Archive for July, 2018

When we’re not feeling our best—maybe we’re suffering from chronic bloat, migraines, fatigue, or insomnia—it’s tempting to search for that one hidden illness, dysfunction, or deficiency. The truth, however, is that every system of our body is inextricably connected to others, and health problems are almost always multifactorial—due to a number of different dysfunctions and imbalances that, over time, finally show up as various symptoms.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I run a lot of labs. They are great for pinpointing specific problem areas and help guide my treatment recommendations in a major way. And while it is important to remember that every person’s health case and biochemistry is unique—and health issues are often caused by a lot of small problems rather than one big one—talking to your doctor about testing is a great place to start.

Unfortunately, many of these test won’t be covered by insurance (although you should always call and check to be sure!), and unless you have a particularly open-minded conventional medical doctor who is willing and has the time to explore these tests with you, the typical general practitioner probably won’t be ordering these tests on the reg or be comfortable making them part of your treatment plan. Because of this, I’d recommend working with an integrative or functional medicine doctor who is well-versed in these labs and how to read them from a holistic perspective.

If that’s not in the cards for financial or other reasons, another option would be to order the labs yourself. Companies like ThorneEverlyWell, and Found My Fitness all have at-home tests you can purchase, administer yourself, and send in to be processed. These can also be pricey and time-intensive, but if you’re feeling less-than-optimal and you’ve explored the standard options offered by conventional medicine without any success, they can be great options. Many of them come with a detailed description of your results or a health plan based on your results.

Whatever path you take, these are the tests I recommend looking into:

1. A 24-hour adrenal stress index

Your adrenal glands release several hormones, including your body’s main stress hormone (called cortisol) through a complex web of communication between your brain and adrenal glands, known as the HPA-axis. Adrenal fatigue occurs when there is an imbalance in cortisol due to miscommunication in the HPA-axis. This causes cortisol to be low when it should be high, high when it should be low, always low, or always high. Since your hormones play a large role in the rest of your health, this imbalance can throw off other hormones, as well—causing blood sugar imbalances, brain fog, weight gain, irritability, decreased sex drive, and trouble sleeping. The 24-hour adrenal stress index is a saliva test that looks at your HPA-axis quality by tracking your cortisol levels throughout the day.

2. A full thyroid panel

Every cell of your body needs thyroid hormones to function, and unfortunately for us, many underlying thyroid problems don’t show up on standard labs because conventional medical doctors typically only run TSH and T4. A full thyroid panel is a blood test that looks at TSH and T4 but also at T3 uptake, total T3, free T4, free T3, reverse T3, and thyroid antibodies to give you the most accurate picture of your thyroid health and rule out possible autoimmune thyroid problems. Functional medicine also has a narrower reference range for what constitutes a “healthy” thyroid, which can explain why you may still be experiencing symptoms but haven’t yet been diagnosed with a thyroid problem.

3. Gut permeability labs

Hippocrates was right when he said many years ago that the gut is the foundation of our entire health. Research is finally starting to show that many chronic and autoimmune diseases can be connected to gastrointestinal problems. When your gut lining is damaged due to stress, poor diet, medications, and other triggers, it can cause undigested food particles and bacterial endotoxins to pass into the bloodstream leading to a cascade of chronic inflammation to all areas of the body. This is commonly known as leaky gut syndrome. A gut permeability lab test will help determine if leaky gut syndrome is a factor in your specific health case. It will check for:

  • Zonulin and occludin: These two proteins control gut permeability, and antibodies could mean the intestinal tight junctions have been compromised.
  • Actomyosin antibodies: These could indicate that the gut lining was damaged.
  • Lipopolysaccharides LPS: These are bacterial endotoxins in your gut. If they are in your blood, it could mean there was enough destruction of the gut lining to let them pass.

4. Sex hormone labs

Both men and women need balanced levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone to maintain optimal health. When these are imbalanced, either too much or too little in either sex, it can lead to weight gain, anxiety, depression, erectile dysfunction, mood problems, low sex drive, infertility, acne, and more. A female salivary panel as well as blood and saliva testosterone and DHEA panels look for ratios of these hormones.

5. Inflammation labs

Inflammation is a factor in almost every health problem we face today, including autoimmune conditions, cancer, heart disease, brain fog, fatigue, and even weight gain. Even though a certain amount of inflammation is healthy to fight off infections, viruses, and injuries, inflammation becomes a problem when it doesn’t go away after the threat is gone and continues to perpetuate throughout the body. A blood test can look at three different markers of inflammation in the body, according to the functional medicine reference range (which is stricter than that followed by conventional doctors). It will test for:

  • CRP: C-reactive protein is an inflammatory protein and is tested alongside another pro-inflammatory protein IL-6.
  • Homocysteine: This inflammatory amino acid has been implicated in brain problems, heart disease, and autoimmune conditions.
  • Ferritin: This is a measure of stored iron levels in the body. It is considered an acute phase reactant and a sign of inflammation when high.

6. Genetic testing

Your DNA influences many aspects of your health, and certain genetic mutations can make you more susceptible to certain imbalances and health problems. 23andMe and other specialized genetic labs will lay out all of your possible genetic weaknesses for your functional medicine practitioner to interpret and help you mitigate risk factors with natural medicines and lifestyle changes. You can read about the nine genes I take into consideration most often in my patients, but one of the main dysfunctions I look for is a methylation impairment. Methylation is your body’s biochemical superhighway that assists in keeping your gut, brain, hormones, and detox pathways healthy. Methylation happens a billion times every single second, so if it isn’t working well, it can greatly affect your overall health.

It’s important to remember that since each person is unique, the specific combination of labs your practitioner runs may be different based on your doctor’s assessment of your health case, health history, and previous lab work. This is a foundation that you can build on to work toward sustainable, lasting healing.



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This Friday, July 27, a rare lunar event could set off a summer 2017 solar eclipse-level frenzy (who could forget those glasses?) across the globe. While it won’t be visible to the naked eye in the U.S., the upcoming total lunar eclipse will cast most of the rest of the world in a red-tinted shadow.

Here’s the story behind this exciting excuse to sneak out of the house, blanket in hand, and look up at the night sky.

What causes lunar eclipses?

Lunar eclipses happen when the earth sits directly in between the sun and full moon, blocking the sun’s light from hitting the moon and therefore shifting how the night sky appears on Earth. Total eclipses—like the one we’re due for—happen when the trio is in a completely straight line, and no light from the sun can directly reach the moon.

While you might imagine that this phenomenon leads to a dark sky, the way the sunlight travels through Earth’s atmosphere means that it actually casts the moon in a reddish orange hue—hence the nickname “blood moon”.

Rare lunar events like these are something to look forward to now, but you can imagine that they were pretty spooky spectacles in the old days. Historically, ancient civilizations were thought to see these dramatic nights as a sign from a higher power, and they never knew when they were coming. Fun fact: Legend has it that Christopher Columbus, tipped off by an astrologist, told an indigenous Caribbean tribe that the Christian god would soon make the moon disappear because they would not share resources with Columbus’s crew. Sure enough, three days later a total eclipse blanketed the sky in darkness, convincing them to change their tune.

How to see it this week.

Stargazers in Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and Australia might be able to catch the spectacle on Friday, July 27, depending on weather conditions. ( has a detailed map of the moon’s path if you want to check out when it’s due over your area.) While total lunar eclipses aren’t all that rare—there was one this Januaryand another will come in January 2019—what’s special about this one is its length. In certain areas, the blood moon will appear for one hour and 43 minutes, making it the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century so far and the second-longest in recorded history.

If you’re lucky enough to be in this lunation’s path, consider it an opportunity to grab a journal and pen. The full moon is thought to be a pivotal moment of the lunar cycle, when all the energy that has been building since the new moon comes bubbling to the surface. Use this extra special one as a moment to sit, meditate on what the last few weeks have brought up for you, and metaphorically let go of anything that’s weighing you down.


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Photo: Cinemalist

By the year 2050, the United States will have 14 million people in need of full-time care for Alzheimer’s disease, a number equal to the populations of New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago combined. There’s no doubt about it: Preventing and treating Alzheimer’s and dementia is more urgent than ever, and every piece of information we have is vitally important to solving the puzzle that is dementia and neurodegenerative disease.

This is just one reason why new research presented at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference that showed a link between Alzheimer’s and female sex hormones is something we should all pay attention to. According to recent studies, women are less likely to develop dementia if they begin to menstruate early, have more than one child, and go through menopause at an older age. In fact, going through menopause at age 45 or younger seemed to increase a woman’s risk of developing the disease by as much as 28 percent.

We’ve long known that women are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s (at the age of 65, women have a 1 in 6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s, compared to a 1 in 11 chance for men), and for a long time it was thought that this connection exists simply because women tend to live longer. But now, researchers have homed in on this link to hormones like estrogen and progesterone as a possible explanation. Experts are still puzzled as to why this connection exists, and there are a few theories out there. One posits that it’s less about the hormones themselves and more about the dramatic changes in hormone levels a woman experiences throughout life.

The research in this area is still in the initial phases, but one possible solution to the Alzehiemer’s-hormone problem could be hormone replacement therapies (think creams, gels, and patches infused with hormones like estrogen and progesterone). These therapies come with their own set of risks and unknowns; some experts swear by it for age-related hormone symptoms like vaginal dryness and hot flashes, and others caution against them since a study linked them to an increased risk for certain cancers and other illnesses (including, ironically, dementia). But now, researchers are thinking it could help temper the dramatic hormone fluctuations that occur during menopause, specifically to help prevent Alzheimer’s.

So what can we do to prevent Alzheimer’s today? For starters, we can tend to our gut health and microbiome. Of all the organs, experts think that the brain suffers most from a poor diet, and studies have shown that certain gut microbes act directly on brain cells to quell inflammation and keep us healthy. So ditch sugar, refined grains, and processed foods in favor of healthy, gut-friendly foods like nuts, seeds, leafy greens, and fruits. And keep your ears tuned in, the research in this area is moving quickly so better brain health may be right around the corner.


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