Jul
20
2019

Common Drugs Have A Connection To Dementia Risk

A recent publication stated that common drugs have a connection to dementia risk. The study had an observation time of 12 years (from 2004 to 2016) and involved 284,343 patients in the United Kingdom. There is a group of drugs, namely anticholinergic drugs, that were particularly strong with regard to causing side effects of dementia. A variety of anticholinergic drugs exist, such as antidepressants like paroxetine or amitriptyline. But there are other anticholinergic drugs like bladder antispasmodics (they also go by the name bladder antimuscarinics, such as oxybutynin or tolterodine). Other anticholinergic medications are antipsychotics that are in use for psychotic diseases. Examples are chlorpromazine or olanzapine. Anti-epileptic drugs also belong into the anticholinergic drug group. Common anti-epileptic drugs are oxcarbazepine or carbamazepine.

The researchers found that 58,769 of the patients that took strong long-term anticholinergic medication developed a dementia diagnosis.

More about the study

The researchers found that the risk of developing dementia for those who consumed only a few anticholinergic drugs was low. It amounted to only 6%. In contrast, patients who took a lot of anticholinergic drugs at least for 3 years or more developed dementia in 49% of all cases, which is quite a significant amount.

Dr. Douglas Scharre, director of the division of cognitive neurology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus was not involved in the study. He said: ”I spend a lot of my time in the memory disorder clinic seeing geriatric patients and taking people off medications, mostly those medications that have anticholinergic properties. Many times there can be another drug out there that has less anticholinergic impact or is non-anticholinergic that may work.”

Risk-benefit discussion

He went on to say that some drugs are really necessary to control a psychosis or seizures, so it is a matter of discussing with the physician whether it is worth taking a risk of possible dementia versus a risk of a flare-up of psychosis or of a seizure.

More statistics

Patients who received treatment for depression with anticholinergic antidepressants had a risk of 29% of developing dementia. Anticholinergic anti-Parkinson drugs had an association of a rate of 52% of dementia. Anti-psychotic drugs led to dementia in 70% of the treated cases. Bladder relaxing medications (medically called antimuscarinic drugs) had a risk of 65% to cause dementia. Finally, anti-epileptic drugs had a risk of causing dementia in 39%.

The researchers noted that these findings highlight how important it is reducing exposure to anticholinergic drugs in middle-aged and older people.

Serious side effects from other medication

Unfortunately there is a history of serious side effects regarding several medications.

Tardive dyskinesia with antipsychotics

Long-term treatment of schizophrenia with antipsychotic drugs can cause severe side effects. One of the more severe side effects is tardive dyskinesia, which occurs in 5% per year of antipsychotic medication use, and in about 1%-2% of these it is severely disfiguring the face. Tardive dyskinesia can lead to permanent involuntary movements of the muscles around the mouth and the eyes. The jaw and the tongue may also show involuntary movements, and in time this leads to a disfigured look of the face, often with asymmetries between the right and left side of the face. Unfortunately, withdrawal of the antipsychotic medications will not improve the tardive dyskinesia. Often expensive lifelong Botox injection therapy every 6 to 8 weeks is necessary to alleviate some of the effects of this devastating dyskinesia.

Side effects from antacid pills

Lansoprazole (Prevacid) belongs to the proton pump inhibitors and is a very strong acid production inhibitor. Because it is so reliable in suppressing stomach acid, it is popular with the public. What is not so well known are the side effects of this drug. The most common side effects are about bone fractures, severe diarrhea, kidney damage, systemic lupus erythematosus and fundic gland polyps. These polyps can later turn into stomach cancer. Unfortunately, drug companies do not always report about the less frequent side effects.

A rare side effect: muscle tremor

One of these side effects is a muscle tremor (jerking movements or shaking). It is listed under the side effects way down the list where you may overlook this. To the patient it can be devastating as the symptoms are very similar to Parkinson’s disease. Imagine a 40-year old man taking this medicine for stomach acid and coming down with these muscle tremor symptoms! Fortunately, when you recognize the connection, you can stop the medication and the symptoms frequently go away or at least diminish.

Rhabdomyolysis from statins

When a patient is receiving statins because of high cholesterol, one of the possible side effects can be rhabdomyolysis. This typically presents with muscle weakness, fatigue, and lower urine output. The urine may be of a dark color. Confusion, vomiting and agitation can also set in. It is necessary to immediately recognize these type of side effects, and the statin drugs should be stopped. The patient requires a kidney specialist to watch the kidney function. Often these patients need treatment in hospital. 

Cancer and heart attacks from synthetic hormones

The “Women’s Health Initiative” with a study on 16,000 postmenopausal women had to be stopped prematurely in 2002. This was a study that examined the effects of two synthetic hormones, the estrogen Premarin and the progesterone-like substance Provera. The purpose of the study was to show whether heart attacks, osteoporosis and strokes would be reduced on hormone replacement compared to controls. But the results were shocking: the opposite was true! The risk in the treatment group for strokes was 41% higher than for the controls and for heart attacks it was 29% higher! But this was not all. The treatment group had twice as many blood clots in their legs and 26% more breast cancer. Colorectal cancer was 37% higher and Alzheimer was a whopping 76% higher than in the controls.

Synthetic hormones caused estrogen dominance

The synthetic hormones functioned like xenoestrogens, meaning that there was a partial resemblance of the synthetic hormones to estrogen and progesterone, blocking their hormone receptors, but not stimulating them. The end result was an estrogen dominance state in the blood, which caused all of the problems. When bioidentical hormone replacement is done with bioidentical estrogen and progesterone, the opposite is the case. Women live longer because they get less heart attacks and strokes; they also get less cancer. In Europe bioidentical hormone replacement has been in use for over 50 years, and in the US physicians who use bioidentical hormone replacement have experience for almost 30 years.

Discussion

We started this article describing side effects of anticholinergic drugs and how this can bring on dementia. Other researchers have noted that dementia and strokes can be brought on by diet drinks. We then got into side effects of other drugs like tardive dyskinesia with antipsychotic drugs. We discussed the possibility of tremors from antacid drugs. A rare side effect of statins is rhabdomyolysis. And we talked about cancer and heart attacks from synthetic hormones in postmenopausal women. We need to be aware that any chemical brought into our system can cause undesirable side effects. Chemicals like drugs can interfere with biochemical reactions in the body that ultimately result in side effects including cancer and heart attacks.

Common Drugs Have A Connection To Dementia Risk

Common Drugs Have A Connection To Dementia Risk

Conclusion

In a recent publication we learnt that patients who took a lot of anticholinergic drugs at least for 3 years or more developed dementia in 49% of all cases, which is quite a significant amount. But there are other drugs that have serious side effects. For instance, there is tardive dyskinesia, a disfiguring condition in the face that can develop with antipsychotic medicine for schizophrenia. Statins can cause a painful muscle condition, rhabdomyolysis. The “Women’s Health Initiative” showed a study that examined the effects of two synthetic hormones, the estrogen Premarin and the progesterone-like substance Provera.

Synthetic hormones causing problems

The purpose of the study was to show whether heart attacks, osteoporosis and strokes would be less on hormone replacement compared to controls. Unfortunately quite the opposite happened. The risk in the treatment group for strokes was 41% higher than for the controls and for heart attacks it was 29% higher! But this was not all. The treatment group had twice as many blood clots in their legs and 26% more breast cancer. Colorectal cancer was 37% higher and Alzheimer was a whopping 76% higher than in the controls. Only bioidentical hormones are tolerated without any side effects. We need to treat our bodies with respect and stay away from noxious substances.

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Sep
03
2016

Hidden Cause Of Depression

About 15.7 million Americans suffer from depression every year, but there remains a hidden cause of depression.

Not everybody responds well to antidepressant medicine. Only 30 to 50% of depressed people respond to antidepressants. There are two blood tests many physicians do not know and therefore fail to order: homocysteine blood levels and 5-methylfolate levels (5-MTHF).

Homocysteine as a hidden cause of depression

In 2004 a research group studied 924 middle-aged men. They noted that those men who fell into the highest third of homocysteine levels had a two-fold higher risk of being depressed than those who fell into the lower third of homocysteine levels. Other studies showed that SAMe, a nutrient that is required to build up mood enhancing neurotransmitters was sadly lacking in depressed people. In addition, folate levels were also found to be low in depressed people.

Having found this association between lack of nutrients and depression offered new opportunities to treat depression. Two studies examined the effect of taking 5-methylfolate on the effect of antidepressants. The result was astounding: in one study 7% of patients taking an antidepressant experienced improvement of their depression when assessed with a standard depression score. However, the same group improved their depression by 19% when 5-methylfolate was given in addition to the antidepressant.

Patients with the most severe depression on antidepressants had a 16% improvement of their depression. Adding 5-methylfolate to the antidepressant caused a 40% overall improvement in these severely depressed people, 24% more than without this simple vitamin supplement.

There is other evidence that patients with depression recover faster in the presence of 5-methylfolate. Moderately depressed patients recovered within 231 days on antidepressants alone, but in only 177 days when 5-methylfolate was present as well. The most severely depressed patients recovered within 150 days with antidepressants alone, but recovered within only 85 days on 5-methylfolate and the antidepressant.

Hidden cause of depression and Alzheimer’s disease

The story is getting more involved. Depression is related to proper balance of neurotransmitters that can be influenced by antidepressants and 5-methylfolate. But new research showed that Alzheimer’s disease (dementia) patients with cognitive decline have elevated homocysteine blood levels. A study in the New England Journal of medicine in 2002 found that after 8 years of observation more than 75% of them were diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When blood homocysteine levels exceeded 14 micromole per liter the risk of Alzheimer’s had doubled compared to those with normal homocysteine levels. The researchers concluded that homocysteine is an important risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s diseases and dementia, although it is not the only one.

Methylation pathway defects as a hidden cause of depression

40% of the population is defective in one or more genes that control the so-called methylation pathway in each of our cells (Ref. 1). This can slow down the metabolism of brain cells including the synthesis of certain neurotransmitters. At the same time it can cause the rising of homocysteine, which is then a useful marker for methylation defects. Another marker is the 5-methyl folate level, which, when low, indicates a deficiency in methyl donors including 5-methylfolate (5-MTHF).

Mental illness is an area where epigenetic factors play an important role. Depression that responds only partially or not at all to SSRI’s (antidepressants) often responds to L-methylfolate, a simple supplement from the health food store as a supplement. Similar epigenetic approaches are useful to treat psychosis, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

Other illnesses due to methylation defects

Dr. Rozakis mentioned that 92% of migraine sufferers have a defective methylation pathway involving histamine overproduction and they can be helped with a histamine-restricted diet (Ref.2).

Autism, ADHD (hyperactivity) and learning disabilities are other diseases where methylation pathway defects are present. Physicians should check patients with autism for methylation pathway defects, and appropriate supplements and diet restrictions can help in normalizing the child’s metabolic defects. Mothers should consult with a DAN physician (“defeat autism now”) who is knowledgeable regarding all aspects of autism.

S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe) defects are another type of methylation defect, which associates with certain liver, colon and gastric cancers.

Dr. Rozakis went on to say that methylation defects lead to disbalances between T and B cells of the immune system and are important in autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.

Methylation defects can also cause autoimmune thyroiditis and type 1 diabetes. They can also cause cardiac disease by raising homocysteine levels, which causes dysfunction of the lining of arteries and premature heart attacks.

Epigenetic factors through global methylation defects from vitamin B2, B6 and B12 deficiency can cause many different cancers. Hypomethylation is the most common DNA defect of cancer cells.

With skin diseases it has come to light that atopic dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis, scleroderma and vitiligo are related to methylation.

When we age, certain hormones are gradually missing, which leads to menopause and andropause. This leads to impaired cell function, elevated cholesterol, arthritis, constipation, depression, low sex drive, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome and fatigue. Replace the missing hormones with bioidentical ones, and symptoms will normalize.

Tests and treatment for hidden cause of depression

It is important for a physician to test patients for homocysteine levels once per year. As we age, we tend to lose some of the methylation pathway enzymes, which can result in an increase of homocysteine in the blood. A normal homocysteine level is less than 7 to 8 micromoles per liter. This is lower than the commonly recommended 15 micromoles per liter.

If the homocysteine level is too high, the treatment consists of methionine containing foods like dairy products and meat. Methionine, an essential amino acid, functions as a donor of methyl groups. The methyl groups normalize the methylation pathway defect and allow the homocysteine level in the blood to decrease. Research studies have been using 1000 to 5000 micrograms of 5-methyl folate daily to reduce homocysteine. Other B vitamins are necessary to reduce homocysteine, like vitamin B2, B6 and B12 in addition to 5-MTHF.

Hidden Cause Of Depression

Hidden Cause Of Depression

Conclusion

Depression and several other illnesses can be related to methylation pathway defects. This can cause a lack of 5-MTHF resulting in high homocysteine blood levels. It is important that a physician checks his elderly patients for homocysteine blood levels once per year. This will prevent depression, Alzheimer’s disease, migraines and a number of other illnesses.

Once a methylation pathway defect has been identified, it is relatively easy to treat the patient. The treatment consists of a proper methionine rich diet and 5-MTHF supplements as well as other B vitamins as discussed. It can prevent a lot of disability and human suffering.

References

Ref.1: William J. Walsh, PhD: “Nutrient Power. Heal your biochemistry and heal your brain”. Skyhorse Publishing, 2014.

Ref. 2: https://www.askdrray.com/life-expectancy-is-influenced-by-lifestyle/

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Mar
29
2014

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD, attention deficit disorder) has been in the spotlight on and off over the years. It affects 8% to 10% of school-aged children, and about 2% to 5% of adults who still have this condition.

Typically a parent receives a note from school that they must come to a teacher/parent meeting and it is discussed that the child is disruptive in class, not paying attention, interrupting the teacher inappropriately and forgetting to do their homework. The teacher suggests that this may be a sign of hyperactivity. The school nurse is also of this opinion and they suggest getting a prescription for Ritalin or Adderall (amphetamine type medications), drugs that have been shown in other kids to be fairly effective in treating the symptoms.

Next the child is seen by the doctor who confirms the diagnosis and Ritalin (methylphenidate) is prescribed.

In an attempt to quickly control the situation, the side effects of Ritalin are often not discussed in detail: agitation, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, palpitations, dizziness, headaches, an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure elevation, and even psychosis (Ref.1).

It is easy to just write a prescription for Ritalin and hope that all is well. Had the parents heard of all the possible side effects, they may have asked whether there were alternative treatments available.

The causes of hyperactivity (ADHD)

The exact cause of ADHD remains unknown, but there is a clustering of this condition in some families, so there seems to be a clear genetic component (Ref.2). It appears that several genes are involved, namely those associated with serotonin and glutamate transporters, but also those affecting dopamine metabolism. Males are affected with ADHD more often than females (in children 3:1, in adults 1:1).

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Some remarks regarding brain development are in order: Dr. Kharrazian describes that the grey matter of the brain develops before the age of 9 and the development of the white matter is completed by the age of 19 (Ref. 3, p.3). In ADHD patients the frontal brain is underdeveloped resulting in an inability to suppress unacceptable behavior, immediate desires and impulses. Prescription drugs may alter the behavior on the surface, but the frontal brain development is still lagging behind. The only thing that can influence this is behavioral/cognitive therapy and extra tutoring while the symptoms are controlled. The window of opportunity is closed by the time the ADHD patient has reached the age of 19. After that a juvenile ADHD turns into a permanent adult ADHD. The cases that had only childhood ADHD and outgrew it were the ones where the frontal lobe abnormalities had corrected themselves before the age of 19.

This review article has noted that there is an association between a Western style diet (sugar and fat rich) and ADHD.

Interestingly both Ref. 1 and 2, which I would categorize as having originated from mainstream conventional medicine circles, deny such an association. But the link also noted that a healthy diet with fiber, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids as well as supplementation with iron and zinc when these minerals are found to be low in the blood, do make a significant difference in ADHD patients towards normalization of their symptoms.

One of the under diagnosed causes of ADHD is gluten sensitivity as Dr. Perlmutter described in his book (Ref. 4, pages 150-158). This can spare the child or teenager the toxic side effects of anxiolytics, antidepressants or antipsychotics that may be inappropriately prescribed by their physicians, and a gluten free diet would allow the brain to recover very quickly in such cases. A food sensitivity history and some simple gluten sensitivity blood screening tests will diagnose this condition or rule it out.

To complicate matters even more, Dr. Amen has mentioned in several books that there are at least 7 different subcategories of ADHD that he has found in ADHD patients when studying thousands of single-photon emission computed tomography brain scans (SPECT brain scans). Dr. Amen mentions that the 7 subcategories of ADHD are the combined type ADD, the primarily inattentive ADD subtype, overfocused ADD, temporal lobe ADD, limbic ADD, ring of fire ADD and trauma induced ADD. Dr. Amen explains that each of these types needs to be treated differently and some of the treatment failures are explained by the fact that the wrong type of ADD was treated (Ref.5).

Treatment of ADHD

In the following I mention 5 steps that are useful for treating ADHD patients.

  1. A first step toward normalization of the metabolic changes in the brain metabolism of the affected child or adult is to adopt a diet that has been linked with low risk for ADHD: avoid food additives, cut out refined sugar, avoid known food allergies like gluten sensitivity and others. You may need to test the patient for food allergies using an elimination diet. Add a good amount of molecularly distilled omega-3 fatty acids (the pure form of omega-3 without mercury, lead or PCBs) as this has shown beneficial effects in ADHD patients.
  2. Involve a behavioral psychologist for behavioral/cognitive therapy treatments. This is particularly effective in the 9 to 19 year old category where the frontal region of the brain is still developing.
  3. Work together with the schoolteacher and get supplemental teaching in areas of academic weakness to reduce the frustrations in the classroom setting.
  4. In adolescent girls who just started their period, a relative lack of progesterone (estrogen dominance) may be a contributory factor. A small dose (20mg to 30 mg) of bioidentical progesterone from day 6 to 16 of the menstrual cycle may help significantly in alleviating the symptoms of ADHD. You may need to consult a naturopathic doctor or anti-aging physician to get a prescription for that.
  5. If all of this helps only marginally, then a smaller amount of Ritalin may be helpful; however, blood tests should be drawn from time to time to monitor for drug toxicity as the rate of absorption and elimination of the drug varies significantly from patient to patient.

It is interesting that studies have shown that a combination of Ritalin or Adderall with alternative treatment methods had a better outcome than either method alone.

Conclusion

It is important to think about the various possible causes of ADHD and not just get caught up in the knee-jerk reflex of treating ADHD with Ritalin (note that this was only step 5 above, if all the other things failed). In co-operation with the school system and using alternative ways at home first (change of diet, possible addition of low dose bioidentical progesterone cream in girls) and additional tutoring in weak school subjects the need for Ritalin may be avoided. If all else fails, the conservative approach is still available, but I suggest that drug monitoring (blood levels that should be done from time to time to avoid toxicity) is important.

More information about ADHD: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/developmental-disorders/attention-deficithyperactivity-disorder/

References

1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed., © 2013 Mosby.

2. Jacobson: Psychiatric Secrets, 2nd ed., © 2001 Hanley and Belfus

3. Dr. Datis Kharrazian: “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” © 2013, Elephant Press, Carlsbad, CA 92011

4. David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.

5. Daniel G. Amen: “Use Your Brain To Change Your Age” © 2012, Harmony Books, An imprint of Crown Publishing.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

Aug
03
2013

Treating Symptoms Not Effective, Find And Eradicate Causes

When you see a physician about a health problem, he or she general listens to your symptoms, examines you, comes to a diagnosis and then treats the symptoms. Medicine has been evolving since, anti-aging medicine has become more prominent and comprehensive medical practitioners have started to treat differently. The changing approach is best explained with some examples below. This is important as many general practitioners continue to treat symptoms and neglect to search for causes. Big Pharma is trying to keep the medical system in the “status quo” (the way it is), because they make big money by having general practitioners try out different ineffective medications (this way the profits keep on coming in.) One example is the cholesterol story. Only 50% of heart attacks are caused by high cholesterol, but physicians keep on prescribing statins whenever high cholesterol is found to prevent a heart attack. But the finding of high cholesterol could be caused by hypothyroidism (when the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone). Diet can also play  a role, if the patient eats too many helpings of fatty meats and drinks alcohol regularly. Just prescribing statins to lower cholesterol is not the answer, treating the cause is!

I am going to describe 5 examples where usually symptoms are being treated instead of the causes. If you are in a hurry, just read example 3 below (gastritis and duodenal ulcer). After that you can skip forward and read the conclusion, where I will summarize what I think we should learn from this.

Treating Symptoms Not Effective, Find And Eradicate Causes

Treating Symptoms Not Effective, Find And Eradicate Causes

1)  Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease where autoantibodies attack the joint surfaces. It is a multifaceted disease and typically requires a rheumatologist to get involved in the treatment. The standard treatment for RA is summarized in this link. Before engaging in these toxic treatments, it is very worthwhile to study this link and see, if any of your food components may have triggered your arthritis. Various agents in the food can contribute to the development of autoantibodies, such as wheat, soy, MSG, even salicylates. An elimination diet approach could pinpoint if there is any food component that may be the cause of your RA.

Dr.Lichten, in treating many RA cases has found (Ref.1, p. 85 and 86) that many patients had hormonal deficiencies, particularly a lack of DHEA when blood tests were done for this. DHEA is known to treat immune deficiencies and T cell responses were observed to raise 10-fold after DHEA supplementation; IGF-1 levels (an indirect measure of human growth hormone) increased and muscle mass improved when exercised as well along with DHEA replacement. RA patients responded well to relatively low doses of DHEA (25 mg daily for women and 50 mg daily for males). When other hormone tests are done to look for deficiencies, Dr. Lichten found sometimes thyroid deficiencies requiring hormone supplementation. Similarly when saliva tests are done to look for sex hormone deficiencies, there may be progesterone and/or estrogen deficiency in women and testosterone deficiency in males that needs to be replaced with bioidentical hormones. In RA patients there may be adrenal gland deficiency setting in, which can be diagnosed by a four-point saliva cortisol hormone test. Only these cases of true hormone deficiency will benefit from small doses of cortisol (the original bioidentical human hormone) given four times per day.

Here is a summary of the usual recommendations for home remedies for treating rheumatoid arthritis. Using electro acupuncture can be very useful for controlling chronic pain, but you still need to work out the cause for your particular case of RA.

2) High Blood Pressure

Most cases of high blood pressure (hypertension) are simply there without a particular cause. It used to be called “essential hypertension”, a fancy name meaning “essentially, we do not know the cause”. The doctor will start treatment with drugs to bring high blood pressure down. Before that the doctor is supposed to ask you to make a good effort to change your life style (cutting out additional salt, exercising, weight loss), but this is often glossed over and drugs are used right away. Drugs for hypertension are not harmless; here are some of the side effects.

The medical textbooks are not very clear on what causes high blood pressure. With renal causes (narrowing of a renal artery) a stent can be placed, the cause is treated and the blood pressure normalizes. As indicated, essential hypertension is the name for the majority of other cases of high blood pressure where officially no cause is known. Patients are usually put on life-long antihypertensive medications, often several drugs in combination, to bring the blood pressure down to 120 over 80.

Despite the notion that we do no know the cause of high blood pressure, we do know that a number of factors can contribute to developing high blood pressure: too much salt in the diet, too much nicotine from smoking and too much alcohol consumption.

A lack of nitrates from green vegetables can cause high blood pressure as well. Nitrates are necessary for the body to produce nitric oxide, a powerful messenger that dilates blood vessels lowering blood pressure. It is produced every second by the lining inside the walls of your arteries. Greens and vegetables, particularly beets, provide nitrates for nitric oxide production.

Nitric oxide, along with omega-3-fatty acid and prostaglandins are important in relaxing the arterial walls, thus lowering high blood pressure.

We also know that in diabetes and obesity high blood pressure is very common, because inflammatory substances circulate in the blood, which interfere with the normal production of the blood pressure lowering nitric oxide.

Treating high blood pressure with the conventional drugs will mask the real underlying causes.

The DASH diet has helped a lot of people to get their blood pressure under control. However, the limiting point in that diet is the amount of grains that are allowed. In my opinion, wheat and grains, starches and sugar are all empty calories and only stimulate your appetite because of the high leptin and gliadin content from wheat and wheat products. According to the cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, cutting these out will cure not only many cases of hypertension, but also diabetes and obesity. Many physicians have criticized him, but in my opinion his work is on solid researched ground. If a patient honestly gives lifestyle changes a try, many side effects and deaths from antihypertensive drugs could be avoided.

3) Gastritis and duodenal ulcer

You see your doctor, because lately you regurgitate acidy stomach contents. You may be diagnosed with gastritis and get a prescription for an acid suppressive drug. But before you take proton pump inhibitors (PPI) study the side effects here.

The interesting part is that many chronic gastritis cases are associated with a bacterium called H. pylori. Unfortunately it is now known that cimetidine, ranitidine and particularly PPI’s are treating the acid problem (the symptomatic treatment of acid suppression seems to work), but on the longer term they encourage H. pylori to grow more, particularly in the stomach. The bacterium undermines the lining of the stomach and the duodenum and interferes with the production of the protective mucous production, which is meant to protect you from gastritis and ulcers. Dr. Murray explains that the cause of gastritis, gastric ulcer and duodenal ulcer is the breakdown of the mucosal barrier (Ref. 3, p.73-75). So the symptomatic treatment of the H. pylori infection with triple therapy (2 antibiotics and a PPI) may be the medical treatment commonly accepted as the norm, but it does not cure H. pylori in many cases. Some patients develop diarrhea from a Clostridium difficile super infection as a result of the antibiotics from the triple therapy requiring even more expensive antibiotics for that condition. This only happened, because the patients’ symptoms were treated instead of the cause. The cause of gastritis and duodenal ulcers is a weakening of the lining in the stomach and the duodenum resulting in a breakdown of the mucous barrier. In some people dietary habits play a role, like too much cereal and wheat consumption with too little alkaline vegetables in the meals to neutralize the acid formation (see Ref. 2 for more details). However, when a simple licorice compound (DGL, which stands for deglycyrrhizinated licorice) is given, the symptoms from gastritis, acid reflux, and ulcers in the stomach or duodenum disappear. DGL supports the lining of the stomach and duodenum and reestablishes the defense against the acidy milieu. Not only that, but after a few weeks of DGL treatment all of the findings on endoscopy such as inflammation and ulcerations disappeared. Dr. Murray states that he has not encountered a case of gastritis or ulcer that would not have responded. It appears that the cause of gastritis and ulcers in the stomach and duodenum is not from too much acid, not from H. pylori infection, which appears to just be a concomitant infection, but actually is due to a breakdown of the barrier in the lining of the stomach and duodenum, which responds to DGL. The other interesting thing is that you can buy DGL in the health food store; the dosage is two to three chewable tablets on an empty stomach three times per day. According to Ref. 3 it needs to be taken 8 to 16 weeks, after which there is a full therapeutic response. Pepto-Bismol is another coating substance that is available over the counter and works well for minor stomach upsets.

4) Chronic back pains and insomnia

Many people see their chiropractor for chronic recurrent back pains and their physician for insomnia to get sleeping pills. It all depends what the underlying causes are of back pains and insomnia.

If there is a misalignment in the spine, a chiropractor doing manipulation would be a reasonable approach and the back pain symptoms often disappear. However, thyroid deficiency or adrenal gland insufficiency or adrenal gland fatigue may be the cause of back pains and muscle cramps. Unless the underlying cause is treated (in the case of hypothyroidism treatment with thyroid hormones), the back pains will stay. In fibromyalgia where muscle pains are all over the body, the standard treatment with antidepressants and pain pills just will not do it on the long-term. These patients require a detailed work-up with analysis of the hormonal status. Often they are suffering from a lack of thyroid hormones, a lack of sex hormones (in women a lack of estrogen and progesterone, in men a lack of DHEA and/or testosterone). But they may also have weak adrenal glands and a lack of growth hormone. An anti-aging physician (A4M) can order the appropriate tests and treat the underlying causes.

Fibromyalgia patients often have insomnia (sleep disorders). Dr. Lichten (Ref.4) recommends GABA in small doses (125mg to 250 mg) at bedtime along with 500 mg of L-tryptophan. He also recommends 4000 IU – 5000 IU of vitamin D3 (as often insomnia patients are deficient in vitamin D3) as well as 500 mg to 1000 mg of magnesium. If this alone is not sufficient, melatonin, 1 mg to 3 mg at bedtime will be beneficial. Dr. Lichten cautions that GABA leads to tolerance quickly, so it should only be taken 5 days out of 7 to allow the body’s receptors to recover. This alternative approach to treating insomnia will prevent many patients from getting addicted to sleeping pills (hypnotics).

5) Asthma symptoms

Not every case of asthma needs steroid inhalers and salbutamol or other bronchodilator inhalers as treatment. This link shows that low thyroid can also cause asthmatic symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath. It is important to listen to the patient’s symptoms, but the treatment will only be successful when the cause is treated. Dr. David Derry described in this link how many of his severe asthma patients had iodine deficiency and low thyroid hormones and no longer had to see him when iodine treatment and desiccated thyroid hormone replacement was given as treatment. This goes against what the standard recommendation for asthma treatment is, but it seems to get patients unhooked from dependence on steroid inhalers.

Steroid dependency from anti-asthmatic inhalers can suppress the adrenal glands and lead to adrenal gland insufficiency.

The adrenal glands are vital for coping with stress as the more stress you are under, the more your pituitary gland produces ACTH hormone, which in turn stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. However, a significant percentage of patients with asthma that been on corticosteroid inhalers for a long time, experience a suppression of the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands cannot produce the required stress hormones; in other words, adrenal fatigue or adrenal insufficiency can set in.

This is an example where during the treatment of asthma symptoms were controlled with corticosteroid inhalers, but the stress hormone circuit was undermined to the point where the patient experienced another disease (called a “iatrogenic disease”, a disease from the side-effects of drugs). Treatment of adrenal fatigue is described in this link.

Conclusion

Medicine can become quite complex as these examples show. Many times physicians tell their patients that the cause of their symptoms is not known. However, this is not always true, but conventional medicine continues to hold onto the old dogmas. With the third example above (gastritis and duodenal ulcer), until the mid 1980’s the original theory in medicine was that too much acid production would be the cause of these conditions and treatment concentrated on suppressing acid production. Then the new theory came up that H. pylori, a bacterium would be the cause of chronic inflammation, which together with too much acid would cause the condition. That is why physicians now treat it with the triple therapy, a good deal for Big Pharma, but a bad deal for many patients. They still do not get cured, but develop a worsening of their conditions as H. pylori growth proliferates, particularly from the PPI’s, which undermines the lining of the whole stomach. As pointed out above DGL, a simple licorice compound, which is available in health food stores, can strengthen the lining of the stomach and duodenum, which at the same time gets rid of the H. pylori problem without any other drugs.

The problem with conventional medicine is that in many cases physicians still treat symptoms instead of treating known causes. Big Pharma supports this, as it is expedient for them to protect their multi billion-dollar industry. Patients need to demand that the causes of their diseases are being treated rather than the symptoms.

References

1. Dr. Edward M. Lichten: Textbook of bio-identical hormones. ©2007 Foundation for Anti-Aging Research, Birmingham, Michigan, USA

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat belly. Lose the wheat, lose the weight, and find your path back to health.” HarperCollins Publishers Ltd., 2011.

3. Michael T. Murray, ND: “What the drug companies won’t tell you and your doctor doesn’t know”. Atria Books, New York, 2009.

4. Dr. Edward M. Lichten: Textbook of bio-identical hormones. ©2007 Foundation for Anti-Aging Research, Birmingham, Michigan, USA

Last edited Aug. 3, 2013

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