Stress Eating and Your Health

Stress is a part of life—we can’t escape it, but we all react differently to it. Where some people feel tired and tend to sleep more during stressful times, other people can’t sleep at all. By the same token, stress can cause some people to lose their appetites while others tend to eat their way through stressful periods. No extreme is healthy; the key is to know why these extremes happen and how to regulate your body when you’re experiencing extended stressful situations.

A study published in Cell Metabolism showed that stress causes the stimulation of a particular pathway in the brain that increases your caloric intake. In the study, mice eating a high-fat diet while experiencing chronic stress tended to gain more weight than mice that were not experiencing stress while on the same high-fat diet. Researchers attributed this to the brain’s neuropeptide Y (NPY) molecules, which drive stress eating (also called emotional eating).

What does this mean for humans? In brief, it means that during stressful times, it’s extremely important to watch what you eat as well as how much you eat.

Here’s the reason. The NPY neurons in the amygdala (the part of your brain that controls fight-or-flight and is part of the brain’s fear circuit) control feeding, and when stress combines with a high-calorie diet, your insulin-controlled NPY expression increases, leading to insulin resistance. The study in Cell Metabolism concludes, “Stress combined with a high-caloric diet causes insulin resistance in central amygdala.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen long lines of cars at fast food restaurants or takeout donut shops during times when society as a whole is facing a crisis of one type or another, let alone when individuals are experiencing their own emotionally stressful situations. Emotional eating typically focuses on comfort foods that are high in fat and/or sugar. Stress eating has even become normalized in television shows and movies as an accepted way of dealing with difficult situations, even if it’s handled comedically. However, in real life, the result of habitual stress eating will result in weight gain (possibly to the point of obesity), diabetes, high blood pressure, fatigue and more. These types of foods will also take a toll on your immune system and make you more vulnerable to diseases.

So how do you get stress eating under control? I have a few suggestions for some stress management techniques that can help to reduce your stress level, which in turn helps stop stress eating, aids your immune system, and is beneficial to your overall wellbeing.

When you feel your stress level rising or you feel the need to indulge in emotional eating, start by doing some deep breathing. When we feel stressed, we tend to do more shallow breathing, which makes our nervous system weaker. To counteract that, take in a slow, steady deep breath through your nose, hold it for four to six seconds, then slowly exhale through your mouth. Do this several times in a row, and repeat it several times throughout the day. At first you may feel a bit lightheaded, but that will pass.

I cannot stress enough how important movement is—physical activity can’t be an afterthought, it needs to be a priority. Being sedentary in combination with stress and emotional eating is a recipe for disaster, and no amount of vitamin or mineral supplementation will help. Go outside and soak up some sunlight (which helps boost mood and gives you that all-important vitamin D), and take a walk for at least ten minutes, or indulge in any outdoor activity you enjoy. Hiking, shooting hoops, swimming, kayaking—all types of physical activity help both physically and mentally and can get you past the craving for low-value comfort foods.

Tune out the news for a while, and tune in to your favorite music. In the privacy of your home, you can put the popular saying into practice: “Dance like no one is watching”. Not only can your favorite music elevate your mood, dancing is a great form of indoor exercise. When you want to relax, put on some calming music or try meditation; you can find plenty of music specifically suited to relaxation and meditation online if you don’t have it at home.

Proactive measures like these not only help you avoid stress eating, they can also help boost your immune system and keep a positive mental attitude.

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.

Heavy Metals: The Hidden Health Culprit

Heavy metals are a fact of life. They’re in the soil, in the water we use for drinking and showering, and in varying levels they’re in produce, meats and grains; they reach us through both industrial and non-industrial sources. While some heavy metals serve no useful purpose in our bodies, others are necessary to our bodily functions in small quantities—it’s when they build up to damaging or even toxic levels that they can become a health risk.

Among the heavy metals listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) that present the biggest risks to your health are:

  • lead
  • mercury
  • cadmium
  • arsenic
  • copper
  • zinc
  • manganese
  • tin
  • nickel
  • titanium

There are metals beyond those named in WHO’s top ten list that can also compromise your health, including aluminum, cobalt, selenium, antimony, silver and others. The level of danger these metals present varies—outside acceptable ranges, some can be life-threatening while others can cause health risks that range in severity. WHO states that over “25 percent of total burden of disease is linked to environmental factors including exposure to toxic chemicals”—this includes both chemicals and metals. However, the first four heavy metals in the above list are considered the most dangerous.

Having a high level of heavy metals in your body can go unnoticed by health care professionals. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that health care professionals don’t recognize or suspect symptoms of heavy metals in a patient’s body because their training doesn’t include environmental and occupational medicine, and there’s also “inadequate management or failure of management” for metal-related problems. The NIH goes on to state that generally, “health care workers…have limited knowledge and skills in evaluating those patients who suffer from occupational health-related problems.” In fact, testing for a variety of heavy metals is not typically part of normal blood testing outside of functional medicine.

Heavy metals can accumulate in the body, causing both acute and chronic health problems ranging from bronchitis, dermatitis, fatigue, tremors and irritability to metabolic disruption, kidney/liver damage, bone fractures and neurological damage, the most extreme being heavy metal poisoning.

Because the organs and brains of infants and children are still developing, as well as the fact that their bodies absorb more heavy metals than adults, they are particularly vulnerable to the negative health impact of heavy metals. Unfortunately, tests have shown that baby and toddler foods all contain some measurable level of more dangerous heavy metals, some of which could pose health problems when consumed even once a day on a regular basis.

Your body needs a certain amount of metals like copper, iron and zinc in order to function properly, but even those can cause heavy metal poisoning if their levels become too high. While we can’t always avoid the heavy metals in our water and air (though a good home water filtration system can help), we can try to minimize the amount we take in through the foods we eat and our overall lifestyle.

For example, cigarettes expose smokers to heavy amounts of cadmium (smokers’ bodies can have twice as much cadmium as nonsmokers); pesticides and fungicides in food, either sprayed on or absorbed through water/soil; dental amalgams containing mercury; old paint containing lead; coal burning; some industrial processes and other sources. These are far from the only sources where you may encounter heavy metals—cosmetics, antacids, personal care products, aluminum cans and other everyday items can add to your body’s metal burden.

But don’t lose hope—you can minimize or eliminate your exposure to some of these products and foods by avoiding known carriers of heavy metals (like substituting fish with low metal levels for those with high levels), reading labels, and checking reliable online sources for alternative products with safer ingredients. Your functional medicine doctor can also determine the best ways detoxify and help you prevent metals from building up in 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.

Trans Fats Increase Dementia Risk

We’ve been hearing for years that dietary trans fats are bad for your health; the American Heart Association warns that eating foods containing trans fats can raise your risk of stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Now, new research published in the journal Neurology shows that artificial trans fats – manufactured through an industrial process – may also increase the risk for developing dementia by 50-75 percent.

The FDA banned industrialized trans fats in the US as of 2018, although extensions were given to some companies through 2019. However, this “ban” didn’t eliminate all uses of trans fats – products are still permitted to contain trans fats as long as they don’t exceed 0.5 grams per serving. However, these companies are permitted to claim “zero trans fats” on their ingredient labels even though they actually contain up to 0.5 grams per serving.

It’s obvious that even with such restrictions, a person can easily consume higher levels of trans fats just by eating more than one serving at a time; in some cases, one serving may be only a few pieces or an ounce. Chances are that you’ll either eat more than one serving or consume several products with trans fats, all of which adds up in your body.

Companies use this artificial additive as a way to enhance flavor and/or texture or to extend a product’s shelf life. Some of the products that are permitted to continue containing trans fats (also called partially hydrogenated oil) are:

  • crackers
  • ready-to-use frostings
  • pastries
  • baked goods (cookies, cakes, frozen pies)
  • microwave popcorn (and some bagged popcorn)
  • snack foods
  • margarine
  • fast food
  • refrigerated dough products
  • frozen pizza
  • coffee creamers
  • vegetable shortening

Doesn’t look like much of a “ban”, does it? To illustrate the point above, imagine you put margarine on your toast in the morning or use it to cook an egg, then you also add an artificial creamer to your coffee. Later on you have a frozen pizza for lunch, followed by microwave popcorn or some other packaged snack in the afternoon. On your way home from work you grab takeout from your favorite fast food place, and later in the evening you have some cookies or crackers. Even if you stay within a single serving size of each – which isn’t likely, considering how small many serving sizes are – you’ve tallied up trans fats from six sources. This may sound extreme, but if you check ingredient labels for partially hydrogenated oils, you may be surprised at what you find.

The study in Neurology looked at over 1,600 people in one city in Japan for a period of ten years. Of the people with high and moderate serum elaidic acid levels (biomarkers indicating levels of industrial trans fats in the blood) at the end of that decade, approximately a quarter of the people in each group had developed dementia; those with the lowest levels fared best. After adjusting for other health issues that could affect dementia risk, such as blood pressure, smoking, and diabetes, researchers found that those in the groups with the two highest levels of serum elaidic acid were between 50 and 75 percent more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease than those in the lowest group.

The study conclusion in Neurology states: “The findings suggest that higher serum elaidic acid is a possible risk factor for the development of all-cause dementia and AD [Alzheimer’s disease] in later life.”

The study also took into consideration which foods caused the highest increase of trans fats in the blood. The biggest contributor was sweet pastries, after which came candies and caramels, margarine, croissants, creamers, rice crackers, and ice cream.

The World Health Organization hopes to achieve a worldwide elimination of trans fats by 2023 in order to work toward dementia prevention as well as a reduction in heart disease and other trans fats-related health problems.

You don’t have to wait for a worldwide ban to minimize trans fats in your diet – staying away from processed foods as well as fried and fast food, checking labels of any packaged/prepared foods for partially hydrogenated oils, and focusing your diet on whole foods will go a long way toward lowering the trans fats in 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.

Pesticides During Pregnancy – is There a Risk?

More and more information has been coming out about the risks to developing fetuses caused by pesticide exposure during pregnancy. In particular, the spotlight is being aimed at organophosphates, the most commonly and widely used pesticide used to treat interiors and exteriors of homes,
businesses, parks, fruit, vegetable and cotton crops, among other applications.

There are over 100 types of organophosphates, and it is reported by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that “800 million pounds of pesticide active ingredients are applied in the United States each year, with organophosphates (OPs) the most commonly applied class of insecticides.” It’s interesting – or frightening – to note that organophosphates were originally developed during the 1930s and 1940s as human nerve gas agents. The endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in pesticides kill insects (and can kill other creatures including birds and small mammals) by attacking their nervous systems, which can also harm the rapidly developing nervous system of a fetus in the first trimester of pregnancy.

You can be exposed to organophosphates in a number of ways, all of which contribute to the buildup of these chemicals in your body. These include:

  • Eating non-organic foods
  • Touching plants or soil that has been treated with pesticides
  • Breathing pesticides in the air (from agricultural drift, neighborhood yard treatments, etc.)
  • Drinking or touching water contaminated by runoff

Many journals, including the American Journal of Public Health, Annals of Oncology, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, among a number of others, have all warned about connections between pesticide exposure and miscarriages, birth defects, neuro-behavioral issues, reduced fertility, and pregnancy complications. Additional reports include:

  • The California Birth Defects Monitoring Agency states that pregnant women exposed to gardening pesticides had an increased risk of delivering a baby with heart defects, neural tube defects, oral clefts, and limb defects. The agency estimates that three out of every four women are exposed to pesticides in their homes.
  • Time magazine reported in March 2019 that one of the largest studies on the risks of pesticide exposure to developing fetuses and newborns showed a link to a higher risk of autism.
  • The PNAS journal published an extensive article showing “consistent associations of prenatal organophosphates (OP) with poorer cognitive function and behavior problems.”
  • The National Institutes of Health published this finding: “Compelling evidence indicates that prenatal exposure at low levels is putting children at risk for cognitive and behavioral deficits and for neurodevelopmental disorders.”

A two-year study reported in the Journal of Women’s Health Care looked at the delivery outcomes and babies of pregnant women who were exposed to organophosphates compared to pregnant women who were not exposed. The results showed that the women who were exposed to organophosphates had pre-term babies with lower birth weights and smaller heads than those who were not exposed.

And it’s not just babies in utero that can be damaged by organophosphate pesticides – children exposed to these harmful chemicals face serious health risks including childhood brain cancer (47 percent higher rate), autism, endocrine disruption, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), neurodevelopmental delays, and cognitive impairment. A report published in the journal Pediatrics states that these chemicals can also increase the risk of adult health problems later in life, including obesity, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

There are a number of ways you can reduce your exposure to dangerous pesticides. Because there are so many pesticides in food (causing these chemicals to build up in your body), buying organic is always the best choice. If a total organic diet is cost-prohibitive, focus on organics for the produce your family eats most often. Avoid the “dirty dozen” types of non-organic produce that are highest in chemicals, and scrub produce before eating. You can also grow some of your own produce – even if you’re in an apartment or your home has only a patio or very little property, you can grow veggies in containers using organic soil. There are many other natural ways to eliminate or minimize exposure to pesticides – including eliminating the use of chemical flea and tick products on your pets – without using harsh, potentially damaging chemicals. Check online to find the right products for your needs.

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.

That (Nasty) Gut Feeling – IBS

Chances are that you or someone you know has IBS – irritable bowel syndrome – it’s one of today’s most common GI (gastrointestinal) disorders and can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. It’s estimated that between 10 and 25 percent of adults worldwide and between 5 and 20 percent of kids suffer with IBS. Symptoms can include:

  • Lower abdominal cramping/pain
  • Frequent diarrhea
  • Frequent constipation
  • Alternating constipation and diarrhea
  • Mucus in stools
  • Changes in stool consistency
  • Foods that trigger symptoms (intolerances)
  • Gas, bloating
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Poor quality of sleep

The cause of a patient’s IBS isn’t typically diagnosed by doctors, and IBS itself is not well understood; causes are considered to include stress, antibiotics, trauma or adverse personal experiences (even dating back to early childhood), and possibly hormonal changes in women. However, the latest findings get to the root of these causes – there is a strong connection between an imbalance in gut microbiota (dysbiosis) and IBS. Stress, antibiotic use, trauma and adverse experiences all have a negative impact on the gut microbiome, as do poor diet, intestinal inflammation, bacterial infection of the gut, and more. The one thing these all have in common is that they create dysbiosis, either by killing off good bacteria or causing bacterial overgrowth.

While it’s claimed that there is “no known cause” of IBS, it seems clear that an underlying cause common to all these health issues is an out-of-balance microbiome. The Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility reports that “Gut microbiota is thought to play important roles in the pathogenesis of IBS. This is evident from the fact that IBS occurs more frequently after intestinal infection or antibiotics treatment. Studies have shown that the alterations of the intestinal microbiota are observed in IBS patients.”

Although genetics are said to be another factor in developing IBS, a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states “[r]ecent research suggests that environmental factors such as diet, drugs, and lifestyle exert a greater influence on the gut microbiome than genetics.” This is good news, since it indicates that we can take measures to prevent IBS even if it runs in our family line. Another study published by the NIH stresses that “…the intestinal microbiota in some IBS patients was completely different from that in healthy controls, and there does appear to be a consistent theme of Firmicutes enrichment and reduced abundance of Bacteroides” (two types of gut bacteria).

The NIH reports that because certain probiotic bacterial species are typically reduced in people with IBS, giving patients specific probiotics with anti-inflammatory properties improved their IBS symptoms. On the other hand, “[a]ntibiotic use can have potential side effects such as depleting levels of beneficial commensal gut microbiota thus opening niches for nonspecific species to establish themselves.” In addition, “the administration of antibiotics in an attempt to solve the problem has potential side effects by depleting levels of commensal microbiota, thus resulting in an opening for nonbeneficial microbiota to establish themselves.” (Commensal bacteria are those that work together without either helping or harming the other.)

Although there have been successful results in treating IBS with probiotics, it’s not a singular or one-size-fits-all solution – each IBS sufferer needs to find out exactly which type of probiotics they need for their particular situation so that a targeted solution can be implemented. It’s important to have comprehensive lab tests done prior to starting on any prebiotic or probiotic supplementation so that the bacteria you add work to achieve the proper balance in your gut microbiome. It’s equally important that any necessary lifestyle changes – diet in particular – be incorporated to keep your microbiome in balance, reducing or eliminating intestinal inflammation and minimizing or eliminating IBS symptoms.

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

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

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

Sugar, Salt, and Fat: What’s in Your Baby’s Food?

Every parent wants the best for their kids, right from birth. So when baby food is introduced into a baby’s diet, parents make sure they have a good balance of protein, vegetables, and fruits. When the toddler years come along and snacks come into the picture, parents typically look for more nutritious choices over things like candy and cookies.

But things that may seem like healthy options and are marketed as better choices for kids may actually be high in sugar, fat, and sodium, not to mention other unhealthy ingredients like artificial colors and chemicals. For example, one brand of toddler snack was found to have enough sodium, fat, and sugar to be comparable to Cheetos.

Baby food and toddler snacks and drinks are a big business. The Washington Post reports that 2018 saw four times more baby/toddler food and drink launches than in 2005 and that most are very high in sugar. The main reason for the upsurge, they report, stems from parents wanting easy, on-the-go packaging. While parents are targeted with advertising pushing this convenience, some products are also marketed with words that insinuate a healthy snack, like “organic”, “protein”, “fiber”, and “whole grains”. What you’ll find in the nutrition facts – typically in smaller print – is the huge amount of sugar and sodium that’s also in many of these snacks. One particular company (we won’t mention names) promotes the “healthy” aspects of their toddler snack bars by highlighting all four of these positive-sounding terms – sounds great, right? Look closer at the nutrition facts section, and you’ll see that each small 0.88 oz. bar also includes a whopping two teaspoons of total sugars.

The Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics published the results of a first-ever in-depth study examining the “trends in added sugar consumption by toddlers and infants.” The study found that 61 percent of infants and 98 percent of toddlers consumed added sugars in their diets every day. In this study, most of these added sugars were in fruit drinks and flavored yogurts, though other studies also included sweet baked goods and other products marketed as baby/toddler snacks. The study’s lead investigator, Dr. Kirsten A. Herrick, stated that the consumption of added sugar by children “has been associated with negative health conditions, including cavities, asthma, obesity, elevated blood pressure and altered lipid profiles [cholesterol and triglycerides].” The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) also adds to that list type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and other health conditions.

Besides snacks, toddler dinners didn’t fare well either when researched by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). They found that 72 percent of toddler dinners had more than 210 mg of sodium each; since the maximum amount recommended for toddlers is 370 mg of sodium daily, a single toddler dinner already takes up a hefty amount of that total. Add to that the sodium in any snacks and other meals, and it’s easy to see how a toddler’s daily sodium intake can get out of control. The CDC also found that almost half of all infant foods, including fruits and mixed grain products, contained added sugars.

The American Heart Association recommends that children under two years of age avoid all added sugar consumption. Herrick pointed out that, “Eating patterns established early in life shape later eating patterns”, something every parent should consider when choosing snacks and foods for their children. The journal Pediatrics echoes Herrick’s point, stating that taste preferences for both sugar and sodium later in life are linked to early exposure. Unfortunately, studies have shown that the average infant gets about one teaspoon of sugar a day, and toddlers are eating six teaspoons every day – six teaspoons is the maximum amount for adults – and those numbers went up among certain ethnic backgrounds.

The AAP has a number of recommendations to help parents avoid high sugar, fat, and sodium in their children’s diets, including:

  • Avoid giving children drinks and snacks with added sugars; this includes sodas, sports drinks, fruit drinks, and sweetened tea products
  • Instead serve water and milk, which contains important nutrients for growing bodies
  • Substitute fresh fruits for sweet treats
  • Limit fruit juices, as they contain more sugar than fresh fruits
  • Check ingredients of products like ketchup, salad dressings, dried fruits (raisins, cranberries), etc. for added sugars

Finally, the most important vegetables are those with color over white vegetables like potatoes, and the way a vegetable is prepared is just as important. A November 18, 2019 New Yorker article titled “Can Babies Learn to Love Vegetables?” stated that “On any given day, a quarter of American toddlers eat no vegetables. When they do eat them, the most popular choice is French fries.” Besides fried foods carrying their own health risks, French fries are typically loaded with sodium and many times are dipped into ketchup, which contains added sugars. Introducing healthier choices from young can develop healthier taste preferences.

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

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

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

A Cure for Chronic Fatigue in Gut Microbiome?

If you’re one of the estimated 2.5 million people suffering with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), you know how this disease can rob you of your lifestyle. The extreme fatigue, along with other difficult symptoms, can make you unable to work, socialize, and even do the simple things in life. And you’re probably not satisfied with the standard “treatment” of medicating one or more of the symptoms in the hopes that it will help lessen other symptoms. However, some of these treatments cause more problems.

Currently, mainstream medicine has no cure for CFS, and no cause has been pinpointed either; theories as to its origins range from viral infections to stress to a combination of triggers resulting in CFS. An alarming number of medical professionals dismiss the existence of CFS as a medical condition – Thomas Sabin, vice chair of neurology at Tufts University School of Medicine, has said that up to half of neurologists he has spoken to “don’t believe it is a real medical entity.”

Before diagnosing a patient with CSF, a wide variety of tests are typically done so doctors can rule out other potential health conditions. Deciding on a diagnosis of CFS can be difficult because its symptoms are identical to the symptoms of many other health conditions. Some of these symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • flu-like symptoms
  • poor sleep
  • cognitive impairment
  • depression
  • sore throat
  • lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • joint/muscle pain
  • headaches
  • cardiac symptoms
  • swollen lymph nodes
  • extreme exhaustion for 24+ hours following physical/mental exertion

Once a patient is diagnosed with CFS, doctors attempt to manage its symptoms with medications. If a patient is experiencing depression, an antidepressant is prescribed, which is hoped to also improve sleep and lessen pain. If a patient is experiencing particular symptoms that fall into a specific specialty, like cardiology, they may be treated for a condition that doesn’t exist until additional symptoms present themselves. Any of the above symptoms can precede others, again making a CFS diagnosis difficult.

However, a recent study published in the journal Microbiome revealed a new connection between the health of the gut and CFS. Imbalances in the gut microbiome, meaning the levels of some bacteria are too high while others are too low, can be at the root of many illnesses and disorders. Because up to 90 percent of patients with CFS also have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), researchers compared the gut bacteria of IBS patients with the gut bacteria of patients with CFS and IBS. The findings showed that there was a difference in the pattern of gut bacteria disturbances between these two groups – specifically, an overabundance of seven types of gut bacteria were strongly linked to chronic fatigue, and a low level of an eighth type of bacteria was also present. These results may give medical professionals an important tool in the early and successful diagnosing and treatment of CFS in the future. Because an imbalance in the microbiome can negatively impact the immune system and the central nervous system, some researchers have theorized that this imbalance may be the cause of CFS.

However, further studies need to be done in order to determine whether this imbalance of the microbiome is the cause or result of CFS. This study builds on previous studies that showed a difference in the gut bacteria of healthy people versus that of CFS patients. Clearly, this is just one more indicator of the importance of maintaining a healthy gut microbiome. Among the many things affected by the health of your microbiome are the strength of your immune system, functionality of the brain (mood, behavior), heart disease, and obesity.

Restoring or maintaining a healthy, balanced microbiome can go a long way toward helping you heal or avoid numerous health issues.

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.

Preservatives in Processed Foods Tied to Autism

Autism is on the rise…big time. The medical community’s most common “answers” as to why this is happening range from “it’s unclear” to generalities including genetics, environmental toxins, and many others, leaving parents scratching their heads as potentially risky medications are prescribed for their children without solid answers to back them up.

The numbers from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) illustrate this frightening increase: in the year 2000, 1 in 150 children were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder; in 2012, that number rose to 1 in 68; finally, in 2018, diagnosed autism cases increased to 1 in 59. Where does it end? Will there ever be an answer?

New research may be zeroing in on a potential culprit that points to a problem created when pregnant women eat certain types of food. Scientific Reports has published the results of research done at the University of Central Florida (UCF) College of Medicine, which found that high levels of propionic acid (PPA) in the diets of pregnant women can “reduce the development of neurons in fetal brains.”

PPA extends the shelf life of various processed foods, and it’s a common preservative in packaged foods including commercially processed cheeses, breads, baked goods, etc. In recent years, the use of PPA has been expanded, and it’s now also used as a flavor enhancer in some packaged goods in addition to being used by the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries.

So how is PPA associated with autism? UCF researchers identified molecular changes to neural stem cells when they’re exposed to high levels of PPA. Specifically, PPA causes inflammation and disrupts the balance between brain cells by reducing the amount of neurons while at the same time overproducing glial cells and damaging neural pathways.

The bottom line is that this combination of changes – and inflammation in particular – has been found in the brains of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Reduced neurons coupled with damaged neural pathways have been shown to interfere with communication abilities in the brain and to cause the behavioral issues associated with autism, including mobility problems, repetitive movements, and difficulty with social interactions.

The National Institutes of Health published a study that was undertaken to determine whether PPA has any effect on children’s behavior. Twenty-seven children participated in the double-blind study which included eating bread daily – a percentage of children were given placebos (bread without the PPA preservative) and the rest were given bread containing PPA. At the end of the study, there was no change in the placebo group, but the children who ate bread with PPA exhibited a “statistically significant difference” in behavior, including irritability, sleep problems, restlessness and attention problems. Conversely, children with behavioral problems who were taken off the preservative showed marked improvements in their behaviors.

Aside from the presence of high PPA levels in the body, scientists have found that the gut microbiome of autistic children is different from that of non-autistic children. When stool samples from autistic children were studied, the results showed that their stools contained not only higher levels of PPA, but also “significant differences” in gut microbiota and the diversity of that bacteria. Considering the importance of the gut-brain connection, it’s not surprising that a lack of bacterial diversity in the gut can cause inflammation in the brain.

According to Autism Speaks (the largest US autism advocacy group sponsoring research and promoting awareness), autistic children are also eight times more likely to have gastrointestinal problems such as GERD, chronic constipation, and abdominal pain.

Researchers at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston noted that microbiome changes have been associated with GI issues in people who have neurodevelopmental disorders. In a separate study published in Scientific Reports, when autistic children received fecal transplants, which altered their gut microbiota, their GI issues improved – as did their behavior.

You may not see the actual term propionic acid or PPA on ingredient labels, but you may see one of its more common terms, including calcium propionate, propanoic acid, methyl acetate acid or ethylformic acid. Don’t be fooled if you see references to PPA as “naturally occurring” – propionic acid is a naturally occurring acid that results when bacteria ferments sugars in the intestines; it’s also found in sweat glands. However, industrial-made non-biological PPA is not the same chemical and is based on petrochemical reactions. In any case, an overabundance of PPA in the body occurs when too much of this industrial PPA preservative is consumed.

As functional medicine doctors have long known, a healthy gut microbiome is key to a healthy brain and body. Replacing processed foods with whole foods and making sure your diet includes a wide range of diverse vegetables and fruits – preferably organic – helps to create and maintain a healthy microbiome.

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.

Weight, Age and Metabolism

As we get older, our bodies tend to put on weight, and many of us try to fight against that natural change. But should we? How much extra weight is too much? And why does this happen?

The basic biological fact that our bodies put on weight later in life is due to the fact that our metabolism slows down as we age. Although people today stay more active and are no longer heading for rocking chairs and retirement during certain milestone years, health, mobility and pain issues can slow us down. When this happens, we’re not burning as many calories, which adds on pounds. Other factors can also lead to weight gain, including some prescription medications such as corticosteroids, antipsychotics and antidepressants.

But a little extra weight, particularly when you’re over 60, can be a good thing – it’s even considered protective against potential falls and illnesses that may cause weight loss. A number of studies have illustrated this same conclusion; one in particular, conducted by Yale University, showed that “moderately overweight senior adults” with a BMI (body mass index) of 27 actually enjoyed longer lives than seniors who had a higher or lower BMI. This study has been misconstrued by some people as giving them the green light to put on weight randomly – this couldn’t be further from the truth. Excessive weight gain or constant fluctuations in weight are still health risks that can lead to chronic conditions, whereas seniors who maintained a slightly above average BMI consistently had the longest life spans.

You don’t need to take drastic measures to achieve and maintain a healthy weight at an older age, and diet alone isn’t the answer. If you just cut calories, you’ll lose muscle mass, which is definitely undesirable. But there’s a three-pronged approach that can help you stay fit and healthy so you can enjoy the activities you love well into your golden years. These three beneficial elements are muscle-building /calorie burning exercise, proper protein intake and diet modification.

The risk of type 2 diabetes reduces considerably as you move toward your optimal body weight; an overweight person who loses even seven percent of their body weight lowers their risk by more than half. And as excess weight is lost, you’re more likely to become more active as it becomes easier to engage in muscle-building exercises on a regular basis.

When it comes to how you eat, fad diets and temporary caloric adjustments won’t work. Your shift to a healthier diet needs to be part of a permanent lifestyle change, otherwise the weight you’ve shed will return. A good step toward cutting calories, which has many other health benefits as well, is eliminating or greatly minimizing your intake of processed sugars, especially sugary drinks. Add muscle-building, calorie burning exercises and you have a winning combination.

One thing to be particularly aware of is to get proper amounts of protein every day. As we get older, protein becomes even more important for stimulating muscle protein synthesis; it’s estimated that about 0.6 grams of protein daily per pound of body weight is necessary. Including proper portions of healthy proteins (not protein bars) at each meal will accomplish this. And by rounding out your meals with a variety of fresh vegetables, you’ll be getting valuable vitamins like C, B12 and D, which are important for healthy muscles, bones, blood and nerve cells.

These are just a few simple, safe ways of achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight as we age, which can help us continue doing the things we enjoy for years to come.

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.

Are There ‘Forever Chemicals’ in Your Food?

They’re in water- and stain-resistant fabrics, firefighting foam, paints, cleaning products…and food. We’re talking about “forever chemicals”, PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) that don’t break down for millennia and pose many kinds of health risks. And because they’re so durable and used in so many things – including some nonstick cookware and food packaging – they stay in humans and animals, the air, plants, drinking water and in the ground for an extremely long time.

Recently, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publicized leaked FDA information showing that the FDA had found PFAS in a number of foods, including greens, fruit, meats, dairy products and processed foods. Oddly, the highest amount – 17,600 parts per trillion, more than 250 times of that allowed by the federal government – was found in chocolate cake with chocolate icing that was sourced from several different supermarkets; the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) thinks those high levels may have come from the cakes’ packaging. That in itself highlights a problem, because companies that make food packaging are supposed to notify the FDA when they use these types of chemicals, and the EDF found no
evidence of any notification.

Because these “forever chemicals” last…well, essentially forever, they build up and remain in the body for long periods of time. So just because the FDA may say the PFAS load in ground turkey, for example, is safe for human consumption, they’re only considering a single source and single use. Add to that the PFAS you may be ingesting in other meats, fruits, vegetables, drinking water, milk, and so on, and your intake can easily exceed what the government considers “safe” levels. Although the FDA has halted manufacture in the US of some of the most toxic PFAS chemicals (these are still being produced in other countries, including in China), thousands of other PFAS are still being made here, and there’s no information as to their level of toxicity or the damage they can cause.

While it’s easy to understand how PFAS (there are 5,000 different types) are put into man-made things like food packaging and nonstick cookware, you might wonder how they’re being found in all types of foods from produce and dairy to meats and processed foods. It all comes down to contamination of both soil and water. Some of the highest PFAS levels are found in foods farmed near water sources contaminated with PFAS, including wells or streams, while others are from farms where contaminated sludge has been spread over fields. At least two US farms have been shut down due to contaminated cow’s milk.

So what’s the FDA doing about this threat to human health? Their statement (www.fda.gov), which was only issued after the leak was publicized, is: “…the FDA does not have any indication that these substances are a human health concern, in other words a food safety risk in human food, at the levels found in this limited sampling.” Note the key words there – “limited” sampling.

With the FDA’s statement in mind, let’s take a look at what the CDC’s (Centers for Disease Control) Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says about human exposure to PFAS. Sadly, the CDC reports that almost all Americans have detectable PFAS levels in their blood. While scientists are still studying the health effects of “mixtures of PFAS”, so far they have found:

  • increased cancer risk
  • increased cholesterol levels
  • interference with natural hormones
  • impact to immune system
  • children’s learning, growth and behavior affected
  • infertility
  • changes in hormone levels as well as liver, thyroid, and pancreatic function in lab animals

PFAS chemicals become concentrated in cows’ milk and human breast milk, so that when a mother breastfeeds her infant, her PFAS levels go down as she transfers those chemicals to her baby. Since PFAS chemicals are not sprayed on foods or fed to farm animals, they can be present in organic foods as well. Knowing from which farm your food is sourced can help you avoid buying from farms located near known or potential contamination areas.

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.