Category Archives: Brain Function

Generosity and volunteering proven good for health

generosity good for health

While volunteering is good for those in need, the giver cashes in big on generosity, too. Studies show the benefits of generosity and volunteering include a heightened sense of well-being, increased self-worth, and improved emotional and physical health. 

How generosity makes you happier

Generosity and volunteering produce hormones that relieve stress, promote happiness, cause a natural high (endorphins), and promote bonding and tranquility.

Being generous makes us feel better about ourselves.  It builds confidence, and encourages us to focus toward the world rather than ourselves.

When we improve someone else’s life, empowerment grows and we are better able to deal with life’s hardships.

Volunteering can help you feel better 

Generosity and volunteering also lower mortality rates, reduce cardiovascular risk, decrease anxiety and depression, and improve sleep. 

In fact, one study showed adults who volunteered at least four hours a week for one year were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure compared to non-volunteers.

Another study of teens found those who spent an hour a week helping children in after-school programs had lower levels of cholesterol and inflammation than their non-volunteering peers.

Generosity must be genuine to benefit health

Don’t volunteer or be generous simply in order to improve your health or solely out of obligation.

If you want to enjoy the health benefits of generosity and volunteering, it must be genuine. Make sure you’re focused on helping others and not just looking good.

2012 study found that older volunteers had a lower risk of dying in a four-year period than non-volunteers, as long as their volunteerism was for altruistic and not self-oriented reasons.

Tips for volunteering to improve your health

  • Offer to do something your enjoy.
  • Help with a cause you’re passionate about.
  • Be realistic about your schedule so you don’t stress out.
  • Volunteer with others so it’s socially beneficial.
  • Don’t give up if your first attempt is a bad match.

Receive generosity with grace so others can benefit as well

Remember, generosity and volunteering are good for everyone. Others may have chronic health conditions they are working to manage, and allowing them to help you will help them as well.

If someone is generous to you, don’t brush it off or feel undeserving — receive their kindness with sincerity and grace. This will bring you closer to the person and allow them reap the benefits of giving as well.

Eat breakfast to lose weight

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If you’re like most Americans, you eat a high-carb breakfast packed with grains, dairy, and sugar, or you don’t eat breakfast at all either because you’re too busy or you want to lose weight. Either way, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

Breakfast is exactly what it sounds like — the breaking of a fast. After 8-plus hours of no food, your body needs fuel to bring its systems up to speed and maintain even energy for the day. As it turns out, eating a solid breakfast is one of the best things you can do to lose weight. It also helps assure a clear mind, steady emotions, and plentiful energy throughout the day.

Skipping breakfast can actually make you gain weight!

We’ve all been taught the “calories in vs. calories out” theory for weight loss. In an effort to cut calories, we skip breakfast because it’s the easiest meal to do without, especially if we tend to wake up with no appetite or we’re always in a rush to get to work. But while calories can matter, skipping breakfast can actually lead to weight gain:

When you wake in the morning, your blood sugar is already low. Skipping breakfast (or any meal) allows it to go lower and impairs insulin sensitivity, which leads to weight gain.

Chronic low blood sugar creates a cascade effect in your hormonal system that directly affects your body’s ability to deal with stress. This can result in increased inflammation throughout your body, which can lead to weight gain. Low blood sugar also causes brain fog, mood issues, insomnia, decreased brain function, and other health issues. None of these symptoms will help you stick to a healthier eating plan.

Skipping breakfast has interesting behavioral effects; research shows that people who skip breakfast tend to reach for higher calorie foods once they do eat, leading to higher total daily calorie consumption than those who ate a solid breakfast. This is partly because missing meals causes the brain to become primed toward higher-calorie foods like it would during starvation or famine.

Skipping breakfast makes you more likely to binge on sugary foods that result in an energy crash later in the day—making you less likely to go out and get that much-needed exercise. (PS: A big sweet, milky coffee drink with whipped cream is not a breakfast.)

Eat a protein-strong breakfast for weight loss and steady energy

You know you need to eat breakfast. But eating traditional carb-heavy breakfast foods such as cereals, bagels, muffins, and fruit smoothies isn’t a great idea; they sabotage your weight loss goals by destabilizing blood glucose and insulin after the night’s fast, as well as kicking cravings for quick-energy sugary stuff and junk foods into high gear.

Eating a nutrient-dense, lower carb breakfast with plenty of protein and healthy fats provides the brain and body with proper fuel, balances your blood sugar and insulin, and gives your metabolism a boost for the day.

Studies show a protein-strong breakfast can also reduce hunger hormones, increase the chemical that tells your brain to stop eating, improve your sense of satiety, and reduce evening snacking.

Many girls’ ADHD misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety

girls and adhd

When we think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) we think of the boys — they’ve received the lion’s share of diagnoses and attention. But turns out we’re focusing mainly on characteristically boys’ symptoms, leaving a lot of girls in the dust with their symptoms and very bad outcomes in adulthood.

While boys act out and are hyperactive, ADHD in girls expresses itself more as disorganization and inattentiveness.

Symptoms include a tendency toward daydreaming, trouble following instructions, and making careless mistakes.

These symptoms can lead to feelings of shame for girls who feel the pressure to perform. They see these symptoms as personal flaws instead of a neurological condition.

Sadly, this continual sense of failure can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and a four to five times greater risk of self-harm and suicide.

These girls are more likely to have fewer friendships and get into unhealthy and abusive relationships that mirror their inner lack of self worth.

Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys and it can get worse as they get older. Many don’t get diagnosed until adulthood and spend their lives trying to manage it on their own and feeling shame about it.

Missing the cues of ADHD in girls

The diagnosis of ADHD in girls has increased 55 percent in recent years, compared to 40 percent for boys. Despite this increase, many girls still go undiagnosed (while there is over diagnosis of boys).

This is because the symptoms of feeling unfocused and disorganized lead to depression and anxiety. As a result, girls miss out on services that may help their symptoms in childhood and instead are prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Many doctors also believe girls can’t get ADHD.

ADHD in adult women

As women take on careers and raising children, masking their symptoms of ADHD can become more difficult.

The researchers found that adult women with high IQs and ADHD suffer from constant feelings of being frantic and overwhelmed trying to manage day-to-day basics. Adult women have become the fastest growing users of ADHD medications.

ADHD and functional medicine

With any neurological disorder, including ADHD, we always seek to support the brain as much as possible. This can mean looking at foods that are inflammatory to the brain (gluten is a primary one) and gut health, another known link to brain health. For more advice, please contact my office.

Busting the low-fat myth: Cholesterol is good for you

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If you’re one of the many people with high cholesterol, you may have been prescribed statin drugs and told to eat a low-fat diet — the standard advice for decades. However, experts have now reviewed the research and found there is no link between heart disease and total fat, saturated fat, or dietary cholesterol.

Statins made me forget where I parked the car

Cholesterol-lowering statins are among the most commonly prescribed and profitable medications in the world, taken by 25 percent of people over age 45. Touted to keep heart disease at bay, statin drugs are now known to be a cause of serious memory loss  fuzzy thinking, learning difficulties, fatigue, muscle damage, and even diabetes.

Why do statins cause memory loss? The human brain is made up of 60 percent fat, much of that cholesterol. The brain uses cholesterol to build brain chemicals that allow neurons to communicate with one another. Without cholesterol, the brain’s cells eventually die from inactivity. Over time, this results in memory loss and other brain disorders. In studies of the elderly  those with high total cholesterol actually have reduced risk of dementia – likely due to their body’s plentiful supply of this brain-supporting substance.

Cholesterol and heart attack risk

In a review of 72 studies  researchers found that most heart attack patients’ cholesterol levels did not indicate cardiac risk; in fact, 75 percent of them had normal, not high LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. Even more surprising, 90 percent of them had HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels under 60. Additionally, low HDL is a warning sign for pre-diabetes, and most of these patients had pre-diabetes, or “metabolic syndrome.” We now know that low HDL, not high LDL, is the real driver behind most heart attacks and heart disease, which changes the game on cholesterol management.

What about dietary fat?

Consider the following regarding low-fat diets. (Keep in mind this refers to intake of healthy fats):

  • High-fat diets lower triglycerides  normalize LDL (bad cholesterol), and increase LDL particle size. LDL cholesterol comes in two sizes; large particles that move freely, causing no harm, and small particles that embed in artery walls, causing inflammation the buildup of plaque. You want fluffy large particles.
  • The National Institutes of Health reported that increasing fat intake to 50 percent of calories improved the nutritional status of heart study participants, and didn’t negatively affect heart disease risk factors.
  • The 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reviewed all the research over 40 years and told us to stop worrying about dietary cholesterol, arguing it is “not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
  • People who consume low-fat diets are at increased risk for depression and suicide (remember how the brain is made from 60 percent fat).
  • And here’s the clincher: Harvard School of Public Health recently admitted that when it comes to disease prevention, low-fat diets don’t appear to offer any special benefits. It’s sugar and refined carbohydrates that contribute to obesity, pre-diabetes, heart disease, and many other health issues.

If not fat, what causes heart disease?

Here are five important factors in heart disease risk:

  • Inflammation in the body.
  • Free radicals that attack LDL and turn it from large (unharmful) into small (harmful) particles.
  • Trans fats that increase inflammation and raise triglycerides.
  • Sugar, which is inflammatory, promotes plaque formation in arteries, and raises stress hormones.
  • Stress, which increases blood pressure and causes other heath issues.

Contact me when you’re ready to create a nutrition plan for your better heart health.

Loneliness is bad for your health

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Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Maybe you miss a party, move to a new city, or lack a close circle of friends. Ideally, loneliness is temporary, but when it becomes chronic, it can have far-reaching consequences for our health. While we’ve known for decades that perceived social isolation, or loneliness, is a major risk factor for chronic illness and death, only more recently have we gained deeper clues into why loneliness is such a health risk.

Studies show loneliness affects immunity

In a study of overweight but otherwise healthy people, those with loneliness showed higher levels of inflammation when faced with stressful activities; another set of subjects experienced more inflammation, pain, depression and fatigue than normal, plus a reactivation of dormant viruses in the body. More recently, it was shown that loneliness reduced the ability to fight off viruses and bacteria.

Researchers say the body perceives loneliness as a stressor, causing it to go into a “fight or flight” response and release adrenal hormones. Over time this chronic stress response leads to chronic inflammation, setting the stage for numerous disorders, including depression, coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

This explains why lonely people have been shown to be at increased risk for cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and viral infections.

Compounding the problem is the fact that chronic inflammation is linked with depression and other mental health issues, which may cause a lonely person to further isolate themselves in a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

The remedy for loneliness

Clearly, healthy social relationships are the best antidote to loneliness. Relationships don’t just happen – you have to make them happen.

Ideas to remedy loneliness include: Join Meetup.com groups, or start one; schedule time with friends or acquaintances; attend local events; sign up for classes to learn something new with other people; join a volunteer organization; join a church or spiritual community. If you look outside yourself you will find a cornucopia of healthy social opportunities.

Humans are designed to commune. It’s vital to health because in our history it was vital to survival. The stress response to loneliness and isolation is a red flag that you need the feeling of protection and inclusion socialization brings.

If you feel depression and lack of motivation are holding you back from reaching out to form a healthy social community, I can help you with diet and specific supplementation that can help boost your desire to socialize.

Is undiagnosed PTSD causing your chronic stress or fatigue?

PTSD high and low cortisol

Are you chronically stressed out, chronically fatigued, or both? Are you careful about your diet and lifestyle but nothing works? You may want to consider whether post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) plays a role in your poor stress-handling ability.

Studies show PTSD alters the body’s ability to regulate cortisol, our primary stress hormone produced by the adrenal glands. People with poor adrenal function usually suffer from either low cortisol or high cortisol.

Altered cortisol levels increase the risk for developing chronic conditions, such as autoimmune disease, chronic pain, or chronic inflammation. Continue reading

Maternal PCOS can raise the risk of autism in children

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Researchers have discovered that polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS  is linked with an almost 60 percent greater risk of giving birth to a child who will develop an autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

As many as one in ten women of childbearing age have PCOS, a hormonal disorder, and it can affect girls as young as 11. It is the most common female hormone imbalance in the United States.

Although the exact link between maternal PCOS and autism isn’t clear, the findings support the notion that sex hormones early in life play a role in the development of autism in both boys and girls.

PCOS exposes the developing fetus to excess androgens, hormones that play a role in male traits. These androgens are believed to affect the development of the brain and central nervous system, increasing the risk of an ASD.

In the study, researchers looked at children ages 4 to 17 who were born in Sweden between 1984 and 2007. They found that a maternal diagnosis of PCOS increased the risk of having a child with ASD by 59 percent. Continue reading

Five things doctors don’t tell you about depression

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Do you suffer from depression? People succumb to depression for different reasons. It’s important to look for the underlying cause of your depression. Consider these five:

1. Poor communication between brain cells

Depression happens when neurons in certain areas of the brain don’t communicate well with each other, or “fire.” This causes poor brain function and symptoms of depression.

Many factors cause poor firing in the brain, which I’ll talk about more in this article.

The primary question when you have symptoms of depression is, “What is causing neurons not to fire in areas of the brain associated with mood?” Continue reading

Five things you can address that cause insomnia

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It seems almost everyone has insomnia these days, including, possibly, you. People either can’t fall asleep, they wake up after a few hours of sleep and can’t go back asleep, or they aren’t able to sleep deeply. The reasons for insomnia vary from person to person, but it’s typically not due to a sleeping pill deficiency.

Instead, the reasons behind insomnia or poor sleep can be startlingly straightforward, although addressing them may take some diet and lifestyle changes.

In this article I’ll go over often overlooked issues that cause insomnia and poor sleep. Don’t assume a powerful sleeping pill is your only answer. Look at the underlying causes first and address those.

Five things that can cause insomnia

Low blood sugar. Do you wake up at 3 or 4 a.m., racked with anxiety and unable to fall back asleep? That could be caused by a blood sugar crash, which raises stress hormones (hence the anxious wake up). Eating small but frequent meals, never skipping meals, and avoid sugary and starchy foods are important to keep blood sugar stable. Additionally, eating a little bit of protein before bed and at night if you wake up may help. Continue reading

Got brain drain? Trade your keyboard for a pen

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Do your fingers whir across the keyboard, but your brain is left in the dust? One small but effective way to improve brain health is as simple as putting a pen to paper for a little bit each day. Research shows that although keyboards make writing fast and easy, they also make for sloppier brain function compared to handwriting.

Handwriting has been phased out of everyday life and school curriculums. Studies show many people can’t remember the last time they had to write something by hand and many children don’t know how to properly hold a pen or pencil because it’s barely taught in school.

This is bad news for our brains, say experts. The reason it takes children several years to learn how to write is because writing requires so many different areas of the brain to work simultaneously, enhancing development.

Likewise, college students who take notes by hand understand the material better than computer note takers. Continue reading