Fight Seasonal Allergies Naturally

Seasonal allergies can seriously impact our lives, causing us to feel so miserable and distracted that we can’t function effectively. Many people turn to over-the-counter (OTC) medications, like Benadryl, Dimetapp and Chlor-Trimeton, believing that because they don’t require a prescription, they’re safe to use as much as necessary. Nothing could be further from the truth.

All medications, whether OTC or prescribed, carry health risks and side effects you may not be aware of. While some people don’t bother to read the warning labels, others expect – and accept as inevitable – more common side effects like dizziness, dry mouth, tiredness, diarrhea, nervousness and many more. Although this shouldn’t be acceptable and may be causing other issues in your body, there are even more serious health risks associated with these drugs, from racing or uneven heart rate and increased blood pressure to short-term memory loss and impaired cognitive function.

The Fisher Center for Alzheimer’s Research Foundation reported on a study conducted by Group Health and University of Washington researchers which revealed that allergy medications can cause “damage to the brain”, and that people who take these drugs are at a higher risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That risk increased with higher dosages and long-term use.

So does that mean you have to suffer through your seasonal allergies? Not at all. There are a number of natural ways to ward off allergy symptoms that also yield other health benefits – a double win. Here are just a few:

Improve gut health. Your gut affects more aspects of your health than you may think, from brain function to your immune and nervous systems. A diet riddled with processed foods and sugars can cause perforations in your intestinal wall, a condition called leaky gut. These tiny holes allow toxins, bacteria and undigested food to leak into your bloodstream, causing a myriad of problems such as allergies, asthma, skin problems, fatigue and so much more. Healing the gut through elimination of inflammatory foods, choosing whole foods over processed foods, and limiting or eliminating NSAIDs and alcohol are just some ways to control allergies and improve your overall health.

Antacids aren’t an answer. An unhealthy gut can cause symptoms like heartburn, but regular antacid use, including OTCs and prescription proton pump inhibitors (PPI), can actually cause allergies. This is because antacids are acid blockers, literally – they block your stomach acid to calm the burning or nausea symptoms, but your stomach needs that acid to activate the enzymes that break down allergens.

Natural antihistamines. You can bypass the drug aisle and stock up on natural allergy calmers instead. One of the most powerful antioxidants in your body is glutathione, which comes from foods like broccoli, garlic and onion. If you don’t eat enough of these sulfur-rich foods, you can still pump up your glutathione all year long with a good, additive-free supplement. You can also build up your immunity with other supplements including vitamin C, stinging nettle and quercetin.

Vitamin D. Most of us don’t get enough sunlight, especially during winter months when days are short. That can leave our bodies too low on vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy immune system. Once you find out what your body’s vitamin D level is, you can take a high-quality supplement to restore and replenish this important nutrient to the proper level.

Your functional medicine doctor can help uncover any allergies or sensitivities you may have and give you personalized advice on how best to treat them so you can enjoy every season of the year.

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.

HIIT Exercise Improves Mitochondrial Health

We all know that exercise is important to a healthy body, and as we age, it becomes even more important for many reasons. From maintaining muscle tone and achieving optimal blood sugar levels to stronger bones and better mental health, physical activity and exercise are crucial to living a healthier life.

Throughout our lives, changes continually take place in our bodies from the skin to the cellular level, but these changes become more severe with age. Cells in older people have accumulated years of damage; these cells are weaker and their energy-producing mitochondria don’t regenerate as quickly or easily. And while most doctors and scientists understand the overall positive impact of exercise on the adult body, there has been no real knowledge about what types of exercise could possibly regenerate cells and those all-important mitochondria.

However, a study was recently conducted at the Mayo Clinic comparing the results of specific types of exercise on 72 sedentary but healthy volunteers consisting of two age groups:

  • ages 18-30
  • ages 65-80

People from both age groups were divided into four subdivisions. Three of these subdivisions were assigned a different type of exercise regimen:

  • high intensity interval training (HIIT) – short bursts of intense stationary bike pedaling
  • weight workouts twice a week
  • stationary bike exercise with weight workouts on alternate days

The fourth group was given no exercises at all and functioned as the control group.

These exercise regimens were followed for three months. Expected outcomes in all participants were realized, such as increased endurance, improved blood sugar levels and increased muscle mass.

But new information was discovered when results from the HIIT group showed that the mitochondria in cells had improved. Younger participants showed improvements in 274 genes, and older participants showed improvements in astounding 400 genes. (The two groups with weightlifting regimens also showed gene-related improvements, but to a far lesser degree.) Older participants’ cells showed a reversal in the decline of muscle-building proteins as well as improvements in mitochondrial health, increases in mitochondrial numbers and rejuvenation of the protein building blocks called ribosomes. All of which means that HIIT exercising actually halted aging at the cellular level by enabling cells to increase protein production for energy-producing mitochondria and protein-building ribosomes.

This study confirms the fact that you’re never too old to improve your health; in fact, the right types of vigorous exercise can reverse aging at the cellular level even more in older adults. For younger adults, incorporating high intensity interval training into their daily exercise routine can help slow the effects of aging and, quite possibly, make them healthier and more active as they age.

Before starting any exercise routine, including one of high intensity aerobic exercises, talk to your doctor about the safest way to approach exercising for your body and health; this is especially important if your lifestyle is generally more sedentary.

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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.

How Prescription Drugs Can Cause More Pain Than They Relieve

Studies have clearly shown that lowering the number of medications taken by people over 65 significantly reduces accidental deaths and extends the life of this cohort by nearly 40%. Whether from overdose, misuse or unwanted side effects, research has revealed that far too many seniors are taking way too many drugs. Yet the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) recently cited that prescriptions for multiple drugs affecting the central nervous system are on the rise. These include opioids, anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, sleep aids, and antipsychotic drugs.

What makes this noteworthy – even alarming – is the fact that the number of seniors being prescribed these medications has more than doubled (tripled in rural areas), even though at least half of these seniors have no diagnosis. Even worse – many of these patients are being prescribed not just one, but at least three psychiatric drugs despite the FDA issuing warnings against combining such drugs. Additionally, most doctors fail to use a physician’s cross-check guide or monitoring database before handing out an additional prescription and rarely, if ever, look for signs of abuse and addiction.

This significant increase came to light by 2004 when Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).CSA is the statute establishing federal U.S. drug policy under which the production and prescribing of certain substances is regulated; prior to this, patients had easy access to any number of mind-altering and pain-relieving drugs from their doctors. To put it in perspective, these numbers translate to approximately 3.68 million people aged 65 and older taking three or more psychotropic drugs. The side effects to each of these types of drugs can be extremely severe and even lead to death, especially when taken in combination.

Although the AMA recognizes this ongoing trend and the FDA has issued a black-box warning against the prescription of multiple central nervous system medications, there is not yet a full understanding as to why these drugs are being prescribed so frequently, especially to patients who don’t present with symptoms warranting such dangerous medications. Is it because doctors are so pressed for time in their appointments with patients that offering a new prescription is the fastest solution? Or because masking the real problem with a drug is simpler than doing the hard work of healing? These drugs are meant to be used as short-term interventions while the detective work is under way, not as quick-fix solutions.

Regardless of why this is happening, the fact is that even when a patient is having trouble sleeping, having pain issues or feeling depressed, drugs are not the answer. A medication is merely an ineffective bandage, not a solution to the problem. While a medication may help for a short time, the problem typically returns with additional issues attached to it, either because of the medication or because the underlying condition has worsened.

The only way to improve a patient’s quality of life and heal or improve a health problem is by getting to the root cause of the issue, not by temporarily covering up symptoms. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions to healing, and multiple medications are not the answer. Generic blood tests don’t provide enough information; more comprehensive testing along with an individual’s medical history and an understanding of lifestyle and diet all need to be considered. Only then can each person’s path to wellness be discovered.

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.

Better Medicine for Hormone Health and Heart

Balancing thyroid function is a vastly overlooked health variable in women and men. It plays a crucial role in the enzymatic processing of LDL cholesterol in the liver, meaning that it is very common to see elevated LDL on a blood test for a patient with a thyroid condition.This is important to understand because hypercholesterolemia and elevation of the low density lipoproteins are the primary markers used for prescribing statin drugs to patients, a practice that is based on persistent misconceptions about dietary drivers of heart disease. Instead, the emphasis should be on balancing hormones and reducing the inflammatory effects of oxidized LDL.

Sadly, even after a generation of statin use and many studies demonstrating that patients presenting to the hospital with heart attacks don’t have elevated total cholesterol, the widespread prescribing of drugs that lower cholesterol persists. It’s maddening to think about. On the one hand, statins are prescribed en masse to reduce total cholesterol, which the medical community thinks of as a key indicator for heart disease. Rather, the actual science indicates that in menopausal women, the incidence of new-onset Diabetes Mellitus increases for those who are taking statin drugs. Statins induce diabetes in women, who are then inexcusably put at risk for cardiovascular events.

The concerted effort to control total cholesterol ignores actual body chemistry. The body is so intelligent that when too little cholesterol is consumed, the liver will automatically start to make it in order to guarantee a baseline level of it is running through the system. In its natural, unstressed state, the liver makes 75% of the cholesterol needed. Cholesterol is a precursor to vitamin D and to pregnenolone and the sex hormones that derive from it. It is also a primary component of cell membranes, where all of the action is, including hormone receptor function and gatekeeping of nutrients and toxic elements.

Hormones influence many bodily functions including metabolism, blood sugar balance, blood pressure, energy levels, kidney function, sleep patterns, aging, and appetite. Signs of imbalance in both sexes include the typical symptoms of fatigue, headaches, digestive complaints, poor sleeping, easy weight gain, increased signs of aging, depression, anxiety, and decreased sexual desire. Balancing the hormones can be a delicate and challenging process. We have an enormous amount of control over the way we feel through how we approach diet and lifestyle.

While age is often blamed for imbalance, it’s important to remember that balance directly correlates with diet. Inadequate consumption of dark leafy greens, brightly colored vegetables, lack of protein and persistent dehydration can all be contributing factors. And of course there’s the biggest one – stress, and how we relate to it and perceive it. Additionally, the prescription medications used to treat the above symptoms of these conditions can further deplete the nutrients that are most needed. Without the necessary micronutrients, metabolism is compromised and disease can develop.

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.

Stress and the Brain

Unfortunately, brain care is simply not a part of the common healthcare paradigm. Except in rare instances, (head trauma, for example) care is delivered from the neck-down only. This is despite the fact that the brain is one of the most fragile and susceptible organs to physical insult (injuries caused by accidents, falls, and participation in sports) and to the imbalances caused by poor diet and chronic stress. In fact, a majority of practitioners, whether conventional or alternative, have not been trained how to recognize brain degeneration at all, let alone how to manage it.

Drugs for stress and anxiety sit at the top of the 50 most-prescribed drugs in the United States. Worse, it is not uncommon for people with routine blood sugar disorders to be put on sleep medications, psychotropic drugs, or labeled as having bipolar disorder and referred out to a mental or behavioral health specialist. So how do you recognize when you or someone you love is not getting the correct diagnosis or proper care? Plenty of adults and younger people suffer when they push their fatigued, inflamed brains too far by getting too little sleep, working extended hours, caring for aged parents and children, and driving lengthy commutes.

When addressing brain inflammation, one of the first things to look at is how to improve brain endurance. Are you getting enough of the right nutrients for healthy brain function, such as Omega 3s or methyl B-12? Is poor neurotransmitter activity a problem, such as low serotonin or GABA? Or is there a problem in one of the stress pathways leading to the brain itself? Chronic stress responses can cause constriction of blood vessels and lead to poor circulation of the blood to the brain. A history of migraines, insomnia, low thyroid function, chronic pain and fatigue, poor focus and concentration, and lack of energy or motivation are all common symptoms of low brain endurance.

Of special concern are two groups: the young adults who were progressing just fine through high school, perhaps into college, at which point something just failed to click. Athletes who overtrain can become deficient in magnesium and lack the methyl production that is essential to the breakdown and clearance of dopamine. Symptoms of poor dopamine activity include poor motivation or drive, feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, loss of temper for minor reasons, inability to handle stress, and a desire to isolate from others. Many have already started taking antidepressants, sometimes in conjunction with pain killers, SSRIs, and stimulant drugs such as Ritalin and Adderall.

The other is adult males and females whose hormones have become imbalanced to the extent that they cause an inflammatory firestorm. Erectile dysfunction affects 15 to 30 million men, with the rate having tripled in the last 20 years. Male breasts and hips are increasingly common as men’s estrogen levels soar. Low testosterone is behind the unfortunate descent many men make into becoming “grumpy old men.” When hormones become imbalanced you lose neurotransmitter activity, which affects how you feel, function, and view your life. By the same token, my perimenopausal patients are equally distraught. At home it’s as if an otherwise nice and normal woman sits handcuffed at the back of her brain while a demon entity takes over, causing her to lash out at loved ones, break down into hysterics, or develop anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Before resorting to prescription drugs, which carry dangers of their own and rarely produce the desired long-term results, seek testing from a doctor knowledgeable in brain health to heal any problems at the source.

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.

Peripheral Neuropathy Caused by Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy drugs spread through the whole body, and certain types can damage different nerves. Symptoms tend to start farthest away from the head, and in most cases, people will notice chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN) symptoms in the feet, then later in the hands; symptoms will then travel upward (or inward) to the ankles and the legs, or move up from the fingers to the hands and arms. CIPN sufferers tend to also report extreme fatigue and depression as the mitochondria (the tiny factories in each of our cells that turn the food we eat and the oxygen we breathe into energy) throughout the body and neurons in the brain die.

Certain chemotherapy drugs are more often linked to CIPN. These include:

  • platinum drugs like cisplatin, carboplatin, and oxaliplatin
  • taxanes including paclitaxel, docetaxel, and cabazitaxel
  • epothilones, such as ixabepilone
  • plant alkaloids, such as vinblastine, vincristine, vinorelbine, and etopside
  • thalidomide, lenalidomide, and pomalidomide
  • bortezomib and carfilzomib
  • eribulin

There are numerous additional factors including your age, the numbers of additional prescription drugs you are taking, other cancer treatments like surgery or radiation, infections in the nerves, an underlying history of autoimmunity, diabetes, poor circulation, and so on, that can contribute to or cause these symptoms.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology issued new guidelines on the prevention and management of CIPN on April 14, 2014. Unfortunately, although the group was convened to discuss this particularly important adverse side effect, the expert consensus was that no approach exists that can be recommended for prevention. In other words, peripheral neuropathy is recognized as a potentially serious, long lasting, and even permanent disability, affecting everyday activities of daily living from buttoning your shirt to driving your car to pressure sensitivity from even light touch and so on. The side effect is seen as a serious but unavoidable compromise, yet alternative measures are not discussed.

Interestingly, the American Society of Clinical Oncology did make one strong recommendation against the use of one supplement, acetyl-L-carnitine, in its new guidelines for managing CIPN. A phase 3 study showed that patients (taking oral chemotherapy) who took that supplement actually fared worse than patients in the placebo group. They did not, however, discuss a 2008 investigation into the use of alpha-lipoic acid (ALA) as a neuroprotective agent. Preliminary studies indicate that ALA rescues the mitochondrial toxicity and induces the expression of frataxin, an essential mitochondrial protein with anti-oxidant properties. These findings suggest that halting oxidative stress might reduce the risk of developing peripheral nerve toxicity in patients undergoing chemotherapy and encourage further confirmatory clinical trials.

It is important for patients to be aware that they should let their physicians know as soon as they start to experience numbness, tingling, or pain. At the very least, there may be other cancer treatment options; at most, methods for reversing mitochondrial decay. Stress, sedentary lifestyles, free-radical damage, and exposure to infections, allergens, and toxins all cause our energy-generation network to falter.

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.

Brain Decline: Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

The worldwide prevalence of dementia has been estimated at 24 million, and this figure is predicted to double every 20 years at least until 2040 as the baby boom generation matures. Antidepressants are now the second most commonly prescribed medication in the country, suggesting that caring for the brain is as important as caring for the heart. More common than Alzheimer’s, which affects fewer than one in eight people over the age of 65, anxiety disorders, learning disabilities, and depression are more prevalent today than ever before. Moreover, the symptoms of poor brain health such as sleep disorders, brain fog, moodiness, poor concentration, and falling over for no reason have become commonplace.

We all experience a certain amount of ongoing brain decline as a natural result of living life. “Aging” is the commonly used term for this; not surprisingly, growing older is the number one risk factor for brain decline. That said, we all have known the octogenarian who is sharp as a tack. Equally, we have known someone, a relative perhaps, who develops dementia way before his or her “time.” Alongside the dietary and lifestyle triggers that create poor brain function, previous head injuries, subtle brain autoimmunity, poor circulation, and various other factors unrelated to diet can also cause the brain to fail and degenerate quickly.

We know that genetic and environmental factors play an important role in brain aging and brain function. Several risk factors are the same regardless of age and include:

  • altered methylation
  • hepatic detoxification
  • gastrointestinal permeability
  • poor cerebral circulation
  • dysglycemia
  • environmental pollutant exposure
  • essential fatty acid imbalances
  • impaired neurotransmitter synaptic activity
  • prior medication use

So why aren’t doctors taking better care of their patients’ brains? Because brain care is not part of the common health care paradigm in either a conventional or alternative model. While we have long investigated a theory of the mind, we have also confused the two. The brain is not the mind, and only recently have we begun thinking of the brain as an organ like the heart that should be exercised, fed, and properly used. In both branches, health care seems to be a “neck down” practice even though the brain can be incredibly fragile and the most susceptible organ to the health imbalances caused by poor diet, environmental exposure, and chronic stress.

For example, a man with chronic joint pain and workplace stress may find that ongoing inflammation and reduced dopamine levels are causing short temper, poor motivation, and feelings of worthlessness. Likewise, a woman with hormonal imbalances may find her estrogen drops too low before her periods, causing serotonin dysregulation and, consequently, irritability and depression. In other words, the brain is literally crying out for help. For the majority of people, brain nutrition, stress (in the form of cortisol), and blood sugar imbalances must be addressed first. To age gracefully, even to age well at all, you must learn to take care of your brain as you would any other part of your body.

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.

Toxins and the Brain

More and more people today are showing up in their practitioners’ offices with neurodegenerative autoimmune diseases triggered by environmental compounds. An example would be Multiple Sclerosis. So what do many of these practitioners do? They test for heavy metals and environmental chemicals, which always come back positive, and then chelate the patient using other chemicals such as DMSA, DMPS, or EDTA. I have seen this occur with many of my elderly patients, regardless of health condition!

Sadly, this mistake makes the patient worse. Why? Because research has clearly found that chelation pulls heavy metals out of the fatty tissues and enters them back into the bloodstream. As a result, the heavy metals, which were once stored away somewhat safely have the opportunity to redistribute into other target tissues such as the thyroid, the heart, and most certainly, the brain.

Loss of chemical tolerance underlies many chronic illnesses today. First is a breakdown in the body’s natural tolerance to chemicals and heavy metals. Next, an ordinary exposure to everyday smells (exhaust, fragrance, cleaning compounds) suddenly triggers a negative immune response. Over the years hundreds of studies have explored the effects of environmental compounds on our health, turning up many disturbing findings. Toxins are linked with cancers, obesity, thyroid disorders, skin diseases, Alzheimer’s, autism, and neurological breakdowns of all kinds.

The most obvious question is, “How can I prevent this and what can I do once it has already happened?” Although important, the liver is the wrong approach because it cannot detoxify heavy metals and many synthetic chemicals. Instead, the various systems we want to support include:

  • Glutathione levels and recycling
  • Immune barrier health (gut, blood-brain barrier, and lungs)
  • Balancing the immune system as a whole
  • Reducing inflammation in the body and the brain

In short, the most we can do to improve chemical tolerance, reduce the impact of chemical exposure and toxic load, and protect the brain, is to support the immune barriers, control inflammation, and down-regulate the immune system from its hyperactive (often autoimmune) immune state. Glutathione is the body’s most powerful antioxidant and is integral to a healthy defense. We prefer liposomal delivery and S-acetyl-glutathione, which the gastrointestinal system can effectively absorb.

The gut, brain, and lung barriers take a beating from environmental toxins, especially if the glutathione system is depleted. Current testing allows us to check for antibodies to the Top 10 U.S. Government Priority List of Hazardous Substances. The list includes chemicals and compounds from arsenic to polychlorinated biphenyls to mercury, and more. We can also test for body burden, the integrity of your blood-brain barrier, and how well your methylation pathways, including glutathione production, are working. This is all useful information for putting together a health program that protects the body and heals the brain.

One way to shore up your defenses against environmental toxins and support brain health is to dampen gut inflammation and repair a leaky gut. Leaky gut symptoms can include multiple food sensitivities, allergies and asthma, or chronic bloat and inflamed skin. Often, leaky gut symptoms aren’t always the easiest to identify, so in addition to screening for food intolerances, following an anti-inflammatory diet, and supporting the gut-brain health axis with required nutrients, we are able to monitor progress with an immune barrier integrity test which we check using state-of-the-art Cyrex Laboratories.

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.

Estrogen Dominance in Men and Women

Up until 60 years ago most women didn’t suffer from PMS, migraine headaches, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibrocystic disease, endometriosis, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, insomnia, depression, anxiety, memory loss, low libido, osteoporosis, thyroid dysfunction, obesity, bloating, and so on. And certainly one out of eight were not diagnosed with breast cancer! Men weren’t as obese as they are now; they weren’t prescribed hypertensive drugs nearly as often as today (nor insulin and Metformin), nor was Viagra even on the radar screen.

Part of the problem is that literally in the space of a few decades enormous quantities of chemicals that our bodies cannot process have been dumped into our environment. Hormones themselves are chemical messengers, each with different functions (i.e., thyroid hormones affect metabolism, adrenal hormones respond to stress, reproductive hormones are self-explanatory). Hormones can be easily disrupted by lifestyle and environmental factors.

Even though we think of hormones as static, a number on a page, they are actually fluctuating daily as an adaptive response. They travel throughout the body attached to proteins. These are biologically inactive and are measured on a blood or salivary hormone test as a “Total” amount. In reality, this number has little to do with distribution, bioavailability, or performance and is influenced by many factors.

Some basic mechanisms that cause male and female hormone imbalances include:

  1. Once a woman enters perimenopause she is producing 35% of the progesterone she once did in her twenties while still producing about 75% of the estrogen. This imbalance between progesterone and estrogen creates a potentially proliferative environment for both breast and uterine tissue.
  2. Interestingly, over a woman’s lifetime she usually also has had far fewer pregnancies than her grandmother or the women before her. During pregnancy, a woman’s progesterone surges 300-400x over their baseline. This affords protective benefits by limiting estrogenic exposure.
  3. Men with blood sugar imbalances (i.e., diabetes, insulin resistance) will produce an excess of the enzyme aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen. This leads to low libido, loss of erections, weight gain, development of breast tissue, and a more emotional state.
  4. Conversely, women will produce the enzyme 17,20 lyase that will convert estrogen into testosterone, causing hirsutism (male-pattern hair growth), PCOS, and related health problems.

In both men and women, there are more complicated underlying mechanisms that need to be addressed. Stress, for instance, produces the adrenal hormone cortisol. Cortisol interferes with the production of progesterone and causes an estrogen dominant state. Furthermore, estrogen has the longest half-life of all the sex hormones and is difficult for the liver to metabolize already. On top of that, a sluggish liver that is unable to process wastes and metabolize hormones will create estrogen dominance. Chronic infections, gut dysbiosis, and other gut issues such as poor digestion create a scenario in which estrogen hormones de-conjugate and absorb back into the bloodstream where they freely circulate.

Of particular concern is the use of hormone creams and replacement hormones that anti-aging experts (including alternative and mainstream practitioners) prescribe. I call it a failure of the Replacement Model. In this model, progesterone creams are applied liberally based on the notion that more progesterone will magically replace the lost progesterone due to aging. Or will magically counterbalance the loss of testosterone in men. In reality, this is not true. And with bioidentical hormones, after the initial “honeymoon” period, the results will wane (even though the dose gets stronger and stronger) because the related physiological factors and root causes have not been resolved. Proper testing includes a comprehensive workup for salivary hormones and a complete blood panel.

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.

Antidepressants, Depression and Pain

Pain, including neuropathic pain, is a relatively common physical complaint affecting millions of people, costing upwards of $100 billion annually, which includes medical care, workers’ compensation, and lost work productivity. Interestingly, one common psychiatric diagnosis encountered in patients with neuropathic pain is depression, which affects every one out of two patients, or more than half of all individuals (57%). It is also no surprise that studies indicate that patients with pain have a substantially increased risk for depression, anywhere from 2 to 5 times that of the general population.

Given that these syndromes (depression and neuropathic pain) coexist, the assessment of either one is complicated by the presence of shared symptoms (e.g., fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritable bowel and gut problems). And while various relationships between pain and depression might be considered, the most common theories are that:

  • depression precedes pain
  • pain precedes depression
  • past history of depression heightens the risk of subsequent depression in the event of new-onset pain
  • the two occur independently of each other

Regardless, the level of coexistence between pain and depression is one of the basic rationales for considering antidepressant therapy as a treatment.

Antidepressants are thought to ease the pain caused by nerve damage because they are able to dampen the signals sent to (and from) the brain. Signals of pain or discomfort travel from the intestines and the peripheral nerves up to the brain. The brain has the ability to “turn down” the pain by sending signals that block the nerve impulses themselves. Recent studies, including brain imaging research, have shown that this ability to turn down the pain is impaired in patients with IBS. Common side effects of these drugs include dry mouth or, at times, difficulty sleeping, difficulty urinating, sexual difficulties, constipation, dizziness and/or drowsiness, low blood pressure especially when going from sitting to standing, leading to lightheadedness, weight gain from increased appetite, and so on. The reality is that all these systems are interconnected.

Researchers say that antidepressants do not cure or eliminate pain at all. So why are antidepressants often the first line, if not the only line of treatment for pain? Some people are obviously concerned that these medications are addicting, or they may alter mental functioning. Writing a prescription to treat a health problem is easy, but it may not always be the safest or most effective route according to some recent studies and a growing chorus of voices concerned about the rapid rise in the prescription of psychoactive drugs. Many Americans visit their primary care physicians and walk away with a prescription for an antidepressant or other drugs without being aware of other evidence-based treatments that might work better for them without the risk of side effects.

New and emerging studies are just beginning to investigate the effects of psychoactive drugs on thyroid, for instance. It is shown in preliminary studies that these drugs can induce a change in iodine capture by thyroid cells, making it unavailable for thyroid hormone synthesis; they can also inhibit thyroid peroxidase activity, HPA axis functioning and thus T3 and T4 synthesis or blood levels, respectively. More studies such as these will help to better evaluate how drugs that affect brain chemistry and nerve impulse might inadvertently impact hormone balance as well. As happy pill prescriptions top 50 million, any right-minded general practitioner would have to wonder whether these are being overprescribed. Meanwhile for those suffering with pain, including nerve pain and depression, you have options. Options that include relief without debilitating side effects.

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.