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1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

(503) 248-1182

Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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Blog

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.

CPTSD vs PTSD: How functional neurology can help

Noel Thomas

230 cptsd vs ptsd

Awareness has increased about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the destructive and far-reaching consequences it can have on a person’s life. However, it’s helpful to distinguish between PTSD and complex PTSD (CPTSD), which the World Health Organization recently formally recognized. CPTSD largely affects victims of childhood abuse.

Official recognition opens the doors for more research and the potential of better treatment for sufferers of CPTSD, many of whom are female survivors of childhood sexual abuse. In fact, more women than men have been identified as suffering from PTSD.

An estimated 7 percent of children are victims of sexual abuse and it is believed to underlie later mental and physical problems, including chronic health conditions, depression, anxiety, addiction, and criminal behaviors.

The difference between PTSD and CPTSD

Although both PTSD and CPTSD are caused by trauma and can have lasting consequences, researchers increasingly see the two disorders as distinct:

PTSD: The result of an acute trauma, such as combat trauma, witnessing a death, being in a natural disaster, an accident, etc.

In PTSD symptoms are related to re-experiencing the trauma and wanting to avoid situations that trigger that. People with PTSD tend to be more hypervigilant and have negative beliefs and feelings.

CPTSD: The result of repetitive and prolonged trauma, such as ongoing physical abuse, sexual abuse, and/or neglect that is often experienced in childhood but can also include domestic violence and abuse, exploitation, etc. in adulthood.

A person with CPTSD will have the symptoms of PTSD along with the following:

  • Difficulty regulating emotions and experiencing persistent sadness, suicidal thoughts, and rage.
  • Disassociation that pulls a person out of the moment, amnesia about the trauma, or obsessing about or reliving the trauma.
  • Feeling different than other humans with persistent helplessness, stigma, shame, or guilt.
  • Seeing the perpetrator in a distorted way, either giving them too much power or obsessing about revenge.
  • Problems with mistrust, isolation, or searching for a “rescuer” when it comes to personal relationships.
  • Despair, hopelessness, and lack of meaning in life.
  • Tendency to self-harm or self-medicate.

Treatment for PTSD and CPTSD can be very similar, although CPTSD typically requires in-depth psychotherapy to undo years of damage from negative beliefs and self-perception.

Because PTSD and CPTSD create hypervigilance and emotional dysregulation, this can negatively “wire” the brain over time in a way that reinforces anxiety, depression, addiction, and other brain-based disorders.

In addition to psychological approaches, functional neurology can help you rehabilitate your brain from PTSD and CPTSD by helping calm over active areas of the brain and activate areas that are under firing. The goal is to calm and regulate your fear-focused brain.

In functional neurology we work with the concept of “neuroplasticity,” which means your neurons can create new pathways of communication. This can help you develop new habits, new ways of thinking and feeling, the ability to make better decisions, and to reduce or alleviate addictive tendencies.

Functional neurology also incorporates dietary and lifestyle strategies to support your brain health. For instance, if you are eating one or more foods that are causing inflammation in the brain, this can exacerbate your PTSD and CPTSD. Adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle can help you in your recovery.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help you in your recovery from PTSD or CPTSD.

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a neurological condition

Noel Thomas

229 chronic fatigue explained

You may have heard of chronic fatigue syndrome or maybe have it yourself. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) has long been controversial in conventional medicine, but neurological research has both validated and renamed it: Myalgic encephalopathy (ME). “Myalgic” means pain and “encephalopathy” means inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. In other words, chronic fatigue syndrome is now known to be caused by inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. The illness is often referred to ME/CFS for short.

Other names for myalgic encephalopathy include “post-viral fatigue syndrome” and “chronic fatigue immune dysfunction syndrome.” These names illustrate the illness is real, not imagined, and can be triggered by an inflammatory event, typically a virus.

ME/CFS causes severe and chronic tiredness and affects as many as four million people in the United States.

Many people with chronic fatigue syndrome, a term coined in 1988, prefer you don’t call it that. They believe that name trivializes what is actually a debilitating condition. Many people joke they have “chronic fatigue” when they hear that term, unaware that many sufferers of ME/CFS are largely bedridden and barely able to function.

It doesn’t help that many medical doctors are skeptical the syndrome exists and blame it on patient hysteria. As such, many patients with ME/CFS do not receive a diagnosis or treatment — it’s estimated more than 90 percent of ME/CFS sufferers have not been formally diagnosed.

ME/CFS became established as a legitimate diagnosis in 2014 when the US government contracted the Institute of Medicine to review the scientific literature and define ME/CFS.

The new name is not without controversy, however, as retaining the “CFS” for chronic fatigue syndrome is at odds with what we know scientifically —ME has an identifiable viral trigger while CFS may not. CFS is diagnosed solely by symptoms.

What is ME/CFS?

Four times as many women than men are afflicted with ME/CFS and it usually hits them in their 40s and 50s. It creates the following symptoms:

  • Extreme fatigue caused by little or no exertion. This is referred to as “post-exertional malaise.”
  • Do not feel rested after sleeping. In fact, poor and unrefreshing sleep only increases fatigue and pain.
  • Poor cognition. ME/CFS sufferers often have brain-based issues, including brain fog, poor concentration, poor attention, and memory loss.
  • Pain. People with ME/CFS often experience chronic pain, whether it’s in their muscles, joints, throughout the body, or as headaches.
  • Gut problems.
  • Visual disturbances.
  • Chemical sensitivities and food sensitivities.
  • Chills and night sweats.
  • Depression and irritability.
  • Weight changes.

A patient receives an ME/CFS diagnosis when all other possibilities — such as fibromyalgia, thyroid problems, anemia, Lyme disease, lupus, MS, hepatitis, sleep disorders, and depression — have been ruled out.

Functional neurology for ME/CFS

In functional neurology we address underlying brain and health imbalances use brain rehabilitation therapies that can help the brain recover.

Things we investigate include chronic inflammation, infection, neurological dysfunction, gut problems or infections, problems with detoxification and methylation, mitochondrial dysfunction, and poor glutathione activity. Ask my office for more advice.

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism care includes brain care

Noel Thomas

228 hypothyroidism brain

When managing Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, you should not overlook the importance of addressing your brain health and function. Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism can have profound effects on the brain and you may need to support your brain in addition to managing your Hashimoto’s thyroid condition.

Because every cell in the body needs thyroid hormone for proper function, a thyroid hormone deficiency can significantly impact brain health and function. Likewise, the inflammation that accompanies unmanaged Hashimoto’s can inflame and degenerate the brain.

Your thyroid health affects brain inflammation, communication between neurons (plasticity), brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), and general brain health and function.

It is these reasons why many people with unmanaged Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism experience depression, fatigue, brain fog, memory loss, worsened cognition, and other brain-based symptoms.

Thyroid hormones perform vital roles for brain function. One of their most important roles is to dampen brain inflammation through their effect on the brain’s immune cells, called microglia cells. Unlike the body, the brain does not have an off switch for inflammation and it depends in part on sufficient hormone function to keep inflammation in check.

Unchecked inflammation can degenerate, or age, the brain too quickly.

While taking thyroid hormone medication may be necessary, it’s also important to address your autoimmune Hashimoto’s by removing inflammatory triggers, dampening inflammation, and restoring balance to the immune system.

Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune condition that causes 90 percent of hypothyroid cases in the United States; the immune system must be included in care.

It is also important to address autoimmunity to lower the risk of developing autoimmunity in the brain or elsewhere in the nervous system. One autoimmune disease significantly increases the risk of autoimmunity to other tissues in the body, and many people have more than one autoimmune disease.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism to also have autoimmune attacks against their cerebellum, an area of the brain that plays a role in movement and coordination.

If you have Hashimoto’s and also have symptoms pertaining to balance, dizziness, or nausea, you may want to be screened for brain autoimmunity.

A worst-case scenario when it comes to Hashimoto’s and brain autoimmunity is Hashimoto’s encephalopathy (HE), also known as autoimmune dementia, HE is caused by the same immune antibodies that destroy thyroid tissue — thyroid peroxidase (TPO) antibodies. In addition to memory loss, symptoms can include tremors, seizures, impaired speech, confusion, partial paralysis, fine motor problems, and poor coordination. However, HE is not common and you should not assume you have it.

This information is important because many doctors tell their patients to wait until their thyroid “burns out” and then remove it surgically. This does nothing to treat an overzealous immune system that is at the root of thyroid dysfunction and poor brain health.

If you have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, ask my office about how functional neurology can help you recover and optimize your brain health.

Good brain health depends on using your legs

Noel Thomas

227 use legs to boost brain

While math games and crossword puzzles seem like a logical way to boost your brain, but what it may prefer instead is you get up from your chair and go exercise your legs. A recent study showed that exercising the legs, especially with weight-bearing exercises, signals the brain to create new nerve cells. These findings can not only help people boost their brain function but also explain why loss of leg function leads to rapid decline and provide insight for improved therapies.

Considered a groundbreaking study that will alter neurological medicine, the study illustrates how vital load-bearing exercises are to brain function. It can help explain the decline seen in patients who lose leg function to multiple sclerosis, motor neuron disease, spinal muscular atrophy, and other diseases of the nervous system.

The mechanism also affects those who are bed ridden, astronauts in space who do not have gravity to work against when using their legs, and those who sit all day — “sitting disease” raises the risk of many common diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

The researchers found that not using your legs alters your body chemistry by lowering the amount of oxygen in the body and altering the expression of genes involved in cellular growth and regeneration. These alterations dramatically decrease the numbers of neural stem cells and thus the ability to produce new neurons.

Lack of leg function also hinders the function and development of specialized cells that insulate the nerves.

To prevent this, you simply need to use your legs regularly, especially in weight bearing activities. Regularly exercising your legs will literally grow new nerve cells.

Without this, not only will brain function suffer, but your ability to handle the stressors and challenges of daily life will diminish. This study adds to our knowledge base about why regular exercise helps combat stress, anxiety, and depression.

It also demonstrates that no matter how smart you are or how much you engage your brain intellectually or artistically, your brain’s health and function depends on regular exercise that incorporates the large leg muscles. A sedentary lifestyle is as damaging and possibly even worse than smoking.

The study involved restricting the hind legs of mice for 28 days. The mice went about their normal eating and grooming activities and did not appear stressed. At the end of the study researchers examined the area of the brain in the mice responsible for maintaining nerve cell health and producing new nerve cells in mammals.

They found the mice who had their hind legs restricted showed 70 percent less stem cell activity compared to the control group of mice who had full use of their hind legs. The study mice also did not have full support or development of the cells that insulate neurons.

Although research abounds about which forms of exercise are superior, just going for regular walks can significantly boost your brain health and function if you are typically sedentary. You can also try squats, leg lifts, lunges, and other simple exercises that make your legs work against gravity.

Additionally, although any form of exercise is great for the brain, raising your heart rate through aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training boosts metabolism, hormones, and chemicals in a way that boost brain function and improve and preserve brain health.

However, it is vitally important you not overdo your exercise and cause yourself stress and inflammation. Both of these will work against you by sabotaging function in the hippocampus and causing it to degenerate more quickly. This is important because the hippocampus is the area of learning and memory and the first area of the brain to degenerate in Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Ask my office about how to improve your brain health and function.

Autism prevention begins before you conceive

Noel Thomas

226 autism prevention preconception

If you are planning to conceive a child, it’s worth paying attention to the factors that contribute to the autism spectrum disorders — science shows many of them begin preconception. Although autism prevention isn’t a guarantee, you can improve your future child’s chances of optimal neurological function by shoring up your own health prior to conception.

Studies show many cases of autism are the result of inflammatory mechanisms that begin in the womb and are heavily influenced by the mother’s immune health. Poor maternal immune status can also raise the risk of asthma, allergies, and other immune disorders in their children. In fact, many children with autism also present with other immune disorders.

For instance, a clearer connection exists between infections during pregnancy and autism risk. A review of 20 years of research showed that hospitalization for a viral infection such as flu during the first trimester tripled the odds for autism, while a bacterial infection, including urinary tract infections, during the second trimester increased the risk by 40 percent. This research shows us maternal immunity clearly affects the developing brain of the fetus.

It isn’t the virus or bacteria that cause autism, but the mother’s inflammatory response to the infection. This is a big clue that maternal inflammation plays a role in raising the risk neurological and immune issues such as autism in the child.

A mother’s autoimmune status increases the risk of autism in her children

The good news about viral and bacterial infections is they have declined during the last 60 years. However, rates of autoimmune diseases and chronic inflammatory health disorders have been skyrocketing, affecting at least about 20 percent of the population. Autoimmune disease alone dwarfs cancer and heart disease combined.

This means many mothers are conceiving and carrying the fetus while in a chronic state of inflammation (older fathers and premature births also increase autism risk). Research shows this chronic maternal inflammation affects the immune and neurological health of their children while in utero. For mothers with autoimmunity they are not managing through functional neurology and functional medicine protocols, this means their unborn child is at a higher risk of developing autism.

In fact, one study of 700,000 births found that maternal rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, or Type 1 diabetes more than doubled the risk of autism in the child.

Another study showed a significant correlation between maternal autoimmune Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism and an increased risk of autism in her children.

Why does autoimmunity raise the risk of autism in the child? With autoimmunity, the immune system is in a hyper zealous and chronically inflamed state. It also produces immune cells called antibodies to tag tissues in the body to target them for attack and destruction.

Studies have found that some mothers create antibodies to the brain tissue of their fetus. This means the child is born with an immune system that is attacking and destroying their developing brain. This is what causes neurological and immune issues that present as autism spectrum disorders.

Research shows mothers of children with autism are five times more likely to have antibodies to their children’s brain in their blood.

Other maternal risk factors for autism in her child include allergies, insulin resistance, obesity, and chronic low-grade inflammation.

Modern diet and lifestyle behind inflammation and autoimmunity

So why are so many moms so inflamed these days? We have the familiar standbys of a modern industrialized society to thank: Unstable blood sugar from excess consumption of sugars and processed carbohydrates (breads, pasta, white rice, pastries, etc.); processed foods; chronic stress; overly sedentary lifestyle; and living in a sea of environmental toxins in our homes, body products, air, food (even organic), and water.

Thankfully, there are things you can do, including an autoimmune diet and the use of customized functional neurology and functional medicine protocols.

Ask my office how we can help you balance and improve your immune health to lower the risk of giving birth to a child with asthma, allergies, autism, or other brain and immune disorders.

How a high-sugar diet can gender bend your brain

Noel Thomas

225 neurology of gender

Have you noticed how as some people get older they take on the characteristics of the opposite sex — men develop breasts and cry at movies and women bald and grow facial hair? Or have you wondered why people who undergo hormone therapy to change genders think and behave in new ways? Male and female hormones have a profound influence on the structure and activity of the brain, which is highly malleable under the influence of hormonal changes.

Scientists began learning about the influence of sex hormones on brain structure when they studied brain scans of people undergoing hormone therapy to change genders.

The men receiving female hormones developed more female-like brains while the women receiving male hormones developed a more male brain and larger hypothalamus. In both, the volume of grey and white matter adjusted to that of the gender to which they were transitioning. It took only four months of heavy hormone therapy for the subjects’ brains to take on the shape and structure of the opposite sex.

Additionally, a 2018 study of people with gender dysphoria — meaning they identify as the gender opposite of the one assigned at birth — had similar findings. Even without hormone therapy, their brain structure and activity more closely resembled that of the opposite sex, even though their bodies didn’t. Researchers found these differences are detectable in early childhood.

Morphing hormones in midlife

So what does this have to do with people in middle age taking on some characteristics of the opposite gender?

In functional neurology and functional medicine, we understand the various physiological and neurological consequences of diet and lifestyle on hormone and brain function.

The most ubiquitous and profound is the effect of blood sugar instability. We can blame an American

diet high in sugars and processed carbohydrates coupled with a sedentary, stressful lifestyle for throwing hormones out of balance.

A high-sugar, high-carbohydrate diet and sedentary lifestyle creates a disorder called insulin resistance, also known as pre-diabetes. Insulin resistance drives the reproductive hormones in both sexes to begin to mimic that of the opposite gender.

Insulin resistance in women leads to testosterone dominance, causing balding on the head while too much hair grows in on the face. A woman’s voice may become much deeper too. Younger women may also develop polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and infertility.

Meanwhile, insulin resistance in men causes estrogen dominance. It activates an enzyme that converts testosterone to estrogen, which is especially unfortunate in men who try to correct the disorder by taking testosterone hormones.

These men grow breasts and hips, they cry at movies and commercials, and their skin softens. They may also suffer from erectile dysfunction.

Both men and women suffering from the gender-bending characteristics of insulin resistance can be expected to experience the same changes in brain structure and activity, hence taking on the behaviors of the opposite sex.

Insulin resistance imbalances hormones and spikes inflammation

The most deleterious effect of insulin resistance isn’t the hormonal morphing but rather the highly inflammatory side effects. Insulin resistance is so inflammatory to the brain that scientists call Alzheimer’s type 3 diabetes. This is because insulin resistance damages and degenerates the brain.

It also promotes systemic inflammation throughout the body that raises the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, autoimmune disease, and other diseases of chronic inflammation. The good news is this hormonal-neurological-inflammatory cascade can be unwound through a diet that lowers carbohydrate consumption and raises exercise levels.

Ask my office how we can help you restore your brain and hormone function through functional neurology and functional medicine.

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.