Gut Problems Can Have Different Root Causes

903 gut disorder root causes

In the world of functional medicine, it has long been known that gut health is paramount to the health of the rest of the body. For decades we didn’t fully understand why, although we knew the gut was the seat of the immune system and chronic inflammation. Now with the gut microbiome renaissance underway, we also understand how integral gut bacteria is to health.

As such, addressing gut health has always been one and continues to be one of the first steps in managing a chronic inflammatory or autoimmune condition. However, people tend to fall into the trap of thinking everyone needs to follow the same gut healing protocol, wondering why it works for some and not others.

As it turns out, repairing gut health is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There is not just one diet, one type of probiotic, or one gut healing powder that works for everyone. Although there are some basic foundations to gut healing — remove immune reactive foods, keep blood sugar stable, and create a healthy gut microbiome — the truth is you still need to know why your gut health deteriorated in order to address the root cause.

Examples of root causes of poor gut health

For example, a number of patients can come in with a complaint of constipation. While laxatives may help the patient, it is nevertheless important to understand why they are constipated in the first place. This goes for any digestive complaint and not just constipation.

Here are some different reasons why a person can develop a digestive complaint such as constipation:

  • A past brain injury has dampened activity of the vagus nerve, which carries communication back and forth between the gut and the brain. This slows down motility of the intestines and causes constipation.
  • The gut’s nervous system, called the enteric nervous system, has degenerated significantly due to chronic gut inflammation from immune reactive foods, too many sugars and junk foods, chronic stress, gut infections, or brain degeneration. Intestinal motility depends on a healthy enteric nervous system, and constipation develops.
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) releases gases that shut down motility.
  • Medications impact intestinal motility and cause constipation.
  • Dysautonomia, a dysregulation of the central nervous system, prevents the body from getting into the “rest and digest” state that allows for healthy bowel function.

A one-size-fits-all gut protocol can completely heal one person, create improvement in another, do nothing at all for a third, and perhaps make another even worse.

It’s also important to screen for more serious conditions. These can include gastric ulcers from an h. pylori infection, intestinal permeability — or leaky gut — from damage to the microvilli of the small intestine, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease. Knowing whether these conditions are an issue also impacts how you manage gut health.

Also vital is knowing whether gut autoimmunity is the root cause of your gut issues. You can test for this through Cryex Labs. If so, this changes your expectations of your outcomes and how you evaluate your progress. Autoimmune disease occurs when the immune system erroneously attacks and destroys tissue in the body. Eventually this leads to symptoms and breakdown of function.

Although autoimmune disease cannot be cured, it often can be dampened or driven into remission for long periods of time. However, unpredictable flare ups also happen, and the person with gut autoimmunity must have realistic expectations in order not to feel demoralized if their symptoms flare and recede. Also, there is still much we don’t know about autoimmunity. For some people it’s easy to manage and for others it’s a constant battle. In these cases, the goal can be as simple as “more good days.”

This is an overview of why common gut-healing protocols work gangbusters for some people and little to not at all for others. Our digestive system is one of the most fascinating, complex, and influential systems in the body. The more scientists learn about it, the more apparent it becomes that gut health largely determines the health of the rest of the body, including the brain.

This is why we are seeing so many chronic health conditions in modernized societies that subsist largely on industrialized agriculture and food processing. The commercialization of cheap, processed, chemically laden, and highly sweetened “foods” largely void of produce has inflamed and damaged the digestive tract, decimated the gut microbiome (some researchers call it an extinction event), and ravaged the brain in today’s modern populations.

Fortunately, functional medicine excels when it comes to repairing and maintaining gut health. Ask our office how we can help you.

Controversial New Study Reports Statins Useless

904 study says statins useless

A controversial new study found that high cholesterol does not shorten life span and that statins are essentially a “waste of time,” according to one of the researchers. Previous studies have linked statins with an increased risk of diabetes.

The study reviewed research of almost 70,000 people and found that elevated levels of “bad cholesterol” did not raise the risk of early death from cardiovascular disease in people over 60.

The authors called for statin guidelines to be reviewed, claiming the benefits of statins are “exaggerated.”

Not only did the study find no link between high cholesterol and early death, it also found that people with high “bad” cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) actually lived longer and had fewer incidences of heart disease.

The co-author and vascular surgeon went on to say that cholesterol is vital for preventing cancer, muscle pain, infection, and other health disorders in older people. He said that statins are a “waste of time” for lowering cholesterol and that lifestyle changes are more effective for improving cardiovascular health.

Naturally, the paper drew fire and its conclusions were dismissed by other experts in the field. Statins are among the most commonly prescribed drugs — one in four Americans over the age of 40 take statins and the drug accounts for more than $20 billion in spending each year. Statin use has gone up more than 80 percent in the last 20 years.

Statins linked to higher risk of diabetes and other health disorders

In functional medicine we recognize cholesterol as a vital compound in the body for multiple functions, including brain function and muscle strength. Overly low cholesterol is linked with an increased risk of several health disorders, including diabetes.

One study of almost 9,000 people showed that people in their 60s who used statins had an almost 40 percent higher risk of type 2 diabetes. They also had higher rates of high blood sugar and pre-diabetes, or insulin resistance. High blood sugar disorders underpin numerous chronic inflammatory conditions, including Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Previous research found a 50 percent increased risk of diabetes in women who took statins.

In addition to raising the risk of high blood sugar and diabetes, statins also may cause such side effects as muscle weakness and wasting, headaches, difficulty sleeping, and dizziness.

Statins do not address the underlying cause of heart disease: Chronic inflammation

Statins may lower cholesterol, but they do not address the underlying cause of heart disease, which is typically chronic inflammation (some people are genetically predisposed to cardiovascular disease). The body uses cholesterol to repair arteries damaged by inflammation — the primary cause of heart attacks and strokes.

For instance, the vast majority of people who have heart attacks have normal cholesterol. In other countries where people have higher cholesterol than Americans, they also have less heart disease. In fact, low cholesterol in elderly patients is linked to a higher risk of death compared to high cholesterol.

Improving heart health through functional medicine instead of statins

Functional medicine is a great way to improve cardiovascular health because it avoids drugs that cause potentially harmful side effects. Although lifestyle changes may require more work than popping a pill, they address root causes of your disorder versus overriding them. This means you feel and function better overall.

What does a functional medicine approach to heart health look like?

  • An anti-inflammatory diet
  • Releasing feel-good endorphins on a regular basis through exercise (endorphins are anti-inflammatory)
  • Targeted nutritional support
  • Identifying and addressing the root causes of your inflammation, which are different for everyone. Possibilities include high blood sugar, poor thyroid function, an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder, chronic bacterial, fungal, or viral infections, leaky gut, or a brain imbalance, such as from a past brain injury.

It’s important to address things from this angle because cholesterol is vital to good health. It is found in every cell and helps produce cell membranes, vitamin D, and hormones. It’s also necessary for healthy brain function.

Inflammation promotes heart disease

Chronic inflammation and not cholesterol is the concerning factor in heart disease. The blood marker C-reactive protein (CRP) identifies inflammation. If it’s high, you have a higher risk for heart disease than those with high cholesterol. Having normal cholesterol but high CRP does not protect you from heart disease.

By using functional medicine to lower your inflammation and improve your heart health, you not only avoid the risks and dangers of statins, but also you get to better enjoy your golden years thanks to improved energy and well being.

Lack of Motivation May be Due to Inflammation

902 inflammation kills motivation

Many of us are pretty good at beating ourselves up when we have lost our motivation, calling ourselves lazy or worthless. But research shows laziness, or lack of motivation, can actually be a symptom of chronic inflammation.

A natural state of health is to want to engage in life. If you don’t want to and don’t care, this is a red flag to look for an underlying health condition.

New research shows that chronic low-grade inflammation hinders the activity of areas in the brain responsible for motivation.

Called the dopaminergic signaling system, these parts of the brain rely on sufficient dopamine, a brain chemical responsible for motivation, drive, and a sense of self-worth — hence the feelings of worthlessness that often accompany low motivation or “laziness.”

The hypothesis is that when the body is suffering from chronic inflammation, this means it has an injury or illness it must heal. In order to meet the demands for healing, the brain lowers drive and motivation so that energy is freed up for healing.

Our everyday tasks and chores, or working toward our goals and dreams suddenly no longer feel worth it.

That’s because inflammation has down regulated areas of the brain that link a sense of reward to effort and work.

We can especially feel this when we are laid up with the flu or a bad injury that can make watching Netflix tiring.

However, low-grade chronic inflammation is not just about the flu or an injury anymore. It is an epidemic problem these days, as evidenced by the mushrooming incidences of chronic inflammatory disorders, such as heart disease, obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and cancer.

In fact, many brain-based disorders are often a consequence of inflammation, including depression, anxiety, fatigue, memory loss, brain development disorders in children, and even acute psychiatric conditions.

Understanding the cause of no motivation can lift shame and stigma

Because chronic illness and inflammation causes lack of motivation and fatigue, sufferers are often stigmatized for their condition.

The majority of people with chronic illness are women, and they are commonly dismissed or disbelieved by doctors in the standard health care model or even by their own families.

What’s worse, many internalize the stigmatization and suffer in isolation and with shame around their low energy and lack of motivation.

That’s why it’s important to understand “laziness” and lack of motivation can be symptoms of a larger, underlying problem and not character flaws.

Why is modern life so inflammatory?

Compared to our ancestors and many people on the planet today, many Americans have it pretty easy in terms of ease and convenience.

Yet why are we so inflamed and chronically ill?

Here are just a few factors driving epidemic levels of chronic inflammation and illness:

Blood sugar is too high. Advertising, restaurants, grocery store aisles — everything about modern life is hellbent on making us gorge on sugar and processed carbohydrates. However, science shows high blood sugar is one of the most common and relentless sources of chronic inflammation.

Modern foods are pro-inflammatory. Gluten intolerance is responsible for more inflammation than people realize, thanks to modern hybridization, storing, and pesticide use of gluten grains and other grains. Industrialized fats such as canola oil, soybean oil, and hydrogenated fats are recognized as inflammatory and are ubiquitous in the food supply.

People eat too little produce. Americans eat about half the amount of fiber they should to be healthy. A diet rich in plant fibers creates a gut microbiome rich in healthy gut bacteria. Bad gut bacteria and an unhealthy microbiome are pro-inflammatory and pro-disease.

Modern life is sedentary. Except for workers whose jobs are physical, our ultra-convenient, screen-based lives are extremely sedentary. Lack of regular physical activity and “sitting disease” are sources of chronic inflammation.

Modern life is toxic. Numerous studies link numerous toxins to inflammatory-based conditions. Plastics, pesticides, car exhaust, scented cleaning products, chemically laden body products and foods — we live in a sea of environmental toxins and heavy metals the body was not designed to manage. We are also exposed to too much artificial light, which confuses our biological rhythms and triggers inflammation.

People are stressed out. Despite our many comforts and conveniences, rates of depression, anxiety, and stress are high and afflicting younger and younger people. These negative emotions are known triggers of inflammation. When you experience them all the time, it can lead to inflammatory-based health disorders.

How functional medicine can help you restore your natural motivation

Although we are up against many daunting assaults on our physiology, functional medicine recognizes this and has strategies and protocols to help you.

One of the most common rewards of a functional medicine dietary, lifestyle, and nutritional game plan is the return of energy, motivation, and ambition.

“Laziness” and lack of motivation are red flags. Ask us how we can help you remedy them.

New Study Links PPIs to an Earlier Death

If you struggle with heartburn or acid reflux, you just pop some pills for that, right? Turns out regular use of drugs to treat heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers can lead to an earlier death. These disorders are some of the easier to manage using functional medicine protocols, so it’s unnecessary to risk shortening your lifespan through chronic disease when you can enjoy improved health instead.

A recent study found that chronic use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) is linked to an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, and upper gastrointestinal cancer. The degree of risk increases with duration of use, even if you take low doses. Other studies have linked PPIs to dementia, bone fractures, and pneumonia.

Common brands of PPIs include Prevacid, Prilosec, Nexium and Protonix.

The study looked through the medical records of more than 200,000 people over 10 years. They found those who took PPIs had an almost 20 percent increased rate of death over people who took other types of acid-suppressing drugs (unfortunately, they did not compare death rates to people who took no acid-suppressing drugs). This applied to both prescription and over-the-counter PPIs.

What’s even more alarming is that researchers found more than half the people taking PPIs had no medical need for the drugs and PPI-related deaths were more common in this group.

Why you should address the root cause of your acid reflux or heartburn instead of taking acid-suppressing drugs

It’s assumed overly high stomach acid causes heartburn and acid reflux, but in most cases it’s due to low stomach acid. Stomach acid is vital to the health of the body in its role of digesting foods, in particular meats. When stomach acid is too low your stomach is unable to properly digest foods. Your small intestine does not want to accept improperly undigested food — this will damage its lining and contribute to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. The low pH of the stomach acid prevents the valve to the small intestine from opening and, as a result, the contents of the stomach shoot back up into the esophagus.

Although the food is not acidic enough to gain entry into the small intestine in a timely manner, it is too acidic for the delicate tissue of the esophagus, which it burns as it shoots back up toward your throat. The extra time the food spends in your stomach also causes it to putrefy, causing that acid stomach sensation, or the feeling of having a brick in your stomach. Some people quit eating meat not because they want to be vegetarians, but because eating meat makes them feel sick.

Low stomach acid contributes to digestive issues throughout the rest of the digestive tract. As undigested food travels into the intestines, it causes inflammation and damages the lining of the intestines. This leads to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed and leaky. Leaky gut allows undigested foods into the bloodstream, yet prevents micronutrients from passing through because of the inflammation. Undigested foods in the bloodstream trigger inflammation throughout the body.

Stomach acid serves another useful purpose in that it kills bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens that may be in your food, preventing them from getting into the digestive tract and the bloodstream. When stomach acid is low, you lose this additional layer of protection.

Sufficient stomach acid also prevents food sensitivities. Undigested food particles trigger the gut’s immune system to become over burdened and over reactive. This causes the immune system to start reacting to more of the foods you eat, creating immune reactions that become food sensitivities. This is called losing oral tolerance, and it can be a primary cause of food sensitivities and other health issues.

Symptoms of low stomach acid

  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach ulcers (low stomach acid raises the risk of an pylori infection, which causes stomach ulcers)
  • Nausea
  • Belching after meals
  • Hiccups after eating
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Undigested food in stools

What to do for low stomach acid

You can help support your stomach acid by taking betaine hydrochloric acid (HCl) capsules. Take HCL after you begin eating a meal with meat or protein. How much do you take? Keep increasing your dose until you feel warmth in your stomach, then cut back down to the previous dose. You may need quite a bit in the beginning but then find you need to gradually lower your dose over time.

If you feel intense gastric burning with even one capsule, it means you may have ulcers and an H. pylori infection that can be treated with nutritional compounds.

Ask my office for more advice on how to manage your heartburn, indigestion, or acid reflux, and how to improve your overall health by improving your digestive health.

New Lab Test in the Works for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

851 new lab for ME CFS

Chronic fatigue syndrome — more correctly called myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) — is one of the more frustrating chronic illnesses because most doctors don’t believe it exists or that it’s a psychiatric issue. Despite symptoms that completely debilitate its victims, ME/CFS is often the butt of jokes or medical ridicule because there is no lab marker to diagnose it even though it has been linked to inflammation of the nervous system.

However, that may change thanks to the invention by a father whose adult son has been bedridden with ME/CFS for the last 10 years.

The father, who is also a Stanford scientist, developed a simple blood test that measures the energy cells expend in order to maintain homeostasis after exposure to salt. Salt stresses cells, which must retain balance in sodium levels in order to function properly.

The researcher passed the cells exposed to salt through a small microchip that uses an electrical current to measure the energy exertion of the cells. Less exertion indicates the cells are able to easily maintain sodium balance, while more exertion meant finding balance required considerable effort.

The test was run on 40 people — 20 of whom suffer from ME/CFS and 20 healthy controls. In all 20 of the ME/CFS group, the cells expended significantly more energy in response to the salt compared to the cells of the 20 healthy people. This indicates the ME/CFS group had cells that were considerably less functional and more stressed.

Poor cellular function leads to poor function of the body and brain. Dysfunctional cells that can’t produce enough energy result in a body that is constantly fatigued and in poor health with multiple symptoms.

Although the test needs to be run on larger groups of people, if the research is able to replicate these results, it means conventional medicine will finally have the biomarker it needs to legitimize ME/CFS as a medical condition in the eyes of ordinary doctors.

Conventional advice for ME/CFS can be debilitating

One mistake many conventional doctors make when they examine a patient with ME/CFS is to assume they are lazy or hypochondriacs. As such, it’s common for doctors to tell ME/CFS patients to exercise to improve their symptoms.

This is bad advice for the ME/CFS patient whose cells are struggling to maintain just basic functions.

In fact, many patients with chronic fatigue are so severely fatigued they cannot work, have normal lives, or even leave their beds. Any exertion exacerbates their symptoms in what is called “post-exertional malaise.” For these individuals, exercise is an extremely inappropriate prescription.

ME/CFS affects several million people in the United States, although it’s estimated that as many as 90 percent of sufferers have not been diagnosed, due to the difficulty of receiving a proper diagnosis. It can take years and visits to multiple doctors to find one who will take the symptoms seriously.

Another difficulty in diagnosis is that patients suffer from multiple symptoms in addition to chronic fatigue, such as chronic pain, difficulties with memory and concentration, gut issues, and extreme sensitivities to light, sound, smell. Poor cellular function affects multiple organs so that symptoms can vary depending on the person.

ME/CFS can be diagnosed though a simple checklist of symptoms, however most primary care doctors are not aware of the list or adhere to the belief the disorder is imaginary. Conventional doctors also don’t like to diagnose ME/CFS because no drugs exist to treat it.

However, should the new testing prove to be accurate, it would give the millions of sufferers a diagnosis, thus eliminating the demoralizing mystery. This would also open the doors to new research into the condition.

Recent research into brain inflammation could also bring hope for ME/CFS

Fortunately, recent research breakthroughs in brain inflammation offer promise in not only validating ME/CFS but also its treatment.

Brain inflammation is more common than previously realized and is increasingly linked to myriad conditions other than ME/CFS, including depression, anxiety, childhood brain development disorders, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Immune cells in the brain outnumber neurons 10 to one and are vastly more important than previously realized. They are responsible for maintaining neuronal health and function and removing debris and plaque from the brain. However, when the brain is impacted by inflammation from dietary or lifestyle factors or a brain injury, the brain’s immune cells must abandon their jobs of supporting neuronal health and instead go into persistent warrior mode, damaging brain tissue in the process. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s has no off switch.

There are no drugs to tame brain inflammation, however, it has been shown to respond to certain botanical compounds and functional medicine protocols that include dietary, lifestyle, and health interventions.

Ask my office for more advice on how we can help you with fatigue.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

Makes 4 servings | Prep 10 minutes | Cook 10 minutes

Ingredients:
4 cups chopped organic cauliflower
1/2 tablespoon cooking fat
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup cream, coconut or dairy
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Pinch of ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Fresh parsley, minced

Directions:
Steam the cauliflower in a medium pot for 5 to 7 minutes until tender enough to easily pierce with a fork. Drain and discard the water. Warm cooking fat on a skillet and sauté garlic over low heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Blend the cauliflower with the garlic and all other ingredients, reserve the parsley. Continue on high speed until the sauce is completely smooth. Garnish with parsley. Serve warm

Depression is a Disorder of Inflammation in Many Cases

849 depression and inflammation

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting more than 16 million people. As such, antidepressant use has jumped by 65 percent in the last 15 years, with one in eight Americans over the age of 12 taking antidepressants.

These statistics are alarming considering the root causes of depression are going unaddressed. Like pain or injury anywhere in the body, depression is a warning flag from the body that the system is out of balance. Stamping out the root causes of depression is like removing the engine light in your car instead of investigating what’s wrong with the car.

In functional medicine we look at the body as an integrated whole, with all parts working together and influencing one another. If you understand human physiology, it doesn’t make sense to isolate and treat one part of the body — such as the brain in depression — without including the overall health of the body.

Many factors can play into depression, including blood sugar imbalances, hormonal imbalances, immune dysregulation, gut health, and gut microbiome dysfunctions.

All of these factors can lead to brain inflammation, which scientists are increasingly finding is the most common cause of major depressive disorder. This type of depression does not respond to antidepressants.

Antidepressants target brain chemicals. called neurotransmitters, that govern mood, motivation, behavior, and mental activity. Some natural remedies, such as 5-HTP or Saint John’s Wort, also target neurotransmitters.

However, this model does not take into account newer research that shows depression is usually due to inflammation. Inflammation in the brain disrupts brain function in several ways that leads to depression.

Brain inflammation slows firing between neurons

Your brain operates through communication, or firing, between neurons. However, when the brain becomes inflamed, the inflammation slows down conduction between neurons. Slowed firing between neurons in the frontal and limbic lobes of the brain leads to depression.

Brain inflammation prevents the production of neurotransmitters

Feeling happy and content instead of depressed depends on proper neurotransmitter production and activity in the brain. Brain inflammation has been shown to sabotage the synthesis of dopamine and serotonin, the two neurotransmitters most associated with depression.

Dopamine is called the “pleasure and reward” neurotransmitter. Symptoms of low dopamine include:

  • Inability to handle stress
  • Inability to self-motivate
  • Inability to start or finish tasks
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Short temper over minor upsets
  • Isolating oneself from others
  • Unexplained lack of concern for family and friends

Serotonin is the “joy and well-being” neurotransmitter. Symptoms of low serotonin include:

  • Feelings of depression
  • Feelings of inner rage and anger
  • Difficulty finding joy from life’s pleasures and favorite activities
  • Depression when it is cloudy or when there is lack of sunlight
  • Not enjoying friendships and relationships
  • Not enjoying favorite foods
  • Unable to fall into deep restful sleep

As dopamine levels drop, you lose your motivation and drive. As serotonin drops, you lose your mood, sense of happiness, and satisfaction with things you used to love.

While this may look like a neurotransmitter problem, antidepressants typically have no effect because they do not address the brain inflammation causing it.

Brain inflammation prevents neurotransmitter receptor sites from working well

Brain inflammation also inhibits the function of receptor sites on neurons for neurotransmitters. Even if there is enough dopamine or serotonin in the brain, brain inflammation will prevent receptors from responding to them appropriately. This prevents neurons from communicating with one another efficiently and depression results.

Brain inflammation and depression are signs the brain is degenerating too fast

The brain is made up of two types of cells: neurons and microglia cells. Microglia cells are the brain’s immune cells and facilitate healthy neuron function, respond to foreign invaders, and clean up plaque and debris.

However, the brain’s immune cells don’t have an off-switch like the body’s. When they are triggered by a brain injury, an inflammatory food, unstable blood sugar, a chronic infection, poor gut health, infectious bacteria in the gut, chronic stress, alcohol abuse, and other insults, they become over-activated in an effort to protect the brain. Unfortunately, they don’t necessarily turn off afterward and can stay in a “primed” over active state indefinitely if constantly triggered by poor dietary and lifestyle choices. This is what causes brain inflammation and depression.

I hope you can see now why so many people don’t respond to antidepressants and why it’s so important to address the root causes of depression. Failing to do so allows brain inflammation to continue unchecked, raising the risk of dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other brain degeneration diseases. Ask my office how functional medicine can help you tame brain inflammation and overcome depression.

Exercise and Autoimmune Disease : A Balancing Act

848 exercise and autoimmunity

Although autoimmune disease symptoms can vary depending on the tissue the immune system is attacking, most people with autoimmunity struggle with bouts of fatigue, energy “crashes,” brain fog, inflammation, and pain. These symptoms can throw a frustrating wrench in your exercise habit. Or if these reoccurring symptoms have prevented you from starting an exercise routine, take heart. Regular exercise can be one of the most effective ways to manage your autoimmune condition — you just need to heed your body’s fluctuating needs and tolerance levels.

Autoimmune disease is a condition in which an immune imbalance causes the immune system to attack and destroy tissue in the body. It is a chronic inflammatory condition that many people successfully manage through functional medicine protocols that include dietary and lifestyle strategies as well as helpful nutraceuticals.

Regular exercise is paramount in managing an autoimmune condition for the following reasons:

  • Done correctly, it produces anti-inflammatory compounds, such as endorphins and endothelial nitric oxide.
  • It improves circulation, which helps oxygenate body tissue, deliver nutrients to tissues, remove debris, and facilitate detoxification.
  • It produces chemicals that enhance brain function, such as brain-derived neurotrophic factor; a healthy brain facilitates a healthy body.

How exercise may be different for the person managing autoimmune disease

Although autoimmune disease can feel like a burden, especially when you’re having a flare, many people report it has also forced them to live more balanced, healthy lives.

With autoimmune disease you typically don’t have the privilege of abusing your body to be more productive, to sleep less, to give too much, to say yes too often, and so on.

This also means you don’t always have the option of pushing yourself as hard as you’d like when you exercise. This can be hard on the ego, especially when it comes to exercising in a group situation. For instance, if you are involved in a team sport, group exercise class, or other situation that invites a competitive drive, your ego may want to do more than your body can deliver.

It’s important to pay attention to your body because while exercise has profound anti-inflammatory potential, over exercising will make inflammation worse and could trigger an autoimmune flare.

Likewise, if you’re new to exercise and afraid of triggering a flare, you may feel too intimidated by a group exercise class and looking “weak” or “lazy.”

Rest assured that’s just your ego talking and it’s best not to take orders from it if you want to prevent an autoimmune flare or excessive inflammation. Also, other people are too absorbed in their own workouts to notice yours.

Challenge yourself enough to release anti-inflammatory compounds but not so much you can’t comfortably return the next day

Many people with autoimmune disease find optimal results managing their autoimmunity by maintaining a consistent exercise schedule most days of the week.

Pulling this off means tuning in to your body to find the exercise sweet spot for autoimmune management — not too little and not too much.

Science shows using high-intensity interval training (HIIT) provides the most benefits for managing inflammation, boosting circulation and oxygenation, and improving brain function.

HIIT involves exercising at your maximum heart rate for short bursts of 30 seconds to 2 minutes, followed by a rest and recover phase, and then repeating.

If you’re new to exercise, even just a few minutes a day can start to deliver HIIT’s benefits. If you’d like to improve your fitness level, incorporate HIIT into a longer workout that also includes weight training and some endurance training.

It can be confusing knowing how to safely exercise to maximize its anti-inflammatory effects without going too far. Some great online resources exist that can help you figure out safe ranges using a heart rate monitor. Gyms such as Orange Theory Fitness also use heart-rate tracking, in addition to motivational coaching, to help you dial in your sweet spot.

The beauty of HIIT is that you can adjust it to your fitness level. One person’s HIIT may be sprinting up some stadium stairs while another person’s HIIT may be doing some push-ups from the knees. Both people benefit.

Keep these tips in mind when exercising with autoimmunity:

  • Find an exercise that is fun and enjoyable. Positivity is anti-inflammatory while dread and negativity are pro-inflammatory. Making it fun will be part of the health benefits. A group class or social setting may be healthy for the same reason.
  • Challenge yourself enough to get your heart rate up.
  • Don’t challenge yourself so much you trigger a flare. The key is to be able to do it again the next day. A consistent exercise schedule will deliver the most health benefits.
  • Pay attention to your body. If you are feeling so run down you can hardly get out of bed, that is probably not a good day to go work out. If you are feeling a little run down but can function, dial back the intensity of your exercise but see if you can still perform. Sometimes a light workout helps you recover faster than not working out.
  • If you are feeling really run down while working out, it may be better to quit early than to push through.
  • Capitalize on the days you feel good to challenge yourself a little more than normal, being cautious not to overdo it.
  • Remember, this is a lifelong condition that requires lifelong attention. Make each day of exercise about the long-range journey as much as that day’s session.

Ask my office for more information on managing autoimmune disease and chronic health symptoms.

Streaming Documentaries about Chronic Illness

847 streaming docs on chronic illness

One of the hardest things about dealing with a chronic health or autoimmune disorder is how isolating it can be. Because it’s an “invisible” illness, you look healthy and normal to people when, in fact, you may have periods where you suffer profoundly from the symptoms of your illness along with fatigue, brain fog, and depression. Many people with chronic health disorders are disbelieved by doctors and family members or told they are being lazy or whiny. You are not alone, and you can even find validation and comradery in a few streaming shows on the topic.

Below are a list of streaming shows that take you inside the world of chronic and autoimmune health disorders. Even if you don’t have the same disorders as the subjects in these documentaries, chances are you can relate to their journeys.

Afflicted

This 2018 Netflix docuseries follows the lives of several people with mysterious chronic health disorders as they bounce from one treatment to the next in their search for healing. Afflicted drew considerable criticism from the subjects of the film for being edited in a way that makes their disorders look psychosomatic — the biggest stigma people with chronic and autoimmune disorders struggle against. So, keep that in mind if you watch this series, but otherwise the subjects are very open and vulnerable about their struggles.

Under Our Skin

This 2008 Amazon Prime documentary chronicles the disabling effects of long-term Lyme disease and the endless search for effective remedies. Under Our Skin reveals the emotional and psychological journey of despair with debilitating symptoms, the ongoing search for remedies, and medical denial and neglect that is still systemic today.

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is a 2016 drama based on a true story about a young woman who suddenly begins to experience a range of neurological and psychiatric symptoms that progressively worsen. Doctors run multiple tests and insist nothing is wrong with her until one doctor diagnoses her with neurological autoimmunity.

My Kid is Not Crazy

My Kid is Not Crazy follows the struggles of parents whose children suffer from neurological and psychiatric disorders triggered by a strep infection, a condition known as PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.) Parents must navigate not only the frightening and tragic symptoms their children face but also medical skepticism, controversy, and ridicule. It is now established in the research that infections can trigger neurological autoimmunity in both children and adults.

Living Proof

Living Proof is a 2017 documentary that chronicles one man’s diagnosis with multiple sclerosis and his battle not only with this autoimmune disease but also conventional medicine, pharmaceutical companies, and the drug-funded Multiple Sclerosis Society. Filmmaker Matt Embry and his family turn to the science for answers when doctors fail him, and as a result he emerges as an advocate for a diet and lifestyle approach he uses to successfully manage his condition.

Gaga: Five Foot Two

Although Gaga: Five Foot Two is primarily a look into Lady Gaga’s life, she talks about her struggles with chronic pain, body-wide muscle spasms, fibromyalgia, and a search for relief. Viewers are also allowed into Gaga’s life as she suffers through a pain flare in this 2017 film. Gaga said she chose to portray her struggles with chronic pain and fibromyalgia because she is tired of people thinking it’s not a real condition.

Unrest

Unrest, 2017, was created by a Harvard PhD student who was two months away from marriage when she became bedridden with ME/CFS, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome. No longer able to work, write, or read, the filmmaker begins chronicling her disease through her iPhone and then including footage of other people from around the world. She and the others in her film suffer not only from the disease but also from ridicule and dismissal from both conventional medicine and society at large. Unrest is available on Amazon.

Functional medicine for chronic health and autoimmune disorders

One common thread that runs through these documentaries is the disbelief, disregard, and ridicule that patients with chronic health and autoimmune disorders run into in the insurance-based health system. Patients are accused of making up their symptoms, of needing psychiatric help instead of medical attention, and repeatedly told nothing is wrong with them.

In functional medicine, we take your symptoms seriously and do not accuse you of attention-seeking. We run tests that look for underlying causes of your symptoms and help you revamp your diet and lifestyle to support recovery and remission.

Ask my office for more information about managing a chronic health or autoimmune disorder.

Autoimmune Disease Considered Epidemic Today

846 autoimmunity today

Although few doctors know how to successfully manage autoimmune disease — a condition in which the immune system attacks the body — researchers say it has become a modern epidemic, affecting more people than heart disease and cancer combined. Conventional medicine also argues autoimmune disease has mysterious origins and is primarily genetic, but again research paints a different picture — autoimmune disease has largely been traced to the tens of thousands of toxic chemicals in our environment.

It takes the average person five years and visiting at least five different doctors before they receive a diagnosis for autoimmunity. Despite many published and peer-reviewed scientific studies about autoimmunity, rare are medical doctors who know how to identify symptoms of autoimmunity, properly screen for it, or appropriately treat it.

Most autoimmune patients are prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, told they need to exercise more or lose weight, or told they are making up their symptoms. More than 75 percent of patients with autoimmunity are women, which suggests the sexism shown to exist in medicine stands in the way of better treatments.

If medical doctors do diagnose autoimmune disease, it is typically only after the disease has almost completely destroyed the targeted tissue, whether it’s parts of the brain, the thyroid gland, or the sheaths that coat the nerves. At this point they can offer invasive treatments such as steroids, chemotherapy drugs, or surgery.

Examples of popular autoimmune diseases include Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, lupus, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and vitiligo. Although about 100 autoimmune diseases have been identified so far, the truth is the immune system can attack any cell in the body and researchers believe there are probably more than 100.

Why autoimmunity is becoming so common

Autoimmunity rates are skyrocketing. Consider the following:

  • Type 1 diabetes rose 23 percent between 2001 and 2009 in the US
  • Crohn’s disease rose 300 percent in 20 years in the UK
  • Inflammatory bowel disease has risen more than 7 percent every year in Canada
  • An Israeli study showed autoimmune rates are rising worldwide
  • Studies show autoimmune rates rise the most in developed nations and in countries that are developing while they are lowest in the least developed countries.

“Developed” has become synonymous with “toxic.”About 80,000 chemicals that haven’t been tested on humans are in our environment in the US and about 5,000 new ones are added every year. Random blood sampling studies show that we all have dozens, if not hundreds (depends on how many they test), of these chemicals in our bloodstream. One study of fetal cord blood found almost 300 different chemicals in newborns around the country.

Other studies link different chemicals to different autoimmune diseases. For instance, mercury has been shown to trigger lupus and pesticides are linked to rheumatoid arthritis.

Rising autoimmune rates are also traced to poor diets high in processed foods and low in plant fiber. This compromises the gut microbiome, or gut bacteria diversity, which has been linked to poor immune function.

Low vitamin D levels, high chronic stress levels, hormonal imbalances, high sugar consumption, and sedentary lifestyles are some of other common reasons for the autoimmune epidemic.

A functional medicine approach to autoimmune disease

When it comes to autoimmunity, functional medicine shines.

For one thing, we listen to you. We know you are not crazy, making up your symptoms, or attention seeking. Autoimmunity is frustrating and confounding in its wide variety of symptoms and mysterious nature. We understand how demoralizing this can be.

Although symptoms vary depending on the tissue being attacked, common symptoms among all autoimmune sufferers include fatigue, malaise, pain, brain fog, depression, and periods where you “crash,” or have such low energy you can’t function.

In functional medicine we use lab tests that screen for multiple autoimmune conditions at once. This allows us to identify an autoimmune reaction taking place that may not be advanced enough yet to cause extreme symptoms. This allows us to halt or slow its progression.

We also can test for the triggers in your environment, such as certain foods you may not be aware are sending your immune system into a tailspin, such as gluten, or specific chemicals, such as benzene. Avoiding these triggers can help you feel better.

Successfully managing autoimmunity is not necessarily about managing the part of your body that is being attacked. Instead, it’s about addressing your hyper zealous and misguided immune system. The immune system is very complex and always in flux, but thankfully new research is continually helping us learn new strategies to balance immunity, dampen inflammation, tame autoimmune flares, and prevent autoimmunity from progressing and devastating the body.

In fact, some autoimmune patients say their autoimmune disease has taught them how to live more balanced and healthy lives than they would have otherwise.

Ask our office for more information about how to manage your autoimmune condition.