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Category: Boulder Holistic Blog

Gut Health: The Link Between our Gut and Chronic Health Issues

My husband recently forwarded me an article published in a medical journalthat linked the use of proton pump inhibitors to the development of seasonal allergies in adults. I had to choke back a chuckle. The concept was mind-blowing to him.   He was so proud to be the first to alert me of the potential issue so that I could use this knowledge to protect my patients.

In the functional medicine model, the foundational role the gut plays in our overall health is kind of a no brainer. 

The interaction between my husband and I reminded me not everyone fully understands the full importance of our gut health. In fact, those of us practicing functional medicine place dysfunction in the gut at the root of practically all disease related conditions.

It’s not a mystery that heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain are clear signs of a digestive issue.  But did you know digestive issues often masquerade as common skin disorders such as acne, rosacea, and eczema? If you are having issues with digestion it is like pouring gasoline on a fire when it comes to fueling symptoms of fatigue, brain fog, anxiety, and depression.

Gut dysfunction can even play a pivotal role in the development of some autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Name just about any disease, and a functional medicine provider can link some part of the disease process to a breakdown in gut health.

We all know that digestion helps us to extract nutrition from our food, but did you know that the gut (and the bacteria that live there) is responsible for providing 70% of our immunity and nearly 90% of our serotonin production? The gut is also a major workhorse when it comes to detoxification. More and more of us treating chronic disease are looking to healing the internal terrain of the body, including the gut, to get our patients to higher ground in restoring their overall health.

That is why holistic medical providers often start all treatment protocols with addressing the gut.  At Boulder Holistic, we use the 5 R’s program to address GI issues in our patients: Remove, Replace, Reinoculate, Repair, and Rebalance.

Follow our blogto take a deeper dive into each of these steps and learn how you can begin to address the gut and regain your health. I will also explore the testing available to address digestive issues and explain how these tools can help to lead you back to wellness.

For future blogs I will break down the 5 R’s and the testing used for each step.

The 5 R’s Program Includes:
  • Removing — microbes, food sensitivities, pathogens, GMO products,  non-organic foods, mold and xenobiotic exposure in addition to addressing stress
  • Replacing — digestive enzymes, pancreatin, hydrochloric acid and bile acid
  • Reinoculate — with good quality probiotics, prebiotic fiber and saccharomyces boulardii
  • Repair — using mucosal healing agents including l-glutamine, aloe, DGL, vitamins A,E,C,D and minerals like zinc and magnesium. Improving  immune support using colostrum and immunoglobulins and inflammation with cucumin and fish oil
  • Rebalance — addressing lifestyle, sleep, practicing mindful eating, as well as balancing brain nervous system with mindfulness, yoga, tai chi, meditation, heart rate variability trackers
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Adrenals: Tiny glands, Big Job!

My patients often ask, “Why is my energy always dragging?” Or for some, “Why am I so tired during the day, but then at bedtime I can’t sleep?” Most of us have heard of adrenaline and our “fight or flight” instinct, but what do our adrenals have to do with it? 

These tiny glands are so important that they have precedence, above all else, as they are the messengers of our survival instinct. When stress becomes prolonged,  when we burn the candle on both ends, our adrenals kick in for us –so we can still do it all!  Initially, we are wired and tired, but we can still manage our over-scheduled lifestyle.  Eventually the adrenals will stop compensating for our lack of natural energy, (whether that’s from lack of sleep, stress, infection, trauma, etc) and when they do, they take everything else out with them. 

When the adrenals finally stop compensating for our lack of natural energy, that’s when we get REALLY tired.  When this happens, the adrenals take the entire hormonal system down with them. That’s right, there goes your testosterone – your sex drive, workouts, muscle mass and mood.  And what’s more? There goes your progesterone – your Zen hormone, the hormone that keeps us calm and resilient.  When progesterone tanks, we have more anxiety, irritability, anger impatience and difficulty sleeping. Our ability to deal with stress and what life throws us, evaporates.  In essence, our adrenals create our force field, our grounding, our armor, our power and emotional strength…our very resiliency.  

And not only that!  Your adrenals and your thyroid are interconnected, as they compensate for each other and play in the same feedback loops.  One affects the other in every which way possible.  

Ok, so let’s back up, what are your “adrenals” exactly? 

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Sleep: The Key to Happiness?

Do you fall asleep easily only to lie in bed wide awake at 3 a.m.? Do you sleep but don’t feel rested when you wake up? Do you dread bedtime because you have such a hard time falling asleep?   My own personal hell: being awake in the middle of the night for hours with my mind making craziness out of nothing. 

Sleep: delicious, life giving, deep sleep. Do you find it elusive? Is it the solution? The fountain of youth?  All I know is everyone wants more of it and can’t get enough. Your cells and nervous system detox and regenerate.   Your glymphatic system drains neurotoxins and neuroinflammation from your central nervous system while you sleep. The world seems brighter and has more sparkle after a good night’s sleep.  There’s nothing you can’t do or take on after a deep, full night’s sleep. Its super fuel, liquid gold, your motivation, excitement and ease with life all at the same time.

This is a topic that is close and dear to my heart.  I lost my ability to fall asleep and stay asleep in my third year of medical school.  I don’t think I slept more than a few hours per night for over 10 years, nor did I sleep easefully for over 20 years.  Although I mostly sleep wonderfully now, it remains my weak spot. If anything is out of balance in my life, if my heart is heavy or my stress level high, this is where I’m affected. My sleep patterns give me insight as to what may be off with my health and heart. It’s my integrity meter, my stress odometer, my most vulnerable truth about where my heart really stands.  I can see it now as information from my unconscious, teaching me what needs more attention, more love or perhaps what needs letting go.

I must admit, knowing when I don’t sleep well is useful information doesn’t always help the middle of the night madness.  I’m sure many of you can relate. Your mind may choose this time to fret over the unfinished minutiae of your life or create lists. Or it can create massive upheaval, devastation or destruction out of absolutely nothing grounded in reality.  And your conscious awareness often can’t help you in this weird, middle of the night madness. The twilight mind’s is not to be talked out of it’s madness. As the moment you relax the conscious mind enough to fall back asleep, the madness takes over again.

“Earthquakes don’t happen in Colorado and if they did, your roof isn’t actually made of glass, so stop it with the craziness!“ says your sensible rational mind.  Every fragile thing you can think of is sitting on top of your glass roof and there’s a massive earthquake coming and good god, your child’s bed is right under that big weird glass unicorn statue (where did that thing come from anyway?)

What’s important to remember is there’s a middle of the night madness that is not uncommon and is unlike any other irrationality we experience in other parts of our lives.  Many of us have been there, it’s not pretty and the evolved psyche is not immune. It has its own unique flavor of madness.

Know that you are not alone.  Know that you can’t talk yourself out of this place with your rational mind.  Take a deep breath and try these four tips:

  1. Focus on things that make you happy, things you are grateful for, things that make your heart overflow with love, joy and gratitude.  Kittens snuggling, your sweet children, football, winning at ping pong, whatever puts you into your heart and takes you out of your head.
  2. Put on an audible book, podcast, something you can listen to with your eyes closed and the lights off.  Something light hearted ideally, interesting enough to take you away from the madness but boring enough for you to drift back off to sleep.
  3. Do any kind of breath work, meditation, visualization that works for you.  
  4. And at the same time or if the above tips aren’t working, try some natural calming micronutrients that feed your brain, your adrenals, your parasympathetic nervous system, your limbic system the food it needs to fall back asleep deeply and naturally.

Some of my favorite middle of the night nutrients that won’t leave you drowsy in the morning:

Xymogen “Relax Max”

Glycine, “optimag Neuro” by Xymogen

Botanical tincture with Valerian root, California Poppy, Kava Kava, Oatstraw or chamomile.

Now let’s dive into the actual root causes of sleep dysfunction. I am a functional medicine doc after all, and I intend to find the actual underlying dysfunction. There are multiple organic causes of difficulty sleeping. I encourage you to find the actual cause and treat it.  Then may you enjoy deep, restful, effortless sleep and wake up rested, vibrant and full of energy.

  • Low thyroid: Waking up in the middle of the night can be a symptom of a low functioning thyroid.  Alternatively, I find clinically that if your thyroid level is a bit high, you may have a hard time falling asleep.  This is more common than people realize and it’s the first thing I check, personally, when my sleep is out of balance. I recommend getting a full thyroid panel (TSH, FT3, FT4, RT3) to help figure out if this is contributing to your sleep dysfunction.
  • Adrenal Dysfunction: A common cause of the 3:00 am wake up or an inability to fall asleep is an elevation in your cortisol levels.  Cortisol is a hormone secreted by your adrenal glands, which is responsible for your “flight or fight” response, your survival instinct.  Optimally, your cortisol levels are at their highest in the morning and decrease to close to zero by the time you drift off into a delicious, easeful sleep at night.  

      However, your adrenals can get “stuck” in a pattern where they may spike at bedtime or in the middle of the night.  It’s easy to imagine that one cannot easily sleep when your cells are screaming at you to “get up and run, as FAST as you can, from the tiger!”  Unfortunately, your cells can’t distinguish between perceived stress and a true survival emergency.

      New parents, shift workers, medical students are especially prone to this particular form of sleep dysfunction.  As is anyone who has been burning the candle on both ends, which turns out to be many of us!

      For example, if you have kids, remember waking up multiple times throughout the night to feed or check on your little one?  These repetitive wake ups throughout the night to keep your baby alive and healthy can set a pattern in your adrenals to wake up in the middle of the night.  This may contribute to increased nighttime cortisol levels. In some people, that middle of the night cortisol spike can remain in that pattern, even after your baby sleeps through the night (and thank goodness when that happens). There are great natural things out there that can help blunt overnight cortisol secretion. However, just so we know what’s actually going on, I do recommend doing the salivary adrenal test first.  

 

https://www.diagnostechs.com/our-tests/adrenal-stress-index-asi/

  • Low progesterone: This one is for the ladies. Another contributing factor to sleep dysfunction is progesterone deficiency.  Other symptoms of low progesterone are anxiety, irritability, impatience, anger, menstrual headaches and migraines and heavy, painful or irregular periods. I think of progesterone as our “zen, calm” hormone. When it decreases, we lose our patience, are more irritable and have a hard time sleeping.

       In a normal menstrual cycle, progesterone takes a big dive for 1-2 nights right before you get your period, it’s part of bringing on your bleed. These 1-2 nights of poor sleep and increased anxiety before your period is the more common, expected low progesterone state.  Some people call this the “bitchy” part of their cycle. 😉 If these “bitchy” symptoms persist for more than a couple days before your period, you may want to get your progesterone levels checked.  Husbands, boyfriends- you are welcome to chime in here – you may have a more objective opinion.;-)

       Adrenal dysfunction may even be contributing to your low progesterone levels as progesterone converts directly to cortisol. Cortisol gets precedence in our hormonal system, as it’s our survival instinct. Even if it’s perceived stress from our daily busy lives, our cells are wired to react with: “screw your zen, calm, the wooly mammoth is about to STOMP on you, get up and run!” I recommend getting your progesterone levels tested day 17-21 of your cycle. And if your levels are low, bioidentical compounded progesterone may be something to consider with your functional medicine doctor.

  • Low gaba: If your brain doesn’t have enough gaba, for a variety of reasons, it can make you more prone to anxiety and insomnia.  Gaba is one of your main inhibitory neurotransmitters. It’s calming and balances out your stimulatory neurotransmitters.  Be careful, however, when purchasing it, as much of the “gaba” out there won’t cross the blood brain barrier and simply gets urinated out.
  • MTHFR: People with this gene mutation can have trouble with methylation, which is critical to the body’s processes for things like detoxification, hormone clearance and neurotransmitter clearance.  With certain MTHFR snp’s(single nucleotide polymorphism), one can be more at risk for insomnia, anxiety, fatigue and depression. Treating this with supplements without knowing detailed information about your genetic makeup can result in elevated anxiety or insomnia.  It’s a tricky one to treat, though, and I recommend that you find a physician with some training in this area. Or make an appointment today with myself or Dr. Amy Reidhead.
  • CIRS or Mold Toxicity: One of the most common symptoms of mold toxicity is insomnia.  
  • Lyme Disease and its co-Infections: A common co-infection in Lyme disease is Bartonella.  This bacteria can cause retractable insomnia in some people.  Borrelia, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease can also cause insomnia.

Sleep deprivation is a form of torture.  The studies in medical literature are immense when it comes to the far-reaching effects of poor sleep on your health and ability to detox especially in your brain.  Some are cited below and quite depressing if you are someone who struggles with sleep. I don’t recommend you look at these studies if it will only serve to increase your stress level (skip the next paragraph if this is you.)  

Cognitive decline, neurologic degeneration, depression, increased incidence of cardiovascular events and worse health outcomes of almost all kinds are illustrated in studies of sleep deprivation.  In one study done as old as 1894 by a Russian scientist, the complete absence of sleep was fatal in puppies after only a few days. Aaaak!

I encourage you to find the root cause of your sleep dysfunction, whether it’s mild or severe.  There may be nothing more important for vibrant health and vitality, brain function and absolute happiness than a good night’s sleep!  

May you sleep effortlessly, restfully, all the way through the night.  And live a beautiful, happy, long, healthy and active life.:-)

Stress Reduction techniques and sleep – the studies are astounding!

  • Meditation (a favorite meditation app, Calm)
  • Mindfulness stress reduction
  • Breathwork
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Therapy that helps you work on the underlying stressors in life or old trauma and patterns that keep you awake at night.  My favorite is EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)  
  • Laughing out loud
  • Creative Visualization
  • The body scan
  • A gratitude practice
  • Love and dropping into your heart

 

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2656292/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9322273
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5489575/
https://academic.oup.com/sleep/article/26/2/117/2709164
https://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Abstract/2000/03000/Symptoms_of_Stress_and_Depression_as_Correlates_of.14.aspx
https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/7/7/e014920?utm_source=trendmd&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=jnis&trendmd-shared=1&utm_term=TrendMDPhase4&utm_content=Journalcontent
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24136970
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glymphatic_system

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Glutathione: How to Boost this Mighty Molecule and Supercharge Your Health

Glutathione may actually be one of the most important molecules you have never even heard of in your life. I know I was not introduced to it in my medical training prior to starting down the functional medicine path.

Shocking, I know.

Known as the master antioxidant, glutathione is perhaps our most effective tool in
defending against the ever-growing toxic burden we face in living in the modern world.
Naturally, our bodies make glutathione as part of Phase 2 detoxification through the
antioxidant pathway. The sulfur molecule in glutathione acts like a kind of stinky glue
that gobbles up free radicals and toxins. In this way, glutathione helps to defend against and detoxify our bodies from the neurotoxins, mycotoxins and biotoxins produced by mold and other bacteria and viruses as well as environmental pollutants and heavy
metals.

Glutathione is especially good at healing neural tissue, which makes it a perfect addition to treatment programs addressing conditions like concussion, dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, and ALS.

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Tired of feeling so tired?

Spent. Haggard. Beat. There’s no end to the words we can use to describe being tired, especially in today’s hyperspeed cyber world. My personal favorite? Fried. Many of my patients complain of fatigue. And if they’re not exhausted, they’re wondering what happened to their energy levels—they just can’t seem to do all of the things they used to do.

Did you know that fatigue and low energy are not signs of getting older? There are, in fact, multiple causes for feeling dead on your feet that have nothing to do with your age. I’m diving in deep with fatigue, exploring the many causes and hopefully guiding your journey back to vibrant health and vitality.

When we discuss fatigue, there are many factors that can contribute. It’s quite possible that there’s more than one that’s contributing to your current state of fatigue.

7 possible causes of your fatigue:

ADRENAL DYSFUNCTION // THYROID DYSFUNCTION // POOR SLEEP // MITOCHONDRIAL DYSFUNCTION // CHRONIC INFECTIONS // MOLD TOXICITY // TOXIN EXPOSURE

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