Low Back Pain Relief, Causes and Symptoms: Part 1

After years doing massage therapy the most common complaint from customers is lower back pain. I hear it from athletes, young people, older people, sedentary people, swimmers, climbers, and almost everyone else. Although the solution may seem simple (just get your low back worked on, or take some pain killers, right?) there can actually be several causes and solutions that will have lasting effects.

The pain could caused by any of three main muscle groups:

  • The “QL” (square muscle on your low back called the quadratus lumborum)
  • The Psoas (hip flexor)
  • The Hamstrings.

This video deals with the hamstrings: How to tell if their tight, how to stretch them in passivee and active ways, and how to stretch each of the three muscles that make up the hamstrings. Keep watching for the next video, but in the meantime, relax those muscles and stretch!

Sugar Substitutes – Are They Safe? (Part 1)

Many people are attempting to limit calories in their diet, and one of the many ways this can be accomplished is by limiting your sugar intake. Many herbs have traditionally been used as sugar alternatives, and since the late 1800s artificial sweeteners (man-made substances that mimic the sweetness of sugar) have also been utilized in our food. While we know that white sugar (sucrose) itself is devoid of nutrients, and even requires additional nutrients for your body to process, spikes our blood sugar, and can be a leading cause of being overweight and obesity, what is the safety of sugar substitutes? Proponents of sugar substitutes argue their benefit in helping to reduce calories and limit sugar intake (especially important and necessary for those with diabetes!). Opponents of sugar substitutes argue that many have toxic components, but can also overstimulate our taste buds and cause us to crave more sugar and food!

A crucial defining point to sugar substitutes is that they are actually sweeter than sugar itself. This means the amount of a sugar substitute required to get its ‘sweet effect’ is negligible compared to sugar. Because of this, and their very nature, sugar substitutes have either no caloric value to our bodies, or a very minimal caloric value. For those looking to trim up a bit, this can be quite important as a means of decreasing calorie intake. Sugar substitutes primarily consist of artificial sweeteners. The four major artificial sweeteners consumed in the United States include:

  • Acesulfame Potassium (Acesulfame K, Ace K, and Sunnett)
  • Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
  • Aspartame (Equal, Nutra-Sweet)
  • Sucralose (Splenda)

New sugar substitutes available include sugar alcohols and herbs:

  • Erithrytol
  • Xylitol
  • Stevia, an herb (rebiana, Truvia).

Let’s look at each sugar substitute individually:

Acesulfame Potassium was developed in the late 1980s, and is widely consumed in manufactured and packaged foods. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. In high concentrations, Acesulfame K is bitter, and so is usually mixed with other sugar substitutes. The FDA has cleared Acesulfame K for human consumption, and backs their decision by citing over 90 studies as to its safety. Opponents of Acesulfame K cite conflicting studies, especially regarding a specific component it contains known as methylene chloride. Methylene chloride is as known potent carcinogen – a cancer causing substance – and has also been linked to kidney and liver damage, nausea, and headaches.

Saccharin was accidentally discovered in the late 1870s by a chemist working to develop coal tar derivatives, who happened to discover a sweet taste on his hand. Since the 1950s, saccharin has been used as a sugar substitute in our foods, and is commonly found on tables everywhere. Saccharin can range anywhere from 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. Studies in the 1970s indicated that saccharin could cause bladder cancer in mice, but the FDA confirms that this risk is not major in humans. Ever since the early 1900s, saccharin has had a bumpy road to being legal to sell for food consumption. The director of the bureau of chemistry for the USDA in 1907, Harvey Wiley, stated that saccharin is “extremely injurious to health.” It took another 50 years to legalize saccharin, and the FDA itself has put saccharin up for review and attempted to ban its sale. Other than being potentially carcinogenic, saccharin has also been linked to allergic reactions, headaches, and breathing issues.

Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by a chemist attempting to develop an anti-ulcer drug. Aspartame is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Originally cleared for food consumption in 1974, objections by a neuroscientist put the approval on hold. It wasn’t until 1981 and 1983 that aspartame was approved for both dry and liquid goods, respectively. Perhaps more than any other sugar substitute, controversy abounds around aspartame’s safety. Because of the large amount of controversy, more tests have been performed regarding aspartame than any other substitute, as well. The FDA states that aspartame has been thoroughly tested, perhaps more than any other food additive, and that it is safe for consumption. The main opposition toward aspartame comes in two parts. Firstly, aspartame is composed of 50% phenylalanine. People with a genetic disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot metabolize phenylalanine, which can lead to lethal concentrations in the brain, and so must avoid aspartame. Secondly, aspartame also contains approximately 10% methanol, or wood alcohol, which breaks down into formaldehyde in the human body. Formaldehyde is a known neurotoxin, symptoms which include gastrointestinal disturbances, memory lapses, numbness and pain in bodily extremities, retinal damage and blindness, and is also a known carcinogen.

Sucralose is the newest of the common artificial sweeteners, have been confirmed for consumption in 1998 under the brand name Splenda. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Because of the mild flavor of sucralose, it is much more favorable to most people compared to other artificial sweeteners. Before clearing sucralose for consumption, over 110 studies were reviewed by the FDA, and it was deemed that sucralose posed no toxic carcinogenic, neurological, or reproductive dangers. However, no long term toxicity studies have been conducted on humans. Sucralose is made from actual sugar, but the chemical process it undergoes involves chlorination, and thus transforms the sugar into a new substance. It is this primarily this chlorination process that brings the safety of sucralose into question. A number of studies, including those reviewed by the FDA, indicate that approximately 15% of sucralose ingested by the body is not eliminated in a timely fashion. Opponents argue by not eliminating even this small amount of sucralose over a long period of time could result in chlorine toxicity.

Stay tuned later this week for Part 2, as I cover the sugar alcohols, Stevia, and how sugar substitutes affect our appetites!

Peruvian Anticucho Grilling Sauce

Grilling with Peruvian Salsa Anticucho!
It’s a Baste, Marinade and Sauce
by Chef Jamie Woolner

There is a common misconception about health food…people often tell me that it’s bland! Since I am a nutritionist AND a foodie, this wouldn’t be true or I wouldn’t be interested. The key? Spices! I make all sorts of sauces, marinades, and rubs out of spices, peppers, vinegars, and healthy oils. So when I went to a bbq and tried this sauce, I begged the chef to share the recipe! It doubles not only as a baste, but also as a sauce or marinade. I even put it on my potato salad!

There’s no better way to bring in the summer than grilling out! Grilled foGrilling Veggiesod can be a unhealthy disaster, or a great way to add to your daily serving of vegetables! Almost any vegetables, proteins, (and a lot of fruit!) can be transformed after grilling. Get creative! I’ve  grilled slices of white squash, zucchini, tomatoes, tempeh, asparagus, and portabellas. I’ve even had things like peaches on the grill! So remember, vegetables don’t have to be boring. Spices can be healthy, too!

-Makes about 2 Cups-


  • 4 Tbs          Aji Amerillo Puree (Peruvian Yellow Pepper)*
    *Substitute: 2 yellow bell peppers, boiled in vinegar and water until soft and pureed w/ a half teaspoon of cayenne
  •  6 Tbs         Aji Panca Puree (Peruvian Sundried chili)**
    **Substitute: 1 Tablespoon of Chipotle adobo Puree w/ 3 red bell peppers boiled in vinegar and water until soft and pureed
  • 2 Tbs          Soy Sauce
  • 1 Clove      Garlic, Finely Minced
  • 3 Tbs          Rice Vinegar
  • 1 Tbs          Red Wine Vinegar
  • 4 Tbs          Lager Beer or Lighter Colored Beer (I used Heineken)
  •  Salt and Pepper to taste
  •     ½ Cup        Olive Oil
  •      1 Tbs         Cumin
  •      1 Tbs         Oregano Flakes or 1.5 tsp Oregano powder
  1. Heat up your grill.
  2. Add all ingredients into a large bowl (except for salt, pepper, and olive oil) and whisk to combine.
  3. Add olive oil as a slow stream while whisking.
  4. Season w/ salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Get a basting brush or a spoon and set the Anticucho next to your grill.
  6. Take any items that you want grilled, cut them into equal sized pieces and rub them in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.
  7. Start grilling. Baste vegetables and proteins on the topside. Flip and baste the other side. When the item is cooked, give it a final baste.

Note: if you choose to grill meat, get a separate container and brush for the finishing antichucho sauce.

So enjoy, and happy grilling!

Chef JamiChef Jamie Woolnere Woolner studied culinary arts at The Art Institute of California. He has cooked in many restaurants making Japanese, Latin, Italian, and American cuisine. Currently he owns and operates Pizza of Venice, CA, where he supplies events and restaurants with custom pizzas. You can find his company on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Pizza-of-Venice-CA/308622362552449

Understanding Sugar Cravings

Is sugar an obstacle standing in the way of you and great health? Sugar can disrupt Candyinsulin levels, feed “bad” bacteria and fungus in the body, and if unused, be converted to body fat. So why is a sugar habit so hard to kick? Sugar cravings can be caused by multiple factors. Luckily, once you understand your sugar cravings, there are solutions.

Causes of sugar cravings:

  1. Dehydration/need for water
  2. Amino acid/hormone Imbalance
  3. Habits: Psychological and physical associations with food.
  4. Lack of “good” bacteria in the body and/or too much yeast or fungus in the body.
  5. Inflammation or disease that feeds off sugar.
  6. Body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.

Problem: Dehydration/Thirst
WaterThis may seem too simple, but sometimes when you’re hungry for sweets, you’re just thirsty! This is especially true between meals. If you’re hungry only an hour or so after eating, you probably just need water.
Solution: If the thought of eating something healthy, like a salad or apple, doesn’t sound good, but candy does, you’re probably thirsty! Also, think about the last time you had a drink. You shouldn’t go longer than ½ hour-1 hour without water.

ProThe Mood Cureblem: Amino Acid/Hormone Imbalance
Many people lack certain nutrients and amino acids, or their hormone production/regulation is off. Lacking certain amino acids can cause sluggishness, depression, hyperactivity, or sleeplessness. A hormone imbalance can have similar effects. Lack of energy or low serotonin causes sugar cravings, since sugar gives a boost that gives temporary relief.
Solution: If you think you have a thyroid problem or an amino acid deficiency, get tested at a practitioner’s office. If you can’t afford a test, or you don’t have insurance, read The Mood Cure. The book offers self-diagnosis tools and a supplementation regimen that can be seriously helpful.

Problem: Habits-psychological and physical associations with food.
When we do something on a regular basis, our brain is carved with little neural pathways. This is a habit! Evolution has designed us to feel comfortable with habits. As long as the summer and rain came when it was supposed to, and winter was on schedule, our ancestors could predict food and migration patterns. Unfortunately, the cookie you eat after every meal is not beneficial to your survival. But our brain carves the neural pathway just the same, so every time you’re done eating, you will crave a cookie. The same goes for a drink after work, or chocolate every day at lunch break.
Solution: Catch yourself having “habitual” cravings! Break the habit by doing something different; change the association. Every time you get home from work, have strawberries instead of cheesecake. You will soon crave the strawberries! Habits can change.

Problem: Lack of Good Bacteria/Too Much Yeast/Fungus
This is a surprisingly common condition. The common diet today has almost NO fermented food, which our ancestors ate daily. Fermented food (i.e. raw sauerkraut, kimchi, nato, kombucha, and homemade ginger beer) contain beneficial bacteria that feed the “good” bacteria in our gut. This good bacteria helps digest food, fights off infections and supercharges our immune systems! Sugar can be harmful because it “feeds” the negative bacteria and yeast. This can cause digestive upset, low energy, and a sluggish immune systems. Sugar isn’t the only cause of a yeast imbalance (often referred to as “candida”), alcohol, over-consumption of starch, medications, and yeast also cause candida.
Symptoms: You may have a yeast imbalance if you have: Toe fungus, yeast infections, thrush (candida in the mouth and throat), digestive issues, bloating, low-functioning immune system,Wild Fermentation and constant sugar cravings.
Solutions: Take probiotic supplements. They come in the form of capsules, liquid, and concentrated yogurt. Eat fermented foods daily. Make they sure they are raw/unpasteurized and unsweetened. You can buy them at health food stores, or make your own! It can be cheap and fun. My favorite fermentation recipe book is called Wild Fermentation Stay away from refined sweets and starchy desserts for awhile. (Once your back in balance, you can give yourself a “treat day.”)

Problem: Inflammation/Sickness
Many things in our body feed off sugar, and most of them are harmful. There are plenty of helpful organisms (like the beneficial bacteria mentioned earlier), but there are plenty of harmful ones that make their livelihood leaching nutrients, causing disease, and giving us weird cravings. For instance, sugar makes cancer cells grow and multiply. Parasites thrive Fermented Foodsoff it. Even a fungus that grows during a sinus infection is fed by sugar. Sugar also causes inflammation, and inflammation is the cause of arthritis, Chrohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, and many other problems. Since sugar causes inflammation, eating less sweets can be a big step towards reducing it. (There are more lifestyle changes that reduce inflammation, and I will go into greater detail on this point in another post.)
Solution: Eat less sugar and reduce stress!

Problem: The body is agitated after ingesting food it can’t process well.
Even if you try to be healthy, it’s easy to slip off the wagon and grab a doughnut when you’re in a hurry. Don’t beat yourself up over small treats here and there, but there is more to that gas-station food than extra calories. When our body ingests something that it can’t process well (chemicals, hydrogenated oils, allergens, etc), it wants to push it out. There’s no use for it and it’s toxifying, so the body wants it gone! So it makes us crave sweets, since sugar is an intestinal irritant, and might “speed things along.” (In layman’s terms: You will poop the faster, before the toxic food has the chance to hang around in the intestines and cause more damage.) But as mentioned, this causes inflammation, which has its own problems.
Solution: Eat whole, chemical-free food that your body has use for. Cut down on processed food, and eat out less.

So pay careful attention to your sugar cravings! When are they happening? Why are they happening? Are you stressed, low on energy, or eating out of habit? Try keeping a food journal and chart your cravings! You can find unexpected links, and learn the ways of your mind and body. And hey, everyone once and awhile…it’s ok to have some ice cream.