How You Were Born Could Shape the Rest of Your Life

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Whether you’re fat or thin, anxious or relaxed, sickly or resilient — this could all stem from the way you were born thanks to the effects of bacteria in our first few seconds of life. Babies born via c-section are shown to have less desirable gut bacteria, or a gut microbiome, compared to babies born vaginally, who have healthier microbiome “signatures.”

Results from the largest study of the newborn microbiome were recently published. The study found that newborns delivered via c-section lack the healthy gut bacteria found in vaginally delivered babies. Their guts also contain strains of harmful microbes — Enterococcus and Klebsiella — commonly found in hospitals.

In fact, the lead researcher said the levels of harmful hospital bacteria in the c-section newborns was “shocking.” These babies were also deficient in the healthy bacteria that made up most of the guts of the vaginally born babies.

The difference was so profound that he said he can tell you how the baby was born simply by analyzing the bacteria in their stool.

C-section babies missing strain vital for health, weight management, and immune resilience

After several months the gut microbiomes between the two set of infants became more similar with one striking difference — the c-section babies had significantly lower levels of Bacteroides, a strain vital to human health.

Bacteroides are a key strain when it comes to health challenges modern societies face. A number of studies have shown Bacteroides levels are lower in people with obesity. Studies in both mice and humans show that when gut bacteria from thin subjects are transplanted into the colons of obese subjects, most subjects lose weight.

Bacteroides has also been linked with preventing anxiety, and boosting and regulating immunity to prevent inflammatory disorders. This may explain why people who were born via c-section are at increased risk for obesity and asthma.

The study is part of a larger Baby Biome study that is following thousands of newborns through childhood.

Why method of birth affects the gut microbiome

Research suggests that the vaginal canal imparts beneficial bacteria to the infant during birth, while c-section babies are deprived of that and instead immediately exposed to the bacteria of the hospital and the people attending the birth. Studies are underway in which babies born via c-section are swabbed with the mother’s vaginal microbes.

Other factors to consider beyond birth

It may not just be the birth that determines a c-section baby’s poorer microbiome status. Women who undergo c-sections also receive antibiotics, which may transfer to the newborn through the placenta and later through breast milk. These babies also tend to stay in the hospital longer and thus are exposed to more hospital bacteria.

How to develop healthy gut bacteria

Developing good gut bacteria is not neccesarily as simple as taking probiotics. You may also be overrun with detrimental bacteria that need to be “weeded.”

Perhaps most important is whether your diet supports a healthy gut microbiome.

What the gut microbiome needs most is an ample supply of vegetables and fruits on a regular basis in a wide, ever changing variety. Eating a diverse and abundanat array of plant foods will help create a diverse and abundant gut microbiome.

Ask my office for more advice on how we can help you improve your gut microbiome and overall health.

What is MTHFR and Why Should You Care?

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Have you been googling for ways to improve your hypothyroid or brain condition and come across suggestions to test MTHFR? What is MTHFR and what does it have to do with hypothyroidism or the brain? If you are one of the 60 percent of people with a genetic defect in the MTHFR gene, it could affect your ability to successfully manage Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms.

MTHFR is the acronym for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, an enzyme involved in processing folate, or vitamin B9, into a usable form the body can assimilate. It’s also necessary to metabolize folic acid, a synthetic form of folate used in supplements.

Thanks to the popularity of gene testing, people can now learn whether they have a mutation in the MTHFR gene. If so, it means their methylation pathways are impacted and contributing to health challenges.

Methylation pathways govern detoxification and many important metabolic processes in the body, which makes a MTHFR defect something worth paying attention to. If you are struggling to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms such as brain fog, fatigue, or depression, you may find the MTHFR test valuable.

Methylation is a process of adding a methyl group to a molecule. Methylation’s roles jobs include the following:

  • Turning genes on and off
  • Detoxifying chemicals and toxins from the body
  • Building brain neurotransmitters
  • Metabolizing hormones to maintain hormonal balance
  • Building immune cells
  • Synthesizing DNA and RNA
  • Creating cellular energy
  • Producing a protective coating that sheathes the nerves
  • Metabolizing histamine
  • Supporting eye health
  • Burning fat
  • Supporting liver health

Proper methylation means one can efficiently make proteins, use antioxidants, metabolize hormones, enjoy more balanced brain chemistry, detoxify toxins and heavy metals, and dampen inflammation. All of these factors are vital to managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and brain-based symptoms.

However, if you’re one of the 60 percent of people with a MTHFR genetic defect, you may not be able to properly break down folate in foods or folic acid in supplements.

An inability to properly process folate can raise levels of homocysteine. Homocysteine is an amino acid in the bloodstream that can be dangerous when levels are too high. High homocysteine is linked to an elevated risk of heart disease and Alzheimer’s.

Poor methylation also impacts another vital process — the production of glutathione, the body’s main antioxidant. When we become deficient in glutathione, we lose our natural defenses and are at higher risk of developing autoimmune diseases, food sensitivities, and chemical sensitivities.

An MTHFR defect can also impair the body’s ability to synthesize important brain neurotransmitters, so that brain-based disorders may arise. An MTHFR defect has been linked to depression, anxiety, brain fog, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia.

Because methylation is involved in so many important processes in the body, an MTHFR gene defect has been associated with many health conditions, including:

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Venous thrombosis
  • Cancer
  • Birth defects
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Mental and mood disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

If you are trying to manage a condition like Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or brain-based symptoms, it’s imperative that you be able to dampen inflammation and raise glutathione levels. An MTHFR defect can work against you.

Fortunately, it can be easy to address.

First of all, you can test for MTHFR gene mutations through genetic testing companies such as Spectracell or 23andme.com, and get an interpretation at geneticgenie.org.

More than 50 MTHFR genetic mutations exist, but the two considered the most problematic are C677T and A1298C (written as just 677 and 1298).

Also, keep in mind gene defects don’t always become activated. If you show those genes on a test it doesn’t necessarily mean they have been expressed and are causing symptoms.

To address a MTHFR enzyme defect, support your methylation pathways with methylfolate and methylcobalamin (methyl B12). Avoid supplements with folic acid, boost your glutathione levels with high quality oral liposomal glutathione, and minimize your exposure to toxins. These are also beneficial strategies to aid in the management of Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and brain-based symptoms.

How To Avoid Toxic Positivity

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If you are working to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other chronic or autoimmune disorder, you may have heard a positive attitude is good for your health. And it’s true — positive thinking, gratitude, and healthy socialization have all been linked to better health outcomes. However, chasing a positive attitude can have a dark side.

It’s common to hear, “just think positive,” “focus on the good,” “don’t dwell on the negative,” and so forth. But the truth is, sometimes life circumstances are awful and sometimes people do horrible things to others.

The demand for a positive attitude when it’s not appropriate is known as toxic positivity. Avoiding or denying negative emotions only makes them bigger and more persistent — and hence more inflammatory for your system if you have an autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Also, negativity exists as a survival trait. It alerts you to danger, or if something isn’t right.

In fact, telling someone who is suffering that they just need to be positive is referred to as spiritual bypassing or gaslighting. Spiritual bypassing is an attempt to use false positivity to bypass a difficult issue, and gaslighting occurs when someone tries to make you feel like you’re crazy when you express uncomfortable thoughts or feelings.

Many autoimmune patients have felt gaslighted by doctors who insinuated they were making up their symptoms or just seeking attention.

Practice mindfulness, not just positivity

It’s normal to want to avoid negative and unpleasant emotions because they are uncomfortable and distressing. As such, we think of them as “bad.” But they are not there to be banished us but rather to guide us through life and help us make decisions that protect and support us.

Instead of denying them through forced positivity or drowning them out through whatever addiction or bad habit is our go-to, psychologists say we should listen to what they reflect about a current situation.

For instance, if you’re frustrated and angry about your health, it means you care about yourself and being able to participate in life. Allowing and accepting our negative thoughts and feelings can help us understand who we are and make good choices.

Resilience and self-care are the bedrocks of positivity

In self-help circles some tout the theory that bad things happen if you think negative thoughts, but the truth is bad things happen to everyone on a regular basis. Positivity isn’t about feeling good all the time, but rather about practicing resilience and positive self-talk in the face of adversity.

Do you practice these negative self-talk habits?

  • You filter out the good parts of an experience and dwell on the bad.
  • You think you are to blame for when things go wrong, or that it’s only happening to you and other people are luckier.
  • You catastrophize and make problems out to be much bigger than they really are.
  • You polarize things into very good or very bad and fail to see that most things in life have a grey area.

Practicing positivity through bad things means avoiding the temptation of despair and hopelessness and instead becoming your own cheerleader and coach.

Positivity is a practice, not a destination

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that positivity is something that takes ongoing practice and application. It is like playing an instrument or a sport — you have to keep up with it to be proficient.

This is the concept of neuroplasticity in how the brain works. By applying yourself regularly to the practice of positivity, you hardwire new neural pathways into your brain, which makes you more efficient at positivity over time. And if you have a chronic autoimmune condition such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, every time you practice positivity you also release anti-inflammatory chemicals in your body that help tame inflammation and modulate immunity.

Try these tricks at learning how to be a more resilient, positive thinker who can also handle the negative aspects of life:

  • If an area of your life is constant major stressor, whether it’s a job or relationship, start strategizing on how to change it.
  • Check yourself throughout the day to see if your thoughts are negative or positive.
  • Seek out humor. Laughing at life reduces its weight and lowers stress.
  • Follow a healthy diet to lower inflammation. Many studies now prove what we eat affects how we feel. Eat food that feeds a good mood.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day. Generating feel-good endorphins through exercise beats any addictive substance or habit. It makes it easier to practice positivity and weather the storms.
  • Surround yourself with positive people. Although we all have down days and need to vent, incessantly negative people can make it hard to stay positive. Seek out and cultivate friendships with other people who also practice positivity.
  • Pay attention to how you frame things. We all say things that can be reframed more positively. For instance, if you make a mistake, instead of saying, “I’m such an idiot,” reframe it to something like, “Whoops, I’ll see if I can get it right next time.”
  • Talk to yourself the way you would talk to someone you care about. Chances are you would never talk to someone you love the way you talk to yourself. Make self-respect and self-care a priority in your self-talk.

Some people were taught healthy positive self-talk in childhood by their parents and teachers. Others have to learn it later in life. Either way, it’s a skill that simply takes awareness and practice in order to develop the resilience to see you through the tough times of dealing with an autoimmune or chronic health disorder such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

New Research Provides More Clues in PANDAS

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Children who recently had a strep infection and then go on to suddenly develop symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), Tourette’s, tics, odd behaviors, emotional instability, and other psychiatric and neurological disorders are believed to have PANDAS.

PANDAS stands for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections.

In some children, a strep infection appears to trigger an autoimmune attack against the brain, causing a sudden onset of neuropsychiatric symptoms.

PANS, or Pediatric Acute-Onset Neuropsychiatric Syndrome, is similar, except environmental factors or other infections trigger symptoms.

PANDAS/PANS isn’t believed to be fully credible by many experts or doctors, in part because it must be diagnosed by symptoms and because the supporting research hasn’t been very strong. Instead, they diagnose affected children with conditions such as OCD.

However, recent research sheds new light on the disorder and why it affects some children and not others.

PANDAS/PANS causes inflammation in an area of the brain called the basal ganglia, which helps govern emotions and motor control. When the immune system creates antibodies to the strep infection, these antibodies mistakenly attack tissue in the basal ganglia as well.

In 2018, researchers isolated cells in the basal ganglia, called cholinergic interneurons, which are affected by the immune attack. Previous research has shown these cells are depleted in Tourette’s syndrome.

These cholinergic interneurons fire less when strep antibodies attach to them, which is believed to cause the symptoms associated with PANDAS/PANS.

Normally, antibodies would not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier to cause immune attacks in the brain. However, research shows the spike in inflammatory immune cells called TH-17 from a strep infection can cause the blood-brain barrier to open up. This is commonly called leaky blood-brain barrier and can allow strep antibodies and other pathogens to enter into the brain.

It has been found that most of these TH-17 cells pool in the olfactory bulb, an area of the brain that receives signals from the nasal passages.

This creates a path through which antibodies can enter, especially with repeat strep infections.

Genetic susceptibility has also been found to be a link in PANDAS/PANS.

PANDAS diagnosis criteria

  • Significant obsessions, compulsions, tics
  • Abrupt onset of these symptoms or relapsing and remitting symptom severity
  • Onset prior to puberty
  • Association with strep infection
  • Association with neuropsychiatric symptoms, including PANS symptoms

PANS diagnosis criteria:

Abrupt, dramatic onset of OCD or severely limited food intake and the addition of at least two of the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Emotional swings and/or depression
  • Irritability, anger, oppositional behavior
  • Regression
  • School performance deteriorates
  • Sensory or motor abnormalities
  • Sleep disturbances, urinary frequency, bed wetting

Functional medicine for PANDAS/PANS

Functional medicine strategies can help reduce inflammation and autoimmune attacks in PANDAS/PANS and support immune and brain health.

Functional medicine strategies may include removing inflammatory triggers from the diet and the environment; nutritional therapies to lower inflammation and support brain health; addressing blood sugar, gut health, and toxicity; supporting neurotransmitters; and repairing mitochondrial function and the blood-brain barrier.

Quick action can improve outcome. For more information, contact my office.

Depressed and Anxious? Volunteering Reduces Symptoms

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Depression and anxiety are hitting all-time highs these days, sending millions of Americans in search of relief. While many avenues reduce or eliminate symptoms, particularly functional medicine protocols that reduce chronic inflammation, one must still tend to the health of the psyche. One powerful but overlooked relief from depression and anxiety is to spend time volunteering.

Volunteering has been shown to relieve depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, release the social bonding hormone oxytocin, improve contentment, and trigger the same dopamine reward centers in the brain that food, drugs, and sex trigger.

In fact, studies on volunteering suggest it’s beneficial for us because the human brain is wired to help others. Although greed and selfishness are characteristic human traits, researchers have also found that altruism and cooperation are inherent qualities that set us apart from much of the animal kingdom.

Volunteering can be a way to exercise these areas of the brain and the mind that can easily go neglected in our overly busy survival-oriented society. However, human survival over the millennia has been credited to our ability to work together in child rearing, hunting, gathering, creating domiciles, and caring for sick or older members of the community.

Given our evolutionary history, it’s no wonder so many people are depressed and anxious. Social isolation and loneliness are considered just as risky to health as are obesity and smoking. Most Americans live in single-family dwellings with no links to their neighbors or a community.

How volunteering helps relieve depression and anxiety

Depression and anxiety can be very inwardly focused disorders. Even if that focus is intensely negative, it creates a feeling of separation and isolation from others. People with these disorders also commonly complain of feeling like they are useless and a burden to others.

Volunteering, on the other hand, has been shown to help people feel more connected to others, more optimistic, and more useful and purposeful. This is believed to be due in part to the release of oxytocin that volunteering triggers. Oxytocin is a “love and bonding” brain chemical that is also released during sex or from cuddling a baby or a pet.

Oxytocin not only makes you feel better, it has also been shown to reduce stress levels and lower inflammation — two powerful factors in causing depression.

Volunteering works on another powerful neurotransmitter when it comes to mood: Dopamine. Dopamine is our “pleasure and reward” neurotransmitter that is released when we have feelings of accomplishment, pleasure, or reward. Addictions are dopamine surges run amuck as people become hooked on the dopamine rush that comes with drugs, gambling, and other pleasurable indulgences.

However, sufficient dopamine is necessary to help us get things accomplished as well as to feel self-worth and purpose in life, two things people with depression often lack. Volunteering triggers a healthy dopamine release that then extends into other areas of their life.

Researchers also point to the fact that volunteering simply takes you out of yourself. Although dismissing your woes doesn’t make them go away, having compassionate perspective for other people’s struggles can help put your own in healthier perspective.

Also, while volunteering has mental health benefits, a caretaker position is also your source of income is commonly linked with increased stress and burnout.

The paradox of “being too busy” to volunteer

Most people cite their overly busy lives and booked schedules for not being willing or able to volunteer. But the experience of volunteers frequently shows that a paradoxical effect happens when you work it into your schedule anyways — the stress-lowering and mood-boosting effects of volunteering reduce the sense of chronic overwhelm that many people experience daily.

Volunteering can calm the over anxious mind and relax the muscles and breathing.

Functional medicine and depression

Although volunteering has proven benefits for depression and anxiety, it’s important to nevertheless pay attention to physiological factors that cause depression.

Depression has now been linked to things like chronic inflammation, lack of gut bacteria diversity, too much bad gut bacteria, leaky gut, and compromised brain health, such as from a past brain injury or brain inflammation.

These dysfunctions can stem from food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, poor nutrition, a sedentary lifestyle, undiagnosed autoimmunity, hidden infections, or other underlying disorders that antidepressants will not address.

Ask my office for more ideas on how functional medicine can help you relieve depression and anxiety.

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.

Depression is a Disorder of Inflammation in Many Cases

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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.

How to Support Your Brain’s Happiness Chemical

836 serotonin basics

Many people take SSRI antidepressants for depression. However, it’s important to ask why you are feeling depression in the first place.

Many important research strides have been made linking chronic inflammation, poor gut health, gut bacteria, and general brain health with depression.

However, we still need healthy serotonin activity, the target of SSRIs, to feel good.

Do you have these symptoms of low serotonin?

  • No longer finding joy, pleasure, or enthusiasm in life
  • Rage and anger
  • Depression
  • Depression related to lack of sunlight
  • No longer enjoy hobbies, favorite foods, friendships, or relationships
  • Unable to sleep deeply or feel rested from sleep
  • Life looks good on paper but doesn’t feel good

Light. The brain depends on sufficient light to manufacture serotonin, so being indoors all the time or in chronically dark or grey weather can affect serotonin activity.

Estrogen. In women an estrogen deficiency can lead to poor serotonin activity. This can explain why some women who are perimenopausal or post-menopausal experience depression.

Although it’s important to use functional medicine to address the cause of low estrogen, such as blood sugar or adrenal imbalances, some perimenopausal or post-menopausal women may still need bioidentical hormone replacement. In these situations, estrogen therapy can deplete the methyl donors necessary for serotonin synthesis, making it important to supplement with them: methyl B-12, SAMe, or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).

Diet. Some nutritional advice will tell you to address low serotonin activity with foods high in tryptophan, a precursor amino acid to serotonin. However, clinically we really don’t see this work.

Better nutritional advice is to eat a diet that keeps blood sugar stable and does not inflame the gut or the body. This means avoiding sugar and processed carbohydrates, avoiding foods that trigger an immune response, and eating lots of diverse vegetables to foster healthy and diverse gut bacteria.

Blood sugar and gut inflammation. Unstable blood sugar — blood sugar that is either too low or too high — can significantly impact serotonin activity, leading to depression. The same goes for a diet that inflames the gut and the body.

Iron. Additionally, an iron is deficiency can cause low serotonin production. Things that can cause iron deficiency include iron anemia, celiac disease, leaky gut, heavy periods, parasites, over exercising, low stomach acid, hypothyroidism, and uterine fibroids.

Nutritional cofactors for serotonin activity

In addition to iron, nutrients serotonin synthesis requires include P-5-P (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), an active form of B-6, niacin, methyl B-12, folic acid, and magnesium.

Deficiencies in these cofactors are widespread due to how poorly most Americans eat.

Additionally, magnesium deficiencies can arise in those taking diuretics or athletes who over train.

Methyl donors such as methyl B-12 are important for the conversion of the amino acid 5-HTP to serotonin; people who take SSRI antidepressants for long periods of time deplete their methyl donors and P-5-P.

Those considering weaning off SSRIs may need to supplement with these cofactors to cover deficiencies acquired during use of the medication.

Supplements that support serotonin activity

The amino acids 5-HTP or tryptophan are precursors to serotonin. Tryptophan has been shown to more easily cross the blood-brain barrier than 5-HTP. Others prefer 5-HTP because it is only one step away from being converted to serotonin, whereas tryptophan is two steps away. Therefore, 5-HTP has more potential to boost serotonin levels. However, both work and taking both can cover your bases.

Both 5-HTP and tryptophan have been shown to be helpful in addressing depression, persistent nightmares, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, migraines, and mood disorders.

Botanicals that increase receptor site sensitivity, ensure the breakdown of used serotonin, and provide necessary cofactors for serotonin production include St. John’s wort, SAMe, P-5-P (a form of B-6), niacinamide, magnesium citrate, methyl B-12, and folic acid.

Ask my office how we can help you support your brain serotonin activity so it can help you feel happier and enjoy life more.