Avoid Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are coming which means lots of things, good and bad. The good: time with family and friends, giving to others, good food, fun experiences, and great memories made. The bad: the stress of it all, family and friends, feeling pressures to keep up with the facade the media and business has perpetuated about the holidays, and good food.
I’m sure we could add more to both the good and the bad list, but did you notice things like family, friends and food showed up on both lists. This is because they can contribute to both extreme joy and health, but for some they’re stressful, traumatic and straight up unhealthy.
In fact, emotional turmoil can be more toxic than anything in the environment and wreak havoc on your gut and immune system. This is why there’s an uptick in cardiovascular events and strokes at this time of year. This is also the perfect scenario to catch a cold or the flu.
The best way to avoid this is to have a plan.

To avoid stresses try some of these tips:

  1. Plan your budget and stick to it. Finances are one of the biggest stressors at this time of year.
  2. Plan your meals. If you have eczema, gut issues, or autoimmunity, this is essential. Ask hosts in advance of plans and let them know you have special needs. Offer to bring a few dishes that work for you and you can share with others. Better yet, host a dinner or party yourself and show everyone that eating your way can be delicious (it’ll be your gift to them).
  3. Say no to events that will cause you unnecessary stress. There is no rule that says you have to go to everything you’re invited to (this includes family). Politely decline and wish them a happy holiday.
  4. Invite only who makes you happy… even if it’s your family member you’re excluding. I’ve gotten to the point where my health and the health of my family are more important than the feelings of a mean spirited family member, so we don’t invite them. We have a rule: you must play well with others. If you don’t, you’re not welcome. Some may feel this is harsh, but sometimes said family member learns a lesson and is nicer. Sometimes they don’t. They point is that you and your family aren’t victim to someone else emotional bullying or games.
  5. Plan for down time, naps and rest. There’s a reason why nature slows down at this time of year and we should follow suit. Relaxation helps support a healthy immune system.
  6. Have fun and laugh a lot! Again, great for your immune system and mental outlook.
  7. Make sure you get enough sleep (most of the time, anyway). Holiday parties, shopping, and events can last late into the night, Pay attention to your body and listen when it says it’s time to shut down.
  8. If you have kids, pay close attention to them. Sometimes the holidays are stressful for them, but they don’t tell us or have the words to convey it. It’s our job as parents to observe and look for signs such as acting out, behaving in an unusual way, or isolation to clue us in.
I hope you find some of the tips helpful in navigating the amazing, yet stressful time of year.
On the same note, check out the article on Addressing Emotions in Kids to Prevent Eczema and Autoimmunity. Emotional health and good emotional intelligence are essential to long term health. The foundation is set in childhood (even in utero) and has lifelong effects. Let’s help our children avoid the epidemic of chronic disease we’re seeing today.
Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and fun Thanksgiving!!!
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Question of the month:
Q: How do I maintain my diet during the holidays and will it affect me if I cheat?
A: We hate to place labels or stigmatize food, but the truth is that sometimes dietary modification is necessary for healing. Even during the holidays (where it may be more important!).
For anyone that has ever worked with us, you know our philosophy is to only do necessary dietary restrictions for the shortest period of time and then expand the diet again. If this happens to occur during the holidays there are ways to navigate it.
Planning your food as mentioned above is key. This involves contacting hosts or even restaurants to find out what the menu offerings will be. Most restaurants now a days will accommodate dietary restrictions, especially if you will let them know in advance. And, contrary to what most people believe, most hosts are understanding as dietary needs as well. Some will go so far as to provide menu offerings that suit you (when I host a gathering I reach out to the invitees to find out if there are any dietary restrictions ahead of time). If they don’t do that, you can always offer to bring some dishes yourself to share to make sure you have something to eat.
Keep your home pantry stocked with foods that you can eat for impromptu gatherings. I also recommend making some food ahead and placing it in the freezer to avoid last-minute scrambling to make special dishes or “having” to eat something outside of your special diet.
Grocery stores are more frequently carrying gluten, dairy, nut, and soy free products making it easier for you to pick up something on the fly as well. Just be sure to read labels.
And the “cheating” conundrum…. First, I hate to use the word cheating because that implies you’re doing something wrong. Let’s be clear- while you’re definitely not doing something wrong, you may be doing something that does not promote health in your body at the time. For some, if you are on vacation or holiday, and you indulge in something that is not on your current menu, it may not affect you at all. For others however, that same indulgence may tip the scale toward an inflammatory cascade. So much of it depends on your stress levels and gut integrity. The more stressed out you are feeling, the more likely is that you’ll experience symptoms from eating foods that are potential triggers for you.
Try your best to avoid items that you know can cause issues. Remember that the holidays are a relatively short blip in time when compared to the rest of the year. They will soon be over and you’ll still be on your journey to vibrant health.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Eczema Topicals

If you suffer from eczema then you know what a struggle it can be to find the right topical support for relief. I  say “support” instead of “remedy” because when we’re treating our skin topically, it’s going to be supportive rather than curative, which remedy implies.

So, where do you even begin??

With the enormous amount of treatments out there, it can be daunting to find the one that’s right for you. You almost have to treat it like a process of elimination to see what works with your particular brand of eczema.

For the most part, I’m a middle of the road person when it comes to medications, natural remedies, and OTC’s. I don’t believe there’s one best way or best system. If you’ve got asthma, you’re probably going to need an inhaler until you actually get the underlying inflammatory process under control.

There’s nothing worse than when you’re in the middle of an eczema flare. Your skin is an itchy oozy mess, you feel horrible, and all you need is something to help calm it down.

So let’s talk about what you can put on your skin to help tame the flame and itch!

Prescription Medications

Steroids.Topical steroids are very common when it comes to treating an eczema flare. They work by reducing inflammation which calms the itch and gives your skin a chance to heal. Like over-the-counter (OTC) cortisone, prescription steroids work similarly to the anti-inflammatory hormone cortisol made in your body, but they’re much stronger.

As a general rule of thumb, it’s best to start with a lower potency in short bursts and then stop once the flare settles.

While I think steroids can be helpful in the short-term, I’m not in favor of long-term use. They can have detrimental effects such as thinning of the skin, acne or stretch marks. It basically decreases the integrity of the skin which is the exact opposite of what we’re trying to achieve when treating with eczema.

In some rare cases, steroids can induce other skin conditions like rosacea. The last thing we want to do is add another inflammatory skin issue to the one we’re already dealing with.

In addition to these side effects, there’s also a skin condition associated with excessive topical steroid use called Topical Steroid Withdrawal (TSW). The symptoms are actually similar to eczema– dry, itchy, red, burning skin in mild cases and oozing, bleeding skin in the its more severe form.

Eucrisa. Similar to steroids, Eucrisa alters the body’s natural inflammatory process that triggers eczema symptoms. The main ingredient, crisaborole, is combined with an emollient-rich ointment that helps keep the skin moisturized.

But like most prescription medications, you run into possible side effects. The more common ones include burning or stinging when the medicine is applied.

Here’s the thing with prescription medications– they’re often designed to shut down biochemical pathways by blocking enzymes, so they basically turn off your natural processes. This alters your biochemistry causing shifts in the inflammatory processes and the immune system.

In the case of Eucrisa, it blocks the enzyme PDE4 (phosphodiesterase-4) which shuts off certain inflammatory signals, effectively decreasing or stopping the process.

The goal is to give the skin more support and heal it, rather than shut off biochemical pathways. Not to mentioned the many underlying causes that aren’t addressed when the inflammatory process (read: body’s danger signal) is artificially blocked.

Like I said, I’m a middle-of-the-roader when it comes to prescription topicals. I think they have their place, but not when it comes to finding a long-term solution. It’s important to get to the root cause of why you have certain things going on in your body.

OTC Medications

Most practitioners can’t speak with insider knowledge of the over-the-counter lotions and potions- but I can because one of my first jobs out of undergrad was in the formulation department for a very well-known personal care and paper products company (yes, it was a long and winding road for me to get here!!).

My job was on the microbiology and chemistry side, so I got to experience firsthand what types of chemicals were used and the effects they can have. This was one of the many things that actually drove me to wanting to go more natural!

Even though I’ve seen the negative side of OTC’s, I do think they have their place when it comes to finding immediate relief.

Hydrocortisone cream. Cortisone creams relieve eczema bouts the same way most prescription topicals do. Synthetic cortisone mimics the actions of cortisol, your main anti-inflammatory hormone, but is more pronounced. It works by suppressing the inflammatory signals that get triggered and block the symptoms caused by inflammation.

Helpful in the short term? Possibly, yes.

Long term solution? NO.

Benadryl cream. Antihistamines such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine) cream are very common when it comes to soothing the itch that comes with eczema. They’re generally used to treat allergies by blocking the effects of histamine– an immune system protein and signaling chemical. The body can mistake things like pollen as a harmful substance in the body and then releases histamine to fight it off. This is what causes the itchy eyes and runny nose. Even though eczema isn’t an allergy, antihistamines do have a sedating and anti-inflammatory response that helps relieve itching.

The downside to OTC medications is that they just work as a band-aid instead of solving the actual problem. They’re very accessible and inexpensive so it’s easy to become reliant on them rather than find a solution to the root cause.

Conventional Topicals

Eucerin. This is a well known brand that creates creams and lotions specifically for dry skin and eczema. Eucerin contains emollients which promote moisture and increases the skin’s capacity to hold onto water. Keeping the skin moisturized can provide some itching relief and give it a chance to heal.

Cetaphil. Cetaphil is another brand that has a line of lotions made primarily to help treat eczema. Their eczema specific moisturizer has an active ingredient called filaggrin which is an essential protein for skin hydration and barrier function. Many people with eczema have mutations in the filaggrin gene which is why they are prone to eczema, rashes and general skin irritation.

Petroleum jelly/Vaseline. Petroleum jelly is a topical that dermatologists recommend frequently because people with sensitive skin can generally tolerate it. It locks in moisture and protects against outside allergens. It’s a highly process petrochemical that many sensitive people react to, not to mention the environmental impact.

Most conventional topicals are going to provide some support and dampening of the inflammatory feeling on the skin. The downside is that most of them contain synthetic ingredients like sodium dodecyl sulfate (SLS), isopropyl palmitate, parabens, and preservatives to name a few. These chemicals are known toxins or irritants so it’s important to remember that anything you put on the skin will get absorbed into the body.

Some of these chemicals are also endocrine disruptors which is something you don’t want to mess with. They are stored in fat cells and alter normal hormone biochemistry, especially estrogens and estrogen hormone pathways.

Natural Topicals

The last area I wanted to touch on are the natural remedies. And as always, you have to find what works for you.

I’ve tried so many over the years I’ve lost count. We hear the same thing from our patients as well.

I always kid around when we have the, “what have you tried?” conversation because most of us have a lotions and potions graveyard. You know… the drawer where all of your partially used topicals go to die!!

Herbal Treatments. Moon Valley Organics has EczaCalm and Herbal Heal. I use both of these depending upon my needs. I’ve been using Herbal Heal over EczaCalm because lately I feel like that’s been working really well for me. Both of these have about 12 different ingredients made with organic carrier and essential oils, as well as many herbs that are anti-inflammatory.

They both contain calendula which is known in the herbal world to be very nourishing to the skin. It’s a pretty awesome ingredient because there are no known side effects, it’s incredibly healing, and it can be used across all age ranges. You’ll see it in some of the more natural baby diaper creams— Bottom Balms, for example. It really can be used in a wide array of applications.

You can also make up your own. I talk about it more in this post.

Essential Oils. Lavender, frankincense, myrrh (we’re getting a little Christmas-y)—and tea tree oil are all very soothing for eczema.

The beauty of using EO’s is that they have multiple avenues of how they’re helping. Some of the most common mechanisms of action are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, calming, analgesic (pain eliminating), and skin supporting. You’re going to get a little more bang for your buck with the cross-functional types of support they provide.

Frankincense, also known as boswellia, is my FAVORITE! It’s a potent anti-inflammatory that has lots of research behind it. It’s also a great immune booster, stress reducer, and healing to the skin. It’s steroid-like structure is thought to be one of the reasons it’s so effective. I use it topically, aerosolized in a diffuser, and internally for treating all types of inflammatory conditions, not just eczema. Frankincense is literally the Swiss Army knife of the anti-inflammatory world!

Lavender is calming, sedating, and has some inflammation relieving properties. It’s also well tolerated by most people, including children and babies. A little at bath time (for kids and adults) helps soothe the skin and the mind.

Myrrh is another cross-functional heavy hitter like Frankincense. It has all of the “anti’s”… antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial to bacteria, parasites, and fungi (like Candida). A bonus is that it has anti-cancer properties as well. Historically it has been used to heal wounds and cracked/chapped skin.

Tea tree oil, like Frankincense and Myrrh, has many beneficial properties, but it’s broad spectrum antimicrobial actions are what make it famous. It’s active against a wide array of microorganisms (bacteria, yeast, other fungi, parasites, and viruses) making it a very useful tool. Staphylococcus aureus and yeast based infections such as Candida, jock itch or ringworm (yes, it’s a fungus- not a worm) are sometimes implicated in eczema, and research shows tea tree oil to be effective against them.

Please note that sometimes, especially when used in excess, essential oils can be irritating to the skin. I always tell people to be very careful when they’re first starting to work with them. If you’re making a batch of something yourself or adding them to a bath, start off with just a couple of drops to see how your skin responds.

Organic Healing Balm. Dr. Bronner’s has an Baby Unscented Organic Magic Balm. I use this on my kids for everything. I sometimes use it on my eczema- it just depends on the severity of the itch.

A lot of people with eczema like Bronner’s, but some people find it a little bit irritating. I’d say stay away from the peppermint one and stick with the unscented balm.

All Good’s Goop is another good option. It has lots of herbs, olive oil, and coconut oil to soothe the skin.

Cleansing Oil. Another company that I really like is FatCo. I use their products myself and have heard from a lot of my clients that they love their facial cleansing oil. I’m an advocate of using oils because they don’t strip the skin like detergents found in other products.

They also have this myrrhaculous face cream. It has myrrh and tallow which are the main components in their lotions and creams. It’s highly supportive and nutritive to the skin. Speaking subjectively from my own experience (and the experience of a lot of the people that I work with that have used this), it’s just really supporting and nourishing to the skin.

Sea Salt Spray. This is something you can easily make yourself with some water and some sea salt at home. A lot of people who have eczema benefit from going into the ocean and salt water. Dead sea salt works really well because it’s packed with minerals that help balance the pH in your skin.

Kamedis. Kamedis has a complete eczema line from washes to lotions. I learned about this from patients that raved about it. They have created plant-based treatments for eczema that combine botanical extracts with OTC ingredients.

Theramu. Theramu is another one of my favorites. They’re also all-natural and use a combination of CBD  and emu oil which provides bioavailability so it works where your skin needs it most. Both the CBD oil and emu oil are soothing so it’s one of the go-to’s in our clinic as a first line therapy to try out.

Summary

With a condition that is so highly individualized, you have to play around and find what works for you. Some topicals will work better than others and some will work for a short period of time.

While that can be frustrating, the great news is that true healing can be accomplished and you can banish the topicals forever!

The goal is to always get to the root cause of what’s going on, but if you’re in a really bad state, topicals can be the way to go to find immediate relief. And that’s okay! You can always transition and switch off of them as you work on your underlying causes.

Which topicals have worked for you? We’d love to hear!

9 Healing Baths to Calm the Eczema Itch

Finding Relief From The Outside-In

If you’ve ever suffered from an eczema flare, then you’re probably familiar with the burning, itching, crawling sensation on your skin. And, you know how horrible it is!!

Your immediate instinct is to calm what’s happening on the outside… you just want to stop the scratching and bleeding and oozing.

In functional medicine, the goal is always to address the root causes and heal from the inside-out.

But when it comes to eczema… I know you need to have some relief on the outside first so that you can focus on the actual underlying causes— not just the symptoms.

What I’ve seen with skin issues, especially eczema, is that there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy.

Something that really irks me is when you go to message boards and people are like, “Oh, (insert favorite remedy) is my miracle cure….” or “I use dead sea salt baths” or “I use coconut oil” or “I use apple cider vinegar.” Don’t get me wrong, these things are all helpful, but everybody is so highly individualized that it’s hard to say any one thing will work across the board.

Eczema is more specific to the individual than any other condition we treat in our clinic, so we encourage people not to get caught up in other people’s hype. Do the work to heal inside, but in the meantime you can find ways to help soothe the rash.

9 Healing Bath Options

Something I’ve used myself, and have gotten back feedback from patients and colleagues alike is on the benefit of a healing bath. There are lots of different things you can put into a bath, but these are my top 9:

  1. Magnesium sulfate/Epsom salt. These minerals can be very soothing for an eczema flare for a couple of reasons. Epsom salt helps decrease inflammation which can reduce the swelling of lesions and calm itching. It also has antimicrobial properties keeping your skin free of bacteria.
  2. Dead Sea Salts. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback about this one which is in the mineral category. Dead Sea Salts aid in hydrating dry skin and can provide some itching relief with it’s anti-inflammatory properties. And more than Epsom salt, it’s packed with lots of minerals that help balance pH.

I like to add dead sea salts with baking soda or Epsom salt with baking soda to my bath— usually a cup of each if the itch is bad. You can buy them at any natural food store or on Amazon.

  1. Borax/Boron. You might be familiar with Borax (sodium tetraborate) as a cleaning agent, but it can also be very soothing for an eczema flare. It helps lower inflammation and can be used to treat infection.

You’re probably starting to see a pattern that most of these have an anti-inflammatory response which helps decrease itching (but it’s all about finding out which ones work best for YOU).

Read here for further information on the many benefits of Borax, because like many of these remedies you can use it for many application.

  1. Essential Oils. Essential oils (EOs) have a variety of healing benefits, but you have to be very careful because for some people they can incite more of a flare. Even if they’re used in small, diluted quantities in the bath, they still can be a little caustic to the skin.

I tell people to use them very sparingly if you’re going to use them. Tea tree oil or lavender oil are the two that I tend to use most frequently and recommend starting out with.

Of all the EOs, tea tree oil is one of the best for treating eczema symptoms. It has antibacterial components that help fight infection and stop it from spreading. It also has antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce itching.

Lavender oil can be calming for both your mental and physical state. It helps restore and balance healthy nutrients in the skin which reduces irritation. Bonus- lavender also minimizes the stress that goes along with an eczema flare.

  1. Sitz Baths, Herbal Blends, and Chamomile Tea bags. If you’ve ever given birth, sitz baths are commonly recommended for their healing properties. I used them after both of my births and they significantly helped with the soothing and healing my skin.

I had an “A-ha” moment with my second baby last year because I’d had an eczema flare because of the hormones during pregnancy. I thought to myself, “Hey, I can probably use this for the eczema too,” so I tried it.

I actually bought Earth Mama Angel Baby (which just recently changed its name just to Earth Mama) since they make pre-made sitz bath pouches. I bought those because, quite frankly, who has the time to make them when you’ve got a new baby or kids or just have a busy life?

I also augmented it with dried chamomile that I got from a natural food store that I put that in cheesecloth or a sock if you don’t have cheesecloth. Soaking with those for about 20 minutes really soothes my skin (and my mind). Chamomile tea bags also work instead of preparing the dried herbs.

Bonus tip— sitz herbs are also recommended for hemorrhoids and diaper rash!

  1. Colloidal Oats. I put a big asterisk by this one because of the *gluten issue*, but some of my patients have experienced healing benefits from colloidal oats or oatmeal so I didn’t want to exclude it.

Many people with skin and gut issues tend to have problems with gluten internally and sometimes externally. Those with Celiac can get a skin manifestation called dermatitis herpetiformis. I’ve seen people who have not been diagnosed with Celiac, but do have the dermatitis herpetiformis and it’s misdiagnosed as eczema.

Now, the cool thing is, really, it doesn’t matter what you label something on the skin. You’re going to end up treating it essentially the same especially because these are all in the autoimmune realm.

Like I said, I’m really careful when it comes to recommending anything that is grain-based, but this is where bio individuality comes into play. One person’s poison can be another’s medicine. If you’re going to do this, make sure it’s gluten-free. If gluten is an issue for you, and you don’t know it yet, you want to make sure you’re not adding fuel to the fire.

You can read more about the uses and benefits of colloidal oats here.

  1. Hydrogen Peroxide. Most of us have this under our bathroom sink to clean out cuts or as a natural cleaner. When added to a bath, it helps disinfect eczema sores and promotes new cell growth.

Be sure to use a food grade hydrogen peroxide and add no more than one cup to your bath. I recommend starting off a little slower with maybe ½ cup to see how you tolerate it.

  1. Baking Soda. This is another household item that has many uses. I buy a giant bag at Costco because of the quantities I use and it’s way more economical. I add this to almost every bath for myself and kids even when I don’t have a flare because of its other benefits.

As I mentioned in #1, combined with Epsom salt it makes for a great detox bath.

  1. Apple Cider Vinegar. Similar to the previous point, apple cider vinegar is also multifunctional. It has compounds like riboflavin, vitamins, enzymes, and mineral salts which can improve the quality of your skin.

It acts as an astringent and helps remove surface bacteria that shows up when the skin is compromised from a flare.

Experiment with the quantities that work for you, but I would start by adding ½ – 1 cup to your bath.

Bottom Line

Many of these are items you likely already have in your home for other reasons, or you’ve built yourself a “natural medicine cabinet.” Start with one ingredient at a time. Go slowly by using ¼- ½ cup with of the powdered ingredients or single drops of essential oils initially, then work up to the full dose you need from there.

If something completely doesn’t work for you, try something else from the list. Remember that it may take some time to see what works for you and dial in your recipe. You can always tweak it once you see what works for you.

Most people will get some type of relief from something on the list, even if it’s only a small amount.

Resist the urge to go hog wild with any of the ingredients because you could end up stoking the flames and adding fuel to the fire. It’s so easy to go overboard when you finally find a remedy that provides some relief. But heed my words… don’t do it!! (I know from personal experience and it was a disaster!)

There’s no one blanket approach to calm an eczema flare which is why I like to suggest a variety of options. All of these are going to provide different healing properties. Some are going to balance the pH while others will have antimicrobial effects, but they’re all going to be anti-inflammatory to some extent.

Have you experimented with any of these healing baths? Let us know in the comments section!

Manage Stress For An Eczema Free Easter

Don’t let the Easter Bunny bring you eczema for Easter!!

The topic of stress is tossed around so much these days that it seems we’ve become desensitized and brush it off. But the fact remains that stress is indeed one of the most notorious triggers for eczema and autoimmunity.

And, the holidays are often stressful times for most of us. On the surface, Easter seems pretty easy and benign, right??

Well, not really.

Granted, it isn’t the long, drawn-out process that Christmas has become now that the “holidays” start the day after Halloween (not to mention cost in money, time, and sanity). But, it definitely shares a few key components of the other major holidays that might cause an eczema flare.

Stress Related Triggers

Travel. Preparing for travel and the act itself are bigger stressors than you may think. It burdens your mind with all of the things you need to do before you leave, even if it’s only for a day or two. Packing and prep are hard enough, but add kids and pets and the stress is magnified (parents of kids and fur babies know what I’m talking about!!).  Then there’s coming home to laundry, no food, and maybe even work since technology can be a ball-and-chain that way.

Family.  It depends on your family dynamics and for many this isn’t so bad, but the larger the gathering, the bigger opportunity for issues to arise. Often family members feel free to let their opinions fly, disregard others’ feelings, or like to “stir the pot.” Every family has one (or more!).  In my family we give out the Blueberry Muffin Award at the end of events for the person that causes the biggest problem. (I’ve only received it once- about 20 years ago when I was in college).

It can also be difficult if you make healthier (“different”) lifestyle choices, and this is very real possibility if you have eczema. For years I’ve been teased about my diet and lifestyle choices. I’ve learned to ignore them because I’m WAY healthier than the people teasing me. Usually when people give you a hard time it’s because they’re feeling insecure or inadequate about themselves. Psychologically, it makes them feel better to go after you because you’re doing something they can’t or won’t do. That doesn’t make it okay, but you can take the high road.

Gawkers. Perhaps one of the most difficult things to deal with when you have eczema is people staring. As if you’re not self-conscious enough!?!?! If it’s family or close friends, these are usually the same people who have some smart-ass comment too. Being in a public setting with strangers can be rough too because that’s like an open invitation to stare because of the mob mentality.

Don’t Let Stress Get You Down

Having a strategy going into the holidays is key to not succumbing to the stress monster and ending up with an eczema flare. Take some time to think of possible stressors you’ll encounter and figure out how you’ll handle them before they even happen. Here are some helpful tips :

  1. Planning will help you take some of the stress out of travel. Make a list of what you need to bring and getting things ready during the week prior to your trip helps avoid chaos right before you leave. Gas your car up a day or two earlier if you’re driving (this usually saves time and money). Get healthy food ready for your journey and make sure it’s easily accessible. Even if your only traveling down the street, preparing food the day before will help things go smoothly.
  2. Bring food if you have special dietary needs and there won’t be options for you to enjoy the occasion. Ask ahead what will be served and let them know your situation. Often people are accommodating and understanding, especially if you’ve been down the eczema road for a while. If they aren’t helpful, control your own destiny and bring your own food. Upsetting your host’s feelings is not your problem when you’re skin is on fire (or could flare back up).
  3. Don’t let the emotional bullies and energy vampires ruin your holiday! If people tease you for your choices, make snarky comments, or stare too long, you’ve got options on handling this. 1- Laugh it off and know that they lash out at others from their own place of hurting or insecurity. 2- Ask them when they got their medical or health care education when they give you unsolicited advice (since their comments are almost always rooted in opinion). 3- Bring an awesome dish that follows your dietary needs or restrictions, but don’t tell anyone it’s any different until they taste it and love it. Prove to them that their misconceptions on diet are exactly that. There are soooo many gluten, dairy, soy, corn, histamine, or _______ (insert any food here) free recipes that rock, so show them!
  4. Attitude is everything when dealing with stress. If you go into the event with a positive attitude, chances are things will go well. This is where self fulfilling prophecy comes into play.
  5. Breathing can also help get you through rough times. On many occasions I have chosen to take a few deep breaths and move on instead of engaging someone that’s trying to make me feel bad. I try to remember that it’s a them issue and not a me issue. They are just projecting onto me. It still sucks and can hurt, but I consciously know it’s not me and that’s huge.
  6. This point may be controversial, but when we’re talking stress and health it’s completely valid- skip the holiday events if you think they’ll be too much for you. If you’re in the middle of a horrible eczema flare or have had lots of stressors in your life recently, this may be the best option for you. If you know going to Easter brunch or dinner will be a battle and will put you in a worse place then politely decline. Tell everyone you’ll see them at the next event. You don’t owe anyone an explanation even though family often feels entitled to one. If you do say something tell them the truth and be authentic because that will serve you better.

Make the holidays enjoyable and as stress free as possible to avoid the Easter Bunny leaving eczema in your basket! If you have any tips or suggestions for stress free holidays, please share in the comments below.

Are Your Genes Really Your Destiny?

This article originally appeared on Healevate.

As a lifelong sufferer of IBD, Jill had concerns that her baby could inherit a form of the disease as well. But back in 1995, when her daughter Mika was born, genetic testing wasn’t so accessible. In fact, not too long ago, genetic testing was an idea straight out of a science fiction movie. We could only fantasize about having access to the seemingly unreachable information that exists within our genetic code.

Fast forward to today. Technological advances now allow us to understand why we don’t tolerate caffeine or medications well, why there’s a scent to our urine after eating asparagus, and why we’re predisposed to certain diseases.

Genetic tests literally unravel your genes and read the story the DNA tells, which is your specific and individual blueprint, unlike anyone else’s. You now have the ability to see exactly what makes you, YOU.

We’re beginning an exciting period in history—an age of precision and personalized healthcare. Genetic testing can provide people like Jill (and you!) with the tools to attain this level of customization.

Should You Get Genetic Testing?

Genetic testing can provide you with the ability to customize and target your healthcare and lifestyle according to what’s found in your genetic blueprint.

For example, some of these tests can tell you how well you’ll respond to certain medications, noting if you’re a fast or slow metabolizer, which will allow for precise dosing according to your needs. This is powerful information, and with it needs to come understanding.

Yes, you now have the ability to find out if you have genes that make you more susceptible to a myriad of diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. However, it’s important to understand that your genes are not your destiny.

It’s so significant that it’s worth repeating. Your genes are not your destiny.

The rare exceptions are certain inheritable genetic diseases such as cystic fibrosis or hemochromatosis.

Many people get this information and become paralyzed with fear that their results are their fate, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Genes are permanent, but they represent only half the story.

Like everything else in your body, there are dynamic biochemical processes that occur every second of every day, and these influence how your genes are expressed.

You have control over this process – it’s called epigenetics.

Photo of a weight set surrounded by raw vegetables

Epigenetics

Epigenetic factors encompass all of the environmental influences that help regulate gene expression.

Simply put, every choice you make each day is a step toward either health or disease.

Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, stress, thoughts/attitudes, relationships, toxic exposures (from air, food, water, chemicals, personal products, etc), and the health of your microbiome all influence your genes on a daily basis.

The way this works is the DNA that makes up your genes is covered in epigenetic tags that cause inactive genes to be tightly wound and unreadable, while active genes are relaxed and readable.

The epigenome constantly receives signals from the rapidly changing environment and adjusts gene expression accordingly. These signals direct and fine-tune cell functions.

Think of your genes as the gun and the environment as the trigger. Bad choices cause the gun to fire, producing disease, and good choices keep the safety engaged, producing health.

This is profound information, since you have the power to influence whether or not the genes that predispose you to a condition, such as diabetes, actually produce the disease.

Avoiding sugar, exercising, and managing stress will go a long way in preventing that from happening.

Your positive lifestyle choices also influence your offspring, as it’s now known that not only genes are passed on, but some of the epigenome as well.

Illustration of a DNA sequencing

Which Genetic Test Do I Choose?

Genetic testing can be complicated, and many considerations need to be taken before you jump in.

First and foremost, ask yourself the following questions: Do you want to know this information? How will it impact your life? What will you do with this knowledge? Once you have this information there’s no turning back, so make sure you’re prepared for the results.

There are several ways to go about testing. Raw genotyping, also known as exome testing, analyzes your genome and provides you with your personal code as raw genetic information. This supplies an abundance of information that must be interpreted. After you interpret the results, you’ll have a myriad of information regarding many aspects of your health.

If you want to start smaller or only have an interest in certain areas of your health, such as detoxification function or cardiovascular disease risk, then SNP testing may be right for you. These tests interpret your SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms, where a change (mutation) in your DNA results in an error in the code.

Photo of a lab technician in a genetic lab with pipette

Raw Genotype Testing

Raw genotype testing is available from companies like 23andMe, deCODEme, and Family Tree DNA. This type of test analyzes your genes, which are made up of long sequences of DNA.

DNA is comprised of four base pairs that make up your genetic code: A (adenine), T (thymine), C (cytosine), and G (guanine). This is what the test reads.

This type of testing gives you raw genetic material that must be interpreted to make sense of it, and even then you’re somewhat limited, since the field is in its infancy. More factors need to be better understood to make complete sense of this information, and that’s on the horizon.

Several sites on the internet provide interpretation, including Genetic Genie, puregenomics.com, promethease.com, opensnp.org, and snpedia.com.

Similarly, if you know you’re a carrier for a certain inheritable disease, such as Tay-Sachs, Huntington’s, or cystic fibrosis, or if you want to know whether you are, genetic testing for specific conditions is also available. These tests are smaller panels that look for specific genes. Healthcare providers and genetic counselors provide this type of testing and result interpretation.

Diagram of DNA strand

SNP Testing

Your genetic code is important because it provides the instructions for how your body works. Genes direct enzymes that control your metabolic functions. Mutations in the code produce changes in enzyme function. Some of these mutations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), can be tested for.

A SNP (pronounced “snip”) refers to a single mutation where one DNA base is swapped for another (remember, the bases are A, T, C, and G, and they form the backbone of the DNA molecule). Some SNPs occur and nothing happens. However, other SNPs alter enzyme function, which may have health implications.

For example, with the MTHFR A1298C SNP (found at the 1298th position), a C is in the location where an A should be. This changes the gene’s instruction manual and alters the way enzymes work (they may work slower or faster than usual).

This particular gene encodes for the enzyme methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR), which is vital to homocysteine metabolism. When this SNP is present, there can be up to a 30% decrease in enzyme function.

It’s important to note that you have two copies of each gene, and this reflects the degree of altered enzyme function. One copy is considered heterozygous (denoted +/- or -/+), and having two copies is called homozygous (denoted +/+). Being homozygous produces a more substantial change in enzyme functionality.

Scientist sketching DNA structure

Many SNPs exist, and some can be tested for. SNP testing is often completed as a single test or as a panel focused on specific areas of metabolism or conditions.

The 2 MTHFR methylation SNPs are widely available now from many places, including LabCorp and Quest, as well as specialty labs like Spectracell. Complete methylation panels showing all of the related SNPs (like MTRR, CBS, ACHY, etc) are also available from Doctor’s Data and Great Plains Laboratory.

Additionally, if you interpret your raw genotype test through Genetic Genie, it will also provide you with an analysis of the methylation genes. Genova Diagnostics offers SNP profiles that look at five key areas of health in their Genovations line: CardioGenomic, DetoxiGenomic, EstroGenomic, ImmunoGenomic, and NeuroGenomic.

Coming back to Jill, she’s grateful in hindsight that she didn’t do any testing back in the mid-90’s. She feels as though the results could have potentially driven her a little nutty. So with all of this said, it boils down to one important question for you. How much do you really WANT to know?

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How to Test for Hidden Food Allergies or Sensitivities

This article originally appeared on Healevate.

If you’re experiencing a variety of health symptoms and have no known food allergies or sensitivities, you might wonder why you’d need to test yourself for them. You may believe that simply cleaning up your diet and eliminating soda, baked goods, sugar, and processed foods is enough. And while that’s certainly a good start, it’s not nearly enough to eliminate the immune and inflammatory processes that food reactions can cause.

Since eating is such an automatic process for most of us, we never stop to consider whether the symptoms we’re experiencing are related to food unless the reaction occurs while we’re actually eating or very soon thereafter.

If you have brain fog, fatigue, congestion, rashes, joint pain, or headaches, there’s a pretty good chance that your body is reacting to something you’re eating.

For many people, food is the most inflammatory substance they encounter on a daily basis. Because we eat multiple times a day, and because we’re creatures of habit, we tend to consume the same things, giving the immune system the opportunity to react.

Food sensitivities and allergies cause many symptoms, especially if you have a leaky gut. Any symptoms of inflammation or autoimmunity can point to food intolerances, so the list is vast.

Symptoms of Food Allergies and Sensitivities

The symptoms of food intolerance can manifest quickly, as with a swollen tongue or anaphylaxis, but quite often the symptoms are delayed. This makes them hard to pick up on, as well as attribute to a certain food.

Immune/inflammation: Allergies, asthma, runny nose, post nasal drip, unresolved infections, autoimmunity, swelling, wheezing, coughing, anaphylaxis, throat closing.

Skin/hair/nails: Dermatitis, eczema, acne, rashes, scaly skin patches, hives, photosensitivity (sun sensitivity), hair loss, nail pitting, dry eyes, skin, and mouth.

Gastrointestinal: Stomach pain, GERD (acid reflux), IBS, gas, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation, gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), canker sores.

Brain and mood: Headaches, brain fog, inability to focus or concentrate, double vision, blurred vision, poor memory, depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, lethargy, dementia, insomnia.

Nerves: Tingling, pins and needles, numbness, paresthesia.

Hormones: High or low blood sugar, weight gain or loss, excessive sweating.

Musculoskeletal: Joint and muscle pain, muscle weakness, fibromyalgia.

Liver: Poor detoxification, chemical sensitivity.

Cardiovascular: Low blood pressure, rapid heart rate, palpitations.

The First Food Allergy or Sensitivity Test To Perform

The first method of screening isn’t a lab test at all. It’s an elimination diet. Eliminating the most common sources of food intolerances is a great way to find out if you have an issue.

Removing gluten, dairy, corn, soy, eggs, and nuts from your diet for 4 weeks, then adding them back one single food (not food group) at a time over a period of 3 days should tell you whether your body is reacting to something.

If you have a known autoimmune condition, you may also want to include the nightshade vegetables, such as tomatoes, potatoes, sweet and hot peppers, eggplant, and spices made from these, as well as gluten cross-reactive foods like coffee, chocolate, and the gluten-free grains.

If any of the previously mentioned symptoms appear during that 72-hour window, you should avoid that food for at least 6 months to give your immune system a break and let the inflammation go down.

This method can you help you to identify the source of your food troubles, but for some, reactions can occur to even the healthiest foods, such as blueberries or spinach, especially if they have a leaky gut. To further complicate matters, not only do the foods themselves cause a response, but the additives, colorings and gum resins (binders used in gluten-free foods) do as well. This is where testing can be valuable.

Food Allergies vs Food Sensitivities

Food allergies and sensitivities are very different issues. A food allergy occurs when the immune system identifies a food as a foreign substance and attacks it. This response occurs on a spectrum and can be anything from a swollen tongue to anaphylaxis, which is a potentially life-threatening reaction.

Food allergies are tested by measuring antibodies in the blood against particular foods. IgE and IgG are commonly measured. If you have an obvious response to a food, you can confirm it with this type of testing.

Food sensitivities are the more common and elusive form of food intolerance. They’re more vague than allergies and are considered to be any toxic or inflammatory response to food. Quite often they’re mediated by a lack of enzymes, stomach acid, and/or a leaky gut. Celiac disease is a perfect example, where a severe intolerance to gluten causes the destruction of the surface of the small intestine.

Testing for food sensitivities offers a variety of options; antibody and mediator release testing (MRT) are two of the better ones available. No matter what test you choose, be aware that if you have a leaky gut, there’s a good chance you’ll be reacting to many of the foods you eat.

Food Allergy and Sensitivity Tests

There are several types of testing available for identifying food allergies and sensitivities. IgE testing represents the true food allergy test. IgG testing can also identify allergies, but more commonly, it shows delayed sensitivity reactions. The rest of the testing options are for intolerances or sensitivities only.

  • IgE antibody test
  • IgG and IgA antibody test
  • Gluten and gluten cross-reactivity tests
  • MRT test

IgE Antibody Testing for Food Allergies

Antibodies are produced when your body mounts an immune attack on a substance it has identified as foreign, which in this case is food. It creates antibodies against specific proteins (antigens) in that food. Antibody tests measure your body’s immune response to a particular substance or organism.

There are several categories of antibodies. IgE antibodies are created when your body has a true allergic response to a substance, which is why traditional food allergy testing analyzes antibody levels in the blood. An IgE allergy is considered a fixed allergy in that it will almost always provoke an immune response when the food is consumed. This type of food allergy elicits an immediate response.

This test can be completed by traditional labs such as LabCorp or Quest, as well as the specialty lab companies Alletess Medical Laboratory and Great Plains Laboratory. IgE testing can easily be ordered online through Direct Labs.

IgG and IgA Antibody Testing for Food Allergies and Sensitivities

In spite of having an allergy, you can still yield a negative IgE test result. This is why it’s important to test IgG levels as well. IgG antibodies measure a delayed hypersensitivity reaction, which can take up to 72 hours to occur. These are the more difficult reactions to link to a particular food, so testing can be helpful here. IgG antibodies are the most prevalent antibodies in systemic circulation and are the most common form of immune-mediated food responses.

While some IgG responses represent true allergies, most are hypersensitivities or intolerances. Similarly, IgA antibodies also represent delayed hypersensitivities. They can take many hours or days to occur and operate in a low-and-slow manner.

Traditional labs such as LabCorp or Quest will offer this test. Genova Diagnostics offers an IgG test. Alletess Medical Laboratory offers stand-alone IgG testing, combined IgG and IgE testing, and IgA testing. Cyrex Laboratories offers the Array 10: Multiple Food Reactivity Screen that measures IgG and IgA levels. The Array 10 tests raw and cooked foods, additives, gum resins, and brewed beverages.

All of these IgG and IgA tests can be ordered online through Direct Labs.

Gluten and Gluten Cross-Reactivity Tests

If you suspect that you’re sensitive to gluten, or even have full-blown celiac disease, testing is an important piece of the puzzle. Gluten testing involves analyzing the IgG and IgA response to various components of the gluten molecule, including several gliadins, glutenins, gluteomorphins (made during the digestion of gliadin), and the intestinal enzyme transglutaminase. It’s important to note that you must consume gluten for this test to be as accurate as possible.

Once you confirm gluten intolerance or celiac disease, completing gluten cross-reactivity testing is helpful, since these foods elicit the same response from the immune system as gluten does. This means that they contain similar protein sequences as the gluten molecule (molecular mimicry). Milk, whey, chocolate, coffee, soy, potatoes, corn, eggs, and most gluten-free grains (including rice) are considered cross-reactive.

Conventional lab companies offer gluten testing and the Array 4: Gluten Associated Cross-Reactive Foods test. This test can be ordered online through Direct Labs.

Mediator Response Test (MRT)

The MRT utilizes different technology than antibody testing. It quantifies the inflammatory response to specific foods and additives. Mediator release refers to the inflammatory chemicals that are liberated from your cells in response to a sensitizing food.

Instead of measuring antibody production, this test measures your white blood cells’ chemical response to a food. It gauges the cells’ change in volume, which comes from the release of inflammatory chemicals such as histamine and cytokines. A non-reactive food will produce no change, while a reactive food will produce an increase or decrease in cell volume.

This is a blood test and is only offered by Oxford BioMedical Technologies.

The Bottom Line on Food Allergy and Sensitivity Tests

Start with the basics and conduct an elimination diet. That alone will give you new information to work with. From there, spend money only on the testing that could reveal new information that would alter your approach to food. If you’re already 100% gluten-free and are avoiding all cross-reactive foods as well, then gluten testing would be a waste of time and money.

So be smart and be proactive. Discovering hidden food allergies or sensitivities could make a huge difference in your day to day health.

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Why Taking Care of Your Liver Will Leave You Feeling Shiny and New

This article originally appeared on Healevate.

Most of us have felt that special feeling. You know the one. Great night out with friends, maybe even a special someone. And then the next morning rolls around. THAT feeling.

You wake up to a pounding head, nausea, aches, brain fog and an inability to focus. That’s your liver screaming at you.

Those extra few drinks just needed to happen, huh?

So those are obvious signs that we recognize easily, but did you know that when your hormones are out of whack, your blood sugar is erratic, and you constantly feel sluggish, your liver is STILL speaking to you?

Most of us are great at listening to our bodies when we experience something as uncomfortable and excruciating as a bad hangover, but we’re more likely to ignore the signs when they’re less obvious or when they require lifestyle changes that we may not want to make.

The liver is the largest internal organ and has extraordinary resiliency, as it’s bombarded daily with an onslaught of assaults from air pollution, environmental toxins, medications, and microorganisms (bacteria, mold, fungi, and viruses).

We are exposed to 6 million pounds of mercury and over 2.5 billion pounds of chemical toxins each year,” according to Dr. Mark Hyman.4 But the amazing liver isn’t fazed—it has the highest regenerative capacity of any organ in the body.

It’s clear that it takes a lot to knock the liver down, but somehow, in our crazy, high-stress lives, we find a way to do just that.

Impaired detoxification and liver function is the predecessor of many systemic diseases, including liver disease. At least 30 million people, or 1 in 10 Americans, has some type of liver disease.1

If you consider some of the other conditions where liver function is important, including autoimmunity, cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, it’s obvious that proper liver function and detoxification are central to health. So it’s important that we recognize the signs of impaired detoxification before it has the chance to become a full-blown condition, because reversing it is much easier than reversing most chronic diseases.

What Exactly is Liver Detoxification?

Detoxification is the process of transforming and removing harmful substances from the body. Normally, the liver takes a toxic substance, then neutralizes and transforms it so that it can be eliminated in a healthy way that doesn’t damage the body.

Once your liver detoxifies and breaks down a substance, it’s excreted to the blood or bile for elimination. Blood products are filtered through the kidneys and eliminated as urine, while bile products are sent to the intestines and eliminated as feces. Some items are also eliminated through sweat and breathing.

When detoxification doesn’t occur efficiently and properly, the liver becomes taxed and sluggish, which impacts almost every system of the body in some way. The liver plays a role (to varying degrees) in most biological functions, being responsible for over 200 tasks. Here is a short list of some other liver functions that detoxification impacts:2,3

  • Conversion of harmful ammonia to urea
  • Clearance of bilirubin (if there’s a buildup of bilirubin, the skin and eyes turn yellow in a condition called jaundice)
  • Storage of essential vitamins and minerals, and conversion to their biologically active forms
  • Regulation of amino acid and protein metabolism
  • Maintenance of hormone balance

Impaired detox results in changes to all of the above processes, which can manifest as imbalanced hormones, high cholesterol, blood sugar abnormalities, decreased immune function, increased inflammation and pain, and a variety of symptoms ranging from fatigue and brain fog to rashes and headaches.

How Does Liver Detoxification Become Impaired?

Impaired liver detoxification occurs when any substance or disease process compromises the liver’s ability to perform its basic metabolic functions.

When your liver can’t function properly, toxins and metabolic waste back up and accumulate in your body, making you feel horrible and causing damage to your cells.

A good way to imagine this is to think about it like taking out the trash. If you empty the waste bins throughout your house daily, even every couple of days, you’re probably in good shape.

But what if you let it pile up for a month, or even a year? Pretty soon you’re looking like you belong on a late-night cable TV show because your house is teeming with bacteria, mold, parasites, and volatile chemicals, soon to be deemed uninhabitable by the health department. When your liver can’t empty the trash on a continual basis, this is what happens inside your body.

Damage to your liver cells can occur through a variety of mechanisms:3

  • Metabolic disorders such as obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver
  • A high sugar and carbohydrate diet or processed foods
  • Illnesses that produce toxins and inflammation or promote malabsorption
  • Infections such as Candida, viral hepatitis, and any GI infection/dysbiosis
  • Drugs and supplements
  • Pollutants, chemicals, and heavy metals such as BPA, parabens, smog, pesticides, fluoride, mercury, arsenic, etc.

What all of these processes have in common is that they damage liver cells in some form, whether from oxidative stress, inflammation, or a lack of the nutrients the liver needs in order to work properly. The damage results in impaired detoxification systems.

Detoxification processes in the liver are controlled by many genes and the Phase 1, 2, and 3 detoxification pathways. In order for detoxification to occur properly, the genes that control the process need the correct nutrients and environment (epigenetics) to properly regulate the enzymes that control the detoxification pathways.

One group of genes that have received publicity lately are the methylation pathway genes (MTHFR, MTRR, CBS, COMT, etc.), and rightfully so. This group of genes plays a central role in detoxification, as well as neurotransmitter, hormone, and amino acid metabolism, cardiovascular health, DNA synthesis, and gene regulation.

Sometimes there are changes in a gene—SNPs, or single nucleotide polymorphisms—that alter the function of the corresponding enzyme that controls a process such as detoxification.

When you have an SNP, it changes the gene’s instruction manual, which alters the way the enzymes work.

For instance, if you have one copy of an MTHFR (methylene tetrahydrofolate reductase enzyme) gene SNP, you’ll have a 30% reduction in the activity of the enzyme. If you have 2 copies of the SNP, you’ll have a 70% reduction in enzyme activity and significantly impaired detoxification. Many people have multiple SNPs in this pathway, resulting in reduced detoxification capacity.

Similarly, the 60 cytochrome P450 (CYP450) family of enzymes that are primarily found in the liver play a significant role in the breakdown of toxins. SNPs affect the CYP450 enzymes as well—especially those involving drug metabolism.

“Depending on the gene and the polymorphism, drugs and supplements can be metabolized quickly or slowly. If a cytochrome P450 enzyme metabolizes a drug slowly, the drug stays active longer and less is needed to get the desired effect. A drug that’s quickly metabolized is broken down sooner, and a higher dose might be necessary to be effective. Cytochrome P450 enzymes account for 70 to 80 percent of enzymes involved in drug metabolism.”5

The Phase I detoxification system is controlled by these CYP450 enzymes and is the first step toxins go through in the breakdown process. Once toxins enter this pathway, the substance undergoes a chemical transformation, producing an intermediate that’s often as toxic or more toxic than the original substance.

This isn’t a big problem if your Phase 2 detoxification pathways are sufficient, but there can be SNPs here too, reducing the process’ efficiency and causing you systemic problems.

Phase 2 detoxification reactions involve the conjugation (coupling) of the Phase 1 intermediate to a substance, making it water-soluble and suitable for elimination via urine and bile (feces).

The Phase 2 conjugation reactions are glucuronidation, sulfation, methylation, acetylation, amino acid conjugation, and glutathione conjugation.

Essentially, what’s happening in all of these processes is that the intermediate is combined with a specific type of molecule that neutralizes it for elimination. For example, in methylation, a methyl group (CH3) is transferred to the intermediate. Once this process takes place, the neutralized substance can be eliminated.

Phase 3 of detoxification takes the neutralized substance and transports it out of the liver cell to be excreted in the urine or bile.

Diet, nutritional status, illness, toxic burden, dysbiosis, and SNPs all affect the efficiency of the detox pathways, and vice versa. Identifying any potential roadblocks and cleaning up your personal environment and/or lifestyle is necessary to have detoxification systems running at peak performance.

Triggers of Impaired Liver Detoxification

We have toxins around and inside us that come in many forms. If we don’t have healthy detox processes, they accumulate and cause damage all over our bodies. Common triggers of impaired liver detoxification are:

Diet: High sugar and carbs, processed foods, charred foods, xenoestrogens, water, GMOs, and conventionally-raised meats contain toxins.

Nutrients: Low levels of necessary amino acids, vitamins, and minerals impede efficient detoxification processes.

Dysbiosis: Infections and an imbalanced microflora produce toxins.

Leaky Gut: Increased intestinal permeability allows toxins into circulation that wouldn’t normally enter the bloodstream.

Toxins: Medications, supplements, alcohol, and environmental chemicals and metals burden the detoxification pathways and can directly damage the liver.

Stress: Psychological stress, toxic relationships, and illness produce biochemical changes that impair detoxification.

Diet

Dietary triggers of impaired liver detoxification are many and significant, since you eat multiple times every day. This provides lots of opportunities to ingest something harmful.

High sugar and carbohydrate diet: When you eat excessive sugar and carbohydrates or refined foods, they need to be stored somewhere if you aren’t using them for energy. They end up stored in the body as fat and in the liver as glycogen.

Over time, if this process continues, the liver becomes inundated with fat, which compromises its function and promotes inflammation and insulin resistance, according to Dr. Mark Hyman.6

Processed foods: Any foods that come from a package may contain trans fats, preservatives, colorings, dyes, additives, and artificial sweeteners that are seen as toxins by your body. Additionally, some foods you think are safe may not be. Most cans are lined with BPA, rendering the foods inside very unhealthy.

According to Dr. Joseph Mercola, “High acidity—a prominent characteristic of tomatoes—causes BPA to leach into your food. BPA is a toxic chemical linked to reproductive abnormalities, neurological effects, heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health problems.”7

Charred/browned foods: Cooking foods until they have color may impart lots of flavor, but you’re also getting a hefty dose of toxins along with it. Grilling is the worst culprit.

Dr. Mercola says, “Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) are hazardous compounds created in meats and other foods that have been cooked at high temperatures.

Similarly, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) form when fat drips onto the heat source, causing excess smoke, and the smoke surrounds your food, transferring cancer-causing PAHs to the meat.”7 HCAs and PAHs are also present in deli meats.

Xenoestrogens: Xenoestrogens are substances that mimic the hormone estrogen. Foods and chemicals are sources of these compounds. Not only are they endocrine disruptors, but also toxins and carcinogens. Soy is the most common dietary source. Consumption of soy is linked to infertility, thyroid disruption, and breast and prostate cancers. Toxins produced in the processing of soy include nitrosamines, lysinoalanine, MSG, and aluminum.7

Water: Water can be one of the most toxic things we consume daily. Water can have microorganisms, chlorine, fluoride, agricultural and manufacturing runoff, pesticides, or heavy metals. Dr. Deanna Minish states, “Current estimates suggest that there are more than 2,000 toxins in tap water.”14 Bottled water is often not much better.

GMOs: Genetically modified foods contain genes that aren’t native to the original organism, and your body sees them as foreign and toxic. Corn, for instance, might contain Bt toxin or Roundup Ready genes so that it withstands pests better. These toxins degrade the stomach of the target insects and are now found to be harming humans, causing allergies and immune system activation similar to that of inflammatory conditions.8

Further, the pesticide Roundup (glyphosate) has been proven to have harmful mechanisms. According to Dr. Mercola, a recent study found that “glyphosate inhibits cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes, a large and diverse group of enzymes that catalyze the oxidation of organic substances.” This, the authors state, is “an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals (which means humans).

By limiting the ability of these enzymes to detoxify foreign chemical compounds, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of those chemicals and environmental toxins you may be exposed to.”9

Conventional meat and produce: Food grown or raised with conventional methods (non-organic) has some level of toxicity. Meat, poultry, and fish can be given antibiotics and drugs that affect their growth.

Vegetables and fruit can contain pesticides or be genetically engineered. One potent class, the organophosphates, are linked to infertility and impaired growth and development, and they’re known neurotoxins.

Nutrients: In order for detoxification to proceed the right way, it requires adequate amounts of the necessary raw materials to do so. These include amino acids, B vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and sulfur-containing compounds. Deficiencies will result in impaired detox processes.

Dysbiosis

Dysbiosis occurs when there’s an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful organisms in your body, especially in the gut.

When this happens, the bad guys can produce toxins themselves or even undo all of the work the liver has done (deconjugation), allowing toxins back into circulation. While many organisms produce toxins (bacteria, mold, yeast, and parasites), here are some examples:

Candida: Yeast ferments sugars into ethanol and acetaldehyde, which are carcinogens that cause alcohol toxicity and hangovers. Candida increases levels of ammonia, which is another toxin.3 Yeast also produces toxins that allow them to bore into the intestinal wall, as some parasites and bacteria do.12

Clostridium difficile: Also known as C. diff, this bacteria produces several toxins that act on the gut and other cells of the body. These toxins are responsible for the awful diarrhea associated with an acute C. diff infection.

Mold: Molds are ubiquitous and often ingested in air and food. According to Dr. Jill Carnahan, “Some molds secrete mycotoxins. Exposure to mold and mold components is well known to trigger inflammation, allergies and asthma, oxidative stress, immune dysfunction, and neurological damage in humans.”13

Leaky Gut

Increased intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut, occurs when the cells that line the intestinal tract become irritated and compromised, actually spreading apart and allowing particles that wouldn’t normally enter the bloodstream to pass through. This causes the immune system to react to these substances, producing inflammation.

Some of the irritants that cause leaky gut are toxins ingested in medications, alcohol, food, and water, as well as the byproducts of any allergic or sensitivity reaction. Further, dysbiosis and any gut infections compound this effect by the contribution of the toxins they produce.

When you have a leaky gut, your overall toxic burden is increased, because many more substances enter circulation than usual, and your liver has to detoxify all of them. This can place a significantly increased burden on the liver.

Toxins

Toxins are everywhere in our modern society. Unfortunately, our exposure to medications, supplements, chemicals, pesticides, pollutants, petrochemicals, heavy metals, tobacco smoke, and even alcohol are byproducts of contemporary living, and most of us have exceeded our liver’s natural capacity to cleanse us. If we can’t rid ourselves of these toxins, they accumulate and are stored in the body.

Heavy metals are everywhere—in the soil, in our homes and food, and as byproducts of industries, car exhaust, and tobacco smoke, so they’re hard to avoid. Things like lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, and aluminum are damaging toxins by themselves, but they also compromise our detoxification pathways, making matters worse.

According to Dr. Mark Houston, “Mercury, cadmium, and other heavy metals have a high affinity for sulfhydryl (SH) groups, inactivating numerous enzymatic reactions, amino acids, and sulfur-containing antioxidants (NAC, ALA, GSH), with subsequent decreased oxidant defense and increased oxidative stress.”15

This means reduced antioxidant and detox capacity. He further states, “Mercury induces mitochondrial dysfunction with reduction in ATP, depletion of glutathione, and increased lipid peroxidation; increased oxidative stress is common.”15

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) include PCBs, DDT, dioxins, pesticides, flame retardants, Triclosan (the antibacterial chemical in personal care and cleaning products), and other chemicals. Like other toxins, they’re heavily present in food, water, soil, air, and products we use.

Over 80,000 POPs have been released into the environment, and we lack information on how they affect human health. We know they’re particularly toxic, causing infertility and endocrine hormone disruption as well as being immunotoxic, neurotoxic, and carcinogenic.16 They’re also linked to cardiovascular disease, obesity, and diabetes.16

Even medications and supplements can have adverse effects on detoxification by damaging the liver. Certain prescription and over-the-counter drugs list liver damage as a side effect and a risk. Some of these include antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) (particularly acetaminophen (Tylenol)), and others.3 Some herbal supplements are implicated here as well since they can be toxic to the liver if not used appropriately, such as kava kava, skullcap, and germander.

Stress

Not only do we have toxins that come from the outside, but we also generate them from within. Psychological stress, toxic relationships, illness, and anything else that disrupts your body’s natural balance produces biochemical changes that impair detoxification. But to fully understand toxicity, you must understand the concept of total load.

Dr. Mark Hyman explains this idea well. “This is a total amount of stressors on your system at any one time, and what happens is like a glass filling over with water. It takes a certain amount to fill the glass, and then, after a certain point, you put more in and it overflows. When our detoxification system is overwhelmed, is overloaded, that’s when we start getting symptoms and get sick, but it may take years of accumulated stress and toxins to get to that point.”18

He further points out that stress is a significant contributor to the total toxic load, including “the mental, emotional, and spiritual toxins that affect us; isolation, loneliness, anger, jealousy, and hostility, which all translate into toxins in our system.”18

Dr. Deanna Minich elaborates on that concept, stating, “When we don’t properly ‘eliminate’ unhealthy emotions, we may experience increased levels of stress. Stress not only causes inflammation, but can elicit poor digestive function. Those who experience chronic stress have a difficult time maintaining a positive outlook on life and are at greater risk for disease and premature death.”17

Chronic stressors cause an imbalance between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems, producing increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Over time, the constant cortisol elevation and demand leads to cortisol resistance and diminished cortisol.

Cortisol is the main anti-inflammatory hormone in your body, and when levels are low, inflammation increases. This results in oxidative stress and free radical damage. This in and of itself can damage the liver, but it also increases the toxic load the liver must clean up. Further, these changes can also perpetuate dysbiosis and leaky gut.

Symptoms of Impaired Liver Detoxification

The symptoms of impaired liver detoxification are system-wide in the body.

Inflammation/immune: Pain, weight gain, lipomas (benign fatty tumors/deposits), cellulite, allergies, autoimmune conditions, recurrent infections, stuffy nose

Digestive/gastrointestinal: Gas, bloating, cramping, pain, diarrhea, constipation, inability to digest fats (oil in toilet or greasy stools), reflux (GERD), IBS, gallstones, nausea, bad breath, food sensitivities, allergies

Blood sugar: Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), fatty liver, Type 2 diabetes, cravings

Brain/mood/energy: Brain fog, dizziness, vertigo, fatigue, lethargy, depression, irritability, poor concentration, headaches, poor sleep, poor memory

Musculoskeletal: Chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, muscle pain, joint pain

Skin/hair/nails: Rashes, hives, dermatitis, eczema, pruritis (itchy skin), excess or lack of sweating, acne, rosacea, liver spots (brown spots), red skin, flushed face, red/itchy palms, yellow skin or eyes, itchy eyes, dark eye circles, body odor, hair loss, cankers

Hormones: Hormone imbalances, PMS, severe menopausal symptoms, inability to lose weight, infertility

Detoxification: Multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), inability to tolerate medications or alcohol, poor tolerance to hormone treatments

Lab Testing for Impaired Liver Detoxification

Liver function and organic acid testing is important so you know the state of your liver and detoxification pathways. When considering toxin testing, you need to be cautious, because some of the tests actually liberate toxins from storage in your cells, which can cause problems, especially if you have a leaky gut.

In general, it’s a good idea to make sure liver function has improved and the gut is healthy before testing and treating toxins.

General tests for liver function and blood sugar:

  • Total bilirubin
  • AST (aspartate aminotransferase)
  • ALT (alanine aminotransferase)
  • GGT (gamma glutamyl transpeptidase)
  • ALP (alkaline phosphatase)
  • Fasting insulin and glucose
  • CMP or comprehensive metabolic panel (will have most of the liver tests on it)

Functional tests:

  • Organic acids
  • Amino acids—urine, blood
  • Heavy metals testing—hair, urine, feces, blood, red blood cell
  • Toxic chemicals (such as BPA, phthalates, parabens, organophosphates, etc.)
  • DNA profiles for methylation and detoxification

Treatment of Impaired Liver Detoxification

Supporting healthy and robust detoxification takes a little effort. Cleaning up your diet,environment, and lifestyle and adding in some supporting nutrients will lighten the load on your liver.

Detoxifying your diet is a good place to start, since we consume foods and liquids many times every single day.

Drink lots of water every day! Have at least eight glasses to flush your system. Add some liver for an added boost.

Eating organic and GMO-free will help you avoid many toxins.

Make sure your diet is rich in phytonutrients. Certain plants are known to support detoxification. The Brassica family, which includes broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kale, contains the sulfuric compounds sulforaphane and indoles (I3C) that activate the Nrf2 gene, which increases many of the detoxification enzymes, especially in Phase 2.10,11,20 Garlic also has sulfur compounds that exert the same effect. Other Nrf2 activators include curcumin from turmeric, capsaicin from hot peppers, and resveratrol from grape skin or wine.11,20

Many leafy green herbs and plants support detoxification, including dandelion greens, cilantro, parsley, watercress, and chard. Use them in cooking, salads, smoothies, and juices.11,19

Artichoke, asparagus, and beets are healing to the liver with antioxidants that prevent liver damage. Artichoke is also one of the best stimulators of bile flow.11,19

Be sure to wash your produce well—even if it’s organic.

Cook with lower temperatures to avoid generating harmful chemicals. If you must grill, marinating with olive oil, lemon, and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano will help decrease the amount of HCAs and PAHs formed.

Avoid packaged foods as much as possible, including drinks in plastic bottles.

Invest in a water filter that filters out chlorine, fluoride, metals, and microbes. Most sink-mounted and pitcher systems don’t do this.

Drinking green tea also supports Phase 1 and 2 detoxification pathways by increasing CYP activity.11,20

In addition to detox-supporting foods, there are nutrients obtained in supplements that directly support the liver and detoxification process.

Amino acids: This is one of the most critical nutrient groups, as these acids function in the detoxification process itself and serve as antioxidants.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is the precursor to glutathione, the master antioxidant of the body and a significant component of Phase 2 detoxification.

Cysteine and methionine contain sulfur and contribute to the sulfation pathways. Methionine is also a methyl donor to the methylation pathway in its activated form, S-adenosyl-methionine (SAMe). Glycine also performs conjugation down the glycination pathway.10,20

Glutathione: Taking glutathione itself as a supplement or through IV therapy is helpful when levels need to be increased.

B vitamins: The B complex vitamins, especially B5, B6, B12, and folic acid are significant co-factors in the Phase 1 and 2 detoxification reactions that help drive the reactions forward. The methylation pathway is also very dependent on sufficient levels of B12 and folic acid.

Minerals: Iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium are all minerals that support the detoxification process as co-factors or through antioxidant functions.20

Antioxidants: Antioxidants such as alpha lipoic acid (ALA), vitamins A, C, and E, and flavonoids play an important role, since the detox process inherently produces free radicals that need to be quenched.10,11,20

Milk thistle: Silymarin is the polyphenol in milk thistle that promotes detoxification. The antioxidant capacity of silymarin can lower the liver’s oxidative stress associated with toxin metabolism, which has the effect of conserving cellular glutathione levels.11

Calcium-D-Glucarate: This nutrient helps prevent the deconjugation of toxins in the intestines by bacteria, thus preserving them for excretion.

Probiotics: Probiotics will help maintain the balance between good and bad bacteria in the gut, which supports healthy elimination and immune functions that in turn support the liver.

Diet and nutrients can support the detoxification process itself, but the other half of the equation involves cleaning up your world.

Lifestyle changes involve some work, since they require you to read labels, investigate your personal environment, and make some changes, but the benefits to your health are worth it.

Start reading labels: The more you know about what you put in, on, and around your body, the better. If you can’t pronounce it, you should probably avoid it. Knowledge allows you to make healthier choices for you and your family.

Clean up your products: Choose more natural personal care products, toiletries, baby products, home cleaners (especially window and bathroom cleaners), and lawn fertilizers. These products are laden with preservatives and chemicals. Baking soda, coconut oil, white vinegar, lemon, and essential oils can fill many of these roles without the unwanted toxins.

Detox your furniture and home: Furniture, paint, flooring (especially carpet), and building materials also contain chemicals that give off gas, meaning they constantly emit these toxic compounds into the air and you breath them in. Opt for more natural materials like bamboo, latex, wool, and organic cotton.

Get some houseplants: Many houseplants such as English ivy, rubber plants, peace lily, golden pothos, spider plants, Boston ferns, queen ferns, and dwarf date palms are all great at filtering toxins from the air.

Air filters: Having HEPA filtration added to your heating and cooling system will result in more toxins and fine particulates being removed from your home air.

Open your windows: Indoor air can be more toxic than outdoor air, so open your windows and let your home and office breathe.

Shower filter: Invest in a shower water filter or a whole house unit. Your skin is the largest organ in your body (and the liver is the largest organ inside) with a high capacity for absorption. It will absorb toxins in the water you bathe in.

De-stress: Lower your stress levels by finding ways to either decrease your stressors and create boundaries or find appropriate outlets like talking, journaling, or exercising. Getting out into nature can be especially helpful.

Toxic relationships: If you have a person in your life who’s causing you to feel bad, hurt, angry, or frustrated, you should let them know if you can. If you can’t, then try to limit contact with them.

Sleep: Getting 8-9 hours of sleep per night is important, since this is when your body regenerates and heals.

Exercise: Movement is essential in keeping elimination going. Moving keeps your lymph and blood pumping, promotes bowel movements, counteracts inflammatory processes, and lets you sweat.

Sauna: Sweating is also a critical component of detoxification. You can do it through exercise or using a sauna. Saunas increase circulation and metabolic rate. Studies show that many metals, especially cadmium and nickel, are eliminated through sweat at higher levels than through urine.15

Bowel movements: Make sure you have 1-2 bowel movements per day. Daily elimination through the bowels, urine, and sweat are vital for proper detoxification.

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How Nutrient Testing Could Reveal The Root Cause of Your Symptoms

This article originally appeared on Healevate.

Why would you want to test your nutrient levels, you ask?

Most micronutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids, don’t get much notoriety (except for vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids), but they should. These nutrients are the building blocks of every single process in your body, and without them, disease and dysfunction ensue.

Scurvy is a great example. Lack of vitamin C in the diet of British sailors during the 18th century caused bleeding gums and mucous membranes, poor wound healing, and spots on the skin. If left untreated, they would die from blood loss.

Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen in hair, skin, and nails, blood clotting, nerve and muscle function, and is an important co-factor in many biochemical reactions.

We take for granted that getting the correct balance of nutrients is required for maintaining good health. Even a small deficiency in one nutrient can have major consequences in the long run. Conditions ranging from acne to heart disease start with some type of nutrient deficiency or excess.

The symptoms are seemingly limitless, since almost every symptom has a nutrient component. So understanding the important ones is crucial to good health.

Symptoms of Nutrient Deficiency or Excess

Skin/hair/nails: Brittle or dry skin, hair, or nails, lines on nails, bleeding gums, rashes, acne, rosacea, hair loss, spots on skin, darkened skin

Inflammatory/immune: Poor wound healing, recurrent infections, pain, autoimmunity, asthma

GI/digestion: Inability to taste, canker sores, constipation, diarrhea, reflux

Brain/mood/energy: Impaired sight, smell, or taste, hyperactivity, ADD/ADHD, malaise, lethargy, headaches, brain fog, inability to focus, depression, irritability, poor memory, poor sleep

Nerves: Neuropathy, paresthesia, pins and needles, numbness, tingling

Hormones: Sex hormone, thyroid, and adrenal imbalances, PMS, PCOS, severe menopause/andropause symptoms, inability to lose or gain weight, infertility, intolerance to cold or heat, excessive or diminished sweating

Musculoskeletal: Chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, restless leg syndrome, muscle pain or twitching, joint pain, brittle bones, osteopenia/osteoporosis

Liver: Poor detoxification, chemical sensitivity, intolerance to alcohol or medications

Cardiometabolic: High or low blood sugar, fatty liver, atherosclerosis, palpitations, arrhythmia

Which Test Do I Choose for Nutrient Deficiency or Excess?

When considering the possibility of nutrient imbalances, people often start by assessing symptoms and trying to guess which individual nutrients might be associated with them. This is a less efficient way to do things, as you might miss important nutrients.

For instance, if you have neuropathy or tingling in your legs, you might look at vitamins B6 or B12, since they’re important for nerve function. But if the underlying cause is high blood sugar, you’d also want to know your magnesium, zinc, chromium, inositol, carnitine, lipoic acid, biotin, and vitamin B3, C, D, and E levels as well to have a more complete picture and treatment plan.

Since symptoms of nutrient deficiency and excess are vast, starting with a test that looks at many nutrients in an expansive panel is often a better way to go. The panels available now allow you to check multiple nutrients simultaneously, giving you greater knowledge of your body and the ability to rebalance nutrient levels properly.

Balancing nutrients appropriately is crucial, since too much of one and not enough of another can cause further trouble.

Nutrient Tests

There are many different types of test panels you could choose for analyzing your nutrient status. Depending upon your symptoms, condition, and health goals, you may want to select a smaller panel.

Or, if you’re unsure, a more expansive panel that looks at everything is a good choice.

Nutrient Panels:

  • Organic acid testing
  • Amino acid testing
  • Fatty acid testing
  • Combination nutrient testing

Organic Acid Testing

Organic acids (OA) are the end products (metabolites) generated by your metabolic processes, and they are easy to measure in urine. Organic acid testing provides an indirect way of measuring nutrient status, since all of your metabolic processes require certain vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other micronutrients to function properly. It you are deficient in specific nutrients, it will show up as increased or decreased metabolites in the urine.

Nutrient deficiencies have several effects on metabolic reactions. First, serious deficits will impede biochemical reactions from occurring at all, giving a result that is below test detection limits.

Deficiencies can also cause a reaction to be limited/inefficient—producing low levels of metabolites—or cause a backup (think log jam) because there isn’t enough nutrient cofactor to propel the reaction forward. This results in an excess level of metabolites in urine.

Organic acid testing assesses the nutrients involved in driving metabolic processes forward:

Fatty acid metabolism requires carnitine, B2, and lysine.

Carbohydrate metabolism requires thiamine (B1), B complex, lipoic acid, chromium, vanadium, magnesium, manganese, and CoQ10.

Energy production requires arginine, cysteine, CoQ10, B complex, lipoic acid, magnesium, and manganese.

B-vitamin metabolism requires B-complex vitamins (B1, 2, 3, 5, 6), lipoic acid, and biotin.

Methylation cofactors require B12 and folic acid.

Neurotransmitter metabolism requires tyrosine, 5- hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP), phenylalanine, B6, and magnesium.

Oxidative stress markers show the need for antioxidants such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and lipoic acid.

Detoxification requires glutathione, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), taurine, arginine, aspartic acid, glycine, magnesium, B-vitamins, and antioxidants.

Dysbiosis markers indicate the need for glycine, glutamine, and an amino acid complex.

Organic acids testing is available from Genova Diagnostics and Great Plains Laboratory.

Amino Acid Testing

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into usable units, or amino acids, that are vital to life.

Non-essential amino acids can be made in your body, but some must be obtained through the diet. These are called essential amino acids. As individual amino acids, or linked as chains called peptides, they have many functions:

  • Building blocks of all structural tissue (bone, skin, muscle, etc), hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes
  • Pain control
  • pH regulation
  • Detoxification
  • Fat and cholesterol metabolism
  • Control of inflammation and immune function
  • Digestion

Amino acids can be assessed in the urine or blood. Genova Diagnostics, Doctor’s Data, and Great Plains Laboratory offer amino acid testing.

Fatty Acid Testing

Fatty acids are the technical term for what we typically think of as “fat.” For example, fish oil is comprised of the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. Like amino acids, fatty acids can be essential or nonessential, and they play a critical role in sustaining life.

Having the proper balance of omega-3, 6, and 9 (polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and saturated fats) is critical for maintaining health. Among other things, fatty acids:

  • Generate cell membrane structure and regulation
  • Ensure healthy blood pressure and lipid (cholesterol) levels
  • Provide immune and inflammatory response and regulation
  • Decrease blood clotting (coagulation)
  • Decrease oxidative stress
  • Compose the structural tissue of the brain and nerves
  • Provide energy for metabolism

Fatty acids are analyzed from a blood sample. Genova Diagnostics, Doctor’s Data, and Great Plains Laboratory offer fatty acid testing.

Combination Nutrient Testing

Several companies offer comprehensive test panels that allow you to see nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and organic acids in different combinations, depending upon your needs.

Great Plains Laboratories can provide many different panels based on your condition or health goals. Basic and comprehensive panels for autism, ADD/ADHD, fibromyalgia, Tourette’s, mental health, and wellness options are available.

Genova Diagnostics offers a fat-soluble vitamin profile, ION profile, NutrEval, and ONE (Optimal Nutritional Evaluation) FMV, all of which analyze different combinations of nutrients, amino acids, fatty acids, and organic acids.

Spectracell Laboratories offers the Micronutrient Test, which assesses 30 key vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, amino acids, and fatty acids that are essential to health and often indicated in disease. Additionally, it provides assessment of total antioxidant function, an immune response index, glucose-insulin interaction, and fructose sensitivity.

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10 Tips to Minimize Healing Frustrations and Time

The truth about healing is that it’s hard and often very frustrating for those going through it. I get questions from my patients on a daily basis about the progress of their healing journey. I refer to it as a journey and not a process because it truly is something that dramatically impacts your life and becomes a part of who you are.  It encompasses serious self-analysis, lifestyle and habit changes, and often therapeutic interventions to change physiology and gene expression. People don’t understand why a certain protocol, lifestyle or dietary change is making them feel worse or isn’t working. That’s when I launch into the discussion about individuality, as well as the difficult truth: healing is hard.

There are a few things that many practitioners don’t like to talk about and a big one is the difficulty of the healing journey. This does patients a disservice because they need to understand that healing takes time, effort, and often a good amount of detective work because finding the root causes can be challenging when they’re buried under years of symptoms and physiological adaptations that have occurred as your body works hard to right the ship to keep it afloat. The body often does a good job of this unbeknownst to you since there are many built in back up processes always aiming to keep you alive and as healthy as possible. However, when the insults become too numerous, changes start to happen. It generally isn’t until the boat has “sprung a leak” that you feel bad enough to do something about it. This process can take years or even decades to develop, so reversing it is hard and often takes years as well. Don’t worry though, healing can and will take place- it just takes time, effort, and perseverance.

There are ways to make the journey easier, saving time, energy, and money. Some of the work regarding diet and lifestyle can be started on your own, but if you have a complex or chronic case, working with someone else will likely save you lots of frustration.

  1. Work with a trained practitioner that understands your case. There is abundant information available on the internet that allows you to research who is the right fit for you, which is very important. Additionally, if the practitioners you’re looking at do free consults or Q&A sessions to see if you’re a good match, take advantage of that.
  2. Doing a complete functional medicine assessment illuminates the journey for the practitioner and the patient. Going back in time starting with pre-birth and pertinent parental history, then walking through birth, childhood, and adulthood in detail allows a timeline to develop that shows major illnesses, exposures, traumas, habits and life events that eventually snowballed into how you feel today. Always tell your practitioner the entire story and truth so you have a complete timeline and don’t need to waste time backtracking once you’re on your healing journey. What may seem insignificant to you, may be of massive importance to your practitioner in uncovering potential causes.
  3. Complete necessary testing to avoid frustration and guessing. Many well intentioned practitioners treat without testing. This isn’t a good idea in chronic cases where the symptoms of conditions are very similar. A good example is with digestive symptoms- diarrhea, gas, and bloating can be cause by many things including SIBO, yeast, parasites, food allergies or intolerances, exposures to toxins, altered microbiome, autoimmunity, etc. Often several of these are occurring simultaneously. Testing allows you to have a more targeted therapeutic plan.
  4. Develop a game plan that works for you and your practitioner. If you don’t think you can handle certain aspects of the treatment plan, let your practitioner know. Most will accommodate your wishes whenever possible- but be honest with yourself. Do you want to alter treatment because you don’t want to do it (such as eliminate foods from your diet) or truly can’t. These are some of the hard truths we have to face when healing. Eliminating foods from your diet and changing your stress response, exercise, and sleeping habits may be challenging at first, but eventually they’ll become habit… it does get easier.
  5. Stick to your guns when temptation strikes. When other people try to sway you away from your healing path, don’t let them. You probably look much better on the outside than you feel on the inside, and they just won’t understand because they’ve never been through it. Sometimes people just flat out ignore what you tell them. Don’t let them ruin what you’ve worked hard for.
  6. Develop strategies for social situations. Hopefully your family understands your journey, but outside the home can be more difficult. If you are going to a social event, preplan and research as much as possible to avoid speedbumps that slow healing. For example, offer to bring some appetizers to the Super Bowl party you’ll be attending so you have something you know is safe for your diet. Additionally, you can make the host aware of your situation and he/she will likely consider you when planning.
  7. Avoid doctor Google. While the internet is an amazing tool for research and empowering yourself, too often people compare themselves to others that were “miraculously cured” by taking a supplement or going on a special protocol. This occurs much less often than you think, and some of these people are leaving out serious details or just plain lying. The truth is that you and every single other person on this planet on genetically and epigenetically different which means you won’t have the same response to supplements, diet, and lifestyle changes. Eliminate your frustration by not comparing yourself to them since you don’t know the details of their history. Also important to note is that on certain sites some of these seemingly honest testimonials come from people that are paid by companies with motives and agendas. The key to healing is doing what is best for YOU (the insert-your-name-here protocol).
  8. Be honest with your practitioner when they ask if you’ve followed the treatment plan. Avoiding the truth will make it more difficult for you and your practitioner to figure out what isn’t working when problems arise (and they will).
  9. Understand that there will be bumps in the road along the path to healing. There is a reason the terms “healing arts” and “practicing medicine” exist- there is no magic pill or protocol that will fix you so as practitioners we must analyze the information and make our best effort to design a treatment plan for you. Since everyone is a unique individual and there’s still so much we don’t know about the human body, it may take some time and effort to find and address all root causes. Additionally, it takes time to change physiology which is imperative to healing. There is often pushback in the form of reactions and additional or increased symptoms while the body adjusts. This is normal and expected, so unfortunately you have to push through it most of the time. If the symptoms last for an extended period or are severe then treatment should be adjusted.
  10. Be kind to yourself during the journey. We are often our worst critics. Don’t beat yourself up over missing a dose of supplements or not getting to bed on time one night. Life happens! Acknowledge the mishap, forgive yourself, forget it and get back on your plan. Stressing will only make the situation worse and prolong your healing.

Following the above can help make your healing journey smoother and also give you an understanding that healing doesn’t occur overnight. The analogy I often use is the healing is a marathon and not a sprint. There are hills and valleys, but in time the road becomes smooth, you hit your stride and things get easier. Eventually you round a corner where you feel good more often than not, which is a good sign that the finish line is near. For some it takes months, but for others it can take years. There is no way to predict how long, but if you’ve felt poorly for years, it may take years to heal. But take heart in knowing that it’s possible since so many before you have.

 

 

 

 

Three of the Most Underappreciated Keys to Health

Yesterday my sister had a baby boy… Congrats! It got me thinking about the fresh start we have when we enter this world. The human body is truly astounding. We are inherently born with amazing capabilities that allow us to grow and thrive in spite of the constant insults we hurl at it in the forms of stress, poor eating and sleep habits, lack of movement, not enough time with nature, insufficient meaningful human contact, and the increasing abundance of toxins and pollution in our environment (inside as well as outside).

Unfortunately, the rate at which we are abusing our bodies is catching up with us. There are more chronic diseases now than ever before, and sadly that rate is increasing. We are producing generations now that have a lower life expectancy than we have and our grandparents had. This is not acceptable.

This is by no means is this a news flash, but is worth being said over and over again until people take heart and the message sinks in. LIFESTYLE MATTERS. I’ll say it again, LIFESTYLE MATTERS. Perhaps more than anything else.  No supplement, diet, or workout alone will do this.

Being healthy doesn’t involve drinking warm lemon water every morning or doing a 2 week detox or even running 3 times per week. While those can be healthy actions, what really matters is HOW you choose to live your daily life- the habits that become part of the fabric of what makes you, YOU. This is what will bring out the best you because it will improve your epigenetics, or how your genes are expressed. Wouldn’t you rather have genes “bathed” in clean air, water, and nutrients in a body not ravaged by stress or illness? Yes, please!

Actually doing this does take time and effort. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy and health exists on a continuum. The key is shifting the balance in favor of health, so that when an unforeseen stressor or illness arises, you have the capacity to rebound quickly and return to your healthy place.

By now everyone knows they should consume clean food and water, and get proper sleep and adequate daily movement, but I know countless unhealthy people that do all of that on a daily basis. These are definitely important pieces of the puzzle, but to experience true health you need some other fundamental components: true stress reduction and mitigation, a clean environment, and connections with nature and people.

Real Stress Reduction. Stress is a common buzz word, so much so that I believe it has lost its impact and we’ve become desensitized to it. The majority of patients and people I encounter believe to some extent they are managing it well, which is almost never the case. The truth is that real, measurable stress reduction is hard. Stress is inevitable, but how you deal with it is essential. The first step involves honest introspection to identify your stressors, be it relationships, work, finances, losses, past traumas, etc., and finding ways that work for you specifically to overcome them. This could be counseling, talking to a confidant, joining a support group, enlisting a coach, or self-education. For others, physical activity plays a big role in their management of stress.

The second step is having a daily ritual that involves taking “timeouts” to unplug and do some deep breathing, meditation, or even sitting in silence to clear your head. Helpful tip: if you can’t get away from people, go to the bathroom… it always works because no one questions you.

Clean Environment (in and outside your body). This is a broad topic that is often overlooked, but it can have a significant impact on your health since the indoor environment is often more polluted than outdoors. Thankfully you can fairly easily clean up your home and work environment. Here are some helpful strategies:

– Clean air ducts and replace filters regularly

– Ensure proper ventilation in dwellings

– Invest in house plants or air purification systems that clean the air

– Do proper mitigation if you have mold, radon, lead paint or pipes, etc.

– Use natural options for personal care products and household cleaners

– Don’t get your clothes dry-cleaned

– Reduce exposure to EMF (electromagnetic frequencies) by reducing cell phone use, unplugging all unnecessary appliances and electronics when not in use (especially in the bedroom while sleeping at night), limit Wi-Fi use and turn off when not using it, avoid using a microwave, and choose incandescent bulbs over compact fluorescent ones.

Connection with nature and people. Exposure to sunlight, as well as seeing and hearing the sights and sounds of nature are part of what makes us human. Most people are calmed by the sounds of a rushing river or crashing waves, invigorated when the cool breeze hits their face, or moved at the majesty of mountains or a beautiful forest. There are biological reasons for this. Our ancestors had a strong connection to the natural world and used it as means to survive. It guided them to set up dwellings near water and green space as resources were more abundant there. This environment likely also allowed them to recover from the stresses of living life at this time as well.

Our rapid evolution in the last several millennia has dramatically reduced our contact with nature and we are suffering the consequences. Technology has replaced our relationship with nature… and with other humans.

Connection with other humans is another factor that has ensured our survival throughout time. We are communal animals by nature. We now share more face time with our computers, tv’s, cell phones, and tablet devices than other humans which is hurting us. Studies show that a sense of community and having solid relationships with others is important to health and longevity.  Make an effort to build and maintain your relationships with others and respect people while they are with you by not having your phone in your face. Also, be kind to your fellow humans as well… there isn’t enough of that anymore.

Again, take time to unplug daily. Get outside- even in the winter months. Grab your family or friends and take a walk through the woods and leave your phone at home. Have a “no devices present” rule at meals. There are countless ways to take back your connections.

Here’s to living a cleaner and less technologically driven life while being more present and connected to what really matters!