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Kids Under Pressure: Worrier vs. Warrior

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Can Processed Meats Affect Your Brain?

It’s no secret that processed foods are major contributors to unhealthy environments in our bodies, from poor gut health and inflammation to organ and bone damage. This, in turn, results in a myriad of serious health issues including cancer, weakened bones, infertility, kidney failure…the list goes on and on.

But many times, the term “processed food” is thought of as frozen meals and pizzas or canned and prepared foods down the central aisles of the supermarket—these are only part of the picture. Deli meats, jerky, bacon, hot dogs, sausage and the like are also heavily processed foods containing added chemical nitrates, and studies are now showing a connection between these processed meats and brain health.

A Johns Hopkins School of Medicine study (conducted on over 1,000 people with no history of psychiatric disorders) published in Molecular Psychiatry stated that “nitrated meats are associated with mania in humans and altered behavior and brain gene expression in rats.” Previously, environmental toxins were more highly associated with the onset of mania and other psychological disorders, but researchers have now shown that a history of eating processed meats with nitrates is strongly associated with mania in humans at a “95 percent confidence” level. The study examined a variety of “dietary exposures”, but the study’s lead author, Robert Yolken, said that “cured meat really stood out.” Yolken went on to say that “the key is probably inflammation.”

To a lesser degree, but still significant, human consumption of processed meats containing nitrates were associated with other mental health disorders, including schizoaffective disorder, attention deficit, and delusional thinking. Rats that were fed meats with added nitrates showed changes in both brain pathways and in intestinal microbiota, which were equivalent to those associated with bipolar disorder and hyperactivity in humans. Researchers also found that people admitted to the hospital with episodes of mania—such as insomnia, hyperactivity and euphoria—were more than three and a half times more likely to have eaten meats containing nitrates than those who had no psychiatric issues.

The nitrates referred to in this study are the chemicals that are added to processed meats to preserve color and inhibit the growth of bacteria, not those that are naturally occurring in fruits and vegetables. These added chemicals negatively alter gut bacteria—which are directly connected to the brain and have a profound effect on overall health—and have previously been connected to neurodegenerative diseases.

Not only are added nitrates in foods potential links to psychiatric disorders and episodes, processed foods of all kinds contain added sugars, sodium, bad fats and other chemicals that contribute to an unhealthy microbiome and disease. What’s worse is that the added sugars and sodium have an addictive effect, creating cravings that can make people dependent on them for brief bursts of energy (followed by an energy drop) and taste satisfaction.

As opposed to the chemical nitrates added to processed meat products, the naturally occurring nitrates in fruits and vegetables are actually good for you. Plant nitrates are balanced by antioxidants within the plant that convert nitrates into beneficial nitric oxide, which promotes heart health, lowers blood pressure, decreases plaque in the arteries, and improves systemic blood flow. By improving blood flow in the brain, plant nitrates can improve mental function and may help to reduce age-related cognitive decline. And because people with type 2 diabetes also have impaired nitric oxide production, it may also help to manage, treat, or prevent the disease.

The takeaway from all this is that while added chemical nitrates work against you by harming your overall health as well as brain function, natural plant nitrates work for you by improving brain function and overall health.

Exchanging processed meats for unprocessed, natural meats is a good first step toward better health; you can take it one step further by switching to grass-fed organic meats. To increase your body’s nitric oxide levels, look to fresh organic fruits and vegetables that are high in naturally occurring nitrates, including root vegetables (carrots, beets, etc.), dark leafy greens, garlic, green beans, strawberries, cherries, raspberries, and more. A general rule of thumb is that the closer to the soil a vegetable or fruit grows, the higher it will be in natural nitrates.

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

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

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

Inflammation May Cause Brain Disorders

Here’s What You Can Do…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Just Getting Old Means Something is Wrong

In her article “Tired? Weak? You’re not ‘just getting old’; something is wrong”, author Judith Graham, Kaiser Health News, described symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and depression as the to-be-expected signs of normal aging for too many adults. Unfortunately, societal assumptions and cultural norms about what it means to ‘get old’ have gotten in the way of proper treatment. Indeed, peoples’ bodies gradually change as they age, but there are also common concerns that should garner attention and a thorough clinical workup.

Graham insists that symptoms like appetite loss and depression should be addressed by a doctor, particularly when they interfere with a patient’s mobility or cause a sense of isolation. Overlooked in Ms. Graham’s article are common symptoms like chronic pain, fear of falling and brain fog, indicative of blood sugar dysregulation, thyroid toxicity and medication side effects, which debilitate many patients.

Muscle wasting, irritability and fatigue. Our bodies hаvе a desperate nееd fоr sugar (glucose),as it iѕ thе fuеl that gives our ɫеllѕ the energy they need tо kееɪ us alive. Problems begin tо occur then thе ongoing supply of simple sugars in the blood stream (and оur bоdу’ѕ ability tо uѕhеr it intо the cells with insulin) is disrupted.

With a notable drop in blood sugar, such as in the morning and before breakfast, low blood sugar will cause sudden irritability and, by midday, dizziness and fear of falling. How well a patient can stabilize blood sugar into old age is a good predictor of healthy aging. Balance disorders, seizures, ischemic attacks, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s all can be exacerbated and/or masked by inability to control blood sugar and insulin as we age.

Mental fogginess and constipation. Thyroid hormones govern metabolism and even though a slowdown in thyroid activity can be expected as the decades pass, extreme fatigue, gut problems, loss of bone density, constipation and mental fogginess are all indicators that something is wrong.

As people age they become more susceptible to autoimmune disease that progresses from one target tissue to the next like wildfire. So, a thyroid disorder such as Hashimoto’s can progress to cerebellar ataxia in the brain, rheumatoid arthritis in the joints, or celiac disease in the gut. An easy way to stop the madness is by altering the diet and providing additional nutrients that also reduce inflammation and heal various target tissues.

Chronic pain. Statins, antibiotics, NSAIDs, blood thinners, high blood pressure pills, opiates, and soon all have side effects. Muscle weakness, gut problems, thin skin, bruising, skin outbreaks, disorientation and worsening pain should all be cross-checked with the medications that are being prescribed. In many cases, two or more medications are being prescribed for the exact same reason. Worse, many drugs cause severe discomfort and can become addictive to patients.

In past decades, natural healthcare experts who’ve sounded the alarm about the apparent role of medications in causing pain, muscle weakness and heart disease have usually had their arguments drowned out by peers whose research was funded by the pharmaceutical industry and related groups. To combat the signs of old age, re-examine lifestyle and diet, and get checked by a qualified functional doctor.

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.

Antidepressants, Depression and Pain

Pain, including neuropathic pain, is a relatively common physical complaint affecting millions of people, costing upwards of $100 billion annually, which includes medical care, workers’ compensation, and lost work productivity. Interestingly, one common psychiatric diagnosis encountered in patients with neuropathic pain is depression, which affects every one out of two patients, or more than half of all individuals (57%). It is also no surprise that studies indicate that patients with pain have a substantially increased risk for depression, anywhere from 2 to 5 times that of the general population.

Given that these syndromes (depression and neuropathic pain) coexist, the assessment of either one is complicated by the presence of shared symptoms (e.g., fatigue, sleep disturbance, irritable bowel and gut problems). And while various relationships between pain and depression might be considered, the most common theories are that:

  • depression precedes pain
  • pain precedes depression
  • past history of depression heightens the risk of subsequent depression in the event of new-onset pain
  • the two occur independently of each other

Regardless, the level of coexistence between pain and depression is one of the basic rationales for considering antidepressant therapy as a treatment.

Antidepressants are thought to ease the pain caused by nerve damage because they are able to dampen the signals sent to (and from) the brain. Signals of pain or discomfort travel from the intestines and the peripheral nerves up to the brain. The brain has the ability to “turn down” the pain by sending signals that block the nerve impulses themselves. Recent studies, including brain imaging research, have shown that this ability to turn down the pain is impaired in patients with IBS. Common side effects of these drugs include dry mouth or, at times, difficulty sleeping, difficulty urinating, sexual difficulties, constipation, dizziness and/or drowsiness, low blood pressure especially when going from sitting to standing, leading to lightheadedness, weight gain from increased appetite, and so on. The reality is that all these systems are interconnected.

Researchers say that antidepressants do not cure or eliminate pain at all. So why are antidepressants often the first line, if not the only line of treatment for pain? Some people are obviously concerned that these medications are addicting, or they may alter mental functioning. Writing a prescription to treat a health problem is easy, but it may not always be the safest or most effective route according to some recent studies and a growing chorus of voices concerned about the rapid rise in the prescription of psychoactive drugs. Many Americans visit their primary care physicians and walk away with a prescription for an antidepressant or other drugs without being aware of other evidence-based treatments that might work better for them without the risk of side effects.

New and emerging studies are just beginning to investigate the effects of psychoactive drugs on thyroid, for instance. It is shown in preliminary studies that these drugs can induce a change in iodine capture by thyroid cells, making it unavailable for thyroid hormone synthesis; they can also inhibit thyroid peroxidase activity, HPA axis functioning and thus T3 and T4 synthesis or blood levels, respectively. More studies such as these will help to better evaluate how drugs that affect brain chemistry and nerve impulse might inadvertently impact hormone balance as well. As happy pill prescriptions top 50 million, any right-minded general practitioner would have to wonder whether these are being overprescribed. Meanwhile for those suffering with pain, including nerve pain and depression, you have options. Options that include relief without debilitating side effects.

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 Impact of Stress on Immunity: How To Restore Balance

Chronic stress takes a serious toll on patient health, and, per the American Psychiatric Association CEO Norman B. Anderson, PhD, is a key driver of chronic illness and an enormous cost burden to patients, employers and the economy. The APA’s findings link health risks to predictable stress factors including money, work and family relationships, suggesting that mental pressure is a high-risk factor for chronic illness.

While many patients, including caregivers, will benefit from psychological care, there are practical therapeutic considerations that can help reduce these risks. As functional medicine doctors, more clinicians are taking an ecological, or systems, approach to patient wellbeing and treatment. For instance, nutritional products like probiotics, L-glutamine and GABA can be used to establish a health-promoting ecology within the body. Additionally, there are many ways to calm the mind and body during times of stress including moderate exercise, meditation, volunteering, getting out into nature and drawing, knitting or painting.

For our purposes “stress” can be described as “any condition that disrupts the balance between a living creature and its environment.” To restate this: stress is foremost an adaptive, physiological response to environmental stressors that either disrupt body function or threaten survival. Stress does not originate in the mind; it evolved out of our fight for survival. A simple way to explain this is that when the body is threatened, a brain pathway fires a signal and cortisol levels, blood pressure, neurotransmitters, and so on, rise. This normal, primitive response is healthy in short-term, acutely stressful scenarios where one’s life is at stake.

Learning to minimize both psychological and physiological stress seems obvious. Just ask anyone who is prone to anxiety or a worrier by nature. But what’s the solution? In a toxic world that never rests, where we are all exposed to chemicals, antibiotics, growth hormones and pesticides in our food supply, not to mention the air we breathe and the water we drink, and where basic economic, family and workplace pressures are sometimes relentless, how can anyone expect to fend off the ill health effects of stress?

The real question is: Why isn’t everyone sick?

Immune compromise and chronic illness begin to set in when systems go awry. Individuals start with varying capacity to mount a healthy response to a given stressor or multitude of stressors. For instance, a patient starting with a high-normal cortisol level will have a different reaction to viral and bacterial infections than a patient with a sustained low cortisol level. Add to that an emerging food sensitivity, or lack of food security altogether, along with a personal crisis and suddenly, all health breaks loose. Certainly, genetics and personal history are contributing factors, but so is grit.

Grit is what bestselling author and educator Angela Duckworth describes as the combination of passion and perseverance needed to not only excel but to thrive. Top performing athletes, for instance, have the capacity to notice small, seemingly insignificant areas of weakness and improve upon them. They don’t so much exploit their strengths as strengthen their areas of weakness through mindfulness and persistence. In the context of health this is a critical lesson often ignored. For anyone who’s suffering day in and day out with illness or pain, the first step can be to identify what drives their passion and to pursue it with a vengeance.

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.

Does Depression Always Require Taking Dangerous Prescription Drugs?

Prolonged periods of depression or constantly feeling like you’re sad every day impacts every avenue of your life; in fact, it can even impact your physical health. The connection between your emotions and your health is more powerful than you may think – whether temporary or long-term, depression can manifest in physical pain, illness, or chronic conditions. And all of these can take a toll on even more areas of your life, from hobbies and recreational activities to your social life and career.

Why Prescription Medications Don’t Work

Most people who experience depression, sadness or a roller coaster ride of emotions are often referred to a mental health professional, who usually prescribes one or more anti-depressants. Because they’re so commonly prescribed and heavily advertised, you’ll recognize some of the names: Paxil, Zoloft, Prozac, Cymbalta, and many others. These powerful, sometimes addictive medications can cause dangerous side effects like attempts/thoughts of suicide, heart problems, birth defects, violent/aggressive behavior, anxiety, delusional thinking and more including, ironically, worsening depression.

If you experience any of these side effects, you can’t just stop taking the medication, you need to be weaned off it under the supervision of your doctor, and sometimes it takes more than one attempt. Unfortunately, some doctors prescribe another medication to counteract the effects of the first one, and this is how the vicious cycle begins of escalating symptoms causing an increased number of prescription drugs that in turn cause new sets of symptoms. And on and on it goes.

The upshot is that these medications don’t fix what’s really causing the problem, they only mask the symptoms, and sometimes only for a limited time. At that point the dosage may be increased or a new medication may be added.

Finding the Root Cause

It’s usually at the point where a patient is taking too many medications and suffering too many ill effects that they come to me. Rather than covering up symptoms with medications, I look for the root cause, which is neurological and/or inflammation based. Depression is a symptom of an underlying problem, not a final diagnosis that points directly to the frontal lobe of the brain – it’s either unhealthy or not firing properly. This occurs due to inflammation, which can be caused by a number of different things, from blood sugar levels to food sensitivities.

“Medications for depression don’t fix the root cause of the problem.”

Mental health professionals usually consider the cause of depression to be chemical imbalances, and the medications they prescribe are chemicals that maneuver the brain’s neurotransmitters. Because these drugs don’t address the fundamental reason for depression, they’re constantly being altered, changed, or added to.

“It’s All in Your Head”

What I see a lot in my practice is that when people with chronic illness (particularly hormonal imbalances and thyroid issues) tell their doctors that they’re experiencing depression, they’re told “it’s all in your head.” They’re then prescribed anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications in an attempt to alleviate depression, anxiety or mood swings.

But it doesn’t stop there. A patient, who had most of her thyroid removed many years ago, recently told me that she’s been taking a thyroid medication for some time, but it’s no longer working as it had. When she told her doctor this, he dismissed what she was experiencing, saying, “That can’t be right. It must be in your head.” Essentially, he was telling her that both the changes she experienced and her perception of them was nothing more than psychological.

It’s easy to understand how depression can really take hold after hearing something like this; if the patient isn’t already depressed, they can become depressed because they feel trapped, with nowhere to turn to for help and no hope of improvement.

These aren’t unusual stories. I hear the same thing all the time – doctors telling their patients that they’re crazy rather than taking the time and effort to look deeper, beyond the symptom, for the actual cause of the problem.

In my opinion, no patient’s complaints should be ignored or dismissed; one of the most important things a doctor can do is listen carefully to his patients. By performing a comprehensive evaluation of each person’s case, from their past health history to their current symptoms and medications along with other considerations and tests, medications can be reduced or eliminated and the real cause of depression can be treated.

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

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