If you are experiencing symptoms on a ketogenic diet then it may be solved by increasing your electrolyte intake. As the body begins to burn fat instead of glucose for energy there can be rapid water loss. With this we can also lose a lot of salt and minerals. Our nutrient intake will likely change as well. With keto there is less of a need for some nutrients but others are essential. For certain health conditions it can be helpful to track nutrients especially at the beginning or if symptoms arise. I’ll go over what to watch for with keto and some of the most common imbalances I see.
Mental Clarity: the Gut-Brain Axis
Healthy fats are excellent for brain health. One of the benefits of keto is that people do feel a reduction in brain fog. Before keto there can be a build up of endotoxins in our body. If there is dysbiosis in the gut these toxins get released each time we eat. Toxins like lipopolysaccharide (LPS) begin to circulate. The body responds by launching an inflammatory response.
The gut is meant to be a friendly place so when chronic inflammation occurs in there nothing really works. Nutrient absorption, gut lining integrity and post-biotic production of short-chain fatty acids are inhibited. But keto takes out many of the foods that irritate the gut and intermittent fasting helps to stave off these toxins. This reduces the inflammatory response and things calm down. And certain probiotic strains can actually be used to kill off some of these endotoxins.
Having variety in the types of fats you eat is important. EPA and DHA are especially important for brain health. If there is a lot of LPS then olive oil is better than coconut oil. Variety in fats is helpful for maintaining a diverse gut microbiome. Carb cycling using resistant starches, like cooked and cooled white rice or potatoes, also feeds the beneficial bacteria. Prebiotics do this as well and I strongly suggest using these as part of your supplement plan during keto.
Fats also help with absorption of nutrients. But by far the most benefit we see is the regulation of metabolism and a reduction in insulin resistance. This calms cortisol and also reduces inflammation. Stable blood sugar helps with energy, mental clarity and focus. So let’s talk a little more about nutrients.
Eat More of These & Less of These
As a fat burner you may need less vitamin C because glucose competes with vitamin C. Similarly the metabolic pathways for carbohydrates require more B vitamins. That means in a lower carb state the need for certain b vitamins will be less.
However, many people who eat keto are consuming significantly less nutrients. The way around this is to eat your way into keto with lots of low carb nutrient dense foods. Examples of these include broccoli, green onion, asparagus, kale, spinach and carrots. As long as you are tracking your protein intake and getting enough of grass-fed meats, wild fish and some shellfish or organ meats you should be fine. An app like cronometer is excellent for tracking micro nutrients as well as making sure your carb count is low.
What About Nuts, Seeds & Dairy
Well these can be good for some people and bad for others. Anyone with an autoimmune conditions needs to check if their symptoms become worse with these. Lectins can be irritating to the gut and lactose or casein in dairy is a common, cross-reactive allergen.
On the up-side, these are nutrient dense foods full of good fats. Some nuts can also be higher in carbohydrate so be cautious. Dairy is highly palatable so it is easy to overeat and may raise LDL (low density lipoprotein). It’s really meant to be a side-note or a condiment type of food.
Electrolytes & Salts
If keto is working well for you in general but some symptoms have popped up then increase your electrolytes. Keto flu is the term given to describe feeling yucky during the adaptive phase. Symptoms that you haven’t had for awhile can also emerge. People with thyroid or adrenal issues may see an exacerbation in symptoms. While electrolytes won’t fix these issues, it may curb a flare. Bone broth is a good source of electrolytes as long as you tolerate histamines & glutamate.
Ensure that your salt intake is also adequate. Sodium follows a U-shaped curve and most people are scared to reach the high end but the slope is much steeper at the low end. Any salt is ok to use as long as your electrolytes have a good profile of nutrients. I prefer pink salt in my kitchen and it could be because it’s pink!
Why You May Want to Think Twice About Keto
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.
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!
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.
Seasonal Affective Disorder is Real
Millions of people experience the winter blues. This type of depression is known as SADD. There are several interventions that can help and even reverse SADD. Winter is an excellent time to get extra support either from a therapist, a peer group or a functional medicine practitioner who can help optimize your health.
7 Tips You Can Begin Now
Let me know which of these helps you the most.
- Get outside between 10 am and 2 pm everyday. Bright light exposure triggers our brain and endocrine system creating a cascade that helps your body thrive. Aim for at least 20 – 30 minutes everyday. It doesn’t have to be sunny out to get the benefit of midday exposure to daylight.
- A lower carbohydrate diet makes sense in the winter because we generally slow down a bit. People who experience SADD tend to feel better when they focus on other foods in the winter. Simply focusing on microbiota accessible carbs (MAC’s) supports both gut health and mood. These come in the form of roots and tubers. They are the traditional foods we would gather in the fall and store in the winter.
- Eat Fish. The DHA in fish supports healthy brain function whereas the EPA keeps inflammation down. Research shows that consuming fish several times a week is better in the long-term than supplementing with fish oil. Just eat real food and take cod liver oil as an excellent source of Vitamin D.
- Tend to your gut health. The gut-brain axis is key. Brain-fog is usually caused by an imbalance in the gut. Eat fermentable fibers and avoid alcohol as it can increase intestinal permeability. This can set off an immune response and increase inflammation which contributes to depression.
- Neurotransmitters are produced in the gut. Depending on what kind of depression your experience you may benefit from specific dietary or supplement support while treating the gut. Melatonin is affected adversely by bright light at night. It works with serotonin to regulate the sleep/wake cycle.
- Get moving. Exercise feels good. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters that we know increases when we move. Choose activities that you enjoy and try new ones that are more suited for the season.
- Reflect. The winter is an excellent time to cultivate creativity and develop a gratitude or meditation practice. Enjoy warm drinks, cozy fires and enough social time to balance out the stillness.
Lab Tests Can Provide Important Insight for Treatment
For my patients, I want to see their vitamin D status especially if they have been supplementing. This is a standard blood test. Vitamin D can be problematic if too high or too low. I also like to see a urine organic acids test to see how neurotransmitter production is functioning. Basic gut testing always helps whether or not there are gut symptoms. Cortisol, melatonin and inflammatory markers like cross-reactive protein also give important insight when it comes to treating the root cause of depression.
Light Disrupts Sleep
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.
Two references that may be of interest: The Good News About Bad Behavior & Playborhood
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.
Glycine is the Amino Acid that Gives
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
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.
Sleep is the cornerstone of health. Everything from immune function to mood & behaviour issues are all linked with poor sleep habits. Researchers are learning so much from experimenting with how sleep deprivation inhibits our ability to thrive.
Let’s get your sleep dialed so you can live well. Here are some of the facts that will help you do it.
Duration & Timing of Sleep
Duration is how long you sleep. Research shows that we need between 7-9 hours each night for optimal health. You’ll need to be in bed a little longer to achieve this because we all need transition time.
Timing is when you sleep. Sleeping during the day is very hard on the body. Natural light, temperature and seasonal changes all relate with timing.
The habits of three hunter-gatherer groups were recently studied. They went to bed, on average, 3.5 hours after sunset. Were they in front of screens during this time? Of course not. They were dancing, telling stories and singing. What’s very interesting is like us parents, they woke before sunrise. Why?
Temperature is a big deal when it comes to sleep
People wake up when temperature rises and this often happens prior to sunrise.
Having a hot bath before bed raises your temperature but when you get out you cool down rapidly. In fact your core temperature cools down and this can make you drowsy.
Alcohol raises your body temperature so you’ll often sleep worse after a drink. NSAIDs like tylenol drop temperature slightly but I don’t recommend using this as a sleep aid.
The Time You Spend in Bed
Allowing yourself a sleep period of 8 hours ensures that you’ll get the rest you need. How long we sleep varies but extending the time you have in bed means you’ll more likely get what you need. Keep in mind that recovery from a work out or an infection requires longer rest periods.
What is fascinating is that the tribes that were studied would be asleep for an average of 6 hours every night but in bed for 8 hours. So this brings us to why an extended sleep period is so effective for increasing sleep satisfaction.
This is the feeling of being rested, energetic and alert when you wake up. You may need even more sleep if you are using your brain a lot or want to optimize memory. This is why college students need almost as much as infants or toddlers.
The hunter-gatherer people who were studied were not affected by light exposure. Obviously this is because they have a consistent environment without artificial light. There is no jet lag and fewer changes in general.
Blue light at night, shifts in time zones and more stimulus at the wrong times all have an effect. Lack of daytime light exposure is a major contributor to circadian disruption. We all need at least 30 min of outdoor day light to set our clock. With people working indoors all day this is an important factor to address. In terms of productivity, cutting blue light during the day can be helpful. We are alerted constantly when exposed to blue light & don’t perform as well. Wearing orange tinted glasses is calming. It can help with focus. Take a walk outside at lunchtime will do the same thing.
Light is measured in lux. Although devices don’t have a high output most people hold their device too close. I’ve thought about how as a kid I never was allowed to sit that close to a television.
The intensity of light exposure is quadrupled if your device is a foot away versus two feet away. This is because of how directly the light penetrates into your eyes.
All Kindle type apps are now backlit. This can create a similar circadian disruption especially if you don’t get daytime light exposure & have your ebook lit up at bedtime.
Nature, distance & movement
Being in nature regularly is important too. Looking at a body of water, a field or the forest uses different parts of our eyes and brain. I was struck by how calming it is to look out at the mountains where I live.
Eye movement has a massive impact on learning and physicality. We know this from studying infants growth. I study this through a movement practice. I always sleep better after moving my body in different ways.
Chuck Czeisler’s has a Sleep Lab at Harvard University
Siobhan Banks is a researcher of sleep.
Dr. David Dinges is a psychiatrist who focuses on sleep and behaviour.
For glasses that block blue light check out: https://www.blublocker.com/
Addiction to Technology is a Real Problem
40% of North Americans suffer from addiction to technology whether its email, porn or games. By the age of 7 a child will have spent 1 whole year of life on devices. If we break down the average number of hours we are spending looking at screens it is shocking. Sleep is suffering.
Most people can’t imagine life without their phone. College age students check their device 82 times per day. Besides infants, this is the age group that requires more sleep than any other. Many report keeping their phone on throughout the night to answer texts at any hour.
The majority of adults spend 4 hours a day looking at their hand held device. How is this impacting health not to mention relationships, productivity, satisfaction and the environment?
Destroyers of Sleep
I was talking with my son yesterday. He’s 6 and was asking about caffeine. There is a local company opening a cafe to serve organic yerba mate. Part of the marketing strategy is to give away sweetened, canned drinks that are stimulating to young people at festivals. It works. Kids as young as my son are curious and want more.
Young people are marketed to heavily. For the first 5 years of his life my kid wasn’t on devices at all. This was supported by his preschool teachers and his uncle who works in marketing. As a single parent it wasn’t easy but I did it. He’s also never tasted coca cola but now he’s had canned yerba mate.
So we talked about what stimulating drinks do. I explained that I didn’t touch them until I was almost 30 years old. When I did I started to develop sleep issues. Asking him if he enjoys sleeping & feeling healthy made him consider what’s more important. He’s seen me grumpy and sleep deprived many times.
Caffeine has a good side of course. I love it in moderation. Morning is my best time and I don’t suggest not enjoying it especially for parents. But our kids…no way. We can protect them and teach them to self-regulate around stimulants.
In the centre of our brain, right above the optic nerve, is where light registers. Its called the suprachiasmatic nucleus. It’s part of the hypothalamus and is responsible for controlling circadian rhythms. Blue light at night disrupts sleep. Disrupted sleep means compromised health. Its that simple.
Inflammation & Sleep Deprivation
All chronic disease has an inflammatory quality. Research shows that one night of poor sleep increases inflammation. I’ve written on cortisol’s important anti-inflammatory quality. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted its quite likely that cortisol is not regulated. This means your inflammation will also not be regulated.
How to Fix it
✔Stop all notifications that aren’t essential
✔Uninstall all social media apps from hand held devices
✔Create phone-free areas in your house. The bedroom is number one and the dinner table is number two
✔Set up a regular tech free times perhaps daily (the morning or times with loved one) and weekly (ex. Sunday)
✔Plan a longer tech free time or digital detox at least once a year but more often
“What Do You Want to Pay Attention To?”
- Evaluate your usage: Moment (iOS), BreakFree (Android) AND Smartphone compulsion test.
- Cultivate behaviour change with mindfulness apps: Calm, Mindfulness or Headspace.
- Reduce your usage: “How to break up with your phone” by Catherine Price is a 30-day step-by-step plan for creating a healthier relationship with technology.
Sleep is an integral part of health. Over the next few weeks I’ll be offering a few challenges to help you meet your goals in terms of real rest & sleep.
September brings a natural change in routine. I encourage you to ride this wave. Join my FB group to receive support and have your questions answered each week. This begins the last week of August, 2018. Sign up now and begin feeling better soon!
Yes it can. I’ll explain how.
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:
- Weakness, tiredness, or lightheadedness
- Heart palpitations and shortness of breath
- Pale skin
- Constipation, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or gas
- Nerve problems like numbness or tingling, muscle weakness, and problems walking
- Vision loss
- 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
- Pale skin
- 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.
The Gut-Brain Connection
Infections and other imbalances in the gut result in an inflammatory response in the brain. The inflammatory cytokine theory is well established in the scientific literature and is being embraced as the number one cause of depression.
But what about anxiety? (more…)
Given the trends that we see in the general population towards a sedentary lifestyle it’s not surprising our kids are less active than ever before. What are the health implications exactly? What can we do to change this?
Do It Yourself
Kids pick up on everything so when they see us trying new things, being active, and getting outside they develop their own love of movement and learning. It’s predicted that our children are likely to have shorter life spans than us unless we make these changes.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine demonstrates that high physical activity has positive effects on children’s immunity and may decrease the risk of autoimmune disease. This research has significant implications for long-term health of kids given that autoimmunity is on the rise in younger populations.
Physical activity not only reduces the risk of autoimmunity in children but also decreases cardiovascular risk factors, improves lung function, enhances motor skill development, and increases defenses against inflammatory diseases.
Nature and Play
Humans need unstructured play time, adults included. Reconnecting with nature is one way we can improve our sense of well-being and enjoy some much needed play time. Digitally detoxifying is an important aspect of this. Having a few weeks every year where screens are turned off is crucial for recalibrating.
Smart Ways to Work and Play
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.
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.