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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.

No More Lunches at Your Desk!!!

We are all aware of the importance of choosing proper foods to eat. It has been drilled into our brains that we need to eat real foods and avoid the cheap, processed, high sugar “foods” that are constantly being advertised to us. Once we make this choice correctly, it is important to learn how to ensure your body can use these vital nutrients.

  1. Choose Foods Wisely

These are common sense tools that most of us know. Pick lots of vegetables, some fruits, some protein (animal or plant sources, depending on your preference) and a little unprocessed carbohydrate (vegetables often do the trick) at each meal. Once you create the meal that is real and made by you, you will truly know what has gone into it and if you are comfortable eating it. However, choosing a chicken salad over a burger and fries is only going to work if your unconscious mind is digesting the foods correctly.

  1. Be Present

One of the greatest tools that I found in my path towards optimal health, is mindfulness. Mindfulness is the ability to be present in a situation by fully experiencing the moment that you are in. It is simply the act of blocking out external stimuli and focusing deeply on the present moment and how your body is feeling and reacting in the moment.

When you bring your healthy, prepared lunch to work, many people tend to simply plop it down in front of them at their desk and quickly scarf it down while sitting in front of their computer. Others even have their dinner in front of the television while binge-watching shows on Netflix – I am guilty of this as well. By doing this, we are setting up our bodies for failure in terms of optimal digestion of our foods.

Once we give the meal our true undivided attention, it will actually taste better as we can truly experience our food – the texture, the temperature, the flavors and all the other components that make real food taste truly amazing. This allows us to enter a parasympathetic, or relaxed state of mind, a state which is essential for the body to digest foods into the bloodstream correctly.

  1. Chew Properly

When we sit down in front of the computer or with our cell phone in front of us, our attention is divided – often times we pay more attention to the screen than the food and that means that we are not chewing our food enough. When we chew our food and give it the attention in requires, we can consciously do so until the food becomes soft, and moist. This will allow our tastebuds to be correctly activated and inform the brain of the specific types of food and the taste that we are experiencing. The brain then in turn will signal the correct processes to occur – for example if our food is sweet, the brain will signal the beta cells in our pancreas to secrete Insulin, while if the food is fattier, the brain signals the liver to produce and release bile to aid in its digestion.

It is also important to chew your food sufficiently so that the acid in your stomach can properly break down food into digestible nutrients. If food is still in big chunks, your stomach will not be able to break it down sufficiently, causing decreased digestion of required vitamins, minerals and micronutrients.

One trick my wife and I have started to use, is by putting our fork down between bites and only picking it up once we have finished chewing the previous bite. Chewing your food properly not only signals to your brain the kind of food you are eating but also ensures your stomach is able to absorb the most amount of nutrients.

  1. Take your Time

Eating in a rush causes our bodies to re-enter a sympathetic fight-or-flight state, a state in which digestion is not considered an important process in the moment. It is incredibly important to take your time and chill out while having your meal.

Think of your digestion like a carwash. First you choose a reputable carwash station – someone you know and trust to do a good job. Next, when you pull up to the carwash and get your car in the proper position, you need to put your car into neutral and take your foot off the pedals. Lastly, you should take your time and enjoy the ride – like a child mesmerized by the process going on outside of the car, be present and enjoy the ride.

My mentor Dr. Sachin Patel of The Living Proof Institute has a great saying in order to optimize digestion – Choose, Chew, Chill. Choose the correct foods, chew them properly and chill while eating. Some great tips to promote your optimal health!

What is Functional and Lifestyle Medicine?

What is Functional and Lifestyle Medicine?

I am often asked this question and have decided that I will write about to help clarify what I do.

Functional Medicine is a holistic branch of health care which creates an objective view of all correctly and incorrectly functioning bodily processes. Functional medicine (FM) doctors use a comprehensive history taking and functional lab testing to determine specific lifestyle factors which are causing symptoms of chronic disease in our patients. We use these tools to timeline the important and stressful physical and emotional events in our patients lives and correlate them with triggers to health conditions.

This approach enables FM doctors to accurately find the single or multiple root causes of Chronic health conditions that are related to lifestyle choices that we all make.

Modern medicine and health care practice is spectacular and necessary in the treatment of acute onset and emergency issues. During the era of growth of our modern health care system, the mindset of patients went from being responsible for our own health, to placing the responsibility in the hands of our family doctors and specialists.

As the population grew, family doctors and specialists were under significant pressure to improve the health of a very high number of patients from largely varying backgrounds and living a vast variety of lifestyles. As acute care improved, so did our life expectancy. There are so many of us living longer and we all need to be given the best care. Pharmaceutical companies stepped in and created medications to help alleviate symptoms and manage conditions, and our family doctors happily obliged as this allowed them to help manage symptoms of many patients in a cost-effective and time-effective way.

This unfortunately led to an increase in medications prescribed for medical conditions where lifestyle issues are often the root cause. Type 2 Diabetes is not caused by a lack of Metformin. Hypothyroidism is not caused by a lack of Synthroid. These medications simply help manage our symptoms, but we have failed to find the root cause.

At the same time, modern agricultural methods changed and foods were increasingly processed. Our lifestyles became significantly faster paced and higher in daily stress levels. Our jobs and work became 9-5 days including 8 hours of sitting in front of a computer with increasingly sedentary lifestyles. Television and technology became readily available and affordable – enough that our normal lifestyles have become waking up, running to get breakfast, driving to work, sitting for 4 hours, buying processed food lunches and eating as quickly as possible at our desks, sitting for another 4 hours, driving home, eating processed foods at home for dinner, then sitting in front of the television watching 3 hours of sports or binge-watching shows on Netflix, then checking Facebook and Instagram on our phones while falling asleep for a short and rushed sleep, just to wake up and do it all again tomorrow. If reading this paragraph is exhausting, then imagine living this life on a daily basis.

Our bodies are exhausted and are not being used the way we have evolved to live. Thus our health is suffering and we are becoming increasingly overrun by our lifestyle issues leading to chronic diseases – and then we go to the doctor so they can give us a medication, just so we can function on a daily basis with minimal symptoms.

So Why Functional Medicine?

Functional and Lifestyle medicine allows doctors to look objectively at the potential triggers and lifestyle factors that are affecting the health of our patients. We put all the factors together to determine where patients have blind spots and can make small changes with significant results. We then work with our patients on a long term strategy to improve all aspects of their lifestyle, and thus improve their overall health.

My goal as a Functional Medicine Doctor is to help my patients bodies function correctly so that they can pursue and achieve their dreams. I do so by providing services in conjunction with your family doctor, spending the time necessary to determine what dietary, digestive, hormonal, emotional, environmental and biochemical processes are not functioning optimally.

I believe that a poor lifestyle – one in which any of the pillars of your health (more on this later) are not functioning optimally – can lead to any number of chronic health conditions, and as such, I want to use positive energy, education, accountability and a personalized plan to help my patients reach their life goals. Once my patients take responsibility for their health, the results are amazing!

Your health shouldn’t impede your pursuit to live.

Don’t let your lifestyle hold you back. Take responsibility for your health and live the life you have always wanted to live!

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