Category Archives: Brain Function

Crash in the afternoon but wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.?

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Are you often wide awake around 3 or 4 a.m., your mind racing with anxiety, but then collapsing into a near coma in the late afternoon? This maddening cycle of waking up and falling asleep at inconvenient hours is often relieved by managing low blood sugar.

Why you’re wide awake at 3 or 4 a.m.

Although sleep is a time for the body to rest, your brain is still busy working on repair and regeneration, transforming the day’s impressions into lasting memories, and keeping you entertained with dreams.

The brain demands more fuel than any other organ, about 20 percent of the body’s total supply. These needs don’t abate during sleep, when your body is fasting.

In the absence of food, the body keeps the brain going by gradually raising the adrenal hormone cortisol, which triggers the production of glucose to feed the brain through the night.

At least in theory.

Chronic low blood sugar breaks this system down because it skews cortisol rhythms and release. When your brain starts to run low on fuel during the night, cortisol may lag in triggering glucose release.

The brain cannot wait until breakfast and perceives this lack of fuel supply as an emergency. As a result, the body releases more urgent “fight-or-flight” adrenal hormones, which raise blood sugar back to safe levels.

Unfortunately, these adrenals hormones are also designed to help you either flee from danger or fight it. This does not bode well for a sound night’s sleep and explains why if you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., it’s usually with a mind racing with worry.

Meanwhile, 12 hours later when you could really use the energy to finish a work project or deal with after-school duties, you crash and can barely function thanks to blood sugar and cortisol levels bottoming out. Reaching for that shot of caffeine may pull you through, but in the long run it’s only compounding the problem.

How to fall asleep if you wake up at 3 a.m.

If you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with a racing mind, eating a little something may feed your brain and calm your mind so you can fall back asleep. But do not eat something sugary, which will spike blood sugar and perpetuate the cycle. Instead, eat some protein and fat.

Examples include nut butter, a little bit of meat, boiled egg, or a coconut snack. Have these prepared ahead of time and even next to your bed so you don’t have to go into the kitchen and turn on bright lights. You will not feel hungry because adrenal hormones are appetite suppressants, but you don’t need to eat much.

How to avoid the afternoon crash

To avoid the afternoon crash without caffeine you need to stabilize blood sugar as a way of life. Eat frequently enough to avoid sending blood sugar into a nose dive, and avoid foods that cause blood sugar to spike and crash: Sugar, caffeine, energy drinks, too many carbohydrates and starchy foods.

How do you know if you have low blood sugar?

Low blood sugar symptoms include:

  • Sugar cravings
  • Irritability, lightheadedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning (this is caused by stress hormones)
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Eating to relieve fatigue

A variety of nutritional compounds can further support your blood sugar handling and stress hormone functions so you sleep better. Ask me for advice.

The key to staying youthful is to embrace aging

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Aging can cause us to feel invisible and unwanted in a society that worships youth. However, the key to staying youthful into your latter years doesn’t lay in the hands of your hair stylist or medical spa, but instead in your attitude.

Research shows internalizing negative stereotypes about aging harms your health, which speeds up aging. However, having a positive attitude toward aging can boost immune function, promote healthy behaviors, and help you feel in control of your life.

Embrace aging for the following benefits

Here are some benefits researchers have found to a positive perception of aging, such as feeling useful and happy with yourself:

  • Positive perception of aging has been shown to be more important than cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and even exercise when it comes to improving longevity.
  • One study found positive self-perception around aging lowered the risk of aging-associated disability and preserved daily function and ability.
  • Positive aging improves preventive behaviors such as sticking to a good diet, exercising, and following through with check-ups.
  • Expecting to lose your memory has been shown to increase cognitive decline by up to 30 percent compared to thinking positively about your brain function.
  • And of course, a negative perception of aging has been shown to increase the risk of heart disease. A startling find, however, was that developing a positive aging attitude can reduce the risk of heart disease by up to 80 percent.

How to positively embrace aging

Although you might not be able to embrace aging overnight, it can be done, even in this culture. The first step is to survey your attitude about aging and what you believe old age holds in store for you: Senility and disability? Or wisdom and vitality?

Beyond that, turn your attention away from a cultural philosophy that values people based on their work productivity and instead toward one that values aging as socially valuable and even a time of renaissance.

Some nuts and bolts of healthy aging

A positive attitude has been shown to be vital to good health. However, it’s important to pay attention to the nuts and bolts of good health, too.

Regular exercise is regarded as somewhat of a magic bullet by researchers. People who exercise regularly age better and enjoy better brain function throughout their lives.

Along with that that comes a diet low in sugars and processed carbs — chronically high blood sugar is behind many chronic diseases and brain degeneration. In fact, some researchers call Alzheimer’s disease type 3 diabetes because of the links between high blood sugar and brain degeneration.

Avoiding other inflammatory foods (besides sugar, gluten and dairy are the most common inflammatory foods) while loading up on fresh veggies is another preventive dietary approach.

Lastly, healthy aging depends on a healthy, nutrient-dense diet that is rich in fresh vegetables as well as healthy fats.

Schedule an appointment with me to discuss more about how to age in a healthy, positive way you can embrace.

How to use functional nutrition to boost your libido

Happy couple in bed smiling at cameraWe often think of good health in terms of blood pressure or cholesterol levels, but your libido is also an important indicator. If yours has gone missing, it could be a red flag that important underlying health issues need to be addressed.

People who turn to functional medicine for other health issues, such as low thyroid function, an autoimmune disorder, or depression, often report a boost in their libido thanks to their protocol.

Of course, it’s natural to expect low libido following a major stressor or during an unhealthy relationship, but if it’s chronically absent, investigate why.

Common causes of low libido

Below are some common causes of low libido that can be addressed through functional nutrition:

Blood sugar imbalances. Many people eat more carbohydrates than their body can handle, they skip meals, or they consume too much caffeine. Eating habits that send blood sugar constantly soaring and crashing will eventually lead to fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, and depression. All of these make zoning out in front of Netflix more tantalizing than a roll in the hay.

Adrenal fatigue. Your adrenal glands secrete stress hormones to help you manage life’s daily ups and downs. Most people are so stressed out from not only their lifestyles, but also their diets, chronic inflammation, gut health problems, and other health issues that adrenal function is fried. This is one of the primary causes of hormonal imbalances in men and women, delivering a double whammy to libido.

Leaky gut. Leaky gut means inflammation has made the lining of the small intestine too porous, allowing undigested foods and other pathogens to escape into the sterile bloodstream. This causes inflammation throughout the body, which typically leads to pain, fatigue, depression and other unsexy symptoms.

Food intolerances. Can a gluten or dairy intolerance really cause low libido? Yep. When you constantly eat a food that triggers an immune reaction, you send your body into an inflammatory tailspin. How you react depends on your genetic makeup. Symptoms include flare ups of your autoimmune disease, skin rashes, gut problems, joint pain, depression, migraines, anxiety, fatigue, brain fog, and, you guessed it, no desire for sex. You can run a food panel from Cyrex Labs to figure out which foods rob you of vigor, or follow an elimination diet such as Balanced and Clear.

Diminished brain function. They say the biggest sex organ is the brain and it’s true. Many people today suffer from a brain that is aging too fast, besieged by inflammation, not getting properly oxygenated, struggling from poor fuel supply, or suffering from poor activity of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Although all of these issues can often be addressed with the functional medicine basics I just mentioned, various nutritional compounds can also help boost brain function and, as a result, libido.

These are just a few underlying causes of low libido. Sometimes, of course, it’s more complicated, especially if you are unhappy in your relationship, suffer from low self-esteem, or run yourself ragged putting others’ needs before your own.

However, don’t shrug off low libido as no big deal. You could be missing out not only on the health benefits of regular sex, but also on the opportunity to address an underlying health concern.

Your gut bacteria can play a role in anxiety and PTSD

Probiotic w/ prebiotic foodsNew research has found a link between gut bacteria and anxiety — the diversity and quantity of your gut bacteria can affect your anxiety levels. Scientists believe this could play a role in treating PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the study, researchers subjected mice to stressful conditions until they showed signs of anxiety and stress: shaking, diminished appetite, and reduced social interaction. Fecal samples showed the stressed mice had less diversity of gut bacteria than calmer mice who had not been subjected to stress.
When they fed the stressed mice the same live bacteria found in the guts of the calm mice, the stressed mice immediately began to calm down. Their stress levels continued to drop in the following weeks.
Brain scans also showed the improved gut flora produced changes in brain chemistry that promotes relaxation.
These biomarkers, according to researchers, can indicate whether someone is suffering from PTSD or is at a higher risk of developing it. Improving gut microflora diversity may play a role in treatment and prevention.

The role of healthy gut bacteria in the military

Because about 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD, the military is interested in the potential of influencing gut bacteria to manage and predict the risk of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Enhancing gut microflora may also help submarine crews who go for long periods in confined spaces and with no daylight.

How to improve the health of your gut bacteria for anxiety, PTSD, depression, obesity, eating disorders

The quality and diversity of gut bacteria, or the “gut microbiome,” has been linked to not only anxiety, but also depression, obesity, eating disorders, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other common disorders.
In other words, if you want to improve your health, you need to tend to your inner garden and make it richly diverse and bountiful. Although we’re still some way off from a magic-bullet approach, there are many ways you can enrich the environment of your gut microbiome:

Cut out foods that kill good bacteria and promote harmful bacteria: Sugars, processed foods, processed carbohydrates, alcohol and energy drinks, fast foods, food additives, and other unhealthy staples of the standard American diet.

Eat tons of fiber-rich plants, which good bacteria love: All vegetables but especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, as well as fruits. Either way, eat a large diversity of veggies on a regular basis instead of the same thing every day.

Use probiotic supplements: Live, “friendly” bacteria in supplement form will bolster your gut’s population of healthy microbes. Read the label to make sure they are high in multiple strains of live bacteria. Dietary fiber nourishes these friendly probiotic bacteria, earning it the title “pre-biotic”. This combination of pre- and probiotic support is vital for healthy gut bacteria.

Eat fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt contain live microbes, and can also help boost the probiotic content of your digestive tract. Not all fermented foods have live cultures so make sure to read the labels.

Protect your existing gut flora: Medications, age, health status, and stress influence your gut microbiome. Eating a fiber-strong, gut-friendly diet and supplementing with probiotics and fermented foods is one of your best strategies for supporting gut health, a healthy mood, and stress resiliency.

Stable blood sugar is the key to stable moods

PeaceYou’ve probably heard that depression and other mental health issues are based on a lack of brain chemicals such as serotonin and GABA. Conventional treatment is to give medications that trick the brain into thinking it has enough of these chemicals. But new research shows in many cases mental health issues are related to chronic inflammation, not necessarily a lack of chemicals. And unstable blood sugar is often at the root of inflammation.

How does inflammation cause mood issues?

When the body is chronically inflamed, it sends chemical messengers to the brain, where they activate the brain’s immune cells, called glial cells. Chronic inflammation permanently activates the glial cells, setting off a cascade of problems:
• Reduced production of brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and GABA.
• Brain cells unable to produce vital energy needed to thrive.
• Cells degrade and die, releasing toxins into the brain, causing even more damage.
The result? Depression, anxiety, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

How does blood sugar factor in?

The fix for these issues is managing the destructive inflammatory cascade. At the core of systemic inflammation for many people is blood sugar balance. When we eat too many sugars or carbs, the body over-produces insulin, a hormone that helps escort glucose (sugar) into cells for energy. Too much insulin in the blood exhausts the cells, resulting in them becoming resistant to it (insulin resistance). This leads to excess glucose in the bloodstream, which is severely damaging to tissues in the blood vessels and brain. It is also a precursor to diabetes.

How can I keep my blood sugar balanced?

By keeping blood sugar balanced, we can help reduce the inflammatory cascade that creates brain inflammation. Below are dietary and lifestyle habits that help keep blood sugar stable. By practicing them, you may notice positive shifts in your mood, energy level and mental focus:
• Always eat a protein-strong breakfast within an hour of waking. Include healthy fats, and avoid sweets before lunch.
• Eat every 3–4 hours to avoid low blood sugar.
• Eat protein with every meal and snack; never eat just sweets.
• When you crave sugar, choose protein or foods with healthy fats such as coconut or olive oil.
• Eat a small high-protein snack before bed to keep blood sugar stable throughout the night.
• Don’t use caffeine to boost low energy in that afternoon “crash;” it’s your brain telling you it needs real nutrients, not stimulants. Instead, eat a healthy snack with protein, fat and a few carbs, and hydrate with water.
• Wake and go to bed at the same time every day. Get plenty of sleep and if you’re tired, let yourself nap.
• Exercise regularly to keep blood sugar stable. Also, a 5 to 7-minute burst of high intensity exercise helps reduce inflammatory factors in the brain.
Certain botanicals are highly effective in helping manage blood sugar and reduce brain inflammation. If you have questions about mood and blood sugar stability, please schedule an appointment.

For more in-depth information on the inflammation-mood link, read this outstanding new book by Dr. Kelly Brogan, A Mind of Your Own.

Use nitric oxide to tame inflammation in body and brain

InflammationIf you have an autoimmune disease, chronic inflammation, or signs of brain inflammation (such as brain fog), you may have noticed it can be tough to tame the inflammation. This is because the body can get trapped in vicious cycles that feed the inflammation.
Luckily, researchers have pinpointed what perpetuates these cycles and ways to stop them. They include targeting two immune messengers called “nitrous oxide” and “IL-17.”

IL-17 and inflammation

The immune system triggers inflammation by releasing an immune messenger called IL-17. IL-17 triggers other immune cells to damage body tissue, such as the thyroid gland in the case of autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or joint tissue in rheumatoid arthritis.
IL-17 isn’t all bad—in a healthy immune system it prevents infections. But chronic inflammation and autoimmunity create too much IL-17.

IL-17 and “bad” nitric oxide

IL-17 damages body tissue by activating a compound called “inducible nitric oxide”. Nitric oxide is a gas in the body that activates various processes.
Two good forms of nitric oxide tame inflammation: endothelial and neuronal nitric oxide.
However, IL-17 triggers the pro-inflammatory inducible nitric oxide, which damages body tissue.

Targeting nitric oxide to tame inflammation

When it comes to taming chronic inflammation, we want to dampen IL-17 and inducible nitric oxide.
So why not just take the nitric oxide booster arginine? Although arginine may boost the anti-inflammatory endothelial nitric oxide, it also may increase the inflammatory inducible nitric oxide.
It’s safer, therefore, to go with nutritional compounds that boost the anti-inflammatory endothelial nitric oxide for maximum inflammation fighting effects:
• Adenosine
• Huperzine A
• Vinpocetine
• Alpha GPC
• Xanthinol niacinate
• L-acetyl carnitine
Endothelial nitric oxide aids in tissue repair and regeneration, enhances blood flow, dissolves plaques, and dilates blood vessels. Exercise is another excellent way to boost endothelial nitric oxide.
These compounds may also boost the activity of neuronal nitric oxide, which enhances the health of the brain and nervous system.

Other anti-inflammatory tools

Other inflammation busters include vitamin D3, omega 3 fatty acids, and glutathione. Glutathione is vital to dampening inflammation, repairing damaged tissues, maintaining a healthy gut (which houses most of the immune system), and buffering the body from the many stressors we face these days.
Other helpful tools are high doses of emulsified resveratrol and curcumin. Taken together, these two compounds dampen IL-17 and quench inflammation.
Of course, eliminating pro-inflammatory foods such as gluten and sugar, getting enough sleep and not over-stressing yourself are important too. Schedule a visit now to ask me for advice.

Think being gluten-free is a fad? Think again

You’d have to live under a rock to not recognize the popularity of gluten-free diets by now. But if you think going gluten-free is just another fad, think again. Although it may be a passing fad for some, a gluten-free diet is powerful medicine for most.

The benefits, which attain almost miraculous heights for some people, vary depending on the person.

A gluten sensitivity is not a one-size-fits-all disorder with requisite symptoms. Contrary to popular belief, it does not simply cause digestive complaints (although it does cause severe digestive distress for many).

Neurological symptoms common with gluten

gluten free not a fad

In fact, one of the most common consequences of a gluten intolerance are symptoms that express themselves neurologically, and even these can vary.

The part of the brain most commonly affected by a gluten intolerance is the cerebellum, the area at the back of the brain that controls motor movements and balance. This can cause issues with balance, vertigo, nausea, car sickness and sea sickness, and getting dizzy or nauseous looking at fast-moving images or objects.

Also commonly affected are the protective coating of nerves called myelin. As damage to myelin progresses one can develop multiple-sclerosis type symptoms such as numbness, tingling or muscle weakness.

Other neurological symptoms associated with gluten include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention deficit disorder (ADD), depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, autism symptoms, and even more serious psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia.

How a person with a neurological response to gluten reacts depends on that person’s genetic makeup.

Other common symptoms caused by gluten

For others the reactions to gluten manifest elsewhere in the body. Some common symptoms include skin disorders (i.e., eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, dermatitis herpetiformis), joint pain, digestive problems, and poor thyroid function (Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism).

Why does gluten cause such diverse symptoms?

The symptoms of a gluten intolerance vary from person to person because of its effects on the immune system and brain.

Gluten is inflammatory and damaging to the gut in many people, causing leaky gut. The gut is the seat of the immune system, and also communicates intimately with the brain.

When the gut is constantly inflamed and becomes leaky (even though one might not have digestive symptoms), this increases overall inflammation in the body and the brain.

Increased inflammation not only gives rise to myriad disorders on its own, it also increases the risk of developing an autoimmune disorder. This is a disorder in which an imbalanced immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys tissue in the body, such as the brain, the thyroid, the pancreas, joint cartilage, and more.

Gluten and autoimmune disease

When it comes to autoimmune disease, no tissue in the body or brain is safe from an overzealous immune system deranged by constant inflammation. The rates of autoimmune diseases have exploded in recent years, and most are yet undiagnosed — meaning years of chronic and “mysterious” symptoms.

If you suffer from troubling and chronic symptoms, it is definitely worth considering an intolerance to gluten and other common trigger foods, such as dairy, eggs, soy, and different grains. Although giving up a favorite food is rarely easy, getting back your health is always wonderful.

Schedule a visit with me for more advice on how to manage your chronic health disorder and how to adjust your diet to support your health.

Got brain fog? Here are five possible reasons why

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Do you suffer from brain fog? That muggy feeling your brain is operating in a puddle of mud and life is moving in slow motion. People think brain fog is funny or normal, but it’s not. It’s a red flag your brain is inflamed, functioning poorly, and likely degenerating too quickly.

What causes brain fog and why should you care? Consider these reasons:

1. Brain cells not communicating well with each other

Brain fog happens when brain cells, or neurons, don’t communicate well with each other. This causes brain function to slow down and diminish, giving you symptoms of brain fog.

Many factors cause neurons to fire sluggishly or not all with each other, which I’ll talk about more in this article.

When you have brain fog, you have to ask yourself, “Why are my neurons not able to fire effectively?”

2. Unstable blood sugar and brain fog

Blood sugar that swings too low or too high can cause brain fog. Symptoms of low blood sugar include irritability or lightheadedness between meals, cravings for sweets, waking up at 3 or 4 a.m., dependence on coffee or sugar for energy, becoming upset easily, and forgetfulness.

Symptoms of high blood sugar (insulin resistance) include fatigue after meals, constant hunger, cravings for sweets not relieved by eating them, constant thirst, frequent urination, difficulty falling asleep, and a big belly.

Blood sugar that is too low or too high means neurons are not receiving the energy they need to function, which often causes brain fog.

Unstable blood sugar is commonly caused by eating too many processed carbohydrates and sugary items, skipping meals, or chronic overeating.

Quite often relieving symptoms of brain fog can be as easy as stabilizing your blood sugar. Eat a whole foods diet based around vegetables, proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid sweets and processed foods, and keep carbohydrate consumption to a level that prevents symptoms of low or high blood sugar.

3. An unhealthy gut environment

Communication between the gut and the brain is ongoing and intimate. Bad gut health affects the brain and can cause symptoms of brain fog.

For instance, some people develop brain fog after eating certain foods, such as gluten, that trigger inflammation in the gut. If you have digestive problems, your gut may be playing a role in your brain fog.

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestine becomes overly porous, allows undigested food particles, yeast, bacteria, and other harmful compounds to enter the bloodstream.

This triggers chronic inflammation in the gut, body, and brain, along with other health problems, such as food intolerances, pain, autoimmune disorders, skin issues, joint problems, depression, and, of course, brain fog.

4. Poor circulation and brain fog

Are your fingers, toes, and nose are cold to the touch? This may mean your brain is not receiving enough oxygen due to poor circulation. Other symptoms of poor circulation include weak nails, fungal nail infections, low brain endurance, and cramping in the hands and feet.

Low circulation deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients, thus causing brain fog. Factors that cause low circulation include anemia, chronic stress, hypothyroidism, low blood pressure, smoking, and blood sugar imbalances.

5. Autoimmune disease and brain fog

Autoimmunity is a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue. Examples include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, Type 1 diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.

This chronic inflammation goes on to inflame the brain, which hampers function and can cause brain fog. Brain fog is a common complaint among autoimmune sufferers.

Also, autoimmune attacks in the brain are more common than people realize. This, too, is linked with brain fog.

Don’t assume your brain fog is something to shrug off. It’s best to discover the underlying causes of brain fog and address them. This will not only give you better brain function but also help prevent dementia later in life.

Concussions triple suicide risk

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While concussions have gained attention for their link to dementia, did you know they also increase the risk for suicide? Just one concussion can triple the long-term risk of suicide in otherwise healthy people.

Although brain-injured football players have been receiving all the attention lately, the typical concussion patient is a middle-aged adult. Most concussions happen during traffic accidents, falls at home, and in other everyday situations.

study looked at a quarter-million subjects who had been diagnosed with a mild concussion during the last 20 years. Researchers found suicide occurred at three times the norm in this population. They also found that on average suicide occurred nearly six years after the concussion. Also, the risk increased with additional concussions.

Why does a concussion increase suicide risk? 

In functional medicine we know a concussion causes brain inflammation, from which the patient may never fully recover. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s immune system does not shut off once triggered. As a result, unchecked brain inflammation damages and destroys healthy brain cells.

Brain inflammation is tied to various brain-based disorders, including depression and mental illness. In fact, a 2014 study concluded that sustaining a head injury leads to a greater risk of mental illness later in life.

When patients fail to employ strategies to dampen brain inflammation, post-concussive inflammation continues its crawl through the brain like a slow-burning fire, consuming neurons in its path. This can go on for years after the concussion, impacting mood, memory, and general function.

What’s more, thanks to intimate communication between the brain and the gut, a concussion often impacts gut health and function. Many people report the onset of digestive issues after a concussion.

This is bad news because research shows an inflamed and unhealthy gut is directly linked to depression, giving post-concussive patients a double whammy of depression-inducing inflammation that travels back and forth between the gut and the brain.

Functional medicine strategies for concussions 

For every person who dies from suicide, many others think about it or suffer from chronic depression. 

This study shows a clear need for better long-term care of patients with concussion.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers many strategies to reduce brain inflammation and lower the risk of mood disorders such as depression after a concussion:

  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Removing inflammatory triggers from the diet (such as gluten) or the environment (such as synthetic scents or toxic cleaning products)
  • Improving gut health and gut bacteria diversity
  • Identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases, situations where the body’s immune system attacks body tissue, creating chronic inflammation. Autoimmune reactions in the brain are more common than people realize.
  • Addressing chronic infections.
  • Improving blood flow and oxygenation flow in the brain.
  • Stabilizing hormones.
  • Using nutritional compounds to reduce inflammation in the brain.

These are among the foundations of functional medicine that can make the difference between a post-concussive downward spiral or be the springboard to a more brain-healthy way of living. 

If life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask me how functional medicine strategies can help.

Nature is powerful medicine for the body and brain

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Have you ever wondered why a walk in the woods makes you feel so good? While that Zen feeling is partly about “getting away from it all,” studies show time in nature is also powerfully therapeutic for the body and brain. 

More than half of the world’s population lives in an urban setting, and by 2050 that number will increase to a whopping 70 percent. Urbanization disconnects us from nature with measurable effects on our health. For example, city dwellers are at a 40 percent higher risk for mood disorders than rural folk.

Eight reasons nature is powerful medicine for your body and brain 

Spending time in nature is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, and its positive impacts on mood and depression. Here are eight great reasons to spend more time in nature:

1. Vitamin D: Exposure to sunlight enables us to produce this critical hormone. In our increasingly indoor world, many people find they are deficient in Vitamin D. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including depression. Vitamin D is also critical to regulating inflammation.

2. Improved sleep: Sleep patterns are tied to the sun’s schedule. Spending too much time indoors away from natural light can alter this rhythm, which plays a role in many metabolic processes and mental health. Early morning exposure to sunlight has been shown to recalibrate the sleep cycle, and one study found participants were cured of insomnia in one week of camping outdoors with no exposure to electronics or electric light.

3. Increased emotional stability and empathy: People who spend time in nature show increased activity in parts of the brain responsible for empathy, emotional stability, and love. In case you were wondering, yes, urban environments, have the opposite effect of promoting fear and anxiety. 

4. Grounding: A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine reported that grounding (bare-skinned contact with the earth) can have an intense anti-inflammatory and energizing effect on the body. 

5. Creativity: A study of backpackers found that after four days in nature, subjects scored 50 percent better on a creativity test. 

6. A breath of fresh air: Outdoor air really is fresher than indoor air! The EPA states that indoor pollutants are 2 to 100 times higher than outdoor pollutants! 

7. Improved mood: A Stanford study showed that participants who walked for 90 minutes in a natural environment were less apt to focus on life’s shortcomings compared to subjects who walked along a busy highway. Added bonus: Time in the sun boosts serotonin, a brain hormone responsible for happiness. 

8. Renewed mental focus: Interaction with nature gives your brain a break from everyday stimulation, allowing it to restore your attention levels.  

Hit the hills!

Live in a city with no green space nearby? Try to get out of town into nature as often as you can. But even roaming the green places in your city can bring great benefits. And don’t worry if you aren’t capable of a vigorous hike; even “non-exercise activity” has solid benefits.

Check out this brief youtube video about studies that have shown, for example, how just looking at pictures of nature makes us healthier.

What are you planning for your next outdoor excursion?