Any autoimmune disease is NOT a disease of the tissues that are being attacked. For example hashimotos is NOT a disease of the thyroid. It is an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid. They same goes with any other tissue of the body.
Sometimes autoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissues, can attack the heart and cause heart disease. People with autoimmune heart disease may not have typical markers of cardiovascular risk, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure.
Autoimmunity is one of the most common diseases today and a leading cause of disability and death. It can affect any tissue or compound in the body, including the heart. The more commonly known autoimmune diseases are Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, multiple sclerosis (nervous system), type 1 diabetes(pancreas), celiac disease(gut), rheumatoid arthritis (joints), and psoriasis(skin).
In all these diseases, the disorder doesn’t lie in the tissue being attacked, but instead in an imbalanced and hyper zealous or over active immune system attacking the tissue it was meant to protect. It has gone haywire.
Autoimmunity in the heart
You can screen for an autoimmune reaction in the heart with a blood serum antibody panel that checks for antibodies to myocardial peptide or alpha-myosin. If they come back positive, it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of myocarditis (heart inflammation) or cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart).
If the autoimmunity is in its early stages, there may be no signs or symptoms. Which can be a little difficult to know if there is a possible problem unless you test.
Symptoms to watch out for include shortness of breath, chest pain, decreased ability to exercise, fluid retention, tiring easily, and an irregular heartbeat.
Other autoimmune diseases that affect the heart
An unmanaged autoimmune disease raises the risk of heart disease significantly. People with lupus are up to eight times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in patients with lupus and the disease most commonly inflames the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart.
Additionally, Sjögren’s syndrome and psoriasis have been shown to more than double heart attack risk.
Other cardiovascular risk factors of unmanaged autoimmunity include chronic inflammation and steroid use (which are commonly used to treat the symptoms of autoimmune diseases). Talk about stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Failing to manage an autoimmune reaction to the heart can cause inflammation, scarring, and, in rare cases, sudden death. It may also affect the lungs, liver, and other organs in the body.
Typically, doctors in the standard health care model do not screen for autoimmunity until the end stages of disease when symptoms are severe. However, you can identify an autoimmune reaction before it’s too late with a blood serum antibody panel.
This panel screens for autoimmunity against heart tissue by checking for myocardial (a protein the heart releases in response to stress) or alpha-myosin (cardiac tissue) antibodies. If these come back positive it’s an indication the immune system is attacking heart tissue. If the condition is more advanced, you may be given a diagnosis of cardiomyopathy, or disease of the heart muscle.
If you have an autoimmune condition, you can use functional medicine to potentially slow or halt its progression through proven diet, lifestyle, and nutritional therapy strategies. You should also regularly monitor your heart health.
Gluten also linked with heart autoimmunity
Sometimes a gluten intolerance and celiac disease are associated with cardiomyopathy(which we have talked about repeatedly on my blogs) Many people have seen a gluten-free diet improve the condition, sometimes profoundly. People with heart symptoms should screen for gluten sensitivity with advanced testing.
Ask about my office about functional medicine strategies to manage heart autoimmunity.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
Scientists have proven what many of us have learned the hard way: Gluten, dairy, and processed foods trigger addictive responses in the same way commonly abused drugs do. The more processed (i.e., high carb) and fatty a food is, the more likely it is to cause addiction, and the most addictive foods contain cheese, with pizza taking top honors.
This is due in part to the high-glycemic load of these foods — processed carbs, like pizza crust or a donut, are rapidly absorbed by the body and quickly spike blood sugar before causing it to crash. This triggers areas of the brain as well as hormonal responses that stimulate cravings.
In fact, in a 2013 study, scientists used brain scans to observe brain function after subjects ate foods high in processed carbohydrates as well as foods low on the glycemic index, such as vegetables.
They observed that the subjects who ate the processed foods were hungrier and experienced surges and crashes in blood sugar in contrast to the low-glycemic eaters. They were also more prone to overeating and to choosing more high-glycemic foods compared to the low-glycemic eaters, whose blood sugar remained stable. Creating a vicious cycle.
Brain scans showed the subjects eating the starchy foods also exhibited more blood flow to the right side of the brain in areas associated with reward, pleasure, and cravings in the high-glycemic eaters. This can drive people to overeat and indulge in yet more starchy foods, perpetuating a vicious cycle even further
We also know high-carb foods cause imbalances in the hormones insulin and leptin, which increase hunger and promote fat storage over fat burning.
Gluten and dairy cause opioid responses
Gluten and dairy can be addictive for additional reasons — they trigger an opioid response in the brains of some people. In fact, these people may go through very uncomfortable withdrawls when they go cold turkey off these foods. I have had patients that have had a really hard time with this. I mean really hard!
The opioid created by the digestion of milk protein is called casopmorphin while the gluten opioid is called gluteomorphin. The key root being morphin, as in Morphine.
These food-derived opioids activate the same opioid receptors in the brain that respond to prescription pain pills and heroin.
The effect is compounded in processed cheese and processed gluten products. And what cheese or gluten product is not processed? All of them.
The worst part of a food-based opioid sensitivity is that going gluten-free or dairy-free can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. These can include depression, mood swings, or worsened gut problems. All things that are supposed to get better when you stop eating those things. FYI - it takes time to make a difference and get through the tough part.
It is similar to heroin or pain pill withdrawals, only not as severe.
Because gluten and dairy are among the most common causes of food sensitivities, many people have to eliminate them from their diet. Although this is difficult for most everyone, for the person who also experiences opioid responses to them, going gluten-free and dairy-free can mean a couple of weeks (or more) of misery.
If this occurs, plan ahead and know you have to weather the withdrawal symptoms until you’ve kicked the addiction.
It’s important to further support yourself by avoiding high-glycemic processed foods so you don’t trigger your brain’s craving mechanisms. You also need to make sure the rest of your body if functioning correctly and you have optimal nutritional levels.
Kick the addiction!
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
Have you ever had obvious health symptoms but your lab tests come back normal? Many such patients, the majority of them women (but not exclusively women), are told it’s simply stress, aging, depression, or worse, its all in your head, go see a psychologist).
The problem is most doctors use lab ranges on blood tests when functional ranges
provide more clues that explain the symptoms.
The lab ranges on a blood test look for diseases while functional medicine ranges look for patterns and markers that spot trends toward disease that can still be reversed or halted.
For instance, the lab ranges for diabetes are quite high, but a functional range can let you know your blood sugar is in the danger zone well before you need pharmaceutical treatment and have caused considerable inflammatory damage to your body.
In another example, many people with clear and obvious symptoms of low thyroid function are told they are fine for years while autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland continues unchecked and untreated, worsening symptoms all the while. Traditional doctors may only test TSH and tell you its fine all the while not even knowing that your TPO or TGB markers are leading you down the path of Hashimotos.
Functional blood ranges can help you stop the progression toward disease
Functional medicine addresses the underlying physiological mechanisms causing symptoms. In conventional medicine, a condition must have progressed far enough to diagnose and treat with drugs or surgery.
In other words, functional ranges define the parameters of good health while lab ranges define the parameters of disease.
Additionally, lab ranges are determined by a bell-curve analysis of patients who had their blood drawn at that center, many of whom are likely quite sick. As the health of Americans continues to decline, so do the ranges for what qualifies as healthy. For some markers, we don’t know what qualifies as healthy, just average.
Functional ranges look for patterns in the markers
Functional medicine doesn’t just look at individual markers, but also for patterns among various different blood markers. All systems in the body are inter-related and a problem in one area of the body can show up as an out-of-range marker in another area. It can become a little complicated, but at the same time explain a lot of symptoms for some patients.
This can help identify different types of anemia, whether your high blood sugar is raising your risk of heart disease, or whether a hormone imbalance might be affecting your thyroid.
Another example involves looking at markers to determine whether activated or depressed immunity is related to a virus, bacterial infection, allergies, or even parasites.
A functional blood test includes many more markers
Another difference between functional and conventional blood tests isn’t just the ranges used, but also the markers ordered. A conventional blood test will typically include far fewer markers than a functional one.
We can especially see this in testing for hypothyroidism. Standard tests only look at thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) even though about 90 percent of cases of hypothyroidism are caused by an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. This is because knowing whether a person has Hashimoto’s does not change the standard of care in conventional medicine.
However, a functional test will include markers to identify autoimmune Hashimoto’s and other causes of low thyroid function. Knowing what is causing the thyroid to under function determines the best way to manage it and improve thyroid health.
A blood panel is an important tool in the functional medicine evaluation. Ask my office for more information.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be Healthy, be happy!
Autoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. In fact, about 75% of all autoimmune disease occur in women.
Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.
A great saying in the the “functional medicine” world is
“genetics load the gun, environment pulls the trigger.”
Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Celiac disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Crohn’s disease
- Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity
Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation and an over reaction of the immune system.
Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an autoimmune condition. Think of it kind of like the incredible hulk. Once he turns into that raging green beast he is not selective in who and/or what he destroys. He will attack pretty much whatever is in the way.
People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.
Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.
For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.
Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity
Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:
- Gluten sensitivity
- Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
- Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
- Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
- Chronic stress
- Hormone imbalances
- Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
- Environmental toxins
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)
If you have an autoimmune disease, you have leaky gut. If you have leaky gut, you have or will get an autoimmune disease. It’s just a matter of time.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
In the midst of flu season, many people’s attention turns to the flu vaccine. But keep in mind that the flu vaccine is by no means a guarantee you won’t get the flu. Not taking into account all the potential side effects it is reported to only be at most 10% effective.
But there is a way to improve your immunity against not only the flu, but also other viruses, bacterial infections, yeasts, environmental toxins, food sensitivities, and even autoimmunity. The secret lies in what immunologist Aristo Vojdani, PhD calls nature’s vaccine — secretory IgA or SIgA for short.
SIgA are immune cells that are the first line of defense between you and the world. They primarily reside in mucus membranes, including the digestive tract, respiratory tract, urinary tract, prostate, and vagina. SIgA cells are found in mucus, tears, saliva, sweat, breast milk, and other secretions. When we do a stool analysis this is often one of the many markers we are looking at to see how healthy your gut is functioning and what your immune system is like. You gut houses about 70% of your immune system after all.
If your gut isn’t healthy, chances are you aren’t either.
SIgA cells are the first to encounter invaders and sequester them so they are not dangerous to the body. This helps prevent the immune system from over reacting so it is not prone to food sensitivities, chemical sensitivities, and most importantly autoimmunity.
Many people have low SIgA
Unfortunately, having low SIgA levels is pretty common these days. It’s most often seen in individuals with adrenal fatigue who show symptoms of chronic tiredness, low blood sugar, difficulty getting up in the morning, depression, anxiety, salt cravings, and chronic illnesses. That last one is just about every patient I see in my office so you can see just how important this little known marker SIgA is.
Fun fact - Taking corticosteroid medications can also lower SIgA levels.
Low SIgA levels increases cold and flu risk
Chronically low SIgA levels have a number of consequences. The most obvious is that you are more likely to get sick frequently. For instance, if your respiratory tract is low in SIgA cells, the viruses and bacteria it encounters are going to have an easier time invading your system.
Low SIgA leads to food and chemical sensitivities
What’s perhaps more frustrating is that low SIgA levels can lead to the development of food and chemical sensitivities.
Why? Your SIgA play a pivotal role in your ability to tolerate the world around you while responding appropriately to pathogens.
When there is not enough SIgA to neutralize incoming bacteria, viruses, yeast, undigested food, chemicals, and so on, the immune system must deploy its more aggressive immune cells. It basically causes an overreaction to every little immune system attack.
It’s like calling in the Navy Seals because the police force has gone missing.
The result is a hyper reactive immune system that creates a permanent loss of tolerance in the bloodstream to certain foods or chemicals.
Low SIgA raises risk for autoimmunity
One of the more unfortunate risks of SIgA is that it raises your risk of developing autoimmunity. With a diminished defense from low SIgA, your immune system is on constant red alert and your body is more vulnerable to pathogens. Between the increased exposure to pathogens and a hyper reactive immune system, it’s just a matter of time before it starts attacking your own tissue and you get an autoimmune disease. This can e anything from Lupus, scleroderma, RA, multiple sclerosis, Ankylosing spondylitis, Temporal arteritis and many other conditions.
Go get your SIgA tested, boost it, nurture it, care for it, and just be aware of it. It can make all the difference in the world.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows.
One important tool in this quest are spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.
Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Its not just how much good bacteria you have, it’s how many different types.
Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.
This is often one of the reasons I recommend periodically switching probiotic brands and strains. Diversity.
Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria.
As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.
There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits. It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible, which can also contribute to the development of leaky gut, among other things.
Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?
- The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
- They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
- They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
- Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.
Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate,
if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.
Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.
For instance, one strain of spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.
Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.
Now go eat something new, go eat some dirt, get exposed to some new healthy bacteria.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, he happy!
The beauty of functional medicine is it puts your health journey in your hands. The curse of functional medicine is that, compared to popping a pill, eating healthy takes more time, which can feel stressful.
Enter the Instant Pot, a relatively new kitchen appliance that is simple to use, makes it easy to stick to a whole foods diet, and takes a lot of stress out of cooking when your schedule is hectic. This can be one of the best functional medicine tools to following a good diet towards healing.
What makes the Instant Pot a good functional medicine tool?
The Instant Pot’s success is in its multiple features and that it produces consistent results. The Instant Pot sautés, foolproof pressure cooks, slow cooks, makes yogurt, functions as a rice cooker (not that you should have this a lot though), and quickly makes bone broths (one of my favorite and most often used benefit of the instant pot)
It is conducive to big batch meals that will create nutritious leftovers for a few days.
Here are some ways the Instant Pot can help you save time in the kitchen without sacrificing nutrition:
Cooks frozen meats. How many times have you forgotten to put the meat out to thaw for dinner? You can put your frozen meat in the Instant Pot and still have stew for dinner.
Cuts down on dishwashing (yeah!). The Instant Pot allows you to do multiple things in one pot, cutting down on dirty pots and pans. For instance, you can sauté the onions and brown the meat in the same pot you cook your stew in. Additionally, you can cook in Pyrex bowls inside the Instant Pot, which can then be stored in the fridge and used as a lunch container.
Don’t even try this with plastic. This should be self explanatory but I’m saying it because you would be surprised at what some people do.
Removes the stress of timing. Once you put your meal in the Instant Pot, you press a button for how long it needs to cook and then you can walk away. Not only will it shut itself off, it will also keep food warm for up to 10 hours. It makes reliable hard boiled eggs, and some people even crack their raw eggs into a bowl before cooking for a quick and easy egg salad that doesn’t require peeling egg shells.
Takes the complexity out of pressure cooking. The Instant Pot’s most popular feature is pressure cooking, which radically shortens cooking times. Best of all, it uses a foolproof design so you don’t have to worry about blowing up your kitchen. Which has and can happen with regular pressure cookers.
It’s a great slow cooker. One of the most satisfying dinners is the one you make in the morning and it’s waiting hot for you in the evening. This is perfect for those with alternate work hours or those workaholics that don’t get home until late and heave a tendency to just pick up something on the way home. In addition to cooking quickly, the Instant Pot is a great slow cooker, and you can brown the meat in the same pot.
Makes dairy-free yogurt. Yogurt is a delicious and convenient snack that is hard to give up when you go dairy-free. Dairy-free yogurts are expensive and filled with thickening gums, which are irritating and immune reactive for many people. The Instant Pot is a great dairy-free yogurt maker, using gelatin or chia as a thickener. You will need to order a high-quality brand of coconut milk however, for a good end result.
Easy squash and root veggie cooking. Peeling and chopping squash and root veggies can be a real deterrent to including them in your diet. No worries, just toss them in the Instant Pot whole and then peel, seed, and chop them after they’re cooked. Cooking more fragile vegetables such as broccoli, however, is best left to the stove top steam basket to avoid overcooking. Make sure it’s an all stainless steel one, no plastic or silicone.
These are just a few of the ways the Instant Pot can be a part of a functional medicine protocol to help you manage a chronic health disorder. Don't be intimidated by it — the learning curve is quick and you’ll soon be able to intuit how to use it. The internet abounds with tips, recipes, and general enthusiasm to get you up to speed.
As a little personal side note, I generally recommend gong with the bigger sizes, specially if this is for a family. If you are just an individual or a couple then consider the medium size. The small size isn’t really good for much other than a little bit of yogurt or doing something like fondu, if your into that.
There are also a number of recipe books specifically for the instant pot. None of these are functional medicine specific though, at least not yet. My wife and I are thinking about putting one together so stay tuned.
Now go out and get your next functional medicine tool.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
The average American eats 20 teaspoon of sugar per day. This is the equivalent of 1/2 of a cup of sugar.
A new investigation reveals the sugar industry successfully blamed fat for heart disease using skewed science, when sugar is the main culprit.
I don’t know how “new” this study is. We’ve actually known this for a pretty long time. But, that is how many things in traditional healthcare work. They find out certain health beliefs are really antiquated.
This corporate deceit triggered more than 50 years of a nutritional “low-fat” policy that helped make Americans the fattest and most chronically ill population on the planet, thanks to diets high in sugars and processed carbohydrates. Sadly, it’s an ideology still touted today in many doctors’ offices. Old habits die hard. Specially with doctors.
Using tactics similar to those of the tobacco industry, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the role of sugar consumption in raising levels of fat in the blood and did not disclose findings that linked sugar with heart disease.
The industry’s own animal studies showed high-sugar diets increased triglyceride levels, thus raising the risk of heart attack and stroke, and also increased the risk of bladder cancer. They pulled the plug on the study before it could be completed.
The Washington DC-based Sugar Association said the study was stopped because it was over budget and coincided with restructuring of the Sugar Research Foundation. It also said scientific recommendations to limit sugar to no more than 10 percent of daily calories are “out of bounds.” Very convenient!
Had the study been completed, it could have led to further research and policies that put the welfare of American citizens — not the sugar and processed food industries — first. Thats a novel idea. But you know how it goes, profit before people.
This could have saved millions of Americans and their families from the heartbreak and devastation of sugar-related diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s.
We can see another telling example in a 2018 European study that shows a significant correlation between the amount of processed foods people keep in their homes and obesity and related diseases. Though Americans and Europeans have, surprisingly, eaten roughly the same number of calories over the decades, significantly more Americans than Europeans are obese and ill thanks to corrupt marketing and nutritional policy.
While the policies of the last several decades have steadily made Americans fatter and sicker, they have also been fuel for the multi-billion-dollar weight loss industry that arose in response to the collective weight gain. Sugar content simply replaced fat calories in fat-free foods dominating the shelves.
The trouble with foods high in sugar and processed carbs (which are essentially sugar once ingested) is not only do they make people fatter, but they also trigger a hormonal cascade that increases sugar cravings while turning off the satiety hormones gastrin and leptin so that one feels constantly hungry. Diets have been shown to fail most people in sustained weight loss and even trigger eating disorders.
The low-fat, high-carb diet sends you on a downward spiral that ends with a foundation for chronic disease based on high inflammation, accelerated brain degeneration, and metabolic imbalances.
In functional medicine, we see myriad chronic disorders that can be significantly ameliorated or even reversed simply by stabilizing blood sugar and saying goodbye to the Standard American Diet (SAD) in favor of a whole foods diet. Sometimes this is a simple endeavor, other times, such as in chronic issues, you will need a lot of help and more than simple “diet modification”.
Ask my office for advice on the best diet for your chronic health condition
Here is a short list of some books on the topic of sugar and how they affect health that may be of help.
Eat fat, get thin
Why isn’t my brain working
The end of Alzheimers - Probably one of my favorite most recent books. its a little more technical for the average reader but really good!
These books are not specific to just sugar and its dangers but a large part of them deals with sugar.
Now go eat some fat!
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
We’re learning what a vital role good gut bacteria play in immune health, brain health, mood, and, of course, gut health.
One of the best health quotes of all time is… “Health comes from above, down, inside, out”
We also know that the best way to beef up your good gut bacteria is through eating lots of different kinds of vegetables and fruits every day.
But researchers have discovered yet another way to promote healthy gut bacteria: Regular exercise.
Our digestive tract is home to trillions of gut bacteria that weigh about three to four pounds all together, and are made up of over a 1,000 different species and 5,000 strains. This is the very definition of a symbiotic relationship. Our body depends on these gut bacteria to:
- Metabolize nutrients
- Protect the intestinal wall
- Produce vitamin K and short chain fatty acids (SCFA), which are important for immune health
- Maintain health of the digestive tract
- Regulate immunity
- Prevent inflammation
- Promote good brain health and function - infant many studies are even finding that Parkinsons may actually start in the gut and work its way up the vagus nerve into the brain. But that is another post for another blog. Very interesting stuff though.
As our understanding of healthy gut bacteria evolves, so does the information on how to cultivate your own “microbiome” while inhibiting overgrowth of “bad” bacteria that are infectious and inflammatory.
This imbalance of good and bad bacteria is often what is referred as dysbiosis - Too many bad bacteria and not enough good bacteria.
Initially, fermented foods and probiotics were thought to be the main recourse for improving gut health, and they do go a long ways. But, they are not the only way.
Then we learned eating a diet comprised primarily of vegetables and fruits and continually changing up the produce you eat is a great way to develop a rich and diverse gut bacteria population.
Now, scientists have used both a mouse study and a human study to show regular exercise, independent of diet or other factors, also promotes healthy gut bacteria. Meaning that if you do nothing other than exercise you can beneficially change your gut bacteria.
In the first study, researchers transplanted fecal material from both exercised and sedentary mice into mice with sterile guts. The activity level of the mice receiving the transplants clearly mirrored that of their donors, showing that the kind of gut bacteria we have plays a role in how inclined we are to be sedentary or active.
The exercised mice recipients also showed more bacteria that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid (SCFA) that promotes healthy intestinal cells, reduces inflammation, and increases energy. They also were more resistant to ulcerative colitis. N-butyrate is THE most important short chain fatty acid.
In the second study, researchers tracked the composition of gut bacteria in 18 lean and 14 obese adults as they transitioned from a sedentary lifestyle, to an active one, and then back to a sedentary one. Their exercise routine consisted of 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise three times a week for six weeks.
Their diets remained the same.
They found that exercise raised levels of SCFAs and then declined again as the subjects became sedentary. A rise in SCFAs means concentrations of good gut bacteria increased. The lean participants showed more dramatic increases of SCFAs than obese ones, and more diverse ratios of bacteria, suggesting obese people respond differently to exercise. Nevertheless, increases happened in both populations.
The break down and take away from all of this is as follow. The gut bacteria influences how active we are and how active we are influences our gut bacteria. As is often the case in health, the answer is YES. What came first? The chicken or the egg? Yes. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy no matter which way you look at it and you have to make a conscious effort to change your thoughts and your biology.
As our knowledge of gut bacteria, functional medicine, and the human body continues to evolve, it nevertheless circles back to some age-old pearls of wisdom: Eat your vegetables and exercise, it can go a long way to better health. If that doesn’t do the trick, come and see me.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy!
We’ve long been pitched canola’s health benefits. If something is advertised it must be true right.
After all, Whole Foods uses it in all their prepared foods and many vegetarian and vegan products proudly promote it as a feature ingredient.
But when scientists, who had shown the brain benefits of olive oil in mice, decided to run the same studies with canola oil, they uncovered a darker truth: Canola oil worsens memory and promotes amyloid plaques, a hallmark Alzheimer’s symptom.
In the olive oil study, researchers gave mice with Alzheimer’s Disease a diet enriched with extra-virgin olive oil and found that compared to the control group, the mice experienced improvements in memory as well as a reduction in amyloid plaques and phosphorylated tau, which creates the neurofibrillary tangles that degenerate the brain in Alzheimer’s. Thats scientific talk for BAD STUFF.
They replicated the study with canola oil, one of the cheapest and most widely used oils in the world, to see what effects it might have on the brain.
The control group ate a normal diet while the study group was fed the equivalent of two tablespoons a day of canola oil.
After 12 months, researchers observed the following in the canola oil mice:
- They weighed significantly more than the control group.
- They suffered impairments in working memory.
- They had greatly reduced levels of a beneficial form of amyloid beta (amyloid beta 1-40). Amyloid beta 1-40 acts as a buffer to the damaging amyloid beta 1-42. When amyloid beta 1-40 goes down, it leaves the 1-42 form unchecked to degenerate the brain. i.e. NOT GOOD.
- They showed reduced connectivity between neurons in the brain. Synapses are areas of neurons through which they communicate with one another, playing a vital role in memory formation and retrieval. The drop in amyloid beta 1-40 caused extensive synapse injury. Basically it caused the nerves to not talk to each other as well.
The scientists plan to conduct a follow-up study to determine how soon neuron damage begins to happen after regular consumption of canola oil, whether it impacts tau phosphorylation, and whether canola oil promotes other neurodegenerative diseases in addition to Alzheimer’s. Sounds like a good idea to me.
So what should you eat instead of canola oil?
When you eat out or buy processed and packaged foods, it’s difficult to find foods that don’t contain canola oil, soybean oil, or processed vegetable oils, none of which are healthy for the brain. It’s especially important to avoid hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, which have also been linked with memory loss.
The brain is made up primarily of fat, approximately 60% fat, which means the fats you eat help determine the structure of your neurons and how well they are able to communicate with one another. For instance, hydrogenated fats have been shown to make cell membranes more rigid and less able to function properly.
Instead of industrially processed vegetable oils, use extra virgin olive oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, and ghee. The less processed the better and be careful about heating any oils up too much when you are cooking.
Go feed your brain with some health fats.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
If you are counting carbs to stabilize your blood sugar, lower inflammation, balance hormones, or lose weight, experts say looking at carbohydrate density is a more important strategy. Carbohydrate density measures how many carbohydrates are present per 100 grams of food. Low carb density foods don’t raise your risk of chronic disease.
Research shows eliminating dense carbohydrates from your diet improves health, prevents disease, and can even improve periodontal disease.
While many diets focus on how many calories or how many grams of carbohydrates you should eat per day, the carb density diet instead focuses on how many grams of carbohydrates are in a food once you subtract the fiber.
Ideally, you only want to eat foods under 23 percent carb density. More importantly, avoid carb dense foods.
Foods with low carb density include meats, vegetables, fruits, and whole nuts. Sounds a lot like a paleo type diet right?
High density carbs include flours, sugars, breads, chips, rice cakes, granola bars, French fries, popcorn, and other fast and processed foods.
In a nutshell, if it has been processed, it’s going to be more carb dense.
Carb density in foods
Foods with low carb density contain the carbohydrates within cell walls. In these foods, carb density won’t go much beyond 23 percent.
In foods that are carb dense, however, such as flours, sugars, and processed grains, modern processing breaks apart cell walls so that carbs are much more concentrated, abundant, and hit the bloodstream more quickly.
Why high carb dense foods make us sick and fat
The human body was not designed to eat processed foods in which carbs and sugars have been busted out of their cells, concentrated, and able to quickly raise blood sugar.
Carb dense foods overwhelm the body’s cells with too much glucose. This causes cells to become resistant to the hormones insulin and leptin, both of which play a role in blood sugar regulation.
Insulin and leptin resistance in turn promote obesity, inflammation, accelerated brain degeneration, heart disease, diabetes, autoimmunity, and hormonal imbalances — in essence, the foundation to the many chronic diseases of western civilization.
Why regular diets don’t work and the kinds of food you eat matters most
These days, plenty of research has demonstrated why diets don’t work in the long run for so many people. Calorie counting, exercising more but going hungry, extreme diets — these approaches may work in the short term but they pit the individual against primal survival mechanisms and can be metabolically and psychologically damaging.
Although opting for a diet that is made up of healthy meats, fats, vegetables, fruits, and nuts may seem severe initially, it quickly adjusts hormonal responses to food. This reduces cravings, boosts energy, and reverses inflammation — the diet makes you feel so good you no longer feel deprived. You may also find processed foods make you feel terrible, so they lose their appeal.
Ask my office for more advice on how you can manage and even reverse chronic health conditions through diet, lifestyle, and functional medicine protocols.
Don’t be so dense, or don’t eat so dense!
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
A recent study by Danish-based researchers, shows that one of the most popular drugs used worldwide in the treatment of hypertension raises the risk of skin cancer by seven times.
7 times! Thats 700%.
The study found that patients that use Hydrochlorothiazide, also known as HCTZ, may be at a much higher risk of developing skin cancer.
The study was led by Anton Pottegård, associate professor of clinical pharmacology at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, and the findings were published in the Journal of the American Association of Dermatology.
Fortunately. Hmmmm, fortunately?! I guess. The link was found to increase the risk of non melanoma skin cancer. Theres a silver lining in everything I suppose. Could be worse!
HCTZ is though to be the most common medication prescribed for hypertension. It works by acting as a diuretic. Basically it works by making your body get rid of water, often leading to a chronic state of dehydration.
The researchers were prompted in their endeavor by the fact that HCTZ has been linked with an increased risk of lip cancer in the past. In fact, a study led by Pottegård attributed 11 percent of lip cancer cases to the drug.
Moreover, HCTZ, the authors explain, makes the skin more sensitive to the damage of ultraviolet (UV) rays, due to its photosensitizing effects. This was a further reason for the researchers to examine the drug.
HCTZ raises skin cancer risk
Using national databases, Pottegård and colleagues examined the use of HCTZ in over 80,000 patients who had been diagnosed with non-melanoma skin cancer, and compared it with its use in a group of 1.5 million healthy controls.
Additionally, the researchers considered the use of other antihypertensive medications.
The research revealed that those who took HCTZ were up to seven times more likely to develop skin cancer.
More specifically, the antihypertensive drug raised the risk of both squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma – a less serious form of skin cancer.
By contrast, none of the other antihypertensive drugs examined seemed to raise skin cancer risk.
"We knew that hydrochlorothiazide made the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun's UV rays, but what is new and also surprising is that long-term use of this blood pressure medicine leads to such a significant increase in the risk of skin cancer," comments Pottegård.
Choosing a different drug might be advisable
Dr. Armand B. Cognetta Jr., chief division of dermatology at Florida State University in Tallahassee and a co-author on the study, weighs in on the findings, saying, "We have seen and followed many patients with different skin cancers where the only risk factor apart from exposure to sunlight seems to be hydrochlorothiazide."
"The combination of living and residing in sunny Florida while taking hydrochlorothiazide seems to be very serious and even life-threatening for some patients," he adds.
"The study carried out by Pottegård and his colleagues will have [a] great impact on skin cancer prevention and public health worldwide," Dr. Cognetta explains.
However, Pottegård cautions against dismissing the use of HCTZ altogether as a result of his study, saying, "The risk of skin cancer must, of course, be weighed against the fact that hydrochlorothiazide is an effective and otherwise safe treatment for most patients."
"Nevertheless," he continues, "our results should lead to a reconsideration of the use of hydrochlorothiazide. Hopefully, with this study, we can contribute towards ensuring safer treatment of high blood pressure in the future."
"You should not interrupt your treatment without first consulting your doctor. However, if you use hydrochlorothiazide at present, it may be a good idea to talk to your doctor to see if it is possible to choose a different medicine."
Of course, my recommendation is to always get to the root cause first and balance the body. Generally this will reduce your blood pressure and eliminate your need for hydrochlorothiazide, or any other blood pressure medication for that matter.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
Being a woman with and autoimmune disease and a mother at the same time isn’t all bad news!
Because women make up about 75 percent of autoimmune disease diagnoses, this means many sufferers of chronic illness are also raising children.
It’s common for women to feel disappointed or inferior because they are not the kind of mom they had envisioned. But the perfect mom is an unattainable myth, and it’s possible your illness is even cultivating good qualities in your children. Food for though.
If medical marijuana has done anything, it has been to educate us about our own endocannibinoid system, which we will just call ECS for short.
This is a system of receptors on cells that play a role in inflammation, appetite, pain, mood, memory, and even cancer prevention. These receptors have come to light because they respond to compounds in cannabis, or marijuana and is the reason that cannabis can be very helpful in a medical sense.
A recent study found regular use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for acid reflux raises the risk of stomach cancer. PPI users (Prilosec, Prevacid) in the study had twice the risk for stomach cancer compared to those who used H2-receptor acid reducing drugs (Tagamet, Pepcid).
About 20 percent of Americans suffer with acid reflux and heartburn. Most people attribute acid reflux to excess stomach acid. Most often this is not the case. Generally, the problem is too little stomach acid.
Tooth brushers beware. If you are using a certain type of toothpaste you may be ingesting this toxic ingredient that was just banned in hand sanitizers, hand soap and body washes.
Triclosan is in antibacterial soap and other products that has been used in some “anti-bacterial” products for years but was recently banned by the FDA because the safety of theses products was not clear.
Translation - Oh shoot, this stuff is bad, we messed up, lets get rid of it quick. But not completely because then the chemical companies will be mad at us.
The FDA banned 19 different antibacterial products, one of the most common being triclosan. Read More…
When people are working to manage an autoimmune or pretty much any chronic condition, they typically focus on an anti-inflammatory diet and protocol. However, while this is a great thing to do and CAN get a long way towards better health, one often overlooked dealbreaker to getting better is anemia.
Anemia as is a deal breaker. Period. For any and all health conditions, if you have anemia and are trying to heal, NOT GONNA HAPPEN!
The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to researchers for their discoveries of molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythm, our biological “clock.” This sleep-wake cycle helps us move between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals, and regulates important functions such as:
- Brain function
- Hormone levels
Although we’ve long known the circadian rhythm exists, the Nobel awardees isolated the gene that controls it and identified the proteins that govern its cyclical function.
The importance of healthy circadian rhythm
Humans are similar to other animals in that our internal clocks are set to the rising and setting of the sun. A healthy sleep-wake cycle is critical for many aspects of our health. Circadian rhythm imbalances increase risk for heart disease, obesity, mood disturbances such as depression and anxiety, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and Alzheimer’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Despite the circadian rhythm’s intuitive design, our modern lives tend to sabotage its critical balance. Some disruptive factors can’t be avoided while others can, but for most of those things we have the tools and knowledge to minimize the negative effects. We just need to do it.
Daylight savings wrecks the biological clock each year
Daylight savings time changes throw a kink in our daily rhythm. The time change is minimal, but studies show rates of driving fatalities, workplace injuries, suicides, and heart attacks rise after the spring-forward change. And night owls take the longest to recover. It will also have a big effect on those that work night shifts.
Prepare for daylight savings time by shifting your bedtime and waking time a bit every day the week before.
Traveling across time zones
Everyone laments how jet lag can wipe you out. Jet lag occurs when the time of day doesn’t line up with your body’s clock. Crossing two time zones should take you about a day of readjustment; however, crossing six time zones can easily take three days or more to recover. So if you are going in vacation somewhere far, just about the time you are recovering from jet lag of getting there its time to go home just to repeat the process all over.
My recommendation is that the farther you are traveling and more time zones you are crossing the longer you should stay, giving your body more time to recover. Plus you get the added benefit of a longer vacation under the guise of it being better for your health.
You can also try taking some melatonin to help trigger your sleep cycle and stay asleep longer. There are also other sleep aids that can be helpful such as valerian root, chamomile, and hops. I have included some links that you can check out.
Beware; chronic time zone jumping can lead to a suppressed immune system,
chronic fatigue, and memory issues.
Here are some other tips to help you when traveling to lessen the effect of jet lag.
Plan ahead by moving your body’s time clock toward the destination time zone during the week before.
Hydrate before and during the trip.
Choose a flight that gets to your destination in early evening and stay up only until 10 p.m. local time. If you arrive early and are exhausted, take a two-hour nap but no longer.
Once at your destination, expose yourself to the sun’s rays to help your body sync up with the new time zone. This one is actually really simple and one of the most effective things to do.
Poor sleep habits
Twenty percent of the population is estimated to sleep too little (less than 6 hours a night); this can lead to changes in genes that regulate stress, our immune system, sleep-wake cycles, inflammation, and aging. Chronic sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, stress, inflammation, dementia, and depression. 7-8 hours is really the best amount and some people may even need more.
Let’s talk electronics!
The CDC says insufficient sleep is a public health epidemic and research has established that the constant exposure to blue light from electronic devices is a major culprit.
Blue light and screen time
Changes in the levels of the hormone melatonin in your body are what make you fall asleep. During a normal day, morning light stimulates the body to decrease your melatonin level, promoting wakefulness, then as the day darkens, melatonin increases to encourage sleep.
However, adults and children disrupt this cycle by using smart phones and tablets late into the night. This can cause chronic insomnia because the blue light these devices emits is perceived by our brains as daytime light, which suppresses melatonin and keeps us awake.
Some tips to reducing the melatonin disrupting effect of blue light
Minimize blue screen time. Read a book instead. Turn off all screens (phone included) two hours before bed. If you can’t do that, get a pair of orange safety glasses. Side note: Turn you phone to airplane mode before you go to bed. That wi-fi is damaging.
Also, change the settings on your phone to what is called “night-shift” or “day-shift.” The phone will automatically shift the light type based on the time of day.
Improper daytime and nighttime light exposure
Proper patterns of light exposure during the day are a major factor affecting how well we sleep.
Start each day with as much bright light as possible. Eat breakfast with as many lights on as possible to stimulate serotonin production, which helps melatonin production later in the day. Serotonin converts to melatonin. You can also add a sun light.
Get light during the day at home and work. Open the shades; turn on all the lights (try full-spectrum); sit by a windowand look out often; take a walk outside during your breaks.
Minimize light in the evening by dimming or turning off unnecessary lights. Put orange bulbs in lamps you use at night, especially next to your bed and for reading. This helps to jump start melatonin production in preparation for sleep.
Lack of sunlight
Patterns of light during the day aren’t the only way light affects our circadian rhythm; exposure to actual sunlight is key for healthy function of the body and brain.
Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. Shift workers spend even less time outdoors. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, affecting sleep and potentially affecting our ability to produce Vitamin D, key for bone health, mood regulation, and immune function.
Get direct sunlight every day. If you can’t get outside, use a quality light box early in the day.
Go sunglasses-free even for just 10–15 minutes, to provide beneficial sunlight exposure to your eyes and brain.
Respecting our body’s natural rhythm
Your body’s innate sleep cycle is largely controlled by the amount and pattern of light and dark you are exposed to each day. By managing the lifestyle factors that disrupt your circadian rhythm, you will support your body’s ability to function well and stay healthy. For help with sleep issues, please contact my office.
I have included a bunch of links at the bottom of this post for some products that can help improve your quality AND quantity of sleep.
And for those that like to save some more money check out my link HERE to a page on my website where you can buy supplements direct and in many cases 10-15% cheaper than on amazon.
I primarily use Physician only brands such as Xymogen and Designs for health, which if you are a patient, you can order directly from them or in my office. Another great option is Healthwave, also known as Fullscript. This is were I recommend patients get the rest of their supplements if they aren’t able to make it into my office. We buy in bulk and don’t charge extra sales tax so you get it cheaper, but these websites are great alternatives.
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
Melatonin -.5-1mg should be plenty
Kava - also a natural anti-anxiety supplement
Gaba - See my post on testing for leaky gut with gaba
Products to help circadian rhythm (or not impair it)
Light therapy box
Blue blocking glasses/orange glasses
Full spectrum lights
Do you have mysterious health symptoms — such as fatigue, pain, brain fog, or unexplained weight gain?
These issues can often rob you of your quality of life. Are traditional lab tests and doctors saying nothing is wrong with you? Or maybe doctors tell you your chronic symptoms are depression and you need an antidepressant. Maybe you’ve even been accused of complaining too much.
It’s very sad, but I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a patient tell me that a doctor told them…”it’s all in your head.” Are you kidding me?!!! That is terrible!
Most people know when something is wrong with them, even if lab tests come back normal and doctors say you’re fine. They just might not know whats wrong with them.
This is because the standard health care model does not screen for autoimmunity — a disorder than occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys your own tissue. You can suffer from symptoms of undiagnosed autoimmunity for years or even decades before it is severe enough to be diagnosed and treated in the conventional medical model.
You have probably heard me say this before, but I will say it again. I have patients that are told by doctors all the time to wait until their symptoms get bad enough and then they will do something about it. This is when patients lab tests results are in what we call the “suboptimal” or “subclinical” range.
An easy example is with anemia. A common % transferrin saturation range is from 15 - 50. So if a women gets her iron levels tested and it comes back at a 16 or 17 they say you are normal. But what if you were normally at a 25, 35 or 45 and now you are at a 17? You could be labeled “normal” at 17 but possibly be at literally 1/2 of what you used to be. This is what we mean by subclinical/suboptimal.
Fortunately, in functional medicine we can screen for autoimmunity against multiple tissues in the body at once. Knowing an autoimmune reaction is causing your symptoms can remove the mystery and bring significant peace of mind. It is confirmation your health symptoms are real and proof you are not a whiner or hypochondriac.
We identify autoimmunity by testing for antibodies in the blood against a particular tissue. For instance, we can screen for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease that causes hypothyroidism, by testing for immune antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (TGB). Positive results mean autoimmunity is causing your hypothyroid symptoms of weight gain, depression, fatigue, constipation, cold hands and feet, and hair loss.
What is my favorite and really the only test you should use to screen for autoimmunity you ask. It is a lab test by Cyrex labs. They really are the only ones that do this type of testing, at least one that is any good.
Cyrex Labs tests for 24 different types of autoimmunity at once. The specific panel is called Array 5 Multiple Autoimmune Reactivity Screen. It is more cost effective than testing for each autoimmunity individually, and Cyrex Labs tests are highly sensitive.
To do the test, simply ask us for the kit, take it to an approved blood draw center, and vioala, we will find out if you are having an autoimmune reaction.
If your test results are “positive” or “equivocal,” it means your immune system is attacking that tissue. You may not even have symptoms yet. This is a best-case scenario because managing your health with functional medicine can prevent the autoimmunity from progressing.
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”
is very true in the case of autoimmune.
Array 5 screens for the following autoimmunities:
- Parietal cell and ATPase instrinsic factor: Stomach autoimmunity
- ASCA, ANCA, and tropomyosin: Intestinal autoimmunity
- Thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase: Thyroid autoimmunity
- 21 hydroxylase (adrenal cortex): Adrenal autoimmunity
- Myocardial peptide, alpha-myosin: Cardiac autoimmunity
- Phospholipid platelet glycoprotein: Phospholipid autoimmunity
- Ovary/Testes: Reproductive organ autoimmunity
- Fibulin, collagen complex, arthritic peptide: Joint autoimmunity
- Osteocyte: Bone autoimmunity
- Cytochrome P450 (hepatocyte): Liver autoimmunity
- Insulin, islet cell, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD): Pancreatic autoimmunity
- GAD, myelin basic protein, asialoganglioside, alpha and beta tubulin, cerebellar, synapsin: Neurological autoimmunity
If you have no symptoms but a positive result, then you may be able to prevent the autoimmunity from expressing itself completely. If you have symptoms that correspond with a positive test result, other testing may help you track your condition. For instance, if you test positive for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, follow up with thyroid testing will track the severity.
Knowing you have an autoimmune reaction means you can halt its progression and prevent it from worsening. This can mean preventing or even reversing devastating and debilitating symptoms.
Remember…”an ounce of prevention…” you finish the sentence!
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.
It’s not easy being female.
About 60-70% of all my patients are women. It’s not that men don’t need functional medicine, it’s that they think they don’t or they are too tough to need it.
Women suffer from the hormonal ups and downs each month and through puberty and then through menopause. These can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating. Although many, if not most women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS and menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, often due to stress, among other issues.
Hormone balance is very sensitive to stress, inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Because the reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re imbalanced, brain function and mood suffer.
In women, imbalances are characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Both stress and blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and a miserable menopause transition.
Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:
- Frequent or irregular menstruation
- Mood instability
- Problems sleeping
- Changes in weight or appetite
- Cry easily
- Poor concentration
- Low libido
Low pregnenolone/progesterone from chronic stress
One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal,” when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone to make stress hormones instead. This leads to PMS and sets the stage for a miserable menopause transition.
When it comes to stress, the brain does not know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after consuming a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping being trampled by a bison, or chased by a lion. All it knows is to prepare for fight or flight and that reproduction hormones can wait until things have settled down. But for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed Americans fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely happens. This leads to an over production of cortisol and a decrease in pregnenolone and/or progesterone leading to a decrease in hormones.
The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream; first address the sources of stress. A primary stress-buster is stabilizing blood sugar. People either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.
Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:
- Sugar, sweeteners, starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), too much caffeine
- Food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.)
- Leaky gut and gut inflammation symptoms — gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, irritable bowel
- Sleep deprivation
- Pain and inflammation — joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, respiratory issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression
- Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
- Overdoing it, over exercising, not taking time for yourself
- Bad diet of junk foods, fast foods, processed foods
Restoring hormonal balance naturally
Ideas to halt pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar (SUPER IMPORTANT), restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity.
These are functional medicine basics. Make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids. Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems. I have included some links to some of the more common hormone balancing supplements we use in my office.
Go take a chill pill
I’m Dr. Craig Mortensen
Be healthy, be happy.