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Archive for July, 2014

411 heartburn and hypochlorhydria copy

Are you one of the 20 percent of Americans with acid reflux and heartburn? You’re probably chalking the problem up to too much stomach acid, but in many cases it’s the opposite causing the problems – too little stomach acid is the culprit behind those fiery episodes that feel like they’re burning a hole in your chest.

How can that be possible?

The environment of the stomach is highly acidic so that it can quickly break down meats and other foods, protect you from poisoning and infection from bacteria, fungi, and other toxins, and help you better absorb minerals. Good stomach acidity also helps ensure smooth function of the rest of the digestive tract and can help relieve not only heartburn but also indigestion, belching, gas, constipation, bloating, yeast overgrowth, food allergies, and other symptoms related to compromised digestion.

Why is stomach acid low?

Various factors can cause insufficient stomach acid. Stress, bacterial infection, poor diet, and nutritional deficiencies can hinder the stomach’s production of hydrochloric acid (HCl), or stomach acid. The most common cause of low stomach acid is infection from H. pylori, a bacteria also linked with stomach ulcers.

Pernicious anemia, hypothyroidism, a deficiency of zinc, B12, magnesium, or chloride can also contribute to the problem. Long-time vegetarians or vegans may be deficient in zinc and B12, as these are found in meats, and may need the support of HCl supplementation when adding meat back into their diet.

How low stomach acid causes heartburn

The stomach contents must be very acidic to trigger the release of food from the stomach into the small intestine. When stomach acid is too low it fails to trigger this release because the contents are not the right acidity to safely enter the small intestine.

As a result, the trapped food shoots back up into the esophagus. Although stomach acid is too low, it is still too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus. This causes that fiery burning and pain of heartburn and acid reflux.

Why antacids and acid blockers can make the problem worse

Antacids or acid blockers bring temporary relief but may cause long-term problems with your overall digestive function. Proper acidity of the stomach triggers the pancreas to secrete digestive enzymes and the gallbladder to secrete bile. Enzymes and bile help ensure proper nutrient absorption, fat emulsification, protection against infections and parasites, and proper functioning of the large intestine.

Chronically low stomach acid hinders the function of these organs, often leading to larger problems throughout the digestive tract.

Correcting low stomach acid

If stomach acid is too low the most important thing to do is address the root cause, whether it is nutritional deficiency, hypothyroidism, or an H. pylori infection. You can also boost stomach acid by taking an HCl supplement. Just be aware that if you have gastric lesions or an autoimmune reaction to the tissue in your stomach, an HCl supplement could make you feel worse.

Ask my office for advice on whether you need supplemental HCl and how to use it safely and for the best results if you have heartburn or acid reflux. We can also help you get to the root cause of your digestive issues.

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nutritional support for sobriety

Headed for the donut tray at the AA meeting? It’s not uncommon for people recovering from alcoholism or other addictions to report a ravenous sweet tooth. Alcohol is essentially fermented sugar and is frequently mixed with something sweet, so the alcoholic goes into recovery with a raging sugar addiction already established. Also, addiction in general spikes blood sugar; going cold turkey can cause drops in blood sugar and symptoms of hypoglycemia. This in turn causes sugar cravings that, in the brain of an alcoholic, feels like a craving for alcohol.

Stable blood sugar vital for sobriety

Fortunately, you can manipulate your brain chemistry to outsmart these cravings and help ease the transition. The key is to keep your blood sugar stable.

When blood sugar drops too low symptoms may include:

  • loss of appetite or nausea
  • irritability
  • feeling spacy and lightheaded
  • shaky, jittery, tremulous
  • agitated and nervous
  • depressed
  • easily upset
  • poor memory, forgetfulness
  • poor decision making
  • blurred vision
  • feeling like you’re going to black out when you stand up
  • sugar cravings

These symptoms happen because the brain is deprived of energy. It’s important to eat before these symptoms occur because low blood sugar triggers a cascade of consequences that can feed your addiction.

To keep your blood sugar stable do the following:

Eat small amounts of food frequently. Make sure these small meals are based around protein, fat, and plant fiber – not high-carb foods that will cause blood sugar to spike and plummet. Some people may need to nibble on something every hour, others can go every two to three hours. Protein for breakfast is paramount, and you may need to eat a little before bed to avoid waking at 3 or 4 a.m. Monitor your moods and energy and see what works best for you.

Avoid sugars, sodas, and high-carb foods. Sugars, desserts, sodas, coffee drinks, fruit juice, white rice, pasta, bread, pastries, etc. will crater your blood sugar, feed the addiction, and make your journey harder than it needs to be. It’s true that high-carb foods provide comfort, but only while sticking a knife in your back. Also, as far as the brain is concerned, they are just another drug.

Avoid food intolerances. Many people today are sensitive to gluten, dairy, eggs, certain grains, soy, or other foods. Eating foods to which you are sensitive creates surges of inflammation and blood sugar that feed cravings. A comprehensive food sensitivity panel or the elimination diet can help you figure out which foods may be sabotaging your chances at success.

Repair leaky gut. Alcohol damages the lining of the small intestine creating leaky gut — large particles of undigested foods, bacteria, and other pathogens escape through the damaged gut wall into the bloodstream. However, essential nutrients, which are smaller, cannot pass through mucous built up around inflamed gut tissue. Kicking alcohol and stabilizing blood sugar will go a long way to repairing leaky gut, but you can speed the journey with certain nutritional compounds. Repairing leaky gut will lower inflammation, enhance nutrient absorption, and boost your overall energy and well being.

Don’t become a coffee junkie. Coffee spikes blood sugar and will keep you on the roller coaster of emotional and energetic highs and lows. Restrict your consumption.

Support brain chemistry while getting sober

Addictions of any kind skew the balance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. While the right diet will help balance brain chemistry, you may need specific support to foster sobriety. You can do this by taking supplements called amino acids. Certain herbs, vitamins, and minerals also help. B vitamins are especially important.

When working with neurotransmitter support, it’s important to get qualified guidance so you don’t accidentally make yourself feel worse.

Neurotransmitters to be aware of when dealing with addiction include:

Dopamine. Dopamine is the “pleasure” neurotransmitter associated with addiction. Supporting dopamine may help curb the cravings. Nutrients that boost dopamine include mucuna pruriens, D, L-phenylalanine, N-acetyl L-tyrosine, and blueberry extract.

Serotonin. Serotonin helps prevent depressive moods and is supported by St. John’s Wort, SAMe, 5-HTP, and L-tryptophan.

GABA. GABA is a calming neurotransmitter that soothes anxiety and nervousness. Ingredients that promote GABA include L-taurine, valerian root, passion flower extract, L-theanine, and glycine.

A well-rounded approach to sobriety

These are just a few ideas to support addiction recovery. Of course, family history, childhood experiences, subconscious belief systems, and other factors are important, too. However, by understanding how addiction works on the body and the brain, you can boost your chances of success with the right support. The sooner you feel great the sooner you can make peace with lifelong sobriety. Ask my office for advice.

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409 antioxidants and glutathione

You’ve probably seen antioxidant labels on foods and supplements, but what does it mean exactly and what is the best antioxidant to choose? Antioxidant means it prevents oxidation, a process that happens to all cells in nature, including those in the human body. Oxidation happens when oxygen interacts with cells and it’s what makes an apple turn brown, metal rust, or food go rotten. In the body oxidation is a normal part of cell turnover. However, a small minority of oxidized cells become problematic “free radicals” that set off a chain reaction of damage, causing cells to mutate and behave abnormally. Free radicals reach us through pesticides, air pollution, cigarette smoke, excess alcohol, sunburn, junk foods, etc.

The defense? Antioxidants. And our most powerful antioxidant is one the body makes called glutathione. To stay a step ahead of modern civilization we need to avoid free radicals as much as possible, eat an antioxidant-rich diet, and make sure our body is sufficient in glutathione.

The best source of antioxidants in the diet are colorful fresh fruits and vegetables. Since different plants contain different types of antioxidants, it’s important to eat a wide variety. Many supplements are also geared toward shoring up your body’s antioxidant supply.

Glutathione: The master antioxidant

Glutathione is such a powerful antioxidant it is called the master antioxidant. Glutathione protects cells from free radicals, is important for detoxification, and supports immune health. Many people with autoimmune conditions find plenty of glutathione is necessary to prevent or dampen autoimmune flares.

  • Low glutathione raises your risk for:
  • Autoimmune disease and autoimmune flares
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Heavy metal sensitivities
  • Inflammatory disorders
  • Intestinal permeability (leaky gut)
  • Other immune issues

Stress lowers glutathione levels

When we are healthy, when life is mellow, and when we eat a whole foods organic diet and avoid the use of toxic products, our bodies make sufficient glutathione. However, chronic stress depletes glutathione levels. This stress can come from toxins, poor diet, lack of sleep, smoking, excess sugar, and other stressors. Glutathione levels also decrease naturally as a result of aging.

Straight glutathione is not effective taken orally. Good deliveries of glutathione include a liposomal cream, nebulizer, suppository, or IV drip. However, S-acetyl glutathione is a newer form of glutathione that can be quite effective in helping to manage autoimmune disease when taken orally.

Glutathione recycling raises glutathione inside the cells

You can also raise glutathione levels inside the cells by taking certain precursor nutrients. This will help protect the cells’ mitochondria, which produce energy. Recycling glutathione means taking glutathione that has already been used and rebuilding it so it’s ready for action again. Good glutathione recycling will help you better manage an autoimmune disease and leaky gut.

The compounds that have been shown to support glutathione recycling include:

  • N-acetyl-cysteine
  • Alpha-lipoic acid
  • L-glutamine
  • Selenium
  • Cordyceps
  • Gotu kola
  • Milk thistle

Boosting your antioxidant status and glutathione levels can play a profound role in managing autoimmune disease, inflammation, chemical sensitivities, food sensitivities, etc.

To learn more about how to increase your antioxidant and glutathione support, contact my office for advice.

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pain relief for grief and heartbreak

When someone breaks your heart, a loved one dies, or tragedy of another nature hits you, people often report the grief feels like a physical pain. That’s because your brain reacts to heartbreak or grief the way it would to an injury. Knowing this can help us put some natural pain-relieving strategies to work when grief is threatening to pull us under. I can’t promise a way out — it seems the most enduring medicine for emotional pain is still the passage of time and the support of others, but some functional medicine approaches might make each day a smidgeon more bearable.

Broken heart syndrome can damage the heart

Some cases of heartbreak and grief are so extreme they actually damage the heart. This is called broken heart syndrome (the more technical term is stress cardiomyopathy) and can also be caused by extreme fear, anxiety, or surprise.

Broken heart syndrome causes the adrenal glands to send a surge of stress hormones to the heart, which essentially paralyzes it and shuts it down. This is different than a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage. Most people recover with no damage, however, in severe cases it can cause heart failure. (Broken heart syndrome most often occurs in women over 55 and researchers suspect low estrogen, on which the heart is dependent for good function, is a factor.)

Natural pain relief strategies for emotional pain and heartbreak

Because physical and emotional pain are processed by the same area of the brain, pain relief remedies might offer relief. In one study, subjects who experienced social rejection and who received acetaminophen every day for three weeks reported fewer hurt feelings than the group who received the placebo. Brain scans also showed less activation in the parts of the brain that processed pain. Of course, taking pain relievers long term, whether over-the-counter or pharmaceutical, is not a safe or healthy option. It also won’t address important emotional issues that need to be acknowledged and expressed.

However, there are a few natural options you can explore to soften the blow of emotional pain on the physical body:

Reduce inflammation: Grief, heartbreak, loss, etc. all raise stress hormones and can trigger inflammation. Try and avoid the tendency to fall back on comfort foods that are also inflammatory –- sugars, processed foods, sodas, desserts, and junk food. Not only are they inflammatory but they also will cause your blood sugar to plummet, which will only intensify your grief or heartache. Even if you don’t feel like eating, keep blood sugar stable and inflammation low with plenty of vegetables and enough high quality protein and fat to prevent those plunges into despair.

Natural pain and stress relief: Natural compounds that can act on pain and inflammation are therapeutic doses of emulsified resveratrol and curcumin, plenty of vitamin D, and a good quality fish oil and other essential fatty acids. White willow bark is an herb that has long been used for pain relief. Herbal adrenal adaptogens can also help buffer your body from the effects of stress.

Be extra gentle on your body: Remember, as far as your body is concerned, you are wounded. This means you need to heal and recover. Now is not a good time to work extra hours, drink too much, over exercise, or engage in other forms of avoidance activities that will only prolong your suffering while abusing your body. As the ancient poet Rumi said, “The only cure for pain is the pain.” In other words, you must work your way through your grief while taking care of yourself in order to emerge intact.

In functional medicine we don’t just work with physical problems. If grief or heartache has you suffering, contact my office for guidance on how we can support your body and mind through your grieving process.

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407 endorphins and immunity

We all like things that make us high on life — that feel-good rush after exercising, a good belly laugh, playful activities with friends, meditation, a good massage, or a loved one’s touch. These are examples of things that release endorphins, the body’s chemicals that give us a natural high. But endorphins do more that make us feel good; endorphins are necessary for proper immune function. In fact, some studies suggest people with chronic illness suffer from low endorphins. If you have an autoimmune disease, chronic pain, or chronic illness, boosting your endorphins could help you better manage your health.

We are an endorphin-deprived society, what with our emphasis on being busy. Not only does this result in less happiness, but it also predisposes the immune system to malfunction so that one is more apt to develop chronic pain or illness.

Most immune cells have receptors for endorphins and need endorphins to function properly. Studies suggest low endorphins play a role in autoimmunity, when the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys tissue in the body, such as the thyroid gland (Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism), the pancreas (Type 1 diabetes), or the nervous system (multiple sclerosis).

Although many factors are linked with autoimmunity, including environmental toxins and poor diet, endorphins are not to be overlooked. Some research shows people with chronic illness have low endorphins. Low endorphin production is caused by alcohol fetal exposure, alcoholism, drug abuse, anxiety, depression, and chronic psychological stress, factors that can tip the immune system out of balance.

One way to help manage your autoimmune condition, chronic illness, or chronic pain is to work to boost the production of endorphins. Here are some endorphin-boosting tips:

  • Strenuous exercise (the intensity varies from person to person; be careful not to over exercise as that will cause inflammation)
  • Acupuncture or massage therapy
  • Sex
  • Meditation
  • Laughter
  • Healthy socialization
  • Play
  • Low-dose naltrexone therapy (this is a therapy using low doses of the opiate-blocking drug naltrexone to stimulate the body’s own production of endorphins)

Managing autoimmunity and chronic illness is a multi-faceted approach

Endorphins are but one factor to consider when managing autoimmune disease or another chronic condition. Other things to consider include gluten sensitivity, food intolerances, chemical intolerances, quality of diet, leaky gut, inflammation, nutritional status, brain health, and more.

For more information about managing your autoimmune or chronic condition, contact my office.

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no sleep vs sleep

Is this warm weather keeping you up at night? Are you getting your 8 hours of solid sleep? About 40 million Americans deal with some sort of sleep problem, that probably includes some of you. When you do not get a full night’s restful sleep, your awake state is greatly affected. Sleep is an essential tool in repairing and revitalizing your body. Without repair you are more likely to develop chronic disease and when you aren’t refreshed you are more likely to make bad food choices, leading to possible obesity. Overall when you are tired, you are not going to move your life forward, and over a period of time you may start feeling dissatisfied with life. If there was only one thing about your lifestyle to change it would be your sleeping habits.

Here are some of the reasons why you might not be sleeping well:

–          You didn’t give yourself enough time to sleep

–          You need better sleeping arrangements

–          The pain in your body is keeping you awake

–          You have too many unresolved problems

–          You sleep with someone (or a pet) who keeps you awake

–          You had either sweets, alcohol, or caffeine too close to bedtime

–          Your blood sugar isn’t stable!

There are probably other reasons, but these are the ones I often hear in the clinic.

I know it seems like there just aren’t enough hours in a day, but I can’t tell you enough how important it is to honor your body and give it the rest it deserves. If you have too many tasks to take care of, don’t sacrifice your sleep to get them done. Soliciting help and delegating, or lowering your standards will not wreak havoc on your health, but lack of sleep will.

The bedroom should be a sanctuary for sleep and sex. Watching tv might help you relax, but keep it out of the bedroom. Keeping your bedroom clean and uncluttered, cool, dark and electronic free is key to helping you to get a better night’s sleep.

Some pain only shows up at night, because lying still decreases circulation. Take the time before bed to treat tight muscles with heat. and treat sore spots (such as bursitis) with ice to make your night more enjoyable. If that isn’t enough, make an appointment to come in and get a massage or an acupuncture treatment to get you back on track.

If you’re up at night thinking about all your problems, you might as well get up, start writing them down and figure out your action steps to solve the issues. At bedtime when all the distractions fade into the night, but the chatter in your head doesn’t let you get away from your problems, take 20 minutes to try to understand what’s keeping you awake and what you should do about it in the morning, then head back to your pillow. I guarantee you will have a better night’s sleep.

If you can’t sleep because your partner snores, or your pet wakes you up, do something about it! Sleep in another room for awhile, and put your pet outside of your room (and away from your ear’s reach). It is more important to get the rest, than to sleep together.

Sugar, alcohol and caffeine can stay in your body for quite a while. I recommend not consuming any of the above after 3:00 pm to be on the safe side. If you are like me, don’t consume any! Not only does it keep me awake, it will give me crazy dreams. This brings me to the last item: blood sugar! In short when our body’s energy dips too low it will wake us up (seemingly for no reason). The simple solution to keeping your blood sugar stable is avoid sugars (and anything that turns into sugar), and to consume enough protein and good fats (a few nuts can do the trick).

Sleep well everyone!

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