How to Reduce Your Toxic Burden and Protect Immunity

908 tips for lowering body toxins

We live in a sea of toxins and we all carry significant amounts of heavy metals and environmental toxins in our bodies. Even if you eat all organic foods, drink filtered water, and use non-toxic home and body products, you will still come in contact with numerous toxins as a part of daily modern life.

Thankfully, we can support our health and buffer the impact of these toxins on our bodies. Strategies include a diet that helps your body detoxify regularly and that minimizes toxic exposure, anti-inflammatory protocols to buffer the inflammatory effects of toxins on your body, supporting the pathways of elimination, and including binders in your regular protocol to “sponge up” toxins in your system.

Anti-inflammatory diet

Toxins are inflammatory to the body. One of the best things you can do is reduce your inflammatory load with an anti-inflammatory diet. Although even organic foods are shown to contain toxins these days due to air, water, and soil contamination, choosing foods that have not been produced with pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics will reduce your overall burden.

You also want to keep your blood sugar stable by avoiding sugars and foods that are high in processed carbohydrates. This means not letting yourself crash from low blood sugar and not overeating yourself into a food coma.

Especially important is to avoid the foods that trigger an inflammatory response in you. If you have a food sensitivity or intolerance, eating a food that flares your immune system will keep it in a state of constant red alert, stoking inflammation throughout your body. The most common immune reactive foods are gluten, dairy, soy, egg, and corn.

In addition to minimizing your dietary sources of inflammation, certain supplements can also tame and reduce inflammation.

Studies show taking larger doses of the antioxidants resveratrol and curcumin can help protect the body from the damage of toxins, especially if you take them together in a liposomal form.

Glutathione that is liposomal or in another absorbable form is another way to lower inflammation and protect your body. In fact, insufficient glutathione increases your risk of developing chemical sensitivities. In addition to taking an absorbable glutathione you can also raise glutathione levels inside your cells with n-acetyl-cysteine, cordyceps, Gotu Kola, milk thistle, L-glutamine, and alpha lipoic acid.

Binding toxins in your body

Taking nutritional compounds on a regular basis that bind with toxins for easy removal is another way to buffer your body. Binders can help remove heavy metals, environmental toxins, mycotoxins from molds, infectious bacteria, and fungal infections from your body.

Here are some examples of effective binders:

Modified citrus pectin: This is derived from citrus peel and processed in a way that it allows it to enter the bloodstream and bind with toxins for safe elimination from the body. Modified citrus pectin also serves as a great “prebiotic,” or a nutrition source for your good gut bacteria. A healthy gut microbiome is critical to helping protect you from toxins. Look for a source that is free of fillers.

Activated charcoal: Activated charcoal is a popular and affordable binder for toxins. It can also help soothe common digestive complaints.

Bentonite clay: Bentonite, montmorillonite, and illite (French clay) are used to bind toxins. When mixed with water, these clays develop a sponge like quality and take on an electrical charge to attract harmful compounds. Look for a quality product that does not have lead contamination.

Zeolite: Zeolite is formed from volcanic rock and ash and is a well-known binder for heavy metals and other toxins.

Chlorella: Chlorella is a blue-green algae that has an affinity for mercury and lead. It is also rich in B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You may need to avoid chlorella if you take blood thinners.

Silica: Most people think of silica to improve their hair, skin, and nails, but it’s also good at binding metals such as thallium that are harder to detox.

You must support your pathways of elimination when you detoxify

Binders work great at latching onto toxins, but if your body’s pathways of elimination are faulty, you could make yourself more toxic. You also want to ensure you are sufficiently mineralized — heavy metals can bind to cellular receptors in the absence of necessary minerals.

Ways to support the elimination of toxins include supporting healthy liver and gallbladder function, supporting healthy bowel elimination, and making sure you stay hydrated and take care of your kidneys and bladder. Eating 25–38 grams of fiber a day, staying well hydrated, eating foods that are good for the liver (like bitters and greens), exercising regularly to stimulate the lymphatic system, and sweating regularly are some examples of how to keep toxins flowing out of your body.

Avoiding chemical sensitivities

Although we want to minimize our overall toxic burden, we especially want to avoid developing chemical sensitivities. In the end, your overall toxic burden may not matter as much as whether you have an immune reaction to these toxins. You can react to a toxin the same you can react to gluten or dairy. This is problematic as it’s much harder to eliminate a toxin from your environment than a food from your diet, especially if that toxin is prevalent in the air, such as benzene, or in plastics, such as BPA.

This is why it’s so important to live an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. If you already have chemical sensitivities, ask my office about methods to lower your sensitivity so you can better tolerate everyday life.

Nine Possible Reasons Why You Can’t Lose Weight

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For some people weight loss is pretty straightforward: They just need to cut out sodas and sweets and hit the gym regularly. For others, especially those with a chronic health disorder, weight loss remains elusive and weight gain happens far too easily despite doing everything right.

Weight gain and weight loss resistance are very common symptoms among people with chronic health disorders. Contrary to popular belief, an inability to lose weight or keep it off is not a sign of a character flaw but instead flaws in your metabolic, immune, or neurological health.

Fat shaming is culturally accepted, particularly in the alternative health spaces and against women. The truth is, overweight and obese people may have some of the healthiest diets and lifestyle practices you’ll encounter. They have to — should they dare to eat “normally” they would quickly balloon out of control.

Instead of beating yourself up if you can’t lose the weight or you have mysteriously gained it too easily, consider if any of the following underlying causes may apply to you.

Nine possible reasons why you can’t lose weight — none of which are due to being lazy or undisciplined

1. You are a veteran lifelong dieter. The multi-billion-dollar diet industry coupled with unrealistic cultural body image standards have turned low-calorie dieting into a way of life. That works great in your youth, but as you age your metabolism fatigues from constant famines.

The human body responds to famines by progressively lowering metabolism and increasing fat storage hormones. As a result, each low-calorie diet can make you a little bit fatter than the last one once you resume normal caloric intake. This explains why diets have such low long-term success.

This phenomenon was most poignantly illustrated in a study of participants from the The Biggest Loser reality TV show. Six years after participating in the show, researchers found they were burning 800 fewer calories per day and the majority of them returned to their pre-show weight and had to under eat by 400–800 calories a day just to not gain weight.

2. Your hunger hormones are out of whack

Conversely, if you routinely eat ample sugar and desserts and processed carbohydrates (breads, pastas, white rice, etc.), you likely have leptin resistance and skewed hunger hormone function that causes constant food cravings and hunger. Minimizing or eliminating processed carbohydrates and exercising regularly helps improve leptin sensitivity so your hunger cues and fat burning returns to normal.

3. Your thyroid isn’t working well

One of the most common causes of weight gain and weight loss resistance is hypothyroidism, or low thyroid activity. And the most common cause of this is Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and damages the thyroid gland. This is why many people do not lose weight even after they start taking thyroid medication. It’s important to address the underlying causes of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism to improve your health and lose weight.

4. You are chronically inflamed

Chronic inflammation skews hormone function, metabolism, and gut health in a way that can promote fat storage and prevent fat burning.

Many people enjoy easy weight loss by following an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle. Nutrient-dense foods void of inflammatory triggers also manage pain, gut problems, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, depression anxiety, and other health issues.

5. You’ve had a brain injury or have compromised brain function

Many sufferers of concussions and brain injuries find they suddenly gain weight after their injury and are not able to lose it. Brain injuries cause inflammation in the brain, which can not only impact brain function, but also disrupt metabolic, hormone, and immune in a way that promotes promotes weight gain and inhibits fat burning. Brain injury victims also often struggle with fatigue, exercise intolerance, depression, and other symptoms that interfere with appropriate fat burning and storage.

6. You have mold illness

Mold illness is increasingly being identified as an underlying cause of many health disorders and symptoms, including weight gain and weight loss resistance. Almost a quarter of the US population is susceptible to mold illness. Toxicity from mycotoxins, the byproducts of molds, can seriously impact metabolic, immune, and neurological health leading to unexplained weight gain and weight loss resistance. This refers not just to the dreaded black mold but also the more commonly found strains of mold caused by leaks and water damage in buildings.

7. You were born with an obese gut microbiome

Research into the gut microbiome, our trillions of gut bacteria, show they impact virtually every aspect of our health, including whether we are more likely to be thin or heavy.

Studies on both mice and humans have shown that obese subjects inoculated with the gut bacteria of thin subjects went on to quickly and easily lose weight.

Factors that impact your gut microbiome “signature” in a way that promotes obesity include being delivered via C-section, being formula fed versus breastfed, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood.

8. You are a victim of childhood sexual abuse or sexual assault or have PTSD

After more than two decades of trying to understand why most obese people regained the weight they lost, an obesity researcher made an accidental discovery — the majority of his study subjects had been sexually abused as children or sexually assaulted right before the time their weight gain began. This can drive complex PTSD and the genesis of a food addiction to cope.

Likewise, researchers have found a correlation between food addiction and PTSD in women.

9. You have a brain-based disorder that promotes food addiction and an eating disorder

For many people with weight issues, food becomes the source of torturous addictive behaviors that can then morph into eating disorders. It is increasingly being found that addictions and eating disorders are linked to brain-based disorders such as ADHD. Skewed neurological function triggers the obsessive thought patterns that lay the foundation for addictive eating and eating disorders.

Look for the underlying cause of weight gain and weight loss resistance to develop self-compassion

I hope this article helps you understand some of the factors that play into a chronic struggle with weight gain and weight loss resistance. Our society begs us to gorge on eat sugary foods and drinks through incessant advertising while a multi-billion-dollar diet industry and impossible pop culture body ideals value human worth based on thinness.

The result is millions of people, the majority of them women, internalize society’s fat shaming and develop shame and self-loathing around food and their bodies when the real sickness is in the society and not the individual.

The body is a miraculous machine that operates in constant service to us. You can learn to live and eat in a way that honors good health and function regardless of your size. Ask my office how we can help you.

Lack of Motivation May be Due to Inflammation

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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 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.

Exercise and Autoimmune Disease : A Balancing Act

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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.

Autoimmune Disease Considered Epidemic Today

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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.

Pregnancy and Postpartum can Trigger Hypothyroidism

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For many women, the onset of their hypothyroid symptoms began either during pregnancy or just after. Most of these women went on to be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Pregnancy often triggers Hashimoto’s due to normal shifts in immunity that cause an already beleaguered immune system to tip out of control and begin attacking the thyroid gland.

Factors that can contribute to developing Hashimoto’s around pregnancy or childbirth include shifts in immune function during the third trimester, shifts in immune function postpartum, the dramatic shifts in hormone function, genetic tendency, and the exacerbation of existing disorders such as blood sugar imbalances, food intolerances, gut infections, and other autoimmune diseases (which may or may not be diagnosed).

How pregnancy can trigger Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

Women make up the vast majority of people struggling with autoimmune diseases, about 75 percent. Researchers suggest this is because women have more complex hormonal systems that involve more fluctuations; hormone and immune function are closely tied. Hormone imbalances are a major contributor to chronic inflammation that can trigger autoimmunity.

Pregnancy simply exacerbates these fluctuations and underlying imbalances.

Shifts in immune function during and after pregnancy can trigger autoimmune disease

Women experience major immune shifts towards the end of pregnancy and then again immediately after birth. These are natural shifts designed to help protect the baby.

During the third trimester, a pregnant woman’s immune system becomes more heavily weighted toward what is called the TH-2 system. This arm of the immune system is the delayed immune reaction that produces antibodies that identify a foreign invader a short while after it enters the body. This response allows the body to recognize the invader in the future.

After the baby is born, a woman’s body then becomes more TH-1 dominant. This is the arm of the immune system that reacts immediately to a foreign invader, such as with swelling and pus around a splinter.

Most people who either already have an autoimmune disease or are at high risk of developing one are overly dominant in either the TH-1 or TH-2 arms of the immune system.

The immune swings that pregnancy and childbirth cause tip an already imbalanced immune system into full expression of an autoimmune disease such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Pregnancy and pituitary function

Although about 90 percent of hypothyroid cases are caused by Hashimoto’s, some cases are caused by chronic stress. As any mom can tell you, pregnancy and childbirth can bring inordinate amounts of stress.

Extreme or chronic stress depresses function of the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small gland at the base of the brain that is like a control tower for the body’s hormones, telling the various glands throughout the body how much hormone to secrete in response to external and internal cues.

Chronic stress overwhelms the pituitary gland and depresses its function. As a result, the pituitary falters at its job of telling the body’s hormone glands to secrete hormones. In the case of the thyroid gland, this means it doesn’t tell it to release enough thyroid hormone.

This not only causes tiredness and other hypothyroid symptoms, but it can also explain postpartum depression in some women.

It’s important to understand that stress doesn’t just mean bad traffic or a demanding job. Many women enter into pregnancy already under enormous stressors they may not be aware of:

  • Leaky gut or gut infections
  • Blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance)
  • Undiagnosed food intolerances such as gluten sensitivity or celiac disease
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Undiagnosed brain dysfunctions, such as from an old brain injury, brain inflammation caused by poor diet, or PTSD or CPTSD
  • Sensitivity to chemicals or over exposure to chemicals
  • Poor liver detoxification
  • Undiagnosed chronic bacterial, viral, parasitic, or fungal infections

Are you at risk? Check your TPO and TGB antibodies before pregnancy

It’s not a bad idea to screen for risk for Hashimoto’s before conceiving. You can do this by testing TPO and TGB antibodies. Many people have autoimmune mechanisms already in place that not advanced enough to cause symptoms. However, a big shock to the body such as pregnancy can be the tipping point to send you over the edge into autoimmune expression.

If you have Hashimoto’s in your family, other autoimmune diseases in your family, or you suffer from other inflammatory conditions, it pays to screen for your risk before pregnancy. This gives you an opportunity to use functional medicine strategies to slow down or send into remission your autoimmune condition.

Studies show that women with no thyroid symptoms but positive blood serum TPO antibodies have a 25 percent higher risk for developing an autoimmune response to their thyroid.

Reducing the risk of autism, allergies, eczema, and more in your baby

Using functional medicine to manage autoimmunity or heightened risk for autoimmunity is not only good for the mother’s health, but also for that of her child. Children born to mothers with autoimmunity such as Hashimoto’s show increased risk for varying health disorders, including autism spectrum disorder, eczema, asthma, food allergies, and food intolerances.

Researchers have increasingly found that autoimmune disorders underlie many cases of autism, which is caused by an autoimmune attack against the brain in these children. Whether it’s autism or other immune disorders, children born to mothers with imbalanced immune systems may be more vulnerable to environmental triggers that can tip them over into full blown autoimmunity.

Triggers can include food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, or toxic chemicals introduced into the bloodstream.

Of course, no one willingly or knowingly brings these hardships onto themselves or their children, but in today’s world the modern immune system faces significant burdens. Going into pregnancy knowing how to manage and minimize the impact of those burdens on the body can help minimize the risk. If you already developed Hashimoto’s during pregnancy or after childbirth, understanding why you did can help you better manage it.

Ask my office for help addressing the root cause of your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Test for Gluten Sensitivity if You Have Hashimoto’s

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Numerous studies show a strong link between gluten intolerance and Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid gland, causing hypothyroidism. This is because gluten has a molecular structure that closely resembles thyroid tissue — gluten sensitivity triggers an attack on the thyroid gland. Gluten (technically, the correct term is gliadin), is the protein found in wheat and wheat-like grains, such as spelt, kamut, rye, barley, triticale, and oats.

One of the immune system’s primary jobs is to protect the body from foreign invaders. Sometimes it may recognize a common food as a dangerous invader. When you eat that food throughout each day this can keep your immune system engaged in constant battle, making it hyper zealous, overly sensitive, and thus prone towards food sensitivities and autoimmunity.

Some people also have celiac disease, disease in which gluten triggers an autoimmune attack against the gut, the skin, or neurological tissue. Gluten sensitivity is more common than celiac disease, however, both show up in higher numbers in people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism you should first test for Hashimoto’s by screening for TPO and TGB antibodies — the majority of hypothyroidism cases are caused by Hashimoto’s.

You should also screen for gluten intolerance or celiac disease given how common these conditions are in patients with Hashimoto’s. Likewise, people who discover they are gluten intolerant or have celiac disease should screen for Hashimoto’s.

It’s important to give up gluten completely if you have Hashimoto’s and gluten intolerance. Cheats and little bites are not ok as they trigger an immune response that ultimately destroys thyroid tissue. Also, it’s important to avoid foods that have been contaminated by gluten. Be careful when in a kitchen where gluten is used, with restaurant food, or with questionable packaged foods.

Cyrex Labs offers testing to identify gluten intolerance. However, sometimes the immune system can be so depleted that it produces too few antibodies to produce a positive test, even though you react to gluten. You can screen for this with a total immunoglobulin test.

However, given the evidence establishing a link between gluten intolerance and Hashimoto’s disease, you may be surprised how much better you feel by simply removing gluten from your diet as a start.

Many people have to remove other foods as well, such as dairy, eggs, or other grains. Following the autoimmune paleo diet for about a month and then reintroducing restricted foods one at a time every 72 hours can help you determine which foods trigger an inflammatory reaction in you.

Many people are able to put their hypothyroid symptoms into remission simply by following a diet that eliminates gluten and other trigger foods. Although autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s can be successfully managed through diet and lifestyle strategies, it’s important to understand they can’t be cured. It’s just a matter of taming the immune system.

Ask my office for ways to manage your autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroid condition.

Viruses Can Trigger Celiac Disease and Other Autoimmune Conditions

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Autoimmune disease is a modern epidemic in which your body’s immune system, which normally helps defend you from pathogens, mistakenly attacks your own organs and tissues. Current research tells us multiple factors can play a role in causing autoimmunity, including viruses. More recently, a virus has been linked with celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which symptoms are triggered by eating gluten.

Celiac disease linked with normally harmless virus in humans

Celiac disease affects one in 133 people in the United States, however only 17 percent have been diagnosed.

While former research has focused on genetic factors underlying celiac disease, a recent study found a link between celiac disease and reovirus, a normally harmless virus in humans.

The study found that mouse subjects with celiac-like disease have higher levels of reovirus antibodies than those without the disease. Those with reovirus antibodies also had high levels of a gene regulator that plays a role in loss of oral tolerance to gluten protein.

In the study, researchers took two different reovirus strains that infect humans (T1L and T3D), and tested them on mice. Both types triggered a protective immune response, but only the T1L caused the mice’s immune systems to act against gluten. This triggered a celiac-like condition in the mice.

The immune response triggered by the T1L virus was dependent on a molecule called interferon regulatory factor 1 (IRF1), which has been found in higher than normal levels in the small intestine of human children with celiac disease.

This suggests that early reovirus infection might raise the risk for developing gluten-related autoimmunity.

According to lead researcher author Bana Jabri, MD, PhD, director of research at the University of Chicago Celiac Disease Center, “During the first year of life, the immune system is still maturing, so for a child with a particular genetic background, getting a particular virus at that time can leave a kind of scar that then has long term consequences.”

Along with other researchers, Jabri is investigating the possibility that other viruses can play a similar role in autoimmunity.

Chronic viral infection makes the short list for autoimmune factors

Research increasingly indicates viruses and bacteria may play a role in the development of autoimmunity.

Viruses and bacteria trigger an immune response in the body. Some researchers suggest that the antibodies we produce in response may also attack our body’s cells. This may be because they resemble the virus or bacteria, confusing the immune system into the attack.

If you already experience lifestyle-induced chronic inflammation, this makes the immune system hyper zealous and thus more likely to erroneously attack self-tissue.

The viruses suspected in connection with autoimmunity are varied, and some are linked to multiple conditions:

  • Hashimoto’s autoimmune thyroiditis is associated with Epstein Barr virus (EBV), herpes simplex 1 and 2, hepatitis C, and cytomegalovirus (CMV).
  • Multiple Sclerosis is associated with EBV and measles virus.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with EBV, hepatitis C, E-coli bacteria, and mycobacteria.
  • Lupus is associated with EBV.
  • Type 1 diabetes is associated with coxsackievirus B4, cytomegalovirus, mumps virus, and rubella virus.
  • Guillain-Barré syndrome is associated with EBV, CMV, and campylobacter bacteria.

Know your viral exposure

Having a viral or bacterial infection is not a guarantee of developing autoimmunity, because other factors must come together for it to occur. However, it’s a good idea to take viral exposure into account when looking for the root causes and treatment of your autoimmune condition.

Some practitioners say regardless of other medical protocols, patients with autoimmunity do not go into remission unless they also address their chronic viral and bacterial infections.

Because viral infections usually occur well before any autoimmune symptoms develop, it can be difficult to make a definitive link between a specific infection and a your autoimmune disorder.

Therefore, if you are seeing your doctor about your autoimmune condition, remember to mention any infections you know you’ve had, even back in your childhood; some viruses such as Epstein Barr can persist in the body for decades without obvious symptoms. Lastly, if you don’t seem to be able to heal, ask about testing for hidden chronic viral infections as well as bacterial gut infections.

Other autoimmunity risk factors

Although there is a genetic component to autoimmunity, the following factors are linked to an increased risk of develop an autoimmune condition:

  • Females. Women represent about 75 percent of autoimmune cases. Researchers speculate women’s hormones or their active immune systems make them more vulnerable to developing autoimmunity.
  • Young to middle-aged. While the elderly can develop autoimmunity such as rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune conditions more frequently show up in youth or middle age.
  • African American, Native American, or Latinx heritage. These ethic groups represent higher rates of autoimmunity than others.
  • Family history of autoimmunity. If your family members have had autoimmunity, you are at higher risk.
  • Environmental exposure to toxins or heavy metals. There is evidence relating toxic exposure to higher rates of autoimmunity.
  • Intestinal hyper-permeability (leaky gut). Leaky gut is present not only in all autoimmune diseases, but in other chronic illnesses such as heart disease, depression, and more.

Vitamin D Vital in Managing Autoimmune Disease

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Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients we can’t get enough of from food. Our bodies are designed to make vitamin D from sunlight, yet modern life has made that difficult. The result is a worldwide 50 percent deficiency in vitamin D, even in sunny locations. This is a contributing factor to autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Why we can’t get enough of the sunshine vitamin

While some foods contain vitamin D, our main source is supposed to be sun exposure and we synthesize it using cholesterol.

However, certain factors stand in the way:

Reduced sun exposure. We spend far fewer hours outside than our ancestors and slather on sunscreen when we are outside. People with dark skin or who live farther north have even less ability to make vitamin D from sunlight.

Limited diet. Most people don’t eat the foods that contain more vitamin D, such as organ meats, salmon and fish liver oil, and egg yolks. Two foods fortified with vitamin D — dairy (a common immune reactive food) and breakfast cereals (gluten and grains). Both dairy and gluten are also problematic for many people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Gut inflammation and fat malabsorption. Vitamin D is fat-soluble. When the gut is inflamed due to leaky gut and other inflammatory gut disorders, fat absorption is compromised and your vitamin D levels suffer.

Stress. High cortisol levels from chronic stress can deplete vitamin D levels.

Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Depression
  • Muscle, joint and bone pain
  • Gum disease
  • Brittle or soft bones
  • Digestive issues
  • Asthma
  • Suppressed immune system

What vitamin D does for you

Vitamin D is actually a hormone, and along with thyroid hormone, is one of the two hormones every cell in your body needs. It regulates hundreds of different pathways throughout the body.

Bone density. Vitamin D has long been known to play a role in preventing breakdown of bones and increasing the strength of the skeletal system.

Mood regulation. Low vitamin D is linked to a 14 percent increase depression and a 50 percent increase in suicide rates. Increasing vitamin D intake can help improve anxiety and depression.

Brain health. Vitamin D’s biologically active form has shown neuroprotective effects including the clearance of amyloid plaques common to Alzheimer’s Disease. Associations have also been noted between low 25-hydroxyvitamin D and dementia.

Reduced cancer risk. Optimal vitamin D levels are associated with lower rates of cancers of the breast, ovaries, prostate, and pancreas.

Sleep quality. Adequate vitamin D is associated with improved sleep.

Immune regulation. Vitamin D plays a key role in promoting regulatory T cells, which decide whether to dampen or promote inflammation in the body.

This is particularly important in dampening autoimmunity such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, when the immune system attacks body tissue.

Studies show more than 90 percent of those with autoimmunity have a genetic defect that promotes vitamin D deficiency.

Low vitamin D levels are associated with autoimmune conditions such as Hashimoto’s, hypothyroidism multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and even Parkinson’s disease.

A common thread in all chronic illnesses, inflammation is shown to be reduced by adequate vitamin D levels.

Ways to boost vitamin D

Sunshine. Get 20 to 60 minutes of sun on your skin per day, depending on your skin tone and latitude. The more skin exposed, the more D you produce.

Food sources. Include salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines, and egg yolks in your diet.

Supplementation. Vitamin D exists in two forms, D2 and D3.

While vitamin D2 is commonly seen on mainstream vitamin labels, vitamin D3 is twice as effective at raising vitamin D levels in the body.

Current mainstream dosage guidelines for vitamin D are based solely on maintaining proper bone density and not preventing chronic health conditions.

Since vitamin D is fat soluble, its recommended to take it in an oil-based soft gel capsule or liquid form with a meal that includes fat.

For autoimmune management, doses of vitamin D can range from 5,000 to 10,000 IU per day. Some people take higher doses if their genetics hamper absorption. It’s best to test your levels every three to six months.

Emulsified vitamin D

Emulsified vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) enhances absorption and helps prevent toxicity at higher doses.

Support fat metabolism with digestive enzymes

If you have leaky gut, celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or have had your gall bladder removed, your ability to absorb fat may be compromised. Since vitamin D is fat-soluble, make sure your body can absorb it by adding digestive enzymes to your daily regimen.

Ask my office about finding out whether you need to boost your vitamin D levels to better manage you Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.