The endocabbinoid system (ECS) is comprised of receptors, neurotransmitters, and metabolic enzymes that help maintain homeostasis. The ECS has beneficial effects on digestion and immune function. Cannabidiol (CBD) activates the ECS to reduce intestinal permeability, regulate gut bacteria and reduce inflammation. The nervous system and gut-brain axis are equally responsive. This explains how CBD can help depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is also used to treat neurological conditions like epilepsy and Parkinson’s.
How does CBD work?
CBD is the non-psychoactive component of the cannabis plant. It activates the endocannabinoid receptors: CB1 and CB2. The nervous system is primarily affected by CB1. These receptors are also found in our glands, adipose tissue and organs. The immune system is primarily affected by CB2.
The Gut-Brain Axis
The gut has more CB2 receptors but because it is considered our second brain there is also substantial CB1 activity. Our digestive system is a bundle of nerves. Nutrient absorption and cellular hydration can be improved by activating the endocabbinoid system. Sleep is critical for digestion and CBD supports deep sleep. But that’s just the beginning.
The gut-brain axis is the bidirectional interplay between the gut microbiota and the nervous system. Our microbiome can impact behavior and cognition and the central nervous system can influence our microbiota composition. This axis helps explain the inflammatory cytokine model of depression which is now widely accepted.
The endocannabinoid system supports gut motility, hunger signaling, inflammation and the gut lining. CBD helps recruit immune cells to suppress pro-inflammatory cytokines. The anti-inflammatory effect of cannabinoids in the gastrointestinal system has been researched in regards to both inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Epigenetics play a role too. Psychological stress can change how CB1 expresses. Pain in the abdomen when we are stressed as well as early life trauma leading to IBS can both be explained by this.
Anxiety & Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Stress and anxiety are regulated by the endocabbinoid system. In animal studies chronic, unpredictable stress was reduced and anxiety lessened. Both CBD and serotonin receptors were involved. Another study involving humans with generalized social anxiety disorder who were not receiving medication benefited from 600 mg of cannabidiol. Cognitive impairment and anxiety levels were reduced.
Research on post-traumatic stress disorder using imaging indicates the the EDS system is underactive. Cannabinoids may improve PTSD symptoms such as sleep quality and hyperarousal. In fact, a synthetic cannabinoid called Nabilone reduced nightmares in a small group of Canadian military personnel with PTSD.
Suppressing CB1 receptors results in symptoms associated with depression. Decreased appetite, increased anxiety, arousal, and wakefulness increased when endocabbinoid activity was suppressed. In fact, some antidepressant medications work by increasing EDS activity.
CBD protects against the effects of stress and depression. It lowers the autonomic and behavioral effects of depression while improving neurogenesis. As I mentioned serotonin works with the EDS. I have a tool for assessing serotonin that you can access here.
Which nutrients are needed?
Serotonin regulates many of our neurotransmitters. It acts like the conductor of a orchestra. Serotonin deficiency can occur when there isn’t enough tryptophan, the amino acid that helps build it. Enough iron is needed to turn tryptophan into 5-HTP, the precursor of serotonin. Low iron is one of the most common conditions I see in clinic along with low mood.
Tryptophan comes from turkey and other animal proteins. When digestive health is compromised nutrients like iron and b vitamins may not be absorbed properly. B-vitamins and magnesium are required to convert 5-HTP to serotonin. Supplementing can help but we want to repair the gut. Keep in mind that the majority of our neurotransmitters are produced in the small intestine when it’s healthy.
Serotonin in Action
People with optimal serotonin are more able to feel calm, optimistic, creative, logical, patient, affectionate and focused. This neurotransmitter tells you body when it’s had enough food. Serotonin also stimulates your appetite and promotes peristalsis. Remember that the underlying cause of irritable bowel syndrome or SIBO is slow peristalsis. We can use 5-HTP to help depending on what else is presenting.
Low serotonin can present as righteousness, irritability, urgency, being distracted, anxious and reactive. The need to be in control and recurrent emotional outbursts indicate that stress tolerance is down. This is because serotonin really works with other chemicals in our body to handle normal, everyday stresses gracefully. Injuries can take longer to heal when we are low and pain will be perceived as high.
The Magic of Melatonin
Melatonin is really an incredible substance and serotonin is needed to produce it. Serotonin is melatonin’s precursor! Here’s some of the wonderful ways melatonin works in your body:
- suppresses adrenal activity so your metabolism can be directing towards rest & sleep
- coordinates your immune system by stimulating the thymus gland
- it is an antioxidant for your central nervous system and your digestive tract
- we have organ stores that get depleted as we age or with chronic stress
Melatonin is activated by low light levels. If you don’t wear blue blocker glasses and are on screens at night, your pineal gland will not know that it’s time to release melatonin. My 7 year old son was having trouble falling asleep last night. This is very unusual for him but I explained how watching a movie in the evening was probably the cause. It made me consider getting him glasses that are blue light blockers especially because he doesn’t enjoy bright lights when he has been on stage for music. Your brain can relax when the light is right.
Gut Health, Liver & Insulin
So tryptophan produces serotonin and serotonin produces melatonin. What gets in the way of tryptophan production other than low protein intake is a disrupted gut microbiome. Certain microorganisms in your gut love to consume both tryptophan and B12. If your immunity and digestion are compromised so will your ability to produce serotonin.
Tryptophan is also essential for your liver to function optimally. If your liver is under extra pressure then your tryptophan will be low. Alcohol and caffeine alter your liver’s ability to produce 5-HTP. This is because tryptophan will be used to help break down these stimulants instead of building serotonin. If you are curious about how the gut and liver work together check out this article.
Low insulin also leads to serotonin deficiency. Adequate carbohydrates help serotonin pass the blood, brain barrier. If you are low carb for too long without doing any carb cycling this also puts you at risk. There are lots of reasons to carb cycle. Diversity of your gut microbes is one. Serotonin deficiency makes it harder to change habits. A healthy lifestyle is a lot easier to create when your serotonin levels are adequate.
Our brains are built to learn, adapt & grow for our entire lives. Research on neuroplasticity has opened the field of human potential and healing exponentially in recent years. Some say that understanding how the brain can change is one of the most important advances of our time. We can strengthen specific neural pathways and create new connections at any age. Applied to chronic illness is showing remarkable results.
Grow Good Neurons
It was a Canadian neuropsychologist named Donald Hebb who coined the phrase,”neurons that fire together, wire together.” Since then we’ve learned how to apply this concept to treat conditions like irritable bowel syndrome. Let’s talk about how this works.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together.”
Pathways in the brain form and are reinforced through repetition. When you become ill, the brain begins firing in a way that is not your normal. Illness that goes on for a long period of uses pathways that become the new normal. I often hear from patients, “I just don’t feel like myself.” A person who was once quite social and connected might start to isolate for example. Treatment needs to include reminding the brain of the pathways it used to use. With IBS we treat the infection as well as the brain because this is where the root cause of the illness originates.
We grow good neural pathway by remembering who we are. When authentic, positive moments occur we savour them. This allows the neural structures to strengthen healthy pathways that will be used again. Beneficial experiences occur in life. When they do, we can linger just a little in the joy or pleasure. Our nervous system will then remember this. Memory is a big part of rehabilitating ourselves after negative experiences.
Slow Down to Savour
A moment of feeling strong inside, of letting go, of feeling cared about or being skillful in relationship are all worth savouring. Slowing down allows these experiences to become part of your nervous system. When you slow down, you begin to hard-wire a feeling of safety and pleasure back into your body. Craving diminishes because your needs feel met and you know you have what you need. Growing pathways of contentment internally allows you to be happier, more resilient and less shaken by life. The ups and downs are a breeze instead of a storm.
The Root Cause
The reason this can be difficult to do this, at least at first. is because of an innate survival response that we all have. Our ancestors survived because they were paranoid and fussy. Amusing, yes and true. Our negativity bias and is well researched. This bias has allowed us to survive imminent death by helping us focus on what is most threatening. By further understanding this we can rewire our brain.
We give more attention to pain than to pleasure.
Dr. Rick Hanson outlines how this bias works. I have paraphrased his work in these 5 steps.
- We tend to seek our environment and body for potential dangers or threats. This is how we stayed alive throughout our evolution. When we do this, it’s likely that we will find something that looks like bad news or actually is.
- We then focus all our attention on it. Imagine a predator close to your home. I know I’d focus all my attention, even obsess over it until it was gone. We become over reactive to threats until we are able resolve the situation.
- This is how and why we give more attention to pain than to pleasure.
- This response gets fast tracked into our memory and becomes a somatic memory which will need to be resolved later. If you’ve ever seen a puppy shake or play out a chase during sleep, this is what I’m talking about.
- A stressful event leaves us vulnerable to more stress. Cortisol is released and then crosses the blood-brain barrier. The amygdala, our alarm center, gets charged up. Meanwhile the calming action of the hippocampus is weakened by the excess cortisol. Cortisol then tells the hypothalamus to release more stress hormones causing a vicious cycle.
What Puppies Know that Humans Need
This vicious cycle can be curbed. We create more resiliency in our brain by simply extending those times when we feel relaxed, safe, connected, competent and understood. Let’s go back to the secret of puppies. Puppies know how to let go. Humans don’t because we let this brain of ours override our body. So don’t think your way out! Trying to override it with ‘positive thinking’ won’t work.
Our ancestors survived because they were paranoid and fussy.
What puppies do is relax and experience whatever is there. It’s called ‘being with your experience’. Not trying to get away from it with positive thoughts. Be with your body and it will work it out. It knows how to let go. This is why somatic meditation is so powerful.
Brain Function & Structure
Our nervous system has the capacity to change. Enduring changes in function result in structural changes. This how chronic illness can be resolved. For example, we know that the underlying cause of IBS is an infection in the small bowel that happens because the migrating motility complex isn’t being triggered in the brain.
The gut is basically a bundle of nerves. This is why we see a co-occurence of depression and anxiety with IBS. We see relapse with IBS or SIBO. Sometimes what is needed is rewiring of the nervous system. This will look different for each patient but generally requires training the brain to skillfully develop neural pathways that are new or haven’t been used in a while. Annie Hopper has developed a system for doing this. I spoke with her at a conference earlier this year. I encourage patients to access biodynamic cranio-sacral therapy or other somatic therapies.
Changing the Brain
A focus on gratitude, grit, self-compassion, confidence and self-worth begins to hard wire these attributes into the brain during treatment. It is very similar to muscle memory. Every person knows how to learn because we all learned to walk and talk. With over 200 billion cells and several hundred trillion synapses in our brain there are always new options for growth and learning. Making new connections and getting our neurotransmitters firing helps the prefrontal cortex to calm the part of the brain that fires the alarm.
Our brain can learn to be like velcro for beauty.
If we understand that our brains are like velcro for bad experience and teflon for good we are eons ahead. This wiring helped us when we were hunter-gatherers but we can adapt. That’s what humans are good at. Our current circumstances require that we savour our surroundings. Let the beauty of this world sink in a bit everyday. My functional medicine teacher explained that in his First Nations culture there is a word for this. It is about appreciating the world and embodying a state of wonder. We can cultivate this way of beauty.
Women’s Health, Human Rights & Orgasms
Years ago a patient asked me, in a sincere way, how she could have more orgasms. At the time, I worked in a busy community clinic. I didn’t have time to answer her question but it stayed with me.
Yesterday a patient told me her antidepressant caused her libido to disappear. Switching to a keto diet helped bump it back up. She is also ready to taper off her medication with the right support. She began the SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) when housing for herself and her child was impossible to find. Her labs showed how this medication had a major impact on cortisol and testoterone.
Stable housing is a basic human right and she now has this covered. With the current housing crisis, there are many whose health is compromised. Women, people of colour, elders and children are vulnerable.
Birth Control, Bone Health & Antidepressants
Many women are asking me about alternatives to hormonal birth control. This is because they are simply not happy with the side effects of taking synthetic hormones. One of my colleagues spoke about the birth control pill recently calling it a gateway drug to antidepressants.
Another colleague shared her experience of seeing a specialist who said, “If you don’t take birth control, you will be in a nursing home because of osteoporosis.” Using birth control to prevent osteoporosis, or any other health condition for that matter, is problematic. It’s a band-aid.
Within two years of changing her diet and lifestyle, this woman reversed her osteopenia. She focused on strength training, K2 and other interventions like meditation for stress management. I have seen these changes work. These women have a much higher quality of life.
Synthetic hormones are necessary at times but over-medication all too common. This past weekend I bumped into an old friend. He looked happier than I had ever seen him. When i asked what changed, he said he had stopped his psychiatric medications with the help of a progressive psychiatrist. This doctor suggested using micro doses of psilocyin or ‘magic’ mushrooms to replace his antidepressants. Along with this therapy, this trans friend went grain-free and ended up feeling much more like himself than he had in years.
What I noticed is he had energy to play with the kids which was beautiful. He was more connected with his long time partner & able to talk about his experience of being trans openly with my son when asked. He noted the non-judgemental quality that children naturally have. Curiousity that is refreshing and healing. My son often gets mistaken for a girl because he grows his hair long. So he understood. Also, transgender came up and was discussed in his grade one class.
It was incredible to listen to my friend’s story. He felt his personality was lost with the drugs. Seeing how he reclaimed his life is remarkable. He will continue hormonal therapy but the overall reduction in medication has freed up a lot of health and wellness.
What are Orgasms good for?
It turns out that orgasms support immune health and help people recover from autoimmune flares. They release oxytocin which is the number one bonding hormone. This keeps us connected and strong in our close relationships. Oxytocin lowers cortisol, connects us with our intuitive or gut feeling and keeps us vibrant. Female orgasms in particular are a key factor why humans have survived through the ages. It is the strength of our communities or tribes that allowed us to survive. Women have always been at the center of these. Oxytocin increases significantly with child birth and breast feeding. Hugs also stimulate oxytocin release. Father’s experience increased oxytocin from connecting too.
Did you know that an astonishing 43% of women today report sexual dysfunction? This includes an inability to enjoy sexual arousal or orgasm. Yikes! Why is this? A German study concluded that “women using contraception, especially hormonal contraception, had lower sexual functioning scores.” Stress and relationship were other variables that factored in. In short, regular orgasms can help you live longer, sleep better, reduce autoimmunity, headaches and PMS. Another study that used MRI’s to see if there was a difference between orgasm from self-stimulation or partner stimulation saw no difference.
How to have more orgasms?
- Heal your gut! Your gut produces neurotransmitters when its healthy. Oral birth control, pain killers and other medication wreak havoc on the lining of your gut. This inhibits production of these smart vehicles that determine much of our behaviour and mood.
- Kick Hormonal Birth Control can mess with how you connect with your own body and your partner. Pill bleeds are not menstrual cycles. You do not get the orchestra of hormonal changes and you gut health is paying the price. Both antidepressants, like SSRI’s, and oral contraceptives lower testosterone and therefore libido can be impaired. Instead, get to know your cycle using technologies available.
- Stabilize blood sugar. Ask your doctor for a hemoglobin A1C as it is the most accurate marker of blood sugar. You want this marker to be 5.0 or lower. Get a glucometer and track your blood sugar before and after meals. Get to know how you respond to different foods. This is important because blood sugar has a huge downstream effect on hormones and mood.
- Meditate, enjoy your food and move your body. Stress management is as important as diet. Cortisol, our main stress hormone, works with insulin. Meditation is the best way to regulate both. And its free! Tapping into the parasympathetic nervous system allows us to connect more easily. Strength training is an excellent way to support hormonal health, stimulate appetite and calm yourself.
- Seek pleasure: the 3 C’s. Notice what you enjoy and do more of this. Experiment with all forms of pleasure including food, masturbation, social connection, dancing and anything else that floats your boat. We can entrain ourselves to enjoy life more by being curious and connected. And always remember the clitoris! Curious, connected, clitoris. C isn’t just for cookie!
Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are about intensify on the small island where I live. Residents of Salt Spring spoke up against the proposed 5G cell tower set to go up in our little town. There are pockets on this island where cell phones don’t work. Many people appreciate this. In town service is fairly reliable. In my clinic, where I run a busy online practice, I don’t even use the 5G that is available. Its unnecessary.
Earlier this year, I was at a conference on chronic illness. The risks of EMFs were presented by two doctors. I looked around the large auditorium. It was filled with healthcare practitioners. Everyone one of us was plugged into to a computer and cell phone. The collective denial around this is issue is a bit shocking. Our dependence on technology without the will to keep it in check, is wildly concerning.
The Risks of EMFs
A paper published in 2018 proved that daily exposure to EMFs emitted by cellphones causes cancer in rats. The brain, heart and microbiome are negatively affected. Dr. Martin Prall is a professor of biochemistry at Washington State University. The primary danger of EMFs, according his research, is damage to the mitochondria. Mitochondria are our energy producers at the cellular level. EMFs damage calcium channeling leading to excessive free radical production. High levels of free radicals circulating causes damage to our DNA. The cascade of systemic inflammation then drives chronic disease processes.
I test for mitochondrial function, inflammation, DNA damage and oxidative stress. Other environmental exposures show up as well. These include mold, heavy metals and glysophate, an increasing problem. All of these factors are cumulative. We need to limit exposure to. Children are at greatest risk having been exposed early in development. Another vulnerable group are seniors. Here on Salt Spring, there are two senior’s homes near the proposed tower.
Why 5G is Concerning
5G is highest density form of information transfer now available. Remember the early cell phones? These 1G and 2G allowed voice and texting. 3G brought the internet and 4G made it faster. It has happened quite quickly with very little safety monitoring.
Electromagnetic fields are erratic. They spike and surge along power lines and into buildings which were built for standard 50/60-Hertz AC. There are baby monitors that emit EMF radiation. I know how babies respond to acupuncture. It takes very little to have a profound effect.
Our bodies are electromagnetic. Cells communicate with one another using specific electrical frequencies. Unchecked EMFs in our environment interfere with this communication. Our body’s ability to function optimally is inhibited.
Reduce EMF Exposure To Help With:
- Sleep Disturbance like insomnia can be exacerbated with exposure to EMFs because melatonin can be affected. The evidence is mixed and more studies on HPA-D are needed.
- Infertility is linked with exposure to cell phone radiation in men. Human semen had higher levels of oxidation, as well as decreased sperm motility and viability.
- Thyroid function is impaired by EMF exposure in animal studies. Several human studies looked at frequency of mobile phone use, computer use and increased levels of TSH with lower levels of T3. I have several articles on thyroid hormone here.
- Neuropsychiatric disorders are common because the brain is more susceptible. EMFs cause inflammation, damage neurons and impair cognition in animal studies. There are dozens of observational studies linking headaches, fatigue, irritability, lack of concentration and depressive mood to exposure.
- Cancer was discussed earlier. Here are a couple more studies that indicate the risks of brain cancer specifically.
How to Protect Yourself
- Reduce your exposure to EMFs by distancing yourself from them.
- Stay clear of high voltage wires. Don’t keep phones in your pocket or near your body for long.
- Turn wifi off at night you can off at night.
- Insulate your home, use hard-wired connections & timers that turn it off automatically.
- Ditch the ‘smart home’ idea. The fewer devices in use the less exposure to your loved ones.
Repairing the mitochondria in your body is also protective. A Pulsed Electromagnetic Field (PEMF) Body Mat or a tradtional sauna both support detoxification.
Testing your mitochondrial health will help you understand how your body responds. We all have different weak spots. It is empowering to learn what you need to stay healthy. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can protect ourselves from ourselves by having honest conversations about our use of technology.
If you are experiencing symptoms on a ketogenic diet then it may be solved by increasing your electrolyte intake. As the body begins to burn fat instead of glucose for energy there can be rapid water loss. With this we can also lose a lot of salt and minerals. Our nutrient intake will likely change as well. With keto there is less of a need for some nutrients but others are essential. For certain health conditions it can be helpful to track nutrients especially at the beginning or if symptoms arise. I’ll go over what to watch for with keto and some of the most common imbalances I see.
Mental Clarity: the Gut-Brain Axis
Healthy fats are excellent for brain health. One of the benefits of keto is that people do feel a reduction in brain fog. Before keto there can be a build up of endotoxins in our body. If there is dysbiosis in the gut these toxins get released each time we eat. Toxins like lipopolysaccharide (LPS) begin to circulate. The body responds by launching an inflammatory response.
The gut is meant to be a friendly place so when chronic inflammation occurs in there nothing really works. Nutrient absorption, gut lining integrity and post-biotic production of short-chain fatty acids are inhibited. But keto takes out many of the foods that irritate the gut and intermittent fasting helps to stave off these toxins. This reduces the inflammatory response and things calm down. And certain probiotic strains can actually be used to kill off some of these endotoxins.
Having variety in the types of fats you eat is important. EPA and DHA are especially important for brain health. If there is a lot of LPS then olive oil is better than coconut oil. Variety in fats is helpful for maintaining a diverse gut microbiome. Carb cycling using resistant starches, like cooked and cooled white rice or potatoes, also feeds the beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics do this as well and I strongly suggest using these as part of your supplement plan during keto.
Fats also help with absorption of nutrients. But by far the most benefit we see is the regulation of metabolism and a reduction in insulin resistance. This calms cortisol and also reduces inflammation. Stable blood sugar helps with energy, mental clarity and focus. So let’s talk a little more about nutrients.
Eat More of These & Less of These
As a fat burner you may need less vitamin C because glucose competes with vitamin C. Similarly the metabolic pathways for carbohydrates require more B vitamins. That means in a lower carb state the need for certain b vitamins will be less.
However, many people who eat keto are consuming significantly less nutrients. The way around this is to eat your way into keto with lots of low carb nutrient dense foods. Examples of these include broccoli, green onion, asparagus, kale, spinach and carrots. As long as you are tracking your protein intake and getting enough of grass-fed meats, wild fish and some shellfish or organ meats you should be fine. An app like cronometer is excellent for tracking micro nutrients as well as making sure your carb count is low.
What About Nuts, Seeds & Dairy
Well these can be good for some people and bad for others. Anyone with an autoimmune conditions needs to check if their symptoms become worse with these. Lectins can be irritating to the gut and lactose or casein in dairy is a common, cross-reactive allergen.
On the up-side, these are nutrient dense foods full of good fats. Some nuts can also be higher in carbohydrate so be cautious. Dairy is highly palatable so it is easy to overeat and may raise LDL (low density lipoprotein). It’s really meant to be a side-note or a condiment type of food.
Electrolytes & Salts
If keto is working well for you in general but some symptoms have popped up then increase your electrolytes. Keto flu is the term given to describe feeling yucky during the adaptive phase. Symptoms that you haven’t had for awhile can also emerge. People with thyroid or adrenal issues may see an exacerbation in symptoms. While electrolytes won’t fix these issues, it may curb a flare. Bone broth is a good source of electrolytes as long as you tolerate histamines & glutamate.
Ensure that your salt intake is also adequate. Sodium follows a U-shaped curve and most people are scared to reach the high end but the slope is much steeper at the low end. Any salt is ok to use as long as your electrolytes have a good profile of nutrients. I prefer pink salt in my kitchen and it could be because it’s pink!
Seasonal Affective Disorder is Real
Millions of people experience the winter blues. This type of depression is known as SADD. There are several interventions that can help and even reverse SADD. Winter is an excellent time to get extra support either from a therapist, a peer group or a functional medicine practitioner who can help optimize your health.
7 Tips You Can Begin Now
Let me know which of these helps you the most.
- Get outside between 10 am and 2 pm everyday. Bright light exposure triggers our brain and endocrine system creating a cascade that helps your body thrive. Aim for at least 20 – 30 minutes everyday. It doesn’t have to be sunny out to get the benefit of midday exposure to daylight.
- A lower carbohydrate diet makes sense in the winter because we generally slow down a bit. People who experience SADD tend to feel better when they focus on other foods in the winter. Simply focusing on microbiota accessible carbs (MAC’s) supports both gut health and mood. These come in the form of roots and tubers. They are the traditional foods we would gather in the fall and store in the winter.
- Eat Fish. The DHA in fish supports healthy brain function whereas the EPA keeps inflammation down. Research shows that consuming fish several times a week is better in the long-term than supplementing with fish oil. Just eat real food and take cod liver oil as an excellent source of Vitamin D.
- Tend to your gut health. The gut-brain axis is key. Brain-fog is usually caused by an imbalance in the gut. Eat fermentable fibers and avoid alcohol as it can increase intestinal permeability. This can set off an immune response and increase inflammation which contributes to depression.
- Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. Depending on what kind of depression your experience you may benefit from specific dietary or supplement support while treating the gut. Melatonin is affected adversely by bright light at night. It works with serotonin to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
- Get moving. Exercise feels good. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that we know increases when we move. Choose activities that you enjoy and try new ones that are more suited for the season.
- Reflect. The winter is an excellent time to cultivate creativity and develop a gratitude or meditation practice. Enjoy warm drinks, cozy fires and enough social time to balance out the stillness.
Lab Tests Can Provide Important Insight for Treatment
For my patients, I want to see their vitamin D status especially if they have been supplementing. This is a standard blood test. Vitamin D can be problematic if too high or too low. I also like to see a urine organic acids test to see how neurotransmitter production is functioning. Basic gut testing always helps whether or not there are gut symptoms. Cortisol, melatonin and inflammatory markers like cross-reactive protein also give important insight when it comes to treating the root cause of depression.
Optimizing methylation can help with depression, allergies and asthma. A recent meta analysis showed “consistently lower methylation levels observed at all associated loci across childhood from age 4 to 16 years in participants with asthma.” The findings of this meta analysis suggest that further investigation of epigenetics is warranted. This means a focus on how genes expressed.
Our health is not determined by our genes. Diet, environment and lifestyle are more important than we think.
I see women in clinic nearly everyday who are very low in specific nutrients. This can have far reaching effects on methylation. The cause is often a vegetarian or vegan diet that they are choosing because they believe it is more healthy.
Specific genetic variations or SNP’s (single nucleotide polymorphisms) can inhibit methylation. You may have heard of MTHFR. It’s one of the most commonly talked about gene mutations. It relates specifically to methyl folate. The enzyme needed to make this nutrient active is inhibited. Ensuring you have a folate rich diet is the epigenetic part. We need 2-3 servings at least. I say this because if you are a poor methylator you may benefit from more.
Chris Masterjohn, Phd has a handy phrase to help us remember where to find folate. The 3 L’s are Leafy greens, legumes and liver. One serving is 100 grams so we need between 200 and 300 grams per day of:
- Cooked vegetables. Fresh and local is important. Use the water that you cook them in.
- Double the amount if you are measuring raw vegetables.
- Wash veggies before cutting, blending.
- Folate degrades in frozen veggies so avoid any freezing or frozen products.
- Liver can be weighed before cooking.
- Legumes need to be soaked, rinsed and then cooked.
- Buying sprouted legumes and pressure cooking speeds the process.
- Some people can’t tolerate legumes even if they are prepared in these ways.
Methylation contributes to detoxification of foreign chemicals and heavy metals. The liver is where most of this happens. What is really fascinating is our cells are constantly adapting to the the demands of their environment. Methylation is one of the key players that assists with this process.
This explains why how some people exposed to certain toxins feel little effect while others may be debilitated.
Methylation & the Brain
Proper methylation helps keep your brain flexible and focused. It prevents negative thought patterns from taking over. Associations between poor methylation and alzheimers have been researched.
Decreased methyl folate production is common. There are up to 30 different kinds of MTHFR genetic variations making it difficult to convert folate into its active form,L-methylfolate. Mania, mental illness and depression are linked to some of these mutations.
Allergies & Histamine Intolerance
When you are methylating well your body is getting rid of histamines. At the root of most allergic reactions is an overload of histamine causing what some call a histamine response. In the scientific literature this is called mast cell activation syndrome (MCAT). Mast cells mediate immunity and inflammation. Methylating poorly contributes to MCAT. Triggers like chronic stress and trauma can be triggers for MCAT.
Eat these key nutrients
- Folate or Vitamin B9 requires 2 -3 servings per day of dark leafy greens, sprouted legumes or liver. This essential nutrient cannot by synthesized in the body so must be ingested. L-methylfolate is the active form that can cross the blood-brain barrier. One key function of folate is to help produce serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine.
- B12 needs to eaten frequently. We can only absorb in a day what is required for that day. Aim for 4-8 grams of liver, 8 grams of clams/oysters, 375 grams of animal protein, 3 glasses of milk or 3 ounces of cheese. Research is being done to assess if nori and chantrelle/shitake mushrooms can provide B12 but this is not yet conclusive. In general vegans/vegetarians are at high risk for B12 deficiency. This is a serious health concern.
- Choline: Egg yolks are an excellent source of choline especially if they are soft. One egg yolk has the same amount of choline as 50 grams of liver or 200 grams of nuts. Two or three egg yolks per day meet our need but don’t eat 600 grams of nuts. Cruciferous veggies are another source as is lecithin. If you are supplementing try alpha GPC or TMJ.
- Glycine: I’ve written at length about glycine. Basically we need 1-2 grams of glycine rich collagen for every 150 grams of protein we eat. You can also supplement with gelatin or have a high protein bone broth as your source of glycine
Who is at higher risk?
Anyone over the age of 65 needs to monitor these nutrients. If you have a history of ulcers or gastritis you also are at higher risk for deficiency. Vegetarians and vegans also need to be careful. Poor absorption can indicate the need for supplementation but generally its best to get these essential nutrients from food.
Remember methylation can be the missing link in your health. I want you feeling your best.
Our brains adapt to early life experiences by creating imprints. We have many imprints both positive and negative that become part of how we see the world. The interesting part is our brains can change. The brain’s ability to reorganize and form new neural connections is called neuroplasticity. Our nerve cells can adjust their activities in response to new situations or to changes in the environment. Here’s what you need to know in order to do this.
Our brains are wired to remember the dangerous or overwhelming experiences. This is part of a mechanism to protect and help with survival. The term used to describe it is negativity bias.
Trauma is any event that we hold onto because at the time we weren’t able to integrate it. This happens to everyone. And yet we don’t need to live in a constant state of heightened stress because of it.
The idea of ‘positive thinking’ can be suspect at times. Underneath there can be unaddressed needs. How do we address this? Beginning with ourselves and experimenting with our experience is one way. Work with mind-set that allows room for all of the emotions not just positive ones.
Gender & Sexuality
Gender is a rich place to explore this topic of how the brain orients itself. Just yesterday a man dropped by to inquire about my work. As he was leaving he scanned my body in a way that is very familiar. We look at each other because we are curious but this type of gaze was inappropriate given the circumstances.
I’ve learned from transgendered friends that this type of gaze is a common experience. Being observed and questioned about gender or sexuality can cause significant activation of the stress response. The ability to regulate and reduce the impact of our negativity bias becomes more difficult. These microaggressions are being talked about and understood more.
Neuroplasticity tells us that we can train the brain to regulate itself. It is possible. The cascade of positivity extends far beyond ourselves. I’ll explain how this happens.
Body-centred mindfulness training or loving self-compassion are the foundations. Knowing the body and training ourselves to notice when we begin to get overwhelmed is stage one.
Stage two is noticing what is not overwhelming. Seeing anything in the environment that is easy to integrate brings us into a different part of our brain. This part is deactivated. It sees more clearly and can enjoy the beauty of the world more.
Stage three is looking at other people from this appreciative lens. This part can happen spontaneously and we also can train to do it more often. A gaze that sees another person with curiousity is kind. This type of gaze only looks deeply at another when the foundation or motivation is heart-centred. What this means is the judging, critical or activated brain is not running the show.
We can attune better to others and know what is appropriate if we are regulated ourselves. We can also listen to another’s experience without overlaying our own. This is an innate response. I see kids do it all the time on their own. It certainly helps when it is modelled to them.
Glycine is the Amino Acid that Gives
Without knowing it, glycine is helping your body every day with muscle repair, cognitive function, metabolic health, and immunity. This amino acid assists in breaking down glycogen, fat and other nutrients to be used as energy at the cellular level. When it comes to aging gracefully it plays a role with the important antioxidant glutathione as well as the human growth hormone.
In the brain glycine acts as neurotransmitter in a similar way to GABA. It is in fact released with GABA to calm or inhibit parts of the central nervous system. Glycine modulates excitatory neurotransmissions as well, meaning that it can go both ways. This unique neurotransmitter helps with sleep, memory, mental performance, stress, anxiety and even severe mental illness. As a preventative measure for everything from fatigue to stroke this is a powerful supplement.
For stabilizing blood sugar research shows a significant benefit with 5 grams of glycine before each meal so 15 grams per day. This amount would be difficult to get in either bone broth or collagen. You’d need two full servings of collagen to get 5 grams of glycine. With metabolic issues sky rocketing glycine can be an excellent therapeutic aid.
Anyone who over methylates can benefit from glycine because it buffers excess methyl groups. Methylation is a biochemical process that has an impact on B vitamin status. Without adequate B vitamins, the body generates less glycine. Low B6 particularly can result in high oxalate production instead. This causes a different kind of pain in the joints and can lead to kidney stones.
By restoring gut health you also support immunity. This is one of the far reaching benefits of glycine. Given that digestive disorders and autoimmune conditions have reached epidemic proportions it’s worth ensuring you are getting enough glycine.
Where to Get Your Glycine
I mentioned above a few reasons to take glycine in its free form and how it can be difficult to get a therapeutic dose otherwise. Collagen loading is one way to bring up the balance in the body. This means taking high doses for a few weeks.
One of the reasons bone broth has finally received so much attention is due to this amino acid along with proline and arginine. However its difficult to know what dose you are getting when you make bone broth yourself. If you purchase both broth and the label tells how much protein there is per serving then the amount of glycine is a 3:10 ration. So you get 3 grams of glycine per 10 grams of protein.
Both collagen and bone broth can be taken for maintenance. Testing B vitamins, metabolism and neurotransmitters through organic acids testing will let you know what is needed.
Types of Collagen: How to choose?
Grass-fed, bovine sources of collagen provide both type 1 and 3. What this means is that it targets muscle growth as well as the joints, skin, hair and nails. This is because Type 3 has proline which supports creatine production.
The parts of the animal that are often wasted are used to make collagen. Grass-fed, pasture raised animals supports a healthy ecosystem in ways that industrial agriculture can’t. The benefits to humans consuming small amounts of ethically raised animal products is well known. This is especially key for those with compromised digestive health or autoimmunity. For recovery from injury, surgery or to alleviate the damaging side effects of some medications it can be considered medicine. Women who are pregnant, breastfeeding and caring for small children benefit as well.
Collagen harvested from fish can also be very nourishing and done ethically. However marine collagen has a higher price point. If its not then likely this is because the source is farmed fish. The bioavailability will therefore be compromised as the molecules are larger and therefore less absorbable. Well sourced marine collagen contains only Type 1 collagen which is the most bioavailable and often marketed for beauty reasons.
Type 2 collagen from chicken sources is especially rich in cartilage. For anyone taking MSM and glucosamine this may be a replacement especially if you try a higher dose.
Optimal Health & Hormones
I mentioned the human growth hormone (HGH). By building up and breaking down muscle we actually stimulate a cascade of positive physiological responses in the body that keep us feeling and looking great. I like to think of collagen and glycine as supporting an active lifestyle and optimal health. The liver loves glycine and the liver is what helps balance other hormones.
Here are all the ways that glycine supports your to feel your best:
- Energizes: whether you suffer from chronic fatigue or are an athlete this nutrient improves energy
- Metabolism: balancing blood sugar is key to metabolic health and weight maintenance
- Muscle growth: for those who have lost muscle mass from illness or are enjoying the benefits of strength training
- Sleep and Nerves: glycine has a positive, regulating effect on the central nervous system
- Digestion: helps repair the gut by helping form the two key elements required for this which are gelatin and collagen
- Aging: as a powerful antioxidant it prevents cellular damage and can slow the various ways that aging shows up
- Immunity: by improving gut health we improve immunity
- Injury repair: this includes post-birth or surgery, joint or ligament injuries and harmful side-effects of medications
Have You Heard of Psychobiotics?
The microbes in our gut have far reaching psychological effects. In 2013 there was a ground breaking study proving that depressed mice were positively affected by a strain specific probiotic. Around the same time, the term ‘psychobiotic’ was used to describe a notable change in the character of rats who received a fecal transplant. Gut psychology has gained continuous footing since then.
Five years later we have much more reliable data that includes human trials. What we know is the effects are gradual. It takes 3 to 4 weeks to see results. This is why I begin with a 30 day reset and all my new patients sign on for at least a two month Case Review.
Will any Probiotic Work?
Good quality probiotics will adhere to the gut more effectively and therefore will stay longer which we want.
Information on the effectiveness of specific strains of probiotics for certain conditions is now available. I’m enjoying seeing the results of adding these to treatment strategies for people suffering from anxiety, eczema, chronic constipation or diarrhea.
Some strains can be disruptive in certain conditions. If you react to a product it may be that your specific type of gut imbalance is why. This is why single strains can be good. Also look for not only the genus and species but also the number after it. You know it is excellent quality if the company is able to show this.
Strain Specific for Mental Health & Even Sleep Deprivation
Here are a few examples from the research:
Lactobacillus casei shirota helps with mood but not with anger or anxiety.
Bifidobacterium longum and lactobacillus helveticus can be used to treat anger, depression, anxiety and perception of pain.
Bifidobacterum longum 1714 reduces feelings of stress.
Bifidobacterium bifidum reduces stress in those who are chronically sleep deprived.
Making These Available
One of the biggest challenges is finding products for people that are good quality. Patients often bring in a bag of supplements bought at Costco or online that are not going to help them. What are the problems?
- Not absorbable: either they are in a tablet or the form of the nutrient is not bioavailable. In some cases this can be harmful.
- Expired: buying online through Amazon or other large distributors can mean that the product has been sitting around for awhile.
- Cross contamination: A popular probiotic was recently recalled by the FDA. Licensed practitioners were told to return the product due to cross contamination. If you buy from a 3rd party you risk missing recalls like this.
- Too many things at once: Often products have too many ingredients and not good quality of what is needed. You body may get more benefit from less.
I’ve been researching this for ages. Despite the many reasons not to set up a store, I am committed to providing excellent quality products to people who need them. It will make taking care of yourself much easier!
Stay in touch & I’ll keep you posted! Many of these products can’t be found easily & they are what I use with my patients because they work. I want you to be able to access reliable support when you need it.
If you would like to download my free ebook ‘Gut Health for Hormones’, sign up for my email list! Sign up is located at the bottom of the page and in the sidebar.
Suppressing symptoms with pharmaceuticals to treat high blood pressure or cholesterol means missing the investigation as to why these are high in the first place.
We know that blood sugar issues and metabolic syndrome contribute to heart disease. In fact there are multiple factors that affect heart health and its worth looking into because often these can be treated and pharmaceuticals can be avoided along with the side effects.
Low cholesterol is known to contribute to disease and death in those with brain disorders and with mental health problems. Low levels are also dangerous for women and the elderly but we rarely hear about this. Conventional medicine is still treating cholesterol as though it is the problem when we know it is not. This obviously leads to more problems.
Cholesterol is carried on lipoproteins. Science used to believe that it was the concentration of cholesterol on these particles that led to CVD but recent studies have disproven this. Damage to arterial walls occurs not by the cholesterol carried in these particles but by there being too many particles in the blood at once particularly LDL particles.
Those who are at highest risk of heart disease may have normal or low cholesterol but high LDL particles. If one of these people only has their cholesterol tested it may seem that they are in the clear. Those with high LDL-C but low LDL-P are still given statins to lower cholesterol and these drugs have some of the worst side effects.
Our body needs a certain amount of cholesterol. LDL-P carry both cholesterol and triglycerides. When there are more trigycerides then there is less room to carry cholesterol and so more LDL-P are produced. Checking triglyceride levels is crucial as is looking at thyroid health as this can also increase the LDL-P. Thyroid hormone increases LDL receptors. It is also involved with cholesterol production in the liver and cholesterol absorption in the intestines.
Speaking of intestines would you be surprised if I told you there is a link between the markers we’ve been talking about and gut infections? Cholesterol, LDL-P, tryglycerides and low HDL are all linked with H. Pylori infection to name one culprit. In fact treating the gut can result in lowered LDL-P with no other interventions.
Soluable Fiber: Plant Food
Want to improve your life span and quality of life? Soluable fiber increases clearance of LDL, improves insulin sensitivity and binds to cholesterol. It is found in most root veggies, some that grow above ground and in some fruit.
Healthy Fats and Good Chocolate
Macadamia nuts, almonds and olive oil provide excellent sources of good monounsaturated fat. Dark chocolate lowers blood sugar and LDL. It also improves insulin sensitivity.
CoQ10 and Polyphenols
Organ meats and vegetables have plentiful anti-oxidants. They along with polyphenols are protective. Eating a range of colorful vegetables, spices and teas are provides enough and supplementing from reputable companies is also good.
Fish is better than Statins?
Once study showed that eating cold water fatty fish was more effective at reducing death than Statin drugs. The benefits of consuming enough EPA, DHA and long chain omega 3 fats has several benefits to cardiovascular health. Keep in mind that recent studies show that fish is better than fish oil.
Sleep and Move
Of course having fun, feeling connected and enjoying life are crucial for heart health. Sleep duration needs to be between 7-9 hours per night for adults. College age, adolescents and children require more sleep. Devices have no place in the bedroom as the light exposure interferes with the suprachiastmic mechanism in the brain and is disruptive to deep sleep cycling.
Brain health is influenced by many factors and we know there are a few habits that support long term function.
The inflammatory cytokine model of depression shows the influence diet has on cognitive function. Omega 6 oils are linked to depression and are pro-inflammatory. One in four adults experience mental illness in the US and the standard American diet is high in omega 6 oils. (1) Depression is increasing at an alarming rate of 20% each year.
1. Protein and Fat
Supplementing with omega 3’s is an option, however quality is an issue. Keep in mind that grass-fed dairy, meat and pastured eggs all are high in omega 3’s whereas conventional varieties are much higher in omega 6’s. Cold water, fatty fish that is wild is an excellent source of omega 3 oils as well as the important fatty acids EPA and DHA. DHA has been shown to support brain function particularly in depression, bipolar disorder and ADHD . Comparatively, vegetarians and vegans ingest 30-60% less EPA and DHA.
Monounsaturated fats like cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil increase the production of ACTH which is an important neurotransmitter. All neurotransmitters are built from amino acids in the gut. Glycine, a component of bone broth, reduces psychotic episodes and improves cognition by acting as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It will antagonize norepinephrine which helps regulate the stress response. Cholesterol nourishes the myelin sheath of the brain.
A staggering 30-40% of people do not respond to anti-depressants. One of the ways these function is to inhibit the stress response by lowering high cortisol levels. Although, it can’t be known if an individual has high, normal, or low cortisol without testing. As a result this may explain why so many don’t respond. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory and by lowering it without proper testing it could actually increase inflammation.
2. Caffeine has many benefits in moderation
Caffeine is known to exacerbate anxiety especially in the afternoon and evening. The resulting lack of sleep and improper light exposure disrupt circadian rhythm. Over 20% of people with insomnia develop depression. In addition, those at high risk are mother’s whose iron and fat intake is not optimal. Interestingly half the population are poor metabolizers of caffeine. There may be a link between those with a gluten intolerance.
3. Gut Health and Gluten
The number of people who have undetected celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity is growing. The connection between celiac disease and cognitive dysfunction has determined at least 22% of people are likely to experience both. An astonishing 57% of those with neurological dysfunction test positive for anti-gliadin antibodies. Clinically I’ve seen people who tested negative for gliadin which is the standard test and when I test other gluten specific antibodies they are positive. The disorders associated with gluten include: seizures, neuropathy, ADD, ADHD, autism, ataxia, anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.
Vegetarians and vegans are 68-83% deficient in B12. B12 deficiency is associated with alzheimer’s, dementia, cognitive decline, memory loss, depression, bipolar and psychosis. B12 absorption can be impaired by dysbiosis, leaky gut, inflammation, pernicious anemia which is autoimmune, alcohol, pharmaceuticals, low stomach acid and IBD.
Folate and B6 are needed for serotonin synthesis. Additionally, a deficiency of these also increases inflammatory homocysteine.
5. The Minerals: Zinc and Magnesium
Copper and zinc act as neurotransmitters in the brain. The ideal serum ratio is .7 copper – 1 zinc. Oxidative stress and inflammation reduce zinc and increase copper. Low zinc indicates inflammation.
Magnesium acts at the blood brain barrier to prevent stress hormones from entering the brain. Prevents anxiety and depression after a traumatic brain injury. Caffeine and stress in excess deplete magnesium. Too much calcium inhibits absorption. Calcium from food is enough for most people.
Magnesium is stored in our bones. Acid reflux, Crohn’s, colitis, kidney disease and alcoholism contribute to a deficiency. Proton pump inhibitors are used to treat reflux by masking the symptoms and these will also deplete the body of magnesium overtime.
The recommended dose between 500-700 mg/day. Food sources include: dark leafy greens, cacao, bananas, soaked nuts, seeds and legumes. Protein will be better absorbed with a diet higher in protein. Some pharaceuticals block absorption and create deficiency of magnesium including PPI’s, Lasix, digoxin, nitrofurantoin, anti-malaria drugs and bisphosphonates.
Symtoms and conditions associated with low levels include: muscle cramps, heart arrhythmias, tremors, headaches, acid reflux, increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, migraines, premenstrual tension syndrome, asthma and hypothyroidism.
I recommend magnesium gylcinate and suggest that people take one capsule at night along with eating a nutrient dense diet free of the phytates that bind magnesium. Loose stool results from too much and can be to help with occasional constipation. Taking magnesium before bed will help relax your muscles and supports good sleep.
CBD (cannabinoid) is a natural, safe, and effective. Its affect includes reducing inflammation, pain and seizures. There is evidence that it may inhibit cancer growth. It certainly helps with nausea and other side-effects of chemotherapy including loss of appetite. In my practice I have seen it work on insomnia caused by recalcitrant pain. I’ve had patients stop opiates and other damaging pain medications after decades of use.
What are the benefits of CBD?
In clinical studies there is evidence that CBD is effective in five areas.
- The most established benefit on relieving pain and inflammation. It does this without the serious side effects of opiate drugs and NSAIDS.
- Studies have also shown effectiveness with PTSD especially on veterans experiencing social anxiety. Its important to note that in a percent of the population CBD can also increase anxiety.
- CBD has successfully treated drug-resistant children who have epilepsy with non of the side-effects of traditional seizure medications. Anti-seizure meds come with the worst side-effects of any drugs.
- It works against viruses, fungi, and bacteria as an anti-microbial. Some studies suggest that it may even be effective against superbugs like MRSA and other anti-biotic resistant infections.
- CBD is anticarcinogenic. Several studies demonstrate that CBD is antiproliferative and proapoptotic. More research is needed. It may inhibit cancer cell migration and invasion.
How does CBD work?
All mammals have receptors for CBD. This is called the endocannabinoid system. It regulates a variety of functions including mood, appetite, sleep, hormone production, and immune system response. For patients with autoimmunity causing pain I’ve seen excellent clinical results. This may be because of the link between the gut and autoimmune conditions.
Interestingly the gut, which is part of the nervous system, has many endocannabinoid receptors. This is why CBD can be a game changer for people with IBS, IBD, and other GI issues like nausea. This may be part of why it is such an effective remedies for insomnia.
How do I take it?
CBD is available in several different forms and ratios. THC is needed to activate CBD. One percent can be enough. The psychoactive component does not appeal to most patients I talk to (if not all). It is available as capsules, liquid extracts, sprays, vapours and topical salves or creams. CBD taken internally is best for reducing pain and insomnia, whereas a topical is best for treating skin conditions and relieving musculoskeletal pain.
Is it legal? What other challenges are there?
CBD is well tolerated. There are however a few potential contraindications. Like some other botanicals, CBD may interact adversely with pharmaceuticals. This is because it inhibits cytochrome P450. Discuss the drug interactions with your doctor.
CBD has the potential to increase anxiety. A major issue right now in Canada, is that it is difficult to get a reliable source with the proper ratios. Legalization will hopefully lead to more standardization in products. The right ratio is important depending on what is presenting. I’ve had some patients respond very well 4:1 whereas others report uncomfortable psychoactive properties. This may be due to product inconsistency or individual response. For neurological conditions, 20:1 is best.
We always start with a low dose and build up slowly. In the US patients can purchase these products from reputable labs and companies so they know what they are getting. It is legal in the US without a prescription. Within the next few years I expect to see reliable sources.
As you many of you know I’ve been going on meditation retreats for many years. Recently I was the health person on a retreat where mold illness was affecting three people. Another member of our community is literally debilitated from mold illness so it’s quite frightening for those who have been recently diagnosed.
I also have patients for whom mold is the number one issue affecting their health. It shows up in the lab work and correlates with the symptoms presenting. Most recently a young woman with high anxiety had mold exposure.
My son developed a chronic cough after moving into a home with water damage. We only stayed a few months but his symptoms have persisted for 3 years. This is how real mold exposure is. There was an article published by the Harvard Gazette last month which outlines the real costs of mold on productivity in the workplace. Framing it this way helps everyone take it seriously, because it is very serious.
What is mould and biotoxin illness? What can we do?
Dr. Shoemaker discovered a connection between a mysterious illness and a toxin produced called Pfiesteria found in the water of his patient population in the 90’s. He then linked similar illnesses to toxins from a variety of microorganisms and chemicals. Its now called CIRS (chronic inflammatory response syndrome).
Biotoxins that cause CIRS are encountered in water-damaged buildings and other places. They include (1):
- Bacteria (possibly including Borrelia, Babesia, and other organisms transmitted by tick bites)
- Actinomycetes (gram-positive bacteria from the order Actinomycetales)
- Mould spores
- Endotoxins (aka lipopolysaccharides, or LPS; cell wall components of gram-negative bacteria)
- Inflammagens (irritants that cause inflammation and edema)
- Beta-glucans (diverse group of polysaccharides)
- Hemolysins (exotoxins produced by bacteria capable of destroying cells)
- Microbial volatile organic compounds (mVOCs; organic compounds released by microorganisms when there is adequate food supply for such “secondary metabolite production”)
Most people become ill when exposed to sufficient levels of these biotoxins. Many recover once they are removed from exposure. Our detoxification system recognize theses toxins and eliminate them via the normal mechanisms.
How Common is Biotoxin Exposure?
43% of buildings examined had active water damage and 85% had past water damage. Mold grows in a day or two after water damage.
Mold and other biotoxins can develop in buildings that are not water-damaged but have indoor humidity levels above 50 to 60 percent. Experts recommend maintaining indoor humidity levels between 30 and 50%.
Some people do not recover. Many of these have HLA (human leukocyte antigen) genes that prevents their bodies from recognizing and thus eliminate biotoxins. So the biotoxins remain in the body triggering a chronic, systemic inflammatory response. Roughly 25% of people have this genetic tendency. When there is a sufficient exposure and a triggering event then CIRS will develop. This event could be as simple as a cold or as complex as a Lyme disease. Dr. Shoemaker also estimates that 2% of the population are highly susceptible genetically to developing a multi-system, multi-symptom illness after prolonged or repeated exposure to biotoxins.
- Fix plumbing leaks and other water problems as soon as possible. Dry all items completely.
- Scrub mold off hard surfaces with detergent and water and dry completely.
- Discard absorbent or porous materials, such as ceiling tiles and carpet, if they become moldy. Don’t paint or caulk moldy surfaces.
- Clean and repair roof gutters regularly.
- Keep air conditioning drip pans clean and the drain lines unobstructed and flowing properly.
- Make sure the ground slopes away from the building foundation, so that water does not enter or collect around the foundation.
- Keep indoor humidity between 30 and 50 percent. Measure it with a moisture meter available at most hardware stores. Venting bathrooms, dryers, and kitchens to the outside is important. Using air conditioners and de-humidifiers where needed and increasing ventilation including exhaust fans for cooking can help.
- Do not install carpeting in areas where moisture problems may develop (i.e., in a bathroom).
Air Filters can also be helpful. A HEPA filter that is capable of removing ultrafine particles like mold, dust, pet dander, VOCs, and even viruses from the air. These ultrafine particles represent 90 percent of all airborne pollution that you breathe. An air sanitizer can eliminate allergens, odors, mould, and germs.
CIRS commonly misdiagnosed as:
- Fatigue, weakness
- Post-exertional malaise
- Memory problems, difficulties with concentration
- Disorientation, confusion
- Vertigo, lightheadedness
- Muscle aches, cramping, joint pains without arthritis
- Hypersensitivity to bright light, blurred vision, burning or red eyes and tearing
- Cough, asthma-like illness, shortness of breath, chronic sinus congestion
- Unusual shortness of breath at rest
- Chronic abdominal problems including nausea, cramping, diarrhea
Removal From Exposure is often the hardest step
Mold inspectors are not using comprehensive, accurate testing methods. A visual inspection and air samples is not enough. Both of these methods can yield useful information, but more is required.
The first VCS test is available at Dr. Shoemaker’s website, Surviving Mold, at a cost of $15 USD. This is a Functional Visual Acuity Test (FACT) that uses a scoring algorithm to determine the likelihood that a patient is being adversely affected by biotoxin exposure. If it is positive, there is a 92 percent chance that the patient has CIRS. This test cannot be used to rule CIRS in or out on its own. A clinician trained by Dr. Shoemaker needs to be involved in the diagnosis and treatment of CIRS. He has a number of valuable resources on his website so please have a look. Another physician named Dr. Keith Berndston, has written a summary of CIRS.
I’m researching this largely due to my son’s presentation of chronic rhinitis and asthma. Luckily he has improved a lot these past few months. I changed his mattress and have him sleeping by a open window. These interventions may have been more important than the steroids offered by the specialist which I used in small amounts when he was in an acute stage and unable to breathe.
A CIRS diagnosis, like any diagnosis, is helpful if it changes treatment strategies. In this case finding a qualified practitioner is important. I do preliminary testing in my practice. for patients who have been exposed and are not responsive to other treatments further steps need to be taken. Opening detox pathways, looking into a genetic predisposition and removing people from exposure are always the first steps.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Infections and other imbalances in the gut result in an inflammatory response in the brain. The inflammatory cytokine theory is well established in the scientific literature and is being embraced as the number one cause of depression.
But what about anxiety? (more…)
Given the trends that we see in the general population towards a sedentary lifestyle it’s not surprising our kids are less active than ever before. What are the health implications exactly? What can we do to change this?
Do It Yourself
Kids pick up on everything so when they see us trying new things, being active, and getting outside they develop their own love of movement and learning. It’s predicted that our children are likely to have shorter life spans than us unless we make these changes.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine demonstrates that high physical activity has positive effects on children’s immunity and may decrease the risk of autoimmune disease. This research has significant implications for long-term health of kids given that autoimmunity is on the rise in younger populations.
Physical activity not only reduces the risk of autoimmunity in children but also decreases cardiovascular risk factors, improves lung function, enhances motor skill development, and increases defenses against inflammatory diseases.
Nature and Play
Humans need unstructured play time, adults included. Reconnecting with nature is one way we can improve our sense of well-being and enjoy some much needed play time. Digitally detoxifying is an important aspect of this. Having a few weeks every year where screens are turned off is crucial for recalibrating.
Lifestyle Medicine Your Liver
As it warms up its easier to get outside more and get moving. Discovering ways to stay active all year long is important for many reasons. Organ health is at the top of that list. Our livers do more for us than any other organ. Caring for it can be as easy as moving everyday. They love it when we are active for a few reasons:
- Movement gets blood flowing. Our liver stores and cleans our blood. Physical movement assists this.
- The liver is affected by stress. Exercise reduces this. Endorphins are released so we feel better & can focus.
- Digestion improves. When the liver is upset you won’t digest as well. Move and you’ll enjoy your downtime more!
- Late night eating interferes with the liver’s job of cleaning the blood. Exercise improves our daytime appetite and regulates blood sugar. Eating earlier means sleep is more restful.
- Excess hormones move through the liver as do toxins. We help this process along by moving our body.
Move to Improve Gut Health
This new research shows that regular exercise changes our gut flora independent of what we eat. Specifically, it increases levels of short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria and SCFAs. SCFAs are bacterial metabolites that serve as fuel for epithelial or cells of the colon. They also modulate the inflammatory response, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Based on these effects, aerobic exercise may be a beneficial therapy for dysbiosis, insulin resistance, and diseases associated with chronic inflammation. Engage in aerobic exercise to optimize the composition of your gut microbiota and increase circulating levels of health-promoting SCFAs.
What about Anaerobic Exercise?
Resistance training is by far the most important kind of exercise to balance hormones, increase longevity and mobility. When we build up and break-down muscle fibre there is a cascade that occurs in the body. It will literally make you look and feel younger, stronger and more at ease with life.
Endurance exercise can raise cortisol and contribute to burn out in the long term. Weight lifting, on the other hand, triggers the human growth hormone and helps us adapt better to stress. It also makes us better fat burners while reducing our risk of insulin resistance. Other hormonal imbalances also start to level out. The good news is you need to train just a few times a week to get excellent health benefits. This time commitment is much less than most aerobic exercise regimes.
A Few Excellent Botanicals for the Liver
Chinese Thorax (bupleurum falcatum)
This herb supports both phases of liver detoxification. Its used for symptoms like depression, irritability, menstrual cramps, and headaches. More serious conditions like hepatitis C and cirrhosis also respond to schisandra partially because it also modulates the immune system. Good for those with autoimmunity.
Burdock root (arctium lappa)
Burdock is anti-inflammatory and detoxifying especially for the skin. Its used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. As a bitter, burdock stimulates the release of bile and digestive enzymes. It is can soothe the digestive tract and also act as a laxative in a higher dose.
Dandelion root (taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion root is similar to burdock root. It is specifically indicated to assist in resolving gallstones.
Milk Thistle (silybum marianum)
Milk thistle’s active compound is silymarin. This is protective and repairs liver tissue after exposure to environmental and food toxins. It is safe while breastfeeding, and also enhances the production of milk.
Schisandra (schisandra chinensis)
Schisandra has all 5 key flavours: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent. It has been in used in China for thousands of years. Its protective and supports both of the two phases of liver detoxification so is also used in treatment of Hep C. Schisandra regulates blood glucose and cholesterol. It strengthens the immune system and calms the nervous system because of its adaptogenic properties. It’s also a cough suppressant.
Turmeric extract (curcuma longa)
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant. It restores liver tissue, increases bile production, and has mild blood thinning properties. Ingesting it with a fat will enhance your body’s ability to absorb it. Turmeric’s active component is called curcumin. It is far more potent than the whole spice, and is widely used as a supplement for inflammatory conditions. Tumeric supports the liver, mood and cardiovascular health.
Immunity, Iron & Infections
- Bacteria love iron so your body will remove it from the blood and store it in the liver. This is why its important to check if anemia is due to chronic disease, iron deficiency or another cause.
- White blood cells are produced to destroy the bacteria and viruses as well as transport damaged and irritating tissues from the site of infection. Antibody production goes up exponentially.
- People experience appetite loss and fatigue in order to conserve energy for repair.
- Fevers occur for a good reason.
Why Fevers are SO Important
- Fevers indicate the body is fighting off an infection. It’s a symptom, not the root illness. A strong fever shows the body has a healthy immune response.
- Fevers raise heart rate, create lethargy and hallucinations. In children a fever may even produce convulsions.
- One in twenty children will experience what is known as a febrile seizure. These can last a few minutes but have no lasting or harmful effects.
Interestingly a high temperature does not result in convulsions more often than a lower one. Recently in my clinic a patient reported a febrile convulsion as part of their history. It resulted from the common cold combined with a hot, summer day and no noticeable fever.
Think Twice Before Intervening
I’m a parent of a young child. I understand the concerns that arise when our little ones are sick. When my son has a fever I enjoy how much it slows us down and reconnects us. I trust his body’s immune response is in full gear. The impulse to use medication to bring his fever down does come up and this winter I did give him a small dose one night. We were in Mexico at the time. It was very hot already so I was more concerned than I usually would be. What I noticed is the fever needed to come back to kick whatever it was he was fighting. I actually prolonged the length of time his immune system was in high gear.
Keep In Mind
A strong response from the immune system is a good sign. Chronic and recurrent infections happen when the immune system can’t rise above it. This kind of ongoing or low-grade illness can be exhausting and lead to other issues. I’m working on rolling out more information to help those with chronic symptoms recover and rebuild their immunity. Our immunity is housed in our gut. Much of this is based on new discoveries in the world of strain-specific probiotics so you can stop buying broad spectrum ones that don’t result in much.
There are 44 million people currently experiencing alzheimers or dementia worldwide. There are a number of steps you can take no matter where you are in life to prevent and even reverse memory problems.
- Regulate blood sugar. Processed foods reduce insulin sensitivity of your brain’s neurons. Dementia is now being called Diabetes Type 4 due to the surprising amount of evidence linking insulin resistance with it.
- Eat Real Food. Chocolate for their flavonols and spices for their polyphenols. Pastured eggs for choline and cholesterol. Cold water fish for DHA and omega 3 fatty acids. (Choose ocean wise for ethical harvesting practices and third party tested oils for quality.) Berries for their antioxidants and fermented foods for the gut
- Meditate daily. If you have had the pleasure to spend time with anyone who has meditated for years, you’ll already understand why meditation is so powerful. Science is mapping the changes to the brain that occurs when you meditate. I’ve witnessed profound changes on retreat in myself and in others.
- Sleep. Our bodies repair when we sleep. One night of sleep triggers an inflammatory response in the body. If you are having trouble sleeping it may be due to blood sugar dysregulation or other imbalances that can be addressed by digging in with a functional medicine practitioner.
- Specific supplementation which I’ll get into now.
Its important to understand that Alzheimer’s and related disorders (ADRD) begin long before symptoms do. By addressing steps 1-4 you are reducing your risk by as much as 50%. Women are affected more than men as we age, however there is a growing number of young men who experience memory problems earlier in life due to very high stress and insulin resistance. ADRD affects people on all levels; personally, socially and professionally. Evidence supports early prevention in reducing risks as much as 50%.
Nutraceuticals and Botanical Medicne for Cognitive Health:
- Resveratrol is a polyphenol with both anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties. Researchers believe it has positive effects on the hippocampus. This is the area of the brain that is critical for memory, learning and mood. It also has been shown to improve cerebral blood flow. Four studies saw enhanced executive function and memory in health older adults who supplemented for a minimum of 14 weeks at a dose of 150-200 mg with both resversatrol and phytoestrogens.
- Phosphatidylserine helps to improve depressive symptoms, memory, and behaviour. It is an essential nutrient that is not found in the diet. It also regulates stress and is indicated when cortisol is high at doses between 100-500 mg.
- Choline in the form of alpha GPC or citicoline allows this ‘b vitamin’ to cross the blood brain barrier. This supports cognitive health by making more acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the form of cold-water fatty fish is best. Grass fed meat is also higher in omega 3’s. If you are supplementing with fish oil a range aim for around 2000 mg (combined EPA + DHA).
- Vitamin B12 found in organ meats and some shellfish. Methylcobalamin can be supplemented at 500 mcg.
- N-Acetyl Cysteine reduces glutamate from the brain. This antioxidant is the precursor to glutathione.
- Acetyl L-Carnitine (ALCAR) is recommended dosage is 1000 – 2000 mg to support brain function.
- Curcumin Cook with raw turmeric root and supplement with 300 – 500 mg of curcumin.
- Ginkgo Biloba increases blood flow to the brain and reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms. It also increases short term memory recall. Check for interactions with medications before supplementing at 120 – 240 mg.
- Bacopa is a herb that improves memory and focus. Recommendation is 200 – 500 mg.
I don’t recommend starting on all of these on your own. Herbal and nutraceutical medicine is complex and like Functional Medicine its individualized. Deciding on a treatment course and plan has many factors. Its best to work with a practitioner to ensure you will be getting the most out of any supplements you purchase. Quality and duration are important factors. You also want to ensure you are absorbing them and not taking anything that isn’t going to improve your quality of life.