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FUNCTIONAL PSYCHIATRY:

NOTE:

I’ve been wanting to write about Mental Health for sometime, so I’ve been reading and taking notes from various sources. I started to summarize this article by Chris Kresser, when I decided it had everything and more, that I wanted, here it is – copied and pasted in it’s entirety.

TREATING COMMON CONDITIONS WITH THE FUNCTIONAL APPROACH

by Chris Kresser, M.S.

Published on January 24, 2020

The New York Times published a thought-provoking article titled “When Will We Solve Mental Illness?” In the article, science reporter Benedict Carey discusses the failure of conventional psychiatry to produce effective cures for mental illnesses, despite decades of scientists toiling in pharmaceutical research. However, rather than calling for a more in-depth investigation into the root causes of mental illness, Carey suggests that researchers focus their efforts on better understanding the genetics of mental illness so that targeted “cures” can be developed. (1)

Functional psychiatry
Functional psychiatry emphasizes interventions that address root causes, like increasing social connectedness to address loneliness. iStock/fizkes

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While Carey’s heart is in the right place, it is articles such as this one that perpetuate the conventional view of mental illnesses as diseases that can be solved with single cures. Despite decades of research, science has failed to produce effective and safe long-term treatments for mental illness. As a practitioner, you’ve likely encountered patients who don’t seem to respond to traditional treatment—or, if you or a loved one has a mental illness, you’ve perhaps encountered this frustrating situation firsthand. The good news is that, within the field of Functional Medicine, a promising new approach to psychiatry is taking shape: functional psychiatry. It is poised to fill the pressing need for effective mental healthcare in our society. Read on to learn how a Functional Medicine approach to psychiatry successfully addresses the underlying causes of mental illness, improving long-term mental health outcomes for patients.

Functional psychiatry emphasizes treating the root cause of a disorder rather than masking symptoms with prescription drugs. Check out this article for more information, including behavioral and dietary changes that support better mental health. #functionalmedicine #unconventionalmedicine

What Is Functional Psychiatry?

The Functional Medicine approach is focused on preventing or reversing illness by addressing the root cause. As Functional Medicine practitioners, our goal is to offer patients true healthcare. We don’t simply suppress symptoms through medication or try to “manage” a disease; we promote whole-body health.

According to Integrative Medicine for Mental Health, an educational organization dedicated to the advancement of an integrative approach to mental health, functional psychiatry embraces that whole-body approach to patient health by using methods like “individualized metabolic testing, nutritional therapies, and dietary interventions,” sometimes together with conventional approaches like psychotherapy. Functional psychiatry provides mental health practitioners with a framework to better understand common mental conditions and a toolkit to address them.

That shift in approach can have a dramatic impact on patients who have struggled under conventional treatment plans. While conventional methods work wonders for some people and can even be life-saving, for those with difficult-to-treat conditions, they offer little hope of relief. Functional psychiatry is designed to help people—while creating more meaningful and rewarding work for practitioners.The rates of chronic illness are rising. Conventional medicine can’t stop this epidemic, but practitioners trained in the Functional Medicine approach can.

In the ADAPT Practitioner Training Program, we’re teaching practitioners like you how to apply the principles of Functional Medicine to your practice. We give you the tools you need to improve the health and lives of your patients by addressing the root causes and focusing on prevention, not symptom management.

The ADAPT Practitioner Training Program can help you create a more effective and rewarding practice. Find out more.

A Brief Overview of Common Mental Health Disorders

Mental illnesses are becoming increasingly common in our modern-day world. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a shocking one in five American adults currently experiences mental illness, and 17 percent of U.S. adolescents have a mental illness. (2) Before diving into an in-depth discussion on the Functional Medicine approach to psychiatry, let’s briefly discuss some of the most common mental illnesses experienced in our society.

Depression

More than 17 million U.S. adults, or 7 percent of the population, have experienced a depressive episode over the past year, making depression one of the most common mental illnesses. (3) Depression is characterized by:

  • Profound feelings of sadness
  • Hopelessness
  • Fatigue
  • A loss of interest in activities

Changes in sleep and appetite may also occur. Left untreated, the consequences of depression on physical health, functionality, and relationships can be devastating. While some people may experience just one depressive episode in their lives, more often than not, depression recurs.

Women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression. Women also experience a variety of types of depression, including: (4)

While selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have long been the go-to drugs for depression, research indicates that the clinical response to SSRIs is abysmal, with only 40 to 60 percent of people with depression experiencing symptomatic relief and a mere 30 to 45 percent experiencing remission. (5)

SSRIs and other antidepressants also have many side effects, including: (67)

  • Weight gain
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depletion of beneficial gut bacteria
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation

Several studies have drawn a correlation between SSRI use and dementia. (8) Concerningly, 25 percent of people on SSRIs have taken the drugs for a decade or more, an alarming statistic considering that no SSRI safety studies have lasted for more than two years. (9)

Anxiety

Anxiety disorders affect over 18 percent of the U.S. population each year and include conditions ranging from generalized anxiety disorder to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder. (10)

SSRIs are commonly prescribed for anxiety disorders. However, other anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines, are also widely used. Benzodiazepines have addictive properties, and their long-term use is linked to cognitive dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, and increased anxiety and depression. (111213)

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by dramatic shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. Approximately 2.8 percent of American adults have experienced bipolar disorder in the past year, and a shocking 89 percent of people with bipolar disorder are seriously impaired, unable to carry out the activities of daily living. (14) Bipolar disorder is notoriously recalcitrant to pharmaceutical treatment, with a meager rate of remission. (15)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affects people from all walks of life, including former soldiers, victims of sexual abuse, and people who were bullied as children. The lifetime prevalence of PTSD is 6.8 percent (16), and treatment relies heavily on psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Treatment-resistant PTSD is a common and frequently disabling condition that adversely impacts all aspects of life, from physical health to personal relationships. (17)

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is an elusive, severe condition with a lifetime prevalence of 1 percent in the U.S. population. (18) It impairs a person’s ability to think, feel, and behave clearly, and symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Disorganized speech
  • Lack of pleasure
  • Flat affect
  • Trouble with speech
  • Social withdrawal

Symptoms usually start between the ages of 16 and 30; some patients may experience a “prodrome” phase, in which changes in their personality begin to appear before the full onset of symptoms.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders encompass an array of food- and body-image-related disorders, including:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Atypical anorexia nervosa (severe food restriction and other anorexic behaviors without low body weight)
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating disorder
  • Purging disorder
  • Night eating syndrome
  • Muscle dysmorphia, also referred to as “bigorexia” (1920)

Atypical anorexia nervosa, or severe food restriction and other anorexic behaviors in “normal weight” and overweight individuals, tend to be overlooked altogether by the medical community. (2122Eating disorders are also not just the domain of young women—these disorders are increasingly affecting men, middle-aged women, and older women. (2324)

The long-term remission rate for eating disorders is pretty dismal, with just 50 percent of patients with anorexia nervosa and 75 percent of patients with bulimia achieving remission at the 10-year mark. (25) These figures do not account for subclinical disordered eating and weight-control behaviors, which may affect a significant portion of our population, particularly “health-conscious” folks. (262728)

Two Theories of Mental Illness

Why are mental illnesses so common in our modern-day society? Scientists interested in understanding the root causes of mental illness have proposed two broad theories: the evolutionary mismatch theory and the pathogen-host theory of mental illness.

Mental Illness as an Evolutionary Mismatch

I’ve previously discussed the role of evolutionary mismatch in chronic disease development. The theory of evolutionary mismatch posits that there is a significant mismatch between our genes, biology, and physiology, and the modern-day environment in which we live. Our bodies expect specific dietary and lifestyle inputs, based on our ancestral genetic programming, yet our modern environment provides us with inputs to which we are not adapted. Our bodies respond aberrantly to these inputs, ultimately becoming dysfunctional.Based on this theory, depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are physical manifestations of a profound mismatch between our ancestral biology and our modern environment. (29) The validity of this theory becomes abundantly clear when we examine the relationship between the Western diet and lifestyle habits and poor mental health. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa may have an evolutionary mismatch component, with intrasexual competition among females (and, to a smaller extent, males) for mates interacting with our media-saturated environment, causing distorted body image and disordered eating. (3031)

According to the evolutionary mismatch theory, mental illness is a non-adaptive by-product of modern environmental and social conditions. This concept contrasts with the pathogen-host theory of mental illness, which posits that depression, and possibly other mental illnesses, is a by-product of an adaptive response by the body to clear infections.

The Pathogen-Host Theory of Depression

A growing body of research indicates that depression and inflammation tend to occur together. According to the pathogen-host theory of depression, this relationship may reflect an ancient mechanism: When our ancestors developed an acute infection, their bodies launched an acute inflammatory response to combat pathogens; the unintended consequence of this inflammation was depression. However, as human civilization grew and our immune systems changed, this once-adaptive mechanism ceased to be useful. Instead, humanity began to experience chronic inflammation and, subsequently, chronic mental illnesses. (32)

Another version of this theory suggests that, in ancient times, humans with immune incompetence developed depression to protect themselves from acquiring infections from other humans and shunt their energy toward repair processes, because depression naturally induced social avoidance and energy conservation.

Why Are There No Universal “Depression Genes?”

Are there genetic risk factors in humans that are reliably linked to mental illness? Genome-wide association studies have failed to find universal genetic single-nucleotide polymorphisms that confer an increased risk of mental illness across all racial and ethnic groups. The exception is schizophrenia, which has common genetic risk factors in several populations. (33) The mysterious case of the “missing depression/mental illness genes” may be attributed to the different pathogen protection genes humans acquired in disparate racial and ethnic groups throughout evolution, in response to the unique threats they faced in their environments. (34) As a result, specific genetic variants may drive inflammatory anti-pathogen processes and depression in individuals from one racial/ethnic group, but not another.

Therefore, unlike the evolutionary mismatch theory, the pathogen-host theory suggests that mental illness represents the vestiges of a once-adaptive mechanism. According to this theory, genetic risk factors for depression are maintained in the human genome, not due to a misstep of evolution but because, by enhancing our immune defenses against pathogens, they provide a net survival and reproductive advantage.

11 Underlying Causes of Mental Illness

Based on the evolutionary mismatch and pathogen-host theories of mental illness, we can better understand why certain aspects of human biology and the modern-day diet and lifestyle are associated with mental illness. In this section, let’s discuss each contributing factor in turn:

  • Infection and immune dysregulation
  • The standard American diet
  • Blood sugar dysregulation
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Impaired neurogenesis
  • Faulty gut–brain axis signaling
  • Blue light and circadian rhythm disruption
  • Trauma
  • Loneliness
  • Genetic variants and mental illness
  • Environmental triggers, such as electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and mold

1. Infection and Immune Dysregulation

Dr. Charles Raison is a forward-thinking psychiatrist and proponent of the pathogen-host theory of depression. In his research, Dr. Raison has found that inflammatory cytokines are consistently upregulated in people with depression, suggesting that human depression evolved out of sickness. (35)

Today, many people deal with chronic low-level infectious stressors, such as viral infections and gut microbial imbalances, rather than the acute infections that our ancestors faced. Chronic infection leads to chronic inflammation, which, in turn, enhances the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan to a compound called kynurenine. Kynurenine is converted into a metabolite called quinolinic acid, which has neurotoxic and neuroinflammatory effects. Excessive quinolinic acid has been identified in a variety of mental illnesses, including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. (36) Quinolinic acid causes apoptosis of astrocytes, oligodendroglia, and neurons. It is, therefore, no wonder that chronic inflammation has repeatedly been implicated in the development of depression. Infectious diseases are known to cause dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which is significantly affected in almost all major mental health disorders. (37)

Several infections have been directly associated with mental health disorders:

  • Lyme disease causes a variety of neuropsychiatric symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. (38)
  • Infection with Group A Streptococcus in children can trigger pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorders associated with streptococcal infection, or PANDAS, a form of OCD. (39)
  • Viral infections, including cytomegalovirus and herpesvirus 6, and inflammation are implicated in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (4041)
  • Infection with the intracellular parasite Toxoplasma gondii is linked to both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. (42)

Clearly, tiny microbes can have significant effects on our brains and behavior!

Many inflammatory mediators are also upregulated in mental illnesses, even in the absence of an apparent infectious trigger. Mediators that are upregulated in mental illness include the inflammatory cytokines interleukin 1 beta (IL-1β) and interleukin 6 (IL-6) and the acute phase reactant C-reactive protein. (4344)

2. The Standard American Diet

Time and time again, the standard American diet has been linked to poor mental health. In epidemiological studies, the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with depression. (4546) In preclinical research, a diet high in refined carbohydrates has been found to induce neuroinflammation and anxiety-like behavior in mice. (47) While we cannot ignore the fact that people with depression and anxiety may be more likely to consume processed foods, confounding this relationship, I think it’s safe to say that the standard American diet has no place in mental healthcare.

3. Blood Sugar Dysregulation

Insulin is one of the body’s primary hormones that regulate blood sugar. Research indicates that, via its effects on blood sugar control, insulin influences central nervous system (CNS) function. Insulin also impacts neuronal circuitry formation and synaptic plasticity, thus playing an essential role in mental health. Preclinical research indicates that when the brain becomes insulin resistant, dopaminergic signaling is impaired, and anxious and depressive behaviors may surface. (48) In human studies, insulin resistance is linked to depression and bipolar disorder. (49)

Insulin treatment has been found to attenuate the hypothalamus–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis response to psychosocial stress and to boost mood and memory. (5051) These findings suggest that improving insulin homeostasis may support a healthy mood.

4. Sedentary Lifestyle

Consistent physical activity is linked to good mental health, whereas a sedentary lifestyle is linked to anxiety and depression in people of all ages. (5253) The adverse mental health effects of a sedentary lifestyle may be mediated by decreases in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and endocannabinoid system (ECS) activity, which promote neuroplasticity and the “runners high,” respectively. (54)

5. Impaired Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis is the process by which new neurons grow and develop from neural stem cells. A growing body of research indicates that impaired neurogenesis is a central feature in mental illness. (5556) Many factors impair neurogenesis, including: (5758596061)

  • High cortisol levels caused by chronic stress
  • Low levels of neurotrophic factors such as BDNF
  • Chronic systemic inflammation
  • Alterations in the gut microbiota
  • Traumatic brain injury

6. Faulty Gut–Brain Axis Signaling

The gut–brain axis is a bidirectional signaling pathway linking the enteric nervous system of the gut, the gut microbiota, and the CNS. It is highly complex, transmitting messages from the gut to the CNS, and vice versa, via inflammatory mediators, gut microbial metabolites, stress hormones, neurotransmitters, and the vagus nerve. When it comes to functional psychiatry, the gut–brain axis cannot be ignored. (62)

A growing body of research indicates that factors that disrupt the intestinal barrier and gut microbiota, particularly early in life, increases the risk of future mental illness. (63) A disrupted gut microbiome predisposes an individual to gut infections and inflammation, thus circling back to the pathogen-host theory of mental illness.

Several types of gut bacteria produce neurotransmitters identical to our own, including the calming neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and the “feel-good” neurotransmitter serotonin. (64) The Lactobacilli family contains a variety of GABA- and serotonin-producing species that are highly susceptible to depletion by antibiotics and a Western diet, leading to alterations in host neurotransmitter signaling.

Intestinal dysbiosis contributes to the development of mental illness by inducing an influx of inflammatory lipopolysaccharide (LPS) into the systemic circulation. LPS increases the body’s production of neurotoxic quinolinic acid, which has repeatedly been linked to mental illness.

A growing area of interest in the mental health-gut microbiota domain is our emerging understanding of the role that gut microbes play in eating disorders. Recent research suggests that gut microbes that produce a molecule called ClpB may cross-react with one of the body’s own appetites- and emotion-regulating hormones, alpha-Melanocyte-stimulating hormone, or alpha-MSH. The molecular mimicry between ClpB, which is produced by many pathogenic microbes such as Salmonella and Yersinia enterocolitica, and alpha-MSH may partially explain the increased anxiety and decreased food intake characteristic of anorexia nervosa. (65)

Interestingly, 64 percent of individuals with eating disorders have been diagnosed with IBS. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are also common in patients with eating disorders. While some of these gut changes may be caused by starvation and other abnormal eating patterns, people with an eating disorder have disrupted gut microbiotas before the onset of illness. (66)

7. Blue Light and Circadian Rhythm Disruption

Our circadian rhythms are cycles of biological patterns that occur on an approximately 24-hour schedule and influence many aspects of our behavior and physiology, including mood and cognition. Light exposure (or lack thereof) is a powerful cue governing human circadian rhythms. Up until the advent of electricity, our ancestors lived in harmony with the natural cycles of light and dark. Conversely, our modern-day lifestyles deficient in sun exposure during the day and high in artificial light exposure at night represent a profound evolutionary mismatch, altering our circadian rhythms and having adverse downstream effects on our mental health.

Even small amounts of dim artificial light at night may impair mental health; “indoor dim light,” such as that emitted from an alarm clock, has been found to penetrate the eyelids and be detected by retinal photoreceptors, which are central in the regulation of circadian rhythms. This low level of artificial light exposure is linked to an increased risk of depression in adults, even after controlling for sleep quality and chronic health conditions. The negative relationship between artificial light at night, circadian rhythms, and mental health appears to be mediated by melatonin suppression. (69)

Shift work, or work that takes place outside of the typical schedule of 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and often involves evening and early morning shifts, is another example of circadian rhythm disruption. Shift work also appears to increase the risk of mental illness by altering melatonin production and circadian rhythms. (70)

8. Trauma

Traumatic life events are well-known triggers for mental illness. Adverse childhood events strongly predict an individual’s future risk of mental health disorders, possibly by activating the HPA axis and altering its function over the long term. (7172) Sadly, childhood bullying, which is all too common, has been found to predict chronic systemic inflammation, a risk factor for mental illness, well into adulthood. (73) Other traumatic events that may trigger mental illness range from serving in the military to caring for a sick parent or loved one, a stressful job, or academic stress.

9. Loneliness

Our modern society is suffering from an epidemic of loneliness. A study published by the health services organization Cigna reported that 46 percent of U.S. adults feel lonely “sometimes” or “always,” offering a sad reflection on our current culture. (74)

According to evolutionary psychology, the roots of loneliness and mental illness go way back. Our hunter–gatherer ancestors lived in communal settings, where social isolation would have occurred only if a tribe member became separated from the group, perhaps through wounding. As a result, social isolation (aka loneliness) became associated with a potent pro-inflammatory immune response designed to target the types of pathogens to which an individual would have been exposed in such a situation. (75) Fast forward to today, and it is clear that social isolation and inflammation are still intrinsically linked.

Animal experiments that induce social isolation have been found to also cause an inflammatory response. Furthermore, some individuals are more genetically sensitive to social isolation than others, producing higher blood levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines tumor necrosis factor-alpha and IL-6 when they experience social isolation. (76) The increase in inflammatory cytokines, in turn, may promote mental illness. Indeed, loneliness and living alone are among the most significant risk factors for mental illness. (77)

10. Genetic Variants and Mental Illness

While genome-wide association studies have failed to find consistent genetic risk factors for mental illness across all racial and ethnic groups, several genetic variants are linked to mental illnesses in subgroups of the global population.

MTHFR

Variants in the methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR) gene can lead to reduced activity of the MTHFR enzyme. This enzyme is crucial for regulating inflammation and neurotransmitter production. As such, MTHFR variants are linked to anxiety, depression, autism, and schizophrenia. (78) Going along with the pathogen-host theory of depression, a mild deficiency in MTHFR enzyme activity caused by MTHFR variants has been found to confer protection against malaria and cytomegalovirus, indicating that these variants had an evolutionary advantage. (7980)

GAD

The glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) gene codes for the GAD enzyme, which initiates the decarboxylation of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA, the body’s primary calming neurotransmitter. GAD variants may decrease the conversion of glutamate to GABA, resulting in anxiety, neuroticism, and major depressive disorder. (81)

COMT

The catecholamine-O-methyltransferase (COMT) gene codes for the production of the COMT enzyme, which breaks down catecholamine neurotransmitters such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. COMT variants may slow the breakdown process of these neurotransmitters, resulting in anxiety and OCD. (828384)

NPAS2

Neuronal PAS Domain Protein 2 (NPAS2) is a protein that regulates the transcription and translation of circadian rhythm-related genes. Variants in the NPAS2 gene, which codes for the production of the NPAS2 protein, are associated with bipolar disorder. (85)

11. Environmental Triggers

The environments in which we work and live can have a significant impact on our mental health, though few mental health practitioners recognize this connection.

Mold and Mycotoxins

Have your patients ever lived or worked in a moldy environment, and subsequently developed depression or anxiety? Exposure to indoor mold and mycotoxins can trigger neuropsychiatric symptoms by increasing inflammatory cytokines. (86) You can learn more about mold illness and testing for mold in my article “Mold Illness: What It Is, 5 Common Misconceptions, and Prevention” and my interview with indoor environmental professional Mike Schrantz, “How to Test Your Home for Mold.”

Air Pollution

We all know that air pollution can make us cough and have difficulty breathing, but did you know it may also promote psychiatric disorders? Ambient air pollution increases the risk of depression and bipolar disorder by upregulating neuroinflammation. (87) The risk appears to be particularly significant when air pollution exposure occurs during the first 10 years of life.

EMFs

Of all the environmental triggers that promote mental illness, non-native EMFs may be the most underappreciated. The term “non-native EMF” refers to EMFs that have been manufactured by humans, and that are emitted from items such as cell phone towers, routers, and smartphones, in contrast to EMFs that occur naturally on the Earth. A small but steadily growing body of research indicates that non-native EMFs may contribute to depression and other neuropsychiatric issues by altering the activity of voltage-gated calcium channels in the brain, which govern neurotransmitter release. (8889) Even though the scientific evidence is preliminary, at the very least, I recommend using a speakerphone, earbuds, or a Bluetooth headset when communicating on your phone; not sleeping with your phone in your bedroom; and turning off your WiFi router at night.

10 Behaviors to Support Your Patients’ Mental Health

1. Eating an Ancestral, Anti-Inflammatory Diet

As nutritionist Lindsay Christensen previously discussed in “Nutrition and Mental Health: What’s the Connection?,” nutrition has a significant impact on mental well-being. While a processed, refined standard American diet is correlated with an increased risk of mental illness, an ancestral, anti-inflammatory diet centered around whole, nutrient-dense foods is associated with robust mental health. (90)

Given the strong relationship between gluten sensitivity and neuropsychiatric health issues, I highly recommend celiac disease testing and non-celiac gluten sensitivity testing, through a lab such as Cyrex. If the results are positive, a gluten-free diet may do wonders for improving your patients’ mental well-being. (91)

The B-complex vitamins, particularly folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12, are essential cofactors in neurotransmitter production. (92) A deficiency of any one of these nutrients may impair mental health, so make sure your patients are eating foods rich in these nutrients. Folate is found in:

  • Dark leafy greens
  • Beef liver
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Avocado

Vitamin B6 is found in:

  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Pork
  • Eggs
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes

Vitamin B12 is found almost exclusively in animal foods, so if your patients are not already eating red meat, poultry, and fish, reincorporating some of these foods into their diet may greatly benefit their mental health.

Vitamin D plays a critical role in supporting mental health by modulating inflammatory pathways in the brain. (93) A balance between zinc and copper is also crucial for optimizing mental health, due to the roles these minerals play as cofactors in dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine production. (94) Magnesium deficiency is associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety, so make sure your patients are eating plenty of magnesium-rich foods such as dark leafy greens, nuts, and cacao. Omega-3 fatty acids from seafood and dietary polyphenols, compounds found in colorful plant foods, may support a healthy mood by optimizing the membrane fluidity of neurons and beneficially modulating the gut microbiota, respectively. (9596)

Last but not least, a very low intake of cholesterol may increase the risk of mental illness and suicidality. If your patients have very low levels of cholesterol, they may want to boost their intake of healthy cholesterol-containing foods such as egg yolks and identify other possible underlying causes of the low cholesterol level. (9798)

2. Supporting Gut Microbes

Disruption of the gut microbiota has a significant impact on mental health. However, the gut microbiota is malleable, and research indicates that probiotics and prebiotics can improve both gut microbiota composition and mental health. A probiotic containing Bifidobacterium bifidumB. lactisLactobacillus acidophilusL. brevisL. caseiL. salivarius, and L. lactis has been found to alleviate sad mood in participants without pre-existing mental illness. Bifidobacterium longum has been found to lower depression scores in patients with IBS. (99100)

Even notoriously treatment-resistant mental illnesses may respond to pre- and probiotics: A spectrum of Lactobacilli and Bifidobacteria plus fructooligosaccharides was discovered to improve both physical and psychological symptoms in a small group of subjects with bipolar disorder, while supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus strain GG and Bifidobacterium animalis subsp. lactis as an adjunct to conventional medical treatment reduced rehospitalization rates in patients with bipolar disorder with acute mania. (101102)

The beneficial effects of prebiotics and probiotics on mental health are attributed to their anti-inflammatory properties and their ability to produce GABA and serotonin, thus normalizing neurotransmission.

3. Optimizing Sleep

If you’ve ever gone through several nights of sleep deprivation, you’ve experienced firsthand the adverse effects of poor sleep on mood. A growing body of research indicates that insufficient and poor-quality sleep over the long term significantly increases the risk of mental health issues. Optimizing sleep can do wonders for your patients in alleviating symptoms. Patients who need help with optimizing their sleep and improving their sleep hygiene should:

  • Limit exposure to artificial light for one to two hours before bed by wearing a pair of blue-light-blocking glasses. Exposure to full-spectrum artificial light at night, beyond just the blue light emitted from electronic devices, suppresses melatonin production. (103104)
  • Sleep in a completely dark room, free of outdoor light pollution and digital devices such as glowing alarm clocks. Blackout shades should be purchased if necessary.
  • Keep the bedroom cool, between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit. The human body is designed to experience a drop in body temperature at the end of the day; this drop affects neural circuits that create a healthy sleep cycle. (105) Research has found that the range of 60 to 67 degrees is an ideal ambient temperature for inducing this critical drop in body temperature and restorative sleep.
  • Consider using supplemental melatonin in the short term. Melatonin, a crucial sleep- and circadian rhythm-regulating hormone, may be a beneficial adjunct therapy for depression and bipolar disorder via its circadian rhythm-aligning effects. (106107)

Some people benefit from using a sleep tracker, such as an Oura ring. Sleep trackers can help offer insight into sleep habits and identify areas that need improvement.

4. Exercising

Few interventions show more promise for supporting optimal mental health than exercise. Exercise shifts the tryptophan pathway away from the production of neurotoxic quinolinic acid, implicated in a variety of mental illnesses, toward the production of serotonin. (108109110)

Exercise also increases the body’s production of anti-inflammatory signaling molecules and BDNF, which supports neuroplasticity and a healthy mood. (111)

Endurance exercise may be especially beneficial for mental health due to its stimulatory effects on the ECS, the same system that mediates the neurobiological effects of Cannabis. (112) Circling back to our discussion of evolution and mental health, scientists propose that ECS signaling in response to aerobic exercise evolved out of our ancestors’ needs to travel long distances on foot when foraging and hunting; ECS activation would have made such experiences pleasurable, thus enhancing survival.

Finally, yoga may also benefit mental health, reducing depression and alleviating schizophrenia psychopathology, by increasing vagal tone, BDNF release, and serotonin and GABA neurotransmission. (113114)

5. Treating Depression with Heat

Saunas have recently become all the rage for supporting heart health and longevity; however, a lesser-known body of research suggests that a form of heat therapy may also have benefits for mental health!

Dr. Raison, one of the developers of the pathogen-host theory of depression, is also an ardent proponent of heat for alleviating depression. In an article published in JAMA Psychiatry, Dr. Raison and his co-authors found that just one session of “whole-body hyperthermia,” a therapy that offers a magnitude of heat similar to a sauna, significantly alleviated depression scores in subjects with major depressive disorder. (115) The antidepressant effects of heat have been noted in several other clinical trials, as well. (116)

There are two proposed mechanisms by which heat exposure may alleviate depression:

  1. Heat exposure activates heat shock proteins, which are protective against stress-induced depression. (117)
  2. High temperatures make certain types of pathogenic bacteria unwind, addressing the potential infectious component of depression.

Importantly, research indicates that the body needs to reach an internal temperature of at least 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit for an individual to experience antidepressant effects.

Your patients don’t need a $50,000 whole-body hyperthermia machine at home to experience the mood-boosting effects of heat. A dry sauna or an infrared sauna will do just fine. The warmer the body is before entering the sauna, the better; I recommend doing approximately 30 minutes of light- to moderate-intensity aerobic activity before the sauna to help the body reach the ideal internal temperature of 101.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

While hot yoga has not been studied in the context of specific mental illnesses, it does reduce cortisol reactivity to stress in women. (118) Perhaps hot yoga will soon emerge as another “therapy” for depression, just like sauna use!

6. Using Bright Light Therapy

Bright light therapy has been recommended as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder in both conventional and integrative medical circles for at least a decade; however, research demonstrates that bright light therapy also helps people across the depression spectrum by aligning the circadian rhythm. (119) There are a variety of bright light devices available on the market, but Alaska Northern Lights has excellent options with lights of all sizes and price points.

7. Seeking Nature Exposure

Spending time in nature is absolutely essential for our mental health. Research shows that accessibility to and total time spent in green space is positively associated with subjective mental well-being. (120) Furthermore, the practice of “forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku in Japanese, has been found to significantly decrease depression and anxiety. (121122) If your patients can find a park, path, or nature preserve nearby where they can regularly reconnect with nature, they can experience some of these benefits for themselves.

8. Improving Social Connectivity

When it comes to Functional Medicine and health, many people tend to dive all in on diet changes, supplements, and exercise, while forgetting the importance of one key factor: social connectivity. Loneliness and psychosocial stress, caused by bullying or merely feeling that one “doesn’t fit in,” profoundly harm our mental well-being. Conversely, nurturing meaningful connections with friends and family throughout the lifetime supports a resilient, positive mental state. (123)

Importantly, research suggests that much of our social connectivity should take place in real life rather than online. Prolonged use of social networking sites may actually increase depression, and specific subgroups, such as adolescents and college-age women, may be especially susceptible to the harmful mental health effects of social media use. (124125)

9. Playing

I wrote at length about the importance of play for overall health in my previous article “10 Benefits of Play.” Play increases stress resilience in both children and adults, and it has a significant effect on mental health. (126127) Simple playful activities, like playing with a dog at the park, engaging in a favorite hobby, or horsing around with children, can increase joy.

10. Using Mind-Body Therapies

No discussion of Functional Medicine and psychiatry would be complete without covering various forms of mind-body therapy. Meditation, mindfulness, vagus nerve exercises, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and cognitive behavioral therapy are just a few of the options for mind-body therapies available today.

Meditation and Mindfulness

Meditation really needs no introduction—it is all over the media today, touted for its benefits ranging from improved productivity and concentration to deeper sleep. Research indicates that meditation can benefit people with depression and anxiety. Meditation programs have been found to result in small-to-moderate reductions in psychological stress, alleviating depression and anxiety. (128) Meditation may support mental well-being by inducing “coherence,” a neuroscience term that refers to synchronous neural activity in the brain. (129) It also balances the immune system, possibly addressing the pathogen-host aspect of depression, and increases neuroprotective BDNF. (130131)

Mindfulness can be cultivated in a meditation practice, but it can also be accessed in the normal activities of daily life. Mindfulness training, synchronized with meditation, beneficially rewires the brain. (132) It reduces anxiety and depression and promotes fear extinction, making it a possibly beneficial therapy for PTSD. (133134)

Vagus Nerve Exercises

The vagus nerve is the critical “wire” that connects the gut with the brain, exerting a profound impact on gut–brain axis communication and mental health. Vagus nerve stimulation via an implanted device or a non-invasive transcutaneous electrical stimulation are U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved therapies for epilepsy and depression (135136). However, an expensive medical device isn’t necessary to improve the function of the vagus nerve. Many interventions, including biofeedback, meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and other quick DIY exercises, can be done at home to improve the health of the vagus nerve:

  • Biofeedback is a valuable tool for self-activating the vagus nerve. HeartMath is a biofeedback device and app that guides people through exercises to improve heart rate variability, a critical component of vagus nerve function.
  • Meditation, mindfulness, and yoga improve vagal tone.
  • DIY exercises such as gargling and singing can help improve vagal tone. Check out the book Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve for more DIY vagus nerve exercises.
  • Specific probiotic species stimulate the vagus nerve, including B. longum and L. rhamnosus. (137138)

EMDR

EMDR is a form of psychotherapy that was initially designed to alleviate psychological distress associated with traumatic memories. (139140) It uses eye movements or other forms of bilateral stimulation, such as devices that emit a gentle vibration, one held in each hand, to alternately stimulate the two hemispheres of the brain. Via bilateral brain stimulation, EMDR changes maladaptive neural networks.

EMDR has expanded beyond the realm of trauma and is now being used by therapists to treat recurrent depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and addictions. (141142143144)

A 2012 study found that EMDR helped 77 percent of adults with a psychotic disorder and comorbid PTSD. (145) Research also indicates that the benefits of EMDR can be maintained long-term. (146)

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy has long been considered the “gold standard” form of therapy for mental illnesses. (147) It is a form of talk therapy that involves changing patterns of thinking or behavior that are unhelpful for supporting one’s well-being. Instead, distorted thinking and behavioral patterns are replaced with: (148)

  • Facing one’s fears
  • Developing confidence in one’s abilities
  • Learning to calm one’s mind
  • Using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations

Nutrients and Nutraceuticals for Mental Health

While diet can go a long way toward supplying the body with the nutrients needed to support mental health, supplementing with certain nutrients and nutraceuticals may offer great benefits in certain situations.

Magnesium

Research indicates that up to 50 percent of American adults are deficient in magnesium; magnesium deficiency is a risk factor for depression and anxiety. (149) Correcting this deficiency with supplemental magnesium may alleviate mild-to-moderate depression and subjective anxiety and stress. (150151)

5-HTP

5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a clinically effective serotonin precursor that has been used for decades in integrative medicine as a supportive treatment for depression. (152) However, it should never be used by individuals who are currently on an SSRI, as it may lead to excessive serotonin levels.

GABA

GABA is the body’s primary calming neurotransmitter. Research shows that many mental illnesses involve relative GABA deficiency. Supplementation with GABA has been found to ameliorate anxiety, possibly by interacting with the enteric nervous system. (153) It may also be possible to increase the endogenous GABA levels with a probiotic that contains GABA-producing species, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria.

CBD

One area in which cannabidiol (CBD) truly shines is the treatment of anxiety disorders. CBD modulates neurotransmission and alleviates anxiety through its effects on the ECS and a variety of non-endocannabinoid receptors, including 5-HT1a serotonin receptors. (154)

Inositol

Inositol is a vitamin-like substance, sometimes referred to as vitamin B8, that mediates cell signaling in a variety of tissues and organs. It influences the action of insulin, assisting with blood sugar control, which has downstream effects on mood. Inositol also balances serotonin and dopamine, and has been found to reduce panic attacks, improve depressive symptoms, and balance bipolar disorder symptoms alongside omega-3 fatty acids. (155156157158) Extremely high doses—18 grams per day—have been found to alleviate OCD. (159)

Zinc

Zinc plays numerous critical roles in the nervous system. It is an inhibitory modulator of the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, attenuating excessive excitatory neurotransmission. (160) It is also crucial for neurogenesis and modulates synaptic plasticity. (161162)

Randomized controlled trials support the use of zinc as adjunctive therapy for major depressive disorder. (163) It has also been found to improve attitudes toward eating and food in young patients with anorexia nervosa compared to placebo pills. (164)

Other Functional Psychiatry Tools: Psychedelics, MDMA, and More

Psychedelics are no longer just the domain of long-haired hippies and raving partygoers; these drugs are a fascinating, emerging area of interest in the field of psychiatry, particularly as an adjunct to therapy for difficult-to-treat mental health conditions such as PTSD. 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA), psilocybin, and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) have all shown preliminary benefits in the treatment of severe mental health disorders.

In mental illness treatment, psychedelics are designed to be used in controlled, therapeutic treatment settings; these are not intended to be DIY interventions.

MDMA

MDMA is a psychoactive drug that became popular as a recreational drug in the 1960s and ‘70s. However, as Dr. Michael Mithoefer and I discussed in a recent episode of Revolution Health Radio, MDMA is breaking away from its reputation as a drug of abuse and demonstrating new therapeutic properties in the treatment of PTSD. While the mechanisms of action are complex, MDMA appears to alleviate PTSD by reducing fear activity in the amygdala, increasing prefrontal cortex activity, and enhancing neuroplasticity, thus enabling the resolution of emotional trauma. (165) Excitingly, these beneficial changes may be sustained over the long term.

The therapeutic use of MDMA for PTSD is best used under the guidance of a MAPS-trained psychiatrist in conjunction with psychotherapy. As part of PTSD therapy, the drug is taken three times, with each dose occurring a month apart.

Psilocybin

Psilocybin, a psychoactive alkaloid found in “magic mushrooms,” also offers therapeutic potential in mental health disorders. It improves treatment-resistant depression and depression associated with a terminal illness, possibly by acting as an agonist of the 5-HT2a serotonin receptor. (166167) When the serotonergic receptors are blocked, the beneficial neurochemical effects of psilocybin do not occur.

LSD

LSD is a hallucinogen that was first synthesized in 1938 by chemist Dr. Albert Hofmann. It can be derived from alkaloids derived from ergot, a type of fungus that grows on rye and other cereal grains. Via its interactions with serotonergic receptors, LSD increases neural plasticity in the cerebral cortex and may be indicated in major depressive disorder and existential anxiety associated with life-threatening diseases. (168)

Ketamine

Ketamine, an anesthetic and long-time illicit party drug, is the new kid on the block for heavy-duty mental health treatment. Like other psychedelics, it appears to change the structure of neurons, facilitating recovery from severe depression and PTSD. (169170) Interestingly, it has also demonstrated antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. (171)

Contrary to what the conventional medical paradigm has led us to believe, mental illness is not a life sentence. With the identification of critical underlying causes and the implementation of Functional Medicine-based interventions, it is entirely possible to improve your patients’ mental health and their overall quality of life. 

Thanks Chris Kresser for a great article! Jeff

Ross River Fever Experience

I was diagnosed with Ross River Virus (RRV) in early February 2019. The fist test came back negative but having had this happen with Malaria before, I was aware that the results might not show up immediately, so I asked to be tested again two weeks later. This time it was positive. I had no rash, just a day or so of low grade fever followed by a few days of general fatigue. I thought I was lucky and had dodged a more severe condition.

However one or two weeks later, some nagging aches and pains became uncomfortable. I was beginning to experience severe joint and tendon pain, stiffness and swelling. It was mostly in my fingers, wrists, ankles and shoulders. At first I thought the pain might have been a response to my clumsy attempts to do a handstand on the lawn a week previously, but instead of easing it got worse. I thought of other causes but none made sense. Had I’d over done the exercise? It kept coming back to RRV as the cause. 

The pain appeared to be in the tissues surrounding the joints, mostly in ligaments and tendons. Usually it eased during the day but one wrist was quite swollen for some weeks. I had to strap it and avoid using it. Walking any distance aggravated the pain in my ankles, particularly the Achilles tendon on one foot.  

I employed a cleaner, as I couldn’t physically do it, I was in so much pain.  I had someone come and do some maintenance in the garden. The projects I had planned were put on hold. I curtailed my activities and withdrew. I slept in the middle of the day and watched an unprecedented amount of television.  I researched and went to great lengths to make sure there were no other reasons I might be in such pain. Was it the mould in my house?  I had it cleaned.  Could it be my teeth? I went to the dentist to make sure there was no chronic inflammation in my mouth.  Could it be Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune condition with similar arthritic type pain? I had a series of blood tests, CRP, ESR and Rheumatoid Factor that would indicate inflammation. None of these were elevated. I had tests for parasites, but there was nothing unusual. I reasoned that it was unlikely to be as a result of toxin exposure because I already keep away from or avoid as many environmental toxins as is possible. The cause of this joint pain just had to be Ross River Fever.

Once I accepted this was what I was dealing with, I started researching how best to attack it. I’m a nutritional therapist and already eat a relatively ‘clean’ diet, so I explored ways in which it could be improved. I put myself on as close to an Autoimmune Protocol as was possible and ate accordingly. It’s a difficult diet to follow but the rewards of reducing inflammation were a great incentive.  I allowed myself some nuts and seeds and continued with my red wine and one coffee a day.  I looked at what I could do to support my immune system.  I supplemented with several vitamins ranging from A, B, C and D and included Selenium, Zinc and Magnesium. I tried to change my thinking to reduce any stress and made sure I had quality sleep and some physical exercise.

Just as the pain varied in intensity, it varied in location.  For a week or more it might be most intense in one wrist and then it was an ankle. When one joint subsided another flared up but all the time there was a low grade pain and inflammation in fingers, wrists, shoulders and ankles.   I took CoQ10 for energy, I ate pineapple, ginger, pawpaw and kiwi fruit for their enzymes and tried to remember to eat them outside mealtimes so the enzymes might get used systemically. I investigated several herbs, one of which is stupidly illegal. proved to be exceptional in its pain killing and anti-depressive properties. Ashwagandha may also been of assistance for its anti-depressive properties. I’d been beginning to feel quite depressed and was aware of the relationship between chronic pain and depression.

Three months elapsed before I explored mild electric shock therapy. I bought a little pen that delivered a pulsating current. When placed on an acupuncture point it caused the muscle to spasm. Remarkably this seemed effective on the wrist, supporting an old wives tale that suggested holding an electric fence.

I found it frustrating that as a nutritional Therapist that I couldn’t heal myself, so I continued to explore other modalities. Sound Therapy was interesting. Homeopathy looked promising, indeed the course I undertook may have been the breaking point. It was either that or it was getting better anyway.  It might even have been the B complex injection I had. Either way, just over 4 months later I began to realise I felt almost back to normal.  My ankles and wrists are still slightly painful on extreme extension but for regular movement I am out of pain.

It’s been a journey and I rather suspect, it’s not over. It is highly likely that when my immune system is under par, this debilitating virus will once again make its presence known. I am nowhere near as strong or resilient as I was, nor am I as fit or as flexible as I was. There’s still much to do.

Toxins – just a thought.

The other day, I watched someone I knew drink their coffee through the plastic lid of their disposable mug. This is just one way of ingesting toxic chemicals present in plastics.  There are thousands of chemicals in plastics, released into our system all the time. Think how often we use plastic in wrapping. “Why expose your self to more,” I thought. Phthalates are a common group of chemicals used in hundreds of plastic products, such as toys, vinyl flooring and wall covering, detergents, lubricating oils, food packaging, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, such as nail polish, hair sprays, aftershave lotions, soaps, shampoos, perfumes. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors and carcinogenic, known to damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system.

Man has created over 80,000 different chemicals since World War 1 and only a few hundred have ever been tested and deemed ‘safe’. There is no legislation that demands they’re listed in a product. “Fragrances” in the list of contents, could mean anything.

Later I watched her peel a sticky label from an apple before eating it. These glues contain a variety of chemicals and one possible ingredient might be formaldehyde. She didn’t wash the apple and I was tempted to point out that apples are one of the ‘dirty dozen’. These are a group of foods that are heavily sprayed with chemicals.  

I noticed she was wearing makeup and had painted her fingernails, giving her an extra does of phthalates and another called toluene, a neurotoxin, found in many products. She had probably had a shower in chlorinated hot water that morning. Chlorine is another endocrine disruptor, and can cause headaches and respiratory issues, like asthma.  She probably washed with a fragrant soap and applied some sort of antiperspirant adding to her daily dose of phthalates. Antiperspirants contain a variety of chemicals, commonly aluminium chloride, easily absorbed through the skin and inhaled as it is applied. Apparently phthalates in the concoction cause the fragrance to linger longer. Aluminium is known to cause breast cancer.

Her breakfast cereal would have been laced in glyphosate. The milk would have been too, with added hormones and antibiotics. Glyphosate is a known carcinogen, endocrine disruptor and antibiotic. It kills off bacteria in the gut, but more importantly it damages our mitochondria (once bacteria in our cells), our little powerhouses that produce energy.  Glyphosate is now everywhere and virtually impossible to escape. All we can do is minimise our exposure.

She regularly uses antibacterial soaps and alcohol wipes to disinfect her hands. The chemical in these wipes is Isopropyl alcohol (IPA), a poison.  It becomes toxic when the liver is no longer able to manage the amount of IPA in the body. We can handle small amounts as the kidneys remove most of it. The rest is broken down into acetone by enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenases. This acetone is filtered out of your body through the lungs or kidneys. As for the antibacterial wipes, they include a range of nasty chemicals like alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chloride and benzalkonium chloride, pesticides that not only kill toxic bacteria and but they will affect human health, as our beneficial bacteria will be killed off.

She lives in an older style wooden house and had complained of mould in the past. Mould produces Mycotoxins which are ingested or inhaled and have a range of harmful effects on the body. They are carcinogenic, able to alter our DNA and they’re estrogenic, triggering hormonal imbalance. They impair the immune system, the kidneys, liver, and nervous system. They also damage the gut microbiota acting a bit like an antibiotic, which of course has it’s own range of issues.

I knew she and her husband had been doing some painting and renovating recently. The neurotoxin, toluene would have featured in many of the products they used.  They had recently bought some new furniture and had bought a new car last year. This would have exposed her to Benzene, a chemical found in crude oil, more toluene and formaldehyde, a chemical used to preserve building materials, plus a range of heavy metals.

So, she is exposed to many chemicals during the course of her day, from shampoo, soap, dishwashing liquid, hand sanitizers and fumes.  All pretty normal stuff really. It is frightening to think she intends to fall pregnant.  She’ll have a depleted microbiome to pass on to her child and her baby will be born loaded with chemicals.  An article in the Scientific American reported that the average baby in the United States is born with over 200 chemicals in their system.

She’ll wonder why she gets breast cancer, perhaps blaming it on her genes or just bad luck. Her child might be autistic to some degree and she might develop one of the many autoimmune conditions. She almost certainly will develop some chronic inflammation that she may or may not be aware of and her quality of life will suffer. Her grandchild will inherit an even further depleted microbiome and an even bigger toxic load.

I urge all my clients, and friends to look very closely at where they’re exposing themselves to toxins. Toxins are everywhere. How necessary are certain behaviours and are there other ways of doing things?  Perhaps a little apple cider vinegar and an essential oil is enough to use as a deodorant.

The Rise of Chronic Disease

The number of people being diagnosed with a variety of chronic diseases continues to rise and according to a National Health Survey in 2015, one in every two Australians have at least one prominent chronic condition (i.e. arthritis, asthma, back pain, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes or mental health conditions). Half of all deaths now across the world are as a result of non-communicable diseases, i.e. diabetes and heart disease. What isn’t necessarily recognised by allopathic medicine is that many of these are conditions have arisen as a result of a dysfunctional immune system, when the body acts against its own cells, tissues and/or organs, Autoimmunity.

What is becoming clear is that the state of the immune system is critical to health. The allopathic response to illness is to treat the symptoms. We have a string of specialists like nephrologists, rheumatologists, endocrinologists, neurologists, haematologists gastroenterologists and dermatologists all treating conditions that are connected. They’re connected through the dysfunctional immune system.

What causes this dysfunction? It is becoming clear that our exposure to toxins, our nutrition, pollutants in the air and in the water, coupled with other factors like stress and our sedentary life style are all impacting upon our immune system.

In recent years there is more and more understood about the role of the microbiome, the gut microbiota and the part it plays in maintaining health. The microbiome represents 90% of the cells and more than 99.9% of the genes in our body. It has been shown that changes in microbial populations, species and diversity results in immunological imbalances which leads to inflammation and disease.

Microbial diversity is vital for the maintenance of intestinal homeostasis and for the development of the immune system in the gut mucosa. It is recognised that an important function of the gut microbiota is to educate the immune system as to what is friendly and what is foe.  When the microbial diversity is not there, or key species are not present, the education of the immune system is impaired and this causes one of the hundred or so autoimmune conditions to develop.

The hygiene hypothesis provides an explanation for the rise in autoimmune and allergic conditions. We inherit a large number of our microbes from our parents, principally our mother. The over use of antibiotics, antibacterials in foods, shampoos and soaps destroy our microbial guardians. The microbes that have evolved with us over a millennia form an amazing symbiotic association where they perform a multitude of tasks. Not only do they educate our immune system but they decide how the calories we consume are used, they control our metabolism and whether we are obese, they synthesise vitamins B and K, they produce essential short chain fatty acids and they metabolise bile acids. It is the bacteria, Enterococcus and Streptococcus who produce most of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the feel-good hormone, while Escherichia produce norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. The list of important functions performed by the gut microbes is long.  Is it any wonder chronic illness results when populations of bacteria are reduced, unbalanced or incomplete, when dysbiosis occurs?

What fascinates me is the likelihood that some species of microbes may be keystone species. They may be few in number but may be absolutely vital to the balance and health of the whole gut microbiome. Just like the re-introduction of the wolves to Yellowstone National Park was able to affect the flow and health of the rivers or that Wildebeest numbers have an effect on giraffe populations in the Serengeti, it is hypothesised that there are certain species of gut microbes that have a disproportionate influence on the structure and health of the gut microbiome even though they are small in number. If we inadvertently eradicated those keystone species through over use of antibiotics in childhood, what effect would it have on our health as adults?

There is so much to understand and the realisation that our microbiome is as unique to us as our fingerprint has helped us understand why we all respond so differently to different diets, different medications and lifestyles. We are all unique.

Deuterium – Deuterium depletion and what it means.

I heard about deuterium for the first time recently. It plays such an important roll in health that I was consumed with trying to understand what it was and what the implications were on our health. The science is relatively new and the impact of deuterium on health is only now being understood.

Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen. Hydrogen normally has an electron and proton while deuterium is hydrogen with both the electron and proton but also a neutron.  As we know, water molecule is made up of two molecules of hydrogen and one of oxygen. Water made from this hydrogen isotope is known as heavy water or deuterium and it’s twice the weight of a water molecule.  Deuterium occurs in nature at around 155ppm. In our body, which is 60% water, we should aim to have less than that at 120-130ppm.

The mitochondria in our cells make water, known as metabolic water. It is deuterium deplete. The mitochondria in our cells take hydrogen molecules, suck up oxygen molecules and produce water, carbon dioxide and energy in the form of ATP.  At rest the body will make about 1½ litres of metabolic water per day. This will rise with activity but can also vary with the composition of food we eat. 100 grams of fat will produce 110 grams of water compared to 42 grams of water from 100 grams of protein. How effectively this is done depends upon a good supply of hydrogen from our food and oxygen from the air.  If there is too much deuterium in the mitochondria from our food and water, the hydrogen molecules are less available, the system becomes sluggish and the process will not work as well.  Less oxygen comes into the cell, less water is made and less energy results. In the long term, having too much deuterium in your cells can lead to premature aging, metabolic problems, and a range of diseases.

Low deuterium in the body improves mitochondrial function, improving energy and health.

So how do we ensure the mitochondria do not get sluggish and operate at an optimum capacity? We need to make sure deuterium levels in the body are low and we can do this by eating foods that are low in deuterium and that produce the most amount of deuterium deplete, metabolic water as possible.

It comes as no surprise that processed foods, high carbohydrate foods, grains and starches, legumes and fruits are high deuterium foods. We should aim to eat foods low in or that lower deuterium. These are foods high in animal fat (grass fed), healthy plant based fats like avocado and coconut, nuts and green, leafy, low carbohydrate vegetables. In other words, a ketogenic diet will help deplete deuterium.

Oxygenating the body will help mitochondria function, as oxygen helps deplete deuterium in the body.  This is where exercise and movement are important.

Light, in particular red light also plays a part in deuterium depletion. Red light resonates with hydrogen; the biochemist can explain how this is important for plants in photosynthesis, but in the body red light has the effect of reducing the viscosity of the water and thus improving mitochondrial function.

Interestingly the water we drink at sea level is 155 ppm deuterium. Water and air at lower altitudes is higher in deuterium. This makes sense as the hydrogen isotope, deuterium is heavier than ordinary hydrogen. If we drink too much water it will raise deuterium levels in the body. Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), produced in the hypothalamus, regulates the amount of water in the body. If water is consumed at current recommendations of around the 2 litres per day, the release ADH will ensure excess water is excreted. Unfortunately this will include the deuterium depleted metabolic water. If we follow a high fat diet, we really don’t need to drink that much water.

Much of the information here came from the Centre for Deuterium Depletion. It’s worth a look – https://www.ddcenters.com/  Watch some of their explanatory videos and decide what you’ll do with the information. I’ve long understood the benefits of a ketogenic type diet and in my last blog Summer Eating, experienced the benefits as well. I’m fascinated to finally understand why I felt more energised, so I’ll be more aware of what I’m eating and I’ll be eating a lot more fat. Incidentally, I recently had some blood tests, my cholesterol has gone down, despite eating more fat!

Summer Eating

So I haven’t posted for a while. I’ve been labouring for a friend for the last few weeks or so, but now I’ve finished. I wanted to share some of my observations. I found that while I was working, my diet subtly changed.

Up here in north Queensland it’s been hot, some days really hot. It reached 37 degrees Celsius, nearly 100 F, on my veranda several days in a row.   At first I was shattered at the end of the day. The heat, coupled with the increased activity, took its toll.   As a nutritionist I am generally conscious of what I eat and drink and I’m also getting good at ‘listening’ to my body. I raced home for lunch had to make something quick. The lads working on the site sat down to a sandwich or a pie.

Whilst I felt hungry I didn’t feel like carbohydrate rich foods. It was almost an unconscious decision. I sensed that in the heat carbohydrates would have slowed me up, made me feel heavy and fatigued. Some days I chopped up a range of vegetables, mostly greens and made a stir-fry, being liberal with the coconut oil. On other days I cut up a lettuce, which I ate with sardines and sauerkraut. Occasionally I ate cheese with cucumber and sauerkraut.  Sometimes I might have a small piece of meat, or some bacon and eggs. Often I would wilt some leafy greens while I poached a couple of eggs, always giving a generous splash of olive or macadamia oil. Surprisingly these hastily prepared, simple meals became my main meal of the day. In the evening I’d have something small.

I felt good for it. I had more energy and I lost a bit of weight.  I have no doubt I expended more energy than usual. I had to give away the sweet potatoes and I didn’t eat rice. I stopped buying the tropical fruits, which are generally high in sugars, in favour of some local temperate fruit, apples, peaches, nectarines and blueberries.

I think we forget these days to eat to the environmental conditions, to only eat when we’re hungry and to eat good, nutritionally dense foods. How often do we eat when we’re not hungry, out of habit, or eat something quick and convenient because we’re in a hurry?  Then again, how often do we pick at comfort foods?

We’re all different, have different needs and likes but there are some core recommendations, or nutritional practices common to all of us. That is to eat nutrient dense foods, avoid starchy and processed foods, empty of nutrients and high in calories. Eat mostly fresh, organic plant based foods, colourful where possible. It goes without saying; we should avoid grains and sugar. Eat quality fats, coconut, olive, macadamia and avocado oils. Above all, eat less and enjoy it!

Obesity – Why we are fat and what can we do about it!

Obesity is a modern disease. No ‘hunter-gatherer’ was obese, they wouldn’t be able to function in that society.  Now more than sixty per cent of the population are obese and the number is rising. Many chronic, metabolic conditions are becoming increasingly common and they are all associated with obesity. These include, but are not limited to, high blood pressure, diabetes, various cancers, heart disease as well as liver, gallbladder and kidney diseases.

We used to think, and it is still commonly touted that if someone is obese, they simply eat too much, that it is merely calories in and calories out. One might think that if calories in, equal calories expended, balance is achieved.  However the human body is dynamic and it is constantly adjusting. For example it adjusts the metabolism up, to burn more or down to burn less. So same calories, different response, some people will gain weight and others wont.

It seems the body has what is referred to as a ‘set weight’ or ‘set point’ and will do it’s best to maintain this weight.  Studies have been done with obese and non-obese people to try and get some to gain weight and others to loose weight.In the short term it proved challenging to change their weight as the body tries to maintain it’s ‘set weight’.  The hormone leptin plays an important role in appetite control and metabolism. It’s produced by the fat cells and it is produced in proportion to body’s fat mass.  Therefor the more the body fat the more leptin produced. Through the hypothalamus it regulates appetite and the rate at which the body will burn energy. Leptin regulates metabolism.   If the body is constantly ‘bathed’ in this hormone because there is too much fat, there is the danger the body becomes less sensitive to it and leptin resistance occurs. Now there is no turn off to appetite.  I like the analogy of playing music. Too much, too loud impairs hearing, so we turn the music up to hear better which causes more damage. Too much leptin means more produced, which means more food, more fat and more leptin. Leptin resistance occurs. 

A deficiency in leptin hormone can also lead to obesity. The signalling pathways can become disrupted to the hypothalamus and without leptin signally ‘enough food’ calorie intake is not regulated. There is a hypothesis that inflammation of the hypothalamus might cause dysfunctional signalling, and cause over eating resulting in a higher ‘set point’.

Similarly insulin when it is always in the bloodstream the body becomes less sensitive to it. Insulin is produced in the pancreas in response to how much glucose there is in the bloodstream. It has two main jobs, firstly to ‘escort’ the glucose to our cells and secondly to promote any excess to form fat. When insulin resistance occurs or the body doesn’t use insulin efficiently, the body is forced to make yet more insulin to compensate. With too much insulin in the bloodstream, there isn’t the control of leptin, which creates a range of problems.

It is not just inflammation of the hypothalamus that may lead to a higher set point or set weight. Another cause may have started a lot earlier. Obesity is occurring in young children at an alarming rate and it’s not just from inactivity and junk food, but from their obese mothers. The glucose molecule is small and can easily cross the placenta and into the foetus, so the unborn child has to deal with large amounts of mother’s circulating glucose. Her insulin can’t help as the insulin molecule is too large to cross the placenta. The unborn child’s own pancreas has to compensate producing high levels of insulin in response to mums high levels of glucose and this puts the child at risk of developing Insulin Resistance Syndrome. At the very least the child is likely to develop insulin and leptin resistance at a later stage. 

When the body’s two choices to either burn or store calories go awry, obesity and disease results.  What do we do to avoid, type 2 diabetes and the variety of other metabolic disorders developing? How do we loose weight easily?

There is a plethora of diets, ideas and protocols that have been developed over the years. People have made a lot of money selling all manner of supplements and plans and with so many ideas, many conflicting, it is almost impossible to decide what to do. Lots people try and give up, resigning themselves to being obese.

We need to turn the volume down, not up. We need to increase sensitivity to leptin. Likewise by not spiking blood glucose to dizzying heights with refined carbohydrates we can reduce the amount of insulin required and again, increase sensitivity to it.

We need to reduce the body’s ‘set point’ or ‘set weight’,and yes, this does require less calories in, but it is also important to keep in mind the body’s metabolic rate and how the body might not only deal with those calories, burn or store, but how the body will respond to those calories.What signals are triggered? This is important, different foods may have a similar calorific value, but the effect on the ‘reward’ centre of the brain, which releases dopamine, the effect on the pancreas which releases insulin and the effect on satiety, can be completely different.

It is actually not that difficult to follow a plan that reduces the reliance on reward or dopamine, reduces insulin production and increases the feeling of satiety. We can avoid feeling hungry, eat many of the foods we like and still loose weight, and it is not what popular press, nor the medical world will tell you. 

This way of eating and change in lifestyle, will slowly reduce the body’s ‘set weight, increase metabolic rate and decrease overall weight.It promotes high protein foods, like meats, because proteins will signal appetite satiety, it promotes eating complex only carbohydrates as they do the same and don’t spike insulin production and what’s more, they also reduce the stimulation of the reward centre.  These high fibre foods like leafy greens and roots vegetables are high in nutrients.Nutrient dense foods are what we should be aiming for, not the ‘empty’ calories of processed foods.

In summary, the changes in nutrition and lifestyle I would be recommending would be to eat high fibre foods, low glycemic fruits like strawberries, blueberries, apples and kiwi fruit, nutritiously dense dark leafy greens and high protein foods. This translates to eating meat and eggs regularly, so an average day might look like bacon and eggs on wilted greens for breakfast, sardines and salad for lunch and steak, onions, broccoli and cauliflower for diner.

I would recommend good sleep and moderate exercise, walking daily is good, as this would improve metabolism. Whilst I don’t advocate high fat foods in isolation, I do suggest that there is nothing wrong with a healthy amount of various fats on meat, in cooking or as a salad dressing.  However to loose weight, I do strongly suggest following a very low carbohydrate diet, which includes avoiding all processed flours, especially wheat.

Another important suggestion would be to follow a fasting regime. This can mean a combination of eating within a small window during the day, i.e. 11 am to 5 pm and, or having one or two days per week where a very small amount of food is eaten, if any.

If you would like to talk further, have meal plans and shopping lists prepared, please make an appointment.

So What’s ‘Leaky Gut’?

The intestinal barrier is a crucial barrier against the external environment. Made up of a single layer of cells, the intestinal barrier is selectively permeable, allowing the absorption of nutrients, electrolytes and water, whilst making an effective defence against toxins, antigens and intestinal microflora. Below this physical barrier is the body’s second line of defence, the immune system, ready and waiting to act upon any unwanted or unrecognised molecules.

Leaky gut or intestinal permeability occurs when this barrier, the mucosal membrane, becomes compromised allowing potentially harmful molecules to enter the interstitial fluid and then into the bloodstream. This is the cue for various mechanisms of the immune system like leucocytes and macrophages, monocytes, and neutrophils to kick into action to stop any of this foreign matter entering the bloodstream. White blood cells that have quietly been mopping up unwanted material go into over-drive and call for help, stimulating an inflammatory response.

This single layer of cells, enterocytes are cemented together by tight junction proteins creating the intestinal barrier. It was recently discovered (Fasano 2000) that a human protein called Zonulin was responsible for regulating these tight junctions. Zonulin causes the ‘cement’ to give up its hold between cells resulting in the gut lining becoming loose as they separate. The intestinal lining becomes ‘permeable’. The mechanisms of Zonulin release is still being studied, suffice to say the wrong bacteria or a condition known as Small Intestinal Bacterial Over-growth (SIBO) and plant lectins, like Gluten (grains) and Candida over-growth (high sugar diet), have been identified as major triggers. 

Normally bacteria in the gut play a crucial role in actively maintaining a healthy intestinal barrier but when their composition and their location in the gut goes wrong, the resulting damage can cause abdominal pain and bloating, flatulence, reflux, nausea, constipation or diarrhoea, inflammation and poor absorption of micronutrients. The immune response can become exaggerated and disordered. SIBO has been linked with autoimmune disorders like diabetes, hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis and coeliac disease, obesity and many other conditions.  This disturbed or damaged gut can result in food allergies and sensitivities, skin disorders such as acne and rosacea, and generalised inflammation. Mal-absorption of nutrients is likely to lead to deficiencies of iron, B12, calcium, zinc and fat-soluble vitamins A, D & E. These deficiencies result in fatigue, anaemia, weight loss, as well as mood and behavioural disorders like anxiety, depression and exaggerate conditions like ADHD and autism.

A combination of other things like the environmental toxins, chemicals like glyphosate, medications and alcohol, age, stress and lack of sleep can also lead to either Zonulin dysfunction and / or damage to the equilibrium of the microbiome. Either way the tight junctions give way and toxins or partially digested material is able to enter the bloodstream. The good news is, these enterocytes are renewing all the time and depending upon the level of damage, the lining of the gut will repair and re-new anywhere between 2 and 6 weeks. Consuming grains with gluten will lead to ‘leaky gut’ but depending upon the frequency, this sort of damage can repair in a relatively short time. However over time complications can arise and the damage may take longer to repair and if gluten and other lectins are consumed several times a day, seven days a week the gut is never given a chance to ‘heal’.

Come and talk to me about minimising damage to your gut, what it takes to eat heal and maintain a healthy gut lining, to calm your immune system and avoid autoimmune conditions developing. Most people don’t show any symptoms of chronic disease and inflammation until the damage is done, until a doctor diagnoses a condition.   I see this inflammation in people all the time, dry flaky skin, rashes, acne, aching joints, flushed faces, bags under their eyes, fatigue and brain fog. The indicators are there. Don’t let disease develop. Change your diet. leaky gut

 

So, why should we avoid grains?

 

Should we avoid eating grains and grain products? I believe we should avoid them and  ignore current food guidelines.

Dr. William Davis is an American cardiologist who, following decades of clinical studies and observations has witnessed extraordinary results after putting his patients on a wheat free diet. His book ‘Wheat Belly’ makes a compelling case against wheat. Dr David Perlmutter, a practicing neurologist, is also an advocate of a ‘grain free’ diet in his book ‘Grain Brain’.

More and more chronic diseases are emerging, and more and more people are becoming acutely unwell in their old age, requiring medication for an increasing number of life threatening conditions. According to recent reports half of all Americans suffer some form of chronic condition. Many of these conditions are related to our increasing reliance upon grains. We eat grains for breakfast lunch and tea, in our tea breaks and in some cases it is put in our medications and personal care products.

The 14 chromosome wild wheat, Einkorn wheat, is vastly different to modern, 18-inch high, 42-chromosome wheat. The proteins of this ancient wheat are completely different, which make it slightly easier to digest. There is less gluten as well, often making it acceptable to gluten sensitive people but not those with celiac disorder. I say slightly easier to digest because humans are not equipped to eat grasses. We evolved without the necessary digestive apparatus to eat and digest grasses, which include seeds. Goats, cattle and sheep (ruminants) however have evolved to eat grasses, they have teeth that grow continuously – the silica in the cells of grasses wear them down – they have four stomach chambers: three fermentation chambers (rumen, reticulum and omasum), followed by one chamber (abomasum) that uses stomach acid for digestion and they have a unique micro biome specialised to digest them. We simply do not have the specific organs to deal with grasses, including their seeds, like wheat rye barley, oats and rice. For more ninety-nine per cent of our time as humans on earth, we did not eat grains.

Archaeologists can tell you when we started. They will point to a sudden occurrence of evidence of tooth decay, of abscesses and mal formation. They will point to a doubling of arthritis and they will observe humans became shorter. These conditions appeared when hunters became agriculturalists.

When humankind started to find hunting difficult, when the population reached a critical mass, they turned to growing their food. They started selectively bred their plants for pest resistance, saving the seed of those that grew well. In doing so they were selecting strains with the highest pest resistant compounds like phytates. We know now that phytates bind to certain dietary minerals including iron, zinc, manganese and to a lesser extent calcium, which will slow or hinder their absorption. This makes them what we might call an ‘antinutrient’.

All plants contain lectins, another plant protein and another plant defence mechanism. They occur in most plant foods, for example tomatoes, lentils, peas, grains and legumes. They bind together cell membranes and cannot be digested properly by humans. They also can be termed ‘antinutrients’ in that they change the balance of the gut microflora and contribute to ‘leaky gut’ by binding to receptor sites on the intestinal mucosal cells. This interfers with the absorption of nutrients across the intestinal wall.  Wheat and grains are some of the plants highest in lectins. Dr Gundry has written extensively about lectins in his book, “The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in ‘Healthy’ Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain.” He claims a lectin known as wheat germ agglutinin (WGA), is actually one of the most efficient ways to induce heart disease in experimental animals and is far more of a concern than another lectin, gluten. Lectins will also cause harm through what is called ‘molecular mimicry’. For example, by mimicking proteins of the thyroid gland or of joint spaces, lectins can cause the body to attack the thyroid causing Hashimotos and will contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. These diseases start when lectins and lipopolysaccharides (LPSs), also known as endotoxins, penetrate the gut wall, which stimulates a very strong immune response.

Consuming wheat and grains is like sugars; they provoke the release of blood insulin, a process that stimulates accumulation of visceral fat. The cells of visceral fat produce leptin, a hormone that makes you feel full, however when someone becomes obese, the body’s cells develop resistance to leptin. Leptin receptors can’t bind with the hormone leptin to deliver that message of fullness to the brain. So the feeling of hunger persists and cycle of eating continues. So Gliadin proteins unique to wheat, increased through selective breeding and altered in amino acid structure from their non-genetically-altered predecessors, actually act as appetite stimulants.

Dr William Davis explains that an increase in visceral fat will cause an increase in the expression of aromatase. Aromatase is an enzyme that converts testosterone to oestrogen. This will cause impaired libido in males and females due to lower testosterone, higher oestrogen levels. It is likely to cause growth of breasts in both males and females. This means the development of man breasts in males and the increased breast cancer risk in females. Dr Davis goes on to explain that in addition to the visceral fat aromatase effect, the A5 pentapeptide derived from the gliadin protein of wheat stimulates pituitary gland to release of prolactin that causes growth of breast tissue.   Other effects of over expression of aromatase is the amplification symptoms associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which include increased moustache hair, higher testosterone levels, higher blood insulin, blood sugar and infertility.

There are other reasons to avoid grains, in particular wheat. Amylopectin A is a super starch, found in high levels in the new and improved dwarf wheat. It is in such quantities that it will cause blood sugar levels to soar. It is “worse than table sugar,” Dr. Davis says.

When the proteins in wheat are digested, they are converted into shorter proteins, “polypeptides”, called “exorphins”. These proteins are similar to endorphins released after exercise. They bind to the opioid receptors in the brain, giving a ‘high’, and they are addictive. Dr Hyman, doctor and author of many books, explains how these wheat polypeptides, called ‘gluteomorphins’ are absorbed into the bloodstream and cross the blood brain barrier. This can lead to multiple problems including schizophrenia, but they also cause addictive eating behaviours like cravings and bingeing. As he points out, rarely do people binge on broccoli, but they do binge on biscuits and cakes. So it is not just the sugar.

“We’ve been eating wheat for a millennia.” I hear you say. “We’re told it’s good for us.” This is the message we’ve been given in different ways from a variety of sources for a long time. The ‘big’ food, ‘big pharma’ industries and following the industrialisation of agriculture, big agri-business employ what only be described as predatory practices, they control the messages, control the print media, they control the advertising and the content on television and radio and they have taken control of the health industry. Money controls the message we are given. In effect doctors are trained by the pharmaceutical industry, medical regulation is not as autonomous as one would believe. In England, the British Medical Journal published a report identifying many areas of influence and distortion by the pharmaceutical industry. The House of Commons health committee set up to report on the influence of the pharmaceutical industry described how the industry taints doctors. Their report found over half of all postgraduate medical education in the UK, and much education of nurses, is funded by the pharmaceutical industry.

An analysis of 29 studies published by the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2000 found that doctors who accept fees, meals and other perks from drug makers are more likely to prescribe their brand of drugs. This can negatively affect patients because the medicines promoted by drug makers are usually newer, more expensive and potentially less safe than older medicines.

Drugs that need to be taken over a long period, i.e. over the remaining period of an individual’s life like statins are the lifeblood to the industry. Drugs that heal, short-term drugs to rectify a condition, like an infection, attract less interest. There isn’t the volume or profit so less money is spent on research and development.

As discussed wheat and grains are going to support all types of chronic disorders ranging from rheumatoid arthritis, high blood sugar, blood pressure, high cholesterol, cataracts and kidney disease, lupus, migraine, dementia, colon cancer and type 2 diabetes. By upsetting hormones grains will contribute to the development of polycystic ovaries, of infertility and many more conditions. No industry, whether it be the food industry, the pharmaceutical or agri-business is going to encourage the avoidance of grains to promote health and avoid chronic disease. It will be people on the ground who, when avoiding grains will begin to experience better health. It will these people that will slowly bring about change.

I urge you to consider a grain free diet for two months and see how you feel. Eat a variety of root vegetables, green leafy vegetables and of course, fruits and quality grass fed meats. I suggest seeking out organic foods where possible. The modern methods of farming many of todays foods unfortunately relies heavily on chemical use which is a whole new blog!

What do you know about autoimmunity?

Autoimmune disease can be simply defined as when the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake, a dysfunction of the immune system. Autoimmune diseases have been found in virtually every organ system in the body.  There are differing schools of thought as to how many conditions there are, but well over one hundred would not be exaggerating, and it’s rising. Some estimate that up to one in ten suffer from an autoimmune condition in the United States and many of them are unaware of their condition. Women are most likely to be affected. In some cases modern pharmaceuticals and medical practices do a good job of masking these conditions, treating the symptoms or keeping them under control, in other cases people just live with them and while no major organ is involved, they remain chronic.

The most common of the one hundred or more autoimmune conditions are:

  • Graves’ disease. 
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. 
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). 
  • Type 1 diabetes. 
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS). 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.

Other conditions include ones like Pernicious Anaemia – B12 deficiency – where the immune system destroys stomach cells that make intrinsic factor. Intrinsic factor helps the body absorb vitamin B12 in the intestine.  Eczema has recently been included in the growing list of autoimmune conditions.  In this case the immune system causes changes to lipid formation in the skin which affects the skin’s barrier. Vasculitis is one of the connective tissue disorders and another of the autoimmune conditions. It damages blood vessels, weakening them which can lead to aneurysms. Autoimmune hepatitis is a rare disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the liver and causes it to become inflamed which leads to cirrhosis, increasing the risk of cancer and liver failure.

Interestingly, the predisposition to develop or suffer from an autoimmune condition runs in the family. It may be hereditary, but if one member of the family has one condition, it doesn’t mean another member of the family will develop that same autoimmune condition.

What triggers an autoimmune response? There are a number of triggers and they range from a simple infection, bacterial or viral, to a chemical in the environment, a permeable gut lining and stress. When the condition has been diagnosed, most doctors will look at suppressing the immune system or treating the symptoms but it is critical to identify the trigger(s). For example in the case of type 1 diabetes the immune system has destroyed the function of the pancreas, but that’s not necessarily the end of it. Other autoimmune conditions develop, such as type 1 diabetes and celiac, because of a shared gene that predisposes for these conditions. About 25% of people with one autoimmune condition are likely to develop another.

My advice to someone diagnosed with an autoimmune condition is to reduce exposure to potential triggers. This means they should adopt a strict nutritional program, known as the Autoimmune Protocol, avoid stress and look at improving sleep hygiene, take steps to improve digestion and micronutrient absorption i.e. take enzymes and apple cider in water before a meal and take supplements, avoid exposure to environmental toxins and finally take exercise.  Some of these steps are easier said than done so careful preparation is necessary. The autoimmune protocol needs to be followed rigidly for at least a month before considering which foods to re-introduce. Foods like wheat however should never be reintroduced, but thats another story.

Please contact me if you would like some meal ideas for the autoimmune protocol, ways to improve sleep or how to avoid some of the toxins we’re exposed to everyday.

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