Archive for April, 2012


Gluten intolerance is not as straightforward as once believed. Many people test negative for gluten intolerance when, in fact, they have celiac disease or should be on a gluten-free diet. This is because standard tests are incomplete and fail to account for gluten cross-reactivity.

Fortunately, revolutionary breakthroughs in gluten testing are now available from Cyrex Labs. Cyrex tests for immune reactions to 12 different compounds of the gluten protein, foods the body mistakes for gluten, and other food sensitivities.

People can react to 12 different components of wheat

Wheat is made up of more than 100 different components that can cause an immune reaction in people. Cyrex Labs used extensive research to pinpoint the 12 most common and screens for an immune reaction to one or more of them. These include peptides, proteins, and enzymes associated with wheat.

Until now, testing for gluten intolerance has only been against one of those components, alpha gliadin.

This new test catches those with celiac disease or those who should be gluten-free because they react to a component other than alpha gliadin.

Testing for foods that cross-react with gluten

It’s frustrating for both the practitioner and the patient when a gluten-free diet fails to help remedy health issues in a person who is clearly gluten-intolerant or has celiac disease. In fact, studies show that many people with celiac disease don’t recover gut health on a gluten-free diet. Research by scientists at Cyrex shows this may be due to cross-reactivity and food sensitivities.

Cross-reactivity is a situation in which the body mistakes another food for gluten and reacts accordingly, causing symptoms of gluten intolerance. Cyrex Labs tests for foods that may cross-react with gluten and for foods that are most often the source of sensitivities.

Oats and yeast cross-react with gluten, as does dairy, which has a structure that closely resembles that of gluten. In fact, 50 percent of people who are sensitive to gluten are also sensitive to dairy. A person with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance may need to give up dairy and other foods to regain health.

Coffee cross-reacts with gluten in many people

Cyrex researchers were surprised to find coffee has the highest rate of cross-reaction with gluten. In other words, some people’s immune system mistakes coffee for gluten, triggering a reaction. This test informs people whether one needs to give up coffee to prevent gluten cross-reactivity.

The most common foods the gluten-free person may need to avoid:

  • Cow dairy
  • American cheese
  • Milk chocolate
  • Sesame
  • Hemp
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Polish wheat
  • Buckwheat
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Spelt
  • Amaranth
  • Quinoa
  • Yeast
  • Tapioca
  • Oats
  • Coffee
  • Corn
  • Rice
  • Potato

This panel can help explain why people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance still react to foods after going gluten-free and even dairy-free.

Gluten linked to 55 diseases, most autoimmune

Gluten has been linked in studies to 55 diseases so far, most of them autoimmune. The effect of gluten on brain and nervous tissue is significantly worse and more far-reaching than researchers once thought. Yet, due to poor lab testing and general misinformation, many people continue to eat gluten, unaware it is harming them.

Thanks to more advanced testing, we can now better catch celiac disease and gluten intolerance and go beyond a gluten-free diet to restore health.

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While the importance of play for children is well understood, many don’t realize it’s a necessary form of stress relief for adults. One also could argue it’s the most enjoyable part of a wellness plan—say compared to giving up donuts or eating more broccoli—but can take just as much thought and practice to implement.

Scientists have found ample play is necessary for the proper development of children and young animals. Crows, for instance, have been observed playing tug-of-war, ganging up together on a cat, or swinging upside down from a branch. Dolphins, chimpanzees, otters, and even octopus play throughout their lives.

Play develops motor skills, socialization, problem solving, creativity, conflict resolution, and mental and physical health. In fact, studies show that preventing play causes dysfunction in animals, and one researcher even found that most serial killers did not play as children.

Grown-ups have forgotten how to play

Unfortunately, we Americans, who lead the industrialized nations with the longest work hours, have lost touch with the importance of play and the stress relief it can bring. A life of all work and no play (or all television and no play) makes us more vulnerable to stress-related diseases, depression, interpersonal violence, and addiction, according to Stuart Brown, MD, author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Invigorates the Soul, and founder of The National Institute of Play. Brown has conducted more than 6,000 play studies on a wide range of people, and says play is a particularly important form of stress relief in down times, such as the current economic situation.

Have you forgotten how to play? To stoke the dormant play pathways in your brain, Brown says to recall how you played as a child, and then experiment with what sounds fun. It could be roller skating, horse riding, basketball, crafting, storytelling, or even playing fetch with the dog. The objective is to forget you’re engaging in a powerful form of stress relief because you’re having so much fun.

The elements of successful play

Successful play is more a state of mind than a specific activity, and the health benefits go beyond stress relief. Regular play will make you feel better about yourself, stimulate brain activity, enable you to transform negative experiences, boost creativity and imagination, and help you connect with others.

Bottom line: Regular play simply makes people happier, and happiness is a great antidote to stress.

According to Brown, and Diane Ackerman, author of Deep Play, genuine play has the following qualities:

  • Play is purposeless, all-consuming, and fun
  • It is not about improving a time or score, or winning at all costs
  • Play has its own place, separate from the rest of life (a basketball court, the roller rink, a favorite trail, or even your back yard)
  • Play has a prearranged time—it’s important to make time to play
  • Play is about exuberance, license, and abandon
  • Play requires freedom—you do it because it is enjoyable, not because you’re supposed to
  • Play involves a “make believe” element
  • Play is enjoyed for its own sake


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You never know when those chronic migraines, persistent hypothyroid symptoms, or that flaring arthritis pain might actually save your life. These are warning signals that your system is out of balance. By tending to your body’s health with nutritional and lifestyle interventions, you may prevent cancer as well.

Carrying the genes for cancer doesn’t make it a sure thing—a recent study found more than half of all cancers are preventable. In functional medicine, we have long known certain diet and lifestyle practices, as well as various nutritional and botanical compounds, can reduce the risk of cancer.

Not only can nutritional therapy help prevent cancer, but it also can aid in the management of chronic autoimmune and inflammatory disorders so common today.

Cancer risk factors also increase risks for common diseases today

Many of the same factors that raise the risk of cancer are also linked with many chronic immune disorders common today:

  • Neurological disorders—memory loss, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s
  • Autoimmune disease—Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Graves’ disease, vitiglio, type 1 diabetes
  • Mood disorders—Anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorders
  • Other health issues—Chronic pain, migraines, fatigue, obesity, type 2 diabetes

People’s diet and lifestyle choices significantly influence their chance of getting cancer or one of the other immune disorders listed above. For instance, smoking alone is a responsible for 30 percent of cancers (and 75 percent of lung cancer) in the United States, and obesity for another 20 percent.

Cancer prevention falling on deaf ears

Although an enormous amount of data on the causes and preventability of cancer already exist, little of it has been put into practice on a larger scale, according to researchers. Instead, people, and their doctors, remain skeptical that cancer can be prevented.

Obstacles to more widespread cancer prevention cited by the researchers include:

  • The short-term focus of cancer research. The benefits of preventions take decades to be realized.
  • Intervening too late. It may be too late to implement preventive strategies after a lifetime of cancer-causing habits.
  • The focus of research on treatment instead of prevention. Research focuses on a single organ affected. Focusing on behavioral changes to prevent cancer might save more lives.
  • Societal factors that affect health. Many of the factors that increase the risk of cancer and other diseases, such as fast foods, high-carb diets, and addictions to sedentary forms of entertainment (television, video games, the Internet), are accepted as normal in our society.

Cancer education and awareness are still possible

It’s possible to change social norms and thus affect health, say the researchers. The anti-smoking campaigns have led to a decline in lung cancer rates. Media attention on the dangers of trans fats has led to more awareness and less use of hydrogenated oils in food processing and the restaurant industry.

In functional medicine, we often don’t see people willing to make the necessary lifestyle changes until the “pain of the problem is worse than the pain of the solution.” Adopting a healthier diet and incorporating herbal and nutritional supplements into daily life can be challenging at first, but such changes significantly ease symptoms, restore well-being, and reduce the risk of cancer for many people.

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Can’t fall asleep? You may need to turn the lights off earlier. Studies show exposure to light after dusk, particularly light from computer screens, iPads, iPhones, televisions, and other electronic items, significantly inhibits the production of melatonin, your body’s sleep hormone.

Insomnia is a national problem, affecting about 30 percent of Americans and fueling a $2 billion sleep medication industry. Although prescription sleep medications are common, they also come with troubling side effects and a four times higher risk of death.

While the natural sleep aid melatonin may be safer, it can disrupt your body’s delicate balance of hormones and create a dependency. Research shows it also stimulates inflammation, which could worsen autoimmune disorders, such as arthritis or Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, in some people.

The best natural sleep aid may be to change your lighting after dusk. Although going light-free in the evening is too much to ask, you can boost melatonin production by reconfiguring the kind of light to which you expose yourself.

LED lights suppress melatonin

Although any kind of light can suppress melatonin, research shows the worst offender is light with blue wavelengths. LED bulbs, though hailed for their energy efficiency, are dominant in blue light and suppress melatonin five times more than orange-yellow light bulbs. One study showed that exposure to room light (compared to dim light) before bedtime shortened melatonin duration by about 90 minutes, and that exposure to light during usual sleep hours suppressed melatonin by greater than 50 percent.

Examples of light sources high in melatonin-suppressing blue light include:

  • LED light bulbs
  • Computer monitors
  • Laptop computers
  • iPads, iPhones and similar devices
  • Hand-held video games
  • Electronic gadgets
  • LED televisions
  • LED digital clocks

Melatonin helps prevent dementia, cancer, obesity, and autoimmune disease

Melatonin does more than deliver a good night’s sleep. Numerous studies have linked poor melatonin activity and a disrupted sleep-wake cycle with an increased risk of cancer, an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, more autoimmune flare-ups, obesity, and other health issues.

Creating a sleep-friendly environment to boost melatonin

A sleep-friendly solution is to configure your lighting so that it mimics the light of a fire, which is rich in red and yellow wavelengths. This could mean shutting off the overhead lights and using floor and table lamps with orange and yellow bulbs in the evening. Of course, it also means forgoing computer and television use, especially just before bedtime. It may sound drastic, but for the person with persistent insomnia, these changes can help.

Other ideas to simulate our pre-industrial light-dark cycles include:

  • Adjust your sleep schedule to more closely mimic the sun’s
  • Install Flux, a free download that reduces blue light emissions from your computer screen
  • Wear orange safety glasses at night
  • Check out the melatonin-friendly bulbs and glasses at Low Blue Lights
  • Enhance melatonin production during the night by blacking out your windows or wearing a sleep mask
  • Balance blood sugar—insulin resistance (high blood sugar) typically makes it harder to fall asleep, while hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) will have you jolting awake at 3 a.m., wide-eyed and anxious—when this happens, eating a little protein may help you fall back asleep. Ask my office how to balance blood sugar.
  • Address chronic stress issues that may elevate the stress hormone cortisol and suppress melatonin during the night. Ask my office for more information.


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