Do I Need to go Gluten Free?

This blog post was written by integrative RD, Megan Gerber. Megan is based in Boston, Massachusetts and works at a functional medicine practice called Five Journeys. Find her on Instagram @GlutenFreeGerblie where she gives nutrition tips, addresses health concerns, and gives tons of gluten-free recipe and meal ideas!


Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition where the body attacks itself in response to gluten consumption. So aside from Celiac Disease, is going gluten-free really necessary for all of us? Can we live a full life and prosper with our whole wheat toast in tow? Let’s dive in.

Increased Risk of Leaky Gut

In early 2000, Dr. Alessio Fasano demonstrated through his research that all people develop some level of gut permeability or “leaky gut” any time gluten is ingested (1). Yes, ALL people, regardless of whether we are genetically at risk for Celiac Disease or not.

Leaky gut refers to increased and unwanted intestinal permeability amongst the tight junctions between each cell of the intestinal tract. Dr. Fasano identified that this process of ‘opening of the tight junctions’ is regulated by a protein called zonulin. Gliadin (a component of gluten) activates zonulin release in epithelial cells (5).

Why do we care about this? Properly functioning tight junctions are required for optimal absorption and utilization of nutrients in your gastrointestinal tract (1). In addition, zonulin has been linked as a biomarker of many chronic conditions including autoimmune disease, nervous system diseases, and cancers. Leaky gut is the proposed root cause (2).

Summary: everyone’s gut health, regardless of celiac disease, can be impacted by gluten consumption. Gliadin (in all gluten) causes zonulin (a protein) to release from cells in our guts. Zonulin increases intestinal permeability/leaky gut (not good!) and is also linked to chronic conditions.

Opioid-Like Effects on the Gut

Other research with Autism spectrum disorders has proposed that the gluteomorphins are contributing to leaky gut (6). Gluteomorphins are another name for opioid-like molecules formed from the gliadin protein component of gluten (6). This hypothesis links leaky gut as a potential root cause behind autism and other behavioral disorders in children due to the direct link between our gut and brain functionality. Gluteomorphins are also the reason why some people feel worse at first when they eliminate gluten, think – addiction withdrawal symptoms.

Summary: there is a direct link between our gut health and the way our brain functions. Gluteomorphins (formed by gliadin in gluten) may be the reason behind leaky gut’s connection with autism and other behavioral disorders.

Increased Exposure to Glyphosate

About 15+ years ago, glyphosate began being used for the desiccation (removing moisture) and ripening of wheat. The purpose being, increasing crop yields on single crop farms (3, 8). Glyphosate is the weed killer in RoundUp used by Monsanto*. The rise of glyphosate used means that glyphosate residues are present in the majority of the non-organic wheat supply and thus a large percentage of the processed foods in this country.

Glyphosate has been documented as a zonulin stimulator (3). Therefore, ingestion of glyphosate through our food supply puts us at a higher risk of gut permeability, autoimmune disease, and chronic disease (3). Not only that, glyphosate is now being linked to multiple forms of cancer (7).

This all probably leaves you wondering, is it the gluten or the glyphosate? Potentially both in terms of Dr. Fasano’s research and what we now know about glyphosate. It also is important to note that the use of glyphosate on wheat crops has risen in tandem with the rise in celiac disease (3).

Image from: https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Correlation-between-increase-in-celiac-disease-gluten-intolerance-and-increase-in-use_fig1_286381796

Glyphosate risk isn’t only high in wheat-based foods, it is highly present in dozens of mass-produced crops in this country. Including corn, soy and sugar beets. As well as oats, almonds, and beans (3).

Summary: glyphosate is a pesticide (used by Monsanto) in non-organic wheat crops (and other food crops) in the United States. Glyphosate stimulates zonulin release, just like gluten does. Most likely, both gluten and glyphosate are contributing to the negative impact of gluten consumption on our gut health.

*Monsanto was bought out by Bayer and they have rebranded RoundUp in a new herbicide called Liberty Link.

So Do I Need to Give up Gluten?

For those of us with any sort of digestive problems, autoimmune disease or chronic inflammatory conditions – it is a good idea to do a gluten-free trial for at least one month. Ideally genetically modified organisms, GMO, foods would be removed too. Pay close attention to whether you notice a change in your symptoms!

But What if I Don’t Want to Give up Gluten?

  • To reduce glyphosate exposure (from wheat and other mass-produced crops), choose organic einkorn wheat when possible. This is the “cleanest” source of gluten.
  • Choosing gluten-based foods that are sprouted or fermented further increases digestibility of the food. This makes it easier on your stomach and intestines.
  • When possible, shop locally or from a baker you know. A loaf of organic sourdough bread or sprouted bread would be a better choice than the bread you buy from the supermarket shelves.
  • Nutrient-dense choices of whole grain/organic forms of gluten include: farro, wheat germ, bran, spelt, and bulgur (in tabouli).
  • Try to avoid the processed and packaged forms of gluten such as snack foods, crackers, breads or baked goods laden with sugar.

To reduce glyphosate exposure, eat organic and non-GMO foods. Soy, canola, and corn tend to be the highest in GMOs. You can also eat locally and get to know your farmers and their farming practices, like what they use to fertilize the soil! Better yet, grow your own food! Then you have the autonomy to dictate what goes on the produce and into the soil. You will also expose your microbiome to good bacteria and soil based organisms by getting your hands in the dirt. This article was extremely helpful for learning more about glyphosate and how to reduce our exposure.

References

  1. Hollon, Justin, et al. “Effect of Gliadin on Permeability of Intestinal Biopsy Explants from Celiac Disease Patients and Patients with Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity.” Nutrients, MDPI, 27 Feb. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25734566
  2. Fasano, Alessio. “Zonulin and Its Regulation of Intestinal Barrier Function: the Biological Door to Inflammation, Autoimmunity, and Cancer.” Physiological Reviews, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21248165.
  3. Samsel, Anthony, and Stephanie Seneff. “Glyphosate, Pathways to Modern Diseases II: Celiac Sprue and Gluten Intolerance.” Interdisciplinary Toxicology, Slovak Toxicology Society SETOX, Dec. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/.
  4. Rej, Anupam, and David Surendran Sanders. “Gluten-Free Diet and Its ‘Cousins’ in Irritable Bowel Syndrome.” Nutrients, MDPI, 11 Nov. 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6266983/.
  5. Clemente MG, De Virgiliis S, Kang JS, Macatagney R, Musu MP, Di Pierro MR, Drago S, Congia M, Fasano A. Early effects of gliadin on enterocyte intracellular signaling involved in intestinal barrier function. Gut 52: 218 –223, 2003.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12524403
  6. Christison GW, Ivany K (2006). “Elimination diets in autism spectrum disorders: any wheat amidst the chaff?”. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 27 (2 Suppl 2): S162–71. doi:10.1097/00004703-200604002-00015. PMID 16685183.
  7. IARC. IARC monographs on the evaluation of carcinogenic risks to humans, volume Glyphosate. 2016. http://web.mit.edu/demoscience/Monsanto/about.html.
  8. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/09/14/glyphosate-celiac-disease-connection.aspx?

The Dirty Dozen of 2019

Every year the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tests conventional (not organic) fruits and vegetables to assess the level of pesticides. The EWG released their findings this past week in the form of the Dirty Dozen and the Clean Fifteen lists of 2019. Along with some other shocking facts, like nearly 70% of the conventionally grown produce sold in the United States contain pesticide residues!

(Access last year’s list and article here!)

What is the “Dirty Dozen”?

There were 225 different pesticides and pesticide by-products found during the testing process. The Dirty Dozen is a list of the fruits and veggies that had the highest amount of pesticides present. And to be clear, all produce was washed before being tested!

Dirty Dozen

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach *
  3. Kale *
  4. Nectarines
  5. Apples
  6. Grapes
  7. Peaches
  8. Cherries
  9. Pears
  10. Tomatoes
  11. Celery
  12. Potatoes

*Spinach and kale both had on average 10-80% more pesticide residue by weight than any other crop.

What is the “Clean Fifteen”?

You guessed it, this list is the opposite of the Dirty Dozen. More than 70% of the fruits and veggies on the Clean Fifteen list had no pesticide residue at all. With only 6% of the samples containing 2 or more pesticides present.

The Clean Fifteen

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet corn *
  3. Pineapples
  4. Sweet peas frozen
  5. Onions
  6. Papayas *
  7. Eggplants
  8. Asparagus
  9. Kiwis
  10. Cabbages
  11. Cauliflower
  12. Cantaloupe
  13. Broccoli
  14. Mushrooms
  15. Honeydew Melons

*A portion of corn, papaya, and summer squash crops sold in the United States come from genetically modified seeds. If you want to avoid genetically modified organisms (GMOs), buy these organic.

Now What?

If you read any of my content on toxin-related topics, I probably sound like a broken record. But I’m going to say it again – everyone has different health goals, financial situations, and different degrees of access to organic produce depending on location. The bottom line is, do what you can. My goal of talking about this is simply to inform you, the consumer, about what is being put into the body. Informed decisions are the best ones!

When buying all produce organic is not realistic, prioritize the Dirty Dozen. The Clean Fifteen can be bottom priority for buying organic since they contain the least amount of pesticides.

With pregnant and breastfeeding mamas, as well as children, I encourage buying organic as much as possible. These are high risk and vulnerable groups where pesticides can have a deeper impact. To read more about how pesticides act as toxins, go to How Toxins Impact Health.

For a list of helpful and informative resources, go here. It even includes maps of local farmers in your area to have easier access to organic produce. Or even easier, delivery services straight to your door!

Other Resources

How to Reduce Toxin Exposure

How Toxins Impact Health explains the types of toxins, where they’re hidden, and the health effects of carrying a large toxic burden. This post gives tips and more resources to begin (or advance) the journey to reducing toxin exposure!

As a reminder before diving in – this is a process. The goal is progress over perfection when it comes to switching to a more natural lifestyle. The process can be overwhelming and pricey if done all at once. Pick one area of the home and gradually do the rest at a speed that’s comfortable for you and your lifestyle.

Kitchen

Products

Where do most people store their cleaning products? Under the kitchen sink. Smack dab in the place where dishes and utensils are washed, food is prepped, and where there is direct or indirect exposure to our mouths. Eek! What can be done?

  • Consider where cleaning supplies are kept. If the switch to non-toxic alternatives has not been made, move cleaning supplies to a closet or other location where there is no exposure to food.
  • Transition cleaning supplies to non-toxic alternatives. Think about wiping counter tops with bleach and harsh chemicals and the increase in toxin exposure. This is where we place hands, chop food, and likely putting hands or food directly into the mouth after. In my opinion, natural cleaning wipes or sprays should be the priority of all the cleaning supplies.
  • Use apps like Think Dirty or Healthy Living while browsing store aisles to help choose non-toxic cleaning products. Do not be deceived by confusing labels like “natural” or “scent-free”, that does not automatically mean non-toxic.
  • Don’t forget about the dish and dishwasher soap. Remember, these products are the ones that have the most direct contact with plates and silverware (which have the most direct contact with us!)

Bisphenol A (BPA) is released from its source at an increase of 55-fold if it’s heated (1).

  • Avoid microwaving food in plastic or styrofoam containers (i.e. take-out food or leftovers stored in plastic tupperware).
  • Switch to a non-toxic mug for hot beverages.
  • Remove plastic lids when drinking a hot beverage from a coffee shop.
  • Transition plastic tupperware to glass storage containers. This can be costly if done all at once, look for sales or search Amazon to compare options.
  • Do not freeze plastic water bottles.

Other toxin sources:

  • Replace non-stick pots and pans with ceramic or glass cookware.
  • Replace plastic cooking utensils with utensils made of wood or other non-toxic materials.
  • Swap traditional coffee filters, which contain bleach, to natural alternatives.
  • Filter tap water.
  • Keep an eye out for non-toxic (and usually environmentally-friendly) alternatives to plastic wrap and plastic baggies. I have used brands like Bee’s Wrap and ChicoBag.
  • Use stainless steel or glass water bottles.

Home

From small tweaks to major changes, there’s many options for decreasing the amount of toxins in the household.

  • Remove shoes at the door. This avoids tracking in chemicals from the outside.
  • Swap artificial scents (plug-ins, air fresheners, scented candles) for other forms of aromatherapy. Natural alternatives could be soy-based candles, using essential oils in diffusers, or looking for fragrance-free products.
  • Use a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter. This type of filter removes contaminated house dust and helps clean the air.
  • When purchasing furniture and carpet avoid “flame-retardant” or “stain and water-resistant” options. They usually contain chemicals like perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Look for naturally less flammable materials (ex: organic cotton, wool, and more).
  • Address old paint in older homes or apartments if needed. More of a concern if living in a house from pre-1970’s.
  • Add air-purifying plants as home decor. Healthline has an excellent list along with which toxin each plant is best at eliminating.

Bathroom

Beauty products

The body’s natural detoxification system helps to get rid of toxins that are consumed orally. Remember, everyone’s detoxification systems work at different rates and efficiencies (discussed in How Toxins Impact Health). It’s a different story when products are put directly on our skin. The skin is a porous organ and can absorb what’s put on it, directly into the bloodstream.

Transitioning beauty and personal care products is extremely individualized. Consider factors like how sensitive your skin is, how frequently you use the product (to help prioritize), and cost. With the high demand, there is an increasingly growing number of natural options on the market.

Consider swapping…

  • Shampoo & conditioner
  • Dry shampoo
  • Body wash
  • Make-up
  • Body lotion
  • Face masks
  • Face cleansing products (wash, toner, lotions, etc.)
  • Deodorant
  • Sunscreen
  • Toothpaste & mouth wash
  • Facial and body scrubs

Where to look

The rest

  • Avoid anti-bacterial soaps.
  • Swap laundry detergent and drier sheets for natural alternatives. Look for non-toxic and unscented detergents. Instead of drier sheets, dryer balls can be used and scented with essential oils.
  • Add a filtered showerhead to filter out chemicals in water.
  • Transition cleaning supplies to non-toxic alternatives using apps listed under “Kitchen – Products”.
  • Replace vinyl shower curtain with a fabric one.

Conclusion

There is a lot to talk about when it comes to reducing toxin exposure, but it does not mean everything needs to happen at once. The transition has taken years for me and has had shifting priorities of what to tackle first. That’s ok! Live life in the way that rings true to you and aligns with your health goals.


Resources

  1. Le, H. “Bisphenol A is released from polycarbonate drinking bottles and mimics the neurotoxic actions of estrogen in developing cerebellar neurons.” Toxicology Letters 176.2 (2008): 149-156. PubMed Central. Web. 22 Feb 2019.

How to Detox Your Menstrual Cycle

Detox your menstrual cycle? You read that right. A woman’s period usually involves tampons, pads, and whatever else she needs to make it through (dark chocolate anyone?) The problem is that the majority of women are never educated on what is actually in period products. Which if you think about it, is scary, because these products are put in and around vulnerable areas of the female body.

What’s in normal tampons?

Before diving in it’s important to understand that tampons are technically classified as “medical devices”, which changes labeling requirements for manufacturing companies. They are not legally required to list the ingredients. This is why boxes may include a “suggested list” of ingredients, leaving consumers unaware or confused by the ambiguity. Every brand may have slightly different ingredients, but this is a list of the most commonly used:

  • Pesticides & herbicides: used in non-organic cotton crops. These are known toxins that are encouraged to be avoided in food, so why have them in our period products?
  • Dioxin: one of the “Dirty Dozen” list of the most harmful hormone-disrupting toxins. Discussed more in How Toxins Impact Health.
  • Chlorine: yes, the same chlorine that’s put in swimming pools is put in tampons. It is used to create a whiter product for visual appeal.
  • Bisphenol A (BPA): another one of the “Dirty Dozen” list of the most harmful hormone-disrupting toxins.
  • Rayon: produced from sawdust and used to increase the absorbency of tampons. It is also the ingredient that is suspected to increase the risk for Toxic Shock Syndrome (1).
  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs): gases produced from certain solids or liquids. In tampons they’ve found carbon disulfide (reproductive toxin), methylene chloride (carcinogen), heptane (a neurotoxin), and others (2).
  • Fragrance: similar to beauty products, this is an umbrella term. The word fragrance does not specify what ingredients are being used, therefore making it impossible to determine safety or toxicity of each one.

How to reduce toxin exposure each month

There’s a lot of personalization when it comes to how women manage their monthly menstrual cycle, so not all of these ideas will apply. And let’s be honest, you might not be ready to transition to a period cup yet. It’s ok! Everyone at their own pace, but here are tips to help start your transition to a more non-toxic period.

Switch to organic and unscented tampons

There are also great companies like Lola, a subscription service of organic feminine products delivered straight to you.

Choose BPA-free or cardboard applicators

Brands like Seventh Generation, Honest Company, and Organyc can be found in stores like Target or CVS.

Consider reusable pads

Pads can also contain the same harmful ingredients as conventional tampons. Check out these brands which sell reusable pads (of course with washing and sanitation directions included): Lunapads and GladRags.

Switch to a menstrual cup (period cup)

Each brand offers different size options and instructions on how to start using one. Saalt Co, Lunette, and Diva Cup are reputable companies.

I’ve personally switched to a period cup and will never look back! Why? because they’re environmentally friendly, reduce my toxin exposure, only need to be changed every 6-12 hours, they make traveling easier, and it saves money each month.

Look into period underwear

Yup, underwear specific to wear during your period. Designed for heavy to light flows. One of the most popular brands is Thinx.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to feel panicked and upset by learning this information. Instead of focusing on the negative, try to feel relieved that you may have learned something new. Empowered by this information and knowing that there is an effective way to start reducing toxin exposure even more. Baby steps, baby steps.


Resources

  1. National Center for Health Research. http://www.center4research.org/tampon-safety/. 2019. Web. 19 February 2019.
  2. Women’s Voices for the Earth. https://www.womensvoices.org/menstrual-care-products/whats-in-your-tampon/. 2018. Web. 19 February 2019.

How Toxins Impact Health

Toxins are being talked about now more than ever, especially in the health and beauty world. As they should be! The exposure to toxins is ever increasing. Due to factors like the overall increase in the number of chemicals, the worsening pollution in the water and air, even radiation and nuclear power. Toxins have also now been around enough years (some of them decades) where the harmful effects are being realized.

This is not meant to be an alarming or fear-inducing article, it is simply meant to openly discuss an important health topic that is often overlooked and not understood.

There are currently an estimated 85,000 chemicals registered in the United States (1).

The majority of toxic chemicals have never been tested for their effects on humans (2).

What is a toxin?

A toxin is any substance that is dangerous to the human body. The environmental toxins we are exposed to are primarily fat-soluble. This means that they get stored in our fat cells if the body does not properly get rid of them.

Toxins can impact our body in 3 ways

Toxicologically: think of the nervous system

Immunologically: related to the immune system

Pathophysiologically: impacting body’s processes

Types of toxins

Toxins can be classified into several groups: heavy metals, petrochemicals, xenoestrogens, and pesticides.

Heavy Metals

Heavy metal toxins function as oxidant catalysts. That means they produce free radicals in the body and promote oxidative stress (damage) in our cell membranes, tissues, and organs. As you can imagine, this is not good. Oxidative stress goes hand in hand with inflammation, which we know is the root cause of many of our chronic diseases.

Examples of highly toxic metals include arsenic, mercury, lead, and cadmium. Where do we get exposed?

  • Arsenic: water, soil, and contaminated agricultural (i.e. rice) and fish products.
  • Mercury: seafood, dental amalgams (even more exposure with teeth grinding), and old thermometers/thermostats.
  • Lead: paint (especially in homes and furniture built pre-1970s), brightly colored plastic from China, drinking water, etc.
  • Cadmium: industrial workplaces, paints, batteries, and phosphate fertilizers.

Petrochemicals

Petrochemicals come from fossil fuels like petroleum, natural gas, and coal. Superficial exposure to these toxins can cause a hypersensitivity reaction (rashes, hives, etc.). Being exposed to the particle-filled gases can also cause an immune activation! Meaning, our immune system gets activated when it should not be.

  • Fluorocarbons: lubricants, flame and heat resistant substances, refrigerants, aerosols, etc.
  • Perfluorochemicals (PFCs): non-stick cookware, stain-resistant carpet/fabrics, the coating on food packaging, etc.
  • Latex: gloves, balloons, headsets, pacifiers, face masks, etc.
  • Solvents: vinyl, tars, toxic waxes/oils, hydrocarbon-based solvents (cleaning products), etc.
  • Formaldehydes: personal care products (nail polish, shampoo/hair products, baby soap, body wash, eyelash glue, etc.), laminated flooring, etc.

Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens (“endocrine disruptors”) are toxins that actually mimic hormones. They are synthetic compounds that can act like estrogen and can alter hormone’s effects in the body. AKA xenoestrogens can disrupt our hormones in a major, major way. So women in particular (but everyone else too), listen up because this is important!

The negative health impacts of xenoestrogens are so concerning, that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) even made a “Dirty Dozen” list of the top endocrine (hormone) disrupting chemicals. You can access the full article and list here.

Atrazine was found in 94% of the drinking water tested by the USDA. Atrazine is one of the most widely used pesticides in the United States (its use is currently undergoing review by the EPA).

  • Bisphenol A (BPA): canned foods (including canned liquid infant formula), paper receipts, baby bottles, reusable cups, etc.
  • Dioxin: conventional tampons, bleached coffee filters (AKA the white ones we see everywhere!), etc.
  • Atrazine: herbicide (used in corn, sugar cane, sorghum crops), drinking water, residential lawns, golf courses, etc.
  • Phthalates: personal care products (often listed as “fragrance”), plastic wrap made from PVC, plastic food containers, children’s toys, etc.
  • Perchlorate: in drinking water, in foods (PS this is also a component in rocket fuel!)
  • Lead: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Arsenic: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Mercury: see above “Heavy Metal” section.
  • Organophosphate pesticides: still one of the most common pesticides used in the US. Found in conventional fruits and vegetables.
  • Glycol ethers: cosmetics, solvents in paints, cleaning products, brake fluid.
  • Fire retardants (or polybrominated diphenyl ethers/PBDEs): most have been phased out but are very persistent. Can be found in old carpets and old furniture upholstery.
  • PFCs: see above “Petrochemicals” section.

Government tests have shown that 93% of Americans have BPA in  their bodies! BPA is linked to cancers, reproductive  problems, obesity, early puberty, and heart disease (4).

It is good to note that xenoestrogens are different than phytoestrogens, which are naturally occurring estrogenic substances that are produced by living organisms.

Pesticides

Pesticides are the toxins used in agriculture, the ones we find on our conventional produce. The word itself, pesticides, is common to hear. But how about the harmful health effects they’re linked to? Think about the reason why pesticides are used in the first place – to keep insects and other pests away. How do they work? Usually by attacking the nervous system of the bug or killing them. So if pesticides do that to bugs, why would we even want to mess with consuming them ourselves? Pesticides are discussed further in this post “The Dirty Dozen & Clean Fifteen of 2018“.

What do toxins do though?

Living in the United States means exposure to toxins all day, every day. In our homes, in the air, in the soil, in public places, and so on. Unfortunately, that’s just a fact. But before panic sets in, it is important to understand that it is not just about how many toxins we are exposed to. It is about how well the body “digests” and eliminates the toxins! The body’s ability to “detoxify the toxins” is impacted by several factors like genetics, age, gender, supplement use, intestinal health, diet, lifestyle and of course – the environmental exposure to toxins. Getting down to the nitty-gritty of how the body detoxifies is for another time!

If the body cannot detox properly or cannot keep up with the amount of toxins it is exposed to, it increases what is referred to as the “toxic burden”. As toxic burden goes up, the risk for developing toxicity-related diseases increases.

It’s believed that the combination of our toxin exposure, the enormous intake of refined foods and sugar, and the surge in drug use have all contributed to the incidence of toxicity related diseases increasing. This includes diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, obesity, along with issues like arthritis and skin problems. To name a few!

Signs & Symptoms of Toxicity

Headaches

Joint pains

Cough

Wheezing

Sore throat

Anxiety

Dizziness

Insomnia

Depression

Fatigue

Hives

Nausea

Backaches

Itchy nose

Sleepiness

Irritated eyes

Immune weakness

Mood changes

Sinus congestion

Fever

Skin rashes

Bad breath

Runny nose

Nervousness

Frequent colds

Circulatory deficits

Angina pectoris (heart pain)

Environmental sensitivities

Tight/stiff neck

High amount of fat in the blood

Anorexia

Indigestion

Constipation

Keep in mind that each of the signs and symptoms listed above can be related to other issues aside from toxic burden or toxin exposure. Just because you have bad breath it does not mean you automatically should be concerned! What to look for is a clustering of symptoms, along with consideration for medical history and current diseased state. Find a health provider who is knowledgeable about toxins and can properly assess and guide you through a protocol if necessary.

Detoxing Your Life – How to Get Started

Although all of our toxin exposure cannot be eliminated, there is control over what is in your personal environment. The key is to not get overwhelmed and start small. Choose an area of your home or life to focus on first. Unless you are experiencing hormone issues such as insulin resistance, PCOS, PMS, or other similar conditions. In that case, I encourage removal (or decrease) in xenoestrogen exposure first. Ideally, all people (especially women!) should consider the amount of xenoestrogens they’re exposed to on a daily basis.

There are incredible resources when starting the transition to a more non-toxic life. These are some of my favorites to help get started:

  • The EWG’s Consumer Guides to all of the topics you would have questions about while making the transition.
  • The EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Database with all of the top non-toxic beauty, makeup, and hygienic products.
  • The EWG’s free phone app called Healthy Living. It scans food and personal care products to give you the toxic rating – and the names of the best alternatives.
  • My personal favorite, Think Dirty the free phone app similar to Healthy Living. It scans, rates, and reviewed food and personal care products similarly. It also has options for a subscription box to “clean” beauty products and gives you the ability to purchase the alternatives in the same app.
  • For the book reader, check out “The Toxin Solution”. An incredible book written by integrative medicine pioneer Dr. Joe Pizzorno. He has contributed incredible research and time in the field of toxins and their impact on health.

Should I do future posts with specific tips on how to start decreasing toxic burden? One for detoxing the kitchen, another for beauty products, the home, etc. Let me know by commenting, sharing, or sending me an email!


Resources

  1. The United States Environmental Protection Agency. About the TSCA Chemical Substance Inventory. 14 September 2016. Web. 9 January 2019.
  2. Silins, I. “Combined Toxic Exposures and Human Health: Biomarkers of Exposure and Effect.” International Journey of Environmental Research and Public Health 8.3 (2011): 629-647. PubMed Central. Web. 9 January 2019.
  3. Hong, YS. “Health Effects of Chronic Arsenic Exposure.” Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health 47.5 (2014): 245-252. PubMed Central. Web. 10 January 2019.
  4. The Environmental Working Group. Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors. 28 October 2013. Web. 29 January 2019.

What is a Normal Poop?

Bowel movement, feces, poop…whatever you want to call it, it is very important and can be a big indicator of our gastrointestinal (GI) health. Blood work, different tests, and even provider visits can add up and get quite pricey. But did you know that your body gives you a FREE daily test result? Poop! By looking at your poop it can give you a lot of information as to what is going on in your GI system and a deeper insight into your health. But poop tends to be a “shhh” topic that people are scared of or embarrassed to discuss, so let me answer the most common questions that I get asked.

What is normal poop?

This is what “normal”/healthy GI function looks like:

  • Medium brown color
  • 12-24 hour transit time*
  • Little to no strain for elimination
  • Toothpaste consistency
  • Little to no odor (!)
  • Goes into water smoothly/floats or falls slowly to the bottom
  • 1-3 well-formed bowel movements daily (!)

*Transit time: the time it takes from ingestion to digestion, absorption, and finally elimination from the body.

What if I’m not normal?

Unfortunately a lot of people have been told that their bowel habits are “normal” by providers, when in fact they are not and could be a symptom of a deeper issue. Introducing the Bristol Stool Chart, a recognized tool for helping categorize bowel movements. Using this chart is useful in determining your type and giving you a direction to start investigating the “why”.

Bristol Stool Chart

Does color mean anything?

Yes, the color of your poop can be another indicator to your overall health. But sometimes it is simply an innocent and temporary change in color.

Red poop could indicate rectal or large intestine bleeding but it could also just mean that you ate beets or drank (lots) of red wine that day.

Green poop could mean you have too quick of a transit time (which can lead to nutrient absorption issues) or it could just mean you had a lot of cooked greens in your meal.

Dark poop could be indicative of bleeding in your upper GI tract, embedded metals, or oral intake of certain items (blackberries, charcoal, aspirin, black licorice).

Yellow poop can be seen with gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), fast transit time, bile output issues, or bacterial infections.

Pale poop can be indicative of bile output issues.

If you have one weird colored poop, don’t panic! You should begin to worry or investigate if you see a few days of this or if it is accompanied by other symptoms.

What do I do?

Before you get super concerned that you are not meeting the “normal” criteria, it is important to know there could be various contributing factors. Some much less serious than others. For example constipation could be something as simple as dehydration or due to something more complex like yeast overgrowth, food sensitivities, or digestive insufficiencies. There can also be functional causes like sphincter spasms or nerve issues. Constipation could even be due to issues totally outside of the colon itself, like dietary and lifestyle habits or even medications. See?! A lot of different individual or cumulative factors.

This is why approaches to relieving constipation and diarrhea, along with the rest of it, should be managed on an individual basis. In other words, there is no “magical” approach for everyone, which is why working with a professional (like me!) can help you get to the root of your own body and digestive function.

In the meantime make sure you cover some of your own basics:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, primarily water. Your urine should be clear or very pale yellow.
  • Eat fiber from real food (vegetables, fruits, nuts & seeds, legumes, certain grains). OR pay attention to whether high-fiber foods irritate you or cause symptoms, which can be indicative of gut dysbiosis or other GI conditions.
  • Document your bowel movements alongside a food journal * this is the most important thing in the entire poop journey to identify triggers, correlations, and patterns.
  • Keep the gut-mind connection in mind for potential contributors (stress, anxiety, depression).
  • Pay attention to your menstrual cycle, if applicable. Hormone levels can impact our GI health, so note if your symptoms are more prominent at certain times of your cycle or investigate further if you have known hormone imbalances.
  • Review your medication and supplement list. Some pills are known to contribute to GI issues as a side effect (narcotics, calcium, iron, psych. drugs, vitamin C) or if at certain doses.

Should I do more content on GI health?

Resources:

Image from: https://www.globalhealingcenter.com/natural-health/the-bristol-stool-scale/

What is Inflammation?

If you read health news or follow any sort of medical conversation, you’re likely to have heard the terms “inflammation” or “anti-inflammatory diet”. But what exactly is inflammation?

Defining Inflammation

Inflammation is a general term used to describe the accumulation of fluid, plasma proteins, and white blood cells. Usually, it is an initiated response to a foreign exposure or injury. And manifests as heat, redness, swelling, pain, or loss of function. Picture when you fall and scrape up your knee then it gets all red and swollen – that is inflammation at work!

The inflammatory process can get quite intricate, but to keep it simple, when your body has an inflammatory response it signals the activation of a ton of different pro- and anti-inflammatory mediators (think of them as chemical messengers). The mediators/messengers are both innate and acquired. They get activated in a coordinated way through signaling from various pathways, like the famous NF-kB pathway (that bad boy is inflammatory).

To avoid getting too deep, I’ll briefly mention that there are other important players in the inflammation game. Including increased levels of several different cytokines (the connection between inflammation and our immune system) and other inflammatory responders, like acute phase reactants (think C-reactive protein, fibrinogen, and others). Even though it all sounds scary, not all inflammation is bad!

What is the “bad” inflammation?

Inflammation can be classified as acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is short-lived, like falling and scraping your knee or the redness of your finger after a paper cut. It is a good thing and inflammation is part of our body’s fighting and healing process. Whereas chronic inflammation is long-term, this is the kind we’re worried about. Inflammation can then be further identified as either low-grade, which means it is localized to one area (one part of your body) or low intensity. High-grade inflammation on the other hand, is systemic (could take over a whole system or body) or high intensity.

With time and research, chronic inflammation, whether low-grade or high-grade, has been found to be the root cause of (most) diseases.

What causes inflammation?

We know inflammation is the root cause of diseases, but what is the root of inflammation? AKA what is causing this bodily process that causes us harm in the long-term?

  • Our microbiome/gut permeability
  • Gut dysbiosis (imbalances of our gut flora)
  • Chronic allergies and/or food sensitivities
  • Environmental toxins
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Oxidative stress or damage
  • Genomic SNPs (genetic variations)
  • Excessive exercise
  • Physical trauma (repeated physical trauma or poor healing)
  • Medications (like antibiotics)
  • Inflammatory diets – like the Standard American Diet (SAD)
  • Sedentary lifestyles
  • Negative thoughts and emotions
  • Stress and lack of sleep

As you can see by the list, it is not one thing by itself that causes inflammation. Normally it is an accumulation of multiple factors. And let me point out that negative thoughts or emotions are harmful, just like excessive alcohol or toxin accumulation. Emphasizing the importance of holistic care. Preventing or targeting inflammation needs to be a multi-factorial approach by assessing and paying attention to lifestyle influences as much as dietary, emotional, and physical ones.

Would you be interested in seeing more information on inflammation? Comment below and let me know!

Resources
  1. Image from: https://www.cedarmountainherbs.com/healing-chronic-inflammation/

How to Lower Cortisol With Acts of Indulgence

We have to approach stress management in a holistic manner, taking into account the magnitude of its impact on our entire body. The brain is the central organ for stress and stress’s starting point. It goes on to impact the neural, cardiovascular, autonomic, immune and metabolic systems (soo, everything!) in an acute or chronic way (aka short- or long-term). Now let’s add on the additional impact of our own personal behaviors like our diet, sleep quality, and toxic burden. It’s no wonder that our body has to have so many mediators/helpers that are involved in our stress response! A particularly important stress mediator is the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol 101

Cortisol is a steroid hormone (a glucocorticoid) produced in our adrenal glands from cholesterol. It plays a very vital role in our survival system, or as you may have heard of it, the “fight-or-flight” response. The fight-or-flight response/our stress response protects our bodies in perceived stressful or dangerous situations. Cortisol signals the body to do a bunch of things to help us, at the expense of other body processes that are not required for immediate survival (this is a very shortened version of a complex hormonal symphony). This process is protective and very important, yet with our current high-stress lifestyles  – we’re in this constant cortisol overdrive and our poor bodies are suffering the consequences.

Put simply: back in our caveman days, the stress response of our bodies saved us from truly dangerous situations (like a saber tooth tiger attacking us). The problem is our bodies cannot tell the difference between the stress of running from a lion or meeting your work deadline or breaking up with your boyfriend. This is causing our bodies to be in fight-or-flight mode on a more frequent basis and allowing for the constant release of cortisol into our bloodstream.

Health Implications for Chronically Elevated Cortisol

  • Blood sugar imbalances
  • Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
  • Belly fat storage
  • Increased hunger
  • Susceptibility to colds/illness
  • Increased cancer risk
  • Tendency toward food allergies
  • Indigestion
  • Intestinal absorption issues
  • Ulcers
  • High blood pressure
  • Arterial plaque buildup
  • Increased cardiovascular risk
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Disrupted ovulation
  • Disrupted menstrual cycles
  • Altered sex hormone production
  • Insomnia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Dementia
  • Depression

Action Steps

Elevated cortisol levels are synonymous with systemic inflammation (our whole bodies become inflamed). We can take different approaches to naturally decrease inflammation, minimize stress, and therefore decrease cortisol levels. Anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle factors (a massive topic in itself) and other forms of stress management are all effective ways to manage cortisol’s negative impacts.

An indulgent way to manage stress is by practicing regular self-care.

Self-care is one of many effective stress management tools, therefore it reduces cortisol levels. It is defined as the care of oneself without medical, professional, or other assistance/oversight. This means we have total control!

Self-care can be simple daily acts of kindness to yourself or health.

  • Make a gratitude list
  • Start journaling
  • Move your body, be active
  • Eat nourishing foods
  • Meditate for 5 minutes
  • Allow moments of stillness to “be”
  • Dry brush your body
  • Make a cup of tea
  • Call a loved one
  • Use essential oils
  • Have time outdoors or with plants
  • Use non-toxic beauty products
  • Drink plenty of water

Or more indulgent weekly or bi-weekly acts of self-care.

  • Do a face or hair mask
  • Take an Epsom salt bath
  • Try Reiki or another healing energy modality
  • Spend quality time with a loved one
  • Try an infrared sauna or other therapies
  • Go to a local farmers market
  • Go to a new restaurant or store
  • Get (or give yourself) a massage
  • Get (or give yourself) a non-toxic facial
  • Buy yourself fresh flowers
  • Use non-toxic home products

Lowering cortisol is an expansive topic, with so many things we can cover. Self-care is a small, yet mighty, tool to have incorporated into your life to begin taking control of managing stress and lowering the cortisol levels in your body.

Resources

McEwen, B. (2009, April 7). Central effects of stress hormones in health and disease: understanding the protective and damaging effects of stress and stress mediators. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2474765/

Aronson, D. (2009, November). Cortisol- Its Role in Stress, Inflammation, and Indications for Diet Therapy. Today’s Dietitian, 38. Retrieved from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/111609p38.shtml

5 Areas to Optimize Adrenal Health

Changes in sleep, energy, mood, weight, and cognition could all be signs that your adrenal glands need a little attention and TLC.

The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that sit on top of our kidneys. They are an essential part of an adaptive system that regulates our response to stress. When the brain signals the adrenals, they release certain hormones (like cortisol) and neurotransmitters that initiate a variety of physiological responses.

Persistent stress can increase our risk for adrenal dysfunction. This can wreak havoc on our health and quality of life. Causes of stress may be physical, psychosocial, or emotional. Factors like toxin exposure, poor diet, and insufficient sleep will put stress on our bodies. Symptoms include daily fatigue, anxiety, struggling with weight, persistent illness, difficulty concentrating, disturbed sleep and mood swings. It’s worth noting that these symptoms can be compounded even more by genetics and lifestyle, such as nutrition and physical activity.

Five Areas To Focus On For Optimal Adrenal Health

Good Sleep Hygiene

Reduce artificial light exposure. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom and do not read from a backlit device (iPad, iPhone, Kindles) at night. Promote a positive sleep environment with a quiet, dark, and cool bedroom. Use calming essential oils like lavender. Keep a regular bedtime and do not watch the clock. It could also help to limit caffeine late in the day, avoid alcohol and big or spicy meals before bed. It helps to minimize liquid intake about an hour before bedtime.

Sufficient Nutrients

Eat a variety of whole foods to make sure you have plenty of critical nutrients – fiber, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and other phytonutrients. Consider individual (yet influential) factors such as soil quality, pesticide content, genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), methods of cooking, and your body’s ability for absorption. If appropriate assess micronutrient status and supplement accordingly while working with a health provider.

An Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Clean out the “junk.” Particularly added sugars, caffeine, and processed foods. In short – eat high-quality whole foods and more plants. Control blood sugars by eating carbohydrates that are high in fiber and low on the glycemic index. Sweet potatoes, barley, quinoa, and rolled oats all are excellent options. Combine your slow-burning carbs with healthy proteins or fats. This includes foods such as legumes, poultry, or fish. Get more healthy fats from high-quality sources like oily fish, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Lastly, cut down on poor quality saturated fats, trans fats, and omega 6 oils. Assess for potential unidentified and underlying food sensitivities.

Proactive Stress Management

My belief is that we cannot control what happens to us, but we can control our reaction and how we label it (positive, negative). Engage regularly in stress management techniques. Prioritize your mental health and the construction of an uplifting and positive support system. Lowering or managing stress levels will help regulate hormones and lessen stress and negative impact on the adrenal glands.

Consider Supplementing With Herbs and Adaptogens

Calming herbs like chamomile, lemon balm, valerian, skullcap, and passionflower can help sleep and anxiety. Meanwhile, adaptogens help stress and energy levels by supporting our adrenals. A few adaptogens include turmeric, medicinal mushrooms (chaga, reishi, king oyster), ashwagandha, rhodiola, holy basil, pine pollen, schisandra, Asian Ginseng, and licorice root. Work with a qualified health provider (like me!) or experienced herbalist to assess safety, quality, dosing, and monitoring.