Getting to the Root of Autoimmunity

The root is the gut.  I’m going to tackle some of the most common autoimmune conditions by looking at the latest research.  What is significant for all autoimmune disease is that conventional treatments fall short.  New approaches are badly needed.  Good results are being found with an anti-inflammatory diet like the autoimmune paleo reset along with prebiotic fibres that nourish beneficial bacteria.  I also use herbs to soothe the intestinal lining and further reduce inflammation.  Other therapies like low dose naltrexone have been very helpful for my patients.

Genetics and environment play an important role in autoimmunity.  An ancestral diet with significantly more fibre and no processed foods has excellent outcomes.  It is naturally lower in carbohydrate.  Processed grains and grains in general were introduced recently in our evolution.  Our biology does not tolerate these foods especially in the quantities they are being consumed.  The high carb, low fat diet has led to many problems including overeating.  Higher fat whole foods are more satiating and safe as long as they aren’t combined with refined sweeteners.

Blood Sugar Solutions

Diabetes is on the rise in both children and adults.  In this disease the immune system attacks the pancreas preventing it from producing insulin by attacking it.  A study done this year found an association between  inflammation and microbial imbalances in those with type 1 diabetes (T1D).  In biopsies of patients with T1D, two specific strains of bacteria associated with gut inflammation were out of balance.  The study concluded that those with TID have a disrupted gut microbiome which plays a role in the disease 1.

Immunity and Lupus

Gut bacteria serve as immune protection against pathogens but in some cases they have taken over and contributed to transmission of a disease.  This in unusual but is what happens in Lupus.  Again it is an imbalance in specific strains of bacteria against others that contribute to the disease.  By supplementing with the anti-inflammatory strains of lactobacillus​ and bifidobacterium​ symptoms of Lupus were reduced.  In animal studies both lymphadenopathy and glomerulonephritis were affected by this simple intervention. Treatment with just bifido prevented the immune system from becoming over activated.2  A disrupted gut microbiota is associated with decreased DNA replication and repair.  Impaired carbohydrate and amino acid metabolism have also been associated with gut dysbiosis.  Therefore, we see dysbiosis epigenetically harming the body’s repair system and metabolism.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Oral Microbiome Health

Increased levels of aggregatibacter actinomycetemcomitans​ (​Aa​) in oral cavities due to peridontitis may be connected to rheumatoid arthritis. ​Research suggests that the oral microbe ​Aa​ may trigger autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis.​ Therapies that treat Aa infection and improve the health of the oral microbiome may be valuable in the treatment of RA. Confirming the presence of Aa and then treating it would be the first step. Dietary interventions to reduce inflammation and probiotics specific to the oral microbiome would ideally be part of treatment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gluten, Genetics & Gut Health

Gluten, Genetics & Gut Health

Why are these 3 G’s so damn important right now?  One out of every six people in North America suffer from an autoimmune condition.  By 2050, it’s predicted that 600,000 kids will have type 1 diabetes given the current rate.  This is alarming and I really think we can do better for our children

Autoimmunity is complex and has many causes.  In this article I discuss three diseases and the research connecting gut health to autoimmunity.  Today I’ll focus on a specific genetic marker present in some autoimmune conditions and the strain of bacteria associated with it.  We’ll also discuss how a lower carb, ancestral type diet is indicated.

Gluten increases inflammation even in those who are non reactive.  It is also a filler food meaning its highly processed and modified.  It lacks any nutrient value unless it is fortified which can actually cause more problems.  For those who are reactive, gluten leads to several disease processes including neurological issues, joint problems, malabsorption and yes, autoimmune disease.

What about HLA?

HLA means human leukocyte antigen. Leukocytes are the white blood cells. They protect the body from infection and foreign substances.  Antigen means the protein on the surface of immune cells. Genes determine which proteins are present on the surface of the immune cells.  HLA is a highly polymorphic gene, meaning there are many different possible gene set variants, or haplotypes.

Humans have incredibly adaptive immune systems because of the number of haplotypes available.  However, certain haplotypes predispose a person to specific immune system diseases.  HLA-DQ haplotypes have also been associated with celiac disease (1), while HLA-DRB1 has been associated with rheumatoid arthritis (2).  Mold illness may affect one person and not another due to the individual’s haplotype.

HLA-B27 in Autoimmunity

Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis (AS) and uveitis are all associated with HLA-B27.  Fusion of the spine in AS is the most common condition associated with this haplotype. An estimated 88 percent of people with AS are HLA-B27 positive.  Some subtypes of this gene are protective against AS while others increase the risk of developing the disease.  Keep in mind that you can have this haplotype and never develop an autoimmune condition.

Klebsiella and Ankylosing Spondylitis

A connection has been made between Klebsiella and HLA-B27 since 1980.  Studies have found that this gut bacteria has two molecules that closely resemble HLA-B27 (34). The immune system naturally produces antibodies against Klebsiella in an effort to remove it, but these antibodies can also bind to HLA-B27.

Low-starch Diet?

Studies have shown that Klebsiella does not grow on cellulose from plant starches but can grow on simple sugars (5). Simple sugars are absorbed in the small intestine whereas some starch makes it to the colon where bacteria live.  Klebsiella can manufacture an enzyme called pullulanase, a starch-debranching which allows it to break down starch into simple sugars for energy and growth (6).

Human studies confirm that a high protein, low carbohydrate diet significantly reduces klebsiella in fecal samples (7). Another study found that a low-starch diet reduced the immune response in AS patients (8). The majority of these patients reported remission or at least a reduction in symptoms.

And Finally Back to Gluten

In four out of 5 randomized, double blind trials gluten showed to increase symptoms in patients.  The patients who received the rice pill instead of the gluten pill continued to have symptoms improvement.  This doesn’t mean that all people need to be strictly gluten free but it does mean that up to 80% of people who are struggling with chronic illness are reactive to gluten.  I explain to patients who want to get better that removing gluten is an excellent starting place given the medical literature.  Most testing available to the public only looks at alpha gliadin and wheat.  More accurate testing is available.  It covers 24 markers.  I highly recommend this if you are questioning whether or not to remove gluten from your diet.  Remember that diet and environment turn on genes that would otherwise be dormant.  One step to preventing autoimmunity can be as simple as eating more vegetable and eliminating gluten for 2 weeks to see if you feel better.

Your Body & Brain on Meditation

Your Body & Brain on Meditation

The Nervous System of A Parent

Seven years ago I sat down with my meditation instructor.  I was preparing for my next long retreat where I would make a deeper commitment to working with myself.  What was striking about this conversation is he was much more interested in the fact that I was considering becoming a parent.  At the time his daughter was still young so he understood the kind of challenges that lay ahead for me.  I’ll never forget him saying in a very sobering way that his nervous system was completely shot due to parenthood.  And this was from a long time meditator!

Nobody could’ve guessed what lay ahead.  Like most parents, my resiliency has been tested over and over.  Some of us are wired from a young age to be easily triggered.  Others develop this tendency once we have children of our own.  The good new is we can remodel our brains at anytime.  The goal is to keep our life force strong in order to be of service to our families and communities.  Enough down time is essential.  A mindfulness practice is the best way to build this into a busy life.

The practice of meditation interrupts our normal patterns.  By resetting the nervous systems it allows new growth.  Imagine its 8am and your child is on his third tantrum already.  You still have a full day of work ahead and an important meeting in one hour.  You feel exhausted.  One way to prepare is to lay down and do some belly breathing followed by a body scan meditation.  This can bring you into the present, allow you to recharge and let go of effect of the tantrums.

Wisdom of the Belly

There are four times more stress receptors in the belly.  This is why belly fat accumulates in those with more perceived or real stress in their lives.  Visceral obesity is connected with poor insulin and cortisol regulation.  In the pre-industrial age this fat storage capacity was how we survived famines.  In modern times it has run wild because our stress is higher than ever and we have fewer ways to discharge that are part of our normal daily routines. This is why we have to build it in.  We know that meditation changes our cellular energy metabolism.  If you are exhausted, the best thing you can do is lay down and reset your mitochondria.  This is the power house of your cells.

Perceived Stress

Elizabeth Backburn won the nobel prize for her research of telomeres in the brain.  When there is perceived stress these telomeres appear short and stubby.  This coincided with more inflammation, a higher risk of cancer and a faster rate of aging.  Keep in mind that perceived stress does not equal actual stress.  Working with your mind is one way to protect your brain with the positive effect of aging gracefully.

For those with PCOS we know meditation can lower DHEA and androgens.  It also increases oxytocin.  This is the calm and connect hormone that naturally lowers cortisol.  Stress is a major contributor in all disease processes. Half the population are taking antidepressants lacking any substantial long-term evidence whereas meditation has an enormous body of research.  Patients tell me that their doctors prescribe them the birth control pill alongside an antidepressant to fix their hormonal problems.  This is enough to make anyone feel crazy.

A Functional Medicine gynecologist I know reminds us that the pill reduces the size of the clitoris by 25 per cent.  It also lowers testoterone which decreases sex drive and lowers confidence.  Vaginal dryness is another common side effect.  One in 4 women are taking pharmaceuticals for mental health.  Anti depressants lower sex drive and are indicated in severe depression only.  They are being used in mild to moderate cases where other interventions are called for.

How do I begin and what’s the dose required?

Alternatives are available.  My patients shift in a few weeks by doing a Baseline Reset that includes a mindfulness practice.  Research shows that meditating for 25 min per day for only three days changes the brain.  Imagine what would happen if you kept going!

The conventional medical paradigm recognizes meditation as a powerful tool.  You can get a ‘prescription’ for a class through our medical services plan to learn mindfulness for anxiety and depression.  Heart Math is a non-profit research project in California helping people to connect with their minds and bodies.

The Human Genome

An institute in California studied prostate survivors during a residential program in which meditation was a part. What they found was the genes that prevent cancer get turned on and the ones that cause it turn it off by social connection, meditation, diet and stress reduction.  Lifestyle makes a huge impact.  This is proven over and over.

The Real Goods on Meditation

The Real Goods on Meditation

Self-care and stress management can feel like just one more item to add to our to-do list.  How can we talk about meditation without making it one more thing that stresses us out?

Anyone can meditate. There are many approaches and none are wrong.  All of them have been studied in depth and show excellent health outcomes often outweighing other interventions including pharmaceuticals. When it comes to health and happiness this is the magic bullet.  A solo practice can nurture introverts who require more time alone. Group retreat can provide a new kind of social contact to unwind trauma.

I hear people say they can’t meditate.  “My mind never gets quiet.”  A different view or understanding is needed regarding what meditation actually is.  Fundamentally it is the opposite of doing anything including judging what is happening.  The point is to stop, step away from everything external and just see what’s there.  At first what we discover includes the full range of human experience. Then we may start to feel a bit of space emerging.  What is in this space after we settle into our body a little?  All that is good about being human including wisdom and joy.

The Science Backing Meditation

A recent meta analysis done by the Journal of American Medicine reviewed nearly 19 000 research studies on meditation.  The results were stunning across the board.  In just 8 weeks anxiety was reduced in the majority of people.  After 3 to 6 months of practice, 78% of those suffering from anxiety enjoyed significant benefits. This meta analysis concluded that meditation lowers depression in 70% of people and reduces pain in 67%.  This may be related to its ability to increase serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain.  So let’s talk more about the brain and then we’ll get into the stress response.

A study done in 2004 at the University of Wisconsin by Richard Davidson looked at long time meditators.  Using an EEG it was determined that not just brain waves changed during meditation but there were also permanent structural changes. Meditators have a thicker brain and more folds on the surface. They are also able to induce gamma waves at levels not seen in the rest of the population.

Changing the Brain

The control tower for the endocrine or hormone system is in the brain.  The amygdala interprets stress and is responsible for emotions, instincts and memory.  It also has a role in libido.  Psychological stressors like to-do lists and deadlines create the same physiological stress response as being in immediate danger.  We know that women are more at risk for having a dysregulated stress response. The #me too phenomenon explains in part why this is and I’ll be addressing this more in another article.  Chronic issues with gut, thyroid and HPA (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal) function are all too common these days.  Shiny, new, high tech interventions are not where we are finding answers.

When my health issues began, my gut instinct was to move away from conventional medicine. I literally relocated to the mountains and learned to meditate.  I found my doctor there.  Gradually returning to dance and martial arts training was part of the answer.  Movement and strength training is important as long as it is enjoyable.  It triggers human growth hormone and stimulates a cascade of changes that makes us feel safe on a fundamental, somatic level.

Neuroplasticity or the brain’s ability to change goes on throughout our lives. It is not limited to just babies as we once thought so we can always begin wherever we are.  You may recognize these words from the title of a popular book written by the Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron.

Focus, Attention and Addiction

ADD is a common diagnosis in children whereas it seems under diagnosed in women. This is another area where pharmaceuticals are the primary intervention. However, the long-term evidence is not convincing.  Young people are being exposed to meditation more and more because of how effective it is.  In terms of substance use, meditation, cognitive behavioural therapy and acupuncture are some of the best tools for building resiliency.

A wave of research on meditation occurred after a conference where the Dalai Lama urged scientists to go in this direction.  Research is currently being done at the University of Victoria by a professor who is part of the meditation community I practice with.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
-H.H. The 14th Dalai Lama

 

 

 

 

 

Do you have Candida? Or is it SIFO?

Do you have Candida? Or is it SIFO?

Symptoms like chronic yeast infections, brain fog and sugar cravings can indicate dysbiosis or an imbalance in the gut microbiome. About 20 years ago candida albicans began receiving a lot of attention. For awhile there it was the cause of a long list of ailments according to some.  We’ve learned a lot since then and continue to learn more all the time.  Endoscopies are not perfect but can show fungal overgrowth occurring in the small intestine. (SIFO).   In out-patient settings, we test the gut using stool and breath tests primarily although a urine organic acids test can also be helpful as I’ll explain.

Candida albicans is one strain of bacteria residing in the colon.  It is part of a healthy colon when in balance however it does get out of balance. This can happen when there is a dybiosis of insufficiency meaning a lack of other good bacteria. Often it occurs after antibiotics especially if several rounds were used.

Keep in mind that high stress, poor diet and reactions to foods also trigger an imbalance in gut flora. Similarly a parasitic infection like giardia can trigger the onset of Celiac disease and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. This is why people go traveling and say their gut was never the same afterwards.

So what causes SIFO?

If you are on a very limited diet to manage symptoms that appear to be fungal overgrowth but your labs come out looking good we have to consider SIFO. There isn’t a breath test available for SIFO and it won’t show on stool tests. Certain antibodies can be used to detect it but this is not yet widely used. An organic acids test has markers that are more telling. This is what I end up using because it has a variety of other markers that are helpful for assessing the patient’s health status in general. Knowing what triggered the symptoms is important so reinfection can be avoided. There is a strong correlation between long-term use of proton pump inhibitors and SIFO.   Low stomach acid means more pathogens make it into the small intestine.

Treatment can include both pharmaceuticals and botanicals.   As far as botanicals go I use monolaurin, a concentrate of coconut oil, oregon grape root, other berberines, caprylic acid or allicin and biofilm disruptors like NAC or Interfase Plus. Gastroenterologist Dr. Satish Rao suggests cycling antibiotics and following with antifungals. This is because onset of fungal infection occurs after the good bacteria is killed off whether its in the small intestine or the colon.

What about diet?

A lower carb diet rich in nutrients is a good starting place. There is some indication in the research that ketones can feed the overgrowth so use caution with this approach. Often people will know what triggers symptoms and these need to be avoided. Following treatment a period of rebuilding is key to ensure that the colon is functioning optimally. A prokinectic like 5-HTP or bitters encourage the migrating motor complex to prevent reinfection in the small intestine. If the ileocecal valve between the two bowels is inflamed we want to address this. Bacteria collect around these valves and take up residence where they shouldn’t. So inflammation and any immune issues also need to be addressed.

Keep in mind that candida albicans is different than candidiasis, which is a serious condition occurring in immune compromised people. Candidiasis requires immediate medical intervention.

 

15 Sleep Solutions You Can Do

15 Sleep Solutions You Can Do

Sleep is a big deal  

Especially when two-thirds of adults don’t get the minimum required to meet basic physiological requirements.  In fact, less than 7 hours per night can shorten lifespan significantly.  Inflammation increases when we miss a night of good sleep.  Other sleep research shows up to 29% lower sperm count in men who sleep poorly vs those who regularly get enough rest.  Athletes performance drops 10-30%.

Why Parents are Crazy

As a parent of a young child I can vouch for how difficult it can be to get enough sleep.  When your infant finally starts sleeping through the night your cortisol and melatonin production is so confused insomnia becomes a thing. Catching up is not actually possible especially as a single parent.  Through trial and error I’ve discovered the ridiculous reality of living in a state of constant sleep deprivation.  Caffeine stops working.  You think everyone hates you and life is out to get you.  This is the real reason parents are crazy a lot of the time!  Anyone doing shift work or work late at night can be included in those who suffer the most. 


Adults really do require 7-9 hours of sleep

  • Newborns (0-3 months): 14-17 hrs
  • Infants (4-11 months): 12-15 hrs
  • Toddlers (1-2 years): 11-14 hr
  • Preschoolers (3-5): 10-13 hours
  • Elementary school age (6-13): 9-11 hrs
  • Teens (14-17): 8-10 hrs
  • Adults (18-64): 7-9 hrs
  • Older adults (65+): 7-8 hrs

 

Sleep Hygiene: Focus on What to Do

1. Be consistent with your sleep schedule 

Set a realistic bedtime.  Train your brain to develop a regular circadian rhythm by going to bed at the same time most of the time.  

2.  Establish a bedtime routine

This can include a warm but not hot bath or shower.  Journaling in a book, meditating, stretching gently or reading are all appropriate activities.  Dim your lights and listen to relaxing music to unwind from your day.  

3.  Your bedroom needs to be quiet, cool and comfortable

Sleep is better when your room is cool rather than warm. You can keep a door or window cracked for circulation and to avoid stuffiness. Keep all lights off, including night lights, and lights from electronic devices. Sleep on a comfortable mattress.  Turn off the extraneous noise. A white noise machine is fine. If your pets wake you up, keep them in another part of the house. 

4. Turn off electronic devices in the evening

This allows for more connection, better digestion and a general parasympathetic or relaxed environment where you can reconnect and let go of the day.  Electronic devices emit blue light which stimulates the brain.  Cortisol and melatonin get confused and these hormones play a huge role in insomnia.

5. Exercise during the day

Exercise promotes continuous sleep.  Its also great stress relief.  Avoid intense exercise in the evening as this can interfere with deep sleep.  Stress management is crucial to sleeping well.

6.  Eat enough during the day

Blood sugar dysregulation causes spikes in cortisol and makes it more difficult to rest later on.  In fact, having enough carbohydrates during your evening meal has been shown to support better sleep.  Choose root veggies and unprocessed, gluten free options.  Often times food reactions cause an internal stress response that we aren’t aware of.

7. Use caffeine with caution

We know that 50% of people don’t metabolize caffeine.  This means it stays in the body for much longer and therefore amount matters.  Cut down on caffeine and avoid it after noon entirely.  This includes chocolate. Uncooked cacoa is easier on you.  Matcha has a longer burn than coffee and many health benefits.  Find alternatives like peppermint or dandelion tea. Golden tea is a delicious alternative as well.  I know its not easy to change this habit especially when you are sleep deprived but it can be done.  It may be the most important change you can make.

8. Get out of bed if you aren’t sleeping

Do a guided meditation or find another relaxing activity until you feel sleepy.  This is part of training your body that bed is for sleep.  Have a comfortable chair in your room and make a cup of sleepy tea.  Simple rituals like this work.

9. Avoid large meals later at night

A small protein rich snack before bed can help with night hunger but large meals late at night create a burden for the liver.  Finish meals a few hours before bedtime.  The liver kicks into gear at 11pm so being asleep by then is ideal.

10. Reduce fluids before bedtime

I’m training my son to drink more during the day so he won’t need pull-ups at night.  Just pretend you are 5 years old!  My mom has sage advice for parents.  Ask yourself if getting your kid up to pee in the night is more of a priority than your sleep.

11.  Nap or no nap?

I teach meditation to my patients.  I find if someone calms their nervous system for 5-20min during the afternoon it can support a deeper sleep later.  People may or may not nap as part of the practice. I don’t see any problem with this however long naps may inhibit sleep later on.

12. Avoid these because we know they interfere with sleep

Alcohol raises our body temperature and requires that the liver clear it.  Ever wake up between 1am and 3am after having a drink?  Cigarettes and some medications also make sleep more elusive.

13. Black out your room, hide the clock and wake naturally if possible

This is basic but an incredibly important game-changer.  Buy black-out curtains.  Don’t use night-lights except in the bathroom.  Turn your digital clock away from your bed while you sleep.  Don’t wake to an alarm as much as possible.

14. Creat an extended sleep schedule

For anyone who has suffered from sleep problems an extended sleep schedule can support getting more sleep.  Research shows that allowing a longer period of time in bed does increase the amount of sleep people get.

15. Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex

Train your body to expect only rest and pleasure in this space by creating this.  Bedrooms ought to be a place of sanctuary from the world.


 

An Important Ally: Your Morning Awakening Response

Its best to get up when you first wake up.  By exposing your eyes to bright full-spectrum light you are stimulating the cortisol awakening response (CAR).  This accounts for half or more of our daily cortisol secretion.  Remember the cortisol is anti-inflammatory and an important hormone that works synergistically with melatonin. Doing any kind of movement first thing supports morning cortisol.  This could be carrying a child, going upstairs, walking your dog or going for a run. Daylight stimulates cortisol release, and darkness stimulates melatonin.

Blue light boxes improve sleep and depression simply by stimulating this early morning response during the winter for those who have to get up before dawn or who can’t go outside first thing in the morning.  Beginning to notice this response and working with it can help repair your sleep-wake cycle if its been disrupted.

HPA-D is not Adrenal Fatigue

I’ve written extensively on this topic and the reason I bring it up is because you’ll see a bunch of recommended supplements for adrenal fatigue.  Insomnia is a symptom of a much more complex disorder called HPA-D.  (hypothalamus pituitary adrenal dysregulation).  By testing cortisol thoroughly we can see that pattern of dysfunction and supplement accordingly.  Giving adaptogens to everyone is not the answer.  Nervine herbs on the other hand are safe and interestingly ashwaghandha is both an adaptogen and a nervine.  Some of my other favourites include skullcap, passion flower and camomile.  Anything that makes you feel groggy upon awakening is inhibiting the cortisol awakening response so avoid this. Be careful using licorice as this potent herb increases cortisol.  L-theanine is an amino acid that is safe to use for anyone. 

Certain patterns of HPA-D require increasing cortisol at certain times of day or decreasing it. Often there’s an issue with hormone clearance pointing to excess inflammation, inhibited liver function or thyroid issues.  The testing I do looks at both free circulating cortisol and total metabolized cortisol.  These are not always the same.  In many cases only free cortisol is tested resulting in treatment that is not neccessarily exact.

CBD is both anti-inflammatory and promotes sleep.  This is why standardized extracts need to made available.  For those experiencing recalitrant pain CBD can bring down the pain where other pain medications won’t.  A patient of mine with insomnia and endometreosis began using CBD.  Once her pain came down she was able to sleep and could start making decisions about her health.  She had been unable to work for many months.  I’ve seen this with backpain as well.  

Thorough blood work including iron, blood sugar, thyroid and inflammatory markers is required to see a full picture and get a sense of what is going on.  A gut work-up is also important. Neurotransmitters play a role in HPA-D through the gut-brain axis.  Healing the gut so its producing neurotransmitters again and absorbing nutrients is the key in some patients. Supplementing with precursors like 5HTP are helpful in these patterns during treatment.  You may be noticing that it can take time to get to the root cause of insomnia.  Often we are also addressing trauma during treatment.  When we find out what works and are sleeping more, people report feeling that they got their life back.   

 

 

 

Get Your Appetite Back on Track

Get Your Appetite Back on Track

What makes us hungry?

The neuroregulation of appetite is getting a lot of press these days.  The epidemic of diabetes grows and even young people are suffering the effects of obesity.  Researchers are hell-bent on finding solutions.  Our bodies have a feedback loop that lets us know when we are full or are in need of fuel.  If the mechanism is broken then we don’t know how to turn off.  Like a car without brakes we are headed for disaster.  For some people, anxiety leads to no appetite.  How can we get our brain and gut working together again?  Biochemist and health enthusiast Robb Wolf explains that we are ‘hardwired to eat’.  Let’s reboot our culture and bodies to kickstart these innate processes  which are our genetic foundation.

No Longer About Macronutrients

Low carb and ketosis is the new fad.  For many this is not sustainable and often results in an exacerbation of symptoms.  The last fad of low-fat may have led to this because we were all obsessed with whole grains.  Worldwide we know there are people who thrive on all types of macronutrient ratios.  Traditional Inuit consume very high fat diets and are well adapted to their environment.  We know of cultures that ate honey for two months of the year and high carbs the rest of the time without suffering chronic disease like ours does.

Each person is unique and some tolerate carbs well while others get spikes in their blood glucose levels even when they consume cellular carbs with the fibres intact.  These people require more protein and fat to stabilize their cortisol and bring down inflammation.  Lower carb intake can work well for someone who is insulin resistant and has lower activity levels.  It’s crucial that stress is well-managed to maintain stable blood sugar.

Eat Enough Of the Right Stuff

We know that highly processed carbs are a nightmare for many reasons.  Gluten is part of this and the lack of fibre is the other part.  A variety of fibres feed the gut microbiota, support clearance of excess hormones and is preventative for several diseases.  Knowing what is enough for your body and choosing the right carbs is important.  Another problem with refined carbs and sugars is that they creates an insatiable hunger.  We are less likely to get the relaxed, dopamine rush that comes from a nutrient dense, higher protein meal.

Hyper-Palatable Food

Can you imagine overeating undressed potatoes or yams?  What about if you add a bunch of fat and seasoning? Research around processed foods that are hyper palatable show that the brain is stimulated in ways that create addiction similar to cocaine and nicotine.  When we eat very sweet food its the same and the craving for extreme salt  is the body’s way to regain homeostasis.  You can avoid the craving to overeat simply by staying in the middle ground of flavour sensation.  It becomes really easy once you start reading labels and learning what those flavour additives do to your organs.

Roots and Shoots:  The Real Superfoods

Roots veggies can be the baseline for our carb needs along with some fruit.  Shoots include superfoods like green onions.  The nutrient density and medicinal quality of this simple food is off the charts.  Enjoy green onions over your morning breakfast meal along with some healthy fats.  Make sure you have some protein and sauerkraut to get the lasting feeling of relaxed energy that these foods offer.

Social Contact and Mindfulness

Just a reminder of how crucial social support and contemplative practice are for health.  The medical research on these subjects is overwhelming.  I see this in clinic and when I assist on meditation retreats.  In my own life these are game changers and were more important than what I ate in terms of recovering my vitality.  This is why I teach classes on physiology, nutrition and meditation.

 

 

 

 

 

Is fungal overgrowth really the underlying cause of chronic sinusitis?

Is fungal overgrowth really the underlying cause of chronic sinusitis?

Chronic sinusitis is unbelievably common. This is a condition termed in the medical literature as chronic rhinosinusitis or CRS. My five year old son has some dry inflammation in his sinus cavity. When I’ve taken him to get it checked out conventional medicine offers a steroid spray.  I know steroids are very drying and won’t help the underlying issue. It may even make things worse in the long run. (1)

My son wasn’t even diagnosed with CRS.  Instead it was suggested that he is asthmatic.  I was offered steroids yet again.  Kids get sick often.  This is how their immune systems develop.  Of course I want to prevent anything serious from developing.  So I did some research.  Recurrent upper respiratory tract infections are associated with the same root cause as CRS. (2) Despite numerous research papers published on the topic doctors are failing to notice.     

The Real Cause of CRS

Research is showing that CRS is related to biofilms. (3) Many people still believe it is a fungal infection is the underlying cause.  Fungal CRS is easily diagnosed and is in fact quite rare. Why then is the fungal hypothesis still the first thing that comes to mind?  I’ve had a patients who were convinced that they had a systemic fungal infection causing CRS but their labs denied this. Eosinophilic mucin is used to diagnose a local fungal infection so its easy to rule out.

What is a biofilm? Why do some people suffer more than others?

Biofilms are extracellular matrixes where bacteria live. They host pathogens by providing a way for them to share nutrients and DNA while providing protection from antibiotics. A biofilm we are all familiar with is plaque on teeth.

Biofilms seem to proliferate in people with compromised immune function. To strengthen immunity botanicals like astragalus and cordinopisis are safe, even for children. Vitamins A, C and D are essential. I recommend a buffered vitamin C along with a good quality cod liver oil for A and D.

Post surgery is another time when biofilms seem to proliferate. Extra care needs to be taken at these times. I have a protocol I give to patients for pre and post surgery to prevent issues.

Treating Sinusitis

Nasal Irrigation is the best way to affect local biofilms in the sinus cavity. PubMed suggests using baby shampoo. In a study 60% patients responded positively to this.

Xylitol is a natural agent that works against biofilms. It’s loved by even conventional dentists and hygienists. Unlike steroid sprays xylitol is not drying. In fact, it’s a lubricant allowing the body to clear pathogens with nasal mucus the way it usually does.

There is no research on using systemic biofilms however this would be an interesting area to explore.  We know that the gut microbiome affects the skin and sex organ’s microbiomes. Therefore it makes sense that the nasal passage is also interconnected.

What about Fungal Infections?

Many patients ask about how to treat fungal infections on the skin, genitals and in the intestines. Once you have a clear diagnosis that this is actually what’s happening here are a few things you can try.

Biotin binds to a sugar called arabinose, which is produced by yeast. Arabinose forms pentosidine causing inflammation. This is seen in Alzheimer’s disease and autoimmune responses. Biotin is also an antifungal in a higher dose of 5mg.

Molybdenum helps convert a toxin called acetylaldehyde that is produced by fungal organisms. If the conversion to acetic acid doesn’t happen B6 gets blocked and several crucial biochemical don’t happen. Acetylaldehyde can react with neurotransmitters and cause pain.

Several herbs are beneficial but best to work with a medical herbalist. I’ll mentiona few of my favourites. Olive leaf, allicin, cardamon, black walnut and yerba mansa.  Binders can also be helpful in clearing both toxins and fungal infections. I use chorella, modified citrus pectin and clay.

Many people try to starve out the bugs by avoiding carbs. This is not recommended as some research shows yeasts can thrive on ketones. Low carb diets can also lead to dysbiosis or an imbalance in the gut microbiome. This is why I focus on a long-term ancestral type diet with my patients.

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22241786
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21865700
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22287462

 

 

 

 

 

Understand Your Hormones:  Feel Great Again

Understand Your Hormones: Feel Great Again

Fatigue, depression, and irritability can caused by a hormone imbalance. Getting to know the key players can help. The endocrine system rules hormones and I’ll explain a little about how they all work together. The metabolites tell us about how the body is responding and excreting each one. This is important information for preventing disease and feeling better.

 Androgens are important in maintaining bone and muscle strength. DHEA and testosterone are two I look at closely. DHEA-S can indicate inflammation. Androgen metabolites will push one way if there are PCOS like symptoms like acne, head hair loss or facial hair growth on women. Anxiety and depression in men can be due to low testosterone. Specific botanicals and nutrients can shift the metabolism to a more favourable path. GLA, zinc and saw palmetto are some key ones I use.

Estrogens are essential for female characteristics as well as brain, bone and heart health. The pathways for estrogen have been studied extensively.   Preference for certain metabolite pathways may prevent breast and ovarian cancer. Excess estrogen can cause weight gain, heavy cycles, fatigue and irritability. Depending on the pattern, we can support the 2 methoxy pathway with diet and supplements from cruciferous veggies. Boron can support estrogen or testosterone when these are low in women. Perimenopausal women will have a different healthy hormone profile.

Cortisol affects all of the other hormones so when we are looking at testosterone for example we must also assess the role cortisol is playing. Cortisol is anti-inflammatory. It manages immune function, blood glucose, energy and metabolism. Depending on the pattern there are several nutraceutical grade supplements that can balance cortisol. Adaptogens are not always the answer. In Functional Medicine we use the phrase, “why guess when you can test?”

Progesterone balances estrogen and also is protective of brain, bone and heart health. It’s essential for menstruation, fertility and pregnancy.   Estrogen dominance is when progesterone is low in relation to estrogen. Increased consumption of healthy dietary fibres can improve estrogen elimination. Phytoestrogens like flax seeds are excellent because they block xenoestrogens from accumulating in the body. These are prolific in our environment especially if you use any conventional beauty care products or have plastics in your kitchen.

Melatonin is often thought of as the sleep hormone. It’s secreted from the pineal gland and regulates the sleep-wake cycle. Its lesser known that melatonin is an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. It works with serotonin. Adequate sleep is important for reducing pain and cravings. These are actions of serotonin. Micro dosing melatonin can see better results. Trytophan or 5HTP can support serotonin.

Medications like opioids, steroids and Accutane can damage the endocrine system.  For example, a common acne medication is known to destroy cells in the hypothalamus.  Another example is thyroid medication at too high of a dose can cause increase total cortisol.  Its important to do thorough testing and if you need to take a medication please have it monitored.

Other Safe supplements for balancing common hormone imbalances include nettle, broccoli sprouts, food high in zinc, inositol, fibre from whole foods.  Nettle works on the increasing androgen metabolism down the 5a reductase pathway which is good for anyone with PCOS like symptoms. Broccoli sprouts contain a chemical called sulforaphane. This is one of the most potent antioxidants and detoxification substances that we know of. Inositol balances blood sugar which at the root of many hormone issues.  Zinc is often deficient and can be found in oysters, pumpkin seeds, spinach and a variety of pastured meats.  Fibre from root vegetables, flax and chia seed and gluten-free supplements can help clear excess hormones.

Treating PCOS Effectively: What is the Real Cause?

Treating PCOS Effectively: What is the Real Cause?

What is PCOS and why should you care?

Polycystic ovarian syndrome affects 10% of North American women in their child-bearing years. It’s the leading cause of infertility and is on the rise. Syndromes are a group of symptoms that conventional medicine groups together.  PCOS is more of a pattern than a disease. Cysts on the ovaries are not always present. Acne, irregular cycles, weight-gain, facial hair growth and loss of head hair can be part of the presentation.

The Underlying Cause

Blood sugar plays a huge role in PCOS. Insulin is a hormone and it helps regulate sex hormones. PCOS is really an imbalance in hormones.

Stress has a huge influence on all our hormones. Environment also is a key factor, more than genetics even. Genetics express if triggered by an exogenous factor so we are back at lifestyle, nutrients and yes meditation. The habits that lead to blood sugar dysregulation are not genetics.  These are choices that we can change  PCOS is an epidemic and there is a lot we can do as far as education to influence this.

Insulin Resistance & Female Hormones

Insulin pulls sugar out of blood and escorts it to our cells. Eating refined foods means our bodies will stop responding to the massive overload that hits the blood at once.  Fibre in whole food is really protective on so many levels and this is one of them. The pancreas will continue to produce insulin despite high levels accumulating in the blood because insulin is overwhelmed and not responding. So now we have high sugar and high insulin in the blood.

FSH and LH are two important female reproductive hormones that are affected by insulin directly. Then in turn these affect progesterone and estrogen.  We have so much more control than the medical model suggests in terms of understanding how an individual is adapting.  Comprehensive hormone testing that includes metabolites of progesterone, estrogen and the androgens including testoterone.  Looking at blood sugar levels in at least two ways is also important.  A diagnosis can be helpful but only if the patient feels like she has options and is in control of her treatment.

Weight Gain is a Cause? Or a Symptom?

Old school doctors will tell patients to just lose weight. The problem with this is how? By any means? This will likely exacerbate the symptoms because the majority of weight loss measures promoted are extremely problematic.

Plus weight gain is not the cause! It’s a symptom. Yes weight gain, inflammation and other factors are part of the vicious cycle of insulin resistance and PCOS. But keep in mind certain hormonal imbalances make it very difficult to lose weight.  So what works for most people won’t make a dent no matter how hard a woman tries.  This is insanity.

A few important steps anyone can take to regulate blood sugar are:

1. Eat enough protein: our body has an innate stop button when it comes to protein. You will know when you’ve had enough. When we are nourished with longer burn foods, we don’t crave simple carbs and sugar.
2. Root veggies: get your carbs from the veggies that grow below ground. These also have a longer burn, are packed with vitamins and support the health of your colon. This is where we eliminate excess hormones like testosterone. Another problem of refined food is that it results in poor colon function and these hormones will be reabsorbed and recirculated.
3. Clean up all your beauty products especially beware of scents. Look through your cleaning products too. Our detox system is burdened by all of these and make it harder to eliminate hormones. They are full of xeno estrogens (xeno is bad). Stay away from plastics as much as possible.
4. Eat more healthy oil and fats. Omega 3’s are especially important. Studies show that androgens are lowered by diets higher in omega 3’s. They are also anti-inflammatory meaning less pain.
5. Chromium helps regulate blood sugar. It can be found in a variety of foods including grass-fed beef, eggs, broccoli and sweet potatoes. Most of us are deficient. Cinnamon regulates blood sugar too. Yes, food is medicine!

Conventional medicine has lost sight of prevention and treats PCOS as though it’s a disease that needs life-long medication. Birth control and metformin are often prescribed.  What is needed is a deeper look at what’s going on. In fact there are many ways to address PCOS that are natural.

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