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Archive for February, 2014

how stress harms body

Did you know that approximately two-thirds of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related complaintsStress is the body’s reaction to any situation that is demanding or dangerous. When we experience stress, the body responds by making adrenal hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol) that help your body cope. Commonly called the “fight or flight” response, this is where your blood pressure increases, your hands sweat, and your heart rate and breathing quicken. You’ve probably felt it during that big job interview, before a first date, during an argument, or being stuck in traffic when you’re running late.

Our bodies normalize quickly after responding to short-term stressors. But problems arise with chronic stress, such as financial worries, major life changes, job stress, or an ongoing illness. Other chronic stressors are not lifestyle related but instead metabolic: gut infections, leaky gut, food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances (low blood sugar, insulin resistance, or diabetes), anemia, autoimmune disease, inflammation, and environmental toxins are examples.

It’s no wonder adrenal stress is one of most common problems encountered by functional medical practitioners.

How stress damages the body

In chronic stress, the adrenal glands continually produce the hormone cortisol. Known as the “aging hormone” (ever notice how you look older when you are stressed a lot?), chronic high cortisol is linked to:

  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • depression
  • insomnia
  • suppressed immunity
  • insulin resistance
  • increased belly fat (muffin top anyone?)
  • reduced libido
  • bone loss
  • low energy
  • heart problems

How do you know if you have adrenal stress? You may experience ongoing fatigue, energy crashes, difficulty recovering from long days or stressful events, headaches, difficulty falling and staying asleep, difficulty waking up, mood swings, sugar and caffeine cravings (do you need to refresh from the afternoon blahs?), irritability, lightheadedness between meals, eating to relieve fatigue, dizziness upon standing, gastric ulcers, and hypothyroid symptoms.

Adrenal adaptogens help buffer the damages of stress

Everyone is familiar with classic stress-relief methods such as meditation, exercise, enjoying hobbies, and socializing, but there is much more you can do to support the body’s stress response.

One of the most reliable ways to buffer the damages of stress is to take adrenal adaptogens. These are a unique class of healing plants that support healthy adrenal function and help regulate the body’s stress response. Adrenal adaptogens include panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng (eleuthero), astragalus, rhodiola, ashwagandha, licorice root, holy basil (tulsi) and schizandra.

In addition to soothing inflammation and increasing energy and brain function, these herbs can also help the body and brain cope with stress. Although they come from the plant world, adrenal adaptogens are potent medicines that should be taken under the supervision of a trained practitioner.

Other smart tools to protect you from the damage of stress

There are other tools to add to your stress-reduction program. For example, phosphatidylserine can help normalize cortisol levels and protect the brain from the damages of stress.

Of course, one should always consider lifestyle habits when addressing stress. Below are lifestyle suggestions to help support healthy adrenal function and stress response:

  • Avoid or greatly minimize stimulants.
  • Eat nutrient-dense foods.
  • Avoid high carbs and sugars.
  • Avoid dietary causes of inflammation such as food allergens, high fructose corn syrup, refined foods, and especially industrial seed oils such as canola oil.
  • Have adequate intake of essential fatty acids (DHA and EPA).
  • Have proper sleep habits.

Though we may live in a world of unrelenting stress, it is possible to successfully manage the body’s response through a combination of healthy lifestyle habits and herbal adrenal support.

For more information on how to identify and manage adrenal stress, contact our office.

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scoop on nightshades

If you’re following the strict leaky gut or autoimmune diet, you may have noticed nightshades are on the list of foods to avoid. Many common and much-loved vegetables belong to the nightshade family, including eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, sweet and hot peppers (but not black pepper), and chili-based spices, including paprika. What many people don’t realize is nightshades contain compounds that can contribute to their pain, digestive issues, and inflammation. Some people are sensitive to nightshades so it’s important to determine whether they might play a role in your symptoms.

The word nightshade typically conjures images of notorious toxic plants such as jimson weed, petunias, and deadly nightshade. The nightshade family, called Solanacea, has more than 2,000 species, most of which are inedible and many of which are highly poisonous. However, many edible plants also fall into the nightshade family.

Below are some of the other less well-known nightshades:

  • Bush tomato
  • Goji berries (a.k.a. wolfberry)
  • Naranjillas
  • Pepinos
  • Pimientos
  • Tamarillos
  • Tomatillos

What’s the problem with nightshades?

Several natural compounds in nightshades can make them problematic: saponins, lectins, and capsaicin. These compounds make nightshades a common food sensitivity, and they can lead to leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes overly porous. A leaky gut allows unwanted pathogens into the bloodstream, leading to health issues including inflammation, allergies, and autoimmunity.  Researchers also suggest that even moderate consumption of nightshades can contribute to a variety of health conditions, arthritis in particular.

Saponins in nightshades

Saponins are compounds that have detergent-like properties and are designed to protect plants from microbes and insects. When consumed by humans, saponins can create holes in the gut wall, increasing leaky gut and allowing pathogens and toxins into the bloodstream. Saponins also have properties that can encourage the immune system to make inflammatory messengers that cause inflammation in the body.

Peppers are high in saponins. Ripe tomatoes have low levels of saponins, while green tomatoes and hot-house tomatoes (those that are harvested before they are ripe), are exceedingly high in saponins.

Lectins in nightshades

Another compound found in nightshades that can be problematic for some people is lectin. Lectins are a concern because they resist digestion, are able to withstand the heat of cooking (which means they are intact when you eat them), and help create a leaky gut. They can penetrate the protective mucus of the small intestine where they promote cell division at the wrong time and even cause cell death. Lectins can also perforate the intestinal wall, and trick the immune system into thinking there’s an intruder, causing an allergic reaction.

Tomato lectin is known to enter the blood stream relatively quickly in humans, while potato lectins have been found to irritate the immune system and produce symptoms of food hypersensitivity in both allergenic and non-allergenic patients.

Capsaicin in nightshades

Capsaicin is a stimulant found in chili peppers that helps give them their heat. While a variety of health benefits have been attributed to capsaicin, it is also a potent irritant to mucous membranes and may contribute to leaky gut as well.

Yams and sweet potatoes are not nightshades

Yams are in the same family as sweet potatoes; true yams are not very common in the United States. Fortunately, sweet potatoes and true yams are not part of the nightshade family despite their names, and do not exhibit the same tendencies as nightshades toward promoting leaky gut and inflammation in the body.

Anyone wishing to improve digestive health and manage inflammatory conditions, autoimmune diseases, or allergies may want to consider drastically reducing or even eliminating their consumption of nightshades to determine whether they are a problem. Ask my office for more information about the leaky gut, or autoimmune, diet.

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valentines day gifts chronic illness

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, have you thought about how to express your affection for someone you love who lives with a chronic illness? Chronic illness is at an all-time high in the United States, with 75 percent of our health care dollars going to treat such chronic illnesses as heart disease, diabetes, and autoimmune conditions. Because chronic illness is invisible to others, living with the symptoms of pain, fatigue, depression, and inflammation can be very stressful.

Chocolates not a good idea for chronically ill

The traditional gift of chocolate may not be the best idea; many chocolates are made in factories where they become cross-contaminated with gluten and other food allergens, and the sugar and caffeine in chocolate can exacerbate chronic health symptoms.

Be wary of Valentine’s Day dinner out for chronically ill

In fact, it’s best to avoid gifts that involve food; many people with chronic illness have sensitivities to a variety of foods. You don’t want that special dinner out to make your sweetheart sick. Also, chronic illness can cause constant exhaustion and your loved one may be more worn out more than he or she lets on. Play it safe and give something that is nurturing and relaxing. The best gift you can give may be one that offers a chance to slow down, be pampered or have time to do absolutely nothing.

Healthy and nurturing Valentine’s Day gifts

Below is a list of gift ideas that will let your sweetheart feel special, while helping to reduce the stress of living with a chronic illness and support health.

Give your loved one a spa day. Pampering can do wonders for stress levels. Take it up a notch and enjoy a spa with her. Many couples do!

A therapeutic massage can help relieve stress and support health. If your loved one has recently committed to a new workout routine, massage will be a welcome relief from sore muscles!

Gift certificates to do a chore that fatigues him or her, such as washing dishes, doing laundry, mowing the lawn, or childcare. Make sure to follow through!

Gift baskets make a fabulous Valentine’s gift. Fill it with things that support relaxation and support health, such as all-natural bath products.

A coupon for gentle yoga classes to help reduce stress.

A membership at the gym—for both of you—to support workout and health goals together. This is only for those who will take such a gift with a smile; it’s not a hint that they need to lose weight!

Hand-written coupons for letting he or she sleep in while you get the kids out of bed and take them to an event until noon. And don’t feed them a bunch of sugar while you’re out; the results when you return home will trump all the relaxation he or she had!

Write a sweet note reminding him or her that you are committed, regardless of the health struggles they are going through.

Buy the best book you can find about his or her health condition and commit to reading it so you can better understand how to support your loved one’s journey and discuss it with him or her. Again, make sure to follow through.

Tickets to a local comedy showlaughter is scientifically proven to be one of the best stress-relievers!

Buy passes for you both to have a leisurely afternoon at your favorite museum or event. If you have kids, hire a babysitter to watch the kids all day.

Make a list of 20, 30, even 50 things you love about him or her, roll it up and wrap it with a nice ribbon and place it next to the morning tea. What a way to start the day!

A love letter or poem. Nobody has to be Shakespeare to write about love and devotion.

Give a lovely plant to represent your growing relationship; unlike flowers that wilt in two days, a plant will be a lasting reminder of your love.

Handwritten coupons for walks together in a nearby park or a trail in the woods.

Whisk your special someone away for a surprise, like a balloon ride or a romantic boat tour down the river.

Take your sweetie to the place you met, or where you fell in love. Make sure to plan ahead for factors like weather and healthy food along the way.

Create a handmade scrapbook of your good times together, and leave room at the end for more photos!

Hand make a gift. Are you a great woodworker? Do you knit? Make a scarf for him to wear like a hug, or a lovely little box for her to keep her special jewelry in.

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gluten depression anxiety brain fog

Do you suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, brain fog, memory loss, or other brain-based issues? While conventional medicine turns to drug treatments, recent research points to poor gut health as the root of mental illness. This is because inflammation in the gut triggers inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain, bringing on depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss and other neurological symptoms. Although many factors affect gut health—and hence brain health—one of the more profound is a sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other wheat-like grains. In fact, a gluten sensitivity has been found to affect brain and nerve tissue more than any other tissue in the body.

Gluten sensitivity once was thought to be limited to celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten that damages the digestive tract and is linked to depression. However, newer research has confirmed the validity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, an immune response to gluten that causes many symptoms, including digestive problems, skin rashes, joint pain, and neurological and psychiatric diseases. Recent research shows gluten degenerates brain and nervous tissue in a significant portion of those with gluten sensitivity.

 

How Does Gluten Affect Mental Health?

 

Gluten can affect mental health in a variety of ways.

For instance, gluten sensitivity can lead to depression, anxiety, brain fog and other brain symptoms by irritating the lining of the small intestine, resulting in “leaky gut,” a condition in which the intestinal wall becomes overly porous. This allows undigested food, toxins and bacteria into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation throughout the body and brain. Also, certain harmful bacteria that travel through a leaky gut into the bloodstream release toxic molecules (lipopolysaccharides) that are linked to depression and various psychiatric disorders.

Another way gluten can trigger depression is through gluten cross-reactivity. Because gluten is similar in structure to brain tissue, when the immune system attacks gluten in the blood, it can confuse brain tissue with gluten and accidentally attack brain and nerve tissue as well.

Gluten is also known to disrupt the balance of good and bad bacteria in the digestive tract. There is a relationship between gut bacteria and the brain, and an imbalance in gut bacteria has been linked with psychiatric disorders.

The gut damage caused by a gluten sensitivity can also prevent the absorption of nutrients essential for brain health, especially zinc, tryptophan, and B vitamins. These nutrients are critical for the synthesis of brain chemicals that prevent depression, anxiety and other brain-based disorders.

 

What Steps Can You Take?

 

If you are experiencing depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss, or other unresolved brain-based issues, testing for gluten sensitivity can be a valuable tool in knowing how best to manage it. Addressing leaky gut is also paramount.

Ask my office for more information on leaky gut and the connection between gluten and depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss, and other brain-based disorders.

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