Sat, 29 April 2017
Skyrocketing suicide rates: Brain-based prevention tips
While death rates from cancer, heart disease and even homicide have gone down in the last 20 years, the suicide rate in the United States has risen sharply. Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the country, having jumped 80 percent between 1999 and 2014.
Economic distress, social isolation, and social media are factors that take part of the blame for skyrocketing suicide rates. While it is important to address these factors, we must also look at addressing depression, anxiety, and brain injury by improving brain health.
What does a brain need for health?
To function optimally, your brain needs fuel, stimulation, and oxygen; appropriately timed and in proper amounts. Unfortunately, our standard American diets (SAD) and sedentary lifestyles deprive the brain of these critical elements, setting the stage for dysfunction.
The brain consumes about one third of the body's energy and depends on a steady, reliable source of glucose to keep it fueled and functioning properly. Spikes and drops in blood sugar (glucose) levels sabotage brain function, often causing depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of high blood sugar levels include fatigue after meals, constant hunger and thirst, and cravings for sugary foods and drinks.
Some common low blood sugar symptoms are moodiness or lightheadedness if meals are delayed or missed, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m., and a dependence on caffeine or sugar to keep you going.
Both low and high blood sugar are commonly caused by eating too many processed carbohydrates and sugary foods. Therefore, one of the best ways to keep your brain healthy and protect against depression is to eat a healthy, whole foods diet devoid of processed carbohydrates and sweets.
A healthy brain also needs exercise. Physical activity, such as jogging or gardening, and mental activities, such as playing chess and reading, stimulate the brain to keep it active and healthy. Watching TV is not stimulating, and spending hours on social media can worsen brain function. A well stimulated brain is less likely to get depressed.
The fact that you are breathing is no guarantee that your brain is receiving sufficient oxygen. Oxygen enters through our lungs and is carried, attached to iron, through the bloodstream into the brain where it can be used by the brain's cells. If you have poor circulation (symptoms can include cold hands and feet, or fungal nail infections), compromised lungs, or you are anemic, your brain may not be getting the oxygen it needs for optimal health, and depression could result.
History of brain trauma also important
Just one concussion triples the risk of suicide according to a Canadian study. This is likely due to unchecked brain inflammation, which damages brain cells, or neurons, leading to depression later on. If you have had a brain injury in your past and suffer from depression or anxiety, it’s vital to seek functional neurology help to help improve your brain health.
Functional medicine and neurology strategies can help to minimize damage from concussions, thereby reducing the risk of future depression and suicide.
To learn more about how to support brain health, contact my office.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 5:48pm EDT
Fri, 21 April 2017
Although genetics play a role in memory loss, that doesn’t mean you have to be a helpless victim to the ravages of brain degeneration. By taking action right away if you notice memory loss, you can reverse your risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s before it’s too late.
One study showed that nine out of 10 patients were able to reverse their memory loss. The study subjects also showed significant long-term improvement in memory function.
What was the magic bullet? No magic, just implementation of functional neurology basics.
The subjects underwent a dietary and lifestyle overhaul that included changes in what they ate, regular exercise, supplementation, better sleep, and exercising their brain.
The improvements were so profound that some of the subjects were able to work again, having previously quit their jobs due to advancing memory loss.
Of the 10 study subjects, the only one not to improve suffered from late-stage Alzheimer’s — showing how important it is to take action to reverse memory loss before it’s too late.
Although plenty of functional neurology clinical cases show memory loss can be reversed, this was the first study of its kind.
Functional neurology to reverse memory loss
In the study, subjects reversed their memory loss through the following approaches also commonly used in functional neurology:
Researchers found the biggest challenge in the study was complaining from the subjects about all the changes. Nevertheless, all but one enjoyed significant benefits.
How functional neurology can reverse memory loss
One of the more important factors in reversing memory loss is reducing consumption of simple and processed carbohydrates. These foods spike the blood sugar, inflame the brain, and trigger a cascade of chronic health problems.
In fact, some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes because excess sugar and carbohydrates are so destructive to the brain.
Exercise is another vital strategy to reverse memory loss because it has so many beneficial effects on the brain.
It’s also important to get enough sleep every night to reverse memory loss. This is because one purpose of the brain waves produced during sleep is to transfer memories from short-term storage to long-term storage areas of the brain (hippocampus to neocortex). Too little sleep disrupts this process.
A gluten-free diet can be a profound tool to reverse memory loss — in some people gluten triggers inflammation or autoimmune destruction of brain tissue, sabotaging memory function. Other foods such as dairy, eggs, soy, and grains can do the same.
Although most people think a gluten sensitivity causes gut problems, the truth is that it more commonly causes neurological damage. For some people, simply going gluten free profoundly improves their brain health and reverses memory loss.
Rehabilitating brain deficits to reverse memory loss
In addition to dietary and lifestyle approaches, functional neurology rehabilitation techniques can help reverse memory loss. If an area of your brain is under active or over active, functional neurology exercises to restore balance and function to the brain will help improve overall brain function, including reversing memory loss.
Ask my office about ways functional medicine and functional neurology can help you reverse memory loss and prevent dementia or Alzheimer’s.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 9:57pm EDT
Fri, 7 April 2017
We commonly think of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) affecting mostly boys. While it’s true ASD affects more boys than girls, it turns out that many girls go undiagnosed because their symptoms are much different than that of boys. Girls with autism may behave socially more like neurotypical (aka, normal) males than boys with autism. Female autism may also be misdiagnosed as anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The diagnostic criteria for autism — difficulties with socialization and communication and repetitive, inflexible behavior patterns — come from studies on boys. A 2012 study of 15,000 twins found that girls needed to exhibit more extreme behavioral problems and intellectual disability to receive a diagnosis. This means that many girls on the milder side of the ASD spectrum go undiagnosed.
Girls with autism closer to typical boys
Brain scans, genetic testing, and other measures show that girls with autism disorders not only present differently than boys, but also that the understanding of autism has been overly narrow by primarily studying boys.
For one thing, brain scans show a girl with autism processes social information much differently than neurotypical girls, but also differently than boys with autism. Instead, their brain operates very much like that of a neurotypical boy. Furthermore, research assessing friendship quality and empathy showed autistic girls score about the same as neurotypical boys.
Girls are better able to hide autism
Girls often go undiagnosed also because they can excel at suppressing their symptoms and studying and mimicking neurotypical girls. However, it’s an exhausting and stressful process for autistic girls, who show a much greater desire to connect than boys.
Girls also exhibit less repetitive behavior and more typical types of play as children, although researchers can pick out subtle differences — obsessively lining up their Barbies, for instance, or being more engaged in staging a scene than the story line.
Female autism can present as anorexia or OCD
Autistic girls also differ from their neurotypical peers by being extreme in their traits, such as “too sensitive” or “too intense.” Their single-minded intensity is believed to underlie anorexia in some who channel those traits into dieting and body obsession. The extreme aversion to certain tastes and textures common with autism also lends itself to anorexia. It’s estimated about 20 percent of women with anorexia also have autism.
The same can be said for autism and OCD, as obsessive-compulsive behavior, fear of change, and being overly rigid are hallmark traits of both OCD and autism.
Autism can make girls vulnerable to predators
Sadly, the autistic girl’s traits of taking things literally combined with social isolation makes her more vulnerable to sexual predators and abusive relationships.
Autistic girls are more apt to suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem, social isolation, and depression. Although people with mild autism are ten times more likely to be suicidal than the general population, the rate is highest in women — 71 percent of women with Asperger’s report suicidal thoughts.
The role of maternal testosterone in autism risk
Autism risk is linked with higher levels of fetal testosterone. A mother with polycystic ovary syndrome, a hormonal disorder that causes high testosterone, has an almost 60 percent higher risk of giving birth to a child with autism. This is why having a female brain offers protective barriers to this tendency.
However, researchers have found girls with autism have a higher number of genetic mutations than autistic boys. In other words, a girl’s brain may need more genetic and environmental “hits” in order to develop autism.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 11:15am EDT
Thu, 30 March 2017
Although the autoimmune diet is a well known foundation for managing chronic health issues, some people are dismayed to find embarking on it makes them feel worse. What gives? The sudden change in diet can temporarily upset your chemistry and reveal hidden health problems.
If you have been accustomed to eating gluten, dairy, grains, sugars, and processed foods, going cold turkey off those foods is a radical shift. Likewise, adding in lots of vegetables can also shock a digestive system unaccustomed to ample plant fiber.
Most people feel significantly better on the autoimmune diet. If you’re not one of them, however, don’t give up on the diet. Instead, look for the underlying reason why.
Feeling temporarily worse on the AIP diet
Following are common adverse reactions to the autoimmune diet. Knowing why you react negatively can further help you on your wellness journey.
Low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue can worsen on this diet. This is usually caused by not eating enough or frequently enough. The general recommendation is to eat every two to three hours, however, some people may initially need a bite or two every hour until blood sugar stabilizes and they can go longer without eating. Avoid sugary fruits and investigate what else may be taxing your adrenal function, such as brain-based issues, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.
New food sensitivities. When gut damage is bad and inflammation high, it’s possible to develop food sensitivities to new foods on the autoimmune diet. This is very frustrating for people as the diet is already so limited. This can be a complex situation that requires concerted effort to tame inflammation and repair the gut.
Opioid withdrawal reactions. Opioids are morphine-like chemicals made by the body that reduce pain and create a feeling of euphoria and well-being. Some people become dependent on foods that release opioids in the brain, namely gluten and dairy. They can initially experience depression, anger, lethargy, and agitation on the autoimmune diet. For those with serious opioid addictions to gluten and dairy, withdrawal can be intense.
Brain chemical imbalance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates affects brain chemicals that influence our mood, particularly serotonin and dopamine. Suddenly switching to a lower carbohydrate diet can disrupt the balance of brain chemicals and cause temporary changes in mood, behavior, and personality. If this sounds familiar, you may need to gradually lower carbohydrate consumption.
Insomnia and anxiety. Some people report irresolvable insomnia and anxiety if carbohydrate consumption is too low. If these symptoms persist long after an adjustment period, you may simply need to use trial and error to find the carbohydrate “sweet spot” that lets you sleep but also keeps blood sugar in check.
Difficulty digesting fiber. The autoimmune diet is heavy on vegetables. For those with compromised digestive function, this can overwhelm the gut. Concerted gut repair nutritional therapy can ease you into a higher fiber diet.
Histamine intolerance. This is a reaction to aged or fermented foods that causes myriad symptoms, including rashes, runny nose, or headaches. Avoiding these foods for a while can help the gut heal so you can eat them later.
Yeast and bacteria die-off reactions. Going cold turkey off processed carbs, gluten, and dairy can cause a sudden and uncomfortable die off of harmful yeast and bacteria in your gut. This is especially true in the case of poor liver detoxification and constipation. Supporting the body’s pathways of elimination can help.
These are a few of the issues that can arise when you switch to the autoimmune diet. Don't forget to consider the grief and anger you may feel about missing your favorite foods. However, if you weather the transition and ferret out sources of discomfort, your newfound health will more than make up for the rough legs of the journey.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 12:09pm EDT
Tue, 21 March 2017
Hypothyroidism has received a lot of attention online since the publication of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Datis Kharrazian in 2009. While many facets should be addressed in managing hypothyroidism, one of the most important continues to be a gluten-free diet.
Research shows ninety percent of hypothyroidism cases are due to an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. This disease is called Hashimoto’s.
Most doctors do not test for Hashimoto’s because it does not change treatment, which is thyroid medication. Also, many cases of hypothyroidism go undiagnosed because Hashimoto’s can cause the lab marker TSH to fluctuate.
Where does gluten fit in with this? Numerous studies have linked an immune reaction to gluten with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Whether it’s a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten triggers an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland in many people. Most of these people do not even know they are sensitive to gluten.
Going off gluten is the first step with Hashimoto’s
Studies, clinical observation, and patient stories make a very strong case for the benefits of going gluten-free to better manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism symptoms.
A number of studies from several countries show a link between Hashimoto’s and gluten. This is because the protein structure of gluten closely resembles that of thyroid tissue. When your immune system reacts to gluten, it may start erroneously reacting to thyroid tissue as well. This will cause the immune system to attack and destroy thyroid tissue in a case of mistaken identity.
Studies also show patients improve on a strict gluten-free diet. One study showed as many as 71 percent of subjects resolved their hypothyroid symptoms after following a strict gluten-free diet for one year.
Why you may need to stop eating other foods too
Sorry to say, going gluten-free alone doesn’t always work. Many people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism also need to go dairy-free. Dairy, whether it’s cow, goat, or sheep, is the second biggest problem food for people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.
Many people simply have an immune intolerance to dairy and aren’t aware of it until they stop consuming it. However, in an immune sensitive individual, the body may also mistake dairy for gluten and trigger an immune reaction that ultimately ends up targeting the thyroid.
For those serious about managing their Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, a gluten-free and dairy-free diet frequently results in profound alleviation of symptoms, if not total remission.
Many find they may need to eliminate additional foods, such as certain grains, eggs, or soy. An elimination/provocation diet can help you figure out what your immune system reacts to, or a comprehensive food sensitivity test is another option.
What is there left to eat?
If you’re used to eating without restrictions, eliminating gluten, dairy, and possibly other foods to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroid symptoms may seem overwhelming and too restrictive. Many people are left wondering, what is left to eat?
Rest assured there is more than enough to eat. Most people fare well on a paleo diet that is primarily vegetables (a diverse array of plenty of vegetables helps create the healthy gut bacteria that improve immunity.)
More importantly, symptoms and general health improves so dramatically that people come to love their new diet and despise the way they feel after they cheat.
Ask my office for more information about implementing a gluten- and dairy-free diet.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Thu, 16 March 2017
If a child suddenly develops behavioral and neurological symptoms after a strep infection, PANDAS should be suspected. PANDAS is a neuro-immune disorder in which a strep infection triggers brain inflammation and the immune system starts to attack and destroy brain tissue, causing a sudden onset of neurological symptoms.
PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.
PANS, or Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, is similar, except environmental factors or other infections trigger symptoms.
PANDAS diagnosis criteria
PANS diagnosis criteria:
Abrupt, dramatic onset of OCD or severely limited food intake and the addition of at least two of the following:
Functional neurology help for PANDAS/PANS
Because PANDAS and PANS involve the immune system, management involves testing markers for inflammation, infections, immune function, and brain autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks and destroys brain tissue).
It’s also helpful to conduct a functional neurology exam to identify compromised areas of the brain, as well as to establish a baseline of brain function.
Repeat testing can show you how well PANDAS/PANS protocols are working. Functional neurology rehabilitation may also help with recovery. For instance, therapies targeting different areas of the brain can calm an over active immune system and over activation of pathways.
Functional medicine help for PANDAS/PANS
Additionally, functional medicine strategies may include removing inflammatory triggers from the diet and the environment; nutritional therapies to lower inflammation and support brain health; addressing blood sugar, gut health, and toxicity; supporting neurotransmitters; and repairing mitochondrial function and the blood-brain barrier.
Conventional medical help for PANDAS/PANS
Therapies from the conventional model that have been shown to help include steroids and NSAIDs for inflammation; plasmapharesis (plasma exchange) to reduce antibodies; intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIG) to support immune modulation; and immune modulating medications when necessary.
Understanding the PANDAS/PANS brain
When PANDAS/PANS strikes a child — an estimated 1 in 200 children are affected — parents become both frightened and devastated. Understanding what is happening in the brain can help alleviate anxiety.
The functional neurology exam can help identify which pathways in the brain are affected. PANDAS/PANS typically affects communication loops between the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and frontal lobe.
Act quickly to address PANDAS/PANS
PANDAS/PANS is a significant and scary disorder, but taking action quickly improves the chances of an optimal outcome. For more information, contact my office.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 6:04pm EDT
Wed, 8 March 2017
More than one in seven children suffer from developmental disorders today. But this doesn’t mean change isn’t possible. The brain is enormously malleable, or plastic, and with the right input on a consistent basis using functional neurology, we often can improve brain function.
Common childhood brain development disorders today include:
How brain development disorders arise
These disorders can arise for a variety of reasons, such as:
Poor brain development unfolds in a variety of ways. For instance, important milestones in brain development, such as crawling, may be skipped. The brain is a highly complex network of multiple pathways. Proper formation of this network of pathways depends in part on the child going through each milestone of development.
When the brain fails to develop correctly, one hemisphere grows more slowly than the other, giving rise to various disorders that are either left-brain dominant or right-brain dominant. This is why we see kids who are intellectually advanced (left brain) yet socially and emotionally delayed (right brain). As this imbalance progresses, the brain finds it increasingly difficult to network between the hemispheres, causing poor function.
Also, infections and autoimmune attacks against areas of the brain sabotage proper development and hinder function in those pathways. For instance, the basal ganglia, which helps regulate involuntary motor movements, is a common site of viral and autoimmune attack. This can cause disorders such as PANDAS, OCD, Tourette syndrome, and tics.
Start with metabolic health of the brain
Functional neurology also includes addressing the metabolic health of the brain. If the brain is struggling with inflammation, iron deficiency, blood sugar imbalances, or chronic poor health from a bad diet, it will not respond as well to rehabilitation. Additionally, children’s brains require ample healthy fatty acids — EPA and DHA.
Metabolic issues to look out for with brain development disorders include:
Functional neurology brain exercises for brain development disorders
Fortunately, functional neurology can address brain development disorders.
The types of brain rehabilitation a child needs depends on patient history and a functional neurology examination, which assesses brain function, areas of under and over development, and areas that are over stimulated or under stimulated. The functional neurologist can then tailor exercises to the brain environment and adjust them over time as function improves.
Many families report swift and significant shifts in behavior, mood, sociability, learning, and other brain-based signs.
Ask my office how functional neurology can help if your child has a brain based developmental disorder.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 7:07pm EDT
Thu, 2 March 2017
Category:Blog -- posted at: 1:25pm EDT
Thu, 23 February 2017
The cerebellum (the area at the back of the brain) is best known for its role in balance and coordination. However, the cerebellum does more than that — when it starts to malfunction, the results can be not only worsened balance, but also anxiety, insomnia, and hyper sensitivity.
The cerebellum is a primary integrator of information for the brain. Our body has hundreds of thousands of receptors that detect motion, vision, and where and how our body and joints are positioned at all times. These receptors constantly relay information to the brain so that we can move and function properly in our environment.
This information requires organizing before heading to the rest of the brain. The cerebellum condenses the information and “gates” it, meaning it releases it in manageable amounts to the brain’s cortex, the outer covering with its characteristic folds.
The cortex, which is responsible for higher-order functions of thought and action, decides if you need to carry out a specific action or thought in response to the information, such as turn left, answer a question, run from danger, make a decision, etc. The cortex then sends its information back to the cerebellum to help carry out actions.
When things go wrong with the cerebellum
The cerebellum is a common site of dysfunction. It can degenerate, meaning neurons die. The cerebellum is very susceptible to sensitivity to gluten and other foods, environmental toxins, autoimmunity, and oxidative stress. It also can degenerate with age — why older people notoriously have bad balance. Children born with brain developmental disorders often have poor cerebellar function.
Poor cerebellar function is observed in various ways, such as poor balance, lack of coordination, or a tremor as you go to pick something up or bring a glass to your mouth (known as termination tremors).
Stand with your feet together, your arms at your side, and then close your eyes. If you sway more frequently to one side, that may indicate the side with more cerebellar dysfunction — it takes it longer to respond to falling on that side of your body.
Other tests your doctor may use to observe cerebellum function are coordination tests such as: finger to nose, walking heel to toe in a straight line, performing complex alternating movements, and ocular tracking (the eyes give insight into function).
Poor cerebellar function can also cause dizziness, disorientation, and nausea in cars, on boats, or when seeing things move swiftly, such as in a movie. Basically, the cerebellum is not able to respond appropriately to input from the environment.
Cerebellum function and anxiety and insomnia
As the cerebellum loses function it begins to falter at its job of gating information delivered to the cortex. As a result, excess information slips through.
This means the cortex and areas in the brainstem receive more information than they can adequately manage. Much of the role of the frontal cortex is to act as a brake pedal on the brainstem, preventing the brainstem from spinning out of control. Our brainstem governs myriad functions, such as emotions, heart function, blood pressure, and digestion.
This poorly gated sensory overload can cause many symptoms:
Many factors work against us when it comes to healthy brain function that prevents an overactive brain and anxiety. They include a culture that cherishes overworking, inflammatory diets, unstable blood sugar, too much screen time, stressful lives, and not enough sleep.
Ask my office for information on how to dampen brain activity and help relieve anxiety and insomnia.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 12:00pm EDT
Wed, 22 February 2017
Do you suffer from acid reflux, indigestion, slow gut transit time, or feeling like there’s a brick in your stomach after eating? Or perhaps you’re on a restricted diet for a chronic health condition but still react to an ever shrinking list of foods. If so, you need to work on restoring digestion.
Many factors affect digestion, including aging, poor brain function that affects gut function, poor diet, and more. Often the problem isn’t the food itself, but a hyper sensitive immune system reacting to food proteins that are not broken down properly. Thankfully, you can improve your symptoms greatly with proper supplementation.
Breakdown of food proteins is key for good digestion
For good digestion, you need sufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzyme activity in the gut. These both serve the important function of breaking down food proteins, which prevents the immune system from targeting them and causing symptoms.
HCl is naturally present in the stomach and is vital for digestion of proteins. Low HCl symptoms include:
It may sound contrary that low stomach acid can cause acid reflux. In fact, many people with acid reflux-like symptoms are mistakenly prescribed acid-blockers intended to cut stomach acid, when in fact it’s low stomach acid causing the problem — the low stomach acid results in undigested food becoming rancid and moving back up the esophagus to cause the pain and burning sensation. What these people need is additional HCl to improve digestion.
Many people with poor digestion also have poor pancreatic enzyme output. Similar to stomach acid, these enzymes are critical to break apart food proteins so the immune system doesn’t react to them, causing inflammation.
Supplement with HCl and digestive enzymes for healthy digestion
Supplementing with HCl (use code: lifeatoptimal) and digestive enzymes can go a long way toward improving your digestion by supporting breakdown of food proteins as well as relieving symptoms.
Follow this advice when supplementing with HCl and digestive enzymes:
Oral tolerance and digestive function
It’s particularly important for people with food sensitivities to support food protein breakdown with proper levels of HCl and digestive enzymes. At the root of this is the concept of oral tolerance. Oral tolerance is how well a person’s immune system can tolerate acceptable foods while responding appropriately to bacteria or other harmful compounds.
While there are other factors that affect oral tolerance, it’s important for food proteins to be broken down small enough that the body accepts them and doesn’t mount an immune reaction against them, causing symptoms.
You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” When we can’t digest food properly, it means our bodies aren’t getting the fuel to function at their best. If you suffer from symptoms of poor digestion or food sensitivities, contact my office.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 3:38pm EDT