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1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

(503) 248-1182

Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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Treating gut bacteria vital for brain & spinal cord injury

Noel Thomas

224 dysbiosis and spinal injury

The focus on recovering from brain and spinal cord injuries is rest and rehabilitation, but research is showing another vital aspect of optimal recovery: Treating your gut bacteria and healing your gut.

We host about three to four pounds of gut bacteria in our intestines. Numbering in the trillions and with hundreds of varieties discovered so far, these bacteria are known as the gut microbiome. Research in the last decade has shown they are vital to many aspects of health, including brain health.

This is because gut bacteria travel to the brain via the vagus nerve, a large nerve that connects the brain with the gut. The gut and the brain communicate with one another via the vagus nerve in what is called the gut-brain axis. This means your digestive health profoundly affects your brain health and hence brain and neurological recovery from injury.

In fact, an unhealthy microbiome — too little healthy gut bacteria, too much bad bacteria, and lack of diversity of gut bacteria — has been shown to promote brain inflammation. Although inflammation following an injury is an appropriate immune response, if it continues unchecked it can not only thwart recovery but also accelerate brain degeneration and raise the risk of neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia or Parkinson’s. An unhealthy gut microbiome promotes unnecessary and destructive brain inflammation.

Study shows treating gut bacteria helps spinal cord injury recovery

There’s a reason so many people who have had a brain injury or spinal cord injury suddenly suffer from gut problems — the injury affects the gut-brain axis and gut function suffers as a result.

As a result, the gut microbiome is impacted in what is called dysbiosis — when the composition of gut bacteria becomes unhealthy and pro-inflammatory.

Plenty of people already have dysbiosis without having sustained a brain injury or spinal cord injury. Other things that cause dysbiosis include chronic stress, too much sugar and starchy carbohydrates, excess alcohol consumption, hormonal imbalances, a junk food diet, not eating enough vegetables, and other factors that are endemic to life in the United States.

As you can imagine, this means many people who sustain a head injury or spinal cord injury have dysbiosis to start with, which makes recovery even more difficult. And, indeed, the mouse study showed that dysbiosis prior to spinal cord injury exacerbates impairment and results in more damage.

Spinal cord injury promotes intestinal permeability, also known as leaky gut. This is a mechanism in which the lining of the intestines becomes inflamed and overly permeable, allowing undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the sterile environment of the bloodstream, where they trigger inflammation throughout the body. The study also showed a spinal cord injury causes dysbiosis.

The extent to which leaky gut and dysbiosis play a role predicts the magnitude of impairment from the injury.

When leaky gut happens it is common for a leaky blood-brain barrier to occur as well. This means the microscopic lining of the brain also becomes overly permeable, allowing pathogens into the environment of the brain. When coupled with dysbiosis, leaky gut and leaky blood-brain barrier trigger brain inflammation and prevent healing.

The good news is that the study showed mice fed probiotics after the injury showed less neurological damage and better recovery.

If you have sustained a brain injury or spinal cord injury, it’s vital to support healthy gut function and a good microbiome. Strategies include avoiding sugars, junk foods, and inflammatory foods (gluten and dairy are inflammatory in many people), eating plenty of vegetables to provide fuel for healthy gut bacteria, and take high quality probiotics.

Ask my office about functional neurology and dietary recovery strategies after a brain injury or spinal cord injury.

Effects of complaining versus gratitude on brain health

Noel Thomas

223 complaining vs gratitude on the brain

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the brain compared to other organs in the body is how readily it changes and evolves based on how we treat it. For instance, research shows that even how we think and see the world — whether we complain frequently or express gratitude regularly — can be the difference between accelerated brain degeneration or enhanced brain function.

Understandably, when you’re stuck in a depressed state it can seem impossible not to complain when you everything about life seems miserable. Functional neurology can help steer you to a healthier metabolic environment for your brain and rehabilitate areas of brain under activity or over activity so that you’re better able to practice healthy brain habits.

The effect of chronic complaining on the brain

Researchers have divided complainers into several categories: chronic complainers, attention seekers, and complainers who are oblivious to those around them.

Chronic complaining results from a brain mechanism called negative plasticity.

Plasticity is a term used in neurology to explain how we learn new things via communication between neurons. When you learn something new, such as a language, new pathways of communication begin developing in the brain.

The more you practice, the more efficient those pathways of communication become so that the new skill eventually becomes automatic. This conserves energy in the brain.

Unfortunately, plasticity can be negative too, making you more efficient at something that is harmful to your health. Examples include bad habits, addictions, stress, PTSD, and chronic complaining.

In other words, the more you complain, the more efficient your brain becomes at so that it becomes automatic.

As a result, you start to see life through a bleak lens and this will affect your behaviors and belief systems for the worse.

What’s worse, chronic complaining can raise your risk of dementia by releasing excess cortisol, a stress hormone, that more rapidly degenerates areas of the brain related to learning and memory.

Being positive takes more effort

Why does complaining and negativity come so easily? In what serves as a survival trait, our brains and bodies respond more actively and readily to negativity than positivity. This phenomenon is called negativity bias.

In studying negativity bias in couples, researchers found that partners in successful marriages naturally employed a five-to-one ratio of positivity to negativity in their interactions with one another.

In other words, it takes a lot more effort in a positive direction to prevent a slide into negative plasticity and the health fallouts from chronic complaining.

Some complaining is healthy and normal

This isn’t to say you should never complain or express negative emotions. Repression also raises stress levels and sabotages health.

Researchers have found the key is to stay mindful about your negative situations. Accepting the negative situation and feelings and consciously choosing to respond within a positive framework takes more work but will net more benefits.

Practice gratitude to positively rewire your brain

The research on the positive benefits of gratitude on the brain and body are extremely encouraging. But like all good things in life, they take work on your part.

One of the most reliable paths to positivity is gratitude. You can develop a more positive outlook by thinking of or writing down things in your life for which you are grateful.

A grateful attitude has been linked to less anxiety and depression, sounder sleep, kinder behavior, and overall better health. One study showed participants who wrote down five things for which they were grateful only once a week were happier, more optimistic, reported fewer physical problems, and exercised more compared to the control group. Similar results were reported in polio survivors who kept a gratitude journal.

Using functional neurology to help you get unstuck

When in the throes of depression, practicing positivity or gratitude can seem like a tall order. Sometimes, metabolic or neurological forces conspire against your desire to feel and function better, and this is where functional neurology can help.

You may have an inflammatory disorder or gut bacterial imbalance that is sabotaging your brain health. Likewise, food or chemical sensitivities, an undiagnosed or unmanaged autoimmune condition, hormonal deficiency, or chronic infection could be weighing you down. An area of your brain may be under firing or over firing, creating neurological disharmony that promotes depression and negativity. You may be struggling with PTSD, a brain injury, or some other brain disorder that is hindering your chances at a good mood.

Depression, constant complaining, and chronic negativity are red flags that something deeper needs to be addressed. Managing your brain health through functional neurology strategies can help provide a sound platform from which to employ positivity and gratitude practices that will unwind the negative plasticity and build positive plasticity for a healthier and happier you. Ask my office for more advice.

Young people today are the loneliest generation yet

Noel Thomas

222 young people loneliest

Young people are more connected than ever thanks to myriad social media and gaming platforms, yet a new study shows they are also the loneliest generation studied. This is troubling as loneliness is linked with an increased risk of health disorders, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other immune disorders. It also raises the risk of premature death, even in younger people.

Some research even shows loneliness is a bigger threat to health than smoking and obesity.

The destructive power of loneliness appears to rise from the fact that it’s an ever present force, like chronic pain or depression, that weighs a person down. The chronic nature of loneliness takes its toll on all the systems in the body, including the immune system and the brain.

A survey of 20,000 adults around the country asked people to rate their loneliness on a scale of 20 to 80. A score of 43 or above is considered lonely enough for it to be a health risk.

More than half the respondents in this study and similar surveys in the past reported feeling socially isolated and chronically lonely, even in the company of others. They felt that they don’t have anyone in life who knows them well.

The most alarming finding is that young people are feeling lonelier than ever before, even more so than their parents and grandparents. In an age where young people are glued to their phones in constant engagement with their peers, it’s a bit surprising to find they are also the loneliest, most depressed, and most likely to commit suicide.

Members of Gen Z, those aged 18 to 22, had the highest loneliness scores while people 72 and older had the lowest.

While people who lived with others reported generally lower scores, single parents had among the highest scores for loneliness.

And only half of the respondents reported having meaningful, in-person contact with other people on a daily basis.

Habits of people who don’t feel lonely

The survey also revealed the lifestyles and habits of people with low loneliness scores.

It found people with the lowest loneliness scores had a good balance of the following in their lives:

Frequent, in-person, meaningful interactions with others.

The right amount of sleep. People who slept an appropriate amount were less lonely than those who slept too little or too much.

Spending the right amount of time with family. Spending too little time or too much time with family reflected higher loneliness scores than spending an appropriate amount of time with family.

The right amount of physical activity. Balance applies to exercise too. People who under exercised or over exercised were lonelier than those who exercised an appropriate amount.

A balanced work life. And to round it out, the same can be said for balance in work. Those who worked too little or too much were lonelier than those who said they worked the right amount. However, those who said they work too little had a loneliness score twice as a high than those who said they worked too much.

In functional neurology we look at not only your metabolic health and brain function, but also at your overall approach to life, including loneliness.

If you are struggling to connect with others, a functional neurology approach to depression and anxiety can help rehabilitate your brain so that it is easier for you to reach out to make friends and form meaningful interactions. Ask my office for more information.

Unmanaged depression raises risk of dementia later

Noel Thomas

221 depression dementia risk

Although we are conditioned to see depression as an antidepressant deficiency, the truth is people can have depression for many different reasons. It’s important to figure out the root cause of your depression — research shows letting it go unmanaged or simply masking it with drugs can speed brain degeneration and raise your risk for dementia. This is because depression is often a symptom of runaway inflammation in the brain.

The study showed suffering from depression for more than a decade leads to lasting biological changes in the brain that increases the risk for dementia. The study also mirrors previous studies linking depression to brain inflammation.

These understandings could lead to new more therapeutic treatments for depression that mitigate the risks of dementia and other degenerative brain diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In the study, 80 participants had their brains scanned to assess the level of brain inflammation. The subjects were divided into three groups — those with untreated depression for more than 10 years, less than 10 years, and a control group.

The study showed that the participants who had been suffering from depression the longest showed the most brain inflammation. The area of the brain most affected was the prefrontal cortex.

The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain primarily associated with depression. In functional neurology, we see depression as decreased firing in this and other areas of the brain. The question is, why is there decreased firing causing symptoms of depression?

What’s also interesting is research showing the prefrontal cortex in depressed people exerts more control over other areas of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is involved in self-appraisal — meaning depressed people think more often about themselves and in a negative light.

The brain scan study builds on past research that shows people suffering from depression had 30 percent higher levels of a systemic inflammatory marker, C reactive protein, compared to non-depressed people.

Functional neurology for depression

In functional neurology, we look for the root cause of your depression and rehabilitate that. The cause can be different for everyone, but inflammation is often involved. Starting with an anti-inflammatory diet, stabilizing blood sugar, repairing leaky gut, and addressing and minimizing lifestyle stressors are ways to make a sizeable dent in inflammation.

Although inflammation in both the body and the brain serves a protective function, chronic inflammation damages and destroys tissues. The brain has an added burden of not having an “off-switch” for inflammation like the body’s immune system does. Instead, it relies on a healthy hormonal, nutritional, and metabolic environment, something few people seem to be able to provide for their brains these days.

As a result, inflammation can set it and slowly ravage brain tissue unchecked.

Sometimes depression can also be the result of a brain injury or concussion you never fully healed from, or repetitive hits to the brain and body through contact sports or extreme sports. The impacts to the brain trigger an inflammatory cascade that can start to degenerate the brain, leading to symptoms of depression.

Depression is never a cry from your body for antidepressants, although you may find medication helps you function better. It’s a red flag your system is out of balance and your brain is suffering as a result. Ask my office for more advice on a customized protocol to relieve you of chronic depression.

It’s important to find the cause of dizziness and vertigo

Noel Thomas

220 vertigo

Vertigo can seem to come out of nowhere and feel life-threatening, making it scary to drive or walk down the stairs. The bad news is there are many causes of dizziness and it can take some sleuthing to figure out which one is affecting you. The good news is functional neurology can help you identify what kind of vertigo you have and help you quickly rehabilitate it.

For instance, benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) is one of the most common causes of dizzy spells and is easy to treat. By defining each word in this complex sounding condition, we can see it is not as grave as it sounds:

  • Benign: Not life-threatening.
  • Paroxymal: Comes on suddenly and is brief.
  • Positional: Usually happens in response to a head position or movement.
  • Vertigo: Dizziness, or a sense of things spinning either inside or outside your head.

BPPV occurs when small crystals in the inner ear become dislodged and travel to areas in the ear canals where they don’t belong. In most cases the Epley maneuver or another similar maneuver can move the crystal back to where it belongs.

Sometimes vertigo can be caused when the individual eye muscles do not work together because one or more of them is weak. This weakness causes the eyes to move abnormally. This abnormal movement sends incorrect visual information to the brain and vestibular system, an area of the inner ear vital for balance. This can cause dizziness and light-headedness.

Although a person usually doesn’t notice this eye muscle weakness, in functional neurology we can spot it during a neurological exam and provide exercises that target areas needing rehabilitation.

The vestibular system plays an important role in balance and the prevention of vertigo. However, it is a fragile system and vestibular dysfunction is more common than people realize. For instance, if you’ve had a mild concussion, whiplash from a car accident, falls or hits from sports, or other impacts to the head or body, you may have damaged your vestibular system.

Inflammation or infection can also affect the vestibular system and provoke vertigo.

The cerebellum, an area at the base of the brain, works with the vestibular system in balance and the prevention of vertigo. If the cerebellum is damaged from a brain injury, stroke, or an autoimmune disease (a disorder in which the immune system attacks and destroys tissue), this can cause dizziness.

Other symptoms of compromised cerebellum function may include poor balance, being unsteady on your feet, poor coordination, and anxiety (because the unsteadiness is a perceived as a constant stressor).

Other brain-related causes of dizziness can include an imbalance between the hemispheres of the brain or neck issues that hinder proper communication between the body and brain — always take whiplash seriously, it could impact your brain health.

If you are having dizzy spells, it’s important to identify the source of your vertigo because it will determine the best course of treatment. You need to know whether your vertigo stems from the vestibular system or the brain because each is rehabilitated differently.

Make note of other symptoms (below) you have in addition to vertigo; they can help your functional neurology doctor customize the right treatment for the cause of your dizziness.

Symptoms and signs often associated with vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance include:

  • Feel easily overwhelmed in areas with a lot of sensory input (grocery store, walking through a parking lot, movie theater, etc.).
  • One eye is higher than the other
  • Migraines
  • Hearing loss
  • Disturbances with your vision
  • Feeling disconnected from your body; confusion
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Withdrawals from antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds serious

Noel Thomas

219 addiction to psych meds

The drug companies won’t call it withdrawal, but “discontinuation syndrome” is a serious and sometimes debilitating problem for many people trying to wean off antidepressant or anti-anxiety meds. What’s worse, most patients are not warned about this possibility when they start taking the drugs.

A New York Times analysis revealed that long-term use of antidepressants, a class of drug that has only been studied for use for two months, is surging in the United States. Almost 25 million Americans have been on antidepressants for two or more years, an almost 60 percent increase since 2010.

The use of anxiety meds, or benzodiazepines such as Valium and Xanax, have increased by about 30 percent since 1996. However, overdose deaths related to benzos quadrupled during that time. Also, long-term use has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease.

Withdrawing from your antidepressant

Few patients are warned about the risks of withdrawal symptoms, or “discontinuation syndrome,” when they begin taking antidepressants. In fact, the drugs were approved for short-term use with studies lasting just two months. Yet many people stay on them for years.

Many people can taper off their antidepressants with few problems. For others, however, the effects can be so debilitating they can’t work or function normally.

Symptoms may include dizziness, confusion, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, insomnia, nausea, hyperarousal (overstimulated easily), brain “zaps and shocks,” and more.

For some, it only takes a couple of weeks to taper off with some mild discomfort during that time. For others, it’s a months-long process with symptoms so bad that some throw in the towel and remain on the antidepressant. In a study of 180 long-term users of antidepressants, 130 reported withdrawal symptoms coming off and about half said they felt they were addicted to them.

Benzo risks and withdrawals

Withdrawing from benzos is a documented hell from which some never recover.

Like antidepressants, short term use of benzodiazepines can provide much needed relief that allows a person to function. However, it’s easy to quickly become dependent on and tolerant of benzos, with the user needing ever increasing doses. Withdrawals from powerful, fast-acting benzos such as Xanax are said to be worse than heroin withdrawal and quitting cold turkey can even be fatal.

A slowly tapered benzo withdrawal can last more than a year with some people never fully recovering. Symptoms include fatigue, anxiety, insomnia, disorientation, malaise, severe panic and startle reactions, nerve pain, muscle aches, and memory loss.

Functional medicine alternatives for depression and anxiety

It’s not always easy to alleviate or reverse depression and anxiety, but it’s frequently doable, often with astounding results when you address the root causes.

Depression is simply decreased firing of the frontal lobe. The reasons for its under activity can differ for different people. In functional neurology, we do both neurological and metabolic screening to find what is driving your depression, and then we create a custom rehabilitation program tailored to your underlying causes. This can involve functional neurology exercises along with dietary and lifestyle adjustments. Many people experience profound results when their brain gets the support it needs.

Likewise, anxiety can have myriad causes. For instance, even poor balance can be a cause. When the areas of your brain and vestibular system (inner ear system) are damaged or compromised, this can create chronic anxiety as the brain is in a state of feeling continually unsure and on the edge.

By identifying and addressing the root causes of depression and anxiety, many people are able to not only banish or significantly relieve symptoms, but also improve many other aspects of their well being. Ask how functional neurology can help you with your depression and anxiety.

Want to improve and maintain your brain? Walk often — in nature

Noel Thomas

218 walking exercises the brain

While popular brain training gadgets and apps have their place, don’t overlook an age-old strategy to optimize brain health: Walking.

Humans are unique from the rest of the animal kingdom because of our ability to walk upright on two legs, a development that profoundly evolved our brains compared to our finned and four-legged friends.

Learning to walk freed our hands to do all manner of things and allowed us to conserve energy while moving over long distances, giving us more endurance than any other animal on the planet. The ability to walk also stimulated the development of the human brain into the most evolved in the animal kingdom.

Because walking played such an important role in the development of the human brain, it improves brain health in ways other physical activities don’t. Research shows that walking grows an area of the brain called the hippocampus, the seat of learning and memory. This makes it an excellent way to lower the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Also, the impact of the feet on the ground while walking has been shown to send more blood to the brain, improving oxygenation of the brain.

Maybe this helps explain why so many great thinkers and authors over the centuries were fans of long walks.

The many ways walking benefits the brain

Although walking confers myriad benefits, if you really want to super charge your brain, walk in nature.

A recent study found that walks in nature significantly decrease the obsessive, negative thoughts associated with depression and anxiety.

Researchers found that study subjects who walked through nature for an hour and a half showed less rumination and reduced activity in the subgenual prefontal cortex, an area of the brain associated with depression and mood and mental disorders.

The study subjects who took their walks in urban environments did not show the same results.

Another study showed getting kids with ADHD into a natural green environment significantly reduced symptoms.

If you’re stumped for a creative solution to a problem, walking has been shown to increase your creativity by 60 percent compared to sitting. Many people report arriving at their “aha” moment while walking it out.

Walking better connects the various regions of the brain and improves memory and learning abilities.

In fact, one of the more interesting reasons walking is so good for creative problem solving is that its steady rhythmic pace facilitates and enhances our thinking abilities.

If you’re ever had a functional neurology exam, then you know we ask you to walk as part of the exam. Sometimes we also ask you to walk while reciting every other letter of the alphabet or counting backwards by 7s.

This is because looking at how you walk, especially if you are multitasking, gives us insight into how different parts of your brain are working (or aren’t). Your walking gait, your arm swing, your leg stance, and your posture all give valuable information about what’s going on in your brain.

Any exercise is good, and certainly better than no exercise; but even if you work out regularly, don’t miss out on the brain benefits of walking. And if you don’t exercise, walking is perhaps the most inviting way to significantly improve your brain health.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help your brain better function.

Dyslexia is more an auditory disorder than a visual disorder

Noel Thomas

217 dyslexia an auditory disorder

We naturally think of dyslexia as a visual problem with reading, but the neurological root cause reveals something different — it’s actually a disorder with auditory, or hearing, processing.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder unrelated to intelligence that affects your ability to read, spell, write, and even speak.

People with dyslexia have difficulty with phonology — sounding out words and parts of words. Brain scans of people with dyslexia have shown the part of their brain responsible for phonology does not connect adequately with the left frontal lobe, the area of the brain that governs language. Research also shows disruptions in the timing of auditory processing of speech. Like a well-tuned, well-rehearsed symphony orchestra, the brain depends on good timing in the connections of its various parts to function properly.

Some research even suggests people with dyslexia have brain anatomy that predisposes them to dyslexia.

A dyslexic may spell words incorrectly but that are phonetically correct, i.e., “joos” versus “juice.” Also, even if they are highly intelligent, they may routinely struggle with the correct form of “there,” they’re,” and “their” in a written sentence.

Dyslexics may also struggle with the difference between left and right and transpose numbers easily. They do not do well with patterns and sequences.

People with dyslexia have been shown to be more right-brain dominant and show a right-brain-dominant development imbalance in childhood.

Traits of being right-brain dominant include being better able to see the bigger picture versus the details, more artistic, intuitive, and empathetic, does poorly with verbal instruction, and is more prone to multitasking.

Thanks to industrialization, brain development disorders in children have become very common these days. They are also usually accompanied by immune disorders, such as asthma, eczema, allergies, food sensitivities, and autoimmune disorders. In fact, the dyslexic child’s issues may be compounded by recurrent ear infections that damage hearing and further impact auditory processing.

Fortunately, these findings have improved rehabilitation for dyslexia by incorporating auditory learning.

Functional neurology for dyslexia

In functional neurology, we can further facilitate rehabilitation by bringing more balance between the brain’s hemispheres and improving the timing and coordination between the various regions of the brain.

For instance, childhood brain development disorders often involve skipping important milestones such as crawling; proper brain development depends on the child going through each milestone.

When the brain fails to develop appropriately, one hemisphere grows more slowly than the other, giving rise to various disorders that are either left- or right-brain dominant. As this imbalance progresses, the brain finds it increasingly difficult to network between the hemispheres, giving rise to disorders such as dyslexia.

In functional neurology, we use a variety of neurological exams to identify these imbalances. For example, stereognosis exercises on the right side of the body can stimulate the left parietal lobe and restore help balance between the left and right hemispheres. Drawing the letters and numbers dyslexics commonly confuse (d, b, p, q, 6, and 9) and working on distinguishing them can also exercise the left brain.

In functional neurology we can even spot a brain development abnormality in infancy. This can give parents a leg up in preventing or minimizing disorders before they are too severe. The earlier you can intervene, the more of an impact functional neurology rehabilitation can have.

However, if you are an adult with dyslexia, do not despair. The brain is highly malleable and responsive to rehabilitation at any age. It just needs the right input, either activating underactive areas, or dampening over active areas through a variety of exercises tailored to your neurology.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help you with dyslexia.

Women suffer from PTSD more often and more severely than men

Noel Thomas

216 ptsd in women vs men

Popular culture relates post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to male war vets, but the truth is PTSD affects about twice as many women than men, women develop more symptoms, and PTSD lasts longer in women than men.

A 2017 study showed that men are more likely to experience general traumatic life events than women in the form of accidents, natural disasters, man-made disasters, or military combat.

However, women are more likely to experience traumatic events of sexual abuse, sexual assault, childhood sex abuse, attempted rape, sexual coercion, and intimate violence. Additionally, many women experience sexual harassment and threats on a daily basis, making recovery from sexual abuse or violence difficult, and retriggering constant. According to researchers, women are also more vulnerable to “undesirable life events,” such as illness and injury.

Researchers found this applied across various cultures and that the effects were amplified in more traditional cultures where women have fewer rights and less safety.

What is especially interesting is that evidence shows this may not be linked to gender so much as gender roles. Female police officers, for example, showed less PTSD than civilian women despite being exposed to more “male” types of traumas. This can be linked to how much control a person feels they have; feeling less in control equates to higher risk of PTSD.

The amygdala is an almond-shaped collection of neurons that plays a central role in fear responses and PTSD. Although men and women seem to have similar responses in the amygdala when exposed to a negative stimulus, a woman’s negative response lasts longer, which may be another reason women are more susceptible to developing PTSD. The amygdala and other areas of the brain involved in the fear response are also more activated by anger and threats from others in women than in men.

Why are women more prone to being stressed, anxious, fearful, and at risk for PTSD? Fear and anxiety are typically more tolerated and even encouraged in females, suggest researchers. Women are more likely to inherit anxiety risk factors, too, however studies show gender roles play a role in this area as well.

Also, females are simply at more risk in terms of sexual violence. Plus, women are more likely to blame themselves than male victims, and more likely to see the world as dangerous.

Interestingly, researchers suggest an evolutionary advantage of female stress and PTSD — to protect themselves and their offspring. The commonly touted “fight-or-flight” stress response is actually more pertinent to men. Women are more apt to “tend-and-befriend” to protect themselves and their offspring through nurturing behavior and developing social networks.

It’s important to understand how PTSD affects men and women differently and why. Many people believe PTSD only affects war veterans and that women are “hysterical” or “crazy,” when, in fact, they may be suffering from PTSD from traumas that may have begun early in life and been repeatedly reinforced.

In functional neurology we work to help rehabilitate the brain to calm and rewire the stress responses in both men and women. We take into consideration metabolic factors that can exacerbate PTSD or hinder recovery, such as chronic inflammation, gut health, thyroid function, and hormone balance.

A multi-pronged approach can help unwind and re-pattern the brain’s long-engrained networks of PTSD. For more information, contact my office.

Vaccines and the brain: Understanding cross reactivity

Noel Thomas

215 vaccines and the brain

Few things in medicine have been more contentious in the last couple of decades than the public debate over whether vaccines cause autism. The truth is, the relationship between immunity and neurology — neuroimmunology — is extremely complex and cannot be legitimately reduced to such an overly simplified argument. Instead, with even the most cursory understanding of neuroimmunology, we can ask more relevant questions that could one day increase public safety from both infectious disease and immune injury to the brain.

In a recent review article published in Cellular & Molecular Immunology, the authors analyzed studies going back several decades and argue that a neuroimmunolgical concept called cross reactivity is the true question when it comes to vaccine safety .

Cross reactivity stems from molecular mimicry. This is a well-established phenomenon in immunology in which amino acid sequences in two different proteins are identical. Amino acids are the building blocks that make up proteins, like different beads on a necklace. You can have two beaded necklaces that are very different yet both contain an identical pattern of a few beads. This is similar to molecular mimicry.

The same thing occurs with proteins. Although a virus and brain tissue are two completely different things, they can still have within them identical amino acid sequences. This exists throughout nature and is generally not a problem unless the immune system becomes dysregulated, confuses the two, and begins attacking and destroying body or brain tissue it has mistakenly identified as the virus.

Unfortunately, immune dysregulation is disturbingly common today. Rates of autoimmunity have exploded in the last couple of decades due to a variety of factors affecting primarily industrialized populations. Autoimmunity is a disorder in which an over zealous immune system attacks and destroys its own tissue.

What does this have to do with vaccines? The review demonstrated links between autoimmune cross reactivity and several vaccines. In other words, the immune system mounted an inflammatory response to a protein in the vaccine that mimicked a protein in the brain or nervous system. Once it produced antibodies to the protein, it continued the attack against neurological tissue long after the vaccine was given.

This concept does not apply just to vaccines but also to foods, viruses, bacteria, environmental chemicals, heavy metals, medications, environmental allergens, and so on. Also, cross reactivity can occur to any tissue in the body, not just the brain.

Vaccine injury studies show neuroautoimmune cross reactivity plays a role in flu vaccines and narcolepsy and Guillain-Barre syndrome; HBV vaccines and multiple sclerosis; and the HPV vaccine and lupus and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS).

Who becomes injured and why? Although much is yet to be learned about neuroautoimmunity, increased susceptibility has been linked to degradation and permeability of the gut lining and blood-brain barrier, chronic inflammation, and immune dysregulation. It’s believed that no one thing — a vaccine, a food, a chemical — causes autoimmunity on its own, but rather a combination of factors raise the risk for a final trigger to be the tipping point into autoimmunity. For some, that tipping point can be a vaccine (and, sadly, studies show babies can be born with neuroimmune dysregulation developed in utero from maternal and environmental influences). For others, it has been breast implants or other implants, a traumatic event, or simply a gradual loss of immune regulation.

The good news is we can screen for and address these risk factors with a functional neurology and functional medicine approach.

Also, while the vaccine war, based on uninformed assumptions and opinions, rages on, researchers who understand the complexities of neuroautoimmunity are working on vaccines that may one day circumvent or lower the risk of cross reactivity.

Ask my office how good functional neurology and functional medicine can help reduce the risk of triggering neuroautoimmunity and screen for your susceptibility.

Is your brain not working but your neurologist says you’re fine?

Noel Thomas

214 brain not working

Is your brain not working, severely impacting your quality of life, but it’s not bad enough to warrant medical treatment? It is very distressing when you become increasingly moody, you keep losing your keys or forgetting where you parked the car, or you’re tired and always in pain. However, chances are if you see a doctor or neurologist for these issues, testing will show you’re fine. You may even be told it’s normal to feel that way.

In functional neurology we take these kinds of symptoms seriously. Everything about your life reflects your brain health. Compromised brain health can be as basic — and serious — as having lost motivation, not being able to accomplish what you want, the feeling life is flat, not wanting to go out and socialize, dealing with memory loss, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, and so on. These are all issues that affect our experience on the deepest levels while we are alive, yet aren’t going to show up on an MRI.

In functional neurology, we help take the mystery out of your suffering. Through an in-depth neurological exam and, if necessary, functional medicine lab testing, we can identify areas of the brain associated with your symptoms that aren’t working properly. Having a concrete reason for what is robbing you of your quality of life helps people feel more invested in and empowered by rehabilitation.

This differs from a conventional medical approach in which, for example, you might be given a drug such as an antidepressant. That drug will bathe the entire brain with compounds in the hope it will improve function in the affected area of the brain causing problems.

However, in functional neurology, we can identify which area of the brain has compromised function and either activate or dampen that specific area as needed.

For instance, decreased activity in the left frontal lobe (forehead area) can present as depression. Instead of bathing the entire brain an anti-depressant or even a neurotransmitter supplement, we can give the patient rehabilitation exercises to target that area of the brain specifically.

Not only will this relieve symptoms, but it will improve the overall health of the brain and likely relieve other symptoms as well. Because all areas of the brain are so highly connected with one another, when function is low in one area, the whole brain can suffer.

While conventional neurology and medicine is designed to spot diseases and pathology, it often can’t diagnose a problem unless it has advanced significantly. For instance, for multiple sclerosis to show up on an MRI, about 90 percent of the nerve sheathes have to be destroyed by autoimmune attacks, even though patients may suffer from increasingly worsening symptoms for years prior. In functional neurology, we can screen for autoimmune attacks against brain tissue with just one test.

Sometimes conventional testing simply isn’t appropriate for common brain disorders. A study looking at brain scans for migraines, for example, showed only 1 to 3 percent showed abnormalities, and most of those abnormalities were not even related to migraines. That’s because the areas of the brain that could prevent a migraine often look normal in a scan even when they’re not doing their job; they’re either dormant or not firing correctly. The same can be said for scans of patients with ADD or ADHD.

Functional neurology helps by taking unhealthy neurons and making them healthier, as well as helping various areas of the brain better synchronize with one another for a more harmonious “neurological orchestra.”

Functional neurology is also different in that we take into consideration metabolic factors. For instance, undiagnosed hypothyroidism, autoimmunity, gluten intolerance, or gut bacteria imbalances all profoundly impact brain health.

If you know your brain isn’t working but your problem isn’t severe enough to be diagnosed or treated by conventional medicine or neurology, ask my office about how functional neurology can help you.

Lots of positive touch helps babies’ brains better develop

Noel Thomas

213 touch developes baby brainsThere’s a reason we can’t stop cuddling and kissing a baby — a new study shows its essential for healthy brain development.

Thanks to a safe new brain imaging technique, researchers have been able to observe how a baby’s brain responds to not only being touched on their hand or foot, but also to seeing an adult being touched as well (although observing touch activates the brain less than experiencing it).

Both receiving and observing touch activate the somatosensory cortex, and area that runs over the top of the brain from ear to ear and is involved in touch, pressure, pain, temperature, position, movement, and vibration. Touch in different areas of the body activate different parts of the somatosensory cortex.

Activation of this area by both experiencing and observing touch is evidence that a baby can distinguish between self and other, say researchers. This is important because it is the foundation to imitating and learning from others, as well as experiencing empathy.

It’s perhaps not surprising touch is so essential to brain development. After all, it’s the first sense to develop in humans. Before they can communicate verbally, touch is a channel of communication between babies and their caregivers.

A survey study from a children’s hospital in Ohio also showed that babies who received lots of hugs, cuddling, and affection from their caregivers showed stronger brain responses than babies who were touched less often.

Functional neurology for a touch-deprived brain

Many people were born in a time when babies were left alone and untouched for long periods both at the hospital and at home. It was thought babies needed to learn how to self-soothe, cry it out, and toughen up. We now know that increases the risk for anxiety, depression, low self-worth, a lower IQ, less empathy, addiction, mental illness, and health problems.

A touch-deprived brain can be rehabilitated. This also applies to people whose touch in early life was abusive. Early childhood neglect or abuse can wire imbalances in brain development. A functional neurology exam can identify areas of the brain that are under active or over active so that a customized rehabilitation program can be designed for you.

If a safe loved one isn’t available, getting a massage or foot reflexology is one way to begin activating the brain’s touch centers. Healthy socialization can also help fill in the gaps created by lack of early healthy touch.

And just as observing touch activated the somatosensory cortex in babies, adults can also activate neglected areas of the brain by watching people touch and relate to one another in healthy, loving ways. This is also helpful for someone who may become triggered by touch and needs to ease into it by allowing the brain to create a mirroring process for its own neurology.

Ask my office for more information on functional neurology for help with mood and mental disorders that may stem from lack of or abusive touch. We also specialize in working with brain injury, memory loss, dizziness, dystonias, and other brain-based disorders.

Effect of stress on female brain remarkably different than male

Noel Thomas

212 stress different men an womenResearchers called the results of a study on stress “remarkable” because of how differently it affects the male and female brains. The results led them to call for an end to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to stress and mood disorders.

In the study, researchers put male and female mice through a stressful event (a forced swim). They then analyzed how stress affected genes in an area of the brain associated with stress response, memory, mood, and information processing.

The female brain responds significantly more to stress than the male brain

They found that acute stress altered more than 6,500 genes in the female brain and less than 2,500 in the male brain, a dramatic difference.

In another almost 2,000 genes in both the female and male brains, stress had opposite effects on the two genders. Genes that stress activated in the female brain were suppressed in the male brain and vice versa.

Researchers also looked at variants in the BDNF gene. BDNF is brain derived neurotrophic factor, a protein critical for nerve health and the ability to create new pathways of communication, called plasticity. Plasticity is what allows us to learn new things or recover from a brain injury.

In humans, BDNF gene variants predispose raise the risk for addiction, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, bipolar, and Alzheimer’s.

The researchers put mice with the BDNF variant through cognitive tests in order to measure the impact of stress. They found it impaired spatial memory in the female mice but not the males. Researchers believe this is due to the interaction of female sex hormones with the BDNF gene variant.

The study also showed that mice with the BDNF variant that were not put through a stress test showed the same gene expressions as normal mice under acute stress.

This is one explanation for why some people are more susceptible to mood and anxiety disorders.

The good news for the stressed female brain

Although these findings seem deeply unfair to both female mice and women, other studies point to some good news.

A mouse study showed that hanging out with others who are stressed alters brain cells to also become stressed in what is likely an evolutionary advantage (that has since run amok in our modern uber-stressed society).

However, the interesting take away from this study was that female mice were able to reverse more than half the effects of stress on the brain simply by hanging out with mice who were not stressed, thus scientifically validating the girls’ night out.

Sadly, the same did not hold true for the males.

Women and men need to de-stress differently

These studies illustrate how different the female and male brains are. In recent years, we have learned that women have different signs, symptoms, and needs when it comes to brain injuries and brain disorders.

In functional neurology, we understand the role of female and male hormones on brain function, the unique challenges to brain health in men and women, and how to customize brain rehabilitation not only for gender, but also for unique individual need.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help you de-stress.

Stimulating the vagus nerve can help relieve depression

Noel Thomas

211 vagus nerve depressionDepression is very common today, affecting about 7 percent of the population, and is a leading cause of disability. Unfortunately, prescription medications provide no relief for many people and also do not address the root causes of depression, which can differ from person to person. One type of therapy that has been showing promise involves techniques to stimulate the vagus nerve, that long meandering nerve that connects the brain to the various organs in the body.

A five-year study showed that subjects who received vagal nerve stimulation experienced significantly better relief from treatment-resistant depression than those treated with pharmaceuticals, talk therapy, or electroconvulsive therapy. And the relief they experienced was lasting. In fact, healthy vagal nerve tone is associated with more positivity, better health, and healthy social connections.

The vagus nerve is best known for its effects on the gut. The nerve serves as a two-way information highway between the gut and the brain. It explains why the gut and the brain are so closely linked in what is called the gut-brain axis.

For instance, inflammation and damage in the gut, in turn, causes inflammation and symptoms in the brain, such as brain fog, depression, anxiety, and memory loss.

Likewise, damage to the brain, such as from a head injury, a stroke, or from brain degeneration affects gut function. This is why people often get gut problems after sustaining a brain injury.

Why vagal nerve stimulation relieves depression

Researchers hypothesize several reasons why stimulating the vagus nerve can relieve depression.

One reason is that vagal nerve stimulation reduces inflammation, a well known cause of depression. The brain is highly susceptible to chronic inflammation that exists elsewhere in the body. Likewise, the brain itself can become inflamed from injury, poor diet and lifestyle habits, or inflammation in the body. However, the brain’s immune cells do not have an “off switch” like the body’s, which can make brain inflammation harder to manage.

Another hypothesis is that stimulating the vagus nerve dampens the “fight or flight,” or sympathetic stress response. Sympathetic stress is necessary to survive a dangerous situation, however, many people are stuck in sympathetic stress. This is linked to depression, chronic inflammation, and health disorders.

Stimulate the vagus nerve for better brain health

Suggestions include stimulating the gag reflex, gargling aggressively throughout the day, coffee enemas, singing loudly, and breathing exercises.

In functional neurology we can also offer techniques in the office to help you stimulate the vagus nerve.

As with any strength-building exercise, to benefit from vagal nerve stimulation, it must be done consistently and assertively.

Depression is essentially reduced firing of the frontal lobe, which can be caused by many things. Examples include inflammation, blood sugar imbalances, food sensitivities, hormonal imbalances, neurotransmitter imbalances, and imbalances in different areas of the brain.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help you with your depression.

Most brain degenerative diseases can be prevented — don’t wait!

Noel Thomas

210 prevent neurodegenerationThe bad news is rates of brain degenerative diseases — Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, dementias, ALS — are higher than ever and continuing to increase. The good news is most neurodegenerative diseases are largely preventable, but you have to start taking care of your brain well before it’s too late. Functional neurology principles and rehabilitation can address longstanding areas of brain weakness that most people have and thus prevent neurodegeneration.

Spotting early symptoms of brain degeneration diseases

Once you exhibit obvious signs and symptoms of a degenerative brain disease, whether its Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, it is usually too late to reverse it at that point. That’s because the symptoms doctors are trained to spot only occur as the disease after it is significantly advanced.

It’s better to be aware of early warning signs and symptoms. These include general loss of memory, thinking skills, and brain endurance. Worsening mood, gut function, and balance are other red flags.

For Parkinson’s, constipation, drooling, diminishing sense of smell, and slow movements are early warning signs.

The arrival of anxiety and depression may be other indicators the brain is degenerating too quickly. Also, symptoms that start coming on quickly versus gradually are an important warning to heed.

Preventing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases

Even if you’re not showing early warning signs, it’s important to care for your brain health so you can enjoy sharp mental function well into old age.

Here are some functional neurology tips to lower your risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and other neurodegenerative diseases:

Seek an assessment for a brain injury, even if it happened a while ago, to make sure it still isn’t causing brain inflammation. Brain inflammation does not have a built-in off switch.

Transition to an anti-inflammatory diet and uncover undiagnosed foot intolerances. For instance, the tissue most often damaged by an undiagnosed gluten intolerance is brain and nerve tissue.

Balance your blood sugar. High blood sugar (insulin resistance and diabetes) are so damaging to the brain that some researchers call Alzheimer’s “type 3 diabetes.”

Eat healthy fats. The brain is made up primarily of fats, which come from the fats you eat. Strictly avoid trans fats (hydrogenated oils). Avoid industrial oils (canola, soy, etc.) as much as possible and go with natural fats such as olive oil and coconut oil. Make sure you are getting enough omega 3 fatty acids (most people don’t) and consider supplementing with DHA, a brain-supportive omega 3.

Assess neurotransmitter function and consider amino acid supplementation if necessary for support.

Address brain inflammation, oxygen supply to the brain, and brain energy and endurance.

Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation ravages the brain.

Exercise daily. Few things are as deeply beneficial to and protective of the brain than regular exercise, particularly high intensity interval training.

Challenge your brain. The brain stays healthy and vital through use. The more you challenge the healthier it can be. What is the best way to challenge to your brain? By getting better at something you’re not good at. For instance, if you’re weak at math, do some math puzzles regularly. If your balance is bad, do some balance exercises (safely). If you’re mind is always scattered, work on meditation and focus exercises, and so on. Work at levels you you can accomplish and maintain on a regular basis and that do not exhaust you.

For more targeted and accelerated brain optimization, ask our office how a functional neurology exam and customized rehabilitation exercises can help.

New study links infection to autism development

Noel Thomas

209 infection and autismAs autism rates continue to explode, people speculate about what causes the brain disorder, however studies continue to point to an immune connection. Many cases of autism have been found to be autoimmune in nature — meaning the immune system is attacking brain tissue. Also, maternal autoimmunity, severe infections during pregnancy, maternal gut bacteria composition, and maternal inflammation have all been shown to play a role in raising the risk of autism.

A recent study showed that women who experienced infections severe enough to require hospitalization during the first trimester were three times more likely to give birth to a child with autism.

Bacterial infection during the second trimester were almost 1.5 times more likely to cause autism.

Mouse studies also show that certain compositions of gut bacteria in the mother raise the risk of giving birth to offspring with autism. Researchers were even able to isolate the area of the brain affected by the bacteria that caused autism-like symptoms.

But research also shows that not all mothers who develop severe infections go on to have children with autism symptoms. Other factors play a role, such as carrying a particular type of bacteria that potentiates inflammation.

Maternal autoimmunity raises autism risk

Startling research has also been done on the link between autoimmunity in mothers and autism risk in their children.

One Danish study found mothers with rheumatoid arthritis, a degenerative joint disease, had an 80 percent risk of their child having autism, while celiac disease, an autoimmune gluten intolerance, increased it by 350 percent.

Some mothers have also been shown to develop antibodies to the brain tissue of their fetus; antibodies tell the immune system to attack whatever they attach to. This can go on to cause brain autoimmunity and symptoms of autism in the child. Scientists further demonstrated this link when they injected fetal brain antibodies into otherwise healthy pregnant macaques and saw symptoms of autism in their offspring.

We also see other inflammatory disorders are more prevalent in children with autism, including asthma, eczema, allergies, and gut problems.

Other studies have shown autism risk increases when mothers have chronic inflammatory disorders related to high blood sugar, such as obesity, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and insulin resistance.

What does the immune connection mean for treatment?

The takeaway is that managing inflammation and autoimmunity in women who want to become pregnant or are pregnant is key in reducing the risk of autism in offspring.

Ideally, a woman who wants to become pregnant will use functional medicine and functional neurology protocols to manage her autoimmune disorder or other chronic inflammatory disorder. If she has health disorders related to high blood sugar and insulin resistance, then she will get her blood sugar under control before pregnancy.

Functional neurology for autism

For children already diagnosed with autism, this information means that we address the immune system in addition to using brain rehabilitation exercises.

We use functional neurology to exam the neurological landscape of the autistic child’s brain. This allows us to customize exercises based on which areas of the brain need activating or dampening. We can also identify which primitive reflexes were skipped during infancy and retrain the brain with those reflexes — early reflexes are integral to proper brain development. We also work with better integrating the left and right hemispheres of the brain.

Equally important is addressing the metabolic environment of the child’s brain by looking at diet, blood sugar, food intolerances, chemical intolerances, autoimmunity, gut health, and other factors affecting brain function.

Ask my office for more information.

Functional neurology approaches to stroke

Noel Thomas

208 stroke prevention and rehabMost of us have seen the scary after effects of a stroke, one of the leading causes of disability and the third most common cause of death. Though a stroke seems to hit out of nowhere, the truth is that research shows strokes are highly preventable by applying many of the techniques we use in functional neurology. Functional neurology can also significantly boost your recovery from a stroke.

What is a stroke exactly? A stroke happens when an area of the brain doesn’t get any blood or oxygen. This happens because an artery carrying blood to that area either becomes completely blocked or ruptures.

When an area of the brain is cut off from blood and oxygen supply, this can permanently damage and destroy that part of the brain. This explains why people lose function based on which area of the brain was affected, affecting speech, memory, movement, and autonomic function.

How you can prevent a stroke

In order to prevent a stroke, we have to understand what the typical causes are. Studies have found the following factors can trigger stroke. These are among the same factors we address in functional neurology when working to rehabilitate brain function in general.

  • High blood pressure is the strongest risk factor for stroke.
  • Smoking doubles stroke risk.
  • A bad diet raises the risk by 30 percent.
  • Exercising at least four hours a week lowers your risk by 30 percent.
  • As little as one alcoholic drink a day raises your risk by 50 percent.
  • Stress, depression.
  • Diabetes.
  • Excess belly fat.
  • Cardiovascular disorders.

Functional neurology stroke prevention strategies

The strategies to prevent stroke are the same ones we use to help people boost and repair their brain health to address a variety of brain-related disorders.

Healthy, whole foods diet with lots of veggies. Ditching the sugars, sodas, junk foods, and fast foods and focusing on whole foods, lots of vegetables, and healthy fats nourish the brain and its arteries instead of harming them.

Stable blood sugar. Balancing blood sugar is foundational to all aspects of brain health, including stroke prevention and rehabilitation. High blood sugar inflames the brain and hardens and clogs the arteries, which can lead to stroke. The proof? People with Type 2 diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a stroke.

Regular exercise. There are few magic bullets in life, but regular exercise comes close. Exercise keep blood vessels healthy and open and boosts blood flow to the brain. Regular exercise has also been shown to lessen the severity of a stroke and improve recovery.

Custom supplementation. Targeted high-quality supplements that help support the arteries, stabilize blood pressure, improve circulation to the brain, dampen inflammation, and balance blood sugar can all help lower your risk of stroke or help you better recover.

Functional neurology rehabilitation. We use functional neurology exam techniques to identify areas of the brain affected by stroke and how to customize rehabilitation. We activate specific areas at and around the damage based on exam findings, and can measure progress, from subtle to obvious, and adjust treatment as necessary. We work within your brain endurance so as not to “fry” your brain and exhaust you while developing neuroplasticity, the brain’s remarkable ability to create new neural connections.

Ask my office how we can help you lower your risk of stroke and support your brain health.

Core exercises are a great way to improve your brain health

Noel Thomas

207 core exercises brainBack pain complaints are often met with instruction to build up your core strength, and indeed this is important for better stability and protection for your back. But building core strength helps in another important way — it activates areas of the brain that can enhance stability, reduce pain, and naturally improve posture.

When many people think of the core, they think of six-pack abs we see on gym posters. But the core is basically the entire trunk of your body. The core includes the:

  • Abdomen, home to the fabled six-pack.
  • Back extensors, which run along your spine.
  • Obliques, which wrap diagonally around your waist.
  • Transverse abdominis, which allows you to suck in your stomach.
  • Multifidi, which connect the vertebrae to each other.
  • Quadratus lumborum, which connects your pelvis to your spine.
  • Iliopsoas muscles, which connect the spine to the legs.

Many people develop chronic back pain because of a undiagnosed brain imbalance. The brain coordinates with the eyes and the inner ear to perceive where it is in relation to the environment.

When that information is incorrectly interpreted due to a brain imbalance, the brain may believe the body is falling forward or backwards. To compensate, it adjusts the posture to lean in the opposite direction of the perceived fall. This all happens without a person’s conscious awareness, and can start in infancy.

This constant over correcting creates not only bad posture, but also areas of muscular weakness and tension that affect the spine and other parts of the body, often resulting in chronic pain. These people may also find standing for a short length of time causes fatigue and back pain.

It’s also not uncommon for people with this issue to struggle with anxiety — the constant sense of falling is a source of chronic stressor that can manifest as anxiety, fatigue, and mood swings.

People often report a reduction in back pain and better posture when they take on a core strengthening program. Although strengthening and stretching the core muscles is a vital part of that rehabilitation, it also exercises the midline cerebellum, the area of the brain responsible for, among other things, movement, coordination, and posture. By repeatedly activating the core muscles, you are stimulating this part of the brain.

How do you know if brain imbalances play a role in your back pain or posture, and whether core exercises can help you?

The best way is to conduct your own field sobriety test — that’s right, the same one cops give to suspected drunk drivers. This is because being drunk also affects the cerebellum. It’s not uncommon for people with posture and back pain issues to also have poor balance due to a cerebellar issue.

A core strengthening program should emphasize good form so you don’t risk injuring yourself. It should also include attention to stability and alignment. A brain imbalance will often cause a person to stand or lie crooked when they think they are straight because the brain is incorrectly perceiving the body’s position.

Pilates is one excellent core strengthening technique that incorporates these strategies along with mindfulness and breath work, which are also great brain rehabilitators.

If you have back pain, poor balance, anxiety, mood issues, gut problems, a previous brain injury, or other symptoms, a functional neurology rehabilitation protocol may be the vital boost you need. Many times when people get stuck on a functional medicine protocol, it’s because a brain-based issue is promoting inflammation and metabolic imbalances.

Ask my office for more information on how we can help you achieve better brain health.

How to trick your brain into motivation instead of procrastination

Noel Thomas

206 trick brain motivation

Lack of motivation plagues even the brightest and most ambitious at times, especially when we have so many digital distractions these days. But you can trick your brain into becoming more motivated and it will hardly even notice. You simply need to know a little about the neurology of motivation and procrastination.

A key brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, involved in motivation is dopamine. It also happens to be the key neurotransmitter involved in bad habits and addiction, including digital addictions to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. We need plenty of dopamine to stay motivated and feel good about our accomplishments and ourselves. Otherwise we lapse into procrastination.

Every time you check your Facebook (or smoke a cigarette, gamble, take a drug, or engage in any other addiction), the pleasure center of the brain, called the nucleus accumbens, is flooded with dopamine and hence feelings of pleasure. Dopamine also encourages motivation to continue that feel-good behavior.

This system doesn’t exist simply to sabotage us with Netflix binge watching addictions. We are designed to find pleasure in certain activities that ensure survival of our species, such as eating, love, sex, and having fun (positivity is good for immune and brain health). However, these rewarding pleasures require, to varying degrees, a certain amount of work, attention, and time for modest releases of dopamine.

An addictive habit, however, can release two to 10 times the amount of dopamine a natural one does. In other words, jumping on to Facebook is going to give you a quicker and easier dopamine “high” than, say, building a fire so you can hang out with your tribe and cook that day’s catch.

In an attempt to maintain balance, the brain’s receptors lose tolerance to dopamine so that you get less of a high. However, dopamine has also wired your brain to connect the stimulus with the feelings of pleasure. As a result, compulsion builds with tolerance.

As the compulsion for the bad habit grows, the increased dopamine demand saps your motivation to engage in more positive but less extreme dopamine-boosts. If you have ever gotten sucked into binge watching a Netflix series over taking a walk on a sunny day, you know what I’m talking about.

You also probably know that willing yourself into better behavior often fails you and makes you feel even worse about yourself — dopamine is tied to self-esteem and when yours is running low, so is your sense of self-worth.

It’s not as hopeless as it sounds. The key is to redirect your brain’s dopamine system with baby steps that develop new pathways of communication so you think, feel, and behave differently. This is called plasticity. How? Pick a positive action small enough you know you can accomplish it. Trouble sticking to an exercise routine? Commit to one pushup a day. Wish you would work on that book? Write one paragraph, or even one sentence a day. Want to meditate? Start with one minute, or maybe a few minutes of reading.

The magic isn’t in how much you do, but through the feeling of accomplishment. This sends rewarding dopamine boosts to the areas of your brain that need it the most so positive plasticity can develop. After you have been doing that one pushup or that one minute of meditation, increase it to two, and so on. The goal is to feel a rewarding sense of accomplishment and continue building on that in small, achievable ways.

Symptoms of low dopamine activity include lack of motivation, struggles with procrastination, inability to find pleasure in things you used to enjoy, fatigue, mood swings, memory deficits, addiction, feelings of low self-worth, bouts of rage, and other symptoms.

Low dopamine can have its roots in chronic health imbalances (gut, immune, hormonal, etc.) or in neurological imbalances, such as brain development disorders, brain degeneration, brain injury, or other brain-based mechanisms.

Ask my office functional neurology strategies to help you improve your dopamine activity so you can get stuff done, enjoy life more, and feel better about yourself.

It doesn’t take a blow to the head to injure the brain

Noel Thomas

205 brain injury without concussion

You don’t have to receive a blow to the head to suffer from brain injury. In fact, you can even injure your brain while wearing a helmet. This is because brain tissue is very delicate — the consistency of soft butter or egg white — and floats inside a skull lined with hard ridges. Impacts to the body, falls, and neck injuries are all it takes to injure the brain, especially if they happen repeatedly.

Here are some ways you can sustain a brain injury without ever hitting your head:

Hard falls: When you fall your brain slams into one side of your skull and then the other. People who engage in activities that involve falling and crashing regularly (football, extreme sports, roller derby, etc.) should be aware of signs of brain injury, even if they wear a helmet.

Body slams (such as in contact sports): Likewise, full impact hits to the body knock the brain around inside the skull.

Landing on your tailbone: Although landing on your tailbone results in a sore bum, your brain is also victim to the force sent up the spine.

Whiplash: Whiplash is a double whammy to the brain, which is why car accidents can be so devastating even if you didn’t directly injure your head. Not only does the whiplash send the brain crashing back and forth inside the skull, but the shearing and twisting forces in the neck can also damage the brain stem. The brain stem may look simply like the connection between the brain and the neck, its an extremely important center of brain function. Damage to the brain stem can cause anxiety, insomnia, extreme moodiness, gut problems, autonomic problems, and extreme sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds.

Falls and crashes also damage the fragile inner ear, or vestibular system, which plays a vital role in brain function and integrity.

The reason football players and extreme athletes are making headlines is because repeated impacts to the body and head continually inflame and damage the brain, overwhelming its ability to recover until it eventually succumbs to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Brain injury increases risk for more brain injury

One of the most prominent signs of brain injury is worsened balance and coordination. Unfortunately, these symptoms predispose a person to further injure their brain due to increased clumsiness. Just one concussion increases the risk of a second by 150 percent. After two concussions, your risk for a third goes up by 300 percent. This is why it’s so important to seek functional neurology and functional medicine interventions right away when you suspect you have injured your brain.

Poor brain health increases brain injury risk

It’s not just how many times your brain slams around inside your skull that matters, but also the general health of your brain prior to injury. This is why some people recover more quickly from injury than others. If you eat fast foods regularly, are deficient in vital brain nutrients — such as essential fatty acids and vitamin D have undiagnosed food sensitivities (especially to gluten), or suffer from hormonal imbalances or deficiencies, your brain is going to fare more poorly after an injury.

Because inflammation in the brain does not have an “off switch” the way it does in the body, brain inflammation is like a slow moving fire that can damage tissue for months and even years, causing symptoms long after the insults. The good news is that for all its fragility, the brain is an amazing organ when it comes to recovery and repair. It will eagerly respond to functional neurology and functional medicine protocols to improve function, dampen disorders, and enhance its overall integrity.

Ask my office how we can help you get back your brain health and function.