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     2355 Canyon Blvd.   |   Suite 102   |   Boulder, CO 80302

Author: Dr. Amy Reidhead

Dr. Reidhead is a double board certified Chiropractic Physician and Family Nurse Practitioner. She is also a Fellow of the International Academy of Medical Acupuncture and holds a Bachelor of Science in both Nursing and Human Biology. She has spent the past 25 years honing her skills as a functional and integrative medical provider in Boulder, Colorado.

Limbic Retraining for Chronic Illness

How Does The Limbic System Function?

The limbic system is the part of the brain involved in our behavioral and emotional response. Often referred to as our animal brain, the limbic system is dramatically affected by illness. It responds to illness like a smoke alarm responds to smoke or fire. It activates and stays activated until we are well again. 

In the case of chronic illness or disease, your limbic system could be turned on for months or even years at a time. And because the limbic system suffers so much during chronic illness, it needs extra attention during recovery. 

At Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, CO, we’ve seen the negative consequences of an overactive limbic system. Part of our treatment for chronic illness usually involves limbic retraining – strategies to calm the limbic system and turn off the alarm. 

Keep reading to learn more about limbic retraining, including why you should take care of your limbic system when healing from chronic illness and a few life changes to retrain your brain.

The Limbic System Reaction to Chronic Illness

An girl who is in pain and stressed about the impacts of an overactive limbic system with chronic illness

We often hear stories about people whose limbic systems are overactive due to chronic illness without knowing that is the cause. 

People with overactive limbic systems might struggle to go out without a mask and hand sanitizer. They may not feel comfortable going to new places, avoid going outside to avoid tick bites, or stay bedridden for years with a chronic illness. 

The people who have yet to leave their houses since the COVID shutdown or who smell mold in every building that they enter most likely are struggling with an overactive limbic system.

Most people might hear these stories and think that the problem is all in their heads. And while that is partially true (your brain is inside your head after all) the real culprit is physiological, not psychological.

Where is the limbic system located? Your limbic system wraps around the brain stem and contains several essential cerebral structures including the amygdala, hippocampus, and other structures that are located within the brain’s temporal and frontal lobes. 

The amygdala is the “fight or flight” part of the brain responsible for hunger, arousal, and emotional responses. When you are ill, the amygdala becomes hypervigilant. Chronic fatigue syndrome, biotoxin illness, Lyme disease, and other chronic illnesses turn on fight-or-flight. Your body sees the infection as an enemy and reacts to protect you from the perceived danger.

You become emotionally wired to react to certain triggers related to your illness. You might panic in large crowds, cringe when hiking in wooded areas, or flinch at the smell of mold.

The triggers activate a vicious cycle in the limbic system. One whiff of mold and you start to experience symptoms of biotoxin illness – muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, brain fog, anxiety, depression, gut problems, or insomnia. In this example, these symptoms are often seen as limbic systems disorders, rather than a byproduct of an overactive limbic system. 

This reaction will remind you of your illness and make you feel sicker. The limbic system keeps you from healing because it keeps you in a constant state of fear about your illness. Limbic system retraining focuses on healing the amygdala using therapeutic techniques to alter the way the limbic system processes and responds to stressful stimuli. 

What is Limbic “Retraining”?

Commonly referred to as “Limbic System Therapy”, limbic retraining relies on the concept of neuroplasticity – or the idea that we can change our brains. Using limbic retraining techniques, we can “rewire” the way that the brain processes stressful stimuli. 

If you are frozen in fight or flight, the symptoms you feel in response to your triggers are not made up. They are a very real reaction to the trauma of illness. Simply put – you are not crazy, you are simply caught in the limbic system feedback loop.

The structure, functions, and connections made in the brain in response to an illness don’t have to be permanent. Limbic retraining interrupts the cycle of symptoms and illness to help you heal.

Is it Possible to Have a “Damaged Limbic System”?

The reality is, some people are genetically predisposed to a hyperactive limbic system. Others may experience disease, illness, or trauma that activates it. In both cases, the limbic system turns on and stays on. 

Imagine the smoke alarm going off in your house all day while your dog is home alone. They cannot escape the never-ending drone of the alarm and, when you return from work in the evening, your pup will most likely be stressed, shaking, and hiding in a corner. 

The same is true for people with hyperactive limbic systems. They cannot focus on getting better because they are in a constant state of fight-or-flight. Their quality of life suffers and they may end up on disability, bedridden, or chronically ill. 

 

Individual in fight or flight mode which is a symptom of a damaged limbic system

What are common symptoms of a hyperactive limbic system?

A hyperactive limbic system also strains the immune system. The overactive amygdala signals the release of cortisol which suppresses immune activity. Over time, you may become immunocompromised and thus more likely to develop other diseases or illnesses. 

How to Change Your Life to Support the Limbic System

Meditation and yoga are common limbic system retraining exercises

At Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine, limbic retraining is an essential part of healing with functional medicine.

We are often asked for limbic system retraining exercises. We first suggest our patients consider the following lifestyle measures to help support optimum brain health:

  • Eating an anti-inflammatory diet including high-quality Omega 3s oils and curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric)
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Mindfulness
  • A regular gratitude practice
  • Prioritizing sleep
  • Managing stress through breath work techniques like boxed breathing or the Wim Hoff method 
  • Using manual tapping techniques like EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) to soothe the limbic system
  • Addressing chronic infections and environmental exposures like mold exposure with our qualified healthcare providers. 

There are also several programs that may be used in limbic system retraining, including:

The limbic response to illness is natural and necessary but staying in a constant state of fight-or-flight is not. Limbic retraining helps turn off the limbic system alarm bells so that you can get on with what is important – healing from your illness and living your life. 

Retrain Your Limbic System With Boulder Holistic

Limbic retraining is crucial for anyone recovering from chronic illness – including those with biotoxin illness. The experienced functional medicine doctors at Boulder Holistic Functional Medicine in Boulder, CO, have many strategies to help you turn off the limbic system alarms and move you further down the road to recovery. 

Learn more about limbic retraining and the benefits of functional medicine by scheduling an initial consultation today.

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Mask-acne… it’s a thing

Masks are now the new hot accessories but wearing a mask for hours a day can block the pores of your skin and put you at risk of developing acne. As healthcare providers, we know the best way to treat acne is to prevent it before it happens.
 
So, since mask wearing is not likely to go away for a while, it seems important to figure out how to best protect our faces and stop the pimples that masks can cause.
 
So what causes acne?
Acne and pimples are caused by a number of things including the health of your pores and how much oil and keratin they produce, your hormone balance and the health of your gut. The bacteria that live on our skin can also play a significant part in the development of acne.  
 
Inflammation is also a key player in the development of pimples. Our skin is a direct reflection of the foods you feed it; the more inflammatory foods you eat, the more likely you will have skin issues.
 
Did you know your skin is a detox organ?
Our bodies have six organs of detox: the lungs, liver, lymph, kidneys, large intestines and the skin. Our skin is our biggest organ of elimination, working with the other organs of detox to remove waste from the blood and the body. When there is congestion in the other organs of detox, the skin tries to pick up the slack by pushing toxins out through our pores. In fact our skin can push out as much as 2 pounds of toxic waste a day through our sweat!
 
What are some simple things you can do to help prevent acne:
  • Wash you face mask after wearing using a non-toxic soap or detergent.
  • Keep your mask dry. Moisture builds up behind the mask making it a total breeding ground for bacteria, so if you talk a lot with a mask on, you may want to change it often during the day.
  • Wearing masks made of natural fibers can help. Masks made of silk are less likely to cause pimples.
  • Ditch gluten: Gluten is inflammatory in everyone, so stopping gluten can reduce inflammation in the body, protect the gut and stop more toxins from leaking into the blood stream.
  • Stop eating dairy. The consumption of cow dairy has long been associated with acne. Cow dairy is NOT a health food, it is full of hormones which may contribute to acne and is very inflammatory in the body.
  • Kick the sugar and processed food habit. Both sugar and highly processed foods have been shown to make many skin conditions worse, including premature aging.
  • Drink water!
Natural skin solutions
Wash your face with non-toxic cleansers. I like Tata Harper skin care for clean beauty products and moisturizers for the skin. Their products are organic, clean and smell amazing without added fragrance. For blemish prone skin I recommend using Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser or Zyderma Gentle Foaming Cleanser that cleans skin without stripping away our skin’s natural barrier. 
 
Gentle exfoliation 1-2 times a week. Exfoliation removes dead skin cells that contribute to blocked pores and lead to more outbreaks. Try to pick products that contain natural enzymes, BHA and salicylic acid.
 
 
Moisturize you skin. Dry skin as well as oily skin can lead to more acne prone skin. Find a clean moisturizer that matches your skin type.
 
Support your skin’s microbiome. You can help restore the skins moisture barrier and microbiome with topical products like Biossense Squalene+Probiotic Gel that soothes red skin and may help to balance the skins natural protective flora.
 
Topical things that can help with blemishes: Look for products that contain niacinamide and zinc as they can help balance oil production and reduce redness. The Ordinary Niacinamide 10%, Zinc 1%
 
For super dry skin: The Ordinary HA 2% + B5 has hyaluronic acid to help lock in skin’s natural moisture.
 
To help with Skin repairThe Ordinary Buffet +Copper Peptides may help repair skin and prevent scarring.
 
I want end by saying that I have no affiliation with any of these products or their makers; they are just products I have used personally and find useful. I also like Beauty Counter and Goop to shop clean body and beauty products. There are others. Shop around and find what works for you and your budget.
 
Although the products I mentioned in this blog are largely geared toward the ladies (don’t worry guys, you can use clean skincare too!), men can suffer with acne too. No matter who the patient is, the principles of functional medicine apply to anyone suffering from acne.
 
Always start your detox routine by eliminating inflammatory foods, clean up your household cleaning and beauty products and get the organs of elimination working.
 
Supplements that support great looking skin include:
  • High dose probiotics rebalance the gut microbiome: pick ones with 225, 350, or 500 billion CFU
  • Fish Oils and Evening Primrose Oil are anti-inflammatory and support cell structure and barrier function
  • Vitamin E fights off free radicals and helps to protect the skin
  • Vitamin D helps heal tissues
  • Methylated B vitamins help support detoxification pathways, protecting the skin from hormones that can make acne worse
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Reversing Insulin Resistance

Insulin resistance is a hot topic in the health and functional medicine world. Our fast passed, high stress and inactive lifestyles put many people at risk for this undesirable condition. Luckily, insulin resistance is not only preventable, but may be reversible by making healthy diet and lifestyle changes now!
What is insulin resistance?

Insulin is a hormone released by your endocrine system that helps shuttle sugar consumed in the diet into your cells to be used as fuel. Insulin is also the main fat storage hormone in the body. It tells fat cells to store all calories as fat and elevated insulin levels also prevent fat from being used as fuel.

Insulin resistance really means insulin excess and it is just one step on the path to developing long-term issues with your metabolism. So when your insulin levels are high, your body goes into fat storage mode… making weight loss nearly impossible.

How did you get here? Standard American Diet, Genetics, and Lifestyle
 
Many things can contribute to having issues with glucose metabolism and insulin resistance. When someone with the right genetic make up and lifestyle also eats the standard American diet (heavy on processed foods, low in fiber and quality protein, high in bad fats and simple carbohydrates), their body will start to produce more and more insulin in order to try to manage all the sugar that is being consumed with every meal.
 
Our lifestyle can also contribute to developing insulin resistance. The amount of stress in our lives as well as the coping skills we use for managing our stress (stress eating, and consuming an excess of caffeine and alcohol) can also make insulin resistance worse. Likewise, the amount of exercise (too much or too little) and types of exercise can similarly impact the insulin resistance and glucose metabolism.
How do I know if this is a problem for me?
 
Signs that you may have impaired glucose metabolism may include fatigue, feeling hungry all the time, having issues with sleep (poor sleep quality or feeling tired all the time), difficulty losing weight or yo-yo diet weight loss, and the presence of stubborn belly fat no matter how well you eat and exercise.
 
A functional medicine doctor can order routine lab work that may show evidence of this process years before you would actually get the diagnosis of diabetes from a traditional doctor.
 
Some of these labs include measuring leptin hormone, insulin levels, hemoglobin A1c and blood glucose levels in your blood. Elevations in any of these markers can indicate that you have impaired glucose metabolism and could be on your way to developing a metabolic syndrome like diabetes.
 
How do I fix this?
 
None of this happened overnight, and it won’t change overnight either. No one wants to hear this, but coming back from insulin resistance and impaired glucose metabolism takes time. Insulin resistance develops over years and years and is actually your body’s intelligent way of adapting to eating too much sugar from a carbohydrate heavy diet for a lifetime. In fact, by the time your blood work shows insulin resistance, this processes has been happening for at least 10-20 years!

If you want to work on reversing insulin resistance, it requires a dedication to eating a whole foods diet and modifying your lifestyle and exercise behaviors—for life.

  1. Exercise. In order to change your metabolism, you have to exercise. The best exercise for changing metabolism is brisk walking 30+ minutes at least 5 out of 7 days.
  2. Stress control. Cortisol is our stress hormone, and elevated cortisol levels also contribute to greater fat storage, especially abdominal fat. You can read about cortisol here. Read about how mindfulness, meditation, tapping and breath work can all help to rewire our stress response here.
  3. Low carb and high fat diet. A whole foods diet that eliminates processed foods and simple carbs and sugar and includes healthy fats is recommended for reversing insulin resistance. Check out the Mito-Food plan from IFM.
  4. Ketosis. Ketosis simply means that your body has adapted to burning fat for fuel rather than glucose. The Mito-Keto food plan can help you figure out what to eat to start exploring ketosis.
  5. Fasting. Intermittent or prolonged fasting. Fasting is an advanced way to profoundly change your metabolism. Fasting can be explored under medical supervision, as long as you have made all the above changes to your diet and lifestyle.
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Fall and COVID-19

Autumn is my favorite season…it must be the Midwesterner in me. I absolutely love watching the leaves change, feeling the crispness in the air and diving headfirst into my fuzzy sweaters.

As the nights get colder, my family and I are enjoying our back yard, social distanced dinner gatherings seated near our propane fire pit, wrapped in cozy blankets. One thing quarantine has gifted me is a deep appreciation for the connections I share with close friends and family.

For me, another unexpected gift of coronavirus and quarantine has been the unique opportunity to attend two medical conferences since September without the added expense of travel and hotel cost!!

It should come as no surprise that COVID was a dominating topic in both.

One of the things I learned that I wanted to share was some insight into the strange behavior of this virus and what it could mean to this community.

Although COVID is primarily seen as a respiratory illness, it shares many unexpected similarities to other chronic diseases including Lyme disease and mold illness/chronic inflammatory response syndrome. One of these startling similarities is how it can lead to what is called “long-hauler’s” syndrome. Long-haulers syndrome is when someone experiences significant lingering symptoms long after the virus has resolved. Sound familiar?

Keep reading to find out what I learned about the connection between Lyme, mold and COVID-19!

Also, check out the frequently asked questions section and get connected with the latest, up to date answers to some of the questions we get from our patients, friends and family.

Best,
Dr. Amy

Pets in the Time of COVID-19

It’s no secret that pets can be highly beneficial in times of stress. During COVID-19 this is especially true. From unconditional love and companionship, to helping us stick to our daily routines, pets can play a vital role in our mental wellness. But are they safe? In a word, yes.

According to the American Red Cross, there is no evidence of COVID-19 transmittal from pets to humans. There is, however, a remote potential that the virus may be spread from humans to certain animals, including domestic cats and dogs. For this reason it’s important to keep your pets safe, especially should you become infected. Both the American Red Cross and the CDC have detailed information on this topic.
American Red Cross
CDC

Chronic Lyme disease, CIRS illness and COVID-19: What’s the connection?

1. What do these diseases have in common?

  • Both Lyme and COVID came from an animal reservoir, called zoonotic disease.
  • Both Lyme and COVID create complex immune responses in their hosts and are associated with cytokine storm
  • CIRS and mycotoxin related disease similarly affects the immune system, and is associated with elevated cytokine levels
  • All show a spectrum of presentation in different patients
  • All are multi system diseases, affecting different organs, not just the lungs
  • All present with common symptoms of fatigue, body aches, brain fog, as well as other mental and neurologic manifestations
  • We are now seeing that some COVID infected people, referred to as long-haulers, can go on to suffer chronic symptoms after disease resolution. Like in Lyme, there is confusion as to whether this represents reinfection with the virus, or a reactivation syndrome

2. COVID, chronic Lyme disease, and CIRS all interact with the immune system by turning down one part of the immune system called the adaptive immune system, while turning up the innate immune system flooding the body with inflammation
3. The chronic inflammatory state created by these disease taxes the immune system, exhausting the body of anti-oxidant nutrients needed to protect against infection
4. Finally you are left with a immune system that is less prepared to fight off other infections, like viruses

One advantage that chronic Lyme and mold sufferers have in common is a deep understanding of their bodies and its wisdom. We also understand the importance of supporting our bodies through good nutrition, supplementation and reducing stress.

Many of the same supplements that people take to treat Lyme and mold are the very same supplements we recommend for supporting and treating the symptoms of coronavirus.

Click here to see our doctors’ recommendations for supporting the immune system.

Even in the uncertainty that this virus evokes, it is possible to support your immune system, engage in healthy lifestyle habits and fostering joy and opportunities to connect to others and ourselves and build resilience.

Don’t forget, during the fall and winter month’s cold viruses, influenza as well as COVID may be spread. Protect yourself and your family by:

  • Wearing masks
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash up!

One advantage that chronic Lyme and mold sufferers have in common is a deep understanding of their bodies and its wisdom. We also understand the importance of supporting our bodies through good nutrition, supplementation and reducing stress.

Many of the same supplements that people take to treat Lyme and mold are the very same supplements we recommend for supporting and treating the symptoms of coronavirus.

Click here to see our doctors’ recommendations for supporting the immune system.

Even in the uncertainty that this virus evokes, it is possible to support your immune system, engage in healthy lifestyle habits and fostering joy and opportunities to connect to others and ourselves and build resilience.

Don’t forget, during the fall and winter month’s cold viruses, influenza as well as COVID may be spread. Protect yourself and your family by:

  • Wearing masks
  • Practice social distancing
  • Wash up!
Frequently Asked Questions — COVID-19
What do you recommend as far as travel and celebrating the upcoming holiday season?
Do I need to get a flu shot?
How do you tell the difference between a cold, the flu and COVID?
What activities put me most at risk for contracting the virus?
How is Colorado doing with the virus?

What to do after you’ve been sick.

How soon after getting COVID can I see other people?
  • CDC recommends quarantining for 10 days after first signs of COVID-19 or after testing positive for the virus.
  • See the CDC’s full recommendations here.
  • We think the best recommendation is to check with your doctor before leaving quarantine.
Do I need to get retested before I can see other people?
Can you be infected more than once?
References
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Heal The Vagus Nerve and Improve Your Health

Optimum Vagus nerve function or vagal tone is a hot topic in current research, especially as it relates to the treatment and management of chronic illness.
 
As practitioners, we are just now beginning to understand how important supporting this nerve is to maintaining health.
 
So what exactly is the Vagus nerve?
Spanning from brain stem to gut, the Vagus nerve is the longest nerve in the human body. Its branches extend from the brain to the heart and most major organs above and below the diaphragm and its function is vital to all of these organs and much, much more. 
 
The Vagus nerve controls the switch between the “zen-calm, rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and the activation of the “fight flight or freeze” response of the sympathetic nervous system. 
 
Although we need the quick action of the sympathetic nervous system to protect us from danger, we are finding that the Vagus nerve can get stuck in “fight or flight”, essentially blocking our bodies ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, lowering our ability to restore a feeling of calm and relaxation, and blocking the natural healing response. 
 
Our brains and bodies depend on our Vagus nerve to regulate things like:
  • Digestion
  • Inflammation
  • Anxiety and the fight or flight response
  • The immune response
 
While a poorly functioning Vagus nerve is linked to poor health outcomes and chronic disease, research is showing a well functioning Vagus nerve is essential for achieving optimal health and recovering from chronic illness.
 
Dysfunctions of the Vagus nerve also contribute to chronic inflammation, which is implicated in many chronic diseases including diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and dementia as well as mental health conditions like PTSD trauma, anxiety, and depression. Chronic viral, bacterial and parasitic infections and toxic exposures to mold and other environmental toxins are also linked to Vagus nerve dysfunction.
 
Finding ways to address Vagus nerve dysfunction may help to improve resilience, recovering our innate ability to bounce back after stress.
 
Many of the symptoms experienced by people suffering from chronic illness, infections and toxic exposure stem from too much inflammation in the body. A well functioning Vagus nerve is important because it helps to regulate inflammation in the body and restores our ability to shift back into homeostasis and healing.
 
So how can you help restore the function of your Vagus nerve naturally?
  • First step is always removing triggers, like inflammatory foods, infections and toxins
  • Supplements available on Fullscript: OrthoMega 820, SomnoPro with melatonin, 5-HTP and L-theanine and Quicksilver Melatonin help to heal nerve tissue and promote sleep and calm
  • Available exclusively from Boulder Holistic: Probiotics, specifically those containing Lactobacillis Rhamnosus strain, have proven helpful in supporting Vagus nerve function. This includes: Xymogen ProbioMax Compete DF and ProbioMax 350 DF
 
Other supportive measures for optimumVagus nerve function
  • Coffee enemas support detoxification in the liver by boosting glutathione as well as stimulating Vagus tone. Click here for our recipe.
  • Get a Chiropractic adjustment, specifically upper cervical adjustments greatly benefit the Vagus nerve function
  • Acupuncture, especial in the ear, supports parasympathetic tone and Vagus nerve function
  • Cranial Sacral Therapy can help to support parasympathetic tone and release the Vagus nerve
Vagus nerve stimulation practices you can do yourself at home
  • Stimulate the Vagus nerve: Gargling, singing, humming, coughing, laughing, chanting, chewing gum and “OM-ing” all stimulate Vagus nerve function.
  • Breath work: Slow, deep breathing, or alternate nostril breathing, can help reset the Vagus nerve.
  • Cold water: A cold shower or bath, or even splashing cold water on your face, can stimulate the Vagus nerve.
  • Get direct sunlight: Sunlight boosts MSH, another hormone that supports the Vagus nerve.
  • Mindfulness: Practice Yoga, meditation or Tai Chi.
  • Be social: Research shows that feeling closer to others builds resilience and improves Vagus nerve function.
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303-390-1245

2355 Canyon Blvd.   |   Suite 102   |   Boulder, CO 80302

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