Many of us are too stressed out these days and this can have negative consequences on our bodies and brains, promoting chronic disease and rapid brain degeneration. If you’re concerned about the effects of stress on your body and how to manage it, an adrenal salivary test is an important ally. It can show you whether your stress hormone cortisol is too high or too low and whether this has affected your sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm.
Symptoms of low adrenal hormones
Slow starter in the mornings
Crash in the afternoon
Crave sweets, caffeine, or nicotine to keep going
Prone to moodiness
Become shaky, light-headed, or irritable if go too long without eating
Wake up at 3 or 4 a.m.; inability to stay asleep
Become dizzy when move from sitting to standing
Symptoms of high adrenal hormones
Excess belly fat
Insulin resistance (high blood sugar)
Trouble falling asleep
Wake up not feeling rested
Women grow facial hair; men grow breasts
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
How to do an adrenal salivary test
To perform the adrenal salivary test, simply collect a small vial of saliva several times throughout the day using the vials in your test kit. The lab will then analyze your saliva for cortisol levels and how much cortisol you produce in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Do not do anything unusual or stressful on the day of your test.
It’s important to understand that low or high adrenal hormones usually don’t reflect a problem solely with the adrenal glands, two glands that sit atop each kidney and secrete adrenal hormones. Instead, chronic stress affects stress pathways in the brain, which start to dysfunction when stress is chronic.
It isn’t just being too busy, a bad job, a bad relationship, and so forth that cause chronic stress. Lesser known factors of chronic stress can include unstable blood sugar (usually from too many carbs), a chronic infection, leaky gut, or an autoimmune disease. Using follow-up adrenal salivary tests allows you to track whether you’re successfully managing your condition; adrenal health should improve as these conditions resolve. If adrenal health does not improve, it means you must keep investigating to find out what is causing the body stress.
Measuring the sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm
A sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, that is out of whack is one symptom of adrenal stress. If the circadian rhythm is normal, then cortisol is highest in the morning and lowest at night. This is what allows us to feel alert when we wake up and sleepy before bed. Many people with altered circadian rhythms notice they are more awake at night. Or they may notice an energy crash in the afternoon and being wide awake in the middle of the night.
The stages of stress
The adrenal salivary test measures circadian rhythm, the cortisol precursor hormones DHEA and 17 hydroxyprogesterone, and cortisol levels. It can tell you where you fall on the spectrum of adrenal fatigue to high adrenal hormones. People don’t necessarily progress from high adrenal hormone to low; adrenal function can jump back and forth between phases or stay stuck in one phase.
The adrenal salivary test also measures total secretory Ig antibodies, or (SIgA). Low SIgA levels reflect poor and dysfunctional immunity. If your SIgA levels are low, you are more prone to food intolerances, chemical sensitivities, autoimmune disease, infections, and other assaults on the immune system.
Contact me if you would like to learn about nutritional and lifestyle protocols which can profoundly influence your adrenal health.
After assurance from breast implant makers that concerns about silicone leaks were a thing of the past, more than 10 million women worldwide have received silicone breast implants in the past decade. However, a growing body of research — supported by increased symptom reporting by women —links silicone breast implants to autoimmune disorders and a rare form of immune system cancer.
Silicone breast implants linked to autoimmune disease
Doctors commonly advise potential breast implant candidates that the risks are minimal, yet multiple recent studies indicate otherwise.
A recent study at the University of Alberta comparing nearly 25,000 women with breast implants to nearly 100,000 without them confirmed that nearly one in four implant recipients is at risk of developing an autoimmune disorder.
The risk for women with breast implants developing an autoimmune disease is 45 percent higher than for those without implants.
While former studies on the topic have been criticized because they were based on self-reporting by subjects, this study used doctor-based diagnoses to confirm results.
Previous research has also found surgical mesh implants used for gynecological or hernia repair may be linked to autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Additionally, patients with allergies prior to the procedure were significantly worse afterward.
In the Alberta study, the strongest links were shown between silicone implants and these autoimmune conditions:
Sjögren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder of the salivary and tear glands.
Sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disorder of the lung, skin and lymph nodes.
Systemic sclerosis, an autoimmune disorder of the connective tissue affecting the skin, arteries, and visceral organs such as lungs and kidneys.
The theory behind these findings is that foreign material of the mesh and silicone implants causes an activation of the immune system. The body continues to fight the “invader” and over time autoimmunity develops.
In the largest-ever long-term safety study of breast implants, a similar study this year at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center linked silicone implants with higher rates of Sjögren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, dermatomyositis, and melanoma compared to the general population.
Emerging form of breast implant-related cancer on the rise
Individuals with breast implants are also at risk of developing breast implant large cell lymphoma, or BIA-ALCL. BIA-ALCL is not breast cancer but a form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system.
In most cases BIA-ALCL is found in fluid and scar tissue near the implant, however there are cases where it spreads throughout the body.
The FDA states, “At this time, most data suggest that BIA-ALCL occurs more frequently following implantation of breast implants with textured surfaces rather than those with smooth surfaces.”
Plastic surgeons have identified 615 cases of BIA-ALCL worldwide with the disease occurring at higher rates among women with textured implants. French authorities have recommended against the use of textured implants due to the cancer risk.
At present, however, the risks are difficult to determine due to significant limitations in world-wide reporting and lack of data.
Lax reporting rules at fault for lack of patient awareness
Prior to 2017 the FDA allowed breast implant companies to report breast implant injuries as routine events that did not require public disclosure. This effectively kept the information from the public and may have skewed opinions on the safety of using them.
In 2017 reporting rules were changed and reports of injuries soared. At the current rate, they are slated to increase more than 20-fold in the last two years from the previous two-year period.
According to an ICIJ analysis of FDA data, after the rule change the number of suspected breast implant injuries skyrocketed from 200 a year to more than 4,500 in 2017 alone.
In just the first half of 2018, that number almost doubled to more than 8,000 filed reports.
The increase in reports doesn’t mean implants are suddenly going bad but that they may never have been as safe as patients were told in the first place.
The FDA has acknowledged a “transparency issue” regarding the undisclosed injury reports and that the increase in numbers reflected the change in reporting rules.
Changing the system to better protect breast implant recipients
The FDA warns that as many as one in five women who receive breast implants will get them removed within a decade due to complications such as rupture, deflation, and painful contraction of scar tissue around the implant, but currently there is no warning about autoimmunity.
The good news is that in response to the new information, the FDA and agencies around the world acknowledge that more research needs to be done to determine the autoimmune and cancer risks of implants.
While current studies do not prove breast implants cause these diseases, they do show that women with the implants suffer them at significantly higher rates than women without implants.
It’s proposed that bacterial infection of a biofilm that surrounds the implants is the likely cause of implant-related illness, including BIA-ALCL.
Patient advocates propose rules requiring breast implants to be sold with “black box” label warnings, which are reserved for life-threatening and other serious risks.
Undoubtedly, it will take much larger and longer studies to root out the details and bring about protective actions, and in the meantime doctors and patients need to have deeper conversations about the benefits and risks of silicone breast implants.
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.
If you shy away from fats for fear of heart disease, you aren’t alone. But you may be surprised to learn that carbohydrates, not fats, are the culprits in heart disease.
For decades scientists and doctors have blamed dietary fats — especially saturated fat — for heart disease. We’ve been advised to stick to a low-fat, high-carb diet based on grains to keep our hearts healthy.
We now know this advice was based on outdated observational studies. As it turns out, none of the studies truly linked high-fat diets to heart disease, and numerous recent studies have debunked the theory.
In fact, the low-fat, high-carb diet promoted for decades by organizations such as the American Heart Association, the National Cholesterol Education Program, National Institutes of Health, and by the U.S. Department of Agriculture may have actually played a strong — yet unintended — role in today’s epidemics of obesity, type II diabetes, lipid abnormalities, and metabolic syndromes.
Limit carbs, not fat, for heart health
For most people, it’s carbohydrates, not fats, that are the true cause of heart disease.
Since 2002, low-carb diets have been studied extensively with more than 20 randomized controlled trials. These studies show that limiting your consumption of carbohydrates rather than fats is the surer way to decrease heart disease risk.
An analysis of more than a dozen studies published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that subjects consuming a low-carb diet had a healthier cardiovascular system and body weight than those on low-fat diets.
The Prospective Urban and Rural Epidemiological (PURE) study not only found that increasing fat intake was linked to lower risk of heart disease, but as carbohydrate intake is increased, the risk of heart disease grew stronger.
Include plenty of healthy fats in your diet
We need plenty of healthy fats for our bodies and brains to function at their best. Low-fat diets have many risks, including decreased brain function, poor brain health, and hormone imbalances.
Essential to your body’s function, fats:
Provide a major source of energy
Aid in absorption of certain minerals
Help you absorb vitamins A, E, D, and K
Help reduce inflammation
Are necessary for building cell membranes
Help build nerve sheaths
Are essential for blood clotting and muscle movement
Help maintain your core body temperature
Protect your core organs from impact
Provide the key nutrient for your brain, which consists of nearly 60 percent fat
Four types of fat: Eat three, avoid one
Four types of fat are found in our diet, all with different characteristics and effects. Some are great, some are good, and one is purely horrible.
Saturated fat. Instead of being linked to heart disease, saturated fats actually offer important health benefits:
Supports brain health
May reduce risk of stroke
Raises HDL (your “good”) cholesterol
Changes the LDL (“bad”) from small, dense particles — dangerous for heart health — to large particle LDL, which does not increase heart disease risk. This has been intensively studied in the past few decades and the studies consistently show these results.
Saturated fats are solid at room temperature. Sources include red meat, whole milk, cheese, and coconut oil.
Monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) are “essential,” meaning that your body doesn’t produce them on its own and you must get them through your diet.
MUFAs are liquid at room temperature and begin to solidify when refrigerated. They can be found in olive oil, nuts, avocados and whole milk.
Consuming higher levels of MUFAs than saturated fats has a protective effect against metabolic syndrome, a cluster of disorders that increases the risk for cardiovascular disease.
Polyunsaturated fats are also “essential,” meaning your body doesn’t produce them on its own and must get them via dietary intake.
Polyunsaturated fats can help improve blood cholesterol levels, which can decrease the risk of heart disease, and may also help decrease the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
There are two types of polyunsaturated fats: Omega 3 and Omega 6.
Omega 3 fats are linked with lowered inflammation, better brain function, and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Fish high in omega-3 fatty acids include salmon, mackerel, tuna, trout, sardines, and herring. Plant sources include ground flaxseed, walnuts, and sunflower seeds.
While we do need some omega 6 fatty acids in our diet, excess consumption is inflammatory and is connected to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, psychiatric issues, and cancer.
To prevent an inflammatory environment, increase your consumption of omega 3 fats and lower consumption of omega 6. Researchers recommend a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 that ranges from 1:1 to 4:1.
Trans fats are the one type of fat to always avoid. A byproduct of a process called hydrogenation that makes healthy oils into solids and prevents them from becoming rancid, trans fat have no health benefits. Their risks include:
Increased levels of harmful LDL cholesterol in the blood
Reduced beneficial HDL cholesterol
Higher risk for insulin resistance (a risk for Type 2 diabetes)
Trans fats are so risky the FDA issued a ban in 2015 that required they be removed from processed foods within three years.
Six foods to include for healthy fat intake
Rich in monounsaturated fats (raises good cholesterol while lowering bad)
High in vitamin E
High protein for a fruit
Coconut oil is rich in medium-chain fatty acids which:
Are not stored as fat by the body as readily as other fats
Support brain function and memory
Are easy to digest
Extra virgin olive oil
Very high levels of monounsaturated fats
Supports heart health and cognitive function
Best for low or medium heat cooking (not high heat)
Omega 3 fatty acids
Found in cold water fish such as salmon and sardines
Easy to consume via fish oil supplements
Nuts and seeds
Rich in ALA (alpha lipoic acid) Omega 3 fats for the brain
Helps lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
MCT oil (from coconuts)
Provides medium-chain triglycerides, a healthy form of saturated fat
Limiting intake of carbohydrates, rather than fats, is a surer way to decrease the risk of heart disease. Many doctors have seen how low-carb diets with plenty of healthy fats help patients lose weight, reverse their diabetes, and improve their cholesterol.
For more information on how to support your heart health, contact me.
Many of us start the day with a small breakfast as we run out the door, followed by a medium sized lunch and a large dinner. We also tend to snack throughout the day and even grab a bite before bed. However, while what we eat is important, a growing body of research suggests when we eat matters too.
The digestive system’s circadian rhythm
While you have likely heard of the circadian rhythm, the master “clock” in the brain that governs our sleep-wake cycle, we actually have a variety of circadian clocks that govern the daily cycle of activity for every organ.
These rhythms exist because every organ needs downtime for repair and regeneration.
The digestive system is no exception. During the day, the pancreas increases production of insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, and then ramps it down at night.
Circadian clocks optimize our health by aligning our biological functions with regular and predictable environmental patterns. Disrupting our circadian clocks — such as by skipping breakfast or eating at midnight — can result in health issues such as weight gain, metabolic syndrome, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and more.
Eat breakfast daily
About 20 to 30 percent of American adults skip breakfast. Some do it to save time, many do it in an effort to lose weight. However, studies show that people who eat breakfast daily are less likely to be obese, malnourished, suffer from impaired blood sugar metabolism, or be diagnosed with diabetes.
They are also less likely to have the heart disease risk factors of high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Even the American Heart Association recently endorsed biologically appropriate meal timing to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Just eating breakfast isn’t the only important thing however. It’s critical to start the day with a breakfast that provides plenty of protein and healthy fats, and a minimum of sugars. This helps support blood sugar balance and proper brain function throughout the day.
Make breakfast the largest meal for weight control and fat loss
The timing in relation to the size of our meals is also important.
Research shows having the largest meal in the morning appears to help with weight control compared to having a large meal in the evening.
In fact, a person eating the identical meal at different times of day might deposit more fat after an evening meal than a morning meal.
This is partly because insulin, a hormone that helps with blood sugar control, appears to be most efficient in the morning. In addition, we burn more calories and digest food more efficiently in the morning than later in the day when most of us eat our largest meal.
In one study, a group of overweight women with metabolic problems were put on a 1400 calorie-per-day diet. Half consumed 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at supper. The other half reversed that pattern.
Women in both groups lost weight and experienced reduction in fasting glucose, insulin, and ghrelin (a hunger hormone), but in the same time frame the large-breakfast group experienced added benefits:
They lost 2.5 times the weight compared to those who ate the largest meal at dinner.
They had a significantly greater decrease in fasting glucose, insulin, and triglyceride levels.
Their satiety (sense of fullness) scores were significantly higher.
They also lost more body fat, especially in the belly.
According to the researchers, a high‐calorie breakfast and a reduced calorie dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for managing obesity and metabolic syndrome.
The body needs fasting periods for optimum health
Fasting signals to the body to start burning stores of fat for fuel. Most of us eat meals and snack from the time we wake up until shortly before bed — or even in the middle of the night. In fact, studies show the average person eats over a 15-hour period during the day. This short fasting time period may interfere with optimal metabolism and increase weight gain.
Researchers put a group of prediabetic men through two eating cycles. In one phase, they ate meals within a 12-hour window for five weeks.
Then in another phase, they ate the same meals in a time-restricted six-hour window starting in the morning.
They ate enough to maintain their weight, so they could assess whether the time-restricted regimen had benefits unrelated to weight loss.
In addition, the men who ate only one or two meals per day fared better than those who ate three meals.
A recent review of the dietary patterns of 50,000 adults over seven years provides added evidence that we should ingest most of our calories early in the day, including a plentiful breakfast, a smaller lunch, and a light supper.
The researchers said that eating breakfast and lunch five to six hours apart and making the overnight fast last 18 to 19 hours may be an effective method for preventing long-term weight gain.
Another recent study found that subjects who added snacks to their daily meals tended to gain weight over time, while those who had no snacks tended to lose weight.
Light exposure is key for proper metabolism
Sufficient exposure to natural light and darkness also play an important role in how we metabolize food for either energy production or fat gain.
At night, the lack of sunlight signals our brain to release melatonin, the hormone that prepares us for sleep. In the morning, the light stops melatonin production and we wake up.
When we change that signaling — whether from a late-night meal, artificial lighting at night (especially blue screen light), shift work, flying and travel, or changing our eating patterns — it confuses our bodies’ circadian clocks. Eating at the wrong time of day strains the digestive organs, forcing them to work when they are supposed to rest.
Shift workers, who account for about 20 percent of the country’s work force, have a particular problem with disturbed circadian clocks. Many frequently work overnight shifts, forcing them to eat and sleep at odd times. Nighttime shift work has been linked to increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer.
Studies have linked poor melatonin activity and disrupted sleep-wake cycles with an increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s, cancer, autoimmune flare-ups, obesity, and more.
Low blood sugar may require a before-bed snack
One important exception to the “don’t eat right before bed” rule is for those who have chronic low blood sugar. For these people, keeping blood sugar stable throughout the day — and night — is critical for brain health, energy level, and more.
If you suffer from the following chronic low blood sugar symptoms, it may be best to take a small, high-protein low sugar snack just before bed:
Constant sugar cravings
Nausea or lack of appetite in the morning
Irritability, light-headedness, dizziness, or brain fog if meals are missed
Craving caffeine for energy
Eating to relieve fatigue
Afternoon energy crashes
Waking around 3 a.m.
Daily habits to maximize your dietary rhythm
To help maximize your meal timing and metabolism, incorporate the following habits into your day:
Make breakfast your largest meal and make dinner your smallest. While this may prove difficult for those with a busy social life or family that sits down to a big dinner every evening, make the evening meal smaller whenever possible.
Prioritize protein and healthy fats with breakfast, and minimize sugar and caffeine intake especially before lunch, to stabilize blood sugar and regulate metabolism.
Avoid between-meal snacks and bedtime goodies. The exception is for those who have chronic low blood sugar as mentioned above.
Try time-restricted eating pattern, or intermittent fasting, to maximize weight management.
Manage exposure to blue light at night:
Avoid screen light in the evening
Install the f.lux app on your phone and computer
Read a book
Wear blue-blocker glasses at night
Install amber or red light bulbs for evening use
If you have chronic low blood sugar, a small before-bed snack with plenty of protein may be a good idea to keep your blood sugar stable all night and prevent that 3 a.m. wake-up.
While studies suggest that prioritizing larger meals early in the day helps support metabolic health, it does not necessarily mean that you should skip dinner. Instead, have your dinners earlier and make them relatively light.
The take-home message here is like the old proverb, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”
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.
Thanks to science and public awareness, we know environmental pollution from industry harms our health. Same goes with tobacco. But did you know “social pollution” is just as harmful? Social pollution refers to the long hours, lack of economic security, high cost of health care, exhaustion, surviving in a gig economy, lack of parental support, and high stress that has come to characterize work life in the United States and other industrialized countries. It is now recognized as they fifth leading cause of death.
In the new book Dying for a Paycheck, author and Stanford University professor Jeffrey Pfeffer uncovers the disastrous toll of modern work life on human health.
Sixty-one percent of American workers say workplace stress has made them sick, and 7 percent have been hospitalized by it.
Workplace stress contributes to the chronic diseases that make up three quarters of the health problems crushing our health care system, including diabetes, metabolic syndrome (pre-diabetes) cardiovascular disease, and circulatory diseases. Disorders such as alcoholism, drug addiction, and overeating are also linked to high stress and the erosion of family and social structures from work-related stress.
In fact, one of the worst aspects of modern work life is the effect it is having on our social support structures. Long, stressful hours at work breaks up marriages and families, leaves too little time for healthy socializing with friends and family, and makes it difficult for single people to date or establish new relationships.
Research clearly shows regular healthy socialization is vital to good health and that isolation and lack of positive social time can be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
When work place stress and social pollution keeps you stuck in fight-or-flight mode
One of the many downsides to workplace stress and social pollution is that it can keep your nervous systems stuck in fight-or-flight mode. A normal stress response is to flee, fight, or freeze. When work stress and the havoc it causes on your home life is constant, you never get a chance to unwind from being in a fight-or-flight state.
The chronic stress from this is devastating to brain and body health. It accelerates brain aging, causes leaky gut, raises inflammation, imbalances the hormones, and increases the risk of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and addictive habits.
What can you do to protect yourself from social pollution and workplace stress
Unfortunately, most of us cannot single-handedly change this unhealthy situation in which we find ourselves. However, you can be aware of and not psychologically buy into the subtle or not-so-subtle shaming and unhealthy expectations around productivity.
Many companies expect longer hours at lower pay yet provide little to no job security, sick days, maternity or paternity leaves, and so on. Be aware of this and don’t internalize the messaging that working long days with no days off makes you a better person. It doesn’t, it makes you a sicker person.
If you can downsize your housing, car payments, or other expenses, consider the positive impact living more modestly can have on your health. It could be the ticket to a dramatic health turn around.
However, not everyone can afford to downsize as many are working non-stop to barely get by. Although there is no easy answer to this, recognize your situation and don’t ask too much from yourself.
The more people who are aware of the problem, the better chance we have at changing public perception and workplace policies.
In the meantime, support your health the best you can with an anti-inflammatory diet, seek out support, and make sure to include healthy, restful, and relaxing time in your life as much as possible.
If you have a desk job and are too tired to make it to the gym, take regular breaks to move your body and go for short walks as frequently as possible. Regular physical activity is vital to the heath of your brain and body and will help protect you from the harm of workplace stress.
For years we’ve been warned the cholesterol in eggs raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, however new research shows that in people with pre-diabetes and Type 2 diabetes, eggs do not raise cardiovascular risk if they are part of a healthy diet. What’s more, they pose no additional challenges to weight loss. These findings, along with previous research, indicate we need to jettison the outdated stance on cholesterol dangers.
The study emphasized a healthy diet that replaced saturated fats such as butter with monounsaturated fats such as olive and avocado oil. In tracking cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, no significant differences were found between groups.
Researchers tracked two groups for one year: a high-egg group that ate 12 eggs per week and a low-egg group that ate fewer than two eggs per week. They found the following:
In the firsts three months of the study, neither group experienced an increase in cardiovascular risk markers.
During the second three months, both groups participated in a weight-loss diet while continuing their egg consumption protocols and achieved equivalent weight loss.
In the final six months, both groups achieved equivalent weight loss and showed no adverse changes to cardiovascular risk markers.
Eggs are commonly immune reactive
While the heat is off regarding egg consumption in relation to cholesterol levels, it’s important to know that for many people eggs are immune reactive and need to be avoided. Cyrex Labs offers a variety of panels that test for reactivity to eggs.
“Despite being vilified for decades, dietary cholesterol is understood to be far less detrimental to health than scientists originally thought. The effect of cholesterol in our food on the level of cholesterol in our blood is actually quite small.”
— Dr. Nick Fuller, lead author in the research
Why we need cholesterol
Conventional medicine would have us believe dietary cholesterol is bad, but we need to consume plenty of it in the form of healthy, natural fats.
Cholesterol is found in every cell of our bodies, and without it we wouldn’t survive. We use cholesterol to make vitamin D, cell membranes, and bile acids to digest fats.
Sufficient cholesterol is necessary to digest key antioxidant vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Cholesterol is also a necessary building block for our adrenal hormones and our reproductive hormones such as progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone.
The brain is largely made up of fat, and the fats we eat directly affect its structure and function, providing insulation around nerve cells, supporting neurotransmitter production, and helping maintain healthy communication between neurons.
Unraveling “good” vs. “bad” cholesterol
We hear a lot about “good” HDL and “bad” LDL cholesterol. They are actually lipoproteins, small fat and protein packages that transport cholesterol in the body.
HDL: High-density lipoprotein. Called “good” cholesterol, HDL helps keep cholesterol away from your arteries and removes excess arterial plaque.
LDL: Low-density lipoprotein. Called “bad” cholesterol, LDL can build up in the arteries, forming plaque that makes them narrow and less flexible, a condition called atherosclerosis.
Triglycerides. Elevated levels of this fat are dangerous and are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Levels can rise from smoking, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, and being overweight. A diet high in sugars and grains also puts you at risk.
Lipoprotein (a) or Lp(a). Made of an LDL part plus a protein (apoprotein a), elevated Lp(a) levels are a very strong risk for heart disease.
When considering test results, your doctor will pay attention to:
HDL levels vs. LDL levels
The ratio between triglycerides to HDL
The ratio between total cholesterol and HDL
The size of the particles
There are small and large particles of HDL, LDL, and triglycerides. Large particles are practically harmless, while the small, dense particles are more dangerous because they can lodge in the arterial walls, causing inflammation, plaque buildup, and damage leading to heart disease.
More important than knowing your total cholesterol is knowing the ratio between your HDL and your LDL, and especially the size of the particles.
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, many doctors now believe that for predicting your heart disease risk, your total non-HDL cholesterol level may be more useful than calculating your cholesterol ratio. Non-HDL cholesterol contains all the “bad” types of cholesterol; it is figured by subtracting your HDL cholesterol number from your total cholesterol number.
However, either option appears to be a better risk predictor than your total cholesterol level or simply your LDL level.
In some cases, people have a genetic tendency toward extremely high cholesterol. In those situations, it may take more than diet to manage cholesterol levels.
Contact me to learn more about diet and lifestyle to support healthy cholesterol levels, find out about your cholesterol levels and heart disease risk, and to test for egg reactivity.
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.