunlight, are a strict vegetarian or vegan, are lactose-intolerant, have kidney or liver disease, take certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, corticosteroids, or anticonvulsant drugs, or abuse alcohol. Older folks are also at risk as the skin makes less vitamin D as we age.

Vitamin D may protect against colon cancer, and possibly breast and prostate cancers. Vitamin D can protect against hearing loss by strengthening the small bones of the ear. And in cream form, vitamin D can help relieve the skin disorder, psoriasis.

Large doses of vitamin D over a period of time can be toxic. Vitamin D should not be taken without calcium.

Vitamin A: Role in the Body & Benefits

Role in the Body
Vitamin A is best known for its role as a component of proteins in the eye, which enable you to see in dim light. In addition, vitamin A boosts immunity, keeps the skin and mucous membranes moist, aids in fat storage and protein use, is necessary for new cell growth and is important in the formation of bone and teeth. Vitamin A can also be made by the body, as needed, from beta-carotene. Beta-carotene has antioxidant properties.

Dietary Sources
Sources of vitamin A include: liver, fatty fish (such as mackerel), egg yolks, cheese, and milk. Beta-carotene is found in red, orange, and yellow-pigmented plant foods and most dark leafy greens. Good sources include: apricots, cantaloupe, peaches, pumpkins, carrots, asparagus, red peppers, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, yellow squash, green beans, broccoli, spinach and turnip greens.

Who Is at Risk for Deficiency?
You may be at risk for vitamin A deficiency if you drink alcohol, smoke, are under severe stress, are pregnant or breastfeeding, take birth control pills, or take certain cholesterol-lowering drugs.

Vitamin A may help protect against night blindness, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, cancer, and heart disease.

Vitamin A can be toxic if taken in large doses over a long period of time and can cause birth defects if taken in excess during pregnancy. Beta-carotene is not toxic, although larger doses can result in a harmless yellow-orange tint to the skin, which will disappear when levels are reduced. People with liver or kidney disease should talk to their doctor before taking vitamin A supplements.

Vitamins and Minerals: How Much Does Your Body Need?

They line the shelves of every pharmacy and health store, thousands of tiny bottles, claiming everything from improving memory and providing energy to preventing cancer and aging. In fact, chances are you take one or two, maybe a handful, daily. And if you don’t, maybe you should. What are these super pills? You guessed it – vitamin and mineral supplements. The biggest question in nutrition these days isn’t who needs vitamins and minerals, but how much.

In simplest terms, everyone requires vitamins and minerals. They are essential for life, fueling virtually every biochemical reaction in our bodies. It has long been realized that certain groups of people such as pregnant and breastfeeding women, chronic dieters, vegetarians, alcoholics, the elderly, and athletes often have increased nutrient needs and may require supplements. But for the most part, it has been assumed that the average, healthy adult can get all the vitamins and minerals their body needs from a healthy diet. The fact is most of us don’t.

Even if you are one of the few people who manage to eat a varied and healthy diet each and every day, factors such as environmental pollutants in our air and water; food filled with uncountable additives and preservatives; destructive agricultural practices which rob the soil of essential nutrients; food processing, storage and preparation – all reduce the nutrient content of food.

If that isn’t enough, physical and mental stress, illness, certain drugs, and a genetic predisposition towards certain diseases increase our nutrient needs. And taking into consideration the newest research, which suggests that higher doses of certain vitamins may protect against the development of chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease, it might be a good time to visit a dietician or talk with your doctor about whether or not you might benefit from supplements.

What Are Vitamins and Minerals?

What Are Vitamins?
Vitamins are organic compounds essential for life that, with the exception of vitamin D, can only be obtained from food or supplements. While vitamin D can be found in dietary sources, the body also synthesizes it when sunlight meets the skin.

Fat-soluble Vitamins
Vitamins can be divided into two broad categories based on whether they dissolve in water or fat. The fat-soluble vitamins include A, E, D, and K. These vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissues, and therefore, it is not necessary to get a fresh supply every day. However, the fact that they can be stored also means that they can accumulate to toxic levels if taken in excess.

Water-soluble Vitamins
The rest of the vitamins, the family of B-vitamins (including thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, biotin, folic acid and cobalamin) and vitamin C, dissolve in water. Any excess is harmlessly excreted in your urine, making toxic levels virtually impossible. But note that this also means that you need a fresh supply of these vitamins every day to maintain adequate levels.

Remember that while vitamins help you extract energy from food, they themselves provide no calories and thus no energy.

What Are Minerals?
Minerals are inorganic compounds found in rocks and metals, although we get them from plants grown in mineral-rich soil or animals that have eaten mineral-rich plants. There are at least 10 minerals essential for life and a few others we house in minute levels, although scientists haven’t pinned down an exact role for all of them in the body.

Minerals are divided into two groups based on how much our bodies need. The major minerals, or macrominerals, are required in comparatively large amounts and include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride.

Trace Elements or Microminerals
Minerals required in very small amounts, less than 100mg/day, are called trace elements or microminerals. These include: boron, chromium, cobalt, copper, fluoride, iodine, iron, manganese, molybdenum, nickel, selenium, silicon, tin, vanadium, and zinc.

How Much Does Your Body Need?

Recommended Dietary Allowances
So now you know that you need 13 vitamins and some 15+ minerals, but how much does your body need? The Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine developed the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) to help you out. These values reflect the amounts of vitamins and minerals you need daily to prevent deficiency diseases and are "safe and adequate" to meet the needs of most healthy people. They are the minimum values you need to prevent overt signs of deficiency diseases and are updated approximately every five years or so to reflect current research. A newer term, Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs), represents an average value recommended for children and adults over the age of four and will replace the complex RDAs. The RDIs and RDAs are basically the same.

Many nutritionists now think that the current values are too low and it is expected that future RDAs will be increased to address the issues of optimum health and disease prevention. In a position statement released by the American Dietetic Association, the criteria for establishing a recommended intake for a nutrient should not "assume that the recommended amounts can be met from dietary sources."

Meeting Your RDAs

According to Melanie Polk, RD, Director of Nutrition Education at the American Institute for Cancer Research, the best way to meet your RDAs is through a careful diet based on the Food Guide Pyramid. "Eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day is essential," she says. Unfortunately, only one in ten people actually consume their recommended five servings.

Nutritionists agree that supplements are not a replacement for a healthy diet, but may be beneficial in addition to a healthy, varied diet. Carolyn Manning, Mag RD, and professor of nutrition and dietetics at the University of Delaware warns that relying too much on supplements can cause people to become irresponsible about their eating habits. Her motto, "Food first!"

There are additional health benefits from getting many of your nutrients from food. A group of recently discovered compounds found in plants called phytochemicals, are thought to protect against certain cancers. A few have been discovered but scientists think that there may be thousands of these compounds. "We don’t know exactly how they work, or if they work as a team with other phytochemicals or nutrients," says Polk, but they can’t be found in a pill.

Both Manning and Polk agree, that some groups require more nutrients than a healthy diet alone can provide.

Weigh Your Options With Juiced Up Smoothies

Smoothies are everywhere—at the mall, at the gym, even in your local supermarket. But when it comes to picking the right smoothie, dieticians advise, "Buyer beware."

The trend New Orleans bartenders started decades ago with their exotic blends of fruity alcoholic drinks has turned into a $340 million industry fueled by more health-conscious aficionados. Today’s smoothies are non-alcoholic—made up of fruit, dairy and a variety of other ingredients to create healthy smoother-than-milkshakes that double as drinkable meals. Body-builders get a workout boost by downing smoothies with protein powder and amino acids. New moms enjoy extra servings of calcium in yogurt-based smoothies. Cancer patients mix medicines and proteins in their smoothies.

"A smoothie is a really convenient way to get fruit in," says registered dietician Nadine Pazder, who recommends a simple breakfast smoothie recipe for those who might otherwise skip a morning meal. "It’s easy to get some dairy and protein and fruits in there, but there’s a big caution because they are not low calorie."

Because smoothie lovers tend to use the drinks as meal replacements, they often add powdered vitamins, minerals and herbs in an effort to increase the smoothie’s nutritional value. Some smoothie retailers even provide supplement pills for customers to buy a la carte.

When Additives are Not So Smooth

"I would be really cautious about the kind of additives that are being put into a smoothie," Pazder says. "Fruits in themselves have a lot of antioxidant benefits. To add additional vitamins is not necessary, and in some cases, may not even be safe."

Adding vitamins to commercial smoothies does not make up for the natural nutritional imbalance of the liquid meal, agrees registered dietician Carol Koprowski, Ph.D., who coordinates the University of Southern California’s master’s in preventive nutrition program.

Koprowski warns that adding megadoses of vitamins to smoothies, especially those that run through the body quickly, can be harmful, especially if consumers are already taking multivitamin supplements and other fortified foods like cereals and juices. "With high doses of water-soluble vitamins, what you end up with is very expensive urine," Koprowski says. "Evaluate dietary supplements the same way you would medication—just because they are natural, don’t assume they are safe, especially at higher doses."

Pazder adds that it’s important to be sure that any vitamins, minerals or herbs you add to your smoothie don’t interact with any prescription or over-the-counter medications you’re taking. For example, adding ginseng to a smoothie for an energy boost may increase the effect of estrogen for those on hormone therapy, or interact negatively with the heart medicine digoxin. Ginseng can also cause headache and manic episodes for people on MAO inhibitors like Nardil.

There are other dangerous interactions to be aware of: Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding to your smoothie.

Benefits to 'Juiced Up' Smoothies

Still, registered dietician Lisa Nicholson boasts the positive side to smoothie additives. Since many vitamins and minerals are better absorbed when taken with a meal, "juiced up" smoothies can be beneficial to those who don’t over-supplement in the rest of their diets. With the wide range of additives available, it’s possible to pick and choose the combination that best fits personal dietary needs.

Common additives and their benefits include:
  • Wheat germ oil for energy:
    Putting wheat germ oil in a smoothie adds protein and unsaturated fatty acids, along with minerals, B-Complex vitamins, Vitamin E and iron.

  • Vitamin C for enhanced immune function:
    This antioxidant vitamin, which can be found in many fortified foods, is important for immune function, but dieticians caution that megadoses are not mega-effective and may even cause harm. Recommended dosages of Vitamin C can help the body absorb calcium, iron and folic acid and promote the formation of collagen.

  • Yeast for energy and nutrients:
    Yeast additives increase smoothies’ protein content, and add B-Complex vitamins and minerals, including iron.

  • Spirulina for energy and appetite control:
    Blue-green algae, a complete protein, are high in chlorophyll (which can freshen your breath), as well as B-Complex vitamins and minerals. It is purported to help stabilize blood sugar levels and thereby help control appetites.

  • Creatine for energy and muscle building:
    This combination of amino acids, popular among body-builders, can increase muscle bulk as well as heighten energy levels. Following creatine dosage guidelines is essential—its abuse can lead to liver and kidney damage.
Nicholson tells smoothie buyers to check ingredients diligently to find out if they are getting real fruit and dairy, not artificial sweeteners and empty preservatives or flavors.

Most important, she says, is that your smoothies are part of a balanced approach to your diet, whether you enhance them with additives or not.

Do You Need Vitamins?

If you fall into any of these categories, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about supplements you may require.

Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
It is no surprise that your nutrient needs increase during pregnancy as your body nourishes both you and your unborn baby, and again if you breastfeed. It is recommended that all women of childbearing age take a supplement that contains folic acid, preferably months prior to pregnancy and throughout early pregnancy. Adequate folic acid levels have been found to prevent a large percentage of neural tube birth defects. Other vitamin requirements increase as well, and most physicians prescribe a daily multivitamin for the duration of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Do you drink a lot of alcohol?
Excess alcohol intake alters the body’s absorption, metabolism and secretion of a number of vitamins and minerals, most notably the B vitamins. To add insult to injury, most alcoholics have poor diets, replacing many of their calories with alcohol, placing them at further risk for deficiency.

Do you smoke?
Smoking reduces vitamin C levels and increases the production of free radicals, those pesky substances that tear around our bodies, damaging cells. Oxidation reactions caused by free radicals are thought to play a primary role in the development of cancer and heart disease.

Do you diet often?
People on frequent low calorie diets are at risk for nutrient deficiencies. Taking in less than 1200 calories a day makes it difficult to meet your nutrient needs through diet alone. In addition, people who cut certain food groups out of their diet are at risk for nutrient deficiencies and should talk to a dietician about supplements.

Are you a vegetarian?
Vegetarians are at high risk for vitamin B12 deficiency since this nutrient is found only in animal foods such as meat, milk, and eggs. Strict vegetarians may also fail to get adequate levels of calcium, zinc, and iron from their diet.

Are you lactose-intolerant?
If you can’t stomach dairy products, you are at risk for osteoporosis. Vitamin D and calcium supplements are generally recommended.

Do you take certain drugs?
A number of common drugs or medications affect vitamin and mineral needs. For instance, antibiotics, estrogen-containing birth control pills, certain cholesterol-lowering drugs, and regular use of aspirin can interfere or deplete the body of a number of vitamins and minerals.

Are you over age 50?
Elderly people often require supplements because of poor appetite and decreased nutrient absorption with increasing age. In addition, older folks generally take more prescription medications, many of which can interfere with the bodies use or absorption of certain nutrients.

Are you an athlete?
Athletes and people who exercise strenuously often require additional nutrients. The physical stress that training puts on the body increases vitamin and mineral requirements, as does increased excretion of many nutrients through perspiration.

Are you a woman?
Women often need additional calcium and vitamin D to increase bone mass and prevent osteoporosis. This is especially true after menopause when the protective effects of estrogen are lost. Women with very heavy menstrual periods may need extra iron and a multivitamin is sometimes recommended for women who take oral contraceptives because of altered metabolism of some nutrients.

Hand in hand with a healthy diet, supplements can be a safe and effective way in which to meet your body’s nutritional needs and increase your preventive efforts against degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Quest for Aphrodisia: Pheromones

For the human brain, all roads lead to aphrodisia. We can be sexually stimulated through any of our five senses — thanks to a bit of imagination, memory, and a really big brain. Although mankind continues to ransack the planet for anything that might raise his expectations, the most authentic aphrodisiac is a lot closer than we think.

In the morning of the world, when mortal man first encountered the original aphrodisiac, he got mixed results. Paris, a young prince of Troy, had to choose "The Fairest" of three goddesses. Hera offered him riches and dominion over all men. Athena promised him wisdom and renown as the bravest, most invincible of heroes.

Then the goddess of love and beauty spoke. In a sweet voice, teasing with laughter and understanding, Aphrodite said, "Choose me and I will give you love and the most beautiful woman in the world for your wife."

Without hesitation, Paris chose Aphrodite. True to her word, the enchanting goddess introduced him to the lovely Helen, whom Paris promptly proceeded to abduct from her husband, the King of Sparta, which didn't go down too well with him and his boys. (Did somebody say Trojan War?) The rest is mythstory. . . .

Casualties of Lore
Aphrodite herself had a somewhat violent origin. Known to the Romans as Venus, she was born of the sea, having emerged from the white foam (aphros) produced by the god Uranus's severed genitals. Today, mankind's eternal quest for an aphrodisiac — a food, drink, drug, or scent that can arouse or increase sexual desire — continues to bring its share of violence.

Many innocent creatures have suffered abuse from our insatiable appetite that continues to devour creatures large and small, from seahorse to rhinoceros. Animals aren't the only ones who suffer, though. A legendary aphrodisiac called Spanish fly is made from the dried bodies of blister beetles that contain cantharidine. This irritating chemical causes a rush of blood to the sex organs. Spanish fly is a poison that can lead to genitourinary infections, scarring of the urethra, and even death.

Stimulant vs. Tonic
Herbs can be used to stimulate the genitals, but in the long run it's safer and more effective to use tonics — botanicals that strengthen the sexual system — not ones that stimulate it. "If you take an aphrodisiac that creates the illusion of more energy, then you're ripping yourself off," cautions Felice Dumas, Ph.D., author of Passion Play: Ancient Secrets for a Lifetime of Health and Happiness Through Sensational Sex. "You will have used more of your life force. It's like emptying the cup very quickly to feel more in the short term."

Coffee is an empty stimulant; it doesn't strengthen anything. Alcohol is another example. "Venus drowned in Bacchus" was the proverbial Roman expression for the debilitating effects of alcoholic intoxication. Drinking, said Shakespeare in Macbeth "provokes the desire but takes away the performance."

Size Matters
Unlike other primates, who are sexually active only when females are in estrus, human beings have evolved the capacity to engage in year-round sexual activity. Perhaps our 24/7 sexuality is related to our relatively large brain. (Dolphins, too, have proportionately large brains and have been observed to be very sexual.)

Ultimately, the human brain is the greatest aphrodisiac of all. Like the legendary philosophers' stone that transforms whatever it touches into gold, our brains can imbue most anything with aphrodisiacal qualities.

Men and women have devised and believed in love charms since the beginning. Aphrodite herself possessed an enchanting girdle, called Cestus, which was embroidered with arousing amulets that made its wearer quite irresistible. One can only imagine. . . .

The Touch of Kindness
We get sex on the brain through imagination and memory, as well as through all our sensory portals: eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and of course touch. We are easily turned on by the caress of a lover, or even from casual contact with an attractive stranger. Massage relaxes and sets the mood for love, or arouses in the extreme.

Affectionate touching — especially the breasts, lips, and earlobes — can raise levels of oxytocin, a powerful neurohormone. Dubbed the "cuddling chemical," oxytocin is released during female orgasm and nursing. In men, moderate concentrations of oxytocin facilitate both erection and ejaculation.

Singing Me Softly
Sounds can certainly be an aphrodisiac. (It works for birds.) That special tone of a lover's sweet whisperings, even over the telephone, can stir the loins. For the Greek poet, Homer, Aphrodite was "a lover of laughter." Whether the flirtatious giggling and coy cooing of young maidens or the tender tenor of a Cyrano or a Bocelli — the human voice has arousing possibilities.

Charles Darwin suggested that early human females originally acquired musical powers and used their high voices as musical instruments in order to attract the opposite sex. Love songs are certainly a hallmark of our society. We will never know to what extent our population explosion was coaxed along by the seductive sound of Sinatra or Sade, the romantic resonance of Enya or Iglesias.

Who has not been swayed by the music of the world: caressed by jazz; rolled with rock; lifted by arias; transported by Caribbean rhythms. The primal beat of different drums — from Ravel's "Bolero" to Jagger's "Moonlight Mile" — has lit a fire under many a bedspread.

Another auditory aspect is story-telling and its stimulating effect upon the imagination. The word "romance" originated from the fanciful medieval love tales, often in verse, about a hero and his lady. Later written, they were the beginning of erotic literature (Eros is the son of Aphrodite). In ancient Greece, "pornographos" was one who wrote about prostitutes.

First Sight
Studies show that humans everywhere strongly respond to the same visual signals, such as smooth skin, dilated pupils, and a symmetrical face and body. Young women throughout the world have been observed to flirt in exactly the same manner: first she smiles at her admirer and lifts her eyebrows in a swift, jerky movement. This briefly displays more of her eyes until she turns her head sideways, looks back, and drops her eyelids. (Even King Solomon warned his son not to be "ensnared by her eyelids.")

More than skin deep, beauty is a certificate of health. Men are attracted to youthful fertility suggested by rounded buttocks and breasts, full lips, wide eyes, a heart-shaped face, and a particular figure. Whether Rubenesque or Twiggyesque, men unconsciously prefer women with about a 2 to 3 waist-hip ratio — one that suggests a high reproductive status. Although Miss America's weight has decreased over the past fifty years, her waist to hip ratio has been a consistent 7.2, according to David M. Buss, Ph.D., author of The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating.

For women, power is an aphrodisiac. In a global survey of more than 10,000 people in 37 cultures, Dr. Buss found it universally true that women prefer confident, ambitious, and successful men with money, resources, power, and high social status — men who will invest in them and their children.

Visual stimuli such as tallness and broad shoulders are physical cues indicating the potential of a man to protect and provide. The reproductive success of taller men was recently demonstrated in a study of 3,200 Polish men, aged 25 to 60. Those who had fathered at least one child were on average 1.2 inches taller than the men without children. (Nature, Jan. 13, 2000)

Brain chemicals are also affected by visual stimuli. The sight of an infant's face can increase levels of oxytocin, which helps a mother to bond with her child, or a woman with her lover. The chemical basis of "love at first sight" might be phenylethylamine (PEA), a neurotransmitter that can surge at the sight of an attractive partner, or even in response to a romantic movie.

The Dance of Imagination
Thanks to imagination, the flash of a Victorian ankle was a turn-on. The allure of lingerie is a combination of what you see and what you imagine you will get.

Dance is a universal turn-on. From indigenous tribes to trendy clubs, women shake their booties and men strut their stuff in various versions of the human mating dance, from the Masai leap and the flamenco stomp, to the hula, belly dance, and now the lap dance.

The Shape of Things to Come
Sight plays another role in aphrodisia: the notion that animal organs or plants resembling genitalia may impart sexual powers. For example, because of their shape, the tuberous roots of orchids were used as an aphrodisiac. The plant is even named after the Greek word for testicle (orkhis). More well-known examples include rhinoceros horn, oysters, and ginseng.

Rhinoceros horn contains polypeptides, sugars, phosphorus, calcium, ethanolamine, and free amino acids. If one were seriously malnourished, this could possibly provide a boost, but a good multivitamin would do as well.

Based on their shape, foods such as bananas, carrots, and cucumbers were once considered aphrodisiacs. Perhaps the enzyme bromelain found in bananas and other tropical fruits may influence erectile function due to its positive effect on circulation.

Nineteenth-century French bridegrooms were advised to consume mass quantities of warm asparagus at their prenuptial dinner. In West Africa, the mucilage seeds of the okra pod are considered an aphrodisiac. They are rich in magnesium, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

Venus on the Half-Shell
Cleopatra's favorite fruit was said to be figs, and the ancient Greeks celebrated the arrival of a new crop of figs by ritual copulation. Other foods that may suggest female genitalia include oysters, clams, and mussels. Many seafoods such as eels, octopus, conch, fugu, sashimi — as well as savory soups like bouillabaisse and chowder — have a reputation as an aphrodisiac, in part because of their association with Aphrodite's emergence from the sea.

In a sense, human beings also emerged from the sea. Recent archeological findings show that early humans thrived along seacoasts and lakeshores where foods high in omega-3 fatty acids were plentiful. The evolution of the large human brain depended on these rich sources of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). (Click here for more information about essential fatty acids and brain structure.)

The omega-3 fatty acids obtained from seafood are also needed by the body to make anti-inflammatory PGE3 prostaglandins, which support proper blood circulation by preventing blood platelets from clumping.

Oysters and Pearls, Boys and Girls
Rich in zinc, selenium, and other minerals, oysters may have gained their reputation at a time when diets were more apt to be deficient. High concentrations of zinc are found in the testes and prostate, and zinc is essential for hormonal activity and reproductive health in both men and women. Zinc is vital to healthy immune and circulatory systems, and is depleted by stress.

Zinc deficiency in children has been linked to a failure of sex organs to properly mature. A deficit of this vital mineral substantially reduces testosterone levels, sperm production, and muscle endurance, as well as decreases the ability to taste and smell.

Raw oysters can be risky due to pollution. Other good sources of zinc include lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, peas, lima beans, and wheat germ. Although whole grains contain zinc, they also contain phytates that inhibit the absorption of zinc and other vital minerals. By soaking grains overnight, phytates can be neutralized so the grains, in effect, are predigested and their nutrients more available. These alternatives, however, are no match for fresh fleshy oysters, even if you don't find the pearl.

Seeds of Construction
Eggs and seeds are strong fertility symbols. Chicken eggs are one of the most sexually nutritious foods available. Caviar and a number of plant seeds, especially pumpkin, were considered to be aphrodisiacs. We now know they are rich in vitamin E and fatty acids essential for reproduction. Pumpkin seeds are also high in zinc and selenium.

Then there's the truffle. Ever since the Romans raved about it, this musky mystery has been a perennial favorite in the realm of aphrodisia. A famous French epicurean claimed truffles were "not vegetables, but miracles." Their great rarity, cost, and indescribable aroma adds to their fame.

Ginseng — "the Man Root"
Ginseng's reputation as an aphrodisiac may have originated from its marked similarity to the male body. By far the most widely used herbal tonic, ginseng has been used for millennia because of its invigorating and rejuvenating effects.

Chemical evidence supports the stimulatory influence of ginseng; several steroids, peptides, sugars, and saponins have been isolated from root extracts. Animals treated with ginseng have demonstrated a sexual response, however no successful animal model for assessing aphrodisiacs has been developed that can be applied to humans. Our psychological and socioeconomic factors cannot be replicated.

Just Say NO — Nitric Oxide
A study at the Yale University School of Medicine found a link between Panax ginseng and nitric oxide (NO). Researchers concluded that the aphrodisiac action of the root could be due to enhanced NO synthesis that contributed to ginseng-associated vasodilation in the corpus cavernosum. (Biochem Pharmacol 1997 Jul 1;54.1:1-8) A later animal study showed that crude extracts of Panax ginseng acted as a nitric oxide donor and induced the relaxation of smooth muscle of rabbit penises through the L-arginine/nitric oxide pathway. (Br J Urol 1998 Nov;82.5:744-8)

The corpus cavernosum is a sponge-like structure that forms the erectile tissue which expands with blood in the penis and in the clitoris. Nitric oxide — not nitrous oxide, the "laughing gas" used by dentists — enables the corpus cavernosum (and the corpus spongiosum in the penis) to relax, fill with blood, and become erect.

For both men and women, healthy sexual arousal depends on a sufficient flow of blood to the genital area. Poor circulation can be a major cause of sexual dysfunction, which is perhaps why many hot foods gained their claim to aphrodisiac fame. Peppers, chilies, curries and other spices can raise heart rate and sometimes cause sweating: physiological effects similar to the physical reactions experienced during sex. Damiana, a Mexican herb, is reputed to stimulate blood flow to the genitals, (but it can interfere with iron absorption).

Arginine, Viagra, and Yohimbe
In the body, the amino acid arginine is the primary source of nitrogen for the production of nitric oxide. In turn, nitric oxide increases levels of a substance called cyclic GMP. A shortage of cyclic GMP interferes with the erectile tissue relaxation response that is necessary before blood can engorge the clitoris and penis. Foods high in arginine include chocolate, carob, and oats.

Viagra works by prolonging the effects of cyclic GMP, allowing the penis to engorge with so much blood that the outflow of blood is blocked. Because Viagra will not work without sexual stimulation, it is not considered an aphrodisiac. It is only promoted as an impotence drug, however Hugh Hefner regards Viagra as a good deal more than that: "It takes the uncertainty out of performance. . . It redefines the boundary between fantasy and reality."

NO may help account for the sexually stimulating effects of yohimbine, an alkaloid found in the bark of the West African yohimbe tree, which natives have long regarded as a tonic to enhance sexual power and virility. Yohimbine has been used in the West as a sexual stimulant for domestic animals and, more recently, to treat impotence in men. A 1999 study with humans found that certain compounds of yohimbine functioned as nitric oxide donors. (J Pharmacol Exp Ther 1999 Jul;290.1:121-8) The FDA considers yohimbine an unsafe herb, due to its potentially dangerous effects on the cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Padre, Is That a Rocket in Your Garden?
Arugula, also known as garden rocket, had a good reputation in Europe as an aphrodisiac, except for one 17th-century French monastery where arugula was grown and consumed regularly by the monks. An 1869 book on aphrodisiacs reported they "were so stimulated by its aphrodisiacal virtues that, transgressing alike their monastic walls and vows, they sought relief for their amorous desires in the fond embraces of the women residing in the neighborhood."

Europeans have long appreciated parsley and savory for their aphrodisiac properties. More recently, nettles, oats, and saw palmetto berries have been studied for their ability to maintain levels of free testosterone, which stimulates sexual activity in both men and women. Compounds in these plants seem to inhibit the breakdown of testosterone into di-hydrotestosterone (DHT), a metabolite that causes the prostate gland to enlarge and lose its vitality.

Montezuma's Romance
While many sweet herbs, such as skirret and licorice root, were at one time considered sexual stimulants, chocolate's designation as an aphrodisiac has remained undisputed for centuries. In the early 1500s, the Aztecs introduced the Spanish to the bitter seeds of the cacao tree, which was concocted into a sacred drink associated with Xochiquetzal, the goddess of fertility. (The Spanish reciprocated with small pox, the god of decimation.)

Besides added sugar, chocolate contains significant amounts of caffeine (5-10 mg per ounce), iron, plus an amphetamine-like substance called phenylethylamine (PEA). In the brain, PEA is a neurotransmitter involved in states of arousal and activation. It may be responsible for the excitement and euphoria of falling in love. It's not certain, however, that the PEA in chocolate actually reaches the brain. (The essential amino acid phenylalanine is known to raise PEA levels in the brain, and D-phenylalanine inhibits enzymes that break down endorphins.)

The psychological effect of indulging in chocolate, especially when received from a lover, certainly adds to its aphro-mystique. The power of mind to imbue food with passion is well-illustrated in Like Water for Chocolate, where cooking is used to enchant a lover.

Cornucopia and Coition
Many foods are exotic and sensual in their own right. From peaches and apricots to strawberries and grapes, the texture, color, taste, and aroma of these botanical delights can, in the right circumstances, jump-start amorous intentions. Aphrodite herself was associated with golden apples and red pomegranates.

Around the Mediterranean, pine nuts have a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Nineteen-hundred years ago, the Greek physician Galen recommended drinking a glassful of thick honey, and eat 20 almonds and 100 grains of the pine tree before going to bed. After three nights, a man will acquire "vigour for coition."

Honey Do
The Greeks frequently referred to Aphrodite's beauty as "golden," and golden honey is another classic food for lovers. Cavemen no doubt used sweet honey to win female favors (and vice versa). Since honey was obtainable only seasonally and at great personal risk, its annual collection and sharing may be echoed by our annual Valentine's Day, although rejection is now the primary risk.

The wedding ceremonies of many cultures include honey, and that month of tender pleasures is called the honeymoon — also named because love is as changeable as the moon.

Made from the nectar of flowers, honey is a natural candidate for aphrodisia. Bee pollen is the male sexual grains of seed-bearing plants, and royal jelly nurtures queen bees. The ultimate preservative, honey never spoils. A Haitian text describes honey on bananas as an "exquisite" aphrodisiac.

Aphrodite: A Memoir of the Senses is Isabel Allende's evocative personal odyssey to aphrodisia. In it, she tells how Cleopatra beautified her skin by applying honey and ground almonds, and how her lovers, Julius Caesar and Mark Antony, were "fond of licking dessert from the intimate goblet of that seductive queen."

Olfactory Alchemy
Aromas such as pumpkin pie and freshly baked cinnamon buns can be more sexually stimulating than fine perfume, according to research done by neurologist Alan R. Hirsch, M.D., author of Scentsational Sex: the Secret of Using Aroma for Arousal. He reports that the smell of certain foods, especially licorice and doughnuts, actually increased penile blood flow.

Older men experienced the greatest enhancement with vanilla. Those who felt sexually satisfied responded most to strawberry. Lavender was most stimulating for men whose sexual partners wore cologne.

Aphrodite's favorite flower was the rose, and for multitude of Valentines, roses will do the trick. Cleopatra supposedly perfumed the sails of her gilded yacht with the scent of Damascus rose, so the desert winds would announce her arrival.

"A rose is a rose is a rogue," novelist Tom Robbins reminds us in Jitterbug Perfume, his erotic ode to aroma. In his signature style, Robbins salutes the magnificent nose of a legendary perfume formulator: "It functioned as a catalytic laser, oxidizing the passion that slept unaware in a violet, releasing the trade winds bottled up in orange peel; identifying by name and number the butterflies dissolved in chips of sandalwood and marrying them off, one by one, to the wealthy sons of musk."

Reminiscents — Aroma and Memory
The sense of smell is closely connected with the sense of taste, and much of a food's emotional impact is due to its scent. The olfactory pathway is a direct route to the brain's limbic system, the cerebral crossroads of emotion and memory. That's why smell is the most nostalgic of all the senses. One whiff of eucalyptus can transport an octogenarian back to his kindergarten playground faster than you can say "sinful Caesar sipped his snifter, seized his knees and sneezed."

Probably the most renowned aphrodisiacs are essential oils, especially those derived from white, night-blooming flowers that are moth-pollinated, such as jasmine and narcissus.

The Oil of Olé
"Jasmine has the poise of a wild creature, some elusive self-sufficient thing that croons like an organic saxophone in the tropical night." (Robbins again, who also bemoans the modern trend of naming perfumes after "glorified tailors" — in contrast to the epic scents of yesteryear: Tabu, My Sin, Love Potion, and Sorcery.) Cleopatra used jasmine to distract Marc Antony during business meetings.

Essential oils used in aphrodisia start by promoting physical relaxation. Their fragrance can then trigger more subtle sensations of bodily pleasure. Neroli, named after an Italian princess, is distilled from the white blossoms of the evergreen orange tree. Patchouli is obtained from the fermented leaves of a perennial herb that grows in tropical Asia. Ylang-ylang is distilled from the freshly picked yellow flowers of a tree native to Southeast Asia. It's said that when a man is aroused, he releases an aroma similar to sandalwood (extracted from the roots and heartwood of a small Asian evergreen tree).

The Essence of Aphrodisia — Pheromones
Many romantic fragrances are essentially the sexual attractants of flowers that beckon insects to help with pollination. Humans also react to chemicals from animals, especially musk from the East Asian musk deer, castoreum from the scent glands of certain beavers, and civit, a honey-like secretion from the Ethiopian civit cat. No surprise then that we have our own natural scents, and ones that do a much better job at attracting a mate.

Hormones are potent "local" chemicals that travel throughout your body to help regulate metabolism and behavior. "Hormone" means to set in motion, excite, stimulate. You also produce similar "long distance" chemicals called pheromones, which work outside the body and can affect the hormones of others. "Pherein" means to bring, to bear along. Your pheromones literally entice and excite the opposite sex.

Numerous glands in the skin around your armpits and genitals produce these sexual scents, and the tufts of hair that begin sprouting at puberty collect and help broadcast your fragrant chemicals (some so subtle, they're considered odorless). Trapped beneath layers of clothing, however, these potentially erotic scents can become stale and deteriorate.

Fragrant Tokens
In her classic 1992 book, Anatomy of Love: A Natural History of Mating, Marriage, and Why We Stray, Helen Fisher, Ph.D., tells how a woman in Shakespeare's time would hold a peeled apple under her arm until it was ingrained with her scent. She would then offer this "love apple" to her lover to inhale. In parts of Greece and the Balkans today, some men successfully invite women to dance after offering them a handkerchief which had been carried in the armpit.

In Aromantics: Enhancing Romance, Love, and Sex with Nature's Essential Oils, Valerie Ann Worwood reports that men find a woman's odor most alluring during ovulation, when she is most likely to conceive. In response, men produce an odor of their own that has an aphrodisiac effect on women. Also, during ovulation women were found to be a thousand times more sensitive to a testosterone-like chemical.

A poor sense of smell will dull your love life. In tests with mice and monkeys, when the males' noses were plugged, they ignored females in heat. Good nutrition, especially enough zinc, is important to a healthy sense of smell. Sickness exudes an ill wind of its own that some people say they can sense — a good evolutionary adaptation that we probably all have to some degree. Unfortunately, though, the prefrontal cortex in the human brain can override an instinctual response to olfactory input.

Excessive bathing or use of deodorants and perfumes can overwhelm your sexual scents. Napoleon knew this. He asked his sweetheart Josephine to abstain from bathing several days before he returned to her.

Sweat T-Shirt Contest
In her 1998 book, Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women, Deborah Blum tells about a revealing Swiss experiment with a group of college students. Each woman was seated alone in a room at the time of ovulation, when her sense of smell was most acute. She then sniffed the T-shirts slept in by different men over the previous weekend. The women rated each shirt for sexiness, pleasantness, and intensity of smell.

What's remarkable was that the sexiness of the shirts correlated with the degree of difference in MHC genes. This is good, because these MHC (major histocompatibility complex) genes code for the disease detectors in the immune system — the more variety, the better. The women had a stinkual attraction to males whose MHC genes were least like their own.

Be the Aphrodisiac
Our natural scents and sensitivity thus play a vital role in identifying and attracting an ideal mate, one with whom we have the best chances of producing a healthy child capable of withstanding the onslaughts of life. And that's the name of the evolutionary game.

Our smell is as unique as our face. While it won't be alluring to everyone, we can count on having real chemistry with the ones we do attract. And the feeling will be mutual.

Not surprisingly, the quest for aphrodisia brings us full circle back to ourselves. This is good news for all Earth's creatures and gives new meaning to the words: "in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make."

Monday, October 6, 2008

Acupuncture And Famous Five Elements

Acupuncture is a healing technique developed by the Chinese who believed that the mind and the body of a person are one complete unit and a sickness cannot be treated in isolation. In fact, Chinese medicine has based the technique of acupuncture on five basic concepts. These are described briefly below:


Yin and Yang are two opposites in nature. Both continuously flow in and out of each other and play an important role in the treatment of acupuncture. For instance:

Heat and Cold:
The acupuncturist must learn about the heat and cold in the body of a person. If a person feels too hot then his yang is too strong and he will be subjected to urinary problems, constipation and fever etc. If he feels cold then his yin is too strong, which means he will be subject to diarrhoea, a pale face and pale tongue

Dry and Wet:
When a patient has a dry cough or dry skin or any symptom of dryness in the body then there is too much of yang in the body. When there is too much of sweating, running nose, frequent urination then there is too much of ying. Thus the acupuncturist can understand the basic nature of the disease by categorizing it as predominantly Yang or Yin

It is when yin starts to dominate that yang suffers and vice versa. So it is up to the acupuncturist to bring the yang and the yin to a desirable balance.

The five elements of fire, wood, earth and water form an essential concept of Acupuncture. It is believed that these five elements make our whole physical and mental system. Any change or imbalance in our body can be related to a change in one of the five elements.

'Qi' means energy and is the most basic concept over which acupuncture is based. When the flow of energy is disturbed imbalances of various kinds occur, making one prone to diseases. Thus, an acupuncturist first studies the Qi of a person. He studies the path of the energy, its nature, the changes in it and its rhythm and balance before embarking on a course of action.

The 12 Meridians are the pathways of the Qi or energy. Each path is linked to some organ. The organs in acupuncture are not known by their name, location or the basic structure but by their functions. Imbalances in these meridians lead to different ailments and problems. Each meridian is linked to a particular organ that can be treated by treating the different points on that meridian. The liver, heart, spleen, lungs are amongst the 12 meridians.

The Points in acupuncture are those pin points on the 12 meridians which when touched upon or treated, affect the whole meridian thus increasing the Qi and also treating the problem. There are a number of points on each meridian and a good acupuncturist is able to identify the right points that have to be touched so as to cure the disease.

So the next time your acupuncturist talks of the yin and yang or the meridians, don't look foxed! An understanding of these elements will help you grasp the intricacies of this ancient science.

A Brief History of Herbs and Herbalism

What is an herb? You could agree with the modern definition that states an herb is any part of the plant that is useful for healing, food or dye. However, the horticultural definition, which is the more common definition that was used hundreds of years ago, is the non woody part of a plant such as leaves, fruit and the soft green stems. For thousands of years, herbs have been used as scents, food, flavorings, medicines and disinfectants.

Herbalism is the practice and study of the uses of plants. How far back in our past does herbalism exist? There are sources that suggest the Stone Age. A 60,000-year-old burial site in Iraq contained evidence of eight different medicinal plants. Every continent seems to have their own practice of how to use herbs.

Ayurveda originated in ancient India. It is from the words Ayus meaning 'life' and Veda meaning 'knowledge'. This form of herbalism dates back about 5000 years with a detailed history, which I will cover in a future article. Ayurveda is still practiced today and uses herbs, breathing, meditation and diet for ever all wellness. It is based on rebalancing and maintaining the five elements of the body?earth, water, air, fire and ether.

Chinese herbalism was founded by ancient spiritual leaders roughly 3500 years ago. Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs states, it 'is widely acclaimed as one of the most complete and effective herbal traditions today'. Chinese herbalism is practiced in conjunction with acupuncture, massage, diet an Tai Chi--the art of movement and breathing.

Egyptian medical history was rejected by many cultures because it was thought to be a violation of humanity. This line of thought came from the fact that the Egyptians were the first to perform surgeries and to study the human body. From there study of the human body, they were able to discover and perfect the art of embalming the dead with herbs and spices. Where would we be today if they hadn?t committed such ?horrendous? acts?

Folk medicine seems to remain somewhat a mystery. I believe this is due to having a combination of so many different influences. We can see an assortment of inputs from the Native Americans, Mexican, African, European and Caribbean. Is there any wonder why it may difficult to target a specific origin? However, it does appear that the base of our folk medicine does originate from European Western Herbalism.

Native American Indian medicine continues to be practiced in America today. There are many tribes and the herbal practices of each tribe could be listed, but it does appear that they all agree on most of the uses of herbs.

There are other types of herbalism such as those practiced in Ancient Greece, the Aborigines, as well as the Hawaiians. I hope this brief little history has gotten you interested and ready for more of similar articles relating to the use of herbs and the different types of herbalism.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Controlling Hypertension with Natural Foods

Hypertension is a medical term given to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is often referred to as the "silent killer" as it usually has no symptoms but can still lead to life threatening situations. However, there are ways to manage this silent killer.

Food is one of the main factors implicated for causing hypertension. Your blood pressure can shoot up or remain normal as a result of what you eat. This means that food can help you in controlling your blood pressure. You take in more salty foods and chances are that your blood pressure will go up. Which other foods can help you control your blood pressure?

Apples: One of the most valuable fruits, an apple is a rich source of vitamins, minerals and pectin. Pectin is the active therapeutic agent present in apple. Apples are considered invaluable in case of hypertension. It has a diuretic effect, which causes increased secretion of urine and brings back the blood pressure to normal. Due to increased urination the sodium chloride levels in the body goes down and this relieves the load on the kidneys to process excessive sodium chloride. At the same time apples being rich in potassium result in a fall in the tissue sodium levels.

Lemon: One of the richest source of vitamin C is lemon. For proper functioning of vitamin C, lemon has an abundance of vitamin P. This vitamin is essential for controlling hemorrhage as well as prevents the formation of fragile capillaries. As a result of this function lemon helps in preventing the adverse effects of high blood pressure. It helps in strengthening the entire circulatory system and at the same time helps in controlling many circulatory diseases.

Garlic: This is regarded as one of the most effective remedies to control blood pressure. Owing to its properties to reduce the spasms of small arteries, garlic helps in lowering the blood pressure. It slows the pulse rate while at the same time modifies the heart rhythm. Garlic also has the property of relieving the symptoms of dizziness, shortness of breath and acidity. One can take about two to three commonly available garlic capsules as an aid to control blood pressure. Studies have shown that due to its dilatory effect, garlic helps in widening the blood vessels, thereby reducing the pressure.

Rice: Whether rice helps in controlling blood pressure or it just prevents it is an controversial issue. Rice in itself is a low fat, low salt and vitamins rich food. It has been seen that communities where rice forms the main food have a lower incidence of hypertension. So it can be said that owing to its properties rice can help in preventing this silent killer.

Levels of sodium restriction
200 to 300 mg (extreme sodium restriction): no salt in cooking
500 to 700 mg (severe sodium restriction): no salt in cooking
1000 to 1500 mg (moderate restriction): no salt in cooking
2000 to 3000 mg (mild restriction): some salt in cooking can be added

Thus it can be said that natural foods are great healers to control hypertension.

Acupuncture: Frequently Asked Questions Answered

Your first visit to an acupuncturist may be full of apprehension, trepidation and many unanswered questions. You will probably wonder what the acupuncturist is going to do, is the treatment going to be painful, if it is going to bleed, how long the course is going to take and so on. Here are some answers to your frequently asked questions:

What is the practitioner going to ask me?
In your first visit the practitioner is going to ask you to list all the symptoms that you are experiencing. You need to let him know all the physiological and psychological effects. Your family history is going to be inquired. Next is going to be a physical examination.

What is the physical examination like?
The Chinese believe that the tongue and the pulse can signify all sickness. Thus he will examine the tongue, its colour and coating. Next will be the pulse. According to the Chinese, there are six pulse positions on our wrist and each of these positions represent two organs.

How long is the treatment going to take?
Each visit might take anything from 20 minutes to an hour or maybe even more if it is the first visit. The number of visits, however, is dependent on the ailment. If the sickness is chronic then it takes more visits (which could be weekly), and if the symptoms are severe then the visits required could be more frequent but stretched over a shorter period of time.

What if I am undergoing some other treatment too?
Usually it does not matter if you are undergoing some other treatment as acupuncture really does not affect their process. However, you must let the acupuncturist know whatever treatment you are taking.

Is the treatment going to be painful?
The thought of needles does make you apprehensive but the real truth is that the acupuncture needles are so thin that you will not feel any pain. In fact, the moment the needle reaches the right depth you will feel a dull ache or a tingling sensation. This sensation will hardly last a minute or two. So it's an all gain and no pain treatment!

Is it going to bleed?
The acupuncture needles are so thin that the question of blood oozing out does not arise. The needles are only supposed to prick the point and not draw out any blood.

Will I feel relieved immediately?
If you are suffering from something like a headache then you would feel some relief immediately but mostly you just feel a bit drowsy after the treatment. However, the acupuncturist can come to know if there has been some effect by feeling your pulse.

Is acupuncture safe for small children?
It is not really advisable to treat small children with acupuncture not because of the nature of treatment but because you need to be sure that the practitioner is experienced and really good. Children in fact are easy to treat because the sickness would not be chronic.

What if I am pregnant?
Acupuncture is definitely not advisable for pregnant women.

Can acupuncture help me lose weight?
Acupuncture can help you lose weight if excess weight is because of over-eating or a low BMR (basal metabolic rate). If it is due to overeating then acupuncture can help you by lessening the craving to eat. Excess weight due to a low BMR means that the body is not able to utilise all the food that it is receiving and is storing it away. In such a case, acupuncture can help increase your BMR thus help you shed weight!

These questions, though not exhaustive, will definitely help you in understanding this ancient science better.

Acupuncture: The Art of Alternative Healing

It has been quite some time and you haven't been able to get rid of that nagging backache. It started as a small twitch near the shoulder but has now spread to the lower back. Popping painkillers has had no effect except giving you a stomach ache! Your doc says to cut down on your stress and strain, but he doesn't tell you how? Is there any help?

Yes, there is! There is something better than popping pills day in and day out. It has hardly any side effects compared to those painkillers and it is called - Acupuncture, a traditional Chinese method of treating different physiological and psychological problems.

The Chinese treated patients for different ailments by observing their pulse and their tongue. The whole treatment was undertaken on the basis of these two. They realized that the human body was basically made up of energy or Qi, which flowed through a specific path called the Meridians. Each meridian is connected to some organ in the body. Over each meridian lie specific points that have the ability to increase or decrease the quantity and quality of energy flowing through the meridians. Thus by treating these points, specific ailments are cured.

An often-asked question is: Is Acupuncture effective? Research has proved that acupuncture has provided physical as well as psychological relief to patients. Today, Acupuncture is recognized as a complete science in itself and is extremely popular worldwide as an alternative form of healing.

There are two techniques in acupuncture:

1. Insertion of needles
First the acupuncturist collects the patient's detailed medical as well as family history, gains knowledge of his/her eating habits and lifestyle. Then comes the physical examination. There is a very strong stress on pulse taking. The Chinese have identified six main pulse points: three on each wrist and use two kinds of pressures to gain an in depth knowledge of the cause of ailment. The second most important thing is examining the tongue. The acupuncturist watches out for the colour, shape, area and coating of the tongue. This gives him knowledge of the inner physical condition.

Next the meridians and the points are identified. In the actual treatment tiny needles are inserted at specific points identified on the body. In fact this is what acupuncture means --puncture by the needles. After insertion the needles are stimulated either by twirling them or by passing a mild electric current which results in a mild tingling sensation. The needles are inserted for a length of time that ranges from a few seconds to 30 minutes.

2. Use of Moxa
After going through the preliminary examinations the acupuncturist will embark on the actual treatment. In this a herb called Moxa is used. Small cones of the herb are burnt and then rested on the skin to warm and supply energy to the acupuncture points. This energy is then passed through the meridians to the whole system thus striving to overcome the problem

Treatment time
The treatment takes anything from 20 minutes to 1 hour. The first session might turn out to be a bit long but things soon even out.

Frequency of visit
The frequency of the visit is dependent on the nature of the ailment. In the beginning it might be a couple of times a week and then weekly or maybe even less till none is required.

Acupuncture is known to have treated many ailments such as headaches, stress, insomnia, arthritis and many others and that too successfully. It is safe, without any side effects and leads to an overall feeling of well being.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Reiki and Breathing Exercises

Did you know that Reiki actually originated many years ago in Tibet? However, it was then rediscovered by the Japanese who developed and propagated it further. Reiki is a very popular practice today because it doesn't involve any side effects or any harmful techniques and chemicals. It is based on the most natural and basic concept of cosmic energy. This is referred to as 'ki' in Japanese, 'chi' in Chinese, 'prana' in Hindi or 'bioenergy' in science. All that Reiki involves is the replenishing of this 'ki' and it's correction.

If you are a beginner to Reiki or want to have an idea before you enroll into a course then this is just the place for you. Here are some simple exercises that will help you stay fresh after a long day and help you eliminate all the stress in your daily life.

You can do this either sitting down or lying down, and practice it anywhere and everywhere be it the office or home.

Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, how it flows in and out, then in and out again in and out and carry on.

Once you have established this rhythm you will start feeling a bit relaxed but at the same time you will be able to feel a few tension points in you body. Put your hands softly wherever you feel the tension. you will be able to know the points or places automatically, don't strain yourself much.

Once you have placed your hand at a specific spot imagine that your breath is energy. Now you are directing this energy towards your hands. Let it flow through your whole body and collect and expand in your hands. Relax at the same time. You will feel relaxation spreading in that specific part of your body. Next the relaxation will spread in your whole body through that area. Do this for about 5 minutes.

Now take your hands to another spot and repeat the same process. Breathe into your hands and feel the 'ki' flowing through the spot in your whole body. You might find your mind drifting towards past experiences and memories, don't get into them. However just let go of yourself and feel the flow inside your body.

Give the above step 5 minutes and then pick up 2 more places of tension, if you are not feeling any kind of physical strain and continue with the exercise. If you are feeling some strain, go to step 6.


Slowly open your eyes.
Stretch your whole body and breath deep.
Get back to your normal activities.

You will feel a new kind of relaxation pervade your mind and body and feel calmer and rejuvenated after doing this exercise.

Heal Your Mind, Body and Soul with Yoga

What is yoga?

Yoga is a complete science that originated in India thousands of years ago. It is the world’s oldest system of fitness, encompassing the mind, body and spirit. The word `Yoga’ means "union". It is derived from the Sanskrit word "yujir " meaning "to yoke" or "to join". Yoga is the practical aspect of a philosophy called Vedanta, which is laid out in the Upanishads and maintains that there is one absolute reality that underlies everything in the universe. Among the most important teachings of Yoga are instructions on how to control your body through your mind.

Yoga helps you in keeping your body fit and mind peaceful. In recent years, medical research has begun to pay attention to the effects of Yoga. Studies have shown, for instance, that relaxation in the Corpse Pose or Shavasana effectively relieves high blood pressure and that regular practice of asanas and pranayama can help relieve diverse ailments such as arthritis, arteriosclerosis, chronic fatigue, asthma, varicose veins and heart conditions.

Is yoga a religion?

Yoga is not a religion nor is it a mystic cult. It is a spiritual technique, which has something to offer to everyone, religious and the non-religious, men and women irrespective of age, faith or race factors.

Is yoga effective in modern life?

The pressures of work and home, coping with deadlines, and just the business of daily living has become too stressful today. You’ve probably tried everything under the sun from tranquilizers to pills to even dancing your blues away. But nothing seems to help you. Go for Yoga. It acts like a balm and soothes your mind, body and soul.

Yoga is an effective stress-buster and helps lower your stress levels. Here's how:

It controls stress not only on a physical level, but on a mental and spiritual level too.

Yoga asanas release the physical tension of your body and lubricates it. It keeps your muscles and joints running smoothly, tones all the internal organs and increases circulation, without creating any fatigue.
Pranayama gives vitality by increasing the supply of oxygen to the brain.

Finally, meditation stills the mind and enhances your powers of concentration.

Yoga improves the strength and flexibility of your mind and body, and helps you to relax. It frees you from stress both physically and mentally, often heightening your powers of intuition and creativity. Thus you can leverage this ancient science perfected by Indian sages over the centuries to work for you today.

Reduce Cholesterol with Natural Foods

Proper diet is the key to good health. An improper diet results in several disease conditions such as cardiovascular diseases. Increased cholesterol is the primary cause of heart diseases. The adage "prevention is better than cure" is particularly appropriate for heart diseases as you yourself can prevent the rise in cholesterol levels and hence prevent heart diseases. Cholesterol lowering trials have shown that with a reduction in cholesterol levels the incidence of heart disease can be significantly lowered. The use of natural plant foods can help you lower the cholesterol levels.

Plant foods are rich source of dietary fibre, which have multiple health benefits. Fibre binds the cholesterol and hence helps in keeping it under control. Consumption of whole grain cereals, pulses, vegetables and fruit ensures an adequate fibre intake. Which are the natural foods that help us control cholesterol?

Apple: Why is it that an apple a day keeps the doctor away? Our ancestors believed this even without understanding the disease. But nutritional studies have now shown that this is actually true. Apples are rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants help in preventing the damage to the cells and hence help in preventing chronic diseases. At the same time, apples are very rich in fibre, which has the cholesterol binding property. Thus by eating apples you can keep a check on your cholesterol levels.

Banana: This is one fruit that is rich in almost all vitamins and minerals. At the same time it is a rich source of fibre. Banana, by itself is a zero cholesterol food. On going studies have shown that banana has the potential to lower cholesterol. So continue eating this wonder fruit. It might work wonders for your heart.

Carrots: This has wide protective properties. Scottish studies have shown that a carrot a day for three weeks lowered the cholesterol by 10 to 20 per cent in the study participants. Carrots are rich in fibre pectin, which has cholesterol-lowering properties.

Beans: Rich in fibre and low in cholesterol, beans are an ideal combination for lowering cholesterol. At the same time beans are also rich in lecithin, a nutrient that has cholesterol-lowering properties. A study has shown that consuming a bowl of lentils or kidney beans can lower cholesterol by about 19 per cent.

Garlic: Many studies have shown that a clove of garlic per day can help in lowering cholesterol by about 10 to 15 per cent. Garlic is recognized in Europe as a remedy for heart diseases.

Onion: Like garlic, onion has been shown to have a cholesterol lowering effect. So consuming garlic and onion along with meals may be a better idea to prevent a rise in cholesterol.

Sunflower seeds: These seeds are the most familiar of all edible seeds and contain a substantial amount of linoleic acid that has cholesterol-owering properties. Substituting these seeds for some high fat foods can have a beneficial effect on the health.

Consuming these natural foods can help you fight cholesterol, a deadly enemy of your heart.

Yoga and Meditation: Basics

Going back to basics. That is what meditation is all about. It is a state of consciousness that allows you to go beyond the limits of normal awareness. When you meditate, you focus the mind on one point and stifle all other thoughts. By stopping the waves of thoughts you understand your true nature and discover the wisdom and tranquillity that lies within you.

Meditation differs from deep sleep or relaxation in that it involves active mental effort rather than total rest. As well as relieving stress and replenishing energy, it can bring you physical, mental and spiritual peace. To achieve inner serenity, you must learn to quieten your mind and focus your mental energy inwards. If you meditate for half an hour daily, your thinking will become clearer and you will be able to face life with greater spiritual strength.

Do I have to adopt some special pose for meditation?

Yes. The ideal positions for meditation are the classic sitting postures, as these keep the prana, or vital energy, within your body. The Lotus, Half Lotus and Easy Pose are all suitable.

The ideal pose

Sit in one of the above mentioned meditation poses. Your head should be held straight and aligned with your back. Keep your spine and neck straight but not tense. Keep your eyes gently closed. Place your hands in a comfortable position. Form a circle with your thumb and index finger. Rest the backs of your wrists on your knees. You can also relax with your hands in your lap, palms upward, one on top of the other, or you may also clasp you hands gently and lay them in your lap as you meditate. Breathe quietly from your abdomen. Maintain a regular rhythm.

Focus all your attention and energy inward. Command your mind to be quiet. Begin by allowing your thoughts to wander, then select a focal point, such as an uplifting image, and concentrate on it. Bring your attention repeatedly back to the object of concentration so that you achieve an unbroken flow of thoughts. Initially, try to spend about half an hour every day in meditation.

Here's what you should remember before you begin meditation:

  • Set aside a special place for meditation - the atmosphere you build up will help still the mind.
  • Choose a time when your mind is free of everyday concerns - dawn and dusk are ideal.
  • Using the same place and time daily conditions the mind to slow down more quickly.
  • Sit with your back, neck and head in a straight line, facing north or east.
  • Instruct your mind to remain quiet for the duration of your meditation session.
  • Regulate your breathing. Start with five minutes - deep breathing, then slow it down.
  • Establish a rhythmic breathing pattern - inhaling then exhaling for about three seconds.
  • At first, let your mind wander - it will only grow more restless if you force it to concentrate.
  • Now bring the mind to rest on the focal point of your choice.
  • Hold your object of concentration at this focal point throughout your session.

Getting Fitter with Yoga

Did you know that yoga can actually enhance the benefits of your fitness plan? Yes, yoga is a good supplement to exercise. And if you thought that yoga was meant only for rishis and sadhus, you need to think again. There are several yoga exercises that act as a supplement to the whole process of exercising and preparation. Preparing yourself for exercise and training is equally important as the actual training. Yoga acts as a facilitator and works wonder for your warm-up and cool-down steps.

At the warm-up stage:

Yoga can be used as a means for increasing attention and concentration

It helps warm-up the muscles.

You can simultaneously improve your flexibility, body awareness, and self-control. Although these yoga exercises take only 2-3 minutes, you will find them very useful in reaching a more concentrated state. Through yoga, concentration becomes as much a part of the warm-up routine as your daily stretching. Like physical exercises, practicing concentration becomes a habit when done regularly and systematically.

Between training sessions:

Yoga is an excellent tool for relaxing and regenerating muscles between training sessions
Or when your body needs a short rest. It enables relaxation of the arteries and veins that transport blood to the heart and back which allows for a more effective workout.

These exercises produce calmness and a refreshing physical sensation that stimulates overall recovery.

At the cool down stage:

The process of regeneration is speeded up when yoga is combined with cooling exercises. The battery of yoga asanas speeds up the process of regeneration by applying pull, rotation, pressure, and the force of gravity.

This increases the flexibility, and elasticity of the leg muscles and ligaments.
In addition, yoga complements walking and running. Walking or running offer training benefits for a select group of muscles only. Prolonged practice of these results in a disbalance of muscles creating damage, loss and injuries. Doing Yoga as a supplemental exercise ensures a harmonious development of the body.

In racing, a synchronization of breathing with movement is very important. Yoga offers several exercises that regulate the movement with breathing for optimum effect. These asanas also give benefits such as rehabilitating the lower back, and prevention of pain and injury. Muscle stretching, increased flexibility and stamina are some other benefits you can get by practicing yoga.

Thus combining yoga with your exercise plan will go a long way in keeping both your mind and body fit and fine.

The Begining of a Yoga Session

To ensure that maximum benefit is obtained from yoga, rest in the Corpse Pose for at least five minutes before proceeding with a session. In between asanas it is essential that you relax, breathing deeply, so that the Corpse Pose is also held for a short time between poses, until you regain normal breath and heartbeat rate. After relaxing in the Corpse Pose, sit in the Easy Pose, Sukhasana, for pranayama and the neck, shoulder and eye exercises.

Sukhasana (The Easy Pose): It is a simple cross-legged position, often adopted naturally when sitting on the floor. In yoga, it is one of the basic positions used during meditation, breathing, and warm-ups. Sitting on the floor, bend your knees and clasping your arms around them, press them to your chest to make the spine erect. Now, release your arms and cross your legs, letting your knees drop down toward the floor, keeping your head and body straight. Sit upright and keep your spine straight so that it gives your body firm support. Place your hands so that they rest on your knees.

This asana is one of the classic meditative poses that help to straighten the spine, slow the metabolism and still the mind. If you find that holding the pose is uncomfortable, place a folded blanket under the back of your buttocks. In order to stretch the leg muscles evenly, be sure to alternate which leg you place on top in the posture. When you are ready, substitute the Half Lotus or Lotus at this point.

Neck and Shoulders Exercises: Practise each set of neck rolls 3 times, returning your head to the centre between exercises. Sit in the Easy Pose. In the first exercise, bend your neck forward slowly, hold for a few moments, then bend it back. In the second, tilt your head right, hold, then tilt it left. In the third, look over your right shoulder, hold, then look over your left. Finally, rotate your head thrice clockwise and anticlockwise. Now, raise your right shoulder, then drop it down. Repeat with the left. Lastly, raise both shoulders at once, then drop them down again.

Repeating these exercises eases tension, increases flexibility and tones your muscles. Do them slowly and keep your spine straight, your neck relaxed and your shoulders facing forward,

Eye Exercises: Move only your eyes in these exercises, taking care to relax them in between.

To begin, look up and then look down.

Open your eyes wide. Look from right to left, then from left to right, and finish by looking diagonally.

Move your eyes in circles. Start slowly, and increase speed. Do this movement five times in each direction.

To end, always "palm" your eyes. Close your eyes. Rub your palms together vigorously until they feel warm. Now cup them over your closed eyes, without pressing, for 30 seconds. The heat and darkness soothe and relax your eyes.
These exercises will strengthen your eye muscles, and help to prevent eyestrain and improve eyesight. Breathe normally while you are practising them.

Simhasana (The Lion Pose): Sit on your heels. Place your hands palms down on your knees, fingers splayed, and inhale through your nose. Now lean slightly forward and exhale forcefully through your mouth, making an "aaah" sound. At the same time, stretch your tongue out and down, stretch out your fingers and look up. Hold the pose for as long as you can, then close your mouth and inhale through the nose.

In Simhasana, circulation to the tongue and throat is increased, the voice is improved, and the face and throat muscles are made stronger. The asana also stimulates the eyes. Repeat four to six times.