Love Your Lifestyle
People who engage in regular movement or meditation are less likely to get sick during the winter months. Getting outside during daylight helps your circadian rhythm and vitamin D levels. Good sleep supports immunity and prevents colds. Here are 15 ways you can sleep better this season! Prevent getting sick so you can have more time with your loved ones.
Devour These Delicious Delicacies
This is the time of year to build your defences. Boost these in your diet. Enjoy this season more!
Colostrum: By providing immune cells directly, colostrum encourages the body’s resilience to external viruses. Milk that comes from mammals during the first 72 hrs of their baby’s life that is particularly high in antibodies.
Ginger: There is plenty of scientific research supporting the use of ginger in several pathogenic conditions. This is one of the most used herbs world-wide,
Vitamin C: This powerful nutrient contributes to immune defence by supporting various cellular functions of both the innate and adaptive immune system. It protects against environmental oxidative stress. 42% of people do not eat enough Vitamin C.
Fish Oil: Much of your immune system is housed in your gut. Research indicates that DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) in fish oil helps gut immunity by supporting B cell function. DHA is also one of the major building blocks of the brain. This omega-3 fatty acid is critical at all ages of life for optimal brain health. It is preventative against SADD.
Probiotics: Probiotics are living microorganisms that are found in the gut. They play an important role in regulation of host immune response. We are learning everyday how to best target symptoms with strain specific probiotics that are more likely to adhere to the gut lining.
Zinc: This nutrient is well documented as a source of immune support. Foods that are highest in zinc include oysters, crab and red meat. Nuts, seeds, legumes, avocados, berries and apricots also have zinc.
Echinacea: The active substances that help support cellular immunity are phenols and alkylamides. You know you have a potent product if it makes your tongue tingle.
Mushrooms: These work as antioxidants and immunomodulatory. Mushrooms such as Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), Shiitake (Lentinus edodes), and Turkey tail (Colorus versicolor) protect immune cells.
Vitamin D Deserves Special Recognition
Low vitamin D levels may be one of the key reasons why acute respiratory infections are common during winter and spring. According to a recent study published in the British Medical Journal, vitamin D plays a critical role in enhancing immunity against viral, acute respiratory infections. Cod liver oil is an excellent way to increase your family’s intake of vitamin D. For prevention of diabetes type I and type II it is essential to optimize your vitamin D levels. The blood marker you can ask for from your doctor is 25-OH-D.
And Finally My Favourite: Beta Glucans
Beta glucans are highly branched polysaccharides that are non-caloric and impart an immune benefit. These prebiotic foods are mainly found in fungi (mushrooms and yeast) and grains (oats).
One study showed that 9g of beta glucans from brewer’s yeast taken for 16 weeks was able to reduce the number of cold infections by 25% and the symptom score of those who got infected by 15% (1)
Fungal beta glucans have a stronger effect on immune response. Beta glucans from oats have a more potent anti-lipidemic effect. My store is nearly stocked with some of the best formulas for supporting your health long-term. Stay tuned for its launch soon!
Glycine is the Amino Acid that Gives
Without knowing it, glycine is helping your body every day with muscle repair, cognitive function, metabolic health, and immunity. This amino acid assists in breaking down glycogen, fat and other nutrients to be used as energy at the cellular level. When it comes to aging gracefully it plays a role with the important antioxidant glutathione as well as the human growth hormone.
In the brain glycine acts as neurotransmitter in a similar way to GABA. It is in fact released with GABA to calm or inhibit parts of the central nervous system. Glycine modulates excitatory neurotransmissions as well, meaning that it can go both ways. This unique neurotransmitter helps with sleep, memory, mental performance, stress, anxiety and even severe mental illness. As a preventative measure for everything from fatigue to stroke this is a powerful supplement.
For stabilizing blood sugar research shows a significant benefit with 5 grams of glycine before each meal so 15 grams per day. This amount would be difficult to get in either bone broth or collagen. You’d need two full servings of collagen to get 5 grams of glycine. With metabolic issues sky rocketing glycine can be an excellent therapeutic aid.
Anyone who over methylates can benefit from glycine because it buffers excess methyl groups. Methylation is a biochemical process that has an impact on B vitamin status. Without adequate B vitamins the body 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
Why I Love Collagen
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.
When your thyroid labs are ‘normal’
Every week I see women who are told their thyroid labs are normal. Often there is a general sense of feeling unwell. Symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, hair loss and feeling cold are common. Being told you are fine when you know you are not is confusing and painful.
What’s being missed and why?
The number one reason is that the root cause of most thyroid disease in the developed world is not iodine deficiency. Hypothyroidism that is autoimmune in nature is called Hashimoto’s. Many are undiagnosed because it is rarely tested in conventional medicine
Secondly, lab ranges used for TSH is based on the initial research that included participants who had Hashimioto’s but they didn’t know it. This became apparent in subsequent research but the conventional markers don’t reflect this evidence.
Breaking Down Thyroid Markers
TSH: Thyroid stimulating hormone from the pituitary causes the thyroid to release T4. The functional range of TSH is anything under 2.5 or even 2. The conventional range only flags it over 4 or 5.
T4 is normal when the thyroid is doing what it needs to do. It then gets converted into T3. This happens in the liver, gut and peripheral tissues which doesn’t always happen. T3 is the metabolically active form so if the conversion doesn’t happen then we see symptoms.
Then there is total and free T4/T3. Free means its unbound from its protein carrier and is a better way to assess function.
Hormones are fat soluble and need to be attached to a protein carrier to circulate around the body. Thyroid binding globulin is required for this.
Finally thyroid antibodies indicate if there is an autoimmune reaction going on. I always include this as part of basic work up for new patients because it is so common.
Just last week a patient told me they had started taking high doses of iodine because she suspected her thyroid was off. This is not a safe approach. In fact there is evidence that iodine restriction can be helpful in Hashimoto’s. Supplementing with thyroid nutrients is not a good starting place. Food is a much safer route to take.
Iodine is crucial for thyroid function. Deficiency is much less common today due to iodized salt. However many health conscious people switch to mineral or sea salt. If this is your plan make sure you eat sea vegetables. Cod is another excellent source of iodine.
Selenium is crucial for thyroid function. But it has a u-shaped curve meaning supplementation, even small amounts in a multi-vitamin, can be problematic after awhile. Eating brazil nuts is a much better choice.
Goitres are still a problem. In some patients it may be the only indication of Hashimoto’s. This isn’t completely understood but its linked to the next section.
Stress and inflammation
Thyroid hormone is required to metabolize cortisol. The testing I do shows both free and total cortisol. If these two markers are discordant it can indicate a thyroid issue. In some cases this will show up before thyroid markers go out of range. Keep in mind that stress is a trigger for autoimmune conditions. The common colds can also make symptoms worse and thyroid symptoms can flare with any type of stress.
Patterns to Rule Out
Often a patient comes to me convinced she has a thyroid issue but in fact something else going on. With a full panel we can see what’s actually happening. Here is a summary of the patterns that can happen:
- Pituitary dysfunction: TSH is low or normal but T4 and T3 are not.
- T4 not converted to T3: this is caused by inflammation, gut issues or nutrient deficiencies.
- Thyroid binding globulin: high estrogen is common and can inhibit this transport system.
- Low TRH (Thyrotropin-releasing hormone) from hypothalamus: this is caused by leptin/insulin resistence/inflammation.
- Cellular resistance to thyroid hormone. caused by stress, cortisol and/or inflammation.
Don’t Treat Yourself
Given how thyroid is being mismanaged by our system its not unusual to see patients who are attempting to treat themselves. Ordering pharmaceuticals from Europe or trying high doses of iodine is not recommended. Get proper testing and find someone you trust to work with.
You can begin by doing an autoimmune protocol. Its worth trying this elimination diet at least once and it is something you can safely do at home. I have a course that walks you through it. I lead a group each spring or fall so people have support and somewhere to ask questions. Send me a note if you are interested.
Another therapy to consider is low dose naltrexone. I’m seeing lots of excellent results with this in patients who have been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition.
Two additional nutrients to consider getting tested are vitamin D and glutathione. These both stimulate t-regulatory cells for immune health. It can be as dangerous to have too much vitamin d as it is to have too little. This is why I suggest testing especially if you are supplementing. Enough daylight exposure is the best source along with cod liver oil at 1 tsp/day. Glutathione an important antioxidant involved with cellular energy production and immune function. It can be tested with a urine organic acids lab. Finally curcumin, in a bioactive form, combats inflammation and stimulates the immune system’s t-regulatory cells.
Fungus occurs in the body in several ways. Some are pathogenic and others are not. Why is this?
Fungi and yeast are common inhabitants of the GI tract, birth canal, mouth, skin, and lungs. Three quarters of women will have a yeast infection during their child bearing years. This doesn’t mean there is a systemic problem. Fungal overgrowth has been over-diagnosed in alternative care and under-diagnosed in conventional medicine. Part of the problem is that it doesn’t always show up on testing.
Antibiotics, Sugar & Stress
The normal balance between healthy bugs in the gut (lactobacillus, bifidobacter, e. coli) and other potentially dangerous bugs, including yeasts, bacteria, and parasites is disrupted by multiple rounds of antibiotics. The bad bugs are usually present in small numbers in the digestive system except when the good bugs are killed by antibiotics or not fed with adequate prebiotics and fibres. A contributing factor is refined sugar and processed foods fuel the overgrowth. The gut is damaged by too much stress which can’t be underestimated.
Iron Deficiency & Fatigue
Low iron levels can lead to chronic insomnia, depression, anxiety and restless legs. Treating fungal overgrowth has helped patients who have been unresponsive to iron therapy. B12 and iron are both absorbed at the terminal end of the small bowel. A compromised ileocecal valve allows the migration of bacteria and fungus from the colon upwards. This is why it is not uncommon to see gut dysbiosis resulting in low iron and B12. Keep in mind that low B12 can have irreversible effects including neurological disorders.
Back to Why?
Some people can have fungal overgrowth with no symptoms at all, whereas it severely impacts another persons health causing chronic illness. Symptoms include allergies, inflammation, joint problems, mood and brain disorders, digestive symptoms, and more.
One reason some are affected while others are not is due to the shape of the organism. A sphere-shaped candida isn’t pathogenic and the immune system ignores it. The other form of candida is a hyphae (shaped like a spear) and it can puncture the walls of cells. Zinc and iron are then stolen from these cells. The host’s immune response also goes into attack mode and autoimmune diseases begin to pop up.
Estrogens & Metabolic Issues
The majority of cases are not linked to immunocompromised people as is taught in conventional medicine. Most are people who underwent surgery or had long-term antibiotic use. A disrupted gut is implicated in both estrogen metabolism (the estrobiome) and metabolic diseases like diabetes.
Diabetes and high estrogen levels can enhance yeast colonization. Elevated estrogen triggers a decrease in the ability for the immune system to recognize and fight an invading pathogen.
Candida overgrowth becomes pathogenic under these circumstances:
- Immune-suppressing drugs
- HIV Infections
- Abdominal Surgeries
- Medical implants such as pacemakers, joint replacements, catheters, etc.
- Oral contraceptives and Estrogen HRT
- Chronic fatigue
- Loss of energy
- General malaise
- Decreased libido
- Bloating and gas
- Intestinal cramps
- Rectal itching
- Altered bowel function such as diarrhea (iv) or constipation
- Yeast infections
- Frequent bladder infections
- Interstitial cystitis (irritable bladder)
- Menstrual irregularities like pain, bleeding, etc.
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Thyroid dysfunction
Nervous System Complaints
- Inability to concentrate
Immune System Complaints
- Chemical sensitivities
- Low immune function
- Chronic yeast infections
- Chronic antibiotic use for infections or acne
- Oral birth control pill usage
- Oral steroid hormone usage
- Sensitivity to foods, chemicals, or other allergens
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Craving for foods rich in carbohydrates or yeast
- Toenail fungus
Within 24 hours of the fungal invastion, the epithelial cells start to develop a biofilm. Biofilms create a protective barrier that are resistant to both anti-fungal therapy and the immune system. They are a safe haven for bacteria like E. Coli, Klebsiella pneumonia, Enterococcus faecalis, bacteroides fragilis, and Clostridium perfringens. Staphylococcus can also be problematic.
Testing & Treatment
Garlic, tannins and polyphenals from black tea, oregano oil, saccharomyces boulardii,along with n-actyl cysteine or another biofilm disruptor are all effective. Undecylenate is another potent antifungal. Isatis tinctoria is a Chinese herb that can be a useful adjunct to treating intestinal imbalances. Citrus seed extract is full of phytochemicals with potent antimicrobial properties. Also, berberines which come from goldenseal and barberry are effective in metabolic disease. A pharmaceutical called nystatin is a safe option as well because it doesn’t damage the liver or disrupt the microbiome.
Botanicals need to be rotated and used in the right therapeutic dose. Also, supplementation with zinc and iron may be necessary. There are formulas I use depending on the presentation.
Testing for fungal infection has proven to be difficult. Often it won’t show up in blood or stool in any remarkable amount. A urine organic acids test can show patterns of dysbiosis and infection which seems to be more accurate when cross-referencing symptoms.
In Functional Medicine, we look for patterns. When using the urine organic acids test I often see an indication of oxidative stress along with a fungal infection. Glutathione is the body’s major antioxidant. Similarly, that cells are attacked and depleted of zinc and iron, glutathione can also be depleted. I often use the precursor to glutathione while treating the infection. Interestingly, n-acetyl cysteine has a dual function of being this precursor and disrupting the biofilm. Gosh, the science of medicine is cool! Using fewer supplements is ideal and layering treatment for the best long-term outcome is always my goal.
Given the trends that we see in the general population towards a sedentary lifestyle it’s not surprising our kids are less active than ever before. What are the health implications exactly? What can we do to change this?
Do It Yourself
Kids pick up on everything so when they see us trying new things, being active, and getting outside they develop their own love of movement and learning. It’s predicted that our children are likely to have shorter life spans than us unless we make these changes.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine demonstrates that high physical activity has positive effects on children’s immunity and may decrease the risk of autoimmune disease. This research has significant implications for long-term health of kids given that autoimmunity is on the rise in younger populations.
Physical activity not only reduces the risk of autoimmunity in children but also decreases cardiovascular risk factors, improves lung function, enhances motor skill development, and increases defenses against inflammatory diseases.
Nature and Play
Humans need unstructured play time, adults included. Reconnecting with nature is one way we can improve our sense of well-being and enjoy some much needed play time. Digitally detoxifying is an important aspect of this. Having a few weeks every year where screens are turned off is crucial for recalibrating.
Lifestyle Medicine Your Liver
As it warms up its easier to get outside more and get moving. Discovering ways to stay active all year long is important for many reasons. Organ health is at the top of that list. Our livers do more for us than any other organ. Caring for it can be as easy as moving everyday. They love it when we are active for a few reasons:
- Movement gets blood flowing. Our liver stores and cleans our blood. Physical movement assists this.
- The liver is affected by stress. Exercise reduces this. Endorphins are released so we feel better & can focus.
- Digestion improves. When the liver is upset you won’t digest as well. Move and you’ll enjoy your downtime more!
- Late night eating interferes with the liver’s job of cleaning the blood. Exercise improves our daytime appetite and regulates blood sugar. Eating earlier means sleep is more restful.
- Excess hormones move through the liver as do toxins. We help this process along by moving our body.
Move to Improve Gut Health
This new research shows that regular exercise changes our gut flora independent of what we eat. Specifically, it increases levels of short-chain fatty acid-producing bacteria and SCFAs. SCFAs are bacterial metabolites that serve as fuel for epithelial or cells of the colon. They also modulate the inflammatory response, and improve insulin sensitivity.
Based on these effects, aerobic exercise may be a beneficial therapy for dysbiosis, insulin resistance, and diseases associated with chronic inflammation. Engage in aerobic exercise to optimize the composition of your gut microbiota and increase circulating levels of health-promoting SCFAs.
What about Anaerobic Exercise?
Resistance training is by far the most important kind of exercise to balance hormones, increase longevity and mobility. When we build up and break-down muscle fibre there is a cascade that occurs in the body. It will literally make you look and feel younger, stronger and more at ease with life.
Endurance exercise can raise cortisol and contribute to burn out in the long term. Weight lifting, on the other hand, triggers the human growth hormone and helps us adapt better to stress. It also makes us better fat burners while reducing our risk of insulin resistance. Other hormonal imbalances also start to level out. The good news is you need to train just a few times a week to get excellent health benefits. This time commitment is much less than most aerobic exercise regimes.
A Few Excellent Botanicals for the Liver
Chinese Thorax (bupleurum falcatum)
This herb supports both phases of liver detoxification. Its used for symptoms like depression, irritability, menstrual cramps, and headaches. More serious conditions like hepatitis C and cirrhosis also respond to schisandra partially because it also modulates the immune system. Good for those with autoimmunity.
Burdock root (arctium lappa)
Burdock is anti-inflammatory and detoxifying especially for the skin. Its used to treat skin conditions such as eczema, acne, and psoriasis. As a bitter, burdock stimulates the release of bile and digestive enzymes. It is can soothe the digestive tract and also act as a laxative in a higher dose.
Dandelion root (taraxacum officinale)
Dandelion root is similar to burdock root. It is specifically indicated to assist in resolving gallstones.
Milk Thistle (silybum marianum)
Milk thistle’s active compound is silymarin. This is protective and repairs liver tissue after exposure to environmental and food toxins. It is safe while breastfeeding, and also enhances the production of milk.
Schisandra (schisandra chinensis)
Schisandra has all 5 key flavours: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and pungent. It has been in used in China for thousands of years. Its protective and supports both of the two phases of liver detoxification so is also used in treatment of Hep C. Schisandra regulates blood glucose and cholesterol. It strengthens the immune system and calms the nervous system because of its adaptogenic properties. It’s also a cough suppressant.
Turmeric extract (curcuma longa)
Turmeric is anti-inflammatory and an anti-oxidant. It restores liver tissue, increases bile production, and has mild blood thinning properties. Ingesting it with a fat will enhance your body’s ability to absorb it. Turmeric’s active component is called curcumin. It is far more potent than the whole spice, and is widely used as a supplement for inflammatory conditions. Tumeric supports the liver, mood and cardiovascular health.
Digestive health was what got me into studying medicine so when new research comes out I get really excited. Its fairly often that I have a patient with irritable bowel disease. Until now the dietary intervention that I see work clinically hasn’t had research to back it. This particular study is therefore a landmark and I definitely suggest glancing over the abstract.
New Research Backing the Autoimmune Paleo Protocol (AIP)
The participants of this study were all in an active flare of either Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. All were symptomatic and need to have received an endoscopy. Labs included tissue biopsies, gut testing to assess the changes in the microbiome and 6 weeks of an autoimmune paleo diet. This was followed by 5 weeks of maintenance and monitoring. Their medications remained unchanged during the study. Quality of life surveys were included. The average age of participants was mid 40’s and most had the disease for roughly 20 years.
The results were incredible: 73% went into clinical remission! This is based on the standard indexes for each disease taken at 3 different intervals during the research.
Average Mayo score (disease activity) in ulcerative colitis patients
- Baseline: 5.8
- Week six: 1.2
- Week eleven: 1.0
Average Harvey-Bradshaw index (disease activity) in Crohn’s disease patients:
- Baseline: 7.0
- Week six: 3.6
- Week eleven: 3.4
These results are encouraging given that most others treatments for IBD come with multiple side effects. An increased risk for infection is common. These drug have mixed results with high variability. But in this study four participants were able to discontinue some or all of their meds.
People who develop one autoimmune disease often develop more. So this kind of dietary intervention is actually saving people’s lives. I see it in my clinic and I hear the same from colleagues in Functional Medicine.
Treatment in conventional medicine usually includes suppressing the immune system with pharmaceuticals and invasive surgery which doesn’t get to the root of the disease.
What causes IBD?
Genetics: 231 single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) within 200 different genes are associated with IBD risk. But genetics only account for a small proportion of the variance in disease. In Celiac Disease only 8.2% can be linked to genetics and 13.1% in Ulcerative Colitis)
Environmental Factors: include gut dysbiosis, environmental toxins, and diet, among others play the biggest role. Increased risks from eating a Standard American Diet (SAD) are well know whereas anti-inflammatory diets like AIP are known to offer relief.
Food Sensitivities: 65% of people with IBD have known food sensitivities. Some patients may not know which foods might be harming them. An elimination diet like AIP is the gold standard for assessing food sensitivities. Alternately testing is available. For my patients I always start with an elimination diet. Once people start feeling better these dietary changes are really not as difficult to make as people think.
Making The Leap and the Commitment
When he was 3 years old, I took my son off of egg whites and gluten after he developed unrelenting eczema on his legs. Both these foods are excluded in AIP. I used both an elimination diet and serum blood testing.
His skin cleared up immediately. Yes he wants to eat gluten sometimes and he has egg whites occasionally in baked goods but I monitor him. Skin and lungs are connected and this is the first winter he hasn’t had a persistant cough. He did have an asthma attack in the fall but so far this is the only one and it wasn’t severe. He doesn’t need to be on steroids. This may be due to the herbs and other interventions I’ve implemented.
Having a limited diet is not always easy socially. We both have to make the commitment for it to work. The pay off is that he is thriving. I’m pretty convinced that if I had followed the doctor’s suggestion to use hydrocortisone on his eczema and make no diet changes he would have multiple more serious concerns to manage instead.
Conventional medicine does a great job monitoring his lungs. We are lucky to have met with an excellent pediatrician who we happen to know personally. He is curious and open about what other treatments we’ve explored. I know its not always like this. Patients tell me every week how they don’t feel this level of respect from their care provider. Functional medicine is holistic meaning it’s inclusive of allied professionals. Its also evidence-based meaning we stay on top of current research and are always looking for more effective ways of treating patients.
Looking to the future I see an integrative model of medicine where lifestyle and diet are primary interventions for chronic conditions. This kind of research is an important step in the right direction.
Cortisol is our number one stress hormone. It has far-reaching effects on our physiology and health. The wisdom of what it does can be harnessed if we understand how it works.
The number one action of cortisol is that it is anti-inflammatory when its properly regulated. If its not regulated life quality of life plummets. Insomnia, pain and weight can all increase. Energy levels, cognitive function and libido decrease. Here’s why:
- Cortisol gives us a source of immediate energy by releasing glucagon from the liver. The down side is that it can lead to high blood sugar, pre-diabetes or insulin resistance if we are chronically drawing on it. Weight gain and estrogen dominance can also result.
- Cortisol also releases stored amino acids when in fight or flight mode to meet the heightened energy requirements. The negative result of this is similar to the first one. We want to be in the rest and digest mode most of the time so we absorb amino acids from our food.
- Cortisol increases the uptake of glucose to make fat tissue. This is hard-wired in us for times of famine. Body fat stored around the abdomen and trunk is due to running on cortisol.
- Cortisol breaks down bone to provide minerals to meet the energy needs. This weakens bones leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis. This is the same effect that taking steroid medications for too long has on bone health.
- Cortisol makes up happy. There’s a heightened neural excitability. This is the good side of stress. Perceptual and neural abilities are amplified.
- Cortisol mobilizes the immune system. More antibodies are produced when we are stressed. The body is ready to deal with injury. The negative side is that modern-day stressors are different from those of our ancestors. Sitting in traffic is stressful but we are not likely to get a sprained ankle the way we would running from a tiger.
- Cortisol increases our circulating neutrophils. Our immune systems are often in a state of hyper reactivity. Meditation trains us so we can come down.
- Our resources are diverted. T cells and lymphocyte production changes. This is why we get sick when we are stressed or when a period of high stress ends.
- Cortisol changes the thyroid function especially the conversion of T4-T3. When cortisol increases, thyroid hormone decreases. This is an attempt to maintain homeostasis.. Thyroid issues will develop when stress goes on for long enough. This is a major contributor to why we have the current epidemic of thyroid disease.
- Cortisol changes secretory IgA. Deactivates all the immune functions that aren’t needed for flight and fight mode. Mucosal tissues are weakened. Low grade infection can become chronic. Food reactions develop.
Women, Mental Health and Thyroid
In one study of depression where medication didn’t help, fifty percent of patients improved once their thyroid was treated. The root cause of anxiety, panic, PMS, sexual dysfunction and chronic fatigue can involve impaired thyroid function.
In another study, 75% of women with clinically reported PMS tested positive for hypothyroid. When this was treated, 60% enjoyed a complete resolution of associated symptoms.
Two types of thyroid problems
The first is a supply problem. Thyroid hormone is not producing enough to meet the needs of the body. A marker called TSH or thyroid stimulating hormone will be high. The conventional range considers anything over 4.5 to be a concern. This is based on research that included both diagnosed and undiagnosed thyroid patients. More recent studies removed thyroid patients and a more accurate range has been established at 2.0 – 2.5.
The second problem is a conversion or uptake problem. TSH may be normal in this case. It will stimulate the release of T4 which is the inactive form of the hormone. T4 needs to be converted to T3 to be used in the body. Reverse T3 (rT3) is another marker. If there is significant inflammation or too much synthetic hormone replacement this marker can be high. The body can’t use rT3.
Stress and Inflammation
Women are more likely to develop thyroid issues. Pregnancy is the most common onset. Other major life events that increase stress and inflammation can also be triggers. Remember that the stress hormone cortisol helps reduce inflammation when its regulated well. In chronic illness, gut infection, heavy metal toxicity or food allergies cortisol may be dysregulated. One night of poor sleep can increase inflammation. Any inflammation can impair thyroid conversion. So can low testosterone.
Testing for thyroid antibodies is rarely done in conventional medicine. This is very unfortunate because over 80% of hypothyroid cases are autoimmune. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by an autoimmune response. This is called Graves disease. Often one autoimmune disease will occur with another exacerbating symptoms. For this reason alone it is important to catch the autoimmune component. Preventing further disease processes from developing and paying attention to early warning signs saves both the patient and the system resources.
Specific nutrients are crucial for thyroid health include iodine and selenium. Its safest to get these from food sources. Iodine can be found in kelp and bladderwrack. It works synergistically with selenium and the daily intake should be 800 mcg. Selenium reduces TPO (the antibody production in Hashimoto’s). It is also needed for conversion. Two brazil nuts per day gives an adequate amount. Supplementing selenium should be done with caution and only as a short term measure at 200 mcg.
A synthetic form of T4 is what is commonly prescribed in cases of hypothyroid. This replacement therapy doesn’t always work. In some cases can make symptoms worse and in others the dose continues to be increased. You may not need T4 and it may be impacting thyroid hormone conversion negatively. Decreasing T4 & rT3 can be achieved by changing the medication to desiccated thyroid or by using T3 if this is what’s needed. What I like about desiccated thyroid is it has been around as a treatment for over a hundred years. It includes T4, T3, T2, T1 and calcitonin. Our Canadian brand ERFA is very good.
8 Steps You Can Take For Your Mental Health and Thyroid
1. Reduce immune response to food. Support detoxification pathways by switching from a standard diet to an anti-inflammatory one.
2. Optimize Vitamins B2, B12, C, A, D, Zinc, Magnesium and Iron. Testing is important.
3. Autoimmune diet: remove nightshades, eggs, nuts and seeds to see if reaction.
4. Reduce the negative effects of goitrogens and nitriles by cooking them.
5. Ensure a moderate carb diet. Nutraceutical vitamin and herbal support.
6. Manage stress, sleep and rest more.
7. Optimize blood sugar.
8. Increase the amount of movement, play and pleasure in your life.
Talk to your healthcare provider about these:
2. Commiphora mukul (Guggul): increases T3 levels & lowers when too high
3. Curcumin, boswellia, EPA/DHA, pro and prebiotics for inflammation and gut health
4. Coleus forskohlii: stimulates thyroid secretion
5. Iris versicolor (blue flag): stimulates glandular secretion & lymphatic waste removal
6. LDN for autoimmunity: start with 0.5 g and titrate up to 1-4.5 g.
Digestive distress is real. It can be debilitating and expensive. Irritable bowel syndrome is the second cause of missed work days. In the U.S. over 30 billion dollars in medical costs each year are spent on IBS (irritable bowel syndrome). The worst part is this leads to little or no relief. Gastrointestinal distress of this nature is an area widely misunderstood by our current medical model and often dismissed.
Chronic bloating, pain, poor cognitive function and a loss of control over daily activities are symptoms people are told to just live with. Acute episodes that require hospitalization are common. In recent research it was determined that the quality of life for those with chronic digestive issues is lower than those suffering from end stage kidney disease or type 2 diabetes. This is a serious problem.
The diagnosis of IBS means very little in fact. Patients receive no support or reliable treatment in most cases. The antibiotics that are used are not effective and I’ll explain why in a moment. In some cases patients are told its in their head and given antidepressants or antispasmodics. This is very unfortunate as proper diagnosis and treatment are available. Post infectious IBS is usually results in small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). We use a breath test to diagnose. Incredible research is being done to develop effective medication. Its exciting that botanicals are being used.
A new therapy called Atrantil is showing excellent results. Atrantil can be used in cases of IBS with constipation and methane predominant SIBO. It was developed by a gastroenterologist named Dr. Kenneth Brown in San Antonio, Texas. After a year of use, it is receiving good reviews from patients and clinicians alike. This pharmaceutical is made from three botanicals, including peppermint leaf and two polyphenol molecules. One is from a very old tree that has remarkable resistance to fungus and archaeal bacteria that’s found in SIBO. The other is a flavonoid that soaks up hydrogen and starves the archaebacteria. In a recent interview Dr. Brown talked about his own use of Atrantil where he is seeing results he never expected and can’t yet explain.
Bacteria should not be in the small intestine at all in fact. Bacterial overgrowth in the small bowel is called SIBO. When micro organisms colonize in this area, it can be difficult to get rid of them. A single bout of food poisoning can trigger SIBO but there are many causes. Usually the infection has multiple contributing factors including trauma/shock from surgery or long-term antibiotic use. Diet plays a role but diet alone can not resolve an infection. To make matters worse, reinfection is common.
These bacteria break down starchy foods before we can and produce hydrogen and methane as by-products. These byproducts are what cause the discomfort. A breath test allows us to diagnose SIBO. Methane predominant SIBO is associated with constipation. The specific bacteria that produce methane, archaebacteria, are in a class of their own. They are a very old organism and are resistant to all modern-day antibiotics. Atrantil gives us an effective way of treating methane predominant SIBO.
Until now Xifaxan was the pharmaceutical showing the best success in SIBO. This is largely because it does not get absorbed into the intestine and therefore can work on the affected area. A side benefit is that it does not disrupt the microbiota so the good bacteria stay intact. However it was not very effective in IBS-C or methane dominant SIBO which usually results in constipation. Xifaxan works by binding to the bacteria’s RNA polymerase. This stops it from producing a protein. Whereas Atrantil weakens the wall of the methane producing bacteria.
Keep in mind that IBS is not a real diagnose but has real symptoms. Acute digestive symptoms often develop into SIBO or other gastrointestinal infection. This can be diagnosed and therefore treated effectively. I often recommend botanicals first and turn to pharmaceuticals if botanicals alone are not enough. With Atrantil we are getting both.
Depression, anxiety, joint pain and autoimmune diseases are associated with chronic digestive distress. Systemic inflammation can result from leaky gut or what is called intestinal permeability. These symptoms develop slowly and become chronic. A patient of mine this week heard from her doctor that she’s just getting older. This particular patient happens to be an ex-National athlete. Yes we all age but we know aging doesn’t have to mean low quality of life.
Step one: Gluten is associated with autoimmune disorders because of a protein called zonulin. Molecules that shouldn’t to enter the bloodstream get through because of zonulin. This triggers an immune response that can never fully resolve. Remove gluten. I offer the most comprehensive lab test on gluten. It only just became available in Canada this year.
Step two: Cortisol is anti-inflammatory and therefore important in any immune response. If stress management is not central to treatment this hormone will have a negative impact on the thyroid especially if it is under an autoimmune attack. Cortisol spikes at night and may cause night hunger. A high protein snack before bed can help.
Step three: Having sufficient iodine in the diet is critical. Often 800 mcg of iodine is suggested for a period of time. Brazil nuts are high in selenium as is fish. Kelp and bladderwrack are good sources for iodine. Eating a variety of sea vegetables is good.
Step four: Add 300-500 mg magnesium glycinate at night is helpful for a variety of reasons including metabolic.
Step five: Dietary advice includes reducing nitriles and goitrogenic foods. Cooking these reduces the negative effects.
Step six: A moderate carbohydrate diet (around 30% of total calorie intake) is recommended as thyroid hormone conversion requires adequate amounts.
Step seven: Studies shows diabetics often have thyroid disorders. This is a bidirectional relationship, meaning thyroid disorders increase blood sugar problems and vice versa. Chronically high blood sugar leads to insulin resistance and inflammation. Repeated insulin surges increase the destruction of thyroid gland.
Step eight: Improving gut health is critical for all forms of thyroid disease. An autoimmune protocol is a starting place with individual variation that is found by experimenting. Thyroid hormones affect the tight junctions of small intestine and stomach. lipopolysaccharides, an endotoxin from the cell walls of pathogenic bacteria, can escape the gut and trigger an autoimmune reaction. This leads to inflammation and a decrease in thyroid hormone production. I recommend sweet potatoes, yams, plantains, taro, yuca, and winter squashes for adequate starches with fermented veggies as a condiment. A wide variety of other proteins, fats and plants can be eaten. Removing nightshades, eggs, nuts and seed is a standard autoimmune protocol as many react to these foods.
Step nine: Selenium deficiency is common and more so with those with gut issues and inflammation. Adequate selenium protects against the effects of iodine toxicity. Selenium is needed for the conversion of T4 to T3. Supplementation has been shown to reduce TPO antibodies and inflammatory activity Hashimoto’s.
Step ten: The cycle of low blood sugar leading to increased cortisol from the adrenal glands in order to promote glucose production. Cortisol is a glucocorticoids meaning that its role is to increase the amount of glucose available to the brain and muscles. Its will curb digestion, growth, and reproduction in order to do this. Continual release of cortisol can suppress the pituitary and therefore thyroid hormone output. Repeated cortisol release caused by episodes of low blood sugar can suppress pituitary function and reduce thyroid hormone output. Hypothyroidism will affect metabolic rate by reducing glucose sensitivity. Hypoglycemia can result and trigger more cortisol and this is a vicious cycle. Stress reduction is a very important part of treatment. Stress often induces and can exacerbate autoimmune disease, insulin-resistant hormone imbalance, and reduce total thyroid hormone output. It increases inflammation, decreases T4 to T3 conversion and weakens the immune barriers in the gut and brain. Stress reduces sensitivity to thyroid receptors leading to thyroid resistance. It also impairs estrogen clearance and increases thyroid-binding globulin levels. You can see why blood sugar and cortisol need to be understood in relation to one another especially when looking at thyroid hormone.
The key nutrients for thyroid health are iodine and selenium. It is best to get both of these nutrients from food sources. Many people have removed iodized salt from their diet and there are very few other sources that are part of the Standard North American Diet. Interestingly, dairy has iodine in it due to the cleaning agent used on the equipment that processes dairy. This has been shown to be a primary iodine source in today’s population. Cod is also particularly high. Seaweeds are by far the highest source of iodine however nori is not as high but consumed the most. Integrating kelp, kombu, arame, wakame and other sea vegetables is an excellent way to optimize iodine.
Selenium is found in most multi-vitamins and this is part of why I don’t recommend use of these. Supplementing selenium can be dangerous long-term due to toxicity. You can get your levels checked and maintain adequate selenium through eating 1-2 brazil nuts daily. Other sources are fish/shellfish, kidney, mushrooms, meat and poultry.
Adequate amounts of zinc, magnesium, vitamin A, C, D, B12 and B2 are also crucial for proper function. Magnesium glycinate is a good form and safe to supplement. Cod liver oil is a good way to get enough bioavailable vitamin A and D along with adequate sunlight exposure. omnivores will likely get enough B12 but it’s always good to check as health conditions related to low B12 can be debilitating. Ensuring iron ranges are optimal is also important as this is often too low but also can be too high. I check a number of markers beyond hemoglobin and ferritin in order to get an accurate iron profile. Clams are highest in iron and magnesium. Zinc can be found in oysters, liver, crab, beef and lobster. Vitamin C is highest in red pepper, kiwi and citrus fruits.
Avoiding goitrogens will optimize thyroid health and iodine levels. The best practice is to simply limit raw goitrogens to a couple servings per week. Cooking these foods reduces the harm for example cooking yucca reduces goitrogens by 90%. Cooking kale reduces them by 33%. Many of these foods have high nutrient densities so we don’t want to remove them completely. nitriles also have an effect on the thyroid. A great example of this is sauerkraut reduces nitriles but is cabbage which is a goitrogen. The benefits of raw sauerkraut outweighs the risk in this case and this is partially because nitriles are more of a concern than goitrogens.
As you can see there are grey areas but keeping it as simple is key. Except for sauerkraut keep steaming and cooking these foods. In another article I’ll talk more about the autoimmune diet, which in many cases is key to recovering vitality.
An anti-inflammatory diet is important for anyone concerned with thyroid health. This is because 85% thyroid disease is autoimmune. Inflammation plays a role in the destruction of the thyroid gland in cases of autoimmunity. In low T3 syndrome we know that chronic inflammation is a major contributor as well. I talk about this and other factors like poor gut health, high iron, nutrient deficiencies and low testosterone in another article.
Pregnancy is an excellent time to optimize diet and lifestyle for thyroid health because onset of thyroid disease post-partum is so common. Removing foods like vegetable oils, gluten, grains, sugar and processed foods is a good starting place. Adding more whole foods like meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds is excellent. Calories should not be restricted especially in pregnancy. This diet can be followed for thirty days to reset the body into knowing what it means to feel full and satisfied from eating nutrient dense foods. I walk patients through this all the time and have an online course called Baseline to support the process.
Keep in mind that a very low carbohydrate diet can inhibit thyroid conversion of T4 to T3. At least 30 percent of calories can come from starchy vegetables, fruits and gluten-free grains if these are tolerated. Keep in mind that gluten has a protein called zonulin. We know this increases intestinal permeability and leads to autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Keep in mind that for athletes and those with high levels of activity at work or in the home a higher carbohydrate diet is appropriate. Too much exercise can stress the thyroid as well. Incorporate times of rest and down time into your lifestyle. Conversely if you have a job where you sit a lot ensure enough activity as not enough movement, play and pleasure also impacts the thyroid negatively.
Patients with inflammation or those who are motivated to optimize their health are also asked to eat 4-5 servings of cold-water fatty fish per week. This works out to about a pound of salmon, sardines, trout, mackerel, snapper and cod. Canned, fresh or smoked are all good options. Variety is best in nearly all of our food choices. Please keep in mind that the research supports the safety of eating these fish due to the balance of selenium to mercury naturally occurring in them.
This brings us to specific nutrients to monitor in thyroid conditions. Selenium is one and is found in brazil nuts, fish/shellfish, kidneys, mushrooms and meat. Two brazil nuts per day is enough and much safer than supplementing especially long-term. Iodine is highest in seaweeds including kelp, kombu, hijiki, wakame and less so in nori. Fish, poultry, dairy, cranberries and potatoes are other sources.
Sufficient iodine minimizes the effect of goitrogens. These are foods that need to be limited in thyroid disease and cooked most of the time. I had a patient recently with Hashimoto’s who was having a green smoothie daily with kale. Kale is high in goitrogens and should be at least steamed. Collards, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, sweet potato, millet, soy and yucca all fall into this category.
Fermented foods like sauerkraut support the gut microbiome. This is very much linked to thyroid health. The live organisms and prebiotic fibers are effective at supporting long-term gut health as are a variety probiotic strains.
Last but not least is stress management. Meditation, journaling, yoga, breath work and other daily activities are known to reduce the negative effects of stress. The most pervasive and damaging factor in autoimmune and thyroid conditions may in fact be stress. Commit to making changes and get support. This factor alone can have an enormous impact on your health long-term.
When you skip a meal or eat inconsistently in other ways your body has to compensate. Several hormones are involved including insulin, cortisol and thyroid. Cortisol has an important anti-inflammatory function. Insulin is involved and works hard to stabilize the metabolism. Thyroid hormone is affected because the conversion of T4 to T3 depends on a constant source of carbohydrate. Receptors for thyroid are found in most tissues highlighting how crucial it is for many physiological functions. You can see why clinically, one of the first layers I look at is stabilizing blood sugar especially if there is thyroid or other endocrine involvement.
Pain and Hunger
Cortisol is anti-inflammatory. If it is overused cellular resistance can happen which can lead to systemic inflammation or increased pain in the body. If there is an underlying autoimmune condition it is likely to worsen as the tissues that are under attack have less protection. Cortisol spikes at night and may be the cause of recurrent night hunger. A high protein snack before bed can be helpful for both this and insomnia. Adaptogens like ashwaghandha normalize cortisol. However this particular one is a nightshade which is contraindicated where autoimmunity is present.
Testing cortisol and hormone metabolites can be very helpful but blood sugar and gut health have to be addressed. Creating a stable baseline is the starting place. Hormones will sometimes regulate themselves once there’s new baseline. If this doesn’t happen then we have other places to look. I find this process to be empowering process for patients because they are engaged in treatment on a day to day basis that creates change.
Carb Tolerance: Learn to moniter your glucose
Glucose levels can stay high or drop too low. In reactive hypoglycemia there is an excess release of insulin resulting in an intense blood sugar crash. A higher protein diet can help stabilize blood sugar. For those with metabolic issues, a Paleo-type diet is recommended. Some will do better on a lower-carb version of this diet, although that’s not always necessary depending on the individual. As I mentioned earlier thyroid requires a more constant source of carbohydrate.
Studies show an increased frequency of thyroid disorders in diabetics. This is a bidirectional problem, meaning thyroid disorders increase the frequency of metabolic problems, and metabolic problems increase the frequency of thyroid disorders. Metabolic syndrome is associated with inflammation, insulin resistance and hormonal imbalances.
Chronically high blood sugar leads to insulin resistance and inflammation; repeated insulin surges increase the destruction of thyroid gland in autoimmune thyroid disease.
There are a couple botanical supplements that support blood sugar regulation. Eating an autoimmune diet low in goitragens and nitrils is a good starting place. Looking at iodine levels is also relevant.
An autoimmune diet
Improving gut health is key for all autoimmune and gastrointestinal disorders including leaky gut. Thyroid hormones affect the tight junctions and of the small intestine and stomach. Lipopolysaccharide is an endotoxin that comes from pathogenic bacteria. In leaky gut it can escape and trigger autoimmune reactions and inflammation.
Adequate intake of sea vegetables along with fish or brazil nuts offers the iodine and selenium needed to support thyroid function. Sweet potatoes are goitrogenic when raw but cooking them makes them a safe choice along with yams, plantains, taro, yuca, and squash. Fermented veggies are encouraged on a daily basis in small amounts. They can be goitrogenic in high amounts.
The autoimmune diet requires removing a few foods like nightshades, nuts/seeds and eggs in order to seed if the body is reacting to these as they are common allergens.
The cycle: Blood Sugar, HPA Axis and Cortisol
Chronically low blood sugar levels lead to increased cortisol as I mentioned at the beginning of this article. Cortisol is a glucocorticoid meaning its job is to increase the glucose so the brain and muscles have what they need. It also slows digestion, growth, and reproduction meaning prolonged or repeated surges undermine these functions. Interestingly thyroid hormone is required to help clear cortisol metabolites.
Diet, exercise, supplements, and hormone replacement cannot overcome stress-induced hormonal imbalance although each of these do play a role. Stress management is the central player. Stress can impair estrogen clearance, weaken immune barriers in the gut, brain and lungs and create cellular resistance as we talked about.
Stress management is going to be the focus of many articles to come. Using an evolutionary framework is incredibly powerful in terms of reconnecting with our genetic legacy of adapting to new environments. Today’s world requires that we remember how to live as our ancestors did. Being able to regulate stress is part of our birthright.
When the Body Speaks
The body generally tells us what we need to know. Often this occurs more readily when we are injured or sick. These interruptions to our daily life force us to tune in and listen to the body. In particular when we slow down our bodies will sync up or entrain to the part of us that is healthy. This mechanism is built-in to our genetics and is similar to what happens between mother and child or doctor and patient. Next time you are in pain notice what happens when your body is still and you will likely find that the inner physician speaks up.
Is it possible to Age Gracefully?
Research has proven a connection between mind and body. Harnessing this understanding along with our genetic history can show us how to live more fully. For two million years of our evolution we lived embedded in our surroundings. Only in the last 0.5% of this time have adapted to agriculture and our current system of industrial food systems accounts for a tiny portion of this. Archaeology indicates that bone health decreased as people began to homestead. The explosion of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other chronic illness has specifically coincided with modern life. There is a mismatch between how we are genetically adapted to live and the age of agriculture. To live a long, healthy life and age gracefully we can simply look to our ancestors.
What to Eat: it can be Simple
We know that our ancestors ate a wide variety of foods which is what I encourage my patients to do. Enjoy a range of macronutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Choose foods with vivid colours and revel in the ritual of preparation. Each person has unique needs which change throughout a life span. What is right for you can be discovered through experimentation although specific diagnosis or guidance can be important at times. For example anyone with thyroid imbalances do better with a more consistent source of carbohydrates which will assist with the conversion of the T4 to T3. Or, for example, anyone experiencing hypoglycemia needs to focus more on protein and to ensure fats are consumed with fruit to reduce blood sugar spikes as well as increase absorption.
Four Steps You Can Take
Once your metabolism is relatively stable it becomes easier to experiment because the need to eat is less urgent. This is how our bodies are meant to function. If you need support to reach this place there are some simple steps that can be taken. First, focus on foods that with high levels of bioavailable nutrients and those that actually support the good digestive bacteria. Microbiota accessible carbs are best and what it basically comes down to is eating more vegetables; for example root vegetables are packed with nutrients that are easily assimilated. Second, remove any foods that hurt your gut lining especially refined carbs and any known allergens. Third, stabilize your blood sugar which will reduce your risk of developing diabetes and dementia later in life. Finally, add extra healthy fats to increase the assimilation of micronutrients. A couple of examples are beta carotene and lycopene which absorb up to eighteen times more so eat your carrots with butter and add a dose of olive oil to your tomato sauce.
Facts About Fat, Protein and Micronutrients
Furthermore it is commonly understood that iron is made bioavailable by adding vitamin c but less known that non-animal sources are only 2-20% available partially due to phytate and oxalates reducing absorption. This accounts for why up to 85% of vegetarians are deficient in this essential nutrient. Other nutrients that are often very low are vitamin D and E, B 6, zinc, calcium and magnesium. This is because animal protein is the most nutrient dense and bioavailable source of many micronutrients. Small amounts of well-sourced meat is a shift from the Standard North American diet and one worth taking. I encourage patients to view meat as a medicine and honour it in the way our ancestors did.
Fish and eggs are also foods we can look to as medicinal. Soft yolks are great sources of choline and lecithin that become more available once you add butter or any other fat. Fish is our only bioavailable source of the essential long chain fatty acids DHA and EPA. Flax and hemp oil contains ALA which is the precursor to these omega 3’s but are lacking the full benefit. Enjoy a wide range of full fats and oils including avocado, macadamia, olive, palm, butter, and lard while avoiding all industrial seed oils including canola, safflower, sunflower etc. Seed oils and refined carbohydrates make up for over 50% of the Standard North American Diet and is linked to nutrient deficiency, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Fat soluble vitamins like K2 have been proven to reduce heart disease and coronary calcification. When you consider that one in four people is affected by heart disease it is worth ensuring that you are getting enough of this fat soluble vitamin.
I’ll be writing more about fats and oils soon. Please send in any questions or comments.