When Just Getting Old Means Something is Wrong

In her article “Tired? Weak? You’re not ‘just getting old’; something is wrong”, author Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News, described symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and depression as the to-be-expected signs of normal aging for too many adults. Unfortunately, societal assumptions and cultural norms about what it means to ‘get old’ have gotten in the way of proper treatment. Indeed, peoples’ bodies gradually change as they age, but there are also common concerns that should garner attention and a thorough clinical workup.

Graham insists that symptoms like appetite loss and depression should be addressed by a doctor, particularly when they interfere with a patient’s mobility or cause a sense of isolation. Overlooked in Ms. Graham’s article are common symptoms like chronic pain, fear of falling and brain fog, indicative of blood sugar dysregulation, thyroid toxicity and medication side effects, which debilitate many patients.

Muscle wasting, irritability and fatigue. Our bodies hаvе a desperate nееd fоr sugar (glucose),as it iѕ thе fuеl that gives our ɫеllѕ the energy they need tо kееɪ us alive. Problems begin tо occur then thе ongoing supply of simple sugars in the blood stream (and оur bоdу’ѕ ability tо uѕhеr it intо the cells with insulin) is disrupted.

With a notable drop in blood sugar, such as in the morning and before breakfast, low blood sugar will cause sudden irritability and, by midday, dizziness and fear of falling. How well a patient can stabilize blood sugar into old age is a good predictor of healthy aging. Balance disorders, seizures, ischemic attacks, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s all can be exacerbated and/or masked by inability to control blood sugar and insulin as we age.

Mental fogginess and constipation. Thyroid hormones govern metabolism and even though a slowdown in thyroid activity can be expected as the decades pass, extreme fatigue, gut problems, loss of bone density, constipation and mental fogginess are all indicators that something is wrong.

As people age they become more susceptible to autoimmune disease that progresses from one target tissue to the next like wildfire. So, a thyroid disorder such as Hashimoto’s can progress to cerebellar ataxia in the brain, rheumatoid arthritis in the joints, or celiac disease in the gut. An easy way to stop the madness is by altering the diet and providing additional nutrients that also reduce inflammation and heal various target tissues.

Chronic pain. Statins, antibiotics, NSAIDs, blood thinners, high blood pressure pills, opiates, and soon all have side effects. Muscle weakness, gut problems, thin skin, bruising, skin outbreaks, disorientation and worsening pain should all be cross-checked with the medications that are being prescribed. In many cases, two or more medications are being prescribed for the exact same reason. Worse, many drugs cause severe discomfort and can become addictive to patients.

In past decades, natural healthcare experts who’ve sounded the alarm about the apparent role of medications in causing pain, muscle weakness and heart disease have usually had their arguments drowned out by peers whose research was funded by the pharmaceutical industry and related groups. To combat the signs of old age, re-examine lifestyle and diet, and get checked by a qualified functional doctor.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

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For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

The NSAID Pain Trap

Most people don’t think twice about popping over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers like Advil, Tylenol, Aleve or other NSAID medications for everything from headaches to muscle pain to arthritis. In fact, sales of nonprescription NSAIDs rank in the billions in the US annually. There’s a general assumption that because these painkillers are nonprescription and readily available, they’re safe to use as much as necessary. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

NSAIDs can cause a host of serious problems in the body, including leaky gut (which can trigger autoimmune diseases), bleeding ulcers and joint deterioration – and that’s just the start. They can also impede healing (including broken bones) and increase the risk of heart and kidney disease, stroke and hypertension. In fact, the April 2017 issue of the European Heart Journal – Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy reports that NSAIDs have been “associated with an increased cardiovascular risk” in a nationwide study. In addition, Science Daily reported that a study conducted and published by the American Gastroenterology Association showed that long-term NSAID use “causes severe intestinal damage”, including “increased risk of bleeding and visible damage to [the] small intestine”. Those are just two of the many cited studies about NSAID-associated risks.

Having a history of heart or kidney issues increases the likelihood of NSAID-related complications, especially in people over 50, regardless of whether the medication is prescription or OTC. Add to that the possibility of dangerous drug interactions with other prescription and nonprescription medications that a person may already be taking and there’s potential for serious problems.

Ironically, when NSAIDs are taken for joint pain including pain caused by arthritis, the short-term pain relief is outweighed by the long-term negative effect of permanent joint damage. NSAIDs merely offer temporary symptom relief, they don’t cure the cause of pain nor do they prevent progression of the underlying problem. And long-term use creates a need for more frequent doses as well as higher dosages; as these become less and less effective over time, additional drugs are needed just to achieve temporary pain relief. The cycle only grows larger and more dangerous.

So how does a person manage chronic pain without daily NSAID use? The answer is different for everyone, but clearly it shouldn’t include an automatic prescription for painkillers or a recommendation for continued use of OTC pain relievers. Each person needs to be evaluated individually – their medical history, comprehensive test results, dietary habits and lifestyle all need to be taken into consideration by their doctor to determine the root cause of their pain.

While inflammation is, many times, a key component of pain, there may be undiscovered food allergies or sensitivities that may also be contributing to the previously unidentified cause of the painful condition. Gut health is also extremely important; an unhealthy gut can result in any number of different health issues that cause seemingly unrelated pain in other areas of the body. Pain is a symptom, an indication of a deeper problem; masking pain won’t heal the root cause.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

The Dark Side of Opioids for Pain Relief

In her recent broadcast, Why Opioid-Related Deaths Continue to Rise and What Can Be Done to Reverse the Trend, popular National Public Radio host and author Diane Rehm touched on the central problem of doctor-prescribed opioid pain killers: they are highly addictive and too easy to dispense. Under the culture of quick fixes, doctors readily hand out prescriptions when a milder, less abusive option is available. Why is this?

The fact is these medications are not safe. Nearly twenty percent of Americans already take at least five or more prescription drugs regularly. And rarely, if ever, are these prescriptions cross-checked. In a startling statistic on causes of death in the U.S., total drug overdoses from prescribed medications alone, including opiates, killed more Americans than firearms or motor vehicle accidents. The real crux of our nation’s heroin epidemic stems from the overprescribing of opiates, legally. Nearly four out of five current heroin addicts state that they began using illegal drugs only after being prescribed opiates by doctors for pain.

So what is the reason why so many Americans are on prescription drugs?
The risk of addiction is high, whether for school athletes, parents of young children or seniors. Isit that doctors are simply too heavy-handed with their prescription pads? Are these doctors being influenced by Big Pharma and believe that prescription drugs are a quick fix to all our health problems? The honest answer is that, yes, physicians have been giving out way too many prescriptions, and in their defense, patients also do not want to leave the office without a script. In her new book, Drug Dealer, MD – How Doctors Were Duped, Patients Got Hooked, and Why It’s So Hard to Stop, author and psychiatrist Anna Lembke, MD, points out that we live in a society today that does not want to feel pain.

Per Dr. Lembke, this change in thinking about pain marked a radical shift in America’s attitude from 100 years ago, when the medical community thought that pain made patients stronger. “Doctors believed that pain was salutary,” she tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, “meaning that it had some physiologic benefit to the individual, and certainly some spiritual benefit.” Today, not only do doctors believe that pain is something they must cure at all costs, but patients have become less willing to endure it. Further complicating the whole transaction is that for too long there has never been any oversight.

Are there alternatives to effectively manage pain?
Now, with prescription drug monitoring programs, the easy prescribing habits of doctors have come to a halt. Still, pain is real and very often patients are the ones having to manage it. Can I restore quality of life without having major surgery or popping too many pills, they ask? Yes, a better way to approach pain relief is to target the different ways in which pain is produced. It’s not about adding more and more, but about treatments complementing and enhancing one another to reduce inflammation, alleviate anxiety, decompress nerves, increase metabolism, lower toxicity, reduce unnecessary pills, and so on. Studies have shown that statin drugs, for instance, are a primary predictor of pain. Likewise, an eleven to eighteen percent reduction in body weight significantly decreases the severity of pain. By taking a holistic, functional approach to pain relief, patients find there are numerous ways to restore quality of life that can be sustained into old age.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

How Serious is My PN Pain?

We’ve talked a lot about nerve pain as a serious warning sign of disease. Tingling or burning in the arms and legs may be an early sign of nerve damage. Nerve damage can affect a single nerve or a group of nerves as well as the whole body. Diabetes is the most common cause of this type of nerve problem. It’s an indicator of high blood sugar and poor insulin response, which leads to nerve cell death and other equally serious complications.

People with nerve problems often have difficulty digesting food. They feel full and experience heartburn after eating only a little food. All too often they are taking one or more over-the-counter medications for acid reflux and bloating, not realizing that the unchecked nerve damage is related. For some, it deeply affects the digestive system resulting in the involuntary vomiting of food that has not been digested well. For others, it creates problems with swallowing or problems of waste elimination and the ability to clear the bowels.

These two problems (digestive problems and nerve pain) are related. Nerve damage causes problems with body organs and their ability to function. Another example of this is feeling lightheaded or fainting upon standing. There are several possible root causes of this, including unstable blood sugar, poor blood pressure, or weak adrenal gland response. But another primary cause is that the nerves to the heart are weak. Angina is the term used to describe the chest pain warning sign prior to a heart attack. Nerve damage can hide this warning sign. Sudden fatigue, sweating, shortness of breath, nausea, and vomiting (sympathetic responses) are warning signs as well.

Over-the-counter treatments for nerve pain include topical painkillers, pharmaceutical painkillers, and nutritional supplements. Topical painkillers include creams and ointments with ingredients that work as a local anesthetic, numbing the pain in the area where you apply them. An obvious disadvantage of topical treatments is that you apply them externally, never at the source. Some people with neuropathic pain turn to familiar over-the-counter painkillers like acetaminophenaspirin, and ibuprofen. With mild, sporadic and very occasional pain, they decrease inflammation enough to reduce pain. With chronic pain, they’re useless. There’s also a risk that one might begin to rely on these medicines too much. According to the American Academy of Pain Medicine, prescription painkillers are considered a major contributor to the total number of drug deaths. In 2007, for example, nearly 28,000 Americans died from unintentional drug poisoning, and of these, nearly 12,000 involved prescription pain relievers.

To really get at the cause of nerve pain, we have to look at several factors. Is there an oxygen deficit that is causing the brain to panic? Healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen and keep nerve cells healthy are in short supply. The most common cause of pernicious anemia is the loss of stomach cells that make intrinsic factor, which itself helps the body absorb vitamin B12 into the intestine. Is there a chronic liver infection or kidney disease? The main function of these organs is to remove wastes and excess water and filter the blood stream. Is there an underlying autoimmune condition such as lupus or Hashimoto’s? Poisoning due to heavy metals, such as lead? Or an unwanted side effect of high blood pressure meds?

Only after determining the root cause of your nerve pain can the proper course of healing – not just covering symptoms – begin.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Statins, Neuropathic Pain and Cholesterol

As far back as 1992 a scholarly look into the actual research on statin drug use and heart disease, which had previously claimed that lowering cholesterol would prevent heart disease, determined instead that this claim was wrong. It found that lowering serum cholesterol concentrations does not reduce mortality and is unlikely to prevent chronic heart disease at all. Then in 2012 the FDA began requiring statin manufacturers to add “memory loss” as a side effect of this chemical class of drugs. Now, a study in the Journal of Diabetes reveals a clear association between statin drug use and nerve damage, or peripheral nerve pain.

The central nervous system is the brain and the spinal cord. It branches out to all “peripheral” parts of the body such as the arms, hands, and fingertips…likewise, to the legs, feet, and toes. It is this system that provides all the sensory input from the fingertips and toes back to the brain. It is also the communication pathway throughout the body that allows for movement. What this means is that if you are experiencing pain, numbness or burning in the hands or feet, you have a short circuit between the central and peripheral nervous systems and a lack of sensory input to the brain. To preserve itself, the brain will begin to shut down the communication pathways to the peripheral systems, causing them to atrophy, sting, and hurt as the nerve roots demyelinate.

Peripheral neuropathy is the term for demyelination, which disrupts the body’s ability to enervate muscles, joints, and internal organs. The four cardinal patterns of peripheral neuropathy are polyneuropathy, mononeuropathy, mononeuritis multiplex, and autonomic neuropathy. The most common condition, symmetrical peripheral neuropathy, mainly affects the sensory fibers of the feet and legs, and results in stabbing, sharp electric pain, burning, cramping, numbness, extreme prickling, or an inability to determine joint position. For many neuropathies, the sensation begins in the feet and creeps up the legs toward the center of the body as the condition worsens.

In fact, people who have Type II Diabetes have the same risk of heart attack and dying from heart disease as people who already have had heart attacks. Diabetes is a common cause for sensory neuropathy, though many cases are identified as “idiopathic”, since no direct causal relationship can be found. This ignores the known side effects of cholesterol lowering medications as much as it ignores what we know about the human body and how it operates. Guess what? Cholesterol makes up the largest portion of the myelin nerve sheath (the nerve strand, so to speak) and once you start removing it from the veins and arteries in an effort to lower total serum cholesterol in the bloodstream, the nerve strand begins to irritate. The raw nerve ends cause the pain symptoms until the nerve shrinks and atrophy (or nerve death) sets in. When left untreated, atrophy can result in amputation of a limb.

It turns out that cholesterol is not just a number on a lab test. It’s a reflection of antioxidant levels and inflammatory processes happening within vasculature and nervous systems. Even then, few people need to worry about cholesterol so much as they need worry about actual peripheral nerve pain. Blood cholesterol levels between 200 and 240 mg/dl are normal. These levels have always been normal. In older women, serum cholesterol levels greatly above these numbers have been shown to be associated with longevity. Since 1984, however, in the United States and other parts of the western world, these normal numbers have been treated as if they were an indication of a disease in progress or a potential for disease in the future.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

A Healing Mindset for Curing What Ails

Medicine has its place in a moment of crisis. For instance, when you’ve been working way too hard and the pressures are mounting. You have what feels like a heart attack but it’s determined to be a panic attack instead. Medications are then given to relieve anxiety and to prevent future heart-related events. In an acute scenario like this, I fully support it. If your house is on fire, you want to call the fire department, not a medical detective.

Sometimes a quick intervention is warranted to quell the emergency. You take medications long enough to implement changes in your life that are beneficial. If your health keeps deteriorating and you continue to come down with mysterious ailments, you want an investigator. You want a Columbo of sorts to keep asking the pointed questions.

And since it’s your life and you live it all day every day, you also want to get to the root of the problem and take care of as much of it as you can yourself. This is what I call a Healing Mindset, and here are the shifts involved in achieving that mindset:

Shift No. 1. From Affliction to Conviction – Shift your headspace from a feeling of affliction to one of conviction about what it will take to get better. Look at the whole picture, and connect the dots as you realize that your health problem did not happen overnight. This is not about a lightning bolt coming out of the sky; it’s about a conscious examination.

Shift No. 2. From Helpless to Accountable – To become personally responsible for changes that had to occur in your life, you must hold yourself accountable for what went wrong, and also for what is going right. Look at your relationships, your wellbeing and your happiness. Chronic does not mean irreversible, and it does not imply hopeless. What it means is that you have to learn new habits and put them into practice immediately for your own benefit, holding yourself accountable for your own aches and pains.

Shift No. 3. From Passive to Interactive – A typical doctor-patient interaction lasts about 4 to 7 minutes and is rife with mishaps. Communication flows in a one-way direction, if at all, often because the doctor is pressed for time and has only a limited set of options: referral slips, prescriptions and other critical time-saving devices. To truly get well, you have to find an expert, someone you can learn from and who will participate in your treatment. Find a doctor who’s a healing partner, someone you can trust for exceptional advice and insight.

Shift No. 4. From Cured to Recovering – For most of us, there is no such thing as “cured.” True healing is not something that occurs only over a set period of time. Like alcoholism, the illness is never truly gone. Instead, we are Recovering. We will heal ourselves for the rest of our lives, living in recovery so that we preserve the good moments and minimize the setbacks.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Freeing Yourself of the Standard Model of Treatment for Thyroid Hormones

It is widely understood throughout the medical community that low thyroid function is always secondary to something else, but they never consider the possibility (even likelihood) of it being caused by an autoimmune attack, i.e. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. This is when the thyroid becomes so toxic the body attacks it.

Patients are considered to be managed and treated properly when the TSH normalizes. But all that means is that the TSH is managed, while the underlying mechanism for low thyroid function (the autoimmune attack) is not. In many instances a doctor will even refuse to run thyroid antibodies, because most doctors don’t understand the underlying issue and so don’t see the point.

In conventional medicine, or what I call The Replacement Model, a drug, or in this case a hormone, is meant to replace actual physiology. Any symptoms that remain after the normalization of the TSH marker are attributed to some other cause. In other words, the prevailing medical thinking is that since the TSH reads as “normal” on your lab report, or outside the laboratory range for prescribing medicine, your symptoms are resolved, and the drug you are taking has worked as a perfect replacement for actual thyroid hormone. If your symptoms have not in fact resolved, they must be because of something else, because look, your labs are normal!

This kind of circular thinking is chronic in the medical community.

For example, if your TSH levels are “normal,” but you are still experiencing depression, then your medical doctor or psychiatrist will give you antidepressants. Never mind that depression and hypothyroid issues are often linked.

If you haven’t had this kind of experience yet, you probably will. You will go into your doctor’s office because you STILL suffer with the same symptoms, and in an attempt to move you out of the office in the allotted 10 minutes for your visit, your doctor is going to shove an anti-depressant prescription at you, and tell you that it will help alleviate some of the symptoms, implying that it’s all in your head.
In most cases, since the actual autoimmune response is ignored, over time you will continue to lose more thyroid activity. This is what most of you suffer from. And as the requirements for your thyroid replacement hormone prescription continue to rise, you will continue to have symptoms and be ignored.
Something else needs to be done. Get your thyroid checked properly, and get it healed, not just “managed.”

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.

Knee Pain? Surgery or Medication May Not Be Your Only Option

There are many possible reasons for knee pain, from arthritis to tendinitis to soft tissue tears. But these often-heard diagnoses may not be the root cause of your pain, and some may be reversible without turning to surgery or dangerous painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications.

Increasingly severe knee pain is what brought Pamela D. to my practice after four months of seeing several doctors, then being sent for MRIs and physical therapy. Her problem began with “little” signs – pain when crossing her legs or sitting cross-legged. Being in her 50s, she wrote those off to normal aging issues and just stopped doing them. But over the next several months, she experienced more and more pain, sometimes while just sitting still and at other times when climbing stairs or walking normally.

No amount of lifestyle adjustment helped and the pain got worse daily, so she started going to doctors for answers. Without a clear diagnosis and multiple conflicting opinions, she was sent to physical therapy, which made things worse. The pain spread to her thigh joint and down into her ankle. A pain management doctor performed physical tests with no conclusions and sent her for x-rays followed by MRIs of the knees, hips and thigh joints.

The x-rays showed no bone issues, but the radiologist’s report of the MRI said that Pamela had a complete tear in the left knee meniscus and a partial tear in the right knee meniscus. Both would need surgery, she was told, which would mean lengthy and painful recoveries.

Pamela took the MRI images to her orthopedist, who read them and said the radiologist misread the images – she definitely did not have any tears. What was misinterpreted as tears were merely shadows. He performed several intense physical tests, at one point applying 40 pounds of pressure to the knees; Pamela experienced no pain, proving there was no tear.

However, the orthopedist said there was nothing that could be done to relieve the pain other than lifelong cortisone shots, with no guarantees. He said she should never climb stairs, squat or even step up onto curbs for the rest of her life. Being extremely fearful of needles and knowing cortisone shots would be nothing more than a mask for the problem if they worked at all, she searched further and found me.

Pamela’s pain had now worsened to the point where she could barely walk, couldn’t drive and was confined to her home unless one of her family members drove her and supported her while walking; her gait had become quite slow and her steps were small. Not surprisingly, she was becoming depressed at the idea of losing her independence for the rest of her life, being in pain daily and giving up things she loved to do, like hiking.

After doing extensive testing, I discovered there were both neurological and emotional components behind Pamela’s pain. She was extremely doubtful when I said she would be fine, but she was committed to my program, which included in-office therapies and neurological exercises done at home, along with implementing ways I suggested to help resolve her emotional pain. I also gave her remedies and supplements for both the current problem and for other underlying deficiencies and issues her doctors hadn’t found.

Almost immediately, Pamela saw improvements beginning. By the end of her three-month program, she felt she was halfway back to normal and opted to continue with me for another three months. Toward the end of that time, she was driving herself to my office (over an hour), walking at a normal pace without help (including going up stairs), and doing all the things her orthopedist said she never could do again. In short, according to her, she was “better than normal.”

The point is that things may not always be what they seem when it comes to physical pain. A diagnosis can be wrong or inconclusive, a suggestion of permanent pain and disability can be reversed. Localized treatments like physical therapy or moist heat may not help or may only offer temporary relief because they may not be targeting the actual cause of the problem.

While some medical testing like x-rays and MRIs can help eliminate or confirm causes, it’s only by digging deeper, beyond standard medical testing, that we can zero in on the underlying issues that are manifesting through more obvious, sometimes painful symptoms.

Find out what you need to know about your thyroid hormone or health disorder diagnosis today, and get health news updates via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and The Wellness Essentials newsletter.

If you’d like to leave a question for me to answer in a future blog, you can do that via social media or email.

For more information about my clinic in Oradell, NJ, including Functional Medicine, Neurology & Nutrition, and The Grassroots Medicine Initiative, please call (201) 261-5430.