How You Were Born Could Shape the Rest of Your Life

916 microbiome and birth

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.

Floss Your Teeth Daily to Reduce Your Risk of Stroke

909 oral bacteria and stroke

You may be familiar with common stroke-prevention strategies: Exercise regularly, eat plenty of vegetables, minimize stress, and keep inflammation at bay. But did you know taking good care of your teeth and gums is a major way to lower stroke risk?

A new study has found a significant link between stroke and oral bacteria. An analysis of blood clots from 75 ischemic stroke patients found almost 80 percent of them had oral bacteria DNA concentrated in the blood clots that weren’t found in other blood samples from the same patient.

The presence of oral bacteria in blood clots rounds out a much larger picture that shows the role gum disease and oral bacteria play in cardiovascular and neurological health.

The same research team has also found that blood clots containing oral bacteria cause heart attacks and brain aneurysms, that thromboses in the leg veins and arteries contain oral bacteria, and that oral bacteria is linked to heart infection.

Other research has linked oral bacteria from gum disease with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. The bacteria produce toxins in the brain that give rise to the misfolding of proteins in the brain that is the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot starves a part of the brain of blood flow and vital oxygen, causing massive tissue damage. It is commonly caused by the narrowing and hardening of the arteries from plaquing, or atherosclerosis.

There is evidence that oral bacteria activates platelets and speeds up the development of atherosclerosis and blood clotting.

Here’s a tip to motivate you to floss

We get it, flossing is tedious and annoying. You just want to brush your teeth and be done.

Here’s a little tip that may motivate you to floss and brush more regularly: After you floss between a couple of teeth, smell your floss. If it has a foul odor that’s a sign you’ve got oral bacteria accumulating on your teeth and gums. This is also a sign your breath probably stinks as well! Smell check your floss after flossing each section of teeth — you may find areas that need extra attention.

Reacquaint yourself with healthy flossing and brushing habits and consider investing in a water flossing device. These devices use water to deliver extra cleaning power to the teeth and to stimulate gum tissue, so it stays healthy. However, please note that a water flosser should be an adjunct to flossing and not a substitute. Water flossing is not as effective as using dental floss.

Use functional medicine to prevent strokes

Healthy teeth and gums also depend on a healthy diet and lifestyle. This ties in with general stroke prevention strategies — 90 percent of strokes are caused by dietary and lifestyle habits.

Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the United States and the leading cause of disability.

Studies have found the following factors are the most common causes of strokes:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet
  • Lack of exercise
  • Excess alcohol
  • Stress and depression
  • Diabetes
  • Excess abdominal fat
  • Heart disorders

As research continues, poor oral hygiene may get added to this list.

Functional medicine strategies to prevent stroke

Focus on whole foods, plenty of vegetables, and healthy fats. Ditch the sodas, desserts, sweet coffee drinks, and processed foods. It might be hard at first, but you’ll start to feel heaps better.

Stabilize blood sugar

High blood sugar from too many sweets and processed carbohydrates causes chronic inflammation, which damages and thickens arterial walls and promotes the formation of arterial plaques and blood clots. Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes, increase your risk of stroke by two to four times.

Regular exercise prevents strokes and makes you feel awesome

Exercise is a magic bullet when it comes to preventing strokes and promoting a healthy brain. Regular physical activity keeps blood vessels strong, improves oxygenation of the brain, and increases your metabolism. Exercise after a stroke also significantly reduces the severity of the repercussions and improves recovery.

Ask my office how we can help you lower your risk of stroke and support your brain health.

Streaming Documentaries about Chronic Illness

847 streaming docs on chronic illness

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

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

Afflicted

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

Under Our Skin

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

Brain on Fire

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

My Kid is Not Crazy

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

Living Proof

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

Gaga: Five Foot Two

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

Unrest

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

Functional medicine for chronic health and autoimmune disorders

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

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

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

Staying Thin is Harder Than in the Past

843 weight loss harder these days

If you feel like you have a harder time staying slim than your grandparents did at your age, you are right. We are about 10 percent heavier than people in the 80s, even when we eat the same foods and exercise just as much. This may be due to changes in lifestyle and environmental factors that impact our BMI, or body mass index.

Recent research by York University’s Faculty of Health shows it’s harder to maintain the same weight at a certain age than it was for someone 20 or 30 years ago. Even if you eat exactly the same macros (protein, fat, and carbs) and do the same amount and type of exercise, you are likely to be heavier than they were at your age.

In fact, with all factors accounted for, the predicted BMI has risen 2.3 points between 1988 and 2006.

According to study author Jennifer Kuk, “Our study results suggest that if you are 40 years old now, you’d have to eat even less and exercise more than if you were a 40-year-old in 1971, to prevent gaining weight. However, it also indicates there may be other specific changes contributing to the rise in obesity beyond just diet and exercise.”

Specific factors contribute to our increased BMI

Historically we tend to look only to dietary and exercise habits when we consider our weight or BMI (body mass index).

However, weight management is much more complex than watching what you eat and how much you work out. Our BMI is affected by many factors such as:

  • Medication use
  • Environmental toxins
  • Genetics
  • Meal timing
  • Stress level
  • Gut bacteria populations
  • Nighttime light exposure

While the study’s authors admit we need more research to determine exactly how these factors play into the changed BMI picture, they suggest three main players:

Increased environmental toxins. Compared to 30 years ago, we are exposed to a higher level of environmental toxins such as pesticides, air pollution, heavy metals, flame retardants, plastics used for food storage, and more. These toxins put a heavy burden on the endocrine system, altering the hormonal processes that affect metabolism and weight management.

Increased use of prescription drugs. Since the 1970s our use of prescription drugs has risen dramatically. Many antidepressant drugs are linked with weight gain and are the most prescribed drugs in the US for people between 18 and 44.

Our gut microbiome has changed. The gut microbiome, or the community of good and bad bacteria that naturally inhabit the digestive tract, have changed dramatically since the 80’s.

Americans eat differently than they used to. The products we eat are more filled with antibiotics, pesticides, and other toxins; we eat more artificial sweeteners; and we eat more junk food. All of these factors may negatively affect our gut bacteria populations.

A hot topic of research, the gut microbiome is linked to more and more aspects of health and disease. We now know that some gut bacteria are linked with weight gain and obesity. In fact, doctors are even using fecal implantation — insertion of gut bacteria from a healthy slim patient into the gut of an unhealthy obese patient — to reduce chronic obesity.

Support your microbiome with SCFA

In functional medicine we consider the gut microbiome to be a foundation of health. An imbalanced gut microbiome can prevent you from healing from many health disorders, so it makes sense to do everything you can to support yours.

One important factor is oral tolerance, or the body’s ability to properly recognize food proteins. When we lose oral tolerance, the immune system mistakenly thinks more and more foods are pathogens, and we begin to have more food sensitivities, increased hormonal issues, increased autoimmunity, and imbalanced metabolism and weight gain.

You can support oral tolerance by fixing leaky gut, supporting liver function, taming histamine reactions, reducing stress, and balancing blood sugar. But one of the best ways to support it is by providing your body with plenty of short-chain fatty acids (SCFA).

Your gut bacteria not only make SCFA, they also need them as fuel to produce more SCFA. The more you eat them, the more your good gut bacteria can outweigh the bad.

Three main SCFAs include:

  • Butyrate
  • Propionate
  • Acetate

SCFA bind to cell receptors that control your hunger and appetite, turn off insulin resistance, and burn body fat more efficiently.

When you are low on SCFA you will:

  • Have a larger appetite
  • Be prone to insulin resistance (think pre-diabetes)
  • Store body fat better than you burn it

When gut diversity is ruined, SCFA can’t signal properly and you end up with what we call an “obese microbiome.”

How to support SCFA

To support healthy levels of SCFA, adopt the following habits:

Eat abundant and varied produce. Eat plenty of diverse vegetables so your gut bacteria stay adept at recognizing many different food proteins. Aim for 7 to 9 servings a day. One serving consists of a half cup of chopped vegetable or one cup of shredded greens. Go easy on high-sugar fruits to keep your blood sugar stable.

Supplement with SCFA. You may benefit from also supplementing with butyrate, the main SCFA. Start with one capsule a day and work your way up to two capsules twice a day.

Boost glutathione levels. Glutathione is the master antioxidant that helps dampen inflammation, a main factor in loss of microbiome diversity. Take absorbable glutathione such as liposomal glutathione, s-acetyl glutathione (regular glutathione isn’t absorbed well), or its precursors such as n-acetyl cysteine.

There are many other helpful ways to support a healthy microbiome. Contact our office to determine your microbiome health and how to improve it, so you can maintain a healthy weight.

New Study Shows Processed Foods Shorten Your Life

838 processed foods shorten life

A new study shows regularly eating processed foods — the staple of most western diets — can shorten your life. In functional medicine, we know from the published research that a diet based on processed foods also will significantly increase your chances of suffering from chronic disease. Common chronic diseases tied to diet include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, autoimmune diseases, high blood pressure, dementia, and Alzheimer’s.

The study was conducted in France and published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal. It tracked almost 45,000 adults, most of them in their late 50s at the start of the study. Researchers followed the health and the diet of the subjects over a period of eight years.

On average, the subjects derived about a third of their calories from processed foods. The processed foods researchers looked at included the following:

  • Instant noodles
  • Instant soups
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Energy bars and drinks
  • Chicken nuggets
  • Ready-made meals and snacks
  • Packaged snack foods
  • Any foods made using industrial processing

During the course of the study, more than 600 subjects died, primarily from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In looking at the deaths, the researchers adjusted for general health, socioeconomic status, and influencing behaviors, and compliance with a healthy diet.

However, even after all that, they still found that every 10 percent increase in consuming processed foods was linked with a 14 percent higher chance of early death.

Why eating a lot of processed foods leads to chronic disease and earlier death

In considering the link of processed foods to risk of earlier death, the authors suggest the following possibilities:

High-temperature processing may form contaminants. High-heat food processing can alter protein structures so that the body sees them as inflammatory. In functional medicine we know that high temperatures also make industrial oils used in food processing toxic to the brain and body.

Additives may be carcinogenic. Food additives are synthetic chemicals that are foreign to the human body. Chemical food additives bind with food proteins to create new molecules that the immune system recognizes as an invader. Many synthetic chemicals are also simply difficult for the body to metabolize and eliminate, thus raising inflammation and the toxic burden. Many additives have also been linked to brain-based symptoms and disorder. Simply put, food is no place for synthetic chemicals that have little safety vetting.

Packaging of prepared foods can lead to contamination. The industrial nature of the packaging process can introduce harmful toxins into the food itself. Also, if you are gluten-free, eating packaged foods is always a crap shoot as they are most likely contaminated with gluten due to multiple foods being processed on the same equipment.

What we know about processed foods in functional medicine

Those were the concerns listed by the researchers. In functional medicine we are aware of other reasons processed foods cause chronic disease and raise the risk of an early death.

Industrial oils. The brain is made of primarily fat and the fats you eat determine the health of your brain. The oils used in food processing are industrial seed oils that are generally rancid due to their very unstable molecular structure. These oils contribute to poor neuron structure and integrity and thus cause overall brain health to suffer. They are also generally inflammatory. Additionally, processed foods that contain hydrogenated fats are especially problematic for the brain and body and linked with cognitive decline, heart disease, and inflammation.

Poor fatty acid ratio. The oils used in processed foods are very high in omega 6 fatty acids. Human health requires a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids (such as from nuts and cold-water fish) of at least 4:1 though 1:1 is even better. Sadly, most Americans eat a ratio of 25:1 thanks to processed foods. In other words, way too much omega 6. This puts the body in an inflammatory state that promotes obesity and chronic disease.

Too many processed carbohydrates. One of the biggest promoters of chronic disease and dementia is unstable blood sugar from eating a diet too high in processed carbohydrates. Processed and packaged foods are predominantly grain-based and/or sugary and very high in carbs. This sends blood sugar on a tail spin every time you eat them, promoting inflammation and the chronic disease process.

Gluten. Most packaged and processed foods are wheat-based and thus loaded with gluten. Many people have undiagnosed gluten sensitivity or celiac disease that keeps their body in a constant state of inflammation, thus promoting chronic disease. Gluten is linked with 55 diseases so far, most of them autoimmune.

Eating a whole foods diet with basic real-food ingredients is one of the best things you can do to turn your health around. For more advice on a whole foods diet, please contact my office.

Berberine rivals metformin for high blood sugar

829 berberine for high blood sugar

In functional medicine one of the most common causes we see for many health disorders is imbalanced blood sugar. The good news is it is also one of the easiest things to remedy. A powerful tool in this process is a botanical compound called berberine.

An epidemic of blood sugar imbalances

According to the CDC, nearly 84 million American adults — more than one out of three — have prediabetes, or metabolic syndrome, a serious health condition in which blood sugar levels are too high but not high enough to be diagnosed as type 2 diabetes.

Ninety percent of people with prediabetes don’t even know they have it. Prediabetes puts you at increased risk of type 2 diabetesheart disease, stroke, obesity, autoimmunity, infertility, dementia, and other disorders.

In fact, high blood sugar is so clearly linked to Alzheimer’s that researchers refer to the disease as “Type 3 diabetes.”

Berberine for high blood sugar and diabetes

A natural plant compound, berberine is found within the stems, bark, roots, and rhizomes (root-like subterranean stems) of numerous plants such as barberry, goldenseal, Oregon grape, tree turmeric, and Chinese goldthread.

Berberine is generally well tolerated and has been used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to treat digestive issues and infections. The extract has a deep yellow color and is also commonly used as a dye.

Recently, berberine has become known for its ability to reduce high blood glucose. By working at a cellular level, it helps move glucose (sugar) from your blood into your cells where it’s most needed.

Berberine also promotes healthy blood sugar levels that are already in normal range.

Berberine works by activating AMPK (adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase), an enzyme that that regulates how the body produces and uses energy.

AMPK senses and responds to changes in energy metabolism on both the cellular and whole-body level. It regulates biological activities that normalize lipid, glucose, and energy imbalances.

Metabolic syndrome happens when AMPK-regulated pathways are turned off. This triggers fat storage and burning abnormalities, high blood sugar, diabetes, and energy imbalances.

Depleted energy activates AMPK while excess energy inhibits it. In other words, high blood sugar inhibits AMPK while exercise and calorie restriction activates it.

Berberine’s effect is similar to what you’d see in someone who increased exercise while restricting calorie intake because it activates AMPK, making it a useful tool in the management of type 2 diabetes.

Berberine as effective as metformin

Other known AMPK activators include resveratrol and the diabetes drug metformin. Berberine is so effective at balancing blood sugar that both animal and human studies compare it to metformin in its effectiveness.

Berberine has also been shown to be as effective in treating other conditions that respond positively to metformin, including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the reduction of weight gain triggered by antipsychotics, and potentially cancer.

Berberine’s many qualities

While berberine is most commonly considered for metabolic syndrome, inflammation, and cancer, its potentially helpful for a long list of other disorders, including high cholesterol, obesity, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), leaky gut, lung inflammation, Alzheimer’s disease, and heart disease due to these actions.

Below are additional functions of berberine:

  • Supports healthy blood cholesterol levels.
  • Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities.
  • Has a moderate weight-loss effect.
  • Exhibits antibacterial qualities.
  • Reduces the effects of tobacco smoke-induced lung inflammation.
  • Inhibits growth and proliferation of cancer cells.
  • Enhances neuro-protective factors.
  • Stimulates the release of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that relaxes arteries, increases blood flow, and protects against atherosclerosis.
  • Stimulates bile secretion and bilirubin discharge.
  • Reduces dysfunction of the intestinal mucosal barrier.

How much berberine should I take?

For diabetes and blood sugar support, the recommended dose is 500 mg two or three times a day. It’s important to spread your dose out throughout the day because berberine has a short half-life in the body and taking it all at once might rob you of the full benefits. Make sure to take berberine prior to or with a meal.

Studies show that gut bacteria play an important role in transforming berberine into its usable form. Therefore, supporting microbiome diversity and abundance is a smart way to increase its effectiveness. Make sure to eat varied and plentiful produce (go easy on the sugary fruits) and consider supplementing short chain fatty acid supplementation (SCFA) to help your gut bacteria thrive.

How long should I take berberine?

Continual use of berberine can impact cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes in the liver which may affect drug-to-drug interactions. Therefore, it’s recommended to use it in a pulsed 8-week cycle with two to four weeks off, then starting again if symptoms have not resolved.

Research has shown that combining berberine with cinnamon may increase its bioavailability. What’s more, cinnamon has also been shown to support insulin sensitivity.

Berberine cautions

While berberine is highly recommended for high blood sugar issues, it does come with some cautions:

  • Berberine is considered UNSAFE for pregnant women and nursing mothers. It may cross the placenta during pregnancy, and some newborns exposed to berberine developed a type of brain damage. It also can be transferred to babies through breast milk.
  • Berberine can interact with a number of medications, increasing the risk of adverse reactions.
  • Taking berberine when you are on medications that reduce blood sugar can push your blood glucose levels too low.
  • Berberine can lower blood pressure, so it should be used with caution by anyone who already has low blood pressure. 

If you are concerned about your blood sugar status and want to discuss non-medical methods for helping regulate your blood sugar, contact my office.