It seems the times when we most need to support ourselves with healthy habits is when we are most apt to fall off the wagon. It can happen during major life changes or stressors, such as a move, the end of a relationship, or change in job status. Although the desire to comfort ourselves with sweets, junk foods, and too many days off from the gym are powerful, in the long run slacking off just adds to the stress. Instead of beating yourself up (which just causes even more stress), honor the fact that you’re in a tough spot and take small measures to slowly work your way back into a healthy diet and lifestyle.
Once you see how even the smallest changes transform into more energy and peace of mind it will motivate you to increasingly expand what you include in your healthy habits routine.
With that in mind, here are some gentle and easy steps to keep you from getting sucked into the abyss of destructive habits during stressful times.
Go for a walk. Have you stopped working out? Then walking is a gentle, pleasurable way to reawaken your physical body while settling the mind. Exercise is a magic bullet when it comes to health, but too much exercise stresses the body and causes inflammation. If a major life stressor has you feeling weaker and more tired than normal, that may be your body’s way of telling you it needs extra rest to cope. Walking’s physical benefits are only part of the story; research shows walking, especially in a natural environment, lowers stress, anxiety, and depression while boosting energy.
Make veggie smoothies. When we’re beset by stress, healthy cooking can seem overwhelming. Frozen pizza or bowls of cereal may feel comforting at first, but their effects on your blood sugar stability and brain chemistry will soon spike stress levels. One way to outsmart comfort-food cravings is to make veggie smoothies. Simply combine a few different vegetables, such as carrots, celery, beet, some salad or leafy greens, cucumber, avocado, ginger, etc. with filtered water, a small bit of fruit for taste and, if desired, some lemon juice and salt. People with hypothyroidism should be careful not to overuse raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, or broccoli as it can inhibit thyroid function. Also, avoid the temptation to rely on all fruit smoothies or the use of super-sweet additions such as pineapple or fruit juice. The high sugar content creates stress for the body, something you don’t need more of.
Eating lots of veggies also improves the balance of your gut bacteria, which play a profound role in mood, stress, weight, and immunity.
Don’t be a hermit. When stress is high it’s tempting to retreat under a rock, but isolation can compound your troubles. Ample research has shown the stress-lowering and health-boosting benefits of healthy socialization. Get together with friends, join meetup.com groups, take classes, go to church…being around other people boosts feel-good brain chemicals and is a reminder you’re not the only one with big life struggles.
When it comes to battling inflammation and autoimmunity, research shows resveratrol and curcumin work better when taken together than separately.
Supplemental resveratrol is derived from Japanese knotweed and the compound is also found in the skin of red grapes. Curcumin is derived from the curry spice turmeric. Both are well known for their antioxidant, inflammation-quenching qualities when taken in therapeutic doses — simply eating curry or drinking wine are not going to impart much beneficial effect. Studies of the compounds look at large doses that can only come from supplementation.
Although each is a powerful anti-inflammatory alone, research shows that taking resveratrol and curcumin together creates a synergistic effect, making them potent tools for quenching the inflammation and damage associated with autoimmune flare-ups and chronic inflammation.
Examples of these disorders include autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, arthritis, brain fog, gut pain and inflammation, multiple food and chemical sensitivities, fibromyalgia, asthma, eczema and psoriasis, and other conditions related to inflammation or autoimmune disease.
Studies have increasingly spotlighted an important immune pathway in autoimmunity and inflammation called TH-17. While TH-17 helps defend us from viruses and bacteria, over activation of TH-17 triggers autoimmune flare-ups and chronic inflammation. When it comes to quenching these flare-ups, TH-17 is the target.
This is where resveratrol and curcumin come in, working together to dampen the activation of TH-17, thus protecting tissue from inflammation and damage.
One of the more unhealthy aspects of excess body fat is that it causes chronic inflammation that feeds autoimmune or inflammatory disorders. This is a double whammy for the person struggling with weight gain due to Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Research shows that resveratrol and curcumin in combination significantly reduce the inflammation caused by excess fat.
Resveratrol and curcumin also support “regulatory T cells,” cells that regulate the immune system. When regulatory T cells don’t work efficiently, the immune system can become overzealous and promote inflammation and autoimmunity.
Other compounds that support regulatory T cells include vitamin D3, vitamin A, fish oil or krill oil, specific probiotic strains, nutrients that boost activity of glutathione our master antioxidant, and nutrients that act on nitric oxide pathways.
The research on TH-17 gives functional medicine practitioners new tools with which to better manage autoimmunity and chronic inflammation. Ask my office for advice on highly absorbable forms of curcumin and resveratrol in therapeutic amounts.
Alzheimer’s and memory loss can seem like a sort of death sentence that strikes out of the blue and has no cure. Although genetics play a role, so does your diet and lifestyle, which means you can do something about Alzheimer’s and memory loss before the damage is too great.
In the first study of its kind, nine out of 10 patients reversed their memory loss and showed considerable long-term improvement following a program that included dietary changes, exercise, supplementation, sleep improvements, and brain stimulation. Some were able to return to jobs they had to quit due to declining memory. Only the patient with late-stage Alzheimer’s did not improve. It’s the first study to suggest that memory loss can be reversed and the improvement sustained.
The research was inspired by studies that looked at the effect of diet and lifestyle changes on other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV.
In the study, subjects reversed their memory loss through approaches that included:
The biggest obstacle in the program was the study subjects’ complaints about making so many changes. However, all but one experienced notable improvement without the side effects that drugs bring.
It’s important to note the reduced consumption of carbohydrates in the study –- some researchers have called Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes due to the deleterious effects of excess sugar and carbohydrates on the brain.
Exercise is also a fairly potent magic bullet when it comes to brain health and regular exercise has been shown to positively affect memory and help reverse memory loss.
Sufficient sleep is necessary to protect a healthy memory. The brain waves produced during sleep help us store memories. These brain waves transfer memories from the hippocampus, an area of short term memory, to the prefrontal cortex, where long term memories are stored. Lack of sleep and poor quality sleep disrupts this process and leads to memory loss.
Gluten and other foods to which you may have an immune reaction can cause memory loss by inflaming the brain. Although most people associate a gluten intolerance with digestive symptoms, the truth is gluten most often affects neurological tissue. Sometimes simply going gluten free can significantly improve brain function.
Ask my office for more ways you can support your memory, and also for which supplements can help support your brain health.
So you’ve either just gotten the results back from your food sensitivity test or your practitioner says you need to follow the autoimmune diet, also called the leaky gut diet, to manage your autoimmunity. The autoimmune diet comes as a shock to many due its strict limitations and compliance can be tough. The trick to sticking to the autoimmune diet is understanding how to work with your mind to establish new habits.
Although a goal is important — say someone wants to manage her Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland — research shows a goal alone is not enough to change your habits. We’ve all made promises to reform only to quickly succumb to the spell of temptation. Research shows we are more motivated by the daily habits toward that goal than the goal itself. The key is not in the big sweeping gesture fueled by fantasy, but instead the small, tangible things we do each day to move us toward our goal.
It takes 66 days to create a new habit, so commit to a plan of supporting yourself and your new way of life.
Create a vision board of your healthier life. Create a vision board, a collage of images that represent what life will look at when you reach your goal of more successfully managing your autoimmune disease. For instance, your vision board can feature images of feeling energetic, having fun with your kids, doing a sport or activity you love, a place you’ve always wanted to visit, romance, and other images that capture the life you will lead when freed from your symptoms. Put it where you see it every day so that the images seep into your subconscious mind.
Schedule time for your diet. Schedule time each week to chop veggies, cook meats, put together crockpot meals, and make snacks. You’re most likely to cave when hungry, so create the convenience and accessibility ahead of time to ensure your success.
Check in with your habit building and stress levels. Big life changes are an eternal work in progress not a destination. You will bring down your health if you make the diet stressful. So check in with yourself regularly to see how it’s working for you and whether it’s stressing you out, and tweak and modify as needed.
Get support from others. Social support is not only healthy in itself, but it’s also vital to your success. Join online groups of others on a similar path, enlist friends or family to encourage you, and don’t engage those who try to ridicule or sabotage you.
Change your subconscious beliefs. Our subconscious mind plays a significant role in our daily habits, good or bad. You may have unidentified belief systems that are working against your success. There are many methods and books available these days to help you, including EFT, EMDR, hypnotherapy prayer, and books such as those by Joe Dispenza.
Practice positivity. Yes, the autoimmune diet can be challenging. But having a sour attitude will only set you up for failure. Studies show subjects who spend a little time regularly practicing positivity and gratitude have far better outcomes than those who don’t. It’s no different than learning a new skill — investing just a few minutes a day thinking about something that makes you feel good or about things for which you are grateful pays you back amply.
Remember how food allergies were a rarity when you were a kid? Those days are over — food allergies have risen 50 percent between 1997 and 2007. Sales of the EpiPen, an epinephrine injection in the event of a life-threatening allergic reaction, rose 76 percent in one year recently.
The reasons for peanut-free flights and nut-free lunch tables at schools have been considered a mystery, but researchers are beginning to find clues as to what may be causing the explosive rise in food allergies.
One study linked food allergies to gut bacteria — scientists gave mice with peanut allergies the gut bacteria Clostridia, which is commonly found in humans, and the mice’s peanut allergies resolved. The Clostridia acted as a barrier that prevented the allergens in peanuts from entering the bloodstream, where they trigger an allergic reaction.
A previous study by the same researchers also found that removing certain gut bacteria — through administering antibiotics — from the guts of mice resulted in their developing food allergies.
The results from both studies has researchers raising the question as to whether it is the overuse of antibiotics that has contributed to the sharp rise in food allergies. Most children in the United States receive two or three courses of antibiotics in infancy, with many more courses throughout childhood. Children often receive antibiotics for viral infections, something for which antibiotics are ineffective. This unnecessarily kills off beneficial bacteria in the gut.
As researchers link gut bacteria imbalances with an increasing number of disorders — depression, anxiety, autoimmunity, MRSA, autism, asthma, obesity, irritable bowel disorders, and now food allergies — it’s important to avoid the unnecessary use of antibiotics and to work toward preserving and nurturing healthy gut flora.
It’s no surprise that studies show children with food allergies are two to four times more likely to suffer from other disorders, such as asthma, other allergies, or autoimmune disorders.
The average person carries three to four pounds of bacteria in the intestines. We have trillions of bacteria of many different varieties. In fact, bacterial DNA outnumbers human DNA ten to one in the human body. A healthy, whole foods diet with plenty of plant fiber and cultured vegetables helps maintain and grow the beneficial bacteria. Things that can encourage the overgrowth of harmful bacteria include antibiotic use, insufficient consumption of vegetables and fruits, too many processed foods, and excess sugar — in other words, the American diet.
Ask my office about how to create a healthy bacteria-friendly diet and which probiotics (supplements that reinoculate your gut with good bacteria) would be best for you.
Some women find they end their pregnancy with not only a new baby but a new hypothyroid condition as well. That’s because normal immune shifts during pregnancy can trigger an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, depending on genetics and other predisposing factors.
The immune system can be looked as having two primary roles, one that reacts immediately to an invader (such as pus surrounding a splinter), and one that reacts later to produce antibodies (such as to build immunity to a virus). The part of the immune system that reacts immediately is TH-1 while the delayed response is TH-2.
When one of these arms of the immune system becomes overly dominant it can trigger an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s disease. Researchers are increasingly finding factors that lead to immune imbalance and trigger autoimmune diseases. They can include not only a genetic predisposition, but also food sensitivities (gluten and dairy being the most common offenders), environmental chemicals (such as those found in plastics), leaky gut, viral or bacterial infections, brain injury or degeneration, and, when a woman’s immune system is already likely at the tipping point, pregnancy.
Pregnancy and the postpartum period naturally polarizes the immune system. In the third trimester the TH-2 immune response is dominant. Postpartum the TH-1 immune reaction is stronger. If a genetically predisposed woman goes into pregnancy with an existing immune imbalance, these natural immune shifts could trigger Hashimoto’s or other autoimmune diseases.
For 90 percent of Americans with hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland, is the cause.
Pregnancy can also trigger hypothyroid symptoms that are not autoimmune. A common cause of low thyroid function is chronic stress. Common stressors include leaky gut and gut infections, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances (hypoglycemia or insulin resistance), and hormonal imbalances. These stressors can depress the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland controls hormone function in the body.
When this happens the pituitary fails to signal the thyroid to produce enough thyroid hormone. For many women this manifests not only as low thyroid function, but also postpartum depression.
Because so many women enter pregnancy dealing with immune imbalances and chronic stress, the increased demands of pregnancy overwhelm the body, which can lead to hypothyroidism. Ideally, a woman will address health and immune imbalances before conceiving to reduce her risk of hypothyroidism.
A preconception health overhaul may also lower the risk of her infant developing eczema, asthma, food allergies, and even autism, which has been found to be caused by brain autoimmunity in many cases. When the mother’s immune system is healthy and balanced, there’s a stronger possibility her baby’s will be too.
Managing a chronic illness and improving your health can require some drastic lifestyle changes. Although most people report feeling and functioning better on such a protocol, some obsess over the minutiae, spend days on the internet hunting for answers that don’t seem to exist, and worry constantly about their health and whether they’re “following the rules.” The end result? A heap of health-sabotaging stress.
For those prone to anxiety, type A behavior, eating disorders or wanting to do everything right, a change in diet and lifestyle habits can feel like an endless pop quiz you can never get an “A” on. Additionally, some people have very complex illnesses no one can figure out, so they must hunt down solutions themselves, yet they risk getting bogged down in conflicting information, their own lack of knowledge about basic physiology, or a problem that science simply has not yet solved.
Although strictness is vital in some areas –- a person with gluten sensitivity or a chemical sensitivity needs to vigilantly avoid those substances –- the truth is perfection is an unreasonable goal. For the vulnerable person, trying to follow a protocol perfectly can become a trap that only compounds their illness through constant stress and worry.
Recognizing this tendency, clever marketers and bloggers use fear-based writing to deliver the latest health news. It seems every week a new article is warning you that a particular food, habit, or medication is going to cause dementia or an early death, and that their new supplement or device is the cure.
Health and nutrition have become like religious wars, with gurus and zealots each proclaiming their diet is the only path to good health and anything else will kill you. It’s as if people don’t follow a diet so much as join a cult.
For the chronically ill person who is fatigued, vulnerable, and desperate to get well, forays onto Google in search of help are riddled with such land mines.
It’s a tricky balance to educate yourself and commit to a healing protocol without letting it consume you. It’s important to understand that good health extends beyond physiology to include emotions, beliefs, attitude, and support.
True, getting well may require some drastic diet and lifestyle changes. But this doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your sanity. Instead, keep the following tips in mind:
Working with the guidance of someone who understands physiology, functional medicine, and health and nutrition, and who has experience of working with chronic illness can help relieve some of your burden. Ask our office for information on how we can help support you in your journey to better well-being.
You notice you’re feeling worse and worse. You suffer from chronic fatigue, pain, digestion issues, depression, anxiety, insomnia …. the list goes on. Yet when you go to your doctor, you’re told your lab tests are fine, it’s just age, or perhaps you need an antidepressant. If you press for more tests or keep returning with complaints, you’re labeled a problem patient or told it’s all in your head.
Unfortunately, this happens to untold numbers of people each year. When you can barely muster the energy to get through life’s daily tasks and you have long since abandoned your hobbies, sports, or time with friends, hitting a brick wall at the doctor’s office can fill you with despair.
It isn’t that your doctor is an uncaring person, he or she simply works in a paradigm that is woefully outdated when it comes to the exploding incidences of chronic and inflammatory conditions today. There are instances when conventional medicine is like a miracle, but for the one in five people suffering from autoimmune disease (a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue in the body or brain), and countless others suffering from undiagnosed autoimmunity, chronic inflammation, severe pain, environmentally induced illnesses, food sensitivities, chronic viral, bacterial, or parasitic infections, brain chemistry imbalances, hormonal imbalances, hair loss, unexplained weight gain, and more — being told your lab tests are fine and you simply need an antidepressant can feel like a kick in the groin.
Medical doctors receive very little nutritional training despite an ever growing body of evidence linking diet with the explosion of chronic diseases today. We know, for instance, that the high blood sugar that comes from eating standard American fare can ultimately lead to diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or heart disease.
The standard approach to autoimmune disease, the occurrence rate of which far surpasses that of cancer and heart disease combined, is to wait until its advanced enough to either surgically remove the affected tissue or administer severe immune-suppressing drugs.
Gluten intolerance is still overlooked by many doctors. Standard testing for gluten sensitivity and celiac disease is limited and outdated, missing countless positive diagnoses. This despite the growing body of evidence that links gluten with autoimmune and neurological conditions. Other dietary proteins can also provoke severe immune reactions, something many doctors are not aware of unless it’s a classical food allergy (which is a different beast than a food sensitivity).
Doctors are constrained by their medical education, which has yet to catch up with modern illnesses. Liability insurance, health insurance, peer pressure, lack of time, and other factors often keep them from investing in the education required to help the millions of people suffering from “mystery” symptoms which, when you look at the science, are not always that mysterious.
Fortunately, functional medicine specializes in using nutritional, botanical, and nutraceutical approaches to manage chronic, inflammatory, and autoimmune conditions. We keep up with the latest science and the latest lab testing, which is integral to unraveling chronic symptoms and conditions. If you’ve hit a dead end with your medical provider, ask our office how functional medicine can help you regain your energy, vitality, and well-being.
Autoimmune disease has become frighteningly common today. This degenerative condition, which can affect any tissue in the body or brain, happens when the immune system attacks and destroys the body as if it were a foreign invader. Chances are either you or someone you know has an autoimmune disease. Some of the more commonly known autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, and psoriasis.
Although the statistics for autoimmune disease are alarming enough — it affects one in five people, the majority of them women — these numbers do not tell the whole story. The truth is the autoimmune process typically is underway long before the tissue damage is advanced enough for it to be diagnosed as a “disease.”
In fact, some people go an entire lifetime suffering from the symptoms of an autoimmune reaction that never progresses to the disease stage. This is because tissue damage and symptoms have to be quite severe or life threatening before conventional medicine can offer remedies in the way of steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgical removal.
This means untold numbers of people suffer from autoimmune reactions that cause symptoms but are not advanced enough to be diagnosed as disease. This creates confusion and frustration for the suffering patient.
For instance, someone with an autoimmune reaction to the pancreas may struggle with keeping her blood sugar stable despite eating a very good diet. This is because she is on the path to possibly developing type 1 diabetes. It’s estimated 10 percent of those with type 2 diabetes, a lifestyle-induced condition, also have pancreatic autoimmunity and thus markers for type 1 diabetes autoimmunity. Another example is autoimmunity that causes hypothyroidism — Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Patients are given thyroid hormone in ever increasing doses but are not instructed on how to dampen or halt the autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland.
People can also have symptoms that suggest multiple sclerosis, arthritis, brain disorders (depression, anxiety, loss of balance, loss of memory, etc.), poor adrenal function, irritable bowel, and others because their immune system is attacking the glands or tissues associated with those symptoms. However, the tissue destruction is not advanced enough to be labeled as a disease and hence medicine has little or nothing to offer.
Fortunately, functional medicine shines in this arena. Specialized lab testing can determine whether autoimmunity is affecting a number of different tissues. Testing can identify (or rule out) the source of chronic, mysterious, and undiagnosable symptoms, such as chronic fatigue, chronic pain, declining brain function, gastrointestinal issues, hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, and more.
This information can validate patients who have long been dismissed or belittled by their doctors for “making things up.” Testing can also uncover autoimmune reactions that are not causing any symptoms. For instance, a person may be producing antibodies (an autoimmune marker) to the sheaths that coat the nerves. In its progressed stage, this becomes multiple sclerosis. Knowing this kind of information can give you more incentive to avoid inflammatory foods and pursue other lifestyle choices that may lower your risk of that silent autoimmune reaction becoming a disease.
In functional medicine we use a variety of strategies to dampen autoimmunity and relieve symptoms. These strategies include an anti-inflammatory diet that removes foods to which you are sensitive and stabilizes blood sugar, minimizing your exposure to toxic chemicals and metals, adopting lifestyle habits that minimize stress and maximize well being (socializing, exercise, play time, laughter, etc.), and the use of natural compounds that dampen inflammation and support the balance of immunity, stress, gut health, and blood sugar.
Ask my office for more information.
Are you lazy and unmotivated? Do you have plenty to do, yet spend all your time watching TV or goofing around online, and then beat yourself up for it? Your lack of motivation could signal chronic health issues more so than regrettable character flaws. Although we all need some degree of discipline, life’s daily duties shouldn’t feel like insurmountable chores. Good health means you have the energy, motivation, and desire to not only manage daily life, but also make in time for hobbies, sports, socializing, and special projects.
In functional medicine, laziness and lack of motivation are seen as symptoms of larger health issues that, when addressed and corrected, can make the couch feel like a prison and life outside a playground of adventures waiting to be experienced.
Below are issues that may be sapping your energy, motivation, and desire to more fully live your life.
Blood sugar blues. If you skip breakfast and other meals, subsist on coffee and energy drinks, or if the majority of your meals are based around rice, noodles, pastries, cereal, sugar, and other processed carbohydrates, you are probably riding a roller coaster of blood sugar highs and lows. Eventually this causes fatigue, brain chemistry imbalances, depression, poor stress-handling, and other fallouts that will send you to the sofa.
Hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. It is the leading cause of hypothyroidism and causes symptoms that include depression, fatigue, weight gain, lethargy, and low motivation. If you have lost your get-up-and-go, have your thyroid screened using functional medicine lab ranges.
Brain chemistry imbalance. Brain chemicals called neurotransmitters relay messages between neurons and play a large role in how we feel and function. When the neurotransmitter dopamine is low it can cause poor motivation and low self-esteem. Serotonin, GABA, and acetylcholine are other neurotransmitters that affect mood, energy, and motivation. Hormonal imbalances, hypothyroidism, high or low blood sugar, and chronic stress are factors that can skew neurotransmitters.
Brain fog. Brain fog is a symptom of brain inflammation. It simply means your brain is firing slowly, causing that heavy, thick, tired feeling in your brain. Things that can cause brain fog include chronic inflammation, an autoimmune reaction in the brain (when the immune system attacks the brain), food sensitivities, hypothyroidism, leaky gut, and hormonal imbalances.
Gluten intolerance. Gluten intolerance has become more common and really drains the energy out of some people. It also causes inflammation, depression, fatigue, and other symptoms that make the couch awfully inviting. Other foods that may cause these reactions include dairy, eggs, soy, corn, and other grains.
Leaky gut. Leaky gut means the lining of the small intestine has become inflamed and overly porous, allowing undigested food particles, bacteria, fungus, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, where they don’t belong. This triggers inflammation in the body and brain. The result can be fatigue, lethargy, lack of motivation, and other couch potato characteristics.
These are just a few examples of how a subtle but chronic health issue can drain you of your drive. Of course, it’s hard to make drastic lifestyle changes when you have no energy or motivation, but start with something small and gradually add in new changes. Ask my office for help on restoring the energy and vitality you were meant to enjoy in life.