In functional medicine we look at diet and lifestyle strategies to prevent or reverse disease, calm inflammation, and slow the aging process. However, other overlooked but extremely important aspects to your health are your general happiness, well-being, and attitude. Science shows happiness and positivity are correlated with better health. If you are not naturally happy, not to worry, simply putting forth small and regular efforts in the direction of happiness, such as writing in a gratitude journal, has been shown to improve health.
In what is thus far the most comprehensive study on what makes people happy, researchers looked at the lives of Harvard graduates, blue collar workers, and women spanning almost a decade. From that data, they found six common themes that ran through the lives of the happiest lifelong subjects.
1. Avoid smoking and alcohol. Researchers found those with lifelong smoking and alcohol habits were unhappier than those who abstained. Among the study subjects, not smoking was the most important factor in healthy aging.
Likewise, the study showed that alcohol robbed people of happiness and sabotaged their relationships (healthy relationships are one of the six factors of happiness).
In functional medicine we know smoking and regular alcohol consumption make it hard to be healthy and happy for other reasons. Smoking robs your brain of oxygen, degenerating it more quickly. This has an effect not only on your brain function, personality and mood, but also on the health of your body. Regular alcohol consumption has also been shown to more quickly degenerate the brain and promote leaky gut and inflammation.
2. A college education. Despite income, social class, or IQ, college-educated research subjects were happier in the long run. Those with higher education tended to take better care of their health and avoid destructive habits like smoking and drinking. Exercising your intellectual curiosity is also good for the brain at any age and despite your education.
3. A happy childhood. Ok, this one is unfair for a lot of people. Feeling loved by one’s mother was a bigger predictor of lifelong happiness despite income or IQ. Coping well with adolescence was another predictor. But not to worry if your childhood has been something only from which to recover. Caring, loving friendships and relationships have been shown to compensate for damaging childhoods, and those are factors you can develop through self-work.
4. Good relationships. Mutually heathy, loving, and supportive relationships were found to be fundamental to happiness across all the study subjects’ lives. This includes continually widening your social circles so that if some friends fall away new ones to fill their place.
5. Good coping skills. No one is spared from bad stuff happening. However, happier people are more resilient and better able to cope with hardship. This can be a learned skill, even if you need a therapist’s help. Coping skills include altruism, creating good outcomes out of bad situations, staying focused on the bright side, and keeping a sense of humor.
6. Giving back. The happiest study subjects intuitively followed a path that spiritual traditions have espoused for millennia — happiness is found through service. As they matured, the study subjects who served in building community and relationships thrived best. This includes mentoring, coaching, consulting, and otherwise selflessly sharing the fruits of well-earned wisdom.
Sometimes it can be difficult to “practice happiness” when we feel terrible. One of the most rewarding aspects to a functional medicine recovery journey is a boon to your general mood, well-being, and sense of love. Ask my office how we can help you shift your health and happiness into the right direction.
New research shows those powerful and toxic household disinfectants do more than kill germs — they also kill off vital gut bacteria and shift your gut microbiome signature to promote obesity.
Our gut microbiome consists of several pounds of bacteria and research increasingly shows how powerfully these bacteria influence our overall health.
The composition of the gut microbiome determines much about our immune health, personality, brain function, and weight. In fact, scientists are increasingly discovering a connection between our microbiome signature and a propensity toward obesity.
For instance, being born via C-section versus vaginally, bottle feeding instead of breastfeeding as an infant, and frequent antibiotic use in childhood, all factors which affect the microbiome, have been associated with a much higher risk of obesity.
Also, both mice and human studies show that inoculating the gut of an obese subject with the gut bacteria of a thin subject causes swift weight loss. The reverse is also true — thin mice quickly become fat when inoculated with the gut bacteria of obese mice.
Now, a new study adds more weight to these findings by showing that multi-surface cleaning disinfectants are another factor that promotes an obesity microbiome. Children who grow up in households that use these products regularly are more prone to obesity.
The Canadian study showed that three-year-old children who grew up in homes where these products were used two or more times a week were more overweight than their peers who grew up in homes where these products were used less often or not at all.
The bacterium scientists looked at is called Lachnospiraceae. In animal studies, higher levels of Lachnospiraceae is associated with increased body fat and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a stepping stone condition to diabetes and is often found in people with obesity.
Fecal samples from children in homes that used eco-cleaners or detergents free of the bacteria-killing ingredients did not show the same elevated levels of Lachnospiraceae.
It was important in the study to look at the home environments three-year-olds grew up in because microbiome researchers find that our lifelong gut microbiome is largely determined by age three.
Although more work needs to be done in this arena, animal studies have produced similar results.
Can you alter your gut microbiome signature?
Although it looks like the gut microbiome signature we develop in infancy plays a large role in our lifelong health, it is not completely set in stone.
In fact, the gut microbiome is increasingly being viewed as a dynamic organ that can change composition in as little as three days. The foods you eat profoundly influence your gut bacteria.
The best strategy to promote a healthy gut microbiome that favors fat burning over fat storage, healthy immunity, and balanced brain function is to eat a large and diverse array of produce, mainly vegetables, at every meal. It’s important to eat many different kinds of produce on a regular basis. Gut bacteria health is based on diversity, which is created by a diverse produce-based diet.
Gut bacteria also respond positively to regular exercise, an environment and diet as free of environmental chemicals as possible, and consumption of fermented and cultured foods and drinks, such as kefir water, kimchi, and sauerkraut.
Ask me for more ways to promote a healthy gut microbiome.
Most everyone has heard of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, when winter brings on chronic blues. But if you feel better in winter than summer, you may have summer SAD, also called reverse SAD. While the jury is still out on the causes of summer SAD, there are ways to get through the season with more energy, better sleep, and improved mood.
Although both winter and summer SAD and summer SAD share symptoms of sadness and anxiety, they diverge in potential causes and remedies.
Winter SAD commonly involves sadness and anxiety, sluggishness, weight gain, oversleeping, cravings for high-carb foods, social withdrawal, and a loss of interest in typically enjoyable activities.
While summer SAD also causes sadness and anxiety, it differs from winter SAD by causing the following:
Agitation and irritability
Feeling overheated at night
Loss of appetite
Increased suicidal ideation
Increased sex drive
While five percent of the population suffers from winter SAD, researchers estimate roughly one percent suffer from the summer version, and women with summer SAD outnumber men two to one.
Spring and summer depression can be especially hard to cope with because sufferers feel very out of step — everyone is happier when you’re more miserable.
Suicide is a concern with summer SAD as suicide is more of a concern when people are depressed and agitated rather than depressed and lethargic.
Are the causes for winter and summer blues the same?
Most theories regarding the cause of the winter blues — what most of us think of as SAD — stem from the fact that short winter days reduce our exposure to daylight, leading to an increase in the hormone melatonin. This can negatively affect our body’s circadian rhythm, or sleep-wake cycle, as well as brain hormones that affect mood, motivation, and appetite.
Support for this theory comes from the overwhelming success of morning light therapy in the winter. When the brain is exposed to natural light in the morning, it helps regulate the circadian rhythm, improving sleep, energy level, and mood.
The causes for summertime SAD however, are not yet clear. The theories below are being studied, but a consensus has yet to be reached.
Possible genetic component. More than two-thirds of patients with SAD have a relative with a major mood disorder.
Hypothalamus. Some scientists believe the root cause could lie in the brain’s hypothalamus, our brain’s control center for hormones.
Changes in light. While winter SAD has been linked to decreased light, summer SAD may be related to longer days and increased light offsetting the circadian rhythm by activating the body’s melatonin response at the wrong time of day.
Heat and humidity. Sensitivity to heat and humidity may come into play, including in areas with milder summers, although incidences go up in hotter areas.
Study subjects with summer depression were shown to experience a significant increase in body temperature at night compared to non-sufferers. When they were wrapped in cooling blankets at night their temperatures dropped and their symptoms disappeared. As soon as they went outside into the summer heat, their depression returned.
Without a known cause, how do I manage my summer SAD?
While the causes for summer SAD are not yet decided, here are some tools to help you cope with those summertime blues:
Early morning sunlight. Get 30 to 60 minutes of early morning sunlight as often as possible to help shift your body clock into the proper circadian rhythm.
Blackout curtains. Install these in your bedroom during the summer to mimic the cool dark of winter nights.
Open bedroom windows at night. This will improve air flow and keep room temperatures lower for improved sleep.
Sunglasses. Avoid bright light by wearing sunglasses outside the house. Even on cloudy days there is substantial exposure to sunlight. At higher latitudes, the blue light spectrum is more prevalent, making cloudy days have more glare.
Avoid blue light and screen light in the evening. This helps the body to adjust its hormone production in preparation for a proper sleep cycle. Some patients find wearing blue-blocker glasses and installing the f.lux app on phones and computers also helps immensely.
Cool your bed. While cooling therapies are not guaranteed to be permanent fixes, the temporary help can make a big difference in sleep quality. You can use low-tech solutions like frozen water bottles in your bed or opt for more high-tech solutions like a cooling pad or bed fan.
Check thyroid levels. Some evidence suggests those with summer SAD have low thyroid function, which can affect temperature regulation, mood, sleep, appetite, weight, energy, and more.
Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
Eat plentiful and varied produce. This will support your healthy gut bacteria and help support production of neurotransmitters to support brain health and mood regulation.
If you suffer from summertime SAD, contact me to find out how you can reclaim your energy, appetite, and mood.
The Epstein-Barr virus infects more than 90 percent of people in the United States by the age of 20. At least one in four of those infected will develop the commonly-known disease mononucleosis, or “mono,” experiencing a rash, enlarged liver or spleen, head- and body aches, and extreme fatigue.
However, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is not only related to mono. Recent studies indicate it may be a catalyst for at least six more diseases, most of which are autoimmune in nature. These include multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
EBV isn’t the only virus associated with autoimmunity. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) has been linked to Sjögren’s syndrome, upper respiratory viral infections and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) have been linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), and EBV has previously been linked to lupus.
Chronic viral infections can contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases
It has long been thought that viruses play a part in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, especially autoimmunity. Many healthcare practitioners report there is frequently a hidden infection that either precedes or seems to trigger an initial autoimmune attack, or subsequently appears when the immune system is weakened once autoimmunity is activated.
This creates a vicious cycle of infection and illness. Infections are opportunistic and often travel together — many autoimmune patients find they host multiple infections that are bacterial, viral, parasitic and/or fungal, driving the inflammation that leads to symptoms.
The relationship between viral infection and autoimmune disease is multifaceted, involving numerous complex processes in the body. Scientists believe that a variety of factors must usually be present for an infection to result in an autoimmune condition. This includes not only a genetic predisposition but also lifestyle and environmental factors such as:
Poor sleep habits
Dietary inflammatory triggers
In a nutshell, chronic disease develops as a result of an improper immune response to a viral infection due to other predisposing factors. The virus acts as the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Chronic viruses can prevent autoimmune remission
Remission from autoimmune symptoms is possible with proper diet and lifestyle management. However, if you already have an autoimmune condition, a chronic viral infection can prevent you from alleviating your symptoms and halting progression of the autoimmunity. In fact, a chronic virus is a deal-breaker in recovery for many patients.
If you have an autoimmune condition and suffer from symptoms that don’t get better after addressing inflammatory triggers through diet and lifestyle, you should consider testing for viruses associated with your condition.
Viral infections can occur years before developing autoimmunity
Viral infections usually occur well before any symptoms associated with autoimmunity develop (sometimes years), so it can be difficult to make a definitive link between a particular infection and a yet-to-be autoimmune disorder. However, if you have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition but have had any of these viruses in the past and have unexplained symptoms now, it’s worth getting tested for autoimmunity and a chronic virus.