Sunday, May 21, 2017

Oxytocin & Addiction...

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Addictive Behavior Related to Low Levels of Oxytocin, the “Love/Bonding Hormone”

The more we understand how nature works, the more we realize just how complex, intricately balanced and ingenious its systems are. One aspect that we are currently gaining more insight into is the human body’s ability to produce natural chemicals and their effects on our general well-being.

Oxytocin is a hormone secreted by the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland, a pea-sized structure located at the base of the brain. It is often referred to as a natural love chemical because it is pumped into our bodies when we experience love. It promotes bonding, trust and attachment. It enhances the connection between mother and baby when it is released in high doses during childbirth, and is responsible for the magical seeming way a mother’s breast instantly releases milk at the sight or sound of her infant. It also deepens the sense of union between couples at orgasm.

Oxytocin levels are naturally increased when we feel connected. Actions such as physical touch, cuddling, massage, physical activity, sexual contact, and activities like singing and reading all encourage our bodies to produce oxytocin. When this hormone is whizzing around our bodies it instills a sense of wellbeing and our natural mechanism for healing is promoted.

Conversely levels of this chemical are diminished by isolation or loneliness, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress. When we are deficient in oxytocin, we are likely to have raised levels of the damaging stress hormone cortisol which, as well as negatively affecting our health, adds to the feeling of anxiety, disconnection and despondence.

“Sometimes we spend less quality time with our partner — especially when other demands on us are pressing. However, neuroscience findings suggest that we should change our priorities. By forgoing closeness with our partners, we are also missing our oxytocin boost — making us less agreeable to the world around us and more vulnerable to conflict.” ~ Paul J. Zak

It would seem that nature, in its innate brilliance, actually favors loving supportive social interactions by rewarding them with a natural feel-good, healing elixir. But this raises the question: If we crave oxytocin when our levels (and loving interactions) are low, how might we try to compensate?

Oxytocin and Addiction

A recent article in the international journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior explored the current state of research linking oxytocin and addiction. The article, guest edited by Dr. Femke Buisman-Pijlman from the University of Adelaide’s School of Medical Sciences, suggests that addictive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse could be associated with low levels of this love hormone.

For a long time it was assumed that addiction was the result of bad life decisions. The fact that as a society we still imprison people for personal drug use suggests that this view is likely still coloring our perception of addiction. However, Buisman-Pijlman’s article puts forward the theory that substances like drugs and alcohol may in fact be a means to compensate for inadequate levels of oxytocin; that when we don’t have the natural feel-good hormone circulating in our bodies, we are more inclined to seek out reward through our external environment.

Addressing the long-held association between addiction and childhood neglect, Dr. Buisman-Pijlman, whose background encompasses both addiction studies and family studies, continues that some individuals’ lack of resistance to addictive substances may be specifically associated with poorly developed oxytocin systems. She believes that when a child feels loved and safe they are more likely to develop a healthy oxytocin system, while harsh conditions (such as neglect and abuse) during early childhood may be responsible for the impaired development of the oxytocin system.

“Previous research has shown that there is a high degree of variability in people’s oxytocin levels. We’re interested in how and why people have such differences in oxytocin, and what we can do about it to have a beneficial impact on people’s health and wellbeing,” she says.

“We know that newborn babies already have levels of oxytocin in their bodies, and this helps to create the all-important bond between a mother and her child. But our oxytocin systems aren’t fully developed when we’re born — they don’t finish developing until the age of three, which means our systems are potentially subject to a range of influences both external and internal,” Dr. Buisman-Pijlman explained. “And because the hardware of the oxytocin system finishes developing in our bodies at around age three, this could be a critical window to study.”

Oxytocin and Parenting

“Oxytocin connects us to other people; oxytocin makes us feel what other people feel. And it’s easy to cause people’s brains to release oxytocin. Let me show you. Come here. Give me a hug.” ~ Paul J. Zak

In the past, the feeling of love was not seen as necessary for successful physical development. The focus of childrearing was on obedience and basic physiological needs like food and housing. Some experts even warned parents that providing too much love and affection could lead to ‘problem children’.

More recently, harsher practices like letting babies ‘cry it out’ and strictly controlled feeding times have declined in popularity as more parents began to choose to listen to their inner knowing, rather than voices of ‘authority’. Today this inclination to respond to our children from a space of love and connection is supported by most experts in the field of child development. Movements like attachment parenting, which encourages feeding on demand and co-sleeping, are becoming increasingly popular. And, now that we understand that there is a physiological motive as well as an emotional one for giving our children lots of love and affection in early childhood, there is even more reason to engage our natural inclinations.

For those who may have lacked the necessary love and attention during the formative stage of the oxytocin producing system, or for those who just want to maximise their feel good experience, the awesome news is that encouraging the body to produce more of this ‘love drug’ is not hard work. All the activities that increase oxytocin production are pleasurable and easily accessible. Activities like sex, cuddling, hugging, all raise levels naturally. Pleasurable activities like long baths, eating chocolate, listening to soothing music, singing in the shower, and showing our pets affection are also recognized as effective ways to increase the amount of oxytocin circulating in the body.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Gift of Being Unattached in Relationships

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“Real love begins when nothing is expected in return.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

A healthy relationship doesn’t come by chance, but by choice.

Unattachment in love is truly possible. It isn’t about letting go of anything but rather changing our expectations of what we want from the relationship.

Regardless of how spiritual or evolved we are, relationships challenge our shadow side and point out the work we have to do in order to get past our childhood wounds.

Unattachment in love isn’t about letting go of the person, or even of the love itself.

It has to do with remaining unattached to any expectations or predetermined end result that many use to judge a successful relationship.

It seems that there is a blueprint for relationships that we all are expected to follow. We meet, we kiss, we talk, we spend more time together, we say I love you, we meet families, we move in and then of course a diamond ring will eventually follow.

Yet, that isn’t unattachment in love; rather it’s following a plan—and a rather limited one in my opinion.

In order to work toward unattachment in love—if that is what we are aiming to do—then we first have to work on ourselves and our triggers.

As humans we tend to have a difficult time with loose ends and with undefined or indescribable situations. For many of us, we like to know exactly where we are and what type of situation we are in so then we can play by the comforting corresponding rules.

Yet, we limit the type of love that we engage in.

Loving in a relationship based in unattachment doesn’t mean that we don’t care what the other person does, or that there is no chance for us to get hurt—but it does mean that we love them enough to simply let the relationship speak for itself rather than use customary titles.

When we can change our expectations, our experiences can change.

If we go into a new relationship with someone without any idealized thoughts on what it could become down the road, then we will give ourselves the opportunity for that union to develop organically, instead of forcing it inside the predetermined boundaries we use to define love.

Unattachment in love means that I love you because of the person you are, not because I am expecting you to love me back.

Unattachment in love means that I want to enjoy as many moments as I can with you because there is not a guarantee how long those opportunities will continue.

Unattachment in love is purely the ability to love someone freely. Both people are able to come and go at will, without ever feeling like there is an expectation for a specific set of behaviors or timelines.

The truth is, unattached love is not easy.

In order to truly love someone this way we have to first name and sit with our wounds; our fear of abandonment, rejection and whatever else we have been conditioned, since birth, to expect from a relationship.

Once we can do this work for ourselves—it doesn’t suddenly end, but rather becomes easier to navigate unattachment—we understand that our feelings don’t have to do with the other person, but with ourselves.

One of my wounds is the fear of abandonment, because since childhood I have been conditioned that eventually most men leave. Before I had healed this aspect of my psyche, I would lash out in anxiety and fear at the man in my life, based upon what I thought were his actions.

Yet now, when these same issues arise, I see them for exactly what they are—my reaction is completely different.

I no longer look for someone else to heal me, or to reassure me of their presence in my life, because I can do that for myself.

Regardless of how far this journey has taken me, sometimes I am still triggered—but now, I simply smile when I am because I know that it means I am going to be able to go deeper and evolve to a different level of unattachment.

In unattachment, we don’t let go of the other person—nor do we completely let go of all expectations. To let go implies that we are giving up, which also means we are walking away from the work that can be done on ourselves through our personal relationships.

Unattachment simply means that we are choosing to love in a mindful way. We are showing up for one another when we can. For times when we can’t show up, we are each individually happy.

It means respecting the journey of our partner as much as we do our own, knowing that in unattached love we can’t force anything. There is nothing in this world any of us can do to make someone love us, and there’s also nothing we can do to stop someone from falling in love with us either.

When we can approach love as an offering, regardless whether the beloved accepts or reciprocates it, we bask in the essence of what it truly means to care for another, apart from our own needs and wants.

Unattachment in love means acknowledging our feelings for another, regardless of action, choice or result. This may be the most real type of love.

“Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life, and yet less attached to it.”

~ Ram Dass

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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

12 Foods that You Should Eat Daily for Clean Arteries

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12 Foods that You Should Eat Daily for Clean Arteries

These days, cardiovascular diseases become prevalent, and numerous people suffer from some kind of heart issue. Clogged arteries are one of the main factors contributing to these diseases.

The role of these blood vessels is to carry oxygen and nutrients from your heart to the rest of your body, and when healthy, they are elastic, flexible, strong, and free of deposits.

However, they often become clogged, hard, and narrowed, due to the accumulation of fat, cholesterol, and other substances. This condition is also known as atherosclerosis and results in a lowered flow of blood through the arteries.

The blockage of arteries is a prolonged process, which develops gradually, and is often caused by bad dietary and lifestyle habits.

However, you can prevent such issues by consuming healthy foods, and the following 12 are the best to keep your arteries clean:

  1. Broccoli
Broccoli is high in vitamin K which prevents calcification or hardening of arteries.  This vegetable is packed with numerous nutrients which protect against oxidation of LDL cholesterol and serious heart conditions.

It is also rich in fiber which manages stress, regulates blood pressure, and thus prevents tears and eventually plaque build-up in arterial walls.

  1. Green Tea
Green tea – especially Matcha green tea, which is high in nutrients, is high in catechins, which are antioxidant plant phenols which prevent the absorption of cholesterol during digestion.

Therefore, you should drink 1-2 cups of green tea daily to improve blood lipid levels and lower arterial blockage.  This tea also boosts metabolism and helps in weight management.

  1. Flaxseeds
Flaxseeds are high in alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which lowers blood pressure and inflammation, and maintains arteries clean.

  1. Spinach
Spinach is high in nutrients and offers numerous health benefits. It is high in nitric oxide, which prevents contractions of the arteries, blood coagulation, and plaque, and thus reduces the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Clinical Nutrition Research published a 2015 study which found that 7-day consumption of spinach as an inorganic nitrate source lowers postprandial arterial stiffness.

It is also rich in vitamin C and A and prevent bad cholesterol from adhering to the arterial walls and lowers the risk of atherosclerosis. This vegetable is also a rich source of potassium and folic acid, which regulate cholesterol and blood pressure.

You should consume at least ½ cup of spinach daily, and add it to smoothies, salads, soups, and juices.

  1. Pomegranates
Pomegranates are high in antioxidants that prevent damage due to free radicals and reduce the accumulation of sat in the arteries, thus lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

They also trigger the production of nitric oxide, which supports blood flow and maintains the arteries open, preventing plaque buildup and blood clots in the arteries.

The findings of a study conducted in 2014, and published in Clinical Nutrition, patients with carotid artery stenosis who drank pomegranate juice for three years experienced lowered blood pressure, reduced common carotid intima-media thickness, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation.

Another 2013 study published in Atherosclerosis showed that pomegranate extract caused atheroprotective effects that lower oxidative stress and inflammation in the vessel walls.

You should consume 1-2 pomegranates a day, and drink a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice.

  1. Cranberries
Cranberries are abundant in antioxidants and thus support heart health as they lower LDL and increase HDL cholesterol levels. The juice has more antioxidant power than all fruit juices, except the 100% red or black grape.

You should drink 2 servings of 100% pure organic cranberry juice a day to boost overall health and prevent heart diseases.

  1. Avocados
Avocados are high in healthy fats and other important nutrients that enhance blood cholesterol by reducing LDL and increasing HDL levels. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), or the good cholesterol, prevent blockage of the arteries.

The results of a 1996 study published in the Archives of Medical Research showed that high monounsaturated fatty acids in a diet high in these fruits improve lipid profiles in healthy and especially in mild hypercholesterolemic patients, even if they suffer from hypertriglyceridemia.

The vitamin e also protects against cholesterol oxidization. Avocados are high in folate that lowers harmful homocysteine levels in the blood, while potassium reduces blood pressure.

You should eat a ½ avocado a day, so you can consume it as a butter or cream replacement on bread and toast.

  1. Asparagus
This natural artery-clearing food prevents blood clotting and lowers blood pressure.
The B vitamins, especially B6, reduces homocysteine, which is an amino acid related to heart disease, and C-reactive protein (a marker of inflammation) levels.

Circulation published a 2005 study which showed that increased homocysteine levels raise the risk of CAD and blood clots in the arteries and veins.

Asparagus reduces these levels due to the high folic acid and vitamins B6 and B12 content.

Asparagus triggers the production of glutathione, which is an antioxidant that prevents inflammation and damaging oxidation that cause to clogged or blocked arteries.

Also, the vitamin K in asparagus prevents artery hardening and keeps calcium out of the arterial linings. You should, therefore, consume it regularly, as a side dish or as an appetizer.

  1. Turmeric
The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, has powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which support heart health. It also strengthens the cardiovascular system and prevents damage by reducing and preventing blockages of the arteries.

Also, it reduces LDL, or ‘bad’ cholesterol, levels, and thus prevents buildup in the arteries. The findings of a 2015 study published in the International Journal of Clinical & Experimental Pathology showed that turmeric prevents blocked arteries and boosts heart health.

Researchers showed that the main culprits for the improvement of coronary artery permeability are the anti-inflammatory effects of curcumin.

You should drink a glass of milk with a teaspoon of turmeric once or twice daily. You can also take curcumin supplements of 400 to 600 mg, 3 times daily.

  1. Apples
Apples are rich in a particular type of fiber, pectin, which lowers bad cholesterol in the bloodstream, by interfering with the intestinal absorption of bile acids.

This makes the liver to use circulating cholesterol to produce more bile. Also, apples are rich in flavonoids which lower hr risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.

Apples are high in magnesium and potassium too, which helps the control of blood pressure. Try to eat an organic apple daily, with the skin, in order to enjoy all its benefits.

  1. Garlic
Garlic is a real healthy powerhouse, which prevents blockage of arteries and cardiovascular issues and prevents damage due to free radicals.

Its regular consumption lowers the LDL cholesterol levels in the blood, boosts blood circulation, prevents the hardening of the aorta, and widens blood vessels.

According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, the aged garlic extract lowers coronary plaque volume in the case of metabolic syndrome.

You should eat 1-2 garlic cloves every morning on an empty stomach, and add it to your stews, soups, salad dressings, and all kinds of dishes.

  1. Chia Seeds
Chia seeds have been traditionally used in the Mayan and Aztec cultures, as they have a myriad of health benefits.

This plant is the highest in omega 3 fatty acids plant, and it is also rich in fiber, making it ideal for reducing bad cholesterol, managing blood pressure and clearing the arteries.

You can eat chia seeds in numerous ways. You can sprinkle the dry seeds on oatmeal and yogurt, or add them to salads and crunchy dishes. Also, leave a tablespoon of chia seeds to 3 tablespoons of water to soak for half an hour, and add the gel-like mixture to smoothies, desserts, and even baking recipes.

Remember to stay properly hydrated when consuming chia seeds, as they absorb lots of water.

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