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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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Nature and play: Essential, overlooked brain nutrients

Noel Thomas

233 brains need nature

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

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

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

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

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

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

The necessity of unstructured play time for both children and adults

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

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

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

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

In fact, play time outdoors has been shown to:

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

These are all great prescriptions for better brain health!

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

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

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

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

Ask my office for more information on functional neurology.

Women have more and worse concussions than men

Noel Thomas

232 women have more concussions

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

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

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

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

Why do women have more concussions?

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

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

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

Female hormones and brain injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Surprising new form of concussion recovery: Exercise

Noel Thomas

231 exercise after concussion copy

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

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

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

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

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

How to safely exercise after a concussion

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

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

The researchers suggest avoiding activities such as jogging and swimming.

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

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

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

Functional neurology as a post-concussion aid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CPTSD vs PTSD: How functional neurology can help

Noel Thomas

230 cptsd vs ptsd

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

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

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

The difference between PTSD and CPTSD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chronic fatigue syndrome is a neurological condition

Noel Thomas

229 chronic fatigue explained

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is ME/CFS?

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

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

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

Functional neurology for ME/CFS

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

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

Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism care includes brain care

Noel Thomas

228 hypothyroidism brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good brain health depends on using your legs

Noel Thomas

227 use legs to boost brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Autism prevention begins before you conceive

Noel Thomas

226 autism prevention preconception

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Modern diet and lifestyle behind inflammation and autoimmunity

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

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

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

How a high-sugar diet can gender bend your brain

Noel Thomas

225 neurology of gender

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

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

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

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

Morphing hormones in midlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Insulin resistance imbalances hormones and spikes inflammation

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

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

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

Treating gut bacteria vital for brain & spinal cord injury

Noel Thomas

224 dysbiosis and spinal injury

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

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

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

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

Study shows treating gut bacteria helps spinal cord injury recovery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Effects of complaining versus gratitude on brain health

Noel Thomas

223 complaining vs gratitude on the brain

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

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

The effect of chronic complaining on the brain

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

Chronic complaining results from a brain mechanism called negative plasticity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being positive takes more effort

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

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

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

Some complaining is healthy and normal

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

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

Practice gratitude to positively rewire your brain

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

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

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

Using functional neurology to help you get unstuck

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

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

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

Young people today are the loneliest generation yet

Noel Thomas

222 young people loneliest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Habits of people who don’t feel lonely

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

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

Frequent, in-person, meaningful interactions with others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unmanaged depression raises risk of dementia later

Noel Thomas

221 depression dementia risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Functional neurology for depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noel Thomas

220 vertigo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Withdrawals from antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds serious

Noel Thomas

219 addiction to psych meds

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

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

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

Withdrawing from your antidepressant

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

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

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

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

Benzo risks and withdrawals

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

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

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

Functional medicine alternatives for depression and anxiety

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

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

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

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

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

Noel Thomas

218 walking exercises the brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

The many ways walking benefits the brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dyslexia is more an auditory disorder than a visual disorder

Noel Thomas

217 dyslexia an auditory disorder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Functional neurology for dyslexia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Women suffer from PTSD more often and more severely than men

Noel Thomas

216 ptsd in women vs men

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vaccines and the brain: Understanding cross reactivity

Noel Thomas

215 vaccines and the brain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noel Thomas

214 brain not working

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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