Dr. Daniel Amen Podcast Review: Memory Rescue – How to Stop Alzheimer’s & Dementia

Dr. Daniel Amen is one of the leading authorities on brain health – he is a physician, founder of Amen Clinics and BrainMD, a double board-certified psychiatrist and nine-time New York Times bestselling author.  I found this podcast easy to listen to with great tips from his Memory Rescue book (published in 2018) on how to take control of your brain.

Here are the key highlights:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is expected to quadruple in the next 35 years. What most people don’t realize is that this disease starts decades before symptoms appear. Based on imaging studies, a 59-year-old woman diagnosed with Alzheimer’s most likely had negative changes to her brain in her twenties. There is also no known cure on the horizon and it is estimated that 50% of people 85 or older will be diagnosed with it.  This may be a cause for people not wanting longevity in their life!   
  • Depression has increased by 400% since 1987 and it now affects 50 million Americans. It is also a major risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
  • Another risk factor is diabetes. A study showed that 50% of the US is either diabetic or pre-diabetic due to poor diet. Two studies have shown that as your weight goes up, the physical size and the function of your brain goes down. With 2/3 of Americans overweight, including 1/3 obese, it is the biggest brain drain in the US and now considered a national security crisis. Up to 70% of people signing up for the military are now rejected because of their weight problems. 
  • What’s important to note is that diabetes/obesity, depression and Alzheimer’s are not separate disorders but different expressions of the same unhealthy lifestyle.
  • Dr. Amen scanned his own brain at the age of 37 and noticed damage; he played football in high school, had meningitis, and poor sleep with unhealthy habits. This spurred him to develop the brain program – 20 years later, his brain scan looks like a healthy 37-year-old. 
  • Dr. Amen is a fan of brain imaging (SPECT) – his philosophy is that you need to look because imaging will show you if your brain is healthy, injured, over or under-active or has Alzheimer’s. At his Amen clinics, the first thing they do is look at your brain scans.  The imaging looks at blood flow and brain activity to get a view of how well your brain is functioning.
  • He developed a pneumonic (BRIGHT MINDS) for his Memory Rescue book and it’s as follows:
    • B is for blood flow – low blood flow is a key predictor of Alzheimer’s and anything that damages the blood vessels will damage the hippocampus. Tips: Limit caffeine and treat high blood pressure, keep your heart healthy and be physically active. Eat foods like chili peppers, beets and ginkgo biloba to increase blood flow. Brisk physical exercise is also a must as is hyperbaric oxygen therapy which can be used to increase blood flow to the brain.  
    • R is for retirement and aging – the older you get, the more serious you need to be about keeping the brain healthy. Your brain can become less active with age but with the right plan, you can slow or even reverse the aging process. Avoid factors that accelerate aging; avoid being lonely, being in a job that does not require new learning or not challenging your brain. When your brain stops learning, it starts dying. To slow aging, it’s important to be socially connected, engage in lifelong learning and stay physically and mentally active. Dr. Amen also advocates taking vitamins (multi and C) 
    • I is for Inflammation – chronic inflammation is like a low-level fire destroying your organs and this increases dementia. At his clinic, he measures the C-reactive protein (level of inflammation) and Omega-3 levels. Symptoms like joint pain, rosacea and gum disease are all indicators of inflammation which will lead to memory loss. He recommends eating more Omega-3s (oily fish), and cooking with spices like turmeric. In a new study in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, the hippocampus was found to be healthier in people with the highest omega 3 levels.
    • G is for genetics – having a genetic predisposition to Alzheimer’s is a wake-up call, not a death sentence. If you think you are at risk, early screening is essential and be serious about prevention as soon as possible. Losing your memory and independence is hard and expensive. Alzheimer’s causes a build-up of toxic plaque in the brain and it’s been shown that vitamin D, blueberries, sage, turmeric and green tea can decrease plaque.
    • H is for head trauma – head injuries are a major cause of depression, addiction disorders and memory problems. A study showed that one third of people that played football had lasting brain damage. Head trauma affects the front part of the brain which affects focus and decision making. On Dr. Amen’s memory rescue program, 80% of NFL players showed improvement in blood flow, memory, attention, mood and sleep. In his podcast he shares case studies of an NFL player and a pro surfer, and their brain scans before and after the Memory Rescue program – it is quite impressive and worth a look.
    • T is for toxins and a common cause of memory loss in aging. Smoking (tobacco and marijuana), mold exposure, carbon monoxide exposure, cancer chemotherapy, radiation and heavy metals (mercury, aluminum and lead) will all lower blood flow to the brain. Lead is still found in 60% of lipstick and lead is also in airplane fuel. Dr. Amen recommends limiting exposure to toxins, buying organics and reading labels (Say NO to phthalates, parabens and aluminum). What goes on your body goes in your body and affects your brain. You need to support your organs of detoxification: kidneys – drink plenty of water;  gut – eat plenty of good fiber; liver – eat lots of brassicas (cruciferous vegetables) like broccoli, cabbage and brussels sprouts to support detoxification; skin – sweat and do saunas. A recent study has shown that people who took the most saunas had the lowest risk of memory problems.
    • M is for mental health – chronic stress, emotional trauma, grief and depression are associated with lasting memory problems. It is critical to get this treated. For example,  ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) affects 10% of the adult population. American Journal of Psychiatry studies indicated that nutraceuticals are a low-cost option that should be considered like Omega 3, saffron and SAMe (involved in the formation, activation, or breakdown of other chemicals in the body, including hormones, proteins, phospholipids, and certain drugs.) In addition, exercise, meditation, hypnosis and a vegetable-rich diet can help your overall mental health.
    • I is for immunity and infections – if you struggle with memory, infectious diseases need to be explored. Dr. Amen suggests keeping vitamin D levels optimal, taking probiotics and eating anti-viral foods like garlic.
    • N is for neurohormone deficiencies – without healthy hormones, you will be tired and foggy and your hippocampus will be smaller and weaker. A healthy testosterone for both men and women will improve mood. Optimal thyroid levels give you energy and mental clarity. The hormone DHEA helps to fight aging, and the right level and balance of estrogen and progesterone helps with blood flow. Dr. Amen suggests that you get tested annually once you reach your 40s to keep hormones strong. Avoid hormone disruptors like pesticides, BPAs, phthalates and parabens.
    • D is for diabesity which is being diabetic, overweight or both. As weight goes up, size and function of the brain goes down. Remember that the excess fat in your body is not innocuous; it disrupts hormones, stores toxins and increases inflammation. When obesity is combined with diabetes, the risk is worse as high blood sugar levels can damage your blood vessels. 
    • S is for sleep – 60 million Americans have sleep-related issues and chronic insomnia, while use of sleeping pills and sleep apnea all increase risk of memory problems. You need adequate deep sleep to provide the opportunity for the brain to clean itself – when sleep is disrupted, trash doesn’t get taken out and builds up in your brain. Dr. Amen suggests that to sleep better, make the room cooler, darker and quieter. He also advocates use of magnesium, melatonin and 5-HTP to promote better sleep.
  • Dr. Amen’s 5 diet rules for the brain: 1. Eat high-quality calories (and too many); 2. Eat clean protein at every meal to balance blood sugar; 3. Focus on healthy fats including nuts, seeds and avocados; 4. Eat smart carbs that do not raise blood sugar like those found in colorful fruits and veggies. Stay away from bread, pasta, potatoes and rice as they are pro-inflammatory; 5. Liberally use spices and seasonings like pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, turmeric, and garlic to keep the brain healthy.

Here is Dr. Amen’s podcast on Youtube:

Tackling Coronavirus: How I Boost My Immune System

With Coronavirus dominating the headlines and being classified as a global pandemic, people are looking for natural ways to boost immunity and/or lessen the severity of cold and flu-like symptoms. My philosophy has always been prevention so here are some of the things I do to keep my immunity level functioning at its peak.

  • Sleep – This is a simple solution but not easy to achieve for many including myself. I have trouble staying asleep so some of the things I do to try and get as many hours of sleep include:
    • No drinking liquids after 7:30pm (to minimize middle of the night restroom visits)
    • Turning off all electronics and wi-fi (or put on airplane mode to listen to an Audible book)
    • Putting blue-light protectors on my iPad (I use my iPad at night to wind down)
    • Taking melatonin and GABA supplement (when I need it)
    • Shutting down all work-related emails/chats after 8pm
  • Immune booster supplements – I’ve been taking 3-4 grams of vitamin C (buffered or liposomal), lysine powder (good anti-viral), beta-glucans (like those derived from Reishi mushrooms – Swanson brand reishi mushroom has been tested by ConsumerLab along with New Chapter LifeShield Reishi), elderberry extract (I recommend New Chapter Elderberry force – shown by ConsumerLab to have the highest amount of anthocyanosides; for a syrup, I recommend Sambucol Black Elderberry syrup), liposomal glutathione, selenium, zinc, vitamin D, a good probiotic (see product recommendations here) and a whole-food-based multi-vitamin for starters. Here’s an interesting study on how beta-glucan boosts immunity: (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31877995)
  • Exercise – I lift weights twice a week, work at my standing desk for 3-4 hours a day and stay active with walking. I don’t track my steps as I can get obsessive about these things so I will eat less when I am not as active. I no longer do high-intensity exercise like running – because of my low thyroid and adrenal function, this makes my body crash.
  • Eating right – I’ve been trying a mainly fish and vegetables diet over the past month and think cutting down on meat has been easier on my digestion. On days when I lift weights, I will have some animal protein which helps me recover more quickly. Also, I’m a big fan of bone broth. I buy grass-fed beef bones at the local co-op and cook it in the instant pot. I make soups and use it as a base for everything. I also keep the fat layer and use it to stir-fry veggies, eggs, and meat. I feel best when I avoid wheat, most grains, dairy, sugar – even most fruit except for some berries as I’m insulin resistant. For carbs, I love air-fried purple and sweet potatoes and also indulge in cassava root chips, cauliflower crackers and an occasional gluten-free pizza. Since I’m Asian, rice has been one of the easiest forms of carb to digest.
  • Others:
    • I love taking Epsom Salt baths with essential oils (lavender, tea tree, eucalyptus). It is very relaxing and also helps me sleep. I’m thinking about a homemade sanitizer spray (equal parts aloe vera, grain alcohol and essential oils including lemongrass, clove, eucalyptus, tea tree, rosemary) and then fill the rest with distilled or reverse osmosis water. It’s nice to have around the house and smells awesome. Or, I may just do a diffuser if I don’t have time to make the sanitizer recipe.
    • Avoiding toxins and stress – I don’t drink alcohol and do my best to stay away from sugar, dairy and processed foods. I was told that I juggle too many things in my life so it’s important for me to minimize unwanted stress. Meditation and massage have worked well for me.
    • I feel fortunate to have a full spectrum infrared sauna at home so use it religiously 2-3 times a week. It’s important to replenish the trace minerals and salts (I use Nuun electrolyte tablets and Trace Minerals Research drops).

This may seem like a lot of work but over time, it will become second-nature. Wishing you the best of health and calm during this crazy time.

More Natural Ways to Boost Your Defense Against COVID-19

As a follow-up to my previous blog on boosting immunity, I’ve put together summaries of some recent articles on COVID-19 and managing our health during this crisis. 

Five powerful supplements for immunity

This article highlights that the best line of defense against a viral infection is to boost immunity – in addition to a high nutrient diet, adding these five supplements to your regimen can provide us the boost we are all seeking.  These supplements and associated evidence are as follows:

https://www.womansworld.com/posts/health/supplements-for-immunity

Lack of sleep leaves us vulnerable to infection

Although there are no studies on the effects of sleep on COVID-19 yet, researchers in 2015 found that volunteers deliberately infected with the common cold were four times more likely to develop cold symptoms if they slept less than six hours than those who slept for a minimum of seven hours. It is during sleep that our immune system produces and distributes T cells; these T cells attach to infected cells in our body and destroy them. So, even with anxiety and stress levels elevated during this time, it is important to get the right amount of shut-eye.

Check out my blog on How to Sleep Better and Create your Sleep Sanctuary

Vitamin C and Quercetin for COVID-19 patients

A pulmonologist in New York is treating COVID-19 patients with high-dose, intravenous vitamin C. As intravenous vitamin C has been shown to be an effective treatment for the severe swine flu back in 2009, there’s now a clinical trial submitted for this study with hope that this high dose therapy will work as effectively for the coronavirus.

Post the SARS epidemic, Canadian researchers have been investigating the use of quercetin as a powerful immune booster and broad-spectrum antiviral. Quercetin is a plant flavonol from the flavonoid group of polyphenols. It is found in many fruits, vegetables such as kale and red onions, leaves, seeds, and grains. Last month, this Canadian team started a clinical trial on quercetin for use in prevention and treatment of COVID-19.

NY Hospitals Using Vitamin C for Seriously Sick Patients

Exercise is key to building your immune system

A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrients indicates the mechanism of immunoprotection from physical activity and exercise.

New Study Confirms Exercise Is One of the Keys to Build Your Immune System for Coronavirus

Dr. Bonnie McLean’s Blog

Finally, check out our Wholistics Advisor, Dr. Bonnie McLean’s Blog on COVID-19: Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ways to Boost Immunity

Wishing you all the best of health!

Webinar: Boosting Immunity During the Coronavirus Pandemic

With Coronavirus dominating the headlines and impacting our lives in ways we’ve not imagined, more people than ever are now looking for natural ways to boost immunity and manage their health and well-being through the pandemic. 

This webinar will highlight strategies on staying healthy and mentally sound during this difficult time. These health tips, backed by clinical evidence, will include key areas such as sleep, stress reduction, diet, exercise, and nutritional supplementation. The presenter is NCHICA member Helen Pak-Harvey, PhD, Founder of Wholistics.Health. 

Is CBD All It’s Cracked Up To Be?

Cannabidiol, more commonly known as CBD, has grown in popularity over the past few years. But what really is CBD, is it actually beneficial for you, and is it marijuana? While, yes, CBD is a component of marijuana, it can be derived from either the hemp plant or the marijuana plant1. Also, unlike marijuana, CBD by itself will not give you a “high” or any feeling of intoxication1.

Continue reading

Things You Can Do To Reduce Your Cancer Risk: Part 2

In my previous blog, I described some of the foods and strategies you could try to support an anti-cancer approach to daily living. Here, I will highlight some other foundational pillars to reduce your overall cancer risk.

Sleep

  • Sleep is critical to our health and well-being; with 40% of American adults reporting lack of sleep, insomnia and/or sleep apnea, it has become an epidemic.  
  • Research has shown that insufficient sleep (less than 7-8 hours per night) reduces natural killer cell activity and cellular immune response in the body.
  • It’s not just about quantity of sleep, though, as your quality of sleep is equally important. A recent study indicated sleep apnea combined with snoring could contribute to an increased risk of cancer for both men and women.  
  • Circadian rhythms impact our sleep and health. Circadian rhythms influence our body’s sleep-wake cycle, as well as hormone release, digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. They influence our immune system as well as processes of DNA repair that are involved in preventing cancer.  
  • Check out my blog for tips on sleep: https://community.wholistics.health/sleep-better-and-create-your-sleep-sanctuary/
  • Sign up for our chatbot program and these sleeps tips will be delivered directly to your mobile phone: https://community.wholistics.health/breast-cancer-survivor-chatbot-program/

Breathe

Proper breathing is crucial for optimal health yet most of us aren’t getting it right.

  • Proper breathing does more than simply provide our body with oxygen. The benefits of proper breathing include stress reduction, relaxation, emotional well-being, improved sleep and attention. Many of us, including me, aren’t doing this correctly!
  • We need controlled, slow and deep breathing to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to produce the rest and relaxation in our bodies. In contrast, when we are stressed or anxious, our breathing becomes fast and shallow as our sympathetic nervous system is engaged.
  • The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is our “fight or flight” response and it’s needed to respond to dangerous situations (like reacting to a dangerous road condition while driving or being chased by a vicious dog). However, prolonged activation of SNS through chronic stress and anxiety can lead to a host of conditions (high blood pressure, depressed immune function, inflammation, cardiovascular disease, etc.). It has also been shown that SNS may have a negative impact on tumor progression
  • It’s important to train our body to promote the proper parasympathetic response. This can be achieved through breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, and qigong to restore our body and promote healing and repair. A good one to try is the 4-7-8 breathing technique pioneered by Harvard-trained Dr Andrew Weil. It is described as a ‘natural tranquiliser for the nervous system’ helping to quickly reduce tension and allowing the body to relax.

Mind

  • Research has shown the impact of psychosocial factors on our health and also on cancer development and progression. Epidemiological studies also indicate that stress, anxiety, depression and lack of social support could serve as risk factors for cancer. 
  • The benefits of mindfulness, positive thinking, optimism and support networks on health include:
    • Improved immune function, health and longevity
    • Lower rates of anxiety, depression and better psychological well-being
  • Practice mindfulness:  Mindfulness is a form of meditation that is a great way to gain control of our busy and stressed-out mind. This technique can help reduce the feeling of being out of control and ruminating on negative and busy thoughts. Here’s an introduction to getting started:  https://community.wholistics.health/introduction-to-mindfulness-part-1-3-steps-to-getting-started/
  • Think glass half full: Optimism is a predictor of more favorable health outcomes. Studies have shown the association between dispositional optimism and physical health.
  • Spend time with positive people and avoid/deflect the toxic ones. The people we surround ourselves with has an impact on our overall well-being. Remember the common denominator – if you’re around happy, positive people, chances are you will be more positive and vice versa. Benefits linked to positivity include increased longevity, lower levels of stress, and a higher happiness scale. 
  • Get social: Social environment is an important determinant in health and well-being. Research has shown that lack of social support might serve as risk factors for cancer development and progression. Specifically, the social environment contributes to the vast differences in prognosis among breast cancer survivors and can influence physiological processes responsible for malignant cell growth. 

Move

  • Studies have shown that physical activity is linked to reduced risk and improved survival rates for certain types of cancer, most notably breast and colon cancers.
  • Exercise has many anti-cancer benefits: It can lower levels of hormones such as estrogen and other growth factors associated with cancer, improve insulin sensitivity, reduce inflammation, improve immune function, and support a healthy body weight.
  • You don’t need to go to the gym to sweat it out. The important thing is to pick an activity that you’ll stick to. If you’re like me and  have tried over the years to do activities that didn’t fit my lifestyle but felt that it was the ‘right’ thing to do (i.e. going to the pool at 6AM because my friend told me to just get up and do it), it won’t be sustainable!
  • Do you know about forest bathing? It’s very popular in Asian countries, particularly Japan, and it’s basically spending time in the woods, forest, or park and getting close to nature. There’s research that indicates that forest bathing is a promising therapeutic method to promote physical and mental relaxation. So take a hike in the woods this weekend!

You can now get tips like this delivered directly to your mobile phone by signing up for our FREE chatbot program. You will receive tips on SLEEP, MIND, BODY and DIET to help you in your journey to health and well-being as a cancer survivor.

Risk Factors for Diabetes and How Functional and Oriental Medicine Can Help

This blog is a summary of a chapter written by Dagmar Ehling (Licensed acupuncturist and Doctor of Oriental Medicine) on the risk factors for diabetes and integrative approaches to prevent or manage it. This was published in 2017 in her book Anticipation and Medicine which makes the case for transition from episodic care and reliance on reactive treatment to anticipation-informed healthcare.

This fascinating chapter had a wealth of detail on the risks leading to diabetes and also on the pillars of Oriental Medicine that define treatment. If you’re interested in reading the chapter in its entirety, check it out here.

Obesity is defined by the National Institutes of Health as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher, which is equivalent to being overweight by 30 pounds. Diabetes is defined as having fasting blood glucose of higher than 126 mg/dL or a Hemoglobin A1c of 6.5% or higher.

Complications and risk factors for diabetes
  • Diabetic retinopathy leading to blindness, neuropathy, stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, skin infections and mood changes.
  • Neuro-degeneration known as type 3 diabetes may contribute to some forms of dementia.
  • Type 2 diabetes and high insulin levels appear to contribute to cancer and diminish cancer survival rates.
  • Conditions that accompany insulin resistance (IR), a precursor to type 2 diabetes include pain, joint degeneration, chronic muscle pain, digestive complaints, chronic inflammation, non-healing skin conditions, food sensitivities, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), premature andropause among others.
  • High blood sugar may be one of the contributing factors to the epidemic of dementia. Research has shown that an HbA1c level of greater than 5.9 represents an annual loss of brain mass of 0.5%.
  • Long-term blood control issues affect the adrenal glands and the hormones they secrete: aldosterone, cortisol and androgens. Symptoms of poor adrenal health include: afternoon fatigue, weight gain under stress, dizziness upon standing up, sleep issues, craving salt and headaches from stress and exertion.
  • Abnormal circadian rhythm of cortisol due to blood sugar irregularities can lead to shrinkage of the hippocampus, impairing both short-term and long-term memory.
  • Pro-inflammatory proteins are stimulated by chronic insomnia and stress. This inflammation also affects gut permeability which is manifested in food sensitivities, allergies and other digestive disorders. It’s also noted that patients who drink a lot of alcohol experience a greater probability of gut wall degradation.
  • Insulin resistance contributes to polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS) in females where in males IR can promote male andropause.
    • Women with PCOS can experience irregular periods, infertility, hair loss, hirsutism, weight gain, inflammation and are at higher risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and hypothyroidism.
    • In men, insulin resistance contributes to low libido, erectile dysfunction and adipose tissue around the waist. IR also promotes the conversion of testosterone into estrogen leading to growth of male breasts.
How Functional and Oriental Medicine can help

  • Functional Medicine is a systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. Functional medicine looks at the individual’s genes, environment, and lifestyle, to find treatments that address the right root cause beyond symptom suppression.
    • The Cleveland Clinic has a Functional Medicine arm with the famous Dr. Mark Hyman as the director. His website has a wealth of info and he is a strong advocate of a Food is Medicine/Farmacy approach. 
    • Chris Kresser is another FM specialist and a proponent of the Paleo lifestyle.
  • Oriental Medicine’s goal is to balance the body by adjusting the energy of the organs and meridians thereby generating healthy functioning of the body. Much emphasis is placed on nourishing the body so the body can enhance and heal itself. OM includes treatment modalities such as Chinese herbal medicine, acupuncture, diet, massage forms and qi gong exercises.
  • There are a variety of styles of acupuncture (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, etc.) but the primary goal of all these styles is to achieve harmony and wellness by modulating the patient’s meridian system and energy flow. Disease manifests when meridian systems get stuck or energy stagnates. A skilled practitioner can determine blood sugar-related conditions and help patients using acupuncture, herbs and diet. Check out my blog on verifying the credentials of the practitioner in your state. 
  • Both Functional Medicine and Oriental Medicine view health as a network that is interconnected between organ, nervous and endocrine systems and working synergistically to achieve balance in body, mind and spirit. They both look at physiology and how to enhance the pathways that nature created. Emphasis is placed on nourishment, optimization and supplementation of what’s already there.  
  • Chinese Medicine uses the Yin/Yang (Yin = parasympathetic, quiet and sleep; Yang = sympathetic and flight/fright) and the Five Elements (fire, earth, wood, metal, water with each having a season, organ, flavor, emotion) and the human body meridian/channel systems. OM’s goal is to balance the body by adjusting the energy of organs and meridians. FM looks at the body balance from a western physiological point of view and both work well together.

Holistic Solutions for Insomnia

Are you one of those people who can rarely get a decent night’s sleep? Do you then feel washed out and experience brain fog the following day?

Insomnia is defined as either difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, early waking or waking tired in the morning. When these symptoms occur at least 3–4 times per week and persist for at least one month, people will often notice some type of daytime impairment.

Current statistics reveal that one in three people suffer from some type of insomnia during their lifetime. About 50% of Americans suffer from sleeplessness due to anxiety and/or stress. Older Americans have an increased rate of insomnia, especially, if they suffer from co-existing chronic illnesses. Women suffer from sleep problems twice as often than men; this is aggravated at the onset or after menopause. Approximately 10 million Americans take prescription sleeping medications. 35% of folks with insomnia have a family history of it.

It is crucial that insomnia be differentiated from other complaints that occur during the night that might disrupt sleep. Those include restless leg syndrome, sleep-related breathing disorders such as difficulty breathing, coughing, sleep apnea or snoring, chronic pain, anxiety, and many others. In those situations, the nightly condition needs to be addressed first.

Daytime consequences from insomnia are wide-spread and complex. A paper published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine in 2007 by Thomas Roth, PhD states issues of increased pain, loss of vitality, decreased social functioning, emotional instability, and unstable mental health are very common among patients suffering from insomnia. The article further mentions that insomniacs experience greater incidences for accidents, lowered work productivity, higher rates of absenteeism, and difficulty performing job duties. In addition, insomnia contributes to mood disorders.

A 45-year-old client of mine, I’ll call her Sylvia, suffered from chronic insomnia for 30 years. She also suffered from depression and had been taking several medications on and off to treat both conditions during that time period. At the time of her visit, she stated she wakes up between 2–4 AM and usually doesn’t go back to sleep. She is wide awake with a racing mind. She complains of a significant energy drop between 2–4 PM but usually gets a second wind around 7 PM.

Afternoon slump
Afternoon drop in energy

A review of her diet showed that she rarely eats breakfast, consumes a light lunch consisting of salad with chicken strips, perhaps a bowl of soup, and then has a large dinner which consists of a meat, veggie, and some grain or pasta. She has significant sugar cravings after lunch and dinner and usually indulges herself with either chocolate or some other dessert. After she consumes the sweets, she experiences extreme fatigue for a period of 30 minutes to one hour. She keeps herself going with coffee throughout the day which causes her to be wired and tired along with anxiety and irritability.

As we went through her history and looked at her laboratory results from her doctor it became clear that she suffered from blood sugar fluctuations; low blood sugar during the late morning, lunch and mid-afternoon hours with surges of insulin resistance after lunch and dinner, especially after consuming sweets.

Optimal well-being requires steady blood sugar levels throughout the day. When we eat a meal, glucose rises and the pancreas secretes insulin to move the glucose into the cells so the body can use it for fuel. Any excess glucose is stored in the liver as glycogen, which is released as glucagon between meals when blood sugar levels start to drop. This process ensures stable blood sugar levels throughout the day and night.

If, however, a person skips meals, there will be phases of low blood sugar. If the person craves sugar after meals it typically indicates insulin resistance because insulin fails to move the glucose into the cells efficiently, hence the desire for sugar.

Clinically, unstable blood sugar issues are a significant contributor for insomnia sufferers as both low or high blood sugar causes increased cortisol surges. If cortisol surges at night, folks will be wide awake and unable to go back to sleep.

I asked Sylvia to eat a low-carb breakfast, lunch and dinner, and eliminate her desserts. Within 2 weeks she was able to lower her coffee intake and she experienced more steady energy levels throughout the day and less anxiety and irritability. Her nightly cortisol spikes were reduced and she was able to fall back asleep during her 2–4 AM window.

Additionally, I supplemented her with certain amino acids which helped to improve her sleep. After about 3–4 weeks she was able to sleep through the night about 4–5 nights per week which was a huge improvement for her.

Every case is different so a thorough history is very important. While I see lots of blood sugar problems clinically, other causes and contributors are important to consider. These may be low oxygen, blood pressure fluctuations, chronic inflammation, inadequate sodium and magnesium levels, low levels of certain amino acids due to malabsorption, and abnormal circadian rhythms of both cortisol and melatonin.

Melatonin is supposed to be high at night whereas cortisol is supposed be low; during the day these rhythms reverse. Often, clients will supplement with melatonin but typically, this effect wanes quickly. Over time, supplementing with melatonin worsens the circadian rhythms of cortisol and melatonin.

A careful workup will reveal these potential imbalances. If you’re interested to learn more please join the Facebook group called Insomnia Healing Group. Individual coaching sessions are available here.


Written by
Dagmar Ehling, MAc, LAc, DOM(NM)

A licensed acupuncturist, functional medicine practitioner since 1989; partner of Oriental Health Solutions, LLC; author of The Chinese Herbalist’s Handbook.

The Importance of Sleep in the Prevention and Management of Cancer

Sleep is something we all look forward to after a long day but in this fast-paced, hyper-wired world we live in, it’s what many of us aren’t getting enough of. We all know how sleep impacts our energy levels, mental state, hunger and immune system – and this becomes even more critical when you’re dealing with a chronic condition. In this blog, I’ll share some evidence on why shut-eye is so important for the prevention and management of cancer.

During deep sleep, our bodies produce melatonin. Melatonin is a natural substance that is secreted not only by our pineal glands (in the brain) but in other parts of the body including the gastrointestinal tract, eyes, and skin. The highest concentrations of melatonin are produced at night and in total darkness. It’s well established that melatonin can help with insomnia and sleep quality but research has shown that melatonin also impacts the body in other ways. 

  • Melatonin possesses antioxidant, immunomodulation and anticancer properties. According to this epidemiological research it was postulated that melatonin promotes cell death and anti-proliferative effects on oncological cells.

  • According to work conducted by David E. Blask, MD, PhD, a widely acclaimed expert in cancer biology, his research demonstrated that melatonin suppressed human breast cancer cell growth by as much as 70% and also demonstrated cytotoxic activity targeting cancer cells with no deleterious effect on healthy cells.

  • As part of Dr. Blask’s work on melatonin-mediated circadian regulation, when laboratory mice with human breast cancer cells were exposed to constant light, the breast tumor growth increased dramatically. These data also support the mechanisms of elevated breast cancer risk in night-shift workers and others that are increasingly exposed to light at night.

  • In addition, this study describes the risk associated and the potential mechanistic pathways by which sleep and circadian disruption may contribute to the cause of breast cancer.

  • We live in a digitally connected world and even more so during the coronavirus pandemic. This convenience comes with a price – the exposure of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) from mobile phones and electronic devices has also been shown to suppress the production of melatonin.

  • As you know, our environment is loaded with chemicals, many of which are “xenoestrogens” – chemicals that actually mimic estrogen in the body. The list of products that contain them is extensive – pesticides, plastics like BPA, food preservatives, hormones in meat, and parabens in skin products to name just a few. It is known that persistently high levels of estrogen promote the risk of breast cancer. What’s interesting is that proper levels of melatonin can protect us from estrogen dominance. Based on research conducted on postmenopausal women, appropriate levels of melatonin were statistically associated with a lower risk of developing breast cancer.

  • Also, several like this one have been conducted on the use of melatonin for reducing the adverse side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including weight loss, nerve pain, weakness and a condition called thrombocytopenia. Given the virtual absence of contraindications, melatonin has been shown to be a good adjuvant to conventional therapy. In addition, the antioxidant actions make melatonin a suitable treatment to reduce oxidative stress associated with chemotherapy.

  • Last but not least, as this paper demonstrates, melatonin can help protect against immune-aging. Age-associated deterioration in the immune system, which is referred to as immunosenescence, contributes to an increased susceptibility to infectious diseases, autoimmunity, and cancer in the elderly.

Based on the evidence shared above, you can follow these simple tips to ensure proper melatonin levels:

  • If possible, avoid night time work as this has been shown to disrupt circadian rhythms and melatonin production.

  • Sleep in the dark (use black out curtains or an eye mask). Even a small light from clocks and other electronics can disrupt melatonin production so turn them off.

  • It’s best to leave all your mobile devices in another room to minimize any impact of EMFs.

  • Try melatonin supplements to support your sleep – you may want to start on a low dose (3mg) and gradually work up if needed. I personally take melatonin at night but at a low dose and only when I think it’s necessary. Click here for recommended melatonin products.

Sleep Better and Create your Sleep Sanctuary

Misty Williams is the creator of Healing Rosie which is an online resource for women who want to get to the bottom of their health concerns. In her recent podcast, she describes her healing journey after surgery. Based on her trials and tribulations, she decided to create this site to share her insights with other women: www.healingrosie.com

Here are some of the salient points from her podcast:

  • We live in a toxic world and we cannot digest, repair and restore our bodies without proper sleep.
  • Finding your chronotype is important. Most of us fall into the common chronotype of 10pm to 6am for optimal sleep time. The minority are in the early onset sleep (8–9pm) or delayed onset sleep (1am). 
  • Deep sleep happens in the first half of your night so it’s important not to miss this time window. Melatonin and caffeine can also impact us in different ways so Misty recommends genetic testing to learn about our own biology and how the body responds to environmental parameters.
  • All cells are governed by light and electromagnetism and these tell the body what to do when. If there is disruption and dissonance around that, the body cannot compensate. 
  • No amount of healthy eating or supplements will help with poor sleep so get the basics right.

Here are some key tips from Misty’s ‘How to create the sleep sanctuary’ pdf:

  • Change your bedside bulbs to amber or red light bulbs to minimize blue spectrum light.
  • Wear blue-blocking glasses (you can buy these on Amazon) to minimize blue light, especially after 7PM!
  • A sleep-enhancing diffuser with oils like cedarwood, lavender, vanilla, geranium and jasmine is a great add-on for promoting sleep.
  • There is sleep frequency-based music you can get online – Misty is promoting Wholetones music (to be honest, sleep frequency sounds have not done much for me but it may be worth a try if sounds do not bother you).
  • Sleep in the DARK! Use room-darkening curtains and remove or place electrical tape over any remaining light.
  • Sleep in a non-toxic room: test for mold, use HEPA filters for air ducts and use organic PJs and sheets.
  • Use cold to sleep better: Keep room temperature lower than 72 degrees (I keep mine at 65 degrees), consider cold baths (around 60 degrees or lower) – I’ve shivered in a cold bathtub for about 30 minutes multiple times and let me tell you – it does make a difference. The only reason why I haven’t kept up with it is due to the ‘high discomfort’ factor – LOL!
  • And for women, consider hormone support if faced with night sweats/hot flashes – talk to your clinician about this option for dealing with menopause.

See the link below to register for free pdf resources and podcasts:

www.bestsleepsummit.com 

And check out our Sleep section for more evidence-based therapies.