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19 Ways to Activate your Vagus Nerve

Living a life of stress and constant mental stimulation can lead us down a path of symptoms and medical conditions related to high stress. These people are often dealing with fatigue, food sensitivities, anxiety, poor digestion, brain fog and poor sleep quality. Those who suffer with these symptoms often suffer from lower Vagal Tone, meaning that they have a lower ability of the vagus nerve to be activated and perform its functions. So what is the Vagus Nerve?

The Vagus Nerve is the brain’s method of controlling the parasympathetic nervous system – the rest and digest system. It is not the only nerve controlling our ability to decrease stressors, but it is by far the single most important nerve due to its far reaching effects. The word “vagus” means wanderer, as this nerve wanders throughout the body to many important organs and imparts signals from the brain regarding their level of function.

This nerve connects the brain to the gut (intestines and stomach), heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, sex organs (in females), neck (pharynx, larynx and esophagus), ears and the tongue. No other nerve in the body has such a broad and far reaching effect as the Vagus Nerve.

The function that it imparts is extensive.

  • In the brain itself, it helps control anxiety and mood.
  • In the gut, it increases stomach acidity, gut flow/motility and other digestive enzyme production.
    • Low stomach acid is a major source of gut-related health conditions so an underactive vagus nerve is correlated to the root cause of many health conditions.
  • In the heart, it controls heart rate variability, heart rate and blood pressure.
  • In the pancreas it controls blood sugar balance and digestive enzymes.
  • In the liver it controls bile production and detoxification through hepatic phase 1 and phase 2 conjugation.
  • In the gall bladder it controls bile release to help break down fats.
  • In the kidneys, it promotes general function including water balance, glucose control and sodium excretion which helps control blood pressure.
  • In the bladder it controls voiding of urine.
  • In the spleen it helps to reduce inflammation.
  • In the sex organs it helps to control fertility and sexual pleasure including orgasms.
  • In the mouth and tongue, it helps to control ability to taste and saliva production through salivary gland control.
  • In the eyes, it activates tear production through the lacrimal glands.

Vagus nerve stimulation has the potential to help those suffering from various health conditions, including but certainly not limited to anxiety disorders, heart disease, some forms of cancer, poor circulation, leaky gut syndrome, alzheimer’s, memory and mood disorders, migraine’s and headaches, fibromyalgia, obesity, tinnitus, addiction, autism and autoimmune conditions.

So how can we stimulate this nerve to ensure that this nerve is functioning optimally? Here are 19 ways you can exercise and stimulate your vagus nerve:

 

1. Cold Showers

Any acute cold exposure will increase vagus nerve stimulation. Studies have shown that when your body adjusts to cold, your fight or flight (sympathetic) system declines and your rest and digest (parasympathetic) system increases, which is mediated by the vagus nerve. Other options are to dip your face in cold water, drink colder fluids and you can even graduate to using a cryohelmet and cold vest. Cold showers are accessible and very effective.

 

2. Singing or chanting

Singing, humming, mantra chanting, hymn singing and upbeat energetic singing all increase heart rate variability (HRV) in slightly different ways. Singing at the top of your lungs (like you mean it) makes you work the muscles at the back of your throat, which helps activate the vagus nerve. The next time someone catches you singing along to the radio while driving your car, tell them you are just exercising and activating your Vagus nerve.

 

3. Gargling

Gargling with a glass of water each morning will help to contract the muscles in the back of your throat. This in turn helps to activate the Vagus nerve and also stimulates the digestive tract. Keep a glass next to your sink in the washroom as a daily reminder to perform this exercise. You will know you are doing it properly if you gargle to the point of tearing in the eyes (another vagus nerve response). This exercise has been found to be the most readily accessible and easiest to implement in daily life.

 

4. Yoga

Yoga is a parasympathetic activation exercise that improves digestion, blood flow, lung capacity and function. A 12 week yoga intervention showed significantly improved mood and anxiety levels when compared with a control group that performed simple walking exercises. This study showed that levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and anxiety, were increased in those that performed these exercises. Lower mood and higher anxiety is associated with low GABA levels, while an increase in these levels improves mood and decreases anxiety and stress levels. (Reference)

 

5. Meditation

There are two different types of meditation that have been shown to increase vagal tone including Loving-Kindness meditation as well as Guided Mindfulness Meditation. These have been measured by heart rate variability (Reference). It has also been shown that the chanting of “Om” stimulates the vagus nerve.

 

6. Deep Breathing Exercises

Slow and deep breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve. The baroreceptors, or pressure receptors in your neck and heart detect blood pressure and transmit the signal to your brain. This signal then in turn activates the vagus nerve, to help lower blood pressure and heart rate. This results in a lower sympathetic “fight or flight” response, as well as a higher parasympathetic “rest and digest” response. Slow breathing helps to increase the sensitivity of these receptors, increasing vagal activation.

Here’s an important tip: Breathe slowly, having your belly rise and fall. This is the intended action of your Diaphragm muscle. Your shoulders and Traps should not be moving much at all with each breath as these actions are controlled by secondary respiratory muscles. The more your belly expands and contracts, the deeper you are breathing.

 

7. Laughter

Laughter is the best medicine. This can actually be true in the case of increased vagus nerve activity as laughter has been shown to increase heart rate variability in a study comparing a laughter yoga participants (Reference).

Laughter has also been found to be beneficial for cognitive function and protects against heart disease. It increases beta endorphins, nitric oxide levels and benefits the vascular system. It has also been shown that people put in humorous situations show a lower cortisol stress level overall.

 

8. Probiotics

Your gut is connected to your brain, and one of the most clear connections is through the Vagus nerve. Within our gut, we have a population of normal and good bacteria and yeast called the Microbiome. These organisms have a direct effect on our brains as a significant percentage of our neurotransmitters including Serotonin, GABA and Dopamine are produced through actions of these bacteria helping to break down our foods. Often times we have less good bacteria and more bad bacteria within this population leading to poor neurochemistry and decreased vagal tone.

Probiotics are a good option to help promote the good bacteria and other organisms while helping to crowd out the bad bacteria, parasites and yeast.

 

9. Light Exercise

Mild exercise has been shown to stimulate gut flow and gastric motility (peristalsis) which is mediated by the vagus nerve. This in turn means that mild low level exercise can stimulate the vagus nerve (Reference)

 

10. Fasting

Intermittent fasting helps to increase high frequency heart rate variability in animals, which is a marker of vagal tone. When you fast, part of the decrease in metabolism is mediated by the vagus nerve as it detects a decline in blood glucose levels and a decrease of mechanical and chemical stimuli from the gut (Reference).

 

11. Massages

Pressure massages can activate the vagus nerve. These massages are used to help infants to gain weight by stimulating gut function, which is largely mediated by activating the vagus nerve. Foot Massages can also increase vagus nerve activity, heart rate variability and lower your heart rate and blood pressure, all of which decrease risk of heart disease.

 

12. Tai Chi

Tai Chi has been shown to increase heart rate variability in patients suffering from coronary artery disease which again is mediated through vagus nerve activation (Reference).

 

13. Fish Oil – Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fish Oils – EPA and DHA are capable of increasing heart rate variability as well as lowering heart rate.

 

14. Tongue depressors

Tongue depressors stimulate the gag reflex. These function in a similar mechanism to gargling or singing loudly as they exercise the reflexes that are mediated by the vagus nerve.

 

15. Acupuncture

Traditional acupuncture treatment as well as auricular acupuncture (of the ear) stimulate vagus nerve activity. The effects of acupuncture are becoming increasingly well known and you can ask most patients who have had this treatment about the calming effect and restful feelings that they have following an acupuncture treatment. I know many of my patients absolutely love it.

 

16. Serotonin

Serotonin, the mood and happiness neurotransmitter, is capable of activating the vagus nerve through various receptors, which are mediated by 5HT1A, 5-HT2, 5-HT3, 5-HT-4 and possibly 5-HT6 receptors. If you have been found to be deficient in serotonin levels, 5-HTP is a good supplement to help increase them.

 

17. Tensing stomach muscles

Bearing down as if to make a bowel movement requires your body to be in a rest and digest state. This is why many people feel much more relaxed following a bowel movement. Tensing the core muscles by performing abdominal bracing exercises can help to promote a rest and digest state by activating the vagus nerve.

 

18. Eating in a relaxed state

Don’t eat breakfast in a rush, lunches at your desk, or dinner in front of the computer. Having a meal in a stressful environment when you are running late, working or not focussing on the meal can have long-lasting and damaging effects. It is important to eat in a relaxed state, in a calm and peaceful environment. Remember – Choose good food, Chew your food well, and Chill. Choose, Chew, Chill.

 

19. Chewing your food well

The simple act of chewing your food, activates the stomach to release acid, tastebuds to taste the foods well, bile production in the liver and release from the gall bladder, digestive enzyme release from the pancreas and gut motility which are all mediated by the vagus nerve. It is important to sequence your digestion correctly and your body will do this automatically IF you start the process correctly. You must take the time to chew your food to the point that it is soft and mushy in your mouth, before your swallow. Doing this will set the correct sequence of digestion in motion and allow the vagus nerve to perform its functions correctly.

Your state of digestion, rest and recovery are all mediated by the vagus nerve. Following these exercises and habits will not only make you feel better, it will allow you to experience the world in a relaxed, calm and enjoyable state. Happy gargling!!

Natural Methods to reduce Anxiety following an Autoimmune Diagnosis

When your doctor diagnoses you with an autoimmune condition, you remember that day. In fact, time just seems to stand still for a moment as you try to comprehend and understand what is happening. There are many different autoimmune conditions that are commonly diagnosed in North America, including one that seems to directly target the Thyroid Gland – Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

It is estimated that 80-90% of all cases of Hypothyroidism (low thyroid function) are due to this condition, and nearly 50% of those diagnosed autoimmune disease, actually suffer with more than one condition. The emotional and mental stress of being diagnosed with this, or any other autoimmune condition, can lead to increased levels of anxiety and can make the symptoms even worse than they initially presented. In fact, the worry and stress that we put on ourselves actually reduces our ability to deal with the condition and the environmental factors head on. Acute Thyroid events such as transient hyperthyroidism (high thyroid function) can also lead to surges of active Thyroid hormones which leads to increased hormone induced anxiety.

I recently heard a great quote by Vance Havner regarding worry, and why we should not do it:

Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.

It’s time to stop worrying about the condition, and actually do something about it… get off the rocking chair.

So what can we do to address the anxiety related to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis? Below are some great tips to help you address the underlying causes of symptoms and the condition itself.

1. Balance your Blood Sugar Levels

Each of our hormone systems are connected. This means that Thyroid hormone levels are associated with Insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone produced by the pancreas to help us balance our blood sugar levels, promoting glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter the cells as our cellular source of fuel to produce energy. It is very common for sufferers of Hashimoto’s to also have imbalanced blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance.

One important step to take is to reduce the amount of simple carbohydrate foods that we eat, including breads, rice, low fat milk, simple sugars, candy, chocolate and even fruit. Too much sugar in our diets leads to spikes in our blood sugar levels, causing our pancreas to produce lots of insulin in surges. This can cause our cells to become less sensitive to the insulin in our bloodstream (insulin resistance) and can cause our pancreas to get tired of producing so much insulin (type 2 Diabetes).

It is incredibly important to balance your blood sugar levels. For a more in-depth understanding of this mechanism, watch the video at this link: http://drhabib.ca/2016/03/blood-sugar-control/

2. Support Adrenal Gland Function

Your adrenal glands are very important in the production of stress and sex hormones. Low Thyroid function can lead to severe imbalances in Adrenal gland function, leading to elevated stress levels and reduced ability to deal with stress. Our adrenal glands produce a hormone called cortisol which is the main hormonal stress response in the body. There is a direct correlation between low thyroid hormone levels and imbalanced cortisol levels.

To support your adrenal glands, ensure that your diet is high in vitamins and minerals, chosen from real food sources. Also, begin practicing stress management by doing deep breathing exercises, going for walks outside, getting regular exercise and even performing yoga or meditation. Each individual will have a different pattern of adrenal gland function so see a functional medicine provider in your area to help address your individual case with specific supplements and treatments for the root cause of your condition.

3. Get Tested for Nutrient Deficiencies

There are some very common nutrient deficiencies related to Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis including Selenium and Magnesium. Have your doctor test you for your levels of these nutrients as well as your Vitamin D and B vitamins. Supplementation with these vitamins must occur on an individual basis and should only occur once you have been tested. There are many studies showing a significant improvement in symptoms of autoimmune conditions when patients are treated for underlying nutrient deficiencies.

4. Drink Herbal Teas

There are some great natural remedies for anxiety such as herbal teas. Some of the best types of herbal tea have been shown to be as effective as medications like benzodiazepines in helping to reduce anxiety levels. Some of the best herbal teas include: Passionflower, Lavender, Lemon Balm, Ashwagandha and L-theanine. Click here for some great tea recipes: http://foodmatters.tv/articles-1/5-herbs-to-calm-anxiety-without-being-drowsy

5. Use Essential Oils to help with Autonomic Nervous System Balance

Essential oils can be a very helpful natural tool in helping to reduce anxiety and stress in all sorts of conditions. Use an essential oil diffuser to spread the oil in a room or home when you are feeling stressed. Here are some of the best essential oils shown to be effective in many different research studies: Lavender Oil, Rose, Vetiver, Ylang Ylang, Bergamot, Chamomile and Frankincense.

6. Heal your Gut

The Root Cause of Autoimmune disease occurs in the Gut. Often times, we have food intolerances, chemical sensitivities, parasites, yeast and bacterial buildup in certain areas of our intestinal tract, that can lead to a condition called leaky gut syndrome. When your gut lining is compromised by one of these issues, it leads to overactivation of immune cells in the gut lining, which can lead to autoimmune activation through a process known as molecular mimicry. When antibodies are produced to attack the proteins that should not enter our bloodstream, these molecules look very similar to proteins on the surface of thyroid cells, leading to autoimmune disease and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

It is very important to get tested with a comprehensive stool panel and parasitology to determine the population of bacteria and parasites that are residing in your gut. These can be the root cause of why many people have autoimmune disease like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Probiotics can be an effective form of treatment depending on your individual testing.

Super Easy Paleo Blondie Brownies

Anyone that knows me, knows that anything related to cake is my absolute weakness. However, cake is a great source of white carbs and processed sugars. So, I found an alternative to satisfy my sweet tooth!

These brownies are paleo, gluten free, dairy free and loaded with coconut and dark chocolate. They are made with coconut flour which is lower in carbs and has more fibre than regular white flour. Most important factor – from start to finish they took 30 minutes!

I can’t take all the credit for these, I adapted the recipe from Ambitious Kitchen!

Enjoy!

Noureen

Paleo Blondie Brownies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup coconut flour
  • 1/2 cup melted coconut oil
  • 2/3 cup of maple syrup – the real stuff, nothing with corn syrup
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk (I used the almond/coconut version)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/3 teaspoon sea salt
  • 5oz of dairy free chocolate, feel free to add/subtract based on your preference (Whole Foods has a few options, Bulk Barn has a chocolate compound)
  • 1/4 cup of coconut flakes

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Grease a non-stick baking pan with coconut oil, I used a 7 x 11 inch baking pan
  3. In a large bowl whisk together the coconut oil, maple syrup, vanilla, eggs, and almond milk
  4. In a smaller bowl add the dry ingredients, coconut flour, baking soda and salt
  5. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until its combined and the batter is smooth. Coconut flour is super absorbent, so this step won’t take too long
  6. Fold in chocolate – I used compound chocolate chips from Whole Foods
  7. Pour into baking pan
  8. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. The batter may look like its not done, because it will still be gooey, but trust it is! Coconut flour over bakes pretty easily, so ensure you take it out on time.
  9. Wait a few minutes and then score the bars into 2 x 2 pieces and take them out onto a cooling rack
  10. Use a double boiler method to melt some chocolate – drizzle this onto the bars and add the shredded coconut
  11. Cool for a few minutes or enjoy them warm – perhaps with a scoop of dairy free coconut ice cream!

Insulin – King of the Hormones

There is a single important chemical in the body which manages a variety of processes and levels in the blood and the entire body.  This single master control – the king in your hand – is called Insulin, and controlling your Insulin is the key to your health.

When I was 75 pounds heavier, I was not in control of my Insulin levels. I was significantly heavier. I always feeling tired and run down. I was snoring and even stopped breathing at multiple times during the night (a condition called Sleep Apnea). I felt like I needed high calorie, high sugar and caffeinated foods to give me an energy boost at every meal and even between meals. I was not in control of my Insulin, and this was messing with the rest of my bodily functions.

Hormones are chemical messengers produced by certain organs and cells in our body. They are stimulated and secreted in order to maintain a balance of many factors related to metabolism, stress and energy production. This balance is called “Homeostasis”.

Insulin is considered the “master hormone” of the body. It is a chemical messenger which is produced and secreted by cells of the Pancreas (Beta-cells) in response to eating food, but most notably, in response to carbohydrates. Insulin facilitates the movement of all macronutrients (protein, fat and carbohydrates) out of the bloodstream and into our cells for use either immediately, or in the future.

When we eat a meal high in carbohydrates (sugar, cereal, pasta, breads, rice), our body responds to the elevated level of sugar in our blood by releasing a wave of Insulin in the bloodstream, telling the cells to remove all this sugar from the blood and take it into the cells for energy production and/or storage. If this happens occasionally in the body, the response will occur properly. When we are eating high carb meals multiple times per day, our blood sugar levels remain chronically high and insulin needs to be produced constantly in order to keep levels within the normal range. When our insulin levels are constantly high, the constant knocking at the door by Insulin annoys our cells.

If a friend rings your doorbell or knocks on your door asking for a favour, you generally have no problem and will help them out. Now imagine that same friend constantly knocking at your door, 3-4 times per day, asking you to help them with this or that. Initially you would get annoyed. Soon, you may not even answer the knock at the door because this friend is asking for too much and is being incredibly annoying, and so you become less friendly and the favour doesn’t get completed.

The same thing happens in our cells when Insulin is constantly knocking at the door, asking for our cells to do them a favour by taking in some sugar from the bloodstream. Our cells eventually stop answering the knock at the door (Insulin Resistance). This can eventually lead to chronically high blood sugar levels (hyperglycaemia), which is harmful to our long-term health. The pancreas eventually stops producing insulin because our body stops reacting to it. We have lost our master hormone so our body’s hormone system. Our body reacts by many other hormones going out of balance including Glucagon, Cortisol, Thyroid, Testosterone, Progesterone, Estrogen and Leptin as well as their controlling hormones.

Chronically high blood sugar is a major cause of health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, brain and memory conditions (read the book “Grain Brain”), Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and low sex drive.

Overcome these issues by eating meals higher in natural sources of carbohydrate and other micronutrients like dark, leafy green vegetables, carrots, tomatoes, and mushrooms. Your diet should also be higher in good quality protein like free-run eggs, chicken and wild-caught fish as well as good quality fats like avocado, nuts and seeds. Cook in coconut oil, ghee or butter and avoid low quality industrial oils. Feel free to sprinkle your salads with Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar as well rather than packaged dressings.

Stack your deck by treating the King of the Hormones well. Keep insulin working correctly and cells responding to that friendly neighbour. If you treat it will, your outlook will improve immensely as health will no longer limit you.

Foods to Avoid if you suffer from Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a common diagnostic label given to patients by their physicians. Often times, this diagnosis is made based on the inability of medications to manage the symptoms of this condition. It has been reported in the literature, that the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia is often made incorrectly, as many patients have underlying subclinical conditions that are not apparent on basic blood testing.

Fibromyalgia is generally diagnosed based on symptoms including chronic muscle and joint pain, anxiety, concentration issues, memory problems, depression, moderate to severe fatigue, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, decreased energy, sleep problems and morning stiffness.

A significant proportion of these symptoms occur because many cells in the body cannot handle the physical, chemical and emotional stressors of daily life due to a poor diet, lack of exercise and an emotionally burdened lifestyle. Some common specific causes of these symptoms are listed below.

  1. Food Additives like Aspartame, MSG and Nitrates

Aspartame and MSG are food additives for sweetness and umami flavour found in many different cuisines. Both of these additives are called Excitotoxins which have an excitatory effect on the NMDA pain receptors, causing acute pains to become chronic and more severe. Fibromyalgia symptoms are often exacerbated when patients eat foods containing these additives.

Aspartame is found in more than 6,000 products including diet soda, confections, chewing gum, gelatins, dessert mixtures, yogurt and some pharmaceuticals. It is consumed by over 200 million people around the world according to www.aspartame.org.

MSG is found in many frozen and processed foods, as well as some asian style cuisines.

Nitrates are found commonly in lunch meats like ham, bologna, pastrami and even bacon.

  1. Diet High in Sugar and simple carbohydrates

Cutting down simple carbs like bread, sugar and cake can reduce symptoms of underlying chronic yeast infections, present subclinically, that can often cause Fibromyalgia symptoms. Yeast is a type of fungus that thrives on sugars and is often an underlying cause of this condition. These sugars also result in a spike in blood glucose and the subsequent immediate drop of this level, which exacerbates the fatigue experienced by patients

For overall health and to help fix your gut bacteria, it is important to cut out sugary foods, particularly high fructose corn syrup. Cutting out simple sugars is also incredibly effective to aid in loss of excessive weight – I am living proof of this.

  1. Caffeine including Coffee, Tea and Chocolate

Due to the stimulant effects of caffeine, many sufferers use high-caffeine beverages as a source of energy. The energy boost you get from caffeine is false and can quickly worsen fatigue symptoms. Fatigue symptoms are often much deeper and longer lasting due to the sedative effects of caffeine, which follow the immediate energy boost.

Cutting out caffeine can have amazing positive benefits on energy levels within less than a week, with most patients noticing a difference almost immediately.

  1. Yeast and Gluten

These 2 very different substances are frequently found together, particularly in baked goods like cake, donuts and bread. Yeast in the diet can foster overgrowth of yeast fungus in the body leading to more joint and muscle pain. Gluten on the other hand, has been linked to impaired digestion and many autoimmune conditions which are present subclinically in Fibromyalgia patients. Gluten has been found to break down the tight junctions between cells of the intestine – a condition called Leaky Gut Syndrome – leading to foods and chemical toxins entering the bloodstream when they normally would not.

Many chronic pain and autoimmune disease sufferers will also benefit from incredibly positive changes in their health by simply cutting out gluten from their diet.

  1. Dairy

Dairy products have also been linked to various digestive issues, similar to Gluten. Subclinical dairy intolerance is common, and dark green vegetables are a natural (and better) source of Calcium than milk.

Fyi – Humans are the only mammal that continues to drink and eat milk products beyond age 2 (and its equivalent in the age of other mammals).

  1. Nightshade Vegetables

Some vegetables, referred to as nightshade plants, have been found to trigger flares in arthritis and fibromyalgia symptoms. These vegetables include Tomatoes, chili and bell peppers, potatoes and eggplant. For the most part, these are nutritious vegetables so if they do not trigger symptoms, don’t ban them from your diet.

Candida Overgrowth

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Candida Article

We have all heard the word ‘Candida’, but many people don’t quite understand what it is. Candida is the genus name for a specific type of Fungus, which is a form of Yeast. Candida fungus, most commonly Candida albicans is present normally in small amounts in our mouth and intestines. It normally functions to help our body to digest food and absorb nutrients.

Occasionally under the right circumstances, Candida can grow to unsafe levels causing gastrointestinal issues. This problem arises when the microbiome is out of balance – called Dysbiosis (less good bacteria and yeast, more bad bacteria, parasites etc.) giving Candida the opportunity to grow to excessive levels.

There are certain food and environmental triggers that cause Dysbiosis:

  • Diet high in refined Carbs and Sugar
    • Diabetics have a higher level of oral Candida than the general population
  • Diet too high in good Fermented Foods (Pickles, Sauerkraut, Kombucha etc,)
  • High Alcohol Consumption
  • Taking Oral Contraceptives or Estrogen replacement (hormonal imbalance)
  • A round of antibiotics can kill off too many
  • High stress lifestyle
  • Autoimmune conditions and weak immune systems

As the delicate balance of the microbiome is negatively affected by any of these triggers, Candida has the opportunity to grow to unsafe levels causing issues in our gut. The fungal yeast will then begin to wreak havoc on your intestinal barrier, causing Intestinal Permeability or Leaky Gut. Any allergens or toxins that are in our gut from our diet can then enter our blood stream leading to many symptoms that may lead to Chronic health conditions such as:

  • Digestive issues – bloating, constipation or diarrhea (Irritable Bowel Syndrome)
  • Feeling tired and worn down – Chronic fatigue, Fibromyalgia
  • Skin and Nail infections
  • Autoimmune conditions – Rheumatoid Arthritis, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis etc.
  • Brain Fog, Poor memory, lack of focus
  • Mood Swings, irritability
  • Vaginal or Urinary tract infections
  • Strong cravings for sugar and refined carbohydrates

Many of these conditions have various sources, so it’s important to confirm that Candida is the source of these symptoms. To do this, see a Functional Medicine or Natural Health Doctor to perform in-depth testing like Stool testing, Urinary Organic Acid and Blood testing and determine the root cause of your symptoms.

If Candida is the source of these issues, how can we restore a normal balance to your microbiome and decrease the levels of Candida in your body? There are a few important steps that you need to go through to ensure that you can restore balance to your gut:

Step 1: Stop Feeding the Yeast

Candida is fed by Sugar, so step 1 is to eliminate refined sugars and carbs. Stop eating candy, high sugar deserts, carbonated soda, alcohol and flour. We also need to decreased intake of complex carbohydrates like grains, beans, fruit, bread, pasta and potatoes. If we don’t feed the Candida, it can’t grow and eventually the excessive levels will die off.

Step 2: Build up levels of good bacteria

Once the Candida levels are decreasing, it is important to re-establish the levels of good bacteria. After consulting with a health care professional, you may want to begin a course of probiotics. These will help to increase the levels of friendly bacteria in the gut that helps with our normal digestion.

Step 3: Heal your Gut

If your intestinal wall has been damaged by the high levels of Candida and bad bacteria, there are certainly high levels of inflammation which need to be reduced. To do this, we need to eliminate inflammatory foods from our diet – foods that promote high levels of inflammation. Choose real foods and focus on green and colourful vegetables, grass-fed beef, free-run chicken and good fats like nuts and seeds. All of these foods will promote healing of the gut while eliminating the high levels of inflammation.

Candida is common and needs to be addressed before it causes serious chronic conditions. If you think you may have Candida overgrowth, speak to a Functional Medicine Doctor in your area for more information.

 

References

Cole, W. (2015, June 12). Dr. Will Cole. Retrieved from How Candida Overgrowth Can Wreck Your Health + What To Do About It: http://drwillcole.com/how-candida-overgrowth-can-wreck-your-health-what-to-do-about-it/

Li, Q., Wang, C., Tang, C., He, Q., Li, N., & Li, J. (2014). Dysbiosis of Gut Fungal Microbiota is Associated with Mucosal Inflammation in Crohn’s Disease. J Clin Gastroenterol, 48:513-523.

Myers, A. (2013, April 4). Mind Body Green. Retrieved from 10 Signs You Have Candida Overgrowth & What To Do About It: http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-8376/10-signs-you-have-candida-overgrowth-what-to-do-about-it.html

Pallavan, B., Ramesh, V., Dhanasekaran, B. P., Oza, N., Indu, S., & Govindarajan, V. (2014). Comparison and correlation of candidal colonization in diabetic patients and normal individuals. J Diabetes and Metabolic Dis, 13:66.

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Candida Article

Fungus causes Chronic Sinusitis

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul: Fungal Allergy Symptoms

Every spring, people with seasonal allergies to pollen and other allergens have to make a choice – either take an anti-histamine and enjoy the outdoors, or sit indoors watching others bask in the glory of the beautiful weather that has recently arrived. Well, I’d like to add a new option for all the chronic seasonal allergy sufferers out there – Get rid of the fungus that is making your allergies more severe.

It has been known for many years that our sinuses are home to a host of bacteria and fungi, both in people who suffer from chronic sinusitis and those who don’t, but a distinction has recently been found.  People who suffer from Chronic Rhinosinusitis are HYPERSENSITIVE to the fungus. This means that allergy sufferers tend to have a stronger response to the presence of fungi that is present in the mucus.

In hypersensitive people, one type of white blood cell (called an Eosinophil) tends to react more strongly to the presence of fungi in the sinuses following acute reactions to pollen and other allergens.  These Eosinophils release granules that are highly toxic to the fungi, but area also toxic to the top layer of our cells (epithelium) on the sinus walls.  Studies conducted at the Mayo Clinic have shown that patients with chronic sinusitis showed exaggerated responses to common airborne fungi such as Alternaria and Alternata, but these same fungi elicit no response from healthy normal individuals.

2 important questions to ask yourself are: “What is causing my White Blood Cells to be Hypersensitive?” and “What other sources of allergic triggers am I exposed to?”

There are many sources of hypersensitivity reactions from our immune systems, and breathing air through our airways is just one path for potential allergens to enter our bodies.  The food and drinks that enter our gut are also potential sources of hypersensitivity.  If you are eating foods that you have a sensitivity to, your immune system will constantly be on high alert and could be a cause of hypersensitivity, even in your sinuses.

It is important to note that a food sensitivity is different from a food allergy, as an allergy causes a fast-acting, localized reaction (for example, a Peanut allergy) while a sensitivity causes a delayed-onset, prolonged, diffuse reaction (for example, Gluten sensitivity).  These reactions are triggered by different types of antibodies released by our white blood cells.  Chronic sinusitis could very well be caused by hypersensitive white blood cells reacting to fungi, after being exposed to a trigger in the gut.

So what can allergy sufferers do for their chronic sinus inflammation?

  1. Breathe IN through your NOSE

People who inhale through their nose tend to have decreased risk of sinusitis or allergic triggers.  This is due to the hairs in our noses that filter out the air, blocking potential allergens from entering the airways and sinuses.

 

  1. Identify Allergic and Sensitivity Triggers

Using an elimination diet can help to stop food triggers from putting your immune system on high alert.  Eliminate foods that have a higher risk of sensitivity such as Gluten, Fermented cheeses, Chocolate and Beer.  An elimination diet should only be performed under supervision of your health care provider.

 

  1. Allergy and Food Sensitivity Testing

Visit a Functional Medicine doctor to get IgG Food Sensitivity testing done.  This can identify foods that you have specific sensitivities too and thus should avoid or eliminate from your diet immediately.

 

  1. Get a Comprehensive Stool Test Done

If you have been prescribed antibiotics in the past for issues relating to your sinuses, you may have a disproportionate balance of gut bacteria remaining.  Stool testing can determine if you need to take a probiotic to help heal your gut and help with digestion of meals.

References

Kita, H. (2015, June 9). Mechanisms of Chronic Rhinosinusitis. Retrieved from Mayo Clinic Research: http://www.mayo.edu/research/labs/allergic-diseases/mechanisms-chronic-rhinosinusitis

Myers, A. (2015, 06 09). Cure Your Seasonal Allergies Naturally. Retrieved from Amy Myers MD: www.amymyersmd.com/2015/04/cure-your-seasonal-allergies-naturally/

Ponikau, J. e. (2000). Role of Fungi in Allergic Fungal Sinusitis and Chronic Rhinosinusitis. Mayo ClinProc, Vol 75.

 

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul: Fungal Allergy Symptoms

Hormonal Acne – Treatment

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Hormonal Acne Treatment

Why is it that we always seem to get the largest pimple of our lives on our wedding day, prom night or right before that important business meeting?  Wouldn’t it be great if there were strategies to prevent this embarrassment from happening in the future?

Acne is a process driven by hormones which occurs on our skin following a few steps inside our bodies:

Increased production of Sebum (oil) which is released from glands attached to hair follicles

Excess Keratin production in hair follicles causing follicular plugging

Increased activity and growth of P. acnes bacteria leading to…

Increased inflammation in the hair follicles and surrounding lower layers of the skin (dermis) (Dreno B, 2003)

All humans have P. acnes bacteria on our skin surface.  These bacteria are promoted to grow when given certain environmental conditions.

  1. Hormones that affect Sebum forming glands
    • Androgens (found in both males and females) are the hormones responsible for causing cell changes in our skin
    • High levels of these hormones cause formation of non-inflammatory pre-acne lesions called Microcomedones
    • These hormones also cause an increase in Sebum (oil) production (Gollnick H, 2003)
  2. Sebum composition
    • Human sebum consists of squalene, esters of glycerol, wax and cholesterol, as well as free cholesterol and fatty acids
    • High levels of sebum production tend to allow bacteria to grow more readily in hair follicles
    • Limiting the amount of cholesterol, triglycerides and free fatty acids can help to reduce the risk of forming acne lesions(Picardo M, 2009)
  3. Inflammation
    • As the bacteria grows, the immune system reacts and sends white blood cells and Inflammation to the site of the bacterial growth, causing the formation of an acne lesion

There are a few things that we can do to prevent the bacteria from colonising and forming acne, specifically at the source of bacterial proliferation.

  1. Cut out Processed foods
    • Traditional indigenous cultures tend to have little acne, but as soon as they adopt a Standard American Diet (SAD) high in processed foods, they tend to see increased levels of acne.
  2. Decrease Sugar Intake
    • Consuming sugar leads to increased levels of Insulin which in turn increases levels of androgens (like Testosterone) in women, as well as increasing overall inflammation which can cause acne
  3. Avoid Saturated and Processed Fats
    • These fats increase levels of arachidonic acid, competing with the good Omega-3 fats which lead to more inflammation and acne.
  4. Decrease Dairy Intake
    • As well as being high in sugar content, milk and dairy (including milk chocolate) often have added growth hormone which can lead to acne and other skin problems
  5. Increase Antioxidants
    • Vitamins A and E are very important for skin health and help to combat oxidative stress and inflammation
    • Eat more Vegetables and Fruits which contain anti-oxidants
  6. The following foods have been linked improvements in acne:
    • Fish oil, turmeric, ginger, green tea, nuts, dark purple and red foods (like berries), dark leafy green vegetables (spinach, kale, etc.) and Eggs
  7. Manage Stress Levels
    • Stress increases your cortisol and other hormone levels, disturbing the hormonal balance and depletes certain nutrients which help to control acne
    • Manage your stress levels using meditation, yoga, massage, aromatherapy and exercise.(Hyman, 2015)

Eating a balanced diet low in processed and high sugar foods, high in antioxidants and clean, green foods and ensuring that your stress levels are managed can help to manage hormonal acne breakouts.

Dr. Navaz Habib

References

Dreno B, P. F. (2003). Epidemiology of Acne. Dermatology, 7-10.

Gollnick H, C. W. (2003). Management of acne: a report from a global alliance to improve outcomes in acne. J Am Acad Dermatol, S1-S37.

Hyman. (2015, May 31). How to Get Rid of Acne, Pimples, and Other Skin Problems. Retrieved from Dr. Mark Hyman: http://drhyman.com/blog/2010/05/19/how-to-get-rid-of-acne-pimples-and-other-skin-problems/

Picardo M, O. M. (2009). Sebaceous gland lipids. Dermatoendocrinology, 68-71.

 

I originally wrote this article for The Hearty Soul: The Hearty Soul – Hormonal Acne Treatment