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Think twice before you Roundup some more oats

821 oats and glycophospates

Even if you eat all organic, many oat-based foods such as cereal, granola, instant oats, and bars contain glyphosate, the toxic weed-killer in Roundup.

The independent study commissioned by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) measured levels of glyphosate in 45 samples of products made with conventional oats, and 16 samples made with organically grown oats. The results were shocking.

Thirty one of 45 samples made with conventional oats had 160 ppb or more of glyphosate, higher than what the EWG considers protective of children’s health.

In the organic products, glyphosate was detected at concentrations of 10 ppb to 30 ppb in 5 of 16 samples — well below the EWG health benchmark, but still present.

Organic farming prohibits use of glyphosate, so how does it get in organic food? It could drift on the wind from nearby conventional crop fields or enter by cross-contamination at a facility that handles non-organic crops.

According to the EWG, “The EPA has calculated that 1- to-2-year-old children are likely to have the highest exposure, at a level 2x greater than California’s No Significant Risk Level and 230x EWG’s health benchmark.”

Glyphosate: Not just an herbicide

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, the most heavily-used weed killer worldwide. Used widely in the US on at least 70 crops from corn, soy, oats, and wheat, to fruits, nuts and vegetables, the EWG states that more than 250 million pounds of glyphosate is sprayed on American crops yearly.

A systemic herbicide, when applied to the foliage of broadleaf plants, weeds, and grasses, glyphosate is absorbed through the tissues to kill them.

While most of the public knows of Roundup as an herbicide, it is also commonly used in a pre-harvest application called “dessication.” Applied 7 to 10 days before harvest, it has the following effects:

  • Acts as a drying agent on crops where uneven drying might risk ruining the harvest.
  • During wheat harvest it can result in slightly higher crop yield by triggering plants to release more seeds.
  • Pre-harvest application can initiate early harvest if weather conditions threaten the crop.
  • Encourages earlier ripening for earlier replanting of a new crop.
  • Reduces green material in fields that would otherwise strain farm machinery during harvest.

The “dessication” method was first suggested in the 1980s and has become routine in North America in the past 15 years. It is also catching on widely in the UK.

Most people assume glyphosate and Roundup are used only on GMO products, but it is also sprayed just before harvest on non-GMO oats, barley, wheat, and beans.

Cancer concern

While for years glyphosate was thought to be safe, recent studies have pointed to major health concerns from cancer to the disruption of gut bacteria that underlies many chronic illnesses.

While herbicide makers and the EPA deny glyphosate’s dangers, in 2015 the World Health Organization classified it as “probably carcinogenic to humans.”

While hundreds of other Roundup-related court cases are pending, in a 2018 landmark case, Monsanto was ordered by a California jury to pay $289 million in damages to a man dying of cancer, reportedly caused by repeated exposure to Roundup and other glyphosate-based weed killers in his job as a school groundskeeper.

Cancer not the only concern being researched

In addition to cancer risk, glyphosate also harms our gut bacteria.

Glyphosate also enhances the damaging effects of other chemical toxins in the environment. The effects manifest slowly over time damaging cellular systems throughout the body.

Monsanto claims that Roundup is harmless to animals and humans because its mechanism of action (called the shikimate pathway) is absent in all animals.

However, this pathway is present in bacteria, which is key for understanding how it can cause systemic harm in humans and animals.

Glyphosate disrupts beneficial bacteria thus allowing pathogens such as the highly toxic Clostridium botulinum to overgrow and take over the gut environment.

 Disruption of the gut biome is an issue which underlies many diseases and conditions including:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Autism
  • Infertility
  • Cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autoimmunity

In addition to the direct concerns for human health, environmental concerns exist as well:

  • Mounting weed resistance to the toxin, requiring stronger and stronger applications.
  • Demise of the monarch butterfly population.
  • Honey bees exposed to glyphosate lose some of their beneficial gut bacteria and become more susceptible to infection and death from harmful bacteria.

Despite resistance from herbicide producers, glyphosate has been banned or restricted by the following countries:

  • Belgium
  • Bermuda
  • Colombia
  • Netherlands
  • Sri Lanka
  • El Salvador
  • France
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Kuwait
  • Qatar
  • Bahrain
  • Oman
  • UAE

In addition, towns in many states have taken a stand against the chemical.

Organic or not, check your brands

What can you do to reduce the impact of glyphosate for yourself and your family? First, eat organic produce whenever you can. Secondly, look out for the following products from the EWG study and know their risk level:

Potentially dangerous to children:

  • Back to Nature Classic Granola
  • Quaker Simply Granola Oats, Honey, Raisin and Almonds
  • Nature Valley Granola Protein Oats ‘n Honey
  • Giant Instant Oatmeal Original Flavor
  • Quaker Dinosaur Eggs, Brown Sugar, Instant Oatmeal
  • Great Value Original Instant Oatmeal
  • Umpqua Oats, Maple Pecan
  • Market Pantry Instant Oatmeal, Strawberries & Cream*
  • Cheerios Toasted Whole Grain Oat Cereal
  • Lucky Charms (without marshmallows)
  • Barbara’s Multigrain Spoonfuls, Original, Cereal
  • Kellogg’s Cracklin’ Oat Bran oat cereal*
  • Nature Valley Crunchy Granola Bars, Oats ‘n Honey
  • Quaker Steel Cut Oats
  • Quaker Old Fashioned Oats
  • Bob’s Red Mill Steel Cut Oats*

Contains safe amounts of glyphosate:

  • Back to Nature Banana Walnut Granola Clusters
  • KIND Vanilla, Blueberry Clusters with Flax Seeds
  • Kellogg’s Nutrigrain Soft Baked Breakfast Bars, Strawberry
  • Nature’s Path Organic Old Fashioned Organic Oats
  • Whole Foods Bulk Bin conventional rolled oats
  • Bob’s Red Mill Organic Old Fashioned Rolled Oats

Contained no glyphosate in any tests:

  • Nature’s Path Organic Honey Almond granola
  • Simple Truth Organic Instant Oatmeal, Original
  • Kashi Heart to Heart Organic Honey Toasted cereal
  • Cascadian Farm Organic Harvest Berry, granola bar
  • 365 Organic Old-Fashioned Rolled Oats

*This product underwent multiple tests and tested above the dangerous level in one or more and below the dangerous level in one or more.

 

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Six lifelong habits found among the happiest people

820 6 habits for happiness

In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.

In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects.

1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.

Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).

In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.

2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.

3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.

4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.

5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.

6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.

Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Ask my office how we can help you shift your health and happiness into the right direction.

 

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Coconut oil is bad? Knowing good fats from bad fats

819 understanding fats and cholesterol

Fats are a hot topic of debate in the health-conscious community, and recent reports have made it hard to separate facts from fear-mongering. Canola and coconut oils are two popular fats that have received a lot of attention over the years, and thankfully recent studies are showing us more clearly which fats to embrace, and which to avoid.

Understanding fats

To understand which fats are healthy, it’s helpful to understand “good” HDL and “bad” LDL cholesterol, small fat and protein packages that transport cholesterol throughout the body.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol helps protect your arteries from cholesterol and removes excess arterial plaque.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad” cholesterol can accumulate in the arteries to form plaque that narrows them and makes them less flexible (atherosclerosis).

Triglycerides. Elevated levels are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Risk factors include smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, overweight, and a diet high in sugars and grains.

Particle size matters

HDL, LDL, and triglycerides come in small and large particles. While the large particles are practically harmless, the small, dense particles are more dangerous. They can lodge in arterial walls, leading to inflammation, plaque buildup, and damage that eventually leads to heart disease.

When considering test results, your doctor will note:

  • HDL levels versus LDL levels
  • Triglyceride levels
  • The ratio between triglycerides to HDL
  • The ratio between total cholesterol and HDL
  • The size of the particles

Here’s where the former warnings about fats and cholesterol have been misleading: We now understand that more important than knowing your total cholesterol is knowing the ratio between your HDL and your LDL, and especially the size of the particles.

In addition, the Mayo Clinic says many doctors now believe that for predicting heart disease risk, total non-HDL may be more useful than calculating your cholesterol ratio. Non-HDL cholesterol is figured by subtracting your HDL cholesterol number from your total cholesterol number.

Finally, either option appears to be a better risk predictor than your total cholesterol level or simply your LDL level.

Note: In some cases, people have a genetic tendency toward extremely high cholesterol. In those situations, it may take more than diet to manage cholesterol levels.

Should I consume saturated fats?

Sourced from tropical oils and animal products, saturated fats are typically solid or semi-solid at room temperature. Common dietary sources include beef, pork, lamb, poultry skin, high-fat dairy, palm oil, and coconut oil.

Saturated fat sits at the forefront of the debate about dietary oils. Why? For years, we’ve been warned that it increases the risk for cardiovascular disease because it raises LDL, the “bad” type of cholesterol.

This recommendation was based on four hand-picked studies done nearly 40 years ago and doesn’t reflect recent studies that shine a different light on fat intake. What the studies didn’t do is take into consideration other things saturated fats do to help balance the equation:

  • Raise HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  • Change LDL (“bad”) cholesterol from small, dense particles — dangerous for heart health — to large particle LDL, which does not increase heart disease risk.
  • Support brain health.
  • Possibly reduce stroke risk.

In fact, a recent meta-analysis of studies showed there is no significant evidence that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease.

For some people there are legitimate reasons to moderate saturated fat intake:

  • Saturated fat intake can be associated with lighter, less restorative, more disruptive sleep (yet increased fiber can help increase sleep quality).
  • ApoE4 carriers (increased Alzheimer’s risk) see a much higher spike in LDL cholesterol from high saturated fat in the diet, without a matching rise in HDL. They may benefit from lower intake of saturated fat which can lower LDL cholesterol and improve HDL/LDL ratio.
  • A small percent of the population does experience a skyrocketing increase in LDL concentrations along with increased inflammation levels measured by C-reactive protein.

Ask my office about a diet that is sufficient in healthy fats, void of bad fats, and customized to your dietary needs.

 

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Support healthy stomach acid levels for good digestion

818 support healthy stomach acid

When we go to the doctor with symptoms of acid reflux, gas, bloating and heartburn, typically the diagnosis of high stomach acid is based purely on symptoms — not a lab test for stomach acid levels — resulting in a prescription for antacids, histamine type 2 receptor agonists (H2 blockers), Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), or even surgery.

For some people these remedies get to the root cause, however for a large percentage they fall far short of the real target and actually serve to increase the problem.

Antacids reduce stomach acid temporarily, then more acid is automatically produced to bring the stomach back to its intended pH level. This only treats the temporary symptoms and does nothing to fix the actual problem.

H2 blockers block a substance in the body that encourages acid production in the stomach. They work more slowly than antacids and are intended to last for longer periods of time. On the down side, they stop production of pepsin, a digestive enzyme necessary for breaking down protein.

Proton pump inhibitors permanently block an enzyme that tells your stomach to produce acid.

All of these methods are linked to serious side effects and can even contribute to the root causes for continued chronic low stomach acid and other serious health conditions.

5 Ways to test stomach acid levels

Because hypochlorhydria isn’t well known to most patients, many never trace it back to their chronic health condition and they continue to suffer.

The good news is multiple options exist for testing stomach acid levels, which will help you create a clear game plan for remedying the situation at its foundation.

1. Gastric acid secretion test. Highly invasive and expensive, this test is typically done if a patient is diagnosed with a stomach ulcer. It can be helpful to track if anti-ulcer medication is working and to see if material from the intestines is coming back into the stomach.

2. The Heidelberg Stomach Acid Test. Considered the gold standard test for hypochlorhydria, a small capsule with a radio transmitter is ingested to measure the pH of the stomach as you drink a solution with baking soda (reduces acidity). The baking soda will naturally neutralize the HCL in the stomach. If the body does not return it to normal, it’s a sign of hypochlorhydria.

This test provides a graph showing your specific stomach response to the baking soda challenge, and can help determine if you have hypochlorhydria, hyperchlorhydria (high acid), or achlorhydria (complete lack of acid). At a cost of about $350, this test is not covered by most insurance plans.

3. CBC and CMP. These are common factors on a metabolic blood panel, typically covered by insurance. A skilled clinician can diagnose hypochlorhydria by taking into account these lab results in combination with your symptoms.

4. Betaine HCl challenge. An at-home test considered to be quite reliable, however false positives are possible so it’s recommended to repeat the test three times. The betaine HCl costs about $20. If you have low stomach acid, you can then take it to help restore your HCl levels.

  1. Buy Betaine HCl with pepsin.
  2. Eat a high-protein meal containing at least 6 ounces of meat (veggies are allowed with this).
  3. In the middle of the meal (not the beginning) take one betaine HCl pill.
  4. Finish the meal and observe what happens.

Possible outcomes:

1. You notice no symptoms. This is likely a sign of low stomach acid.

2. Indigestion. Burning, heat, or heaviness in your chest likely indicate adequate stomach acid levels.

It is recommended to repeat the betaine HCl challenge two or three times to confirm your results. Three positive tests are a good indication of low stomach acid.

False positives are possible if:

  • You consume too little protein. A low protein meal doesn’t require much acid, so the betaine HCl can cause too much increase in acid.
  • You took the capsule before the meal, which can cause indigestion.
  • You have esophageal sphincter dysfunction. A hiatal hernia or poor esophageal sphincter tone can cause increased indigestion symptoms. Rule this out with a medical exam if you suspect it.

5. Baking soda stomach acid test. While not as accurate as the above tests, this is a free at-home test you can use to get an indication of your stomach acid levels. The results can vary from person to person depending on interpretation of the results. Some use it as a baseline measure and to track changes over time.

First thing in the morning, before eating or drinking anything:

  1. Mix ¼ tsp baking soda in 4 to 6 ounces of cold water.
  2. Drink the baking soda solution.
  3. Time how long it takes for a burp to occur. Time it for up to 5 minutes:

If you have not burped within five minutes, it may be a sign of insufficient stomach acid. Early and repeated burping may be due to too much stomach acid (do not to confuse this with small burps from swallowing air when drinking the solution). Any burping after 3 minutes is an indication of low stomach acid levels.

Associated tests

Low stomach acid can be associated with other health issues that have far-reaching consequences. If you suspect low stomach acid, ask our office about testing for the following:

B12 levels: Intrinsic factor is a glycoprotein in the stomach necessary for absorption of vitamin B12. When stomach acid is too low, intrinsic factor can’t do its job. This results in vitamin B12 deficiency, which is a serious health concern.

Homocysteine levels: Stomach acid is important for proper absorption of vitamin B12, a key factor in methylation that keeps inflammatory homocysteine at the right levels. When B12 is low, homocysteine elevates.

Supporting healthy stomach acid

Eat protein foods at the beginning of your meal to stimulate the digestive enzymes necessary for digesting protein.

Chew thoroughly. This is one of the most important parts of digestion. Food proteins need to be broken down to be properly digested.

Limit liquid intake during meals until at least 30 minutes after a meal to allow for proper stomach acid production, pathogen sterilization, and protein metabolism.

Stay hydrated between meals to support proper gut motility; this pushes the contents of the intestines out of the body instead of back into the stomach. This is very important for those who are prone to SIBO.

Betaine hydrochloride supplements help support healthy gut function and safely restore normal gastric acidity. (Do not confuse betaine HCl with anhydrous betaine, a methyl-donor nutrient taken to control homocysteine levels.)

Always take the betaine HCL either half-way through the meal or right at the end of the meal. Taking it before a meal may create a false experience of heartburn and can turn off stomach acid production for this meal. Caution: Do not take HCL if you are taking any NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, Tylenol or aspirin.

HCl with pepsin. Add these to your diet when you consume protein. When you feel warmth in your stomach, that means you are taking enough. Then back it down a notch and monitor your response. Some people need one capsule, others need more as everyone is unique.

Pepsin. Typically used in conjunction with HCl, pepsin is considered very safe when administered to assist digestion.

Digestive enzymes help to break down food proteins. Make sure to get a high-quality blend.

Apple cider vinegar. One tablespoon in a bit of water right before a meal can help with digestion.

Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, pickled ginger, and water kefir contain organic acids, enzymes and probiotics to assist with proper digestion. They are also anti-microbial and fight H. pylori, arch enemy of stomach acid production.

Taking the time to improve your stomach acid levels will make a huge difference in your symptoms and quality of life. Please contact my office for more help.

 

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Household disenfectants promote obesity gut bacteria

817 cleaning products

New research shows those powerful and toxic household disinfectants do more than kill germs — they also kill off vital gut bacteria and shift your gut microbiome signature to promote obesity.

Our gut microbiome consists of several pounds of gut bacteria and research increasingly shows how powerfully these bacteria influence our overall health.

The composition of the gut microbiome determines much about our immune health, personality, brain function, and weight. In fact, scientists are increasingly discovering a connection between our microbiome signature and a propensity toward obesity.

For instance, being born via C-section, bottle feeding versus breast feeding as an infant, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood has been associated with a much higher risk of obesity.

Also, both mice and human studies shows that inoculating the gut of an obese subject with the gut bacteria of a thin subject causes swift weight loss. The reverse is also true — thin mice quickly become fat when inoculated with the gut bacteria of obese mice.

Now, a new study adds more weight to these findings by showing that multi-surface cleaning disinfectants are another factor that promote an obesity microbiome. Children who grow up in households that use these products regularly are more prone to obesity.

The Canadian study showed that three-year-old children who grew up in homes where these products were used two or more times a week were more overweight than their peers who grew up in homes where these products were used less often or not at all.

The bacterium scientists looked at is called Lachnospiraceae. In animal studies, higher levels of Lachnospiraceae is associated with increased body fat and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a stepping stone condition to diabetes and is often found in people with obesity.

Fecal samples from children in homes that used eco-cleaners or detergents free of the bacteria-killing ingredients did not show the same elevated levels of Lachnospiraceae.

It was important in the study to look at the home environments three-year-olds grew up in because microbiome researchers find that our lifelong gut microbiome is largely determined by age three.

Although more work needs to be done in this arena, animal studies have produced similar results.

Can you alter your gut microbiome signature?

Although it looks like the gut microbiome signature we develop in infancy plays a large role in our lifelong health, it is not completely set in stone.

In fact, the gut microbiome is increasingly being viewed as a dynamic organ that can change composition in as little as three days. The foods you eat profoundly influence your gut bacteria.

The best strategy to promote a healthy gut microbiome that favors fat burning over fat storage, healthy immunity, and balanced brain function is to eat a large and diverse array of produce, mainly vegetables, at every meal. It’s important to eat many different kinds of produce on a regular basis. Gut bacteria health is based on diversity, which is created by a diverse produce-based diet.

Gut bacteria also respond positively to regular exercise, an environment and diet as free of environmental chemicals as possible, and consumption of fermented and cultured foods and drinks, such as kefir water, kimchi, and sauerkraut.

Ask my office for more ways to promote a healthy gut microbiome.

 

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Why antacids may not help acid reflux with Hashimoto’s

816 hypochlorhydria

While most doctors prescribe antacids to lower stomach acid for heart burn and acid reflux, the real culprit may be that your stomach acid is already too low. This is called hypochlorhydria and it plays a role in autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Sufficient stomach acid, or hydrochloric acid (HCl), is necessary to:

Protect the body from pathogens. When we consume food, bacteria and other microorganisms come along with it. Stomach acid helps neutralize the ones we don’t want in our bodies. HCl also acts as a barrier against bacterial and fungal overgrowth of the small intestine. This is important to preventing inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream where they can trigger Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Activate pepsin. HCl triggers the production of pepsin, which helps break down proteins to be absorbed in the small intestine. When proteins are not adequately digested, they can escape into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation food sensitivities.

Digest proteins. If you have ever made ceviche or marinated meat in vinegar or lemon, you can see how acid breaks it down. Our stomach acid works much more quickly and efficiently than this.

Activate intrinsic factor. Stomach acid helps activate intrinsic factor, a glycoprotein made in the stomach that is necessary for absorption of vitamin B12.

Stimulate delivery of bile and enzymes. Adequate stomach acid stimulates release of bile from the liver and gall bladder and digestive enzymes from the pancreas. This also supports digestion of carbs, fats, and vitamins A and E.

Close the esophageal sphincter. Located between the stomach and the esophagus, the esophageal sphincter protects the delicate tissue of the esophagus from the strong acids of the stomach.

Open the pyloric sphincter. Stomach acid helps open this gateway between the stomach and the small intestine.

Absorb vitamins and minerals. Absorption of folic acid, ascorbic acid, beta carotene and iron are made more bioavailable by HCl in the digestive tract. Low stomach acid can cause poor absorption of calcium, magnesium, copper, chromium, manganese, selenium, vanadium, zinc, molybdenum and cobalt.

The gut is the seat of the immune system and all of these functions are vital for healthy gut function that can help you manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and prevent inflammation and flare ups.

Hypochlorhydria is under diagnosed

An estimated 90 percent of the population suffers from hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), yet most of us have never heard of it.

When stomach acid is too low your body cannot digest food thoroughly. The food in the stomach begins to rot and putrefy, the small intestine attempts to reject it, and the rotten food moves back up into the esophagus. While the food is not acidic enough for the small intestine, it is far too acidic for the esophagus.

In addition, low stomach acid leads to bacterial overgrowth, gut inflammation, increased food sensitivities, and higher risk for inflammatory disorders such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Key hypochlorhydria signs and symptoms include:

  • Burping, bloating, gas after meals
  • Upset stomach after eating
  • Nausea when taking vitamins and supplements
  • Indigestion, heartburn, acid reflux
  • Diarrhea
  • Desire to eat when not hungry
  • Undigested food in stool
  • Fatigue
  • Gut infections
  • SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth)
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Deficiencies of vitamin B-12, calcium, and magnesium

Taking supplemental HCl can help support your own production and help you better digest your food. Take just enough so it doesn’t cause burning. If taking even a little bit causes burning, you may have ulcers and an H. Pylori infection, which are not uncommon with hypochlorhydria.

Ask my office for more advice on improving your digestion, relieving your heartburn symptoms, and managing your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

 

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Test your thyroid levels in the morning for best results

815 avoid afternoon thyroid test

If you’re getting your TSH levels checked to monitor your thyroid health, it’s best to get that done in the morning. Otherwise your results may come back normal even though you have hypothyroidism.

All the body’s hormones follow a daily rhythm, including thyroid hormone. This means there are times of the day when it naturally higher or lower. Researchers tested the blood of hypothyroid subjects both before 8 a.m. and again between 2 and 4 p.m.

In hypothyroid patients both untreated and on thyroid medication, TSH dropped was substantially lower during the afternoon test. This means an estimated 50 percent of people with hypothyroidism are not being diagnosed.

In the untreated group, TSH was 5.83 in the morning and 3.79 in the afternoon. In the treated group, TSH was 3.27 in the morning and 2.18 in the afternoon.

2004 study also showed late morning, non-fasting TSH was 26 percent lower compared to early morning, fasting TSH. This means even a late morning blood draw could result in a failure to diagnose.

TSH blood test timing and functional medicine ranges

The timing of your blood draw plays an important role in reading a thyroid panel. However, there is more to it.

Even with an early morning blood draw, many doctors will still fail to diagnose hypothyroidism because they use lab ranges that are too wide and that do not reflect genuine thyroid health.

Many doctors still use a hypothyroidism TSH range of 0.5 to 5.0 e

ven though the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists recommends 0.3 to 3.0.

In functional medicine we use an even narrower range of 1.8 to 3.0. We also know that only looking at TSH can miss hypothyroidism.

For example, TSH may be normal but other thyroid markers are off. That’s why it’s important to order a thyroid panel that includes total and free T4 and T3, reverse T3, free thyroxine index (FTI), T3 uptake, and thyroid binding globulins. Many conditions can cause poor thyroid function, including inflammation, hormonal imbalances, and chronic stress. Ordering these other thyroid markers provides more insight into such imbalances.

Always include a test for autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

In addition to these markers, anyone with symptoms of hypothyroidism should also test for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.

Why? About 90 percent of hypothyroidism cases in the US are caused by Hashimoto’s. To screen for Hashimoto’s, order TPO and TGB antibodies.

Thyroid medications may be necessary to support thyroid function, but they do not address the autoimmunity attacking the thyroid gland. Failing to manage Hashimoto’s increases the risk of developing other autoimmune diseases such as pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, and Type I diabetes. It will also make it more difficult to manage your symptoms.

Ask my office how to properly test and manage your thyroid function.

 

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Living at high altitudes can increase suicide risk

814 high altitude suicide

Emerging research reveals that higher-altitude living contributes to higher risk for depression and suicide. While studies continue to look into the mechanisms behind this trend, it’s clear a variety of factors come into play. From the unique effects that altitude has on the brain to social and psychological aspects of life in the high country, many of these factors are influenced by your lifestyle and dietary choices.

In the United States, the highest suicide rates are in the intermountain area — in particular Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Wyoming comes in first with two times the national suicide average, and the other states on this list consistently score in the top ten nationwide.

Resort town life: A recipe for desperation and impulsiveness?

While some studies reveal physiological factors behind the altitude-linked descent into suicidal depression, the experts say social, economic and cultural factors can also play a role.

Mountain community is transient by nature. The mountain resort-town life revolves around two seasons: winter and summer. Ski season and summer tourist season are the main busy times separated by two off-seasons that locals like to call “mud season.”

During mud season, while everything is either buried in spring snowmelt or autumn rain, the tourists disappear, locals have little to no income, and one’s sense of displacement, isolation, depression, and uncertainty can increase dramatically. Having to make it through this tough time twice a year, every year can cause high levels of stress and depression.

Social isolation. These remote communities are spread far apart, breaking up the interconnectedness that people have in more populated areas. In addition, many residents come and go during “mud season,” making it hard to develop strong social bonds. This undermines the creation of the well-established intergenerational relationships, deep social connections, and the resulting support systems known for supporting mental health and stability.

Financial struggle and uncertainty. When we think of resort towns, we think of enjoyment and freedom surrounded by natural beauty. However, the reality for many residents is a life of working two to four jobs during tourist season, the twice-yearly mud-season of unemployment, unaffordable housing that changes frequently, and constant financial worries. This puts enormous stress on individuals, families, and relationships.

Party culture and substance abuse. Resort towns are notorious party towns, and the use of alcohol and other drugs is more prevalent. According to Mental Health America, substance abuse is likely a factor in half of all suicides, and the lifetime rate of suicide among those with alcohol problems is three to four times the national average.

Altitude’s effect on the brain may increase suicide risk

A recent Harvard study analyzed previous studies linking life at higher altitudes to increased risk of depression and suicide.

While more than 80 percent of US suicides occur in low-altitude areas, that’s because most of the population lives near sea level. Adjusted for population distribution, suicide rates are almost four times higher at high altitude versus low altitude.

A possible physiological explanation for this trend has been considered: Chronic hypobaric hypoxia, or low blood oxygen, might alter serotonin and dopamine metabolism in the brain as well as negatively influence how energy is transferred in cells and tissues.

Lowered serotonin production. Studies also show high altitude reduces serotonin levels, which is associated with mood and anxiety disorders. And the higher you go, the greater your risk for suicide.

In fact, Salt Lake City residents have a 30 to 40 percent higher risk of suicide just based on their altitude compared to those at sea level. Nearby Alta and Snowbird — both ski resort towns — have a suicide rate two times that of the national average.

Raised dopamine production. On the other hand, altitude increases the production of dopamine, the brain neurotransmitter associated with pleasure-seeking and risk-taking.

This is complicated by the fact high altitude living attracts outdoorsy risk-takers who may already have increased dopamine levels that make them prone to the impulsivity associated with suicide.

Support your mental health with dietary and lifestyle measures

While we need more research into the altitude-suicide connection, it’s clear that high-mountain living presents many challenges to mental health. If you live in a high-altitude location, be aware of the factors below to see if your risk for depression and suicide may be higher.

Symptoms of impaired serotonin activity:

  • Loss of pleasure in hobbies and interests
  • Feelings of inner rage and anger
  • Feelings of depression
  • Difficulty finding joy from life pleasures
  • Depression when it is cloudy or when there is lack of sunlight
  • Loss of enthusiasm for favorite activities
  • Not enjoying favorite foods
  • Not enjoying friendships and relationships
  • Unable to fall into deep restful sleep

Symptoms of high dopamine activity:

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Impulsiveness
  • Heightened cognitive acuity
  • Hedonism
  • High libido
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Mania
  • Paranoia
  • Lack of self-control

Anti-inflammatory diet to support brain health. Ongoing research reveals a strong link between brain inflammation and various depressive disorders. Support your body’s ability to quell inflammation with a diet free of common allergens and reactive foods.

Symptoms of blood sugar dysregulation. Imbalances in blood sugar can be at the root of many mood issues.

Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar include:

  • Increased energy after meals
  • Craving for sweets between meals
  • Irritability if meals are missed
  • Dependency on coffee and sugar for energy
  • Becoming light headed if meals are missed
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Feeling shaky, jittery, or tremulous
  • Feeling agitated and nervous
  • Poor memory, forgetfulness
  • Blurred vision

Signs and symptoms of high blood sugar include:

  • Fatigue and drowsiness after meals
  • Intense cravings for sweets after meals
  • Constant hunger
  • General fatigue
  • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
  • Craving for sweets not relieved by eating them
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Trouble falling asleep

Support your stress response with adrenal adaptogens and phosphatidylserine.

  • Panax ginseng
  • Ashwagandha
  • Holy basil leaf extract
  • Rhodiola
  • Boerhaavia (Punarnava)
  • Pantethine (B5) and B vitamins
  • Phosphatidylserine liposomal cream that delivers 2000mg per day

Moderate your caffeine intake. Caffeine can stress your adrenals, making it harder to cope with high stress.

Support serotonin levels with 5HTP (a serotonin precursor) or L-tryptophan.

Support brain bioenergetics with creatine.

Use moderate exercise to manage stress levels and support brain health.

Stress management practices such as meditation, chi gong, and yoga help to moderate stress and relieve depression.

Actively build community and social connections by joining a volunteer group, drama club, book club, or other organization.

Know the signs of increased social isolation in yourself and loved ones.

If you have substance abuse issues, please contact my office for a referral for assistance.

Check for deficiencies in vitamin D, B2, and iron, all of which can affect mood.

High altitude life has many joys and benefits, and it doesn’t have to be a recipe for depression disaster. To learn more about how you can support your well-being while living at altitude, please contact my office.

For emergency help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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Defending adrenal fatigue from doctors’ dismissals

813 defending adrenal fatigue

If you struggle with chronic exhaustion, insomnia, poor immunity, and persistent low blood sugar symptoms, you likely have poor function of the adrenal glands, which sit atop the kidneys and secrete stress hormones. However, your conventional doctor may have told you there is no such thing as adrenal fatigue based on guidance from The Hormone Foundation. What they may not understand is that there is a continuum of adrenal function and that the brain plays a role in adrenal fatigue.

The debate about adrenal fatigue versus primary adrenal insufficiency

The term “adrenal fatigue” has become a household word in the chronic illness world, and for good reason. The adrenal glands are our frontline against stressors large and small. In our constantly chaotic and nutritionally-depleted lives, these hard-working little glands can become worn down, sometimes to the point of barely working, right along with the areas of the brain that govern them.

What’s confusing is a recent statement by The Hormone Foundation which claimed adrenal fatigue does not exist and is not supported by any scientific facts, and that primary adrenal insufficiency is the only real version of adrenal dysfunction.

However, according to integrative physician Richard Shames, MD, both adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency exist along the same continuum, but are separated by severity of symptoms and treatment methods. In a nutshell, adrenal fatigue can also be referred to as mild adrenal sufficiency.

Primary adrenal insufficiency is caused by damage to the adrenal glands, such as by an autoimmune condition like Addison’s disease that attacks and destroys adrenal tissue. Primary adrenal insufficiency is diagnosed through blood tests and can be treated with medications that replace adrenal hormones.

Symptoms of primary adrenal insufficiency include:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches
  • Loss of appetite with weight loss
  • Craving salty foods
  • Dizziness, low blood pressure
  • Feeling lightheaded when standing up 
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort

Adrenal fatigue describes when lab tests don’t support a diagnosis of primary adrenal insufficiency but a person still experiences adrenal-related symptoms such as:

  • Excessive fatigue and exhaustion
  • Non-refreshing sleep
  • Feeling overwhelmed by or unable to cope with stress
  • Craving salty foods
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Brain fog
  • Poor digestion

Functional medicine practitioners diagnose adrenal fatigue by considering symptoms as well as results from a 24-hour saliva cortisol test.

Current blood tests are good at diagnosing severe forms of adrenal insufficiency such as Addison’s disease but not mild adrenal insufficiency, or adrenal fatigue. 

This debate between adrenal fatigue and primary adrenal insufficiency is reminiscent of the former debates about “mild” hypothyroidism. Twenty years ago, many endocrinologists denied mild hypothyroidism as a true diagnosis because they believed that as long as a patient was within conventional TSH reference ranges they could not possibly be sick. 

However, doctors trained in functional medicine recognize that a functional reference range — a narrower TSH range that reflects optimum thyroid health — means that a serious thyroid problem can exist within the conventional TSH range.

As testing and recognition of adrenal fatigue, which affects many people, continues to gain medical acceptance, we will start to refer to it as mild adrenal insufficiency.

The role of the brain in adrenal fatigue

It’s important to understand the brain plays an important role in adrenal fatigue. This explains why nutrients to support your adrenal glands may not go the full mile when the real problem is happening between your ears.

Adrenal fatigue has at its roots poor function of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. The HPA axis refers to the feedback loop between your body and areas of your brain that govern adrenal function. Unrelenting stress beats up this entire system, not just the adrenal glands, and it is more complicated and involved that simply low cortisol. The problem is compounded by the brain’s predilection for efficiency, in this case becoming so efficient at stress until the tiniest thing triggers a big stress response. Or, you are so advanced you are too tired to respond to anything.

How the adrenals become fatigued

When our bodies experience stress, no matter how small or large, our adrenals pump out hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol to help us fight or take flight. Our bodies are designed to return to baseline after a stressor so the nervous system can return to a “rest and digest” state necessary for daily function.

However, in our chronically stressed modern lifestyles, our bodies are constantly reacting to stressors, many we are not even aware of, such as dietary triggers, toxins, and even electromagnetic frequencies.

This constant state of high stress hormones damages tissues in the body and brain and is linked to:

  • Suppressed immunity
  • Low energy
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Insulin resistance and diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart problems
  • Increased belly fat

Removing all stressors in life is impossible, but there is much we can do to support adrenal function and buffer the damage of stress.

Adrenal adaptogens and phosphatidylerine are two natural routes that especially support the HPA axis and the brain’s ability to handle stress.

Contact my office for more support in taking care of your adrenals, HPA axis, and your ability to become more resilient to stress.

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Carbs, not fats, are the culprits behind heart disease

812 carbs not fats heart health

If you shy away from fats for fear of heart disease, you aren’t alone, you may be surprised to learn that carbohydrates, not fats, are the culprits in heart disease.

For decades scientists and doctors have blamed dietary fats — especially saturated fat — for heart disease. We’ve been advised to stick to a low-fat, high-carb diet based on grains to keep our hearts healthy.

We now know this advice was based on outdated observational studies. As it turns out, none of the studies truly linked high-fat diets to heart disease, and numerous recent studies have debunked the theory.

In fact, the low-fat, high-carb diet promoted for decades by organizations such as the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, National Institutes of Health, and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have actually played a strong — yet unintended — role in today’s epidemics of obesity, type II diabetes, lipid abnormalities,  and metabolic syndromes.

Limit carbs, not fat, for heart health

For most people, it’s carbohydrates, not fats, that are the true cause of heart disease.

Since 2002, low-carb diets have been studied extensively with more than 20 randomized controlled trials. These studies show that limiting your consumption of carbohydrates rather than fats is the surer way to decrease heart disease risk.

An analysis of more than a dozen studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that subjects consuming a low-carb diet had a healthier cardiovascular system and body weight than those on low-fat diets.

The Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study not only found that increasing fat intake was linked to lower risk of heart disease, but as carbohydrate intake is increased, the risk of heart disease grew stronger.

Include plenty of healthy fats in your diet

We need plenty of healthy fats for our bodies and brains to function at their best. Low-fat diets have many risks, including decreased brain function, poor brain health, and hormone imbalances.

Essential to your body’s function, fats:

  • Provide a major source of energy
  • Aid in absorption of certain minerals
  • Help you absorb vitamins A, E, D, and K
  • Help reduce inflammation
  • Are necessary for building cell membranes
  • Help build nerve sheaths
  • Are essential for blood clotting and muscle movement
  • Help maintain your core body temperature
  • Protect your core organs from impact
  • Provide the key nutrient for your brain, which consists of nearly 60 percent fat

Four types of fat: Eat three, avoid one

Four types of fat are found in our diet, all with different characteristics and effects. Some are great, some are good, and one is purely horrible.

Saturated fat. Instead of being linked to heart disease, saturated fats actually offer important health benefits:

  • Supports brain health
  • May reduce risk of stroke
  • Raises HDL (your “good”) cholesterol
  • Changes the LDL (“bad”) from small, dense particles — dangerous for heart health — to large particle LDL, which does not increase heart disease risk. This has been intensively studied in the past few decades and the studies consistently show these results.

Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Examples include red meat fat, cooled bacon grease, whole milk, cheese, and coconut oil.

Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are “essential,” meaning that your body doesn’t produce them on its own and you must get them through your diet.

MUFAs are liquid at room temperature and begin to solidify when refrigerated. They can be found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and whole milk.

Monounsaturated fats can help:

  • Prevent depression
  • Protect you from heart disease
  • Reduce risks for certain kinds of cancer
  • Improve insulin sensitivity
  • Assist with weight loss
  • Strengthen bones

Consuming higher levels of MUFAs than saturated fats has a protective effect against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.

Polyunsaturated fats are also “essential,” meaning your body doesn’t produce them on its own and must get them via dietary intake.

Polyunsaturated fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease the risk of heart disease, and may also help decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.

There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega 3 and Omega 6.

Omega 3 fats are linked with lowered inflammation, better brain function, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, sardines, and herring. Plant sources include ground flaxseed, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.

While we do need some omega 6 fatty acids in our diet, excess consumption is inflammatory and is connected to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, psychiatric issues, and cancer.

To prevent an inflammatory environment, increase your consumption of omega 3 fats and lower consumption of omega 6. Researchers recommend a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 that ranges from 1:1 to 4:1.

Trans fats are the one type of fat to always avoid. A byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that makes healthy oils into solids and prevents them from becoming rancid, trans fat have no health benefits. Their risks include:

  • Increased levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood
  • Reduced beneficial HDL cholesterol
  • Increased inflammation
  • Higher risk for insulin resistance (a risk for Type 2 diabetes)
  • Trans fats are so risky the FDA issued a ban in 2015 that required they be removed from processed foods within three years.

Six foods to include for healthy fat intake

Avocado

  • Rich in monounsaturated fats (raises good cholesterol while lowering bad)
  • High in vitamin E
  • High protein for a fruit
  • Provides folate

Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids which:

  • Are not stored as fat by the body as readily as other fats
  • Support brain function and memory
  • Are easy to digest

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Very high levels of monounsaturated fats
  • Supports heart health and cognitive function
  • Best for low or medium heat cooking (not high heat)

Omega 3 fatty acids

  • Found in cold water fish such as salmon and sardines
  • Easy to consume via fish oil supplements
  • Anti-inflammatory

Nuts and seeds

  • Rich in ALA (alpha lipoic acid) Omega 3 fats for the brain
  • Helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol

MCT oil (from coconuts)

  • Provides medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy form of saturated fat
  • Easily digested

Limiting intake of carbohydrates, rather than fats, is a surer way to decrease the risk of heart disease. Many doctors have seen how low-carb diets with plenty of healthy fats help patients lose weight, reverse their diabetes, and improve their cholesterol.

For more information on how to support your heart health, contact my office.