Category Archives: General

Six lifelong habits found among the happiest people

820 6 habits for happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you feel more depressed in the summer?

810 summer SAD

Most everyone has heard of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, when winter brings on chronic blues. But if you feel better in winter than summer, you may have summer SAD, also called reverse SAD. While the jury is still out on the causes of summer SAD, there are ways to get through the season with more energy, better sleep, and improved mood.

Although both winter and summer SAD and summer SAD share symptoms of sadness and anxiety, they diverge in potential causes and remedies.

Winter SAD commonly involves sadness and anxiety, sluggishness, weight gain, oversleeping, cravings for high-carb foods, social withdrawal, and a loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities.

While summer SAD also causes sadness and anxiety, it differs from winter SAD by causing the following:

  • Agitation and irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling overheated at night
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased suicidal ideation
  • Increased sex drive

While five percent of the population suffers from winter SAD, researchers estimate roughly one percent suffer from the summer version, and women with summer SAD outnumber men two to one.

Both are considered major depression with seasonal patterns.

Spring and summer depression can be especially hard to cope with because sufferers feel very out of step — everyone is happier when you’re more miserable.

Suicide is a concern with summer SAD as suicide is more of a concern when people are depressed and agitated rather than depressed and lethargic.

Are the causes for winter and summer blues the same?

Most theories regarding the cause of the winter blues — what most of us think of as SAD — stem from the fact that short winter days reduce our exposure to daylight, leading to an increase in the hormone melatonin. This can negatively affect our body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, as well as brain hormones that affect mood, motivation, and appetite.

Support for this theory comes from the overwhelming success of morning light therapy in the winter. When the brain is exposed to natural light in the morning, it helps regulate the circadian rhythm, improving sleep, energy level, and mood.

The causes for summertime SAD however, are not yet clear. The theories below are being studied, but a consensus has yet to be reached.

Allergies. Some patients report worse symptoms on high-pollen days.

Possible genetic component. More than two-thirds of patients with SAD have a relative with a major mood disorder.

Hypothalamus. Some scientists believe the root cause could lie in the brain’s hypothalamus, our brain’s control center for hormones.

Changes in light. While winter SAD has been linked to decreased light, summer SAD may be related to longer days and increased light offsetting the circadian rhythm by activating the body’s melatonin response at the wrong time of day.

Heat and humidity. Sensitivity to heat and humidity may come into play, including in areas with milder summers, although incidences go up in hotter areas.

Study subjects with summer depression were shown to experience a significant increase in body temperature at night compared to non-sufferers. When they were wrapped in cooling blankets at night their temperatures dropped and their symptoms disappeared. As soon as they went outside into the summer heat, their depression returned.

Without a known cause, how do I manage my summer SAD?

While the causes for summer SAD are not yet decided, here are some tools to help you cope with those summertime blues:

Early morning sunlight. Get 30 to 60 minutes of early morning sunlight as often as possible to help shift your body clock into the proper circadian rhythm.

Blackout curtains. Install these in your bedroom during the summer to mimic the cool dark of winter nights.

Open bedroom windows at night. This will improve air flow and keep room temperatures lower for improved sleep.

Sunglasses. Avoid bright light by wearing sunglasses outside the house. Even on cloudy days there is substantial exposure to sunlight. At higher latitudes, the blue light spectrum is more prevalent, making cloudy days have more glare.

Avoid blue light and screen light in the evening. This helps the body to adjust its hormone production in preparation for a proper sleep cycle. Some patients find wearing blue-blocker glasses and installing the f.lux app on phones and computers also helps immensely.

Cool your bed. While cooling therapies are not guaranteed to be permanent fixes, the temporary help can make a big difference in sleep quality. You can use low-tech solutions like frozen water bottles in your bed or opt for more high-tech solutions like a cooling pad or bed fan.

Check thyroid levels. Some evidence suggests those with summer SAD have low thyroid function, which can affect temperature regulation, mood, sleep, appetite, weight, energy, and more.

Exercise daily.

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

Eat plentiful and varied produce. This will support your healthy gut bacteria and help support production of neurotransmitters to support brain health and mood regulation.

If you suffer from summertime SAD, contact me to find out how you can reclaim your energy, appetite, and mood.

Try new veggies and fruit to boost healthy gut bacteria

744 diversity gut bacteria with veggies

Want to improve your mood, health, and brain function? An ample and diverse supply of healthy gut bacteria has been shown to be essential, and that is best obtained through eating lots of different kinds of produce. Try going out of your comfort zone in the produce aisle and incorporating some new varieties of vegetables and fruits.

The digestive system is host to nearly four pounds of bacteria — some considered “good,” some considered “bad” — and while both have roles to play, it’s critical to actively support the good bacteria to avoid leaky gut, SIBO (small intestine bacterial overgrowth), and systemic inflammation, all of which contribute to autoimmunity and other chronic illnesses.

Gut bacteria rely on the fiber from fruits and vegetables as a source of energy. When bacteria metabolize fiber, they produce short-chain fatty acids (SCFA), vital compounds that regulate immune function, reduce inflammation, and boost brain health.

Support gut bacteria with plentiful and varied produce

Simply eating plentiful — and diverse — fruits and vegetables is one of the best ways to support a diverse population of bacteria in your gut. Also, probiotics work best in a gut environment that’s already being supported with plenty of fiber – from the fruits and vegetables on your plate.

The recommended produce consumption is seven to 10 servings a day. That may sound like a lot, but one serving is only a half cup of chopped produce, or a cup of leafy greens. Aim for produce low on the glycemic scale — sugary fruits may create problems for those with unstable blood sugar.

Expand your options with new and unusual produce

If you are looking to expand your consumption of produce and need some inspiration, seek out some of these fresh fruits and vegetables at international or health food stores that bring in varieties of produce lesser known in the west:

Ayote is a tropical squash used similarly to summer squash or pumpkin. It can be eaten whole when tender, or when mature, made into a stew, creamy soup, or sweet dessert or pie.

Bitter melon (balsam pear, bitter gourd, bitter cucumber) is a tropical green melon native to Asia, Africa and parts of the Caribbean. Unripe it is bitter, but allowed to ripen, the interior turns a reddish hue and has a sweeter flavor. Cooked like zucchini, bitter melon has cancer-fighting properties, is reported to help cure diabetes, and can help cleanse the body of toxins.

Camote: A starchy white sweet potato that can be prepared and eaten in the same way as the sweet potato. In Costa Rica camotes are used in soups or mashed into puree and served with a bit of milk, butter, and sugar. Camote can also sub for sweet potato in casseroles.

Cherimoya (cherimolia, chirimolla, anone): Native to southern Ecuador and northern Peru cherimoya is the size of a large apple or grapefruit, with a green dimpled skin and a creamy white, sweet-tart flesh. The flavor is a blend of pineapple and banana. Eat cherimoya like an apple, cubed, scooped out with a spoon, or cut in half and peeled. It can also be pureed and used as mousse or pie filling.

Choy Sum (bok choy sum, yu choy sum, flowering Chinese cabbage) looks much like baby bok choy, but its yellow flowers set it apart. The leaves are more bitter than the stems, and the entire plant is edible. Steam or saute, or try blanching and then cooking in oyster sauce.

Daikon Radish (Asian or Oriental radish, mooli, lo bok) is a large white radish with a lighter flavor than small red radishes. Used in kimchi, as a palate cleanser, and as an accompaniment to sashimi, it’s also great in light salads where its flavor isn’t overwhelmed by other ingredients.

Galangal (galanga root, Thai ginger, blue ginger) resembles ginger in appearance, but has a distinct waxy skin ringed with reddish-brown skin. The flesh is white but turns brown when exposed to air. Used in the same way as ginger root, galangal is more spicy and pungent.

Guava: A common tropical fruit, guava can have white, pink, or red flesh. It is eaten fresh, juiced, made into jam or preserves, and used in desserts.

Lemongrass (citronella grass, fever grass, hierba de limón) is a native Southeast Asian plant with a thick woody stem used to flavor dishes. To impart its lemony flavor, bruise the stalks, simmer or saute in the dish, then remove before serving. Lemongrass also makes a nice herbal tea infusion.

Plantain: A staple crop throughout West and Central Africa, India, the Caribbean and Latin America, plantains are used both green and starchy like a vegetable, as well as yellow and sweeter like fruit. Plantains must be cooked. A green plantain can substitute for potato, and ripe yellow plantains are commonly baked, boiled, or fried in coconut oil and served with salt.

Rambutan: Very similar to lychee and longan fruit, rambutan are common in Costa Rican markets. Great for snacks, with a sweet and sour taste somewhat like grapes.

Taro Root (cocoyam, arrow root, kalo, dasheen): A tuber native to Malaysia, its somewhat plain flavor makes it a good host for stronger flavors. In Hawaii, taro is used to make poi; in Indian cooking, slices of taro root are seasoned and fried; it’s also used in China as taro cakes and moon cakes. In the U.S. it’s common to find snack chips made from taro.

Yacón: Also known as Peruvian ground apple, this tuber consists mostly of water and contains inulin, a low-calorie, high-fiber sweetener that aids digestion while inhibiting toxic bacteria.

Yuca (cassava, manioc): Different from yucca, yuca is a starchy tropical tuber that is made into flour for bread and cakes, and can be cooked just like a potato to make chips or mash.

Want to trash your lungs? Use basic cleaning products

743 cleaning products wreck lungs

Smoking is bad for you and cleaning house is good, right? Wrong, if you use conventional cleaning products — you may as well smoke. A new study shows the lung decline over 20 years caused by using conventional cleaning products, which have no federal regulations for health or safety, equals that of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. The toxic chemicals used in cleaning products damage the lungs little by little, adding up to a significant impact that rivals a pack-a-day smoking habit.

The Norwegian study tracked 6,000 women over two decades — women responsible for keeping the home clean, women who cleaned as a job, and women not regularly engaged in cleaning. Compared to the women who didn’t clean house, the regular home cleaners and occupational cleaners who used cleaning sprays and other products showed an accelerated decline in lung function.

This study was the first of its kind to look at the long-term effects of cleaning products on the respiratory tract. Shorter term studies have already established a link between cleaning products — bleach, glass cleaner, detergents, and air fresheners — and an increase in asthma. In fact, the women who cleaned regularly in the Norwegian study also showed an increased rate of asthma.

Household cleaners are toxic and damaging to multiple systems in the body

The lungs aren’t the only part of the body conventional cleaning products damage. They also impact the brain, immune system, hormonal system, and liver.

For instance, phthalates are used in the perfumed scents many cleaning products have. Phthalates lower sperm counts, cause early puberty in girls, and raise the risk of cancer and lung problems.

Perchloroethylene (PERC), a solvent used in spot removers, carpet and upholstery cleaners, and dry cleaning, raises the risk of Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

Although hundreds, if not thousands, of studies have repeatedly demonstrated the toxicity of chemicals in common household ingredients, their use in manufacturing is largely unregulated.

Our over exposure to toxic chemicals has been linked to skyrocketing rates of autoimmunity and even autism, which is a neurological presentation of autoimmunity in many people.

In the past few decades we have seen autism increase tenfold, leukemia go up more than 60 percent, male birth defects double, and childhood brain cancer go up 40 percent.

Helping protect your body from toxins

Unfortunately, it is not possible to be toxin-free in today’s world. Toxins have gotten into our air, water, food (even organic), and our bodies. Everyone carries hundreds of toxins in their bodies, even newborn babies.

When a person has a highly reactive immune system, various toxins and heavy metals can trigger inflammation in the same way a gluten sensitivity can, causing a flare up of autoimmune and inflammatory symptoms. By using functional medicine principles to keep inflammation as low as possible, we can help prevent toxins from becoming immune reactive.

To accomplish this, first avoid toxins as much as possible and use non-toxic products in your home and on your body. The Norwegian researchers suggested cleaning with a microfiber cloth and water.

Also, eat an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet consisting primarily of produce, nurture healthy gut bacteria, exercise regularly, spend time in nature, have healthy social interactions, and supplement with compounds such as vitamin D and glutathione precursors (the body’s master antioxidant). These are a few ways to support the body and make it more resilient to the many toxins it must battle.

Ask me for more information on how to help protect your body from toxins.

Increase in autoimmunity rates linked to leaky gut

735 leaky gut autoimmunityAutoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.

Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation. Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an autoimmune condition.

People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.

Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.

Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity

Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
  • Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
  • Environmental toxins
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)

Repairing leaky gut can help dampen autoimmunity

Repairing leaky gut has been shown to help many people dampen autoimmunity and even put it into remission. This involves briefly following an elimination diet to figure out which foods are triggering inflammation in you, following guidelines to restore or maintain oral tolerance, and including some nutritional compounds to support the healing of your gut lining.

How do you know if you have leaky gut?

Many people aren’t aware they have leaky gut. The condition has only recently been accepted as valid by conventional medicine, and many doctors may still not know about it. However, some symptoms to look out for include bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, food sensitivities, and inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, or brain (brain fog, depression, slow thinking, fatigue, etc.)

When autoimmunity causes leaky gut

Sometimes autoimmunity itself causes leaky gut as it creates chronic inflammation that can damage the gut wall. This is particularly true in the case of autoimmunity to gut tissue, which may cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Feminine products loaded with absorbable toxins

703 toxic tampons copy

Sadly, millions of women and girls absorb high levels of toxins every month thanks to lax manufacturing standards of tampons and sanitary pads. These products are loaded with highly absorbable industrial contaminants — the body takes in more toxins through the vaginal wall than through ingestion.

Manufacturers are not required to list the ingredients used in tampons and sanitary napkins. However, the main material cotton is a crop notorious for genetic engineering and heavy use of pesticides.

Feminine hygiene products also contain synthetic fragrances, bleaches, foams, gels, anti-bacterial agents, and surfactants.

Although the FDA offers recommendations, there are no regulations manufacturers are required to follow regarding the use of toxic chemicals in these products.

Why toxins in tampons are more dangerous

Lack of regulation and oversight means anything goes in manufacturing of feminine hygiene products, including the use of cancer-causing chemicals.

Vaginal tissue is far more permeable than other areas of the body. In fact, it’s so good at absorption that drug companies are looking at ways to deliver drugs vaginally as a way to bypass metabolization.

Because compounds absorbed vaginally do not pass through the liver first, this also means they go into the bloodstream in much higher concentrations than if they were ingested.

Additionally, the thin ridges of the vaginal wall not only provide more surface area to enhance absorption, they also can retain chemicals.

Conventional sanitary pads contain myriad toxic chemicals, plastics and synthetic fibers that sit against the permeable skin of the vulva for days every month.

Toxic chemicals in feminine products

Sadly, most feminine hygiene products are loaded with toxins. This includes not only tampons and pads, but also feminine wipes, washes, douches, sprays, and creams.

These chemicals include dioxins and other bleaching chemicals, pesticide residues, anti-bacterials, unknown fragrances, dyes, spermicides, phthalates, and surfactants (also used in detergents).

Studies show the chemicals used in feminine hygiene products have been linked to cancer, hormone imbalances, reproductive harm, allergic rashes, and asthma.

Douches in particular have been linked to numerous reproductive and health disorders and should be avoided.

Safe alternatives in feminine products

Fortunately, natural alternatives exist, although they are dwarfed in number by the brands with toxins (I order mine through Thrive Market online). Go for chemical-free pads and tampons, or consider the menstrual cup or even cloth pads.

For other feminine products such as wipes, washes, sprays, and douches, remember that the body is innately intelligent and functions best with the right support.

Support your vaginal health by minimizing sugars and starchy carbs to prevent the yeast and bacterial infections that drive women to these products.

Taking probiotics can also support vaginal health, and these days you can buy brands geared specifically toward that.

Also, in addition to eating a whole foods diet, rule out a sensitivity to gluten, dairy, or other foods — many women have found food sensitivities causes vaginal itching and inflammation.

Ask me for more information.

Why the media attack on coconut oil is unfounded

704 coconut oil rebuttal

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently announced coconut oil is bad for you. This is the same advisory organization that endorses breakfast cereals loaded with sugars and artificial additives.

It’s important to look at this coconut oil advisory in context: Saturated fats have been proven repeatedly not to be bad for your health or raise the risk of heart disease when you eat a diet that is low in sugar and carbohydrates and high in omega 3 fatty acids (such as from cold water fish and raw nuts).

Sugars and carbs biggest heart disease culprits

In fact, studies also show it is sugars and excess carbohydrates that inflame the arteries, lead to arterial plaques, trigger production of the “bad” types of cholesterol, and promote obesity.

Likewise, polyunsaturated fats, which the AHA recommends in place of coconut oil and other saturated fats, are high in omega 6. Although we need a healthy ratio of omega 6 to omega 3, the average American eats far too much omega 6 already, thus promoting chronic disease.

Inflammation, not cholesterol, is a culprit

Excess omega 6, which is ample in polyunsaturated vegetable oils, is linked with chronic inflammatory disorders, such as fatty liver, arthritis, and irritable bowel disorder. Chronic systemic inflammation has also been found to increase the risk of heart disease.

Meanwhile, cholesterol has been found not to be a factor in heart disease risk. What matters are levels of inflammation (as measured by CRP or homocysteine on a blood test) and levels of the “bad,” or dense, LDL from eating too many sugars.

Big difference between saturated and trans fats

Although it’s not clear which saturated fats were investigated in the study panning coconut oil, the majority of studies linking saturated fats to heart disease include hydrogenated, or trans, fats. Trans fats are inflammatory, artery-clogging, brain damaging fats that should be avoided at all costs. It is incorrect to group them with natural saturated fats.

Health benefits of coconut oil

In a nutshell, if you manage your blood sugar levels with moderate to low consumption of complex carbohydrates, you avoid sugars and processed carbohydrates, you eat plenty of omega 3 fats, and your diet includes 7 to 10 servings a day of vegetables and low-glycemic fruit, chances are you can safely enjoy your coconut oil.

In fact, coconut oil has been shown to have healthy heart benefits even. The heart prefers the fatty acids found in coconut oil as a source of fuel.

Coconut oil is also known to:

  • Increase metabolism
  • Curb appetite
  • Fuel the brain
  • Lower triglycerides
  • Fight bacteria, viruses, and fungal infections

The AHA diet raises risk of heart disease

Unfortunately, the AHA promotes pro-inflammatory foods that are high in sugars, processed carbs, and omega 6 oils — the very foods most associated with chronic diseases. To their credit, however, they also promote 7 to 10 servings of produce a day and ample omega 3 fatty acids, both of which are excellent anti-inflammatory approaches that support heart health.

If you follow the AHA advice to replace calories from healthy natural fats with AHA-approved foods high in industrialized oils and processed carbohydrates, you may find both your blood test results and symptoms worsen. Ask me for more advice.

How do you really know what’s in your supplements?

supplement quality copy

The United States enjoys liberal access to nutritional supplements. We can buy virtually any supplement from multiple sources either at the local grocery store or online. Other countries can be more stringent when it comes to access and don’t enjoy near the wide range of variety.

However, the freedom around nutritional supplements in the United States means consumers must be wary of shoddy, fraudulent and even unsafe supplements with misleading claims. It’s important to learn how to be a smart supplement shopper to make the most of our supplement-shopping freedom. You may be surprised to learn many of the worst supplements aren’t from some shadowy corner of the internet, but rather usually from your local drug or grocery store.

At the same time, it’s also important to protect consumer access to supplements. The FDA’s approach to the industry is often viewed as unnecessarily aggressive due, it is widely believed, to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry. As the the rates of “untreatable” or “mysterious” chronic diseases and dementia continue to skyrocket, people increasingly turn to alternative health care and nutritional supplements to address their health concerns. This has turned the supplement industry into one worth many billions of dollars.

What supplements to avoid

The supplement industry has created its own standards of quality that manufacturers can choose to comply with in order to reassure their buyers only the purest ingredients are used.

What to look for in quality supplements

For starters, avoid fillers that use wheat, corn, starches, and magnesium stearate. Also, research the origin of the ingredients. Herbal ingredients can come from heavily polluted areas in other countries and be loaded with toxins. Good companies test their ingredients for toxins.

Research the brand. Are they formulated with a health-care professional and scientific advisory board? Are there peer-reviewed studies to back up the ingredients? Does the company test purity?

What is their marketing like? Do they use sleazy snake-oil selling tactics? Or do they cater to licensed practitioners and provide educational seminars to teach about the products and how best to incorporate them into a health care plan?

Also, look for supplement companies that send their products out to independent labs to test for quality and purity.

NSF International, an independent organization, certifies supplements on three levels of quality:

Certified Good manufacturing practices (CGMPs): Guidelines that assure a product conforms with what’s listed its label.

American National Standard for dietary supplement products: Testing that ensures products contain what is on the label and not undeclared contaminants.

NSF Certified for Sport: Screens for athletic banned substances.

One way to be guaranteed you’re getting a quality supplement is to buy from a reliable source such as FullScript. See the side bar to the left on this page for a link to sign up for an online account with them.

Is too much iron causing your chronic inflammation?

hemochromatosis copy

Did you know too much iron is toxic and inflammatory? If you are working to manage a chronic inflammatory condition, make sure high iron levels aren’t sabotaging your efforts. (Likewise, low iron levels can also make it difficult or impossible to heal.)

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder in which the body absorbs too much dietary iron. It is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately a million people in the United States. Symptoms typically include joint pain, chronic fatigue, heart flutters, and abdominal pain. Untreated hemochromatosis increases the risk of diabetes, arthritis, liver inflammation (cirrhosis), sexual dysfunction, and other diseases.

Psychological symptoms may include depression, anxiety, nervous tics, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Iron accumulation in the basal ganglia of the brain can interfere significantly with neurological functioning, leading to movement disorders and/or dementia.

Because symptoms vary so much and the disorder is associated with differing conditions, hemochromatosis often goes undiagnosed. If hemochromatosis is suspected, a series of three blood tests known collectively as the Iron Panel confirm diagnosis.

Once hemochromatosis has been identified, it can be addressed in two ways. The medical treatment for hemochromatosis is phlebotomy, which means periodically drawing blood from the body. This helps normalize the body’s iron levels and can relieve many, though not all, hemochromatosis symptoms.

The other way to alleviate symptoms and reduce the dangers of hemochromatosis is through diet — avoiding certain foods and supplements, while favoring others.

What to Avoid

Don’t take iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron. Even people who have not been diagnosed with hemochromatosis should be cautious of iron supplements (many different factors besides iron deficiency cause anemia, find the root cause for your anemia before taking iron).

Certain medical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, are associated with iron deficiency, and iron supplements may be prescribed or recommended for these conditions. However, anyone should have their iron levels checked first before taking supplements.

Stay away from vitamin C supplements and orange juice, as vitamin C increases iron absorption. (It is generally okay, however, to eat whole foods that contain vitamin C.)

Avoid or at least minimize alcohol consumption. Alcohol compromises liver function, the organ most vulnerable to too much iron.

Stay away from shellfish and raw fish as they may contain infectious bacteria that people with hemochromatosis are particularly vulnerable to.

Avoid or minimize red meat consumption. Red meat contains a form of iron that the body absorbs most easily.

Avoid or minimize sugar intake. Sugar increases iron absorption.

What to Increase

Essentially, there are two types of foods that a person with hemochromatosis should eat plenty of.

The first category is foods that inhibit iron absorption, such as:

  • Green or black tea
  • Raw kale
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Foods rich in calcium, magnesium, polyphenols, tannins, phylates and/or oxalates.

The second category is foods that contain iron, but in a form difficult to absorb. Nearly all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans are in this category. Many of them contain oxalates as well, which reduce iron absorption.

If you are going to occasionally consume some foods that have easily absorbed iron, such as meat or sweets, combine them with foods that block iron absorption.

A hemochromatosis diet need not necessarily be overly strict. Much of it will depend on an individual’s level of iron overload, as revealed by lab tests. With careful monitoring and adjustments as needed, hemochromatosis does not have to cause symptoms for you.

Why lab testing is important in functional medicine/nutrition

Taken by Tom Mallinson

Lab testing is foundational to functional medicine and functional nutrition for good reason. It can show you what is causing your symptoms, if you are headed toward a disease (even if you don’t have symptoms), track the progress of your protocol, and motivate you to stick with your protocol.

Lab testing includes many different tests. Some examples of testing used in functional medicine include:

Food sensitivity testing. If a food you eat regularly causes inflammation, this contributes to chronic health disorders.

Gut testing. Gut problems contribute to chronic health issues. Tests can screen for leaky gut, gut function, parasites, bacterial overgrowth, and autoimmune reactions.

Blood chemistry panel. This is an excellent starting point in functional medicine testing and includes the use of functional medicine ranges (versus lab ranges). Blood testing screens for some diseases and can catch a trend toward a disease while there’s still time to reverse it.

Chemical and metal sensitivity testing. As with foods, an immune reaction to chemicals or metals can trigger chronic inflammatory health disorders.

Adrenal testing. Adrenal testing reveals the relationship between your health and stress handling. The most important test is the second one because it shows if your protocol is working. If not, you need to dig deeper.

Hormone testing. Hormone imbalances profoundly affect health. Testing screens for excesses, deficiencies, feedback loops, and how well you metabolize hormones.

DNA genetic testing. Genetic testing delivers insight into disease risk and genetic metabolic variations that affect health. An example is the MTHFR variance.

These are just a few examples of the types of testing used in functional medicine. What type of testing you need depends on your symptoms and health history.

Why lab testing is important in functional medicine

Functional medicine is based on peer-reviewed science and finds the root cause of your symptoms. There are a variety of factors that can lead to depression, fatigue, chronic pain, poor function, and other chronic health disorders.

Functional lab testing shows a trend toward disease

In conventional medicine, doctors use labs to screen for disease. Once a condition has become a disease, such as diabetes or autoimmune disease, the damage is significant.

Functional medicine uses lab testing to catch a health trend that is on the way to disease but that can still be slowed, halted, or reversed. For instance, lab markers that show elevated blood sugar, inflammation, and poor liver function allow you to easily reverse the march towards diabetes.

Another example is autoimmunity. A significant amount of tissue must be destroyed before conventional medicine can diagnose autoimmune disease. However, by testing for antibodies against tissue, the autoimmune progression can be slowed or stopped in its early stages.

Functional lab testing tracks progress

Although the first test is important for identifying health problems, subsequent testing is also crucial to let you know whether your protocol is working. If there is no improvement, it means you have not hit on the right protocol or discovered all the underlying causes.

Lab testing improves compliance and social support

Seeing the results of a lab test makes it easier to stick with a protocol. It also can encourage a disbelieving spouse, family member, or friend to support you. Many people think gluten sensitivity is just a fad, or that your symptoms aren’t real and you simply complain too much. Your lab results validate your symptoms and can help others be more supportive.

As a functional nutritionist, I do not diagnose or prescribe, but I do use functional laboratory tests to help find the right ways to support my clients’ health. Ask me about functional lab testing to help you get to the bottom of your chronic health condition.