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Archive for February, 2012

Chemical sensitivity

You’ve probably heard of food intolerances to gluten, dairy, eggs, or other foods. But chemical intolerances, or sensitivities, have become increasingly common, as well. A person with a chemical sensitivity has an immune reaction to chemicals and heavy metals in air pollution, pesticides, plastics, adhesives, household cleaners, cosmetics, perfumes, and more.

When exposed to these chemicals, the sensitive person may react with a variety of different symptoms, including migraines, fatigue, inflammation, brain fog, memory loss, vertigo, sore throat, respiratory or sinus problems, or a skin rash.

A chemical sensitivity can also trigger or exacerbate an autoimmune disease.

Why doesn’t everyone have a chemical sensitivity?

Although we now live in a world of thousands of toxic chemicals, some people react to chemicals and some don’t. In fact, lab testing may reveal the person who doesn’t react actually carries a heavier toxic burden than the person who reacts very easily. Why?

The answer lies in how well the person’s immune system handles exposures to chemicals and pollutants in our environment. Several factors can cause a chemical sensitivity:

  • The immune system reacts to certain chemicals or heavy metals as allergens due to an immune imbalance.
  • An individual has lost the ability to detoxify chemicals from everyday exposure.
  • An individual’s natural antioxidant status is deficient, increasingly one’s vulnerability to toxicity from chemicals.
  • A breakdown of immune barriers—gut, lungs, skin, and blood-brain barrier—increases the body’s vulnerability to toxins.

In other words, it’s not necessarily small exposures to toxic chemicals or heavy metals that make one sick (even though they are not good for us), but instead the body’s inability to handle environmental toxins.

How chelation can worsen a chemical sensitivity

A common method of treating a chemical sensitivity or other chronic condition is chelation. Chelation is a detoxification therapy that removes heavy metals from the body.

However, for the person whose immune system is reacting to chemicals and heavy metals, chelation can actually make things worse. By using chelation to liberate chemicals and heavy metals from tissue and into the bloodstream, the chemically sensitive person may react with even more symptoms and more tissue damage.

Chelation should only be considered if the immune barriers are in tact (i.e., no leaky gut, or leaky blood-brain barrier, which would allow chelated toxins into the brain), the immune system is balanced, and detoxification functions are working normally.

How to prevent or alleviate a chemical sensitivity

These days, it is difficult to isolate ourselves from pollutants, chemicals, and heavy metals. There is very little testing of new chemicals that enter our environment, and it is extremely difficult to require manufacturers to ban chemicals. Instead, you can focus on using toxin- and scent-free cleaners and personal care products, eating organic, whole foods, and consuming plenty of fibrous, antioxidant-rich vegetables and filtered water to help cleanse your system.

Beyond that, we have more advanced clinical strategies to help alleviate a chemical sensitivity. These include supporting the activity of glutathione, the body’s most powerful antioxidant, repairing the immune barriers—gut, lung, and blood-brain—with nutritional support, balancing the immune system, and restoring the body’s natural ability to detoxify.

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pregnancy hypothyroidism Hashimoto's

A new study shows hypothyroidism during pregnancy may be more common that previously thought, thanks to new clinical guidelines for evaluating thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The study revealed hypothyroidism in one in six pregnant women, a 10 percent increase after using a narrower TSH range.

The new guideline for normal TSH is now 0.3 to 3.0, narrower than the former guideline of 0.5 to 5.0. In functional medicine we use a range of 1.8 to 3.0.

Gestational hypothyroidism poses a number of risks, including miscarriage, hypertension, gestational diabetes, low-birth weight, and risk for lower IQ in the baby.

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism screening important during pregnancy

This study illustrates the importance of screening for hypothyroidism during pregnancy. Only about a quarter of the more than 500,000 women in the study were tested for TSH, meaning many more may have gone through pregnancy with an undiagnosed thyroid condition.

TSH shouldn’t be the only marker ordered. Pregnant women should also test other thyroid markers, such as T4 and T3, as well as TPO and TGB antibodies. The antibody tests determine whether the hypothyroidism stems from an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s, which attacks and destroys thyroid gland tissue.

Studies show about 90 percent of hypothyroidism cases in the United States are due to autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone medication alone does not effectively manage Hashimoto’s. Instead, appropriate thyroid care involves managing the immune system.

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism risk to baby’s health

Although it’s always important to manage an autoimmune disease, it’s especially vital during pregnancy. Autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is a sign that the pregnant woman’s immune system is out of balance. It also signals a high probability of intestinal permeability, or leaky gut (which allows undigested foods and pathogens to escape into the bloodstream, where they trigger an immune reaction). People with Hashimoto’s commonly have food intolerances, particularly to gluten, and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

These are health conditions that can affect the fetus. Studies show that infants born to mothers with high cortisol are at higher risk of developing allergies. An intolerance to gluten or other foods can be passed on to the infant, as can immune imbalances, which can raise the risk of such disorders as asthma, eczema, and allergies.

Hypothyroidism is a red flag that the body is out of balance and that the health of the child may be compromised.

Addressing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism during pregnancy

It’s very important to screen for hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s during pregnancy. It’s even better to screen for it before conception.

If lab tests identify hypothyroidism, optimal health of the mother and the baby depends on restoring thyroid activity.

While thyroid hormones may be necessary, a pregnant woman also should address the underlying cause of the hypothyroidism. We can do this through lab testing, an autoimmune diet, and nutritional support appropriate for pregnancy.

Detecting hypothyroidism early can help ensure a healthier pregnancy, a healthier child, a reduced risk of postpartum depression, and more energy for the mother during the demanding post-partum period.

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You could eat a “heart-healthy” diet, exercise regularly, and maintain a healthy weight and still be at risk for heart disease.

heart disease inflammation hypothyroidism gluten

Why? Because the root cause of heart disease is inflammation, and managing inflammation goes beyond standard prevention advice.

The whole grain diet, inflammation, and heart disease

Are you following popular guidelines by eating a whole grain diet? Opting for whole wheat bread may seem like a healthy choice; however research suggests that as many as one in five people have a gluten sensitivity.

For the gluten-intolerant person, even whole wheat products cause inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease. In fact, more and more people are discovering that they can significantly reduce inflammation by eliminating grains all together.

Other foods—such as dairy or eggs—may also cause sensitivities and increase inflammation. An anti-inflammatory diet can help ferret out which foods increase inflammation.

Whole grains and blood sugar

A grain-based diet may also be too high in carbohydrates for some, causing blood sugar to swing dramatically between extreme highs and lows. This leads to a drop in energy, sugar and/or caffeine cravings, sleep issues, and most importantly, inflammation. High-carbohydrate diets—even those high in fibrous whole grains and legumes—can prove too inflammatory for some people. Leafy, colorful vegetables and mildly sweet fruits (such as berries) are a better choice.

Gut health and heart disease

Other causes of inflammation include: an overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the gut, poor function of the digestive organs, and gastric irritation. All play a role in increasing the risk of heart disease.

Studies suggest that the overgrowth of one strain of gastric bacteria in particular—“H. pylori”—increases the risk of heart disease. Caused by insufficient acidity in the stomach, the usually symptomless H. pylori is responsible for peptic ulcers—a condition estimated to affect many Americans.

How inflammation increases the risk of heart disease

Inflammation creates lesions on arterial walls, thus contributing to the formation of plaque within the arteries—a process known as “atherosclerosis.”  In order to quickly repair the lesions, the body “patches” them up with cholesterol. Although an effective short-term fix, this eventually leads to the creation of artery-clogging plaque, and drives up the risk of a heart attack.

Hypothyroidism and heart disease

Whenever I see high cholesterol in a patient, I immediately screen for hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism increases triglycerides, cholesterol, and “bad” LDL cholesterol.

Most people in the U.S. with hypothyroidism have it as a result of Hashimoto’s disease—an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. An unmanaged autoimmune condition is another factor that can lead to chronic inflammation, increasing the risk of heart disease.

The source of inflammation is different for everyone

You can see why reducing inflammation is “at the heart” of reducing your risk of heart disease, and why statin drugs do not address the root cause for most people. The source of inflammation can vary for each individual, but typically it involves evaluating one’s diet, immune health, and digestive function.

This explains why I look at more than just cholesterol when evaluating the risk of heart disease. I examine other markers on a blood chemistry panel, including fasting blood sugar, homocysteine, C-reactive protein, immune markers, and thyroid values.

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Childhood stomach aches adult depression anxiety

Many dismiss childhood stomach aches as a normal part of growing up. However research shows that chronic childhood stomach aches could result in anxiety and depression later in life.

A Stanford University researcher found that gastric irritation early in life could pave the way for lifelong psychological problems. Of course, not all childhood stomach aches will lead to adult depression and anxiety; genetic makeup and when the stomach aches occur developmentally are also important factors.

Researcher Pankaj Pasricha, MD, notes that 15 to 20 percent of people experience chronic pain in the upper abdomen, and are more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than their peers.

Gut and brain hardwired together

Dr. Pasricha points to the connection between the gut and brain as an explanation for psychological issues related to childhood stomach aches. The gut has its own nervous system—similar to that of the brain—and is hardwired to the brain by the vagus nerve, a nerve that runs from the brain to the internal organs. As a result of signals transferred back and forth, disturbances in the gut can impact the brain.

To test whether chronic childhood gut problems could lead to adult anxiety and depression, researchers performed experiments on baby rats, irritating their stomachs for six days.

Study shows early gut problems lead to adult anxiety

Researchers found that these rats showed significantly more anxiety and depression than their peers. They also had higher levels of stress hormones. It was concluded that the early gastric irritation permanently altered their brain function. However, when the researchers inhibited the release of stress hormones in the affected rats, they behaved more normally.

Addressing gut-based anxiety and depression

A number of studies show that chronic inflammation rewires the brain to become more sensitive to stress. This causes one to become “stressed out” very easily and suffer from disorders such as anxiety and depression.

So what can you do? First (if you have children), think preventively. Take colic and chronic stomach aches seriously. Intolerance to certain foods, such as gluten or dairy, is often the culprit. Other possibilities include bacterial infections, yeast overgrowth, or parasites.

Bearing all this in mind, the most important first step is to remove the inflammatory triggers that perpetuate the stress. An anti-inflammatory diet is a great way to start. However you may need additional support—such as a gut-cleanse and repair—to unwind inflammation affecting both the brain and the gut.

Chronic stress also leads to depleted and imbalanced brain chemicals, called “neurotransmitters.” Neurotransmitters regulate our moods, function, and even our personality. And because the gut has its own nervous system, neurotransmitter imbalances also lead to poor digestive function.

My office can recommend specific nutritional therapies to help unwind stress, restore gut health, and improve brain chemistry. If your child complains of stomach distress, it’s important that you address the problem right away, in order to reduce the risk of depression or anxiety later in life.

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It’s hard to believe that the journey of the cleanse is over. Today, I am easing out of the cleanse, by going back to the elimination diet first. Week 3 was the hardest for me, as I think I was dealing with some PMS, but the worst I did was an extra tablespoon of almond butter (big deal!). I was aware of my mind telling me stories of what I needed, so it was interesting to be an observer rather than acting on it. The food was all throughout the cleanse just wonderful. How could you feel deprived with excellent and fairly easy recipes? As far as weightloss, the last week was a little rocky. I went up a pound, then lost 1.5lbs. I think my body is trying to decide if it needs to hang on to some calories, just in case I decide to starve it some more. No hunger though. But rather than looking at the weight lost, I prefer to think about how I feel. I feel I have gained back some old part of myself. And boy, it feels comfortable! It really has had an effect on my outlook, and how I feel about myself. I have come to terms with what my body cannot tolerate (sugar, alcohol, certain grains). In the end I feel more balanced. Goals achieved.

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dementia-circadian-rhythm-adrenal-cortisol-alzheimer's

Are you a night owl who can’t fall asleep? Are you half dead in the morning without several cups of coffee? If so, you may have an increased risk of developing dementia later in life.

Our “body clock,” or circadian rhythm, regulates our sleep/wake cycles.

A healthy circadian rhythm has you alert in the morning, tired at night, and able to sleep through the night.

When it becomes imbalanced your risk of developing dementia, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases increases.

Dementia and circadian rhythm share same area of the brain

The area of the brain that governs the circadian rhythm, the hippocampus, also plays a role in short-term memory and learning. The hippocampus is the first target of degeneration in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

An imbalanced circadian rhythm could point to problems in the hippocampus and an increased risk of dementia later in life.

Studies link circadian rhythm imbalance with dementia risk

A recent study found the risk of dementia was higher in older women with weaker circadian rhythms.

A 2008 study also found that tracking circadian rhythms over time could predict cognitive decline in healthy older adults.

Circadian rhythm balance goes beyond dementia

Dementia isn’t the only risk. Studies have also linked an imbalanced circadian rhythm with cardiovascular disease, weight gain, mood disturbances, constipation, prostate cancer, and breast cancer.

Are you at risk for dementia later in life?

How do you know if your circadian rhythm is off balance? Look at whether you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty waking in the morning
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Poor recovery from exercise
  • Drop of energy between 4 –7 p.m.

Preventing dementia naturally

How can you normalize your circadian rhythm and lower the risk for dementia? The answer lies largely in regulating cortisol, an adrenal stress hormone. Studies show high cortisol from physical or mental stress degenerates the hippocampus.

The stress from inflammation in particular has been shown to be associated with atrophy of the hippocampus. This has been evidenced on blood panels by higher levels of homocysteine, a telltale sign of inflammation.

Lower inflammation to prevent dementia

One of the best ways to normalize the circadian rhythm is to reduce inflammation; your diet is the first place to start. Address food sensitivities, such as to gluten, lower the amount of starchy foods and sweets to stabilize blood sugar, and eliminate processed foods. Ask my office about an anti-inflammatory diet program.

Other tools I can help you with include addressing brain health and chemistry. Chronic stress can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that regulate mood and wellbeing. Restoring balance to neurotransmitters helps regulate the body’s clock.

Adrenal adaptogens, herbs that help modulate adrenal cortisol levels, can significantly balance the circadian rhythm and protect the hippocampus, as can liposomal phosphatidylserine.

Of course, establishing healthy sleep habits and reducing lifestyle stressors will also help lower cortisol levels and normalize your circadian rhythm.

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