Can Lack of Sleep Affect Your Genes?

Are you one of the myriad people worldwide who doesn’t get seven to nine hours of sleep at night? New research shows you may be negatively affecting hundreds of genes in your body and predisposing yourself to some serious health conditions.

About half of the US population doesn’t get enough sleep; of the people who say they don’t need more than five or six hours of sleep every night, fewer than one percent actually have a gene variant that makes this belief a reality.

A study conducted by the Surrey Sleep Research Centre and published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) monitored healthy volunteers who got 8.5 hours of sleep one week and 5.7 hours of sleep the next week. Blood tests after each week showed that participants who slept less than six hours experienced changes to 711 RNA genes, which play an important part in making proteins—the affected genes were associated with stress, inflammation, and disease-fighting ability. These changes could lead to a variety of health issues including:

  • cognitive decline
  • depression
  • compromised immunity
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • increased risk of tumors
  • cardiovascular disease

Sleep is a natural and powerful way for our bodies to detoxify, allowing beta-amyloid plaque—a biomarker of Alzheimer’s disease—to clear from the brain. The National Institute on Aging states that the particularly toxic beta-amyloid 42 is found in abnormally high levels and disrupts cell function in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s.

An interesting peer-reviewed study published in Anaesthesia (journal of the Association of Anaesthetists) studied the impact of sleep deprivation, broken sleep, and shift work on on-call healthy doctors. Blood tests revealed that “overnight on‐site call participants had lower baseline DNA repair gene expression and more DNA breaks than participants who did not work overnight.”

The study concluded that shift workers who experience sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for health problems. Disrupted sleep can cause DNA damage, which the study shows can then lead to chronic disease. Dr. Siu-Wai Choi, senior author of the study, stated that these results indicate that even one night of sleep deprivation “can trigger events that may contribute to the development of chronic disease.”

Studies have shown that not getting enough sleep or experiencing broken sleep can negatively impact your immune system, making you vulnerable to a number of illnesses. In fact, inconsistent sleep or lack of sleep can damage your immune system as much as stress, which is also impacted by the disruption of genes caused by poor sleep. When it comes to stress, problems with sleep work two ways: stress can cause sleep problems, and sleep problems can make us react more negatively to stressful situations. However, not getting sufficient sleep actually causes hormonal changes in our bodies, among the effects of which is longer-lasting anxiety, depression, and less of an ability to deal with emotional difficulties.

An article published by the National Institutes of Health titled “Sleep and immune function” states that “sleep and the circadian system exert a strong regulatory influence on immune functions.” Our natural circadian rhythm regulates our wake-sleep cycle and responds mainly to the cycle of light and dark in our environment. When the light-dark cycle is disrupted, our circadian rhythm is also disrupted, throwing our sleep patterns out of whack. If this happens on a regular basis, the important biological functions governed by sleep are also thrown off, which can result in a number of potential health risks from cognitive and psychiatric disorders to autoimmune problems, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Common causes to sleep disruption that affect the body’s circadian rhythm include the use of cell phones, computers, and watching TV in bed or right up to bedtime. You can avoid this by shutting off devices and TV at least an hour or more before you retire.

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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Kids Under Pressure: Worrier vs. Warrior

Let’s start this article with an anecdote – the facts are real, the names are fictitious.

Jack and John are siblings who attend the same school; both do well with class participation, homework, regular quizzes and tests, and written reports. However, when standardized tests are announced, Jack stresses heavily about them for more than a week before the test – he loses sleep and experiences headaches, stomachaches, and nausea. He fears that his classes haven’t taught him everything he needs to know in order to pass these important tests. Normally a child who likes going to school, as test day approaches, he continually asks to stay home. His brother John, on the other hand, becomes energized and finds test-taking exhilarating, a chance to shine and show all he’s learned.

How can two siblings react so completely differently to pressure and stress? Researchers also questioned why kids respond differently under pressure; for an answer, they turned to a population of approximately 200,000 tenth grade Taiwanese students. For years, these students were required to take an extremely difficult Basic Competency Test (reportedly now replaced by a different test) that determined not only what type of high school they could attend – from high-ranked schools to low-ranked – but whether they would be allowed to attend high school at all. It essentially determined their futures from a young age, so the students’ pressure and stress levels were high leading up to and during the two-day exam. The test was so difficult, only 39 percent of students received a passing grade.

Researchers drew blood samples from 779 of those students after they took the competency test. Unlike previous tests focusing on stress, this test zeroed in on the COMT gene, an enzyme-creating gene that, among other things, removes dopamine from the prefrontal cortex of the brain. That area of the brain is responsible for conflict resolution, decision-making, abstract thinking, planning, working memory, and more. Too much or too little dopamine in the prefrontal cortex can interfere with these functions, either suppressing them or magnifying them (neither extreme is good); it’s the job of COMT to maintain the correct dopamine level for optimal functionality.

There are two variants of the COMT gene: one creates enzymes that remove dopamine quickly and the other creates enzymes that clear it slowly. A person carries one or the other of these genes or has a combination of both – those with fast-clearing enzymes are categorized as “Warriors”, and those with slow-moving enzymes are classified as “Worriers”. Neither is considered preferable, but which gene variant you possess can determine your response to stressful situations, like high-pressure tests. However, while a small boost of dopamine usually enhances reactions, a massive stress-induced surge has a negative impact on people with the slower gene variant, creating something of a prefrontal cortex meltdown.

In the study of the Taiwanese students, researchers discovered that even though students with slower enzymes have higher IQs, those with faster-moving enzymes and lower IQs did better on the tests by eight percent. These results showed that cognitive advantages were actually reversed because stress negatively impacted the outcomes of the students with higher IQs and slower-moving enzymes.

The “Warrior” and “Worrier” classifications created by researchers show these attributes, among others:

  • Warriors (fast-moving enzymes): respond well to pressure, threatening situations and deadlines; performance can suffer with repetitive tasks and lack of pressure
  • Worriers (slow-moving enzymes): better with complex planning, higher working memory, cognitive advantages in stress-free environments

COMT genes are inherited; it’s estimated that about half the population has a mix of both warrior and worrier genes, a quarter have only warrior genes and the remaining quarter have only worrier genes. But genetic predisposition doesn’t have to dictate how you handle short-term stressful situations – research studies are showing that with training, Worriers can perform as well as Warriors in high-stress environments, such as in combat roles. Research psychologist Quinn Kennedy of the Naval Postgraduate School found that taxing Worriers without overwhelming them allows them to adjust to and manage specific repeated stressors, “even if it is not necessarily transferred over to other parts of their lives.”

A combination of exercise and dietary strategies can also help modulate dopamine levels in the brain, but the right combination and correct type of exercise needs to be determined for each individual.

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.

Fluoride Facts: Kids’ IQ and Fluorosis

Research into the cause of tooth decay is nothing new—it dates back over one hundred years to the early twentieth century. According to a report by the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (“The Story of Fluoridation”, published by the National Institutes of Health), a study begun in 1901 culminated in the discovery that children in certain Colorado towns where the drinking water was tainted by high levels of fluoride had brown-stained teeth, referred to as “mottled enamel disorder”. These stains permanently affected children’s adult teeth. Research was expanded to include more towns experiencing dental problems, with the same result—fluoride was the culprit. The condition itself, called “fluorosis”, stems from overexposure to fluorides in children who are exposed up to eight years of age.

In later years it was determined that a certain amount of fluoride in drinking water could help prevent tooth decay, and the first trial of fluoridated water was conducted on the population of Grand Rapids, MI in 1945. While that trial showed a decrease in tooth decay, water was the only source of added fluorides. Today, however, fluoride enters our bodies from many more sources, including toothpaste, oral rinses, tooth gels and varnishes, processed foods and beverages (including bottled tea, beer, sodas, sports drinks, juice from concentrate, etc.), certain pesticides, Teflon pans, and some pharmaceuticals, among others. That’s a lot of fluoride.

It appears that early fluoridation studies did not look beyond fluoride’s effect on teeth; there’s no mention in the report of any early research on how fluoride can create other health issues. But the latest study of 400 pregnant women casts doubt on the safety of fluoridated drinking water, at least at its current levels — the results show that pregnant women who drank fluoridated tap water had children whose IQ is a bit lower than those whose mothers did not drink fluoridated water while pregnant. In addition, a daily increase of 1mg of fluoride intake was linked to IQ drops of approximately 3.7 points; to put that in perspective, fluoridated tap water contains about 1.2mg of fluoride per liter. This number can vary among communities with fluoridated tap water — the EPA’s maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water is as high as 4.0mg per liter.

According to the American Cancer Society, long-term exposure to high levels of fluoride can lead to fluorosis that not only affects tooth enamel, but can also cause skeletal fluorosis, which is a buildup of fluoride in the bones. Skeletal fluorosis can cause joint pain and stiffness as well as weak bones that may lead to fractures in older adults.

Ironically, the rate of fluorosis — the very thing that started investigations into fluoride back in 1901 — is on the increase. A 2019 report published by the Journal of Dental Research shows “large increases in fluorosis prevalence and severity”, the result of “too much fluoride ingestion during the early years of life.” The most recent government data shows that some degree of dental fluorosis is present in 65 percent of children in America. Depending on the severity, fluorosis appears as white spots or lines on teeth or as brown mottling, sometimes with pitting. Cosmetic dentistry can be used to cover these problems, but there is no “cure”.

The answer to minimizing your family’s intake of fluoride is to take a different look at the foods and drinks you consume as well as the products in your home in order to determine how much fluoride you’re ingesting. Extra fluoride can sneak into your family’s diet in ways you didn’t realize; for example, black and green teas are high in fluoride, especially if they’re made from older leaves or are grown in certain countries whose soil has a high fluoride content, such as China and India, among others. Add to that the amount of fluoride in the tap water you use to make your tea, and your fluoride consumption increases significantly. Herbal teas, on the other hand, have very little or no fluoride because they’re not made from tea leaves; bottled herbal teas may have fluoride if the company is using fluoridated tap water. Spring water has less fluoridation — the amount of fluoride depends on the source.

Foods processed with fluoridated water and especially processed foods containing mechanically deboned meat, like chicken nuggets and chicken fingers, contain higher levels of fluoride. Industrial workplaces can have high levels of airborne fluoride, and cooking or boiling water in Teflon-coated pots and pans can add fluoride to your food.

You can minimize the fluorides in your diet by avoiding processed foods and drinks and instead choosing fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, dairy products, eggs, etc., all of which have very low amounts of naturally occurring fluorides. And by opting for organics, you’ll avoid fluoride pesticides along with other health risks associated with pesticide use.

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.

Pesticides, Herbicides, and Your Gut

It’s not news that environmental pollutants are bad for us, but did you know they can even disrupt and alter your gut microbiota? These pollutants—which include pesticides, heavy metals, antibiotics, food additives and more—have become increasingly common in our everyday lives. A constant bombardment of chemicals or a buildup of heavy metals can have a negative impact on short-term and long-term health.

We have more than 100 trillion bacteria in our guts that make up the microbiome. A healthy, diverse microbiome is necessary for a healthy immune system as well as neurotransmitter production. When our gut is exposed to too many pollutants or our diets don’t include a diversity of fresh fruits and vegetables, the balance in our microbiome can be thrown off. This, in turn, can leave us vulnerable to illnesses and serious health conditions, from eczema, depression, and joint pain to cancer, heart disease, and obesity, among others.

Studies have shown that foodborne chemicals like pesticides and herbicides have a major impact on the gut microbiome and the GI tract and can significantly alter the structure and functionality of the microbiome. A recent paper published in Scientific Reports on a study conducted by the University of North Carolina and the University of Georgia shows “strong toxic effects” on mice of a low-dose auxin herbicide. Researchers pointed out that a disturbed microbiome can negatively impact overall health and can increase disease risks. This is study is extremely relevant to humans because we have the same kind of gut dynamic as mice.

We’ve heard a lot lately about the dangers of two particular chemicals: glyphosate (the herbicide used in Roudup weedkiller) and the pesticide chlorpyrifos. Glyphosate, which is banned in several other countries, is known to cause cancer and can also cause birth defects, liver damage, mental illnesses and more. And now, glyphosate appears to also contribute to weight gain and obesity.

Glyphosate works on weeds by killing bacteria and targeting amino acids. The herbicide is sprayed in crop fields, and the crops take in the chemical through the soil. Genetically modified (GM) crops have been scientifically shown to contain concentrated amounts of the glyphosate. When we eat non-organic foods, that bacteria-killing chemical goes to work on the good bacteria in our gut, creating a dangerous imbalance and making us susceptible to disease. In addition, Maastricht University Medical Centre’s research has shown that creating an imbalance in our gut microbiome by killing off good bacteria can lead to such diseases as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (a condition that’s rapidly on the rise), type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, all of which put you at risk for weight gain and obesity.

Chlorpyrifos (also called Lorsban)—which is banned in Hawaii and New York and will be banned in California as of February 2020—is basically a nerve agent that breaks down the ability of nerves to communicate and attacks chemical pathways. This pesticide is used on about fifty different crops including apples, peppers, oranges, peaches, wheat, soybeans…and even Christmas trees. It’s also used on golf courses and in insect baits, though it was banned from in-home use in 2000.

Chlorpyrifos has been shown in studies to “significantly” alter the gut microbiota in mice, causing “intestinal inflammation and abnormal intestinal permeability”, which increases the risk of numerous illnesses. In addition, chlorpyrifos has been linked to lung and prostate cancer, endocrine disruption, and has been found to cause cognitive developmental difficulties and lower IQs in children. Women living within a mile of a field being sprayed with chlorpyrifos (which tends to drift) have a 60 percent higher chance of giving birth to a child with autism.

While washing and scrubbing produce can reduce the amount of chemicals on the skin, it can’t get rid of these chemicals completely. And as toxicologist Dave Stone told The New York Times, veggie washes are no better than a 60-second wash under running water and may actually be harmful if some of the detergent remains on the fruit or vegetable; it can also be absorbed into produce with porous surfaces. In addition, because pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides get into the soil and are drawn up into the plant, they end up in the fruit or vegetable itself.

Protecting your gut microbiome is essential to protecting your health. The best way to avoid ingesting these toxic chemicals is to eat certified organic, non-GMO produce, avoid food additives and artificial colors, and take antibiotics only when absolutely necessary.

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.

PPIs Shown to Increase Risk of Death

Heartburn, acid reflux and GERD are typically treated with Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Prevacid, Nexium, Prilosec, Zantac and Pepcid. Because they’re so commonly prescribed – the latest estimates are that approximately 15 million Americans use PPIs, making it a $13 billion industry globally – most people think nothing of taking them or popping OTC heartburn relief products.

But these medications are only suppressing symptoms by blocking the production of stomach acid, they’re not curing the underlying issue that’s causing you to feel miserable. And what’s worse – they’re known to cause additional serious health problems, including bone fractures, serious vitamin/mineral deficiencies, vomiting, kidney disease, infectious diarrhea, and more. Now researchers are reporting – not for the first time – that they are associated with an increased risk of death as well.

A new study, published in The BMJ, followed over 214,000 new PPI users for ten years and found there were “45 excess deaths for every 1,000 PPI users”. Causes of these early deaths included cardiovascular or chronic kidney disease, or upper digestive system cancers. To make matters worse, about half of the people who had been prescribed PPIs had none of the indicators for their use. Similar results are being reported by medical and pharmaceutical journals all around the world, with cases of overprescription and/or prescriptions given without a clear indication ranging from 40 percent to over 70 percent. In fact, the Pharmaceutical Journal reports that overprescription of PPIs has become “the norm” globally.

Chronic heartburn, acid reflux, GERD and related conditions can be extremely uncomfortable, to say the least. Symptoms of these conditions can go far beyond a burning sensation in your chest or throat; they can include a feeling of having a lump in your throat, vomiting, chest pain (which can mimic a heart attack), nausea, bad breath, difficulty swallowing or even respiratory problems.

But those symptoms are just the beginning of the story – they’re your body’s signal that it needs help, that an underlying condition needs to be fixed. So by taking an OTC or prescription PPI, you may lessen or eliminate the symptom temporarily, but you’re only suppressing your body’s signal, you’re not healing the actual cause. And any untreated health issue can lead to other, sometimes more serious health problems; however, in the case of PPIs – whether OTC or prescribed – the medicine can be a risk in and of itself.

Previous research supports the latest studies. It was reported in 2017 that an even larger study followed over 349,000 PPI users for just under six years and concluded that there was a “statistically significant excess risk of death”, which translated into 47 deaths annually for every 1,000 PPI users. In addition, the longer PPIs were used, the greater the risk of death, especially in patients with no recorded GI problems who were prescribed PPIs.

These latest findings reported in BMJ recommend that if PPIs are deemed necessary by a physician, they should be taken for the shortest period of time and in the lowest possible dosage amount. Unfortunately, some people may still experience serious and permanent side effects, or they may still be at risk of premature death; in addition, many physicians make no effort to decrease their patients’ dosage requirements or attempt to wean them off the drugs, despite the numerous warnings worldwide.

Rather than jumping into taking medications for relief, it makes more sense to look for the reason why these symptoms are plaguing you and find out if there’s a safer treatment protocol. A simple change in diet may be all that’s required. Your functional medicine doctor will take your health history and lifestyle into consideration in order to request lab tests that are more in-depth and conclusive, allowing a more pinpointed determination as to the root cause of your symptoms and what your individual course of corrective action should be.

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.

Need-to-Know Facts About Your Sunscreen

We think of sunscreens as topical products, but the fact is that they contain ingredients that aid in the absorption of the product into the skin. Since these chemicals are being absorbed into your body, they’re actually measurable in the blood and urine, as well as in breast milk.

A recent study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) states that some chemicals in sunscreen are detectable in the bloodstream after just one use. Repeated applications after swimming or sweating or even daily use results in a buildup of these chemicals in your body, and a significant amount of them remain there for at least twenty-four hours after the last use of a sunscreen product. This study prompted the FDA to begin a government safety study on the chemicals used in sunscreens.

Sunscreens are intended to be powerful enough to protect the skin against UV radiation from the sun while remaining gentle enough not to cause skin irritations. While some formulas may achieve these goals, others are causing skin reactions. It’s not a priority for manufacturers of many common sunscreens to consider the damaging effect that their ingredients may have on internal organs once absorbed through the skin, ingested when using lip balms, or inhaled from spray-on sunscreens. According to the nonprofit EWG (Environmental Working Group), between two and six of the following UV filter chemicals are used in most sunscreen products:

  • titanium dioxide
  • zinc oxide
  • oxybenzone
  • avobenzone
  • octisalate
  • octocrylene
  • homosalate
  • octinoxate

The EWG also determined that the majority of sunscreens don’t offer enough UV protection and at the same time, may contain harmful chemicals – a full 84 percent of 831 sunscreens EWG tested didn’t meet their health and environmental safety standards. The EWG states that chemical filters can disrupt hormones, which is supported by previous studies that showed possible links between oxybenzone and hormone changes in men, lower testosterone in boys, and shorter pregnancies as well as lower infant birth weights. Since certain sunscreen chemicals are detectable in breast milk, these chemicals are also being ingested by babies when breast feeding. There are environmental impacts as well – Hawaii, Key West and Palau have banned the use of products containing oxybenzone and octinoxate because they bleach coral and are hazardous to marine ecosystems.

Earlier this year, the FDA declared mineral filters – zinc oxide and titanium dioxide – safe for use in sunscreens. However, the FDA also stated that twelve of the most commonly used chemical filters lack data as to their safety for human use; the FDA currently plans to work with manufacturers to assess these ingredients in order to determine whether they pose health risks. Among those twelve ingredients are four chemicals that remain detectable in the bloodstream for at least twenty-four hours after only one use: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule.

That said, our skin still needs protection from the sun’s harmful UV rays – according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, “more people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the US than all other cancers combined.” While it’s true that too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause problems ranging in severity from sunburn to skin cancer, our bodies need a certain amount of sunlight to make vitamin D and regulate the neurotransmitters that control our sleep/wake cycles and our moods.

There are safer ways to protect yourself from the sun’s damaging rays – these include choosing the right type of clothing to wear while outdoors, avoiding the sun during its peak hours (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.), and choosing safer sunscreens. The EWG website has many suggestions on how to avoid sunburn as well as sunscreen ratings from the safest to the least desirable so you can make better, safer choices for yourself and your family.

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.

Endocrine Disruptors: What They Are and How to Lower Your Exposure

Our endocrine system is like the main cog in a complex network of machinery; it’s a collection of hormone-producing glands that regulate so many things, from metabolism, reproduction, and sleep to mood, tissue function, and growth and development, just for starters. Keeping your endocrine system healthy is at the root of maintaining optimal functionality of just about every cell and organ in your body.

But our endocrine system is under increasing and constant attack from numerous endocrine disruptors, including:

  • plastics
  • canned foods
  • fragrances
  • pesticides
  • cleaning products
  • cosmetics
  • herbicides
  • fire retardants
  • children’s costume jewelry and toys

These common products frequently contain chemicals that interfere with or mimic your body’s hormonal functions. When this happens to a baby in utero or to an infant or young child, their development and growth can be negatively impacted. In both children and adults, endocrine-disrupting chemicals – even in small amounts – can cause or lead to:

  • neurological changes
  • behavioral changes
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • low birth weight
  • weakened immune system
  • disrupted thyroid function
  • cancer
  • reproductive system problems

These are just some of the possible outcomes from exposure to endocrine disruptors. According to the EWG (Environmental Working Group), six of the twelve worst hormone disruptors are:

Chemical
BPA (bisphenol A)
Phthalates
Atrazine
PFCs (Perfluorinated chemicals)
Organophosphate pesticides
Mercury
Commonly In
Canned foods; some plastics; register receipts (coating)
Plastic food containers & wraps; kids’ toys; fragrance
Produce, mainly corn; drinking water
Non-stick pans; water-resistant clothing, carpets, furniture
Fruits and vegetables
Seafood


The other six worst hormone disrupting chemicals on EWG’s list are arsenic, flame retardants, glycol ethers, lead and perchlorate. This is by no means an exhaustive list of endocrine disruptors or the products they’re used in, but it’s a start and gives you a good idea of how many everyday products contain these dangerous chemicals.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways you can greatly minimize your exposure to these toxic chemicals. Buy organic produce, avoid farm-raised seafood and opt for wild-caught (large salt-water fish like tuna, swordfish, mackerel, orange roughy and others have higher amounts of mercury, even if wild-caught), steer clear of fragranced products (laundry and dish detergents, soaps, personal care products, etc.) and antibacterial soaps, replace plastic food storage containers with glass, choose fresh foods over canned, and make your own household cleaning products or check the EWG website for safer commercial products.

There’s a lot you can do to strengthen your endocrine system or balance your hormones naturally, like getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding sugars and refined carbohydrates, getting the right amount of iodine in your diet (or through high-quality supplements) to prevent thyroid problems, including a good balance of fruit and veggies in your diet, and reducing stress in your life. Your functional medicine doctor can pinpoint exactly what your individual needs are in order to keep your hormones and your overall health in good balance.

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.

Inflammation May Cause Brain Disorders

Here’s What You Can Do…

Chronic inflammation is at the root of a myriad health problems, from arthritis and heart disease to Crohn’s disease and cancer. Now a new study published in Neurology shows that inflammation in midlife may lead to brain shrinkage and brain disorders in later life.

This study followed 1,633 participants for a period of 24 years; when these volunteers reached the age of 77, scientists measured their brain volume using MRI scans. They discovered that those who had a higher number of inflammatory markers in their 40s and 50s now had lower performance scores on word memorization tests than those with lower inflammation. Significantly, the scans also showed that there was less volume in certain areas of the brain – particularly those (such as the hippocampus) that are related to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

The takeaway from this study is that people who have higher chronic inflammation markers in midlife may be at higher risk for degenerative brain diseases than those who do not.

Likewise, inflammation is also at the root of other brain issues such as depression, anxiety, and brain fog (among other things). As reported by Fortune magazine in October 2017, the number of people globally who suffer from depression is staggering at over 300 million, and 260 million are suffering with anxiety disorders. While there are, of course, other medical and/or psychological reasons for some of these brain disorders, inflammation may still account for the underlying cause itself, whether in part or wholly.

Brain fog, considered a cognitive dysfunction, can impact daily life and ranges in its level of severity, from annoying to severe. Symptoms include fatigue, lack of focus, poor memory, confusion, difficulty in putting words together and other such things. While many people put these symptoms off to things like aging or “just part of life”, they aren’t something to be ignored or laughed off and accepted. Brain fog is your brain’s way of telling you that something needs to be corrected, just like pain, nausea or other symptoms are your body’s way of letting you know something is wrong.

Medications can also cause brain fog, but the answer is not to add yet another medication in order to counteract the effects of the one(s) causing the problem. Fortunately, there are easy ways to reduce or avoid inflammation without prescription or OTC medications. A couple of major contributors to inflammation are sugar and processed or packaged foods. Not only do they cause inflammation on their own, but if they make up a good portion of your diet, you can also become deficient in some vitamins and minerals that are important to both physical and mental health. Processed foods contain excessive amounts of sodium, sugars, and a host of chemicals that can damage your health in many different ways. And supplements alone aren’t enough to make up for any of that.

You can start lowering your inflammation level by replacing refined sugars and processed or packaged foods with whole foods (organic is always best, if possible). Some good choices include these “brain foods”:

  • fatty fish
  • nuts
  • coconut and olive oils
  • seeds
  • avocado

Antioxidant-rich foods, teas and spices are also a great benefit and are easy to incorporate into your diet, such as:

  • berries
  • turmeric
  • cumin
  • oregano
  • cinnamon
  • white, green and black teas

And there are many more. Your functional medicine doctor can give you comprehensive testing to detect any food sensitivities or allergies you may not realize you have, which can cause inflammation as well as leaky gut syndrome.

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.

Is Heartburn and GERD Medication Really Safe?

At some point, most people experience the uncomfortable feeling of heartburn. While heartburn is typically associated with a burning feeling in the chest and/or throat, there are other symptoms that can be experienced as well, including difficulty swallowing, chest and/or back pain, chronic hoarseness or cough, sore throat or the feeling of food getting caught in the throat.

Heartburn is caused by stomach acid that is released into the esophagus when the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) muscular valve malfunctions and allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, causing irritation and that all-too-common burning feeling. This discomfort can last from a few minutes to hours and can interfere with sleep, focus and activities, so to get immediate relief, most people automatically reach for an over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn medication.

There are a number of things that can trigger heartburn, and it can be different for everyone. Individual triggers can include overeating, food with high acid content, smoking, caffeine, onions, alcohol, food allergies and other things. Unfortunately, heartburn has become so commonplace that most people don’t realize it’s a symptom and not a normal part of life.

Because OTC relief can easily be found through seemingly harmless antacids like Tums, Alka-Seltzer and Mylanta as well as formerly prescription-only PPIs (proton pump inhibitors) like Nexium, Prevacid, Zantac and Prilosec, they’re thought of as safe “go-to” ways of preventing or relieving heartburn. This couldn’t be further from the truth – heartburn medication, including non-prescription types, come with their own set of health risks, especially for chronic users. Known health risks include:

  • acute kidney injury (AKI)
  • chronic kidney disease (CKD)
  • vitamin B12 or magnesium deficiency
  • higher risk of certain bacterial infections, bone fractures, osteoporosis, pneumonia, dementia, heart problems
  • reduction in calcium absorption

Approximately 20 million Americans take PPIs for mild to moderate heartburn, but PPIs weren’t originally intended for that. Instead, PPIs were created to treat more serious physician-diagnosed ailments like esophageal damage caused by severe acid reflux, bleeding ulcers and a few other extreme issues. It’s estimated that over 90 percent of patients prescribed PPIs do not have health issues requiring their use. However, long-term users of PPIs need to be weaned off them; stopping use suddenly can cause serious withdrawal symptoms such as severe stomach pain and hyperacidity.

Occasional heartburn is one thing, but persistent heartburn, called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), can lead to esophageal cancer and may be a symptom of an underlying health issue like an H. pylori imbalance or too little stomach acid. Doctors typically prescribe PPIs to patients with GERD in an attempt to lessen the symptoms, thereby temporarily restoring their quality of life and possibly reducing the risk of esophageal cancer. However, this is only treating the symptom; it’s far more important to diagnose and heal the underlying cause of GERD. If an insufficient amount of stomach acid is being produced, patients are prone to even more serious conditions such as food poisoning, infections of the digestive system and nutritional deficiencies.

Rather than taking medications to alleviate heartburn, a better strategy is to prevent heartburn through dietary changes, adding or increasing probiotics or adding certain supplements to improve digestion. By restoring gut health and eliminating your personal triggers, you can end heartburn safely and naturally while improving your immune system, microbiome and overall health.

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.

Alarming New Trend: Young Adults Dying From Colorectal Cancer

It’s a startling and alarming fact – more young adults in their 20s and 30s are not just being diagnosed with colorectal cancer, they’re dying from it at higher rates.

A recently published JAMA Network research letter states that while the overall mortality rate for colorectal cancer has gone down, the mortality rate for adults under 55 has risen. Researchers did not consider this to be a unique phenomenon, but rather a frightening trend that appears to have surfaced beginning in the 1990s. Dr. Thomas Weber of the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable expressed to The New York Times that something “truly important” is going on.

More research is being done as to what’s causing this trend; various types of environmental, lifestyle and genetic factors have been tied to increased risks, such as diets high in processed foods, alcohol, obesity and sedentary lifestyles. But researchers are now focusing on some new angles, including the possibility of extended use of antibiotics during adult years – long-term use of antibiotics can negatively impact the gut microbiome, making people susceptible to a wide range of diseases.

Most doctors are hesitant to recommend that young adults begin getting cancer screenings in their 20s, but research is being considered to determine whether this might be the new guideline. One reason for the hesitation is the high cost; the other is that even physicians aren’t convinced that the benefits from colonoscopies in general outweigh the potential harm. There are a number of frequently occurring complications associated with colonoscopies, one of the worst being tears in the rectum or colon wall. Approximately two percent of 300,000 Medicare patients who underwent colonoscopies ended up in the emergency room within a week; these tears can be so serious as to be life-threatening. False positives, which require additional testing, are also an issue, putting undue stress and increased costs on the patient.

Prevention is always the best “medicine”, and there’s a lot we can do to help prevent colorectal cancer in people of all ages. In fact, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) states that maintaining a healthy diet and weight along with physical activity can help prevent about fifty percent of colorectal cancers and approximately one-third of other common cancers. Among the foods that lower the risk of colorectal cancer are:

  • Fruits – especially those containing high levels of vitamin C
  • Whole grains
  • Non-starchy vegetables

By swapping processed foods – especially meats like hot dogs – for these choices and moving toward a more plant-based diet, young adults can lower their colorectal cancer risks. Parents can help by instilling healthy lifestyle choices in their young children; combining better food choices and daily exercise can help significantly lessen the risk of young adult cancers and create a healthy pathway into 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.