When heart disease is autoimmune

324 heart autoimmunity

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, affecting about 11 percent of the population. For the majority of people, heart disease is driven by diet and lifestyle factors, however research shows an increasing number of heart disease cases can also have an autoimmune component. This means the immune system is mistakenly attacking and destroying heart tissue, causing symptoms and weakening the heart.

Typically heart disease is linked with a diet high in processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates, lack of activity, and obesity. The good news is that means people who make the effort can ameliorate or reverse their condition through a whole foods diet and exercise.

However, when an autoimmune reaction is part of the picture, the approach is more complicated. If the autoimmunity has destroyed enough tissue, it can be too late to reverse the condition and its symptoms. With autoimmune rates exploding in recent years, hopefully more doctors will screen for autoimmunity so an autoimmune heart condition can be caught in time to manage it.

Heart autoimmunity

The symptoms of an autoimmune reaction against the heart mimic heart disease symptoms. They include cardiomegaly (enlarged heart), fluid retention, tiring easily, chest pain, breathlessness, palpitations, edema with exercise, and difficulty breathing. An unmanaged autoimmune reaction to the heart can cause inflammation, scarring, and, in rare cases, sudden death. Also, poor heart function affects the lungs, liver, and other organs and systems in the body.

Typically, doctors in the standard health care model do not screen for autoimmunity until the end stages of disease when symptoms are severe. Fortunately, you can identify an autoimmune reaction before it’s too late with a blood serum antibody panel.

This panel screens for autoimmunity against heart tissue by checking for myocardial (a protein the heart releases in response to stress) or alpha-myosin (cardiac tissue) antibodies. If these come back positive it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle.

If you know you have an autoimmune condition, you can take the steps to potentially slow or halt its progression through proven diet, lifestyle, and nutritional therapy strategies. You should also regularly monitor your heart health.

Gluten sensitivity affects heart autoimmunity

Sometimes gluten sensitivity and celiac disease are associated with cardiomyopathy and a gluten-free diet can improve the condition, sometimes profoundly. For some it even reverses the condition. Cardiomyopathy has also been shown to worsen in those with celiac disease who continue to eat gluten. People with cardiomyopathy or a history of heart inflammation should always screen for gluten sensitivity using newer, more advanced testing since a gluten-free diet may significantly improve the condition.

Other strategies for heart autoimmunity

When a person tests positive for autoimmunity, a gluten-free diet should be adopted given the links between gluten and autoimmune disease, including heart autoimmunity. A more intensive autoimmune diet may be necessary to repair the gut, dampen overall inflammation, and help balance the immune system.

Ask about my office about nutritional therapy strategies to manage heart autoimmunity.

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How to become a morning person

how to be morning person

Are you one of those people who wishes the work day started 11 a.m. so you can go to bed late and sleep in? Staying up late keeps you caught up with David Letterman but puts you at odds with your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle. Humans aren’t designed much differently than other animals when it comes to sleeping and waking—our internal clocks are set to the rising and setting of the sun.

This cycle is called the circadian rhythm and it affects more than when we wake up and go to bed. The circadian rhythm plays a role in hormone function, mood, immunity, and brain function. One way scientists have learned about the importance of the circadian rhythm is by studying the health of night shift workers, who have a higher risk of health disorders because of their disordered circadian rhythm.

Studies show early risers tend to be slimmer, happier, and healthier. Research also shows they earn better grades in college, are more organized and proactive in life, more physically active, and they enjoy deeper sleep. Early risers also report enjoying the time in the morning to exercise, meditate, or work uninterrupted.

Taking care of your circadian rhythm also promotes better brain health. The area of the brain that governs circadian rhythm—the hippocampus—also governs our short-term memory. The hippocampus is the first area of the brain to degenerate in dementia. In fact, sleep disorders are being recognized as an early sign of dementia in seniors.

How to become an early riser

Deciding to become an early bird when you’re used to being a night owl can be tough at first, especially since genetics play a role. But here are some tips from the research that can help you reset your body’s clock.

  • Go camping for a week. Recent research has shown that sleeping outdoors for a week without the use of electric lights (camp fire only) put every study participant on a sleep schedule in synch with the sun’s, regardless of whether they were a night person or a morning person. Also, all electronic devices were banned for the week.
     
  • Exercise discipline. Many people stay up late to watch their favorite TV shows or surf the web. Record TV shows, rearrange your schedule, reward yourself for compliance, or do whatever else it takes to get yourself to bed earlier. You also need to get up at the same time every morning, including weekends. Otherwise you throw off your rhythm.
     
  • Expose yourself to sunlight first thing and during the day. The body takes its cues from nature, so exposing yourself to sunlight can help reset your clock. Get out in the sunlight first thing in the morning for at least 20 minutes and then on your breaks during the day. You can also use a full spectrum light box to simulate morning sun.
     
  • Minimize exposure to light after dusk. To contrast with daytime sun, you need to mimic the outdoor world by minimizing your exposure to light in the evening. Ideally this would include avoiding your computer, tablets, smart phones, and television, all of which emit sleep-sabotaging blue light. A more flexible option is to wear special glasses that block blue lights, use light bulbs that do not have blue lights, and install a F.lux  program on your computer that adapts the color of your screen to the time of the day so it is pinker in the evening.
     
  • Exercise intensely first thing in the morning. In his book Why Isn’t My Brain Working? Datis Kharrazian explains how exercising at your maximum heart rate for even just a few minutes can help you re-establish your rhythms so you’re more alert in the morning. You can do this through jumping jacks, sprinting, push ups, jump squats, or other activities that get you out of breath. You need to do this within a half hour of waking. You can do your regular workout later in the day—exercise is another way to establish a healthy rhythm.

These are just a few ways you can help nudge yourself to waking up and going to bed earlier. For advice on nutritional support to help regulate your sleep-wake cycle, contact my office.

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How to use the placebo effect to your benefit

322 use placebo effect to benefit

The placebo effect—when a sham treatment produces desired results—is the bane of science, sometimes skewing results and outperforming pharmaceutical drugs. But instead of cursing the placebo effect, why not put it to use? Although it disrupts some studies, in other studies researchers look to understand why and how it works. By understanding the placebo effect as a valid phenomenon, you can employ it to improve your own health outcomes.

How the placebo effect works

The placebo effect happens in studies in which one group of participants is given a new drug or procedure, one group is given a sham drug (such as a sugar pill), and the results are compared. Neither group knows whether they received the sham treatment or the real drug. In some cases the placebo effect is nearly as good and sometimes even better than the actual treatment.

Why? A person’s beliefs and expectations about a treatment play a significant role in how they respond physiologically. In one study, participants’ pain dropped when they were told they received more of a pain-relief drug even though they hadn’t. Their pain then rose considerably when they were told the medication had been stopped, even though it hadn’t. MRI scans showed the expectation of pain activated the pain networks in the brain. This is an example of the nocebo effect, the placebo effect’s evil twin. In the nocebo effect a negative belief causes a negative outcome.

Putting the placebo effect to work for you

You can enhance or diminish your own results of a health protocol with your belief systems. The person who doesn’t believe in their treatment, thinks their dietary prescription is bogus, and their supplements are all a waste of money is going to set into motion neurochemical responses that work against his or her success. Also, having a negative and pessimistic attitude promotes stress and inflammation, two considerable barriers to healing.

However, the person who believes in their health protocol, understands the effect of their supplements and diet, and enjoys working with their practitioner is creating a positive neurochemical response. This is because an optimistic attitude lowers stress and inflammation and promotes health.

Of course, the placebo effect doesn’t have a perfect track record; it’s estimated to work between 18 to 80 percent of the time as many other factors can influence health. And many drugs, supplements, and treatments are obviously powerful enough to influence outcomes regardless of the placebo effect. However, the mechanisms behind the placebo effect are important to consider.

Tips for activating the placebo effect to enhance your protocol

  • Believe in what you’re doing. Educate yourself about your diet, your supplements, lifestyle changes, and so forth. If you know why you’re doing something, it’s easier to believe in it.
  • Develop a positivity habit. A positive attitude, expecting the best, and enjoying your health habits will reduce stress and inflammation while triggering the release of your body’s own feel-good chemicals, which foster good health.
  • Develop relationships that encourage good health. Surround yourself with likeminded people who believe in and practice the same healthy habits. Be wary of people who dwell on the negative and are practicing the nocebo effect.
  • Ask my office for nutritional therapy tips in boosting your ability to feel positive so you can use the placebo effect to your benefit.
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Unseen health crisis: Caring for yourself when you’re the caregiver

321 caring for the caregiver

While we focus on cures for disease, patient health, and tools for recovery, one important aspect of health care often goes overlooked: the caregivers. These are the folks who typically manage full-time jobs, a family with children, and household duties while also caring for an ill or disabled spouse or family member, often one with Alzheimer’s. Many caregivers work around the clock juggling their responsibilities, typically without help, and must cope with the sorrow and distress of caring for an ill patient. They can never be away long or take time off, they struggle financially, and do not have time for their own health care, hobbies, or social life. With so many people in the caregiver role today, it’s important they recognize when their own health is compromised.

Many caregivers die before patient from stress-related illness

The demands of caregiving can be demanding and overwhelming, often putting the caregiver’s own health in jeopardy. In fact, many caregivers die from stress-related disorders before the patient dies. Women, who make up most of caregivers, tend to fare worse than men.

Caregivers are also more likely to suffer from a variety of stress-related disorders. Depression is of particular concern, affecting between 40 to 70 percent of caregivers, particularly those caring for someone with dementia.

Caregivers suffer from increased rates of physical ailments, obesity, serious illness, heart disease, and cancer. The combined effect results in a 60 percent higher mortality rate than their non-caregiving peers. These sobering statistics spring from the effects of unrelenting and severe stress on the body. It’s no wonder caregivers are also more likely to contemplate suicide.

Tips for caregivers to preserve health and prevent disease

There are no easy answers to the growing caregiver crisis, however awareness is important. By recognizing the toll caregiving has on health, caregivers are in a better position to get the care they need. Research shows the stress of caregiving can be alleviated by education and support programs. For instance, The Alzheimer’s Association offers a guide to local and online support groups, a 24-hour help line, and tips on managing your health.

Although it’s difficult for caregivers to squeeze in enough time for their own health, it’s imperative to prioritize it. Strategies caregivers can employ to protect their own health and well being include the following:

  • Make time to de-stress. There are many methods you can employ for even a few minutes a day to buffer the effects of stress, including meditation, yoga, walking, laughing, etc. It may not feel that rewarding in the moment, but the cumulative effect is significant.
     
  • Find social support. Whether it’s a support group or a therapist, regular social support can ward off depression.
     
  • Take advantage of available services. You may be unduly burdening yourself. Some areas have local agencies that can provide relief in the way of meals, adult day care facilities, or home health aides.
     
  • Put yourself first. Caregivers may feel uncomfortable putting their needs first. Ask for help from people in specific ways and understand you deserve to put your health first.
     
  • Walk it out. Regular exercise is one of the greatest ways to unwind and protect your health. If you’re too exhausted to work out vigorously, not to worry. Just 20 to 30 minutes of walking most days can still go a long way in terms of prevention and relaxation.
     
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Cauliflower: The versatile wonder vegetable

320 cauliflower versatile option

When you’re following a strict diet to calm inflammation, repair a leaky gut, or manage an autoimmune disease, the lack of variety can be frustrating. But you’d be surprised how deftly the humble cauliflower can jazz up your meals. Cauliflower’s first impression is not good. It’s pale, bland, and smelly when steamed. But cauliflower’s gift is in shape-shifting ability to mimic a variety of dishes by taking on the flavor of whatever it’s cooked with. Another plus? Cauliflower keeps well, patiently waiting for up to a few weeks in the refrigerator drawer for your attention, and prepping it is easy.

Mark Twain said “cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Indeed it is related to cabbage and a member of the disease-fighting brassicas, which also include broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts. Cauliflower is low in calories, high in fiber, and rich in vitamins and minerals, including vitamin C, potassium, folic acid, and a health protective compound called isothiocyanate.

Although rich in nutritious cancer-preventive phytochemicals, cauliflower also contains goitrogens, compounds that can suppress thyroid function. However, cooking neutralizes much of this property and cauliflower and brassicas are fine for many people with low thyroid activity when eaten in appropriate amounts (for example, not juiced and consumed in large quantities.) The more sensitive thyroid patients may want to monitor the effects of brassicas on their thyroid health. But for the average person the health benefits of cauliflower and other brassicas far outweigh any potential effects of goitrogens, the risks of which are not well documented in the first place.

Cauliflower can be enjoyed in a variety of ways

Cauliflower’s beauty is in its versatility, especially if you are on a restricted diet. Once you discover how to work with it, you may find it becomes a regular item in your shopping cart. Below are some of the ways you can enjoy cauliflower.

Mock mashed potatoes. When seasoned well, mashed cauliflower can be a delicious and attractive substitute for mashed potatoes without skewering your blood sugar. Steam or simmer in broth before mashing, and add garlic, salt, pepper, and your choice of healthy fat (ghee, olive oil, coconut oil, butter, or even duck fat).

Cauliflower rice. The secret to cauliflower rice is to pulse cauliflower florets in the food processor until it’s the size of rice grains. Sauté it in a pan with onions and a healthy fat and season.

Cauliflower pizza crust. Cauliflower pizza crust starts with using the food processor to make cauliflower rice, cooking (most recipes call for the microwave for this step), wringing it dry in a kitchen towel, and then mixing with egg and seasoning before flattening onto a pizza stone and baking. Then top with your favorite ingredients and bake again.

Roasted cauliflower, or cauliflower “popcorn.” It doesn’t sound that interesting, but roasted cauliflower can be a surprising crowd pleaser, especially if seasoned creatively. Cut cauliflower florets into uniform pieces, toss with your favorite oil and seasoning, and flip occasionally while roasting until evenly browned.

Cauliflower puree. Pureeing cauliflower in soups is a wonderful way to create a thick base without blood sugar-spiking flours. Add it to your favorite broth with sautéed onion or shallots and garlic, puree, season, and throw in some chopped vegetables for color.

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Replace diet soda addiction with a whole foods habit

Photo of soda

You know you need to kick the soda habit, so why not just drink diet soda? It may be tempting, but there are no free rides when it comes to artificial chemicals. Aspartame, sold under the names NutraSweet, Equal, Spoonful, Equal-Measure, and AminoSweet, is in more than 6,000 foods, including diet sodas, and has received more than 10,000 FDA complaints—more than all other food additives combined. Two-thirds of complaints are for neurological and behavioral reactions with the rest falling mainly to gastrointestinal effects. Since only an estimated 1 percent of the population reports complaints, it’s believed many more people suffer from aspartame reactions.

Reported symptoms include headaches, mood alterations, hallucinations, seizures, nausea, insomnia, anxiety attacks, vertigo, fatigue, rashes, irritability, heart palpitations, slurred speech, loss of hearing, loss of taste, gastrointestinal distress, and many more.

Aspartame linked with neuro symptoms; cancer

The phenylalanine in aspartame increases levels of the brain chemical dopamine, known as the “pleasure-and-reward” neurotransmitter. Over stimulating dopamine can lead to low serotonin and symptoms of depression, and trigger other symptoms such as migraines.

Aspartame contains other chemicals that affect the brain and nervous system. The aspartic acid in aspartame is known to be an excitotoxin, meaning it over stimulates brain cells to the point they die. Excitotoxins also cause a breakdown in communication between neurons and the fibers that connect them, further promoting degeneration of the brain and potential symptoms.

Aspartame also breaks down into byproducts, which are toxic themselves and linked to cancer, particularly lymphomas and leukemias. In one study, rats given the equivalent of four to five bottles of diet soda a day had high rates of these cancers.

Given the popularity of artificially sweetened sodas and other products, the safety of aspartame is controversial. However, if you’re working to improve your health, relieving the toxic burden on your body is an important part of this process, especially given the potential for neurological effects. No two brains are alike and it’s impossible to determine how anyone will react to chemicals that affect neurology.

Replacing diet soda addiction with whole foods habit

Many people find diet sodas are addictive and difficult to give up. The truth is, weaning yourself off sweets and artificial stimulating foods takes commitment and effort. The goal is to develop a natural inclination and craving for whole foods  It sounds impossible at first, but people who have done it find they crave vegetables, fruits, and healthy meals. They say artificial and processed foods make them feel “icky” compared to the clean, revitalizing feeling you get from a whole foods diet.

Find a refreshing substitute for your diet soda habit, such as sparkling water with some lemon or lime juice. By replacing your diet sodas with real water you hydrate and cleanse your body, which helps reduce cravings. Often cravings for junk food are just a disguise for thirst.

Also, begin adding nutrient-dense whole foods into each meal and create a positive association with these foods. By gradually and repeatedly adding more nutrient dense foods to your diet you will begin to crave them while finding the drug-like artificial foods less appealing. Also make sure you are getting enough vital nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids, vitamin D3, and minerals.

For more information on developing a whole foods habit, contact my office.

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Why you need to filter your tap water

318 why filter tap water

Do you really need to filter your tap water, or is that just a marketing gimmick to sell water filters? Modern water treatment systems protect us from serious waterborne diseases such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia, parasites that cause illness. But while disinfecting municipal water supplies keeps us safe from parasites, we’re instead faced with the added toxic burden of the chemicals used for treatment, as well as the hundreds of pollutants that make their way into our water supplies.

Different chemicals are used to treat water, most notably chlorine and chloramine. Chlorine is used in most water supplies and has a long track record whereas chloramine, which has not been studied as extensively as chlorine, is in about one quarter of households. Chloramine is a combination of chlorine and ammonia and is used because, unlike chlorine, it stays in the water longer and cannot be removed through boiling, distilling, or letting water sit uncovered. Although both kill waterborne pathogens, they are somewhat toxic in themselves. Chloramine is corrosive to pipes and increases exposure to lead in drinking water in older homes. Chloramine-treated water also should not be used in fish tanks, hydroponics, home brewing, or for dialysis.

Toxic byproducts in tap water

What’s worse is that these chemicals have been shown to react with ordinary organic particles in water to create toxic, carcinogenic compounds. These byproducts are quite a bit more toxic than the chemicals alone. In studies these chlorination byproducts have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals, trigger the production of inflammatory free radicals, irritate the skin and mucus membranes, affect the nervous system, and cause birth defects. Some researchers even point to an association between these byproducts and thousands of cases of bladder cancer each year.

Although the EPA regulates water treatment, its standards are based on annual averages. In reality, levels of these toxic byproducts vary throughout the year according to farming cycles.

Also, the chemicals added to water aren’t the whole picture. Contributing to the toxic load are the hundreds of chemicals that make their way into water from car exhaust, pollution, farming, and industrial waste. Evidence of many pharmaceutical drugs can be found in water, too. Some research shows more than 100,000 of these chemicals are in our water supplies.

As you can see, filtering your drinking water can help reduce the toxic burden on your body. Unfortunately, bottled water is not always a good choice. It is often as contaminated as tap water, or worse. Also, discarded plastic water bottles create serious global pollution, particularly of our oceans.

Use a filter for cleaner water

Fresh spring water is a good source of clean water. If that’s not available, filtering your water can help cut down on your exposure to these many man-made chemicals and their toxic byproducts. Sediment, chlorine, heavy metals, hormones, drug residues, pesticides, and other chemicals will be removed with a heavy-duty carbon filter. Your filter should remove particles 0.8 microns or under. Chloramine can be harder to remove, so check to see if your city water has chloramine and look for a filter that can remove it.

Although you definitely want to filter your drinking water, it’s best to also filter water coming from taps and the shower as you also absorb toxic chemicals through the skin. Whole-house filters are a good option for this.

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