Thu, 12 January 2017
While phone apps and online programs that exercise the brain are popular to improve memory and prevent dementia, most people overlook a key component to lasting brain function: your balance.
Your brain requires good balance to stay sharp and lower the risk of dementia. In addition to doing brain exercises, make sure you regularly challenge and improve your balance.
How good balance improves brain function
What does good balance have to do with preserving memory and brain function?
The cerebellum, the area at the base of the brain, governs balance, as well as precision, coordination, and timing.
It makes sure you can walk upright, put a spoon to your mouth, or hit a tennis ball. The movements of daily life keep the cerebellum in a constant state of activity.
It’s this constant activity that keeps the rest of the brain on its toes. A healthy cerebellum feeds the brain a steady stream of information to keep it actively firing and healthy. (This is also one reason regular physical activity is so vital to brain health and function.)
Bad balance leads to bad brain function
This explains why symptoms of cerebellum degeneration, such as bad balance, often tie into loss of memory, cognition, and brain endurance. The brain isn’t getting enough juice from the cerebellum to keep it charged and running well.
Brain overwhelm from bad balance
If a different area of cerebellum degenerates, this can overwhelm the brain with information.
The outer area of the cerebellum serves as a gatekeeper, regulating information that travels from the body to the brain. When this area of the cerebellum degenerates, the gates are left unguarded, and too much sensory input floods the brain.
Symptoms may include restless leg syndrome, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to stress, depression, fatigue, anxiety, and others that you wouldn’t think could be related to balance.
Can you pass this balance test?
How to improve your balance and hence brain health
Since we know regular exercise is a must to preserve brain function, look for forms that emphasize balance. Ideas include specific balance exercises, yoga, tai chi, stand-up paddle boarding, dancing, and the use of a wobble board or Bosu ball. Just be safe and work within your limits!
Good balance is only part of a bigger brain puzzle
Good cerebellum health is important, but it’s not the end all. The inner ear, or vestibular system, also plays a vital role in balance and may need attention if your balance is off.
Also, screening for gluten sensitivity is important, as a gluten intolerance degenerates the cerebellum in many people.
Follow an anti-inflammatory diet and reduce stressors. The brain and cerebellum are very sensitive to inflammation from junk foods, sleep deprivation, chronic stress, and more.
And make sure you keep your blood sugar stable — blood sugar that is constantly too low or too high (or both) rapidly ages the brain and contributes to poor balance.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 8:00am EDT
Mon, 9 January 2017
Millions of people drink diet soda in the belief they’re preventing weight gain, and the soda industry invests millions of dollars to perpetuate this belief. Research, however, paints a different picture — diet sodas are dangerous and can make you fat.
Artificial, low-calorie sweeteners used in diet sodas confuse the body and derange its ability to metabolize sugar and carbohydrates. This “confusion” increases hunger and sugar cravings.
Also, artificial sweeteners create imbalances in gut bacteria, boosting the bacteria that turn calories into body fat, which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and inflammation.
Diet sodas bring bigger risks than obesity
The health risks associated with diet soda are far more serious than weight gain.
The primary sweetener used in diet sodas, aspartame (which goes by the benign-sounding names Equal and NutraSweet), has been linked to numerous cardiovascular conditions, including stroke, heart failure, and heart attack.
In fact, a nine-year study of 60,000 women showed women who drank two or more cans of diet soda a day were 50 percent more likely to die of heart disease.
The other FDA-approved artificial sweeteners — saccharin, neotame, sucralose, and acesulfame potassium — have also been linked to increased risk for heart disease and other health conditions.
Aspartame is a controversial topic. It has been linked to myriad health conditions, some as serious as brain tumors, birth defects, cancer, and memory loss, and is behind numerous complaints to the FDA. However, industry science holds fast to its safety.
Fruit juice is not a healthy substitute
Unfortunately, fruit juice is not a healthy substitute for soda. Fructose is every bit as fattening and inflammatory as sugar or chemical sweeteners. Excessive consumption of fruit juice also puts you at risk of heart disease and diabetes.
In contrast, eating whole fruit also has you consuming fiber, enzymes, minerals and other healthful compounds stripped away by juicing. Also, chewing tells your brain that you’ve eaten, which reduces your appetite.
If you are addicted to diet sodas (as many people are), you may have to wean yourself gradually. Begin by substituting sparkling water with lemon or lime juice, or even just plain water, for some of your sweet drinks. Often when you think you want something sweet, you’re really just thirsty, and plain filtered water will do you fine.
With patience, you can develop an automatic preference for whole, healthy, unsweetened foods and drinks, largely because they make you feel better. After a while, the foods you crave most can actually be those that are best for your body.
Ask my office about transitioning to a whole foods diet so you can feel and function your best.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 11:01am EDT
Tue, 3 January 2017
Medical advice following a concussion is straightforward: Get plenty of rest, avoid stimulating the brain, and don’t return to regular activities until your brain can handle it.
But a concussion is a much bigger deal than people realize, and there is plenty more you can do to improve brain recovery after a concussion.
Lower inflammation after a concussion
Your diet following a concussion is more important than ever before. You want to focus your efforts on reducing inflammation in the brain.
The immune system in the brain is different than the body’s. The body’s immune system has mechanisms to shut off an immune attack when it’s no longer needed.
The brain’s immune system, however, has no off switch. A concussion can result in unchecked inflammation that slows recovery and continues to destroy healthy brain cells long after the concussion.
This is why concussions can increase the risk of gut problems, depression, suicide, brain issues, and other health disorders.
A healthy post-concussion eating plan
Studies have firmly established the link between diet, gut health, and brain health. What you eat after a concussion matters greatly. Here is an overview of brain healing strategies:
Stabilize blood sugar. Blood sugar that is too low or too high inflames the brain. Cut out sugars and starchy carbs and eat frequently enough to keep energy stable (but don’t overeat).
Remove inflammatory foods. Gluten and dairy are inflammatory to the brain in many people. Undiagnosed food intolerances, such as to corn, eggs, soy, or other foods can inflame the brain. MSG and artificial sweeteners are toxic to the brain and should be avoided, too.
Improve gut bacteria diversity. A slew of studies recently established a link between brain health and the bacteria in your gut. Now is the time to build a healthy gut microbiome.
Eat good fats. The brain is made primarily of fat, so it’s important to eat healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, cold water fish, and nuts and seeds.
Follow an anti-inflammatory autoimmune diet. It’s best to follow the autoimmune diet as it focuses on lowering inflammation and healing the gut, two things that will help heal the brain. Just make sure you eat enough to sustain energy and blood sugar.
This is a general overview of post-concussion nutrition. For more detailed advice, contact my office.
A healthy post-concussion protocol
Fortunately, certain herbal compounds are effective in reducing brain inflammation. They include apigenin, luteolin, baicalein, resveratrol, rutin, catechin, and curcumin.
Nutrients that improve oxygen flow to the brain also aid recovery. They include feverfew, butcher’s broom, ginkgo biloba, huperzine, and vinpocetine.
Additionally, supporting the omega-3 fatty acid DHA and the body’s master oxidant, glutathione, is helpful.
Lifestyle factors that can aid brain recovery include identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases and chronic infections, and stabilizing hormones (especially in perimenopausal or postmenopausal women).
These are some foundations that can make the difference between a downward spiral after a concussion or the beginning to a more brain-healthy way of living.
If your life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask my office how we can help.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 7:30am EDT
Sat, 24 December 2016
If you have chronic gut problems, you could have a brain problem. This is especially true if you’ve had a head injury or if you also suffer from worsening memory, brain fog, cognitive decline, or other symptoms of poor brain function.
Chronic digestive complaints — indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, burping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, or irritable bowel disorders — are common complaints of a brain that is not functioning well.
The brain gives orders to the gut through the vagus nerve, which then tells the gut to digest food, repair and regenerate the gut lining, push food through the intestines (motility), and many other functions.
When brain function declines, the brain doesn’t give the vagus nerve enough input. As a result, constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other problems can arise.
This is one reason why people with a head injury or dementia have chronic gut complaints.
Exercise the vagus nerve to address gut problems
In functional neurology, we conduct a neurological exam to evaluate areas of the brain that are not functioning well. We then provide activities to activate or dampen different areas of the brain, depending on your needs, to improve function. This in turn can improve communication between the vagus nerve and the gut.
However, sometimes you can activate the vagus nerve yourself at home with some very simple daily activities.
Vagus nerve exercises
A few simple tests can tell you if your vagus nerve may not be sufficiently active:
Here are some simple exercises to activate the vagus nerve:
Gargle vigorously several times a day. Gargling contracts the back of the throat, which activates the vagus nerve. Gargle each drink of a glass of water several times a day. Gargle vigorously and for a good length of time, ideally until your eyes tear (it may take a while to build up to that.)
Sing loudly. If you are alone at home or in the car, spend some time singing as loudly as you can. This also activates the back of the throat and hence the vagus.
Gag. Using a tongue depressor, which you can buy from Amazon, gently press on the back of your tongue to make yourself gag. Please do not poke the back of your throat. Do this several times a day, again, ideally until your eyes tear. Gargling and singing are like sprints for the vagus nerve, whereas gagging is strength training.
Coffee enemas. Please Google instructions for doing a coffee enema (or email me for a How-To guide). Hold the enema solution as long as you can. That, together with compounds in coffee that stimulate nerve receptors, will help activate the vagus nerve.
This is a simple overview of how to improve gut function by activating the brain. For more customized advice, please contact my office, 704-895-2240
Category:Blog -- posted at: 6:00am EDT
Fri, 23 December 2016
You’ve probably heard it over and over: Stress raises the risk of disease. But how do you know if your stress is the disease-causing kind? It’s helpful to know some signs and tests to let you know.
Severe stress can either cause you to be fatigued all the time, wired all the time, or a mix of both. Or maybe stress manifests as sleep issues.
It’s not uncommon for people to become so used to being stressed out they fail to realize it’s an issue.
Symptoms of fatigue-based stress
Symptoms of wired stress
How to do a lab test for stress
You can also do a lab test to measure stress levels using your saliva; it’s called an adrenal salivary panel. Your adrenal glands are two small glands that sit atop each kidney that secrete stress hormones.
The best way to use the adrenal salivary panel is do the test a second time after following a health protocol. This shows you whether your health is improving.
This is because stress is always caused by something else, such as low or high blood sugar, an infection, or autoimmune disease.
Adrenal health should improve as you manage these conditions. If things do not improve, it means you must keep searching to find out what is taxing the body.
Measuring your sleep-wake cycle
Another way to gauge stress is to look at your sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
Are you alert in the morning and sleepy at night? An abnormal circadian rhythm is one symptom of adrenal stress.
Your primary stress hormone, cortisol, should be high in the morning and low at night. Many people have a backwards rhythm causing fatigue in the morning and insomnia at night. Or, instead of a gradual decline of cortisol during the day, it may suddenly drop in the afternoon, causing an energy crash.
Where are you on the stress scale?
By measuring several markers, the adrenal saliva test can tell you whether you are in:
You do not necessarily have to progress from alarm reaction to adrenal fatigue. It’s possible to jump between phases, or stay in one phase for years.
The adrenal saliva test also measures immune cells called total SIgA. This measures how stress is impacting your immune system. If SIgA is low, it can mean you are more susceptible to food intolerances, infections, and weakened immunity.
Start with blood sugar stability to manage stress
Although diet and lifestyle factors are important in managing stress, the most common cause of chronic stress is a blood sugar imbalance. Addressing high or low blood sugar are vital to addressing chronic stress.
Additionally, various herbal and nutritional compounds can profoundly influence adrenal function. For instance, herbs called adrenal adaptogens are very beneficial regardless which stage you are in.
Ask my office how you can support your adrenal health, 704-895-2240.
Category:Blog -- posted at: 10:46am EDT