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1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

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Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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The cerebellum’s role is greater than we knew

Noel Thomas

250 cerebellum new uses

The cerebellum is located at the base of the skull where the spinal cord meets the brain. For years, scientists have believed its only roles were in helping to coordinate and regulate voluntary movement such as walking or writing. However, we've learned it plays a much larger role acting as the brain's “quality control unit.”

An ancient brain structure

Evolutionarily speaking, the cerebellum is an ancient brain structure common to humans, lizards, and fish. It takes up a relatively small portion of the human brain — about 10 percent by weight — but it contains about half of the brain's neurons, specialized brain cells that transmit signals.

More well-protected than other areas of the brain because it sits at the base of the back of the head, we've long known that the cerebellum coordinates voluntary movement.

Any time you shift your balance, coordinate multiple muscle groups, move your eyes, speak, or learn a new movement such as playing a musical instrument or riding a bike, you are using your cerebellum.

The primary integrator of information

The cerebellum is a primary integrator of information for the brain. The body's hundreds of thousands of receptors for vision, motion, and positioning constantly send information to the brain where the cerebellum condenses it and "gates" it on its way to the brain's cortex. The cortex then decides what the cerebellum will tell the body to do about the information.

The brain's ultimate quality control unit

Only a handful of researchers have explored cerebellum functions that might reach beyond motor control. Exciting new research out of Washington University has revealed that the cerebellum isn't only involved in sensory-motor function.

"It's involved in everything we do," says Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann, a neurology professor at Harvard and director of the ataxia unit at Massachusetts General Hospital who was not involved in the study.

It turns out that what the cerebellum does for motor control it also does for cognition and emotion.

The team found that only 20 percent of the cerebellum is dedicated to physical motion while a surprising 80 percent is dedicated to other functions such as:

  • Emotion
  • Memory
  • Language
  • Planning
  • Abstract thinking

The cerebellum isn't directly responsible for those tasks. Instead, it appears to monitor those brain areas doing the work and helps them perform better by constantly reviewing and improving them.

"We already thought that the cerebellum was cooler than most people thought, but these results were way more exciting and clear than I could have ever dreamt," says Dr. Nico Dosenbach, a professor of neurology at Washington University whose lab conducted the study.

A compromised cerebellum results in poor balance and worse

When the cerebellum loses function, it starts to fail at this job of gating information to the cortex. This provides the cortex with more information than it can manage, causing a form of sensory overload resulting in symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Emotional reactivity
  • Insomnia due to a racing mind
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blood pressure changes
  • Digestive issues

Common signs of a damaged cerebellum also involve disturbances in muscle control such as:

  • Loss of coordination of motor movement
  • Inability to judge distance and know when to stop
  • Inability to perform rapid alternating movements
  • Staggering, wide-based walking
  • Movement tremors
  • Tendency toward falling
  • Slurred speech
  • Weak muscles
  • Abnormal eye movements

In addition, the cerebellum easily falls prey to environmental toxins, oxidative stress, and food sensitivities — especially gluten.

It also commonly degenerates with age, which is why so many seniors seem to have trouble with balance.

Schmahmann also says that a poorly functioning cerebellum can lead to brain disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He and others will attempt to treat patients by improving their cerebellum function.

Is my cerebellum compromised?

One way to test if your cerebellum is not functioning optimally is to stand with your feet together and close your eyes. If you sway more to one side, it may indicate that side of your cerebellum is more compromised.

Other tests we can use to determine your cerebellum function include:

  • Finger to nose with eyes closed
  • Walking heel-to-heel in a straight line
  • Complex alternating movements
  • Ocular tracking

Other signs your cerebellum is not responding properly to its environment may include dizziness, nausea in cars or on boats, or nausea or dizziness when seeing things move swiftly such as in movies.

It's not uncommon for Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism patients to have autoimmunity against their cerebellum. If you have Hashimoto’s and also have symptoms pertaining to balance, dizziness, or nausea, ask our office about screening for brain autoimmunity.

Our busy lives present many challenges when it comes to healthy brain function, such as non-stop stress, inflammatory diets, lack of exercise, unstable blood sugar, and sleep deprivation.

Functional neurology and functional medicine offer ways to improve cerebellar function through diet, lifestyle, and customized brain rehabilitation exercises to improve various areas of the brain. Ask my office for information about how we can use functional neurology to improve yours.

Women react differently to cannabis than men

Noel Thomas

249 cannabis affects women differently

The use of cannabis for both medical and recreational purposes is increasing along with the growing trend of legalization in many states. As new studies abound regarding its health benefits, we are also learning that men and women can respond very differently to cannabis. This information may lead to improved methods for coping with addiction and other health issues.

The endocannabinoid system, or the body’s own production of “cannabis”

In school we learn about eleven major systems in the body — the respiratory, circulatory, urinary, reproductive, integumentary, skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, lymphatic and digestive systems.

Twenty-five years ago, a scientist researching the effect of THC, the primary intoxicant in cannabis, discovered a twelfth system, the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

He found a highly complex network of receptors in the body’s nervous system now called cannabinoid receptors.

This discovery sent researchers on a hunt for the chemicals naturally produced in our bodies designed to interact with these receptors, now called cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids are endogenous (produced within the body) signaling molecules that bind to and activate the cannabinoid receptors found in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune system.

The ECS has complex actions in our immune system, nervous system, and all of the body’s organs, and plays a role in:

  • Inflammation
  • Appetite
  • Pain
  • Mood
  • Memory
  • Reproduction
  • Cancer prevention

The ECS also plays a role in how exercise affects the brain and body. Because endocannabinoids can cross the blood–brain barrier, it has been suggested that the endocannabinoid anandamide contributes to the development of the exercise-induced euphoria commonly called "runner's high."

Women and men react differently to cannabis

A new review of animal studies revealed that sex differences in response to cannabis are both socio-cultural and biological, which contributes to our understanding of the different ways women and men respond to cannabis. This invites questions on how addiction treatment strategies may differ between the sexes.

Men are four times more likely to try cannabis than women. They are also more likely to use higher doses and use it more frequently. Researchers say this may be because the male sex hormone testosterone increases risk-taking behavior and suppresses the reward system in their brains.

But while women try cannabis less often and use lower doses than men, a study showed women seem to be more neurochemically vulnerable to developing addiction to cannabis.

Studies in rats show the female hormone estradiol (the most active form of estrogen) affects movement, social behavior, and sensory input to the brain through its effect on the ECS.

It also showed that the female rats had more sensitive endocannabinoid receptors in these areas of the brain compared to the male rats. The female rats also showed more significant hormone changes during the menstrual cycle that affect the female response to cannabinoids.

Research on humans shows that in women blood levels of enzymes that break down cannabinoids fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and brain levels of cannabinoid receptors increase with aging. Both of these factors mirror changes in estradiol.

As research into the interactions between cannabinoids and sex hormones evolves, we'll be able to better assess the impact of cannabis use on women and men and how to better address addiction.

Creating gender-based addiction rehabilitation, detoxification treatments, and relapse prevention strategies for patients with cannabis addiction can improve success rates.

The endocannabinoid system is vital to good health

A functioning ECS produces its own cannabinoids and is vital to good health. The ECS helps bring balance to the body, and may even be effective for restoring balance in relation to many health conditions such as neurodegenerative disorders, autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, and cancer.

Scientists have found that the ECS is dysfunctional in certain conditions associated with hypersensitivity to pain or stimulus such as fibromyalgia, migraines, and IBS.

The existence of the ECS explains why cannabinoids in hemp and other plants are therapeutic for some people by supporting and enhancing the ECS.

The cannabis plant contains more than 100 different cannabinoids with THC being perhaps the most well-known due to its psychoactive qualities. However, with the legalization of cannabis in many states, supplement producers are focused on cannabidiol (CBD) and terpenes, which are not psychoactive — and more frequently allowed by law.

CBD is now widely recognized as the compound responsible for many of the medicinal effects of hemp-based cannabis. Terpenes are the medicinal compounds that give cannabis its distinctive aroma.

There is debate over whether CBD and terpenes are individually therapeutic or whether they work better together in whole plant formulations. Some CBD producers offer both options.

Controversy also exists around whether CBD from non-psychoactive industrial hemp is as effective as CBD from cannabis, which has higher THC levels. Many CBD producers use hemp in order to comply with state and federal rules and to appeal to medical users who don't want to dabble in the psychoactive realm.

Support your cannabinoid system naturally

To boost your endocannabinoid system, adopt these easy lifestyle and dietary habits:

  • Avoid alcohol and the associated inflammation.
  • Get bodywork such as massage to increase anandamide, the "bliss" cannabinoid.
  • Eat plenty of leafy greens; they contain a terpene that activates cannabinoid receptors.
  • Eat plenty of Omega 3 essential fatty acids.
  • Exercise regularly (but don't over do it) to naturally maximize your "runner's high."

Gum disease has been shown to lead to Alzheimer’s

Noel Thomas

248 periodontal disease Alzheimers

It has long been known that periodontal disease — a common but preventable gum infection — is linked with health issues such as heart disease, mood disorders, and Type 2 diabetes. While periodontal disease has previously been associated with dementia and cognitive impairment, a recent study is the first to reveal that exposure to periodontal bacteria supports development of plaques that promote the neuropathology found in Alzheimer's disease.

Poor mouth care leads to periodontal disease

Our mouths naturally host many bacteria. Along with mucus and other particles, bacteria form a colorless plaque on the teeth. Regular brushing and flossing help remove plaque, yet when it is not removed it can harden into tartar that brushing won't remove. This can lead to periodontal disease and higher risk for a variety of associated health problems.

Look for the following symptoms of periodontal disease:

  • Red or swollen gums
  • Tender or bleeding gums
  • Receding gums or teeth that appear longer than before
  • Bad breath that won't go away
  • Loose teeth
  • Painful chewing
  • Loss of teeth

Risk factors for gum disease include:

  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Hormonal changes in women (pregnancy, contraceptives, menopause)
  • Medications that reduce the flow of saliva
  • AIDS and other illnesses (and their medications)
  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Stress
  • Fillings that have become defective and leave gaps
  • Dental bridges that no longer fit
  • Poor diet

Periodontal bacteria linked to Alzheimer's-like plaques in the brain

A team at the University of Illinois recently found that long-term exposure to periodontal disease bacteria in mice causes inflammation and degeneration of neurons (brain cells) similar to the effects of Alzheimer's in humans.

In a comparison to mice who were not exposed to the bacteria, the exposed mice were found to have:

  • Significantly higher levels of accumulated amyloid plaque, also found in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer's disease.
  • Fewer intact neurons and more brain inflammation.
  • DNA from the periodontal bacteria found in their brain tissue.
  • A bacterial protein found inside their neurons.

While much of Alzheimer's research is done on mice that are specially bred to be prone to the disease, the results of this study were reinforced by the fact that the mice were "wild-type," or not genetically primed to develop Alzheimer's.

Alzheimer's accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases

Dementia is a general term applied to multiple conditions causing memory loss and other cognitive issues that interfere with one's ability to cope with daily life.

Alzheimer's is a progressive dementia, generally worsening over a period of years.

In the early stages a person may still function independently, driving, working, and engaging in social life. One might notice memory lapses, and difficulty with word recall and location of objects, but symptoms are subtle and not always recognized by the patient or their family and friends.

Moderate Alzheimer's tends to be the longest phase. A person may have more difficulty coping with daily tasks that require mental focus, and memory continues to decline. Mood issues may arise, as well as changes in sleep patterns and increased risk of wandering and getting lost.

In late stage Alzheimer's, individuals lose the ability to have a conversation, respond to their surroundings, and even control their own movements.

Optimize your oral health

While we still have a lot to learn about how oral health relates to Alzheimer's and other diseases, we do know it's wise to take the best care possible of our teeth and gums by adopting these habits:

Brush twice a day for two minutes each time. Make sure to vary the movements and get to all the hard-to-reach places.

Floss daily to remove food and plaque from the spaces between teeth, using regular floss, a special brush, or a water flosser.

Oil pulling. This ancient practice of swishing coconut oil through the teeth has shown to whiten teeth and reduce bacterial counts in the mouth.

Inspect your mouth regularly for gaps between the teeth and gums, redness, bleeding, or teeth that seem to be getting longer.

Visit your dentist regularly for cleanings.

Don't smoke. Smokers have significantly more risk for gum disease than non-smokers. Smoking also reduces chances for successful treatment of gum disease.

Eat a diet low in sugars and rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and fatty fish to provide essential nutrients and help quell inflammation. Some evidence shows omega-3 fatty acids help reduce the risk of periodontal disease.

Functional neurology helps prevent Alzheimer’s

Understanding the causes and risk factors for Alzheimer's is key for developing successful treatment protocols, especially since more than 95 percent of cases are late-onset with largely unknown causes.

If you are suffering from early stages of memory loss and other early warning signs of dementia, it’s important to take action right away.

In functional neurology we perform a comprehensive brain exam to see which areas of your brain are under active, over active, or degenerating too quickly. Customized brain rehabilitation exercises can help restore your brain function and health and stop the accelerated degeneration associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Additionally, in addition to considering your oral health, we also use functional medicine strategies to evaluate and address your overall health so your brain has an optimal chemical environment in which to operate. This includes looking at your diet, lifestyle, supplementation, gut and immune health, blood sugar stability, chronic infections, and exposure to toxins.

Please contact my office for more information about how functional medicine can help you protect your long-term health.

If your insurance doesn't offer dental coverage and you can't afford it on your own, you may be able to find help via these resources:

Autism linked to DDT exposure in the womb

Noel Thomas

247 autism and DDT

A recent Finnish study found a link between DDT, the banned insecticide that is still prevalent in the environment, and autism. Pregnant women with elevated blood serum levels of a breakdown product of DDT showed increased risk of having children who went on to develop autism. The study is the first to connect an insecticide with increased autism risk.

Maternal DDT exposure raises autism risk in children

In a study of more than 1 million pregnancies, researchers identified almost children with autism and compared them to mother-child pairs without autism.

Maternal blood taken during early pregnancy was analyzed for DDE, a metabolite (breakdown product) of DDT. They also evaluated PCBs, another long- banned toxin that nevertheless remains in the environment.

They found that:

  • The odds of autism were nearly one-third higher among children whose mothers had elevated DDE levels.
  • The odds of autism more than twice as high among children whose mother's DDE levels were in the top 25 percent. 

These findings persisted after adjusting for maternal age, psychiatric history, and other factors.

While the study showed a strong link between maternal DDT and autism risk, it showed no association between PCBs and autism. The researchers propose two reasons. First, maternal DDE is associated with low birth weight, a well-researched risk factor for autism, whereas maternal PCB has not been linked to low birth weight.

Second, they propose a connection with hormone function in which DDE has more of an impact than PCB.

The study is the first of its kind to link a pregnant woman’s blood levels of an insecticide to an increased risk of autism in her offspring. Previous studies have looked at pregnant women’s proximity to sites contaminated with pollutants.

Wasn't DDT banned decades ago?

DDT has not only been linked to autism, but also to the following:

  • Breast cancer
  • Reproductive difficulties
  • Changes to the nervous system
  • Impaired immune system function
  • Liver damage

DDT and PCBs were banned in many countries more than 30 years ago. However, they remain in soils and elsewhere in the environment because they take decades to break down.

Exposure happens in small increments, mostly from eating foods that contain minute levels, in particular fish, poultry, and meat.

DDT attaches to the roots of plants, but it does not easily move to other parts of the plants. However, DDT in the air can be deposited on to the surfaces of plants, making them carriers as well.

In addition, not all countries have banned DDT, so it is possible to ingest it via imported food products or while traveling.

When we ingest DDT, the amount we actually absorb depends on what it was attached to when ingested.

As a result, a pregnant women passes on DDT metabolites to unborn baby.

DDT and DDE are more soluble in fats and oils, and more bioavailable when mixed with them. Because they are more fat-soluble than water-soluble, they tend to concentrate in our fatty tissue — in fact, they can be found in fat at levels several hundred times that of found in the blood.

Over time, the liver metabolizes DDT/DDE and makes it water-soluble for removal, but the process is very slow. According to the University of Nevada, it has a half-life of 8 years, meaning an amount you ingested 8 years ago is now only reduced by half.

How do I avoid DDT?

DDT and DDE can be found in root crops, leafy crops, grains, fatty meats, fish, poultry, milk, cheese, and oil. They may be found in small amounts on US food but can be found in larger amounts in or on imported food products.

Below are ways to reduce your DDT exposure:

  • Wash your produce to remove DDT residues.
  • When cooking fish, remove the skin and visible fat, then broil, grill, or bake the fish so the fat drips off.
  • Support liver health and detox capabilities.
  • Be aware of health advisories for imported foods source where DDT is applied.
  • If you fish local waterholes, check your state website for DDT advisories.
  • Supplement with curcumin, which has anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties. Curcumin also inhibits the estrogenic effects of DDT and is synergistic with phytoestrogens.

For more information about how to support your body's ability to cope with DDT in the environment, contact my office.

Nutrients to help repair your leaky blood-brain barrier

Noel Thomas

246 nutrients for blood brain barrier

The brain is surrounded by a thin lining called the blood brain barrier, which prevents harmful compounds from entering the brain while allowing helpful nutrients in and cellular debris out. However, for a lot of people the blood brain barrier degrades, allowing harmful toxins and compounds into the brain. This causes inflammation in the brain and symptoms such as depression, brain fog, memory loss, and other brain-based symptoms and disorders.

The strategies for repairing a leaky blood brain barrier are similar to the strategies for repairing a leaky gut because the causes are similar. Some of the more foundations include balancing your blood sugar, removing inflammatory foods and chemicals from your diet and environment, and focusing on a whole foods diet that is abundant in produce.

However, beyond that certain nutritional compounds have been shown to help repair a leaky blood brain barrier:

Resveratrol. Resveratrol is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant (protects against damaging free radicals) known to help prevent development of neurodegenerative diseases.

Resveratrol can increase your brain's growth hormone, support mitochondria, and protect and restore the blood-brain barrier.

Curcumin. Often used in conjunction with resveratrol, curcumin is the anti-inflammatory component of the spice turmeric. Heavily researched, curcumin can:

  • Lower stress hormones
  • Increase the brain's growth hormone
  • Reduce hyper-permeability of the blood-brain barrier
  • Reverse blood-brain barrier dysfunction
  • Improve integrity of the blood-brain barrier
  • Reduce inflammation and oxidative stress
  • Sulforaphane. A phytochemical found in cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, this antioxidant has anti-inflammatory qualities similar to curcumin.

Studies show it can prevent breakdown of the blood-brain barrier, reduce its permeability, and improve brain function after traumatic brain injuries and stroke.

If you take sulforaphane in supplement form, make sure it contains the co-factor myrosinase.

Vitamin D. Vitamin D is a powerful tool in managing inflammation and autoimmunity. Every tissue in your body has vitamin D receptors. Studies show it can help prevent leaky brain by reducing inflammation and reducing blood-brain barrier disruption.

Ways our modern lifestyle contributes to a lack of vitamin D:

  • Modern diets lack vitamin D-rich foods such as liver and organ meats, seafood, butter, and egg yolks
  • Chronic stress and elevated cortisol (stress hormone) depletes vitamin D
  • Gut inflammation reduces absorption of vitamin D
  • Obesity contributes to vitamin D deficiency

While we think of direct sunlight as the best way to get vitamin D, not everyone can make enough this way. To maximize your vitamin D levels, get 15 minutes of sun on your skin every day and take care of your gut health to optimize absorption of dietary vitamin D.

In the absence of exposure to enough sunlight, it's recommended to supplement with a minimum of 1000 IU of vitamin D3 (not D2) daily to maintain proper blood levels.

Some people need much higher doses, from 5,000 to 25,000 IU per day. If you take higher doses, have your blood levels tested periodically to avoid toxicity.

Emulsified vitamin D is best for those with poor digestion.

B vitamins. Several B vitamins support the health of the blood-brain barrier:

  • Vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency disrupts the blood-brain barrier and supplementation can restore it.
  • Vitamins B12, B5, and B9 (folate) can restore blood-brain barrier integrity.

Magnesium. A vital mineral for more than 300 biochemical processes in your body, magnesium affects brain neurotransmitters, enzymes, and hormones. Many people are deficient, so ask your healthcare practitioner of you should be tested.

Magnesium protects the brain by:

  • Protecting the blood-brain barrier
  • Supporting mitochondria
  • Increasing the brain's growth hormone
  • Assisting in overcoming addiction and withdrawal

Strong dietary sources of magnesium include:

  • Spinach
  • Chard
  • Almonds
  • Avocado
  • Banana
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Dark chocolate

Omega 3 fatty acids. Essential fatty acids (EFA) are fats our bodies need but can't produce on their own, so they must come from food sources or supplementation.

EFAs are critical for:

  • Dampening inflammation and autoimmunity
  • Supporting blood vessel and skin health
  • Production of hormones

It's estimated that up to 80 percent of the US population is deficient in EFAs.

Primarily found in fish, Omega 3s are EFAS that support your mitochondria, increase brain growth hormone, and support the blood-brain barrier.

When consuming EFAs, it's important to consume the proper ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6. Omega 6 is a necessary EFA but taken in the wrong ratio to Omega 3 it is highly inflammatory.

The average American consumes a shocking ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 of 25:1, contributing to the epidemic of inflammation-related health disorders.

Researchers recommend a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 that ranges from 1:1 to 4:1. A recommended dose is 3,500 mg for a person eating a diet of 2,000 calories per day.

As you now know, it's important to take great care of your precious blood-brain barrier. Many of the above suggestions also benefit other health issues, so by adopting them you are hitting more than one target at a time. For more information on how to fix your leaky brain, please contact my office.

Brain inflammation can be at the root of your suicidality

Noel Thomas

245 suicide and brain inflammation

If your antidepressants aren’t helping your severe depression or suicidal thoughts, you’re not alone — but an alternative could be the key. New research shows brain inflammation plays a key role in depression, pointing the way to new treatments for depression and suicidal ideation.

For decades, depression has been treated as a chemical imbalance in the brain’s neurotransmitters — most often serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Commonly prescribed medications such as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and NDRIs (norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitors), attempt to resolve depression by changing how the brain stores, transports, and reabsorbs these key brain chemicals.

While this treatment helps some, it proves inadequate for many others. For those with severe depression and suicidal thoughts it can strand them in the danger zone with nowhere to turn.

The inflammatory model of depression: Microglial over-activation

New research reveals the root of depression may not be chemical imbalance but instead chronic inflammation that disrupts brain function. This can lead to malfunctions in how the brain manages not only its neurotransmitters, but other key functions such as fighting inflammation, immune response, and communication with the rest of the body, including the gut.

A team at the University of Manchester has found a strong correlation between major depressive episodes and increased neuroinflammation — inflammation of the brain's neurons.

At the root of this relationship is increased activity of microglia cells (glial cells), the immune cells of the brain and nervous system.

Glial cells outnumber other neurons in the brain and are responsible for removing debris from the brain. As neurons die, the glial cells chew off the dead portions so that communication between remaining cells is not impaired.

Under normal circumstances, glial cells do their cleanup and the brain returns to normal. However, processed foods, environmental toxins, sleep deprivation, and chronic stress spikes inflammation in the brain.

Unlike other immune cells in the body, glial cells don't have an easy off-switch. When brain inflammation continues unabated, glial cells become over activated, creating an inflammatory cascade that damages neighboring neurons and destroys their ability to communicate with each other. This can result in brain fog, depression, and worse.

Glial cell over activation is fueled by:

  • Chronic systemic inflammation
  • A diet high in sugars, carbs, processed foods, and industrial seed oils
  • Poorly regulated blood sugar
  • Food sensitivities
  • Autoimmunity and other chronic health conditions
  • Chronic viral infections
  • Traumatic brain injuries (even minor concussions)
  • Gluten sensitivity

Glial cell over activation linked to suicidal thoughts

The study compared subjects with moderate to severe depression and suicidal thoughts to a control group of healthy subjects with no depression. In the depressed group, brain scans showed increased microglial activity.

The most significant increase was observed in the part of the brain responsible for mood regulation, pointing to a link between suicidal thoughts and increased brain inflammation. The control group showed no elevated glial activity.

Prior studies of post-mortem suicide subjects also showed similar inflammation in these brain regions.

Do I have glial cell over activation?

Look for these clues your brain is inflamed:

  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Poor memory
  • Physical or mental fatigue
  • Difficulty finding words
  • Gut inflammation (the gut is connected to the brain via the vagus nerve)
  • Food sensitivities
  • Leaky gut

Lowering brain inflammation to relieve depression and suicidality

Many functional neurology patients have relieved depression by addressing brain inflammation.

Below are ways you can minimize inflammation and protect your brain.

Exercise regularly. Exercise can literally save your brain. Raising your heart rate a few times a week positively impacts your brain by flooding it with healthy brain compounds such as brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which helps neurons communicate better. It only requires a few minutes of high intensity exercise to increase BDNF levels. The more coordination required for the exercise, the better it is for your brain.

Control blood sugar. Whether you have chronic high blood sugar (insulin resistance) or low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), imbalanced blood sugar is inflammatory to the brain. Left unmanaged, it can be one of the most damaging factors for the brain. In fact, chronic high blood sugar is so damaging to the brain, neurologists call Alzheimer’s disease “Type 3 diabetes.”

Symptoms of chronic high blood sugar (insulin resistance):

  • Constant sugar cravings, especially after meals
  • Fatigue after meals
  • Constant hunger
  • Waist girth equal to or larger than hip girth
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased appetite and thirst
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • General fatigue

Symptoms of chronic low blood sugar (hypoglycemia):

  • Lack of appetite or nausea in the morning
  • Sugar cravings
  • Eating to relieve fatigue
  • Irritability, light-headedness, or dizziness when you miss a meal
  • The need for caffeine for energy
  • Energy crashes in the afternoon

Adopt an anti-inflammatory diet. American diets are high in sugars, processed foods, allergens such as corn, soy, and wheat, and inflammatory foods such as gluten and nightshades. An anti-inflammatory elimination and reintroduction diet can help determine what foods may be causing you undue inflammation. Contact my office for guidance on how to manage this protocol.

Fix leaky gut and leaky brain. Leaky gut happens when the lining of the small intestine becomes inflamed, damaged, and over-porous, allowing undigested food particles, toxins, and other pathogens into the bloodstream. These pathogens trigger an immune cascade that leads to systemic inflammation, increasing your risk for more inflammation, food sensitivities, and autoimmune disease.

The brain is surrounded by a protective layer called the blood-brain barrier (BBB), meant to allow nutrients in and keep pathogens out. Similar to leaky gut, inflammation can disrupt the integrity of the BBB, making it over-permeable.

This allows inflammatory pathogens into the brain, firing up the immune response and glial over activation. Once the BBB is leaky, many other immune triggers can feed the inflammatory fire.

Avoid gluten. Gluten exposure opens the lining of the blood-brain barrier, allowing inflammatory pathogens into the brain and contributing to glial over activation and damage to brain cells and function.

For those with celiac disease, gluten exposure activates zonulin, which opens the lining of both the gut and the BBB, leading to more brain inflammation.

Manage stress. Regular stress-reduction practices are anti-inflammatory and provide great benefits for brain health. Even a few minutes a day of one of the following can make a difference:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing
  • Yoga
  • Tai Chi
  • Dance
  • Laughter
  • Hug a tree
  • Walk in nature
  • Gratitude journaling

Improve circulation to the brain. In addition to exercise, look for other ways to increase brain circulation such as:

  • Gingko biloba
  • Eliminate smoking
  • Address asthma
  • Address hypothyroidism (and associated anemia)

Address head injuries. If you have a head injury, you need to address it no matter how mild or severe. Even a mild head injury can initiate glial cell-over activation, and many with old untreated head injuries have an inflammatory fire smoldering in the brain that can erupt years later in the form of mood issues, brain dysfunction, and worse. Those with multiple head impacts over time are especially at risk — even if the injuries have all been minor.

While it was previously thought that the intensity of the head trauma mattered most, we now know that other factors such as an inflammatory diet, lack of exercise, toxic overload, and chronic stress set the stage for how well your brain and immune system will respond to trauma, regardless of the intensity.

An exciting future for depression treatment

Ongoing research will offer more answers to how inflammation relates to depression. Meanwhile, functional neurology offers numerous tools to reduce its impacts on the body and brain. For more guidance into how you can use the above tools to minimize brain inflammation and reduce your depression, contact my office.

Exercise your vagus nerve for better gut health

Noel Thomas

244 exercise vagus nerve

Are you following the right diet and taking all the right supplements yet still struggling with irresolvable gut problems? The problem could be in your head, or more exactly, in the large nerve that runs between your brain and your digestive system.

Called the vagus nerve, this large nerve sends communication back and forth between the brain and the organs, including the digestive organs. If your gut problems are accompanied by poor memory, brain fog, problems with cognition, or other brain symptoms, then you know you might have a sluggish vagus nerve.

Indigestion, acid reflux, constipation, burping, gas, bloating, diarrhea, pain, and irritable bowel disorders are some of the common problems that result from an insufficiently active vagus nerve. A problematic vagus nerve is also evidence that your brain is degenerating, or aging, too quickly.

The brain delivers commands to the gut via the vagus nerve. This function executes digestion, gut repair and regeneration, moves food through the intestines (motility), secretes digestive enzymes and juices, triggers digestive hormones, and more.

When brain function deteriorates or the brain degenerations, the vagus nerve does not receive sufficient communication from the brain to deliver to the gut. This poor communication between the gut and the brain causes constipation, leaky gut, food sensitivities, irritable bowel disorders, and other gut problems.

This is one reason gut problems are common among people with brain injuries, the elderly, or people struggling with poor brain function.

Exercise the vagus nerve to improve gut function

A functional neurologist conducts a thorough exam of your brain health and function and then customizes a rehabilitation program unique to your brain. This rehabilitation may include activating your vagus nerve to improve your gut function.

The good news is you can also activate your vagus nerve on your own at home with some simple exercises.

How to exercise and improve your vagus nerve

First, how do you know if you need vagus nerve activation?

  • Look at the back of your throat in the mirror when you say “ahhhh.” If the uvula (the little punching bag at the back of your throat) does not rise much, that’s an indication of a sluggish vagus nerve.
  • You don’t have much of a gag reflex; you can test this by pressing on the back of your tongue with a tongue depressor. It should make you gag.
  • If possible, listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope. You should hear intermittent rumbling noises. If you hear virtually nothing, this indicates sluggish bowel and vagal activity.

So, it looks like you have a sluggish vagus nerve, now what? Here are some exercises to activate the vagus nerve, taken from Dr. Kharrazian’s book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?. You can also contact my office regarding some other methods of activation. It is a growing field with many innovations.

Robustly gargle several times a day. Gargle each sip of a glass of water several times a day hard enough to make your eyes tear up.

Sing loudly. Sing as loudly as you can several times a day if you are in a place where you can do this, like the car.

Gag. Use a tongue depressor to gently press on the back of your tongue and make yourself gag several times a day until your eyes tear. This is one of the stronger approaches; just be careful not to poke the back of your throat.

Coffee enemas. Google coffee enemas and hold the enema solution as long as you can.

This is a very simple summary of how to activate the vagus nerve. For more advice unique to your brain’s needs, please contact my office.

Vary your exercise for better brain benefits

Noel Thomas

243 exercise for the brain

New research shows that different kinds of exercise affect the brain in different ways. Although exercise is important to reduce the risk of chronic disease, you can also use different forms of exercise to hone in on your desired brain-based outcomes.

Aerobic exercise protects memory

In mild Alzheimer's patients, those who are more physically active show less brain shrinkage than those who are less fit. Another study of older adults showed those with higher cardiorespiratory fitness had less deterioration of the brain's white matter, even after they controlled for factors such as age, sex and body mass index.

This is partly due to increased blood flow that brings more oxygen, growth factors, hormones, and nutrients to the brain, enabling it to grow stronger and more efficient.

Initial explorations into aerobic exercise's benefits focused on mice, who showed improved memory after regular running on a wheel.

This was attributed to increased neuron formation in the brain's hippocampus, which is involved in verbal memory and learning. Also noted was increased n brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), an anti-inflammatory brain chemical that promotes growth of new neurons.

Different workouts benefit different areas of the brain

Now we're seeing a flood of research that points to weight lifting, high-intensity interval training, and even yoga for positive effects on brain health and function.

Below are categories of exercise, the region of the brain they affect, and the associated functions.

Weight lifting: Prefrontal cortex, involved in complex thinking, multitasking, problem-solving, and reasoning.

Yoga: Frontal lobe, insula and amygdala, involved in integration of thoughts and emotions.

High-intensity interval training: Hypothalamus, involved in appetite regulation, addictions, and cravings.

Sports drills:

  • Prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia, related to inhibition, attention, and task switching.
  • Parietal lobe, related to visual-spatial processing. 
  • Cerebellum, related to attention.

Aerobic exercise: Hippocampus involved in memory and learning.

Comparing different types of exercise

In a study comparing strength training with aerobic exercise, researchers looked at three groups of women: One group took part in brisk walking, one lifted weights, and the control group simply stretched.

The walking and weight lifting groups experienced positive effects on their spatial memory — the ability to remember one's sense of space and surroundings.

The aerobic-only group also saw improvements in verbal memory. The weight lifting-only group saw significant improvement in executive function, mental skills such as playing with ideas, meeting challenges, thinking before acting, resisting temptations, and staying focused. This group also performed better on tests of associative memory such as linking a face to a name.

Combine exercises or pick just one?

Another study looked into combining workouts for maximum brain benefits.

In dementia subjects, the group that participated in a combination of brisk walking and strength training had more improvement in executive function than either the groups that only walked briskly or only strength trained.

While these potential benefits are of value to all ages, this is of particular interest for aging populations who are at most risk for brain degeneration. It seems for older adults, walking is not enough. They also need to do some strength training.

Aerobic exercise alone powers production of BDNF but combining it with strength training may be the winning combination.

Why? Strength training releases insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), known to positively impact communication between brain neurons, as well as promote growth of new neurons and blood vessels. Strength training also helps lower levels of homocysteine, an inflammatory factor that plays into dementia in older adults.

Exercise benefits children's developing brains

Varied exercise benefits children as well, improving attention, executive function, and capacity for math and reading tests.

Research has shown brisk walking can help kids with ADHD focus better on tests on short-term basis.

On the other hand, highly structured exercises such as sports drills that requires intense focus can hamper attention in children before tests. However, these kinds of focused coordination activities taken in small bits over time may help kids build attention span and actually do better on tests requiring concentration and avoiding distractions.

Pick exercise you enjoy to get your body moving

Current exercise recommendations for adults are a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity plus two or more days of muscle-strengthening exercises each week. For youth ages 6 to 17, 60 minutes of physical activity per day is recommended, including aerobic, strengthening, and bone-strengthening exercises.

What is the best kind of exercise to do? With the big picture in mind, consider varying your exercise regimen regularly to benefit the whole brain. In moments of lower motivation, pick an exercise you enjoy so you'll actually do it.

Contact my office for more help with what kind of exercise your brain needs most.

Your brain can change thanks to neuroplasticity

Noel Thomas

242 neuroplasticity

Although we start life with roughly 100 billion neurons, we start to lose neurons the moment we are born due to the effects of stress, toxins, inflammation, aging, trauma, disease, and other factors.

So why can some people’s brains stay sharp and vital into old age?

The answer is not in the number of neurons, but in neuroplasticity, the ability of your brain to learn and adapt to change by creating additional links to neighboring neurons.

While strength in numbers is good, strength in connectivity is better when it comes to the brain.

Each neuron can send out thousands of connections to other neurons. As we age, even though we lose many neurons and the ones we retain become slower, neuroplasticity means cells become better over time at making more connections.

The resulting network of connection gives us the ability to complete complex tasks and even be that senior with a sharper mind than a PhD student.

However, neuroplasticity depends on two main factors: stimulation and the right chemical environment.

For example, a stroke patient who has smoked for 20 years (toxins and low oxygen), never exercises (low oxygen), and eats sweets and fast food every day (blood sugar issues) is going to have a different potential for recovery than someone who has a healthy diet, exercises regularly, and avoids environmental toxins. Their levels of plasticity are very different.

One way to gauge your brain's potential for plasticity: Ask if it's easier to learn new facts or skills than it was five years ago. If it's easier, your brain has developed greater plasticity. If it's harder, you have inefficient plasticity.

If you are in the second category, don't despair. Given the right tools and environment, your brain can improve its plasticity.

How to support your brain's plasticity

Our brains are incredibly adaptive, and given the right care — oxygen, fuel, and stimulation, they can stay healthy and sharp well into old age.

Anti-inflammatory diet. A diet that supports stable blood sugar and addresses inflammation and food sensitivities is the foundation to restoring and supporting your brain's plasticity and health.

Eat plenty of healthy fats. Our brains are composed largely of fats,and we need to eat plenty of healthy fats to support them. Focus on fats such as cold-water fish, olive oil, avocado oil, nuts, and coconut oil. Supplementing with omega 3 fatty acids is a great way to support brain health.

Exercise daily. A body that moves has a brain that gets oxygen. Exercise also increases BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor), an anti-inflammatory brain chemical that helps eliminate brain fog and improve brain function.

Stress reduction. Chronic stress causes a cascade of physiological effects that reduces oxygen and increases brain inflammation. Try these time-tested ways to reduce your daily stress level:

  • Deep breathing
  • Chi Gong
  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Laughter
  • Play
  • Grounding

Prioritize sleep. Without adequate sleep, the brain and body experience increased inflammation and cannot function at their best. To improve sleep, adopt these daily habits:

  • Get 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily.
  • Go to bed at the same time every night.
  • Keep your bedroom cool and dark.
  • Prioritize naps when you can.
  • Avoid screen light in the evening. Instead, read a book or play a board game.
  • If you must use screens before bed, use blue-blocker glasses, and install the F.lux app on your device.
  • Keep your TV and home office outside your bedroom.
  • If you suffer from low blood sugar have a small, high-protein, low sugar snack just before bed to help avoid 3 a.m. insomnia.

Address food sensitivities. Food reactivity can cause systemic inflammation that leads to brain inflammation and degeneration. Ask your functional medicine practitioner for help in determining your sensitivities.

Address hormonal imbalances. When hormones become imbalanced you lose neurotransmitter activity and brain function. PMS, perimenopause, menopause, and low or high estrogen in women as well as low testosterone in men can compromise brain health and function. Simple lab testing can help determine your next steps.

Learn something new. Challenging the brain to take on a new task encourages it to form new neural connections. If you haven't done this in a few years, you may feel a bit dull or slow at it, don't give up! Keep at it and you'll be surprised at how soon those gears get greased and your brain starts firing faster. Suggestions: A new hobby, craft, language, or musical instrument.

While modern life can pose challenges to brain health and plasticity, it's never too late to adopt measures to support yours. Your brain is highly adaptable and very responsive to supportive measures.

Contact my office for more information on how to improve yours

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You can reverse memory loss before it’s too late

Noel Thomas

241 memory loss can be reversed

People treat memory loss and Alzheimer’s as if they are unlucky genetic fates with no prevention or cure. But the truth is they start years before symptoms are diagnosable and you can do something about it. Your diet, lifestyle, physical activity, other factors all influence your brain health.

A 2014 study showed that 9 out of 10 patients were able to reverse their memory loss and experience significantly improved memory by implementing a program of dietary changes, regular exercise, specific supplementation, better sleep, and brain stimulation.

Results were so remarkable that some were able to return to jobs they left due to their worsening memory. In fact, the only patient who did not improve was one with late-stage Alzheimer’s — the brain is far too degenerated at that point to recover.

This study was the first of its kind to show memory loss can be reversed and the improvement sustained. But it takes work.

The researchers who conducted the study drew their inspiration from similar studies that showed diet and lifestyle changes improved the health in patients with diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and HIV.

Changes the study subjects implemented included:

  • Eliminating all simple carbohydrates, such as breads, white rice, pasta, sugars, etc.
  • Removing gluten and processed foods from the diet
  • Eating more produce and wild fish
  • Doing yoga and other stress-reducing activities
  • Increasing sleep from 4-5 hours to 7-8 hours a night
  • Supplementing with methyl B12, vitamin D3, fish oil, CoQ10, curcumin, resveratrol, ashwagandha, and coconut oil
  • Exercising a minimum of 30 minutes 4-6 times a week
  • Cutting out snacking
  • Using hormone therapy if necessary

The biggest challenge in the study was that the subjects complained about making so many drastic changes. However, except for the one with advanced Alzheimer’s, they all improved their health and reversed their memory loss.

Things that cause memory loss

Reduced consumption of starchy carbohydrates and sugars was an instrumental part of the study. Sugars and processed carbohydrates are so damaging to the brain that some researchers call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes.

Exercise is also vital when it comes to brain health. Regular exercise prevents and helps reverse memory loss.

Adequate sleep helps with memory because brain waves produced during sleep transfer memories from the hippocampus, an area of short term memory, to the prefrontal cortex, an area of long term memory. Insufficient and poor-quality sleep promote memory loss.

Gluten and other inflammatory can cause memory loss by inflaming the brain. In fact, in individuals with gluten sensitivity, neurological tissue is the tissue most often damaged by gluten intolerance. For some just going gluten free can significantly reverse memory loss.

Ask my office how we can use functional neurology and functional medicine to help you reverse your memory loss and improve your overall brain function.

Is a “leaky brain” causing your brain problems?

Noel Thomas

240 leaky blood brain barrier

You may have heard how important it is to heal a leaky gut, but it's just as important to address permeable blood-brain barrier, or a "leaky brain." Linked to a variety of chronic health issues, leaky brain is a surprisingly common problem that can be addressed with proper anti-inflammatory dietary and lifestyle modifications.

The protective barrier you never knew you had

The blood-brain barrier is a protective layer in the circulatory system of your brain, serving to filter and block harmful substances while allowing beneficial nutrients to pass into the brain and cellular debris to pass out.

However, certain circumstances can break down the blood-brain barrier and cause it to become hyper-permeable, or "leaky."

When unwanted substances enter the brain, they can cause brain inflammation linked to conditions such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Brain fog
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Parkinson's disease
  • ADHD

Schizophrenia and other psychological disorders

What causes a leaky brain?

More and more functional medicine patients are becoming familiar with leaky gut. If you have leaky gut, chances are you have leaky brain too as similar mechanisms cause it.

Leaky gut and leaky brain frequently occur together as their root causes are similar:

  • Chronic stress
  • Systemic inflammation
  • Poor diet and antioxidant status
  • Head trauma
  • Elevated glucose and diabetes
  • Elevated homocysteine from B vitamin deficiency
  • Environmental toxins
  • Heavy metals
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Oxidative stress
  • Food additives
  • Sleep issues
  • Chronic infections
  • Excess alcohol consumption

If you have any of the symptoms of leaky brain and this list of causes rings some bells, then it's worth looking into how to support the health of your blood-brain barrier.

How to support a healthy blood-brain barrier

While the number of leaky brain causes and symptoms may seem daunting, the good news is the brain is very receptive to simple healing protocols. There are a number of things you can do to help heal a leaky blood-brain barrier:

Heal your leaky gut. Leaky brain and leaky gut happen for the same reasons. A focused healing protocol for leaky gut often resolves symptoms of leaky brain.

The gut and brain are intimately connected via the "gut-brain axis," a two-way communication pathway along the vagus nerve, which leads from the base of the brain to all the major organs.

When either the brain or gut is out of order, it can affect the function of the other. Therefore, it's important to support your digestive health.

You can help support your gut health through the following:

  • Eat plentiful and varied vegetables (and just a bit of fruit) to give healthy bacteria in your gut the fiber they need.
  • Supplement with a high-quality probiotic.
  • Consume fermented foods such as kimchee, kombucha, and water kefir to support a healthy gut environment.

Avoid gluten. Gluten is highly inflammatory and one of the worst foods for the brain (and the gut):

  • It elevates zonulin, the protein your body produces to increase barrier permeability.
  • Many studies confirm that gluten leads to the neuroinflammation behind many psychiatric problems.
  • Gluten sensitivity can also result in negative changes to white matter in the brain associated with neurologic disorders such as multiple sclerosis.

If you aren't convinced, try following a gluten-free diet for 30 days and see how you feel. Caution: Gluten is hidden in many foods, so make sure you understand everything on food labels.

Avoid reactive foods. The inflammation from food sensitivities can cause leaky blood-brain barrier. To find out if you react to certain foods, ask our office about food sensitivity testing or an elimination-reintroduction diet.

Sleep. Deep sleep is one of the most important factors for brain health. Sleep deprivation is linked with impaired blood-brain barrier function and permeability.

To maximize your sleep, incorporate the following daily habits:

  • Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
  • Avoid blue screens in the hour before bed.
  • Use blue-blocker glasses later in the evening.
  • If you must use a screen at night, install the F.lux app.
  • If you suffer from blood sugar instability, have a small high-protein snack just before bed.

Manage stress. Chronic stress is one of the greatest enemies to your brain health. Stress degrades the blood-brain barrier and can cause brain inflammation.

To help manage your stress load:

  • Take an honest look at your stress factors, such as a toxic friendship, a negative job, worrying too much, a bad marriage, or over-commitment as a volunteer. Decide what you can eliminate or reduce and take immediate steps.
  • Support the adrenal glands with adaptogens such as panax ginseng, Siberian ginseng, ashwagandha, holy basil leaf extract, rhodiola, and boerhaavia (punarnava).
  • Adopt a daily stress-reduction practice such as yoga, meditation, qi gong, deep breathing, laughter, and play.

Avoid alcohol. Alcohol can weaken and degrade the blood-brain barrier.

Caffeine. Studies show that caffeine can be protective against dementia, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease by keeping the blood-brain barrier intact.

Because caffeine can disrupt sleep function it's important to moderate caffeine consumption and make sure to consume it early in the day.

Note: Some people can't tolerate coffee because it can contain toxic byproducts made by mold called mycotoxins, so take note of how you feel after drinking it.

Avoid environmental mold. Environmental mold and the mycotoxins it produces can reduce the integrity of the blood-brain barrier and cause neurologic damage.

Toxic mold is not always easy to identify, so If you live, work, or study in a building where you suspect mold toxicity, consult with a mold expert to determine if your space is safe.

To help mitigate the effects of mold exposure:

  • Move out of the house or find a new job location
  • Use a HEPA-grade air purifier
  • Support your liver detox pathways

Ask my office about more functional neurology strategies to support your blood-brain barrier health.

Brain’s fear center larger in procrastinators

Noel Thomas

239 procrastinator brains different

Few things can make a person feel worse about themselves than being stuck in procrastination. These folks are constantly plagued by not reaching their potential and disappointing themselves and others. However, procrastination is not be the personality flaw everyone believes it to be —research shows the fear center in a procrastinator’s brain is actually larger than in the brain of a doer. This means a functional neurology approach can help you rehabilitate procrastination.

Scientists scanned the brains of 264 random men and women in a recent study. They then had the subjects fill out a questionnaire to determine whether they were procrastinators or doers.

They found that subjects who struggled with procrastination had a larger amygdala than the doers.

The amygdala is the control center for fear and emotion, meaning procrastinators aren’t lazy and unambitious as many assume, but rather fear can immobilize them when it comes time to initiate a new task.

In fact, a larger amygdala is linked to more anxiety in both children and adults. The larger the amygdala, the greater the anxiety.

Because the amygdala is connected to memory centers, past experiences can influence a tendency toward procrastination. People with a larger amygdala approach new tasks with more anxiety, concern, and hesitation.

The researchers also found a difference in connections in the brain of procrastinators. The brains of doers have a good connection between the amygdala and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, an area of the brain that helps process emotions and cognition — knowing, learning, and understanding things.

In procrastinators, however, this connection is impaired and plays a role in procrastination.

Procrastination and ADHD

Procrastination is also a common symptom of ADHD. Other ADHD symptoms include poor focus and concentration, being easily distracted, poor organization, easily overwhelmed, forgetful in daily activities, poor follow through, poor impulse control, restlessness, and more.

Functional neurology for procrastination

It’s important to understand neurological factors play a role in your procrastination. Many people who struggle with procrastination compound the problem by getting caught in a downward spiral of shame and self-loathing. This only adds to the anxiety and fear around starting and completing necessary tasks, making the problem worse.

Fortunately, functional neurology can help you with procrastination. It’s important to realize procrastination isn’t a stand-alone issue but instead part of a larger web of dysregulated brain function.

A functional neurology approach can help relieve procrastination by:

  • Identifying underactive and overactive areas of the brain and areas of poor connection
  • Customizing a protocol to rehabilitate these areas
  • Integrating functional medicine protocols to improve the health of the brain
  • Integrating behavioral therapy techniques to improve the brain’s plasticity, or ability to create and maintain new habits. For instance, giving yourself a very small and doable task on a regular basis can help build positive plasticity and activate the necessary brain chemicals to slowly override procrastination.

Don’t wait to ask my office for more advice on how functional neurology can help you find relief from procrastination.

Oxygen is one of the best things for brain healing

Noel Thomas

238 oxygen therapy brain

When it comes to healing a traumatic brain injury (TBI) or stroke or simply boosting your brain health, one of your most important allies is oxygen. Just because you can breathe doesn’t mean your brain is getting enough oxygen — you may need to improve your blood flow to the brain. Plus, you can super charge oxygenation of your brain with specific therapies such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves lying in a pressured, oxygenated chamber that gives you about 10 times more oxygen than normal. The increased pressure boosts oxygen supply to all the organs in your body, including your brain.

Check out these benefits associated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy:

An oxygen boost is important because it allows cells to manufacture more energy. The added energy allows your brain to repair, regenerate, and function better.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy promotes the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, which improves blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. As we age our blood vessels start to stiffen and narrow (atherosclerosis). Improved oxygenation can help put the brakes on this, which is great for the brain.

The oxygen boost triggers gene changes that promote brain healing as well as sending more stem cell cells to the injured area.

The treatment is not without controversy. Because oxygen can’t be patented, hyperbaric oxygen therapy has not been through the same gauntlet of studies of pharmaceuticals, for instance. However, some studies and many clinical experiences show it improves brain function after concussions, even years later.

The treatment is also expensive for the average person, not always covered by insurance, and requires 20 to 40 one-hour treatments for optimal effects.

However, thanks to the healing effects of oxygen on the brain, it is increasingly becoming accepted as a helpful tool in recovery from concussions and TBIs.

In addition to helping heal the brain, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is also recognized as helpful in healing diabetic wounds, burns, decompression sickness, certain chronic infections, including Lyme disease, and chronic health conditions.

Other ways to oxygenate your brain

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy isn’t the only way to deliver extra healing oxygen to your brain. One of the best ways to do that is to simply get your heart rate up on a regular basis.

This not only increases blood flow to and oxygenation of the brain, it also triggers the release of your body’s own healing compounds, including neuronal nitric oxide, endothelial nitric oxide, and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps with memory, mood, and overall brain function and is best triggered by high-intensity interval training.

In fact, newer research shows that exercise that gets your heart rate up after concussion may actually help you recover faster than resting.

Look for underlying causes of poor blood flow to the brain

You should also be aware of underlying health issues causing poor blood flow to your brain. Although you may be able to breathe just fine, that doesn’t mean your brain is getting all the oxygen it needs. If your fingers, toes, and nose are always cold and your nail beds pale and slow to refill with color after you press on them, these are signs your brain may not be getting the oxygen it needs.

Potential causes of this can include anemia, hypothyroidism, smoking, low blood pressure, a heart condition, or an overly sedentary lifestyle.

In functional neurology, we look at both your brain function and any metabolic, dietary, or lifestyle factors that may be affecting your brain health or its ability to recover from TBI, stroke, or concussion. Ask my office for more advice.

The best ways to exercise to improve your mood

Noel Thomas

237 best exercise for mood

We know exercise is good for the brain, but the kind of exercise you do and how often can determine its mental health benefit. Hint: More is not necessarily better.

A study that tracked more than one million people over three years found parallels between certain types and frequencies of exercise and mood benefits.

The most important thing the study showed is that any type of exercise is better than none when it comes to helping you feel and function better.

Regular exercise, even just walking or housework, reduced the number of “poor mental health” days in a month by more than 40 percent. However, some forms netted bigger gains than others.

The best ways to exercise to improve your mood

Here is what the study found in terms of types and frequency of exercise for the most improvement in your mental health:

  • The forms that have the most impact on mental health include team sports, cycling, and aerobic exercises.
  • Yoga, walking, and household chores provide more benefit than doing nothing.
  • Running does not show the most benefit to mental health compared to other exercises.
  • Team sports show the most mental health benefit, although it’s believed the structure and camaraderie play a role in that. Healthy socialization is very beneficial to mental and physical health.
  • Exercising 30 to 60 minutes three to five times a week showed the most benefit. Exercising less or more than that did not.
  • Exercising too much not only didn’t improve mental health, it made it worse. Subjects who exercised 23 or more times a month or for longer than 90 minutes fared worse than those who exercised less.
  • Exercising 45 minutes is better than exercising too little.
  • There is no additional benefit from exercising more than an hour.
  • People diagnosed with depression showed greater benefit from regular physical activity than those who were not suffering depression.

Why exercise is good for the brain and your mood

Exercise isn’t just about more stamina and stronger muscles. The human brain was designed for regular physical activity for optimal function.

Why?

Exercise, particularly high-intensity intervals, stimulates the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). BDNF helps with memory, mood, and overall brain function.

Regular exercise makes most people sleep better. (Over exercising can be inflammatory and sabotage sleep.)

Regular exercise adds structure to your life, which people tend to lose when they fall into depression. The structure provides a sense of order and control.

Exercise can put you into a more social environment. Healthy, in-person socialization is vital for good mental health.

Of course, other factors beyond physical activity may be sabotaging your mood and brain health. A functional neurology exam can identify areas of under activity, over activity, or lack of synchronization in your brain. A metabolic issue, such as an inflammatory food or an undiagnosed chronic health disorder, may also be factors. Ask my office for more advice.

Childhood depression rates soar as recess drops

Noel Thomas

236 child brains need recess

We can consider a number of troubling factors when looking at the most depressed, anxious, and suicidal generation of children: Too much screen time, obesity, social media and cyber bullying, standardized testing, and school shootings. However, another factor has been at work along the way — recess has been all but squeezed out of the school day.

Depression and anxiety include a deep feeling of lack of control or direction over one’s life. These are skills developed not in math or English class, but during unstructured and independent time play time.

Time to play and explore on their own without adult intervention allows children to develop the ability to problem solve, feel a sense of control over their lives, discover their interests, and become competent at what they’re interested in.

Some researchers believe that feeling a sense of control over your destiny, which is developed through independent play in childhood, can lower the risk of feeling like victims with no sense of control, and hence lower the risk of anxiety and depression.

While childhood development researchers recommend at least an hour a day of unstructured play time, kids today are lucky to get a fraction of that today. Some schools have as little as 10 minutes twice a week, or no recess at all.

Some states are passing laws to require at least 20 minutes a day of recess for children.

The introduction of standardized testing has gradually pushed recess out of the school day. While no studies show the benefit of banishing recess, a wealth of research points to its value.

In fact, sufficient play time has been shown to actually improve academic performance and behavior. Holding recess before lunch even gets kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Using functional neurology to address childhood depression and anxiety

While too much screen time and too little play time is contributing to exploding rates of depression and anxiety among young people, in functional neurology we are aware of other less obvious influences.

For instance, the impact of environmental toxins on the developing brain, which begins in utero, should not be underestimated.

While the tens of thousands of primarily untested pollutants in our environment threaten everyone’s health, children and infants are most at risk.

Some toxins, such as lead and mercury, are known for their neurological effects. However, lesser known but well established are the effects of pesticides, plastics, flame retardants, and artificial additives in foods and beverages.

Beginning in utero, environmental toxins can impact on the nervous and hormonal system that ultimately lead to developmental, behavioral, and mood disorders in children.

While it’s important to minimize your child’s exposure to toxins and help them get plenty of unstructured play time outdoors, functional neurology can also help kids improve their brain health and thus alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Through a thorough neurological exam, lab testing, and patient history, we create a customized neurological rehabilitation, nutritional, and lifestyle program.

A functional neurology program reduces or removes inflammatory triggers from the brain, supports the brain nutritionally, and uses functional neurology techniques to activate sluggish areas, dampen over active areas, support the weaker hemisphere of the brain, improve connection and coordination between the brain’s hemispheres, and better synchronize brainwave patterns.

Together, these approaches can significantly improve how your child feels, functions, and performs at school. Ask my office for more advice.

Emotional care vital part of brain injury recovery

Noel Thomas

235 post tbi emotional care

Brain injury recovery often centers on rest and, if necessary, rehabilitation. However, a vital yet neglected part of recovering from a brain injury is tending to your emotional and psychological recovery. This is something most doctors in both conventional and alternative medicine overlook simply because they don’t have the training, knowledge, or resources.

In addition to neurological symptoms, many people who have sustained a brain injury or concussion struggle with residual trauma, depression, isolation, and other outcomes that can profoundly alter your sense of self.

Recovering from a brain injury means you may suddenly be cut off from doing the things you love, isolated from your friends, coworkers, teammates, or fellow troops, or no longer able to do the things that gave your life a sense of meaning and purpose.

Additionally, brain injury and concussion can make you extremely sensitive to lights, sounds, crowds, and busy environments, making trips out of the house overwhelming and exhausting.

A brain injury can alter mood and personality so that you may be more prone to a short temper, crying, anxiety, panic attacks, or emotional outbursts that you feel are embarrassing or will alarm or hurt others.

Your overall health and gut function may be much worse so that you have symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and are afraid to venture too far from an available toilet.

It’s common for a brain injury to be intertwined with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which adds even more difficulties to the plate.

Some brain injury victims may have survivor’s guilt if others died, lost limbs, or were hurt more severely. Unlike an amputation or injury elsewhere in the body, we can’t “see” a brain injury and hence some people believe they don’t deserve to feel so poorly, or that they are not as bad off as others.

All these sudden and drastic changes can lead people struggling with a brain injury to become increasingly depressed, anxious, isolated, and disconnected from their friends and family. The mood and personality changes that accompany some brain injuries only perpetuate the downward spiral of anger, loss of self-worth, and a negative outlook.

Science shows such inward negativity is highly inflammatory and only slows or hinders the ability of the body and the brain to heal.

Counseling or psychotherapy vital to brain injury or concussion recovery

For these reasons, it’s vitally important you tend to your emotional and psychological well being. Doing so will actually boost your recovery and speed your return back to life thanks to the influence of both internal and external positive forces on our ability to heal and recover.

Many brain injury survivors look back on the recovery period as a rite of passage that forced them to examine their priorities, sense of self, life purpose and direction, and boldly move forward in a meaningful direction.

Partnering with other brain injury survivors can help ease the burden, pull you out of isolationism, and help forge lasting bonds with other people.

In fact, science shows isolation is worse for your health than smoking or obesity and that connecting socially (in person) with others improves immunity, healing, and mental health.

If you’re working to recover from a brain injury, functional neurology utilizes key strategies to improve the neurological and chemical state of your brain. However, don’t ignore the inner “you;” seeking counseling or psychotherapy can be a vital part of your recovery process.

Why chronically bad behavior can be neurological

Noel Thomas

234 neurology bad behavior

It’s hard not to get upset at chronically disruptive behavior in young people, but sometimes it can be neurological in nature. A recent criminal justice study found that simply supplementing children with fish oil can improve their behavior, and that a low resting heart rate is often connected with risk-taking behavior.

Omega-3 fatty acids and behavior

The study found giving disruptive children omega-3 fatty acid supplementation reduced the behavior problems and created more family harmony. A common source of omega-3 fatty acids is fish oil supplements. The DHA in fish oil is especially good for the brain and should always be considered in kids with behavior issues. Consider a high-DHA formula.

DHA has been shown to help support issues such as depression, mood swings, bipolar symptoms, poor memory, and cognitive decline.

DHA is necessary for healthy neurons and good communication between neurons. This keeps the brain balanced and active.

DHA also reduces brain inflammation, which is a common cause of mood and behavioral disorders that may be behind bad behavior. Equally important is to remove inflammatory foods from the diet. Gluten and dairy are common offenders, but corn, soy, eggs, or other foods may be culprits.

Omega-3 fatty acids are found primarily in cold water fish and various nuts.

Low heart rate and risky behavior

The researchers came across another interesting pattern in disruptive behavior — many of the youths also had low heart rates.

The lead author theorized that children exposed to chronic stress as children develop low heart rates as a way to blunt the stress response. However, it also may encourage risk-seeking behavior as a way to generate stimulation to the brain. This can promote aggression and impulsivity. This connection was observed in hundreds of at-risk youth; those who acted out the most attention-seeking anti-social behavior also had the lowest heart rates.

ADHD and bad behavior

Disruptive behavior can also be a symptom of ADHD. It’s common for these children to struggle with poor impulse control, inability to concentrate or focus, and anti-social behavior.

Children with ADHD also frequently have problems with anxiety, mood disorders, emotional disturbances, sleep difficulties, motor coordination, learning disabilities, food sensitivities, and digestion.

Examples of factors linked to ADHD include:

  • Imbalanced development the left and right hemispheres
  • Environmental toxins
  • Viral or bacterial infection
  • Autoimmune attacks (when the immune system attacks and destroys tissue)

Children with ADHD also often have tics, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and other issues. Although drugs may offer relief they do not address the underlying cause of ADHD. They also change the structure of the brain in children.

How functional neurology addresses bad behavior

Your child may not be able to help their behavior. Instead, it may be a sign of an imbalanced brain. In functional neurology we include diet, food sensitivities, blood sugar, gut health, inflammation, gut health, infections, and autoimmunity. This includes addressing omega-3 fatty acid sufficiency.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help if your child is having chronically disruptive behavior.

Nature and play: Essential, overlooked brain nutrients

Noel Thomas

233 brains need nature

Maybe you are doing all the right things for your brain: Consuming brain nutrients, sleeping well, exercising, and spending time with people you enjoy. But you may still be deficient in one factor all brains need for optimal function: Unstructured time in nature to play.

Hundreds of studies point to the necessity of the human brain and body to be regularly immersed in nature. With so many American adults working so much, children overscheduled with after-school sports and activities, and all ages perpetually glued to a screen, people simply aren’t getting enough free time outdoors in natural settings.

Some doctors are even prescribing regular time spent in parks and natural settings to their patients.

Many studies point to the health benefits of time spent in nature. For instance, studies suggest living closer to or in more natural environments is linked with positive effects on mental health, including depression and anxiety, as well as obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

Studies on children suggest unstructured physical activity and play time in natural areas can be very helpful with ADHD.

Researchers recognize parents are afraid to give their kids unstructured and unsupervised outdoor play time these days, but they point out the long term mental and physical risks of not doing so are less recognized yet still significant.

The necessity of unstructured play time for both children and adults

Researchers add it’s not just time outdoors that matters, but unstructured time play time in a natural environment that especially matters, especially for a child’s developing brain.

In other words, while playing soccer on a grassy field is wonderful, equally important is unfettered time next to a pond or a stream in the woods to make stick boats, dig in the mud, or engage in an elaborate play story line with friends.

These are everyday childhood activities pre-technology generations took for granted but that alarmingly few children have access to today.

Children aren’t the only ones who need unstructured play time. Studies show adults throughout the animal kingdom play — it’s necessary for good brain health, and an area where modern humans fall woefully short.

In fact, play time outdoors has been shown to:

  • Stimulate brain activity
  • Relieve stress relief
  • Boost self-esteem
  • Help you transform negative experiences to positive
  • Boost creativity and imagination
  • Help you connect with others

These are all great prescriptions for better brain health!

Play comes naturally to children but as an adult you may have forgotten how it works. Here are some pointers on characteristics of play that can boost your brain health:

  • Purposeless; non-competitive
  • Fun
  • Has a make-believe element
  • Unstructured
  • No agenda — enjoyed for its own sake
  • Set apart from the rest of your life

In functional neurology we use a variety of dietary and lifestyle modifications, along with customized brain rehabilitation strategies to help you recover your brain health or simply optimize it.

While the science, nutrition, and rehabilitation are vital to improving your brain, it’s important to also include age-old simple things that have been shown to have tremendous benefit. You may get a lot more going for a leisurely kayak paddle or hike outdoors than staying indoors to work on a computer brain training game.

Ask my office for more information on functional neurology.

Women have more and worse concussions than men

Noel Thomas

232 women have more concussions

When we think of concussions and brain injuries we tend to associate those with men — after all, they’re the ones playing football and predominantly in combat. But studies show both female athletes and women in general suffer a higher rate of concussions than men. Female brain injuries also tend to be more severe and require longer recovery.

In fact, a recent study revealed that when it comes to high school athletes, female soccer players outrank male football players in incidences of traumatic brain injury. Almost 30 percent of injuries sustained by female players are brain injuries, whereas male football players have a much lower rate of brain injury at 24 percent.

High school female athletes with concussions also reported more problems with sound and light sensitivity, nausea, dizziness, and drowsiness and took longer to recover.

Professional female athletes also have significantly more brain injuries than their male counterparts in every sport except swimming and diving.

Why do women have more concussions?

Although researchers don’t have definitive answers, looking at the structure of the female neck and head compared to the male can give us insight.

The male neck is much stronger, bigger, and better able to handle acceleration than the female neck.

When it comes to bone and neck strength, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to impacts, blows, and falls that affect the head and neck.

Female hormones and brain injury

Scientists have also found that female hormones appear to play a large role in brain injury risk.

Female concussion risk and consequences are largely similar to male before puberty and after menopause. However, during the reproductive years, a woman’s menstrual cycle can affect how badly she is affected by a brain injury.

For instance, women injured during the last two weeks of their cycle fare worse from a concussion than those injured during the first two weeks.

Severity risk also appears to be tied to fluctuations in hormone levels throughout the cycle. The drops in estrogen during ovulation and menstruation trigger migraines in some women and may be periods of increased risk.

Misconceptions around gender and concussions compound the problem. Many people still assume girls and women are at less risk for concussion and their symptoms go unreported simply due to lack of awareness. Pink Concussions is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and promoting research on concussions in women and girls.

Functional medicine helps you recover from brain injury and concussion more quickly

Functional medicine excels in the field of brain recovery from concussions.

In functional neurology we go beyond telling you to rest. A thorough functional neurology exam can pinpoint specific areas of damage to both the brain and the vestibular (inner ear) system.

Different areas of the brain and the vestibular system require different rehabilitation strategies — customizing rehab to your areas of compromise will help you recover and improve faster.

Plus, we look at functional medicine mechanisms in supporting your brain health. How is your hormone balance, your diet, and your gut health? Do you have chronic inflammation, food sensitivities, autoimmunity, or other unidentified stressors that could be making it harder for your brain to recover? These are important factors to address.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help you recover from a concussion.

Surprising new form of concussion recovery: Exercise

Noel Thomas

231 exercise after concussion copy

The long-standing advice for concussion recovery has been rest. However, a recent study turned that advice on its head and showed returning to aerobic exercise in as little as 24 hours after a concussion can actually speed recovery. Aerobic exercise is very beneficial for the brain because it improves blood flow and oxygenation to the brain as well as triggers the release of brain-friendly hormones and chemicals.

A new Canadian study shows that starting aerobic exercise soon after a concussion is not only safe, it may be protective and beneficial.

How soon is soon? The study of more than 250 young athletes between the ages of 15 and 20 showed that exercising as soon as 24 hours after the concussion can produce more favorable results among some people than waiting longer.

The study showed the longer the athletes waited to exercise again after their concussion, the slower was their recovery and return to their sport, jobs, or school.

In fact, waiting seven days to begin aerobic exercise almost doubled the recovery time versus waiting three days.

How to safely exercise after a concussion

Tthe researchers added that the post-concussion period is not the time to push yourself too hard. It may be necessary to reduce your overall activity level in general so as not to exacerbate your symptoms during the recovery phase.

After a concussion it’s safest to get your heart rate up without moving your head too much. The appropriate exercise and level of exertion depends on the person, but examples of safe post-concussion exercises include walking and using a stationary bicycle or elliptical machine.

The researchers suggest avoiding activities such as jogging and swimming.

Start at an intensity low enough so you can maintain a conversation with someone.

Pay attention to your symptoms — it’s important you do not make yourself feel or function worse.

If you have a history of concussions, many symptoms, or you lost consciousness, you can expect your recovery to take longer. While aerobic exercise can benefit your recovery, just be careful not to overdo it.

Functional neurology as a post-concussion aid

How do you know if you’re exercising too little or too much?

Functional neurology is an excellent tool to monitor and aid your progress.

Ideally, you will have had already had a functional neurology exam prior to your concussion to establish a baseline from which to work.

A preventive functional neurology exam and protocol is an excellent idea for athletes who are at a higher risk of sustaining a concussion and who want to optimize their performance.

A baseline neurological exam prior to a concussion can help identify areas of the brain that sustained the most damage and need the most targeted rehabilitation therapy. It can also identify how badly the concussion affected your brain, and then track your recovery.

However, if your first exam comes after your concussion, that’s ok too. We can perform follow-up exams during your recovery to evaluate your progress and tailor your exercise plan and other recovery protocols accordingly.

Functional neurology shines in many areas of restoring brain health, including in rehabilitation from concussions and brain injuries. Ask my office for more information.