Chronic viruses linked to inflammatory diseases

749 viral infections autoimmunity

The Epstein-Barr virus infects more than 90 percent of people in the United States by the age of 20. At least one in four of those infected will develop the commonly-known disease mononucleosis, or “mono,” experiencing a rash, enlarged liver or spleen, head- and body aches, and extreme fatigue.

However, Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is not only related to mono. Recent studies indicate it may be a catalyst for at least six more diseases, most of which are autoimmune in nature. These include multiple sclerosis, inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Type 1 diabetes, and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

EBV isn’t the only virus associated with autoimmunity. Cytomegalovirus (CMV) has been linked to Sjögren’s syndrome, upper respiratory viral infections and human herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) have been linked to multiple sclerosis (MS), and EBV has previously been linked to lupus.

Chronic viral infections can contribute to chronic inflammatory diseases

It has long been thought that viruses play a part in the development of chronic inflammatory diseases, especially autoimmunity. Many healthcare practitioners report there is frequently a hidden infection that either precedes or seems to trigger an initial autoimmune attack, or subsequently appears when the immune system is weakened once autoimmunity is activated.

This creates a vicious cycle of infection and illness. Infections are opportunistic and often travel together — many autoimmune patients find they host multiple infections that are bacterial, viral, parasitic and/or fungal, driving the inflammation that leads to symptoms.

The relationship between viral infection and autoimmune disease is multifaceted, involving numerous complex processes in the body. Scientists believe that a variety of factors must usually be present for an infection to result in an autoimmune condition. This includes not only a genetic predisposition but also lifestyle and environmental factors such as:

  • Stress
  • Poor diet
  • Poor sleep habits
  • Leaky gut
  • Environmental toxins
  • Dietary inflammatory triggers

In a nutshell, chronic disease develops as a result of an improper immune response to a viral infection due to other predisposing factors. The virus acts as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Chronic viruses can prevent autoimmune remission

Remission from autoimmune symptoms is possible with proper diet and lifestyle management. However, if you already have an autoimmune condition, a chronic viral infection can prevent you from alleviating your symptoms and halting progression of the autoimmunity. In fact, a chronic virus is a deal-breaker in recovery for many patients.

If you have an autoimmune condition and suffer from symptoms that don’t get better after addressing inflammatory triggers through diet and lifestyle, contact my office to ask about testing for the viruses associated with your condition.

Viral infections can occur years before developing autoimmunity

Viral infections usually occur well before any symptoms associated with autoimmunity develop (sometimes years), so it can be difficult to make a definitive link between a particular infection and a yet-to-be autoimmune disorder. However, if you have not been diagnosed with an autoimmune condition but have had any of these viruses in the past and have unexplained symptoms now, it’s worth getting tested for autoimmunity and a chronic virus.

For more information on chronic viral infections and how to test and treat them, please contact my office.

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Target gut microbiome for osteoarthritis and joint pain

748 gut bacteria joint pain

Osteoarthritis, or degenerative joint disease, is the number one cause of disability in the US, afflicting 31 million people. Until now, treatment strategies have been aimed at pain relief but not the inflammatory factors driving it.

However, new research shows that improving the gut microbiome — the community of bacteria that live in your gut — through prebiotic fiber may be the key to not only reducing the pain of osteoarthritis, but also curbing the inflammation.

Inflammation drives the arthritis of obesity

Obesity is a key risk factor for developing osteoarthritis. While it has been long been thought this is due to the extra weight overloading the joints, the new findings suggest it’s more likely linked to inflammation caused by shifts in an “obesity-prone” gut microbiome profile.

In the study, obese, arthritic mice showed less beneficial Bifidobacteria and an over abundance of inflammatory bacteria. The harmful bacteria caused inflammation throughout their bodies, leading to rapid joint deterioration.

However, when researchers fed the mice a nondigestible prebiotic fiber called oligofructose (a type of inulin), it shifted their gut microbiome to reduce inflammation protect from osteoarthritis despite no change in body weight.

This research suggests a new approach to treating osteoarthritis with a focus on gut microbiome and inflammation.

Prebiotics feed your gut bacteria

The effect of gut bacteria on arthritis pain is only one reason to improve your gut microbiome. It also helps your immune system, brain function, mood, and more. Systemic inflammation, regardless of obesity, is at the root of many chronic health disorders, including autoimmunity, heart disease, cancer, and more.

While probiotics — bacteria that line your digestive tract, support your body’s absorption of nutrients, and fight infection — have received a lot of notice in recent years, prebiotics are only now getting the press they deserve.

Prebiotics are non-digestible carbohydrates that serve as food for the bacteria (probiotics) in your gut. They come in the form of dietary fiber supplied by the fruits and vegetables you eat.

Prebiotics pass through the small intestine undigested. Once they reach the colon, gut bacteria consume them for fuel and create byproducts, such as vitamins and short chain fatty acids, valuable to human health.

Strong sources of prebiotics include all vegetables but especially:

  • Garlic
  • Jerusalem artichokes
  • Jicama
  • Dandelion greens
  • Onions
  • Peas
  • Broccoli
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Fruits
  • Beans

Prebiotics and probiotics together are important for battling inflammation and lowering overall disease risk.

Support plentiful SCFA for proper immune function

The short chain fatty acids (SCFAs) gut bacteria produce are essential to dampening the inflammation implicated in obesity and osteoarthritis.

One of the most important SCFAs is called butyrate. To increase butyrate and other SCFAs:

  • Eat abundant and varied fruits and vegetables daily — 7 to 9 servings is recommended.
  • Eat probiotic-rich fermented and cultured foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, and coconut water kefir.
  • Take SCFA-supporting supplements such as Saccharomyces boulardii, Lactobacillus sporogenes, and DDS-1 Lactobacilli acidophilus.
  • Take arabinogalactan, a compound made up of protein and sugar, which is helpful for immune support and SCFA production.

Intolerance to gluten, dairy, or other foods also provokes joint pain

Joint pain can also be driven by immune reactivity to certain foods.

Two of the most common inflammatory foods are gluten and dairy — prevalent in most people’s diets. When a person with gluten sensitivity eats gluten (not just wheat, but gliadin, glutenin, and transglutaminase proteins in other grains), the immune system jumps into action, releasing pro-inflammatory signaling cells. This leads to systemic inflammation affecting the body’s organs and soft tissue, including the joints and even the brain. A similar process happens for those reactive to dairy.

Some people find vegetables in the nightshade family cause pain and inflammation in their joints. These include eggplant, potatoes (but not sweet potatoes or yams), peppers, tomatoes, tomatillos, hot pepper products (cayenne, Tabasco, etc.), and pepper-based spices. Simply removing nightshades from the diet has brought relief from joint pain for many, especially those with rheumatoid arthritis.

Gluten, dairy, and nightshades are common reactive foods, but there are more on the list. An anti-inflammatory diet is a great tool for dampening pain and inflammation while helping you determine your immune reactive foods.

Another way to find out which foods are inflammatory for you is through a food sensitivity panel.

Chronic pain can create vicious cycles both in the immune system and in the brain that perpetuate even more pain. Fortunately, through dietary measures and nutritional support, we can unwind these vicious cycles.

Ask my office for more information on alleviating your chronic joint pain by addressing the underlying cause.

Antacid and antibiotics raise allergy risk in children

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Addressing the root cause of your child’s acid reflux or frequent illnesses instead of a pharmaceutical quick fix could save you both bigger headaches down the road — a large study shows antacid and antibiotic use in early childhood significantly raises the risk of developing allergies.

Researchers looked at the records of almost 800,000 children born during a 13-year period to families in the military.

Surprisingly, almost 10 percent of the babies were treated with antacids such as Zantac or Pepcid for acid reflux; spitting up is common in infants and does not typically need to be medicated.

Also surprising was that more than half of the children in the study went on to develop allergies, rashes, asthma, or hay fever.

However, the children who received antacids in infancy were twice as likely to develop allergic diseases compared to the rest.

What’s worse is that their risk of developing anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction that can be deadly, was 50 percent higher compared to the non-medicated children.

Children who received antibiotics as babies were twice as likely to have asthma and had a 50 percent higher likelihood of hay fever and anaphylactic allergies.

Why you must take care of the gut to avoid allergies and immune-based diseases

The researchers suggested the negative impact antacids and antibiotics have on gut bacteria, also called the gut microbiome, play a role in the development of allergies and other immune disorders.

Additionally, by neutralizing the acidity of the stomach, which is necessary to break down foods, antacids may be allowing undigested foods into the small intestine. This negatively impacts the gut microbiome and inflames the digestive tract.

The health of the digestive tract and gut microbiome profoundly influences immune health. When the gut is inflamed and damaged and gut bacteria is unhealthy and full of bad bacteria, this predisposes a person to myriad immune-based disorders, including:

  • Allergies
  • Food sensitivities
  • Chemical sensitivities
  • Eczema and other skin-based disorders
  • Asthma and other respiratory disorders
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Brain-based disorders

Look for the root cause of childhood illness

Although spitting is up normal for babies, if a baby is spitting up excessively you have to ask why.

Also, if a child has reoccurring infections that require antibiotics over and over, again you have to ask why.

These are signs that the health of the digestive tract, the gut microbiome, and the immune system are already in distress.

For instance, the child could be eating a food to which they are intolerant, such as gluten or dairy — two primary triggers of immune disorders. The child may have been born with food intolerances or autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks the body) passed on from the mother.

A child born via c-section and fed formula is likely to have a less healthy gut microbiome than a child born vaginally and breastfed. This may predispose a child to excess acid reflux or reoccurring infections.

However, medicating a child with antacids and antibiotics only further destroys the gut microbiome and dysregulates the immune system. This makes the child significantly more prone to immune disorders, such as allergies, anaphylaxis, autoimmunity, asthma, eczema, obesity, and other chronic issues.

The key is to address the underlying causes of an inflamed gut, an unhealthy gut microbiome, and inflammation. Ask my office how functional medicine can help manage these issues.

Want to trash your lungs? Use basic cleaning products

743 cleaning products wreck lungs

Smoking is bad for you and cleaning house is good, right? Wrong, if you use conventional cleaning products — you may as well smoke. A new study shows the lung decline over 20 years caused by using conventional cleaning products, which have no federal regulations for health or safety, equals that of smoking 20 cigarettes a day. The toxic chemicals used in cleaning products damage the lungs little by little, adding up to a significant impact that rivals a pack-a-day smoking habit.

The Norwegian study tracked 6,000 women over two decades — women responsible for keeping the home clean, women who cleaned as a job, and women not regularly engaged in cleaning. Compared to the women who didn’t clean house, the regular home cleaners and occupational cleaners who used cleaning sprays and other products showed an accelerated decline in lung function.

This study was the first of its kind to look at the long-term effects of cleaning products on the respiratory tract. Shorter term studies have already established a link between cleaning products — bleach, glass cleaner, detergents, and air fresheners — and an increase in asthma. In fact, the women who cleaned regularly in the Norwegian study also showed an increased rate of asthma.

Household cleaners are toxic and damaging to multiple systems in the body

The lungs aren’t the only part of the body conventional cleaning products damage. They also impact the brain, immune system, hormonal system, and liver.

For instance, phthalates are used in the perfumed scents many cleaning products have. Phthalates lower sperm counts, cause early puberty in girls, and raise the risk of cancer and lung problems.

Perchloroethylene (PERC), a solvent used in spot removers, carpet and upholstery cleaners, and dry cleaning, raises the risk of Parkinson’s disease and cancer.

Although hundreds, if not thousands, of studies have repeatedly demonstrated the toxicity of chemicals in common household ingredients, their use in manufacturing is largely unregulated.

Our over exposure to toxic chemicals has been linked to skyrocketing rates of autoimmunity and even autism, which is a neurological presentation of autoimmunity in many people.

In the past few decades we have seen autism increase tenfold, leukemia go up more than 60 percent, male birth defects double, and childhood brain cancer go up 40 percent.

Helping protect your body from toxins

Unfortunately, it is not possible to be toxin-free in today’s world. Toxins have gotten into our air, water, food (even organic), and our bodies. Everyone carries hundreds of toxins in their bodies, even newborn babies.

When a person has a highly reactive immune system, various toxins and heavy metals can trigger inflammation in the same way a gluten sensitivity can, causing a flare up of autoimmune and inflammatory symptoms. By using functional medicine principles to keep inflammation as low as possible, we can help prevent toxins from becoming immune reactive.

To accomplish this, first avoid toxins as much as possible and use non-toxic products in your home and on your body. The Norwegian researchers suggested cleaning with a microfiber cloth and water.

Also, eat an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet consisting primarily of produce, nurture healthy gut bacteria, exercise regularly, spend time in nature, have healthy social interactions, and supplement with compounds such as vitamin D and glutathione precursors (the body’s master antioxidant). These are a few ways to support the body and make it more resilient to the many toxins it must battle.

Ask my office for more information on how to help protect your body from toxins.

Increase in autoimmunity rates linked to leaky gut

735 leaky gut autoimmunityAutoimmunity, a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys body tissue, is one of the most prevalent diseases today, affecting predominantly women. Traditionally, autoimmune disease was thought to be primarily a genetic disease, but research increasingly shows that while genetics play a role, intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, is also an important factor. This means your diet can determine whether you develop autoimmunity.

Examples of common autoimmune diseases include:

  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Celiac disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism
  • Psoriasis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Vitiligo

Leaky gut triggers autoimmunity

Leaky gut is a condition in which the lining of the intestines become damaged and overly porous, allowing bacteria, yeast, undigested foods, and other pathogens into the bloodstream where they trigger inflammation. Leaky gut keeps the immune system in a hyper zealous state. This eventually makes the immune system more likely to start attacking the body tissue it was designed to protect, causing an autoimmune condition.

People can develop leaky gut for a variety of reasons, but the most common is linked to inflammatory foods in the diet. These can include too much sugar, processed foods, junk foods, and fast foods. Also, many people have undiagnosed food sensitivities, such as to gluten, dairy, egg, or other foods. These can damage the gut lining if you have an inflammatory reaction to them.

Gluten, in particular, is notorious for its ability to cause leaky gut and trigger autoimmunity. In people who have a gluten intolerance, gluten triggers inflammation in the gut and elsewhere in the body every time they eat it. In gluten sensitive individuals, gluten also acts on messenger compounds in the intestinal wall to make it more permeable. This allows more inflammatory factors into the bloodstream, including more gluten, in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

For some people, simply going gluten-free can repair a leaky gut and dampen autoimmunity.

Other causes of leaky gut that trigger autoimmunity

Knowing why you have leaky gut is an important strategy in not only in repairing it, but also in dampening autoimmunity. Below are some known causes of leaky gut that can, in turn, trigger autoimmunity:

  • Gluten sensitivity
  • Inflammatory foods (sugars, junk foods, fast foods, etc.)
  • Alcohol
  • Medications (corticosteroids, antibiotics, antacids, some arthritis medications)
  • Infections (poor gut bacteria balance, H. pylori, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, yeast, parasites, and viruses)
  • Chronic stress
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Processed foods, artificial food additives, thickening gums
  • Environmental toxins
  • Vitamin D deficiency
  • Autoimmunity (although leaky gut triggers autoimmunity, autoimmunity can also cause leaky gut, especially if the immune attack is against tissues of the gut)

Repairing leaky gut can help dampen autoimmunity

Repairing leaky gut has been shown to help many people dampen autoimmunity and even put it into remission. This involves briefly following an anti-inflammatory diet to figure out which foods are triggering inflammation in you, following guidelines to restore or maintain oral tolerance, and including some nutritional compounds to support the healing of your gut lining.

How do you know if you have leaky gut?

Many people aren’t aware they have leaky gut. The condition has only recently been accepted as valid by conventional medicine, and many doctors may still not know about it. However, some symptoms to look out for include bloating, gas, constipation or diarrhea, food sensitivities, and inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the joints, skin, or brain (brain fog, depression, slow thinking, fatigue, etc.)

When autoimmunity causes leaky gut

Sometimes autoimmunity itself causes leaky gut as it creates chronic inflammation that can damage the gut wall. This is particularly true in the case of autoimmunity to gut tissue, which may cause symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Functional blood tests provide more useful information

734 func vs lab rangesHave you ever had obvious health symptoms but your lab tests come back normal? Many such patients, the majority of them women, are told it’s simply stress, aging, or depression. The problem is most doctors use lab ranges on blood tests when functional ranges provide more clues that explain the symptoms.

The lab ranges on a blood test look for diseases while functional medicine ranges look for patterns and markers that spot trends toward disease that can still be reversed or halted. For instance, the lab ranges for diabetes are quite high, but a functional range can let you know your blood sugar is in the danger zone well before you need pharmaceutical treatment and have caused considerable inflammatory damage to your body.

In another example, many people with clear and obvious symptoms of low thyroid function are told they are fine for years while autoimmune destruction of the thyroid gland continues unchecked and untreated, worsening symptoms all the while.

Functional blood ranges can help you stop the progression toward disease

Functional medicine addresses the underlying physiological mechanisms causing symptoms. In conventional medicine, a condition must have progressed far enough to diagnose and treat with drugs or surgery.

In other words, functional ranges define the parameters of good health while lab ranges define the parameters of disease.

Additionally, lab ranges are determined by a bell-curve analysis of patients who had their blood drawn at that center, many of whom are likely quite sick. As the health of Americans continues to decline, so do the ranges for what qualifies as healthy. For some markers, we don’t know what qualifies as healthy, just average.

Functional ranges look for patterns in the markers

Functional medicine doesn’t just look at individual markers, but also for patterns among various different blood markers. All systems in the body are inter-related and a problem in one area of the body can show up as an out-of-range marker in another area.

This can help identify different types of anemia, whether your high blood sugar is raising your risk of heart disease, or whether a hormone imbalance might be affecting your thyroid.

Another example involves looking at markers to determine whether activated or depressed immunity is related to a virus, bacterial infection, allergies, or even parasites.

A functional blood test includes many more markers

Another difference between functional and conventional blood tests isn’t just the ranges used, but also the markers ordered. A conventional blood test will typically include far fewer markers than a functional one.

We can especially see this in testing for hypothyroidism. Standard tests only look at thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) even though about 90 percent of cases of hypothyroidism are caused by an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s. This is because knowing whether a person has Hashimoto’s does not change the standard of care in conventional medicine.

However, a functional test will include markers to identify autoimmune Hashimoto’s and other causes of low thyroid function. Knowing what is causing the thyroid to under function determines the best way to manage it and improve thyroid health.

A blood panel is an important tool in the functional medicine evaluation. Ask my office for more information.

Spore probiotics: The latest innovation in probiotics

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As we continue to learn how important healthy gut bacteria is for the brain and immune system, interest in cultivating a rich and diverse “gut microbiome” grows. One important tool in this quest are spore-based probiotic supplements. “Spore” is derived from the word “seed,” and spore-based probiotics are a hardy delivery system that germinate in the small intestine and help you colonize your gut with more healthy bacteria.

Modern humans face many challenges to developing and maintaining healthy gut bacteria. In fact, studies of primitive people who live much like our hunter gatherer ancestors did show their guts have about 50 percent more diversity in gut bacteria than the average American. Researchers are finding this lack of microbiome diversity plays a role in many chronic health and brain disorders, including depression and autoimmunity.

Low-fiber, junk food diets, antibiotic overuse, chlorinated water, heavy environmental toxin and pollution loads, chronic stress, alcohol, and various medications all play a role in reducing the diversity and amount of beneficial gut bacteria. As a result, opportunistic and infectious “bad” gut bacteria are able to more easily conquer the gut. This weakens the gut lining, increases inflammation, and promotes brain and mood disorders.

There are many ways we can build a healthy and diverse population of gut bacteria. The most important is to eat a whole foods diet that is predominantly vegetables and fruits. It’s important to vary the kind of produce you eat regularly. It’s also helpful to include cultured and fermented foods and take probiotics. Also, avoid drugs such as antibiotics, NSAIDs, and heartburn medication as much as possible.

Given the challenges the modern gut faces, it’s not a bad idea to make probiotics a part of your routine. This is where spore-based probiotics come in. What makes spore-based probiotics special?

  • The survive the acidic environment of the stomach on their way to the intestines.
  • They resist breakdown by digestive enzymes.
  • They are heat stable and don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.
  • Some spores are antibiotic-resistant, which means you can take while taking antibiotics.

Once in the small intestine, spore-based probiotics can germinate if you provide the right environment with plenty of plant fiber.

Spore probiotics and healthy gut bacteria in general can help improve your health in several ways. They improve the health and integrity of the lining of the small intestine. This lining contains not only bacteria but also plenty of immune cells to defend the bloodstream from bad bacteria, yeast, toxins, undigested foods, and other pathogens that can trigger inflammation if they make their way through the gut lining into the bloodstream. This is called leaky gut.

For instance, one strain of spore-based probiotic, bacillus coagulans, has been well studied for its beneficial effect on irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease. Bacillus coagulans produces lactic acid, which has been shown to help protect the gut and boost immune resistance to viruses. It has also been shown to lower cholesterol and reduce pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

Ask my office for more information on how to support healthy gut bacteria and help eradicate bad bacteria to improve immune health.