Posts

Can Lack of Sleep Affect Your Genes?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Kids Under Pressure: Worrier vs. Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alarming New Trend: Young Adults Dying From Colorectal Cancer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Genetic Testing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brain Decline: Why Isn’t My Brain Working?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weight Loss Myths

Over and over again, I hear these basic tenets of weight loss:

  1. Consume fewer calories than you expend, and you will magically lose weight.
  2. Follow a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet and you will magically lose weight.
  3. Eat whatever you want, in moderation, and you will magically lose weight.
  4. Stop choosing to be fat and you will magically lose weight.

Obviously these basic tenets are wrong.

Myth #1:

Consume fewer calories than you expend, and you will magically lose weight.

The premise of a calorie-restricted diet is that by “starving” the body with fewer than 800-1200 calories per day, it will turn to the excessive, existing fat stores and utilize those for fuel. …well, that’s not quite true. You can’t just eat 800 calories worth of donuts and expect to lose weight.

The kinds of calories you eat are important, if you’re actually going to lose weight rather than just continue to store fat. You will require a special formula for suppressing your raging appetite, and this kind of rapid weight loss needs to be supervised by a physician so that you can be monitored for the development of gallstones and other side effects. The detoxification of your waste elimination pathways, including organ systems and cells, and supporting a healthy gut terrain is crucial. So is hunting down parasites, controlling viral infections and nutritional deficiencies. But perhaps most importantly, addressing your emotional issues related to food, body image and weight has to be a part of your plan, or it will fail.

Myth #2:

Follow a high-carbohydrate, low fat diet and you will magically lose weight.

No other dietary advice has so singularly contributed to soaring obesity rates. The dependence on wheat and other packaged grains (and the corresponding decrease in healthy fats) has led to never-before-seen levels of heart disease, diabetes and cancer, as well as a few silent killers such as celiac disease and candida, and a host of neurotoxic illnesses from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to childhood ADHD and autism.

Why? The simple answer is sugar. Not only are low-fat products drenched in sugar as a method for making up for lack of flavor, but refined carbohydrates quickly convert to sugar in the bloodstream, causing all manner of metabolic processes to go defunct.

Humans are simply not designed to ingest today’s modern, overly-processed and manufactured grains. If your diet begins with cereal in the morning and continues throughout the day with breads, sandwiches and burgers, pasta, cakes, cookies, pizza and so on, chances are you have one of the aforementioned side effects of a high-carb diet.

You certainly will not lose weight.

Myth #3:

Eat whatever you want, in moderation, and you will magically lose weight.

How could such a benign statement be so far from the truth?

While not so devastating in its consequence as Myth #2, the proposition of Myth #3 to eat whatever you want in moderation fails to acknowledge that No! Some foods should not ever be consumed at all!

The “moderation is key” approach leads to completely destructive and undermining habits—because moderation means something different for everyone. If moderation for you means that you can have soda once a year on your birthday, fine. But for most people, moderation means “once a day,” as in every day, or “only when I’m stressed,” which is almost every day too. In addition to soda, there’s no place in your diet for foods that are rich in trans fats, HFCS, chemical dyes, artificial ingredients, endless amounts of packaging…in short, junk food.

Myth #4:

Stop choosing to be fat and you will magically lose weight.

There is no doubt that you have to want to reclaim your weight and your health. It is an uphill battle and the odds are against you if you don’t have a good measure of personal responsibility and a supportive team. People who achieve their goals have a realistic assessment of what can be done and how quickly.

But the point is: No one chooses to be fat. In other words, it’s not a simple matter of pushing away from the table using only self-discipline. Rather, it’s a matter of regaining your health and discovering what’s been contributing to weight gain.

The message is simple. You have to understand why you are overweight. Is it because you have a parasite, an underactive thyroid, an immune problem, toxic build-up, a food sensitivity, poor gut health, or all of the above?

The truth is, there is no magic bullet diet. Losing weight, learning how to keep it off and remaining healthy requires a safe, physician-supervised program.

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 Gene Inheritance Factor: Do Health Problems Run in the Family?

You hear it all the time: “Heart problems run in my family, so there’s no way around it for me.” “Both of my parents have vertigo, so that’s why I have it too.”

This doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. Why? Epigenetics.

Epigenetics is a super-hot topic in medicine and life sciences today; essentially – and very boiled down – it means the health problems of your parents and grandparents do not inevitably have to be the future of your health too.

This is very good news and offers hope to all of us whose families have a history of certain illnesses, conditions or disorders. But it doesn’t stop there – even if none in particular run through your family, epigenetics shows us that we can take the best preventive measures against health problems – both for ourselves and for our children.

How Does Gene Expression Work?

The key is in our genes, or rather, the level of gene function. We have over 20,000 genes in the DNA of our bodies, and when protective genes are “turned on”, they help to protect us from disease, disorders, and so on. But when something happens to turn a protective gene “off”, it can no longer do what it should to help us. This is called gene expression – the way genes express themselves: strongly, weakly or not at all.

“Your family health history doesn’t have to be your future.”

Many factors can impact how a gene expresses itself. The foods we eat, our environment, stress, our lifestyle choices and more can switch genes on or off. Until recently, medicine and science believed that it took generations for genes to change, but now we know differently. Epigenetics has proven that genes can change in a single generation, so if someone is an overeater, the obesity gene can be turned on and longevity turned off or weakened. If this person then has children, the changed gene expression can be passed down, resulting in a child with a tendency toward obesity. Scientists have also shown that certain genes within a child can change not only from their diet and other exposures, but also from their emotional experiences of being raised in a negative or nurturing home.

Epigenetics vs. Family Histories

So how does all this tie in to family histories going back one, two or more generations? One of the reasons certain illnesses or conditions seem to run through families is that people in immediate families tend to live the same lifestyle.

Let’s say heart disease runs through several generations of a family. The dietary habits of that family have always included a significant amount of gluten (cereals, breads, pastas, etc.), sugars, fried foods, dairy and such. These foods cause inflammation, and chronic inflammation is one of the leading causes of many diseases including heart disease. By continuing with the same basic diet that’s heavy in inflammatory foods, the genes that protect the heart can be switched off, continuing the inherited tendency toward heart disease. However, if those dietary habits are changed and replaced with foods and supplements that are rich in nutrients that turn on those protective heart genes, the family history of heart disease can be stopped.

What It All Means To You

The bottom line is that when a protective gene is turned off, it can’t do its job of protecting you from its designated target. But when you activate the gene through dietary and lifestyle changes, you can lessen your risk – and possibly your children’s risk – of getting that illness. Science is continually making breakthrough discoveries on this topic; one such finding is that folate, found in leafy green veggies and some fruits, peas and dried beans as well as nutritional supplements, can turn on the gene that helps to protect you from lung cancer. In addition, scientists who studied the DNA of people with heart disease found DNA “silencing marks”, meaning that the genes designated to help maintain a healthy heart were switched off.

This does not fault anyone for any illnesses or conditions they may have – things can still happen that are beyond our control – but rather it offers an opportunity to change things for ourselves and the next generation. By taking preventive measures like lowering inflammation and toxin levels, strengthening your immune system, correcting emotional responses and creating more positive environments for ourselves, we can help change the patterns of our family health histories and give our genes a chance to keep us healthy.

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.