People with metabolic insulin resistance or neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s can benefit enormously from a ketogenic diet. Others just want to have better focus, improve their game or stop eating processed foods.
Many of these people thrive with the shift but others don’t. So who doesn’t and why not?
Perhaps you have a friend who has tried a keto diet and done everything by the book but it hasn’t worked. This person may be feeling worse even after the initial adaptive phase.
When the HPA axis is stressed keto can make things worse. The body interprets this low carb diet as just another added stress to deal with. This’ll happen if cortisol, our primary stress hormone, is out of whack.
Symptoms of constant overwhelm, afternoon crashes, insomnia and poor waking energy indicate ‘adrenal fatigue’. The cause is chronic or acute stress that is more than the body can handle. Learning to regulate cortisol and recover from the stress has to come first. Otherwise switching to a ketogenic diet is unlikely to work. It may even make things worse.
It’s similar with thyroid health. Nearly every tissue in the body requires thyroid hormone. If you have a low body temperature, are losing hair and have thinning eyebrows you may want to have your thyroid checked. In fact, I screen all my patients for thyroid levels. This is because I see it so commonly missed and is essential to metabolism.
When it comes to keto or low carb diets caution make sense. Thyroid function requires consistent fuel. This fuel is most accessible through carbohydrate. Although the body can adapt it makes more sense to stabilize the thyroid first. The endocrine system as a whole has this check and balance system of negative feedback loops. The benefits of keto won’t roll out if thyroid health is not at a certain level of stability.
Often in clinic there is a dual presentation.This is why medicine is personal and individualized. As a practitioner I tease out what is possible. For example, a patient with a cortisol imbalance who has a family history of diabetes may benefit from keto if stress management is taken seriously. If this person’s life doesn’t allow space for meditation or good sleep hygiene then keto should be avoided.
Many people with adrenal or thyroid require specific nutrients. If symptoms flare on keto then electrolytes become even more important. Not enough electrolytes can cause cortisol to rise which interferes with the conversion of T4 to T3 which is the active form. Stay tuned because my next article is all about electrolytes.
Getting enough sleep, sunlight, movement and social contact optimizes our health in ways that diet doesn’t. Ignoring these aspects of health is common especially for anyone who likes to fixate. Experiment and keep a curious mind. For those with a history of disordered eating or addiction its important to notice if you are becoming neurotic about the details. After an initial phase switching to keto shouldn’t take too much thought.
Keep in mind that overeating is another stressor. It’s easier to eat less with keto because fat and protein is much more satiating than carbs are. You may have noticed feeling hungry if you have just a piece of fruit. If you add some nuts or cheese your snack last longer. This is a really simple example but it works. On keto cutting carbs down to less than 25% of your caloric intake means your body begins using fat as fuel. And we know healthy fats have benefits throughout the body from nourishing the joints, brain and gut.
Migraines are common and disabling to people. They make up 5% of hospitalizations, and 20% of neurology consultations. Women experience them twice as much as men. Those with chronic migraines can end up relying on strong pain medications.
Migraines are usually associated with other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, extreme sensitivity to lights, noises, and smells, lack of appetite, and disturbances of bowel function. I am seeing more people suffering with these extreme symptoms so I wanted to break-down the different causes, testing and treatment.
Premenstrual syndrome can be a trigger for migraines. Vitamin E is an effective treatment for menstrual migraines. It does this by lowering prostaglandins without any negative side-effects.
Use of an oral contraceptive pill or hormone replacement therapy can lead to too much estrogen and not enough progesterone. This is another hormonal imbalance that can lead to hormonal migraines in menstruating women or those in peri-menopause.
A whole-food, low-glycemic diet that is high in phytonutrients with plenty of organic flax, fermented soy, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts and cauliflower can help. Avoid alcohol as it contributes to leaky gut. Caffeine, sugar, and refined carbohydrates should be removed as well. Exercise and stress reduction techniques are also key.
Mitochondria & Cellular Health
Along with migraines you may feel fatigue, muscle aches, and brain fog. This can be a methylation defect or simply poor cellular regeneration. Mitochondria are the powerhouses or batteries of our cells. Certain micronutrients like B vitamins (especially B2) and CoQ10 are essential for mitochondrial function. Other b vitamins, alpha lipoic acid and vitamin c are also important. An organic acids test lets us see the weak link.
Magnesium is also important for mitochondrial function. A deficiency can contribute to migraines, constipation, anxiety, insomnia and other stressors. Feeling of irritability, noise sensitivity, muscle cramps or twitching, and heart palpitations are possible symptoms. Magnesium glycinate is best for muscles whereas citrate targets constipation. Magnesium theonate is specific for brain health.
The connection between migraines, constipation and liver function is well understood in Functional Medicine. Our bodies filter chemicals and hormones the liver. They are released through the colon. If the liver detox capacity or digestion is impaired there is a build-up. This toxic load often ends up in the bloodstream where it can cross the blood-brain barrier. If you’ve heard the term ‘leaky brain’ this is what its referring to.
Chemical responses are also be triggered by certain foods. Processed-food diet including aspartame, MSG (monosodium glutamate), nitrates (in deli meats), sulfites (found in wine, dried fruit etc) are all common chemical triggers. Tyramine-containing foods like chocolate and cheese are also worth checking.
Digestion & Migraines
Brain fog, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, joint or muscle pain, and sinus congestion can all indicate an imbalance of the microbiome. Whether its a food related trigger or not, an elimination diet is a good way to start. Remove gluten, dairy and eggs. Corn can also be a problem. Stool testing is used to assess possible pathogens or dysbiosis as well as inflammation and triggers. Urine testing is excellent for fungal yeast, mould or bacterial imbalances.
The Conventional Approach
A diagnosis of chronic migraines is given to those where over 15 days of the month are migraine days. Triggers are sometimes identified and a prescription of preventative medication can be taken daily. These medications all have side effects. None of them cure migraines. Some of them have a rebound effect, meaning when the medication wears off, a rebound headache occurs.
The most popular form of birth control in the industrialized world is the pill. Ninety-nine per cent of women have used this synthetic hormonal contraceptive at one time. Despite evidence indicating there are health risks associated with it, one-quarter of women using non-permanent forms of birth control choose the pill. Other options used are the patch, implants, injectables, vaginal rings, condoms and IUD’s. Ten percent use fertility awareness methods. Vasectomies make up 13%.
The pill depletes our healthy gut bacteria and can cause yeast overgrowth or other infections. Dysbiosis in the gut has been linked to migraines, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, psoriasis, depression & even infertility. Often women who have been on the pill for years can have trouble conceiving.
To metabolize hormonal contraceptives, the liver requires extra B vitamins, vitamin C, magnesium and zinc. If your diet is poor & your digestion is inhibited then you won’t have these essential nutrients available to you. Other health issues are likely to arise.
The pill is prescribed commonly for many reasons including fibroids, pain, PCOS, skin issues, PMS and heavy cycles. Its often paired with an anti-depressant for mood issues. Evidence indicates that most women know the pill affects their whole body. One of the main negative side effects is on mood.
I’m part of that 1% who never took the pill. So what have I done instead?
Get to Know Your Cycle
Strengthening your natural menstrual cycle is an excellent way to optimize your health in general. If you want energy, a libido and the ability to get pregnant then track your cycle. Maybe you simply want to enjoy sex without fear of harming your body. I know a master herbalist with teenage daughters who agrees with this approach. We don’t want to suppress the body’s wisdom. We want to get to know it, respect it & work with it.
There are 3 simple ways to know when you ovulate: waking temperature, cervical position and cervical mucus. The last two require that you to be intimate with your body. Learn how to contact your cervix. Notice the monthly discharge that comes with feeling aroused or a sensation in the ovaries which some women experience. Temperature can be charted by technology. I suggest trying all these methods & relying on two.
The Lady Comp takes your temperature and tracks your cycle. This device will chart what is happening for your fertility. It lets you know with a simple red, green or yellow light. On the green days you don’t have to worry at all. Our fertile window is about 6 days so the rest of the month will be in the green meaning good to go.
The longer you use it the more data you have. There is a six hour window in the morning to take you temperature but it has to be taken upon waking. Any movement or activity will alter your temperature.
There are many devices and apps available to make tracking temperature easier. This is just one that also offers a fertility aspect.
Fertility and Influencing Gender
If a baby is what you want then you can get the baby version of Lady Comp. It allows you to turn it to the best time to make babies and how to optimize your chance of having a boy or a girl. It can do this b/c male sperm move faster and female sperm last longer.
Risks associated with Contraception
Estrogen dominance, blood clots, osteoporosis and cancers are all associated with long-term use of hormonal contraception. I’m not going to go into detail about this but have a look at this research for more information.
The copper IUD can lead to chronic inflammation and deplete the body of zinc because zinc balances copper. It can also have a negative impact on gall bladder function.
Many of my colleagues agree that this era of birth control use on a massive scale will be looked back on as a very strange time in the history of women’s health.
Get Your Sexual Partner(s) On Board
Thirteen percent of men choose to have a vasectomy. The rest of them can get on board with understanding women’s cycles. The best partner knows his partner’s cycle better than she does. This allows her to relax, feel safe and enjoy herself.
Talk about fertility, family planning and why you do or don’t want a baby. Fertility is an integral part of sexuality. A woman’s ovulatory cycle can be a fun part of your sex life.
Let me know what you think! I’d love to hear from you.
Unfortunately, the distorted body image of that has been sold to us for decades does harm. Disordered eating takes different forms. It disconnects us from the felt sense of being embodied, of being alive and sensual.
The newest eating disorder is orthorexia or a preoccupation with specialized diets. It can be linked with other eating disorders and often goes along with body dysmorphia.
Orthorexia & Social Connection
Body image and disordered eating emerges with many of my patients. What I am noticing is the shame around it about this has lifted. How refreshing! A study showed that people find support for orthorexia online. Talking about the disorder helps people find their way back to healthy eating. Social support is key to being at ease in your skin.
Information helps too. A restricted or special diet is not the end goal. With an elimination diet we can know within a month which foods are causing a problem. Usually there are just one or two. Once removed the body’s resilience kicks it up and deeper healing can happen.
Food is an important part of social connection. The health benefits of feeling relaxed and connected to a community are as important. This can be even more important, at times, than what you eat.
Women Know Their Bodies
Establishing trust with my patients is important. Many people have had negative experiences in the medical system. Their power or wishes weren’t heard or respected. Yesterday I had a young person explain that her gynaecologist wouldn’t offer a diagnostic procedure if she didn’t first take oral contraceptives (OCP). She knows that the OCP has negative health consequences for her. No other option was offered. She left feeling defeated.
Having options and feeling heard are crucial aspects of mental health and well-being. Another patient explained to me that she can’t change her diet for various reasons. I understand why. Later I asked her why she was feeling better. She shared that she had tried a few of the suggestions we had talked about. It was going ok and the results felt good.
Being in a body can feel good. Its meant to. Media has not only created a monster out of branding body shape and size. It also has hyper sexualized certain aspects of being. By doing this it has diminished the erotic nature of simply being alive. The felt sense of being alive and connected is naturally pleasurable.
I see a trends in my work and orthorexia is one of them. Yet each person I work with is unique. Having more time with patients is important. In this way we get to know one another. It can be empowering and enjoyable all at once.
As we enter a new era in Canada, it’s important to look at what’s happening in other places. Medical marijuana is legal in the majority of states in the USA. It is also legal in Australia although it is much more difficult to get. The supply is limited and there are no dispensaries. Medical marijuana in general doesn’t make it accessible to most people. Finding a doctor who will prescribe it isn’t always easy. Only a limited number of conditions are approved. What medical marijuana does is increase quality because the product is lab tested.
Recreational use is legal in Canada and in nine states of the US. This designation makes it much easier to obtain and quality can be determined by the consumer. In these states we find labs creating cleaner products that are free of fungus, pesticides, bacteria and chemicals. We can also get specific amounts of CBD:THC which allows is important for targeting specific symptoms. I’m looking forward to these kinds of labs emerging in Canada. At this time we can’t import across the border safely. It can be hit or miss what you get from a dispensary.
CBD For Pain
Medical marijuana is antispasmodic. Women who experience intractable pain during their cycle, CBD can help relax the muscles. It also dampens the communication from the pain receptors to the brain. What people report is still feeling the pain but it doesn’t bother them in the same way. This is important because the body can begin to heal when the pain response is lower.
Medical marijuana is anti-inflammatory. Therefore we see an improvement other symptoms as well. The side effects of other anti-inflammatories and pain medications can be severe. Not to mention that many of the stronger pain killers are habit forming and can result in overdose. I had a patient yesterday with a severe back spasm. The hospital denied him pain medication. NSAIDs don’t work for him because they are hard on the gut. He suffers from gastritis. He has no history of addiction to opiods. So why was he denied?
Another patient of mine had suffered with endometriosis for years. CBD was the only pain medication that helped her function. Once her pain was down she was able to make important decisions about her health, her career and her family.
Why does it work? How to take it?
The endocannabinoid system is part of our body. It’s a modulatory system that affects brain, endocrine, and immune tissues. Our body has endocannabinoid receptors. We produce chemicals naturally that are very similar to the chemical cascade of what occurs when we take CBD.
Smoking causes harm. Vaporization is a good alternative as are oils or tinctures. Suppositories can be excellent for severe abdominal and pelvic pain. Women who suffer from pain during intercourse are experiencing relief. But again we need to have standardized products. I have had two patients who experienced high anxiety and paranoia using products from a dispensary.
Endocannabinoids appears to play a very important regulatory role in the secretion of hormones related to reproductive functions and response to stress.
Women are using CBD for symptoms associated with PMS including painful periods, anxiety and insomnia. During perimenopause and menopause women are experiencing relief by using CBD particularly for insomnia and anxiety.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There are only a few small studies on the subject of use in pregnancy. The results show a propensity towards pre-term labour and delivery. They also showed use over 20 days during pregnancy may result in lower birth weight. It is difficult to do clinical trials during pregnancy but this limited evidence shows that caution is warranted. Use during breastfeeding exposes the infant so the benefits need to be weighed carefully against the benefits.
One circumstance where more research could be valuable is when nausea/vomiting during pregnancy are extreme. Given that malnutrition of both mother and fetus is a concern, careful administration of CBD likely offers less risk than other medications that are used in this circumstance.
Dr. Rachna Patel is an expert in use of medical marijuana. Her website is an excellent resource.
In the last decade, oral contraceptive usage has dropped. This suggests a collective desire to regain control of our bodies and health. Many women report headaches, weight gain, mood issues and a host of other symptoms from taking the pill.
What is replacing the Pill?
Last time I visited a sexual health clinic I was pleasantly surprised to see the fertility awareness method (FAM) included on the intake form. FAM has not always been an accepted form of contraception. This was the first time I’ve seen it alongside the IUD and hormonal birth control.
I have never taken oral contraceptives. Not once although it seems like such an easy option. My mom told me how they work. This encouraged me to explore other options. When I asked about FAM and the IUD in my 20’s I was laughed at by clinicians. That’s putting it lightly. The sexual health clinics were somewhat coercive. If I wasn’t there to get the pill why had I come? I had read Taking Charge of Your Fertility and was getting to know my body.
Research,Technology & Men
Today there are a number of new books on the subject. There are also cycle-monitoring apps and social media groups devoted to fertility awareness. Packed with research, these offer accessible information. Learning what’s normal is a big deal. Then we can get support about what’s happening with our menstrual cycles.
In the 90’s, the intrauterine device (IUD) wasn’t offered to women prior to giving birth. Now women can choose the copper or Mirena IUD whether or not they have children. These devices can be disruptive in other ways but work well for some women who want to avoid the side effects that come with the pill. The Mirena has hormones and a woman may still lose her cycle. With the copper its important to monitor your zinc: copper balance. Some women also experience gall bladder issues or other pain along with a heavier cycle.
One of the most important changes that is occurring is men taking more of an active role in fertility and contraception. I presented at a conference a couple years ago and was speaking to this. A master herbalist was following me on stage. I invited him into the question and answer portion of my talk.
Supporting women’s menstrual cycle is a way to prevent unwanted pregnancy. He explained that he knew exactly when his wife was ovulating. Instead of showing his daughters what herbs prevent pregnancy, he shows them how to normalize and track their cycle. It is encouraging to have male allies in this important work. Men are getting on board with cycle tracking. This allows women to relax and enjoy their bodies more.
‘A Women’s Health Epidemic’
This shift comes at a time when our collective hormonal health seems to be getting worse. Experts know this is largely a result of our modern lifestyle. High stress, environmental toxins like xenoestrogens and a diet high in processed food are all factors. Then there is a lack of research and focus on women’s health. Conventional medicine rarely tests hormones. Invasive interventions are offered before gathering basic information that directly relate with women’s symptoms.
“I absolutely believe we are in a women’s health epidemic,” Nicole Jardim, a New York-based hormone expert.“I believe that there are a number of different reasons why that’s occurring right now. Most of them can be attributed to the fact we live in a crazy modern society. Women have super-human expectations of themselves. Other people have them too.” This creates a lot of pressure and stress.
Jardim is a nutritionist and holistic health coach specializing in hormonal and reproductive health. She says that electronic addiction and poor nutrition wreak havoc on women’s bodies.
“Combine that with the insane stress so much of us are under, our lack of sleep and I think we have a perfect storm for hormone imbalance,” she adds.
All the Same Root Cause
Ninety percent of women experience difficulty with PMS now. Polycystic ovarian syndrome, breast cancer and difficultly with menopause are not as separate as they first seem. Underlying all of them is a lifestyle and environment that is mismatched with our bodies.
We can shift this culture by learning to adapt and care for ourselves differently. Enough meditation and rest is important. Choosing medical marijuana instead of harmful pain medications is another step we can take. Getting thorough hormone testing is also very empowering.
Research shows that young children are adversely affected by indoor lighting at night. Just one hour of bright light exposure before bedtime suppressed the children’s melatonin by 88 percent. This study isn’t even looking at electronic use, and a significant negative response was found. We know the higher intensity blue light coming from screens causes even more disruption.
Bright artificial light exposure at night suppresses melatonin production. The negative health effects include fatigue, behaviour issues, compromised immunity and elevated blood sugar.
Serotonin is the precursor to melatonin. Both help regulate inflammation and pain. Chronic inflammatory disorders including depression may be influenced by low melatonin. Melatonin is also an important antioxidant.
Amber coloured light bulbs and side lighting can be used in the evening to support melatonin. Dimmer switches can help as well. Nightlights ought to be warm coloured and used in bathrooms as opposed to bedrooms. Digital alarm clocks, and other sources of artificial light should be removed from bedrooms. Blackout curtains may be necessary. Restricting children’s use of electronic use especially before bed is important.
Parents feel more distracted parenting when using their phones. Studies show this impairs their sense of connection with their children. The group of parents who did not use phones while parenting had an increased sense of meaning from this time.
Play as an Antidote to Anxiety
Screens take away from play time, interrupt time for reflection and time for boredom which is an important aspect of creativity.
The disappearance of play is a major contributor to the growth of anxiety disorders amongst adolescents. Play helps kids learn social and emotional skills. It also develops the ability to take risks and think abstractly.
Half of children will have a mood or behaviour disorder by the time they are 18. Anxiety affects 32% of young people. Time spent on social media means a decline in contribution to their home environment and in their communities.
Cultivating the 3 ‘C’s’
Connection – cuddling, tickling, holding young children. Older children need the same connection although it may look different.
Communication – asking questions, finding out how they feel and what they spend their time doing. Ask them how screen time feels different from other activities?
Capability building – help them grow to be capable human beings who are learning skills to self-regulate.
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’ has always felt suspicious to me. Underneath there is often a simmering of unmet needs. How do we address this? Beginning with ourselves and experimenting with our own experience is what seems to work best.
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 all look at each other all the time but there is a way that a man does this to a woman that is rude given the circumstances.
I’ve learned from transgendered friends that this type of gaze is well known. Being observed and questioned about their 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. Our culture needs to shift to allow more people to be at ease.
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.
Without knowing it, glycine is helping your body everyday 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. In terms of 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. In fact it is 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 will generate less glycine. Another problem that can happen is that glycine can produce oxalates 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
Collagen helps to balance the branch chain amino acids in our bodies. This has far reaching effects. Many of you understand the importance of balancing healthy fats to ensure you get enough omega 3’s. There is a similar balance when it comes to amino acids. Most of us get too much methionine and not enough glycine. Glycine can be taken on its own or consumed in either bone broth or collagen.
The reason I love collagen is because of convenience. I make bone broth but not as often as I need to consume it. Collagen is convenient. It can be added to my morning matcha, power balls or an afternoon workout drink.
Grace & Beauty
Collagen nourishes all of our connective tissue. Its great for anyone who wants a faster recovery time post workout or is experiencing tendon or joint pain. Connective tissue includes skin, hair and nails. You may notice collagen being marketed as a beauty aid. Certainly when we are pain free and nourished, we have a healthy glow.
Adequate amounts of glycine also supports phase two of liver detoxification. This is often sluggish due to the modern lifestyle and the high stress that comes with it. We can talk about this from an evolutionary standpoint and it makes a lot of sense. We evolved eating a wide variety of foods that included some fish and animals. We valued these sources of nutrient dense food by eating everything. This gave us a balance of amino acids that nature provides.
Glycine is a neurotransmitter as well! It has the ability to be both excitatory and inhibitory, meaning it can function both to stimulate brain and nervous system activity, or to quiet it. Let’s put a few things together.
Calms the brain
Helps us sleep deeply to support repair
Supports organ function especially the liver which cleans our blood at night
Liver also regulates all emotions. When it’s not functioning optimally, we tend to feel frustrated or angry. When the liver is well we are able to grow in a direction that feels right
Grace is a feeling of ease with how life is. This comes with a happy liver
Strong Bones Long Term
There is more collagen in our bones than calcium. Remember this applies also to our skin, joints, ligaments and hair. If you haven’t taken collagen before you can try taking it up to three times a day. Ideally we’d have 30% of our protein from collagen rich foods.
Blood Sugar & Hormones
Protein can stabilize blood sugar so collagen can be an excellent way to support a higher protein intake. Collagen is a great way to increase the cascade of dopamine first thing in the morning. Patients report a huge benefit from beginning their day with a warm, protein rich breakfast.
If you aren’t a breakfast person collagen in your hot morning drink can suffice. For hormone health this is a much better choice. I often see people using caffeine and fat to suppress their normal morning appetite. It works for awhile but then hormone and lipid markers start to go out of range. Symptoms can include afternoon crashes, late night hunger, brain fog, thyroid problems and insulin resistance.
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.
To begin with, its won’t get easier because what you think you want happens. Its not about getting a raise, a new partner or losing that extra weight. Life can be effortless by focusing away from what we think and towards what is. Stability and trust grow as we meditate. Then we naturally stop bracing against reality and allow more to emerge without it overwhelming us. Life begins to unfold in a very different and really surprising way. More intimacy, focus and inspiration can occur spontaneously.
Meditation Is Provocative
Things arise when we meditate. The purpose of meditation is to notice whatever this is. Grief, numbness, agitation and a wide range of thoughts will show up. These are the places we don’t have space for in our daily lives. This is why they end up taking over at inconvenient moments.
Have you ever over-reacted? Did you take the time to figure out why?
We hold onto a vast amounts of unlived experience until we start sitting. Giving these aspects of ourselves a place to breathe, we discover a life with a lot more ease. Stronger bonds, more success and greater health are just some of the other welcome side benefits.
“But I don’t have time to meditate!”
Meditation lets us get more done by doing less. Strange, huh? Is it hard to believe that doing nothing creates more efficiency? Let me explain why and how this works. When we slow down we begin to notice how much tension there is. Bracing against reality requires a LOT of energy. When we learn to feel this, there is a natural letting it go. In its wake a sense of freedom emerges.
Not giving into every impulse and habitual tendency helps us develop stability. With this stability, life emerges with more power. Sounds pretty good huh? Well its not all good. Some of it hurts and we need to be willing to embrace this as well. The key to a full life is developing fearlessness. It takes training and a willingness to be uncomfortable. This is why its called warrior training.
“I must be doing it wrong because I don’t feel relaxed.”
When you sit down to meditate relaxation may not be what you feel. This means you are doing it right. Relaxation is only one aspect of meditation. The point is to just notice what is there.
We just closed another week long retreat. On the last day two participants spoke in the group about discovering parts of themselves they didn’t like. Through meditation they had become familiar with these forgotten parts and befriended them. This made it easy to share. I was struck by the lack of shame they expressed when speaking to a large group about these shadowy aspects.
I saw my doctor yesterday. We spoke a little about meditation. He had just read a book about it. Patients of his would benefit he said but he didn’t know how to get them started. I told him that’s my job. Within the current system, doctors and nurses don’t have the time to offer these tools. I know because I talk with them. Most of my friends who work in the system choose remote locations simply because they have more time with their patients.
My doctor and I have sons who are the same age. I told him how much more I enjoy parenting when I have meditated. I also find every other aspect of life more fulfilling including the time I have with patients. The best thing he could do, I said, is meditate himself.
The fascinating thing about being human is that we have a ripple effect that is much wider than we know. When we transform, even just a little , everyone around us feels it. What is happening is our second veil or early habitual trauma is lifting. This allows us to see, feel, sense and love more. The strength is palpable. We also can receive love more and accomplish more simply because we aren’t constantly inhibiting ourselves.
Birth control or oral contraceptive pills are given out for everything. If you have unexplained heavy cycles, skin issues or experience PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) your doctor will likely prescribe birth control. Why is this a problem? It masks what it going on underneath. Our cycles give us a ton of information about our bodies and our health.
Birth Control Messes Up the Gut
Yeast and fungal infections increase as soon as six months after beginning the pill. Often women are on the pill for many years but don’t put the two together. Chronic yeast infections lower immunity and are a stress on the body.
Other pathogenic bacteria become opportunistic and inhibit the absorption of critical nutrients like B12, vitamin K and folate. A B12 deficiency has several symptoms including:
Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
Mental problems like depression, memory loss, or behavioural changes
A B12 deficiency can result in irreversible symptoms if left untreated.
Vitamin K is responsible for transporting calcium to the bone and therefore is important for preventing osteoporosis later in life. It also plays a role in blood clotting which is one of the more serious health concerns with taking the pill.
Low folate can have a genetic factor and is implicated in:
Poor immune function; frequently getting sick
Chronic low energy
Poor digestion; issues like constipation, bloating and IBS
Developmental problems of the brain and spinal cord of the fetus during pregnancy
Canker sores in the mouth and a tender, swollen tongue
Changes in mood, including irritability
Premature gray hair
Our Hormones & Gut Work Together
Estrogens increase peristalsis (movement of the intestines) and pain sensitivity. If you have gut symptoms you may notice more cramping and diarrhea when estrogen spikes and drops. This happens twice. Once before ovulation and again before menstruation.
Progesterone, on the other hand, slows peristalsis. This is why women experience bloating with PMS when progesterone naturally increases. It also peaks in the first and third trimesters of pregnancy and is the cause of constipation. Who knew?!
When there is an imbalance in gut flora, peristalsis plays an important role in recovering. We don’t want the bacteria hanging around where they shouldn’t. This rhythmic motion ensures that bacteria don’t colonize the small intestine where we absorb our nutrients.
Why Not Test?
If you want to know why your cycle is heavy then you’ll want to test. Often estrogen dominance causes heavy cycles but so can a weak digestive system. It can and often is both. Heavy cycles quickly lead to iron deficiency, fatigue and anxiety. Testing lets us see where the imbalance is and what to do about it. By testing we also prevent other, more complex problems later.
The other option is to take the pill and hope for the best. Women are offered the pill along with an anti-depressant. With a few dietary and lifestyle tweaks a lot can normalize even before test results come in. Then we go deeper.
Sex & Other Risk Factors
Women are often told about the increased risk of blood clots and strokes when taking the pill. But these more common and chronic symptoms aren’t discussed.
If you are taking birth control to avoid pregnancy what other options are recommended?
Get to know when you ovulate. A barrier method or abstaining can work during this time. Exploring sex without intercourse during ovulation is also an option. Men who know their female partner’s cycle can take responsibility for birth control too. These men are often the best lovers. The Fem Cap and copper IUD which are excellent options for some women. The Fem Cap requires a spermicide lubricant. Find a natural option. They do exist. The copper IUD can result in a zinc-copper imbalance and gall bladder or liver issues.
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 but it may inhibit cancer cell migration and invasion.
How does CBD work?
All mammals have receptors for CBD. This is called the 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.
What forms is it taken?
CBD is available in several different forms and ratios. THC is needed to activate the CBD but it can be a minute amount. The psychoactive component does not appeal to most patients I talk to (if not all). It can be purchased 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 generally 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. This enzyme in the liver metabolizes many drugs so it may increase the effects. A medical herbalist is trained in understanding which drugs are potentially affected and its important to discuss this with your prescribing doctor.
The potential that it may increase anxiety must be taken into account as well. 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. 20:1 is more difficult to find but this is a much lower dose of THC and is indicated for neurological disorders.
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 fews years I expect to see reliable sources.
An ancestral approach is much more than a diet. Let’s start with a handful of startling facts from the industrial world:
1 out of 6 children in the industrial world has a developmental delay
an infant as young as 1 has been diagnosed and treated with an anti-psychotic medication
depression is the number one disability in adult populations
40 million have an anxiety disorder
40 thousand suicides a year in the US alone
This is crazy! A disconnect has happened. It has led to an epidemic of chronic disease that is new. The effect on our children is most concerning. How we are living is undermining our health and particularly the ability of our brain function.
What are the solutions? I asked this many years ago as I watched a friend develop schizophrenia. Diet changes help him a lot but the medications he was on were debilitating. Unfortunately meds are given more weight than diet in conventional medicine. And yes they are crucial at certain points. Limiting them is also very important.
A new patient in my clinic today was told that stress, diet and lifestyle have no role in her fibroids. Since the medication she was given didn’t work surgery has been suggested. Unfortunately these are the only tools doctors have. Patients are left knowing that changes are needed but not knowing what to do.
Intuitively I knew what was needed when I became ill and it wasn’t medication. When I found my doctor and mentor he reminded me of what I already knew. This information is in our bones. He learned medicine in an oral tradition and so he shared his knowledge in this way. We need this kind of human connection. As a First Nations man he talked about how we are all indigenous. We all come from the same earth. Tuning into our bodies and the genetic wisdom etched in our DNA is what reconnects us. Its how we heal.
So yes, this is more than a diet. The ancestral approach includes how we relate to all aspects of being human. Most people have a nature deficit. A lack of intimacy, play and pleasure have been replaced with screen time. Light exposure is raising our stress levels while good stress like exercise, learning and new experiences are being put aside. We need these homeotic stressors to adapt.
“Cultivate strength of spirit.” Leni Wylliams
Leni Wylliams was one of my dance teachers when I was young. Do you remember the words of someone you looked up to? This phrase stayed with me. Physical training and art strengthen our spirit. Being immersed in nature helps us relax into being human. Meditation allows us to live with confidence and dignity. Anything that assists you in turning towards life, even the painful parts, is what keeps you well. Life is not about avoiding the storms, but about making sure we have the resiliency to endure them.
Noticing where we draw strength from is important. What in your early years taught you to trust life? Growing up on a farm and having a brilliant, stay-at-home mother gave me a good start. At the time infant formula was being pushed and she didn’t buy into it so I was breastfed. She taught me to honour the female body and to be skeptical of oral contraception. She’s fabulous. I pursued Functional Medicine because of how she raised me. Listening to women and children is another way we can revolutionize the medical system.
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 mould illness was affecting three people. Another member of our community is literally debilitated from mould illness so it’s quite frightening for those who have been recently diagnosed.
I also have patients for whom mould 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 mould exposure.
My son developed a chronic cough after moving in a home that had some water damage. We only stayed a few months but his symptoms have persisted for 3 years. This is how real mould exposure is. There was an article published by the Harvard Gazette last month which outlines the real costs of mould 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)
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.
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.
How Common is Biotoxin Exposure?
43% of buildings examined had active water damage and 85% had past water damage. Mould grows in a day or two after water damage.
Mould 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%.
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:
Memory problems, difficulties with concentration
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
Mould 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.
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.
We all know that sitting a lot isn’t good. You may have heard the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’. Its true that blood sugar and cardiovascular risks go up significantly for people who find themselves in sedentary jobs. How can we mitigate these health complications when life requires a certain amount of work at a desk?
Continual activity throughout the day is more beneficial for improving glycemic control than a single bout of structured exercise. Just meeting recommended levels of physical activity isn’t enough. By spending the rest of the day sedentary, people are still at risk for insulin resistance leading to diabetes and a disrupted gut microbiome. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Avoid sitting for extended periods.
Engage in frequent light activity breaks throughout the day.
Set up a standing desk and alternate with sitting.
Treadmill desks can improve focus and productivity.
Ensure that your leisure activities do not involve screen time.
Skipping Meals, Caffeine and Stress
I love my work. When I have a lot to do I often can forget to stop and eat. This in combination with sitting at a desk increases my stress. On the weekend I have no trouble with blood sugar but this isn’t true when I’m sitting which confirms what the research is saying.
Packing enough of a lunch and starting my day with some movement helps tremendously. I go for a walk, a swim or do some resistance training. On my research days I also have a yoga mat out in my office so I can take creative breaks or do some push-ups. Putting on dance music can also inspire me when needed.
I hear this from many of my patients about how caffeine is a contributor to stress. The connection between memory loss, blood sugar dysregulation and caffeine addiction is very real for many people working in tech. The rise in young people with memory loss is not separate from the rise in diabetes.
Life is better when you move
Activity breaks can include taking a walk outside over the lunch hour, or simply getting up to walk to the water dispenser every hour. Include some social time as this helps to regulate our nervous system. Having a fun activity to look forward to does as well. This may be the most important part of your work day.
Of course activity breaks can’t be considered a replacement for other physical activity. Recent research recommends that activity breaks be used daily in the context of an overall healthy lifestyle. Aiming for 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise is essential as a baseline.