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Feel worse on the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet?

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Although the autoimmune paleo (AIP) diet is a well known foundation for managing chronic health issues, some people are dismayed to find embarking on it makes them feel worse. What gives? The sudden change in diet can temporarily upset your chemistry and reveal hidden health problems.

If you have been accustomed to eating gluten, dairy, grains, sugars, and processed foods, going cold turkey off those foods is a radical shift. Likewise, adding in lots of vegetables can also shock a digestive system unaccustomed to ample plant fiber.

Most people feel significantly better on the AIP diet. If you’re not one of them, however, don’t give up on the diet. Instead, look for the underlying reason why.

Feeling temporarily worse on the AIP diet

Following are common adverse reactions to the autoimmune paleo diet. Knowing why you react negatively can further help you on your wellness journey.

Low blood sugar. Symptoms of low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue can worsen on this diet. This is usually caused by not eating enough or frequently enough. The general recommendation is to eat every two to three hours, however, some people may initially need a bite or two every hour until blood sugar stabilizes and they can go longer without eating. Avoid sugary fruits and investigate what else may be taxing your adrenal function, such as brain-based issues, autoimmunity, or chronic infection.

New food sensitivities. When gut damage is bad and inflammation high, it’s possible to develop food sensitivities to new foods on the autoimmune diet. This is very frustrating for people as the diet is already so limited. This can be a complex situation that requires concerted effort to tame inflammation and repair the gut.

Opioid withdrawal reactions. Opioids are morphine-like chemicals made by the body that reduce pain and create a feeling of euphoria and well-being. Some people become dependent on foods that release opioids in the brain, namely gluten and dairy. They can initially experience depression, anger, lethargy, and agitation on the autoimmune diet. For those with serious opioid addictions to gluten and dairy, withdrawal can be intense.

Brain chemical imbalance. A diet high in processed carbohydrates affects brain chemicals that influence our mood, particularly serotonin and dopamine. Suddenly switching to a lower carbohydrate diet can disrupt the balance of brain chemicals and cause temporary changes in mood, behavior, and personality. You may need to gradually lower carbohydrate consumption if so.

Insomnia and anxiety. Some people report irresolvable insomnia and anxiety if carbohydrate consumption is too low. If these symptoms persist long after an adjustment period, you may simply need to use trial and error to find the carbohydrate “sweet spot” that lets you sleep but also keeps blood sugar in check.

Difficulty digesting fiber. The AIP diet is heavy on vegetables. For those with compromised digestive function, this can overwhelm the gut. Concerted gut repair nutritional therapy can ease you into a higher fiber diet.

Histamine intolerance. This is a reaction to aged or fermented foods that causes myriad symptoms, including rashes, runny nose, or headaches. Avoiding these foods for a while can help the gut heal so you can eat them later.

Yeast and bacteria die-off reactions. Going cold turkey off processed carbs, gluten, and dairy can cause a sudden and uncomfortable die off of harmful yeast and bacteria in your gut. This is especially true in the case of poor liver detoxification and constipation. Supporting the body’s pathways of elimination can help.

These are a few of the issues that can arise when you switch to the autoimmune paleo diet. Don’t forget to consider the grief and anger you may feel about missing your favorite foods. However, if you weather the transition and ferret out sources of discomfort, your newfound health will more than make up for the rough legs of the journey.


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Daylight saving got you down? You’re not alone

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If you’re still feeling knackered from the time change with daylight saving  you’re not alone. Changing the time throws a kink in the fragile and sensitive human biological clock, leaving many people feeling continuously jet lagged for a few weeks.

An hour of lost sleep might not sound like a big deal, but if you or your friends and coworkers are any indication, it makes for some groggy and grumpy days, bouts of insomnia, and feeling generally off.

It’s not just a hunch — scientific studies have demonstrated various ways in which the bi-annual time change messes with our health.

The body has genes that flip on and off to keep us in a steady rhythm of sleeping and waking. When we throw those genes off beat by artificially changing the time, the effect extends into the rest of the body, including muscles, the skeleton, the pancreas, etc. The disruption is felt body-wide.

How daylight saving time can impact health

This disruption dulls the brain and throws the body’s systems off, resulting in serious and even fatal consequences for some people.

For instance, past studies have shown driving fatalities, workplace injuries, and heart attacks go up after the spring-forward change in time. An Australian study found that even suicides increase after the time change.

Unsurprisingly, work productivity goes down as well, causing losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Night owls, people who naturally are more inclined to stay up late and sleep later in the morning take the longest to recover.

Worst of all, some studies suggest our bodies never really adjust to time changes. We’re designed to sync with natural changes in light throughout the year, not artificially inflicted ones.

How to recover from daylight saving time

Although people complain and we see a spate of news stories every spring bemoaning the change in time, we’re nevertheless stuck with it until politicians add it to their to-do list.

Understanding the effect of the time change on your body can help you better know how to ease the transition into suddenly waking up an hour earlier.

Avoid overdoing it for a while. Because you know your whole body is struggling to adjust to being thrown out of whack, don’t expect too much from yourself. Avoid scheduling high-risk or energy demanding activities the week after the time change. And be extra careful driving.

Schedule in some naps and restful mornings. If you’re like most people, you’ll be sleep-deprived for a week or two. Take a lunch nap in your car at work, let yourself rest on a weekend morning, and be extra disciplined about getting to bed early enough.

Wear orange glasses at night. Wear some orange safety glasses a couple of hours before bed to shield your eyes from artificial blue light from light bulbs, the TV, and computer and phone screens. This facilitates production of sleep hormones and will help ease you into the new schedule.

Get some sunshine during the day. Our bodies were designed to wake and sleep according to the light of the seasons, not an industrialized schedule. Get as much natural light as you can during the day and avoid artificial sources of blue light (computer, TV, smart phones) in the evening.


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Gluten is the first thing to go with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism diagnosis

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Hypothyroidism has received a lot of attention online since the publication of Why Do I Still Have Thyroid Symptoms? by Datis Kharrazian in 2009. While many facets should be addressed in managing hypothyroidism, one of the most important continues to be a gluten-free diet.

Research shows ninety percent of hypothyroidism cases are due to an autoimmune disease that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. This disease is called Hashimoto’s.

Most doctors do not test for Hashimoto’s because it does not change treatment, which is thyroid medication. Also, many cases of hypothyroidism go undiagnosed because Hashimoto’s can cause the lab marker TSH to fluctuate.

Where does gluten fit in with this? Numerous studies have linked an immune reaction to gluten with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism. Whether it’s a gluten sensitivity or celiac disease, gluten triggers an autoimmune attack on the thyroid gland in many people. Most of these people do not even know they are sensitive to gluten.

Going off gluten is the first step with Hashimoto’s

Studies, clinical observation, and patient stories make a very strong case for the benefits of going gluten-free to better manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism symptoms.

A number of studies for several countries show a link between Hashimoto’s and gluten. This is because the protein structure of gluten closely resembles that of thyroid tissue. When your immune system reacts to gluten, it may start erroneously reacting to thyroid tissue as well. This will cause the immune system to attack and destroy thyroid tissue in a case of mistaken identity.

Studies also show patients improve on a strict gluten-free diet. One study showed as many as 71 percent of subjects resolved their hypothyroid symptoms after following a strict gluten-free diet for one year.

Why you may need to stop eating other foods too

Sorry to say, going gluten-free alone doesn’t always work. Many people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism also need to go dairy-free. Dairy, whether it’s cow, goat, or sheep, is the second biggest problem food for people with Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism.

Many people simply have an immune intolerance to dairy and aren’t aware of it until they stop consuming it. However, in an immune sensitive individual, the body may also mistake dairy for gluten and trigger an immune reaction that ultimately ends up targeting the thyroid.

For those serious about managing their Hashimoto’s hypothyroidism, a gluten-free and dairy-free diet frequently results in profound alleviation of symptoms, if not total remission.

Many find they may need to eliminate additional foods, such as certain grains, eggs, or soy. An elimination/provocation diet can help you figure out what your immune system reacts to, or a comprehensive food sensitivity test from Cyrex Labs.

What is there left to eat?

If you’re used to eating without restrictions, eliminating gluten, dairy, and possibly other foods to manage your Hashimoto’s hypothyroid symptoms may seem overwhelming and too restrictive. Many people are left wondering, what is left to eat?

Rest assured there is more than enough to eat. Most people fare well on a paleo diet that is primarily vegetables (a diverse array of plenty of vegetables helps create the healthy gut bacteria that improve immunity.)

More importantly, symptoms and general health improves so dramatically that people come to love their new diet and despise the way they feel after they cheat.

Ask my office for more information about implementing a gluten- and dairy-free diet.


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Is too much iron causing your chronic inflammation?

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Did you know too much iron is toxic and inflammatory? If you are working to manage a chronic inflammatory condition, make sure high iron levels aren’t sabotaging your efforts. (Likewise, low iron levels can also make it difficult or impossible to heal.)

Hemochromatosis is a genetic disorder in which the body absorbs too much dietary iron. It is a relatively common condition, affecting approximately a million people in the United States. Symptoms typically include joint pain, chronic fatigue, heart flutters, and abdominal pain. Untreated hemochromatosis increases the risk of diabetes, arthritis, liver inflammation (cirrhosis), sexual dysfunction, and other diseases.

Psychological symptoms may include depression, anxiety, nervous tics, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Iron accumulation in the basal ganglia of the brain can interfere significantly with neurological functioning, leading to movement disorders and/or dementia.

Because symptoms vary so much and the disorder is associated with differing conditions, hemochromatosis often goes undiagnosed. If hemochromatosis is suspected, a series of three blood tests known collectively as the Iron Panel confirm diagnosis.

Once hemochromatosis has been identified, it can be addressed in two ways. The medical treatment for hemochromatosis is phlebotomy, which means periodically drawing blood from the body. This helps normalize the body’s iron levels and can relieve many, though not all, hemochromatosis symptoms.

The other way to alleviate symptoms and reduce the dangers of hemochromatosis is through diet — avoiding certain foods and supplements, while favoring others.

What to Avoid

Don’t take iron supplements or multivitamins that contain iron. Even people who have not been diagnosed with hemochromatosis should be cautious of iron supplements (many different factors besides iron deficiency cause anemia, find the root cause for your anemia before taking iron).

Certain medical conditions, such as restless leg syndrome, are associated with iron deficiency, and iron supplements may be prescribed or recommended for these conditions. However, anyone should have their iron levels checked first before taking supplements.

Stay away from vitamin C supplements and orange juice, as vitamin C increases iron absorption. (It is generally okay, however, to eat whole foods that contain vitamin C.)

Avoid or at least minimize alcohol consumption. Alcohol compromises liver function, the organ most vulnerable to too much iron.

Stay away from shellfish and raw fish as they may contain infectious bacteria that people with hemochromatosis are particularly vulnerable to.

Avoid or minimize red meat consumption. Red meat contains a form of iron that the body absorbs most easily.

Avoid or minimize sugar intake. Sugar increases iron absorption.

What to Increase

Essentially, there are two types of foods that a person with hemochromatosis should eat plenty of.

The first category is foods that inhibit iron absorption, such as:

  • Green or black tea
  • Raw kale
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Foods rich in calcium, magnesium, polyphenols, tannins, phylates and/or oxalates.

The second category is foods that contain iron, but in a form difficult to absorb. Nearly all vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans are in this category. Many of them contain oxalates as well, which reduce iron absorption.

If you are going to occasionally consume some foods that have easily absorbed iron, such as meat or sweets, combine them with foods that block iron absorption.

A hemochromatosis diet need not necessarily be overly strict. Much of it will depend on an individual’s level of iron overload, as revealed by lab tests. Ask my office for more information on hemochromatosis and whether it may be hindering your functional medicine protocol.


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Five ways eating more vegetables makes you happier

By Marcus Guimarães - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3240482

New research shows increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can boost your well-being in as little as two weeks. Although the study didn’t explain why, previous studies show eating more vegetables impacts brain, immune, and gut health — all of which affect your mood.

The New Zealand study divided more than 170 young adults into three groups. The researchers personally gave one group two servings on fresh fruits and vegetables each day. The second group was given vouchers and text reminders to consume extra produce. The third group was not given any produce or vouchers.

The first group given the extra produce in person consumed an average of 3.7 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. After two weeks they reported feeling improvements in mood, vitality, motivation, as well as a flourishing of well-being.

The other two groups reported no change.

5 ways eating more produce makes you feel better

When you look at the effects of a plant-based diet on health, the results of this study are no surprise.

Here are five reasons why eating more fruits and vegetables can make you happier and more motivated:

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that promotes relaxation. Brain scans show healthy gut bacteria promotes relaxation.

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower brain inflammation. A Harvard-affiliated study found that healthy gut bacteria lowers brain inflammation, thus lowering the risk of dementia. Brain inflammation is also linked with depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower depression, anxiety, eating disorders, autism symptoms, and obesity. By now you get the picture. Studies continue to find links between gut bacteria and a variety of mood and mental disorders. Eating a wide variety of plenty of produce is the best way to create a healthy diversity of gut bacteria.

Regular bowel movements from increased fiber of a high-vegetable diet improve your mood. It’s no mystery why constipated babies are so fussy. Research shows a higher prevalence of mood disorders in those with chronic constipation. Although myriad factors can cause constipation, often it’s as simple as too little plant fiber. Eating ample amounts of vegetables and fruits promotes regular, healthy bowel movements (unless you have a gut disorder that makes digesting produce difficult). Constipation increases circulating toxins in the body, which can inflame the brain and leads to bad moods.

What does a serving of vegetables look like?

The new recommendation from the American Institute for Cancer Research is to eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, but ideally you should eat seven to ten. Five of those servings should be vegetables and two to three fruit (to avoid consuming too much sugar). In other words, two-thirds of each meal should be vegetables.

A “serving” is a vague reference. Here are some ideas of what a serving looks like:

  • ½ cup of fruit
  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • ¼ cup of dried fruit
  • 1 cup of leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables

Most Americans don’t eat near enough vegetables. It takes some practice and discipline to develop a vegetable habit (vegetable for breakfast, anyone?), but once you do you’ll be motivated by how much better you feel.

Pre-prep veggies for quick salads, and make big batches of veggie soups and stews to facilitate the transition.


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Hydrochloric acid (HCl) and enzymes for digestion

hydrocholic acid digestive enzymes

Do you suffer from acid reflux, indigestion, slow gut transit time, or feeling like there’s a brick in your stomach after eating? Or perhaps you’re on a restricted diet for a chronic health condition but still react to an ever shrinking list of foods. If so, you need to work on restoring digestion.

Many factors affect digestion, including aging, poor brain function that affects gut function, poor diet, and more. Often the problem often isn’t the food itself, but a hyper sensitive immune system reacting to food proteins that are not broken down properly. Thankfully, you can improve your symptoms greatly with proper supplementation.

Breakdown of food proteins is key for good digestion

For good digestion, you need sufficient hydrochloric acid (HCl) and digestive enzyme activity in the gut. These both serve the important function of breaking down food proteins, which prevents the immune system from targeting them and causing symptoms.

HCl is naturally present in the stomach and is vital for digestion of proteins. Low HCl symptoms include:

  • Not feeling well after eating meat
  • Feeling like meat sits in their stomach too long
  • Feeling like they ate a brick
  • Acid reflux
  • Constipation

It may sound contrary that low stomach acid can cause acid reflux. In fact, many people with acid reflux-like symptoms are mistakenly prescribed acid-blockers intended to cut stomach acid, when in fact it’s low stomach acid causing the problem — the low stomach acid results in undigested food becoming rancid and moving back up the esophagus to cause the pain and burning sensation. What these people need is additional HCl to improve digestion.

Many people with poor digestion also have poor pancreatic enzyme output. Similar to stomach acid, these enzymes are critical to break apart food proteins so the immune system doesn’t react to them, causing inflammation.

Supplement with HCl and digestive enzymes for healthy digestion

Supplementing with HCl and digestive enzymes can go a long way toward improving your digestion by supporting breakdown of food proteins as well as relieving symptoms.

Follow this advice when supplementing with HCl and digestive enzymes:

  • HCl: Supplement with HCl when you eat meats to help break down the proteins better. This will not only improve your digestion but also bring you relief from uncomfortable symptoms.
  • Digestive enzymes: Take these with all meals; include pepsin, bromelain  and proteases. Look for a high-quality, broad-spectrum digestive enzyme supplement with a minimum of fillers.

Oral tolerance and digestive function

It’s particularly important for people with food sensitivities to support food protein breakdown with proper levels of HCl and digestive enzymes. At the root of this is the concept of oral tolerance  Oral tolerance is how well a person’s immune system can tolerate acceptable foods while responding appropriately to bacteria or other harmful compounds.

While there are other factors that affect oral tolerance, it’s important for food proteins to be broken down small enough that the body accepts them and doesn’t mount an immune reaction causing symptoms.

You’ve heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” When we can’t digest food properly, it means our bodies aren’t getting the fuel to function at their best. If you suffer from symptoms of poor digestion or food sensitivities, contact my office.


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Suffer from chronic health issues? Eat real food!

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When you’re starting on a new health journey, knowing what to eat can seem confusing. For starters, there is a ton of conflicting advice out there, with proponents of each diet insisting their diet is the healthiest.

The truth is, the best diet depends on which one works best for you. Factors that determine this include your individual food sensitivities, digestive health, blood sugar handling, and stress handling.

In functional medicine we follow general guidelines that focus on whole foods, removing foods to which you are intolerant, and stabilizing blood sugar. Beyond that, your history, lab tests, and current condition serve as guides in customizing your diet.

A custom diet plan starts with real food

With customization tips in mind, one basic rule still applies across the board: Eat whole foods.

When you eliminate foods that have been through processing (like breakfast cereal or chips), foods with artificial colorings, additives, and preservatives, and foods laden with industrialized fats and too much sugar, you are already on solid ground nutritionally.

This means sticking largely to the produce, meat, and nut sections in the grocery store. Use healthy, natural fats such as coconut oil and olive oil. Avoid vegetable oils, which are unstable and become inflammatory free radicals in your body.

Avoid hydrogenated oil as it has been shown to damage brain cells and raise heart disease risk.

You have to develop new habits to shop for and prep vegetables, cook healthy meats, and wean yourself off sodas, pizza pockets, chips, and other quick-grab items. But you’ll start feeling so much better you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll likely feel enthusiastic about it.

When eating real food is difficult

Some people favor processed food because they have trouble digesting real foods. This is a red flag digestion is seriously compromised.

For instance, if your stomach feels heavy after eating meat, as if it just sits there and does not digest, your stomach may be low in hydrochloric acid (HCl). HCl is necessary to digest meats and it’s a common deficiency.

In functional medicine, we know that a diet that consists primarily of produce is very beneficial. However, the dramatic increase in fiber from eating more fresh fruits and vegetables causes digestive problems in some people.

Factors that make eating produce difficult include an overgrowth of the wrong bacteria  low HCl, insufficient output of pancreatic enzymes, inflammation of the gut lining, and other digestive issues.

These people need to work on restoring gut health and slowly ease into eating more vegetables.

Blood sugar and stress handling

Most Americans eat too many carbohydrates and sugars, which contributes significantly to inflammation and chronic disease. At the same time, not everyone fares well on a very low-carb diet.

People with chronically low blood sugar and adrenal fatigue need to eat smaller meals more frequently to protect their brain health, whereas others find eating three meals per day optimal.

Some people feel great on a very low-carb, or ketogenic, diet, while others develop anxiety and insomnia. Finding the right amount of carbohydrates to eat so that you keep blood sugar stable and lower inflammation, yet function optimally, can take some tweaking. Then, as blood sugar and stress handling improve, you may be able to readjust.