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.

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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.

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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.

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Fast Food, Junk Food, and Kids’ Allergies

It’s no secret that kids’ allergies and asthma have been on the rise for some time. The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology describes the increase in children’s allergies over the past 30 years as “explosive”, and many researchers have classified kids’ allergies as a “growing epidemic”. Likewise, a report published in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that children’s asthma rates began increasing in 1960, and by 1990 kids diagnosed with asthma had reached “epidemic numbers”.

It’s been estimated that approximately 5.6 million American kids – one in every 13 – under the age of 18 have allergies, according to FARE (Food Allergy Research & Education). And it’s not just kids: in total, over 50 million Americans (some sources quote far higher numbers) and more than 235 million people worldwide suffer from diagnosed allergies.

The NIH report states that the dramatic increase in kids with asthma and various forms of allergic conditions goes hand-in-hand with lifestyle changes that have swept much of the world; specifically, children spending more time indoors, which has led to decreased physical activity, prolonged periods of shallow breathing, and more food and allergen sensitivities. Other studies state that the sharp increase (estimated to be 40-50 percent over the past 50 years) in kids’ allergies and asthma has also been attributed to the increase in fast food, processed food, and overall junk food consumption.

The connection between these junk foods and increased cases of asthma and allergies was reported in the journal Thorax (a leading international medical respiratory journal) after a huge study of over 400,000 children in 51 countries found that “fast food consumption may be contributing to the increasing prevalence of asthma, rhinoconjunctivitis and eczema in adolescents and children.” The study concluded that teens eating the most fast food had a 39 percent higher risk of developing “severe asthma”, and the risk for younger kids in the same dietary category was 27 percent higher. In addition, the study showed that kids who ate fast food at least three times a week were more likely to have runny noses, eczema, and asthma.

On the other hand, children in the same study who ate higher amounts of fruit were 11 to 14 percent less likely to experience asthmatic symptoms. It’s interesting to note that these children only consumed three or more servings of fruit in a week, which is far below the recommended two to three servings per day.

The results of a separate study conducted by researchers at the University of Naples showed that high levels of AGEs (advanced glycation end products) are abundant in all junk foods, from fast foods to processed foods. AGEs are known to increase the risk of both allergies and asthma, as well as diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders, cancer, liver/renal dysfunction, reproductive disorders, and many more.

This effect can even be seen in developing countries, as they move away from their traditional diets of locally grown whole foods and adopt more westernized diets. New studies are also showing that processed and fast foods negatively impact gut bacteria, making both children and adults more prone to allergies and asthma. Researchers are now focusing on the impact of unhealthy junk food ingredients like sodium, sugars, trans-fatty acids, preservatives, carbs, and linoleic acids (which can impact the immune system).

The unfortunate thing is that when a person develops allergy symptoms, the standard go-to answer is usually either OTC or prescription medications, which may relieve symptoms but doesn’t look for a root cause. When a specific food allergy is identified, the person is told to avoid that food, which is, of course, the right first step. However, it’s only a first step, not a final solution.

A deep dive into the reason why a person is exhibiting allergic reactions to a particular food or food group probably will not be offered by most medical doctors. Diet and lifestyle should be examined and coupled with results from comprehensive lab tests. Putting the pieces of these puzzles together will help your functional medicine doctor create a path to eliminating, minimizing, or managing the allergy without the use of risky medications while improving your overall health and wellbeing.

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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Are Your ‘Allergy’ Symptoms Really a Histamine Intolerance?

You’re breaking out in hives, experiencing nasal congestion or a runny nose, have red eyes, or are sneezing a lot. You figure you have an allergy and pop antihistamines to quell the symptoms, and you feel better…temporarily…maybe.

Perhaps your symptoms seem less related to allergies, like diarrhea, asthma-type, headaches, brain fog, or irregular heartbeat, among others. So you see a specialist and your tests come back negative, leaving the only option a prescription or recommendation for an OTC medication that may suppress those symptoms for a while so you can return to some level of comfort.

After a while, neither of these “solutions” works well, or maybe they stop working altogether. Your problem may be that you have a histamine intolerance – this doesn’t mean that you’re allergic to histamines, it means that you either have an overabundance of histamines in your system or your body can’t break them down as quickly as it should.

In a balanced immune system, histamines – a natural biochemical – are released as an inflammatory immune response to allergens when your body senses an attack. Although the reactions they create cause us discomfort, they’re actually serving a purpose in sending blood rushing to the source of the problem. But when the enzymes that break down histamines don’t do their job or there aren’t enough of them, you end up with histamine intolerance. It’s a reaction caused by foods with higher histamine levels that trigger a “pseudoallergy” reaction – the body reacts as if allergens are present when none are actually there.

If you think you might have a histamine intolerance, you can try an elimination diet to avoid foods that are high in histamines, trigger the release of histamines, or block the histamine-controlling enzyme called Diamine Oxidase (DAO). Some (but certainly not all) of these foods include:

  • processed foods
  • spinach
  • fermented foods
  • smoked meats
  • alcohol
  • vinegar
  • avocados
  • energy drinks
  • tomatoes

Now, you’re probably thinking, “But some of those things like avocados, spinach, and tomatoes are part of a healthy diet!” And you’d be right. But eliminating these known histamine triggers will tell you whether you have a histamine intolerance and relieve your symptoms. Your functional medicine doctor can guide you in this practical approach, determine the correct supplements for your individual issues, and/or order lab tests.

While on your elimination diet, replace problematic foods with low-histamine choices (avoiding any you may have allergies or sensitivities to); here’s a very small sample:

  • gluten-free grains
  • apples
  • apricots
  • fresh meats
  • asparagus
  • sweet potato
  • coconut
  • blueberries
  • summer squash
  • cherries
  • lettuce

There are a number of reasons why you may have a histamine intolerance, and as a functional medicine doctor, my job is to find the underlying cause rather than just treating the symptoms. Among the possible root causes of histamine intolerance are poor gut health, DAO deficiency, high histamine intake, or impaired histamine breakdown (possibly caused by medications or other health-related issues). Lab tests, a detailed review of your medical history and/or any current or long-term medications you take, and more can help make a final determination as to whether you’re suffering from histamine intolerance.

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.

Vitamin B12 Deficiency: It’s Not Just a “Vegan Thing”

If you felt fatigued, had an increased heart rate, experienced shortness of breath, felt numbness or tingling in your extremities, had trouble walking, and/or noticed your skin was pale, you might think a trip to the ER was in order. And while some of these symptoms can be indicators of a health emergency, they can also be indications that you, along with about 40 percent of the US population, have a vitamin B12 deficiency.

Traditionally, vitamin B12 deficiencies were associated with vegan and vegetarian diets because B12 is derived from meats, dairy, and eggs, but the human body can’t produce it on its own. Yet it’s an essential nutrient that is critical for the proper formation of red blood cells, for making DNA, and for nerve function, and without it, some pretty serious conditions can arise. These can include:

  • neurological disorders
  • depression
  • cognitive difficulties
  • anemia
  • paranoia
  • delusions
  • loss of taste/smell
  • vision loss

Besides diets lacking or containing insufficient amounts of meats, dairy, and eggs, long-term use of certain medications can also cause vitamin B12 deficiencies. It’s a dangerously sneaky side effect because you can’t feel it happening until it’s too late. Unlike other drug side effects, like dizziness, nausea, drowsiness, etc., by the time it’s discovered, you’re already deficient…and sometimes that deficiency is irreversible. Among the medications that have been shown to deplete B12 are the diabetes drug metformin, PPIs (proton-pump inhibitors) which can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb B12, and the Parkinson’s drugs carbidopa and levodopa.

Older people can be at risk of developing a B12 deficiency because their bodies produce less stomach acid, which is necessary for B12 absorption. Anyone who has had weight-loss surgery is more likely to have lower B12 levels because the surgery hampers the body’s ability to pull B12 from consumed foods. Finally, some health conditions can also make you more prone to a B12 deficiency, including:

  • pernicious anemia
  • Crohn’s disease
  • celiac disease
  • lupus
  • Graves’ disease
  • atrophic gastritis

Pregnant women need to be especially careful to get enough B12 in their diets – a B12 deficiency can lead to developmental delays in babies.

Besides taking a good B12 supplement, you can make sure your diet contains foods that deliver the necessary amounts of B12 to your body. These include fish (particularly trout, wild-caught salmon, sardines and clams), poultry, meat (especially liver and kidneys, but avoid processed meats), dairy (a highly absorbable source), and eggs. Nondairy milks like soy, almond, and rice that are fortified can contain decent amounts of B12 as well. While a few plants like seaweed, some mushrooms, and algae contain B12, the body doesn’t absorb it as well from these sources and they won’t increase your B12 level, so you can still remain deficient.

If you fit into any of the higher-risk categories for being prone to a vitamin B12 deficiency, talk to your doctor about getting regular blood tests to monitor your levels. If they’re low, ask for a recommendation for a high-quality supplement to get them back up to a safe level, and consider altering your diet to include B12-rich foods.

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.

On The Rise: Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

When people hear about fatty liver disease (FLD), they usually shrug it off as something that happens to people who consume alcohol every day or who binge drink. Add in poor dietary habits, and it’s a recipe for FLD, cirrhosis, and even liver organ failure.

But today, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is increasing in prevalence, and not just in adults—children are being diagnosed with NAFLD at an alarming rate. In fact, NAFLD has become the most common cause of liver disease and can lead to NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which is liver cell damage as well as fat and inflammation in the liver), cirrhosis, and liver cancer. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health):

  • 30 to 40 percent of adults (about 1 in 3) have NAFLD
  • about 10 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 in the US have NAFLD
  • between 80 and 100 million Americans have NAFLD
  • approximately 7 million American children have NAFLD
  • 38 percent of children with NAFLD are obese
  • 23 percent of children with NAFLD have NASH
  • 24 percent of people globally have NAFLD, nearly doubling over the past 14 years

Like the name states, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an accumulation of fat in the liver that’s not caused by regular or excessive alcohol consumption. Risk factors include hypothyroidism, insulin resistance, hyperglycemia, type 2 diabetes (which can also result from NAFLD), obesity, choline deficiency (an essential nutrient; approximately 90 percent of Americans are deficient) and other factors. In addition, prescription and OTC medications as well as poor dietary choices also lead to NAFLD, including things like fried foods, foods and drinks with added sugar, carb-heavy foods (white bread, pasta, etc.), fat-laden foods, and high amounts of salt. The liver needs plenty of water to help it function optimally, so dehydration—something that affects up to 75 percent of Americans—can be another contributing factor.

As reported by many sources including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), NAFLD is the primary cause of chronic liver disease, and its prevalence is increasing at a rate equal to the increase of obesity. Researchers believe that soon, NAFLD will become the main cause of liver-related illness and death. Although the medical community has found very few treatments for NAFLD, a strong spotlight is now being focused on the liver-gut-diet connection, since there’s a close functional association between the gut and liver. In an NIH review on PubMed, researchers stated that “the current evidence supports the association between NAFLD, the gut microbiome, and the role of diet.”

Research from multiple studies has found that exercise is one important component to preventing NAFLD and other diseases of the liver. Resistance exercises in particular were shown to lower the amount of fat in the liver and also significantly reduced cholesterol levels. Studies also showed that any type of physical activity can help—liver fat in participants of the study decreased 0.87% for every 1,000 steps taken, whereas liver fat increased 0.87% for every hour of sedentary behavior.

The latest study states that probiotics were beneficial in treating both NAFLD and NASH—with no major adverse side effects. Not only did probiotics restore gut flora to normal, they also reversed or stopped the progress of these diseases. The importance of a healthy gut microbiome is something functional medicine practitioners have long known, and your functional medicine doctor can determine which type of probiotic will return balance to your microbiome. But remember that probiotics, like all other supplements, are not a one-size-fits-all solution—it’s never a good idea to self-prescribe supplements.

Every probiotic is different, not all are of good quality, and not everyone needs the same amount or the same type. Taking the wrong probiotic or the wrong quantity for your particular imbalance can throw your gut balance even further out of whack.

While the right probiotic for your gut health is important for many reasons, supplements alone aren’t enough. Dietary changes are necessary to get and keep your microbiome in proper balance which, for the most part, will eliminate the types of foods that contribute to or worsen NAFLD. In general, a diet of whole foods—fresh fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, grass-fed meats, whole grains—is great for your gut balance and can help make you healthier in general.

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.

Fighting Depression: The Good Mood Foods

Depression—not including short-term, cause-related sadness or grief—is a common mood disorder; the World Health Organization’s (WHO) latest estimate is that it affects at least 300 million people worldwide at varying levels of severity and duration. And according to WHO and The American Journal of Psychiatry, that number is rising to the point that it’s being considered a worldwide epidemic.

There can be a variety of underlying causes, from chronic stress to thyroid or hormonal disorders. It’s important to discover the root cause of your depression—because depression can coexist with other medical conditions, it could stem from a health issue you’re not yet aware of, or if it’s left untreated, it can actually cause health problems. Diet and exercise can play a crucial role in the treatment and prevention of depression, but just as certain “good mood foods” can help balance gut microbiome and brain chemistry, other foods can promote that downward spiral.

Inflammation is a major culprit in depression, and processed foods as well as added sugars are primary causes of inflammation. Gluten has been shown to cause inflammation in gut cells and has been linked to a number of health problems, including depression. For some people, the casein in dairy can create an inflammatory response, and studies have shown that this can lead to mental disorders including depression. And if your sugar levels are poorly balanced, it can lead to mood swings. Consuming too much processed sugar can trigger reactions like anxiety, worry, and irritability that go hand in hand with depression. In fact, a sugar imbalance leads to brain chemical imbalances and therefore can increase your chances of developing depression, which is why studies have shown a direct connection between sugar consumption and depression.

A deficiency of certain vitamins and minerals including Omega-3s, magnesium, folic acid, potassium, chromium, zinc and vitamins C, B12, B6, D and A can also lead to depression. These are among the “anti-depressant nutrients” that can replenish and maintain the necessary levels your brain and body need to function optimally and fight or prevent depression. While high-quality supplements may be needed, you can also alter your diet to include foods with these all-important nutrients. Here are a few good choices:

Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon. A great source of DHA and EPA, wild-caught Alaskan salmon helps restore Omega-3 fatty acids to brain tissues that rely on it (and it’s also great for your heart—win-win!). Without enough, the brain becomes stressed and mood disorders may follow. However, it’s important to get wild-caught Alaskan salmon and not farm-raised salmon, which is fed an unhealthy diet and raised in polluted, cramped conditions, all of which translates into more chemicals and diminished health value on your plate.

Walnuts. Among the richest sources of plant-based Omega-3s, walnuts can be eaten as a snack, added to salads and baked goods, or used any number of other ways. It’s one of the easiest ways to increase your Omega-3 intake.

Green Tea. This is another win-win—green tea is rich in theanine, the amino acid that promotes relaxation and reduces anxiety, which is one of the causes of depression. At the same time, you’re getting lots of antioxidants!

Organic, Pasture-Raised Eggs. Don’t skip the yolk! That’s where the majority of depression-fighting nutrients are, including B vitamins (particularly B12), lecithin, choline, high-quality proteins and more. Eggs also have anxiety-lowering healthy fats.

Tomatoes. This versatile veggie is high in folic acid, which keeps homocysteine levels in check. Too much homocysteine can restrict “feel good” hormones like dopamine and serotonin from being produced.

Avocados. Considered one of the “power foods”, avocados are loaded with nutrients including a range of B vitamins, vitamin C, and proteins. They’re also low in sugar and high in healthy fat, all of which contributes to brain health.

There are plenty of other good choices too, but these will give you a good start. It’s always best to choose organic produce (which by definition are non-GMO) whenever possible to avoid the pesticides, fungicides and herbicides in non-organic fruits and vegetables, since these chemicals contribute to a myriad health problems.

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

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

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

The Diet Beverage and Stroke Connection

Over the years, more and more health risks are being associated with soda consumption, and the list grows longer all the time. Everything from diabetes, obesity and COPD to heart disease, asthma and tooth decay have been connected to these sugary drinks. Many doctors warn their patients against drinking soda frequently, and some legislators have even tried taxing soda drinkers or limiting the size of drinks a restaurant can offer as a way to force them to cut down.

Of course, soda industry giants dismiss the studies linking their products to health problems and conduct skewed studies of their own to “prove” the opposition research wrong, overblown, or as nothing more than media hype. But just looking at the ingredients and nutrition statements on their packages shows nothing beneficial but plenty of sugar, sodium, calories and potentially harmful additives like high fructose corn syrup.

A separate spotlight has been focused on the health risks of diet beverages. As a way to combat weight gain and other health issues caused by sugary drinks, many people turn to diet soda without considering the risks posed by artificial sweeteners (as well as the additional sodium). Now a new study has connected all diet beverages to a higher risk of heart attack, stroke and early death in women over 50, according to the American Stroke Association and the American Heart Association. The artificially sweetened beverages considered in the study included not just diet soda, but also artificially sweetened teas, fruit juices and other such drinks.

This isn’t the first time that diet drinks have been connected with serious health issues. In the past, dementia, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and more—even obesity, the very thing that drives some people to switch to diet drinks—have been linked to diet beverages. Artificial sweeteners have also been shown to kill important gut microbiota and contribute to metabolic dysfunction. In addition, Boston University researchers found that the risk of metabolic syndrome was 50 percent higher in people who drink as little as one or more diet or non-diet sodas daily.

The latest study connecting diet beverages to stroke and heart disease covered a span of 11.9 years and focused on over 81,000 postmenopausal women between the ages of 50 and 79. It concluded that those with the highest consumption of artificially sweetened beverages—two or more per day—showed a significantly increased risk of stroke, heart disease and death. The highest risk factors were found in obese women as well as those without any history of diabetes or heart disease. Regular drinkers of diet beverages in the study had a 31 percent higher risk of stroke, a 29 percent higher likelihood of heart disease, and a 16 percent higher chance of dying from another related cause.

Don’t be fooled by the latest promotions by the companies making artificial sweeteners, which claim that they’re a “good source” of certain vitamins. These companies are adding very small amounts of vitamins to their products—the scales weigh far more heavily on the side of health risks as opposed to any minor benefit from the miniscule amount of added vitamins.

Similarly, several years ago some major soda corporations started advertising that their diet soft drinks were a “good source” of a few vitamins and minerals. Not only do these small amounts do nothing to promote good health, but once again, the risks far outweigh any claimed benefits. In addition, these are not high-quality supplements, and some medical professionals have stated that the added vitamins in unrefrigerated soda deteriorate faster and are of even lower value by the time they go from production to consumption. No matter what the advertising says, using the words “healthy” and “soda” together is an oxymoron. Dr. Sudha Seshadri, senior author of a study linking diet soda to dementia and stroke (published in the American Heart Association journal, Stroke), said in a 2017 New York Times article that while some beverages such as coffee and tea do provide health benefits, neither regular nor diet soda “of any kind” offer health benefits.

Drinking water is your best bet, and if you want flavor, you can make any number of refreshingly satisfying drinks by infusing your water with a variety of healthy choices. Combine mashed fruits, squeezed citrus, or vegetables with complementary fresh herbs like mint, ginger, basil or whatever else your taste buds enjoy. Not only are you getting good hydration, you’re also getting full-value vitamins and minerals (not processed ones) as well as antioxidants directly from nature’s source without added sugars or sweeteners.

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.

5 Principles for Optimum Health: A Blueprint

If there’s one thing we know to be a primary cause of illness and disease, it’s inflammation. Not the kind of swelling and redness that can occur when you injure yourself or when your body is fighting infection—we’re talking about chronic systemic inflammation. A number of things can cause systemic inflammation, including stress and environmental toxins.

Your diet can be another major contributor to inflammation, but the good news is that you can choose foods that reduce inflammation while you also eliminate foods that contribute to it. Systemic inflammation is being called “the silent killer”, and healing cannot begin until inflammatory foods are removed from your diet.

If you don’t think altering your diet is worth it or that it’s too much trouble, think about just a few of the serious diseases where inflammation is a primary contributor to their root cause:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cancer
  • Thyroiditis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lupus
  • MS
  • Many other autoimmune diseases

Other conditions caused by inflammation that can negatively impact your lifestyle include chronic flare-ups of existing health issues, joint pain, ADHD, autism, migraines, vertigo, digestive problems, hormone imbalances, and more.

If you’re ready to reduce the inflammation in your body to achieve optimum health, follow these 5 anti-inflammatory principles for at least 30 days, and note the positive changes you feel.

1. Go grain free, dairy free, and soy free.

These types of foods are inflammatory and contribute to many of the chronic and recurring symptoms and conditions mentioned above.

2. Eliminate starchy foods, simple carbohydrates, artificial sweeteners, high glycemic index fruits, sweetened foods, etc.

Sugars affect insulin, hormones (cortisol), and brain health; they also cause cravings and weight gain. Some sugars, like artificial sweeteners, can be neurotoxins as well. Health issues linked to sugars include diabetes, Alzheimer’s, yeast overgrowth, cancer, and dysbiosis (an imbalance in the gut microbiota).

3. Introduce healthy fats, quality plant and animal proteins, and complex carbohydrates.

These types of foods can be utilized by the body at the cellular level to restore health. It’s especially beneficial to eat raw, steamed, poached, and lightly prepared meals because the enzymes, nutrients, and minerals remain intact; this will also increase your fiber intake.

4. Eat more frequently—up to every 2 or 3 hours and within an hour of waking.

As you change your eating habits from a carb/sugar-based diet to a fat-burning diet, you will be managing your blood sugar throughout the day. This results in more energy, clearer thinking, and lack of hunger; on the other hand, when your blood sugar isn’t regulated, you can have cravings, feel jittery, get headaches or feel hungry more often, which can lead to poor food choices.

5. Drink more water. Work up to drinking half your body weight in ounces—and herbal teas count!

Dehydration is a common condition—as many as 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated. This can cause cravings, poor nerve flow, acidity, electrolyte imbalances and chronic inflammation. More importantly, water (as well as healthy fats) is an essential lubricant for metabolic processes that convert food into cellular energy. Water is also important for flushing toxins from the body.

Many people who strictly adhere to these anti-inflammatory principles see results after only the first couple of months. As their inflammation quickly subsides, pain and other symptoms are eliminated or greatly lessened while their health issues begin to be corrected.

Following an anti-inflammatory diet on a permanent basis will help you avoid many health problems, but if you don’t want to remain as strict after you reach your initial goal, you can slowly introduce certain foods one at a time to see if you have any negative reactions. (Omitting processed foods permanently is vital, as is omitting or greatly minimizing foods with added sugars.) However, keeping as close as possible to the optimum health blueprint and incorporating anti-inflammatory foods like turmeric, wild-caught fatty fish (avoid farm raised fish), organic blueberries and red grapes, etc. into your family’s meal plans will play a big role in achieving your best possible health 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.