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1306 NW Hoyt, Suite 411
Portland, OR 97209

1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

(503) 248-1182

Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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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.

Hormones out of whack since your brain injury?

Noel Thomas

204 TBI and hormonesAlthough brain injury symptoms may subside enough for you to return to daily life, trauma to the brain can continue to subtly wreak havoc on how your body functions and feels for month and even years later. For instance, many people notice their hormone function isn’t the same after a brain injury.

Your hormonal command center — the hypothalamus and pituitary gland — is in the brain. Although a head injury may occur in an isolated area, the vast networks of communication across the entire brain mean that damage to one area affects the entire brain. And because the brain runs the body, it only makes sense daily operations of the body take a hit too.

Estimates on how many people suffer from hormone disorders caused by brain injury vary, however, one study of 1,000 patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) found almost 30 percent had compromised pituitary function.

The hormonal systems most impacted are the sex hormones, growth hormones (which adults need for bone and muscle strength), and adrenal, or stress, hormones. Symptoms range from mild to severe and can surface immediately or months or even years later.

Common hormone symptoms related to brain injury include fatigue, weight gain, low blood pressure, low libido, loss of muscle mass, and amenorrhea. Children may have growth problems later.

More severe repercussions can include Addison’s disease (adrenal insufficiency), diabetes insipidus (which causes intense thirst and heavy urination), or hyponatremia (abnormally low sodium).

How functional neurology and functional medicine can help restore hormone function

Why will two people with the same TBI have two wildly different responses hormonally? In functional neurology and functional medicine, we know one reason is the health of the brain prior to injury. For instance, one person eats a healthy diet, avoids inflammatory foods, isn’t already struggling with depression or anxiety, does not have advanced brain inflammation, and exercises regularly. This person may experience a good and swift recovery after a TBI.

However, take the the person who lives on a pizza and mac-and-cheese, unaware that a gluten and dairy sensitivity are causing immune attacks on the brain. They also drink soda every day, sit gaming or working for hours instead of getting any exercise, and work or live in a stressful, toxic environment. This person likely already has hormonal imbalances and a highly inflamed brain. A brain injury is going to be much more devastating as a result.

Also, hormonal status in midlife can play a big role in how the brain responds to injury as the sex hormones are highly protective of the brain. For the woman or man who experiences a steep decline in hormone production in midlife, their brain is much more vulnerable to damage and slower recovery after a TBI.

You may think hormone replacement therapy is the answer, and in some people it may be, but in functional neurology we look at the various dietary and lifestyle conditions that create hormonal imbalances and work to address those.

We customize rehabilitative functional neurology strategies based on the type of damage a patient’s brain received and pre-existing metabolic health.

We also examine and address the function of related systems, such as the vestibular system, or inner ear; the vagus nerve, an information highway that connects the brain to the organs; and the visual system. Working with these systems, which are so integral to brain function, is a vital to rehabilitation.

If your hormones have been out of whack since your concussion, or brain injury, ask my office how we can help.

Improve brain function and chronic pain through posture

Noel Thomas

203 neurology of postureHave you ever been prescribed physical therapy for a chronic pain problem only to find it returns after treatment? The problem may lie in the connection between your brain and your posture. Your posture actually says a lot about your brain — areas of brain dysfunction can show up as poor posture and injury due to misalignment.

The brain stabilizes the body and works to make movement as efficient as possible without our conscious knowledge. However, various factors can skew the brain’s communication with the body, resulting in poor posture. These include insult or injury to the brain or body, degeneration from inflammation caused by unhealthy diets and unstable blood sugar, lack of brain stimulation from an overly sedentary lifestyle, and chronic repetitive movements and poor ergonomics.

Even just having your eyes constantly in a downward gaze at a computer screen a couple of feet from your face, instead of outside and scanning your environment, can affect the brain’s function in a way that promotes bad posture.

Posture reflects the brain’s interpretation of where the body is in relation to the world around it. It depends not only on vision, but also on the body’s other senses for feedback. The feet are especially useful in helping the body understand its position. In fact, the skin of the feet communicates with a precise part in the brain, the sensory cortex, which then communicates with the frontal lobe and the cerebellum to direct movement and position, including the position of your head.

However, uneven weight distribution between the feet gives improper sensory information to the brain.

Additionally, poor synchronization between the eyes, which we often find with brain disorders, also sends faulty information to the brain. Every area of the brain is affected by input from the eyes.

Even the jaw plays a role in this input. The position of the lower jaw, teeth and tongue, and whether someone breathes through their nose or mouth all affect how the brain interprets center of gravity and posture.

When the brain integrates all of this off-kilter input, its interpretation of your place in the environment is incorrect. As a result, poor posture and movement imbalances are perpetuated.

Eventually, chronic pain can develop due to misalignment. Rarely do patients with chronic pain have even pressure on both feet or eyes that move in synchrony.

However, with an understanding of how these systems work together, many patients experience significant or total relief of chronic pain and other brain-based issues by addressing these imbalances. In functional neurology we stimulate sensory areas, dampen over active areas of the brain, and use rehabilitative eye exercises to help stabilize and synchronize vision. Together these approaches can change the way your muscles contract, your posture, and your movement.

Chronic pain isn’t the only condition helped. Addressing brain-based causes of poor posture and misalignment also helps in autism, Parkinson’s, movement disorders, anxiety, and brain injury recovery.

In addition to using functional neurology, you can better activate the sensory input areas of your brain to improve your posture by walking barefoot, or in shoes that are close to barefoot, doing balance exercises (especially in conjunction with reciting the months of the year or the alphabet backwards), getting up to move around every hour for a few minutes, and spending time outside looking into the distance and visually tracking different targets.

Ask my office for more advice on how to improve your posture and other conditions by addressing your brain health and function.

Autism rates continue to rise, setting new record highs

Noel Thomas

202 autism rising

There was a time many people — who are not yet that old — can remember when autism was relatively uncommon. Today it’s so common special education classes have exploded in numbers many parents have a child on the autism spectrum. Although we’d like to blame increased diagnoses, the fact is overall childhood brain development disorders have been skyrocketing in the last two decades and now stand at a shocking 1 in 14 children. These disorders include autism spectrum disorder, an intellectual disability, or a developmental delay.

According to the National Health Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), rates of autism have been rising sharply:

2000: 1 in 150 children

2007: 1 in 91 children

2010: 1 in 68 children

2016: 1 in 36 children

For boys the most recent numbers are 1 in 28, which is three times higher than girls. This represents an almost 150 percent increase in less than a decade, yet the news has received little media attention.

Although awareness and diagnoses have improved to catch more children, especially girls who have long been neglected due to exhibiting different symptoms than boys, it’s hard to dismiss the surge in other childhood health disorders commonly related to autism:

  • Peanut allergies and nut allergies have increased by about 20 percent since 2010
  • Rates of asthma have grown by almost 30 percent since 2000 
  • Eczema rates have risen between 5 to 17 percent, depending on the ethnic group 
  • Hospital visits for life-threatening food allergies have doubled 
  • Rates of inflammatory bowel diseases in children rise every year 
  • Type 1 diabetes has been increasing at a rate of almost 5 percent a year

What do the ongoing surges of these issues have in common with autism spectrum disorders and brain development disorders? The immune system. Autism spectrum disorders have increasingly been found to have their roots in immune imbalances that can start while the child is still in the womb, thanks to environmental influences that are passed to the baby through cord blood and the mother’s own dysregulated immune system. Because the neurological and immune systems develop concurrently, prenatal immune imbalances predispose a child to an autism spectrum disorder or other brain development disorder.

What is causing so many brain and immune disorders in our children? A Harvard study found autism rates double among mothers exposed to high levels of fine-particulate air pollution in their third trimester. Maternal autoimmunity such as lupus has been shown to almost double the risk of autism in offspring. Mothers can also carry immune antibodies to brain tissue that then go on to target the brain of the fetus for attack, inhibiting proper brain development. Other factors such as older fathers, high IQ, and genetic history also play a role.

Studies link environmental toxins to reduced intelligence and increased brain problems in children beginning in utero, prompting researchers to call it a silent pandemic. Although we can’t change the world, we can reduce our exposure to toxic chemicals in the products we use and the foods we eat. We can also practice functional neurology protocols that reduce inflammation and help continually detoxify the body and buffer it from damage. Ask my office for more information.

A functional neurology look at migraines and migraine relief

Noel Thomas

201 migraines

About one in four Americans suffer from migraines, or head pain that lasts four to 72 hours, in the United States and it’s a leading cause of disability. Fortunately, by understanding how metabolic disorders affect the brain, we can use functional neurology and neurochemistry to help many people with migraines find lasting and significant relief.

Many migraine sufferers feel they miss out on much of their lives. It’s hard to make commitments to social events, concerts, picnics, or other events because they never know when they’ll be felled by a migraine. Many migraine patients are also dependent on one or more drugs to function, and some of these drugs can cause rebound migraines!

When a migraine is coming on or hits, symptoms may include not only pain but also inability to tolerate light or sound, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, numbness and tingling in different parts of the body, visual auras, déjà vu, hallucinations, and more. These symptoms are important clues in functional neurology to help us determine which part of the brain is affected during the migraine. For instance, visual auras indicate an issue in the occipital lobe, which governs vision, while déjà vu signals a migraine affecting the temporal lobe, which plays a role in time perception.

What exactly causes a migraine?

It has long been believed migraines happen when blood vessels to a region of the brain dilate, or enlarge, pressing on nerve fibers around them. However, other research suggests the pain is due not to widening blood vessels but rather extra sensitive nerve fibers surrounding them. Either way, inflammation seems to play a key role in the painful throbbing and pounding. The trick is to find out the underlying cause of the inflammation. This is where functional neurology and functional medicine come in.

Unstable blood sugar. Clinically, we see many cases of migraines significantly improve, if not resolve, simply by stabilizing the patient’s blood sugar. Most Americans are on a roller coaster of blood sugar lows and highs thanks to diets that are too high in sugars and processed carbohydrates, and too low in healthy, whole foods.

For others, they eat too little and too infrequently, keeping their body and brain constantly in a state of low blood sugar.

For these people, eating small bites of protein more frequently throughout the day can help prevent migraines.

Blood sugar lows and highs are highly stressful and inflammatory to the body and brain and a primary root cause to many chronic health disorders, including migraines. The first step in addressing migraine should always be to stabilize blood sugar and follow an anti-inflammatory diet.

Iron deficiency anemia. Anemia is another commonly overlooked cause of migraines we sometimes see clinically. If a migraine patient tests low in iron, sometimes supplementing with iron can profoundly impact migraine symptoms. Of course, you’ll want to address why you have anemia too.

Hormone imbalances. One of the more common, and complicated, causes of migraines in women is a hormone imbalance involving estrogen and progesterone. Hormone imbalances require a comprehensive functional medicine approach to address the reasons for the imbalance — chronic stress, blood sugar imbalances, poor gut health, inflammation, chronic infection, etc. Many women are low in progesterone due to chronic stress, which robs the body of the precursors necessary for progesterone to make stress hormones instead. Other common female hormone issues include excess estrogen, low estrogen, or excess testosterone. Appropriate levels of the sex hormones help regulate the immune system and inflammation.

This is a very cursory overview of some potential mechanisms for migraines, which can be different for everyone. Previous head injuries are another common factor to consider. If you have migraines, ask my office for a consultation.

CTE found in living NFL player but affects many types of people

Noel Thomas

152 CTE in living football player

The first case of CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, was identified in NFL player Fred McNeill and confirmed after his death in 2015. However, CTE, which causes brain degeneration and dementia, is not confined just to football players. Anyone whose body receives repeated blows is at risk. This includes boxers, wrestlers, MMA fighters, extreme athletes, military troops, and more. You don’t even have to receive a concussion for your brain to suffer injury and damage from repeated falls, crashes, and body slams.

A recent study of the brains of deceased NFL players showed 110 out of 111 had CTE disease, a bitter pill for a sport that is a staple of American culture.

CTE causes symptoms of depression, memory loss, confusion, anger, loss of impulse control, and overall decline and changes in personality. Many former NFL players succumb to chronic mood, behavioral, and pain disorders that devastates their personal lives. A number have committed suicide.

Diagnosing CTE before death now a possibility

The CTE in McNeill was discovered by Dr. Bennet Omalu, the subject of the 2015 Will Smith movie Concussion,about the NFL’s attempts to suppress Omalu’s CTE research findings.

A former NFL player and top attorney, McNeill started to devolve in his 40s into an explosive, depressed, forgetful, and impulsive man who drove his family into bankruptcy and could no longer hold a job. He died of ALS at age 63.

Omalu scanned McNeill’s brain several years prior with a diagnostic exam he developed that identifies the spread of tau protein clumps on a PET brain scan.

Tau proteins help provide structure to the brain’s neurons so they can communicate effectively with one another. When the brain is repeatedly knocked about, either from direct hits to the head or from crashing around in the skull, tau proteins come loose, change shape, and clump together. Eventually they take on a life of their own and spread to other areas of the brain.

Omalu’s diagnostic exam identifies the pattern of tau’s spread that is unique to CTE. Because this spread of tau clumps is so gradual, it explains why symptoms show up years after the initial damage.

The role of functional neurology in brain health

While scientists are working on ways to prevent the spread of tau proteins that leads to advanced brain degeneration and dementia, functional neurology and neurochemistry offers many hopeful possibilities.

Regulating brain inflammation is a primary factor in protecting brain health. How do you know if your brain is inflamed? Common symptoms are brain fog, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, memory loss, and fatigue. Brain inflammation also commonly causes gut problems.

Unlike the rest of the body, the brain does not have an off switch for inflammation after an insult. Inflammation can continue as a slow burn through the brain, damaging tissue as it goes. When you throw in repeated injuries through contact or extreme sports, it may never get a break and the damage continues long after the sports stop.

Taming brain inflammation and improving brain health and function requires a multi-faceted functional medicine and functional neurology approach. This includes an anti-inflammatory diet, lifestyle changes, nutritional therapy, and functional neurology rehabilitation that targets damaged areas of the brain.

If you haven’t been the same since your head injury, football days, or extreme sports lifestyle, call for a consultation.

Effects of trauma can be passed genetically on to children

Noel Thomas

151 trauma genes passed on

We are increasingly learning the effects of traumatic experiences on the brain, and now, newer research shows these effects can be passed on to children’s genes. Research of Holocaust survivors showed that compared to control groups, their children exhibited genetic changes that increased the likelihood of stress disorders.

Other research shows post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, can be passed on to offspring.

Plus, most trauma survivors are coping with the neurological effects of PTSD as they raise their children, which greatly shapes a child's environment and responses to stress.

In functional neurology, we frequently work with the neurological fallout of PTSD, which can include not only being triggered to re-experience the trauma, but also heightened stress response, sensitivity to light, sound, and crowds, emotional instability, depression and suicidality, anxiety and insomnia, disassociation and numbness, and addiction.

How PTSD manifests depends on the person, and women’s symptoms differ from men’s. Men are more prone to anger and addiction whereas women struggle more with depression, anxiety, and health ailments.

Trauma turns on and off genes in offspring

In the Holocaust study, researchers discovered genetic differences in offspring of survivors. This finding upended traditionally held notions that environment and experience don’t affect DNA in sperm and eggs of parents.

Although it has long been believed conception delivers a genetic “clean slate,” newer science on epigenetics shows that our environment and experiences constantly modify genes, even in egg and sperm.

They found chemical tags on the DNA that regulates stress hormones in Holocaust parents and their children that were not found in the control group. However, they are not sure how those tags get passed on.

Is PTSD inherited?

Studies on whether PTSD is genetically inherited are not yet conclusive, although one study found genetic links in almost 30 percent of European-American women with PTSD.

Understanding how big a role genetics plays in trauma would further understanding of why some people get PTSD when others don’t, and how best to treat it.

Also, researchers point to the fallout for children raised by adults with PTSD, which can perpetuate the disorder.

Functional neurology and PTSD

PTSD causes structural changes to the brain. The disorder shrinks some areas of the brain while enlarging others, keeping a person trapped in a neurological prison of hyper arousal, stress, and fear.

For instance, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex shrinks, predisposing one to extreme fear and anxiety. PTSD also shrinks the hippocampus, the area responsible for learning and memory. On the other hand, the amygdala, the area that governs the fear response, enlarges.

Compromises in these and other areas of the brain result in an easily triggered and over exaggerated fear response that can be exhausting and debilitating to the sufferer.

Fortunately, the brain is very responsive to rehabilitation and PTSD sufferers can find considerable relief without drugs.

In functional neurology, we use specific exercises and activities to dampen areas of the brain that are over responsive to stress and stimulate those areas that can help control the fear response. Contact my office for more information.

Brain inflammation shown to be higher in people with OCD

Noel Thomas

150 brain inflammation OCD

A recent study showed what functional neurologists have long since observed — obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is linked to brain inflammation. Imaging showed brain inflammation was more than 30 percent higher in subjects with OCD compared to the control group.

The study also found the greater the inflammation the more severe the stress and anxiety around avoiding the compulsive and repetitive rituals that characterize OCD.

Inflammation in the brain is similar to inflammation in the body in that it’s necessary to respond to damage. However, unlike the body’s immune system, there is no “off” mechanism for inflammation in the brain. This means once triggered, brain inflammation can continue on unchecked long after the original insult.

Unfortunately, many people unwittingly inflame their brain on a regular basis and don’t know it. This can cause not only OCD, but also depression, anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, memory loss, fatigue, and even addiction. It also increases the risk of dementia.

Some sources of brain inflammation are obvious, such as head injury. Researchers also have discovered that mild and repetitive blows to the body, falls, crashes, and impacts can also inflame the brain, even if there is no direct injury to the head.

However, another source of inflammation is well established in studies but doesn’t seem to be on the radar in the standard health care model. This is inflammation caused by food intolerances, blood sugar imbalances, chemical intolerances, hormone imbalances, leaky gut, poor gut bacteria health, and brain autoimmunity.

For instance, gluten intolerance is linked to numerous neurological disorders, including OCD, schizophrenia, and depression.

These everyday factors not only inflame the brain, they also make damage from head injuries more severe and recovery more difficult.

Addressing brain inflammation to manage OCD

The OCD study is promising for options in the conventional medical model as drug treatments don’t work for about one-third of patients.

Although the study’s authors suggested developing new drugs to target brain inflammation, in functional neurology we know addressing diet and lifestyle factors are essential to taming inflammation.

For most people, this begins with learning which foods cause an inflammatory response. For many people, gluten and dairy are the two most common culprits, but soy, corn, eggs, various grains, and other foods may trigger inflammation. The autoimmune paleo diet is a good place to start.

Likewise, people can develop an intolerance to chemicals, such as perfumes or plastics, that can trigger inflammation, and should minimize their exposure.

Another common area to address is stabilizing blood sugar that is either too low or too high. This usually means avoiding sugar, lowering carbohydrate consumption, and eating meals at regular intervals.

Repairing gut health is essential to dampen brain inflammation as the gut and the brain have close communication with one another. Damaged and inflamed intestines, bacterial and yeast infections, and not enough good gut bacteria are typical areas of concern.

Good hormone health is necessary to keep brain inflammation in check. For instance, estrogen deficiency in women has been shown to worsen outcomes after head injury. Low thyroid hormones also impact brain health.

Brain autoimmunity, in which the body’s immune system attacks and destroys brain tissue, has become increasingly common today and should be screened for with antibody testing.

Lastly, OCD can also arise because of developmental disconnects in the brain that began in infancy. Childhood brain development disorders are skyrocketing these days, and OCD is just one of many brain-based disorders that has its roots in childhood. OCD involves an area of the brain called the basal ganglia and its improper function and connection with other areas of the brain.

In functional neurology we can identify this disconnect and, along with dietary and lifestyle protocols, offer customized rehabilitative exercises to help improve function and dampen or turn off brain inflammation and OCD. Ask my office for more information.

Digital dementia and ADD: How smartphones rewire the brain

Noel Thomas

149 digital dementia

People feel shame and guilt about their smartphone and digital addictions, but the truth is we are simply at the mercy of how profoundly technology shapes the human brain. It’s understandable why digital dementia” — the loss of cognitive function due to excessive digital use, and “digital ADD” are so common today.

As with many great inventions throughout human history, nobody could have predicted such pervasive neurological consequences of the internet, smartphones, video games, and social media. The human brain is so sensitive to manipulation by these tools that one study showed the mere presence of a smartphone impaired cognitive function in subjects, even though it was turned off!

How digital marketers trick the brain into addiction

Although the endless novelty of technology makes it easy for the stimulus-seeking brain to get hooked, digital addiction has also been engineered for commerce and profit.

Boredom, loneliness, sadness, frustration, confusion, indecisiveness — these are inherent to the human condition. However, they are also the bait for digital distraction.

Technology’s “persuasive designers” use human neurology and psychology — strategies taught at Stanford University in Silicon Valley — to exploit the brain’s tendency towards reward- and pleasure-seeking behavior.

Many people are familiar with the rat studies that showed a rat will press the lever that delivers cocaine over the one that delivers food and water all the way to its death. That’s how powerful those neurochemical pathways are once activated.

You’re not getting distracted because you’re a weak-willed or lazy person, you’re distracted because a relative handful of tech elites have mastered the art of manipulating the human brain — by overriding executive function and appealing to primitive impulses — to hook you and profit them.

How digital ADD leads to digital dementia

Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to create pathways of communication. This is what helps us learn new things and turn conscious actions into automatic habits. The constant and addictive neurological rewards technology offers — notifications, likes, autoplay videos, demanded reciprocity on LinkedIn, Facebook marketing that picks up on insecurity and sells you approval — creates negative plasticity. In other words, these distractions wire our brains to function in new, and unfortunately, worse ways.

Distraction and addiction aren’t the only fallouts. Our digital companions also let us download our memory— phone numbers, directions, appointments — thus failing to exercise this vital brain function so that it starts to deteriorate.

Heavy digital use over develops the left side of the brain while neglecting the right side, which is more linked to concentration, attention, memory span, and emotion. Overdevelopment of the left brain at the expense of the right brain can worsen memory and promote depression.

Solutions for tech-addicted brains

We now have entire generations growing up never having known a world without instance digital access. The bad news is research shows the constant use of tech by kids is negatively affecting their brain development.

The good news is the creators of the most addictive aspects of technology are themselves alarmed at the neurological and global effects. Many are also parents now and see the damage that can done to the inherently vulnerable brain.

As a result, these pioneers are now voicing concerns about the ethics of digitally addictive features. Tobacco, alcohol, and even opium and cocaine are examples of addictive substances that were once considered benign and beneficial and have since been recognized as risky and destructive. When it comes to easy outs from the daily struggle that fills so many moments of being human, the brain goes for the quickest route to relief.

Functional neurology for addiction recovery support

Although the most obvious solution to outwitting tech addition is to not use it, that is increasingly becoming less realistic. In functional neurology we can support addiction recovery by rehabilitating the areas of the brain involved in compulsion, obsession, concentration, and memory. Ask my office how we can help rehabilitate the tech-addicted brain.

Functional neurology and the importance of touch for the brain

Noel Thomas

148 neurology of touch

From the moment a newborn is placed on its mother’s stomach, feels the touch of its parents, and roots and suckles to nurse, the stimulation to the brain from this physical contact is laying the foundation for future brain health and function. In other words, the human brain needs regular healthy touch to develop normally.

Studies show children who are deprived of healthy, loving touch in early life go on to be at greater risk for a number of brain-related disorders, including anxiety, depression, low self-worth, a lower IQ, less empathy, addiction, and mental illness. A greater incidence of general health problems is also a common occurrence.

Functional neurology can help rehab the touch-deprived brain

Just as we can rehabilitate the brain of a person who has had a stroke or brain injury, so can we rehabilitate the brain of a person who grew up depressed and anxious from lack of health touch in early childhood.

Lack of touch, physical violence, and sexual abuse in childhood create pathways in the brain that determine the course of its development, and hence a person’s sense of self, emotions, behavior, brain function, and immune function.

This leads to certain areas of the brain being under active, while others are over active. We can use functional neurology rehabilitation techniques to activate or dampen different areas as needed.

For example, functional neurologists may use eye movements to activate or dampen areas of the brain. Scents, such as an essential oil, can be used to trigger a positive cue to rewire the brain in a healthier direction.

Brain exercises that improve function of the inner ear, or vestibular system and the cerebellum, which both regulate balance, can also help relax and emotionally regulate the hyper vigilant brain of the touch-deprived, anxious individual.

These exercises are customized to each person based on how their brain functions.

Everyday ways to rehab the touch-deprived brain

For instance, consciously practicing generosity can begin to rewire the brain in a healthier way and release dopamine and oxytocin, which can help a person feel better about themselves and those around them.

Making time in your schedule to volunteer regularly or to do something for someone else without expecting anything in return is one way to start rewiring your brain. Writing in a gratitude journal for a few minutes once or twice a day is another way to reinforce that.

Retraining how you think is also an important part of this process. Seeing a therapist can help you develop awareness of negative self-talk and strategies to start talking to and thinking about yourself more positively.

Positive social support is also vital as the human brain is designed to operate as part of a tribe. Finding a healthy, supportive group of people to get together with regularly will help fill in the gaps created by lack of early healthy touch.

Simply observing others touch and relate to each other in a loving way can activate these under developed and starved areas of the brain. Someone who grew up touch deprived simply may not be able to immediately give and receive non-sexual healthy touch. One way to begin that rehabilitation process is to be in the presence of it so your brain can create a mirroring process for its own neurology.

Get a massage, foot reflexology, and other forms of safe and healthy touch. If you’re not in a situation to receive touch from friends or family, investing in a massage can help deliver some of the same benefits.