Category Archives: Fatigue

Balancing chronic autoimmune illness with raising children

727 chronic illness children

Because women make up about 75 percent of autoimmune disease diagnoses, this means many sufferers of chronic illness are also raising children. It’s common for women to feel disappointed or inferior because they are not the kind of mom they had envisioned. But the perfect mom is an unattainable myth, and it’s possible your illness is even cultivating good qualities in your children. In fact, some of the world’s greatest functional medicine researchers and innovators who have helped countless numbers of people discovered their passion because of their mother’s autoimmune illnesses.

A chronic autoimmune illness means days when energy is low or non-existent, or when brain fog, pain, anxiety, or depression rule. Regular life may include long treks to other cities or states to see a doctor who understands your condition and can help. Your diet is restricted and the house is void of junk food and sodas. Weekends may be devoted to batch cooking meals for the week and your autoimmune disease may require you to delegate chores to your kids. But none of this has to stand in the way of loving your kids and it may even make them better people.

A recent New York Times article explored the ways in which having a chronic autoimmune illness can benefit your children:

Patience. Everything moves more slowly when you’re chronically ill. Gratifications are delayed and trips to the doctor’s office long. When your kids are in tow, this can teach them patience, something most kids struggle with.

Flexibility. Having an autoimmune disease sometimes means canceling well laid plans because you are having a flare. Though disappointing, this prepares children for the inevitable snafus of life.

Self-sufficiency. Children who have everything done for them suffer when they strike out on their own. The child of an autoimmune mom has long been learning how to do their laundry, make their meals, walk the dog, clean the house, and so on. Adulthood won’t seem like such an ugly shock as a result. Though they may complain, this self-sufficiency is also a wonderful confidence builder.

Consideration. Children are egocentric by design. Having a mom with a chronic illness teaches them about the universality of human suffering and that sometimes we are all weaker than we’d like to be and need help.

Self-care. Autoimmunity means seizing the day when you feel good and retreating and resting when you feel bad. This teaches children the importance of a healthy diet, sleep, and other often ignored facets of good health. If you have a partner who helps and supports you, they also benefit from seeing that partnership in action.

Compassion. By seeing someone they love suffer, your children learn compassion for suffering in all people, including themselves. They may also be more likely to see grumpiness or impatience in others as symptoms of a possible illness.

Emotions. Living with a chronic illness is hard work. Sometimes the fatigue, pain, or disappointment can send us into an emotional tailspin, making it impossible to put on a happy face. Seeing a parent express their emotions around suffering can help children be more ok with their own bouts of emotional turmoil.

Having low blood pressure also carries health risks

708 low blood pressure

Most people worry about high blood pressure, and with good reason as it portends numerous health risks. However, low blood pressure brings a different set of problems, such as reduced brain function and increased mortality risk. If the upper or lower number deviates by more than 10 from 120/80, it pays to be aware low blood pressure may be affecting your health.

Blood pressure pushes blood through about 100,000 miles of veins, arteries, and capillaries in the body, carrying oxygen, nutrients, immune cells, hormones, neurotransmitters, and other vital compounds.

High blood pressure strains blood vessels. However, low blood pressure means not enough blood is getting to capillaries and tissues, particularly in your hands, feet, and brain. This deprives those tissues of sufficient oxygen and nutrients. You may have chronic nail fungal infections and cold hands and feet if so.

Adrenal fatigue as a cause of low blood pressure

The most common cause of low blood pressure in a functional medicine model is poor adrenal function.

The adrenals are two walnut-sized glands that sit atop the kidneys. They produce stress hormones and help regulate blood pressure. Many people today suffer from adrenal fatigue due to chronic stress. Other causes of adrenal fatigue are poor diets, low blood sugar, chronic infections, gut problems, inflammation, and unmanaged autoimmunity — all stressors.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms include chronic tiredness, low blood sugar, losing function between meals, getting sick all the time, and low blood pressure.

Orthostatic hypotension when you stand up

Orthostatic hypotension is a common type of low blood pressure that causes lightheadedness when you go from sitting to standing. This happens because the blood pools in the legs upon standing, slowing blood flow back to the heart and thus the brain. You will be diagnosed with orthostatic hypotension when the top number of your blood pressure falls by 20 and the bottom number by 10 upon standing.

Orthostatic hypotension is a red flag that you need to address your low blood pressure and it becomes more dangerous when it makes you faint or fall. Orthostatic hypotension is commonly found in those with low blood pressure and low blood sugar but people with high blood pressure can have it too.

Functional medicine tips for low blood pressure

If you have signs and symptoms of low blood pressure and adrenal fatigue, consider an adrenal saliva test. This test measures levels of the adrenal hormone cortisol throughout the day. This gives you a more precise therapy target and follow-up testing will let you know if your protocols are on the right track.

Everyone knows a person with high blood pressure should avoid excess salt, so it may come as no surprise that adding good quality sea salt to your diet may help boost low blood pressure. In fact, you may be one of those people who craves salt.

A nutritional compound that can help raise low blood pressure is licorice root extract, or glycyrrhiza, which can extend the life of cortisol in the body and improve blood volume and electrolyte balance.

Of course, it’s important to address what is causing adrenal fatigue. Adrenal fatigue is always secondary to something else. One of the most common causes is a diet that causes low blood sugar. Eating a good breakfast, skipping sweets and sweet drinks, minimizing starchy foods, and eating regularly enough to sustain blood sugar are helpful strategies.

For more advice on supporting healthy adrenal function and blood pressure, contact me.

Extreme exercise is good for you, right? Not exactly

650 extreme exercise copy

If you want to get fit and lose weight, you should exercise as hard as you can, for as long as you can, every day, right? Wrong! Research shows extreme exercise can cause chronic health problems and make you feel worse. (What constitutes over exercise depends on the individual and their fitness level.) Recovery time is as important as the exercise itself.

Over exercising can cause the following health issues:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Fatigued adrenals, the stress-handling glands
  • More bad gut bacteria
  • Leaky gut
  • Depleted hormones
  • Depressed immunity
  • Increased risk of injury
  • Bone loss
  • Too much exercise raises inflammation

Many of the issues caused by over exercising stem from inflammation. Although appropriate exercise can be anti-inflammatory and very good for the brain, too much has the opposite effect.

The cellular damage from over exercising triggers a systemic inflammatory response that sets the stage for a host of other health problems.

Too much exercise stresses out your body

The damage and inflammation from over exercising is very stressful to the body. Excess stress underlies the burnout, depletion, and increasing weakness often seen with over exercising. Results can be fatigue, poor thyroid function, depressed immunity, and more.

Over exercising damages gut health

The gut and the bacteria it houses are increasingly being recognized as the seat of the immune system and foundational to our health.

Overdoing exercise has been found to damage the gut wall, causing “leaky gut.” This allows undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, where they then trigger inflammation throughout the body.

Overtraining also changes the composition of gut bacteria so there is too much bad bacteria.

How to know if you’re over training

How do you know if your exercise routine is making you unhealthy?

One of the most common symptoms is constant fatigue. Your workout routine should give you more energy, not less. Appropriate exercise boosts chemicals in the body that improve brain function, increase well being, and raise energy. If the opposite is happening to you, you’re overdoing it.

Other symptoms of over exercising include getting sick frequently, loss of muscle mass, gaining body fat, and difficulty recovering from injuries.

What to do if you’re over exercising

If you’re making yourself sick with exercise, the answer isn’t to stop exercising, but to go about your workouts differently. First of all, give yourself time to recover. This typically means exercising less frequently.

Also, it’s very important to get enough sleep. This is a critical time when your muscles repair and your metabolic system and brain recharge. Sufficient sleep is crucial if you want to stay active and healthy for the long haul.

Daylight saving got you down? You’re not alone

daylight saving blues copy

If you’re still feeling knackered from the time change with daylight saving you’re not alone. Changing the time throws a kink in the fragile and sensitive human biological clock, leaving many people feeling continuously jet lagged for a few weeks.

An hour of lost sleep might not sound like a big deal, but if you or your friends and coworkers are any indication, it makes for some groggy and grumpy days, bouts of insomnia, and feeling generally off.

It’s not just a hunch — scientific studies have demonstrated various ways in which the bi-annual time change messes with our health.

The body has genes that flip on and off to keep us in a steady rhythm of sleeping and waking. When we throw those genes off beat by artificially changing the time, the effect extends into the rest of the body, including muscles, the skeleton, the pancreas, etc. The disruption is felt body-wide.

How daylight saving time can impact health

This disruption dulls the brain and throws the body’s systems off, resulting in serious and even fatal consequences for some people.

For instance, past studies have shown driving fatalities, workplace injuries, and heart attacks go up after the spring-forward change in time. An Australian study found that even suicides increase after the time change.

Unsurprisingly, work productivity goes down as well, causing losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Night owls, people who naturally are more inclined to stay up late and sleep later in the morning take the longest to recover.

Worst of all, some studies suggest our bodies never really adjust to time changes. We’re designed to sync with natural changes in light throughout the year, not artificially inflicted ones.

How to recover from daylight saving time

Although people complain and we see a spate of news stories every spring bemoaning the change in time, we’re nevertheless stuck with it until politicians add it to their to-do list.

Understanding the effect of the time change on your body can help you better know how to ease the transition into suddenly waking up an hour earlier.

Avoid overdoing it for a while. Because you know your whole body is struggling to adjust to being thrown out of whack, don’t expect too much from yourself. Avoid scheduling high-risk or energy demanding activities the week after the time change. And be extra careful driving.

Schedule in some naps and restful mornings. If you’re like most people, you’ll be sleep-deprived for a week or two. Take a lunch nap in your car at work, let yourself rest on a weekend morning, and be extra disciplined about getting to bed early enough.

Wear orange glasses at night. Wear some orange safety glasses a couple of hours before bed to shield your eyes from artificial blue light from light bulbs, the TV, and computer and phone screens. This facilitates production of sleep hormones and will help ease you into the new schedule.

Get some sunshine during the day. Our bodies were designed to wake and sleep according to the light of the seasons, not an industrialized schedule. Get as much natural light as you can during the day and avoid artificial sources of blue light (computer, TV, smart phones) in the evening.

Star Trek’s Zoe Saldano needs better Hashimoto’s info

star trek hashimoto s copy

Star Trek’s Zoe Saldano recently revealed she has Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, a thyroid disease affecting millions of women that causes weight gain, fatigue, depression, cold hands and feet, brain fog, constipation, and many other symptoms.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune thyroid disease. Autoimmunity is a condition in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, in this case the thyroid gland. It is one of the most common autoimmune diseases, affecting an estimated more than 23 million people.

The thyroid gland governs metabolism in the body and produces thyroid hormones, which are needed by every cell in the body, including brain cells.

This is why a thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s causes a person to gradually lose function, feel run down, lose brain function, and find it impossible to lose weight (although not in Saldano’s case.)

Saldano’s unusual explanation for Hashimoto’s

When asked about her Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism diagnosis, Saldano said, “Your body doesn’t have the energy it needs to filter toxins, causing it to believe that it has an infection, so it’s always inflamed.”

This is an unusual and narrow explanation for autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s.

Research shows multiple factors play into the development of an autoimmune disease, including:

  • Genetic susceptibility (Saldano’s family members have Hashimoto’s)
  • Imbalanced immunity
  • Inflammation from food sensitivities
  • Environmental toxins
  • Leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Gender (autoimmunity primarily affects women)
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Viral or bacterial infection

In a nutshell, rarely can we point to one defining trigger of autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Typically, a person experiences a number of chronic health issues that go undiagnosed until the overburdened immune system tips into an over zealous attack on the body.

What Saldano is doing right for Hashimoto’s

Although her explanation for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism may be a bit off base, Saldano otherwise puts forth some good lifestyle examples.

For starters, she follows a gluten-free and dairy-free diet. Studies link these foods with autoimmunity, including Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

She also talks about the stress reducing techniques of not being too hard on herself and surrounding herself with the support of loved ones.

How to find out if you have Hashimoto’s

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism often goes undiagnosed in the conventional health care model. This is because doctors often only test for TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) to prescribe medication.

About 95 percent of hypothyroid cases are due to Hashimoto’s. It’s important to check for TPO and TGB antibodies  which tell you if you have autoimmunity. Managing Hashimoto’s goes far beyond using thyroid medication as you must work to balance and regulate the immune system so it stops attacking the body.

For more information on identifying and managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, contact me.

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.

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.

Still have hypothyroidism despite normal lab results?

still have thyroid symptoms despite normal labs copy

Your doctor says your hypothyroid condition has been treated, but do you still suffer from symptoms of low thyroid function?

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Cold hands and feet

If so, you may suffer from Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism is usually caused by Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease

Hypothyroidism means your thyroid gland is under functioning and not producing enough thyroid hormone. This is bad news because every cell in the body depends on thyroid hormones. Including brain cells. This explains why people with untreated or poorly managed hypothyroidism are at higher risk for rapid brain decline.

Hypothyroidism affects millions of Americans, many of them whom continue to suffer from worsening health despite treatment. What’s more, 90 percent of hypothyroid cases are caused by autoimmune Hashimoto’s. As Hashimoto’s gradually destroys the thyroid gland, this lowers thyroid function, causing myriad symptoms.

Lab tests can identify Hashimoto’s by testing for TPO and TGB antibodies. If positive, these markers indicate an autoimmune disease is attacking the thyroid gland. In this case, it’s vital to dampen the inflammatory autoimmune attacks against the thyroid and balance the immune system.

However, thyroid hormone medication may still be necessary if damage is already extensive.

How to manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

Managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism is rarely a quick fix. Instead, it involves a multi-faceted approach to diet and lifestyle to reduce inflammation and autoimmune flares against the thyroid. Strategies include:

Adopt a strict gluten-free diet. Numerous studies show a strong link between Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and gluten  In fact, people with a gluten intolerance are genetically more prone to Hashimoto’s disease. Gluten sensitivity also promotes inflammation and leaky gut, which flares autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Adopt an autoimmune diet. For many people, going gluten-free is not enough to manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. You may need to go deeper with an anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates common inflammatory foods, such as dairy, eggs, grains, legumes, and other foods. A whole-foods diet that emphasizes plenty of produce and eliminates processed foods is important to manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Repairing a leaky gut. Leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, typically plays a primary role in Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and other autoimmune diseases. In leaky gut the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, damaged, and porous, allowing undigested foods, bacteria, fungus, and other foreign invaders into the sterile environment of the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation and autoimmunity.

Stabilize blood sugar. Stabilizing blood sugar is vital to managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. A diet high in sugars and refined carbohydrates (such as breads, pastas, pastries, and desserts) spikes inflammation, skews hormones, and flares autoimmunity. Energy crashes, fatigue after meals, excess belly fat, hormonal imbalances, mood swings, and sleep issues are all signs you may have low blood sugar or high blood sugar (insulin resistance).

These are just a few of the basics of autoimmune management for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Ask me for more information.

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

Lack of sleep causes gene changes

lack of sleep changes genes copy

We all want enough sleep so we’re less cranky and more alert. We want it for our kids too. But recent research found an even more important reason: Sleeping less than six hours a night for one week can lead to more than 700 changes in the way our genes behave. Among these are genes that regulate stress, our ability to fight disease, our sleep-wake cycles, inflammation, and aging.

Researchers believe this helps explain why chronic sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress, and depression.

Sleeping less than five hours a night has also been linked with greater risk of death.

Early mornings hard on youth

Researchers are increasingly sounding the alarm about the ill health effects of early mornings. They suggest elementary school start at 8:30, middle and high school at 10 a.m., and university classes at 11 a.m.

These wake up times better match the body’s natural circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle. Early starts are particularly onerous on youth because sleep is when they develop mentally, physically, and emotionally. Sleep deprivation can also be fatal as sleep-deprived teens are more likely to get in car accidents.

One study found British students were losing an average of 10 hours of sleep a week, making them more deprived than doctors on a 24-hour shift.

Another study of 900,000 children globally found American youth are the most sleep-deprived.

Most workers should start the day at 10 a.m.

Children and teens aren’t the only ones who should start the morning later. Research has also found early work times are not in sync with the internal clocks of working adults in their 20s and 30s. In fact, the nine-to-five day is best suited only for children under 10 and adults over 55.

Meanwhile, young people between the ages of 14 and 24 are the most sleep-deprived group of any age sector. This translates to a more drastic impact on gene expression that can raise the risk of various health disorders.

Limit screen time at night to facilitate sleep

Although our body clocks may be more in tune with later wake times, poor habits play a role in sleep deprivation, too.

Adults and children are on their smart phones and tablets late into the night, not only forcing themselves to stay up too late, but also over-exposing their internal clocks to too much “artificial daylight.”

The blue light emitted from LED screens used on smart phones, tablets, computers, and LED televisions are similar to the daylight.

This suppresses the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone, while keeping the adrenal hormone cortisol active. The result is insomnia and poor sleep.

It’s important to limit screen time at night. If that seems like too much to ask, wearing orange tinted glasses can limit the blue wavelengths from entering the eyes and induce evening sleepiness.

A small study of Swiss teen boys showed they felt significantly more sleepy at night after wearing the glasses at night for just one week. Also, apps for your devices such as f.lux reduce blue wavelengths emitted from your screen as the sun goes down, resulting in less eyestrain and better sleep at night.

Poor sleep can have many causes including those I’ve already mentioned, but also blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances, brain-based issues, and more.

Ask me for more advice on improving your sleep.