I am just recently back from the Institute for Functional Medicine’s 2013 Annual International Conference. Intellectual Candy Land. I was one of 1200 attendees at the sold out conference. We had participants from 30+ countries. The topic was energy. As in mitochondrial energy. Fatigue. Foggy brain. Joint pain.
This is a picture of a special moment. Dr. Jeff Bland is considered the father of functional medicine. I worked for his company, Health Comm, back during grad school and it has made a lifelong impact in my work and my ability to truly help people get well. Dr. Bland spoke at the IFM conference and while he was speaking, I realized that I needed to let him know that 15 years later, he is still impacting not only my life but every patient I have. I knew I couldn’t speak the words I felt without tearing up so I wrote him a note and handed it to him after his talk. We both got teary but in a good way.
Because of Dr. Bland, I continually ask myself WHY. As in, WHY does this patient have fatigue? WHY does this patient have IBS? WHY does this patient have difficult periods? WHY does this patient have chronic fatigue? Finding the root cause for each person with his/her own biochemistry and his/her lifestyle choices which impact genes is what Functional Medicine is all about. I am grateful and humbled to do what I do.
So, now, what am I talking about regarding energy, mitochondria, fats, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s?
We heard a lot from 2 functional medicine neurologists at the conference. Dr. David Perlmutter (author of The Better Brain book and the new book the Grain Brain book) and Dr. Catherine Wilner. As such, we got an earful about chronic diseases including Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
I’ll be incorporating cutting edge information from the conference into my private practice as well as some group wellness classes I’m planning for 2014. But in the meantime, here are some pearls.
- Our mitochondria are our energy producers. Every cell in your body has a mitochondria and just like your car’s engine, they need fuel. What’s the best fuel? If you’ve been doing your homework, maybe you already know that fat is being redeemed. For years, we’ve shunned fat and chosen fat free and low fat everything. We’re more obese than ever and heart disease is still the #1 killer for both men and women. Alzheimer’s will affect millions and inflammation is driving it. What causes inflammation you ask? Good question. A high carbohydrate diet leads to AGE’s. Advanced Glycation Endproducts. This activates cytokines via the immune system and the result is oxidative damage. You’ve probably heard of beta amyloid -it gets glycated too. Coated in sugar that is. The pearl: if you are eating grains, even whole grains, because the USDA says they are healthy and part of the food guide pyramid, reconsider your meal planning. Incorporate colorful (and mostly non starchy) produce and quality sources of protein and fat. If you are eating a diet that is even moderate in refined carbohydrates and you wish to be cognitively intact as you age, you definitely want to see a nutritionist like myself to learn more about what you should and shouldn’t be eating.
- Impaired mitochondria = impaired brain function. It may manifest as an inability to do paperwork, poor posture, poor hand writing, affect facial tone or gait, and the ability to drive, or chronic fatigue. Gluten is “mitochondrial poison” because of how hybridized and manipulated it is here in the U.S. Other mitochondrial poisons are literally poisons like we spray on our food, drugs (OTC and RX), insufficient nutrients via the diet. The pearl: buy colorful organic produce. Research drugs and use minimally. Understand the difference between managing symptoms and finding the root cause of disease and consider only use drugs when life threatening situations exist. For example….if one had type 2 diabetes, glucophage is the go-to drug. It manages blood sugar but so do diet and exercise. Glucophage is a mitochondrial un-coupler. It’s like taking a sledge hammer to your engine and then thinking it’ll still run.
- Alzheimer’s is being called Diabetes type 3. And the cognitive impairments are happening long before Alzheimer’s is diagnosed. Where’s those keys? Why did I come into this room? Chronic disease means not acute. Slow. This is classic. The pearl: healthy blood sugar is paramount. The A1c’s that fell into the range of 5.9 to 9 had the highest amount of Alzheimer’s. Folks with diabetes are recommended just to keep it at 7% or below. Slow, progressive memory loss.
- Want to lose weight? Restrict the carbs. Eat good quality fats. And the “side effects” are that you’ll also lower blood pressure, raise HDL, lower triglycerides, with no effect on LDL. C-Reactive protein, a marker of inflammation, also responds better to a low carb, high fat diet. The Pearl: less carbs, more good quality fat. (PS – If you don’t restrict the carbs, you WILL gain weight. See below for examples of good quality fats.)
- Cholesterol is our friend. The American Academy of Neurology reports that high total cholesterol in later life is associated with a lower risk of dementia. This is not a typo. The Pearl: reconsider what you’re willing to believe about cholesterol. If you are concerned, at least consider doing an advanced lipid profile like the Lipo Protein Particle Profile that I offer. Do your own research on the side effects of low cholesterol. The list includes depression and suicide.
- February 2012 the FDA states that “statins may cause cognitive dysfunction”. It’s loosely called “statin brain”. The pearl: avoid statins, and find a new doctor if this is the only option presented. Do your research. Find the source of inflammation because that’s what heart disease is all about. But it is not about cholesterol.
- A low LDL is associated with a 350% increase in Parkinson’s Disease. The pearl: We need good quality fats like organic olive oil, organic coconut oil, ghee and butter from grass fed animals, avocado’s, organic nuts and nut butters, pasture raised beef/pork/chicken, wild salmon, hemp oil, hemp butter, and phosphatidylcholine (which is integral to cell membrane health).
- Remember that Vitamin D is made from cholesterol so when you and your doctor lower your cholesterol, you’re also messing with Vitamin D capacity as well as affecting other hormones made from cholesterol. Vitamin D is now shown to be paramount in protecting us from auto immune diseases as well as helping with muscle and joint pain. Other hormones include the family of estrogens, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA. The pearl: get out in the sun. If you do sunscreen use the Environmental Working Group’s site to find a safe one. Don’t believe the drug companies when they tell you lower is better. There is plenty of research showing otherwise. They fund their own studies and get the results they want you to believe.
I’ve been taught via my Functional Medicine training not to worry about (total) cholesterol until it is over 250. I’m also taught to do advanced testing and a thorough history to determine WHY cholesterol might be elevated. It is possible that cholesterol may act as a toxin sponge, and so it elevates in response to our toxic world we now live in. I have an algorithm that helps me determine patterns when cholesterol is “off”. Drugs aren’t even an option in my own personal view.
I’ve also been taught for years that an A1c over 5.4 or 5.5% is trouble. Slow trouble with dire long term consequences. The pearl? Diet and exercise. What is the best diet? Well, also in my functional medicine world, there is no one size fits all. Like snowflakes, we all inherited our own set of DNA and have made lifestyle choices that affect how our DNA is expressed. But the bottom line is we can alter our destiny. It’s rarely too late. Given the right circumstances, we can undo clogged arteries, regrow telomeres, regrow nerve cells, etc. People with MS, Alzheimers, Parkinsons recover. I can typically help someone with chronic fatigue get their life back. It’s not as hard as it seems. We just have to identify the WHY they got there and reverse the path. We have to feed those mitochondria fuel they can use.
More to come…..stay tuned and watch for opportunities to sign up for the group classes I’ll offer later this year.