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1306 NW Hoyt St #411
Portland, OR 97209

(503) 248-1182

Naturopathic Medicine, Neurotherapy

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Functional neurology and addiction: Managing brain health is key

Noel Thomas

FNM 147 neurology of addiction

Two people are hospitalized for injuries. After about a month on opiate painkillers, one patient recovers from their injuries, stops taking the painkillers, and goes back to normal life. The other patient recovers from their injuries but can’t stop taking painkillers. Life is never normal again as a full-blown opiate addiction takes over. Why are some people seemingly at no risk for addiction while others are easily sucked into the vortex of dependency? Functional neurology offers some important insights and rehabilitation strategies to help people improve their chances of recovering from addiction.

Childhood learning and behavioral disorders can raise addiction risk

Learning and behavioral disorders, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders have been linked with an increased risk for addiction. Autism spectrum disorder doubles addiction risk, ADHD quadruples it, and ADHD with an above average IQ increases the risk eight times.

The link may be explained in part by the personal and social struggles these disorders invite. However, scientists have also found a connection between the repetitive thinking and behavior associated with these brain-based disorders and the compulsions that drive drug addiction.

Drug use activates an area of the brain called the ventral area, which is involved in motivation, pleasure seeking, and impulsive behavior. However, when drug use turns into addiction, activity then moves to the dorsal striatum, which automates behavior into patterns triggered by cues. This is useful for learning but detrimental for turning compulsions into destructive habits.

Researchers believe people with brain-based disorders are more prone to getting stuck in repetitive patterns. Genetic and neurochemical predispositions in these populations also seem to line them up for an increased risk of addiction.

Sadly, the social challenges this population faces also creates neurological barriers to connecting with others in support groups commonly used for drug addiction. They may experience anxiety in anger in a situation where they are forced to share their emotions, which can be interpreted as defiance.

Functional neurology help for addiction recovery

Although researchers say there have been no studies on how to address addiction in people with autism, ADHD, and other brain development disorders, in functional neurology we see some clear avenues of action.

Individuals with learning disorders, ADHD, and autism spectrum disorders often have compulsive and impulsive behaviors, and “perseveration,” a neurological symptom that causes a person to feel stuck in a loop of repetitive thought and behavior. This happens in part when the brain is in an overly primitive state that lacks the checks and balances offered by a properly developed frontal lobe — the area that governs judgment, impulse control, and social behavior.

As a result, a person becomes victim to these primitive impulses without the neurological ability to suppress them.

In functional neurology examination looking at their visual and motor reflexes, we see these issues with impulsivity and poor inhibition confirmed through basic visual and motor responses to varying exam procedures.

We can use functional neurology to support the addiction recovery process by rehabilitating areas of the brain that didn’t develop properly. Regular follow up examinations can measure the progress of rehabilitating these areas of the brain.

We also support the health of the brain through diet and lifestyle interventions that control inflammation, stabilize blood sugar, and address gut health, several factors that profoundly impact brain function.

This is a broad overview of how integrating functional neurology into an addiction recovery program can significantly improve a person’s chances of recovery. By dampening those compulsive, impulsive, and obsessive tendencies so common with brain development disorders such as ADHD, autism, and learning disorders, a person has a better shot at interrupting and diverting the neurological habituation towards drug use. Ask my office for more information.

Functional neurology picks up where standard medicine drops off

Noel Thomas

146 func neuro vs conv med

A teenage girl suffering from multiple seizures a day spends two weeks in one of the top clinics in the world. There she undergoes about $100,000 worth of testing and is seen by multiple specialists, many of whom witness her having the seizures. However, brain scans and EEG testing show no evidence of a seizure disorder and she is sent home with an anxiety diagnosis.

After a functional medicine neurology visit and three weeks on a gluten-free anti-inflammatory diet, plus some supplements to tame inflammation and support brain health, the seizures stop completely. They return only briefly when she goes off her diet during a holiday and eats foods that trigger inflammation in her brain causing it to seize again.

Why would a conventional medicine approach involving tens of thousands of dollars and multiple specialists turn up empty while functional neurology produced a simple solution?

The answer lies within how conventional medical doctors are required to give a diagnosis that conforms to ICD-10 codes. ICD-10 stands for the International Classification of Diseases.

The ICD-10 is a system all medical doctors in the United States are required to use to classify and code diagnoses, symptoms, and medical procedures. It is copyrighted from the World Health Organization and contains about 70,000 different codes doctors must choose from (compared to about 14,000 with the previous ICD-9 version).

And yet with so many disorders to choose from for a diagnosis, physicians were unable to find a proper one for a girl having multiple seizures a day.

Functional neurology fills a large void in medicine

Functional neurology and functional medicine fill a large and ever growing void in the world of conventional medicine — disorders of inflammation. Depending on whether or how health insurance is used, functional neurology in practice is not always required to conform to ICD-10 codes.

In the case of the girl having seizures, it turns out gluten was the primary trigger of her seizures. There is no ICD-10 code for this when test results are negative as hers were, yet people can have extreme neurological reactions to gluten due to a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.

In fact, research shows the tissue in the body most damaged by an immune reaction to gluten is neurological tissue. Dairy is another common and potent trigger.

Gluten and dairy trigger a wide range of neurological disorders, including tics, obsessive compulsive behavior, movement disorders, memory loss, migraines, seizures, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even schizophrenia.

However, if neurological damage does not show up on approved testing, doctors cannot make a diagnosis. This proves extremely unfortunate for many patients. For instance, about 90 percent of nerve sheaths have to be damaged before the autoimmune disease multiple sclerosis shows up on a brain scan.

In functional neurology we catch the people who fall through these cracks. We are seeing an explosion in disorders related to inflammation and autoimmunity thanks to the many environmental and dietary triggers so common today. Autoimmunity happens when an imbalanced immune system goes haywire and attacks and destroys tissue in the body.

Patients struggling to recover from brain injuries are told nothing can be done when, in fact, research shows nutritional therapy and brain rehabilitation strategies can help them recover their brain health.

People alarmed at perpetual brain fog, memory loss, and confusion are not too far gone to warrant intervention for advanced brain degeneration.

Patients often have a strong intuitive knowing when something isn’t right with their brain health, and there is often something that can be done to improve it, even if that something does not have an ICD-10 code. Although we depend on conventional medicine for the excellent care they provide in acute situations, you do not need to suffer through years of misery and ever declining performance until you become an acute case too.

Ask my office how functional neurology and functional medicine can help you regain back your health and your brain function.

Extreme sports joins football in repetitive brain trauma fallout

Noel Thomas

FNM 145 CTE in extreme sports copy

The suicide of BMX legend Dave Mirra this year has forced an uncomfortable topic to surface — many extreme sport athletes, and the adolescents and weekend warriors they inspire, face a higher risk of long term brain disorders due to repetitive crashes and hits to the head. Suicide rates, for instance, are three times higher in people who have suffered concussions. Other symptoms include mood disorders, bouts of rage, sensitivity to light and sound, fatigue, poor concentration, memory loss, depression, anxiety, impulsiveness, addiction, poor balance, and migraines.

The renegade nature of extreme sports means long term risks of repetitive head injuries are not tracked like they have been in football. From football we have learned that CTE, or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, is a degenerative brain disease caused by repeated head traumas that leads to significant problems later in life. Autopsies of the brains of 94 former professional football players showed 90 of them had CTE.

You don’t have to have a concussion to sustain brain injury. And while wearing the best helmet may prevent a skull fracture, it doesn’t protect the brain from impact within the skull during a crash after catching big air or face planting on concrete. Twisting, rotation, acceleration, deceleration, and damage to the neck, spine, and inner ear (vestibular system) also impact brain function.

A study analyzing emergency room visits during 10 years saw concussion injuries rising steadily in surfing, mountain biking, motocross, skateboarding, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and skiing. Snowboarding was the most concussive activity.

Not only do these accumulated traumas, both micro and macro, progressively damage the brain, they also foster the development of tau proteins and neurofibrillary tangles, the markers of Alzheimer’s disease.

Functional neurology for extreme sports

Functional neurology has treated its fair share of extreme sport athletes. Perhaps one of the bigger tragedies among the sports world is the idea that nothing can be done for head injuries beyond rest.

In functional neurology, we know this is far from the case. Not only do we have patient experiences to back this up, but we also have peer reviewed studies on brain inflammation and brain rehabilitation.

Brain injuries inflame the brain. However, this inflammation may not turn off, continuing to damage brain tissue like a slow spreading fire. Some people suffer more than others from brain inflammation due to their diet, food intolerances, hormone imbalances, blood sugar regulation issues, chronic infection, pre-existing brain development disorders (such as ADHD), and so on. The factors that lead to Alzheimer’s disease are the same factors that respond to brain inflammation, which is why it’s suggested brain inflammation increases the risk of Alzheimer's.

In functional neurology we assess the chemical environment of the brain — it’s nourishment, oxygen, neurotransmitter status, whether dietary or environmental compounds are worsening brain health, and already existing brain development issues.

Also, instead of prescribing blanket treatments for brain injury, we perform thorough examinations to see which areas of the brain are damaged. This includes examining the function of the inner ear, or vestibular system, the fragile system of canals that play a large role in brain function and are easily damaged during impacts. Rehabilitation and nutritional therapy are then customized to target the specific areas of brain compromise.

By quickly addressing brain health after a concussion, a crash, or a series of crashes that seems to have robbed you of “you,” you can significantly rehabilitate your brain and dramatically lower your risk of bigger problems in the future, including suicidality and dementia.

As for continuing in extreme sports, that is an individual decision. In the age of GoPro cameras, high-tech gear, viral videos, and fierce competition for few paying gigs, athletes are encouraged to go bigger, faster, and higher with ever increasing risks.

Baseline testing and repeated follow ups will give you a clear indication of whether your lifestyle is damaging your most vital organ. Also, following an anti-inflammatory diet and other brain health lifestyle strategies give the brain its best chances. Ask my office for more advice.

Why eye contact over stimulates people with autism

Noel Thomas

144 autism lookingin eyes

One of the hallmark signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is the avoidance of eye contact with others. This is typically interpreted as social avoidance or indifference. But the truth is, people with autism need social connection just like the rest of us. It’s just that things such as eye contact cause their brains to short circuit from too much activity. People with autism say eye contact is stressful and uncomfortable, and some even say it “burns.”

Harvard Medical School researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital have been investigating this phenomenon and discovered neurological clues to what makes eye contact so stressful for people with autism.

Their main finding was the inability to make eye contact does not mean lack of concern or interest in other people. Instead, eye contact over stimulates areas of the brain responsible for reading emotions in other people’s faces.

This area of the brain is called the subcortical system and is the layer beneath the cerebral cortex, the folded outer layer of the brain that plays a role in consciousness and thought.

Direct and sustained eye contact and emotional facial expressions of others activate the subcortical system to respond. This development begins in infancy as the newborn instinctually orients to human faces. But for the person with autism, these avenues of connection over activate the subcortical system and raise stress levels.

Using an MRI to scan autistic brains

The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure how different brains respond to facial expressions.

In both subjects with autism and the neurotypical control subjects, being able to freely choose to view facial expressions activated the subcortical system in similar ways.

However, the results varied quite a bit when both groups were constrained to viewing only the eye area of faces. Looking at the eyes of happy, angry, and neutral faces over activated the subcortical region in subjects with autism. This over activation was especially heightened when looking at the eyes of scared faces.

The researchers hypothesize autism creates an imbalance between networks in the brain that perform activating and inhibiting functions in the brain.

In a neurotypical brain, balance between these two systems maintains a calm equilibrium.

This imbalance creates a neurologically triggered aversion to both eye contact and facial expressions and thus abnormal development of the social brain.

Additionally, newer research shows we can see early signs of autism risk in newborns — these babies’ brains struggle with reading faces and making eye contact well before they are old enough to exhibit more obvious signs. This further inhibits proper development of social interaction.

Neurologically appropriate ways to connect with autism

This study shows why behavioral therapy techniques that force a child with autism to maintain eye contact can be extremely stressful and neurologically inappropriate.

The researchers suggest a more effective and less triggering approach may be gradual habituation to eye contact over time to gently strengthen and relax the over active subcortical region.

In functional neurology we use many techniques to identify areas of imbalance in children with autism and gently rehabilitate those areas. Functional neurology frequently produces significant improvements in quality of life in these individuals. Ask my office for more information.

Why childhood autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, and OCD so common

Noel Thomas

FNM 143

Does your child have ADHD, autism, Tourette’s, OCD, dyslexia, learning disabilities, or another brain-based disorder? Or are you having second thoughts about conceiving because the risks of giving birth to a child who develops autism, ADHD, or other brain development disorders is so much higher today?

Some couples today are choosing not to have children because the risk of autism, ADHD and other disorders is so much higher today. Autism and ADHD rates continue to rise and ADHD now affects 11 percent of children. Research shows environmental and lifestyle factors influence childhood brain development and many cases can be prevented prior to conception if parents tend to their immune health.

Environmental and lifestyle influences on genes


A parent’s diet, physical activity, stress hormone levels, immune health, and exposure to environmental chemicals can affect a child’s brain development beginning in utero.

This is called epigenetics—when environmental factors influence gene expression. It doesn’t mean genes are mutated, but instead diet and lifestyle determine whether genes turn on or off. If we turn off the genes for healthy brain development in the mother or the father before conception, those genes can pass on to the children in the turned-off position. Researchers have been able to trace this in up to 11 generations.

Simply improving the maternal diet before pregnancy can alter gene expression in the offspring and their susceptibility to certain diseases for up to four or five generations. Epigenetics means couples can reduce the risk of giving birth to a child who will develop a disorder by choosing dietary and lifestyle factors that favor healthy brain development.

Using functional neurology to help children’s brains


We can also positively influence genes after the child is born by removing inflammatory foods, supporting good nutrition and brain health, and activating specific areas of the brain to recover missed stages of development (such as learning to crawl) in functional neurology.

Early childhood milestones are vital to proper brain development and meeting them too late, too soon, or not at all is typical for many children with autism, ADHD, and other brain development disorders. Functional neurology is yielding unprecedented results in these arenas.

Dropped connections in the brain

The human brain is divided into two hemispheres that work together. It is the ability of the human brain to fire in both hemispheres simultaneously that distinguishes us from other species. The slightest disruption in the timing of this firing can have devastating affects on brain function. In autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, OCD, and other brain development disorders the brain is extremely good at firing short-range connections within one hemisphere of the brain, which may make a child gifted in particular areas, such as math.

However, we see poor simultaneous firing of long-range connections between the left and right hemispheres. This poor long-range firing is also evidenced by a smaller than normal corpus callosum in children with autism, the bridge between the left and right hemispheres across which communication travels. This poor long-range firing can begin in utero or during the first few years of life due to epigenetic influences.

The left brain is responsible for math, sciences, and language, whereas the right brain is responsible for art, creativity, and social skills. Brain disorders such as autism and ADHD are left brain dominant issues, which explains why a student might do well in school but have no social or relationship skills.

As a result of this lopsided stimulation, one side of the brain may become over developed while the other side never catches up to normal, which makes communication between the two sides difficult. It’s like a brand new computer trying to communicate with an old, outdated computer.

Imbalanced development of the autonomic nervous system, which governs our “fight or flight,” “rest and digest,” or “freeze” mechanisms is another factor that affects the development of the brain. These imbalances can be seen as early as in newborns by a practitioner who understands early brain development.

In autism, ADHD, Tourette’s, and OCD, we see a left brain that is overdeveloped compared to a weaker right brain. This explains why these children have unusually strong skills in some areas and unusually weak skills in others. Dyslexia or learning and processing disorders are examples of right brain over development. Researchers have been able to identify these imbalances by looking at how different areas of the brain vary in size, electrical imbalances, and concentrations of blood flow.

Although this is an overly simplified explanation, it introduces you the concepts of how subtle imbalances early in life can lead to significant brain disorders as the child matures.

Ask my office for advice on how functional neurology can help you improve your child’s brain before you even conceive, or help rehabilitate your child’s brain if you suspect a brain development disorder.

Is being stuck in “fight or flight” wrecking your health?

Noel Thomas

FNM 142 sympathetic stress

When something stressful happens, our body goes into “fight or flight” mode, pumping out stress hormones, raising blood pressure and pulse, and shunting blood away from the organs and towards the limbs. When the stress is over, a healthy body bounces back and returns to normal.

Unfortunately, many people are stuck in fight-or-flight mode. This is especially true in people dealing with a chronic health or brain disorder, as their health itself is a chronic stressor in a self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

The autonomic nervous system, which runs such bodily functions as digestion, heart beat, breathing, etc., consists of two arms:

  • The sympathetic system, also known as the fight-or-flight system.
  • The parasympathetic system, also known as rest-and-digest system.

When you're in a life-or-death situation, you don't need to digest, detoxify, or regenerate cells — duties for the parasympathetic rest-and-digest system. The priority is simply to keep you alive. Once you’re safe, the parasympathetic system kicks back in.

The problem is modern life has many of us on hyper drive, in what feels like an ongoing attack. This keeps us in sympathetic mode longer than we should be.

Causes of chronic fight-or-flight mode

It’s not just daily stress that can keep a person stuck in sympathetic mode. It could be stress from the past that has been hardwired into your brain, a concept referred to as negative plasticity. The neuron pathways in your brain have become highly efficient at stress so it takes less and less to trigger a stress response.

The most common example of this is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. It can also come from long periods of overwork and sleep deprivation that have essentially trained your brain to be agitated all the time, even though your health is being sacrificed.

Signs of chronic sympathetic stress

Signs you are stuck in sympathetic mode include problems with sleep, anxiety, blood sugar issues (even with a blood-sugar-balancing diet), sexual dysfunction, brain fog, memory issues, fatigue, difficulty recovering from exercise or stressful events, getting sick easily, and chronic pain.

Chronic sympathetic stress not only creates negative plasticity, it also damages the gut lining, leading to intestinal permeability, or leaky gut. This allows undigested foods, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens into the bloodstream, where they trigger inflammation. This chronic inflammation is the foundation to many health maladies.

Getting out of chronic sympathetic stress mode

The most obvious first step to managing sympathetic stress is to address the cause of stress. The cause can be metabolic, such as chronic infection, blood sugar issues, hormone deficiencies, inflammation, or undiagnosed autoimmunity.

Or it can be lifestyle, such as a toxic job or relationship, not sleeping enough, or taking on too much to do and never taking time off.

Another commonly overlooked cause is a brain-based disorder. The less healthy or more degenerated the brain is, the less able it is to dampen sympathetic stress.

If you suffer from brain fog, memory loss, poor cognitive skills, and lack of brain endurance, you may also find you’re often in fight-or-flight mode.

Problems with your vestibular (inner ear) system or cerebellum, both of which play a role in balance, can cause chronic sympathetic stress because the brain is constantly feeling unbalanced.

People may also have issues with the basal ganglia — which acts as the gas and brake pedal of the brain — that keeps them chronically stressed out. These are just a few ways in which a brain-based disorder can contribute to sympathetic stress.

In functional neurology we look at all facets of health to help you unwind sympathetic stress. Sometimes the issue can be as simple as removing certain foods from your diet that are inflaming your body and brain, gluten being the most common.

Other times it takes a neurological exam and some sleuthing to determine whether the issue is brain-based. Often it is a combination of metabolic and brain-based causes.

Ask my office how we can help get you out of chronic sympathetic stress and into a more balanced neurological state that includes plenty of restful and restorative parasympathetic activation.

Those strange functional neurology exam tools…

Noel Thomas

FNM 141 func neuro tools

When you go for your first functional neurology exam, you’ll likely encounter exam procedures and tools not found a conventional doctor’s visit. Although high-tech equipment isn’t necessary for a functional neurology exam, it can help the practitioner perform a more thorough evaluation.

For the patient, the functional neurology exam may include wearing strange goggles, being spun in a chair, following dots of light on the wall, and standing on a platform that records your micro-movements.

Whether you’ve had a brain injury, or are struggling with poor brain function or other brain-based disorders, all of these tests can help identify problem areas and direct customized rehabilitation.

Videonystagmography (VNG)

Videonystagmography (VNG) is an exam procedure that involves wearing infrared goggles to video record the movement of the eyes in response to various movements and tasks (such as being slowly spun in a chair, head position changes, following a visual target). This test detects abnormalities in the vestibular system.

The vestibular system, which involves the inner ear, eyes, and brain, tells you where you are in space. It plays an important role in keeping you stable and aware of where you are in relation to the environment. Poor vestibular function also plays a role in anxiety, irritability, and mood instability.

The vestibular system is fragile and easily damaged from head injury, falls, whiplash, or blows to the body. Common symptoms of vestibular problems include poor balance, dizziness, motion sickness, and anxiety.

By examining the movement of the eyes in both darkness and light and in response to various movements and stimuli, VNG testing can determine whether symptoms are coming from the brain, the vestibular system, or both. Knowing this helps the functional neurologist create customized rehabilitation techniques that target specific areas of dysfunction.

Computerized Dynamic Posturography (CDP)

Computerized dynamic posturography (CDP) involves standing on different types of surfaces and following simple instructions (such as look left, look right, look up, close your eyes). This testing measures how you respond to different balance challenges, which identifies areas of the brain not functioning properly.

Gait Analysis

Gait analysis simply involves having the practitioner observe your gait when you walk. You may be asked to challenge your brain while walking by counting backwards by sevens or reciting every other letter of the alphabet. You also may be asked to walk by placing one foot directly in front of the other, touching heel to toe, to make balance harder. Your walking stance, arm swing, posture, and balance all give clues to areas of brain dysfunction.

Metabolic Assessment

Your brain can only be as healthy as its internal environment. Your diet, lifestyle, stress levels, hormone balancing, gut health, blood sugar, and more all play a significant role in your brain health and function.

We also use your symptoms to assess the activity of the neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that relay communication between neurons. For instance, low serotonin is involved in depression and low dopamine in lack of motivation. This is also called functional neurochemistry. Functional neurology is a multi-faceted discipline that includes brain assessment and rehabilitation in total health care. Ask my office for more information.

All those “non-concussions” add up to brain injury

Noel Thomas

FNM 140 repeated blows to head

You don’t have to have to receive a concussion diagnosis to have an injured brain. Small but repeated insults to the brain — falls, crashes, whiplash, being near explosions, landing on your tailbone — damage brain tissue. Even if the head is not directly hit, a blow or jolt to the body causes the brain to bang around in the skull and sustain damage.

Each insult may not be severe enough for a diagnosis on its own, but added together over time they can cause long term problems and raise the risk of dementia and other brain-related disorders.

Some immediate symptoms may be obvious, such as headache, feeling of pressure in the head, changes in vision, or dizziness. Some are less obviously related, such as increased irritability, anxiety, moodiness, fatigue, sleep problems, or lack of focus. But it’s also possible to have no symptoms at all despite damage to the brain.

The standard health care model does not assess the brain when addressing blows to the body. For instance, with whiplash the neck is cared for or with a back injury the back is addressed. But potential damage to the brain is ignored.

Each insult to the brain causes inflammation. Unlike the body, the brain’s immune system does not have an off switch and inflammation can go on for weeks, months, and even years, especially in a brain environment that is unhealthy or when injuries are repeated.

Over time this inflammation damages and destroys brain tissue, leading to declining brain function and an increased risk for dementia and Alzheimer’s and other brain disorders.

Health of the brain before trauma matters greatly

Additionally, if your brain health is poor to begin with, your brain is going to fare much worse from a minor trauma than if it were healthy.

Researchers call this “diminished brain resilience.” This means the brain’s general health is compromised and thus less resilient to any traumas it may sustain. This explain why one person can bounce back from a head injury while another person disintegrates physically and mentally after a head injury of equal severity.

Factors that can diminish brain resilience include junk foods, too much sugar, not enough whole foods or vegetables, unhealthy fats, blood sugar that is always too high or low (or swings between both), food sensitivities, chronic inflammation, hormone deficiencies and imbalances, sleep deprivation, high stress, being sedentary, and many more.

Basically, the standard American diet and lifestyle is brutal for the brain, and sustaining a brain injury with this kind of poor support means you will fare much worse than you need to.

Functional medicine basics of eating an anti-inflammatory diet, maintaining a healthy gut, and tending to the health and balance of your entire body is the best way to not only better protect your brain in the event of an injury, but also help it recover from past injuries.

Functional neurology is a great way to identify and rehabilitate the areas of your brain most affected. Functional medicine addresses the health of the body as a whole, which supports the brain. Ask my office for more advice.

How a “leaky brain” raises your risk of dementia

Noel Thomas

FNM 139 blood brain barrier

It has been a hundred years since a Nobel Prize winner discovered the thin barrier that surrounds and protects brain. Since then, we’ve learned this mesh of tightly joined cells, called the blood-brain barrier, is highly selective in a healthy person. It allows the transport of compounds back and forth through an intricate transport system while keeping out most everything else in the blood stream that can damage the brain. This includes heavy metals, toxic proteins, pathogens, and red and white blood cells.

Accelerated aging + Inflammation = Leaky Brain

Now, scientists have discovered that brain degeneration weakens the blood-brain barrier and causes it to “spring leaks.” This is especially true in the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with learning and memory. This discovery adds to the growing evidence that diseases of aging such as dementia and Alzheimer’s are sometimes linked to what functional medicine practitioners call a “leaky brain.”

Researchers studying the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease have found significant amounts of compounds in the brain that a healthy blood-brain barrier should have kept out.

Since not every aging person develops cognitive impairment, scientists theorize that the leaks are more extensive in some people than others. They also believe that some other phenomena, such as inflammation or pathogens, may be involved.

Most research points to inflammation. Recently, biologists in the UK found that a molecule called microRNA-155, which is elevated in inflammation, creates gaps between the cells of the blood-brain barrier. They also found that the same molecule is elevated in inflamed brain areas of patients with multiple sclerosis.

Even brain conditions such as depression, anxiety, brain fog, and various neurologic symptoms are linked to body-wide inflammation, which often starts in the gut.

Leaky Gut, Leaky Brain

A “leaky gut” allows bacteria and toxic molecules to pass through an overly permeable gut lining into the bloodstream. This causes inflammation throughout the body, and a leaky brain is often one unfortunate consequence.

Other inflammation triggers that contribute to a leaky brain are gluten sensitivity and similar food intolerances, out-of-control blood sugar, and too little thyroid hormone. Injury directly to the brain itself, such as in concussion, can also spark inflammation that damages the blood-brain barrier.

Repairing leaky brain with functional nutrition

You can protect your brain in part through various functional medicine strategies. This includes supporting the metabolic health of the brain by managing blood sugar, supporting gut health, addressing infections and toxicity, and following an anti-inflammatory diet. Nutritional compounds that support repair of leaky gut also help repair leaky brain, as do compounds targeted at quenching brain inflammation.

Brain-saving nutrients include:

  • Precursors to the “master antioxidant,” glutathione, or absorbable forms of glutathione such as s-acetyl-glutathione
  • Essential fatty acids, particularly DHA 
  • Fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K 
  • Probiotics 
  • Prebiotics

Ask my office about whether leaky gut and leaky brain may be playing a role in your brain-based symptoms.

Getting a grip on the blues with serotonin support

Noel Thomas

138 serotonin depression

If you watch TV, read magazines, or surf the internet, you can’t escape the ads for drugs to treat depression and other mood disorders — antidepressants are touted as a magic bullet for the blues.

True, these drugs help some of the one in ten people plagued by dark moods, but for others, taking the mood-lifter du jour does not bring relief. Or the relief comes with side effects so intolerable that 10-15 percent of people stop taking them.

How antidepressants work

The list of depression symptoms is a long one and the root causes can vary — poor gut health, inflammation, food intolerances, hormonal imbalances, low thyroid activity, and so on.

On a neurochemical level, depression also can involve poor activity of the feel-good neurotransmitter — serotonin. (Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells.)

Antidepressants relieve symptoms of depression by boosting the amount of serotonin in circulation. The most commonly used ones belong to a drug class called selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Celexa, Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.

These drugs block reabsorption of serotonin, which increases the amount circulating in your body. However, SSRIs won’t help if you don’t have enough serotonin to begin with. And even when these drugs do work, long term use is tricky. Eventually, the drug may raise serotonin levels too high, causing side effects, or serotonin resistance.

Boosting serotonin naturally with amino acids

Functional neurology offers alternative approaches to poor serotonin activity, making the most of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin.

Unfortunately, simply eating more tofu or turkey — well-known dietary sources of tryptophan — won’t do the job as the amounts they contain are too small. Instead, supplementation with tryptophan itself or its precursors such as 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) may be helpful.

The amino acid can then be ferried across the blood brain barrier, where it breaks down to serotonin.

Ultimately, depression is a result of poor firing in the frontal lobe, so the key in functional neurology is to figure out what is causing the poor firing. In the meantime, supporting serotonin pathways if you exhibit serotonin deficiency symptoms may help.

Serotonin deficiency symptoms include feeling down all the time, no longer enjoying the things you used to, insomnia, sadness, rage and anger, inability to sleep deeply, not enjoying relationships, and feeling worse when it’s cloudy and dark.

Searching for the root cause

Providing brain support is crucial for relieving symptoms, but long-term relief usually requires pinning down the cause of your blue moods. Although poor firing of the brain and neurotransmitter imbalances cause symptoms of depression, the real question is what caused the brain to become imbalanced in the first place?

In functional neurology we know that ten different people can have depression for ten different reasons. Some of the more common underlying causes of depression we see are:

  • Poor gut function; leaky gut; gut bacteria imbalances
  • Blood sugar imbalances 
  • Low thyroid function Autoimmunity (when the immune system attacks tissue in the body and/or brain) 
  • Chronic inflammation 
  • Hormonal imbalances

Although people may sometimes find relief or a boost from pharmaceutical options, many can significantly relieve if not resolve depression through addressing the underlying causes of their poor brain activity.

If you struggle with depression, ask my office how we can help you feel better.

Brain plasticity: “Use it or lose it” to stay sharp

Noel Thomas

FNM 137 brain plasticity

Brain cells, or neurons, are similar to muscles in that they are subject to the same basic “use it or lose it” principle to stay healthy well into old age.

Although genetics play a role in how well our brains age, the brain also responds profoundly to dietary and lifestyle influences. Although the brain loves healthy food and regular exercise, it also needs ongoing stimulation to stay vital.

As we go through life we constantly lose neurons as a normal part of aging. Some people show this decline through loss of memory and slower mental speed. However, some stay sharp and lucid, even when autopsy results show all the signs of Alzheimer’s.

Why? Although they may have fewer neurons, the neurons they do have communicate efficiently with one another.

A healthy neuron receiving plenty of stimulation branches into other neurons to improve communication. For instance, if you learn a new skill, whether it’s tennis or French, the neurons involved in that develop more and more efficient communication pathways between one another so the skill becomes easier for you. This helps you learn new things and become more efficient at the things you already know.

Because the brain runs the body, healthy plasticity is also good for your organs, cells, and hormone function. An active brain that fires regularly likewise stays better connected with the nerves throughout the body so operations run more smoothly. This can help keep prevent things like high blood pressure, dry eyes and mouth, incontinence, digestion issues, and other function regulated by the autonomic nervous system.

Although the brain responds well to stimulation, don’t overdo it. Over stimulation fatigues neurons and can make you “crash.” If you fatigue easily doing mental tasks, work on gradually building your brain endurance without crashing.

For plasticity to work, the brain needs a healthy environment supported by appropriate blood sugar levels (not too high or too low), good blood flow, and good neurotransmitter activity. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that facilitate communication between neurons. The most well known neurotransmitter is serotonin, which plays a role in happiness or depression.

When plasticity goes bad — PTSD and pain

Just as plasticity can be healthy, so can it be unhealthy. Negative plasticity makes you more efficient at things that are harmful, such as stress, pain, and bad habits.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an example of negative plasticity. PTSD is basically the brain becoming highly skilled at stress. Eventually it becomes so efficient at stress that the slightest trigger — a loud sound, flash of bright light, crowd of people, or a strong emotion — sends it into a fight-or-flight tail spin.

As this cycle takes root it actually changes the shape and neurochemistry of the brain to make it highly reactive to stress. This is why PTSD is so difficult to simply “turn off.”

Fortunately, many functional neurology approaches can help rewire the brain to be more directed toward positive plasticity rather than negative. Ask my office how we can help.

Your screen time before bed is keeping you awake

Noel Thomas

FNM 136 blue light

If you’re accustomed to zoning out before bed in front of your TV, phone, or computer, you are significantly hindering your brain’s ability to produce sleep hormones.

A recent study found the blue light emitted from digital screens play a major role in sleep disturbances that have become so common. Almost half of Americans report sleep issues negatively affect their lives and the Centers for Disease Control calls sleep deprivation a public health epidemic. Chronic insufficient sleep is linked to obesity, diabetes, inflammation, and other metabolic disorders.

In the study, participants wore blue light blocking glasses for three hours each night before going to bed while continuing their normal nightly screen routines.

Blue-blocking outperforms supplements

After two weeks, the subjects showed an almost 60 percent increase in the production of melatonin, the primary sleep hormone.

This is an even greater increase in melatonin that taking an over-the-counter melatonin supplements can provide.

The subjects also wore activity and sleep monitors during the study. Data from these monitors showed improved sleep quality, falling asleep faster, and sleeping longer.

Other research has shown that subjects using an iPad before bed experienced reduced melatonin and poorer sleep compared to subjects who read a book before bed in dim light.

Healthy melatonin levels are necessary for good immune function and chronically low melatonin is associated with a risk for prostate, colorectal, and breast cancers.

Brain health and function depends on sleep

Although we all feel better when well rested, sufficient sleep is also vital for brain health and function. We need enough sleep to maintain focus, concentration, memory, mood, and coordination. Because the brain regulates the body’s systems, functions such as hormone balance, digestion, and detoxification are also impacted by lack of sleep.

Tips to support sleep hormone production

Blue light isn’t inherently bad; the sun is the largest source of blue light and our bodies depend on sufficient sunlight to regulate our sleep-wake cycle and myriad other functions.

However, digital devices and LED lights emit blue light similar to the sun’s that confuse the body’s internal clock when used at night. Artificial blue light activates photosensitive cells that suppress the production of melatonin.

In addition to wearing blue-blocking orange glasses before bed, people can also use blue-blocking screen filters, use lamps with orange bulbs at night, and wear blue-blocking glasses while out at night and exposed to artificial light. Some devices have night mode settings that lower blue light and computer and phone apps can be downloaded that do the same.

Ritalin risks in kids; functional neurology alternatives

Noel Thomas

FNM 135 ritalin long term damage

New research shows the use of methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, prior to the maturation of the brain around age 23 can lead to long-term changes in how the brain functions.

Methylphenidate appears to cause permanent alterations in how GABA, the neurotransmitter responsible for calming the brain, functions in the medial prefrontal cortex. This area of the brain plays a role in memory, decision making, socialization, and behavior.

The study did not find the same changes in patients who used methylphenidate after age 23 and whose brains were no longer developing.

As ADHD rates soar, so do drug prescriptions

Symptoms of ADHD include inattention, impulsivity, and over activity to a degree that interferes with learning and relationships.

Rates of ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, have been soaring in recent years in the United States. ADHD diagnoses increased by 43 percent between 2003 and 2011.

About 11 percent of American children have been diagnosed with ADHD. As rates go up, so do prescriptions for methylphenidate — about eight out of 10 doctor visits for ADHD result in a prescription for Ritalin or similar drug (Adderall, Focalin).

Functional neurology perspective on ADHD

Although most doctors’ visits only last about 10 minutes and concerns about over diagnosing and over prescribing are legitimate, it’s also true rates of childhood brain disorders in general have been exploding during the last decade.

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

In functional neurology and functional medicine, we see ADHD as something more complex than a need for a drug prescription. Studies show the brain disorder is linked to a variety of possible causes.

For instance, environmental toxins, viral or bacterial infection, and autoimmune attacks (when the immune system attacks and destroys tissue) in the brain that began in utero or in infancy have been linked to ADHD and other childhood brain development disorders.

These factors interrupt the normal development of the brain and the child may skip developmental milestones, such as crawling. This then leads to imbalanced development of the right and left hemispheres, the neural networks, and communication between the brain’s hemispheres.

This explains why children typically have various brain-based symptoms in addition to ADHD, such as tics, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, sleep disorders, and so on. Although drugs such as methylphenidate may offer relief, they do not address the underlying cause of ADHD.

How functional neurology addresses ADHD

In functional neurology, we begin with the brain’s metabolic health. This includes diet, food sensitivities, blood sugar, gut health, inflammation, gut health, infections, and autoimmunity.

We use exams and patient history to assess areas of the brain that are under and over developed, and areas that are over stimulated or under stimulated.

From there, we then create custom exercises to rehabilitate the brain and adjust them over time as function improves.

Ask my office how functional neurology can help if your child with ADHD.

Concussions and whiplash can damage the inner ear

Noel Thomas

FNM 134 vestibular damage

Although most people worry about skull fractures and brain damage when they sustain a head injury, the inner ear, or vestibular system, may also become damaged and cause long-term problems if neglected.

Vestibular injuries cause problems with balance and dizziness, as well as anxiety and moodiness.

The vestibular system, a labyrinth of semi-circular canals, perceives motion in three-dimensional space and is known as the equilibrium center. It works with the eyes and the brain to let you know where you are in the environment. It is vital to safety, survival, and attention.

One way to think of the vestibular system is to imagine holding a glass of water while driving. When you turn, accelerate, decelerate, or stop, the water moves in opposition to the movement. Your vestibular system, which contains fluid and sensory hair cells, works in a similar manner, sending signals to your brain to keep your body stable and aware as you move throughout your daily life or in sports.

Vestibular injury in concussion and whiplash

Studies show vestibular injury is common with concussions and whiplash. Even when there are no signs of brain injury after an accident, about 16 percent of people will have vestibular injury.

Vestibular injury can come from a fracture to the skull in the area surrounding the inner ear. Or it can come from damage to the nerves in the brainstem that communicate with the inner ear.

Distinguishing vestibular injury from brain injury

Functional neurology offers specific exams that distinguish vestibular injury from brain injury.

A test using videonystagmography is one of the most commonly used in functional neurology. This involves the patient wearing infrared goggles that capture eye movements on video the practitioner can view on a computer screen. The patient’s eyes are monitored in both light and darkness and through various ranges of motion, such as turning or nodding the head and spinning in a chair.

Using the analogy of glass of water while driving, the eyes reflect what is happening in the inner ear in response to movements. This can show in what ways vestibular function is impaired, and whether the damage is structural or due to damaged nerves in the brainstem that feed information to the inner ear.

Targeting inner ear injury determines treatment

The distinction between inner ear injury and brain injury is vital because it determines the course of treatment. Many brain injury victims are put through the same course of rehabilitation despite the nature of the injury in the hopes that the rehab will hit some of the pertinent areas in need. This can be inefficient.

However, using functional neurology to target the specific areas of impairment to both the brain and the vestibular system (or just the vestibular system) can make for much more effective rehab strategies.

Vestibular system treatments

Because the inner ear is connected to vision and movement, therapy that combines specific eye exercises with certain movements can improve function in damaged areas of the inner ear. For instance, the patient may spin to the right in a swivel chair while watching lines move upward on an iPad.

This is a much different approach to a brain-specific exercise, which might include balance and coordination exercises.

Ask my office for more information about how a vestibular system injury or disorder might be affecting you.

Rates of mental disorders in children exploding

Noel Thomas

FNM 133 child brain disorders

It’s estimated one in five children in the United States has a mental disorder these days, and the rate is rising at an alarming degree. This means as many as 12 million children are currently affected.

What does a childhood mental disorder look like? It can affect a child’s behavior, learning ability, and their ability to handle their emotions. It can also mean more significant diagnoses such as bipolar disorder, autism spectrum disorders, and conduct disorders.

It’s tempting to want to pin the rise on one factor, but studies shows links between childhood brain disorders and autoimmune disease during pregnancyenvironmental chemicals, and industrialization of food.

These are all factors that have been shown to profoundly impact the developing brain in utero and in childhood at an alarmingly increasing rate.

One study demonstrated the rate of hospital stays among children for mood disorders increased 80 percent since 1997. Additionally, pediatric admissions for mental health issues — such as depression, bipolar disorder, and psychosis — and substance abuse issues increased 24 percent in just three years prior to 2010. Nearly one in ten hospitalized children have a primary diagnosis of a mental health disorder.

About 11 percent of children had been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) by 2014.

Other common diagnoses include autism, anxiety, depression, Tourette’s syndrome, behavioral disorders, and alcohol and substance abuse.

Autism linked to maternal autoimmune disease

Researchers have linked childhood autism with autoimmunity in the mother during pregnancy.

The brain of the fetus is already developing in the the first trimester and is profoundly affected by the mother’s immune status.

An unmanaged autoimmune condition in a pregnant woman, such as Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, vitiligo, etc., points to a hyper zealous and imbalanced immune system.

Some of these mothers also have an undiagnosed (and often asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic) autoimmune reaction to their own brains that they pass on to the child via immune antibodies.

These antibodies damage the brain of the fetus. This sets the stage for autism or the triggering of autism by a factor in the environment, such as chemicals or heavy metals.

Women with autoimmune disease are more likely to carry these immune antibodies to the brain.

Children with mental disorders also frequently demonstrate other signs of immune imbalance and autoimmunity, such as food intolerances, gut problems, asthma, eczema, and yeast infections.

A parent can lower a child’s risk of brain disorders by screening for and managing their own undiagnosed autoimmunity and inflammation prior to conceiving.

For instance, rates of autism are higher in children whose mothers lived near freeways during pregnancy due to increased pollution.

Managing your immune system through functional medicine and functional neurology, eating an anti-inflammatory whole foods diet, cutting out common dietary immune triggers (gluten and dairy are the most common), and avoiding toxins as much as possible are examples of strategies to improve the odds of giving birth to a child with a healthy brain.

For more information about how to manage autoimmunity, contact my office.

The neuroscience of why diets make you fatter

Noel Thomas

132 your brain on a diet

Many studies over many years show diets have steadily made Americans fatter. Why does dieting cause obesity? Blame the brain and its influence on emotional, hormonal, and neurochemical responses to dieting, deprivation, satiety, and shame.

Dieting is rarely effective, it doesn’t improve health, and it does more harm than good. Studies show regardless of the diet you follow, from vegan to paleo, you’re battling ancient neurological survival mechanisms that typically win out in the end. The brain is essentially wired to fight weight loss.

An obese man has a one in 1300 chance of reaching normal weight within a year and an obese woman has a one in 700 chance, and the majority of both these groups will gain back the weight in five years.

In fact, weight loss statistics show only about one percent of dieters keep the weight off permanently! What’s worse, almost half of dieters will gain back more weight than where they started.

Even just one diet can make you fatter: Research shows a single diet makes a man twice as likely and a woman three times as likely to become overweight.

And two or more diets? For women, that makes them five times more likely to become overweight.

Teenage girls who diet repeatedly are four times more likely to become overweight compared to their non-dieting peers, and 12 times more likely to binge.

Athleteswho compete in sports that require them to lose weight, such as boxing or wrestling, are three times more likely to be obese later in life.

Why the brain hates dieting

It’s important to understand the neurology behind deprivation, weight loss, and weight-related anxiety to appreciate why diets fail so many people.

In essence, the brain hates famines and is programmed to keep you at a steady weight based on your genetics and life experiences.

Dropping below the set point can cause a person to burn fewer calories, trigger the release of hunger hormones, and increase activity of brain chemicals such as dopamine that increase cravings for food.

Studies of both humans and rodents show binge eating is a normal mammalian response to food deprivation due to the effect of deprivation on brain chemicals that govern the response to rewards. They also show stress promotes cravings for sweeter, fattier foods.

Also, replacing the brain’s natural cues around hunger and satiety with the rules and regulations of dieting overrides its ability to regulate weight.

Just thinking you’re fat makes you fatter

Studies show just thinking you are fat will actually lead to increased weight gain, whereas teen girls who underwent a program to fight eating disorders stabilized their weight while the girls who didn’t do the program gained weight.

What to do when dieting has made you fatter?

The best choice to avoid weight gain is not to diet. However, most people — primarily women — have been on many diets by adulthood or midlife.

Research shows that as long as a heavier person exercises regularly, eats a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, and avoids risky behaviors such as smoking or isolation, their health outcomes are on par with a thin person’s who leads the same lifestyle.

Good brain health depends not on how fat or thin you are, but instead on healthy gut bacteria, positive stimulation, low exposure to sugars and processed starches (high blood sugar is very damaging to the brain), plenty of oxygen, reduced inflammation, and other basic healthy lifestyle factors. In fact, stressing about your weight and dieting is bad for the brain — stress is a notorious cause of accelerated brain aging.

Many people are pleasantly surprised to find that by letting go of weight loss and instead learning to love a healthy diet and lifestyle, the unwanted pounds melt away. But if they don’t, you can still be healthy and active. Ask my office for more advice on taking care of your brain health.

Do you have leaky brain? Perform this test to find out

Noel Thomas

131 leaky brain copy

You’ve heard of leaky gut, but have you heard of leaky brain? If you have symptoms of leaky gut, or intestinal permeability, you most likely also have leaky brain, or “blood-brain barrier permeability.” How do you know? You can perform a simple test with store-bought supplements to find out.

The blood-brain barrier is a thin barrier that lines the brain. Its role is to keep out viruses, bacteria, chemicals, heavy metals, and other pathogens, but to allow nano-sized particles in and out as necessary.

Unfortunately, the blood-brain barrier can become leaky just as the gut can. A leaky brain allows harmful pathogens to enter, where they trigger inflammation. This chronic inflammation damages and destroys brain tissue, accelerating brain degeneration.

Symptoms of leaky brain and leaky gut

A leaky brain has been linked to depression, ADD/ADHD, chronic pain, autism, mental illnesses, seizures, and facial palsies.

One of the more common symptoms of leaky brain is brain fog, especially if you feel it after eating.

The leaky brain challenge test

How do you know if your blood-brain barrier is leaky? You can perform a simple test with a store-bought supplement.

Simply take 1,000 mg of straight GABA (not GABA precursors such as theanine). For the best results, be sure to take this test during the day and not at bedtime.

GABA is a calming neurotransmitter. Although you can buy GABA supplements, the truth is the GABA molecule is too large to pass through a healthy blood-brain barrier.

If you feel drowsy or sleepy several hours after taking 1,000 mg of GABA, this means your blood-brain barrier is leaky enough to let GABA through.

Instead of feeling relaxed, some people find GABA makes them feel anxious. This is because the brain’s GABA system is weak and taking GABA over stimulated it. This also indicates a leaky brain barrier.

If taking GABA caused no change in how you feel, that is a good sign your blood-brain barrier is intact.

What causes leaky brain

Studies show a variety of factors cause leaky brain:

  • Unstable blood sugar; high blood sugar
  • Gluten
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Poor gut health (leaky gut)
  • Autoimmunity
  • Excess alcohol consumption

Repairing leaky brain and leaky gut:

Fortunately, there is plenty you can do to repair leaky brain, reduce or halt brain inflammation, and slow brain degeneration

  • Take care of gut health
  • Go gluten-free
  • Remove other food intolerances (dairy, etc.)
  • Manage low or high blood sugar imbalances
  • Ensure adequate vitamin D level
  • Manage inflammation and autoimmunity

Ask my office for more ideas on how you can repair leaky brain and leaky gut and manage symptoms of brain fog, depression, memory loss, and other signs of poor brain function.

DHA — the best part of fish and algae oil for the brain

Noel Thomas

130 DHA for brain health copy

Fish oil supplements tout their ratios of DHA and EPA. But how do you know how much EPA or DHA you need? If you’re looking to support and optimize brain health, go for the highest ratio of DHA to EPA you can find. While EPA tames inflammation, DHA is known for boosting brain health.

Both DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) and EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) are omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish such as salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, black cod, and bluefish.

Omega 3 is also in vegetarian foods such as nuts and seeds in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which the body ideally converts to EPA and DHA.

However, some people do not convert well due to high blood sugar, certain genetic variances, or a diet high in omega 6 oil (i.e., fried, snack, and restaurant foods).

DHA made from organic farmed algae

A unique and powerful source of DHA is algal oil, produced from organic microscopic algae farms (fish eat algae in the ocean). Studies have shown that algal oil imparts the same omega 3 levels as fish.

Additionally, algal oil means less demand from fishing practices that have already gravely depleted fish populations and avoiding possible contamination with mercury and other toxins that accumulate in fish.

How DHA supports brain health

Most omega-3 supplements come with one-to-one ratio of DHA to EPA. A high ratio of EPA is great for managing inflammation, such as from aches, joint pain, autoimmune flares, or skin conditions. 

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

Look for a 4-to-1 ratio of EPA to DHA for brain health. Some products go as high as 10-to-1 and 24-to-1. 

How DHA helps the brain

DHA is vital to the health and integrity of neurons. 

It allows neurons to be fluid and flexible, ensuring good communication throughout the brain. This keeps the brain vital and active and inhibits brain degeneration. 

DHA also improves short- and long-term memory, reduces brain inflammation (which speeds ages of the brain and causes myriad symptoms such as brain fog and depression), and enhances overall quality of life.

DHA prevent leaky blood-brain barrier

The blood-brain-barrier is a cellular membrane that lines the brain, protecting it from bacteria, toxins, and other pathogens while allowing necessary compounds in and out. Leaky brain is common and inflames and degenerates the brain.

A new study also shows DHA plays a role in keeping the blood-brain-barrier intact, thus helping to repair 
and prevent leaky brain. 

How much fish oil or algal oil should you take

People typically need more fish oil than they think to obtain sufficient omega 3 fatty acids, especially if they eat too much omega 6. One study recommends 3,500 mg for a person eating 2,000 calories daily. This is four to six capsules of fish oil a day at 1 gram each.

Because DHA and EPA are more concentrated in algae, the recommended dose of algal oil is about half that of fish oil at two to three grams a day.

If you take a blood-thinner talk to your doctor first.

If your brain on fire? How to know if you have brain inflammation

Noel Thomas

129 is your brain on fire

Is your brain on fire with inflammation? The brain doesn’t hurt like an inflamed knee does, so it’s hard to know if inflammation is happening. However, the brain communicates inflammation in how it makes you feel.

One of the most common symptoms of brain inflammation is brain fog, that feeling of slow and fuzzy thinking. Other common brain inflammation symptoms include depression  anxiety, irritability, anger, memory loss, and fatigue. Even getting a song stuck in your head is a symptom.

Of course, other factors can cause these symptoms, but an inflamed and thus quickly degenerating brain is often involved in brain-based symptoms.

For instance, if these symptoms arise after eating certain foods, such as wheat or dairy, that can be a strong clue brain inflammation is at work.

Why inflammation causes brain fog

One of the most common symptoms of brain inflammation is brain fog. Why is this? Inflammation in the brain slows down firing between neurons. Thus the overall operation of the brain slows down. This is what causes your brain function to be foggy, dull, and slow.

In the case of depression, inflammatory immune cells called cytokines hamper brain function and the activity of serotonin  a brain chemical needed to feel joy and well-being. For example, depression is a common side effect with the anti-viral drug interferon, which raises cytokine levels.

Also, brain imaging and autopsies show brain inflammation is more common in individuals with autism.

It’s important to take brain inflammation seriously — inflammation in the brain damages and destroys brain cells, speeding aging and atrophy of your brain. This raises your risk for dementia, Alzheimer’s (brain inflammation increases amyloid beta), Parkinson’s and other degenerative brain diseases.

Why does brain inflammation happen

It’s very important to know why your brain is inflamed because this will point you in the right direction to address it and relieve symptoms.

One of the more common causes of brain inflammation is an injury to the head. A brain injury causes the brain’s immune cells, which are different from those in the body, to begin the healing process and removal of dead and damaged neurons.

However, immune cells in the brain do not turn off, especially if there are already other imbalances in the body. This means inflammation in the brain can continue long after injury. This is one reason football players have brain-related issues long after they retire.

Other causes of brain inflammation include:

  • Chronic inflammation in the body
  • Leaky gut
  • High blood sugar and diabetes
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Food intolerances (gluten is notorious)
  • Chronic stress
  • Brain autoimmunity — a disorder in which the immune system attacks and damages brain tissue. It is more common than people realize.

Take brain inflammation seriously

Brain inflammation means your brain is degenerating (aging) too fast. Brain-saving tips include:

Take flavonoids, plant compounds that have been shown to reduce brain inflammation.

Balance blood sugar. Avoid blood sugar that is too low or too high. Insulin resistance and diabetes are notorious brain inflamers.

Food sensitivities. Gluten commonly inflames the rule. Also rule out dairy, soy, eggs, and other grains as sources of inflammation.

Balance hormones. Low sex and thyroid hormones contribute to brain inflammation. 

Heal your gut and promote good gut bacteria. The gut, gut bacteria, and the brain are intimately connected. A healthy brain requires a healthy gut.

Anti-inflammatory nutrients. Glutathione, a powerful antioxidant, can help quench brain inflammation —take the precursors and glutathione recycling ingredients. Sufficient essential fatty acids and fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are important, too.

Get functional neurology help for a brain injury. If you injured your brain, even if it was a while ago, you may need functional neurology help to tame brain inflammation and restore function. In functional neurology we can identify problem areas and know which areas to activate and which to dampen to optimize brain function.

How your inner ear can influence your emotions

Noel Thomas

vestibular system emotions

We tend to think of our emotions as being strictly tied to our psychology and personality — some people are highly emotional and others are not. But did you know your inner can profoundly affect your emotions?

Our inner ear, called the vestibular system, is integrated with the eyes and the brain to tell you where you are in space and is integral to survival, safety, and attention.

This system is a labyrinth of the semi-circular positioned in right angles to each other so they can perceive motion in three-dimensional space.

You engage your vestibular system when you turn your head, change positions, look one direction while moving in another, balance on one leg, ride a bike, and so on. The vestibular system also plays a role in integrating gravity, acceleration, and deceleration.

In summary, the vestibular system works with your eyes and your brain to keep your body stable and aware of where it is in the environment around it. Imagine driving while holding a glass of water and how accelerating, driving at an even speed, stopping, and turning affect the water in the glass. This is somewhat how the vestibular system, which contains fluid and sensory hair cells, works to deliver information to the brain.

When the vestibular system isn’t working well

Unfortunately, the inner ear can be quite fragile and vulnerable to damage from concussions, micro-traumas to the brain, and whiplash. Many people have vestibular system damage or disorders that they are not aware of.

Some hallmarks of vestibular problems include poor balance, dizziness, and being easily prone to motion sickness.

When the inner ear canals are damaged, information from the vestibular system does not coordinate properly with information from the eyes and the body. This causes neurological confusion and resulting symptoms.

A poorly functioning cerebellum also plays a role in vestibular dysfunction. The cerebellum is the area at the base of the brain — it works closely with the vestibular system and is integral to balance and coordination.

How inner ear problems cause emotional problems

When your vestibular system is damaged, or when there is dysfunctional coordination between the inner ear and the cerebellum, your sense of balance and stability are affected. The body ultimately perceives this as a stressor.

Typically, vestibular dysfunction is too subtle for most people to notice. Yet it nevertheless creates a sense of neurological confusion the brain and body perceive as chronically and subtly terrifying, thus putting the survival system on red alert and raising stress hormones.

People who have experienced anxiety after being on a roller coaster or from spinning may understand this connection.

Emotions are governed by an area of the brain called the limbic system, and extensive networks exist between the vestibular and the limbic system. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people diagnosed with vestibular disorders to report they are not themselves emotionally.

Rehabilitating the inner ear for healthier emotions

Researchers are able to impact a person’s depression, anxiety, and other emotional states by activating and rehabilitating the vestibular system, lending further weight to the connection between the inner ear and emotions.

Fortunately, functional neurology is well grounded in the examination of the vestibular system, identifying dysfunction, and creating customized exercises to help you rehabilitate your vestibular system and brain.

This can bring not only relief from physical signs and symptoms, but it can also lower anxiety and relieve emotional symptoms. Ask my office for more information.