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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

Statins as Preventives? Can They Bring on Parkinson’s Symptoms?

Many people know someone who has suffered from the negative side effects of statins or have experienced these debilitating side effects personally. Some of the most common statins being heavily advertised and prescribed are Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Pravachol and others. The medical community typically denies that these side effects are directly related to statin use; in fact, many doctors are not reporting statin-related side effects at all. Some of the common side effects include memory loss, muscle pain and weakness, prediabetes, brain fog, confusion and more, including symptoms mimicking dementia. In some instances, these effects can be permanent.

But now there’s a new study conducted by Penn State College of Medicine and published in the Movement Disorders journal of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorders Society stating that statins may hasten the onset of Parkinson’s symptoms for people who are prone to the disease. This is even more alarming because doctors have been considering prescribing statins not only for high cholesterol, but also as a preventive against Parkinson’s disease. Research on whether statins protect against Parkinson’s has so far been unclear and results are inconsistent.

Penn State researchers analyzed the data of about 22,000 Parkinson’s patients under 65 years old, of which 2,322 were newly diagnosed, and paired each with a person from a control group without Parkinson’s. They noted which patients had been taking statins and the length of time they were on them before symptoms of Parkinson’s occurred. The final analysis showed that patients taking statins – particularly fat soluble lipophilic statins that can get into the brain – had a higher risk of Parkinson’s and that Parkinson’s symptoms were more obvious during early statin use.

This is in direct conflict with a previous study suggesting that patients who stopped taking statins had a higher rate of developing Parkinson’s; the conclusion those researchers drew from this was that statins helped to prevent Parkinson’s. However, Penn State’s assistant professor of public health sciences, Guodong Liu, said that this conclusion may instead indicate that new Parkinson’s symptoms began while patients were using statins; when these patients stopped taking statins and symptoms progressed, it was interpreted that the statins had been preventing Parkinson’s. Liu also pointed out that the study did not show that statins cause Parkinson’s, but rather that they do not protect users from developing Parkinson’s.

Statins have also been prescribed to not only to lower cholesterol, but also to prevent cardiovascular events. This strategy has also been called into question, when another recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that statin use in people over 65 did not lower the number of strokes or heart attacks when compared with people of the same age who were not taking statins. The study also showed that there was no reduction in deaths from cardiovascular events or any other cause in statin users aged 65 and up. However, use of statins by older people can put that population at higher risk for physical decline, possibly causing issues like fatigue and muscle damage.

Of course, with such conflicting studies, more research needs to be done on these issues. However, we know that all prescription drugs put patients at risk of side effects or permanent complications, and many only mask symptoms while doing nothing to heal the root cause. While some medications can’t be avoided for certain serious health issues, natural prevention of many conditions is possible through regular exercise, a good diet low in or devoid of processed foods and sugars and the proper balance of minerals and healthy fats.

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.

Can Aspirin Reduce Your Risk of Cancer?

The largest long-term aspirin study covering 32 years and following 130,183 people (86,206 women and 43,977 men) has shown that regular use of aspirin over a long period of time lowered the risk of death from some types of cancer. These included colorectal, prostate, breast and lung cancers; both duration and dosage of aspirin use were followed from 1980 to 2012.

Earlier studies had shown the benefits of aspirin in preventing heart disease as well as colorectal cancer and possibly reducing the risk of death from cancer; women were shown to have less risk of stroke rather than heart attacks. The long-term follow-up study was among the first to focus on aspirin dosages and duration of use.

Researchers saw a lower risk of death in general and from cancer in people who took between half an aspirin and one-and-a-half aspirin a week; even better results were seen in people who took between two and seven aspirin per week. Interestingly, those taking more than seven aspirin per week did not have such positive results. However, researchers also noted that a long-term aspirin regimen is not a one-size-fits-all solution for all patients, nor does regular aspirin use work for everyone. 

So, what is it about aspirin that’s so beneficial in preventing and lowering the risk of death from heart disease and cancer, currently ranked as the top two killers in the United States? Aspirin is both an anticoagulant and an anti-inflammatory; inflammation is a major underlying cause of cancer, heart disease, and many other health issues.

This study proves what functional medicine doctors have been saying for years – that keeping inflammation in the body to a minimum is one of the keys to good health. Chronic inflammation is at the core of a host of illnesses from asthma, arthritis and Crohn’s disease to cancer, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disease.

While the results of this study are useful, it’s equally helpful to know that there is a risk-benefit issue to be considered, a fact recognized by the medical community. Daily aspirin use comes with its own set of risks, including:

  • gastro-intestinal bleeding
  • hemorrhagic stroke
  • ulcers
  • allergic reactions
  • digestive disorders
  • interactions with prescriptions, OTC medications, Omega-3s and herbal supplements
  • excessive bleeding during surgery and dental procedures

The good news is that there are safer, more natural ways to keep inflammation down and your blood flowing freely through your veins. A healthy diet is crucial to achieving these goals (whether you’re on prescription medications, or not); this would include a more anti-inflammatory diet that eliminates processed foods, gluten and refined sugars. Eliminate or minimize your intake of foods to which you may have sensitivities or allergies, as these can cause inflammation as well. Natural anticoagulants include ginger, ginkgo, vitamin E, fish oil, garlic and more. However, it is important to note that these are not to be considered replacements for prescription blood thinners for patients who have heart problems or who have had a stroke or heart attack, nor should they be taken in addition to medications without a doctor’s authorization. Only take these natural blood thinners after talking with your doctor about safety, dosages and whether these supplements are safe for you along with your prescription.

It’s never too late to reduce inflammation in your body through diet, but why wait until a problem develops before starting? By lowering your body’s inflammation, you may ward off many serious health issues as well as any seemingly genetically related health problems.

*NOTE: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. Always talk with your doctor about any planned dietary changes or additions and before eliminating or reducing your medications to avoid serious health complications.

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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Genetic Testing

What is right or wrong with it depends on what you hope to learn

It’s only been within the past decade, since mapping of the human genome began, that genetic testing has shifted in focus from family planning to prediction. Take Huntington’s disease, for instance – a couple with a genetic history of Huntington’s looking to start a family would test to ensure they don’t carry the same gene defect to their offspring. Opposite to this is testing for BRCA-1 and 2 genes that is used to predict the possibility of breast cancer in a mature adult.

This type of predictive testing is novel but not infallible. In fact, before spending time and money on genetic tests, an individual might first think about what she hopes to learn. Who will interpret the results, and is the clinical philosophy prescriptive or simply part of the detective work? Is the outcome surgery, a new drug or a lifestyle modification and if so, how does the result support this? “I have my concerns about developing breast cancer,” says Sofie Allison, 49 years old and a mother of two, “but not enough to undertake a radical procedure beforehand.”

Part of the reason patients can feel confident whether to test is twofold: first, there is curiosity about one’s genetic makeup that overrides a feeling of dread or worry about it. Much of this has todo with an emerging concept in the field of human genome mapping called epigenomics, which is to say that there are numerous chemical compounds that can tell a particular gene what to do. In other words, a gene mutation in and of itself is not a predictor of disease. This puts a lot of the decision-making about lifestyle and personal choice back into the hands of the patient regardless of the test result.

A chief reason patients can feel confident not to test is that gene mapping still raises privacy concerns. Right now, it costs about $4,000 to map the human genome, making it a costly endeavor simply to learn that there is natural variation across a particular gene pool. Pharmaceutical companies including Genentech and Pfizer pay handsomely for access to these reports, and there is a reason why: pharmacogenomics, or personalized medicine. The promise of this is better therapeutic decisions related to dosing, but many people argue that centralized reporting will be made public.

The criticism of genetic tests is well founded in part because the results produce a very complicated set of percentages that someone, preferably a doctor with no stake in the outcome, must interpret. Even among practitioners who are comfortable ordering genetic tests, the data can be used to support a wide variety of practices and beliefs. As detective work, a negative result might indicate a risk factor, but only one of many that includes all the other environmental influences that are external to gene expression. A genetic test could be used to detect a weakness in detoxification methods that contribute to poor lymphatic drainage that, in turn, contributes to cancer, for instance. That said, much of that can already be detected by a skilled clinician.

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.

4 Truths for Evaluating Your Health

Chronic conditions and ailments that won’t go away end up rooting themselves so deeply into the lives and psyches of patients that, by the time they make it to my office, they are in anguish. The search for a doctor and the effort to seek out meaning behind the symptoms is a memory that is very difficult to erase. In some cases it’s been a whole lifetime, from childhood to parenthood, the full generational circle of life and time that elapses before the patient sees again some of her own earliest struggles spring back to life in her own child. The baby’s same symptoms that the mother herself has dealt with repeated in circles.

Truth No. 1 – You Can’t Medicate Your Way Back to Health.

There is a pang of vulnerability when you discover that the road ahead will be difficult and further discover that the same medicinal treatment is still the only one being offered today.

Have you ever awakened with a headache that lasted all day, for days on end, and nothing you tried worked? Or maybe you have taken over-the-counter pain medications for years to curb certain aches and pains, just enough to get through the work day. And then one day those stop working. Not only do they stop working, but the symptoms actually worsen.

Truth No. 2 – Your Diagnosis is a Powerful Naming Convention, a Label; It Is Not You.

One of the myths about having a diagnosis is that it will, in and of itself, catalyze a whole body of knowledge and a cure. That it will create an Aha! moment and start in motion a new set of standards and practices never before revealed. The reality can be disappointing.

A diagnosis is simply a label; it is a name for a collection of symptoms that is given for the purposes of assigning value. With a diagnosis, the doctor can provide justification to the insurance company for additional testing and for the prescribing of medical devices or drugs. It can give the patient a name that she can spend hours on the internet searching.

Truth No. 3 – Your Current Health Status is Not Your True Potential.

What becomes plainly evident is that nearly all diagnoses begin with a very similar set of warning signs. Having an actual diagnosis is appealing because it brings a kind of closure to the search and points to a direction where healing can begin.

It’s worrisome when symptoms are ill-defined and persistent. It’s hard to communicate precisely with doctors and it feels almost impossible to carry on with family and friends. Everyone has advice. No one really understands how hard it is. Each well-meaning relative has another suggestion and a new set of ideas. Everyone is really trying to help, which is wonderful, if not exhausting. The only satisfying reason for having a diagnosis: Peace of Mind.

Truth No. 4 – Re-Writing Your Health Narrative is Transformative.

With peace of mind comes clarity and options for true healing. Ask anyone who’s spent time in a doctor’s office what it took to nurse herself back to health, and she will likely tell you it took a lot of soul searching, decision making, perseverance and vision. That she saw a fork in the road – one way was the medical route and the other was the road less traveled. It’s very likely that these two roads intersected often as she picked her way back and forth between them based on what she knew and felt was best for her. And that the end result was truly a new beginning.

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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.