An energetic approach to restoring gut function: Part 1.

Let’s kick this blog off with a question as to whether or not an energetic approach to restoring  gut function is useful when compared to over analysis? Let me clarify, that I have had my fair share of success stories with a reduced and diagnostic approach to improving gut health. Just like I have also had my fair share of kickbacks from the laboratory for recommending their tests. At one point I was using nearly 200 stool tests per year and making a little cash on the side. Many of the tests worked in isolating some specific disturbance to their gut bacteria, presence of a parasite or elevation of putrefied fatty acids. A ‘cleansing’ diet was promoted and a few supplements for good measure created some short term change whilst the client was in my care.

But here’s why the long-term approach to that type of assessment and treatment may not be the best response. A standard functional medicine approach  after spending quite a lot of cash on an integrated stool test is using the 4 R approach.

Remove (offending parties)- spend money on supplements

Restore function- spend money on supplements

Re-inoculate – spend money on nice expensive probiotics

Repair gut lining- spend money on supplements

Regurgitate. Ok the 5th one is mine but no supplements needed.

By taking this approach, an important question is not asked of the individual. Why is this person experiencing an overgrowth of bacteria/SIBO, parasitic infection, endotoxin overgrowth, inflammation and degradation of the bowel lining? I like to think that it is not because of the easy kickbacks FM practitioners are getting for the lab tests and supplements they recommend? So what is the persons level of biological energy and immune system function that allows their digestive system to get in such a state. We know there are some usual suspects. Food, stress or alcohol perhaps?

The typical gastrointestinal complaints people came to me with, were bloating, excess gas, constipation or irritated loose stools combined with poor energy. It was Ilya Mechnikov who originally stated that death starts in the bowel or colon and there’s’ certainly many degenerative and inflammatory conditions that appear at the last stop to poopy central. But is the bowel the main driver of this dysfunction? Many of the symptoms that I recalled earlier are also key symptoms of an energetic and perhaps a thyroid dysfunction. So instead of reaching for our drastic 4 R protocol with an expensive poo test lets consider the following.

 The likes of Broda Barnes and Ray Peat have highlighted how a lack of energy, either from a low or inappropriate food intake or a dysfunctional hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal-thyroid axis can be evaluated by assessing body temperature and the combination of pulse. Additional information on Thyroid and TSH evaluation can be found here.

Most people are aware that when they get stressed or exercise, blood is shunted away from the digestive system to the periphery and other working tissues. Even the concept of high Adreno-corticotrophic hormone (ACTH), cortico releasing hormone (CRH) and adrenal production of cortisol is becoming common place in work and gym environments alike. These hormones suppress thyroid hormone and the energy compound ATP that provide energy for tissues.

It’s also well known that low energy states create tight painful muscles that are difficult to relax and one might be able to apply that line of thought to the smooth muscle tissues that regulate bowel contractility. Therefore a low energy state that does not allow for adequate energy production will not allow adequate digestion and bowel function to occur. Cold hands and feet can be a symptom of not eating enough carbohydrate and protein.

If the cold hands and feet, low body temperature, fatigue, constipation don’t resolve from eating energy rich meals that contain plenty of fruit and contains little of the foods that promote the bowel irritants histamine and serotonin (nuts, seeds, vegetable oils, grains, gluten free products, beans and pulses). Then, often factors that influence the hormones such as thyroid, estrogen and progesterone may need a deeper consideration.

I drafted a little flow chart that will be helpful for some quick strategies on what might be happening but what I would like to focus on the low energy state that might have its source from a food or hormone factor or perhaps both. Instead of using a strategy like the 4 R approach, these simple questions can help guide you to understanding whether it is the foods that you eat or an energetic factor that could be causing your digestive system to suffer. It’s not a complete algorithm but it does offer some simple solutions that have helped plenty of people resolve digestion and energy issues.

Foot note: I haven’t needed a stool test with a client for over 4 years now following this chart.

 

In part 2 I will elaborate on foods and basic supplements that can be used to resolve most long standing digestive issues and understanding other hormone actions that create digestive discord.

References:

Lokaj, J., & John, C. (2008). [Ilya Ilich Metchnikov and Paul Ehrlich: 1908 Nobel Prize winners for their research on immunity]. Epidemiologie, Mikrobiologie, Imunologie : Casopis Spolecnosti pro Epidemiologii a Mikrobiologii Ceské Lékarské Spolecnosti J.E. Purkyne, 57(4), 119–24. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19069024

Peat, R. (1997). From PMS to Menopause: Female Hormones in context.

Peat, R. (2006). Autonomic Systems. Retrieved from raypeat.com/articles/other/autonomic-systems.shtml

Osteoporosis- could your exercise, nutrition and medical advice be better?

Osteoporosis and bone health, like many other aspects of optimal biology is a product of an organisms inputs and reactions to environmental stimulus. Osteoporosis is a condition like others, where prevention is often easier than the cure but perhaps the cure has been overcomplicated? Osteoporosis is a multifactorial musculoskeletal disease that is usually associated with the ageing process, decreased bone mineral density (BMD) and its tendency to fracture easily.      

It’s clear that a number of factors that can be maintained throughout life to reduce the incidence of Osteoporosis in both men and women. Before we review those and compare with current guidelines, here’s some background info on the subject.

Primary Osteoporosis is the age related decline in men at around 70 and suggested as being a postmenopausal state, induced through the decreased production of estrogen in females. This last point is accepted in medical literature as the main cause of osteoporosis in females but may be severely flawed (more on this point later).

Secondary osteoporosis can be related to the following factors

Hypogonadism – testosterone/estrogen deficiency
Endocrine disease – Cushing’s syndrome, acromegaly, thyrotoxicosis, Addison’s disease and hyperparathyroidism
Dietary or assimilation deficiencies of calcium, vitamin K, vitamin D and other nutrients
Inflammation-rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus and ankylosing spondylitis
Neoplasms- Myleoma, lymphoma and leukaemia
Reduced physical activity
Medical drugs – corticosteroids, antiretroviral, antipsychotic, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, nicotine and excessive alcohol
Family history/genetics
Diabetes

The financial burden from osteoporosis generally, will increase from 98 Million Euros to 121 billion with proportional increases of 27.5 million to approximately 34 million people between the years 2010 to 2025 (Hernlund et al., 2013). Despite these huge burdens there appears to be a lack of well-designed educational programs that are geared at prevention of osteoporosis through non-pharmacological means.

The supplementation of vitamin D and calcium are well documented in osteoporosis strategies but a strategy to avoid these states are diets containing adequate calcium, vitamin A, K, magnesium (and others) adequate sunlight and moderate exercise.

Ok, so there’s a problem, it’s big business and there’s a lot of great info on how to avoid it right? Well no and here are the major points why I believe its not.

Diagnosis

 Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) is the recommended choice for osteoporosis diagnosis, serum calcium, phosphate, creatinine (with GFR) alkaline phosphatase, liver function, 25 OHD, total testosterone, estrogen CBC and 24 urinary calcium excretion are recommended for the interpretation of secondary causes of osteoporosis (Watts et al., 2012).

Hormones

Estrogen loss is touted as the most significant factor in decreasing BMD yet it’s action only retards resorption, or the removal of calcium from bone. Estrogen tends to inhibit the action of osteoclasts which ultimately reduce BMD. It’s the main reason the introduction of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) was considered as the primary treatment until its long-term use was found to induce clotting and cancer in women. So estrogen does not reverse Osteoporosis, it prevents further bone loss.

A variety of studies have suggested little influence of testosterone in males on BMD and that low estradiol levels combined with elevated sex hormone binding globulin appear to increase the loss of BMD (Cauley et al., 2010). A point worth noting from the correlation associated with higher estradiol levels and decreased BMD loss is that all participants in the study were recorded as having increased weight and BMD, which may influence skeletal modelling due to increased bone-loading parameters. Perhaps too much emphasis has been given to the suggestion that estrogen and its primary role of tissue proliferation amongst others, which should follow the course of age related decline?

Progesterone on the other hand has been shown to be a bone trophic or building factor that increases mineralisation of BMD, via osteoblasts (Prior, 1990). Stress increases cortisol and decreases progesterone binding at the receptor, with a preference for the glucocorticoid. Ray Peat (1997) points out that cortisol causes bone loss and its widely accepted that progesterone has an “antiglucocorticoid” action, it is reasonable to think that progesterone should protect against bone loss, and that it is a progesterone deficiency after menopause which is a major factor in the development of osteoporosis.

Thyrotoxicosis has been suggested as a mechanism of bone resorption but this appears inaccurate-  Ray Peat does a much better job at explaining this.

Medical treatment

Bisphosphonates are the first line medical treatment for treating osteoporosis and show modest changes to hip and vertebral BMD over 3 years. There use may come at a risk. Gastro intestinal side effects are well documented and in some the increase of osteonecrosis of the jaw has been observed. In some, the long-term use has been shown not only to increase the rate of fragility fracture but also to inhibit the healing process. It should be noted that adequate calcium and vitamin D in the diet are essential for bisphosphonate effectiveness

 Nutrition

 There tend to be two well-known stances to the fitness industries approach to nutrition. One, the transformation approach, where limiting of nutrients, particularly dairy and carbohydrates and intermittent fasting are the norm. Another, the holistic warrior whose consumption of chia seeds and all things green, raw and limiting of dairy and sugar again,  may be a factor into lowering BMD in later life. Calcium is an essential nutrient for bone health and dairy is indeed a great source of calcium. Here’s an old blog on the subject.

 It’s clear that adequate vitamin D is a nutrient that is important in BMD maintenance. It regulates calcium levels, decreases the production of parathyroid hormone, which is a potent resorption factor of skeletal calcium when calcium or vitamin D are low. Here are the main points that relate to diet.

  • Vitamin D in isolation and particularly high doses increases fracture rates (Janssen, Samson, & Verhaar, 2002)
  • Unless vitamin D is accompanied by adequate calcium, BMD can decrease further.
  • Vitamin K2 can prevent the calcification of soft tissues and help improve blood calcium levels (Masterjohn, 2007)
  • High meat and diets high in pulses and beans can have a negative effect on calcium levels due to their high phosphate levels.
  • Unless you assess other key nutrients like magnesium and the factors discussed above
  • Low diary intake can be associated with poor bone health.
  • The low carbohydrate, raw green and seed eating diet suggested by holistic health practitioners may contribute to lower BMD.

Exercise

Regular exercise has been touted as a significant factor in maintaining muscle mass and increasing BMD. But is the type of exercise that people are doing, increasingly in their younger years, contributing to better or worse outcomes to BMD. For bone to form adequate carbon dioxide (CO2 ) is essential. Some exercise regimes are so challenging, they contribute to excess levels of metabolic acidosis (lactic acid) and passing of CO2 from the body (worth noting that sugar consumption can also help to increase CO2 production) . Perhaps for exercise to be effective it should be light to moderate, with adequate rest periods that don’t mean that the participant is lying in a pool their sweat and vomit.

Walking, strength training with adequate rest, yoga, Pilates and other modes of moderate exercise appear most suitable for modest improvements to bone health but the diet and hormone factors are key.

It’s clear that osteoporosis is in the rise but it can be reversed. But instead of heading advice like cutting out dairy, eating lots of uncooked vegetables and training to complete exhaustion. There are more suitable mechanisms for improving bone health

References:

Cauley, J. A., Ewing, S. K., Taylor, B. C., Fink, H. A., Ensrud, K. E., Bauer, D. C., … Orwoll, E. S. (2010). Sex steroid hormones in older men: longitudinal associations with 4.5-year change in hip bone mineral density–the osteoporotic fractures in men study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 95(9), 4314–23. http://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2009-2635

Hernlund, E., Svedbom, a, Ivergård, M., Compston, J., Cooper, C., Stenmark, J., … Kanis, J. a. (2013). Osteoporosis in the European Union: medical management, epidemiology and economic burden. Archives of Osteoporosis, 8(1–2), 136. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11657-013-0136-1

Janssen, H. C. J. P., Samson, M. M., & Verhaar, H. J. J. (2002). Vitamin D deficiency, muscle function, and falls in elderly people. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 75(4), 611–5. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11916748

Masterjohn, C. (2007). Vitamin D toxicity redefined: Vitamin K and the molecular mechanism. Medical Hypotheses, 68(5), 1026–1034. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mehy.2006.09.051

Peat, R. (1999). Thyroid Therapies, Confusion and Fraud. Retrieved from www.raypeat.com/articles/articles/thyroid.shtml

Prior, J. C. (1990). Progesterone as a bone-trophic hormone. Endocrine Reviews, 11(2), 386–398. http://doi.org/10.1210/edrv-11-2-386

Watts, N. B., Adler, R. A., Bilezikian, J. P., Drake, M. T., Eastell, R., Orwoll, E. S., & Finkelstein, J. S. (2012). Osteoporosis in men: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, 97(6), 1802–1822. http://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2011-3045

Adrenal Fatigue or Reductionist Thinking?

adrenal

 

Here is the first part of my article, which published in the May 2014, Womens Health and Fitness Magazine.

Adrenal fatigue or reductionist thinking?

Often, being given a distinct diagnoses that can relate to modern living can   make sense to us, a modern condition that makes sense of the hectic lifestyle and the symptoms that we have been experiencing. Over the last decade there has been much literature on a so  called ‘Adrenal fatigue’, whose symptoms are wide reaching from fatigue, digestive dysfunction, weight and sleep issues.

Walther Canon and Hans Seyle, probably the most prominent  scientists to study and interpret the mechanics behind, adrenaline, cortisol and the stress response, showed that when  rats were exposed to high levels of stress, they developed issues such as ulcers, intestinal bleeding and then finally death. The common suggested auto immune diseases that are becoming more prevalent, such as intestinal hyper-permeability or leaky gut can therefore be interpreted as symptoms of chronic stressors.

The premise of adrenal fatigue works something along these lines.

  • You are exposed to stress
  • You produce stress hormones (Alarm phase)
  • Your body returns to normal
  • You become stressed again on a regular basis
  • You enter the adaptation phase
  • You constantly maintain the stress response through permanent exposure
  • The adrenal glands become exhausted
  • Suggestion that you have adrenal fatigue or exhaustion phase

There are many problems with this interpretation and deduction of adrenal fatigue, and how many practitioners treat this reductionist diagnosis.  If your adrenals were truly fatigued, you may not actually be with us anymore and ultimately be dead. Cortisol which is produced by the adrenal glands, is the primary hormone that directs immune function, inflammation and is involved in virtually all aspects of body function. Certainly the terms hypocortisolemia, too little cortisol and hyper, too much cortisol make sense, and that is what a typical adrenal stress test tells us. Are we producing too much or not enough cortisol , on that particular day, based around a suggested norm?

Cortisol does go up and down, and probably outside of suggested arbitrary norms especially if you experience or engage in the following:

  • Excessive physiological or structural stress, intense exercise without adequate rest.
  • Psychological stress
  • Diet or fail to eat enough calories, eating too much may also contribute over time
  • Eat a so called healthy diet based upon current guidelines
  • Fail to get adequate sleep.
  • Chronic exposure to environmental pollutants

The longer one stays in a state of chronic stress the more compromised all aspects of body function become. This can ultimately result in hormone, immune and metabolic systems dysfunction.

The positives from treating the aspects of adrenal fatigue are a compliance of those suffering from the suggested condition, to address aspects of why they have got to this current state of affairs. Overworking, too much or too little exercise, not enough sleep and psychological stress recognition can be aspects that can be changed with great effect.

To create effective change, should we not consider other aspects of function that would treat the root cause, rather than plaster over the symptom? Lets take a look at the cross over between symptoms of both adrenal and thyroid dysfunction, which have roots in energy and digestion. You may start to notice that there are many symptoms that you may experience a mixture of both and to highlight adrenal fatigue alone is problematic. The thyroid gland supports energetic process’s and when this becomes compromised we call on the adrenal glands to act in a supporting role. Addressing energy, metabolism and digestion, should be the target of any lifestyle or therapeutic interventions.

Adrenal symptoms Thyroid symptoms
Fatigue

Difficulty sleeping

Low blood pressure

Clenching teeth

Dizzyness

Arthritic issues

Crave salt

Sweats a lot

Allergies

Weakness

Afternoon crash

Need to wear sunglasses

Anxiety

Weight gain or loss

Difficult to lose or gain weight

Nervousness/anxiety

Constipation

Hair loss

Poor energy/fatigue

Feel cold hands and feet

Mentally sluggish

Morning headaches

Seasonal sadness

Poor sleep

 

 

 

 

However treating adrenal fatigue in isolation with adaptogenic herbs, restriction of sugar and other stimulants as is often the case, may be unwarranted and most importantly ineffective in resolving these issues. Treating any system in isolation is reductionist and often gives you at best, reductionist results. The complex interaction of the Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal-Thyroid-Gonadal axis is a system that helps our body manage many global aspects of our body’s function and therefore addressing adrenal balance leaves a gaping hole in your treatment strategy. Consider that the adrenals and in particular cortisol production can be a slave to the your environment, nutrition, exercise and other lifestyle choices. Take stock, address what may be affecting your stress hormone production, If these factors can be changed do so. Stress is a double-edged sword. We need a certain amount of stress to improve our physiological function. Constant exposure to stress decreases our biological state.

Raising biological wholeness such as energy levels, cognition and increasing balance throughout the hormonal system can give much better results than focusing on the adrenals. Remember that the adrenals and ultimately cortisol production elevate in response to, what you eat, or fail to eat, the environment, psychological and physiological stress. All of these aspects are changeable.  In the next article I suggest some strategies that can be used to improve energy and lower adrenal stress.