Mystery symptoms autoimmune? How to find out

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Do you have mysterious health symptoms — such as fatigue, pain, brain fog, unexplained weight gain — that rob you of your quality of life, but lab tests and doctors keep saying nothing is wrong? Or maybe doctors tell you your chronic symptoms are depression and you need an antidepressant. Maybe you’ve even been accused of complaining too much.

Most people know when something is wrong with them, even if lab tests come back normal and doctors say you’re fine. This is because the standard health care model does not screen for autoimmunity — a disorder than occurs when your immune system attacks and destroys your own tissue. You can suffer from symptoms of undiagnosed autoimmunity for years and even decades before it is severe enough to be diagnosed and treated in the conventional medical model.

Fortunately, in functional medicine we can screen for autoimmunity against multiple tissues in the body at once. Knowing an autoimmune reaction is causing your symptoms can remove the mystery and bring significant peace of mind. It is confirmation your health symptoms are real and proof you are not a whiner or hypochondriac.

We identify autoimmunity by testing for antibodies in the blood against a particular tissue. For instance, we can screen for Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune thyroid disease that causes hypothyroidism, by testing for immune antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and thyroglobulin (TGB). Positive results mean autoimmunity is causing your hypothyroid symptoms of weight gain, depression, fatigue, constipation, cold hands and feet, and hair loss.

Cyrex Labs tests for 24 different types of autoimmunity at once. The panel is called Array 5 Multiple Autoimmune Reactivity Screen. It is more cost effective than testing for each autoimmunity individually, and Cyrex Labs tests are highly sensitive. To do the test, simply ask us for the kit, take it to an approved blood draw center, and we will send you the results.

If your test results are “positive” or “equivocal,” it means your immune system is attacking that tissue. You may not even have symptoms yet. This is a best-case scenario because managing your health with functional medicine can prevent the autoimmunity from progressing.

Array 5 screens for the following autoimmunities:

  • Parietal cell and ATPase instrinsic factor: Stomach autoimmunity
  • ASCA, ANCA, and tropomyosin: Intestinal autoimmunity
  • Thyroglobulin and thyroid peroxidase: Thyroid autoimmunity
  • 21 hydroxylase (adrenal cortex): Adrenal autoimmunity
  • Myocardial peptide, alpha-myosin: Cardiac autoimmunity
  • Phospholipid platelet glycoprotein: Phospholipid autoimmunity
  • Ovary/Testes: Reproductive organ autoimmunity
  • Fibulin, collagen complex, arthritic peptide: Joint autoimmunity
  • Osteocyte: Bone autoimmunity
  • Cytochrome P450 (hepatocyte): Liver autoimmunity
  • Insulin, islet cell, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD): Pancreatic autoimmunity
  • GAD, myelin basic protein, asialoganglioside, alpha and beta tubulin, cerebellar, synapsin: Neurological autoimmunity

If you have no but a positive result, then you may be able to prevent the autoimmunity from expressing itself. If you have symptoms that correspond with a positive test result, other testing may help you track your condition. For instance, if you test positive for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, follow up with thyroid testing will track the severity.

Knowing you have an autoimmune reaction means you can halt its progression and prevent it from worsening. This can mean preventing or even reversing devastating and debilitating symptoms.

Ask my office for more advice.

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Stress can cause PMS, menopause problems, and more

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It’s not easy being female — the hormonal ups and downs each month through puberty and then menopause can range from mildly irritating to downright debilitating. Although many, if not most, women suffer from some degree of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), the extreme health and mood imbalances associated with PMS and menopause are a sign your system is out of whack, most likely because of stress.

Hormone balance is very sensitive to stress, inflammation, toxins, poor diet, sleep deprivation, lack of exercise, too little sunlight, and other common factors of modern life. Because the reproductive hormones play an important role in brain health, mood, and brain inflammation, when they’re off, brain function and mood suffer.

In women, imbalances are characterized by excess estrogen, insufficient progesterone, or too much testosterone. Stress and blood sugar that is either too low (hypoglycemia) or too high (insulin resistance) are the most common culprits of PMS symptoms and a miserable menopause transition.

Symptoms of hormonal imbalances in women include:

  • Frequent or irregular menstruation
  • Mood instability
  • Depression 
  • Problems sleeping 
  • Changes in weight or appetite 
  • Crying easily 
  • Irritability 
  • Poor concentration 
  • Anxiety 
  • Fatigue 
  • Low libido 
  • Migraines

Low progesterone from chronic stress

One of the more common reasons for hormonal imbalance is low progesterone caused by chronic stress. This is a mechanism called “pregnenolone steal,” when chronic stress robs the compounds needed to make progesterone in order to make stress hormones instead. This leads to PMS and sets the stage for a miserable menopause transition.

When it comes to stress, the brain does not know whether you are angry at traffic, soaring and crashing after snacking on a glazed donut and triple-shot caramel latte, or narrowly escaping being trampled by a bison. All it knows is to prepare for fight or flight and that reproduction hormones can wait until things have settled down. But for many sleep-deprived, over-stressed Americans fueled on caffeine and sugar, settling down rarely truly happens.

The fix isn’t necessarily in a tub of progesterone cream; first address the sources of stress. A primary stress-buster is a diet that stabilizes blood sugar. People often either eat too infrequently and too sparingly, or they overeat and eat too much sugar. Both are stressful for the body.

Here are some other common causes of chronic stress that lead to miserable PMS and menopause:

  • Sugar, sweeteners, starchy foods (rice, pasta, bread, etc.), too much caffeine
  • Food sensitivities (gluten, dairy, eggs, soy, corn, nuts, grains, etc.) 
  • Leaky gut and gut inflammation symptoms — gas, bloating, indigestion, heartburn, diarrhea, constipation, stomach pain, irritable bowel 
  • Sleep deprivation 
  • Pain and inflammation — joint and muscle pain, skin rashes, respiratory issues, brain fog, fatigue, depression 
  • Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism 
  • Overdoing it, over exercising, not taking time for yourself 
  • Bad diet of junk foods, fast foods, processed foods

Restoring hormonal balance naturally

Ideas to halt pregnenolone steal include an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, restoring gut health, dampening pain and inflammation, and managing autoimmunity. These are functional medicine basics. Make sure you are eating the right amounts and kinds of essential fatty acids. Additionally, certain botanicals are effective in supporting female hormone health and the body’s stress handling systems. Ask my office for more advice.

Study shows diet tames Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism

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A recent study showed a low-carbohydrate, whole foods diet low in inflammatory foods significantly decreases thyroid antibodies — the marker for autoimmune thyroid disease, or Hashimoto’s. Hashimoto’s occurs when the immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid gland; it is the cause of about 90 percent of hypothyroid cases. This study is further evidence you can profoundly influence autoimmune Hashimoto’s through diet and lifestyle interventions.

In the three-week study, almost 200 people with Hashimoto’s were divided into two groups. One group followed the low-carbohydrate study diet while the other followed a standard low-calorie diet.

The results were significant: Levels of several different thyroid antibodies that serve as markers for Hashimoto’s dropped between 40 and almost 60 percent! This group also lost a little weight.

Meanwhile, the group that followed a low-calorie diet saw antibody levels go up between 9 to 30 percent!

What the study group ate to tame Hashimoto’s

The study designers chose a curious route for their research in having their subjects follow both a low-carbohydrate, anti-inflammatory diet as well as a diet low in goitrogens. Goitrogens are compounds that lower thyroid function and are found in raw cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, etc.), soy, and other foods.

Before people understood the mechanisms of autoimmune Hashimoto’s, it used to be the rule of thumb was to avoid goitrogenic foods.

However, through the evolution of functional medicine, we have learned most people with Hashimoto’s can safely eat normal amounts of cruciferous vegetables. In fact, they contain many beneficial nutrients as well as fiber. People with unresolved small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or genetic difficulty metabolizing sulfur may not do well with these vegetables. So we don’t know how subjects would have fared in this study had they included these vegetables.

Soy, on the other hand, has been shown to lower thyroid hormone levels in studies and is best avoided by those with Hashimoto’s.

The study diet that improved Hashimoto’s

Here is the diet the study subjects ate that lowered their thyroid antibodies:

  • Low carbohydrate diet that was 12 to 15 percent carbohydrates, 50 to 60 percent protein, and 25 to 30 percent fats. (Most people eat a diet that is about 50 percent carbohydrates.)
  • Lots of different vegetables. Research shows a diet high in veggies improves immune health through its impact on beneficial gut bacteria.
  • Lean meats and fish.
  • No goitrogens: cruciferous vegetables (which, if not eaten to excess, improve beneficial gut bacteria), canola, watercress, arugula, radish, horseradish, spinach, millet, tapioca, nitrates.
  • Eggs, legumes, dairy products, bread, pasta, fruit, and rice. In functional medicine we know gluten and dairy exacerbate autoimmune Hashimoto’s for the most part. Eggs, legumes, and grains are inflammatory for many people as well. People with poor blood sugar stability may need to limit their fruit intake.

In functional medicine, we see the best results with a diet very similar to this one called the autoimmune paleo diet (AIP). In fact, a recent study showed the AIP diet significantly improved autoimmune gut disorders.

Ask my office for more advice on managing your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism or other autoimmune disease.

Study confirms autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet works

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A recent study confirmed what functional medicine has long since known — the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is highly successful for managing chronic health disorders. The first-of-its-kind study showed the majority of participants quickly achieved and maintained remission of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis on the AIP diet. A number of participants were even able to discontinue drug therapies.

Many people follow the AIP diet to manage not just Crohn’s but also chronic pain, Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome, skin rashes such as eczema or psoriasis, high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, brain-based disorders, diabetes, autoimmune disease in general, and other chronic health problems.

People are surprised to find that not only do their symptoms fade but also they enjoy more energy, better sleep, weight loss, increased libido, less stress, and a general overall improvement of their well being.

A primary reason the diet is so effective is because it helps repair leaky gut, a condition in which the lining of the gut becomes inflamed and porous, allowing inflammatory compounds into the bloodstream. This creates inflammation throughout the body and brain and leads to a wide array of chronic gut, metabolic, and autoimmune disorders.

Anti-inflammatory is the key to the AIP diet

An anti-inflammatory diet focuses on whole foods and is free of inflammatory foods, additives, fillers, and artificial colors. It includes an accompanying protocol of appropriate sleep, physical activity, rest, and positive socialization and self-treatment. Certain nutritional compounds that gently cleanse and detoxify the body may boost the success of the diet.

AIP diet sites and articles abound, but here are basics:

  • Eliminate all processed foods, fast foods, desserts, coffee drinks, sodas, etc. Your anti-inflammatory diet should consist of whole foods found in the produce and meat sections of the grocery store, with an emphasis on plenty of vegetables. Also eliminate processed vegetable oils and hydrogenated oils and stick with natural oils.
  • Eliminate common inflammatory foods, the most common culprit being gluten. Many people’s symptoms resolve simply on a gluten-free diet. However, dairy, eggs, soy, nuts, grain, and nightshades are commonly immune reactive as well. Eliminate these foods for about six weeks to see whether you react upon reintroducing them one at a time.
  • Eliminate sweets. On the anti-inflammatory diet you will avoid all sweeteners. This helps curb cravings, stabilize blood sugar, lower inflammation, and lose excess fat. Enjoy low-sugar fruits instead, such as berries.
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Not only do plenty of veggies load you up with vital nutrients and fiber, new research shows they create a healthy gut microbiome – the bacteria in your gut that profoundly influence your immune and brain health. A diet based around veggies creates an abundant and diverse gut microbiome and thus better health.
  • Get enough sleep and exercise. Sufficient sleep is a major inflammation-buster, as is regular physical activity. Overtraining, however, can cause inflammation so watch out for that.

Boost success with gut repair and detoxification

Adding in specific nutritional compounds can help repair a damaged gut, lower inflammation, support the liver, and detoxify the system. Ask my office for more information about a detoxification and gut-repair program using the AIP diet.

Handling store receipts raises levels of toxic BPA

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A new study that had subjects handle store receipts showed BPA absorbed through the skin stays in the body much longer than ingested BPA. The study had subjects handle common store receipts for five minutes, then wear gloves for two hours before washing their hands.

BPA measurements in the subjects’ urine showed BPA levels highest for the first two days after handling the receipts. After one week, three of the six volunteers still showed BPA in their urine.

However, when the subjects ate a cookie with BPA, follow up urinalysis showed BPA levels spiked after five hours but was cleared after a day. The scientists concluded that the body can more quickly metabolize and clear ingested BPA than BPA absorbed through the skin.

BPA toxicity in everyday food and beverages

BPA (bisphenol-A) is the main component of polycarbonate and is found in water and beverage bottles, plastic lids, the lining of tin cans, food storage containers, dental sealants, contact lenses, and electronics.

Store receipts aren’t the only place people come in contact with BPA. Canned foods often contain significant amounts of the chemical — the lining in a soup can can deliver 1,000 percent more BPA than fresh soup.

Plastics beverage bottles are another common source of exposure, especially if the bottle has been exposed to heat, light, or acids (such as soda).

Plastic food containers, especially if they have been heated, are another common source. Plastic coffee lids, straws, and any other plastics that come in contact with foods deliver BPA as well.

BPA on store receipts

Store receipts aren’t the only source of BPA that can be absorbed through the skin. Other sources of thermal paper that contains high amounts of BPA include fast food receipts, ATM receipts, airline tickets, gas station receipts, lottery tickets, fax paper (if anyone still uses that), etc.

Although this latest study had subjects handle the receipts for five minutes, previous studies have shown handling a receipt for just five seconds transfers BPA through your skin and into your bloodstream. Your skin absorbs ten times as much if your fingers are wet or greasy.

You can even absorb BPA from handling cash that has been stored with receipts.

Why BPA is toxic to the body

Studies have shown BPA to be problematic to human health in various ways. It has estrogen-like properties that skew hormone balance. Rodent studies have shown BPA causes reproductive defects, cancer, and breakdowns in metabolic and immune health.

BPA is especially toxic to a developing fetus, raising the risk of causing chromosomal errors, miscarriage, and genetic damage.

The chemical is also linked to poorer sperm quality, early puberty, reproductive dysfunction, cancer, heart disease, thyroid problems, insulin resistance, and obesity.

BPA raises the risk of triggering autoimmunity

Recent studies have also shown that BPA can both trigger and exacerbate autoimmune diseases due to its disruptive effect on the immune system. It has been linked to autoimmunity to nerve sheathes, the common target of attach in multiple sclerosis, and to Hashimoto’sthyroid autoimmune disease.

BPA-free is no guarantee

Unfortunately, products listed as “BPA-free” are not a green light either. Many non-BPA plastics also contain synthetic estrogens.

How to reduce your body burden of BPA

Reduce your exposure to BPA as much as possible by not handling receipts and avoiding plastic food and beverage containers. Additionally, help buffer the damage of BPA and other toxins by eating a whole foods diet and supplementing with nutritional compounds that support detoxification and cellular protection. Ask my office for more advice.

Plenty of sunlight needed for a good night’s sleep

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It’s now common knowledge that nighttime exposure to computer, tablet, and TV screens sabotages sleep —the light they emit simulates sunlight, thus suppressing sleep hormones. However, plenty of daytime sunlight is vital for good sleep. Most of us don’t get near enough.

Research shows the average person spends less than an hour a day outside. For shift workers it’s even worse. Lack of exposure to sunlight inhibits production of melatonin, a hormone that puts us to sleep.

A Finnish rat study observed one group living under fluorescent lighting and another group exposed only to sunlight through windows every day. While both groups received the same duration of both light and darkness during the study, the rats exposed to sunlight produced significantly more melatonin.

It’s not that the artificial light was detrimental. It simply wasn’t strong enough — the sunlight was more than seven times brighter than the fluorescent light. This is what boosted melatonin production. Researchers assert variation of light throughout the day, from dawn to dusk, also supports healthy melatonin production.

During a sunny day, lux levels (which measure the intensity of light) reach 50,000. Compare this to indoor lighting, which ranges in the low to mid hundreds at the most. For most of human history we have lived with natural light and it plays a significant role in the function of the body and brain.

Why melatonin and light rhythms are so important

Anyone who has suffered through insomnia and sleep deprivation understands the importance of sufficient and quality sleep.

However, melatonin and our sleep-wake cycle (also called circadian rhythm) are intertwined with every system in the body, affecting much more than how rested or tired we feel. Heaps of studies point to the importance of a healthy sleep-wake cycle for overall immune, hormonal, and mental health.

For instance, one study found that women suffering from PMS show chronically low melatonin levels. Just two hours a day of exposure to sunlight increased their melatonin levels and relieved their symptoms.

A German study showed subjects with mood imbalances exhibited healthier serotonin levels after just one week of light therapy.

Another study showed subjects experienced a 160 percent increase in melatonin at night after just a half hour of exposure to bright light from a light box.

How to get enough outdoor light in an indoor world

It’s not easy getting enough sunlight when you’re indoors all day working or going to school. But it’s vital for healthy sleep, brain function, and metabolic function to get enough light exposure.

Some solutions are obvious — spend time outside as much as you can. Eat lunch outside and go for a walk on your breaks. Maybe you can even work outside on your laptop if your job is portable.

If possible, work near windows that get plenty of natural light. One study showed employees working near a window received twice as much light as their coworkers who didn’t and hence enjoyed more sleep.

If sufficient exposure to natural light isn’t possible, indoor light therapy has been shown to help relieve sleep and mood imbalances.

Look for a light box that delivers plenty of lux and is big enough for sufficient exposure. The Center for Environmental Therapeutics provides criteria for purchasing a reliable light box, which they recommend using for at least a half hour in the morning.

Functional medicine alternatives to NSAID risks

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If you complain of mild to moderate pain a doctor will freely prescribe NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. However, they are not benign as you think, especially if taken long term. NSAIDs are linked to numerous health complaints.

Common brands of NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). Celecoxib (Celebrex), diclofenac (Cataflam, Voltaren) are prescription NSAIDs. Aspirin is also an NSAID, but it doesn’t pose the same heart attack and stroke risks.

NSAIDs have been linked to many health disorders:

  • 40–60 percent increased risk of cardiovascular problems
  • 25 percent increased risk of hearing loss
  • 60 percent increased risk of heart failure
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, bleeding, ulcers, and leaky gut.
  • Increased risk of asthma and eczema in children

NSAIDs increase heart attack and stroke risk

The link between NSAID use and heart attack is so well founded the FDA has issued a warning. The risk may begin within a few weeks of taking an NSAID and the longer you take NSAIDs, the higher your risk.

Functional medicine and NSAIDs — leaky gut

In functional medicine, we look at another sabotaging factor of NSAIDs — leaky gut.

Leaky gut means the lining of the small intestine has become so damaged that it becomes overly porous, allowing undigested food, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the bloodstream from the gut. This triggers inflammation and pain throughout the body, exactly the sort of thing people use NSAIDs to relieve.

Functional medicine alternatives to NSAIDs

Nobody wants to be pain. It’s understandable to seek relief so you can feel and function better. However, many people are surprised to find their chronic pain diminishes substantially when they adopt functional medicine basics.

Following are a few ways functional medicine can relieve pain and eliminate the need for NSAIDs:

Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. This means removing foods that trigger inflammation, which for many people is gluten and dairy. Grains, legumes, eggs, sugar, and nightshades are other common culprits. After following the diet strictly for a period of time you can customize it so it’s more liberal but does not trigger pain.

Take plenty of nutrients that combat inflammation and pain. These include vitamin D (some people have a genetic variance that prevents sufficient vitamin D uptake), other fat-soluble vitamin (A, E, and K), nutrients to boost the primary antioxidant glutathione, and omega 3 fatty acids.

Look for natural remedies for inflammation and pain. There are many alternatives, such as liposomal turmeric and resveratrol. Ask my office for advice.

Balance blood sugar. Many people have blood sugar that is too high, too low, or a combination of both. Balancing blood sugar is critical to reduce inflammation and pain. These are just a few ways to use functional medicine to address the root causes of inflammation and pain so that you can stop taking NSAIDs. Ask my office for more advice.