Got Anxiety? Consider Your Second Brain

September 26, 2014

Anxiety

You know the feeling that you get when you are nervous?  Like there are butterflies in your stomach?  Have you ever had that “sinking feeling” in your gut after you made a big mistake?  Sometimes we have those “gut reactions” to situations – where we can’t really explain it, but we just feel like something seems amiss.  It is totally normal to experience some nervousness, anxiety, fear, and even panic occasionally. In fact – we should learn to listen to our gut, because sometimes, our gut feelings can guide us in ways that our brain can’t.

But what about when these feelings start to become chronic, overwhelming, and negatively affect someone’s life?

Whenever someone tells me that they have a lot of anxiety or a related mood disorder – my first question is “how is your digestion?”  The typical response is, “terrible – but what do my digestive issues have to do with my anxiety?”  It is all about the second brain.

Our Second Brain

Our gut and our brains are connected so closely that Dr. Michael Gershon coined our gut “the second brain”. Lined with a complex and extensive set of neurons, called the enteric nervous system, “gut reaction” helps to explain what our second brain does – it guides our feelings, moods, certain behaviors, and reactions.

Our enteric nervous system/gut is responsible for manufacturing important neurotransmitters that play a role in our mood and brain function. So when there has been a gut imbalance or a leaky gut, there often can be mood imbalances and neurological manifestations, because the gut is no longer able to effectively absorb nutrients or convert them into these important brain chemicals. For example, over 90% of our serotonin, often referred to as “the happiness hormone,” is found in our guts. Low serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mood imbalances. Other neurotransmitters that can be involved in anxiety include GABA, dopamine, and epinephrine.  So you can see how gut issues can affect our emotions.

Digestive Issues Very Common

The trouble is – gut imbalances are rampant – 1 in 5 Americans regularly suffers from digestive complaints.  They are so common that we often just suffer through them, thinking that is just “normal” for us, and that there is nothing that we can do. But it is important to not ignore digestive issues because the gut is the foundation of our health. If allowed to continue, gut health issues can develop into other problems – affecting the brain, mood, joints, skin, thyroid, immune system, and more.

Digestive troubles over time can lead to poor absorption, which can develop into nutrient deficiencies, imbalances in neurotransmitters and amino acids – all of which can drive depression, anxiety, mood disorders; and other problems like ADHD and even addictions.

Getting Relief

Although this may not work for everyone, there are a number of things to try if your second brain is causing you anxiety:

Heal the root cause, the gut:

  1. Identify & remove food intolerances, chemicals, and other key foods that could be contributing (such as MSG, sugar, etc).
  2. Take probiotics – there is mounting evidence that bacteria in the gut has a powerful effect on emotions. Taking probiotics can help to decrease the bad bacteria that can lead to anxiety and other mood disorders.  Read this article to learn more.
  3. Heal the gut – organic bone broths and key supplements can help to rebuild the mucosal barrier. A healthy gut has a strong mucosal barrier, which prevents toxins and proteins from leaking out of the gut.
  4. Consider some other supplements – omega 3 fatty acids such as those found in a high quality fish oil supplement can be very helpful for mood and brain function. Vitamin D can be helpful – it is often referred to as the “happiness vitamin.” A high quality multi-vitamin with methlyated forms of the B vitamins are important for the creation of neurotransmitters.  I also find that adaptogens such as Ashwaganda can be very helpful with anxiety and mood disorders (ashwaganda is also supportive of the thyroid too).

Get some relief from the symptoms:

Until the gut is healed, it might not be effectively making neurotransmitters, which can cause someone to feel imbalanced, unfocused and anxious. Often, this is one reason that can drive people to abuse drugs and alcohol – they are trying to correct or self-medicate these imbalances.  It is possible to test the neurotransmitters and take supplements that can help the body to produce more of the depleted neurotransmitters to feel more balanced.

  1. Test – one single urine collection at home is taken and sent in and can be tested to see which brain chemicals are out of balance.
  2. From that test, key amino acids and other key supplements can be identified that will help to rebalance the neurotransmitters and provide some relief to the symptoms.

The Gut & the Immune System

The gut is also the foundation of the immune system, so someone that frequently gets colds or infections, might want to look at improving their gut health to boost their immune system.  One food that heals the gut and boosts the immune system is organic bone broth – so there is truth to the Old Wives Tale that chicken soup heals a cold (also helps to prevent one too).

Further Reading:
This is a very in-depth topic.  If you are interested in learning more about how the gut affects the brain, mood, and other areas of health, here are some additional articles:

Our gut is the foundation of our health.  As Hippocrates so wisely said over 2,000 years ago:

All disease begins in the gut.”

Please note: If you are experiencing extreme stress, anxiety or overwhelm – please seek out help from a mental health practitioner right away. The national Suicide Hotline can help you to find the necessary resources if you are in a mental health crisis: 1-800-273-8255.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Are You Getting Enough Vitamin D?

November 9, 2012

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Categories: Vitamin D

I believe that food is our medicine, and that we should obtain the majority of our nutrients from a diverse diet rich in fruits and vegetables, high quality free range proteins, and healthy fats.  But I also recommend certain supplements to help ensure that there are not deficiencies.  One of the supplements I recommend is vitamin D.

According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D deficiency has reached epidemic proportions.  Estimates of the percentage of Americans that could have deficient blood levels of vitamin D range from 50% – 97%.

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sun’s UVB rays.  Naturally, vitamin D levels can fluctuate throughout the year, with levels typically dropping to their lowest in the Fall/Winter months when we get less sun exposure.  Also using sunscreens can prevent the absorption of vitamin D into the skin.  Vitamin D levels should be tested at least once a year, even better twice yearly.  If there has been a recent fracture or unexplained aches and pains – get it checked again.

Critical for bone formation, insufficient vitamin D levels raises our risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Vitamin D deficiency is likely one reason why fractures have risen over 30% in boys, and over 50% in girls in the past 30 years.  Low vitamin D levels also can depress our immune system.  Some research shows that vitamin D is more effective in preventing the flu than a flu shot.  But perhaps even more important – optimum levels of vitamin D is associated with prevention of several different types of cancers (especially breast cancer). According to UCSD, over 70% of breast cancers could be prevented with optimum levels of vitamin D.  A Danish study also found that a vitamin D deficiency is linked to heart disease. Other studies are linking vitamin D to many other disorders – such as multiple sclerosis. There could even be a link to autism, according to the Vitamin D Council.

How do you know if your vitamin D levels are low?  Some people with low vitamin D may not have any symptoms at all. Others might complain of unexplained muscle or bone aches, weakness and pains, and or depression.  But the best way to tell is to get tested – a simple blood test will tell you what your levels are – ask for the 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D, test.  But even if you are taking Vitamin D, you still might not have sufficient blood levels – if you are taking too low of a dose, or if you are low in magnesium.

The forth most abundant mineral in the body, magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical processes.  About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones, and it is needed for Vitamin D to be properly absorbed – making it a key co-factor for vitamin D.  It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium. So even if you are taking a vitamin D supplement, if you are low in magnesium, you might not be properly absorbing it.  The symptoms of magnesium deficiency are extensive – leg pain, foot or eye twitches, muscle cramps, irritability, constipation, and sensitivity to light. If allowed to progress, migraines, insomnia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and even kidney stones can develop.

So what is the best way to get Vitamin D?  In addition to sunlight, many people will benefit from taking a vitamin D supplement.

So how much vitamin D should I take?  Give my kids?  That all depends – on the individual (people who are overweight need more vitamin D), what your current blood levels are, how much sun you get, and more – all of which add up to why it is important to get tested.  If you levels are extremely low (below 20 ng/mL), your doctor might want to prescribe a short course of a high dose of vitamin D to quickly raise the levels up.  And you might want to consider adding a magnesium supplement as well, to make sure you are absorbing the vitamin D – one good option is Natural Calm, called the “anti-stress drink.”

The recommended daily dose for adults is between 600-800 IUs per day.  But new research is indicating that this may be far too low.  Research supports that the ideal blood levels for vitamin D are between 40 and 60 ng/dl. According to research conducted by GrassrootsHealth, the average dose of oral vitamin D that most adults need to reach 40 ng/ml is 8,000 IU’s a day.   Many doctors recommend 1,000 – 2,500 IU daily for adults for maintenance.  According to the Vitamin D Council, vitamin D toxicity is extremely rare. “Published cases of toxicity, for which serum levels and dose are known, all involve intake of ≥ 40000 IU (1000 mcg) per day.”  Read: Vitamin D – How to Determine Your Optimal dose for more information and talk to your practitioner about the appropriate level of vitamin D supplementation for you and your family.

Note: Make sure that you are taking the vitamin D3 form (which is better absorbed and used than D2).

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Got Fractures?

July 15, 2012

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If you think you seeing more broken bones today than in the past, you are right. According to a Mayo Clinic study, forearm fractures have risen over 30% in boys, and over 50% in girls in the past 3 decades.

Does It Really Do a Body Good?
A common misconception is that drinking plenty of milk is all you need to build strong bones. But let’s take a look at some facts:

  • Studies show that countries with the highest milk consumption also have the highest rates of fractures and osteoporosis. The Harvard Nurses Study followed 78,000 women for a 12-year period and found that milk did not protect against bone fractures. In fact, those who drank three glasses of milk per day had more fractures than those who rarely drank milk.
  • A majority of the population does not actually have the ability to digest milk at all, which can interfere with nutrient absorption.
  • Studies also show that cows milk consumption is linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, especially prostate and ovarian. Read more about the possible hormonal implications of drinking milk.
  • Vitamin A is important for bones, but milk supplies too high a dose of vitamin A (in the retinol form), which can cause bones to be weaker, according to Harvard Health.  Avoid foods and multivitamins with the retinol form of vitamin A (choose instead beta-carotene).
  • The ratio of calcium to magnesium is not in good proportion in milk.  Milk contains a 10 to 1 ratio of calcium to magnesium, where the optimal ratio is 2:1. Too much calcium without magnesium or other co-factors is not good for bones, and has even been linked to increased risk of heart attacks and kidney stones.
  • Kids with attention or hyperactivity issues might want to consider taking a vacation from dairy, which has been linked to ADD-like symptoms in certain kids with sensitivities (read this article from Gaia, and this one from author Kris Carr.

So if milk doesn’t do some bodies good after all, how should kids get their calcium and build strong bones?

Four tips for building strong bones:

1. Try to include some non-dairy sources of calcium in the diet each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following calcium intakes: 500mg per day (1-3 year olds), 800mg per day (4-8 year olds), 1300mg per day (9-18 year olds).

Non-dairy sources of calcium: 

  • sardines
  • canned salmon
  • bok choy
  • broccoli
  • kale
  • sesame seeds
  • chia seeds
  • figs
  • legumes
  • non-dairy milk alternatives, such as coconut, almond or rice (I do not recommend soy milks, read more)
  • seaweed
  • Calcium supplements*

2. Make sure your kids are getting the necessary co-factors.

Calcium tends to get all the credit for building strong bones, but there are certain co-factors needed to get the calcium into the bones.  Consider this analogy: a moving company would never send a truck and just one worker.  In order to move heavy items and get them delivered to the right place, that mover is going to need helpers.  Similarly, without the right helpers (co-factors), all the calcium can’t be delivered into the bones.

Key Calcium Co-Factors:

Vitamin D – Critical for calcium absorption, low levels of vitamin D can be associated with rickets and osteoporosis.  The best source is the sun, and so using sunscreen blocks the skin from not only the UVA/UVB rays, but also vitamin D. It is estimated that 70% of Americans are now deficient in vitamin D.  Severely low levels are also linked to an increase in certain cancers.  The AAP recommends 400 IU of vitamin D per day for children, although that could be inadequate if blood levels are extremely low.  Talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.  Sources:

  • Sunshine
  • Sardines
  • Cod liver oils/some fish oils – such as the Mango Peach flavored Barleans Omega Swirl
  • Supplements – you can absorb it through the skin, so some sunscreens are coming with vitamin D now, such as Ocean Potion.  Look for vitamin D3, which is the best form.

Magnesium – The forth most abundant mineral in the body and needed for more than 300 biochemical processes, including helping Vitamin D to be absorbed.  About two thirds of all magnesium in our body is found in our bones.  It is estimated that over 70% of the population is deficient in magnesium.  Learn more about the RDA for magnesium and more. Sources:

  • cacao powder (such as Sunfood)
  • spinach and other dark leafy greens
  • cashews and almonds
  • Pumpkin, hemp & sesame seeds
  • whole grains
  • You can also absorb magnesium through your skin from salt baths and magnesium sprays

Vitamin K – Best known for it’s role in managing blood clotting, vitamin K also plays a key role in making sure calcium gets delivered to the bones, and not to the arteries (poorly absorbed and high dose calcium can raise the risk of arterial calcification & heart attack).  Sources:

  • leafy greens
  • brussels sprouts
  • beans
  • parsley
  • broccoli
  • Sea vegetables  (read more)
  • Greens Powders (such as Green Vibrance)

It is also important for bones to get trace minerals which can be found in sea or pink Himalayan salt, and other foods grown in mineral rich soils.

Try making this bone-building Choco-banana super smoothie – which contains calicium, magnesium, vitamin D, vitamin K, trace minerals, and more!

3. Get Kids Moving!

A study published Pediatrics found that sedentary teens had lower bone density by age 18 than more active ones.  The importance of weight bearing activities for bones is demonstrated by astronauts – they can experience a 30% decrease in bone strength after just 6 months spent in space without gravity. Although swimming and riding a scooter is better than sitting on the couch; activities that have impact like gymnastics and jumping rope is better for building bones. Impact exercise puts stress on the bones, which causes the bones to become stronger and more dense.

4. Know Your Bone ‘Foes’

There are a number of foods and substances that can work against the bone building process.

  • Acidic Foods – too much protein, coffee, sugars are all acidifying to the body/blood. Dairy is also acid-forming (when paired with probiotics it is less so, such as yogurt). When we are too acidic, the body will try to buffer the acidity with calcium, which prevents it from getting into where it should go – the bones.
  • Sugar – in addition to being acidifying to the system, sugar causes vitamin c and copper deficiencies, and interferes with calcium and magnesium absorption.
  • Sodas – drinking colas was found to increase the risk of osteoporosis in a study out of Tufts University.
  • Digestive disorders such as celiac disease have been linked to increased risk of osteoporosis and fractures.  If we are not properly digesting our foods, we are also not properly absorbing all the nutrients.  Kids with frequent breaks might want to be checked for food sensitivities/allergies.  Some of the most common food allergies/intolerances are dairy, gluten, wheat, eggs, soy, nuts, and shellfish.  Learn more about signs of celiac disease.
  • Other factors can interfere with bone building such as taking steroid medications for an extended period.  A visit to the doctor might be prudent if there have been frequent/recurring breaks, unexplained bone pain, fractures from minor impacts, and poor slow growth. Contact your doctor or pediatrician with any concerns.  Read Kids and Broken Bones – When Is it a Warning SIgn? and Building Strong Bones in Kids.

*Foods are the body’s best source of nutrition, as they contain a synergistic combination of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals to be best used and absorbed by the body, but high quality supplements can help to fill in the gaps.  Read more about choosing a quality calcium supplement.

Watch Sara talk about Building Strong Bones in Kids on Fox 5 San Diego.

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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Vitamin D – The Sunshine Vitamin

August 18, 2011

Sunshine

The “Sunshine Vitamin”

After years of being told that we need to slather on the sunscreen – many Americans are now low in Vitamin D levels. A study published in 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine, found that 70% – 97% of Americans have insufficient blood levels of Vitamin D – a contributing factor to osteoporosis, linked to a recent rise in bone fractures, and even associated with several different types of cancers and other disorders.

Vitamin D is not really a vitamin, but a pre-hormone produced in the skin after exposure to the sun’s UVB light. Very few foods in nature contain significant amounts of natural vitamin D. The flesh of fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and mackerel) and fish liver oils contain vitamin D – cod liver oil is one of the richest food sources of vitamin D, with 1,360 IU per tablespoon. However, according to Dr. Andrew Weil, “some kinds of cod liver oil provide as much as 13,500 IU of vitamin A, and that’s way too much.”  Some foods are fortified with vitamin D, such as milk. But the best source by far is the sun, which is why it is called the “Sunshine Vitamin.” Another surprising food that can contain vitamin D is button mushrooms.  Button mushrooms that are exposed to UV rays absorb vitamin D, similar to our skin.  But most mushrooms are grown in shade, so they will not have vitamin D.  So you want to look on the label to see if the mushrooms you get contain vitamin D.  The brand Monterey Mushrooms contains 400 IUs of vitamin D per 3 oz. serving.

Vitamin D is critical for calcium absorption – which is why low levels of vitamin D can be associated with rickets, increased risk of fractures, and osteoporosis. People taking calcium supplements should make sure they have sufficient vitamin D levels because calcium that is not properly absorbed can end up in places where it is not wanted – like the arteries of the heart, leading to hardening of the arteries.  Read more about vitamin D’s role in calcium absorption.  Low levels of vitamin D have also been linked to heart disease, some cancers, diabetes, immune disorders, insulin resistance, and more.

Am I Vitamin D Deficient?

The symptoms of vitamin D deficiency can be subtle, they include:

  • Chronic pain
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness or soreness
  • Bone fractures
  • Depression
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Periodontal disease
  • Rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults

Some people with low vitamin D may not have any symptoms at all.  If you suspect that you are not getting enough vitamin D, a blood test can check your vitamin D levels, ask your doctor for a 25-hydroxyvitamin D, or 25(OH)D, test.  Read “Am I Vitamin D Deficient?” for more information. Your healthcare practitioner can order the test and advise you on the best ways to increase your vitamin D. If you do decide to take a vitamin D supplement – it should be vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol).  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, vitamin D deficiency is defined as circulating levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D that are less than 32 ng per milliliter.   Many studies suggest that optimal blood serum levels are around 50 ng/ml.

How Much Vitamin D do we Need?

The daily recommended doses for vitamin D maintenance were revised in 2010:

  • Under age 1: 400 IU
  • Under 70 years of age: 600 IU
  • 71 years and older: 800 IU daily
  • Pregnant and lactating women: 600 IU

However, it is important to get a blood test to assess your vitamin D levels because people who are seriously vitamin D deficient could require a short course of a high dose vitamin D3 supplement to build up their serum levels.  This is something that should happen under a doctor’s care – as it is possible to get too much vitamin D, which can be toxic to the body.

The Sun’s Rays – Harmful or Healing?

In excess, the sun’s rays can harm, but in small doses, they can heal – providing the best source of vitamin D.  But how much sun light is enough? According to the Vitamin D Council, the amount of sunlight you need to obtain enough vitamin D depends largely on the pigment of your skin. Approximately 10-15 minutes of unprotected sunlight a couple of times a week might be enough for fair-skinned people (after that people that continue to be out in the sun should apply sunscreen). Persons with darker skin will need more exposure because they do not absorb the sun’s rays as quickly. The torso absorbs the sun the best followed by the arms/legs, whereas the face and hands absorb the least. So people wanting to limit the aging effects of the sun on their face & hands, can shade the face from the sun or apply sunscreen to the face/hands – and get their sun exposure from the torso/arms/legs. Using sunscreen with an SPF as low as 8 can block as much as 95% of vitamin D production says the Vitamin D council.

The body converts enough vitamin D3 from the sun, long before a sunburn occurs. According to John Cannell MD, Executive Director, Vitamin D Council, “Humans make thousands of units of vitamin D within minutes of whole body exposure to sunlight.” And another cool thing about getting your vitamin D from the sun – is that it is free! But some people won’t want to risk getting any unprotected sunshine – they can supplement with Vitamin D3. Even people who get some sunshine might need to supplement.

Some smart sunscreen companies are now adding Vitamin D3 into their sunscreens!

Read Eat Your Sunscreen to learn more about boosting the body’s own internal SPF.

If you are interested in more information, the following articles contain excellent information:

Sara Vance Article written by Nutritionist Sara Vance, author of the book
The Perfect Metabolism Plan A regular guest on Fox 5 San Diego, you can see many of Sara’s segments on her media page. She also offers corporate nutrition, school programs, consultations, and affordable online eCourses. Download her free 40+ page Metabolism Jumpstart eBook here.

*This article is for educational purposes only. The content contained in this article is not to be construed as providing medical advice. All information provided is general and not specific to individuals. Persons with questions about the above content as how it relates to them, should contact their medical professional. Persons already taking prescription medications should consult a doctor before making any changes to their supplements or medications.

©2015, all rights reserved. Sara Vance.

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