A Death that was Completely Preventable

One of my patients, Kathy Mitchell, died from heart disease this past December. Her death left me feeling deeply saddened and somewhat shaken. Kathy passed away at the age of 47 from Cardio Vascular Disease. This was the result of complications caused by Type II Diabetes. She was African American. African Americans are already 20% more at risk then the population as a whole from death caused by a stroke and cardio vascular disease. Kathy first came to see me about 4 months ago. She was on dialysis. Her kidney function was greatly diminished as a result of diabetes. Despite the insulin she was taking for the diabetes and the beta-blocker to lower her blood pressure, she was still in trouble.

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Unfortunately, Kathy’s case is not unique. Cardio Vascular Disease (CVD) and complications from Type II Diabetes are the second cause of death in the US. There are an estimated 8 million people in this country with undiagnosed Type II Diabetes. But what upset me the most is that, the majority of the time, these conditions are completely preventable; Kathy’s death was completely preventable.

The key to lessening your risk for such common illnesses as Diabetes and heart disease is to catch them as early as possible; then make the necessary life-style changes, which can be as simple as changing your diet. Kathy’s life, for example, could have been drastically different with something as simple as restricting intake of processed food and simple carbs at the very onset of her Diabetes. But before I talk about that, let’s look at ways to catch the progression of Diabetes and CVD, before they become irreversible.

Before Kathy ever had Diabetes or CVD, she had Metabolic Syndrome—the root of these more serious illnesses. Metabolic Syndrome refers to a series of conditions that occur simultaneously and drastically increase a person’s risk of developing diabetes, stroke, and heart disease. These conditions include obesity, hypertension, high blood sugar, abnormal blood cholesterol, and high blood triglycerides. When a person has three or more of these disorders, that person is said to have Metabolic Syndrome, or, equivalently, Insulin Resistance. Insulin resistance occurs just in case a body can produce insulin normally, but is unable to use it effectively. It is the precursor of Type 2 Diabetes. Other risk factors of Metabolic Syndrome include obesity, physical inactivity, poor diet, age, sleep apnea, and hormonal imbalance—all of which are also precursors of Diabetes.

According to the Journal of Diabetes36.1% of adult men and 32.4% of women had metabolic syndrome in the US in 2010; this puts an alarmingly large portion of the population at risk of developing a life-threatening condition. But thankfully, Metabolic Syndrome alone is completely reversible. But time is of the essence; once you actually develop Diabetes, contract heart disease, or have a stroke, it becomes almost impossible to reverse the damage. If you have one or more of the five symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome, but don’t see an immediate need for a life-style change, you should know that many people develop Diabetes unknowingly—that is, until the first complications show up (blurred vision, heart problems, etc.). But by that time, treatment is already less promising. In fact, it takes merely a single night of sleep deprivation for a body to start developing insulin resistance, even in completely healthy people.

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The most important takeaway here is that Metabolic Syndrome is reversible—but, when left unaddressed, leads to much more serious illnesses, and can even result in death. Diabetes, in particular, can cause tragedies like heart attacks, strokes, kidney disease, blindness, and even amputations. The number one thing you can do to prevent (or rid yourself of) Metabolic Syndrome and, consequently, Diabetes or Heart Disease, is to maintain a healthy life style at every age, which, as I stated earlier, can be as simple as eating healthy.

This brings me to a second important takeaway: being healthy is not equated with eating fewer calories. It matters where those calories come from; i.e., a calorie is not just a calorie. There is a HUGE difference between eating 2,000 calories of carbs a day versus eating 2,000 calories of fat and protein. Due to growing research in the way carbs and gluten affect our bodies, scientists are starting to see a very negative relationship between brain health and carbohydrates. Dr. David Perlmutter calls this phenomen “Grain Brain” in his New York Times bestseller, also titled Grain Brain. He references studies that specifically link higher levels of blood glucose (a result of eating a lot of carbohydrates) to shrinkage of a critical part of the brain. Several acclaimed journals have come out with reports linking even slight increases in blood glucose to significantly increased risk for developing Dementia. The results of one study in particular showed that people who ate high amounts of Carbohydrates (as compared to those who ate more fat and protein) were 89% more at risk of developing dementia.

It was only recently in the timeline of the human race that we started eating large amounts of carbohydrates. Our bodies evolved in a completely different environment, producing a genome that thrived most when nourished with healthy fats and protein. As a result, we are now seeing many harmful side effects of eating large amounts of refined carbs, including but not limited to, depression, cognitive dysfunction, obesity, and, subsequently, Diabetes. But just as the causes of these conditions can be traced back to diet, so too their cures. One study comparing Diabetes patients on a standard, low-fat “diabetes” diet versus those on the Paleo diet showed that patients on the Paleo diet had greater improvements in weight, blood sugar, triglycerides, blood pressure and waist circumference.

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With this in mind, I would suggest a diet low in simple carbohydrates and grains when it comes to tackling Metabolic syndrome (or any of the other conditions it causes). The Paleo diet is a practice I embrace clinically and personally. I also suggest the Mediterranean diet, which includes olive oil as the main source of fat, plenty of vegetables and fruits, legumes, a moderate-to-high amount of fish and seafood, small quantities of red meat and dairy products, and moderate amounts of wine. The most general advice I can give is to always avoid processed foods, especially any industrial seed oils, like Canola oil or Vegetable oil, which are tremendously processed and often contain harmful chemicals.

Diet change should also be supplemented by moderate exercise for 30-60 minutes a day for the best results. This can be as simple as taking a walk. But if you can’t fit a walk in everyday, try standing at your desk as opposed to sitting; you’ll burn 75% more calories that way.

If Kathy’s doctors had advised her to make any of these changes, she might still be here today. Instead of addressing her Metabolic Syndrome before it progressed, she was given medical attention only after she had already developed diabetes. By that stage, most doctors treat their patients merely by giving them insulin. Because insulin feeds off of glucose, patients then tend to crave even more carbs—the very thing that caused their condition in the first place! Kathy motivated me to write this newsletter precisely because her death was no unnecessary. No one should have to die from a disease that is entirely preventable. Kathy’s life may have been spared if only more doctors were looking for Metabolic Syndrome in its early stages and advocating low-carb diets and exercise, as opposed to prescribing useless pills after it is already too late.

Ultimately, our diets are one of the best tools we have for living a long and healthy life, even when it seems like more and more practitioners are relying on pills and medication. Eating healthy is never something that one does unnecessarily, gratuitously, or overcautiously. It can, however, be something that you do too late.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

The Adrenal Glands: The Body’s Alarm System

The Adrenal Glands: The Body’s Alarm System

Adrenal Fatigue: What is it?

With more and more stress at home and at work, it is unsurprising that adrenal fatigue is on the rise. The pressures of life put many in a constant state of “fight or flight,” leaving our adrenal glands working overtime until they can no longer keep up. Adrenal fatigue is a direct result of this overworked, stressed, and rushed lifestyle, and can result in some serious health consequences in both the short and long term. Unfortunately, some medical doctors only treat patients for adrenal fatigue when these patients exhibit symptoms of Addison’s disease (extremely little adrenal function) or Cushing’s disease (hyperactive adrenal function). Addison’s and Cushing’s disease are on opposite ends of the spectrum, and only affect 2% of the population. However, some experts believe that over 80% of the population suffers from some level of adrenal malfunction. In the following article we will describe what the adrenals are, their role in the body, and some simple methods for determining how effectively your adrenals are working for you.

What are the adrenal glands?

The adrenals glands are walnut-sized glands located above the kidneys. Each gland is composed of two separate functional entities. The outer zone, also known as the adrenal cortex, is comprised of roughly 80-90% of the glands size and secretes adrenal steroids (Cortisol, DHEA(S), estrogen, testosterone, and Aldosterone). The inner zone, or medulla, accounts for roughly 10-20% of the gland, and is responsible for secreting adrenaline. Cortisol, DHEA and adrenaline are the three main adrenal stress hormones.

What is cortisol?

Cortisol helps us meet the big challenges of the day. It converts proteins into energy and counteracts inflammation. In short bursts, it is very useful. In urgent situations, cortisol can increase heart rate, blood pressure, release energy stores for immediate use, slow digestion and non-emergency functions, and sharpen senses. Our bodies are not meant to maintain these states for very long, nor enter into them very often.

It can be very detrimental when cortisol release is sustained at high levels for long periods of time. Over-production of cortisol means the underproduction of other necessary hormones. We remain stuck in a state of overdrive while our energy levels, bone health, muscle production, mood, joints, sex drive and immunity all suffer.

The Adrenal Rhythm

The human adrenal gland releases cortisol in a cycle with the highest value released in the morning, the lowest value released in the evening. This 24-hour cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. These hormones help supply us with the necessary energy we need throughout the day.

How modern life contributes to adrenal malfunction

Unlike our ancestors, we live in a state of constant stress. Instead of sporadic, immediate demands followed by rest, we live in a world of constant communication, fast food, environmental toxins, and worry. It’s no wonder that many adults suffer from adrenal malfunction. That’s why it’s important to keep on the watch for these 7 common signs and symptoms of abnormal adrenal function.

9 Most Common Signs and Symptoms of Abnormal Adrenal Function

1.      Low energy. Abnormal adrenal function can alter the cells ability to produce the correct amount of energy for the day’s activities. People who struggle to wake up and keep themselves going through the day often have abnormal adrenal rhythms and poor blood sugar regulation. Additionally, cortisol levels control thyroid hormone production. Fatigue and low body temperature, symptoms of hypothyroidism, can be attributed to adrenal malfunction.

2.      Behavior, mood, and memory problems. Cortisol regulates the electrical activity of neurons in the brain, greatly influencing behavior, mood, and memory. Symptoms include depression, decreased tolerance, clarity of thought, memory, and memory retrieval.

3.      Muscle and joint pain. Abnormal adrenal function can compromise tissue healing, often leading to breakdowns and chronic pain.

4.      Weak bones. The adrenal rhythm determines bone health. If our cortisol levels are too high, our bones will not rebuild well and will become more susceptible to osteoporosis.

5.      Poor Immune System Health. The immune system’s white blood cells follows the cortisol cycle. If the cycle is disrupted, the immune system cells will not receive the conditioning, nourishment, and instructions necessary to protect the body. These immune system failures can be seen in the lungs, throat, urinary and intestinal tract, leading to increasing susceptibility to infection and allergy onset.

6.      Asthma, bronchitis, or chronic cough. The lungs react poorly to stress. Asthma is often considered an emotional disorder because stress can trigger attacks.

7.      Un-restful Sleep. When cortisol values are high at night, REM sleep cycles are more difficult to achieve. Chronic lack of restful sleep reduces mental vitality, bodily strength, and can induce depression.

8.      Skin problems. Human skin regenerates when we rest at night. High cortisol values during the evening reduce skin regeneration.

9.      Food allergies, specifically to gluten. Genetic intolerances to grain can inflame the gut and spur an adrenal stress response. Since almost ¼ people living in the U.S. suffer from gluten intolerances, this is a common cause of adrenal malfunction.

If you or a loved one suffers from any of the above symptoms, it is crucial to visit a health practitioner. Some medical doctors prescribe pharmaceutical hormones for issues related to adrenal malfunction. Due to the pharmaceutical hormones' side effects many medical practitioners, such as those at Digestive Health Ann Arbor, are now instead turning to changes in lifestyle and diet, as well as bio-identical hormones. It is crucial that you find a health practitioner who understands how to incorporate a variety of treatments that work for your needs.

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.