We all carry trillions of bacteria in our guts, with as many as a thousand different strains. The composition of these strains, or our “bacterial fingerprint,” can influence whether we are prone to depression, anxiety, or obesity.
Some gut bacteria can make you fat
Studies have shown people (and mice) who are overweight have much higher levels of particular strains of bacteria than thinner subjects. When thin mice are inoculated with bacteria from heavy mice, they gain weight. This is because these fat-promoting bacteria have been shown to encourage overeating, promote weight gain, prevent the burning of fat, and make obese people better at deriving calories from food than thin people.
In a nutshell, your “bacterial fingerprint” plays a role in how much fat you carry and how easy or difficult it is for you to lose weight. Although diet and exercise are important, these findings help to explain why solely relying on the “eat less and exercise more” approach to weight loss is outdated.
Effect of gut bacteria on depression and anxiety
The composition of your gut bacteria can also play a role in whether you suffer from depression and anxiety. For instance, having plenty of beneficial bacteria, such as the Bifidobacteria strain, can promote production of serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical that prevents depression.
On the other hand, too much of “bad” bacterial strains can promote depression and anxiety. This is because the gut is linked to the brain by the vagus nerve, a large nerve that sends messages back and forth between the brain and digestive system. The effects of harmful bacteria in the gut travel to the brain, impacting brain function and mood.
In one study, subjects who took probiotics containing Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium reported less anxiety, depression, and anger and an improved ability to solve problems. In another study, mice given a Lactobacillus strain cruised through a maze that normally created high anxiety and showed lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to their probiotic-deprived counterparts.
Cultivating good gut bacteria
Although researchers are still unsure exactly how to banish obesity, depression, and anxiety with probiotics, it’s clear you need to enhance your bacterial fingerprint for optimal health.
Birthing and baby feeding affect gut bacteria
The balance of good and bad bacteria starts at birth—vaginal deliveries and breastfeeding have been shown to improve a child’s chances of starting off with a healthy bacterial colony compared to C-sections and bottle feeding.
Chronic stress and gut bacteria
Chronic stress can throw your bacterial harmony out of balance, as can diets filled with sweets and sugars, processed foods, and fast foods. These foods damage and inflame the intestinal walls, promoting overgrowth of bad bacteria and yeasts.
Cultured food and fiber promotes good gut bacteria
You can promote bacterial harmony by focusing on an anti-inflammatory, whole foods diet that includes cultured and fermented foods, such as kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and fermented vegetables. If you use store-bought cultured foods, make sure they are the real deal and not simply made with vinegar, or pasteurized, which would kill good bacteria..
A healthy colony of good gut bacteria also relies on plenty of soluble fiber in the diet. Eating plenty of produce will give you just what you need in that respect.
Probiotics for obesity, depression, and anxiety
Fortunately, we have powerful probiotics today that can help you cultivate your inner garden. Probiotics should be stable enough to survive the hot and acidic environment of the stomach and contain ample amounts of beneficial strains. Ask my office for advice on a probiotic that’s right for you.
Do you suffer from brain fog — that spacey, detached feeling like your head is in a fish bowl? Do you suffer from depression, or does your child have autism? Are you concerned about Alzheimer’s? These conditions are signs of possible brain inflammation, or a brain “on fire.”
Although a head injury or infection are commonly associated with severe cases of brain inflammation, many people suffer from milder but chronic brain inflammation, which is linked to a variety of symptoms such as brain fog, depression, autism, or Alzheimer’s.
Brain inflammation and brain fog
Unlike most of the body, the brain does not produce pain when inflamed. Instead, one of the most common symptoms is brain fog, which makes people feel spaced out and disconnected. As Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MS explains in his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, this is because brain inflammation slows down the conduction between neurons. As a result, brain function slows, which causes that slowness and dullness of thinking.
Brain inflammation and depression
Studies also show depression is linked with brain inflammation. Inflammation creates immune proteins called cytokines. These cytokines can impair brain function and the brain chemical serotonin; low serotonin is frequently linked with depression. In fact, up to a third of patients with hepatitis C who are given interferon, which increases cytokine activity, develop depression, mania, and hypomania.
Brain inflammation, autism, and ADHD
Brain inflammation has also been linked with autism and other brain development disorders in children. Patients with autism have more inflammatory disorders than average (such as digestive disorders, allergies, ear infections, or skin eruptions) and brain imaging and autopsies show more brain inflammation in individuals of all ages with autism.
Brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s
Research also links brain inflammation with Alzheimer’s. Although tau proteins and amyloid beta have long been the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s, studies increasingly show inflammation plays a large role in the disease. Not only does inflammation degenerate brain tissue, it also appears to increase amyloid beta, which in turn increases inflammation in a vicious cycle that chews up brain tissue.
Quench brain inflammation for better brain health
So what can be done about brain inflammation to protect brain function? In his brain book, Dr. Kharrazian outlines a number of approaches:
- Nutritional therapy. Several natural compounds have been shown to quench brain inflammation—ask my office for more information.
- Keep blood sugar stable. Eating a whole foods diet that does not cause surges or drops in blood sugar is also important. Insulin resistance (high blood sugar), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and diabetes can all increase brain inflammation.
- Food intolerances. It’s important to remove foods that trigger inflammation from your diet. For example, many people have intolerances to gluten grains, dairy, or other foods.
- Balance hormones. Balanced hormones are also important to keep brain inflammation in check. For instance, low estrogen in women, low testosterone in men, or low thyroid hormones can play a role in brain inflammation.
- Glutathione. Sufficient glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, is also necessary to prevent brain inflammation, as are sufficient essential fatty acids and vitamin D.
- Gut health. Also vitally important is to address gut inflammation. There is direct communication between the gut and the brain and gut inflammation has been shown to cause brain inflammation.
Ask my office for more information on how to manage brain inflammation for better brain and body health.
When it comes to Mother’s Day, flowers and brunch are lovely, but what most women need is some time off and help around the house. Catching a break in these areas can go a long way to supporting their health.
Most mothers seem to get the lion’s share of stress these days, and about 70 percent say they find mothering “incredibly stressful.” In addition to shouldering the bulk of the parenting and household duties, the majority of today’s moms work outside of the home, and more women than ever are single mothers.
It’s no wonder women suffer more stress-related diseases than men. More women than men die of heart disease, succumb to Alzheimer’s, and suffer from autoimmune disease. The burdens of being a modern women coupled with a woman’s complex hormonal system increase the risk of breakdowns in health.
Mother’s Day gift ideas to improve Mom’s health
With that in mind, here are some Mother’s Day gift ideas, requested by real-live moms, that can increase well being and help lower her risk of disease. As anyone who has ever lived with a mom can tell you, a happier mom makes for a happier household.
A housecleaner: The top requested Mother’s Day gift
When you have kids, keeping the house clean and tidy is a never-ending chore, yet an uncluttered house helps reduce stress by uncluttering the mind. Just as good as having the house thoroughly cleaned is knowing it’s going to be cleaned, a powerful stress-buster in itself. One cleaning is great, a regular service is heavenly. Cleaning the car, the garage, and outside areas are also great gifts.
Another common request from moms is a break from the ones they love the most. It’s not personal, but running a family requires non-stop physical, emotional, and strategic skills. Some mothers would love the house to themselves for a day or even a weekend. Others prefer you send them away to spend a few days alone on the coast or somewhere nice. Time alone on a regular basis, free from daily duties, will help keep the mom batteries charged.
Whether it’s a massage, acupuncture, chiropractic care, or some other form of bodywork, moms want the healing touch. Many studies demonstrate the health benefits of various forms of bodywork. A one-time session is great, but a package of regular visits will give mom a regular break from stress and some genuine wellness support.
Help with cooking
Another never-ending chore for moms is cooking. Growing children are always hungry and eating at a fast-food restaurant is a time-saving temptation that does no one good in the end. Progressive personal chefs today can deliver more economical services, such as crockpot ingredients ready to cook. You can also prepare and freeze ingredients for easy meals, or cook a few meals in large batches and stock the freezer for those hectic evenings.
The gift of appreciation
Mothers like to be acknowledged for all they do. If housecleaning, vacations, and bodywork are not in the cards, smaller gestures are still adored. A gift card for some free movies can buy her some time alone here and there. Homemade presents from the children will be treasured, and flowers enjoyed. As any good business leader knows, appreciating people boosts morale and energizes people, something every mom could use in the important and exhausting business of running a family.
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Counting calories, avoiding fats, miniscule portions, living with hunger—dieting is a drag and the majority of people eventually gain back the pounds they fought so hard to lose. Newer research shows sloth and gluttony aren’t necessarily to blame for excess weight, but instead inflammation, leaky gut, stress, and other health imbalances.
You’ll have better success if you eat with a focus on lowering inflammation, detoxifying the system, and meeting your nutritional needs. Many people take on anti-inflammatory diets to manage constant pain, digestive complaints, skin rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and other chronic health problems.
People are surprised to find that not only do their symptoms fade but they also lose unwanted pounds. This is because excess weight can be a symptom of health imbalances, such as chronic inflammation, stress or leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the gut becomes inflamed and porous, allowing inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream.
Weight loss through better health
An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods and is free of inflammatory foods. Although it may cut out many of your favorite foods, it does not require you to be hungry. In fact, hunger can work against you by increasing stress and causing low blood sugar. Taking certain herbs and supplements that gently cleanse and detoxify the body can boost the anti-inflammatory and weight-loss benefits of the diet. Ask my office for more details on supporting your success with nutritional therapy.
Anti-inflammatory diet basics that can lead to weight loss
Although anti-inflammatory diets vary, there are some basics to follow:
- Eliminate all processed foods, fast foods, desserts, coffee drinks, sodas, etc. These foods are designed to be addictive. Your anti-inflammatory diet should consist mainly of whole foods found in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store, with an emphasis on plenty of vegetables. Also eliminate processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils. Stick with natural oils such as coconut oil and olive oil.
- Eliminate common inflammatory foods. The most common culprit is gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, and other wheat-like grains. Many people enjoy weight loss simply by going on a gluten-free diet. However, you may have developed an intolerance to other foods, including dairy, eggs, soy, and nuts. Eliminate these foods for about a month to see whether you react upon reintroducing them one at a time.
- Eliminate sweets. Sugars and sweeteners are inflammatory and a major culprit in excess weight. On the anti-inflammatory diet you will avoid all sweeteners, including natural ones such as honey and maple syrup. This helps curb cravings, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and eliminate excess fat. Enjoy fruit instead, such as berries.
- Some people may need to follow stricter versions of this diet, such as eliminating grains, foods with lectins, or nightshades. An anti-inflammatory diet can be tailored to individual needs, but the focus is on clearing out the junk and getting back to foods in their most natural state, with an emphasis on plenty of leafy green vegetables.
- Eat to satisfaction, but do not overeat. Overeating even healthy foods stresses the system and causes blood sugar problems. If you have an eating disorder or food addiction, you may need additional support for that.
- Get enough sleep. Lack of sleep promotes hunger, stress, and inflammation and is linked with obesity in studies. Sufficient sleep is a major inflammation-buster. And, of course, get regular physical activity, not to burn calories but because it is vital to good health. Overtraining, however, can cause inflammation and actually counteract your weight loss efforts.
Boost success with gut repair and detoxification
I have found adding in nutritional compounds to help repair a damaged gut, lower inflammation, support the liver, and gently detoxify the system is a wonderful way to boost weight loss and the powerful effects of an anti-inflammatory diet. Ask my office for more information about a detoxification and gut-repair program.
Do you have chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other mysterious symptoms that make you miserable? But does your doctor say your lab tests are fine and you’re perfectly healthy? It could be you have an autoimmune reaction and don’t know it.
People can develop an autoimmune reaction to virtually any tissue, enzyme, or protein in their body. Autoimmunity means the immune system has failed to distinguish between foreign invaders, which it was designed to attack, and body tissue, which it was designed to protect. As a result, the immune system attacks and destroys specific parts of the body.
Symptoms of autoimmunity vary depending on which part of the body is being attacked, but they often include chronic pain, chronic fatigue, brain fog, poor neurological function, chronic inflammation, digestive problems, or poor mood.
A primary characteristic of undiagnosed autoimmunity is chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms that seem irresolvable, despite “normal” lab tests and scans. Perhaps you even have been told your health symptoms are due to depression and you need to take antidepressants—this is not uncommon.
Autoimmunity may not be diagnosed as disease
What may be happening is that you have an autoimmune reaction to one or more parts of your body that is causing chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms, but the condition is not advanced enough to be diagnosed through conventional testing and qualified as a “disease.” As Datis Kharrazian, DHSc, DC, MNeuroSci, author of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? and Why Isn’t My Brain Working? explains, people can have symptoms years or even decades before being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.
For instance, a person may have trouble controlling blood sugar despite a good diet because of an autoimmune reaction in the pancreas. However, not enough tissue has been destroyed for a Type 1 diabetes diagnosis. Or a person can have symptoms of multiple sclerosis, but not enough tissue has been destroyed for it to show up on an MRI. Or persistent and severe adrenal fatigue could be the result of autoimmunity in the adrenal glands that is not advanced enough to be diagnosed as Addison’s disease.
This is not to say you should assume a health problem is autoimmune in nature, but when it is persistent and stubborn, it is a possibility to consider.
You can test for autoimmunity before it progresses to disease
Fortunately, we have autoimmunity testing today that can screen for antibodies against multiple tissues to determine whether an autoimmune reaction is causing chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other symptoms. Antibodies are proteins that tag a foreign compound for the immune system to destroy and remove. When you produce higher than normal levels of antibodies to certain parts of the body (it’s normal for old and dying cells to be tagged for removal), this means you are having an autoimmune reaction against that tissue or enzyme.
When a person presents with chronic pain, chronic fatigue, or other persistent symptoms, screening for an autoimmune reaction can help us determine whether that plays a role in symptoms. If so, we then know we can work on balancing an overzealous and improperly functioning immune system. Also, if your test shows an autoimmune reaction but you have no symptoms, you now know that proper diet and lifestyle choices will help prevent the progression of autoimmunity.
Today we have many scientifically proven strategies to tame autoimmunity, improve function, and increase your well being. These include an autoimmune diet and nutritional compounds to balance the immune system and quench inflammation.
Ask my office how we can help you get to the bottom of mysterious conditions, such as chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other symptoms. Despite what your doctor may have told you, you are not making up your chronic symptoms or simply in need of antidepressants.
Do you start your mornings with your treasured “cup of fear?” As far as your body is concerned, that lovely and seemingly harmless cup of coffee could be tantamount to getting mugged or running from a hungry lion. The physiological reactions caused by caffeine that jumpstart you in the morning are the same reactions triggered by fear.
Morning fatigue could signify adrenal imbalance
We are meant to feel rested and alert in the mornings. Waking up feeling like you have been hit by a garbage truck means you may have an adrenal imbalance. The adrenal glands sit atop each kidney and release adrenal hormones that help keep the body regulated during times of stress. Adrenal function also plays important roles in the sleep-wake cycle, so that you feel tired in the evening and alert in the morning, and are able to sleep soundly through the night. In fact, the health of the entire body relies in part on sound adrenal function: immune health, hormone balance, digestive operations, brain function, and more.
Depending on caffeine to get going in the morning is a sign the delicately orchestrated relationship between the adrenal glands and the rest of the body is out of balance. A morning cup of coffee stimulates the adrenal glands to release “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones. This raises your heartbeat, dilates your pupils, tightens the muscles, raises your blood pressure, slows blood flow to the stomach, and releases glucose into the bloodstream. Together these effects on the central nervous system boost energy. The body designed this response to help us get out of a dangerous situation by either running or fighting. However, these days, many use the same response just to get ready for work each morning.
The downsides of coffee on health
As many know, giving up coffee is hard and can come with unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. This is partly because caffeine also stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that activates the “pleasure and reward” centers in the brain and is associated with addiction. This also means over time you need more caffeine for the same effects.
For the person suffering from adrenal dysfunction—producing too little or too much of adrenal hormone—caffeine can intensify your adrenal problems. Although it gives you energy, it’s a short-term fix with long-term consequences making an existing problem worse. In addition to taxing adrenal function, caffeine can cause sleep problems, irritability, anxiety, and high blood pressure. It’s also a diuretic that can deplete you of important minerals and electrolytes. A trap many coffee drinkers fall into is that the coffee makes them sleep poorly and they feel terrible in the morning. So they drink coffee to get them going, which again makes them sleep poorly, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that gradually worsens adrenal function.
Restoring adrenal function is foundational to managing many health issues in functional medicine, including chronic disease, autoimmune disease, hypothyroidism, obesity, blood sugar imbalances (insulin resistance or hypoglycemia), and other disorders. When you are working on restoring your health from these conditions, coffee can work against your efforts.
Coffee habit depends on health
This isn’t to say coffee is all bad. Although some studies show negative consequences from caffeine, others show its benefits. As with many things in health, it is something that must be considered on a case-by-case basis. If your adrenal and blood sugar function is healthy (you do not suffer from insulin resistance, diabetes, low blood sugar, adrenal fatigue, or hyper adrenal function), moderate consumption of organic coffee may be fine for you.
Ask my office how we can help you restore your adrenal function and kick your dependence on coffee to function.
The failure to conceive can be very distressing to couples, and rates of infertility in both women and men are on the rise, affecting between 10 to 15 percent of couples. Although some causes are well known, couples should consider lesser known but important factors when trying to conceive.
Some of the more commonly known reasons couples fail to conceive include the mother’s age, obesity, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), varicose veins in the scrotum, and fallopian tube damage.
However, also addressing less commonly known causes of infertility not only can improve the chances of conception, but also lower the risk of giving birth to a child with asthma, allergies, or a brain development disorder such as autism or ADHD.
Lesser known causes of infertility
Below are some lesser-known but important factors to consider when trying to conceive.
Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism, or low thyroid function, can cause infertility, miscarriages, or complications with pregnancy. Low levels of thyroid hormone affect reproductive function in women. Also, most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Research shows a correlation between infertility in women and Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Women should have their thyroid function tested before trying to conceive as success rates improve when the condition is treated. Ask my office how we can help you manage the underlying cause of hypothyroidism.
Celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Research suggests undiagnosed celiac disease is correlated with infertility in both women and men, and pregnancy complications. Couples wishing to conceive should be screened for a gluten intolerance using newer, more advanced gluten testing (conventional testing fails to diagnose many gluten-intolerant people). Because intolerances to other foods cause chronic inflammation, another barrier to fertility, it’s a good idea to rule out other food intolerances with testing or an elimination diet.
Autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease is a disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys a part of the body. This process greatly imbalances the immune system and increases inflammation. I talked earlier about autoimmune thyroid disease, but studies show other autoimmune diseases can affect fertility. Additionally, an autoimmune disease can attack reproductive organs, directly impacting their function. For instance, women can have an autoimmune reaction to their ovaries or men can react to their sperm.
Environmental toxins. Many environmental toxins are linked with infertility in both women and men. Studies suggest environmental toxins impair semen quality in men, and affect various affects aspects of reproduction in women. If a couple does conceive, exposure to environmental toxins can affect the fertility of their children. We can minimize our exposure to toxins by eating a whole foods diet, drinking filtered water, and using natural body and home care products. Also, certain nutritional therapy strategies, such as glutathione support, can help you become more resilient to toxins. If you are trying to conceive, ask my office for strategies on safely reducing your toxic burden.
PCOS. Although PCOS is a recognized cause of infertility, lesser known are the causes of PCOS. In functional medicine we recognize PCOS as a hormonal imbalance caused by diet and lifestyle choices. Excess sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of exercise, and chronic stress are factors that contribute to PCOS, which is frequently linked with insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes.
Good pre-conception health lowers risk of asthma, allergies, and autism in children
It is best to ferret out and address any health issues, some of which may cause no symptoms, before trying to conceive. Autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and other health problems not only can hinder conception, but they also affect the health of the immune system and brain health of the child. Managing these issues prior to conception can help prevent asthma, eczema, allergies, food intolerances, autoimmunity and brain development disorders such as autism or ADHD.
When the sneezing, sniffling, and runny eyes of springtime kick in, most people grab for the allergy pills, antihistamines, and eye drops. But did you know you can greatly relieve if not banish your allergy symptoms by fixing your gut?
It may sound crazy that your gut health would affect your sinuses, but in fact the two systems are very intertwined. Both the respiratory tract and the digestive tract are immune barriers, meaning it’s their job to protect the body from outside invaders.
The gut in particular profoundly influences the entire immune system. When gut health suffers so does the rest of your body, and the result for many people are allergy symptoms that flare up each spring.
A common culprit in allergy symptoms is leaky gut, also known as intestinal permeability. Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the digestive tract becomes inflamed and porous, allowing undigested foods, bacteria, yeasts, and other toxins into the sterile bloodstream. The immune system launches an attack on these toxins, which creates inflammation throughout the body. For many people, this happens every time they eat.
This inflammation manifests in different ways for different people. It can cause joint pain, skin problems, digestive complaints, autoimmune disease, issues with brain function, fatigue, chronic pain, and…seasonal allergies.
What causes leaky gut and seasonal allergies?
Leaky gut is very common today and can cause bloating, heartburn, gas, constipation, diarrhea, or pain. However, many people with leaky gut have no digestive symptoms at all.
One of the most common causes of leaky gut is eating gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye, barley, spelt, and other wheat-like grains. Wheat today is not like the wheat from past generations. It has been genetically altered, processed, and stored in ways that make it very damaging to people’s guts.
Sometimes simply removing gluten from the diet can profoundly relieve allergy symptoms by allowing the gut to recover and repair. Because leaky gut leads to food intolerances and food allergies, you may need to eliminate other foods, such as dairy, eggs, or other grains. You may find significant allergy relief by following an anti-inflammatory diet, or you can ask my office about a lab test to screen for food sensitivities.
Another factor that contributes to leaky gut and allergy symptoms is an imbalance of gut bacteria. The digestive tract holds several pounds of bacteria that play a large role in immune function. When the bad bacteria overwhelm the good, inflammation and allergies result. Leaky gut repair includes nurturing your beneficial bacteria with probiotics and fermented foods to improve allergy symptoms.
Chronic stress also weakens and inflames the digestive tract, causing leaky gut and seasonal allergies. Stress doesn’t just have to come from a stressful lifestyle or lack of sleep, although those certainly play a role. Eating a diet high in sugar and processed foods is stressful to the body, as is an unmanaged autoimmune disease, or hormones that are out of whack and causing miserable PMS or menopausal symptoms. These are just a few metabolic factors that contribute to leaky gut and seasonal allergies.
Find seasonal allergy relief by fixing your leaky gut
You don’t have to needlessly suffer every spring and depend on allergy medicines to function. In fact, you should see your allergies as a red flag that your body needs attention. Leaky gut can lead to much more serious conditions than allergies, such as autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes, etc.), depression and anxiety, neurological diseases, and more. By repairing your leaky gut and improving your allergy symptoms, you can prevent or even resolve more serious problems.