May
10
2014

The Full Story About Testosterone

Much has been written about what happens when women get into menopause. This begs the question: do men experience a change of life? As a matter of fact, they do. It is called “andropause”, and they can experience problems as a result. Here is a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Sept. 2013) describing in detail what happens when men get into andropause (the male equivalent of the menopause).

We know from other studies that in obese men testosterone is converted into estrogen because of the enzyme aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen resulting in erectile dysfunction and loss of sex drive. In lean men above the age of 55 there is a true testosterone reduction because the testicles produce less testosterone. This results in less sex drive, moodiness and lack of energy. But these men will do well with bioidentical testosterone replacement.

Main findings of the Massachusetts General Hospital study:

  1. Testosterone was responsible for thigh muscle development and leg press strength, for erectile function and sexual desire.
  2. Surprisingly, estradiol (the main estrogen component in both sexes) plays a significant part in sexual desire in the male. This became particularly apparent in the post-andropause male who desired hormone replacement. When bioidentical testosterone is used to replace what’s missing there was no problem with sexual desire or erectile function as a small amount of the testosterone was aromatized into estradiol. The researchers were able to measure both testosterone and estradiol levels.
  3. Here is a surprising fact: a lack of estrogen leads to abdominal obesity. This could also be verified by hormone measurements.
  4. In the past doctors used synthetic testosterone products like methyltestosterone, danazol, oxandrolone, testosterone propionate, testosterone cypionate or testosterone enanthate. The problem with these synthetic testosterone products is that the body cannot metabolize a portion of them into estrogen that is desirable for a normal sex drive, so the testosterone compounds alone are not doing their job as well as the bioidentical testosterone that the body can aromatize.

In obese men the problem is that there is too much estrogen in the system, which leads to a disbalance of the hormones in the male with a relative lack of testosterone. Overweight and obese men produce significant amounts of estrogen through aromatase located in the fatty tissue. Aromatase converts testosterone and other male type hormones, called androgens, into estrogen. Excessive levels of estrogen cause breast growth, muscle weakness, lead to abdominal fat accumulation, heart disease and strokes. Dr. Lee described what happens in men who enter andropause years ago as indicated under this link.

The Full Story About Testosterone

The Full Story About Testosterone

Testosterone to estrogen ratio:

Dr. Lee indicated that in his opinion saliva hormone testing is more reliable than blood tests (Ref. 1). One of the advantages of doing saliva hormone tests of estrogen and testosterone is that you can calculate directly the ratios of these two hormones. In hormonally normal younger males the testosterone to estrogen ratio is larger than 20 – 40 (Ref.2). The testosterone to estrogen ratio in obese men is typically less than 20 meaning it is too low. But lean men in andropause produce too little testosterone and their testosterone to estrogen ratio is also less than 20, because they may still have enough estrogen in their system from aromatase in the fatty tissue, but they are lacking testosterone due to a lack of its production in the testicles (Ref. 1 and 2).

When a man in andropause is given bioidentical hormone replacement with a testosterone gel or bioidentical testosterone cream this is absorbed into the blood and body tissues and then partially metabolized into a small amount of estrogen. This can be seen when saliva hormone tests are done; a higher level of testosterone is detected and much lower estrogen level so that the testosterone to estrogen ratio is now 20 to 40 or higher and the affected person will no longer be the “grumpy old man” that had been a source of distress to his partner before.

This New England Journal of Medicine study is important because it confirmed what anti-aging physicians had been saying for years: a small amount of estrogen is necessary for the male for bone health as estrogen receptors will regulate the bone density, it also helps for a normal sex drive. The same is true for women: a small amount of the opposite hormone (testosterone) will help a woman’s sex drive, but she needs the right mix of progesterone to estrogen (a progesterone to estrogen ratio of 200:1 using saliva tests) to feel perfectly normal as a women.

Health and well-being of a man depend on normal testosterone levels:

It is important to realize that testosterone is not only supporting a man’s sex drive and libido, key organs like the heart, the brain and blood vessels contain testosterone receptors as well. The body of a man was designed to respond to testosterone all along. It is when testosterone production is no longer keeping up that premature aging becomes apparent, as the target organs do no longer receive the proper signals.

A healthy heart in a man depends on regular exercise and testosterone stimulation whether he is young, middle aged or old. The same is true for the lining of the arteries where testosterone receptors are present to help with the normal adjustment to exercise and relaxation. The brain cells have receptors for all of the sex hormones and in a man they are used to higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of progesterone and estrogen. If you take the balance away, the aging man will feel miserable and grumpy. Depression will set in. Here is a brief review how one man’s life has been changed by testosterone replacement.

So, bioidentical hormone replacement is not just a matter of replacing one hormone, you need to pay attention to all of the hormones. Lifestyle issues enter the equation as well. I have reviewed the issue of bioidentical hormone replacement for women and men in this blog.

Conclusion:

When a man reaches the age of 55 or older there comes a point where a lack of testosterone and estrogen sets in. It is wise to start doing intermittent blood or saliva hormone tests before this point is reached in order to gage when bioidentical hormone replacement treatment should be given. Along with an assessment regarding the hormone status it would be wise to also assess lifestyle issues as often other factors play a role in premature aging. I have reviewed these factors systematically in a recent publication (Ref. 3). It is best to combine bioidentical hormone replacement with life style interventions to achieve optimal preservation of a man’s health.

More information about male menopause (=andropause): http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/male-menopause/

References:

  1. John R. Lee, MD: “Hormone Balance for men- what your doctor may not tell you about prostate health and natural hormone supplementation”. 2003 by Hormones Etc.
  2. George Gillson, MD, PhD, Tracy Marsden, BSc Pharm: “You’ve Hit Menopause. Now What?” 2004 Rocky Mountain Analytical Corp. Chapter 9: Male Hormone Balance (p.118-148).
  3. Dr.Schilling’s book, March 2014, Amazon.com:“A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling”.

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

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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Nov
09
2013

Successful Diabetes Treatment Requires Patient’s Discipline

90% of all diabetes cases are due to type 2 diabetes, which is associated with being overweight or obese. The other 10% are due to type 1 diabetes, which is caused by an autoimmune disease within the pancreas destroying the insulin producing beta cells. Diabetes, type 1 often occurs in childhood (hence the name “juvenile diabetes”), while type 2 diabetes is a condition of the middle aged and older population. There is however an alarming trend: overweight or obese youngsters are also being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Here I am discussing type 2 diabetes.

Causes that trigger diabetes

There is not just one way to get diabetes; it usually is a multifactorial disease. Sure, genetics play a minor role. But you need to have epigenetic factors to trigger the genes to develop diabetes: eating too much sugar, eating wheat and wheat products, drinking soda drinks that contain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Alcohol binges can also cause diabetes as can accumulation of excessive weight (a body mass index above 25.0). Even when there is no genetic risk in your family (your family tree has nobody that came down with diabetes and all your ancestors lived into their 90’s), you can still develop diabetes, if you are exposed to one or more of the risk factors mentioned.

What is the reason why diabetes occurs?

At a Keystone Symposium from Jan. 27 to Feb.1, 2013 in Keystone, Colorado (Ref.1) leading scientific researchers gathered to discuss exactly this question. There seem to be several mechanisms, all of which lead to diabetes. It has been known for some time that in type 2 diabetes insulin resistance develops that renders the cells incapable of absorbing blood sugar (glucose) from the blood into the cells. It is because of this insulin resistance that doctors can diagnose diabetes when blood sugar levels are high.

Successful Diabetes Treatment Requires Patient’s Discipline

Successful Diabetes Treatment Requires Patient’s Discipline

There are at least 5 mechanisms that are presently known that can cause insulin resistance (and thus diabetes) by itself or in combination. For a deeper understanding of diabetes it is crucial to be aware of these. Without knowing the enemy, you cannot fight it.

1. When a person eats too much sugar or fructose the liver converts this into excessive fat that is accumulated in the body’s cells. As a result insulin receptors are becoming inefficient in absorbing sugar from the blood, and blood sugar levels stay high. The pancreas reacts to this by making even more insulin, which after a few years will cause the pancreas to fail in producing insulin. At this point the patient requires insulin or else gets into a diabetic coma.

2. Chronic inflammation is another mechanism that has been shown to cause insulin resistance. Obesity, the metabolic syndrome and diabetes have a common inflammatory denominator that results in insulin resistance. With the aging process there is also deterioration of mitochondrial function (mitochondria are the mini batteries inside of every cell that are responsible for you having energy). This causes fat accumulation and also insulin resistance. Exercise and weight loss are effective in combatting insulin resistance. Fasting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.

3. The metabolism of visceral fat (the type of fat causing the apple appearance in obesity) is highly active and is associated with an increased risk for heart attacks and developing diabetes. The pear shaped woman runs less of a risk, as the fat around the hips is not metabolically active. On the other hand when these women enter into menopause, they also develop abdominal fat (apple-like fat distribution) with a high secretion of inflammatory substances causing insulin resistance, heart attacks and strokes.

4. Another mechanism of causing inflammation comes from invasion of organs with fat cells. The development of fat toxicity from these displaced fat cells can also cause insulin resistance. Heart cells have been shown to die from fat toxicity and in the pancreas the insulin-producing cells can be killed by fat toxicity as well causing diabetes or making existing diabetes worse.

5. Interestingly another line of research, namely researching binge drinking, has revealed that there is a short-term insulin resistance that lasts for several days until the alcohol has been properly metabolized. It is of concern that adolescents who are experimenting with binge drinking are very vulnerable to develop brain damage from this habit.

Consequences of insulin resistance

We know that insulin resistance is the cause for adult onset, type 2 diabetes. It is entirely preventable. But there are powerful influences on people’s lives that will allow one or more of these factors mentioned to cause diabetes. The most common cause is putting on excessive weight. The reason for this is that people like to eat fast foods, drink sugar-containing sodas, and feast on processed foods, bagels and cookies. The end result is a change of the metabolism with an increase in triglycerides from the liver, an increase in LDL cholesterol, particularly the very low-density lipoprotein sub fractions of cholesterol. It has been known for some time that this is the connection to the high, premature death rates from heart attacks in diabetics, in people with obesity and in people with the metabolic syndrome. Hardening of the arteries is accelerated by the deposition of foam cells in the walls of arteries. These are scavenger cells (macrophages) that have engulfed noxious fats. This leads to narrowed coronary arteries and also a general narrowing of arteries all over the body including the brain vessels. In diabetics hardening of the arteries is accelerated and leads to premature strokes, heart attacks and heart failure, kidney failure, blindness and amputations of limbs.

Important tests for borderline diabetics

I you have a fasting blood sugar that is above 100 mg/dL (5.5 mmol), but less than 126 mg/dL (7 mmol) you are considered to be prediabetic or “borderline diabetic”. In this case rather than waiting for disasters in terms of cardiovascular disease, take action and ask your doctor to do the following three tests.

a) Arrange for a glucose tolerance test where you are given 75 grams of glucose; then blood tests are taken at one, two and three hours after this challenge dose. These blood tests are checked for blood glucose levels and insulin levels and tell the doctor exactly what is going on in terms of your sugar metabolism. It shows the glucose clearance and also the insulin response from your pancreas.

b) Have a hemoglobin A1c test done: it shows how your blood sugars have been controlled over the last 2 to 3 months.

c) You also need a VAP (vertical auto profile) test, which tests your lipid profile. Both prediabetics and overtly diabetics have been shown to have lipid profile disorders. Apart from low values in sub fractions of HDL cholesterol this test will also measure the very-low density lipoproteins (VLDL), which has been shown to be responsible for heart attacks and strokes.

With these three tests your doctor can  tell you more accurately what treatment protocol you require to succeed in controlling or curing your pre diabetes or diabetes.

Conventional treatment of diabetes

The conventional treatment of diabetes is to send the patient to a dietician, to ask the patient to do regular exercises and to either start them on hypoglycemic drugs or on insulin injections. Unfortunately the dietician often will encourage the patient to eat “healthy multigrain bread”, which will stimulate your taste buds to eat more sugar, high fructose corn syrup and starchy foods making weight loss impossible. Often the treating physician is satisfied that a hemoglobin A1c of 7% or less is good enough for the diabetic. But non-diabetic people have a hemoglobin A1c of 4% and 5.6%. This should be your goal or you will suffer the consequences of uncontrolled diabetes.

This is what I would call the conventional, symptomatic treatment approach. This may be the approach for patients who are not willing to seriously change their lifestyles, but it is more powerful on the long-term to treat diabetes by treating the underlying causes.

Alternative treatment approach for diabetes

Based on the above discussion regarding the various causes of insulin resistance, it is important to analyze what would be the main contributory factors in your particular case of diabetes.

Here are some suggestions:

1. If you are on the typical North American diet, also known as Western diet, it would be important to face the fact that wheat, wheat products in processed foods and sugar including high fructose corn syrup are the main culprits in stimulating your appetite and making you a sugar and wheat addict. Ref. 2 describes this in detail and offers 150 recipes to overcome this addiction. For more information just follow this reference text. Essentially it is a wheat-free Mediterranean type diet without rice, pasta and bread. You will shed significant amounts of pounds within a short period of time and feel a lot more energetic (due to revitalization of your mitochondria). At the same time insulin resistance is disappearing, because the insulin receptors are fully functional again. The insulin production of the pancreas will go down to normal levels and fat from the visceral fat storage gets melted away resulting in less inflammatory substances circulating in your blood.

2. A regular exercise program in a gym with an aerobic component (30 minutes of treadmill for instance and 20 to 30 minutes of isometric machine exercises) will help you to lower the triglycerides, and increase the healthy HDL cholesterol. It will also improve insulin sensitivity and control inflammation in your body. The best is to exercise 7 days per week. Remember your body works for you 7/7 every week, but for those of you who need a little rest in between 5 days per week is still very good. You may have to adjust your medication and insulin dose downwards, ask your physician about that.

3. Cut out alcohol. This may sound radical to you, but studies show this to be true. I have not mentioned cutting out smoking (it is causing inflammation and insulin resistance), because this is an absolute must that is given. When it comes to alcohol, the famous 1 drink per day for cardio protective purposes may not show up statistically as a bad effect, but your body will nevertheless get the message and let you age somewhat faster than a person who stays sober all the time. Staying sober will allow your brain to think clearly and adhere to your overall lifestyle approach in treating diabetes. Cutting out alcohol protects your brain (including the hypothalamus), liver and pancreas and prevents the prolonged periods of insulin resistance mentioned above that last for days. By keeping your hypothalamus in good working order, your hormone balance will stay stable for as long as possible until you reach menopause (for women) or andropause (for men). When you reached this milestone, I suggest you engage in bioidentical hormone replacement, which I have reviewed here. Hormones are essential to keep you younger for longer.

4. It is useful to monitor your blood sugar with a home glucometer, as this will show you when your blood sugar normalizes. Stay in touch with your doctor at all times, as this will help you in your overall management of your diabetes. Also, you will want to discuss with your doctor that you should have a blood tests called “hemoglobin A1c” measured every three months to see how well your diabetes is controlled. It should be below 7% for sure, but better below 6%. Non-diabetic people have levels of 4% and 5.6%. You may not know that hemoglobin A1c is actually measuring the amount of advanced glycation end products (“AGE”) of red blood cells. These AGE substances essentially are firmly bound sugar/protein compounds that shut down the cell metabolism wherever they are formed. In my opinion it is best to aim at a hemoglobin A1c level of non-diabetic people (4% and 5.6%) to avoid the consequences of tissue damage of all vital organs, which is the reason why long-term diabetics have a life expectancy of 15 to 20 years shorter than non-diabetic persons. Some diabetic patients may benefit from the oral hypoglycemic drug, metformin (brand name: Glucophage), which has anti-inflammatory properties and is used in patients with type 2 diabetes and a high fasting insulin level, but this is a decision requiring your physician’s input.

5. Supplements: There are some supplements that are useful to take as an adjunct, like chromium, which helps insulin to transport glucose into the cell; alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant, which is useful to prevent glycation (formation of a complex between sugar and protein, which prevents normal cell functioning); and coenzyme-Q10, which supports your heart (A4M recommends 400 mg per day, higher than Dr. Weil’s link). Other supplements of merit are curcumin, cinnamon, genistein and silymarin (standardized extract of milk thistle), which suppresses a pro inflammatory molecule, which in turn helps to fight insulin resistance (Ref. 1). Omega-3 fatty acid supplements are anti-inflammatory and will improve insulin resistance as well (dosage 1000mg or more per day). According to Ref. 3 vitamin D3 is useful as a supplement for diabetics, because it activates DNA, is involved in cellular repair and deficiency of it is known to lead to higher mortality rates in diabetics. Ref. 3 recommends between 1000 and 4000 IU of vitamin D3 daily and suggests doing blood tests to measure effective vitamin D3 levels (keep 25-OHD in the blood between 30 and 80 ng/mL).

6.Patients whose pancreas no longer produces insulin will need insulin injections, but instead of using long-acting insulin once per day the best results in getting blood sugar control is by injecting insulin three or more times per day using short acting insulin. It is important to always monitor the blood sugar lowering effect by glucometer readings; the injections are best given just before meals (recombinant human insulin is the preferred insulin to be used). Ask your physician or diabetic coach for more details.

Conclusion

Diabetes used to be a dreadful disease that caused premature heart attacks, strokes, blindness, kidney failure, and limb amputations. With aggressive management of diabetes as well as strict lifestyle intervention this has changed. A diabetic who treats the causes of the illness can have a normal life expectancy. In many cases the initial diagnosis of type 2 diabetes can disappear, when treatment was started early enough and insulin resistance could be stopped in its tracks. Without the patient’s full co-operation disciplining him/herself to follow through on all of these recommendations the caregiver will fail in controlling the patient’s diabetes. It is the patient who owns the problem; it is the patient who needs to make every possible effort and follow through on all of the details of dieting, exercising, blood sugar monitoring using a glucometer and taking the required supplements.

More information on diabetes: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/diabetes/type-2-diabetes/

Reference

1. http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2013/oct2013_2013-Keystone-Diabetes-Symposium_01.htm

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders. Integrative Therapy; Supplements.

Last edited Dec. 17, 2014

Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Apr
14
2013

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Springtime is the time of spring allergies: those affected develop a runny nose, itchy eyes and in more severe cases they may experience a flare-up of asthma. Allergies can be triggered by the increase of pollen counts in the air that occurs every spring. In those who are sensitive, this leads to antibody formation in the blood. But often people have not only sensitivities to the pollens of spring bloomers; they may also be allergic to spores from molds, to dust mites and may have underlying allergies to foods. The immune system has memory cells that memorize that a person has had an allergic encounter to one of these items in the past, and allergic reactions can become more significant with a future encounter. Allergies can also be made worse when a person has food sensitivities and there are cross reactions between pollens of trees or grasses that can share surface protein regions with similar protein regions in foods.

It is known that cross allergies are possible between birch pollen and apple, carrots or hazelnut. In its extreme form allergies due to antibodies, called IgE antibodies, can cause anaphylaxis. A person presensitized by inhaling birch pollen, after eating an apple, hazelnuts or a carrot can develop itching of the throat, swelling of the lips and very quickly deteriorate getting into an anaphylactic shock.

Other cross allergies exist between ragweed pollen, which is a powerful inhalant allergen and melons or bananas. Again there are specific IgE antibodies that are responsible for this immune reaction. In this case the ragweed allergy primes the immune system to produce IgE antibodies, which are potentiated by certain foods that share similar protein components as the ragweed pollen.

In the following I will deal with inhalant allergies separately from food allergies.

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Allergies Not Only In Spring

Inhalant allergies

Inhalant allergies are easier to diagnose and to treat than food allergies. Your doctor will likely refer you to an allergist when you have allergies that do not respond to treatment with intermittent over the counter antihistamines. Your symptoms may come on in the spring with itchy eyes and a runny nose. From year to year you find that you become more and more dependent on antihistamines and nose drops to unplug your nose. The allergist likely will do sensitivity tests, which consist of skin prick or scratch tests on the back or the forearms.

In more serious allergies, where the patient has coughing and wheezing attacks following allergic reactions, the allergist may suggest to start intermittent allergy injections alongside the standard inhalation therapy for asthma. An allergy serum is prescribed where the lab mixes ingredients based on all of the positive tests that led to a strongly positive skin reactions when allergy testing was done. Typically the family doctor or his nurse will start the allergy injections initially in weekly intervals, later when the maintenance dose is reached, it may be modified to injections every 10 to 14 days.

The allergy injections stimulate the immune system to produce harmless competing antibodies, which counteract the disease producing allergic antibodies. In the process of desensitization shots the immune system will normalize, which means that the inflammatory response of the immune system settles down to normal.

This is not the end of the story with inhalant allergies. The patient needs to be retested on a yearly basis by the allergist. The immune system changes all the time as new allergies can develop and old ones may go away.

Retesting is necessary to keep track of what is going on and to change the composition of the allergy serum. Those patients who are working together with the allergist can do very well, and often they gradually outgrow their allergies. Others may not be so lucky. They may have reactions to the allergy injections. In these cases avoidance of what causes the allergy may be the only solution to treat the allergies.

There is an alternative to allergy injections, which has been used in Europe, namely a sublingual immunotherapy. Recently there has been a review of the literature for FDA approval that is needed for oral desensitization for ragweed, dust mites, grass pollen and cat dander. It will take some time before the FDA approval process will become a reality for sublingual desensitization in the US.

A special form of inhalant allergies are allergies to pets (mainly dogs and cats, but also allergies to petting zoo animals). The dander that the human comes in contact with is a protein contained in the animal hair. It causes hives when it touches the skin. This occurs as the dander is absorbed through the skin and meets the local mast cells that release histamine. This in turn is responsible for the hive formation. Sneezing and even asthma can develop from inhaled protein particles that reach the lungs. Allergy injections for the treatment of animal dander allergies are very limited as they often do not help or make the allergies worse. Avoidance of animal contact is usually what the allergist recommends as the solution, a recommendation, which often is not appreciated by the affected animal lover.

Food allergies

Often we eat  some foods more frequently, because they are our favorites. This means that our gut lymphocytes that get in contact with these foods can start to react to one or more of the foods we ingest. At this time we may experience abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting and a host of other possible symptoms.

The physician will tell the patient that testing for food allergies is a problem as most of the usual skin tests employed for inhalant allergies do not reliably work in determining food allergies. The doctor will ask the patient or the mother of the child with food allergies to keep a food diary and keep track of the allergic symptoms in the diary as well. An elimination diet will have to be devised based on the information gathered in the diary as it becomes clear from that record which foods cause which symptoms. The foods causing allergic symptoms are subsequently eliminated. This is a cumbersome process, but it is the most reliable method of testing and treating food allergies.

In the past there was a blood tests, called RAST test, which tested for common food allergies that can cause severe allergic reactions like egg, milk, peanut, tree nuts, wheat, crustacean shellfish and soy. Since about 2010 this has been replaced by the more sensitive ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test.

Children often develop food allergies to egg, milk, wheat, nuts, peanuts and soy, which are food allergies with positive IgE tests. When they age, their immune system develops tolerance to many of these foods and they often outgrow these allergies.

There are other popular lab tests where a blood drop is analyzed with IgG, IgM and IgE antibodies against a panel of foods. A number of suppliers offer these tests.  However, the specificity, sensitivity and reliability can pose problems with regard to the interpretation of the results: allergists often point out that a test may be a false positive when a person likes certain foods and IgG antibodies against this food show up despite the patient having no symptoms. Another specialist may interpret this to indicate that the body shows early sensitization to a certain food, but clinically it is not yet obvious. In other words the sensitivity of the test is so high that it undermines the validity of the test. Recently a panel of international scientists reviewed the validity of these IgG based food intolerance tests and they found the tests not reliable.

The immune responses to food allergies are complicated as there are immediate type immune reactions and delayed type immune reactions. The immediate immune responses are investigated with the above mentioned ImmunoCAP Specific IgE test. The delayed immune responses can be measured using the ELISA test.

Other considerations about allergies

You see from this discussion that a patient with allergies needs a properly trained allergist who will do a comprehensive analysis involving a thorough history, examination, blood tests and immune tests.  The test results have to be interpreted with the experience and the clinical judgment of the specialist.

Since the 1970’s when Clearfield wheat was introduced around the world on a large scale, which has a much higher gliadin (gluten) content than the old wheat varieties. As a result of exposure to this new type of wheat gluten intolerance and leaky gut syndrome have increased substantially in the world population. Genetically modified foods like soy, corn, sugar beets, canola and more have challenged the immune system of sensitive humans even more to an extent, which is not fully understood yet. We do know that some people can develop autoimmune diseases and this may be the reason that a host of diseases that belong into this disease category (MS, rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, ankylosing spondylitis etc.) are much more common now than in the past.

After food elimination for 2 to 12 months depending on the severity of the food allergy, your body may have eliminated the allergy to the food you have avoided, in other words your body built up tolerance. Before you expose yourself to any food that you used to be allergic to and that you want to re-test, it is best to have an EpiPen ready in case your allergy has not resolved. Caution is necessary with regard to foods that cause more severe allergies, e.g. shellfish or peanuts, which may last life long. It is safer to avoid these foods that cause more severe allergies altogether.

Allergic reactions of the immune system belong into the category of chronic inflammatory diseases. These are known to be the root of chronic diseases like asthma, arthritis, heart disease, high blood pressure and cancer. When you are vigilant about allergies and get proper assessment and treatment by an allergist, you will prevent serious health problems including the above mentioned chronic diseases.

More on asthma, which is a chronic inflammatory lung condition, often associated with multiple environmental allergies:

http://nethealthbook.com/lung-disease/asthma-introduction/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014